Sunday, October 21, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Rowley Rev 2

Name: Mary Rowley
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
Title: The Secrets That Divide Us


Sixteen-year-old Lizzie Lowe is a plucky girl from the wrong side of Santa Monica Boulevard. Her life is upended when a millionaire grandfather she's never heard of shows up. What’s more, he wants Lizzie's bone marrow for her secret twin sister in England. Her dad loathes the old man for stealing away one of his daughters in the wake of their mom’s death, but Lizzie jumps at the chance to help the sibling she’s always wanted. 

The sisters’ reunion is amazing, but everything inside grandfather’s Gothic mansion—from the gun room to the sinister housekeeper—gives Lizzie the creeps. And Lizzie finds a letter that implicates multiple suspects in her mother’s murder. Since grandpa quashed the police investigation, she has no idea whom to trust.

When her sister is hospitalized, Lizzie has no one to turn to but Teddy, her sister’s gorgeous but cocky prep-school classmate. Though they clash at first, attraction flares as they race to unravel the family mystery. But everyone at Blackweald Hall is hiding something, and digging up old secrets may provoke the murderer to kill again.

THE SECRETS THAT DIVIDE US is a 65,000-word YA mystery with romantic elements.


It was rush hour in West Los Angeles, and belching car exhaust was conspiring with an end-of-summer heatwave to suffocate me. There wasn’t even a breeze to stir the towering palms on Santa Monica Boulevard as I pedaled my Schwinn home from the library. On the up side, I was zipping past the six lanes of crawling traffic. On the down side, sweat plastered my shirt to my chest and soaked my bra. I raced across the Boulevard as the light was about to change.

“Get out of the way, kid!” yelled a guy in a beat up El Camino. 

“Sure thing!” I called back with mock cheerfulness, resisting the urge to flip him the bird. “But I’m not a kid—I’m sixteen.” I flashed him a grin, but he scowled back, gunned his engine, and drove away in a cloud of black smoke. The heat was making everyone cranky.

I had been hiding out in the cool refuge of the library all day. There were about a million reasons it had become my favorite haunt over the summer. First, unlike our tiny apartment, the library was air conditioned. Second, I was almost guaranteed not to run into anyone from Santa Monica High there. (News flash: Punching your gropey football player date on prom night does not boost your social life.) Third, I was avoiding the hella awkward situation at home with my dad and his new wife, Sonia. 

Okay, that was only three reasons, but no matter how much I wanted to stay at the library, my dad insisted I come home for “family dinner” every night. So I was sweating my way toward the deafening roar of the 405 freeway and our dishwater-toned stucco building. Skidding to a halt in our lot, I locked my bike to a pipe and trudged up the cement steps. 

The spicy aroma of fajitas enveloped me as I opened the door, and my mouth gushed saliva. Stupid traitorous taste buds.

“Hi, Lizzie.” Sonia turned from where she was stir-frying meat and vegetables. Somehow, despite being eight months pregnant, Sonia managed to make glistening with perspiration look beautiful. “I’m almost done here, if you want to set the table.” 

“Uh-huh, let me just set my stuff down.” I only had to walk a few steps to reach my coat closet of a room. Between the bed, desk, and window, there wasn’t much real estate for anything else, but I’d decorated with a Pride and Prejudice print and world map, so I could dream of my escape in a couple years. Despite how cramped my room was, I was grateful to have a quiet place to settle in with a book, whether it was one of my dad’s classics or a juicy murder mystery. I eased my book-laden bag off my back, dropped it on my desk, then tugged my shirt to release it from my sticky skin.

Back in the kitchen, I grabbed mismatched plates and silverware, fanned them across the table, and plonked down into my chair. I picked at a new chip in the table’s Formica while I waited.

My dad came out of his room, his surfer’s hair a jumble of waves and reading glasses still on. He’d probably been doing some lesson planning for his big new job at UCLA. He’d been stressing over it for weeks. 

“Lizzie, glad you could make it.” He smiled at me as sat.

“Yep. Here I am.” To me the joke of it was calling it family dinner. My mom had died soon after I was born, so my dad and I had been our own little family ever since—a team. Then Dad met Sonia last year when they were both teaching at Santa Monica College. He’d started dating her without telling me, then he’d gotten her pregnant and married her, like, two seconds later. As stepmothers go, she treated me okay, but I’d felt completely betrayed. And I’d never felt less like a family.

Sonia set the sizzling fajita pan and plate of warm tortillas in front of us. Dad beamed up at her as he thanked her. I made a tight-lipped face that could have been either a smile or a grimace and mumbled my thanks. 

We started eating. Sonia’s cooking was frustratingly delicious.

“Alex, were you able to finish your syllabus?” She was asking, when a knock sounded at the door.

“You expecting someone?” Dad nodded at me.

“Nope.” I shrugged. Hadn’t he noticed I hadn’t had anyone over since my best friend Shauna moved away last year?
He got up and opened the door. After a heavy moment of dead air, he said, “What the hell are you doing here?” 

I arched my body to see who was at the door. A snowy-haired stranger was staring back at me. He had crisply ironed trousers, a suit jacket folded over his arm, and a leather briefcase. His hair still showed tiny precise lines from a recent combing. Everything about his appearance screamed money—the exact opposite of our dingy apartment and its chipped plaster walls. 

He faced my dad and spoke with a posh British accent. “I’m here for Elizabeth. I need to bring her to England to help Anne.”

Okay, what was that? Go to England? Who's Anne?

My dad jammed his index finger into an old man’s chest. “You can’t show up here after sixteen years and expect me to help you with anything. Does Annie even really need help?” 

The stranger looked past my dad, and his lips curved into a smile. “Is that Elizabeth I see?” 

I got up and stood beside my dad. “Hey, are you gonna tell me who this is?”

“Elizabeth, dear,” the old man said, “You’ve grown into such a beautiful young lady. And you look so much like your mother did at your age—except Philippa’s hair was longer.” He reached out as if to stroke my head, but I shied away like a boxer ducking a jab.

I ran my fingers through my shaggy blonde mane. I was light-years out of the loop and needed someone to fill me in.

“He’s nobody—” Dad said.

“I am your grandfather, Archer Cavendish,” the man said at the same time.

“Oh, really?” I said it like he’d just told me he was Santa Claus. “‘Cause my dad said all my grandparents died years ago.”

“If Alexander told you I was dead, he lied.” Archer eyed my dad, jaw tight.

“Is that true, Dad? Is this my grandfather?” My dad stood ramrod straight with his fists balled tight next to his body. I’d never seen him this mad—he was generally pretty chill for an English professor.
“Yes—technically—Archer is your grandfather,” he said. “Your mom was his daughter. But Archer lost any right to claim you as family years ago.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Your father is angry because of what happened with your sister after my sweet Philippa died.”
“Wait. Hold up. What? Did you say I had a sister?” No way. There had to be a mistake. I didn’t have a sister—even though I’d always talked about wanting one. Dad never would have kept that from me.

“No, dear, you have a sister. A twin sister called Anne,” Archer said. “She lives with me in a lovely country house south of London. Now she’s terribly ill and needs your help, which is why I’ve come.”


  1. Pitch
    Great job with your pitch. I really like your first paragraph and it sets a good tone for the rest of your pitch. I just have a few nitpicky comments:

    If her sister is dying how is their reunion amazing? Maybe emotional would be a better word here.

    I also don’t know if you need to tell the reader that there’s definitely going to be something romantic between Lizzie and Teddy. (Personally, I like to be surprised, even if I know it’s going to happen).

    Blackwood Hall is sort of just thrown in randomly at the end as if I know what it is. I think you should move it up and state that it’s her grandfather’s estate earlier so the reader isn’t confused.

    Wow, great job with your revision! Definitely added the necessary details to give us a picturesque view into Lizzie’s life. Love the build up for the grandfather to knock on their door.

    My only critique is the dad’s reaction. I feel like it’s weird that he says, “Does Annie even really need help?” If I hadn’t seen someone in 16 years, I would assume that the situation is serious. And ask what’s wrong after the grandfather says he needs help. Otherwise, great job!!

    1. Thanks for the feedback. You're right that there's probably a better word than "amazing." The sister isn't on death's door when Lizzie meets her, but she does get sicker throughout the story.

      Interesting about not wanting to know about the romance angle. It's a major part of the book (and very swoony), so I wanted to play it up. I'll think about that.

      Good catch on Blackwood Hall being confusing.

      Regarding the dad's reaction, I've had the hardest time striking the right tone with it. He hates the grandpa for stealing away his other daughter, so he mistrusts anything he says. But of course he would still be worried about his other daughter. I'll have to try to convey both ideas better.


  2. Hey Mary!

    As always, your work is so solid! I can tell that you put a lot of dedication and effort into your writing, as your phrases and choice of words are all very crisp and clean.

    Pitch: It has all the elements of a great pitch--high stakes, plucky heroines, and enemies to lovers! WHOA!

    Five pages: I have mixed feelings about these new details about Lizzie's life before Archer's big reveal. The good side is that it shows more about her character and aspirations (such as her dream to "escape in a couple years"). But it takes away space from the upcoming conflict, which I feel is juicier content for the first five pages an agent sees.

    You mentioned before that you considered starting your first five pages in different scenes, such as Lizzie disembarking from an airplane in London. I'm not sure if you need to change your first five pages that drastically, but you could perhaps cut out at least a few of the details before Archer's arrival.

    1. Thanks for the feedback and compliments! Yes, knowing how and where to start is so difficult. I'll see if there are a few lines I can cut to leave more room for the Archer drama.

  3. Dear Mary,

    Personal preference, but I wince when hearing "plucky girl". Perhaps change the first sentence to "Sixteen-year-old Lizzie Lowe comes from the wrong side of Santa Monica Boulevard."

    This pitch is SO intriguing. It's almost like a YA dark parent trap—minus the reuniting parents. While I think it can be condensed a bit more, it's still compelling and definitely leads me to wanting the pages.

    Be careful of passive voice in these pages. The first few paragraphs have a lot of "was" paired with the verbs instead of keeping it active. This can slow the pacing, so go back and find ways to keep the active voice prevalent. I also think some of the backstory can be removed from this. Keep us in her head, her reactions to what's going on and her frustration with being forced to contribute. We can fill in the details naturally bit by bit instead of having a paragraph set aside specifically to fill us in. The end, also, has a lot of dialogue, so double check it's all necessary and can't be input through prose or internal thought. I see all of these issues in a lot of writing, so they're very common. You have strong writing though, and an interesting plot, so this shows a lot of potential.

    Kaitlyn Johnson

    1. Hi Kaitlyn,

      I really appreciate your constructive criticism and the positive feedback about the query being compelling. If you have any specific thoughts about what else should be cut from the query, please feel free to let me know.

      Thanks for the feedback on the pages, too. I'll for sure go through my manuscript and make my verbs more active.

      Regarding dialogue: The next five pages after these also have a lot of dialogue, although I definitely tried to include Lizzie's emotional reactions to everything going on. Is there a good rule of thumb for how much dialogue is too much?

      Thanks again for volunteering your time to help new authors. We all really appreciate it.



  4. Hi Mary,

    I love your pitch! It gives us the stakes, the conflict, and the setting while hinting at dangerous secrets yet to be revealed. The only comment I have is that I wasn't sure if "Blackweald Hall" referred to the prep school or the mansion.

    As far as your pages go, I like what you added in the beginning before the grandpa showed up. In particular, Elizabeth's resentment of Sonia was even more evident. But I do still have the issue that I had previously with the grandpa's visit and revelation. In fact, it feels even more jarring because he just spills the whole reason that he's there right when the Dad opens the door. Maybe he can come in and be a little coy at first about why he's there? Again, for me it's about giving time for the tension to build.

    This sounds like my kind of YA, so let me know when you have it published, and I'll be one of the first to buy a copy! :)


    1. Thanks for the feedback. Now that you mention it, I see how Blackweald Hall could be confused as either the prep school or the mansion.

      As I've said before, knowing how to start is so hard! In this story, the father hates the grandfather, so he would never invite him inside for a chat under any circumstances. I see what you mean about letting the tension build, but I do want to get at least some of drama from the inciting incident in the first five pages.

      Thank you so much for your kind words!

  5. Hi Mary,

    Good job on the revision! My apologies for the late feedback; I've been consumed with work these past few days.

    I notice that most of my points have already been pointed out so I will just mention a couple of things: -

    Personally, I think you should mention the romance element in your pitch. To me, it adds another point of intrigue that draws me in. While the sister element is very good in itself, as a reader, I would LOVE to know that there is another element I can look forward to. Of course, you know best regarding your story, so the decision is up to you.

    Regarding your pages, I actually prefer this revision. To me, these new additions are essential. It shows me what kind of people Lizzie and her father are before the conflict so that I can root for them. I myself is having a difficult time to find the right place to start my manuscript, so I admit that I'm quite hesitant to give advice, in case it isn't a constructive one. But if I were to give advice, I will suggest that you play up the tension between Sonia and Lizzie even more. Right now, the conflict Lizzie feels towards her father is evident. I feel her anguish at her father 'abandoning' her for another. While I like the additional information on Sonia - her cooking is frustratingly delicious (love that!) - I think there can still be more tension between them, either in the first 5 pages or in the next pages. But again, this is just my personal opinion.

    Thank you for your feedback throughout these three weeks, Mary. It's been a privilege to read your pages. All the best of luck to your future writing endeavours.


    1. Hi Shirlyn,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I appreciate your point of view on the romance angle and the tension between Sonia and Lizzie.

      Good luck to you, too!


  6. Mary!!!! Wonderful revision! You've done a great job slicing in backstory, so that I can see Lizzie's home and family. I love that her step-mother is kind and really seems to care about Lizzie, even if Lizzie feels betrayed and finds her frustratingly perfect. (And you have a few wonderful lines that paint the picture perfectly!) I also love Lizzie's voice! But her father's reaction seems a bit off. If I hadn't heard about my daughter in 16 years I'd have so many questions, and to hear that she needed saving, I'd be frantic. The Parent Trap setup works in a comedy, but this isn't a comedy, so you need to dig deeper.

    I think you have a great pitch overall! As it is a murder mystery, I wonder if you can weave those elements in earlier. Have her look at a picture of her mother, or think about her and how she died so suddenly and how her dad refuses to talk about it. And if she has always wanted a sister, wouldn't she at least think about her new sibling? The pregnancy feels so separate from her, as if she has no feelings about it.

    I've really enjoyed reading your pages - you have a great concept here!

  7. Hi Erin-

    Thanks so much for your kind words! The way I wrote Lizzie's dad has been "off" for a lot of people, so I keep tweaking it to make it better. Apparently I'm not quite there yet, but I'll keep working to show his concern for both his daughters, not just Lizzie.

    Thanks for your input. Everyone's comments have been so helpful!