Sunday, November 11, 2018

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Koste Rev 1

Name: Danielle Koste
Genre: YA Comtemporary



The C.O. told me I had a visitor.

I didn’t have “visitors”. Mom could only make the trip out the first week of every month, and my sister never bothered. Not even once. 

I couldn’t blame her.

There were only two kinds of people who showed up on weekdays: the journalists, hungry for an exposĂ©, or the “fans,” hormonal teens who only knew their sweet suburbs and deep-web gore porn, hoping to come face to face with the felon they romanticized. 

I stopped meeting with them all ages ago.

Their fascination with me—with us—was more disturbing than anything we did. I remembered Jay saying once, America loved its violence almost as much as its apple pie. I’m not sure I quite understood at the time, how much love two gangly, teenage boys from Washington could get with a couple of 9mms.

I’d want to see this one, the C.O. said, and I didn’t understand until my cuffs were off and I was ushered into the visitation room. A chill passed my skin, like I’d seen a ghost, because that’s what it was like, seeing her again after the lifetime that was the last eighteen months.

“You look well.”

I stifled the sarcasm prison had groomed into me. Nobody looked well in here, but she was a polite girl, nearly grown into a polite woman. 


Her name was foreign on my tongue. Like I hadn't said it in decades. She hardly even looked like the same person. Her hair reached only her shoulders, darker and cooler than the warm caramel I remembered. Her face, more narrow and angular without the baby fat in her cheeks. I almost didn't recognize her, and maybe that was the point.

She finally looked at me, her forest green eyes a confirmation, along with the desperation and grief hiding in them. 

Right where I'd left it.

When I stared too long, she turned her gaze back down to the table between us. “I’m sorry I didn't tell you I was coming. I knew you wouldn't agree.” 

I didn’t bother arguing. She was right; I wouldn’t have. 

But now, I was curious. “Why are you here?”

She hesitated, painted lips parting slightly with an attempted answer. She chose against it, pressing her mouth into a straight line and retrieved the purse at her feet instead. From inside, she collected a manila envelope, placing it on the table between us.

My fingers knew the smooth card of these envelopes too well. Signed police reports, witness statements, guilty pleads: justice wrapped neatly in a crisp buff jacket. The facts. The truth everyone needed. The feeling of opening a folder and seeing my past, my actions, my fate, written out clean and concise in Times New Roman had become so familiar that I was surprised with what I found instead. 

Photographs. Glossy eight by tens stacked in a neat pile, freshly printed and still smelling of wet ink. 

“They’re from school,” she said, but I didn’t need her explanation. I recognized the first photo immediately: A before-Emma, red-cheeked from the borrowed rum, gold shining in her eyes from the sparklers. The next picture, a before-me, hiding behind an orange cast on my wrist, a heart she’d penned decorating the plaster near my hand. 

A different truth. A truth nobody was interested in hearing.

“These are great,” I lied, continuing through the pile of familiar faces, skipping quickly over one of Jay, fingers aimed at the camera like a gun and a grin teasing the side of his mouth. They were great, but they left my mouth dry. These snapshots of people I’d tried desperately to forget. People now six feet under. 

“A production company contacted me, they want to buy them for a documentary they’re making.” She filled the air again as I neared the end of the pile. A photo from prom, where I was swimming in a too-big tux and she snuck a kiss onto my cheek. “They… They offered a lot of money.”

I closed the envelope before looking at the last photograph. I could guess which one it was. I remembered the snap of her camera shutters, vivid as a gunshot. 

“You should sell them.” I hated that I knew how much a photograph of me was worth. She could afford that fine arts university she’d wanted to attend. If she even ended up going. I considered asking but decided against it. It wasn't my place to know anymore.

She nodded, considering my response, but as she took the folder back, she offered an alternative. “Actually… I wanted to use them.” Pausing, she fended off something that glossed her eyes. It lingered when she continued, her voice wavering. “I wanted to write a book. About school. About you, and me, and…” 

I sat back in my chair, fighting another chill that passed me. “Oh.”

“It’s why I came. I want to talk about what happened. And before too. I thought… Maybe it could give us some closure.” She let her hands wring in her lap with the admission, only looking at me again when I took too long responding. On a whisper, she begged, so quiet I would’ve thought I wasn’t supposed to hear if she hadn’t said my name. “Please, Sam. I need to know why...”

A thick mass swelled in my throat. I hadn’t talked to anyone about it. Not the cops. Not my lawyer. Not a soul. For eighteen months. And now she was asking me to speak. No. She was asking me for closure.

I wanted to tell her she’d never have closure. I wanted tell her that we’d robbed her of such peace, when she went to school the day she wasn't supposed to. I wanted to tell her I was sorry. That the thing inside her still keeping her awake at night, tossing and turning, it would never sleep again. I knew, because I never slept either.

I couldn’t bear disappointing her all over again, though.

“Where should I start?”





I’d like to say that I woke to the pings of incoming messages on my phone, but the truth was, I hadn’t slept a wink. I’d been too wrapped up in my spiraling anxiety to spend the night on anything other than my insomnia. The first day back to school tended to do that to me, and senior year was clearly no exception. 

I fished around blindly for my phone when a fourth unanswered message arrived, finding the cord and following it under my pillow. The bright white of the screen burned my tired eyes when I unlocked it. I buried my face into the musty mattress again, squinting with one eye to read.

[you up yet?]


[rise and shine]


I fought a groan, tapping a response with only my thumb.


An ellipsis pulsed across the screen.

[dont pussy out on me]

[be there in 10]

I allowed myself a final sigh before giving into Jay’s guilting, fending off the instinct to curl up and fester away in my sheets. It wouldn’t even take long. With summer lingering well past its Washington due date, it still felt like early August despite creeping into September. 

Rot season, my mother called it.

I smelled like I’d already started decaying. Rummaging through the clothes on my floor, I found my jeans and a tee-shirt that didn’t smell of death, then swayed like a zombie down the hall to the bathroom. 


  1. This beginning is smoother, and I have a much better sense of what's going on. I'd still explain what a C.O. is (my initial thought was commanding officer, not corrections officer). And people are still trying to interview this guy, 18 months after the crime?

    Very nice physical description of Emma. Nice description of the envelopes as well.

    How does one 'borrow' rum?

    I find it hard to believe that a mundane photo of anyone would be worth a lot of money in this day of social media. The press would already have hundreds.

    Still love the 'rot season'.

    This is a very strong opening. Nice framing with the prison scene, making us realize how low this character has fallen from his freewheeling teenage days. I want to know more, why he's in jail, what he did, why he's a morbid celebrity. You've hooked me.

    1. Hi Brian!

      Thank you for your comments! I'm discussing the C.O thing with my CPs right now, because i agree, but I also don't like the sound of using the full 'correctional officer' so I'm trying to figure out a way to phrase it that sounds nice.

      I think your concerns over people still trying to get an interview and a photo being worth a lot would be alleviated if you knew more about the context of the crime, which is hinted at in my query next week so :)

  2. Much better. This version is less confusing, and I am getting a better sense of who these characters are now. Loving the descriptions and tension between Jay and Emma.

    I like the line about seeing a ghost.

    I think, "I stopped meeting them ages ago," would sound better, smoother.

    I agree with one of Brian's comments (and question another). I believe you should tell us what C.O. stands for. Like Brian, I initially thought it stood for commanding officer. Though reading on, I understood it to mean correctional officer. But that jolting confusion took me out of the story for a second. About the "borrowed rum": I assumed that the teens in the photograph were passing a bottle of rum around. If I am wrong, it wouldn't really matter because I didn't question it or stop reading.

    I'm still on the fence about the texts. I think some clarification is needed on who is texting what. And, again, not all text apps use blinking ellipsis so this may confuse some people. Plus not everyone is familiar with that term. I asked my two older teens and their friends who were over at my house what a ellipsis is and out of five only two knew. Just something to consider, because you wouldn't want the reader to stop reading to figure out what the term means or what it stands for. Formatting may help this or you might want to remove the line altogether.

    I like the description of the MC walking down the hall like a zombie, I do this every morning until I have my cup of coffee. :)

    Overall, I like where this story is heading, and I would definitely read more.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment!

      Definitely taking a look at how we can work on C.O to make it more clear without compromising the flow of the sentence!

      You're on the dot with borrowed rum. I was trying to express that it was to do with them being underaged, since Brian mentioned first time around that the drinking rum suggested they were older :)

      I think the formatting with the texts will clear things up completely. I'm showing them on the left and right side of the screen as they'd appear on a phone, it's just impossible to do that formatting with the blog post rules D: with the proper formatting and the narrative interruptions together I'm confident it will be more than clear :)

  3. I like how you've told us the MC is male. I still think you need to pare down the description in the male POV and that you need to remove his view of her hands under the table. Also, you still have some out-of-POV descriptions like "my sister". She would just be Samantha or whatever he calls her inside his head. No one would ever think of their own sister without their name. It's weird.

    For the texts, as long as you make it's clear who's talking when you are formatting this in Word, it might be okay. As is, I still don't know if these last 2 texts are from Sam or Jay. I think they are Jay but I shouldn't have to stop to re-read to figure it out. That pulls me out the story.

    Since this is the picky round, I will also point out a few small things:
    1) This sentence is not saying what you think it is:
    "I fished around blindly for my phone when a fourth unanswered message arrived, finding the cord and following it under my pillow."
    As written, the "finding the cord..." is expanding on "arrived" not on "I fished around...".
    2) "Vivid" is used to describe something you can see in your mind, not something you can hear like a gunshot. You might want to use "clear" instead.
    3) There are two instances in this sentence where you are out of POV (noted in caps): "CONSIDERING my response, but as she took the folder back, she offered an alternative. “Actually… I wanted to use them.” Pausing, she FENDED OFF..." These words make it sound like he knows her thoughts which he can't. He has to be guessing or assuming. For example, he could see her open her mouth and shut it and then do it again, and that could make him think that she's afraid to say something, but he can't just come out and KNOW she's afraid to say something.
    4) I wouldn't call her a woman if she's barely 20. I'd still say girl or college girl or young woman.

    Good luck!

  4. I feel like I’m just commenting on the commentary that has already been said but that’s simply a result of having a manuscript that’s well polished.

    When I read this manuscript the first couple times I had to really look for your changes, which is great because it means that they didn’t disrupt your flow at all.

    To weigh in on the C.O issue. I immediately thought youth detention centre the first time I read it and it was clarified pretty quickly that Sams crimes were even bigger than that. As a reader, I think C.O. works.

    Borrowed rum also works for me. Although, I didn’t need it in the first place. I borrowed a lot of rum in high school and have many pics of glazy eyes from my high school days. I immediately related to the pictures.

    The elipse line is also clunky for me. I work in telco and spend a LOT of time discussing messaging and it’s not a common phrase I hear used.

    I also found the text section hard to follow. I couldn’t tell if it was a group message or back and forth th first time I read it. The second time I got it.

    I know it’s been said but when Sam refers to April as a “woman” I have a bit of a hard time believing a 19 year old man would have such a mature thought. I believe it when he was in his late 20s but the voice is also off for me.

    Overall, I still think it’s super interesting. I’d want to read on for sure. I’m looking forward to reading your query next week as well so I can know more.

  5. Honestly, I think there's not a lot that I can add that others haven't already pointed out. This is quite strong as it is now.

    To weigh in some on what others have said,
    I was fine with using C.O. and guessed what it was meant to be in this context. I think it would've felt off for this character to use "corrections officer" in full.

    Agree that the modifier is off in "I fished around blindly for my phone when a fourth unanswered message arrived, finding the cord and following it under my pillow."

    The only thing I'd add that hasn't been said is that I was a little confused when the pictures are described as "These snapshots of people I’d tried desperately to forget. People now six feet under." When the only people explicitly described in the pictures to that point had been Emma, the MC, and Jay, and while I assume Jay might be dead, Emma and the MC clearly aren't. I understand not wanting to describe every single face other than them, but maybe it could be clearer before that moment that there's a bunch of other classmates in these pictures, too.

    But overall, great job!

  6. Thank so much everyone. I've already begun making some changes based on the new suggestions.

    For the C.O thing, I've went back and forth with my CPs because I feel like using C.O is part of Sam's voice and using the full word correctional officer would be more for the reader. I think I've decided to stick with C.O, but I'm going to add something that will hopefully give context hints to the readers who don't know what C.O is right off the bat. This way it's like a compromise and i can keep Sam's voice but still hopefully give the reader what they need to understand.

    I've also added a little bit to the 'dialogue' tags between the text which will hopefully add even further additional help identifying who's texts are whose (I really think it will be more than obvious now with these additions as well as the formatting I use in the manuscript!)

    Thanks so much Ellie for the point about the photographs. I hadn't thought of that and i will definitely take a look at that!

    Thanks again everyone!!!!

  7. I'm coming in late on this one, sorry! I think you've gotten a lot of good, detailed feedback already. For me, this version definitely painted a better picture of what was going on. I don't have too much to add beyond my comments last time.

    I wouldn't worry too much about formatting the texts at this point, as long as it's clear that they're texts, which I think it is.

    This certainly does a good job of telling me what kind of story I'm in for, and that's something that a good opening should do. Nice job!

  8. Great revision, Danielle. The previous comments have some great suggestions. Many I thought of too so I won’t repeat them. I will say that the voice needs some work. It needs to sound more like we’re in a guy’s head. Guys have short responses, sometimes cruder ones depending on the guy. Just a few more tweaks, different choices in words, can go a long way in making his voice better. More guy-like.

    I disagree that you can’t give us what C.O. means. It would help the reader if you can fit it in organically. Like you can add to this line … “The C.O. told me I had a visitor. For a correction officer, the man wasn’t an asshole like the others.” … Or something in your voice.

    As I said above, we need more guy-speak in this sample. You could change this -- “Their fascination with me—with us—was more disturbing than anything we did. I remembered jay saying once, America loved its violence almost as much as its apple pie. I’m not sure I quite understood at the time, how much love two gangly, teenage boys from Washington could get with a couple of 9mms.” To something like this to make it sound more guy like -- “Their fascination with me—with us—was more messed up than anything we’d done. Jay had said once that we were famous. I didn’t understand at the time how much attention two gangly teens from Washington could get with a couple of 9mms. That was before I learned that America was obsessed with violence. Loved it almost as much as its apple pie.”

    Go through your sample and see where you can tweak a word or phrase here and there to make this sound younger and less stilted. This comment doesn’t give me enough space to show you more examples. You’re a good writer. Using the sample above, see if you can find places where you can deepen the voice some.

    You use “I’m not sure I quite understand” and in the next paragraph you use “I didn’t understand” – I’d change one to get rid of the repeat (the echo).

    I didn’t understand the ‘borrow rum” thing either.

    I’m being nitpicky here. I do love this excerpt, and I’m very curious what this guy did to get him in prison. Great job! Good luck with the revisions!!