Monday, November 19, 2018

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Koste Rev 2


Name: Danielle Koste
Genre: YA Comtemporary
Title: EXTRACURRICULARS  

Pitch:

Sam Frye has had too many bruises to count. With only his senior year left, he hopes to graduate high school and disappear from his hometown for good. If he can keep his head down, he might scrape by without any more broken bones. Simple.

Nothing is simple with his best friend, though. After years of shared torment, Jay is a barreled bullet, and would rather go out with a bang.

The opportunity to declare war presents itself in a list of preassigned lab partners. Rekindling a friendship with Emma, Sam's classmate and long-standing crush, is a temptation he can’t refuse. But with her, comes the attention of her ex-boyfriend, Nathan: Sam and Jay's most prolific harasser. 

Gaining the leverage to torture their abuser back, their mutual retaliations quickly escalate from bullying and beatings to brutal violence and unspeakable cruelty. At the ends of their nooses, they'll have to finish the fighting, before someone ends up dead.

EXTRACURRICULARS is a YA contemporary novel about the line between victims and violators. Completed at 90k words, it shares themes with HATE LIST and GIVE A BOY A GUN, touching on subjects of physical and sexual assault, suicide, and the gun violence epidemic.

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AFTER

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The C.O. told me I had a visitor while unlocking my cell.

Usually 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 really blame her.

There were only two kinds of people who showed up unannounced: the journalists, hungry for an expos√©, 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 them 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 didn't know at the time though, how much love two gangly, teenage boys from Washington would get with a couple of 9mms.

I’d want to see this one, the C.O added, and I only understood once 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. 

“Emma?”

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, then she 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 some. Of Jay, fingers aimed at the camera like a gun and a grin teasing the side of his mouth. And Nathan, in his crisp red and white varsity jacket. 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, me swimming in a too-big tux as 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 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 in her wavering voice. “I wanted to write a book. About school. About you, and me, and…” 

I sat back in my chair, fighting another chill. “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 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?”

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BEFORE

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CHAPTER 1

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. 

When a fourth unanswered message arrived, I fished around blindly for my phone, 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?]

[Saaaaaaaammmmm]

[rise and shine]

[?????]

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

[skip?]

An ellipsis pulsed across the screen as he wrote back.

[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. 


9 comments:

  1. I just wanted to preface this round with a little comment about the current revision. The topic of my MC’s voice was brought up by a couple people in last weeks comments and I didn’t want it to seem like I was flat out ignoring advice. I didn’t address it at the time because I was actually having very deep discussions about the topic with my CPs and getting further opinions, help and suggestions from outside sources and even as the end of the week neared I still was torn on the matter.

    I’ve decided after much consideration over the weekend to not tweak Sam’s voice too much from the original. I think that, out of context, the advice is absolutely something to consider, but hopefully the context of this weeks pitch can give everyone a little more understanding of the plot, topics, and subject matter touched on in the novel, and that will help readers understand this decision.

    The biggest deciding factor was the use of the word ‘guy’ when describing Sam. Really, Sam isn’t just ‘one of the guys’ and this is likely one of the traits of his personality that make him a target for the abuse he suffers from. Not saying that Sam doesn’t suffer from some of the same negative character flaws that a ‘jock’ archetype might suffer from, and definitely not saying that he’s ‘special’ in some sort of way, but rather simply that he's a loner and an outcast, and the tone of voice being suggesting to me to help Sam sound like ‘more of a guy’ didn’t really fit the narrative style that I’m choosing to present this story.

    I hope everyone can understand this decision as it was a difficult one to make that I promise I did not take lightly.

    PS. Hopefully the context of the crime hinted at in the pitch will also clear up some other things mentioned, for example, why the press might still be looking for interviews, or while a private photograph would be worth so much!

    Thanks to everyone so far for you amazing help and comments!

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    Replies
    1. Danielle, I apologize for not being able to comment on the last round. My dad went into the hospital and then I had to hurry and prepare Thanksgiving. It's been a week. I wish you all the best with this. Always remember this is your story and you should only use the suggestions that resonate with you. I was one of the critiquers who mentioned voice, so know that I completely understand if you didn't feel like that worked for your story. Good luck in the agent round. I'm crossing my fingers for you!!

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  2. Comments on Pitch:

    I'm not sure I understand Sam's goal in this story. It sounds like it's to finish high school and leave town, but then how does fighting with his harasser achieve that goal? The conflict in your story has to come in between the character and his goal (that's what makes it an obstacle). Is this fighting going to stop him from finishing high school? If so, why does he NEED to risk everything to do it? I'm sure you have these elements in your story, but I don't see them in your pitch. At a bare minimum, we need an inciting incident, a new well-motivated goal, some stakes, and some conflict. It sounds like being partnered with Emma might be the inciting incident (but I'm guessing here). If it is, I would expect something like, "All Sam wants is to get through his last 2 months of high school so he can get move to X, but when he's forced to partner with Emma--the girl he has secretly loved for x years--he realizes that he wants more than just to finish. He wants to finish with her by his side. [Note that I am showing a new goal here because story goals must always be incited which means they can't exist before the story starts]. Her ex-boyfriend doesn't agree. He blah blah blah, forcing Sam to choose between his GOAL and something else he wants or needs [such as the satisfaction of revenge OR maybe his friendship with Jay?]."

    This is not meant to be a pitch of your story. I'm just trying to show the order of events you want to use so we see how this all fits together into a plot. I hope that makes sense. Obviously, you have to make this work for your actual story which I don't know.

    Good luck!
    Holly

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  3. Okay, I’ll begin with the pitch. By the pages, I assumed the story it was about a couple of boys and possibly a girl who do something bad, and the main character ends up taking the fall and is incarcerated for it. But, it sounds more like a boy who is bullied and then… seeks revenge by bullying his tormentor??? (Then what?) If whatever happened between the tormentor and the MC went in the opposite direction from what the MC originally wanted (i.e., if the MC wanted to torment the guy but he and his friends accidentally burns the tormentor’s house to the ground with his family inside), then put that in. This way we know not only the goal, but we also a major obstacle.

    I’m not seeing any changes in this revision. So, if you did, then you blended them well. They don’t stand out. Good job!

    Good luck, Danielle. I hope your story finds a home.

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  4. I have been super intrigued by this story from the first week. It’s not even in the genre that I typically read but from the moment I read them, I wanted to know what Sam did that landed him in prison.

    If I read this pitch on its own, I don’t have that same level of interegue. It seems like a book about bullying where two sides keep escalating until something bad may or may not happen. In the pages, I have sympathy and compassion for Sam and want to figure out where he went wrong. In the pitch, it’s two groups of guys, hurting each other and I don’t feel sympathetic to either of them. I would love to walk away with the feeling that I should be rooting for Sam, in some twisted way.

    I love your writing and think you are very talented. I think if agents get their hands on these first 5 pages, they will ask for more. I also appreciate all of th time you took to give all of us such detailed feedback. It was much appreciated. Good luck with this book!

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  5. So I loved your pages from the start, and I think the tweaks you've made have only made them stronger and stronger. I'm not sure I have much left to critique there!

    That said, I think the pitch, as is, doesn't pair very well with them. The pages by themselves were so intriguing, but the pitch and the pages together sort of give away too much, to the point that I feel like a lot of intrigue in both of them is lost.

    Mostly, for me, it's that the last paragraph sets up that they'll have to finish the fighting, or someone will end up dead--except then, immediately, the prologue tells me that people did, so I know right from page one that he's not successful in halting the escalation. The intrigue that the pages presented was the question--what did Sam do to end up in jail? But the pitch answers that pretty clearly. And the pitch poses the question--can Sam stop the fighting before it turns deadly? And the pages answer that pretty clearly. So combined, because they both answer the question the other one poses, I think a lot of intrigue and tension is lost. I think, if possible, the pitch should try to pose the same question as the pages--or at least not directly be an answer, if that makes sense.

    On another note for the pitch, I think that somewhere in the first paragraph, it should be clarified that the bruises and broken bones are from bullying. I spent that paragraph wondering what they were from, and it didn't really get implied until later.

    Best of luck, Danielle, and thank you for all of your detailed comments over these last few weeks!

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  6. I found the pitch a bit confusing. It doesn't seem like one thing leads to the next. From the pitch, it's really hard to feel sympathetic toward Sam. I'm still not convinced that starting with adult Sam in jail is the best choice, but there's a lot that I don't know about your story, so I can't really weigh in on that for sure.

    Your writing is very strong, there's no doubt about that. It really makes the reader sit up and pay attention. Wishing you all the best with this!

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  7. Can I tell you how much I love your title? I guess I never really thought about it, but I think it works, the chipper title with the grim subject matter. Watch the alliteration, you have a lot of B words in your pitch. Wish I had time to read the whole novel.

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  8. Hi Danielle,

    This is a timely premise. Suzie has been traveling over this holiday. I'm posting her comments below:

    Hi Danielle,

    You've done such a great job here. So glad I got the chance to read your pages. Below are all my comments:

    Pitch:

    You have the great bones of a pitch here, but I actually got a bit confused about what the plot actually is. You have a good set up with Sam, Jay, Emma and then Nathan. But in that last paragraph, I got confused. I don’t actually know what Sam wants. When you say:

    “Gaining the leverage to torture their abuser back, their mutual retaliations quickly escalate from bullying and beatings to brutal violence and unspeakable cruelty.”

    What does that mean? What leverage? How do they plan to torture him? What are they doing? What are the consequences? Be more specific here.

    Also, after your comps, you should end the sentence. Assault, suicide, guns—these are a lot of issues and you should just let your query stand for itself.

    Pages:

    You should actually cut everything before the “With summer lingering…” sentence. That opening: Rot season—it’s such a great visual. It’s unique and catching and it sets a tone for the series. But the texts in the beginning of the chapter feel like filler. They don’t mean anything to me because I don’t know either characters yet. And the AFTER section undercuts the tension because it essentially gives away the ending.

    Your writing is good. I struggled a bit with the voice in the AFTER section, but I think that’s because it’s not the right starting place rather than a comment on your writing or his voice as a whole.

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