Sunday, November 4, 2018

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Koste

Name: Danielle Koste
Genre: YA Contemporary


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

I didn’t just have “visitors”; my mother could only afford to make the trip out the first week of every month, and my sister never visited. Not even once.

I didn’t blame her.

There were only two kinds of people who showed up on weekdays: the journalists, hungry for an exposé, 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 romanized.

I stopped meeting with them all ages ago.

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

I’d want to meet with this one, the C.O. had said, and I didn’t understand until my cuffs were off and I was ushered into the visitation room where a well-dressed woman waited for me. A chill passed my skin, like I’d seen a ghost, because that’s what it was like to see someone again after eight years.

“You look well.”

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

“What are you doing here, Emma?”

Her name was foreign on my tongue. It had been so long. She hardly looked like the same person even; 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. She finally looked me in the eye with my question, and I found my confirmation it was her: shining in her forest green eyes, desperation and grief, hidden behind her winged liner.

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 that I was coming. I was worried you wouldn't agree to meet me if you knew.”

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

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

She hesitated again, lips painted in neutral pink parting slightly with an attempted answer, but she chose against it and retrieved her bag from at her feet instead. From inside, she collected a manila envelope, placing it on the table between us.

My fingers remembered too well the smooth card of the envelope. 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 momentarily at what I found this time instead.

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

“They’re from school,” she said, but I hadn’t needed her explanation. I recognized the first photo immediately. A younger Emma, red-cheeked from the rum, gold shining in her eyes from the sparklers. The next, a younger me, hiding behind the orange cast on my wrist, a heart she’d penned decorating the plaster at the back of 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 the ground.

“This production company contacted me about buying 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’re offering a lot of money.”

I closed the envelope before looking at the last photograph. I knew which one it would be. I remembered the snap of her camera shutters as vivid as a gunshot.

“You should sell them.” I hated that I knew how much a photograph of me went for. It was the least I could do, to give her my permission.

She nodded, considering my response, but as she took the folder back and returned it to her bag, she offered an alternative. “Actually… I wanted to use them myself.” She paused, tiptoeing towards her explanation. “I wanted to write a book. About school. About you, and me, and…”

I sat back in my chair, rubbing the back of my neck to fight the chill that passed me. “Oh.”

“It’s why I came. I was hoping we could 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 after finishing, waiting for a response.

The anxiety swelled into a thick mass in my throat. I hadn’t talked to anyone about it. Not a soul. For eight years. And now she was asking me to speak. Even worse, 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 ages ago. I wanted to tell her I was sorry. That the thing inside her that still kept her awake at night, tossing and turning, it would never sleep again. I knew because I couldn’t sleep either.

I couldn’t bare 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 third unanswered message arrived, finding the cord and following it up under my pillow. The bright white of the screen burned my tired eyes when I unlocked it. I turned to bury my face into the musty mattress again, squinting with only one eye to read.

[you up yet?]

[rise and shine]


I fought off a groan, tapping a quick 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 his 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 it’s 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. I rummaged through the clothes on my floor to find my jeans and a tee-shirt that didn’t smell of death, then swayed like a zombie down the hall to the bathroom.

The door was locked. I banged on it with a closed fist. “Samantha, hurry up. I need to fucking piss.”


  1. You have me hooked. I hope this story gets published because I want to know exactly what went down (although I have my suspicions).
    I’m going to get pretty granular with my feedback because I think that overall it’s structured well. First off, it took me a bit to figure out the gender of the main character. At first, I was picturing more of a Bonnie and Clyde relationship between Jay and ?.
    When you introduce April, you use the line “that’s what it was like to see someone again….”. I think you need a different word from “someone” here. It’s such a powerful moment, I think this sentence needs to be extremely precise. Then you go on to describe the changes (I can picture how April has grown from a teenager into a woman perfectly) but then you say “found my confirmation that it was her” as if the character was uncertain it was her to begin with. It’s a bit contradictory.
    Your first to paragraphs start with “I didn’t” (not sure if this is intentional – may want to mix it up a bit).
    This last comment is also very subjective, when I read the line about “deep web-gore porn” I immediately wondered what exactly I was getting myself into, reading your work. If fans are romanticizing “deep web-gore porn” I wondered what terrible crime Jay and ? committed and if I actually wanted to read a book about that. After reading the rest of your work and getting the sense that ? may be a redeemable character and not completely at fault for whatever ended him up in jail, I’ve changed my tune (I want to read on) but I’d recommend asking a few others about this specific wording to make sure you don’t turn people off.
    Otherwise, I thought it was excellent writing. Hope I get to read the rest someday.

    1. Thank you Kate! Definitely things I didn't think about before :)

      I think for the 'deep web-gore porn' suggestion you brought up, I'll have to run it past my CP's who have read the book. I think they might agree that it's a accurate foreshadowing of what's to come, but an allusion to the 'true crime fandom' might be slightly more accurate.

  2. I'd drop the 'just' at the beginning. Makes it sound like they have more than visitors, not less. And some of your readers might not know what a C.O. is.

    I'm not sure if your main character is a man or a woman. And if they've been in jail for eight years and were a teen when they were incarcerated, it means they're now in their twenties, which is a difficult sell for YA.

    Wonderful description of Emma. I'd avoid repeating 'why are you here?' And I still don't know your main character's name or gender.

    Rereading, I realize they hadn't seen that specific person for eight years. You might clarify. 'Someone you hadn't seen for six years.'

    Nice description of what they thought was in the envelope. What was actually in the envelope confused me. 'Younger' doesn't tell me much. If they hadn't seen Emma in eight years, then it would from childhood, but Emma's been drinking rum, so she must be older.

    Avoid repeated phrase these are great/they are great. And think of a better term than 'six feet under.'

    Okay, I'm pretty sure your main character is male, but I don't know his name, which is vital. And he must be in his twenties, which is a no no in YA, unless most of this is a flashback.

    Readers might not know what an ellipsis is.

    WHOSE guilting? Stop avoiding names. And in this case say ITS not IT'S (Washington due date).

    Rot season. Love it.

    The f word: That's the difference between a PG 13 movie and an R movie. If you use it, be prepared to miss out on some markets.

    I'm intrigued. Why is this nameless boy in prison? Why is everyone dead? How did he become so notorious? Very compelling. I'm guessing this is mostly flashbacks, which is fine. You have wonderful descriptions and internal monologues.

    1. Hi Brain!

      Thanks for your response. The novel is actually all in the past (meaning that saying the beginning is a flash forward is slightly more accurate) but I have had a suggestion from an outside source to make the jail events only a few years after so that the characters are still under twenty for even the flash forward. I've already played with this idea in my next revision and will make sure to take your other advise into consideration!

      I also exculded the main characters name until later because he shares the same name as his sister, Sam and Samantha, and pervious versions of the novel people were reading Sam, and then seeing Samantha, and assuming that they were the same person and thinking that the pov switched or something like that, which was far more confusing than simply omitting a name for a few pages! His name is clarified in the following paragraphs, and of course, in the query of the book!

      The contents of the novel are 100% 'rated r', to use your words, so changing the language in this case would not make a difference. I already know the novel would be reaching a particular market because of this.

      Thank you!

  3. This is definitely an intriguing set up! I really want to know what this MC did that landed him in jail.

    The MC says Emma’s name, so I assume he’s pretty confident it’s her, but then the following paragraph is when he says he gets “confirmation” it’s her. It’s strange to me he would say her name before he would have confirmation of who she is.

    I was assuming the narrator was a girl until the line about swimming in a too-big tux. I think because of the prevalence of female narrators in YA in particular, I pretty much always assume girl until something says otherwise, so it was a tiny bit jarring when I finally realized he was a guy.

    I think it should be “bear” in this case, not “bare” (bear=to put up with or endure; bare=to expose).

    Is Jay the one sending the text messages? If so, I’m not sure why his name is avoided and it’s a mysterious “his guilting” instead of “Jay’s guilting.”

    The description of rot season is so vivid—and I love that the metaphor is carried into the next paragraph with him smelling of decay and swaying like a zombie to the bathroom.

    1. Thanks Ellie!

      Great advice and some reoccurring stuff that I'm already working on for my next revision!

  4. Whew! Lots of tension and mystery here! The voice is strong and feels very real. The interiority of the character is terrific. I got a lot of intense emotion from the opening scene.

    I have to say, though, I have mixed feelings about starting a YA novel with the protagonist as an adult. It feels like it takes the immediacy away from it. We know from the beginning that this person survives, that he has regrets, that Emma survives, and that his friends die, that he ends up in prison. It makes the rest of the story feel reflective because it is literally in the past, and for me it takes away the gritty in-the-moment feel that YA novels usually have. On the other hand, the first scene warns me that this is going to be a very intense story, that people are going to die, and there will not be a happy ending. So maybe as a reader, I need to know that going in. Like I said, mixed feelings.

    I also had a hard time figuring out the gender of the protagonist. I went back and forth in my mind a few times before landing on male.

    In Chapter one, waking up (sort of) in the morning and getting ready for school seems like a very cliche beginning. Is there something more compelling you can start with?

    One last tiny thing: romanized or romanticized?

    Sounds like you have a fabulous mystery in store for us!

    1. Thanks so much for your comments Lana,

      Definitely looking forward to sharing my new review with everyone's advice!

  5. Interesting first few pages, and with the setup, I can see where the story is heading. I definitely would read more to make sure I was right. (This is good!)

    Since I am late to comment, pretty much everyone is saying what I was going to say. I too was confused about the genre and ages of the characters. I had to reread the passages several times in the beginning and do math. I love math, but not while reading. I figure these characters are in their twenties? Sounds more adult than YA.

    I would specify what a C.O. is. I was confused at first.

    This maybe a personal preference, but since I really don't know the MC yet, I was jarred by the f-word. If it had been used later in the story with emotional context, I would have felt it with him/her, but here it just seems out of place and unnecessary.

    I was also confused by these lines: [skip?] and "An ellipsis pulsed across the screen." Not sure what these mean. Is it a prompt asking him/her to skip to the next message? Or maybe school? Are the ellipsis supposed to mean the other person is waiting? I don't know.

    I know a lot of people hate cliche openings. I don't mind them if they are done right and on purpose. Not sure if this one is a necessary setup for the inciting event but as far as I know it could be.

    Personal preference: I like "true crime fandom" better. I know this is a popular obsession currently. So I think the audience would get this and connect with it.

    Lots of great imagery and descriptions. Loved the tension between the two characters. I can't wait to read more!

    1. Thank you!

      I've done some adjustments to the narration coming in the next revision that will hopefully resolve the age issue. Excited to share!

      The ellipsis refers to when someone is writing back on a message app. It's fairly common and I believe this will be more clear in a proper draft since i use formatting to have the messages appear as they would in a messanging app.

      This opening was purposefully 'cliche' so I'm glad you said that. Or well. I'm subverting the cliche. He technically doesn't wake up because he's never sleeping. The mundanness of his morning is a set up for the other events. I'm using the morning to show that he has an average teenage life, until he doesn't. It's difficult to judge when you don't have more of the story to go by :)

      I'm still having a talk with my CPs about the gore porn line. We'll see what ends up in the next revision :)

    2. I figured the ellipsis meant the other person was typing or the phone registered a pause in response, though my phone actually says, "so-and-so is typing." Some people purposely type (...) to mean I can't think of a response or there is no response. This is how everyone I know uses it. What threw me off was the skip??? and then (...). I assume this still means "Do you want to skip school?" Like you said, formatting may help clarify this. :)

      Looking forward to you revisions. I'm sure they will be great!

  6. I also had trouble figuring out the gender of the MC because the voice comes off as a bit female. Boys don't tend to be this descriptive. For example, if I asked my teen daughter what she was going to wear today, she'd say, "the black striped shirt with the shorts sleeves that I bought last week at Garage." If I asked my son, he would say, "a shirt". I think others have mentioned this but you also might want to find a way to state his gender earlier in the scene.

    I agree that starting with a grown man and woman will be a problem for YA, but I think you've addressed that above. My only other comment there would be to keep them in their teens. 20 is still too old for YA.

    For the prologue, I think you take too long to get to the action. Narration is fine, but it comes off as telling and doesn't grab the reader for as long as you may think. I would suggest you try to get to the action faster and then insert whatever narration is needed later. Also, watch for telling words like "my mother" or "my sister" as these are talking to the reader rather than giving the thoughts as they would occur in his head.

    Watch for actions that are out of POV as well. For example, Emma is sitting at a table and puts her hands on her lap. Unless she's sitting really far back from the table or he's really tall, he can't see her hands. He can only know that they are not visible to him.

    For the switch to Chapter One, I think you would clear up any confusion by adding a "BEFORE" just to show that we've now gone back in time.

    Finally, for the texts, I think you can tell us who is typing these words. Many authors will use a different font with the name at the front such as "BOB: Wassup man?" You may not need to do this if you can find another way to make it clear who is texting here (I found it a little unclear).

    Good luck with the revisions!

    1. Hi Holly!

      Thank you for your advice!

      I have made a few small alternations to better express both the gender and age (and name!) of the character in my next revision. Excited to share. It's a little difficult to keep them 'teens' as the book takes place at seventeen. I've adjusted so that the 'prologue' is eighteen months after the events so the character's would be not quite 20 yet.

      I'm adjusting to make the AFTER and BEFORE seperate pages in the book. Hopefully I can express this in my next submission but it is difficult when we can't format the submission in the way we would in the manuscript. This also would make the text messages more clear also, but unfortunately submitting in plain text means bye bye formatting D:

      I've done something else to make who's texting more clear instead :)

  7. Hello Danielle,

    I really enjoyed this and am intrigued about the story, but had a few things. For another example: You have this ... "They’re from school,” she said, but I hadn’t needed her explanation." could be this ... "They're from school," she said, but I didn't need her explanation." One word change makes a big difference. You're using past perfect tense and should stay past tense here.

    As the others have mention and you've addressed, I couldn't tell who's head I was in or what their gender was.

    Romanized or romanticized? One is to make Roman in character and the other is to idealize. I'm not sure what you mean here.

    Also, why the semi-colon here? "I didn’t just have “visitors”; my mother could only afford to make the trip out the first week of every month, and my sister never visited." The meaning seems to get cloudy and lost in this, and the voice sounds stilted with "afford" and visit is echoed in this paragraph. Maybe you could rephrase it. Make it sound less stilted. "I didn't have visitors. My mother could only make the trip out the first week of every month, and my sister never bothered."

    I think you need to tighten the prose and pull in the character's voice better. There are many great places where you show the voice and then some places where it sounds feminine or stilted.

    Why do you need this prologue? Why not start when they're teens before the big bad happens? Is there a reason for this? With this prologue, we know he's going to be caught for something. Possibly murders? Will it lessen the mystery and climax in the story by having this prologue? Are you starting your story in the right place? These are questions I had while reading. The storyteller introducing the story at the beginning and going on to tell a journalist or something writing a book at the beginning is outdated and tired. Is there a good reason for using this? This works in adult novels, and would only work in YA if it's, let's say, senior year and he's telling her what happened in junior year. These of course are only my thoughts and others my feel differently, so only do what resonates with you.

    As I said before, this opening intrigues me. You do have many good suggestions above. And I did read your comment just now about adjusting it so the prologue happens eighteen months after the events. You might want to adjust the dates even more. Just my opinion.

    You’ve done a great job with this, and I can't wait to see your revisions.

    Happy editing!

    1. Hi Brenda

      Thank you so much for reading and your helpful advice. It really shows that you were reading critically and that's a compliment in itself.

      These were all really thoughtful questions to consider about the "prologue". (I don't personally like calling it that. I prefer 'teaser' since that's what I believe a prologue should be, but has not been in the last while in YA).

      Let me assure you that these are things I've thought of before, but the 'prologue' does come full circle with a overarching theme at the end which makes me feel like it's not only necessary for the 'moral' of the story, but also does it's job of hooking you. (as shown by everyone's interest and questions, I feel)

      The thing I worry about with changing the dates even further is context of the crime and the time it would take to have it all settled afterwards. From my research, it would just not be realistic for a case like this to be completed in Less than a year, even with the MC pleading guilty. Even eighteen months is pushing it. And it's not something that can happen earlier in the character's life as I wanted him to be tried an adult, which is harder to justify the younger they are (In most states you need to be at least 16).

      I think I will see how everyone feels about the new changes and regroup from there. See how it reads and goes over!

      I think you'll see the other things you addressed fixed in the revision!!!

      Thank you so so much!

  8. Danielle,

    Thanks for explaining! It'll help me when reading the revision. Glad to see you researched it and I understand what you're dong now. Can't wait to see the changes. :)