Sunday, November 4, 2018

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Robertson

Name: Kate Robertson
Genre: Upper Middle Grade, Magical Realism
Title: The Thief of Buttercup Lane

It wasn’t the first time a zipper got me into trouble. Everything until that point had gone according to plan.

6:23 - Mr. Verhoeven arrives home from work. Yells at neighbor’s Chihuahua for pooping on lawn. Face is alarmingly red.

6:45 - Red sports car drops-off Mrs. Verhoeven. Wearing yoga wear. Doesn't look sweaty or Zen.

7:00 - Delivery driver arrives. Indian food.

9:00 - Retire to their separate bedrooms. Possibly due to Indian food.

 9:15 - Fast asleep.

I wait the standard two hours before I even think of making a move from my lookout in the tree across the street, plus an extra fifteen minutes because I’m cautious like that. 

When I am sure they are asleep, I scurry up the drainpipe and scoot across the stone ledge that connects to the second floor yoga room. I use my powers to freeze the window and my charmed dagger to cut a hole large enough for my skinny butt to shimmy through (now before you get any smart ideas here and ransack your neighbors homes, let me caveat I’m an experienced thief. Way more experienced than I want to be. This ain't my first rodeo. Plus, I have a few more advantages than your average twelve-year-old. But I’ll get to that in a second). 

As I said, everything is going according to plan. I have done my research.

I cut the glass, and I am holding on to it for dear life, it is double pained and much heavier than I expect. Everything is running smoothly until I catch that darn zipper.

See, I had my eyes on these jeans for months. They were black, skinny, and distressed just the perfect amount with the cutest zippered pockets on the front. Plus I actually look like I have a butt when I wear them. Jeans like that don’t come along every day. Somehow I manage to get one of the adorable zippers jammed in the hinge of the window. Dumb, I know but I am stuck, really stuck. 

My arms are aching. Gymnastics tryouts started up for the year and Coach Hooper had us walking on our hands for what seemed like hours after school, back and forth, back and forth. Anyway, arms tired, glass cut, jeans stuck, you get the gist of my dilemma here. I figure I have two options: throw the glass to the ground below and pray that no one wakes from the crash or tug hard and risk ruining my jeans. Now before you go ahead and judge me, these arereally nice jeans. It took three months and commission from four other jobs to save up to buy them. 

Obviously, I go with Option A, or is it Option One? The point is, I throw the glass. The good news is the Verhoevens don’t make a peep. The bad news is that their next-door neighbor Mrs. Weston (newly divorced, lots of time on her hands) starts shouting at the street below “who made that noise? Daryl is that you?” for the next eighteen minutes rendering me unable to move without being seen. That’s what gets me: eighteen freaking minutes.

Eighteen minutes is all it takes for him to get in and out with the necklace. I can do it in sixteen but eighteen as still pretty impressive. The only silver lining in this whole story and the only thing that could possibly save my butt from an all-night tongue thrashing from my Uncle Larry is that I saw his face this time and now I can find him.

He did a very stupid thing. If they wrote a manual on how to be a successful thief, the very first bullet point would read, “never ever under any circumstances remove your mask.” It’s a rookie mistake, but really what can you expect from someone who takes eighteen full minutes to get in and out? So, I saw him, clear as day. Now all I have to do is find him, then it's payback for all the other jobs he messed up for me: the Eastons, The Van Burens and now the Verhoevens. 

There is no point in hanging around the Verhoeven’s any longer. The jewels are gone and I’m not a fan of Indian leftovers. It’s dark, and the street is quiet again, after Mrs. Weston’s rant. I figure it’s safe to jump and use my powers, no one will see me and my poor jeans have suffered enough tonight, they don’t need to be scuffed up any further as I try to climb down. I step from the ledge and float slowly to the ground, landing lightly on me feet. Unfortunately, I also land in a pile of Chihuahua poop. I now understand Mr. Verhoeven’s rage.

I figure the odds of Uncle Larry yelling at me all night are pretty good, even with the new information I have on our competition, so I decide to make a little pit-stop before I head home. Something to keep me distracted while Uncle L tells me what a worthless, good-for-nothing thief I am and if I keep screwing up like this, he’ll send me back to Aaronvale to be a beet farmer like my cousin Dole.

The distraction’s name is Andrew P. Jordan. The P stands for Positively Perfect, either that or Paul. We’re completely, undeniably, totally in love, he just hasn’t realized it yet. His house isn’t far, he also lives in the good neighborhood, like the Eastons and the Verhoevens and every other house Uncle Larry plots to hit. The Jordan’s have a large maple in front of their house. The lowest branch is easily ten feet from the ground but I can clear twelve if I am channeling. I love to sit on that branch and watch him. His face is perfect. I think he likes admiring it as much as I do but I am cool with that. If I were that good-looking, I’d spend hours gazing in the mirror too.

I really want to see him so I have to scoot. His light turns off at twelve sharp and after that, the show is over, at least the show I can see from my spot in the maple tree.

I am about to spring up into my branch when I spot him walking down the sidewalk, the thief who undercut our job. There is no doubt in my mind it’s him. Same jet black hair that waves to just below his ears, same papery pale skin and green eyes. Plus the dingbat didn’t have the brains to ditch his mask, he carries it in his hand as if it were his paper-bag lunch. Amateur. Rookie. Idiot.

I bid a silent farewell to Andrew P Jordan and his perfect cheekbones before I follow the thief down the street. He cuts through memorial park, turns down the main street and follows it all the way to the end before ducking down a small side street with a sign that says “Buttercup Lane”.


  1. Disclaimer: Please take my opinions with a grain of salt as I don’t read a lot of middle grade!

    Overview: First of all, the title is cute and perfect for a middle grade!

    There’s a lot to unpack here. We don’t get your character’s name or much information about her powers. Which is not necessarily bad but something about both these things feels missing. Like you have the space to include these things without messing up your flow too much.

    It feels like you really only reach your strides in the last third of your submission. The last 7 paragraphs feel much more solid than the start. It feels like the start, you’re trying a lot of fancy stuff to kinda, pull out all the stops with quirkiness and a strong voice and it’s just, too much. Your character has a strong voice with her spunk and attitude, I don’t feel like she needs these ‘sidebar’ style comments to the reader.

    I would much rather you use the extra flourish on giving some hints about her powers and how they tie into her being a thief. This reads much more like a spy/thief, action adventure kinda thing at the moment so I’d like to have a bit more of that fantastic, whimsical magic vibe going on.

    Line by line:

    “This wasn’t the first time a zipper got me into trouble”. I’m not loving this first line. It feels like you’re trying to hook me with a quirky, interesting little tidbit and it’s just, not working for me. I think the second line, leading into your cute list, is much more dynamic.

    Your list instantly sets up a nice tone of voice that’s a little sarcastic and I like that.

    “When I am sure they are asleep, I scurry up the drainpipe and scoot across the stone ledge that connects to the second floor yoga room. I use my powers to freeze the window and my charmed dagger to cut a hole large enough for my skinny butt to shimmy through (now before you get any smart ideas here and ransack your neighbors homes, let me caveat I’m an experienced thief. Way more experienced than I want to be. This ain't my first rodeo. Plus, I have a few more advantages than your average twelve-year-old. But I’ll get to that in a second).”

    I have a lot to say about this paragraph. First, you introduce magic in both ‘freeze powers’ and a ‘charmed dagger’ and already I’m a little spun for a loop. So far I haven’t gotten the impression there would be magic involved so I’m sitting here like ‘Ok? Please explain more?’ It’s difficult to introduce concepts like that when everything else feels pretty grounded in reality, so I think these little things need some more attention.

    After that, you have the little comment in parenthesis. I personally don’t like parenthesis in books. I think this could easily just be it’s own paragraph. I’m also not a huge fan of ‘I’ll get to that in a second’ like the character is aware they are speaking to a reader. That’s probably just my own personal opinion though. I guess I feel like this little aside just takes away from the action and the sorta, tension you’ve already started building with the previous lines.

    With the line “ Everything is running smoothly until I catch that darn zipper.” you’ve reiterated 3 times now that ‘everything is going to plan.’ These are valuable words you could be using for better things.

    Maybe it’s just me but I wasn’t really bothered with how my butt looked when i was 12. Your MC reads slightly older, especially with how snarky she is. You also mention the MC’s butt twice, which I found a little odd. Like, you’ve used no other physical descriptors for your MC besides ‘skinny butt’. Perhaps consider working in some more information about the character. (con't in reply)

    1. (con't)
      Really think about your sentence and paragraph structures, because I feel like they could read a bit better with some more punctuation and some breaking up.

      “Anyway, arms tired, glass cut, jeans stuck, you get the gist of my dilemma here” I know you’re trying to keep up your quirky voice here but again you’re using a lot of words to reiterate the same things that you could be using to tell us more.

      I think the common phrase is ‘tongue lashing’. Thrashing read a little strange to me and at first I was like, wait is he going to beat her?

      I think you hit your stride with the paragraph ‘he did a very stupid thing’.

      Again a mention of powers with no explanation is a little jarring for me. Like honestly I’m just expecting this girl to pull off a badass spy move and like, zipline down the side of the building or something, rather than just drop down with ‘powers’. Without an explanation of how her ‘powers’ work, it just seems convenient.

      Besides the mention of powers, I still think you’ve hit your stride here, especially now that we’re to Andrew. This paragraph is wonderful and the characters voice is really finding traction now.

  2. Thanks for your comments Danielle. It’s funny. The sections you referenced in the first few paragraphs were all put in after I had a review with one of the editors who runs my writing group. They were added after the fact and that’s showing in my work (which isn’t good).

    The paragraph immediately following my submission gets into detail about my characters past and powers but I’m going to look for ways to bring that in sooner.

    Thanks for taking the time to submit such a detailed critique.

  3. I enjoyed the voice and the MC’s snark here! It made me smile multiple times. And I liked the action and heist vibe.

    The first line didn’t work for me, though, mostly because it’s so distant from the section where she actually struggles with the zipper, so it felt a bit disconnected to me. I love the list that follows and would’ve been hooked by that alone.

    One other smaller thing I noticed was that she seems to have contradictory opinions on whether the thief that steals the necklace she was aiming for is competent or incompetent, since at first she calls him impressive (“I can do it in sixteen but eighteen as still pretty impressive.”) But a few paragraphs later, she calls him a rookie and seems to think eighteen minutes is pathetic ("really what can you expect from someone who takes eighteen full minutes to get in and out?” ).

    With the caveat that I don’t know if the vagueness is more acceptable in magical realism than fantasy, the number one thing I would’ve wanted to see more of in these pages was world building for the magic. She uses her powers to freeze the window, has a charmed dagger (how?) and floats down from a tree (and I think she might be able to jump, too, since she mentions clearing twelve feet while “channeling”). Is there a common thread that connects these? What can/can’t she do with her powers? Freezing a window and floating seem pretty dissimilar to me, so I wonder if there are any rules to her powers. I think you could include a few more lines about her powers around the times she’s using them without making it feel info dumpy, and it really would’ve helped to ground me.

  4. The contradictions are intentional and a character flaw that shows up a lot later in the book. I’m debating taking this one out because I feel like you’re not going to be the only one to catch it.

    I’ve started tinkering with my work already. I see how the powers seem all over the place right now. I do explain all the rules eventually but I think I may tone down the powers until I explain them more. Great feedback! Thanks

  5. Very entertaining and compelling beginning. I think you've nailed your age group.

    Whoa, genre shift! Kind of wasn't expecting that and it was a little jarring. And by this point I need to know if your POV character is a boy or girl, and I need their name soon. Also, I wouldn't use the word 'caveat' in a middle grade book.

    This needs to be two sentences: I cut the glass, and I am holding on to it for dear life, it is double pained and much heavier than I expect.

    So this is a girl, I guess. You kind of skipped over the part where she's inside the building, so it seemed she got stuck on her way in.

    Okay, I get it. I thought she was STEALING the jeans. When she said she had her eye on the jeans for months, I thought she was getting them now, not that she was wearing them.

    Eighteen minutes is all it takes for him to get in and out with the necklace....Who is she talking about? She's suddenly talking about someone, but we have no idea who. Later we find out it's her uncle, but that was confusing. And eighteen minutes is a LONG time for a burglary.

    Or is it her uncle or someone else? Kind of confusing.

    There is no point in hanging around the Verhoeven’s (should be Verhovens')

    landing lightly on me feet (my feet)

    The poop is crude, but kids that age love jokes like that.

    The Jordan’s have (drop the apostrophe)

    We need to hear Andrew's name earlier. Otherwise it's confusing when you refer to 'he'.

    So what's your main character's name?

    I love your character's voice, it will resonate with older kids. Great mix of sarcasm and confidence. Her mysterious powers kind of threw me. I wouldn't drop 'powers' and 'magic daggers' in immediately. Be subtle. This is not a commonplace thing, but she's talking as if it is.

    This is funny, compelling, and exciting. I know kids will want to read more.

  6. I really love this beginning in general. The list of times and events would be the perfect beginning for me, because it's something she obviously does a lot of while showing her voice. And we get that automatic feel of casing the joint.

    Also, I love the whole idea of getting her zipper caught. I think that would be a great place to add in something about how her powers can do x, y, but not unhook a zipper.

    What catches me up is the speaking directly to the reader. I'm not a fan of that, but I know a lot of people either don't mind or like it. Just make sure to keep it consistent throughout the book. The main problem I find with it--it feels like telling.

    I think you could up the tension and also show us her abilities by taking a bit more time, showing us a more blow-by-blow set of events. We go from her thinking about getting out of the tree to scurrying up the drainpipe. Does she disappear and reappear? Does she use any magic to do this? If you slow it down and give some internalization about whether she's worried or confident, we can sweat it out with her and also see more of what's actually going on.

    Voice--you nailed it for the most part. I think some of the cliche phrases could go. Like this ain't my first rodeo. Have her say something only she would say, or something from her magic culture. Also, things that don't add to the plot or setting. Like the whole plan a or one thing. Take out all the extra lines that slow this down to help the pacing. She spends a lot of time on the jeans. I get it and like it. But it's a lot.

    Can't wait to see next week! You're a great writer and I'd love to read more about this character.

  7. I love characters with powers, and a magical dagger sounds cool. But, they are thrown into the story as if they are afterthoughts, like "I'm this cool thief and, oh yeah, I have a magical dagger and I have powers."

    The writing is super solid after the two-thirds mark. I would begin the story at "Eighteen minutes is all it takes..."

    Your voice is excellent.

    My major issues stem mostly from the beginning: I was confused at where the character was and what she was doing. What was she across the street from? Who was asleep? Is she at a yoga studio? Are there people sleeping inside? Also, it seems like a lot of trouble to steal a pair of jeans? Are they magical like the dagger? Wait! What? Is she wearing them??? (Yes, this is what was going through my mind as I was reading.)

    I agree with Heather. If you are going to let the reader know the MC has powers from the get go, then let her use them. They could be used to help build tension in the story, and a connection between the reader and MC. Powers are awesome!

    I would definitely keep reading, if only to learn more about the MC (Love her sassy attitude!) and Andrew "Positively Perfect" Jordan.

    Great Job!

  8. Wonderful and helpful comments. After a few attempts to revise, I’ve rewritten the first 1/3. I think I need to worry less about the voice and more about explaining what is going on. Really appreciate the time you’ve taken to leave me detailed feedback.

  9. What comes through super strong is the voice. It flows well and has a distinct tone. I really got a good feel for her personality. Feels perfect for this audience. Terrific!

    I like the contrast between the ordinary (zippers, jeans) and the extraordinary (powers). Her weakness for cute jeans was great!

    The biggest problem for me was that I couldn't picture in my head what she was doing. I don't know what it means to freeze a window or use a charmed knife. I'm not sure how she "hangs on" to the glass or how the zipper gets stuck. I don't have an image to put with all of that. And I think a strong visual image is important at the beginning.

    The other snag I ran into was I thought the boy she liked was the 18-minute thief. The problem was that during the paragraph about the boy, all the "him" and "he" pronouns refer to the boy. And then in the next paragraph she sees him walking down the street. So I thought that this "him" also referred to the boy.

    So much fun to read!