Sunday, February 10, 2019

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Jreije Rev 1

Name: George Jreije
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: Jewels of the Nile

Bashir sprinted across the boardwalk alongside the Mediterranean coastline. He clutched three popsicles between his fingers, which were dripping spots of orange, red, and blue across the scorched cement. Each step he took was like walking over hot coals. It had to be at least 95 degrees in Beirut today. Had Mama brought a few pieces of lahme, they could have cooked the meat into lamb kabobs right there on the ground.

“We’re here, Bashir!” Farrah gazed up from making kissy faces into her phone and waved him to the edge of the rocky coast beyond the sitting area.

She and Ziad were resting along the clear waters, their legs submerged up to their knees. He handed them each their treat and nudged a space for himself in between, shoulder to shoulder. He stuck his feet in the water and let out a breath. Sweet relief.

“Thanks dude.” Ziad bit from the top of his said, “Sahtan.

Bashir signed you got it, but he knew neither of his friends understood what his hand gestures meant. He didn't mind. In the eight years they’d been neighbors here in Lebanon, spending the summers together, their company had always been enough. It always would be.

While they all cooled down, Bashir brushed away one of his black curls, squinting from the too-bright sun. Augusts in Lebanon were the best for swimming, but the mosquitos, heat, and enormous crowds made it miserable for just about everything else. Still, he would trade anything to make the summer last forever. Tomorrow, he would be flying back to America, to the frigid Boston winters. His friends were also returning home. With Ziad heading back to Michigan, and Farrah to California, both would soon be too far away to sit side by side with. They would be too far for him to listen to their complaints about school and summer reading and all the other things Bashir couldn't hear his American friends talk about, because he had none. He sighed at the thought. It was tough being different back home.

“Cheer up,” said Ziad with a distinct lisp, raising his nearly-melted popsicle in a toast. “To surviving eighth grade. Next time we sit here, we’ll all be thirteen!”

Bashir forced a smile as he and Farrah both raised their frozen treats to toast. That’s when he noticed there was nothing but the stick left on his. Peering down, lines of red and blue ran down his bare chest. He gazed back up and, noticing that Farrah was looking at him, he wrapped his arms around his chest, fearing judgement. But she only grinned.

“Uh-oh. Looks like someone needs a bath.” Ziad gripped Bashir’s thin arms. Before Bashir could do anything, Ziad shoved him into the water.

He didn't have time to curse Ziad in his thoughts as water cooled his face and head. He sunk deeper and deeper. The further down he went, the cooler the water. It relaxed his limbs and provided a welcome change from the heat. There was no need to resurface just yet, to get back to the real world. Up there, Bashir had to deal with bullies and schoolwork and all manners of wajbat―what his parents called responsibilities in Arabic.

So he swam deeper instead. Opening one eye, then two, sight settled in quickly. The depths were murky green amidst the sea plants. Fish darted by at frightening speeds, entire schools of them. No different than the kids back home, it seemed.

A gleam caught Bashir’s eye. He blinked and it was still there―an almost imperceptible shine amidst the shades of red, brown, and green all blurring together underwater.

Commanding his burning lungs to hold firm, he swam towards that light. His heart began to thump faster. Seaweed brushed his chest and the fish became larger. He sank down further still, to where the sand and rock intertwined, where tiny critters crawled in and out of holes invisible to the eye. He reached along the rough sea bed. His palm ran alongside the smallest of crabs, then swept across more quickly as the need for air reached desperate levels. His fingers found a soft patch and dug in. Scooping weeds and pebbles, feeling something crawl along his knuckles and fall away, he retrieved the shiny mystery last of all.

A jolt raced up Bashir’s spine and he let out a stream of bubbles. Though it had hurt like in the moment, like touching a hot stove, the pain vanished as he kicked off of the rocky sea floor and shot up towards the sun. He broke surface and his mouth shot open, sucking in quick breaths. Soon his chest settled as he began to take in longer, soothing breaths of air. The popsicle stick floated right beside him.

“I didn't mean to push him, I swear!” Ziad’s lisp separated his voice from all the others, loud and worrisome. “He could be dead by now. I’m going in.”

Farrah shoved him away. “Are you crazy? Going after Bashir will be hard enough, I don’t want to rescue two idiots. I’ll jump in.” Bashir blinked the water out of his eyes, spotting Farrah toying with her earrings. “Hold these, you darn―

He’d just gained full vision, ready for Farrah to come to his rescue when her neck tilted up and she spotted him. Both her and Ziad waved him over. He swam toward them, now several feet off the coast. He was sure to keep his hand closed into a fist. The more he swam, the more sand filtered out his hand, so he squeezed harder, cautious not to drop his treasure. He held tight until, upon reaching his friends, he raised his arm and dropped a glittering golden ring onto the rocks between them. Neither said a word as Bashir hoisted himself out of the water. Both were curiously eyeing the ring’s solid gold finish. It had no scratches or dents, appearing as though it had just been forged.

“Where’d you find that?” Ziad’s eyebrows furrowed, and Bashir swatted away his friend’s hand when he reached for it. “What gives? I push you into the water and you come back with a cool trinket. Not fair!”

“So you did push him, eh?” Farrah reached over and jabbed Ziad hard enough to elicit a yelp.

Bashir laughed soundlessly. He couldn't take his eyes off his prize, and claimed the piece of jewelry shamelessly, slipping it into his middle finger on the right hand. Holding it up to the sun, the shine intensified; he could feel his own smile growing. He’d gone with Baba to to Suh al-Dahab enough times to know that gold didn't rust, that it shined bright in natural light, and it was heavier than other precious metals. This was gold. And not just that, but there appeared to be three ridges along the top. Something looked to be missing from the ring, maybe a jewel or an ornament.

“This sun is roasting me like a chestnut,” groaned Farra. “And it’s getting way too crowded. Can we please get out of here?”

Ziad kicked his feet out of the water. “Ditto.”

They both looked to Bashir, who, gazing up from his ring, just shrugged. He got up with his two friends, still dripping wet. Thankfully, that helped in crossing the hot cement. They weaved around families playing with their young children and groups of old men stroking their chins over a game of backgammon.


  1. Hi George! Let me start by saying this is an amazing revision. You cut down on some run-on sentences, unnecessary descriptions and overall, the story reads a lot smoother. And you put Arabic in the novel! I’m thrilled! Well done. You’ve made my job as a critique partner very difficult.

    1) It occurred to me that you might need a word change on this line: “And not just that, but there appeared to be three ridges along the top.” I’m not sure if you’re describing the setting or the prongs. If you are, I’d suggest using those words instead. If not, feel free to disregard the critique.

    2) There’s a couple repetitive details I think you could avoid. You describe the schools of fish twice, you mention Bashir’s lack of friends in America a couple times, Ziad’s lisp, etc. I’d check this passage for details already established and see whether or not I really need to say them again. Ziad’s lisp, maybe, but the others I might cut.

    3) “A jolt raced up Bashir’s spine and he let out a stream of bubbles. Though it had hurt like in the moment, like touching a hot stove, the pain vanished as he kicked off of the rocky sea floor and shot up towards the sun.” –I’m not sure what hurt Bashir. Was it a crab? The ring?

    4) I still worry this reads at a level higher than MG due to the frequency of complex sentences. (Ex: He blinked and it was still there―an almost imperceptible shine amidst the shades of red, brown, and green all blurring together underwater.) This is a lovely line, but I’m not sure how many middle school children could read that and understand what you’re trying to convey. It definitely works for older readers, YA and up. You might need to simplify your adjective choices to words 3 syllables of less.

    5) There’s a couple sentences that read awkwardly to me. Ex: “He’d just gained full vision”, “Thankfully, that helped in crossing the hot cement.” I get what you’re trying to say, but I’d consider rewriting these sentences.

    Overall, this was an incredible change from last revision. You added so much more by taking away the details that bogged me down. You are a gifted writer. I can only imagine how good next week’s work will be.

  2. Hi George!

    Great job on this revision!! Even though you pulled out and scaled back some of your description, I was struck by how great you are at using details to really make the reader feel like they are in the moment. I especially love the drips from the popsicles, the stick floating next to him when he emerges. And I love that you added a detail about the ring being painful when he first picks it up.

    I'm still looking for some more interiority from Bashir. You tell us a lot about him that I think would be more effective to experience through his emotions and thoughts.

    Maybe think of it this way: When Bashir goes underwater, you don't just tell us what he sees. You have seaweed brush across his chest and describe what his hand feels as he searches the sea floor for the ring. In that same way, rather than just telling us he has no friends in Boston and that it's hard to be different. If you can show us through contrasts and emotions and let us see into his thoughts a little, I think you can convey his loneliness and feelings about being an outsider with more impact than what you have now.

    I also think it will do more to establish Bashir's voice within these first five pages. How he sees the world and how he feels about it shows us who he is. And getting that up front will help us to track how he changes and grows through the story.

    I feel like i have to disagree with the comments above about sentence structure and adjective use, though. I don't believe in simplifying language/sentence structure for middle grade readers. That's not what separates MG and YA. It's all about the voice and goals of the main character and how he interacts with his world. So as long as you really establish Bashir for us, you'll definitely be in the MG space.

    Again, really great work here. I can't wait to see what you do in the next round!

    Let me know if you have any questions!

    Heather Petty

    1. Thank you so much Heather. Adding that interiority will definitely be my biggest challenge and I will work on that over the next few days. I think I do a better job as the novel progresses, but definitely want to present it in these first five!

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  4. George,
    I love this culture. The sights. The smells. I love this setting. Certainly a talented writer.

    This revision reads smoother, and I can tell you incorporated a lot of the feedback provided last week.

    Georgia, just a few lines slow the reading down (Few ). Example: Commanding his burning lungs to hold firm, he swam towards that light...I wonder if you rewrite it to something like, say: His lungs burned as he swam...)

    This exciting adventure sounds like a fun Treasure Hunt. I'm invested.

  5. Sorry George, I accidentally keyed in the wrong letters (Georgia).

  6. Nice job with this revision, George! Still a few rough patches here and there, but I really like overall feel of these pages.

    I agree with pretty much everything Heather has commented on above. Definitely don't write down to MG readers. MG vs. YA is far more about subject matter than language.

    The biggest thing I'd add is, again, I'd really like to end these pages in a way that indicates how this is going to be a fantasy. Perhaps Bashir can feel/experience something when he first touches the ring that will give a clue as to the nature of the fantasy. Even if it's just a tiny hint of something extraordinary that won't be revealed until later, it's important to really hook your readers FAST. So something needs to happen in your first five pages that gets the reader to say "I HAVE to know what happens next!" I had to rework the opening of my first book a bunch of times to get the inciting incident to fall right on page five.

    I think these pages are really close to where they should be. Just get that inciting incident in there and you'll be in good shape.

    All best,

    1. Openings are hard! Thanks so much, Rob. I'll definitely modify to make clear (or at the very least, hint) this is a fantasy

  7. Hi George,

    Solid revisions and overall, some great improvements. I did want to point out one sentence that you might want to revisit on your next draft: "Though it had hurt like in the moment, like touching a hot stove, the pain vanished as he kicked off of the rocky sea floor and shot up towards the sun." This was a sentence I had to come back and read twice since it was a little awkward to understand the first time. Might be something to improve and smooth out for Rev. 2. Happy writing!