Sunday, March 17, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Spizziri Rev 2

Name: Sammi Spizziri
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: After I Bid You Adieu


Eighteen-year-old Evie wants to change the world through podcasts. Determined to escape her hometown and follow her deceased mom’s hopes for her, she’s on the perfect path in an early college program. The only thing missing is her best friend and sort-of love interest from back home, Kace. But since he decided to skip college in favor of staying in Ridgeview, Evie’s done her best to forget about him. After all, the worst thing she can do is repeat her mom’s mistake of settling for a hometown boy over a career.

But then Evie returns home unexpectedly for the summer, bringing her face-to-face with Kace—and her grief. Things only get worse when her scholarship is threatened, forcing her to create a podcast to save it. When the story she chooses requires Kace’s help, he wants answers to what happened between them in exchange. Unable to afford college without the scholarship and unwilling to settle for a meaningless life trapped in a town she hates, Evie agrees. Spending the summer working together, Evie must do what she’s avoided the last year: be honest with Kace, face her grief, and decide if career dreams are worth sacrificing her heart.


Mom always encouraged me to get out of Ridgeview and chase my dreams, but she never said those dreams would mean inhaling horse manure on a Saturday afternoon.

I tried not to breathe through my nose as we strolled through the stables, waiting for the owner to meet us. “Is this worth it?”
Liv, my best friend and roommate, typed something on her phone, seemingly oblivious to the smell. “How else are you going to get your story on horse carriages?”

My summer class was my first intro to my major, audio journalism, which meant I’d be creating my own podcast like I’d dreamed of. At eighteen, I couldn’t ask for more. Everyone back home wouldn’t graduate for another two weeks. “You’re right.”

“So, who are we interviewing tomorrow?” Liv had unofficially partnered with me on my project, more as an excuse to get out of the dorm than an interest in podcasting. I appreciated the help, since I’d never made my own podcast, and I could use someone to bounce ideas off of.

“A Wall Street financial analyst. Wednesday we have a Broadway actress, and Thursday a sous chef at La Bleu.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “Important people.” She approached the horse in front of us and stroked his mane. “Have you considered telling a story about an ordinary person? Sometimes they have the best stories.”

“If I wanted ordinary, I wouldn’t have left Ridgeview.” The horse behind us whinnied, and I jolted forward.

Liv laughed. “I thought all farm girls loved horses.”

“I’m from a small town, not a farm.”

“Maybe if you ever told me about it, I’d know the difference.” Liv’s light tone didn’t mask her true meaning. This had always been a sore spot between us. But talking about the past wasn’t something I was interested in.

“There’s nothing worth telling.” I glanced at my phone, the clock reminding me I had only one hour before my class. Maybe it was because Dignitas University was used to dealing with us early college students, enrolled before we were legal adults, or maybe it was how all colleges worked, but the class tardiness policy was stricter than my high school’s. “I’m going to check where the owner is. Do you think the lady who greeted us has an office somewhere?”

My phone rang, and the name Dad flashed across my screen. It’d been weeks since his last call, a conversation filled with small talk while we figured out what to say. Jingling boots drew my attention to the woman who had let us into the stables earlier, beelining toward us, I silenced my phone.

“Evie,” she said. “I’m sorry but looks like we’ll have to reschedule. Roger had an emergency pop up.”

My heart sank. I hadn’t realized how set I was on this story, but it had an intriguing combination of elements. The glamour of carriage rides in Central Park, the rags-to-riches story of the owner, and the resurfacing debate about whether horses should be banned from the city. “My topic proposal is due on Friday. Is there time before then?”

“He’s heading out of town tomorrow, but I can do my best to answer your questions.”

I agreed. Before we had a chance to start, my phone rang again. Dad. My thumb hovered between the red and green buttons. Two calls in a row meant it was important. “I’m sorry, can I take this?”

When she nodded, I answered, walking out of earshot. “Hey, Dad.”

“Hi, Evie.” His voice was more upbeat than usual, like the life it once held was back. At the sound of it, I was home, the scent of cinnamon potpourri and peppermint tea threading through the house. But without Mom, that wasn’t home anymore. I forced down the lump in my throat.

“How are things?” I asked as he said, “When are you coming home?”

I exhaled. Coming home? I pulled the phone away from me to glance at it, like it might give me a clue about how to have this conversation with Dad without upsetting him. “Oh, Dad, I thought you knew.”

“Knew what?” His voice tightened.

“I’m staying in New York this summer.”

Silence filled the line. Not the deadened, dropped call kind. The kind where someone heard you but didn’t like what you'd said. “Didn’t you reschedule the Christmas flight I booked you?”

Now that he mentioned it, I had said something of that sort when I’d canceled back in December, an attempt to soften the blow of missing the holidays, but I’d left that credit untouched with no intention of booking a flight home. It was easier to stay away than face Mom’s absence. Or run into my best friend from home. Kace would want to talk about it all: her death, me ghosting him, the kiss…. “I’m sorry, I have classes to take, and—”

“Evangeline Marie Daniels.” His voice hardened. I’d never heard him speak to me like that. With my two older brothers, he'd used that tone a million times. Mom handled my discipline, and she had a different way of approaching everything. Where he was firm, she was tender. Where he was oblivious, she was in tune.

I swallowed, feeling like a chastised kid. Distancing myself from my family hadn’t been the plan. But if I wanted to move forward, to do something Mom would be proud of, I had to continue on the path I’d started: college. “Dad, you can’t tell me what to do anymore. I’m in college.”

“Barely. If you hadn’t gone to Dignitas, you’d still be in high school.”

“But I did go, and I’m not in high school.”

He sighed. “Evie, things are different without your mom. And…I’m retiring.”

“Seriously?” It’d been something he’d talked about since I was ten, yet kept putting off. My brother Luke had been waiting to take over the auction business since he graduated high school. He’d be happy. My heart leaped, followed abruptly by a pang in my chest, the reality of not seeing my family for so long catching up with me.

“It’s time. Which means I’ll be training Luke to take over, so we’ll need you to help out since Sara didn’t work out…”

“She didn’t?” I’d trained Sara with my mom to take over my mom’s position when she was diagnosed. She was supposed to be Mom’s replacement. “What are you going to do when I go back to school?”

“Scarlett will take over. All you need to do is train her before she and Jackson get married—”

I stopped, eyes fixed on the same horse who had scared me earlier. I'd heard Scarlett's name a few times from Dad the past year. I hadn't texted my brother Jackson much lately, and he pretty much only shared the weird things he'd found at the latest auction. Not that it was his fault. I was the one who left unexpectedly. I was the one dodging calls from home. “Wait, what? They’re getting married?”

“He didn't tell you?”

“No.” My stomach seized, like if I wasn’t careful something might burst out involuntarily. Neither of us said anything while we both probably thought the same thing: there was a lot I didn’t know.

“The wedding’s in August. We need you home. Just for the summer.”


  1. Hi Sammi,
    I really enjoyed reading your pitch. Overall the concept seems intriguing, but I feel like the stakes aren't high enough. I'm not too sure if losing a college scholarship just to come home unexpectedly would seem gripping enough to a reader. Could there be a tragedy that brings her home? Maybe Dad or Kace gets sick somehow? That'd definitely drive Evie back to her hometown. Just a thought to help up the ante.
    I feel like your revision pages are tighter, but I felt like there was character soup (too many characters introduced too quickly). Instead, perhaps you could go more into detail about Evie's feelings of missing her mom and possibly her boyfriend? Also, is she struggling to the adjustment at her new college at all? Overall, I really do enjoy your concept, but I think I'd enjoy it more if you went far deeper into Evie's emotions. Good luck and it's been a pleasure reading your pages.

  2. Pitch - While not ramped up stakes, I see how they make sense for a contemporary work. I like the tie in to not making the same mistake as her mom, especially knowing she has passed. I'm not quite sure if I see podcasts as an avenue to change the world, so that may be a little far reaching, but they certainly have the ability to influence people.

    pages - So much more clarity on the family relationship/jobs. This solve all my confusion from the last version and is well done.
    I thought the line about not telling me what to do I'm in college felt a little out of place since the dad had only used her full name, but hadn't really demanded she do anything yet. He simply asked if she had rescheduled her flight. (Yes, that's nitpicky).
    I do agree with K.L., there are a lot of names from the family tree thrown at us at the end. If we hadn't read two previous versions, this might be a time to slow your roll ;-) Basically, find a way to condense the need for her to come home by delaying introducing one or two of those characters until a page or two later. I'm not sure if that would work, but simply worth a consideration.
    Overall, the pages are great. Any suggestion above is nitpicky as the flow is smooth and the story fleshed out well early. This is a great improvement from your first pages and I think you are where you need to be! Congrats on a job well done.

  3. Pitch: Wow, this pitch is fantastic! You’ve so perfectly articulated the stakes, and Evie’s choices are explained really wonderfully. I might tweak the line “But then Evie returns home unexpectedly for the summer…” to something like “But then a family crisis draws Evie home for the summer….” Something about the phrase “unexpectedly returns home” was snagging my attention, because, while the reason to return home is unexpected, she still chooses to go back there.

    Pages: You’ve done a wonderful job here. Everything is flowing really nicely, and the emotion and tension feel very clear. I’m still not certain why Scarlett can’t be trained alongside Luke—it feels like Scarlett’s training and the dad needing a replacement for Sara are two separate issues. I also felt like the two names (Scarlett and Sara) were a little too similar, since they’re both characters we don’t know, mentioned in the same section. But that’s me being very nitpicky. You’ve done a fabulous job revising this already strong section, and the result is so engaging. Great work!

  4. Hey Sammi,

    I love the pitch. Everything is clear, the stakes are very 18, plus dealing with loss. A couple of small things to think about: the way you frame “repeating her mom’s mistake” makes it sound like Evie’s mom regretted and resented marrying Evie’s dad. From your pages, I don’t get the sense that they had a troubled marriage. Unless this is something her mom shared (and if so, why?), perhaps you can reframe this? As well, the need to create a podcast to save her scholarship didn’t quite ring true. I’m assuming she’s not on a podcast scholarship, so if you put in a few words about what threatens her scholarship, it might read more smoothly.

    The pages are so much better. The opening discussion still has a bit more background information than I think you need, but I never felt it slowed down the pacing.

    I know the 1250 word limit forced me into choices I wouldn’t have made, so perhaps you were working against that, but I wanted a bit more interaction between Live and Evie before the call. The call is the conflict, but I wasn’t as pulled into that first part as much as I think I could be if it were given some breathing room. Right now, it feels efficient to me: it conveys the background information you need the reader to know before the call. However, it doesn’t give me a sense of who Evie or Liv are. I want a few more paragraphs—perhaps with it’s own mini-conflict—before it jumps to the call. I wonder if you’re rushing the inciting event. Devoting the chapter to showing us how good (or not good) Evie’’s life in NY is before it’s taken away from her will up the stakes when she does talk to her dad.

    Persnickety note: I found the name Dignitas University distracting. To me, it sounds like a euthanasia center or perhaps a manned care facility, not a university.

    It’s been wonderful to see you use the critiques so effectively.


  5. I breezed right through this. You've got a great pitch. This is something so relevant to kids who leave home and try to balance that stage in life where they're becoming their own person while navigating family.

    In the pitch...

    In the first paragraph, I think you could combine the last sentence into the first to avoid redundancy and make it more punchy. I also think you basically skip over the inciting incident by making it 'an unexpected event.' It's this event, her leaving what she wants to help her family in need that makes us believe she's the hero we can get behind. So I wouldn't gloss over it. I'd make it the last sentence in your first paragraph.

    That leads us into the second paragraph, which is what happens after the inciting incident and leads us to the stakes. You've got all those elements in play nicely.

    In the pages...

    Your first line made me laugh! I love it.
    These pages are good and your writing is smooth. Easy to read. It's really great.

    Overall, even for a contemporary, I'd like bigger stakes. It could be a more well-known university that she was losing the scholarship to. She's worked so hard to get out of the small town and was living the big-city life at NYU or something. Instead of some job she had to train someone for, her father could've been in an accident. He'd been forced to retire and literally couldn't train them. Or something like that. Right now, it doesn't feel realistic. Surely to a good father like hers (a father she'd be willing to help), it might be worth working another year if you knew your daughter's scholarship was being put in jeopardy by it. In these ways, the protagonist has to be forced on this journey, or the reality is, it smacks of obvious plot devices to the reader.

    I also would rather that she keep avoiding her father's call, having it ring in her pocket the whole time she's interviewing the lady. It could be a short interview, glossed over with a couple of sentences. But it would make the person on the other end justified in being mad. Especially if it was a more dire situation. And it would also have the effect of increasing tension while also showing us that she's trying not to be rude to the woman standing in front of her. It would also show how much she cares about doing well in the college program she's trying so hard at. Right now, after only a second call, she appears a bit rude to the woman and also like she doesn't care as much about the college as she says she does.

    Real life--my own mother was in a car accident her first summer of college and had to come home and recover the entire summer. She never went back to the big time university and ended up having a small town life. So it does happen.

    Make sure to tighten and add in more visceral responses. An example:

    Instead of "I'd never heard him talk to me like that." you could shorten to "He'd never spoken to me like that." Then tell us how it's making her body react. Is her pulse quickening? Does she turn red and then have to hide her embarrassment with a fake smile?

    Are there smells, sounds, sirens, etc. Amp up the world.

    This is a great first five pages!
    Heather Cashman

    1. Thank you, what a helpful critique! You're bringing up the things in the back of mind I've been feeling are "off" so hearing you say them really solidifies what I need to work on. Excited to brainstorm and revise with these thoughts in mind! :)

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