Monday, March 4, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Spizziri

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

My mom used to say best friends are forever, but the last time I spoke to Kace was nine months ago.

As I stared at his name on my phone, the city sirens and bustling tourists faded. Kace. My insides fluttered with something like hope before I remembered why I’d cut ties with him. My stomach tightened. Why was he texting me now after months of silence?

A tug on my t-shirt snapped me back to Times Square, to Liv, my roommate. “Evie, do you think this might be your story?” She gestured behind her, to something amidst the flashing billboards and passing cars and street artists.

Kace would love it here. The thought hit me before I could stop it, opening up the what-ifs I’d kept locked inside the past nine months. If Kace’s dad hadn’t left, would he have come to New York with me? Or if Mom hadn’t died, would I have stayed in Ridgeview with him?

I sucked in a breath and reminded myself not to waste time on useless fantasies. I had to focus on chasing my dreams, on making a difference by telling stories that uplifted others.

“Evie, what do you think?” Liv’s dark eyes landed on me, squinted, and then slid to my phone. “What’s going on?”

I didn’t need Liv psychoanalyzing me anymore than I needed to be thinking about Kace. “Nothing. Just…Alex.” Maybe I could convince her my heated cheeks were because of my boyfriend. He still made me blush sometimes. For good measure, I slipped my phone into my pocket. As if hiding it from sight would make her forget about it. “Do I think what’s my story?”

Liv twisted her ring around her middle finger, her tell that she didn’t believe me. Instead of pressing like usual, she grabbed my hand and dragged me toward a group of people huddled around something I couldn’t see. The bass thumped louder with each step we took, and then a boy shot up into the air, flipped, and disappeared behind the crowd again.

“Whoa.” I pushed closer. Eight boys who could be no more than twelve danced in perfect synchronization, ending their routine with three of the boys doing the splits. They all bowed.

Liv nudged me. “Told you it was cool. You could interview them for your podcast.”

My summer class was my first intro to my major, audio journalism, and I couldn’t wait to dive in and create my own podcast like I’d dreamed of. As a bonus, I’d landed in the class taught by Professor Bloomberg who was in charge of the Reel, the university podcast. If I could prove to her I was talented, I’d have a leg up on the competition when the Reel took applications in the fall. “You think anyone would be interested in their story?”

 “One of my professors told me about them. They’re from Ohio. A casting director saw them at a county fair…”

She kept talking, but the words Ohio and county fair echoed in my head, and I was instantly at the Water County Fair with Kace and my family, a dozen different trips melded into one memory. I let go of the compass bracelet on my wrist I hadn’t realized I’d been fiddling with.

“Seems kind of normal for New York, doesn’t it? I think we should head back.” It wasn’t exactly true, but I didn’t want to explain to her about why I didn’t want to be reminded of home.

“You’ve only been here a few months. How do you know what normal is?”

Before I had a chance to answer her, my phone rang. Dad. My thumb hovered between the red and green buttons. It'd been weeks since his last call but I already knew how our conversation would go. It was the same every time, making small talk as we struggled with what to say. Still, answering Dad’s call would give me time to forget about Kace’s text. And reduce the chance Liv might notice I was acting oddly and ask questions I didn’t want to answer.

“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 I knew 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 you knew someone 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 Kace. Kace would want to talk about it all: her death, my unexpected leaving, the kiss…. “I’m sorry, I have classes to take, and—”

“Evangeline Marie Daniels.” His voice was hard. 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, I’m nineteen. You can’t tell me what to do anymore.”

He sighed. “Evie, things are different without your mom. We need you.”

“Why? You've been fine without me all year.”

“I’m thinking about 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. I have to train Luke, which means Jackson will be doing Luke’s, and that leaves no one to train Scarlett before she and Jackson get married—”

I bolted up. 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 never told me anything important, instead mostly sharing weird things he'd found at the latest auction. I knew better than to think it was his fault, though. 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.


  1. I like the opener, although I might simplify the start with "Mom always said - " or even "Mom said"

    I was a little confused with the tug my shirt-Time Square-roommate & immediately thought she was in an apartment overlooking Time Square (because of the use of roommate). It's a bit of an awkward character introduction and kind of continues with Alex. I like the idea of the non-traditional introduction, but both instances forced me to reread the paragraphs to get a real understanding who the individuals were.

    Alex is basically an afterthought in the whole opener as the MC focuses on her memories of Kace. I would've thought there would be a little more about him given he's the boyfriend although not a long-term one if she's only been in NYC for two months, but that confused me a bit since he only still made her blush sometimes. That makes it sound like the honeymoon period has past and the relationship is older/stale. The phrasing with the potential timeline feels off. It's possible this is addressed later.
    The conversation with the father came across very realistic. That was easy to envision along with all the awkwardness and every uncomfortable pause. The "bolted up" threw me off as I thought the two girls were walking around outside, so it seemed out of place. I had to jump back up a few paragraphs to see if I missed an action of her laying down or sitting somewhere.
    The pages have the core of a solid start. There's plenty of info here although be careful not to info dump. We kind of jump around from Kace to Liv to the street performers to the podcast with a tidbit of the college class/professor to the phone call back home. Each one is putting out a lot of information early on and I worry it may be a bit too much all at once. That being said, all of this information is important, so maybe some folks smarter than me might have some thoughts on how to tweak or blend (if need be, and it very well may not be needed).

    The conflict is crystal clear and it is one readers will understand and sympathize with from the start. The dialogue is grounded and realistic. With those two cores, I have no doubt the pages that come next will move the story forward well.

  2. Hi Sammi,

    Overall, I liked this a lot and wanted to keep reading. The voice is compelling and you set up a some significant issues for Elvie to manage.

    As will be probably obvious from the concentration of my comments on the intro, I think the conversation with her dad is stronger than when she's half-listening to Liv and thinking about Kace.

    From the opening line—which I liked—I expected this to be a story about Elvie leaving Kace behind, but after finishing these pages, I suspect it's really about coming to terms with the loss of her mother, with Kace as a side story. Openings don't always have to suggest the main story, and this sets up a lot for Elvie to deal with. However, if the primary person Elvie must bid adieu to is her Mom, I'd start with the conversation with her dad, or bring that up before Kace.

    If this is primarily about Kace, then I'd put the information about the kiss in earlier. You suggest a possible romance throughout her narration, but thoughts aren't subtle. We're in her head, not observing from the outside. If the friendship broke down over a kiss (perhaps a wanted kiss at an unwanted time?), I'd expect that to be part of her thoughts.

    One other general note: this is set almost entirely in Elvie's head. I would like a bit more of the world in here. Times Square is one of the most iconic spaces on the planet, so mentioning of it does a lot o heavy lifting, but if it's also a busy, loud, crowded place. I'd love to see it intrude on her a bit. That would also give us a hint into how she's dealing with the stress in her life—does she brush off people bumping into her or making lots of noise when she's on the phone, or does she push it aside?


    Note: My comments went too long for this window, so a second message will follow this one.

  3. Hi Sammi, It's London again, this time with the comments on specific things from the text I couldn't fit in the previous comment:

    uotes from the MS are set off with double slashes: //quote//

    //My mom used to say best friends are forever, but the last time I spoke to Kace was nine months ago.//—I’m a sucker for a declarative, thematic opening line. This would keep me reading.

    //She gestured behind her, to something amidst…//—I want to know what that something is. Liv says it might be the Evie's story, but there's nothing for me to learn anything from. Since this is the first page, I want the "something" to be revealing. Otherwise, perhaps leave it as "She gestured to the flashing billboards, flashing cars, and street arts behind her," or something similar so we know Evie means the lure of Times Square itself. Although then you have to change Liv's comment, too.

    //Kace would love it here.//—nice way to quickly work in some backstory.

    //Or if Mom hadn’t died,//—I didn't realize Mom was Evie's mom until when she talks to her dad. Normally, "Mom" would be better than "my Mom," but because this is in a paragraph about Kace, add "my" might help with comprehension. Or I might have not had enough coffee yet.

    In the realm of very personal opinions you should give almost no weight to, Ridgeview feels like an Archie name for a town to me.

    //“Evie, what do you think?”//—Hmmm…this paragraph is tough for me. I didn't get the sense that Evie went to some dark place that would warrant a "What's going on?" comment from her friend. Since I didn't, I found this an odd transition. On the other hand, you're subtly showing that this is a bigger deal than the big of reminiscing suggests. Perhaps too subtle.

    //Maybe I could convince her my heated cheeks were because of my boyfriend.//—blushing over being caught thinking about Kace suggests she's pining for him, rather than missing a friend who she regretfully cut out of her life. I buy having intense feelings for an estranged best friend after 9 months, but—depending on what her feelings for him are—this might be a bit much.

    //university podcast//—She's in college? I think of the innocent days of Young Adult fading into the decadent realm of New Adult with the first utterance of a university professor, but I'm not an expert. This might be important, or not at all.

    //I was instantly at the Water County Fair with Kace and my family//—I'm getting a little skeptical about her attachment to Kace. It's not that after getting a text from an estranged friend, her thoughts wouldn't keep turning to them. It's that she's both in NYC on an exciting trip, there's been 9 months, and—most importantly—as a reader, I don't have any sense of her outside of this to measure things by. I'm mot quite sure what I want before this, but I want something that makes this feel more…earned, if that makes sense.

    //Seems kind of normal for New York//—I was under the impression that this was their first trip to Times Square (or at least an unusual one). If they're college students in NYC, I'd try to hint at that earlier so we read the comments on Times Square as new resident observations instead of tourist observations.

    //her death, my unexpected leaving, the kiss//—alright, so this has to do with romance. I'd be okay for being a bit coy about this in the opening except we're in her head, which I don't believe would be coy about any of this. Internal emotions tend not to be subtle.

    The conversation with her father worked really well for me. You brought a lot of emotion into it without it ever feeling overwrought, and set up a lot of potential conflict going forward. Definitely a good first five pages.

  4. Overall, I really enjoyed this opening. The writing is crisp and engaging, the characters very human and relatable. Technically, there isn’t much to critique. It flows well, there’s not a lot of excess, and you do a great job balancing backstory with forward-moving momentum. It did feel a little off that the focus is on losing Kace when her mother has died, and I couldn’t figure out how to address this at first.

    Then I had an idea.

    What if her mother hasn’t died yet? I know it’s a pretty big note for this clean of an opening, but I kept feeling this tug that her mother was the big loss here, since she and Kace could potentially reconnect. It felt like she kept fixating on Kace when something much bigger was going on, and I feel like she’s going to get drawn back home, forced to confront Kace, and maybe, in the process, come to terms with her mother’s death.

    But maybe there’s a way to make things more direct. Maybe she moved to New York after kissing Kace, because she’d always planned to go to college there (and maybe he stayed behind because of the issues you mentioned with his dad). Maybe she thought it was really over, until her dad calls today to tell her that her mother has died. This would force her to return home (she’d pretty much have to, at least short term), whereas, with her father retiring, it’s not really fair to ask her to leave college so he can get his house in order. He’s basically putting his future, and the future of the other kids, above hers. It seems like there could be a stronger reason to return home, and if her mom dies at the start, I feel like all of your wonderful threads would tie together really nicely, and she’d have to go back and confront what had happened with Kace.

    If that idea doesn’t work for you, I do think you could let the reader know why Kace is contacting her by the time the first five pages is over. I felt a bit like that was being kept from us intentionally.

    Other than those two thoughts, this is working really well. You have a strong handle on the craft of writing, and I’d definitely want to keep reading to see what happens with Kace. Great stuff!

  5. Hi Sammi,
    Overall, I enjoyed your beginning pages. I especially liked your opening line, but when I'd read your first two paragraphs, I didn't feel like they connected. In fact, it made me think well duh, your main character cut ties with Kace.
    Otherwise, I found your beginning pages engaging, but another thing that struck me as odd is that your MC is 19 years old, where as the typical YA characters are usually 15-18. Good luck and I'll look forward to reading your revisions.

  6. Thank you for sharing this piece with us! There's plenty of potential conflict here, so great job with so much good material to work with.

    I was a little confused on the timeline. Has she spent a year in college already? If you're looking to traditionally publish in YA, keep in mind publishers can be picky about the YA age range. There are some exceptions with YA books set in college, so not to say you can't do this, but a year into college will add additional challenge to your pitch and premise as a YA novel.

    You have a great lively setting in Time's Square to use to your advantage. Having something more immediate happen in this scene will help it feel more active. There will be plenty of time to work in backstory details when they're needed. Think about the goal for your character down to the scene level - what does she want to do in this scene and she keeps getting interrupted? Bonus if you can tie in what she wants to your overall theme for the book to start off. They could be trying to get somewhere and are late - the call causes further delay. Or she's out enjoying a day playing tourist and then X happens. Show what she wants and then how it is thwarted, even on a small scale.

    A number of times you have your character asking questions in her head. My agent advised me - when your character asks questions about themselves or the plot, see if you can turn that into a statement instead. A lot of times you'll need to dig a little deeper to find out what your character really believes, whether true or a false belief about themselves or something in their life. It almost always reads stronger. Seriously, every time I use that in my own writing, I almost always end up changing the question to a statement. Some examples:

    If Kace’s dad hadn’t left, would he have come to New York with me? > I couldn't shake the feeling if Kace's dad hand't left, he may have come with me to New York after all.

    Or if Mom hadn’t died, would I have stayed in Ridgeview with him? > Maybe if Mom hadn't died, I would have stayed in Ridgeview with him. My whole life would be different. ...

    This also gives you a path to show how she feels about that question-turned-statement. Rather than having the readers guess, you give a hint of how this affects them. Or have them deny that it's important to them, but show through action or dialogue that their belief is inconsistent with their action or what they say.

    The focus starts with Kace and ends with family and leaving home. You can absolutely have all those layers, though starting the book it might work better to show an active scene of life as it is for her caused by one major interruption - a call from Dad or Kace or something that jolts her back to the past.