Sunday, April 7, 2019

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Kerwin

Linda Smith Kerwin
YA Contemporary (with a pinch of fantasy)
Title: Text Messenger

CHAPTER 1 – Of Broken Things

Texting and driving is something I thought I'd never do. I even took the online “It Can Wait Pledge.” It was a promise I had meant to keep. But I broke it…just once.    

It was the first Sunday night of summer vacation. I was on my way home from my friend Sarah’s house when my phone signaled a message. A quick glance told me it was from her. I needed to see this message. Sarah’s sister had been in labor all day, and I guessed that there was news about the baby.

My eyes lifted to the darkened road…no traffic in sight. I picked up my phone and quickly read: 

It’s a girl…Mom and baby fine. I’ll pick u up at 10 am to visit.

I let out a deep sigh. Sarah’s sister had had a difficult pregnancy, but it was over, and they were okay. 

I bit my lip and hesitated for a moment as I considered what I was about to do, but I was so excited and relieved for Sarah and her family, I couldn’t wait to reply. It would be okay. I’d make it quick.    

I typed: Gr8…just the one word…and hit send. 

When I looked up, headlights were coming at me.        

I had crossed the line and was on the wrong side of the road.      

My stomach lurched. I jerked the steering wheel hard to the right. The car went into a spin. Time began to slow down. I watched my phone glide to the floor, and I swore I would have floated away if I hadn’t been tethered by the seat belt.      

Holding fast to the steering wheel, I looked back at the windshield. The night sky was circling around me, passing clouds joining in a hideous dance I was helpless to stop. 

Then came a huge tree. My foot searched for the brake… then nothing.    

When I came to, I didn’t know where I was. I could tell I was in a bed, my head on a pillow, and I was covered to my neck with a blanket. Something was wrong with my left arm…it hurt, and I couldn’t move it.     

I sensed I’d been asleep a long time, but I had no recollection of going to bed. I worked to open my eyes, but they were stuck shut. 

Nothing, though, was wrong with my nose. It was picking up the smell of cigarette smoke--strong and nauseating. I forced my eyelids open to see where it was coming from. 

My vision took a moment to clear, and then I saw the owner of the stench peering down at me. She had a round face full of wrinkles and graying hair under a white cap and wore an old-fashioned white uniform. I figured her to be a nurse, even though she didn’t look like the nurses in colorful scrubs I was used to seeing.     

“Hello, dear, how are you feeling?” she asked in a rough voice, blowing her smoky breath down onto me.

“Where am I?” I managed to get this totally lame and unoriginal question out of my dry throat, blinking my eyes against the light as I looked around. 

“You’re at University Hospital…in the pediatric ward,” she replied with a gentle smile.

“What university?”

“The University of Michigan.”

The room we were in was nothing like any I had ever seen at U Hospital. It was huge and crowded. I counted four other beds--ancient-looking beds--in my line of vision through the opening in the bedside curtains. 

There were no TVs hanging off the wall. No bedside phones. No white boards for hospital staff to write on. 

I lifted my head again to get a better look, and this time ended up throwing up over the side of the bed. 

The nurse held my head, then cleaned me up, all the while clucking at me. “Dear, try to lay still until the anesthesia wears off a bit. That often causes nausea.”

“Anesthesia? Why did I have anesthesia?” My voice sounded far away. It seemed as if my mouth was filled with cotton.

“Well, you were in some kind of accident and your arm was broken. They did surgery to repair it.”

In a rush, it came back to me. Sending the text. Seeing headlights. Jerking the steering wheel. Then the tree.

That was it. I must have slammed into the tree and broken my arm. That’s why it hurt. Using my right arm, which I realized was attached to an IV line, I threw off the blanket and saw the left arm wrapped in bandages and strapped to a board.

“Don’t worry,” the nurse said. “Dr. Roberts will be by to explain it all to you later.”

That was reassuring. Dr. Roberts was my family’s pediatrician and a totally awesome doctor who had her patients call her Dr. Jennifer.

“Did she do the surgery?” I asked.


“Yeah, Dr. Roberts, my doctor.”

“Your surgeon is a man. Dr. John Roberts.”

I realized through the fog in my head that I had asked a foolish question. My pediatrician was not a surgeon. 

“I was thinking about my personal doctor, Jennifer Roberts. I thought she might be coming by. Do you know her?”     

“No,” she said, frowning. “I’ve never heard of a Dr. Jennifer Roberts.” She shook her head slightly and added, “Anyway, I’m Helen. I’ll be your nurse today.” Then she repeated the first question she had asked me. “So, how are you feeling?  Any pain?”

I nodded as I watched the ceiling start to spin. “Some, and I’m a bit dizzy…and confused.”

“That’s to be expected. The anesthesia and the concussion can cause that.”

Concussion? I didn’t ask for an explanation. I was too tired to talk anymore or to reach for my head to check for damage.

Nurse Helen showed no such fatigue. “So, what’s your name, dear? They didn’t get any response out of you in recovery.”

“Madison. Madison Gracie,” I managed to get out in a mumble.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t quite get that. What did you say?” she said, leaning closer.

My eyes closed against the round face. I turned my head to try to escape the stomach-turning stink and said, “My name is Madison. Madison Gracie. Can you give me something for the pain… and the nausea? Please.”

“I’ll go check with the doctor. In the meantime, would you like us to contact your family for you?”

Family! Nonna! OMG! Nonna had been waiting at home for me with a pizza and a movie. She had to be freaked out with worry. “Yes, please call my nonn--my grandmother.”

“What about your parents?”

“They’re not home…” My eyelids kept drooping and thoughts wouldn’t form clearly in my mind. “Just my grandmother is there.”

Nurse Helen lifted a pen. “Okay, what’s the phone number?” 

I mumbled it out and stopped fighting with my eyelids.

“And her name?”

“Uh…Gabriella Ricardi.”

“Okay. We’ll let her know you’re here and I’ll get back to you about the medicine.”

I wanted to thank her, but my lips wouldn’t move anymore.

As she drew the bed curtains, she added, “You just rest a bit now, Gracie dear.” 

I was dozing off before I could explain to her that Gracie was my last name, not my first.


  1. I’m guessing this is a bit time-travel focused? I really love the mystery behind it. I also like how you were able to get me to like and care about Madison from the beginning. She must be a sweet girl to care so deeply for her friend’s sister. Great first line, too!

    You definitely have a cool premise that makes me want to read more. I’d love it if you could find a way to cut down on some of the banter with the nurse and maybe get to a bigger reveal in these first pages. You sort of hint that she’s back in time, but I wanted to see more proof because right now it’s just a guess. The smoking and old looking beds are a great start. Maybe something bigger could clue her in and make her think she was hallucinating or something? I’m sure you have this later on in the MS, but moving it up might create more drama.

    This is kind of nit-picky, but you use text speak like “u” instead of “you” and “gr8” instead of “great.” I would double check to see if teens really do this anymore. Most of the teens I know don’t use shortcuts like that.

    This was a really cool scene! I’m excited to see where you go next.


  2. Hi Linda, and welcome to the workshop! I'm excited to be one of your assigned mentors.
    Thank you for the opportunity to read the pages for Text Messenger. Here are some initial thoughts that I hope would be useful to your revision:

    The opening lines... Just something from an "international reader" view point: The opening lines confused me because "It can wait pledge" appears to be a purely US thing and as an Australian my first reaction was - wait, what? But a quick google search made it all much clearer:)

    Overall, I found the pages well-written; and it was easy to follow. Having said that, I was expecting some kind of hook, something to capture my attention a little bit more - and while Madison's accident did make me worry for her, I kept wanting something else to happen. Is it possible to introduce some early hints as to what the story is really about? Perhaps in Madison's confusion of waking up after the surgery, some more alarming things are revealed from her conversation with the nurse? As a reader, I want to feel the unease, something that's not quite lining up, etc.

    Hope this is helpful! Can't wait to see your next version.

  3. I really like these first pages and don't have a ton of edits. It's interesting and I feel a sense of impending doom. but maybe I'm wrong about that. I feel like you're setting us up that something super weird is happening with the doctor and her arm. Like she's part of an experiment or something? maybe give even more clues of weirdness. Like what hospital nurse smells like cigarettes? that was a nice touch that made me think something is up! So if it's just a regular broken arm and concussion and she's fine then I might have a problem with these first pages. I liked the opening line, but I would take out the line about the pledge or change it a little. Felt odd. And I think you could tell her us age by saying it was the first Sunday of summer after high school graduation... or whatever it is.

  4. Hi Linda, Our author mentor is having trouble commenting in the blog, so I've cut and pasted her comments here. ELD

    Comments by L. E. Sterling

    Linda, you have managed in a short few pages to set up a truly creepy vibe here! Wow! I can clearly see there is a disconnect between Madison’s reality after the accident, and there are so many amazing places I can see this MS going from here! Great job!

    I think you can afford to slow it down a little, though. I think the reader will feel more compelled if you ground Madison’s character first. The accident happens so quickly -- and all I know is that she was texting when she shouldn’t be. But who is she, really? I’m wondering if you can envision these first pages as fallow ground. What about this young woman is so compelling to you -- what about her life story should we know right off the bat? Ie. Did her parents also die in a crash? Can we get a sense of what is at stake for her in the story through the opening pages?

    That would be one way of organizing the narrative. The other would be if you were to start in the hospital ward with Madison opening her eyes to the nurse, completely out of sorts and flashing back to the accident. That way you could flesh in some more about Madison’s background but also work in the stark problems with her current reality. Make sense?

    I look forward to reading the revisions here!

  5. I really enjoyed reading the beginning of this story! I feel invested already, I want to find out more about the aftermath of this crash, I'm guessing a time travel scenario? If so, you succeeded in hinting to it! I like the vibe you've set up here, it's all a bit creepy.

    If I were you, I'd reconsider using the “It Can Wait Pledge.” reference, because as an international reader, I had to google what it was.

    I feel like I wanted to know more about the narrator from the get go. She seems pretty cool but I didn't learn much about her or her personality in the opening. Perhaps show us a bit more, then we can really care about her when she ends up in hospital.

    I was hooked to find out more, great job!

  6. Hi Linda,

    Wow. I'm eager to see where this story is heading. There are wonderful hints of the unexplained, and you've done a masterful job of working them in.

    That said, I think you are missing opportunities to fully engage the reader. The way you have structured your opening as a retelling of the incident puts the reader at a distance from what is happening in the story. That's compounded by the fact that we don't know your protagonist enough to care about her yet, so we can't really be afraid for her. But I'd love to see a little bit of her in her ordinary world first. Do something that *shows* how engaged she is with her friend and interested in the baby situation. Have her driving, and make sure we know where she is going. Let us see the darkness and loneliness of the road, then have the text come in and let us *feel* the temptation in real time. Show us her excitement, her questions. Let us know *then* that she knows she shouldn't text back. Have her think on the pledge then. Have her check the road. Have her think just a short text. One won't hurt -- or whatever is running through her mind. You've got all this in here already, really, it's just a matter of organizing it and putting us there, seeing the situation through her eyes, feeling the night air, seeing the lonely road, smelling what she smells, hearing what she hears, feeling the seat pressing against her back as she relaxes because the road is so deserted and driving is easy. And then . . . let us experience her giving in to that temptation and WHAM.

    Let us be there in her skin, in the car with her, waking up in the hospital bed.

    In short, I think you would benefit from using a deeper POV, and from grounding us in your character's ordinary world, showing us in at least an encapsulating mini scene something that is about to happen that is so important to her that she regrets having to be out of communication in case it *does* happen and she won't be right there.

    One more thing, I'm a little concerned about her being that excited about the baby as the situation is described, given how important the story needs that motivation to be. Thinking through whether you want to make it so critical to her best friend for some specific reason that her best friend is relying on her to communicate back. Alternatively, I'd recommend finding some other situation in which a piece of news or information that she and her friend can discuss in the scene before she gets in the car is built up enough to matter. Not just to the two friends, but also to the reader. You'll get a bigger bang for the buck if the reader can feel they would be tempted, themselves, to pick up the phone and type. : )

    Again, really good situation and a very good piece of writing. Show us more, and this is going to be undoubtedly compelling. Very much looking forward to reading the revision.


  7. Hi Linda!

    I loved the hints throughout the hospital scene that things were not quite right. I think the tension there could be amped up a little more without being too obvious. There were a few little things that seemed like flags to me that I was surprised the MC didn't pick up on, like the fact that they treated her without her parents' knowledge or that they didn't even know who she was. I know why that happened, but she doesn't. She should've had her driver's license and ICE contacts on her phone unless it was destroyed, and I was a little surprised she didn't wonder about those things. I know she's not completely lucid, but she seems together enough noticing other things that I wondered. Not a deal-breaker by any means.

    I did struggle with the opening of texting just one time. I love the concept behind it and why she chooses to do it, but I didn't buy it. If the pledge and not texting was so important to her, I didn't feel the struggle of her deciding to take the risk anyway. Especially once she knew everything was fine, taking the chance of texting back to say okay fell flat for me. Because of that, the crash seemed really obvious and inevitable, which killed the tension.

    I love the MC's voice and the descriptions were strong. Overall, fabulous work! I'm excited to see the next draft :)