Sunday, April 7, 2019

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Wyatt

Name: Paige Wyatt
Genre: YA Contemporary 
Title: A Broken Sound

Like playing music, bending wood to my will gives my hands purpose. The sound of the saw, the smell of the wood, the rhythmic movements of my hands as I sand the neck of the guitar I’m making serve as the perfect distraction. I can channel my disappointment at being stood up by my parents into controlling the shape of the neck, the grooves of each fret. It keeps my mind still. 

But as I wipe sweat from my forehead, I can’t help but remind myself of all the other birthdays they missed. I’m used to their broken promises, and at least I have Grandpop. I visualize the next step of the guitar making process as I tie my hair back in a ponytail, but a sigh escapes.

Grandpop ambles over to my workstation, his silver hair shining in the afternoon sun that streams through the open garage door. He has that familiar look of masked disappointment: sad eyes but a bright smile. “Janie,” he says, his smile unwavering, “I want some cake. Come on.”

I don’t have to glance at the clock to know that I’ve been in here for two hours. “I just want to try it.” I hold the neck as if I’m going to play it just to test out the balance. It doesn’t feel the same as Cloine, my gorgeous classical guitar, but I still relish the smooth texture of freshly sanded wood. I place my fingers on the fretboard, feeling more than seeing where my fingers go to pick through an imaginary scale. I can almost hear the notes even though there are no strings on this guitar yet. As soon as we’re done here, I’m going to practice. 

But all thoughts of settling down with Cloine disappear with the sound of knocking on the side door. I stare at the door. Grandpop does too, almost like he’s just as nervous as I am. 

But the tension in the moment passes when it swings open, balloons burst through, and my best friends spill into the workshop. All the shittiness falls away because April and Mateo are here. “Surprise!” they shout in unison. 

I set the guitar aside before Mateo tackles me. By the time he gets to where I am, my arms are open in anticipation. His hug wraps me in his familiar smell of Axe and detergent and his too loud shout of “Happy birthday!” makes me laugh. A Mateo hug is the best antidote to my disappointment.

When he finally lets go and his giant fuzzy head of black hair is out of the way, I see her. My girlfriend blushes even though we’ve been together for over a year now and there’s no reason for her to be shy. She smiles, her light brown freckles dancing across her nose, and she hands me a box wrapped in my favorite color: turquoise blue. “Happy birthday,” she says. 

I take the gift and wrap her in my arms. I’m taller than her by a head, but she fits perfectly like she always does. We kiss, a peck light on the lips that’s appropriate for Grandpop’s eyes but enough to let me know she loves me. “Thank you,” I say to both of them. “This is amazing.”

“We were just about to have some cake!” Grandpop hugs each of them. “I got some ice cream up there, too.”

Mateo leads the charge, dragging the balloons behind him as April and I follow with our hands clasped. We walk up the hill to the main level of our house where our kitchen, living room, and Grandpop’s bedroom is. We live in a three story house that’s built into a hill, and the main entrance is on the bottom floor off the family room. 

We sit at the breakfast bar as Grandpop brings the cake out. It’s vanilla with blue icing and “Happy 17th Birthday Janie” is piped on in white. He tops it with sparklers and they sing “Happy Birthday.” 

Grandpop’s voice is the loudest, as always. I shake my head and smile at him. No matter how old I am, he always does a ridiculous, high-pitched, off-key version of Happy Birthday just to embarrass me, but Mateo and April already know what he’s like and they laugh along.

“So how’s it feel to be old?” Mateo asks with a mouthful of cake after we cut it.

I toss a balled up napkin at him. “I’m younger than you!”

“I didn’t say I was young.” He points his fork at me. “Just wait until you turn eighteen. Then your whole body falls apart.”

Grandpop huffs and shakes his cane at Mateo. “Just wait until sixty-eight!” 

April’s laugh is a balm, and I squeeze her hand under the counter. She gives me a smile. 

“Seventeen isn’t that exciting,” I say, keeping my eyes on her. “Eighteen is way bigger.”

“You’re going to love seventeen because this is the year you’ll get accepted into Juilliard,” April replies. “And you’ll leave me forever for New York City.”

I lift her hand to my lips. “You’re coming with me.”

“And me too!” Mateo says. “I’m gonna audition for some shows when we get down there.”

Mateo is a huge theater nerd, and since we’re about to head into our senior year and he’s pretty good, he’s likely to get most of the leading roles. “We’ll have to get a bigger apartment,” I say. “One with two bathrooms.”

April slaps her palm to her forehead. “You don’t even want to know about the unholy smells that came out of him on our way over here.”

Grandpop laughs harder than all of us, but I don’t trust the mischief in his eyes. “That’s why Janie has her own bathroom.”

“Grandpop!” I shout, mortified. 

My face burns, and April kisses my hand. “Maybe three bathrooms, then.”

“Alright, this conversation has ventured into TMI territory,” Mateo declares as he puts his hands up in surrender. “I’m trying to eat here.”

I shrug. “What can I--” The doorbell interrupts me and I look at Grandpop. “Did you invite anyone else?”

He narrows his eyes and shakes his head. We live out in the woods on a hill, so we don’t get salespeople or anything like that. If someone comes to our door, they mean to be here. He reaches for his cane, but I stand. I don’t like to make him walk up and down the stairs more than he has to. “I got it.”

I bound down the steps, hoping that whoever it is goes away quickly so I can go back to my party. But when I open the door and my eyes adjust to the late afternoon sun, all thoughts of presents, cake, and alone time with my girlfriend fall away. My parents are here.


  1. Hi Paige,
    I think these pages are really great! So much lovely description about the guitar making. I like the grandpop a lot. And her 2 friends were super cool. I like the hook at the end about her parents. I think in your opening paragraph you could have left out the line about her being dissapointed about her parents, though, that felt too one the nose and we would have figured it out without it. ANd when there is a knock at the door and we don't know who it is, that ups the tension and interest. I would have liked a little more description of what april looked like and the garage workshop. I was also wondering what town there were in and if it was summer vacation from school?
    But again, I think these are solid pages!

  2. Hi Paige, Our author mentor is having trouble posting comments on the blog so I've posted them for her here. ELD

    Comments by L.E. Sterling

    Paige: This is truly a dynamic beginning. Such a great start with the opening paragraph. As a reader I’m left with so many questions —I think you can afford to be a little more forthcoming though, in particular regarding the parent’s absence. Are the parents musicians, too? Can you give the reader a hint as to what that relationship is like (not just her disappointment), or why she is so estranged?

    I also think you do a fantastic job fleshing out the relationship with the friend and girlfriend in these opening pages, which is a really hard thing to pull off. Maybe you can try pushing it a bit further and see how that feels. I get a lot of information on the girlfriend here but what kind of person is she? I think you can afford, in this instance, to “tell” a little more -- like you do with the best friend and his love of musical theatre.

    She seems to live in a rather fabulous house, too; maybe you could take some time to explain where that is and some further details. What is her relationship like with her grandfather?

    A lot of tensions sits in the closing lines of this excerpt (great job!). One thing that I think can make this stronger is to load up the hanging scene where the parents arrive a bit more. The parents have arrived but how does that make the narrator feel? (she can tell us with something as simple as a sigh, a curled fist, a jump to her heart).

    Beautiful writing! Looking forward to your edits!

  3. Hi Paige, Your opening paragraph sings with richness. I love the pairing of woodworking and music, two different but beautiful creations not usually seen together.

    Great characters! You did a wonderful job of showing the love between Janie and her friends. Their warmth and easy interaction with each other shines throughout the pages. And who wouldn't a want a grandfather like Grandpop? I sense that Janie will have lots of support when confronted with her parents.

    I like the contrast of of the happy gathering to the tension that builds each time someone comes to the door, and I, too, would like to see Janie's reaction to her parents' arrival.

    This is a very strong and engaging start.

  4. Hi Paige,

    A great beginning! I loved the description of the guitar making. It hooked me immediately, leaving me with questions i wanted answered. I wanted to know a bit more about the setting though - a guitar workshop in the woods could be so beautiful to describe.

    Love the relationship between Janie and her friends. I feel like I got a real good understanding of Mateo, looks and personality wise, but I feel like I didn't get to know April in the same way.

    A very strong start!

  5. Great start, Paige! I agree with the comments above, so I'll sort of take things from there. Your voice is beautiful and you set up the premise cleanly: Janie lives w/ Grandpop; aspires to Julliard; and struggles with a complex parental dynamic. Technique-wise, I think there are opportunities to get closer to the characters. Two examples: 1-"She gives me a smile" could be more intimate, more direct, "She smiles" -- letting us get a little closer to April and leaving more room for other words or descriptors without cluttering up the prose; 2-"Mateo is a huge theater nerd..." might be more dynamically covered with some dialogue "You are such a gorgeous theater nerd" "You don't want to rush senior year -- you're bound to get all the leads in the school plays" (these are bad examples but you get the idea). Broadly, this opening puts you in the "quiet novel" camp -- there's a market for these and I, personally, adore (and write!) this type of book. That said, I think that this type of beautiful story can be made more enticing to agents and editors if there's also some element that might be called high-concept. I'm not suggesting you invent one at all -- simply that there's a mystery in what's happened with the parents and there might be opportunities to structure this plotline in a way that's gripping to a wide variety of readers. I wouldn't dare suggest specifics but, since you're clearly a talented and thoughtful writer, I think you've got the chops to kind of step back and take a look at the larger picture of the novel and understand what kind of shape/tone you want overall. Then, build/revise/edit in the context of this larger vision. Does that make any sense? Happy to chat further. This is really a gorgeous beginning.

  6. Hi Paige!

    The voice in this is so rich, I was drawn right in. The descriptions of the wood as she is making the instrument were wonderful! Grandpop was awesome! Very realistic feeling characters, it was easy to imagine the group.

    The only thing that pulled me out was that I wasn't sure until almost the end if the MC was male or female. I wanted to know sooner because I wasn't certain what I was supposed to be picturing.

    I do think the partying scene with her friends could be trimmed down, as it started to drag for me because it wasn't moving the story forward. I was waiting for something to happen, so when the knock came, I wasn't surprised and I knew exactly who it would be.

    Overall, great work! I'm excited to see the next draft :)