Monday, April 15, 2019

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Kerwin Rev 1

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

CHAPTER 1 – Of Broken Things

When I was fourteen, my cousin Emily died in a texting-and-driving accident. I thought then that I would never text and drive. I even took an online pledge promising that. It was a promise I had meant to keep. But I broke it…just once.

I was on my way home from my friend Sarah’s house the first Sunday after school got out. The night air was cool, and traffic was zilch. Nonna-my grandmother--was waiting at home with pizza and a movie. My parents and brother had left town this morning, and Nonna and I finally would have some time alone.

I smiled and leaned back on the seat when my phone signaled a message. 

A quick glance told me it was from Sarah. I needed to see this. Sarah’s sister Samantha had been in labor all day, and I guessed 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--she’s okay—Sam is not. I need to get to Lansing ASAP. Can you drive me?

My mind whirled. Sarah didn’t have a car. As a new driver, I didn’t want to drive all the way to Lansing. I wanted to go home, but Sarah needed help. I’d call Nonna later. She’d understand. She always did.

Another message: Maddie, please, are you there? 

I bit my lip and hesitated for a moment as I considered what I was about to do. I pushed thoughts of Emily from my mind. I could do this quickly.

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

When I looked up, headlights were coming at me.

I 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 was in a bed, 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 a nurse’s white uniform straight out of an old movie.

“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. 

“You’re at University Hospital,” 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. 

A girl passed by in the hall, her hair a bouffant tower, looking like photos of Nonna as a teen. Was it Nonna? How could it be? Where the hell was I?

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.”

“Anesthesia? Why did I have anesthesia?” My voice sounded far away.

“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. 

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

Thank God. 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 own doctor, Jennifer Roberts. Do you know her?”

“No,” she said, frowning at me. “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, and you came in without ID.”

“Madison. Madison Gracie,” I managed to get out in a mumble. “What about my purse and my phone.”

“Phone?” she said, leaning closer.

“Yeah, my cell?”

“A jail-phone? I don’t understand.”

Dear God, she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. My eyes closed against the round face. I turned my head to try to escape the stomach-turning stink and said “Can I have something for the pain.”

“Of course. In the meantime, can we contact your family?”

Family! Nonna! OMG! 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.” I almost told her my parents’ cell numbers were in my phone, but even in this fog, I knew she’d think that we were all convicts or that I was crazy.

Maybe I was crazy. Maybe she was crazy. 

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

I mumbled it out and stopped fighting with my eyelids.

“Her name?”

“Uh…Gabriella Ricardi.”

“Okay. I’ll be back.”

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

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. Hi Linda,

    I love your revision! It's so much clearer what the book is going to be about and what kind of challenges Madison will face. I can't wait to know more & these pages definitely hooked me.
    I really like the voice too - it's fresh and dynamic.
    I actually don't have a whole lot more critique as the pages are pretty solid and engaging. Just little things from me this time: avoid if you can using words like "lame" as it might be seen as an ableist language and take away from the great voice you've got going on. Another thing: I'm sure it's revealed later on but the book's title (Text Messenger) comes off as a bit off to me, though it's hard to make immediate connection with the title based on only 5 pages. Just a suggestion - to think about alternative titles - ?

    Again, just minor things as this is really good! Well done.

  2. This is getting soo good. Wow. Way to edit it this week. I'm impressed. I do agree that I'm not loving the title. I also wonder if you give us too many names in the first couple pages. Are they all important? do we need to know Emily's name or could you just say my cousin and do we need to know Samantha's sister's name? It's just a lot of names and I don't know which ones are important to remember. I love the time travel mystery and the old hospital. Really great work on that part. I also wondered a little when she's in the hospital if she can see what she's wearing. Does she try to sit up and is paralyzed or too tired. Little details like that during the dialogue. But super well done!

  3. You've done a great job at expanding on Madison--knowing a little bit more about her situation makes us care about her more.

    I agree about too many names being mentioned. When I hear a name in a story, I take note that this person is going to be important. If they're not, best not to bog us down with too many details.

    I like how you added the part about the cell phone, it makes me sure she's traveled in time and sets the the tone for the story.

    I wonder if you could be even more descriptive of the old hospital? You mention what's not there (TV, phones, white board) but I feel Madison would at first notice what IS there. What things can see she that doesn't fit a modern hospital? I'd love to be able to envision it and get some more super creepy vibes.

    Love this edit, can't wait to read your next!

  4. Great edit! I love Madison even more now that I know she's going to help her friend get to her sister. That's strong motivation for her to check her phone and text while driving. I really like the premise of this story as well. We get a sense that something's very off right away. I'm so glad you kept in the bit with the Doctor being a man and not a woman. That's a good little subtle hint as to what's going on.

    I'm going to echo Abi's suggestion about description. You have a lot of dialogue here, which is great, but a bit more description of the hospital would help center us more in the time period. Right now I'm guessing 1950s or 1960s? Maybe there is music playing in the room, or she sees the nurse's hat and thinks that she's never seen a real nurse wearing one of those. Maybe more internal dialogue would help with this as well. You already have great spots of this such as "Dear God she doesn't know what I'm talking about..." More of that might help as well.

    Great job with this round of edits! Keep up the awesome work.

  5. Comments by L. E. Sterling:

    Linda, you have managed to do a lot here with this revision -- terrific effort! I get a much clearer sense of what’s going on, and I like the straightforwardness of this version a lot.

    I like, too, that you give more details of this world right from the start. I feel more oriented as a reader and like I know more what’s at stake, what kind of relationship Maddie has with her nonna. I still think you can tighten the beginning up a bit more, giving you more room to breathe life into the later parts. The opening accident scene and waking up in the hospital are going to be two pivotal scenes for the reader. This pretty much sets up the entire world of the novel, so it’s a good idea to set the scenes very carefully.

    For instance, maybe think about starting with your second paragraph, and getting rid of all extraneous information (unless this story will somehow become about cousin Emily?) Stick to Sarah and her sister, maybe, and how Maddie had just come from there but at the text, needed to turn around. In fact, I’m not sure she even needs to text back to end up on the opposite side of the road. Maybe it’s the act of turning around that causes the accident?

    What kind of car does she drive? Is it stick or standard? Is it old or new? What is the road like? Where is the story set? What is the weather like (and is that a factor)?

    Now we can turn our attention to the details. The hospital room she wakes up in: you mention other beds -- what do these look like? Does she see anyone else? What does it sound like? Smell like? What hangs from the walls if not TVs? Are there shadows? Windows? Light sources? The more you set the scene (but of course, not too thickly -- maybe think of peppering it in with each interaction with the nurse) the more you will have your readers entranced.

    Excellent work!

  6. The opening is better, there's a stronger sense of urgency than before, but I still struggled to buy it. If it was that important and so was her promise to herself to never text and drive, and especially with the road clear--why didn't she just pull over? The opening lines phrased such that the MC already knows what happened and is telling us far removed after the fact doesn't pull me in very well. Maybe threading the details of promising herself to never text and drive and why into the narrative as she gets the texts and debates what to do would work better?

    The crash sequence could use more tension, it feels slow-motion-out-of-body like she's watching it rather than experiencing it. This line: "My foot searched for the brake… then nothing." didn't quite work, her foot searched for nothing? I'm guessing she means that her foot searched for brakes but found nothing.

    Better on her calling out the nurse in her mind for not understanding what a cellphone is, but it might help for her to question why too. I liked how the rest of the conversation with the nurse flowed, great work grounding the MC more. I'd keep reading. I'm excited to see the next revision and the pitch!