Sunday, April 21, 2019

1st Five Pages April Workshop - Kerwin Rev 2

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


Black and white TVs, JFK in the oval office and Motown on the radio. The year is 1963 and sixteen-year-old Madison Grace has arrived there after she breaks her promise not to text and drive and crashes into a tree that has links to the past. 

Living at a time that was once just history to her, Maddie grieves with the nation over the death of President Kennedy, enjoys the British musical invasion and discovers that “mean girls” aren’t unique to the 21st century. 

She also meets James, a boy so captivating that he could stand in the way of her goal to return home…and returning to her own time and family, especially her beloved Italian grandmother, is foremost in her mind. Maddie fights against falling for James, but she is so dazzled by his heart-stopping good looks and his sweet affection towards her that her efforts are in vain.

Still, she yearns to be back home before the bash planned for her grandmother’s sixty-five birthday. She needs to find the time-tree and she needs to convince James to come with her to the future. If he refuses, she will have to decide whether to leave him behind or to stay in the past, apart from her family. Either choice is bound to break her heart.


CHAPTER 1 – Of Broken Things

I always thought I would never text and drive—especially after my favorite cousin died that way. I even took an online pledge promising I wouldn’t. It was a promise I’d meant to keep. But I broke it…just once.

I was driving from my friend Sarah’s house the first Sunday of summer vacation. My grandmother—Nonna--was home, waiting for me with pizza and a movie. My parents and brother had left town earlier today, and Nonna and I finally would have the house to ourselves. 

The night air was cool, and the tree-lined country road was mine alone. I was just starting to relax back on the driver’s seat when my phone signaled a message. 

A glance told me it was from Sarah. I needed to see this. Sarah’s sister 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—my sister’s not…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 from Sarah’s and explain. She’d understand. She always did.

Another message: Maddie, can you come? Please!

There was no good place to pull over and turn around that I could see. I bit my lip and hesitated as I considered what I was about to do. I’d made a promise, but this was an emergency. I had to reassure Sarah. I’d make it quick.

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. 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. 

Through the windshield, I could see the night sky 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 ears. I heard voices…rolling wheels… a child crying…someone whistling an old Supremes song.

My nose was fine, too. It was picking up cleaning fluid and gross cafeteria-type food, but most of all, 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 the weirdest white cap ever. Her all-white nurse’s uniform was straight out of an old movie.  

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

“Where am I?” I managed to get this totally unoriginal question out of my dry throat. 

“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’d ever seen at U Hospital. It was huge and crowded. I counted five other beds--ancient-looking beds with metal slats on the head and foot boards. Next to one bed sat a wooden wheelchair and a green tank taller than a fire hydrant. An oxygen-tank? I’d never seen one that big. And where did they get that wheelchair? Some museum?

A girl passed by in the hall, her dark 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 to get a better look and 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?”

“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 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 pediatrician…a totally awesome doctor who had her patients call her Dr. Jennifer.

“Did she do the surgery?” I asked.


“Yeah, Dr. Roberts.”

“Your surgeon’s a man. Dr. John Roberts.”

I realized through the fog in my head that I’d asked a dumb question. Dr. Jennifer was not a surgeon. 

“I was thinking about my personal doctor, Jennifer Roberts. Do you know her?”

“No,” she said, frowning. “I’ve never heard of a Dr. Jennifer Roberts.” She shook her head and added, “Anyway, I’m Helen. I’ll be your nurse today.” 

Then she repeated the first question she’d asked me. “So, how are you feeling?  Any pain?”

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

“That’s normal. 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 got out in a mumble. “What about my purse and my phone?”


“Yeah, my cell?”

“A jail-phone? I don’t understand,” she said, leaning closer.

Dear God, she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. 

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, Sarah, too. What have I done?

“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 I knew she’d think that we were all convicts…or that I was crazy.

Maybe I was crazy. Maybe she was crazy. I needed to get away from his place, but how? I could barely stay awake.

Nurse Helen lifted a pen. “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 tell her that Gracie was my last name, not my first.


  1. I think your opening is really strong now. Good job of getting straight into the action of the time travel. Nice clues as to the time travel for the reader without being so obvious. We get to figure it out with her, which is really fun. I like the setting and world building.

    I think the pitch is great. Love the romance arc and the high stakes. I do think your pitch could be a little tighter. I don't think "Black and white TVs, JFK in the oval office and Motown on the radio." Is the best starting place for the pitch. I think the next couple sentences a lot, though. but I would cut out the part about the texting. It doesn't seem that important to the pitch. maybe:
    "The year is 1963 and sixteen-year-old Madison Grace has arrived there after she crashes into a tree that has links to the past.

    Living at a time that was once just history to her, Maddie grieves with the nation over the death of President Kennedy, enjoys the British musical invasion and discovers that “mean girls” aren’t unique to the 21st century. "

    Best of luck with this. Can't wait to see it in print.

  2. Very nice job on the revisions! I can see an improvement each time you did it. The opening has so much more tension and it hooks me right away. I’m a huge time travel fan so this is a really cool concept to me. I like the adjustments you made where you clarified a few things about Madison’s family and her relationship with her grandmother. I also enjoyed getting right into the action and spending more time with the nurse in the hospital.

    The only suggestion I have for the pages is one that’s probably more related to my personal preference, so definitely don’t feel like you have to take this advice, but...have you considered writing in first person present tense? The whole time I read it I felt like someone was telling me a story that they were looking back on, which creates a bit of distance for me. But if it were in present tense, I might feel more connected to what Madison is going through as she experiences it, almost like I’m with her. Like I said, that might just be because I personally prefer present tense, so please don’t feel like you have to completely rewrite your book. Just a weird suggestion.

    The pitch really spikes my interest, especially when you mentioned the love story! Maybe bringing that up sooner would help pique the interest of agents as well. A log line like Mary suggested and then going into the love story part could really tighten it up. And definitely don’t be afraid to up the stakes st the end of your pitch. Yes it will be sad for her to leave her grandma behind, but also mention her friends that need her and make that more dramatic. I do love the last line of your pitch as well. It definitely makes me want to read more.

    I love this so far and I’m impressed with your changes and your ideas. Keep up the hard work and feel free to reach out if you’d ever like to swap pages/beta read (paigewyatt55 at gmail dot com). Keep going! Best of luck!

  3. From our agent mentor Karly Caserza:

    First, thank you for being brave and sharing your work. It's a scary thing to open a piece of your heart for critique. Second, remember that this industry is completely subjective. Opinions will clash, advice will contradict. Do what's best for your story and stay true to your art and heart.

    Your second line made me think, “Oh? A time-traveling forcing tree? Tell me more.” Your pitch clearly states your character, her journey, and the stakes. What it’s missing for me is voice.

    Sample Pages:
    Immediately, we’re thrown into the action—which in some instances is a good thing. For this one, I felt the instability and couldn’t ground myself into the story. I didn’t connect with your main character, couldn’t invest my emotions in her journey, so when she dies, I didn’t feel much excitement to move forward with her.

    Now this isn’t to say, add more story prior to this. Anything prior cuts too close to being prologue. But maybe we need to reevaluate where the story begins. Or imbue the sample pages with more voice.

    When she does time travel, the story becomes primarily conversation, and majority of the narration is lost—further leaving the reader ungrounded in the story.

  4. Hi Linda. Your pitch sounds like the kind of book I'd be keen to read. Lots of promise of an exciting romance. Since this seems like primarily a romance plotline, perhaps it might be beneficial to mention James a bit sooner in the pitch? Also, I feel like the mention of her texting and driving is a bit redundant. I wonder if the texting detail is important since the book is named Text Messenger... if not perhaps consider not focusing on it so much.

    In terms of pages, I was wondering if there's a bit too much dialogue that's not pushing the story forward? Maybe consider cutting any speech that isn't necessary or important to the story. Great work, looking forward to seeing your book on shelves!

  5. Comments by L. E. Sterling:

    Linda: I so enjoy the small touches here that really bring the scene to life in the hospital: the girl with the bouffant hair that strolls by Grabriella’s bed. The large green tank (well done!). I think this version really shows the reader the stark differences between the present and the past -- well done! This is really where this revision hits its stride.

    Given your pitch, this is where you can do some sleuthing: was concussion something that the medical world would have talked about back in the 50s and 60s? (I’m thinking of Back to the Future, which this piece has echoes of -- when “Calvin” is thought to have hit his head).

    I also think you can think again about the stakes of the time tree: it may load the premise a little more if the narrator experiences something about the tree before she hits (or in the darkness of her unconsciousness). Is there something that will happen to her when she tries to go through again? Can she hear something, see a detail of the tree (right now it’s so non-descript -- however can she find it again?) that will tie in later when she is searching for a way “home”?

    Finally, I admit I was a bit confused at the end when the narrator gives her name as Grabriella and the nurse calls her Gracie, only to have the narrator say: “Gracie was my last name, not my first.” I must be missing something here (as the narrator says her last name is Ricardi). Is this something you can clarify so as not to lose your reader?

    I’m very excited by the premise of this novel, Linda, and wish you luck!

  6. Great pages and a nice pitch! Well done. I love how you've added more subtle clues to the time travel element and that I can really feel it all through your protagonist's eyes. I love the first person view as it makes it all so much more urgent and authentic feeling - in my view.

    As to the pitch: it's clear and strong. It gets a bit technical sounding in the end when you discuss stakes though. Also, while romance makes for a significant stakes can you make also some more Madison focused stakes - like maybe there's a timer ticking now and if she can't return home to her own time soon, she'll be stuck in the past forever. Just a thought! Otherwise, all good and well done.

  7. Pitch: Intriguing premise and choice of time period! Love it! I do think the pitch itself could use some tightening, the highlights of the era seem to repeat, which is unnecessary. I adore the ending of the pitch, well done!

    Pages: I want so much to love the pages, and maybe it is a style thing, but I just don't. It seems like it takes her longer to read the texts then respond. It is the taking your eyes off the road that is dangerous, not the touching the phone to type part (although that is obviously dangerous too, but because it takes the eyes off the road). The promise not to text is stronger than before, I believe she is serious about it, but then reading the texts and debating over typing yes still isn't quite there. I almost wonder if maybe this starts too close to the inciting incident, so it is hard to build up proper tension leading into the wreck. So hard to know where to place that with first chapters. Maddie does have a distinct voice, well done on that. I love all the subtle details planted about her time-traveling and her questioning it, but not calling too much attention to it such that she seems dumb. Great balance there. Personally, I'd keep reading for the premise alone, so even though these opening pages aren't quite hooking me the way I'd like, I'd still read on.

    Good luck with this story! I look forward to seeing it in print one day :)