Monday, April 15, 2019

1st Five Pages April Workshop - Wyatt Rev 1

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

Bending wood to my will gives my hands purpose like playing music does. 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 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 count all the other birthdays my parents have missed. You get used to broken promises when your parents are addicts, but Grandpop more than makes up for it. I visualize the next step of the guitar making process as I tie my hair back in a ponytail, but a sigh escapes that almost blends in with the wind in the woods that surround our house in Cold Spring.

Grandpop ambles over to my workstation, his silver hair shining in the afternoon sun that streams through the open garage door. He has the look he wears every time my parents don’t show up for a birthday or holiday: sad eyes but a bright smile. “Janie girl,” 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 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. It whets my appetite for the real thing. As soon as we’re done, I’m going to practice.

But plans of settling down with Cloine disappear with the sound of knocking. I stare at the tiny brown side door. Grandpop does too. He’s as nervous as I am.

The tension eases 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 any bad mood.

When he finally lets go and his giant fuzzy head of black hair is out of the way, I see her and something inside me relaxes. My girlfriend blushes even though we’ve been together for over a year now. April Zhao is my perfect complement. She’s a painter, so she is visual and I am auditory. She is my strength when I have days when I want to break. Some people might say teenagers don’t know what love is, but our love is real. She sees all the broken parts of who I am and loves me anyway.

Her dark hair trails down her back in waves with light pink streaks, and she’s wearing a t-shirt and jeans, both spattered with neon paint. She smiles, making her freckles dance 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 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 to embarrass me, but Mateo and April already know what’s up and they laugh along.

“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. “Wait until you turn eighteen. Then your whole body falls apart.”

Grandpop huffs and shakes his cane at Mateo. “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 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.”

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

“You’ll be in high demand after all the starring roles you’ll get this school year, Mr. Actor of the Year,” Grandpop says, referencing Mateo’s most recent award. We never miss one of Mateo’s shows.

“We’ll have to get a bigger apartment,” I say. “One with two bathrooms.”

April slaps her palm to her forehead. “Be glad you weren’t subjected to 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 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. Everything inside me tenses as I brace for impact. My parents are here.


  1. I think the opening is already way better. Well done. It's a lot more clear than before, but even still I think you could give us a tiny bit more of her internal wants. Does she want her parent's to be there? I thought she did at first and then I felt like she was afraid they'd show up. Maybe clarify her emotions a little and just make sure the reader knows what the MC wants here so we can root for that too. I'm wondering when the last time she saw her parents was. I think you did a nice job with description on this edit. And I like the relationship with her grandpop a lot. With her girlfirend, is it a normal thing for teenagers to kiss each other on the hand? you don't have to change it, just thought you might want to know I felt like it was old-fashioned. The first time felt fine, but the second time felt odd. just my opinion. And also on the line level, I think you could benefit from slipping some more shorter sentences in to break up the rhythm. Too many long sentences and the cadence starts to feel slow and wordy.

    Really nice improvements!

  2. I like the changes you have made, and I understand better Janie's feelings about her parents. She is disappointed on a regular basis by their addictions taking precedence over their parenting, but they also make her nervous. She seems very torn, which is very understandable. Having family members who are addicts can bring tremendous ambivalence.

    Your expansion on the description of April was very good. April is visual, and Janie is auditory--nice touch about how partners can bring different strengths to a relationship. And teen love can become lifetime love.

    Grandpop does a nice job explaining Mateo's theatrical talent, and knowing that Grandpop supports Janie's friend by attending his performances enhances Grandpop's stature as a stand-up guy. You showed that very well through the dialogue.

    These are likeable characters, and I'm curious how the parents will come across in the next pages and what effect they will have on Janie, Grandpop and their friends. Nice work!

  3. Really nice changes! I like that you added the detail about Janie's parents being addicts. Makes us sympathise with her right off the bat. Could you perhaps expand just a tiny bit-how does she feel about them? Is she relieved her parents aren't coming? Disappointed? Angry?

    Love the added details about April - I feel like I can understand their relationship a bit better now. All your characters are really likeable, so it'll be interesting to see the contrast with her addict parents!

    Just a small suggestion - if it was Janie's birthday, wouldn't she already have made friends with her friend? At least with her girlfriend. Maybe a little mention of "I was supposed to see April until tonight." Just something little I picked up on.

    You mention the house is o a hill three times, which stuck out to me. I wonder if you can condense it. Maybe something like "We live out in the middle of nowhere, so we don’t get salespeople or anything like that."

    Again, love all the guitar making imagery!

  4. Comments by L.E. Sterling:

    Paige: I absolutely love what you’ve done with these opening pages -- well done! I get a much clearer sense of the dynamic here, and this version seems less cluttered, with better flow. I love, too, that you let the reader in on the relationship between Janie and her grandfather, and what is going on with the parents. This makes the moment when they show up very, very tense and super packed with emotion -- truly great stuff!

    Now let’s see if we can go even further! You do a great job giving more hints on Janie’s girlfriend, April. I love the visual / auditory contrast you set up and that is a great way to establish character. There are some other tips you can give readers, too -- some you give without even realizing it! For instance, the fact that April holds back while Mateo gives Janie the first hug. You direct the reader to Mateo’s physicality (balloons bouncing behind him) but very little to April. How does she stand? How do her eyes move-- does she hold them on a person like she’s building a scene in her head? What kind of paintings does she like to do -- that may help inform some of this.

    Grandpop, too. He’s silvery (of course! He’s old!) and he ambles (love this detail) but how does he speak? What do his sad eyes look like even when he’s saying happy things? Maybe try a simile or metaphor or two to help get the picture across to readers.

    Fabulous writing -- great job! Can’t wait to read more!

  5. This is evolving beautifully, Paige. I agree with the asks above for a bit more about how Janie FEELS about her relationship with her parents – beyond just establishing that they’re addicts. “You get used to broken promises” AND…? Is she glad, resigned?
    I’m interested to see the build of Janie/April relationship but this sentence -- “She’s a painter, so she is visual and I am auditory.” – feels a bit on the nose to me. Telling, not showing. Maybe that balance could be expressed (in good time) by what’s in the gift April offers; or perhaps an analogy to some particular type of music/types of chords/harmonics.
    Broadly, I see opportunities to tighten your language – make it cleaner and less constructed. Here are a few examples:

    “Bending wood to my will gives my hands purpose like playing music does”
    We live in a OUR three story house that’s IS built into a hill,
    She gives me a smile. SMILES
    Grandpop says, referencing Mateo’s most recent award. We never miss one of Mateo’s shows.
    Keep up the lovely work!

  6. Still love the opening imagery with the wood, it's beautiful! Not sure why she's counting the birthdays her parents have missed given the comment about how she's used to it because their addicts and she moves on straight to how Grandpop makes up for it. Mostly she seems rather detached about it, so why count the number of birthdays her parents have missed? Very natural way to slip in the gender early on with Grandpop, great job! Why is the MC and Grandpop so nervous about the door opening before they realize it is her friends? If it is supposed to be a subtle hint about the parents, it didn't quite work for me as they mostly seem scared like something bad would come through the door. I guess she might consider her parents bad, but that's not the vibe in the beginning. Also, if her Grandpop invited her friends, why is he nervous, he should know who it is. Love the description of Mateo and April! The forehead slap from April seemed a little mellow-dramatic, but maybe it was meant that way. I also wished there'd been some kind of internal thought from the MC after April's comment of being left behind. She brushes it off so easy, but if it wasn't a big deal, why would April bring it up like that? Very nice job on weaving in Mateo's acting background through dialogue, it felt very natural. Great work overall, it's very engaging. I'd keep reading. I'm excited to see the next revision and the pitch!