Sunday, April 21, 2019

1st Five Pages April Workshop - Wyatt Rev 2

Name: Paige Wyatt 
Genre: YA Contemporary 

Title: A Broken Sound 


When 17-yr-old Juilliard bound classical guitarist Janie James’s Grandpop dies, she has to move back in with the recovering drug addict parents that abandoned her when she was eleven. This means she must leave her girlfriend and best friend behind in the picturesque town of Cold Spring and move to New York City right before her senior year. 

Janie finds it impossible to trust that her parents are truly living sober. Grief and change throw Janie into a creative block with her music, causing her to bomb an audition. She descends into a dark place of anger and emptiness. 
While working part time in a coffee shop, Janie meets cute and charming Devin who also has a father who is an addict. Devin takes Janie to beat up drug dealers, giving her an avenue in which she can channel her anger. 

Janie struggles to keep her vigilantism a secret while juggling work, a new school, guitar, and her parents’ recovery. When she discovers her mother has relapsed, Janie finds herself in more turmoil than she ever imagined. Janie must confront her rage and reconcile her grief before she destroys herself and everyone in her path. 


Bending wood to my will gives my hands purpose. The sound of the saw, the smell of spruce 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. It’s almost as good as playing music. 

But as I wipe sweat from my forehead, I can’t help but count all the other birthdays my parents missed. You get used to broken promises when your parents are addicts, and Grandpop more than makes up for it, but it still stings when they don’t even call. 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.” 

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 as I 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 until it’s time to meet up with my friends. 

But plans of settling down with Cloine disappear with the sound of knocking. I stare at the tiny brown side door, hoping and fearing that my parents might be on the other side. 

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 waits for me to make the first move, patient and still as always. April Zhao is my perfect complement. She’s a gifted surrealism painter--the sight to my sound. She is my strength when I want to break. People 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. “I thought you were busy until later!” I say to both of them. “This is amazing.” 

April wiggles her eyebrows and her glasses move down her nose. “All part of the ruse to surprise you.” 

“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 walk slowly up the hill that leads to our house. I adjust my normal speedy gait to match her graceful, slow stroll and savor the feeling of her hand in mine. 

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 off-key version of Happy Birthday to embarrass me, but my friends 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 squeeze her hand. “You’re coming with me. You’ll get into NYU.” 

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

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

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

April shakes her head. “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. 

My face burns, and April kisses my cheek. “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. This is a nice opening. I think you've tightened it up so it's a lot more clear what she's feeling and setting the stage. I think the pitch is really intriguing. It did make me want to read more. I was a little bit wondering about the "Devin takes Janie to beat up drug dealers, giving her an avenue in which she can channel her anger. " I have so many questions about this. Can you make it a little bit more specific. And then I did wonder if she's going to end up running into her parents in one of these fights--which is a nice plot twist. I think it's a creative premise and I can see how the book will be really interesting. You said her Grandpop dies, I wonder if you should leave a little hint in the first chapter that something is up with him? And a cough or a sense of foreboding? I think it's going to be cool to read about her move to NY!

  2. You have done a great job of tightening up your pages and drawing your readers in. I like how you more fully explained Janie's mixed feelings about her parents in this revision..."hoping and fearing that my parents might be on the other side." That ramps up the tension nicely.

    Your pitch sets up the premise of the story very well. The prospect of Janie as a vigilante is fun and intriguing. And "cute and charming" Devin hints at a budding romance. I wonder how that plays out with Janie's girlfriend back home. Since the girlfriend is mentioned in the first paragraph of the pitch, I'm wondering if there is any inner conflict Janie might have over her attraction to Devin. Perhaps, I am reading this wrong, but I sensed that Devin could be a threat to her relationship with April. If so, you might hint at that in the pitch.

    I really enjoyed reading your work. Your characters are so likeable and I hope to see A Broken Sound in print. Best of luck to you.

  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 pitch does a nice job of setting up the inciting incident. The beating up drug dealers is both intriguing and a bit random and makes me curious if there will be training involved. I would figure drug dealers pack heat and are accustomed to brawling. How would a 17-year-old classical guitarist fare in such a situation?

    Sample Pages:
    Reading your pitch versus reading your sample pages, I have to wonder if most of everything prior to living with her parents is prologue. Think about how much time you’ve spent in your pitch talking about life pre-New York City versus life post-New Yew City. I think your sample pages help establish her life prior but I’m more interested in what happens to her as she becomes this different person.

    Besides this, the creation scene of the guitar is beautiful. And while the sample pages do introduce us to her, her grandfather, her friend, and her life pre-inciting incident, I found the sample pages slow to start. Her voice, though, is strong.

  4. Hi Paige. Good work. Your pitch surprised me for three reasons: 1-Vigilantism is a major pivot from the quiet beginning we in the first five pages - if the story is going to go this way, I feel like I'd want some hint of that in these pages so I realize Janie can be this kind of character. 2-The romantic pivot from April to Devin - if the main portion of the story is going to be about the parents/drugs/music, then the April-Janie relationship at the top feels a little like ticking a box (you know, characters with ethnic diversity, gender diversity, etc.) instead of essential character development. If there's going to be a love triangle or something, then we need to set up the non-binary sexuality of Janie somehow - (e.g., my first girlfriend; I tried kissing Matteo once; you get it). 3-Plot-wise, Janie cannot be Julliard-bound at the start of senior year b/c she wouldn't have applied yet so this is confusing. PAGES: All in all, I think you've done solid work here in building out these opening pages and I think they'll be useful to you as you develop the novel. That said, it still feels a little bit expository as if you're feeling your way into your characters -- I'd challenge you to lose the bathroom joke (I get the joke but not the why) and start just after that, everyone gathered around the table and her parents turn up. The character relationships can be revealed by their reactions to this moment since they all know the backstory. (E.g., my girlfriend, April, squeezes my hand so tightly...) and then we're right in the thick of the plot as presented in the pitch. Best of luck and happy writing!

  5. Hi Paige. Your pitch is fantastic, but it surprised me! Although we knew Janie's parents were addicts, compared to your pages I wasn't expecting the story to be as dark. It would be good to have some sort of hint in the first few pages to the grief and emotion to come. Set the tone. Perhaps add more detail as to the dark place Janie was in last time she spent time with her parents.

    Still in love with the guitar making intro, it's very beautiful! And your characters (bar the parents!) are so likable and their personalities shine through. Looking forward to seeing your book published so I can cry when Grandpop dies :( Great work, good luck!

  6. Comments by L. E. Sterling:

    You manage to fit so much into such a small opening here, Paige, and do so with true flare. I like that April has much more of a presence in this revision -- her glasses waggling up her nose, her dialogue, give her life. I like, too, that you load the deck here with Janie’s considerations and small anxieties about her Grandpop in this version, laying the ground nicely for what comes next.

    Admittedly, I was a bit sad to see the loaded moment of the parent’s arrival a little underplayed in this version: I really think that laying the ground for the parents’ return -- even by simply saying that birthdays have always been like quiet, loaded guns since she joined her grandfather when she was xx years old -- would help load the moment of her parent’s return with drama.

    In this version, that drama and suspense leaks away (although I think at the gain of some really interesting character development!), and I worry that the reader will be scratching their heads at the idea of parents showing up at a birthday party. Small seeds give rise to great rewards!

    Throughout this workshop, your prose has been absolutely gorgeous. I truly look forward to reading this complex, layered tale! Good luck!

  7. Pitch: What? Grandpop?? No!! I adore the pitch! Very unique and totally grabbed my attention. Well done!

    Pages: I love the voice in the pages, it flows beautifully well. However, in light of the pitch, I do wonder if perhaps it starts too soon and if this scene moves the story forward. It does seem odd that her parents would show up right before Grandpop happens to die, which makes me think it is connected, which is not hinted at all in the pitch, so possibly coincidence, but a big one. I adore the characters, so this does make me care about them and I will hurt with Janie when she's ripped away from them, but the scene needs to do more to push the story forward than just intro the characters (at least for me, I know some like slower starts). And maybe this scene does evolve into something that triggers movement, and I just didn't get to read quite far enough. Either way, the voice is engaging enough I'd keep reading.

    Good luck with this story! I'm excited to see it in print one day :)