Sunday, May 12, 2019

1st Five Pages May Workshop - Miles Rev 1

Name: Melissa Miles
Genre: Middle Grade contemporary
Title: Carina of the Southern Sky

If I could remember more about the night Mama got taken away, I wouldn't be so scared all the time. The harder I tried to remember, the more that night played back in my head like a movie—with the important parts blacked out. The one thing I did remember, though, I wished I could forget. I was the one who called 911 that night. Mama was gone because of me. 

I’d shown up in the middle of the night to live with my foster parents, Andy and Jodie, during summer break. At least there wasn’t school to worry about then. I was too numb to worry about anything that first night. The next morning, I remembered that people down here were supposed to eat opossum at every meal, so I checked the food labels for a week in secret. It turned out to be fake, so I’d stopped checking. I had more important things to worry about anyway.

On the night before the new school year started, Jodie tried to “ease my mind about things” by giving me a back to school pep talk. But it wouldn’t help. What I needed was to start middle school at home, with my friends—and Mama. She told me more times than I could count, “Carina, I’ll always have your back.” I’d believed her then. 

“So, your schedule’s all set,” Jodie was saying. I nodded, about to ask if I could go, when a meatball zoomed right past her. Her mouth fell open, and Andy snatched it out of mid-air before it could ping off his forehead. 

We all froze for a minute. “Good catch,” I finally said. 

“Ninja reflexes,” Andy said, grinning. Then he caught Jodie’s look and said to no one in particular, “No throwing food. You all know the rules.”

Jodie looked at me, then scanned the messy kitchen—which was getting messier by the minute, and cleared her throat. “Carina, could you excuse me just a minute?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I said, grateful for the break. I didn’t want to talk about school. I wanted be alone—or as close as possible in a house full of kids.

Jodie turned from me and threw down the “I mean business” look on her sons, Greg and Thomas. “Unless meatballs have sprouted wings without me noticing, one of you better explain how one barely missed me just now.” I saw them shrug, but didn’t want to stick around for the lecture. Gracie and Quez, the youngest foster kids in our house had thrown everything off their highchair trays and had taken to pounding their round little fists like drummers. The room pressed heavy on me. The noise, the lights, the people—it was all too much. I wanted to be alone.

“Excuse me,” I said, pushing back my chair. 

“Carina,” Jodie called to my back. I didn’t answer. The screen door slammed behind me. I heard Andy’s voice say, “Give her a minute.”

Without looking back, I walked far enough to clear the landscaping shrubs and concrete walk. I dropped onto the lawn, and searched above me. Millions of stars twinkled through drifting clouds. “Hey up there,” I said to the clouds. “I’m drifting too.” 

I blinked back tears remembering all the nights Mama and I had sprawled out in our yard back home and pointed into the dark night, trying to be the first one to holler, "There she is! Carina of the Southern sky!" 

At the thought of Mama, all the annoying babyish things she used to say to me played back in my head. Don't ever ask a woman if she's expecting a baby. Don't lick your fingers when you're eating. For heaven's sake, Carina, don't tell your teacher that you don't have a father. Of course you have a father—he's just not around anymore. Even though I'd been real irritated back when she’d said those things, it didn't make the missing her go away now. Nothing did.

The door creaked open on the porch behind me. "Carina, come on in now. It's getting late. Tomorrow's a big day." 

I didn't move. I wanted something familiar—something to make Mama feel closer. 

"Carina, honey. Did you hear me?" 

I knew I couldn't ignore Jodie forever. I took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. "Can I have just a few more minutes?" I squeezed as much polite as I possibly could into my voice. 

"What're you doing out there anyway?" 

I rolled over onto my belly to see Jodie squinting at me in the semi-darkness of the porch light. Her face was dotted with freckles when you looked at her up close, but from here it looked like solid white marble—she almost glowed in the dark. 

"I'm looking for my star, that's all. The one I was named for." There wasn’t any reason to tell her that it wasn’t actually possible to see Carina from the Northern Hemisphere. What’re the chances she’d know that, anyway? I’d believed it until a humiliating incident in science last year proved I’d fallen for a big fat lie my whole life. 

Jodie tilted her head to the side. "I guess it's alright. But just for a few more minutes. There's no need in you being tired out for your first day of school tomorrow."

Not trusting my voice to come out steady, I waved to let her know I’d heard. 

I flattened back out on the grass and tried to find where I'd left off. Even with the clouds wandering past, the sky was scattered with more specks of light down in South Georgia than I'd ever seen in Atlanta. I forced myself to tune out everything else—the chirp of crickets, the dampness of the ground under my back, and even my fear of snakes. The Spanish Moss dripping off the low branches looked like ghosts in the dark, but I looked beyond them, refusing to be afraid. 

I finally found “Carina”—shimmering like she was wiggling on purpose to grab my attention. I wondered if Mama could see the sky too. Maybe we were looking at the same sky like we used to. Mama suddenly felt closer to me than she really was. 

When I walked into the large open kitchen, Jodie winked at me. "Find what you were looking for?" She was wiping down the long wooden table that held all of us for meal times. 

“Yes, Ma’am,” I said. 

Jodie walked over and gave me a pat on the arm, like she does when she doesn't know what else to do. "Maybe you could show me your star sometime. I'd like to see it."

Before I could answer, she dropped her rag and lunged at Gracie. “Good heavens, don’t eat that!” Gracie had pulled herself up on a chair and had completely chewed the corner off one of Greg’s favorite superhero trading cards. Jodie examined the mangled card with a frown, before wiping her forehead with the back of her hand. 

"Okay, I'll show you," I said, as soon as Jodie had put the card down on the counter, out of Gracie’s reach. 

Jodie's eyes found mine. They were kind of unfocused at first. Sometimes she got so distracted with all the kids in the house, she'd lose track of who she was talking to and what she'd been talking about. But she must have remembered, because she said, "That'll be real nice. What I know about stars would fit in a thimble."


  1. Your first paragraph could add to the scene where she's looking for her star. I suggest starting the story with: I’d shown up in the middle of the night to live with my foster parents...
    I'm not sure what the importance is of finding fake food labels on the opossum meal. I find myself wanting to rearrange paragraphs to make the story flow better, and to put it all in present tense, not past. Try setting up the scene showing the busy house with other foster kids so the meatball incident adds to the tone. Still, I love the characters voice, but show from the start that she's from the south, otherwise the grammar may be judged unfairly.

    1. I've thought about changing to present tense as well. I've never written that way, but it might make the reader feel in the moment. Thanks for your feedback.

  2. Hi Melissa,
    Great revision! The voice is still really nice and draws the reader in. I like that you added more interaction.
    As Laurel said, I'm not sure you're starting at the right point. I wish there would be something happening in the NOW that triggers her looking BACK. e.g., could her foster mom ask her to call 911 because something happens to another kid and she freezes because of her past? - so someone else has to call and she feels embarrassed and hides outside to find her star because it gives her comfort?
    This is just an idea but I wish that her flashbacks are connected to the scene in her foster home.
    I love this sentence: "She told me more times than I could count, “Carina, I’ll always have your back.” I’d believed her then." really makes we wonder what's going to happen since the foster mom comes across as very likable.
    Great work! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you still like the voice. Sometimes revising messes that up for me.

  4. Hello! Sorry again I missed commenting last week. I enjoyed reading this.

    I think it could make for a dynamic opening to begin with the last lines of the first paragraph and a little tweaking:
    I was the one who called 911 that night.
    No one else knew it, but Mama was gone because of me.
    Then continue - If I could remember more about the night Mama got taken away, I wouldn't be so scared all the time. The harder I tried to remember, the more that night played back in my head like a movie—with the important parts blacked out.

    I think it’s not quite clear yet if “On the night before the new school year started” is where you’re starting your story or if this is still something that happened awhile back. I think readers would be best served if we get to the current action on page 1, especially younger readers. Summer break and showing up at the foster family is in the past, so if school is current, perhaps:
    Tonight, the night before the new school year started, Jodie tried to ease my mind with a back-to-school pep talk. Then I would suggest having Jodie speak right away: "So, your schedule’s all set,”
    Then you have the chance to show the MC’s thoughts in response to that.

    The word babyish in this line, I think it makes her feel babyish, but what Mama said isn’t babyish. So maybe that word could be taken out or used differently.
    At the thought of Mama, all the annoying babyish things she used to say to me played back in my head. Don't ever ask a woman if she's expecting a baby. Don't lick your fingers when you're eating.

    I really like the setting descriptions with her looking at the sky, tying it to being named after a star, and the nature details.

    Something to keep in mind, though this is only 5 pages, is to put what your MC wants in the story early on. Especially in MG your total word count will be shorter (than YA or adult) so getting those goals, motivations, and conflicts on the page early is helpful. We know that she feels guilt for being taken from her Mom (so sad!), but is reuniting with her mom her ultimate goal? Is it doing something specific at school that will "prove" she's a good daughter and then XYZ? Even if unrealistic, her goal should be in there soon. Stating this outright never hurts, or hinting at what her main goal is somewhere in these 5 pages will solidify the plot and where the story is going.

  5. Much stronger opening! Good job! I really enjoyed it. I also think starting with the like 'I was the one to call 911 that night.' would make it even more exciting.

    I also think you can transition into the second paragraph a little better. I thought she was still talking about the night she called 911. Instead, you could start that paragraph with something about being numb her first night in foster care and then giving more description about her new surroundings after that once the shock had worn off. But then again, there's nothing that she talks about during summer break so you could probably just take that paragraph out completely and weave the information that's important from it into the narrative later on.

    Much smoother transition into the foster family setting. The meatball thing was great- showed the foster mom and dad's relationship between themselves and with the kids, showed the chaos in the house, that there were kids of all ages for these two adults to take care of. Perfect.

    The talk about Carina the star was much smoother and felt more organic as well. Good job. I think the part where she is gazing at the star is a great spot to talk about her objective/her goal. Is she going to try to get her mom back? Sneak out and visit her mom? I'd like to know in these first few pages, at least a glimpse of what her objective is. Right now it seems like the reader might be dragged through her sulking at her new school for a while without anything of substance happening.

    Overall, great revision!

  6. Hi Melissa,

    Really nice job with your revision! I think the great voice you've established comes through even more clearly this round! I still think these pages could use a bit of tightening up, though. As others have mentioned, starting with "I was the one who called 911..." would be a great way to grab your readers. A few other points in the very short comment (I'm leaving in a few minutes for an event):
    -- I can't tell if you're speaking about Mama or Jodie in this sentence. "She told me more times than I could count, “Carina, I’ll always have your back.” I’d believed her then." I assumed it was Mama, but it looks like at least one other reader thought it was Jodie. It's an important line, so I'd make sure it's more clear.
    -- Watch out for repetition. I noticed a few places where you seemed to use the same word (e.g., "worry") several times.
    -- I wish these pages ended with more of a cliffhanger. Something that would make the reader want to turn to the next page. Is there some way you can with something more compelling that Jodie's lack of knowledge about stars?

    Thanks again for submitting your pages. Can't wait to see round three!


  7. I'll work on all of these points. Thanks! :)

  8. Wow Melissa, that’s a fabulous rewrite! I always love it when people really take the best of what they had and build on it! I love starting with the crazy fighting and that meatball moment especially. It’s a very sensory description...I could feel the meatball in my own hand. Jodie’s loving but distractability is endearing too.

    The first paragraph is strong, really pulled me in. End on I was the one who called 911. The guilt can come later and pulls from the mystery here.

    I like the star thing much better in this version. However, the whole Southern/Northern sky thing was confusing to me. I don’t think you need it, and why would her mom lie?

    While this is much stronger, I don’t think it’s the start of your story. Maybe the moment mom is killed. Or maybe a detailed scene of that first night in the foster care house. I don’t really know what this story is about from these pages, and I should. What is the problem? What is she dealing with now besides grief...this should underlie the rest of the story, but there needs to be another more immediate pressing issue. We need to have a way to root for her. You are very close to pulling us in to this story... your writing is excellent!


    You are a fabulous

  9. (Sorry for the odd dangling half sentence....You are a fabulous writer, I meant to say! And it was supposed to be up higher.)