Sunday, May 19, 2019

1st Five Pages May Workshop - Miles Rev 2

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


Eleven-year-old Carina can’t remember much about the night her mama was taken into police custody, landing her in foster care. What she can’t forget is that it’s all her fault. She’s the one who called 911. Now, Carina has to start middle school in rural Jefferson Davis County—miles from her Atlanta home. 

When a grandmother she barely knows shows up with secrets from the past, Carina’s grip on her tentative new life threatens to spiral out of control. Trusting a person Mama chose to cut out of their lives is risky—but doing nothing could mean never getting Mama back. So, Carina promises her grandmother she’ll work hard to uncover memories that can help Mama’s legal case.

With the help of a quirky new friend and a foster mom who’s not nearly as cool as she tries to be, Carina works to recover buried memories, no matter how painful they may be—even if it means breaking rules and taking risks. Otherwise, she may never get her old life in Atlanta back. More than anything, Carina wants Mama back. She will do whatever it takes to make that happen.


I was the one who called 911.
No one else knew it, but Mama was gone because of me. If I could remember more about the night Mama got taken away, I wouldn't be so scared. But the harder I tried, the more that night played back in my head like a movie—with the important parts blacked out. 

I’d shown up in the middle of the night to live with my foster parents, Andy and Jodie, during summer break. I was too numb to worry about school or much of anything at first. The one thing that stuck with me was Jodie saying, “You’re safe here, Carina.” For some reason, those words mattered. A whole lot.

The night before the new school year started, Jodie gave me a back-to-school pep talk. "So, your schedule’s all set,” she said. 

I didn’t care about my schedule. It wasn’t my school, with my friends. At the end of last year, we’d made a middle school survival guide as a joke—sort of. Most important, Mama wouldn’t be there like she’d always promised. People really shouldn’t make promises they can’t keep. 

I was about to say something to show I was listening, when a meatball zoomed past Jodie. 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 know the rules.”

Jodie 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.

Jodie 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.” 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. 

“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 things she used to say 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 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 needed something familiar to calm me. My stomach clenched at the thought of going to that school and trying to blend in with the kids who belonged. 

"Carina, honey. Did you hear me?" 

I knew I couldn't ignore Jodie forever. I took a slow deep breath and let it out. "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 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. 

"I'm looking for my star, that's all. The one I was named for." 

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, and wondered if Mama could see the sky from where she was. I made a promise right that minute. “I’m going to find a way to bring you back home, Mama. I swear it.” It was all that mattered. But, how was I supposed to bring her back when I couldn’t remember most of why she was taken from me in the first place? I’d just have to try harder, that’s all. 

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 up on a chair and chewed the corner off Greg’s favorite superhero trading card. 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."

I opened my mouth to answer, but the sudden blaring of shrill sirens made me grab a chair for support. The kitchen disappeared, replaced by flashing blue lights. I was right back there—the fear, panic and guilt of that terrible night filling my insides all over again. 

“Carina, honey. It’s just the TV.” Jodie appeared at my side. I blinked, and her face came into focus near mine. “You’re trembling like a leaf.” 

“I’m okay,” I lied, sure my heart was suddenly too big for my chest. “I should get to bed.” 


  1. Hi Melissa,
    I posted earlier but for some reason it isn't posting. Hopefully, this attempt will go through. I like your pitch and your pages flow so much better! Great job on all your hard work! All the best to you!

  2. Hi Melissa,

    I really like your pitch and the premise of your story sounds awesome. It's something I would definitely read and recommend to MG readers. The only suggestion I have for your pitch is to add more info about the mom's arrest, if possible. How do we know there's a risk of never getting Mama back? Why could she possibly not get her back? Is it because she did something that will put her in jail for life or something that was bad enough that the system could possibly never let her have Carina back, even when she's out of jail? We need a little more info- how does Carina know Mama could never come back if she doesn't remember much about that night and why Mama was put in police custody?

    Your pages sounds really strong now. I really like the voice. Good job and good luck!

  3. Hi Melissa,
    You have a strong pitch and pages. Great job. I agree with Amber that I'd add a few more specifics to the pitch to see the path she's taking with her grandmother a bit clearer.
    Good luck and happy writing!

  4. Hi Melissa,
    Great job with this rewrite. The pitch says the police took her away but the pages don’t mention the police. I thought she was kidnapped or taken due to criminal activity of some kind. In both the pitch and the pages, get more specific. What is she charged with? I need more hints about why she has PTSD. Did Carina get hurt, for instance, when her mom was arrested? Was a boyfriend involved? These things she’d remember and she would’ve heard what was happening with her mom.

    I love the arrival at the foster parents and the foster mom saying “you’re safe” ... it made me tear up!

    I’m still not in love with the star business for first pages. I want more happening.


    1. Thank, Kim. I will try to give more information up front. I appreciate all the time you took this week reading our pages and providing feedback.

  5. Hi Melissa,

    Wow! This is so beautiful—and definitely seems like a story that will make me ugly cry. I love the mystery of the missing memories, and am very intrigued!

    For the pitch, you've done a great job encapsulating the key elements of your story, as well as getting Carina's personality across. My one piece of advice here is to make sure that each sentence is building on the previous one and introducing something new. There are a couple sentences here that feel like they're saying very similar things and, given how short the pitch format is, can probably be strengthened with more specific language, so that each sentence/idea feels distinct and vital.

    You've done a really lovely job with the opening pages, and I had such a vivid sense of the distinct landscape of this area of Georgia—well done! Additionally, Carina's sadness comes through so powerfully and really hits the reader. My one suggestion here is to just be careful that where she is emotionally and her distance from the other characters doesn't distance her from the reader. Carina seems very guarded with her foster family—and for an understandable reason—but be careful that she isn't being reserved with the reader as well. Try opening up her character a bit more in her narration and let the reader deeper into her thoughts and emotions, so that they can see the heart she's protecting.

    Overall, this is such a splendid job! Best of luck!

    All best,

  6. Thank you so much! I will work on getting the emotions to come through more. Thanks for the feedback.