Sunday, March 15, 2020

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Kinser Rev 1

Name: Julene Kinser
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Title: Softball Summer

Chapter 1

Hang in there, baby. I read the words for the ten billioneth time today. The poster showed a fuzzy kitten hanging on for dear life, at the end of a rope. Like me. Just waiting. Hang in there, Tracy. I snorted and popped my last frozen grape, chewing with numb teeth.

No more telling myself that the phone would ring any minute. Maybe they’d lost my application. I’d filled out paper work to sign up for summer league softball, like, forever ago. One thirteen-cent stamp later—I’d hoped thirteen wasn’t bad luck—my application for the twelve to fourteen years age division was on its way.

Today was the deadline for team assignments. Time was running out, and no one had called yet.

Major bummer.

I pulled my softball mitt from under my bed, its resting place since my school team’s last game one week ago. Some embedded dirt poofed in a fine cloud as I launched the ball into the webbed pocket, slow at first, then faster, harder. Maybe I could speed up time.

Smack! Smack!

Maybe my brother would play catch with me.


I stared at the wall between our rooms, listening for any sign of life.

Maybe I’d die waiting.

A car drove by outside, its radio blaring “Somebody to Love” by Queen. I needed someone to love me enough to put me on a team. I sat on the bed and looked at the poster again. Ten billion and one. Hang in there, baby.

The phone at the end of the hall rang. I startled, sliding part-way off the bed. For a few seconds, I struggled to get my feet securely under me again, all the while straining to hear Mom’s end of the conversation.

“Hello?” Mom said. Then, her voice muffled as she stretched the phone’s long cord into the kitchen or the living room.

I held my breath. This could be it—The Call.

“Yes, I’ll tell her. Thank you.” Mom hung up.

“Tell her what?” I whispered. I shook my head. “I mean, tell me what?”

Mom’s footsteps padded on the shag carpeted hallway.

I bounced on the balls of my feet. My hand hovered above the doorknob. Can’t wait! I threw open the door, almost colliding with Mom’s raised arm.

She jerked backward to keep from bumping into me. “For goodness sake, Tracy, I almost pounded on your forehead. You’re on a softball team. That was your coach calling. You have a meeting and practice on Monday at five-thirty.”

My cheeks puffed, as I exhaled. “Finally. I am so ready to play. Practices, games, learning lots of new names. Bring. It. On.”

Mom laughed. “You’re so dramatic. There’s a lot of ‘bringing it on’ that comes with joining a sports team. Things are about to get busier around here, times three, with you and Kevin playing and Dad coaching.”

I bounded into my brother’s room. “Guess what? I’m on a summer team!”

Kevin was lying on his bed. “Cool. It’s about time you got your call.” He lowered his comic book. “It’s weird you had to wait so long, when girls don’t even go through try-outs.”

Things were different in Little League. Boys started younger, played in tournaments. “Yeah, what’s up with that, anyway?” I raised my mitt. “Wanna play catch?”

“Maybe later. I’m busy right now.” The comic book went up again.

“I see that. Very busy. Say ‘hi’ to Batman and Robin for me.”

As I turned to leave, sunlight glinted on Kevin’s trophy shelf. He was nineteen months younger than me, but already had a few league participation and tournament trophies. Their sparkle attracted my gaze, slowed my footsteps.

“Man, I hope I’m on a good team.” I’d played on my school teams since sixth grade. The last two summers, I’d played on the VFW team coached by my uncle in his small hometown in the mountains. If you showed up, you played. No trophies, just experience and fun. But I still liked it when my uncle’s friends called me his “secret weapon,” and asked where he’d been hiding me.

Even without girls’ tryouts, the city Parks and Recreation league was a step up in competition. Some teams signed up complete rosters. Since I lacked experience or contacts in the league, I did open registration and suffered the long wait for team assignments. And, let’s not forget an added mystery--I had no idea who my teammates would be.

I shifted the mitt to my hip. “A shiny trophy would look nice on a shelf in my room.” It could replace my pet rock. I meant to get rid of that stupid thing ages ago.

“Earth to Tracy.” Kevin snapped his fingers. “You’re getting a little ahead of yourself. First, you need to be on a team that’s good enough to earn a trophy. For that, you’ll just have to wait and see.”

“No duh, Mister Obvious. And don’t snap at me. I hate that.”

“Don’t space out, and I won’t snap. Now, get out.”

“Alright, I’m going.”

Two more days until the team meeting. It may as well be an eternity.

Chapter 2

Saturday and Sunday passed at a snail’s pace. A snail that swallowed lead pellets. And crawled through dry sand.

On Monday, I slogged through school. The bus dropped me off twenty minutes late, spewing black exhaust as it roared away.

“Ugh!” I fanned at the nose-stinging smell. How much bus yuck have I inhaled in my life? It’s a wonder it hasn’t killed me. A short walk, a key turn, and home!

“Hello? Anyone here?” Nope. I changed into a t-shirt and shorts, and just finished pulling on long tube socks when Kevin slammed the front door.

I met him in the living room. “Hey, where’ve you been?”

“I went home with my friend, so we could work on our solar system model. His mom bought us fries and milkshakes on the way here.” Kevin slurped the bottom of the cup to show there was no possibility of sharing. “Mmmm, chocolate.”

“Lucky you.” My stomach rumbled. Good thing I was hungry. I wanted to eat early so I wouldn’t barf at practice.

Mom’s note on the refrigerator cued me to find left-over spaghetti and zucchini. I stirred a scoop of each together in a bowl, and ate them cold while I finished homework. I downed two big glasses of water too. Gotta get ready to sweat.

At four-fifty, I grabbed my stuff and headed for the kitchen. My braided pony tail thumped against my back with every step. Reheated smells of the same food I’d eaten hung in the air. Left-overs for the rest of the family, too, plus a bonus of garlic bread.

Mom, at the sink, added my dirty dishes to the neat stack she had rinsed. “Ready to go?”

“I sure am.”

She followed me into the dining room, drying her hands on a dishtowel. Dad and Kevin were hanging out at the table.

“How nice of you guys to volunteer to wash the dishes.” Mom winked at me.

“Hey, I didn’t vol---“.

Dad held up a hand to silence Kevin. “We’ll take care of it. That dishtowel has Kevin’s name all over it. Toss it here.”

Mom wadded up the towel and fired it at Dad.

He caught it with one hand and whistled. “Good arm.”

“I still got it,” Mom said. “Be careful what you ask for in this family.”


  1. Hi Julene,

    Your voice is perfect for middle graders. It's funny and entertaining. Tracy's impatience is unbearable (which is a good sign in terms of your writing). This impatience does get a bit lost in the last section, though. I guess I'm expecting Tracy to be all over her mother, urging her to leave for practice. Focusing on Dad and Kevin seems to slow the pacing somewhat.

    You successfully added information about your MC (her name, braided hair), the hour of the practice and about boys starting earlier in Little League. I chuckled at the kitty poster.

    However, I'm still a bit confused when you say 'Since I lacked experience or contacts in the league'. It seems to me she has plenty of contacts: her brother, her uncle, her Dad (even her mother?) are players. But again, I'm no expert and might not catch something that is obvious for people who play these types of sports.

    I'd like to mention that you have plenty of witty phrases that had me cracking up ('Saturday and Sunday passed at a snail’s pace. A snail that swallowed lead pellets. And crawled through dry sand.';
    'I wanted to eat early so I wouldn’t barf at practice';
    'Kevin slurped the bottom of the cup to show there was no possibility of sharing'). Brilliant!

    So basically, I'd suggest checking the section that starts with 'At four-fifty' onward. All it might take is describing how Tracy feels at that point.

    Looking forward to the next revision!

    1. Thanks for reading and critiquing, Rae. Tracy comes from a baseball/softball family, and has some experience playing. But she's new to this league, has no previous connection to a team. Therefore, she went through open registration, leaving her team placement in the hands of the folks processing the applications. This is "normal" for open registration sports but stressful for impatient Tracy. I'll work on clarifying this.

  2. Hi Julene,

    I like this opening a lot better. It's direct. You also put the reader directly into your MC's mind. That's quite effective. I also know more about her from her world and voice. Love the MG voice! There's lots of material for a middle grade reader to relate to here - her rational for speeding up time, love her enough to put her on the team, the interaction with her brother, & her pet rock. Cracked me up! You've also chosen some strong verbs. Nicely done!

    There is one aspect that kept tripping me up. If she's played on a team before - even a school team - why does Mom make a big deal about how busy they'll be? Is this a special sports summer league/team? If she and her brother play during the school year, Mom will be busy in a similar way, right? I might be misunderstanding though. I also kind of feel, with her being MG age, that she might make a bigger deal about her brother saying that girls don't need to tryout. From the onset, she feels to me like a headstrong girl who wants to be confident, but really lacks some confidence. I could be reading too much into this; if so, scratch what I'm saying. I just know that if my brother implied that girls weren't as skilled because we didn't need to tryout, I'd let him have it. LOL

    I'm glad you included a bit of detail of what your MC looks like. The only other thing is that I'd like to get a read on how she's feeling about practice and such at the end of the piece.

    Excited to see what you do with this!

    1. Hi, Sheri,

      Thank you for your comments and critiques. I am so encouraged by the first paragraph above, and I appreciate your pointing out where I might focus additional revision attention.

      Mom is really just stating fact, sports participation is busy, even if a family is used to it. Having a coach in your family multiplies the impact.

      Brother's comment is also just stating fact: little league has tryouts, rec. league typically doesn't. I was just showing some differences in the 2 playing situations.

      Your comment about Tracy: "she's a headstrong girl who wants to be confident, but really lacks some confidence"--YES!!

  3. Hello!
    First off, I love love love this new beginning. You've grabbed my attention right off the (baseball) bat! I especially love the cat poster. Fabulous! And bringing Tracy's name into the first few sentences was a good idea. It didn't stick with me in the first draft, but bringing it to the top fixed that.

    I like the idea of the sentence, "No more telling myself that the phone would ring any minute," but I think it should be more clear that she's telling herself that, if that's what you're intending. When I first read it I interpreted it as her giving up, like no more waiting because there was no chance the phone would ring. The misconception was clarified by the next sentence, but you could alleviate the mis-read just by adding a "she thought" or and exclamation mark or something to clarify.

    Just a thought - if it's the last day to be added to a team, has she heard of anyone else who has been added to a team already? Or are all her friends in the dark as well about teams?

    "A car drove by outside, its radio blaring “Somebody to Love” by Queen. I needed someone to love me enough to put me on a team." This is fabulous! This is funny, relatable, and memorable.

    "I bounced on the balls of my feet. My hand hovered above the doorknob. Can’t wait!" - This is a bit choppy. You could combine sentences a little here to make it more smooth.

    "Saturday and Sunday passed at a snail’s pace. A snail that swallowed lead pellets. And crawled through dry sand." You have a great sense of humor. I love these little gems that you've got sprinkled through the chapter.

    Overall you've really did a great job with your revision. I'm interested in reading on!

  4. Hello Julene,
    I think this is a killer opening line. However, I would make it clearer that she's staring at a poster or where it is.
    I'm not a fan of description but I think you could add more to this scene so the reader would be more immersed. Like what's her room looks like? You don't need to be over precise but just a little detail here and there to show Tracy's personality. For instance, is she more girlish or tomboy? Messy or organized?

    What caught my attention was the lack of transition/resolve in some places in your story. I know you want to show her nervous and fidgety but at some point it almost reads as if Tracy just thought and said everything that pop into her mind at random and didn't acknowledge her surroundings. It makes her/ and the story hard to follow. Just some examples to show what I mean: 'with you and Kevin playing and Dad coaching.” and 'I bounded into my brother’s room. “Guess what? I’m on a summer team!” Because it reads as if she rushed to her brother's room without the mother getting out of hers first or acknowledging what she just said/replying to her.
    “Yeah, what’s up with that, anyway?” I raised my mitt. “Wanna play catch?” Again, she asked a question to her brother and she didn't even wait for the reply before changing the topic and I have no idea why she does that.
    There is also some other places that need transition like: 'I almost pounded on your forehead.' and 'You’re on a softball team.' Maybe show her mother's relief as she didn't hurt her daughter.
    Another detail that caught my attention. If Tracy stays in her room while her mother speaks to the phone, she couldn't know her mother stretched the cord as she could just speak lower.

    I laughed at the pet rock part. And I liked to see the whole family at the end. It felt real.

    Have fun revising!

  5. Hi Julene,

    I love what you did! I have a much clearer picture in my head of Tracy and her world, I loved the beats of her frustration in the beginning while she was waiting, the siblings banter and the atmosphere in the family. The metaphor with the snail and the slow passage of time had me chuckling 😊 Great work!

    I only have one comment:

    The poster with the kitten at the very beginning is a great idea, but it confused me when I was reading the section for the first time. At first I thought, is this a meme? Is she seeing it online? (stupid, I know). Then I remembered it’s a historical story, so it must be a real poster. A phrase that places the poster (“the poster above my bed”) and places the character in relation to the poster will create an immediate picture and avoid confusion.

    About chapter 2:

    Although I really enjoyed the dynamics in this family, I’m not sure you need all these details (home, homework, food, banter with parents about the dishes). At that point, I just wanted to see her go to practice already. But this is my subjective opinion.

    Again, I like what you did and I’m rooting for Tracy!