Sunday, March 22, 2020

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Kinser Rev 2

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


Thirteen year-old Tracy’s experience playing softball on school and low-key summer programs hasn’t seriously challenged her skills, or her impulsive and judgmental ways. But in 1977, Tracy applies to a Northern California city Parks and Recreation league. Longing for a winning team, she lands on the Sawdust Sallies, and isn’t sure they qualify. Their funky name and gross uniform colors are strikes one and two. Her teammates’ questionable skills may sideline the season. Worry escalates when the schedule includes a powerhouse opponent whose slick plays and boisterous fans intimidate all challengers. Tracy’s fascination and jealousy about the rival’s winning ways overshadow her appreciation of her own team’s grit and determination. Still, the Sallies battle injury and devote extra practice time, scoring some wins.

Tracy can’t shake her obsession with beating her rival, and in their second meeting, she recklessly bumps a base runner. Benched for the first time, she reflects on her motives and admits her thoughtless actions. But the battle’s not over. Tensions flare when a post-season all-star game teams up representatives from the Sallies and the rival. Tracy digs deep, eats some dirt, and finds that winning isn’t always reflected in a game’s score or a shiny trophy.

Revision 2

Chapter 1

Hang in there, baby. The poster hanging above my dresser encouraged with words that I’d read a billion times today. I pictured myself in place of the fuzzy kitten dangling at the end of a rope. 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 day, time, or minute. Forget being patient. Maybe they’d lost my application. I filled out paper work to sign up for summer league softball, like, forever ago, checking the box for the twelve to fourteen years age division. I’d attached the yucky-tasting, thirteen-cent stamp, hoping thirteen wasn’t bad luck.

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

Major bummer.

I grabbed my softball mitt from the nightstand. 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. Can anybody love me enough to put me on a team? I sat on the bed and looked at the poster again. A 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, while straining to hear Mom’s end of the conversation.

“Hello?” Mom said.

Her next words faded. She probably stretched the phone’s long cord into the kitchen or the living room. I leaned forward, hoping this was the call I’d waited for.

Her voice grew louder. “Yes, I’ll tell her. Thank you.”

I held my breath as Mom’s footsteps padded on the shag carpeted hallway.

My hand hovered above the doorknob for a second before 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. “Whew. I could not have waited another second. I am so ready to play. Practices, games, learning lots of new names. Bring. It. On.”

Mom laughed. “You’re so dramatic. School teams just finished a week ago, and here we go, again, times three, with you and Kevin playing and Dad coaching.”

“That’s normal around here.”

Mom’s eyes rolled sideways. “That’s for sure. Congratulations, honey.”

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.”

“Yeah, what’s up with that, anyway?” Things were different in little league. Boys started younger, played in tournaments. “Hey,” 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, stalled my footsteps.

“Man, I hope I’m on a good team.” I’d competed 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. Being new to the league, I did open registration and suffered the long wait for team assignments. Even more of a drag--I had no idea who my teammates would be. Only a few of my friends went out for sports, so chances were good that I wouldn’t know anyone.

I shifted the mitt to my hip. “A shiny trophy would look nice on the 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.”

“Quit spacing out, and I won’t snap. Now, get out.”

Two more days until the team meeting. An absolute 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 dropped my bell bottoms and smock top on the floor before changing into a t-shirt and shorts. I 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, to 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.

In the refrigerator, I found leftover spaghetti and zucchini. I stirred a scoop of each together in a bowl, and ate them cold while I finished homework. I also downed two big glasses of water. Gotta get ready to sweat.

I jiggled my leg non-stop, and checked the clock every five minutes. At four-fifty, I grabbed my stuff and headed for the kitchen, my braided pony tail thumping against my back with every step.

I added my dirty dishes to the neat stack Mom had rinsed. She was in the dining room with Dad and Kevin.

“Sure,” Dad said, “we’ll take care of dishes. Toss me that dishtowel. It has Kevin’s name all over it.”

Mom wadded up the towel and fired it at Dad.
He caught it one-hand and whistled. “Good arm.”

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

I didn’t say much on the drive to Sequoia Junior High School.

Mom glanced sideways. “Why so quiet? Nervous?”

I nodded. “And excited.” I sort-of smiled, then flicked my right index finger against the back of my thumb during the remaining trip.

We joined the other families gathered in the shade of a big sycamore tree. Conversations hummed through the crowd, interrupted by parents’ shouts at little kids.


  1. Hi Julene,


    Wow! I love your pitch! It sounds like your story will be full of life lessons that any kid will be able to gobble up and apply. I also got a vivid image of when and where this story is taking place - I entered a time machine and went straight back to 1970 (not that I was born yet, but you get my meaning!).


    I love what you did with the poster at the beginning and the phrase 'Hang in there, baby.'

    Then, 'Hang in there, Tracy.' Great way to give us your MC's name!

    And then a third repetition: 'A car drove by outside, its radio blaring “Somebody to Love” by Queen. Can anybody love me enough to put me on a team? I sat on the bed and looked at the poster again. A billion and one. Hang in there, baby.' Love it!

    You also did a great job explaining that 'the city Parks and Recreation league was a step up in competition.'

    While you pull the reader straight into Tracy's mind in the first chapter, we lose her a bit in the second chapter. You obviously need to move on with the narrative, but a single phrase might do the trick (something awesome like: I jiggled my leg non-stop). I guess I'm just surprised Tracy isn't all over her mother, urging her on to the meeting.

    Nothing major, really. This look like a good, solid story for middle graders with lots of teenager situations such as dealing with friendship, jealousy, standing out in the crowd, being laughed at, etc.

    Great job and good luck!

  2. Hi Julene,

    Pitch: I did a word count check on your pitch and it's currently at 200 words. Most pitches - your blurb alone - are recommended to be 150 words or less. A full query tends to run 300 words or less. There's a lot going on in this pitch, some I believe can be cut. Ask yourself what the bare skeleton of your story looks like. What is the most vital information a reader would have to know about character, world, goal, & conflict to get them interested in reading? Or, in this case, to get an agent to ask to see more. A few elements of your first paragraph can either be combined into one idea or eliminated all together. This doesn't mean these elements are important to your story. It's just that they are not pertinent to drawing an agent's attention. *The story sounds like a deep, emotional journey, which is awesome.*

    Pages: Once again, I am in love with her voice. Her manor of speaking shows me her body language without you having to write it. That's awesome, and it means middle grade readers will be prone to see themselves in this story, which is ultimately what you want. It's obvious that you've spent time working out those slight conflicts or questions I had in your previous draft about her younger brother playing ball longer and so on. You had the new info flow through their conversation very naturally. Nicely done! My only thought at the end of what you've included for chapter two is that I felt like a little interaction between her and mom on their ride (or before) was needed. I think in that second part the reader inside me wanted to see more of what Tracy was feeling, like deep down - the fears and hopes she does want to talk about out loud. I know you don't want to repeat what you already mentioned at the beginning, but maybe a line or two between her and Mom because Mom must understand, right. She played ball before.

    Otherwise, fantastic job with these revisions. You've definitely worked hard. It's been a pleasure reading your work. All the best to you!


    1. Thanks so much, Sheri, for your thoughtful critiques (tough when they needed to be) and encouraging words. This has been (continues to be) such a wonderful experience for me.

      I wish you the best with your writing, as well.


  3. Hi Julene,
    I think you made a good job with this revision, but I felt like the last scene was rushed, like some parts/dialogue were missing, and if I haven’t read the previous version, I would have been confused. I preferred the way it was written before (but it’s just my personal opinion, feel free to ignore).
    For your pitch, I suggest you to break it into smaller paragraphs to grab the agents’ attention. You can read the query shark blog for tips on queries (and pitches). I also think the last paragraph (except for the last sentence, which is very good) would fit more into a synopsis than a query, as you want agents request more material so you don’t have to tell every plot points. Focus on the inciting incident, what your MC wants, and the stakes.

    I wish you the best of luck with your submission

  4. Hello!
    Great revisions and pitch. Fabulous job!
    I enjoyed the pitch to your story. It sounds age appropriate, and like it will teach lessons of sportsmanship. That, and your sense of humor, will draw the reader in .
    "Their funky name and gross uniform colors are strikes one and two." - As always, very relatable! Uniform colors and team names are way important for the age group you will be targeting!

    I feel like you've done a great job with your revisions. The pacing is great. You have a great sense of humor that isn't over the top, and is age appropriate. You obviously have worked very hard on this, and it shows!

  5. Hi Julene,

    I liked the beginning of the pitch, up to “strikes one and two”. I think there is voice in these sentences and I’m drawn to the main character they describe. I think you can improve this part by removing or editing certain words: “school and low key summer programs” is too bulky, maybe remove “low-key”. “her judgemental ways” sounded strange. At least in my head “judgemental” carries a negative connotation, and from what I know about Tracy she is a nice, single-minded girl.

    Afterwards though, the pitch (at least to me) sounds more like a synopsis without the ending. I think there is too much information crammed in, so it reads like less of an advertisement for a story and more like a telegraphed summary of the story. Maybe try to fit your story into the answers of three questions: 1. Who is Tracy and what does she want (which you’ve done in the first four sentences), 2. What happens that gets in her way (just a sentence or two of the obstacle, the main conflict, for example: her team sucks). 3. How things get worse and what she stands to lose (a final sentence or two to really hook the reader, which doesn’t give details of the plot, but only hints at a big hook, a difficult choice or a big problem she has to face and the stakes if she fails), for example: her already bad team needs to face a powerhouse opponent.

    What I mean, I guess, is try to focus the pitch in giving the reader only a glimpse into what will hook her or him.

    About your chapters: I really like the beginning, it’s engaging and you’ve managed to catch the impatience and exasperation. I love Tracy’s voice, her head is a fun place to be in, snarky in a cute middle-grade way. It’s a wonderful beginning and I’d love to read more and see how her dreams play out.

    Good luck with this story and have fun writing!


  6. The pitch writing is clever and very tight, but I had to reread a few places because it’s so tight. Perhaps try to be a bit more straightforward in the writing.
    Playing softball with her uncle’s small-town team hasn’t challenged Tracy’s softball skills or her impulsive and judgmental ways. Longing for a winning team, Tracy applies to a Northern California Parks and Recreation league and lands on the Sawdust Sallies. Their funky name…
    I don’t see much in the pitch that would indicate why you’re setting this in 1977. The story should need to be set there to enhance the theme, character arc, and have some layer that makes that particular time period important.
    I really love the voice in this. Tracy’s personality comes off the page. We really feel the tension as well. You’ve done a great job. I think my only comment would be to make sure we see the kitty in the poster as hanging by their paws rather than hanging—being hung. It caught me for a beat, and I had to reread and then try to figure it out.
    Good luck with this!

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