Sunday, March 8, 2020

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Kinser

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

Chapter 1

The music finished. After a moment’s silence, the record player arm swished to the paper label, lifted, swept over the turntable, and flipped off the power.

I rolled onto my belly, watching the record slowly spin to a stop. “Somebody to Love,” by Queen topped the last stack of six 45 rpm records threaded on the tall plastic adapter.

The rest of my collection spread across the floor toward a wall in my bedroom.  I could play up to ten at a time on the record player my mom had owned since her high school days. A few of her old 45s mixed with mine, songs like Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Love Me Tender,” and Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly.” Their paper label colors of navy blue or a combo of black/white/yellow were easy to distinguish from the brighter oranges, purples and marbled greens of my records.

The phonograph was covered in vinyl, forest green on the bottom with a streaked black and white hinged top. It hogged a two square-foot area of my bedroom floor. Even so, I’d found space to dance until my muscles felt limp. Carefully, so the records wouldn’t skip.

Later, I switched to belting songs into my felt marker “microphone.”

Between songs, I popped frozen grapes until my teeth froze.

Tired of music, I straightened up the record mess.

Anything for distraction.

Today was the deadline for finding out what softball team I’d be on for the summer.


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.

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. I couldn’t stand this another second. 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.”

My cheeks puffed, as I exhaled. “It’s about time!”

I’d filled out paper work to sign up for summer league, like, forever ago. One thirteen-cent stamp later—I’d hoped thirteen wasn’t bad luck—my application was on its way. And now, the waiting was over. I’d be in the age division for twelve to fourteen year-olds.

“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 finally on a summer team!”

Kevin was lying on his bed. “What a relief.” He lowered his comic book. “You’ve been crashing around like a rodeo bull for hours. But, hey, it’s cool that you got the call. 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?” 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 participation and tournament trophies. Their sparkle attracted my gaze, slowed my footsteps.

A trophy meant that a team was good, right?

I kept staring. “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. No trophies, just experience and fun.

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’d done open registration and suffered the long, make that endless, wait for team assignments. And, let’s not forget an added mystery--I had no idea who my teammates were.

“I wouldn’t mind a shiny trophy on a shelf in my room.” I shifted the mitt to my hip. “Of course, I’d need a shelf first.”

“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.”

“Now, get out,” Kevin said from behind the comic book.

“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?” My voice echoed. I changed t-shirts and shorts twice and switched from ankle socks to long tube socks when I finally heard Kevin come in.

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

“I went home with my friend, so we could work on a science project. 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 kitchen, Mom’s note on the refrigerator cued me to find left-over spaghetti and zucchini. Heating them on the stove would take too long, and I’d have to wash the pot. I stirred some pasta and vegetables together in a bowl, and ate them cold while I finished math homework. I downed two big glasses of water too. Gotta get ready to sweat.

That only left history homework, a problem because history always made . . . me . . . sleepy . . . .

Sometime later, my eyes strained open to a blurry view of my U.S. History book. I peeled my forehead off my arm and massaged my stiff neck.


  1. I'm very interested in the cliffhanger at the end. It sounds like she may have missed her baseball practice that she is so excited about. I wonder what the consequences of that will be.

    I’m also really enjoying her relationship with her brother. I can tell they are close. In fact, the banter between siblings and between mother and daughter were believable and did a great job of pulling off “show not tell.”
    The biggest thing I'd look at would be the record player intro. I felt like the story dragged a bit during that part, but really picked up at, “Anything for a distraction.” I wouldn't take it out entirely, just rework it. It did a great job of giving me a sense of what Tracy’s room looked like, and what time period the novel is set in. Maybe if you brought in the part about using music as a distraction a little earlier it would bring up the stakes of the beginning. Also, besides the baseball glove under her bed, does she have baseball paraphernalia mixed in with the records?
    I like the part about the smell of bus exhaust. Something I struggle with is remembering to bring in all five senses to a story. I also liked the sound of smack smack smack of the baseball glove.
    Looking forward to the next revision! 😊

  2. Hi Julene,

    My first impression was: I like your writing style. The pages have voice, your MC has character. I like that she is full of energy and impatience, also a music nerd. When her mother answered the phone, I couldn’t wait to hear whether she’s been accepted to a team or not.

    I think you could cut some of the parts afterwards, my attention started dwindling. For example: her first dialogue with her brother, maybe it can be a bit shorter. I like their banter but try to balance that with moving the story along. Also, the beginning of Chapter 2: she practically comes home, chats with her brother, makes a meal, eats, does her homework. None of that is essential or intriguing, so maybe you can sum it up in a paragraph so that the actual story can start happening sooner. I’m curious what is in store for this girl.

    Did I mention I’m rooting for her to prove she can be a better player than her brother? Go Tracy!

    If possible, use Tracy’s name once or twice more in one of the dialogues. At the end, I couldn’t remember what she’s called. That’s always tricky with 1st person POV.

    I’m not sure about the sequence of single-sentence paragraphs (starting with “Later, I switched…” and ending with “Major bummer.”) I wondered whether it’s a formatting mistake. I think, if you want to put emphasis on a thought by separating it in a paragraph of its own, you should restrict this to one or two. Otherwise, you lose the effect.

    That’s it, I hope it helps!
    Good luck 😊

  3. Hi Julene,

    I love stories with sports in them, so this is great! And I female athletes, too. Your writing is smooth and flows nicely. There's also an ease you've developed between characters and their surroundings. All of that is important.

    I understand the reason you're probably starting out with the record player skit - you want the reader to know more about your character. Although I think some of that information does that, you don't need it all. I also don't think it's the best place to start. What I get from the first half of this piece is that your MC is nervous/anxious about finding out which softball team she's been assigned to for the summer. This is the crux of your character, at least at the starting point of this story. The music part can definitely be integrated into the scene, but on a lesser scale that simply adds a bit of dressing to your character. You can always add more detail about the 45s later on; that is if that information somehow adds depth to your character or story. If not, I'd leave it out. As the reader, I want to know who your character is, what's going on with her (conflicts - in this case anxiety), and some sort of goal. Honestly, I really became intrigued when I read your line "Maybe I'd die waiting." I like that line a lot.

    I'm also interested in knowing why she's anxious. Is it simply because she can't wait anymore and is ready to get started playing, again? Or because she doesn't want a certain someone on her team? Or that she doesn't like a certain coach? Questions like that. Answer a question that's going to up the ante with her, give the reader some action and/or something to chew on to keep them reading.

    My overall observation is that some of this information can be saved for later on in the story, some is (kind of sort of) more for you, the writer - it has helped you figure out who this character is, and some can be shortened to increase pacing and tension. One other thing is that Tracy's brother, though he's nineteen months younger than her, sounds older than her. It might just be me, so wait to see if others mention that.

    I'm excited to see what you do with this first revision! I hope this helped a litte.

  4. I like how you use music to describe your MC's world, but I think it makes it harder for the reader to know what the story is about. For instance, it took some time to figure out if the MC was a boy or a girl. The story was slow to start but when it did, I enjoyed it.

    I like the voice of your MC. It's funny and authentic, but sometimes, I felt like she seemed older than thirteen. I also felt her younger brother spoke and acted like he was older than her.

    I think that if sports and joining a team is important for your MC, this should be the focal point of your opening pages and even though I like the way she's introduced with music and such, I don't think it fits where you placed it.

    However, the thing I found weird about your premise is that your MC seems to only care about joining a 'winning team good enough to earn a trophy'. If she dreamed about wanting to be selected by X team because someone she admired played in it or that they won regional tournament 3 years in a row, it would make more sense, but they way you wrote it, it looks like she has no idea what this team would look like.

    Also, if the team is good and she's accepted, it means she's a good player and the selectors or coaches saw her talent or potential but none of this was mentioned. To me it read as if she wanted to enter a winning team without really considering herself as a good addition to the team. Think about the movie little giants: Icebox wants to be part of her uncle's team and knows she's better than some of the players he picked but he doesn't think girls can play football. Make her goal and the stakes clearer to make sure the readers know why this is important to her.

  5. Your writing is cheerful and light and I really enjoyed it! It flows well and is easy to read. You place the reader square in a teenager's room. Maybe mention some posters she has on the walls or the kinds of clothes she has lying around. Could we get a quick sense of what she looks like (just one word or sentence, nothing major)?

    I agree that starting with the music might not be the best option, even though I think you did a great job in your description. You could start with a sentence showing her impatience, then switch over to the music. The fact that there are records on the floor indicates she's been waiting for a long time. However, I think you could delete a couple of sentences related to the music.

    'My hand hovered above the doorknob. I couldn’t stand this another second. I threw open the door, almost colliding with Mom’s raised arm.' Excellent! So visual! You manage to infuse a layer of humor throughout the story (I laughed at 'major bummer') and your characters are fun and likable.

    For a moment I thought she was throwing the ball against the wall she shares with her brother's bedroom to bug him, so I had to re-read that part (but I'm not a sports-geek and know nothing about softball mitts). I wonder why her brother has trophies and is in good teams, while she's not (even though she's older and seems to love sports)? I hope the reason is revealed later on.

    I would have thought that, as a teenager, she'd be jumping up and down or screaming for joy at her mother's news instead of just puffing her cheeks.

    Most of the above are details, but could you please clarify one thing? At what time is the team meeting? By Monday I'm waiting and waiting for her to go to this meeting, but instead she goes to school, comes home, changes clothes, waits for her brother, eats lunch?dinner?a snack?, does homework... This is all fine, as long as I know what she's waiting for (is she waiting for her mom to pick her up? Is the meeting in the evening?). The list of things she does after school is fine, since I suspect all this is going to make her sleepy with the danger that she'll miss the meeting (lots of humor and tension in that).

    Great job so far!

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your insightful and helpful feedback. you've given me lots to consider for revision.