Friday, November 29, 2013

(30) YA Contemporary: THIS ISN'T SHAKESPEARE

GENRE: YA Contemporary

When seventeen-year-old Stacey can’t decide between a future with Cal or pursuing a dance career, a friend challenges her that she might be in love with love instead of Cal. Breaking up with Cal now, after she slept with him, goes against everything she believes, but staying with him might be the biggest mistake of her life.

We sit on the hood of my Taurus with the windshield as our backrest and gaze at the endless summer sky. Calvin leaves in the morning for a college four hours away and I’ll start my senior year of high school next week. He won’t be home for three weeks. Maybe it wouldn’t seem so awful if we hadn’t spent every spare minute together since we made up in July.

“Make a wish,” I say when the first star of the night blinks on. I wish for him to have a great first week at college and turn my eyes to the pale crescent moon.

Twenty-one days.

I can’t think about that though. I can’t even imagine it. My head rests against his chest as I sit between his legs. My body rises and falls as he breathes and I lose myself in the perfectness of being here in this moment, feeling his heat flood my back. A moment that tastes of forever and happily ever after.

Then I ruin it.

“How can you look at that sky and not believe in God?”

He twirls a strand of my long brown hair around his finger. “Stace…” There’s a tiny warning there. He won’t be dragged into that conversation again.

The reminder starts to crimp the edges of the perfectness.

Before the frown has time to fully form on my face, he presses his cheek to mine and hums the Journey song that was playing when we met. A peace offering.


  1. I really liked this opening. The dialogue was great- Stacey and Calvin's conversation felt very natural- and I like the hint of conflict right off the bat. Best of luck with this!

  2. Love the title.

    The logline leaves me wondering why can't she have both (i.e., why can't she dance and date Cal)? It's not clear to me yet what the actual conflict is there.

    I enjoyed the overall entry, the hint of conflict (past and present), the impending separation. The narrator's thoughts on these issues drew me in. She sounds like an interesting storyteller.

    I'm not sure the first line is as strong as it could be though. I wonder if the further down line "Twenty-one days." and then following with the comment that Cal will be gone for three weeks might not grip a little better(?), since their separation seems to be the main thrust of the opening here. Just a thought.

    Best of luck with it!

  3. Hey, there! Very cool title, I have to say. I mentioned this on another critique, but titles like this one remind me of books like SUPER SAD LOVE STORY--it's a giveaway, but it works well when the story pays off.

    Therefore, because of the title, we know this isn't going to necessarily be a happily-ever-after. But that's what we're being presented with in the beginning even though we already know these two characters have had problems (as indicated by the fact that they just "made up" in July). And we also know that things still aren't great because they almost get into (but avoid) a fight about faith/God.

    But I wish we'd get a more authentic look into why they DO work together, what keeps them together as a couple, and how their love is different. I want to strike this whole paragraph because it has too many cliches: "I can’t think about that though. I can’t even imagine it. My head rests against his chest as I sit between his legs. My body rises and falls as he breathes and I lose myself in the perfectness of being here in this moment, feeling his heat flood my back. A moment that tastes of forever and happily ever after."

    Let's dig deeper into what an actual "perfect" moment between them is--and not just something many couples have experienced.

    There are other places though where I see a great voice developing, especially in a line like: "He twirls a strand of my long brown hair around his finger. “Stace…” There’s a tiny warning there. He won’t be dragged into that conversation again."

    Keep up the good work--and thanks for sharing!

  4. You're developing a great voice and sense of place here--good job. I also like the hints of conflict you're setting up right from the beginning. Like another said, I wonder if this is the line to start with, however. I wanted something with more punch to match the really awesome title.

    Another question I had was time period: Does this take place in the '80s? Little hints seemed to say yes, but I wasn't sure.

    Overall, good job! (Also, sorry if this posts twice--my first comment didn't appear so I'm re-posting :))

  5. I really like the themes that seem to be explored here; that decision of whether to break up or stay together during the high school to college transition is very relatable. I also am a little stuck on why she can't have a dance career and date Cal, which leads me to assume he is either controlling and/or not supportive, or she thinks she needs to give up what she loves for a guy; the latter is something that I can see worth exploring, again since it's relatable, but the pitch in general gives me pause since I don't get what the actual conflict is.

    As for the beginning, I like the moment of them together saying goodbye. I would caution using too many body movement descriptors about the MC in first person; it sounds awkward for her to narrate how her body is moving, though for her to observe Cal would read more realistic. I like the idea of showing Cal's chest rising and falling from his breathing; maybe replace some of the stage direction-sounding text with sensory observations. "His shirt is warm against my cheek, and his chest rises and falls like in a steady rhythm." Something like that which uses 1st person to it potential by putting the reader in her shoes rather than watching the action unfold like a play.

    The only hint of '80s I got from this was the Journey reference. Maybe use a more updated song if it's present day, or comment further like "that old Journey song my parents used to listen to..." Those little details mean a lot in a first page.

    Good luck! I love YA contemporaries :)

  6. Add me to those that don't see a conflict there, between having a dance career or a future with Cal? Maybe in the 50's or something that would be a conflict? lol.

    I like her though, I just don't see the big conflict that would sustain a novel.

  7. Forgot to add, unlike others, I am not crazy about the title. Its too easy an insult to your book, if critics decide to be unkind.

  8. Great start...and I agree with many of the comments above, so I won't repeat.

    However, we're talking about contemporary. I gather as the story unfolds there will be enough conflicts to keep the reader involved and if the ending is something other than a happily-ever-after and we learn how the MC deals with that, you've got yourself a story.

    One bit of continuity I noticed: The couple were leaning on the windshield and then she's between his legs. Maybe she should start there or she turns onto her side and leans against him instead.

    Best wishes!

  9. The title really drew me into this one and I am most curious to see if and how you connect this to Shakespeare. Being a former dancer, I love the hint at a dance plot line and I really enjoyed the first page. I felt like there was some tightening you could do, and I'm not sure what's going on with bringing in God at the end, but I'd trust you and read on.

  10. I liked the voice in this entry a lot. I would definitely keep reading.

    I did have a bit of confusion about their staging, her being between his legs and against his chest, but him being able to kiss her cheek without having to lean over. I had to read it a second time and I think I understood, but I worry that windshields aren't all that horizontal so I don't know if it would work as easily as it seems (maybe you'd need to test it IRL)

    I did wonder why she couldn't have both Cal and dancing, but I assumed that would all come out in the manuscript so it didn't bother me per se.

    Good luck!

  11. This is a really strong contemp and has a great opening. I want to reorder the beginning so that it opens with:
    Twenty-one days.

    I can’t think about that though. I can’t even imagine it. My head rests against his chest as I sit between his legs. My body rises and falls as he breathes and I lose myself in the perfectness of being here in this moment, feeling his heat flood my back. A moment that tastes of forever and happily ever after.

    Then I ruin it.

    Then pick it up at "We sit on the hood....

    One pick: Be careful with this phrase-- "the first star of the night blinks on." because it's not a light switch where they turn on and off.

  12. I've had the advantage of reading this entire manuscript, so I'm coming at this from a little bit of a different perspective.

    I love the voice of this piece and the tension that you build around Stacey's relationship with Cal. I might have omitted the dance thing from the logline because I think that the choices are far more complex than it sounds. Religion, self-respect, trying to learn about what love really is.... these are all powerful issues that come out in the course of the book and I think that readers can see hints of all of these in your opening words.... good job!!!!

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  14. I love the fact that one of the challenges facing Stacey is the idea that she might just be "in love with love". So often, books and movies (especially ones for teens) promote that love is how you 'feel'--it's all the physical excitement and lust you feel when you're attracted to someone.
    From the narrative style of the first page, you can tell Stacey is love struck and a bit melodramatic. She's completely caught up with being 'in love'.
    I think a story that shatters the illusion that love and lust are the same thing is very needed and relevant for today's teens.

    I agree with the above comment that you should rearrange the beginning paragraphs. I think that would make it a much stronger opening.

    Great work!

  15. I liked this one. It was on my list of potentials to bid on, but sort of got lost in the frenzy. I like the logline and I like the first page. I guess this comes down to feeling like ones that I "like" don't usually end up being enough, and then I just feel the pressure to respond with great critique notes (especially when I've gotten a ms through something like this) when I usually don't have much to say.

    I think ultimately what made me not bid on this was the 2nd part of the log line. And this could be something that's potentially i the manuscript and just needs tweaking in the log line. But I think that vague, "biggest mistake of her life" kinds of stakes often leave me feeling a little underwhelmed. Would that really be the biggest mistake of her life? Maybe, I don't know. It feels a little out of proportion to the action.

    But then again, I'm not sure the stakes feel high enough here altogether to make this stand out. ANd that I think was the real problem.

    I love contemporary YA and I'm looking for it. That's what I was bidding on for the most part here, but I think it's very hard to make it stand out, and you have to somehow make the stakes high enough, yet still have it feel real.

    Again, this was a log line and one page, so maybe you do in a query and your full ms. But something to think about when querying.

    Or maybe Pam will fall in love with the 10 pages and you'll both go on to be a huge success with this and I'll feel like a moron for not just bidding 30 pages.

    Good luck!!

  16. I want to strongly agree with Valerie's comment, that you're not starting this in the correct spot to highlight everything as strongly as it could be done.

    I know that there needs to be some conflict in a novel, whether it's 'save the world' or simply 'save yourself' and so as Michelle points out we end up with a lot of 'the biggest mistake of her life' or 'the fate of the world hung in the balance' when, really, what the story is about is far more intimate or local or subtle. And there's nothing wrong with that, so long as the writing is strong etc.

    Which brings us back to all those comments asking why she can't date Cal and dance. As Helene helpfully pointed out, the book itself tackles far weightier themes, which makes me think you might want to reevaluate your log line.

    I like your writing style that these 250 words display (though yes, I was wondering if anyone would comment on the physicality issues) and wish you the best of luck with this!