Friday, November 29, 2013


TITLE: Revising the Catch-Up Plan
GENRE: YA Contemporary

When her younger brother’s drug addiction escalates to violence, seventeen-year-old MacKayla is sent to live with relatives in the deep South. She’s beginning to adjust to her new life when tragedy strikes twice: a hurricane hits town and her brother, back home, disappears. Mac must choose between leaving to search for her runaway brother or staying to assist the storm-ravaged community – and family – she’s grown to love.

Five days in Alabama and I’d already discovered three undeniable truths:

1. Pale Minnesota skin was not made for Southern sun. Two minutes in direct light and I was as pink and sticky as State Fair cotton candy.

2. “Sweet Tea” would be better named “Sugary, Delicious Goodness.” How had I gone seventeen years without this amazing beverage?

3. One week and a thousand miles was not enough time or space to erase an unwelcome memory.

I pushed my legs fiercely against the front porch, propelling the old rocking chair into a creaky sway of motion as I tried, once again, to forget that night. My glass of Sugary, Delicious Goodness was sweating against my palm, forcing me to grip it tightly as I took an oversized gulp. I closed my eyes and imagined I was sitting on our deck back home, my long-anticipated summer plans still awaiting me.

The sound of a truck crunching onto the gravel driveway pulled me into the present. I was not at home. I was in po-dunk Alabama, staying with my Great Aunt and Uncle who I hadn’t seen since I was a toddler.

“Hi there, MacKayla,” Aunt Shirley called, smiling and scooting her plump body out the truck’s passenger door. Uncle Joe turned off the engine and nodded a silent greeting, the large bald strip across his head shiny as he unloaded several large bags. I scurried to help, the former Girl Scout in me unable to stand by and let a seventy-five-year-old haul groceries on his own.


  1. I love your set up. I'm not sure of the title, though--it just feels a little cumbersome to me.

    Now, about "sweet tea"--I currently live in the south, but did not grow up here, and so far, everyone who's visited me from elsewhere has found the stuff to be frighteningly sweet. I still can't even take a sip myself. This may just be the people I hang out with, but that stood out to me.

    Also, "one week and a thousand..." feels a bit too different from the ones that come before. Partly because a week certainly isn't going to be enough time (no matter what the memory). So, I think I'd cut it to, "A thousand miles was not enough space to erase [maybe something other than unwelcome?] memory."

    Also, "the large bald strip across his head shiny as he unloaded several large bags" strikes me as off. I get that you're trying to describe them and convey action, but I feel like your next sentence is really great at that, and I'm not sure we need to know he's bald. I think I'd rearrange a bit to:

    "Uncle Joe nodded a silent greeting before unloading several large bags. I scurried to help, the former Girl Scout in me..."

  2. I fell immediately in love with your MC's voice!

    I only have two small nit picks with this sentence: I pushed my legs fiercely against the front porch, propelling the old rocking chair into a creaky sway *of motion* as I tried, once again, to forget that night.

    First, 'sway' on its own is motion, so you might consider nixing 'of motion'.

    Second, 'that night' falls a little flat, imho, because I don't yet know what happened. If you switched it to a small detail, while still leaving some of the mystery, like: the night my brother went crazy (though I'm sure you can do much better than that) it might amp up my sympathy for MacKayla.

    Other than that, I really enjoyed reading this. Good luck in the auction!

  3. I thought the list of truths doesn't do much for you. The fact that she likes sweet tea and sunburns easily can be gotten in anywhere, and that space could be used to perhaps tell us why she's there.

    You could go into a bit of detail about the memory and that night, and perhaps tell us how she feels about being there, or anything relative to the plot problem, preferably something to raise some tension, suspense, or conflict, or something that hints at the current problem.

    She pushed her legs fiercely . . . perhaps she pushed her feet, because she isn't really pressing her legs against the porch.

    Do rocking chairs sway?

    Great Aunt and Uncle shouldn't be capitalized. Podunk is capitalized and there is no hyphen in it.

    You could cut - I was not at home. - since the following sentence tells us where she is and makes that evident.

    The sentence about the bald head doesn't make sense. Perhaps rephrase it.

    Good luck!

  4. I really like your MC's voice, and right away I started caring what happens to her.

    I love that she loves sweet tea - it says something about her personality that she is NOT from the South and DOES like it...she must really love sugar! I'm already wondering if this little quirk -being a sugar addict - will come up again in your story.

    Minor point - as I pictured her swaying forcefully in the rocking chair and taking a sip, I saw her spilling her drink down her shirt. Might want to reenact that one and see if it works?

    Your description of her Minnesota skin is spot on! Good luck.

  5. I like the conflict laid out in the logline, and I really enjoyed the opening lines of this entry.

    The second half wasn't quite was compelling for me. Part of it, I think was the vague allusion to "that night." I think it would be better to simply state straight out what happened. Even just one line. Also, I think you coulod drop the exposition of the second-to-last paragraph and discuss who these people are after the dialogue (i.e., when she helps them).

    Best of luck with it!

  6. This story sounds really good! It has a lot of elements that I find really hooking: the addict brother disappearing and the natural disaster. There's something very symbolic about the two of those inner and outer conflicts and I'd be interested to see how they are woven together in the story.

    Here's my pick though. I don't like starting the story off with a list. I love these truths MacKayla reveals, but I think the writer already weaves them into the story as it unfolds (the sun on her skin and drinking the tea and trying to push the memory back as Aunt Shirley pulls up on the driveway) so it loses its impact and feels redundant.

    I really love this entry. The voice is strong and the premise is excellent. Family addiction stories are some of my favorite in YA.

  7. I love your MC's voice. I really like the contrast of Minnesota and Alabama. I'm a transplant to the south. I myself don't care for tea of any kind, but I thought your referral to it fit with how so many natives feel about it.

    I would definitely read on. Best of luck.

  8. The list fell a little short for me too; I think I also expected her NOT to like sweet tea, and then #3 "an unwelcome memory" is vague and doesn't quite hook. What is the unwelcome memory? If it's important enough to make it into a list, then don't cop out on the list. As another person commented, maybe the list isn't needed. This can be worked in another way. Regardless, I think you should name what she is trying to erase. The verbs and nouns you use to describe it can show us how she feels about it. Every word counts on a first page.

    A few other lines you could streamline to make them pop; losing "fiercely" and show it instead. I first person you can immerse us in how the MC feels, so watch out for too much body movement description which treats the reader like a passive observer rather than pulling us in with sensory details; the tea sweated against her palm--was it cold? slippery? So nixing the mechanics of how she is holding it and how she makes the chair move for a few key details to show the setting and how she FEELS about it will strengthen this.

    Sounds like an engaging premise.

  9. This was beautifully written--I really love MacKayla's voice. The list didn't throw me off, but I think Valerie's suggestion is a good one. You could easily take the pink skin and sweet tea piece out of the list and weave them into the story, and then you can focus on what MacKayla's trying to forget, because that's what your reader wants to know about. That being said, I would definitely want to keep reading because I already feel a connection with pink-skinned, sweet-tea-drinking, stuck-with-random-relatives MacKayla. ;)

  10. Think the title should be changed. That doesn't grab me.But enjoyed the writing. Think it's very good. I like the list. Think the author gets you quickly into the story and you want to know where she will go with it. Excellent beginning to a story.

  11. I love this! You convey so much in the first 250 and there's some great description (sticky as State Fair cotton candy). I also love the premise. I would definitely read on to see what she chose, to see more of her Great Aunt and Uncle who I already adore, and to read more of this awesome writing. Also, I love that you started with a list. VERY effective here. Good luck!

  12. I don't think the 3 things are unique or awesome enough to make this list a focal point of your first page. Also, I think the choice is too easy, at least for me it would be. Staying to help a storm-ravaged community is nice, but the damage has already happened and there are probably thousands of volunteers there, whereas, her little brother is hers alone and is much more a personal stake.
    Now as to the writing itself, I think it is really good!

  13. I like the list and the iced tea references. I agree that you should change legs to feet, take out "of motion" and reevaluate drinking while rocking fast. Maybe she could put her feet down to stop the motion then take a drink? If you change shiny to shined, I think the bald head comment works.

    I like this premise and would definitely keep reading. Good luck with it!

  14. I had to read this, being from Alabama, and I was definitely bracing myself for another negative and/or stereotypical portrayal of my home state. But you managed to avoid those things, so bravo! I would add that besides just being sunburned, the heat & humidity are pretty oppressive for people unused to it, especially to people from Minnesota. I do worry a little about the stereotypical porch-swing-sweet-tea-gravel-driveway-po-dunk portrayal of Alabama, but there are definitely plenty of places in Alabama that fit this description, so I can't fault you there. I just want people to realize that Alabama is also home big cities and modern conveniences like everyone else :)

    I immediately liked your character when she got up to help her elderly grandfather unload bags. It's nice to see nice teens in fiction :)

    I'm kind of wondering what the main driver in this plot is. If she doesn't leave to go find her brother, what does she do for most of the book? If she stays, then the book is her adjusting to life in the South, surviving a hurricane and helping the cleanup. I'm sure you have more than this, but it seems like you have a false choice in the last sentence of your logline.

    Good voice, a setting that appeals to me and a character that I'm sympathetic to would make me read on, even though I typically don't read YA Contemp. So good job :)

  15. Like your premise, sounds like an intersting and different tale. Not a fan of the title, a bit clunky.

    I really like the structure of your first page - I'm a sucker for lists - but I'm afraid I'm less of a fan of the content. Lists or rules are a great way to really get a charcter's voice across, or show the reader how unusual their personality is or what's different about them. While your list is fine, it isn't unique enough to draw me in.

    Then the following scene, while again 'fine', just isn't intersting enough to grab my attention. Can you think of another way to set the scene and introduce these characters that is a bit more gripping or unusual than unloading shopping and sitting on a porch?

    Despite not quite being grabbed, I do like the sound of your premise and there is something about this first page that would still draw me enough to give it a couple more pages. But I think it could be polished a bit and made punchier.

    Good luck!

  16. I'll sort of agree with some of the other comments about the list, mainly because those are items that would be very simple to weave into the story itself, no need to list them out (it reminds the reader, only 2 sentences into the book, that they're reading a book and you're the author). I think I might prefer simply starting with 'Page MN skin was not made for southern sun. Two minutes in direct light and I was as pink and sticky as State Fair cotton candy.' 1) I love that image, wonderful writing there. 2) It shows us she's from the north, now in the south. 3) Her voice really comes out there.

    Unless the sweet tea is a thematic element throughout the story that's not immediately apparent it's important enough to be mentioned like that. And while the 1000 miles might be enough, 1 week usually wouldn't unless it's really not that unwelcome of a memory. Even a typical high school breakup would linger more than a week, never mind something more impactful, which this seems to imply it is.

    I really love the voice here, love the imagery and the interesting word choices (though 'po-dunk' sticks out...not a fan of that one).

    Good luck!

  17. I like your logline. It gives us the set-up, the setting, and the conflict.

    Not sure that I love your three undeniable truths. I think this info could be cleverly worked in somewhere else. Especially number three. I need more than you're giving me. I get that you want it to be a tease, but I need more of the skeleton, even if you want to keep it in the closet for now. A few of the key details that are hinted at in the logline would go a long way towards making readers sympathize with the MC, I think.

    Also, I agree that pushing her legs doesn't read correctly since her legs don't touch the porch. I like that you're showing instead of telling but the picture is still a bit blurry for me at this point. Also agree about Podunk, Alabama and great aunt and uncle. I think you could start with the dialog. I love that she gets up to help. It gives great insight into her character. Oh, and I'm not crazy about the landing strip across the uncle's head. Maybe it's the wrong detail or maybe you could present it another way. Good luck.

  18. I love your MC voice and the pace is great. I wasn't crazy about the format of the opener. Why the list? Can you make those into a paragraph instead?

    "Pushed my legs fiercely" -- tighten this.

    I love the reference to her being a Girl Scout. The description of the aunt and uncle are excellent.

    Good luck!

  19. Hi there!

    I want to read this entire novel so badly. Your log line hooked me immediately—and you utterly reeled me in at “Two minutes in direct light and I was as pink and sticky as State Fair cotton candy.” What a great line (and so true). Your concept is both original and compelling and, as such, makes your pitch automatically stand out.

    I love the premise that MacKayla is caught between supporting and helping out her newfound community in Alabama post-hurricane and tracking down her younger brother. The depth of her connection to family paired with the devastation of living through and then picking up the pieces after a national disaster is compelling—and would potentially hit home with a wide variety of readers. Both are very real situations and challenges that teens face and, if done well, the complexity of working through and processing either situations has the potential to generate a lot of buzz within the YA community.

    Be careful of clichés—it’s easy to overuse them and make them into a crutch.

    Best of luck tomorrow and I can’t wait to read more!

  20. Don't listen to Lauren. 40 pages here, please!

  21. Don't listed to EITHER of them! 60 pages please!

  22. 60 pages.


  23. 100 pages. Also, fun fact: Lauren is illiterate.

  24. LAUREN CHEATED. 150 pages!

  25. Didn't we take out the 150 rule? Just "You may not bid for a full manuscript until a minimum of 5 bids has already been placed on the item."

    *raises eyebrow*

  26. Can't we just agree that I should get this because I'm NICEST :) Do I win now? yes, I think so.

  27. I think Victoria and I should both win. Because she's the nicest. And I'm nice for saying so.

  28. "You may not bid against yourself (i.e., bid twice in a row) UNLESS there are already 4 bids and you are interested in the full. In this case, you may place the 5th bid AND you may then immediately place a 2nd bid for the full. (Note: If you're the one who placed the 4th bid, you may NOT place the 5th bid; you'll have to wait until someone else places it, and then nail the full (if you can!)."

    Doesn't this mean I win? And Brooks is the *worst*?

  29. Not according to the rules I received, Lauren: "You may not bid for a full manuscript until a) a minimum of 5 bids has already been placed on the item, and b) the bidding has reached 150 pages."

    B. B!!!

  30. The change in rules was suggested, but never *authorized* by Miss Victim.

    You know what this means MacLeod: We take this to the streets. THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE.

  31. I am now terrified to make a ruling on this one...



    (There were 5 legal bids prior to the winning full bid. I checked twice.)

  33. I made my case. Brooks just whined. I WIN!!!!!

  34. Dearest Brooks,

    I'm better than you,: na-na, na-na, boo-bo.


    The Winner

  35. Dearest Lauren,

    Look behind you.


  36. Yay! I'm so happy for the author, as I loved this one! Congrats!