Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First Two (MG Fiction) #11

TITLE: Rules for Running Away
GENRE: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction

My whole life, Mom told me that my dad was dead.

But all this changed the day I found that letter in the recycling bin. There was my name, Annie Berger, below Mom’s and stained in oil. Care of Ellen Berger. Apparently, she hadn’t cared enough.

I tugged the envelope out from under a bottle in the trash. The left-hand corner, where the return address should’ve been, was torn off. Wasn’t it illegal to throw away someone’s mail? I dug deeper.

“Hey!” someone said.

I jumped back. My chest was throbbing. “You can’t just walk up on people like that--”

“Sorry, Big A,” Mom’s fiancĂ© said.

It was the most annoying nickname. Every time he said Big A, I heard, You’re fat. Which I wasn’t.

“What’re you up to?” His grape-colored yoga shorts matched his sweatshirt.

“Recycling! Gotta take care of the earth, you know?” I swallowed and told myself to act normal.

“Right on,” he said. “I didn’t hear you come home. I was meditating. I must’ve gone into another world.”

Craig was always in another world. Thanks to him, our East Village walk-up was a yoga shrine. He’d dragged our TV to Goodwill and lit incense in its place. He’d purged everything in our kitchen, including my unopened box of Lucky Charms.

Dairy gave him gas.

MSG made him break out in hives.

Pecans gave him headaches or heartaches or something.

Our home, where I’d lived all my life with Mom, was now sugar-free, dairy-free, pesticide-free, and smoke-free. I’d give that to Craig: thanks to his herbal remedies and woo woo, Mom had quit smoking, although the other day, I swore she smelled like tobacco. Behind Craig’s back – I mean, behind his butt – I called him Health-butt.

I’d never get to the bottom of anything with him around. “Mom told me you held a headstand for two minutes the other day,” I said.

Almost two minutes!” He laughed. I could see where one of his front teeth was chipped.

“I bet you can beat that record.” I reached up and gave him a high five.

What a relief when Health-butt unfolded his sticky matt in the living room with a slap. I dove back into the recycling and as my two minutes ticked by, I pushed little scraps of paper under my shirt. Then I raced into my room.

Every girl knows the best hiding place is in the back of her closet. Crouched on the floor, I taped together the bits of paper.

I’ve written to you tantas veces... Tantas veces?

Even though I looked like the kind of kid who spoke Spanish, with my jet-black hair and big brown eyes, the only word I knew was hola. Taping that letter together was like doing a garage sale puzzle. A few pieces were missing, but even with the holes, I had an address:

P.O. Box 3939, Philadelphia, PA

R.J. Blanco, it said in black jellybean letters. That was my father’s name and one of the few things I knew about him.


  1. I was very intrigued by the concept that was set up in these first 500..piecing together a letter from the dad she thought was dead...very cool! Craig's interruption, therefore, slowed down the action a little too much for me. I wanted the scene to be cut in half so that she could get up to her closet and figure out what was going on with the letter. This early in the story, all of the details about Annie's stepdad felt superfluous and at times repetitive.

    Your writing and sassy voice seem spot-on to me, but I would suggest delaying the long descriptions about Craig and focusing more on the letter and getting to know Annie to build on the initial momentum in your first few paragraphs.

  2. Hm. Somehow I want this to start with a version of third paragraph. I feel like the first two - or actually the first sentence could be "Everything changed when I found the letter in the recycling bin." Then you could into "I tugged at the…"

    Seems like the other details about her name aren't as important just yet. But I agree with Post-It about things slowing down with Craig. But tighten things up after that and you have an intriguing beginning. I'd be curious for more.

  3. I enjoyed the humor in this.

    A couple of nitpicks: the phrase "and stained in oil" strikes me as awkward; the chipped tooth sounds like it's a new flaw; and the "Every girl knows" sentence pulls me out of the story.

    I'd like to find out if she manages to connect with her dad, and how. I love the title--it sounds like a good story!

  4. I thought the voice was strong and the story is something that will suck the reader in. The idea of finding a letter from her dad who she thought was dead is great. Especially because you've set up a situation where she doesn't seem happy with her mom's fiance. I liked the part with Craig. I think if you want to fix something based on how others felt like it slowed down, show Annie being frustrated and thinking of ways to get him out. You show her doing that by mentioning the headstand, but if she seemed more annoyed, we wouldn't lose our attention from the letter, but we'd still get how annoying Craig is. Great job! I'd read on.

  5. I love this one! Love all the details about Craig because it actually does tell me about your protagonist because it's showing us her voice :) I think that's a killer first sentence, but the second one is a little bit of telling~ maybe just combine sentence two and three for more impact? "My whole life, Mom told me that my dad was dead. But there was my name, Annie Berger, below Mom’s and stained in oil." Anyway, really enjoyed reading this~ best of luck with it!

  6. This is a great opening with spot on descriptions, particularly of Craig -- I love "Dairy gave him gas." And I love that Annie's mother "Didn't care enough." It's a great set-up for some great family dysfunction and your MC's voice is funny despite the sad situation.
    Nice job.

  7. Love the descriptions of Health-butt! I think you should name the "someone said" since she clearly knows who it is. I also thought the "Every girl knows" sounded a bit funny, kind of like it was put in at some point to make sure we knew the mc was a girl. I wasn't quite sure what jellybean letters were, but the detail and description in this piece was really nice.

  8. Cute title! Annie seems awfully accepting of all the changes Craig has made. A typical kid would gripe about it, if only to herself. Especially if she's going to run away.

    "...below mom's and stained in oil" confused me. Somehow I thought her name had been painted on with oil paint.

    I agree that the interchange with and description of Craig goes on too long. But I do like her term for him: Health-butt.

    If he lives there, wouldn't she have noticed the chipped tooth a long time ago? Maybe you could say "Every time he laughed I could see his chipped front tooth."

    Minor comments/questions:
    3rd paragraph: Don't need "in the trash."
    Sticky matt should be mat.
    What are black jellybean letters?

  9. Wowser! Great opening line. I would edit out "that". It's a word that (LOL) sneaks into our language and is not always needed.

    Great details used to reveal info to the reader without feeling like info dumping. Good job with that. I can "see" your characters.

    At the end, I was hooked. I know that the MC is going to begin a quest (title and first page) and I want to tag along. Good luck with this ms. Patricia Nesbitt

  10. Great start.

    The opening sentence does imply that Mom tells Annie her Dad is dead until Annie dies (i.e. not just to the time of the story, but onward too). You need a 'had'

    However I'd reword. Don't start with an opening phrase. 'That' is unnecessary too. And calling mom a liar might help emote more.

    Mom always told me Dad was dead.

    She'd lied.

  11. Love this. I would definitely pick this off the shelf!
    I agree that while your description of Craig is really fun, it's a bit too long. We want to get back to the letter she found just as much as she does -- so maybe collapse it a bit?
    Also agree on the "every girl knows" - why is that?
    And finally, agree that using the word "lied" is more powerful than "didn't care enough".
    Terrific work, good luck.