Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First Two (MG Fiction) #14

GENRE: MG Historical Fiction

Hot or not hot, I’m not budging from this spot until I talk to Olivia, thought Patsy. The metal rungs of the two-seater swing, almost too hot to sit on this August afternoon, printed red bars on the backs of eleven-year-old Patsy’s legs. The outline of her house shaded the swing as the sun arced across the Carolina-blue sky. But Patsy had a lot of catching up to do with her best friend of forever and a day—and she wanted answers.

Geez Louise! Patsy nudged the swing back and forth. I’ve waited all morning for Olivia to fill me in about her trip and her dad’s decision. Patsy gnawed a fingernail. Especially since I heard Mom crying after her phone conversation with Mrs. Nelson.

Patsy squinted towards Olivia’s house and pushed up her glasses.

Finally! Olivia sashayed across the double driveways with a lips-pressed-thin smile on her face. Her shorts’ pockets bulged with something. She plopped onto the swing beside Patsy like the sinker on Daddy’s fishing line into the Catawba.

“Hey,” Olivia exhaled in staccato breaths.

“Hey, yourself,” Patsy said. “So, tell me. Say it fast, and it’ll be easier.”

Olivia’s bottom lip quivered, and a single line of clear snot ran out of one nostril. “We’re mo-ov-ing.” Olivia reached into her shorts’ pocket between sobs, removed a crumpled wad of Kleenex, and blew her nose.

Patsy’s face wanted to scrunch into a million wrinkles. “When?” she croaked.

“In t-t-two weeks.” Olivia’s shoulders shook up and down with her wails.

Patsy shot up straight in the swing. Her eyes bulged at Olivia. “TWO WEEKS? Holy Moly, that’s awful!”

“I kn-kno-know.” Fresh tears washed over Olivia’s face like rain water over the dam at Sugar Creek. “We’re moving in with Grandmother Nelson until we find a place to live and sell this house. Mom wants us to be all set to start school after Labor Day.”

Patsy felt the color drain from her face like bathwater out of the tub. “You won’t be here to start school?” she whispered.

Patsy’s throat ached, and her gut felt like it did the time Wayne punched her in third grade.

Olivia shook her head. She handed a lump of Kleenex to Patsy.

Now Patsy turned on the faucets. “How will I make it through sixth grade without you?” Patsy tooted into the Kleenex and sniffed.

“You-ou? I’ll be living with Grandmother “No-Touch” Nelson and starting sixth grade in a school full of strangers in Vir-gi-gin-i-ya.” The swing jiggled in time to Olivia’s sobs. “At least you’ll have Linda and Susan he-ere.”

Patsy threw her arm around Olivia’s shoulders. They both snubbed in triplet breaths and swung on in silence.


  1. You've got some really lovely details in these opening pages. I loved the image of the red bars on the backs of Patsy's legs, and when Olivia "plopped onto the swing ... like the sinker on Daddy's fishing line," I got a great sense of time and place (and I swear I could feel that swing shudder, too).

    That said, I do think there were a few too many similes in these opening pages. If you overuse them, they compete with one another and lose some of their punch. If you read it out loud, it might help you identify the similes that come too quickly on the heels of others.

    Also, I wasn't wild about all of the italicized thoughts in the first few paragraphs. They gave too much away, and based on the rest of this sample, I think you have the writing chops to get rid of these telling bits and really SHOW Patsy's nervous anticipation.

    Last but not least, I couldn't help but wonder if there's a better place to start the story. It's an opening scene we've read a bunch of times, so even if you do it well, it runs the risk of feeling old-hat. Is there another setting in which Patsy and Olivia could have this conversation? Or maybe we could fast-forward to whatever Patsy does after she hears the news? (That might also be a good way to introduce us to her character. How she reacts to this will tell us a lot about her.)

    Best of luck with this. I love reading--and writing--MG historicals, so this sounds like just the sort of thing I'd love:)

  2. The writing has a lyrical quality that reminds me of Pat Conroy when he writes about the South.The relationship between the two girls is clear to see and it is an interesting choice to open with what at least appears to be a separation. I think it works here and I think you've also captured how youth and childhood magnify events that adults take for granted.

    There is one thing I would watch out for....and use it sparingly. You have twice used like as in:

    She plopped onto the swing beside Patsy like the sinker on Daddy’s fishing line into the Catawba.

    Patsy felt the color drain from her face like bathwater out of the tub

    I would use this sparingly as it could undermine the authenticity of the voice you are striving for (and achieving so far).

    I write a lot for kids and it is always hard to get the right age-appropriate dialogue and I think you have done that here. Nice job.

  3. Lots of nice images in this excerpt. One suggestion is to work on the interior monologue to make it more real and less expository. I wonder what the two girls will do when they stop crying? Maybe hint at where it goes from this point.

  4. I love the line about the seat being almost too hot, but then you mention the house shading it...which makes me wonder why it'd be too hot sitting in the shade.

    I agree with watching the use of similes, although they were great descriptions.

    Also, I felt the stuttering with the crying was great, but a little overdone. Use it sparingly.

    You've captured MG voice well. And even though I'm not a big reader of MG history, I'm curious where this story is going:-)

  5. I think you could stand to cut most of the first two paragraphs. They're all exposition that you're weaving in much more skillfully later on and the internal monologue doesn't feel as authentic as the spoken dialogue.

    The individual similes are nice, but I agree that when you use too many (especially since they all have the same form), they become distracting. I'd keep the one about tears like water over a dam because I think it's the strongest and freshest. If you move the others to different spots so there's more distance between them, they'll do more for the story.

    I like the relationship between the girls. It seems real for that age. The voice is also strong and suits the time and place.

  6. I think these two girls are adorable. You did a good job setting up the situation of her friend moving. I think that, even though it emphasizes that this is in the south, you should pick one simile and go with it. I think this could start somewhere else. I don't feel like I care too much about why she's moving. It's a good situation to put your characters in, but we need to feel how upset the girls are. Also, it doesn't feel historical, so maybe a few historical details would be nice. I thought you did a beautiful job with the setting and painting a picture and the girl's voices are wonderful. Great job!

  7. I enjoyed reading this, nicely written, especially because of the way you described things. But I think that there was a lot more telling than there was showing, and I noticed (this is just a pet peeve of mine) you used certain words more than once in the same sentence or thought and that can make the reading a little bit repetitive, for example when you started out with "...." thought Patty, and then a sentence later you said eleven year old Patty, you didn't necessarily had to mention her name again, the reader can tell it's the same person. Anyway I think this is a very good story, and would be interested to see how it plays out, also the starting point is a little abrupt maybe like others have said you could start somewhere else and lead into this part, let us get to know Patty first and then show us what happened to her and Olivia.

  8. I liked the sentiment, but I think writing out the crying got to be a little over done. I did feel like some of the language felt old or old fashioned. And maybe that's just the character's personality (cuz I have a supporting character in my ms that picks up his grandma's phrases), just make sure that's the reason, not because that's language the author uses. This was cute though and I'd want to see where it's going.

  9. Although MG girls may identify, a best friend moving is a common topic, so I'd try to make this unique in some way. Or start your story in a different place.

    "Hot or not hot, I’m not budging from this spot" sounded like a rhyme, which I don't think you intended.

    Although the printed red bars is a good visual, Patsy couldn't see them on her own legs so that takes us out of her POV, which is where you started with her thought in the first sentence.

    I wondered why the seat would be so hot in the shade, too. Also, the last line in that first paragraph didn't seem to go with the house shading line, but your use of "but" makes it seem like it's supposed to.

    I think you could skip the second paragraph. Then put Finally! right after "pushed up her glasses" in the next paragraph.

    Love the sinker simile!! It gives a good sense of place. But I'd take out the other similes.

    The crying scene could be tightened quite a bit to make it more effective.

    I didn't understand the word "snubbed" in the last line. They were sobbing one minute then swinging in silence the next. Does "snubbed" mean they stopped crying? (I'm a Carolina girl, but I'm not familiar with that word, except when snobs snub you.)

  10. Hey guys: just want to say how much I appreciate your time to read and comment. I am already heavy into revising this opening and appreciate all your good suggestions. It's amazing how many times one looks at the page and doesn't see what jumps out to a beta reader like all of you. So, thanks.
    To answer MM Chandler's question about "snubbing": at the end of a crying jag, kids will stop crying but still do this quick triplet-breath inhale for a while. Do you know what I'm talking about? In my neck of the woods, my parents used to always say, "Stop that snubbing" because they wanted me to stop crying completely. Just what I heard growing up in NC. But, if it stopped you as a reader, perhaps I should rethink that.

  11. Hi Patricia -
    Glad you explained the "snubbing" word -- it threw me too!!
    This is great - I agree that you d a great job of setting up the close relationship between the girls and I really felt bad for them when I realized Olivia was about to move.
    But I agree that you've done a lot of telling rather than showing. I think you should start right off with Olivia's arrival and work in your other details. The hot swing can burn marks into both of their legs.
    Also - read that dialogue out loud. It sounds a teeny bit forced. Seems to me the first thing she would say isn't When but No!!!!! Then she would ask when. Holy Moly is a tough one -- it may be regional but it sounds a little off or maybe it's just old fashioned?
    Good luck!!