Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First Two (MG Fiction) #3


Penny always knew she’d be young when her mama died, but that didn’t take the pain away. Even when your mama’s been sick for your whole life, it still hurts to be ten years old and throwing a shovel full of dirt on top of the box that holds your best friend.

Because when you are ten years old, and have spent your whole life with a sick mom, she is your best friend. In Penny’s case, pretty much her only friend.

Penny didn’t stay to watch them fill the hole. Her papa took her home, but she couldn’t stay. Mercifully, Papa didn’t make her. After all, she never went far.

Today, she sat on a boulder at the edge of the forest behind her house, letting the damp moss soak through to her skin as she watched the people of her town of Hopeton mill around her house, eat potatoes and Jell-O, hug her father, pick up photographs and look pityingly out the back window at her.

Penny had gotten used to those pitying looks in her short ten years. Her mama had gotten ill soon after she was born, spending time in and out of hospitals, stumping doctors from all over the country with her mysterious illness. Over the last year, that illness had progressed to the point that her mama couldn’t even make it to the hospitals. Then, she couldn’t even take another breath.

Penny had found it hard to breathe herself over the last week. The house wasn’t the same without her mama. It wasn’t in the absence of things; the beeping machines or bustling nurses. It was in the things that lingered. The smell of lilacs from her mama’s lotion. The piles of cut paper that her and her mama had used to build cities with the extra hospital tape the nurses would sneak for them. Her mama’s favorite blanket, folded neatly on her father’s favorite chair, next to the five pairs of reading glasses her mama couldn’t seem to place and so her father kept buying more for her.

Penny clung to a pair of those reading glasses now, as she huddled under the canopy of trees on the outskirts of their yard, letting the tears stream down and puddle in the folds of her dress. She didn’t even bother with a tissue, just sniffed and wiped her face with the sleeve of the black, velvet dress a neighbor had brought over with a pan of cinnamon rolls.

The breeze that drifted through the pink blossomed trees carried a sad whistle in its wake and the setting sun seemed dimmer than it usually was. Penny pulled her knees into her chest and tucked her scuffed, red Mary Jane’s under her skirt. She couldn’t understand how she could hurt so bad and feel so numb at the same time.

As the sun fell behind the trees and the sky turned from blue, to orange, to gray, Penny laid her head on her arms, and let her eyelids flutter and close.


  1. There is a lot of redundancy in this opening. The second paragraph says the same thing as the first, then paragraphs five and six says it again in more detail.

    Consider starting with paragraph six. It says what happened to mom in a poignant way without belaboring it.

    Two things bother me.
    o The tone of this piece is one of overwhelming sadness. I'm not sure it would entice youngsters to keep reading. Consider adding some element of strength or hope.

    o The last sentence sounds like we are going to drop into a dream sequence. To me that implies the opening is meant to avoid the cliche of opening with a dream. For me, it doesn't work.

  2. Very good discription in your work. I could imagine it as I was reading. I little depressing. I was confused you said Papa and then father. Is Papa her father or her grandfather? You are a great writer.

  3. Even though you explain it, I had a knee-jerk reaction to "best friend," knowing that a mother and a child can't/should never be best friends.

    In paragraph 3, the first "stay" was at the cemetery, and it almost sounded like the second "stay" was referring to that. Maybe say "stay inside the house."

    "Her and her mama" is grammatically incorrect. Should be "...she and her mama".

    How does Penny know what the people are doing in the house if she's sitting on a boulder? She can imagine it, but not actually know.

    Pink blossomed trees would indicate spring and warm weather, but then she's wearing a velvet dress with sleeves long enough to wipe he nose on.

    With knees to chest, you might tuck the dress around the shoes, but you can't tuck the shoes under the dress.

    I'd put detials of the mom's illness later in the book and concentrate on the now, but mentioning the things left behind is a good way to establish the chracters and their relationship.

    Pretty relentlessly sad for an opening where we don't know the MC very well yet. I agree that there's repetition and that you could tighten this quite a bit and get the same effect.

  4. I agree that the tone of this is quite sad, and while I found some of the language very well done, I thought it might be too elevated for such a young audience. I think if you scale back on the "poetic descriptions" then the ones you keep will really pop.

  5. Sad yes, but that didn't bother me too much (although I couldn't see someone letting a 10yo put the first shovel of dirt in the grave). The writing is pretty, but I think the description could be dialed back a bit and move on to a personal interaction faster.

  6. Some evocative and poignant descriptions throughout this piece. I could imagine it as a story for a much older reading audience, so maybe shortening it with less of the descriptions (they are beautifully done, just maybe too many). Starting further down the page would help that.
    Maybe even some dialogue to break it up might help too. So more white page space.
    This would also let you get into the magical bit that looks like it's about to happen (i.e. the wish garden??)
    Keep writing and re-writing - you have a lovely sense of setting, I thought.

  7. If you're going for magical realism, you might want to hint at it somewhere in the first two pages. There's a ton of reflection going on for a 10-y-o, and maybe your protagonist is reflective, but I'm not sure many of your readers will be. Think about getting to some sort of action sooner and later going back to reflect (since sometimes it takes time before we can reflect on grief, anyway?). That being said, as an adult, I like your descriptions. Something else you could consider is targeting an older audience.