Friday, November 6, 2015

On the Block #10: REDEFINED 10:30 AM

GENRE: YA Contemporary realistic

Seventeen-year-old Cat craves a social life, but a neurological disease is wrecking her mom's health, and her uptight dad wants her to stay home and out of "trouble".  When Cat falls for a guy who understands family weirdness, she must defy her overprotective father or lose the boy she loves.  

Most seniors from Keene County High School didn’t stay home on Friday nights to babysit their moms, but I did.

I was chopping tomatoes in the kitchen, helping Billie finish dinner. Dad hired her to take care of Mom during the day, but she also liked to cook for us, a definite bonus. Billie’s cooking tasted almost as good as Mom’s used to. Almost.

Dad called at six. One hour before the football game in which Drew Stokes would execute the new play he’d drawn in ridiculous quarterback detail on my Spanish notes.

I had to see this game.

I didn’t want to answer Dad’s call.

When I did, he started talking before I could finish saying hello.

“Catherine, I’m in the ICU waiting for lab results on one of my patients. This could be a long night.”

I held the paring knife in midair. “You’re not coming home.”

“Not for a while.”  His words wrapped around me. Tight.

“But I wanted to go to the game tonight.” I could still see Drew’s x’s and o’s scattered across my paper.

“I’m sorry. You need to stay home with your mother.”

I glanced at Mom, sitting in her wheelchair in the family room, head dropped to one side. She couldn’t help that she was sick, that she needed me. The doctors said she had “Cerebro-Spinal Degeneration,” a neurological disease that over the past few years had stolen Mom’s balance and ability to walk.

Lately, it was snatching pieces of my life too.


  1. Love this - you've introduced so many details on this first page I feel like I know this family already!

  2. Nice beginning, setting up intriguing questions. Just a what-if... What if you cut a few things out that feel slightly forced, like you don't trust your readers? Start with "Dad called at six." (You can slip the other info in later.) Cut "You need to stay home with mother" because "I'm sorry" carries most of the same message and a ton more emotional weight that the second sentence undercuts. And maybe "pieces of" because this is a teenager who right now sees it as stealing her whole life, although that might also make her seem whiny, so I'm not sure without reading more. But it's a terrific premise supported by solid writing and a believable conversation.

  3. I like the idea of a teen girl having to balance a social life with the stresses of an ill parent. The situation is rife with conflict.

    However, I think you're too tell-y here and it feels superficial to me. (It was snatching pieces of my life too." We'll hopefully see that as we continue to see Cat's sacrifices.) ("I had to see this game." Why? Just because Drew--what's his relationship to Cat? BF?--drew a play in her notebook? How is that more important than taking care of her mother?)

    I also think the writing is choppy. The short sentences and fragments give it a staccato rhythm that isn't working for me. I think this type of book needs more lyricism, and I suspect that might come when you focus on showing more than telling.

  4. A totally fresh approach to a teen story. Well done. However, the beginning of your story doesn’t seem organic to Cat’s POV. She already knows she must home to take care of her mother and that she wants to go to the football game. It’s telling the reader instead of showing us. I’d suggest cutting out the first and second paragraph and go straight to the Dad conversation to start the story and her memory of Drew's play-by-play in her notebook and then Dad's telling her she must stay home with her mom has more impact on the story. I think I'd also give more of her thought to dreaming about Drew's touchdown, or something to let us know Drew may be the boy she likes. With what we have now, he could be her best friend, her cousin, or her neighbor. IMHO. Good luck. :)

  5. Great job! I love little phrases like, "His words wrapped around me. Tight." and I'm a big fan of that last line as well: "Lately, it was snatching pieces of my life too."

  6. I love the line from the premise: "When Cat falls for a guy who understands family weirdness..." That's funny and very realistic because we all kind of think our families are weird. In Cat's case, it's especially true. I think the first line is the best line of the page - a GREAT hook! "Most seniors from Keene County High School didn’t stay home on Friday nights to babysit their moms, but I did." You pull me in right then and there. Like Brent said above, I would cut, "You need to stay home with your mother," and just say, "I'm sorry." I agree that packs a bigger emotional punch. I definitely want to keep reading after this page because I want to know - does Cat go or does she stay? Nicely done!

  7. Love the concept! The first page is great in that it jumps right into a conflict, but it feels a little *too* jumpy. It bounces around between a few different things, so by the end of the page I wasn't sure what I should be worried about--missing the game? Her dad? Her mom? Making dinner? The writing is cursory and a bit all over the place, so we don't have a chance to feel invested in any one conflict. I don't feel like I know anything about the character other than that she's annoyed by her situation, and that's not a very sympathetic way to introduce someone. However I do think this is a really intriguing concept and has a lot of potential. Good luck!

  8. Love how she holds the paring knife midair. A wonderful example of showing instead of telling. Well done! I feel for your mc and would definitely read on. I'm wondering if your opening sentence might be crisper and pack more punch if you deleted "but I did."

  9. Love what an immediate picture we get of our protag, her family and all it's disfunction. I can already picture the family in my head, and this line is beautifully written and placed, "Lately, it was snatching pieces of my life too." Well done! The only thing I'm wondering is what will take center stage--the family dynamic or the romantic one.

  10. I really like how we're immediately drawn in to the family conflict. I agree with the suggestion that you could get rid of "You need to stay home with your mother" and not lose any of the emotional impact. The three single sentence paragraphs that start with "I had to see this game" do seem a little choppy to me. Maybe you could combine at least two of them. But I like the first line and the last line and am curious about what she's going to do. I would read more to find out! Good luck!

  11. Everything I could have said has already been covered in the above comments. This was really well written. Good job and good luck!

  12. This is quite good. I think a few small changes might make it better:

    P1: ", but" to "." <- I think the 'but' weakens a strong opening

    P2: Dad "had" hired her <- pretty sure you need the 'had'
    There's a disjoint from 'I was chopping' to 'Dad called at six' -- it implies a time separation yet one doesn't sense at the start. Can she look up at the clock as it rings for more of a continuum?

    P3: I like the extra detail here--we now know she is/was popular--but I'd delete 'quarterback'.

    P12: You could shorten "The doctors said she had “Cerebro-Spinal Degeneration,” a neurological disease that over the past few years" to "Mom's brain disease had already..." or "CSD had already..." and define the acronym later. It is more than the MC would naturally think, but I was okay with it as it is.

    Great last line.

    I like the seemingly incongruent decision she has to make: Mom or game. IWe already have a sense of how much her mother's condition has dismantled her life--yet not as much the dad's.

    Well done.

  13. Nice voice, nice stakes. Maybe tell us Billie is ready to leave because otherwise I don't get why Cat has to babysit her mom. I think the premise works well and I'm grabbed. However, the logline lost me. I am not sure how all the elements are linked. Why would her dad want to keep her out of trouble? What did she do? I wouldn't mention the mom or just say she's sick. I'm not sure what's so weird about the family. Overprotective parents are pretty common after all. What did the parents do to sound weird to a stranger? How does she lose the boy she loves when she defies her dad? I imagined her boyfriend and the boy who "understands family weirdness" was the same person, but I don't think so after I read the premise. I'm confused. Why wouldn't anyone understand her? I would. Maybe focus more on the character's emotional arc and what the boy will change in her life. Good luck.

  14. I think the logline was clear, and I think this is an under-explored plot point - coping with a parent's chronic illness. I think there's a lot of material to mine here. I would caution that it seems things could get (overly) dramatic and emotional fast, but I like that you keep the sentences crisp and fairly short - I think Cat's emotion is conveyed without overwhelming the reader.
    Good luck!

  15. I like this sort of premise. I agree with criticisms of the opening scene though. I'd think a bit longer about whether it's the right way to start this. It involves a bit of tell rather than show, so I think you could come up with something more gripping. Plonk her in the middle of a scenario that shows us the crux of her conflict (and don't tell us the name of the disorder for at least half a chapter). Like, have her start with the awkward/embarrassing and highly conflicted scenario (for Cat AND her mum) of helping her mum in the toilet, a very real scenario for people in carer roles when the care needs are this high. Something that gets us to the heart of what it's like, paired with wishes for her mum, her self, and what she'd rather be doing instead. Maybe have her phone beep repeatedly in her pocket while she's helping her mum in there. Have her feel the pull of friends/a social life while providing delicate, sensitive care.

  16. LOVE this story. The writing flows well and sounds natural. I would recommend adding some visual description of the kitchen, the house, etc. What does it smell like? What is the lighting like? Also, I agree with another comment - that it was too revealing too soon and I think you could leave this part out...and weave it into the story later.

    She couldn’t help that she was sick, that she needed me. The doctors said she had “Cerebro-Spinal Degeneration,” a neurological disease that over the past few years had stolen Mom’s balance and ability to walk.

    Lately, it was snatching pieces of my life too. - - we can already figure that out :)

  17. I really enjoyed this. You made me feel sympathy for a character in the first page and that's hard to do. It makes me want to read on for sure. In your first line I think you can cut "but I did." It seems implied.Great job and good luck!!

  18. Love the stakes! This character is immediately relatable. I didn't get a lot from the dinner prep, though. The story started for me with Dad's call. Good luck!

  19. I love the premise here. A couple of suggestions: On your 2nd sentence, I would go with -ed verbs instead of -ing verbs since the rest of this paragraph is in this tense. Also, in the last line, I would like to see a stronger verb than 'snatching'. Maybe 'stealing'? But great job!

  20. I like this! Your dialogue would have more impact if you didn't always say exactly what they mean....does that make sense? Maybe something like:

    “Catherine, I’m in the ICU waiting for lab results on one of my patients.”

    I held the paring knife in midair. “You’re not coming home.”

    The silence wrapped around me. Tight.

    “But there's a game tonight.” I could still see Drew’s x’s and o’s scattered across my paper.

    “I’m sorry.”