Friday, November 11, 2016

On The Block #19 - THE ZEAL 12:00 PM EST

TITLE: The Zeal
GENRE: MG Historical Fiction

12-year-old Beryl O’Brien moves from North Carolina to South Boston during the busing desegregation crisis of 1974. She gets involved in the violence, but when the family secret of her being biracial is revealed, Beryl must negotiate being loyal to friends, her school, and an entire community or being true to herself.

September 12, 1974
Boston, Massachusetts

I step in front of the line of shouting protestors and hurl the rock as hard as I can at the yellow school bus. Because I don’t have a dad to teach me to throw, and the only thing Mom and I have thrown are insults at the church ladies back in North Carolina, I expect the rock to miss my target and bounce on the street, the pavement chipping its sharp edges. But the rock has white stripes that go all the way around it, and Mom says that makes a rock as lucky as a four-leaf clover.

Bam! My lucky rock shatters a window on the bus. Police officers in the street look toward the crowd, but I’ve already slipped back between the rows of demonstrators.

A girl inside the bus puts her hands to her face. Fragments of sparkling glass in her puff of black hair catch the morning sun like a tiara of small diamonds. She opens her mouth in the shape of a scream and holds her hands to her face, then turns and looks down and disappears below the window.

The yelling drowns out any sounds from inside the bus. I didn’t hurt her. There’s an ambulance, nearby with its siren blaring, but it’s for someone else. Maybe I wouldn’t have cared if I did hurt her. They should all go back to their own junior high school, in their own neighborhood.


  1. What a start! The scene is set up well, as is the conflict, and I'd want to read more. My only question is, what race is the girl on the bus? I'm assuming she is African-American, and that Beryl has assumed she herself is white her whole life, but it is not entirely clear. Also, the line 'Mom says that makes a rock as lucky as a four-leaf clover' pulls that first paragraph confuses the chronology because the rock has already been thrown...I'd just change the verb tense to something like 'when i'd picked up the rock mom had said..'

  2. I liked this a lot. My only nit might be to see a little more of how she feels about who's in the bus, feel more of her anger/hatred.

    This line threw me a little "Maybe I wouldn’t have cared if I did hurt her." I read it a couple of times and I'm still not sure what it saying.

  3. Great opening! Lots of good stuff going on... multiple levels of conflict (external and internal)... outstanding! My one suggestion would be to cut down on descriptions (e.g., rock being chipped) adjectives, similes, etc, b/c they slow the flow of the action/conflict.

    Overall, well done!

  4. I really like the premise here - there are many books out there where the MC is the recipient of violence or racism - the concept of an MC who is the perpetrator is intriguing, especially since the logline hints at a chance of redemption.

    Good writing, also. One metaphor threw me - the hair sparkling like a tiara. It doesn't fit the mood of the scene. You may want to compare her hair to something else that adds to the tension here.

  5. Intriguing premise. I really like the idea of reading about this time period from the perspective of one of the perpetrators of the violence. I'm assuming Beryl is the girl throwing the rock (dialogue early on could clear this up if someone addresses her by name) and from the logline it seems like she is going to figure out that it could just as easily have been herself on the bus. Very unique situation and potential for lots of conflict. I wonder if having the girl Beryl hit scream and then immediately disappear would make more of an impact (on both the reader and Beryl)? Maybe it would be harder to convince herself that she didn't really hurt this other child? Overall, strong beginning and definitely I would keep reading!

  6. The premise grabbed me right away and I absolutely love the "Mom said" lines you use in here. The excerpt itself is very grounding. I just watched Woodlawn which was in 1970s slowly integrating Alabama and I could really get a feel for this happening. The only thing I do not like much right now is the mc, BUT the premise and knowing what kind of character arc your mc is going to have to go through would keep me reading. Nicely done! I wish you all the best!

  7. Perhaps cut everything from that first parg except the first sentence. It slows down the momentum of the thrown rock. Let us get to that Bam! right away so we feel it. And I did wonder why she'd use her lucky rock? If it was lucky, why throw it away?

    I agree with comments about the tiara. This is a hard, ugly scene, so the descriptions would work better if they relected that, rather than something beautiful.

    And I, too, would suggest just sticking to the action in this opening scene. The MC's thoughts get in the way.

  8. Great pitch and opening lines. Such a timely story.

    I would remove "the pavement chipping its sharp edges." Unnecessary detail.

    I love "and the only thing Mom and I have thrown are insults at the church ladies back in North Carolina"

    I like "She opens her mouth in the shape of a scream" but "Fragments of sparkling glass in her puff of black hair catch the morning sun like a tiara of small diamonds." is too much.

    I would love to read more.

  9. I like this. Would change a few things. The last line of the log line--I would say "Beryl must negotiate loyalty to friends, school, and an entire community vs. being true to herself. Also, I liked the first paragraph and only knowing how to throw insults to church ladies. I would cut the line in two: I don’t have a dad to teach me to throw, and the only thing Mom and I have thrown are insults at the church ladies back in North Carolina. I expect the rock to miss and bounce on the street.
    "Maybe I wouldn’t have cared if I did hurt her"--You could delete maybe. At this point in your young character's development, she is throwing a rock and must know the consequences, but she does it anyway. She will evolve over time.

  10. I thought this was immediate, well paced, and bold. To throw a rock that could hurt a girl, even kill her, nit for self protection but because of hate,that's a harsh character. I want to read more. My only quibble is how does she know her mother would say it's a lucky rock. But other than that, it's very effective

  11. Lurking editor Alison here. There's a lot of power to this one. I enjoyed the energy of the passage and very much intrigued by the personal conflict that's coming. This is a tough topic for middle grade--having to reckon with yourself and what you believe--and it's an important one.

    I like so much of this, and yet I think your final two paragraphs are not nearly as strong as the rest of the passage. Your beginning is detailed and evocative and as sharp as the edges of the work, as sharp as the shards of shattered glass. Your final paragraphs are muddled. Go back to the very foundations of those paragraphs. Pick precise words. Enhance your imagery. The scream is weird, as is the description of the girl on the bus. It doesn't fit with the writing of the rest of the passage. And that girl ducking down is confusing. I get that she's taking cover, but it wasn't immediately apparent.

    And the emotion of your final paragraph is great, but it's buried by disjointed sentences that don't seem to flow properly. That should, perhaps, be switched around and made more specific.

    Work on those bits, and it will elevate the entire piece into something extraordinary.

    1. Alison, Thank you so much for taking the time to suggest some edits! I'm looking forward to incorporating them. I really appreciate it. Thanks again. -K

  12. What a great period of history and subject to be addressing now, and for this age group. Great premise and I hope it works out for you.

    Quick note on the pitch. If you're going to use what's there, modify the last sentence so that the option in that series that has the verb in it--"being"--is the last one. Putting it first suggests that "being" is part of every other option that follows. Thus: "Beryl must negotiate her school, an entire community, and being loyal to friends, or being true to herself." It still works your way, but it twinged my editor mode, and any advantage when pitching is important.

    As far as the excerpt itself, maximize your opening by moving the explanations until you REALLY need them. That whole spiel about not having a dad and coming from somewhere else is not important to make this an understandable and dramatic scene.

    You can simply show her shock as it missed. At this point in history, a girl not being taught how to throw, even if she does have a father at home, isn't unusual at all.

    I don't understand how you can assert that the girl in the bus wasn't actually hurt. The POV character loses sight of her, so how can she know what's happening to her after that? Or who the ambulance is for?

    Massage this scene by presenting only what we need to know to become part of the action, so that the impact is what we come away with, not every detail we need to know eventually.

    Best of luck to you!

    Leah Petersen

    1. Leah, thanks so much for your comments and suggestions on my opening and pitch. I will definitely be using your thoughts! -k

  13. Really excellent. I'd definitely keep reading. I'd cut the phrase "the pavement chipping its sharp edges," as it's too detailed for where it is (and seems an unlikely thought) - and it detracts from this passage.

  14. Great descriptions! I had a couple of questions. If she slipped back into the crowd, how could she have seen the reaction of the girl on the bus? Is the MC 6 feet tall and she could see over the heads of adults? Also, I wondered if she was with friends. Peer pressure, including kids who encourage friends to do hate crimes, has been a problem in the US for centuries and continues to be a problem today. Did she slip back into the crowd to join her friends who cheered her on and congratulated her for smashing the window?
    Good luck tomorrow.
    Anonymous (Sherry S.)

  15. Really great premise. Sounds like a complex story and I'm curious to know how it works out.

    As far as the writing goes, provocative scene to start with. The second line feels too long though. Might be more powerful phrased like this:

    I expect the rock to miss my target. I don’t have a dad to teach me to throw, and the only thing Mom and I have thrown are insults at the church ladies back in North Carolina.

    The word 'lucky' in the second paragraph seems redundant since the line before says the rock is lucky. I was confused about the yelling in the last paragraph, having just described the girl's screams as silent. Also it might be interesting to have a pang of regret from the protagonist after throwing the rock--even if its just fleeting. Good luck--a story with tons of potential!