Sunday, May 8, 2011

8 1st Five Pages Workshop - May: Entry #5

Carrie Spencer
Middle Grade
Captain Fanny Pack


“It's time."

"It's only 3:30, Grandpa." I slid the black pawn into position and leaned back to observe my work. A few more moves and this time the win would be mine. All mine. Mwahahaha. I waited (somewhat) patiently--sometimes Grandpa forgot he was supposed to be playing chess and fell asleep. I looked up, but his eyes were far away, an even more faded blue than my favorite jeans. The sunlight beamed in through the window and glared on his bald spot. "Grandpa?
Do you want me to call the nurse?"

“Eh? What?” He jerked back to the present and scowled at the board.

I rubbed my palms together in glee. All those months of chess club had finally paid off. Now he would succumb to my brilliance. Now he would sink into the black abyss of failure. Now he would . . . move his pawn across from mine, totally blocking my capture of his queen. Then he gave a little chuckle. I always lost when he gave that chuckle. The Chuckle of Doom.

"Pay attention, boy." He always called me boy, even though I was darn near thirteen. Better than calling me Dwayne the Dweeb like the school kids did. Grandpa wiggled a finger in his ear, causing the furry gray tufts of what hair he had left to stick out like a horned owl’s. "I'm trying to tell you, it's time."

"And I'm telling you it's only 3:30. Mom said I don't have to be home until four." Sometimes having a grandpa in the nursing home meant repeating yourself. Over and over and over. On the other hand, he was pretty cool for an old dude. Mom said we looked a lot alike with red hair, blue eyes and freckles. Grandpa’s had all paled over time, leaving him with that just-about-out-of-color-ink look. She said we acted a lot alike too, but I don’t think it was a compliment.

My hand hovered over my knight. The perfect move? Or the Kiss of Death?
Tough call.

Grandpa coughed – Dad said it was years of cigar smoking – making him sound like our neighbor’s cat hacking up a hairball. He shuffled over to the closet and rummaged around. "It's time I passed along to you my greatest treasure."

Treasure? My ears tuned in like a satellite dish. Since they stuck out from the side of my head like an orangutan’s, it wasn’t that big of a stretch. "Cool, Grandpa. Is it a watch? A medal from the war?" When I was a kid, Grandpa’d let me wear his medals and we’d pretend we were fighting epic battles. He kept them in a frame on the wall in his room.

I dreamed of them pinned on my boulder-like chest as I shouted out commands to my troops. They would follow my every command, since, of course, I had all the medals. Look out, MacArthur. Here comes Dwayne.

Something heavy flopped into my lap, jerking me out of my daydream. Soft black leather, a long strap that dangled down to my feet. It clinked and clanked, heavy metal sounds like that time I dropped my dad’s tool box.

I slid back from the chess table, and looked over my shoulder at Grandpa. He seemed smaller than usual, maybe a bit more wrinkly. "What's this?" Some kind of purse? Grandpa was a cross-dresser?

"It's a fanny pack."

"A fanny pack."

"What are you, a parrot? Put it on, put it on."

I stood and half-heartedly strapped it on. If one of the kids in my class saw me, this would seal my dweeb status for all eternity. The strap was too long, but with a mighty tug, Grandpa shortened up the belt, leaving several feet of black webbing dangling by the side of my hip. Even I, secure in my world of graphing calculators and electronic gadgetry, would never wear a fanny pack.

"Perfect fit." Grandpa's voice was extra croaky today, rattling around the words like a marble in a washing machine. He settled back in his chair, seemingly satisfied at having made me an even bigger dork than I was that morning.

“What’s in here, Grandpa? Bricks?” I wiggled back and forth, listening to the clinking of heavy metals. It weighed more than a weeks worth of homework. I tugged at the zipper to see what was inside, and received a sharp zzzzap for my efforts. I jerked my hand back and jammed tingling fingers in my mouth. Who on earth wires a fanny pack for electronic shock?

“Eh, maybe it’s not quite time yet.” Grandpa reached over to undo the clasp – thank you baby Jesus – but jerked his hand back when a small blue arc reached out and got him. I could hear the sizzle of fingerprints being burnt off. “Or maybe it is,” he mumbled around his fingers.

I held my arms out to my sides, not sure I wanted a repeat lesson in Electric Shock 101. “How do we get it off?”

“Looks like you’re stuck in it for awhile laddie, until it decides to let you in.”

Crazy talk. Grandpa’s meds must be off again. Fanny packs don’t decide when to let you open them. Gritting my teeth I took another yank at the zipper.


Criminy. The fanny pack must be cursed. And I, Dwayne the Dweeb, already being of major Dweeb status was stuck wearing it. I snorted. As soon as I was out the door, I'd find some way to get it off and toss it in a closet at home. "Umm, Grandpa?" He stared at the chess board, obviously blown away by my latest maneuver. The fanny pack was forgotten. I rubbed my hands together again. I waited as he contemplated his next move.

And contemplated more. Coming from a long line of geniuses, I’d learned long ago they required more time for contemplating. And quiet. After a few more moments of further contemplating however, I heard a snore.

Game time was over.

Grandpa was down for the count with his afternoon nap and I was wearing a fanny pack.

Well, this was bogus.

I left Grandpa sleeping in his chair and tiptoed out of his room.
Truthfully, most of our chess matches ended up just this way. Except when he won. And then the old man giggled up a storm and did a butt wiggle in some kind of senior citizen victory dance. Whatever.

The door closed quietly behind me, and I took one small step in the hallway, my hand already on the strap of the pack. I checked the hallway to see if anyone was looking. The coast was clear. It was coming off.

Right. Now. There was no way José I was walking past the nurse’s station with this thing swinging from my waist.

Keeping my hands away from the zipper, I tugged and pulled, spun it around and tugged again. Nothing. I jumped, pushing down on the webbing when I jumped up. Nada. Maybe I could slip it down over my hips. I gave a little butt wiggle. Zero. I was starting to break a sweat. Trapped in a fanny pack. With that thought, I wiggled even harder, failing to notice anyone approaching until suddenly two feet clad in those awful plastic white clogs stopped in front of me. Nurse McMurphy. The most hated nurse in Shady Acres. She looked like a bulldog with liver spots.

I quickly spun the pack to the back. Maybe she wouldn’t notice.


  1. OMG, the poor kid is stuck with a fanny pack. A sentient one. One. He. Can’t. Get. Off. I am in agony for him already. This is such a brilliant premise, I am in awe. And I love him. Love his determination, his glee at possibly beating Grandpa, his voice. Love that the Grandpa doesn’t quite know what to make of the fanny pack’s behavior. The scene is active, alive, tense, and intriguing, so there’s not much to suggest. A few minor little things: the daydream pulled me out a little; the clinked and clanked line (perhaps just clanked would be stronger); the out-of-color-ink line was brilliant, but not sure a kid would necessarily “get” it.

    Overall, the description felt intrusive and out of place. Could you try making it a little shorter and more subtle? Some of the other asides were similarly distracting and bordering on info-dumpish, the Duane the Dweeb comment, for example. This would flow so much more naturally in the place where you say the fanny pack would cement his dweeb status if you added something like: “They already call me Dwayne the Dweeb.”

    Go through the scene and see what info you could introduce more actively or naturally in later paragraphs or scenes, and what we really need to know right here. Information dissemination is such a fine line, isn’t it? Too little and the reader struggles to swims, too much and we drown under its weight.

    How did he wear the medals if they were in a frame? Presume you meant that they had since been framed and now hung on the wall in his room. Make this a little clearer.

    Finally, check your voice for consistency. Most of it is dead on, but a handful of places like the “awful white clogs,” the “mighty” tug, and the “criminy” made me wonder. But overall, you are firmly and brilliantly “in” his POV. Awesome job!

    Can you please hurry up, finish this, and get a book deal so I can find out what happens next?

  2. This is great :) I love the voice. Very MG and very nearly perfect. The one thing that caught me up, though, was that he sounded younger than almost 13. Perhaps a smart 10 or 11-year-old. Then, on the other hand, some of his phrasing is very old. Kids these days don't say "darn near thirteen." There's a couple other places in here where the phrasing just isn't modern enough.

    Overall, though, I really loved it. From my experience with MG, I think this has great potential to be a quicky and fun read :)

  3. Hi Carrie,

    I love this!! I can't decide what my favorite part is. The paragraph where he is imagining his victory until his pawn gets taken is brilliant. But the grandpa butt wiggle. How can anything beat that? Of course, the overarching idea of a middle schooler getting stuck in a possessed fanny pack might be able to.

    The voice is so fabulous in this, but there were a few words I paused on. For example, "bogus" didn't feel right where it was - maybe because I think of it as meaning fake. Also, the Mwahahaha. The word is definitely appropriate for Dwayne but I didn't feel like there was enough build up to get to a Mwahaha moment.

    Also, the physical comparisons between him and grandpa pulled me out of the story a bit because I spent some time trying to imagine the grandpa having those characteristics now. Maybe, be more direct and say that his mom told him that Grandpa had looked a lot like him when he was 13, same red hair, blue eyes, and freckles. Then you could shorten that info paragraph a bit.

    Anyway, this is fabulous. I second the "hurry up and get a book deal" comment. I want to get to keep reading!

  4. I love this too. Man all of you guys are great! Grandpa is awesome. Dwayne is immediately likable. I agree you should move the nickname insertion later, that it might feel a tad forced where it is. Paring down the descriptions (i.e., clanking/clinking) would be good. Also you made it sound at first that it's pretty hard to beat Grandpa (which btw is hysterical because my MG aged son has been obsessed w/trying to beat my father at chess). But later he says Grandpa falls asleep when he's winning. I kind of loved that the Grandpa always won (or the thought that was the case)so if you changed it to "Figures the one time I'm winning he falls asleep" or something. But that's such a small detail for me to fixate on. :P Sorry. I guess that means the rest was just really good. Love the title too.

  5. Question - =) Can I ask a question? Dwayne uses some of his Grandpa's sayings ....he's buddies with everyone in the nursing home as well, so some of his words are going to be old fashioned. Does that come across as I'm writing it incorrectly, or just that we haven't gotten that deep into the story yet?



  6. You've got such great comparisons like, "Grandpa wiggled a finger in his ear, causing the furry gray tufts of what hair he had left to stick out like a horned owl’s. -- Grandpa coughed – Dad said it was years of cigar smoking – making him sound like our neighbor’s cat hacking up a hairball. -- Treasure? My ears tuned in like a satellite dish." I love ALL of those, but be sure not to max out your simile quota.

    I love the vocabulary, especially this bit, "It's a fanny pack."

    "A fanny pack."

    "What are you, a parrot? Put it on, put it on."

    The repetition and the parrot thing had me in stitches. :)

    " the old man giggled up a storm and did a butt wiggle in some kind of senior citizen victory dance. " HAHHAHA!

    I love the voice in this. He's hilarious, stuck in this awful situation, and I'm pretty sure the grandpa dies right after he leaves.

    I think this is my favorite out of the five pages (other than mine, of course! :P )

    Perhaps add in a few sensory details, using all five senses, smells, textures, temperature, etc. Perhaps a bit more description wouldn't hurt either. You do a great job describing the grandpa, but I'm a bit fuzzy on Dwayne's details.

    Well done, Carrie!

    --And to answer your question, yes, keep those phrases in. I talk like my grandma did and I think it's awesome. :) Keep it to just certain words/phrases though, don't lose his young voice and you'll be fine.

  7. Carrie - as to your question - I say it's fine, and if you're worried about that, I would have someone tease him about it. Maybe call it to his attention. My two cents.

  8. Hey Carrie. Love this. I thought he sounded younger than thirteen. Like 11 or 12.

    When he gets the fanny pack, he doesn't seem to know what one is (who would at that age?) but then later on he seems to know what it "who on earth wires a fanny pack for electric shock?"...but, whoa, now that I separated that line, I wonder if you're foreshadowing??? But, I digress. My point would be, if he's never seen a fanny pack before, how does he know it isn't supposed to emit an electric shock?

    Love this line:He settled back in his chair, seemingly satisfied at having made me an even bigger dork than I was that morning.

    and agreed about the bogus comment feeling out of place. Love the description of Nurse McMurphy--although McMurphy is my fave nurse of all time (China Beach) so I don't know how I feel about your villifying her :)

    Can't wait to see your improved version.


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