Saturday, July 2, 2011

5 1st 5 pages workshop - July entry #1

Carolyn Rowland
Middle Grade

Charlie held his breath as he opened the door of the reading room just wide enough to check that the immediate area was empty.    Seeing no one, he squeezed his head out; peering past the gas lights to both ends of the hallway.  The coast was clear.  Easy as pie. 

Knowing the door never squeaked once it was partly open, Charlie pushed it wide and headed to the staircase.  This part of the building was the original structure and after 26 years, the wood floor was old and worn.  But the building had been well-made and a boy could easily walk down the hallway with no detectable noise if he was careful. 

 “Get off my bed!”  

“I can sit here if I want to!”

Charlie smiled at the shouts knowing it was the twins arguing in the dormitory but kept a sharp lookout for the nuns.  The noises would help cover his escape.  The nine o’clock morning bells had rung for Terse.   Normally, the nuns took turns going to prayers in order to monitor the children at all times.  He knew Sister Elizabeth always left at first light on Saturday in the orphanage’s horse drawn wagon to pickup supplies in town.  Sister Hildegarde would be in her office working and two nuns would be in the chapel.  That left only six nuns to patrol both the girls’ and boys’ dormitory wings.  Still, Charlie couldn’t afford to lose the opportunity to try to solve a part of the puzzle today.

Charlie reached the staircase and started down the steps.   Eight, nine and ten were the tricky ones.  They groaned under any weight and Sister Hildegarde’s office extended under the stairs, so any sound would alert her.  Charlie lightly pushed off with his left foot.  His cotton britches slid easily in the indention of the wooden handrail past the noisy planks.  He slid off onto the eleventh one and his small, wiry build landed softly.  From there he moved quickly down the last steps. 

The back stairs ended near the doorway to the kitchen in one direction, the hallway to Sister Hildegarde’s office in another and a doorway to the garden in the last.  Charlie grabbed his straw hat off a peg, thumbed his suspenders back on his shoulder and glanced in all directions.  He ran the short distance to the outside door.  Without a second glance, Charlie opened it and navigated through the turnips and potato patch.  He dashed through the outside wrought iron gate onto the beach.

Charlie looked around and didn’t see anyone.  With a three mile walk ahead, he moved briskly forward.  Seagulls screamed and fought for the sea’s leavings along the narrow beach.   The waves crashed and threw their salty crests high in the air, closer than Charlie remembered for this time of the morning.  The swells seemed higher too.  The wind blew in hearty gusts and Charlie’s sandy brown hair kept blowing in his blue eyes.  He thought it might storm but the sky was a clear blue with no clouds.  Anxious to get to town, Charlie half walked, half ran.  He needed to talk to Arne and find some answers.  Charlie ran the first stanza of the puzzle in his head again:

One and the same
of each other
but not the same.
The father of those who roam the open spaces
And the father of us all.”

It seemed so simple.  Charlie kicked at the sand.  He spotted a piece of driftwood that was slender and long.  He picked it up and swung it, feeling its weight.  Never knew when you might need a sword.  Nearing the edge of town, Charlie searched for any sign of Arne.  Or Weasel or Wart.  The two dockrats seemed to be everywhere he went these days.  

Poof!  Charlie’s eye caught sight of a small explosion of sand and wind. 

“Defend yourself!”

Charlie whirled around, swinging his stick.  Where had Arne come from?

Smack!  Charlie’s sword smacked into Arne’s. 

Slash.  Bang.  Clap.  The swords clashed as the boys danced around each other, parrying for a better angle.  Slivers of wood flew in the air.

Crack.  Charlie’s sword broke in two. 

“Do you yield?” Arne shouted.

“No,” said Charlie. 

Poof!  Charlie heard the sound again.  “Look at that,” Charlie said as he pointed behind Arne.

Laughing, Arne said, “I’m not falling for that one.”

“No, really.  I saw one earlier.  You have to see this.”

Arne frowned for a minute and then half turned to look, keeping one eye on Charlie. 

Fascinated, Charlie moved closer to where the wind churned along the top of the sand.  A small funnel of swirling sand formed, growing in strength.  It spun for a moment and then exploded in a final burst of energy – the sand falling back to the ground.  Charlie and Arne looked at each other. 

“Have you ever seen anything like that,” Charlie asked.

“It’s like a miniature tornado,” Arne said.  “But I didn’t think there was such a thing.”

The boys watched another funnel form and explode.  They ran up the beach chasing after a third one forming. 

The wind died.  “Have you heard from your uncle,” asked Arne. 

“Nah.  I hope he doesn’t come until after I solve the word puzzle,” said Charlie.

“But isn’t staying at the orphanage awful,” said Arne.  ‘Don’t you want a real home?”

“Yeah, but it’s only been ten days so it’s not so bad.  I’ll probably have to go back to my grandfather’s.  This is my only chance to solve the puzzle.  I can’t leave until I solve it.  I know my father hid my present before...” Charlie’s voice trailed off.  “I’ve just gotta find it.”

“Okay.  But I don’t know what else to try,” said Arne.

“Well,” said Charlie, “we know that it’s not a chicken and egg.  They are part of each other but not the same.  Just like the library and ­its books – it works but doesn’t seem to be the answer.  What’s left?”

“I don’t know,” said Arne.  “But there must be other things like that.  We just haven’t thought of them yet.”

“And there’s what we do know,” said Charlie.  “I think it’s one object that has more than one part.”

“That’s hard,” said Arne. “Why didn’t your father make it easier?”

“I think he thought he’d be here to help.  But he’s not.  I know he would’ve made it something I would know,” said Charlie.  “So it must be something we see or use everyday.”

“What about a house with people?” asked Arne.  “That might relate to the father part.”

“No,” said Charlie.  “Good idea but I don’t think so.  How would we know which house?  We must be missing something.”

Charlie’s stomach grumbled.   “Your mother didn’t give you a snack for us, did she?”

“Nope,” said Arne.  “We could go down to the docks and see if anyone would give us something.”

“Fat chance,” said Charlie.  “We’d need money…. Wait a minute.  What about coins?”

“What do you mean, we don’t have any coins.”

“No,” said Charlie.  “Coins – they have two sides.  I saw a half cent once – it has something on both sides.  It might be the answer,” he said, hopping from foot to foot.  “All we need to do is look at one.”

“But we don’t have any.  And my mother will ask why if we ask for one,” said Arne.

“Legs,” the boys said in unison.

“He has all those coins from his trips,” said Charlie.


  1. Charlie is immediately sympathetic. I love how he knows exactly how to get by the nuns. :D I did feel like it might have been a bit too much, however. I think you can cut down those first several paragraphs so we get the idea but get on with the problem. Also, it says later that he's only been there for 10 days. Him knowing all of those details makes it feel like he's been there for quite some time. Especially if (and I'm making an assumption here based on the text) his father died 10 days ago or a bit before. It seems he wouldn't be quite so together.

    The clue itself - I'm wondering if "of each other" is necessary? It sounds a bit off somehow. But perhaps you mean it to be that way.

    I love the line about never knowing when you might need a sword! Big smile there. And Arne seems great.

    What I DON'T get from this is a good sense of the time period. It feels like a historical piece, but I'm not 100% sure, and would love clarification. also location. We know they are on the beach, but where?

  2. I could picture the boy, and I really got a sense of him, his surroundings, the whole thing. It felt like Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" -- in the best possible way.

    That said, I agree with Lisa. With his level of detail re: getting around the nuns, I assumed he'd been there for years. To find out he was there for 10 days, and that his father had recently (presumedly?) died, jarred me. I had gotten the sense from the opening that he was this happy-go-lucky kid, off on an adventure, trying to solve a puzzle. To then find out that the "puzzle" leads to the last present his dead father left him explains motivation, but doesn't fit with the tone of the opening.

    I'm guessing you were going for suspense, and I love that you weren't pounding the reader over the head -- nice, subtle work. However, I do feel like it needs a little more grief or reaction seeded in earlier, and some explanation of how he knows the orphanage so well after only 10 days.

    Also, the mini-tornado things are going to play a part later, right? I found them intriguing, and my mind automatically went to paranormal (added to the cryptic, ancient sounding puzzle) but I wasn't sure. If they don't play a part, might want to edit out... they seemed quite important.

    Great job!

  3. The first sentence feels a little off, like he's "holding his breath just wide enough to check" which makes no sense. Maybe split it into two sentences?

    And I agree with others, maybe cut out a paragraph or so of sneaking out to move up the action

    I love Charlie and really want to know more about him, but I'm also confused. Why is he in the orphanage?

    The conversation between Charlie and Arne is great, but parts of it seem to establish stuff the characters know and might not say aloud

    You have a lot of "feeling, action" sentences. I think we can get the feeling from the action."

    Their chorused "Legs" comes out of no where. Maybe give us Charlie's thought process on this.

    Great start so far though!

  4. Thanks for the comments. The mini tornadoes do foreshadow the much bigger storm about to hit - but I think I may cut them down since it sounds like I still have too much there. And the puzzle is several stanzas long - I'll look back at it and see if I can reword it - it has a certain rhythm that I want to preserve and the answer does fit with it - but I do see how you would think its repetitive. The other comments are great and I really appreciate them - I have been trying to work in the time period by references to clothes and the wagon but I think I'll try something a bit more direct since it is a specific time and place in history. And I agree on Charlie and his grief - I wasnt sure if he was coming across too carefree or if the urgency was there so helpful to know you want to see more.

  5. (Sorry this comment is so late!)
    I LOVE Charlie. He reminds me of a young quick-witted, observant little Sherlock Holmes or something, but with a good dose of Goonies on-the-fly sword fighting and interesting friends. (Arne was great.) I think with him being at the orphanage for 10 days, all of his observances would make sense if he keeps that kind of behavior up throughout the book--never missing out on clues and details--which would amp up the clue/puzzle thing (which was great). I do agree about the time period, though I noticed the wagon, the gas lights, the straw hat, and also the "dock rats" which seemed historical to me. So well done on creating that tone!
    Anything else I noticed has already been commented on--I can't wait to read your revisions. I love your writing style and of course Charlie is way too much fun to not follow him along some more. (My daughter would love this in a few years--Charlie reminds me of her a bit. She didn't get her observational skills from me.)


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