Monday, September 19, 2011

4 1st 5 Pages Workshop - September Entry #3 Rev 2

Sheri LevyMiddle grade

Dog Days of Summer

Chapter 1

My dogs and I made so much noise playing tug of war in my bedroom I thought for sure Momma'd fly up here any minute. I said, "Sit." The dogs sat, tilting their heads sideways, eyes glued on mine waiting for my next command. Seconds passed. Whew. All was quiet. I gave the release word, "Okay."

It wasn’t my fault they're so loud. They're just normal active dogs. I should've run them this morning, but I had things to do, like packing for our beach trip. I glanced at my watch. Panic shot through me. "Ooooh! One hour till Dad hollers, 'Trina, load em up'. Better hurry."

I tried to lift my wooden desk chair, but it was heavier than me, so I slid it backwards into the closet and climbed up. My duffle bag sat on the top shelf daring me to grab it. Ah. Crabs! I stood on my tiptoes and bounced. The ring of the phone startled me, but my fingertips reached the handle.

“I’ll get it,” I shouted and yanked the bag to the floor. “It’s probably Sarah.” I rolled it to the phone. Since Sydney, my Australian shepherd was in-training to be a service dog, I gave a ‘Down’ hand signal and answered, “Hello?”
Sarah never even said, “Hey,” or “How are you?” She just started yakking, "I've out grown everything from last year and Mom took me shopping...." She preceded to tell me about each outfit. Then changed subjects. "Wait till you see my new bathing suit."
Bored, I ran my fingers through Sydney's long hair like a comb, listening, waiting, wanting to get a word in. I squeezed the phone to my ear with my shoulder and continued packing. Sydney, never more than inches from my legs, panted. His bobbed tail which looked like a powder puff, wiggled. His gold eyes gave a saddened look and his floppy ears drooped. In his fourteen months with us, he'd learned the suitcase signaled a trip somewhere and he wasn’t always invited.

Jake, my newly rescued Black lab, flopped in the middle of the floor. Only his eyes followed me. If I got close to him, his long tail thumped. He worried, too.

During the moment Sarah paused to catch her breath, I blurted out, “I’m not bringing so many clothes. I'm going to have fun on the beach!

She ignored my response and jabbered on. "But, we can meet boys....”

This time I interrupted. “You want to do what?” I looked at the phone receiver as if it spit out a different language. I had pictured Sarah with her black and white Springer spaniel, Darby, and with my own dogs running up and down the beach, splashing in the waves, making sand castles and who knows what else. Sarah definitely had different ideas about our beach trip. Instead of arguing, I just cut her off. “Mom’s calling me. See you in an hour."

With my last items packed, I rolled the bag to the back door. As I sat on the soft top, air whooshed from the zipper. I waited for Dad and worried about Sarah. Memories of her talking to Tyler on the last day of school and exchanging pieces of paper popped into my brain. I wondered then if we’d still be ‘BFF’. Maybe, I'm just supposed to be with dogs. I certainly understood them better than girls my own age.

Each dog plopped their favorite toy, a red ball, in my lap. I patted their heads and asked them, “Are you guys going to be good at the beach?” Sydney cocked his head. “I know you can swim in Mrs. Brown’s pond, chasing her geese, but Jake." His ears perked up. "You haven’t learned a whole bunch since you’ve arrived.

I tossed their balls so they'd jumped in place to catch them. They returned them to my lap, dripping with white, foamy slobber. We did this over and over until my cutoffs stuck to my knees and my fingers wrinkled from the slime.  

Dad poked his head through the doorway, “Load em up’.

I grinned. “Right on time.” I carried the dog bowls to the backseat car floor not noticing the open garage door. Sydney’s eyes never left my hands, but Jake immediately darted up the driveway. I gasped. “Crabs. Crabs. Crabs. Jake. Not again!”

I ran up the drive, calling his name. He stopped in the middle of our road. Sydney herded him down the drive. I grabbed Jake’s collar, headed into the house and clicked on his leash. He blinked his brown eyes and bowed his head. “Okay. Okay. You’re forgiven.” I kissed his nose and lifted his face to mine. “You have to be good! I promised Syd’s trainer you wouldn’t be a problem. I want you to be my Forever Dog, but it won’t happen if you don’t behave.” Jake licked my face.

“M-o-m-m-a.” I pushed my wild curls behind my ears. “Sarah’s probably outside waiting for us. I’ve already put on Syd’s cape and loaded all our gear.” I gave the hand signal. “Let's go, boys."

Sydney pounded through the back doorway and Jake followed. Sydney slid into his learned 'Sit' at the car door and waited for his next command. Jake watched him and copied his ‘Sit.’

“Syd, you’re going to train at the beach,” I announced. “For a whole week!” His ears moved backwards. “And Jake, I expect you to learn, too. “ He wagged. I opened the car door. Both dogs rushed to get in. “Silly boys. Sydney, Wait…Jake, in you go… Good boy!”

My eyes locked with Sydney’s. Pointing my finger at his face, I counted one thousand-one, one thousand-two, one-thousand three in my head, and then said, “Okay!” Sydney leaped to the seat. I smiled. "I'm so proud of you."
We drove across the street to Sarah’s house. I blinked and looked again. I couldn't believe my eyes. What the heck? Someone's taken over the body of my best friend.

She stood at the end of her driveway wearing black shorts with blue and green sea shells along the cuff and a tight, blue tank top layered over a white one with lace at the bottom. And her blond hair was French braided with a matching ribbon. She looked weird in her new getup, dribbling her soccer ball. Darby ran after the ball, barking and wiggling her stub of a tail. I wedged my head out of the window and said, “Wow. Where are your soccer clothes?"

“Gone!” She giggled, fluttered her eyelashes and twirled, showing off.

I noticed her eyes matched her new top, but I wasn't going to tell her. "I'm wearing my bathing suit under my t-shirt and shorts. Are you and Darby riding with me?”

“I will.” She climbed in the back seat with her backpack. “Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Ryan.”

“Hi, Sarah,” Momma turned around. “You look very pretty! Are you excited about going to the beach?”

“Oh, yes.” She played with her ribbon. “I can’t wait to lie on the beach and work on my tan.”

The windows went up and the air conditioner blew. Sydney climbed on my lap. I scooted over so Jake could press his nose to the window.

“Well. Uh. That’ll be fun for a while,” I said. “Then we'll learn to surf? Or boogey board? Maybe ride a wave runner? Right?”

“Hum. I’ll have to see how cold the water is, or how many jellyfish I see on shore, first.”

“Oh, I can’t go to the beach without swimming.” I fidgeted in my seat. “I wonder what our beach house looks like! The realtor told Momma it’s older, but right on the water.”

“That’ll be great! It’ll make it easier to walk up and down the beach.” Sarah’s eyebrows rose as she smirked. “You never know who we’ll meet.”

I scrunched my nose. "Like I care!"


  1. Hi Sheri,

    This may possibly be a personal preference on my part, but I can't help still feeling that we are losing the heart of the story a bit in what is still a lot of information about the dogs. Please consider:

    1) Could you get us to the beach must faster so the two friends are together and then give us their backgrounds and personalities more organically as part of action?

    2) Could you make it clearer from the beginning that Sarah is coming with Trina's family instead of the other way around? The way the narrative unfolds here, Trina's question of whether the dogs can be good makes it seem as if they are going to need to be on their best behavior because they are visiting with another family--rather than renting a house. This way, there doesn't seem to be any consequences for them not being good, so I wonder why she is having the conversation. There's the line about Syd's trainer, and Jake being good, but I don't understand the relationship enough to see the connection. Maybe that's the problem. Could you clarify the situation more directly? Give us the set up, set her goal, give us a little more hint of how the obstacles you've already set up, i.e- Jake's personality and Sarah's interest in boys, are potentially going to complicate that, and what the consequences of failure (stakes) might be. Yes, we know she wants to keep Jake, but why does *this* week matter? What's different about *this* week?

    I hope this makes sense.

    3) Can you find a way to resolve your tense shifts at the beginning?

    4) Consider showing us more of the conversations between her and Sarah, both the phone and the final meeting, and making the worry over their common interests more directly part of one of those two conversations.

    Good progress! Looking forward to the next round!



  2. There is a bit of telling I think you can lose that will tighten this up. Things like: "Sarah definitely had different ideas about our beach trip." We get from the surrounding info. Also the flipping from past to present in the first couple of paragraphs is jolting. I still enjoy the parts with Sarah. I was still feeling like there was too much description with the dogs, but I think Martina nailed it by saying it isn't clear exactly what the goal and consequences are. If I worry about her dog being taken from her, you've got me.

  3. There are places here where I feel like you're missing opportunities by telling when you could be showing.

    I wondered then if we’d still be ‘BFF’. Maybe, I'm just supposed to be with dogs. I certainly understood them better than girls my own age.
    This seems huge. It also seems like what your book is trying to show. I guess the unraveling of the friendship is happening really fast in this first chapter and with very little for the reader to go on. Makes me wonder if the friendship was strong to begin with. I think there are higher stakes and opportunities for tension if she is ignorant of any change in their friendship until you get a chance to show it. Show us how strong the bond is before you pick it apart.

    Then she can turn more to the dogs for comfort and friendship. Then you have the increasing tension and ticking clock in when Sydney has to go to his new owner. That all depends on if this is the heart of your story, of course.

    I dont think you need: They're just normal active dogs. You show that.

    She preceded to tell me about each outfit. Then changed subjects. Should be 'proceeded' and perhaps one sentence.

    Why would Sydney herd Jake? Sydney was being good staying in the garage. Trina didn't signal for herding.

    Where is the back doorway? They were in the driveway, then went into the house. Jake has a leash on now. Then both dogs run through the back doorway to the garage? How long is that leash? I think the leash is going to get in the way here. Maybe she pulls him back into the house by the collar instead of clipping on a leash? Why wouldn't she just go right back to the car? Why go through the house?

    Sarah's house is across the street and they had to drive to it? If the street is not busy enough for Jake to get hit by car while standing in the middle of it, I don't feel it's busy enough for them to have to drive across to talk to Sarah. And why is she only seeing Sarah for the first time when they drive across the street?

    Lots of good bones here. Great tension and conflict possibilities.

  4. Sydney, never more than inches from my legs, panted. His bobbed tail which looked like a powder puff, wiggled --> Rephrase.

    His gold eyes gave a saddened look and his floppy ears drooped. --> His golden. eyes looked at me sadly and his floppy ears drooped.

    He worried, too. --> He was worried, too.

    “Load em up’. --> “Load 'em up." Watch your quotation marks and dialogue punctuation.

    I noticed her eyes matched her new top, but I wasn't going to tell her. --> Are you saying she has new contacts that match her top, or that her top suited her eye color?

    I know the tense-shifts are a pain, and I do know you're trying to beat them into submission, but keep poking at them.

    Otherwise, I agree with Martina and Sarah.


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)