Monday, December 5, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages December Workshop - Shelley


The night the cops beat the crap out of me and Lucky, was the same
night I knew I wanted Greer in more than just a friendship way. It
wasn’t the first time I’d had a case of the “unwanteds.” But it was
the first time I’d felt something for a girl that one of my friends was
going out with. It was like someone stood over me and dropped a
boulder straight down on top of my head jamming this feeling into my
brain, exactly where I didn’t want it.

That night we were finishing up at the restaurant, trying to figure out
how to spend the last night of summer.

“Dude.” Lucky threw a dishtowel over his shoulder and shoved a
towering load of dishes through the dishwasher. “Kenny, you need a
night of just hangin’out.”

I sat on a stool, and stuffed a chip loaded with artichoke dip into my
mouth, dropping a blob on my black uniform vest. “I do need to chill,
but someone’s got to do the night deposit from this whole three day
weekend. Dad would kill me if I left it here.”

“Doesn’t your dad have a safe? Isn’t that what safes are for? A whole
lot of money?” Lucky ran both hands through his shoulder length black
hair, which, if my father were here, would be tied in a ponytail. The
dishwasher was out of bleach; dirty dishes were piled on the metal
counter, right next to food prep. Since Dad had been arrested, the
staff at Panteria’s had taken advantage and ignored the rules, big time.

Lucky threw sharp knives into a bucket. “Hire a bookkeeper. Man I’ve
never seen it as busy as it was this weekend. You?” His eyes avoided
mine, but, after all, he was tossing knives.

It was a pathetic tribute that since dad sat in the county clink our
restaurant had slammin’ business. Even though it happened eight years
ago, it brought a whole new surge of interest to Panteria’s where “it”
all happened.

Lucky pulled out a finely rolled joint from his tee shirt pocket, slid
it under his nose, and took a deep breath. “I’ll call Greer, and we’ll
head to the park. I need to talk to you, anyway.”

“Will you put that away?” I stood up and looked around for Jacob the

“Lighten up. You act like you’re already the owner of this fine
establishment, and I thought you didn’t want that gig.”

“I don’t. But I can’t get out of Walburn if I’m sitting in the cell
next to my dad, okay?”

“Man, it’s bum about your old man,” Lucky said, tucking the joint away.
“What are you gonna do?”

“Me? Mom is already talking about my college fund for Dad’s defense.
I knew I’d never get out of here.” It was a lousy circle. If Dad
doesn’t get out of jail and ends up going to prison, I’ll get stuck
with the restaurant. If he uses my college fund for his defense either
way win or lose, my college fund is gone and I’m stuck with the
restaurant. When my brother Ben and I were younger we’d have wrestling
matches, and the winner would take over running our family restaurant,
Panteria’s. When we got older, the loser would get stuck here in
Walburn with Panteria’s. Now I’d unload that legacy on the neighbor’s
dog if I could.

“Dude, he’s your father. That’s cold.” But Lucky still wouldn’t look
at me. Was Lucky hiding something?
“What’s going on with you?”

“Nothing, it’s just, you know. Family. My old man is crap but he’s
still my dad.”

Lucky didn’t understand. He had no interest in going to college.
Hell, he barely made it to class. But I’d been planning to get out of
Walburn since middle school, when dad told me he expected me to take
over running Panteria’s. A very true “unwanted.” If my college
fund’s eaten up for his defense, I’ll never get out of town. My grades
just aren’t good enough. It wasn’t that I thought dad was guilty of
killing the cop here at the restaurant. I knew he was innocent. Not
sure how I knew, I just knew my dad. Not a killer.

Lucky flipped his phone to his ear.

“Do we really need Greer tonight?”

“Need being the key word. If you hadn’t broken up with Tamara you’d be
fine with me getting Greer.”

It was partly true. Greer and Lucky had been going out for about six
months. Trouble was, whenever Greer came along all they did was
make-out. Which, I’m totally not against, unless I don’t have someone
to make out with. Which I don’t.

Later, after locking up the restaurant, ignoring the vacuuming and the
mopping, we “borrowed” my brother Ben’s car just like we’d been doing
all summer. Since I didn’t know the combination to the safe, I left
the money in the locked drawer of Dad’s desk.

“Great,” Lucky said. “What’s the point of having the safe if you don’t
know the combo?”

“I could call Mom,” I said, but I knew I wouldn’t. She’d spent the
last two nights at the hospital with my brother Ben, and she probably
didn’t have the combination memorized.

We picked up Greer, who crawled into the front seat beside Lucky while
I lay in the back smoking that joint. We stopped at Druver’s, an In
and Out gas station slash market, and Lucky bought beer from a girl we
all went to school with and who graduated last spring. Another of
Walburns finest.

At Strathmen Park, Nirvana boiled in the hot summer night, shaking the
dashboard and announcing our arrival in the parking lot.

“Gimme some of that,” Lucky said, slamming on the brakes, and throwing
his arm around Greer. The streetlights flickered giving me a headache.
I sat up, pushed the door open, and jumped out into the warm evening.
The tiniest breeze spilled over me, reminding me summer was over and it
was back to school in the morning.

I pounded a beat on the hood of the car in time to the music. We were
the only people in the parking lot, except across the park you could
see the headlights of another car.

“Man, are you guys going to start that?” I said peeking through the
windshield and seeing Lucky’s face stuck to Greer’s.

“You don’t have to stay around?” Greer’s voice grated.
I could smell the garlic and marinara sauce that never seemed to wash
off my hands.

I knew Greer wasn’t crazy about me hanging around. She let me know on
more than one occasion.

“Don’t you have any girlfriends you hang out with?” I cupped my hands
around my mouth and spoke through the windshield.

“Don’t you?”

“Cute,” I said.

“It would be good if you guys could get along,” Lucky said, throwing
the door open.

I poured a cold beer down so fast I got the hiccups, which broke the
silence and we all laughed. I hated being the third wheel and for an
instant wished I hadn’t broken up with Tamara Little, but that thought
disappeared as quickly as it came.

Lucky crawled out of the car, but he got stuck on something.

“Oh no! Your bracelet,” Greer said. Greer reached across the front
seat. She liked to make jewelry and stuff out of beads.


  1. Love the first paragraph. The voice and the situation are clear and original from the opening line, and I love the energy that comes through in that.

    We do lose a bit of that energy as you go. The situation becomes too vague in places, and too repetitive in others. If "it" happened eight years ago, why was the restaurant packed that weekend? The hint you give is too specific to let us keep reading to find out the answer, and not specific enough to give us the information to let us continue without pausing to try to figure it out. Especially when you get to the legal defense and wanting to get out since middle school--most especially since the "it" would have happened before middle school. I got lost in puzzling out whether the father committed some crime eight years ago and only just got caught. And that overshadowed the whole in-lust-with-the-best-friend's-girl situation.

    It's fine to have several points of conflict. Great even. But we need to be grounded, so make sure that there's nothing that keeps us lingering to see if we misread something. Right now, we have the girlfriend, the cops, the restaurant ownership, the safe/money, Lucky's inability to look his friend in the eye, the father's defense and old crime, and whatever happened this weekend to bring people into the restaurant, and then you throw the brother in the hospital into it. Kudos to you for getting all that in there, but I think you need to let us in on a few things to lead us through the story without exhausting us.

    Similarly, be careful of showing us something that you've already told or visa versa. It seems like the fact that he wants to get out of being stuck with the restaurant takes up a disproportionate amount of space, and in fact, you tell us this several times.

    I would suggest that you map out this opening. Consider what is most critical for the reader to know, and how much you have to give us. What can you trickle out as breadcrumbs to lead us into the story, and how big a crumb do you need to leave to get us interested?

    Your action, dialogue, dialogue cues, and setting details all work and seem nicely organic. So really, it's just a question of getting us in here and I think you're off and running. Look forward to the revision!


  2. Intriguing voice and premise. I like the opening (here comes the but), BUT there's something about generalizations that lead into the "night it all started" type openings that catch me. It doesn't feel natural perhaps? I'm not sure if this is a legitimate critique, or just a taste issue, so do with that what you will. I just wanted to let you know. I'm not sure you need to mention falling for the girlfriend. You have enough to go on with the dad and the school situation up front.
    I also got very caught on the idea that "it" happened eight years ago and the restaurant was packed more than ever that weekend. That needs to be clarified.
    I'd love a drop of info on what the MC looks like. Anything really. Does he wipe a hair from his eyes (so we know it's long) does he feel cramped in the back even lying down? (so we know he's tall). That sort of thing. But that's minor.
    Love your style. Can't wait to see the revision.

  3. Shelley,

    I love the voice right from the beginning. But the metaphor at the end of the first paragraph is a bit heavy for what it's conveying I think.

    Some of the dialogue is awesome and some seems a bit stilted and forced... and I can't put a finger on why. Some of it really flows naturally... may just be a matter of reading it aloud when you revisit it.

    The tense falls down a little when you're presenting the dilemma about his father and the defense vs. his college fund. And I'd almost want that bit of info to come in a different way. It's backstory that takes us out of the *moment* I will say that I loved the bit about the wrestling matches and how the stakes changed over time.

    The story begins to meander a bit... and perhaps that's simply because something is right around the corner. I think you've set up the tension and struggle... although I wonder if we could begin a teensy bit closer to the action.

    Seems like the opening scene is all about setting up the story's larger conflict... and while I like the opening line and paragraph, it does slow way down... with no real clear and present conflict in the moment. And again, perhaps it's right around the corner... but what if there was a way to bring it forward a bit?

    Hope any of this helps.


  4. Hi, Shelley!

    I'm posting without reading other comments, so I may repeat something that's already been said. Here's my two cents:

    I loved your opening line. It drew me right in. And the dialogue seemed snappy. I could hear your mc's voice clearly! I love that you're doing a mystery with a male mc. My male teen readers in my library need more of these!!

    The first thing I noticed you might change is the restaurant's name. It's too close to Panera Bread, IMO. Every time I saw your name, I read Panera--but that might just be a local chain. I don't know.

    Next, the part about something happening 8 years ago threw me, because I thought you meant the dad had been in jail 8 years, until I re-read. But that might just be me.

    When the boys are talking, you mention the college fund twice in narrative. I thought that was redundant. We get it the first time.

    There were two places that seemed to be dialogue info-dumps (I'm bad about these, too, apparently!). The first was when Lucky asked what he was going to do. The second was when Lucky mentioned about "getting Greer." I thought these two lines seemed forced. You could get the info in as dialogue if you rephrased it more casually, maybe.

    I'm wanting to know why Ben is in the hospital. I like that you didn't tell us up front. However, I'd like to be more intrigued by the murder. Did the mc see anything? You started this as a flashback, right? I started out being intrigued by the comment about getting beat up, but the story lost momentum by the last bit with the guy watching his friends makeout. I know this is important to the story, but it blows the tension and pacing you'd built up in the great opening.

    I admire mystery writers so much! Can't wait to see the revision. hope I said something helpful. Best wishes!


  5. Shelley -
    The voice!!! I loved it - very boy and very teen - great job!
    I like that it seems like there is going to be intrigue on many fronts - what did the dad do and what's going to happen to him? Why is the friend acting shifty - is it about the deposit money? What's going on with the brother? But I feel like that was a lot to jam into the first few pages and I agree with some of the others that the stuff about the dad was a little murky - I know you can tighten that up to reflect the tension and move it along a little more smoothly.

    All in all - I like this a lot and can't wait to read your revision! I want to know what his dad did - oh, and what's wrong with Ben?:) See, mark of a good story, you've got me still thinking about it!

  6. Hi, Shelley. Blogger just ate my comment, but I'll try to reproduce it as best as I can. I didn't look at the other comments because I don't want their opinions to influence mine, but I do apologize if I repeat something they've said.

    I loved your first sentence, but I wondered how it would fit into the novel being of the mystery/suspense genre.

    The first paragraph is great, but it then takes a while for us to see Greer, and I'm not seeing any tension between Lucky and Kenny (besides Lucky acting shifty). If Kenny doesn't want to like Greer because of Lucky, there needs to be internal conflict while they are talking.

    The paragraphs after Lucky asking Kenny about what he was going to do had too much information for me. You have the introduction of Ben (did he escape the family legacy? Why is he in the hospital?), the Dad's defense, the family legacy, Lucky's backstory, Kenny's feelings about all of this, and the idea of the father as being innocent. I think it might be best to break this up.

    I loved the voice and the mystery in the cop murder and I think you have great potential, but I think there is also in general too much going on here. There's what I said above and Greer not liking Kenny, Lucky acting shifty, Kenny breaking up with his girlfriend, the Kenny/Lucky/Greer deal, etc. -- there doesn't appear to be one general, solidifying focus here. It makes it harder to follow what exactly is going on. Can you maybe take some of the backstory out and focus more on the Kenny/Lucky/Greer deal (since that's what you start us off with)? Can't wait to see your revision!

  7. Thanks everyone for great feedback. Looking forward to getting to work on my revision!


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