Monday, August 6, 2012

7 1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Panteleakos

Author: Nicole Panteleakos
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Contemporary Mystery
Title: "Anabel Mist Does Not Exist"


Every time I’ve introduced myself to anyone, I’ve lied.

“Hi, my name is Anabel.” Lie.

“I’m twelve years old.” Lie.

“I just moved here from the West Coast.” Lie.

“My birthday is in March, my dad lives in Europe, and my mom’s name is Margo.”

All lies. A whole lifetime of lies.

The truth is I don’t know my real name. I’m not sure exactly how old I am, and I’m not from the West Coast. At least, I don’t think I am. My birthday changes with the seasons, I have no idea who my father is or where he lives, or if he’s even alive, and my Mom’s had so many different identities I couldn’t even begin to list them all.

Mom says it’s better this way. Safer. “Better safe than sorry,” she always says. But she won’t tell me why.

Sometimes at night when I can’t sleep, I stare at the ceiling and try to think back to when I was really little, my earliest memories. I’m like a detective looking for clues, but all I have to go on are flashes of recollection so short it’s like I’m clicking through channels and only stopping on each show long enough to hear a line or two. Not enough dialogue to actually tell me anything.

Last year in fifth grade health Mrs. Jimenez began a lesson on self-discovery. She said, “Girls, you’re pre-teens now, and it’s time you learn the truth: The next ten years will not be easy. Life will be full of ups and downs. You’ll be growing up and figuring out who you really are. It’s a very important time in the life of a young woman.”

I remember thinking, “How can I figure out who am I when I don’t even know my own name?”

I started to cry, which was not unusual for me, but it was beyond embarrassing, and of course Mrs. Jimenez noticed right away. Her eyes met mine and she opened her mouth, but what she planned to say I never did find out, because at that moment Sofia Mejia raised her hand and, without waiting to be called on, asked, “Are we gonna learn about sex now?”

That distracted everyone, including Mrs. Jimenez who got very red-faced, and by the time the lunch bell rang I’d managed to pull myself together.

That was a Friday. Two nights later I was sound asleep, dreaming about a big city building with lots of stairs, when Mom shook me awake.

“Audrey, the Bad Men are coming!” she said. “I packed up everything.

Get dressed. We don’t have much time.”

A week later, Mrs. Jimenez was over a thousand miles away.

And my name wasn’t Audrey anymore.


It happens as I’m exiting the bathroom.

One second, I’m upright and walking fine; the next, I’m on my hands and knees on the floor. I don’t hear my jeans rip, but I sure feel it.

I can’t believe I tripped over my own shoelaces like some clumsy first grader. I move into a sitting position and bend my right knee so I can re-tie my laces. Then I take a second to glare at my scabbed-up kneecap, poking through the large hole.

“You couldn’t have survived just a few more hours?” I whisper to my Salvation Army jeans because I know that they did this on purpose, just to embarrass me.

“What’s the matter, Anabel?” someone asks. I don’t have to look up to know that it’s Her Majesty, Lola Jean Wright, Queen of Sixth Grade. Of course she would be the one to stumble upon me, kneeling in the hall, jeans all torn up, tears in my eyes.

“Nothing,” I say, but she kneels down beside me and pats my shoulder like we’re friends.

“Aww, you poor thing! Just look at your pants. Don’t worry, it’s not like anybody will really notice. It’s the last day of school, and besides, no one cares what you look like! So don’t cry. There now. Feel better?”

I just stare at her. I never know what to say to Lola Jean. Lola Jean, with her expensive skinny jeans and perfectly-fitted tee-shirt. Lola Jean, with her curly hair pulled into the world’s neatest ponytail. Lola Jean, with teeth that would make Miss America jealous. How do I talk to someone like that?

“Hello, Anabel? Are you awake?” she knocks on my exposed kneecap and giggles.

I open my mouth to say something, anything, but nothing comes out.

Her Majesty stands up and nudges me with the toe of her white and silver flat. “Come on, up we go. You’re fine. It’s not a big deal, Anabel. No one looks at you.”

M.Z. and I call it “sideways,” the way Lola Jean talks. It always feels like she’s dishing out an insult, even when her tone is kind and her words aren’t necessarily mean.

She makes me want to scream.

“Go away, Lola Jean,” I say finally, but of course she just stands there giving me this pitying look. Maybe if I close my eyes, she’ll disappear.

“Tell you what? Consuela, my maid, said the other day that she needs to get rid of some of her daughters’ old clothes that don’t fit anymore. She could bring them to a thrift store, but why don’t I just have her drop them off at your house? That’ll save you and your mom a trip! Plus, then you guys don’t have to use all your welfare money to buy clothes. What do you say?”

“We’re not on welfare,” I say, but Lola Jean just laughs.

“Of course you’re not.” She winks at me like we’ve got a secret. For one wild moment I really want to bite her leg. I’m still crouched down; I could do it.

“We don’t need your maid’s old clothes,” I insist. “We’re fine.” With that, I do what I always do: stand up, turn around, and walk away.

“Let me know if you change your mind!” she calls after me. I bite my lip to keep from crying. If she hears me crying she will never let me forget it, the way she hasn’t let me forget the day I got a bloody nose in gym because I tripped over my own feet and fell flat on my face during a game of basketball. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay after school with me one day?” she asks all the time. “I can teach you to dribble so you won’t embarrass yourself again!”

Lucky for me, when I round the corner I almost walk right into the only person in sixth grade who thinks I’m fine just the way I am: Mei-Zhen Wu.

“Hey Anabel! What’s wrong?” M.Z. asks.

“The usual. My jeans ripped, then Lola Jean busted on me, but in that way she does where it sounds like she’s Mother Theresa if you tell a teacher about it, you know?”

“Who’s Mother Theresa?”

“This nun who worked with lepers in India,” I explain.

“Oh. Well hey, maybe Lola Jean will work with lepers someday and end up losing her nose. Does it make me a bad person to say I’d laugh at her?"

“Yeah, kinda,” I say, but I know M.Z.’s just kidding… mostly.


  1. Your writing is excellent, and I love the main character. I also love the way the book starts out. As I was re-reading the first part, I thought the first line might be a little more impactful if you change it to the present tense, especially since the rest of the book is in the present tense. (i.e. Every time I introduce myself to anyone, I lie.)

    I also read somewhere that prologues should be avoided. If you can find a good way to make the prologue the beginning of chapter one and transition into what is now the beginning of chapter one, I think it might be a stronger start.

    As I was reading what is now the beginning of chapter one, I was also thinking that changing "exiting the bathroom" to "leaving the bathroom" might be a little stronger. The way the sentence is phrased also makes me think this scene is going to have a significant impact on the story. Does it? From reading this part of the book I also got the impression that the main character doesn't know why she has to lie all the time, and why her mom's identity is always changing. Is this the case? If so, you could maybe think about making her not knowing a bigger deal so the reader gets a clearer understanding of the situation. Just a thought.

    One last thing. I read somewhere that you should only have your main character cry once in the story. The article was in reference to YA, and I'm not sure to what extent it applies to MG, but I just thought I would mention it.

    These pages are excellent, and you've done an excellent job of getting me hooked!

    1. I've read at least two blog posts on the crying subject:


      I actually have a response to the latter ready to be posted on my blog. Personally, I wouldn't say it's a stone-hard rule. Tweens and teens can sometimes be emotional, considering the situations they're in. But even here, I think Anabel's crying works, especially because it happens in the backstory. It's when characters are constant cry babies is when it gets bad.

  2. Even before Chapter One, I knew that this is my favorite out of all of the entries. Your prologue is hooking with the repetition in the first few lines. It reminds me of a similar novel that I loved.

    he tight yet whimsy prose ("A week later, Mrs. Jimenez was over a thousand miles away. And my name wasn’t Audrey anymore.") justifies the entire introduction, which makes a thematic point with the self-discovery mini-scene. The only error is a misplaced quotation mark near the end.

    If you're going to deliver lots of exposition, might as well make it interesting. As you did.

    Also, the “Are we gonna learn about sex now?” line is hilarious. That's definitely something a 5th grader would ask innocently--or intentionally.

    You keep it up with Chapter One. Although Lola Jean comes off as a little unrealistic, she has better lines than most of the "mean girl" characters I read about. The way she runs circles around Anabel is both interesting to read, and hints at the chance that she might change at a person. Maybe her backhanded offers are genuine underneath?

    I can see why you brought this to the workshop though, since there are a few lines here and there that can be tweaked. For example, I'm confused by the sentence "M.Z. and I call it “sideways,” the way Lola Jean talks." Also, I'm not sure of Mei-Zhen Wu's gender. I'm guessing a boy.

    (By the way, this is only a suggestion for you to consider, but I wonder what's your story would be like if Anabel knew more about why her mom is always moving and changing their identities. In short, she's into the secret. Just a thought. It'll be interesting taking the story in that direction, and it might make Anabel seem more mature. But in any case, I think it's important that Anabel doesn't know her real name. Maybe the missing father named her, and the mother hates the association?)

  3. I’m never sure about the need for prologues but it is the prologue here that intrigues me. Apart from introducing MZ the start of Ch 1 does nothing for me – but what do i know?
    I thought the sentence beginning - I’m like a detective was too long.

  4. I love the prologue, although talking to the reader, as your mc is evidently doing?, is an interesting choice. It's working, so no real reason to change, unless you want to consider whether you can find a way to work it in naturally. Does she keep a daily diary entry that she destroys after writing? Does she keep the diary entry because it helps her to anchor herself when everything around her is constantly shifting? Or something along those lines.

    "the Bad Men" was the main thing that didn't work for me. Can you find a way to rephrase? It came off as authorial withholding, and I am sure that there are names you could come up with for the entity that might give you an even stronger hold on your readers' interest.

    Examine your dialogue and see where you can cut it. The teacher and Lola, especially, came off too long and repetitive. You can make them tighter and more natural.

    Great premise. Great work!


  5. Wow. Well, I honestly don’t have much to say about these pages – I think they’re excellent. I love the prologue, I love the mc’s voice, and I even like the switch from high drama into sixth-grade low drama (though I suspect some others might feel differently about that one). In fact, I only found one thing to edit, which is that I would take out this line:

    “How can I figure out who am I when I don’t even know my own name?”

    You’ve built this up well enough that we know this is what she was thinking; I believe you can take it out and it will make the impact subtler and therefore more effective.

    Sorry I couldn't offer more insight, but honestly, I don't think these particular pages need too much more fiddling.

  6. Thanks Leah, and everyone else, for the feedback! I hugely appreciate it.

    And thanks for the info regarding crying. Anabel is kind of an easy crier early on, but I hope to toughen her up over time -- lol.

    I admit, I didn't change the title The Bad Men, because it's so intrical to the story. It is not until almost the very end that Anabel learns who they are, because The Bad Men is all her mother has called them. They're not even all men. In case anyone on here is curious, though, the premise is that Anabel's mother has raised her to believe that they are in the Witness Protection Program, but that is actually a lie. They ARE on the run from some pretty terrible people, though. .

    Thanks Chihuahua for the reaction to Lola Jean. I love that you mentioned her backhanded offers. I'm trying to find a way to make her seem like both the meanest girl in middle school and a kid who genuinely likes to help others, but it's definitely a challenge! Also, I added a "she" in the revision to clear up the issue of Mei-Zhen's gender.

    Thanks again to those who took the time to read this and offer critique!



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