Monday, August 6, 2012

9 1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Wise

Julie K. Wise
YA Contemporary
Inside the Circle

“So when do the doctors think you’ll get out of here?” I ask Allison as I shiver in the deep-freeze of the Center.  It’s always cold in here. Allison shrugs at my question and leans back into the couch next to the only window in her private room.

“A couple of weeks, hopefully in time for graduation,” she answers. She plays with her platinum watch, flipping it around her wrist. “It’s all bullshit anyway. Detox was easy, and the people in here are freaks. I went too far one night, you know? I’m not an addict,” she says, rolling her eyes. I keep my face still.

Sure about that? I want to ask her.  I can imagine her in daily group, doing those “complete the sentence” games that the doctors use to get a patient to discover her inner fuck-up.

Finish this sentence, Allison: I might be an addict if

Well, Doctor, I might be an addict if… I took a bunch of painkillers and drank half a bottle of whiskey and ended up in rehab. But that was just supposed to be a little jump-start before I started to party. Before lines of coke off the compact in my purse. And did I mention the fix that I keep in my car?

 Oh, yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Or actually, an addict. I know an addict when I see one. Takes one to know one. Still, I stay quiet. Let the doctors do their jobs. I love her like a sister, and it hurts to see how deluded she is, but judgments are against the rules in The Circle.

“A couple of weeks, that’s good, Allison. That’s nothing. But, you know, as long as you’re here, you might as well listen to what they have to say,” I shrug, trying to sound casual. She looks out the window at the houses on the desert mountain, and her eyes go distant.

 “Yeah, I know.” She’s quiet for a minute, and then, she smiles and laughs. “I’ve been clean since I got in here. I miss the parties, but I’m not going back into the shit. Think about the shoes I can buy with the money I was shooting,” she jokes darkly. Allison is lucky that the pills got her before the other shit did. Recreational mainlining doesn’t stay recreational for very long. 

Allison has never known limits, not even when we were little. In Kindergarten, she would spin until she was so dizzy, she’d throw up, just to see what it felt like. Allison loves more. Of whatever. If two pills feel good, three will feel better. If one line makes her fly like an angel, more will make her feel like a goddess. I get it, I really do. I’ve been off hard stuff for a few years, but I still remember.

“Well, you look good,” I tell her, truthfully. Her eyes are bright blue, and her skin is clear without makeup, if a little pale from months without sun, trapped in this ugly world of fluorescent hospital lights. I look down at her fresh, pink pedicure. “Who’s coming in to do your toes? Josie from Gossip?” She nods. Josie did her toes every two weeks even before Allison’s infamous overdose at Jimmy’s Holiday party a few months ago. Two girls found her blue in one of the bedrooms, and instead of calling 911, those ignorant bitches threw her in a tub so she wouldn’t throw up on the Persian rug. Luckily, some sophomore saw her in there, and he found a way to get her to the hospital. She’s lucky to be alive.

“So, what are you doing this weekend?” she asks me, wistfully.

“I’m going with Sean to Sakura tonight,” I answer honestly. She gives me a jealous look. Rehab is hell, and when it isn’t hell, it’s boring, for sure.

“Sushi. That sounds awesome. Maybe I’ll order in,” she says. Banner is the five-star of rehab. Patients can get most anything that they want, except for the one thing that they really want. I look up at the ceiling.

“Yeah, well, dinner is probably going to be really dull. We’re meeting…friends,” I say, and Allison searches my face.

“Friends of Sean’s?” she asks. I nod a small nod. She snorts. “Wow, I don’t know how you stand it, Kate, being that close.” My neck prickles, and I sit up straighter.

“That’s just how it is. The world doesn’t change just because I did,” I say with ice in my voice. I feel my face fix itself into my default. Cold, closed. Allison sees the change, and she lifts an eyebrow just as her doctor walks in. He greets her cheerfully, and as he turns away from her to check her chart, she gives him the finger and mouths fuck you at his back. I thaw instantly and laugh.

“See you next Friday, Allison,” I say, shaking my head.

“Thanks for coming, Kate,” she says, genuinely. I give her a little hug and smooth down her blonde curly hair before walking out into the hall.

I speed out of the parking lot with the convertible top down and play my music as loud as I can stand it. It’s Friday rush hour on Scottsdale Road, and I weave in and out of traffic as the sun lowers behind Camelback Mountain, casting long shadows over the palm-lined street. The wind and the speed and the music help me shake Allison’s rehab out of my head.

What happened to Allison is scary, but it happens. People lose control and go too far. They fall into the darkness. After she got out of intensive care, her folks admitted her to Banner Behavioral Center, and people were here all of the time. The same people who saw her getting high at parties all semester sobbed around about what a waste and drugs are bad and that’s why I won’t touch hard stuff as they passed their joints on to the next people. As long as everyone is having a good time, no one just says no.

Her story was on the news. No one expects rich kids to overdose. That’s for back alleys and people with dirt on their faces, not the hundred-dollar manicure crowd. We had a ridiculous assembly at school about #takingcareofeachother and #innerbeauty and #justsayno and #blahblahblah. Then, the hype died down, and now, I’m the only person who still visits Allison. Even her parents only visit her a couple times a week. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

I drive fast up the mountain and fly up our long, steep driveway into the four-car garage, and after a long shower, I dress carefully. What to wear, to meet Sean’s middle-aged friends? I choose a short, black, ABS dress and tall espadrilles, and I finish my hair and makeup. My folks are outside on the patio where they hang out most nights when they are in town, which isn’t very often. Dad smokes a cigar and drinks the first of many scotches, and Mom holds a glass of wine tightly by the stem. “What are you doing tonight?” Dad asks, an afterthought.

“I’m going out with Sean. Japanese.” Sean and I have been dating for a few months. My parents like him. He’s polite, and he gets me home by curfew. They don’t know that Sean is a drug dealer.

My parents love to enforce rules like curfew when they’re around. It makes them feel better about the fact that they have no idea what I’m doing when they are gone, which is most of the time. Dad builds hotels all over the place, and these days, Mom goes with him.

“That sounds like fun,” my mother murmurs without looking at me, and I wonder if she even heard what I said. She looks out at the view. Clouds tinged with pink build in the southern sky, glowing over the lights of the city. I play with my phone, texting Jillian, but she doesn’t text back. We ate lunch together, but I didn’t see her after that. She knows that I go to the hospital on Fridays, so we didn’t hang out after school. I wonder what she’s doing tonight.

Jillian never comes to the hospital. She can’t stand hospitals. She practically grew up in rehab places like Banner. Her mom, Marilyn, is a party girl turned into junkie. Marilyn was in and out of treatment the whole time that we were in grade school. She brought some serious scumbags into their house when Jillian was a kid. Jilly saw more dope before she was ten than most people see in their lifetimes, not to mention the screaming and puking and crying and all the other fun stuff that goes along with hardcore addiction. When Marilyn finally got clean and married some super-rich guy she met at Narcotics Anonymous, Jilly moved into the house that he built for them. Super-rich guy is long gone now, and Marilyn is way too into herself to even notice Jillian except to throw cash at her so she’ll go away.


  1. Wow, great pages. It really sucked me in and kept my interest. Good work!

  2. Julie,
    I love your writing style, and thought you did an excellent job sucking the reader in. I don't really read a lot of Tough Stuff books, but I would definitely keep going with this one.

    The only suggestion I have is to consider putting something about Kate's main conflict into the first five pages. For example, you showed us that a lot of Kate's friends have drug problems and you hinted at Kate being a drug addict herself, but maybe try giving the reader a glimpse at what's in store for Kate. Like, if Kate is going to become a serious addict, maybe have her think about wanting a fix. Just a thought. Great job!

  3. To be honest, it's a little slow. The opening scene seems to exist to provide exposition, with little conflict or purpose to the actual action going on. It's just another visit. Nothing special. At least the "vehicle" have two people driving it. My pet peeve is when the author dumps a lot of exposition while the protagonist is doing nothing, something that you avoid.

    I'm wondering what's going to be special about this story. What's going to happen to Kate or Alison? Try hinting at that more, for a better hook.

    On the technical side, there's a few instances where you put a character's actions and dialogue in different paragraphs. I suggest putting the actions with the dialogue.

    On the other hand, I like how you hint that Kate might take drugs too. It's clear although she's disgusted about the actions other people have done toward Alison, but she doesn't really despise drugs. This is a clear path for character development. The problem is how the plot is going to fulfill its promise.

    Unless you're aiming for a clear issues book with literary vibes. That's fine.

  4. Like Candyce, this isn't what I normally read and I would keep going. I didn't find it slow. You introduced the characters; gave quite a lot of their background in a way that was interesting; Allison is heading for more trouble; Kate is dating a drug dealer; and I know what the title refers to. I think the story is succesfully beginning to percolate.

    1. Actually, after putting some thought, the story is already going in a certain direction (with Kate possibly going into the "circle" of drug dealers). It was just that I didn't find the first scene particularly interesting.

  5. This is solid, well-crafted writing. You've set the stage beautifully, and I get a great sense of character. The voice is very strong.

    Consider, perhaps, starting here:

    Finish this sentence, Allison: I might be an addict if…

    Well, Doctor, I might be an addict if… I took a bunch of painkillers and drank half a bottle of whiskey and ended up in rehab. But that was just supposed to be a little jump-start before I started to party. Before lines of coke off the compact in my purse. And did I mention the fix that I keep in my car?

    You can then weave in the info that came above it, and then you are off...

    Consider tightening up where you can as well to make the most of this real estate. There are several places where you say the same thing in similar ways:

    Jillian never comes to the hospital. She can’t stand hospitals. She practically grew up in rehab places like Banner.

    The first two sentences there are similar enough that they are worth examining, for example, for the effect you would create by removing one or the other and letting the reader make an inference.

    Like Candyce though, I would love to a bit more about where the story is going, and perhaps a bit of a crack in your protag's veneer to show her vulnerability and let us root for her more deeply. She's coming off a little jaded and I think you could give us a tiny bit, tiny bit more likeability.

    Excellent work. Looking forward to seeing more!


    1. The first line of this was in the Miss Snark's first line blog post, and 57 out of 59 responders said that they wouldn't keep reading based on my first line! Wow, goodbye first line, for sure!

      In the beginning of my book, Kate is jaded, but I want her to be likeable too. I really need to work on that. I've gotten that comment from several people. It's a tough balance. She's afraid of feeling extremes, because those extremes feel too much like addiction, and I don't think even she realizes that at first. I'll see what I can do, and I'm curious to see if I can pull it off without softening her too much and weakening the big changes she makes later.

      Thanks for your comments!

  6. This is a fantastic introduction to what I assume is a contemporary YA. Your writing is very smooth and the mc’s voice is great. I would suggest two main changes for these first 5 pages:

    First, it seems to me there is too much about secondary characters and not enough about the main character; aside from the interaction with her parents, she seems mainly like a narrative device to give us information about what’s going on around her (especially about Allison) rather than like a real person who's going to be at the center of this book. I like the fact that a lot of what is going on with her is hinted at, making the reader curious to know what’s going on (what’s her history with Sean? Why is she still with him? What happens on their dates together with his middle-aged friends?) – but at the same time, it makes her seem too much like a blank slate. Perhaps you could find a way to get more of her, as an individual, into the story earlier, maybe in her initial conversation with Allison?

    Second, I think there is a bit too much telling about drugs, what happens with drugs, how all these various people have developed/kicked/not kicked their drug habits. Obviously, this story is going to be largely about that, but it has to be mainly about the characters – we should learn this information as the mc experiences it, not by having her give us some exposition every time she remembers or thinks about one of her friend’s or her own drug experiences.

    As you probably know, I write (and read) mainly fantasy, so you can take my comments with a grain of salt. However, thinking of some of my favorite contemporary YAs where the mc is dealing with a big issue (Split by Swati Avasthi, Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson), what they all have in common is how the mc's voice takes precedence over the Big Issue.

    I hope this helps! Looking forward to seeing the rewrite.

    1. The drugs are just the setting for the big issue, but you're so right. There's a lot of drug talk in these first five pages. The "My parents like Sean. They don't know he's a drug dealer" thang might work a lot better if it comes out of the blue. I'll play with it. Maybe I can strip some of this information out of the first five pages and work it in elsewhere.

      Thanks for your help!


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