Monday, September 10, 2012

7 1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Carpinello Rev 1

Author: Cheryl Carpinello
Genre: Middle Grade Adventure/Mystery
Title: Sons of the Sphinx

I don’t see dead people. I hear them. I talk to them. Boy, you should try that. Talk about people looking at you like you’re a freak. That will do it.

It would be one thing if I talked to famous dead people. You know like that Elvis guy my mother still drools over? I mean really? Like the guy would be seventy-something today! Anyway, if I talked to him, I could give my mom a personal message like “Sorry we never got to hook up.” That would be worth a few extra bucks, don’t you think?

No, the dead people who talk to me are just dead nobodies. Nothing exciting to say. Nothing going down. They’re just hanging out, waiting for I don’t know, to be more dead, I guess. Or, to see how much trouble they can get me in.

Take today in math class. We are taking this test, see. I’m concentrating real hard on this problem trying to figure height or something. Then I hear this.

“Hey you.”

I jerked up in my chair, looking around for the guy doing the talking. I glanced at the kids on either side of me. Nothing. I look up at my teacher. He is glaring at me.

“Great,” I whispered. “He probably thinks I’m trying to cheat.” I bowed my head and focused on the problem again.

“You, I’m talking to you.”

I shake my head in hopes of tossing the voice out. I know now. Some dumb dead guy is trying to talk to me while I take this test.

Inside my head I say, “Would you be quiet? I’m trying to take a math test.”

“Oh sure, that’s okay for you to say. I’ll never take another test again.” His voice broke up, kind of like bad radio reception.

“Not my problem.” I formed the words in my head.

“I died too soon, I really did.”

“Look,” I told him, still in my head. “I haven’t talked to a dead person yet who didn’t say that. Kind of goes with the dead part. Now leave me alone. You’re going to make me fail this test.”

I heard him snort, like he had to blow his nose, if dead guys really do that. Then came the kicker.

“I just want another chance. I promise I’ll do better.”

“I’m going to say this one more time. Not my problem. Now leave me alone.” I formed three exclamation points in the head just so he would get the picture.

“But it isn’t fair,” he whined. “It just isn’t fair.”

Okay. I’m fed up with this guy. I can’t even remember the formula for whatever I’m trying to find. OMG. I am definitely going to fail math if this guy keeps on yapping.

Out loud I say, “Bud, I don’t give a damn if it isn’t fair. Just shut the hell up so I can get this test done!”

Did you get the part where I said “out loud”? Yep, that earned me an F on the test AND a trip to the AP’s (that’s assistant principal’s) office. I couldn’t even defend myself there. What was I going to say? “Excuse me, I’m sorry I blurted out loud in class in the middle of a test, and I’m sorry for cussing, but you see, this dead guy wouldn’t shut up.” Yeah, that would have gone over well. Nope, I just had to sit meekly back and say politely, “It won’t happen again. Had to be the stress over the test.” You get the picture.

Then I had to face my peers, as they are called, the rest of the day. I just shrugged and mumbled something like “Idiot dead people.” The kids will avoid me for next few days. I think they’re afraid whatever I have will rub off on them, or that I’ll go bananas or something. Understandable.

It would be nice to say that my great, great, great grandmother talked to dead people, and I inherited her gift, but I can’t say that. Nope. As far as I know, I’m the only one in my family with this curse. No, it’s not a gift. It is definitely a curse.

And when my parents get home and I tell them what happened...Well I may be the one shouting “It’s not fair!”

So now I sit here in my bedroom trying to work on a history project. You know, the kind where the teacher puts you in a group and then no one in the group does anything. Yep, that’s my luck. The project is due the day after tomorrow, and no one except me has done anything.

I’m thinking about what happened today, and what’s going to happen if this project isn’t done. I’m having a super hard time of focusing, and my eyes wander around my room.


Without thinking, I blurt out, “It’s Rose, not Roose,” I screamed. “And I told you to get lost. Now.” I jump to the door and slam it shut. Do the dead have no respect?

And just who is this guy? It’s not the same voice. That’s nice. Now I have an army of dead people invading my brain. Too bad they can’t do this project for me.


Who is this idiot?

“Listen. This is my room, my space. These are my things, and I refuse to share them with dead people!”

“This is my bookshelf, with my favorite books on it. See, my marked up copy of The Once and Future King. I read that last year in seventh grade English and loved it. I can learn all that neat stuff from the animals, only I don’t know a wizard like Merlin who would turn me into different animals. I just know dead people, and you can’t learn anything from them.”

I’m really steamed now.

“These are my favorite horse books The Black Stallion series my grandma left me. My National Geographics, a gift from my uncle. All arranged on the bookshelves next to my desk.”

I think I’m going nuts. Who rants and raves at a dead person? I wish I could just become someone else like I do when I read. For weeks after reading The Black Stallion, I was that boy Alec except my name was Alexandria. Every day I fed, watered, brushed, and exercised The Black; he was my horse. The people in my books always have a better life than mine. Alexandria with my own stallion; Wart whom Merlin teaches by turning me into different animals. Beats sitting at a school desk nine months of the year.


Will this guy never give up? Stubbornly I continue.

“Here, above my desk, held by a blue (my favorite color, by the way) push pin is my ticket stub from the King Tut exhibit. My mom took me last fall when the exhibit toured the US. Magnificent. All mine.”


I continue to ignore him.

“King Tut ruled all of Egypt at the age of nine over 2500 years ago. It wasn’t until 1922 that his hidden burial site was discovered by that man Carter.

“Next to the Tut exhibit ticket is my picture of Ankhesenamun and Tut. You know the one. They are pictured on the back of the Golden Throne. He is sitting in the throne; she is standing facing him, her arm outstretched touching him. I’m not a romantic, well, maybe I am. The point is, when I look at that picture, I can feel the love they have for each other.”


  1. Love the first couple of lines. This immediately tells the reader that this is going to be an unusual story. Love the humor of the dead guy throwing everything back in her face. This is a much tighter revision. It shows a lot more of the kinds of “people” who seek her out, the problems she runs into when she interacts with them, and sets up the King Tut connection, even though I don’t know where it leads.

    There are a couple of tweaks.
    “And I told you to get lost.” This was their first interaction.

    “I refuse to share them with dead people.” This line is confusing because he is simply calling her name. I know you are using this as a segway into the description of her books so we need a better tie into this. Maybe “This is my room, my space. Leave me alone. I don’t want you around me. I don’t want you around my things.”
    Can this dead guy push a book off her shelf to prove a point, to let her know that he isn’t going anywhere and he doesn’t give a crap about her things? So, as he says her name, he pushes each book off the shelf. She gets angrier and angrier and uses her explanation of the books to explain to him how important her books are. Her nervous blabbering could be her internal reaction to some dead guy pushing books off her shelf too. Just a suggestion.

    Overall, this is so much better. I don't feel like I am begin pulled in two directions. I think you can tighten a little more (dead guy in geometry class) to keep up with the pacing. You do such a great job with the voice and it sets up the tone of the story very well. I want to know what happens next. I can’t wait until next week.

  2. I really like this revision! I think you added this line: Now I have an army of dead people invading my brain. Too bad they can’t do this project for me. (love it!)

    I agree with Cecilia's comment that her talking out loud about her books would make a lot more sense if the dead person were to knock a book off the shelf or make a comment about it. The other thing to maybe try is hold off on mentioning the books until later and go straight to making some connection to the King Tut ticket.

    Having the dead guy repeat "Roose" four times also troubled me a little too. It was just too repetitious (I might be particularly sensitive because my kids will say "mom, mom, mom, mom" over and over again and drive me crazy!). Anyway, there might be a good reason for the repetition that we haven't got to yet, but as it stands right now I think some variation would help your readers stay connected. You might also turn it into another opportunity for your great sense of humor.

  3. Hi Cheryl,

    Very nice revision! I love the way it starts now, and I love the way you've played the scene out at school and the hint that she is going to get into trouble because of that first scene, which leads to an urgency to get her homework done before her parents come home. All of that is great.

    You do have some tense issues that you need to resolve there.

    "Take today in math class. We are taking this test, see. I’m concentrating real hard on this problem trying to figure height or something. Then I hear this.

    “Hey you.”

    I jerked up in my chair, looking around for the guy doing the talking. I glanced at the kids on either side of me. Nothing. I look up at my teacher. He is glaring at me.

    “Great,” I whispered.

    You go from present to past to present to past just in this example, and switch several more times before the end of the scene. Either stay entirely in the present, which works because of the strong narration and the setup you used, or switch it entirely to past. I think I would prefer the first option, but it's up to you -- just stay consistent.

    For me, the second ghost was less successfully-structured. There are several components to this. The most critical is that the introduction of elements in her room is still too obviously an authorial device to introduce things. It isn't motivated strongly enough that I believe the character would say those things. Devices like this genuinely depend on execution. For example, if the ghost is talking, saying something that she doesn't want to hear, and she tries concentrating but that doesn't work to block him out, then maybe tries singing maybe that doesn't work to block him out, then she tries bargaining but that doesn't work, then finally she stands up and starts screaming that this is her space, these are her things, that's her desk, her bed, her things on the bookshelf and she doesn't want to share them -- it *MIGHT* work, but it would still be iffy given the kind of detail that you are trying to impart.

    And the key is that he would need to be saying something that would move the story forward each time, instead of just repeating her name. You had a great hint in the earlier scene that the ghost wants her to do something.

    Okay, that's critical. What is it that the ghosts want her to do for them? Presumably, they have been coming to her all along wanting something. Something that she either doesn't know how to give them, or doesn't want to give them. How long has she had this ability? Or was she always aware of ghosts and heard them muttering to themselves, but at least they hadn't seemed aware that she could hear them until after she touched some object at the museum?

    And if the ghost is in her room and she isn't listening to him, could he possibly interact with the Tut ticket in some way to show that he is a different kind of ghost than all the others? If she is shocked by that, wow would that jump start the story.

    Please bear in mind that I'm not giving you plot suggestions with the intent that you have to follow them! I'm giving them to you more to suggest areas where the motivation and the plot have to work more cohesively to move us forward in a way that maintains suspension of disbelief.

    You've got the voice and the story--it's just tweaking here and there. :)

    Looking forward to reading more!



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  5. This is a much tighter version and the main character's voice is coming through more strongly. I love it!

    I was all ready to give you some great advice when I read the comments and suggestions you already received and realized that what I wanted to say has already been said. In fact, I love Cecilia's suggestion for how to move into Rose's thoughts on her books and how important they are to her. That's the only part of the story that felt a bit off to me, but I think her suggestion covers it really well.

    And Martina also already mentioned the change in tenses that occasionally occurs.

    I really enjoyed the story!

  6. I like how this revision is going. You cut back all of the telling and then show us the protagonist talking with the dead.

    The only problem I had though is I didn't know who the ghost was. Was it just a random ghost that happens to show up in his class? Also if the protagonist knows about speaking with the dead, wouldn't Rose know better to argue outloud with the spirit?

    I think I wanted to know a little more about her other than she speaks to the dead. I don't think you need much to do that.

    I really liked and agreed with the other feedback here.

    So far looking good! This version is tighter too.

  7. Loved it! I really like Rose's irritation with the talkative ghost who is screwing up her test-taking and how resigned she is to getting in trouble. At first I thought she was a bit hard-hearted but she really has heard it all. For that reason, I think the ghost who starts talking to her in her room should say or do something different, as the other readers have suggested. Maybe he doesn't talk to her at all? Maybe she knows he's there by the things he does, but because he's not talking, she starts to freak out? And starts talking too much to fill the very weird silence? That would give her some motivation to describe her room. Maybe she's not even sure he can SEE where he is. She could sort of do charades with her stuff to try to get him to respond.

    What do you think?




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