Saturday, May 14, 2011

6 1st Five Pages Workshop - May Rev 1: Entry #5

Middle Grade - Carrie Spencer - Captain Fanny Pack


“It's time."

"It's only 3:30, Grandpa." I slid the black pawn into position and leaned back to observe my work. Finally. A few more moves and this time the win would be mine. All mine. Mwahahaha. I waited (somewhat) patiently--sometimes Grandpa forgot he was supposed to be playing chess and fell asleep. I looked up, but his eyes were far away, an even more faded blue than my favorite jeans. The sunlight beamed in through the window and glared on his bald spot. "Grandpa? Do you want me to call the nurse?"

“Eh? What?” He jerked back to the present and scowled at the board.

I rubbed my palms together in glee. All those months of chess club had finally paid off. Now he would succumb to my brilliance. Now he would sink into the black abyss of failure. Now he would . . . move his knight across from mine, totally blocking my capture of his queen. Then he gave a little chuckle. I always lost when he gave that chuckle. The Chuckle of Doom.

"Pay attention, boy." He always called me boy, even though I was darn near thirteen. Grandpa wiggled a finger in his ear, causing the furry gray tufts of what hair he had left to stick out like a horned owl’s.
"I'm trying to tell you, it's time."

"And I'm telling you it's only 3:30. Mom said I don't have to be home until four." Sometimes having a grandpa in the nursing home meant repeating yourself. Over and over and over. On the other hand, he was pretty cool for an old dude. Mom said we looked a lot alike with red hair, blue eyes and freckles, but his had faded over time. She said we acted a lot alike too, but I don’t think it was a compliment.

My hand hovered over my knight. The perfect move? Or the Kiss of Death?

Tough call.

Grandpa coughed – Dad said it was years of cigar smoking – making him sound like our neighbor’s cat hacking up a hairball. He shuffled over to the closet and rummaged around. "It's time I passed along to you my greatest treasure."

Treasure? My ears tuned in like a satellite dish. Since they stuck out from the side of my head like an orangutan’s, it wasn’t that big of a stretch. "Cool, Grandpa. Is it a watch? A medal from the war?" When I was a kid, Grandpa’d let me wear his medals and we’d pretend we were fighting epic battles. Now, he kept them in a frame on the wall in his room.

Instead, something heavy flopped into my lap, jerking me upright. Soft black leather, a long strap that dangled down to my feet. It clanked, heavy metal sounds like that time I dropped my dad’s tool box.

I slid back from the chess table, and looked over my shoulder at Grandpa. He seemed smaller than usual, maybe a bit more wrinkly. "What's this?" Some kind of purse? Grandpa was a cross-dresser?

"It's a fanny pack."

"A fanny pack."

"What are you, a parrot? Put it on, put it on."

I stood and half-heartedly strapped it on. I was already called Dwayne the Dweeb. If one of the kids in my class saw me, this would seal my dweeb status for all eternity. The strap was too long, but with a grunt and tug, Grandpa shortened up the belt, leaving several feet of black webbing dangling by the side of my hip. Even I, secure in my world of graphing calculators and electronic gadgetry, would never wear a fanny pack.

"Perfect fit." Grandpa's voice was extra croaky today, rattling around the words like a marble in a washing machine. He settled back in his chair, seemingly satisfied at having made me an even bigger dork than I was that morning.

“What’s in here, Grandpa? Bricks?” I wiggled back and forth, listening to the clinking of heavy metals. It weighed more than a weeks worth of homework. I tugged at the zipper to see what was inside, and received a sharp zzzzap for my efforts. I jerked my hand back and jammed tingling fingers in my mouth. A fanny pack wired for electronic shock?

“Eh, maybe it’s not quite time yet.” Grandpa reached over to undo the clasp – thank you baby Jesus – but jerked his hand back when a small blue arc reached out and got him. I could hear the sizzle of fingerprints being burnt off. “Or maybe it is,” he mumbled around his fingers.

I held my arms out to my sides, not sure I wanted a repeat lesson in Electric Shock 101. “How do we get it off?”

“Looks like you’re stuck in it for awhile laddie, until it decides to let you in.”

Crazy talk. Grandpa’s meds must be off again. Fanny packs don’t decide when to let you open them. Gritting my teeth I took another yank at the zipper.


Yow! The fanny pack must be cursed. And I, Dwayne the Dweeb, already being of major Dweeb status was stuck wearing it. I snorted. As soon as I was out the door, I'd find some way to get it off and toss it in a closet at home. "Umm, Grandpa?" He stared at the chess board, obviously blown away by my latest maneuver. The fanny pack was forgotten. I rubbed my hands together again. I waited as he contemplated his next move.

And contemplated more. Coming from a long line of geniuses, I’d learned long ago they required more time for contemplating. And quiet. After a few more moments of further contemplating however, I heard a snore.

Game time was over.

Grandpa was down for the count with his afternoon nap and I was wearing a fanny pack.

Well, this sucked.

I left Grandpa sleeping in his chair and tiptoed out of his room.
Truthfully, most of our chess matches ended up just this way. Except when he won. And then the old man giggled up a storm and did a butt wiggle in some kind of senior citizen victory dance. Whatever.

The door closed quietly behind me, and I took one small step in the hallway, my hand already on the strap of the pack. I checked the hallway to see if anyone was looking. The coast was clear. It was coming off.

Right. Now. There was no way José I was walking past the nurse’s station with this thing swinging from my waist.

Keeping my hands away from the zipper, I tugged and pulled, spun it around and tugged again. Nothing. I jumped, pushing down on the webbing when I jumped up. Nada. Maybe I could slip it down over my hips. I gave a little butt wiggle. Zero. I was starting to break a sweat. Trapped in a fanny pack. With that thought, I wiggled even harder, failing to notice anyone approaching until suddenly two feet in squeaky white shoes stopped in front of me. Nurse McMurphy. The most hated nurse in Shady Acres. She looked like a bulldog with liver spots.

I quickly spun the pack to the back. Maybe she wouldn’t notice.


Great. She'd noticed.

"No, no problem."

"Did you need help unfastening that?"

She pointed a finger at my nobbly bits. At least that's where it felt she was pointing. I'm pretty sure she was really gesturing to the fanny pack. Besides, the thought of her, fiddling right there? So not gonna happen.


  1. *snort* "nobbly bits" *dies* You really cracked me up here! I don't know how 12 year old boys will relate to that, but for me it was hysterical.

    Sorry. I digress. This was still great. Still funny and quirky and wonderful. Still LOVE Grandpa. I can really only find a couple of things and they are minor. 1. You start with dialogue, which some say is a no-no. Not sure if I agree, but I can tell you that the line sitting there at the top is ambiguous and MAY throw people off. Totally up to you, but I thought I'd point that out. 2. Certain words - particularly "darn near" sound cute, but again don't think I'd hear my son say something like that. :D The parenthesis toward the top was a little distracting and I don't think it's necessary. And as much as I love a good evil villain laugh, I don't think the Mwahahaha there is necessary either.

    Yup. That's literally all I've got for you. Fun story!

  2. Lisa hit on most of the things that gave me pause as well.

    I still think he sounds younger than thirteen and I think the phrase "darn near thirteen" is one of the reasons. I reads more like eleven to me.

    You might let the reader know how long it will take Dwayne to get home and how he's getting there. He doesn't have to be home until 4:00 and it's 3:30--if he has to walk across town or ride his bike a while, that seems like a reasonable start (this coming from a chronically late person).

    Okay, that's all I got. Great job, Carrie. Still loving it.

  3. Nobbly bits is hilarious.

    The only thing that tripped me up is that you say, "Dad said," soon after "Mom said." Maybe reword the clause about cigar smoking to be something like: years of cigar smoking will do that.

    But that's the only thing I can come up with. I love this and so want to keep reading.

  4. Soooooo cute! I love that you added in the knight blocking the queen. :-) I would live to read more and know more about this fanny pack.

  5. Hi Carrie,

    So sorry it's taken me so long this week. It's been hectic chez moi.

    I still love this story, and I adore your characters. You've made some good changes, but I think we may have steered you a little bit wrong with some of the voice changes. I have to say that I strongly prefered the other phrasing--it gave him more character and made it clear he hung out with geniuses and adults. Now he sounds like a 14 year old girl. I miss the "criminy" and "bogus" -- and I think you can make words like this really work by having Grandpa say one or two of the same words somewhere.

    I love the Mwahaha, but think it may work better when he's really ranting just before Grandpa moves.

    But those are all minor, tweaky things. My primary suggestion for this week is to read this aloud several times. Listen for the voice and the smoothness, areas where you can use some bridges and transitions, for example where you took out the Dwayne the Dweek reference and moved it down, the wiggling the finger in the ear now doesn't have the same rhythm. I think that could either be the start of a new paragraph and create the action beat to go with Grandpa's next dialogue.

    Also listen hard for the places where information and backstory interrupt the flow. The area with the red hair, for example. You've snuck in your description beautifully, but look to see what is necessary here, versus somewhere a little bit later. You've got such a great voice and such a great premise, I'd love to see you get even more action into this first few pages. But again, for me, it all comes down to flow. Your last version flowed really well. This one is a little bit less successful for me, but I suspect it just hasn't been reworked as much. Just give it a few passes aloud and I think you'll see what I mean.



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