Monday, November 14, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Entry #4 - Rev 1

The Pirates of Time and the Navigator's Watch
Beth MacKinney
Genre: Sci-fi Middle Grade

Chapter 1

Dear new Everly baby-on-the-way,
Hi there. I’m Ben, your dad. I won’t be there when you’re born in eight months, because I’m headed for a tour of duty in Iraq as a field medic for the army. I will do everything I can to come back to you soon. You can count on it.

Honestly, it was the hat’s fault.

In middle school, the eighth graders are at the top of the food chain. Seventh graders are at the bottom. New kids start at the bottom, but can work their way up by being stooges to eighth graders or by being exceptionally cool in some desirable way. As a seventh grade guy who wanted to live to make it to eighth grade, I tried to avoid the food chain altogether by being invisible, flying under the radar.

Buzz Murphy, the new kid, didn’t start at the bottom of anything. Buzz had dazzled Kenmore Junior High by being a year ahead in school and good at every sport known to man. I didn’t really care, though, until I looked up from my lunch in the school cafeteria on a gloomy Thursday and realized I was sitting at an empty table. My best friend Spencer, another invisible, had deserted me to hover at the edge of Buzz’s crowd a couple of tables away. My eyes narrowed. Buzz was wearing a faded, green, standard issue army hat pulled down over short, brown hair.

I hated that hat.

Like a moth to the flame, I walked over to the table of admirers, arriving just in time to hear the end of Buzz’s favorite spiel , “—and someday I’ll be flying a helicopters for the army.”

Yada, yada, yada. Like we cared.

Ronald Rosenstein’s eyes bugged out behind his glasses. “Wow! That would be so cool.”

I wanted to shake every one of them, but I poked Spencer in the ribs with my elbow “Buzz is just a normal kid like us except with a bigger mouth.” Couldn’t he see that?

Silence fell over the room, and Buzz’s face flushed red.

“What did you say?”

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

Buzz rose on the opposite side of the lunch table, towering a good three inches below me. Every kid in a ten foot radius took a step back. Not me, of course. I was staring at the army hat. I almost felt brave.

Buzz’s voice was low and dangerous. “I repeat. What. Did. You. Say.” It wasn’t really a question.

I leaned forward. “I repeat. I. Wasn’t. Talking—”

Launching over the table end, Buzz slammed into me with a force that pitched me backwards into Nelson Ribicki and his lunch tray of spaghetti. My head grazed a table leg as we went down under a cafeteria table, sliding through pasta and sauce. Kids scrambled out of the way. Boys yelled and girls shrieked. Someone shouted, “Food fight!”

As we rolled back and forth, and Buzz’s hat fell off. A large red glob of spaghetti sauce dribbled off the edge of the table and landed in its place, and my brain cleared a little.

“Here comes Mrs. Temple!”

I pushed Buzz away and scrambled to my feet, pulling spaghetti off my shirt. Atilla the Hun had nothing on Mrs. Temple, the lunchroom mom. I wasn’t totally terrified, though. I had witnesses who could verify that I hadn’t done anything but talk.

As I scraped pasta strands off my shirt, someone yelled, “Duck!”

Instead, I looked up. Just in time to catch Buzz’s fist with my left eye.

Mrs. Temple steamrolled through the crowd, parting them like the Red Sea. She pulled Buzz backwards by the scruff of the neck. “Buzz Murphy! Principle’s office. Now!”

Buzz squirmed, slippery with sauce, but there was no escape from Mrs. Temple’s iron grip. “And you, Mr. Everly, will also report to the principle’s office after you see the school nurse.”

I could just make out Buzz’s smirk through my swelling eye.

Fifteen minutes later, I tried to look small and helpless next to Buzz on the ugly orange plastic chairs just outside the principle’s office. The hurt part was easy. I pressed an ice pack on my bruised eye. I didn’t normally get into fights, so I had that going for me. Still, Buzz’s small size made me look the bad guy. What a laugh.

We sat there in stony silence, listening to the unhappy rumble of voices from the inner office.

“Well?” Buzz whispered finally.

“Well what?”

“You have time to apologize before we go in there.”

My jaw dropped. “Me?” I squeaked. “You’re the one who should apologize. Look at my eye!” I pulled the ice pack away.

Buzz examined the eye. “You should stay out of fights. You’re not any good at ducking.”

“Maybe you should shut up once in awhile. Helicopter pilot? Yeah, right.”

“Like you know anything.”

“No one with a brain is going to let you anywhere near a helicopter.”

A hot flush of anger crept into Buzz’s face again. “You obviously don’t know anything about the army.”

“My dad was in the army. I know plenty.”

“My dad is in the army. Bet you wouldn’t have the guts to join up.”

We were on our feet by now, and the receptionist was rounding her desk on an intercept course. Anger exploded in me like popcorn. “You’d crash and burn.”

Mr. Kalinowski opened the door to his office, and I turned to look. “Jackson Everly and—”

“Duck!” cried the receptionist.

I looked back, just in time to catch Buzz Murphy’s fist with my right eye.

Chapter 2

When they told me where I was going, I wasn’t sure how to break the news to your mom. Sometimes I feel like I need more courage to face her than enemy insurgents. Let’s keep that between the two of us, okay?

My mom shook her head as we walked into the small boutique she ran on First Street in the business district. “I can’t believe you got two black eyes in a fight, Jackson.”

Ophelia, Mom’s clerk, peered at me around a customer while Mom guided me quickly to a stool behind the counter.

“It wasn’t one fight, Mom. It was two. I got the first black eye in the lunchroom. The second one was in the principle’s office.”

“How efficient,” Ophelia said sweetly over her shoulder. “It saved you having to be sent there twice.”

I removed the ice packs to glare at her. Ophelia’s perfect combination of wavy blond hair, blue eyes, and long dark lashes might make Spencer putty in her hands, but not me. I was a man who knew too much. She went back to helping her customer, so I replaced the ice packs. I could be mad at her whether I saw her or not.

Mom squeezed past me with a box of lingerie. “If you’re going to fight, you should learn to duck.”

I tried to speak clearly through the ice packs. “I didn’t actually get to fight. I just stood there talking until I got hit.”

“What did you say?”


“To make the other kid angry, I mean.”


  1. I'm not sure that opening with letters from the Dad work for me... but then, I was the lone dissenting voice who liked your previous war-violent opening, so I could just miss that. :)

    I'm still not fond of you keeping us in the dark re: Buzz's gender, either. It feels like a gimmick, and I'm afraid as a reader I'd feel tricked when the reveal happens. Mrs. Temple would refer to Buzz as "Buzz Murphy" but to the narrator as "Mr. Everly?" Wouldn't she say "Miss Murphy?" Your narrator notices Ophelia's wavy blond hair and blue eyes (even if it has no effect on him, as he is "a man who knew too much") but he won't even notice Buzz's deliberate choice to be a tomboy or describe anything other than the cap? It just reads forced to me, and I don't see how keeping her gender hidden contributes to the story.

    Even if you could just put in a little something that suggests it -- like Mrs. Temple saying he should be ashamed for picking a fight with Buzz (the prevailing belief being you shouldn't fight with girls) or something else that, when the reveal happens, the reader can say "ohhhh, now that makes sense." Again, just my opinion, but it really bugs me.

    Your descriptions and action scene (the food fight) are wonderful: I can picture it clearly in my head. Also loved the two black eyes and the banter ("What did you say?" "Ouch.") This is a lot of fun, and I'm still curious to see how the watch fits in. You've got a nice writing style.

  2. Hi Beth,

    I'm glad we got to see more of the story in this version. And I like your letters from Dad openings. I like that you keep them short and that they give just a hint of Jackson't backstory.

    I can't make up my mind about concealing Buzz's sex, though. I totally agree with Cathy's points and wonder if your payoff will be worth the risk of possibly alienating your reader. I guess I'm holding my opinion mostly because I don't know how and when you're revealing it and for what purpose you're holding it secret. So, I guess, it's all in the way it's handled to me. However, if you decide to keep her sex a secret, I definitely recommend you throw in a couple of hints like Cathy suggests.

    Otherwise, I think these scenes read very fresh and lively. You let your action and dialogue drive your story and your descriptions are great.

    One other thing I like about your new letters from Dad beginning is that it gives us a hint as to why Jackson hates Buzz's hat.

    I'm intrigued with the setup between Jackson and Buzz, with both of their fathers in the army, and I'm assuming Jackson's is dead or missing in time? Anyway, I'm curious and want to see more!

    Good job!

  3. For some reason, I really enjoy this revision. I like how getting rid of the prologue (even though I did like it) enables us to see more of the actual story here. The visit to the principal's office and the whole thing with the two black eyes was really funny, very MG, and works well. Even though I'm about ten years too old for MG, I still really enjoyed reading this sample.

    Tiny nitpick: 'by being exceptionally cool in some desirable way.' Doesn't being exceptionally cool imply that it's in a desirable way? Is it possible to be cool in an undesirable way?

    I'm also a little bit more okay with not telling Buzz's gender in this version, but it's still a little annoying to me. Your narrator is giving us so many details about everything, yet he doesn't even mention something like, 'Despite being a girl, Buzz was the most popular kid around' or something like that. Anyways, if you are bound and determined to keep Buzz's gender hidden, then this version is definitely better than the last one, but I can't think of a way to make this better. I'm not used to this kind of thing, sorry.

    I do really like the diary idea, though. I think it gets across the idea that your old prologue did without the violence, which is great.

    On the other hand, I don't understand why it's the hat's fault. What's special about it? Does it have something to do with the MC's dad? It would be great if you could give us a slight indicator of this in the chapter.

    One last thing; I love your dialogue. It's really funny and feels authentic, not dumbed-down, but realistic for kids. I think you have the dialogue and voice of this piece pretty much down.

    Great job on this revision!

  4. Thanks, everyone, for your comments so far. To be honest, I didn't like this one all that well. Originally I didn't have the letters begin until the second chapter, but I thought I'd try it out to give the reader more of a sense where I was going.

    I'll probably give the next revision a go at revealing Buzz's gender and see how it works. Originally it added humor to a scene further down the line when Jackson's Grandpa doesn't realize immediately that Buzz is a girl, but isn't crucial to anything in the plot. It's more of a burr under the saddle for Jackson, and his primary concern is Buzz's link to the army and his own family.

    Thanks again for the comments. They're so helpful!

  5. Max Brunner said:

    I love that you start with action so early on. Writing those kinds of scenes is a talent and you've got it!

  6. I'm gradually catching up (and it'll be interesting to see where you went next with this). With this version, I miss the prologue! And I normally hate prologues. I think I find it more difficult to see how the letters-from-Iraq fit in - the prologue made me curious as to what the connection might be but the letters just leave me a bit puzzled. Though I could feel completely differently if I were reading this for the first time.

    The school scenes feel much stronger, though. The humour feels more natural and I love the interplay between Jackson and Ophelia - that felt very natural. I think it would be interesting to see how the first chapter feels with Buzz's gender being revealed sooner.

  7. I wish there was an 'edit' button! I just wanted to add that the exchange between Jackson and his mother was particularly delightful. Somehow, Jackson as a character feels more 'present' in this chapter - I wish you'd included more of it.


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