Monday, March 12, 2012

9 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Wedgbrow

Everyone in fifth period lunch is on their feet, and they’re all more or less looking at me—the girl with milk dripping from her frizzy hair. At the other end of the lunchroom is Samantha Gross, smiling sweetly like I shouldn’t be bothered about it. But she’s never had a milk carton explode over her head. Just a guess.

“It was an accident,” she shouts from across the room. Everyone is silent, waiting for my answer. I think I heard a “Sorry” after that, but it could have been my imagination.

An accident? I guess that’s probable. My lunch table is about eight steps away from the trash cans lining the wall, and there’s this huge pillar that I lean against for camouflage. The same pillar that Samantha's milk carton smashed into.

It’s a semi-long history, Samantha Gross and I, which involves middle school marching band, but specifically me tripping into her and the entire brass section tumbling like dominoes. I’ve been paying for my “accident” ever since, but for one week in seventh grade, we were best friends. We had necklaces and everything until she flushed her half down the toilet.

We’re sophomores now so you think she’d have gotten revenge out of her system. And destroying her band solo is not the worst thing I’ve ever done, just like Samantha is always going to play second trumpet to the real enemy in my life. He who shall not be named.

The janitor follows me with a mop as I slog down the hallway to the main office. He’s catching up, so I walk quicker and listen to my jeans slap together at the ankles where most of the milk has ended up. Thank you, Gravity.

In the office, the home-perm queen of secretaries waddles over and tells me that I can wait for my mom to pick me up outside if I like.

Oh, I like.

Outside in the fresh air, I realize how bad I smell. This sucks. I decide I’m never going back to school again.

Too bad my dad doesn’t agree. He sends me back the next morning, and like Groundhog Day, I’m repeating fifth period lunch. Samantha Gross and her minions gather at their table across the cafeteria, waving their cartons at me, and I realize that my plan for surviving high school is to Dodge the Milk.

It’s times like this that I imagine what Mr. Miyagi would say to Daniel-san. Actually, he doesn’t say much at all in my imagination. It’s Bruce Lee who does all the talking. “Just be ready, not thinking but not dreaming…ready for whatever may come.”

Clutching the Chuck Norris lunch box my sister made for me, I scope out the cafeteria for a spot where “accidents” are least likely to happen. I pass through the lunch tables when I hear, “Hey Jack! Got Milk?” My first instinct is to ignore it, but the voice is familiar. I stop in front of William Blake’s table. The William Blake, who is not the poet, who I haven’t spoken to other than occasionally in English. Most of the time, I try not to interact with him. My strategy with boys has always been to ignore the ones that I really, really like.

Will is alone at the table and I wonder where all of his jock friends have gone. Even though Will was the new kid last year, it didn’t take long for him to become a celebrity around Ypsilanti—the “Brooklyn of Michigan.” He plays varsity for every sport offered, except for football. Great Lakes boys are big, but Will’s not so much. But even if his friends make me intensely aware that I’m athletically challenged, having some extra people around would take the focus off me.

What does Will want and why is he pointing to a seat across from him? Surely he knows that’s Milk Suicide.

Suspiciously, I sit. I slide my belongings onto the table. Will smiles, and it hits me that his neatly styled hair and sad blue eyes are only a fraction of his beauty. I have, of course, noticed his Hollywood good-looks before.

He comments on my lunchbox. “Chuck Norris? Really?”

I can’t believe he recognizes The Norris. I study his expression—slighty admiring, slightly amused—and mention, “My little sister made it for me.” I try to sound like it wasn’t my idea in case he thinks it’s lame, but I would have cut, pasted, and shellacked that sucker if my sister wasn’t superior at craft-making things.

Will’s eyes light up at the mention of my sister. My heart squeezes tight as I realize now why he wants to chat. Junewind is the hot freshman that every guy is lusting after this year. It’s only been a few weeks since school started, and I’m already used to the trying-to-be-casual questions. “June’s your sister? Oh. Well, tell her I said ‘Hi.’” “Do you think she likes me? Could you ask her?”

Junewind doesn’t like this any better than I do. Only this morning she was saying to me on the bus, “Why don’t they just ask me out themselves?”

Maybe she doesn’t know how intimidating hotness can be.

I love my sister, but I hate how she’s so much better equipped for social experiments than I am. Even though Junewind’s name is as crazy as mine—Jack Li Garcia—she embraces hers. “A name’s a name,” she says and shrugs. Not much fazes my little sister.

So, it seems that today Will and I are eating lunch in (what our biology teacher would call) a symbiotic relationship. Now that I’m welcome at his lunch table, I’ve got an extra set of eyes scanning for rogue milk cartons and he gets information about my little sister. Though, I can’t decide which is worse: getting doused with milk or having to listen to Will skirt around the subject of my sister.

“So…Jack.” Will’s voice is golden. It makes me feel warm inside, like I’ve just had a giant gulp of hot chocolate that’s still fairly close to scalding, and my taste buds kind of burn off. And then I think all day about how I’m not going to be able to taste anything until they regenerate. It’s that golden.

“What are you doing this weekend?” he asks.

My heart unsqueezes. “This weekend? Catching up on the Monty Python movies I missed last weekend.” I laugh to hide how nerdy I sound.

Will leans forward and lowers his voice. “You like Monty Python?”

I lean in too. “You’ve got no arms left!”

Will mocks seriousness, and an English accent. He says, “Yes I have. It’s only a flesh wound.”

My heart starts beating again. It’s official. I’ve just fallen in love with this guy. We laugh for the first time together—crucial in any relationship—and then notice a few football players grabbing chairs at the other end of the table. Will tenses up and changes the subject.

“The new Under 18 club opens this Friday. A bunch of us are going.” He gestures with his head, nodding towards his friends. “You in?”

I glance at the guys wolfing down their food, thankfully not paying me any attention to our conversation. I think for a moment. “Should I bring June?”

“Your sister?” he asks.

I nod, and say, “She is the reason you’re asking me, right?”

His eyes go all shifty-like, and he says, “Yeah, sure, bring anyone you want.”

Suddenly, I feel my chair being yanked back. I jump to my feet and spin around to face a burly junior, who looks confused, like he might not have actually seen me sitting there. Man, he’s gigantic. His eyebrows raise up when he’s realized this short, frizzy-haired girl ate all his porridge, broke his chair, and is now napping comfortably in his bed. Will looks horrified at his idiot friend, and says, “Rudy! Watch it!”

That’s funny. Rude-y. Because what else would you call him? I laugh to myself.

“What’s funny?” Rudy demands.

Immediately, I remember that it’s wrong to laugh at big people. I want to shrug like Junewind and say, “A name’s a name,” but I don’t think I can pull it off.


  1. I like the story. I like the voice and the fact that I'm not exactly sure where this is going. Does Will like Jack or June? Or neither.

    The beginning feels a little rushed though. The milk incident feels necessary to establish the characters place in school, but it seems rushed and possibly out of place. Especially because you quickly jump from Jack and Samantha to Jack and Will.

    A suggestion may be to have all this occur on one day with Jack thinking about what occurred the day before? Or maybe take it out and put it somewhere else.
    Can't wait to read more. Thanks.

  2. There's a lot of humor in this, and I love that! I kind of feel like the plot is a bit cookie-cutter though. Is there something that distinguishes this from other stories where the nerdy girl gets the guy? If so (and I have full confidence that there is) bring a hint of it up front so the reader can really get hooked.

  3. I like this beginning so much more. And your wicked sense of humor really came through. I love the voice of Jack (no problems telling it was a girl this time :-) ).

    I'm also glad you got rid of the bully scene - I think the milk scene is enough for us readers to become sympathetic to Jack. Who hasn't had milk or some other substance poured over their heads in high school?

    The transition to the next day is a bit awkward - maybe a bit more about how much she begged and pleaded to not have to go. Try it, see if you like it.

    Great job. Keep writing.

  4. Hi Sarah,

    I really do love your humor and the voice in this, and I feel like this beginning is much stronger without the boy bully. The embarassment of the milk situation is a strong opening image, too, but peeling back the extraneous layer of the other bullying has really revealed some of the problems for me.

    Before I get to those, I will say that I think voice sells a story like this, and you have that in spades. Your mc is unique and vivid, and I know that you have a great story sense from having read your comments last week on the other workshop entries. That said, I would like you to consider a couple of questions.

    1) Is this story and voice and character going to resonate with a lot of young adults, or is it more middle grade? What can you do to make it feel more distinctly like a high school setting? How can you elevate your mc's concerns so that they are distinct from those of a middle grader being bullied?

    2) What is unique about your bullying story? And if this isn't a bullying story, consider whether you are starting in the right place?

    3) Seriously consider whether Chuck Norris is a hero a lot of teens are going to appeal to, and whether a kid with a lunch box is going to grab their interest for the right reasons. What is it you are trying to show us about her character through this? Your Karate Kid, Bruce Lee references suggest that she is gravitating toward the idea of being able to defend herself against a bully through martial arts, but she doesn't act like she has taken any classes. Is she that physically afraid? Or are you just saying that she's a nerd? Because if you want her to come off a s a nerd, she's coming off as a bit of a middle-aged nerd, and I wonder if there aren't more current martial artists she could gravitate toward, or even is she might like some of the things in films like House of Flying Daggers or even Kill Bill. She's your character, of course, but be sure that you have good reasons for these choices and that there will be a payoff for them.

    4) Does this poor child not have a single friend before Will apart from her sister? Why do you have her sitting by herself as you open?

    5) And this is minor, of course, but the milk thing is completely unrealistic. Even a full cup of milk wouldn't necessarily pool in the pants and drip out like that (jeans are amazingly absorbent) unless it was all poured onto one leg -- so if it hits the column and splashes, the idea of her dripping down the hall and needing to go home because of it seems like too much. At the very least, it gives me an immediate sense of disbelief. Her running home and then coming straight back again makes me like her less as well. We have nothing to grasp onto outside of the bullying situation for a while.

    I think my problem with this story is that the unless there is something really unique that you are setting up -- and I still love the potential tension with her sister and Will -- then I suspect your great voice is masking some serious problems. If you are going somewhere different, get it in here quicker.

    Don't pull your punches here, Sarah. Bring it. You can clearly do that.

    Looking forward to seeing it!



  5. Man you are tough!! Seriously, thanks. Lots to think about. Obviously I see other people's stories much more clearly than my own. I've practically got JACK memorized, I've been over it so many times. I have considered starting the story in a later moment where Cliff and Jack have a bout of fisticuffs. It's just such a harsh moment that I worry without some "lighter" stuff first it will turn off a lot of readers.
    Guess I will have a go!

  6. Hi Sarah. I do love Jack's voice and love of The Norris and Monty Python. With her description of herself being self-deprecating, especially in comparison to Junewind, and her having barely spoken to hottie Will before, why would he ask her to sit down? If he is interested in her (which I hope he is), it's hard for the reader to believe it at this point. I love that their personalities click over the love of all things nerdy, but since they've never spoken before, why does he ask Jack to sit down, especially since he seems to put on a front for his boys who he must know are on their way to the table?

    I love the voice, and I would totally read more. I just want to believe in Will's interest, to believe that Jack maybe has been selling herself a little short. I am sure this probably comes up later, which is maybe why the Will situation seems rushed, but I am rooting for them! Can't wait to read more!

  7. The voice is still great, still amazing - and I like that you stuck with the Samantha Gross story for the opening scene. Now, it just feels a little stretched out time-wise. Like days have passed in just a few sentences. Is it possible to open with a scene and stick to it instead of bouncing from one day to the next? In this version, I'm still not sure if I feel bad for Jack.

    Small detail, but I'm really into the Chuck Norris. I know that he was a huge Internet craze a couple of years back, but even if his fad is over, it still adds so much quirkiness to the character. Some of that quirkiness and charm feels like it's missing here, and that's really what drew me into Jack even more than the bullying incidents. Have you thought about starting not with bullying-type conflicts but something that shows off her quirkiness, mayhaps?

  8. Jack Li's voice is great. Love the part she says Will's voice is golden the description after. It made me smile.

    There's the place where she is sitting across from Will:

    He says, “Yes I have. It’s only a flesh wound.”

    My heart starts beating again.- when did it stop beating? :)I reread and reread trying to find out why I felt abit too 'sad' and I realised she doesn't mention having friends. I saw Martina mentioned it in the comments. Maybe she can have one to boost her spirits up abit, one she hangs out with or works on projects together.

    Great job. look forward to read more.

  9. I love the voice in this, but two things still bother me.

    1) Like Martina, the milk puddling in her pants felt a little far-reaching. I can understand if it was dripping from her hair, but I can't see something that exploded over her head doing much more damage than a few splashes on her pants. I also don't think the milk would start smelling so quickly. I've had milk spilled on me, and it didn't smell for a few hours. (I was at work, so I couldn't change. Only reason I know.)

    2) Like Kheryn, the time jump between going home, not wanting to go back to school, being sent back to school, and getting to lunch all over again happened really fast. If the first scene is going to be so short and rushed along into the next day, is it actually that important for us to see? You could start somewhere here:

    "I decided I'd never going back to school again after the Milk Incident, but my dad didn't agree. So the next morning, like Groundhog Day, I’m repeating fifth period lunch. Samantha Gross and her minions gather at their table across the cafeteria, waving their cartons at me, and I realize that my plan for surviving high school is to Dodge the Milk.

    And for the record, I think the Chuck Norris thing is a good touch, as with the Karate Kid reference. It's not necessarily meant to be a pop culture reference that'll fade over time, I don't think, so I think you're safe.


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