Monday, April 9, 2012

10 1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Edwards

Author: Dana Edwards
Genre: MG, contemporary
Title: Harold - The Kid Who Ruined My Life and Saved the Day

Chapter 1 - A Cup of Lemonade

“Any kid would be lucky to have a friend like Harold,” is what my mom always said when I complained about something Harold had done. It didn’t matter if he beat me at NCAA12 for 46th time. Or killed me at Texas Hold’em for the 23rd time. No really. He kept track. Each time he beat me at anything, he’d write down the date, the game, and the score in a green composition notebook that he carried around.

But Harold’s favorite form of humiliation was telling anybody who’d listen about “the incident.” “Jake, remember the time,” he’d start and I’d know exactly how it would end, “when we were five and we were in my tree house and you peed your pants?” He’d conveniently leave out a few important details. Like the neighbor’s two very big and very hungry dogs had gotten loose and were barking below us and I spilled, in a very unfortunate location, the lemonade his mom had given us. IT WAS LEMONADE!

I’ve known Harold ever since I was four years old when we moved to Sherwood Oaks subdivision. We’ve attended the same school, kindergarten through fifth grade. At first, it wasn’t so bad. Harold was always available to play—which came in handy because most of Sherwood Oaks residents are the female-kind. He was pretty good at building things like model cars, airplanes, battle ships, and one very cool tree house. And if you ever needed the answer to some baseball trivia, Harold was your guy.

Harold collects little known baseball facts like the Smithsonian collects dead things—the more obscure the better. And thanks to Harold, whatever he knows, I know it too. When he learns a new fact, he can’t wait to tell me. He especially likes to tell me about errors that professional ballplayers would like to forget—but history books and the internet keeps immortal. I know its Harold’s way of trying to cheer me up, but after I’ve made a colossal error in one of my games, I don’t really appreciate hearing about Bill Buckner’s or Fred Snodgrass’s game-losing errors.

Harold keeps the baseball facts and stats he’s just learned in the same green composition notebook that contained his winning records. Each year before school starts, he adds one green composition notebook to his school supply list.

Harold is just, well… different. Mom calls him “special.” He’s special alright. Harold is smart—real smart. Like, he can do three-digit division in his head. He can solve any math word problem and tell you who won the World Series starting with the very first World Series in 1904. Or was it 1903? You can bet Harold knows.

But Harold has some “peculiarities.” He gets stuck on something and he can’t get unstuck. And this makes it hard for him to make and keep friends. Harold has something called Asperger’s.

For some reason, the older I get, the more annoying Harold becomes. And I just can’t convince Mom that Harold is bad for my social life.

But I’d finally found my answer—a way to put some distance between me and Harold—middle school. There, I’d finally get to live a life minus one Harold McGee.

Chapter 2 - A Can of Corn

Most kids in my fifth grade class were nervous about going to middle school. Not me. I was tired of the silly baby stuff and ready to be treated like a real human being. I was sure my odds were pretty good that Harold wouldn’t be in any of my classes because he was going the “accelerated track” and I was going the “regular track.” Accelerated classes meant you were pretty smart and regular meant, well, you were regular. Regular was fine by me, especially if it meant I’d get to meet new kids, without Harold ruining it for me. Maybe even become a part of the “Cool Kid Crowd” at Jackson Park Middle School.

I’d seen the cool kids. I’d played baseball against them. Some of them had gone to another elementary school in town and some were in the 7th grade. My plan was to stalk them at lunch, in the hallways, and during PE—and become one of them.

Our record this summer was 13 and 2. Not bad for the Peachtree Titans. My dad was our coach. At the beginning of every season, Dad liked to give his speech, “Boys, I love God, Family, Country and Winning. And in that order.” Sometimes winning moved up in the lineup—especially when we played the Southside Comets.

They were the reason we had a “2” in the L column. The Southside Comets were good. I hated them. And envied them. And wanted to be just like them.

The first loss to the Comets was earned. We stunk. Our best hitter, Matt Conners, was home sick with the flu. “So you’ve thrown up three times today. Drink some Gatorade and you’ll be fine!” I begged him. We were close, so very close, but as he was tying his cleats, he puked for the fourth time.

We lost that game 8 to 2. I played short and pitched one inning. As Dad liked to say, “that was one inning too many,” because four of the eight runs walked in. My usual fast pitch, change up, slider combination was a little off. Harold was in the stands that day and for one solid week he gave me the play by play from that game. My sister said, “You had more walks than the church carnival cake walk.” She’s a laugh a minute. Caitlyn’s going away to college soon. Not soon enough if you ask me.

But the second loss? We were robbed! It was the last game of the regular season to see which team would go on to represent Green County in the regionals. And it went something like this:

Bottom of the 6th.

Score tied 4 to 4.

Runner on third. (It’s not important now how the runner got on third.)

Two outs.

Full count on batter #7, Tommy Wilbanks, the Comets’ best hitter.

Stewart Jones, our best left-handed pitcher, throws a pitch that hits the inside corner for… STRIKE THREE. We head into extra innings.

Not really. That was how it was supposed to go down, but instead, #7 Tommy Wilbanks hits a real fence buster straight to right field. Jimmy Smith sees it coming, runs back—almost trips over his untied shoe laces—and snow cones it. The runner on third tags up and runs for home. Jimmy guns it to me at short. I throw it Billy Dugan, our catcher, who makes the tag just as the runner slides into home. He’s out, right? Right. Only we have the clumsiest umpire in the league. Mr.Willis trips over Billy’s catcher’s mask, misses the whole play, and calls the Comets’ runner safe. That call ends the ballgame. And the season. And our chance at regionals.

I’ve never cried over losing a game before, but I came pretty darn close with this one. I was the reason for the runner on third.

In the 5th inning, the Comets have a runner on first due to a free pass. It’s Stewart’s second walk of the game and I can tell Dad is thinking about taking him out. But next up is the Comet’s worse batter—the coach’s kid—#3 Darryl Parker. First pitch and he hits a pop up. A can of corn right in front of me. Only it goes a little farther than I think, hits my glove, and rolls six feet away. By now, Darryl Parker is rounding second base, because he doesn’t know any better to not run on a routine pop up. Cam Johnson, our second baseman, picks up the ball and throws to third. But Darryl Parker is safe at third and the luckiest player in the league.

One error. One lousy error and it cost us the game. Normally, Dad would have gone ballistic on an error like that, especially if it was me making the error. But he didn’t throw his hat, kick the dirt, or yell at me like he usually did; he just shook his head. And that was tons worse.


  1. I like the narrator/MC in this. He's got a good kid voice. I do feel like so far though it's kind of a lot of backstory and we haven't gotten to the meat of it yet. I wonder if some of the baseball stories could wait a little bit? I like it, and I suspect a lot of MG boys will too, but you set up the issue as starting middle school while trying to distance himself from his friend and then kind of fall into a whole chapter of baseball, which is clearly important to him. Either that or shorten up the backstory considerably and get back to the main story. That's my feeling anyway, others might disagree.

  2. I'm with Lisa on this one. I'll comment more fully later in the week, but as a baseball fan I loved the stories - I just think that they might be better a bit later on.

  3. Hi Dana,

    I'm a little funked because I don't quite know where this is going. And while there were moments where i loved the voice, there were moments in the first chapter where I felt like there was some authorial intrusion going on too. Could we possibly see a scene with Harold (You really are dooming this poor kid, aren't you?) and the MC? Could there be a new girl in the neighborhood or something, and Harold tells the pee story and that sets us up for what it's going to be like in middle school. Could Harold express enthusiasm for hanging out together, and the mc's mother tell him he has to be nice, so that he's really between a rock and a hard place?

    Building a scene or two in the first chapter might make us feel a little more of a connection between that and the second chapter. But I'd like a better sense of the significance of the baseball game or a link with Harold to keep us feeling like we're moving forward in the action. If you set up that beginning to show that Harold is going to torpedo his plans, then you reflect on the knowledge that he had plans for getting to know the popular kids (as you have already done) but that Harold is going to be a problem, could you maybe put the second game into real time and have some of the other team so he wants to impress them before Harold comes into the picture? Or whatever would make sense within the context of where you are going.

    Hope that makes sense. Of course, this is your story and you should tell it any way that speaks to you. I'm just not feeling that the first half (despite its charm and true dilemma) was as genuinely kidcentric as the beginning of the second chapter, and I don't understand how the baseball flashback connects to anything at all. If you can tie them up together, I think you'll have a great beginning.

    Looking forward to seeing where you go from here.



  4. Hello Dana,

    The voice works as a MG boy. I like the first paragraph and feel a little stronger hook could be made by placing the conflict in that paragraph or paragraph 2. We understand that Harold felt humiliated and we'd like to know what is he going to do about it, which you hint at in last paragraph, closer to the beginning. Suggest keeping paragraphs 8-10.

    Chapter 2: First 2 paragraphs introduce us to current setting and potential conflicts: Keep them. Paragraphs 3-7 are backstory, and although interesting, can be condensed to the most important items you want the readers to know right away. Weave in the rest of the info in other chapters.

    Readers are taken away from the "humiliation," or point of Ch. 1, 1st paragraph's intro by diverting into the baseball game. Paragraphs 8-10 which don't seem to connect to Ch. 1 story.

    See you next week. Mona

  5. Wow! That Harold a stinker! I have to admit I kept wondering what the actual story was. I think starting off by telling us so much about another character probably isn't a good place to start. I want to know more about MC. And I felt at time his voice was a little mature. "Forms of humiliation," seems old as some other words that I feel young people don't use. But, I do like the premise. I think if you can figure out in one sentence what your main character wants and then focus on that throughout, it will help. Right now, I'm confused as to where this is going. About the baseball, I just finished Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt and he uses baseball and stats throughout and it's a pretty incrediable book. If you haven't read it, I'd suggest it. Can't wait to see your revisions for this. Good luck. Shelley

  6. Great suggestions all! My head is spinning (and hurting just a bit). :)

    The relationship between Harold and the MC and baseball are all SO critical to the story. I've got to sort this out! Thanks!

    @ Anonymous - yes! I've read Okay for Now. It's excellent!

  7. This story sounds like one of those great MG books that I would have loved when I was that younger. The voice in the story is very strong and convincing. I can tell that there will be many twists and turns with the two boys. Also I love the baseball talk, it makes me feel like I'm there. The only question I have is where this is all leading to? Are there other problems besides with Harold? Those questions probably be answered later in the book, I'm just nosey. -DiNae' Billingsley

  8. As a former boy, current man and father of a boy, I absolutely loved the placement of the baseball story here. In fact it serves the Jake and Harold story line by keeping and building the tension. When an error occurs in the game, the readers thoughts inevitably turn to Harold. The end of the game leaves us with more info about Jake and still thinking of the dilemma Jake seems to THINK is all worked out... but we readers can sense that it's not going to be as simple as Jake thinks.

    When kind readers want all the beans spilled in the first 5 pages and lament about wanting to know where it's going. It means you've done a good job... so please finish this and let us read the rest. This story deserves to see light of day and ink of paper. (that second thing doesn't make sense but I needed something to balance light of day.)

  9. Thanks Di'Nae & Jay. My son doesn't care to read but he will read about baseball. That is why I have the game so early - to reel in readers like him.

    I have a revision ready that switches some things around. I will be anxious to see the feedback.

    Thanks for your time!

  10. Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to this one!

    I really like your voice; it definitely sounds like you have an MC I'd be interested in reading about. I'm still not sure about the placement of the baseball game but you and Jay make good points for it being where it is.

    Given the title suggests Harold ends up doing something right, maybe a little bit of foreshadowing of that in the first chapter would be good to give us some idea where this is going?

    Oh, one more thing. From my (very limited!) experience of kids with Asperger's, I'm struggling to believe Harold would say "peed your pants" if it was actually lemonade. "Wet your pants" would perhaps be better as it's true either way.


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