Monday, August 13, 2012

8 1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Panteleakos Rev 1

Nicole Panteleakos
Middle Grade

Every time I’ve introduced myself to anyone, I’ve lied.

“Hi, my name is Anabel.” Lie.

“I’m twelve years old.” Lie.

“I just moved here from the West Coast.” Lie.

“My birthday is in March, my dad lives in Europe, and my mom’s name is Margo.”

All lies. A whole lifetime of lies.

The truth is I don’t know my real name. I’m not sure exactly how old I am, and I’m not from the West Coast. At least, I don’t think I am. My birthday changes with the seasons, I have no idea who my father is or where he lives, or if he’s even alive, and my Mom’s had so many different identities I couldn’t even begin to list them all.

Mom says it’s better this way. Safer. “Better safe than sorry,” she always says. But she won’t tell me why.

Sometimes at night when I can’t sleep, I stare at the ceiling and try to think back to when I was really little, my earliest memories. I’m like a detective looking for clues, but all I have to go on are flashes of recollection so short it’s like I’m clicking through channels and only stopping on each show long enough to hear a line or two. Not enough dialogue to actually tell me anything.

Last year in fifth grade health Mrs. Jimenez began a lesson on self-discovery. She said, “Girls, you’re pre-teens now, and it’s time you learn the truth: The next ten years will not be easy. Life will be full of ups and downs. You’ll be growing up and figuring out who you really are. It’s a very important time in the life of a young woman.”

I started to cry, which was not unusual for me, but it was beyond embarrassing, and of course Mrs. Jimenez noticed right away. Her eyes met mine and she opened her mouth, but what she planned to say I never did find out, because at that moment Sofia Mejia raised her hand and, without waiting to be called on, asked, “Are we gonna learn about sex now?”

That distracted everyone, including Mrs. Jimenez who got very red-faced, and by the time the lunch bell rang I’d managed to pull myself together.

That was a Friday. Two nights later I was sound asleep, dreaming about a big city building with lots of stairs, when Mom shook me awake.

“Audrey, the Bad Men are coming!” she said. “I packed up everything.

Get dressed. We don’t have much time.”

A week later, Mrs. Jimenez was over a thousand miles away.

And my name wasn’t Audrey anymore.


It happens as I’m exiting the bathroom.

One second, I’m upright and walking fine; the next, I’m on my hands and knees on the floor. I don’t hear my jeans rip, but I sure feel it.

I can’t believe I tripped over my own shoelaces like some clumsy first grader. I move into a sitting position and bend my right knee so I can re-tie my laces. Then I take a second to glare at my scabbed-up kneecap, poking through the large hole.

“You couldn’t have survived just a few more hours?” I whisper to my Salvation Army jeans because I know that they did this on purpose, just to embarrass me.

“What’s the matter, Anabel?” someone asks. I don’t have to look up to know that it’s Her Majesty, Lola Jean Wright, Queen of Sixth Grade. Of course she would be the one to stumble upon me, kneeling in the hall, jeans all torn up, tears in my eyes.

“Nothing,” I say, but she kneels down beside me and pats my shoulder like we’re friends.

“Aww, you poor thing! Just look at your pants. Don’t worry, it’s not like anybody will really notice. It’s the last day of school, and besides, no one cares what you look like! So don’t cry. There now. Feel better?”

I just stare at her. I never know what to say to Lola Jean. Lola Jean, with her expensive skinny jeans and perfectly-fitted tee-shirt. Lola Jean, with her curly hair pulled into the world’s neatest ponytail. Lola Jean, with teeth that would make Miss America jealous. How do I talk to someone like that?

“Hello, Anabel? Are you awake?” she knocks on my exposed kneecap and giggles.

I open my mouth to say something, anything, but nothing comes out.

Her Majesty stands up and nudges me with the toe of her white and silver flat. “Come on, up we go. You’re fine. It’s not a big deal, Anabel. No one looks at you.”

She makes me want to scream.

“Go away, Lola Jean,” I say finally, but of course she just stands there giving me this pitying look. Maybe if I close my eyes, she’ll disappear.

“Tell you what? Consuela, my maid, said the other day that she needs to get rid of some of her daughters’ old clothes that don’t fit anymore. She could bring them to a thrift store, but why don’t I just have her drop them off at your house? That’ll save you and your mom a trip! Plus, then you guys don’t have to use all your welfare money to buy clothes. What do you say?”

“We’re not on welfare,” I say, but Lola Jean just laughs.

“Of course you’re not.” She winks at me like we’ve got a secret. For one wild moment I really want to bite her leg. I’m still crouched down; I could do it.

“We don’t need your maid’s old clothes,” I insist. “We’re fine.” With that, I do what I always do: stand up, turn around, and walk away.

“Let me know if you change your mind!” she calls after me. I bite my lip to keep from crying. If she hears me crying she will never let me forget it, the way she hasn’t let me forget the day I got a bloody nose in gym because I tripped over my own feet and fell flat on my face during a game of basketball. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay after school with me one day?” she asks all the time. “I can teach you to dribble so you won’t embarrass yourself again!”

Lucky for me, when I round the corner I almost walk right into the only person in sixth grade who thinks I’m fine just the way I am: Mei-Zhen Wu.

“Hey Anabel! What’s wrong?” M.Z. asks.

“The usual. My jeans ripped, then Lola Jean busted on me, but in that way she does where it sounds like she’s Mother Theresa if you tell a teacher about it, you know?”

“Who’s Mother Theresa?”

“This nun who worked with lepers in India,” I explain.

“Oh. Well hey, maybe Lola Jean will work with lepers someday and end up losing her nose. Does it make me a bad person to say I’d laugh at her?"

“Yeah, kinda,” I say, smiling at her, but I know M.Z.’s just kidding… mostly.


  1. Nicole,
    I didn't really notice a whole lot of change in this revision, but I think you're doing a great job. I think people touched on this in the last round of revisions, but have you considered starting chapter one in a different place? It might not necessarily be better, but it might be worth a try. Excellent job!

  2. Like Candyce, I didn't notice where it changed (I didn't compare the two side-by-side, but am basing this off memory) - but it's still great!

  3. I took out the two lines people didn't seem to like ('how can I... When I don't know my own name?' and 'we call it sideways, the way Lola Jean talks...') and added a 'she' to show MZ's gender, but aside from that I didn't know what to change. I know I'm biased, but I like it the way it is! Lol. Thanks, and I'll give more thought to starting chapter one somewhere else.

  4. I like this more after another read. I just wonder if the theme is heavy for MG. But perhaps that just reflects the MG I have read (none recently)

  5. As before, this just works and rolls from the get-go. But I think I've identified my problem with "Bad Men" -- which was still a problem for me on this read. It comes off as too babyish for the MC. I know that's what her mother has always called them, and that's was probably fine when your MC was younger. But after the prologue that you gave us, which is pretty sophisticated, the term "Bad Men" devolves the credibility. I adore the premise that she thinks she's in Witness Protection and eventually finds out that she isn't, and I wonder if you couldn't work solve this all by exploring how she has evolved with this over time a bit. Consider telling us outright that she's in Witness Protection and that the criminals her mother testified against are still after them. When pressed as Anabel grows older, what does her mother say? What might she say? Could Anabel make it a joke? Mom used to call them the "Bad Guys" when I was little, but she gets hives and hyperventilates whenever I even ask her about them. These days, I call them ... Or something along those lines. I still feel that this approach smacks too much of authorial withholding because it's not in character for the Anabel we meet in your prologue.

    Whichever way you go, it's a great piece of work.


    1. While I think I can see your point, I'm still a bit confused. I'm just not sure why it's inconceivable that the mom would wake her ten year old and say "the bad men are coming." This moment happens in a flashback to when she was almost 2 years younger, so I guess that why I don't see the trouble with it not fitting into her current state. Ten is still pretty young, and much of the premise is centered around the fact that she just turned twelve and isn't willing to blindly follow her mother anymore, so I guess I'm confused as to why I should show her questioning things before the inciting incident that occurs a few pages later (which is when she really begins to question things).

      Also I wonder how I could work in more information early on when I've established that her mom won't tell her anything about it. Basically, I've done what you suggested regarding conversations with Anabel and her mother (there are flashbacks throughout the book to moments when she either asked for or tried to find out more information) but because it's a mystery so I'd hate to give away so much early on.

      Does knowing that those things happen between chapters 2-5 help, or does it seem necessary to give more away in the prologue? I can make the prologue longer I suppose to fit in more info, like I said, I'm just afraid to take away some of the mystery.

      Thanks!!! This has given me a lot to think about.


    2. Sorry, I don't mean to seem like I'm arguing with the feedback, I just don't really understand what to do with it.

    3. Hi Nicole,

      Even if you weren't trying to understand, which you clearly are, I want to point out that it is okay to explain or even argue a little. It gives us information that we don't have, and that helps us help each other.

      That said, I can only respond by saying that Bad Men pulled me out of the story both times. Leah brought up suspension of disbelief on another entry, and essentially, that's what this comes down to for me. Your writing and voice are so excellent up until I hit the Bad Men that I'm sucked in and right there with you. But then that term just throws me. Maybe it's as simple as not having the mother say it. Just saying, Audrey, we have to go" would be enough to give us context.

      On the other hand, if no one else reacts to the term and you feel strongly about keeping it, mine is one opinion. Everything is subjective, and your audience is really MG kids. Can you find a group of them to read this and give you an opinion on the term? See how they react? Watch their faces when they get to that point and then ask them point blank about the Bad Guys and see what they say.

      As far as the Witness Protection information goes, if you can't find a way to slot it in naturally in the prologue in no more than a sentence, then leave it out. You don't even necessarily have to call it Witness Protection at first, just hint that her mom saw someone do something illegal or bad or whatever word you want to use.

      This is complete nitpicking. Honestly. In a lesser manuscript, I probably wouldn't have noticed it at all. This one flows so beautifully up until that point, that that term just stands out.

      Hope this helps and sorry to confuse you,



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