Monday, September 3, 2012

6 1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Carpinello

Author: Cheryl Carpinello
Genre: Middle Grade Adventure/Mystery
Title: Sons of the Sphinx

I sit here wondering how to tell this story. If I tell you the truth, you’re going to think I’m crazy. I don’t need any more thinking like that. I’ve been in trouble my whole life for telling people that I talk to dead people. At least I don’t go around saying “I see dead people” like that boy in that stupid movie. I just hear their voices. I get in trouble because I talk out loud to them. Boy, you should try that. Talk about people looking at you like you’re a freak. That will do it.

I can’t even pick who I talk to. Nope, they just pick me.

It would be nice to say that my great, great, great grandmother talked to dead people, and I inherited her gift. But I can’t say that. Nope. As far as I know, I’m the only one in my family with this curse. No, it’s not a gift. It is definitely a curse.

It would be one thing if I talked to famous dead people. You know like that Elvis guy my mother still drools over? I mean really? Like the guy would be seventy-something today! Anyway, if I talked to him, I could give my mom a personal message like “Sorry we never got to hook up.” That would be worth a few extra bucks, don’t you think?

No, the dead people who talk to me are just dead nobodies. Nothing exciting to say. Nothing going down. They’re just hanging out, waiting for I don’t know, to be more dead, I guess. Or, to see how much trouble they can get me in.

Like this one day in geometry. I was taking this test and concentrating on this problem about volume or height or something. This one dead guy keeps rambling on about how he would have done more good deeds if he’d known he was going to die soon. Duh! Like who doesn’t say that. Anyway, he just keeps going on and on without stopping. I tried to ignore him, but he just keeps asking if I think it was fair for him to die without any warning. I just couldn’t take his whining squeaky voice any longer. Out loud I say, “Bud, I don’t give a damn if it was fair. Just shut the hell up so I can get this test done!”

Did you get the part where I said “out loud”? Yep, that earned me an F on the test AND a trip to the AP’s (that’s assistant principal’s) office. I couldn’t even defend myself there. What was I going to say? “Excuse me, I’m sorry I blurted out loud in class in the middle of a test, and I’m sorry for cussing, but you see, this dead guy wouldn’t shut up.” Yeah, that would have gone over well. Nope, I just had to sit meekly back and say politely, “It wouldn’t happen again. Had to be the stress over the test.” You get the picture.

Then I had to face my peers, as they are called, the rest of the day. I just shrugged and mumbled something like “Idiot dead people.” Anyways, it’s always a bit lonely for me after one of those incidences. Kids avoid me for a few days. I think they’re afraid whatever I have will rub off on them, or that I’ll go bananas or something. Understandable. But then life returns to normal for a while, until the next time.

Like I said--It’s a curse, not a gift.

But, to get back to deciding how to tell this story...

About a month ago, I hear this boy calling my name while I’m walking home from the swimming pool. Geez, I look all over the place. I mean here I’m walking down the street with my towel wrapped around me--the pool’s only three blocks from my house--my hair is pulled back into a wet glob, and I hear this deep sexy male voice calling my name. I’m thinking of all the stupid luck. I look like crap, and some boy I don’t know, who sounds cute, is calling me by name! What the heck? Where is he? Then I hear him again.


Without thinking, I blurt out, “It’s Rose, not Roose.” Then I take off and sprint the rest of the way home.

Holy Crap--It’s happening again!

Luckily, no one is home. In my room, I plop on my bed. Without really looking, I check my belongings. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. Maybe I think the next dead person I hear is going to come and take something. Crazy, huh? But then, so is talking to dead people.

Anyways, I check things out: Bookshelf-My marked up copy of The Once and Future King. Read that last year in freshman English. Loved it. I could see myself learning all that neat stuff from the animals, only I don’t know a wizard like Merlin who would turn me into different animals. My favorite horse books The Black Stallion series my grandma left me. My National Geographics, a gift from my uncle. All arranged on the bookshelves next to my desk.

Right above my desk held by a blue (my favorite color, by the way) push pin is my ticket stub from the King Tut exhibit. My mom took me last fall when the exhibit toured the US. Magnificent.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m kind of a dreamer. But don’t think for a minute that I dream up the voices. No sir, they’re real.

My grandma first called me a dreamer years ago. I had just read The Black Stallion. For weeks I was that boy Alex except my name was Alexandria. Every day I fed, water, brushed, and exercised The Black; he was my horse.

I’m like that, I guess. Always dreaming of being someone else whose life sounds better than mine. Alexandria with my own stallion; Wart whom Merlin teaches by turning me into different animals. Beats sitting at a school desk nine months of the year.

My latest dream was inspired by the King Tut exhibit. Here’s boy who ruled all of Egypt at the age of nine over 2500 years ago. It wasn’t until 1922 that his hidden burial site was discovered by that man Carter. But I didn’t dream of Tut. No, my dream was of his wife, the mysterious and beautiful Ankhesenamun. The Lost Queen.

Next to the Tut exhibit ticket is my picture of Ankhesenamun and Tut. You know the one. They are pictured on the back of the Golden Throne. He is sitting in the throne; she is standing facing him, her arm outstretched touching him. I’m not a romantic, well, maybe I am. The point is, when I look at that picture, I can feel the love they have for each other. And that is when my dream starts.

I imagine that we are discussing our future. You know, how many children will they have, how they will raise them. Some days I imagine we are talking about what is happening in Egypt, and I am showing my support for him with a simple touch on my hand. Still other days, we are talking about where we will be buried. They did that, you know. Had their burial chamber ready sometimes years before their death.


  1. Great MG voice. I loved the part about Elvis, in fact I think you should move that up to the very first paragraph, right after "I’ve been in trouble my whole life for telling people that I talk to dead people."

    The transition from the sexy voice calling her Roose to her musing about her books and dreams is a little too abrupt. I love her comments about the books though (esp. because the Black Stallion series was one of my favorites too - but the boy's name was Alec, not Alex). Maybe you could work the transition by adding something like "Alec may have had his problems, but at least he didn't have dead people talking to him" (bad example, sorry).

    I love this line: "But I didn’t dream of Tut. No, my dream was of his wife, the mysterious and beautiful Ankhesenamun. The Lost Queen."

    I'm curious to see what other critiquers will have to say about your "telling you my story" method. It might be a good exercise to try re-writing this scene more directly, instead of all past-tense, just for comparison. I like how it brings out Rose's voice, but the past tense is a little distancing.

    I definitely want to read more, though. I love ancient Egypt and the reference to the Lost Queen totally hooked me.

  2. Hi Cheryl,

    The voice here is great and very kidlike. It sucked me right in, and that first paragraph rocked. The potential of the story is excellent and I love your mc, I love the problem you present for her, and the fact that she sees dead people and there's a connection to Egypt where death featured so extensively. Lots of good stuff there and I can see kids gobbling it up.

    In terms of where there is room for improvement, I'd say that you could move us into the story much faster. You have repeated concepts several times, giving us narrative instead of scene mostly throughout in place of weaving narrative around a scene. Instead of telling us about two incidents that occured in the past, could you possibly show us one or both happening in real time? Even better if you could find a way to bring the sexy voice (for MG btw? IDK, I'm asking for opinions here) into the story so that it creates a trigger for her to do something in her room that shows us the room instead of having her tell us about it. Sorry if this seems to be my theme of the week this time around. Telling is much more fun when you can call it a great voice, but even a great narrative voice usually works best when its the glue that holds together the scenes that show the story.

    I'm excited to see even more of where you're going with this!


  3. Hi Cheryl,

    I have to say I'm a huge sucker for the paranormal. I know tweens and teens are too.

    I almost think I'd pull back from all the telling at the beginning of this and get right to the part of the pool. Show us what happens with dialogue. I think more dialogue will help move the pace along too. Also on the sexy voice? Not sure with that and MG. Show us more. Why is it sexy?

    Also I do think there is a lot of back story at the very beginning. I think your story will move faster and have more tension if you cut some of it.

    I love Adventures comments and once again agree with her suggestions on how to tighten this story which will help us get into the story much faster.

    I'd almost love to see the Tut reference earlier. Do the dreams and hearing the dead come at the same time? I'm assuming that it's not recent dead that she can hear but rather Egyptian ones? **I'm getting this from the title.

    The big thing with a ghost story is to have your own unique twist to it so it can stand out. I think if you show us how the Tut exhibit and the voices collided and then weave in the back story through out, this will help strengthen an already intriguing tale.


  4. You have a great voice and I really can tell that it is a 13year-old girl (btw -I would make it pre- algebra/algebra instead of geometry because geometry screams high school) You are a great writer and if you wrote a menu, I would read it. Structurally, I feel like I am being pulled in two different directions and I don’t know which path to follow. Is the story about her the boy or her imagining being King Tut’s wife? I would like to see more of an immediate indicator of how they all connect and a definite source of tension or conflict.

    I thought your introduction was a great hook but I would have loved to have it shown. Maybe start the story with her in geometry class and have the ghost screaming at her that life isn’t fair and she is trying to figure out her x and y’s and she can’t concentrate because of the shrill voice that is screaming and screaming at her and does she carry two or does she multiply both sides by… Does that make sense?

    The line, “But, to get to deciding how to tell this story” slows the pacing and I felt like the first part was more of a prelude than the beginning of the story. I would rather the story just begin and then it lead to the boy calling out to her. If the story is all about this boy, then maybe you could start off with, “Of all the luck. With all the guys at this stupid school, the only one who knows I exist is dead!”

    I hope this is helpful. Like I told Kim, I wish I knew more about the story. I think this a great story. I would read it.

  5. Hi, Cheryl,

    I'm a sucker for ancient Egypt, too! And I love ghost stories. So I'm really looking forward to seeing what you come up with for this story.

    I agree that it seems that the story has two directions.The fact that she goes into her room and starts talking about being a dreamer kind of diminishes her freakout over the talking dead boy. It's kind of like if I said, "Oh, my God! There was a fire at school today. I've always wanted to be a musician."

    Maybe what you could do is show her with the Egyptian stuff first, and then segue to hearing the dead boy. If you keep your "let me tell you a story" voice, you could very quickly discuss her love for Egypt as she's packing up all her cool Egyptology books and King Tut receipt because she did a report on Egypt and she's taking her books home. Or you could leave it as it is and have her say something such as, "I'm not listening to you. I'm working on my Egyptian collection" or some such that puts the two pieces into a hole.

    There's been some suggestions about where to start and I agree that instead of telling us about it, how about showing the example of the text and then saying, "I hear dead people" and go on from there?

    Can't wait to see what you do with this!


  6. I love the voice in this. I could picture one of my daughters sounding just like this (if she heard dead people, which, thankfully fo rher, she doesn't!)

    I think some of the transitions between thoughts are a little sudden, but otherwise this is a very strong first five pages. :)


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