Monday, August 25, 2014


Gwenyth and the Golden Spine
98,921 words
MG Fantasy

Chapter One

Gwen rubbed her Star Trek Enterprise keychain, hoping Captain Kirk would save the day and beam her up. But no such luck.  Apparently, the transporter was broken, and she remained earthbound.  After searching the sky one last time for a sign of rescue, Gwen dragged leaden legs up the school bus stairs.  When she arrived at the top, there sat Soda Pop Seth texting the other kids.  From almost daily experience, Gwen guessed his message: “I-O-L-N.”  Soda Pop’s code for “Initiate Operation Loser Now!”  And before Gwen could cover her ears, a loud chant reverberated all the way to the back of the bus, shooting like a slingshot back to the front again.  “Gwenyth Shuster is a smelly, barf-covered, crap eating, freaky, loser!  …loser!  …loser!”  Gwen clutched her key chain hard, resulting in a bright red imprint of the Enterprise on her palm.  “Dad, if you can hear me in heaven, save me from Soda Pop Seth.  I’m so sorry for the terrible thing I did to you, Daddy. Punish me any way you want.  I’ll even eat Mom’s asparagus and cow’s tongue casserole.  Just help me. PLEEEZE!”  But the chants only intensified as more kids joined in the fray.

At this point, Gwen attempted to run down the aisle to her usual seat in the geek section, but Soda Pop’s left arm shot out, blocking her path.  Even worse, he smiled widely at her.  Last year, while pitching in the championship baseball game, a rogue bat chipped his otherwise perfectly straight front left tooth.  He only smiled with closed lips ever since.  That is, unless he was planning something especially awful for some poor nerd or outcast…. especially Gwen.

 “I’m pretty sure Captain Kirk isn’t going to beam you aboard the Enterprise today, Freak,” said Soda Pop, his ragged tooth fully visible, his gums sporting a sheen of bubbly saliva.  “He hates weirdoes who wear rainbow leg warmers, filthy hiking boots, and stupid Star Trek communicator pins.  And so do we.  Isn’t that right, Sheila?”  Swooshing on a layer of Urban Decay lip-gloss, Sheila Oracell, who, as usual, sat next to Soda Pop, admired herself in a mirrored compact adorned with pink Swarovski crystals.  “Yeah,” she replied, “whatever you just said, Seth.”

At this point, Soda Pop finally allowed Gwen to pass by.  But, as she hurried down the cramped aisle, he emitted a wet-sounding grunting noise.  The other kids soon followed his lead, their oinks getting more boisterous until the entire bus echoed like a forest overpopulated by wild hogs.

As Gwen stumble-staggered to the back of the bus, she cried, “STOP!  STOP!”  Yet, the more she protested, the more grunts and snorts saturated the air.  Turning around, Gwen threw her Enterprise key chain at Soda Pop, but it hit Sheila instead.  Shrieking, Sheila pinched her nose like she suffered from a gushing nosebleed -- although the only mark on her skin was a barely visible scratch where Gwen’s keychain nicked her left nostril.  Almost immediately, a mob of kids surrounded Sheila, offering their sympathy.  Gwen, on the other hand, was the target of their dirty looks, hooting hog calls, and “Gwenyth Shuster is a shit eating Freak,” taunts.  It took Ms. Knause, the driver -- oddly built like a school bus herself -- several minutes to control the escalating chaos.  And when, at last, they arrived at Fisher Middle School, she barreled down the aisle towards Gwen.


Grabbing Gwen’s arm with damp, marshmallow-like hands, Ms. Knause marched her to the principal, Mr. Mortimer’s, office.  After depositing Gwen like a garbage bag filled with decaying lunches and cockroaches in a chair facing Mr. Mortimer’s desk, Ms. Knause stomped out the door.  She left a trail of Bigfoot sized muddy footprints, while muttering something about “…disrespectful, ungrateful kids these days.” 

Another student besides Gwen also sat in Mr. Mortimer’s office.  And that person made Gwen’s stomach churn like an exploding super nova on the Science Channel.  It was Sheila Oracell.  Upon seeing Gwen, Sheila snatched a cluster of pink Kleenexes from a box on Mr. Mortimer’s desk, bursting into tears.

“There, there, Sheila, dear,” said Mr. Mortimer, “everything will be alright.”  But Sheila only cried more, whining that the Band-Aid on her nose made her look like a “deformed Miley Cyrus.”  Mr. Mortimer stuffed another cluster of pink Kleenexes in Sheila’s direction.  He then sighed through a set of puffy, purplish lips. These humongous lips were responsible for his nickname amongst the students at Fisher Middle School: “Ole’ Fish Lips Mortimer.”  

 “Really, Gwyneth,” said Ole’ Fish Lips Mortimer, gesturing towards the Band-Aid on Sheila’s nose, “your father’s death was a terrible tragedy indeed.  But acting out your grief in such a violent manner will not be tolerated at this school.  You are a seventh-grader now.  You should know better.”

“But it was an accident, Mr. Mortimer,” said Gwen.  “The kids on the bus said some nasty things… and I…I reacted without thinking.  I never meant to hurt Sheila.  Honest.”

“Gwenyth,” said Mr. Mortimer, a cluster of spit ejecting from his fishy mouth, just missing Gwen’s cheek, “consider yourself lucky.  This time, I am only giving you three days detention.  But one more aggressive act towards another student and I will suspend you.”  He waved at Gwen like she was a piece of dust on his shiny leather shoes.  “Now get out of my sight.”

As Gwen left Mr. Mortimer’s office, she glanced at Sheila.  For just a moment, while Mr. Mortimer fumbled in his drawer for more Kleenexes, Sheila gave Gwen her brightest Colgate smile.  She then turned to face Ole’ Fish Lips Mortimer again, breaking out into her highest pitched series of sobs yet.


That evening, Gwen sprawled out on her bed, tears dropping onto her bedspread, covered with glow-in-the-dark planets, stars, and moons.  “Dad, I miss you so much.  I wish I had the courage to tell someone about the terrible thing I did to you.  But no one can ever find out that I killed you.  Especially not Mom.  She and everyone else would hate me for the rest of my life.

Following a gentle knock, Gwen’s mother opened her bedroom door.  “Darling.  May I talk to you for a minute?”  
       Gwen wiped away the remaining tears with her Pluto pillow before her mother noticed.   
      “Mom, I didn’t mean to hurt Sheila.  It’s just that I don’t fit in with the other kids.  And I get
       so mad sometimes that I do dumb things.”

       Picking up a stuffed Area 51 alien doll, Gwen’s mother used its silver ray gun to
tap her lightly on the nose.  “I know it was an accident, Gwennie.  But promise me, no more projectiles, okay?  I’m aware that Soda Pop Seth and his gang are still bullying you, and I intend to talk to Principal Mortimer about the situation.  But launching your Enterprise keychain into orbit is not the answer.  Sheila or someone else could have lost an eye.”

Gwen slumped down further into her cushy galaxy pillows.  “Don’t worry, Mom.  I promise I won’t throw anything again.  Just please don’t complain to Ole’ Fish Lips about Soda Pop Seth.  Every time you do, he torments me even worse than before.”

Her mother sat next to Gwen.  “Okay, darling, I’ll hold off for now, if that’s what you want.  But next time Soda Pop even breathes on you, I will have to intervene as an exalted emissary of the Planet Zeno.”


  1. Just some comments to help your first page: Typically, whenever a speaker switches, there should be a paragraph break. I would also suggest breaking up some of the longer paragraphs in the beginning.

    I'm not sure I buy the bus driver not intervening when the entire bus is chanting taunts at another kid, and I'm not sure I buy the Principal's reaction, unless Sheila has a habit of being violent, which it doesn't seem like she does. I know you want to establish that Sheila is bullied and no one seems to help, but you want to keep it believable, too.

  2. You've got some interesting characters, and I'm really intrigued by how she killed her father. I do agree with the comment above--I wonder if these things could happen at the bus stop, but then the bus driver only sees her throwing the key chain. Best of luck to you!

  3. I think it's important to consider the possibility that not every bus driver in every school district across the country has necessarily been trained to intervene proactively on behalf of every child who rides a given bus. As such, with this caveat in mind, I also think it's important to remember that the author's work is a fictitious presentation of a fictitious situation pertaining to the taunting and bullying of a vulnerable schoolgirl. Is it really so unlikely that the victimization of an awkward pre-pubescent female shan't be considered as viable simply because the reader desires the bus driver to play the role of hero as opposed to the more muted, apathetic figure which has been presented here?

    Secondly, with respect to the Principal, he's chastising Gwen and administering detention as a consequence for her having caused physical injury to another student on the bus. Although Gwen was lashing out in response to having been taunted and bullied, it was her actions that drew the attention of the authority figure in this matter however just or unjust this may seem. The portrayal of how commonplace student interactions can be adversely affected by exaggerated encounters and circumstance will likely strike a chord with most Middle Grade readers. For this reason, I was particularly drawn to the inner tension which Gwen as the protagonist would likely be called upon to resolve at some future point in the book. This makes me want to read more.

  4. Great story line for middle school readers. I want to read more to find out how this exciting plot ends

  5. I thought that Gwen's voice was spot on for a 7th grader, and I thought the nicknames and acronyms - "IOLN" - fit just right.

    I remember being bullied in middle school with authorities present who didn't intervene. I remember sympathetic and apathetic bus drivers both. And I remember losing my temper and getting in trouble when I was SO sure I was the victim. Middle school is hard.

    If the characters of he principle and the bus driver and principle are a little exaggerated, I was willing to believe that it was colored by the perspective of Gwen.

    If I were to make any suggestions -- maybe be less explicit with Gwen's internal dialogue about what she did to her Dad? I think we get the picture that she's done something terrible that makes her feel at least partly responsible for her Dad's death, but I think you could build into that anxiety more gradually to keep the reader wondering what could have happened.

    Good luck!

  6. The tension between the MC and Sheila is interesting, and the vindictive reader in me really wants to see Sheila punished now. I love that the MC is into Star Trek. It was weird that the bus driver could plainly see the excessive bullying going on, but only intervened when the MC chucked her keychain. It didn't feel very believable to me, so I agree with the above comments that maybe the bullying can take place at the bus stop or when the bus driver is off the bus for some reason.

    Good luck!

  7. Very interesting character development. I'm certainly intrigued with Gwen and her secret! Bravo for bringing the issue of bullying forward -- a timely topic that middle school kids contend with all too frequently these days. I appreciate your compelling style and the way you dive right into the action. I definitely want to read more.


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