Monday, September 8, 2014


The Secrets We Share
70,000 words

YA Contemporary/Romance

Seventeen year-old artist Greta Gilles has a haunting secret that not even she understands. Two years later, in her new hometown of Nisswa, Minnesota, she looks forward to spending her summer before college with fellow artist and classmate Tristan Thunders, a guy she may like, if only she can figure out how liking a guy is supposed to feel. Then, a chance meeting with her idol, Indie musician Grady Bolts, rocks her world. Once a rising star, Grady has his own dark secrets--ones that Greta has been desperate to know since the day he abruptly quit music. Grady is ready to shed light on his tattered past on one condition: Greta gives up her secrets, too.
The Secrets We Share.“Can you keep a secret?”

First Five Pages: 

Stop is such a stupid word. What does it even mean?

Here’s the thing. Sometimes words don’t matter.

Here’s another thing. My body enjoyed it. The pain. The build-up. The release that a guy could make me feel.

Here’s the final thing: My heart has never forgiven me. I could have believed in anyone two years ago. Love made the world go round; a smile was an easy gift to give; people were innately good. I knew Kyle liked me a little. I knew I liked him. I knew so much, but I knew nothing at all.

“I’m not sure about this,” I mumbled that night. Grady Bolt’s song, “Your Kiss,” played softly on my computer in my bedroom. Grady Bolts believed in true love. So, I did, too.

“Just lie down, Grets,” Kyle answered. He positioned his legs on either side of mine and whispered the sweetest nothings (which were somethings) to me. His words were the best, dipped in dark chocolate and colorful sprinkles. Delicious. Unhealthy.

As his fingertips explored my body in a way that even I had never explored it, a hunger deep inside of me awoke and it was achingly good. Still, I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t even know all the details of it. Does anyone the first time, though?

“St—.” His lips pressed my voice quiet and suffocated my “stops.” But, he heard them. He felt them. He knew as well as I did what the word stop means. Right?

It felt sort of like love, I guess. It was a weird feeling. There was a fullness to it. But, there was an emptiness to it, too.

“Kyle!” I screamed as my legs tensed, my arms clutched the bedspread underneath me, and my head stilled. My body combusted and I twirled out of control like a spin top. Grady Bolt’s gritty yet smooth voice echoed somewhere in the distance against Kyle’s and my shallow breaths afterwards. “Touch me everywhere, baby/Let nothing go amiss/I love you ‘til forever comes/And steals away your kiss.”

The next morning, Grady’s voice was still playing in my bedroom as I laid crying in a fetal position. Alone, I knew my tears were warranted.

Kyle wasn’t a bad guy. He really wasn’t. It’s been long enough for this retrospective analysis. Still, he is the villain whose shadow haunts me.

My heart could have believed in anyone.

I was fifteen.

And apparently, I was open for business.

After that, I said “yes” to every guy who wanted it for a year. Then, I stopped.

It would be great if I was the type of girl who could make a joke about all my mistakes. Unfortunately, what I’ve done is just not funny. Call me whatever. I don’t blame you. I call myself the same things. Probably worse things even.

I will forgive myself someday. Sometimes, I even whisper, “Stop, Greta. Just stop.” Then I remember what a stupid word stop is.


I: 2 Years and Seven or Eight Guys Later 

Nisswa doesn’t know my secrets. That’s why I moved here with my dad. Well, it’s one reason why. I’m staring at the other reason. Grady Bolt’s house looks like paradise for a crypt keeper. Ash-gray brick with a black roof that needs some legit TLC, it’s a hopeless sight. Except for the stairs. There are three of them leading up to his front door and they are painted with heart and star designs colored purple, teal, and blue. My favorite stair is the middle one where the word, YAMS, is printed sloppily in white for the world to question. For me to question like I have every day since I moved to Northern Minnesota.

My mom still hasn’t forgiven me for my choice. She preferred me to finish high school in the “cities,” where I grew up. As I told her, half-truthfully, I left to be near the one and only, Indie musician, Grady Bolts. “You’ll regret not finishing senior year with your friends, Greta,” she argued with me once.

I acted like I didn't care because I DIDN'T CARE. Truth was—is—that my friends back home don’t even know me. Not anymore. It wasn’t hard to leave them.

My dear Grady knows my real soul in a way that no other human being knows it. His songs are romantic without a touch of angst or anger or pain. His words like —“Loving you’s a lightning strike/It catches me off guard/Makes the hair stand off my head/My heart starts racing hard”— I love his words. I want to believe in them again. Grady was the only other person in my bedroom the night when I invited Kyle over. More importantly, he was the only boy still there the next morning. I owe him a thank you. He owes me an explanation.

That’s right. An explanation. Grady hasn’t released a single for 366 days. Yes, I am counting. Sometimes I think I see a curtain rustle or a dim light turn on and off from inside his house. One night, I swear a shadow sat staring back at me for an entire hour while I was standing outside like I am tonight, hoping to finally meet him. But, I must be imagining these things. Summer cabin goers who visit the “once rising star” Grady’s house share stories with similar ghostly happenings. Maybe they imagine things, too. Maybe we all need to know why he quit his songs at such a young age. It’s a question with many possible answers—sort of like what happened to the dinosaurs?

Behind me, a truck approaches as I’m gripping Grady’s shoulder-high, locked picket fence.

“Hey, Greta! Ready to work?”

It’s Tristan. I smile and turn around, faking surprise at the offer. “Hey, Tristan,” I answer, as I’ve done for the past 30 days of June and 1 day of July.

Tristan leans over his truck’s center console and opens the passenger side door. When I get in, I brush against his hand. Everything jolts out-of-place inside of me and places that should be comfortably cool become instantly warm and ready for things. Things that I can’t handle. Not again. Tristan’s had this effect on me for—well, for a little while. Tonight, he bites the top corner of his lip the same way he did last March of our senior year when he said “hello.” That was all it took. A simple, brave hello to the newest girl in school.

“Well, hello,” I said back. From the tiniest place in my heart, where I keep my most forbidden things, I slowly made room for Tristan Thunders. Admittedly, I liked his artwork before I even liked him. His drawings and paintings are colorful, but melancholy; care-free but seeped with deeper meaning; a glimpse into his mystery but also my own.

My tingling intensifies. Does he really know what he does to me? I hope not. I hope so. It doesn’t matter. We are both on separate tracks in six weeks anyway and I can imagine what distance does to relationships. Besides, maybe Tristan doesn’t like me at all. Maybe this tussled-haired, hazel-eyed boy is toying with me. It obviously wouldn’t be the first time.

“Any luck on the Grady mystery yet?” Tristan asks. He could be jealous; he could be curious; he could just be an a-hole making fun of my obsession. I haven’t tried to figure it out. Still, when he mumbles—what is it about thatguy?—I think I get my answer.

“No luck,” I say simply.  

“Do you think you’ll get the answers by just standing there watching his house, Greta?” This question is new tonight.

“You never know, Tris.”

Tristan fidgets with his pant leg as he drives. “You know some people keep their secrets in plain view so that other people don’t even think to question them.” This statement is new, too.

I look at Tristan who glances back at me, both of us sizing up the real conversation we are having. He drives us to the town’s new, almost complete community center. “Time to work,” he says after we park. Grabbing our paint and supplies, we hike easily past the construction zone to the center’s sidewall, halfway facing Nisswa’s only main street. This is Tristan’s and my wall. The wall we were commissioned to decorate with a mural before the center’s grand opening on August 15, which, coincidentally, is the night before I leave for Tennessee for college. Another adventure. Another opportunity to become someone different than who I was two years ago. I feel like Superwoman, living a double life. Only Superwoman is a hero. I am…I am not.


  1. While most recommend not starting with a flashback or back story, I think it works here.

    You really nailed Greta's voice, showing her anguish about the choices she's made in life. As a reader, I really felt like I was in her head, which isn't easy to do when writing first person pov.

    Could you give a few more details in your pitch about what the story is about? Secrets. They both have them, and we know from your first five pages what Greta's secret may be. I assume sleeping with many guys? Although that's not all that unusual for a fifteen-year-old.

    But, I want to think there's more to the story than just having, then sharing their secrets, enough for 70,000 words..

  2. I agree with the poster above. You have a strong first page! But the pitch feels a bit generic since you don't tell us what the secrets are. I get that you might be trying to build tension in the pitch, but letting us know a bit more information would make your story stand out more, I think.

  3. Thank you for your feedback, especially in what more you would like to see in the pitch. I appreciate it so much. Greta's story is important, so I really value your input as to how to make her pitch shine:)

  4. I think the pitch is written well, but it's a little too vague in regards to the MC's story and the stakes. Specifically, the part about her secret and how much it plays a factor in her life. What sort of secret is this? That she had a non-consensual sexual experience, or slept with a lot of guys? You don't have to tell the reader what the secret is, but giving a clue would really help, i.e. "A secret about her father's identity," "A secret about a long-lost sibling," "A secret about her best friend's murder," something along those lines.

    I really love the beginning of this story; the voice is perfectly fitted for your character. It started to read a little clunkier when Tristan came into the mix, though. I wanted to see more of a connection between them, but it felt a little bit forced. Maybe because they're mostly talking about Greta's musician crush. I wanted to see why Greta might like him.

    Good luck!

  5. I adore your opening. Greta's voice, the setup, her conflicting feelings about herself and what happened, all of it worked for me.

    I find myself being broken from it when we transition, though. Your heading lets me know that we're moving in time and space, but I've only just gotten to know Greta. While we do get a small catchup for what's been going on in the last few years, the transition is still jarring to me. I think it might help if I actually saw her decision to move out to Bolt's hometown instead of being told about it in hindsight. That would give me sort a plot catalyst, the thing that the protagonist does or the choice they make that sets the story in motion. The big thing that changes. Otherwise, I jump to her standing outside of Bolt's house, and I wonder why she's there. And, while it's summarized in her lovely wry voice, it might give you a little more weight.

    I hope that helps!

  6. The opening is so good - and hard to read. You've nailed the conflicting feelings.

    I think the start of the pitch is a little confusing - nothing actually HAPPENS in the first sentence, so I'm not sure what the rest of it is two years later than. Does she not still have the secret two years later? Does the pitch need to start with her being seventeen?

    The voice is SO STRONG in your first five pages (and the transition doesn't bother me!) - I just think the pitch needs some umph. Because we have no idea what the secrets are (from the pitch, at least), we don't really get a sense of the stakes. There's a big difference between secrets like 'I once stole a candy bar' and 'I killed my brother', obviously. We don't need to know exactly what the secrets are, but we do need a sense that they're not at the 'I once stole a candy bar' end of the spectrum.

    I love the first five pages - great work!


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