Thursday, February 19, 2015

Entry #38: LISTEN TO ME

41,000 words
MG Contemporary


Twelve-year-old Serena isn't so much a self-imposed hermit as a dad-imposed one. When your beer-guzzling dad can barely talk, let alone walk, having friends around isn't an option. But smart, eccentric Katie surprises her with a tempting offer of friendship until Serena’s drunken father nearly runs the girls over. Serena’s relief and guilt overflow when he’s hauled off to a work release program.

With her father gone, Serena’s friendship with Katie blossoms, and she slowly dares to do the unthinkable, like talk to a boy and join chorus. But a social life can’t replace a father, or fix her family’s problems, something that sours even her happiest moments.

When her dad comes home sober, he asks Serena to trust him. But counting on him has always led to heartache and humiliation. Now she must choose--give Dad a chance laced with some tough love, or revert to hermit mode in case he fails.

First 250:

I slouch in my seat, avoiding Mr. Henderson’s eyes as though that will make me invisible. Today he is cheerful and chirpy and enjoying himself way too much.  He leans on a corner of his desk in front of the class, randomly assigning partners for our oral history reports.

“Sam Flores, your partner is--” His broad chest expands in a dramatic pause while the round white clock on the wall behind him ticks away the seconds.

The suspense holds my lungs hostage. My fingers clench the edge of my chair hard enough to hurt. Sam is a good student, but so cute he’d make my tongue trip me into a huge puddle of embarrassment.

Mr. Henderson calls on someone else. My sigh is part relief, part disappointment.

Someone who likes to talk would be a good partner--the more my partner says, the less I’ll need to say. Maybe no one would notice my nerves turning me to stone.

“Serena O’Hara, you and Katie Bell will work on women of the Revolutionary War.”

Katie’s blue eyes radiate satisfaction, smiling at me. I should be happy to get someone so smart. But she’ll want to spend hours making sure we are way over-prepared. Katie also moved into my neighborhood over the summer. What if she expects to meet outside of school? For a second my heart clenches, ready to bolt. We can’t. Not at my house.

I take a deep breath. Relax. There’s no need for her to meet Dad.


  1. This sounds like a novel with plenty of heart, and I think you've hit the nail on the head with how mortifying this situation would be to a preteen--as well as capturing the feelings of relief and guilt when the dad is sent away.

    First 250: There's an expectation that the first character named will be the MC, so I was a little thrown off that Sam wasn't the narrator but instead someone whom Serena would be weak-kneed about. How about adding after the first paragraph "I wait for my name. Serena. Serena O' Hara."? Or, if that's too obvious, have Mr. Henderson say Sam's name, and then have Serena react. "I glance at Sam. He's a good student, but..."

    Otherwise, this is well-written, gets immediately into a scene, and gives us a good idea upfront about what Serena's worries are. Good luck!
    Michael (#15)

  2. I love the changes you've made to the pitch! It focuses on the real conflict much better now :) I agree with Michael's comments about the 250 (something I'd noticed without realizing it), but I have to say much improved! :D

    Good luck!

  3. I like it! Teens struggle with situations like this all the time. Relatable is the word that comes to mind. Again Mike is spot on. I feel like I am chasing him down the list.
    As a middle grade guy I may not pick it up but if the story line is powerful enough to relay that connection to kids in a similar situation, I think you have something.
    The only minor detail that I am seeing in this one:
    The stakes seem a little low. Not a bad thing. Fear of having your hopes of a better relationship with your father is pretty high stakes, but when I read the pitch; PULL MY HEART STRINGS! That's what is going to go on the back blurb. It will get me to do more than pick it up and turn it over, but sit down read the first chapter and say... yep that is what I'm buying today. I want to read this off the book shelve screaming, "tell Kate how you feel!" If the friendship is that deep then hermit mode will be only for inside her house.
    I haven't read it all so me fighting for the characters to live their life outside of Dad's mistakes is a great thing. Give that last paragraph in the Pitch that oomph to do more than read the pitch. Keep rocking what you're doing!
    Fellow contestant and writing friend.

  4. This pitch--as opposed to the one I reviewed on your blog--is much clearer. Of course, this is a 150-word version so it's hard to compare the two, but still... I now have a solid sense of your story and can see how the first 250 words give a good preview of that story. Very nice read! Good luck!

  5. The premise sounds wonderful, if laced with painful moments. I'd be rooting for Serena the whole time. I agree with Michael's comment about the first name called not being hers. Maybe just a little bit at the end of the first paragraph: the teacher could point to the really cute guy in the third row or something. Just to set the scene. Your writing is clear and crisp and age-appropriate. I want to read more!

    Good luck.

  6. I love your first page but I think the stakes in your pitch could be upped. What happens if she doesn't trust her dad? The internal conflict is there but what about the external? You have a good premise here and the voice is definitely there on the first page! Good job!

  7. Pitch:
    I love all the changes you've made. Definitely an improvement :) I'd agree that if the stakes were a little clearer, teens would be more apt to pick this up. But we only have 150 words! Ugh haha

    First page:
    I also echo Michael's comment about the name, but the last two paragraphs really leave me wanting more. Good luck!

    Domenic (#28)

  8. I think your pitch is greatly improved. Nice job!

  9. Hi Melissa! Great to see you here as well!
    It was a pleasure getting to see more of the pitch this time, and I have a much better picture of the story. I think your first paragraph does a great job of setting up the dad and the stakes. I do agree with some of the other commenters that the last paragraph could be upped a little more - maybe instead of "heartache and humiliation," you can try to say something more specific (like him running them over, but a different example).
    I still love the first 250 as I did the last time!


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