Friday, February 27, 2015

Entry #7: 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 heartache and humiliation are in store when gossip at school begins. 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 he teases the dark-haired boy two seats ahead of me. Sam is a good student, but so cute he’d make my tongue trip me into a huge puddle of embarrassment.

The round white clock behind our teacher ticks away. Suspense holds my lungs hostage. My fingers clench the edge of my chair hard enough to hurt.

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. I think the issues you are tackling in this are an awesome and will appeal to a lot of agents. It's probably a good thing that I can't think of any specific feedback to give you.

  2. Poor Serena! Oh, I really feel for her. I can tell this is a heartbreaker. Good luck with it!

  3. I said this before when we were revising, but I love the new line in the pitch! It adds a subtle, but substantial, drop into the ramping tension. A+!

    I'm also quite the fan of the clarifying changes in the new first page. I still think the Sam bit is a bit awkward, but clarified itself quickly enough that it's no longer a source of confusion. Great job! If I haven't said it before, I'm dying to read this :) Serena already won me over!

  4. I saw this one back in the Sun vs Snow blog hop. The query is reading so much more smoothly for me. I really like the changes made. Great job!

    This reads very nicely as an MG contemporary. I think it will appeal to plenty of tweens!

    Good luck!
    --Kamerhe (#22)

  5. I think this great subject matter and so far it seems like you're handling it deftly. Not sure if it's absolutely necessary in the pitch, but I'm curious about the other members of Serena's family. Is her mom in the picture? Does she have siblings? Just wondering how she relates to anyone else in the family. With your first page, you do a nice job of introducing us to Serena's anxiety and the terror of her peers meeting her dad. The last line makes us want to turn the page and know more. Good work and good luck!

  6. Nice job on the revisions! Your pitch sounds so much tighter.
    I'm hooked the moment you introduce Serena's prediction; it intrigues me, making me instantly sympathize with your mc. Given Serena's situation, I particularly appreciate her sense of humor and her mature, yet quirky voice. Best of luck!
    #10 The Land of Joy and Sorrow

  7. I'm not normally a lover of contemporary but this one hit close to home for me. I think you've got a strong pitch here and a strong 250 with great voice. I dont have much critique to offer.

    Best of luck!

  8. Pitch: Marketable concept. Seems both heartbreaking and mending. Minor tweaks: 2nd sentence, replace "When your" with "Her". I'm also curious if another parent or guardian is in the picture.

    +1: Voice, appropriate for MG. Likeable MC. I particularly like that she's calculating here because with her family situation she would naturally assess danger in order to survive. World familiar. Tension on first page.
    This is a great entry.
    (#14 OSN)

  9. Hi there-

    I really applaud your efforts to tackle such meaty issues in your story and I feel like you've got a great handle on your tone. I just had a small idea on your first 250 - I was tripped up a bit by the way the teacher addressed the class for the assignment. When he's dealing with Sam, he says, "Sam Flores, your partner is…" When it's Serena's turn, he blatantly states who she's working with and their assignment. I was fixated on why his delivery should be the same for everyone for a while, and then I thought it might be interesting to have the students draw names for their own partners. That would put Serena more in control of her desires/fears as well as the action in the scene. Just a thought!

    Best of luck and thanks for sharing.

  10. Your pitch is beautiful. A perfect setup for a contemporary middle-grade. Nice work! One suggestion for the first page is to start the opening scene with this: "The round white clock behind our teacher ticks away. Suspense holds my lungs hostage. My fingers clench the edge of my chair hard enough to hurt." or work this descriptive into the current opening.

    Best of luck!

    Mike Hays (#11)


Please leave your courteous and professional comments for the writer! We'd love to hear from you! : )