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  1. I had to try one time. Even though Dad was about to turn the car into my aunt and uncle’s driveway. Even though he and Mom had said “no” the hundred other times I’d already asked them. This was my last chance so I crossed my fingers on both hands and went for it. “Please please can I go to New York City with you guys?” I asked. “We could see the Statue of Liberty. I read all about it online. It’s 305 feet tall if you count the pedestal it stands on.” I knew they would like that I threw in the exact measurement. They always approved when I used my laptop for educational things instead of just playing video games. “I promise we’ll take you to see it another time, buddy. This is a business trip for us and we’re going to be busy the whole time we’re there,” Dad said, stopping the car in front of my aunt’s herb garden. “Aww, look how excited they are to have you stay with them.” Mom pointed to the porch. Great Uncle Theo held up a WELCOME JAKE! sign and Great Aunt Ducky took a handkerchief out of the pocket of her plaid dress to wave back and forth, her silver hair pinned in its usual neat bun. “Then can I at least have eight hours of screen time every day?" I asked. “And then two more after dinner? There isn’t anything else to do out here. I’m going to be so bored!” “You can have three hours a day,” Dad said. “That’ll leave you plenty of time to do other fun stuff out here in the country, like going fishing with your uncle. Or peach picking with your aunt.” “Except none of those things are as fun as playing Battle of the Zombie Dragons,” I muttered as Uncle Theo pulled open the car door. Right away I got a whiff of the just-blown-out birthday candle smoky smell that always blew around my aunt and uncle’s little brown house with its crooked green shutters. Uncle Theo ran his hand through my curly hair. “Well, I’m surprised you didn’t feel that crawling around your noggin!” He held up a plastic spider and grinned. “Good one, Uncle Theo,” I said politely like I did every time he played one of his practical jokes. When I was six, I couldn’t stop giggling at his endless pranks. Now that I was almost eleven, I thought they were more annoying than funny. “Wait until I show my new batch of fake dog poop. It fools your Aunt Ducky every time and we don’t even have a dog!” Uncle Theo burst out laughing. After they kissed me goodbye and reminded me to “be a good boy” and “don’t play your games all day, be outside in this nice fresh air!” Mom and Dad got back in the car. I stayed out on the porch for a few extra seconds in case they changed their mind and turned around to come back for me. But Dad tooted the horn a few times and Mom stuck her arm out the window for one last wave before they turned onto the road. I couldn’t help letting out a little groan and Uncle Theo nodded. “Yes, today is a scorcher,” he said. “Let’s take your things up to your room and we’ll head over to Dairy Queen after lunch. Nothing better in this heat than a strawberry sundae.” He picked up my duffel and took it inside. I leaned down to pick up my backpack. Two bright purple eyes peered at me from below the porch railing. “Whoa!” I said, leaping back so fast I knocked over one of the rocking chairs. Whoever or whatever it was took off towards to the woods that edged the back of the yard. It was galloping so fast all I could see was a dark blur. Maybe it was a bear? Not that I knew a lot about bears. Back home in Chicago I mostly saw pigeons and a few squirrels and once I saw two rats fighting over a piece of bread in the alley behind our apartment building. I ran into the house and up the stairs to the little guest room at the end of the hall. “Look at this Jake,” Uncle Theo said from the doorway. He held up a small spoon. He touched it and the whole spoon collapsed. “Isn’t that a hoot? I can’t wait to see the look on Aunt Ducky’s face when she tries to eat her banana split with it and the ice cream keeps falling right to the ground.” “Good one, Uncle Theo,” I said without even thinking. He leaned in and whispered. “You won’t believe what I’ve got up my sleeve for my next stunt. It’ll be the biggest one I’ve ever pulled off. You’ve never seen anything like it!” I followed him down to the kitchen for lunch, trying to figure out what his big practical joke could be. Probably something he read in his favorite book, THE 100 BEST PRANKS TO PLAY ON YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY. I’d looked through it once and Uncle Theo had drawn little stars next to Number 39: Fill the cookie jar with ketchup and Number 67: Stuffing the whole freezer with ping pong balls. So that’s what I’d be doing the next ten days: Playing ZombieDragons, staying away from weird bears and watching out for Uncle Theo’s next big joke. Page Break Chapter 2 “I saw something weird today,” I said when we sat down at the table. “There was something looking me from the side of the porch.” “Probably our neighbor’s cat, Henry coming over for a visit,” Aunt Duckie said. “Don’t worry, he’s very friendly.” I shook my head. “No, this definitely wasn’t a cat. It ran to the back woods so fast it was hard to see anything. I even thought it could be a bear. But bears don’t have super bright purple eyes, do they?” Uncle Theo put down his egg salad sandwich. “You’re sure it had bright purple eyes?” I nodded. “That was not a bear.” He stood up. “Excuse me. I’m going to run downstairs to get some, uh, pickles from the pantry.” “There’s some right here, Uncle Theo.” I pointed to the plate in the middle of the table but he’d already hurried through the basement door. “What’s going on?” I asked Aunt Ducky. “He seemed really freaked out all of a sudden.” “Oh, uh, maybe he’s worried that we’re out of pickles,” Aunt Ducky untied her apron. “I’ll go help him find some. You stay here and finish your lunch.” She went down the stairs quickly too. I was gulping down the rest of my sandwich so I could get upstairs to start a new round of Zombie Dragons when a loud thump! on the back porch made the kitchen windows shake. I looked through the yellow curtains to see a box. At least I thought it was a box. I’d never seen one like this and it was my job on Saturdays to unpack all the cartons delivered to my family’s shoe store. This one looked like it was made of heavy black rubber. Bulging out on one side, it caved in on the other. I opened the door to read the writing etched into the rubber: 5 POUNDS OF CHUNKY BAT VOMIT FOR SPELLS NEEDING CHUNKY BAT VOMIT 5 POUNDS LIQUIDY BAT VOMIT FOR SPELLS REQURING LIQUIDY BAT VOMIT. DO NOT LEAVE OUTSIDE OR VOMIT WILL MELT. PUT IN COOL DARK PLACE RIGHT AWAY. This must be stuff for Uncle Theo’s prank. He probably ordered it from the same place as the fake dog poop. Despite the loud thump like someone had dropped a boulder on the porch, it was pretty light when I picked it up. The kitchen was sunny and warm so I carried the box down to the basement. My aunt and uncle weren’t in the little pantry stocked with Aunt Ducky’s jars of homemade jam and pickles, and they weren’t in the laundry room either. “Where are you guys?” I called. “You got a package delivered.” “I’m very sorry we sold you a jar of ant snot when you asked for worm snot,” Uncle Theo said. “Huh?” I said. “My spell was ruined by your stupid mistake. If things don’t improve around here, you will suffer my rage,” a raspy voice answered him. “This place will suffer the rage of all the witches!” another voice screeched. “We are tired of the way this store conducts business and we won’t put up with it much longer.” “I’m so sorry, I assure you it won’t happen again. Beltrane, please bring me a jar of our finest worm snot for Witch Hensel right away,” Uncle Theo said. The voices were coming from the far left side of the basement, always the shadiest, coolest part of it because of the big maple tree that grew in the yard above. “Uncle Theo, are you okay?” I leaned into the wall to press my ear against it when something pressed against my arm. It was a glass doorknob on a slim door tucked into the corner. How had I never noticed this door before? I used to spend hours down here playing with my train set, the tracks covering every inch of the floor. I twisted the knob and the door opened easily. I poked my head out before I went through the doorway. A few uneven steps dropped to a narrow tunnel lit by small torches flickering along a crumbling brick wall. I leaned forward to read something scratched into one of the bricks: NO WITCHES ALLOWED BEYOND THIS POINT My shoulders relaxed. I’d just found Uncle Theo’s next prank. He must be getting all of this ready for Halloween. It was only August, but this one was definitely going to take a lot more work than putting fake dog poop down. Of course he had to start working on it early. This was like something in a movie. I started down the tunnel. It probably led to a room decorated with fake cobwebs and ghosts made out of old bedsheets. I’d find it, let Aunt Ducky and Uncle Theo yell “Boo!” at me and then get back to Dragons and hopefully we’d go to Dairy Queen for that strawberry sundae soon too. The sharp twists and turns of the tunnel reminded me of the cornfield maze my fourth-grade class visited last fall. After a few seconds, though, I couldn’t tell if I was going forwards or backwards, right or left. The torches gave off such little light that I kept stumbling into dark dead ends, scraping my nose against the bricks. Stairs led down one passageway only to go back up another a few seconds later. I felt like I was walking in circles. Scary, dark circles. I didn’t know what direction I was headed in and I certainly didn’t know how to get back to the basement. Hot tears filled my eyes and now I really couldn’t see where I was going. “Uncle Theo?” I called. “Aunt Ducky?” No one answered. I slumped against the wall to figure out what to do next.
  2. Criteria Ratings 1-5 as follows: 1. Uncertain 2. Understand, But Item Needs More Work 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive 4. I Believe This Base is Covered 5. Superb and Clicking With Velocity MARKET VALUE: ▪ Originality, freshness, high concept 3. Average and Must Evolve to Be Competitive: There is a market for MG/YA stories with historical settings, although the stories that display a high concept lean toward Fantasy; e.g., HARRY POTTER, HUNGER GAMES, CHRONICLES OF NARNIA. LUCIUS AND THE ONLYS uses the familiarity of the Lost Boys of PETER PAN or the orphans from OLIVER, and mixes in Ander who serves as a HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN. I’ve leaned towards a setting similar to Dennis Lehane’s A GIVEN DAY. The idea of 10 street kids living in a belfry of a Baptist Church is the hook, as well as the unique personalities of the Onlys. ▪ Clear target readership 3. Average and Must Evolve to Be Competitive: It’s always a challenge to write an MG/YA that is embraced by young readers. I’ve also tried to write the story so it would be equally interesting to adults. The way the Onlys live, their streets smarts (like OUR GANG for those who remember that old black and white serial), and the views of the world from a young Lucius, and how they he can be as wise and as sage as an adult are targeted to the younger readers. HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN is beloved by young and old. So the goal is to hit both readerships. Have I achieved that balance? The jury is still out on that. I felt I accomplished what I set out to do, but a second opinion is required to validate or correct my assumptions. ▪ Hook 4. I Believe This Base is Covered: Ten street kids living in a belfry of a Boston Baptist Church in depression era Boston taking on the baddest and most corrupt cop on the police force. The Onlys are characters that MG/YA readers can cheer for (the same way they do for characters in THE HUNGER GAMES). And how many kids have fantasies of being able to teach adults a lesson or two. LUCIUS shows them how. Adults, especially teachers can latch on to the main idea of LUCIUS AND THE ONLYS that the “words are magic.” The Onlys come to realize that if they want to make their way in the world, they have to learn words, what they mean, and how to use them. They discover that words lead to stories and stories lead to imagination. I believe this part of the story will resonate with schoolteachers which I hope will bring this story to more MG/YA readers. So the plan for this story was carefully crafted to ensure it met the high standards of today’s MG/YA market. STRUCTURE: ▪ Act Zero backstory development 4. I Believed I Covered This Base: The best evidence that I succeeded in this area is to provide samples from the first 100 pages. Below are two. From the opening scene, Lucius recalls how he ended up as leader of the Onlys. Good night to skim street hawkers so he could shut up the youngins. Four of them: two boys and two girls. Not a one could talk, but they still raised the rackets when their bellies ached. He hated winter. Too hard for him to shake a leg when his feet acted as though he pulled them out of an ice truck. And not just for the little ones, but also for Dagger, Strudel, Fingers, Bumper, and Buttons. He found every Only, streeters like him, begging or dipping garbage, skimpier than scarecrows. They looked to him and made him responsible, not that he asked them to. Not that any Big Ones cared. In the second scene of the opening chapter, Lucius tells how he, with Dagger’s help, prepared the Onlys for life on the streets of depression era Boston. Not a one of them seen as many winters. He protected them, taught them to steal – with Dagger’s help – and how to avoid the Blues. Nasty flatfoots would haul streeters to juvy or the barn, most never heard from again. Big Ones hated Onlys almost as bad as whites despised blacks. Heard the coloreds in an alley, jacking jaws, spewing funny words. Mentioned something about a Great Depression. He didn’t know about that. Still, them coloreds traveled from the south thinking Boston would provide a better life, but their lives proved no better than the Onlys, maybe worse. So he took charge. Onlys acted like babies needing caring every day, all day. He became their mother and father. Learned quickly why youngins bit on Big One’s nerves. Always wanting. ▪ Concise, effective setup with inciting incident 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: The inciting incident works (at least for me) because Ander refuses “the call” when the Onlys ask for his help. Lucius shows his belief in the teacher by following him (because Ander needs a second chance), rescuing Ander from being arrested by O’Doole in the Boston Store, hauling him back to the belfry from a frozen alley, and then convincing Ander to stay in the belfry where it’s warm so he can write his stories. The underlying desire Lucius has is revealed by skeptical Dagger. “Still think this fish can feed us?” Dagger crossed her arms the way Cue Ball had. “Or better yet, protect us from O’Doole?” It’s difficult to nail a score without being self-serving. What I can say is the decisions I made, such is Ander’s refusal, Lucius persistence, and Dagger’s skepticism, are all intentional. Technically, to me, this effectively sets up the story to come, especially when Lucius and the Onlys help Ander to get away from O’Doole. That establishes who’s on what side, who wants what (Lucius wants Ander to help, Ander wants to write his stories – and later to sell them, and O’Doole wants to bag the Onlys and get rid of Ander). I’ve engaged the techniques taught in the modules, but further practice is required to increase proficiency. However, I feel I accomplished what I set out to do. ▪ Plot line arc, and subplots (if appropriate) 4. I Believe This Base is Covered: (See below) Main Plot Line: When Lucius rescues Ander, he’s believes he’s found the Big One to help him rescue the Onlys. Even after Ander refuses to help, he persists in his belief. This is the First Goal: To convince Ander to help the Onlys. (The 2nd goal later in the story is deciding to get rid of O’Doole so the Onlys can be safe.) Lucius has to convince the Onlys, especially a skeptical Dagger to believe in Ander. The beginning of that effort takes place at the end of the second scene in Chapter 1. “It’s warm because the preacher gave us a second chance.” Down the street he watched Ander amble away, head slumped to his chest. He turned back and faced his friend. “Maybe that’s all he needs.” Subplot 1: Dagger’s skepticism of Ander. Dagger calls Ander a “cold fish.” She doesn’t believe the Big One can protect them from O’Doole. From the start when Lucius wants to throw a tomato to divert three bullies from abusing Ander in the Commons, Dagger challenges Lucius. Dagger snagged his wrist. “You going to waste perfectly good eats on that fish?” Later in the story, Dagger will blame Ander for ruining the Onlys. Her skepticism creates a divide between her and Lucius that grows to a final explosion just before the climax where Dagger challenges O’Doole but the cop bashes her head and sends her to the hospital fighting for her life. Subplot 2: Ander lost his job as a teacher at Hamilton Elementary when he refused to pass a failing student who was the son of a major benefactor for the school. His relationship with the Onlys is important, not only to his growth, but even more so to the growth of the Onlys as he becomes their Hans Christian Andersen, telling stories that teach the Onlys how words can stir imagination, open up their world, and lead to opportunities far beyond the belfry. The Onlys help Ander by pulling him from his depression, allowing him to teach again, and more importantly, write the stories that have been begging to be free. Subplot 3: O’Doole is a corrupt cop. He works protection rackets for Joe Lombardo, a local mob boss. To further supplement his income, he snags streeters and sells them to the Scotsman at Juvenile Hall where they are shopped out as cheap labor. These are his streets. When the Onlys and Ander embarrass him with Lombardo, O’Doole pledges (antagonist goal) to bag all the Onlys and sending Ander to Dead Man’s Field. The trouble begins in the Boston Store after O’Doole catches Ander stealing papers and pencils, but Lucius and his friend come to Ander’s rescue. Pencils in one hand, stationery in the other. O’Doole stopped twirling. He (Ander) gripped the nightstick’s handle so hard it squeaked. His dark eyes turned hateful. A few more steps and that hard club would crack his skull easier than a sledgehammer on a coconut. The doorbell jarred him. Pencils dropped and paper fluttered. Lucius and Dagger brushed passed as though they’d never met. They kicked around the mess on the floor. “Phew, Mister,” Lucius said. “Ever hear of a bath?” “Never mind the stinking fish.” Dagger held a finger under her bitty noise. “Where’s the money?” “I thought you had it.” Ding-a-ling. Strudel shoved Ander around him toward the open door and confronted his friends. “Where’s my candy?” His whine amplified. “I’m hungry.” “What?” Dagger said. “You ain’t ate in the last five minutes?” Ander slipped out the door. O’Doole hurried down the aisle but the Onlys blocked him. “You hear these guys?” Lucius said. “This one forgets the money and the other thinks it’s my problem.” “Out of my way.” “Aren’t you going to stand up for me? What kind of officer are you?” O’Doole raised his club. “Think I don’t know you? Heard enough about your thieving ways. Now move before I crack some coconuts.” They stepped apart and O’Doole rushed out the door. “Think he made it?” Dagger said. Lucius frowned at the closed door. “If he knows what’s good for him.” ▪ Well designed reversals (major and minor) 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: Major Reversal: Ander agrees to return with Lucius to the belfry to write his stories after he had refused earlier to help the Onlys. Minor Reversal: Ander asks Lucius to teach him how to pinch. The first 50 pages are Act 1, which is a bit longer than the 1-30 pages recommended. The refusal by Ander to help the Onlys sets up Lucius persistence and a second rescue at the Boston Store and then a third in the frozen alley. Lucius persistence is rewarded when he convinces Ander to come back to the belfry (Major Reversal). Does it take too long to develop the story? The pieces fit together, but the hard question is will the reader allow the story to develop. Because of the uniqueness of the Onlys, I believe the readers will. ▪ Pinch points (at least two) 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: Pinch Point 1: Lucius and his friends distract O’Doole in the Boston Store so Ander can escape before O’Doole can arrest him for trying to steal paper and pencils. This is a pinch point because it ties the Onlys to Ander and it’s clear that both are targets for O’Doole. Pinch Point 2: Lombardo tells O’Doole to solve the problem of the Onlys trashing the Five and Dime. O’Doole decides that he’s going to make some profit at the same time by bagging the Onlys, selling to the Scotsman at Juvenile Hall, and then sending Ander to Dead Man’s Field. Lucius and his friends don’t understand how dangerous it was to help Ander at the Boston Store, even when O’Doole tells them that he knows of their thieving ways but lets them go because he wants Ander at that moment. But O’Doole doesn’t forget and continues to hunt the Onlys, especially after Lombardo calls him out for allowing the Only to trash the Five and Dime, a regularly paying protection customer. Pinch Point Three: Lucius decides the only way the Onlys can be safe is to be rid of O’Doole. (Leads to the climax). Are these pinch points strong enough to propel the story forward? On the face, they appear to be. ▪ Catalytic situation driven 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: The catalyst is Lucius persistent belief and actions he takes to prove his intuition is correct that Ander can help the Onlys. His willingness to follow Ander, and the fact he intervened in Ander’s behalf three time (the Commons, the Boston Store, and the frozen alley), as well as trying to teach Ander to pinch (the Five and Dime), illustrate his strong belief in the man. This belief is later tested, but never fails, even in the face of O’Doole’s evil. ▪ Conflict, tension, rising action, 4. I Believe This Base is Covered: The level of conflict, tension and action constantly rises through the first 5 chapters. From Lucius belief in Ander, to Dagger’s skepticism, Ander’s self-doubt, and O’Doole’s pomposity, each character has their own wants and desires that are in opposition with the other characters: the correct recipe for conflict. Even when Ander is sleeping and Dagger clicks her switchblade, the tension the Onlys feel is thick in the belfry. She clicked the blade closed, the Onlys flinching with the sound. “Sorry. Yous know we’s need this.” “He ain’t gonna hurt us,” Lucius said. Their squinting eyes didn’t agree. The tension ratchets when O’Doole catches Ander stealing in the Boston Store but is released when the Onlys rescue him. While the Five and Dime “squeeze play” is humorous, the tension is there when the store manager arrives as described by Lucuis. A roly-poly manager whirled around the back counter, bobbing toward them, his face riper than a tomato, neck pipes bulging. He yanked his tie down for air and then shrieked worse than a workday whistle. The scene with O’Doole in Tataglia’s with Lombordo has a sharp edge when O’Doole makes the money drop and screws with Lombardo until the mob boss challenges him to get the kids who trashed the Five and Dime. O’Doole is still human, even with his inherent evil, as shown by his relationship with his parents. Even that relationship is strained as shown by his mother’s reaction to O’Doole kissing her cheek. “Red birds be by again in a wee bit.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. She shoved his face away. “Shut your cake hole. How you be squeezing your own? Working for those people. And you playin’ like you’re a police officer. It’s a wonder Pa ever comes home.” I worked hard at ensuring each character had their own wants/desires to create conflict and tension and add to the rising action. That’s why I chose the above score. ▪ Every scene relevant (i.e., to driving plot forward) 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: Scene 1: Lucius rescues Ander in the Commons and believes he can help the Onlys. Scene 2: Lucius finds the pouch with the papers and thinks the words that they can’t read might help when Ander wakes and explains them. Scene 3: Ander refuses to help. Lucius decides to follow Ander. Scene 4: Lucius learns that Ander lost his job and home and decides he needs a second chance like Pastor Johnson gave the Onlys. Scene 5: Ander tries to steal paper and O’Doole catches them. Lucius and his friends divert O’Doole so Ander can escape. (Pinch Point) Scene 6: Lucius finds Ander in a frozen alley and with Daggers help brings him back to the belfry. Ander asks Lucius if he can teach a teacher how to pinch (minor reversal). Scene 7: Lucius plan to teach Ander how to pitch blows up under a pile of No. 2 pencils. Ander uses words to rescue the Onlys. Lucius convinces Ander to come back to the belfry where it’s warm to write his stories. (Major Reversal – Beginning of Lucius 1st goal). Scene 8: O’Doole is with is Mom before work and she hates that he’s squeezing the locals for the mob when he’s supposed to be a police officer. Scene 9: O’Doole meets Lombardo to make a money drop and Lombardo wants him to take care of the kids who trashed the Five and Dime. Each scene builds to support the next from Lucius finding and believing in Ander, to his persistence belief in the Big One to the point of following and rescuing the man three times. It convinces Ander to stay in the belfry. O’Doole is upset that he didn’t catch Ander and the Onlys are tied to the teacher since they helped him escape at the Boston Store (and he later learns they are responsible for trashing the Five and Dime). The sequences feel logical and one MG/YA readers can easily follow. That’s the reason for the above score. ▪ Effective, believable climax 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: The climax is when Lucius convinces Dickens to change side and sets up a meeting at Fenway Park, but it goes south when Dicken’s is late with the Chief of Police. Lucius goes to the backup plan that places him, Ander, and the Onlys in an alley with O’Doole and his posse. While I like the climax, I’m not sure if it’s strong enough, there’s enough action, and if the setting add to the tension and pushes the story forward. ▪ Resolution 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: Lucius persistent belief in Ander convinces the Big One to return to the belfry. This is the start of Lucius obtaining his first goal: to get Ander to help the Onlys. That doesn’t happen completely until later in Act II when Ander tells the Onlys the story THE MAGIC BOOK and then agrees to be their teacher. I find the scoring system challenging because I know exactly what I wanted to do during the writing of the novel, followed my two-goal six act outline with some consistency, made a concerted effort to apply the techniques taught in all the modules, and felt that the decisions I made were for specific and exacting reasons to propel the story forward. CHARACTERS: ▪ Antagonistic force 5. Superb and Clicking With Velocity: The only time you’ll see this high a score. O’Doole is one of the two best antagonist I feel I’ve ever created. He has a human side in that he takes care of aging parents, even if his parents disagree with the way he goes about it. The reader gets a sense of just how hard a man O’Doole is when the cop catches Ander stealing in the Boston store. The nightstick slamming twice on the counter froze him. “You’ll be wantin’ to pay for those, I’m sure.” The Irish tenor voice sounded ready to sing. He cocked his head toward the mirror above the back counter with an excellent view of the aisles. O’Doole stuffed the envelop into the inside breast pocket, the bulge elevating his badge. He twirled his nightstick with practiced skill. Run, his mind screamed, but someone must have spread glue on the floor. “You be havin’ permission to steal on my streets?” His head shifted side to side. No idea where he found the courage. Pencils in one hand, stationery in the other. O’Doole stopped twirling. He gripped the nightstick’s handle so hard it squeaked. His dark eyes turned hateful. A few more steps and that hard club would crack his skull easier than a sledgehammer on a coconut. The antagonistic force is also on display as O’Doole taunts Lombardo at the Italian restaurant to the point that the man wants to shoot him. O’Doole handle’s this tension casually when he says, “Joseph, if you mean to shoot me, do it quickly and get on with your lunch.” I purposely used syntax and cadence to reflect his Irish accent. I worked hard so that the reader could hear that Irish tenor wanting to sing. This is a character the reader will remember long after they finish reading the story. ▪ Consistent opposition 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: You can never have too much conflict. Even the simple things like Lucius asking Dagger and Strudel why they didn’t stay in the belfry like he asked. Ander’s refusal to help is a constant opposition to Lucius persistent belief that he can. There is no scarier opposition than O’Doole, and that’s well established in the first 50 pages (the sample of the Boston Store with Ander above illustrates this). Again, my scoring is conservative for a reason. While I made the decisions and believe my choices are reasonable, I’ve written enough to know that there are always opportunities for improvement. At this point I may be too close to the story and need that outside objective viewpoint to identify holes, issues, or poor technique. ▪ Protagonist’s goals 4. I Believe This Base is Covered: Lucius persistent belief in Ander that he can help the Onlys “shows” clearly to the reader why Lucius keeps pushing Ander to thelp them. It’s even more clear when Lucius gets Ander to agree to come back to the belfry. He didn’t let Ander run far. “A might warmer in the belfry to write them words, if yous can do it with the Youngins makin’ the rackets.” Ander returned. He bent over and looked him in the eye. “No one has ever believed in me. Why should you?” “Mayhap we could believe in each other.” Ander straightened and extended a hand. Lucius gripped it as hard as his strength let him. He hoped it was enough. ▪ Sympathetic protagonist 4. I Believe This Base is Covered: One paragraph shows how much Lucius wishes he could be like the regular kids instead of a streeter. Easier on his own, sliding between tall wool coats, their warmth slowing him enough to wonder what it be like for one of them to hold him close for real. Lucky kids they were, with covers that didn’t have holes, gloves warming all the fingers, wool scarves circling the neck, and stocking caps over the ears. They looked as toasty as being by the fire in the belfry. Another paragraph illustrates the role of leader thrust on Lucius and how hard he found it to act like a Big One to take care of the Onlys. So he took charge. Onlys acted like babies needing caring every day, all day. He became their mother and father. Learned quickly why youngins bit on Big One’s nerves. Always wanting. I believe LUCIUS AND THE ONLYS are characters that MG/YA readers will root for as they read the story. ▪ Protagonist’s arc 4. I Believe This Base is Covered: While we see how Lucius has to take on the role of leader of the Onlys and acting like a Big One, it’s Ander that demonstrates that he still has a lot to learn. “And what’s your story?” Lucius didn’t know what Ander wanted. “Everyone has a story,” Ander said. “Are you the oldest?” “Mayhap,” he said. “I’m the tallest, though.” “Not by much,” Dagger said. “Don’t pay her no mind.” “Looks like they eat more than you do.” Ander’s eyes trailed along the other Onlys. “We find eats where we can.” The Big One stood and circled. Lucius shifted on his feet turning with him. Ander fingered his hair and he pulled away. “Do you know the color?” “Like fall leaves,” he said, “just softer.” “You know what I think?” He did and didn’t want to know. “Maybe twelve, maybe thirteen. Need to eat more. Be a sight more useful to the others. You’re quick, I’ll bet.” The Onlys giggled, except for Dagger. She squinted and followed Ander, her face stiff and angry. “Like me, you could use a bit more sun.” Ander looked to Dagger. “And you certainly don’t know about girls.” Heat spread through his cheeks. He didn’t like the Onlys’ grins or Dagger’s glare. “Think you know a lot, don’t you?” Ander leaned and he stepped back. “But you don’t know as much as you think.” Why was this Big One doing this? He was supposed to be helping them. Lucius sets the example for the other Onlys. As Lucius goes, so goes the Onlys. What’s even more interesting is watching a child teach an adult (Lucius teaching Ander how to pinch). Also in this exchange where Lucius surprises Ander with his street wisdom. “What’d you want the paper and pencils for?” The Big One’s face stretched in odd directions. He couldn’t tell if Ander was mad or sick. Still hard to call him Ander like he asked. Mayhap time would come, but not today. “You’re betting on a slow horse.” Ander warmed his hands over the flames. “Why didn’t you pinch yourself food?” he said. “Yous need that a sight more than paper.” “How do you know what I need?” “You’re alive.” He slid away from the fire, still feeling the heat, and not all of it from crackling flames. “I suppose you think I should be grateful.” “Mayhap you forgot what you need.” “You wouldn’t understand.” “We’re here. It’s warm. We understand more than you think.” “Remember the words I showed you before.” Buttons shook his fist, the plastic clicking. He lifted his red freckles into firelight. “On them papers we tried to burn.” The Big One flushed, but his color came back quick. The Onlys could grow on you, just like they did with him when he’d found them on the streets. “I had more words I needed to write. Important words.” “Them words more important than feeding your belly?” “You’re too young to understand,” Ander said. “Big Ones, as you call us, see the world differently.” “Never seen anyone eat words.” Ander wanted to take back what he told the boy. Astute beyond his years. If he ever wrote the stories in his head and sold them, then yes, he could feed himself. This arc continues through the novel and jumps exponentially when Ander teaches Lucius words and the leader of the Onlys learns how to read. ▪ Supporting characters 4. I Believe This Base is Covered: I know the direction about not hyping or high scoring ourselves. However, I feel blessed to have discovered these characters: Dagger, Bumper, Buttons, Fingers, and Strudel. The youngins don’t have speaking parts until the end when Ander finds their parents and they are able to go to their real home. In the third scene of the opening chapter I chose to go into the minds of these characters so the readers could see what they thought about Ander possibly helping them. Dagger’s skepticism is strong internally and externally. The other Onlys show a timidity toward the Big One, but defer to Lucius because he takes care of them. Each has their unique flavor and wants/desires. Dagger: Carries the switchblade, the Onlys protection. As Lucius says, she can act a boy and a girl before she even finishes a sentence. She thinks Ander’s cute, but not enough to trust him. Bumper: A chunky black kid with a huge heart. He’s never faced discrimination because the Onlys treat him as family (that happens later when a group of teens beats Bumper up for being black). He wants to fit in and be special. Buttons: Strawberry hair and freckles, and carries red and blue plastic buttons that he uses to play tidily-winks. A playful child. Fingers: Long fingers and long blonde hair. Girls make his skin prickle and he hates it when Lucius plays against that when they execute a pinch. Strudel: He’s the eating machine, especially if it’s sweet. He’s always hungry. But he’s loyal and will do anything for his friends. They are all sympathetic characters, the kinds that MG/YA readers (and adult parents) will relate to. NARRATIVE DEVELOPMENT: ▪ Scene length and structure 2. Understand, But Item Needs More Work: I’m a firm believer in “get in late and get out early” in scenes. En media res (in the middle of the action). I worked at applying the lessons from the modules, but still feel I’m in a development stage as it relates to those techniques. I understand that scenes need to have a beginning, middle, and end and I believe that my scenes do. Each scene has to propel the story forward. Use the setting to develop the characters and advance the story. Some of the techniques are intuitive, others I have to consciously think about. The length of the scenes in the first 50 pages I feel are the correct length. The actions the characters take, the conflict, and how it propels the story were intentional and specific. I’m hopeful the above answers to the other sections of this score sheet illustrates that. The story is linear in nature, but not surprising since I’ve worked for the military for 38 years and that life tends to ingrain linear thinking. I still think I need work at developing setting within the character actions and decisions so that I get the most out of my settings and propel the story. ▪ Effective transitions 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: I feel as though the transitions used between scene and chapters were effective and accomplished what I intended them to do. I also tried to have chapter hooks that were strong enough to make the reader not want to put the book down. I believe I still need work in this area and that transitions and hooks could be stronger. ▪ Clarity of spatial set 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: To be honest, I’m not sure what’s meant by this section. I’m making an assumption that this is the POV module and where we’re talking about what John Gardner called “psychic distance” (the distance between the reader and the character). The modules in this area were excellent, as were the exercises. I feel that experience translated into the first 50 pages, but could be improved upon. I have no problem getting deep into the minds of character, allowing them to ruminate and consider, and then act. I consider this area still a work in progress. There are samples in this score sheet that illustrate internal monologue and rumination to support this score. ▪ Comprehensible prose narrative 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: I’m careful not to go too deep into narrative summary as I believe MG/YA readers tend to want more action. I could use additional camera long shots that create the panoramic (cinematic) imagery that would add to a reader’s fictive dream. The module on this area was excellent, but my experience is lacking and will improve with practice. One part where I think I was able to capture this was when Lucius described the church tower where the belfry is located. People scurried to flee the chill. Most were headed to Boston First Baptist. The white glow from Mister Moon bathed the church’s tower, a square-stoned finger pointing toward Heaven. Amazed him how anyone could stack stone on stone until he could see over the trees from the belfry. Whoever built this place liked arches, including three in front that churchgoers in long coats, old suits, and hand-me-downs walked through. People looking for spiritual guidance – as Pastor Johnson liked to say – or mayhap they lived each day like him and the Onlys, hoping for a miracle. Still a work in progress. ▪ Tension on the page 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: The goal is tension on every page. I’m not confident I hit that mark, but I do feel I created a good deal of tension in every scene and chapter. When Lucius leaves his hiding place to face the Big One he just splattered with a tomato and lies to the guy telling him the person who threw the tomato ran off, the tension is strong. It’s also evident when Lucius is introducing Ander to the Onlys as shown by the Onlys internal thoughts about Ander (the reason I chose to be in more then one mind in that scene). When Ander is caught by O’Doole stealing paper and pencils, the tension is very high. The same when O’Doole is in the restaurant with Lombardo and he taunts the mob boss enough that he’s almost shot. So I feel I have achieve a level of tension in the story, but I’m undecided as to whether it’s written to a competitive level. ▪ Dialogue mastery 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: Dialogue is not everything that’s said, but the essence of what’s said. It needs to draw the characters, incite action, and propel the story forward. Below are samples of dialogue where I thought I achieved this, but still believe it could be improved to make the dialogue pop of the page. “Thought I told you to lay behind?” he said. “And listen to the brats whine?” “Don’t be callin’ them that. They’s youngins for a reason. And they’s hungry just like yous.” “Well I’m hungry, too.” Strudel waddled from behind a Big One near as tall as the belfry tower and eyes wondering what they were up to. He wanted to yell but that wouldn’t do a difference. “Come on,” he said, “afore someone knows we’re streeters.” “Like that ain’t obvious,” Dagger said. Glaring at her and Strudel didn’t convince them to go back to the belfry. “Yous might regret the cold.” They eyed their stomachs. More important than being chilled. Even he had to admit that. “It’s warm in the belfry,” he said. “Yous know what a dead fish smells like?” Dagger leaned, hands on her knees, squishing her face, mayhap for the smell, even if the fish weren’t really dead. Then Strudel surprised him, using some street smarts for a change. “He’s a big one all right. Be a sight of trouble lugging him to the belfry.” Widest grin he’d had in a year and all thanks to his best pals. “Always knew yous two were good for something.” “And what’s your story?” Lucius didn’t know what Ander wanted. “Everyone has a story,” Ander said. “Are you the oldest?” “Mayhap,” he said. “I’m the tallest, though.” “Not by much,” Dagger said. “Don’t pay her no mind.” “Looks like they eat more than you do.” Ander’s eyes trailed along the other Onlys. “We find eats where we can.” The Big One stood and circled. Lucius shifted on his feet turning with him. Ander fingered his hair and he pulled away. “Do you know the color?” “Like fall leaves,” he said, “just softer.” “You know what I think?” He did and didn’t want to know. “Maybe twelve, maybe thirteen. Need to eat more. Be a sight more useful to the others. You’re quick, I’ll bet.” The Onlys giggled, except for Dagger. She squinted and followed Ander, her face stiff and angry. “Like me, you could use a bit more sun.” Ander looked to Dagger. “And you certainly don’t know about girls.” Heat spread through his cheeks. He didn’t like the Onlys’ grins or Dagger’s glare. “Think you know a lot, don’t you?” Ander leaned and he stepped back. “But you don’t know as much as you think.” ▪ Exposition delivery 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: I think I’ve been doing exposition intuitively based on reading the assigned books, as well as novels by excellent writers (Cormac McCarthy, Peter Matthiessen, Larry McMurtry, etc.). The Module on Exposition helped me understand the process more clearly. I worked at incorporating it into the first 100 pages. Here’s a small sample: People scurried to flee the chill. Most were headed to Boston First Baptist. The white glow from Mister Moon bathed the church’s tower, a square-stoned finger pointing toward Heaven. Amazed him how anyone could stack stone on stone until he could see over the trees from the belfry. Whoever built this place liked arches, including three in front that churchgoers in long coats, old suits, and hand-me-downs walked through. People looking for spiritual guidance – as Pastor Johnson liked to say – or mayhap they lived each day like him and the Onlys, hoping for a miracle. He liked the arch high above the doors, the one with the circular window set inside, with eight blades, almost like a fan. During the day, red, blue, and gold tinted glass added color to the brown and yellow stones, a brightness that felt like hope. If not for First Baptist and Pastor Johnson, he and the Onlys would be living on the streets, more so than they already did. I believe I still need more exposition and to look for additional opportunities to include exposition through the novel that will enhance its feel and the reader’s connection to the story. ▪ Narrative composition (quality of set, tension, cinema, character interactions) 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive: The quality of the set could use work. It’s a constant effort to find the right words that adds a concrete image to ground the reader so tightly in the fictive dream that they feel they are part of the story. I feel as though I’ve done an effective job a creating tension and building it over the first 50 pages. However, there’s always room for improvement. The cinema (setting) still could use some work to improve the imagery, adding more effective nouns and verbs, metaphors, and use of the senses to ground readers in 1937 Boston. The language, syntax, and cadence of the dialogue adds to the feel, but a better drawing of the “place” will improve the writing further. ▪ Cinematic imagery (static and dynamic) 2. Understand, But Item Needs More Work: My weakest area. Little pieces of good work such as the Exposition sample above, but I still need to develop this skill further so it becomes a natural part of the story. The static cinematic imagery in the first 50 is Boston’s First Baptist Church, the tower, and the belfry. The dynamic is the Five and Dime when Ander tries for his first pinch and the squeeze play is blown up by a falling stack of No. 2 pencils. The stage setting was okay, but I still feel it could be more natural, moving smoother through the scene like a moving camera. Still some work to be done. ▪ Proper point-of-view 4. I Believe This Base is Covered: This is a strength for me. I can say that because my Jacksonville, FL, writing mentor is one the best I’ve ever met at POV. The POV Module validated all the lessons I’ve learned over the past eight years. I’m confident in my ability to be in the correct POV. What the POV module did was illustrate how I can more effective movie through different POV levels from long shot to in the mind, to add character, increase tension, and propel the story. I’ve worked to incorporate that in the first 50 pages. Also, I went into multiple minds in the third scene of Chapter 1 intentionally because I wanted the reader to know what the Onlys thought about Ander after Lucius brought him to the belfry. The only other time I chose to move into more than one mind was in the climax because the major characters were there and it was important to see the story to the finish. ▪ Wise use of craft technique 4. I Believe This Base is Covered: I have a good deal of confidence in my ability with the craft of writing because I have been diligently studying the craft for more than 8 years (the last two with AS). I kept any open mind with each of the modules and worked to faithfully complete them as designed, to soak up as much as I could from them and to apply them to the first 50 pages. I believe I was reasonably successful at using the techniques taught in the modules throughout the first 50 pages. I don’t believe I know everything and even what I do know, I still need to practice many more times until it become intuitive. The above scoring and samples should illustrate that I’ve have a good working knowledge of the craft of writing and continue to learn and work to improve in all areas. ▪ Interior Monologue and rumination 4. I Believe This Base is Covered: My study of craft, in particular POV, has helped develop skills in these areas. The best way to show that is with interior monologue and rumination samples below: He liked the arch high above the doors, the one with the circular window set inside, with eight blades, almost like a fan. During the day, red, blue, and gold tinted glass added color to the brown and yellow stones, a brightness that felt like hope. If not for First Baptist and Pastor Johnson, he and the Onlys would be living on the streets, more so than they already did. He snatched his wrist from her grip. She glared in that girly way, enough to cause shivers. Where did dames learn that stuff? Didn’t seem fair. He pushed his girl problems aside, cocked his arm again, and zeroed in on the tallest Big One shaking the cod enough that he might my drop coins. The fish should fight back, but he didn’t. Mayhap he lost his care. Lucius leaned on a square pole, sharp edge creasing his coat, ignoring the hurt because it helped him think. The Big One didn’t mind kids, didn’t want to run off, and didn’t look at him as though he had a sickness he should avoid. Not as sad today. Tried to think of other Big Ones with tired, lonely faces like the one he saw last night. Couldn’t do it. Black stubble spotted this one’s chin and neck. He’d missed some meals. Lucius shivered remembering days when he and the Onlys did without before they found the belfry and Pastor Johnson.
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