Okay, I have another confession to make. So, a few weeks ago I attended the LDStorymakers
Writing Conference. That same week, I finished the first draft of a novel (is that too audacious a term to use?) I have been working on for the past year or so.
Anywho, there were some literary agents at the conference. And, there was a 1st Chapter contest, which I entered and took 2nd place (for general fiction). (If you want to read the fantastic 1st place entry, click here
).So, feeling encouraged, I sent a query letter to one of the agents. And, wonder of wonders, she requested that I submit her the first 30 pages of my manuscript.
Now - for those of you who I've inflicted with the reading of my manuscript (you know who you are), you know full well that it still needs quite a bit of work. Sending a query letter was a little premature. So, I spent hours fixing up the first 30 pages, and then, on Friday, emailed it to the agent. Fingers crossed.
The agent had said that it would take about two months to get a response. But, bright and early Monday morning, there was an email in my inbox, saying, thanks, but no thanks.
Even though it was expected, rejection still hurts! And, of course, it makes me wonder if my writing is just pure garbage.
I won't subject you to the first 30 pages of my rejected manuscript :), but, below, is my 1st Chapter, revised. And, since I am trying to grow a thicker skin, I want your honest feedback. What (if anything) do you like about this? And what needs to be changed?Up in the Air
Emi was melting.
She curled the ribbon of the balloon tighter around her hand, pulling until the thin red tie nearly cut into her flesh, but it was no use. It was too hot out. She could already feel the sweat cutting salty trails down her face and back and thighs. At any moment, she would be reduced to no more than a puddle of eyes and ears and elbows, languishing on the pavement.
It was better here, though, at the edge of the pier. There was a slight breeze and when she stood on the tips of her toes she could see over the cement barricade and feel the spray of water on her face.
A sharp gust of wind tugged at the balloon, and Emi tightened her grip on the ribbon. It was important that she not let it go. Not now. Not yet. Not until Mrs. Call did the countdown. Emi turned around and leaned against the cement wall, facing the Chicago skyline, and spied Mrs. Call corralling the dozen or so first-graders who had not yet made it to the end of the pier. Hers was no small task, as the pier was chock full of distractions. The children were scattered like jacks across the boardwalk – some crowded playfully around the distortion mirrors, others stopped to watch the giant Ferris Wheel make its steady, endless rotation on its axis, their heads tipped back so far they looked like life-sized Pez dispensers.
It was easy for Emi to spot her classmates. Each was dressed in a bright yellow t-shirt with the school’s name emblazoned across the chest. And, of course, there were the balloons. They made a pretty picture, her classmates, parading down the pavement, the balloons flapping above them like colorful birds.
Emi was dressed like the other children, but she wasn’t like them. Not anymore. She suspected this was why Ms. Jackson, the principal of Grosvenor Elementary, had leashed and collared her with her eyes the moment they arrived at Navy Pier. Ms. Jackson stood stiffly beside Emi now, her wiry arms folded like a pretzel across her chest, pinning Emi to the ground with her gaze.
Mrs. Call finally reached them, fussing with the headband that was doing a poor job of taming her wavy red hair. Her cheeks were flushed from the heat and the exertion of walking. She paused to catch her breath and looked imploringly at Ms. Jackson.
“What happened to spring?” she asked. It was early May but felt like August.
“This heat’s our reward for enduring such a brutal winter.”
“Punishment’s more like it,” Mrs. Call said. “I don’t know why anyone lives in this miserable city.” She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand. “The kids don’t seem to mind, though.”
“No.” Ms. Jackson said, nearly smiling at the frolicking children, who seemed as light and airy as the balloons they held. “Although, Katy, I wonder if this little exercise,” she emphasized the word by signing quotation marks with her hands, “will do them any good.”
Mrs. Call looked pointedly at Emi, and then, as if anchoring her down, placed a hand firmly on her shoulder. “If nothing else, Virginia, they’ll benefit from the sunshine and fresh air.”
“It’s Ms. Jackson, Katy.”
“Let it go,” Mrs. Call snapped back, and then, just as quickly, began to stammer out an apology. “I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s just…” Mrs. Call looked at Emi and gave her a wan little smile, and then ever so slightly increased the pressure of her hand on her shoulder. “I’m not myself. I haven’t been myself since…”
Ms. Jackson stopped her with a wave of her hand. “Since the incident,” she said, carefully.
Even Ms. Jackson, with her wiry arms and tongue like a whip, was hiding from what had happened. She was hiding the way all grown-ups hid – with words. Emi wanted to hide, too, but, even at six years old, she knew that words weren’t enough of a cover. Words couldn’t stop bullets.
“Well, if we’re going to do this thing, let’s do it,” Ms. Jackson said, as the last stragglers finally made it to the end of the pier. “Let’s get on with it and let these balloons go.”
Ms. Jackson wrangled the children into a tight cluster and started the headcount. Emi was numbered and counted with her classmates, but she was still separate from them. They skipped and sang about her, unburdened. Unafraid. She stood at the perimeter of the group, Mrs. Call’s hand still heavy on her shoulder, and waited for the impending countdown with an increasing feeling of dread.
“Twenty-two,” Ms. Jackson called. “All here.”
Mrs. Call cringed. “All here,” she said. The students looked at her, suddenly somber. It was a lie. They weren’t all here, but there was nothing anyone could do about it now. Mrs. Call’s face splotched into bright red patches. She was going to cry. Ms. Jackson nudged her sharply with her elbow, and, after an interminable moment of silence, she finally composed herself enough to face her students.
“Okay, children,” she said, doing her best to hold their attention with her soft voice. “You each hold a balloon in your hand.” The children looked up at the balloons in unison, as if suddenly aware of this fact. “Inside each balloon is a message of hope.”
Emi looked up and saw the dark shadow that was the message of hope resting against the swollen wall of the red balloon. Like a seed, she thought. She had planted the message earlier that morning, in the classroom, after Mrs. Call had passed out the balloons and, in response to a burst of questions, had explained to the children that “Galactic Joe’s Diner,” the name imprinted on the balloons, was the restaurant her husband owned. He had donated the balloons, Mrs. Call had said, thankfully, because by this time of the school year, her budget was all but gone.
Then came the slips of paper. And even more questions. Most of the children had struggled with the assignment, but Emi had known exactly what words to write on her message of hope. And it wasn’t just because they were the first she had learned. It was because she needed the words of her message, not to hide behind, but to stand on. She had carefully rolled the message into a tight spiral and slipped it inside the balloon. It was only after they had arrived at the pier, after Emi realized that she was going to have to let her message go into that wide, blue sky, that she had started to panic.
“Mrs. Call, where will they go?”
“Where will what go, Evan?”
“The balloons. The messages.”
She exchanged a worried glance with Ms Jackson. Both of them were dumbstruck. Emi could see they didn’t know the answer. But she was only six. She didn’t want to know that grown-ups didn’t have an answer for everything. She didn’t want to know that, despite their fixed gazes and firm hands, they didn’t have the power to keep her feet on the ground.
The children were beginning to lose interest. The tight cluster Ms. Jackson had arranged them in was fast becoming a loose crowd. Mrs. Call looked desperately about her, her lips pursed into a thin line. Finally, Ms. Jackson unknotted her arms and placed her hands firmly on her hips. She looked straight at the children, and without a hint of irony, said, “To Sam. The messages will go to Sam.”
“To Sam,” Mrs. Call repeated. It had been awhile since the children had heard her say that name out loud. They were instantly attentive, somber. Nothing more needed to be said.
“On three,” Mrs. Call said. “One…,two…”
Emi waited anxiously for three. Now that the time had come to release the balloon, she was certain she couldn’t let it go. The message, as much as Mrs. Call’s steady hand, was weighing her down, keeping her grounded.
There was a sudden rush of movement and color. Somehow, Emi had missed the cue. The other balloons were already rushing from earth, while hers remained safely anchored in her hand. Emi raised her unoccupied hand to her brow and watched the balloons rise. It was not as spectacular a sight as she had imagined it would be. She had supposed that on the count of three, the balloons would rise in a conglomerate mass of color, brilliant and dazzling against the sky. But it wasn’t like that. There was no conglomerate mass of color. In fact, after a moment, Emi struggled to see the balloons at all. They were only scattered points of red and green and orange among a vast sea of blue. They looked wistfully vulnerable, and then disappeared altogether.
Emi didn’t want to see her balloon disappear. But now all eyes were on her, demanding that she release the balloon into that wide, blue oblivion. She hesitated, and then, caving to pressure, uncurled her palm and felt the ribbon’s light brush as it left her hand. It left like a whisper, she thought. Like a softly spoken word. She didn’t dare to lift her eyes to watch its solitary drift into the air. She didn’t dare to lift her eyes to watch it fade away. So instead she averted her eyes to the ground, and tried not to concentrate on the heat and the sweat and the melting. She closed her eyes and felt her feet firm and steady on the gleaming pavement, silently willing herself not to vanish