This is a guest blog post by Wick Thomas about the Save MO Libraries rally.
I was the primary organizer of our Save MO Libraries rally in Jefferson City on Wednesday. The Governor is currently withholding 6 million dollars in appropriated funds from the libraries statewide and has recommended the same cuts next year. We decided to get some of our amazing teens together and take them to the Capitol to meet with their legislators to talk about why libraries are so important in their communities. We all had a great day until we got the Governor's office where his staff had us thrown out and threatened us with state troopers...
We had almost 100 teenagers take off from Kansas City for the Save MO Libraries Rally bright and early at 8 a.m. with a great media send off. It is Kansas City Public Schools spring break so we had an especially good turnout!
We arrived at the Missouri River Regional Library at 11:00 a.m. for pizza, to make posters, and to have an orientation for the day. (The Missouri River Regional Library staff is amazing!) Then we headed over to the South Steps of the State Capitol for the rally at 1:00.
We started a few minutes early because it began to rain and we were worried about the sound equipment. The teens decided that the rally should happen regardless of the rain, though. We had library systems from all over Missouri join us! I got to introduce some great speakers: our Library Director Crosby Kemper, noted civil rights activist Alvin Sykes, Camden County Library Director Michael Davis, State Librarian Barbara Reading, and teens from Kansas City Academy, Southwest High, Truman, East High, Northeast High and Van Horn. It was a spirited rally and the teens were especially great.
After that we went to our scheduled meetings with almost all of the senators and representatives from the Kansas City library districts as well as the Secretary of State's office. We split into three smaller groups to be more manageable and so the teens could meet with their specific officials. All of the meetings went very well. Our kids asked good questions and most of the legislators greeted them warmly and thanked them for caring so deeply about this issue.
We then headed to the Governor's office. His staff told us he was currently out of state but knew that we were going to come to his office anyway to speak with them. We got many of the teens into the reception area and then started calmly and respectfully asking them questions. After one of our teen's questions we were told that since there were meetings going on we were being too loud and had to leave. (We have video that clearly shows we were not being loud.) We asked if their staff would come out into the hall with us and talk to us there so we wouldn't bother anyone and they denied that request. Mr. Kemper and myself tried to reason with the staff and were then told that they would have State Troopers escort us out if we didn't leave immediately. We complied and left his office. They then called up extra security to monitor us and had Governor Nixon escorted out with four police officers. (I guess he wasn't actually out of state!) Many of our teens then went up and watched the chamber from the visitor's gallery and then we boarded the buses back to Kansas City.
Needless to say, many of our teens are now especially fired up about this topic. I have never been so disrespected by a public official and am especially appalled they treated our kids that way and then blamed it on them. (When they had already met with a dozen other officials with no problems at all.)
What now?- This is just the start.
* After the teens were treated so poorly, the hashtag #savemolibraries really took off.
* The petition to the Governor has received over 300 signatures since yesterday. On it you will find contact information for the Governor and for the House/Senate budgetary committees. Please share it with everyone you know.
* It is especially important that you contact the Senate budgetary committee members right now as they began their deliberations this week.
* Follow @kclibraryteens on Twitter and Facebook. (Pics from the rally are there!)
* Direct people to www.savemolibraries.org for updates on the campaign.
* This link includes handouts and images you can use at your library!
* Let me know if you want to get involved so we can make this a more unified statewide effort!
We are going to be meeting with the teens who attended and strategize on what to do next. They are especially fired up about this and want to help lead the charge!
Save MO Libraries!
Submissions Wanted... If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.
The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.
Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.
What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.
A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.
Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.
Download a free PDF copy here.
Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer. I use it on my own work.
A First-page Checklist
- It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
- Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
- What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
- What happens moves the story forward.
- What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
- The protagonist desires something.
- The protagonist does something.
- There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
- It happens in the NOW of the story.
- Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?
Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.
Tony sends the first chapter for Lights Out. The rest of the chapter after the break.
It was more than the conviction in Dr. Payson's voice that made Danny squirm against the red vinyl upholstery. More than just the way Payson kept his eyes leveled at Danny as he spoke—completely oblivious to the carnival of light and sound bursting from the dozens of flat screens that were plastered across the walls of The Fours Bar & Grill. And it was more than the casual description that Payson gave, between sips of his dirty martini, of the satanic ritual he planned to perform for Danny's benefit.
More than any of that, it was the goddamned look on Payson's wrinkled face. Danny couldn't decide if the guy was bat-shit crazy or just plain dangerous, but either way one thing was clear; Richard Payson truly believed every word he said. And that, more than anything else, was what made Danny uneasy.
Danny sloshed around the last of his bottle of Sam Adams, turned it up, and took a swig to steady his nerves. His fingers tingled so badly that he could barely hold the bottle. He chose his next words carefully. “You’re saying you can bring me back from the dead?”
“Most of what will happen depends greatly on you." Payson drained his glass. “But I don’t believe it will come to that.”
“And if it does?"
“There are precautions we can take." Payson propped his elbows on the table and (snip)
Were you compelled to turn Tony's first page?
Tony has a voice I like and good, clean writing. The scene is well set, something is happening, and there are good, strong story questions, especially the line about being brought back from the dead. Spoiler alert: that’s not literally what this is about--I think. Caveat: "back from the dead" doesn't seem to be what might happen from what's in this chapter, but I don't know what happens later. I take the "dead" he refers to as about bringing back his career as a pitcher from being moribund because he can't pitch anymore. If so, the reference to coming back from the dead is a bit of bait-and-switch, and I don’t think misleading the reader is a good idea. Tony, let us know if I got this wrong. A few notes:
It was more than the conviction in Dr. Payson's voice that made Danny squirm against the red vinyl upholstery. More than just the way Payson kept his eyes leveled at Danny as he spoke—completely oblivious to the carnival of light and sound bursting from the dozens of flat screens that were plastered across the walls of The Fours Bar & Grill. And it was more than the casual description that Payson gave, between sips of his dirty martini, of the satanic ritual he planned to perform for Danny's benefit. A strong opening paragraph with the mention of the satanic ritual.
More than any of that, it was the goddamned look on Payson's wrinkled face. Danny couldn't decide if the guy was bat-shit crazy or just plain dangerous, but either way one thing was clear; Richard Payson truly believed every word he said. And that, more than anything else, was what made Danny uneasy. Later I got the idea that it is what he says that gives Danny trouble, not in his belief in what he says. Isn’t Danny’s trouble that he’s afraid of what it means if what the Dr. says is true? So is this statement accurate?
Danny sloshed around the last of his bottle of Sam Adams, turned it up, and took a swig to steady his nerves. His fingers tingled so badly that he could barely hold the bottle. He chose his next words carefully. “You’re saying you can bring me back from the dead?” I think there’s a missed opportunity to help the reader understand more about Danny—how about a little more on the fingers? For example: The fingers of his pitching hand tingled so badly that he could barely hold the bottle—or a baseball. On the “back from the dead” line—rather than promise something that the narrative doesn’t deliver, maybe there is something equally intriguing. For example, bring in the mention of the demon here, maybe the idea of a demon as his savior?
“Most of what will happen depends greatly on you." Payson drained his glass. “But I don’t believe it will come to that.” This refers to being brought back from the dead, but I didn’t see anything in the first chapter that suggests he will become dead. If that happens in a later chapter, then disregard this concern.
“And if it does?"
“There are precautions we can take." Payson propped his elbows on the table and (snip)
For what it’s worth.
Submitting to the Flogometer:
Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):
- your title
- your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
- Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
- Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
- And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
- If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
- If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of the first-page checklist before submitting to the Flogometer.
Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Tony
. . . steepled his fingers. "But understand, what I propose will require your full commitment. If you give yourself over fully then we can control it, harness its power. But once the demon has been summoned if you fight against it, it will fight back and you will lose.”
The outside door swung open, allowing a flood of afternoon sunlight to momentarily pour in off of Canal Street. With it the barely tolerable humidity, that was the fingerprint of a July Bermuda High in Boston, followed close behind. Danny's head snapped around at the movement and froze. A trio of beer-bellied guys wearing Red Sox jerseys spilled in from the street. The cigarette smoke that wafted in with them made Danny's nose twitch. Danny doubted that they could see him, but wasn't taking the chance. He turned towards the wall and pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt to hide his face, anyway. He had to get out of there before someone recognized him. “Okay.” Danny nodded his head and slid to the edge of the booth. “I'm pulling the ripcord, this is not what I came for.” He dug in his pocket, peeled off a twenty, and tossed it on the table. “Thanks for the drink.”
“What did you come here for?”
"Not this," Danny scoffed. "This is insane."
A flicker of anger flashed across Payson's otherwise emotionless eyes, then passed just as quickly. He sat stone-faced. "You don't believe me?”
Danny motioned toward the vodka. "I think you've had one too many."
"Fine." He reached into the inner pocket of his sports jacket, fished out a pen, and scribbled on a cocktail napkin. "Here."
"A contact of mine at a laboratory in the Bay Area."
"He specializes in a more traditional method of performance enhancement."
Danny Hamil waved him off. It wasn’t the first time in his career that someone had offered him a performance enhancer, and his answer was always the same. "No drugs."
"It won't be nearly as effective and I can't guarantee the results," he said. “In fact, it probably won't help you at all. Not in your condition."
Danny’s tone sharpened. "My condition?"
Payson ignored the question. “Besides, at the rate players have been caught testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, you'll probably be suspended before you even see any meager benefits from using.”
"I told you, no drugs.”
“You aren’t leaving me many options.”
“So, that’s it? That’s all you got?” Danny flexed his pitching hand. It was ice cold and clammy—not good. "The Haitian said you could help me."
“That is precisely what I am trying to do.”
“No, you’re wasting my time.”
“You came to me.”
“For a real solution.”
“I’m offering you a real solution.”
“You call this real? Satanic rituals? Demonic possession? That’s real to you?”
“And why do you think the Haitian sent you to see me?"
The jumbo flat screen mounted directly behind him boomed with the sound of two ESPN talking heads jabbering about the top ten current Boston athletes; a list Danny didn’t belong on anymore. Danny searched Payson’s face for a glimpse of the truth behind the lie, but there was nothing in his eyes that betrayed his words. Not a damn thing. "I thought you were a doctor."
“And I thought that someone in your position wouldn’t slap away a helping hand.”
“Someone in my position?” Danny crossed his arms and leaned back, rigid against the booth. “You think I want this? You think I want any of this? You don’t know me,” he said. “You don't know anything about me.”
“Oh, I know a great deal about you,” Payson said. “I know you're on the last year of your contract. I know your fastball velocity has dropped and your ERA has risen every year for the last five years. I know that you’re one bad game away from being released. I know there’s a limited market for a pitcher your age." The old man leaned forward and eyed Danny's right hand. His ring finger was a bluish white. “And I know you wouldn't be here if you weren't completely out of options.”
“What do you want from me?”
“To take your situation a little more seriously, for starters.”
“You don't think I'm taking this seriously?”
“I think you're letting fear cloud your judgment.”
Danny settled back into their padded corner booth and let Paysons' words sink in. The booth was less comfortable then he remembered, but apart from that, the place looked much like it did the last time he'd been there—although it must have been at least ten years. The red-tin vintage Ted Williams Moxie Beer sign still hung proudly on the wall by the entrance. Flat screens covered the walls at every imaginable angle. Two of them bookended the Fenway panoramic that loomed over the bar. Everywhere else, photos covered nearly every inch of the taupe-painted walls. And hidden in the corner, nestled between a Wade Boggs poster and an autographed Clemens jersey, hung a familiar, faded photo of a young red Sox rookie sensation that fizzled out too soon.
One of the obnoxious Sox fans left the table and walked past Danny towards the men's room. Danny pulled the drawstring of his hood tighter and buried his head in a menu.
Payson raised his empty glass and waved at the waitress for another round. "It must be difficult being such a hated man in such a passionate sports town,” he said. "You just might be the most hated man in Boston."
Danny sneered. "I hadn't noticed."
“You’re quite unpopular on sports radio, these days, as well. Fans calling in to WEEI want your head on a platter. It’s been going on for weeks, months even. They say you’re everything that’s wrong with the Red Sox, right now. Or have you not noticed that, either?" Richard Payson seemed to relish his own words. "Everyone on sports radio says you’re washed up, and there’s one overnight host in particular seems to be hell-bent on running you out of town. How does that make you feel?"
"Like I should watch more T.V."
"It doesn’t bother you at all?"
“That’s a good answer, let’s stick with that.”
A pretty brunette waitress in a slinky black top brought the next round of drinks and a basket of buffalo wings. The tang of spicy chicken filled the air. “On the house, boys.” She dropped the check and smiled at Danny. She touched his hand and winked. “We take care of our own here, especially one as cute as you.”
Danny probably would’ve flirted back if his attention hadn’t been drawn to one of the TV’s across the room by the bar. A breaking news report about the Red Sox manager, Art Coley, being under investigation by major league baseball for allegedly betting on games interrupted the top-ten show. Danny strained to hear the report. It couldn’t be true, had to be a mistake. Coley had his problems, but that was years ago, and Danny had helped him through it. Sure, he was known for blowing a few bucks on the ponies, back then. But betting on baseball? That wasn’t like him. And why wouldn’t Coley come to him if he needed help? He pulled out his cell phone and looked at the time. He needed to find out what the hell was going on. He forced a smile, muttered an absent thank you to the waitress, and turned to Payson. “It’s late,” he said. “Gotta get to the ballpark.”
Payson raked his fingers through his scraggly beard and held Danny’s gaze. “I can help you if you let me.”
“I don’t think so. The kind of help you’re offering,” Danny said. “I don't need."
"Then why are you here?"
It had been more than three months since Danny had first felt his pitching hand go numb. Three months since the Haitian had given Danny the talisman. Three months since the voodoo blessing that was supposed to save his career. Three months, and still nothing had changed. Instead, things were only getting worse. He never really believed in what the Haitian had said, but times were desperate, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. He scooped up the fresh bottle and raised it to take a much needed drink, but stopped. In the cold mirror of the brown glass he saw his reflection, and he couldn’t put the bottle down fast enough. Danny stepped away from the table. "Have my reasons."
Payton nodded. “I’m surprised you’re not more open to the possibility of the paranormal.”
“Been in this game long time,” Danny snapped. “Seen a lot of strange shit.”
“And still you don't believe?
“If I can’t see it, I don’t believe it.”
“Some things need to be believed to be seen,” Payson said. “Besides, I thought ballplayers were superstitious.”
"Not all of us.”
"Superstition is just as much a part of the game as hitting and fielding, is it not?"
"Just like it’s a part of witchcraft, voodoo, cults—"
“You mean that in all your years in uniform, you’ve never once appealed to a higher power for help during a cold streak, or relied on a good luck charm to get you through a slump?”
"What do you want me to say?"
“How about the truth?”
“Look,” Danny said. “Superstitions are one thing, but what you're talking about… that’s something else."
“You can't deny that those superstitions make players better.”
”Some guys will believe anything.”
“But not you?”
“That's what the game does to us. We're all screwed up,” Danny said. “But I ain't screwed up enough to believe this.”
“That’s your problem, you don’t believe,” Payson said. “And that’s why you'll fail.”
"Fine.” Danny leaned over the table, pounded his fist on the table, and jabbed a finger at Payson. "You know what I believe? Superstitions are a waste of time. Yeah, some guys rely on it. But that’s what the game does to you. It’s cruel and it’s hard and it screws with you. Makes you desperate. Makes you try anything to avoid offending the baseball gods. But it's not about hocus-pocus, it’s about preparation. And it’s not about lucky charms. It’s about routine, concentration, staying on the field, and finding a way to cope with the shit-load of pressure we face on a day by day, inning by inning, pitch by pitch basis.”
Danny's face reddened and he fell back into his seat. His outburst was drawing attention from the folks at nearby tables, but he didn't notice. “You know why players cling so desperately to our superstitions? Confidence. Because we have so fucking little of it, and what little we do have can vanish in a second. So yeah, we do our rituals and stick to our routines to feel like we’re in control,” he said. “But we’re not.”
"Let’s talk about the powers you’ll gain when—"
"And you're going to sit there with a straight face and tell me that you can solve all my problems and all I have to do is pull an Ozzy, bite the head off a bat, dial up Satan on the oujia board, sell my soul to the devil and poof? I get magical powers that will make me an all-star pitcher again?! And all I have to do is believe? I don't think you realize how truly full of shit you are."
Danny leaned back and glared at Payson. "Seven hundred fifty five major leaguers and they all got their own superstitions and routines. They all believe.”
Danny clenched his jaw. “When I played with Todd Helton, he'd shave off his beard whenever he took an o-fer. Wade Boggs ate chicken before every single game. Turk Wendell pitched without socks and chewed licorice between innings. Guy I played with in Detroit pulled out the Mr. Bubble and cleaned his shoes between innings if there was a speck of dirt on them. I’ve seen guys wear two-month-old socks, shit at the same time every day, wear the same dirty underwear for weeks, avoid stepping on foul lines… Hell, I’ve even seen guys piss on their hands before the game for luck—because they believe."
Danny slipped his hand into his hoodie pocket, cradled the talisman that the Haitian had given him. He stared into the distance, took a deep breath, and exhaled. The edge left his voice. “I used to believe. I worked hard. Played the game right way. Trusted in my ability. Even had my superstitions.”
Danny pulled out the talisman and set it on the table. “Kept this in my back pocket when I pitched.” He traced his finger over the charred bones strung together by mottled twine. The crudely carved orange skull wore a look of perpetual surprise. The hollow bones rattled in his hand. “I still do."
Payson raised an eyebrow at it but kept any thoughts he had to himself.
“Thought it helped me concentrate; took my mind off the game. Made me feel like I wasn’t alone out there, for a while—like it wasn’t all on my shoulders." He tossed the talisman on the table. Then the surgeries robbed the life from my fastball, age stole what little ability I had left...” Danny picked at the label of his brown bottle. “Didn’t help that I burned a lot bridges."
"Who needs bridges when you can walk on water?” His silvery baritone was almost comforting.
“C’mon,” Danny said. “There are no magic trinkets or secret rituals that can fix things. I’ve made that mistake before. None of those superstitions made a difference. None of it was real," he said. "Truth is, the hits aren’t in the gum. The strikeouts aren’t in the chicken. None of it changes anything, or guarantees you’ll get that hit in the ninth, or strike out the cleanup guy with the bases loaded. None of it helps." Danny shook his head. "Not really. Doesn’t help you, doesn’t help the ball club, and it sure as hell doesn’t help the people who count on you the most. No, my problem isn’t that I don't believe. Problem is that I did—for way too long, and now look where it got me.”
Payson cleared his throat and nodded. Then he smiled, stood, and buttoned his sports jacket. "I understand. You’re not ready,” he said. “You don’t believe. It’s alright,” Payson placed a reassuring hand on Danny shoulder. “There are others who will.” He handed Danny a business card. “If you change your mind, that’s where you'll find me."
Here in Bethesda, we are having a wintry start to spring with 1-3" inches of snow predicted...but the new season is hatCHing out no matter what (so say I!). This is my day to pull something out of the files, and I surprised myself by remembering this one that has not seen light of day in 15 years. It's a teacher poem rather than a kid poem, but here goes:
For the Hatching of the Heart
Today the 4’s made scrambled eggs.
Each took a turn to crack a shell,
and each one of the group of twelve
did it just the same:
grasped the egg
in one hot hand, not gingerly,
but with a grip that would have
smearing egg and bits of shell
all over palms and shirts,
had the teacher not explained
how to hold it carefully
between the fingertips;
raised that hand
to whack the egg against the bowl
with force that would have
spraying egg and bits of shell
all over cheeks and hair,
had the teacher not explained
how to tap assertively
but gently on the rim;
laid both thumbs
against the break, preparing to release
it with a squeeze that would have
dripping egg and bits of shell
all over shoes and floor,
had the teacher not explained
how to pry the jagged halves
apart with one swift pull.
When all the eggs were in the bowl,
the tricky part was done.
Not one of a dozen children
had trouble with the whisk,
with beating all twelve eggs into
one deep yellow froth.
Today the 4’s ate scrambled eggs,
and every one insisted:
they liked the crunchy bits the best.
Heidi Mordhorst 2000all rights reserved
And I can't let this post go by without mentioning my very favorite Valentine's Day story and possibly my favorite Eileen Spinelli work, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch
. If you don't know this book, run right out and get a copy today. And look what I found!
<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4
<![endif]-->Let's see what's hatCHing out of you today!