Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 #YayYA Entry #16: The Temporary Death of Millie Krup

Name: Angie McCullagh

Genre: Contemporary


35 word pitch: Portland teen Millie Krup dies from bacterial meningits. But only briefly. When she awakens and recovers, her priorities have flipped. She must choose between following her wanderlust dreams or helping her dad get sober.

First 500 words:

I’m sick. Like, doped out on cold medicine sick. Sucking on lozenges until my tongue is puckered and purple sick. Exhaustion hanging off me like old scarves sick. But I’m not deathly ill. At least I don’t think I am.
I trudge through the halls of Portland’s dingy Cannon High School, a hulking building with turrets and cornices. It could be a movie set for a 1920s insane asylum. 
I wish I were in bed watching the Travel Channel and sipping ginger ale from one of the bendy straws my mom gives me when I feel exceedingly blah.
Soon. I have to make it through one more period before I can catch the Portland TriMet, go home, and crawl under my fraying quilt. The relief of being able to close my eyes and sleep feels so far into the future I almost cry.
On the north stairwell, between the second and third floors, a waterfall of kids are rushing past when I see Leah Silverman and Jace Wells. Oh God. Not now. Please not now. I want to weave back down to the ground floor and run out to the parking lot, sucking in cool March air.
But it’s too late. I’m surrounded by bodies, unable to escape.
Our trajectories collide on the landing. Leah looks like she swallowed a jellyfish, brow furrowed and lips twisted. Jace bumps his aviator sunglasses over his eyes and hitches up one side of his mouth.
Hola, Millie,” Leah flips her satiny hair in a way initially meant to grab boys’ attention but which has now become habit. “I heard you’re muy enfermo.” Very sick.
I mumble, “.” Leah and I are language geeks. Specifically, we have both taken Spanish since sixth grade and pepper our interactions (which have dwindled to almost nada) with Español. I even wear a t-shirt that day under one of my usual oversized cardigans that says Como Se Llama? next to a drawing of an actual Llama.
She obviously feels as awkward as I do, her gaze darting to the high arched windows and at the kids streaming past. “So how’d you do on the test?” she refers to a Spanish exam we took that morning. 
My pulse throbs in my neck and wrists. I wish I could take a deep breath without coughing.
It’s hard to believe last week Jace, the school’s lacrosse goalie and my two-year crush, was catching my eye across the cafeteria, sometimes offering a full nod or slow cat-like blink. Making me think I had a chance with him.
“I’m sure she killed it,” he says out of the side of his mouth.
“Doubtful,” I shake my head, wishing I could dislodge the thousand tons of sand in there. I say nothing about how desperately I want to have killed it. I need to keep my grade up to be eligible for the summer Barcelona trip I’ve been saving money for all year.


  1. I think your opening is really good. The voice is great! I feel like I'm right there with Millie, and I know what's going on. The only line that threw me off a bit was Leah looked like she swallowed a jellyfish. I got distracted trying to picture that, unlike Jace's cat-like blink later which was perfectly vivid.

    Your pitch is a little fuzzy. When you say her priorities have flipped, I'm not sure what that means. Have they been flipped FOR her because of changing circumstances while she was sick, or has SHE changed her priorities because of the trauma of her illness? You say she must choose, but how hard is the choice in light of her new priorities? Why does she now want to help Dad get sober? This is a tough goal even for an adult child of an alcoholic. You might want to acknowledge the obstacles she'll face.

    Love the writing, would keep reading for sure.

  2. Hi Angie!
    Love the title!! So unique.

    The pitch feels a bit like a mini synopsis, and I think that's because we need some stakes. What will happen when she dumbs her dreams, what was the risk and sacrifice? What new obstacles will she have by helping her dad?

    As for the opening, I doubt you'll need the scene break there. It already kinda connects, so we don't exactly need the indication we're in a new portion or time of the book.
    Also, at first I thought Jace and Leah were going to be bullies, since your MC's first reaction is to get away. But then they talk like they're friends in an awkward situation; whether from a past incident or the fact she's sick, it's not too clear.
    I like the bits of their love for other languages. And since you hint Millie is afraid she might have failed, I think you could add another sentence or two to deepen that. After all these years of being great and now her sickness has been hurting what she loves, makes great stakes and will point to the struggles that are about to come.

    I hope this helps! :D

  3. Hi Angie!

    I've been warning all the SFF it's not my genre, but finally a Contemporary like mine! :-)

    The pitch:
    I love the "But only briefly" part of your pitch. Very voicey!
    When you say her priorities have flipped, what were her original priorities? I'm assuming getting her dad sober but it's not super clear. Could you say something like a Before/After? "Before Millie Krup died, her her sole priority was getting her dad sober. After she wakes up, she has to choose... blah blah" It's bad, but all I could think of. (I'M SO BAD AT PITCHES.)
    Also, is it a zero-sum game, or does Millie believe it is? Can she not have both?

    The words:
    I'm not a big fan of the opening, especially because you do a scene break after five sentences. Could you start after the scene break and work in her sickness more naturally?
    I think it's too on-the-nose to include the "I'm not deathly ill. At least I don't think I am." Obviously, the fact she's going to die is upfront, but this doesn't work for me.
    The way you've introduced Leah and Jace make them sound like enemies to Millie, like the stereotypical popular kids out to make her life miserable. I was taken aback when you tell us they're friends.
    After the introduction of the two, I like where it goes. The conversation flows and the dialogue is believable – though the peppering with Spanish is a strange trait and adds to me thinking they're mocking her at first – and it makes me curious about why they had a falling out. (Though I can guess it rhymes with "Mace" haha).

    Overall, I like it. I think you can tighten up the beginning a bit, make it a little more hooky and flow better into the narrative of the chapter. I like the premise, and how you've already worked references to her wanderlust in the first few pages. As weird as the Spanish thing sounds, I totally believe it. One of my close friends in high school and I would compete to use the biggest and most complex words in our conversations. Kids do weird things like that. Also, I just love the title. Great fit for the book and the genre. Great start!

    Thanks for sharing!
    Averill (#11)

  4. Awesome voice here, and you paint such a vivid image of being sick. After a few minutes in her poor sick body I was craving chicken soup!

    I don't have a whole lot to say. The writing is strong, the voice is very well done, and you set us up so we know there is a romantic problem with Jace and a looming health problem. I'm definitely hooked and would keep reading!

    -Emily #15

  5. Hi Angie!

    Pitch: We're missing some clarity, as others have stated. It might be more successful to start off with her priorities: Millie wants nothing more than to help her dad get sober, until she dies... But when she recovers, she must choose between ....

    500 words:
    I love so much about this. Great voice, snappy writing. So I'll nitpick on some things since I need to say something!

    The mention of the bendy straws is great, but exceedingly blah seems a strange reference there, considering she is apparently deathly ill.

    This sentence: "I even wear a t-shirt that day under one of my usual oversized cardigans that says Como Se Llama? next to a drawing of an actual Llama." Great line! But it feels out of place in the paragraph. Oh, wait I just reread and I think it's the "that day" which throws me off. I'd get rid of that.

    So what is going on between the three of them? I'm going to guess that Millie and Leah were once best friends and Jace kind of played them both, now Leah and Jace are together. Am I close? That supports the awkwardness, but I'm not sure it's right. The mention about Jace making eyes at her in the cafeteria just last week confuses me further. Don't tell us everything, but I think we need another hint.
    Finally, I have to ask – if she is that sick and people know it, why didn't the school send her home? Why did her parents let her go to school?

    Overall, an excellent and interesting beginning!

    Julie (#3)

  6. Hello! Thank you for entering #YayYA!! :D

    Pitch: I agree that this needs some work. Pitches are hard! But the meningitis part caught my attention. What long term affects is she dealing with? Is her father's alcoholism a result of failing at coping with her illness?

    First 500: starting as her illness is taking over her is a great place to start. We all know what's happening and she doesn't... it's like a bad horror movie and it's perfect. I agree with the others though that you should explain why she is at school. I recognize the fact that meningitis often starts as a bad cold or light flu but if I was a high schooler and feeling sick, I'd use it to get out of school. Maybe it's because of the test she has due?

    I'm also slightly confused about Leah and Jace's relationship with your MC, but I'm okay with waiting a couple more pages to have that explained, since your MC is currently most concerned... as she would be!... about how sick she is.

    I don't think I can offer much more feedback. Most of my criticism is directed at the pitch, but that's easily fixed :)

  7. Hello!! :)

    So your pitch has been addressed a few times for the vagueness with her priorities. But as was said, the meningitis definitely caught my eye, and it worked well with the title. (which is AWESOME by the by)

    It's a weird thing to notice, but it looks like the chapter is titled "Millie" and I wonder if that means that there will be chapters that aren't about Millie/in her perspective. Not a critique--just something I noticed!

    I love the voice--LOVE it. I feel like I can relate to Millie. I want to send her home and wrap her up in a blanket.

    My critiques have all been addressed--the pitch, the odd relationship with Leah and Jace, etc--but I really think once those things are tightened up, it'll be in great shape!!


  8. Since the prose have been discussed a lot already, I'm going to talk about the pitch. It gives off the impression the story is going to be about one thing, and then another. The whole 'she dies' part gives it the appearance of something supernatural going on. Then it goes into a contemporary. Maybe phrasing it more along the lines of "When Millie almost dies, she's determined to find meaning in her life." Not a great example, I know.

  9. This opening does an amazing job capturing the essence of being sick, and it gives us a nice introduction to Millie's character and the various conflicts in her life.

    The opening paragraph might work better as part of the next scene, and I think the lines "But I’m not deathly ill. At least I don’t think I am." might be a little too on-the-nose, since from the title the reader knows she's going to die (temporarily) from her illness. Cutting those lines and the scene break would make the opening read better.

    The only part of these pages that made me stumble was the last clause of "I want to weave back down to the ground floor and run out to the parking lot, sucking in cool March air." I think it's both the way it's phrased and the fact that deep breaths of cold air would make her cough. If you mean she'd rather be out in the cold despite her sickness than deal with Leah and Jace (in which case, I can't blame her!), you might clarify it.

    That said, this is a really strong opening, with lots of characterization and tension in the mix. Excellent writing!

    -Katherine (#17)

  10. Hey Angie! Thanks so much for sharing THE TEMPORARY DEATH OF MILLIE KRUP with us! I love the twist of coming back to life that gives this story a fantastical edge in the Contemporary genre.

    I like the two parts of the pitch individually, but it’s hard to see where they connect. Why does she have to help her dad get sober now that she’s back? How does helping him get sober interfere with these goals of hers?

    I like the first paragraph a lot, but the random cut to the hallway is really jarring. I think either could work as an opening, but having both is throwing of your story, and you should commit to one.
    You’ve got a really good voice going, so I think you can go for a stronger word than “blah” in the line “when I feel exceedingly blah.” Also, “sucking in the cool March air” isn’t grammatically correct where it is rn. Since she’s saying it as part of the things she wants to do, that verb sucking has to be in the same tense as “weave” and “run.”

    “I even wear a t-shirt that day” Since we’re in the moment with your MC, she wouldn’t refer to it as “That day” “I’m wearing a t-shirt today” keeps us grounded in the correct tense.

    You don’t have to tell us Leah is referring to the Spanish exam since that can come up more naturally in the dialogue. Save your narration for your characters thoughts and observations that will move the story forward.

    I didn’t get right away that Jace was with Leah as in dating him. It was worded in a way that they just happened to be together. That should be made clearer. I’m confused on the dynamics on this trio, but with some rewording, this first interaction could set a great foundation for your story.

    I think with some minor adjustments, you’d have a really strong start to your story. Best of luck with Pitch Wars!

    -Rosie (#12)