Middle Grade Writing Partner

Hi! I’m in the midst of a second draft. Middle grade fiction - real life. No magic, vampires, or fairies, although I’m not opposed to reading that in others’ works. I’d love to find a serious writing partner who would like to share ideas, give feedback, share resources, etc. I’m a licensed psychologist who recently quit my job to pursue writing full time. I’ve been in another world for a minute and it would help to have a colleague with which to navigate this one.

I’d be thrilled to work with someone who appreciates diversity in this world and someone who acknowledges the ‘real’ in all of us. Although my book is for middle school age children and therefore pretty ‘clean’, as an individual human being I cuss regularly and don’t like to filter a lot. Just sayin’.

Q: Name or pen name
A:. Rita Koontz - It’s my real name - may want to use a pen name, as I will probably want to see patients again at some point.

Q: Audience or category of your writing, if applicable:
A:. Middle School - older middle school, to be more precise

Q: Genre of your writing, if applicable:
A:. real life fiction

Q: What would you like your partner to do?
A:. read, provide feedback, share resources, vent

Q: What are you willing to do for your partner?
A:. See above

Q: How quickly you would ideally like to work with your partner?
A:. I’m flexible - Responses within a week under normal circumstances would be good

Q: Your location, if applicable:
A:. I live on an 80 acre farm in Oklahoma. I drive seven miles of dirt road before I reach pavement. I pay a fortune for good wi-fi but can write uninterrupted whenever I want.

Q: Please describe your project in 500 words or less, or paste a sample here!
A:. Pasting sample:
All the kids at our table were either eating or getting ready to eat, but one by one, every kid noticed Seth’s bag of cheese balls. Kids were looking at it and then looking at each other, like they were trying to figure out what was up with that. Seth took the wrapper off his juice box straw and poked it into the box while he told me about the cabin they were going to rent in Michigan. By that time, Seth was the only one talking and everyone else was just sitting there looking at the bag of cheese balls.

Finally, Snotty Schultz said, “Yo. Dude. Why do you have like a gallon of cheese balls?”

Some kids started laughing, but Seth looked at Snotty and said, “What do you mean?” Like he didn’t have any idea that his bag of cheese balls was the biggest thing on the table. He shook his head, like Snotty had never seen a normal bag of cheese balls. That’s a cool thing about Seth. He can be totally different from everyone else and he doesn’t think it’s bad or good. It’s not a thing with him.

Then Oliver Rustin said there was no way Seth would eat all of those cheese balls and Seth said that of course he would. A few other people said he wouldn’t eat them all, and Seth said, “Watch me.”

Seth opened his mouth and popped a cheese ball in. But instead of chewing it up normally, he opened his mouth and put in another, then another, then another. He kept going and all the kids at the table started counting out loud. “Five! Six! Seven!” Everyone was counting and laughing and Seth kept putting cheese balls in his mouth, one after the other. At twelve, his cheeks started to puff out, but he didn’t slow down. By the time he got to eighteen, he started having trouble keeping his mouth closed and finally he did slow down because it was starting to get hard to shove them in. You could hear the ones in his mouth crunching down to make room for the new ones. Every time he shoved one in, I thought he’d never get another one in there. But he kept going.

When he tried to shove number 28 into one side of his mouth, the other side of his mouth started creeping open all on its own. He couldn’t even control his own mouth anymore. He took a big breath in through his nose and when he breathed out, orange dust puffed out of the little opening on the side of his mouth. I had just taken a drink of my chocolate milk, but that puff of orange made me laugh before I could swallow it.

Chocolate milk came out of my nose.

Hey Rita,
Welcome to the site.
I PM’d you.
Cheers!

That’s great! So happy to hear from you! I’ve been away from home but will check it out this weekend! I can’t wait to read it -
R

Hi Jeff -

Your book sounds intriguing and it does sound as though you’re further along in the rewrite process than I am. This is not a problem for me at all. I’m all for seeing more of it!

I’m forwarding a short synopsis of my book along with the first two chapters. The first one is pretty short. If you’d like to go further with this, please send your thoughts along with anything you’d like me to review.

Full disclosure, I cut and paste (see below) because I’m new to Scrivener and haven’t figured out how to export a single chapter. Sigh. I’ll get it. I hate to take time out for details like that.

Have a great day!
Rita

Hairball Hang and Various Other Problems

Despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, a middle school boy struggles to believe he has some control over his own destiny.

Chapter 1

I’m not sure hiding in the toilet stall was the best choice. It did keep Billy Duncan from breaking my legs or whatever, that afternoon at least, but now I’ll always be someone who hid in a toilet stall, and that’ll never be cool.

When it comes down to a choice between having your legs broken or hiding in a toilet stall, your day pretty much sucks.

Adults always say no matter what situation you’re in, you made decisions that put you there. I know that’s true sometimes. Like if you do all your math homework and study for the tests, you’re probably gonna get a decent grade in math. At least you’ll get a better grade than you’d get if you didn’t do that stuff. But with most stuff, it seems like things come at you fast and you don’t decide anything. It just happens.

Yeah, sure, if I hadn’t done business with someone my mother would call ‘unbalanced,’ then the bathroom thing wouldn’t have happened. It wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed out of the whole Hairball Hang thing either. Heck, if I look at it like that, it wouldn’t have even happened if I’d spent some time training Rex and Little, instead of just training Buddy.

But there’s no way I could have known any of that ahead of time. Even if I had, I’m not sure things would be better.

When I was little, I used to play this game at the arcade with my Uncle Eddie. You get this big wooden sledgehammer and stand in front of a table that has a bunch of holes in it. When the game starts, these gopher things start popping up out of the holes, and you’re supposed to hit them with your sledgehammer before they can go back down in the hole. It’s easy at first, but they start popping up faster and faster until it’s impossible to hit them all. You don’t have time to think, “Oh, hey, maybe this gopher thing has some kind of a problem and I need to give it a break.” They pop up, you hit them.

I think life is like that game. You don’t sit around and plan out what you’re gonna do. You try to be normal, but stuff happens and you deal with it however you can. Lots or times everything gets all messed up. Sometimes you can fix it, but sometimes you can’t.

That’s what it seems like to me anyway.

As far as I can tell, the Hairball Hang Billy Duncan thing was a mess I ended up in when I was trying to deal. And it’s one of those things I’ll never be able to fix. I’ll always be that kid who hid from Billy Duncan in the bathroom.

It’s not like I want to be popular. I just don’t want to be one of those kids who sits alone at lunch. Even during the Hairball Hang thing, I had people to eat lunch with. But I have to admit there’s a part of me that’s not 100% sure I will always be able to control that. There’s a little, tiny piece of me that wonders whether some of the kids who eat lunch by themselves just got caught up in some kind of bad deal.

When I think back to last year, maybe I did some stupid things. But it’s easy to think that now, when it’s not actually happening. At the time I was just hitting the gopher things as they popped up out of the holes.

Chapter 2

The last time I can remember my life being normal was a few months before the end of sixth grade. We were in the cafeteria, sitting down at one of those long tables with benches stuck to it. I set my tray down across from Seth, who started unpacking his lunch from his backpack while he told me about the crossbow he got for his birthday.

“Next fall we’re going deer hunting in Minnesota,” he said as he thumped a pair of juice boxes on the table. He picked one of them up and ripped the straw from the front, then poked it out of the wrapper and into the box. “My uncle has a huge pair of antlers from the buck he got last year.”

I was listening, but I was also wondering what that would be like and what part of it would be fun. Did they saw the antlers off the deer’s head? Like, with a hand saw, back and forth, back and forth, with fur stuck between the teeth of the saw and skin and blood and brains sliding all over? Or with a cordless circular saw? That was even worse. Stuff would be flying.

“My dad’s gonna help me set the scope this weekend,” Seth went on as he used one hand to hold on to the bottom of his backpack and his other hand to tug out a huge zipper bag full of cheese balls that had completely filled the biggest pocket of his pack. Seth set the bag on his tray and dropped the now empty backpack onto the floor at his feet. He was saying something about ‘draw weight,’ but I was barely listening by that time, the bag of cheeseballs like a magnet, drawing my attention toward it.

I moved my head a bit to one side so I could see Seth on the other side of the orange ball. The cheese balls filled one of those bags that a parent would put a whole chicken in, and it was packed so full, the zipped top stood at attention, held upright by the force of the cheese balls below. It looked like a basketball. I wondered how the zipper hadn’t popped open in his backpack.

By now, every kid at the table had noticed Seth’s cheese ball bag. One by one, they stopped talking. Kids were looking at it and then looking at each other, like they were trying to figure out what was up with that.

“But, seriously, I don’t know if I can put antlers in my room,” Seth went on. He reached into his mouth and took out his retainer. “By the time I’m in college, I’ll have too many.” Seth put his retainer on the tray beside his sandwich, his juice boxes, and the giant cheese ball bag. Then he seemed to notice that he was the only one talking. He looked at me and tilted his head, as if to ask, “What is wrong with these people?”

Finally, Snotty Schultz said, “Yo. Dude. Why do you have like a gallon of cheese balls?”

Some kids started laughing, but Seth looked at Snotty and said, “What do you mean?” Like he didn’t have any idea that his bag of cheese balls was the biggest thing on the table. He shook his head, like Snotty had never seen a normal bag of cheese balls. That’s a cool thing about Seth. He can be totally different from everyone else and he doesn’t think it’s bad or good. It’s not a thing with him.

Then Oliver said there was no way Seth would eat all of those cheese balls and Seth said that of course he would. A few other people said he wouldn’t eat them all, and Seth said, “Watch me.”

Seth opened his mouth and popped a cheese ball in. But instead of chewing it up normally, he opened his mouth and put in another, then another, then another. He kept going and all the kids at the table started counting out loud. “Five! Six! Seven!” Everyone was counting and laughing and Seth kept putting cheese balls in his mouth, one after the other. At twelve, his cheeks started to puff out, but he didn’t slow down. By the time he got to eighteen, he started having trouble keeping his mouth closed and finally he did slow down because it was starting to get hard to shove them in. You could hear the ones in his mouth crunching down to make room for the new ones. Every time he shoved one in, I thought he’d never get another one in there. But he kept going.

When he tried to shove number 24 into one side of his mouth, the other side of his mouth started creeping open all on its own. He couldn’t even control his own mouth anymore. He took a big breath in through his nose and when he breathed out, orange dust puffed out of the little opening on the side of his mouth. I’d just taken a drink of my chocolate milk, but that puff of orange made me laugh before I could swallow it.

Chocolate milk came out of my nose.

That actually hurt and I kind of screamed a little, but it came out like a squeak. I couldn’t stop laughing and I pinched my nose so no more milk would come out.

Then Seth started laughing and he ended up having to spit out the chewed up cheese balls so he wouldn’t choke. This glob of dry orange puff hunks, orange slime and orange dust fell onto the table between us. He tried to take a drink, but was both laughing and coughing by that time, and orange kept coming out of his mouth.

Everyone at the table was laughing. I had taken another drink of chocolate milk and when I started laughing again, chocolate milk sprayed onto all the kids sitting across from me, including Seth.

We heard this loud scraping sound from across the room, and everyone turned to see Ms. Walters coming over to our table. She was dragging a garbage can behind her. We knew we were gonna get in trouble, but we couldn’t stop laughing. Ms. Walters told the other kids to go finish eating at the empty table by the teachers’ table while Seth and I stayed to clean up the mess. We didn’t get to go outside with everyone else, but we didn’t care.

Those were some fun times.

The Cheese Ball Incident happened right before everyone at school started making plans for Hairball Hang. Once people started talking about that, no one talked about anything else. It was like Hairball Hang was coming and the whole world was gonna change.

I was the only one in school who didn’t want to talk about it. Every time someone brought it up, I got more stressed out. Of course I tried to act like I was excited too. What else could I do?

Hi Rita,

I’m also revising a middle-grade novel at the moment. (Mine’s a mystery.) We also have a similar day job. (Former day job, in your case.) I’m a psychotherapist, based in London, UK.

I like the voice in your extracts. You have a great feel for how that age group thinks and speaks. Anyway, I’m happy to share feedback and resources, etc. I have two young kids and I’m still doing the day job, so it’s possible I might not be able to make myself as available as you’d like. We’d have to see how it went. Happy to give it a shot, though.
James

Hi James -
Great to hear from you! Yes, I’d love to join forces! I’m so new to this, I feel I’m behind the times when I watch all the “informational” YouTube channels for writers. So far, I’m really getting a lot from the Good Story Company’s videos. Have made a lot of changes based on what I’ve learned. I’m currently struggling with the “requirement” that we have web pages up and running. I took a class from Writer’s Digest - “setting up your web page in one day” or some such thing. Let’s just say, uh, no, that didn’t happen.

I hope your psychotherapy practice is going well. In what area do you practice? I was specializing in addiction, specifically opiate addiction, and loved it. But I’m loving this also.

Please don’t worry about responding to me in any set timeline. I’m pretty laid back. Would you like to start with sending a few chapters? I’d love to see what you have going.

Looking forward to hearing from you.
Rita

Yes, I don’t really understand the need for a website at this point. I have heard other people say that that only really applies to non-fiction writers, where some kind of established internet platform helps sales, whereas with fiction, it’s all about the story. I certainly don’t have one. I figure, if I ever get a publishing deal, that will be the time to set one up.

Mary Kole’s book on Kid Lit is great. A book that recently really transformed my writing for the better is Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I’ve been raving about that one to everybody.

I’m in private practice, and I don’t really specialise; I see a range of different kinds of clients with different kinds of problems. I like the variety.

I’ll send you the opening chapters by private message and you can have a look. Is there anything you’d like me to give feedback on?

PS I drove through Oklahoma once and was struck by the beautiful red soil. I imagine your 80 acres are wonderful.

Oh, wait, how exactly do I PM you? I don’t see an option for that…

You can email me at koontzink@gmail.com

At this point, I’m looking for:

Whether things make sense in general
Whether anything is difficult to understand or follow
Whether anything isn’t really how someone would talk
Please point out any parts that drag or are boring
Whether I’m giving any facts in a way that doesn’t sound natural - especially anything racial or lifestyle stuff
If there’s anything you particularly like and think it would be terrible if I cut it out
Also, anything else you think I need to know or you want me to know

It’s funny, my best friend is also a psychologist and she does private practice. When she describes some of her cases (she sees a lot of anxiety and OCD), I think I’d poke my eyes out with a stick if I had to do that. When I’ve described mine to her, she feels the same way. She’s so much ‘nicer’ than I am. Her clients would think I’m mean and mine would walk all over her! To each, his own. . .

Can’t wait to read your chapters!
Rita