A rainy weekend seemed like a good time to go through the box in my closet where I keep all my old stories. I’ve got over a dozen of these handwritten manuscripts, the staples rusted and the paper marked from the spiral notebooks I wrote them in.
I pulled out one of my more dramatic ones, entitled Trapped! I was 13 when I wrote this classic story of danger, romance, and quippy one-liners. The suspense never lets up—how will our heroes get out of this terrible situation? That’s sure what I was wondering as I wrote it, anyway.
Since I don’t remember a lot about the story, I thought, what if we read through it together? Think of it as a fun online book club. One that you don’t have to attend or—this is the bonus—actually read the story. I’ll walk us through it, quoting relevant sections. Without edits. Honest.
This story features my first heroine, Sarah Robsin, who was pretty, popular, and had boyfriends. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking I created her as some wishful version of myself. Her name has an H on it, so it’s obviously not supposed to be me. Duh.
Here’s what I remember about Trapped!:
Five teenagers are spending Christmas break together and get lost in an abandoned mine. It’s up to their friends back home to find them in time.
But I’m sure there’s much, much more to it than that. I mentioned the quippy banter? Yes. Okay. Let’s get started.
by Sara Roberts, age 13
“A whole week?” Sarah Robsin asked dubiously.
“Yes! You know, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday—” Amy White exclaimed.
“Honey!” Mrs. Robsin called. She must have picked up the kitchen phone. “Sarah, you need to get off the phone. You’re talking long distance, you know.”
Such a strong start off the mark here. Quippy dialogue? Check! Introducing major characters? Yes! Once-current telephone technology that makes no sense to 13-year-olds today? You bet!
But what has Amy suggested that Sarah is so dubious about? We’ll find out, right after this important infodump from our author.
This being the ninth or tenth story about these characters, I had a lot of backstory to drop here. But I was writing by hand and kind of bored with the recap. So I’m not sure you could say I was really “building my world” here.
To the middle of second grade, she’d lived in Coland. Then she moved to Perridale, onto Hartford Drive. She was well liked and soon everyone in Perridale called her the Queen of the Three Neighborhoods. The Three Neighborhoods, or the T.N., was Hartford Drive, Sun Street, and Greenwood Circle. They were all in a row.
There, that’s clear, right? I lived in a log house next to a creek. I had no idea how neighborhoods actually looked “all in a row.” Let’s just move on.
Sarah had two best friends, Amy and her boyfriend, Daryl Robinson. And a good-looking but rather moody boyfriend, Jeremy Wallace.
I didn’t set out to make Sarah’s boyfriend moody. But he’d done such jerky things in previous stories that I had to write in that line to justify it. Jeremy and Daryl are cousins; the rest of the paragraph goes on to explain how Jeremy’s parents were divorced and he and his mother lived with her sister’s family, the Robinsons.
Then Sarah moved again, this time to Lainsdell.
For the record, I’m still just as abysmal at coming up with town names as I was nearly thirty years ago.
She took it hard, since there was no kids living near her and she barely ever saw her friends.
Even though she went to school and made new friends because everybody likes her, got another boyfriend, and didn’t even die from her teenage sufferings.
Now she had a chance to be with Hartfour—Amy, Daryl, Jeremy, and herself—for a week at Jeremy’s dad’s “new” house, an old nineteen century house.
Apparently they had their own clique name, Hartfour, because they lived on Hartford Drive. That’s not as, um, clever as I thought it was. I’m more interested in this nineteen century house, though. 1900 years old—that would make it, what, an ancient mud dwelling built by indigenous peoples? That’s going to be a pretty rollicking vacation with four teenagers. One of whom is “moody.”
At this point in the chapter, I realized I needed to insert some justification for Sarah’s “dubious” reaction, so I added,
But she only had two weeks for Christmas vacation. If she spent one week with her friends, she’d only have the second week for Christmas.
Man. The scope of this girl’s sufferings is vast.
And on that intense note, the chapter ends.
This chapter opens with Sarah returning to her old neighborhood to visit. Amy runs up to greet her, and Sarah exclaims, “Amy! What happened to you?” She meant it as a compliment, for as I explain,
Amy gave her familiar laugh again. She’d never really been pretty, just sort of pleasant. Sarah was the pretty one. But now Amy had her long, dark, curly hair styled and she had on make-up! Amanda White was definitely pretty.
Let’s pause to remember how thirteen-year-olds style their hair and apply makeup. Amanda White was definitely [adjective].
The scene continues, giving readers an uncomfortably clear view into the author’s psyche. I mean, assuming that Sarah is in any way a super-fantasy version of myself, which nobody has ever proven.
Amy mentions that although she’s now prettier than the neighborhood snobby girl, Susan, she’s still not prettier than Sarah.
“Oh, really,” Sarah said breezily, but she knew it was true. It would take a lot to top her natural beauty, and if she really fixed herself up, it was close to impossible. But she wasn’t really stuck up, unless dealing with her enemies.
… They walked slowly around the neighborhood. Sarah had just gotten over a broken foot from a faulty basketball game. She was good at basketball, the star player on her team.
Of course she was.
Daryl and Jeremy enter the scene. I forgot to describe the boys in this story, but I remember that Daryl has dark curly hair and blue eyes. Jeremy has blond hair and brown eyes, which I thought was the dreamiest combination in the world. So much so that when I finally did publish a novel twenty-five years later, I gave the hero blond hair and brown eyes.
Anyway. Sarah stumbles on her hurt foot, and Jeremy catches her. She says thanks, but steps away. She and Jeremy had broken up, but she still didn’t feel “just friends” toward him.
I think it’s impressive how I could write with such finesse about a romantic relationship, which I knew nothing about personally.
I slap down another recap of a previous story. It had been Jeremy’s fault that she’d broken her foot. Sarah’s now ex-boyfriend, Ronny Logan, and Jeremy made a bet. In order for Jeremy to win, Lainsdell had to lose the basketball tournament. Then Ronny talked Sarah to try out for the team. She made it, and Lainsdell had a good chance of winning. But Jeremy got a boy he knew to try to get her off the team. The boy had knocked Sarah down, and she’d broken her foot. Sarah’d forgiven Jeremy, though. They were now “friends.”
Oh, that silly Jeremy, hiring a hit man to get rid of his girlfriend so he could win a bet! He’s so… moody.
There’s more dialogue about how Amy is pretty now but Sarah is still prettier, which let me mention Sarah’s “honey-brown hair” that “spilled over her shoulders and down past her waist.” Not that this has any bearing on anything, but at the time my ordinary brown hair was barely shoulder-length and stuck out in odd places.
The next page brings in the snobby clique, Susan and her friends, who walked around the neighborhood in a group, by rank. It includes this editor’s nightmare:
Susan and Sherry—who was Amy’s enemy—turned an angry red. The others, Shameke, Lizzy Crew, Reagan—Sherry’s little sister—and Lisa—Susan’s—folded their arms and stuck their noses in the air. The four friends just laughed.
At long last, they get around to the burning question of the first chapter, namely, will Sarah come to Jeremy’s dad’s house for a week of Christmas vacation? They spend an entire page talking about how their moms will discuss the question, making fun of Jeremy’s “too nervous” mother.
If they went to Mario’s, a nearby amusement park, she would try to get Jeremy to take an umbrella in case it rained so he wouldn’t catch pneumonia and die.
I like how their town has an amusement park. At the time, my town didn’t even have a McDonald’s.
So Sarah’s mom gets everything arranged. I’m not actually sure why she had to talk to Jeremy’s mother about it instead of Jeremy’s dad. It’s almost like I didn’t even think that through. Mrs. Robsin says in exasperation,
“I can’t believe that woman! She dug up every single excuse in the book to keep Sarah from going. She even got to ‘What is she gets lost and starves to death? What if they have an accident?’
Real smooth, Mrs. Robsin, saying all this in front of Jeremy.
No one realizes that his mom is really a Voice of Foreshadowing.
Here we meet Sarah’s other set of best friends. First there’s Bunny Jackson. I was beginning a phase where my girl characters all had cute nicknames, like a bunch of junior high strippers.
And more importantly, there’s Ronny Logan.
“What’s wrong, Ron? Mondays usually don’t get you down this much,” Sarah prompted.
“What would you care?” Ronny snapped.
“I do care, and you know it!” Sarah returned hotly. She’d be going with him now if he would get his nerve up to ask her again. He thought she still liked Jeremy. That was true, but she liked him too.
“Going with” was the then-current term for “going steady.” Can you even believe this guy, who won’t ask the girl he likes just because he rightly guesses that she still likes her ex-boyfriend? Some men just don’t deserve to have a woman, honestly.
But then we find out why Ronny is so upset, and we realize we shouldn’t judge him too harshly.
“My mom got remarried. I’m moving to the middle of nowhere. I’m even spending Christmas there!” Ronny complained. He walked off down the hall, and Sarah and Bunny fell into step beside him.
“Who’d she marry?” Bunny asked.
“Beats me. Somebody she met at her office. She just said yesterday that she got remarried over the weekend and forgot to tell us.” Ronny scowled again. “Ever since Dad died, she just forgets about Skip and me.”
I’m increasingly concerned about the level of neglect and neurosis among these parents.
“Oh. And I have a stepbrother, too. Mom says he’s my age and about as good-looking. Ha! I’m surprised she even noticed what I look like!”
He’s got a point.
Sarah wondered who Ronny’s mom could have married. It was no use. Probably didn’t even know him, she decided.
Well, considering that Ronny doesn’t even appear to know him, I’d think that would be a foregone conclusion. Unless… DUN DUN DUN… foreshadowing!
Be sure to tune in for the next breathless installment of Trapped!