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#Story Chat: Jenny’s Bumpy Start

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I’m Marsha Ingrao from Always Write, a blog dedicated to promoting hobby bloggers.

Hugh Robert’s story, “The People Under the Stairs,” published on Always Write just before Halloween was a huge success.

I want to open up Story Chat to any writer who would like to submit a 750-1,000 word previously unpublished story. It might be a chapter of an unpublished book, like my sample below.

After publication on Always Write, reblog the story on your own site, and/or invite your friends to reblog to increase the dialogue. Anne Goodwin suggested using the story afterward as a newsletter enticement. Great idea Anne!

A few weeks after publication, I will summarize the commentary, interview you, the author, and publish a second post about the story.

Jenny’s Bumpy Start

By Marsha Ingrao 

Sandy Lassiter looked over at Jenny and mouthed the words, “Behind you,” then looked down at her paper as if her eyes were filled with iron filings, and her desk was a magnet.

Jenny looked around the room. The teacher had stepped out of the room.  Jenny Hatfield did not need to look around to know that Sandy meant Jeremy Crawford. He had been poking her in the back with his pencil all morning. All of the kids quickly looked away as she tried to make eye contact. 

Only one ally in this room, and Sandy was obviously not popular with the other kids. As usual, being the new kid at school was already off a bumpy start.

Jeremy stood and loomed over her staring down at her paper. “You think you are so smart, don’t you, Nerd?” He grabbed her paper, and stuck it in his math book.

“You’d better hope I’m smart, if you’re going to copy all my answers.” Jenny looked up but didn’t smile. 

“What’s wrong with your mouth? Did your dad punch you in the face?” Jeremy whispered loudly enough that other students around her looked up, then buried their noses right back into their books. He started laughing loudly enough that the teacher looked back in the room. 

“Jeremy, what are you doing out of your seat?” Mrs. Miller called from the door. “Sit down, and don’t let me see you get up until I tell you to.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” The thud when he sat down shook the floor.

“You’re ugly, new girl,” he whispered again leaning forward in his seat.

“That’s your opinion. You are a bully, Jeremy Crawford. Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to make friends?” she hissed without turning around.

Jenny knew she had to be strong. She couldn’t ignore him, threaten him, insult him back, or even tell the teacher. Many others before Jeremy had asked her that question about her face before. Sometimes she answered, and sometimes she didn’t.

“Like I would want to be friends with you, Freak. Here’s two cents. Go buy yourself a new smile. You need one.”

Jeremy threw two pennies on her desk and laughed as they slid to the floor. Jenny leaned over to pull out her binder from under her desk, ignoring Jeremy as best she could. Her grandmother always told her to be friendly if she wanted to have friends, but she didn’t want this misfit as a friend.

Jeremy’s thick hair rested on his shoulders and looked and smelled like he had not washed it all week. Like a mangy stray dog, his smile, chocked full of crooked yellow teeth, looked more menacing than friendly, and Jenny didn’t want to get close enough to smell his breath. She certainly did not feel like giving him a smile, even a crooked one.

She put the two pennies in her pants pocket and wished for the millionth time that she was back with her friends in Portland rather than god-forsaken Latham School in the middle of nowhere. She quietly placed her binder on her desk, opened it, took out a new piece of paper, and began redoing her homework. Jeremy poked her again.

“I’m not afraid of you,.” Jenny mouthed. She already had three problems finished. Glancing behind her as she spoke, she could see that Jeremy hadn’t even copied one of her problems yet.

Other kids stole glances at Jenny, but quickly looked away, whispering among themselves.

“Oooh, I’m scared,” Jeremy’s voice must have carried beyond the classroom.

Mrs. Miller returned to the room and stood between Jenny and Jeremy. Jeremy pretended to work on his math homework. Mrs. Miller was so close Jenny could smell soap on her hands.

“You’d better be scared of me, young man, and your homework better be started. You’ve only got three weeks before Christmas break to bring up that F in math,” Mrs. Miller said as she hammered a ruler on his desk near his fingers. “Now get to work.”

Mrs. Miller clicked to the front of the room, her just-brightened red lips in a straight line. Jenny wasn’t sure which one of them was the bigger bully as she heard the rivets on Jeremy’s jeans scrape the wooden seat of his desk as he slumped down in his seat. Miss Magnolia at Grandview would never have told the entire class someone’s bad grade no matter how awful they were.

Jenny felt a slight breeze as she  heard Jereny’s book slap the formica top of the 1940s metal desk as he opened his book. Papers slid onto the floor and skittered towards her. Jeremy cursed. Mrs. Miller stood up as though she was going to come back over then turned and wrote Jeremy’s name on the board. 

Jenny picked up the papers, kept hers and gave the rest back to Jeremy. As he grabbed them and growled, she thought of an abused dog. Jenny wondered if Jeremy’s parents were as mean to him as Mrs. Miller was.

What are your thoughts?


To submit your story email me at marshaalwayswrite@tchistorygal.net or fill out the form below.

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Story Chat #1

32 replies »

  1. Intriguing, kind and generous concept, Marsha. Is fiction or non fiction acceptable? I was immediately pulled into “Jenny’s Bumpy Start” by the title. Your last paragraph hit the nail on the head. Exactly what I was thinking. Blatant bullying used to be more obvious years ago. I think it likely still happens in new ways such as cyber bullying or passive aggressive ways. A great, engaging story.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It does make me wonder if Jeremy is being bullied at home, so he takes it out on somebody else. Having been bullied at school, I know what it’s like to be a victim. However, it’s doesn’t only happen at school; it happens in the workplace too. I see bullies as insecure, unhappy people who often don’t want to help themselves, so they believe the whole world is against them. Then my thoughts moved to Jenny, and I wondered if she had been a bully at her previous school. Why? Because she seems to be handling Jeremy’s bullying quite well.

    This was a ‘slow-burner’ of a story, Marsha. By that, I mean a story that slowly gathers pace, but all the way keeps the reader engaged.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Hugh. I don’t see Jenny as a bully but as one who has a healthy self-respect. Bossy, maybe. Do bullies handle being bullied well? Most of them are cowards when put to the test. As you say, they blame the world for their misfortunes. I don’t see Jenny doing that, at least not in this chapter. I’m sorry you were bullied. I think you have a healthy self-respect now, and you are highly honored in the blogging community.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I mention that maybe Jenny was once a bully because one of the main bullies I encountered had a disfigurement. He bullied lots of people, and I always wondered if it was because he was angry that those that he bullied did not have any disfigurements. Then there was the bully who had terrible body odour, (especially his hair) because he rarely washed. I remember him once sticking chewing-gum in my hair and my parents having to cut it out. He did some terrible things to others and made many lives a misery. I often wondered what happened to him, given that the first bully I mentioned died in his late 20s.

        Like

        • Those are two very sad stories, Hugh. I just learned that someone I knew in education died in a car accident. He was a bully and another friend said he was abused as a kid. I think maybe someone in Jenny’s family has prepared her to handle bullying. I also think her disfigurement was not treated as a handicap.

          Like

  3. Loved your story! Very intriguing. I’m new here and was wondering if you guys could check out my page and give it a follow, like, or even just some feedback. caleecreates.wordpress.com Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Calee, I just clicked on it. You’re off to a good start. I tried clicking on your short stories, but it’s not a live link. WordPress has a lot of help getting started, and you can always Google how to do something. Once you get the basics down, then you can learn from your fellow bloggers. I have quite a few tips on my blog if you search. Why don’t you email me a short story to publish on my blog to help you get started?

      Like

  4. I thought Jenny seemed to have a disfigurement, as she had been asked about her face before, but this wasn’t clarified. Jenny seems a discerning girl to realise that the unpreposessing Jeremy isn’t the only bully in the classroom, but it’s likely she has been bullied before if she has a disfigurement. Since she misses her former school, she must have overcome any problems there and made friends. She will probably make friends here as well, given time and her refusal to be provoked or intimidated – maybe even the unprepossesing Jeremy.
    A well-revealed and perceptive story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Cathy. You are perceptive. Yes, she has a facial disfigurement, but she doesn’t talk about it much, at least in that story. Most kids have some experience with bullying with or without disfigurements. Teachers can also make a huge difference in classroom bullying if they know how to cope with it. This teacher did not seem to know how to handle it, and I got the impression that her former teacher did. You also picked up on the other bullies. Sandy Lassiter obviously had suffered at the hand of bullies as well, but we don’t know who they are. Jeremy does need a friend. Maybe Jenny?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a great story for opening a debate about bullies and bullying, and I loved this image in your opening paragraph:
    looked down at her paper as if her eyes were filled with iron filings, and her desk was a magnet
    But I also found it a little confusing initially with four characters (three students and the teacher) involved right from the start. Maybe you could focus first on Jenny and Jeremy before introducing the others?
    Jenny does seem rather mature for a teenager. Maybe this is through support she’s had in dealing with the bullying in the past? I imagine she’s going to rescue Jeremy in some way. But it might be stronger as a story if we the reader can share in the process of understanding the bully. What if she was initially pleased when the teacher shamed him and then noticed something in his reaction that reminded her of herself?
    You’ve sparked a great discussion on an important topic. I also wondered whether this novel is targeted at adolescents or adults?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your comments, Anne. Jenny is a fifth grader, so if she’s too mature for a teen, she’s way too mature for a ten year old. It’s hard to get back into the mind of a ten-year old. They might have bursts of maturity and realization that there is someone important besides themselves, but it is rare, unless Jenny’s disfigurement caused her to learn to develop a thick skin. Based in my own experience, that was not the case, although most kids picked on something else, not the disfigurement. I cried a lot as a kid – at home, but I was not threatened or bullied at school. Hugh brought up a point that bullies are often bullied. If she isn’t a bully, then she probably hasn’t been bullied. Jeremy didn’t threaten her with bodily harm, he stole her paper. She probably should have gotten mad or at least indignant. Maybe, being new, she was intimidated by the teacher and didn’t want to make a scene. If she were shy, she might just sink into her chair and wait for the teacher to come back into the room. I like the idea of her enjoying Jeremy getting in trouble. Unfortunately, she would have to hold her gloating until she got home because there was no one to share it with.
      My intention was that she came from a supportive family that treated her as a normal person and focused on other aspects of her life- like learning. In the longer story, she does have issues with her father, who seems aloof and not warm and loving towards her, critical.

      Jenny seems to be a good student. Even though the kids don’t know her, Jeremy steals her math paper.

      I think Sandy could be easily left out of the story even though I like the iron filings as well. Thanks for all your wonderful input. WOW!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Apologies if this is duplicated but your blog didn’t seem to want my reply to you:

        Yes, I imagined her family being very supportive and maybe at ten Jenny’s not as self-conscious as she might become later when puberty strikes.

        I love how reader reactions can help us delve deeper into our characters.

        I’m wondering what you’ll make of the short story in my collection when you get to it “My Beautiful Smile”!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I already love it. The real title of the book that this short story came from is “Winning Jenny’s Smile.” Too ironic. I am so excited. Do you mind if I list you as my January Story Chat on the story chat page? I want to list them ahead of time to draw interest. What do you think?

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I loved this story, thank you so much for the suggestion! It’s short and poignant, I love how it turns the tables on the idea that bully’s are always the villian. I love how perceptive and kind Jenny is, not siding with the teacher because although the teacher is trying to come to her defense, she’s going about it all wrong. I love the unwritten complexity in Jeremy’s character, that we’re able able to sympathize with him despite his actions.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, you have summed up where the full story is going. This is the first chapter trimmed down to half size. It’s amazing how clearly most of it came through to you in spite of being trimmed. Maybe I don’t need to edit and publish the entire book. You got it. Alexis! Do you think Jenny’s actions were too old for a ten-year-old?

      Liked by 1 person

      • You absolutely do need to write and publish the entire book! We need to see what happens!

        I don’t necessarily think Jenny is acting too old for her age, I’ve met some empathetic preteens. I also think it gives you the opportunity to explore how she got to be so mature. Is it as a result of having to live her life with a physical abnormality? Maybe her own home life isn’t so great either?

        I think you have a great opportunity here to develop Jenny’s character with some back story, and make her a really great protagonist!

        I can’t wait to see where it goes 🙂

        Like

        • I can share some more information about the empathetic child I mentioned.

          He was bullied a lot in elementary school, because he’s such a sweet and kind-hearted (and sometimes annoying) kid. He’s kind of an easy target for bullies. I heard one day that one of the bullies was left out of something and this boy volunteered to be the bully’s partner. When this boy’s father found out, to my surprise, the father told him that respect has to be earned, and that he shouldn’t be so quick to forgive his bullies. Although I know the dad’s intentions are in the right place, I do think the child is just so sweet, kind and mature on his own. I think he knows what it’s like to be left out and doesn’t want that, even for someone who’s bullied in him in the past.

          Even when he was very young, this boy would play games, but always change the rules to make sure everyone was scoring points and everyone was doing well! He never tried to outdo anyone. When I gave him a classic board game for Christmas, and I asked if he already had it, he replied, “yes, but that’s okay! It’ll be great to have extra pieces!” That’s just his nature. All these stories happened before he turned 12, by the way.

          Jenny reminds me of him.

          Hope this helps!

          Like

          • This is a lovely response, Alexis. Thank you for sharing about your young friend. I do think some people either by training or temperament are kind. I will definitely add your response to the story chat response.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Good story Marsh, and sadly, all too common. Yes Jeremy is a bully. Bullies don’t just happen, they are formed. The boy is most likely neglected, maybe even picked on at home. 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

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Marsha

Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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