Saturday, May 14, 2011

5 1st Five Pages Workshop - May Rev 1: Entry #1

Young Adult--Ann Braden--Swimming with Tchaikovsky

Sally heaved her cello case onto her back and felt for the map in her pocket. A door behind her squeaked opened, and she turned to see her host sister Irina wander into the apartment entryway.

“You must feel like it’s the middle of the night,” Irina said, running her fingers through her pink highlights. “Were you able to sleep at all?”

Sally shrugged. “I slept on the plane.” The Russian rolled off her tongue like a native speaker, but her voice shook slightly. She didn’t know which to blame: the hours she had just spent staring at the ceiling or the fact that she was freezing. She cleared her throat, “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Irina waved a hand. “It’d be good if I got to school on time for once. You hungry at all?”

“Your mama took care of that,” Sally said, tugging at the waist of her jeans. “I’ve never eaten so much in my entire life.”

Irina laughed. “Just wait. She’s got four courses planned for dinner tonight in honor of you. Food’s like the official Russian welcoming party.” Irina shifted on the cold wood floor from one sock foot to the other. “You know, I can be ready in five minutes, and I’d walk you to your audition.”

Sally shook her head. “I’ll be okay,” she said, tucking her hands into the armpits of her purple fleece. How could it be so cold inside?

“You sure? It’s right on my way.”

Sally nodded, her lips pressed together. At some point during the night, Sally had realized she was in Irina’s bed. No way was she going to make Irina escort her around this week on top of that.

“Are you nervous?” Irina asked, but before Sally could answer Mama burst out of the kitchen, carrying two pieces of bread wrapped in a thin towel. A large black poodle trotted after her.

“I didn’t realize you were leaving so soon, Sally. Here, just in case you get hungry,” Mama said, thrusting the bread into her hand, despite Sally vigorously shaking her head. The poodle bounced joyously between the three sets of legs. “You changed your dollars into rubles at the airport last night, right? Do you have your map where I circled the concert hall? Irina, aren’t you going with her? Why aren’t you dressed yet?”

“It’s okay,” Sally said, finding her voice. “It’s probably better to go by myself. It’ll help me stay focused on the competition.”

“Of course,” Mama said, nodding.

“Sharra! Get down.” Irina scolded, prying the poodle off of Sally.
“Sally, you’re shivering. Are you alright?”

“Oh, my dear,” Mama said, taking Sally’s free hand, “you’re so cold.
Why didn’t you say something? The city doesn’t turn on the heat until October 1st, and that’s not for a few days. Sally dear, is that coat all you have?”

Sally was hoping they’d just assume the shaking was an American thing.
You know, all that coffee in the bloodstream. “I’ll be fine once I start walking. That’ll warm me up.” But Mama was already rummaging around in a closet. “I have some gloves,” Sally said, digging into the pockets of her fleece. Mama didn’t say anything until she emerged, holding a scarf.

“You must keep your throat warm. Very important.”

Sally resisted, but not for long. The scarf was beautiful. Small black flowers wove around each other against a gold background.

“It was my great-grandmother’s,” Irina said, nodding to the scarf before she shuffled down the hallway to get a mop. A puddle had appeared on the floor. Sharra sat next to it, looking relieved.

By the time the apartment door clicked shut behind Sally, she was heading down the stairwell, the scarf around her neck. Her cello bumped against her with each step. What did her friends know? She was going to be fine. These people were nothing like they’d said they would be. And, just because she always cried at Hallmark commercials didn’t mean she was weak. Here she was after a night of no sleep and no heat, but was she a sobbing pile of mush? No. Anyway, Hallmark probably spent millions making sure people cried. She had just been doing what what she was supposed to.

And she could do that here, too. Just supposed to focus on the competition, right?

No problem.

At the bottom of the stairs, Sally pushed against the heavy metal door. It didn’t budge. She grit her teeth and tried again. The door held fast. She leaned on it while twisting the knob one way and then the other. Still nothing. She felt tears well up in her eyes, but she tightened her jaw. She reared back and slammed her shoulder against it, only to get the elbow of her fleece caught on something, a deadbolt quietly holding the door in place. Groaning, she turned it, and the door opened. But Sally didn’t move.

Sprawled across her path was a man, ripe with alcohol and snoring forcefully. He hadn’t made it far before calling it a night considering the bar was next door. Not quite the same as the stray cat that greeted her when she left the house back home. Of course, they weren’t too different either. But the man took up the entire stoop.

Sally reached an arm back to steady her cello against her, and she leapt over the man, barely missing the edge of his black leather jacket. Then she straightened up and headed for the concert hall.
Take that, Hallmark.

But halfway down the block she stopped, looked down at the bread still in her hand, and hustled back to the stoop. Before she had time to chicken out, she had placed it next to the man and was on her way again. Everyone deserves a good breakfast.

As she continued on down the quiet side street, she could hear the beginning of the Dvorak concerto rumbling within her. Soon her sneakers scratched against the concrete like a metronome, and those first passionate phrases pulsed through her body.

When she turned onto Nevsky Prospect, the main street of Saint Petersburg, a blast of wind whipped through her hair. Sally tugged her scarf up over her chin. Even though the scarf was thin, the heat it trapped against her felt good. A bus ground back into motion after making a stop, spewing hot oily fumes at her. When the bus was gone and the fumes had dissipated, Sally paused to look at her map. The Bolshoi Concert Hall was only seven blocks ahead, and she didn’t want to be too early for her time slot. Extra time would just give her nerves a chance to get out and stretch. As it was, her insides were already churning.

Walking more slowly, Sally heard the gentle phrases from later on in the concerto, the ones that shimmered in their stillness. Waves of people in blacks and grays swelled past her. The faces were grim, sealed off, but that was alright with Sally. She had Dvorak.

A piece of trash blew out of a narrow alley and grazed her hand on its way down the sidewalk. With runs of sixteenth notes now spinning through her head, Sally watched it get caught in an updraft, but the music faded when she tried to figure out what it was. A section of pantyhose? A bandage? She didn’t have a clue. Doesn’t that define a foreign country? A place where you can’t even recognize the litter.

In the bus ride from the airport late last night, Sally had assumed they were driving through a city just like the others she’d been to for competitions. But it was clear St. Petersburg was different. The buildings were all from another era. Sally spotted a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and even the upper floors of that were adorned with columns and angels, proclaiming who knows what? Probably not something about a bucket of drumsticks. And the colors of the buildings. Pink.
Blue. Green. Peach. No one had told her this city would be so beautiful.

Sally crossed over a narrow canal and paused on the other side. A statue of a man and horse stood silhouetted against a fuchsia building. Sally stared up at it and tapped out more patterns of sixteenth notes against the cold stone base. It was not your average man sitting sedately atop a horse. Instead, man and horse seemed to be locked in a desperate wrestling march. Sally shook her head. The faces passing her on the street might be expressionless, but emotion was bubbling out of every street corner.

Just ahead the road rose up into a bridge, and the sidewalk tucked down beneath it where pedestrians disappeared into shadows. The sad notes of a balalaika floated towards Sally, and she followed them under the bridge. Clustered on stools and blankets, selling bits of
trinkets, were bundled old women. Their faces poked out from head
scarves like the one wrapped around Sally’s neck. She fingered her scarf and then saw the musician.

The man had a weathered face, and his eyes were closed as he plucked the strings. The folk song danced above Sally like a injured bird until it came to rest on her shoulder. The cold wind was gone. The air closed in on her, humid and thick. Sweat beaded up on Sally’s upper lip and the back of her neck. A buzzing joined the music, weaving around her, twitching in her ear. A stench rose up from the ground, thick like the air, rife with decomposition and decay, coating her mouth with rank sweetness. The gruff voice of a man behind made her spin around.

“Unless you want to join him, you’d better keep digging. He was lucky to die in the morning because the tsar wants this done today. Now, move!”

The voice was so close, but where was the man? And who was he shouting at? Looking around, Sally saw only the same grumbling crowd, but even they seemed to be fading in and out, rippling with the waves of heat. And the buzzing. Like a mosquito. But it couldn’t be that.
It was so cold. At least, it had been. Sweaty hair stuck to the back of Sally’s neck. Desperate to cool down, she tore off the scarf.

It was cold again. The wind was back. The smell was gone. She
rubbed the back of her neck. She wasn’t even sweaty anymore. Like
she had just imagined it.

What was wrong with her? A panic attack? The beginnings of a fever?
Sally shook her head. Getting sick this week was the last thing she needed.

She took a deep breath, stuffed the scarf in her pocket, and looked around. The music had stopped, and the man was tightening the strings on his balalaika. She shouldn’t have stopped to listen. The Bolshoi Hall was just a few blocks further.

But as she walked she found herself rubbing the back of her hand against her jeans, and she glanced at it.

She came to an abrupt halt. There, angry and itchy, was a mosquito bite.

Submission - Option #2 - First 1250 words:


Sally heaved her cello case onto her back and felt for the map in her pocket. A door behind her squeaked opened, and she turned to see her host sister Irina wander into the apartment entryway.

“You must feel like it’s the middle of the night,” Irina said, running her fingers through her pink highlights. “Were you able to sleep at all?”

Sally shrugged. “I slept on the plane.” The Russian rolled off her tongue like a native speaker, but her voice shook slightly. She didn’t know which to blame: the hours she had just spent staring at the ceiling or the fact that she was freezing. She cleared her throat, “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Irina waved a hand. “It’d be good if I got to school on time for once. You hungry at all?”

“Your mama took care of that,” Sally said, tugging at the waist of her jeans. “I’ve never eaten so much in my entire life.”

Irina laughed. “Just wait. She’s got four courses planned for dinner tonight in honor of you. Food’s like the official Russian welcoming party.” Irina shifted on the cold wood floor from one sock foot to the other. “You know, I can be ready in five minutes, and I’d walk you to your audition.”

Sally shook her head. “I’ll be okay,” she said, tucking her hands into the armpits of her purple fleece. How could it be so cold inside?

“You sure? It’s right on my way.”

Sally nodded, her lips pressed together. At some point during the night, Sally had realized she was in Irina’s bed. No way was she going to make Irina escort her around this week on top of that.

“Are you nervous?” Irina asked, but before Sally could answer Mama burst out of the kitchen, carrying two pieces of bread wrapped in a thin towel. A large black poodle trotted after her.

“I didn’t realize you were leaving so soon, Sally. Here, just in case you get hungry,” Mama said, thrusting the bread into her hand, despite Sally vigorously shaking her head. The poodle bounced joyously between the three sets of legs. “You changed your dollars into rubles at the airport last night, right? Do you have your map where I circled the concert hall? Irina, aren’t you going with her? Why aren’t you dressed yet?”

“It’s okay,” Sally said, finding her voice. “It’s probably better to go by myself. It’ll help me stay focused on the competition.”

“Of course,” Mama said, nodding.

“Sharra! Get down.” Irina scolded, prying the poodle off of Sally.
“Sally, you’re shivering. Are you alright?”

“Oh, my dear,” Mama said, taking Sally’s free hand, “you’re so cold.
Why didn’t you say something? The city doesn’t turn on the heat until October 1st, and that’s not for a few days. Sally dear, is that coat all you have?”

Sally was hoping they’d just assume the shaking was an American thing.
You know, all that coffee in the bloodstream. “I’ll be fine once I start walking. That’ll warm me up.” But Mama was already rummaging around in a closet. “I have some gloves,” Sally said, digging into the pockets of her fleece. Mama didn’t say anything until she emerged, holding a scarf.

“You must keep your throat warm. Very important.”

Sally resisted, but not for long. The scarf was beautiful. Small black flowers wove around each other against a gold background.

“It was my great-grandmother’s,” Irina said, nodding to the scarf before she shuffled down the hallway to get a mop. A puddle had appeared on the floor. Sharra sat next to it, looking relieved.

By the time the apartment door clicked shut behind Sally, she was heading down the stairwell, the scarf around her neck. Her cello bumped against her with each step. What did her friends know? She was going to be fine. These people were nothing like they’d said they would be. And, just because she always cried at Hallmark commercials didn’t mean she was weak. Here she was after a night of no sleep and no heat, but was she a sobbing pile of mush? No. Anyway, Hallmark probably spent millions making sure people cried. She had just been doing what what she was supposed to.

And she could do that here, too. Just supposed to focus on the competition, right?

No problem.

At the bottom of the stairs, Sally pushed against the heavy metal door. It didn’t budge. She grit her teeth and tried again. The door held fast. She leaned on it while twisting the knob one way and then the other. Still nothing. She felt tears well up in her eyes, but she tightened her jaw. She reared back and slammed her shoulder against it, only to get the elbow of her fleece caught on something, a deadbolt quietly holding the door in place. Groaning, she turned it, and the door opened. But Sally didn’t move.

Sprawled across her path was a man, ripe with alcohol and snoring forcefully. He hadn’t made it far before calling it a night considering the bar was next door. Not quite the same as the stray cat that greeted her when she left the house back home. Of course, they weren’t too different either. But the man took up the entire stoop.

Sally reached an arm back to steady her cello against her, and she leapt over the man, barely missing the edge of his black leather jacket. Then she straightened up and headed for the concert hall.
Take that, Hallmark.

But halfway down the block she stopped, looked down at the bread still in her hand, and hustled back to the stoop. Before she had time to chicken out, she had placed it next to the man and was on her way again. Everyone deserves a good breakfast.

As she continued on down the quiet side street, she could hear the beginning of the Dvorak concerto rumbling within her. Soon her sneakers scratched against the concrete like a metronome, and those first passionate phrases pulsed through her body.

When she turned onto Nevsky Prospect, the main street of Saint Petersburg, a blast of wind whipped through her hair. Sally tugged her scarf up over her chin. Even though the scarf was thin, the heat it trapped against her felt good. A bus ground back into motion after making a stop, spewing hot oily fumes at her. When the bus was gone and the fumes had dissipated, Sally paused to look at her map. The Bolshoi Concert Hall was only seven blocks ahead, and she didn’t want to be too early for her time slot. Extra time would just give her nerves a chance to get out and stretch. As it was, her insides were already churning.

Walking more slowly, Sally heard the gentle phrases from later on in the concerto, the ones that shimmered in their stillness. Waves of people in blacks and grays swelled past her. The faces were grim, sealed off, but that was alright with Sally. She had Dvorak.

A piece of trash blew out of a narrow alley and grazed her hand on its way down the sidewalk. With runs of sixteenth notes now spinning through her head, Sally watched it get caught in an updraft, but the music faded when she tried to figure out what it was.

5 comments:

  1. Ann,
    I think you did a great job of including the family in the opening scene. Kudos.

    “You must keep your throat warm. Very important.” This makes it sound like she's a singer, not a musician. Maybe more of an explanation here.

    I got confused by this paragraph: I will be switching to CAPS for my thoughts on this paragraph :)

    By the time the apartment door clicked shut behind Sally, she was heading down the stairwell, the scarf around her neck.SEQUENCE IN THIS FIRST SENTENCE. DOES SHE HEAR THE DOOR CLICK? BECAUSE SHE'S DOWN THE STAIRWELL WHEN IT HAPPENS. Her cello bumped against her with each step. What did her friends know? WHAT FRIENDS??? THEY COME OUT OF NOWHERE. IT MAKES IT SOUND LIKE THE RUSSIAN FAMILY SHE'S STAYING WITH. She was going to be fine. These people were nothing like they’d said they would be.THESE PEOPLE, THEY AND THEY? TOO MANY PRONOUNS. THESE PEOPLE ALMOST SOUNDS RACIST--AND I TOTALLY KNOW THAT'S NOT WHAT YOU WERE GOING FOR. OR AT LEAST I THINK I KNOW THAT. And, just because she always cried at Hallmark commercials didn’t mean she was weak. Here she was after a night of no sleep and no heat, but was she a sobbing pile of mush? No. Anyway, Hallmark probably spent millions making sure people cried. She had just been doing what what she was supposed to. AND UNLESS HALLMARK IS GOING TO COME UP AGAIN, THIS FEELS OUT OF PLACE FOR ME. I THINK YOU REALLY DON'T NEED THIS PARAGRAPH.

    --Waves of people in blacks and grays swelled past her. The faces were grim, sealed off, but that was alright with Sally.--I WAS WONDERING IF YOU COULD CONTRAST THIS SOMEHOW WITH--Probably not something about a bucket of drumsticks. And the colors of the buildings. Pink.Blue. Green. Peach. No one had told her this city would be so beautiful.--I THINK THESE ARE GREAT IMAGES AND KIND OF OXYMORON TO ONE ANOTHER THAT THE PEOPLE DRESS WITHOUT COLOR YET THEIR HOMES ARE ALIVE WITH COLOR.

    . The faces passing her on the street might be expressionless, but emotion was bubbling out of every street corner.--GREAT SENTENCE, BUT LOSE THE WAS.

    Oh, and should she wonder about the use of tsar? Or do is that still a commonly used word?

    Really nice rewrite. I really enjoy this story and am interested in where its going.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great revision! Very nice, it's clear you put in quite a bit of work. I do like the addition of the family scene. But when I compare it to the prose later in the chapter - the beautiful description of Sally's walk through the city, where you've now incorporated her music along with so many senses- I feel like you can do more. Use the same kind of original descriptions and language to make that initial interaction come to life. Not a lot. Just a touch here and there. Details. What's the wallpaper like? What smells permeate the apartment from mama's cooking? That sort of thing. Loved "Sally was hoping they’d just assume the shaking was an American thing."

    There were a few lines that I stumbled over. I would recommend going through and reading out loud for flow. I wonder if some things were necessary - such as the whole ordeal with opening the door downstairs? Maybe just a line where it sticks and she has to shove?

    The line from the man regarding the Tsar. I wonder if there's a line that would be just as mysterious, but not quite as confusing. Tall order huh? Sorry. But you want questions in the reader's mind, just not so much so that they're pulled out of the story.

    Still love the unique qualities you've presented. Sally's personality is coming through better. Liked the touch with feeding the homeless man. Love that the music is such a clear part of her. :D

    ReplyDelete
  3. I like the part with her host family - I get a good sense of "mama" as she's bursting into the room and shoving food at Sally.

    I agree with Lisa's comment about Sally's personality coming through better in the rewrite, especially when she leaves the bread and how she hears music in everything, even in her sneakers against the concrete.

    The part that made me pause was when Sally was leaving and thinking about her friends back home. It sounds a little forced and doesn't seem to go with the flow of the rest of the chapter. I think it's understood from the exchange with her host family that she's tired and overwhelmed, but trying to be strong (hoping they won't notice she's shaking, saying she's fine and can walk by herself, etc.)

    Great job on the rewrite!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Love the revisions!
    I'd love to see more description of the home, like you do later in the book with the city. Not a lot, just little things here and there.
    I'm also wondering how she knows fluent Russian? And her conversation with Irena seems very relaxed for having just met her if her flight just came in the night before and ended up sleeping in her host sister's bed.
    You did a great job so far!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Ann,

    You've done so much with this! I'm very impressed and there is much to like in the new scene. Unfortunately, I still don't buy the set up, which means I'm not suspending disbelief when I need to do it, and this applies across the board this time around. Your descriptions of the way she hears the music as she crosses the city are fantastic. And yet, I can't see her crossing the city for the first time and focusing on the details you have her focused on. This could be an easy fix, if you just had her arrive a few days earlier, and--at the risk of repeating myself--gave a concrete reason why Irina can't go with her. If she's walked to the hall before, then wanting to get into the music on her own would make sense. And then she can also notice differences as the magic comes into play. One way or the other though, please, please consider the basic premise here. Pick at it, turn it on its head. Don't start us off with questions, even your lovely writing won't overcome them completely.

    Martina

    ReplyDelete

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