Saturday, June 25, 2011

8 1st 5 Pages Workshop - June Entry #1, Rev 3

Contemporary YA
by Sandra Cormier

Chapter 1
Mallorca - 1974

They'd hardly arrived in Mallorca, and Rebecca's parents were already arguing in the bedroom. Dad's low voice intersected Mom's shrill protests. Somewhere in the mix Rebecca heard, "New start," and "Time to think.”

"I sure hope the neighbors don't understand English," her sister Lori remarked with a smirk as she curled on the sofa with an airplane magazine.

Michael seemed oblivious to the tension as he rummaged through his father's suit pockets, probably looking for foreign coins to hoard.

Rebecca skirted the mound of suitcases in the living room, opened the balcony door and stepped into the heat. Flamenco music filtered from somewhere below, almost obliterated by the hiss of sand pulled to sea by the surf. The classical notes crept into her psyche with exotic sweetness. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the sounds, if only to drown out her parents.

Dad finally came outside and leaned against the balcony railing. As usual, he hid his impatience behind a serene expression and a freshly lit cigarette.

Inside, the sound of colliding dishes punctuated Mom's side of the argument. She wore her emotions on the outside and dishwashing was always a clear indication of her mood. When she was in good spirits, she sang above the gentle clink of cutlery against crockery. When she was pissed off, plates crashed together like cymbals.

Dad squinted against the reflected sunlight and took a drag on his cigarette. He rubbed his chin with a knuckle and cocked his head at the door. "Don’t worry, she'll get used to this. She always does." He leaned an elbow on the railing and pointed south, over the expanse of Mediterranean. "Algeria is that way. See, it's not far. I'll be back for a visit before you know it."

Rebecca tilted her chin, straining to see. But it was too far, beyond the horizon. "You've been here a whole month - why can't you stay a few days more? We just got here."

He gathered her in the crook of his arm and drew her close. His shirt smelled of Old Spice and menthol tobacco - like home. His deep voice rumbled against her cheek as he assured her, "It'll be good for you to have new experiences."

Behind Rebecca, Mom's strangled tirade escalated until she started to sound like Yosemite Sam. Rebecca flinched and swallowed hard. "I was just getting to know everyone in high school." She wasn't, not really – but when did he ever clue into that?

Dad backed away and gave her shoulder a perfunctory rub, as if it would erase all the animosity that had built up since he'd announced he took this job. He motioned toward the deep blue Mediterranean with his cigarette. "Look at this place. A winter without snow for once – it'll be fantastic."

The glass door slid open again. Rebecca turned to see her mother standing in the doorway. Mom glared at Dad's shoulder blades, while he seemed engrossed in the curl of blue smoke that drifted from his Export A.

Mom rubbed her eyes and huffed in that way she always did when she'd lost an argument. "By the way, thanks for leaving me with a sink full of dirty dishes and no food in the fridge. I'm not surprised; you're a typical man, aren't you?"

When he didn't respond, she prodded, "Will you at least stay long enough to help me shop for dinner?" She folded her arms and frowned.

Dad stiffened and stubbed out his cigarette on the balcony railing.
He made as if to slide past Mom, but stopped to give her a brief peck on her pale cheek. "Sorry, Val – uh, Dear. You know my plane leaves in an hour. If you need any help getting around, I wrote Mrs.
Shepard's number beside the phone."

Mom's eyes flared. "And who is this Mrs. Shepard?"

Dad blinked and took a deep breath. "You probably don't remember." He waited, but Mom's flushed face and shifting glance indicated she didn't. "She's Alan's wife," he said gently, as if she needed everything spelled out for her. "She lives next door." He turned to Rebecca, his expression softening. "Their kids will be going to your school. Maybe you could be friends."

Making friends wasn't as simple as being the same age and living in the same building. Rebecca lifted her hand in farewell but didn't say a word. She was afraid if she hugged him again, she'd close her arms around him and refuse to let go.

After a series of urgent murmurs from the entranceway, the front door closed with a muffled slam. A moment later, Michael came outside and stood on tiptoe to peek over the railing.

"Far out; a pool! I bet we could dive right off from here," he exclaimed, lifting one leg. He glanced at her with a wicked grin.

"Try it and you're dead, stupid," she replied. "We're three floors up."

"But that's the deep end."

"You could still hurt yourself. Don't even think about it." She rested her elbows on the railing and stared out to sea, imagining the North African coast with its whitewashed mosques and minarets and sand, and Bedouins with swirling robes. Dad was going to have the best time ever and she wished she could be with him.

She wondered if Bedouins still kidnapped Western girls and sold them into harems. It would be exciting to ride across the desert, live in tents and be rescued by some handsome guy with long hair like in Mom's romance novels.

Now those books were packed in a cardboard box in their basement along with winter clothes and knick-knacks they didn't want broken while Dad rented out the house - the first one they'd owned after a lifetime of rentals. It seemed their lives revolved around boxes, even when the boxes went nowhere.

They'd even had to give away their dog. That was the hardest part.

She took a deep whiff of fresh salty air, so unlike the sulfuric odour that permeated Saint John, their port city back home. Instead of peering through curtains of fog that inevitably rolled across the Bay of Fundy, this body of water displayed a bright haziness interspersed with sparkles.

She shaded her eyes and watched a group of young men jogging along the water's edge. The boys matched each other both in step and attire. Their white t-shirts and navy blue shorts stuck to their bodies as if glued by sea spray or perspiration.

A muscular black man trailed the group. A whistle dangled from his thick neck and he brought it to his lips. The rush of the surf almost drowned the blast of the whistle, but the boys picked up their pace as the man cheerfully urged them on.

"Come on, you wimps!" he shouted, his white teeth flashing hugely as he grinned. "Pick it up! This ain't no prep school!"

"They must be from our school," Michael said.

One of the uniformed boys caught Rebecca's attention. Lean and fair, he towered head and shoulders over most of the others. His flushed cheeks contrasted with his ivory face, and golden curls clung damply to his sunburned neck. He led the pack, striding gracefully.

She felt her stomach flip at the sight. Wiry muscles showed through his damp shirt. He's beautiful.

Chapter Two

When she wandered back into the apartment, her mother was stuffing peseta notes into her purse. "Well, we don’t eat until I go shopping." She checked for keys and headed to the door, muttering, "I hope to God this is enough money. How am I going to ask for anything?
I don't know Spanish. Your father knows Spanish. Jesus; I'm tired. I need a drink." She stood in the small entryway, hands on her hips and her purse swinging from her wrist. "Well, come on. Let's go."

Michael scrambled to accompany her, and Lori heaved herself out of the sofa. "Groovy," she muttered.

Rebecca pretended she didn't hear.

"Becky? Come on."

"I'm not a little kid, Mom. I can take care of myself." Rebecca glanced back at the balcony, wondering when the boys would jog back from the direction they'd come.

Lori sat down again. "I'm the oldest. If anyone should stay home, it's me."

"Not today, you're not. I'll need your help carrying stuff. We're walking."

As her mother headed for the door, Lori asked, "Why can't we drive?
Aren't you going to call Mrs. Shepard? Maybe she knows where the closest store is."

Mom looked at the phone and shook her head. "Let's wing it." She would rather get lost in a foreign country than phone a person she didn't know.

"Speaking of winging it," Michael said undisguised glee, "Lori's not wearing a bra."

Mom's face blanched, then reddened. "What?"

"She's not wearing a bra." Michael cupped his hands under his chest and did a grotesque dance. "She looks like Linda Ronstadt."

Mom cuffed him on the back of his head. "Where do you get that stuff?" She turned to Lori and raised a hand as if to strike her, too.

Lori straightened and stared her mother down. The palpable silence between them made Rebecca want to clap her hands over her ears and run from the room.

Instead, she remarked coolly despite her racing heart, "I'll bet David Bowie wears a bra. He wears enough makeup."

Her mother swung her gaze toward Rebecca and lowered her hand. Her lip twitched. "What am I going to do with you kids?"


  1. Hi,

    REALLY like this much better now that you've made the beginning linear. There's much more character that comes through now, too.

    The main thing going forward, I think, is for you to consider the distance you want to have between you and the reader. There's quite a bit right now, which is fine if that's the effect you want. However, it might be interesting for you to try rewriting the first couple pages in first person POV to see what details and thoughts and language come through when you are deep in Rebecca's head. I don't mean that you have to write the book this way, just for your own sense of Rebecca's self.

    Also, watch out for things like: She felt her stomach flip at the sight. Wiry muscles showed through his damp shirt. He's beautiful.

    There are a couple of places I've noticed you do things like this individually, but in this instance you've combined two contradictory effects so it really stands out and stops the reader. Inserting the "felt" adds distance; it isn't even necessary. If her stomach flips, it's implied that she felt it. Then you do a tense shift, presumably to indicate a direct thought, with "He's beautiful." Now suddenly, we're deep inside Rebecca's POV. If you want to keep to the distant POV you've established, you need to stick with "He was beautiful," add a "Rebecca thought," or put this into italics at the very least.

    Really go through and focus on POV. Make sure you are consistent. You're bouncing a little bit.

    Best of luck with this! It's a great start.


  2. I haven't read this before, so I'm looking with fresh eyes. Your writing is beautiful, but the thing that struck me is that the first chapter is almost entirely about the mc's parents. Rebecca only observes and has a little internal dialogue. She doesn't act. I am not getting a feeling for who she is, just that she doesn't like moving around so much. The upshot for me is that this doesn't sound like a teenager's voice.

    Also - at first I was certain the parents were talking about getting divorced and so the siblings' reactions threw me off.

    A small aside as someone who moved around a lot as a kid - I didn't care if we owned a house or not.

    You might want to consider 1st person POV

    Can Rebecca become aware of the love interest in a more dramatic way? As in something happens, rather than just have her passively watch him run by. If first love is a major theme of your book, I might lead with that rather than getting into all the details of her family so soon. (ie - she slams out of the house after hearing they're to move again and trips right into the group of runners...)

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for all the wonderful comments. Love is not the first theme in the book, but it is rather a catalyst for Rebecca to emerge from her shell.

    Trying the writing in first person is a great exercise. I'm doing my current WIP in first POV and it's quite liberating.

    Sorry about the distant vs close POV re: italics. I was told to submit in plain text, so the italics don't show.

    This novel has been giving me quite a ride, but with your invaluable advice, I think I can whip this baby into shape. Many, many thanks.

  4. I like this much better now, but agree about the distance. I don't know enough about Rebecca by the end of the first chapter, although I know a lot about her family. I'd like to see more interior monologue so we can feel the experience along with her.

  5. The prose here is lovely. Lines like, "When she was in good spirits, she sang above the gentle clink of cutlery against crockery" are really memorable. And I think you've started off at a good moment with lots of tension.

    My impressions of Rebecca right now is that she's quiet, thoughtful, and perceptive. There's a lot of awareness of those around her, which I believe is good for a narrator. I'd like a little more insight into how SHE feels, though. It's already there now--eg "Instead, she remarked coolly despite her racing heart..."--and even one or two more sentences of that from the start might have made me feel more in tune with Rebecca.

    Random thought as an animal lover... This line: "They'd even had to give away their dog. That was the hardest part" made me cringe! After I got over the awfulness of that idea, I thought maybe Rebecca would refer to her dog by its name. This is extremely nit-picky, but if I had to give away my dog, I'd think something more like, "How's Alex doing at his new place? Are his new owners being nice? When is he going to figure out how to use Skype?" Okay, maybe not that last part. You know what I mean. :)

    Finally, I sensed the tension at the end with the fight about Lori's, ahem, wardrobe issues, but from my modern experience, I'm not sure if bralessness is that big a deal for people. I wonder if a quick word explaining WHY it's objectionable might heighten the moment a little. Naturally, your mileage may vary on this count. I'm sure other people read that bit and immediately understood why Mom would be annoyed.

  6. Hi, Feliza, thanks for commenting.

    The story takes place in 1974, so bralessness was a pretty big issue for mothers who grew up in the Forties.

    Good point about the dog! I'll give her a name, and work harder to get the POV closer. Thanks again!

  7. Sorry I'm late chiming in. I think you've come a very long way with these pages, so first off you should give yourself a pat on the back. I like the opening lines MUCH better now, and you do a great job establishing her siblings and their characters. I have to agree that writing this scene in first person might be very eye opening for you. I know from personal experience. Now I pretty much write solely in first. :D I like being inside my characters heads. I agree that maybe what's missing here is a little more internal dialogue - understanding her reactions to the things going on around her, even (and ESPECIALLY) if those thoughts are contradictory to her actions. Does that make sense? But again, beautiful writing.

  8. This is much better and I think you've solved the problems we observed in earlier versions. The only think I might suggest is that you have the golden boy look up and lock eyes with Rebecca. This is lovely writing and a terrific opening. Good luck with this.


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