Sunday, June 5, 2011

6 1st 5 Pages Workshop - June Entry #1

Author: Sandra Cormier
Genre: Literary YA

Mallorca – September 1974
At times Rebecca imagined her father wasn't a project manager, but really a spy with obscure missions in dangerous, faraway places.
He'd blow back into whatever place they were living in at the time, with smiles and exotic gifts from afar. Her sister Lori would serenade him with her latest song, and Michael inevitably asked if Daddy had anything interesting in his pockets.

The fantasy faded when Rebecca's toys and books disappeared into cardboard boxes. As she sat wedged between her sister and brother on the center hump in the back seat of their red 1970 Firebird, her parents chain-smoked in the front seat and talked about mundane things like the latest episode of M*A*S*H. Tops of trees passed in a blur from the car windows as they followed a yearly succession of moving trucks.

"It's your father's job," was the only explanation Mom offered through clenched teeth as she extracted cups, saucers and ashtrays from boxes in a different rented living room in a different town with a different school.

Now they were in a completely different country. Rebecca had watched the tops of clouds from an airplane window as they flew across the ocean to Spain, then onward to Mallorca.

Only minutes into their "new adventure," Rebecca stood in the middle of the apartment trying not to listen to her parents arguing in the bedroom. Dad's low voice intersected Mom's shrill protests. Somewhere in the mix she heard, "New start," and "Time to think.”

Jeez, not again. She 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, nothing like the raw guitar licks that blared from her sister's stereo back home.

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 bang and crash of 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 clanged 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."

She couldn't see. It was too far, beyond the horizon. "No schools there, huh?"

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

That was always his copout. New experiences, old excuses. "But Dad, I was just getting to know everyone at high school." Behind her, Mom's strangled tirade escalated until she started to sound like Yosemite Sam. Rebecca winced and swallowed hard. "Couldn't we have just stayed in Saint John?"

He backed away and gave her shoulder a perfunctory rub. "I thought Saint John was going to be permanent, but when this came up, I couldn't let it pass by." 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. Will you at least stay long enough to help me shop for dinner?" She folded her arms and frowned. "Frank?"

Dad stiffened and stubbed out his cigarette on the balcony railing.
He made as if to slide past Mom, but apparently thought better of it and stopped to give her a brief peck on her pale cheek. "Sorry, Rachel – uh, Dear. I have a plane to catch. If you need any help getting around, I wrote Mrs. Shepard's number beside the phone. She knows the ropes around here."

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

Dad blinked and took a deep breath. "She's Alan Shepard's wife. Alan works with me and she lives next door." He turned to Rebecca, his expression softening. "Their kids will be going to your school. Maybe you could be friends."

Rebecca responded with a stiff smile. Making friends wasn't as simple as being the same age and living in the same building. She lifted her hand in farewell but didn't say a word. She was afraid if she hugged him, she'd close her arms around him and refuse to let go. She'd look like a crybaby, and Dad would tell her to grow up.

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 do some damage. 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. It seemed their lives revolved around boxes, even when they went nowhere.

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

Bedouins were nomads, but they probably didn't have to leave so much behind.



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."

6 comments:

  1. I think your story starts a few paragraphs in. I would begin with something like this only tweaked a little. (Probably something before the dialogue):

    "It's your father's job," was the only explanation Mom offered through clenched teeth as she extracted cups, saucers and ashtrays from boxes in a different rented living room in a different town with a different school.

    I'd ADD IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY and cut the first line of the next paragraph:

    Rebecca had watched the tops of clouds from an airplane window as they flew across the ocean to Spain, then onward to Mallorca.

    Watch throughout for telling lines instead of or in addition to showing. Such as "apparently he thought better of it" can be shown through the father's actions. Another example would be her stated wish to be with her father. Show us through her imaginings.

    The mother's name starts with an R just as the MC's does. You may want to think about changing that to eliminate any confusion.

    Don't force the 70's timeline, just let it occur naturally. Though you do a good job with mentioning jotting down the number by the phone, etc. The MASH thing felt a little too much, but if you start where I suggest, it won't matter. I just want you to watch out for that.

    I think the subject matter here has great potential. A new country, family issues kids of any time can relate to. That's wonderful. Very nice, I look forward to reading your revisions!

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  2. My heart went out to this poor girl right from the start. I was one of those nomadic kids growing up, so I know exactly what she's going through.

    But... I think you should start later, perhaps even with chapter 2. Most of the first chapter felt like backstory, and it's better to leave that until later. I like the idea of starting with the mother's confusion over her ability to shop, or if you want to start earlier, with the father on the balcony, smoking calmly while her mother smashes dishes together in the kitchen. Both offer action and a tantalizing taste of what's going on without actually telling us. And that's what's going to get people to read on.

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  3. Thanks, Lisa and Kate. I'm paying close attention!

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  4. Hi Sandra,

    There's a lot to love here and a lot that teens can relate to, but I'm not getting the sense of immediacy and voice just yet. Frankly, I'm not getting a sense of Literary YA yet either, and I think it's just that we're not deep enough in a point of view. Yes, this is third person, but it's a close third and we're getting thoughts but not personal philosophy--the mc isn't quite there yet for me. Immerse yourself in her head and let that come out.

    I also agree with Lisa about starting later. The fantasy beginning is nice, but it has no detail to make it rich and unique, and then you overwhelm us in 70's detail a paragraph later. The details needs to be subtly woven into action so that we are dropped into the world. Right now, it all feels a little removed.

    As a suggestion, I wonder what would happen if you started on the balcony with Michael contemplating jumpng and her arguing against it, while in the background the argument with the parents fleshed in some details and the kids reacted to that and to what they saw around them? How do the neighbors react to the argument? How does Michael react? It would give you a more active beginning ripe with potential you could exploit to really have her express opinions.

    Just a thought. I'm eager to see where you go with this.

    Best,

    Martina

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  5. I think there are some really good elements here at play--an exotic setting, trouble at home, a jaded protagonist (and I don't blame her!) that will likely have trust issues with anyone she meets from being let down so much at home, and especially by her dad. I would imagine she's going to struggle to with identity as well as a result. These things prime the reader for some good conflict and complexity to come. :)

    There are a few things tho that I felt raised some flags, so I'll mention them here for you to consider. It could just be me.

    Like others, I think the book starts too soon, and so rather than a concrete opening you have a series of images of the past that lead to the present. The balcony for me was the first real setting I felt 'present' in--I would have liked a bit more detail of the argument in the background and how it jars against the beautiful view. I think too, dialogue and the one sided argument alludes to the past moves, making all the explaining of how they arrived here unnecessary.

    If you want to show more keenly what the protag has lost, why not plunk her out on the balcony with a postcard or letter a friend gave her right before she left? She can look down on it and it's a tangible reminder of the friends left behind and how she must again start over. Maybe her missed friend wrote, 'I'll miss you, but I'm happy you're on a new adventure!' This will bring about those sour feelings about that word, and the bitterness at her father for the constant moves. Anyway, just an idea of how to use a prop to help create a gateway to her feelings.

    One other thing I wanted to mention was the discussion between mom and dad here:

    "Sorry, Rachel – uh, Dear. I have a plane to catch. If you need any help getting around, I wrote Mrs. Shepard's number beside the phone. She knows the ropes around here."

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

    Dad blinked and took a deep breath. "She's Alan Shepard's wife. Alan works with me and she lives next door." He turned to Rebecca, his expression softening. "Their kids will be going to your school. Maybe you could be friends."

    The mother/wife in me doesn't believe in it, I'm afraid. I just can't imagine my husband telling us we're moving, then doing all the packing/unpacking, account settling, explaining to family and friends about the move and faking positiveness about the new life waiting...and then this conversation taking place only after they arrive. These are things that Dad would have used as ammo to mom and the kids in order to 'paint a brighter picture' of the move before it happens.

    So I think this information needs to come out a different way, because as is it feels like it's here for the reader's benefit. Maybe Mrs. Shepard brings over a welcome basket with fresh buns in it or their kid brings it over. Dad can do the old, "See, isn't that neighborly? I told you this would be fine. And look, there's a note with it, saying to come on over once you're settled in for a visit." and then he can ditch the family for the airport or whatever you need to do to make that happen.

    Anyway, just a few ideas to consider. :) Good luck with this!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  6. Entry 1: I like the feeling of uprootedness that came through, the wondering when--or if--there will finally be an end to the constantmoving. The sensory descriptions of Dad's cologne and cigarette smoke mingling together is a nice touch, as is the hissing of the waves as they wash over the sand. Two niggling problems stuck out. 1) Plates don't 'clang' unless they're made of metal. Try finding another word that would describe the crashing of crockery. 2) When you talk about books being put in cardboard boxes and stored in the basement, does this mean the family has a permenant home somewhere? So far we've only been told about the constant moving from rental to rental. Try to look out for the way the MC talks, too. Rather than having her say "You could still do some damage." how about "You could still hurt yourself."

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