Monday, September 12, 2011

9 1st 5 Pages Workshop - September Entry #1 Rev 1

Author: Sara Bautista
Genre: Young Adult

On the day everything changed, before I knew the truth about my mother, my biggest concern was the chemical spill site formerly known as my head. I’d let Greenly convince me that the solution to my boy problems—namely, there were no boys in my life—was to make myself stand out. Enter Salon Sensations #52 Black as Night.

We were supposed to do it together, but when the last day of winter break came around and Greenly was still stuck under eight feet of snow at her dad’s place in Montana, I decided to carry out the plan on my own. So there I stood, alone, dripping wet, hoping the frightening reflection in the mirror was an illusion. Closer inspection revealed the cruel reality: that scary thing in the mirror was me. It was the Sunday before the rest of my life, and I was a freak. I was also late for work.

I raced to change into my starched crimson dress. Between the hideous uniform and my now jet-black hair, my pale skin looked practically transparent, like the underbelly of one of those creepy fish at Emperor’s Wok. Splotches of dye lingered on my neck and ears, enhancing the effect. At this point all I could do was damage control. I rummaged around my closet for something to conceal the mess, but nothing worked.

In a last ditch effort, I climbed to the attic, taking the narrow steps two at a time. I pushed by the skeletons of old lamps and ghostly sheet-covered furniture until I found a Tupperware crate stuffed with clothes I no longer wore. I dug through until I found a kelly green scarf. It would have to do.

On my way out of the dusty space, another box, one I’d never seen before, caught my eye. Suzanne was scratched across the side in my father’s writing. I paused, glancing at the hole of light from downstairs. I had to go, but I couldn’t resist pulling apart the box’s worn cardboard flaps. I picked up the top item—a photo album—and opened it at random. My mother looked up from the page, holding what must have been a baby me. My throat caught at her warm, open smile and easygoing stance. I traced her face with my finger before shutting the album with a kiss. As I slid the box back into its spot, a small, folded piece of paper fluttered to the ground. The graceful cursive read “To Jocelyn with Love.”

I gingerly slipped it into my pocket for safekeeping and hurried on my way.


I had barely settled in behind the hostess’ podium in the dim lobby when the entrance bells jangled. I tugged at the hem of my kimono uniform—as if that would make it longer—and clamped my teeth together in what I hoped would pass for a smile.

A whoosh of cold greeted me, along with a tall, snow-dusted figure. Cliff Crawford. Joy. A little harassment from Neighbor Boy was just what I needed.

“Whoa, Jocelyn, is that you? Did you spend Christmas rescuing baby seals from an oil spill or something?” He laughed and circled around me, inspecting the damage from all sides. “Looks like you missed a piece back here. Actually, a few pieces…”

“Shouldn’t you be flunking out of community college somewhere?”

“It’s called a leave of absence, there, Bettie Page. I realized I haven’t found my calling yet, you know? Decided to move back in with the folks, maybe get a job at the Photo Hut. Pretty sweet deal, eh?”

“Yeah, every kid’s dream.”

A family filed in behind Cliff, crowding the entrance. Mrs. Liu, the restaurant owner, pushed in after them, making her first appearance of the evening.

“What’s going on here?” she squawked in my direction. “This is bottleneck! You want to talk to cute boys, you work at carwash!”

In the same breath, she turned to the embarrassed customers, and in a saccharine voice cooed, “Welcome to Emperor Wok. Four for dinner, please?” It wasn’t until she passed the hostess podium for the menus that she actually saw me. I worried that she might start convulsing right there, but she managed to keep walking. My scarf was clearly not doing its job.

“So where can a cute boy get some take-out around here?” Cliff asked, grinning.

I smirked and gestured toward the cashier.

Soon Mrs. Liu was back, ranting about the gravity of my hair-don’t. It registered as a Category Four catastrophe in her book, but she didn’t stop there. It was the bony hips (“men want ladies to make babies!”) and skinny arms (“you weak!”). I tuned her out when she started going off about my eyebrows—the center of a woman’s power—which were too light and thin for her liking, but I snapped right back to attention when she licked her finger and starting rubbing the purplish-black smudges tracing my hairline.

I was shielding myself with the podium when Cliff passed by on his way out.

‘You look odd,’ he mouthed.

Yes, yes I did, and I could count on Cliff to point that out. Ever since the summer after seventh grade when he pushed me into the Harrisons’ pool, fully clothed—thus revealing to the whole neighborhood that I still didn’t wear a bra—he had found endless ways to embarrass me. I was thrilled when he left for college last August; the last few months had been blissfully quiet and prank-less. Until now.


The Cliff encounter combined with a busy night at the Wok left me so flustered that I forgot about my mother’s note. It wasn’t until I was back home, running the water for another shower, that I saw the white edge peeking out of the pocket of my discarded uniform.

I held the thin paper to my nose, hoping to get just a touch of the elusive fragrance that lay somewhere on the edge of my memory. The note smelled of nothing but dust and faint mildew. Still, I savored it.

In contrast to the sparse writing on the outside of the note, sketches covered the inside. Flowers and vines laced with six-legged creatures lined the edges and twisted to encircle the small square of writing in the middle, almost concealing the words.

My dear Josie, pocket full of posies,

I miss you more with each day that passes. The good news is that I should be back soon. I can’t wait to give your sweet little self a big hug and a kiss. In the meantime, I’ve been catching bugs for you. See? Here’s a beetle and a cricket. I hope you’ve been finding lots of worms, and that you’re taking good care of Daddy.

Love you more than you’ll ever know,

Mommy


A date, barely visible, hid among the sketched foliage.

I tucked the note into a drawer under the vanity and stepped into the shower. Something was off. I did the simple math once, then twice. The shampoo bottle slipped from my fingers, pummeled by cascades of dull grey water.

My mother couldn’t have written a note on that date. By then, I would be two; by then, she would be dead.

9 comments:

  1. We were supposed to do it together, but when the last day of winter break came around and Greenly was still stuck under eight feet of snow at her dad’s place in Montana, I decided to carry out the plan on my own. --> Make two sentences at least--> We were supposed to do it together, but when the last day of winter break came around, Greenly was still stuck under eight feet of snow at her dad’s place in Montana. I decided to...

    So there I stood, alone, dripping wet, hoping the frightening reflection in the mirror was an illusion --> As I stood, ..., dr..., I could only hope that the ...

    It was the Sunday before the rest of my life, and I was a _total_ freak.

    Splotches of dye lingered on my neck and ears, enhancing the effect. --> good addition of detail. the "enhancing the effect" part needs a little rephrasing.


    On my way out of the dusty space, another box, one I’d never seen before, caught my eye. Suzanne was scratched across the side in my father’s writing. --> I think the story would flow better if she accidentally knocks this box over. When she picks it up, she can then note the details.


    Suzanne was scratched across the side in my father’s writing --> rephrase this sentence a little. Suzanne should probably be in quotes.

    mother looked up from the page, holding what must have been a baby me --> mother looked up from the page, holding a baby me

    “Looks like you missed a piece back here. Actually, a few pieces…” --> “Looks like you missed a piece back here. Oh, and a piece here, and well, actually, you've missed quite a few pieces…”

    By then, I would be two; by then, she would be dead. --> tweak this line. Too many thens.


    Better flow, better focus. I see a great deal of improvement here.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great rewrite, Sara.I loved the pacing and the dialogue. The flow was fun to read.I think if I had watched a note fallout of the photo album I'd want to open it immediately and read it. I loved the changes you've done with the hair, too. I wondered about her friend,Greenly. After rereading that paragraph I caught that she was on winter break. Is Josie going to school too? You could include her with just changing the word 'our' winter break. In the second paragraph after Josie has colored her hair,you use the same words, the rest of my life, and I don't think it's needed again. Maybe another phrase! Loved the rewrite and very strong character, mystery set up, and story. Good job!

    ReplyDelete
  3. You're getting there, though there are a few issues I would love clarification for. First, I know more about Greenly than your MC. I get that she's somewhere without as much snow as Montana, but... I like her motivation for going in the attic, but it feels a bit rushed/forced. Maybe if I felt more anxious about her being late. I would think a note from her dead mother that she'd never seen before would trump being late for a job. UNLESS she needs the money for something? She's on her last warning before being fired? Etc. Maybe that's why she's in a whirlwind looking for the green scarf and even could knock into the box that the note is in? Just a thought. Maybe she could even be pulling it out to see when the annoying neighbor boy walks in, making his presence that much more annoying? Then she forgets.
    Speaking of which, this line "I smirked and gestured toward the cashier." Why is she smirking? Wouldn't she be embarrassed by this? She would wince, or fake smile or something like that I think.
    The last line should have maximum impact here and I think just: "My mother couldn't have written the note. By the date on that piece of paper, my mother had been dead for *x amount of time*. IDK you can do better than me!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really like the voice in the first two paragraphs. Very witty.

    The next paragraph seems a little too full of adjectives, and color ones at that:
    ...raced to change into my starched crimson dress. Between the hideous uniform and my now jet-black hair, my pale skin looked practically transparent, like the underbelly of one of those creepy fish at Emperor’s Wok.

    I wonder about her going into the attic too. If it is winter - as described by her friend being snowed in and the snow-dusted figure of Cliff - wouldn't she already have her winter clothes, including scarves, accessible? And why would she think she would be able to find something wearable in an attic that is obviously dusty.

    I like the dialogue between her and Cliff. She sounds like she has quick comebacks which I love!

    One last thing, I agree with Lisa about adding things like she is more worried about being late than reading the note because...
    Adding a few lines throughout might help to identify with her motivations a little more.

    Overall, great beginning! Very interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great revision. Love that first line though I'm not sure you need both everything changing and knowing the truth about her mother. I think keep the mother part as you're showing it's the day. I think it could also use some tightening. There is some telling and showing the same thing, some extraneous info, some wordiness. Here's an example of the first few paragraphs and how I would tighten them.


    Before I knew the truth about my mother, my biggest concern was the chemical spill site formerly known as my head. Greenly had convinced me that standing out was the solution to my boy problems—namely, there were no boys in my life. Enter Salon Sensations #52 Black as Night.

    When the last day of winter break came around, Greenly was still stuck under eight feet of snow at her dad’s place in Montana, I decided to carry out the plan on my own. So there I stood, dripping wet, hoping the frightening reflection in the mirror was an illusion. Closer inspection revealed the cruel reality. I was a freak. I was also late for work.

    Between the hideous starched crimson uniform and my now jet-black hair, my pale skin looked practically transparent, like the underbelly of one of those creepy fish at Emperor’s Wok. Splotches of dye lingered on my neck and ears. All I could do was damage control. I rummaged around my closet for something to conceal the mess. Nothing worked.

    I took the narrow steps to the attic two at a time, pushed by the skeletons of old lamps and ghostly sheet-covered furniture until I found a Tupperware crate stuffed with clothes. I dug through until I found a kelly green scarf. It would have to do.

    On my way out of the dusty space, a box I’d never seen before caught my eye. Suzanne was scratched across the side in my father’s writing. I had to go, but I couldn’t resist pulling apart the box’s worn cardboard flaps. I picked up the photo album and opened it at random. My mother looked up from the page, holding what must have been a baby me. My throat caught at her warm, open smile and easygoing stance. I traced her face with my finger before shutting the album with a kiss. As I slid the box back into its spot, a folded piece of paper fluttered to the ground. The graceful cursive read “To Jocelyn with Love.”

    I gingerly slipped it into my pocket and hurried on my way.


    Sarah Laurenson
    (Damn Blogger not letting me post as me - again.)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I really like that you don't tell the reader too much. Just enough but not too much. Great.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I really liked this - esp. Mrs. Liu's voice. Funny! Agreed with one of the revisions that tightened your graphs, however it did raise one question as to why - if she's been going to the attic for years to get clothes - it's taken her this long to find the note. Or if she hasn't gone to the attic, why now specifically?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I really like the way this flows this time around, although I agree with the others who are wondering about the time frame of her visiting the attic. Could she have just moved some of the special boxes up to the attic and remembers what is up there and goes for it? Or maybe she has some other reason for being up there other than looking for clothes?

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  9. Off the top, I want to say how much I liked this. A lot. That said, the beginning didn't draw me in--the note from her mother did, although I agree with Lisa (Hi, Lisa!) in that if I saw a note from my dead mother that I never realized was there, I wouldn't stuff it in my pocket--and I didn't like "gingerly"--I don't think a teen would think of doing anything gingerly.

    I think the intro of Greenly should wait until she appears in the book--the mention of her to begin the chapter distracts us from main character.

    What if you started out with something like:

    Nobody told me that Salon Sensations #52 would turn everything Black as Night, not just my hair. I glanced at the clock as I scrubbed my ear. I had fifteen minutes to get cleaned up and to work.

    Or something like that to get us immediately into her situation.

    I loved the Chinese restaurant. I was a waitress for like two days at one in college. Yep, only lasted two days. One training and one on my own. I couldn't take the yelling when I made a mistake.

    Loved the return of the neighbor boy and he'd better be the love interest, because I'm already clamoring for more of their interactions.

    Really nice job. I'd want to read more. Heck, I do want to read more.

    ReplyDelete

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