Monday, September 5, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages Workshop - September Entry #4

Name: Sarah Laurenson
Genre: Middle Grade

THIRTEEN BLACK CATS UNDER A LADDER
Chapter 1

Marcus knocked my breakfast off the counter. I grabbed for the bowl, but it slipped through my fingers and shattered on the cement floor. Little yellow balls of puffed corn bounced off the broken pieces of bright green ceramic. His laugh echoed off the vaulted ceiling. Great. Nothing to eat and an early start to the madness. At least my cereal was sans milk.

“You’re next, Sasha.” He snaked his black wooden cane back across the kitchen island and jabbed the salt shaker towards me.

So not playing this curse game. I stuck out my tongue. “Careful or I’ll break your other leg.”

“Hah! It’s your leg in danger. You’re running out of time, little pre-teen.”

“Marcus Willbee, you are deranged.”

“Don’t call me that.” His lower lip pushed out beyond his wispy moustache. The salt shaker wobbled. He whimpered. The cane clattered on the counter.

Begging on street corners had seriously mushed his brain.

I grabbed the broom and dustpan to sweep up the mess before Mom could come down and add her bit to the insanity.

“You were clumsy,” I said. “The curse doesn’t exist.”

The plate pieces screeched across the cement. Shivers slid down my back.

“The curse is real,” he said.

I could tell he was still pouting. “No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Nope.”

“Yep.”

Finally. A hint of the older brother I knew and loved to argue with. Maybe there was hope for us. The bowl shards and corn puffs tumbled into the trash can.

“What’s that!” Mom shrieked.

Too late. I dropped the broom and scampered out of range.

She yanked her long brown ponytail as she flipped the lid on the trash. “Milk? Spilt milk!” She whipped around. “Did you cry? Cry!” She caught her breath. “Wait. Is it don’t cry?” Mom’s head jerked from Marcus, to the trash, and then to me. “Which is it? Cry? Don’t cry? Tell me!”

BANG!

Silence fell in the wake of the hard wooden cane bashing against the hollow island. Marcus knew how to command attention. “It’s salt.”

Mom yanked on her hair. “Salt? Who ever heard of crying over spilt salt?”

He lowered his head and looked at us through his bushy eyebrows. “She must spill salt. Neither milk nor crying are involved.”

Mom snatched out a chair and plopped down. “Salt. Not milk. No crying.” Then she started rocking. “My fault. All my fault.” She dropped her head into her hands; her shoulders shook. The wailing would start soon.

“Morning. What’s for breakf… Whoa.” Dad stopped short in the doorway. His ice blue eyes bulged under his hairless eyebrows. He ran one hand over his bald head. His gaze darted around the room and finally landed on the wall with the bird song clock. “Is that the time? Golf with a client. See you tonight.”

“Dad!” My hand reached out for him, but it was too late. He was the fastest escape artist I knew.

The clock’s minute hand reached twelve. The little bird popped out and spoke my family’s language. Cuckoo, indeed. Time to make my escape.

I took the stairs two at a time and locked my door. The only curse I could see was a distinct lack of sanity. I shoved myself under the bed and yanked on the box up against the wall. The velcro gave off a nice ripping sound. Nothing but a direct assault would dislodge that box.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and let it out slowly as I opened my box of treasures. The photo of me at one-day-old went beside similar photos of Marcus, Mom and Dad. Next I pulled out the copy of my birth certificate with the suspiciously crooked words. And last came the magnifying glass. There must be a chance I was adopted. 
Chapter 2

Tifani waved the brown bag over her head. I waved back if only to get her to stop shaking up my breakfast. We plopped down on our book bags by the Rahway River. Wet grass, but no wet jeans – this time. I grabbed the brown bag and ripped it open. “Thanks. I’m starving.”

“Figured you would be ever since I got your text last night.” She blew her blond bangs out of her eyes. “Your family is… Well.”

“You can say it. They’re nuts.”

She giggled. “You know me. I don’t like to say anything bad about people.”

I bit deep into the PB&J sandwich. “Mmph fmpump.”

Her blue eyes stared at me. “What?” Her thin lips twitched.

I swallowed hard and licked my lips. “Dead people. I thought it was not saying bad things about the dead.”

“Oh that. Nope. Just anybody.”

“How about Jeffrey?”

“Ew.”

“Uh huh.”

She smacked my shoulder. “No fair. He deserves every bit of bad in the world.”

“That’s only because he’s your little brother. I’ll trade you.”

“Jeffrey for Marcus?” Her eyes glazed over.

“Oh come on. Are you still?”

She skimmed her fingers over the wet grass. “Marcus was nice to me.”

“Once.” I threw my hands in the air. A glob of jelly flew off the bread. “One nice thing does not mean you love him forever.”

“It was a very nice thing.”

I shoved the sandwich in my mouth and grunted. She was right. But having a crush on Marcus? Tifani was so much better than that.

“I know he doesn’t like me like that,” she said.

“He doesn’t like anybody like that. He’s too busy feeling sorry for himself.”

“That’s not his fault.”

“Maybe.” The chatter behind us was growing. I glanced at my watch. We had a few more minutes. “If he didn’t believe in the curse, he wouldn’t have broken his leg.”

She grabbed my arm. “Is that true?”

I shrugged. “I’d rather believe in not believing. Much better than trying to figure out the stupid cure.”

“But what if there really is a curse? What if not believing isn’t enough?”

Good questions. “Dunno. Guess I’ll get a designer cane.”

She squeezed my shoulder. “I’d rather you didn’t get hurt.”

“Hey!” A male voice cracked behind us as a rock splashed into the water. “You and your girlfriend gonna kiss or what?”

I twisted around. “Shut up, Raul.”

Raul laughed. Peter and Steve slapped him on the back. Then they stood there.

“Oh, all right. We’re coming.” I jumped up and grabbed my wet book bag off the ground.

Tifani giggled.

“What?”

She glanced at the boys. “Young love.”

I followed her gaze. “What? Raul? Yuck!”

“Uh huh.”

I smiled. “Okay. Maybe. But only maybe. And what about you? Peter? Steve?”

She shrugged.

“Oh never mind. I know. Gallant knight Marcus who rescues young damsels from dastardly gangs of ne’er-do-wells.”

“Sasha. It was a very nice thing. And the consequences…”

“Are not your fault. I told you. The curse doesn’t exist.”

7 comments:

  1. Hi Sarah,

    Absolutely original, delightful premise. LOVE the interaction with the Mom. Tons of questions to keep me wanting to read on. Great voice, especially in places like the magnifying glass/adoption bit, and the speaking Cuckoo. LOVE this.

    A few questions:

    1) Can you made do with a few less adjectives, especially in the first paragraph? Are the adjectives you are including standing in the way of providing specific, original details that show deeper characterization?

    2) Do you have enough to ground the less attentive reader without having us feel a little disoriented by the speed of your introduction to a complex world? Begging on street corners, saving people, salt, spilled milk, curses, all of these elements are brilliant, but it's a lot to throw at us all at once. It's great that you show us all this without telling us, but we may need just a little more information.

    3) Is this the first time that your mc has a hint that her bff has a crush on her brother? Because ewww. I wonder if she would react more strongly than that. ESPECIALLY if her brother has been behaving unlike himself and there is some mystery about his behavior.

    Really great start! Look forward to seeing the next version.

    Martina

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  2. Hi, Sarah! Wow. Well, I have to say I love the quirkiness and originality here! That said, I have to tell you I was a bit confused on the first read through and had to go back over it again. That's not something you want. SO... a couple of thoughts:
    1. Marcus. I think between the cane and the mustache my brain wanted to make him an adult. I get what the cane if for now, but maybe you can add a detail to age him younger in place of the wispy mustache?
    2. The curse. What an awesome premise! But, I'd like just a tad more info here. I know it's her character, but wouldn't she be just a little more worried about her potential fate? At least internally? Maybe her internal and external reactions could be a bit more dichotomous.

    As a matter of fact, I think that's the missing link here. I think we need more internal dialogue for your MC. For example,if she likes Raul, it's fine to tell him to shut up - I love it actually - but can we get a glimpse of her real feelings before her friend teases her? Does a blush betray her?

    I can't wait to read your revision. I'm seriously intrigued by this.

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  3. Well, you answered my question nicely. Still too much chaos. *sigh* Thanks for the suggestions. They're very helpful.

    How are you handling revisions? By e-mail? In the comments?

    Thanks for doing this. Fresh eyes are always great for moving manuscripts forward.

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  4. Awesome voice! Love the "early start to the madness" "seriously mushed his brain" and speaking Cuckoo bits. Very funny. I thought your dialogue was great, too. I only have a few tiny suggestions:

    -the description of the father pulled me out of your mc's character. (How often do kids talk about their father's ice blue eyes, etc?) I realize you want to work that in somehow, but maybe not all at once.

    I think you could leave out the part about Tiffani looking at the other boys and just highlight her liking Marcus. I was a little confused about that part - her talking about the other boys when she'd just mentioned Marcus. Unless she's just super boy-crazy. =)

    Overall, really interesting. I want to know more about the curse and the mc's crazy family!

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  5. I've got to figure out a way to chime in earlier. Yet again, the ladies above have it nailed. Love the dialogue and the bird clock and the cuckoo references. My mother has the same clock and it drives me crazy. Hers never turns off at night, because there’s always just enough light for the light sensor to react to. As a consequence, I remember that in the middle of the night, some eerie bird would screech out a call that freaked me out (and of course, set our dogs to barking like mad things) all of the time.

    Would like more detail on the curse. Found the description of Marcus to be very confusing, and the line about begging on street corners seemed (in this context) to be a throwaway, though intriguing one. Also, is it necessary to throw all of your characters out there at once, or is it possible to meet some of them more gradually? It seemed a bit of an overload. That said, I really want to read more!

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  6. Hi Sara, I'm sorry this is so late. I've been out of town. I still wanted to send my comments, even though you're probably already into your revision. I love the title!! And the first paragraph caught my attention. The more I read the more confused I became. The pacing is very fast and with so much information about this world, I think 9-12 year old's would need more information to grab onto. I wanted to know who Marcus was earlier into the story. Your dialogue was great and certainly moves the story along! Great ideas!! Sheri

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  7. Mary D

    Agreed! The dialogue certainly moves the story along at an even tempo, but what I notice [and adore] most about this particular tale [irregardless of which revision I'm reading] is the delightful quirkiness, the creative oddities that keep me wondering and fascinated as the chapter unfolds.

    Very concise, without giving the reader a sense of being *rushed*.

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