Sunday, October 9, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Entry #4, Rev 1

Name: Jenny Kaczorowski
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

A shiver ran down Emma’s spine as she watched a cluster of mourners gather around the fresh grave below her. They clung to one another, finding comfort in knowing they did not mourn alone. Comfort she couldn’t share. Even across the distance, their shock and grief and anger pounded against her.

She shifted her feet and the frozen dew clinging to the grass crackled under her. The wind shaped her dark hair into softly waving tendrils and she brushed it away from her face with the back of her hand.

Emma knew she should join the other mourners. She knew they expected her to share in their public display of sorrow.

And she knew she couldn’t.

The slightest touch, the slightest betrayal of emotion and she would lose everything. Even a hug, a simple gesture meant to console, could send her spiraling out of control.

She remained frozen, a silent witness to their grief. She saw every detail in stunning clarity. The lurid green of the carpet covering the hole in the ground and the cold, dead coffin containing the mortal remains her best friend. The sky, the same colorless grey as her eyes, burned in her mind. Overwhelming sorrow surrounded her, but she refused to absorb any of it.

Her parents were worried. Not that she blamed them. She’d never handled loss well. She’d nearly self-destructed when Gabriel left four years earlier. And he’d only moved away.

Lily was dead.

Unbidden, an image rose before her eyes. She squeezed them shut to block out the vision, but the nightmare remained. Lily under the river, a modern Ophelia caught in the current. Her eyes, black and empty, stared at nothing. Her golden hair spread around her like the rays of a halo in a Renaissance painting.

Emma tried to steady herself, to fight the panic rising in her chest. It was a dream. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t hurt her. She repeated the words drilled into her brain. It’s not real. It can’t hurt me.

After so long, she’d almost learned to believe them.


But this time it was real. Lily had drowned. And no matter what anyone said, Emma knew it wasn’t an accident.


Gabriel eased his body into the kitchen and closed the door behind him. He held his breath until the deadbolt slid into place. His eyes darted around the darkened room, illuminated only by the pale green of the florescent lights under the cabinets.

An empty wine glass stood in the sink, collecting water dripping from the faucet. A droplet hit the glass with a soft splash and he pivoted, ready to react to any real or perceived danger. The rest of the house remained still and silent.

He exhaled.

He doubted his clumsy attempt to sneak in had gone unnoticed, yet he didn’t hear the telltale creak of his mother’s bedroom door or the soft padding sound of her footsteps along the hallway. He slipped into the bathroom.

He leaned against the sink and brushed his hair back to check for visible cuts or bruises – anything that would draw his mother’s attention.

It wasn’t a clean fight, but he could cover the marks it left on his body. He could hide from his mother a little longer.

He peeled away his shirt and winced as the blood-encrusted fabric covering his back pulled against his skin. Two ragged scars ran along his shoulder blades, bloody and hot to the touch. A bruise spread across his neck, seeping up from his chest and shoulder. He pressed against the dark purple splotch and winced.

“Gabe, honey?”

He cringed at his mother’s voice. “One minute, Mom. I’m about to take a shower.” He threw a towel over his broad shoulders and stuck his head into the darkened hallway.

“Are you alright?” Her dark eyes, so like his own, scrutinized his face. “I thought I just heard you come in.”

“Late night. Studying.”

“Again?” Her voice sounded sharper than usual.

He held her gaze, but remained silent.

“You’re barely seventeen,” she said.

“I can handle it.”

“What are they doing to you?” she pleaded. She looked small and helpless. Gabriel could see fear in her eyes and wished he could erase it.

“Please, Mom.” He was afraid she might come too close to the truth and force him into an outright lie.

“I’m trying not to ask too many questions, but please don’t keep shutting me out.”

“I need to do this, Mom. You know that. I can’t help who I am.”

She twisted the slim, gold ring on her left hand. “I talked to Grandma today,” she said. “She invited you to spend the summer with her.”

Gabriel startled. The invitation could only mean one thing. Emma.

“I want you to go,” his mother continued. “I want you to leave California.”

“Yeah. Sure. I’ll go,” he said.

“Thank you.” The worried crease in her forehead eased.

“Can I get my shower now?” he asked.

“Are you sure you’re okay? You look pale.” She reached out to touch his face and he instinctively pulled back. She dropped her hand and balled it into a fist. “I forget you’re not my little boy anymore.”

“I’m fine.”

“You look more and more like your father everyday.”

“I’m sorry for that.”

“Goodnight, Gabriel.”

“’Night, Mom.” He closed the door and rested his head against it.

What had happened after so long? What prompted his grandmother to call him back to Ohio? And how long could he hide the truth – about his life, about Emma – from his mother?


Emma sat in a secluded corner of the cheerful, chaotic art room. Rather than face the rush of students and teachers jostling to reach the parking lot, she meticulously cleaned her brushes and arranged her artwork in her portfolio.

Small for sixteen, she was pretty in a spritely, unsettling kind of way. Her grey eyes had no hint of color, no blue or greenish cast. Framed in lashes as dark as her hair, they seemed too keen, too knowing, as if they could pierce the soul.

She glanced toward her final project – an intricate, Japanese-style brush painting – before heading into the fray again.

Students rushed to escape the high school and revel in the first day of summer vacation. She slipped into the deserted hallways, able to breathe easier without the noise of hundreds of emotions buzzing around her.

A wayward freshman darted past and brushed against her. She flinched as their skin touched. His anxiety washed through her, triggering a vision of the boy pressing a razor blade against his wrist. His suffocating melancholy strangled her and she froze, fighting for breath. Part of her wanted to run after him, to pull him into a hug and assure him life would get better.

She fought to extinguish the spark of empathy burning in her chest. She couldn’t save everyone. She closed her hands into fists and dug her nails into the soft flesh of her palms, focusing on the real, tangible pain until his emotions ebbed.

She took a deep breath and turned to check her empty locker one final time. She avoided looking at the memorial program taped to the inside of the door. She didn’t need another reminder of her loss. She pushed the door closed and it gave a decisive, metallic clang.

Lily’s death shocked the small college town of West River, but soon faded from memory. Once the official investigation ruled the drowning an accident, everyone moved on.


  1. Love the revisions. Great job! Would love to read more of this story and see where it goes next.

  2. Excellent excellent job about bringing up why Emma avoids people into the beginning!

    Something about the phrase "ready to react to any real or perceived danger." in Gabriel's scene feels off. Another thing I noticed is several sentences in a row start with He in Gabriel's scene (He exhaled.../He doubted.../ He slipped.../ He leaned...)

    The scene of Emma's second vision of the kid who is a cutter comes off preachy now especially the sentence that says she wants to hug him and assure him life would get better.

  3. Again, I like this as much as last week's. And as I've said before, writing is subjective, because I had a different reaction to Emma's vision of the kid cutting his wrist. It made me curious about Emma's ability to see what this kid was doing to himself and why she felt like she needed to help him. To me, it put her in a dilemna--she is one of those people who wants to save the world, and it pains her to know that she can't.

    All of these openinings are making me wish they were already books I could pull off the shelf and read.

  4. Still liking this. The reason I think it's so strong, even though you're using quiet language, is that you've tapped into drama rather than melodrama. (Have been reading more of what Les Edgerton says about this in 'Hooked.') Those quiet words in that little dialogue with Gabe and his mom tell volumes, but keep the reader wanting to know more. There's some quiet power there.

    Really a great balance. Also definitely wondering what's up with Emma. : )

  5. Hi Jenny,

    Great job! You've pulled up the hook and smoothed out the structure a lot. At this point, I suggest that you start going through line by line to see where you're repeating, or echoing sentence structure, or subtly shifting POV or voice.

    As an example, the first few paragraphs contain several sentences that end in "her," and someone else already pointed out the series of "He" starters. Things like, "He threw a towel over his broad shoulders and stuck his head into the darkened hallway," are jarring, because clearly he wouldn't think of his shoulders in that context. Read through to see who is saying what, whose head you are in, how much distance you want from that character, and how you want to balance that against the information you need to convey. Things like "broad shoulders" are major signals, almost to the point of cliche, and need to be treated very carefully.

    Also, I'm not starting with a clear image of where she is in relationship to the grave in that first paragraph. It's below her? I caught on that phrase and it derailed me for a while.

    Similarly, things like "She fought to extinguish the spark of sympathy" trip me up on multiple levels. First, if she wanted to run after him, that's not a spark, it's a full-fledged impulse, no? So I start wondering what it is and why you are phrasing it that way instead of reading forward. Mainly though, it trips me because that isn't a very teen perspective.

    Really, these are small things. You've done a great job with the set up. This is just the next step beyond the structure.

    Looking forward to the next round.



  6. Again, such beautiful writing. I want to read it. That said, I agree with Martina that the biggest issue I see is the tendency to pull out of that close perspective. She wouldn't be describing herself in the beginning of the third part for example. I know I say it all the time, but writing just a bit in first might be an eye opener.

    Also, and this is such a minor complaint, but the first sentence doesn't feel quite as strong as the rest! I think it's simply the shiver down the spine. Maybe it's too cliche? I've certainly used it too (blushes). But maybe for that first line...

  7. Thanks again for all the feedback! The scene with the cutter is meant to give insight into Emma, not comment on cutting at all, so I'll work on polishing that. Honestly, I don't think I've touched that scene since I scribbled it out. And I see all the he/shes now. One of those hazards of editing... The "real or perceived danger" line has thrown a lot of people. I think it's time to cut it.
    I do tend to favor a strong narrative voice, so I'll have to work on pulling in. Just personal preference, but I dislike first person and frequently put down books because I don't like to read first person. It's too close and I like that broader scope. But I do see the need to keep in close to pull the reader in. I think, for me, it's a balance.
    Thanks again for the feedback! It really helps to get some honest reactions!


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