Monday, October 3, 2011

7 1st Five Pages October Workshop - Entry #4

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 the knowledge they did not mourn alone.

On either side of her, dark pathways wove between ancient, twisted trees, dividing the cemetery into irregular sections. She shifted her feet and the frozen dew clinging to the grass crackled. The wind shaped her dark hair into softly waving tendrils and she brushed it away from her face with the back of her hand.

She 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.

She felt numb. Far too numb to grieve. The slightest touch, the slightest betrayal of emotion and she would lose everything.

She remained frozen, a silent witness to their grief. She saw every detail in stunning clarity. The lurid green of the indoor-outdoor carpet covering the hole in the ground and the cold, dead smoothness of the coffin containing the mortal remains her best friend. The dull 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 terrifying vision, but the nightmare remained. Lily under the surface of the river, a modern Ophelia caught in the current. Her eyes, once to vibrant and full of life, stare back black and empty. Her fair skin stood in sharp contrast against the dark, murky water. 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 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 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 might draw his mother’s attention.

Nothing obvious.

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 shoulders and stuck his head into the hallway.

“Are you alright?” Her dark brown 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 said. She looked small and helpless. Gabriel saw the 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.”

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.

“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 relaxed.

“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 could have happened after so long? What had prompted his grandmother to call him back to Ohio? And how long could he hide the truth from his mother?


The West River cut through the heartland of Ohio, flowing through rolling fields and copses of buckeyes, oaks, and maples before emptying into Lake Erie. Along its banks, white steeples and neat rows of brick storefronts rose from small pockets of humanity.

The City of West River straddled the river, near enough to the lake to endure the whims of its erratic weather, yet far enough to feel landlocked and isolated. It might have slipped into obscurity if not for the college at the center of the town. All at once quaint and progressive, small town values and ivory tower intellectualism mixed and remixed in volatile ways.

The high school near the edge of town reflected the same split personality. Battered pick-ups and shiny Volvos parked side by side and the debate team garnered as much public support as the football team.

The final bell rang, signaling the end of the day and the end of the school year. The school sprang to life, a writhing, groaning beast desperate to break free from its cage.

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 scrubbed and scoured her brushes and arranged her artwork in her portfolio.

Small for sixteen, Emma processed an untamed, spritely beauty more in harmony with the woods outside the school than the mass of students inside. She had the kind of wide eyes and full, rosebud lips of a Victorian fashion plate, yet some uncanny quality about her kept people at a distance. Her grey eyes held no hint of color, no blue or greenish cast. Framed in dark lashes, 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.

A wayward freshman darted past, brushing 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.


  1. Hi Jenny,

    You write beautifully, and there's a lot of ominous mystery and great stuff going on to really draw the reader in. I'm hooked to see what's going on, but I think you could get into this a bit more cleanly and clearly, and more importantly, more youthfully. In places, your prose doesn't feel authentically teen, which is going to be a problem going forward.

    Here's an example:

    Small for sixteen, Emma processed an untamed, spritely beauty more in harmony with the woods outside the school than the mass of students inside. She had the kind of wide eyes and full, rosebud lips of a Victorian fashion plate, yet some uncanny quality about her kept people at a distance. Her grey eyes held no hint of color, no blue or greenish cast. Framed in dark lashes, they seemed too keen, too knowing, as if they could pierce the soul.

    This reads like an adult romance, not a young adult UF. I think authenticity is your main problem.

    Your second biggest problem is balancing your information and scenes better. This is probably compounded by the fact that you are switching POVs, so you are trying to keep length balanced, but your first scene--while it provides some great information--doesn't give us enough to warrant the length. That means you end up including a lot of fabulous description (the frozen dew? WOW!) but that description overwhelms the scene and points out the paucity of description and information in the subsequent scene. The voice and dialogue in taht are great, but I'm completely lost about what is going on.

    Although I have a vague sense of something paranormal, it isn't until the third scene that I get a real concrete idea of what type of paranormal. And even then it isn't clear. That may be okay. I'll be curious to see what others say. But while that feels natural in the first scene, the second sense feels like you are withholding from the reader and it only creates confusion. The third scene (romancy language aside) gives me way too much description again, but I love the concrete details that you give us about Emma's artwork and her visions. I'd love more of that. It makes me wonder if that isn't why she is afraid to be with the others at the funeral, too, and if you couldn't start her at the graveside, but the emotions overwhelm her as people randomly brush against her, until she has to run away? That might be a dramatic way to get everything all tied together a little earlier.

    Hope this makes sense. I'm eager to see the rewrite!



  2. The language is beautiful. I love the little details like how you described the wet grass and how Emma's hair moves in the wind. A few instances though there feels like too many adverbs (cold, dead, smoothness of the coffin) or the description weighing down the scene. I think you need to introducce Emma's name earlier on, it's several paragraphs before the reader has a name to put with this grieving person. The reason she's afraid to touch people I'd like to see a little earlier, it grounds the paranormal element (her vision at the end is scary brilliant!).

    I think the two paragraphs describing West River can be introduced later on. The beginning is a slow climb with small bursts of acton. This bit of back story had me ready to stop reading because I was wondering when the action was going to come back. The pacing is slow, which can work and is fine, but the stakes have to keep an under current of tension if a backstory drop needs to stay.

  3. I'm going to build on what Martina said here. First of off - WOW is right. Beautiful writing, so you are clearly capable of whatever it takes to make this work. I agree that the tone is a bit adult, particularly in the final chapter. BUT I think that is only because you seem to be going more omniscient in the third. Start us out with Emma, so we know we are with her here. Remain in a close POV, it works well. I was completely enrapt through the first two scenes. I agree, however, that a little more info in the second chapter would be good. Give us some taste of what's happening. It's hard because I know it's a fine line between mystery and leaving the reader confused. Beautiful job. Can't wait to see what you do with it.

  4. Enjoyed this piece of your story.

    In the first section, there was a lot of telling: she's numb, she's frozen, etc. without showing. That small chunk lost me, but I began to really get into it after that. I think there's a good balance right now between the information vs. suspense, and as a reader I definitely want to know what's up with these three characters and what their connection is.

  5. I love, love, love the scene with Gabriel and his mother. It sounds like a typical conversation between me and my seventeen-year-old (i.e., the voice). I also love the mystery surrounding these characters. If I were book browsing, I would definitely take this one home with me based on this opening. Sorry I can’t be more critical, but I wouldn’t know how to improve anything more than what others have already pointed out. Great writing.

  6. Thanks for all the feedback! It's so helpful to get this much detail from readers! I originally had the second scene as a prologue, so it does read very differently. I think I can work on making it a little clearer without giving too much away. And I do tend to get a little flowery. I'm hearing simplify and clarify. Thanks again and I can't wait to see if my rewrites help!

  7. I agree with Linda's comments about Gabriel's scene - love that voice and flow. Your writing is beautiful - looking forward to reading your rewrites and getting my comments in on time ;-)


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