Monday, October 3, 2011

7 1st Five Pages October Workshop - Entry #5

Linda Jackson
Middle Grade

My name is Ken, just like the doll, Barbie’s boyfriend. Except I’m a girl. My whole name is Ken Kim Easton. I’m named after my daddy, Kenneth Leon Johnson, Jr.

Aunt Millie says my name is stupid. And if my mama hadn’t been so crazy about that boy (meaning my daddy), I might’ve at least had a decent name. If nothing else.

She said when a gum-smacking nurse laid me on Mama’s chest and asked, “So, sweetie, whatcha gonna call her?”

Mama smiled and foolishly said, “Ken. Just like her daddy.”

Aunt Millie grunted. “Ken? That ain’t no name for a girl.”

Mama sucked on her teeth then mumbled something rude.

“Why can’t you call her Kim?” Aunt Millie asked. “Now that’s a pretty name for a girl.”

But Mama just rolled her eyes at Aunt Millie then smiled up at the nurse. “Her name is Ken. Ken Kim.” Then she stopped smiling at the nurse and locked her eyes on Aunt Millie. “That’s capital K, lower-case e, lower-case n. Space. Capital K, lower-case i, lower-case m. First name Ken. Middle name Kim.”
Mama looked back at the nurse, all smiles again, and said, “Make sure you put it like that on the birth certificate. Please.”

Aunt Millie’s face soured. “Now that’s a real stupid name,” she hissed. Then she stormed out of that hospital room and didn’t say two words to my mama again until I was almost six months old.

But that’s the story about the day I was born and how I got my name.
The real story I need to tell you is about the day I died and about the strange thing that happened to me on my way to heaven.


Friday, May 13th
7:56 AM
Clark-Cooke Middle School
Girl’s Restroom

My best friend Danielle frowns and yanks her lip gloss from my hand.
“Where were you when God was giving out lips?” she asks.

But before I can answer, she takes a tissue from her purse and starts scrubbing my lips like a crazy woman. “You got lip gloss everywhere, girl,” she shakes her head and says. “I swear you got the thinnest lips I ever saw.”

I lean forward and let her fix my lips. “I don’t get to practice all the time like you do,” I mumble.

We go through this every morning. I put on lip gloss, and Danielle wipes it back off. That’s because I have no idea what I’m doing, since Mama never lets me wear makeup. She says eleven is too young for makeup, because it might draw attention from the wrong people. She really means boys.

“But I’ll be in seventh grade in two weeks,” I had tried to convince her just that morning. “Everybody wears makeup in seventh grade.”

She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at me. “I didn’t give birth to everybody, Ken Kim Easton,” she said. “I only gave birth to you. So I don’t care what everybody else does. And yes, school will be out in two weeks, but you won’t be in seventh grade until August. And you won’t be twelve until November. So the answer is still no.”

“But Ma—”

She cut me off. “You need to wait till you’re seventeen anyway.”

“Danie—”

“Girl, don’t start with me about what your friends can do,” she said.

I shook my head and walked away.

“See? That’s what I get for letting you start school too early,” she called after me. “I should’ve held you back like Aunt Millie told me to.”

I spun around and just stared at her. Since when did you start listening to Aunt Millie? I wanted to ask. But, of course, I didn’t. I knew my place. So I politely turned myself back around and went on to the kitchen and ate my lumpy oatmeal.

I should’ve known she’d give me that long lecture and remind me that I’m almost a year younger than most of the kids in my class, especially Danielle. Danielle’s mama has been letting her wear makeup since fifth grade, since the day she turned eleven. She’s cool like that. My mama, I’m sorry to say, has been around Aunt Millie too long.
And those old-fashioned ways have rubbed off on her.

Aunt Millie says makeup is pure evil. Straight from the devil. So I just might be seventeen before Mama lets me wear any. That’s why every morning I meet up with Danielle and her second best friend B. J. and put on some of Danielle’s makeup.

Since Danielle is glossing my lips, B. J. has to throw in her two-cents. She hates being ignored. So she smiles a mean smile and says, “She was probably off somewhere looking for a doughnut. And by the time she looked up, God had run out of lip-making material.”

Now that was stupid. I don’t even like doughnuts. She always says the dumbest things. So I say something smart back to her. “I might’ve been in the same place you were when he was giving out cute faces,” I say.

But before I can pat myself on the back for roasting her, B. J. plants her hands on her hips and looks me up and down. I know she’s found something to crack on me when that ugly smile pops up again. She pops her gum real loud then nods and says, “I see you came around twice when he was giving out chins though.”

Then she just cracks up, like her jokes are so funny.

“Whatever,” I say. And that’s the best I can do. B. J. might be uglier than a catfish, but she’s finer than two foxes. And she knows it. So she never misses her chance to remind me that I’m “pleasantly plump.”
As Aunt Millie likes to call me.

B. J. is short for Betty Jean. She’s named after her grandma, and she looks like her, too. And I don’t mean she has her features. I mean B.
J. has an old woman’s face, but without wrinkles. It’s hard to explain. But trust me. She looks like an old woman — an old woman with Beyonce’s body.

“There,” Danielle says and turns me to face the mirror. “Perfect.”

I nod and smile. Danielle has the magic touch.

B. J. frowns at me in the mirror but doesn’t say anything.

“You look good, Ken Kim,” Danielle assures me.

B. J. smirks.

“Whatever,” I mumble.

B. J. leans back and gives me that look again. She crosses her arms over her perfect chest and sneers. “Maybe you can get some of that fat sucked out of them cheeks and injected into them paper-thin lips,” she says, cracking up again. And it doesn’t even bother her that she’s the only one laughing.

7 comments:

  1. I've gotta say the beginning had me hooked (the voice is fantastic!) right up until the last two sentences. It seems there are a lot of books out right now about the recently dead being interrupted before they can move on, I don't see where this story seperates itself from the others except for the voice.

    I'd take out the details aboutt the date, time and place. You can work that into the scene rather than just outright telling the reader up front (because most of the time it'll just be skimmed and forgotten).

    Be careful with the cliches, the bit with uglier than a catfish but finer than two foxes is confusing until the bit about old woman's face and Beyonce's body.


    The teasing from BJ is spot on for how catty bullying girls can be, excellent job there.

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  2. We seem to have a theme going here today! Good writing/voice but an unnecessary prologue. :D I also feel like it isn't necessary to put that info up front. Hook us with the story first. I LOVE the voice here, and really like the interaction between Ken and both her mother and friends. It shows us a lot. Great job. I'd just start with that.

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  3. Hi Linda,

    I love so much of the voice and attitude in this. So much! And I love the premise of a girl named Ken, and the idea that she is dead and still narrating (although that's been done many times, I get the sense this is very different, and that's great).

    My quibbles are more about choices. Frankly, the mother --who I love -- comes through stronger in this than the mc, and I wonder if you as the writer are relating to her more than you are relating to the mc. You do show her through a child's eyes well at times, but unfortunately, not always at the right times. For example, obviously, Ken wasn't there when she was born. Which brings up a paradox. How could she have seen the scene that clearly--unless that has something to do with her death. Unless that's the case though, I don't think you can successfully go here. Also, I'd usually hesitate to start a book with the mother instead of the mc because you might risk losing your audience.

    When we get into the second scene, you start off strong again. Then you take us back out of the linear story for a flashback. That's usually not a great idea this early in the book. Moreover, the mother steals the show again. Also, you might want to trust that we get the lipgloss thing a little faster. I do adore Ken's friend though. I can see her through her dialogue, so well done with that too.

    Overall, you've got something potentially brilliant here. I don't think you're starting in the right spot though. Can you try to figure what is different? What is your inciting incident? What's your story problem, that she is dead? Or is there something else? Is she trying to perform some task even though she is dead? Where are you going with this? Focus on that, and trust that we will go along for the ride. With your voice and sassy MC, we'll follow you.

    Best,

    Martina

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  4. I liked the opening, probably because it establishes her quirky beginnings. I've just been studying Les Edgerton's 'Hooked,' and he says it's tricky to start with backstory (and usually shouldn't be done with only a few exceptions), but this one works because it's short and funny. My question is, is it necessary? I'm not sure.

    Anyway, the voice is great, and I was with her every step of the way. I could see it unfolding in my mind. Can't wait to see where it ends up. : )

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  5. Thanks, everyone, for your comments so far. I will definitely accept the challenge to rework this with a different beginning.

    I know the afterlife thing has been done to death (pun intended), but this story came to me and wouldn't leave me alone. This is not the manuscript I had intended to write. However, the MC's voice popped into my head and wouldn't leave. So here goes another story on the afterlife. This one is somewhat of a cross between 90 Minutes In Heaven and The Five People You Meet In Heaven with a hint of Heaven Is For Real.

    All of your suggestions are great, and I look forward to the challenge of implementing them. So thanks again.

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  6. I really loved the voice here too. You have a great ear for dialogue. It feels very authentic. In between, however, I felt like there was a lot of info that pulled me from the characters and the story. For example, telling us that B.J. is short for Betty Jean and she's named for her grandma. That really broke up the pacing for me. Other than that, I think the previous posters said a lot of what I was thinking. You've got a great start and I can't wait to see where this goes!

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  7. I actually enjoyed the intro, it sort of set up Ken Kim as a one-off for me.

    I love the voice, I felt I was there with the girls, it felt very natural. I'm not sure it's necessary to explain about BJ's name, I can see that being named after her grandmother ties in with her looking old, but had assumed that the protagonist was going to use the info to perhaps mock her in some way about her "old" name.

    I'm interested to see where this goes:)

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