Monday, December 12, 2011

8 1st 5 Pages December Workshop - Christina, Rev 1

Christina B.
YA Urban Fantasy

Seventeen years and Lily still hoped that things would change.

Slivers of moonlight bathed her with the glow of life beyond her reach. The chirp of crickets echoed through another night absent of passing cars. Her neighbor’s lawns shone beneath the stars, bright and healthy. Hers was a dull yellow, unkempt like much of her home. Far outside her window, the world seemed infinite.

A reflection appeared, obscuring her view. Lily stiffened. She didn’t want to see the dark crescents beneath those eyes. The way those hands shook and those cheeks thinned more and more each day, from an ennui nothing could cure. The way everything about her sagged in Lily’s presence.

With a sigh, Lily faced her mother. For a moment, she wondered if her mother could see her as she was. Then her mother’s gaze flickered over her—dress, makeup, and all—and Lily found her answer.

“When you will leave, you will come to say good night,” her mother said. She rubbed her eyes and turned, leaving Lily staring after her.

Moments later, a door shut and the smell of fresh paint wafted down the hallway.

Lily exhaled the breath that she hadn’t realized she was holding. Knots strung her stomach as if it were time for one of her concerts. She looked to her violin, propped on her desk, and imagined drawing the bow back and forth, liberating one of Beethoven’s symphonies. Her queasiness faded but not completely. No song could shield her from the truth. She could make her own melody, but its notes would always fall short.

After evaluating her outfit once more, Lily turned to leave, but before she took more than three steps, the phone rang. Lily walked to her bedside table—her mother was probably too busy, working on some project—and answered the call.

“Hi?”

“Hello.” An unfamiliar male voice greeted her. “Am I speaking with Lily Napier?”

“Who’s asking?”

He laughed, and the sound grated against Lily’s patience. “How curious,” he said, drawling the words; she considered leaving again. “John’s daughter is brash. I would have never envisioned that improbability.”

The knots returned. She paced the length of her room, adrenaline forcing her to move, move, move. The tempo of her heartbeat quickened with each step. She breathed heavily, but the possibilities whirring through her mind kept her from feeling embarrassed.

“You know my father?” She tilted her head to the side and waited and waited and waited—she snapped, “Well, do you?”

Another pause. “What do you know of him?”

Too little. She clutched the phone tighter. “Who the hell are you?”

“I do not wish to be offensive—”

“Then don’t ask about personal issues. Who are you?”

“That is irrelevant to the issue at hand.” His stilted manner of speaking reminded her of someone, though she couldn’t remember who. He didn’t have an identifiable accent.

“And that’s not an answer, but if you don’t give me one in the next minute, I’m going to hang up.” Her hands slipped on the phone. He would call her bluff and she would never discover the truth and—

“Impatience does not become you, my dear.”

She cringed from the pet name. Now she remembered: her mother. Too much like her mother and her habitual mon ange. “You’ve got thirty seconds.”

He sighed, the sound as heavy as the tenor of her heart. “When Mireille left him, John was not aware that he had fathered a child—”

“You’re shitting me.” The world tilted, its colors a dizzying blur. She stopped pacing and closed her eyes. “My mother left him?” Not the other way around? “And he didn’t know about me?”

“Is this to be a trend? Interrupting me every five seconds?”

“No, no, I’m sorry. I…”

“John was unaware of your existence until recently. I am not familiar with what your mother told you, but there is not enough room in his heart for cruelty.” He paused. “Conversely, he is at the moment indisposed and cannot—”

“Let me guess: he can’t talk to me, meet me, or be in my life in any way whatsoever.” She took a deep breath, but the rant flowed free. “Look, I’m not sure why you’ve called or who you are, but I can’t do this anymore. I have no way of knowing if what you say is the truth or if you’re pulling a prank. I don’t understand how you got this number. Or why you would call. Or why my mother would lie. Or why on earth you’d expect me to take your word over hers.” After a while, she got the distinct impression that he wanted her to ask all these questions; that he derived a sort of cruel pleasure in withholding what she desired. She hated him, and she didn’t even know him. “Why would my mother leave him and then lie about it? You said he’s not cruel, but that hints at something bad. What you suggested makes no sense.” She paused. “So, let me ask again: who the hell are you?”

Silence greeted her. She bit her nails and almost disconnected the line when his voice, strong and oddly sure, interrupted her.

“You can always trust me. Though I may seem like an enemy, I say nothing but the truth, however unyielding its consequences.”

“That implies that we’ll talk again. Don’t get your hopes up.”

She hung up and tried not to think of what he had said, but her efforts failed miserably. Too soon, her eyes found the phone again. The walls shrunk around her, thin and yellow and too familiar, disappointment curdling like rotten milk into her.

There was so much that she didn’t know. Too much that her mother had withheld. A stranger knew more than her.

Lily wasn't even sure why she believed him, only knew that she did. Maybe it was because he seemed more open than her mother. Her mother. The word promised more than Lily's memories suggested.

Warmth burned through her, frenzied like her pulse. She stared down at her fingers, tracing the anthem of her anger. She couldn’t hide anymore. She needed answers.

Lily marched down the small hallway, wincing as her heels clanked on the tiled floor. Her mother didn’t notice. When Lily opened the bedroom door, she stayed glued to her work.

Chaos enwrapped Mireille Napier—eyes ablaze with a feverish light, outshining the dark circles for once; overalls spattered with a mishmash of paints crusted in the denim edges; hair unwound and curling like branches around a face carved in shadows. At forty-five years old, she carried a wild beauty which Lily could never have with her carefully applied makeup and polished shoes. She was the artist and Lily the musician. No matter what, their voices would sing to different harmonies

Lily stayed at the threshold, watching Mireille paint until her mother finally returned her gaze. She could barely hear her mother’s soft voice over the pounding of her heart.

“You are pretty, mon ange, but is that dress not too low for a respectable young woman?” Her mother’s expression remained neutral—well, except for the slightest raise in her brow, a sign which Lily had trained herself to see. Without it, there’d be nothing.

“You bought it for me.”

Her mother sighed. “Who telephoned?”

There was no way she could tell her mother about the stranger.

“Wrong number,” Lily lied.

“Oh.” Mireille turned, already bored with her.

Numbness spilled into her, chasing away the warmth of earlier. She had to train herself not to care; had to stop hoping. She needed to be stronger.

“Mom, I need to ask you something.”

8 comments:

  1. I like that Lily is a strong character and is confident enough to make demands on the caller. I’m afraid this rewrite is confusing for me. But take everything I say with a grain of salt as I don’t write Urban Fantasy nor read it. The opening line is good, but the information following it:
    Slivers of moonlight bathed her with the glow of life beyond her reach. The chirp of crickets echoed through another night absent of passing cars. Her neighbor’s lawns shone beneath the stars, bright and healthy. Hers was a dull yellow, unkempt like much of her home. Far outside her window, the world seemed infinite.
    Leaves me confused. When you say, “A reflection appeared,” I wasn’t sure if it was hers in a window or what. Why not just say her mother’s face appeared in front of her? When you describe someone to us and we don’t yet know who that person is and what relationship they have to the MC, it’s confusing. If we know this is the mother and then read the description it makes it more in tune. Otherwise, I have to go back and reread after I know it’s the mother she’s describing.
    “With a sigh, Lily faced her mother. For a moment, she wondered if her mother could see her as she was. Then her mother’s gaze flickered over her—dress, makeup, and all—and Lily found her answer.”
    I’m not sure why this matters. I’m guessing that it does. That there’s some history here, but I’m confused not knowing the history.
    I need to know does Lily not like her mother? Does she hate her? I feel like I’m struggling too hard to understand and much of the writing is teasing the reader rather than giving us information we need. In order for me to care about the phone call, I need to care about Lily, yet, right now I don’t. If she has been forced to live somewhere with her mother, or her mother has withheld information about Lily’s father, I think it would do better to tell us up front rather than give hints like: “Her queasiness faded but not completely. No song could shield her from the truth. She could make her own melody, but its notes would always fall short.” I don’t know what that means or is in reference to.
    ”Lily walked to her bedside table—her mother was probably too busy, working on some project—and answered the call.” Art project? Is this a secret or can you tell us? If her mother’s an artist and gets lost in her work, maybe better to give us that character clue up front. So much of this feels cryptic and secretive and while I get that may be the tone you’re going for it shields us from information that we need to read further. When the phone call happens and we don’t know what’s at stake for Lily the conversation falls flat because we are coming in with no information. If I know up front that Lily has always wondered about her father, or why he left or if he left or if she even wants to know about him, then I can read the conversation and care more with the information I have been given. Right now it comes out of left field. Also her anger seems a bit over the top.
    Again, take this with a grain of salt. This may be what urban fantasy is and I may be out in left field.
    shelley

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  2. Hi! I really liked the way you toned down the prose, and kept the flavor of the music and art. I felt like I heard your MC's voice better in this version. However, I did get confused whose reflection was in the window. I thought it was hers for a moment, and thought 'oh no, that's a cliche used to describe herself', but then I saw what you were doing. What was the mother's purpose in being in her room then?
    Also, the conversation still did not ring true. If someone called and told me the opposite of what I'd heard my whole life, I'd be freaked out, maybe angry, maybe a little worried in the back of my mind, but believing it at face value? There would have to be a hell of a reason for that, and if there is one, I need to know what that is.
    Figure out what info she needs to get from the call at the opening, and really get in her head to show us her reaction. I love her biting responses, but the rest just felt too contrived and unnatural. I'm sorry. I only want to help you out here, so I hope that doesn't feel too harsh. The goal is to get it in tip top shape for querying, and I'm hoping in the next revision you will come through with more flying colors and amaze me.

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  3. Christina -
    I feel like I know Lily better after reading this version. She definitely has a backbone and is strong even though her mother's lack of approval seemed to hint at insecurity as well.
    I'm going to have to echo Lisa's comments above regarding the telephone conversation. It struck me as not being believable. Some guy calls who speaks strangely and has some information - maybe - but really he seems to be messing with her and she jumps right in. I don't have a solution, but it didn't ring true for me.
    I like the hints of her creativity and that you kept the juxtaposition of her musical passion with her mother's artistic passion.
    This is just personal preference, but some of the language still seems too flowery for a YA heroine - the use of ennui and the second paragraph are two examples.
    The premise is definitely intriguing and I like hte potential of the character and the myriad of possibilities her relationship with her mother presents.
    Marilee

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  4. Hmm, okay, so I still haven't gotten the phone call down right. The contrived / unbelievable part of it is because he's calling her? Or because he doesn't reveal all that much? Or both?

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  5. I'll take a chance and try to answer, but it's only a try-I think the contrived part comes from her reaction to it. They aren't feeling completely natural. I think you have to find what a person would feel if she just found out some info about her bio dad that had been kept from her or that there had been lies told to her. And, you're right, maybe a hint as to why he's calling now. Money left? Illness and death pending? Needs a kidney transplant:) ANyway, it's hard. I got a few crit's I'll have to really meditate on before I can move forward. Good luck! shelley

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  6. Trying not to read above here...
    I like this version a LOT better. The narrative flows better... isn't jarred by the phone call... has a bit more set up before the call. Some of your language and words are still a bit elevated for me. I love the language, btw. Don't get me wrong there. It just feels out of place in some spots. A few examples are below.

    -tenor of her heart

    -Chaos enwrapped Mireille Napier—eyes ablaze with a feverish light, outshining the dark circles for once; overalls spattered with a mishmash of paints crusted in the denim edges; hair unwound and curling like branches around a face carved in shadows.

    -Numbness spilled into her

    I do wonder what Lily would sound like if it was written in 1st person.

    Hope any of this helps.

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  7. HI Christina,

    I like that we have some more background on the relationship, but I would love to have it clarified. There are many places where I have to stop reading to try to figure out what's going on, or what the words on the page are actually saying. While the phrasing in most of those cases is lovely, it actually detracts from the forward momentum. So. I wonder if you are perhaps focusing too much on cadence and prose instead of on motivation -- action/reaction pairs. I would LOVE for you to try to write from Lily's POV as an exercise, just to get yourself more in Lily's head so that you can clue us in on the important points. Right now, it feels a bit as if the telephone conversation is trying to show us that she is strong and kick-a$$ as a character, and trying to jump start us into the story, as opposed to showing us a TRUE reaction to her actual situation. Does that make any sense? Similarly, the opening is beautiful, but the interaction with the mother doesn't really tell me enough to understand what is going on. Since I'm not grounded into that scenario, I feel disoriented as I enter the phone call, and I never have an opportunity to suspend disbelief and "get into" the story. You can write. Worry less about that for now and more about telling Lily's story.

    Look forward to seeing the next round!

    Martina

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  8. I understood the actions after I reread this scene. The first pass, I got confused by the reflection. Also, I don't get a good sense of Lily's character. When she's talking to her mom, the tone feels very melancholy. Then when she talks to the stranger on the phone, she gets a little spunky, but I still don't anything distinct in her personality. She's a teen and it's urban fantasy--which I love--so if you want us to see her spunky side, maybe start with an event where we can see that side of her. Or, like the others said, give us more of Lily's perspective. She just felt flat when she confronted her mother. I want to see her spark!

    I love the violin bits and the mom painting. The sensory parts of your writing work for me. Hope i've said something helpful.

    Sandi

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