Monday, December 19, 2011

1st 5 Pages December Workshop - Christina, Rev 2

Revision #2
Christina B.
YA Urban Fantasy

When night fell, Lily prepared to escape.

Silence suffocated the air as the moon bathed her neighborhood in an eerie glow. There was no life here—no tethered pets, no passing cars, no city lights. Everything was dead or dying. Even the grass in her front yard was a dull yellow.

Of course her mother loved that. Nothing could bother her in the middle of nowhere. Nothing could distract her from the myriad art projects. Nothing except Lily, and she had long learned her lesson.

Her fingers itched for her violin, to play a melody that would pervade the emptiness surrounding her house, but she resisted the impulse. The bus stopped at her neighborhood once per night and she had ten minutes to catch it. Otherwise she would be stranded, with only dreams to keep her company.

One look at her vanity mirror assured her that everything remained in place—no stray hairs, no smudged makeup. She smiled as if she had composed something beautiful, something star-bright and transcendent. But it was her, just her and the excitement that had replaced the loneliness.

Lily closed her bedroom door and trudged past the crooked paintings that decorated the hallway. The smell of fresh paint grew stronger until it reached its crescendo at her mother’s room. Lily stayed at the threshold, watching her mother paint.

Mireille was hunched over, working on the mural that spanned the length of her bedroom wall. A mishmash of paints crusted the denim edges of her overalls, and her short hair bent around her chin, like the broken strings on a violin, twisted, rough, and abandoned. Her cheeks caved inwards, emphasizing the angular juts of her face. 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 could tell that Mireille was aware of her presence: her hands shook and her back sagged so much that it was a wonder her head didn’t hit the wall, yet she didn’t acknowledge Lily. After Lily had cleared her throat and fidgeted a few times, her mother returned her gaze.

For a moment, Lily wondered if her mother could see her as she was. Then her mother’s gaze flickered over her—dress, hair, and all—and Lily found her answer. All Mireille would ever see was her sadness, her disappointment. The mistake that took her away from her one true-love.

Glancing at the dark crescents beneath her mother’s eyes, Lily vowed to never depend on someone that fully. Unlike her mother, she would not be left behind.

“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.

“Well, you’re the one who bought it.”

Her mother didn’t need to say anything. When she returned to her work without another word, the silence rang with her disapproval. The swish of paint dribbling off the brush beat in Lily’s ears like a drum mirroring each thump of her heart, slow and powerful. She had the sudden urge to bite her nails.

“No other objections? Good.” She tapped her non-existent watch. “Time’s a-wasting, and I’m off…” She trailed off, wondering why she had bothered.

Retreating from the room, Lily welcomed the clanking of her heels on the tiled floor as she marched down the hallway. Closer and closer she moved towards freedom, to the biting air of a cold and open night made warm by the laughter shared with her friends. She smiled, thinking of all the opportunities stretched ahead.

As she opened the front door, the phone rang.

Lily considered not answering, letting her mother ignore yet another call, but the caller could be Josh, canceling their plans. With a sigh, she picked up the phone.


“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.”

Knots strung her stomach as if it were time for one of her concerts. Her father, her father, the mantra reverberated in her bones, her blood. In her mind’s eye, her mother whispered, “He left because he didn’t want a child.”

Did he regret that? Could he take her away?

The desire stole through her like she was ten years old again, looking at her mother with hope etched into her soul and finding it crushed within minutes. She shook off the memory but couldn’t control her breathing. Possibilities whirred through her mind, making her pace the length of the room. The man waited on her response, but this silence she couldn’t fix with music and this time she was seven years wiser.

“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.”

“You are a difficult sort.” He sighed. “When Mireille left him, John was not aware that he had fathered a child—”

“You’re shitting me.” The world tilted, sounds and colors a jumbled 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…” She collapsed onto a couch. Thinking of the woman splattered in paint a few rooms away. Remembering the haunted look in those eyes as she explained what had happened to Lily’s father. Lily put her head between her knees. Her breaths sounded unnaturally loud.

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

“Let me guess: he can’t talk to me, meet me, or be in my life in any way whatsoever.” She should have known this was a hoax. Nothing could take her away from this hell-hole. She stood and took a deep breath but still her voice shook. “Whoever you are, you’re an asshole. How did you even get this number?”

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 tell nothing but the truth, however unyielding its consequences.”


  1. Christina -
    Great job with this revision!! Your prose remained as lovely as ever, but this time it seemed much more in keeping with the mood of the piece. I was able to just enjoy it as part of the story instead of being distracted by it.
    I felt that where/how you started your opening was also much more effective - I felt Lily's angst right away, but not in an over the top way.
    A couple things - the physical description of her mother seemed a little much - it pulled me out. Maybe just pick out one or two of the most crucial details - enough to give the reader the idea that she and Lily are opposite, but not so much that it bogs the reader down.
    And the phone call - I know you've been working on it a lot and it shows. The one thing I'm still hung up on is the caller's language - the way he uses language. I'm guessing that there's a reason and it's intended to be characterization, but it's still not reading well for me. That's it, though, I think you're really getting close!

  2. I like the opening better! Good job. I was a tad confused as to where she was going. It felt for some reason like she was running away, not just for the night, but that's all it was. Maybe a friend could be picking her up? Just a thought.

    The call. The call is giving you some trouble I think, and now I'm seeing a little more clearly why. It feels like the things the caller says are a bit cliche. Maybe try writing the scene from his POV. Why does he pick up the phone? how does he feel? Then switch it around again and see if anything changes. I'm also still having a little trouble understanding why she trusts this caller. Maybe a little internal dialogue there?

    Overall though much stronger than before. You're getting there!

  3. Much better opening! The voice is coming through more clearly. A few things.... Perhaps make obvious up front that Lily has plans with Josh, and who Josh is. Make it clearer that it isn't the dead grass but rather the quiet that Mireille craves, and that it is her own sadness that Mireille sees, rather than Lily's sadness.

    I don't understand the sentence about the dress--why did Mireille buy it if it is too low cut? Does that contribute to the action and is it necessary for us to know right now, or would you rather that we focus on the reason that Lily is getting out? Also, why is she taking the bus rather than having Josh pick her up?

    There's something about Mireille's phrasing that doesn't quite ring true yet, but you're much closer to showing us a "true" relationship. Unfortuantely, the phone call still doesn't work. It just doesn't seem well-motivated from either end, and the actions/reactions don't scan. Is there a different way that you can introduce this story element? Make it more subtle? More honest?

    Kudo's however on a HUGE shift in how you've handled this. Well done!


  4. Love your first line. I was hooked and had to continue. I feel like this is a stronger version and I’m understanding Lily a little more. Also, this showcases your rich prose. Still I feel like I’m caught between a gothic romance and a contemporary one. When she says, “You’re shitting me,” it surprised me and didn’t feel like it fit her character, because she seemed fairly respectful before. Also, I think part of the problem with the phone call is she buys into it too quickly. Wouldn’t you question and process something that went against everything you’ve ever been told and believed by the one person you have to trust, however you may not particularly like that person? In other words, she’s rude and “brash,” but if she were hungry for information about her father, wouldn’t she try to cajole and lead the caller? You can still make her strong by introspection that may contradict what the caller is saying, like, “he spoke making little sense, but I needed to hear his information.” You get the idea. Just a thought. Anyway, strong revision! Yay! shelley

  5. Yay! The opening is much clearer and so was the dialogue for me. When she's looking in the mirror, I felt a disconnect. I think it comes from this line, "She smiled as if she had composed something beautiful, something star-bright and transcendent." I think you're portraying angst well in other places, but this line makes me feel as if she's unaware of her actions or in another's POV. Another thing that threw me out was the repeated use of "her," but that should be an easy fix.

    Here's a suggestion for the caller: consider having her trust the caller because he’s voicing something she’s always believed in the back of her mind—or maybe she’d heard rumors. One flashback would help make his words ring true, imho.

    Great revision!---Sandi

  6. This is really coming together nicely. Better balance all around between the lyrical writing and the younger voice. The voice comes through a lot better.
    In particular, I loved the first line and first paragraph.I would begin with "Lily's" fingers itched vs. Her fingers... in the third para.
    I loved the crooked paintings reference. I still love the references to and use of music as an undercurrent theme.
    The para. begining with "Mireille was hunched over..." that whole para. is artistry.

    Something about the phone convo doesn't quite sound natural... and I can't put my finger on it... maybe the language, maybe the emotion... too much in places, not enough in others... Get deeper inside the caller's head first to find his motivation and write the call from his perspective first... then go back and get deep into her head to hear and *feel* the call. Just a suggestion.

    Overall... awesome job.


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