Monday, December 5, 2011

8 1st 5 Pages December Workshop - Jones

Sandi Jones
YA Paranormal Romance

Where there is mystery, it is generally suspected there must also be evil.
--Lord Byron

Chapter One

Headlights burst from the open gate, blinding me in a flash of white.
I flinched, reaching for the dash. Seashell gravel pelted our Toyota
like rain when the oncoming car hit their brakes and veered to miss
us. Mom swerved to stop on the shoulder of the private driveway as the
other vehicle, a shiny black Vette with lots of chrome and dark
windows, roared angrily, accelerating.

“Idiot!” Mom dropped her forehead on the steering wheel.

I craned in my seat, watching the guy’s thoughtless retreat. A license
plate reading “GEOFF” in reflective blue letters disappeared into the
gloom. My heart thudded.

Mom released her breath and sat up beside me. “That was close.”

Rubber squealed in the distance as the other car spun away onto the county road.

I scowled at her calm reaction. My own instincts told me to hang my
head out the window and call the driver the name he deserved.

I rolled my neck, forcing myself to relax. “Think that was your new boss?”

“No. That definitely wasn’t Ben Ramsey’s type of vehicle.” She steered
the Toyota back onto the gravel.

“At least the jerk left the gate open for us.”

We rolled slowly past the entry’s digital keypad. The white bars
closed automatically behind us with a metallic clank as we left the
lighted gateway for the blackened woods of the estate ahead.

“I’m not sure it wasn’t my fault.” She lifted a shoulder and took her
gaze off the road to offer an embarrassed smile as she drove. “It’s
private property, and it’s night. The guy didn’t expect anyone to be
out here. He was probably Ben’s—”

“Oh shit!”

The driveway curved and a mammoth building emerged from the thick
trees. Ground lights lit the ginormous pillars surrounding the white

I clamped a hand over my mouth and glanced at Mom who glared at me.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean it. But holy crap—is that Mr. Ramsey’s place?”

“Chelsea Ann!” she scolded. “Yes, this is Antonia. It’s a
plantation-style house. Our new home on the May River. What do you
think?” She pulled up the circle drive in front of the home where
ancient oak trees covered in wispy, gray Spanish moss reached over us
like twisting lace-shrouded limbs. Her eyes were wide and hopeful when
she glanced at me for my reaction and parked the car.

At the moment, I couldn’t offer my thoughts. I was out the door in a
flash. I walked backward with my head back so I could take in the
whole building. I’d lived in Atlanta, Richmond, Birmingham, but I’d
rarely seen a house as big. It was three stories high with balconies
and a huge wraparound porch. An ideal setting for a landscape

More outdoor lights flooded the lawn, highlighting sculptured hedges.
I floated along a brick walkway past short palmetto trees and ran my
fingertips along the pink petals of a flowering shrub near the porch.
An impressionist’s dream, soft and sharp textures competed against
each other. “Maybe you should write mysteries, too, Mom.”

She draped an arm around my waist and gave me a squeeze. “I’m so glad
you approve. It means a lot. But I think I’ll stick to biographies and
ghostwriting. Come on. Let me introduce you to my boss.”

Mom nearly danced up the steps leading to the big wooden double doors.
Whatever the cause of her present mood—the new job, the boss, or just
being away from my dad and his skeevy new girlfriend—maybe she
wouldn’t be sad anymore.

We would be living just like the characters from some old Civil War
movie. Except the place didn’t seem old. The porch looked brand new.
Fresh white paint. Solid. I hoped it was new. I didn’t want to deal
with sleeping under the roof of former slave-owners.

My stomach twisted as Mom rang the brass doorbell. I was a little
shaken up after our near miss with the reckless driver, and my hands
were still trembling. Why did I dread meeting Mr. Ramsey? I’d never
heard anything bad about the British author. Lots of people I knew
read his bestsellers. My grandma, for one. His readers wanted to know
more about him, but for whatever reason, he couldn’t manage to write
his own story. Too humble, I guessed. Or too boring. Mom had spent
hours chatting with him on the Internet before they’d decided to work
on his memoir together in person.

Still, I held my breath as the door opened, bracing for a guy with a
pointy black beard and a shock of white hair like a villain from a
kid’s cartoon.

Instead, a man wearing a blue dress shirt, unbuttoned at the collar,
and khaki trousers, blinked at us under metal-rimmed glasses. His
expression slowly smoothed from a look of utter disgust to dawning
awareness. “Lori!”

“I’m sorry we’re late, Ben. I guess I should’ve called.”

“No. We’ve been expecting you.” His graying brown hair and wide smile
reminded me of Bill Gates. Rich and nerdy. “I was afraid you’d had car
trouble or something. Dinner’s still warm, as a matter of fact.”

“I want you to meet my daughter, Chelsea.”

Ramsey shook my hand in his cool grip. “Chelsea, I’m so very glad to
finally meet you. Come inside.”

His face didn’t register any of the shock I was used to when Mom
introduced me. Apparently she’d already clued him in about my father,
so my skin color came as no surprise.

He ushered us into the foyer, an open expanse of gleaming white marble
and crystal chandeliers. An enormous arrangement of fresh tropical
flowers towered over us. God, I would’ve loved to capture those
beauties on paper with gouache paints. But Mom grabbed my elbow and
pulled me along, trying to keep up with our host, winding through the
velvet furniture and blue-veined columns into a different room.

We washed up in the guest bathroom, where I was afraid to touch
anything for fear someone would smack my hand and say I wasn’t allowed
to handle stuff. Then we joined Mr. Ramsey in the dining room.

“So how do you like the Lowcountry so far?” He pulled out a
heavy-looking dining chair for me at the table after seating my mom. A
serving woman wearing a gray uniform brought in a covered tray, which
she set on the table, and then lifted lids off the platters already on
the table.

“Low country?”

“The Southern area of coastal South Carolina and Georgia is called
Lowcountry.” Mom picked up a biscuit and passed the bowl to me.

Mmmm. Cheese biscuits. Was that Southern lady from TV our cook? The
woman taking care of our table had auburn hair, not white, but if
she’d made the heavenly food in front of us, I knew I would like her
just fine.

“It’s okay, I guess. I’m really not sure yet.”

“It was getting dark when we arrived but we saw lots of young people
leaving Hilton Head Island. It’s a popular place, isn’t it?” Mom said
cheerily. “I mean, it’s not Myrtle Beach, but there’s plenty for
teenagers to do.”

Ramsey nodded. “Absolutely. I’ve made an appointment for Chelsea to
meet with the director of admissions at the prep school tomorrow. He’s
a friend of mine.” He lifted a piece of something covered in golden
cornmeal batter. “Fried pickle?”


  1. Hi Sandi,

    This is an intriguing setup with lots of obvious possibilities. I love the setting and the idea that she will be living there while her mom writes the biography. I love inherent conflict set up with the multi-racial mc and the possibility of having to confront the slavery issue. (I'm assuming that her mother is caucasian, btw, and her father is African American? Or is the other way around? A brief description of the mother might be helpful.) But I don't get a sense of what the overall conflict is going to be. This is a nice, quiet read so far, but there is little underlying tension. I also don't get a sense of the mc's stake here. It reads like you are setting up a romance for the mother, and/or potentially a suspense story. But I do think we need more up front, which may mean you are starting in the wrong spot. Is there somewhere else that you could set this so that we get to the conflict faster, or could you set up a secondary conflict to bridge us in? If the driver of the corvette was a teen and will be the romantic lead for your mc, maybe she needs to catch a glimpse of someone much younger than the guy who was going to be her mother's boss -- or something along those lines. You know your story. What is going to tell us that there is conflict coming? I hate to use the dreaded Twilight as an example, but it became a best-seller in large part because SM put conflict on every page. Even though it was a quiet opening, you knew Bella didn't want to go to Forks. You knew she was going to humor her mother, to give her mother the opportunity she needed with her new husband. And you knew that Bella was going to have issues with Charlie.

    SO. Conflict. If she's a teen and she's curious, would she have looked up the house? Would she know it had slave quarters? Would that cause conflict? Would she know it was remote and she was going to have to go to a private school? Would that make her hate the idea? Whatever your story is, get that tension into these first pages.

    Apart from that, the sequence of events here seems perfectly plausible. If you want to keep the near miss at the beginning, I think you need to tweak it to let us know that the mc and her mother are in a car approaching the gates in the dark before we get to the headlights of the oncoming car. Perhaps the mother is checking for an address, maybe there's a blind corner that she's inching around, or whatever. But give us something so that we understand the stakes of the Corvette barelling out before we get to it and get dumped into all that emotion.

    Next, consider your overall balance of dialogue, action, introspection/backstory and description. You seem to be a little heavy on the latter two.

    I also felt a little as though you were coming at this from the mother's corner than the daughter's. I can't pinpoint the reason why exactly. It may be the voice in general seems older despite the good use of age-appropriate slang.

    I didn't buy the reference to Paula Dean. It took me out of the story completely. The Bill Gates one didn't really strike me as age appropriate either, which may be part of what contributed to the voice issue I described above.

    Finally, is the prep school necessary? It seems like a bit overkill for the price of a biography. We writers don't get paid that well. :D If you need it for your plot, you'll need to justify it in some way.

    That's it. You've taken a very logical approach, so it's easy to read and the potential is there. I just have no idea where it's going :) and I'm eager to see the revision!


  2. Sandi,

    I hope I don't miss anything I said before. I tried posting this crit and the website and my computer conspired against it.

    AS. I. WAS. SAYING...

    I liked the descriptions of the house and grounds. I like the setting. I live in southern NC and have traipsed all through SC, Charleston and Savannah. So I was immediately pulled into that aspect of it.

    The opening sequence pulled me in off the bat. I obviously want that sequence to mean something later.

    Everything sort of cools off and meanders for me after the opener. And even though i like the descriptions and setting... it makes me wonder if you're beginning the story in the right place because after the opener, there's nothing driving me forward. I also feel like the teeth of this story is maybe right around the corner. You could, for instance begin a little farther into the story and still work in Chelsea's wonder at the house and grounds. If indeed, you did begin at another point (not what you wanted to hear, I know) it could possibly bring forward the overall teeth of the conflict in the story... unless it's more of a quiet story.

    I don't know that I got a good sense of who Chelsea is. So far it seems more like the mother's story than Chelsea's. That said, I do like the glimpses into Chelsea; not wanting to sleep under the roof of former slave owners.... and not wanting to touch anything.

    Hope any of this helps. And if I remember any more of what I was thinking I'll come back.


  3. I think you're holding back. I think, based on your MC's inclination to swear at the driver and call her dad's girlfriend skeevy, that she wouldn't be quite so compliant in a huge move. If it's because of her mother, great! Show us her desire to help the mom outwardly, but the REAL feeling inside. That kind of tension should help up the interest and stakes as well.

    The car. It felt thrown in. Maybe get us in this strange place. Let's see some internal conflict like I described above (if I read that right), and let loose with the teen voice. Don't be afraid. THEN have the car come out of nowhere. Maybe even have her (and it could be that this happens right after so forgive me) ask the writer (wow he's doing pretty well!) who that was. If he's evasive, then we have some more conflict.

    I also felt like there was some info dump in the dialogue. She and her mom know they're moving and what her mom does. And the dialogue did not feel natural to me. I know it's tough to do this. But I also think you're up to the task. :D

    Can't wait to see the revision.

  4. Thank you, Martina, Chris, and Lisa! You've given me lots to work with. I think pretty much everything you're missing shows up in the next three paragraphs! So I'll try to cut some backstory and move everything forward. I hesitate to cut much description because that's so much a part of who Chelsea is and how she views things.

    Lisa, she definitely lets her inner teen out after the "prep school" comment! I had more interaction between the mom and daughter just before the near-accident, but was told to cut it by my critique partners and start at the gates. I LOVE the idea of her asking and him being evasive at first. PERFECT. Thanks, y'all!

  5. Sandi -
    I'm glad I'm commenting after you did - you give me something new to say that takes care of one of my concerns.
    I'm not getting Chelsea's voice. I agree with the others that it sounds older and like this is her mother's story.
    You mention that all of the description is because that's how Chelsea sees things, yet there's the issue of needing to get to the meat of things. Maybe pick a couple things that really capture her attention and make them personal or particularly meaningful to her. Then get to the meat a little sooner.
    I also echo the dialog comment above - there were a couple spots where you were getting info into dialog and it was coming off false - maybe the info can wait or be woven in more naturally.
    And yes, I want to know about the boy in the Vette - I'm assuming Geoff is going to be important - and would love to see her get a glance or even give in to her urge to shout something out the window.
    I'm interested to see what's next for Chelsea - it seems like there are a lot of things that you might be throwing at her. Can't wait to see:)

  6. This reads like a cozy Adult mystery, which I love. But, I'm guessing that's not what you're going for. Kids do care about their parents, but they care about themselves more. It's a teen thing. So make sure Chelsea is real. Picking up and moving for her mother's job would put most teen's over the brink, so make sure you find out what and who Chelsea really wants and needs. I love your descritions of this house. It's going to be a part of the story but I agree with the above that you need to find a couple of descriptions and leave it at that. Might you bring the love interest in sooner? Like in person? I do love where this is going. Lots of potential here. Nice writing style.

  7. The above is me: Shelley. Had trouble with other profiles.

  8. Hi Sandi, sorry if I repeat things that others say -- I didn't want to let their opinions influence mine. I'll start line by line and then write about the whole.

    I was a little confused by the first paragraph. It took me a while to figure out what exactly was going on and where Chelsea was in relation. Also, a few paragraphs later, it says that Chelsea's heart thudded after seeing the name GEOFF on the license-- that made me wonder if she knew the guy. I think that the placement of some of her reactions may need to be reordered.

    When the mom says that the house is their new house, it didn't feel like something she would normally say but rather something you were saying for our benefit (especially since they moved because of the mother's job; Chelsea should know it's their new house). Chelsea's comment about not being able to offer her thoughts also strikes me weirdly; I'd suggest expanding more on the ideal landscape comment instead. Give us more of a sense of who she is with her perspective on the house, but do also watch out for the competing artistic descriptions. First you say it's great for a landscape painting, then for an Impressionist portrait. That makes it harder for me to picture the house.

    The mother's reaction to Chelsea's comment also strikes me weirdly. It seems devoid of emotion, specifically the "It means a lot." Saying that upfront, I think, makes it less real for me. Maybe you can show how much it means, rather than having the mother run up the stairs after Chelsea says her peace. Also, with that, I think you need to expand on Chelsea's "maybe she wouldn't be sad anymore" comment. That would give me more of sense of what the mother and Chelsea are like.

    Why isn't Chelsea resentful of Mr. Ramsey? Because her mother is writing his memoir, they had to move and one of his guests nearly hit them on their drive up. And why did she picture him as a cartoon villain? That, I think, takes away some of the mystery you just built.

    There's also a disconnect between Ramsey greeting the mom and her introducing Chelsea.

    I think you've done a great job establishing the mystery and the setting, and I love all the artistic references, but I'm not fully sold on the emotion just yet. You have lots of potential and I can't wait to see your next revision!


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)