Monday, March 5, 2012

11 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Casey

Kheryn Casey
Young-Adult, Speculative

The boys on display stand behind glass walls. Their private chambers are so narrow that they might as well be inside of glass coffins. They can barely move. There’s just enough space for them to breathe. They twist their heads and squint in the white light that fills their cells. I was told that the glass can only be seen through the viewer’s side, so the boys won’t be able to look at me even when I’m standing right in front of them. I’m grateful for this. Even so, there are still moments when one of the boys stares blankly before him, and I feel as though his eyes follow me as I pass him by.

The hall is filled with polite laughter. Wine glasses clink and sweet perfume drifts through the air. It’s cold enough here that bumps prickle my skin, though that’s really not the sort of thing I can complain about. The cold lingers on my eyelashes and my cheeks. Dresses made of ruffles and lace slide across the marbled floor. A group of women and one man stand together in front of a cell and whisper as they examine the boy inside. They eye him as though he’s a statue – a piece of art to be analyzed – and gesture and smile. The back of one boy’s case opens and he’s pulled out, having been bought and sold. Warm light dances from the chandeliers above and traces golden patterns that curl in the mahogany walls. The sound of a piano’s song spills into the passageway.

My mother walks several paces behind me. Her gloved hands clasp together over her waist, and her heels snap against the floor. She’s a tall woman – taller than most men, and certainly taller than me, even though I’m pretty tall as well. She holds her height with pride. It’s intimidating. I, on the other hand, haven’t grown into my height even after sixteen years. My mother complains that I hunch.

“Isn’t there a single boy that strikes your interest?” she asks. The twinge of impatience in her voice is hard to ignore.

“Since I’d rather not have one at all, no – not particularly.”

My mother doesn’t respond. We’ve already had this discussion too many times before. Most other girls on the satellite receive a male slave for their sixteenth birthday. This is supposed to be a symbol of entering adulthood – a birthday present for society’s debutantes – but really, it’s only an opportunity to prove that a person such as me can afford to own another human being. As my mother doesn’t want anyone to believe that she cannot afford to buy me a slave, I know that I will leave here today with at least one boy in following.

The boys here are the sons of men and women that didn’t have enough money to pay their taxes and the sons of men and women that committed some sort of crime. Some of the boys might even be criminals themselves, arrested by the military for smaller offenses – petty theft, perhaps, or breaking curfew. Once a citizen of our satellite breaks any military law, they relinquish their rights and are sold as slaves. Those who commit particularly offensive crimes have a choice between the labor camps and execution. Most choose execution.

I can feel the cold emitting from the marbled tiles through the soles of my shoes. I resist the urge to wrap my arms around one another and rub my skin for warmth. My mother would only complain that it’s unladylike, so I keep my hands at my side. I try not to look at the boys as my mother and I walk by. I stare at my reflection in the glass walls instead.

“And this one?” my mother asks. She stops in front of a case. I stop beside her and stare at the boy’s information card pinned to the glass. He’s fifteen years old. “He seems well-behaved, don’t you think? There are just some that seem so savage, so untrained. It’s surprising that they’re being sold at all. They ought to be euthanized, rather than risk defiant behavior. There are some owners that don’t know how to react when their slave gives them problems – acts rudely, acts defiantly – but really, it’s simple enough to have the slave euthanized. Save them the trouble.”

I wonder if the boys are able to hear, even if they can’t see us. “I don’t want this one.”

“Really, now,” she says. “Hurry and make your choice, or I’ll have to make one for you.”

“Isn’t that why you’re here anyway?” I ask. My mother looks at me with raised eyebrows, and I quickly turn my head away again. “There isn’t anything interesting about him.”

“Interesting?” my mother repeats. “Why should you want your slave to be interesting?”

I continue to stare at my reflection in the glass. “In case I should want to have a conversation with him, perhaps.”

My mother’s brow twists with disapproval, but she smiles as though I’m joking. “I can’t imagine what a master and a slave would talk about.”

I can’t imagine either, so I don’t say anything else. My mother turns away, the ends of her dress swirling around her feet. I have to hurry to keep up with her.

There’s a hollow thud, the sound of skin squishing against glass. I turn my head to the noise, as do the others in the hall. A few crane their heads curiously, while others frown. My mother stares at the glass case that’s in front of us. The boy inside has begun to slam his hands against the glass wall.

“Boys such as this,” my mother says. I can only assume she means that he ought to be executed. He slams his hands against the glass wall again, and my eyes leave my reflection in the glass. His heavy eyebrows cut over his eyes, and the muscles in his jaw jumps. The skin around his eyes narrows. The resentment on his face almost makes me take a step back, away from his glass case. He’s angry, and he’s not afraid to show that he is.

I smile. “I’d like this one, I think.”

“Unacceptable.” My mother doesn’t even hesitate, and she doesn’t smile as though I’m joking. She shakes her head. “Absolutely unacceptable.”

“You asked me to choose. This is the one I want.” When she only shakes her head again, I say, “I’m supposed to be an adult now. I should be able to make basic decisions. Don’t you think people will wonder why I’m not allowed to choose my own slave?”

My mother pauses. She’s always concerned about what other people may wonder – what other people will think. “And if you can’t control him?” she asks.

“It’d be a shame if I can’t even control my own slave.”

“A shame and an embarrassment,” she says. My mother is the type of woman that needs a moment of silence to mull over her own thoughts before she makes a decision. I stand with my hands laced in front, and glance around the hall as though I’m interested in the other customers and the glinting d├ęcor. The piano’s music reaches a high note before it fades away again.

“I will warn you,” she says. “If it turns out that you can’t train him, I won’t be very patient.”

I nod. “Of course.”

11 comments:

  1. Very interesting concept. I like how you began and made us wait a little bit to find out why the boys are behind glass. I also like your description of marbled tiles, gloved hands, ruffled dresses. In fact, you can even add a little more.

    About the paragraphs involving description (paragraph 2 for example), you seem to jump around with thoughts. First talking about dresses, then about the boys, then about the scenery. My opinion would be to break it up and not mix them.
    Thanks!

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  2. I really like this. Even though I felt thrown into the scene without much bearing, I figured it out quickly. How much description you use is down to taste, I think.

    I was pretty well hooked throughout. The concept is very strong and while the genre isn't entirely revealed yet(historical? dystopian? steampunk? sci-fi?) I'd like to know where this story goes. I was sorry it stopped!!

    One paragraph stood out as needing some tightening:
    "My mother walks several paces behind me. Her gloved hands clasp together over her waist, and her heels snap against the floor. She’s a tall woman – taller than most men, and certainly taller than me, even though I’m pretty tall as well. She holds her height with pride. It’s intimidating. I, on the other hand, haven’t grown into my height even after sixteen years. My mother complains that I hunch."

    Just one or two lines about her height is enough, otherwise it starts to confuse and it's not that important to go on about.

    I like the idea that women are tall, regal (in charge?) and the idea of boys being sold into slavehood, but I wonder about the girls who are children of criminals...automatically executed? And are men who aren't slaves important in society? What does anyone need a slave for other than status? If women have power, why on earth would they choose to wear dresses? :) Just some things I'm wondering at this stage, not necessarily needing to be addressed in the first pages.

    This was the strongest image for me:
    "He slams his hands against the glass wall again, and my eyes leave my reflection in the glass. His heavy eyebrows cut over his eyes, and the muscles in his jaw jumps. The skin around his eyes narrows. The resentment on his face almost makes me take a step back, away from his glass case."

    I like that your main character is going to challenge the status quo. Great job!

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  3. Oh man, this is very interesting and it's not my usual genre. I might suggest trimming down some of the paragraphs of description, to get us closer to the action, but I really like it overall.

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  4. I was hooked from the get-go. The images you create are vivid and I loved the contrast of laughter, wine glasses, and perfume against boys encased in a prison. The protagonist's voice shines through, and I love that she is rebel at heart. The only suggestion I'd make is to maybe have her mother resist more before agreeing to a feisty slave.

    Wish I could keep reading! Really great job!

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  5. I'm intrigued by the concept here - the reversal of roles between the sexes. I'd definitely read on.

    A few things stood out: What are the boys wearing? It would give me a better picture of their social placement and society's standards. Also, although it isn't said, it's implied. Sex slave? Sorry - I know this is YA, but this sprang to mind. So, are the boys bought on how beautiful they are, how strong, etc? I think this needs to be addressed in some manner when the boys are introduced.

    Are these people from Earth or is it a different race? Obviously they are humans but I'm wondering if they are settlers originally from Earth. I know that doesn't need to be addressed in the first pages, but I'd want to know if they were from Earth, what happened for them to forget basic human rights.

    Hands don't squish against glass, I was thrown out of the story by that description. And if the glass is sound proof, then it has to go both ways, meaning, he can't hear her, she can't hear him. Unless there's a sound system. :-)

    Good job and keep writing.

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  6. Hi Kheryn,

    Wow. Great concept, and overall a great job. I think the only thing that I will add to what others have already said is that I would love to see a better sense of why her mother would agree to this. Presumably, in a society this stringent, she is ultimately going to be responsible for this boy's behavior, and that endangers the whole family, right? There could be actual dangerous consequences as well as social consequences, so an understanding of those and a bigger conflict between mother and daughter, as well as a stronger reason that forces the mother to capitulate, would really up the tension. I think that you have enough room for it if you tighten up a bit overall. BUT. That said, awesome first sentence. Awesome concept. Lovely writing. Great setup. Bravo!

    Best,

    Martina

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  7. What a wonderful story concept! As PBuff pointed out, sex slave came to mind when I read chapter. If they are different kind of slaves, I think it's an intriguing YA story.

    The back of one boy’s case opens and he’s pulled out, having been bought and sold.(The 'bought' and 'sold' sounded a bit arkward to me.)
    (Warm light dances from the chandeliers above and traces golden patterns that curl in the mahogany walls. The sound of a piano’s song spills into the passageway.) I think this description might fit better if it is moved up in thr paragraph when describing the room. It kind of yanked me off from the boy being pulled out of the glance then suddenly room description.

    I enjoyed the descriptions, very visual. And your character'S strong voice.

    Well done. Happy Writing.

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  8. You certainly started us off with something really interesting. I wanted to know why these boys were on display, then why this girl should have one, then why she didn't want one, etc. And you answered all of those questions as I read, which was fantastic. Then in the end, she did choose a boy, and her decision made sense as a reader and felt true to her character despite that she'd already said she didn't want one. Now I want to know who this boy is and how they're going to interact. This was a FANTASTIC bunch of first pages.

    Looking closer, though, there's a few things you could do to improve the writing here, which is already great and full of voice. You use "that" in many cases where you don't need it (i.e., the second sentence) or could be easily rid of anyway (i.e., 5th sentence. "light that fills their cells" can be "light filling their cells"). There are also times when you use "that" when you should use "who," like when the mother first speaks. "Who" is used with people and "that" is for animals/inanimate objects. In that instance, it could've been on purpose, but it's hard to tell since you use "that" instead of "who" even when talking about the rich (i.e., first sentence of paragraph seven). These are tiny little fixes, and you could CTRL+F "that" to find them all. Easy to do :)

    There's also a couple times when it seems like we've been pulled from your MC's head. Like the paragraph starting, "There's a hollow thud..." She looks toward the noise, which means we should learn right away that the boy inside the glass is having a tantrum. But instead, we get a description of things she shouldn't be able to see if she IS looking at the boy. Does that make any sense? I felt like this also happened in the paragraph that stood out to Sarah, "My mother walks several paces behind me." Is your MC looking over her shoulder in order to describe her mom for us?

    Other than those rather nit-picky things, I'd love to keep reading this. Hopefully someday I'll have the chance :) I can't wait to see your revision!

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  9. Thank you all so much! I definitely understand the main critique. I had a feeling that Sigourney's mom gave in way too easily, and I've made some serious changes. I'm excited to see what everyone thinks.

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  10. Sorry for the late response here, but WOW! Love the concept, and I love the tone. I agree with Martina, especially since it seems her mother is about to choose for her. Why would her mother allow this? I know you've already worked on revisions, so again I apologize for the late response, but I can't wait to see what the revised pages look like!

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  11. Gripping concept. No doubt about that. Your language choices are good. Nice flow. A couple places where I lost my total picture or had questions, but not many. Curious, though. Do the girls of people who don't pay taxes, commit crimes, etc. also get auctioned off?

    The one thing that stood out to me was when she choose the boy who was hostile. I didn't seem natural. The girl was too indifferent about it. I felt like she should have felt particularly mischievous, or particularly antagonistic toward her mom to get her to do it. Not enough emotion at that point to make her break free of her mother's obvious tight grip on her life. Did like the subtle manipulation of the girl pointing out what other people would think, though.

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