Monday, April 9, 2012

7 1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Shelley

Author: Shelley
Genre: YA/Contemporary
Title: COUNTING CHANGE

My mother’s mission in life is to change me. She’ll deny it, but it’s gotten so obvious since Daddy’s accident. For instance she’s been buying me clothes, which she has to know I’ll never wear, and just yesterday she made a hair appointment for me. At her hair salon.

“Jenna and I are going back to school shopping today,” I blurt the words so loudly, that Mama stops playing with the paint can labeled Tuna Gray. She takes the spoon she’s using to try and pry the lid off the can, and taps it on our kitchen counter.

“You agreed to visit Daddy today, Stoney, remember? We’ve already talked about this.” Tap, tap. “I’ve been patient with you, but no more.” She throws the spoon in the sink and it clatters.

“Jenna can’t go shopping any other time.” Mama makes that face. The one that says, You Are Impossible.

“I told Jenna I’d have dinner with her family.” Right before my eyes she explodes. Her body blows into a million pieces and I watch her change from a human being into tiny pieces of Mama falling all around us.

“Stoney, it’s been three months since the accident. This is ridiculous.” She grabs the spoon out of the sink. “It’s time you thought about someone besides yourself.”

“You can’t make me. I’m almost sixteen.” Even though it’s not happening, it feels like she’s backing me into a corner of our kitchen.

“I don’t want to make you visit your father. Don’t you want to see him? He misses you.” She looks at my little sister Katie whose been staring at our toaster waiting for her toast to pop up. “Doesn’t Daddy ask for Stoney?”

Katie shrugs her shoulders.

I grab orange juice out of the fridge, and push aside the paint can and her plastic drop cloth from the counter. “I can’t start school tomorrow without any new clothes.”

Mama grabs a red coffee mug and slams the cupboard, muttering under her breath. “I just bought you new clothes.”

“Yes.” I take a big swallow. “Like I said, I can’t start school without new clothes.”

When I was little I used to be scared that Mama’s eyes would pop right out of her head because they’d get so big. There’re like that now.

Katie’s toast gets stuck and small plumes of smoke whirl above the toaster and stink up the room. She goes to poke her fork into the toaster and both Mama and I scream, pouncing on her.

“Never put anything in a toaster when it’s plugged in,” Mama says. Her words grind out like a wood sander stuck on high.

Since my father’s accident I know that a person never knows what the next moment may bring and what new change you have to learn to live with. We’ve all gone through so many changes I decided to write them down. For instance: Change number 16: It’s been sixty days since Mama quit smoking. (Trust me, this affects everyone).

Change number 12: It’s been eighty-eight days since I’ve stepped inside the shop, and sixty-one days since we found the first white cross jammed onto the edge of our front lawn.

Change number 1 is pretty good. I have boobs. They’re nothing too exciting. Buy they’ve finally arrived.

Katie waves her hand over her plate of burnt toast, trying to make the smell go away, but it spreads like the weeds in my father’s flowerbed, reaching every corner of the kitchen.

Why do our lives have to change so much? Why can’t we stay the same? It’s unbelievable the changes one person is required to go through in a lifetime, let alone a simple summer.

Changes number 16: Besides the unspeakable accident, which changed everyone’s lives forever, at the top of my list is Carl Journey, ex-boyfriend and jerk.

“Look Stoney,” My little sister, Katie, waves the Viewmaster over her head. “Princess Jasmine.”

And then there’s my little sister. I strongly suspect she was the change that was supposed to save my parents’ marriage. That sure didn’t work.

“Who cares?” I say. She’s obsessed with princesses. She wears a tiara and tries to go out of the house wearing the Cinderella dress Daddy bought her last Christmas. I do my best to make sure that she doesn’t make it. It’s a constant vigil.

Mama taps a paint sample, Pink Boa, and lays it beside our red kitchen cupboard. She fancies herself an interior designer. She is not. She pulls out a wood stick from a side pocket in her paint overalls and waves it, and then uses it to scratch at her hair hidden by the red kerchief. Tucked behind her right ear is the cigarette that she says reminds her she quit smoking. Seems an awful temptation.

Katie looks through the Viewmaster, and flips the knob that will change the picture.

“Damn,” Mama trudges out of the kitchen, slamming the screen door behind her so loud it sounds like an old garbage can.

I slide the red kitchen curtain back and catch sight of Mama ripping up the ninth wood cross someone has jammed in our front yard. Again!

The first cross we found in our front yard had dates and a name painted on the front. Mama tosses it under our porch along with all the others. Each time we see a new cross waving beside the scarred chestnut tree, we take it down, only to have a new one appear like magic, weeks later. Someone is very persistent.

When she comes back inside she sits down at the table and shakes her head. “It’s a damn nuisance,” she says.

“Mama!” Katie jiggles the cussing jar, that’s nearly full of Mama’s screw-ups in the vocabulary department.

“That’s two dimes,” Katie says pushing the jar across the table.

“Starting to cool off,” Mama says, tucking a few stray strands of hair back under her scarf. “Leaves are turning, chestnuts are starting to fall.” Mama could be pretty. Used to be, but not so much lately. The scowl wrinkle between her eyes is deeper and she’s packed on more than a few pounds.

I tug on a strand of my own hair feeling it curl around my earlobe. It has never been this short. I feel regret slide over me like a cool shower on a sticky hot day.

“Have you decided on a color for your room?” The cigarette falls from behind her ear. She wants to paint the world, like she could obliterate the last year with a fresh coat of Bird Drop White or Tangy Macaroni. Lately she’s painted the kitchen from Boring Blue to, my personal favorite, Manic Red.

“I like the color I have. I told you that.”

“Of course you do. It’s that faded green. Yuck! You need something sparkly bright to start your new school year.”

“You don’t know what I need. It’s not paint.”

“Stoney needs Ca-rl,” Katie says it with a half smile, in a singsong voice.

“Shut up, you little Turd!” I drop my half eaten toast onto my plate and stand up. “I have to meet Jenna.”

“Can I come, Stoney? Please?”

She draws it out in that annoying whine that usually gets her what she wants. With Mama. But not with Daddy.

“Not a chance.”

Daddy could put his foot down. You knew where you stood with Daddy.

7 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed that - I thought the voice was strong, the characters were interesting. I'm not convinced I like any of them yet but I'm hoping I would do if I read more of the story. My guess would be that it's about Stoney coming to terms with her father's accident...

    POV seems clear and the writing quality is good. (Although a couple of minor things - I wouldn't expect 'Turd' to be capitalised, and while I like the change numbers, you appear to have either got 'Change number 16' for two separate things or I'm getting slightly confused.

    It feels like a good place to start - I'm interested to see what happens next. I also like the way you're revealing some backstory but doing it fairly slowly. I wouldn't say I was completely hooked, but I think there's a good chance I would be if I read a couple more chapters.

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  2. Good writing here. Very nicely done. The biggest issue I see is the likability of the MC. Right now she's coming off as a little B. Is there some internal thought you can throw in there that redeems her at all? Hints at her ability to change or blossom into what we hope she will be at the end? I've seen a lot of editors have issues with unlikable characters. It can work. But it's better if you can soften her in some way. Her jumping to save her sister was a good move, but maybe she can have more buried affection for her or something?
    Other than that, I would change the ex-boyfriend's change number. Not only did I think you used it already, I felt like she'd move it up because of it's perceived importance. Maybe it's all time wise though...

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  3. I love that little sister! She's great comic relief and a good distractor from the family's stress.

    You have a lot (crosses, conflict with mom, accident, list of changes, marriage problems, Carl, etc.) in these few pages. If you wanted, you could spend a little more time on fewer ideas. Although, an argument could be made that teens think like this - lots of different ideas at the same time.

    I really like the voice, and I think I could begin to like Stoney and I'd like to like her pretty soon. :)

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  4. Hi Shelley,

    Your voice is wonderful and you write beautifully. There is certainly a lot of conflict and potential for additional conflict here, and I like the pacing. You've done a great job with all of that.

    I do agree about the likeability issue. There is a fine line to walk between someone who is scarred and angry, and someone who is just a witch. Her mother comes across a trying very hard, and her sister is sweet and funny, and since we don't know enough about where her anger toward her family is coming from, it's hard to feel sympathy. Where I really started to have a problem with this was when she dismissed the reason for her sister's birth so cavalierly. A thought like that might make her feel a rush of pity or thankfulness for her sister, or something softer, maybe?

    Also, the crosses. This is a fascinating plot line. I'm assuming that the father killed multiple people in a drunk driving accident?

    I will say that I had some questions abut where this was going--whether these were KKK crosses initially--so perhaps you might want to add the dates and names and grounding details linking the crosses to deaths immediately and more vividly.

    I'd also love to get a sense of how she feels about the crosses. How the mother makes her feel. Of course they are angry. But beyond that, what do they feel?

    Although I did like the slow pace of the backstory revelation, the sympathy issue makes me wonder if we don't need to know a little bit more.

    Looking forward to seeing what you do with this!

    Best,

    Martina

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  5. Strong voice of an early teenager. Setting is vivid and we understand the family dynamics right away. I also thought the crosses were KKK signs at first. The two 'tells' work very well and we are interested.
    Although I don't dislike Stoney, I don't see rooting for her either. Good comments mentioned by the others as to how to soften her up a bit.
    Introducing a 'marker' in the first three paragraphs might help us know the general decade of the story. Maybe specify what kind of clothes Stoney really wants: flare jeans, mini-skirt,?.
    The 'changes' list slowed the pace down a bit. Perhaps using 2 changes for first chapter and introduce the others in next chapter, expanding how Stoney feels about each.
    Mona

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  6. I agree with most of the comments above. Markers for the settiig, which I also thought the crosses were hinting to the KKK. As for Stoney I love her. That is mostly due to the fact that I like cynical characters who judge everyone, but you may want to soften her up a little tiny bit. Most people what to know why Stoney is being so rough right away but I think that will be revealed later in the book. Its looking great and I would definitely love to read more! -DiNae' Billingsley

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  7. Great voice and love your writing. I'm curious by your opening as to what's up with Daddy. I'm guessing he's in the hospital and that's why they go to see him but he's not involved in their lives. Suspense and mystery with the white crosses too. What's up with that? I wonder.

    Main suggestion is that it's a little hazy and I'm not sure where we're going yet. I think that needs to be a little more clear to keep the reader involved in the story. Not too much, though, because you don't want the reader to know too much too soon.

    Great job so far. : )
    Beth

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