Monday, April 9, 2012

12 1st 5 Pages April Workshop - AlvaradoFrazier

Author: Mona AlvaradoFrazier
Genre: YA
Title: Strong Women Grow Here

Chapter 1


The van swerves out of the fast lane and throws me sideways until the handcuff on my wrist jerks me back making my belly bounce up to my chest. My hand flies up to cover my mouth, a movement that alarms the girl next to me, the one with the neck tattoos.

“Hey, she’s gonna barf.”

The oatmeal I ate for breakfast rushes into my throat where the taste of iron floods over my tongue until a retch escapes. I want to spit, but press my hand tighter against my dry lips. There is not much floor space between the seat and the screen in front of me, so I keep my head down.Just in case.

“Ivanov, stop looking out the window, it’s making you sick.”

The officer in the front passenger seat pushes a paper towel through the square opening in the screen.

I try to nod my head but the effort makes me dizzy.

“No vomito,” the girl with the neck tattoos says. She crowds against the other side of the seat.

I close my eyes and pray that I don’t make a mess on the girl who looks like a boy with her short brown hair combed back, shiny with pomade.
The blue-black letters on her neck spell WF 13. I don’t understand what that means but I have seen these letters on the walls of buildings from my
seat on the LA city buses.

“Gonzales, pipe down,” the driver says. He has those unblinking yellow brown eyes like the iguanas near the river in my hometown. I see those eyes
watching me in his rear view mirror before they dart to the girl with the neck tattoo.

“She’s gonna be washing my clothes in San Bueno if she gets sick on me. And where’d a Mexican get a name like Ivanov?”

Why did she say my name? She talks so fast and my English is not too good.

“Are you okay?” A soft voice floats from behind. I turn to see the girl who we picked up from the last juvenile hall.
Her eyes and skin are the color of piloncillo, the raw sugar cones my mother used to make Mexican chocolate. There are no tattoos on her face, arms, or neck. She wears a small smile, crooked with fright.
“She said don’t mess up her clothes or you have to wash them when we get to San Bueno. Are you feeling okay?” she says in Spanish. “Me llamo Belinda.”
“Sí, gracias. Me llamo Juana.”
She nods her head and closes her eyes. She doesn’t want to talk. I understand.
“Hunh,” the girl with the tattoos makes a sound like disgust. I glance at her. I don’t need enemies. I speak to her in the English I learned in the past three years.
“No worry, I no get sick. What is you name?”
She looks at me up and down, with a squint in her eyes that I have seen many times in Center Juvenile Hall. “Jester.”
“Jess-tor?”
“Jest-ER, like a payasa.”
Why would a girl call herself a clown? She shakes her head and leans against the window.

I close my eyes too and try to think of somewhere else. My memories return to my first life, in Mexico, when I traveled on bright colored buses, decorated with sunflowers and vines, from Santa Isabel, our village.
In my second life, my daughter Katrina and I rode the graffiti spotted buses in Los Angeles, to and from the baby doctor.
Now I am seventeen years old and my journey is inside a small brown van with two other girls and two State Officers driving into my third life.

My friend in Center Juvenile Hall said the girls in San Bueno are older, like nineteen, twenty but not as old as in the woman prisons. You had better watch yourself, you’re too small to fight, she told me. I have never been in a fight and don’t want to be, so I need to stay out of the way.

I try to sleep but before my head touches the window, another jerk of the van throws me forward and my wrist pulls against the handcuff. My other hand slams up against the screen divider in front of me. I barely keep my face from smashing into it.

“What the hell?” Jester yells and I turn to see her slide back into her seat with a thump.
“A jackrabbit,” the driver yells out.
“Qué paso?” I ask Jester.
“A rabbit, un conejo.” She wiggles her two fingers and points to the road.

Through the screen on the window, I can’t see a rabbit only gray concrete walls and several brick buildings that rise out of the ground. Tall chain link fences surround the backyards of a few of them. The place is so much bigger than Center Juvenile Hall. There must be hundreds of girls there. My stomach squeezes tight under my ribs.

The van turns onto another road and I smell the dry dirt the tires kick up when it dips and bumps through the dust cloud that surrounds us. It’s stuffy. I don’t have enough air to breathe and my head throbs with the worst headache I’ve ever had. My insides stir until my breakfast bubbles up in my throat again. I can’t hold it in anymore. Spoiled milk and oatmeal splash onto the van floor.

“Fuck,” Jester shouts and yanks her legs up on the seat.
“Shut up, we’re here,” Iguana Eyes says.
I wipe my mouth with the paper towel, now damp and torn from my clenched hand and drop it on top of the mess, but the bitter smell rises. Jester pinches her nose and gives me the squinty look. Ay Dios, I hope she’s not angry at me.
The van stops in front of a tall steel gate. Silver coils like thin ropes of a lariata curl across the top. Their sharp edges flash through the gloomy sky. I feel dizzy looking up and shut my eyes. What is in store for me here? My eyes close while I beg God to take me back to my first life.

Chapter 2

The driver, Iguana Eyes, jumps out of the van and slams the door, while the nicer officer remains in the front seat. I can hear voices laughing but the screens over the windows don’t let me see who is outside. The door slides open and Iguana Eyes stands with his hands crossed in front of his thick chest.
“Montes, guess who’s back? Gonzales thought it was time for another state paid vacation at beautiful San Bueno Youth Correctional Facility,” he says.

A lady with a purple headband holding back her wild frizzy hair laughs. She has on a thick belt, like his, around a long blouse that drapes over her black pants. Several keys dangle from a black strap attached to it.
“Unlock these cuffs. I’m keeping you in a job, ain’t I,” Jester says and makes a loud smacking sound with her mouth.
This girl Jester acts very familiar with the officer. Why isn’t she afraid of him? Maybe the girls at Center Juvenile Hall exaggerated about San Bueno.
Iguana Eyes reaches in with his big hands and unlocks her handcuffs then pulls her off the van, by her arm.
“Hey, watch it,” Jester yells, then walks across the driveway the way the gangbangers at the park walk, slow and unafraid. “What’s up Ms. Montes?”

12 comments:

  1. I think it's an interesting start but there's a couple of bits I'm struggling with. In particular, the quote "“She’s gonna be washing my clothes in San Bueno if she gets sick on me. And where’d a Mexican get a name like Ivanov?”" followed by the narrator's "She talks so fast and my English is not too good." seems confusing. If the narrator's English isn't good enough to understand what the tattoed girl is saying I think the first bit there would be better if it wasn't directly quoting her.

    I like your descriptions of people and I felt a real sense of sympathy for the narrator as we read about her previous two 'lives' - I'm already intrigued as to what she's done to end up in a youth correctional facility and in what's happened to her daughter now.

    I also think you need to be careful with the Spanish used - I'm not sure what 'lariata' means (guessing it's a lasso? I think I've heard lariat used for that, at least) - so a definition afterwards might be a good idea.

    I'd definitely read more of this because I'm intrigued to learn more about how the narrator got to this point, so great job on providing enough backstory to keep me interested but not giving much away!

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    1. Thank you. You're correct, it is a lariat.

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  2. I certainly do feel for your MC here, and I'm dying to know what she did to get in this situation. The thing that threw me was her not understanding what the others were saying. It wasn't even clear to me she was Mexican until the comment about her last name. I think because you've chosen to go with first person here (my personal favorite), you have to be very careful that we the reader can't experience something that she doesn't! So we can't know what the other girl says, only the tone of her voice, a word here and there, and maybe how she makes the MC feel before the other girl translates.

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  3. This is very interesting and I've never read anything like it so you've got something very unique.

    I am wondering about you writing in first person in English when your MC's first language is Spanish and she says she doesn't know English very well. I am curious what others think, but it seems like it doesn't match. (But, maybe this is perfectly acceptable.)

    I love the line "No vomito."

    You give great descriptions of the ride and the others. I can picture the scene in my head.

    You leave me wondering about several things - I'd read on to find the answers.

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  4. Hi Mona,

    This is a fascinating and unique premise with a ton of potential. There are many, many great lines and concepts in here that made me fall in love with your mc. I wonder though, if you are taking quite the right approach to do her justice.

    Starting right in with her physical reactions before building a rapport or establishing the facts may be doing you a disservice. I felt at first like she was being kidnapped, and as I gradually began to understand the situation, the way you opened it made me question her calm and her ability to catalog so many details about the people in the van with her and their situations. Also, having come off a migraine weekend that left me throwing up for two days, I have a fresh reminder about the fact that when you are sick to your stomach, your powers of observation aren't their keenest.

    Where my interest really kicked up, and where I simultaneously got a little confused because it seemed to come out of context, was the line about the three lives. What if you began there instead?

    In my first life, in Mexico, I traveled on bright colored buses, decorated with sunflowers and vines. In my second life, my daughter Katrina and I rode the graffiti spotted buses in Los Angeles, to and from the baby doctor. Now I am seventeen years old and my journey is inside a small brown van with two other girls and two State Officers driving into my third life.

    My friend in Center Juvenile Hall said the girls in San Bueno are older, like nineteen, twenty but not as old as in the woman prisons. You had better watch yourself, you’re too small to fight, she told me. I have never been in a fight and don’t want to be, so I need to stay out of the way.

    Then you can go into the way someone in the van is looking at her, the way the van is bummping along, how she feels, and some of the rest of it. But unless these characters are crucial to the rest of the story, I wouldn't spend too much time on them. To me, your main character is much more fascinating.

    Eager to see where you go with this!

    Martina

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Thank you Martina. Believe it or not (really)I had the first paragraph very similar to your suggestion in my first draft: lesson go with the gut and not critique groups. I appreciate your comments and look forward to next week's revisions.

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  5. There's some rich language and complelling plot here. I'm hooked and especially want to know why she is where she is. I felt that the spanish was over worked. We get that she's hispanic and I don't think you need to translate--it slows your pace down. I feel there's just a tiny bit too much desciption, which also slows the pace and I think you can do away with the jack rabbit. Interested to see where this is going Nice writing. shelley

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  6. Like everyone said above, this story is very compelling. I've never quite come across a begining like this. It is a little disorienting at the start. I'm thinking this is what you were going for,and it is effective. There are many character introduced very quickly but you did a gret job at describing them all so I could keep them straight. The pacing is a bit slow when you explain things and translate. It takes the believability out of your MC. Other than that this looks like a wild adventure that I would like to go on. - DiNae' Billingsley

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  7. Thank you Shelley and DiNae'. Your specific comments really help for revision work. See you next week. Mona

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