Monday, September 3, 2012

9 1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Baccellia

Name: Kim Baccellia
Genre: YA Multicultural Sci-Fi
Title: EL COMPUESTO

Uno

Here goes nada.

My hands shook like leaves during a sudden wind storm. It hadn’t been foolish to
keep the encrypted image overnight, it was suicidal. But I had to see it one more time.

I snuck a glance over my shoulder, checking for security. If I was caught watching the image of the world outside the compound, I’d be thrown into solitary confinement or worse. I’d end up like Papi, disappearing in the middle of the night.

No, I couldn’t do that to Mami.

The leaders had converted our old auditorium into a classroom. Long rectangular steel and glass tables were scattered around with empty spaces in between us, making it easier for our holographic assignments to not interfere with others around us. It also gave me the extra time I needed.

The light tapping of the monitor’s combat boots on the smooth floor meant I had time. Their vid-monitor devices swept over those closer to the front doors, always on the look-out for floros, those who shirked their responsibilities to el Compuesto. There was no reason to suspect me because if anything as I was the perfect citizen. I prided myself on this by making sure I did everything our community expected from its citizens—from being on time with my assignments, going to bi-weekly youth rallies, and even accepting a choice of a mate. None of this would matter if my latest bout with defiance was found.

If they found out…

I shuddered. The stain of Papi’s disappearance after being vocal against el Padre’s command still followed me.

Guilt niggled at the back of my mind, reminding me how stupid I was to push my own standing within our community. But the need for one moment of release gripped me and refused to let go. I reminded myself I just needed to be careful. Yes. I could do this and it looked like time might be on my side.

My leg couldn’t stop bouncing with pent-up nervous energy. I wet my lips, waiting for the perfect moment.

Now.

I swiped my hand over my monitor, settling back in my chair. The key to this was to act normal and not show how I really felt inside. I had a lot of practice with this every since Papi had ‘disappeared’.

The steel backing pressed into my lower back, but I pushed the uncomfortable feeling aside. A hologram circled around my space, seeming to box me in for my own custom performance. The virtual reality image erased the dullness of the classroom with a magical computerized paint brush, painting everything with bright colors. I closed my eyes for a brief second, savoring the flood of emotions that swirled within me. I felt as if a leaded weight had been severed from me, releasing my bruised soul into the heavens. No longer did I blend in with the uniformed oneness which consisted of everything down to the same pair of boots we wore. No, this my own silent way of defiance.

Opening my eyes, I waited.

Then it came.

Jewel-like plumage darted in and out of a group of hibiscus flowers. The vivid coral, pink, lavender, and red petals brightened not only the space in front of me but my whole being. I reached out, stroking the velvet softness of a flower petal. A whiff of sweetness tickled my nose. I wanted, no I craved more.

A chumparosa darted close by my ear. My gaze followed as she dipped a long beak inside a flower, hovering for a brief moment before dashing off to another one.

Though I was inside the cold confinement of the school auditorium, it never ceased to amaze me how life-like and real the projected hologram images could be. I continued to watch the dance of the hummingbird once more. Her aerobics fascinated me. Now I know why my ancestors were so enthralled with these small birds.

At first glance, the lone hummingbird’s paper thin wings might seem fragile, unequipped for its mission. I knew better. An insect-like buzzing vibrated around me, teasing me to join her. The tiny bird bounced from one bright hibiscus flower to another before fluttering off into emptiness.

With her passing, the hologram image faded revealing my real world. I sighed. The harsh white plastered walls erased the beauty of the hummingbird into a distinct memory. This sharp contrast between our worlds always caught me off guard. Or maybe it was really the disappointment of knowing that the freedom of the tiny creature could never coexist with the iron fist of El Padre, who would probably crush it like he did with anyone else who searched for freedom.

Like Papi.

I glanced around, nervous. Any slip of composure, hint of rebellion was reported. I slumped down in my chair and tried to push the thoughts aside.
No one else seemed to notice my lapse. Why should they? I could brush off the hologram as ‘research’ for a purposed field work project but knew better. Anything out of the ‘norm’ could be considered a threat to el Padre’s leadership or our way of life. Though I didn’t like to admit it, I’d seen what happens to those who question.

Seriously, I’d been listening too much to my sister with her endless conspiracy theories. One of her latest theories dealt with mind reading. Even I knew the leaders couldn’t read our minds. Though I feared Jorge, my assigned mate, at times could. But then again just being in his presence I felt like wet clay ready for him to mold which was a sensation I didn’t have the luxury to embrace right now.

I blinked once, twice, reorienting myself to my class assignments. At least I’d been assigned to botany, which I loved. Still after being engulfed in the holograms, it always took a few seconds to re anchor myself into reality.

El Padre was our true padre

Nadie mas

I hummed part of the national chant in my head and let the words fill me once more with my true purpose and calling. The words came easy enough. I’d heard them since childhood. The leaders had used this message and others to remind us that we were different than those outside of our domed community. Living far away in the desert gave us courage, strength, and unity. The Earth outside our home with their fighting, wars, and hatred was the enemy. Order was our god. Without order, destruction came.

Then I made the mistake of glancing to the other side of the classroom. An empty seat reminded me of what could happen if my one single act of defiance was noticed. A sick feeling gurgled in my stomach reminding me how close I played to the edge.

Luz, hadn’t been in class for two days now, which was unlike her. She’d been my best friend since childhood. We’d done everything together. She’d been the one who didn’t shun me after Papi’s betrayal or added to the vicious rumors that circulated around el Compuesto that he’d tried to kill our beloved leader. No, she’d been more of a hermana then my own twin sister.

Xochil sat to the far side of the room, twirling a piece of her raven hair. Her vid was down. Every now and then she’d roll her eyes. Though my gemela at times rambled on with her crazy theories, right now I wished I had her strength to stand up to the leaders without fearing being singled out.

9 comments:

  1. This is a great compelling opening. I loved the first line - actually the first several lines are dead on, hooking me.

    The first line that threw me off a little was " It also gave me the extra time I needed." - I didn't connect how the description of the room and tables "gave her time". Also the next sentence, again I didn't connect how "The light tapping of the monitor’s combat boots on the smooth floor meant I had time." Two references to giving her time; probably only one is needed and make it more specific. I like the ominous sound of the combat boots, just make it clearer how that sound means she has time - is it because the monitor is walking away, has his/her back to her?

    "There was no reason to suspect me because if anything as I was the perfect citizen. I prided myself on this by making sure I did everything our community expected from its citizens—from being on time with my assignments, going to bi-weekly youth rallies, and even accepting a choice of a mate." - there is slight redundancy here. Could probably shorten to "I made sure there was no reason to suspect me. I took pride in doing everything our community expected etc." I like how you lay out exactly what is expected of her here, right down to the mate - it packs a punch.

    This is so powerful, loved it: " I felt as if a leaded weight had been severed from me, releasing my bruised soul into the heavens. No longer did I blend in with the uniformed oneness which consisted of everything down to the same pair of boots we wore. No, this my own silent way of defiance."

    "Jewel-like plumage darted in and out of a group of hibiscus flowers" - beautiful image but she goes on to describe the flower before coming back to the hummingbird, so I got lost for a moment. Also, knowing this is SF, I didn't know how to take this sentence: "A chumparosa darted close by my ear" - its not a familiar name for an animal, so I wondered for a moment if she's in a alien setting, so may refer to it first as hummingbird and then by its native name. I loved the reference to "our ancestors."

    "paper thin wings might seem fragile, unequipped for its mission. I knew better." - I sense a symbol reflecting the main character here - I like it.

    More to come in another comment:

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  2. Here's where for the first time I feel like your excellent writing loses its momentum: "No one else seemed to notice my lapse. Why should they? I could brush off the hologram as ‘research’ for a purposed field work project but knew better. Anything out of the ‘norm’ could be considered a threat to el Padre’s leadership or our way of life. Though I didn’t like to admit it, I’d seen what happens to those who question. Seriously, I’d been listening too much to my sister with her endless conspiracy theories. One of her latest theories dealt with mind reading. Even I knew the leaders couldn’t read our minds. Though I feared Jorge, my assigned mate, at times could. But then again just being in his presence I felt like wet clay ready for him to mold which was a sensation I didn’t have the luxury to embrace right now."

    I suggest trimming these paragraphs down, there hasn't been any interaction with another character yet, so its too soon to introduce us to conspiracy theories. I'm not even sure if you should mention her feelings about Jorge yet; here it seems to lose impact right on the heels of conspiracy theories. Also, the "no one seemed to notice my lapse" drains the tension.

    "Then I made the mistake of glancing to the other side of the classroom. An empty seat reminded me of what could happen..." you start to lose me here, wondering if it would be better to reference Luz her missing friend right away, as in "Luz's seat was empty..."

    The last paragraph confused me maybe because it's not clear who Xochil is - is she "my gamela" and what exactly is a gamela? it's not clear from the context, unlike hermana you did a great job putting into context.

    I definitely want to read more of this.

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  3. Oops, it's gemela which is twin in Spanish.

    Thanks so much for your comments!

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  4. Hi Kim,

    I liked your opening. I was curious about the encrypted image from the start. I didn't connect it to what your character was doing until after I had finished the passage.

    I also like the use of the Spanish terms in your story, but some stopped my concentration as I tried to figure out what they meant: gemela, chumparosa, and Nadie mas. While a lot of potential readers may know these meanings, you will have a lot who do not. You don't want to turn them off by not giving them contextual clues as close as possible to the words. As teacher in a heavily Hispanic high school, I had no idea what these words meant.

    I have to agree that the story loses steam after the first few paragraphs. I would like to see some character interaction, maybe even a flashback to your character's last conversation with Luz. Also, you hint that your character was close to Papi; show us know how close. You could also use interaction between the two sisters.

    As an English teacher, I urge you to replace 'snuck' with 'sneaked'. Although tolerated in the oral usage, written usage of 'snuck' is frowned :( on. Check the definition and usage of 'niggled'. Not sure 'Guilt" is able of doing this. Watch your subject-verb agreement. Don't mean to be picky, but an editor would pick up on these points.

    I'm curious as to what is going to happen next! Good luck.

    Cheryl

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  5. Hi Kim,

    I'll echo what's been said above in that I loved the first couple paragraphs and then thought you would really benefit by slivering in most of your worldbuilding across several scenes. There's no doubt you can write, but you're throwing a lot of information at us, telling it to us instead of showing it to us through action. Consider ways that you can put description into motion. Is there a list of duties? How did your mc get the file? Can the monitor get closer to catching her? Can you show the monitors watching her the way [in some way] like they'd been watching her ever since Papi [XXX]? Can you show her looking for her best friend, hoping she'll show up, hoping she can share the image with her? Show her disappointment when her and worry through action when her friend doesn't? Maybe even *show us* the consequences of disobedience more actively?

    This promises to be a great story! Looking forward to reading it again.

    Martina

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  7. Argh, lost my comments! Let me start over.

    This was beautifully done. Skilled word choice and style, great pacing and tension--I worried about the narrator the entire time. I did confused about the monitors with their boots because I mixed it up with computer monitors/hologram monitors. So maybe take a look at that.

    There have been some suggestions that you give the narrator some people to interact with so that this piece is not so much telling. It does feel as if you get a little bogged down using straight narrative. You could keep the furtive quality by having her pass a note or something like that. Or get the word. Or someone makes the signal for the underground. Or the gesture that her father used to make, but that she never translated. Something to increase the "uh-oh" factor. We have her backstory, which is great--now let's see the story.

    Really nice work, Kim.

    --Nancy

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  8. I thought this was compelling with a really beautiful voice. I think it could use a bit of interaction with other characters in these early pages though and a bit more context with some of the words. (The only one that threw me for a moment was the Spanish word for hummingbird.)

    I loved your first five pages and think this is going to be a wonderful story.

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  9. I don't know what happened but I mixed up revisions. So I am going to repost the first one. Sorry.


    This is a very compelling story. I think the reader would benefit from more context clues as to what some of the Spanish words mean. El Compuesto is probably the most important word to define (if only because it is the title of the book) Gemela is another word too. I think you did a great job of establishing the world she lives in, the restrictions and her fear of being found out. I would like to know more of why she is assigned what she is assigned. Why is it important? Is she looking for plants that can sustain life in the dome they live in? Why would they try to educate people that they want to keep oppressed? That might come out later in the book but those are my immediate thoughts.


    I like the tension you introduced about her father and her friend disappearing. Do you think having such close family ties to a traitor would lessen her status? Could she have been put on this botany assignment after being on some lesser duty? Could she be on probation? What did she have to do to get promoted to her assignment? Deny her father and call him a traitor? Why would they trust her? I think introducing more tension can bring even more tension when she decides risk everything to go exploring. It raises the stakes. Just a thought.

    I wished Xochil played a more active role in the scene. I would have Xochil know what her sister has been up to and shake her head, showing her disapproval, or warning her. Can she trust Xochil to keep her secret and not give anything away? Can she trust that Xochil won’t tell her mom? Would Xochil ever work against her to keep her family safe? Any of these questions could help the reader define or shed light on the kind of relationship she has with her sister. You already say she is closer to Luz than her own sister. I think if you make Xochil frown at her this could make it obvious why Luz would be closer, because Luz would understand why the girl (don’t know her name yet) broke the rules.

    It frustrates me that I am commenting on five pages without knowing the whole story. I wish I had more to work with. I hope this helps. You are an excellent writer. It was a pleasure reading your work.

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