Saturday, April 23, 2011

8 1st 5 Pages Workshop - April Final Revision Round Entry #5

Jenna Wallace - Young Adult

I eyed my pillow like an enemy. It beckoned, white and smooth, the promise of oblivion. And yet I dreaded sleep. The fear that it could happen again, that I might wake up wandering somewhere in the house, or even worse, down by the canal, kept me from closing my eyes.

From my perch on the window seat, I turned to stare out into the fading day. Though it was well past eleven, the last threads of light lingered on the gardens and the flat green lawn surrounding Heraldsgreen House. In Memphis, it would have been dark by this time, but June nights in Scotland were so short. A restless wind stirred the towering chestnuts and the leaves murmured with secrets, sending twitches of anxiety into the depths of my stomach.

Five nights of interrupted sleep. My head, heavy and leaden, dropped against the window and I rolled my forehead on the cool glass. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how many books I nodded into or songs I blasted through my headphones, I couldn’t stay awake forever. I unfolded the massive wooden shutters across the window, struggling against hinges gummed up by centuries of paint.

The bed was cold, the sheets slightly clammy, when I crawled beneath the covers. The glow from my laptop screen lit my room, which still looked wrong and unfinished. I stretched out, lying rigid with my hands clenched, fighting. But exhaustion won in the end.

The sound of screaming woke me from a deep sleep. And then I realized I was the one making that terrible noise.

“Abby! What are you doing?” My father’s frantic voice cut through my screams.

“What?” I cast around, dizzy, disoriented. I was downstairs in the great room, standing next to the window by the fireplace. The room was still and eerie in the moonlight and shadows hid the high ceiling and distant corners.

The dusty blue velvet curtains were bunched in my hands and crumpled at my feet. Above me, the heavy wooden curtain rod dangled from one screw, the rest ripped out of the wall. My shirt and face were gritty with plaster and the taste of chalk was in my mouth.

“Daddy?” I pleaded for an explanation. My father stood in the half-light coming from the tall, bare window. I couldn’t see him very well but tension rolled off him in waves.

“I…I heard screaming,” he stammered. The waver in his words freaked me out because he was the calm one in our family. “I got down here and you just ripped the curtains out of the wall.”

“Why? What am I doing down here? Why does this keep happening?” My confusion gave way to hysteria.

“Abby, it’s just sleepwalking,” my father said, coming closer, attempting to soothe me away from the edge of panic. “You’re OK.”

A draft swirled dust and debris around my bare, icy toes. My jaw ached with the effort of stopping my teeth from chattering and tears pricked at the corners of my eyes. I had just ripped the curtains down in my sleep. I was most definitely not OK.

Tremors shook me. I breathed deeply, trying to get my heart to stop tripping in my chest. I let the curtains drop to the floor. With trembling hands, I brushed the dust from my shirt and shook out my hair. My father took me by the shoulders and blew some plaster out of my ear. My answering laugh was small and shaky.

“I think we need a drink,” he said, steering me through the massive oak door to the kitchen. He gently pushed me toward a chair and then went to the sink. The rush of water, the clink of glass, and the rasp of a cap unscrewing from a bottle all sounded loud in the silent room. He slid a tumbler of water toward me and then paced the kitchen floor. His own glass contained a pale, amber-tinted liquid and I knew there must be some whisky in his water, unusual for him.

Neither of us said anything for a moment. Dad was too busy pacing and I was too busy trying to get the bands of panic that had wrapped my chest to loosen.

“I guess I really freaked you out,” I finally said, nodding at his drink before cooling my raw throat with my own.

“You could say that.” Dad was giving me one of his scientific looks, usually reserved for crime scenes.

He’d been doing that a lot lately. After the third night of catching me wandering through the house, my father had slipped into his research mode, reporting back from a session on the Internet with “Did you know people eat, email, and even drive in their sleep? Apparently, 7% of female children and 3% of adult women walk in their sleep -- I didn’t know which group I should be including you in. The good news is that it’s not uncommon.”

Maybe sleepwalking wasn’t uncommon, but it certainly didn’t feel normal.

“Do you think I’m going crazy?” I asked now.

“No, of course not. You’re in a new house, a new country, you miss Mom. Stress makes people do odd things.”

Like ripping curtains out of the wall. “I suppose.”

He came to the table and sat across from me, skewering me with that look. “But I do think we should make an appointment with a doctor.”
That was the last thing I needed, being poked, prodded, analyzed. “I thought we agreed there was no point to going to a doctor. It’s just sleepwalking.”

“Well, not anymore,” he said, leaning forward. “You were talking in your sleep tonight.”

“I was? What did I say?”

“I came in to check on you—“

“You still check on me? Dad, I’m seventeen.”

“Parental privilege,” he said. “Anyway, you were talking about a painter named Giles Fielding. Is this a boyfriend I should know about?”

“I’m sure I’d remember if it was. You know I only date musicians anyway,”
I joked. My father tried to smile but his lips just went flat. “What else did I say?”

“According to you, he’s the younger son and lives at Ormidale. You sounded a bit strange, talking in full sentences.”

“OK, yeah, that’s weird.” Our eyes were locked on each other like we’d both forgotten how to blink.

Dad drained his drink and then yawned so wide his jaw cracked. He scrubbed a hand over his face as if he could wipe away the anxiety there. “It’s late,” he said. “Back to bed. But we’ll talk about the doctor in the morning.”

Even though I had no intention of talking about the doctor in the morning, I nodded and followed him up the stairs. When we got to my room, he turned and looked at me with concern and something else I didn’t quite understand. I was too tired to try to figure it out.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” he asked, taking my arm and helping me to my bed like I was an invalid. Normally that would have annoyed me, but not tonight.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

He stared at me for a few more seconds before squeezing my hand and going back to the door. He kept it open a crack and left on the hall light, just as he had when I was a little girl. There was something about the gesture that made me want to cry. After he left, I lay in bed and couldn’t stop thinking about what my father had told me. Who the hell was Giles Fielding and why was I talking about him?


  1. So much better! For the first time, I'm starting to feel some of the conversation instead of just reading it. I think you could push this even a little bit further in terms of letting us sense the awkwardness, the fear, the confusion. The mechanics are stripped down enough so you're at or close to the essentials now. The only thing I would still lose would be the "checking in" like -- I love it, but it slows things. For pacing as well, the internet research graph could perhaps be better placed in the interval while the father is fixing drinks.

    Great job!


  2. Jenna,

    Awesome work! The dialogue flows much better now. This feels like a real conversation now. I also like how you've weaved in some extra details here and there that bring out the personalities... like:

    After the third night of catching me wandering through the house, my father had slipped into his research mode...

    great stuff! Although I think you could drop "had" and "his" for a snappier sentence.

    The only thing that still bugs me is this line:

    According to you, he’s the younger son and lives at Ormidale.

    I love the addition of Ormidale to this sentence, but "the younger son" still makes me want to know who'se son he is. Even if you changed it to read:

    According to you, he is someone's younger son and lives at Ormidale.


    According to you, he lives at Ormidale and is someone's younger son.

    Anyway, it's been a pleasure reading your first five pages and seeing them grow. Keep up the great work!

    Best Wishes,

  3. Really nice. I still love your writing and the premise. I don't mean to harp, and I'll let it go after this, but I STILL got the impression that the father wanted her to see a Dr. because of the talking in her sleep. Perhaps you could reword so that he introduces that before suggesting the Dr., She gets distracted from wondering about what she'd said by the suggestion and protests that he'd just said it was normal, THEN he explains about her being under so much stress? Just a thought.

    Other than that I really enjoyed it. I think Martina's suggestion about the placement of the "internet research" is a great one.


  4. The dialogue is coming along. Its hard to get right, but when it works, it adds such authenticity to the voice. Keep plugging away at massaging the dialogue.

    I'm going to second Lisa's comments about the Dr confusion.

    Otherwise, this is a great piece. I feel like its much stronger than it was, and it was already in good shape.

    Good Luck, Heather

  5. Thanks everyone! I'll take another look and see what I can do.

    Joseph, the wording of 'the younger son' is deliberate, as it provides a small clue to what's coming. (Martina picked up on it the first pass through.) In Regency England, it mattered whether you were the younger son or the older son (almost more than whose son you were) because your future was dictated by it.

  6. Nice job! The dialogue is much better now! You could still tweak it here and there, but over all, it's very improved. I agree with what Martina said though about the "checking in" bit. I like it too, but it does slow the pacing for me. I've really enjoyed reading this this month. Great job and good luck!

  7. Jenna,

    Thanks for clarifying why you used "the younger son." As long as it's clear to your intended audience, then keep it the way it is.

    Best Wishes,

  8. This is my first time reading this, and WOW! I loved all the details that added tension: the shutters sticking, the clammy sheets, the hidden corners, and so forth. I love her interaction with her dad: him blowing the plaster out her ear, the typical Dad over-reaction "you need to see a doctor", her "I only date musicians anyway" quip! I thought you did her internal thoughts well "trying to unwrap the bands around my chest" (except there were a couple cliches - "tension rolling off him like waves".

    My only other suggestion, is the "Abby, it's just sleepwalking" didn't seem to fit with the concern he expresses later about her needing to see a doctor. I'd take the "just" out. And maybe when he says "You're ok" you could maybe add "You're ok, this time". But these are totally minor suggestions. take them or leave them. Definitely a vivid first chapter that makes me want to read more!


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