Sunday, May 8, 2011

7 1st Five Pages Workshop - May: Entry #3

YA - Margie Senechal

I’ve avoided this day for the past month, but today my mom is forcing the issue. We are going to lunch with Omar come hell or high water. Which I’ve always thought is an odd expression for someone in the northwest to use. Do you know how much it rains here? High water isn’t that hard to come by. You should see the puddles on my way to school after a good pounding.

Mom’s at a critical juncture in this relationship. The get-to-know-my-son juncture. Everyone knows a relationship lives or dies with moments like this. Too bad it’s summer and I don’t have a homework alibi. Just for the record, I hate these moments.

Besides, I’m pretty sure he might be a terrorist. He’s a Croatian/Arab hybrid. The first time I heard him speak Russian, it kind of freaked me out. But then I realized he spoke at least five languages, even if he speaks them in low mumbles that are hard to understand. Mom says he’s cultured. I say he’s plotting something.

“Simon,” Mom calls down the hall. “If you make us any later…” There’s a definite threat in there somewhere.

“I’m ready.” I head her off before she can get creative and vindictive. Yes, in our home, they sometimes go hand in hand.

I glance out the window. Across the street, MAX—being Portland’s light rail system--is pulling out of the station. I have about a twenty minute window before the next one arrives.

Lunch at Melting Pot with Omar. Rather stay home than break bread (and dip it) with Mom’s gay/florist/terrorist boyfriend.

I wonder how many slashes I can attach to his name. The longer she dates him, the more I seem to come up with. Jury’s still out whether Omar is actually a terrorist but it does make good blogging and tweeting.

“Simon,” Mom’s yell borders on hysteria. Sounds like she got the tweet. “You’ve got to stop calling him a terrorist.”

I walk to the bathroom doorway where she is smothering her head in hair spray. I hold my breath as I pass. Don’t want to die of cancer before I reach seventeen. “I can’t help it if I think he’s a terrorist.” Although last week I was pretty sure he was KGB.

“What if he reads it? What’s he going to think?”

“Mom,” I search for just the right words to soothe her. “You’re assuming he can read more English than plutonium rich.”

Mom bites back a laugh. “He is not a terrorist.”

Notice she didn’t say he could read.

The doorbell rings and Mom flicks me away. “Get that.”

Even though it’s been drilled into me, I don’t check the peephole. Number one, I’d need a stool. Number two, it just looks out into a dark hall toward the elevator. And number three, my best bud, Raj, is probably covering the peekhole with his finger.

I open the door and immediately wish I’d taken the couple of minutes to pull over a chair. Two men in dark suits with dark glasses and even darker expressions stare down at me. Standing like twin sentries they block any view behind them.

“Hey,” I say, trying for casual. How fast can I shut the door if this goes bad?

In unison, they look down, way down, at me.

Okay, let’s just get it over with and deal with the mouse in the room. Me. At four-nine and 93 pounds on a good, sopping wet day, I am not intimidating.

“Simon Rook?” Man-in-black 1 lowers his glasses, peering over the rim at me. “Are you Simon Rook?”

Never admit to anything. “Who wants to know?”

MIB 2 flips through this small, wire-bound notebook. “Are you Simon Rook, age…” He scans the page with a frown. “Sixteen?”

This is my chance. I can tell them I’m somebody else, age twelve. Nobody ever believes I’m sixteen, so maybe it’s time to let the eternal youth gene do me a solid.

I start to shake my head in denial. After all, if they have my name, address, and age in a notebook, this can’t be good. Even if I don’t remember doing anything to warrant this kind of attention.

Mid head-shake, I’m interrupted by Mom’s voice ringing down the hall. “Who’s at the door, Simon?”

MIB 1 lifts his head and cleanly looks over mine. “Is that your mom?”

MIB 2 doesn’t wait for confirmation. He head signals his partner and they brush past me with an air of authority.

I hear the door close and locks set. There is no escape. Sweat tickles my neckline. I still have no idea of who they are, why they’re here, and what they want. But none of it feels right.

Mom’s heels click down the hall as she leaves her bedroom. I can track her by the sound of her heels. I’ve done it before, especially when I’ve been expecting trouble. She passes my room. “Hey, Si,” she says, unaware that we have unwanted visitors who probably have guns and warrants. “I can’t reach Omar so he must be in a dead zone.”

Good news: Looks like I’m getting out of an awkward lunch.

Bad news: We’ve been invaded by Men in Black.

MIB nudges me further into the background as he takes a step toward the hallway. “Lily?” he removes his Ray-Bans and hangs them between the buttons of his shirt. “Lily Rook?”

Mom rounds the corner, her hand flying up to her mouth. “Frank?”

Wait! Mom knows him? What the frak?

Mom moves in slow motion as if she’s slogging through quicksand. “What are you doing here?” Her voice, which earlier had been ordering me around like a platoon sergeant, now sounds weak and weary.

“There’s been an incident.” MIB 2, now known as Frank, says. “We have to get you two out of here.”

Who? What? And out of where?

“In-ci-dent?” Mom’s voice cracks into tiny pieces.

We’re still all standing in the hallway although it’s beginning to feel a little surreal, like time has stopped momentarily. Nobody moves or says anything as Mom seems to be frozen.

“Ma’am?” MIB 1 finally breaks the silence. “Maybe you should sit down.”

Uh-oh. They never tell you to sit down for good news. Whoever “they” are in this scenario.

“Simon?” Mom reaches out for me.

Given a purpose, I spring into action. “I’m here.” I sweep past Frank and slide in next to Mom. He arm clutches my shoulder. I am her lifeline. “Let’s sit down.” I man up and lead her to the couch. She feels frail and weightless as she clings to me.

Men in Black follow closely behind us.

Mom and I sit on the couch. It’s always been this way. Just me and Mom.

Frank sits down on the coffee table so he’s facing us. “You okay, Lily?” He pats her hand. “Do you need anything?” He doesn’t wait for an answer before turning to his partner. “Get them some water.”

MIB 1 scurries out of the room.

Frank squeezes her hand. “Lily, I have some bad news for you.”

I swallow all the sarcastic barbs begging to spill out of my mouth like projectile vomit.

“Omar’s dead.”

Mom’s hand flies to her mouth as tears strangle her. “Wh-a-t?”

“There was an explosion at his shop.”

Do floral shops spontaneously combust? I need to Google that one.


  1. I adore this premise and love Simon’s voice. You’ve nailed that. We know he’s smart, spunky, sick of his mom’s “relationships,” which have clearly been numerous. I’d like to know where dad is in the picture though, and why the mom is trying so hard to date. I’d also love a few more details about specifics of Simon's life. You miss the perfect opportunity to give us the specific location of the town, for example, when you say: Do you know how much it rains here? You could replace here with the name of the city.

    Clearly Frank and Lily know each other. Simon needs to question that; he’s too smart not to pick it up. Has he seen Frank before? Is Frank one of the failed relationships? I’m presuming that this connection between the two is important to the plot, so give us a little more on this. As it is, there’s a disconnect between the apparent surprise of them running into each other, and the way Frank tells the mother that Omar is dead. A Fed might be more like to use Omar’s first and last name, since he presumably didn’t know the man personally. The way you have it made me wonder if the mother is actually part of a sting operation.

    Think through who knows what in this scene to make sure the actions, dialogue, and reactions are clear and correctly motivated, and that everyone is doing what they should. The Feds would show ID, for example. And if they didn’t, wouldn’t Simon demand it?

    Also, check your timing and information sequences to make the most out of your delivery. You do this several times, so I’ll give you an example.
    In the following paragraph, there are two instances where you interject sentence fragments to separate connected words:

    “Mom’s at a critical juncture in this relationship. The get-to-know-my-son juncture. Everyone knows a relationship lives or dies with moments like this. Too bad it’s summer and I don’t have a homework alibi. Just for the record, I hate these moments.”

    This could be cleaner if you reorder:

    “Mom’s at the critical get-to-know-my-son juncture with Omar. Everyone knows a relationship lives or dies with moments like this. Just for the record, I hate moments. Too bad it’s summer and I don’t have a homework alibi.”

    This is, of course, a matter of style, and I love your voice and don’t want to mess with it. I’m not saying that the cleaner paragraph is better, only that deviating from the clean delivery should be a deliberate choice.

    Another example of this is: “You’re assuming he can read more English than plutonium rich.” I know what you mean, but I think it needs tweaking so that we laugh without having to stop and think it through. Simon’s sarcasm is brilliant but to nail it, you need perfect clarity.

    You’ve also got a lot of “big” words in here for a sixteen-year-old. I think they work most of the time though. Juncture is one I question a little, since it could just as easily be phase, which may read more naturally for many of the teens in your target audience. Take another peek at this throughout.

    I have to say that I just love Simon though. Lines like this are fantastic: "Do floral shops spontaneously combust? I need to Google that one."

    Great work, and I can't wait to see how it reads with a little minor clarification.

  2. I love that the inciting incident is clearly within the first five pages. I want to know how Omar is connected to these MIB, and I can't wait to see how Simon and his mother get pulled into (I'm guessing) some kind of adventure.

    The biggest thing that threw me off here was the voice. I absolutely loved it, but it sounded much younger than sixteen to me. I thought he was thirteen or fourteen, especially with the chair comment to look through the door's peephole. It was very surprising when he turned out to be sixteen!

    I'd totally read more of this, though :) so great job!

  3. Margie,

    This has such great voice! Simon's character alone would make me want to keep reading just to see what he would say about things. Of course, I also love the plot set up here; it hooked me right in.

    I really like the line about the creative/vindictive punishments. I love what that says about the mom. And I like Simon's attitude toward himself with the "mouse in the room" line.

    A few things that gave me pause...

    It seemed a bit abrupt to have Simon step in to comfort his mom so easily. I would think he's be to stunned to have the presence of mind to do that. Maybe he supports her on the way to the couch, but while he's doing that he's scanning the MIB for guns or something, or his mind is spinning with possible ideas of what they might say.

    Also, I agree that Simon's voice is a dead ringer for an eighth grader I taught (age 14), not that there aren't plenty of 16 year-olds who could sound like there, but if there's room in the story to shift his age around you might want to consider it.

  4. I know I sound like an echo, but OMG I LOVE the voice here. Wonderful job. I am trying to pinpoint why the voice feels young to people (LOVE the height situation and his smart-assedness) and the only thing I come up with is perhaps the mother attachment? Believe it or not I had an issue similar to this (though completely different plot/character) in one of my own manuscripts. SO, the way I dealt w/it was to put my MC immediately in a situation where there was no doubt as to his age. Hmm. Not sure if that could work here. Perhaps nervous though about being forced to even be w/Mom. Or thoughts of a love interest? Just brainstorming to try and help...

    But I would so definitely read on to find out who the MIB are and just for Simon's wonderful voice.

    Maybe adding a further reaction to the MIB when they push into the apartment, wondering or asking about protocol perhaps? That sort of thing.

  5. I know it says YA, but the voice sounds a bit younger-Though for a teen he uses big words that don’t seem to fit with his personality. He seems more in-the-know rather than studious.

    Simon sounds raciest to come outright and accuse someone of being a terrorist because they are from the middle-east. It’s another reason I thought the mc was going to be 12 or 14, because someone that young doesn’t know the consequences of their words and actions. Then he calls his mother’s boyfriend gay? As someone with a gay teen family member, it makes me a little uncomfortable. I know that it’s the slang people use, but it seems like the things kids hear and read encourage it.

    I’d like to think there’s a better way to add in his concerns about Omar, maybe internally but begrudgingly admitting he needs to give the guy a chance.

    His surprise over MIB guys after tweeting and blogging about his mom dating a terrorist is odd. If anything, he should be afraid they’ve come to grill him about it.

    Using ‘frak’ as curse reminds me of Battlestar Glactica, is this on purpose? (it does work with the dating of the book with twitter and blogs!:-) I’m a fan of that show!)

    I do LOVE how spunk Simon is and all of his sarcastic quips. It’s nice to see/hear a witty character that is so current!

  6. I agree with Lisa, asserting his independence is a great way to get his age to match his voice. WIth the other people thinking he's twelve, too, seems to me that it'd be an issue for him to be more independent that most sixteen year olds, like he needs to compensate, especially if he does that unconsciously. Give him character traits of a thirty year old man or something so it's as pronounced as possible.

    Who is he talking to? Do we need to know about the lunch at the beginning? Do we need to know any of that backstory stuff? It feels like he's talking to himself. There was one good spot of revealing info, the, "Even though it’s been drilled into me, I don’t check the peephole. Number one, I’d need a stool. Number two, it just looks out into a dark hall toward the elevator. And number three, my best bud, Raj, is probably covering the peekhole with his finger." It doesn't feel like this part is someone telling the story to me. More of that, please.

    Add in some textures. The feel of the wall as he slides past his mom and the hairspray, maybe the door knob is abnormally cold or warm. Where is he at the start of the story? The first mention of movement is with the "I glance out the window." Was he laying in bed? Does he bemoan having to leave it's warmth? Maybe he shifts because he's hot? Is he sitting at the computer? Does he normally just stand and look out the window? He's a bit of a talking head as he is.

    If he's stalling at the start, really drag things out. Make him move slowly. Then, when the confusion of the MIB happens, you can contrast that with the fast-paced-ness, the mind swirling-ness of it.

    Love the quips and remarks. Well done there. :)

  7. Love the premise of this and the potential. I really like Allison's sarcasm and insights into the world around her. I can't wait to see what happens in Portugal--even though that won't be in this workshop ;)

    I'm not going to echo what's already been pointed out, so, my little nitpick of the day is; you used before twice in the first two paragraphs of chapter 2.

    Also, since we've already seen a hint of her sarcasm and her revile for this particular movie, I think she should comment on the dialogue between the two leads after they are reunited. I mean,

    “Oh Mikaehl, I was so scared! I wished and hoped for you and now here you are!”

    “My dear Princessa! Have no fear! We are together now and you never have to worry again.”

    Those two lines are just begging to be made fun of by your heroine. Also, maybe put in some description of the characters as they say these lines from Allison's pov.

    Nicely done.


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