Saturday, June 18, 2011

6 1st 5 Pages Workshop - June Entry #2, Rev 2

Feliza David - YA Mystery


This wasn't good. Not from any angle.

An ambulance and a police car huddled nose to nose, like they were sharing secrets. They sat together in the otherwise vacant parking lot, both pitching blue and cherry lights that bounced over the glass-fronted swimming complex facing the lot.

I caught the scene as I rolled down the street. My laptop had bricked out two days ago and I'd come to school early to snag a computer at the library.

The multi-colored lights shined a warning as clear as the morning sunshine, but I kept coasting forward, maybe gunned it a little. I felt like a mosquito drawn into the cool sizzle of a bug zapper.

Soon enough, the distance between me and the school parking lot had disappeared, and I was rolling to a stop just inside the main entrance.

A plain of smooth asphalt spread out before me. The only things interrupting the light-grey flow were the squad car, the ambulance, and me. Three bright spots of color, but even without the benefit of working strobe lights, my vehicle was the loudest. The dusty pink, retro styling of my old motor scooter seemed even more ridiculous than usual.

I don't know how long I sat there, holding my breath and waiting to find out that this was all just a false alarm.
When the doors to the swimming complex swung open, the dread that had knotted inside my chest turned sharp. Two paramedics stepped out of the swimming complex wheeling a lumpy, sheet-covered gurney. Something black and lacy dribbled out from one side, like an oil slick.

I should be screaming, I thought. Yelling my head off and making a scene.

Maybe my hysteria would show up later, so long as I could persuade my throat to unclench and my lungs to pull in more than a gasp of fresh air.

Another thought flickered into my mind… I should get up and help.

But with what?

I was pondering the very limited possibilities when I registered a dark uniform and the shiny wink of a badge--Officer Ryan, still looking almost too young to be sporting a holstered weapon. He was an old friend, of sorts, from some trouble I’d gotten into last semester.

I noticed him at the same time he noticed me.

The greeting we exchanged was a quick lock of our eyes. Not like I expected more. For some reason, though, the brevity of it doubled the coldness gnawing at my insides.

The paramedics loaded up the gurney, huffing as they lifted its bulk into their ambulance. Even though I was expecting it, the sounds of their slamming doors made me jump.

Officer Ryan and I watched them drive away. When the ambulance had disappeared around the corner, he turned to me.

Go home, said his expression. I could imagine the sentiment in buzzing blue neon, the same color as his eyes. He didn't need to open his mouth.

I had revved up my scooter to do just that, when something caught my eye.

Someone stood just inside the still-open doors to the pool complex. After a moment of squinting, I recognized Coach Laughlin.

I shivered as I imagined him driving to work, sipping some coffee and humming along with the radio.

Parking his car.

Then walking into school and finding someone dead.

If I stared at the coach for a second longer, I'd be able to make out his expression. And if I did that, maybe something really would come crashing down inside me.

So I gunned my engine and zipped away, like a scared bunny who'd been paralyzed with fear, but had finally gotten her speed back.


The district gave us Friday off, and the weekend rolled in after that. The whole thing was kind of like an unexpected snow holiday, but with less sledding and more tearful memorials. When Monday came around, Augustine High was back in session.

I came in late. Not on purpose, as far as I know, although so far my track record with coming into school early didn't bode well.

In first-period Journalism, we kicked things off in the usual way: a round-table meeting with Samantha Curtis, the student editor.

Today, Samantha looked neatly pressed as always, her blonde hair as sleek and straight as a ruler, but her voice was missing its usual crisp cadence.

"So, we don't have a new edition for this week. You know, obviously." She sighed. "I'm going to try to get the memorial edition out soon. For now, I guess we're supposed to keep working on things and..." She frowned at her PDA. "Ian says he's got the flu and he can't cover the girls' basketball game tonight. Any takers?"

No thanks. Suddenly, I felt a surge of concern for the state of my cuticles. I could live without a two-hour bus ride and, from the hush in the room, it looked like everyone else could, too.

Samantha sighed. "Come on, guys. Anybody? Bueller?"

"Why don't you just give it to Prudence?" said Lauren King.

“Mallory,” I corrected. My plan to ditch my old, boring name for my more-presentable last name had been about as successful as my mother's advice to ‘just be yourself.’

“Yeah, whatever.” Lauren turned to me, her curly hair bobbing. "I mean, you've got like, one article this week. No offense or anything."

"None taken," I said. It was no secret that, these days, most of the staff thought I was a roving reporter who didn't rove very far.

To my surprise, Samantha rescued me. "Chris can do it. I've got Prudence on another project this week." She caught my eye for a slip of a second before looking back at her phone.

A few months ago, Samantha had given me the job as Dear Audrey, the paper's anonymous advice columnist, for two reasons: first, because she was too swamped to do it herself anymore; and, second, because it was the most thankless job on staff.

I also liked to think that my air of gravitas had something to do with it.

Or not.

I spent the rest of the period transcribing quotes from my voice recorder about last week's bake sale for Haiti. My Dear Audrey inbox was filled to the brim, but that was strictly an off-hours job.

A little while later, the bell rang early so everyone could pile into the practice gym for a special assembly. Something about "school safety" and "coming together." At least that's what they'd told us in the email.

According to the news, Anna Levine had drowned early last Thursday morning when her old-fashioned goth skirt sucked her down to the bottom of the pool. My guess was she had died not too long before I had arrived. An hour, maybe two. If I thought about it for too long, my stomach started to ache.

But I could handle an assembly--they were formal and impersonal, a bunch of adults talking at you over a loudspeaker. However, I had skipped last week's on-campus, candle-lit vigil, opting to stay at home and pretend like I didn't feel guilty about it. That was easier than barging into a memorial for a girl I had barely known, like I was actually a part of Augustine, in whatever limited way. The big freeze-out from Samantha and pretty much everybody else at school made it clear that I wasn't.


  1. Nice revision. I like the way you moved the info about the drowning to the end of the passage, it worked better for me there, and the addition of her avoidance of the candlelight vigil was nice. You have me curious what she did to Samantha and her relationship with the officer, which I assume is connected in some way. You say at the beginning: "coasting forward, maybe gunned it a little" But coast and gun don't really belong together. I kind of get what you're saying, but it should be worded differently. Also, I'm not much for description, but I wonder if this couldn't benefit from a little more to pull us into the world of Augustine. Just a few details go a long way, and should reflect what Prudence sees and how she feels.

  2. The diffeence between your first entry and this revision is amazing. I like the few words you added about the relationship between Prudence (sorry,Mallory) and the officer. The news about who the drowning victim was fit perfectly just before the special assembly, as did the added info about the candel-light vigil and why Mallory stayed away. That highlights Mallory's ambivalent connection to the victim and shows, as well as tells, us that she feels disconnected with the school. Good job.

  3. I read all three entries and I see how the third one tightened up nicely. Your writing shines through. I'm glad you kept in those little gems.

    Don't worry too much about the 'bricked' computer. Around here, we say 'pooched.' The reader will fill in the blanks.

    Just an observation – would the authorities use a sheet at this point, or one of those black zippered body bags? Maybe the lace could emerge from a gap in the zipper.

    The positioning of the scooter might need adjusting. She can't roll too closely if a 'plain' needs to be between her and the vehicles. Also, not too close to the entrance. Otherwise, she'd be able to read more of the coach's body language.

    Seeing herself as one of three objects from above pulls me out of her point of view.

    Now, the coach. If he is a person of interest further on in the book, maybe you could insert some body language. Is the coach hunched over in grief? Leaning casually against the doorway? Tense?

    "I should be screaming, I thought. Yelling my head off and making a scene." If you want the MC to be perceived as a tougher individual than most of her classmates, you might want to convey it like this: "I should be acting hysterical or something, like the girls do in the cafeteria, but I'm not like that."

    The relationship between the MC and Officer Ryan is interesting. Did they know each other before he became a full-fledged policeman? Maybe she could think of him by his first name, then correct herself, as if she has to remind herself that their relationship had changed over the past couple of years.

    I love the Bueller reference during the meeting. Heh. You did a great job of establishing the MC's standing amongst her peers. Involved, yet not committed.

  4. Hi Feliza,

    You had me this time, really had me, right up to the following:

    I don't know how long I sat there, holding my breath and waiting to find out that this was all just a false alarm.

    When the doors to the swimming complex swung open, the dread that had knotted inside my chest turned sharp. Two paramedics stepped out of the swimming complex wheeling a lumpy, sheet-covered gurney. Something black and lacy dribbled out from one side, like an oil slick.

    I should be screaming, I thought. Yelling my head off and making a scene.

    Why? I'm sorry, but I didn't buy any of that. She has no idea what happened, so it doesn't feel believable or authentic. You're not really giving us true interiosity either. Just physical reactions without solid motivation.

    You've taken our advice about making her care, without really stepping into her shoes. WHY does she care? What does she think has happened? What makes her think that? What is it in her past that makes her think and react this way?

    I'm not suggesting that you put all that on the page, but you certainly need to know.

    This story has so much potential. And the voice you've established at the beginning? LOVE IT! Fewer similes and metaphors might increase their impact, perhaps, as they come a bit hot and heavy, but they are truly lovely. Just be careful you aren't getting lost in the words instead of in the character and story. That's very easy to do when the words and rhythms come as easily as they appear to for you.

    You CAN do this, Feliza. Really get deep into her character for this next revision. Tell us what's making her tick and develop the story a little faster.



  5. Good revision and lots of helpful comments above. I'd only like to emphasize what Martina said. The line"I should be screaming, I thought. Yelling my head off and making a scene." totally stopped me. I had no idea why she might even think that since at that point she had no idea who was under the sheet. She's tougher than that, or at least I think you want to make her tough. That seems to come through as we read. I'm also still bothered by "bricked out." I don't know what you mean. Why not use a more universally understood phrase? I do find the premise very intriguing and would like to read more.

  6. Thanks as always, guys!

    * runs back to the revision trenches *


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