Monday, September 19, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages Workshop - September Entry #1 Rev 2

Author: Sara Bautista
Genre: Young Adult

Chapter One

The plus side of looking like a total freak was finding the note that led to the truth about my mother. I’d decided that the solution to my boy problems—namely, there were no boys—was to make myself stand out. And now I stood alone, dripping wet, clutching the box for #52 Black as Night and hoping the frightening reflection in the mirror was an illusion. Closer inspection revealed the unfortunate reality: that scary thing in the mirror was me. And I was late for work.

I quickly rummaged through my closet for something to conceal the ghastly mess, but came up empty-handed. In a last ditch effort, I raced to the attic, taking the narrow steps two at a time. I pushed by the skeletons of old lamps and ghostly sheet-covered furniture until I found a Tupperware crate stuffed with clothes I no longer wore. I dug through until I found a kelly green scarf. It would have to do.

On my way out of the dusty space, another box caught my eye. “Suzanne” was scratched across the side in my father’s writing. I paused, glancing at the hole of light from downstairs. Mrs. Liu was going to kill me if I wasn’t there by five, but I couldn’t resist pulling apart the box’s worn cardboard flaps.

I picked up the top item—a photo album—and opened it at random. My mother looked up from the page, holding what must have been a baby me. My throat caught at her warm, open smile and easygoing stance. I traced her face with my finger before shutting the album with a kiss. As I slid the box back into its spot, a small, folded piece of paper fluttered to the ground. The graceful cursive read “To Jocelyn with Love.”
I carefully unfolded it. In contrast to the sparse writing on the outside of the note, sketches covered the inside. Flowers and vines laced with six-legged creatures lined the edges and twisted to encircle the small square of writing in the middle. I picked out the words in the weak light.
My dear Josie, pocket full of posies,
I miss you more with each day that passes. The good news is that I should be back soon. I can’t wait to give your sweet little self a big hug and a kiss. In the meantime, I’ve been catching bugs for you. See? Here’s a beetle and a cricket. I hope you’ve been finding lots of worms, and that you’re taking good care of Daddy.

Love you more than you’ll ever know,


I wanted to devour the remaining contents of the box, ferreting out more lost memories of my mother, but it would have to wait until later.

I had barely settled in behind the hostess’ podium in the dim lobby when the entrance bells jangled. I tugged at the hem of my kimono uniform—as if that would make it longer—and clamped my teeth together in what I hoped would pass for a smile.
A whoosh of cold greeted me, along with a tall, snow-dusted figure. Cliff Crawford. Joy. A little harassment from Neighbor Boy was just what I needed.
“Whoa, Jocelyn, is that you? Did you spend Christmas rescuing baby seals from an oil spill or something?” He laughed and circled around me, inspecting the damage from all sides. “Looks like you missed a piece back here. Actually, a few pieces…” 
“Shouldn’t you be flunking out of community college somewhere?”
“It’s called a leave of absence, there, Bettie Page. I realized I haven’t found my calling yet, you know? Decided to move back in with the folks, maybe get a job at the Photo Hut. Pretty sweet deal, eh?” 
“Yeah, every kid’s dream.”
A family filed in behind Cliff, crowding the entrance. Mrs. Liu, the restaurant owner, pushed in after them, making her first appearance of the evening.
“What’s going on here?” she squawked in my direction. “This is bottleneck! You want to talk to cute boys, you work at carwash!”
In the same breath, she turned to the embarrassed customers, and in a saccharine voice cooed, “Welcome to Emperor Wok. Four for dinner, please?” It wasn’t until she passed the hostess podium for the menus that she actually saw me. I worried that she might start convulsing right there, but she managed to keep walking. My scarf was clearly not doing its job.
“So where can a cute boy get some take-out around here?” Cliff asked, grinning.
I rolled my eyes and gestured toward the cashier.
Soon Mrs. Liu was back, ranting about the gravity of my hair-don’t. It registered as a Category Four catastrophe in her book, but she didn’t stop there. It was the bony hips (“men want ladies to make babies!”) and skinny arms (“you weak!”). I tuned her out when she started going off about my eyebrows—the center of a woman’s power—which were too light and thin for her liking, but I snapped right back to attention when she licked her finger and starting rubbing the purplish-black smudges tracing my hairline.
I was shielding myself with the podium when Cliff passed by on his way out.
‘You look odd,’ he mouthed.
Yes, yes I did, and I could count on Cliff to point that out. Ever since the summer after seventh grade when he pushed me into the Harrisons’ pool, fully clothed—thus revealing to the whole neighborhood that I still didn’t wear a bra—he had found endless ways to embarrass me. And now he was back. Fortunately, I was halfway through my senior year, and I would be enrolled at RISD and strolling the streets of Providence before I knew it.
That night, as I ran the water for another shower—I had to get a head start on those 28 washes—I pulled out my mother’s note. I held the thin paper to my nose, hoping to find just a touch of the elusive fragrance that lay somewhere on the edge of my memory. It smelled of nothing but dust and faint mildew. Still, I savored it.
I opened the note again, and this time, in the bright light of the bathroom, I noticed a date hidden among the sketched foliage. I stared at it. The steam from the shower swirled near the ceiling and slid down the walls. It was suffocating, as if the very vines had burst forth from the page and were closing around my neck.
My mother couldn’t have written a note on that date. By then, I would be two; by then, she would be dead.


  1. I liked it better the first time. There seemed to be less rush between scenes (very first one, attic, Cliff, Mrs. Liu.)

    I do like that she read the note when she first found it. Maybe she could have it in her pocket and put her hand on it when Mrs. Liu was insulting her. A little comfort item.

    And I liked the way she took the note out again and took in every part of it.

  2. I agree that it read better before. But I just went back and tried it again without the first sentence and it flowed nicely. I don't think you need to tell us that she's learning the truth about her mother. This whole book is about showing that, isn't it?

    The mystery of her mother is outlined nicely with the note and talking about how she would've been dead already.

    The beginning minus the first sentence sets a nice teenage tone and voice, too. You've captured that well.

    Second paragraph might be better with a few less "I" statements.

    How big/heavy is the box? Wouldn't she carry it to her room for closer inspection later? Why leave it in the attic? Does anything else from the box come into play later?

    I still don't know Bettie Page. Is that someone today's teens would know? Are you dating your book with that reference?

    I think I need a little more on why her hair is so hideous. I got a more hideous vision of it from the very first entry, but now it's more like black all over except for some missed spots in the back. Her skin has some mottling, but that should be covered by the scarf. I know black hair dye looks phoney because black hair tends to have other colors mixed in, but I'm not getting a good feel for hideous here. I think one sentence in the first paragraph would help a lot.

    When she talks of the 28 washes, you might want to have a reaction like "Thank God I chose a temporary color." Not sure if you need it, but I think it's a helpful detail rom a logic standpoint.

    Good job overall!

  3. Hi Sara,

    I LOVE the new opening -- must stronger -- and I still love the energy and humor of this piece. I do continue to have some questions/concerns though that you might consider.

    1) I really like that she finds the note sooner and then comes back to it. That's a positive change. But finding the box of her mother's things now, in such proximity with a box she must have put up there herself, doesn't quite ring true. If she had put the box up there, wouldn't she have noticed it then. And if she had, then wouldn't she have looked in it then. Furthermore, why look in the box now when she is in such a hurry? I wonder if this is all easily resolved by making her not a scarf or a hat person, and having never had anything that would cover her head, but remembering photos of her mother wearing lots of scarves. If there's a box of her mother's clothes up in the attic that neither she nor her father had ever had the heart to throw away, might she think to look in there and find the note folded somewhere where it could have been overlooked earlier? The specific solution doesn't matter, ultimately, so you can use whatever works for you. I do think that you need to be certain that finding the note feels organic and not like an obvious device.

    2) I like the relationship with Cliff, but why would he comment that she looks "odd" later, rather than the first time he sees her?

    3) If there is just one family of four waiting after Cliff, why would Mrs. Liu call that a bottleneck. Can you beef this up a little?

    4) Overall, the energy is great and you have a gift for conveying a lot of information in a few words without making it feel weighted down. I wonder though if you could vary the pacing a little bit--it starts to feel a bit too breathless overall by the end. Consider where her thoughts would slow and where they would speed up, where she would feel rushed, and where she wouldn't.

    Also, since the next revision this weekend will be the one posted, go through and consider where you can eliminate some adverbs and generic adjectives. You've got a lot of them packed in here, which is part of what lets you convey the mood and setting so fast. I'm not advocating getting rid of all of them, but varying the density with unadorned sentences or sparser, specific details might add more texture and dimension.

    Great job! Looking forward to the next round.


  4. Clarification -- on seeing the other two comments just now, I admit that I'm not crazy about the second part of the first sentence. I love the voice in the first clause. "The plus side in looking like a total freak" sets her tone and the paragraph beautifully. Could you think of a different end to that sentence without foreshadowing the note?


  5. I too think that first sentence can be changed or eliminated. I know you want to catch attention with it, but those kind of foreshadowing sentences don't typically work in your favor.
    I like the reading of the note before she goes to work, I agree with Martina that she should find it in a more plausible way. That's kind of where I was also going with the accidentally knocking it over thing, BUT I like the idea of going into the box of scarves or whatever that she hasn't gone through thoroughly before.
    I get Mrs. Liu's line about the family being a bottleneck and although I really like her humor, I kind of hope she ends up with a bit more dimension and less of a stereotype. That could turn people off.
    The Betty Page thing. Maybe she can make a snarky retort to Cliff like, "What are you? Eighty?" Or something better that you think of if you want to keep the reference.
    Still great work!

  6. Hi Sara, I did like last week's version best. I am happy to see her read the letter and to feel her feeling of wanting to devour the contents of that box. That was good! I liked your ending with her feeling swhile reading the note. Try writing the last line without THEN, I've enjoyed reading this chapter. Sheri

  7. And now I stood alone, dripping wet, clutching the box for #52 Black as Night and hoping the frightening reflection in the mirror was an illusion
    --> Now, I was alone and dripping wet, clutching the box for #52 Black as Night, and hoping like hell that the mirror's frightening reflection was only an illusion. No such luck.

    In contrast to the sparse writing on the outside of the note, sketches covered the inside. --> pick another word for "covered"....Or rephrase the whole sentence somehow. It feels like it breaks the flow a bit.

    The steam from the shower swirled near the ceiling and slid down the walls. It was suffocating, as if the very vines had burst forth from the page and were closing around my neck. -- Good description, but try something like this: I opened the note again, and this time, in the bright light of the bathroom, I noticed a date hidden among the sketched foliage. I stared at it. My eyes narrowed and I stared at it again. As the steam from the shower swirled near the ceiling and slid down the walls, I suddenly felt I was suffocating. Like the vines had burst out of the page and were closing around my neck.


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