Monday, December 12, 2011

9 1st 5 Pages December Workshop - Jones, Rev 1

YA Paranormal
by Sandi Jones

Rusty trucks and derelict boats sat neglected in front of houses along
the dark coastal road. “I swear, if your boss is one of those hoarders
who lives with auto parts in the living room and cows on the porch,
I’m calling Grandma.”

Mom chuckled and lifted a hand from the steering wheel to twiddle a
lock of blonde hair that had somehow escaped her tidy ponytail. Her
laughter was a relief from the apologies she’d been heaping on me
since we’d packed the Toyota and left Birmingham that afternoon.

The line at the corner of her mouth made a tiny upward wisp. “Ben’s a
nice man. British. Talented and intelligent.”

“Only kidding. I’m sure his house will be great,” I lied and sank
further down in the passenger seat.


Her gaze avoided mine, and my doubts climbed another notch. Yet things
couldn’t be any worse than back home with us living too near Dad, his
mental problems, and his skeevy girlfriend. Mom’s only escape there
was Xanax.

I had nothing to lose. Except Dad. And my grandparents. And my best friend.

My only friend.

We turned the corner of another road, following a long white fence.

“This is it, I think.” Mom slowed as we neared a massive stone
entrance under dim lighting. “I have the code for the gate on my
phone.” She fumbled with one hand in her purse.

Headlights burst from the open gate, blinding me in a flash of white
as a vehicle flew out, headed in our direction. I flinched, reaching
for the dash. Seashell gravel pelted our Toyota like rain when the
oncoming car hit their brakes and veered to miss us. Mom swerved to
stop on the shoulder of the private driveway as the other vehicle, a
shiny black Vette with lots of chrome and dark windows, gunned the

“Idiot!” Mom dropped her forehead on the steering wheel.

My heart thudded. I craned in my seat, watching the guy’s thoughtless
retreat. A license plate reading “GEOFF” in reflective blue letters
disappeared into the gloom.

Mom released her breath and sat up beside me. “That was close.”

Rubber squealed in the distance as the other car spun onto the asphalt.

I scowled at her calm reaction. My own instincts told me to hang my
head out the window and call the driver the name he deserved.

“Was that your new boss?” I rubbed my palms on my jeans.

“I don’t think so.” She bit her lip as she steered the Toyota back
onto the gravel.

“At least the jerk left the gate open for us.”

We rolled past the entry’s digital keypad. The white bars closed
automatically behind us with a metallic clank as we left the lighted
gateway for the blackened woods ahead.

“I’m not sure it wasn’t my fault.” She offered an embarrassed smile as
she drove. “The guy didn’t expect anyone to be out here at night. He
was probably Ben’s—”

“Oh shit!” I clamped a hand over my mouth.

The driveway curved and a mammoth building emerged from the thick
trees. Ground lights lit ginormous pillars surrounding the white

“Chelsea Ann!” she scolded. We pulled up the circle drive where
ancient oak trees covered in elegant, gray Spanish moss reached over
us like twisting lace-shrouded limbs. Her eyes were wide and hopeful
when she glanced at me for my reaction and parked the car by the front
steps. “This must be Antonia. What do you think?”

I was out the door in a flash. Burning for my sketchpad, I walked
backward with my head back so I could take in the whole building. The
plantation-style house stood three stories high with balconies. More
outdoor lights highlighted palmettos and flowering shrubs hugging the
porch—an impressionist’s dream of soft and sharp textures competing
against each other.

Mom led us up the steps of a wraparound porch to the double doors of
what could’ve been the set of an old Civil War movie. Except the place
didn’t seem old with fresh white paint. I hoped it was new.

Surely she wouldn’t expect me to sleep under the roof of former slave-owners.

My stomach knotted as Mom rang the brass doorbell. My hands were still
trembling after our near miss with the reckless driver, but why did I
dread meeting Mr. Ramsey? I’d never heard anything bad about the
author. Lots of people I knew read his bestsellers. My grandma, for
one. His readers wanted to know more about him, but for whatever
reason, he couldn’t manage to write his own story. Too humble. Or too
boring. Mom had spent hours chatting with him on the Internet before
they’d decided to work on his memoir together in person.

The door opened and a man wearing a blue dress shirt and khaki
trousers blinked at us under metal-rimmed glasses. His expression
slowly smoothed from a look of utter disgust to dawning awareness.

“I’m sorry we’re late, Ben. I guess I should’ve called.”

“No. Not a problem at all.” His graying brown comb-over and wide smile
erased my unease about Mom finding the divorced author attractive. Too
nerdy. “Dinner’s still warm.”

“I want you to meet my daughter, Chelsea.” She nudged me closer.

Ramsey shook my hand in his cool grip. “I’m so very glad to finally
meet you. I’ll bet you’re both exhausted.”

His face didn’t register any of the shock I was used to when Mom
introduced me. Apparently she’d already clued him in about my father,
so my skin color came as no surprise.

I lifted a shoulder. “It’s not been bad. Well, except for just now.
Who was driving that Corvette?”


“Do come in,” Mr. Ramsey interrupted, widening the door. “We can talk
over dinner.”

Paranoia prickled me as we moved through the foyer, but I’d save my
questions for later. Unlike Dad.

We washed up in the guest bathroom, where I was afraid to touch
anything for fear someone would smack my hand and say I wasn’t allowed
to handle stuff.

An arrangement of fresh tropical flowers sat in the middle of the
dining table before us. God, I’d love to capture those beauties on
paper with gouache paints. However, the aroma of fried food stole my
attention from the subject matter as a serving woman wearing a gray
uniform brought in a covered tray, and then lifted lids off the
awaiting platters.

“It was getting dark when we arrived but we saw lots of young people
leaving Hilton Head Island. It’s a popular place, isn’t it?” Mom said

Ramsey nodded. “Absolutely. I’ve made an appointment for Chelsea to
meet with the director of admissions at the prep school tomorrow.” He
lifted a piece of something covered in golden cornmeal batter. “Fried

She held out her plate. “Thank you.”

“Wait. A prep school for me? Why?” Alarm twisted the knot in my
stomach tighter.

“Lori—?” He hesitated.

“It’s on the island. Very prestigious.” Mom smiled, but her eyes were pleading.

My fork clattered on my plate. So that was the drawback to this gig?

Did he notice how I looked? I wore an old concert shirt, combat boots,
and my hair was still growing out the blue streak I’d put in it this
summer. Not to mention I’d probably be the only half-black student
there. They’d hate me.

“Thanks, but I’ve always gone to public schools.”

“Nonsense. My son will be attending Prep, too. You’ll ride to school with him.”


  1. Ooh so she's going to ride with Geoff... Nice. :D I do like this version better. I think it read much more smoothly. I like this character, I would definitely like to hear more from her. My suggestion now is to work on Mom. I think she needs more personality so she isn't read as a stereotype. Her reaction to the near accident actually threw me a little. If she's blowing it off can we see that earlier? When she puts her head down it feels like she's taking it pretty hard. Or maybe she visibly gathers herself together. How does your MC feel about that?
    I'd love a little more description of the house through her eyes too. It's tough to find that fine line, but it's clearly a big deal. What details does she notice as an artist perhaps?
    Oh and I just looked. This is paranormal?? There isn't even a hint of paranormal in here. You have to give us something even if it's an unearthly foreshadowing.

  2. I love what you've done with this! It's now so clearly from Chelsea's POV - and she comes across as so much more authentically teen. Great work!
    I also liked the addition of the hint of her being an artist, which makes your description of the plantation house really well.
    The only thing that still stopped me was the interaction with the car. Seems like there might be an opportunity to do a little bit more or make it more impactful. Especially now that we know she'll be riding in the car with the driver - maybe you could enhance the first contact to ratchet up the level of tension when that happens. Well done!

  3. Yes! Very nice revision. It's muc clearer and I feel like I know where we're going. I also agree that if it's paranormal I think you're going to need to give us something sooner. That shouldn't be too hard. I felt the reference to her skin color was hitting the reader over the head. I'd take out the expected reaction from Ramsey. Because if she's wearing combat boots and growing out pink hair reaqctions to her appearance could be about any of those. I think the comment at the end of the chapter/pages is a real surprise and I'd leave it that way. Also in the first paragragh: “I swear, if your boss is one of those hoarders
    who lives with auto parts in the living room and cows on the porch,
    I’m calling Grandma.” If you tag this so the reader knows who is talking it will give us an opportunity to see and know her. Nothing major. Just a sentence. I felt there was just enough descrition of the house. So this time I could focus on those short amounts much better. Really nice job! shelley

  4. Awesome revision. I LOVED the opening paragraph. LOVED IT! The second paragraph reveals some good stuff too. Sixth paragraph is also very good. I also like where you began the story... just a hair earlier and then the near miss/ near wreck scene is still an attention grabber.

    I think Chelsea comes out a lot more in this one. We learn more about her internal workings than before.
    I noticed that you mentioned the Toyota about three times just in this selection. You may try to vary how you refer to the vehicle.

    I think the "Oh shit" and "Chelsea Ann..." are too far apart for me. For it to work, I'd rather see them one right after the other to increase the immediacy.

    Hope this helps. Nice job.

  5. Sandi,

    I agree with everyone else: I love the writing in this revision. It is smoother and you interject much more of a distinct voice and character here. Plus you've added more conflict in the sense of her worrying about the moving and losing her friends, etc.

    That said, I'm going to pose a question or two. First, do you feel you are risking having readers potentially worry that this is going to be another warm/fuzzy moving-is-okay story? Not knowing where you are going but since it is paranormal, I am wondering if you shouldn't interject some sense of mood, theme, or plot that points us in that direction and gives us a solid hook of uniqueness. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with starting here, per se, but I wonder if it is enough.

    Second, I still feel like maybe the mother features too heavily for the very beginning to really hook your readers. Could you possibly find some way to separate her from her mother? Perhaps have her left standing in the driveway while her mother greets the new boss, and having the Corvette nearly run her over? Then have the action evolve naturally as the mother and the boss to help, but the Corvette leaves, and there's more conflict and mystery going in. I'm sure there are a million ways for you to accomplish the same thing, but hopefully you can consider whether this beginning is really the right place to start?

    Again, the writing is definitely stronger and you've created a detailed, well-crafted scene. If you are satisfying where you need the story to go, then no problem. But I had to ask the questions. :)


  6. You include the Dad on the list of things to lose, but in the previous paragraph, you paint him in a negative light -- 'his mental problems' -- and also have Chelsea seem to side more with her mom.

    I'm still a little confused by the near-accident. The mom looking for the phone makes me think they've already pulled to a stop / also it says they've slowed, but then she has to swerve to avoid the guy? And I agree with what the others said about her reaction to it--too sudden a change. Also, when they arrive at the house, the mom goes from scolding to hoping Chelsea approves rather quickly as well.

    Otherwise... I love this revision! Chelsea is awesome. I can't wait to see what you do next with her.

  7. I think I can incorporate everything except Martina's suggestion of Chelsea nearly getting hit. Chelsea and the reckless driver meet as strangers in an upcoming scene, and if he sees her now that meeting can't happen. But I do think I can scale back on Mom, Martina, and I agree with you. Great suggestions, everyone!

  8. Hi Sandi,

    I didn't mean for you to take the suggestion for the driver as gospel--just as one example of ways to intro that character/situation without the mother necessarily dominating the scene. The one thing that I liked about the previous version was that immediate sense of action created by the near-accident and the resulting mystery that pulled us through the scene without it beoming a Gee-I'm-moving story. My main points are that I hope you can separate your mc from the mother more and make it more "her" story, and introduce some hint of a paranormal/gothic/horror element to let us know that this is a paranormal and get us beyond the feel of a contemporary issue story. If you can accomplish those two things, it doesn't matter how you get there. :D

    Looking forward to seeing it!


  9. I'm late posting, so everyone else seems to have covered most point. If I'm repetitive, sorry!

    First off, I like this version so much better. I had to reread things with the last one and think about them to figure out what was going on. Now I can see it much more clearly.

    Agree with one of the comments about some foreshadowing of the paranormal. I didn't know it was paranormal, having missed the tag at the beginning, so this surprised me when I read the comments.

    Also agree with reconsidering having the mom put her head down on the steering wheel. I'm more likely to do that if I make a mistake driving than if a reckless driver practically hits me. I'd probably be upset/angry.

    Identifying with Chelsea's character much better in this round. She's got more dimension. Although she's on the abrasive/edgy side, I feel like there's something there I'd like to get to know and that the same strength that allows her to be an individual will come to her aid later.

    I can see what Martina's saying about the separation from the mom. The only way I can see for that to happen is for her to also meet the boss but then to say she needs some fresh air and a walk after her ride. While she's in the driveway, she could almost get hit. I don't think the mom or boss would come out to help her, though. I think she might keep the event to herself and would brood over it since she doesn't seem to be the kind of girl who opens her heart wide to her mom.

    Definitely underlying tension. I'm looking forward to your next revision.


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