Sunday, May 6, 2012

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Soontornvat

Author: Christina Soontornvat
Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: Izzy Doyle and the Changelings of the Edgewood
What do you do when you find yourself sitting down at your own kitchen table with a witch?
Because that was exactly what the cashier at the Piggly Wiggly had called the woman who now sat across from Izzy. When Izzy’s mom had acted like she didn’t hear him, the cashier had said it again.
“That neighbor of yours is a witch, or I’m a bull toad. Some people are scared of her, but I ain’t afraid to speak my mind.”
Izzy’s mom put on her polite smile and zipped up her purse. “I’m afraid we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Malloy yet.”
“Oh it ain’t Mrs. You think anyone would marry her? Shoot, no. She’d as soon put a curse on a man as say hello. Last year she told Old Man Hinkam that on account he built his hog pen on a fairy road, the fairies would make the meat tough.”
Izzy’s mom smirked as she lifted the grocery sacks into the cart.
“You think it’s funny, but sure enough that ham came out like a saddle strap.” The cashier’s voice dropped to a whisper, and his eyes scanned side to side. “Do you know what she came in here and bought last week?”
“I can’t ima – “
“Beef tongue. Now I ask you, what kind of person buys that? Put it in a potion or something, I bet. Mind, I’m only tellin’ you this ‘cause you’re new to town, and you got them young kids to look after. See, I ain’t afraid to speak my mind.”
Izzy turned to her little sister. “Hen, tell Mom you need to go to the bathroom,” she whispered.
“But I don’t,” Hen said.
“I know that! It’s just a stalling tactic.”
“So why don’t you do it?”
“Because I’m listening! I want to hear more about the witch.”
This was without a doubt the most interesting thing that had happened since they moved. The possibility of having a witch for a neighbor just might be enough to make up for living in a town with no movie theater, no swimming pools, and – worst of all – no library. 
But Izzy’s mother had no interest in such foolishness, and chalked it all up to country superstition. “Can you believe that nonsense?” she had said as they walked to the parking lot. “I so wish this wasn’t the only grocery store in town!” Then she loaded them all up into the car to start the long, pot-hole-riddled drive out to their new, old house.
And now here they all were, two days later, seated around the table with a witch, while their mother poured out cups of tea and smiled as graciously as if she were entertaining one of her socialite friends from their old suburb.
True, this woman didn’t have any of the standard witch traits. And Izzy should know. It was safe to say that she had read every fairy or folktale concerning witches. In fact, she was almost sure she had read every fairytale in existence, and she had the books upstairs in her room to prove it. She knew that witches came in one of two varieties: hunchbacked hag, or cruelly beautiful sorceress. That’s just the way things were.
The woman sitting across from her looked more like a farmer than anything else. Her work clothes bore grass stains, and her fingernails were caked with dirt. Her short, white hair peeked out from under a crumpled men's hat. The only thing remotely witchy about her was that even though the wrinkles on her face put her at least at seventy, she seemed strong and didn’t stoop the way most old people did.   
Though she didn’t fit the typical mold, Izzy regarded the old woman skeptically. There was still the chance it was all a clever disguise.
“Marian, we are so very glad that you decided to stop by,” said Izzy’s mom. “My husband works late at his new job, and I’m not used to living so far from any other neighbors. It’s nice to have another adult to talk to.”
“Humph,” said Marian, sniffing at her tea. “Far as I’m concerned, the best thing about living way out here is not having folks to talk to.” 
Izzy’s mom laughed as if Marian had made a joke. “You know you’re more than welcome to join us for dinner, if you like.”
Hen’s eyes grew wide as ­­­pancakes at this suggestion.
One corner of Marian’s mouth turned up a little before returning to a scowl. “No, I’ve got to get home to my own supper. I only came over because I was driving past your house, which I normally don’t do. I think it’s best that neighbors meet face to face. Prevents problems later on.”
“Oh yes, I agree. Especially when one has children,” said their mom. “These are my girls – Izzy here is twelve, and Hen just turned eight last month.”
Izzy held fast to her skeptical expression while the old woman scanned her up and down. “Twelve? You’re no bigger than a chipmunk.”
“My Izzy’s always been petite,” said her mom.
Izzy cringed. So what if she stood only an inch taller than her little sister? She hated the word petite. It made her feel like a small dessert.
Hen, who had not stopped staring at Marian since she walked in the door, leaned on her elbows toward the center of the table. “How come you wear a man’s hat?” she asked.
Marian cocked one eyebrow, and squinted back at her. “A man was poaching rabbits on my land, so I poached him. His hat was a perfect fit.”
Hen giggled in that way of hers that always won over strangers. “Mom says you’re our neighbor.”
“That’s right. My house is on the other side of the woods from yours.” Marian pointed her finger at Hen’s nose. “You know, this property used to be part of my family’s land, before the Doyle family bought it from us.”
“Really? I never knew that,” said their mom.
“That was years and years ago,” said Marian, waving her hand in the air. She regarded the kitchen disapprovingly. “I see you’re already making improvements to the house.”
“Oh yes. This rustic style really isn’t for me. Still, I suppose I shouldn’t complain. Most people would be thrilled to inherit a big farmhouse in the woods.” Izzy’s mother sighed as if to say she did not count herself as one of these people. “Before we inherited the house, the last time we were here was when Izzy was born. Right over there in the living room, as a matter of fact.”
Marian narrowed her eyes at Izzy. “You were born in this house?” 
Izzy shrugged and nodded. She braced herself for her mom’s melodramatic retelling of her birth. Why couldn’t she have just been born in a hospital, like everyone else?


  1. You have done a really nice job fleshing out the setting and the cast of characters are fun and interesting.

    My main concern is that Izzy is a spectator so far. All those other characters are great (love the cashier), but we really need to get to know the mc first. It's a good page before Izzy does anything. Then she has a few thoughts.

    You immediately go into flashback which is a dangerous practice on the first page. Beginning with a rhetorical question is also problematical. I'm wondering if you've started this story in the right place. What moment does Izzy's life change? My opinion only, but I think that's where to shoot for.

    I look forward to seeing your revisions next week!

    1. Your writing made me feel as if I was there, in that setting. Looking forward in reading more of your great work!

  2. I love the feel of this piece. Your writing is a lot of fun. One concern I have though is the age of the MC. Both she and her sister feel a bit young to me. And I would like to see more interaction between the mother and Izzy so I get their relationship a little better. How does she feel about moving out there? Is this the first really interesting thing that's happened? Or does it fit her expectations?

    As far as the flashback, it's true you should try to avoid them, especially this early even though it's well done. I wonder if you have to give the details or just mention that the cashier said that. We can assume from that the person was sticking his nose in where it probably didn't belong.

  3. Christina -
    I'm hoping you got my feedback yesterday. There were two separate entries of yours one right after the other and I commented on the first. Please let me know if you didn't see it and I'll critique again!
    Marilee Haynes

  4. Great opening line! However, perhaps consider working it into the narration a little more by framing it like: "What do you do, wondered Izzy Doyle, when you find yourself sitting down as your own kitchen table with a witch?" or similar. This allows us to situate ourselves in Izzy's head from the very beginning and (depending on how you word the question) gives us some opening insight to what sort of character Izzy is.

    Your dialogue is fantastic—snappy and memorable :) The narrative voice is wonderful, as well.

    I am wondering a little about time setting, though. Is this contemporary or set a bit in the past? (the mother's line: "I so wish…" makes me think a little in the past)

    A tiny thing, but instead of saying "said their mom," I'd just put "said Mom." We're clearly in Izzy's POV, so she'd just be thinking of her as "Mom," and it also reads more smoothly.

    I already love Izzy ("petite" makes her feel like a small dessert! Ha! As someone who was the smallest in her class for many years as a kid, I sympathize), and I'm very interested in how the story develops!

  5. I love the voice in this – my first thoughts were ‘is this really MG? It’s so good.’ Having said that I had to read this line twice to understand: Last year she told Old Man Hinkam that on account he built his hog pen on a fairy road, the fairies would make the meat tough.”

    I struggled with the phrase ‘stalling tactic’ coming from a young person, especially spoken to an even younger sister. Then the phrase ‘I so wish’ coming from a mother sounded wrong too. Wow, socialite did it too. Who is the narrator to know a word like that? I thought the narrator was Izzy?

    If it’s a mens’ hat the apostrophe has to be at the end to show the men as a collective. I’m thinking it’s a typo as it’s right the second time.

    Hm, there’s one line that felt very telling but I’m guessing it’s important and it’s a reasonable enough thing for the character to say: Most people would be thrilled to inherit a big farmhouse in the woods Maybe you can cut straight to ‘before we inherited the place?

    Dang, could you have left us hanging on a more intriguing place? Overall, I love this. I agree with heather that the MC is too much of a spectator though. Can’t wait to see where you take this.

  6. Hi Christina,

    This is a great voice, and an intriguing setup. I'm envisioning something very Hansel and Gretelish, in the best possible way. You have an affinity with characterization and dialogue--love the grocery store cashier. Technically, that bit is a flashback, and it's generally preferable to start more linearly, but it works for me and you got in and out of it quickly and well.

    My main concern echoes what has been said above. Kat had a brilliant suggestion for helping to ground the reader in Izzy's point of view right away. But I do think that even with that, I would like to see Izzy more actively involved. Can she go to the grocery store by herself? I like the interaction with suggesting her sister needs the bathroom. :D More of that type of thing at a minimum. Show us that she is going to be an active and interesting protagonist that is going to MAKE things happen instead of having things happen to her. We're starting to see the external problem, but I wonder if you could also give us a hint of her internal need. What is the hole in her life?

    Look forward to seeing the revision!




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