Monday, June 18, 2012

10 1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Zoltack 2nd Revision

Author: Nicole Zoltack
Genre: YA Paranormal
Title: Crystal’s Magic

Crystal pushed open the library door to see the drooping sun splash reds and oranges across the sky. Her school bag bouncing on her back, she walked the quiet streets of Claymore. She nodded to the few people she passed, but soon she was alone as twilight descended and a few stars began to twinkle in the sky

Her mother had to be worrying about her right now. If Crystal had a cell phone, she could call to let her mom know where she was but no, Crystal had to be the only junior, probably the only kid in her high school, to not own one.

She thought about going home but didn’t. For the past eleven years, Crystal had known a secret about her mom, a secret that was becoming more than she could bear. She’d even dreamt about it last night and hadn’t been able to fall back asleep again.

With a lump in her throat, she pulled a picture out of her pocket and stared at the happy scene: her grade school graduation, her gown too long and slightly wrinkled, her mom beaming proudly, grinning wider than Crystal was.

The lump moved down into her chest and grew to be the size of a rock. Crystal coughed as she pulled out another picture. A woman with long, chocolate brown hair and soft brown eyes stared at her with a broad smile on her face. The tall man beside her wore the same smile, his dark hair streaked with a little white on the side.

Her mom didn’t know Crystal had this picture.

A picture of her real mom and dad.

Crystal stared at the photo for so long she stopped walking. Even though she knew it was blank, she turned the picture over. Why couldn’t their names by written there? Heaving a sigh, she brought the picture to her lips and kissed it. She had found the picture by accident shortly after her dad—not her real one—had died when she had been almost five.

She could have been twins with the woman in the picture.

She looked nothing like Regina, the woman she called Mom.

Why she hadn’t confronted Regina all those years ago, Crystal wasn’t sure. It probably had something to do with the scariness of the funeral. And Regina had hardly left her bed for nearly a month after her husband passed away. And it wasn’t until Crystal had been eight and watched The Parent Trap for the first time before she understood the significance of the picture—that the woman had to be her real mom.

Crystal rubbed her dry eyes and shoved the graduation picture into her pocket. Before she could tuck away the picture of her parents, a sudden gust of wind blew the picture from her hand. She tore after it, chasing it down allies and across the empty streets. Finally she grabbed it and reverently returned it to her pocket.

She glanced up. Her heart skipped a beat when she realized she didn’t know where she was. Darkness colored the buildings, giving them an almost sinister feel. The icy tendrils of fear replaced the rock in her chest and squeezed her heart.

Her head held high, she turned around and marched the way she’d come. Claymore looked different this late at night. The trees seemed bigger, the pavement more uneven.

Where was the library? If she could just find it, she would know how to get home.

A figure appeared at the edge of the sidewalk. Claymore wasn’t a big town and she knew almost everybody, but she couldn’t see who it was.

A cloud shifted and blocked the moon. The void of light made her panic, and she ducked down an alley. Although it was even darker than the street, at least she was alone again. The stench of rotting garbage seared her nose. Holding her breath, she picked up her pace. If she could just find a recognizable landmark…

She turned down another alley and bumped into someone.

“Hey there, pretty lady.”

Crystal didn’t recognize the voice or its owner. He reeked, as if he hadn’t bathed in months. Her heart pounding, she backed up into a trash can. The lid clattered to the ground, the sound as loud as thunder. She jumped, whirled around, and ran in the opposite direction. None of the buildings looked familiar, and the cloud still blocked the moon.

She glanced up and down the street. No one was around. She closed her eyes. Please, dear Lord, help me find my way back home.
Crystal opened her eyes. She crossed the street then paused, uncertain where to go. The wind picked up and blew to the right. Not having a better idea, she walked with the wind until it died down.

The surroundings were still unfamiliar, and Crystal again prayed for help.

Just then, the cloud moved, and moonlight bathed the world below. At the end of the street, Crystal spied her church.

With a sigh of relief and a quick prayer of thanks, Crystal climbed up her porch stairs fifteen minutes later.

Her mother must have been standing by the window because she opened the door and immediately pounced on her. “There you are. I was worried sick!” Her mom enveloped her into a tight hug. “Don’t go scaring me like that. Where were you?”

Crystal hugged her mom back and breathed in her familiar lilac perfume. It was wonderful to be home, but she still felt aloof from her mom. “I was at the library working on a project and lost track of time. I still have more homework to do.” She bounded up the stairs to her room where she dropped her bag onto the floor.

Biting her lip, she took out the picture of her parents from her pocket. After giving it another kiss, she returned it to its hiding place underneath her mattress.

A knock sounded on the door, and her mom popped her head in. “Is everything all right, Crystal?”

She nodded. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

“It’s not like you to not call. I know your homework is important to you, but you shouldn’t have been out so late. I bought you your computer last year so you wouldn’t have to go to the library so much.” Her mom sat beside her on the bed. “You know you can talk to me about anything. What’s bothering you?”

Crystal thought about showing her the picture they were sitting on. She even opened her mouth to mention it but couldn’t bring herself to. “I’m fine, Mom. I’m just tired. I have a lot of work to get done before school tomorrow.”

Her mom pursed her lips and shook her head. “I know something’s wrong but if you don’t want to talk about it, I won’t push you. Don’t stay up too late. I love you.”

“Love you,” Crystal mumbled as her mom shut the door behind her.

She collapsed onto her bed. Her conscious prickled at her. Although she had been at the library, she hadn’t completely finished her project. She still had to type up the bibliography and print out the report in the morning. Despite having a mountain of homework to do, she closed her eyes. She hadn’t lied about being tired. Within seconds, she was asleep.


Huffing and puffing, Crystal climbed onto the bus and slid into her customary seat beside Kelly Mae.

Her best friend took one look at her and raised a perfectly arched eyebrow until it disappeared behind her blonde sideswept bangs.


  1. I'm going to cut and paste this in a word document and email you few small suggestions. It will be easier. I like the beginning.

  2. I think this opening works much better as far as integrating her prayers being answered. The scenario is developed well, but I have to ask--was it your intent to bring a supernatural vibe into her feeling suddenly lost on her way home? If so, you achieved it. :)

    A few things--I think the whole picture thing needs a bit of smoothing. I had a hard time imagining her stopping her walk home just to pull out two pictures and look at them. Since her birth parents are a fascination of hers, wouldn't it be much more likely that she would have used her time in the library to look at them, wonder who they were, and potentially do a bit of research, trying to figure out their names (maybe a landmark in the picture or her birth city provide a a clue that she tries tracking down?) I almost wonder if you start with her in the library, not wanting to go home, studying the picture, then she leaves, it's darker than she expected, everything looks different, she gets lost, etc etc. To me this feels more natural and a bit more logical. Anyway, just a thought. Too, if she's actively studying the picture for clues or researching leads in the library instead of studying, this gives you a natural way to bring up her past without it feeling like an info dump. ;)

    Also, it feels a bit off to me that she's this obsessive when she actually found out years ago that she was adopted. I don't know, but is the timing important? Could this have happened more recently? I wonder why her mom questions her odd behavior now, which makes me wonder why she's only upset/avoiding her mother/etc now, not several years ago. Something like this, if she had found out years ago, probably would have started a rift between them right away.

    Thinking of her mom as Mom, then Regina, then Mom again was a bit confusing. I would stick with Mom and when she's thinking of her birth mom, call her birth mom to differentiate the two or 'my real mother'.

    I think we need a bit more as to how she discovered she was adopted, like how she happened to find the picture. And why didn't she confront her mom about it sometime between finding it and now? (This is where you having this all be discovered recently would make things a lot easier for character motivation, etc).

    Just thoughts to consider--but I love how you took the challenge of bringing opening events about in a different way to make them more credible and developed. :)


    1. Thank you so much for your comment! You've definitely given me a lot to think about. I think I'm going to change the beginning again. I'm going to keep this scene but move it to later on in the story. I'm going to open with Crystal finding the picture. Or maybe a scene with her and her mom then her mom leaving the house for some reason and then she finds the picture. To show her normal relationship with her mom before her life is turned upside down. The more I think about it, the more her having known for so long doesn't translate as well in the story as it did in my head. And then she'll go to the library to investigate the picture and go on from there.

  3. A few nitty things:

    In this sentence: "If Crystal had a cell phone, she could call to let her mom know where she was but no, Crystal had to be the only junior, probably the only kid in her high school, to not own one." I think it could be tightened to: "... call to let her mom know where she was, but no, Crystal had to be the only junior--probably the only teenager in her high school--who didn't own one." The "to not" is awkward, and it's a long sentence that needs some clarity with commas and em-dashes.

    When you say she'd "even dreamt about it last night" is that the first time? Or is it a recurring dream? And if so, why can't she stop thinking about it THIS TIME? If it's the first time, what was so disturbing about it that she couldn't stop thinking about it.

    I'm not a fan of "REAL mom and dad." Because I think the person who loves you and takes care of you and provides for you is REAL. Do you mean "birth" mom and dad? I'd say that.

    I'm confused here: "She had found the picture by accident shortly after her dad—not her real one—had died when she had been almost five." I'm not sure who died. The dad she's been led to believe is her birth father? Or...? So she lives with her single mother--who is not her birth mother? I think some clarification is needed there.

    I'm confused about the timeline. If the picture depicts Crystal at a grade school graduation, wouldn't she be 11 or 12? 5th or 6th grade? That's when students graduate from grade school and go on to junior high/middle school. Right?

    But she found the picture when she was "almost five" at which point she wouldn't have even started school yet. So I don't understand what's going on here. She has two different lives? Why doesn't she wonder about that? *confused*

    I'm confused as to whether she puts the picture away or not. She only has one, right? You say here "Crystal rubbed her dry eyes and shoved the graduation picture into her pocket." which indicates that the picture is safe and away. Then the next line says the wind blew it away before she could tuck it away... So that doesn't make sense to me.

    I like this: "The lid clattered to the ground, the sound as loud as thunder."

    You tell me this: "she still felt aloof from her mom." but I don't know WHY she feels this way. The dream? What's changed NOW, THIS MOMENT that makes her feel this way? I mean, she's had the picture for years and years, right? Why now?

    I think the part in the alley when she prays could have more impact. There's a STRANGE MAN there that suddenly...isn't there. But you don't even mention it. I think Crystal should be more conscious of the fact that a PERSON disappeared after she prayed. Does she not remember that there was a freakazoid there one moment and not the next? I found that very odd.

    Overall, I do think it's a better start, especially because it introduces some mystery element--maybe that the paranormal is causing--and it has some moments of high tension that are really nice. Great job!

    1. I think I'm going to change the beginning around so that she discovers the picture, instead of her knowing for awhile.

      She had been looking at two pictures - one of her birth parents and an old one of her graduating from grade school with the mom who raised her. She had tucked the graduation picture into her pocket, but not the one of her birth parents.

      Ooh, good point about the strange man! I'll definitely have to change that.

      Thanks for your help!

  4. I love this! You had me at "library door", of course, but I did so enjoy reading the opening.
    "Chasing it down allies..." is alleys, methinks. I like the suggestion of her looking at the two photos in the library, some kind of research she was doing could trigger wanting to pull them out and compare them since so many years have past since she discovered the photo; however, maybe one wasn't tucked into her pocket securely enough so when the winds come up she suddenly sees their faces in front of her before it takes off into a gust?
    The figure that disappears in the dark, then suddenly someone says, "Hello there, pretty lady," I'm not absolutely sure they're the same person, maybe something about the silhouette as she flees could be the same as the silhouette she saw at first, something to connect the two better, if they're the same person/thing.
    Her mom asks why she didn't call when she gets home. After the part about not having her own cell phone, I believe she should specify, "Why didn't you call me from the library?" or "before you left the library?" or something to indicate her mom acknowledges her lack of cell phone and so it doesn't look like an inconsistency.
    After picking it apart so fiercely, I want you to know I really enjoyed it and believe you are a brave soul for putting your work out there like this.

    1. Thank you! And yes, I did mean alleys - good catch! I'm going to make tweaks to the beginning so this scene will be pushed down a little in the story but I'm going to have her go to the library and do research on the picture. I think it's a great suggestion.

      Good point about the calling! I'll add "before you left the library."

  5. Oh, and I'd change the line to, "Hello there, pretty thing." Someone who speaks like that is objectifying her and lady is a word of respect, and old-fashioned--unless the character speaking to her would have a reason later to call her "Lady."


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