Monday, September 3, 2012

6 1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Berendsen

Author: Margo Berendsen
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: Startripped

I don’t know why I still put my makeup on in front of a mirror. It’s not like I can see myself.

As I pick up my mascara, I try to ignore the mirror. I know I don’t need it. I even feel like a fool standing in front of it, counting the strokes as I apply my makeup. Once I took the mirror down off the wall and slid it under my bed. But a few days later I hung it back up, even though it took forever for me to find the nail and my little brother made a snide comment about it hanging crooked because it’s the only way it can stand my reflection.

I like to stand in front of it and slide my fingers across its smooth surface, imagining a hand reaching out to touch my fingers from the other side, almost like Liz reaching out from wherever she’s gone, reaching out to tell me she’s still there.

My mom has already knocked on my door twice, reminding me there are guests waiting for me. She and Dad planned a birthday party for me, like I’m in grade school or something. Liz was the one who loved parties: she did one for us every year. Last year we had underwater fireworks in the pool, and everyone at school talked about it for days.

I told my parents, no party this year. Please. They said they had to do something – they couldn’t just let it go.

Losing my sight in a freak accident three months ago was bad enough. But I also lost my twin sister in that same accident. Today is my seventeenth birthday – our seventeenth birthday. I’m having a hard time celebrating.


I need to put my makeup on go out and greet my guests, but every time I touch my eyelid my hand jerks and the brush hits the wrong spot. I’ve had to wash my face off and start over again so many times that I just leave the water running in the sink. My face feels raw. This party is going to be hellish. Alicia stopped returning my calls weeks ago, I doubt she’ll show up. I wonder who Mom bribed to come. Probably some old friends from theater who feel sorry for me. Maybe some of Liz’s friends, as a kind of birthday memorial.

Just as I give another attempt at my mascara, Mom raps on the bathroom door, even louder this time, and makes me mess up again. “I’m not ready yet!” I yell. “Go away.”

“Can I help you?” My mom has her dealing-with-her-disabled daughter voice.

“No. I think I’ll just the skip the party and go out for a drive,” I say, with my best let’s-piss-mom-off-with-sarcasm voice. The accident happened just a week after I got my driver’s license. I’ve only ever officially driven by myself two times. What a gip.

“Okay,” she says. I can hear the shrug in her voice, pretending not to care. “You’ll miss meeting the party crasher.”

“Party crasher?”

“Yeah, that’s what he called himself. He’s says you’ve never met him before and he’s really embarrassed to be here.”

“Huh.” I don’t know what to think about this. “And you let him in? What if he’s one of the Black Suits?”

“He isn’t wearing a black suit.”

“You know what I mean.” How can she be an ex-NASA astronaut and astrophysicist and be so clueless? The Suits come in many different disguises, though they don’t realize their voices give them away. At least to me. Sharpened hearing and other senses are my compensation for blindness. Not nearly enough compensation, if you ask me.

“He’s just a high school junior,” my mom reassures me. “A transfer student. Says your friend from theater dragged him along; he apologized for crashing. But I think you’ll want to meet him.”

“Why?” My mom-is-meddling radar starts beeping in my head. He’s probably got a disability of some sort, too, and she’s thinks we’d make a good match. Kill me now.

“He’s… interesting.”

Oh great. A vague disability. “You’re scaring me.”

Actually, I’m scaring myself – the fact that I have a party crasher intrigues me.

“Let me help you with your make-up before all your guests leave.” Mom brushes the side of my face with her hand.

“Scram. I don’t need your help.” I conjure up one of my brave-face smiles to reassure her. It works. She turns to leave, but then she turns back and gives me a hug, enveloping me in sugary birthday cake smell. Quite the departure from her usual professorish white-board-marker smell.

I really don’t need help with makeup, as long as I don’t have any distractions. My occupational therapist taught me how to do it, along with a million other things I had to learn to do without sight. We counted together how many times to move the brush over my eyelids to get the right amount of mascara, and the same thing for the blush. She helped me for hours with the foundation and the lipstick until I could put it on evenly without getting it too heavy.

In the end, I could fix myself up and feel confident I looked okay without having to check with anyone. Mom has to leave early for work, and Dad doesn’t notice make-up anomalies. David notices, but he doesn’t care. Or he thinks it’s funny – he lets me go to school messed-up just for laughs. One time he even snuck into my room and rearranged all the tubes to sabotage me.

He’s not a little brother, he’s a video-game villain who no matter how many times you shoot it, it just keeps coming back.

I used to think Liz was a pain, too. I hated sharing a room with her. Sharing a birthday with her. Sharing genes with her. But now I wouldn’t mind if she left her clothes strewn around the room and her music blaring. The songs she played over and over again until I wanted to scream, sometimes I play them now, to make it feel like she’s still around. But it doesn’t work.

I’m done with my make-up. Time to face the pity party.


As I walk out into the living room, my head buzzes like it always does when I’m in a crowd, my other senses trying to compensate to help me figure out how many people and who they are. But there’s something different this time, too. In the din of a dozen or so people, there is a single person who sets off a clear bell in my senses.

That’s never happened before.

Before I have a chance to figure out who is in the room, my mom starts singing Happy Birthday and the voices join in. Heat rises up my cheeks. I’m not used to being the center of attention; that was Liz’s place.

There’s the smell of sulfur and sweetness in the room, and a flicker my damaged eyes can almost catch –candles burning on a cake. I hope they don’t expect me to blow them out.

“Happy birthday, dear Cam….” I’ve never heard this song on my birthday before without my sister’s name in it, too.

At least the song helps me pick out everyone’s voices, so now I know who is in the room with me. Alicia’s voice is missing, no surprise. My ex-best friend. Couldn’t handle being associated with a blind girl with a guide-dog and a cane.


  1. I like the idea of having a main character with a disability. Teens today don't always stop to think about how a person like Cam would feel.

    I got a bit confused. Not sure if too many characters to start with and only a little info about each, or if the idea of her putting on makeup blind was hard for me to imagine until you explain in the end of this segment.

    If the party crasher is going to be a main character, I would like to get more info sooner.

    Good luck.

  2. Hi,

    I really like where this is going -- and it's really a lovely, fresh idea. The voice is smooth and rolls us into the story nicely, but the first paragraphs aren't really necessary. Try starting here:

    I like to stand in front of [the mirror as if I can still see it] and slide my fingers across its smooth surface, imagining a hand reaching out to touch my fingers from the other side, almost like [my twin sister] Liz reaching out from wherever she’s gone, reaching out to tell me she’s still there.

    I think you can sneak in her age and the car accident in the same way and buy yourself some more room. Trust us to get the information a little bit faster than you are giving it to us, and get us straight into the story. That will eliminate the need for a scene break so soon and let yo dispense with the pity party line as a transition, which I didn't think (and remember this is just my opinion!) worked as effectively as letting us feel sorry for her on our own.

    I would love to see you draw out the mystery of why Alicia isn't there a little longer. Let us figure out why they aren't friends any more, maybe? Overall, the more hooks you can give us to lead us further in, the better. Questions like that will give us a sense of urgency to make us want to keep reading.

    This is shaping up beautifully -- and I love the idea of underwater fireworks!!!!

    Looking forward to the revision,


  3. Intriguing beginning though I was stumped till the last paragraph on why she didn't want to put makeup on. I only then get she's blind and apparently survived an accident that took her sister? Before that, I was lost on what exactly was going on and had to go back and reread a few times before I got it.

    You do have some nice descriptions in this piece and there is a feeling of hopelessness and hidden rage at what happened to her.

    I agree with the above comments from Adventures on where to start as I get more of a sense where this is going. I almost think you don't need the flashback either at the very beginning but rather cut it and continue with getting ready and showing her boiling resentment at being the one who survived.

    I'm curious about the party crasher and how she describes him.

    Looking forward to the revision too!


  4. Hi Margo,

    I love your story. I think you did a great job of artfully introducing the character, her insecurities and her complicated life in the first segment. The last sentence was a compelling hook that made me immediately sympathize with the girl and hate her parents for putting her through this. I also think you did of great job of scene building as she was repeatedly struggling to apply her makeup.

    There were a couple of things I feel needed clarifying and there were some things I think could move the story forward faster. I didn’t know what a Black Suit was and I thought it was maybe a mourner, a lawyer, a psychiatrist. I didn’t know what it referred to. It also stopped the pacing, which to that point was going well. I don’t know if we need such a detailed description of how the therapist helped her put on her make up. Especially since you give a very good description how carefully she is doing it in the beginning. I think maybe pointing out that she was taught how to do it, and even if her family doesn’t all catch all the anomalies, she can do a pretty decent job of it.

    Mentioning how much of a pain her brother is keeps the story from going forward. We already know he is because he made fun of her and the mirror. This also slowed the pacing up. I really wanted her to be at the party already and I wanted to meet the crasher a lot sooner!!! Bridging her brother being a pain to her sister being a pain takes away from the tension of meeting the crasher. I would bridge her sister knowing how to handle this “boy” situation to the crasher instead. In this way, you could bring up how much you miss her, even if she was a pain, even if she shared everything with her, she would have had fun at the party and made it easier for you to meet this total stranger. And then you can carry on the scene from there.

    And I don’t know if you intentionally did this but a part of me was thinking she was applying her makeup carefully because that is her way of putting on this “mask” that hides her from the rest of the world and she can’t face the world without it. Maybe for every stroke of her eye makeup, that is her subconscious way of trying to disguise her blindness. I think establishing why she would bother with the makeup (when she can’t see it) can make the reader sympathize with her even more. Her fixing herself up, when her twin was the attention seeker, makes me think that in her own way, she wants the attention too, or maybe she doesn’t want to look disabled. Is it something that she wants to do to please her parents so they will leave her alone? A coping mechanism? I think her motivation for putting on makeup is important and should be explored.

    I would definitely continue reading. I feel for this girl. Great job!

  5. Hi, Margo,

    I agree with a lot of what's already been said--great story! I really felt for her. I agree that the first two or three paragraphs probably weren't necessary. Also, there was a reference to her being able to see her reflection, and that confused me. Until you brought up the blindness and the occupational therapist, I thought she was a vampire!

    I think it would be kinda nifty if she's afraid that her brother might have switched up her makeup again and maybe even though she tells her mom that she's fine, she's actually very relieved that her mother's treating her appearance as normal--which signals that her brother hasn't done anything. That would increase her anxiety about facing everyone at the pity pary.

    In that section, be careful not to travel the same ground more than once or twice--just do a random search for "apply" and "makeup" and I'm witting to bet you'll be surprised how many times you used it.

    It's a balancing act these days to make a character with a big problem sympathetic. I've read so many comments that assert that main characters who have challenges are "whiny." But you struck an excellent balance with this character!


  6. Oh wow! I definitely want to read more. In my inexperienced pinion, I didn't find much that needed changing.

    Just this sentence: "He’s not a little brother, he’s a video-game villain who no matter how many times you shoot it, it just keeps coming back." - It seemed a bit awkward to me in how it is written, but I do love the idea behind it as it fits in well with the overall background we are getting about her family.

    I defintitle love your main character't voice and I think your writing is nice and tight. Love it!


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