Monday, September 10, 2012

6 1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Berendsen Rev 1

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. I don’t need it anymore, and it’s not like I can see myself, anyway. After the accident, my occupational therapist taught me how to apply the right amount of mascara by counting each time I move the brush over my eyelid. She helped me for hours with the foundation and the lipstick until I could put it on evenly without getting it too heavy.

I don’t even have to check with someone to make sure I’m presentable, before I face the world with my guide-dog and my cane.

But today I keep messing up. 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.

As I start another attempt, there’s a sharp rap on the bathroom door. “I’m not ready yet!” I yell. “Go away.”

David pushes the door open anyway. “Mom wants to know what’s taking so long. Everyone’s waiting for you.”

“If you’d stop interrupting me, I’d be ready sooner.”

He doesn’t take the hint. “Why do you bother standing in front of the mirror?”

“Go away, David.” He’s not a little brother. He’s a video-game villain that no matter how many times you shoot it, it just keeps coming back.

“At least you don’t have to see yourself anymore. We still have to look at you.”

“Out!” I reach for the door and slam it, hoping it hits him but he’s too quick. In the process I manage to drop the mascara brush and I hear it hit the floor. Great, now it’s going to take me even longer, feeling around trying to find it. I don’t dare ask David for help – he’s had way too much fun switching my makeup around and mixing up the colors.

There’s a knock on the door again but this time it’s softer, and it’s my mother. “Hey. Need any help?” She’s using her calm, dealing-with-my-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 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.

“Do you need this mascara?”

“Um, yeah, I must have dropped it.” I hold out my hand and she gives it to me.

“Camria, I know you’re not happy about us planning this party,” she says. “But your Dad and I – we thought it was the right thing to do. Your sister… she loved these parties.”

No kidding. Liz went all-out planning our birthday parties every year. Last year we had underwater fireworks in the pool, and everyone at school talked about it for days.

But this year, a party just feels wrong. If losing my sight in a freak accident three months ago wasn’t bad enough, I also lost my twin sister in that same accident. Today is my seventeenth birthday. It should have been hers, too.

“And anyway,” Mom continues in a lighter voice, “if you skip out, you’ll miss meeting the party crasher.”

“Party crasher?”

“Yeah, that’s what he called himself. He 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 National Security Agency Suits always find new ways to bother us, asking me the same pointless questions about the accident. Sometimes they even pretend to be civilians, but I always recognize them by their voices. 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,” 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 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 her professorish white-board-marker smell.

After she’s gone, I manage to get my mascara and lipstick on without any more setbacks. Just before I leave bathroom, I slide my fingers across the mirror’s smooth surface. I imagine Liz’s hand reaching out to touch my fingers from the other side, from wherever she’s gone, reaching out to tell me she’s still there. “Time for our party,” I whisper.


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 figure out who the people are. But there’s something different this time, too. In the din of a more than a dozen 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 parents start 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. The other voices are familiar, a few of my friends from theater and lots of Liz’s friends, the popular crowd. I’m glad they showed up to remember Liz, though they make me feel uneasy – I’ve never fit in with them.

But there’s another voice that distracts me, a person I don’t know. I’ve heard his voice before, somewhere, but I can’t place it. He’s the one that set off the bell in my senses. The party crasher.

“Make a wish, Cam,” Bei tells me. She’s a friend from theater club, and one of the few instances of the human species who is still comfortable around me in my altered state. “I’ll blow out the candles for you.”

A wish escapes before I have a chance to censor it. I wish for my sister and my sight back. A waste. Not that I really believe the birthday wish thing anyway; I’m still waiting on that pony I asked for three years in a row.


  1. I love how your changes clarified a lot of things. I have an inkling who the Black Suits are, and even if I am wrong, at least I know there is a definite connection to the story now. The pacing is smoother and we get to the crasher a lot faster, but at the same time, we don’t lose the emotion and tension of the scenes.

    Although, I do miss the tension I felt in the first paragraph in the last version. When you mentioned her parents throwing her a party after the accident and the death of her sister, I actually hated them and immediately felt sorry for her. This also could explain why she is so nervous and is having trouble putting on makeup two paragraphs down. Right now, we don't know the reason why she is having problems putting on makeup. I like how you have made her tone might seem like she doesn’t care, but her physical actions tell the reader otherwise.

    I think the therapist comment can be condensed to “After the accident, my occupational therapist taught me how to apply the right amount of makeup until I could put it on evenly without getting it too heavy.” The following paragraphs show us in more detail how she applies her markup, (mascara) so you can be general in the first paragraph.

    Why is her brother such a pain? Was the other sister his favorite and he is upset that Camria is the one that lived? How old is he? Maybe he is jealous about all the attention she is getting. Or maybe he has always treated her like this (been a pain in her side) and he is the only one in her family that has not changed his behavior since the accident, so she doesn’t mind that he tortures her because it makes her feel normal.

    I think you should “cut” your story and make it “bleed” slowly when it comes to the details. (It also hurts more -;-)). Example: I don’t know if you should mention “in front of a mirror” in the first line. The brother brings it to the reader’s attention in the dialogue and I think it has more of an emotional impact on the reader coming from her sarcastic brother’s voice much later. (Hence, the slow bleed.) It also allows the first line to focus on the makeup and the fact she can’t see herself anymore. Whether she needs it is not as important as the fact that she is blind. “I don’t know why I still put my makeup on. It’s not like I can see myself anyway.” I hope this makes sense impact-wise on the reader. (Hurts more-;-))

    The dialogue (inner as well) between her and her mom flows so well. You did a great job of establishing the fact that she misses her sister and how she is still affected by her death. I really did feel a tug at the end of the first scene and at the part where it was the first time she heard the birthday song without her sister’s name.

    Your changes include so much more information about her popularity, some drama regarding her lack of friends and her real friend, Bei. It adds more depth to Cam’s character.

    There is a part that might need a tweak. You mention how Cam hopes that she doesn’t have to blow out her candles but we don’t know why. Then several paragraphs later, Bei volunteers to do it for her and we don’t know why she would. A suggestion I have is to have Bei volunteer and then have an immediate inner dialogue explaining how only Bei would know how much Camria would hate blowing out her candles and you can explain why. Again, just a suggestion to tighten it.

    I love how you ended the scene. I get a real sense of her sadness and her courage. You did a great job of tightening this revision to reveal more about the character. I want to read more!

  2. I really like the interaction and humor between Cam and her brother. This gives us an insight into what their relationship might have been like before the accident.

    The start still seems slow to me, more telling. Maybe something like this:

    Usually, I don’t even have to check with someone to make sure I’m presentable, but today I keep messing up. 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.

    As I start another attempt, there’s a sharp rap on the bathroom door. “I’m not ready yet!” I yell. “Go away.”

    Then continue on from there. Somewhere in her conversation with her brother refer to the accident. I like the fact that she drops the mascara and doesn't know how she will find it. I would like to see the reader become aware of her blindness with this information. Then her mom coming in and finding the mascara for her drives home that point.

    Not as much telling in this revision, but could still lose some more. Do the 'black suits' play a part later? If not, then I would cut that.

    It might be fun to have mom tell Cam on the way out of the room: "Oh, by the way, just so you know. Bel brought that new exchange student. She said you wouldn't mind." Or something to that effect. Cuts a lot out and adds tension to the story.

    Hope this helps. Good job.

  3. I was going to suggest the exact same starting point as in the above comment, for the same reasons. You do such a great job of showing what's going on later, that the telling in the 1st paragraph jumps out at me. I'll agree with everything in the above comment, including the reference about the the mom's comment about the exchange student -- with the caveat that you would need to continue with something like, "What exchange student?" so that you could recreate that nice bridge you built in this version between the black suits and the story, if that's your story. In this sense, I get a much clearer impression that there was something extraterrestrial or supernatural about the accident, and that pershaps there is something a bit more about Cam's abilities than simply the adjustment of her normal senses to compensate for her blindness. That's great. Your structure, humor, and characterization are all sound enough now that I think you are at the point where the next step is to prioritize details and emphasis to subtly focus our attention on what your story is about--the point of the story, how the plot affects the character and what the character has to overcome. There is so much depth here: the accident was caused by something strange, her sister died and she went blind, the black suits have been after her, the new boy shows up. I'm a little concerned about the way you have the black suits reference right now, because I'm not sure I believe that the government would behave the way you describe, or that her parents would allow the kind of harassment that you are describing. You may need to clarify that.

    I agree with Cici that you could show more reaction to the brother's teasing to suggest his motivation. I adore the video-gaming-villain comment, but maybe that's a great place to hook some additional insight -- he's a video-gaming villain but at least he's the only one who's still willing to . . . (insert great extended metaphor here) Or whatever.

    Overall, I think that's the biggest improvement here. Her voice is stronger and there is a lot of fantastic humor and spunk in that voice. I'm ready to go on her adventure with her, whatever that adventure turns out to be. Lose the first paragraph though, because that sounds less like an adventure and more like a contemporary problem novel.

    Great job!


  4. I absolutely love the emotion in this version! I can't think of much I would change.

    I still fid this sentence awkward whenever I read it: "He’s a video-game villain that no matter how many times you shoot it, it just keeps coming back." I tried to think of how it would sound smoother to me, but the only thing I came up with was to write it without the "it" words. So it would read, "He’s a video-game villain that no matter how many times you shoot, just keeps coming back."

    Beautiful voice. Tight writing. Love it!

  5. I agree with the other comments. I love what you've done though I also miss the tension with the original first paragraph. I also love what Ccarpinello suggested with a new beginning. It gets right to the tension of your story.

    I don't get why her brother would be almost cruel. I grew up with a very large family (9 kids) and yes, we could be mean but I'm almost wondering why he's being so mean to his sister. She's blind. There has to be some underlying reason. Is he upset with the extra attention his sister is getting? Does he have to cut into his video-gaming time to help out? **I have a 11 year old, who gets really upset if he losing his gaming time.

    Otherwise, love where you're taking this! I also kind of get who the black suits are and very curious on that party crasher.

    Great job!

  6. This really moved me. I have a blind friend and this read very real to me--even with the mean brother. I actually liked that he was being a pain because in a way, he was treating her "normally"--not being extra nice because of her disability--still being a jerk brother because some brothers are jerks.

    When she reached out to touch the mirror, imagining her sister reaching Maybe she can worry that she'll forgot what her sister looked like (and therefore, what she herself looks like. Does she worry that she looks weird now? That her eyes are icky looking, no matter what anyone says? Maybe that's the saving grace of her brother, that he has told her they look "normal." And given that he doesn't pull his punches, she knows that's true.

    I agree about the starting place and perhaps a little smoother mention of the party crasher by the mom. I loved how Cam assumed that he probably had a disability. Nice touch.

    I also thought she would be uncomfortable blowing out the candles because she figured she would miss most of them and it would embarrass her. Maybe add a beat about that.

    The black suit section seemed like a little too much for this section--maybe you could allude to it but not go into it. And I agree that if they're harassing her, her parents wouldn't or shouldn't allow it, so it makes me question the entire family dynamic during a scene when a lot of other things are going on. Which is why I suggest you let it "bleed" more slowly (love that analogy!)

    This was gripping. Thanks for the read!



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