Sunday, January 5, 2014

1st 5 Pages Jan. Workshop: Brockett

Name: Tina Brockett
Genre: Young Adult
Title: My Lullaby       
 
 
Mother said my visions were a gift from the devil. I tried to ignore them, and because I had, I was at risk of losing the most important person in my life. My dad. The father I’d not seen for over a year.
           
 
Dad lived in the L.A. Zone. Mother, my step-father Carlos, my sister Gabby and I, had moved to Henderson, a sub-division of the Vegas Zone, three years ago. When Daddy’s drinking got so bad that he stopped sending child support, Mother wouldn’t let me visit him anymore. I got it or tried to at least. With the alcohol and his anti-Twelver beliefs, he was a bad influence, but he was also my father.
           
 
I exited the border 15 freeway, which also served as a barrier wall to keep the Rebels out. We, the civilized, lived on one side. They, the murderers and lawbreakers, were kept on the outside where they couldn’t harm us.
           
 
I tapped the steering wheel. Of course, it had to be the lunch hour, the streets packed with hungry workers. The boulevard, for miles either way, had office buildings, lavish temples and standard issue apartments. They used to be high-end casinos and hotels, but Twelver Law made it illegal to gamble within the Zones.
           
 
I slammed on my breaks to keep from hitting the idiot in front of me, who’d stopped at the green light, for no apparent reason.
           
 
I don’t have time for this. MOVE.
           
 
Then I heard the sirens. An ambulance sped by with flashing lights, and it took me back to Welita’s call that morning. Grandma had sounded so worried, her broken English harder to understand than usual, as she told me my dad had fallen and was in critical condition. She said to come right away.
           
 
Daddy, please hold on. I’m coming.
           
 
My fingers did another dance on the steering wheel. I had less than twenty minutes to get to the depot, make it through security checks, and board the train. The Express to L.A. ran every hour, but I didn’t have that kind of time.
           
 
Ten minutes later I crossed Las Vegas Blvd to hit a side street with little traffic that time of day. East of Vegas Blvd., blocks deep, were greenhouses for those who lived in apartments to grow fruits and vegetables. Law said everyone in the Zone must grow food to help sustain their family, and every resident of age had to volunteer in the community. We prided ourselves on the efficiency of the Zones.
           
 
“Oh crap, oh no.” I gripped the roll bar of the Jeep with one hand as I took the corner, a little too fast, just missing a patrol car parked at the side of the road.
           
 
I eased on the brakes, waved with an apologetic smile, and kept going. In the rearview mirror I saw him smile, and tip his hat.
 
 
“Great way to fly under the radar, Kati,” I grumbled, chastising myself for my stupidity. If he’d pulled me over, he’d have called Mother, and I’d be caught.
           
 
They all knew Mother. Lady Prime Ramirez, Secretary of Defense, was their boss.
           
 
I stayed under forty the rest of the way. When I pulled into the parking lot, I went to the far side, and pulled into a corner space next to a large truck. If Mother saw the Jeep, she’d know what I’d done.
           
 
I didn’t disobey Mother, ever. I served as family maid. Got straight A’s and fulfilled all of my obligations as Prime daughter. Yes, my step-father, Carlos, and Mother are Primes. One of the six couples who serve on the committee of Twelve that govern Henderson’s part of the Zone.
           
 
I glanced at the clock as I climbed out of the Jeep. Seven minutes to get through security, and board the train. I had to make the Express to L.A. It was the only way to get there. No one, not even the Zone idiot, would dare drive across the Rebel territories.
           
 
I ran to the front. The hot August day, already well over a hundred degrees, had me out of breath and dripping sweat by the time I reached the entrance and a line about ten people deep. I really missed those cool summer days by the beach that I’d enjoyed while growing up in the L.A. Zone.
           
 
I removed my shoes then passed through the first metal detector tunnel. Nothing beeped. I stepped onto the traveling belt that transported me to the first check-in station. I searched the arrival/departure screen to see what time the Express left for L.A. Five minutes until departure. I rested my arm on the counter, as I gave my resident card to the guard, to hide the tremble in my hand.
           
 
After a cursory glance at my ID, his eyes rose to mine, and the smile instantly disappeared. When his brows slammed into a V, I felt for my crowning cloth. Had I forgotten it in my rush to leave the house?
           
 
Nope. The large crème colored triangle with twelve diamond-shaped gems was right where it should be, properly placed to cover half of the forehead then wrapped around the back to conceal my long hair. All Twelver daughters wore them. Mine had an insignia, also, to establish my status as a Prime daughter.
           
 
“Katrina.” 
           
 
I lowered my hands from my head, and stood up as straight as I could. “Good-day, Sir.”
           
 
I hated the gold curly-cue positioned in the middle of the cloth at my forehead. It told people I was better than them. They had to show me an added bit of respect. I didn’t feel better than anyone. As a matter of fact, I felt less than most. I don’t know if it’s because I had a non-Twelver alcoholic dad, or because at home they treated me like a slave rather than part of the family. Maybe it was because I only wore the first cloth I’d ever earned, the crème colored one I had received on my twelfth birthday that all Twelver girls were required to wear. Most girls cherished the new one they earned each year, but not me. I liked my tattered original.
           
 
“What do you have on your eyes? Is that the new fashion statement kids are wearing these days?”
           
 
“Sir?”
           
 
The guard shook his head.  “Colored eyes, what’s next?”
           
 
Crap, crap, crap. How could I have forgotten to put them in? Shoot. What do I say?
           
 
“Yeah, they’re the coolest, aren’t they?”
           
 
Maybe the strange green eyes and red hair I had, that Mother insisted I hide with brown contacts and hair dyed the same color, so I looked like everyone else that made me feel different.
             
 
The guard laughed, “If you say so. Where’s your mother, or are you traveling with your father today?”
           
 
I hated it when people referred to Carlos as my dad, but when we’d moved, I stopped correcting everyone. It made it easier. In L.A. some parents wouldn’t let me play with their kids because of who my father was. In Henderson only a few people knew the truth, and the others never asked. Even though I had the surname Callaghan, while the rest of my happy little family went by Ramirez, no one seemed to make the connection that Carlos wasn’t my real dad.
           
 
“Neither. I’m traveling alone today.”
           
 
The guard raised an eyebrow, and shook his head.   
           
 
“I’m fifteen, and I have my driving permit. You can’t stop me.”

15 comments:

  1. Hi, Tina! Thanks for letting the rest of us read your opening pages. Here are my thoughts:

    Great opening line. Intriguing first paragraph.

    Second paragraph is mostly backstory. I think you can delete it here and thread it in later.

    Nice slipping in "Twelver Law." I'm curious!

    I slammed on my breaks to keep from hitting the idiot in front of me, (who’d stopped at the green light, for no apparent reason. *I'd delete this part)

    Then I heard the sirens (Something stronger might be "sirens wailed from the opposite direction" or something like that). An ambulance sped by with flashing lights, and it took me back to Welita’s (Abuelita?)

    My fingers did another dance (danced) on the steering wheel.

    “Oh crap, oh no.” (I'd delete "oh no") I gripped the roll bar of the Jeep with one hand as I took the corner, a little too fast,(how about this: "…with one hand as I careened around the corner, just missing…") just missing a patrol car parked at the side of the road.

    I ran to the front. The hot August day, already well over a hundred degrees, had me out of breath and dripping sweat by the time I reached the entrance and a line about ten people deep.(I wouldn't say the hot August day had her sweating, etc. How about something like this: August heat shimmered in waves. Over one hundred degrees outside. I was out of breath and dripping sweat when I reached…) I really missed those cool summer days by the beach that I’d enjoyed while growing up in the L.A. Zone.

    I rested my arm on the counter, as I gave my resident card to the guard, to hide the tremble in my hand. (Good showing. Some inner thought here: why is she nervous?)

    Had I forgotten it in my rush to leave the house? (I'd make this faster. How about this? "…his eyes met mine. His smile disappeared. His brows formed a V. I felt for my crowning cloth. Had I forgotten it in my rush to leave the house?)

    Crap, crap, crap. How could I have forgotten to put them in? Shoot. What do I say? (more internal thought here. I'm a wee bit confused. Are they forced to wear contacts so their eyes are the same color? Can you work that in with a few short words? Like… "the brown contacts. I couldn't believe I'd forgotten them")

    Maybe the strange green eyes and red hair I had, that Mother insisted I hide with brown contacts and hair dyed the same color, so I looked like everyone else that made me feel different. (ah, here it is. Um, maybe mix that in with the dialog above?)

    Tina, I think you've set up a really cool world here. The opening lines intrigued me. I'm curious about the Twelver thing, in a good way. Your main character is sympathetic and likable, which is great. I think if you increase the pacing in a couple of the paragraphs, and move the backstory until later, you're on to something really cool. Nice job!

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    Replies
    1. I really like all these comments. My favorite is about mixing the information about the eyes and hair in with the previous paragraphs. I definitely think that will help up the ante and keep it moving fast.

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  2. Hi Tina,

    Things that are working for me:
    1. I absolutely love love love your first line. It grabbed me immediately and already sets up so much conflict, right from the get-go.

    2. I think Kati’s voice is really strong. I can get a good sense of the challenges facing her (controlling, powerful mother, oppressive society, sick father, etc) and I think her attitude is appropriate for her situation. I’m also really intrigued by her — this girl hears voices, she’s different from everyone else, and she’s not happy with the way her mother tries to make her conform. I want to know more about her!

    3. I’m fascinated by your world building. The glimpse that we get of this world that is familiar—and not, at the same time—is really interesting. It makes me want to read on, to learn about how we got to that point (I’m assuming it’s a theocratic state of some kind?), and why, and what impact it’s going to have on Kati’s story.

    Things to think about:

    1. I’m a little unsure of your genre. I feel like you start off with this great paranormal hook (“Mother said my visions were a gift from the devil”), but then it veers into dystopian (sci-fi?) so quickly that I’m left feeling a little whiplashed. Is there an easier way to establish your genre early on?

    2 I also want to know what the voices are actually SAYING to her. You tell us that she hears them, and she’s ignoring them, but then kind of leave us high & dry. We’re already in her head because of the first-person POV—have you considered showing us what the voices are telling her?

    3. There are moments when your pacing seems off due to the information you give us—most notably, the second paragraph. While I think the information about her father is important and your readers need to hear it, I’m a little concerned that it’s really getting in the way of the story you’re trying to tell. Is there a better way to give us some of the backstory? Is there a better place for it?

    4. The line you end on seems a little too confrontational. Would Kati say that when she’s so desperate to get to LA?


    Hope that helps!

    Jenny

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    1. Huh...I didn't get the sense that she hears voices literally. That's an intriguing concept.

      I was also jarred by the change in genre. I mean, paranormal dystopian could be a thing (I'm thinking how Skylark is a blend of fantasy and dystopian), but I didn't get this from it. It felt like genres changed.

      I like the last line (although I may have misinterpreted it). The last line says to me: I'm important in our gov't and it's important for me to get on that train. Out of the way, because even though you have the power to stop me, I'm going to pull rank.

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  3. Very nice concept. I'm definitely intrigued. However, I was expecting paranormal from the opening line. Then all of a sudden it turned dystopian on me and threw me off. Maybe it's both and that's fine, but always set the tone right away. It's like a promise to the reader that you have to keep.
    I think you're having the classic issue of info dump because of the brand new world you've created. That's hard to avoid but you can do it! Remember this world is normal to your MC she wouldn't be thinking about facts about her world and life in any more than a passing and fragmented way. The guard stopping her and her reaction about the veil was great for example! "Yes, my step-father, Carlos, and Mother are Primes. One of the six couples who serve on the committee of Twelve that govern Henderson’s part of the Zone." Not so much. See?
    Let us get to know the world through the way your MC experiences it. Let us get to know what's special about her personality through her voice and we will follow. :D

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    1. Yes yes yes! This exactly how I felt. :)

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  4. I like the opening line, but the follow through isn't there. I like this opening all in all, though I feel like the backstory you're putting in cuts down on the urgency of the drive she's taking. We're meant to be in her head, so it's a little disconcerting to go from panicked rush to contemplative thoughts on the society she lives in. I'd let the trip and the rush speak for itself - with occasional hints to what's different in this society that separates it from our own - and then once she's on the train and on her way there can be a breath for exposition and description. Assuming she gets on the train, anyway. :)

    All in all, though, the urgency is good and I like the nervous talk with the guard. (Though I agree with another comment that said the 'you can't stop me' feels a little aggressive from a girl who's terrified of being stopped.)

    Good start. I'm curious about the world and what the consequences of Kati running off will be. :)

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    1. I should have read your comment before I commented. We say similar things. :) (except for my feeling about the aggressiveness)

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  5. 1. Congratulations for sticking your neck out to go through this exercise. Just doing that puts you light years ahead of most people who write fiction. (To everyone here!)

    2. Since, this goes through a couple more drafts, I’ll just focus my two cents on the biggest opportunity to tighten… and shine other things moving forward. There’s a lot of potential here.

    3. Agreed, the first line is great. 100%, an editor/agent will read your next paragraph on that one line alone. (Again, puts you ahead of most again…) Lisa’s comment that it suggested paranormal, then became Dystopian, I agree with. Instead of “I tried to ignore them, and because I had, I was at risk of losing the most important person in my life. My dad. The father I’d not seen for over a year.” Perhaps a better bridge of some sort between the devil (folklore/religion/tradition) and this very real brutal future world she’s in. Some twist on Hell on Earth or new faces of the devil or something to suggest her mom never anticipated were the world was going or… or… Something to connect to your bigger world. First sentence gets you a paragraph, first paragraph will get them to read the whole first page.

    4. Also agreed on the back-story issues. My main suggestion for this round is to delete all back story. All of it. Focus on direct action and your character’s growing voice. She can make references to dad or mom without having to do into detail. (Yes, this is coming from a guy driving some readers bonkers with his back-story dumps in PROJECT CAIN, but we wanna play the odds here and make sure as many agents/editors as possible will love this partial.) While reading this story, I was deleting the backstory sentences in my head automatically, and this scene flies. TRUST the reader to catch up and learn your world without everything being spelled out. “We, the civilized, lived on one side. They, the murderers and lawbreakers, were kept on the outside where they couldn’t harm us.” She could just as well eye the wall suspiciously, with intense fear or disgust. Some bullets chips, old blood stains, barbed wire, etc. We can figure out what’s on the other side. That kinda thing. Ie: the dialogue at the end covers the whole family dynamics, so no need to explain them. If her actions, dialogue or the setting don’t present the info, I’d skip it for now. It’ll appear more naturally later. Editing exercise: Try deleting everything that is Kati explaining her world/situation to the reader. Keep only description, actions and reactions to real-time events. Guarantee those will carry the scene (I know they do, cause I’ve already read it that way!)

    Hope that helps!

    ReplyDelete
  6. 1. Congratulations for sticking your neck out to go through this exercise. Just doing that puts you light years ahead of most people who write fiction. (To everyone here!)

    2. Since, this goes through a couple more drafts, I’ll just focus my two cents on the biggest opportunity to tighten… and shine other things moving forward. There’s a lot of potential here.

    3. Agreed, the first line is great. 100%, an editor/agent will read your next paragraph on that one line alone. (Again, puts you ahead of most again…) Lisa’s comment that it suggested paranormal, then became Dystopian, I agree with. Instead of “I tried to ignore them, and because I had, I was at risk of losing the most important person in my life. My dad. The father I’d not seen for over a year.” Perhaps a better bridge of some sort between the devil (folklore/religion/tradition) and this very real brutal future world she’s in. Some twist on Hell on Earth or new faces of the devil or something to suggest her mom never anticipated were the world was going or… or… Something to connect to your bigger world. First sentence gets you a paragraph, first paragraph will get them to read the whole first page.

    4. Also agreed on the back-story issues. My main suggestion for this round is to delete all back story. All of it. Focus on direct action and your character’s growing voice. She can make references to dad or mom without having to do into detail. (Yes, this is coming from a guy driving some readers bonkers with his back-story dumps in PROJECT CAIN, but we wanna play the odds here and make sure as many agents/editors as possible will love this partial.) While reading this story, I was deleting the backstory sentences in my head automatically, and this scene flies. TRUST the reader to catch up and learn your world without everything being spelled out. “We, the civilized, lived on one side. They, the murderers and lawbreakers, were kept on the outside where they couldn’t harm us.” She could just as well eye the wall suspiciously, with intense fear or disgust. Some bullets chips, old blood stains, barbed wire, etc. We can figure out what’s on the other side. That kinda thing. Ie: the dialogue at the end covers the whole family dynamics, so no need to explain them. If her actions, dialogue or the setting don’t present the info, I’d skip it for now. It’ll appear more naturally later. Editing exercise: Try deleting everything that is Kati explaining her world/situation to the reader. Keep only description, actions and reactions to real-time events. Guarantee those will carry the scene (I know they do, cause I’ve already read it that way!)

    Hope that helps!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi! I want to give you my assumptions and offer how I understand your opening as I read it. All my comments are what first pops into my mind as I read it. It could be that the way I read your opening is exactly how you intend it (yay), or it might not. In any case, I like to error on the side of “too much information.” The more I give you about how I read this, I hope the more insight you can get about how I understood it and how it may be understood by others. It could, of course, just be me. :)

    I haven't read any of the previous posts yet, so I don't know if my opinions agree or disagree with others. But here we go....

    Oh, and there's a limit to how many characters I can post, so this will be in multiple posts. ~April Rose

    Your opening paragraph sets up a couple things. First, there's the relationship with Mother (formal) who already has little faith in her daughter, being gifted by the devil. Second, we know Mother is religious because she believes in the devil. Third, we know Dad (informal) is important to the MC. That's a lot of things for us to get in the very beginning. Nice. The part that confuses me is that she's going to lose her dad, but it sounds like she already has--or, I get the sense of blackmail/ransom. "If you don't use your gift, daddy won't die. If you use your gift, daddy's gone forever." I'm less curious about said gift than I am about what's happened to Dad and why Mother feels this way about her daughter.

    I'm not sure what anti-Twelver means. Will your audience? ****Ah, having read the whole thing, now I have a better idea. I initially thought it was slang for something.****

    I see you have a dystopian novel. You'll want to make it clear right away how this novel is different from everything else on the market. Dystopian is a very hard sell. You may want to start your novel a little later in with some form of action to hook the reader before you advertise it's dystopian. You want the agent to love your writing so much that they won't care it's dystopian; they just want to read on. In this way, I recommend skipping the back story and jumping right into the plot. What I mean is: skip the talk of rebels until it becomes necessary to your plot. Have you read The Selection? If I'm not mistaken, the uniqueness of the caste system is introduced before the rebels are. We are introduced to America in a tryst with a boy of a different caste first. That hooks us. Later, we learn why there's the caste system.

    I like the sentences, "I don't have time for this. MOVE." Those hook me. It sets a scene of someone in a rush more than telling me there's traffic. She's going somewhere; I want to know where. This might be a better place to start.

    I'd skip the graph about Grandma's call and move right on to "Daddy, please hold on..." Now I've got a reason why she needs things to move. Daddy is important. Even without the beginning graph, I'd get this sense with more urgency than I had before.

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  8. In the graph "Ten minutes later..." There also feels like too much information. I like the imagery of the greenhouses, though. You can probably make that more vivid, but pare down the bit about community service and mandates. Keep me in the moment. She's rushing, so she's not thinking about mandates. She might be noticing the greenhouses because they're right there. The greenhouses could be a subtle way to introduce the dystopian nature without outright saying it.

    Similar with this paragraph: "I didn’t disobey Mother, ever. I served as family maid. Got straight A’s and fulfilled all of my obligations as Prime daughter. Yes, my step-father, Carlos, and Mother are Primes. One of the six couples who serve on the committee of Twelve that govern Henderson’s part of the Zone." You might consider incorporating this info without just telling it. Something like: If Mother caught me, I'd be doing less than serving as family maid. It gets the point across that 1.) she'd be in big trouble, and 2.) she's some sort of servant to her family--be it by choice or otherwise. It introduces the "caste" system you've developed, but it does so in a subtle way. I think that's what I'd like to see--more subtle divulging of information.

    "Nothing beeped." I like this. It gives the implication that something should. She's hiding something on her person. The question is what? I'd read on to find out.

    Ah...here you go. I like the subtlety in this sentence: "I gave my resident card to the guard." It shows me something is up with the government without explicitly saying it. Nice. :)

    "I felt for my crowning cloth..." Now I'm interested. I don't know what a crowning cloth is, but I want to. This is cool. I'd definitely keep reading at this point. This is where I start to find the voice of your character too.

    Too much info in this paragraph: "I hated the gold..." (it takes me out of the moment) but I love love love the next part about the colored eyes. It's intriguing.

    I also love the end to this. Now I want to read on to find out what, exactly, this guard is going to do. :)

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  9. ^^^^^^So these comments above are my first thoughts on reading it.^^^^^^^^

    I don't really have much else to say.

    ~I already have a good idea of the MC's motivation and what's important to her. I also know how she stands in relation to the rest of her family. These things I really like.

    ~I love the urgency of the opening, but I don't want to be drawn out of it as often (to get backstory). It lessens the importance of that train and getting to Dad.

    ~I had forgotten about the gift mentioned in the beginning, until I went back and re-read it.

    Otherwise, this is a nice opening. Motivation: check. Urgency: almost-check. :)

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  10. Just dropping by to support the blog, Tina for being brave and willing to learn, and Geoffrey for teaching. :)

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  11. Thanks Lydia... and agreed on Tina. As for teaching, the very first ting I learned in creative writing class (which I truly believe) is that workshopping other writers work is when YOU learn the most. I'll grow as much as anyone here..! Lots of cool writerly things to noodle over.

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