Wednesday, September 23, 2009

#27 1000-Word

TITLE: SILVER
GENRE: YA Magical Realism


Chapter One: Commander-in-Grief



Three hundred and sixty-five days are enough for a person to learn almost anything, even how the first day and last one can hurt so much worse than all the ones in between.

The year before I hadn’t known a plane could crash, taking out all the parts of myself I loved most, while I lay hundreds of miles away in a strange bed, covered in chicken pox and a bottle of Calamine lotion, both of which my then three-year-old cousin had generously shared with me.

Now I knew my body could breathe and pulse, walk and talk, even when my spirit struggled to comprehend such a huge loss. I would’ve sworn I’d broken apart so entirely that my pieces should have floated away all on their own.

And I knew today would hurt the most, though I’d pretend otherwise for the sake of familial peace.

I took to the stairs wearing my best “well-adjusted teenage girl” costume. Jeans, non-descript tee, and my favorite sneaks. My book-bag weighed a ton, pushing me toward the kitchen, but halfway there the hushed whispers of my aunt and uncle stopped me in my tracks.

“I’m worried about her, Timothy. With everything she’s been through, and today being what it is . . .”

“Yes it’s difficult, but she has to find her own way. We’re doing the best we can, giving her a safe, loving home.”

“It isn’t difficult. It’s impossible to imagine how devastating today must be for Jocelyn. Losing a sister doesn’t compare with losing a mother.”

Whoa! Enough of that!

I let my bag clunk against the wall the rest of the way down. The voices cut off at the first bang like someone flipping a switch. By the time I rounded the corner to see Gracie sitting in her booster seat contemplating the strawberry swirls in her oatmeal Aunt Catherine stood near Uncle Tim, innocently sliding bacon onto his plate while he wrote last-minute notes on a legal pad for his teaching assistant like every other morning.

Nothing odd here. Certainly no talk of your dead parents, no siree Bob!

“How’re you this morning, cutie?” I asked, bending over to kiss my four-year-old cousin’s beaming, oatmeal-streaked face. Mouth stuffed with breakfast, she giggled and pointed to her lips. “Oh, forgive me,” I grinned. “Miss Manners taught you well, I see.”

The coffee brewed on the far counter making a full-on advance necessary if I wanted my morning I.Q.-booster. I took a mug from the cabinet, catching a frantic glance from one adult to the other shooting over my head. “Aunt Catherine, I’m sixteen. I really don’t think you can blame coffee for stunting my growth at this point.”

Uncle Tim cleared his throat. “It’s not the coffee, Joss. We’re concerned about the date. You could stay home if you wanted, considering . . .”

Houston, we have a problem.

“No that’s fine, really. I’d much rather go--you know, lose myself in the routine and everything. Jules’ll be there and a little factoid like privacy rights won’t keep her from letting you know if I look like I’m in over my head. Besides, you know what they say, ‘School waits for no teenager’.”

He took the hint and changed the subject. “Okay. Well . . . give me a call if you’re coming by for lunch.”

“Will do.”

I gulped down a last swallow of liquid brain, looked guiltily at my aunt and downed the glass of orange juice next to my empty plate in atonement for the coffee, then grabbed my coat and scarf. It took me two seconds to say bye and then I escaped out the door to find sanctuary in the BMW idling in my driveway.

My best friend Jules sat behind the wheel, laughing at me. “I wonder if you’ll ever acclimate to Virginia weather, Jocelyn. Honestly, it’s been months. One might think you’re purposely fighting off adaptation.”

“I wasn’t running because it’s cold, dork. Today’s ‘Treat Joss Like a Psych Patient Day’ inside.” I raised a hand to ward off whatever comment might be coming. “And before you ask, no I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Then you’re obligated to love me for rescuing you from something as healthy as confronting your demons.”

“I will love you any time you have a toasty Beamer waiting for me.”

“Don’t forget it’ll be your turn to drive next Monday. And make sure you warm the Eos up beforehand,” she warned, mentioning my new wheels. Apparently, when your airline kills off a girl’s immediate family, forcing piles of money into her reluctant lap is the way to go. Thankfully, the only thing my aunt and uncle had suggested I use some of it on was a car when I turned sixteen.

“I’ll make a mental note. You guys leaving for Aspen right after school?” I asked.

“This evening, or I’d invite you to hide out at my house later.”

I sighed. “Yeah. It’s probably better if I go home, let the legals see I’m not on the verge of slitting my wrists.”

Jules’ face crinkled up in disapproval. “Catherine and Tim care more about you than you give them credit for.”

“I know, but family isn’t like a sports team. You can’t trade out teammates if one goes down. They aren’t my parents and—as much as I adore the urchin—Gracie isn’t Eric.”

As if saying his name summoned him, the image of my handsome older brother filled my mind. He’d inherited Dad’s dark good looks, whereas I mostly resembled Mom, with her porcelain skin and tiny frame, although Eric and I had shared Dad’s dark waves.

“Let’s just get me through today and I’ll work on appreciating them more during fall break. What else would I do while you’re off hitting the slopes?”
*****
Navigating the clogged arteries of Lee High School’s halls required mastering an art form of limb-dodging and squeezing between spaces not normally reserved for the human body.

17 comments:

Sam said...

Well written, and my hat is off to you for having the courage to post your writing. Your family scene has lots of realistic details.

My constructive criticism: your main character seems to think and talk like an adult, and so does her friend Jules. The excerpt below is one example.

"My best friend Jules sat behind the wheel, laughing at me. “I wonder if you’ll ever acclimate to Virginia weather, Jocelyn. Honestly, it’s been months. One might think you’re purposely fighting off adaptation.”

When I was sixteen (okay, I was dumb, and probably still am), heck, I did not say "one might think" to my pals, etc. This is adult-speak.

My suggestion: read the dialogue out loud.

Good luck! You have a lot of ability.

rhea said...

I like your MC's voice. However, I agree with Sam that in some areas, she doesn't sound like a teen.

The secong paragraph is a bit confusing. The sentence is long and can be tightened. The same with graph 10 that started with "By the time..."

I'm not quite hooked because I don't see enough conflict in these pages. However, I like your voice and if I read more pages, I think I would be hooked.

Heather Lane said...

I really liked the opening. Both the second and third paragraphs confused me. The rest I thought was well written. I really enjoyed her thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

M said...

I think description is where you really shine. I loved this line in particular:

"covered in chicken pox and a bottle of Calamine lotion, both of which my then three-year-old cousin had generously shared with me."

However, your dialogue needs some help. I agree with the commenters above that your protag doesn't sound like a teenager. Some examples:

"woah! enough of that!"

"no siree Bob"

“Oh, forgive me,” I grinned. “Miss Manners taught you well, I see.”

“I wasn’t running because it’s cold, dork. Today’s ‘Treat Joss Like a Psych Patient Day’ inside.” I raised a hand to ward off whatever comment might be coming. “And before you ask, no I don’t want to talk about it.”

Some places where you get it right:

“I’ll make a mental note. You guys leaving for Aspen right after
school?”

“Yeah. It’s probably better if I go home, let the legals see I’m not on the verge of slitting my wrists.”

The ingredients for realistic teenspeak and pacing are there, I would just work on making it consistent. I'd pop some popcorn and settle in for a teen movie marathon to help you get in the right mindset. Good luck!

Sara J. Henry said...

Excellent. Maybe a tad too much talkiness (how much her aunt and uncle care for her, trading out teammates) and squeezing in of details (the money, what Eric and Mom and Dad looked like) in the last part.

But if I were an agent, I'd say Send pages now.

vrleavitt said...

I love it. The opening paragraphs are wonderful, beautifully written.
I only had some minor questions…which I’m sure would be answered later on, but I wondering when her parents had died. I gather that this day is an anniversary, and probably the 1 year, based on the fact that her then 3 year old cousin (who is now 4) gave her chicken pox. Which actually kind of threw me…when I read that she’d had chicken pox, I thought she was a small kid, not a teenager. Nobody else has mentioned it though, so it might just be me.
This is completely nitpicky, but it might catch somebody’s eye… In BMW circles, instead of “Beamer” the written version would be “Bimmer.” I know, it looks funny to me too, but that’s how it’s written in the aficionado magazines. And again, totally nitpicky, but I figured I’d pass it along.
Overall, great. I’d definitely keep turning the page.

Barbara said...

Content Comments

I got an immediate sense of who your characters were. The family dynamics came off real and Jocelyn was likeable right away. She did seem older than 16, though.

I agree with others about the dialogue. Joss and Jules both sounded more like two adults than two teens.

I'm not sure where the plot is going. I'd guess it's how she comes to terms with her fmaily's death and her relationship with her new family, but that would be a guess. You might want to work in some hints.

I loved her cousin's oatmeal face and 'liquid brain.' Nice word choices throughout.

Writing comments

Par. 2 - would change 'plane crash, taking' to 'plane crash and take.' It would make the sentence more understandable on the first read, IMHO

The getting acclimated to weather line didn't work for me on the first read. I had no idea why Jules was saying it until I read the next parg. Might want to do something there to make the reason for her comment more obvious right away.

2nd last parg. What else would I do should be What else WILL I do . . .

Nice work. Good luck!

Claire said...

Enjoyed it. I disagree with the comments about the MC not sounding like a teenager. My nieces talk exactly like that. I think it's an attempt to sound mature.

I really like the MC internalization. She is a very sympathetic character. I got the chicken pox when I was 23 from my four year old cousin. So, it didn't occur to me that the MC might be a youngster instead of a teenager.

Good job!

susiej said...

I had some trouble getting into this scene. I agree that your details are good, and I admit that I'm not a big fan of the internal thoughts; so maybe it is just me, but I felt the beginning dragged.

For one thing, I paused on the very first line- "first day and last one"

Again, maybe its just me, but that felt off. I think "first and last day" would flow better.

Also, "And make sure you warm the Eos up beforehand", she warned, mentioning my new wheels."

The last clause is all redundant.
We don't need the dialogue tag telling us its a warning. And the last sent. of that para. tells us (again) that they are new wheels.

And for continuity, the airline sentence should read "when your airline kills off your family" or "an airline kills off a girl's family."

Mixing the personal and impersonal prounouns is confusing. I was almost thinking she had some connection the the airline "your airline"- I was thinking whose airline?

I think you've got all the pieces right, setting, characters, conflict, but I feel the writing needs tightening, quicker flow because by the end, when she said the bit about trade out a family and her brother- there I was starting to get interested.

Melinda said...

This is a nice start. I'm instantly sympathetic to your character and I'm curious what the magical element will be.

It's not necessarily a problem, but I thought I should point out that this opening is very similar to the first episode of the new show Vampire Diaries. (Starts in the morning with girl getting ready to go to school after the death of her parents. She lives with her aunt and also rides to school with her friend.)

I liked your first sentence, but your next two paragraphs confused me. It seems odd to say 'I hadn't known a plane could crash' since a teenage girl would know this. Maybe 'I hadn't thought their plane would crash' or 'I never expected their plane would crash.' (I'm suggesting the 'their' because at first I thought she had also been on the plane and that 'taking out all the parts' literally meant she was injured, and then I couldn't figure out how the chicken pox tied in. After reading the rest I realized the chicken pox was probably the reason she wasn't on the plane, but I think this section needs some clarification.)

I'd cut 'though I’d pretend otherwise for the sake of familial peace.' It seems to me she's pretending for her sake, not theirs, and the fact that she's pretending is obvious from the rest.

I like the little asides you have in italics. They do nice a job of showing your character's personality. Some of the other sections seem a bit overwritten though. For instance, 'cousin’s beaming, oatmeal-streaked face. Mouth stuffed with breakfast, she giggled and pointed to her lips.' We already know she's eating oatmeal from the previous paragraph, and how is she beaming and giggling if her mouth is full? Maybe change to 'cousin's messy face. Mouth stuffed, she pointed to her lips.'

Also, there should be a period after 'me' here: “Oh, forgive me,” I grinned.

These parts also feel overdone:
--The coffee brewed on the far counter making a full-on advance necessary if I wanted my morning I.Q.-booster. I took a mug from the cabinet, catching a frantic glance from one adult to the other shooting over my head. (Consider: The coffee sat on the far counter, making a full-on advance necessary if I wanted my morning I.Q.-booster. I grabbed a mug, catching a frantic glance from one adult to the other.)

--I gulped down a last swallow of liquid brain, looked guiltily at my aunt and downed the glass of orange juice next to my empty plate in atonement for the coffee, then grabbed my coat and scarf. It took me two seconds to say bye and then I escaped out the door to find sanctuary in the BMW idling in my driveway. ('Liquid brain' is nice, but feels like too much after 'I.Q. booster', I'd recommend cutting one. This whole paragraph could be cut down to: I gulped the last of my coffee, looked guiltily at my aunt then downed the orange juice next to my empty plate in atonement. It took me two seconds to say bye and grab my coat and scarf, then I escaped to the BMW idling in my driveway.)

--Navigating the clogged arteries of Lee High School’s halls required mastering an art form of limb-dodging and squeezing between spaces not normally reserved for the human body. (Again, 'clogged arteries' is nice, but too many of these metaphors too close together makes the writing feel forced. Maybe simplifying the rest of the sentence would help. Consider either: 'Navigating the clogged arteries of Lee High School required mastering the ability to squeeze between spaces not normally reserved for the human body.' or 'Navigating Lee High School required mastering an art form of limb-dodging and squeezing between spaces not normally reserved for the human body.')

Sara J. Henry said...

FYI, vrleavitt: I had the chicken pox in the ninth grade. It was awful!

Anonymous said...

I had the opposite response to some of the earlier comments. I thought your dialogue was great (with a little finessing) and it pulled me in. I like the voice of your character. I had a bit of trouble acclimating in the opening scene, though.

The first five paragraphs didn't grab me. Starting with the first where I believe you are saying that the aniversary of your parents death is like living it all over again? But I'm not sure. And I'm not sure why the anniversary is more painful than all the days in between. Making a universal statement doesn't work so well if the feelings expressed are personal and not universal (I think having it in the second person is what makes it universal - try switching it to first). The second paragraph starting "The year before..." reads awkward. A plane can't take out all the best parts of yourself unless you're on it. Maybe the best parts of her life? Third para - "I would've sworn I'd broken apart so entirely that my pieces should have floated away all on their own." This is awkward to me because the second half of the sentence doesn't match the first. "I felt light as air, hollow, and broken apart so entirely, that my pieces could have floated away all on their own." Do you see how the first ties in with the last? Sorry to nitpick, but I think your writing is really good -it's just that your images weren't clear to me.

The scene with the aunt and uncle is a little overwrought and didn't ring true for me. I think they would be doing everying in their power NOT to mention the deaths. Adults do this - they dance around the elephant in the room, and overcompensate in other ways. Also, why would her aunt even assume that the anniversary would be impossible to cope with? Especially since Jocelyn gives the impression she is coping just fine.

Some people mark their progress toward healing by the anniversary of a death. Some choose to try and forget the date so they don't live their whole lives around it. So the fact that Jocelyn "knew today would hurt the most" says alot about her character. Other than this little hint, I'm not sure what her arc will be in the story.

Luc2 said...

(I didn't read other comments, so I wouldn't be influenced by them)

Wow, this was really good. I'm impressed. Good pace, great voice, strong dialogue and an interesting set up.

My only complaint; your opening paragraph. At first, I loved it. hen i understood where it referred to, it kind of crumbled. It's just hard for me to believe that all the days in between were less hard.

From what I and those around me experienced, the worse days are a few days after day one, when the initial shock dissipates and full realization takes its place.

But again, the first sentence pulled me in at first, so maybe you shouldn't chane it. How's that for advice, huh? Well, I'm no expert.

Thanks for sharing!

Scott said...

Since everyone else has given in-depth comments, I'm going to go a bit shallow (no, not in 'that' way) with mine . . .

Good Voice.

Nitpicks - 'hadn't know a plane could crash'?? Why? Has the character lived in isolation? Had a plane never crashed before? For me, probably only me, this made me stop reading, go back and reread, stop, reread, because it just didn't make sense. You might want to see if you can rework the sentence a bit so it doesn't cause the reader to stop . . . repeatedly. : )

Suggestion - The year before I hadn't known a plane crash could take out all the parts of myself I loved the most, while . . .

With the switch of two words, and the changing of another, the sentence (to me) makes a bit more sense. It takes away the jarring 'huh' moment that caused me to stop and reread the sentence.

Nitpicks2 - what's the conflict? Why do I want to keep reading?

I know, it's only the first 1,000 words, but more often than not, you'll have even less than that to impress a potential agent.

Okay, nitpicks aside - this is very good. You definitely have voice, though I agree it's a bit too adult.

Great job.

Anonymous said...

The MC pulls me into the story. For the first 1,000 words, I'd find places to cut the description, you can always go back and weave the info in. You want the first words to pop and to suck the reader right into a problem. I'd like more of a hint to what the main theme of the story will be. Just a hint of the coming conflict.
I love the voice, yes, sounds a bit old, but watching a teen flick is a great idea. Just make sure it is recent.
Well done.

LoriStrongin said...

Good style and solid prose here. Good writing!

The opening paragraphs though didn't hook me. It felt more author-omniscient voice rather than centering us in the character's voice. Plus, it's all kinda backstory, rather than starting with the here-and-know. To me, it feels like the scene really starts when Joss comes down the stairs for breakfast--there's motion and movement in the scene, rather than infordumping.

However, that said, other than the mentions of the date being of significance, this feels very day-in-the-life. Suggestion: start the story right at the moment where Joss' life changes forever in the present moment (since the plane crash happened a year prior). A family breakfast where everyone is calm and happy and loving doesn't have much tension to propel a scene forward, IMHO.

Hope these comments help. Good luck on your writing!

Snazel said...

I'm afraid I don't have much constructive criticism to offer, I just liked it. I've had family members close to me die, so this rang true to me. :D I will agree that the character's voice wasn't always consistent, but overall I really wanted to know more. Good Job!