Friday, November 29, 2013

(34) YA Magical Realism: THROUGH THE WALLED CITY

GENRE: YA Magical Realism

Fifteen-year-old Micaela Uribe’s trip to Cartagena, Colombia comes with a side of magic: slipping through the city’s past. Now she must decipher Time’s message before she loses the boy, her grandmother, and her life.

Miami is hot in the summer. Cartagena, apparently, is hell.

At least that’s how it feels when I walk out of the airplane, carry-on bag over my shoulder, and onto the rolling platform they’ve set before us. The mid-afternoon sun is almost white against blue of the sky. And worse yet, except for the few hills way out there in the distance, the outlook is bleak: run-down warehouses and colorless buildings with patches of rowdy grass. Everything looks ancient and moldy.

Bienvenida a Colombia,” I mutter.

In front of me, the rest of the passengers crawl down, pausing in between steps to gesture and point. At what, I don’t know and I don’t care. Hurry up. Sweat runs down my face, down my neck and back, gluing my pink tank top to my skin. Even my white linen pants are heavy and sticky with this heat. What was I thinking wearing long pants? More importantly: what were my parents thinking, sending me here? Summer’s my time. I had plans. I don’t see why my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary has to trump my sixteenth birthday. They’ve had forty-nine of them. I only turn sixteen once.

“You’ll fall in love with the magic of the city,” Mami promised. Yeah, right— especially if the rest of Cartagena is like this: old and decrepit. But then she went a step further, adding the words that lodged the infamous Hispanic guilt right smack in the middle of my chest: “It would make your abuelitos so happy to see you there.”


  1. I love that this is set in Colombia and that the mc is Latina. Yay for diversity! I also really liked all the details about the heat and the landscape. I could picture everything perfectly. The only question I have is in the logline. In the last sentence, I want to know who "the boy" is that she might lose. Her love interest, brother? Just a one word description would be enough. Good luck with this!

  2. The writing in this one is just gorgeous! I remember reading the first five during WriteOnCon and being blown away, and somehow you've polished it even more since! Wow!

  3. Really enjoyed the opening line(s) (though I think it would be stronger by dropping "apparently").

    I like the overall narrative. It's enough to pull me in.

    One crit: while it alludes to past conflict (a presumed argument with her parents about coming at all), since she obviously came on the trip it doesn't immediately let me know what conflict to expect in the coming story (i.e., that conflict is over; she lost).

    Also, while the logline intrigues, I have no idea who "the boy" is and thus felt slightly lost.

    Best of luck with it!

  4. Magical realism! I love this genre, and the South American setting immediately brought to mind Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And I agree--yay for diversity of setting and characters!

    I also really, really loved the opening two lines. It pulls us right into the heat and humidity. You've also developed a great voice for your MC right from the start. Good job! My one critique: An MC who is upset/bratty about visiting another country has to show me she's worth caring for in other ways really quickly (though that's perhaps the wanderlust in me talking). Overall, I loved this and would want to keep reading.

  5. Nice opening! Great use of words for setting: "run-down warehouses and colorless buildings with patches of rowdy grass." Gives readers a sense of place. I was able to picture the setting through the MC's eyes.

    Though the MC's name is included in the pitch, I would have liked it introduced in these opening paragraphs. In addition, what does she really want?

    Your second paragraph has too many sentences...disrupts the flow for me. I would suggest breaking it down.

    Regarding Mami - I didn't get a strong sense of who she is. What does she looks like? Is Micaela fond of her? What type of relationship do they have to begin with? Perhaps you will expand on these in the coming pages.

    Great job, and all the best!

  6. Great concept and a really strong start. I love the setting. Even though I'm not your target audience, this is probably a book I'd read.

    I agree with Jenny, though, that the MC comes across as bratty. For me, the line about how her sixteenth birthday is more important than her grandparents' wedding anniversary was too much. It sends her over the edge from understandably miffed about being sent away for the summer to self-absorbed and whiny. And wouldn't she have had her time the year before--her quinceañera?

    Still, it's one slightly off line in an otherwise strong entry.

  7. This first page feels a bit too much of a well-worn trope for me: character gets sent somewhere they don't want to go, complains, then ends up falling in love with it. And as others have said, the MC comes across as not very likeable. It's not that this trope can't be used again and again - I just think it'd be good to focus a bit more on how your story is different. (Which it obviously will be later, with the time travel.) Up the description a bit - for example 'old and decrepit' is pretty much repeating 'ancient and moldy' a few lines earlier. And 'rowdy', as far as I know, means 'noisy and disorderly', so I don't see how grass can be rowdy.

    I do think a story set in Columbia, with time travel, could be fascinating and unusual, but I'm not hooked yet.

  8. You have something missing in the 2nd sentence "the mid-afternoon sun is almost white against blue of the sky" I think you're missing a "the" in there.

    I also agree with the character coming across as really self-absorbed. Yeah, lots of teens are but most of them even know a 50th anniversary is pretty special.

  9. I love your log line! And I love your story, as you already know. Just wanted to say good luck!!!!

  10. Hey, there!

    First of all, I have to agree with what some others have said before me--I love that this is set in Colombia and that the MC is Hispanic. It's nice to see diversity. And I personally love magical realism, so that's a positive. I like the hint at it in this excerpt: "You'll fall in love with the magic of the city." And I like the MC's voice as it develops--she sounds like a sixteen-year-old to me.

    Normally I'm not a huge fan of false beginnings--that is, a prologue or scene from later on in the book that teases the reader--but I sort of wish this is how your story began. It seems like there's a more exciting beginning here (one that could possibly involve magical realism) than a scene of her arriving in Colombia. So much time is spent describing her getting off the plane and looking at her surroundings, but I think these details could be folded in later.

    I'm also interested to know why she's there alone. (I'm assuming she's alone, that is.) Why didn't her mom come too if it's for her grandparents' anniversary?

    Lots of interesting stuff to explore. Good stuff! Keep writing, and good luck.

  11. I'm with everyone else in loving the diversity and the setting and the magical realism.

    I didn't have a problem with the MC being likeable. I don't actually think MCs need to be likeable at all. We just need to root for them (not that I think she's unlikeable at this point. I don't).

    I did, also, notice the missing "the" in the first paragraph. And I wonder a bit that her being snarky about why she's in Colombia. Surely she's had these thoughts before, so the fact that she's rehashing them now, to me, makes it seem like it's a bit too much for the reader's sake instead of what the character would naturally be thinking.

    Good luck!

  12. One thing that spoke to me right away was the grandparent guilt. My (ethnically diverse) in-laws always get me with "it would honor us if you would..." I think kids will also really relate to the pressure that comment created for the mc.

    I loved the description of the rowdy grass. Obviously it's not loud, but your choice of word here made me lean forward, excited to see what else you were going to say.

    I,too, want to know who the boy is. Don't worry about giving too much away, he a ghost or something? I would definitely read on to find out.

  13. I'm a total sucker for foreign settings (and love to write them too)! Love the mystery you've set up w/ time-traveling through the city's past. And I think your YA voice is spot on. No crits from me! I would definitely continue reading. Good luck!

  14. I really love magical realism as well as the fact that the MC is Latina, so am excited to read more. My main question came while reading the logline--I wondered who the boy is. Nice job with the setting; would love to like the MC a bit more, as she comes off as a bit too much of a complainer in this opening scene.

  15. I absolutely adore those first two lines (though I agree that 'apparently' isn't needed). Hell, I'll admit that the entire excerpt is extremely well written. It shows a tremendous sense of setting (and I am notoriously picky about setting) as well as introducing a strong independent MC.


    I highly suspect this is the wrong place to start this story.

    Yes, those 1st two lines are picture perfect, and should stay. It's everything that comes after that which is probably the problem. You've promised us magic...give us magic. Immediately. Weave in the setting and her hesitance to come to Colombia inside the story, not outside of it as an airport arrival framing device. Not just because it's a cliche, but because it's keeping us from the magic and we want/need the magic. We want to know who the boy is. We want to know about the time travel.

    Give us the magic, since your writing is already magical...