Wednesday, January 29, 2014

First Two (YA Fiction) #1

TITLE: Ash to Ashes
GENRE: YA Supernatural

My father sold his soul at three o’clock this afternoon.

It disappeared in the half hour that elapsed since he’d left the room to gather more pre-made appetizers from where they lay thawing atop the small freezer in our kitchen and returning with a dancing mound of purple jello.

I couldn't explain how I knew he’d sold his soul. Or why I thought sold and not lost. But the warning shouted in my mind. I needed to put some space between us until I figured out what to do.

The tiny, cramped living room that was packed full of black-clad strangers had been uncomfortably stuffy. Then my father – Jim –walked in holding a tray with rolling hills of purple before him and I expected my breath to puff before my face in a tiny, white cloud. A chill wriggled down my spine. I knew what he’d done. The person who came back was less than what had left. More a stranger than he’d been an hour ago in the cemetery when he’d awkwardly tried to hold my hand.

I hadn’t let him.

Why bother selling it now, I silently raged. She’s gone! You left us and never looked back. No word or card or phone calls for years. Not until all the doctors and needles and antiseptic were ready to be laid to rest in the cold November ground. My hands tightened, fisted into the damp cloth of my stupid black dress. I slunk into the back corner of the room, avoiding eye contact with everyone I passed. Between the bookshelf and the wall was a shadowed gap I could just squeeze into, so I aimed for that.

Mom had hated black. The awful shade rendered us nothing more than a bunch of crows, pecking at crackers and pretending things were going to be okay. Nothing was okay. Especially now that the only parent I had left was soulless.

My lip trembled, so I bit it – hard.

I’d always known odd things at odd times. How the most popular girl in school was secretly unhappy, even though she’d never wanted to talk to me about it. Or that the young, earnest doctor was wrong when he said the latest treatment was working. Mom and I both knew that wasn’t true.

I stared at Jim from the shelter of the bookcase.

The knowing was nothing new. Mom had been the only one who’d ever understood, who’d listened and explained how other people couldn’t. I shouldn’t have bothered trying to explain it to kindly Dr. Bartlett, then I wouldn’t have to worry about the pills buried in my backpack. Still, I’d never known someone who’d sold their soul before. Never really thought about souls. Souls were stuff for people who went to churches and prayed to gods who didn’t listen.

But Jim had just sold his.

Breath hitched in my chest and I fought to stay quiet. Maybe I was imagining things. Maybe I should have taken one of my stupid pink pills.


  1. I would definitely keep reading, because this is totally my street. I loved the first sentence, "My father sold his soul at three o’clock this afternoon." I was immediately intrigued, and wanted to know how and why she knew this. My only other comment would be that I'm not sure of her age.I'm guessing when I say around 10, because of her hiding, and you don't mention her name!

  2. What a fantastic first line! That definitely hooked me immediately!
    The rest of the submission is intriguing as well, but I think a little bit of tightening would help. For example, the second paragraph seems like a long sentence, and I think cutting words could make it stronger. "It disappeared in the half hour that elapsed since he’d left the room to gather more pre-made appetizers from where they lay thawing atop the small freezer in our kitchen and returning with a dancing mound of purple jello." could be cut to "He'd left the room to gather more appetizers. Half an hour later, he'd returned without half of his soul, purple jello dancing over his face instead."
    Great submission! I would read on.

  3. This is a terrific opening line and a great situation that can lead to a wonderful, engaging YA tale.

    As Strafi notes, it needs tightening. First draft, I assume. That's fine - keep going! You've got something here.

  4. I loved your first line too. Your characterization is great, the voice is good. A couple of things, I agree that it needs a bit tightening. I also think the line should read: But Dad had just sold his. Rather than Jim. A mention of the MC's age would help. I thought she was probably 16 or 17. I'd love to know how she knows his soul is gone, has she sensed it in others? I get that she senses things but I'd focus on the soul part rather than the part about the students at school. I write YA supernatural too and I love this! Good luck with your story!

  5. I thought this was terrific. There's some wonderful imagery with the purple jello and the people in black compared to crows pecking at crackers. Since the genre is supernatural, I'm guessing the MC really has empathic powers, but the line about the pink pills raises enough ambiguity to make me wonder whether she's suffering from delusions.

    There's a small grammatical misstep in that second paragraph, as others have pointed out. Aside from that, well done!

  6. Love the first line! I got a little off track because I commingled the soul selling, the people in black (devils? soul buyers?) and the purple Jell-o (shades of Jim Jones!) I don't get the white puff of breath at all. The time juggling in the next three paragraphs also throws me. But after you get to "Why bother selling it now," the story unfolds smoothly, and I what's going on. I would keep reading. Good luck!

  7. Thanks for the feedback everyone! Yes, this is an early draft (I call it draft 1.5, as its a fleshed out Nano). Looking forward to revision and absolutely agree it needs tightening/clarifying - but am also thrilled to find the general consensus is its worth it.

  8. Like the other commenters, I really liked the opening line. I also like the sentence you left us with--which would prompt me to keep reading. Some of the middle wasn't very clear and I had to go over it a few times to understand. I felt the descriptions were a little too drawn out.

    Like you said it's an early draft...

  9. Killer first line. A great start!

    The rest I think could benefit from some reorganization. The second paragraph is a run-on. Since you show dad later, I think all of this can be cut. No need to show him come into the room twice, especially given the extraneous detail of appetizers saps all the energy from the great first line.

    The next section gave me pause. I would suggest not telling the reader immediately after declaration that "my father sold his soul" that "I couldn't explain how how I knew he'd sold his soul." Again, it deflates that opening line. It almost feels like a trick. Later, it's explained that the MC had always known things at odd times. This is what would work here. This explains what the MC is saying she/he can't explain. I would also suggest adding in a feeling, like how the knowing occurs. Does it take over the MC's thoughts, is there a physical pressure in the head or something?

    The expected breath puff line can probably be cut--did the MC breathe out? If not, why bother to explain a puff of breath that doesn't happen? The line that follows about the chill wriggling down the spine feels more in line with showing the character being cold and possibly creeped out.

    When it says "the person who came back was less than what had left," my question is how? What is the MC seeing that brings this to his/her conclusion? Show us what Dad is doing, how he is walking, looking, interacting, and maybe juxtapose that with what he usually does so we understand the contrast. The mention of the cemetery can probably be left for later, because right now there is soulless dad and room full of possible cult members (?) and I think those issues need to be addressed and built up before giving more backstory.

    You have a lot to work with here. Good luck!

  10. My best suggestion for tightening this would be to rearrange the way you talk about her "knowing". You should move the sentence "The knowing was nothing new." to the beginning of the paragraph about the popular girl and the school.

  11. At a quick count - you have told us Jim sold/has no soul FIVE times in this opening. For me, that was at least three times too many. The concept and the writing were engaging, but the repetitiveness dragged it down.

    There are some great suggestions above to tighten this up. With some work, I would read on to find out about this ability she has.

  12. I liked the idea and would read more. My thought here is 'Show, don't tell.' It is a great first line, but it's also a gimmicky one. I'd cut it in favor of something more substantial. In my mind, it gives away your opening. You're telling us what happened before it happens, and then you talk about it for 500 words.

    Perhaps just show it. Set up a scene where he's there with a soul, goes or does whatever, then returns without one. Then show us her reaction, her recognition, how she knows. Show the reader some subtle difference in him. Then maybe continue on with her 'knowing.'