Monday, November 5, 2012

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Giuffrida

Amy Giuffrida
Young Adult: Gothic
The Bleeding Heart

I sit and watch the blood run down his arm. It isn’t my job to wipe it away, I only watch Jonathan use his rag to swipe the evidence away. I am a witness to all of this and can’t participate in making him bleed. This is truly killing me. I want my hands on him. I want to be the one holding the needle etching into his skin, causing the pain and blood to spill. It will be my turn soon, but not until I turn 18. Damn laws. This is so frustrating.

“You’re sweating.” Jonathan says.

“Um, sorry.” I get up quickly and leave the room. I just cannot handle being a non-participant and Jonathan is beginning to get suspicious. The last thing I want is for him to see how anxious I am, even though I have been groomed since age 14 to take over the business for him.

My shaking hands are giving me away, as are the beads of sweat clinging to my forehead. I turn on the cold water and scoop it up to my face. I need to settle the redness that has surely invaded my pale skin. Focusing on breathing slowly, I use the sink as support. Be calm.

That was very close. I almost gave myself away. I don’t think Jonathan could handle knowing about what is growing inside of me, my need. I think every day I am getting worse, the sickness is getting closer and closer to the top of my skin. I feel like everyone who looks at me can see it. I have been so good at hiding myself, I mean it has been five years since I came here to live with Jonathan and he doesn’t even know. And that’s how I want it to stay.

Get it together Brooklyn. You can do this. Deep breath to fill my lungs and I walk back to the side room where Jonathan is working. Thankfully, it seems as though this session is finished. The big man is sitting up on the table, while Jonathan is smearing A & D Ointment on the completed piece. Although it is just an outline, he still takes precaution using gloves and sterile dressing to protect himself and the man’s new tattoo.

Although Jonathan completed the outline, this man is the one who will be my first. The first one who I will get to ink, right after my birthday just one short month from now. This is the day I have been waiting for, the one where I will get to practice my art on a human arm. No more sketch pads and grapefruit. Real, live skin that will bleed as I work. I shutter just thinking about it.

“All done, man.” Jonathan says. “Brooklyn here will be working with me to shade in your tat during your next session. Even though she is only an apprentice now, she is definitely ready to do this work. You’re still cool with this right?”

“Yup. Don’t screw up little girl.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” I say.

“Alright, I’ll take you up front and we will set up your next session. Brooklyn, I have another customer at three that you could get set up for.”

“K.” I knew that Jonathan had another customer. I kept his calendar in my brain, burned there and scarred by my need. This was the only thing that kept me moving through the day. School was for those who were normal, which I definitely was not. Cleaning up the work space and setting up for clients was therapeutic for me. It was the time I needed to think and reflect on things. This was my school. My home.

After a decade of working for someone else and not reaping the benefits of all his hard work, Jonathan decided to open his own tattoo parlor. He bought a little house located on a main street in town that was zoned commercial, this way he could live in and work from the same place. After six months of renovation he opened the doors of The Bleeding Heart. That same month, I came to live with him. Jonathan is my uncle. An uncle who never married and never wanted kids, because he said that the only one you can trust is yourself. But I was family and had no one else, so he changed his policy about the whole kid thing and gave me a home.

For a while I tried school, but even at twelve I couldn’t be counted on paying attention in class or on some days, even showing up. All I wanted to do was draw in my sketchbook and if I saw something interesting on the walk to school, I’d stop and work. The school administration did not find this interest conducive to learning, but Jonathan saw potential in my scribblings. During one long meeting at school it was decided that it was best to home school me and give me the space I needed to grow as an artist. Not traditionally what a parent would do, but then again Jonathan and me are the total and complete opposite of traditional.

Living with Jonathan has been pretty easy. The first day we met he said to me, “I am not your father. You and me, we’re partners in this thing we call life. We will stick together, so that nothing will happen to us. Okay kid?”

My response was a very timid shake of my head to say “yes.” Once that exchange finished, the social worker left. We have seen her a few times after that, but once my adoption was finalized she became a distant memory.

“Earth to Brooklyn.”

“Huh?” I turned to see Jonathan standing next to me.

“Wow! You were totally in your own world there. Let’s get something to eat while we have some time before my next client. Then you really should do something school-like for awhile.”

Even though I didn’t physically go to school, I still had to check in and show I was making academic progress and following homeschooling guidelines. This meant every once in a while, Jonathan would instruct me to get some work done, rather than hanging out in the shop. I seriously hated having to do work. I mean, it was all super easy for me. I also don’t understand why I have to learn about things like World War I and Vietnam. It is called history for a reason, one which I am certain I won’t repeat. How would little ‘ol me cause an inciting riot beginning another war? Ah, little to no chance there so it’s stupid that I have to learn all of this and take a test on it just so I can pass a course these state bureaucrats mandate. The whole educational process is ridiculous.

“Fine Jonathan, I’ll do some school work after we eat. I’ll give it one hour.”

“Brook, you need to give it more time. You have done nothing this week and your grades on the recent assessments have shown it. The only choice you have here is to work at it little more each day or spend more time in one sitting. You are so close to graduating to blow it now. All you need is to get through the next few months and it’s over. Once you take your final exams, it’s over. For good. Graduating is a non-issue, remember? We made a deal.”


  1. Hi Amy,

    Wow! This is very vivid. Nice job on using your words to paint a picture in the reader's mind.

    It took me a bit to understand that your MC was talking about tattooing. I missed it in the first paragraph and kept wondering what your MC was referring to until I got to the 6th paragraph. That kept things sort of ominous and maybe that is the way you meant it.

    I think you've done a good job of showing and telling when you need to, with a good balance of dialogue, action, and narrative. Your MC's voice is unique.

    In one spot you use "Jonathan and me" when it should be "Jonathan and I," but maybe that is what you want.

    You lost me a little in the second to last main paragraph. I wasn't sure of the purpose of your talking about the wars and history. Is this significant later?

    Good work and happy writing!
    Dana E

  2. Hi Amy,

    Well - that was exciting! It's such a new world and the details about the tattoo shop are the perfect blend of realistic and fantastically awesome. You definitely did a great job introducing Brooklyn's emotional state, needs, etc.

    I thought the narrative to dialogue ratio stretched a bit for me, the conversation weighed a bit heavy and a few of the narrative sentences in the beginning were a bit run-on.

    I honestly think these first few pages would get me to buy the book though - the concept is really compelling and it's already clear that there is going to be a lot of great conflict.

    Nice work!


  3. Hi Amy,
    First I liked the mood in this.

    I need to say though that I was confused. You have tension from the start, which is good, but I found myself switching back and forth between possible explanations for the tension. Is is a crime (blood, evidence)? Is it sexual (I want my hands on him)? Is it something paranormal like she's a vampire (giving me away, my need, sickness) ?

    Because I didn't know what was going on, I found it hard to connect to Brooklyn and to get into the story.

    Maybe open with the clear fact that we're in a tattoo parlor? And layer on the other elements gradually?

    Hope this is helpful. I really did enjoy the writing.


  4. I'm assuming the need is for inflicting pain? That's where I ended up after thinking vampire for a minute too. I like the relationship between her and her uncle. Your descriptions are nice as well. I feel like you jump too quickly and too thoroughly into backstory though. I don't know that it belongs in the first five pages. Only drip in the past info and only do it as needed. Find creative ways of letting us know what's going on without stating it point blank. Try to avoid flashbacks unless they are necessary and enthralling. It's tough to do, but well worth it!

  5. So your intensity is palpable and incredible--and then it disappears. There's this very addiction-compulsion feeling while the guy is receiving his tattoo, and then when she's cleaning up, it's gone with no real transition.

    I want to both know what her compulsion IS (not all the details, just a little more of a hint) and understand how she feels about it. It's not really clear whether she's ashamed of it, conflicted by it, or what.

    I agree the backstory isn't necessary--especially because if you just had the line about "you need to work more on your schooling or the assessments won't be approved" that leads to more questions--why is she home schooled? What happened? What's wrong here? And questions keep pages turning.

    Otherwise, watch your dialogue. Right now the uncle sounds like a surfer dude, which is possibly intentional, but just doesn't quite ring true just yet.

    Good luck!

  6. Thank you all for your thoughts and ideas!

  7. Hi Amy,

    This is really refreshingly different, and I agree totally that since we are hooked you can trust us to hang with you to find out the backstory. Not knowing everything builds urgency, and you do a great job at the very beginning of stringing that out. I want to know what Jonathan doesn't know, why he doesn't know it, and what's going to happen when she finally gets to do that first tat. Has she done any on herself btw? Just curious. Unless the schooling and the wars are the story question, I think you can safely postpone those revelations and show them to us in scene when it's appropriate later.

    If the wars are the story question, or if "little ol'" her is going to cause a riot and you are foreshadowing that, could you find another way to bring that in? It read like an authorial device to me instead of a way that her thoughts would naturally flow. That's the key here. Forget what you the author want us to know. Let her be her. Let her thoughts and reactions and the scene flow naturally and you'll be just fine. Focus on setting up the story question.

    One last thought. Your opening paragraph is your weakest writing in this piece. The use of the word evidence seems misleading, as does witness. As a reader, I felt cheated when I found what the story really was, even though it turned into a much more interesting story than I expected.

    What would you think of starting here:

    This is truly killing me. I want my hands on him. I want to be the one holding the needle etching into his skin, causing the pain and blood to spill. It will be my turn soon, but not until I turn 18. Damn laws.

    You don't need: "This is so frustrating." You show us that frustration beautifully. Go through the next few graphs too, and consider what else you are telling us that you have already conveyed either through action, dialogue, or internalization.

    I'm very excited to see what you come back with!



  8. Your first paragraph is definitely eye-catching. You could work on making your phrasing more dynamic, like using "away" once instead of twice, and changing "causing the pain and blood to spill" to "spilling blood and pain."

    The line about the MC being groomed seems a bit out of place, since I don't buy that she'd be thinking that naturally right at that moment (seems more like a way just to get that information to the reader).

    There's a lot of description and inner monologue right away, and you might have an easier time pulling people in if you keep it focused on the action that's taking place. Be wary of dropping too much information right away - you want to keep it tantalizing. I'm definitely interested in why the MC is so intent on causing pain, and I feel like you lose that interest in all the inner stuff that follows.

    Sidenote - I'm so sorry for posting late. My home internet's been on the fritz ever since the hurricane, and apparently it ate my posts earlier.