Monday, December 10, 2012

1st 5 Pages December Workshop - Johnson Rev 1

Name: Tiffany Turpin Johnson
Genre: Young Adult Speculative Thriller
Title: The Phoenix


There's a dead boy at my window.

I've faced death before, but this is different. My mom nearly drowned in our bathtub seven years ago. I was only nine when I found her drifting in a sea of pale red water.

Now, I look out at my ex-best friend Evan as he clings to my window frame in the moonlight. A year and a half ago we sprinkled his ashes (so we thought) behind the Coral Beach High School football field. His parents said some nice things, and a lot of kids cried. The principal even shut down school for a few days. Seemed like an overreaction to me, but when the most popular guy in school disappears and turns up dead, overreaction is status quo.

Yet somehow here he is, staring at me through the glass with eyes wide and bloodshot and definitely alive. His hair is all gone, his skin so sickly pale it glows silver in the moonlight, and there's a huge, jagged scar running across his skull. Beneath the flimsy hospital gown his body is shrunken, concave. Not at all the quarterback I remember. Despite all that, I'm sure it's him.

Even though it can't be. People don't just come back to life. The Reanimist Association raised an animal or two before it disbanded, but the one time they tried with a human was a total disaster. So bad that no one talks, or even thinks, about resurrection anymore. Jenny's Law makes it illegal to attempt.

No one's stupid enough to try resurrection again after what happened to Jenny.


"Brie," Evan says, voice muffled through the window, "are you in there?"

I blink a few times, so hard that blue spots swirl on the backs of my eyelids. What if I’m hallucinating again? It's four a.m., so who knows if my eyes are telling me the truth. I know I could trust my camera, but I'm afraid to move to get it.

My heart is pounding so hard that blood roars in my ears louder than the ocean outside. I swallow hard, willing the roar away.

Okay. I have to be logical about this. If the hallucinations are back, why would I hallucinate a Frankensteiny Evan? We’ve been polite strangers since the Blowout in elementary school. That's been ages ago now, part of which he spent being dead. Besides, I'm over him now. Completely. And if this is a hallucination, it’s nothing like the ones I had during Mom’s coma. So why would I see him now if he weren't really here?

Evan reaches up one hand to tap on the windowpane. When the sleeve of his hospital gown rolls down, I see that part of his right thumb is missing. Something about that empty space where the other half of his thumb should be transfixes me, holds me still and silent, but then the sound of his fingernails tap-tap-tapping on the glass makes me recoil in the darkness.

That sure sounded real enough. Still, it doesn’t make sense. Why would he come to my window when his girlfriend’s window is just a few feet away? And why the hell is he wearing a hospital gown like some mental asylum escapee?

"Brie." I watch his lips shape my name. He leans toward the window, opening his eyes even wider, as if that will help him to see me lurking to the far side of my pitch black bedroom. "Brie," he says again. "Let me in." I can hardly hear him over the ocean booming at his back, and though the voice is raspy and exhausted, damaged even, I recognize it.

He must really be here.

Evan, I think, one single word filled with a longing I didn’t think could exist in me anymore. I try to say his name out loud but my throat closes and won’t form the word. Eyes stinging, I take a deep, shuddering breath and try again.

"Ev," I whisper, and find my feet shuffling forward without permission. I get all the way to the glass before my legs freeze and pull me to a halt.

I have never in my life wanted to see someone so much. Not even when I thought Mom was never waking up. Still, I can’t let him in. Resurrection is illegal, which means I could be charged with aiding and abetting. Or something else equally ominous-sounding. And I’ll never shoot for National Geographic from jail.

On the other side of the window, Evan lets his head fall forward, pressing the scarred flesh of his bald forehead against the pane. He closes his eyes and presses the palms of both hands flat on the glass. I feel mine rising to meet them, pressing against the window with my fingers lined up to his. His fingers eclipse mine in all places but one, where the sad little half-thumb ends in a jagged knuckled stump.

"Please let me in," he says, speaking so softly now that I can barely hear him at all and have to read his lips forming the words. "Someone's after me. Brie. Please. Let me in."

"Evan," I say again, the word a mere breath this time.

I think of the day we first met, the day he disappeared, of all the days between. The scrawny little boy whose long auburn hair always fell into his evergreen eyes. Who shared ice cream with me on blazing summer days and let me have the melty chocolate bits at the bottom of the cone. Who let me camp out at his house whenever Mom went on one of her binges.

The same awkward little boy who grew up into the gorgeous guy that pawed my stepsister on our living room couch after football games on Friday nights.

That memory is creepier than seeing him here now. I shove the image away.

What if he's a vampire, and he's going to eat me if I let him in? God, that would be so cliched. Plus he's not glowing or fangy or anything. He's not even dripping blood. Not a vampire then.


At least if I get bitten, I’ll know for sure I’m not hallucinating.

I unlock the window and slide it open.


Before I can do anything else, Evan tumbles through the window and throws both arms around me, forcing me to stumble backwards until I hit the bed and we crash into a pile. He smells vaguely of cleanser, a familiar soapiness that I can't quite place. Instinctively I shove him away and scramble toward the headboard, drawing my legs up to my chest and wrapping both arms around my knees as tight as my muscles will allow. My eyes flicker to the open window, as if a cop will climb up any second.

Evan sits perfectly still at the foot of the bed, staring at me with deer-in-headlight eyes. The hospital gown crinkles with each of his quick breaths. He keeps one arm carefully pressed to the tied opening at the gown’s side.

I have no idea what to say. We're both breathing hard now, and staring, staring, just all this stupid staring. What do you say to a dead boy? A boy you weren't even friends with anymore when he died?

I should turn on the lights, but I can’t make myself move. What if someone’s taking a random redeye stroll on the beach and sees him through the window? All of the elation I felt only moments ago has dissolved into paralyzing fear.

The longer we sit in silence, the more I feel like I should say something, anything, to kill this moment and move on to the next. But everything I can think of sounds idiotic.

What are you doing out of your grave?

Does Jesus really wear Jesus sandals?

Have you missed me at all since fifth grade?

My eyes have adjusted to the darkness, but it’s still not enough to see him well. I compromise and turn on the bedside lamp. Evan squints, waits, clears his throat.

"Thanks for letting me in," he says after a while. His breathing has slowed somewhat, and I realize I've been holding my breath while imagining all the ridiculous first lines I could drop.

I let out a huge breath and say, "Um, sure. No problem." I clear my throat and add, "So what are you doing here, anyway?"

No success picking a clever first question. It's not even possible for him to be here, so why bother asking? God, what if he's not here? I think I was only joking before when I thought I might be a bit whacko, but holy hell, what if I'm right? It wouldn't be the first time.


  1. I'm still having trouble with your first three or so paragraphs. Seems like a lot of information being given out when all I want to know is why the dead guy is in the window. YOu hit your stride after that and I totally get pulled into the story. HOwever you tend to toss in paragraphs that knock me out again and make me say..."What?" for example I didn't get why his girlfriend was a few feet away, then later I read it was her step sister. Then I thought that information was needed, I just wasn't sure that it was placed correctly. I struggle with a time frame from the get go. The mention of reanimation throws me, although it pulls back together the more I read. The problem with that is that a publisher may not read on and give you that chance. In a way I think you are giving too much information at the start and that bumps me in and out of the story. For example I didn't really need to know she found her mom in a hot tub, at that pt of the story. In fact at this pt I don't think any info about the mom is really necessary to move the story along. Sure it can go in later but not really needed at the intro. I would however had liked to get more info. on the feelings she is struggling with with him not being her friend anymore and dating her step sister. That would make her hesitation more palpable and make me understand and connect with her more. I would like an idea as to how old she was as well and wonder about a grudge from elementary school. Al that info could add to my connecting with the MC. As of now I don't feel that connection.

    I like that story and wanted to read more. :)

  2. Hi,
    Good job. This answers a lot of questions, but also raises a few. I get the Jenny's Law, but you might want to explain a bit unless it is relevant for future plotting. If something really bad happened (worse than a moldy corpse?) then maybe MC would be even more freaked out at Evan's appearance. Vampires would be the least of it.

    I'd also drop the step sister window part as you explain later about their relationship. That's also when you can show how the MC felt about both of them. And more longing for Evan, dead or alive would make MC more accessible.

    I did wonder what was up with the hallucinating "again" but was willing to wait on that. Assume it's part of the plot, too.

    I enjoyed reading and wish I could know how Evan made his transition...but comes later.

  3. I love this. The opening pulls me in and each paragraph makes me want to read on. I agree some questions arise, but they only make me want to keep reading to figure them out, as I assume the tidbits you drop will be fleshed out as the story evolves... I get a good overview that this is the future, this girl has been exposed to death and loss (and perhaps some psychological issues per the last line), and she has a complicated but believable relationship with Evan. Nice work!

  4. Hi Tiffany,
    Love your first sentence. It's so attention getting, I want to know more about the dead boy at the window, rather than Brie's mom. You've done a nice job adding new details to add layers to your story.

    Brie's voice is great. She's got a bit of snark, vulnerability, and a good sense of humor. She's also wondering whether she's hallucinating, which makes me want to know more about her story and read more.

    There's a lot of internal thought going on here. I'd suggest showing more action/detail/emotion. ie: instead of "I know I could trust my camera..." My camera is on top of the bookshelf, just an arms reach away. But.... ie: what does Brie feel when she reaches out and lines up her fingers with Evan's? Most people would associate this with a sweet, longing gesture, and while it is in this circumstance, there's more. Good to see her images of what was lost, now add her feelings.

    "My eyes flicker to the open window." Is it safe to leave it open? Or would it be a sign something was wrong if she closed the window?

    Nice work with your rewrite. Looking forward to the next round!

  5. I like how there’s more detail now, especially about the supernatural element. The hints at Brie’s hallucinations are nicely woven in and it gives me a solid sense where this is going.

    However, I keep getting hung up on this part:

    “No one's stupid enough to try resurrection again after what happened to Jenny.


    The paragraphs before these two lines have an utterly mesmerizing rhythm to them, but these two lines are stoppers. They’re short and stabby and abrupt, and they derail the tension that the prose is helping to build. Then we get Evan’s line, which has to start all over again building that tension.

    You might want to consider taking these lines out and seeing how it sounds. The mystery will still be there but the stoppers won’t, and the prose will keep the story's momentum moving forward at the same tempo.

    Also, the pacing in Chapter Two slows w-a-y down after the rapid-fire pulls-you-along prose in Chapter One. It’s not necessarily bad to slow down, but the shift is so abrupt that it’s noticeable. It’s something you might want to consider evening out a little so it feels more organic.

    Nice work so far! Looking forward to reading the revisions.

  6. Still lovin' it!! BUT I'd take out all the stuff about the mom in the bathtub, the hints of her coma and all are enough for now. Keep us in the moment. And be careful not to repeat information. You say a couple of times that he's outside her window for example in the beginning. Also, watch those connectors. Like "Even though it can't be." You don't need the "even though". Clean it up and make it tight and you've got a winner!

  7. Hi Tiffany,

    Great job! It looks like people are getting stuck at a lot of the same spots for different reasons, and I'll admit I got pulled out a number of your paragraph breaks, too. I think it may come down to how utterly smooth your prose is, and then having some unusual jumps in thought. Really examine the transitions between paragraphs and make sure you are making the paragraph break in the right spot. Read it out loud a few times trying the breaks with different transitions to make sure you aren't losing the momentum and the narrative thread. When prose is as smooth as yours, its easy for even a small break to pull us out of the story more than usual.

    I got stuck on the mother in the bathtub thing -- it's a great image, but I'm not sure it is necessary to your narrative here, and further more, the comparison between wanting Evan back and her mother back, that's a tough sell for me. It definitely derailed my forward momentum while I thought about it. Do you need those things in the story this early?

    If at all possible, I would say trust your readers at this point. You have us at "There's a dead guy outside my window." We are yours to lose from there on out. I definitely would keep reading to know why he's there, where he's been, and why he's at the wrong window. You've set up that there are consequences for her letting him in. The rest is fine tuning and giving us time to get the remaining information at the moment when we need it.

    Looking forward to the rewrite.