Monday, December 3, 2012

1st 5 Pages December Workshop - Kelly

Christine Kelly
YA urban fantasy

Roiseen shoved her violin case against the rehearsal room door and
pushed into chaos. The disconsonant clash of tuning instruments slammed
into her like a tsunami. She grabbed a music stand---slicing a red line
along her palm.

A boy thumped a melodramatic chord on his bass. Laughter rippled through
the aisles as Roiseen slunk to her seat. A drop of bright blood fell on
her second favorite pair of black cowboy boots. Excellent, she thought,
squeezing her cut. She'd get gangrene and have her hand amputated. The
perfect excuse to skip the orchestra's spring concert.

Music was dead to her.

She glanced sideways at her neighbor's sheet music. Catherine slid a
folder to block the pages.

"You are so clueless," Catherine said. "You even practice this week?"
She looked across the room and smirked. "Check out Heather and her
doofus harp."

Roiseen's childhood friend was waving so energetically her antique
garnet necklace clinked against the carved soundboard. Roiseen made a
half wave in return. Heather beamed and drew her hand across the harp's

Roiseen steeled herself. Each twang of Heather's harp flashed a painful
double helix of oranges and reds across her vision. The recurring
headaches didn't make sense. But hello--good reason to drop violin?

"Oooh, you made her day," said Catherine. "Now let's pretend we totally
love her solo."

"We /will/ love it," Roiseen said softly. So what if Heather was into
granny stuff? Why should Catherine care?"

The other girl looked surprised then tapped Roiseen's shoulder with her
bow, leaving a smudge of white rosin. "We're all going to Jenn's after
practice. Jonathan, too."

Roiseen couldn't help look to where Philadelphia Charter School's first
violinist was buffing her nails. Roiseen arranged her face into a bland
mask. If a comet hit the earth and she, Jenn and Jonathan were the only
survivors, she'd rather do a swan dive into end-of-the-world flames.

"Got stuff to do." Meaning/:/ stuff yourself/./

Catherine laughed. She flicked the powder off Roiseen's sweater,
snagging a thread. Her eyes narrowed. "Daddy back yet? You need to nail
down the concert tix for us. The kids are getting pissed."

Roiseen flushed. "You'll get your comps."

"I told you ages ago what we needed."

"And I told you my father would handle it." She realized the conductor
was glaring at her and nodded. The less talk about Dad, the better.

When rehearsal finished, Roiseen quickly packed up. She didn't notice a
spurt of laughs circling the room when her classmates checked their phones.

. . . . . . . . . .

Roiseen tilted her chair against the kitchen wall, propping her boots on
the recyclables bin. Remnants from last night's Philly cheesesteaks
tumbled over a clutter of smelly take-out containers.

A flicker made her look up: a lost firefly. She went to the window
facing their overgrown back yard and pushed. Green paint flakes stuck to
her fingers but the sash wouldn't budge. "Sorry, Twinkle Butt. You'll
have to find your own way home."

The phone rang. "Simone O'Reilly?"

Roiseen pinched her nostrils. "Wrong number."

"Is Simone about?"

"I /said/, no Simone here." Her finger hovered over the disconnect
button. How many collection calls had she shielded Mom from this week?

"I know 'tis ye, Roiseen." The woman's soft Irish brogue turned hard.
"Put your mother on. It's Brigit from Cnoc Feeorin."

Roiseen eyed the phone, surprised. As far as she knew, her parents had
broken all contact with Dad's Irish godmother. "Brigit? I don't think
Mom wants to talk to you."

"Tell her yer father is on his way here."

Roiseen white knuckled the receiver. "You talked to him? Where is he? Is
he okay? We haven't heard anything for---." She looked at the wall
clock. For 26 days and about 12 hours.

Music played faintly behind Brigit. The phone faded then hummed back to

"Never mind the chatter. Tell Simone I expect ye straight away. Ye can
have your old bedroom above the pub."

"But Dad never said he was visiting you!" Roiseen wedged the phone on
her shoulder. A swirl of colors signaled the beginnings of another
migraine. She massaged her temples. "Can't you just tell him to come home?"

"It's best ye come here."

"Why?" A burst of static almost made her drop the phone. "Brigit, you

"I have no time for this." Brigit's voice was faint. "Pass on my message."

"Wait! My school won't be done for a couple weeks. And the twins--have
you forgotten them?" Roiseen blew a paint flake off her thumb. Serve Dad
right to be ignored for a while---just like he had been ignoring them.
He could hit speed dial, couldn't he?

"There is a school here, Roiseen. Yer father needs ye, so make haste."
The line buzzed. Brigit had hung up.

Roiseen slid her hand under her sleeve and plucked at her woven leather
bracelet, a gift from Dad. He'd never noticed the unhealed sores around
her wrist created an exact pattern of its Celtic design.

Her mom shuffled into the kitchen, a faded bathroom tied loosely. Dark
auburn hair hung in oily waves along her thin neck.

Roiseen fanned herself with her hand. "Don't you take showers anymore?"

Her mom flushed. "I thought I heard you say 'dad'."

"Shouldn't I? Just because he abandoned us doesn't mean he doesn't
exist." She eyed her mom. /Wait for it, wait for it./

"He would never!" Her mom's red-rimmed eyes went scary wild. "He's
working! He's with an important new client!" She gripped the edge of the
counter, shoving Roiseen's unopened violin case aside with a bony elbow.

Roiseen rescued her violin and pushed her lower lip over her upper one.
Resentment at her sucky life was turning her into a Jenn-Catherine
monster. "Sorry, sorry. I know he wouldn't dump us." /Or her, his
favorite?/ "That was Brigit on the phone. Yeah, that Brigit. She says we
need to get over there ASAP 'cause Dad's coming to the pub."

Her mother's eyes widened. "She said that?"

"Seriously, right? But when I tried to get her to tell me what's going
on, she hung up. Guess being a million years old cuts you some slack.
Still, she was massive rude. What was that all about?" Roiseen crossed
her arms and stared at her mom. "Something happened on Dad's and my last
visit, didn't it? Is that why he wouldn't tell us he was going to

Her mom looked away. A half memory moved through Roiseen's
consciousness. So far she had been successful at quarantining her
worries about Dad. Now fear heaved up like an abscess rising from a ring
of pus.


  1. I like your imagery - the sound overwhelming her like a tsunami, the headache flashing a double helix of orange and red.
    Curious about Roiseen's name choice - is it intentionally similar to "rosin"?
    I am looking forward to learning why music is dead to her; I'm guessing her father works in the music industry and instilled his passion in her, but she is angry at him for disappearing. Would like to know more about his specific job/role.

    I like Roiseen for sticking up for her childhood friend Heather even if she seems to have turned out geeky. I am guessing Heather will be helpful in some way.

    My impression is that the mother does not know or respect music much, since she knocks the violin out of place...good show vs. tell!

    I am curious about the unhealed sores on her wrist... self-inflicted or paranormal?

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. ETA - fixed my typos! :)

    I love this hook line: "Music was dead to her" - it’s short, sharp and intriguing. It makes me want to read on and quickly; if music is dead to her, why is she still in the practice room? What’s keeping her here? I have a ton of questions and the slightest hint of a reason - the headaches - to draw me in

    However, in places, the prose felt a little bit forced. There’s a fine line between voice and writing that’s clever for the sake of clever. (For me, this is lines like "If a comet hit the earth and she, Jenn and Jonathan were the only survivors, she'd rather do a swan dive into end-of-the-world flames.") It can be distracting from the tension you’re trying to build and slow down the reader’s eye.

    Also, Brigit’s dialect didn’t work for me physically on the page - I got a sense of “stage Irish” rather than something authentic. I think it would be enough mention that Brigit has an Irish accent and let readers hear it in their heads.

    Looking forward to what's next!

  4. Thanks, JC--the Irish dialect is a problem I've not yet solved. My Irish relatives actually use "ye" and "t'is" and Brigit and other characters are ancient Irish gods/goddesses. I wonder if it works to just use the ye/t'is occasionally or when a character is introduced? Last thing I want is stage Irish, LOL, although some Oscar Wilde channeling wouldn't be too bad!

    I'll be interested to see what you've done when your book arrives from Amazon. ;-)

  5. Hi Christine,
    Thanks for sharing your pages. I really like Roiseen. She's got attitude, but also has a softer side. You've worked in conflict in your word choices, now round it out with emotion. ie: Show Roiseen reacting to the chaos in the rehearsal room. Does she wince, put a hand to her head, hesitate at the door? Does she examine her hand when she cuts her hand? Does it sting? She obviously doesn't want to be at practice, so why does she go? With her attitude and wanting to avoid talking about her dad, I'd expect her to skip. btw, out of curiosity did you choose the name Roiseen as a play on rosin?

    I have so many questions, which is a good thing. Here are a few: What power does Catherine have over Roiseen? What has the family done to look for Dad? Why does she keep wearing the bracelet if she has unhealed sores. Isn't she concerned?

    There are a few places where the writing is stiff. I'd suggest reading your sentences out loud. It'll help you hear what words sound off, so you can smooth things out.

    Hope this helps. I'm looking forward to reading your revised pages.

  6. Hi there, thanks for sharing your pages! I really enjoyed these, and the voice is just the type I love in my YA--snarky, but with an underlying vulnerability. I already love your MC and want to see her succeed. Overall I didn't feel the writing was stiff or confusing; I'm the type of reader that likes to be kept on her toes and be asking lots of questions that don't immediately get answers. You have so much tension in these pages, starting with the fabulous line "Music was dead to her," that kept me asking questions the entire time. I read quickly and voraciously, and wanted more at the end to answer my questions. I didn't get why she hates Catherine but still sits there talking to her like they're a team, but again, that was a question that I'd expect to be answered pretty soon after these pages, so it didn't bother me.

    I agree with the accent comments. I think sprinkling in a word or two here and there is your best bet, then let the reader fill in the rest with her mind.

    My only issue really was with the opening paragraph. The writing there did feel a little stiff, but I think it could be easily corrected--it's just really important to get it right there since it's your opener. This is small, but it did make me stop and rewind, so I thought it was worth mentioning: the word "disconsonant" made me trip. Could you put "dissonant" there instead and still retain the same meaning? I also didn't get the sentence "She grabbed a music stand--slicing a red line along her palm." Why would that be enough to cut her palm? Also, the "--" gives the sentence more tension that it deserves I think, which pulled me very briefly out of the story. I think a comma would suffice.

    Overall, I absolutely loved the voice, the snarky dialogue, and all of the tension you've introduced, and can't wait to see your second round! This is just the type of story I would likely pick up off a bookshelf. :)

  7. Oh, one other thing, it looked like there were punctuation issues, but they seem pretty uniform, so I'm thinking they're related to web-formatting and aren't in the actual manuscript?

  8. Hi! Interesting. I like the tie in to music and the colors in her headache. I also like the Irish/Celtic stuff and the symbols on her wrist, which to me was the most intriguing and different part of this. I'm thinking her voice, while I see you're trying to talk teen, feels young actually. It sounds more middle school to me, but that might be me. The tsunami allusion was neat but kind of stuck out to me for some reason in the first paragraph. I felt like I had to read the whole thing twice (the opening) to really let it sink in. Though that could be the baby next to me distracting me too! Can't wait to see the revision.

  9. Hi Christine,

    Overall, I love this. Your mc is witty, compassionate, and clearly has an intriguing internal issue. Like everyone else, I had lots of questions, which is great because I would be eager to read more to get the answers. I agree with the dialect. I've seen this done in so many different ways, but overall less always seems to work better.

    I like that you are starting with her in her ordinary world and showing us the literal call to action that will take her away from it, but I do have one question about that first scene. Are the teen characters who will travel with us through the novel? If not, perhaps it would be better not to introduce them. Teen characters tend to stick with us and it would be disappointing not to meet them again. Really, all you are doing in that first scene is setting up the fact that she loves music, that her father clearly has a connection with music, but that for some unknown reason, music is dead to her, that she is getting mysterious headaches, and that she is kind. Could you set that up in a way that incorporates her siblings perhaps instead? If I'm wrong, disregard, of course! ;)



  10. Thanks everyone, great comments! I tried to answer some questions, leave others hanging, and no doubt created new ones with new copy. This has been SO HELPFUL.

    The revision follows.....


  11. Whoops, looks like I have to email the revisions; they don't fit here.

  12. Thanks, everyone for your spot on comments. I vote we have a 255 first pages contest next. ;-)

    FYI: Rosaleen/Roiseen are code names for Ireland (a song, a poem) when the Brits used to control everything, especially rebellion references. I was surprised about the perceived roisin connection!

    I tried to clean things up....leaving out extraneous plot twists/no reason whatsoever twists..... so BIG THANKS for perspective on that.

  13. You know what, Christine, I will put up a link where people can sign up to exchange critique and beta reads. How's that? :)

    You did a huge amount of work this round!