Monday, December 3, 2012

1st 5 Pages December Workshop - Mahoney

Name: Vivian Lee Mahoney
Genre: YA
Title: The Rebel Queen

I was born with my eyes open, an oddity that spurred gossip and encouraged matchmakers to find other baby girls to promise to the village boys. Mother and Father didn't mind when none of the village families claimed me. They saw my life's beginning as an auspicious sign--a way for me to always see the truth behind the falsities of life--and named me Jin-Ae, Truthful Treasure. How they smiled when I spotted the slight-of-hand merchant who tried to cheat Father with fake pearls that crushed into dust, or the traveling farmer who weighed down the rice with river stones to collect more copper coins. While I didn't have the ability to see into the future like the village shamans, every silent glance, unheard word, and stifled movement ruffled through me and kept me awake to people's intentions.

My senses dulled when Mother and Father's spirits rose to the heavens seven summers ago, perhaps to forget how my heart pounded me with accusations when I blamed the gods. Where were they when my parents needed them most, their cries drowned by the shrieking wind, their hope smashed by the capsized boat? The ocean swallowed them up and refused to spit them out, no matter how much I wailed and hurled rocks into the churning water. My grief almost drowned me, until stories Father told me of the Legendary Dragon King hissed in my ear. Rough waves knocked me down in an instant, dragging me deep into the West Sea, choking my pleas to the Dragon King, the protector of Korea's waters. The dark waters swelled and tossed me about, until rough hands caught me, dumping me unceremoniously onto shore. I ignored the soldiers who saved me, suffocating instead on the pitying looks from the townspeople, wondering at the shimmering light I saw below.

I failed my parents. I lived. I was only nine-years-old at the time, a mere child, with no brothers to protect me or sisters to befriend me.

Fortune shone upon me when Mother's only sister, Precious Aunt, moved into my home high above the sea, close to the temple of my parents' shrine. On occasion, she accompanied me down the hill, past the lion statues and onto the sacred grounds, whispering promises to Mother, torn between her duty to her husband and love for her deceased sister. As I grew older, I realized Esteemed Uncle made an exception for me. Surely, life looked better from my parents' compound than from his one room hut in the village. My home sufficed as compensation for Precious Aunt's attention and I gladly paid. She kept me in the land of the living, even though my cousins pulled her skirts and Esteemed Uncle hurled insults, his voice thickened with drink.

Her thin face captivated me. I often found myself stealing looks at Precious Aunt from beneath my lashes, seeing Mother's delicate beauty and willful eyes. How I missed Mother. If only I could her say my name, "Jin-Ae."

Esteemed Uncle's voice ruled my life, his daily teachings dulling my pain. I followed and learned, and learned to obey, hating the words "honor" and "duty" when Palace officials announced my fate. I only had myself to blame. The time in the only place I've known as home for the past eight years drew to a close. The Royal Guard would soon arrive and take me away.

A slight breeze rustled through holes in the rice paper window. Shivering, I clutched my jacket closer to my shoulders as I paced the women's quarters a final time, a stranger in scarlet silk. My gown, a lustrous crimson, edged with gold embroidered peonies along the sleeves and hem, announced me with every movement. Swish. Swish. Never had I worn a gown so elegant, soft to the touch, a gift to the eye. Yet, misery draped over me. My red satin slippers burned bright along the path burrowed into the heated dirt floor, twelve paces from one wall to another, towards the open door, away from the chamber of my childhood.

"You look just like your mother." Precious Aunt waited by the doorway, her face softening into a melancholy smile. "She would never want you to go." She shook her head. "Already I speak too much."

My heart caught in my throat. "Please tell me. There is no one else here."

Precious Aunt hugged me and whispered in my ear. "Do not believe such foolishness. There will always be eyes and ears following you around." She straightened my jacket and fastened a gold filagreed ornament to my skirt. "Your mother was once a favored friend of the Royal Family. Did you know she was once betrothed to the Daewon-gun?"

"How could it be?"

"Aiee," she said softly, smoothing out my hair. "It doesn't surprise me."

"What happened?"

"We must not talk of such foolishness. It will only bring us bad luck."

Why are you telling me this now?"

"Shh." My aunt glanced towards the door. "There isn't much time. Before your mother left the palace, the Queen gave her this good luck piece," she said, brushing her fingers against the golden ornament at my waist. "Perhaps if she wore this..."

A shadow passed outside the window and a chill blew through the torn rice paper. Precious Aunt grabbed my hands. Even though she spoke softly, her eyes expressed a wildness, a fear I've never seen.

"Promise me," she squeezed my hands. "Promise me you'll wear this at all times. It's said this was made from a dragon scale and will protect you from harm."

I nodded, even though thousands of questions burned on my tongue. The shrill cry of the azure-winged magpie shrieked outside my window, and I started. Mother believed in the magpie's warnings.

"You've mourned your parents long enough." She reached out and touched my forehead. "It's time to pay attention, Jin-Ae. You're treading into new territory and we will all lose, if you don't wake up."

"Whatever do you mean?"

Esteemed Uncle ran into the room, his face blotched red with exertion. "Wife, hurry. There is no time."

"What is happening? Take me with you."

"Shh, my child. Kiss me goodbye." Her eyes blessed mine with love.

An arrow darted through a hole in the rice paper window and pierced Precious Aunt clear through her upper arm, embedding itself into the dirt wall. Esteemed Uncle cried out. He ran forward. As my aunt slumped to the ground, I caught her and rested her head on my lap. Blood, her blood, left dark petal shaped splotches on my dress.

"Do not leave me." My fingers brushed her hair from her face, stroked her cheek, the face so like Mother.

"Find the old man," she said, her voice faint against her labored breath.

Shouts rang out in the courtyard.

My uncle fell on his knees, at his wife's side. His voice broke. "He promised us safety."

"Who did?" A tall man strode into my room, accompanied by two soldiers. Briefly, the Daewon-gun glanced at us. He gestured his men to attend to my aunt. They brusquely took her away from my arms, and wrapped cloth around her wound.

"We caught a man outside your window, notching his bow and arrow."

Esteemed Uncle bowed low to the ground, grabbing the Daewon-gun's robes. "We thank you for coming to our rescue."

The Prince Regent waved uncle's words away. Instead, he looked down at me, his head cocked to the side. He smiled. "You seem far too calm for a girl who just had an attempt on her life."


  1. Hello.

    I will post my comments best I can below. Remember they are just my suggestions and take them as you will. Thanks for sharing your work.

    I found the first sentence more confusing than catchy. I know the metaphor of "eyes wide open" and that was what I immediately went to in my head and I think you meant it literally. Going from the character being a baby to matched in with a boy without any lead way kind of threw me too. Then I immediately wondered...are babies born with their eyes shut. Way too much going through my head to make it an affective opening.

    Second Paragraph:
    Your writing is very poetic. Because I though you were writing metaphorically in the beginning I thought you were doing it again and didn't actually realize they had been in a boat. My inept reading but for a YA it might be something to consider. I also was confused by The Dragon King and if it is real of imaginary.

    The time line is tripping me up here. The entire section with the soldiers and the the light and her only being nine at the time was a bit confusing.

    Over all I think I needed to read a blurb on the book because I wasn't sure what was going on. I think your writing is beautiful but the organization seems off. I would suggest letting us in on what is happening sooner.

  2. Hi Vivian,
    I enjoyed reading your pages; you have a nice literary, metaphorical way of expressing yourself (ie "spirits rose to the heavens, etc.) I do wonder if it's the right tone for YA, however.

    I'm thinking that you have have a lot of explanation in the beginning graphs. How about starting the book here: A slight breeze rustled through holes in the rice paper window.

    You can fill in the back story and other details later. The action is starting with the guard comes for her, although I would like to know why. Also, the prince coming seems very high level for a common girl with a brief maternal connection to the royal family. I had trouble believing the mom had been betrothed to the prince....not unless "her beauty/kindness/other skills was renowned throughout the land" or similar. How did she end up in a fishing village?

    Just a few questions you may want to answer to bring readers into the story. Looking forward to hearing more! (I liked eyes wide open; you may want to add an unusual color to them too?)

  3. I really love your opening and enjoy your literary storytelling style. I thought you provided 16 years of backstory very effectively. I understood right away that this girl has a special power but that she has lost the only people who believed in her.

    I was confused though whether she was in the boat with her parents or was trying to drown herself due to grief afterwards. Also, was the shimmering light something significant, something she saw under the sea?

    I want to keep reading to learn why someone is trying to kill her.

  4. The prose is dramatic and flowing, beautiful to read. It’s evocative of a long-ago time, or maybe a secondary world.

    Most of this section lines out her early life, but it doesn’t really build any tension. It’s not clear where the hook is, or what the stakes are for Jin-Ae. She’s orphaned, but what does that mean in this society? She has an aunt and uncle to take care of her.

    There’s a reference to her “fate”, but it’s not clear what this fate might be. Daewon-gun comes to her rescue, but it’s not clear why she’s suddenly in danger in the first place or how any of it is connected to the other events over the course of her life. I have a lot of questions, but the reveals don’t give me enough clues to form a clear picture.

    Hope that helps!

  5. I LOVE the first sentence,the whole thing. I'd make that a paragraph all by itself. It sets up an awful lot about the main character, right there, in one sentence. We know she sees through people's intentional trickery, she sees through confusing situations, she doesn't rationalize or sugar-coat. "I was born with my eyes open..." goes in the query and on the jacket flap.

    But if that is your opening sentence, your protagonist is going to have to grasp the truth in every. Situation. Intuitively. Because your opening is a promise to the reader. She might not understand the facts, but she understands the truth. Right? It's intention she's talking about.

    Also love the beautiful language. You might look at where you can condense a bit, for instance, condense:

    "every silent glance, unheard word, and stifled movement ruffled through me and kept me awake to people's intentions."


    "every silent glance, unheard word, and stifled movement awakened (alerted, aroused, warned) me to (of) people's intentions."

    It's subtle. You don't want to lose your poetry--because that's such a beautiful picture. Something not happening awakens her.

    Finding the beginning of a story is so, so hard. That's why so many courses tell you to write a draft, then throw out the first chapter. Some even say the first five chapters! You sure don't have to go that far, but I'm with Christine, in that I think you need to start a little forward in the story.

    I wonder how it would go if you start with Jin-Ae and her aunt walking back from her parents' shrine. The tinsiest of back story could go in there, establishing dead parents and aunt/uncle as guardians.

    Start with the day that is different. The day the guards come. Would they visit the parents' shrine one last time before they got ready? Maybe it doesn't happen like that, there isn't that much time. Maybe they are coming back and find out the guards are coming.

    How would that work?

    I really like this main character and am very interested to see what the deal is with her mother and what is going to happen.

    Your language is beautiful and I'm getting a real feel for the setting, which is not easy for me as I am a pretty dumb Westerner.

    Eager to see round two!

  6. Hi there, thanks for sharing your pages! Just a few things to think about...

    I too think you clearly conveyed a sense of othertimeliness with the writing style, but I have to say that at times I felt it was a bit too much, which resulted in the writing sounding a bit stiff. For example, in the dialogue they don't use contractions, which I know people didn't in other times, but it still makes for slower reading for today's readers, who are used to text- and Twitter-speak. The great details (names, royalty, etc.) in the narrative convey your sense of time and place well enough, which is the most important part I think, so that you don't need quite as much in the actual writing style to push the point across. Does that make sense? For me it was just distracting at times, a brief roadblock that pulled me out of the story. (Please keep in mind that I typically like my stories in the present or future even, so I may not be the right person to judge the style!)

    I LOVE the "I was born with my eyes open" line, and it definitely needs a front and center placement, but things get confusing afterwards because of the amount of backstory. I think your story actually starts with the "A slight breeze" paragraph and then moves quickly, so that should be integrated with the "I was born with my eyes open" line to form the opening paragraph...kickass! That would hint at her backstory enough to intrigue the reader, while also putting her in her current conflict.

    No one else seemed to have this issue, so take this with a grain of salt as well, but I was confused by the "I failed my parents. I lived." lines. Again, I LOVE the lyricalness of these lines, but I didn't understand what they meant. Did her parents want her to die? Also, I thought all the water-talk was metaphorical (like the water was stealing her extra "eyes open" senses, not that there was actual water), so I didn't get a sense of a boat or fishing village at all. I thought the whole situation was an extended metaphor.

    This story has great potential and I'm excited to see what you do in round 2!

  7. As intriguing as the opening is, I feel like you're leading with backstory and that does not belong at the beginning of the story. I think your story starts with the "A slight breeze rustled through holes in the rice paper window." paragraph. Your prose is lovely. I would like to know more of her internal thoughts as well.

  8. Hi Vivian,

    Your prose is gorgeous and I adore the first sentence, too--that whole first paragraph. I agree that it sets up your character beautifully, but perhaps it could be placed later in the story and you could use LIsa's suggestion to start the story at a point that more actively shows us the scope of the circumstances and the type of conflict we're going to be dealing with along with the overall mood and tone that will set us up for the story. The eyes wide open is a wonderful metaphor as well as a description of the powers that will drive her through the book, but the tone of that first paragraph is lighter than the rest of the piece. I wonder if you couldn't start with that basic first paragraph idea and use it with the contrast -- she was born with her eyes wide open but never seemed to see when danger approached, not when her parents drowned, not when someone tried to take her life. You could then go straight to the immediate scene, where the tension is palpable, the action is clear, and the stakes are high, if not altogether obvious. It's hard to figure out why she is going or exactly what is going to happen to her -- as well as what she feels about it. If I have one suggestion overall here, I would say opt for clarity, movement, and a more balanced relationship between narrative, dialogue, description, and internalization.

    That said, again, this is truly gorgeous, and you clearly have amazing talent as well as an original, intriguing story!



  9. Everyone - Thanks so much for your feedback. Lots of things to think about as I revise this. Thanks!