Monday, December 17, 2012

1st 5 Pages December Workshop - Mahoney Rev 2

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 warned me of 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 cold water. Why didn’t I tell them to stay with me?

I failed my parents. I refused to pay attention. It only seems right the Royal Guard would soon take me away, far from my home, to a life I didn’t want.

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 heavy 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.

“You look just like your mother.” Precious Aunt stood by the doorway, her face softening into a melancholy smile. “She would never want you to go.” She shook her head. “You must forget you heard this.”

My heart caught in my throat. “Please tell me. No one else is here.”

Precious Aunt drew me close to her chest 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 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.” She shook her head and held a finger to her mouth.

I ignored her. “How did she manage to leave?”

“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.

“You’ve mourned your parents long enough, Jin-Ae.” She reached out and touched my forehead. “It’s time to see the truth. You’re treading into new territory and your parents would want you to wake up.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“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 the owner 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.

“Will this keep me home?” I grabbed her hand. “Please help me stay.”

“I cannot bear this.” Surrendering a sad smile, Precious Aunt turned and fled.

I sighed. Time grew late. I hastened to say my goodbyes. Thick icicles dripped from our slate roof, sprinkling me as I left the women’s quarters and stepped across the inner courtyard, jumping over melting ice patches, my skirts fluttering around my ankles. Two stone tigers, faces smoothed by the elements, guarded the entrance to the main house. For the last time, I reached out and rubbed their heads for luck, before suffering the ten steps to the library, where Esteemed Uncle waited every morning, expecting all the household to pay our respects. Today, I knew not what to say. What do I tell my uncle, who seemed too pleased to have one less mouth to feed, who sang his joy of my departure the night before? Deep bows to the ground and muttered insults would suffice for the man who traded me for my home and a life filled with copper coins.

This was my home, the stronghold of all my memories of Mother and Father. I did not know if I would ever be given permission to return. I was sixteen-years-old, yet I aged over a hundred years since the Daewon-gun, the Prince of the Great Court, selected me from his harvest of the most beautiful and wealthy girls of yangban, noble lineage to be his son’s, King Dae-Jung’s wife. Why the Daewon-gun chose me, the poorest of nobles with no family influence, I did not know. It did not make sense.

I hurried past the stink of the stove that heated the floors, the heady scent rising from the large clay pots of onions and garlic, and into the comforting fragrance of the warm kitchen. My cousins loved to linger over breakfast and gossip, while Precious Aunt chopped vegetables and buzzed around her children, urging them to eat and study hard. I paused. Rather than lively company, empty dishes lay strewn on the table, while a bowl of rice porridge waited for me, steam rising in the clay oven.

Discomfort quieted me and the unusual silence roared in my ears. Where were the baby’s cries, my cousins’ shouts, my aunt’s song, and even Uncle’s complaints? Unease trembled along my skin, curling deep within my belly.

“Precious Aunt?” I held my skirts and raced through the house, out past the stone tigers, through the courtyard, into the women’s quarters and back into the main house, until I stood outside to the stone wall, where the world waited below. I climbed the four foot wall, slipping on ice, my ceremonial gown a burden. Crisp air danced around my shoulders and I shivered, waving with the wind until resolve steadied me.

I stood, Queen of the Hill, hands shielding my eyes and surveyed the lands below. Left to right, top to bottom, my eyes waded through the winter-ravaged grasses, over snow, toward my parents’ shrine and along the nearby forest. Long strands of my hair loosened from a red ribbon, streamed around my face, while my skirts rippled and crackled around me, echoing in my ears. A sob tore at my throat and I wiped tears from my face, wishing for Precious Aunt, needing Mother.

An army of footsteps crunched across the snow and anxiety washed over me. I slipped down the wall, not caring about the small tear in my jacket, the scrape on my elbow, the bruise in my soul. Mother’s plum tree, laden with white blossoms, hid me as I peered out. Four soldiers on horseback held yellow banners emblazoned with the dragon, the symbol of the King. They led the royal procession and came to a standstill in the front courtyard. Two palanquins followed, splashes of red and yellow, each carried by eight men and guarded by soldiers.

“Halt!” The palanquin bearers grunted and lowered their burden to the ground, mere yards from where I watched. Soldiers gathered and stood at attention. Yellow curtains parted from the palanquin closest to me and a sharp-faced woman draped in furs stepped out. I drew back. The men bowed towards The Lady of Benevolence, the woman I secretly called The Spider Lady. She nodded her head and waved them away, choosing to stand facing my plum tree, her eyes piercing through the branches, quiet, waiting.

How could so many people remain motionless? My feet itched to run past The Spider Lady and the soldiers, teasing them to catch me, until I glanced at my dress. Laughter bubbled up in my throat and I swallowed down bitter bile. How dared I imagine hiding from her when my gown made me an easy mark? Blood red splotched against white snow. The Spider Lady’s eyes would soon nip and squeeze me; no doubt she would admonish me for ruining the ceremonial gown, the King’s gift to his future bride.


  1. You held me rapt until the very end. Great work! And good luck!

  2. I read an article yesterday that resonated with me in my own writing and came to my mind when I read your work. It was called Weaving a Seamless Back story by Karen Dionne
    I think there is a whole not going on in these pages. Some questions that the article brings up is it absolutely necessary that your reader know a particular detail about the situation or the character,then ask yourself do they need to know it now. Or is it possible to reveal it later. TO give a little bit as you go. I feel like a lot of backstory is given in the first two paragraphs and then shows up again later. I don't feel connected to the character. "A good opening sets the scene, introduces the characters, and sets the story in motion." I feel like the story starts to move but then halts to give some background and then moves again. And I had trouble connecting the information with what was going on in the story. And although I love the peotry of your writing I have to still say that it makes it difficult to connect to the character through all the flowery language but that is my personal opinion and taste in reading. :)

  3. Hi there, these are starting to get tighter! The boat scene is much clearer now. :) I do agree with some of Connie's comments however, about there being just a bit too much backstory--which slows down the actually really exciting things you have going on, and makes it harder (although it seems it'd be easier) to connect with the character. I think your writing and your descriptions are so beautiful, and you've cut out some of the unnecessities, but I think there's a bit more cutting you could do to tighten this up and keep your beautiful descriptions and backstory from slowing the pace. You're definitely on a great track!

  4. Love the first couple paragraphs and also the image of the crimson dress contrasting with the snow behind the plum tree! A couple things I found confusing - I thought in paragraph 4 that she had already been taken by the Royal Guard and so I didn't realize until "will this keep me home?" that she was still at home. Also, I thought she was heading to the library to see Uncle but suddenly she was in the kitchen instead.

    The Queen of the Hill paragraph made me think of Scarlet O'Hara's desperate scene in Gone with the Wind! When she slips down the wall and tears her jacket, I would add "silk" jacket or something similar to reinforce the picture of her all dressed up. Good Luck!!

  5. There’s definitely more tension here now, and the events are much more clear - nice work! I like how you introduced the Spider Lady; I don’t even know her but I don’t like her already. I do agree with the comment that it’s still a little slow to start. The tension is in her unwillingness/sadness to leave home; can we get to this sooner?

    Also, I wonder about Jin-Ae being unhappy to be married. Most girls and women in other eras looked forward to marriage as a way to gain autonomy; this seems a little counterintuitive to a modern audience, but having your own house was in stark contrast to being in someone else’s (your parents’.) It’s also a theme in historical fiction and historical fantasy that’s a little overdone IMHO.

    Stunning, gorgeous prose, and the sensory details are bright and lively. Best of luck with it!

  6. Hi Vivian,

    Possibly even more than before, your prose is stunningly lovely. It evokes the era and the culture and remains true throughout. There is more tension in this piece, and more action; great job on the revision.

    I didn't feel as though, however lovely, i needed the second paragraph. Keeping the death of the parents a mystery would help build urgency. Mentioning their shrine along with references to the good luck piece her mother didn't wear and how perhaps that could have been different. I think I preferred the previous version where I had a better sense of regret and guilt for her being able to see things that others can't but not being able to protect the people she loves most.

    Also, for me, the dialogue with the aunt did not ring true, and it raised potential contradictions. If her mother was to marry the Daewon-gun, it seems to me that it would be less incredible that there was interest in her. At the same time, if he was jilted by her mother, then would he want her to marry his son as a reminder of his embarrassment? That situation is fascinating, but wouldn't it make the aunt (and your mc) scared about his true intentions? That would create so much more tension if that was clearer! And if that isn't the situation and I've misread it, then please consider how you could make it clearer.

    One other thing, and it is minor, but to a certain point, this version reminds me a bit too much of Mulan in the way she is heedless of her gown. I don't feel quite as connected to her fear, curiosity, and resentment enough for that to ring true. Similarly, the details of the aunt rushing off and the uncle not being where he usually is aren't used with enough deliberation to built tension, so they end up being distracting rather than driving.

    Connie's point is excellent. In these early pages, you need to be certain that every word, every detail, every fact and thought builds the mood, tone, emotion, and action you want the reader to have. Right now, your character is aimless. I don't have any sense of what she wants other than to maintain the status quo without doing anything to maintain it. If she wants to rebel, would she beg her aunt, if she has begged her uncle, make that clearer, if the uncle can't refuse the Daewon-gun, then make that even clearer, if the uncle willingly, eagerly got rid of her so that he could keep her parent's home forever, then make that clearer--but at the same time, since there is no reason for her to fear what will happen when she goes to court, we're not going to be as sympathetic. In the era you've evoked, was there ever any hope that she would have her parents home for her own? If not, then I'm not sure you're phrasing things to avoid confusing her feelings and motives.

    Reading this through, this seems like a lot of criticism for work that flows so beautifully. Each sentence is a gem you've gifted to your readers, and I would love to lose myself in your prose. Please keep that in mind as you read all the rest of my suggestions. You have an incredible talent, and a rich tapestry of story. Best of luck with it. I'm certain you will succeed!



  7. Thank you, everyone, for your feedback! Appreciate all the time you put into this. Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!

  8. Hi, Getting in here late with my comments, but I especially agree with Martina, above. And I feel your lush prose definitely will attract a certain kind of reader. You do need to follow the precepts of story, which I think are more easily learned that how to write the wonderful kind of lush prose you have shown us here. I loved the story and look forward to seeing it on the real or digital bookshelves some day soon. Best wishes for 2013.