Monday, March 4, 2013

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Keitel

Name: Kindra Keitel
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Title: Voice Lessons

It was there again, the metallic sting that bit her throat every time music crossed her mind. She knew better than to try to actually sing, that only made it worse, made her cough and gag with what tasted like a mouth full of pennies. So, she closed her eyes, cleared her throat and kept on listening. The cinnamon lullabies of her childhood still hung heavy in the air and Delphine knew she’d never have another chance to memorize them.

She locked the front door and stored away the click it made, chipped off a piece of peeling white paint from the doorknob and put it in her pocket. The house she and her mother had shared was small, so small it begged pardon for being there at all. Grayed siding held thin walls together and the windows held their breath; the cracked sidewalk below beckoned their glass with a wrinkle and a wink.

She watched it all disappear through the back glass of the car, fully realizing she wasn’t Delphine Martin anymore. She never was, not really. All this time, she’d been Delphine Lockhart without knowing it. Her mom knew, though. It was all her idea, passing down her maiden name and hiding estranged relatives in plain sight.

“This can’t be it,” Sophie said when they paused outside a gated lawn. “We’re not even out of town yet. I thought it was somewhere in the country.”

“This is where the GPS sent us.” Cate flicked the little screen on the dashboard.

So, Delphine was suddenly one of them, part of the family that lived in that big brick house in the same little Missouri town she grew up in. The house with the tall iron gates and foot soldier pines lining the yard. The house everybody talked about but nobody ever visited.

“My life is over,” Delphine said from the backseat.

“No it’s not.” Sophie pulled down her visor and looked at her friend in the mirror. “It won’t be as bad as you think.” She smoothed down her hair and went to work on the small red bulge near her chin.

“You’re not even sixteen yet.” Sophie’s mom reached back and patted Delphine’s knee. “Your life is far from over.”

“We’ll see.” Delphine tied a knot in the tissue she’d had in her hand for hours.

Every time she had asked to meet her dead father’s family, her mother refused, something about the whole family disowning the two of them when Delphine’s father died. Her mom couldn’t say anything about meeting them now, though; she was dead too. And that gap, the one that always stood between them, now it was an impossible abyss.

Cate parked the car and craned her neck trying to see the top of the house. “Sophie honey, you want to double check the address?”

Sophie fished in her purse for the scrap of paper. She tossed a tin of mints, a tube of mascara and a Sharpie under the windshield before she found it.

Cate compared the crumpled note to the brass numbers beside the front door. “Hm.”

“It’s right,” Delphine said without looking. She’d known about this house all her life, though living in it was the last thing she ever expected to do.

Sophie turned around and faced her friend. “You think the stories are true?”

God, I hope not. Delphine swallowed. “Guess I’m going to find out.”

“Of course they’re not true.” Cate flipped Sophie’s visor back into place with a snap. “It’s just a big house.”

“A big house with a witch inside.”

“Enough, Sophie.” Cate reached for Delphine’s hand. “That’s just it: they’re stories, there’s nothing to them.” She smiled. “You get to live in the biggest house in the county and you got yourself a brand-new family.”

A tear pooled between the rim of Delphine’s sunglasses and her cheek.

Cate squeezed her hand. “I know, honey.”

“There she is.” Sophie leaned toward the glass. “She’s old but at least her skin’s not green or anything.”

Elizabeth Lockhart, her skin a respectable wrinkly pink, shaded her eyes with one hand and waved at the car with the other.

“I don’t believe it,” said Delphine. “I saw her at the funeral.”

“She was there?” said Cate.

“Yeah. She stood in the back and cried. She never got anywhere near me.”

“See,” Sophie said, “now don’t you think that’s weird? Just a little bit?”

The three of them looked at each other and opened their doors in unison. They unloaded Delphine’s bags and piled them on the paved driveway.

“You’re finally here.” Elizabeth floated down the blue and gray steps, reaching out her arms. Delphine ignored her grandmother, choosing instead to adjust the buckle on one of her bags. Elizabeth lowered her eyes and turned to Sophie. “How are you, dear? You’re Sophie, aren’t you?” She barely gave her time to nod. “I’ve heard about you. And this is your mom?”

“Cate.” Her hand shot out from under her coat. “You can call me Cate.”

“Why didn’t you tell me who you were?” Delphine crossed her arms to stave off any unwanted displays of affection.

“What, dear?”

“At the funeral, that was you, wasn’t it?” She could be brave behind sunglasses.


“So? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I’m sorry.” She touched Delphine’s elbow. “I thought you had enough to deal with that day.”

“Are you a witch?” No one ever accused Sophie of having any tact.

“Am I a what?”

Cate pinched her daughter’s shoulder and smiled an apologetic smile.

Sophie wrenched free and frowned. “Well, are you?”

“A witch? Is that what they’re saying now?”

“Sophie,” warned Cate.

Elizabeth held up her hand. “That’s all right; we pretty much keep to ourselves and are well-used to the stories. No witches here, only people.”

“We?” said Delphine. “It’s not just you?”

“You don’t know you have a great-grandfather?” said Elizabeth.

They followed her up the steps and into a light-filled entryway. An old man sat in a chair near the stairs, resting his bearded chin on a carved wooden cane. Behind him stood a tall man dressed all in black, his hands resting on the back of the chair.

“Is she here?” the old man asked, lifting his head.

“Yes, Papa. She’s here.”

He grinned and tapped his cane against the floor. “Come here, girlie and give me your hand. We met a long time ago but I bet you don’t remember now, do you?”

Delphine took his long leathery fingers in her own. “No, I’m sorry, I don’t.”

“It was on your birthday. You were wearing a pink dress and crying your head off about something.”

“Which birthday was that?”

“The birthday, dearest, the day you were born.” His lips parted to reveal a chessboard smile.

The riddle made Delphine love him. “You’re right, I don’t remember. But I promise not to forget you again.”

“Ha, I’d never let that happen.” When he laughed, it sounded like a song. The lights seemed brighter and the air crackled with an eager hum as though there were bolts of electricity riding the sound of it.


  1. Kindra,

    Intriguing first paragraph. Because of the mood it sets and the way it has nothing to do with the rest of your post, I almost feel like it should be a short prologue.

    And I can’t think of even one other thing to change! Your writing flows well, keeps me interested all the way through, and sets me up to want more. The house has rumors, but right now everything and everyone seem quite normal. Since I know it’s paranormal, I know that won’t last, and if I was the reader, I would be anxiously turning pages! Great job!


  2. Hi Kindra,
    This is an intriguing idea and I really like the way you start off. At the beginning I'm more interested in Delphine and this strange voice-metallic thing going on - it's so interesting it might merit more detail. Another thing to mention, the characters are never formally introduced so I struggled to keep with their names and how they all related to each other.

    Since this is young adult I wondered about some of the interaction. I have a teen son and while I can see them making up stories to scare each other about a spooky house I don't know that they would walk up to the door ask someone if they were a witch - especially if they had lived in the same town and been around the house all their lives yet never approached it. . . Thanks! Heather

  3. Hi Kindra, Sorry I'm so late commenting. I've had pneumonia and am just now rolling out of bed for the first time in three days.

    First of all, I love the first paragraph. Unfortunately, I think it sets the wrong tone for the piece. At first, I thought this was some kind of dystopian world where music was outlawed and that your heroine was gifted with something. I spent the next few paragraphs trying to cast around and figure out where I was and what this world looked like. By the time I figured out that I had gone down a totally wrong track, I had missed the point of the ensuing paragraphs and had to go back and re-read.

    I too got the impression that Sophie was significantly younger than Delphine by the way she talked, etc. but when I went back and saw the smoothing of the hair, the zit, etc. I thought maybe not. If she is sixteen, I agree with Heather that you might need to age her up some. Delphine, however, I think you've nailed. Her sadness, loss, fear, is palpable and so painful that it twisted my heart. Nice job!

    What is music to Delphine? Why does it hurt her so much to hear it? A connection to her lost mother? Does it have something to do with her heretofor undiscovered powers? Again, if you keep that beginning you need to really tie it into the story for the reader or it just feels out of place-- like the paragraph should be somewhere else on the book. But like I said, it's a great paragraph, so I might suggest linking it to some memory of her mother, something tangible that the music reminds her of or some time it takes her back to so that the reader can see/feel/understand her loss.

    Also, is she completely unaware of her family history? Never seen mom slip with the magic? Never had a slip herself? This seems unlikely to me unless nothing kicks in until she's 16. Still, does she feel something foreign, something that isn't quite familiar/normal/her building up inside her? It doesn't have to be that, or anything nearly as blatant but I feel there should be a moment, just a moment, to clue the reader in to where Delphine stands in this whole magic thing.

    This is a beautiful first five pages. Your writing is lovely and very compelling. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Kindra,

    I was hooked from the first paragraph, immediately thinking that Delphine's magical voice is about to be awakened. Perhaps she is a siren? Awesome!!! Your use of sensory/taste is wonderful here.

    Three things I loved: 1) The way Delphine keeps a piece of chipped pant fro the doorknob; a very economic use of words to describe so much about her character. 2) Hiding estranged relatives in plain site- simply intriguing! 3) GRANDFATHER and his "chessboard smile!" So much to look forward to with their impending relationship!

    Your characters are very vivid, dialogue flows great. Sophia's confrontation could be more believable perhaps if you give us a reason, for example, show us how close these two friends are, and that perhaps there is history why Sophie stands up for Delphine so adamantly. I also feel that the first paragraph 'feels' different, and either you go with that feel for the first five pages by building Delphine's world, and her relationship with Sophie or start with this intro to the new family, knock on the door, and save that awesomeness from the first paragraph for chapter 2. Love it!

  5. Thanks so much for the feedback everyone! I am salivating to start on some revisions, I think your suggestions are so very valuable and absolutely valid. It's so good to get outside your own head once in a while. :)

  6. Hi! I like it, especially the great grandfather. I don't think that opening paragraph works though, I'd start with the second. The description there is beautiful. I'm worried about the "cliche" of losing her parents and going to the paranormal relatives she never knew she had. But it's well done and I love the way you've painted the character of her best friend. I kind of feel like I know her better than your MC though! I'd like to see a bit more about how she feels inside. Not so much the my life is over. Is she that mad at her dead mom? If so show us. What was their relationship like? How does she really feel about this turn of events and the house? Her grandmother? Does like Papa beside herself? Etc.

  7. Hi Kindra,

    I LOVE this piece. I love the first paragraph, and for me it elevated the otherwise fairly typical dead mother/paranormal relatives/gothic beginning (which you handled beautifully, however). I wonder if it isn't just a matter of connecting the opening to the rest of the piece and grounding us a little more. Your writing is beautiful and adept, and I think you are almost "there" with this.

    What's missing for me in that first paragraph is the trigger of where the music is coming from. Is it internal? Is it something external? Can you have Sophie impatiently turn on the music on the car radio while Delphine locks up the house? Or have her honk the horn and just that one note is enough to trigger music in Delphine's mind? The music is what's so unique about this piece and I'd love to understand it more right at the begining. Tracy put it beautifully. What is music to Delphine?

    I'd also love you to extend the music beyond the first paragraph. If music is her core, then what else does she interpret or react to musically? What does she do to protect herself? Why does she need to protect herself?

    Similarly, I'd like just a hint more grounding for some of the other elements like her relationship to Sophie's mother, how long its been since the funeral, and how/if anyone has explained the relationship between her relatives and the fact that they live in the same town and she has never heard of them. That's intriguing and unusual by itself, so it feels as if that would be a source of speculation for everyone. You don't necessarily need to explain it, but maybe just speculate on it and react to it. Also give us a line or two to show how she feels about all this.

    Last, is there something about the new house where she will be living that makes her musical "problem" better or worse? If so, set us up for that right from the moment she gets there. Obviously, you are too skilled a writer to hit us over the head with it; a hint would suffice. Just something to make the reader lean forward and worry a little bit. :)

    I'm looking forward to the first revision round!

  8. Kindra,
    I like the set-up of a girl who is going to live in the big old house that has loomed in her consciousnss throughout her childhood.
    The hook here is that Delphine realizes she is not the person she believed she was all her life. Great potential here for both self-discovery and metaphor. I would try to emphasize that more up front.
    Delphine's reaction to her new predicament is one of disappointment and resignation to her fate. You may want her to show more determination to keep her old self, perhaps along the lines of, upon seeing the big old house, promising herself that she would escape or get her old life back the first chance she gets.
    My biggest critique would be that there are quite a few characters introduced in the first chapter, and it seems like some of them in the car might wind up being only minor characters. I think if you try to pull this off, you will need at least a sentence for each of them, establishing their unique characteristics and their relationship to each other.
    Also, we realize Delphine's father died, but what happened to her mother? If she is being handed back to her real biological family, maybe a sentence of her already missing her mother or not understanding why her mother went along with this might help. Something quick to establish the backstory and what Delphine really wants. (At first, I assumed Cate was her mother, so some quick backstory or a more definitive description of Cate's role may be in order.)
    The house has great potential, it's a good chance for some spooky physical description. I can't wait for Delphine to explore it, as she simultaneously explores who she really is.

  9. Thank you all so much for the critiques! I am printing them all out now and getting out that red pen of mine...