Monday, June 17, 2013

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Palmer Rev 2

Name: Lora Palmer
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: The MirrorMasters

Leah Ellis stretched her legs. She had been curled up on the couch so long her knees ached. The old horror movie her brother and best friend picked was almost over. They’d upheld annual tradition by watching at least one of those stupid movies tonight. Next time, she would pick the film. She brushed back a stray lock of blond hair and tried to focus, but anxiety, loud and unrelenting as a siren’s wail, fragmented her thoughts. She turned to David and Kara, who were sitting, engrossed, on the love seat. “Let’s watch something light, a comedy, when the others get here.”

She’d busted her skinny behind in AP English, Algebra, and Biology all year, and she’d earned a carefree summer working part-time as a babysitter and laying out on the beach with her friends. Tomorrow, that summer would be hers, so long as she could get through tonight unscathed.

“We should go out to the cemetery after the movie,” Kara said, her blue eyes sparkling. Long auburn hair spilled around her as she leaned down to retrieve her soda from the coffee table.

Sure. Why wait for trouble to find us when we can seek it out and bring it right here?

It was the eve of the town tragedy that happened back in the 1870s, when the Stanford twins, the daughters of the town mayor, were killed. Of course Kara would want to do something scary to commemorate it. Every year, on this date, something strange happened, like mysterious pulses of light in the forest and not-quite-solid figures that appeared in the cemetery one second and disappeared the next.

A thrill of horror--and and anticipation--ran through her at the thought. If they went out there, they might find out what happened that night, what it all meant.

She couldn’t help glancing over at the sliding glass doors out toward the church beyond, checking for any signs of unusual activity. Her hands started to fidget, and she fought to still them. Leah thought she could just make out the sounds of otherworldly voices outside, speaking in urgent whispers. She listened. A gust of wind rustled the palm trees, obscuring any other noise and causing moonlight and shadows to flit across the lawn. She shivered as every muscle in her body tensed. Whatever might be out there, they’d be better off staying away from it.

“No.” Leah leaned back against the sofa, taking a bite of popcorn for a bit of self-comforting. “No way, Kara. I’m not playing around with that stuff. If there are ghosts, or aliens, or whatever, I don’t want to know about it. And I sure don’t want us going to confront them.”

Kara pulled a puppy face, complete with irresistible dimples. “Aren’t you the least bit curious? They lived in your house. They could still be here. Maybe you’re connected to all this in some way. I mean, you were found wandering the beach, another Sea Cliff Heights mystery. Nobody knows where you came from. Maybe you could find out the answers...”

“How? I was two years old then! Something must have happened to whoever I was with, or they couldn’t take care of me. Either way, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to go searching for answers in a cemetery, Kara.” Leah rolled her eyes, but her anxiety was starting to get the best of her again. “Don’t give me that look!” She laughed, in an effort to act casual, and held up a pillow to cover her face. She appealed to her brother. “David, talk some sense into her.”

She couldn’t bring herself to tell either of them how rattled she was. If David knew, he’d tease her mercilessly. Kara, with her love of all things sci-fi and paranormal, would never understand.

“Oh, I don’t know. What’s the harm? Unless you’re too scared to see what happens.” David grinned, his brown eyes crinkling with mischief.

Kara leaned over and ruffled his sandy blond hair. “See? Even David’s game.”

Leah shook her head and gave her a knowing smile. Of course he would be game for whatever Kara wanted to do. She threw her pillow at him. “David, you don’t even believe in that stuff.”

“Hey!” David caught the pillow easily and tossed it back at her. “Ergo, there’s no harm in going.”

Leah laughed and raised her arm to block his throw. “You don’t know that.”

Kara grabbed the pillow and whacked David with it. “You’re supposed to be on my side.”

Their eyes lit up as they wrestled each other for control over the pillow, laughing the whole time. Leah looked away, a pang in her heart at the sight of them together. It reminded Leah that in their group, she was a fifth wheel.

Chilling music, followed by sounds of strangled sobs and hitching breaths, sent a shiver down her spine. On the television screen, the killer claimed his next victim, and Leah put a hand over her eyes too late to avoid the sight. She crinkled her nose. “On that note, I’m going to go splash some water on my face. Maybe it’ll help me stay awake.”

Maybe it would give David and Kara the chance to have The Talk, but she doubted it would happen. It would take an act of divine intervention to get them to admit their feelings for each other and finally start dating. Too bad--awkwardness aside, she wished they’d get past this aimless flirting already. If being in love brought them happiness, they deserved every bit of it. Neither of them noticed as Leah crossed the game room and made her way down the hall to the bathroom. Good. At least they wouldn’t pick up on how alone, how odd-girl-out, she felt.

The cool water invigorated Leah as it splashed against her skin. She wiped her hands and patted her face dry with a towel, meeting her wide-set green eyes in the mirror. In the florescent lighting, her fair complexion shone snow-pale, ghostly pale, even though she’d already started working on a summer tan. It was a hopeless cause.

Jenny and Kevin should have been here by now. Or at least Kevin should have. He didn’t have to babysit tonight. Leah’s nerves would ease, at least a little, once all her friends arrived safely. It would definitely make her feel better to hear Kevin say he hadn’t seen anything strange by the cemetery. That’s where it would start, if anywhere, and he lived the closest to it.

The lights flickered, then went out. Leah jumped, startled, as darkness and the scent of cucumber-melon air freshener enveloped her. Her breaths quickened. She felt for the light switch and managed to find it, but flicking it up and down did nothing. Her hand paused midway toward the doorknob as a bright flash in the mirror caught her gaze. She froze. Where was that light coming from? This bathroom didn’t have a window.

It was coming from the mirror.

Transfixed, Leah saw the images in fragments. A soft glow of white light amid the trees. A blonde girl struggling out on the church grounds to protect herself and her sister--the Stanford twins!--against a man with ice-blue eyes. Strange symbols on his weapon that emitted a burst of green phaser fire. One sister crumpled, while a boy with those same ice-blue eyes chased the other into the woods. A wave of a hand, and shattered glass reassembling itself. Lightning bolts of electricity from a dark, cloaked figure. A body, small and slender, falling to the floor--Jenny? A hole in the ground, surrounded by headstones.

She stepped back, toward implied safety. That did not just happen. Images of danger and death did not appear in her mirror. Oh, God, they did. The last trace shadows of a freshly dug grave, now covered, lingered in the glass.

“What is that?” Leah’s voice sounded small and tight to her ears in this enclosed space. She rubbed her arms in a vain effort to warm herself. Goosebumps prickled all along them. Dread seized her, settling like lead in the pit of her stomach.

Leah blinked as the images disappeared, leaving her in complete blackness again. She had to get out of here. Heart pounding in her chest, she fumbled for the doorknob, barely restraining the impulse to pound the door like a crazy person when her fingers failed to find it. Out in the game room, the sliding glass door slid open. Kevin was saying something to David and Kara, but his words were muffled, indistinct. He sounded worried, though. A jolt of fear shot through her. What if Kevin was telling them Jenny had been hurt, or worse, just like the mirror had shown?

“Leah, come on,” David called.

“Coming!” Her hand finally grasped the doorknob. When she turned it and pushed, the bathroom door wouldn’t budge. She pushed again, harder. The door still didn’t move. “Guys, wait! I’m stuck.”

Their only reply was the sliding glass door slamming shut.

“Help me get out of here!” Leah pounded the door, frantic now. Nobody came. They must have already gone outside, leaving her trapped here with these images while they faced whatever dangers lurked in the cemetery. She had to help them, warn them about what she saw--they had no idea they were walking into real danger. All this was nothing more than a joke to David, and Kara thought it was harmless fun. Leah threw her body against the door to force it open. It stayed in place, stubborn. Again and again she tried, until her shoulder ached so badly she had to stop.

Wait. She would not let a little power outage, a stuck door, or strange noises freak her out. In an old house like this, she should expect stuff like that to happen. She couldn’t have actually seen those things in the mirror, anyway. No, they were just a product of her wild imagination, fueled by her fears about tonight. Besides, the others would be back for her when they realized she wasn’t coming, wouldn’t they?

‘Use logic to rule out possibilities until you’re left with the correct explanation’, Dad would say. Logically, it made the most sense to believe she’d imagined it all.

But what if it was real?

‘Trust your instincts’, Mom would say. The last time she’d had an instinct something awful was about to happen, Mom and Dad got into a bad car crash on the way home from a movie after she’d begged them not to go out that night. And the time before that, Jenny would have died of complications from surgery if Leah hadn’t told Mrs. Taylor to take her back to the hospital.

Maybe she’d experienced those glimpses for a reason. Maybe she’d gotten trapped in here, with no other option but to face her fears, for a reason. If it meant finding out what might happen so she could protect herself and the people she loved, Leah wanted, no, needed, to know.

The mirror lit with an eerie glow again, as if responding to her desire. All thoughts of fleeing gone, she peered in closer, willing the images to become clearer.


  1. This just keeps getting better! I loved your addition of Leah's background and how she was found on the beach. I didn't quite feel the connection between why Kara would think Leah could find out the mystery, though, even though you explained it was another town mystery. If Kara had referred to Leah's uncanny gut instincts or intuition, that would make more sense to me. But I still really like the hint of mystery at Leah's origins, so I'd definitely say to keep that.

    I like this version of David and Kara's relationship best and Leah's feelings about it. Leah's feelings seem natural and relatable. Watch for repetition of words - you have David's eyes crinkling and Leah's nose crinkling.

    When she looks at her reflection, considering how pale she is, you may want to put "summer tan" in quotations to show that it's not going to happen. Also, on this read through, it occurred to me that it may feel less abrupt/jarring when the lights go out if you said something like, "Just then, the bathroom lights flickered..." Just something to consider. :)

    I felt the tension in the bathroom scene even stronger than in your last version. One question - should you use double quotation marks rather than single marks around what her parents would say? I feel like you're really getting to Leah's motivation and showing her personality at the same time. Well done!

    Great revision all around!

  2. I agree with Katy that this is the best version so far. The interplay between Kara and David is strong and Leah's reaction to it is much more natural. The bathroom scene is very tense. I particularly like the more dramatic struggle to escape.

    I'm not sure if the addition of Leah's mysterious origins at this point in time worked for me. For one thing, Leah's reaction seemed a little subdued. Wouldn't she feel a more profound sense of pain if she believed that her birth parents abandoned her in a dangerous place? Of course, I don't know how the rest of the book is structured, but maybe having Leah unaware of her mysterious origins and only finding it out in the course of the novel would add some extra drama later on - just a thought.

    There was an occasional word or phrase that distracted me. The description of Leah's anxiety as loud and unrelenting as a siren’s wail didn't feel quite right. I can picture fear like a siren's wail, but to me anxiety feels more subtle - gnawing, nagging. The description of Kara's dimples as irresistible seemed a little off too (David might find them irresistible, but Leah probably wouldn't think of them that way.). I also wondered if Leah would use the word "phaser" when describing the green fire from the weapon, since she's obviously not a sci-fi fan. I know this isn't first person, but it feels like you were going for 3rd person close - so the descriptions should use the kind of language Leah would.

    But overall, a strong revision.

  3. Hi Lora,

    Nice changes!

    I agree with Katy and Rebecca -- I liked learning Leah's background and that definitely adds an interesting element to your already very creepy story. It seems strange to me that Kara would mention it so casually, though, because I would think that would be a sensitive subject. Maybe if she alludes to Leah's history instead of coming out and saying it, and that could tie in to the suggestion later that Leah has some special intuition or ability?

    The bathroom scene is so polished now! I love being able to hear but not make out the conversation through the door.

    You've packed a LOT into your first five pages -- impressive start! I'm not sure how long your book is going to be, but maybe you could hang on to a few of these things to sprinkle throughout and keep building the tension. It might just be a personal preference, because I like a slow burn. Then again, YA readers might love that you get to the action so quickly.

    Overall, I really like it. I'm worried about Jenny!

  4. Wow! This version definitely grabbed me.

    I love that we get to find out about Leah's history, it really adds a shot of mystery, but I agree with everyone that the way it's placed within the conversation seems a little awkward and casual, like she should have a different reaction. But it really got me thinking about how that detail will fit into the story. Exciting!

    I agree with Rebecca about the siren's wail, I did get distracted on that description. There is also two 'and' in the sentence about horror and anticipation.

    The bathroom scene really worked for me. The part about the air freshener flowed better, and I didn't get hung up on its significance. I liked how she tried to rationalize her fears in the bathroom, very believable.

    Great revision.

  5. I feel like a parrot, but I love it - I'd just smooth over the intro of her background. It feels a little "forced in". She can think it's ridiculous and say something along the lines of an abandoned child is not the same. And point out that she's not an alien or something. (even though maybe she is?) LOL

  6. Hi Lora,

    I love a lot of things about this version, and I'll let the others dig into detail about what those are. Since this was the final revision though, I would like to leave you with a few things that i still think you can work on.

    1) Smooth out the character motivations more and incorporate them into how the action unfolds. It still feels as if you, the author, are manipulating the characters to get them into situations rather than letting the characters unfold the story themselves.

    2) You are still telling us a lot of things that you should show. The background information is great, the fill-in info on why they are watching a horror movie is important for us to know. What happened in the town is great. But I'd love to see all that introduced in mid-conflict.

    I'd love you to SHOW Leah jumping as the story on the television comes to climax. You could show the credits rolling and Leah jumping off the couch to grab the remote and turn the channel. Show the others arguing with her--it's tradition, we always watch a horror movie. Have Leah tell them she deserves a break after busting her butt, then show Kara's personality and the social dynamics as Kara makes the suggestion about going to the cemetery instead, and show the dynamics in the group as the others react to that suggestion and Leah argues against it and gets increasingly upset until she retreats to the bathroom.

    That doesn't change what you're doing in the scene at all, nor does it change the motivations. It just presents the information actively and lets the reader come along with you for the ride. It's the difference between sitting on Leah's shoulder and experiencing the story with her versus having you take us by the hand and telling us about what's happening.

    I am not suggesting that your story isn't really good. I love the voice, and I love the setup, and your writing is very good. I'm suggesting this to help you get to the next stage up, which I have every confidence that you can do!

    Here is a book that really helped me when I was struggling with this:

    It's a fast read, and the exercises are terrific.

    Best of luck with this!