Monday, August 5, 2013

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Mayberry

Name: Martha Mayberry
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction/Romance
Title: Gone Wild

The first day I truly lived was my last day on Earth. I began a metamorphosis. A journey that transformed me into something wild.

It’s hard to look good in a durasuit, but somehow our President managed to pull it off. I studied him as he spoke, trying to figure it out.

His voice blasted through the speakers. “Today’s a historic day for Earth. Our children go forth to propagate a new world!”

Please, I am not a brood mare.

My eyes moved past him to the ships perched like raptors on the runway. Within an hour, my brother Joe and I would sleep inside, cruising across the galaxy. Space icicles.

Stellar 1 and 2 had been successfully colonized and I was crossing my fingers for Stellar 3. Hell, if there were rabbits left on Earth, I’d have mummified toes in my pocket. Ick.

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” Auntie Minerva said. “Stay and I’ll take care of you.”

Joe tugged her shirt. “I can take care of myself.”

She gave him a long look.

“I can take care of myself. I’m almost nine. A man.” He puffed his chest, looking anything but manly to me. He was lean and small for his age. Shortness ran in our family. Great for girls. Not so great for boys. Perhaps he’d grow taller on Stellar 3. Like a transplanted tree. His thick auburn hair was askew and his brown eyes were fierce. Maybe a thorn tree. . .

She grimaced. “Chemicals and cryogenics; it’s all so dangerous.”

Yeah, nail us with the gruesome stuff. Like I’m not nervous enough already?

“Please. We’ll be fine.” I said. “Mom and Dad made it without a hitch.”

“You’re right.” Her face was solemn. “It’s just . . . you’re all I have left.”

That was the crux of the matter. She couldn’t go. Genetic breakdown and all that. And we couldn’t stay. Failing Earth and all that.

“You have to go,” I said. “The other relatives have already left.” I longed to give her a big hug, but her body was frail. Pasting a bright smile on my face, I touched her arm instead.

She sighed and turned to Joe, shaking a finger at him. “Keep hold of your sister’s hand when you board.”

He squirmed. “I don’t want to hold her hand. That’s for babies.”

“What’s this?” she asked, reaching inside his shirt. She plucked a mouse out by the tail. Maurice joined the jumbled contents of her purse. “I told you I’d take care of your pets.”

“Can’t I just bring one?”

She grinned and tousled his hair. “Sorry. I’ll miss you, little man.” Teetering down the stairs, she shuffled toward the secure area near the gate.

My eyes were drawn past her, beyond the fence, to the thousands of spectators crowding the streets, faces peering through the slats. Protestors had signs waving above their heads with the slogans-

Our children belong on Earth
Don’t abandon us

Lovely. There was no escaping Earth’s Eden. I was glad to see them locked out beyond the fence. Security had been high since the onset, but fanatical groups like theirs had infiltrated our project. Once our liftoff had been delayed for weeks and another time someone had assassinated our lead scientist.

But launch day was here. No more running past the picket lines and shrill screams to get to orientation. I turned my back on them for good and focused on the speech.

I baked in the hazy sunshine. My skin was turning an unbecoming shade of pink that matched my strawberry-blond hair and peach durasuit, despite an extra layer of sunblock. I itched from smog dust but resisted the urge to yank my sleeves up and scratch.

I peeked at my watch. Thirty minutes to go. I could make it. I could. As long as I didn’t dwell on what came next, leap off the platform and shove through the crowd, screaming about becoming a space icicle. Yup, gotta wipe that image from my head.

Catching myself nibbling a fingernail, I yanked it away. Joe fidgeted beside me with the energy of a two-year old.

“You’re not a baby,” I hissed. “Pay attention. It’s almost time to board.”

He threw me a sulky look, so I grabbed his arm and held him still. Yanking away, he snarled like the little beast he was and settled onto the platform. He picked up a stick and dragged it across the grate.

A hand touched my back. “Lia.” The whispered voice sent tingles up my spine. I knew who it was before I turned around. Malik.

“Where have you been? I didn’t see you on the other platform. I was afraid you’d backed out.”
He gave me his best are you kidding me? expression. “I snuck away.” His brown eyes danced with mischief, alight in his dark olive face.

I shook my head in exasperation and grinned. “All this security and you jump off your platform and stroll over to mine? What did you do, bribe someone?”

He looked down and dragged his sneaker on the grate, making a squeaky-screechy sound before meeting my eyes. “I had to say goodbye one more time.”

I stroked the silky hair away from his eyes. “That’s sweet, but we’re boarding soon. You should be with the others.” I peeked around him, grateful to see Auntie busy with friends. “What if we’re caught? She’ll kill me.”

“Your aunt? What can she do? I’ll be through the gate and back on the platform before she notices me. Relax. It’s cool.”

I glanced at Joe. He was shredding the stick, shoving pieces between the grates. Leaning into Malik, I locked my fingers through his. “We saw each other last night.”

“That was hours ago,” he said as our lips met. Reaching up, I tangled my fingers in his hair, losing myself in the heat of his kiss.

“Oh, yuck,” said Joe. “Do you have to keep doing that?”

My back stiffened and I looked down at him. “What do you mean by that?”

“I followed you when you snuck out. I wouldn’t have if I knew you were going to sit around kissing.” He scrunched his face like he was in terrible pain.

“You watched us?” Now I was the one in pain. My little brother had peeped? Could my life get any worse?

“Not for long. It was boring.”

Malik’s lips twitched. His expression was so cute I stole another kiss.

“Take your hands off my niece, Malik Salvaje.”

Yup, my life could get worse.

Auntie spun me away. I opened my mouth in protest, but the disappointment in her eyes held me still. “And you.” Her infamous finger waggled in my face. “I barely turn my back and you’re kissing this boy on the big screen.”

I looked down at the platform, wishing I had my own stick to shred.

Auntie whirled on Malik, scrutinizing him like a bug in her tea. “I don’t like you. You’re a wild boy, from a wild family.”

My breath blew out, fluffing my bangs. Here it comes. They were at each other in seconds.

“You’ve been trouble since the moment you got here. I know I speak for everyone when I say I’ll be delighted to watch the door slam behind you when you board that ship.”

I grabbed his hand, hoping to hold back the words I knew he longed to shout. Nothing slowed Auntie, however.


  1. This is an exciting place to start -- waiting to board a rocket ship -- but the excitement doesn't come through in the writing for me. Your protagonist is bored and snarky (even her fear seems more like teen drama than true fear).

    "Shortness ran in our family. Great for girls. Not so great for boys." Why?

    In para 15 you say Auntie "can't go." Para 16 starts with Lia telling her "you have to go." Confusing for me.

    And my big question -- is Malik going to the same planet as Lia? Is this goodbye for all time or until they meet again? without knowing that, it's hard to understand the Lia/Malik 'goodbye'.

  2. Thank you for your comments. I've gone around and around with this chapter so many times, concerned I initially had too much backstory (which I cut), and not enough dialogue (which I added in). Now I believe I've lost the initial approach I thought worked well. I'll have to see if I can combine them and make it all come together better for my next revision.

  3. After talking about how the Aunt couldn't go with them, this ( “You have to go,” I said. “The other relatives have already left.” ) confused me. Perhaps you could say something like "You should head down."

    "He gave me his best are you kidding me? expression." The phrase confused me. I think you need hyphens in there: are-you-kidding-me face.

    You have a real sense of voice. Your protagonist reads true as a sarcastic teen. I love the comment that she's not a brood mare. Also, the line about the ships perched like raptors is lovely. Space icicles--love it. But, I get that she's a bit nervous. I just couldn't gage how nervous and why. Is it just the trip? Is it what she'll find once the trip is done? Is she worried about never seeing Malik again? I was wishing we had another page to read because I wanted to find out more about her relationship with Malik and where it's headed. Is he going to the same place?

    Overall I'd say this reads very smoothly and definitely piqued my interest. I want more.

  4. Ugh--the comments that posted at 1:05am are from Michele Moss. Don't know why my name isn't showing up. I updated the profile.

  5. Thank you for your comments, Michele! Great catch with the "You have to go" part.

    I def. have to tone Lia down, however. What I thought was coming across as nervousness is obviously coming across as sarcasm/snark. She isn't truly sarcastic, just scared, and I need to make this more clear. Lia's basically a wimp and courage is her arc. And yes, the boyfriend is going as well, on the second ship.

  6. Great opening line! And a premise to boot.

    Lia has a strong voice which brings the reader into the story easily. However, she seems a bit one-dimensional at the moment: all sarcasm and not much depth.
    For example: "Please, I am not a brood mare." seems too casual for how she really feels. "Like I’m not nervous enough already"
    I think Lia is nervous and using sarcasm as a cover, but this is an inference and not really coming through in the writing. Gestures like lip-biting or squirming or fidgeting or something to that effect could depict the inner conflict she's experiencing.

    Your setting could be more robust; I'm not getting a sense of what is happening around these characters. How many people are there? Is it noisy? Is it hot? Dusty? Dry? What's the prevailing mood: is everybody excited? Frightened? Tense? Solemn? What color is a Durasuit? Does it make Lia feel important?

    This line didn't go over with me: "Hell, if there were rabbits left on Earth, I’d have mummified toes in my pocket. Ick."

    Lia seems a bit nonchalant and jokey in the exchange with Malik. This could be the last time they see each other- shouldn't she be more emotional?

    While Malik and Lia are kissing, are they surrounded by others waiting to board? Are they shy about being so public with such a private moment?
    The little brother's reaction to Lia and Malik is a bit stereotypical. How can you make it more realistic and fresh? Does Joe look up to Malik? If so, he wouldn't want to seem grossed out; he'd want to seem cool. It makes him uncomfortable to watch, especially at nine years old. Show us his reaction in a fresher way.

    Aunt Minerva is well-drawn. I'd love a little physical description. What happens to her face while she talks? Does fat on her arm shake as she wags a finger at Joe, or is she thin and wiry? Does she wear jewelry? (Not asking you to answer all these questions, just to consider them.)
    One bit which was unclear was when it seems the aunt had gone but then she was back again. The aunt's indifferent departure doesn't match the magnitude of the situation at hand. She may never see these kids again! She should be frantic. Unless she doesn't care for them. Shouldn't she at least kiss or hug them goodbye?

    I'm very intrigued to see how Lia's life changes for the better once she leaves Earth. Judging by your opening line, this story is going to have a more positive tone. I find this a refreshing take on dark dystopia and would love to keep reading!

    1. Thanks for your great suggestions. I might use the "Like I'm not nervous enough already?" as it's exactly what I'm aiming for at that point.

      It's funny, the questions you have about setting, Auntie M., etc. are parts I cut out to make my beginning shorter. The rest of the book takes place once they arrive on Stellar 3. However, seeing the questions raised here leads me to believe I should put back some of what I cut. Thanks for pointing this out.

      The opening lines are clues: metamorphosis, going wild; things are not at all what they expect once they arrive in their new world.

  7. i like the characters a lot. There are a number of thoughts for dialogue which might benefit from italics. The same with the signs that are being held up. When some writers write in first person they tend to start a great deal of sentences with the word "I" I did this, I ran here, I threw it down, etc. Try using some verbs to take some of the weight off the word. "I ran toward the stairs" becomes Running toward the stairs I"

    Good job. Can't wait to see the revision.

    1. Thank you billy! Great advice about the "I," which I've found hard to avoid using all the time. First person is a challenge, isn't it?

    2. Meant to add: italics don't come across with the post. This was commented on in previous month's workshops. I do have Lia's thoughts in italics. Thanks again.

  8. I would cut the first two sentances. I really like them, but they don't go here. They would make a great cover tag line!

    My only issue with this is the lack of emotions. You do a great job setting the scene and showing us what everyone is doing, but a little more emotion would be nice. How is the MC feeling about leaving? Guilty? Anxious?

    Otherwise, this has all the hallmarks of a great Science Fiction novel!

  9. And, you don't have to tell us how they feel, you can show us she's nervous by her cracking her knuckles or chewing her nails or fidgeting from foot to foot. Sometimes physical cues are the best ways to express emotions in characters.

    1. Thank you, Sherry, for your comments. I look forward to playing with this for Sunday's edition.

  10. Hi Martha,

    This is an interesting premise and you nailed a lot of the things I love in an opening: complex characters, a view into the setting, a character who is passionate about something, the promise of adventure... This has all of that and more.

    For me, what it is missing is a window on your mc's emotions. We aren't in her shoes, and so the situation feels like story instead of reality. Think about all she has going on. Is she terrified, for herself, her brother, her boyfriend, her aunt? What scares her the most? being frozen? Is there risk? What about the journey? What about leaving behind all she has ever known?

    I assume you have read Beth Revis' Across the Universe? Intentionally or by serendipity, you may have hit on a story that is "the same but different" enough to really work, but if you examine your opening for emotion and then compare it to Beth's, I think you will see how much time she spends giving us insight into the complex, deep emotions her character feels.

    Show us! Give us the heartbreak of leaving her aunt behind. The realization that she is ruining the last memory your mc will have of her. And doesn't your mc feel anything but contempt for the people who are going to remain on a dying planet?

    Looking forward to seeing the next installment. Make it stellar! You can do it!

  11. Thanks, Martina; you're right! I've been reworking my beginning to include more emotion. Lia's actually pretty scared and I see this doesn't come across at all in this version. I haven't read Across the Universe, although I've been told many times my book sounds very similar. From what I've read online, mine is much different (whew!). I need to find time to read it, however.

    I hope everyone will be pleasantly surprised by my revision next week.

  12. Great story! I'm assuming you've read DIVERGENT, if not get a copy. She does the cryogenic freezing so nicely in the first few pages. You really get the sense of what's going on. If that sort of thing is coming for Lia, then how does she really feel about it? Really get in her head and let us experience this huge moment with her. Give us more description of the sky (is it different now that the Earth is falling?) the ship? But the emotion is key.

  13. Ack I'm an idiot. I profess to be jumbled by baby brain. YES I MEANT ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. My son was reading DIVERGENT and we were discussing it. SOOOOOOOOO SORRY!!! :P

  14. Thanks, Lia. I've been reworking my beginning to inject Lia's voice into it. Lia thinks she's a wimp and has a big courage character arc. This is more apparent as the book progresses, but for some reason it didn't shine through here.

    I'll def. pick up ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (I have read DIVERGENT - great read!). Cryogenics is just the method my mc "travels in" to get to Stellar 3. Chapter 1 ends with her going under and Chapter 2 is when she wakes up on the planet. From there, my book takes place on Stellar 3.