Monday, August 19, 2013

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Mell Rev 2

Name: Mckenzie Mell
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Civilization of Light and Dark

Skylar shielded her eyes from the sun’s glare as she tried to find her grandfather amidst the busy bodies. According to her watch, she’d been standing at the Nairobi Airport Terminal for about twenty minutes.

Someone waved at her, but she wasn’t sure it was him. The glare from the Kenyan sun became an obstacle. When it cleared, she saw a smile she couldn’t dismiss. It was Alan Edoje, her grandfather. She walked to him, noticing he wore a T-shirt with the family-owned lodge logo. Definitely him and not some creepy stranger smiling at her, she thought.

“Skylar, my dear, how are you,” he squeezed her shoulders when she reached him. She hated when people squeezed her, but she forced a smile, “I am great.”

“You finally came home.”
"Yep," she pursed her lips, dropping her eyes.

Grandpa Alan didn’t say much to her on the ride. She was fine with it, since she didn’t know what to say to him at all, really. She didn’t know him that well, because she hadn’t been to Kenya since she was six years old. She had little contact with her father’s family throughout the nearly twelve years since she left. Skylar kept her eyes on the view of the landscape. Africa. Bits of blue sparkle caught her eyes. Lake Naivasha. Tips of the Mount Longonot could be seen when she titled her eyes upward, out the window. On either side of the road, few animals could be seen grazing. Skylar bit her lips, gathering her breath; her summer would be brilliant.

“Here we are,” Grandpa Alan announced.

The one-story house was across the yard from the two-story family owned lodge. Cleanly painted Luo and other African tribal designs covered the walls. A mock thatched roof completed its African look. It stood alone, except for the plain white, brick house, and a small barn lingering at the edge of the bush land. Grandpa Alan let her know she’d share boarding with her father, Ishmael, and his new wife, whom she had yet to meet.

“Aren’t we going to tour the place a little?” She asked, when she saw Grandpa Alan getting ready to leave.

Grandpa Alan checked his watch, “Too late now. Another day. I have some errands to run first.”

“Alright,” she nodded, a little disappointed.

He smiled. “We’ll spend plenty of time together later.”

She nodded, trying not to read much into his words, even if she didn’t quite trust the smile on his thin lips. In the small, tidy bedroom, she moved toward the window, admiring the view of the plains. She was excited about Kenya. Her main reason for coming to Kenya was adventure, and she intended to get into it right away.

In Toronto, she and her mother, Lorraine Labelle, lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment, away from nature. She had never been outside the city, and when she got the invite from Ishmael and Grandpa Alan, she really jumped on the chance to leave. Now that she was in Kenya, she planned to make the most of her trip, exploring the country and culture of her father.

After a few minutes of looking around, she found a phone in the sitting room and dialed her mother’s number. Lorraine sounded relieved to hear her voice. “How come it took you so long to call? Ishmael didn’t pick up you up on time, did he?”

It was an accusation. Skylar bit her lip. “No, Grandpa Alan did,” she admitted.

Lorraine hissed her teeth loudly into the phone.

“He’s not still into voodoo is he?”

She rolled her eyes. “Mom, I don’t know.”
“I bet he is.”

Skylar winced.

"Don't let that man drag you into anything," Lorraine scolded her, as if she hadn’t given her plenty of warning before she got on the plane. “All he cares about is that African spirit nonsense. He has nothing better to do."

“He’s not forcing me into anything,” Skylar assured Lorraine. Her mother didn’t listen, and continued to bash Grandpa Alan. “Mom, I have to go now. Dinner is ready," she lied. "I’ll call you tomorrow.” She hung up the phone quickly, thanking her lucky stars that she’d be away from Lorraine for the rest of the summer.

Her mother met her father, Ishmael Edoje, at university and married right after graduation. After she was born, they moved to Kenya, where Ishmael’s Luo traditions clashed with her mother's free-spiritedness. Around the time she was six-years-old, the marriage crumbled, prompting her and Lorraine back to Toronto. Since, Lorraine badmouthed the continent, all of it. Because her mother didn’t want her to come to Kenya, Lorraine stepped up the badmouthing of Skylar’s father and grandfather. Ironically, it only made her want to come to Kenya even more. It was only to get away from her mother.

As soon as she began unpacking, she heard rumblings outside her door; moving toward the doorway, she spotted Ishmael in the living room. He wore a business suit. He looked slimmer than she remembered him being. Then again, for a time, she couldn’t even remember what he looked like. Skylar approached him. Should she call him Daddy or Ishmael? “Dad?”

"Skylar," he said, with little emotion. “My goodness, look at you.”

“Yeah,” she shrugged, not sure what to do next. He made a move as if to hug her. She stepped into him, almost pulling back, before the two found themselves hugging clumsily. A second passed before Ishmael's wife came into view. Short and curvy, she stared at Skylar with shy curiosity, but didn’t say hello.

"When did you get here?" Ishmael asked pulling apart, to Skylar’s relief.

"Earlier in the evening," she admitted. “I was unpacking…”

"And your grandfather didn't say to me outside just now," he spoke unbelievingly. "Look at you. You’re a young lady now."

“No, I am not,” she squirmed. She was no lady. She lacked style and grace, and much of any lady-like characteristics for that matter.

"Skylar, this is my wife, Maja," Ishmael introduced, speaking a few words to Maja in Luo. "This is my daughter, Skylar. She’s from Toronto."

“The U.S.A.”

“In Canada,” Ishmael corrected.

“Oh,” Maja said, clearly having never heard of Canada.

"It’s so nice to meet you," Maja smiled, coming to pat her on the back. "You are eighteen?" Maja asked, releasing her.

"I’ll be in about a week, yes. July nineteenth.”

Maja shrugged, not having anything else to say.

Skylar didn't know much about Maja, except that her father had married her in the past two years. Maja was pretty and nice enough. Skylar took a mental note to avoid saying much about her to Lorraine; despite what Lorraine said about Ishmael, Skylar knew her mother still cared about him. Once, when Skylar had asked her why she had married Ishmael in the first place, if she didn't like Africa or his cultural traditions, Lorraine had quietly said:

“He was different."

In later conversations, she'd say she was a naive young girl looking to connect with her African roots. Either way, Skylar always concluded that she still loved Ishmael, and would've wished for the marriage to work out.

Dinner in the small house was quiet. A few times, Ishmael pondered the whereabouts of Grandpa Alan, but didn't dwell on it. After dinner, when his wife had retired to bed, Ishmael invited her to sit with him on the veranda.

“How is your mother doing?”

"She's fine." Skylar was surprised by the questions, and for a second, waited for vitriol about Lorraine.

"Has she remarried?"

"Nope," she answered too honestly. When Skylar thought about it, she realized it was a good idea to say as little about Lorraine to Ishmael as possible. Her mother repeatedly told friends she had no time for a man. Her only husband was her job, as the managing director of an independent radio station in North York; all her free time was spent working.

Skylar and Ishmael fell quiet for some time, because like her, he didn’t seem to know what to say. He was a man of few words. She knew that, but not much else about her father. Her only vivid memory was of him sitting by a baobab tree, holding her and smiling. It was the memory stored in her most treasured photograph of them.

“Why did you want to come?” he asked, suddenly interested.


  1. I missed your revision last week, and was looking forward to it!

    This is coming along nicely; good job. I particularly enjoyed your descriptions of the landscape as they traveled from the airport, and of the residences themselves.

    As others commented last time, the conversation with her Mom is well written. You've shown us how much the awkwardness between her parents bothers her in a way that creates sympathy for the MC. These scenes show me the depth of your writing skills.

    I still love the memory of her sitting with her father by a baobab tree.

    There are a few instances where you use devices like biting lips and nodding which are okay every now and again, but it's important not to rely on them, and to find more interesting and challenging ways to say what you're trying to say.

    I think you have an intriguing idea for a story here and it will be nice to see more of this in the future.

    Best of luck with it.


  2. I love the name of your piece!

    This is a fantastic revision.

    I really get a sense of Skylar's shyness right from the start.
    And i love how we can actually see what Skylar sees in this revision: "Bits of blue sparkle", animals grazing, landscape details. Wonderful.

    The description of the setting is a huge improvement and allowed me to much more fully enjoy the experience of reading this piece.

    One tiny inconsistency" You mention she had never been outside the city, but also that she'd been to Kenya when she was six. I'm inferring you mean she hadn't been outside Toronto very often. Might be good to specify that.

    Is she secretive about the phone call, or confident using the phone long-distance will be OK? Does she even know the international calling code? Showing us these two things could give a bit of an edge to this scene. Maybe she wants to use the phone but too shy to ask? Or is she totally at ease with Grandpa Alan? I get the sense it could go either way at this point.

    The mother is even better this time. I can really visualize her! I love love love her voice.

    I get the sense that the grandfather, the father and Maja are sort of emotionally detached and clumsy with personal relationships. They really don't make her feel very welcome, leaving her to her own devices once she arrives at the house. I think this is intentional… but I'm not sure. Might want to address that by either pushing it further or making them more warm towards her (if that is the case.)

    Just curious: what do they eat for dinner? A great time to show us more cultural differences.. Maybe her mom makes the same dish at home in Canada but can't get all the spices she needs to make it taste as good as this? Just a thought!

    This is such a fantastic revision. Great job!

  3. I'm so glad I got to read more of this. I like the description of the landscape. It gives me a better sense of where she is and builds on that feeling of adventure. I like the clumsiness of her family interactions mixed with her eagerness to see the place. Because you have such an interesting locale, I want more paragraphs like this:

    The one-story house was across the yard from the two-story family owned lodge. Cleanly painted Luo and other African tribal designs covered the walls. A mock thatched roof completed its African look. It stood alone, except for the plain white, brick house, and a small barn lingering at the edge of the bush land. Grandpa Alan let her know she’d share boarding with her father, Ishmael, and his new wife, whom she had yet to meet.

    I love that tribal designs lie beneath a mock thatched roof. The use of the word "lingering" for the barn injects a lot of character into the landscape itself.

    I have such a strong sense of her mom from the get-go with their conversation and just a few details, I'd like to know as much about Skylar. I'd like to feel a bit more connected to her.

    Also, I have to agree with Jen. I'm such a huge food person, I'd love a rich description of their meal. It's also a great opportunity to show more family interactions and more of Skylar's personality. Are there a lot of unfamiliar dishes that she tears into with gusto? Given her desire for adventure that's what I'd expect, but I don't know.

    I like the revision. Keep it going. Good luck!

  4. Hi McKenzie,

    Much stronger! I get a much clearer sense of her the overall dynamic and a better sense of how she is reacting to the way everyone is treating her. That's great. I also love the descriptions you've added. Those are really adding to the story. I'd love a little more sensory input--how does the heat feel on her skin, how do things smell. The light at the beginning, for example, is great, although be careful to specifiy how she recovers. The sun doesn't go away, so presumably something else happens.

    Can you explain a bit more about why her mother lives in Toronto but works in New York? That's a little confusing. And be careful to keep the story rolling. You've got a great setup.

    Best of luck with this!

  5. I think you confuse "North York"-- region in Toronto with New York.

  6. This has such an intriguing and refreshing plot and character. I want you to really focus on the writing itself and make it shine. The world could so easily grab us. Use sensory details and intersperse them within the dialogue, inner monologue and action so we get to interact with the world along with your character. She hasn't been there since she was six, so let's see what she does along with all the feelings and such. Do an exercise and write a page without explaining anything, just literally what she sees, thinks, feels, etc. because you have no one to explain it to, it's just you. Then go read it after a day or two and see how much info you need to add back in to make it make sense.

  7. I think this is really coming along and I can start to see what she sees. It's a story in a setting that I haven't read much about so it is interesting, intriguing and can be even more so. Good job.