Monday, August 5, 2013

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Mell

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

Outside the Nairobi Airport Terminal, 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 there now 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 a creepy stranger.

“Skylar, my dear, how are you,” he squeezed her shoulders when she reached him. She should let him know he hated when people squeezed her, but she forced a smile. “You finally came home.”

"Yep," she answered shyly.

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 and had little contact with her father’s family throughout the years.

At the one-story house, sitting across the yard from the family owned lodge, 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, coolly when she saw Grandpa Alan getting ready to leave.

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

“Alright,” she nodded.

He watched her with a smile. “We’ll spend plenty of time together later.”

She nodded. After he left, she moved toward the small window, admiring the view if the plains from the window of her small room. 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 the city. 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. “Did Ishmael pick you up?”

“No, Grandpa Alan did,” she admitted. She could hear the cynicism in her mother’s tone.

“He’s not still into voodoo is he?”

She rolled her eyes. “Mom, I don’t know,” she answered coolly.

“I bet he is,” Lorraine hissed bitterly.

Skylar winced, listening to her mother.

"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, she stepped up the badmouthing of her 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 looked slimmer than she remembered him. He wore a business suit. Skylar lunged herself into his arms, “Daddy!”

Ishmael Edoje grabbed her by the waist, wielding her to face him. "Skylar," he said, coolly. “My goodness, look at you.”

Ishmael's wife came into view then. She was short, and curvy, and she stared at Skylar with shy curiosity, but didn’t say hello.

"When did you get here?" Ishmael asked.

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

"And your grandfather didn't say to me outside," 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. Her mother, and Michelle Holmes, her friend back home, had spent exhausting time trying to feminize her. It hadn’t worked. As long as she was clean, fed and healthy, little bothered her.

"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 hug her. "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, and there, he asked about how Lorraine was doing. She was surprised. Lorraine had taken great care in not discussing Ishmael at all.

"She's fine."

"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 come?” he asked suddenly interested.


  1. You've set this up nicely, weaving in all kinds of details, and I'm interested to read more.

    There are some places where you 'tell' instead of 'show,' usually when you tell us someone's tone/attitude. For example: "She could hear the cynicism in her mother’s tone." Why not make the mother's tone clear in her dialog -- "I bet Ishmael didn't even bother to pick you up himself." Trust your reader -- they'll understand.

    '"And your grandfather didn't say to me outside," he spoke unbelievingly.' Make Ishmael's dialog show his surprise.

    I also suggest editing to avoid repetitions ("After he left, she moved toward the small window, admiring the view if the plains from the window of her small room.") No need to have both 'moved toward the window' and 'from the window'

    In some places the pronouns get confusing - "Because her mother didn’t want her to come to Kenya, she stepped up the badmouthing of her father and grandfather." I didn't know who 'she' was, the mother or Skylar. I had to re-read to figure it out, which interrupts the story for me as a reader.

    I'm also curious what kind of lodge it is -- hunting? tourist camp? Opulent or run-down?

    This is an intriguing start!

  2. I think your setting will be very interesting for a reader and it will be intriguing to see where the fantasy comes into your story. You've written a nice, flowing start.

    Some of the wording comes across as awkward to me, like "wielding her to face him." And:

    "And your grandfather didn't say to me outside" I'm not sure if he speaks in halting English, or you're trying to say something like: your grandfather didn't tell me you were here.

    Little, nitpick in a nice beginning, I guess.

    I particularly love: Her only vivid memory was of him sitting by a baobab tree, holding her and smiling.

    Somehow I can picture how fond she is of this memory by how you've phrased it.

    Best of luck with it!

  3. I really like the setting and want to know more about the lodge/family business. When she first meets her grandfather at the airport, I think you could edit down the stuff about the sun--combine a few sentences. I also wondered about the "creepy stranger" comment. Did you mean for it to show us that she's feeling uneasy around all the strangers? Is she just worried about not recognizing him?

    I feel all the adverbs you use with your dialogue tags are unnecessary. I too have a hard time showing and not telling. So, for instance, instead of using, "she said shyly" you could have her cast her eyes down to the floor and it conveys the same.

    The following verbiage confused me:
    wielding her to face him
    And your grandfather didn't say to me outside

    I also thought that if she hadn't seen her father in a very long time, while she would be excited to see him, there might be some awkwardness upon that first meeting. But she lunges into his arms when she first sees him. You mentioned that she had little contact with his family since she was six. Does that extend to her father as well or did they keep in touch better?

    Grandpa Alan being absent during dinner was intriguing. I wondered what he might be doing over at the lodge. I also like Skylar as a character--her taking this chance/opportunity to explore the world and learn more about her family.

    Good luck!

  4. Ugh--the comments that posted at 10:19pm are from Michele Moss. Don't know why my name isn't showing up. I updated the profile.

  5. A very fresh take on a coming-of-age story. I am intrigued by the contrast between Toronto and Kenya through the eyes of this girl. There could be more reference to that contrast from the start.

    The ride from the airport is a good time to introduce the landscape and her feelings. What does she see and feel? This is perhaps the time to contrast Toronto and her mother.

    What does the lodge look like? What kind of "lodge" is it?

    Age could be referenced earlier; when she says she hasn't been to Nairobi since she was six, clue us in with something like "…throughout the eleven years in between."

    How long is she supposed to stay? Could use that info up front.

    Characters could use some fleshing out. Skylar says she's excited but she doesn't seem so: she speaks "coolly" and says little; "yep" sounds like a bored teenager. How could you give her more enthusiasm and personality? I'd love to see more of her inner world.

    I'm a bit confused by the father. He invited her to come but then he asks her why she came. Is he to be trusted?

    There are two distinct tones here: the quiet and serious overall tone versus the somewhat "snarky", teenage tone of the conversation with the mother. What kind of tone do you want to achieve overall?

    This is a great premise with huge potential. I am interested enough to keep reading and eager to know what is in store for these characters. Can't wait to see what you do with this!

  6. I think you set up a nice premise and a location not to many people know about.

    A few things I noticed.

    She should let him know he hated when people squeezed her, but she forced a smile. Seems as if another person is speaking for her and simply "she hated when people squeezed her" may work better. Also on the second "she" in that sentence it seems the "s" was left off.

    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 the city. Leave the second "the city" off the end of the sentence.

    You may need to look it over for missing comma's. Also sometimes words such as "hissed" convey the feeling without needing a second word to back it up.

    "And your grandfather didn't say to me outside," he spoke unbelievingly. There might be a word missing unless thats how he speaks and if it is how he speaks there might be a better way.

    Sorry, just some of the things that came to me on the first read through.

    Good job and I can't wait to learn more about the lodge.

  7. I would consider re-arranging the opening maybe like this:

    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 outside the Nairobi Airport Terminal about twenty minutes.

    I was a little confused about her mood swings, excited one minute, stand off-ish the next. Did she read something in her father's body language that made her feel unwelcome? You can totally do that, teenagers moods swing like hammocks, you just need to make it clear why.

    Otherwise, well written, and a very cool opening.

  8. I love the premise! I feel like there's too much telling and info dump in the opening here. Try to go through and decide what info is necessary to the story at this point. We can surmise most of the feelings her mother has from the interactions on the phone. One or two sentences at a time are better than paragraphs with the mom and dad's past. We want to focus on your MC and her current situation. I am curious what it was about her mom that chased her away, though you give good hints with the desire for a makeover and badmouthing Africa, etc. Show us the scenery! Let us experience this amazing place with her. How does she feel about her father's cool reaction? Figure out what needs to be said here and show us. :D

  9. Hi,

    The landscape and setup here have so much promise. Africa. Wildlife. Voodoo? Mysteries...

    That's all fantastic. But. You're not really letting us get close to your mc. We don't really know what she wants or needs, and so we have no way of gauging if there is a compelling story question here. Yes, we can wonder whether she will reconcile with her family and/or whether she will get caught up in something related to voodoo, but we don't have the context to tell us whether she cares enough about reconciling with them. We also don't know whether the voodoo issue is a real problem. Speaking personally, I'm discounting it as a real danger because otherwise, why would the mother let her go? And presumably, pay to have her go.

    I haven't read the other comments yet, but I'm sure they will have mentioned info dumping, and here I am telling your that I want to know more. That will likely be very confusing. Info dumps of any kind are bad, don't get me wrong. No matter what kind of information you giving us, you have to sliver it in a very small piece at a time, and the best way to do that is to let us be privy to your mc's thoughts while she reacts to what she sees and what people do and say to her. For example when she is seeing the landscape on the drive, she could find things to contradict her mothers view of Africa, and at the same time, either contradict or affirm her own preconceptions. You describe the landscape this way, add texture and richness and presence, but you are deeply in your mc's pov and therefore the landscape tells us about her and about her mother as well.

    A few other things:

    1. You're moving through the narrative too fast, glossing over things that are too significant to skip over. As a result, we never get deeply enough into a scene before you push us on. Show us the wonder, the anxiety, the bewilderment, the anxiety. Show us more of each interaction and make us feel what she feels. Walk in her skin!

    2. Watch out for filter words that keep us at arms length. Saw, noticed, heard, felt and so on are not necessary because they are implied. Give us her thoughts in her own voice.

    3. Watch out for the adverbs in your dialogue tags. Your dialogue should show us that she is cool, so if you feel the need to tell us how she said something, work on the dialogue until you don't, or add body language that demonstrates the emotion.

    I am excited to see what you do with this! It has so much potential!!!!

  10. Thanks for the constructive criticism. I have made some adjustments, granted a little late.

    Here are the three main criticisms I have received.

    1. Many people have commented on wanting to see more of the "landscape" and the lodge. [this is not the true setting of the story]

    2. Telling versus showing (I have made some adjustments/will make more)

    3. Too much information in one section/ too little information about Skylar's motives/wants

    4. Adverb usage