Monday, September 9, 2013

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Hinebaugh

Name: Olivia Hinebaugh
Genre: YA Contemporary
Title: Lark's Rebellion

I’m lying here in the tall grass, staring at the perfectly fluffy clouds, trying to figure out how to piss off my parents. This shouldn’t be so hard. I’m sixteen, after all. Isn’t it supposed to come with the territory? I’m writing down a list. I’m very methodical like this. I have a five subject notebook (college-ruled of course) filled with similar lists.

So far all I have is:

Sixteen-year-old rebellion ideas

1. Buy new clothes.
2. Start eating meat.
3. Join a convent.
4. Cut my hair.

I’ve never had this much trouble generating a list before. I like my lists like I like my hair: as long as possible. The white space on the page makes my fingers itchy and twitchy. I stick the well-chewed pen in my mouth and hold the notebook so it shades my eyes from the sun.

I read over my list again. This won’t do.

I begin a new list:

Reasons why the previous list is impractical

1. Buy new clothes
a. I don’t have money.
b. I don’t have any way to get to the nearest mall, which is 45 minutes away to buy said clothes.
c. I enjoy making my own clothes.
2. Start eating meat
a. Meat is gross.
b. Again, no money, no car, don’t know how to slaughter animals.
c. Sean says you can get something called “the meat sweats” and that just plain makes me want to vomit.
3. Join a convent
a. Not sure if convents still exist
b. Could never be abstinent
c. Don’t believe in God
d. I think nuns have to sing, and I have a terrible voice
4. Cut my hair
a. I love my hair
b. Parents would probably see a short ‘do as a form of self-expression: plan would backfire.

It’s useless. Nonconformity is the norm here in Peacesylvania. Peacesylvania is the nom du jour for our off-the-grid tract of land in the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania. It was changed a few months ago. It’s supposed to inspire us for greater harmony. The elders just weren’t digging the name Eternal Summer Hill any more.

My parents have to respect my individuality. It’s, like, one of the rules they signed off on when they joined. I mean, they didn’t literally sign. And there aren’t actually any rules written down. Old Man Nelson would say: “No rules, man. Paper trails just let the man control you.” He’s paranoid, but everyone still listens to him. Crazy hippie.

My goal now is to find the least hippie thing to do, but also something that doesn’t repulse me. I have a glimmer of an idea when Sean interrupts me.

“Lark! It’s quittin’ time!” he shouts louder than he needs to and it startles me.

“Jesus, Sean. You have to stop sneaking up on me!” I stand up and do a quick tick-check on my bare arms and legs. It’s really freaking hot and my mass of curly, partially dreaded, partially braided hair makes my back feel immediately sticky.

I reach behind Sean and grab the ratty bandana that’s always in his back pocket and use it to tie up my hair.

“I definitely just used that to wipe my nose,” he says. He’s clearly been shoveling manure or composting or something because his sweaty face is streaked with dark brown soil.

“Whatever,” I smile sarcastically, “I love your snot.”

“You are so gross,” he says.

“Says the one with half of his lunch still stuck in his beard,” I tease.

“I’m thinking of shaving it,” he says.

I raise my eyebrows at him. He’s normally so keen to fit in. He loves the Peacesylvania aesthetic. Because he grew up so mainstream, I think he feels like he needs to prove something.

“So what were you out here making a list of?” he asks, trying to snatch my notebook.

“Back off!” I scold him.

“You were on my watch, so you have to tell me,” he says, rubbing a filthy hand through his sweaty hair as we start back toward the little hamlet of cabins and vehicles.

He’s in charge of my “unschooling.” It’s like homeschooling only without a curriculum. The emphasis is on self-exploration and real-life skills. This translates to me reading. A lot. And writing my fair share of lists and personal reflections. There’s a good dose of staring at the sky and shoveling manure mixed in there. Sean is the most educated of my siblings. He finished middle school before we joined up with the commune. I was only five, and my memories of mainstream school were all about nap mats and snack time.

“It was a bit of self-reflection,” I tell him. “I’ve been reading as wide a variety of coming of age stories as I can and there’s a central theme.”

“Oh yeah?” He’s actually interested. It’s why we get along so well. My other older brother, Hudson is a hooligan. Hudson says he’s pursuing a life of spirituality, but let’s call it what it is: an extreme pot habit. Sean’s the opposite. He’s hardworking to a fault. He wants to help everybody in every way he can. He is sickeningly helpful. Our dad says he takes after his mom, whom he barely remembers. My mom, on the other hand, probably has more in common with Hudson and my wild younger siblings. “Free spirit” would be an understatement.

“Well, there’s always a sort of declaration of independence. A coming into one’s own. A division from the group. And always some sort of great self-discovery. Occasionally regarding sexuality. Other times regarding moral obligation.”

“So which of these aspects are you pondering?” Sean asks.

“The division from the group part. I think I’ve got the other ones covered.” I say this with complete certainty. Obviously I’ve listed the ways I’ve come into my own and cross-referenced them to the works of classic American literature I’ve been reading.

“Sounds like you’ve been working hard. You’ll have to let me know what little act of rebellion you’re cooking up,” Sean winks at me.

“Oh, you’ll be the first to know,” I say. “It might involve the use of your car.”

We reach the central part of the commune, an RV that serves as our main kitchen and dining room.

“Anytime,” He offers. “Though I was going to replace the wheel bearings tomorrow.”

“Ooh, can I help you? I’ve always wanted to learn how to do that.” I say.

“Really?” He asks.

He’d probably love to teach me this, but I have no real interest. “No,” I laugh. He swats at me as I run up the steps into the kitchen.

7 comments:

  1. Enjoyed reading this. Just a few comments.

    1) I’m very methodical like this. -- I propose skipping this sentence, because you SHOW it so nicely in the sentences surrounding this, and this particular sentence is TELLING me the stuff I already know.
    2) trying to figure out how to piss off my parents--HILARIOUS
    3) Peacesylvania--hilarious
    4) nice banter between the siblings
    5) this paragraph confused me:
    “The division from the group part. I think I’ve got the other ones covered.” I say this with complete certainty. Obviously I’ve listed the ways I’ve come into my own and cross-referenced them to the works of classic American literature I’ve been rea...
    - does her brother KNOW she's listed the ways she's come into her own and cross-referenced them to literature? Feels like this needs to be spoken aloud. It pulled me out of the story wondering if there were supposed to be quotes around it. Just a thought.
    6) this sounds like a very interesting setting you've conjured up in your head--good luck with it!

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  2. This is an interesting character in an interesting situation. I wonder if you could get a bit more of her own voice in there –make the list really individual or off the wall, for example. It felt a little bit slow to get started and I wonder if you could give the conversation with her brother (though the dialogue itself is good) some more direction, some more change across it. Sometimes dialogue comes almost too easily and runs away from the story, if you see what I mean (I mean in general terms, not specifically picking on this piece). Ideally dialogue ought to illustrate some kind of change in balance, like a scale. Where do they start off and where do they end up? What has changed (subtly)? Often it works to re-balance power relations, but if not, then to illuminate people about each other. Pick any dialogue scene in any great novel and you’ll see that the dialogue has a function, it does something. There’s a tension in it that shifts as the words are spoken. Here, that tension could be that by the end of the conversation her brother gains a little more respect for her, begins to think of her as an adult, as he sees she is planning this act of rebellion.

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  3. Love the unique setting/situation that your MC is in, but I'm not feeling who she really is. The list is clever, but I want to see more of her internal dialogue on WHY she feels the urge to rebel. I want to know her and be pulled into her world, not introduced to it through telling. Show us what it's like through her interaction with her brother and others. Show us what she doesn't like and what she does. Then hint at the main conflict. Is it her leaving this lifestyle? Then again, there has to be more of a driving force both internally and externally.

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  4. Hi Olivia,

    I liked the list device as a way to tell the reader about Lark. Lark comes across as smart, funny and likeable. You’ve presented an interesting world and I want to find out how Lark will rebel.

    The writing also came across as fresh. I felt you turned the use of the cliche ‘perfectly fluffy clouds’ on its head, making it an effective way to show Lark’s distain for her world. I did wonder whether substituting ‘rebellion’ for ‘it’ in ‘Isn’t (it) rebellion supposed to come with the territory’ might give greater clarity? Also, I thought you might cut “I read over my list again. This won’t do’ and go straight to the “I begin a new list’ line.

    I like the rapport between Lark and Sean, but think you need to let the reader know right away that he’s her brother – we go 14 (short) paragraphs before we find this out.

    While I like Lark’s intellectual approach to rebellion and found it funny, I hope that as her story progresses, she’ll discover a gut-level desire for change.

    Your story is different than a lot of the YA I read in that there’s not much in the way of action at the start, but Lark is a fascinating character and drew me into the story and I wanted to continue on with her.

    Best wishes.

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  5. Hello Olivia,

    Great self-conscious and punchy voice for Lark. I like the detail on "college-ruled of course."
    And the list does reflect the meticulous personality. Lark's a planner! And it's very obvious who she considers her allies.

    I do feel that the random information bogs the pacing. It's apparent she's bored and wants to rebel but unless you're going for a stream-of-consciousness approach (similar to Virgina Woolf), lines like "I like my lists like I like my hair" don't add to the story or characterization (she already lists her hair).
    Consider also revising "Sixteen-year old rebellion ideas." When I first read it, I thought the ideas were 16 years old, rather then ideas belonging to a sixteen year old.

    Also, instead of having her thinking end with "when Sean interrupts me", maybe just have him interrupt.

    I definitely would like to find out more about her plans.

    Cheers!

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  6. Olivia,

    This is unique! I love the setting and tone of lines like these: "My parents have to respect my individuality. It’s, like, one of the rules they signed off on when they joined. I mean, they didn’t literally sign. And there aren’t actually any rules written down. Old Man Nelson would say: “No rules, man. Paper trails just let the man control you.” He’s paranoid, but everyone still listens to him. Crazy hippie."

    Your MC and her ally/brother are charming. Their conversation and gestures feel natural.

    As you revise, I suggest you think about what expectations you're establishing with this opening. Why does the story start here? Why is Lark changing? I'd like to know what type of rebellion she's planning in these first five pages. As a mechanism for exploring that, the lists at the beginning don't feel as strong as the later dialog and IM. I wonder if you could get the benefit of the list device by offering the first list and then summarizing the second. I'd like to see details of the interesting setting (the commune and RV) on the first page.

    Best of luck with this!

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  7. Hi Olivia!

    The voice is really interesting for this story. Lark seems like a very intriguing MC and I adore her use of lists. Her setting (Peacesylvania -- very cute name) seems to be very liberal, as does her mother and most of her brothers, so her desire to make lists and organize things in her life already shows us she's maybe the odd one out in her family.

    I really enjoyed Lark and Sean's interaction. Their banter is very sibling like and it reveals a good amount about them and their family situation. If I was browsing through a bookstore, I would be interested in seeing more of this story.

    As far as revising goes, I would be interested in a bit more of a personal reason why Lark wants to rebel. It seems she wants to because that's what she thinks -- from her readings -- she expected to do. It could be that that's all it is for now, but I would like to see her develop a real reason for it later in the story.

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