Sunday, September 15, 2013

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Yuen Rev 1

Name: Sunni Yuen
Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi
Title: The Germ Factory

Saskia splayed her fingers over the old-fashioned cash register. The muted sheen of the long brass keys reflected the pink of her nail polish. Perfect. It was a drowsy spot in the afternoon, and she reveled in the quiet, which was surprising considering she had company. She looked away from the register to her left, where Chloe leafed through the dog-eared pages of a detective novel Saskia did not recognize. Across the counter, March was absorbed with applying a bead of Elmer’s glue to his stamp book. Stamps were his latest obsession. Good. They were entertaining themselves without mucking about the store.

She gazed down the sun-dappled aisles, inhaling the comforting scent of paprika and honey. The shelves were laden with bottles of sunflower seed oil, chocolate wafers, and crusty loaves of poppy seed bread. The beets and pickles glowed ruby and moss green in their jars.

The corner of Saskia’s mouth twitched upwards. She had worked hard all summer stocking inventory and working the till to show Uncle Peter she could run the store. And now, it was actually happening. She, Saskia Brennan, age fifteen, one week shy of high school, was managing the store without any adult supervision. Once school started, she could work late afternoons and weekends freeing Uncle Peter to focus on his research.

“Why are you smiling? No one else is here,” Chloe asked. She wore a petulant expression and slumped low on her stool, legs dangling.

“I’m here,” March said without looking up from his stamps.

“I meant customers. People who matter,” Chloe amended before she clamped her lips around a red braid of licorice and sucked hard.

Saskia suppressed a sigh. That behavior might be tolerated from a ten-year-old like March but definitely not a high school student. Sometimes she found it hard to believe Chloe used to be her closest friend. But that was before Chloe fell in with the computer geek crowd and began rejecting anything mainstream. At least March was still the same boisterous boy, even if he was a pain-in-the-neck to his sister. But that was Chloe’s problem.

“Don’t listen to her, Saskia,” March said. “Chloe’s grumpy because she wants to play that dumb computer game but Mom and Dad made us come here.”

Chloe stuck her mutilated licorice in her detective novel as a bookmark and snapped the covers together. “Excuse me, dumb game?”

“Dumb and boring. All you do is shoot smoke rings in Pig’s Quest,” March taunted.

“Pygmalion’s Quest is not about brainless button-mashing,” Chloe declared. “It’s about design. You pick an avatar and you decide what special powers it gets by writing code. Like firebolts for my mage! I had to work out the physics of the temperature and the speed depending on the angle. And what works best also depends on the bad guy or obstacle.”

This sounded complicated. “Mmm-hmmm,” Saskia said.

“So if a robber attacks, Chloe can save us!” March laughed.

“Can we please not talk about robbers?” Saskia interrupted. She wasn’t superstitious but she could not help glancing out the window. Luckily, the street was clear. A robber was the last thing she wanted to think about on her first day working unsupervised.

Chloe’s eyes shone with excitement. “March brought up robbers, not me. But there’s more. The first team to finish Pygmalion’s Quest gets to help design the next game from Fossilware. I mean they’re only the most cutting-edge developer ever! It’s pure torture to be this close and not finish when school is about to get in the way.”

“Get in the way?” Saskia shook her head in disbelief. “Gee Chloe, high school actually matters. You need to join the debate club or Model UN and build your resume, learn to put on makeup, dance with boys–” Seeing Chloe flail her arms about in a mock waltz, Saskia paused and pressed her lips thinly together. Chloe needed to grow up, badly.

“What should I be learning?” protested March in a tone Saskia recognized as his give-me-attention voice.

“Fractions and to stop rolling down hills like a feral child,” Saskia said and she jabbed a key on the register for emphasis. The metallic clang punctuated the silence followed by tinkling wind chimes. A customer had arrived. Good thing too because March was about to ask and discover what “feral” meant, which would have resulted in an argument.

The customer hovered inside the entrance. He was tall and his broad shoulders were hunched over in a rumpled trench coat that fluttered to his ankles. He wore a battered fedora, under which Saskia could see a deeply lined forehead. He looked haggard. He wordlessly surveyed the store, eyes roving down the aisles to the back where Uncle Peter kept his workshop.

Saskia tossed her hair over her shoulder and greeted the man with a weak smile. She walked up to him and offered a pair of tongs and wax envelope. “Can I help you?” She spoke in her most grown-up voice.

He leaned close, and she caught the odor of burnt matches and sour yeast. He licked his lips. “Where’s the hive?”

“Excuse me?” Saskia’s nostrils curled. There was something unsettling about this man. His hand kept drifting to the pocket by his left hip, as if he sought to reassure himself that something was still there.

“The hive,” he repeated as he took the tongs and wax envelope from Saskia. “Where is it?”

“If you’re looking for honey,” Saskia said, fishing for comprehension. “It’s in the far left aisle.”

The man lumbered in that direction, pockets clinking. Saskia watched him stoop over the bins and snatch handfuls of dried apricots, toffee, and black pepper crusted walnuts. These he jammed into the same wax envelope. It was going to be a headache to ring him up.

The man was now running his finger along the inner rim of an open jar of beets. He stuck it in his mouth and smacked his lips. “Trace remnants of elementals.” He whistled softly, rapping on the walls. “Where are you hiding?”

Saskia stiffened. What was he rambling about? He patted the pocket by his left hip again, briefly flashing a black metal handle. Saskia craned her neck for a better view.

A finger jabbed her forearm and she nearly yelped.

“See the pocket by his left hip? He’s got an L-shaped object inside. I think—I think it’s a gun!” Chloe whispered.

“Don’t be ridiculous. This isn’t an Agatha Christie book,” Saskia growled under her breath but she strained again. That pocket was now out of her line of sight but she could see other sagging pockets. Did they conceal weapons? There was a flash of silver. She squinted. No, just a pair of tongs. Wait, tongs. The store’s tongs. Another pocket gaped open, revealing the bottle cap of ginger beer, also from the store. She watched in shock as Uncle Peter’s microscope slid neatly into the same pocket.

Saskia seized Chloe’s elbow and pulled her to the back of the store. The man was hunched over the paper, tools, and gears scattered on Uncle Peter’s workbench. His right thumb repeatedly flicked a lighter on and off. “The hive is in the safe,” he muttered. “Protected. Safe. Key. If they won’t give it to us, we’ll break in and smoke’m. Smoke’m all out.”

Safe? Smoke? Saskia’s mouth contorted as he brought the lighter to the corner of a stack of paper


  1. Like this revision. You did a great job of condensing the video game discussion to a short but sweet interaction.

    Good detail given about the two girls explaining that they used to be better friends than they are now.

    good tension!

    like "fishing for comprehension"

    like "hand drifts to his pocket to reassure himself..."

    Few picky points:
    1) 'He' cluster in paragraph starting: "the customer hovered"

    2) the "she strained again" seems to need "she strained again to see" (or, at least, my mind keeps filling that in for me)

    That's it--nice job!

  2. Hi Sunni,

    I like the way you let us know right away that Saskia' not alone -- and why Chloe and March are there. I also like the way you fold in the detail about Uncle Peter's research.

    The story doesn't bog down at the computer game explanation and its inclusion feels like a natural part of Chloe and March's argument.

    Pikcy point - How does Saskia know 'March was about to ask' what feral meant?

    The creepy customer is well-drawn.

    'Agatha Christie' seemed an old reference for a 15-year-old to make, but since I don't know Saskia that well yet, this may be appropriate for her to say.

    Great page turner of a closing line.

    - Peggy

  3. Great job revising. I feel like I get a much better sense of who Saskia is. I do have one concern though. If Chloe and Saskia are not close anymore, why is she hanging out with her and her brother in her uncle's store? It doesn't feel normal to me. If friends have a falling out it's tough. Maybe Saskia doesn't know how to tell Chloe that she doesn't want to be bff's anymore because of all the time she spends gaming? Just a thought.

  4. Hi Sunni,

    Your work on this revision has really paid off. That first paragraph addresses so many of the comments you received. Bravo! It's good to know that the friends are in the shop right away and your choice of distractions for them is telling. That said, I feel like the first 3 paragraphs leading into the conversation could move faster. Here's another option: what if you began with your gorgeous snapshot of the shop (Saskia gazing down the aisles, running fingers over the cash register, thinking about her first day in charge) ... and then the wind chimes go and the friends walk in. You could use that to show us how an entry startles and unnerves Saskia.

    I like that the parents of Chloe and March send them to the shop. It says a lot about Chloe's situation (their disapproval of her new life) and Saskia's (that the store is considered safe).

    The conversation about the computer game flows smoothly in this draft. Could you build in even more linkage with real life? Can you use it as THE device for exploring robbers/safety? I think that would work better than the detective novel references. (For me, that jars a little with her image as a nerd.)

    Finally, I LOVE the new ending. Wow - wonderful. The stranger's speech and actions are so interesting. I think you could give those last two paragraphs even more space. I'd like additional details as the man moves into the workshop and Saskia and Chloe react to him.

    Great revision. I hope these comments are helpful.


  5. "mucking about" to me is one phrase so I wanted to read it as "mucking about in the store." (so nit-picky)
    Love "drowsy spot in the afternoon."
    sort of wish for "ruby red and moss green" because now I read "ruby and in their jars" If that makes sense.
    Why is there an open beet jar? samples?
    Also, I think you could add a little tension with the robber lines. Maybe Saskia has a nervous feeling that is actually a little premonition but she writes it off as just nerves because it's her first day?
    Still love the weirdness and tension when the guy walks in.
    I really like how you streamlined the explanation about the computer game. Well done!

  6. Sorry my comments are so late.

    I think you've done a great job here. The only suggestion I really have is to read your dialogue out loud. Some of it seems stilted to me. Also, contractions are your friends. I would personally take out the part about a potential robber coming in. It made me roll my eyes because I knew what was about to happen.

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