Monday, November 18, 2013

Alanna Peterson: Rev 2: THE CALL OF THE CROW

Name: Alanna Peterson
Genre: Young Adult Thriller

Alex had always found it strange that Marina’s parents chose to hang this photograph in their upstairs hallway. She saw no beauty in the crows dotting the blue sky, or the wall of golden cornstalks stretching before two girls in matching braids. Alex and Marina were younger then, and it was back when they liked all the same things, back when they went everywhere together. On that long-ago afternoon, they had raced through the corn maze until they came to a dead end. Retracing their steps didn’t help; the muddy trail seemed to lead in circles, and the dry husks shuddered when the wind blew, and the crows swooped just above their heads, as if the sky were squeezing shut, and Alex was certain they were lost. But then they turned a corner, and found their mothers hunched over their cameras, comparing photos. For them, it was only a pleasant autumn outing; they hadn’t felt trapped at all, because they had the map, and knew how to escape.

Tonight, though, Alex focused on this picture, to avoid the grinning faces in the family portraits otherwise lining the walls. They had turned ghostly in the dark, seeming to admonish her for staying up here. She knew she should return downstairs, where her mother was waiting, as eager to leave this party as Alex. But the man’s words had carried through the closed office door, directly to her, as she stepped out of Marina’s room with her raincoat draped limply over her arm. When she heard the phrase clinical trials, she made her choice. She stared at the crows in flight, listening.

Tara just called,” the man in the office said. “There’s been a security breach at SILO. Someone hacked in—and they might have accessed data from the clinical trials.”

On the human subjects?” Alex strained to hear this second voice, which was quieter, and also familiar: it was Mark Chu, Marina’s father. “But if that’s released—”

It won’t be.” His firm tone left no room for uncertainty. “Tara assured me that her team has it under control. They’ll locate the source of the breach and ensure that nothing gets out.”

Is there any way I can help?”

I’ll need you at the meeting when Tara comes in tomorrow. We can go from there.” A phone chimed, and there was a pause. “I have to get going—Emmett’s waiting for me to drop some cash at his crime prevention fundraiser. I’ll keep you posted.”

The office door flew open, leaving Alex blinking in the sudden light. There, slowly coming into focus as her eyes adjusted, was the source of the voice. Richard Caring.

Alex recognized him from television: entire newscasts were occasionally devoted to his achievements as CEO of Caring Corp, which had been in his family for decades. Everyone in Seattle loved him, since he’d made the decision to move the food company’s headquarters to their city. Many of her friends’ parents commuted to work at Caring Corp’s downtown skyscraper each morning, including Mark, whose recent promotion to Vice President was being celebrated tonight.

Fortunately for Alex, Richard focused on his phone as he stepped out of the office. Alex was about to turn and flee, but froze when Mark’s gaze landed on her. He opened his mouth and drew in a breath, and for one awful moment she thought he would call out to her: Alex, what are you doing up here? But instead, he gave a curt side-nod toward the staircase, entreating her silently to leave, as he said to Richard, “So, I hear you and Emmett were frat brothers back in the day.” Richard turned around to face Mark, without noticing the fifteen-year-old lurking at the end of the hall. Alex took advantage of the distraction and rushed downstairs, equally grateful to Mark and to the carpet quieting her footsteps.

Once in the dining room, she stared at the raincoat she still held. If she hadn’t gone upstairs to retrieve it, she would never have heard about SILO, or the clinical trials there. Alex could think of only one reason for keeping the data secret: the research must be harming the human subjects.

Perhaps this was the terrible moment she’d always dreaded, though it wasn’t at all what she had expected. She’d imagined a gunman invading her school, or a policeman calling her phone, saying, There’s been an accident. Or a gas explosion, something she’d feared for years, ever since she’d learned about how natural gas was scented like rotten eggs so you could smell a leak, but if you didn’t notice, or maybe if you weren’t sure what rotten eggs even smelled like, the gas would gather invisibly, replacing all the good air, until you’d flip a switch and the whole house would go up in flames. Late one night, long ago, when she admitted this fear to her parents, her father had gotten up and shown her the metal tubes where the gas came in, shown her how thick they were, how strong. She shivered beside him in the cold garage, unconvinced. Finally, her mother exclaimed, exasperated, We told you, Alex, there’s nothing to worry about, can’t you just let it go? Alex had gone back to bed, but she couldn’t stop thinking how it could all end—everything dissolving in a single burst of unbearable heat—just because she didn’t know the right smells, and because she turned on a light.

But she was older now, and realized that terrible moments didn’t have to be instantly catastrophic. Sometimes, they could be more insidious. Alex leaned against the dining room wall. With her free hand, she clutched her hair, twisting it into a thick coil. She took a slow deep breath, as her father had instructed her to do, but thinking of him only made it worse. She tried to stay positive: He’s fine. Stop freaking out about nothing. But all the while, wheeling through the back of her mind was clinical trials - clinical trials - clinical trials.

Alex’s thoughts were interrupted when she spotted Marina at the snack table, alone, scooping a handful of fluorescent-orange Blazin’ Bitz onto a red napkin. The bowl of spicy-hot mini-chips contrasted with the catered platters of bacon-wrapped asparagus and little toasts spread with pâté, but, like the ads said, it wasn’t a party without Blazin’ Bitz. Besides, they were one of Caring Corp’s bestselling brands.

Where’ve you been?” Marina asked, before placing a single chip in her mouth.

Alex was surprised at this question. Marina had ignored her all evening; Alex was quickly abandoned in favor of the daughters and sons of the many Caring Corp executives in attendance. Nevertheless, she wondered if Marina might know something useful. After confirming that Richard and Mark were not in the room, Alex began in a low voice, “I just heard your dad upstairs talking to Richard Caring. Has he ever mentioned something called SILO before?”

I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Marina’s phone buzzed, and she wiped her orange fingers on the napkin before poking at its screen. Alex fought her annoyance, not only with Marina’s distractedness during this important conversation, but also with her flaunting of the SynerG3, the phone everyone wanted, the phone that would not be officially released until next week, but that Mark had managed to procure as a gift for his daughter.

Marina smirked at the text she’d just received, then clicked the phone off. Alex tried to steer the conversation back. “It sounds like they’re doing some shady research. Something they don’t want anyone to know about.”

You must’ve misunderstood. Caring Corp does tons of perfectly normal research—we even did that focus group during our field trip.” After spending a morning in the food science labs learning how plants like corn and soybeans could be miraculously transformed into ingredients like dextrose and lecithin, they had participated in a taste test of several food products still under development.

No, this is different! I think they might be—”

Alex, you’re overreacting. What Caring Corp does is none of our business.”


  1. Hi Alanna! I love the work you've put into this. It feels like it's really solidified and grown since the first draft you posted. Alex's character feels much more complex and fleshed out and there are a lot of different layers of conflict that are going on on the page. The world building is still really well done and I like that you've added much more specificity to Alex's internal monologue. There are also a lot of neat details about her fears and her memories with Marina (and hints about her dad). I think the writing is very strong. My only comments have to do with motivation in a couple of spots and since I'm not totally sure where the story is going, I'm just making guesses and I could be wrong!

    A small thing: I like that the photo with the titular crows is described more vividly in the first paragraph. It's evocative and says a lot about Alex and Marina's history. However, Alex describes her negative feelings about the photo and I don't completely get why she's chosen to stare at it over something else? I'm not sure I'm explaining this well: she seems to have decided deliberately to stare at this picture she doesn't like and that decision feels strange to me. Maybe if she heard a noise and happened to freeze and was facing the photo...that would make more sense? I don't know. Again, it's a small thing because I know she says the family portraits are creepy, but when I was reading, I had a moment of "then why is she staring at it?"

    The other thing that jumped out at me is the phone call she overhears. It doesn't sound that suspicious to me and the conclusions she comes to (that there's a cover up of unethical research on human subjects) feels like a huge leap. That could be intentional, because later she's drawn as a somewhat paranoid person...and maybe it's a story where her paranoia is right for once? But if what she overhears is meant to feel really suspicious and get the reader on her side, I think the phone call needs to be more damning, or at least open to that interpretation. The phrase "clinical trials" doesn't set off alarm bells for me, and of course private data would be getting hacked would be a bad thing. The leap to "shady research" feels unearned and has me wondering about Alex. I think if Caring Corp is supposed to sound suspicious, you could drop in a few more details about the research that's been hacked, or if the company has assured the public they aren't doing human subject research, maybe mention that somewhere so it's clear they're being shady.

    Those are my only comments. I think you've got this opening really well developed, with intriguing characters and a lot of mystery. Good luck with it and thank you for sharing your work!

  2. Hi Alanna! I'm sorry I missed last week's comments. We were traveling and having Thanksgiving with family and didn't have a lot of extra time.

    The one comment I have is about the phone conversation and the worry over her father's safety. The conversation didn't say anything about people being harmed or in danger. Just the fact the information had been hacked and possibly leaked.

    Other than that, the edits you've made have added tons of depth to Alex's character and I love it! Good luck with this. I hope you land an agent soon and get it published so I can finish reading all of it:)
    Thank you for all your help and suggestions. I appreciate the advice!!

  3. Thank you so much for your feedback! I will definitely work on clarifying those issues. This workshop has been so helpful and I really appreciate all of your comments and advice!


    stretching before


    stretching behind

    Stretching before is still confusing. It still appears as if the girls are looking into the cornstalks

    they had raced through the corn maze until they came to a dead end. Sacred and helpless, they retraced their steps, but it didn't’t help. Their muddy tracks ran in circles, and the dry husks shuddered when the wind blew. Crows swooped above their heads as if the sky were squeezing shut. Alex was certain they were lost. But then they turned a corner, and found their mothers hunched over cameras, comparing photos. For the women, it was only a pleasant autumn outing; For Marian and Alex it was a nightmare. [End with a sentence of the fear Alex and Marina felt.]

    But the man’s words carried through
    and they accessed data from the clinical trials.

    As I read this again, I was wondering how Alex could be made more active. While standing in a hallway, she overhears a conversation that she is not supposed to be hearing when it seems like she might be found out eavesdropping someone steps in and rescues her. Basically, Alex hears something and runs away.

    If Alex is eventually going on a journey to uncover corporate malfeasance, then it would be great to display some sleuthing skills. Can you arrange a scenario where Alex has to piece this conversation or find out a way to follow the conversation? An example might be that the conversation starts upstairs and moves to another location but Alex needs to get to that other location without being noticed. For example, Alex hears part of Richard’s phone call in the room upstairs, but Richard and Chu decide to discuss the matter outside, in the garage, etc. So Alex has to unscrew a vent and jimmy a funnel attached to hose down the vent or do something to hear them in the garage or do something else to hear them in shed. She can also be found out and she needs to cleverly cover. The vent: My earring fell into it. She could knock over a pair of skis in the shed: “Marisa said that I could borrow these for my trip to Vail next weekend.” First, the above scenarios would demonstrate that the Alex can think on her feet and that she is also clever—too thinks anyone acting in an investigative capacity needs. If the information she seeks falls at her feet without Alex having to really do anything, except run away, I will not have much confidence that the protagonist is someone who will dig hard for clues and can find her way out of danger.

    If you keep the picture/corn maze idea, you might also do something with that. Marina is lost and scared, but Alex is level headed. She notices the direction of the sun. If they keep falling the sun through the maze, say going West, they will eventually find their way out.