Monday, December 9, 2013

Kim A. Larson: Stop Mr. Ryden

Name: Kim A. Larson
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
Title: Stop Mr. Ryden

The spiral-ringed notebook slips from my fingers and drops to the floor. That woman! She—she was in my dream last night. But who is she? And why is she at Walmart? Is she following me? She should have grabbed a cart that doesn’t squeak if she didn’t want me to notice her. Unless…that’s exactly what God wants.
“Earth to Anna.” My best friend Elle waves her hands in front of my face.
I stare at the woman from my dream through a maze of back-to-school shoppers. Is it really her? Tight shirt. Short shorts. But, yeah, it’s her. In my dream she wore a shiny red blouse, white scarf, and navy pants. Like an American flag. She stood next to an open door, against a white backdrop with words written in black letters. Words I can’t remember.
I ignore Elle and watch this woman sort through a bin of marked-down school supplies. This didn’t happen in my dream—but I know what happens next. I nudge Elle’s arm and nod toward the stranger. “She’s going to buy the pack of yellow highlighters.”
The woman tosses markers, note cards, and pens aside before throwing yellow highlighters into her cart.
“Wow!” Elle says. “You’re good.”
“No, not really. I’ve just been here before.”
“Yeah, haven’t we all.” Elle tosses her hair over one shoulder. “Every August—getting new school junk. You think we get our ninth-grade planners here or at school?” 
“Seriously, El, I just had another déjà vu.”
“You did?” She bounces into my personal space. “But weren’t you going to stop calling them that?”
“Yeah, but I just can’t say it.” I fidget, too uncertain of my gift and how to use it.
“Practice with me.” Elle cradles my face in her hands, pulling my cheeks up and down, moving my jaw with each word. “Say… Elle, I had another vision.” She drops her hands and rests them on my shoulders.
Uncomfortable, I turn my face away from her warm spearmint breath and from what feels like looking into a mirror—with the exception of her adorable dimples. Our hazel-green eyes and straight blonde hair are identical, but then half the girls I know wear their hair this same way. Yet, it’s still freaky that our two dark-haired dads, though brothers, produced daughters who look so much alike.   
“Tell me more!” Elle uses my shoulders as a springboard. “Did more happen? Besides the highlighters?” 
“No, that’s it.” A flash of dream resurfaces. “Don’t freak now, El. But she was in my dream last night, too.”
“Really? Buying highlighters?”
“No.” I take a deep breath. Sometimes it’s hard for even me to follow what’s happening. “That was just now in the déjà vu—I mean vision. Last night in my dream she stood by an open door with something written behind her. I wish I could remember what.”
“Yeah, me too. Like how sweet would that be? But what’s up with dreaming and having a vision of…her?” Elle glances over her shoulder and looks this woman up and down. “You think God is trying to tell you something? Like when your dad crashed his car?”
“Maybe.” I scowl.
The only dream I’ve ever had that actually came true was two years ago on the night my mom kicked my dad out of the house. He’d come home drunk again, and Mom had his suitcase packed and waiting outside the front door. She’d done this before, but this time was different. Earlier that day she’d had the locks changed and made me promise not to let him in.
“I still get goose bumps.” Elle shivers. “If you hadn’t had that dream…and prayed, your dad might not be alive.”
“Lucky me.” I cross my arms. He’s all but dead to me anyhow. Dropping out of my life after Mom divorced him. “Lane seven’s shortest.” I rush to get in line and out of this conversation.
After paying for our school supplies, we walk to Elle’s house. Her mom greets us with a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. At the first inhale of the sweet, buttery aroma, my mouth waters.
“Want a warm one with some milk?”
“Mmm, thanks, Auntie Cindy.” The chocolate chips melt and swirl with the lingering grease on my fingers as I gobble the cookie in three bites.  
 “Do you girls have everything you need for your new school?” Aunt Cindy pours our glasses of milk. The frothy bubbles surface then pop.
“Yeah, Mom,” Elle says, licking chocolate from her fingertips.
“You know it’s not too late to go back to Park Christian, if you want. Uncle Dave and I will gladly pay your tuition, Anna.”
“Thanks, but Mom and I don’t want charity.” That’s my story, anyhow. I take another cookie, break it in two, and dip half into my glass of milk. “This change is finally one I’m looking forward to.” I lie to her and myself.
“We’re supposed to be lights in the world, not hide them under a basket,” Elle says. That’s the verse she used to help convince her parents to let her change schools.
But now, how to be a light? It seems as difficult as getting this soggy cookie into my mouth. A crumbly-milk mixture dribbles down my chin.
Aunt Cindy hands us each a napkin, blue eyes glimmering as she watches us devour her baking. “See, memorizing a verse every week has already paid off, and that’s exactly why you should stay at Park Christian.”
“We promised to keep memorizing, already.” Elle rolls her eyes. “Besides, you let Brandon switch at my age.”
“That’s because of sports.” Aunt Cindy pulls the last sheet of cookies out of the oven. “He had your father’s blessing, not mine. The twins were babies. I was too tired to argue.” She shakes her head. “Sports! You’d think the world revolves around them.”
Elle scrunches her face behind her mom’s back. I don’t have to be prophetic to know what Aunt Cindy will say next—how sports have become the god of this world. Elle rushes to her mom and puts her arms around her. “I love you, Mom.” She looks over her mom’s shoulder and winks at me. “Thanks again for letting me switch and convincing Dad.”
I know Elle says this to keep her mom from ranting, but she’s also sincere. She loves her mom, and I feel a pang of jealousy over their closeness.    
“What’s fair is fair,” Aunt Cindy says. “If I didn’t think the two of you had such a firm foundation, I’d have never agreed.” She wipes her hands on her apron. “Well then, how are you set for school clothes, Anna?”
I shrug. Clothes cost money, and a girl thinks twice before spending what she’s made cleaning toilets.
“We just take turns wearing mine,” Elle says. With her hand-me-downs, I’m the best-dressed poor person I know. Elle looks at her mom and nods toward the doorway. “Apron strings…” She uses their code phrase for requesting privacy.
Aunt Cindy rests an arm around my shoulders, the fragrance of apple blossoms overpowering the cookie aroma. “Maybe we need to plan a girls’ shopping weekend.”
I smile to be polite, but shopping? Even if she’s buying, I’d rather hunt worms.
“Maybe,” Elle says. “But later.” She motions more obviously for her mom to leave.
Aunt Cindy unties her apron and lays it on the granite countertop. “I should wake the twins anyhow, so they’ll sleep tonight.”



    The setting at the Walmart


    Relationship between Elle and Anna

    Phrasing such as:

    “bounces into my personal space”

    “her warm spearmint breath”


    Nothing very interesting is revealed in Anna’s dream.

    The scene with mom and cookies gives some interesting background on the characters but really doesn’t move the story forward.

    What I am really curious about is where the story is going. I don’t get a feel that this is a mystery. Usually, in a mystery there is a crime. It comes early, often the very first scene, and sets the mystery afoot. Here we have a dream. And it’s not at all clear that something bad is about to happen to the woman at the Walmart. It might be nice if Anna, has a darker vision and she goes up to the woman at the Walmart and tells her something like “You need to stay away from the man with all his teeth pulled out. I saw it in my dream.” The woman thinks Anna is nuts and perhaps Elle does too. Later, the woman ends up dead and perhaps Anna needs to find the killer, who happens to be a dentist. (Okay, you probably have a better idea of who the murderer is if there is a murder in the story. This is just an example of how the dream doesn’t give the whole story. The murderer wasn’t someone with pulled teeth but someone who pulls out teeth.) This type of story may not be where you are going, but right now you need more to hang a coat on.

    About dreams in stories in general. Dreams can sometimes be used as a crutch in stories. It can help cut corners, make things work for your protagonist, etc. I don’t necessarily want to dissuade you from using dreams, but you have to be very careful and create rules of what the dreams reveal and do not reveal. In your story, dream revelations seems to be an important power of the protagonist. Leaving dreams vague or with clues for the protagonist to figure out will be important. If the dreams give the protagonist the answers she is looking for, they will quickly become boring, predictable.

    I would suggest concentrating on the mystery aspects of the story in a second rewrite.

  2. Hi Kim,

    Your writing is very fluid and very YA and readable. Both your characters are engaging and feel very dimensional. You've given us a lot of backstory but in a way that makes it seem very seamless, so I think you've done a fantastic job overall.

    I really have only four main concerns here.

    First, you're starting with reaction before action in this opening, so I think that you might want to consider setting the stage a little bit before we get the dropped notebook.

    Second, the message is a bit muddled in that first paragraph. The woman presumably has no control over the fact that she is in your mc's dream, therefore why would she care if the mc notices her or not?

    Third, while I suspect your reference to God in that first paragraph is a way to introduce the question of God's purpose in Elle's life/vision as the central story question, this feels forced to me. I think you could be a bit more subtle about that overall. You've got enough references throughout the rest of the pages here that you could probably leave it out, and you would preserve the option of reaching a wider audience if you are more subtle about introducing this as part of the story.

    And four: If the lettering in the vision is critical to the story, then maybe give us a beat more about that -- whether it is a sense she has that it is important, or whether it is remember a partial excerpt of what she saw. The sooner you can turn your MC into an active protagonist going after something she wants, the better.

    Looking forward to reading the final revision!