Monday, January 20, 2014

1st 5 Pages Jan. Workshop Rev 2: Perinovic

Name: Jenny Perinovic
Genre: Young Adult Gothic Romance
Title: A Magic Dark and Bright

A woman haunted the woods behind my house.

I used to catch glimpses of her from my bedroom window. She glowed in the moonlight, a pale wraith in a white dress that curled around her ankles and twisted in an ancient wind that didn't touch the pine trees around her.

My brother, Mark, used to tease me about my interest in her. Some days, he called it my obsession. Or my overactive imagination, on others. "Watch out, Amelia," he'd say, throwing his hand against his chest, "She's going to lure you out into the woods and steal your soul."

But that was before. I hadn't seen her in the six months since night of the accident, since the night she watched Mark die.

I pressed my palm flat against the screen and waited, the way I had almost every night since I'd come home from the hospital. Nothing stirred outside; the line of forest that stood along the edge of our yard stood still, black branches stretched toward the sky. There wasn't even a breeze to flutter the gauzy curtains around my windows. The woods were empty.

Everything was empty.

"Come on," I whispered, like I could summon her with my words. The clock in the hallway chimed, its bells echoing through the silent house.  Three in the morning. I sighed and turned from the window--if she hadn't shown up by now, she wasn't going to show up at all.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night like this, when the corners of my brain went fuzzy from exhaustion, I'd wonder if maybe I was the reason she'd disappeared. If that maybe, since that night, I'd wanted to see her too much, that my wanting had scared her away. And then I'd think how absurd that was--scaring away a ghost.

Whatever her reasons, she was gone. They were both gone.

I slid out of bed and made my way down the stairs from my attic bedroom, careful to avoid the third step from the bottom that always groaned underfoot. Mark's bedroom sat directly below mine, right across the hall from my mother's. I turned the knob slowly and pushed the door open, its hinges creaking in protest.

Crap.

I froze, hand still on the knob, and waited for my mom to appear in her doorway. She didn't need to know about my late night habits.  I'd told her--and my therapist--that the nightmares had stopped. And they had, technically. As long as I didn't let myself sleep.

I counted to ten. No movement came from behind her door--no rustle of blankets, no shuffle of bare feet across the wooden floor. I let out my breath and pushed the door open the rest of the way.

I kept the lamp switched off and crept across the floor. The silvery-white glow from the full moon gave me enough light to see, and even if it hadn't, I knew my way in the dark. Mark's bedroom hadn't changed since the accident. His laptop was still open on his desk, next to a doodled-in textbook and his unfinished chemistry homework. A purple University of Scranton hoodie was thrown across the bed, one sleeve turned inside-out. His duffel bag, half-packed full of clean clothes, sat on the floor in the middle of the room, like he'd just gone out for the night and he'd return in the morning.

I beelined for the built-in shelf that held Mark's movies. He had hundreds of DVDS, mostly movies I never would have watched before, sports documentaries and slasher flicks and raunchy comedies, but they made me feel close to him. It was too dark to read the titles, but I ran my fingers over the plastic cases and picked one at random.  I tucked the case under my arm and turned to go.

Tires crunched on gravel a moment before headlights cut a wide swath of light down the wall, right over Mark's posters of the Philadelphia Eagles and some red-haired model in a tiny white swimsuit. I frowned. Our street was a dead-end; it was rare enough that someone would drive by during the day.

I crossed to the window beside his bed, the one that overlooked the side of the house.  Our driveway was dark, but there was a car pulling into Ms. MacAllister's driveway next door. Her porch light switched on at the same moment the driver parked and killed the engine. Ms. MacAllister stepped out onto the wide, wrap-around porch. She ran a hand over her hair and looked up, right at the window where I stood. I let out a squeak and ran, heart slamming against my ribs, stopping only to close Mark's door behind me.

By the time I reached my bedroom, I'd managed to get myself back under control. The room behind me had been dark, and it's not like Ms. MacAllister could have seen me from where she stood.  I set the DVD on my bedside table and ran my hands over my face.

Outside, a car door slammed. Voices, one low and deep and one higher, carried across the still night, right through my open window. It would have been so easy to peek outside, to see who was outside, visiting Ms. MacAllister at this hour.

I shouldn't, I told myself, even as I climbed back into bed, right under the window. Don't be a creep, Amelia.

Someone laughed. A very male laugh. My curiosity got the better of me, and I pushed the curtain aside.

A guy, tall and thin, stood next to the car, a bag slung over his shoulder. Ms. MacAllister stood beside him, another bag in her hand. He laughed again and turned toward the car, toward me. For whatever reason, I was surprised to see how young he was--maybe only a little bit older than me, with a mop of brown curls and thick, black-framed glasses that glinted in the yellow light.

I stayed there, waiting in the window until the door slammed behind them and the porch light winked out. Exhaustion washed over me, turning my limbs to jelly. I yawned as I reached for the cord for the blinds, and cast one last look out to the woods. Just in case.

And there she was.

She flickered between the trees, her long white dress twisting in a non-existent breeze, her feet hovering over the ground.

I froze, almost afraid to breathe.

She was there.

And if she was there, maybe, just maybe

Any thought I had in my head evaporated as she left the cover of the woods and floated above the grass along the treeline. She stopped, her entire being flickering like a projection of an old-time newsreel,  moonlight dancing across pearl-white skin. She raised her arm and pointed. Pointed straight at the MacAllister House.

I clapped my hands to my mouth and the blinds crashed down over the window. By the time I had stopped trembling enough that I could lift them again, she was gone.

9 comments:

  1. Holy cow.

    I'm gonna have to mull this over and come back, because right now I can't think of a single thing I'd change. It's eerie and sad and very, very engaging. Good job!

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  2. Hello Jenny,


    You should reward yourself! This is really good and I see all the hard work you’ve put in. Your opening line was good before, but this one is GREAT! One simple, concise sentence to get us going and it does so much.

    Much better:
    I pressed my palm flat against the screen and waited, the way I had almost every night since I'd come home from the hospital. Nothing stirred outside; the line of forest that stood along the edge of our yard stood still, black branches stretched toward the sky. There wasn't even a breeze to flutter the gauzy curtains around my windows. The woods were empty.


    Yes! Excellent!
    "Come on," I whispered, like I could summon her with my words. The clock in the hallway chimed, its bells echoing through the silent house. Three in the morning. I sighed and turned from the window--if she hadn't shown up by now, she wasn't going to show up at all.

    LOVE THIS: Whatever her reasons, she was gone. They were both gone. And the connection up above. (The woods were empty. Everything was empty.)

    Oh, I like this. This works so much better than the trip to the kitchen.
    I slid out of bed and made my way down the stairs from my attic bedroom, careful to avoid the third step from the bottom that always groaned underfoot. Mark's bedroom sat directly below mine, right across the hall from my mother's. I turned the knob slowly and pushed the door open, its hinges creaking in protest.

    Yes! Again, this is perfect and adds to the suspense you’re trying to set up. I’m wondering if Mom will get up and I don’t want her to, because I want to see what her late night habits are. I’m waiting with her. Great Job!

    I froze, hand still on the knob, and waited for my mom to appear in her doorway. She didn't need to know about my late night habits. I'd told her--and my therapist--that the nightmares had stopped. And they had, technically. As long as I didn't let myself sleep.

    I counted to ten. No movement came from behind her door--no rustle of blankets, no shuffle of bare feet across the wooden floor. I let out my breath and pushed the door open the rest of the way.

    This next paragraph is great. This is where you slow down and show us all of the details. These are important. They show how Mark’s family has dealt with, or not dealt with, his death. Even his sister, who goes in there often, doesn’t disturb a thing. This says so much. And the last part shows how she wishes he would return in the morning. Just beautiful.

    I kept the lamp switched off and crept across the floor. LOVE THIS (The silvery-white glow from the full moon gave me enough light to see,) and even if it hadn't, I knew my way in the dark. Mark's bedroom hadn't changed since the accident. His laptop was still open on his desk, next to a doodled-in textbook and his unfinished chemistry homework. A purple University of Scranton hoodie was thrown across the bed, one sleeve turned inside-out. His duffel bag, half-packed full of clean clothes, sat on the floor in the middle of the room, like he'd just gone out for the night and he'd return in the morning.

    Here, though, I think it may be too much. (some red-haired model in a tiny white swimsuit.) I’ve moved on to what’s going on outside and don’t care as much about what’s on his walls. It also doesn’t tell me anything. Like this does, ---Scranton hoodie was thrown across the bed, one sleeve turned inside-out---which speaks volumes. I’d also cut (I frowned.) because this next sentence tells me something’s up.--- Our street was a dead-end; it was rare enough that someone would drive by during the day.

    To be continued...

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  3. The changes you’ve made, by going into Mark’s room and this below are very smart. They move the story along at a nicer pace than before.

    By the time I reached my bedroom, I'd managed to get myself back under control. The room behind me had been dark, and it's not like Ms. MacAllister could have seen me from where she stood. I set the DVD on my bedside table and ran my hands over my face.

    Outside, a car door slammed. Voices, one low and deep and one higher, carried across the still night, right through my open window. It would have been so easy to peek outside, to see who was outside, visiting Ms. MacAllister at this hour.

    Yes! This improves the flow and does all you need it to do.
    I stayed there, waiting in the window until the door slammed behind them and the porch light winked out. Exhaustion washed over me, turning my limbs to jelly. I yawned as I reached for the cord for the blinds, and cast one last look out to the woods. Just in case.

    So much better, Jenny. This version kept me on the edge the whole time wondering what was going on and how Mark died. I think it’s good to string us along a little bit with this info, because you have so many other things for us to focus on. We still want to know how he died, but you’re also raising other questions in my mind, so it works. And I feel for and care about Amelia. These small changes have improved this beginning immensely. Now the suspense you are trying to build is there with a punch. We have all of these strange things going on and it’s all very interesting and mysterious. Now that you’ve tightened up much of the prose, it feeds that tension. Very nice!

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  4. Wow, this is really nice. My previous concern about a tad too much over description (for my tastes) has been thoroughly answered. This really flows well with just the right amount of detail. I especially liked this passage:

    I kept the lamp switched off and crept across the floor. The silvery-white glow from the full moon gave me enough light to see, and even if it hadn't, I knew my way in the dark. Mark's bedroom hadn't changed since the accident. His laptop was still open on his desk, next to a doodled-in textbook and his unfinished chemistry homework. A purple University of Scranton hoodie was thrown across the bed, one sleeve turned inside-out. His duffel bag, half-packed full of clean clothes, sat on the floor in the middle of the room, like he'd just gone out for the night and he'd return in the morning.

    Such great rhythm to this scene. And also this:


    Any thought I had in my head evaporated as she left the cover of the woods and floated above the grass along the treeline. She stopped, her entire being flickering like a projection of an old-time newsreel, moonlight dancing across pearl-white skin. She raised her arm and pointed. Pointed straight at the MacAllister House.

    Such great tension and we want to know more. Very well done!

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  5. I have very few comments:

    Repetition of "stood"

    "Whatever her reasons, she was gone. They were both gone." I can feel the longing--for both the ghost and her brother. Nice.

    "careful to avoid the third step from the bottom that always groaned underfoot" A little cliche. Maybe try playing on the opposite? Ex. I know it's going to creek. It's going to creek. It's going to creek. Phew. It doesn't.

    I like the addition of Mark's room.

    "I crossed to the window beside his bed, the one that overlooked the side of the house." I don't know that you need this description.

    All in all, I very nice revision. I love the part about Mark's bedroom. It shows us so much more about A (and her relationship with M--and who M was) than going downstairs to get a glass of water did. Nice. I especially like the hoodie. It makes him older than her without saying he it. It's a nice detail.

    Sorry I don't have much more to add--not much for you to make any revisions on, at least. I feel your character more, which is a fantastic thing. It's a lot sharper. :)

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  6. Love love love the changes. I know some crits said to take out the part where she goes to the kitchen, and instead you sent her to Mark's room. Which is absolutely fantastic. I thought all the details were great, the choices were lovely.

    Two tiny little things. One, Ms MacAllistor. I know you were advised to remove the description you had of her, but I have no concept how old she is, which throws me because you specifically point out how surprisingly young her visitor is. Maybe some comment about how he's young enough to be her son, or something, to put his age into context with hers. I pictured her as an old lady strictly on the basis of the narrator calling her Ms. MacAllistor the whole time, but I have no idea.

    And the other thing was the sudden turning of all her limbs into jelly from exhaustion at the end. After the slow burn of the opening it seems like an oddly sharp and fast description. Of course that's just the tiniest of nitpicks, but something like her suddenly noticing how much exhaustion is dragging at her would seem to fit the sullen mood a little better, maybe? But like I said, that's extra picky.

    All in all this is utterly terrific.

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  7. A comment on Ms. MacAllistor. I think my main problem with the description was that it sounded at odds with the rest of the info about her. By highlighting the sholder-length dyed blond hair by itself, it gave me the image of a woman very concerned with her appearance and perhaps who wants to look younger than she is. (In this case, it's less the specific detail that gives that impression, but the fact that it was the only part of her you described.) But then i she was also described as more of the local witch, who sold herbs and crystals, which didn't mesh in my head. So maybe instead of cutting the description entirely, you could choose a different detail? Or two? But like JL said, that's pretty picky. Overall, I still think this is great.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I guess I got the impression that she was an older lady--the old maid with a million cats type. The dyed hair made me think of some elderly ladies I knew when I spent my afternoons at the senior center; they still did their hair like they were 20 or 30, even after it lost its body and became wirey. That's how I pictured her.

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    2. Ah! It's so fascinating that you all have such different images of her. She's actually not that old, just in her early sixties (which is why I included the dyed blonde hair before--I wanted to show that she wasn't this stooped old thing). Charlie (the boy) is her grandson.

      So my question is, do I say something to that effect here? Because on the next page, Amelia learns that Charlie is Ms. MacAllister's grandson and she's surprised by that--Amelia didn't realize that she was old enough to be a grandmother.

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