Monday, February 17, 2014

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Huerta Revision 2

Name: Lizz Huerta
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: When My Father Was Beautiful

I heard right after third period. Joaquin, my Joaquin, my dream boat obsession, friend and crush, had been caught in the darkroom of the photography lab with Hannah. They hadn’t been developing film. My face burned. Joaquin, who had given me all the signs he was headed in my direction and one quick kiss close to my mouth weeks before. I was sad, angry sad. Embarrassed for thinking we had a thing sad. I left school, dizzy, ditching for the first time.

There was a strange car parked in front of my house, with OM and Born Again Pagan bumper stickers. The scent of burning sage was in the air. It smelled like Mom was “getting spiritual” again, she probably had a yoga friend over.

I walked in quietly. The good thing about mom in her spiritual phases was that she didn’t get freaked out about things, she and dad fought less. I could tell her about Joaquin and she would forgive my ditching. She would be happy I was telling her something, anything. She was always reaching for me to be closer to her.

I heard a sound coming from my parent’s bedroom, my mom’s voice low, a long laugh.

I walked to the cracked door. I could see my mother reclined on the bed, a sheet over her. She wasn’t alone.

“Oh, Grace.” The naked stranger beside her said my mother’s name softly, kissing her .

“God, Ernie,” she moaned, eyes closed, “I love you.”

I slammed the bedroom door and ran out of the house.

Diana found me at J Street Marina. I was sitting on the boulders staring at the bay. There were no boats on the choppy water.

“Sol! You abandoned me! You can’t answer your phone?” she said, climbing down to sit beside me.

“I needed to be alone.” I didn’t look at her. I’d shut my phone off while walking to the marina.

“Alone? The last thing you need is to be alone after what happened.”

I didn’t respond. In my head I kept hearing the stranger’s voice saying my mother’s name. He’d had a graying ponytail and skinny ass.

Diana threw a rock into the water.

“Joaquin is an ass. He totally led you on.” She said, putting an arm around me.

I’d almost forgotten about Joaquin. My eyes filled again. Diana crooned a comfort and I leaned into her. Diana and I had been best friends since we were nine. Her mother Lora used to watch me after school when my mother was attempting to go back to school. Lora had taught me the little Spanish I knew. She’d always said it was a shame my father didn’t each me the language of our people; that I had to learn to speak in the language of my emotions. I didn’t know what she meant back then but wondered if there was a word in Spanish to describe what I was feeling now, the wreckage in my chest.

“Oh Sol, it isn’t that bad.”

“It’s worse. You don’t even- -” I stopped, took a breath. “Can I come over?” I didn’t want to go home, I couldn’t. There was no way I could face my mom, or dad, knowing what I knew.

“Is water wet?” She smiled, picked up a loose rock and threw it overhand into the water, breaking up a group of seagulls at the water’s edge. Diana never pried, she knew I took time to try and figure my feelings out before talking.

“Sol, look at those crazy birds. They are totally related to dinosaurs. You can see T-Rex in their eyes and beaks. If seagulls were the size of humans we’d all be dead.” Diana’s strange observations about the world were one of many reasons I loved her. As we walked towards Diana’s home she went on and on, not needing me to respond. By the time we got to the small apartment she lived with her mother she had broken down the evolutionary chain of seagulls being the last dinosaurs and I was feeling slightly better.
“Your Mama came by looking for you.” Lora kissed us both as we walked through the door. I froze. “What happened Sol? She was frantic, she said to call her if you showed up. Should I be worried?”

“Gracie showed up? Here?” Diana looked bewildered. My mom never came over. She felt awkward in the tiny apartment the couple of times she’d been by when we were younger and talked too much about how she had grown up poor. Lora wasn’t my mom’s biggest fan.

“What did she say?” My voice shook and my face got hot. My mom must have known it was me slamming the bedroom door. My father worked long hours and never came home during the day.

“She said you ditched school and she had to talk to you, that it was an emergency. You ditched?” Her voice went up, surprised. Diana jumped in.

“I didn’t ditch but Sol had a crap day and she had to escape. Fucking Joaquin hooked up with that dancer Hannah, Ma. He led my girl on, diiiiirty.” She hissed.

Lora glanced at Diana then looked back at me, eyebrows raised.

“I don’t want to go home,” I whispered, starting to cry. Diana started to say something but Lora put her hand up and pointed to the bedroom.

“Let me talk to Sol,” she said. Diana tried to protest but her mom gave her a look I hadn’t seen the look since we were kids and drank the rum off Lora’s altar. Diana shut up and went to the room and closed the door, grumbling.

Lora led me to the bathroom where Diana wouldn’t be able to hear us. She put her hands on my shoulders, worry and love all over her face.

“What happened?” She asked. I went into her arms, sobbing. Tears and drool and snot all over her shoulder as I cried and cried until there were no more tears, her arms around me the whole time. I pulled back and wiped my face with my hands. Lora exhaled.

“Baby girl, what’s wrong? This isn’t about the boy.” She stroked my face with the backs of her fingers.

“I saw my mom,” I whispered, then stopped, another sob came up, choking my words. “There was a man with her, in her bed.” Saying it made me feel nauseous.

“Oh no,” Lora crooned, pulling me back into an embrace, “Oh no, Sol baby, I am so sorry.”

“Do I have to call her?” I couldn’t imagine. “What do I say?”

Lora smiled her sympathy smile, upper lip tucked in against her teeth.

“You call, you listen. Trust me, this is going to be a hell of a lot harder on her.” She pressed her lips together, “It doesn’t feel like it now but no hay mal que por bien no venga.”

I shook my head. My Spanish wasn’t even close to being good enough for me to understand what she said.

“There is no evil from which good cannot come.” She kissed my forehead. “Call your mama. I’ll be right by you, holding your hand.”


  1. Lizz,
    You've done a great job. I think lots of editors will want to read more (if that's the direction you wish to go). Bravo!

  2. Oooh, this is really getting there! I still like where you're starting with Joaquin and I feel like you hit the emotions in the beginning this time. Sadness, anger, embarrassment. Personally, I'd like that to go a bit deeper, like if you can throw us into her head and show us what it's like to feel those emotions in that terrible moment. This is totally lame, but something like, "Weeks before, he'd kissed me, close to the mouth. I ached with longing for those lips. But instead he'd decided to lay them all over someone else. Heat rose up in my face. I had to get out of there."

    Good compromise with the discovery of her mom with the guy. We have a clear picture of what's going on now, and can feel the suckitude of this second betrayal in one day. Picky note: "skinny ass" and "Joaquin is an ass" are really close together. Maybe choose one?

    Diana seemed a tiny bit inconsistent in her speech this time through. Like she goes on about the bird-dinosaurs to Sol quite intelligently and then throws out a gutter mouth at her mom. Maybe just smooth her out a bit? She's definitely a sympathetic character either way, as is her mom.

    You totally nailed the way the two betrayals come together at the end, and you definitely have me wanting more. Absolutely love where this leaves off!

  3. Wow, I like the opening SO much better now. It gets to her emotions much more directly and pulls me in. In a way, it’s almost too direct, getting to the cheating scene awfully fast. I did like some of the scene setting you did in version 1 – perhaps consider re-integrating some of it so that you build up more tension before you hit us with the big reveal?

    And what a nice job with Sol pouring her heart out to Lora. All in all, your work pulls me into Sol's character so much better than before.

    Some minor issues:

    -It’d be great if Diana had a more traditionally Latino name too (I’m assuming she and Lora are Latino, since they speak Spanish so well?)

    -Why doesn’t Gracie like Lora? That confused me a little.

    -The scene where Lora is consoling Sol seems to go awfully fast. Getting to a point where Sol has no more tears would take a while, wouldn’t it? The exposition didn’t seem to match.

    -Also in that scene, “crooned” doesn’t feel like the right word to me.

    -Finally, the description of the sympathy smile reads more to me like it’s The Joker smiling. Maybe consider word selection there?

    I’d love to read the book jacket one this one. You’ve done a great job of transforming your pages into ones that I would continue reading. Good luck!

  4. Hi Lizz,

    This is really shaping into a beautiful story, and one I'd love to read.

    I may be in the minority, but I really miss the description of the Santa Ana winds in this version. I felt like that set a mood of tension and general 'out of sorts' for your characters. Having said that, I love that you've added back in the scene with Grace and Ernie. This is so powerful - what young person wouldn't be completely rocked by something like that?

    I only have a few other comments.

    This felt like two separate thoughts, or maybe a run-on sentence.- "Diana tried to protest but her mom gave her a look I hadn’t seen the look since we were kids and drank the rum off Lora’s altar."

    "It doesn’t feel like it now but no hay mal que por bien no venga.” This may just be me, but I don't love the mix of English and Spanish in this line. I prefer it when Lora says the Spanish phrase on it's own. I think you lose something when she starts in English and switches.

    I absolutely love the deepening of the relationship between Sol and Lora in this version. I would definitely read more.

  5. HI, Lizz. I love what you've done here! I think my only concern is what Jeff said about the crying scene taking longer. The bit about Lora v. Gracie I imagine would come later. But anyway -- with the crying, I'd like to be more in her head. Has she started thinking of the repercussions? Like, if her dad knows, they're going to get a divorce; like, why on earth her mom is doing this? Or is it just absolute shock and anger and "ewww" to seeing that happen with her mom?

    (I do also miss the description of the Santa Ana winds too, but love this revision either way :D. Good work!)

  6. Oh, LIzz! BRAVA, honey! This is really, really, really good! And it was so brave of you to go here!

    I love what you've done. She feels real, and everyone else feels real.

    Going forward, I would suggest a few things.

    1) Go even a little bit deeper into Sol's POV.

    2) Create a more consistent character for Diana. I love that she is trying to distract Sol by babbling about the dinosaurs though, and I love how she defends Sol to her mother -- try to make those even a little bit clearer and put yourself inside her head to figure out how she would phrase things exactly.

    3) If you miss the description of the Santa Ana winds, you could sliver a quick clause or sentence about them in on her way home, and use that to anchor her emotions on the journey.

    4) The sheet on her mother jumps out a little bit -- again, picture the scene. Would there be a sheet? Or maybe they are tangled up together, her mother and this strange man, lying on the bed while he reaches out to stroke her mother's hair and tell her he loves her? Picture it. Make us see it through Sol's eyes.

    5) Watch your sentence structure and rhythm and make sure you are varying it and playing with it to get the emotional effect you are really looking for. Also be sure that each word conveys the right tone and mood.

    Apart from that -- keep writing. KEEP WRITING. This is really, really good, and the idea has legs. Run with it. :)

    All best, and please keep us posted via Facebook on how you're doing with it!

  7. Lizz, I'm so sorry I got here so late! Oy.

    I looooove this new revision. It's great that you went "there" with Sol's mom. I think it would be good to even show more emotion in that moment. A true gut punch.

    And after this revision, I love Lora even more. You did a great job of showing us, rather than telling us, that she's sympathetic to Sol's situation, and will be a better mom that real mom.

    The only thing that threw me out of the story was Diana using the F-word. Not that I'm against it when it works, but I wondered if Diana would really use that with mom right there. Of if she did use it, wouldn't mom say, "Language!" or something like that?

    Otherwise, great revision. I already feel for the dad in the title and we haven't even met him yet. Great work.