Monday, February 17, 2014

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Wilson Revision 2

Name: Kip Wilson

Genre: Young Adult LGBT Historical

Title: The Most Dazzling Sunrise in Berlin

The steel-gray sky loomed above the battered tenements, pressing me to escape. With one hand, I held on to my cloche hat. With everything else I possessed, I launched my heeled oxfords over the sidewalk. Nothing would stop me that night.

Most people moved aside as I sped past, but one bespectacled old woman glared with disapproval, clutching her handbag with hawk-like talons. Perhaps she wished she had an important appointment, too. Or perhaps she thought I was a thief. I pulled my own handbag closer and, like a moth, hurried toward the lights of the main street, Alt-Moabit.

At the corner, church bells chimed six o’clock. I stumbled. It couldn’t be. I had to make it to my audition; I simply had to. Yet each chime made it more impossible. The film production studio was all the way across the Spree River; I’d never arrive in time. Leaning against a jewelry shop window, I fished the advertisement from my pocket and held it up to the light.

Extras wanted for Fritz Lang picture:

Murderer Among Us

10 Reichsmark/day

Auditions Nero-Film AG, Unter den Linden 21

Doors close at 18:00

Doors close. The words bit me. I kicked the stone storefront and balled the advertisement in my fist. I should never have indulged Lottchen one last fairy tale before bursting into the evening. I’d blown my chance to get discovered by the world-famous director of Metropolis.

And I’d have to find another way to get the Reichsmark we needed.

Movement inside the shop caught my attention. A carefully-coiffed, well-fed woman pointed at the display case. The salesgirl smiled proudly and held up a necklace of three strands of golden beads, gathered with a mother-of-pearl clip. I pressed my nose against the glass. An impulse to snatch the necklace gnawed at me with as much ferocity as my empty stomach. Not because it was beautiful—though it was—but because its theft might tide us over a bit longer.

Evidently the necklace tugged at the customer too. She waved the salesgirl to do her bidding. With a smile, the girl took great care placing the necklace in a box and adorning it with a silky bow before handing it to the customer, who slipped it into the pocket of her ermine coat as though it were nothing. Yet that unimportant necklace could feed my little sister for a month.

My mind was made up. I pulled my cloche lower and leached into a doorway beside the window just before the woman stepped onto the sidewalk. My heart pounding, I fell into step behind her and attached myself like a shadow. Matching her movements, I swept my arm forward when she did. With a deep breath, I slid my fingers into her silk-lined pocket and lifted the box with extreme care. She continued down the block, oblivious, and I dropped the box into my handbag. My fingers trembled. I’d done it.

Only then did I see Kurt across the street, watching. I froze. He stood spindly as a street lamp in his threadbare trousers. His cap was tipped back, giving him a startled expression. A foggy breath escaped my lips as I waited to see what he would do.

For another moment, the two of us stood there, observing each other. We had history, Kurt and I. History that had ended badly.

His gaze fixed on me, Kurt pulled his cap firmly in place. He ran.

I turned and sped in the other direction—as far as I could get from him.

Surely he was already on his way to turn me in to his Ringverein’s boss. Their gang was only one of many in Berlin, but this was their territory. I should’ve been more careful. Cold droplets of sweat formed on the back of my neck. I had to get out of here. My breath thundered in my ears as my heels pounded down the block. Kurt’s boss probably had spies everywhere, but I didn’t think anyone would’ve been watching my theft.

Especially not Kurt.

I hurried down the sidewalk, slowing only when I got to the corner of Lüneburger Straße. The oncoming traffic was never-ending. I waited, dangling a foot over the curb. A taxi honked its tinny horn at me. If only I had the handful of Reichsmark needed to step inside and let it whisk me away.

But I didn’t, and before I could cross the street, rough hands grabbed me. A thick arm braced my neck in a choke hold.

“Help!” I cried. None of the passersby who’d been on the sidewalk moments before my theft were anywhere in sight now. I was on my own. Before I could twist around for a look at my attacker, he had already dragged me to the mouth of a dark alley. Fear sent an icy chill down my spine. He could do anything to me back there, and no one would know.

“Let me go!” I wiggled my shoulders to try to free myself. But my struggle only made him drag me faster. Within seconds, we were deep in the alley. It stank of week-old garbage. Something scurried over one of my shoes, and I quivered, snatching my foot away. But whatever creatures lived in the alley were the least of my worries. My gaze darted left, right, up. There was no way out.

The thug shoved me against the wall and ripped my handbag from my grasp. Two more shadows appeared at the end of the alley, blocking out the light from the streetlamps beyond. One was solid and stout, the other tall and thin. Kurt. For a moment, I dared hope our shared past meant something to him, but Kurt was clearly on his gang’s side, not mine. He’d be no help. Together he and the other shadow made their way toward us as the man in front of me rifled through my handbag.

“That’s mine.” I tried to snatch it back, but he shoved me against the wall again. Once he found the box, he handed it to the giant of a man who stepped forward from the shadows. Even with the brim of his black fedora low over his eyes, I’d have recognized him anywhere: Emil Feuerstein, the boss of Kurt’s Ringverein. I glanced beside him at Kurt, but he avoided my gaze.

“I’ll take that.” Emil pocketed the box and moved closer. His muscle-bound thug pressed closer to my side as if reminding me he was there. As if I could forget. The sweat that had formed on the back of my neck returned in an instant, sending a chill over me.

“Magdalena Braun.” Emil poked my chin upward with a thick finger. “I don’t know what you were thinking, robbing in my neighborhood. The spoils around here belong to me, which can only mean one thing. You belong to me.” His finger jabbed into my chin from below again, knocking the back of my head against the wall, coating my hair in alley grime. My head smarted.

“Hey,” I said, trying to sound brave. “Watch out. You’re hurting me.”

“I’ll hurt you a lot more than that if I have to.” His grip closed around my throat. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. I shot a glance at Kurt. He was all I had.

Kurt was shifting his weight in apparent indecision, but after meeting my gaze, he stepped forward. “Emil.”

Emil whipped his head around.

“Come on,” Kurt said, his expression serious. “Cut her a break.” I pressed my lips together, silently thanking him for the help. Hopefully it’d be enough.

Emil turned back to face me, his lip curled up in a smirk. “All right.” He released his grip, and I coughed, rubbing my neck. “But she’s not getting out of this for free. Anyone who owes me a debt has to work for me.” He looked me up and down. “Luckily for you, one of the dancers at my cabaret up and left this week, and I can use a pretty girl like you to replace her.”

A cabaret. As badly as I wanted to make it big on the silver screen, I hadn’t sunk that low yet. The cabaret wasn’t a rung on the way to stardom; it was a step down. Even worse, I’d heard the rumors about Café Domino—that it catered to lesbians. I squirmed in my heels.


  1. Just a quick note to explain why I didn't get rid of the cloche (since several people mentioned it). According to my research, most women in this time period wore this type of hat pretty much everywhere. I hope I cleared up that it is indeed a hat though. ;-) Thanks as always!

    1. I actually love the cloche :) I think we should make sure this gets published so the cloche comes back into style.

  2. Kip,
    The reference to Fritz Lang does a little to narrow down the time period, but it's basically a tell and not a show. You've really polished this nicely, but I still year for more period detail that shows pre- or post-war. On the other hand, the characters are strong and enticing, and I think they'll find an audience.
    Best, Todd

  3. It’s amazing to see how much improvement you’ve accomplished in these two revisions. I get a much better sense of urgency from the beginning, and feel like I better understand her situation. The tension is so much stronger throughout the pages, giving me a much better reason to read on. Well done!

    Here are a few points that are fairly minor relative to the great stuff you’ve executed on:

    To my ear, the cloche and oxfords don't sound right. Perhaps they are exactly right – I don’t really know what Germans wore during the 40’s – but they leave this uninformed reader having to work at figuring out the setting. It would be great if you could find a few pieces of clothing that automatically set me into the time and place (like a zoot suit might do for the American Jazz Age). A few more well-chosen nouns would help to immediately place me in that setting as well.

    I still had a bit of confusion (maybe I’m overthinking this) why some things are in German, some are in English, and some are a combination. The ad felt off to me this time. Is it an English paper that she ripped it out of? Also, “Alt-Moabit” threw me off. I’m used to hearing about X Strasse in Germany, perhaps stick with that?

    The theft scene is so much better. Now I’m actually getting a sense for her expertise, her abilities. I really liked hearing the details and could use even more, since that gives us a lot of insight into who she is. However, I did get the feeling that she’s not a very experienced thief – why would her fingers tremble? I was expecting more of a sense of thrill, a headiness that comes with the kleptomania that drives her.

    It still bothers me somewhat that she doesn’t even look around before attempting the theft. “I should’ve been more careful” seems like a gross understatement. Perhaps Kurt is hiding in the shadows of an alley so she doesn’t see him?

    Some logistics of the nabbing: don’t they grab her awfully quick? She and Kurt are running in opposite directions, yeah? By the time he gets to his boss and then they run after her, isn’t it going to be tough to catch up, especially that quickly? They seem grab her almost immediately. Also, she is “on my own”, but aren’t there all sorts of cars in the thick traffic? I would think someone would stop and help, or at least yell out a window?

    Finally, I’d like to better understand Kurt. The “cut her a break” line doesn’t quite work for me. He just ratted her out, right? I could understand if Emil seriously hurt her, or was on the verge of killing her, but a bump on the head shouldn’t cause Kurt to step in, I wouldn’t think.

    Well done. This has shaped into a really nice beginning with an intriguing set of characters.

  4. Hi Kip,

    I think this is already so polished, I don't have much to add. And I may be in the minority, but I like the mention of the cloche. :)

    In terms of placing the time period quickly, I wonder if it's possible to include the date on the flyer? Generally speaking, I try to avoid specific dates whenever possible, but in historical fiction, I think it could work.

    I like the addition of Kurt pleading for her. I think it gives some weight to Emil's decision to use her in his cabaret. Now it doesn't just come out of nowhere, but feels like a compromise and makes this reader wonder what worse fate she may have just avoided. :)

    Nice job. I hope I get to read the rest of this someday.

  5. Hi Kip!

    Lovely work, you really have streamlined this and added a sense of urgency. Good job!

    My only critique is that I'm still struggling to place this in time. I know it has to be in Germany in the twenties or thirties but I have the voice in my head that is demanding to know when.

    I like Kurts extra line, it rounds him out a bit more and plants a seed of him not being a total jerk after selling her out to Emil.

    Not much else to add. I crave more, I want to see the women who work in this cabaret and hear those stories. I hope to see more of this book in the future :) Good job!

  6. Kip,

    Standing ovation for this revision – and confetti – and a gold medal around your neck. Super job. Whoo-hoo.

    Now you’re making ME work to muster up some decent notes.

    Each revision gives me a better sense of place, but I think you can go further. Not only with sense of physical space, but sense of time period as well. German it up! Have you read DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE? I felt like I was in Prague when I read it and I knew zip about Prague before that.

    You’ve upped the tension and Mags’ stakes – bravo.

    Specific: (I numbered your paragraphs from the post)
    1. Love the new lead line. Using escape instead of hurry was a great choice. And now I know what a cloche is.

    2. Can you shift from the woman’s “thought” that Mag looked like a thief to Mag checking her own behavior to make sure she’s not giving off a thief vibe?

    Alt-Moabit threw me. Didn’t hit my non-Germanified ears as German.

    3. Would Mag wait and pull the advertisement out of her pocket after the last chime rang and hope was lost?

    5. Try giving - Doors close - Its own line.
    Try: “The words bite.” Instead of: bit me.

    8. Love the way you let us know who Lottchen is here. You’ve illustrated Mags’ desperation more clearly.

    9. Wouldn’t Mag case the street more carefully before the theft? Is this a possible place to mention gang territory?

    Change MY heart pounding to Heart pounding.

    Instead of her fingers trembling wouldn’t she be having an adrenaline rush post-theft?

    10. Maybe shift the emotion of the moment she spots Kurt from to “Where in the hell did he come from” instead of “Crap, there he is.”

    Delete A, just start with Foggy breath.

    11. Delete “For another moment,” start with The two of us…

    13. Just a thought here. What if she runs after Kurt trying to catch up and plead her case. Then it would make more sense that he has had time to report her, making the alley nabbing a logical result. Running in opposite directions doesn’t feel like Kurt would have time to “report her” and muster the thugs.

    14. The above note would make this paragraph about her stopping him before he gets to the boss.

    I feel I want more self-anger about her carelessness in not checking the street pre-theft. More dynamic emotion at the end of the paragraph as well. Too show us her thoughts on how she’d just solved her money problems and screwed them up with the same act.

    17. Maybe previous to the “nabbing” you can be more informative about the thickness of the gang web blending into the city. She should have known there would be “eyes” on her action.

    18. I’d love a more sinister closing line to this paragraph.

    19. Would Herr Thug be putting his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams?

    20. I’d give –Kurt- its own line.

    23. I’d love a line from Emil about Mag underestimating his “reach” or “the number of eyes” he has on his turf.

    Cut: My head smarted. The knock against the wall lets us assume that.

    24. Change “Hey” to “Stop”

    Cut: “Watch out. You’re hurting me.”

    25. Trade: I’ll hurt you a lot more than that if I have to.” To a line with the jist of him stopping when he chooses to.

    26. Change “was shifting” to shifted.

    28. New phrases for “Come on,” and “Cut her a break.” Give her silent thanks physicality – eyes? Tilt of the head?

    29. Delete: “But she’s not getting out of this for free.” I still feel Emil’s decision comes too quickly. I’d like him to take a beat where our mind zings to a worse penalty than what he actually offers.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It has been an absolute honor to work with you, Kip. You’ve really impressed me. My socks are officially knocked off. Best of luck. I can’t wait to see THE MOST DAZZLING SUNRISE IN BERLIN on the shelves.

  7. Small comments from me --
    You say "Lottchen," then "tide us," then tell us of her little sister. I think you ought to rearrange one or the other, since it's not clear at first who Lottchen is, that she fits into the other half of "us." If that makes sense. I'd also like to know why the MC doesn't think about it being gang territory when she steals. Obviously it's impulse of the moment, so maybe something vague like - 'no one would see me' or something to hint at it being gang territory. You already do a good job hinting at the impulsiveness, just want that extra hint of the gang territory. I'm not very good with historical details and settings -- I generally just trust the author -- so I can't offer any comment on what the others have said. Still, lovely revision!!