Monday, March 3, 2014

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Rothschild

Name: Peggy Rothschild
Genre: Young Adult – Mystery/Crime
Title: Flame

October 1977
I wanted Denny Beech from the first moment I saw him. Tall and lean, wheat-colored hair curled over his shirt collar, while a spiral of smoke drifted from the side of his mouth. I envied the cigarette perched on his lower lip.

Not quite nine o’clock on a Saturday night, the patio thermostat read seventy-eight degrees. The Santa Ana winds, blowing since daybreak, had softened. A film of ash from the brush fire east of town coated the walkway and the air smelled of wood smoke. Andie and I paused to inspect our reflections in the sliding glass door. Kim Bellman’s parents traveled a lot and she hosted most the parties. We all wished the Bellmans would adopt us.

A quick crowd scan told me I knew everybody in the backyard, except for one. Most the group had grown up together. A few new people joined our bunch when we entered high school. But by junior year, our set didn’t welcome many new faces. But Denny’s face demanded welcome. Not a pretty boy, age had already burned away the puppy fat to show off high cheekbones and a strong jaw.

I pulled a cigarette from my quilted purse before nodding toward the newcomer. “Who’s that?”

Andie shrugged then looked at me. “Nice to know someone can still catch your eye.” She dug a lighter from her pocket.

I held back my waist-length hair and bent to the flame, then posed, grateful my period ended two days earlier, taking the bloating and zits along with it. “Is it me or is he drop-dead gorgeous?”

“He’s OK.”

“OK? Are you nuts? Let’s go talk to him.”

She lit her own cigarette. “What’s gotten into you?”

“I don’t know.” I centered the Ankh pendant between my breasts. “But maybe it’s time I tried something different.”

David Bowie’s ‘Stay’ began to play. Andie closed her eyes. “God, I love this song.”

I waited a verse then tugged the sleeve of her gauze top.

She shook her head in mock disgust. “The guy’s not going anywhere.”

“Neither’s the song.”

Andie smiled. “Like you’re really gonna do anything with him.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

She fisted her hands on her hips. “I’m supposed to believe you and Randall are really over? For good?”

“We are.” I understood her disbelief. Randall and I’d gone steady – off and on – since we met in ninth grade. For over two years, he’d been the center of my world. In our ‘on’ times, he made me laugh and lit a fire within me. Most ‘off’ times resulted from fights about sex – my unwillingness to go all the way. After last year’s Harvest Moon dance, everyone at school thought Randall and I finally sealed the deal. I hadn’t even told Andie that, once again, I’d shut Randall down. In spite of his lies to the contrary. Since our last breakup, I’d realized my feelings for Randall were more like a sickness than love.

I met Andie’s gaze and shook my head. “It’s over. That boy needs to grow up.”

“And if he does? You’ll take him back? Again?”

“Never gonna happen. He’s the original Peter Pan.”

“We’ll see.” Andie stared at the group of boys. “If you change your mind about Randall, let me know. I’ll be happy to nail the new guy.”

“Thought you said he was only OK-looking.”

“I was playing it cool. Something I’m starting to think you’re never gonna learn to do.” She frowned. “Jesus, Beth, you can’t tell when I’m being coy? We need to work on that.”

I laughed. “Yeah, that’s what we need to do. Get to know each other better.”
Andie grinned. “OK, but if you wind up running back to Randall, I call dibs on the new guy. Hand to God, that boy is smokin’.” She resumed walking across the Tiki torch-lighted yard. “If it wasn’t for the fact you need some post-break up fun – and you spotted him first – I’d take the guy behind the Bellmans’ barn tonight.”

Andie strode with a self-assurance I only pretended to own. Maybe because she’d actually slept with a few boys. I took a deep breath. By the time we reached him, we held the new guy’s attention, plus the two others standing with him. I nodded at Chris and Jason, grateful Randall wasn’t hanging out with them tonight.

“Hey,” Andie said.

The guys gave a chorus of heys. Chris said, “Get you a beer, Foss?”

I turned to him. “Thanks.”

Andie held up her hands and shot him a wide-eyed ‘what-the-hell’ look. “Hello,” she sing-songed. “I’ll have a beer, too.”

“Shit, Andie, I knew you’d want a beer.” Chris slouched off toward the ice-filled tub.

Jason signaled for me to give him a cigarette. I dug one out of my purse.

Andie smiled at the new boy. “I’m Andie Greeley. This is my friend Beth Foss.”

“Denny Beech.” He nodded first at Andie, then me.

No words came to mind. I looked to Andie for help. She read my panic and continued to carry the conversational ball. “You new around here?”

“I’m visiting. Staying with my aunt and uncle.”

“How long?”

Before Denny answered, Chris returned with beers for Andie, Jason and me. “So, what’d I miss? Anything earthshaking?”

“Nah.” Jason grabbed a can, “Andie’s grilling Denny. Getting all the dope.”

“Speaking of dope,” Chris said, “one of the guy’s is bringing some Maui Wowie later.”
“Excellent,” Andie said. “Now, let me get back to work. I believe we’d gotten as far as: How long will you be here? In spite of Chris’ interruption of our quiz show, there’s still plenty of time to win valuable prizes for the correct answers.” She winked at me.

The way she emphasized ‘valuable prizes’ set my cheeks aflame. I hoped Denny didn’t catch her drift. I swigged some beer then looked at him. He appeared amused and didn’t seem to realize Andie was getting ready to pimp me.

Denny shrugged. “It’s on a ‘we’ll-see-how-it-goes’ basis.”

I pegged him as a rebel, kicked out by his parents. Was his a minor rebellion or something major? Major rebellion was romantic, but minor rebellion remained more my speed.

Andie pointed at Denny’s companions. “How’d you hook up these jokers?”

Chris spoke up. “You and Foss writing a book or something?”

“Oh come on. When’s the last time somebody new came to one of Kim’s parties?” Andie turned back to Denny. “How’d you meet these bozos?”

Denny smiled. His face transformed from good-looking to movie star handsome. I snapped my mouth shut and tried not to look like I’d started to drool.

He flicked his cigarette butt into the Bellman’s rock garden. “I work with Chris at the Hen House.”

“We love that place,” Andie said. “Part of that’s ’cause we love leaving a mess for Chris. I guess we gotta start acting tidier if you’re bussing tables, too.” She smiled then gave a quick hair toss.

“I’m back in the kitchen. Mostly washing dishes, but Ed lets me run the griddle some.”

“I’ll be sure to order the pancakes next time. See how tasty your handiwork is.”

I widened my eyes at her. Andie’d from pimp to shark mode. Best friend or not, I needed to speak up. Soon. If I didn’t, Andie would charm him and Denny would think me simple or mute. “Um, how long you been in town?” I faced him, both barrels visible, the only way for sure I could best Andie.

Peggy Rothschild
Clementine's Shadow
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  1. I like the set up--California, 70s, absent parents and teens. I love the little details about the Santa Ana winds and the ash. I also love the familiarity of the friends (Shit, I knew you'd want a beer.) Great touch. Since Beth is the main character, I want to know what sets her apart. Right now I'm following her because she's the one telling the story, but as a character, she's playing second fiddle to her best friend. I'm sure there are lots of compelling things about her character, but I don't see them in the first pages. She's so passive and lets her friend do so much for her, I wanted to hear how that last line played out. That's when my interest piqued. Would it be possible to start closer to that and have more detail afterwards? Right now Andie's spunk and humor are overshadowing Beth. I think the pimp to shark mode was interesting. If the scene started with them battling for the new guy's attention it could be funny and interesting and make way for more of those familiar friend moments. Given that it's the 70s I was desperate for a few more details about their fabulous clothes, but perhaps that's just me. I really liked the bit about pulling back her waist-length hair to light her cigarette and was waiting to read about her hip huggers or peasant top, etc. Denny definitely comes off as mysterious, so I'm guessing he's at the center of the mystery. It's a good start.

  2. I agree with Michele, you have a great start! I could visualize the setting perfectly, and the little touches you add with the hair, the gauzy blouse, the winds, are all perfect. The dialogue is very natural, and very well done. I also agree with Michele that I didn't really get a real feeling about Beth - Andie was much more fleshed out and interesting at this point. Also with Beth, there was a bit too much telling in her back story about not going all the way. I don't think you need it in these few pages. I was surprised she was so nervous around Denny since she had this on and off again 2 year intense relationship. If she can by shy, that could be addressed earlier. If you flesh Beth's character out a bit more in these pages, you'll pique the reader's interest in your main character - not just in Denny (who is very intriguing!)

  3. Well, just to confuse you, I had a different take than your two comments above. I like Beth and I like that she's second fiddle to Andie, because Andie is playing the classic, slightly abrasive, snarky best friend character. It is a dynamic we know well as a reader, so it was somewhat comforting. I did not mind the small backstory paragraph, or that you told it instead of showing it, because it was short and efficient. And I get that, after being in a relationship for two years and totally out of circulation, she might be a bit out of practice on how to pick up guys. I also thought you had the right amount of details, because I'm the type of reader that prefers dialogue to details. I thought it flowed well and I get the set up. So, just goes to show you how subjective reading is!

  4. Hi Peggy!

    I love the atmosphere here! The clothes and the cigarettes and dialogue all work really well together. I'm also interested in the relationship between Beth and Andie, which has a feeling of old friendship and solid tension--good job!

    You've also done a really good job of giving Beth an immediate goal--win Denny--but you list your genre as Mystery/Crime, not romance, and I'm not getting a sense of that in these pages. A little hint of the mystery here would do wonders for pulling the reader not just into the scene, but also into the story.

  5. I think there's a lot to like here. The writing is very tight, and there are some MIGHTY FINE moments that show that your characters know each other. I loved the "Shit, Andie, I knew you’d want a beer.” line. Amazing.

    However, along this same vein, I wish that Beth was a bit more "knowing" about Andie when she says Denny is just "OK." I want her to narrow her eyes or read something in her voice that shows that Beth knows Andie is just playing him off as OK. Then she can mock Andie more when she's like “Thought you said he was only OK-looking.”

    I think that will give some punch to Beth that she's lacking a little bit. I don't necessarily mind that she's silently watching Denny while Andie gets all the deets. I'm glad she starts to take over a little bit, because SHE was the one who suggested they go and talk to him. Now, if this were their game, their sort of "good cop/bad cop" routine with boys, this would really sing. Like, when Andie wants to meet a guy, Beth does all the talking up front. So in this situation, Andie does it for Beth. If we knew this was their routine, I really think Beth wouldn't come off as shy or second fiddle, but she'd be playing their game.

    Little things: I do not understand why she envies his cigarette. I thought it was because she didn't have cigarettes (couldn't afford them; parents frowned on smoking; etc.) but she pulls one from her purse in like, the next paragraph. And then gives one away! So... Not sure I understand WHY she envies Denny's cigarette. Just because he can perch it on his lips?

    You're missing some words.
    "Kim Bellman’s parents traveled a lot and she hosted most the parties." <> Most OF the group

    "Andie’d from pimp to shark mode." >> Andie had MOVED FROM (GONE FROM, something) pimp to shark mode.

    Hope something helps!

  6. Thanks so much for the feedback. I've been struggling with the pacing and think these suggestion will help the opening feel more dynamic.
    - Peggy

  7. Peggy,

    I really get a great sense of place and the character personalities, the familiarity among the friends. Love the attitude.

    I liked your opening lines, until I read the second paragraph. It felt like a jump backward. I think you could introduce the fact that Beth wants Denny the first time she actually sees him.

    Keep it up.


  8. Hi Peggy,

    I like the way that you jump right into things with this start, and you've definitely given us a sense of place with very few details, and relationships with very little description. That's amazing. I get a real sense of being able to visualize the characters and I'm starting to get a feeling. But I'm not sure whether in this opening, there is really an mouse about that bit different or unique to make me want to read about her for an entire book. In addition, while there is a very real sense that this situation is familiar and engaging, and you've done a great job making it feel real, I'm not sure uniqueness or specialness, in the sense of standing out in the marketplace, to make this hold the attention of an editor or agent. As you know, the marketplace is really crowded.

    So I suppose that my question is this: where in your story is the action or emotion or situation truly different from anything else that we have ever read? Because I do feel like you're going somewhere wonderful, so I would like to see those special details special questions special cans of the story developing in a unique way as soon as you can possibly squeeze them in.

    Right now, my sense of where this story is going based on what's here already, is that we are going to find out more about the new guy and what he's intriguing we haven't yet in the first five pages established enough of a relationship or reason to care about Beth to be really worried that he could be potentially dangerous to her heart or her person. There seems to be a possibility that he could be dangerous to her relationship with her best friend, but again that type of story isn't completely new, and you haven't given us enough of a fresh slant on it to make someone pick it up and say I must buy this, or I must read this.

    Don't get me wrong, what's hear is a really good. But in a case like this, you not only need to put in what's really good you need to put in what's really different. So stretch yourself. Use this as a safe space to experiment. How can you bring the great things that are deeper into your story forward and show us more hints of what's to come?

    I have every faith based on what I see here that you're been a come back with something tremendous.

    Looking forward to reading again!

    1. But I'm not sure whether in this opening, there is really an mouse about that bit different or unique to make me want to read about her for an entire book.

      Sorry about that, I'm using dictation because my hands are numb. I'm afraid the dictation software and I haven't gotten to be friends yet.

      What I meant to say was that I'm not sure there's enough that's unique about Beth, about her character or what we know of her character, to make me want to read an entire book about her.

  9. Thanks everyone for the additional feedback. I should've checked the site for more critiques -- I already submitted my first round revisions so will work on these suggestions for round 2!