Monday, April 21, 2014

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Conner Rev 2

Name: Candice Marley Conner
Genre: Young Adult Magical Realism/ Fairytale Retelling

I could be cursed as worse things. If I was a scallop, I’d have up to a hundred beautiful eyes and I could lie all day on the warm bay floor watching light chase dark. But then I’d have to look out for people like me. Hungry and cursed, with a half-full scallop bag. Trying to enjoy the warmth of the water and the faint balmy breeze except for the guy watching me.

Thigh-deep in Sand Blast Bay, the strong Florida sunlight bounces off the water. I keep my back to him, irritation prickling my skin. The hip-hop reverberating off the bay means he’s not here to fish. Or if he is, he has no clue. A party boat.

I touch the oyster knife strapped to my leg. It’s sharp enough to do more than just pry open shells.

The sapphire of scallop eyes flash in the grassy, brackish water. I go underwater, blinking to clear the salt and sun from my eyes as I push the bay grass aside. The scallop clicks its two shells together, an underwater butterfly fluttering deeper into the mucky bay floor. I grab it. Standing up, I’m surprised when I shiver.

The weather has completely changed. Bruised-looking clouds roll in, hiding the sun. It hasn’t rained in months, but I don’t think these are normal rain clouds. The air smells of ozone. The breeze is more substantial, more menacing. I glare at the sky as I wring water out of my Fish Shack tee shirt. [i]Mama[i].

The boat’s stereo finally cuts off and the engine cranks up. I jut my jaw forward as it heads in my direction. The nearest shore is two hundred yards away. I wade toward the gnarled, twisted pines.

The boat slows as it approaches. I rest my hand above the knife hilt.

“Need any help?” The guy leans against the metal rail of the boat. He has golden skin stretched taunt over muscular shoulders, pecs, abs, and lower… [i]oh, sweetcrabmeat![i]

I whip my head around to once again face the shore before giving him a clipped response: “No, thanks.”

“Crazy weather, huh?”

My bagged scallops clack.

“You’re not going to make it in time. Want us to give you a ride?”

“I’ll take my chances.”


I pick up my pace but nearly jump out of my skin when there’s a loud splash behind me. Whirling around, I grab the oyster knife. He jumped off his boat and is heading toward me but stops when he sees it.

He holds up his hands, palms facing me. “There’s something behind you!”

I smirk and show him my dive bag. “This?”

“You’re going to gut me when I’m jumping in to rescue you?” He smiles sheepishly. “From a bag of scallops?”

The grin makes my stomach flutter like fish nibbling my toes. Could he be the one to end my curse so I can go home? My hand tightens on the knife grip as a wave of homesickness laps at my heart. “Why don’t you hop back on your boat and scare the fish away someplace else?”

He steps back. A teeny, tiny part of me regrets being so harsh but I need to get away from him. I don’t know what Mama has planned for me with the massive thunderclouds tumbling up on one another. Her magick always has a price. If I’m wrong, I may not be the only one paying it. Turning from him, I’m suddenly blinded by an odd yellowish-green flash.

Then everything is dark.

Air whipping past revives me. The sky is darker, but a normal, sun-about-to-set dusk rather than an unnatural stormy kind of darkness. I’m in an unfamiliar boat with an unfamiliar beach towel covering my still damp t-shirt and shorts. The ties of my swim suit top dig uncomfortably into my spine. Rising to rest on my elbows makes my head spin.

“Hey, Ray? She’s up,” an unfamiliar masculine voice says.

Footsteps approach the padded bench I’m lying on. An electric current zings through the air as the golden-skinned guy leans over me.

“I can’t believe that didn’t kill you,” he says. “Or me.”

I peek, one eye at a time, unsure of what just happened. Close up, his facial features are clearer. Gold lashes frame bright green eyes with light freckling on his nose. His lips are salt puckered and as they curve into a grin, I realize that he’s watching me stare in approval. I yank the towel over my pounding head. “Can you just throw me overboard?”

“You were struck by lightning. Weird lightning. And you pulled a knife on me, so no. I’m not getting rid of you until you at least tell me your name.”

“Mellie.” Crabs, Mama hit me with lightning? What did I do wrong this time? I sniff; nothing smells burnt. Fingers and toes look normal though I wiggle them to make sure.

“Hi Mellie of the Bay, I accept your apology. I’m Raymond. And now we— that’s my buddy, Paul, captaining the wheel— are taking you to get checked out.”

I pull the towel down to glare at him. “I never apologized.”

“I’m sure you meant to.”

“I don’t need to get checked out.” I try sitting up again. I can’t go to a hospital because I don’t know how Mama’s curse has changed me. Fighting against waves of nausea and apprehension, I look around the boat for my water shoes and scallops. “I… I don’t have insurance. Can you take me back? Or to Jake’s Fish Shack? You know where that is?”

He stares as if he’s trying to see into my brain. When he finally nods, I sigh in relief. “You’re not a tourist?”

I shake my head, then immediately regret it.

“I figured you were with the um, green hair. Haven’t seen you around.”

I brush my wet, yes, green hair into a ponytail, knotting it. I dyed it green after Mama kicked me out of the house. Banished me from my sisters. “I’m from the Cape.”

“Even Cape kids go to Bayview High.”

“Home-schooled. Give me back my knife.”

“It shot out of your hand when—” He slides it back into my leg-sheath. Where his hand touches my skin jolts as if that yellowish-green lightning is trapped between us now. I jerk back in surprise. He does too, cutting off his words.

The space between us grows heavy, his eyes going from his outstretched hand back to me. “That didn’t happen when Paul and I pulled you into the boat.” Raising his head, he shouts over the wind. “Hey Paul, head back to the south shore. We’re going to Jake’s.”

“Topless oysters? I’m in!” his friend yells back as he turns the boat in a wide arc.

“You work there?” Raymond addresses me.

I nod carefully, wondering how to explain the shock.

“I’ve never seen you. And I’m sure I would remember you.”

I tuck whipping green strands back into the knot, avoiding his eyes. “I’m usually out on the water.”

“Sounds like I know everything about you now.”

“Yup, that’s it.” I watch the horizon, hoping he’ll take the hint and not pry any deeper. He finally walks away, toward the wheel.

Raymond’ and Paul’s conversation flies back at me but the wind and the motor are so noisy I can’t make anything out. Probably talking about how weird it was that I got hit by lightning but am obviously fine. And that I shocked him.


  1. I like what you’re trying to do with your new first paragraph, introduce the curse. However, I’m not sure it flows well. Your visual descriptions are spot on, but it’s jumbled together. And while it says she’s cursed, the curse isn’t explained (and you wouldn’t want to use your first paragraph to explain it anyway), and the rest of the paragraph gives us more information about a scallop than the MC. You could easily cut it and begin here:

    Thigh-deep in Sand Blast Bay, the strong Florida sunlight bounces off the water. A guy watches me, but I keep my back to him, irritation prickling my skin. Etc.

    Other suggestions:

    He has golden skin stretched . . . tells us, but it could be shown: His golden skin stretches taut over . .

    He jumped off his boat and is heading . . . could be: He jumped off his boat and heads

    I like the repetition of unfamiliar when referring to the towel/boat, but maybe consider a different word for an unfamiliar masculine voice.

    That’s about it. I really enjoyed your new opening. You do a great job with the lively banter on the boat. I like Mellie’s prickly manner and the way the golden guy teases her. And the addition of the lightning strike works very well.

    All the best with it!

  2. I’ll start by thanking you for all your help these past weeks. I appreciate your feedback and the time you spent thinking about my work.

    I feel that your first five are reading more smoothly now. I am not so confused anymore about where they are and what is going on. I definitely have questions, but they are the kind you want the reader to have, like – what is the curse? how can her mother make lightning happen?

    I like the new first line. I don’t love the rest of the paragraph though. I think you are trying to jam too much into it. Simplifying will likely help. The impact of “the guy watching me” at the end is totally lost now, since it sounds like he is watching the scallop. The way it is phrased, and the comparison to being a scallop, makes me feel like the curse has transformed her into something else (I keep thinking mermaid, but she seems to have legs, so….) Is she something other than she used to be? If not, maybe the wording could be clearer. Like, “There are worse curses Mom could have put on me. She could have changed me into a scallop…” or something. I feel like just a tiny hint of the curse might help… but since I don’t know what it is, I could be wrong here.

    I wonder if you could make a comparison between Mellie hunting the scallops and the guy watching (hunting) her. If done right, the second paragraph could mirror the first one about scallops having all those eyes but being totally helpless to escape her. Just like she can’t outrun his boat…or something.

    I did wonder if the water is only thigh deep, would the boat be able to come so close? A quick reference to her being on a sandbar might make it more realistic.

    The dialogue is my favourite part. Hey, I wonder if you could start with that? “You’re not going to make it in time. Want us to give you a ride?”and then go into why Mellie doesn’t want help. You could drop in the details about setting and curse between dialogue. Right off the bat it has the reader wondering, why does he think she needs help, and why won’t she take it? Just a thought.

    I wish you all the best with your novel. It has a lot of potential. A curse, romance, a feisty girl – the makings of a YA hit for sure. I hope to see it on the shelves one day so I can find out what this curse is all about.

  3. Hello, Candice! You're opening much more strongly here - great work on shaping up your revision! Here are some of my thoughts:

    The first sentence communicates a sense of the conflict much more strongly, and it opens up so many possibilities. This is a huge improvement, and your progress really has been tremendous.

    The first sentence in your second paragraph, "Thigh-deep in Sand Blast Bay..." suggests that the strong Florida sunlight is actually thigh-deep in Sand Blast Bay, so you may want to edit this sentence for clarity.

    If Mellie has her back to the guy watching her, how does she know he's there? It would be nice to have this cleared up. Also, if this guy is clueless, then why is her first instinct to go for her knife? It seems like a little too dramatic of a reaction to someone who she clearly doesn't consider dangerous.

    In the fourth paragraph, what exactly does “the air smells of ozone” mean? It could just be a subjective thing on my part, but it was a bit confusing.

    Mellie’s reaction to this mystery boy seems paradoxical - she’s reaching for her knife, admiring his good looks, and trying to get away from him, all at the same time. It hints really strongly at where the story might lead. Seeing how she’s cursed, I think she would completely push him away and not give him a second glance. However, if you intended the mixed parts of this reaction, then by all means keep it as-is!

    It is a little unrealistic that Mellie’s dive bag would look like something dangerous, so you may want to adjust this - maybe it’s a fish that he sees in the water?

    I would love some more explanation of the curse. I’m too confused to be sure of what’s going on and how this incident has changed Mellie’s life. While I love the voice that Mellie has and I would like to follow it, some more smoothly introduced information would do a world of good. Again, you’ve done a really nice job on this revision!

  4. Hey There! You've really done a great job with revisions over the last few rounds. I love how your writing and the story has evolved. I love the voice. And I'm much more clear on where the story is going than the first round.

    I'd love if you can find a way to introduce us to the curse/magic part of the story a little more. I'd love to get a little better feel for what is happening and will happen. I want to know more about where the story is going early on.

    Overall, you're doing a great job! You're on the right track and you're getting very close!

  5. Hello Candice,

    The opening is really coming together. The imprint of your voice is stronger while maintaining the lyrical quality of your descriptions. The pace of the action has tightened. The additional info. on the curse ups the ante on the stakes. Yay to the lightning strike instead of the head bonk – and that moment when he touches her – whew – I had to fan myself. Well done.

    Here are some suggestions/questions:

    Yes to starting with the curse, but I think you can craft a stronger lead. I immediately wanted to know what she is cursed as, to compare it to the scallop being the better choice.

    The flow of the opening needs a wee bit of smoothing. What if you end the first paragraph after “people like me.” Start P-2 with something like : Hungry and cursed, with a half-full scallop bag I try to enjoy… Maybe give the “guy watching” beat its own sentence. I also get later that he is watching from the boat, I think you should clarify it here.

    After “thigh-deep in Sand Blast Bay” make sure we know it’s Mellie not the sun. Break up long sentences to add a dynamic. Eg. Irritation pricks my skin.

    Why does she go for the knife initially? Where’s the threat. I really like the way you use it later. I’d save it.

    Cut surprised and just have her shiver at the weather change. Where is the ozone from? Does she see lightning in the bruised clouds?

    Can you clarify that the boat can only come so close to her because of the scallop beds? Again wondering what about the boat motivates her to touch the knife? Drunk frat boys?

    The description of the hot guy feels like a “list” to me. Less is more and sweetcrabmeet says it all.

    Not sure “Need any help?” works since she doesn’t look distressed. Maybe you could just stick to the offer of a ride since the weather’s gone wonky.

    I do love all the new juicy info. on the curse, but I still feel like I’m missing some important breadcrumb. I think the lead throws me because you give lots of intriguing pieces about the curse later on to whet our curiosity.

    I need a little more grounding on the air whipping revival. Is she lying down?

    I’d stick with just using “unfamiliar” the first time and not repeat.

    Congratulations on a fab revision. Color me impressed. You’re in the page-turner zone.

  6. Hi Candice,

    WOW! You've done FABULOUS work here! This opening really clarifies what's important in the story and sets the stage more concretely, drawing the reader right into the action and giving us an engaging character to root for. You're truly almost there. Your dialogue is great, the pace is much better, and I feel more grounded and able to enjoy reading without feeling confused.

    Going forward, I have a few final suggestions, but I think you're very nearly there.

    First, while I love the idea of the curse, I don't think the first paragraph hits it right, or that it is necessary to get the curse in that first paragraph. We need a visual to start with, and the second paragraph gives us that.

    What if you started with something like this:

    Standing thigh-deep in Sand Blast Bay, I keep my back to the guy who's watching me. If I ignore him, maybe he will (what does she want?) (Something something something, the curse won't XXX -- what are the consequences, to her? to the guy?)
    The (what's unique about the sunlight? Better than strong?) Florida sunlight bounces (or maybe a more unique verb that tells us HOW it bounces?) off the water. The hip-hop reverberating off the bay (what does tine sound do to her that you can use to show her irritation?). The music means he’s not here to fish. Or if he is, he has no clue. A party boat.

    Then carry that through. The examples of showing versus telling that Martha gave you will help you make things even more immediate, and just keep thinking about what she wants and what she would be thinking in any given moment. Make her real for yourself and she will breathe and sing for your readers!

    Please keep us posted about your progress! I'll have my fingers crossed for you!



  7. Hi Candice,

    I will echo the other comments giving you a huge congratulations on how far these pages have come. You are really trimming the fat, being more efficient with your language, and zeroing in on the important details. I know from personal experience that this workshop makes you work -- and think -- hard in a short time frame and your work here really shows you absorbed all the feedback and made it work for you.

    Now, onto the pieces that I'd love to see you tweak a bit more. I actually love you starting with her being cursed. However, that line falls flat because you then go into the scallop description, which is actually nice and makes me think "huh, nice life a scallop has so why is being a scallop worse?" It is too far for the line that she's hungry and that's why a scallop is worse. And bigger than this, you are missing a great opportunity to give us more about the curse. It doesn't have to be a lot. You could use your line that "I could be cursed as worse things" to then actually show me something HORRIBLE she could be cursed as. This would give me some sort of clue/sense of what her curse is or at least the gravity of it. Because you write with humor, as do I (high five!) it is often hard to convey the urgency and tension. It can get lost in the humor. For the most part you handle this well, save for this first paragraph.

    I know we keep harping on it, but it truly is that important.

  8. As part of this, I don’t think the way you introduce the guy watching her works. I didn’t realize he was in the boat. I also agree that you need to be careful to make sure her reactions/motivations make sense. Is she irked that a guy is following her? Why? I love the idea that she’s actually annoyed because if he comes too close he might get hurt. The idea of her being gruff and off-putting to protect others from her curse is great. But then the rest of what’s going on needs to match—why pull the oyster knife on him. Why could some random fisherman potentially end her curse? You can’t give that line and not explain, by the way. If you can’t explain now as there’s too much, then just save it.

    Overall, be a bit careful with your use of language as others have said. For example, “Whirling around, I grab the oyster knife. He jumped off his boat and is heading toward me but stops when he sees it.” By the time I reach “it” I have forgotten it’s the knife and it actually refers back to the boat.

    And here, the “Mama” is lost on me. I thought it had something to do with the T-shirt.

    The weather has completely changed. Bruised-looking clouds roll in, hiding the sun. It hasn’t rained in months, but I don’t think these are normal rain clouds. The air smells of ozone. The breeze is more substantial, more menacing. I glare at the sky as I wring water out of my Fish Shack tee shirt. [i]Mama[i].

    It would be more effective after “menacing.” Other ways to show rather than tell even more:

    “When I break through the surface, goosebumps race down my arms. I was under the water for less than a minute but in that time everything’s changed. Bruised clouds have swallowed the sun. The air smells not of rain but ozone. A menacing wind hits me like a slap.


    I glare at the sky wondering what I could have don to bring this on as I wring water out of my Fish Shack tee shirt.”

    Of course, write it your way. This is just a way to help show you what I mean and ways you can even further cut telling in your writing. Once you do that to every passage, every paragraph, it’ll all flow much more smoothly.

    Keep up the great work and please keep me posted!