Monday, May 19, 2014

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Becker Rev 2

Name: Jessica Becker
Genre: YA Paranormal
Title: The Body Thief

I never should have left the house. I debated this even as I sat shivering on one of the stone-cold benches planted along the perimeter of the fair. I ticked off the reasons in my head. Summer project for school. Babysitting my cousin Hazel. The bodies of dead girls that kept showing up on new moon nights.

Needless to say, this last fact changed the very atmosphere of the fair itself. There were less people here than normal, or at least less females. The truth though: no one knew why teenaged girls tended to die on this night. They weren’t murdered or anything. That would have been easier to understand. And according to the know-it-all neighbor next door, they didn’t die painfully either. The girls just dropped dead. Not violently at all. Just gone. It could happen at home or while waiting for coffee at The Shack. But whenever you heard a story about eleven girls dying in your town, you tended to think about it. And I did. A lot.

In the end, Hazel convinced me to take her to the fair. No amount of card playing or cookie bribes could deter her. She argued that her mom would be closer in case something did happen and that rides and fried ice cream were the perfect distraction. I guess I agreed with her. A little.

It was the last weekend of July and too cold to be considered summer. Peddler’s Fair weekend was a local tradition that wouldn’t be deterred by an untimely “coincidence.” It was erected within the large parking lot in front of Ojai Valley high school. Trees separated us from the main road, but I still had a clear view of the bell tower on the other side. Rows of white tents lined one side of the rectangle with food trucks parked opposite. Roller coasters creaked and whirred around bends and loops. I loved the fair. I loved the food on sticks and games no one ever really won, and the way people raced from one ride to the next. I loved the smell of barbecue and spun sugar intermingled with the sticky sweetness of everything fried. I even loved the awful music pouring from the house of mirrors.

My best friend, Jai Bennet, glanced in my direction with a lopsided grin. He wasn’t fazed by the new moon stories. Jai, who chased creepy stories to thrill some weird fascination. He liked to be scared.

“You okay, Callie?” He asked in his too-concerned voice as he sorted our ride tickets.

I nodded.

“Then stop looking like that,” he said.

I snagged a piece of funnel cake I held balanced on my knees. “Like what?”

“Like you’re going to puke. Like the whole world is about to explode.”

“I’m not.” I fiddled with the ring around my thumb, and watched the reflection of the strung lights flicker in the puddles on the street. Food wrappers littered the ground.

“You’re sitting there like a lump. I thought this was your favorite weekend?”

“Shut up. I’m fine.” I glanced at the clock. The minutes pressed forward. My aunt would close up her tent in the next hour and shepherd us all home. She’d tell us stories of all the people that sought her advice, making her work seem important. For the first time ever, I welcomed my curfew.

Hazel cozied into my shoulder, watching me closely. She probably sensed my restlessness. Hazel wasn’t like other ten year olds. She carried this seriousness within her and rarely spoke. She used big words and read books I could never finish. And she often stared at me like one of her books, like I was some story she was meant to discover.

“Think we’ll know the next one?” I asked Jai. I didn’t look at him. I didn’t want him to see the worry in my eyes.

“It’s not even going to happen.”

“Don’t tell me you’re like every other person that thinks it’s a coincidence.” I said coincidence like it tasted sour in my mouth.

His eyes lit up. “Just stop. Nothing’s going to happen.”

I smirked.

He nudged me in the side.

Maybe he was right. Maybe I worried for nothing. But it would happen somewhere. And how could it be stopped if no one ever saw it coming?

A girl with dark hair and ivory skin sidled up next to Jai. I turned away as she touched his shoulder in a familiar way. Jai laughed and said something into her ear. It could be her.

Hell, it could be me. Well, it could if my skin lightened a couple of shades. And my eyes would have to change color. Most of the girls had blue eyes and mine were decidedly mixed. One brown and one blue. Still.

The girl faced me and raised her eyebrows in recognition. “Oh, you were Raven’s sister, right?” Were. Past tense. As in no longer. Now I was just sister-less. The word pinged inside my head like an annoying reminder. The girl paid no attention. It was just a word after all. Raven’s sister. Even dead, she was my identifying feature.

Jai glanced in my direction, looking almost as if she struck him. The mention of Raven would forever haunt him no matter how much time passed. He didn’t need to hear her name to remember, he had his silver hooked scar on his cheek for that. It faded to almost nothing in the last year. Almost.

I bit my lip and tried not to think of her. I tried not to think of how she fell asleep while driving. I tried not to think of her crumpled car. And I especially tried not to think that she died exactly one month before all this weirdness started. Funny thing though: as soon as you tried not to think of something, then it stuck around for an uncomfortably long time. So, I did what I did best—I avoided eye contact and looked up. I swallowed the knot in my throat and counted to ten.

The girl prattled on and on, and it wasn’t until she said goodbye that I realized I hadn’t heard a word.

“Hey, Callie?” I could tell he had been saying my name for a while by the way his eyebrows pinched together. He pulled a handful of change from his pocket and shook it in his hand like dice. “Want to go on a ride or something? Or get some more food?” He turned towards the row of food trucks lining the street. Teriyaki beef sticks, corn dogs, brisket sandwiches, fried onion blossoms, chocolate covered bacon…

Hazel leaned forward. Her sandy hair fell over her shoulder, matching her hazel eyes completely. She was tanned like a bottle of honey and dotted with freckles across her nose. “I should take Hazel back to my aunt,” I said.

“Do you want me to come with?” He asked. “Winnie said she’d read my palm for five bucks.”

“I just saw someone go into her tent. You should eat or whatever.”

“Alright. I’ll be back then.” Jai smiled and in this light, the scar on his face bloomed silver. He spun on his heel, an almost graceful move considering his height. Jai was freakishly tall. Between that and his aquamarine t-shirt, he made it easy to spot him in the crowds.

Out of the silence, Hazel asked, “Do you see anything?” She pressed her chubby hand into mine and gave a gentle squeeze.


  1. Hi Jessica,
    I loved this read-through of your sample. With the addition of sounds of the fair and smells in the air, it pulled me into the read even further, giving me more to work with to form the setting and feel of the scene.

    I wasn't really able to pinpoint something in particular to improve upon. With each revision, you've maintained the strength of the MC's voice and that's important.

    Great job.

  2. Love the imagery!

    I'd cut "Needless to say," and possibly change "this last fact" to something like "the new moon deaths" as well as cut "The truth though:" because what needs to be cut are both unnecessary.

    Also, I feel like I want just a tad bit more tension all around. Other than that, nothing really to add. Wish I could read more! Can't wait until the day when we all can! :)

  3. Your work has improved terrifically with each revision and I'm drawn in each time. :)

    " “You okay, Callie?” He asked in his too-concerned voice as he sorted our ride tickets. "

    I loved this line : Were. Past tense. As in no longer. Now I was just sister-less
    except for "sister-less," is there a way to change that to another word to emphasize the loneliness of it all?

    Maybe "Were. Past tense. I was a sister. Now I'm just alone." or something that fits your voice better. :)

    Love this intro and hope that I can one day read the rest of it! Thank you for sharing.

    With this, I'm wondering why you say "too concerned" with the story of the girls dying and her recent sister's death, it seems like this is a valid question. Maybe he's just concerned and this bothers her for some reason? Why?

  4. Great revision! I have really enjoyed reading and watching this piece change and grow. I think you've really developed the world Callie's living in these few pages. I can easily think back to fairs I've been to before.

    Honestly, I don't have much to say that needs changing. I do, however, agree with the sentiment of more tension. I suppose I was just looking for more apprehension on the part of the characters. Wonderful job!

  5. Yay, yay, yay! Jessica, this is looking fantastic. I made a couple of notes while reading, but these issues are super picky. At this point, it's just a matter of cleaning up minor details, in my opinion.

    The paragraph that begins "It was the last weekend in July"... a bigger paragraph. If you can chop it to add more white space, that would be helpful. Perhaps begin a new paragraph at "Rows..." Your call.

    When Jai said, "I thought this was your favorite weekend" I expected Callie to remember something good about the fair. She's already mentioned the food, but this would be a well-placed memory that could help reveal character. Did she have a favorite moment here? First kiss? Father/daughter moment? You could even add a memory that would intrigue the reader more. So...if you add a memory there, make sure it's doing some heavy lifting.

    There were two places where I thought you could change "that" to "who."

    1) "She’d tell us stories of all the people that sought" can be "...who sought."
    2)"... every other person that thinks it’s a coincidence." can be "who thinks..."
    So minor, but I think it works.

    Finally, when you mention Hazel's eyes, I had an idea, but I'm not sure it would work. Maybe Hazel has her name because of her eyes, instead of being named after someone else. BUT...Callie mentions earlier that the dead girls all had blue eyes. If Hazel's eyes were blue, the reader would worry about her the moment her eye color is mentioned. Again, this might not work within he frame of your story, but I thought it would add a layer of suspense.

    Overall, a wonderful opening. You've done such a great job of adding sensory details, and smoothing the flow of the story. Well done!

  6. Hi Jessica -

    I'm wowed by this piece and think it gets stronger with each pass!

    The second paragraph REALLY clarifies the deaths element now. It could happen anywhere. In a way, that's scarier... no place is safe. So why not go to the fair? Removes that confusion we were having with the first version.

    Also, I see that you elaborated/clarified Raven's death, too. So we "think" we know her death wasn't related to the others (though I wondered if she didn't just drop dead while driving and it "seemed" like she'd fallen asleep.) The fact that it was one month before all of the other deaths intrigued me.

    On the subject of her sister, when we learn that the fair is her favorite weekend, I found myself wondering if she had wonderful memories there with her sister. We'd maybe feel her loss even more acutely, especially since this is the first fair without her. These are crucial first moments to suck us in emotionally. Don't waste any opportunity. :)

    You have SUCH a great eye for detail! "..reflection of the string lights flicker in the puddles on the street." I'm so there. Just fantastic.

    I'd keep reading, not only for the intrigue but because I know you're the type of writer who will immerse me fully with sensory details so that I'm temporarily in another world---yours.