Tuesday, August 5, 2014

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Leun

Name: Garrett Vander Leun
Genre: YA - Urban Fantasy

Henry had thought about killing his dad before. Hell, he'd wished it on candles.

He picked out a fistful of foam from the hole in his seat and watched his dad through the windshield. Fidgeting and adjusting all the goofy shit he wore on their drive to school.

A pink gardening hat with a brim big enough to blot out twenty suns.

Yellow plastic kitchen gloves, cinched around his wrists with hair ties.

Orange snowboarding goggles, wrenched down so tight that his pasty face screamed pink mercy all around the edges. And then there was the fucking shirt. A vintage, loosey-goosey Hawaiian shirt just because. Because he liked the way the breeze tickled his pits, just like he liked the way his leather sandals let his toes sing, just like every little thing he did seemed calculated to piss Henry off.

Henry's eyes shifted over to a green, wooden gardening stake on the work table in the garage. He smiled. What would it take, two seconds to climb out and grab it? Five more to plunge it through his dad's vegetarian, vampire heart? Blood would spurt all over the grease-stained carpet strips, his dad would drop and the wonders of his weakness would do the rest. Henry would straddle him while he gurgled, too, watch his bloodshot eyes bug out with confusion.

It's my sixteenth birthday, Henry would scream. Remember?!

It was also Henry's release day.

Henry's dad would convulse, reaching out with his skinny little arms to apologize as he died. And Henry would take a step back. Fuck you, Anton, he'd say. You're just a shitty monster dad and I've never been anything but your disappointing human son.

Henry made eye contact with his dad through the windshield of their car and saluted him with a turn of his middle finger.

Anton yanked the door open. "You know what?"

Henry never would. His dad always let the empty threat dangle; the Administration's biggest rule applied to him the same way it did to all the monsters allowed to live inside the town's four giant walls: don't fuck with humans.

Naturally the kids at school had found a loophole - if Henry got himself caught up in an accident, nobody from outside gave it a second look. Assholes, every last one of them.

The car screamed when his dad turned the engine over, belts and things he'd promised to repair for years. You could hear it coming from blocks away, a sound like someone playing basketball with a typewriter. But his dad was going to fix it eventually. He just needed to get out from under his work at the library, and his secret meetings at the hardware store and the sunrise, rooftop yoga. His dad would fix their van just as soon as he was done obsessing over himself.

Anton held his breath when he backed out, waiting to see what bit of skin he'd forgot to cover when the sunlight rolled over the car.

"Your forearms, Anton."

"Ah-ya-ya!" The exposed flesh crackled like bacon as soon as the sun hit.

"Jesus!" Henry grabbed the cuffs of his dad's long-sleeve t-shirt and pulled them out from under the short-sleeved Hawaiian one. The whole car smelled like rotten lunch meat.

"We're good - I'm good - everything's good." The car pummeled the neighbor's bushes and laid waist to most of their lawn before everything was finally good. He steered the van out on the open road and choo-choo'ed his pain through the back of his teeth. "You realize it makes me nauseous when you say his name, right?"

"Who? Jesus Christ?"

His dad moaned.

"You realize Arbo tries to kick my ass every time you destroy their yard, right?" Their neighbors were plant elementals; they felt every green, growing thing in town like it was their own skin.

"So tell him it was an accident, Henry - they'll understand!"

Henry shook his head. Not even the monsters understood his dad.

He'd disbanded his gang of vampires before Henry was born and gone vegetarian shortly after that. Henry came along right about the time the war between monsters and humans broke and his dad was the only supermonster to sit it out. Henry had never even seen him sprout a single fang or batwing. And he'd begged him, too. Anton said it made his jaw sore and cramped up his arms. Between that and all the Cat Stevens music, Anton was basically a human, too.

Anton pushed the cassette tape in. True to form, Peace Train came blaring down the tracks. Henry gave it about two seconds before he popped it back out.

"Don't start - it's my week, Henry."

"And it's my birthday, Asshole."

His dad's face went paler than pale. Henry could see the veins running up along his temples.

"You're leaving today."

Henry nodded. Bullseye, you bastard.

Anton's rubber gloves squeaked along the wheel. He couldn't get a grip on what he needed to say; it was just as well for Henry - he wasn't done rubbing his dad's face in it.

The whole shitty town was made out of hand-me-down human relics and anything Henry owned was well-used or mostly-broken. In all his time poking through Jukebox, he'd only found four records that did anything for him.

BLACK FLAG's Damaged.

DAMNED's Damned, Damned, Damned.

MINOR THREAT's Out of Step.

He'd found the fourth one hidden inside of the MINOR THREAT record. An anti-monster band. WOODY STEAKS' The Last Drop. Henry's dad still didn't know he had it; he played it during the day with headphones on while his dad slept.

Glenn flipped the cassette over - he'd recorded all the best songs on the backside - and shoved it in. And turned it up.

The speakers shook with the sound of BLACK FLAG. The guitars sounded like they were thrown down a staircase and recorded in someone's butt. Henry loved it. He looked out the window, strumming the zipper pull on his backpack like a guitar pick.

His dad slumped beside him.

That's right, Man. This is I-don't-have-to-listen-to-you-anymore music. Henry's neighborhood rolled past like a sad and tattered rainbow. Yellow is the color of the weeds in the ghouls' yards, because they're too dead to care. Black is the color of the oil stains splattered in the driveways of the ghosts, because they're too immaterial to scrub it. Brown is the color of the burnt and brittle dirt in the centaur paddocks, because those proud little ponies would never be made to run behind a fence.

Henry whispered the words. "Thirsty and miserable, always wanting more…"

There had been times in recent years where Henry had thought about turning his neck to the side and begging his dad to bleed him dry. Do them both a favor.

Sure some monsters took until sixteen to turn, but everyone knew Henry was human. It was all over but the shouting; one last, formal monster-test after school would prove it. He'd be free to see the world beyond the walls by the time the sun went down.

He kept a notebook under his mattress that he'd filled with all the things he wanted to see and do when he got out: eat something with gluten in it, go to Disneyland, watch a hockey games, get weird in the snow, lay on the beach, see a movie in a movie theater, get sick on candy, make out with girls - find his mother.


  1. Hi Garrett,

    I enjoyed reading these pages of Monster Town. The opening line grabbed my attention. The 2nd paragraph confused me; I had to think about it. It's broken into two sentences that feel as though they ought to be one. I figured out it was the dad fidgeting with his goofy clothes, but the those lines could be more clear that Henry is observing his father.

    This read like a contemporary angsty YA, a boy who considers his father odd and nerdy. This felt real and you write Henry well. However, even with the twist that dad is a vegetarian vampire and they live in a community of monsters, I couldn't find a compelling reason why Henry had such animosity toward his father, why he gave him the finger, or why he fantasized about murdering him. Contrasted against his so far harmless and likeable father, Henry comes across as excessively dark and violent. Why does Henry have such strong feelings toward his dad? While you don't have to spill it all out in the first few pages, consider giving us some clue about their past or dad's possibly darker side.

    Note - You mention Glenn, but I think you meant Henry.

    Anton is likeable from the start, if not a little bit caricature - the nerdy, un-hip, naive parent. Reminded me of Goofy in 'The Goofy Movie.' But I'm not sure if that was your intention. Consider making Anton a bit more three dimensional. How might a real father relate to his son in this sort of situation?

    From what I can tell, Anton doesn't realize it's Henry's birthday, and that this is Henry's last day living among the monsters (which is a great premise, by the way). I have a hard time believing Anton is that dense. I'd like to see a more fatherly response from Anton. Perhaps he does realize what's about to happen but is up against his son's antagonism?

    Love the music references. And the list of things Henry plans to do when he "gets out."

    I don't really understand this line: if Henry got himself caught up in an accident, nobody from outside gave it a second look.

    The writing itself is sharp and witty, enjoyable. You have an engaging style that swept me into this story and allowed me to "believe." You provided just enough back story to keep me interested (the war between monsters & humans, his missing mother).

    My final comment comes back to Henry. As your protagonist, we need a reason to root for him. As he is now, he is so nasty to his dad (why, I have no real idea) that I don't like him. We need something to like about him, even if just a hint of remorse for treating his dad so badly. He does help his dad with his sleeves to keep out the sun, but he does it with a bad attitude. Perhaps this moment between them could reveal a kinder side to Henry.

    I look forward to reading your revision of this clever and so far well-written story.

  2. Hi Garrett,
    I have to confess that I am not your typical reader, and I don't know much about the fantasy, monster-oriented culture of young adult literature. That being said, maybe I could be your best critic, because if you can draw me in, you can draw in your fantasy lovers.
    The Why here? Why now? aspect of the story is clear, as there is definitely something important that happens to these people on their sixteenth birthdays. I would have liked a little more information about what was going on. The Administration didn't make sense to me, although I am sure that more will come about it.
    The description of Anton was funny and full of strong eccentric image and I liked figuring out that the sun was such a problem for him. I have no visual for Henry, though, and as I write this post, I realize that I have no visual for Anton other than the clothing. The skinny little arms actually confused me, as it contradicted the image that I, as a newcomer to monsters, was developing. Maybe this is intentional?
    For me, Laurisa's comment about wanting to like Henry is really important. I don't at this point, and I'm guessing, based on the list at the end of what he wants to do as a human, that you do want your readers to start to like him. I actually found myself liking Anton--do you mean for that to happen?

    This sequence didn't work for me, and I wanted more from the "Henry never would".
    Anton yanked the door open. "You know what?"

    Henry never would. His dad always let the empty threat dangle; the Administration's biggest rule applied to him the same way it did to all the monsters allowed to live inside the town's four giant walls: don't fuck with humans.

    I think that you have great opportunities in this section to weave in some of the reasons or backstory to the tension between Henry and Anton.

    Again, this is not a genre I know well, but I am fascinated by the premise and the intricacies, rules, and complications of the world that you are developing. I'm looking forward to reading it again.

  3. I was intrigued by the premise but confused after I finished reading it. I get that the son is angry at his dad for some reason but what is the reason? The fact that he has to live with him in Monster Town? And what is Monster Town, how did it come into being? Your main character comes across as unlikable and maybe that's what you're going for but I think for a reader to continue reading, you need to have something for the reader to like about your MC even if it's only that he is sad about leaving his kitten behind when he'd finally free. The writing is fine, no major problems with the style. I sort of love the vampire dad, he seems nerdy and fun. Good luck with revisions!

  4. Hi! Thanks for sharing this. It's the kind of book I love to read. I love the humor behind it, especially the basketball typewriter line. :D I do have two main complaints however, that I believe are fixable. One is that the tone feels a little young to me. A little too much surface humor. If your MC is SOOOO angry that he fantasizes about killing his "father" I need to understand where that's coming from. At least a bit more. You don't have to spill all of it yet. You need to go deeper. I want to know your character and feel for him. He's too unlikable at the outset. I have to commiserate with him. I LOVE that you have him save his father's arms, despite the excuse and the fantasizing. Maybe bring that up so we see he isn't that bad of a character. Also, a bit too many cuss words in the opening. Believe me - I am NOT one to censor at all, but they feel a bit overused. Think of them as exclamation points. You don't want a bunch, only when it's really going to make an impact.
    The second main thing is that although there is the tension between he and Anton on the way to school, I want a bit more going on here in this scene. He has to do something interesting. Make a choice - like the one with pulling his dad's sleeves down. I guess I want a tad more interaction. Maybe just more details about the world around them. What does this town populated by monsters look like? Smell like? Feel like? If it's a huge day - what's he focused on? Finding his mom is a great last line in the first five btw.
    Thanks and I can't wait to read the revision!!

  5. Hi Garrett!

    Miriam is on vacation so I’m filling in this week. First of all, your writing style is very unique and engaging. I was immediately drawn up into the story. You’ve also given us a bit of backstory – so that we get the monsters vs. human thing – but not too much, which is great. I want to know more about it! And that wanting is what makes people keep turning pages! But you also need a protagonist that people want to relate to or like. So far, Anton seems great, and Henry seems whiny. He has a lot of anger and angst, but the reader doesn’t know why, which makes him a bit too unlikeable.

    Also, I was confused at times, as I noticed some of the other readers were. Read this again as if you don’t know what’s happening. You don’t need to spell everything out, there can be questions and mysteries, like the big one – what happened to his mom! – but what happens if there is an accident? Give us a little more information to understand the enormity of this scene. And this scene is clearly pivotal, life-changing – I just need more information, and descriptions (I want to see it!) to fully get caught up in it.

    I’m looking forward to reading more and finding out about super monsters! Good luck revising!


  6. Hi Garrett-

    I loved the opening paragraph. It pulled me in and definitely made me want to keep reading since it's not everyday you hear something like that.

    The use of description helped me to visualize Henry and Anton without being overused. But I got lost several times on the flow of story. It seemed a bit choppy and I had to go back and read sentences/paragraphs again in order to figure out who was speaking or to whom to sentence referred.

    For example: He picked out a fistful of foam from the hole in his seat and watched his dad through the windshield. Fidgeting and adjusting all the goofy shit he wore on their drive to school. Was Henry or his father fidgeting and adjusting?

    A few times something is dropped into the story with no explanation. "It was also Henry's release day." But there is nothing more other than later on when Anton states that he's leaving. But why? How? Not sure that you would need to go into a long drawn out answer but perhaps one or two more sentences.

    There is a great use of voice in Henry and it is definitely unique. The reader absolutely understands that he is angry and mad but with a teenage "I'm cool" attitude.

    I realize this is YA and not MG but there seems to be a bit too much profanity. I get that teens see it and use it everyday but is this marketable? Is there a way to use the "less is more" approach? Just a thought.

    Who is Glenn? He is mentioned in the paragraph that comes after the anti-monster band. There is no other mention of him, he just pops up in one line.

    Great premise and I can't wait to see what happens over the next few weeks. Makes me want to keep on reading to find out what is going on in this town.