Sunday, December 7, 2014

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Chou Rev 1

Name: Jenny Chou
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: The Jewel Thieves
 
 
At a café in downtown Rome, my brother Raj and I sat drinking cappuccino on an unusually warm November morning. An ivy-covered trellis hid us from the security cameras posted outside the bank next door. While Raj appeared to be scrolling through the news on his iPhone, I turned the pages of my worn copy of Sense and Sensibility. I’d read it enough times that if anyone felt like striking up a conversation on Jane Austen I’d be covered.
 
“The limo’s here,” Raj whispered in French, which we usually spoke to each other, though it wasn’t the first language for either of us.
 
I lifted my eyes. A black limousine had pulled to a stop in the no-parking zone in front of the bank. A chauffeur marched around to the sidewalk, nodded to the security guard and opened the rear door. Placing her cane on the pavement, Signora Isabella D’Agnelli emerged slowly and took the chauffeur’s arm. The diamond choker around her neck caught the sunlight and sparkled.
 
A group of university students at the table next to us stopped their conversation and when they spoke again it was in hushed whispers. An aura of old-fashioned glamour surrounded Signora. We could all see the radiant girl she’d been at eighteen when she’d married an Italian movie star in a fairy-tale wedding.
 
The security guard tipped his hat and held open one of the bank’s carved iron doors.
 
“She’s still so lovely,” I said. If I’d had a grandmother she might have been around Signora’s age.
 
“Sasha.” Raj fixed his dark eyes on me.
 
“What?” I put my sunglasses on. “I’m completely detached.” Of course I hadn’t told Raj about the copy of Life Magazinewith Signora’s wedding photograph on the cover I’d bought at a used bookshop in Paris.
 
“Sure you are.” He snorted and stole my chocolate biscotti.
 
A sudden gust of wind carried the scent of brewing coffee and ruffled my shoulder length hair. Yesterday I’d dyed it from a blond the color of buttermilk to brown. Not a striking copper or a deep chestnut, but a brown that could only be described as brown. Grey contact lenses toned down my cornflower-blue eyes. In my silk blouse and pencil skirt I hoped to be mistaken for an executive assistant.
 
Certainly I wouldn’t strike anyone as a seventeen-year-old veteran jewel thief.
 
Continuing to ignore the playful looks one of the girls at the next table had been throwing at him for the past half hour, Raj clicked onto his favorite financial site. I’d managed to tame his unruly black curls into a straight ponytail. His oxford shirt masked the tattoo between his shoulder blades of the Chinese characters for genius and he’d removed all his earrings. Grudgingly, he wore the conservative tie I’d chosen but he’d also put on his battered old running shoes. So much for blending seamlessly into the business district. Maybe he’d pass for a quirky advertising copywriter.
 
Raj updated me on his stocks but I barely heard him. My stomach fluttered as I thought about Signora opening her safety deposit box inside the bank. Before I closed my book I’d read the same sentence about the dashing Mr. Willoughby at least twelve times.
 
Two of the university students got to their feet, arguing in a mixture of English and Italian about a lacrosse game. One of the boys lifted a backpack so crammed with books he couldn’t get the zipper to close. Swoon-worthy golden red hair fell into his eyes. Even better, he spoke with a delicious Scottish accent. I allowed myself a little daydream about a backpack of my own and a class on Nineteenth Century fiction in an ivy-covered lecture hall. And an adorable Scottish boyfriend to meet for coffee.
 
Though we’d taken a lot of classes online, neither Raj nor I had ever gone to any kind of formal school. Dad had taught us about art and history as we’d trailed behind him across Europe, Asia and America in search of the next big heist. Along the way I’d learned a little Greek and Mandarin and could switch from French to Italian to English, no problem. Besides cracking open safes, accents became my specialty.
 
But everything I knew about high school I’d learned from reading American novels. To be honest, the trials of high school sounded a lot scarier than the thought of breaking into an Italian villa and stealing millions of euros worth of diamonds. But college could be different. A chance to start over. To reinvent myself as anyone I wanted to be.
 
As he headed towards the sidewalk, the Scottish guy caught my eye and winked. Feeling my cheeks turn all kinds of red, I picked up my cappuccino.
 
With a nod, Raj drew my attention towards the bank. “Remind me why we’re in Italy?” He shot me an evil grin. I kicked his ankle with the pointed toe of my high-heeled shoe.
 
While I’d been scoping out hot college boys, the security guard had stepped outside again, accompanied by a second guard. The chauffeur brushed past them and opened the door to the limousine. Wearing a tie very similar to Raj’s, the bank manager appeared next holding Signora D’Agnelli’s arm. 
 
All traces of humor vanished from Raj’s face. In her right hand Signora carried a red leather box the size of a hardcover book. Inside the box rested a necklace made from two hundred glittering carats of oval, pear, and round brilliant white diamonds. A tingle raced up and down my spine. I pictured Signora standing in a spacious walk-in closet and turning the dial on her safe. The door would spring open, and the box would be there but the diamonds would have vanished. In my imagination Signora’s maid caught her before she fainted.
 
Raj’s eyes flashed with excitement. “I’d say this is a done deal.”
 
Without warning my own eyes teared up. “I wish—”
 
My brother put his hand over mine and squeezed. “I wish Dad were here too. But we can pull this off on our own, Sasha. I know it.” Grabbing the check, Raj stood up. “Be right back.”
 
I took a deep breath and twisted the gold watch on my wrist. Dad had given it to my mother on their first anniversary.
 
The students from the next table gathered their backpacks and took off in the direction of the university, leaving one girl behind. She followed Raj with her eyes as he went inside the café. Then she turned to me.
 
“Excuse me,” she said in Italian. She looked like an older version of the girls I’d read about in novels set at New York prep schools. Pretty, with stylish clothes and manicured nails. “Do you speak Italian?”
 
“Sure. I’m from Milan originally.” Maybe someday when a stranger reached out I could just simply tell the truth. But not today.
 
“You have every right to throw coffee in my face for even thinking of asking this question but is that gorgeous man your boyfriend?”
 
“He’s my cousin.” Raj and I concocted a different story every time.
 
Her forehead wrinkled as she contrasted my pale skin and cinnamon freckles with Raj’s dark and beguiling good looks.
 
“Hello.” Raj put a to-go cup of coffee down on our table. “Making a friend?” he asked me in French.
 
“She just thinks you’re cute.”
 
“Smart girl.” Raj grinned at her as he unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and loosened his tie. “I’m Jean-Luc.”

7 comments:

  1. Love how you worked in that ivy detail in the beginning...well done :)

    This is a great rewrite. I like how you wove in the details and didn't spend so much time on the Signora. It allows us to see Sasha more. I especially enjoyed the part at the end where she's talking to the girl and alluding to all the lies they tell. That shows us a lot.

    My only crits would be nit picky stuff. That sentence near the beginning when Raj speaks in French and she comments on it not being their first language still reads a little telly to me. I think you can make that line more of a Sasha driven thought and not just commentary. Even just a "His French accent has gotten better, but its no match for mine. Something I remind him of as often as I can." or whatever. But you see what I mean. Don't just tell us they speak French but it's not their first language. Give her an additional thought about it and it can show us more of her personality. Tiny thing, I know. But really, it was the only thing that jumped out at it.

    Again, this was good. I got a stronger sense of Sasha and already she is the accomplished jewel thief who wants out, but who is still staying in. I would definitely read this!

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  2. Jenny - Love what you've done with this! You tightened the focus on Sasha. Raj is still dreamy. You portray the college boys perfectly.

    I have only a tiny nitpicky suggestion - when you say "We could all see the radiant girl.." how does Sasha know what the others see? I'd change it to "I could see..."

    That's it - great writing! I'd read more.

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  3. I really like this, Jenny. You created a nice voice here, and I feel a better connection with Sasha. I can definitely feel/hear your revision. From the onset, you pull the reader into your character's world, which is so cool. I'm still in love with this premise. I'm already going fangirl over Raj. He definitely reminds me of some guys I knew at that age.

    I also like how you shortened your focus on Signora and their dad. You told us just enough and you did it quickly. There are a few little things, but the other comments basically addressed them so I won't bother. But I will say that I would most surely read this. Best of luck!

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  4. First, this is great. Wonderful. Second, I definitely agree with the nit-picky things in the other comments. Third, I have a rather short list of my own nits to pick:

    At a café in downtown Rome, my brother Raj and I sat drinking cappuccino on an unusually warm November morning. Your first line sounds like a cheesy tv commercial...is there anyway you could do more with it than a travelogue?

    Signora can NOT physically place her can and emerge at once, which is the problem whenever a writer starts a sentence with a word ending in -ing. The word AFTER needs to be appear first, so it's 'After placing her cane, she emerges...' That's an absolute must whenever you start a sentence with an -ing word, that you make sure the actions make sense.

    'up and down' her spine goes the tingle...too much of a cliche for a scene which is so NOT a cliche.

    'The door would spring open, and the box would be there but the diamonds would have vanished.' I know what you're saying, you know what you're saying, your happy reader knows what you're saying. You're just saying it using the same word THREE times in the same sentence. As the use of the word 'saying' and 'know(s)' in the previous sentence show, you can get away with using the same word 3 times in one sentence if the rest of the voice of the piece are up to it AND the word is worth using 3 times for some reason you, as the author, choose. The word 'would' is pretty much NEVER going to be worth it...actually it's one of those words with 'could' and 'should' that you mostly want to eliminate completely if at all possible.

    Your mention of her dad's watch is a tad abrupt in that 2 sentence paragraph...was hoping for a little more emotion with it.

    The use of the word 'Sure' isn't needed, a skilled liar might want to use as few words as possible.

    Even with those nits, this is wonderful! Best of luck!

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  5. I love this revision, Jenny! It is a great premise, and immediately I’m drawn in. You have a great voice, and these characters seem very unique and real. Well done!

    I love how you revised, keeping Scottish guy, but incorporating him into her dreams of the future. I did wonder – is she planning on going to college soon? Could we know more about that? Is it a pipe dream or has she applied?

    Less focus on Signora is great, too. But would the girls next to her hush? I’m imagining Grace Kelly as this woman, aging gracefully and beautifully if she lived, or maybe Elizabeth Taylor. Would the girls next to her recognize Signora? Could one say, hey – isn’t that Signora? My mom is obsessed with her or some such. I know my daughter would have no idea who Elizabeth Taylor was.

    Like Peter, I’d like to know more about Dad and the watch. If this is their first time pulling off a heist on their own, is she scared? anxious? or just missing her dad? Give us a little more here, to round her out a bit more, and let us know the stakes.

    Overall, great job! Looking forward to reading next week!

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  6. Nice job on the revision, you've tightened and clarified really well. A few things that stuck out for me:

    I can't imagine a person who would describe her own eyes as "cornflower blue." Maybe Sasha would describe them using a jewelry term? Tiffany blue?

    I love the moment when Sasha and Raj see Signora come out holding the necklace, and it's like time freezes, that's all they can see. But I think you can get more out of Sasha's imagining the Signora's response when she realizes it's been stolen. First off, the sentence about the maid is a little off - she'd have to faint first for the maid to catch her, right? But also, I assume that it's the vision of this scene that causes Sasha's tears (not the dad, right?) - if that's right, I think we need to linger a little longer there, to make that clear. If I'm wrong and it's actually the dad causing the tears, I think we need more of an indication of that, as well.

    I also tripped up a little at the transitions involving the girl at the next table. Raj gets up to pay because the Signora is gone? So they were there just to make sure Signora picked up the necklace? I'd love to see that made explicit. Also, when Raj comes back, Sasha and the girl are in mid-conversation but he doesn't acknowledge her and she doesn't acknowledge him - which I imagine she would if she's so gaga for him. I would suggest either having her give him a big smile and Sasha and Raj have the French conversation under their breath, or else maybe the girl turns away nervously.

    Finally, I love the Life magazine reference - perfect.

    Great work! Can't wait to see the next round!

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  7. Wow. I don't really have anything to add other than what everyone has said for nitpicky comments. I really like what you've done, especially with the small details worked in and less about Signora. Everything shows more about Sasha, which I like, and I also enjoy the interactions with other characters, especially the lies. This was a fabulous rewrite!

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