Sunday, December 14, 2014

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Chou Rev 2

Name: Jenny Chou
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: The Jewel Thieves
My brother Raj put his cup of espresso down with a sharp click against the saucer. “Remind me why we’re in Italy, Sasha?” From across the metal café table he shot me his evil grin. Then he stole my biscotti.
We were at a small café in Rome, next to the colossal Bank of Italy, and not far from the city’s largest university. Crazy Italian drivers raced through the cobblestone streets, filling the air with echoes of blaring car horns. A conveniently placed palm tree hid our table from the bank’s security cameras.
Rather than answer his question, I looked down at my book and kicked Raj’s ankle with the pointed toe of my high-heeled shoe. While he’d been watching the bank, I’d been checking out the cute college guy sitting at the next table. He spoke with a delicious Scottish accent and swoon-worthy golden red hair fell into his eyes.
But scoping out hot college guys was not the reason Raj and I happened to be in Italy.
“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. All traces of humor had vanished from his face.
A black limousine pulled to a stop in the no-parking zone in front of the bank. The chauffeur marched around to the sidewalk, nodded to the security guard and opened the rear door. After placing her cane on the pavement, an elderly woman emerged slowly and took the chauffeur’s arm. The diamond choker around her neck caught the sunlight and sparkled.
All around us people stopped their conversations, and when someone spoke again it was in a hushed whisper. “That’s Isabella D’Agnelli.”
“My grandmother is obsessed with her,” said a girl, probably another student. She sat at a table near the edge of the patio with a bunch of friends. One of them lifted her phone and took a picture. “She’s seen all her movies like a million times.”  
An aura of old-fashioned glamour surrounded Signora D’Agnelli. I’d seen all her movies too, though not a million times. “She’s still so lovely,” I said softly.
“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.
He snorted. “Sure you are.”
The guard tipped his hat and smiled as he held open one of the bank’s heavy carved iron doors. After Signora disappeared inside, I tried to focus on my worn copy of Sense and Sensibility but I ended up reading the same line about the dashing Mr. Willoughby at least a dozen times. Poor Marianne. I’d have fallen hard for him too. Luckily I’d read Sense and Sensibility a few times before. Had anyone felt like striking up a conversation on Jane Austen, I’d have been all set.
Arguing about a lacrosse game in a mixture of English and Italian, the boys from the next table got to their feet. The Scottish guy lifted a backpack so crammed with books he couldn’t get the zipper to close. As he passed me on the way to the sidewalk, he caught my eye and winked. While my cheeks burned, I slumped in my chair and hid behind my book. Then I bit my cheek to keep from laughing nervously, relieved that Raj still had his attention pinned to the bank. The teasing would have been merciless.
A 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 the vivid color of my blue eyes. Cornflower-blue, my father had called them, just like his own. In my silk blouse and pencil skirt I blended seamlessly into the business district.
As for Raj, 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. Maybe he’d pass for a quirky advertising copywriter.
Continuing to ignore the playful looks one of the girls from the university had been throwing at him for the past half hour, Raj pulled out his phone and updated me on the stock market. But I barely heard him. Instead I found myself listening to the students as they talked about stuff I could only imagine was typical. Classes. Movies. Music. Someone mentioned an upcoming election, which led to a lot of groaning and eye rolling.
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 our next big heist. Along the way I’d learned a bit of Greek and Mandarin and could switch from French to Italian to English, no problem. Besides cracking open safes, accents became my specialty.
Everything I knew about 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.
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. In college Sasha Laurent, seventeen year-old-veteran-jewel-thief, could become anyone she pleased. I could reinvent myself.
With a nod of his head, Raj dragged my attention back to the bank. The security guard held the door open again. Wearing a tie very similar to Raj’s, the bank manager appeared with Signora D’Agnelli on his arm. 
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. I imagined Signora standing in a spacious walk-in closet and turning the dial on her safe. The door would spring open. She’d reach for the lovely red box and unfasten the clasp, but inside she’d see nothing except plush red velvet.
In my imagination her maid caught Signora as 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.”


  1. Hi Jenny. This is a great rewrite! I love how you changed the opening and start with Raj's teasing (I think I'd read the book just to read more of him!). You've done a great job setting up Sasha and introducing a lot of things (she's a jewel thief, she wants a different life, there's something up with her dad being missing) but in a way that feels and reads totally seamless. Sasha is already so real and likable, and normally it takes me a while reading a book to decide if I really like the MC or not. But you nailed it here. Great work!

  2. Jenny - I loved this from the first post and it's improved each time! I also love how you start with Raj! And like Amanda, I'd read it for him too! All the fine-tuning you've done has served to make the story tighter and more intriguing. No suggestions, just a big congrats on a great start to your story. I'd definitely be interested in reading this when it's published!

  3. Jenny this is a wonderful revision. You've done a great job of incorporating comments, making the story tighter, and bringing the focus clearly back on your protagonist. Well Done! I would keep reading - and that's the big test, right?

    I also love that we see the college as a daydream, not the next step. I can really feel her longing for a new life and a fresh start, which makes her immediately relateable. My only comment has to do with stakes. We know they're going to try to rob her - but I get no sense of danger in this opening. I think a line or two would do it. Something like - we don't want a repeat of last time, in Italy thieves rot in jail or some such - to remind us these two have a lot riding on this. Other than that - you are in great shape!

    Best of luck with this revision! And keep checking back in with us at AYAP - we run contests pretty frequently, which is another opportunity for feedback. It's been a pleasure reading your pages!

  4. Jenny,

    1) I agree with Erin's comment about upping the stakes more noticeably as soon as possible.
    2) You use 'I'd' 3 times in a row in this section, just something to keep an eye on: I’d have fallen hard for him too. Luckily I’d read Sense and Sensibility a few times before. Had anyone felt like striking up a conversation on Jane Austen, I’d have been all set.
    3) I'd love a little something (a phrase should do) as to HOW she knows this information: Inside the box rested a necklace made from two hundred glittering carats of oval, pear, and round brilliant white diamonds.
    4) I've loved this one from the beginning and have only 1 final question: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!!!!!!

    Great job!! Really looking forward to the future of this story!

  5. Hi Jenny, I love the opening lines. You give us an immediate sense of their relationship, and where we are. You also do a great job setting the scene of the sidewalk in front of the bank. The small hints and details you give us about Sasha and Raj's background are also great. My one concern is that considering Sasha isn't American, she sounds pretty American. I'm not sure you need to change that, if you are going to be selling this to an American publisher. But that's something to keep at the back of your mind.
    I very much enjoyed reading this. Thank you!

  6. Jenny,
    I continue to enjoy this piece very much. It's exciting, with a hint of something deeper. I will say, though, that I liked the earlier organization better. Now we start with Raj's teasing comment, then go to setting and set up, and then back to what Raj is teasing her about. I think you do such a great job with setting, I preferred you starting with that and then going into the conversation with Raj. Overall, though, great set up and some really fun pages. Best of luck with this, and thanks for your help with mine!