Sunday, March 22, 2015

First 5 Pages March Workshop - Chao Revision 2

Name: Gloria Chao
Genre: NA Multicultural Contemporary

As my dad searches for elusive street parking, Mom and I make our way into Chow Chow, our go-to Taiwanese restaurant. I’m probably the only college senior who sees her parents every Saturday, but I’d rather eat chicken feet than fight them. If you don’t have traditional Taiwanese parents, you don’t get to judge (and you probably don’t know how disgusting chicken feet really are).

Mom mercilessly pushes through the crowd of waiting patrons, and the hostess immediately motions to the wait staff. We’re longtime friends with the owner, Ling, and have been Chow Chow regulars since I was a baby.

Two waiters abandon their tasks to push three tables together to hold the massive amounts of food we’ll order. As we cut everyone who’s been waiting patiently, I cover my face in shame and follow the hostess underneath red ceiling lanterns to our extra-large corner table.

The mix of patrons is the usual: college students, families, and people my parents’ age. All Chinese, of course. The pungent smell of stinky tofu—yes, it’s actually called stinky tofu because it’s fermented, rotten tofu—wafts through the restaurant. It smells exactly how you would expect. What else is named stinky? Even poop doesn’t have its smell in its name.

My mom sniffs and smiles. “Smells like home.”

“Smells like garbage.” Even after twenty-one years, I’ve never acclimated.

“It’s just like the chee-se,” she says, separating the word cheese into two syllables. “Except chee-se is gross. This is so much better. And tastes delicious. Just try it. Once you eat it, you won’t think it smells bad anymore.”

“Okay. I’ll do that after you eat some poop,” I mumble to myself.

I sit next to the paper umbrella mounted in the corner. The Chinese calligraphy wallpaper makes me smile. This place feels as much like home as my parents’ kitchen. Add some plastic wrap over the furniture and it actually could be my parents’ kitchen.

I wait for my mom to go across the street to buy Chinese bread for the week, but she sits down and folds her hands.

“I need to talk to you before Dad arrives. I have this friend and her son is interested in meeting you.”

This again. When I was in high school, my mom thought dating a boy was equivalent to murder. Or not getting into a top-ten school. Then, the second I arrived at college, I had to find a husband.

Even though I know the effort is futile, I have to go down fighting. I’m not ready to settle down with the “perfect Chinese Ivy Leaguer” handpicked by my parents. Well, handpicked by my mom. My dad will go ballistic at the thought of me dating. He still thinks I’m five years old.

In my head, I hear my best friend, Lexi, telling me it’s normal to want to choose your husband and not limit him to one ethnicity and eight colleges. Or in her words, 
Stop being cray-cray. We’re not in ancient China anymore.
 In fact, she thinks it’s bonkers I obey my parents as much as I do. She doesn’t believe me when I tell her other Chinese-Americans think I’m too rebellious.

“Mei! Listen to me! He’s Taiwanese, and he went to Brown, got a master’s at UPenn, and is now studying to be a doctor at Tufts.”

“Brown and Tufts? I thought you only approved of Harvard or MIT.”

“Well, you’re getting old. I change my standards. You made me. Your eggs are getting cold.” My mom jabs a finger into my belly. She frowns, then pinches a fat roll. “Did you gain weight? Are you even exercising?” I clamp my mouth shut, afraid I’ll reveal how much time I’ve spent away from studying for dance class.

She’s teeny-tiny without trying, but my genes come from my dad. Ahem, my two-hundred-fifty-pound dad. I will never be Asian-skinny. I personally like that I don’t look like a chopstick that will fall over when the wind blows, but apparently I’m in the minority.

She pokes my breast. “Why can’t you gain weight in your breasts? They much too small. Like mosquito bites. I bring papaya for you next week. To make your breasts grow.” She shakes a bony finger at me. “You need to be careful, Mei. How will you ever get a man? Do you want your child to be born with Down Syndrome? You need to have one soon. And this boy is perfect. His family is very well off. The dad started two companies that went public. But you’d never know they’re rich. So humble and frugal.”

Ahhh there it is. The money. “Why is he so pathetic that he needs his mom to find him dates?”

“Well, he’s shy. He’s a good kid. It’s hard to meet people when you’re like that. Don’t worry, he’s perfect.”

“Oh, so you’ve met him?” I ask even though I already know the answer.

“Well, no, but his parents are such great people. That’s all you need to know. If it’s looks you’re worried about, he’s gorgeous. His mother said so.”

“Oh great, that makes me feel so much better—an unbiased opinion.”

“And everyone at Bible study is trying to get Mrs. Shu to introduce her son to their daughters. She’s refused every one of them, but she came to me about you.”

“Uhh that’s creepy. She doesn’t know me.”

“Yes, but she knows me,” my mom says as if I’m stupid. “Since I’m a good person, you must be good. And she’s seen a picture of you.”

I nod, understanding now. I’ve met the daughters of the Bible study women. It’s not as great of a compliment as you might think.

“I thought you didn’t want me to have an overbearing mother-in-law after what you went through with Nai Nai,” I say, reminding her of the crap my grandmother has put her through. I’m already afraid of meddling Mrs. Shu.

“Exactly! Mrs. Shu will be a great mother-in-law. Not overbearing at all.”

“Right, because she’s been so normal so far.”


I sigh. Sarcasm doesn’t translate. “No. Stop finding me dates.”

My mom slams her hand onto the table. “Your mother knows best. You’ll see. At this rate I’m going to have to pay for you to freeze your eggs. Like what my friends do.”

“Maybe we’ll see what Dad has to say about this.”

I escape the insanity by dragging my fossilized eggs to the bathroom. When I return, my dad has arrived. “Hey Dad, guess what Mom and I were just—”

My mom cuts me off. “Look! Hanwei’s parents!” She points in a much-too-obvious way.


  1. Hi Gloria.

    I like this opening much better. The dialogue between mother and daughter flows better, seems too long. I want to know what Dad thinks.

    I also want to see if Hanwei is with his parents. Maybe she sees this knock-dead guy walking in with his parents and then....?

    Curious as to why she covers her face in shame. Are any of the patrons watching? Does she know any of the patrons?

    Nice revision overall.

  2. I'm going to disagree with ccarpinello. I think this new opening takes a step back. Finding a parking spot and eating at a restaurant is not a good hook. What is it about this scene that earns its way to the front? And what is it in this entire opening scene that you can pull from to hook the reader? Is there a line already in the text that can pull a reader in? Or perhaps you can zero in on what your whole story is about and leave us that breadcrumb from line one.

    One option already in the text might be: other Chinese-Americans think I’m too rebellious.

    Another might be: I will never be Asian-skinny.

    I don't know if either of these would work as first lines, because I'm not sure how they play into the story. But they're shorter lines with interesting information. That's what you need as an opening.

    Does this make sense?

    The mom is still spunky and fun. Voice is good. Restaurant dialog is still a bit long, but that can be trimmed. You may even want to add movement in between all that dialog. Like, a waiter drops chopsticks into someone's hair, or a child gums a noodle, something that happens in between those lines.

    I know you've worked hard on this, and it's definitely better, but I'd strongly urge you to reconsider that opening paragraph. This promises to be a fun story about an empathetic character. Let's lure readers deeper into that story, and we do that with the opening lines.

    Good luck!

  3. Seconding Julie here. Time to kill a few darlings. Or, at least, move them into chapter 2 :) This feels to me like a line edit, not a revision and, again, gives us charming detail but no strong grip on MC. Also, we don't realize her name is Mei until 2/3 way through, which may be find disorienting to readers. Right now, I'd be inclined to leave the first five alone and push through the rest of the manuscript. I don't know where you're at writing-wise but you should definitely have a completed ms ready to send out before querying so I suppose this is obvious advice. What I mean, though, is that you might feel more confident making a big fix to this opening after you know where the story finishes. Sometimes, when you get to the end of a first draft, you suddenly see that the first 20 or 50 pages were just writing in and that, in fact, the story starts much further along and all that backstory was just something you, as a writer, needed to do so that you could really own your mc and your story as you went along. I am truly optimistic because you've got a lovely sense of humor and bright touch to your writing. So, give yourself a break from this opening, dig into the next couple of hundred pages, then go back and you'll be able to see these first 5 with fresh, informed eyes. Happy writing and great luck! - Stasia
    PS I resisted the urge to write this as I hate having people suggest sentences to me, but, it did occur to me that one interesting start might be to have Mei notice a guy eyeing her across the restaurant and her reaction (so then we see her physical descript, attitude toward Asian dudes, etc, in the context of her wondering WHY a mysterious guy is looking at her). Then, for humor, an action of meddling mom could break through the line of sight/the moment. BUT by then we've already got a strong indication that this is NA with some kind of romance and not a foodie tale (unless it is?)! Great, great luck!

  4. I loved this! It was witty and funny and I am hooked. I would absolutely want to read more. I did not grow up in an Asian household, so this whole culture is new to me (ironic, huh?), but I found the writing to be refreshing. I really loved Mei's voice and am intrigued to know what this book is about. My suggestion/hope - that the humor is there throughout the book!

    Good luck and I hope to get to read more.

  5. I feel like this sentence could be your opener: "I’m probably the only college senior who sees her parents every Saturday, but I’d rather eat chicken feet than fight them." It's going to make non-Asian people wonder if eating chicken feet is some horrible punishment, and then you can segue in to why Mei is fighting her parents, etc. I wonder how Mei will use her parents' differences to benefit herself (if she ever will). I feel like there is a lot of good set-up here for the rest of the story. One thing I would love for you to insert in one or two short sentences is what Mei might want. I know her Mom wants her to get married and have kids. I know her dad doesn't want her dating. But one or two short sentences about Mei will help me start down the path of HER story.

  6. I don't really know what to say, except voice trumps all, and you have it, and I want to be Mei's friends and talk to her about my crazy mother, because she would understand. I would read on, no question about it.

  7. Hi Gloria
    Thank you for bringing back the papaya small boobs bit! You've received a lot of remarks and I don't really think you need mine. What you might need is to know I really like Mei. I like the relationship between Mei and her mother and I know it promises to get even more complicated. I like your story and if you'll recall, I liked the first submission ;)

  8. Hi Gloria
    Thank you for bringing back the papaya small boobs bit! You've received a lot of remarks and I don't really think you need mine. What you might need is to know I really like Mei. I like the relationship between Mei and her mother and I know it promises to get even more complicated. I like your story and if you'll recall, I liked the first submission ;)

  9. Great work! I love the line: "I'd rather eat chicken feet then fight them." The setting, the relationships, the tension, the conflict is all clear. The humor works well. Keep it up! Most of all, I love the voice and will follow this narrator wherever she wants to take me.

  10. Thank you everyone for your help throughout the workshop. I appreciate the time and effort it took. Thank you for sharing in Mei's story!