Sunday, May 3, 2015

First 5 Pages May Workshop - Sin

Name: Tabitha Sin
Genre: New Adult Science Fiction
Title: Skin Deep
Highly recommended to avoid any exposure to sunlight!
The nighttime air will bring an unprecedented breeze, but keep the suits on if you can.
The elevator plays a charming ditty to soothe my ascent to the 14th floor. My body tingles from my toes pushing against the leather soles of my boots to my belly twisting in knots to my shoulders stretching my Start Labs-sponsored sunsuit jacket to my tongue licking my lips. When the doors shudder open, the dim hallway light doesn't reach the elevator. My feet dip into the well-walked, dirty green carpet as I head to Apartment 14E. Silence follows me down the hallway as if each door is a container of muted sounds. By the doorbell of my donor’s apartment are remnants of a Hello Kitty sticker, peeled by age or a drunk, with shaky hanzi for Grandpa next to it in permanent marker. It’s sloppy and childish like mine.
Underneath my gloved hands, the doorknob quietly twists open. It’s unlocked – as expected. Good.
The apartment swallows me and any light that follows behind. My breath locks in my nose (1, 2, 3, 4), waiting to adjust to the darkness. There’s nothing: no other sounds, no other movements.
When I flick the light switch on, my eyes throb a little at the sudden contrast, even underneath my helmet. I take it off along with my gloves and boots, leaving them by the door, and pad slowly to the living room area. It’s easier for the Cleaners to wipe away sock-clad footprints.
It’s a simple one-bedroom apartment, larger and older than mine, I can already tell. Before I start the extraction, I like to ascertain whether or not I could live in the space. If you know the original renter had died in the apartment, you can get a discount through the broker if you make a quick enough offer. Dead smells fade eventually.
This apartment complex, a relatively new host for Section participants, has been around for so long without any modern renovations that it's not worth the move. To the right of the entrance is a small kitchen with an electric stovetop. The cupboards are a dumb ugly blush color, dating this place back to when pastels were en vogue. I place my satchel on the countertop as I continue my exploration. A little further into the living room is a short hallway on the left with two doorways, one partially open to reveal a toilet, another closed. Despite the overhead lamp, the apartment is still too dark, like being shrouded in shadow. I don’t like these kinds of places. Great closet space, though. It would be nice to have a winter closet or a closet that asked for opportunities to dress outside a uniform.
Everything is set up the way it should be: clear tarp neatly splayed out in the center, black lockcase next to it.
Except I am completely alone.
The job is simple: I open the door, see the donor lying on the tarp, extract the IP, seal it into the sterilized case the Initiators leave behind, and then let the Cleaners know I’m done. My liaisons within the Initiators and Cleaners divisions have all been cooperative. As I step back into the kitchen again, I pull out my burner out and call Branson, putting him on speakerphone and leaving it on the countertop.
“There’s no one here,” I tell as him as soon as he picks up, raising my voice a bit. I'm always confused with this phone’s mic range. I start pulling on clear latex gloves from the outer pocket of my backpack, and they seal against my thin, veiny hands. A warm breeze glides through the short, bristly hair on the back of my neck, and when I turn around, a corner of the thin curtain lifts gently. “I see you’ve set up, but there’s nothing. Also, did you leave a window open?”
“Hey, Shella, nice to hear from you, too. Yeah, the smell almost knocked out one of the team members. I didn’t want it to be as bad for you as it was for us so I left the balcony door open a tiny crack.” Branson’s deep voice fills up the apartment. He has always been my contact within the Initiators, but lately, our conversations have been lasting longer than they probably should. We’re not supposed to have any kind of outside relations.
“Hold on, what do you mean there’s nothing?”
“Devoid of donor,” I wave my hand around the living room as if I am at a showcase showing him a variety of prizes before remembering the phone doesn’t have holo-capabilities. It’s frustrating with antiques.
“That’s not possible.” There”s a shuffling, cracking sound on his end. “I’m going to come back and show you.”
“Won’t that interfere with your team?” I ignore the jibe. Initiators always think Extractors can’t do their jobs without them. If I really needed to, I’m sure I could move a dead body without his help, but right now, there’s no reason to argue. I walk around the tarp to the balcony, pushing the thin burgundy curtain aside.
Closet space and a view? Maybe I should file a request to move.
“For you, I’m willing to risk that,” he says, and I can hear that lopsided smile through the speaker. Heat gathers in my neck and cheeks as I roll my eyes. Branson laughs at my pause and continues, “We’re still in the area so it won’t be a problem. We’re getting lucky tonight.”
“What’s our radius?” I ask, staying away from the open crack. Even though the sun has sunk and it’s only the moon hanging in the air, the heat is still too uncomfortable in direct contact. I press my gloved hand against the warm glass, resting my forehead on it.
There are so many buildings halfway lit up like its bottom has been sucked into the ground and smeared with mud. I can even see one of those grand high-rises that look they're scraping the underside of clouds. When I had been shadowing in-house organ donations, there was a white guy living in one of those who had the longest vestigial tail I had ever seen. He had it rolled up and taped to his back every day for as long as he could remember. When he nipped the last piece of tape off, the tail unfurled like a snake finally able to breathe.
Here I am, it hissed across the floor. Take me with you.
Before the market became dumb bloated, the easiest thing you could exchange for money was a part of yourself. Isn’t that how it always is? A kidney could have gotten you far enough back then until you start wondering, What else is there? An extra finger or toe, multiple nipples? A spleen, vestigial tail? What part of you is no longer essential to your being?
“You’ll see if you connect to Sync.”
“Why not make it a little easier and tell me?” I lean back from the window and notice my reflection scratching methodically against my hairline by my temple. I should buy a new helmet. My hand balls into a fist, and I turn around to face the rest of the living area again.
“But then you’ll have no reason to talk to me anymore,” he quips.

A few spots on the floor glisten out of reach of the kitchen's dim light.


  1. Hi Tabitha,

    I enjoyed reading these opening pages of “Skin Deep”. I thought you did a great job with descriptive, lush writing and creating suspense and questions in the mind of the reader. I was on the edge of my seat wondering what our narrator would find in the apartment! Here is what, in my view, I would work on. Again, just my opinion, take whatever resonates with you and ignore the rest:
    (1) More action, less expositon: I felt like not as much happens as could happen in the first five pages. She walks into an apartment and it is empty. I would perhaps start the story later (e.g., Shella is in the apartment, on the phone, telling Branson it’s empty) and we see how she reacts to this unexpected change. In that way we get both character and action.
    (2) I’m not sure I understand what an Initiator is. I kind of get what a Cleaner is and an Extractor. Why does Branson need to come to the apartment if he is an Initiator? (Is that right?) Maybe find a way to add a couple lines of background to make this clear.
    (3) I am not sure I understand the money-for-body-parts angle based on what’s written here. I would understand selling a kidney or other vital organ but you name vestigial or unnecessary body parts (third nipple). Maybe explain why people would want these things? It seems like a big part of the story, and it’s not totally clear to me.
    Hope this helps!


  2. Hello Tabitha,

    I really enjoyed your first pages and found the themes of climate change and organ-harvesting fascinating (especially the ideas of in-house organ donations and vestigial organs).
    The futuristic setting is well done (the sunsuit, the antique electronics…).
    The main character (MC) is very likeable and relatable – I like how you weaved details about her through the first pages (one bedroom apartment… I love the peeled Hello Kitty sticker comparison). I understand that she is an extractor, but would have like to know more about her skills to differentiate her from the Initiators and the Cleaners (I assume she must have some type of medical training) and what kind of scene she was supposed to find (do the donors are usually sleeping on the tarp waiting for her?) I would have liked for the problem she is facing (the missing donor) to be explained a little bit more. Why is that a problem? What is the worst case scenario? Should she be afraid?
    I like the balance between the narrative and the action (the decaying apartment complex and the missing donor). The tension/pace is sustainable throughout the story.
    I like how you brought in another character without needing to have him present and the budding romance between the Shella and Branson is intriguing.
    I would definitely continue reading.
    I think the themes (climate change and organ donation/harvesting) and the uniqueness of the story will sell this book.


  3. Hi Tabitha,

    I found this opening to be full of intrigue and the narrator appealing; I definitely want to read on to find out what her story is and what happens next. I love the way you signal a future world with a climate control problem in the introduction to the chapter. I love the idea of her wearing a full suit, and would like to know even more about that and be able to see it more clearly.

    I agree with the previous comments about some points needing clarification, so I won’t repeat those here.

    I thought you did an excellent job conveying suspense in the opening paragraphs, activating details in the setting to signal the narrator’s emotional state. She seems nervous; even the elevator doors shudder. Yet some of the tension evaporates for me as the scene progresses. I think it may be because some of the apartment description changes in tone. She notices its potential as real estate that she could occupy. (Closet space! View!) She no longer sees it through the lens of intrigue or danger. I AM interested in how she might view a potential apartment (and that feels very true to new adult, to me), but if your intention is to create intrigue and suspense, then that may work against you in this scene.

    I love the idea that the donor body is not in its expected place. (The tarp, I assume). But she didn’t have a big reaction to that, actually. In fact, she started putting on latex gloves, which confused me. Why do that if no body is there? Maybe she could snap on the gloves before (which would also create anticipation) – exchange her outside UV gloves for latex or something, and we’ll really wonder what she’s up to.
    (comments continued in next post....)

  4. (Diana Renn's comments, continued)
    Then I realize the apartment is unlocked (“as expected”), and Branson seems rather unconcerned about the missing (or relocated) body, and seems so jocular and flirty with her, that my initial feeling of suspense ebbed even more – even though I’m very interested in the dynamic between her and Branson. He seemed so unconcerned that I wasn’t concerned either. Plus the apartment door had been left open for her – but anyone could walk in, right? What perplexed me is how for what seems like an intricate, high stakes operation (organ harvesting, complex bureaucracy, probably some serious money at stake), this incident makes it seem rather slipshod. Might that occur to her too?

    Why can’t Branson just tell her on the phone where the body is? She finally asks this near the end of the scene, but it feels delayed to me. My first thought on the phone would be “tell me!”

    I think ultimately what I would like to see clarified is the nature of her job and how dangerous it is, or isn’t, and how typical – or not typical – this apartment situation is in her line of work, and what’s at stake for her if she can’t do an extraction. How is she feeling about her work these days, and about this particular job? Clearly it’s not a regular day in her line of work – some things are different – so I’d love to see more of the effects on her and to feel even more suspense about what she’ll do next.

    Overall, this is a really promising beginning!


  5. Tabitha,
    Thank you for sharing this entry.
    I liked the sense of mystery and the world. It reminds me of so many great speculative movies. The dying planet, the old building, the collector, the main character only interested in what she can get from the apartment, the organized organ collection and people selling themselves for a few more days, weeks of life, to survive. All of the elements are traditional speculative fiction. Maybe the only original twist is the alien.
    I also liked the flirting and the promise of a romantic subplot.
    A few things announces something will happen: the gust of air on her nape that repeats and the absence of the corpse. I think the MC should be a little bit more worried because her routine is compromised. And doesn’t she get reprimanded when corpses disappear? I mean, this is money business after all. It’s probably like an organized mafia.
    I get a sense that the temperature plays a role in the story from the first lines in chapter 1, but really I’m not sure what. I would have liked to have a hint. I mean if the heat is the first thing you mention in the novel, it has to play a role in the plot and mean something. The thing that intrigued me was the mention of the suits “keep the suits on if you can.” If they can? Huh… Why couldn’t they? It sounds like you’re referring to the sunsuits? Are they itchy? Sweaty? Do they protect from the sun? Do they recycle the energy from the sun? What? Is everybody wearing boots, gloves and helmets or just her? Why she is not sweating even after she removes her gloves and helmet? It seems like everybody does wear those, but it’s 95 degrees outside. Why did she wear her helmet in the elevator, especially when it is so dark? I would have liked this aspect to be addressed more. And how is the sunsuit connected to the bodies? Maybe the only time Shella sees a nude body or a body without a sunsuit is when she comes collecting the organs or IP? IN that sense her name SHella (shell) is very appropriate.
    So many elements are intriguing like the Hello Kitty and the childish handwriting. Does that this is happening in the 21st c and they do not know how to write or do not need to write anymore?
    I’d like to have more descriptions of the apartment, the furniture, the modern appliances, just to get a gist of what’s important for them in this world. Is the person’s sunsuit hanged somewhere or taken and sold in the black market?
    I guess many things intrigue me here, which is a good sign.

  6. I am thoroughly enjoying this read. The details, the tone--all strong. It's hard not to just get picky since this feels like a very solid piece so please take the following comments as food-for-thought and employ them only as they work for you and the greater goals of your ms.
    While I love the descriptions, it feels to me like there are a few things that, while great, might work better shifted later in the MS so the character relationships & plot move a bit more quickly in this opening. In particular, I'd consider moving the line about "sloppy, childish" handwriting which makes us suddenly wonder at MC's age throwing us a bit out of the scene; and the PP about the vestigial tail--doesn't need to be in that exact spot and feels a tiny bit expositional, though interesting!
    Two moments that gave me pause: Branson makes reference to "the smell" in the place as reason for open window. This confuses me because of the general concerns about heat in this world, and because MC makes no reference to smell--she's all about light. This brings me to the second moment that might be worth a quick edit: You've got "dim hallway light" in first PP followed by the apartment swallowing any light that follows BUT we already know there's almost none--maybe another spot for a tiny trim to improve flow of the read.
    Seriously, though, this is very strong and I can't wait to keep reading. What's your current word count on this MS? - Stasia

  7. Sorry I'm so late!

    Welcome to the workshop, Tabitha. Your name is so great...almost like a cool stage name.

    Anyway, thanks for letting us take a look at your first five pages.

    I thought it was really cool the way you did the temperature and wind speed at the beginning. That plus the suit gave us a quick intro into her world right from the start. The first line of the manuscript was also good, except "charming ditty" doesn't sound young enough to me. That could just be personal opinion.

    The second line was a bit long and packed too many details. It actually pulled me out of the story, because I caught myself thinking, "ok, I need to remember this, and this, and this." Perhaps spoon feed the necessary details a bit at a time, and only the details that matter to the story. Boots=matter, sun suit=matters. Tongue licking lips=doesn't matter. Know what I mean?

    I actually like how you mentioned donor without an explanation. That made me want to read on! And a missing dead body? Very intriguing.

    Good job brining the love interest in early (I'm guessing he'll be a love interest?)

    I would caution too many sci fi elements too soon. We want to be grounded in the world--knowing that it's different than ours--but not loaded down with too many details that don't matter YET! For instance, I think you could cut the description of the apartment down as well. Just a detail here or there, so we don't get sidetracked. Let's get to the lock case :)

    This is just a nit-picky thing, but the sentence with "I pull OUT my burner OUT." Just delete one of the outs.

    Overall a great start to an intriguing story. Well done!