Sunday, May 10, 2015

First 5 Pages May Workshop - Sussu Rev 1

Name: Sussu
Genre: New Adult speculative historical fiction
Title: NODEEN CITY 2


“Nodeen City belongs to you and your neon light kit,” screamed a street vendor over the night traffic.

The city lights sprang from everywhere, for the first time in the last decade, inviting, warming up the cold autumn streets swept by the buzz of hover cars.

I leaned over to watch, my hands crunched dead leaves on the windowsill of the art department of Nodeen University. Best spot to observe a town coming to life while the police drained out the souls of the city underneath, one person at a time.

Life bumbled and buzzed around the prisoners hustled into the jaws of the time machine. Something gripped me from deep inside as if wanting to tear my soul apart from my body. No, they will not cut my mind and body apart. Not me.
With the end of the religious wars and the abolition of curfew, the night-lights had thrown business and pleasure into the hours of rest. And now, our souls would have no respite anymore, no refuge from the void in our lives. Everything inspired fake and bling-bling without substance. Even the wide arteries of the capital appeared festooned with magical green dots popping in the dark as if someone had bejeweled them. Giant spotlights shot up, scraping the belly of flying cars, gold over silver. A giant laser display on campus spelled: 10 COMMANDEMENTS BE GONE.

I gaped. Sweat dripped down my back. Even the windows of Nodeen University took part in the city bioluminescence with displays of playmates and vampires feeding on religious figures. Smell of artificial vanilla rose from each street corner, wetting people’s appetite and dictating what they would crave next. My dinner came back up and froze in my windpipe.

Time to suit up and shut down that giant laser fish bone in my throat. Not that I had any religious convictions, but the Ten Commandments, seriously? You had to be such a garbage of mismatched nuts and bolts not to follow them. It’s as if they were saying, “Cheat and lie and murder.” The three major religions followed them. Even human laws followed them. And for a reason.

I had to stop the craze. You didn’t have to be twenty one to use your veto, and you didn’t need to join a sect. I jumped into a pair of black leggings and snickers.

While I laced my shoes, I gazed at the campus below the art department building. Sheltered from the rest of the town by the circle of university buildings, students gathered in schools of fish formations, swaying to follow drumbeats, sipping glowing drinks. Doped, of course, to forget how much life sucked.

My phone purrrp-purrrped and an air message lodged into my ear. The stern voice of my dad took over my mind: SILVER, WHERE ARE YOU? I’M AT THE LAB. YOU SHOULD JOIN ME. LISTEN, DON’T GO ANYWHERE TONIGHT. IT’S DANGEROUS.

I grinned. Dangerous for whom? For him and his time machine where he sent religious people to oblivion to Medieval Spain or me, a student of art perched in a studio with code access to the front door?

I pulled a sweatshirt from my fusion backpack, one of those bags that blended with your shoulders, and put it on. Mine said, LIBERTY & JUSTICE FOR ALL IS NOW BOGUS.
Yes, I was a hard-boiled atheist like my dad. God was dead for me too, but we lived worlds apart because my dad was in charge of the relocation of the people of faith and I was the only one to notice we were actually violating the American motto. I hated injustice.

I took in a deep breath. It felt so good to hide that t-shirt my dad forced me to wear for my safety. It said: BELIEVING IS BREAKING THE PEACE with the image of a hologram of a hand killing a dove. Ew! So gross. It stuck to my back like a bloody warning.

The clicks of a camera chopped behind me, startling, with a high-pitched whine the flash made charging up. I swiveled around to bump noses with my roommate.

I put a hand on my chest and sighed.

“Darn it, Abi! I was ready to jump you.”

“With what?” Abi answered sarcastically, shaking an explosion of looping black curls. Her waist disappeared in a tight bodice over a full on gown. Positively steampunk, especially with the bronze googles with blue lenses etched on an impressive top hat. That was my Mennonite friend Abigail Yoder, playing around with her antique camera. She even sang an inspirational tune older than dirt, “My knee touched the ground, and I reached the sky.”

I gnawed on my lips and struck an errant strand of blond hair beneath my violet hoodie before I closed the window.

“What’s going on?” I asked. “Why are you taking pictures?”

“I don’t know. Something’s steaming for sure.” Abi leaned forward, and added, clicking away, “I think I saw something in the ‘Area 51.’ Your dad’s lab, as usual.”

Abi studied journalism, so details that escaped most found their way into her analogue computer brain. Anyone could dismiss my dad’s underground lab as a piece of art with a 300 yards low wall in the shape of a snake that winded around three fourth of the building, but not Abi. She had noticed the police hustling people behind the lab, out of view. Some people queued willingly and others wriggled like trapped worms in magnetic shackles. It was hard to keep tabs of many bonnet, hijabs, turbans, and kippahs, but one thing for sure, down the lab and through the Chrono machine went our Ten Commandments, drained into the sink of time.

Abi was right. Some kind of parade was taking place underneath the high towers surrounding my dad’s lab, a parade that hadn’t been advertised or had apparently been organized in great secret, away from prying eyes.

The music that had been playing in the distance now escalated into a huge fanfare of metallic cacophony. The drumbeats made the walls of the campus vibrate like an eggshell under the pecking of life. The air shocked full of sulfur. People started to gather around the lab and threw objects that kaboomed and made holes in the immaculate fiber turf.

Steps resounded in the corridor and loud voices burst the surreal bubble around us. A student came in flushed from the sudden heat outside. She had sweated off most of her make up. My mind flailed about. Did someone trigger a bomb somewhere? Did a mob broke out of nowhere and ran through the building, breaking stuff? Did something happen to my dad’s lab? A kidnapping, a hostage situation? Did the religious wars ignited again?

“Guys, come. It’s like the end of the world out there!”

I stood up and dropped a digital pen on the floor, a gift from my dad. It scattered in little pieces with a clattering against the metallic legs of the table.

“Dad!”

I hurtled down a flight of stairs, out of breath.

The noise from the city sipped through the glass doors, muffled and incoherent. I had no idea what happened outside until I pushed the front door open in one swift wave of the hand. A blast of colors and sounds assaulted me. Guards were firing flares into the night and yelled orders all around the campus.

The smell of sulfur and the brightness of the laser flashlights made me cough and shade my eyes. Abi grabbed the strap of my backpack and pulled nervously at the laces on her corset with the other.

“What about your dad?”

15 comments:

  1. Hi Sussu,
    Thanks for sharing your work! I am really getting into your Blade Runner-esque gritty futuristic world. I think this revision did a great deal, at least in my view, for atmosphere and character development. I am definitely feeling Silver’s internal conflict and getting a sense of where the story’s going with her father’s time machine, the violent protests, the religious conflicts, and the tension in Nodeen City. Well done! Here’s what I personally would comment on in this draft:
    (1) The first line: First lines are a big deal to me so I’ll always comment if I’m confused. My issue with this first line is that I am having trouble picturing a street vendor yelling what you write here, seems kind of a long line for a vendor (I would picture it more like “Neon light kits! Get your neon light kits!”). And second, it didn’t really connect with me as far as how the rest of the story develops and the other themes that seem key to your story: religion, father-daughter relationships, the use/misuse of technology, coming of age.
    (2) Action versus exposition: I, personally, would move the story along faster and cut the asides a bit. In these five pages she gets notice of a protest and opens the door to see it. To me, that is not enough action for five pages. I’d like to get more into the story at this point. You could cut the comments on the slogans on her clothing, for example.
    (3) Be careful with word choice and grammar usage: I think you mean sneakers not snickers, analog not analogue. I didn’t understand your use of the word bioluminescence (bioluminescence is living organisms that produce light – such as fireflies. Is that what you meant?) I also noted several instances of sentence fragments. (“Best spot to observe a town coming to life while the police drained out the souls of the city underneath, one person at a time.”). I’m all for using sentence fragments for effect. However, some of these fragments (like the one above) read, to me, like they were more just missing a subject and verb, and they took me out of the story a bit. I personally would use fragments more sparingly.

    So my overall comments would be to tighten up the descriptions and word choice, amp up the action and get Silver out that door and doing more, and watch that the prose flows smoothly. I hope this is helpful! look forward to reading your next draft!

    Best,
    Atesa

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    1. Thank you so much, Atesa. You're right about the street vendor and the mispelled words. I'm changing this :)
      Bioluminiescence is the science of producing light using bio materials. What word would you propose instead? Thanks a bunch .

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    2. Hi Sussu, Yes, in my view it is not used correctly in this sentence: "Even the windows of Nodeen University took part in the city bioluminescence with displays of playmates and vampires feeding on religious figures." I, personally, would leave out that word entirely. Maybe something like "Even the University took part in this madness, with windows depicting XYZ and ABC." Just a suggestion, hope it's helpful! Atesa

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    3. Hi Sussu, Yes, in my view it is not used correctly in this sentence: "Even the windows of Nodeen University took part in the city bioluminescence with displays of playmates and vampires feeding on religious figures." I, personally, would leave out that word entirely. Maybe something like "Even the University took part in this madness, with windows depicting XYZ and ABC." Just a suggestion, hope it's helpful! Atesa

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    4. Thanks a bunch. Yes, this helps :)

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  2. Hello Sussu,

    I really like the theme of freedom of religion v. freedom from religion ("believing is breaking the peace"), the friends of diverse faiths (atheist, Mennonite) and the mention of “bonnet, hijabs, turbans, and kippahs.”

    I agree with Atesa re: your first line.
    The first line should reflect the theme, atmosphere or tone of the book. Have you thought about using “with the end of the religious wars and the abolition of curfew, the night-lights had thrown business and pleasure into the hours of rest…” as your first line? Or writing a small paragraph on the state of religious freedom in Nodeen ( i.e. define the atmosphere of religious freedom extremism)?

    The mention of “Area 51” is confusing to me as to the genre. “Area 51” feels contemporary sci-fi/ UFO encounter to me.

    I like the concept of freedom of religion versus freedom from religion (nice mention of sulfur as if the devil is present) and how you expose Silver’s personality (strongly opinionated, but for the rights of all: “I was the only one to notice we were actually violating the American motto.”) We can feel the tension, the ethical problem she faces.

    I find the passage “The three major religions followed [the 10 commandments]. Even human laws followed them” confusing. Does that mean that Silver is not human? Same with “You didn’t have to be twenty one to use your veto, and you didn’t need to join a sect” – veto what? Why would someone need to join a sect?

    The passage ““You had to be such a garbage of mismatched nuts and bolts not to follow [the 10 commandments]” feels judgment-heavy and may turn off some readers.

    I really like the imagery of “through the Chrono machine went our Ten Commandments, drained into the sink of time” and “fiber turf”.

    I hope this helps,

    Elle

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    1. Thank you so much, Elle. I will be more careful about my MC voicing her convictions. Good point.

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  3. Hi Sussu,

    I agree with the previous comment about this being such a wonderfully gritty, Blade-Runneresque world, and I love this hard-boiled and passionate character! I feel this is a more streamlined opening, more action-driven in some ways, and less weighted with information. The relationships with her dad and her friend are more clear to me, and more intriguing, and I don’t miss Gabriel here at all – I think there’s plenty of time to get to him. Overall I feel you’re taking your time more with the unfolding of events and information, and in general being more judicious in what you choose to reveal to hook our interest and what you choose to withhold.

    I absolutely love the mental text-messaging from her dad! Really clever. And I love that Abigail is a Mennonite, and they are unlikely friends. This is a complex cast of characters, really intriguing to me.

    I agree with everything previous commenters mentioned in terms of questions I had or sentence-level / word choice issues to address.

    I will add:

    I think you convey a great deal of excitement and energy in the whole opening scene, particularly the opening paragraphs. The trouble I had was determining if it were excitement of a positive sort or more dangerous. Sometimes it seems like a street party is going on. Sometimes it seems like mobs and riots are about to erupt. I think this is related to the occasional tonal shifts someone pointed out. A lot of it has to do with the sequence of descriptive details and the word choice. The way Silver describes the city lights seems positive at times (“inviting, warming up the cold autumn streets” – but then we have an image of souls being ripped from bodies, and prisoners being forced into a time machine. (And the relationship between the two things could be clarified. In a sci fi type world, I thought maybe a machine might extract their souls. But really I think these people are being sent away from the current world, so that is the equivalent of stripping away their souls??) Then we have an image of how “Life bumbled and buzzed” in the streets below, while the prisoners were herded into a time machine (which I’d love to see more clearly – does it actually have jaws? Is it a building?) The word choice with “life bumbled and buzzed” suggested to me that people were oblivious to the fate of these prisoners. It seemed abstract and vaguely positive (business as usual). Then we have an image of the city “festooned with magical green dots” and “bejeweled” – more positive imagery, at odds with Silver’s anger and outrage.
    (comments continue...)

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    1. Thank you so much, Diana, for taking the time to make thorough and helpful comments. I appreciate this. And you're right, I'm not missing Gabriel either. He will play an important role later when Silver falls into the time machine and arrives in Spain with him, so we need more layers to this character. He cannot just be the person who has the crush; he is much more than that.
      I did not realize the contrast I was trying to create was confusing. I was trying to show the rest of the town rejoicing after the lift of the curfew and the end of the religious wars. At the same time, I wanted to show that the happiness is only possible because religious people pay the price of the peace and the society just gets rid of those they deem inconvenient. But you offered a solution that seems better. Thanks.

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    2. You're so welcome! Glad it was helpful; can't wait to see the next version!

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  4. (diana's comments, continued)
    A solution might be to first pain the city as festive, focusing on the positive details, but then strip it away, showing us through Silver’s eyes that this is nothing but artifice and hypocrisy, and here’s what’s REALLY going on – and maybe she’s the only outraged one, or feels like it.

    Is she the only outraged one? The people throwing stuff at the lab interest me – is there a rebel movement, a resistance? And if so, why isn’t she a part of it – it seems like a natural outlet for someone with her outrage – unless her connection to her dad gets in her way of joining?

    Finally, if I’m reading correctly, is her dad an art professor since he’s in the art department? That’s really interesting – and yet he has a lab (so seems more like a science type) and he operates the Chrono machine (which might seem like a great job for a history professor). I may have misread. But at some point, I’d want to understand why her dad has this job of being in charge of the Chrono.

    I’m really impressed by all the work you’ve done on this revision – I can see you are a bold reviser and unafraid to imagine different possibilities for this opening scene. I can’t wait to see the next version!

    Diana

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  5. Wow, Sussu! What a difference. I hear voice and feel emotion all over the place. You obviously worked very hard on this revision. This version of the world you're creating is more vivid.

    I'm not a fan of beginning with dialog, but I do like that line. For me, it might be more drawing if you switch the first line with the next two. Simple switch, but it tends to ground me deeper in the where. Then give me the one-line dialog, which speaks of tone, mood, and a more direct look into the world you're creating. Make any sense?

    Third paragraph: 'I lend over to watch' what? And farther down: 'Even the wide arteries of the capital appeared festooned with magical green dots popping in the dark as if someone had bejeweled them.' Although I'm all about your phrase 'Even the wide arteries of the capital, be careful how much flowery wordage you use in one specific space. I like a little lyrical feel with the words, but less is more. I won't comment on all instances like these. Just wanted you to be aware of them.

    Okay, sorry to sound repetitive, but I'm really feeling this revision. There's tension right off the bat. Love that. I understand the world (at least what I need to right now as a reader), and I feel your character's attitude. My only caution is the same one Diane already mentioned - at times some of the excitement feels like a bunch of teenagers at a party. I've read this before, so I knew it wasn't. However, if I was a first-time reader I might question it.

    As I just read more, I think I know what it is about the energy level. I felt more distressed energy when Silver speaks of her opinions and personal issues. (The paragraph beginning with 'I gaped' is a great example of this. Love that.) The current events you offer up about your world is what feels more like a party and/or not as serious as I believe you intend. Even though the tension is good, the pace is a bit slow, like not enough actual action. Maybe if you introduce Abi a bit sooner and have them interact more after the steps sound off in the hallway. Just an idea...

    Lastly, I'd like to comment on how you cleared up Silver's relationship with her dad for me. I understand them now. You've really given her a distinct voice. I'm looking forward to reading again! Best of luck.

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  6. Sheri. Thank you so much for you insightful critique. I think introducing Abi a little bit sooner could work better too. I'll try it. Thanks.

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  7. Sussu,

    I like that you pulled back from Silver's inner monologue and built her environment more. This version is much more streamlined and easier to connect with -- characters and plot-wise. There are some great descriptions here that embody Silver's world and characterization that I thought was handled well. I get the sense that Silver and her father are close, despite their disagreement over their political leanings. In the first draft, he was more of an oppressive character, but in this version, we can see that he cares and tries to establish a rapport with Silver. Your introduction of Abi was good -- she took Silver out of her quest (will get back to this later) and also provided an excuse for exposition about Silver's father's lab.

    I'm definitely intrigued with what's going to happen later. Does her father go missing? Is he assassinated? Was the bomb planned? (Seems like it!) Then who's behind the bombing? Religious wars over a person who is atheist?

    My only qualm with this revision, however, is that I'm not quite sure what Silver's motivations are. In the first half, she was offended that someone would say 10 COMMANDMENTS BE GONE. She is a self-professed atheists, but she is the one who has to stop the craze...even though it seems like she is just an art student whose father is a prominent figure. I'm not quite sure how she would stop the craze or if she has some kind of special ability or influence that would allow her to enact that kind of change. I feel like the real conflict of the story starts when her father's lab is bombed. There is a stronger impetus there that reeled me in more so than Silver wanting to make sure everyone respected the 10 Commandments.

    Overall, great revision!

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    1. Thank you so much, Tabitha. Yes, I need to tighten and give her one clear motivation.

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