Sunday, May 17, 2015

First 5 Pages May Workshop - Sussu Rev 2

Name: Sussu
Genre: New Adult speculative historical fiction

For the first time in decades, the city night-lights sprang from everywhere, inviting, warming up the streets swept by the buzz of hover cars. People didn’t have to follow any laws anymore. Even the windows of Nodeen University displayed playmates, and vampires feeding on religious figures, tacky reminders of the end of the religious wars.

A street vendor shouted, “Cupidon neon lights! Get your kit!”

Students on campus swayed to follow the drumbeats and brass tune of a distant fanfare.

The arteries of the capital shimmered with neon bling-bling popping in the dark, pumped up with the bumble and buzz of a new life.

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?

Giant spotlights shot up, scraping the belly of flying cars, gold over silver. A giant laser display on campus changed to spell: 10 COMMANDEMENTS BE GONE.

I gaped. Sweat dripped down my back. Smell of artificial vanilla rose from each street corner, wetting people’s appetite and dictating what they would crave next, like biscuits in the shape of crosses or stars cracking under their teeth. My dinner came back up and froze in my windpipe.

Did my dad allow the banner? The three major religions followed the Commandments. Even secular laws followed some of them. And for a reason; it was wrong to cheat, lie and murder.

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. “With your frown?” Her waist disappeared in a tight bodice over a full on gown. Bronze googles with blue lenses circled her 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 the tip of my digital pen and struck an errant strand of blond hair behind my ear. “What’s going on? Why are you taking pictures?”

“I don’t know. Something’s steaming for sure.” Abi leaned over the window, and added, clicking away, “I think I saw something at 3 O’clock.” A group of people dressed in army surplus uniforms turned around a corner. She added, “Dum, dum, dum… your dad’s lab.”

Abi studied journalism, so details that escaped most found their way into her analog 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.

“Time to suit up,” I said.

“What does an itsy-bitsy girl like you want to do, Silver?”

“Shut down that giant laser fish bone stuck in my throat, to begin with.”

She grinned, “But you’re not even religious. There’s a hard-boiled atheist under the hoodie, not a religious-set-everything-right activist.”

“Oh, yeah? The Ten Commandments, seriously?”

She made an approving popping sound with her lips. “Yeah.”

You didn’t have to have any conviction to see that was wrong. I only had to gaze 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. Drugged, of course, to forget how much their lives sucked.

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 of us 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 neutral t-shirt my dad forced me to wear for my safety. I’M AN ATHEIST. Lame. Like we had to advertise.

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 gaping holes in the fiber turf.

A skinhead yelled in a loud speaker, “They might be going back, but they’ll still be on our planet! Is that what you want?”

A man with army pants and green t-shirt stole the speaker from him and said, “Crunch the cockroaches. Crunch, crunch ‘hem all!”

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 inside the building? Did a mob broke out of nowhere and ran through the floors, 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 my 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! We need to get him out of there.”

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

Someone had picked up the damn speaker again, “Do you want the people of faith to come back with an army? No!”

When 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 me toward her. “What about your dad?”

“The entrance to the lab is blocked. We’d be lucky if we got past the barricade.”

A troop of militants yelled, “Go back where you come from. And good riddance!”

These guys killed me. Back? Back from where? All these people were from here! Really, who had informed them? Believe it or not, there were always stray cats in riots.

We took a few steps back.

Abi said, “What are we doing now?”

“We’re changing the laser display. My new slogan’s bond to grab their attention.”


  1. The setting is more clear and you paint a nice picture of the scene from her window. I especially like "scraping the belly of flying cars".
    Is the fact that she is in "a studio with code access to the front door" important? Is the code access there to prevent her from leaving or restrict other people's access to it?
    I like Silver's voice ("I’M AN ATHEIST. Lame. Like we had to advertise.") and how she ethically struggles with her dad's job.
    We can feel that Nodeen City is on the brink of war.

  2. You seemed to have a hard time settling into the story/narrative. The opening scene isn't quite as descriptive as I would have liked and the references to what came before and what is now are not as powerful or poignant as I would expect. The opening paragraph is utterly confusing. I don't immediately see the connection between freedom from laws, city lights, hover cars, religious war, vampires, or playmates.

    If you intend to portray a historic night, one that is the result of a long-fought and painful war (or series of wars), I would expect that to be the focus of the opening and also for the night to be marked by celebrations, the release of pent up frustration, etc. Instead, it is mentioned and then glossed over and I am not sure why you think it's important for the reader to have this information at the opening. I must say the premise seems interesting, but right now, I am not sure if I would invest more time in reading the rest because there is too much going on and the sample lacks focus. Good luck and thanks for posting!

  3. As I re-read this version this morning, I realized that by trying to get to the action sooner, I removed the emotion that should drive the passage and the thoughts sound sort of scattered. There is so much to introduce in these pages, it's hard to select one focus point. So here is an idea. I'd love some feedback on it, please.

    IDEA: What if Silver doesn't know about the prisoners being sent in time? What if she is having a good time, enjoying night life and she suddenly discovers the Chrono machine, the lines of people and what her dad has been doing? I thought that would be a good way to make her interact with her dad and work on Silver's arc as the daughter of a prominent person who's turned evil in her eyes. This would also mean I need to start earlier in the story. I know I have only one more shot at this and so far from nailing it. Maybe I'm just not at the right place, at the right time and I need to change perspective (innocent Silver discovers the dad she admires is turned into the Boogeyman). What do you think?

  4. Hi Sussu,
    Thanks for sharing your work. I really enjoyed your revisions – great job. I still think that you could benefit from tightening up and clarifying the many wonderful ideas you have brewing in your story.
    (1) Themes: I see many different themes here (the morality of time travel, religious tensions, political changes, and others). I would focus on one or two in the first five pages and cut references to others to avoid overwhelming your reader.
    (2) Word choice and phrases: I still see some puzzling word choices and sentence fragments. Really comb through here.
    (3) First line: I would still work on picking a compelling first line, as it’s not clear to me what you mean by “For the first time in decades, the city night-lights sprang from everywhere…” Were the lights off before? The next two sentences add to my confusion.
    (4) Story pacing: I personally would still get her out that door faster, and into the action.
    Hope that’s helpful!

  5. Hi Sussu,

    First of all, I really have to stand up and applaud you for trying out all these variations in your first five pages. It takes a lot of courage to do that – and to put all the versions online for public viewing and critique. You have such an intriguing world and a rich, complex cast of characters to work with. I am really excited about the possibilities for this opening and for your book.

    I want to respond to your “what if?” idea, envisioning a totally different beginning. YES. The way you described that new possible opening was so clear, and the conflict/tension came through without any scene-setting or descriptive details at all! I love the idea of your starting the story a bit earlier. If you take some time to let Silver understand the world she’s in – the deceptions and the reality – we readers can discover it right along with her, rather than being told about it. That sounds really fun. I love the idea of her discovering her dad’s real work, too. I think with this new approach, you’d really be starting more from the character than the setting. Don’t force too much in these opening pages. I think you really do know Silver. She’s kind of badass, and her strong voice is seeping through here and there. The setting and information are kind of getting in her way. I don’t mean to get all mystical here, but I think if you let her, she will lead you through the opening of this book and into the story. Listen for her voice.

    Good luck with this; I know you have the talent to pull off a GREAT intro – let’s just get the right intro for Silver’s story!


  6. Hi Sussu,

    Here's a 'high-five' for all the efforts you've put into this piece over the past few weeks. I know how hard it can be to write an opening, take conflicting advice, and make sense of all the differences. Remember: sometimes the greatest stories and characters are found by trial and error in our writing. It's in our heads and hearts. We just need to work through it. You have a fantastic idea and the makings for a great world. So keep at it.

    I read your comment above and I do agree that you've taken out of this revision a lot of what drew me to the world. The opening bit isn't as clear to me and doesn't draw me in. The first sentence and second almost contradict each other. I know most of the previous advice - mine included - was to speed Silver into the action, but I think by doing so you negated some of the description around her (what makes her who she is, why she reacts like she does, etc....)

    In your comment - I really like your simple description of your new idea to start the story - innocent Silver, Dad turns Boogeyman, etc... That's a great idea, and one that would give you more room to created a more solid foundation to build this revolution on. I already think of Silver as a tough, driven, and opinionated girl/rebel. So if you want her to appear 'innocent' where her dad is concerned, just make sure you tone down the rebel persona at first and work up to it as the story progresses. Doing that also gives you another layer within her arc. Discovering her dad is someone other than the man she thought she knew could add loads of tension and conflict for you throughout the story. Love that. Just think 'simple' to start out with, snippets of her current world, and mingle in surface emotions. You have the skills to work with it.

    Best of luck!

  7. Dear all,

    I really appreciate the encouragements. I means a lot. Thank you.
    I knew right away that this version wasn't doing it.
    When I thought of going back in time more and just focus on my MC, she "came" to me and "talked" to me. Yes, Diana, I know what you mean.
    If think my problem all along was to try to introduce a political situation mixed up with my MC's goals, wants and dislikes. That was too much. It was like getting to the gritty part without giving the reader a chance to connect with the hero. Now, I have rewritten a new version that makes me so much happier. I have stopped trying to explain and got into Silver's head before she learns about the Chrono experiment. I was able to mix all the advise like getting her out of the door faster without sacrificing the emotion, giving Gabriel more substance, and offering a more satisfying transition from the happy world to the dark one. At least I hope I did. The good news is I have a few more chapters I can work with now. Originally, Silver falls into the time machine much sooner, but I think the advise to build the relationship with the dad makes more sense. And yes, sometimes we just have to learn by trials and errors. Thanks :)

  8. Sussu,

    Firstly, thank you so much for letting us read your work. It's been really wonderful to see how your story has grown with each iteration. I can see how you're shaping this story by taking all of our comments applying them to your draft. It's very admirable!

    I do agree with your account about Silver enjoying a night out and then feeling this disappointment that her father is not who she thought he was. I'm very interested in the father-daughter dynamic which was lost in this version but was more prominent in previous versions. I definitely think it'd be great if you introduced that strong, fond connection.

    The world you are introducing us to is very interesting! I'm still a little confused with the religious/10 Commandments aspect of it, though. It's a concept I am interested to continue reading about, but as the main propellant of the conflict, I'm not that invested (unlike the father-daughter dynamic).

    Thanks for sharing!