Sunday, May 3, 2015

First 5 Pages May Workshop - Sussu

Name: Sussu
Genre: New Adult speculative historical fiction

Nodeen City, 22nd Century. Call it no soul city because the people who believed in having a soul were all leaving home for good. I peeked at the line of prisoners across the yard, through the window of my dad’s secondary office at Nodeen University. I was about to go apeshit, and my long hair frizzed after all the twirling it had endured, between the guards yanking me by the hair and my hand twisting it nervously. And a bruise spread on my upturned nose like a badge of courage. It didn’t matter how much I yelled my name was Silver Looper and they’d better let me go, they had orders to lock me up.

In my time, you just had to stand up and say hey, I don’t agree with the ban on religions, and bam, they lined you up against the walls of my dad’s lab like a wet rag. There, my dad sorted the victims out and sent them through the Chrono machine. Not that all of them were forced to travel back in time. Some actually looked forward to it. What a bunch of ninnies.

Renaissance. Medieval Spain. A time where the major religions worked together for the good of humanity. Pfew, tell yourself that! Fairy tale worthy, like one of those I told in my acting classes. Except, my dad was Scheherazade. And, mind you, the noobs blended in because of the mass migration to Spain in the 15th century. Nya, nya, nya... I mean, this was such a stilted view. How would people from the future be able to integrate in the big Moorish melting pot? These politicians cracked me up.  My own dad cracked me up. Talk about wanting to become as small as a mouse and hide in a hole. But not me, I put myself out there. My nickname spelled rebel.

I turned around the small room, squeezed my laced shorts between a massive desk and a digital assortment of antique time traveling devices, and paced the rest of the room. My mind buzzed like a moth trapped in a box. How can I stop the craze? Of course, going against my dad who happened to be the scientist behind the Chrono machine only crossed my mind. I wasn’t going to test the proverb that says sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. Um... not an option. And going against a whole society that had rejected faith after centuries of bloody wars was like stroking a cat's fur the wrong way. Everybody knew how it could end. Our 22nd century wasn’t called the Bloody Ages for nothing.

I raked my mind. I need an ally, a powerful one. Maybe Abigail can set a bomb on the other side. I could infiltrate the lab and get one. Abigail was scheduled to ride the Chrono today. A Chrono bomb of course, not one that will actually hurt anyone. And there would be just enough power to stop the Chrono, stop time travel and force our government to deal with religious freedom a different way. And I needed someone to be a spokesperson for my new movement. A religious person. Silver, that’s a stroke of genius.

I tried to spot my roommate Abigail Yoder among the people lined up against my dad’s lab. It wasn’t exactly a facade, but a 300 yards low wall in the shape of a snake that winded around three fourth of the underground lab.

It was hard to keep tabs on my friend’s bonnet among the Amish head covers, the hijabs, the turbans, and the kippahs. I wanted to lean over the window and yell her name, but what was the point of being arrested? Again. They had microchipped me three times since yesterday and had posted a guard at my door. If that wasn’t enough to lock walls around me. I didn’t want to drill another one of those metal chips out of my arm.

Trust me, the new peace treaty was going down, and sooner than later. The only problem, I was locked up and under guard. Not a problem much longer.

To secure my escape, first I needed to suit up. I pulled a t-shirt from my fusion backpack, one of those bags that blended with your back, and put it on. Mine said, “Dare to Believe.” I took in a deep breath. So good to hide the t-shirt my dad forced me to wear for my safety that said, “Say No to God, Say Yes to Peace.”  He was all bodyguards around me and how being a teen and notorious was such a liability. Hey, I hadn’t signed my death sentence and I surely didn’t sign myself into a freakin’ looney bin. It was time to break out of jail.

A guard passed outside the door. That was Gabriel, one of the Chrono guards, sent by my dad to keep me from my usual antics.  He was like the pocket guard with buff shoulders and petite. He had caught me earlier trying to fly off the window in one of those wingsuits, but there was nothing heroic about him. He could win the jackass award for letting his hand linger a second too long on my booty. I made him feel the pain. Easy when he was only 5 feet 8 and I was a few inches taller. I had enough of Gabriel looking at me as if I was some sort of hotie patootie. My looks couldn’t be more deceiving; I was a bitch with teeth and he would soon learn just how deep I could bite. Not that I wouldn’t whip that booty of his into shape. If he were a few years younger and had a little bit less junk in the trunk, I would totally tap that, but first he’d known me since my rugrat days in diapers and second I was bending the bars.

Gabriel peeked through the glass window and waved. Such a little angel to do that, like we were in kindergarten, waving from two different classes. His blue eyes wandered to my chest and he winced. I stared him down and he turned beet red. Yeah, young studs. I lifted my chin up and crossed my arms under my push up bra. Gabriel flipped.

When he turned around and stooped to check himself, I knew I got him distracted enough. I jumped on the window sill and considered ways to land below, two stories down.

A street artist strolled underneath my window. He wore a cap and a flashy cyber suit. In a few movements, he finished spray-painting the words MAKE LOVE NOT WAR on the opposite wall. I gnawed on my lips and struck an errant strand of blond hair beneath my pink hoodie. This graffiti needs to go. Abi doesn’t need to see that now. That’s so disrespectful. If I cannot do anything for Abi, at least I can erase this. I’ll be the street eraser.

I grabbed a glimmer can from the design department closet and headed for the door. My fingers itched to do something, anything. I watched through the front door window. Gabriel was still there, his back to the door, talking in his intercommunication device.

I considered spraying paint into Grabriel’s eyes and jab my elbow into his pot belly, but that didn’t seem fair. He was just doing his job. True, I was a sack of nuts and bolts that didn’t match, but I believed in fairness.


  1. First, I love the idea of speculative historical fiction taking place in Spain and the theme of religious freedom.
    Even though I felt a strong sense of time, I wish I could have felt a stronger sense of place.
    The voice is strong.
    “Renaissance. Medieval Spain”: Renaissance and Middle Ages are different eras.
    There is too much information at the beginning for my personal taste.
    The dad’s name (Scheherazade) may lead to confusion (from Arabian Nights).
    I understand that the MC wants to escape but I am confused about the plot and her wanting to stop “the craze”. Also, I do not understand: “How would people from the future be able to integrate in the big Moorish melting pot? These politicians cracked me up. My own dad cracked me up. Talk about wanting to become as small as a mouse and hide in a hole. But not me, I put myself out there. My nickname spelled rebel.”
    There is not enough to make me root for the main character: she calls the guard “jackass [ ] for letting his hand linger a second too long on my booty”, but mentions that she “would totally tap that” if he were younger. She also refers to herself as “a bitch with teeth” and “a sack of nuts and bolts that didn’t match”.
    The opening image is too busy for me.
    I am not sure I would continue reading. It’s too busy and confusing to me. (cleaning/making the first image lighter in details may help) and I do not enjoy self-deprecating female MC (it’s a very personal taste). However, her surprising desire to be fair to the guard (and the possible romance) teased my curiosity and would make me read a few more pages.
    The theme of religious freedom and the free-speaking fiery rebel could sell this book.

  2. Hi Sussu,

    You’ve created an intriguing and thought-provoking introduction to your world. I like the view on the social issues of the time and the street smart narrator – she seems like a very cool person!
    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 exposition: I would like to see our main character, Silver (is that correct?) show her character by her actions more rather than straight narration. Maybe have her take more definitive actions in these pages.
    (2) Introduce characters a bit more cleanly and with purpose. For example, you mention Abigail and then a few lines later “introduce” her (“My roommate Abigail Yoder”…). It’s not clear to me from what we see here why we need to meet her now. Same for Gabriel.
    (3) Much of the narration reads like asides not crucial to the theme or story, e.g. the street artist. I would save asides for later in the chapter, or elucidate more clearly why we need to know these things now.
    (4) You mention a “peace treaty” and “escape”. I didn’t follow these point. Maybe add more details here to open the story and cut some of the asides mentioned in (3)? I am not sure, but these seems like key story points.
    Hope this is helpful!


  3. Hi Sussu, (2 part commentary; this is part 1)

    What I find most intriguing about this story’s opening is the potential tension (and ethical conundrum) of Silver being locked up and her dad being in charge of the Chrono machine that sends the prisoners away. I didn’t yet feel the tension – the narrator doesn’t really dwell on that issue – but that type of conflict would keep me reading on. I was intrigued by the fact she had a T shirt her dad gave her to protect her. (Which obviously didn’t work). I would love to better understand this father/daughter relationship in these opening pages. I also love the concept of the Chrono machine, the mix of prisoners from different religious backgrounds, and some fun details like the “antique traveling devices” in the office room.

    I think you could maybe begin with the line “I peeked at the line of prisoners.” That instantly raises my interest, more than a time and place, which could simply be stated in a section heading.

    This opening scene, particularly the opening paragraphs, did raise questions for me: How did she come to be locked up in Dad’s office? What exactly did she say or do? Is dad’s lab with the Chrono machine a separate place? Are the prisoners she sees (including her roommate Abigail) lining up to go to the Chrono? Where is her dad right now? Is she worried about Abigail? When does she get the idea to escape the prison? (She thinks up other schemes, but not this one; suddenly she just seems to be doing it, getting Gabriel’s attention).

    I also couldn’t tell if Silver was or was not a “rebel.” I think she’d like to think of herself as one. But it seemed inconsistent. In some paragraphs (like paragraph three) she tells us she is one, but it’s not clear how she’s rebelling so far – did she rebel and thus get herself locked up? Or rebel and escape guards and end up in this office and not with the other prisoners? (Why isn’t she with them?) In other paragraphs (paragraph 4 is one) she seems to suggest rebellion is futile. I like the T shirt scene, though – that tells us a lot about her, what her dad wanted her to wear versus what she chose to wear. I like the idea of her being rebellious and supporting religious freedom – I infer that’s what got her locked up – so the paragraphs that indicate how hard it is to rebel should maybe affirm her fierce desire to do so anyway, even if it means going against her father in the process.

    (More in the next comment....)

  4. (Diana's comments, continued - Part 2 of 2)

    Paragraph 5 seems to establish Silver’s objectives in the scene (or the book); there are several, too many I think – the hierarchy of her objectives is not clear. There is also a confusing succession of sentences about Abigail, where it seems like Abigail is going to ride the Chrono bomb. (I don’t think that’s what you mean). I didn’t understand the Chrono bomb, though. I was still trying to just understand the Chrono. Is she worried about her roommate going through it? Is there a chance she might not see her friend again? The mention of needing a spokesperson for a religious movement (Abigail, I gathered) intrigued me but confused me too because it wasn’t developed. I couldn’t connect that scheme to her escape attempt. So I think her religious leanings and larger plan could be developed and clarified, or cut if we don’t need this information for these opening pages. Her goal then seems to shift when the graffiti artist appears, and she thinks of Abi (Abigail, right?). Isn’t Abigail scheduled for the Chrono? So why would the graffiti bother her that much? And what about that particular slogan (Make Love, Not War) would be so offensive?

    And finally, how does the peace treaty play into all this? How will that affect Silver? Abigail? Dad?

    Overall I find LOTS of intriguing elements in these opening pages, but I’m not yet sure which to invest in as a reader. I would advise simplifying, paring back the aside information wherever possible, and sharpening the character of Silver and her immediate objectives versus her longer-term objectives. Perhaps heighten the sense of conflict between Silver and her dad, or strengthen the connection between Silver and Abigail. Intellectually, this world draws me in, but I’d like to connect to this story emotionally as well.

    Looking forward to the next iteration! Thanks for sharing your work!

  5. Thank you, guys for your comments. I have to admit, you're right.
    It's kind of scattered and lacking emotion. Got yea :)
    And I'm not going to explain because I need to reach the point where my entry is just what you need to understand everything :)
    Elle, the Renaissance started in the Middle Ages; they are not really two distinctive separate eras although it would be convenient to be able to do so :)
    These first five pages are going to be tough to fix, but I'm on it :)
    After all, we joined this workshop to experiment, so expect something very different.. maybe.
    Thanks again. Your comments are so helpful.

    1. I meant not very distinctive eras in the early 15th C that is because the Renaissance just started.

  6. Hi Sussu,

    Positives I see: You've used intriguing terminology and elements (such as Chrono machine) to describe the world you're creating. The premise is really cool and can be expanded upon in many ways. Those pluses are always good. I also see a ton of potential to add in loads of character emotions (anxiety, fear, anger...), especially where her father is concerned. Tension and conflict are definitely available to you. She's at odds with her dad and their current way of life. Her world is controlled, which takes away from who she is and what she wants. Go with these. They're a great foundation for a story.

    There's something about your opening sentence that throws me off. Referring to the city as 'no soul city' gives a paranormal feel, yet really isn't defined enough to guide me as a reader. Then there's a reference to them 'leaving home' and a line of prisoners outside her father's window. Prisoners wouldn't be leaving home. They'd be forced out of their desired environment and thrust into another. Leaving home implies you have a choice. Prisoners wouldn't have a choice. I believe I know what you're trying to get at, but you just need to be more specific--say what you mean. Hone in on one important element and strike the reader with it. Do that, and you'll have their attention to keep reading.

    Your MC's thoughts are sporadic and hard to follow, at times. I'd love to see/feel more of her from that perspective. You mention her dad 'cracks her up'. That doesn't feel like the right wording, too nonchalant. You've started creating a great character. I think you need to decide who she really is--her likes, dislikes, inner/outer feelings, etc... The one sure characteristic about her I did get was that she's tough, both mentally and physically. (Anyone who can drill a piece of metal out of their arm must be.) - That statement, btw, tells me a ton about her and her world. Nice job.

    Defining her relationship with her dad is a must, I think. From the opening, I feel like she's at odds with him. But later on, you mention he gives her a special T-shirt to 'protect' her. That sounds like a father who cares. Show the reader this relationship a bit more, and you tell them a lot about your MC.

    The structure of this piece sometimes doesn't feel ordered. The information released feels randomly placed, which pulls me out of the story and makes me reread the previous paragraph. Example: 1st paragraph begins with a random sentence about the world, to an element that doesn't seem to fit, to a result (frazzled hair, bruised nose) of both, when the reader isn't sure what's going on. Just like with your MC, focus on one stream of importance and travel your MC through it to show us who she is, her world, and how she fits (or doesn't fit) in it. Even if it's a slight detail. If it's shown in a clear manor, it will draw in the reader.

    And the whole peace treaty, the multitude of ethnic backgrounds of people, your MC's father, and her rebellion ... I wonder how all this is connected. I look forward to reading your revision. You surely have conjured up loads of good material to work with. Good luck!

  7. Sussu,

    What a fascinating premise! There is so much going on in these first five pages that are intriguing. I am already a fan of the time travel aspect and can already imagine the various cultural conflicts that will arise from that. There are so many threads woven into the story that needs further explanation, and I, as a reader, would be compelled to see how it would eventually be resolved.

    There is a lot of information jammed into this beginning that leads us into this frenetic world, and the MC's voice exemplifies that. I feel like her thoughts are running a mile a minute, but I kind of need a breather every now and then in order to fully engage in the current setup. There are so many concepts introduced that need to be explained in order to fully appreciate (which I'm sure you will further on): Nodeen City, father-daughter tension, time travel, the ban on religions, Chrono/Chrono bomb, Gabriel as a possible love interest, the peace treaty, why her father's office is considered a prison, humans being microchipped, and why she needs to be guarded.

    Overall, there is very strong imagery and voice in these pages. Also, a lot of Silver's diction is very colloquial to our times. It's a personal preference, but I think having those words ("ninnies," "noobs," "looney bin," etc) dates the piece. What if in the 22nd century, a new vernacular was created? In that way, we could also recognize it as a different era and that she is part of the younger generation that uses it.

  8. Hi Sussu,

    Thank you for sharing your work with us!

    Overall, I found this excerpt equally intriguing and confusing. There are many details that catch my attention--specific details with loads of world-building interest--but the details aren't quite woven into the narrative in a way that I can understand.

    I would prefer to follow a more active scene. If you look at the first few paragraphs, much of it is exposition with little action. Show us your character. Let us understand what she wants (to break out), and let us watch her with interest as she does something unexpected...let us see the world she's in and understand how she is moving through it.

    There are little bits of voice that jump out to me, like "What a bunch of ninnies." That's a great little line. I love it! I'd like to see her world in that same flavor. What does she see around her, physically, and how does she judge it? Why is she there? What has just happened?

    Your protagonist is undeniably interesting. Perhaps a fresh page rewrite with her in action will help us get to know her better.

    References I recommend: GRACELING, which opens with a female protag breaking INTO a jail. Also, the opening of THE HUNGER GAMES, for voice and world-building, as this seems like a dystopian.

    My best,
    Melanie Conklin
    First Five Mentor

  9. Thank you so much. So many great advise. And you guys have opened up possibilities for my story. I'm overwhelmed.
    I realized that the story just didn't start at the right place, so I went back in time a little. I tried to follow each advise the best I could and went to the resources mentioned. Everything, every single detail helps.
    Thank you much again :)