Sunday, October 4, 2015

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Caldwell

Name: Alicia Caldwell
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Failed Innocence

Sex before marriage is the second worst sin, just after murder. That’s what my mom tells me regularly. And that’s what has been replaying in my head since I woke up in a stranger’s house. I don’t usually give my mother’s religious warnings much thought, but this morning, I can’t quiet her voice. The stranger is now sitting across from me. I’m sitting at her table, in her kitchen, drinking her coffee, but I don’t know her. Or at least, I don’t think I do. Taking another sip from the steaming mug, I choke back the two Tylenol she gave me to stop the persistent pounding in my head that’s sparking memory flashes.
I do my best to suppress each recollection and the sense of dread that accompanies them, while at the same time, wondering if I should ask if she knows what happened. If I knew her name I could thank her for letting me crash at her house.
“Some party last night, huh?” Starting off with the obvious seems safe.
The girl jerks her head to the right, then looks back at me and mouths, “Shhhh.”
The woman who enters the kitchen is tall and looks like an older version of the girl across from me.
“Good morning, Gwen. Who’s your friend?” she asks, only looking in my direction for a brief moment before getting a coffee mug out of the cupboard.
Gwen, Gwen, I repeat in my head, trying to conjure up anything containing her name or her face.
Gwen answers, “This is Bree Moore, Mom. I hope you don’t mind that we had a last minute sleep over.”
“Of course not, dear. Your friends are always welcome here.” Either she’s the coolest mom in the world, or she just wants me to think that. Then after I leave—which I’m not sure how I’m going to leave since I’m pretty sure my car isn’t here—Gwen will get reamed for opening her house up to yet another random friend. From the look on her mom’s face, though, she seems like she really doesn’t care that some strange girl slept in her house all night. Gwen must take in stray friends she hardly knows a lot.
Her mom walks over and offers her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Bree.” She clasps my hand so lightly, I’m afraid to squeeze back and give my usual firm greeting in fear I’ll crush her frail fingers. We release our pathetic handshake and she strolls back across the kitchen to the window where she opens the blinds.
My head stings at the harsh morning light that forces it’s way in and streaks the hard-wood floor. Immediately chunks of a memory spark. The full moon is glowing high in the sky above me. And pain. Everything else remains fuzzy, but that small recollection shoots shivers up my spine. There is one thing I’m positive of: I had been drunk last night . . . really, really drunk.
“How do you know Gwen?” her mom asks me while sliding into one of the adjacent chairs with a steaming cup of her own.
Looking back at Gwen, I’m not sure what to say. If I say the wrong thing, I might get her in trouble. No matter how hard I try, I’m just chasing vague memories around in my head, and none of them seem to contain meeting Gwen.
As soon as I’m about to give up trying to remember, I clasp on to an image of Gwen behind the wheel. I was in the passenger seat . . . crying.
Oh great. I was an obnoxious, emotional drunk. I don’t usually like to show my weaker side to strangers, or even my friends. But sometimes—usually with the help of alcohol—my pathetic, heartbroken side makes an appearance when I least expect it, venting about my non-committal boyfriend and my inability to leave him because every time I try to he turns around and becomes Mr. Wonderful again.
“Oh, we’ve been friends for a while.” Gwen quickly answers for me. “She doesn’t go to my school. That’s probably why you haven’t met her before.”
“What school do you go to?” her mom asks.
Finally, a question I can answer.
“Eldorado,” I say, not realizing until now how hoarse my voice is. The raspy, one word response makes me sound like a smoker. But I don’t smoke. Never have. I take another sip of my coffee to try and wash it away, wondering, and hoping, that I didn’t decide to take up the nasty habit last night. I’m pretty sure if I had I’d still be able to taste the nicotine.
Then, as soon as I think it, I do remember the taste of cigarettes. But it wasn’t my tongue coated in the nicotine flavor; it was someone else’s.
“That’s a great school. If we lived just two blocks North, Gwen would be going there, too. I worry so much about the gangs at Manzano.” She puts her mug down just long enough to press her hands together and gaze up at the ceiling. “Please God, let her make it through one more year. Just one more year.”
“Oh, come on, Mom. It’s not that bad.” Gwen rolls her eyes and gives me a “my mom’s a freak” look.
“Yes, it is that bad.” Gwen’s mom picks up her half-empty coffee mug again and shakes it at her daughter like it’s an extension of her scolding finger. “Don’t you watch the news?”
“No, Mom, I don’t. And for good reason. Look how crazy it’s making you.”
“I’m just so glad you’re dating Trey. It comforts me to know he’s around to protect you.”  As she places her hand over her heart, the sun glints off the diamond in her wedding ring, triggering another flash.
The silhouette of a head. Its face hidden in shadows.
Involuntary shakes start in my shoulders and quickly spread down my arms. I grip my biceps to get them to stop before anyone notices.
Gwen stands, gulping down the rest of her coffee and setting the cup on the table with a low thunk. “Well, I’m starving. Let’s go get something greasy for breakfast.” She opens her eyes wide at me as if saying, “Let’s get the hell outa here. 
Earlier, when I first awoke, I had swung my legs out of the unfamiliar bed and looked down to see I was wearing pink and white pajamas bottoms. Now I know they’re Gwen’s. I just don’t know if she had to change me, or if I was capable on my own. These little details I’m okay with not knowing. They don’t make my insides twist up in knots.
What does make me cringe is when Gwen hands me my clothes.
“I washed the puke out of your shirt,” she says.
That explains my smoker voice. I stare at the now clean shirt, a memory of throwing up in the backyard at the party floating to the surface. Someone had been with me, holding back my hair. It wasn’t Kendra, my best friend, who had been with me when I first puked in the gutter. And it wasn’t Tristan, my boyfriend, who had held my hair over the toilet after that.
Oh my gawd. How many times did I puke?
The silence is unsettling as Gwen drives us to breakfast. I know I have to ask her what happened last night.


  1. Hi Alicia,

    I really like your first sentence, especially after reading the title. It's intriguing and makes me want to read on.
    Right off, I'm wondering if your main character is male or female, and if he or she has slept with the "stranger". This took me out of it a little as I tried to figure it all out.
    The dialogue is very natural and I like how she's trying to figure out where she is/what has happened. I am wondering if you could add one more element of urgency. Like she knows she's supposed to be somewhere important today or something like that—like she’s gotta get this all figured out—and fast.
    You give good description about the setting--I can see the kitchen in my mind.
    I did wonder why she thought her car probably wasn't there when at that point it doesn't seem like she knows much else about the night before.
    I wonder if, when Gwen says Bree's full name, if Bree would have some sort of reaction--like how does this person know me?
    I know we're not supposed to do line edits, but I thought I'd point these out because it's the first few pages and you want them to be error free: "forces it’s way in" would be "forces its way in"--without the apostrophe. A little further down, the word North should not be capitalized. I've usually seen "outa" spelled "outta". And I would remove the word "quickly" when you say Gwen answers for her because it doesn't seem like she answered quickly.
    I'm interested to see what happens next.
    Good job, Alicia!

  2. Hello Alicia.

    Your first pages are intriguing and well written. The dialog and the description is great.

    The first few lines are powerful and draw in the reader. Unfortunately for me, they created a suggestion that this was about a sexual encounter. And potentially from a person who may be used to waking up in stranger's beds. Later on, that does not seem the case. So I had to mentally backtrack a bit and reset my image of the character.

    I'm not sure if you want the reader to know the gender of the narrator at first or not. I went from girl, to boy, then back to girl. Then when we realize they are both girls, I start to think "Ok, they're gay. That explains it." But then both of them have boyfriends and I'm back to being a bit confused. And maybe this is what you want. Maybe the character is confused herself and the reader is on a similar journey. I'm not sure, but that is just my interpretation.

    Aside from this confusion with the character and situation, I thought everything else was great.

    1. It's amazing what another perspective will do. I would've never thought someone would read this as they're gay. That made me laugh out loud. So glad I'm a part of this workshop. Thanks Patrick. I really appreciate your feedback and will be making some changes. ;)

  3. Hi Alicia!

    I think you've done a terrific job here. You nailed the descriptions, I think the voice sounds real and authentic, and everything flows really well in general. It definitely hooked me and made me want to read more!

    And I agree with what Patrick said. When I read it the first time I was under the impression that the girls had slept together and then when boyfriends were mentioned I thought that Bree was bisexual and had cheated on her boyfriend. But then when I re-read it, I realized that she had just gotten drunk and ended up at a strange girl's house.

    I think the opening line is great - it's provocative and definitely grabs your attention, but it might be a little misleading to start with that line and then describe how Bree wakes up in a stranger's house if you don't want the reader to think that Bree and the stranger had sex.

    My only other comment is that Bree seems a little calm for having woken up in a stranger's home (unless this is something habitual for her). If it were me, I think I'd be freaking out a little bit more!

    But overall, I think you did a great job - I love the writing style and the story is well-written and intriguing!


  4. Hi Alicia,

    First off I'd like to say that you have a great YA voice. It flows and is natural and it feels authentic to me. Good job!

    As great as that opening paragraph is, I just don't think it's where the story should start. It sets an entirely different tone than the rest of your opening pages and makes it confusing moving forward. I think if you start off with your MC waking up and looking at a stranger (on the floor, in the bed, however you decide), it would set the mood immediately and the reader would get the stakes right from word one.

    I found I lost some interest during the interaction with the mom. I figure its there to foreshadow upcoming events (mentioning the crime specifically) but it feels unnecessary to the opening pages. We need to be in the MC's head more during this scene. We need to feel what she's feeling here.

    The MC woke up with no memory of where she was or who the girl at the table was with her, and that would be terrifying to most people. I find her calmness and internal dialog to be uncharacteristic. I'd love to see her fidgety, or looking around for the way out, or just something that shows she's a little bit freaked out.

    I think most anyone in this situation would ask where they were right off the bat. Who are you would be a close second. At that point Gwen can either ask if she's being serious or suggest they get out of the house before her mom wakes up and can suggest the greasy food.

    I wasn't in love with the last line. It seems obvious that she would need to ask what happened since she doesn't remember. I think ending it something more like: (Not this exactly but to show her reluctance that was implied in the original line)

    The silence is unsettling as Gwen drives us to breakfast. She fidgets with her rings every few seconds but hasn't said a word. I don't know if the things I remember happened or not, but if I want to know for sure, I need Gwen to tell me.

    With a deep inhale for courage, I turn toward her. "So who exactly are you and what happened last night?"

    I can't wait to read this again! You are definitely on the right track here! Good job!

  5. I really like it so far! The first question that comes up is whether she's afraid she had sex with Gwen though. I was pretty confused about that since she woke up worried about that and was sitting across from this strange girl. That's fine if it's the case, but if not you may want to clarify that so the situation is clear to us as readers, trying to figure out the story and who the narrator is. If it's at all confusing someone might give up.

    I think she's an interesting protagonist, but she's not necessarily likable. It's tough to sell an unlikable MC. that's not to say she shouldn't be a drunk, etc. But you need to add (IMHO) a trait, a moment, something that shows us something redeemable about her. Some nugget of goodness/interest/quirk etc. that makes us WANT to cheer for her to change during the book.

    Perhaps a whispered conversation that's short before Gwen's mom comes in? Just a thought.

    I guess I'd also like to know something more about Gwen - if just through what she's wearing or something she does in response to her mom, etc. So far nothing stands out in particular, save that she let this girl sleep over.

    Overall great job (love the writing) and can't wait to see the revision!

  6. Hi Alicia,

    Sorry I’m so late with my thoughts. You have an intriguing premise, for sure.

    Some thoughts:

    You have a great voice, especially for this age and genre. Lots of details to make the scene and thoughts of your character vivid.

    I’m not sure I buy her suppressing her own recollection at first. She is obviously wondering what happened. I think anyone in her shoes would be trying as hard as they could to remember. And later on it seems like she does try. If she is struggling with “do I/don’t I want to know,” you might make that more explicit.

    This first line has punch, but doesn’t seem to fit organically with what comes after.

    You do a good job setting things out in a way that makes the reader wonder what happened and want to keep reading to find out.