Sunday, January 10, 2016

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Ho Rev 1

Name: Melanie Ho
Genre: YA speculative

Sixteen years preparing for this very moment. Parents weren’t supposed to be upset on their child’s Commencement Day.  That’s what I told myself as I hugged my mom for the final time, her arms stiff at her sides while I inhaled her strawberry shampoo, praying I would remember the scent later.   As I stepped back, she stared intently at the ground while I gazed up at the few strands of gray hair falling across her forehead.

Was there a way to burn the image in my mind?  I thought about our annual Christmas photos, how more of my mom’s hair lightened from its natural jet black color each passing year.  My breath felt short.  I’d never find out what my mom looked like with any more gray in her hair than this.  Never be photographed with my parents underneath our artificial wreath in matching red and green striped sweaters again.

As if I were a United Corporations of America (U.C.A.) official, rather than his sixteen-year-old daughter, my dad extended his right hand to shake mine.  “There’s no greater honor than to have a child placed at a higher-ranked company than her parents,” he said, with a firm grip and three quick shakes up and down.  Then, he added more softly, “I’m proud of my girl.”

His eyes moved to the fireplace mantle, where he had printed my First Corporation acceptance email on non-digital parchment, proudly displayed in a confident mahogany frame.  Every evening without fail, my dad treated the dark wood to a generous polishing with lemon-scented spray.  For a brief moment, I forgot the heaviness in my chest as I smiled silently at how the hands of any guests who picked up the rarity smelled of artificial citrus and gleamed with oil for hours after.

I waited for my mom’s predictable lecture on how much they had given up to ensure my success in the Corporate Application Process—and, ultimately, my acceptance into the highest-ranked and most profitable company in the nation.  On the wall behind my dad, we had once boasted a ceiling-to-floor 4D television, before they sold it to pay my last year of tuition at a private Learning Center.  My stomach felt queasy as I recalled how resentful I’d been that my parents had forced me to drill for exams with them every evening instead of playing simulation games with my friends or running on the beach with my terrier Spaetzle.  They had invested more than we could afford, instead of relying on the free education I could have received from their employer, Twelfth Corporation.

And now I would never see them again.  The U.C.A. Constitution demanded that once you were recruited to a company, you would work there for the rest of your life—and you were forbidden from socializing with all other companies’ employees, including family members. This was arguably one of the U.C.A.’s most important rules, one of a handful of laws punishable by banishment to the Outer Planets if disobeyed.

“I wish they allowed you to bring more than this.”  My mom picked up my suitcase, a purple metallic rectangle about the size of a twin-bed pillow, with First Corporation’s logo—a star with the outline of an eagle in the center—embossed in gold on one side.

Unlatching the handle, she inspected the contents before pulling out the small pink memory box. Inside, I’d placed a note from the tooth fairy my mom had left under my pillow when I was five-years-old, so that I could remember her handwriting.   A collar belonging to Spaetzle, so that I could remember the sound of the little bell as he greeted me at the front door when I came home from the Learning Center each day.  Printed versions of the last sixteen years of Christmas cards, since we weren’t allowed to bring any electronic devices with us.

“Are you sure you want to take up room in your suitcase with all these?” my mom asked.  “What about pajamas?  Don’t you need pajamas?”

“She’s going to First Corporation,” my dad tilted his head as he replied. “They have enough money to supply their recruits with hundreds of pairs of pajamas each.”

Then he turned to me, “I know you’ll have an amazing time, Lily.  We loved the Work Home.  Best years of our lives.”

I pinched my forearm to contain my tears, and tried to make my half-smile wider and more convincing.  Like all other sixteen-year-old corporate recruits, I would be moving into my company’s Work Home, where I would live and train for four years before receiving permanent assignment at one of First Corporations’ main locations.

I wondered how similar my experience would be to my parents’ at their Twelfth Corporation Work Home.   Would it be as fun as they described?

“You know, Lily,” my dad said, and I knew what was coming next, “the Work Home is where your mother and I met. I spotted her across the room on our first day at the spirit rally where we learned Twelfth Corporation’s official hymn for the first time. Remember that, Cam? You had that blue barrette in your hair.”

I felt my shoulders relax just a little at the familiar image: a blue jeweled barrette tightly gripping back my mother’s—well, a younger version of my mother—straight black bangs.  A few soft strands escaping for my dad to imagine brushing aside as he watched her for the first time.  Although my hair, usually in a low ponytail, fell to my waist, and my mom’s was shoulder length, we both wore our bangs the same way: a little too long, perilously close to completely covering our deep brown eyes.

I had heard the story so many times I could almost picture the moment as if I had been there. On a million occasions, my dad had described glimpsing his future wife across a crowded auditorium: “I barely heard the company hymn, even though it was blaring across the loudspeakers,” he always said. “I couldn’t stop looking at her.”

The tale was inevitably followed by my parents singing their silly company jingle in unison: “We are emp-loy-ees of Twelfth Corp-or-a-tion. Bring-ing comp-ooooo-ter chips, fi-ber op-tic netttttt-works, and other tech-no-log-eeeees to the world.” The words were boring, but the melody was catchy and usually accompanied by my dad bouncing around in a sporadic dance that I suspected wasn’t really part of Twelfth Corporation’s official repertoire.

“You’ll probably meet your future husband there, too,” my mom added, with a glint in her eyes that was reserved for an extremely small number of topics.  Beneath the sly look I wondered if I caught a more subversive emotion: sadness, maybe, or wistfulness. I might meet the boy of my dreams at the Work Home, but my parents wouldn’t be allowed to attend the wedding.  They’d at least be allowed the receipt of a form email: Congratulations, your daughter is to be married at First Corporation next month.

As he always did when my mom wore a distant look, my dad elbowed my mom. “Well, we know who Lily’s future husband is—he’s already been at First Corporation for the past year.”

Since I would never see them again, I refrained from rolling my eyes—a gesture my mom typically rewarded with a lecture about respect for one’s elders.  Acker Rodriguez, my best friend from the Learning Center, had entered the First Corporation Work Home a year ago.


  1. Melanie, this reads so differently! I really like that you removed the rhetorical questions from the opening paragraph. I think it strengthens your intro immensely. Another big change that I liked is that they aren't just standing on the front stoop anymore. I felt like that choice of setting and the waiting left us with too many unanswered questions.

    I feel like we connect with Lily's parents more than Lily herself. We get their backstory, a physical description of her mother, and they do all of the talking. I would like to see this passage more Lily driven since, I'm assuming, she's the character we're going to follow for most of the story.

    Knowing how her parents met is nice, but I'm not sure it's needed here. I feel like the focus should be on how Lily feels about leaving home, how she feels about becoming a pawn for the corporation and losing some, if not all, of her self-identity. The bit about the Christmas photos is good. It shows us a glimmer of what Lily is losing, and how that loss is affecting her. Be mindful that we also don't get her name until halfway through the passage. We find out the name of her dog before we know who she is. Maybe remedy this by having her read a tag on her luggage, or her name in calligraphy on the certificate her dad framed.

    I think you definitely took this in the right direction, and I'm interested to see where it goes with your next revision. Good luck. Can't wait to read what you come up with.

    1. Thanks so much! I love the idea of her name in calligraphy on the certificate, and will think about other ways to make this more Lily-driven!

  2. Hi Melanie,

    Wow, you did a great job of cleaning up the text! I especially liked the passage where Lily’s father shakes her hand and then says he’s proud of her. The tone is what I imagine a 16 yo in her situation would use. I like her pink memory box and her dog’s name 

    It would really be better if we learned Lily’s name sooner (totally agree with Gabby’s comment). Maybe after she hugs her mom “praying I would remember the scent later.” there could be a short remark from her mom, like: “I know you’ll have an amazing time, Lily.” Or somewhere else where you feel is best.

    I know it’s very frustrating to constantly hear “more tension”, but I believe the beginning of your novel will be even stronger if something more was happening. Is it is possible to have Lily already start her journey and remember the good-bye scene with her parents while on the way?

    And more in detail.
    1. Looking again at the first two sentences: “Sixteen years preparing for this very moment. Parents weren’t supposed to be upset on their child’s Commencement Day.” – I somehow miss the innate connection between the two. Maybe if the they switched places? Or if you rephrased it like “Parents weren’t supposed to be upset on their child’s Commencement Day. They’ve had sixteen years to prepare for this moment.” Or you could start with something even tenser like “I hugged my mom for the last time.”

    2. “My mom picked up my suitcase, a purple metallic rectangle about the size of a twin-bed pillow, with First Corporation’s logo—a star with the outline of an eagle in the center—embossed in gold on one side.” – could this sentence be split in two? The first ending with “pillow”, and the second starting with “It had First Corporation’s logo...”.

    3. And just a tiny detail: I don’t think the abbreviation (U.C.A) in the beginning of the third paragraph is necessary. If you use the full name first and later on the abbreviation people should be able to get it.

    I hope this helps polish your work further! Looking forward to your next revision 


    1. Thanks for the detailed feedback. I'll definitely think about how to add more tension. Despite sadness at never seeing her parents again, Lily is also looking forward to starting at First Corporation because she doesn't see/realize/know what's sinister about the world. Her mom hints that things might be amiss at the very end of the chapter (Lily still doesn't see it, but the reader should, but I'll try to bring in earlier here.

  3. Hi everyone, Just wanted to say I didn't have much of a chance to log in as often as I would have liked Week 1 so didn't get to thank you all real-time for the amazingly helpful feedback last week! Thanks for the encouragement and thoughtful critique!

  4. Melanie,

    This really is a super good revision! Do you like the change into first person? I do. I think the text and Lily’s thoughts are flowing so much more naturally, and we’re much closer to Lily than we were before. You’ve also done a good job of saving some of the world-building info to give to us later. The world is no longer overwhelming Lily as a character, and this is a great thing. Also love the addition in these first pages that Lily has a boy waiting for her. That definitely ups the stakes!

    So I think this Lily-centered revision was a huge step in the right direction, and I think maybe you could push it that way even further. Lily is experiencing some huge stuff here: going somewhere that is an incredible achievement and her expected life-goal, somewhere that is supposed to be the best thing ever, where her best friend/boyfriend that she hasn’t seen in a year is waiting for her, and at the price of never seeing her parents or home again. This is an enormous (and awesome!) emotional conflict, so how can you show me even more of that conflict swirling inside her? Could the mention, or even thought, of the boy waiting for her come earlier? What does that do to her hands, the feeling in her stomach? Should she think about having been excited about this transition before, but now she’s facing the reality? Is she worried about how he will think she looks? If you could manifest more of these things in Lily’s small actions and emotions, I think that might be all that’s needed to up the stakes for the reader and leave them incredibly hooked. Really good examples of where you’re already doing this are with glancing at the polished plaque so carefully oiled, and the Christmas cards, and the items Lily chose for her memory box. What else can you do along those lines, or just with Lily’s body language, to share even more of her internal conflicts with the reader?

    Suggestion: In the sixth paragraph, I wonder if you need any of the information about the UCA Constitution, other than “And now I would never see them again.” The more complete explanation of why she won’t see her parents could wait for later, and leaving that one sentence on its own could give it a lot of impact.

    Twelfth paragraph: Other than Lily’s emotional reaction to her father saying how much she will love the Work Home, I’m not sure you need this explanation quite yet, either. You’ll be showing us this later, when she gets to the Work Home, and Dad gives us enough of an explanation two paragraphs later for the reader to get the idea. I would also suggest trimming (but not eliminating!) some of Dad’s recollections in those later paragraphs, because it feels like maybe he’s pulling our focus a little too far away from Lily. Should we be hearing about her first date, instead? Or her lack of one? (While still leaving enough Work Home information for the reader to get it, of course!)

    I’m really enjoying the world you’ve created here, Melanie. Please feel free to ask if you need any clarification. Can’t wait to read again!

  5. Hi Melanie,

    I really like the changes that you made. We get more of what Lily is feeling, and how she's trying to keep herself from being emotional.

    I still feel like there's not much actually happening here. It's nice to get some of the information about the world. But I'm still wondering what's going to happen next. It doesn't take much to show how here parents are reacting and how Lily's feeling. Maybe if there were progressed, and we got the rest of the information in these pages as Lily is heading for the place she's going, it would help.

    Looking forward to your next revision.

  6. Hi Melanie,
    I really like your revisions. I agree it would be nice to get Lilly's name in sooner.

    I was also wondering about her mom complete straight armed and non responsive in the hug. Could a child be that sad to leave with such a cold mother. I think I get what are going for with stoicism but could there be a slight softening to mom?

    Also I really like that the world building is so interwoven you don't even notice it's happening.

    I feel like there is a lack of tension to hook the reader. I get that leaving and never seeing them again is stressful but it seems a foregone conclusion, so what is the real crux of her moving forward that will hook the reader? She seems rather nonchalant about the experience - which seems true to her up bringing- but there doesn't seem to be excitement or nervousness or other emotions I might expect in addition to wanting to remember her family.

    I like the dad more now that he is interactive.

    There is a bunch of telling in places. I agree with the other comments some of this could be left out initially and then later in the book get to more detail if needed.

    Looking forward to the next draft.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.