Sunday, January 17, 2016

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Gilliam Rev 2

Name: Gabby Gilliam
Genre: NA Peter Pan retelling
Title: Hooked

Willow Gutierrez just wants to go home and pretend that her freshman year of college never happened. Then, a shadow man snatches her half-brothers from their beds and carries them away to Neverland, and college is all but forgotten.

To follow after them, Willow is forced to take Tinkerbell captive. Tinkerbell tells her that the shadow belongs to Peter Pan, who uses his dark henchman to kidnap children. The Neverlanders know that those abducted by Pan are never seen again, but Willow refuses to accept that her brothers are lost forever.

With Tinkerbell as her navigator, and a very reluctant Captain Hook as her guard, Willow travels across Neverland in search of the shadow’s secret lair. She discovers that, sometimes, the stories get things wrong. Sometimes the good guy is an egomaniacal teenager in possession of some very dark magic. Sometimes the bad guy is your best chance. Willow hopes that the happy ending is one thing her story will get right.


My name is a bit of a joke, a cruel trick of nature to punish my parents. They named me Willow, expecting a daughter that fit the name. They got me. I’m nowhere near thin enough to be considered willowy, carrying my freshman fifteen and then a few. I did get the height though. I’ve towered over Mom since I was about fourteen. When I met my roommate Jill, I was excited because she was an inch taller than me.  Instead of a kindred spirit, I just found a spoiled girl who viewed my wardrobe as an extension of her own.

“Jill, have you seen my lip gloss?” I shouted over my shoulder.  Jill’s earbuds were a permanent attachment, and I knew she’d pretend she couldn’t hear me if I didn’t shout.

“Nope.” She smacked her lips which were a suspicious shade of strawberry frappe.  

I rolled my eyes.  Whatever. In a few minutes, I was out of there.  She could keep the damned lip gloss.  I looked around the tiny dorm room I’d called home for the past ten months.  Goodbye, cheap mattress whose probing springs made it impossible to sleep for longer than two hours at a time.  Sayonara, tiny window. Can’t say I’ll miss your beautiful view of the crumbling brick wall across the alley.  Good riddance, inconsiderate roommate and your kleptomaniacal habits, especially where my sweaters and cosmetics are concerned.  I didn’t even wave to Jill before I carried my last bag down the stairs to wait for the taxi that would take me home.

“Later, Quasimodo.”

“Let us know how the weather is in Notre Dame!”

I let my hair fall over my face and ignored the snickers of the girls on my floor as I passed, determined not to let them break me in the last moments before freedom.

For the sake of accuracy, the taxi was not actually taking me home.  It was taking me to the bus stop at Virginia Tech.  My rustic college wasn’t large enough to merit its own transportation service. Once the taxi dropped me off, I would catch a bus to Charlottesville and transfer onto a train bound for Fredericksburg.  It was a convoluted way to get home, but I didn’t care, as long as it got me out of Blacksburg.

There was twenty minutes between when my bus arrived at Charlottesville Union Station and when the train would get there.  It wasn’t long enough for me to do anything other than people watch. My stomach growled, but I decided to wait until I got on the train to quiet it with offerings of food.  I didn’t have enough time to get anything from a restaurant anyway, not that I could afford it.  I spent the last of my money on the tickets home.

A flood of travelers coursed over the platform around me.  My entire college life lay at my feet.  It fit into three suitcases and a knapsack, and the sack was only filled with snacks for the train ride home.  I watched as mothers and children embraced before parting, and lovers cried as their other half pulled out of the station.  My only companions were my battered suitcases, purchased second hand last summer when I still believed that college was the solution to all of my problems.  

As it turns out, my oppressive hometown was not the root of my suffering.  I was even more miserable on campus.  A year of processed, packaged dinners had earned me twenty extra pounds and a bad case of acne.  I thought college would help me discover my true self, that I would blossom outside of my Mom’s walls.  Instead, after the first week of school, I locked myself in my dorm room and avoided interaction with fellow students at all costs.  It was a far cry from the transformation I had hoped for.

My train pulled into the station, so I lugged my bags across the platform.  

“Need a hand, miss?” A porter reached out to take my bags. His wispy white hair poked out from under his cap. He smiled and his eyes nearly disappeared beneath layers of wrinkles.

“Actually, yes. Thank you so much.” I returned his smile, but worried he wouldn’t be able to carry my heavy luggage.

He tipped his hat to me before grabbing the largest of the bags. He moved effortlessly, stronger than I expected given his age. I followed him to the luggage compartment and then found my seat.  When the whistle blew, the seats near me were still empty and I was relieved.  I was unpracticed in the art of small talk.  I fished my headphones out of my knapsack and plugged them into my phone.  I found a playlist that suited my mood, and let the dark melodies drown out the noise of the other train passengers.  I did my best to pretend I was alone, closing my eyes and losing myself in the music.  Pretending no one else existed had kind of become my specialty.  It made the indifference of my peers hurt less.

The rain pelted the windows of the train—each drop striking the glass like the clouds were unleashing pebbles instead of water.  I crushed my hoodie into a ball and tucked it between my head and the window.  I don’t know whether it was the inadequate pillow or the fear that the rain would shatter the glass, but both sleep and comfort eluded me.  I stared out across the dismal fields of Charlottesville.  Normally, the view was lovely—the deep, rich green of fresh grass and trees against the Blue Ridge Mountains.  That day, it was gray upon gray, and I couldn’t even make out the mountains in the distance through the mist.  It was like Nature manifested my emotions.  

My guilt and apprehension roiled in my stomach with the same intensity as the rain crashed against the windows.  I was headed home from Radford University, and I had no intention of going back.  I had not yet shared this information with my mom.  Summer break lasted for two and half months.  I had that long to find my courage, and let my mom know I was pissing my future away just like she had. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?  Lightning forked across the sky, and I did my best to pretend it wasn’t a bad omen.

The train pulled into the station with a squeal of brakes against the wet tracks. I could see my mother’s Mickey Mouse umbrella through my window. She used to walk me to school on rainy days under that umbrella. Now, she was picking me up from my last day of school with it. Weird how some things come full circle.

Mom was everything that I’m not. She had dark auburn hair that fell in loose, natural curls around her heart-shaped face. My hair can, at best, be called coffee-colored. I usually referred to it as an enchanting cow patty brown. I begged Mom to let me dye it when I was in high school, but she refused, claiming it would damage my hair and I’d regret it later.  I bought a home bleaching kit my first night at school. I also got hives, blisters near my hairline, and my left eye nearly swollen shut. My first day of class, I looked like Quasimodo, so of course Victor Hugo was the first author on my Gothic Lit syllabus. I locked myself in my room until the swelling went down, and then every night after that. Mom was totally right.

Even though she was forty three, the freckles that peppered her nose made Mom look more like my sister than my mother. My nose is slightly too large for my face, and doesn’t have any freckles to make it cuter. While her eyes were the green of the first fresh grass of spring, mine are the same dung brown as my hair. She was petite, the shortest person on the train platform even with the ridiculously large Mickey Mouse umbrella.


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  2. Hi Gabby,

    I enjoyed your pitch. It’s interesting to me that Willow discovers that sometimes the story gets things wrong; so she’s familiar with the Peter Pan story, and then is surprised to find that it’s real? Given that she knows the background of Peter Pan (unlike retellings that don’t allude to the original), I wondered whether there was a way to play up somewhere an interest in stories (or skepticism of stories), maybe when she talks about the Gothic lit class. I also wondered whether these half-brothers could be mentioned somehow in your first five pages, given that she’s going on an epic journey in order to save them? That would also more clearly establish her in the reader’s mind as a Wendy-type character.

    I thought it was very interesting how kindly Willow was to the porter, especially worrying about whether he could carry her luggage, thus showing a more positive element of her personality. I wondered if something like this line "I was unpracticed in the art of small talk" could come earlier in relation to the porter —like he looks like a really nice old man, he’s helpful to her, she is considerate of him…but somehow has a hard time expressing her internal kindness and generosity?

    Small thing: I liked the insertion of dialogue as she’s leaving school, to show why she’s so eager to go and build sympathy, it felt a little abrupt. At first, I thought the words were from Jill, and I was a little confused because I thought Jill hadn’t even said good-byes.

    Thanks for sharing your work with us, and all your helpful suggestions throughout! Good luck!


  3. Hey Gabby!

    Super revision! The language is tighter, and Willow’s personality and situation are shining through with so much more clarity than in the earlier versions. And I love the insight I got from your pitch, especially with Hook being our hero rather than Peter. (I should have guessed from the title!) I love that twist. What a great marketing hook. (Pun intended!)

    As you revise and keep working, I would say keep on doing what you’re doing, especially in keeping Willow’s personality and voice first and foremost in everything. Since we are in her head, every thought (and every word) really has to count. A couple of little points to think about concerning Willow:

    *I like the addition of the dialogue with the porter (I’m glad you thought that was a good suggestion!), but I wonder if her interaction makes sense with the line that now comes right after, “I was unpracticed in the art of small talk.” She seems to have just practiced some small talk! Maybe adjust her reaction to the porter, or edit that line?

    *And now that I know this story is going to take a magical/out of the ordinary turn, I wonder if you need to set up Willow as a person who could accept/believe in something so unreal? Willow comes across as very practical, very rooted in the mundane happenings of an unhappy life. This isn’t a problem, I actually like the juxtaposition of those personality traits with what might be coming. But what could there be about Willow in these first pages that shows a little corner of her mind that is more fanciful? Did she fervently believe in fairies as a child? Did she always wish that fairy tales were true? Does she like to get lost in her imagination? Was she reading books all those times she was alone in her room? There’s a tiny hint of her imagination when she thinks about Nature manifesting her emotions, and where she’s pretending she’s alone. Maybe Willow is really, really good at pretending? I’m sure you can think of something awesome, but whatever it is, you might consider setting up Willow’s personality so that the reader will accept that Willow could believe the seriously crazy stuff that’s coming her way. (Also might not be a bad idea to set up the fact that there are other members in her family, particularly the half-brothers, in those very first pages.)

    I think you’ve got a great premise and a great start for your novel, Gabby. Thank you so much for allowing me to read and comment, and the very, very best of luck to you!

  4. This is Erin posting for Laura since the blog was giving her trouble!

    PITCH: It’s generally understood in this industry that New Adult is almost exclusively contemporary erotica. There’s an ongoing debate about when YA stops and NA begins, and when NA stops and A begins (is it the age of the protagonist? the content? etc). But what’s typically agreed upon is that NA doesn’t have genre fiction. This is, depending on the direction the manuscript goes (voice, content, etc), adult fantasy or YA fantasy. My first impression is that this is YA.

    STORY: I see two conflicting voices in these opening pages. One voice is that of a snarky protagonist anxious to leave college. The other voice, the one off the campus and traveling home by bus and train, is that of an introspective, almost lyrical protagonist gnawing on the fact she needs to confront her mother about dropping out of college. (Personally, I prefer the introspective voice.)

    Apart from the discrepancy in narration, the opening scene in the dorm room may not be the place to start the story. The true beginning feels later, beginning with the paragraph “A flood of travelers…” Unless the people in Willow’s college life that we met in the previous chapters come back later on in the manuscript, that scene may need to be cut.

    Now, traveling takes some time – and her trip sounds exhaustive! This is an excellent opportunity for the reader to get to know Willow a bit more. You mention she took a literature class in college. Is it because she has to as a freshman, or because she is a big reader who likes to escape into the imagination? I’m getting the impression she’s lonely, or at least an outsider. What are her thoughts and concerns? What’s her relationship like with her mother (apart from their differing appearances? Try not to focus too much on someone’s appearance if you’re not going to dip into their opposing personalities as well)? If we understand more about Willow as well as her apprehension to tell her mother about dropping out of college, then we can sit next to her on this journey, too, and watch her world turn upside-down in Neverland.

    Keep writing and revising! You’re thisclose to getting the voice just right.


    1. Thank you so much for your feedback, Laura! I had originally put the NA tag on it because things get a bit steamy with Hook toward the end of the book, and it's something I wouldn't want a 13 year old to read, but seventeen year old would be fine. Might just need to revisit that scene and tone it down a tad. Thanks again for the feedback!