Sunday, July 3, 2016

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Gabriel

Name: Kimberly Gabriel
Genre: YA thriller

The air scrapes my throat and burns my lungs every time I inhale. It’s heavy and damp – unusually cold for this time of year. Not that anyone else here seems to mind. Instead, hundreds of people taunt me with their perfectly capable lungs as they flock about Navy Pier like it’s the only acceptable place to celebrate Labor Day Weekend.
Ninety-five percent of these people are tourists. They come here from places like Plainfield, Iowa and Hartville, Ohio where I’m sure they lead normal lives. But here, they become hoarders of magnets and sweatshirts and shopping bags all plastered with the “New Chicago” emblem. They take pictures. They eat Dots ice cream. And they ignore the warnings about walking in groups fewer than four.
Even the ones who try to blend in have that same blithe expression. They amble along admiring Lake Michigan and the Rejuvenation mansions that line its beaches. They marvel over the city’s height and the way its buildings shimmer in the daylight even on a gray day like today. They disregard their immediate surroundings.  
They are easy targets – all of them. 
My breath hitches, and my chest tightens just enough to push the air back out of my lungs. I glance at my purse slumped beside me on the weathered slats of the bench. As tempted as I might be to reach for my inhaler, today is not the day to show that kind of weakness. I pull the sleeves of my sweater as far over my hands as they will go and pick up the Truman Capote book lying face down in my lap as if to read it.
A handful of middle-aged tourists approach the pier’s tip just a few feet from where I sit. Someone says something I don’t hear, and the whole group laughs louder than necessary like they want people to envy them. 
For the most part, they are indistinguishable, like all the other tourists who have passed by. Only one sticks out – a woman with cropped blonde hair, princess-cut earrings, and some kind of designer messenger bag slung across her torso. While the rest of the group faces the water, she leans her back against the railing and scans the pier as if by habit. She laughs with the rest of them, but her attention remains focused on the crowd. She’s clearly the only local in the group.
Just as she turns toward me, I look down at my book. I begin to reread the same paragraph I’ve read at least a dozen times in the four hours I’ve been here. But before I finish the second sentence, I’m already distracted wondering which of these tourists is about to die. 
The lanky guy with the red stubble and flannel shirt, sporting a designer trucker’s hat that cost more than my entire outfit. Or the pudgy woman wearing pantyhose, tennis shoes, and a blue monochrome outfit. She’s easily the adult version of Violet Beauregard from Willy Wonka after turning into a giant blueberry. The second I mark them as potential victims, I envision their beatings and how it begins. A fist in the back of the neck, an uppercut punch in the gut. The first hit comes out of nowhere – a seemingly random attack from a guy in the crowd. Then within seconds, dozens of teenage mobbers materialize, swarming the victim like a colony of flesh eating ants – hitting and kicking to death.  
More than once today, I’ve thought about my dad and what his last moments had been like. 
I look for police officers, a SWAT team, for some kind – any kind of back up even though deep down I know they aren’t coming. When I called CPD to report what I’d discovered, the operator dismissed me like some delusional kid schitzing out over some random comment she found on the Internet. She took notes and promised to pass them on to a detective, which I know never happened. Every media spokesperson and city official have spent the last two years and seventeen days adamantly insisting the flash mob era ended with the attack on my dad. They’ve denied any implication that the mob has been simply lying dormant, waiting for the right moment to reemerge into society. A million times over, I would’ve rather used what I found to prevent today’s attack. Clearly, that hope is lost.
I pick up my phone and check its battery life before chucking it back in my bag. No one’s ever caught enough footage of an attack to incriminate anyone in it. But if someone were to record the start of an attack and everyone on the pier in the moments before it broke out, it would lead to convictions – maybe even the start of annihilating the mob’s existence. I know it would.
My breath hitches again, making the inhale shallow and unsatisfying. I close my eyes, relax my shoulders, and curse the weather for changing too quickly this year. I breathe slowly and methodically – a lame attempt to convince my body it really isn’t that hard.
A phone chimes next to me. 
My head snaps toward a girl sitting beside me on the bench. I don’t remember her sitting down. She’s nineteenish. Bronze skin. Copper colored hair slicked back in a tight ponytail. Her oversized scarf conceals her neck and half of her face. Sunglasses. Clearly a local. Likely hiding her identity. She could easily be a mobber. I jerk my glance away and take another deep breath. 
I grab the pendant on my necklace, a tiny four-leaf clover imprinted on a silver disk, and start twisting the chain around my finger as I count the locals. Three to my left. A captain, a first mate, and another crew member. They stand at the end of carpeted ramp leading to a mini-cruise ship. The captain and first mate greet each tourist climbing aboard with a reassuring, artificial smile. The third crew member stands at ease, though he hardly looks it. His eyes shift around erratically, no doubt looking for any sign of disturbance.
There’s a hotdog vendor hamming it up for each customer with a fake Italian accent, while the popcorn vendor next to him takes money and scoops popcorn in one sinuous motion. His eyes never leave the crowd.
Twenty feet to my right, a teenage boy sits at the base of some monument. Eighteenish. Broad-shouldered. Hunched over where he sits. He jams his hands inside the pockets of an oversized New Chicago hoodie like he wants to be mistaken for a tourist. Headphone wires disappear beneath his hood – a hood conveniently concealing his facial features. He’s been sitting like that for over an hour. Even though he seems to be alone, he fits the profile of the attackers. I can’t stare at him longer than a few seconds at a time without getting a piercing pang in my gut.
“Will you sign a petition to preserve our city’s parks?”
Again, my head snaps to my left to find a short pixie-like girl holding a clipboard tight against her chest addressing the copper-headed girl sitting next to me. Copperhead doesn’t look up. She’s wearing headphones. Conveniently. Something I wish I had right now. 
By the time I bury my face in my book, Pixie Girl has already turned towards me. 
“Do you like our city’s green space?”
I keep my head down cuing her to move along but Pixie Girl is undeterred.


  1. Squeeeee! I want to know more! Great job building up suspense - I'm definitely intrigued and want to keep reading. I think you did a good job with present tense as it is hard to pull off.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Christian! Greatly appreciated!!

  2. Kimberly,
    You hooked me when I read, “…I’m already distracted wondering which of these tourists is about to die.” My critique, this round, is going use the questions that Martina has posted in the “How to Read the 1st 5” tab to give specific feedback, but I’ll also provide a general/overall take on what I’ve read.

    Specific feedback:
    You set a clear and unique story world and setting. I like the idea of New Chicago, but I’m not sure how much different it is from Chicago, or if that is even important. I’m curious if that is part of the story.

    I like the main character. She is mysterious but observant and has a purpose. Is she trying to catch the teenage mob? Are they a threat? This part confused me a little. If they have not attacked anyone in the last 2 years and 17 days, why does the protagonist see everyone as an attacker? Is she paranoid? Does she know something everyone else does not?
    You have a great voice. It’s authentic and did not feel like an adult trying to write like a teen. That is a difficult thing to accomplish. Bravo.

    There are a lot of characters in the first few pages, and that can sometimes be confusing as someone dives into a book. I didn’t know if the boat captain and the first mate were important.

    You do a good job with your descriptions of both the characters and the pier. I could easily visualize Pixie Girl, the broad shouldered teen, and adult Violet – haha.

    I don’t know where the story is going, but that’s not a problem this early in a MS. I want something to happen soon. The scene is tense, but it needs to pay off in some way to keep me reading. Is there an attack? I felt nervous for the main character, but I couldn’t figure out why so many people were on edge.

    General feedback:

    I definitely want to keep reading. Your style is easy to read, and I like where you have begun the story. The tension begins to build immediately. I was momentarily confused when your main character imagined an attack, then described her father’s attack. For a paragraph or two, I thought she had witnessed a tourist attack. I don’t know a good balance between too much backstory and not enough. I wonder if you need to know about her father’s attack yet? Mysterious motivation might be good. Or not.

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback and suggestions. Pulling back on characters seems like a common thread. I'll work on that. I'll also work on the imagined attack and then she mentions her father - someone else mentioned that too. Thank you for pointing that out!

      This all does lead to an attack on page 7, so soon! ;)

      Thank you also for your kind words and encouragement. Very appreciated!

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  4. Kimberly,
    Thanks so much for sharing your work with us! I really enjoyed reading it, and I would like to second everything Lollis said in his comment. I would have kept reading past the first five pages because the story question intrigued me! I have put my thoughts below:

    1. Opening - Like Lollis said, I, too, was hooked by the line which of these tourists are going to die. The line seemed almost buried in the middle, but it grabbed me the most. Have you thought about bringing it in sooner? Possibly making it an opening paragraph hook? The current opening paragraph made me think this was a different type of story. It sounded more like an opening for a character driven story where the character overcomes her asthma.

    2. Motive - We get a great sense of what the MC wants to achieve (prevent another murder), and I think I see the motive: the MC wants to video the mob so she can avenge her father's death. The motive could be stated a little more direct.

    3. I'm definitely curious about this New Chicago and rejuvenation mansions. Is this a dystopian novel?

    4. I really enjoy your descriptions, especially the part about hoarding magnets and t-shirts. This idea made me laugh. . None of them take me out of the story.

    5. Characters - there are a lot of characters introduced, and it is difficult to keep them all straight. The descriptions are good - especially to see how the MC determines who is good vs. bad, local vs. tourist- but it makes me uncertain who is important and who isn't.

    6. My biggest question is why is the MC sitting alone on a bench when there is a warning to walk in groups of four or more? To me, it sounds like she is perfect prey for a flash mob, who have already begun to surround her. Would she really sit alone in the open, though, especially since her father was killed by a flash mob? If she needs to sit alone on the bench, then could you add a good reason why she has to do that? Otherwise, the readers might wonder why she is being foolish.

    7. I'm not familiar enough with your MC, but I questioned if the MC's character was killed by a mob, then would she really envision how a tourist would die? This pulled me out of the story because she is envisioning how a tourist will die then we find out her father died by a mob, and the two ideas seemed to contradict each other.

    8. I like the MC's voice. The writing and sentence structure flows smoothly from one progression of thought to another.

    9. What made the MC choose to sit at the pier on this day? What intel did she have that there would be a flash mob after so long? What spooked the flash mob into hiding, if the police didn't believe the MC's father was killed by a flash mob?

    I really enjoyed this and look forward to reading more!

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback Christian! I like trying to work that line in earlier as you said. I'm going to play around with that. I'll also work on making the motive clear and showing that locals aren't typically attacked - except for her father. Perhaps that clarifies why she feels she can sit alone? Good things for me to ponder and clarify. Thank you for bringing them up!

      Someone else also brought up whether or not it's dystopian. I really don't think it is (but I'm also trying not to fool myself). I envision a fictionalized Chicago with a fictionalized political climate. Essentially flash mob attacks dominated the city for ten years, and the Rejuvenation Project is a controversial attempt to revitalize the city. Hmmm...I compare its real life parallels to the TV show "The Killing." Somehow, I'll see if I can clarify that. That one will be challenging.... thanks for the push!

    2. Oh, that plot sounds very interesting! I think it is great and can't wait to see the next revision!

  5. Kimberly,

    Your story is riveting and pulled me in quickly. I get the sense of the familiar and the unfamiliar in the world you’ve created. Terms like “New Chicago” and “flash mobbers” peak our curiosity and the references to pop culture, authors, and food make us feel like we know where we are, if not exactly when.

    I wish we got a little more info about your MC, her name at least, in these first pages to help us connect. We know her dad is dead and she is trying to stop a repeat of a similar crime. Is it to get justice for her dad? Is it for someone else that she cares about?

    A few more questions I have are the world and this opening setting. How long it has been since her dad’s death and what has changed in New Chicago? I wonder why there would be so many tourists in a place that seems connected with violent crime. I also wonder why the locals are so alert, if crime has decreased. Do others know about this internet tip your MC has found? Where did she hear it and how did she recognize what it meant?

    Again, these are small details, but I think they would help round out what we need to know about your MC and her world. I think your writing is very polished and tight and I look forward to reading more!

    1. Thanks for your feedback and encouragement Lisa! You ask really great questions. I'll have to work on clarifying the setting and also why locals are nervous but tourists feel safe. Thanks for pointing that out! You've give me a lot to consider and work on - greatly appreciated!

  6. Kimberly, what an opening! You had me from "New Chicago" and the warning to stay in groups of four. I like how you have both external and internal threats to the MC, as well as the motive of getting justice for the father's murder. The seemingly sudden appearance of people beside and around the MC really amp up the tension. Great setup.

    As I was reading I found myself wondering if she was setting herself up to be a target or not. I also questioned her letting her guard down enough to not notice people beside and around her. While that made for a compelling read, I wondered how likely that would be. If she's anticipating an attack, I would think she'd be hyper-aware of everything around her. If the flash mobbers are super stealth, then it could still work. I'm not saying this is something you should necessarily change, but it is something that gave me pause.

    The line, "More than once today, I’ve thought about my dad and what his last moments had been like," is powerful, but I wonder if it might pack even more punch if you can more directly link it to the brutal descriptions of how the flash mob work in the paragraph above. As is, the line about dad feels a little removed. I would make that line really gutting. Make your reader feel its impact. (This is all sounding like a pun, sorry!) Even something as snappy as "Like they did to my dad." Really hit the readers with that line.

    I wish I could read the rest of the chapter to see what happens. I'm hoping the tension continues to escalate to a compelling ending. If it doesn't, I suggest revising to make sure it does. As the tension ramps up, try not to bog it down with too many details. Try to strike a balance between keeping the world real and present and keeping the action moving forward.

    Great work!

    1. Hi Amy! Thank you so much for your feedback and encouragement! You're right - she should be more hyperaware and you point out a couple good places that I could fix that. I also really like the suggestion about making the line about her father pop. Thank you for that as well!! The attack does happen on pg7, so it's right around the corner. I greatly appreciate the direction you give me here - I think you're dead on with your suggestions!

  7. I just swung by to reread your entry and saw that my previous comments somehow did not post. Ack! So sorry for delay. Well, going to try to rewrite my thoughts now...

    1. This is a great submission. Very strong. Nice, tight writing and a terrific start. So, please realize that the following comments should not be read as suggestions for line edits but things to kind of mull over broadly and incorporate into your work in a way that feels right to you!
    2. GENRE. You describe this as a YA thriller but it has a dystopian feel to me, particularly when I read phrases like "New Chicago" and the "Rejuvenation mansions" -- also, the poor air quality :) I know dystopian feels like a dangerous word right now (kind of trending out) but there's always room for a great one! (Also, when you sub, you can call it a YA THRILLER set in a gritty and terrifying NEAR FUTURE," or something like that!) IN TERMS OF the Young Adult characterization, I feel it but I think it's important to make sure we know the narrator fits into this category. Drop in a few references to her high school, or another teen element of her life.
    3. CHARACTER. Might it be possible to give your narrator a NAME? This is a very intense opening and it might help readers stay connected to get this detail. ALSO, we are getting a great deal of her reaction, and reflection on her concerns being ignored, but not much of her (girl, right? not sure...) more intimate qualities. Does she have love, want love? Is she physically able to do what she is planning to do? I'd give just a little bit more about things she is/does/want outside of the obvious critical moment in which we find her...
    4. SETTING. I'd consider paring back your descriptions of bystanders. (Even the lady with the pantyhose.) It feels a little bit like you're writing in. The tourism descriptions build suspense but I'd go carefully, making sure each tourist you describe ALSO gives readers insights into your novel's world (WHY did you pick pantyhose lady? What does it tell us about MC? HOW does MC feel about the tourists being fat--is she thin OR also fat? get it.) I got a little bumped by this issue of the TECHNOLOGY (dying cellphone battery) which, like fat tourists, also seems same-as-today, which makes me wonder, again, about the details of the setting--the world-building. I think you're CLOSE but needs just a touch more work to feel entirely unforced.
    5. PLOT. I would certainly turn the page but I think you do need to give a payout to reader soon, and to plant the seed of something emotional as well as the flash mob hunt. ALSO, I do wonder why so many tourists would come to a place where there've been these Flash Mob Murders? I think, again, in your world-building, it might be good to consider working this out with clarity so that you can explain it to readers in a sentence.
    6. BACKSTORY. Here and there you get a little bogged down in the father's murder bit. It's clearly important but DO YOU NEED ALL OF THIS INFO in the first five pages? I think it might be more effective to sprinkle these details through a larger part of the novel.
    I can't wait to read your revision. Happy Writing! - Stasia

    1. How frustrating to have to retype everything! Thank you so much for doing so - you've given me quite a bit to think about here! I feel pretty confident that it's a YA thriller (but I'm also trying not to fool myself). Like I mentioned to Christian who also mentioned dystopian, I envision a fictionalized Chicago with a fictionalized political climate. Essentially flash mob attacks dominated the city for ten years, and the Rejuvenation Project is a controversial attempt to revitalize the city. I like your suggestion to mention it's in a "gritty and terrifying near future" - that might work. Thank you for that! Thank you also for your suggestions on clarifying the setting and character. I like your suggestion of fitting into a strong sentence. All very good advice!! Hoping to jump into some of these fixes tonight!! Thank you Stasia!