Sunday, July 10, 2016

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Stringfellow Rev 1

Name: Lisa Stringfellow
Genre: Middle grade fantasy
Title: Dark Tide

Chapter 1

Kela leaned forward slightly, working against the heavy tug of the bright yellow scuba tank.

“Are you ready?” her father asked, his strong, ebony hands testing the straps of her equipment.

“I think so, Pop.” Her voice carried more certainty than she felt.

“Just like old times then. Take your time and lean back when you’re ready. I’ll be right behind you.”

Her mask felt warm and familiar as she put it on and took a steadying breath. How can you be here without her? The little voice inside protested as it had this morning when she found Pop’s note asking her to come diving. It won’t be the same. But the gentle rock of the waves told her that she had made the right decision. She belonged in the water and staying away hadn’t made the memories or the hurt go away. Tucking her chin and holding onto her mask and regulator, she let the weight of the tank flip her backwards into the warm Caribbean.

Panic grabbed her at impact. Years of practice couldn’t stop the impulse of her arms and legs to fly out, to resist being swallowed. The dizzying somersault lasted only a moment but not the sensation of being dragged down. She willed herself to stay calm, not to fight. Second by second, her body relaxed into the sea’s embrace.

Fish darted like silver bullets through the mirror world beneath the surface. Fifty feet above her, the ceiling shimmered of glass and light, and she basked in the absence of sound. No splashing or shrill gull cries pierced this side of the water. Nothing intruded except what she brought with her: the movement of her body through the water, the rhythmic intake of her breathing, and the percussion of her heart.

An underwater forest pulsed in a kaleidoscope of color and texture. Reefs were a living boneyard; coral polyps wore their skeletons on the outside and built their homes on the backs of their ancestors. Her throat tightened at the beauty she had missed.

When she was three, Kela had learned to snorkel in the shallows and later helped her father during day trips with tourists. His patience and easy way made him a great dive instructor. Noting movement to her right, she saw him beckoning, trying to close the space between them. Even below the water, this seemed the way of things. She conceded this time and moved his way.

Her body remembered what to do, making a slight twist towards the sea floor. A jagged cluster of rocks jut from the reef, broken coral scattered. Earthquakes weren't uncommon in this part of the Caribbean and Kela remembered the strong tremors just last week. A rumble had rattled the windows and walls in the house and she had looked up in time to see the picture in freefall. With her arms around Kela and her broad smile frozen in time, the photo of her mother exploded in glass and wood as it hit the floor. Kela now looked at the sad shattered pieces of coral and she wished she could put them back together too. But you can’t, the little voice hissed.

Kela swam on.

She saw Pop point to his left. A spotted cleaner shrimp picked its way across the tentacles of an anemone, scavenging bits of food. Other citizens of the reef weaved in and out among the formations; flying gurnards with their large eyes and winglike fins, sandpapery filefish with neon scrawls across their flanks, and sharp angled jackfish prowling for prey.

Kela looked for shells. She always needed more for her jewelry-making but thinking about that broken picture frame increased the urgency she felt to find the one she wanted most. Normally reefs were a great place to search, predators casting the leftovers of their meals outside their holes, but not today.

Something needled at Kela’s attention. After a moment she realized a sound had penetrated the silence. It was barely audible, but she could definitely hear something. A faint warbling hum. Her eyes scanned the shadowy waters off the reef but she couldn’t tell from where it was coming. Or if it was even real. She looked at Pop. He swam just ahead and didn’t seem to notice anything strange.

Kela kicked away from the coral forest towards open sea. Safety required they stay within each other’s line of sight, but she thought she’d have more luck searching away from the reef. Careful to avoid stings from urchins or scorpion fish concealed in the sand, she searched the sea floor. A glint of blue finally caught her eye.

Her heart sank. It wasn’t a shell, only tinted sea glass with edges smoothed by the tide. Its translucent color made it a lucky find. Kela tucked it in her dive bag. She picked up a small brown shell and watched spindly legs and antenna pull back out of sight. She stroked its smoothness then gently put it back. She hated divers who killed creatures just for their shells. It meant there would be fewer for everyone to find in the future. A life should be worth more than a pretty trinket.

Kela’s head snapped up. The hum was back. The warbling sound thrummed louder and more insistently. Looking around, she noticed an angular shape in the sand a few feet ahead. It didn’t look like rocks or trash that had settled to bottom. It was small but definitely out of place.

She glanced to see where Pop was. He moved just beyond the rocks and broken coral. As she turned back to the shadowy shape, the water felt unnaturally cold. Her skin pricked underneath the neoprene wet suit as she kicked forward. Her hand floated undecided for seconds before finally pulling it from the coarse grit.

The hum stopped.

It was just a box. A little bigger than the size of her hand and completely battered. Nothing but barnacles and sea-worn wood, its hinges oozed a rusty red. A tiny keyhole stared from its center.

She turned it over in her hands and shook but nothing betrayed its contents.

Kela looked back over her shoulder and saw her father still exploring the reef, but getting closer. There were rules about what you could take during a dive and until now she had never questioned them. Shells were fine in this area, but this was different. She wondered if the earthquake had dislodged it from wherever it had been buried.

Small and crumbling, the box seemed harmless, but she knew there was more beneath the surface. It wanted to be found. Adrenaline pulsed as she hesitated then quickly shoved it into her bag.

A sudden pressure on her arm forced her to take a sharp intake of breath. It was Pop. He squeezed his hand into a fist next to his chest, his gesture indicating he was getting low on air. He then made a thumbs up. It was time to surface.

In matched strokes, they kicked up towards the boat. It didn’t bring her back, the nagging voice whispered. Kela tried to ignore it, but guilt still pinched. No matter how hard she wished, words could not be unsaid or choices taken back. As she followed Pop’s long shadow towards the bright ball of light above, she hoped she had made the right one this time.

Ophidia

The light faded as Ophidia plunged her arms into every murky corner, her tail fin thrashed in her search. 

14 comments:

  1. Lisa,

    I forgot to mention last time that I love your title! Your writing is phenomenal by the way. You have a clear talent for the craft. Your descriptions are strong, and you dialogue is authentic. I love your addition of the memory of the shattered photo of Kela’s mother as she looks at the shattered coral. You develop multiple story events with that. You do a good job with your foreshadowing.

    I am curious about Kela’s mother. I’ll tell you my thoughts and you can determine if that is what you want the reader to think at this point. I think Kela said or did something, on a dive possibly, that caused the death of her mother.

    I don’t have many suggestions. Your writing and story is tight and flows well. My wife is obsessed with Outlander, and I watched with her Saturday...the humming reminded me of the time-travelling stones in that book/show. I LOVE using a sensory device like that to convey a special power/ability/difference. I think it is subtle but effective. Nice work all around, and I’m sorry I don’t have critique advice for you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments, Dan! You know, her mother doesn't die in a diving accident (she dies in a car accident) but you're not the first person to suggest to me that I change that. I think it's a natural assumption. It would also make more sense that she would avoid diving so long, something she loves, it that were true. I need to think hard about that! It would some other details, but it might be worth it. Thanks!

      Delete
  2. Lisa,
    Your writing is so beautiful! This version really sucked me in. I really just wanted to keep reading, especially the part where the mermaid comes in! I love the way you describe the world under the sea, its very poetic and original.

    I loved that Kela could hear the hum but her father couldn't. That somehow made it more magical. That was a really good element to pull into the story.

    I also like how you pulled in the picture frame of the mother and compared it to the coral.

    I also really liked how when she dove into the water, she had a natural panic reaction and she had to tell herself to calm down. I would definitely have to do that if I were in Kela's position!

    The only things I have are really small.

    1. I wasn't sure what Kela needed the shell for. Was it to fix the frame? Or was it to make jewelry? Did she need a big shell or a small shell. This tripped me a little in the story because I wasn't sure why she needed it.

    2. The only other thing I had was this line: "Small and crumbling, the box seemed harmless, but she knew there was more beneath the surface. It wanted to be found." Something about it didn't seem true. Maybe because the hum wasn't for certain from the box. The hum stopped when Kela touched the box, but how could she know for sure that the box wanted to be found. What if she has some reaction to the box when she picks it up?

    I like the tension you build up with the box. It is makes the box seem much more important. Then Pop grabbing Kela's arm was a nice break to the tension.

    This is excellent and wonderful! Your writing is wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Christian. I was trying to add a touch of magic earlier, so I'm glad the hum worked for you. I actually found a lot of interesting information in my research about mysterious underwater sounds : )

      She is a shell collector for her jewelry work, and I wanted to introduce that earlier (currently it didn't come up until Ch. 3), but she is also looking for a particular color of shell that she connects with her mother. It does get explained later, but I will think about how I could give a little more information and at least connect it more explicitly to her mom.

      Thanks for the comments about the hum too. I will see how I could make that passage clearer. She has a definite reaction to what's IN the box later, so I only wanted to use the hum as almost a lure for her to find it. Your comments give me some good thoughts to focus on. Thanks again!

      Delete
  3. Lisa,

    This version was fantastic! I especially loved how you wrote the part with the earthquake, as that was one part that tripped me up last time. Now it all makes sense, and the connection to her mom in parallel makes perfect sense.

    You are so great at writing sensory language, and it really immersed me as I was reading. I am so curious to see how the Mermaid connects with the story, and wanted to keep reading chapter two!

    You even cleared up who "Pop" was right at the beginning and I thought that worked really well.

    The only thing I suppose could use some clarity is the following paragraph:

    Her mask felt warm and familiar as she put it on and took a steadying breath. How can you be here without her? The little voice inside protested as it had this morning when she found Pop’s note asking her to come diving. It won’t be the same. But the gentle rock of the waves told her that she had made the right decision. She belonged in the water and staying away hadn’t made the memories or the hurt go away.

    I am assuming that "her" refers to her mom. I would be interested to see if there's a way to connect that a little more clearly to her mom. Either a brief memory, or some reference to her.

    That's about all. Great work, it's amazing!

    Christian

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Christian! I definitely wanted to clarify what happened with the earthquake, so I'm glad that part was clearer.

      I understand what you mean about the paragraph describing her decision to come back to the sea. I did have a phrase in there about her mom and then I took it back out because I thought it was too soon and it would be clearer after the passage with the picture frame. As I think about Dan's assumption/suggestion that her mom died in a diving incident, I will see how I adjust that paragraph in the next round. Thanks so much for your help!

      Delete
  4. Lisa,

    This version was fantastic! I especially loved how you wrote the part with the earthquake, as that was one part that tripped me up last time. Now it all makes sense, and the connection to her mom in parallel makes perfect sense.

    You are so great at writing sensory language, and it really immersed me as I was reading. I am so curious to see how the Mermaid connects with the story, and wanted to keep reading chapter two!

    You even cleared up who "Pop" was right at the beginning and I thought that worked really well.

    The only thing I suppose could use some clarity is the following paragraph:

    Her mask felt warm and familiar as she put it on and took a steadying breath. How can you be here without her? The little voice inside protested as it had this morning when she found Pop’s note asking her to come diving. It won’t be the same. But the gentle rock of the waves told her that she had made the right decision. She belonged in the water and staying away hadn’t made the memories or the hurt go away.

    I am assuming that "her" refers to her mom. I would be interested to see if there's a way to connect that a little more clearly to her mom. Either a brief memory, or some reference to her.

    That's about all. Great work, it's amazing!

    Christian

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  5. Lisa,

    I was angry when this stopped! I wanted to keep reading! You’re a talented writer, and your revisions were very strong. I was immediately immersed in your world and your voice. Excellent work.

    I’m going to comment chronologically as I got back through your first 5 pgs.

    1. Your first pg is perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing. I love where you start. I love the hint that diving won’t bring someone back. I love that she panics at first falling into the water. Your changes to the paragraph “Fish darted like silver bullets” were perfect. Every line pops.

    2. I had a tiny hitch somewhere in the next few paragraphs as I was trying to picture what she was doing. The setting is just lovely. But I wonder if you can add a line between the paragraphs “Fish darted…” and “An underwater forest…” to ground me in what’s happening to her. (This might just be me because I’m not a diver – if so, feel free to disregard!). Is she free falling? Does she flip and start kicking along the ocean floor? A few paragraphs later you have “Her body remembered what to do, making a slight twist towards the sea floor.” So I imagine she’s free falling to the bottom? It wouldn’t take much at all to help me visualize where she is in response to her surroundings.

    3. Love the clarification about the earthquake and the reference to the mom’s picture crashing. LOVE the reference to wanting to put the shattered pieces of coral together too. Brilliant!

    4. LOVE the slow build up of tension with the hum, finding the box, hinting there’s some magical element to it, and the her dad grabs her arm. Again, brilliant!

    5. The only other hiccup I had was the sea glass. She’s looking for a shell when a glint of blue catches her eye. Then you say her “heart sank” indicating disappointment, but then in the next sentence you say it was a lucky find. I was a little confused there.

    That’s it! Again – I was angry when I didn’t get to read more about the mermaid, but I think you did a phenomenal job of slowing down your initial scene and really sucking me into the story. I’m excited to read your premise next week and learn more about your story!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kimberly,

      Thanks so much for your comments this week. I agree that some grounding when she enters the water to what she is doing would be good. I do just focus on her observations, so I will work on that.

      Someone else recently mentioned that same passage about the sea glass and I will work on that too. Certain colors of sea glass are rare, so that was what I intended to imply, but with her search, I think I definitely confused the readers. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Again, thank you for all of your help this month. I really appreciate the feedback!

      Delete
  6. Lisa, I love the revisions you've made this week. Your pages were already very good, but now they're even better. They just flow. Really good work. I love the inclusion of the broken picture, and the mysterious hum.

    This is really nit-picky but with the earthquake, would there be clouds of settlement when the rocks move? If so, I wonder if that movement, those clouds of disturbed settlement, might help give that moment more movement and create a better visual in the reader's mind.

    Consider swapping the order of these two sentences: "It was barely audible, but she could definitely hear something. A faint warbling hum." And I would change "something" to "it". It changes the flow of that paragraph just slightly.

    How does she know the box wants to be found? I like the reference back to the earthquake, that it may have brought the box to the surface. But the idea of the box wanting to be found feels like it needs another line of explanation to give it substance. Is this something in her imagination, or something she feels like a force outside of herself? Is it a supernatural moment or her just trying to justify taking this thing that doesn't belong to her?

    As she and her dad are kicking toward the surface, I wonder if Kela might think about how she didn't find that shell she was looking for, which would make her think of her sister. That line about guilt and her sister at the end still feels a little out of left field to me, like it needs a little more grounding. Why would the act of going to the surface make her think of her sister, other than that she used to scuba with them? To me it feels like the remembrance needs to be tied to something that either just happened or that she just thought about.

    While I love this revision, I'm sad that it caused us to not see more of the second chapter! Ah well. I'm sure the work you're doing there is equally as good.

    Great work this week. Looking forward to next week's version.

    Amy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Amy,

      Thanks so much for your feedback! I'm glad the earthquake revisions worked for you. I do understand what you're saying about clouds settling but since it happened a week earlier, I might need to research what effects she might notice. I could definitely add details to her experience of feeling the tremors at home and seeing the picture of her mother fall.

      Your comment about the box wanting to be found is great and someone else pointed out the same thing to me recently. I think I can communicate that she felt drawn to it without using those words. I also appreciate your comment about her not feeling enough guilt about her mother at the end and I know I still need to work on that and hint at what she feels guilt about. Thank you again for all of your help this month!

      Delete
  7. Lisa, wow! This is a fabulous revision. I am just mad I didn’t get to keep reading!

    Your writing is absolutely beautiful. I love the word choice, the imagery, and her interior thoughts. I also love the reference to her mom, and the comparison between the frame and the coral, which was lovely. Well done!

    A few nit-picky things – although I love the hum that only she can hear, which lets us know there is some magic at play, and she is special, the reference to the box wanting to be found took me out of the story. I didn’t feel the foundation for that. Personally, I don’t think you need it – the hum and the cold water is enough, I think, but if you want to include that you need to have it tug at her more to make it work.

    Also, is it okay or not to take the box? You say there are rules, but you don’t tell us what they are. Spell that out a bit more. And if she can’t take it, why doesn’t Pop react when he sees her with it? The sequence seems as if he would – she puts it in the bag and then she feels the pressure of his touch.

    Regarding the seaglass, I’d smooth that out a bit too. It wasn’t what she was looking for, but it still was beautiful, and a lucky find.

    In the last paragraph the nagging voice tripped me up. I think because we just had this magical moment, I wondered what voice, and who she was – and then I realized it was the voice in her head talking about her mother. I would suggest revising that for clarification.

    Good luck revising - I'm looking forward to reading next week!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Erin,

      Thanks so much for your comments this week! I'm glad the changes seem to work. I appreciate your comment about the box and why she felt it "wanted to be found." Kimberly noticed the same oddness to that and someone else commented about that to me recently too.

      I also appreciate your questions about the rules for collecting when diving. I was working on a later chapter this week where that is made explicit and it makes sense that I need to drop a little more of that information. It is important because it becomes a source of conflict later, so I will work on that.

      I commented to someone else that the blue sea glass being a lucky find was meant to be a reference to its rarity. I realize I need to either be more specific about that or take it out since it is confusing. I will also think about ways to clarify the ending and the voice returning.

      Thanks so much for all of your help and feedback!

      Delete