Sunday, January 15, 2017

January Workshop Revision 1 -- Lee

Name: Betty Lee
Genre: Young Adult Speculative Fiction
Title: THE BOY WHO EATS SADNESS

Prologue

Dañel

You always remember your first, they say.

This is all I remember.

Waking up with the taste of coffin air in my mouth.

Hunger like a burning inside me.

I don’t brush my teeth, or clean up. I push my way out of Room 212, through this cut of dusty light. It’s the kind you notice because it’s full of things we don’t normally see with our eyes until the light is shifted just so.

Outside, this old lady is sitting by the pool, smoking. Most days, I would brush past her, and head off motel property, to meet one of my friends in town.

But that hunger, Cabron, that hunger was whispering to me. In my mother’s voice.

And that’s why I did it. Why I crossed the line and why that woman, smoking and crying, why she turned that chlorine pool all salt.

That’s all I remember. Not the taste. Not the comfort. Only my mother’s voice and salt water.

But yeah, of course, Cabron, you knew it would go down like this, didn’t you?

What you told me about husks in Room 212, I’ll tell you, it made a lot more sense the morning after. That old lady, she blew away like one of those old school cartoon desert tumbleweeds—and I started searching the motel for who’s next.
 

Chapter One

Roxy Noxy

I’m leaning against my hand-me-down Chevy Malibu station wagon’s back bumper, arms crossed, knees braced together. The smell of gasoline in my nose is some screwed up comfort, but it’s still comfort. And I need it today.

My dad clears his throat. I try hard to remember all the reasons this moment should feel so good.

Escape.

Anonymity.

Finally.

It’s a fact. High school goes down easy for some girls.

That first year I flew sort of under the radar like the other semi-outcasts. The other three, and I’m not exaggerating, were a bit like how I’d picture hell, if I believed in that crap.

Dad clears his throat again and I’m drawn out of my mind and back to the problem at hand. Getting my stuff to college all the way across the country. From Maine to Colorado.

“Looks pretty low to the ground. Don’t you think?” I ask, shifting my weight from the wagon so I can throw a sneakered foot on top of the hitch.

He grabs hold of my arm and pushes me up so I’m balanced on it. He says, “Jump,” and I do.

But I’m not sure why.

I guess this is growing up.

The station wagon’s orange, and old as dirt, but it’s the only car at our house that doesn’t break down. Even dad’s new-to-him truck has been in the shop twice since January. But really, the best thing about the station wagon isn’t that is still has a cassette player when everyone owns iPhones, it’s that it’s all mine. It used to be mom’s. The first thing she bought for herself after she left her parent’s house. The only thing, she says, she held onto from back then, other than me and dad.

Dad lets go of my arm, backs up onto our decidedly not-green lawn. “Looks okay to me.”

“You sure?”

He’s about to respond, his head tilted a little off to the left like he does when he’s thinking, when my mom, who is inside the house, in the kitchen probably, starts screaming.

My dad stops.

The world stops.

I choke mid-inhale, waiting, not sure what kind of scream this is. When the noise becomes clear, she’s screaming my name.

While we were fiddling with the U-Haul, mom was baking something she insisted I take when me and dad drive off in the morning.

Dad is about to offer to go inside on my behalf. I know he’ll offer. But he knows I’ll shrug it off.

I jut my chin at my four-year old sister Ori, who is playing on the lawn with an underinflated football. “Stay here,” I order her.

And dad says, “If it’s bad…”

I know what he means so I don’t waste my breath on a response. I run up the three concrete steps leading to the kitchen door, swing the screen open, and catch sight of my mom. She’s covered in blood.

Well, not covered. But there’s enough of the red stuff to turn my stomach.

Blood and me don’t get along. For reasons.

But mom needs my help. Not dad’s. Certainly not Ori’s. My help.

The kitchen is really where my mom’s at her best. Even now—screaming, bloody—this is better than the other options.

I step further into the kitchen. “What did you do?”

Sometimes her vision blurs. Sometimes her hand jerks, her muscles get weak. Sometimes she’s just tired out. Mom’s an ex-junkie and she’s reminded of that every day of her life. I am too.

“The knife… it slipped,” she says.

When I pull her hand close to take a look, I can see her index finger is cut open along the secondary fold line. And it looks deep. Maybe to the bone. I grab a dishtowel from the drawer, but mom says, “Not that one.” So I choose another. They’re all ragged and over-washed so I don’t get why she cares. But there’s no point in upsetting mom. She doesn’t handle stress well.

I take her hand in mine and put pressure on the wound. Her blood is mine, after all.

The first aid cabinet is well stocked with supplies.

 I’m trying to get the Band-Aid to hold the edges of the wound closed, when Ori, who doesn’t listen, who doesn’t get any of this, not at all, comes running into the kitchen, the football tucked under one arm. She has dirt smeared under her eyes like the Friday night Hamlin High footballers do.

Since she started doing this a few months ago, I haven’t had the heart to tell her they use this grease stuff, not actual dirt.

Both mom and I yell at the same time: “Stop.”

Ori freezes on the spot, like it’s some kind of weird game. But then her face slips. She starts to cry, tracks running through the dirt until she looks like we don’t bathe her.

I guess it sounds as if we’re mad at her. But we’re not.

Mom’s upset about all the blood. I’m only angry—and a bit nauseated—and taking it out on my kid sister like I might hate her.

When Ori was born, the only member of the Remy family who cried was Mom. But I think that’s because she refused painkillers, and not because she was so happy she was getting a chance to do this daughter thing again, and to do it right this time.

But that’s just me.

I used to think this anger would, I don’t know, fade. Instead, something inside me simmers, even now. Last summer I convinced myself it was a little devil, or The Devil himself, brewing inside of me. And I can’t tell you how much I liked thinking the anger didn’t really belong to me.

Blaming it on someone—something—else felt damn good.

I’m holding my mom’s hand too tight, listening to Ori cry. Mom’s whole body tightens, as if anger transfers from body to body easy as all that.

14 comments:

  1. Hey Betty,

    I'm excited to read what you've done! Again, I have to comment in two parts. Sorry.

    I'm not sure if you saw my comment on another entry or not, but it was about using a prologue. I don't mind them, but some agents and editors (and readers) despise them and will throw a fit, so using one is a risk.

    Now, on to what you've written.

    I'm not sure whether Dañel is a boy or a girl. I'm thinking girl, but I’m not %100 sure. When you use less common names or unique spellings of common names, it's a bit tricky. I think Cabron is a boy name, at least it feels more boy.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're writing a vampire/zombie story or something like that. That is the clue I'm picking up from the prologue. Coffin and insatiable hunger point more to vampire, but since your protag went outside in the daylight without any concerns, I'm not sure. Of course you could be creating your own world, and if you do that, you’re going to have to do a bit more explaining if you want to go against traditional character achetypes.

    I’m going to start getting a bit pickier. I want you to look at your sentence structure. Some need tightening, such as the sentence, "Outside, this old lady is sitting by the pool, smoking." When I say tighten, I’m talking about doing: "Outside, an old lady sits by the pool, smoking." It's a subtle change, but it reads smoother, and it's more immediate, more active.

    Then you talk about husks, and the I remember the title and I'm wondering if Dañel is a succubus. I think you’re trying to say the old woman was drained of moisture, that Dañel fed on her sadness (which would make Dañel a boy), and all the salt went into the pool (although I have no idea why that would be), and that’s why she became a husk (an empty body) and tumbled away. It’s just not clear what actually happened to her, so I’m forced to guess, which means I don’t have a picture in my head. I can’t visualize what’s happening, and that isn’t the best tactic to use at the very beginning of a story.

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    1. Hi Shea,

      Thanks a ton!

      It's hard to explain Dañel, and Dañel doesn't exactly know who he is either--at least not at this stage. But this is not a vampire, zombie, succubus narrative. Still, you are very right. I may have accidentally given the wrong signs with a few of my descriptions! Fixing them!

      And thank you for the comment about Ori. I need to make it clearer that while Roxy contracted HIV from her mom in utero, Ori did not. So the anger is something Roxy feels but shouldn't. I will try to complicate that briefly here in the opening. When I took out the HIV mentions from the top of the chapter, maybe the lead into the anger gets misplace.

      Thanks again!

      B

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  2. So, I’m guessing at who’s who and exactly what happened to the old woman. Just think long and hard about what you're trying to do. Sometimes, when you have a scene and the action is unclear, readers get frustrated and stop reading. Dañel knows who he is and what he’s doing, but he’s not being open about it with the reader.) Building tension isn't necessarily about withholding information. Sometimes it can be, but usually not at first. Tension is built by building a character the reader empathizes with and then dismantling their lives. Just food for thought.

    I love the last sentence. It shows there’s going to be a real problem ahead and a lot of dead bodies (I’m hoping).

    Good job on reorganizing Chapter one. It’s now clear who is who and we know why her mom is acting the way she is. I know it’s hard to refine your idea and keep your voice, but you did a great job.

    You don’t need to tell the reader her mom is “in the kitchen probably” because we’ll find out where she is as soon as Roxy enters the house. It’s about taking the reader on the journey with the character. The reader sees or understands things as soon as the character does. That’s why withholding information a character already knows (like what you did in your prologue) frustrates some readers. If you absolutely don’t want a reader to know something, then don’t go there. Don’t use a knowing character’s POV. To keep the reader in the dark, you have to keep your main character in the dark.

    During the cut finger scene, there is no conversation between her and her mother. It would be nice to know how their relationship works. Is Mom angry at her body for not working as well as it used to? Is she scared Roxy is leaving her? It sounds like she relies on Roxy a lot, so that would be a valid conversation to have, even if Roxy cuts her off with the proverbial “We’ve already talked about that, Mom. I’m leaving.”

    There were a few things I noticed in the first pass that I didn’t comment on because I wanted to see what you would do, and another of those is her anger toward Ori. I don’t see it. She yells at her to no come in the kitchen, but that’s not anger. That’s ordering her sister out, so I’m not sure anger fits. It would make more sense if her anger was directed at her mother. I’m not saying you can’t have it directed at Ori, only that I don’t see it so you’d have to build that into the scene more fully.

    Like I said, you did a great job. Now it’s time to hone what you’ve written. Good luck!

    Shea



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  3. Hi Betty. I like these beginning pages much better. Will this be a dual-POV novel alternating between Danel and Roxy? If so, I wonder if Danel's intro should be chapter one, making Roxy's chapter two. If it isn't dual-POV and the rest of the story is from Roxy's POV, then beginning with Danel might be confusing. I don't know what Cabron is (I googled it and saw that it's Spanish for "jackass") so maybe you can clarify that somehow within the narrative. I do agree with everyone Shea wrote, but I think all these things are easily fixable. Great job!

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    1. Hi Joe,

      Thanks!

      It's actually 3 POVs: Danel, Roxy Noxy, and Thomas. So I do like having at least two in the first five pages.

      And it's really hard to clarify who Cabron is, since no one knows. But it is clear it's a name right? when I use the capital C?

      In Spanish, cabron is a bit of a nasty term that does a lot of work in a sense. Sort of like how you can throw the f-bomb in anywhere in a sense.

      Thanks again!

      B

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  4. I like the tension in your first scene and I particularly like your first line. I felt like I wanted more clarity though. The “coffin air” comment made me think of vampires. More specifically It made me think he woke up in a coffin, so I didn’t know how room 212 fit into that. I think that he killed the old lady, but not sure how. I also would love to know how the hunger and killing tied into the mother’s voice.

    This scene would definitely keep me reading because of the tension, but I was bummed because the next scene switches to another character’s pov. (And this reaction really has me thinking because I changed my first scene to a short high, tension one that happens at a different point in time, though with the same character. So now I’m wondering what to do about that!)

    In the second scene, I feel like I know what’s going on better now. Roxy (this is the character’s name, right?) is moving cross-country to college. Cool! Off to college is full of story potential. And I have a better picture of the little sister with her age, and love that wants to play football, under-eye smudges and all!

    This part: “It’s a fact. High school goes down easy for some girls.

    That first year I flew sort of under the radar like the other semi-outcasts. The other three, and I’m not exaggerating, were a bit like how I’d picture hell, if I believed in that crap.”

    I’m not really feeling. And I wonder if you need it? The three words above it get the point across so much quicker and with more emotion.

    There are a couple places where the some of the internals slow things down. Such as:

    “He’s about to respond, his head tilted a little off to the left like he does when he’s thinking, when my mom, who is inside the house, in the kitchen probably, starts screaming.”

    If mom’s screaming, your character can start running and then tell us what direction she’s heading in on the way there while she’s panting for breath. I really like the two lines after this part. They get the emotion across effectively. (Okay – so maybe those two lines and then tell us what direction she’s running in!)

    This scene does make me wonder what everyone’s going to do next time the knife slips. After all, Roxy will be across the country at that point. Why can’t dad help? Is he thinking about the fact that he’s going to need to do this next time? Is Roxy thinking about it? And if dad can’t help, why can’t he at least manage the four-year-old?

    On the other hand, I’m not wondering about what happened when Ori was born. Could that wait until after the bleeding had stopped?

    Some really interesting action here! I’m looking forward to reading again next week!

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    1. Hi Rebecca,

      Thanks so much!

      You've given me a lot to think about.

      In my case, Dañel's POV sections are always short. Whereas the other two POV characters have longer, more developed chapters. So for me, Dañel is being Dañel.

      But I see your worry about your piece too!

      This is tough stuff!

      B

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  5. Hi Betty,

    I like starting with Dañel because it sets the tone for the story, whereas if we started with Roxy, I would think this were a contemporary coming-of-age novel akin to FANGIRL. However, I think you need to flesh out Dañel's chapter. Slow down. There's a lot of telling here, but I want to see what Dañel's doing. Personally, I would be much more invested if I knew exactly what kind of supernatural creature Dañel is. I don't need him to be labeled "vampire" or "succubus" or anything; I just want to see what he does and get a better sense of the world he inhabits. Does he live at this hotel? Are there a lot of people like him? Right now, it's incredibly vague, and the effect is that it comes off as a bit melodramatic. I think you could fix this by adding more details.

    The Roxy chapter reads smoother. The part that feels clunkiest to me here is the section immediately following her mother's scream. Roxy and her dad don't react immediately; if the scream is as terrible as you describe, they would drop everything and run right away--without exchanging words, I think.

    I get a good idea of the mom, but I would still like to get a better sense of Roxy's relationship with her parents.

    Thanks for sharing! I'm looking forward to reading the next round!

    Sam

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    1. Hi Sam,

      Thanks!

      Dañel doesn't really know what Dañel is! And he's quite a melodramatic guy! But, I get your point. You want more.

      Let's see what little thing I can come up with that might give you more without shifting who Dañel is.

      Merci!

      B

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    2. Oh and the screaming is just normal around their house. They don't react because it's nothing out of the ordinary. But I can try to make that clearer too.

      B

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  6. Wow. There are two POVs. Cool. That said, I'm not getting enough distinction between Danel and Roxy right now. They're both truculent, a little androgynous, a little hard to like. It's clear from the comments that you're planning on multiple POVs but this is all the more reason to make each essential--distinct. A few specific thoughts.
    1. Prologue. Some cool language (chlorine/salt) but if feels like writing--a little self-conscious--and doesn't pull me hard enough into the story. Even if Danel is an unlikeable character, I, the reader, need something to help me relate to him/her to make me keep reading.
    2. Roxy. Make sure Roxy stays in the center of the scene. We've got a lot of Mom info (cassette she kept, ex-junkie, history of her self-harm incidents, only family member who cried at Ori's birth, "sometimes her vision blurs" (how can Roxy know this?)) which distracts from Roxy herself, the character I think you mean for readers to follow.
    I know you're trying to make a lot of points with this blood scene but I wonder if it might be worth trying a draft which begins with a scene in which ROXY has actions and agency instead of more reacting to her bleeding mom, recognizing her dad's emotions, her sister's situation.
    In sum, this version is definitely better but the thing that most indicates to me that you have an opportunity to make it even stronger is your replies to other feedback. IF you have to explain something to those giving you feedback, it's an indication that what you intend to share with the reader isn't quite coming across on the page. This is SO USEFUL. I encourage you to work back through your ms and see if you can weave in action, more dialogue, etc., to answer these questions by SHOWING the reader, not explaining.
    Great work and good luck on your next revision :) - Stasia

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  7. Whoa... two POVs. No, wait it's actually three. Interesting. I'll start with Danel. Some of the language you use is intriguing enough to pull me in and make me question what's really going on. However, there'a also a vagueness to this POV that could endanger a reader from moving forward. I'd love a little more about this character by action and not so much inner thoughts or explanations. It doesn't have to be much. I need an ingredient (a characteristic) that draws me to Danel on a more personal level. It doesn't matter if it's positive or negative. Does that make sense? I do want to add that I agree with Sam's comment about starting with Danel. The first go-around I honestly thought this was a more contemporary tale. Starting with Danel makes all the difference. Just give the reader some sort of detail about Danel that they will relate to on a deeper level.

    I definitely get more voice from Roxy. Some snark and a nonchalant attitude. The beginning reads much clearer and I get a better view of Roxy. The middle part of this - when mom baking and such is mentioned - could be communicated to the reader through dialog between Dad and Roxy. And you could even add in a little personal action that helps describe Roxy. I'm also confused a little bit about Mom's initial screams and why Roxy and Dad seem to waver who should go check on her. If one of my family members started screaming in the house while I was outside I'd go running, no second thoughts about it. I can't put my finger on it, but it just feels like something is missing. I think S Kehoe made a great suggestion about trying a draft where Roxy acts more instead of reacting to everything around her. It doesn't mean you have to use it, but you might end up discovering something more about Roxy that you didn't know yet.

    Thank you for sharing this. Looking forward to your next revision.
    Sheri~

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