Monday, March 20, 2017

1st 5 Pages March Workshop- Taylor Rev 2

Name: Kathi Morrison-Taylor
Genre: MG, Magical Realism


Eleven-year-old Kimberley Adams and her grandfather plan for him to contact her after death. Their logistics still unclear, he suddenly dies. Desperate, Kimberley steals his ashes, unlocking a parallel reality, and her inconsolable double.

1st Five Pages:

To be or not to be?

“To be.”  Kimberley Adams made her decision.

She snatched the compact, brick of ashes from the vanity table and ran.

She ran from her great aunt’s attic apartment through the old wedding cake house, jumping down the steep stairs two at a time. Sweat rose on her face to mix with her recent tears. 

“Hey?!”  Her cousin Gerson called out as Kimberley burst into the parlor and wove through a group of lingering guests. “What’s going on? Is it another bat?” 

Part of Kimberley wanted to stop and answer, but not her eleven-year old legs racing forward, dragging her out the front door. 

“This is what teleporting must feel like,” thought Kimberley, “when my cells start swirling over my head, or my soul takes flight out of my body, or I’m scrambling back into another shape like  a swarm of bees or a school of fish.” Hold on to the ashes! she told herself, pressing the hard plastic box against her heart, /Don’t let go of Abu.
She leaned downhill toward the silver glint of the river, the manicured yard whooshing past. No,not exactly teleporting, more like the Great Glass Elevator when it burst out of the top of Wonka’s factory, but no walls to protect Kimberley. More like a rabbit hole, only she wasn’t chasing a rabbit.  She had fled, fled from her great aunt, Tia Tatiana. She had stolen her grandfather’s ashes. 

* * * * *
Abu wouldn’t like this. 

“Use your words!” Abu had always said when she was little and the world felt impossible. “Use your words, Kimberley, don’t cry.” Abu loved words. That’s why he’d become a literature professor. Mama said that when Kimberley was a toddler, sometimes, when she couldn’t stop crying, they would call Abu and he’d used words, reading to her, soothing her with stories.

“What could I tell him?” Kimberley asked herself, “I tried to use words, but they didn’t work. And then what?”

It’s a bad idea to sit around and wait for things to happen. Yes, that was true.

Kimberley was sure of that. She’d learned from reading Hamlet: the last thing she and Abu had read together. Hamlet had waited around too long and at the end of his story almost everyone dies. 

Had it been only three weeks since they’d finished the play, two weeks since Abu flew back here to Connecticut for Gerson’s 8th grade graduation, one week since the text to Mama about the hospital, three days since…?

She’d tried to use her words.  

Tia Tati, I want Abu to stay close to us.

She’d closed her eyes and tried some words in the car on the way back from the funeral, fighting to ignore Gerson sitting next to her snapping his silly spearmint gum.

I want Abu to be in Los Angeles with me and Mama and Dad like always. Don’t take his ashes to Puerto Rico.

She’d also rehearsed in the receiving line on the front lawn, in front of the prickly rosebushes. But she had been too distracted.  Tia Tati, Abu’s big sister, stood at the end of the line, her black leather tote bag clutched under her left arm with the straps over her bony shoulder. The plastic urn of Abu’s ashes had to be inside. 

I need to be near Abu always. He promised me...He promised me …

Tia Tati’s right hand held her flowered cane, which she kept braced in the soft lawn as friends hugged her, condolences. She didn’t have free arms to hug them back. Instead she learned in and air-kissed both cheeks.

Soon the receiving line migrated to the porch, and Tia Tati went inside and started up the stairs. Tia Tati and Abu had lived in this very same house when they were kids, and Tia Tati still lived there, in the attic apartment waiting for space aliens.

Kimberley didn’t follow right away. Gerson had nicknamed Tia Tati la tortuga, for good reason, plus Kimberley couldn’t decide what Tia Tati would think if she told about Abu’s promise, his plan to make contact from the undiscovered county. 

No, that was her and Abu’s secret.

When she was ready with her words, she climbed the stairs. 

The first attic room, a narrow sitting room, held a mirrored vanity on one wall and shelves with a radio, knicknacks and music CDs on the other. 

In the center of the vanity, a picture frame was propped against the plastic urn. It looked exactly as Kimberley had imagined it. It did not fit in. Portable, but fake; no real effort had been made to allow it to pass as real stone or clay. Someone could carry it in a purse or a laptop case. It could pass as a block in a child’s bedroom. It could rest under a trellis in a community garden during a heavy spring rain. It could prop a door open or hold a stack of papers down. But clearly it was out of place propping up a photo of young Abu on Tia Tati’s doily-trimmed vanity.

She reached out her hand and grasped the brick. Was this really all that was left of her Abu? She studied the picture in its frame. He had been a handsome boy, kind of skinny, with dark eyebrows and a familiar face. In the photo he sits on a riverbank, wearing a black jacket and bow tie. He holds a book, front cover pressed against his chest. He could have been thirteen or even older. 

Kimberley started to lift the brick of ashes, but the photo jiggled, and she set it down again. Under her thumb was a white paper sticker marked “Human remains.”

She let go and stepped away.  

“Tia Tati?” 

Kimberley pulled back the curtain of beads that acted as a second front door in the attic rooms. Her old aunt perched on the edge of her flowery sofa filing her nails. She wore a green shiny robe styled like a kimono over her black funeral dress. Her hair was still pinned back tight, but the bun had unwound into a gray ponytail. 

“Please, Tia Tati!” Kimberley marched across the room. “Please don’t take my Abu back to Puerto Rico.”

Pobrecita” answered the old lady in a soft, sing-song voice, “my little brother loved you very much. Sin duda.”

“Then, please, don’t take him,” Kimberley begged.

“Some day she will understand,” said Titi, hand raised to the sky. “He is going home, cariƱa. Going back to our enchanted island.”

Kimberley wished she knew the words to say that would make Tia Tati understand her doubt, but something hard was caught in her throat and she knew the tears were coming next. 

Tia Tati was using words too, and she had years more experience using words.

“You are Puerto Rican, and I am Puerto Rican, and Abu was Puerto Rican. We, our family, the island is our home, nada mas importa. It is all that matters.”

Tia Tati’s words jumbled up and argued like angry cats in Kimberley’s head.

The room spun with Kimberley’s frustration. She still held the Denmark-mermaid spoon in her pocket from the night that Abu died. She pressed its tip into her thumb to feel its dull pinch.  That night. That terrible night with the bat in the guest room. She wished she could see the bat’s face again, like it had been at the guest room screen, winking.


  1. Hi Kathi

    First, I just want to say that it’s been a pleasure being on this workshop with you. I have valued your feedback and hope that mine has been constructive too.

    Now, to business:

    Pitch: Hmmm, it seems more a 35-word log line. I’d have loved you to have used more of the 200-word limit to give me a better sense of your story. I’m still not sure of the genre: to me, it’s blurring the lines between paranormal and magical realism.

    Pages: Wow! So I guess you decided to start Undiscovered Country in a whole different place, eh? It certainly has its merits, but for me, the problem is that you have to fill in a whole lot of back story. Your timeline is skipping backwards and forwards, and I think this could be confusing for an MG reader, especially at the beginning of the book.

    I notice you use Kimberley’s thoughts to fill in a lot of back story. I find it inconsistent between thoughts in quote marks (as though she’s speaking her thoughts aloud – which feels inauthentic), internal monologue that is narrated with ‘she thought’ tags, and occasional deep narrative POV. The problem with having to fill the reader in on so much back story so quickly, in order to make sense of the present, is that there’s a lot of telling, rather than showing.

    Having said that, your prose is really lovely. I particularly love the description of Tia Tati in the funeral line and the bedroom. You’re a great observer of little details. And I really like the thread of finding/using/losing words that you’ve woven throughout these pages.

    The dramatically different start has thrown me a little. I’m not convinced that stealing the funeral urn is the right place to begin your story, but I think it could be a great plotline in your narrative.

    Best of luck with the book.


    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement and careful readings, Caroline. The comments from you and others in the workshop this month have made a real difference for UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY. I feel energized again, excited to continue revising the story.

  2. Hi Kathi!

    It's been a pleasure working with you in this workshop. I think your entry went through the most changes with each revision, and that's both incredible and brave. I also think you're getting much closer after every iteration.

    First, the pitch, I agree with Caroline. You have a lot of space left and I'd love to hear more about this parallel reality. Just to clarify: is Abu's ghost no longer appearing in the story? If his ghost is still a core presence, then I recommend mentioning him in the query. The appearance of the ghost sounds like a great catalyst, perhaps a direct result when Kimberley steals her grandfather's ashes.

    As for the pages, I first want to say this: finding the right place to begin your story is one of the most difficult decisions to make as a writer. Most writers have to experiment a bit, writing and rewriting to make sure they're not starting too soon or too late. I thought the previous drafts was a case of starting too soon and this may be a case of too late. If you're scrambling to fill in a lot of backstory, then that's usually a sign of too late ;)

    There was a mention of a bat, however. Perhaps this bat is the place to start the story? It sounds like a perfect catalyst scene, especially if it's tied with Abu's death...

    I hope this helps, Kathi, and I wish you all the luck!

    1. Thanks, Silvia! Your comments and suggestions have been very helpful. Yep, this opening is still a work in progress. I may look back to the bat incident, which was an original opening chapter a couple of drafts ago.

      Abu's ghost is part of this story, but he appears as a child who takes the ashes that Kimberley stole in this opening. He bargains with her asking her to get him a book he wants that is in Tia Tati's attic with the promise that he will then give back the ashes. Kimberley doesn't understand he is a ghost until just before the climax.

      I will miss this workshop!

  3. Hi Kathi,
    I agree with the above that the pitch could use some fleshing out. I wonder if it might be helpful to explain WHY Kimberley and Abu are making this unusual plan? Is he sick? Also, "logistics still unclear" feels a bit generic. While not essential, incorporating a bit of the voice or a feel for your storytelling style into the pitch is often a good idea. I wonder if you could be more specific, e.g., "Kimberley has promised she will (hold a talisman/say some chant?) but their plan hasn't gotten any farther." Something that gives us a little more meat of your specific story.
    W/r/t the start, I feel like you're getting closer. Maybe the bit under the *** ("Abu wouldn't like this" is a powerful first line) would feel strong, and then just drop the ash-stealing scene below it, so you're in chronological order. I also agree with the above notes about making sure to clean up loose ends and explain things like "bat" and "spoon" when you try a restart from a later scene. Altogether, though, I'd say you've really stretched yourself as a writer and are moving this story in a great direction.
    Congratulations on some terrific work! - Stasia

    1. Thanks so much for pushing me this month, Stasia. Your suggestions and observations have let me take a step back and try some new approaches. I will keep going!

      I like the idea of moving the opening of this draft and letting the chapter unfold chronologically, but it's also quite possible that the story of the bat does start the story. In the earliest version the bat in the guest room was chapter one. I think, reviewing what I've learned this month, I should also try to rewrite that first chapter with direct action. I pop around in time too much! Ugh! Bad habit.

      Anyway, thanks to these exchanges I feel more confident of strategies I can use to improve and refocus the story.

      I really have appreciated your help!:)


  4. There were many good things about the first two versions but there is something I prefer about this new start. There are some great descriptive details and some very interesting elements of the story.

    The first part worked for me, though there were some things here that made me stumble as I read. The action as she runs away and her thoughts about teleporting are leaving me a bit confused. I’m thinking she is actually being physically transported somewhere by a supernatural force, yet in the end of that section she simply says she was fleeing from her aunt and stole the ashes. If it ended with her ‘landing’ and seeing some otherworld, then I get that she actually went somewhere. Otherwise, it seems that she is just running away and having some inner thought about teleportation.

    When you get to the part part when she says “ Tia Tati, I want Abu to stay close to us,” the time line begins to jump around and it is not always clear if what is being said is in flashback or the present. Overall, I was very interested in all this and found some excellent passages but the jumps kept pulling me away from the core of what was happening.

    The last thing is just a small detail but it is something I ended up fixating on: the urn. Generally, I picture an urn as being vase-like, so when you initially say “brick of ashes’ it doesn’t sound right. Then it is just ‘plastic urn’ and then plastic block. I checked out some urn images and did find some boxes that seem like they would fit with what you have in mind. Perhaps a ‘plastic rectangular box’ would be what you envision here?

    I think you have some really interesting ideas and some excellent descriptive writing. Putting it all together is not easy but you seem on your way.

    Thank you for all the great feedback. I hope mine helps you some.


  5. My first reaction reading this was 'wow." These scene shows your writing, your character's voice AND your world off to much better effect. Also your willingness to rework and rethink in service of the story says a lot about you as a writer. It also made me REALLY want to read the book, even more than before.

    Well done!

    As much as I LOVE the way you started this time, I agree with others that you may want to start with the stuff after the jump and move the actual theft of the ashes so it reads chronologically. This will help keep your reader fixed in the story so they don't have to sort flashback from present. Also, if I haven't already recommended it, reading out loud is a great way to catch any awkward or rough spots in your writing.

    Now about the query/pitch!

    You definitly could expand on this, but I think some of the bones are there. A good query tells us 1) who the main character is, 2) what they want more than anything, and 3) what is standing in their way.

    Given that, I'd definitly expand just a little bit on Kimberly and her relationship with her grandfather. (It wouldn't take much, maybe a sentence or two.) You have number 2 down, she wants to contact him after he dies and doesn't know how. So the last question is how does this parallel reality affect her ability to do that? Or does it change what she wants, and now she has a mess to clean up? Connecting the events of the story to your character's desires will help you find the heart of your pitch.

    Good luck on your great story!

  6. Kathi,

    Wow. That beginning. Out of everyone here watching you work and revise from the first version to this shows a lot of growth. This is by far my favorite version. However, I have to agree with others that switching around the order with the ashes with the second part may be in order. However, your intro this time around was really powerful and it sucked me in very fast and I was actually sad you stopped it where you did. Also using quotations with thoughts, unless talking aloud to themselves, is the only really jarring part of this to me.

    The relationship with her Grandfather needs to be a bit more elaborated but I love the details in this version you've put into place. You really set a scene.

    The pitch: I'm sure you're tired of seeing this but honestly I thought this was a twitter pitch! It would work for that type of situation. It also reminds me of the elevator pitch ideas. I will echo everyone and elaborate more!

    It's been great growing and revising with you! I wish you all the luck with your project!

  7. Dear Kathi,

    Thank you for the opportunity to critique your great prose! It sounds like Kimberly is a sweet girl and a protagonist to root for. I can already tell that this book will have a whole lot of heart.

    To begin, I think you should be a bit clearer in your pitch. Why does she need to steal his ashes? What are the “logistics” at hand? Besides their love for one another, why is it imperative for the two of them to continue communication after Abu’s death? Can you elaborate more on their relationship?

    I loved your description of "what teleporting must feel like" -- it immediately conveyed Kimberley’s strong imagination to me. However, this chunk of thinking felt a bit too long, and I’m wondering if you can integrate this beautiful writing into the narration instead.

    Also, it wasn’t entirely clear to me at first that the first part came after the second part. Perhaps it has to do with the website’s formatting, but I had to go back and reread in order to understand the linear framing. Would it be possible to write a more linear timeframe, so as not to confuse the reader?

    I didn’t quite understand the “waiting for space aliens” line – was that a joke, or is Tia Tati somewhat detached from reality?

    And while I LOVED that part about how the urn could pass for a block or a doorstop, I was bit confused because I always thought that urns looked more like vases, which is how urns, at least in film and TV, are typically presented. Can you clarify here? Meanwhile, that “human remains” piece of writing was dark and very cool. I love how she immediately moved away from the ashes after reading that.

    This piece of dialogue was wonderful: “You are Puerto Rican, and I am Puerto Rican, and Abu was Puerto Rican. We, our family, the island is our home, nada mas importa. It is all that matters.” As the daughter of immigrants, you really pulled at my heartstrings here.

    I hope these notes are helpful! Best of luck with the rest of your writing. Thank you again for the chance to critique.