Sunday, July 9, 2017

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Yeung Rev 1

Name: Adelle Yeung
Genre: YA historical urban fantasy
Title: The House with Two Faces

Polino specialized in bringing his headless dove back to life.

In the center of Union Square, the teenage magician raised his innocent bird’s head for all to see. The small crowd gasped and cracked uncertain smiles. Some even huddled to shield each other from the chill of the fog, or perhaps to offer comfort after witnessing needless slaughter. Polino’s grin meant to assure them that he had everything under control. Anyone could harm a helpless animal, but only a magnificent magician could reverse the damage.

Polino waved a red silk handkerchief over Merlin’s head and the wooden box containing the rest of the ring-necked dove. With one last dramatic flourish, Polino swept the handkerchief away and revealed the unharmed Merlin, his gray wings spread as if to say, “Ta-dah!

The onlookers erupted into applause. Women in cloche hats sighed with relief and delight. Men in fedoras and bowlers nodded at Polino as they dropped spare change in the magician’s newsboy cap. Polino beamed and bowed at the passersby, noticing again that the only one who didn’t clap or tip was the pretty woman in the periwinkle coat.

Every day for the past week, she had watched Polino from beginning to end, wearing a perpetually pleasant smile. It wasn’t a condescending one, nor was it overly amused. It was knowing.

After all, she was the only one in the audience who knew Polino’s greatest illusion: he was actually a girl.

Even when Polino performed as plain Paula Mendez, the woman had distracted male audience members with her heart-shaped alabaster face, rose-kissed cheeks, and striking blue eyes that matched her coat. Unlike many modern ladies, who wore their hair short and stuffed into berets or cloches, this woman’s sleek black hair flowed freely down her back. The last few times they spoke, Paula had noticed something uncanny about the way her head moved, as if her shoulders had a mind of their own.

As the crowd trickled away, the woman approached. Paula clenched her teeth to suppress a groan, knowing what the woman would say before parting her luscious lips.

“Master Mortison is holding auditions right now. You can still make it on time.” Her voice was melodic and syrupy sweet, and it would have worked magic on the men who stared at her, but Paula did not share their desires.

Maintaining her boyish tone, but straining politeness, Paula said, “Thank you for the reminder.”

She would have liked to say, “Beat it!” but Paula didn’t want to shoot her career in the foot. Infamy spread through the streets like San Francisco fog.

Paula secured Merlin into his brass traveling cage, packed her props, and stuffed the coins from her hat into her jacket pockets. She wiggled the newsboy cap over her dark hair and said, “Best of luck on your own auditions, Miss.” She clasped her trunk shut. Its wheels crunched against damp gravel as she left her post at the Dewey Monument.

“It is wasted potential, girlie.”

Paula forced a smile and dropped her masculine voice. Polino had left his stage, so Paula needn’t prolong the act. “I appreciate your advice. I do. But I will not settle for a lesser position simply so I can perform in a ritzy theater.”

“Under Master Mortison’s employment, you won’t have to worry about scrounging enough coins to pay next month’s rent.”

“Go razz some other gal, why don’t you?” Shaking her head, Paula started down Geary Street.

For the past few days, the woman had notified Paula of Master Mortison’s open casting call for a new lovely assistant. Two blocks south of Union Square, on Ellis Street, the glamorous, glittering lights of the Cort Theater illuminated the weekly show posters of the handsome magician.

Paula refused to audition as Master Mortison’s next nameless assistant. She had more pride than to stand on stage as living furniture.

Paula’s pockets jingled as she rolled her trunk down Geary. The weight of the coins stretched her jacket. It was more than she earned when she performed as a girl, and Paula knew she could pay December’s rent on time.

Nearing her apartment on the corner of Geary and Leavenworth, Paula’s shoulders sagged. She could already hear the croak of Mister O’Brien, her landlord. The old grump didn’t have the heart to evict her, despite his nagging to pay rent on time. Paula usually ignored him until she could slip him enough loose change.

“Miss Mendez!” his voice graveled from beyond the shadows of the front desk. “Hard at work, I hear.” He meant the clinking of her pockets.

“I already paid you off last Tuesday,” Paula said.

“Well, good afternoon to you too.”

With Merlin’s cage underarm, Paula clunked her trunk up the dark staircase, recalling the prior Tuesday. She had dressed as a girl that day, to celebrate the first time women all over the country could vote, even though Paula was three years from the age of majority.

Still, on her eighteenth birthday, Paula had filed for emancipation from her foster mother, Margaret Sullivan. Paula bore no resentment for the woman who had raised her since she was four, but Mama Sully struggled with Paula’s nine foster siblings, and Paula figured that making any money at all—no matter how much she struggled—meant she could sign her own lease.

Paula didn’t consider the tiny, dim apartment a real home, but it was somewhere she could sleep and eat, and Merlin didn’t complain about the tight quarters or the lingering odor of laundry that had never dried properly. Paula released Merlin from his traveling cage and spread seed for him over the kitchen’s folding table. She emptied her pockets into a ceramic container with the rest of her money and grinned at the small heap of tarnished, linty coins.

She started undressing on the way to her wardrobe, longing for the release of an unbound chest. The long strip of tight cloth unraveled from her flattened breasts, and Paula slouched forth with a sigh as the last inch curled into a roll.

As she hung up her clothes, Paula considered her closing act. Reattaching Merlin’s head was becoming her signature illusion, but Polino wasn’t a one-trick pony.

Paula’s best acts featured Merlin the dove as her assistant. Whenever he was visible, Paula ensured he had a task, like pulling a handkerchief from her pocket or choosing a member from the crowd. He had no reason to complain he was a mere prop. He also couldn’t talk.

Before she managed to pull a nightgown over her head, Paula jumped at the sound of her front door opening and stumbled against her wardrobe. She hastened to cover herself properly and twirled to face the door. Merlin flew to her head. Paula grabbed the nearest weapon—a black umbrella—and thrust it forth like a rapier.

Beneath dusty incandescent light, the woman in the periwinkle coat stood in the doorway. Although she whimpered, her porcelain face stared at Paula, with that eerie, pleasant smile. She scrawled on a note against the door, and Paula then realized her head was twisted backwards.

Paula shrieked and stumbled, crashing onto the floor. She harpooned the umbrella, but it fell flat, and she frantically kicked herself toward her bed. The head of the black-haired woman slipped away from the rest of her body.

She had two faces.


  1. Hi Adelle! The tweaks were well done. The bit about the woman having seen Polino perform as Paula brought a lot of clarification.

    The bird head (shocking!) made me think Paula is really doing magic! Great intrigue. I also love the line you added/changed - "infamy spreads like San Francisco fog."

    One thing that left me with a question is when you mention that the previous Tuesday Paula dressed like a girl. I found myself wondering if she dresses like a boy when she isn't practicing magic and if so, why? Or did you just mean that she performed as Paula?

    The changes to the ending were wonderful. I really felt Paula's surprise and fear. Great job!

    1. Thanks Stacy! I figured since everyone thought it was Union Square in NYC, I should clarify it's actually SF :D

      As for Paula dressing like a girl on Election Day, she normally wears men's clothes 'cause she thinks they're more comfortable, but her hat, voice, and mannerisms transform her into Polino. She has ONE feminine wintertime outfit, and even that has pants, haha. That outfit is mentioned in the next chapter, but does her dressing in men's clothes normally need explaining in the pages...?

    2. Hey Adelle! I think you did a fantastic job of making it clear it's SF. I loved the line so much I went back to see what you replaced, thinking there was no way that line was in there before and I missed it haha.

      For ME, I'd want to know that about Paula somehow. Not a huge exposition, but some nugget so I'm not left wondering why it was such a big deal she would be dressed like a girl. I find your explanation very interesting! Though, I do question how she was so relieved to get OUT of her boy getup (bound chest) when she gets home then. I'm assuming she normally just wears the clothes but doesn't try to actually disguise herself?

      Completely subjective! Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions (or if this isn't completely clear - working on my first cup of coffee and my brain isn't full functioning, lol)

    3. The girl does have bras, ahaha, and though I don't know what bras were like back then, I imagine they wouldn't have been as uncomfortable as binding your chest. (Also, what woman can't relate to the relief of freeing the girls after a long day's work? :'D) I touch more on her wardrobe choices in the upcoming chapters, but I'll see if I can squeeze in a tidbit somewhere in these pages.

      Hope your coffee kicked in >:D Thanks Stacy!


  2. Dear Adelle,

    I like how you’ve fleshed out some of the scenes here. Right from the start, you bring us more thoroughly into the story. The transition from Polino to Paula also is more clearly demarcated, which provides nice clarity. You’ve clarified her goal, too, though I do wonder what her plan IS. To continue as is? To make her name on the street, so she can have her own show? Yet as a young man or as a young woman? She clearly understands that she makes more money performing as a young man, so does she mean to form a career that way? I don’t think she necessarily needs to have everything worked out. And pride is an important, a vital, motivation. Yet usually when we reject something, it isn’t only for a negative reason. We tend to have a better option or a plan to work toward a better option. I wonder if even one line or phrase would clarify this.

    Some smaller things -

    In the second paragraph, I was confused. I didn’t at first think Polino was holding up only a head, separated from a body, but instead was raising the head in preparation to remove it. We don’t discover where the body is for several lines. Why make us wait and wonder? The point of the paragraph is Polino’s confidence. You might also strip out “witnessing needless slaughter.” Slaughter is a strong word, and distracts.

    In terms of the woman, I’m still confused as to why this woman knows Polino is actually Paulina. Polino keeps up his act around onlookers. Initially, wasn’t that what the woman was, an onlooker? Wouldn’t Polino had to have dropped his/her guard to reveal her true identity? Why do that with this woman? I’m pushing at the logic here.

    I know another reader mentioned the descriptions of the woman’s beauty. Something’s been tugging at me about this. Do we describe lips as luscious if we ourselves don’t want to taste the lusciousness? Also I think the description is a missed opportunity in terms of conveying Paulina’s sense of her own womanhood. Does she wish she could dress in such a way, turn heads in the same way? Or is this kind of beauty something she disparages? She wants to be accepted for her abilities, not because she looks good in a dress?

    When we reach the paragraph “Paula secured Merlin into his brass traveling cage…” I was confused again. In the earlier draft, I had assumed this woman worked for Master Mortison already and was trying to help him find the perfect assistant. Now we discover she instead intends to audition herself. So she’s encouraging a competitor to audition for the same slot she wants? I understand you’re aiming for mystery, but this doesn’t seem logical. Wouldn’t Paulina find it odd?

    As Paulina heads off to her apartment, maybe you want to give a suggestion that the woman is secretly trailing her? Otherwise, why would she know where Paula lives? Stalking, too, could add tension as you provide so much backstory.

    When the woman surprises Paula in her room, I think you could take more time with that description. I wasn’t quite certain what you meant by scrawling a note. She was going to leave a note? Why not simply try to speak again to Paula in person? And the head slipped away from the rest of her body? Do you mean her face slid down, revealing another face? Or does she have a face on the front and a face from the back? I like the line “She had two faces.”

    Nice work on these revision.

    1. Thanks Laura! In the second paragraph, Merlin's head is already cut off. I'll add some clarification there.

      The woman knows that Polino is Paula because she's seen her perform before she donned the "Polino" persona. She's only been performing as Polino for about a week.

      I'm going to change the luscious lips and the line about her wishing the woman good luck on her audition. Originally, I wanted Paula to assume that she was just a nice lady passing on the info about something she might be interested in, just like we pass on info about this first five pages workshop and Pitch Wars ;) but a lot of people are confused, so I'll change that line.

      HOW the woman's head slips away from the rest of her body is explained further beyond these 1250 words. It's also why Paula doesn't feel anyone's trailing her until she breaks into her apartment. I absolutely see the benefits of raising tension, but it would be out of character for the woman to let Paula know that she's stalking her until the last minute.

      Thanks for your feedback!

    2. Hey there Adelle -

      To clarify, I don't think the woman would let her know. I think you could create an increased sense of tension with a touch of suspicion from Paula, even a tiny one, that something's a bit off. She's a girl living on her own in tough circumstances. She'd have radar for this. Another option would be to provide, when the woman shows up, a thought from Paula like, how the hell did the woman find her? Otherwise, she appears and her appearance is shocking but Paula isn't asking the question that the reader will be wondering.

      Again to clarify, I don't need explanation about the head here. I need description. I was having trouble visualizing what Paula was actually seeing before her.

      Keep up the hard work!

    3. Got it, thanks for the clarification!

  3. Hi Adelle,

    Your new opening line is killer! Suggest the following tweak in the second line for clarity and punch: “In the center of Union Square, the teenaged magician raised his bird’s severed head for all to see.”

    Everything else in the opening scene is better put together. WE are in-scene showing typical, daily life for Polino. All good. I love how you introduced the pretty woman – I might try to do something similar with my hooded stranger.

    I think a word is missing after Polino, I added a suggestion, here: “Every day for the past week, she had watched Polino’s act from beginning to end, wearing a perpetually pleasant smile.” This bit and the following sentence comes off as a bit telly.

    When I started this paragraph, ”Even when Polino performed as plain Paula Mendez, the woman had distracted male audience members with her heart-shaped alabaster face…” I thought you were talking about Paula (dangling modifier), and not the woman from the previous paragraph. You may want to rephrase to make this clearer.

    I’m from NY, so I immediately assumed this was NY when you said Union Square. I’m glad you spelled out that it is San Francisco. You also add a lot of detail with street names. I’m not sure if that is as important as giving us a sense of the *tone* of the city. You mentioned chilly fog. Are her fingers numb? Can she see where she’s going? Does she wish she owned a thicker coat? Is Merlin shivering in his cage?

    The transition between Polino and Paula is much better. I also get a better idea of why Paula won’t be Mortison’s assistant.

    I love the quick action when the front door opens, Merlin flying to her head, grabbing the nearest weapon, etc. Short, quick sentences work here. The pace is good.

    Now, the woman having two faces is very cool and it makes sense in terms of why Paula would think the woman’s head is twisted backwards. But the head slipping away from the rest of her body threw me because I couldn’t get a good visual. Did her head actually come off – in a way similar to Merlin’s head coming off in her trick?

    I think to kick this up a notch you should add more of Paula’s feelings. How does she feel about performing stunning the audience and earning their money? Does she feel excited? Yes! This trick is awesome and works every time. Or does she feel a little guilty? Man, these guys are idiots to believe I could really reattach a bird’s head, and now I’m taking more of their money. And more importantly, how does she feel about this woman stalking her show? We are given the reasons for turning her down, but how does Paula feel? Does she feel regret? I wish I could take your offer to make more money and afford a decent meal, but I couldn’t debase myself (you touch on this later, a little but it’s presented more as a reason instead of delving into Paula’s feelings). Or does she feel frightened? Why is this woman always following me around? I see her everywhere. Does she want something else from me? Of course, lots of opportunity to inject crazy, fearful feelings when the woman shows up (her breath hitched, Paula tensed, etc.). It doesn’t need to be a lot – and she does shriek - just something a little more to pull us closer to her feelings.

    There were some grammatical/sentence structure items that I would have changed, but I realize we aren’t focusing on line edits in these rounds.

    I hope this helps!

    1. Thanks Danielle :) With additional details, y'all won't see how I've fixed the head slipping away, oh noooo...!

    2. Yup, I know that! I added the music element to Jamie's fight scene...but you don't see it now because of the other things I added earlier on.

    3. 1250 words is rough! I guess the point being if they are good enough, we'll want to keep reading and get to those scenes. Which I totally would with both of your stories. :)

  4. Great work, Adelle! Love how you made the bit in her room more immediate and went deeper into the scene. Could use a little more emotion at the beginning during her performance. Like, how does she feel at seeing the woman? Maybe she can have a thought about her. How does she feel about the woman being there yet again and pestering her. Is she annoyed? Angry? She groans when the woman heads over to her, but nothing really when she spots her at first. How does she feel performing in front of a crowd? Does her palms sweat? Is this magic or a trick? Does she worry she might fail? She seems confident in the performance. Why? How does the woman know she's Paula? Can we have a hint here? Did she run into her changing? It may be that these questions will be answered as the story unfolds, but it shouldn't be too far from the opening pages. And I’m confused. Is the woman also auditioning to be an assistant? Why does Paula tell the woman good luck in her own audition? Is she assuming this or had the woman told her she was also auditioning? Maybe Paula just tells the woman “Good Day, Miss,” or something like that? I think it would add suspense if you give Paula a sense that someone is following her and have a reaction to that. It would set up the reader for when the woman shows up in Paula’s apartment. Be careful of alliterations such as "magnificent magician" maybe use something like "skilled magician.” I am so nitpicking here, Adelle, so do only what you feel is right for your story. I'm loving the changes so far!

    1. Thanks! I'm having a really hard time balancing adding emotion while showing HOW the woman knew Paula was a girl without making it sound jagged and jarring D:

  5. How does Polino feel after the crowd gasps? Does he feel pride or is he grateful it even worked. Some emotion and internalization just sprinkled in will help us connect more immediately.

    Again, how does he feel when he gets applause?

    I'd use contractions throughout. It'll make your writing read smoother.

    I'd eliminate repeated words like newsboy. We already know what the cap looks like, so don't waste the extra word. (Being really nitpicky here, since this is such a good piece already.)

    I feel like this line is redundant: For the past few days, the woman had notified Paula of Master Mortison’s open casting call for a new lovely assistant.

    And I think that after this line we could use some emotion. How does she feel about this guy? Jealous, disdainful?: Two blocks south of Union Square, on Ellis Street, the glamorous, glittering lights of the Cort Theater illuminated the weekly show posters of the handsome magician.

    Again, this is redundant but could be part of the emotion if you tweaked it a bit. Paula's pride in the art of magic wouldn't be shamed by becoming a nameless assistant that stood on stage like living furniture.

    This last part is so cool! I love that it's part of the first five pages, because what a hook! It is a little confusing, but nothing a little tweak won't fix. Just suggestions:

    Beneath dusty, incandescent light, the woman in the periwinkle coat stood in the doorway. {She whimpered as} her porcelain face stared at Paula, with that eerie, pleasant smile{, not looking at her hands as she scrawled a note against the door{.}
    Her head was twisted backwards.

    Paula shrieked and stumbled, crashing onto the floor. She harpooned the umbrella, but it fell flat, and she frantically kicked herself toward her bed. The woman's head rolled away from the rest of her body.

    What a cool beginning. I love it!

    1. Thanks Heather! I'll try to implement as much as I can. Love that last suggestion there.

  6. Hi Adelle,

    Nice work on this revision. I especially like that you got to the mysterious woman showing up at the apartment more quickly. I honestly don’t remember what else was between Paula getting back home and the woman showing up in the first submission, which tells me that cutting it was the right move.

    I liked getting to see more of the woman at the end, but this part was also confusing to read. I didn’t understand what the note on the door was—why was she bothering to leave a note if she was there in front of Paula? I think the image of a woman with two faces is creepy and it’s a neat idea, but I was also bemused by that. It sounded like her head was twisted around on her neck the way owls can move their heads, but then because of the two faces line I wondered if Paula was just seeing the second face on the back of her head. You could clear this up with a detail like Paula being faced with the back of the woman’s coat yet still seeing her face (meaning the head wouldn't literally be backwards). I also wasn’t sure about the last line; the image I got was the woman’s head just falling off of her body which confused me. Maybe “slipped away” isn’t the most appropriate phrasing here, depending on what you’re trying to say.

    Besides those points of confusion, I think this is a strong revision. I look forward to reading your final one next week.