Sunday, July 2, 2017

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Choi

Name: Stacy Choi
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Title: Deity Girl

Shoulders hunching against the chilly fall breeze I rocked forward on the tree stump I’d been using for a chair, unfolded my legs, and dangled one foot to the ground for balance. Looking back toward town I stared down the abandoned road squinting into the distance, like that would give me super-sight.

Still nothing.

Slumping back onto the stump I flipped open the lid of Della’s Donuts balanced on my denim-lap and pulled out a plain glazed. My fourth donut of the morning because, why not? Despite an out of control sugar addiction, my figure hadn’t changed. Not since the first time I died.

Not changed much, anyhow.

Looking down at my old t-shirt, it puckered and pulled a little tight across the middle. Whatever. It would fit right soon enough. When I died again—and that’d probably be soon considering who I just robbed—I’d come back looking exactly like I did when I’d been a half-starved sixteen-year-old runaway with the worst haircut of my life.

I wasn’t undead or anything. I could be killed. I just didn’t stay dead. My fault, I’d done this to myself. Not on purpose of course.

Someone tricked me.

“Thunk!” My head snapped up at the sound. I caught sight of a fat acorn rolling from the hood of the buyer’s fancy pearl-colored Lexus sitting a few feet away, collecting leaves. I glared at the car through the thin film of magic rippling along the town border. Three hours and still not back. What could be taking so long?

Since cars didn’t work in Belleview, the buyer had left his outside of town and hoofed it to his early morning meeting with my business partner and BFF, Milt. The buyer should’ve been in and out of Belleview in an hour. Maybe less if he walked fast. An icy breeze pricked its way across my bare arms. Cold by Florida standards, normal for the magic-altered weather patterns of Belleview. Tucking my legs closer to my body, I folded them to sit cross-legged.

A full-body shiver shook me. “Don’t forget your jacket.” The last thing Milt said to me before he’d left this morning. Still half-asleep, twisted up in the sheets when he yelled through the door, of course I forgot my jacket.

 “Puh.” Forcing the annoyed puff of air out, I checked my watch again. I’d give the buyer five more minutes.

My hand dove back into the box, feeling for the soft brush of powdered sugar on fried dough. Fingers makingcontact I shoved number five into my mouth.

“Mel?”

Jaw freezing mid-chew, I turned toward the voice and slumped in relief. Just the buyer. I’d been so distracted I hadn’t heard him coming. A mistake that could have cost me big time.

Had it been Tomas, the Corpse Witch enforcer, chances were I’d probably already be dead.

These days, almost all the deals Milt and I made were accomplished by barter. But some things weren’t for trade and this job was just too good to turn down. So I’d climbed into a silo full of drying, sickle-shaped stalks and stuffed a duffel bag full of Reaper Weed.

 By now the Corpse Witches would have figured out they’d been robbed and since I’d tried to trade for the Reaper Weed first and they’d refused, the Corpsers would know I’d been the one to do it. Tomas would be out trying to track me down before I finished the sale. I needed to hurry this up.

My question came out with a mouthful of crumbs, “Payment made?”

“Yeah,” the man croaked, nerves clogging his throat.

Licking the powdered sugar from my fingertips, I extended my hand. Sugar-free fingers wiggling impatiently.

“Oh, sorry.” He fumbled a walkie-talkie from his jacket pocket and scooted close enough to hand it to me before scurrying away, putting distance back between us.

 Sweat plastered wispy strands of brown hair to an enormous forehead made worse by his receding hairline. The man’s body quaked beneath an expensive looking suit cut perfectly to his slightly thick-at-the-waist frame. Never having seen an expensive suit, I just assumed.

The guy acted twitchy. I didn’t blame him. He either had to have huge titanium balls or no brains to be here, a regular human and no way to protect himself, trying to steal from the Corpse Witches—witches whose magic dealt with the dead.

My money was on the no brains thing.

“Uh,” he stuttered, a question obviously on the tip of his tongue.

I arched a brow, “Yeah?”

What was this guy’s name again? Didn’t matter. I’d call him Twitchy. It fit and chances were I’d never see him again. Anything magic that left the Belleview boundaries became normal. Once he and whoever he worked for figured that out, I doubted they’d be back.

“There’s a… I mean, I think I saw a unicorn on the way here?” He formed his statement as a question.

“Yeah, probably.” I shrugged. “There’s a few around.”

No big deal to me. I’d been seeing horned horses since the Magic Turn. They’d been regular horses before that—maybe. Didn’t really know. I’d been passing through Belleview and had the unfortunate luck of being here when the magic hit.

Maybe more accurate to say Belleview had the bad luck. I mean, it was my fault the Turn happened. Well, mostly my fault. I still totally blamed the shopkeeper and her stupid box she’d tricked me into opening.

“Wow, okay.” Twitchy rubbed his arms. “Wow,” he said again. “And the man I saw in town?”

I rolled my eyes. Clearly not working with a genius here. “You kinda need to be more specific.”

“Right, sorry.” He gargled out a nervous laugh. “The one that’s half horse?”

“Yeah, him too.”

No wonder this guy took so long. He’d been sight-seeing.

On my time.

Twitchy narrowed his eyes and dared a step closer. Leaves crinkled beneath his loafers as he moved from the road to the grass. “I heard you were a zombie. You don’t look much like a zombie.”

“That’s because I’m not.” There wasn’t a word for what I was.

“So, what are you?” His unsettling pale blue eyes flicked from my crossed legs to the crown of my head and back.

“Not dead.” I gave him my best crazy girl grin.

Technically I had been dead a time or twenty, but I always came back. All because of the magic trapped inside Pandora’s Box that spilled out three years ago when I cracked the lid.

The magic Turned or killed everyone it touched. I’d been one of the ones to die but the only one that came back. Unfortunately.

“But I heard…”

Knowing Tomas could show up any minute I uncrossed my legs, leaning forward on the stump, and cut him off.  “Didn’t you know anything about this place before your boss sent you here?”

“Yeah, but come on. Who’s going to believe it without seeing it?”

I snorted. “Stupid people that come here and get themselves killed. Or worse, Turned.”

I mashed my finger into the little black button on the side of the walkie before Twitchy could ask anything else. “Milt?”

“Yo, yo, yo.” My partner’s voice came out of the plastic box. Milt loved to laugh, and he loved making others laugh with him. Everything I wasn’t. I figured that was why we made such a good team.

17 comments:

  1. Hi Stacy! Your MS has a lot of potential here. What really drew me in was finding out that the MC was resurrected...or, well, TURNED. That's cool.

    However, I don't think your opening sentence is the strongest. While it paints a nice picture, the writing is awkward. You tend to start a lot of sentences with a "Doing this I did something else simultaneously." I'm not sure of the technical name, actually. One, these could benefit from commas, and two, they're awkward.

    Belleview sounds like a really interesting place. I was confused at first with the sprinkling of detail here and there about what exactly this "sell" was about. Was it a drug deal? I think you did a good job of showing that this was a strange, magical part of the modern world.

    Your MC doesn't really sound like someone I'd like to have been friends with as a teenager, but she does have an interesting motivation, and her "Meh" attitude after having died and been resurrected a few times seems pretty real.

    Let me know if you want me to clarify anything or if you have questions. Good luck with revisions!

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    1. Thank you for the feedback, Adelle! I am in agreement about the opening paragraph. As of a couple weeks ago it actually started with the third paragraph (there is a cut and past error down the page where two paragraphs merged after I moved the current first paragraph - eek how did I miss that?!?). I moved it after reading/getting advice that the reader needs to be able to see the scene immediately ... but I think maybe keeping it at the bottom of the page is soon enough. :)

      Yes, commas are my nemesis...

      Ah, ha! The deal is what the first chapter is about and is revealed as the chapter goes on. :) It is indirectly setting everything that happens in the book in motion.

      And Mel would not be offended you did not want to be friends with her. She's had a very rough life and keeps everyone but her best friend at arms length. Of course, that will change! Slowly but surely.

      Thank you again for the comments. Looking forward to the continuing workshop!

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  3. Hi Stacy,

    I know we are supposed to do developmental edits – not line edits – but I think the first sentence can be an exception :-) I think you need a comma after breeze; it would work much better with a comma. There were several places where a comma would help with the flow (and were needed, from a grammatical sense).

    Opening scene: sitting on a stump, forest, outside of town, waiting for something – got it! Totally loving how you bring up the fact she’s dead right up and front in the second paragraph…dead and soon to be dead again. Hooks me right away with the simplicity of the narrative, too. And you inject a nice teen-agey voice, which is great.

    You introduce magic, then, and I read more slowly to make sure to absorb everything. I read that Lexus paragraph a couple of times to be sure. And yes, as a reader I would have read it more than once, too. The writing is clear…but I had a hard time placing the film of magic with respect to the speaker, the car, and the town. Is the MC outside of the film? Is the car? A little bit of clarity will help.

    Need a space between “making contact” when the MC reaches for another donut. Probably just a transcription thing to web.

    Corpse Witch enforcer – love! Grounds me a little more, too. I’m making assumptions now about the MC…dead, undead, corpse witch, etc. Trading in Reaper Weed? Sounds pretty cool. At this point I was trying to figure out the events that led the MC to this spot in time. Stole Reaper Weed from witches, witch enforcer would be soon on her tail, working with Milt to sell Reaper Weed to the buyer.

    Sentence starting with “sweat plastered” is wordy and I didn’t know who you were talking about, at first. A little bit of telling with “the guy acted twitchy.” Can you show how he fumbles with his phone, or keeps scratching his nose, playing with his collar, etc.?

    There’s one part where I think you can hold back a little information, because you already introduce quite a few concepts in these pages: “Well, mostly my fault. I still totally blamed the shopkeeper…” I think you can take out the “I still totally blamed…” sentence. It would be more compelling and you wouldn’t be asking the reader to absorb too much information in the first pages. Say it’s the MC’s fault and then leave it at that. Leave us wanting more.

    I hope this helps!
    Danielle

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    1. Thank you for the feedback, Danielle! Ha, I know there are some comma mishaps. There are portions of the first chapter I recently moved around (adding, rewording, and removing sections to make it work) that left pockets of the writing unpolished. Not to mention, commas and I seem to have a love-hate thing going on. :D

      In regards to the mention of the Lexus, this is a contemporary fantasy. It is set in a fictional small town in Florida, taking place in modern day.

      As far as your suggestion on holding back the info about the shopkeeper, the shopkeeper is actually Pandora and integral to the story. I tried to pepper it in and get Mel's feelings about Pandora out there, without actually dumping it all on the reader at once. It's something for me think about and I'll take a look at it.

      Thank you again for the feedback! Looking forward to the next few weeks.

      Stacy

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    2. Oh yes, I totally get that it's contemporary. That's really clear. It's just that when you are describing the magic film...I couldn't tell what the magic film was encasing (town, car, MC). Thanks!

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    3. Got it, thanks! It used to say "marking the town border." Looks like I might need to go back to that.

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    4. Funny, I've also got a lot of things that used to be in my MS, but a beta or CP at one point or another asked me to remove it, so I did...until someone else said "Oh this isn't clear so why not add abc." I like to think when you reach that point you are getting close to something readable?? LOL I don't know!

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    5. Haha, that is exactly what's going on! There are little tweaks I made (based on CP and beta comments) that are coming back to bite me in the butt.

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  4. Stacy Choi

    The voice of this is very strong and consistent, which offers us a lot in terms of the character and the world. I also like the way her explaining is consistently in her smart-ass voice. You use naming to your advantage too, Corpse Witch, Reaper Weed. We don’t exactly know what these are, but the names are such that we can make some informed guesses about what they might be. They’re strange but also familiar, which works well for you.

    One challenge you’ve created for yourself is the character seems to distance herself emotionally from the situation in this opening scene. She’s funny, which is great. But she also seems to have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. She doesn’t really care much about what’s going down. She doesn’t want to get caught stealing, but she doesn’t seem to be particularly worried, either. She doesn’t really care much about this encounter. The guy doesn’t matter to her. He’s not a risk to her, and she doesn’t seem to be a risk to him. This is a casual interaction. Sometimes such a set-up can be a tricky, because the character doesn’t have anything at stake, which also cues readers to care less about what’s going on. I wonder if we need some suggestion, however slight, that something does matter to her, that something in this situation might be at stake — something that might become the focus of the larger story.

    Like Danielle, I think you introduce a lot here, and you actually could strip out a bit, anything that isn’t really essential to the scene. Also, the voice you’ve chosen allows for a little explanation, because the narrator is treating the reader like an outsider to the situation, an outsider who needs a bit of guidance. So you could mostly keep the style as is, in terms of the tidbits of information, but then, during a waiting moment or a pause in the conversation essentially tell the reader something along the lines of: listen, here’s the deal with Belleview and how it all changed when I walked into that damn shop and the shopkeeper, Pandora but how was I to know, tricked me into opening that damn box. Since then… Just give the necessary facts in the voice so it’s clear in a succinct paragraph, and move on. You won’t have to say anything about it again, at least not in this brief scene. If you do this, you might find that the dialogue with this guy is a little thin, because much of what you have here is him asking questions the reader might have. So maybe the encounter should have more import? Maybe the guy shouldn’t be a stranger? Or he poses some kind of risk to her, or she does to him? Something that might relate to what becomes important to her in the story? If he or the situation mattered to her more, you might reveal a bit more of what this story is about, at its heart.

    One more thing you might consider — I don’t have strong picture of where they are. You could use some setting description to your advantage. Does the road to this magical place look like anywhere else? Is it deceptive until the magical film? Does this area look enticing, maybe deceptively so because it’s dangerous? Or sunny and innocuous? How might you use a little setting description to your advantage to reveal more about the world and/or this character? You cleverly reveal it’s Florida, but you don’t really bring us there with images.

    This was a fun read. Good luck.

    Laura

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  5. Laura, thank you for your suggestions. They were insightful and very helpful.

    I really appreciated the suggestion regarding her blase attitude. It's true, she doesn't care about the deal. She DOES care about Milt and that comes out big time in the first chapter. But, it did make me see that perhaps I need to move some hints about that closer to the beginning. I appreciate you pointing that out!

    Taking everyone's comments in and looking forward to tackling some revisions.

    Thanks!

    Stacy

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  6. Hi Stacy,

    You did a nice job of showing us the world of your story in these pages. The inclusion of details like the unicorns is helpful and interesting for the reader. There was also some great tension throughout with the threat of Tomas showing up, and I liked the sense that they’d been in conflict many times before.

    The first sentence was confusing; I had to read it two or three times to understand it. Generally a punchier first sentence is best; your sentences tend to include multiple clauses which can make them convoluted. I think that for a stronger opening you could even have begun with Mel flipping open the box of donuts and gone on from there. This would introduce her circumstances more immediately and help draw the reader in.

    I had some general questions that I think could be answered a bit more, even though this is early in the story. One was about the relationship between Mel and Milt. I’m assuming they’re both teenagers, but there’s no real indication of Milt’s age. It sounds like they live together from the part about forgetting the jacket, and I wondered if they’re roommates or maybe a couple.
    I was also curious about the Reaper Weed. What is it, where did it come from, why would someone want to buy it? Does it have a specific purpose or use, or is it valuable simply for having magical properties? Also, I wanted to know how easy it is to steal from the Witches. It sounded like no big deal to Mel, which made me think either it’s either very easy or she’s just the only one brave enough to do it. Knowing this could reveal something about her character.
    We get a lot of background about Mel’s circumstances, and how this all came to be the way it is. However, I wondered if Mel knows why she’s the only one who came back after releasing the magic. Was it because she was the one to open the box? Or does she not have any explanation, and if so does she wonder why this happened specifically to her?

    These pages raise a lot of interesting questions for the reader to continue on and discover answers to. With some tightening up this could be a really engaging opening!

    Alyssa

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    1. Hi, Alyssa!

      I agree completely about starting at the part where Mel flips open the box. That is in fact the beginning in the new revision! lol

      Most of your questions are answered before the first chapter is done. I did realize I cut exactly what the Reaper Weed is used for. I'm glad you asked and drew my attention to that!

      I appreciate the comments and look forward to the workshop!

      Stacy

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  7. Hi Stacy,

    Thanks for submitting your pages! I really enjoyed reading them -- I was drawn in right away. Your main character's voice is fantastic and I love her attitude. Your writing is really strong (a few rough spots to iron out, but we all have those). I also really like the premise of Belleview being a regular town that had "turned" with unpredictable consequences once Pandora's Box was opened.

    I have a few suggestions for the next round that I think will help make these pages even better.

    1) The problem with opening a book with someone waiting is that they're not really doing anything. Same goes for showing someone waking up or traveling in a car on the way to a destination. It's not that you can't ever do that -- but if you're going to, you want to grab your reader right away. To that end, I'd suggest you lop off the first few lines of your opening and start here: "I flipped open the lid of Della’s Donuts balanced on my denim-lap and pulled out a plain glazed. My fourth donut of the morning because, why not? Despite an out of control sugar addiction, my figure hadn’t changed. Not since the first time I died." That way, you've got your MC's voice shining through and you establish that she has a history of dying. In my opinion, this would make your first paragraph much grabbier.

    2) I'd like to see a little more description of Mel's surroundings. If she's inside the film, does she see a magical creature fly by? Or maybe something else that could only happen in Belleview? What do the trees look like? Were they turned as well? Was the acorn that fell on the Lexus dropped there by a bored, sentient tree? I think you could make your scene here a little richer by adding a few details of this sort.

    3) It sounds like this type of transaction is something Mel and Milt do a lot. But if the objects they sell lose their magical properties, wouldn't she have a ton of angry people outside the town who would be gunning for her? Yet, Mel tells us that "Anything magic that left the Belleview boundaries became normal. Once he and whoever he worked for figured that out, I doubted they’d be back." But wouldn't they come back thinking they had been scammed? It could be interesting to see Mel caught between the Corpsers and the normals both of whom want her dead (of course, maybe that's where you're going with this....). Anyway, it seems like a flaw in the logic to me as Mel states it. A minor thing, yes, but important to address if you want your characters to face the consequences for their actions.

    That pretty much sums up my thoughts on this round. Great stuff overall, Stacy! I can't wait to see your next pass!

    All best,
    Rob

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    1. Rob, thank you so much for your comments!

      I agree 100% on the opening and have already started it the story at that spot in the revisions.

      The town itself hasn't gone through any massive changes (landscape wise). That itself is something I have been trying to work into the scenery for revisions.

      Rob, your point about the Reaper Weed stunned me. How could that not have occurred to me? It was something that was important in the original intent of the story, but as stories do, it evolved and is no longer a factor. While brainstorming on changing or just removing, it dawned on me something I can add that brings a tiny bit of foreshadowing. I'm so excited to put that in! I love leaving breadcrumbs, dots to connect as the story progresses. So, thank you for pointing this out!

      Looking forward to the next couple weeks,
      Stacy

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  8. Stacy, I love fantasy elements that are coming into play here. There's so much you've drawn from and you've done a fantastic job weaving it in. I'm absolutely intrigued.

    Let's start with back story. I am sucked in with Mel's ability to die and come back again. I'd love to know more about what that is and where she goes. I suspect this information comes later in the story. That said, she indicates several times through exposition that this is ability she has. I'd mention it just once for that punch you're looking for, and move on. The reader is better left wondering what's next than to be reminded again.

    Speaking of exposition... you have a lot. This is where that whole saying of "show don't tell" would be especially effective for you. You've given us information about her past, about what's she's done (stealing), who's after her, and even what happened in the morning...but it's all her internal thoughts. I'd like to either see these things played out or brought into dialogue. Bring the reader into the experience rather then tell them about it.

    Mel's got a great voice. Almost like she doesn't give a crap what anyone thinks because frankly she has nothing to lose. Does she have any vulnerabilities? Some problem or issue that will later lead to her need to grow?

    Twitchy is pretty flat for me. I don't quite get him or his purpose. He's got a boss, is human, is there to buy some strange weed (by the way, I had a moment wondering if this was a drug deal going down, but wasn't sure). Other than that, I'm sure what his purpose is.

    Setting and descriptions are phenomenal. I can "see" your story so clearly with how you've written.

    Overall, great start. Can't wait to see your revision.

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  9. Wendy, thank you so much for the comments!

    You are absolutely correct that where she goes will come out later. For now, she has no idea and that itself is mentioned very soon. Of course, that all leads to a twist. :)

    I'm not surprised Twitchy is flat. Frankly, he's not important. The sale and its repercussions are, which is made evident before the end of chapter one. Do you think this is a problem? I thought about starting with the aftermath, but I fear that would be too confusing.

    The "I don't give a crap because I have nothing to lose" attitude is intentional for what happens at the end of chapter one. She does indeed have a vulnerability that comes into play then. You aren't the only to wonder about that and I've added a hint of it earlier. Hopefully it helps!

    I am working hard on those revisions and looking forward to the next stage of the workshop.

    Stacy

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