Saturday, November 4, 2017

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Sorensen

Steph Sorensen
Young Adult Contemporary


They were through the skinny forest and out the lake side before the boys remembered to feel scared of creepers and spider-baby eggs that day. That was the last day. The last day for freedom and the day Colt died the first time.

JoJo and Colt knew going in what they were giving up. Dinner, for sure, and any hope of tv the whole rest of the week. And what they had coming for it- pinches on the backs of their thighs right above where the cutoffs hit, and Mom’d prolly use her nails too. Maybe even wrung wrists if they didn’t play their sorrys just right. For sure for Colt anyway because he was older and in charge.

Summer just had that pull though. Or the lake did, anyway. Colt guessed it was the combination of the two. Sitting in the back of the house sweating in the sunroom that didn’t get any sun when there were leaves on the trees to block it out, but that baked the room good anyway. Picking bald spots in the Astroturf flooring and waiting for a breeze to blow through, but it didn’t come. Only those little annoying gnats through the holes in the window screens. He could just see the flicker of the sun off the lake through all the trees like it was sending signals. Come on boys, it would whisper in its watery voice made of light. Come swim.

The brothers resisted as long as they could and then went like they were hypnotized, consequences be damned. Mom said she was just running out for a pack of cigarettes and two cokes, they wouldn’t even have to split. But they knew she’d be gone an hour at least, doing whatever she was actually doing and not saying. It was fifty-fifty if she’d even remember the Cokes, so it wasn’t a tough call giving them up too.

The first splash in was always a shock and JoJo and Colt both made the same sound, like oh! Like their bodies were remembering cold after so much heat. And then under, and the muffled crunching that splashes make in underwater ears. It’s a shock that made Colt’s whole body clench up, but the release that came after was worth it. Better to get it over with all at once anyway. JoJo usually took it slow, but Colt was never one to wade in. The lake got fed by underwater springs so it stayed cold all summer. Except the surface, black water heated by the sun.

Colt had only just broken back through the warmed skin of the water when he felt it coming on. It wasn’t fair, but there it was. Some of them came on slow, but not usually. And not that one. He tried to head back toward the shoreline. Colt wasn’t too far out, his toes could just touch the muck on the bottom of the lake. And he made it a few strides closer before his muscles tensed up and his eyes rolled back and he was gone. Before he blinked out he searched for JoJo. In that last second he could accomplish a lot, even if he couldn’t really do much of anything about it. Colt curled his tongue back behind his teeth, that was habit by then. And he tried to spot JoJo while his eyeballs slid up inside his skull. He couldn’t catch sight of his brother, but he saw some splashing off the side, and that would have to do. The last thing he felt was the coolness of water on the back of his neck as he slipped under.

It always started with a feeling of falling. A lot of the time he was actually falling, although if he got the feeling early enough he had time to lie down, and that saved some bruises later on. The falling sensation was like when you’re walking down stairs and miss a step. You get that panicked confused feeling because your mind expects there to be a surface but all your foot finds is empty air, and then your body starts to drop. So it was a feeling like that, and he was falling, but his brain was made of taffy and was hooked to something up above him and it stretched and pulled until it snapped, and after that he just wasn’t there. He knew what happened. His whole body tensed up, his back arched sickly, he shook and drooled and sometimes moaned a little. Mom took a video on her phone when she was around while it happened. Colt hated seeing it, his body totally out of his control like that. Inside his head it was just a blank, like when you doze off sitting up, and you don’t remember being asleep but you know it’s later than it was so something must’ve happened.

At least, up until that day that’s how it was. But he’d never seized up in the water before. He’d never died during one before. Colt’s best guess was that the dying’s what did it, switched something on inside him that he wasn’t supposed to be able to see.

It was like watching a slide show in school. Murky, dirty images flickering past, some holding, others just a flash and then gone. A field of brown and yellow grass. A falling-down wooden barn. Mom on a sofa with her shirt off, he wished he could look away but it was out of his control. A man on top of her, shaggy brown hair and a naked belly hanging over the top of his jeans. Colt couldn’t see his face, but he had his hands around Mom’s throat. And then a girl. She was blurry and yellow-green and came with a feeling like a pulling from his chest in her direction.

And that was it. When he came back around it was with a screeching headache in a hospital bed.


Another August, another wedding. Peach was supposed to be with her sisters helping Celia ready herself mind body spirit but found she was more distracted by concerns of the flesh. Those concerns being in this instance the scratchy yellowing lace of her dress and the flesh referring uncouthly to her armpits. She had blossomed quite a bit since last summer’s wedding, and all that blossoming was causing her dress to pull uncomfortably across her chest and under her arms. Not to mention it was just too hot for a wedding day.

“Peach! Come away from there and help with this braid,” her sister Ella called, making little effort to hide her annoyance.

Peach sighed and forced herself to leave the window. The breeze was hot too but at least the air was moving over there. As she approached the tall, swiveling chair where Celia was being made ready, Peach made an attempt to smile at her new sister. Celia looked so young and small amid the lacy poofs at her shoulders and hips. Or where the hips would be in a few years.

Ella shoved an unraveling braid into Peach’s hands, eliciting a small yelp of pain from Celia. “It’s an in-between year for you, Peach. You should be helping the ceremonial girls get ready, not daydreaming in the corner. Why am I always stuck making sure nothing’s missed?”

Peach understood Ella’s irritation. It was her receiving year, after all. And Ella’s own hair was still tied messily atop her head.


  1. Steph--
    You have a really great voice here. I really feel like I'm in the moment with these characters. You add a lot of sensory details that help ground me to what's going on, which is also nice. I can feel the sticky heat just as Colt does and the sensation of breaking the surface of the water as he jumps in. You also describe his episode nicely and the helplessness he feels. It sets up a nice conflict and makes the reader want to learn more about him and how his condition will shape the rest of the story. I also really feel for these boys. It doesn't seem like their mom provides much of a home life for them. I feel like I've been reading a lot of books with this theme. I wonder what it is that makes it resonate with so many of us.

    Thanks for the read. Looking forward to seeing where you take it!

  2. Hi Steph, Thanks so much for participating in the workshop! I enjoyed your pages. I was definitely drawn in by the voice. I love the way you talk about the lake – esp. “…watery voice made of light…” Eerie and beautiful.

    The first sentence is a little clunky to me. I’m not sure it’s the best way to start. It also doesn’t have a YA feel, at least not until we get further into the story. I think you’re going for a poor backwoods aesthetic here, but it’s hard to read at times – have you read it out loud at all? There are some run-on sentences, maybe you have them in there for voice, but it didn’t work for me. Using vernacular like “prolly” also took me out of the story.

    The beginning feels more third omniscient than close third – if you want to be in Colt’s head, then we need to be there. (this happens in the later paragraphs and works well) The third paragraph is also a little clunky/confusing to me – although, again, I love the way you talk about the lake. It’s atmospheric.

    I’m not getting a sense of Colt's age or why he is not allowed to go to the lake. Would losing TV be that much of a punishment for a teenager nowadays? They seem skewed young. This also feels like it could be set in a different time period at first - so when the mother uses her phone to take a video of Colt – that took me out of the story. Is the video necessary? Or is there any way you can bring modern references to the beginning? Maybe the kids can’t play video games? Or they'll get their phones taken away? Or the mother vapes instead of going for cigarettes? That would make it feel slightly more modern.

    It’s not clear to me why Colt has seizures. Is this something that happens to him because of an illness? (it seems odd that his mother would take a video of him having one) Or is it something otherworldly? Or is it just because he dies in the lake that he starts having a vision?

    The part where he has the vision of his mother is creepy. I might be alone in this, so take from it what you will --- It’s a powerful image and it immediately got my attention in a way the other paragraphs didn’t. (the writing here feels more immediate as well –which works nicely) At the same time – the image is disturbing because it’s both violent and sexual. For me it crossed the “is this a YA or Adult” line. If this were an adult book it wouldn’t have stopped me, but you might consider toning it down for YA. Does the mother have to be topless? (no teen wants the image of a naked parent – I know he acknowledges that, but still…the reader can’t unsee it either.) Is there any other way we could see her being threatened – a different image? Would it be enough for him to just see the girl? Again, if this is something you feel strongly about keeping as is, as the author, go with your gut.

    There’s only a little bit to Peach’s section, but it is intriguing, and I’d be interested to read on and see how (or if) these two stories are interwoven.


  3. Hi Steph,
    I really enjoyed many of the details you included from the punishment mom would dole out at the beginning to the impact of the water both initially and during the seizure. If you wanted it to be more active, I wonder if the boys might be discussing the danger of leaving while mom's on the errand, the bit about the cokes, etc. Just an idea, so disregard at will, I just kept wanting to hear their voices interact.
    I love how the narrative voice shifts in Peach's section. "Concerns of the flesh" made me think she was lusting after someone, so I expected something different than scratchy lace-- not sure if that was intended or not. The dialogue sets up Peach's world and expectations though, and would definitely keep me reading to see how these stories fit together. That "in-between year" made me wonder if she gets married every other year? Or if there are other duties every other year? Interesting world and much different than the boys' world so far.
    Look forward to reading the revision and learning more about these characters!

  4. Hey Steph, first I am definitely intrigued by the two character's POVs and what ultimately connects them. I feel like you've done a good job of setting up the tone: eery and and air of mystery surrounding the story.
    I was a little confused by Colt's mention of dying for the first time. Does it happen again? Is he able to come back to life? I also wasn't sure about the seizures and if he only has access to this ability when he has the seizures.
    I also felt like even though these seem like younger boys (age needs to be made a little more explicit), it sounded more adult than YA.
    I look forward to reading your rewrite next week!

  5. Hi Steph!

    This was very intriguing—you did an excellent job setting the scene and there’s some fantastic imagery here. I loved the paragraph starting with “The first splash in…”, especially “the muffled crunching that splashes make in underwater ears.” Such a beautiful and apt description!

    The opening paragraph tripped me up, though. I didn’t get how “creepers and spider-baby eggs” related to what came afterward. “The day Colt died for the first time” is a good hook, but I think this could be set up in a different way. Colt’s section jumps around a lot, and smoothing it out by anchoring it in a particular moment from the beginning would probably help the reader ease into the story better. There’s no dialogue in this section—maybe you could add some banter between the brothers and work in some details through that about their relationship with their mother.

    I was nervous for Colt as the seizure hit him while he was in the water (yikes!). Is this why the brothers aren’t allowed to swim in the lake? Not sure that the paragraph about what the seizures feel like fits where it is currently—it felt a bit distant and pulled me out of the moment. You might consider moving this closer to the beginning (but shortening it a little; there’s some repetition that could be trimmed) so that we know about Colt’s seizures before this one hits, building up the anticipation to make us even more worried for him.

    Colt’s vision was gritty and disturbing, and did feel a little more adult than YA to me too. It did make me curious about where the story was headed, though.

    The Peach section also had some intriguing tidbits. Is Celia younger than Peach? Where are we, and when? It felt very old-fashioned, with the scratchy lace and the use of words like “uncouthly.” I don’t know what is meant by “in-between year” or “receiving year,” but I’m curious!

    I think that you have built a really unique setting here. It feels quite different from much contemporary YA (almost wondering if it has some fantasy/magical realism elements… at least it felt that way to me). I’m also curious how the different POVs come together. Looking forward to reading your revision!

  6. Thanks for submitting! There's a lot of great imagery here. The voice is good, though I was unsure if this was historical until we got to a mention of phone and video. You can definitely go for a slower rural vibe, but add in more context of the modern day. Or more modern language for the characters if technology doesn't fit the scene.

    I love the line about Colt dying for the first time. It's a great hook. The beginning lines leading up to read a little uneven, a bit wordy. Scaling back a bit would help, and also, I would suggest a closer point of view for storytelling. The story begins with the header Colt, but much of the first scene is told in a distant, almost omniscient voice, where multiple characters' feelings and actions are described as if by a storyteller rather than the character himself. This, plus the questionable timeframe, makes this read younger than YA, more like a middle grade or chapter book. That's not bad or wrong, but knowing your core readership is really key in a packed YA market (middle grade actually has a lot of opportunity! So if you go that route, you would likely age the characters down to early teens). The Peach section shows more of a closer point of view.

    Some examples of the distant POV:
    JoJo and Colt knew going in...
    The brothers resisted as long as they could...
    The first splash in was always a shock and JoJo and Colt both made the same sound, like oh! Like their bodies were remembering cold after so much heat.

    Whereas later paragraphs more closely connect what Colt himself is feeling and seeing, rather than collectively referring to the brothers or multiple characters and their feelings. Part of what makes YA so addictive to readers is that close point of view where you are right there with the character. You can definitely do this using third person. Sometimes it helps to write a scene in first person and then switch back to third.

    I admittedly probably read into the died for the first time line as more of a fantasy element. When Colt was having the seizure, I assumed this was an out of body type incident or some magical ability he has (forgetting this was labeled contemporary). I only bring this up so that your readers won't be misled into the type of story. The dying for the first time line is so good, but what follows doesn't give much context to what that means. If it's more figurative than literal, perhaps more on that to flow from the first line.

    I would have liked a little more context about Peach and Celia - receiving year, in between year. I wondered if it was related to cotillion or debutantes since it said it was ceremonial, or it could be church. For context maybe use a more general word in there to hint at what these terms relate to.

    It seems like there's a great story in here. I think focusing on more specific point of view, establishing setting/timeframe, and a little more context for the seizures and dying for the first time can really shape this up. Best wishes!

  7. Thank you so much for submitting!

    I really got into the voice of this piece. It has a very historical feel to it. Very well done.

    "the day Colt died the first time" is an amazing hook. I love it. The first sentence in that paragraph takes a second to get into because it's a little confusing at first. I would consider reworking the entire first paragraph to start with a sentence that has that amazing hook in it: "the day Colt died the first time."

    By the time we get to the second paragraph, your voice is showing through very well, and it's so well done.

    Just as my attention is starting to wonder what this scene is about is at paragraph 5-ish (the one that starts "the first splash") and the next paragraph, you're back into what the scene originally promised, so that's great. But it makes me think that a few of the details before this might be pared down a bit OR we might like to see more of Colt's viewpoint sprinkled in.

    What I mean by that is this story starts out with an almost omniscient viewpoint feel. I don't know for certain whose head I'm in or whose eyes I'm seeing this play through until I get to paragraph six. I think if it was more clear that we were in his head earlier on, that would really pull this whole POV together with the amazing voice you've given it here.

    The section with Peach really seems to come from her viewpoint, but I'll admit that when we start Colt's chapter, I thought a different boy was telling the story about his friend Colt dying until we got deeper in.

    Also, I might really consider staying with Colt a little longer before moving on to Peach. I wouldn't mind having more of a hint of what the story is going to be about in his viewpoint before we move on to the next character. Though I thought her story started very nicely.

    I hope this is helpful. Best of luck!!