Sunday, November 12, 2017

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Sorensen Rev 1

Steph Sorensen
Young Adult Contemporary, with some magical realism


The day Colt died started off the same as the rest. Mom said she was just running out for a refill cartridge of her raspberry vape drops. But he knew she’d be gone an hour at least, doing whatever she was actually doing and not saying. He was left in charge of his little brother, as usual. Being six years older basically made him the fallback parent.

“Can we swim?” JoJo pleaded, giving Colt the sad little boy eyes, although at nearly ten he was just about too old for them to work anymore.

“You heard Mom,” Colt answered blandly, picking bald spots in the Astroturf flooring of the sunroom and waiting for a breeze to blow through, but it didn’t come. “We’re not supposed to be staying here, so we can’t let anybody see us hanging around.”

JoJo stuck out his lower lip. He’d thrown his swim trunks on as soon as Mom had left, and his round kneecaps jutted like lollipops on his skinny stick legs. “They won’t know we’re staying here just because we’re swimming. We could sneak over to the beach through the trees down the road a little.”

Colt knew the answer was supposed to be no. Summer just had that pull though. Or the lake did, anyway. Colt guessed it was the combination of the two. 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.

They’d been at the little lake cottage more than a month without swimming once, and that was just wrong. Scuttling inside when the rare car went by, heading for the turnaround that would take it back down the long road to the mansions overlooking the water. Once would be okay, if they made it quick. Colt had outgrown his swimsuit last year and Mom hadn’t gotten him a new one. But his cutoffs would do fine.

The first splash in was a shock and Colt made a sound, like oh! Like his body was remembering cold after so much heat. And then under, and the muffled crunching that splashes make in underwater ears. The chill was a shock that made his whole body clench up, but the release that came after was worth it. Colt was never one to wade in. The lake was 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, and tried to head back toward the shoreline. He wasn’t too far out, his toes could just touch the muck on the bottom of the lake. 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. Not even enough time to be afraid.

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. 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.

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 reclined on a sofa and a man leaning over her, hands reaching for her 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. But she was only stuck managing the other sisters because she chose to. There was no real hierarchy between them, beyond helping meet the needs of the pregnant girls, and minding the small children.

Ella huffed off to sort out her hair situation, and Peach unwound Celia’s locks slowly, tugging on the small knots that had formed. She caught Celia’s dark eyes in the cloudy mirror. The girl looked frightened. Likely just overwhelmed. Peach remembered her own wedding day, just two summers earlier. She’d been so nervous she had thrown up. She looked down at the small brown stain on the bottom hem of her dress. That day it had been dragging on the floor, tripping her. Today it fell above her ankles.

“It’s easy to become overwhelmed,” Peach spoke softly above Celia’s ear while her hands worked on arranging the girl’s long waves. “Better to focus on the smaller things. Won’t it be nice to cut all this hair off tonight?”

Celia frowned. “I love my hair,” she said, not meeting Peach’s eyes.

“That’s pridefulness,” Peach said, hearing her elder sisters’ words through her own voice. “Take pride instead in being chosen. Short hair is an honor.”


  1. Hi Steph,

    Wow! This is so much cleaner and easier to follow now. I love the changes you’ve made, and also liked that we got a longer glimpse into Peach’s world. I found her section both fascinating and chilling. So intrigued about where this is all headed!

    I like how you shortened the description of the seizures, but still felt like Colt’s whole dying experience was a bit distant. You did address this somewhat by mentioning that there was “not enough time to be afraid” but it felt very matter-of-fact, like it wasn’t really a big deal to him. I would like to spend a bit more time with Colt before heading into Peach’s section… however, ending it there definitely does the job of getting me to want to keep turning those pages!

    A few fine-tuning things:
    The first line was pretty good, but is there something you could do to make it even more unique? You have such a great voice, and working this in from the very first line would make it stand out even more.

    The sentence, “We’re not supposed to be staying here, so we can’t let anybody see us hanging around” tripped me up at first. I think it was because I knew they were supposed to be staying inside the house, but “staying here” actually referred to staying in the lake cottage in general. Maybe cut the word “staying” so it’s just “we’re not supposed to be here”? I am curious about what they’re doing out there.

    Another sentence that confused me was, “Scuttling inside when the rare car went by, heading for the turnaround that would take it back down the long road to the mansions overlooking the water.” I’m not sure it belongs there. Cutting it would make the paragraph easier to follow.

    I liked the changes you made to describing his vision. A minor nitpick: “reclined” has more of a comfortable connotation (at least to me), so maybe go with something more ominous? “Slumped” or something?

    Great job on this revision. I’m excited to read your pitch next week to find out more about how these storylines come together.

  2. Hi Steph,

    Nice revision! I like the longer glimpse into Peach's world. I thought the same thing as Alanna did above, in that it's so chilling. It makes me want to read more to see if what I'm thinking about her is where you're headed.

    Great opening line (this is a little out of order). It's a really neat hook. Is there something you can do to expand it so that we have a sense of the other deaths to come? (If I'm recalling correctly from the first draft?)

    I'm a little thrown by Colt's line, "After that he just wasn't there," followed by him knowing what happened. I know what you're trying to say, but it comes across as a little unclear. Is he not there as in he's not aware of his thoughts/sights (as opposed to what happened after he dies)? How does he know what his body does? I'm not even sure if I'm making sense here :)

    Looking forward to next week's revision. The feel of this story is unlike anything I've come across. Good luck!

  3. Steph,
    I really love the conversation you incorporated at the beginning, and how they aren't supposed to be staying at the house (I don't remember that from the first draft, but maybe it was there). It makes their swimming adventure even more dangerous, the repercussions more than just dealing with mom. I like how you changed his flashback too. This definitely felt more YA, and his death vision forecasts the magical realism. The one place that stopped me to reread was here, "came with a feeling like a pulling from his chest in her direction" --is he saying he wanted to rush forward but couldn't? Or just that he felt drawn to her?

    Peach's section was strong before, but I have to say you've clarified and amplified her world here. From the stain on her hem that dragged to the haircut comment, it's hard to look away. I want to know what happens to her and especially how her story will intersect with Colt's.
    Congrats and good luck as you continue to revise!

  4. Hi Steph,

    This is an incredible revision!! It feels like an entirely different story - you really brought Colt's chapter to life. I like how in a few simple paragraphs you get a sense of his and JoJo's relationship - which I didn't get before. I also care for Colt - I hadn't felt connected to him in the first version. Nicely done!

    You might consider putting in a line of dialogue -- i.e. like Colt telling JoJo to "come on" as they head to the water or something after the paragraph that ends with "But his cutoffs would do fine." So that Colt isn't just suddenly in the water. That felt abrupt to me.

    I agree with Steph about the "Scuttling inside when the rare car went by..." line. It was confusing.

    And I think your toned down vision works well too.

    I also liked reading more from Peach's section and am intrigued to see how her and Colt's stories intersect. Great work.


  5. Hey Steph, I love this revision! Colt's POV was more succinct, and more showing! I loved learning a little more about Peach. Like the others, I am so intrigued! Just a few specific lines you could tweak:

    PP5 "It would whisper in its watery voice made of light." I would take out the the 'made of light.'

    PP8 "Colt had only just broken back through the warmed skin of the water when he felt it coming on." I'm not sure what the 'warmed skin of the water' means. Maybe clarify this?

    PP11 "She was blurry and yellow-green and came with a feeling like a pulling from his chest in her direction." I don't completely understand the pulling from his chest part, maybe you could clarify?

    Great job and I look forward to reading your next revision!

  6. Nice job with the revision!

    I love the scene setting here. It's more alive and in real time.

    The paragraph when Colt starts to have his seizure gets a bit ahead of itself for a moment. We read this line "his eyes rolled back and he was gone" only he's not gone because a lot still happens and the word "before" is even used. My suggestion would be to move "his eyes rolled back and he was gone" to the end of that paragraph then, to let the events flow in order.

    In Peach's section, I get the sense that she's young--about Colt's age (around 12-14). Then I find out she's been married for two years and her age didn't seem to show in the earlier paragraphs. I might drop some hints in sooner.

    Your voice is wonderful and well-suited to this piece. Nice job. :) I look forward to reading the next revision.

  7. The first scene reads much clearer. In the next phase of revision, I think adding a little more emotion and strong verbs can show what your main character thinks. Mom is out, he is the fallback parent, is he bitter? Resigned? Loyal to family? A hint of that would be great to see.

    I'm intrigued but still a bit unclear on Peach's section. She is blossoming but has been married for two years--was she a child bride or is she older? In YA the narrators tend to be adolescents rather than adults. The ceremonies and tending to the pregnant girls have me thinking cult. You don't have to spill all the backstory, but if she was a child bride I wonder if you can hint at how she feels about it. This was all she knew and it was expected of her, for example, hinting that she is struggling but perhaps powerless. Some sort of hint at what is going on would be helpful since the two scenes do not appear to be connected.