Sunday, October 14, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Rowley Rev 1

Name: Mary Rowley
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
Title: The Secrets That Divide Us

Chapter 1

It was rush hour in West Los Angeles, and belching car exhaust was conspiring with an end-of-summer heatwave to suffocate me. There wasn’t even a breeze to stir the towering palms on Santa Monica Boulevard as I pedaled my Schwinn home from the library. On the up side, I was zipping past the six lanes of crawling traffic. On the down side, sweat plastered my shirt to my chest and soaked my bra. I raced across the Boulevard as the light was about to change.

“Get out of the way, kid!” yelled a guy in a beat up El Camino. 

“Sure thing!” I called back with mock cheerfulness, resisting the urge to flip him the bird. “But I’m not a kid—I’m sixteen.” I flashed him a grin, but he scowled back, gunned his engine, and drove away in a cloud of black smoke. The heat was making everyone cranky.

I had been hiding out in the cool refuge of the library all day. There were about a million reasons it had become my favorite haunt over the summer. First, unlike our tiny apartment, the library was air conditioned. Second, I was almost guaranteed not to run into anyone from Santa Monica High there. (News flash: Punching your gropey football player date on prom night does not boost your social life.) Third, I was avoiding the hella awkward situation at home with my dad and his new wife, Sonia. Okay, so that was only three reasons, but I had to go home eventually anyway. 

At our dishwater-toned stucco apartment building, I locked my bike to a pipe and trudged up the cement steps. As I reached our landing, I froze. The door to our apartment hung wide open. Our neighborhood hugged the 405 freeway and marked a borderland between the haves and the have-nots. It wasn’t Compton, but my dad was religious about keeping the door closed and locked. Arguing voices spilled out the entryway.

“You need to calm down,” demanded someone in a stern English accent.

“Don’t tell me to calm down!” my dad shouted back. 

I edged closer—they were standing just inside the threshold. 

My dad, face red and forehead vein pulsing, jammed his index finger into an old man’s chest. “You can’t show up here after sixteen years, demand I give you my daughter, and tell me to ‘calm down.’” 

Okay, what was that? Give him his daughter?

Everything about the snowy-haired stranger screamed money and power, from his tailored trousers and dress shirt to a fat gold ring and a leather briefcase leaning against the doorframe. His suit jacket was folded over his arm, and although he glistened with sweat, his hair still showed tiny precise lines from a recent combing. The man’s appearance stood in sharp contrast to our dingy apartment’s chipped plaster walls. An urge ran through me to sneak inside and throw a sheet over the recliner we’d bought at Goodwill, hiding its ripped seat cushion.

The stranger must have heard my feet scuffing the walkway, because he whipped his head around and faced me. His lips curved into a smile. “This must be Elizabeth now.”

My dad’s face turned to stone.“Lizzie, you don’t need to be here for this conversation. You and Sonia should go get dinner.”

“Why? What’s going on?” Reaching the door, I saw Sonia perched on the threadbare couch, her face pinched. She rested a protective hand on her pregnant belly, but she made no move to leave.

“It’s nothing you need to worry about, Lizzie. Seriously.” Dad’s hands gripped his hips. “You should go.”

“Elizabeth, dear,” the old man said, “It is so good to see you. You’ve grown into such a beautiful young lady. And you look so much like your mother did at your age—except Philippa’s hair was longer.” He reached out as if to stroke my head, but I shied away like a boxer ducking a jab.

“Dad, are you gonna tell me who this is?” I ran my fingers through my shaggy blonde mane. I was light-years out of the loop and needed someone to fill me in.

“He’s nobody—” Dad said.

“I am your grandfather, Archer Cavendish,” the man said at the same time.

“Oh, really?” I said it like he’d just told me he was Santa Claus. “‘Cause my grandparents all died years ago.” I distinctly remembered a conversation with my dad when I was about six. He’d said that since my mom had died soon after I was born, he and I were on our own and we needed to be a team. That had worked just fine—until Dad met Sonia last year, got her pregnant, and married her, like, two seconds later. 

“If your father told you I was dead, he lied.” Archer turned back toward my dad, eyes narrowed and lips tight.

“Is that true, Dad? Is this my grandfather?” My dad stood ramrod straight with his fists balled tight next to his body. I’d never seen him this mad—he was generally pretty chill. Although he taught English literature, he had wavy surfer hair, and he often wore board shorts and flip-flops. But, right then, he looked anything but chill.
“Yes—technically—Archer is your grandfather,” he said. “Your mom was his daughter. But Archer lost any right to claim you as family years ago.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Your father is angry because of what happened with your sister after my sweet Philippa died.”
“Wait. Hold up. What? Did you say I had a sister?” No way. There had to be a mistake. I didn’t have a sister—even though I’d always wanted one. Dad would never have kept that from me.

“No, dear, you have a twin sister called Anne,” Archer said. “She lives with me in a lovely country house south of London. Now she’s terribly ill and needs your help, which is why I’ve come.”

I looked at my dad for confirmation. He was angry—obviously. There was something else, too, though. Fear? Guilt? It freaked me out.

“Dad? What’s going on? Please tell me. Do I really have a twin?”

Each crazy new idea piled on top of another. I had a twin sister. My grandfather was alive. My dad had hidden those facts from me my whole life. Why?

“He was going to tell you,” Sonia piped up. “He planned to explain everything when you turned eighteen.” 

I glared at her. Somehow, despite the heat and her pregnancy, Sonia still looked beautiful. As stepmoms go, she treated me okay—but right then I hated her.

“Why would you keep this from me, Dad? And how could you tell everything to her?” 
Ever since Sonia showed up, I’d been crowded out of my relationship with my dad.

 “Honey, I can explain everything.” Dad tried to placate me.

“Are you kidding me? You can’t explain this away. I can’t handle you right now!” Lava shot through my veins. I spun around, ready to bolt. 

“Wait, Elizabeth.” Archer caught my shoulder with a firm hand. I jerked away and eyed him warily. “Your sister needs you, and I must tell you about her before I leave. I’ve collected a lot of information here.” He bent to open his briefcase and handed me a thick manila folder. 

I took the folder, but stuffed it under my arm, unopened. “Fine. Go ahead.”


  1. Hi everybody -

    I'd like to highlight the ways implemented your advice to revise my entry, since it seems somewhat similar to how it was before:

    --Added in some of Lizzie's backstory to give a better feel of who she is

    --Cleared up some awkward phrasing.

    --Answered questions about when Lizzie's mother died and her dad remarried Sonia.

    --Moved that dad and grandfather's argument to the threshold instead of living room. Made Lizzie not flip through the folder.

    --Considered actually starting the story earlier, but I had gotten previous feedback that even as written I might be starting too soon. Her grandfather's appearance/the argument is the inciting incident, but it's not the main conflict at all. It just leads to her going to England where she realizes there is a mystery about her mother's death. An author who had looked at my pages suggested starting even later, like when she arrives in England at the airport or at her grandfather's mansion. When I tried that idea, I ended up with info dumps to explain why she was there, so here I am starting at the inciting incident. It's so tricky to get it right!

    --I kept Archer seeming kind of stiff/formal and a little creepy because that's how I hope he will seem.

    I hope that clears things up. I'm so interested to hear everyone's comments!


  2. Hey there!

    Your writing is very solid! I don't have any suggestions for the overall structure of your story, so instead I'm going to...

    NITPICK!!! :D

    -His lips curved into a smile. -- Most smiles look like that ("lips curved"), so I want to know how he smiled or the feeling he gave off when he smiled.

    -“This must be Elizabeth now.”--> get rid of the "now"

    -You use seven "said"s (if we include "say", that's another one) within one page. Maybe you can change some of them? Such as “No, dear, you have a twin sister called Anne,” Archer said. “She lives with me in a lovely country house south of London. Now she’s terribly ill and needs your help, which is why I’ve come.” --> change the said to explained/revealed

    Anywho, I love how you made your writing crisper and clarified that Elizabeth's stepmom knew about this situation abut Elizabeth didn't. That made things a whole lot clearer!

    Good luck! Can't wait to see your work next week!

  3. Hi Mary,

    Great revision! I like how we find out our main character was hiding out at the library and that she punched her groping prom date. Very funny and fitting with her spunky personality!

    I'm a little surprised that Elizabeth's dad is reacting so angrily. I feel like the grandfather probably told him at this point about his other twin daughter being mortally ill, but instead of being upset or shocked he jabs him in the chest and tells him he should leave. If you could clear this up a bit I think it would make your story even stronger!

    Great job revising!!

  4. Hi Mary,

    I really like that you added the paragraph about hiding in the library. It gave her character some more definition and hinted about the tension between her and her stepmom.

    I totally feel your pain in trying to figure out where to start the story. It's really hard to get that sweet spot. I still really feel like the scene in the apartment is too much too soon. We are introduced to three people at the same time and a huge family secret is revealed right off the bat.

    Here are a couple off idea the top of my head for easing the reader into the inciting incident:
    - Her Dad gets a letter from the grandfather and she comes in the apartment while he's discussing it with her stepmom. They don't want to tell her what they were talking about, but she pulls it out of them. She's upset and has to process it but eventually agrees to meet the grandfather.
    - You keep the part where she comes up to the apartment, but she doesn't hear much of what they are discussing. Her Dad throws the grandpa out of the apartment and he passes her on the stairway, but doesn't say anything. Her Dad explains the situation and she has to decide if she wants to meet with him.

    In any case, I think your opening would feel more satisfying if there is slower building of tension because there is a lot going on in a short period of time.

    Otherwise, I think that you have a great story so far! Keep up the good work.


  5. Hi Mary,

    Agreeing with the consensus, your added paragraph about hiding in the library makes me see Lizzie much clearer as a character. In fact, my suggestion for improvement is exactly that: give us more on their background. Lizzie's mother passed away soon after she was born. Was Lizzie sad that she never got to meet her? Were Lizzie and Sonia close before Sonia got pregnant?

    Lizzie is such a great character, let us know more about her feelings.

    Looking forward to your revision!


  6. Hi Mary,

    I didn't have much to suggest for your first five pages because they read so cleanly, and this is about the same! A good, solid opening with a good mysterious setup. I'm on Elizabeth's side entirely right now, with being indignant and (maybe unfairly but totally believable) resentful of Sonia's inner knowledge.

    That said, I'll focus on minor detail-y stuff since you clearly have the big picture handled well!

    1) To be super confusing, I'm disagreeing with a prior comment about removing the "now" from Archer's comment--it reads like an Englishman speaking to me, so I liked it. In fact, I have Alfred from Gotham in my mind because he says it a lot when talking to Bruce!

    2) The dialog modifier, "Dad tried to placate me" read redundant based on his comment.

    3) When Elizabeth says "Fine, go ahead," I would like a little more internal monologue--should she listen? Does she really want to know? Is she listening out of spite, or for her own curiosity? She has such a commanding narrative voice that a little more of it can't hurt! ;)

    And that's all I could come up with! Awesome work. :)

  7. Hi Mary,

    Great job on the revision! I like the details you've added - love Lizzie's voice, and love the 3 reasons keeping her out of the library!

    I totally feel your pain about where to start. For Uncharted I literally had at least 15 different opening. It is really, really hard. However, I really don't think this is the right place. We don't know enough about Lizzie to really care. I have 2 suggestions:

    1. Start as you did, and then come home to dad and pregnant step-mom (no grandpa). Lizzie can think about having a sibling, her mom, how she wished for a bigger family. Let us get to know her a bit. Then chapter 1 can end with this bombshell. But since this is a mystery, weave in sum mystery elements - why there's no momentos of mom or some such.

    2. Start in airport while she's waiting for new family to pick her up. We will see her anxious, and slice in her backstory from there. If you read the first chapter of Compulsion by Martina Boone, you'll see what I mean. She does a great job.

    Your writing is lovely, and the premise is so interesting! I look forward to reading next week!