Saturday, October 6, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Rowley

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 making everyone cranky.

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—something was wrong. 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 with a stern English accent.

“Don’t tell me to calm down!” my dad shouted back. I edged closer to the entrance. 

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?

The two men faced off in our cramped living room. Everything about the snowy-haired stranger screamed money and power, from his tailored trousers and dress shirt to the fat gold ring on his left hand. 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. His appearance stood in sharp contrast to our dingy apartment and its chipped plaster walls. An urge ran through me to throw a sheet over the recliner we’d bought at Goodwill, hiding its ripped seat cushion.
The stranger’s eyes shifted from my father and settled on me. His lips curved into a smile. “This must be Elizabeth now.”

My father turned toward me for the first time. “Lizzie, you don’t need to be here for this conversation. You and Sonia should go get dinner.”

“What’s going on?” When I came through the door, my dad’s new wife, Sonia, was 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 now.”

“Elizabeth, dear,” the old man said, “It is so good to see you again. You’ve grown into such a beautiful young lady. And you look so much like your mother and grandmother did at your age—except Philippa’s hair was longer.” He stepped toward me and reached out as if to stroke my hair. I shied away, even as my dad stepped forward, forcing the man to withdraw.

“Dad, who’s this?” I ran my fingers through my shaggy hair. I needed somebody to fill me in. I was a million miles out of the loop of the conversation.

“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 five or six. He’d said we were on our own and needed to be a team. That had worked out pretty well—until Dad got Sonia pregnant and married her, like, two seconds later. Now things at home were hella awkward.

“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. My dad was generally a laid-back guy. Although he taught English literature, he’d grown out his dark hair like a surfer’s, and he often wore board shorts and flip-flops. But right then, he looked anything but laid-back.

“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. What could someone possibly do to lose the right be called family?

“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?” 

He stayed silent. 

All the crazy new ideas started stacking up. I had a twin sister. My grandfather was alive. My dad had hidden those facts from me my whole life. But 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?” 

“Honey, I can explain everything,” Dad said.

“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 and bolted for the doorway.

“Wait, Elizabeth.” Archer caught my shoulder with a firm hand. I turned and eyed him cautiously. “Your sister needs you, and I must tell you about her before I leave. I’ve collected a lot of information here.” He reached for a thick manila folder on our Formica dining room table, then handed it to me. I flipped through the pages while he talked.

“Last year your sister developed a disease called aplastic anemia. Her body attacked its own bone marrow and now doesn’t produce blood cells properly. She has no energy, her gums bleed, and she’s prone to severe infections.” He shook his head and cast his eyes downward. “We’ve tried everything. Without a bone marrow transplant she’ll die.” He paused to let the gravity of his statement sink in. I had a twin sister. She would die without me.

“Family members are the most effective bone-marrow donors, but I am not a match. Sibling matches between young people are best.”

“How do you know I’ll be a match? Are we identical twins or something?” The whole thing was giving me weird Parent Trap vibes.


  1. Dear Mary,

    Your voice makes it clear that the narrator is a sassy, teenage girl. (That had worked out pretty well—until Dad got Sonia pregnant and married her, like, two seconds later. Now things at home were hella awkward.) Love it!

    In "I flashed him a grin, but he scowled back, gunned his engine, and drove away in a cloud of black smoke. The heat making everyone cranky.", the last sentence changes verb tense from past to present. You want to be careful to keep the same tense throughout the same section unless you have a very good reason to switch it. (The heat making everyone cranky --> The heat made everyone cranky.)

    I spotted only one verb tense mismatch throughout your story, so it may have been a typo instead of a habitual mistake, but I'm including this just in case there are other such typos throughout your manuscript that you may like to fix.

    You introduced the characters' traits without it coming off as unnatural (chatroomers would dig this, because in these first five pages, we learn Lizzie's A/S/L, lol). Kudos!

    I look forward to reading your revisions!

  2. Dear Mary,

    I enjoy the premise to this - there are certainly juicy secrets waiting to be revealed with this beginning. I agree with Mayee that you have created a very strong voice for Lizzie.

    Perhaps some lines that can be edited (this is my subjective view):
    - "Lava shot through my veins"
    - All the crazy new ideas started stacking up
    - Archer caught my shoulder with a firm hand. I turned and eyed him cautiously. - I don't see Lizzie reacting this calmly. She seems to be someone with a temper.
    - How do you know I’ll be a match? Are we identical twins or something?

    Looking forward to your revision.

    Best regards,

  3. Hi Mary,

    I think you did great job of painting a picture of the neighborhood - the heat, the smog, and traffic - as well as Elizabeth's apartment. I also like the way you showed the contrast between the living situation of Elizabeth and her family and the grandfather, and her embarrassment about it.

    I also like the conflict that you set up - that Elizabeth has a twin sister in England that she doesn't know about who needs her bone marrow.

    But I feel like the main conflict comes too soon. I would have liked to get to know Elizabeth and her family better before encountering this huge revelation. I just don't feel that invested in Elizabeth yet.

  4. Hi Mary,

    Within the first few paragraphs, I feel like I already know the protagonist (who my teen self already loves and can identify with). I also like how I don’t have to wait too long for action to take place, and we’re immediately immersed into a major moment in your character’s life — the realization that she has a twin sister.

    I can’t tell if the grandfather is meant to be creepy or not. It felt a little odd to me that he said “This must be Elizabth now,” as if he was talking to himself. If she’s already standing there, I feel like a normal grandfather would have said, “You must be Elizabeth.” (Nitpicky comment, but just trying to help dialogue flow.) If he’s meant to be a bit creepy, which the hair stroke description felt like, definitely keep it as is!

    If Elizabeth were six when she had the conversation with her father about being a team, I feel like it’s not “two seconds later” that he met Sonia and got her pregnant, considering she’s sixteen now. Ten years sounds like enough time to move on, but maybe that’s just your character’s sassy attitude shining through!

    I think it would be impactful for the grandfather to pull out a picture of Elizabeth and her twin Anne as babies to prove to her it’s real. Just a suggestion, but I like reading things explained through actions instead of dialogue sometimes.

    Great job!

  5. Hi Mary!

    LOVE THE VOICE. I got a great idea of Elizabeth's personality from her inner dialog and her reactions, and they read naturally. I also like that she's not afraid to talk about bra sweat, because as someone living in Florida, it is real, it is gross, and it is so unavoidable.

    Minor note, I'd cut out the "something was wrong," as you say the door is wide open immediately after, making the prior comment redundant. You have a lot of really nice descriptors, too, like "dishwater-toned stucco apartment."

    Minor quibbles: I don't know why the door was unlocked and left open, though--if dad was trying to force Archer out, they'd be at the threshold, not inside. Also, Elizabeth just got dealt a pretty big dose of betrayal-surprise. I'm not sure her taking the time to flip through an envelope of information is the reaction I'd expect. I love her "I can't handle you right now," (as opposed to the usual "I hate you!") but personally, I'd like to see a little more of her reaction to the betrayal that Sonia knew this but Elizabeth didn't, consider the "two seconds later" commentary on her dad and Sonia's relationship. While she says Sonia treats her okay, that comment hints at some buried resentment all the same.

    When Archer talks about the aplastic anemia, the "gums bleed" detail read more like a list from Wikipedia. I'd focus more on the super scary stuff, like no energy and severe infections. Has she had one? Maybe he could lay on the manipulating guilt (if he's going to be a bad guy) by mentioning some previous near-death experiences Philippa has endured.

    Another minor quibble: I know Archer is English, but given Elizabeth's reaction to the "kid" comment from the guy driving, I'm surprised she doesn't react similarly when Archer sounds a little patronizing toward her, like when he says, "No, dear, you have a twin sister...." (Maybe that's a personal thing; maybe he was being genuine!)

    Overall, a really good start. Given the genre, I'm already imagining all sorts of creepy English manor home shenanigans taking place!

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone! I'm looking forward to tackling the revision.

  7. Wow, Mary, you have a really great voice! You also do a great job with descriptions, and painting the scene. I do wonder if you're starting in the right place. I would like to get to know Elizabeth, and her family, before she gets this big bombshell. If all feels a bit contrived, her coming home in the middle of this big conversation, her dad telling her to go. And since I don't know any of the characters, none of this gives me any kind of an emotional reaction.

    What was Elizabeth's before like life? When did her mother die? Does she remember her? And if she was 5 or 6 when she was told all of her grandparents died, and dad had gotten Sonya pregnant two seconds later - either the time doesn't add up or Sonya is pregnant again. It's a bit confusing.

    Basically I'd like to see Elizabeth grounded. Is she excited for her sibling? Worried about something, dreaming about something? If she's thrilled to finally have a sibling, then news could be so poignant. Let us care about the characters before the bombshell.

    Of course, that's just one person's opinion, so you need to do what works for you! I look forward to reading next week!