Sunday, November 11, 2018

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Monson Rev 1

Christine Monson
YA Speculative Fantasy
The Promethean Effect

Steel gears grind overhead along thin aluminum girders. The weighted anodized-pistol rests cradled between my palms. As I wait for the targets to line up, two questions rotate on heavy cycle: Why did my brother have to die? And, will Ms. Reddington remember I prefer chocolate over spice cake this year?

Ten computerized birds drop down from the ceiling. The sensors on their tails flash red, blue, and green. Chromatic lights reflect off of the bullet-proof glass to my left and the gray cinder block wall to my right.  It doesn’t matter how quick the fake birds move or in which direction, blue is always first. I adjust my stance and squeeze the trigger. One by one, the stiff, automated fowl return to the rafters. According to my father, the electronic target system is the latest in gaming technology. I wouldn’t know. My siblings and I aren’t allowed to leave the compound.

The panel embedded into the wall beeps before Mother’s voice crackles through the intercom speaker. “Kade, come upstairs. Your father and I wish to speak with you.”

My gaze flicks to the red START button. Two-tenths of a second and I’ll have beaten the high score. Perhaps I can squeeze one more–


I return the pistol to the charging dock. Game over.

After tucking in my shirt and fastening the buttons on my suit jacket, I sprint across the expansive atrium to the staircase leading to the main floor of the house. Spotless, translucent gray glass surrounds me from all sides as I skid past the other training rooms. The soles of my dress shoes squeal along the glossy anti-static tiles. Like the sophisticated-gaming console, the three-story, fully-staffed house in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains is supposedly hi-tech. Again, I wouldn’t know. My brother’s unexpected death changed a lot of rules.

At the top of the stairs, the aroma of overly-peppered roast beef collides with the astringent, chlorinated-air from basement below. However, it isn’t the clash of smells that almost knocks me off my feet. It’s the intensity of Mother’s intonation and Father’s sternness. After I steady myself, I lean closer to the door and listen.

“You promised this time would be different,” Mother exclaims.

Father sighs. “He has been here two years longer than–”

“Don’t say his name.”

“Dang it, Grace. You knew this day was coming.”

“Of course, I knew, August. I’ve always known.” Mother’s tone softens. “But I want Kade to join us when he is ready. Not when they say he is ready.”

I steal a peek around the corner before taking the last final step onto the main floor. Under the three-tier chandelier, in the foyer, both of my parents face off. Mother, dressed in her usual travel attire of black slacks and sweater, stands with her hands on her hips, her golden hair tied in a loose bun on the back of her head. A dazzling display of rainbows reflects off the crystals above them, onto the white walls and marble floor. Father rolls his shirt sleeves to his elbows, his work pants wrinkled. He watches her as she moves to the other side of the round, mahogany-red table. When she closes the gap between them, he shifts his favorite brown journal and electronic pad behind his back.  

“Be their father for once,” she snaps.

Father’s face reddens. “I am not doing this now.”

He smacks his hand down on the table. Skinny orange petals rain down from the bouquet of chrysanthemums onto the polished surface. Mother sweeps the petals in her hand and deposits them in a small crystal bowl. Like me, the table and flowers don’t seem to belong in this icy world of crystal and snow-white furniture.

I step into the foyer. The basement door closes with a soft click. “Sorry to make you wait but I had to go back down and retrieve my jacket.” Honesty, I despise liars but sometimes telling my parents the truth can be dangerous.

Mother reaches out to touch me, then stops. She drops her hand back to her side. “You’ve wrinkled your dinner suit.”

I run my hands over the thick black wool of my dinner jacket. Static cracks under my fingertips. Above our heads, the bulbs flicker. “I wanted to get a few more rounds before dinner.”

Father places his free hand on Mother’s shoulder. The twins say I look like him but I don’t see it. We have the same brown hair and eyes, but while his complexion is dull and pallid from sitting under fluorescents all day, I have a ‘kissed by the skin glow’ from running outdoors every morning. “How many hours have you clocked in this week?” he asks.

“Sixteen.” The same as the age I turned today.

“That’s outstanding,” he says with a smile. However, his tone doesn’t match the expression. “Your mother and I can’t stay for dinner. We have to head back to the lab.”

“It’s important,” Mother interjects, “or we wouldn’t leave.”

What about my birthday?

On the other side of the foyer, Father’s office door opens. Sofiya Snyderman, my parents’ colleague at AIB– the Advanced Institute of Biotechnology– and family creeper steps out. The click of her high heels sends a chill up my back. I glance up at the top of the staircase. Thankfully, no one is there.

“Sofiya,” Father chokes out. A patch of black lace peeks from under the doctor’s lab coat as she treads towards us. “I thought you were in D.C.”

“Not tonight,” she purrs. “I came to oversee…Kade, my little soldat.” Soldier. Her German, Russian, and possibly Ukrainian accents blend together in a sticky dialect-pudding. The psychiatrist adjusts her short, black wig. I take a tentative step back. I have known Doctor Sofiya Snyderman my entire life, and she still sends shivers up my spine.

Father clears his throat. “We were heading to the lab. There is an issue which needs to be rectified immediately.”

Sofiya purses her thin lips, then shifts her concern to the third person in the room. “Grace,” she murmurs, “Where is Bishop?”

Mother crosses her arms. “How would I know?”

Movement at the top of the main staircase catches my interest. I shake my head in warning for my two younger siblings to stay upstairs. Behind Snyderman’s red cat glasses, her eyelids narrow.  Even though I know I am going to regret this, I grumble, “So I’m dressed in a suit for nothing.”

Mother whirls on me. “Kade Maddox, what in the world has gotten into you?”

Like Snyderman, Father’s glare constricts behind rimless eyewear. “Recite the rules,” he demands. “Immediately!”

Mother’s gaze jerks over my head. Her shoulders drop. “The rules, Kade.”

“Rule number one,” I say to the tiny white scuff on the tip of my left dress shoe, “obey authority. Rule two, never ask questions. Rule three…”

“We should go.” Mother’s eye’s flick from Father to the chandelier. Though no one is near the light switch, the brightness has doubled. “Xavier is waiting for us. Kade, Ms. Reddington made your favorite dinner. Cake is in the sitting room.”

“This is what I have been talking about, Grace. You coddle them too much.”

“And coddling encourages disobedience,” Mother quips. “Yes, I know, August. Thank you for reminding me. Again.”

With a swift strike of her foreign tongue, Sofiya Snyderman silences them. “Nyet. No more. I want Bishop’s location.”

Mother touches my arm briefly, sending a warm yet nauseating wave of prickly pain through my body. “August deals with the help around here. Interrogate him.”

A smug grin slides across Dr. Snyderman’s thin lips. “Oh, but, my dear Grace, you are so much more fun to question.”


  1. Overall, I think you’ve done an excellent job with the revisions. I am just as intrigued and excited to read on as I was in version #1 but this version has a much more consistent pace and I follow everything much easier.

    I think this opening line is stronger than your original “I am in control.” Is this game part of the novel (other than the opening paragraph)? If so, I understand starting the novel here. If it’s never mentioned again, I’d reconsider where you start the novel.

    The journal/electric pad line still seems a bit out of place for me. Maybe because in the first draft, it almost seemed like he was hiding it. Now it doesn’t at all, it’s just sort of randomly mentioned. I have a feeling it’s important. If not, maybe remove the reference. If so, perhaps one more revision to this specific line (unless it comes back into the picture in the few paragraphs after this section ends – it’s hard to make a comment without having read the book).

    “Honesty, I despise liars” – I think you mean “honestly”

    “and family creeper “ – I find this expression a bit odd. I’m not sure what you mean by “family creeper” I feel like you mean she creeps out Kade (she creeps me out too). But she isn’t part of the family? And doesn’t seem to creep out Kade’s parents.

    There is still a lot of unknown in this opening. Not everything is perfectly explained but as a reader, I’m ok with it. I feel like there is a good balance of intrigue with just enough explanation that I’m not confused. Can’t wait to read the final revision (I’d also love to read the rest of the manuscript).

    1. Thank you for the critique, Kate. I think you're right about the family creeper snippet. I'm going to remove it. And, thank you for catching the typo. (I would love for you to read the rest of the manuscript.)

  2. I still love that opening paragraph. Great description of the game, and nice zinger with the bit about not being allowed to leave the compound. You have a wonderful knack for describing setting.

    Things are clearer now, though I'd like some reaction from Kade about his parents' discussion. I assume they're talking about his brother (don't say his name), but it's not entirely clear.

    I'd say 'get my jacket' rather than 'retrieve.' This is a kid talking, after all.

    We get the impression Sofiya frightens everyone, but we're not told why. And from the description I can't tell if I'm supposed to be picturing a glamorous, sexy 30 year old or a frightening, over made up 70 year old (the wig confuses me, few younger people wear them).

    There are four, not three people in the room.

    You've cleaned up everything I found confusing last time and I'm really enjoying this. Your scenery descriptions are amazing and I want to know more about this family, this house and this society. I have very little to suggest. If you could add one thing, it would be more emotional reactions from Kade.

    1. Thank you so much, Brian.

      I believe you are right. Kade needs to react more. (If only he could.) <-- story hint!

      I've tried to add some toned down, subtle emotions that a repressed individual may feel (to help connect the reader to him). But, I'm worried that I am stepping too much in the emotional pond just yet. Kade has an outburst in chapter one, he should not have which is why the severe reaction from the parents and Sofiya. I may have to rethink how much influence/ control Sofiya's special injections have on him.

      Thank you again for the suggestions. :)

  3. I'm so glad to see you cut that first line from your previous entry. This paragraph is much more interesting and still paints a very vivid picture to start off, which is honestly my favorite way to start a novel. I love when people write me a word picture (heart eyes)

    The gaming system is much more clear now also. We get a better idea of exactly what Kade is doing and I love that. Even more word pictures!

    “Your father and I…” great, simple way to establish early who we should be expecting later on!

    Just a thought about the mention of the food smell. At first I was wondering if the smell was confirming that the wrong thing was being made, but I realize earlier you mention “chocolate over spice” cake, and now you're speaking of a peppered roast beef. I don't think what you have is bad either way, but I just thought that moment could be a fun little way of showing whether the cook remembered or not, and maybe have an opportunity to show a bit of Kade's internal reaction, maybe another opportunity to give us some of his voice, as well as making the mention of the cake more pointful. Just a thought!

    I do like the way you've reconfirmed who's talking, father and mother, but I wonder if it's necessary now since you've taken out the additional mention of Ms Reddington.

    I feel like reiterating that it's Kade's mother and father talking so much is now a little too much. I think you could change it to:
    “It’s the intensity of my parent's voices. After I steady myself, I lean closer to the door and listen.”

    The you can leave mother and father in the dialogue tags. Or you can leave “the intensity of mother … and father …” and have them use names in their diologue since it will be assumed that the dialogue is coming from mother first and father second from you set up (although this way might read as a forced way to interject names early while I feel like the dialogue you have now is very fluid and nature). There's nothing super wrong with how you have it now, I just feel like it would be a little more dynamic without the repetition of “mother, father”

    This eavesdropped conversation is great because it makes the reader feel like they are eavesdropping as well. We're not supposed to know the complete context of what Kade's mother and father are talking about, but instead are meant to file it away for later. Without the confusion of who's speaking, we get to notice the information you're hinting about much clearer.

    I don't think you need to change retrieve. It's clear that it's not only Kade who speaks formally so I feel like it says a lot about the family dynamic. He's clearly been raised to say retrieve.

    I think the following would read just a little bit better: “Sixteen.” The age I turn today.

    I feel like Kade's internal thought “what about my birthday?” would be much more impactful if he actually attempted to say it aloud but was interrupted. This would also better justify his outburst later when he's otherwise ignored. I think it would give you the excuse of turning that “grumble” into more of an “interjection”. And therefore his mother and father reaction would feel a bit more justified. Maybe also phrase it as a question (though rhetorical): Even though I know I'm going to regret it, I interject. “So I'm dressed in a suit for nothing?”

    Additionally, He's basically being talked over here in this little segment and I feel that frustration for him. It would be great if we got a bit more of how he's feeling in this moment as all the adults sorta, act like he's not even there.

    1. I agree that Sofiya is a little ambiguous in age and it might be good to just squeeze in a little hint. Is there wrinkles around her mouth as she speaks that dialect pudding (love that btw) maybe? Is she wearing the wig to cover her gray hair? You do a great job giving us a picture of her already so don't go too overboard.

      There are four people in the room, but I know you mean the third since Sofiya can't really communicate with herself (without looking crazy at least). Still, there might be an easier way to phrase this that wouldn't cause the confusion of putting a number to the people in the room.

      This is such a great update. I know your next revision will put in those last few little additions that will really tighten this up. I'm looking forward to it!!!

    2. Danielle, I'm glad you like the revisions. And thanks for all of the suggestions on how to make the pages stronger. I'm torn about the retrieve line. I get what Brian is saying, but Kade was taught to say retrieve. You get this, and I love that!

      Thank you again!! I look forward to what you have to say about the next version.

  4. This opening works much better, IMO. You've made the computer game much more clear and easy to follow. And this version hints more strongly that the game is important, so that makes sense.

    I did think it odd that we didn't get more interiority from Kade. That was the big thing I was going to suggest, but then I read your comments above. It sounds like he has been conditioned to repress emotions. If that's the case, I think you could make the "outburst" a bigger thing. When he says the bit about getting dressed up for nothing, it doesn't feel like an outburst at all. It just feels like the parents are overreacting in a big way. So I wonder if you could have him steel himself for the onslaught after he makes the comment so that we know that he knows he has stepped over the line. Not sure if I'm making sense. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that you can still add some interiority to hint at the big-time repression that's going on inside of Kade. Yes, repression is subconscious, but you can imply it by showing a little more of Kade's thought process. It's not an easy thing to do, but I think it will be key to getting the reader to understand Kade and root for him.

    Nice job with the revisions!

    1. Thanks, Lana. I'm glad the training game is more clear now. I'm still working on how to show Kade repression without making him seem emotionless. Thankfully, he only has to remain this way for one chapter.

  5. Good job with these revisions! Everything is much, much clearer to me now.

    I did feel like his parents repeat each others' names in dialogue quite a lot for this short excerpt, to the point where it felt stilted. I would recommend considering cutting all but one "Grace" and "August." (I know they are supposed to sound stilted and speak formally, but I wasn't getting the sense that the names were part of that.) They say Kade's name a lot, too, but it feels much more natural each time.

    I guess also, the line about being dressed in a suit for nothing confused me a bit because I wasn't sure why he was dressed in the suit in the first place? His birthday dinner, I assume, and it's a waste now because his parents aren't going to be there for it? Is the fact he's dressed in a suit really the upsetting part about that? (Maybe he's trying not to address the actual upsetting part... but maybe in that case some interiority would help, because what I wonder is why he's getting upset about the suit specifically. Maybe also because it seems to me like they're the type of family who would wear suits a lot.)

  6. Ellie, Thank you.

    I think you're right about the names and overuse of attributes, but everyone was confused in the first version without them. It seems I need to find that happy median. :)