Sunday, January 6, 2019

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Majo & Nessa

Name: Majo and Nessa
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

One lick never killed anyone. Unless it was poison.

Or Mom’s glare.

But I was not going to lick Mom’s face anytime today. She was already in a mood because we got here late (no thanks to me), and besides, eyeliner tasted terrible. I’d tried. Now, three layers deep of it? Nu-huh.

Come on, Ase. It’s just one lick.

The strawberry tart was waving at me from the dessert tray, a glazed gelée coating its crust in sweetened swirls of forbidden bliss.

Further down the buffet table, Mom had her back to me, lightly leaned over the fizzy water fountain. My eyes roamed over the golden croissant on her plate, then lowered toward the poor slices of kiwi in mine.


The table was dotted with foodie crimes—caramel custards, white-chocolate cupcakes, decadent éclairs, creamy cheesecakes. All gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and Asena-free. It was unfair. A torture.

One swipe. One lick.

A vicious voice rose inside me. She won’t see you.


I jumped, my knuckles snapping against the side of the table. My kiwis nearly toppled off to the floor, but remained glued to the crystal sheen of the plate. Dammit.

I blinked back tears of pain as I looked up to Mom. She was gaping at my plate, her lashes fluttering in confusion. For a moment I thought she would offer me a treat (a multigrain bagel, perhaps?) but her hand closed around a jar of pear salad that she promptly added to my plate.

“You need fruits. They’re good for your skin.” She leaned over and whispered, “Did you try the face masks I bought you?”

I nodded, pressing my painful hand to my mouth. “Hm-hm.”

Mom straightened, her signature glare piercing holes into my cheeks. “Do you know how to use them? You have terrible circles under your eyes. People will wonder what you stayed up doing a Saturday night.”

By people, she meant Miss Chen, her best-friend-worst-nemesis who we were having lunch with. These two had a habit of keeping scores and an accurate history of everything the other’s children had ever done wrong in their lives. It was a sort of competition. These brunches were outright interrogations, and skipping on one was pleading guilty. It was their way of maintaining the peace between two dictatorial queendoms. To me, it was another torture.

Miss Chen’s son, Truby, was in most of my classes. Sometimes I had a feeling he was spying on me on behalf of his mother. Mom certainly suggested I did the same.

“I was finishing a report,” I replied, evasively, my attention back to the buffet table.

Not for that biochem exam, that was for sure. I had been writing a long, positively detailed report to Daya about what went down the night before.

The reason behind this majestically-filled-with-exclamation-points wall of text? The reason I’d got home late from campus this morning?

A smile perked up on my lips.

“Asena!” Mom whisper-shouted from the back of the restaurant.

Busted, a voice called out in my head. I’d been staring at the strawberry tart for too long.

Mom was already seated at her favorite table next to the palatial bay windows, where the lighting of the morning sun gave her pale skin a brilliant glow.

I muttered a silent goodbye to my friend the strawberry tart and shuffled back toward Mom.

I reached the table at the same time as Truby. He shot me the barest of lip twitch before taking the seat next to the one I was going for. I hesitated, considering rounding the table to sit beside Mom, when Miss Chen appeared in her turquoise dress, assaulting me with all the shiny glitters. Her sharp gaze made a sweep of me in my white peplum dress.

“You’ve gotten so tall, Asena.”

She made sure I remembered my height every Sunday. Thank goodness she was here or I might forget how much I could never find long enough leggings to wear during classes. I solved the issue by wearing leg warmers over my pants any chance I got—until Mom came to visit me on campus one day and decreed this was not a proper dress code for young, respectable, college girls. Then she solved the issue for good by bringing me dress shopping. One dress for every occasion. But even the fluffiest of dresses could not dwarf me.

“I eat all my vegetables,” I replied with a tight smile.

Not picking up on my gruff tone, Miss Chen beamed. “Tall girls like you usually have trouble finding tall boys to mate.”

Despite myself, I winced.

In normal circumstances, I would’ve glanced around to make sure no one else had heard, and absolutely not looked over to Truby who I knew was hiding his face deep in his mug of coffee. Normally, I would’ve made a fool of myself and lost it. But I couldn’t give Mom any more reasons to hate me, so I simply pulled out my own chair and plopped on it.

“Asena doesn’t have time to mate.”

I coughed—a nervous tic I’d never been able to shake. Those who’d known me long enough knew it came from embarrassment. Those who didn’t figured it out pretty quickly.

Right now I was thankful for my mother, the voice of wisdom, and eternal savior of my soul. Looking at her, she seemed to idolize me. Listening to her, I was some kind of otherworldly goddess who could do no wrong.

All an act, but I wasn’t complaining.

Mom rose her chin higher. “She has a big test coming up next week.”

Yes. The big test. The one that would determine if I could pick advanced classes in the fall. Without these extra credits, I couldn’t apply to med school in two years. Without med school, I couldn’t ensure the succession of the cardiologist gene that ran in my family. I would be a sham. An unworthy child meant for exile.

Miss Chen let out a disinterested hum and picked up a warm cinnamon roll with two manicured fingers. She licked at her thumb, her eyes sparkling with delight, and eagerly reached for her dessert spoon.

The soft pastry gave way to the spoon, and a cloud of heat escaped, a scented joy that made my stomach grumble. Truby shot me a look.

I shifted on my seat, and stabbed my fork into a piece of pear. Facing us, Mom and Miss Chen raved on about the Ivy League and some Kamila girl who had dared to send her children to Canada. Quite frankly, McGill University seemed like a good enough school. But I wasn’t sitting at the good enough table.

Something brushed against my leg. As I peeked under the table, my heart made a rattling jump. How did you get there, buddy? My friend the strawberry tart sat next to me on the cushioned chair.

I lifted my eyes and met Truby’s. He stared back at me with an expression I couldn’t read (pretty much his resting face). The murder weapon laid between us, inconspicuous, and outrageously delicious. My mouth started to water. This time one lick wouldn’t be enough. This tart deserved to be eaten whole.


I startled so hard that my arm spasmed and the tart made a dive to the floor. I hid it behind my crossed legs as I gawked at Mom. Had she seen what had happened? Had I voiced my sinful thoughts aloud? Was the tart all right?


  1. Hi Majo and Nessa!

    I like the voice you have in this excerpt! It’s strong and had me laughing at Asena's inner thoughts (my favorite is the last line where she wonders if the tart is alright!)

    And I love the first line--at first I was like *what* is she talking about, especially with the licking her mom bit, but then the explanation came pretty quick and it all clicked into place--I am still curious if this is an actual dietary restriction of some sort or a self-imposed (read mom-imposed) restriction and expectation. I feel like knowing one way or the other would help solidify Asena's character because each possibility will lead the reader to very different versions of Asena in their heads.

    There is a lot of info given to the reader here and it jumps around a bit. I think it’s all important, it made a clear picture of who Asena is, but you might want to consider scaling back a bit and taking the time to develop the most important pieces with more showing rather than giving one nugget of info and then jumping to another. Basically just making it more subtle and trusting that the reader is going to pick up on it.

    My final question is about the tart..(sorry! lol) but you genre says contemporary, which says no magic to me, but then the tart ends up on her chair. So I'm guessing that Truby snuck it to her? But then the other part of me wants the tart to be magical (I'm a fantasy person!) and she summoned it to herself or it’s just a magic tart and chose Asena as the one lucky enough to eat it. But I definitely get some magic vibes from these first pages, (which again, might just be me because that is my jam).

    Thanks for letting me read! The excerpt definitely caught my interest and raised lots of *good* questions about Asena that would entice me to read on.


  2. Hi Majo and Nessa,
    The dialogue and narration flows and is a fast read. Like Katie, I am wondering about the food restrictions. Is the main character battling food addiction? From the inner dialogue, that's what I am sensing. If this is the case, I am interested in knowing more about her battles and what led her to them. Her triggers.

    I like the introduction of another culture and perspective on relationships. I can relate!

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Majo and Nessa, Loved. Repeat. Loved the food restriction and twist at the end. Your story gave just the right amount of seasoning (details) along the way. I really like the dynamic that you set up between these four characters. I'm on Asena's side. I'm glad that she got the tart at the end, although I could almost imagine Miss Chen eating it in front of her. The story is very relatable. I got a very clear sense of how your character craved the very thing that could harm her. Thanks, Jeannie Lambert

  4. The voice in this piece is a lot of fun and reads easily. I did get hung up on the licking mom joke. I read it over a few times and then read the whole selection again . The licking line is cute but I still found myself stuck on it. Just a point to consider you may not need it since there's so much else that's visual and engaging about her eyeing the tarts and knowing they aren't for her. Like the other comments, it could provide more context to give more of a hint of why she's forbidden to eat sweets. If it's all for show for Miss Chen or if this is how her mother is all the time.

    How old is your character? She seemed very teenagery and fitting for YA and then I got to the part saying she is in college and 2 years from med school. I wondered why she was still so fearful of her mother's scolding if she's at least 20 years old - that seems more like a younger teen's reaction. However, you can always make that work so long as you give a reason. Something like, At nearly-twenty-years-old, yes, I still feared my mother's intense glare (etc).

    The other thing about the age is if you want to pitch this to traditional publishers, most agents and editors will say they want a YA story to feature a character who is under 18 years old and still in high school. If this story is set outside of the US or there is some other school situation where college age is actually younger, it would be helpful to note (since schooling terms vary across the world I don't want to assume anything). It's not to say you can't write a story set in college, but understanding how best to pitch this should be considered. A recent example - American Panda by Gloria Chao. Her character graduates high school one year early and leaves for college. She's still 17 and the issues in the book are very "YA" themed about going out on her own and her relationship with her mother.

  5. Hi Majo & Nessa,

    You do a great job introducing us to the voice of the narrator. She’s unique and quirky and funny, which grabbed my attention right away.

    However, I feel a bit disoriented at the beginning. Where are we? She’s getting food from a restaurant but are there other people around? It feels like just her and her mom. I’m also unsure of the genre. It has a fantasy feel with the part about her licking the eyeliner, so I thought it might be set somewhere other than our normal world, but then that drops off and I’m guessing I misunderstood what that was supposed to mean. As the first sentence, it’s always good to make sure it both hooks and orients us to the story. I love the part about her wanting to eat the food she can’t though, so that’s great! Maybe just clarify what she means or that it’s a joke so we understand.

    As the story continues, there’s a lot of elements – her mom’s best friend, the son and the awkwardness there, mention of texting her friend about some event the night before, etc. I’d love to follow one of these threads more completely instead of jumping around. I think readers need something solid to grasp onto in this intro, and while all the elements are interesting, it’d be great to get them slower throughout the story instead of all in the intro scene.

    Great writing! Looking forward to the revisions!

  6. Really lovely voice and I’m enjoying Asena’s sarcasm and sense of humor. The tension between her and her mother, and then between her family and Truby’s is very familiar to me from my work as a school counselor. I’ve listened to a lot of kids making similar complaints and your pages feel very authentic to my experiences. I also like the tiny hint that Truby might actually be an ally there near the end.

    A few things you might want to take a look at:
    - When Mom first appears, they seem to be at the buffet table and then she’s suddenly at the back of the room. It feels like you did some editing but maybe didn’t clean it up all the way.
    - This bit also mentions a text to a friend, but the phone isn’t anywhere else in the scene. I’d either take that out or expand. Having Asena send an annoyed text to a friend here would certainly match the tone.
    - As others have mentioned, the voice seems quite young – my guess would’ve been about 15 before you bring up college and med school.
    - I was also unclear is this is contemporary or not. Some of the word choices (mate, exile) and the tart magically appearing on her seat might indicate otherwise.

    Overall, really great, I would definitely read more!

  7. This is Erin posting for Amy:
    Greetings, Majo and Nessa – happy to meet you online and read your work.

    The conflict here is clearly about a struggle for independence and control – a mother-daughter battle.

    You do a great job with voice – Asena is funny and strange and defiant, and I have a sense of her as a person. That said, some of it is so strange I’m kind of derailed by it – she tasted eye-liner? I don’t have a problem with that in general, but as it comes right at the opening, I don’t feel like I know enough about her to understand how to read this detail.

    Our setting is “lunch” or “brunch” (both are stated). If you led with the setting – or moved it above the first few lines – we’d know, then, that this is a character who copes with control and these buffets through wild flights of imagination. Then the eyeliner/face lick remarks becom specific and interesting, rather than disorienting.

    What if you led with some version of your sentence “I wasn’t sitting at the good enough table” ?

    I’m tripped up on a few details: the strawberry tart waving is funny/charming at first, and helps develop the quirks of Asena’s voice but becomes something bigger in the last two paragraphs - “murder weapon” “sinful” and personified “the tart made a dive.” It reads as kind of surreal (to my eye) and makes me question what I thought I knew about the central conflict. Can this be lessened, or, if this is a novel primarily about Asena’s relationship to food, turned up? I don’t know where it stands right now.

    I’m interested in Asena, and her controlling mother, and her mother’s frenemy, and the suggestion of Asena’s late night, and even in Truby but I don’t yet know what’s most important here. Is this a mother-daughter conflict novel? Is it a food-relationship/eating disorder novel? Is there a romance of some sort, or what was the mystery of the previous night? It’s not clear to me yet and that clarity is what will propel the reader beyond the opening.

    Looking forward to your revision!