Sunday, April 7, 2019

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Jolley

Name: Mary Jolley
Genre: Young Adult: Magical Realism

The ocean roared against the cliffs, calling to me. Sunlight scratched my eyelids. I didn’t want to open them. Outside, a gull squawked. Day two in the Faroe Islands. I sucked in a breath and faced reality—still in the attic where Dad had put us. His daughters. Like junk. Cracks veined the pitched A-frame ceiling. I groped my backpack for my half-empty water bottle.

“What time is it?” Elin rolled, jostling the cranky double bed.

I found my phone—the phone that no longer had cell service. “It’s two.”

Elin sat up. “In the afternoon?” She cradled her head in her hands. “Ugh. Dizzy.” Her hair fell forward in a golden sheet.

I stumbled across the bare wood floor to the tiny bathroom. The thin square toilet seat was weirdly low to the ground. The grainy bar of soap at the sink smelled like seaweed. I picked up my toothbrush. Elin squeezed in with me.

“I could eat a horse,” Elin said.

“Don’t even say it. That could possibly be what’s for breakfast.”

“As long as it’s not raw gucky fish again.”

We went downstairs and found breakfast in the fridge—a slice of dense nutty bread topped with mayonnaise, tiny cold shrimp, and dill. Gag.

“I’m going full vegan,” Elin said.

“Pretty sure that’s an eating disorder around here.” I bravely picked up one of the toasts. I brought it near my face and inhaled dead fish. I sealed my lips and put it back. Where could I get a bowl of cereal? Maybe a banana? I rummaged around the small fridge. Strange meats and cheeses. Condiments. Smoked fish. Creepy amount of dill and radish. I pulled out two cucumbers and two apples and handed one of each to Elin.

She lifted a note from the counter and read it aloud in Danish. “Good morning Elin and Serena. Didn’t want to wake you. I’m at work. Enjoy your smørrebrød and this lovely morning. STAY on Hardrada property. I’ll show you more around the island tonight. See you for another late dinner. Dad.” Elin dropped the paper and switched to English. “So much for bonding with Dad today.”

Why did he even want us here? He hadn’t been home yesterday when we arrived after the never-ending voyage from Utah. We’d moved here for him. We’d left our lives to make a new one with Dad. He cared so much he had his assistant pick us up from the local island heliport. I hated feeling like an orphan.

“Let’s go,” I said, ripping off a chunk of apple with my teeth.

“He says to stay here.” Elin’s blue eyes were sharp and disapproving.

“I’ll explode if I do.” After yesterday’s flights and this cramped cottage, I needed to move. The ocean and rugged coastline beckoned. “Stay here if you want.”

Elin puffed out a disbelieving breath. “I’m not letting you go alone. I’m coming.”

“Then let’s go.”

The day boasted sunny and warm. We changed into shorts and sneakers. Outside, I peeked through the windows of a small shed.

“Now we’re talking.” I opened the rusty door and tugged a couple of old bicycles out of the shadows.

“I haven’t ridden a bike in years,” Elin said.

I filled the flat tires with the hand pump. “You’ll be fine. It’s just like riding a bike.”

Elin rolled her eyes, but took her hands off her hips and put them on the handle bar I offered. “What about helmets?”

“None in here.” I eyed dust mites and fishing gear.

“That’s safe, Dad.”

“We’ll be careful,” I said.

“And we won’t go far,” Elin said.

We’ll see.

Even though Elin was eleven months older than me, I led out on our bikes. I was five inches taller and hewn from stronger material. Lean muscle, lithe, and athletic.

And I knew where I was going.

The beach I’d seen last night on Dad’s brief island tour called to me. A narrow strip of black beach nestled among the crags. I wanted to stand where sea meets land—where two worlds collide.

Growing up in landlocked Utah, I hadn’t been to the coast. Mom never took us to the ocean. Ever. Seeing the deep beauty, I thought maybe she stayed away because the memories were too painful. But today, for the first time in my life, I would touch the ocean.

We pedaled away from the whitewashed cottage, past Hardrada Energy, Dad’s mining company. The steel buildings looked like alien invaders on the sleepy island. The main gate of the company compound opened as we approached.

Enjoying a false sense of escaping, I took the curving road south along the rugged coastal cliffs. We passed verdant pastures and red and white houses, but few cars. The wind woke me and the pounding of my legs brought me back to myself.

Elin constantly told me to slow down, and I silently pushed her faster. Far out to sea, Dad’s mining barge looked like a toy boat surrounded by a world of shimmery navy. He’d pointed it out last night when he’d finally graced us with his presence.

We rode for an hour before I found a path leading down the cliff. I stopped in front of a handwritten sign that read, Beware the beach below. Danger. Go to Freya Cove instead. Danger of what? I wanted to see this beach. Find out why I couldn’t stop thinking of that strip of black sand I had seen from the cliffs last night. I blocked the sign from view, determined I would be careful. I waited for Elin to catch up.

Scowling and panting, Elin rolled to a stop. “I’m ready to turn around.”

“Just down this path a little ways. Then we’ll take a rest before heading straight back.”

She wiped at a thin layer of sweat on her brow. “Fine.”

The path turned to packed dirt and shifted steeply down as it cut into black cliffs. Exhilarated by the beauty, I loosened the brakes and flew. Elin whooped behind me. She cheered when having fun. When we went sledding, she was the loudest on the mountain. People flocked to her for it. I enjoyed the pleasure in silence—that made the riot bigger inside my chest.

At the bottom of the cliffs, the path ended abruptly at a swath of small rocks. I slammed my brakes and skidded to the side. Elin wasn’t so quick. She hit the gravel.

 “Whoa!” Her wheels twisted and stopped with a jerk. She jumped off as the bike slid to the ground.

Well we found the danger. “Nice move.” My heart thrummed. “You okay?”

“I’m fine. Banged my leg is all.” She panted and grimaced as she surveyed her scratched shin and red knee.

I picked up her bike. Flat tire. Rats.

“I didn’t want to bike home anyway,” she said. “Call Dad.”

Last night Dad had given us a flip phone from the dinosaur age. I pulled it out of my sports bra and wiped off the sheen of sweat. “No service.” I flipped it closed.

“We can try again up on the main road.” She looked up. “Out of this canyon.” The way back disappeared between towering rock faces. The way forward was a jumble of massive boulders.

“First, we are checking this out.” I left the bikes and eagerly started for the crack of blue visible between massive rocks lining the path. Sneakers crunched on sharp gravel. Protective Plexiglas covered the sheer face of a slanting boulder. Engravings etched the rock underneath.

“Super rad,” I said. Viking carvings. The Vikings were intense and admittedly brutal, but pretty awesome considering their genius and prowess. I pressed my hands over the glass, wishing I could trace the curves and slashes with my fingers. I loved myths, Norse most especially. There was the Yggdrasil, the world tree. Crude animals and weapons surrounded it. The symbol for Rán, goddess of the sea.


  1. I really enjoyed this! The idea that these girls are in a new country, a small coastal area, exploring everything is really exciting! I feel the excitement as your main character makes her way toward the beach. Even the little signs that there might be trouble shared are intriguing.

    I think perhaps you start the story just a little bit before the action, though. The waking up, eating, airing up bike tires—none of that really furthers your story. Start with the journey to the beach and give us glimpses of who these girls are and why they’re there through that. You did a great job of previewing why they were there when you wrote about the dad’s company and the ship and all that. If you cut out the first few paragraphs it will put the reader into the action right away.

    You excel at descriptions. I particularly loved this part: “Even though Elin was eleven months older than me, I led out on our bikes. I was five inches taller and hewn from stronger material. Lean muscle, lithe, and athletic.

    And I knew where I was going.”

    Such a lovely way to characterize your MC. I really enjoyed those descriptions.

    Can’t wait to see your next version! Keep up the good work.

  2. Hi Mary,

    Our guest author mentor is having trouble posting comments to the blog, so I've cut and pasted her comments here. ELD

    Comments by L.E. Sterling

    Mary: you have here a premise that is so filled with possibilities! Well done! This manuscript could go just about anywhere as it delves into a complex relationship to the environment and the bond between the sisters and their (estranged?) father.

    What I think these first pages could do is direct the scene a little more for the reader. Your opening lines make me think the girls are prisoners, for instance, but this turns out to be not the case at all. What is most important for the reader to know?

    Reordering some of the information here might make that clearer; you could set the scene a little more (and reader’s expectations) by narrating first on how and when the girls arrived, how it is (and maybe why) they left their mother’s?

    As for the Viking pictographs: I get the sense these will turn out to be very important to the story! Maybe instead of delving into so much information on the girls as they wake and go outside, you could open the scene at the rocks – maybe the girls could even pedal towards them on purpose, after seeing them from farther away?

    A terrific start – can’t wait to see what you do with this!

  3. Hi Mary,

    Worlds colliding...the sisters' old world in Utah and the new one with their father by the ocean. And if I'm reading the foreshadowing correctly, this new world will also collide with era of the Vikings.

    I like how you build a sense of danger--no bicycle helmets, the treacherous path to the beach, Elin's fall, etc. And, of course, the pictographs by the "brutal" Vikings. Nice touch about the note in Danish from their father.

    I, too, thought their girls were being imprisoned, and perhaps that is their interpretation of their new life. If so, perhaps you could expand on why they are with their father and why he seems so controlling.

    Also, it would be great to see Serena touch the ocean as she wished to do. I'm thinking that this is to come down the line.

    This chapter pulls the reader in and makes her feel a bond with the girls. Great beginning!

  4. Hi Mary,

    I really enjoyed reading this! You did a great job of describing the coastal setting, and I got a real sense of the isolation of it all.

    From your opening paragraph, my initial thought was the girls were being held captive by their father. I think it was the phrasing "in the attic where Dad had PUT us.". Made it sound they were forced into the attic.

    My main thought was that the action could start a little sooner. Waking up, checking the fridge, getting the bikes out, it doesn't do much to push the story forward and I found it a little slow.

    Perhaps they could already be riding the bikes and you could set the scene as they cycle to the beach? Or they could already be at the beach, looking out to their Dad's mining barge, and that could get some of the backstory out.

    A great start, I wanted to keep on reading, especially now Vikings have been mentioned!

  5. Hi Mary,

    Thank you for participating in the workshop! I think you have a strong start here, and I loved the island setting. I also enjoyed the glimpses into the dynamics between these sisters.

    I second the thoughts that others have had that the beginning makes this seem like a much different story, one in which the girls are prisoners. I would add to this by saying that I also had a hard time identifying exactly which genre this story was falling in (despite knowing it will be magical realism). The tone and descriptions (to my ear) bounced from sci-fi, to historical, to contemporary. For example, the description of the attic and the old phones had me thinking this was the past. But then there was a heliport, and shiny buildings, and a compound. I think it’s okay to have the contrast between the island and the company you’ve mentioned, but make sure the reader always knows what kind of story they are in.

    I would also agree with others that the story really starts when they’ve left the house. The details you have about their journey to the island, their dad, etc. should not be wasted, but rather can be integrated into the narrative as the girls explore.

    Looking forward to seeing your revision!

    All the best,


  6. Hi, Mary! What a great start to an intriguing story. I love the symbolism you bring out right from the get go. Clashing world--Utah vs. the islands, modern world vs. Vikings. Even the sisters seem very different. One is cautious while the other seeks a little danger. Her sister whoops with excitement while your MC cherishes the quiet. You did an excellent job with this.

    I agree with the other commenters. The opening paragraph made me think we were delving into a Flowers in the Attic type story, but the freedom they have seems endless. I get the point you're trying to get across. That they are more like things rather than daughters to him. They're better not seen or heard. Is this the only place he could put them? I'd think he'd offer a couch or blankets on the floor in the living room at least? He seems wealthy which would leave me to believe he isn't living in a one bedroom shack. I don't know...just things to think about.

    I agree that your description is really good, however, it may be just a little over the top. The opening paragraph is flooded with adjectives giving it a "flowery" sense. While some of this is good, I think too much can lose its impact. I'd focus on what things you want to draw the reader's attention to to set up mood, scenery, etc and use those pivotal moments to emphasize with the adjectives.

    The bike scene felt a bit long winded. The dialogue felt a little it didn't need to all be there or that it was filler. I think you could shorten this up and get us to the black sand beach a little quicker. Make every word and phrase count. Every sentence in your piece should have a purpose. Either it conveys plot, character, scenery, tension, mood, etc.

    That being said...I was very nit picky with my critique. The story is overall lovely and if this is all I had to read, it'd be a book I'd pick up and take home. Nice job!

  7. Hi Mary!

    I loved the dynamic between the sisters and the characterization of each, fabulous descriptions! The Viking stuff at the end definitely piqued my interest.

    The opening scene in the attic has a very heavy, trapped, foreboding feeling and I was really surprised when the girls went downstairs and then ventured out of the house as the opening made it seem like they were prisoners, that Dad kidnapped them and locked them in the attic, but that maybe the MC couldn't quite accept it yet and therefore didn't outright state it. I figured it out as I got further, but it was a little jarring to realize how wrong the impression I got was.

    I would've loved more hints as to their circumstance, why their dad brought them there, how well they know their dad. It seems like they went willingly, but neither seems very happy about it, which was confusing without any hints as to why. Could be those are coming up on the next page and I was being impatient.

    I am all for the MC's rebellious streak and going where she shouldn't, though I would've loved to be in her head a little more for that. Did she care she was breaking a rule? Is she usually a rule breaker? Was she worried about getting caught?

    The MC's use of "rad" did throw me a little and make me wonder what year this is set in. Not a big issue, just something that made me pause.

    Overall, fabulous work! I'm excited to see the next draft :)