Monday, April 15, 2019

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Jolley Rev 1

Name: Mary Jolley
Genre: Young Adult: Magical Realism

The ocean roared against the cliffs, calling to me. The squawking of birds filtered over the plateau to the cottage. Even though my sister, Elin, was eleven months older, 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 Faroe 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. Yesterday, 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.

“Slow down, Serena,” Elin called from five yards behind me.

I did. For a minute.

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. He cared so much about having his daughters here that instead of coming himself, he’d had his assistant pick us up from the local island heliport after our never-ending voyage from Salt Lake City.

We rode for two miles along the cliff before I found a path that looked like it led down to the shore. I stopped in front of a handwritten sign that read, Beware the beach below. Danger. 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 stood in front of the sign, blocking it from view. I would be careful.

            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 path 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 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.

“So sick,” 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.

“What’s that?” Elin pointed to an icon depicting a scaly fish with shark teeth and human arms.

“The Vikings believed mermaids patrolled these waters,” I said. “They made sacrifices to the wave maidens for safe passage.” I studied the joining of human limb and fish tail. This was so cool. “I’ve read stories they sacrificed their own children.” I’d read every mythology book at the American Fork Library, but to see evidence in person made me giddy. “Check that out.” I pointed to a serpent coiled to eat the mutant fish.

“I think they had island fever,” Elin said, with her grossed-out face.

My chuckle died when I fixed on a crude drawing of the male fish-person holding hands with a woman. Usually it was the men who were enchanted by sea-maidens—and then subsequently drowned. I didn’t know any stories where women were beguiled by the sea. But I wanted to read them.

Elin turned from the ancient art, and I reluctantly followed. We emerged from the canyon a short distance later. The beach.

            The gravel turned to fine black sand. The soothing sound of lapping waters rolled over the secluded cove. To the left, boulders jumbled down into the waves, creating hidden pockets.

“It’s perfect,” I said. I could see how Vikings believed exotic creatures existed under this mysterious blue expanse. I almost did, too. It was fun to pretend anyway.

“Beautiful,” Elin said with a swoon. “And so much bigger in real life.”

Shoes and socks dropped to the sand, and I ran down the middle of the beach. When I hit the water, I jerked to a stop, my teeth slamming. The sweat on my skin turned to ice. I fisted my hands. Mom’s diamond ring on my pinky, hewn from sea coral, dug into my skin. Elin cautiously approached and stuck in a toe. She shrieked and retreated.

I stood, ankle deep, and threw out my arms. The frozen froth, salty air, and crystalline beauty awoke something deep inside. The mysterious ocean glimmered like liquid jewels. I was alive—for the first time in two months.

Since that police officer had shown up at our door.

The sea spray kissed my skin, sending electricity skidding across it. My heart beat with the rhythm of the waves. My hair had fallen loose of my braid, and it danced with the wind. Time and sorrow faded. This vast expanse was my soul—dark, frozen, and churning. I wanted to wrap up in the brine and stroke through the mysterious waters.

With wicked delight and full of freedom, I gave into the wild urge gripping me. I let go of my worries, my grief, and let the strange magnetic pull of the ocean have me. Arms over my ears and hands together, I leapt forward and dove headfirst into a small cresting wave.

The sea welcomed me.

Blood retreated to my heart as cold encased me. I resisted the urge to rocket to the surface. Instead, I waited, listening to the crackle of tiny creatures. I’d been in a thousand swimming pools, but this was a different experience completely. This was—I wasn’t even sure. But I loved it. Needed it. Eyes closed, I floated in numbing emptiness. The waves rocked me like a cradling mother.

“SER-EEE-NA!” Water muffled Elin’s panicked screams.

Icy pain snapped me from my fantasy. I was the fastest sixteen-year-old swimmer in the western United States, but my limbs were sluggish and slow. Anxiety rose as reality broke through my reverie. What had I been thinking jumping into the ocean like that? Fighting paralysis, I jolted out of the water.

Elin, stricken and white, stood ankle-deep in the ocean, her arms reaching for me. “What happened?”

Stiff as frozen fish, I shuffled up the shore. “It’s colder than it looks.”

“You jumped?” Her voice had gone dangerously high as her warm finger wrapped my forearm.

“It was dumb.” But wonderful. The ocean invited me back even now. I would return another day, when I had a towel and a ride home.

“Yes, it was.” Her nostrils flared, and her tone mimicked Mother’s when she was angry.

My chattering teeth were my only reply.

Her face softened. “Let’s get you home before you freeze.”

Home. Dad’s unwelcoming cottage mocked the word. Elin led the way toward the path in the rocks. I hesitated, looking over my shoulder for one last look at the beautiful blue.

The wind shifted. I inhaled and then breathed again—trying to hold the delicious smell. Pineapple, thyme, and clean skin. What was that? I gulped down each whiff of the tantalizing swirls, failing to find the source. The scent wrapped me like an embrace, stirring up the desire to be kissed, before dissipating. Feeling as though I’d lost something valuable, I shuffled up the beach.


  1. Hi Mary,
    What a beautiful job you did reordering the flow of these pages.

    Leading off with the sisters leaving on their adventure gave their trip to the beach immediacy and a sense of escapism.

    The ocean called to Serena and she was responding. I think some of what you took out about their father would be valuable to include later on, especially how they felt imprisoned in their new home, but it was a good move to hold this information back in the first pages. His writing to his daughters in Danish, which they clearly understood, had been a nice touch.

    The way the reader finds out about the girls' mother--first through the ring now being worn by the oldest daughter, which foretells of catastrophe--and then the memory of the police officer, which confirms the suspicion that something horrible had happened--was well done.

    I especially enjoyed learning more about the Viking legends, and I love that Serena was able to "touch" the ocean so fully! Your description of her venture into the water was beautifully lyrical as was the last paragraph about the scents Serena was experiencing. Like Serena, I want to know that that was.

  2. This beginning is an improvement on an already fantastic opening! I feel much more pulled into the story, more action, riding bikes with the girls instead of watching them wake up and go to the fridge.

    I would consider maybe reordering the opening paragraphs a little. Have a bit more of the bike riding action first, and then go into the backstory about Dad's mining company and Utah - just so we're drawn into the action right off the bat.

    Great job at setting the scene. I loved all the descriptions of water when Serena jumps in. Very beautifully put.

    Again, a great improvement at getting straight into the story - I feel you've set the tone here perfectly!

  3. I loved this so much. I get a MUCH better sense of what this book is about right away, and I want to read the rest. You definitely hooked me by going a little more in-depth about the Vikings, alluding to a woman being called to the sea, Serena's dive into freezing cold water. It was great!

    One suggestion I have is when you're explaining the Viking mythology you get a little info-dumpy. Maybe break up some of that or make it sound more natural. We don't HAVE to know everything about it right away. It was very cool to learn that Serena was a scholar on Norse mythology. Maybe mention that a little sooner with something like, "The only good thing about moving here was standing on Viking beaches" or something like that.

    Really love where this is headed! I love Norse mythology as well and I think this is great! Best of luck!

  4. Comments by L.E.Sterling:

    Brava, Mary! You have here a truly great revision! The tension in this opening just builds and builds -- you seem to be a natural at this.

    I love where this version starts, and how you quickly and deftly make contrasts between the sisters. If anything, I would suggest you go further with this. The narrator is the younger sister, but stronger -- can you show us what Elin is like?

    I think you might find it useful to do a sweep of these pages for information that is irrelevant or misleading. For instance, the narrator calls their escape from the mining company compound a “false sense of escaping” -- but the reader will want to know why it’s false.

    And, while I really like the information here regarding the father and his relationship (or lack thereof) with the girls -- this really builds a world -- I think it can afford to go elsewhere in manuscript. I’d stick very closely here to what is relevant to this first, revelatory scene.

    The cliff carving scene takes on new importance now -- great job! I think you can afford to slow down even more and show -- don’t tell -- the reader what these look like. It doesn’t have to be in great depth, but you can afford to give a little more to your reader.

    The moment the narrator jumps into the water feels very dramatic. I love the tension built in here. Is there something supernatural about her urge to go into the ocean? If so, you may want to tease that out a bit for the reader, show us what that is, even if you can’t yet reveal why.

    Amazing work!! Really looking forward to round 3!!

  5. Fantastic work on revising! The flow is much better, very strong and engaging. I love the hints of their past threaded within the action, very nicely done. This line: "The Vikings were intense and admittedly brutal, but pretty awesome considering their genius and prowess." felt a little on the tell-side for the sake of the reader in case they are unfamiliar with Vikings and I'm not sure you need it. I'd love another line or two on Elin to help establish what kind of person she is. All I know so far is that she likes to yell out her excitement and other people like that about her. Which is fabulous, but I'd love a little bit more sooner as I struggled to picture her.

    Serena's dive into the water was mesmerizing, excellent work there. I would keep reading for sure. I'm excited to see the next revision and the pitch!