Sunday, May 12, 2019

1st Five Pages May Workshop - Duperre Rev 1

Name: Amber Duperre
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Golden Lake

Living in upstate New York, seeing hummingbirds in the summer is a normal occurrence. Except for Nana and me. Every year, we filled and hung twenty hummingbird feeders in her square backyard- one of the many chores she made me do. Every year they went untouched. Until the third anniversary of Dad’s mysterious disappearance. My life changed forever on the day the hummingbirds showed up.

Carrying the feeder I’d just filled into the backyard, I found Nana standing in her favorite brown leather dress that stopped two inches above her knees. She wasn’t like other grandmas. I thought of my friends’ grandmas. Some of them knitted and some clipped coupons, but none made and wore short leather dresses. None were as physically fit as her either.

A buzzing sound permeated my head. Like a hundred bees at once. I screamed and ducked. My grip loosened on the bird feeder and I quickly supported it with my left hand just before it slipped out of my grasp.

Nana stretched her arms out like Frankenstein’s monster. Twelve ruby-throated hummingbirds perched on her arms, their green and red feathers shimmering in the sun’s mid-afternoon light. She turned her head to look at me.

I jumped, spilling sugar water onto my shoe. Nana’s eyes, her piercing green eyes that reminded me of the conniving nature of some household cats, were full of joy. She was smiling. That never happened. “They finally came,” she said, then turned her attention to the birds, her back facing me.

Hoping for a better look, I walked around to Nana’s front. Her eyebrows were drawn together and her mouth made an “O” shape. She nodded, as if the birds told her something important.

“Are they…. Are they talking to you?” I asked, running my hand through my long brown hair over and over again-- my nervous habit. This was too weird. Her bright eyes stared deep into mine. I didn’t look away like usual. I was too stunned.

“It’s about your parents.” She turned her head back toward the hummingbirds. Like she’d given me enough information. Like she hadn’t just dropped a bombshell the size of Texas on me.

“What are they saying?” What I really meant was, what’s going on with you? Birds don’t talk to humans. All I heard was chirping. Is Nana losing her mind, too? I can’t handle that.

My parents. What could birds know about Mom that I didn’t? And did they somehow have information about Dad? I couldn’t rule anything out when it came to him. Not when I knew so little. Not when I was so desperate for information. My dad disappeared in the river on the other side of town three years ago. It made no sense because he’d never gone to that river before and he had no reason to, as far as Mom and I knew. After that, he was never seen again and he left no trace, no explanation. Eventually, the cops told us, his body would wash up and we’d get some closure. I didn’t believe that. I didn’t think he was dead. He was alive; I could feel it in my bones. His body never turned up. And Mom… She was never the same after he disappeared.

“I know you and I haven’t seen eye to eye these last three years,” Nana said. I let out an exasperated huff noise. Understatement of the century. She knew I blamed her for having Mom admitted to the group home after Dad disappeared. And I never hid my feelings from her. She deserved to feel guilty for what she did. I had tried to take care of my mom. But I failed. One day, she had an outburst and hurt herself. She hurt me. I knew she was sorry; it wasn’t her fault.  And if Nana had been around to help, it might not have happened. But she couldn’t be bothered.

She thought I couldn’t take care of my own mother, that Mom had to go somewhere she could get ‘the help she needs.’ She tore my mom away from me even though she knew I had already lost my dad and how depressed I’d been since. I would never forgive her. Get on with it, woman.

“And I know you have many questions I never answered. About your father. About his disappearance. But I had good reason. I was protecting you, and I hope someday you will understand.”

The next words out of my mouth came louder than necessary. “Protecting me from what? Of course I had questions. There was a chance he was alive.” My voice cracked on the last word. I paused, feeling like I would hyperventilate if I didn’t. I paced back and forth, forcing my body to take slow breaths. “But you didn’t care. And you changed after. You shut me out at the worst time in my life.” My voice cracked again and a lump formed in my throat. I cleared it and continued. “I will never understand.”

“Let me explain. The hummingbirds said I finally could.”
“The hummingbirds? Are you kidding me?” I thought about turning and walking away. Though I didn’t believe hummingbirds could tell my nana what to do, I couldn’t help but wonder what she would say. Curiosity and the need for some kind of explanation, any kind of explanation, got the better of me. I stayed put.

She took a long, deep breath and let it out slowly. “Your mom had questions. And she spent hours, day and night, walking up and down the riverbanks looking for your dad. She badgered me with questions even more than you did. So I gave in. And well, you know how she changed after he disappeared.”

Confused, my eyebrows knit together and my brain took me elsewhere, picturing how frantic Mom grew while looking for Dad after his disappearance. I had assumed it was his disappearance that caused something to click, something to go wrong in her head. Could it have actually been something Nana said to her that changed her? Mom used to be the smartest person I knew. She taught psychology at a university and won five prestigious awards for her research.  “But, how…?” I asked in a small, strained voice.

 “I promise I didn’t know that would happen,” Nana said, interrupting my thoughts.

There was a long pause while I figured out what to do next. My thoughts were a jumbled mess. The thought that Nana could be the reason Mom was like this caused the anger I held in a corner of my chest- specifically for her- to boil again.

I wanted to ask what she told Mom. But I didn’t. Though I didn’t one hundred percent believe her, if I asked and Nana told me too, could I possibly end up like Mom? Then who would take care of her? And what would happen to me? A chill ran down my spine. I went to the home every day after school, and now that I was sixteen and could drive, I spent larger chunks of time there this summer break. There were people in the home who didn’t have family to visit them. I saw the difference in the way those people were treated by staff, with no one around to hold them accountable for the way they took care of those patients.

Finally, I managed to say, “How could words do something like that to someone? It makes no sense.


  1. Hi Amber, I'd love to see you work on that first sentence to make it pack a punch. Maybe play around with two or three possibilities and post them to the Facebook group and get some feedback. :) I like how you've tied the hummingbirds appearance to a life change. In fact, the sentence "My life changed forever on the day the hummingbirds showed up" would be a stronger first sentence of your manuscript. It immediately catches my attention.
    There is quite a bit of information to absorb in these first few pages. I read it a couple of times to make sure I was getting all of it. Maybe some of the details could be added in later? We found out more about what happened to her mom, which is good. The tension in the relationship between your MC and her nana comes through, and I like that you've added more dialogue between them. Thanks for sharing with us!

    1. Thanks so much for your suggestions Melissa! I agree I need to break up some of the info given and will work on that this weekend.

  2. I like your new beginning but got lost at “I know you and I haven’t seen eye to eye these last three years,” Nana said.
    It suddenly took away the awe of the hummingbird's presence. I agree with Melissa's suggestions.

  3. Amber,
    I really like your revisions. Starting with the hummingbird scene is a much stronger beginning. I feel like you could draw the scene out more, having the reader truly experience what a sight/feel/sound this is. Here she is, helping to set this up for years and now it happens. You could make it stronger and more immersive. Also, this might give you the opportunity to sprinkle some information in, dividing what you have into smaller chunks. You have a couple of paragraphs that feel like info dumping so I would comb through and see if you can break things up a bit or save some information for later.
    Overall, really nice. I'm rooting for your character!

    1. Great suggestion in adding some information given during the conversation with Nana earlier. I feel as if I'm info dumping too because there's so much I need to convey in the first chapter and it has been my greatest struggle. Thanks =)

  4. Hi Amber! It's great to see your revision - you've done a lot of work and it shows!I can see this story being "fleshed out" bit by bit and it sounds really interesting. I have some further questions and suggestions for you, and hopefully it'll be useful to you.

    What I liked (or continued to like since your original submission) - the narrator's voice and the premise of a missing parent. I'm not sure if it edited out or I missed it, but what is the narrator's name? It'd be nice to get that out early - perhaps Nana can name her as part of their dialogue?

    The opening paragraph... How about starting with the sentence "My life changed forever on the day the hummingbirds showed up" and then go from there (you'd need to tweak the opening paragraph to make it work). I think it'd be more enticing that way as it draws attention to the hummingbirds immediately in the context of the narrator's life.

    The idea that the narrator's Mom was affected so profoundly by the truth of what happened to Dad is really intriguing.

    Since you're now focusing more on the mystery of her dad's disappearance (which is good!), you might want to finesse the wording here, to build up more tension and personal connection. If her dad "disappeared in the river" but there was no body, how did they/anyone know what happened to him and that he indeed perished in the river? It's not like you need to explain everything but the way it's currently introduced made me ask this question and it distracted from the mystery. Also, I wouldn't use "mysterious disappearance" in the pages itself but rather in the query/pitch as it's the kind of "telling" that doesn't ring true to me. Maybe you want to say that Dad was "last seen" by the river rather than "disappeared in the river". Also think of emotional undertones here - how does she feel about it? (You do make it clear that she doesn't believe he's dead, but I kind of want MORE!)

    Another thought after second read-through - the conversation between the narrator and her Nana is super important to the plot and it feels like some of the inner contemplation the narrator has in between the sentences of their exchange slows that down a bit. Perhaps, there's a way to trim the contemplation/inner dialogue a bit to make it snappier/more to the point so it doesn't distract from the actual exchange.

    Hope this helps, and I absolutely can't wait to read the pitch and your next revision of pages.

    1. Thanks so much for your advice, Katya! I'm excited to work on what you've suggested.

      I initially had the exchange between Arabella and Nana as the opening of the story but I had difficulty getting all the information I felt like I needed into the conversation, which is why I changed the opening to the tree planting scene. I definitely see how starting with the hummingbirds is more intriguing to a reader, though. It does feel like I crammed a lot into this conversation and I see how Arabella's thoughts slow everything down too much. This has been my greatest struggle with this book haha. I'll do my best to make it snappier. Thanks again! =)

  5. Hi Amber,

    I still love the hummingbird moment and the grandma is fascinating too. Love the leather dress. But what happened to the squirrel. We lost some of the vivid description in this one and journeyed into flashback/thought/reflection land. I hate to say this because you are clearly a talented writer, but if I were you, I’d start from scratch, and only give us a scene, sensory description and action and reactions. You have a good setup. Live in her moment by moment. Go chronological. We don’t need any more backstory than her dad went missing in the river and her mom’s in the mental hospital.

    From this story, I want an expansion of hummingbird-craziness along with smells/sound/touch and what she does next in response to the hummingbirds. I also want a friend/romantic interest. Maybe right after freaky hummingbird moment, she runs to her friend...this is what will matter to your readers. You’ve got this. The fabulously unique moments show me you could really blow us away.
    You can do it!