Friday, March 27, 2009

First Pages: MG / Mercy Me

I skip down the stairs from our roof garden, pausing outside the front gate to fish my keys out of my pocket. The stairwell is sultry and smells like wet socks. I unlock the gate and go inside. Mom and my older brother Gavin are at the dining room table.
There's a gate that opens from the outside directly into the dining room? What kind of house is this?
I notice right away that Gavin's eating strawberry shortcake. They stop talking when I come in and just sit there staring at me.
"What?" I say, slamming the gate shut.
"Where were you?" Mom asks.
"Upstairs on the roof."
"In this weather?"
"It's stopped raining, Mom. A long time ago." I kick off my flip-flops under the piano bench and stalk over to the table. I'm wondering why Gavin gets strawberry shortcake. Mom didn't say anything to me about strawberry shortcake when we finished dinner.
'Stalk' drew me up short; it feels out of place. It also doesn't ring true to me-- a girl who slams, skips, thumps, and kicks off her shoes, seems like she has too much energy to achieve a stalking movement.
"Marcy." Mom's voice sounds tired. She rubs her temples with her index fingers.
"What?" I thump down into the seat next to Mom. This is getting irritating. I feel like I'm missing something. Then I notice Mom's nose is red like she's been crying.
"Mom got bad news," Gavin says with his mouth full of strawberry shortcake. "Well, we all got bad news."
"Grandma Duncan had a stroke," she says, blowing her nose into a crumpled tissue.
I gasp. "When?"
"A few hours ago. Uncle Dick called. He seems to think I ought to come home, at least for a few weeks. The doctors … don't know how long she has left."
Gavin holds her hand as he takes another bite of shortcake. Mom settles a grateful look on him. He always knows the right thing to do. Not like me.
"We're going back to America?" I say. "How long can we stay? The whole summer?"
My glasses have fogged up in all the excitement. I take them off and scrub them on the hem of my shirt.
"Well, I'm sure your dad can't go," Mom says.
"Why not?"
"Oh, come on, Beaker," Gavin says. I hate it that he still calls me Beaker after all these years. I haven't looked like a Beaker since at least third grade when my hair finally grew out. I mean, it's still red, and my eyes do look sort of buggy in my glasses. But besides that, I look nothing like a Beaker.
This digression is hampering the pace of the scene. Put it in elsewhere.
Gavin goes on, "You know Dad has to make a good impression at work or else he'll lose his job." Sometimes Gavin treats me as if I'm still in second grade. Of course I know how important this job is to Dad. It's the reason we moved six thousand miles away from home to Hong Kong. Though I don't know why we bothered. We might as well have stayed in Everett for all we see of him these days.
I would cut "gavin goes on" as a tad stilted, but overall this first page shows promise. Good voice, good dialogue. A couple missteps, but editable. I'd keep reading.


Sarah Laurenson said...

I get a real good feel for her and the family dynamics. Some of it is telling, but you do have a lot of show here as well.

Present tense does bring me up short when I first start reading it. I tend to like it better in short stories.

The setting confused me with the rooftop, the gate, the dining room. I was not able to visualize where she was as a continuous stream.

She's a little on the whiny side for me. Combining that with the present tense, I don't think I would continue reading, even though I think it's well written. Means you've done a good job of conveying her character in a small number of words.

Anonymous said...

Very nice voice and the whole page has an underlying beat to it that moves you forward as a reader. I like this quite a lot.

My thoughts (grain of salt, take it with.)

Like others, I'm confused about the unlocked gate/rooftop garden. Isn't she already inside the confines of her house/lot if she's on the roof? Why would she then be standing outside a gate to get in her house? It also implies that she's the one who has locked herself in/out to begin with, and why would she do that if she was only up there to watch the rain...?

I immediately love it that we're in Hong Kong. This changes everything. Any chance you can give us this clue earlier -- she likes to watch the rain on the Hong Kong rooftops? Unfortunately, I don't know where Everett is, can you add a state to that? Washington? Virginia? So we know where she's headed to?

I also don't know how old the character is. She says she hasn't looked like a beaker since she was in the third grade and her hair grew out, but we don't know how old she or her brother is now.

Also -- it took until the third grade for her hair to grow? I don't get it.

Sheila said...

I was likewise confused by your first paragraph. It was hard for me to visualize this residence.

Gavin is really torn up about grandma, isn't he?

"I haven't looked like a Beaker since -" I would lose the "a" since you're talking about the muppet character, and I think there was only one Beaker. That's a funny visual, by the way. And I thought that was a clever way to get her description in.

I thought "Dad has to make a good impression" was an odd choice of words to convey the fact that dad can't go on the trip or he'll lose his job.

Just small things, but overall I liked this and would read on.

Anonymous said...

I like it that you're in Hong Kong, but sorry that you're taking the story back to the States so quickly, if that's what's happening. In a way, it would be just as good to start somewhere else in the story - such as arriving at the sick relative's hospital bed - and then flashing back to Hong Kong. Unless you are actually going to stick around HK for awhile before leaving... Anyway, I like the writing and the characters and the strained family dynamics.

Buffra said...

Unlike a few other comments, I didn't mind that we're in an odd layout -- especially once I've figured out that we aren't in the US. But maybe the layout needs a bit more explanation to make it flow? I also don't mind that her age isn't immediately apparent, but I would like to know how old she is somewhere in the first FEW pages or at least the first chapter -- it's hard to picture her otherwise.

I'm kind of disliking her, though. Which says good things about how you're writing, I think. It may be because I'm not 12-14 (or whatever age she is...that's where I mentally put her) but I can't believe that her first thought on hearing her grandmother might be dying is 'Ooh, can we stay in the US all summer?!' It seems like, yeah, it's the kind of thing a kid would think...but maybe not first off. And maybe they wouldn't SAY it to their very upset parent. I could see Marcy and Gavin arguing about it later or something, though. (Maybe that's where the Beaker digression could go?)

Otherwise, I thought it had a good pace and told us a lot in a few words. It's ringing true, giving a good idea of the dynamics and characters, and is pretty vivid.

Yat-Yee said...

I don't mind the present tense. In fact, I think it gives it an immediacy that fits this story.

The beginning did bring up some questions but the answer came soon enough: we're in Hong Kong. So I am now thinking high rise buildings and unfamiliar living quarters and arrangements.

I've often wondered just how long a reader is willing to wait for answers. Obviously, as writers, we do want to create questions, the good kind, in our readers' minds so that they'll read on to find out. On the other hand, questions that are confusing can have the opposite effect of turning readers off.

This opening, for eg. made me wonder but I didn't feel like I had to wait too long for the question to be answered, so it works for me.

You've shown the protag well. We know how she feels about living in HK, we know how she feels about Gavin, (although I wish I had a sense as to whether Gav is younger or older, and while you're at it, how old she is) and that she's not oblivious to the feelings of others; her mother, in this case.

She is a character I am willing to follow along for a while, although I hope to see some of her good qualities soon.

And I hope she'll hang out in HK :)

Anonymous said...

This author clearly knows how to write. I liked it. Hate first person, though.

Anonymous said...

I like the first person POV. Writing in present allows the reader to be surprised with the character, which allows for nice unexpected twists.

I like the Beaker description. I think it should go elsewhere. I want a better sense of her age as well as Gavin's.

As for the strange lay out, with some minor edits, you can take the reader along for a better ride if you clarify the seting a bit more.

If there is something you can do to make the protag more sympathetic, even if they are self absorbed, I think that would be beneficial for your story.

It has a lot of good tension and opportunities for plot. I'm interested. :) Good job!

~Lindsey S

Alps said...

Thanks, everyone, for the wonderful comments and suggestions. I feel both encouraged and challenged, which I think is a good mix. :)