Thursday, December 2, 2010

Friday Feedback

Welcome to my first-ever Friday Feedback.

For those of you who don't know me, you can read more about me here Suffice it to say, I am a writer with my debut YA novel, The Pull of Gravity, coming out May 2011. And, I’m excited to do this Friday Feedback thing with you all, “you all” defined as whoever wants to be here participating. :)

Seriously, if you’re here, chiming in, I’m happy. Especially if you’re a teen or young adult, since that’s what I’ll be posting and writing about here. Sometimes, I’ll invite you to critique a piece of my writing (and offer the opportunity for you to post your own excerpt in the comments and receive critique from me or any of my writer or non-writer friends who might stop by); sometimes, I’ll post an excerpt from a piece of literature I like, and we’ll do the same for that (with you choosing a favorite excerpt of yours, maybe from something new you're reading).

Why am I so excited about this? Writers often write in a vacuum. As such, you’ll often hear us commenting that we have no idea if something we’ve written is great, or if it’s crap. I mean, you’d think we’d know, but sometimes, honestly, we just don’t. Sometimes, the chasm of doubt we stare down is that gaping and wide.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a quote I love from an interview with one of my all-time favorite authors William Goldman (his novels include Marathon Man, The Color of Light, The Princess Bride, and more movie screenplays than we can count on our combined fingers including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – don’t tell me if you’re too young to know it, it will break my heart), and IMHO, one of the greatest writers and storytellers of all time:

“One of the things I love to do when I work with young writers is to disabuse them of the notion that I know what I'm doing. I don't know what I'm doing. . . as we are speaking, I am looking at my computer, tearing out my hair, thinking, well, is this horrible, or is this going to work? I don't know. Storytelling is always tricky."

Having said that, let’s get started. In the dark. Together. Today, I’ll put my own writing on the spot. These are the opening several pages from an "Upper YA" (meaning age 16+) WIP (Work in Progress) I'm currently revising as per my agent's recommendations. It bears the the working title, Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me (*raise your hand in your comment if you know who Jack Kerouac is*). I'm particularly interested in your feedback on these opening pages because they feel less catchy and more cumbersome or detailed than my usual style of writing... so your HONEST feedback will really help. (*bites fingernails, braces self*)

But, before we get started...

Here are The RULES. There are only three for now, to keep things simple. I would like the following feedback (and will offer the same to you if you post an excerpt for me to read in the comments -- see further rules re: that below):

• If it is the first few paragraphs of a novel – as it is today – tell me if it "hooks" you enough to make you want to keep reading, or not. If yes, why? If no, why not?

• What else works for you, and why?

• What doesn’t work for you (if something doesn't) and why?

Now, here's how you can also get some feedback: If you are working on something, and would like the same feedback, please post your excerpt after your feedback. Please post between 3 -5 paragraphs, and no more. If there's more, I will only read the first 3 -5 paragraphs. If the comment gets too long, feel free to reply in two separate comments. If you are a student from a particular class, please identify yourself as such. If not, let me know how you found me.



Good! Deep breath (er, the deep breathing was for me…). Thanks for participating! Here we go!

Chapter One

It is believed that the Jezebel’s brightly-colored underside
serves as a warning pattern to predatory animals.

     The butterflies arrived on a Saturday, but I waited till Sunday to open them since I needed Max’s help with the greenhouse. It was late April, and I had been dating Max Gordon a few weeks by then, but that particular day stuck with me because of how he built the greenhouse, and also because of what Aubrey had said.

     We were all in my room unpacking the boxes. I gave Max the box with the greenhouse parts, and Aubrey and I sat together on my bed tackling the ones with the butterfly larvae. Well, mostly, I tackled, while Aubrey flailed around bored on my bed.

     She used to like the butterflies almost as much as I did, but lately she seemed to be over them. Maybe it was another symptom of how we were growing apart. She wanted to blame Max for it, but I just think it was one of those things.

     “You could always go home,” I said, not looking up at her. I worked at a piece of masking tape that sealed a small bubble-wrapped box with air holes in the top. In fairness to Aubrey, it was a gorgeous spring day outside. It’s not like I would have blamed her or anything.

     I glanced at Max. He sat at my desk, head down, earbuds in, working on the metal frame. Occasionally he’d sing some weird lyric out loud, which was kind of funny because he liked old rock and roll by people like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix that I only even knew about from my parents.

     “Under that apple suckling tree, oh yeah! That's underneath that tree, there's gonna be just you and me. Underneath that apple suckling tree, oh yeah!!”

      Aubrey rolled her eyes then gave me this look that said ‘what on Earth do you possibly see in him?’ but I ignored her because I knew deep inside she was just jealous of how hot and heavy things had gotten between us. Plus, I thought it was cute how Max liked the old music that pretty much no one listened to anymore. Even if the lyrics were seriously odd.

     “Now, who's on the table, who's to tell me? Oh yeah! Who's on the table, who's to tell me? Oh yeah!”

     I laughed out loud avoiding Aubrey’s eyes, and kept working on the box instead. It was sealed tightly with clear packing tape and marked “FRAGILE” on one side and “JEZEBELS” on the other in black Sharpie. There was a second box still in the shipping carton marked “GLASSWINGS,” and those were my Nana’s choice.

     Both the Jezebels and the Glasswings were gifts from her for my 16th birthday which wasn't until the end of June. But, since they were Tropicals, they had to be flown in from Australia, so we ordered them early to allow for the shipping and make sure the larvae would hatch here in the spring.

     At least Nana still liked the butterflies; Mom didn’t seem to care about them anymore. Which surprised me in a sad way, but less and less by then. Anyway, it was me who had chosen the Jezebels, and Nana who had picked out the Glasswings.

     "Ooh, what about these here, Jean Louise?” she had squealed like a little kid as she ran her finger over the glossy catalogue photos of a specimen that looked like it was made of stained glass. And Nana was right, the Glasswings were beautiful, but for some reason I liked the Jezebels best. Especially, Delias hyparete metarete, common name Painted Jezebel, which looked like a boring gray moth on the top and hid its amazing colors underneath like a secret.

     Maybe I related to the Jezebels because of how plain I felt on the outside. Not that I wasn’t basically pretty – because I was – but in the sort of way you could ignore, or walk right on by. Straight, light brown hair, above-average tall, with B-cup boobs on a nearly-stick-straight figure. Mom said I went out of my way not to look prettier, that all I needed was a gel bra and some eyeliner. That was easy for her to say.

     Mom was petite and exotic, in a steal-your-breath kind of way. She was small, but curvy, with long legs, shiny straight black hair, and these stormy, almost-lavender eyes. Dad used to call her voluptuous but to me she seemed more fragile than that. She reminded me of an exotic butterfly. Plus, she was younger than all my friends’ moms, having had me when she was still in college. Which only made things harder.

     In fact, if she wasn’t my mother, I probably would have hated her. Or maybe I did hate her anyway. Or, maybe I just wished that I could.


- Ok, follow the rules, but have at it!



  1. bonus question: Why is my blog called That Wee Bit Heap? NO GOOGLING!!! :)

  2. #1 I fail the bonus question.

    Works for me: I am hooked for a few reasons! I really want to know what it is that Aubrey said to make Jean remember this day, and I want to know why the butterfiles are important to her. I like that she relates herself to the butterflies by hiding her beauty underneath. Er, in your words how plain she feels on the outside. I also am curious as to if there are more reasons she wishes she could hate her mom.

    Doesn't work for me: I think that "hot and heavy" is an odd way to describe your own relationship with someone, maybe its just me. Also, I have a hard time with songs in books because I never know how they are supposed to sound. I feel weird trying to read it. (Mind you this is coming from a dancer, very particular on my music and beats)

    My little piece of whatever-it-is:
    It's not like anything I was used to, or anything that's supposed to be there on a day to day basis. It was more than a black cloud that followed me around. The cloud was there when I was smiling, or when I would have the momentary laugh or two of the day. It was more like hot tar inside of me, slowly burning away my thought process. The tar slowed everything I was thinking, making it hard for the words I wanted to say to come out right. I began to avoid the subject altogether because when I tried to speak the words out loud it never sounded quite like I wanted it to. The smallest things made the tar much hotter, making it boil up inside of me, slowly taking over. It started with my fingers, forcing me to curl them up into fists. It crawled up my forearms and as I tensed up it continued up my arms. Sticking tightly to my skin it began to reach my fairly broad shoulders and make the journey both across my chest and up my throat, causing me to feel the heat more intensely and began to make me feel as if I was being choked. It continued up making it feel as if there was a lump in my throat until it reached my mouth. Suddenly I was shouting and arguing over something that probably wasn't worth it. As I began to feel defenseless, I began to swing at things I knew shouldn't break. The inanimate objects that wouldn’t fight back. I smashed at wall until the drywall cracked beneath my knuckles, so I turned to my dresser. By the time I realized the dresser is more solid than I originally thought, I felt the tar instantly recede back. As the tar retreated from its trap on the outside, my nervous system kicked into gear and I felt the stabbing pain in my hand. The throbbing is the only thing keeping the rage from coming back. I swore I heard something crack, but I was not sure what it was.

    When I woke the next morning I felt extra groggy, possibly from nights of no sleep, or maybe it's because I was pushed over the edge and used the last ounce of energy. As I rolled over and pushed myself out of bed, I stopped because I could feel the pressure of something in my hand, a sharp pain that ran halfway up my right forearm. As I glanced at my hand I realized the true damage of the dresser, it defeated me. For the first time ever, I managed to bruise my ring and pinky fingers from the second knuckle, down to my wrist. I could still move my fingers around, but slowly and cautiously with the pain becoming more intense with every movement. I had only told one person about my stupidity to hit that dresser, and about my hand swelling. The rest would either notice and say something, or notice and ignore it, I guessed that one person would be the only one to know.

    ...Er, too long?

  3. Caroline,

    first of all, your first sentence cracked me up. Don't feel bad that you don't know the answer, it's a really esoteric reference, one of those things you'd only even possibly know if you read a certain book that relates to The Pull of Gravity, and even then...? so...

    Second of all, your feedback has ALREADY made me so happy I've decided to undertake this excercise. It's really interesting and helpful to see where scenes trip objective, YA-loving people up. I'm taking notes! Thank you...

    Now, to your excerpt. It's hard to answer the hook question, because I don't know what it is. Is it the beginning of something?

    But I can say that it interests me and totally sets a mood. What specifically works for me is that, that the reader can really feel intensely what the narrator is feeling and I absolutely love these bits of writing: "It was more like hot tar inside of me, slowly burning away my thought process. The tar slowed everything ..." and "The smallest things made the tar much hotter, making it boil up inside of me, slowly taking over."

    At the moment, the only complaints (what doesn't work) I have about the piece are technical: you have a tense shift from past to present which confuses me where the verb "is" appears twice here:

    "By the time I realized the dresser is more solid than I originally thought, I felt the tar instantly recede back. As the tar retreated from its trap on the outside, my nervous system kicked into gear and I felt the stabbing pain in my hand. The throbbing is..."

    Thank you for sharing this here. Brave-o number one. :)

  4. I'm not particularly sure what worked for me but I was a wee bit sad when it was over :( I am curious about her relationship with her mom and Aubrey, and Max because we haven't heard much from him yet.

    What didn't work: I am with Caroline on this one. It is hard to imagine anyone using the words "Hot and Heavy" to describe a relationship of only a few weeks, especially if you then proceed to lighten the mood by laughing at the weird lyrics that erupt from his mouth. Paints a confusing picture.

    My snippet:

    My eyes are open but all I can see is white. Empty and alone. It isn’t even a warm kind of light. Unfriendly. Much like darkness, though, much too bright. Then, in a flash, the world is here. It screams at me, burns my eyes, and shoves knives into my skull. All the colors, that were absent a moment ago, are clear. Where there was only silence previously there are sounds ringing loud in my brain, giving me a killer headache. There is still too much white and way too many people here. I imagine this is what being born feels like.
    What is going on, anyway? My vision is no longer fuzzy and I can tell I’m in a hospital room. No one is yelling, in fact, everyone is fast asleep. No machines are frantically beeping. Is there something wrong with me? If there wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here, right? What happened?
    I hadn’t realized the man to my left had been snoring until he stopped. I looked over in time to see him stand abruptly and exclaim “She’s awake! Everyone! She’s awake!”. The people in the room begin to stir, slowly opening their eyes. The second they realize mine are open too, the motions are all the same. The rushing to my side. The touching of my arms, shoulders, and hands. The questions:
    “Are you okay?”
    “Are you alright?”
    “Does it hurt?”
    “What happened?”
    I’m being mauled by strangers. I want so badly to scream but I can’t get the words out. What happened? That is what I want to know. Why are they asking me? I want them off. I want them out, but the words are gone. My mouth wont make them.
    Though they soon calm down, I still can’t. They stare at me, patiently waiting for answers I cannot give. A few awkward seconds of silence go by before I hear: “Claudia?”. My eyes dart to the woman who spoke, expecting to see her looking down at the little girl on my right.
    She isn’t. She is looking straight at me.
    I want to correct her. I am not Claudia, I am. . . Am I Claudia? The woman is looking at me, with her worried brown eyes, instead of the blond child next me. Though, this can’t be right. I know who I am. Don’t I?
    I scramble to remember my name, my age; anything I can think of about myself. Anything at all. I find nothing. No memories, no facts, nor favorites. In fact, the only thought I can manage is how babies cry when they finally join the new world. . . . .And how I’m about to be doing the same.

    Mine is probably too long too, sorry about that.

  5. Gae, Honestly, I am not sure of what mine is yet either! (sad face)

    The part I used "is" could be because I changed the perspective from third person to first person. Must have missed those:/

    Ellie, #1 I love that the first sentance rhymes. Caught me right there! I never want it to end. I dont really have anything I dont like about it.....

  6. Thanks :D I was scared

  7. Elie, thanks for the feedback! I have a rule that when something bothers a few people, it definitely needs to get looked at!

    As for your piece, it's very intriguing. I get the distinct feeling of that chaotic lack of clarity against blinding white light that someone might have waking up from a coma or bad accident. For some reason, I particularly like this: "No memories, no facts, nor favorites." The use of favorites there is unexpected and makes me think about what comprises or identifies who we are in a new way. Thanks for being brave!

  8. Hi, I'm from the Clio young adult lit class ^_^.

    I'd like to voice my opinions on this chapter. Personally I dislike it. At the least the placement. I believe that perhaps we should become more familar with the characters and then perhaps bring up the butterflies. This personally isn't something I would immediately read but then again I always read up to three chapters of a book just to make sure I understand where it's headed. If I sound a bit harsh I apologize tact was never my forte...

    I would like to receive some feedback. Instead of giving you a long paragraph I'll post a link to the story I'd like feedback on and you can read as much as you prefer.

    The things I'd like to know is...
    1. In you opinion do you think it could get published.
    2. Do you think people who normally do not read within the LGBT genre would continue to read beyond chapter 1?
    3. Anything you would change?

  9. Gabrielle,

    Thanks for you input on my excerpt. I appreciate it. If you can post the first several paragraphs of your story here, I'll offer it the same critique the rules provide. :) And, fyi, if I knew what could or couldn't get published, I'd be a lot richer than I am. I would never profess to have the first idea what is publishable or not (and I have a stack of unsold manuscripts I thought were saleable -- and my agents did too! -- to prove it! ;)

  10. Gabrielle RousseauDecember 3, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    I have nightmares a lot. Bad ones. I wake up and try not to scream, or otherwise they will happen all over again. Instead I wake up shaking, sweating and covering my mouth. I can’t calm myself down all I can do is quietly cry myself back to sleep. I live in the hell of my nightmares. Frankly monsters or murderers wouldn’t be much of a nightmare compared to my daily reality. I can never escape my hell. I have no where else to go. I’ll sit here in the darkness of my tiny bedroom in my apartment and try to fall asleep before I have to wake up and face it all again.

    My nightmare…constant torment from my classmates not just verbal either. I can’t walk down a hallway without someone hurling an insult or something at me. I have so many bruises just from school. School is just the first part of my hell. After school my day gets better. I work my normal job at a pet store. It’s the only thing that gets me through the day, but after that I work a corner…Yes as a prostitute. From 9 pm to 1 am anyone can buy me. I don’t make much money from it but it helps pay my bills.

    Even the prostitution isn’t as bad as what I have to face once I get home. I shouldn’t even call it “home”. Home implies that I’m welcome there and that people there care about me. My “home” is a slummy apartment where I live with my alcoholic roommate. My abusive alcoholic roommate. He’s highly possessive as well. In my “home” I’m practically a slave and prisoner. He treats me likewise. I cook, I clean and he uses me like a sex toy. I can’t walk in or out of the apartment without fearing rape or abuse. It’s terrifying just trying to get ready for school and leave.

    I don’t understand why my life is this hell. What have I honestly done to hurt anyone? Is it because I’m a boy who likes to dress like a girl? Is it so bad that I wear make-up and skirts? How does my being a transvestite affect anyone that deeply?

    I contemplate this as I walk to school everyday. I only feel safe alone. I held my notebook to my chest and walked slowly to school. I was in no hurry to get there. The second my foot entered the school I became everyone’s favorite target. The girls would insult me mainly my hair, make-up, clothes and how cheap it all looked. Then they looked at me in disgust. I preferred this over how the guys treated me. The guys would steal and sometimes break my things like jewelry and hair clips. I had quit bringing purses a long time ago, they were always stolen.

    I braced myself for whatever abuse was coming my way.

  11. wow, Gabby, this is very intense! I hope it is fictional. One of the most painful issues for me of late is all the really horrible bullying that we are all reading and hearing about in the news.

    What works for me is that it is very well written, and clearly you communicate the mc's hurt and pain and a good physical description.

    What's not working for me -- and granted, I get this same complaint when I write a male MC and it may have to do with a starting assumption because you are a girl posting -- but until the end, I thought the MC was female. This also could be because the MC is effete or that you wanted it to be a surprise, and I dont have the full context, but for now the voice feels to me to be female. Even the word prostitute vs. John or something feels female. Good work though.

    I'm impressed with all the writing I've seen so far. And the display of bravery. Not easy to put our words out there for the world to see. And always remember that art is subjective. If you don't believe me, pick your favorite book, and browse through the reviews on Amazon. You may find more positive than negative, but you'll always find someone who didn't connect with that piece of art the way you did.


  12. I want to read more. I agree that Aubrey's comment and the relationship with mother are the main hooks at this point. I guess "hot and heavy" is no longer in teen vernacular since I seem to be the only one who could relate to the term and exactly what it implied. I, too, had some frustration with the song lyrics because I SHOULD know them and DON'T (spent too much time trying to come up with a tune which, for me, is what makes song lyrics rewarding on paper). I love the butterflies and feel a foreboding with them which I wish you could draw out some more, especially given the opening quote. want more about the significance of a butterfly which hides its beauty, and the other underlying themes, in order to draw me in more fully and create further intrigue and emotional undercurrent. i would definitely keep reading. more please.

  13. Anonymous, who turned out to be my sister, was on the phone last night raving about how great these three excerpts are and how brave you three were for posting! I asked her why she didn't comment on it, but she said it was late and she ran out of steam, so I told her I would tell you. :) Just wanted to let you know. People are reading and appreciating your words. The key is, to keep going! Thank you again for participating.