In this opening we are introduced to Morghan, a teen with a lot on her plate. It sounds, from the synopsis, that her life is going to get more complicated, rather than less.
Title: Order and Blood
Language: US English
Synopsis: 16-year-old Morghan and her classmate, Luna stumble across a hidden society in the heart of Shenandoah National Park. After witnessing the murder of a high-ranking official, the girls are thrown into a world of secrets and dark magic– a world inevitably tied to their own.
It was going to rain. The sky was dark like the smudge from an old eraser, blacking out the light. If I was lucky, the rain would come and wipe this town out, taking me along with it. But I’ve never been that lucky.
“If I catch you stealing from me again, I’ll call the police! I swear to God, Morghan!”
I feigned interest, nodding while my gaze drifted from the window to Rebecca’s overturned purse, the contents spilling over murky-brown carpet. I regarded the car keys and the pack of cigarettes with envy.
I don’t steal often, but when I do it’s always from the same mark and Rebecca rarely catches me – except the two times this week. Either I’ve begun to lose my touch, or Rebecca has caught on to this whole parenting thing and is intentionally ruining the balance. You see, every interaction I have with my mother, I think of as an exchange. In exchange for me cleaning the house, doing laundry, forging checks to pay the bills, and fighting off child services, Rebecca, albeit unsuspectingly, gives me four cigarettes a week, her car keys, and if I’m lucky, a twenty.
Today was supposed to be no different. I needed cigarettes and the car keys to our beat-up Toyota, Val, so that I could get to a mandatory field trip. Saturdays were designated “sleeping days” for Rebecca to sleep off the copious amount of wine she drank during the week. She wasn’t going anywhere. But this morning I wasn’t quick enough or quiet enough and she caught me.
When I was seven, I thought that because I snuck a piece of chocolate from my teacher’s desk it caused a ripple effect of bad acts, ending in a car accident on the I-495 that made Rebecca late for a job interview. When she got home, she screamed about how the universe just had to punish her and how she had hoped for once she could get a break. I tried to make up for my indiscretion by being a good girl and staying out of her way for the rest of the week, but the more things went wrong, the more I got caught in Rebecca’s web. That’s when I realized that there was no ripple effect, just bad days filled with bad luck. I had a feeling today was going to be a bad day.
I crossed my arms and leaned against the kitchen counter while Rebecca yelled words like “thief” and “ungrateful” from her spot on the couch. My eyes slid from the greasy blonde hair framing her aging face, the frown lines growing deeper each day, to the food stain on an old t-shirt that bounced when Rebecca jabbed her finger at me.
“Morghan, are you listening to me!”
I mumbled a “yes” in response, trying my best to look ashamed. If I played along, it would end faster. Rebecca shoved her hands on her hips, looking exasperated and trying to find something else to say. She settled with, “make your sister breakfast.”
The kitchen was a mess and we didn’t have breakfast food, but I did pick up peanut butter and jelly last week. My stomach growled, but there were only two slices of bread left. I’d have to share some of Kyan’s lunch later this afternoon. I slathered a glob of nutty peanut butter onto a piece of bread and a comparable amount of grape jelly onto another. Rebecca fell back asleep almost immediately, but I didn’t have time to try and palm anything again. I licked the dull butter knife clean of jelly goo and tossed it into the sink.
“Mo, I’m hungry.” I startled, nearly dropping the plate.
My sister, Ensely, was already entitled at the young age of nine and expected food to materialize whenever she said the magic words and unfortunately for me, it usually did. Ensley cocked her head to the side and stared expectantly. The cotton candy pigtails she begged for yesterday morning now looked like two hornets’ nests and the hole in her (my) favorite shirt had doubled in size overnight. I shoved the plate into her hands without saying a word. Two blinks and half of the sandwich was devoured, jelly covering Ensley’s lips and bleeding out the sides of the bread.
“I’ll be gone today,” I said.
“Why?” She asked with a mouth full of food and jelly covering her tiny hands. If only my life was still as simple as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast.
“What’s a retreat?”
“A type of punishment.”
Ensley hummed and took another bite of her sandwich. Sometimes I wished we were closer. She deserved more from me and especially from Rebecca, but I gave her what I could. I had to get the hell out of this garbage pit of a town and live my life. Getting attached would only make it harder.
I glanced at Rebecca and wished she’d stay sober for the next few weeks, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up. I always thought that after my dad disappeared, my mom would collect a handful of failed marriages: a jackass named Jerry that roughed her up; a loser named Tim that was too friendly with me. But in actuality, she just collected empty bottles. I remember meeting my grandmother for the first and last time just after the police closed the investigation. I thought she was Mary Poppins come to wake mommy from her stupor and teach us made-up words, but Grandma Dora stayed 3 days before she realized she wanted nothing to do with us and left with a half-assed goodbye.
Editorial comment: You mentioned in your details that this book is at the developmental editing stage, and you are primarily interested in things like whether the characterisation works, voice and scene tension. There are obvious limits to this Opening Lines process of looking at just the first 1000 words, in relation to big-picture issues like characterisation, but I’ll give you what feedback I can.
This opening reminds me of the beginning of Twilight, the Stephenie Meyer series. I don’t know whether that will make you glow, or choke, but I get the same sense of a smart teen a little bit lost, in a neglectful or uncommunicative single parent family. Morghan feels edgier, a bit amoral, doing what she needs to get by, but that’s because her situation is altogether darker. Dad has disappeared, Gran isn’t much help, Mum is an alcoholic and Morghan has a small sister who, we get the feeling, Morghan acts as mother to more than their real mother. You’ve packed all this information in to comparatively few pages, and Morghan sounds like a complex and interesting main character.
However, close to the beginning there are two paragraphs that stick out as being a bit out of place, beginning “I don’t steal often …” and “When I was seven …” It happens in the middle of the bawling-out she is receiving from her mother about the stealing from her purse and they are both backstory which I don’t think, although providing quite a bit of interesting detail, should interrupt the most dynamic part of this entire scene – the argument between mother and daughter. It completely halts that argument, which begins with the third line and, by the time we’ve come back to it, “I crossed my arms …” we’ve forgotten that she is being bawled out. It doesn’t help that the second part of the rant from her mother is reported dialogue, “Rebecca yelled words like …” rather than actual dialogue, which is always much more immersive. It might be that you’re trying to get across Morghan’s dismissal of what her mother is actually shouting, which is a valid point, but I think at this moment in the opening page you’d do better to give us the actual dialogue of their argument, and Morghan’s inner reaction to it.
There are a few copyediting errors which do impact on the reading of the piece, particularly “I startled, nearly dropping the plate” which should be on a new line, otherwise it reads as an action beat from the same person who said the preceding dialogue, who is her little sister. This manuscript, if you’re at the developmental stage, isn’t ready for copyediting, but if you were looking to submit this to agents as it stands, it could do with a run-through, to present it at its best.
This is rejected, because according to the rules of the site it isn’t ready for agents or publishers just yet, but I liked the voice, Morghan is an intriguing and complex character, and there are little touches I like: calling school retreat “a kind of punishment”, and Grandma Dora, who, far from being the benevolent, kindly granny of fiction cliché, disappears off back home, having had as much as she can take in three days stuck with this dysfunctional family unit. Great writing!
Perhaps come back with this when you feel it’s ready to be set before agents?
Thanks for posting!
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