Sunday, January 14, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Wenger Rev 1

Name: Haleigh Wenger
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Title: Words in the Sand

“I can’t believe Opa won’t be home with us,” I say. The funeral’s been over for almost an hour, but I still can’t stop my hands from shaking when I think about it.

No one says anything, but Mom and Dad both pull me into a sandwich style hug as we reach the front steps of the beach house. Mom runs her french manicured nails down my back, and I shiver and pull closer. My sister, Livvy, pockets her phone for a millisecond and reaches over to squeeze my hand.

“It sucks,” she says. You know it’s bad if Livvy is offering support.

Dad turns to Mom, Livvy, and me before turning the key in the lock and pushing the coral-colored door open. He extends his arms out in front like we’ve won a prize. Home is not exactly accurate, even though it feels right to say. Every summer, as soon as school lets out, we pack up to spend our entire summer at my family’s beach house in Florida. This year we drove separate cars and stopped for the funeral first. Me and Livvy in my car for fifteen hours of silent passive aggression from her, and uneasy nerves about the funeral from me. But the long drive was worth it because I’ll have my freedom the next three months whenever I need space.

Newsflash: I already need space.

Livvy exhales so loudly I almost mistake it for a gust of wind. “Seriously Dad, this is getting old. I don’t have time to stand here bonding with you guys. I’ve got a summer vacation to get to.”

Dad pockets his crinkly smile to raise his eyebrows at her. “This is the beginning of our family summer, Liv. Let’s enjoy the time together.”

Livvy plants one hand on her hip and sucks in her cheeks while Dad ceremoniously fusses over invisible smudges on the seashell-plated light switches. She glances at me to gauge my annoyance level, but I'm too busy taking it all in to help make fun of Dad. The first day back to the beach house is like the first day back to breathing after a long nine months away in land-locked Kentucky. Livvy pushes past the rest of us standing in the doorway and sneaks down the hall. Into the last bedroom on the right, the one she claimed five summers ago once we were old enough to realize it was the biggest and most private. I swear I’m still missing hair in the spot she pulled a chunk out of that June, too. Apparently, it was a rough year.

“Do you think he left us anything?” My voice is higher than I want it to be. Instead of an offhand question, I sound a little crazed. I feel it too--sweaty, wide-eyed, and wild. It’s not a good look for me.
Mom and Dad glance at each other before looking back at me. “Sorry, Claire,” Dad says. “All of his belongings have already been moved to a storage shed until we have a chance to go through them. And his will has been taken care of already, too.”

I nod like I understand. But I don’t, not really. Opa and I have always been close, so it’s hard to believe he would leave me with nothing just when he knew I need him the most. I know he didn’t die on purpose, but jeez.

“Well, whatever. It’s fine,” I say.

My parents eye each other once more before they drag their suitcases to the master bedroom. The first room past the entry and the most beach themed, with its aqua paint and starfish applique pressed just above the door knob. As soon as they close the door behind them, Mom’s not-so-subtle whispering starts.

“What are we going to do about this, Aaron? We can’t have Livvy sneaking around with boys all summer like she did last year.”

Dad mumbles something I can’t make out.

“I’m not worried about her. Claire will be fine. She just misses my dad. And he was supposed to take her on their big art tour this year…”

More faint responses from Dad, then a door closes and the sound of water from the shower whirs through the pipes in the ceiling above me.

I thought Opa dying would make Mom sad, quieter maybe, but it’s just made her angry. I stop in front of the floor-length mirror opposite the entryway and avoid the reflection it holds while I try to tune her out. I reach up to let my fingertips graze the row of pictures taped to its sides. My favorite is a small and blurry picture of me at the beach with my Opa from last summer. Mom and Dad’s arms thrown around each other in front of an impossibly perfect orange and pink sunset. Not pictured is the bonfire, Mom’s turkey dogs we had been conspiring to bury, and the marshmallows we planned to gorge on instead. I am hovering over Opa’s shoulders, stretching my arms around his neck from behind, while he sits in a collapsible beach chair. It was taken right after his first heart attack, when even doing little things like standing were too much for him. He planted his chair in the sand and sat there all summer long, cheering everyone else on as we threw frisbees, built fires, and went on walks.

“This has been my favorite summer,” he told me, right at the end, the same week we were packing to head home. I suspected then that his words would mean something, that I should remember them. I still didn’t see it coming when it did though.

Instead of making me cry again, the picture makes me feel a tiny bit better. I can imagine him here, taking a nap in front of the TV while he waits for us to unpack and settle in. I use my fingernail to loosen the tape on the picture and slip it into the back pocket of my shorts. I have a feeling I'm going to need a reminder of Opa close to me this summer.

I sense her behind me even though I missed the sound of her bedroom door closing. “I can’t do this summer without him, Mom. I seriously can’t.” My voice cracks as I turn to face her.

I gesture limply to the bright room. I want so badly to walk into the next room and find him hunkered down in his leather recliner, absentmindedly picking at the loose folds on the armrest with his eyes trained on the pages of some gigantic mystery novel.

Her mouth is already pulling down, her shoulders slumped. “Honey—”

I shake my head to ward off whatever she’s going to say. Nothing makes this better. “I miss him. I miss Opa and being here is hard enough. This was supposed to be The Summer of Art. I’m supposed to be working on my early admission packet, but he’s not even here to help me. And our trip...”

“We’ll figure it out. I promise. You have good grades and you’re talented--your application isn’t in jeopardy just because you haven’t been to every single art museum in central Florida.”

That was the plan. Besides majorly missing him, I needed Opa to help me find my place as a budding artist, something I can’t ask my parents to do since they don’t know the difference between Jackson Pollock and Banksy, much less anything about art school applications.
   


1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Moskalenko Rev 1

Name: Sophia Moskalenko
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Lauren’s Light


“I shouldn’t be doing this,” Matty said. “He will be so mad at me! At you too, Annie!”

“Oh, shush!” Annie waved away his concerns like a fly. “When will you grow up and stop shaking like a fall leaf? Sixteen years old, and you’re still acting like you’re five.”

Breaking the green surface on the sea of ferns, the hikers left two rippling trails amidst tall pine trees. The sun was high. Matty lifted his wide-brimmed hat enough to wipe sweat with the back of his hand. On someone with broader shoulders and prouder posture the hat may have looked dashing, but it mocked Matty.

“He told me never to tell anybody. What kind of a brother am I?”

“NOW you are worried?” Annie arched an eyebrow. “After we’ve been walking for hours? Why did you tell me, if you’re so beholden to your promise? Ha? Why did you tell me, Matty?” She spun to him, squinting, but he turned away. “You better think twice if you want to get me in trouble, brother. I’m not one of those blind kittens you like to drown. You’ll go down with me.”

Matty said nothing, his hat hiding his face. Annie shrugged.

“Besides--what’s the harm we’re doing? You said it yourself, she’s been healing. And getting paid for it, too. Why wouldn’t she help family? God knows, we’ve suffered enough on her behalf. She owes us.” Annie kept her pace and her nose high.

Matty scurried to keep up. “You look plenty healthy. What do you want with her?”

“Ah, I would tell you, Matty, I would. But with your conscience so tender, I’m afraid you’d worry yourself sick,” Annie sniggered.

“Whatever you need, I doubt she can do it. She only healed once or twice, far as I know.”

“All I care about is if she has powers… the craft… whatever their kind call it.”

“Will you stop it!”

“What? What do you want me to stop, Matty?”

“You know what. Stop calling her a witch! Or I won’t take you there, I swear!”

“I didn’t call her a witch, you dumb chicken!”

“Stop talking about ‘her kind,’ too! Luke will kill us both… me first, probably.” Matty kicked a pine cone, tripped, caught himself, and stole a sideway glance at Annie from under the brim. She met his eyes with a haughty smile.

“You need to ease up, little brother. What’s this drastic talk? Nobody will die. If she knows what’s good for her, she’ll do what I ask. Everyone will be happy, and she’ll never see me again. Probably… Oh, who are we kidding? She’ll see me again!”

Annie laughed a melodic, contagious laugh. Matty slouched more, his face taking on a greenish tint. She continued her musings.

“Tell me, what are they like? It’s been what, four years? The plague was in 1658, right? Has Luke changed a lot? Is he handsome? I don’t think he’s handsome. Probably not. Probably still pretty short, too. Is he?.. Matty!..”

A sharp jab of Annie’s elbow under his ribs brought Matty back.

“What? What do you want from me?”

“I’m asking you, what are they like?”

“Luke’s got a beard now. Looks pretty much same as back then. Lauren… Yeah, she’s all grown up. She’s too skinny for a girl. And that hair! It’s almost down to her knees. She never plaits it, or anything.” Matty shook his head. “It’s not right.”

Back at the village, a girl would get a good whipping for that hair. The olden, traditional Alsacean way, called for a part down the middle, and two braids. The latest, French fashion out of Metz, was to pull hair back, collect it into swirls or braids, and adorn it with a cap.

Annie plaited hers into a crown.

She jabbed him with her sharp elbow once again.

“What?!” He yelped. “You, annoying creature.”

“This it?” Annie pointed to a clearing in the woods. Smoke was rising over the tops of birch trees. A line of willows followed banks of a creek in the distance. Tall grass rustled in the breeze.

“Yeah. That’s it. I won’t go with you. You can find it easy enough from here.”

Annie laughed. “Oh, no. No chance, laddie! You are coming with me! Or I’ll tell the whole village that you kept this hideout secret. No, little brother. You’ll do what I tell you. We’re going together.”

With these words, Annie started toward the clearing without so much as a backward glance. After a few seconds, Matty hung his head and followed her, picking a pimple on his neck with two fingernails.

“Lauren!... Luke!” Annie yelled at the top of her lungs. “I’ve missed you!”

She climbed over a fallen tree and saw a small house. One side of it was all sloped roof covered in moss. There were two windows with dried deer stomachs stretched over the frames, a fenced garden, and a chicken coup.

The door of the house swung open. The sounds of the woods ceased. The air stilled.

That fool Matty lied!

Lauren was beautiful.

Even this far away, her blue eyes pierced and pulled. Her golden hair moved gently with the breeze. Fields of ripe wheat swaying under azure August skies filled Annie’s vision, and she found herself swaying gently, a sleepy blur clouding her eyes.

She bit her lip bloody to throw off the spell.

“Lauren, my dear! How you’ve grown! It’s been too long! And what’ve you done with my big brother? Have you” --Annie made a horrified face--“have you sent a plague on his poor head like you did all those other people?”

Ignoring Annie’s performance, Lauren turned to Matty, worried. “Matty! Is everything alright? Is Aunt Symonne well?”

Matty shriveled to half his size as Annie answered for him, “Mom’s fine. Matty here couldn’t refuse me when I begged him to take me to you. He’s such a good brother. Aren’t you, Matty?”

Lauren folded her arms on her chest.

“Alright,” Annie said, “I see we won’t have a nice conversation like I wanted. Are you going to invite me in? And where’s my big brother, I asked you?”

“Luke’s hunting.”

“Ah!” A barely audible sigh of relief escaped Annie. “It’s too bad. Next time, then. Tell him I came by, won’t you?” Annie started toward Lauren.

“Stop right there.”

Annie kept right on walking.

“Annie, stop!”

But Annie marched straight on, staring Lauren down.

Lauren extended her arms by her sides, tensed fingers outstretched. Then, with two fists, she jerked her arms to the sky, and Annie felt her feet yanked up from under her. Her back met the ground with a loud thump.

Breathless from the fall, Annie sat up, gawking at Lauren over the grass, then burst with laughter.

“A-ha-ha! Ouch!” She rubbed her backside. “Ah-ha-ha! I told you, Matty! I told you she has it! D’you see it? Oh, this is great!”

Matty started to back away, but Annie shouted after him, “Where’re you going? Sit down and wait right here. I won’t be long.”

With disarming confidence, Annie walked up to Lauren, grabbed her elbow, and pulled her into the house. Inside, she looked around, nose crinkled, lip curled--an expression Lauren remembered too well. Snatching a glass jar from the windowsill, Annie demanded, “what’s this?”


1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Welch Rev 1

Name: Mandy Welch
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The First Witch

“Could you blend please?” Aviana asked the ingredients she was mixing. “I don’t want a lumpy batter.”

Smells of fresh bread and pastries wafted over from the table of cooling goods next to her. The cinnamon bread was especially fragrant, reminding Aviana of Sunday mornings in the kitchen with Dad. Cinnamon bread had been his favorite, and it was one of the first things she asked to make after he taught her the basics. He’d be happy to know she still used his trick of asking the cinnamon to create pictures in the bread. The townsfolk loved it.

It had taken her seven tries before she got it to work. Waiting for the bread to cool enough before slicing had been painful, but Dad didn’t allow her to rush. She was glad for it in the end when she sliced the loaf to reveal a slightly wobbly leaf sketched in the bread.

Aviana poured the smooth batter into a waiting pan and slid it into the oven. “Cook well. Don’t burn.”

When was the last time she burnt something? Asking things not to was one of the first things Dad had taught her. Right after telling her to start recipes by asking the flour to not make a mess. That had saved her a lot of cleanup over the years. She wiped her hands on her apron and saw that a dusting of flour still covered them, the white powder paling her light brown skin. Asking nicely didn’t guarantee perfect results.

She walked over to the pantry. When she was younger, she had spent hours there, reading while Dad baked in the room next door. There had been something nice about sitting between the shelves of ingredients, only a few steps away from the ovens if she wanted to don an apron and help.

A basket of fresh berries sat on one of the shelves. “Oh. That’s tart.” Her lips puckered after trying one. “Could you be a little sweeter please? Not too sweet though.” She tried another and smiled. “Much better.”

Walking back to the worktable, Aviana grabbed Dad’s old cookbook, her cookbook now. They had always planned to write one together. Now writing her own notes alongside his recipes was the closest she’d get.

She flipped the book open and turned to the pantry. “I need flour, eggs, sugar...” As she read the rest of the list, ingredients began hopping off the shelves and into the room. They stopped their march when they arrived on the table in front of her. “Very good. Thank you.”

“Aviana.”

She jumped, her stomach dropping.

“You know you aren’t suppose to use magic like that.” Mom stood in the kitchen doorway, hands on her hips.

Aviana’s face burned. Yes, she knew she wasn’t supposed to. But watching the ingredients parade across the kitchen was so much more fun than carrying them across herself.

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

“You promised. Only little magic, nothing noticeable.”

“I know. I know,” she said, tugging on her braid. “I’ll stop.”

“I’m just trying to protect you, honey.” Mom let out a heavy sigh that made Aviana’s face burn brighter. “C’mon. Take a break and let me fix your hair.”

She walked over and undid Aviana’s long braid, gently finger combing the straight hair before slowly twisting it to form a plait. Aviana didn’t mean to make her mad. She just wanted to use her magic. It was part of her, and part of her that came from Dad.

If she were a boy she’d be studying at the University like he had, not trying to teach herself by reading whatever book she could find. It wasn’t fair.

“Why can’t people understand that females have magic too?”

Aviana sighed. There seemed to be endless reasons why people thought females couldn’t have magic. And a whole slough of excuses they’d use if a female did show herself to have the ability. She’s cursed or ensorcelled, controlled by someone else. She got her magic in some evil way. Aviana rolled her eyes. The list went on and on.

She knew it was dangerous to use her magic where people might see. She did. But she couldn’t just hide it.

“There may be another option.”

The words pulled Aviana from her thoughts. She blinked, trying to clear her mind. Had she heard correctly? Another way? “What do you mean?”

“You have a great uncle who works at the University. Your father said I should contact him when you turned sixteen.”

“What?” Aviana turned to face her, the braid going unfinished.

“He’s a professor there. Your dad lived with him while he was a student.”

A professor at the University? Aviana’s heart beat faster. If he worked at the University, then he could teach her. It wouldn’t be the same as actually attending, but it would be a lot better than trying to teach herself.

“Would he train me?”

Mom shrugged. “I don’t know. Your father didn’t say much. He always hoped things would change by then, that you wouldn’t have to hide your magic. He said to contact Nero if they hadn’t.”

Dad had always hoped things would change, but he never said anything about an uncle Nero, an uncle who worked at the University. “How can we contact him?”

Mom fished in her apron pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “I’ve been carrying this around for weeks. Ever since you turned sixteen.”

“A letter?” Aviana asked. Would it really be that simple? She’d send a letter and suddenly get someone who could teach her. Aviana reached for the paper, but Mom wouldn’t hand it over, instead clutching it to her chest.

“It took a long time to write, and now that it’s done I can’t seem to send it.”

“Why?”

Mom put her hands on Aviana’s shoulders. They had the same eyes – dark brown under full eyebrows, but right now Mom’s were full of a worry Aviana knew wasn’t in hers. “I’m afraid for you, honey. The more people who know about your gift, the more danger you’re in.”

True. But Dad trusted him, and Nero could teach her.

Aviana shook her head. Mom couldn’t take this back. Not now that Aviana knew there was someone who might teach her. She took Mom’s hand. “I know you’re worried, and I know it’s just because you care for me, but this magic is part of me Mom. I can’t live with it locked away; I need to learn more.”

Mom smiled and squeezed her hand. “You’re just as stubborn as your father was. I know it’s your decision. That’s why I could never make myself throw this away.” She placed the letter in Aviana’s hand. “It’s up to you what we do.”

The letter was sealed and marked with an address in Elleer.  Aviana held the paper up to the light, but no words were visible other than the address. “What did you write?”

“I told him I was Peter’s widow and that your father told me to contact him if I needed help for our daughter. I didn’t dare write anything about you having magic. I believe we can trust Nero, but I don’t know who else might see the letter.”

“I think that should be enough. I’ll send it by dragon. I can use some of the money I’ve saved to pay for it.”

“You don’t need to do that, honey.”

Aviana nodded; it was decided. “I want to. This is for me.”

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Boswell Rev 1

Name: Kirsten Boswell
Title: THE MARK
Genre: YA Fantasy 

Lily reached out and pressed her hand against the green shield. She released her breath and felt her shoulders drop.

It was still here.

She’d pulled her blanket from her bed last night and sat by her window all night, making sure she could see the green up in the sky. After yesterday’s news, she couldn’t look away.

Every time she thought about what would happen to her city if it failed, frost flourished in her chest.

She took a deep breath. Don’t stop. Whatever happened yesterday, she stared through the lime green shield at the world it kept out, don’t let it in.

The green began to glow brighter and a whisper in her mind replied: You’re going to be late. He doesn’t like it when you’re late.

She pulled her hand away and studied the sky for a moment. “Oh, blade!”

She turned and sprinted down the wood-chipped path and back to the centre of Belham. The crystals hanging from her belt clinked off each other and she shot out of the Eastern Forest. 

“Sorry.” She dodged around groups of people all heading back to the Housing Area, their shadows growing long behind them as the sun neared its resting place. Usually, conversation filled the centre and children would be running around her. Not tonight. Not after what happened the day before.

She slowed her strides as she passed the wooden staircase that led up to four great oak trees that marked the centre of Belham and also housed the Leader’s Room high up in their branches.

Captain Loch thumped down the last of the wooden steps. Above him, other captains milled around the open door to the Leader’s Room, their low rumbled conversation catching her attention. She’d never seen the captains so uneasy.

“Ready for tomorrow, young blade?” Captain Loch’s voice rumbled in his throat, the deep set wrinkled around his eyes reaching up his face to disappear into his grey hair.

She grinned. “More than ready.”

Captain Loch laughed and called after her: “You won’t be saying that when you’re out there beyond the shield, kid.”

Lily turned and, as she marched along the path, she saw the fiery summer sun slide behind the mountains beyond the boundary line. As it did, the slight green haze of the shield grew bolder. Melting violets and pinks of sunset darkened into nightfall. She couldn’t remember a day in her life when the vibrant, lime-green shield hadn’t boasted its power high above her home. No magic and no creature could harm them while the green glowed.

She followed the path and stepped through the wooden gate into the Teaching Grounds. A low grey-stone wall circled the flat, open grounds and tall pine-trees lined the inside of the wall. The fresh scent of pine always perked her up for training.  As she stared out at the plains she saw groups of fellow H1 humans practicing. Swords scraping mixed with a low murmur of conversation. 

Tane sat on the low stone wall. Alone.

She looked around. “He’s not here?”

Tane shook his head. “You’ve gotten away with it. He’ll be held up in the Leader’s Room but he’ll be here soon. He’d never let us out of a training session. Even if the city is on the brink of a shield disaster.”

Lily dumped herself down on the wall beside him and balanced her sword on her knee, the handle clinking off her belt of crystals. She leaned back and looked up and over the trees and saw the Kris-Kra. The snow-topped peaks, sleeping behind circling grey clouds, were only a few miles away from her city’s boundary line.

“I heard your parents arrived in Demem,” she said. The last of the sunlight bounced off her sword. Her blade was a mirror. It held the only true reflection of her. None of the other stuff, like the feeling that something was missing, mattered when she held her sword.

“Yeah, they got there last night.”

“D’you wish they were here to see you off tomorrow?”

Tane shrugged. “They had to go. It wouldn’t look very good for the head councillor and the councillor in charge of defence to not go to the biggest shield disaster in history.”

She nodded. Yesterday, the shield that protected Demem, a smaller city in the far west, had failed. The city has been exposed for over two hours. The Belham councillors, a group of humans from all the armies, had taken half of Belham’s H1 army with them to Demem. Even with half of their H1 missing, as the world’s largest human settlement, Belham still had nearly two thousand H1.

“D’you want to know what I’m looking forward to the most?” said Tane.
           
She thought for a moment. “There’s lots to look forward to.” Lily looked up at her training partner. “Anything could kill us when we leave the city tomorrow. There’s the pressure of the magic that could make our heads implode, creatures to strip us of our skin while we’re still alive. Dehydration, poison –“
           
“Blade, Lily, I meant when we come back,” said Tane.

“Oh. Okay. If we do make it back, what’re you looking forward to the most?”

“The day we get back, I’m going to build my own home.”

Oh blade, there he goes again.

He was always planning a life within the city. He really did seem to forget that they were part of the H1 army which meant, in comparison with the other armies, there was only a five percent chance they’d reach the age of thirty. She wouldn’t let herself make such plans.

“Of all the things to be thinking about, how can you think of building a house when we have the world waiting for us.” Lily spread her arms. “We’re going beyond the shield. If we succeed in this mission we’ll be fully qualified H1. We’ll be leaving all the time.”

“And if we do, and risk death with every trip, I want to return to my own home that I built.” Tane leaned back against the stone wall, propping himself up on his elbows.

Lily didn’t know how to reply. Death didn’t scare her. It was returning home she feared.  

She ran her fingers along the bronze handle of her sword. She knew the handle was a tad old fashioned but in her memories, though it could just be her dreams, her father had had a bronze-handled sword. When she’d crafted her own weapon, on the day of her inauguration into H1, a highly trained human army that went beyond the safety of their city and out into the world, she was the only one to use bronze. 

She couldn’t really remember her parents. Her mother was lost but there were a few foggy memories of her father. Like them, at eighteen she’d joined the army. Now she had to finish what they’d started.  They never returned from beyond the shield.  She’d finish what her parents had started. Even if it meant, like them, she’d never return. She wouldn’t let them down.

Five years of training and the day is finally here.”

Tane grinned. “There were a few times when I didn’t think we’d make it. Well, not really ‘we’, more you.”

“You had a few trips to Flint, as well, young protégé.”

“How many times have I told you not to call me that?”


1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Evenson Rev 1

Name: Emma Evenson
Genre: YA contemporary
Title: Tourist Attractions of the Upper Midwest

Rachel Reichert has the persuasive powers of a future cult leader.

I realize this about five minutes after she’s successfully lured me to the dumpster behind the Arby’s and convinced me to break up with her boyfriend for her.

Well, technically we’re still arguing, but we both know I’ll end up doing it. I’m not exactly what most people would call ‘a strong personality.’

“Um, what?” I say, shaking my head emphatically. “I’m sorry, but you’re insane. You can’t move away without telling him.”

Rachel rolls her eyes skywards and takes a hit off the joint we’re sharing.

When she invited me out here to smoke with her, I mistakenly thought she was being nice. I thought we were celebrating the first day of spring break. Now, of course, I see the joint for what it really is: a bribe.

And okay, it’s a decent bribe. But that still doesn’t mean that I want to be the guy who tells my best friend that his girlfriend moved away in secret. I’d like to point out that this isn’t even a thing. Nobody moves away in secret.

Except Rachel, apparently.

Her opening line was, “I have to tell you something,” which in hindsight should have been a warning. Nobody’s ever like, ‘I have to tell you something-- I bought you a milkshake,’ or ‘I have to tell you something-- I just saw a really cute video of baby otters playing in a bathtub.’ It’s always something terrible.

“Actually, I can move away without telling him,” she says. “And I didn’t have to tell you, either. I just thought you should know, because--”

She breaks off, because finishing that sentence is pointless. I feel like she just took a jigsaw puzzle that I painstakingly assembled and kicked its pieces all over the room.

Not that I have anywhere near the amount the patience required to do a jigsaw puzzle, but you know. If I did.

Point being, I’m going to be the person picking up the pieces and making sure Parker doesn’t do anything crazy. Which is pretty much par for the course, seeing as how most people have this inexplicable tendency to treat me like I’m Parker’s dad, or his babysitter.

When he got caught making those fake IDs at Kinkos, the Kinkos guy cornered me in the back of the store. “Fake IDs are a felony,” he hissed, brandishing a staple gun in a very threatening way. “You better tell your idiot friend, because I know he’s not listening to a word I say.”

Not that I actually have much sway over Parker.

But there are a surprising number of optimists in the world.

“So basically,” I say, “you’re asking me to tell him that you up and left in secret. Which is almost the same thing as asking me to break up with him for you.”

She frowns. “Don’t be so melodramatic, Jonah. I’m not asking you to break up with him. Tell him whatever you want. Tell him I was abducted by aliens. Tell him I died. I seriously don’t care.”

Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes. She says it like she’s giving me some awesome array of choices here. Like I might actually tell him that she died. But the truth is obvious: by telling me, she’s forcing me to tell him. The amount I know about relationships could fill a Dixie cup, but I do know that there’s no way Parker will accept Rachel disappearing without an explanation.

I switch tactics. “You know he’s going to lose his mind,” I say, which is definitely a massive understatement. Six months ago he pushed me off a roof because I told him that he laughs like a donkey. “He’s, like, really into you.”

Rachel snorts. “Trust me,” she says, “he really isn’t.”

I guess it’s possible we’re employing different definitions of “really into,” with my definition being a tad more literal than Rachel’s. I couldn’t really say whether Parker, like, cares deeply about her or not, but I can say that the two of them have been hooking up relentlessly for the better part of two years. Parker seems to view any empty room as a personal challenge, like the universe is daring him to have sex in as many places as he possibly can. I’ve walked in on them at least a dozen times in the last three months alone.

It’s hard to say whose nudity grosses me out more-- Rachel’s, because she’s a girl, or Parker’s, because he’s my best friend and I’m hardcore not into him like that.

It’s a testament to my incredible willpower that I haven’t stabbed my own eyes out yet.

Rachel takes another hit off the joint and then exhales smoke, which mingles with the smell of old fryer grease and rancid meat. She passes me the joint. “It’s just not working out,” she says.

I’ve always known this moment would arrive, so it’s not a huge shock. Rachel is pretty and smart and popular, and Parker is a rude borderline-nymphomaniac with the emotional maturity of a gerbil. Their relationship has long been one of the great unsolved mysteries of Clintonville.

Fortunately, I am one of the least curious people alive. I have no interest in mysteries.“Don’t put me in a crappier position than you’re already putting me in, okay? I don’t want details about your breakup.”

She scowls. “Trust me, Jonah. You’re nowhere near number one on my list of people to talk to about my problems.”

I realize normal people would probably take this as an insult, but I’m actually pretty relieved.

I must look it, too, because Rachel makes a face and puts the joint out. “Well, it seems like we’re done here,” she says, grabbing her backpack off the ground.

And now I officially feel like crap.

Rachel and I have always been friendly, but not quite friends. There’s a thin veil of awkwardness coating all of our interactions, which I blame on the number of times I’ve seen her naked.

But I don’t want this conversation to be the last conversation we ever have.

“Rachel--”

“You know,” she says, turning around, “you could make other friends, Jonah.”

This is also the kind of thing that would sound offensive to some people, but it’s also the kind of thing you get used to hearing when everyone thinks your best friend is a total douchebag.

And it’s not nearly as simple as she makes it sound.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The January Workshop is in Progress

Our five manuscripts have been selected, but that doesn't mean the learning opportunities for aspiring authors and editors are over this month! We invite everyone to follow along by reading the entries and mentors comments and watching the revisions transform the pages. See for yourself what worked, what didn't work, discover why, and how to make improvements. You're also welcome to make comments yourself about what you feel is working and what isn't. And you can ask questions of our mentors about their comments as well.


Want help from a literary agent and our published, award-winning, and best-selling authors to get your own first five pages and pitch ready for submission or jump start your novel? The February workshop will open at noon on February 3rd. We always accept manuscripts on a first come, first served basis so your chances are as good as anyone else's. All we ask is that your pitch is no more than 200 words, your submission (overall) is no more than 1200 words, and that both are formatted correctly, free of typos and grammar errors, and that you've worked through your story idea to make sure it can be written as presented into a full-length novel.

Need help getting your pitch and manuscript ready? Click here for writing help and submission tips



Saturday, January 6, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Welch

Name: Mandy Welch
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The First Witch

“Could you blend please?” Aviana asked the mixture of ingredients she was stirring. “I don’t want a lumpy batter.” She stirred  again and the lumps disappeared.

Smiling at the result, Aviana poured the batter into a waiting pan and carried it to the oven. “Cook well. No burning please,” she said as she slid the pan in. Then she turned to survey the scene. The windows of the bakery were open, and sunlight streamed in, bringing with it birdsongs and the sound of the wind rustling tree leaves.

One table was covered in a menagerie of cooling goods that filled the room with the pleasant smells of fresh bread and pastries. Her worktable was mostly clean. She had learned early on to start recipes by asking the flour to not make a mess.

“What should I bake now?” she said aloud to the empty room. Then she walked over to the closet pantry where her eyes were drawn to a basket of fresh berries. She picked one and popped it into her mouth. “Oh. That’s tart,” she said puckering her lips. “Could you be a little sweeter please? Not too sweet though.” Aviana tried another berry and then smiled. “Much better.”

She carried the basket of berries back to her worktable and set them down. Then she picked up a book that had been sitting on a nearby shelf and began flipping through it. The book was handwritten and looked well used with many notes written in another hand. “Hmm, what would be good to make with berries? I want something different than pies and muffins. Let’s see.”

She stopped at a page and read the recipe on it. “Scones sound good.” Then she turned to the open pantry door and spoke louder. “I need flour, eggs, sugar...” As she read the rest of her list, the ingredients began hopping off the shelf and into the room. They stopped their march when they arrived on the table in front of her. “Very good,” she said. “Thank you.”

Then she began the recipe, talking with the ingredients as she went. Asking the egg to crack so no shell would fall in, asking the flour to measure out correctly without packing, asking it all to mix evenly. The ingredients did as she requested and Aviana thanked them in turn.

While she was working, her mother walked into the kitchen from the shop. She was a short woman with a round face and an easy smile. Like Aviana, she had light brown skin, just darker than the wheat fields that bordered their small town, but unlike Aviana, hers was spotted from the sun.

“Hello honey,” her mother said as she came up to the table. “Take a break and let me fix your hair.”

Dee walked behind Aviana and gently undid her daughter’s long braid. Even with being careful, Aviana had added some streaks of white flour that stood out in her dark hair. Dee brushed them out and then slowly twisted the straight hair, forming an intricate plait.

“It smells like you’ve been busy.”

“I have. We had several custom orders to fill, and now I’m working on some extras for the shop.”

“What are you making?”

“Berry scones. I’m using one of Dad’s old recipes.” Aviana held up the book for her mother to see.

“Your father would be so happy to know that you love cooking as much as he did,” her mother said as she gently twisted her daughter’s hair. “You certainly seemed to inherit his knack for it.”

“It always feels a bit like cheating using magic. You cook just as well as I do without it.”

Her mother finished the braid and turned Aviana around to face her. They had the same dark brown eyes under bold eyebrows except that small wrinkles creased the sides of Dee’s. “I don’t think that’s quite true, honey. But you shouldn’t think using your magic is cheating. It’s just another one of your talents.”

Aviana frowned, pushing her full eyebrows together. “Yeah, but it’s a talent I don’t tell anyone about.”

Dee smiled at her daughter, but Aviana could see a wrinkle form on her forehead that meant she was upset. Aviana sighed; it didn’t look like the conversation would go any better this time.

“You know why you have to keep it secret, Aviana, but you shouldn’t feel ashamed of doing so. Your father never told anyone here that he used magic with his baking. Some knew that he had attended the University, but he never spoke about it. Many thought he didn’t use magic anymore.”

“It’s different though,” Aviana said, repeating a line she had used many times. “He had a choice; he wanted to keep it secret.”

Dee walked over to the stove and picked up the teakettle that was sitting there, taking time to fill it with water before returning it to the stovetop to heat.  When she was done she sat on a stool next to Aviana and looked at her only daughter.

“Why do you want to tell people that you have magic?”

Aviana’s eyebrows rose and she had to take a moment before answering. “I don’t really. I just want to be able to use magic without worrying about someone seeing.” She motioned to the room around her. “I can use magic here because the windows are too high for anyone to see in. I can use magic at home because we live alone and far from anyone else. I want to be able to use magic wherever and whenever I like.” Not that those were the only two places Aviana used magic, but she was always careful to make sure she wouldn’t be seen.

“I want to be able to learn how to use my magic,” she continued, the words coming quickly now. How many times had she said these lines to herself?  “If I were a boy I’d be studying at the University like Dad did. Instead I’m here trying to teach myself.” She had to keep her nails pinching into her skin as a reminder not to raise her voice. These were words that shouldn’t be overheard. “It’s not enough. Why can’t people understand that females have magic too?”

Aviana asked the question, but she already knew the answer. It was one she had learned many years ago.

When she was young and had first learned of her magical abilities, her father had warned her she would have to keep her magic secret. She could still remember him kneeling in front of her, her small hand in his. Just a moment before his eyes had been bright. He had picked her up and swung her around, celebrating her magic. Now they were full of concern.

“You cannot tell anyone of this,” he said softly. “Never use magic where someone other than Mom and I can see. Promise me this Aviana.”

“Why?” she asked, her lower lip sticking out, her dark eyebrows scrunched together.

“People do not believe that women can have magic,” he answered, taking a moment to wipe some flour from her sleeve.

“Why not?”

“It’s always been that way.”

“But why?” Aviana asked, pulling on the apron she wore.

Her father smiled at his little girl’s tenacity. “Some people believe it is impossible because women have smaller brains or weaker bodies.”

She stopped fidgeting with her outfit and looked up at her father. “That’s silly.”

“I know it is, but some people believe it.”

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Evenson

Name: Emma Evenson 
Genre: Young adult contemporary 
Title: Tourist Attractions of the Upper Midwest 

Friday, March 16th, 2012 

According to the Mayan calendar, the world will end a few months from now, which is pretty much fine by me. 

I’d be fine with it ending right this second. 

I clear my throat and stare out at the rest of my public speaking class. 

I’m not sure what the point of public speaking is. No adult I know has a job that involves public speaking, unless you count teachers or that one manager at Arby’s who really gets off on using the intercom to remind us that the refills aren’t free. And somehow I think that even without specialized training I could cope with yelling at my sister and her friends over an intercom. 

Parker, in his perennially unhelpful way, told me to “picture them in their underwear.” But the first person I make eye contact with— which is to say, the first person who isn’t actively texting, coloring in their nails with a Sharpie, or sleeping— is Rachel Reichert. Rachel might literally be the last person in the world I want to picture naked, because in addition to being a girl, it’s really easy for me to picture her naked. 

It’s not entirely her fault. 

When your best friend is basically a nymphomaniac, seeing his girlfriend naked is kind of an occupational hazard. It’s made even worse by the fact that Parker seems to view any empty room as a personal challenge, like the universe is daring him to have sex in as many places as he possibly can. I’ve walked in on them four times in the year they’ve been dating. 

Every one of those times happened in one of the vacant summer cabins out by French Lake. The whole reason I started breaking into those stupid cabins with Parker was so I could get away from my mother and her revolving door of nightmare boyfriends, and then Parker had to go and turn them into his personal collection of sex lairs. Now it seems like I can’t walk into a single cabin without finding a used condom on the floor. 

Despite my best efforts, an image of Rachel in a hot-pink bra flashes through my mind. I gag internally. Some asshole coughs in an exaggerated way, like 'when is this going to start.'

Picturing people naked is a slippery fucking slope. 

I glance down at my notes. I can barely read my own handwriting. 

“Cloning is a good idea…” 

In my first version of this so-called “persuasive speech,” I ended that sentence with “because it would be incredibly cool to have a clone,” but then I rehearsed it for my sister and Evie looked at me like I was the dumbest person who ever lived. She crossed it out and wrote, “because of the new frontiers it opens up in science.” 

Admittedly, that sounded way better. 

Parker, on the other hand, thought my topic was dumb as shit. “You’re a twin,” he’d pointed out. “You’re basically a clone. Who cares?” 

There were so many things wrong with that that I could barely come up with a place to start, although the fact that Evie is a girl seemed like a pretty obvious one. 

Our teacher gave us this impassioned little speech about how the persuasive speech unit is our opportunity to ‘show the class what we really care about,’ like the idea of showing a bunch of half-asleep people that I mostly hate what I ‘really care about’ is appealing in any way. So instead I went out of my way to choose the topic I cared about the least, which was cloning. 

I stumble through the first few notecards, which are mostly about that one sheep that everyone likes so much. I know that I’m reading so fast people can probably barely understand what I’m saying, but I want it to be over. 

The only person who’s really paying attention is Rachel, and when I meet her eyes she flashes me an exaggerated grin and waggles her hands in a double thumbs-up. 

She’s doing an impression of my mother’s boyfriend, which unfortunately causes me to break into laughter in the middle of a sentence about how cloned animals die when they’re really young. And it’s not just one of those normal snort-laughs that you can recover from easily-- it’s like this totally maniacal, full-blown laugh that makes me seem like a psychopath that tortures animals for fun. 

My teacher frowns and taps her watch. 

Rachel’s face contorts with silent laughter. 

I probably should be annoyed, but I’m not. It’s nice of her to pay attention, especially since Rachel’s speech was really freaking cool. She talked about online surveillance and she started by sharing screenshots of embarrassing things people in our class had posted to their social media profiles in middle school. Granted, she only got about a minute into her speech before the teacher made her stop, but it made an impression. 

Evie deleted her Instagram the next day. 

“So-cloning-isn’t-just-a-thing-that-happens-in-sci-fi-movies—” 

“Time,” my teacher calls, clapping her hands and standing up just as the bell rings. Everyone in the class leaps out of their seats like they’ve been sitting in electric chairs. 

All the tension melts out of my shoulders. My speech is over. It’s now officially spring break. I guess I can handle waiting a few more months for the world to end. 


Rachel corners me in the hallway. “Sorry,” she says, her expression stuck in some no-man’s-land halfway between embarrassment and amusement, “I didn’t actually mean to make you lose it in the middle of your speech.” 

“No big deal. Now everyone will think that I find animal death funny. Which should definitely help my reputation.” 

Rachel smirks. “You don’t have that bad of a reputation,” she says, which would sound charitable coming from almost anyone else. But Rachel is dating my best friend, so her bar is pretty low. 

Underground, more like. 

“Thanks,” I deadpan. 

Rachel coughs and fiddles with the ends of her hair. “So, uh, I’m moving,” she says. 

And I know it’s horrible, but the first thing I feel when she says that is a wave of jealousy. 

Not concern about whether she wants to move, or how this is going to impact Parker. Or how it will impact Evie, who is Rachel’s best friend. 

I just wish that I was the one leaving Clintonville. 

“That sucks,” I say, shifting my backpack onto my other shoulder. “When?” 

She glances down the hallway, like she’s watching for someone. “Today. Like, now. And, uh, I haven’t really mentioned this to Parker.” 

I blink. “You what?” 

And just like that, my spring break is shot to hell.