Monday, October 22, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Nelson Rev 2

Kaylynn Nelson
Young Adult Science Fiction
In Sheep’s Skin


Pitch: 

In the town of Limbus, everyone is born a twin—one good, one evil. At the age of sixteen, the twins’ natures are identified, with the city of Haylos welcoming the good and Malos beckoning the bad.

Dustin and Silas Grey have just come of age and are eager to find out where they belong when their examination yields inconclusive results. It’s scheduled to be retaken the next day, but Dustin gets abducted from their home late in the night.

For the first time in sixteen years, Silas finds himself without the companionship of his overly optimistic brother. He sets out to find Dustin, while his darker side begins to flourish in Dustin’s absence. That is, until Silas makes friends with a motley group of Haylos students who bring out the good in him once again. Ultimately, Silas must decide whether or not he’s going to let a test result shape who he wants to become.

His journey to find both Dustin and himself will unravel the system that labelled him evil in the first place.

IN SHEEP’S SKIN (76,000 words) is a young adult science fiction novel. It’s the first in a planned trilogy and similar to COUNTERPART.

Pages:

Silas stared into a pair of hazel eyes identical to his own. Flecks of green in orbs of warm brown gazed back at him. He let his focus fall to a long nose, slightly hooked at the end. It suddenly twitched as though preparing to sneeze, but Silas didn’t feel the urge to. Turning his head slowly to the side, he watched a smooth jawline flex. Silas quickly turned back to the front and met the sparkling hazel eyes with a smile.

The twins had been seated at separate ends of a glossy, pearl table and instructed not to speak. The white walled room was barren, so they passed the time waiting for their assigned clerk by mirroring one another’s movements. The game ended with the jostling of the doorknob. Silas snapped his head toward the door and felt his mouth dry. A frowning woman entered and swished toward them purposefully in a uniformed white pantsuit. Dustin flashed her one of his charming smiles, but for once, it went unnoticed.

In her perfectly manicured hand, the clerk eyed a tablet as thin as as sheet of paper. She held it up to her face before peering over it. “Dustin and Silas Grey,” she droned.

“Present,” Silas said.

“You got Dusty,” Dustin chirped.

The clerk lowered the tablet and began typing with her free hand. Her fingers moved deftly over the screen, but her gaze remained disinterested. “Please remain seated.”

“Check,” Silas said, glancing at his seated brother.

“Alright, so here’s what we’re going to do… ”

Silas waited for the clerk to continue, but she was too busy typing to finish her sentence. He shifted his attention to Dustin, who began tapping the table as though it were a tablet. He pursed his lips seriously, resembling the clerk’s pinched expression. Shaking his head, Silas tried his best not to indulge him with a smile, but Dustin had caught the corner of his lip twitch and began typing faster.

“Once you’re finished being an imbecile, we can start,” the clerk announced. Dustin stopped tapping the table and sunk lower in his chair. “Done already? Greaaat.”

Silas let out a snort, which caught a scowl from the clerk. “Sorry, please continue,” he muttered.

Slowly, she raised the tablet to her face and began in a monotone voice. “Thank you for coming in today, and happy sixteenth birthday. My name is Miriam, and I’m thrilled to be a part of these next steps on your journey. We here at Pathways wish to place you in the territory that will best benefit your overall happiness and comfort over your lifespan. It is our mission to accommodate both types of twins and provide fulfillment. So, without further ado, let us reveal the pathway to your new, destined life. And remember, there can’t be any good in this world without evil.”

The clerk set the tablet down and placed her hands on either side of it protectively. She leaned forward and blew her wispy bangs out of her face. “Alright boys, in a few minutes, a screen is going to pop up between you. A series of images will then appear on the screen. These images are meant to instill certain reactions, so just try and relax. When the examination is over, the screen will disappear, and a diagnostic report will be sent to this,” she tapped the tablet with an acrylic nail. “Pretty straightforward stuff you should’ve learned in school.”

“I have a question,” Silas interjected. “If I already know I’m going to be sent to Malos, do we have to bother with this whole test thing, or can we call it a day and have you send us on our way?”

“Excuse me?” the clerk balked, raising her thinly drawn on eyebrows.

“I mean no offense, I’ve just failed enough tests in my life to know how this is going to shape up.”

“Then you should know that if you are assigned Malos, it’s not because you failed anything, it’s because you belong there,” the clerk snapped, pushing herself into a standing position. “When you’re both ready, place the provided helmet on your head and look forward.”

Silas let out a defeated sigh. He was about to ask where the helmets were when he noticed his had appeared beside his elbow. He thought it looked a lot like the ivory salad bowl his mom used at dinner time. Silas glanced up at the clerk to make sure she wasn’t kidding, but her stern gaze met his as if to say, “just test me.”

Silas averted his eyes back to his helmet. Warily, he reached for it and placed it on his head. The helmet was too large, and tipped forward over his eyes. Silas was still adjusting it when a cold wave of nerves washed over him.

The helmet had begun to move on its own, tightening itself to the grooves of his skull. His hands shot up to remove the headgear, but a new layer of helmet was now stretching down over his cheekbones. He tried to burrow his fingers underneath, but the helmet was too tightly fixated to the nape of his neck.

“Relax,” Miriam advised. Silas peered at her through the two eye slits of the helmet, noticing how her thin lips had spread into a smile.

Silas took a deep breath. The helmet had stopped tightening and now sat comfortably conformed to his head. He tried to look at Dustin, but the screen between them had already appeared. Rubbing his sweaty palms on his pants, Silas reminded himself that the test was painless and, more importantly, brief.

“You boys ready?” the clerk asked as the room’s lights dimmed. “Remember, just relax.”

Silas stared at the blank screen. He had given up a long time ago wondering what he was; good or evil. It was always easy to tell. He and Dustin had been correctly identifying everyone in the classes above them for years. Tomorrow, Dustin would be headed for Haylos with all the other goodie gumdrops, and he would be on his way to Malos. He knew there was nothing wrong with being sent there, but still, Silas didn’t feel evil.

The screen before him flickered to life, and a colorful image appeared. Silas tried to identify it, but he had never seen anything like it before. Silas blinked, and the image changed to another unidentifiable picture. This process continued for ten more minutes, until the screen went lifeless grey and then vanished. Dustin appeared, grinning cheerfully as though they had just finished a game instead of a life-altering examination.

Silas had long ago given up puzzling over Dustin’s ability to retain his happy-go-lucky demeanor in the face of adversity. He had tried practicing it himself without success, and it was still the trait he envied and loved most about him. Silas would never admit it, but he dreaded being separated from his brother forever.

The twins took off their helmets and set them on the table in front of them as the clerk pushed through the door, tablet still in hand. She stared at it for a few minutes, tapping her fingers quickly over it. “Hmph,” she grunted. “Something seems to be off with the machine. Your reports are inconclusive.”

“What does that mean?” Dustin asked.

“It means I need to call Raymond from maintenance,” the clerk replied.

“But what does that mean for us?” Silas asked.

“You two will have to come back here and retake the test.”


Sunday, October 21, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Kuder Rev 2


Name: Lisa Kuder
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Title: Dangerous Dreams

Pitch: 

For Henry, a gaming-obsessed teenager, life is pretty awesome. He has just been offered his dream job--a sweet internship at a video game company. But when Henry finds a mysterious flash drive containing incriminating information about the company CFO, Mr. Chin, things start to get really complicated. 

For 16-year old Lan, life is definitely not awesome. She has managed to escape an arranged marriage to the meanest boy in her rural Chinese village by moving to San Francisco to living with her Uncle Chin where she is supposed to be attending school. Instead, she and all of the other kitchen workers in her uncle's restaurant are working 12-hour days without pay and have been cut off from all communication with their families in China. 

Lan has stumbled on some information that Chin has gone to great lengths to hide. She reaches out to Henry, hoping that he can help her and her coworkers gain their freedom. As they uncover more of Chin's secrets in their quest for truth, Henry learns the hard way that people are more important than video games, and Lan finds a new way to live out her dreams. 

Chapter 1

Lan hadn't started out the day planning to steal a folder from Uncle’s filing cabinet.

A half an hour ago, she had been enjoying a cup of tea on the small balcony off the dining room of the luxury condo, watching the morning fog slowly drift westward to reveal the sunlight as it danced off the wind-swept waters of the Bay. 

After she had finished her tea, she walked over to the balcony railing to watch the miniature people walking along The Embarcadero below. Pairs of walkers strode purposefully toward their goal of 10,000 daily steps, while tech workers hurried to their offices, carrying backpacks that held millions of dollar's-worth of ideas.

A growing cluster of children was starting to form at a bus stop right in the center of her view. It was hard to tell their age or gender from her tenth-floor perch, but she guessed that they ranged in age from about 8 to 16. The younger ones jostled and chased each other around, and the older ones stood solemnly staring at their phones as if the gadgets contained the very meaning of life.

After watching the kids for a few minutes, a sudden pang of longing took her by surprise and propelled her back away from the balcony railing. Those kids are waiting for a bus to take them to school. It wasn’t fair. She was supposed to be standing and waiting for the bus, flipping through the texts from her girlfriends on her phone, looking forward to the day with a mixture of excitement and dread. Would the cute boy that sat in front of her in Math class talk to her today? What grade would she get on the tough exam she had taken the day before?

 But there was no need to wonder about what she would be doing today. It would be the same thing she did every day—washing, chopping and serving 12 hours a day at her uncle’s restaurant, punctuated by a half day off once every couple of weeks, the only bright spot in her otherwise mundane life.

A gust of bay wind reminded her that she had forgotten to bring a sweater outside.  She picked up her teacup with one hand and slid open the glass door leading to the condo’s open dining/living/kitchen with the other.

As she went into the kitchen to put her cup in the sink, she had the sense that something was off as she passed the hallway leading to Auntie and Uncle’s master bedroom. She came back out of the kitchen and looked down the hallway. That must be it. The door to Uncle’s forbidden home office was slightly ajar. It was strange—he always closed and locked it when he left the office.

Neither Uncle or Auntie was at home. He had left about an hour earlier for a breakfast meeting with his business partners, and she was out at an early morning yoga class. He must have forgotten to lock it before he left that morning.

What should she do? If he had left it open on purpose, he would know if she closed it. If he had accidentally left it and forgot about it, he might assume that she had broken into the office. Lan walked cautiously over to the door, afraid that somehow Uncle would sense that she was near it. She had been told repeatedly never to go into that office, and she had no desire to find out what would happen if she disobeyed.

Her hand grasped the knob of the door to the office, and she stood there for a moment, trying to decide what to do. Closing it and going on with her day would make the most sense. It was silly to think that Uncle had left it open on purpose. But she couldn’t shake the thought that she had been given an unexpected opportunity. Even just a peek into the office would give her the chance to learn more about her Uncle who, in spite of the fact that she had lived with him for the past year, she hardly knew anything about.

Lan pushed the door gently forward and found herself in the doorway of a room full of sleek metal and glass that echoed the theme of the rest of the house.  A massive glass-topped desk commanded the room, balanced on top of curved metal crisscrossed legs, a high-tech office chair sitting at attention behind it. Two tall ebony filing cabinets flanked the window displaying a view of the city. One wall was lined ceiling-to-floor with glass bookshelves, and two sleek black armchairs faced the desk.

Lan shivered in both fear and anticipation. There was something thrilling about being somewhere she wasn't supposed to be. Her heart pounding, she ran a tentative hand across the smooth expanse of the desk. Like everything in the Chins' house, it looked expensive. 

She knew she should turn around, leave the office and shut the door behind her. But she couldn't ignore the feeling that she was meant to be here. Why else would the door be opened on one of the rare days that she was in the house alone?

Chapter 2

Henry had a foolproof five-year plan.

Years 1-2: Crush the next two years of high school by excelling at academics while simultaneously honing his gaming skills and coding skills. 

Year 3: Continue to get straight As during the first part of the year to gain early admission to Stanford. 

Year 4: Take a bunch of easy general ed classes his Freshmen year so that he could start development on his video game and spend a lot of time networking to identify potential business partners.

Year 5: Continue with as many easy general ed classes as he could get away with while putting the final touches his game and working with his co-founders on a business plan.

After his Sophomore year of college, he would take advantage of Stanford’s leave policy to “take a year off” to pitch to investors and gain the funding that he would need to launch 

Of course, he wouldn’t ever go back to finish his degree. What would be the point?

His plan was a good one, and he was sure he had thought of everything. Or at least that’s what he thought until he received a grade on the first test of his Sophomore year: C-.


1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Chin Rev 2


Name: Shirlyn Chin
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: Weight of Your Legacy

Pitch:
Michi Harada has one goal in mind: establish communication with her father, who is currently jailed in a maximum-security prison. A goal more easily said than done, given Michi’s status as a fugitive and the fact that her father’s case cannot be disclosed, since it is supposedly a matter of national security.
When Michi unearths that her father has actually been working as a scientist at a classified laboratory, it is like a stab to her heart. All these years, he wasn’t in prison after all. Even worse, Michi can see how her father’s medical background makes him a valuable asset in contributing to the international counter-terrorist effort. In a world where terrorist attacks have graduated to using bio-weaponry, firearms are no longer enough to stop these attacks. Michi’s father refuses to go home, not when he knows he is making a difference, especially since his wife, Michi’s mother, was killed in a terrorist attack.
Now, Michi has to choose between staying with her father and potentially contributing to his work or going home with her best friend and leaving her only remaining parent.  

Pages:

Chapter 1
MICHI
CANADA


There is a short queue outside the prison clinic as usual, but today, the line is made up of correctional officers rather than sick or injured inmates. Jittery on nerves, I barely notice the difference. It isn’t until I have opened the clinic’s door that I stop myself belatedly and knock.
Inside the brightly lit office, possibly the cleanest room in the entire prison, Uncle looks up, a syringe in his hand and a frown already in place. “Michi?” he says, perplexed. He puts the syringe down. “Is something wrong?”
Sitting across from Uncle, one of my more irritating colleagues raises an eyebrow. Henry has his sleeve rolled up, ready for his flu inoculation shot. He smirks at the sight of me. “Harada!” he calls with false merriment. “Having your lunch break?”
I know what he is insinuating: come to see uncle dearest? It is a long-running joke in the prison that Uncle only adopted me because he suffered from a sudden fit of loneliness eleven years ago. A perfect match, they like to call Uncle and me – aunsociable and quiet girl for an equally unsociable and quiet man, a man who looks like he doesn’t know the first thing about being a father. The joke is getting really stale, especially today, when I am anxious and irritable enough as it is.
I ignore Henry; he isn’t the one I’ve come to see anyway. Finally meeting Uncle’s eyes, I’m unsurprised at the pointed questions in them. There is nothing Uncle can do today except to act normal. I am the one who can further our plan along, so he has to trust me with this. Uncle is never good at trusting people. “Michi,” he repeats now. Is something wrong?”
I can’t help the sigh that escapes. “Nothing’s wrong, Uncle.”
His eyes remain on me, urging for more information. “Did you have your interview already?”
“No. I… I’m going there. Soon.”
“Did you want to ask me something before the interview?”
“No, Uncle.”
“Did you forget, um…” Uncle makes some vague, uncomfortable gestures, what with the presence of a third party in the room. “Did you forget one of the answers we practiced last night?”
“No, I didn’t.” I have perfected my answers to every comma and full-stop. I won’t forget.
Uncle blinks at my response. I can almost hear his thoughts: Then what are you doing here?
A little voice in me answers, Hoping for a ‘good luck’. There is nothing Uncle can do today. Everything is on me. A hug is too much to ask, but a ‘good luck’ isn’t. Is it?
Flustered, I move further into the room, noting how full the small dustbin beside Uncle is, cluttered with empty vaccine bottles. I thump the cup I am holding on Uncle’s table. “I brought a cup of coffee for you.”
“I see,” Uncle says, uncomprehending. “Thank you.” Turning back to Henry, he picks up the syringe once more. “I think it is better that you go now, Michi. It’s impolite to be late.”
As I watch, Uncle sticks the syringe into a new bottle of vaccine, pulls the liquid out, and injects it into Henry’s arm. Then, pressing the injection site with a small piece of cotton, Uncle puts a bandage over it. Everything over and done under five minutes; Uncle’s steady hands never falter. I wring my shaking hands enviously.
“All right.” Uncle angles his tablet to Henry and gives him a pen. “Sign here, please.” Uncle points to the bottom of the electronic form, declaring that the person in question has already received his inoculation shot.
There was a time when the Ministry of Health had the idea of using flu vaccination patches. It was shortly after World War III, when people were clamouring for increased health care because of the epidemics. Shaped and used like a bandage, so that people could self-administer flu vaccinations at home, the flu patches had sounded like a good solution for the problem at the time – all the citizens could be vaccinated in a shorter period without having to rely on doctors. But when imitations of the flu patches started popping up in the black market, people started buying the imitations and hoarding them, thinking that the more vaccinations one injected, the better.
The use of flu vaccination patches is abolished now. Still, there is a steady black market for government-grade flu vaccines, so Uncle takes the inventories of his vaccines and medicine supplies very seriously.  
Uncle sighs when he notices me hovering. “Michi Harada, stop wasting time. Go to your interview now.”
Henry barely suppresses his laughter. He finishes signing and hands the tablet back to Uncle. The jerk shoots me a tragic look, mouthing “aw”.
Why did I think Uncle will be different today just because of my interview? I whip around to the door, grounding my teeth. Henry saunters behind me, getting too close for my comfort.
Once we are out of the clinic, he claps me on the back before I can move away. “Good luck, Harada!” he exclaims, making sure the COs[1] lining along the hallway hears him. “I know you can’t wait to leave us to guard a maximum-security prison. So good luck!”
In response, my colleagues shoot me dirty looks. “Yeah, good luck, Harada,” one of them mutters. “You are just like your ‘uncle’,” another sneers. “Think yourselves high and mighty. I hope you get your transfer. Crestfield can have you.”
You are just like your ‘uncle’. That comment stops me cold. Slowly, I turn back and glare at them, my colleagues, a slew of words which will get me in trouble with Uncle at the tip of my tongue.
Unsociable or not, Uncle is still my family. He and I have both sacrificed so much to find out why otou-san[2] is jailed in Crestfield. If it isn’t for otou-san, Uncle could’ve worked in a hospital rather than a prison, like he’d originally wanted to. I might have become a doctor instead of a correctional officer.
Hell, if it isn’t for otou-san, Uncle and I wouldn’t have needed to run away from home and migrate to Canada in the first place.
“Swallow your own tongues, jerks,” I growl.
Veering left, I march down the hallway towards the Warden’s office.
“Oo!” they shout behind my back, sounding like a bunch of imbeciles.
I suppose I should be grateful that these twerps didn’t say anything in front of Uncle, at least. There was a time when they would’ve.
The hallway is unusually empty today. Since this is one of the hallways which lead towards the prisoners’ unit, it is usually crowded with new prisoners coming in or existing prisoners going out for their court hearings. I pass by two of my colleagues. One of them give me a sidelong glance. I catch the words “Crestfield” and “transfer”.
They think I’m a snob, I know; same as the way they think of Uncle. When I started working here at nineteen, I discovered that Uncle was well-known among these bricked walls and bars. The Warden must have blabbed about Uncle’s credentials at some point, because everybody in the prison knew that Uncle could’ve worked in a big hospital rather than a prison. A point that works against Uncle’s favour, since he is quiet to begin with.  


1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Zhu Rev 2


Name: Mayee Zhu
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: THE DREAMWALKERS

PITCH:

Twelve-year-old Ari Pippin enjoys traveling to different worlds in secret. For many magical, wonderful years, she had hitched rides from speeding stars, foraged for life-saving plants on exotic islands, and explored the infinite multiverse.

Her easygoing days abruptly screech to a halt when a star cryptically warns her and refuses to reveal any more information unless Ari retrieves the fabled Heartsword. Ari knows she cannot ignore a high-born star’s foresight, as whenever they prophesize it’s about desire or death.  

Just as the legendary sword is almost in Ari's grasp, an impish boy her own age steals it from her. The thief, Cavan, fatefully transfers to her class, but refuses to give back the Heartsword.

As if the snarky, sword-stealing Cavan wasn’t enough to deal with, Ari also has to worry about Cavan’s fellow members of a wide-spanning secret society--the New Wheel. The New Wheel wants to improve the world by feeding shady bits of souls to black holes. Ari wants to drop-kick into the next galaxy whoever first thought that was a good idea.

THE DREAMWALKERS is a 71,700-word middle grade fantasy novel. It is the first book in a series, but works as a standalone novel, too.

FIRST FIVE PAGES:

Traveling by star was a sweet and sour treat. Twelve-year-old Ari Pippin could see the universe zoom by and get to her destination faster than a speeding bullet, but hearing the mouthy stars insult her through several galaxies left a lot to be desired.

Ari watched Earth shrink further away. She would rather be at home instead of heading to a meeting where she might discuss her future death. But ignoring the situation would gnaw at Ari even more than confronting it.

Other stars sped by, their fused legs humming.

“What’s the deal with your mannish eyebrows?” The star Pyxis asked as they hurtled past Jupiter. Ari leaned back so she wouldn’t be repeatedly smacked in the face by Pyxis’s billowing hair and tightened her grip on the stretchy starbone attached to Pyxis’s bicep. “Obese caterpillars look better.”

Stars could have passed for wingless angels if it weren’t for their smack talk. At least here in the Core dimension, stars wouldn’t flash-fry bystanders like the gas giants in Ari’s reality.

Pyxis screeched to a halt.

“Yo!” Ari yelled angrily. Her red hair whooshed over one hazel eye, and she smushed face-first into Pyxis’s shoulders. Letting go of the starbone, Ari hopped off Pyxis’s back and brushed her hair back. “What gives, glitterbomb?”

Pyxis caught her breath. Silver light streamed from her mouth when she exhaled. Her legs unfused.

“Twenty-seven dzaras. Cough up, ginger pits.”

“Whoa there, Twinklebell. Last week, Yesi took me twice as far for eighteen.”

“Price hike. A black hole might as well have swallowed my bank account with all these new taxes.”

“And these taxes were created between last week and now?”

The star’s golden lip curled. “Do you want proof, cheapskate?”

Impatient to see Mintaka, Ari didn’t argue further and rummaged in her knapsack for the money she had earned from foraging plants. She pulled out the glowing dzaras. The neon blue jellyfish floated dreamily in small circles above her hands.

Pyxis swept the dzaras into a coin purse strapped to her thigh. After swallowing all the dzaras, the purse belched.   

Pyxis saw Ari’s brooding expression. “Don’t worry. Mintaka’s only the second most awful being I know. You’ll get along like me and your money.”

Before Ari could sarcastically thank her, Pyxis zipped away as fast as Superman on steroids.

Sitting on top of Melon Moon, Mintaka’s home loomed over Ari. The twinkling castle was a behemoth made out of rare jewels. Curved towers created serpentine shadows onto the stairs. Ari grimaced. She hated snakes and over-the-top eyesores. Trust Mintaka to have both.

Noticing it captured Ari’s attention, the castle preened like a prize-winning, purebred Siamese cat. The balcony curved into a smug smile, and one of the two windows’ blinds above it shut and open, like a coy wink. Ari waved and began her trek up the winding, moonrock steps.

Mintaka was the youngest triplet in Orion’s Belt. Even though being Orion’s daughter made her unofficial star royalty, it was rumored she had an inferiority complex towards her two siblings. Ari grumpily thought this rumor must have some truth to it as she clutched the stair railing for the fiftieth time to catch her breath. A swirly stair post curled around her hand. Not trusting this strange place one bit, Ari slapped it off.

Wheezing once she reached the top, Ari thought, No one’s calling me Ari Swolzzenager anytime soon, that’s for sure. Though she looked asleep back in her bed on Earth, she still felt effects from dreamwalks, or as the technical lingo called it, worldhops.

One time, a star didn’t dial down her heat all the way before Ari clambered aboard. Ari’s hand came away with a severe burn that still ached after she woke up. Even though only Ari’s soul traveled while asleep, it could still feel pain that manifested physically.

Ari rolled her eyes at Mintaka’s platinum door knockers, which were carved in the striking likeness of Mintaka, and banged both against the why-not platinum double doors. The knocks echoed throughout the house. One mini-Mintaka’s eye whirred and opened, revealing a camera microlens. It zoomed in on Ari.  

The doors opened soundlessly. Ari blinked. The interior obviously didn’t want to be upstaged by the exterior. Expensive-looking artwork decorated the walls. A jeweled chandelier sparkled from the ceiling. Ari wiped her feet on the welcome mat. It purred.

Mintaka’s satin voice slithered out the sound system: “I await you in the parlor, little one.”

“I need help finding that as this place is a tad big.”

Mintaka whistled. With a rattle, a gaunt man with a gold collar around his neck and a ball and chain around one ankle appeared so close to Ari she took a step back.

“Hello,” she greeted politely.

The man glared at her and opened his mouth. He had no tongue.

“Sorry,” Ari automatically said, even though she had done nothing wrong.

The tongueless man turned away from her and slowly walked forwards. His iron ball and chain dragged behind him. They walked through many hallways and rooms. Ari stopped counting after she reached fifty. She passed two perfect parlors.

Many rooms had no clear purpose. One had two voodoo dolls in the middle of the floor. Another had only a painting of a macho star in military uniform. A third had a customized dartboard that was the current US president’s face. Ari didn’t know what Mintaka’s beef with that president was, but she hoped by the end of their first meeting that her face wouldn’t be used for target practice, too.

Mintaka’s slave stopped. He gestured to a room that Ari could partly see through an arched entrance. As Ari turned to thank him, he vanished.

“Don’t mind him, Oliver resents anyone hopeful.” Mintaka chuckled. “He’s been that way ever since he disobeyed me and lost his speaking privileges.”

Someone reads too many villain handbooks, Ari thought, unimpressed instead of scared.  

Stars were a diverse bunch. There were some, like Pyxis, who squeegeed through their lives by being glorified taxi drivers. Then there were high-born stars like Mintaka who foresaw the future. Whenever they had a vision, it had to do with desire or death.

Ari stepped into a room larger than her entire house. A marble fountain spewed stardust and the walls were embedded with glass displays filled with bobbing dzaras. Ari shielded her eyes when she saw Mintaka. The willowy star sparkled much more violently than Pyxis.

“My fault.” Mintaka dimmed herself enough so that Ari could comfortably look at her, but still be awed by the flecks of diamond light she scattered on the walls. Her robes flowed and shimmered like silk, but was opaque like frosted glass. Her pearly hair and clothes fluttered gently, though there was no wind. “Have a seat, child.”

Ari sat in an identical recliner opposite Mintaka’s. “I’ve thought about your warning since you sent it to my Core mailbox yesterday.” She pulled out a slip of paper and read, “Beware the forbidden fruit you seek, for its guardian snake lies on its other cheek. Mintaka, smiley face." She looked up. "Care to explain?”

“As stars are forbidden from interfering with fate, I already wasn’t supposed to tell you anything. But…” For a second, Mintaka’s amber eyes gleamed like a polished knife, before it was replaced by her standard pleasantness. “I’ll risk breaking the rules, if you get something for me.”

“Another palace, my queen?”

“The Heartsword from Centaurus.”

“...I understood only half the words in that sentence.”


1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Rowley Rev 2


Name: Mary Rowley
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
Title: The Secrets That Divide Us

Pitch:

Sixteen-year-old Lizzie Lowe is a plucky girl from the wrong side of Santa Monica Boulevard. Her life is upended when a millionaire grandfather she's never heard of shows up. What’s more, he wants Lizzie's bone marrow for her secret twin sister in England. Her dad loathes the old man for stealing away one of his daughters in the wake of their mom’s death, but Lizzie jumps at the chance to help the sibling she’s always wanted. 

The sisters’ reunion is amazing, but everything inside grandfather’s Gothic mansion—from the gun room to the sinister housekeeper—gives Lizzie the creeps. And Lizzie finds a letter that implicates multiple suspects in her mother’s murder. Since grandpa quashed the police investigation, she has no idea whom to trust.

When her sister is hospitalized, Lizzie has no one to turn to but Teddy, her sister’s gorgeous but cocky prep-school classmate. Though they clash at first, attraction flares as they race to unravel the family mystery. But everyone at Blackweald Hall is hiding something, and digging up old secrets may provoke the murderer to kill again.

THE SECRETS THAT DIVIDE US is a 65,000-word YA mystery with romantic elements.



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It was rush hour in West Los Angeles, and belching car exhaust was conspiring with an end-of-summer heatwave to suffocate me. There wasn’t even a breeze to stir the towering palms on Santa Monica Boulevard as I pedaled my Schwinn home from the library. On the up side, I was zipping past the six lanes of crawling traffic. On the down side, sweat plastered my shirt to my chest and soaked my bra. I raced across the Boulevard as the light was about to change.

“Get out of the way, kid!” yelled a guy in a beat up El Camino. 

“Sure thing!” I called back with mock cheerfulness, resisting the urge to flip him the bird. “But I’m not a kid—I’m sixteen.” I flashed him a grin, but he scowled back, gunned his engine, and drove away in a cloud of black smoke. The heat was making everyone cranky.

I had been hiding out in the cool refuge of the library all day. There were about a million reasons it had become my favorite haunt over the summer. First, unlike our tiny apartment, the library was air conditioned. Second, I was almost guaranteed not to run into anyone from Santa Monica High there. (News flash: Punching your gropey football player date on prom night does not boost your social life.) Third, I was avoiding the hella awkward situation at home with my dad and his new wife, Sonia. 

Okay, that was only three reasons, but no matter how much I wanted to stay at the library, my dad insisted I come home for “family dinner” every night. So I was sweating my way toward the deafening roar of the 405 freeway and our dishwater-toned stucco building. Skidding to a halt in our lot, I locked my bike to a pipe and trudged up the cement steps. 

The spicy aroma of fajitas enveloped me as I opened the door, and my mouth gushed saliva. Stupid traitorous taste buds.

“Hi, Lizzie.” Sonia turned from where she was stir-frying meat and vegetables. Somehow, despite being eight months pregnant, Sonia managed to make glistening with perspiration look beautiful. “I’m almost done here, if you want to set the table.” 

“Uh-huh, let me just set my stuff down.” I only had to walk a few steps to reach my coat closet of a room. Between the bed, desk, and window, there wasn’t much real estate for anything else, but I’d decorated with a Pride and Prejudice print and world map, so I could dream of my escape in a couple years. Despite how cramped my room was, I was grateful to have a quiet place to settle in with a book, whether it was one of my dad’s classics or a juicy murder mystery. I eased my book-laden bag off my back, dropped it on my desk, then tugged my shirt to release it from my sticky skin.

Back in the kitchen, I grabbed mismatched plates and silverware, fanned them across the table, and plonked down into my chair. I picked at a new chip in the table’s Formica while I waited.

My dad came out of his room, his surfer’s hair a jumble of waves and reading glasses still on. He’d probably been doing some lesson planning for his big new job at UCLA. He’d been stressing over it for weeks. 

“Lizzie, glad you could make it.” He smiled at me as sat.

“Yep. Here I am.” To me the joke of it was calling it family dinner. My mom had died soon after I was born, so my dad and I had been our own little family ever since—a team. Then Dad met Sonia last year when they were both teaching at Santa Monica College. He’d started dating her without telling me, then he’d gotten her pregnant and married her, like, two seconds later. As stepmothers go, she treated me okay, but I’d felt completely betrayed. And I’d never felt less like a family.

Sonia set the sizzling fajita pan and plate of warm tortillas in front of us. Dad beamed up at her as he thanked her. I made a tight-lipped face that could have been either a smile or a grimace and mumbled my thanks. 

We started eating. Sonia’s cooking was frustratingly delicious.

“Alex, were you able to finish your syllabus?” She was asking, when a knock sounded at the door.

“You expecting someone?” Dad nodded at me.

“Nope.” I shrugged. Hadn’t he noticed I hadn’t had anyone over since my best friend Shauna moved away last year?
 
He got up and opened the door. After a heavy moment of dead air, he said, “What the hell are you doing here?” 

I arched my body to see who was at the door. A snowy-haired stranger was staring back at me. He had crisply ironed trousers, a suit jacket folded over his arm, and a leather briefcase. His hair still showed tiny precise lines from a recent combing. Everything about his appearance screamed money—the exact opposite of our dingy apartment and its chipped plaster walls. 

He faced my dad and spoke with a posh British accent. “I’m here for Elizabeth. I need to bring her to England to help Anne.”

Okay, what was that? Go to England? Who's Anne?

My dad jammed his index finger into an old man’s chest. “You can’t show up here after sixteen years and expect me to help you with anything. Does Annie even really need help?” 

The stranger looked past my dad, and his lips curved into a smile. “Is that Elizabeth I see?” 

I got up and stood beside my dad. “Hey, are you gonna tell me who this is?”

“Elizabeth, dear,” the old man said, “You’ve grown into such a beautiful young lady. And you look so much like your mother did at your age—except Philippa’s hair was longer.” He reached out as if to stroke my head, but I shied away like a boxer ducking a jab.

I ran my fingers through my shaggy blonde mane. I was light-years out of the loop and needed someone to fill me in.

“He’s nobody—” Dad said.

“I am your grandfather, Archer Cavendish,” the man said at the same time.

“Oh, really?” I said it like he’d just told me he was Santa Claus. “‘Cause my dad said all my grandparents died years ago.”

“If Alexander told you I was dead, he lied.” Archer eyed my dad, jaw tight.

“Is that true, Dad? Is this my grandfather?” My dad stood ramrod straight with his fists balled tight next to his body. I’d never seen him this mad—he was generally pretty chill for an English professor.
 
“Yes—technically—Archer is your grandfather,” he said. “Your mom was his daughter. But Archer lost any right to claim you as family years ago.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Your father is angry because of what happened with your sister after my sweet Philippa died.”
 
“Wait. Hold up. What? Did you say I had a sister?” No way. There had to be a mistake. I didn’t have a sister—even though I’d always talked about wanting one. Dad never would have kept that from me.

“No, dear, you have a sister. A twin sister called Anne,” Archer said. “She lives with me in a lovely country house south of London. Now she’s terribly ill and needs your help, which is why I’ve come.”