Monday, April 23, 2018

The April Workshop 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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Belich Rev 2

Name: T. James Belich
Genre: Middle Grade mystery


When Ember, a rainbow boa, is tricked into breaking the One Law of the wild—never kill without need—she is banished to a human zoo. She dreams of returning to her rainforest, only interacting with the zoo's other residents long enough to sniff out a missing animal. But when one of the zookeepers is found dead, the accused lion asks Ember to track down the real culprit before he's executed. Or else he'll eat her.

But not all the animals want the lion to live. Sabine the tiger is on the prowl, plotting to oust the lion and put all the animals under her paw. Ember can either join her or join her dinner menu. And even if Ember proves the lion's innocence, she'll still need to communicate the truth to the zookeepers before they put him down. But if she succeeds, the One Law will be satisfied. She can go home.

And Ember cannot resist a puzzle.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE LION IN THE NIGHT-TIME is a middle grade mystery complete at 50,000 words. "Sherlock Holmes" meets "The One and Only Ivan."

First Five Pages:

Ember smelled a body.

She flicked her tongue. Fear and uncertainty permeated the air. Clumps of zookeepers stood on the paved paths below, talking in low, rapid voices. No monkeys hooted, no cats roared. The Galapagos tortoise ground away at a breakfast of leaves and flowers. Past him, the flamingos stood on single legs, silent but watching. Even the sea lions hushed.

Ember stretched her thin, winding body over the flat roof of the reptile building, the sun reflecting off her orange-brown scales. Two human police officers rolled a metal rectangle past her building. A sheet covered the shape on top, but the scent of death—like warm, moldering leaves—was unmistakable.


The roof quivered. A dank odor filled Ember's mouth. Primates always smelled like they needed a bath.

Long, skinny fingers grabbed Ember's tail. "The King wants to see you."

Ember stared through the dark slits of her eyes into the upside down face of a monkey.

The monkey blinked. "He's the male lion."

"Tell this lion I have no interest in the affairs of mammals." Ember preferred her fellow reptiles. They kept to themselves.


Ember bit the monkey on the paw.

He hooted and dropped her. The monkey sucked his finger. "You're a rainbow boa, right? A constrictor? Not venomous?"

"You shall have to wait and see." Ember slithered between two metal slats in the roof vent.

The monkey yanked her out. "When the King wants to see you, you go."

Ember reared back. "Ssss. And if I do not?"

"He'll have you trapped in your cage for real."

A cage barely as long as Ember. She disliked being used by the humans for their amusement and seized every opportunity to escape to the roof. Her heart ached for the green expanse of the rainforest, filled with the sounds of frogs and water, free of attachments.

But the wild was no longer safe for her. Because she had been so foolish as to put her trust in another.

A tuft of dark fur stuck up from the monkey's head. He brushed it back and grunted. "Cameron—one of the keepers—he's dead."

Ember curled her body around. She could escape the monkey, but she didn't.

"He was found in the lion habitat, the outdoor part, beside the King. He was nice. Cameron, I mean. That's why the King needs to see you." The monkey reached for Ember's neck.

Why would the lion have killed a human? And what had this to do with her?

Ember should return to her cage to sleep, but she could not resist a puzzle.

The monkey threw Ember over his shoulders. Although shorter than the Tortoise, her head still dangled near the monkey's waist. She looped herself around his neck. He tugged on her coil.

"Do you have to do that? It's creepy, like you're going to start squeezing."

"Ssss. I do not have hands."

A thick branch stretched over the roof. The monkey leapt, grabbed it, and scrambled into the leaves. Another branch scraped over Ember's scales.


"Sorry," the monkey said. He did not sound it.

A herd of keepers waited beneath them, looking lost. The monkey skittered over their heads and across the path, into the tree above the tortoise pen. Another jump, and Ember and the monkey landed outside the gorilla habitat. They passed the zebras and giraffes with their grassy scents and dropped onto a long fence. The monkey crawled toward a squat, concrete building.

Ember caught the musky taste of cat, a different kind than the jaguars of her native Costa Rica.

The monkey fumbled with a grate and squeezed inside. Ember flattened herself against the monkey's fur. He clambered through the shaft on all fours, his footsteps echoing inside the narrow, metal space. He stopped at a second grate, scratching his head. His paw had a small nub in place of a primate's usual thumb.

"The keepers are, um, keeping the King inside," the monkey said, "so he can't hurt the lionesses." He opened the grate. "You could say thank you, you know."

"I did not ask you to bring me."

"Whatever." The monkey held Ember by her neck and, gripping the edge of the vent with his feet, he lowered Ember to a wall of fake boulders.

"Give me a shout—or a hiss, I guess—when you're ready." The monkey shut the grate all but a paw's width.

A wall of glass separated the enclosure from the indoor viewing area. A window opposite allowed visitors—the gawkers—to watch the lions outside.

A large patch at the base of the fake rocks radiated heat. The rocks might be enough to clamber around on for a few minutes, but after that Ember guessed they ceased to be amusing.

She slid into a crack at the bottom. The warm patch stood, shook his mane, and padded over. His warm breath surrounded Ember.

"Come here where I can see you," the King said.

Ember retreated. Her experience with the jaguar had taught her caution. "You killed a human. Say what you wish to say. Your Majesty."

The King's chest rumbled. "I dislike sarcasm. Just because the humans do with us as they please does not mean we must abandon our own ways."

"The King of Beasts is a human phrase." Ember lifted her head. "Why have you summoned me?"

"Did the monkey not explain?"

"He explained that Cameron—one of your keepers, yes?—was found dead with you beside him. He explained you have been found responsible for the human's death. But he did not explain why you asked for me."

The King crossed to the glass. "I did not kill Cameron, but that does not matter. You know what they will do to me."

Ember had not been in the zoo long—a matter of weeks—but she understood. Any animal the keepers considered dangerous would not be allowed to live.

The King stared through the window. He, too, must feel the instinct to hunt, strong as a river current, but Ember could not lose more than she already had. And if the King was innocent, he might be her means to return home.

Ember slid into the open area between the rocks and the glass.

"The Tortoise assured me you could help," the King said. "Knowing how you found the African bullfrog, I believe him."

"The bullfrog was not lost, merely stuck."

"And yet you found him at once."

Few things escaped Ember's notice—a matter of survival in the rainforest. She had not intended to involve herself in the affairs of the zoo, but watching the humans blunder around, ignoring the obvious evidence, pushed her to make an exception. The bullfrog was a puzzle to solve, nothing more.

"Is this why you think I can assist you?" Ember asked. "Your Majesty assumes I trust in your innocence."

A rush of air struck Ember, and a padded paw pinned her to the floor. She hissed. She should have followed her instincts.

"Cameron was my friend." The rumble in the King's chest threatened to break into a roar. "I would never have harmed him."

"I have only your word for this."

The King pushed his whiskers into Ember's face. "They will execute me."

"And how does this concern me?"

"I will do what I must to survive and so will you. The Tortoise promised you could solve this. He is wise and I trust him, and that is the only reason you are here. If you refuse my request..."


"Then"—the King pressed down—"I shall eat you here and now."

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Contois Rev 2

Name: Hannah Contois
Genre: YA Magical Realism

17-year old Ellena wholeheartedly believes that she has only one future: get into music school. She also believes The Fates are plotting to keep her from doing exactly that. There is Helena the Heinous, the world’s worst foster mother. Then, the world’s worst composer’s constipation. Finally, Ares, the world’s worst Greek God trapped in her hometown.

Ellena has a gift. She can play the music that lives in everyone and everything. When she uses her gift to complete what she thinks is an ordinary high school assignment, Ares is accidentally summoned and trapped in her hometown.  With him threatening not only her life, but her carefully planned future, Ellena has to send him back to Olympus before she misses audition deadlines, or dies at the end of his spear.

Ellena manages - barely - to get help from the other Greek gods who have made new lives for themselves in the modern world. She discovers that the only way to return Ares is by completing a quest from the past that once ended in tragedy. The journey will test her gift, what Ellena knows about herself, and will force her to examine who she is and what she really wants in life.

Stillwater High, stale with teenage angst and an overabundance of cologne and dry shampoo, pulses with sound. The murmur of students melds into a song so vivacious and alive, it’s a shame I’m the only one who hears it. My feet set the beat while my mind takes a small sound bite from every soul, assembling and reassembling them like puzzle pieces of a grand symphony puzzle. Though I’m missing the bright bobble of a piano from my tiny emo bestie, who - fingers crossed - should be waiting for me at our lunch table.

Frustration eats away at me like termites through a house made of popsicle sticks. Writing this audition piece should be a cakewalk, but it’s turning into a nightmare to finish. Such a nightmare that I’m on the brink of shredding it into confetti and feeding it to the lab rats fifth period.

I throw myself into my chair next to Mari, who eyes the Jock Joint table and their fawning cheerleaders like they are a science experiment gone wrong. “That’s it," I declare. "I’m going to die here, stuck in Helena the Heinous’s attic.” I slap the half empty pages of my audition piece onto the table, my fingers wrinkling the edges, while setting Darcy, my violin, more carefully at my feet. “The Fates are making sure that I will never finish this piece in time. I’m bound to live a pointless life, never playing music again and watching as my soul withers away. I will float through my silent life, until one day I’m smothered to death by my forty-two cats.” I huff hard enough my bangs that Mari cut herself fluff off my forehead.

Mari doesn’t even blink at my declaration. “You’re allergic to cats, Ellena. Why would you have forty-two of them?” Her expression never shifts from her perfectly crafted expression of nothingness, a talent she'd perfected under the tutelage of her mother. Her eyes flick to my papers, assessing the angry scribbles, like bruises, on the sheet music. “Music is going well, I take it.” She offers me her small baggie of carrot sticks.

I snag one, snapping it between my teeth. “It’s been weeks. Weeks!” I wail, feeling eyes on the back of my head, like a spider’s web caught in my hair. “And Mr. Michals wants to start recording soon.” I collapse my forehead onto the pages. “I’m Sisyphus pushing his stupid rock up the hill for an eternity.” I roll my forehead across the pages sending up a belated prayer that the ink is dry. “If I don’t get in, I will never leave. If I never leave, the music will wither up inside me. Who will I be then, Mari?”

“The same violin-obsessed freak you’ve always been, just less famous.” She pats the back of my head. “Don’t you think you’re being a little dramatic?”

“No!” I snap defensively, but sit up and stare at her, wide-eyed and a touch manic. “I’m not in it for the fame. It’s something I have to do. Music has been the only thing that has been mine. It’s what keeps me going. I should just kiss my future goodbye.”

“Most action you’ll have had in years,” she quips.

I stab a carrot in her direction. “First, shut up. Second, what good is having a musical gift if I can’t share it?” Though I don’t really know if it is a gift or curse. Where the rest the world hears noise - the honking of a car, a woman crying at a bus stop - I hear emotions; music. Rain on my rooftop is a lonely cello crying to return to the sky. The wind through my wheezing bedroom window is an inquisitive piano, seeking an ear to keep awake and spill the secrets of the shadows into. A playground of children is an entire orchestra piece currently stuffed in my bag I wrote two weeks ago.

She sighs in exasperation. “This is a thoroughly beaten dead horse. My parents have a trust or whatever. I’m sure they would help you. It’ll be a great tax write-off.”

I pause mid-chew. “You’re parents would do no such thing. They are all for academics - science supporters and mathematicians - not the arts. They think my dream is as silly as Helena does.” I pop the rest of the carrot in my mouth. “I’ve been doing nothing but writing the stupid thing in every spare minute I have, wishing on every stupid star that something will happen to break through my writer’s constipation. Still nothing.”

“Don’t strain too hard or you’ll hurt yourself. Is that why you are late for lunch?” She glances over her shoulder at the clock on the wall. “Very late. Here,” she tosses the rest of the carrots at me. “Eat and walk.”

The bell overhead rings as I catch them. “I’ll get you a gold star for your act of kindness for the day.”

“I like gold stars.” Mari stands, adjusting her overly large sweatshirt and t-shirt that says ‘Who needs a heart when you can have donuts?’ I snort. She has the best sarcastic clothes and they match perfectly with her pitch black hair and kohl-rimmed eyes.

“Great, I’ll steal some from Mr. Michals’ office for you.”

She starts leading us out of the cafeteria, power plowing her five foot frame through the crowd. “He wouldn’t know a gold star if someone stuck one to his forehead.” Mari stuffs her hand into her sweatshirt pocket. “I don’t get it. Why don’t you just pick something else that you’ve written? What about the ones all over your wall? Some aren’t even half bad.”

I give her the side eye. “Thanks,” I say drolly. “But I need more than ‘not half bad.' I need soul baring greatness. I can’t get a full ride with ‘not half bad.’” I sigh. “You don’t get it. You could get into any school you want. Yale and Princeton have been begging for you since before you got out of diapers.”

She twists the end of a braided pigtail around her finger and adopts an air-headed, open-mouthed gape. “Gag me, right?”

I shake my head. “Music school is my only option. Music is-.”

“I know, I know,” she interrupts, staring at the ceiling and holding a hand high as though reciting Shakespeare. “Your destiny. Like it was written in the stars.”

I roll my eyes. “You think I’m being ridiculous.”

“No,” she shakes her head slowly, drawing out the word like warm taffy. “I know you’re being ridiculous.  You aren’t alone. We can figure it out together.”

I tug her close, my heart in my throat. Mari is the best of friends; viciously loyal and genuinely concerned despite her cool outward appearance. “Thanks, Mari.”

She changes the subject, linking her arm in mine. “Ready for Ms. Ora’s class?”

I wince. Ms. Ora is a lot on the eccentric side with at least three different personalities, one of which speaks in a strange language when she doesn’t think we are paying attention. All last class, she’d randomly burst into sobbing fits, weeping into a roll of toilet paper because of a breakup she was - or wasn’t - getting over. Her sadness had been a great symphony of pain, with peals of string instruments and soft hiccups of the piano to create an emotional rollercoaster that only she and I had been trapped on. “Not even a little. Mr. Michals gave me the key for the studio. Maybe I’ll ditch and write instead.”

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Larson Rev 2

Name: Kim A. Larson
Genre: YA Contemporary
Title: Stop Mr. Ryden

Prophetically gifted Anna Sandvik has a dream about a woman she’s never met. When she discovers this woman is her flamboyant, atheist, ninth-grade lit teacher, she relays the dream’s message: Stop Mr. Ryden. The teacher, Ms. Villard, is dating Mr. Ryden and becomes Anna’s nemesis. Determined to prove that God gave her the warning dream, Anna and her best friend set out to discover why Mr. Ryden needs to be stopped and how they’ll do it. 

When a football player has a heart attack on the field, Anna knows her suspicion about the supplement Mr. Ryden manufactures is correct. As she grows closer to proving that a life-and-death experiment is being forced upon the football team, she receives threatening letters to stop investigating or someone she loves will get hurt. 

When Anna’s three-year-old cousin becomes deathly ill, she believes it’s her fault. And it is. She left the supplement out after researching it online, and the child consumed it in full. Anna confronts Mr. Ryden, threatening to expose him if he doesn’t tell her the secret ingredient. Unsuccessful, she turns to her teacher. She must convince Ms. Villard to help her to save her cousin’s life. 

Most kids my age dream about what they’ll do after they graduate. I dream about stuff that literally happens. 

I’m at Walmart when the sound from a screechy cart draws my attention to the woman pushing it. She’s wearing short shorts and a tank top that covers way too little of her fortyish figure. She looks familiar. As I consider where I might have seen her before, a sliver of last night’s dream provides the answer. 

My best friend, Elle, waves her hands in front of my face. “Earth to Anna.” 

I stare at the woman through a maze of back-to-school shoppers. In my dream, she wore a red blouse, white scarf, and navy pants. Like an American flag. She stood next to an open door, against a white backdrop with words written in black letters. Words I can’t remember. 

“Anna . . . Anna . . .” 

While pondering my dream, I’m thrust into a vision of this woman. It’s like I’m dreaming but still awake. And this scene is far different than my dream—she’s wearing today’s skimpy clothes. When the vision ends, I nudge Elle and nod toward the woman. “She’s going to buy the yellow highlighters.” 

The woman rummages through a bin of markers, note cards, and pens before tossing yellow highlighters into her cart. 

“Wow! You’re good.” 

“Not really. I saw this before—” 

“Haven’t we all.” She flings her long hair over one shoulder. “Every August—getting new school junk. You think we get our ninth-grade planners here or at school?” 

“Seriously, El, I had another vision.” 

“You did?” She bounces into my personal space. “Come on. Spill, already.” 

I take a step back. “There’s not much to tell. I just saw her doing what she did, only a few seconds beforehand.” A flash of dream resurfaces, and I brace myself for Elle’s reaction. “She was in my dream last night, too.” 

Elle grabs onto my shoulders and bounces. “For real? That same woman?” 

I nod and pull away. “She stood by an open door with something written behind her. I wish I could remember what.” 

“Yeah, how cool would that be? But what’s up with dreaming and having a vision of . . . her?” Elle gives this woman the once-over. “You think God is trying to tell you something? Like when your dad crashed his car?” 

“Maybe.” I scowl at the mention of him. 

“I still get goose bumps.” Elle shivers. “If you hadn’t had that dream and prayed, your dad might not be alive.” 

“Lucky me.” I cross my arms. He’s all but dead to me anyhow, dropping out of my life after Mom divorced him. “Lane seven’s shortest.” I rush to get in line and out of this conversation. 

After Walmart, we walk to Elle’s. She jabbers nonstop, which is normal—and sometimes annoying—but today it’s a relief. That woman’s image is stuck in my head. It’s not like I want to think about her, but if my dreams and visions are from God, aren’t I supposed to try to figure them out? Not that I want to. It’s a must—as in obey God. People’s lives may be at stake. 

When I dreamed about Dad, I awoke in the night knowing I had to pray he’d live. Maybe I should have prayed the accident wouldn’t happen, but that’s not what came to me. Now, nothing comes to mind about this woman. I can’t even remember the whole dream. Evidently, God wants me to know or even do something. But what? If only he’d make things clearer. 

Elle races up the stairs to her room after we get to her house. “Let’s pick out what we’ll wear the first day of school.” 

“It’s a week away.” I mutter, knowing I’ll wear something of hers she no longer wants. 

She holds up two tops against her white shirt. “The blue or red one?” 

The trio of colors brings me back to my dream. I close my eyes. She was dressed like an American flag . . . Then I recall everything. “I know what’s on the whiteboard!” 

“What whiteboard?” 

“The one in my dream of that woman. It had Mr. Ryden written on it, inside the shape of a stop sign.” 

“What’s that mean? Who’s Mr. Ryden?” 

The image of Elle’s neighbor pops into my head. “Doesn’t he live down the street? The football coach at the high school. He’s a Mr. Ryden, right?” 

“Yeah, Ride’em Ryden. What about him? And what about that woman?” 

“Maybe they’re married.” 

“Gross. Who’d marry him?” Her face puckers as if sucking on a Warheads candy. “He’s like a possessed Rottweiler.” She growls, showing teeth. “I feel sorry for that woman just being in the same dream as him.” 

I shouldn’t correct Elle, but I can’t help myself. “You know we’re not supposed to talk about people that way, El.” 

“Then how are we supposed to talk about such creeps?” 

“We’re not. Sometimes it’s hard being a Christian.” 

“Well, I know Ride’em isn’t married.” She sits beside me on her bed. “I never saw that woman before yesterday.” 

“Maybe he’s going to ask her to—” 

“Then yell STOP!” 

“Hey, maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m supposed to tell her ‘Stop Mr. Ryden,’ and she’ll know what it means. I can only tell what I see.” This feels right. 

“You really think you’d tell her? Or even see her again?” 

“If I’m supposed to tell her, I’ll see her.” Obeying God is mandatory in my book—and also in his. 

“You’d go up to a complete stranger and say, ‘Stop Mr. Ryden’?” She shakes her head. “I couldn’t. Would you tell her about the dream?” 

“I guess, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense.” 

“Like any of this makes sense?” 

“God stuff doesn’t always make sense, but we have to obey him. Who knows, God may be depending on us to warn her about him.” 

Elle and I spend the last week of summer break spying on Mr. Ryden’s house. We ride our bikes up and down their street every day, hoping to catch a glimpse of this woman. But every day Mr. Ryden comes home late afternoon in his army-green Hummer—alone. 

Friday morning, I ride past Mr. Ryden’s on my way to Elle’s. A beige car sits in his driveway. I use my key to enter Elle’s. “Tattarrattat,” I say, which means a knock at the door. It’s one of my favorite words because it’s a palindrome, like Elle’s and my name. “Elle, come see!” 

Elle tears down the stairs with Aunt Cindy chasing behind. 

“Anna,” Aunt Cindy scolds, “I’ve asked you before not to holler when you come in.” She takes a deep breath. “The twins are still sleeping.” 

“Sorry. I’ll try not to do it again.” I fidget, waiting for her to leave the room. When she does, I run to the front window. 

“That could be her,” Elle says. “What should we do?” 

“Let’s wait there on the sidewalk until someone comes out.” 

“If it’s her, she might be in danger.” Elle pulls a box of Thin Mints from the cupboard and heads for the door. “Let’s pretend we’re selling Girl Scout cookies.” 

“What if he wants a different kind?” 

“We’ll just take his order, silly, not his money.” She grabs a pen and paper. “When he opens the door, we can peak inside. See if she’s in there.”