Friday, September 22, 2017

Thank You to the Participants and Mentors of the 1st 5 Pages Workshop!

Congratulations to all of the participants who worked so hard during our September 1st 5 Pages Writing Workshop! And a big thanks to our wonderful guest mentors, Kate Brauning as our author mentor and Lauren Spieller of the Triada US Literary Agency as our agent mentor! And as always, thank you to our talented and fabulous permanent mentors, who read, comment, and cheer on our participants every month!

Our October workshop will open for entries on Saturday, October 7th at noon, EST. The workshop is designed to help writers struggling to find the right opening for their novel or for those looking to perfect the all important first five pages before submitting for publication. Why the first five pages? Because if these aren't perfect, no agent, editor, or reader will continue reading to find out how great the rest of your story really is!

Why is the First Five Pages Workshop a GREAT Opportunity?
  • You are mentored by at least two traditionally-published published or agented authors for the duration of the workshop. These authors have been through the trenches and know what it takes to get a book deal, solid reviews, and sales.
  • In addition, you receive feedback from the four other workshop participants.Feedback is given not just on your initial submission, but on two subsequent opportunities to revise your manuscript based on the previous feedback so that you know you've got it right!
  • The final revision will also be reviewed by a literary agent, who will also give you feedback on the pitch for your story--the one that may eventually become your query letter or cover copy.
  • The best entry from among the workshop participants will receive a critique of the full first chapter or first ten pages from the mentoring agent, which may, in some cases, lead to requests for additional material.

How It Works

Please see the complete rules before entering the workshop, but in a nutshell, we'll take the first five Middle Grade or Young Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. (Double check the formatting - each month we have to disqualify entries because of formatting.) Click here to get the rules. We will post when the workshop opens and closes on Adventures in YA Publishing and on twitter (@etcashman, @MelissWritesNow), with the hashtag #1st5pages. In addition to the rotating team of our wonderful permanent author mentors, the final entry for each workshop participant will be critiqued by our agent mentor.

So get those pages ready - we usually fill up in under a minute!

Happy writing - and revising!

Erin

About the Author:

Erin Cashman is AYAP's 1st 5 Pages Workshop coordinator, and a permanent mentor. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, three kids, and an energetic rescue dog. She writes YA fantasy. UNCHARTED is coming fall of 2018, and THE EXCEPTIONALS, a Bank Street College of Education best book of the year, is available now. For up to date information about the workshop, you can follow Erin on twitter here

Sunday, September 17, 2017

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Politano Rev 2

Name: Nora Politano
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Witch's Way


Sixteen-year-old Gwyn O’Muireann is good at stealing things—like food, and jewelry, and her surname. The one thing she’s never been able to steal for herself is a better life. And gods, has she tried.
Gwyn is a witch. This happened by pure accident of birth, and without her consent, but witch hunters and slave traders don’t really care. Her kind is the only one capable of opening the barrier that divides the mortals from the old land of magic known as the Otherworld. Since humans can’t seem to keep the good sense they were born with when it comes to magic, it’s not an enviable position. It becomes even less so when she’s kidnapped.
 
 Her captor is a madman named Nim, hell-bent on seeing the Otherworld for reasons he won’t share. But the forest that guards the barrier is filled with all manner of monsters, including a banshee that whispers of terrible fates awaiting Gwyn if she cannot escape Nim. Amid a world of malicious spirits, cannibalistic tribes, and ancient, powerful races, Gwyn’s wits are her only chance of survival. But she didn’t make it this far by playing fair, and she certainly isn’t going to start now.  


____________________________________________________


Torches light the growing darkness, dancing to the beat of furious drums. The air is alive with it, with color and music and shadows that weave to match my every move. Faces blur into one, into nothing, and nothing matters but the music. I am the flute, clear as a brook running over sand. I am the fiddle, leaping across the strings faster than the eye can follow. I am the drums, pounding against the stones with a force that makes the earth shake.

And then the music stops.

I sway on my feet, panting, as the crowd erupts into cheers. My feet and hands burn from trying to keep time with the song, and the world is still spinning even though I’m no longer moving with it. It’s worth it for this feeling; heart thudding so hard it’s all I can hear, head still leagues above the ground. In my sixteen years, I’ve heard a thousand things called “magical”, but dancing is its own magic completely.

I should know.

Dizzy and breathless, I curtsy to the crowd and collapse beside the musicians in an untidy heap of red skirts.

“Well done,” I rasp, scooping a cupful of water out of our bucket.

“Ye as well.” Fergus, our leathery old fiddler, hands me a rag to mop my face with, eyes twinkling. “I could ha' sworn ye were seconds away from taking flight.”

“I could've sworn she was trying to open the earth to swallow us,” Kagen says cheekily, wiping down his flute. I smack him upside his head.

“Good earnings,” Aidan observes, rattling our cup. Coins slide against each other with clinks and shinksthe sounds of a generous audience. “What say we take the rest of the night off, do a little celebrating?”

I roll my eyes. I’ve worked with these three long enough to know that “little celebrating” actually means “drink ourselves near to death”. I have more important things to do. Tonight is the first time I’ve been in any town since winter, and every daft sheep from here to Baile Gaelu is flaunting their finery. I intend to take full advantage of it.

“I’ve had a night,” I announce, hauling meself up. Aidan offers me the cup, but I wave it away. Coppers would take up valuable pocket space. I dance for the thrill.

Beyond our circle of cleared space, the people are a river, pulsing and roaring over the stones. In their current, treasures untold. I try to summon up a bit of pity for them. None comes.

Tying my hair up, I wrap a scarf about it and tuck any errant curls away. The process is comfortingly familiar, the way a well-worn pair of boots can make me feel more meself simply by slipping them on.

Anticipation hits like a third mug of ale. It’s been too long.

Fergus frowns at me. I probably have the look of a madman, but I don’t care. With a jaunty salute, I plunge into the crowd.

The Lunster Spring Festival is the reemergence of life after winter. In one night, months of frost, hunger, and death vanish, their white stillness exploding into a tapestry of too-bright colors and sounds that threaten to overwhelm the senses. Rich and poor spill over the lines that separate our ways of life, crushed together by exhilaration. In the vast outdoor square, with the night air unable to chill us, and the thick scent of sweet cakes and roasted nuts tempting us forward, I might be brushing elbows with a fisherman or a priest from the castle temple.

It's a pickpocket’s paradise.

My hands are swift and feather-light, barely touching on one person before moving to the next. I slip a pouch of coins from the tawdry belt of a nobleman and into my cloak. A girl runs past in a hairnet studded with seed-pearls, and I'm gone with the thing in hand even as her hair tumbles over her shoulders. A woman whose veil marks her as a harem girl makes the mistake of flashing her golden bangles, and I purposefully stumble into her, sliding them off her arms under the guise of steadying her. When she shouts, “Thief! Give that back, diabhal!”, a bubble of laughter escapes me, because really, does she expect I’ll turn about and hand them right over at her say so?

Even if anyone cared enough to notice—which is rare at a Fest, since anyone who’s robbed is simply told to have better sense next time—I’m lost in the shuffle quicker than a jackrabbit. Gods, I love this.

It’s the elation that triggers it. A voice of warning in my head, telling me to slow down. Reluctantly, I tuck my hands into my sleeves and take a deep, calming breath. I can’t let meself get caught up in the moment. One slip, one look at my hair, and I’m done for. There aren’t many witches in Gaelfre. It’d take less than a day to round us up.

For a moment, I am positively serene. Then I catch sight of the market, and deithe thuas, it’s even larger than last year.

The voice nags again. I remind it that I know what I’m doing. I am practiced in the way that only the threat of an empty stomach and sleeping on the street can teach a person.

Not that I’m under the delusion that I steal solely what I need. Half measures never got anyone anywhere, if you ask me.

I eye the flock of festive stalls, where vendors sell every imaginable ware from ribbons to pots to magic cures. My pockets are getting full, but I wonder if I could fit a dagger….

“Gwyn.”

My heart jumps into my throat at the hiss— but it’s only Aidan, materializing at my shoulder like a ghoul.

I smack him, annoyed. “Ye gods, don’t sneak up on me like that! I thought you were drinking.”

“I got interrupted.” He grabs me by the arm. “Dance with me.”

Deaf to my protests, he drags me to the center of the square, where musicians play a boisterous market song and dozens of couples have lined up. With anyone else as handsome as Aidan, I might be pleased. But he’s ten years my senior, and the old boy is desperately in love with my friend Faolan. They’ve been sweethearts for ages. I’d never be able to stand him that long.

I scowl at Aidan as he pulls me through the first steps of the dance. “What’s this about?”

“Why are there soldiers watching the market, Gwyn?” His voice is remarkably calm, but his blue eyes are steely.

Soldiers.

The word tastes of fear: blood and rust and metal.

I go rigid, pulse racing too fast and too hard. “Soldiers? Where?” How did I miss them?

“Don’t look.” His grip on me tightens. “They’re not in armor. I only noticed because one of them drew his sword, and he had the king’s seal on his hilt.” Aidan glares down at me. “What trouble have you made?”

“Nothing!” I protest. Then, when he gives me an all-too-knowing look, I amend, “Nothing more than usual.

He’s unconvinced. “Think.”

Huffing, I cast my mind back over the past couple weeks. The last few days have been occupied with non-stop traveling to Lunster, which meant no time for anything other than picking up a few odds and ends in towns we stopped over. Before that… well, there was the incident in Sian, but I’d worked that out.

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Singrey Rev 2

Name: Abigail Singrey
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Title: Finding North

Pitch:

13-year-old Nate Allen refuses to believe his father died in Barbados, despite the dangers of life in 1796 - war, yellow fever, and lawless privateers. Thanks to clues in a diary left behind, Nate knows right where to start looking - at the privateer Drax's sugar plantation. Nate will face down his childhood bully, jealous shipmates and French privateers to discover the truth. But the worst thing Nate must face is the realization that his father may not want to be found.

Finding North is a 47,000 word upper middle grade novel. It is Some Kind of Courage set on the high seas. I am a former newspaper reporter and a member of SCBWI. This is my first book.


Chapter One

The Susan sailed into Plymouth Harbor just ahead of the hurricane.

Nate heard the news on Market Street. He’d stumbled like a big wave had swept over him, dragging him under. After all this time, he’d get a second chance to find some answers.

Nate touched the piece of scrimshaw in the pouch strapped to his waist. The carved whale’s tooth was his last – no, his only—gift from his missing father, and his good luck charm on his voyages. Maybe, if he hadn’t given it to Nate . . .

At the end of the street, masts lined Catwater Harbor, sheltered from the wind and the waves. Nate pulled his spyglass out of his pouch, scanning the names painted on the sides of the ships. He skipped the Royal Navy frigates and galleons, their guns pointed outward, ready if the Frenchies attacked. He moved past the East Indiamen, huge merchant vessels that traded with China and the Far East. He stopped when he reached the tiny, two-mast merchant ships.  The FalconThe St. GeorgeThe Susan.

Nate’s heart skipped a beat. The last time he’d seen that ship was burned into his memory like a brand from George the blacksmith’s forge. His heart still felt the thud of Captain Williams, that vile man, dropping his father’s sea chest at their front door. The words swirled in his head. Gone. Disappeared. Don’t know what happened. Maybe yellow fever. Deserter. Here’s his things. And Nate’s world had shattered.

The wooden dock was as empty as if Plymouth was a ghost town.  The Susan’s crew had hurried off the ship already and dispersed into the taverns and lodging houses that filled Plymouth. He was too late. Now, he’d have to track them down one by one to find any news. He bit his lip.

A raindrop fell on Nate’s head, as the wind whipped through the cobblestone streets. It roared between the shops and houses, banging an unfastened shutter. It billowed through Nate’s too-big jacket, sending stabbing shivers down his spine. The hurricane had almost arrived. And Mother would need the basket of bread Nate clutched in his hand. By now, the dining hall in the lodging house would be filled with hungry, loud sailors ready to fall on the midday meal like a pack of ravenous wolves. With any luck, though, one of The Susan’s crew might have gone there. They did all know his father.

Nate walked the streets by memory, lost in his thoughts. As soon as he walked into the kitchen, Mother said, “You’re late.” She yanked the basket of bread from his hands and hustled to the table, grabbing a knife to slice it. Her blonde hair fell out of her bun, and soup splatters clung to her apron.

“New ship in harbor,” Nate said.

She nodded. Nate spent every free second running down to the harbor to meet new ships. Nate opened his mouth to tell her it was The Susan, then bit his tongue. He wasn’t ready. Instead, he ducked straight up the back stairs to his cramped attic bedroom. With his father’s sea chest looming against one wall, and his cot and chamber pot shoved against another, every time he turned around he bumped into something. Ever since he turned thirteen and got his growth spurt, he’d seemed too big. For both his bedroom and his life here in Plymouth.

Nate threw open the lid of the sea chest. Mother had sold off everything of value from the chest to help make ends meet around the lodging house, except for the one thing that had no value to anyone but Nate- his father’s diary. Nate smoothed open the salt-stained pages, catching a whiff of Father’s peculiar scent of sweat and tobacco.

Nate had read it so many times he about had it memorized. He’d studied every entry about the weather and how much father won and lost -mostly lost - gambling, searching for some hidden meaning or clue. But he’d only found one, the cryptic last entry that scrawled across the last page as if Father had written it in a hurry. “Meeting Henry Drax tomorrow. May make my fortune. B. told me where to go.”

Nate shut the diary. He was tired of waiting for answers in Plymouth. Tired of meeting every ship from Barbados at the dock, and interrogating the crew. Tired of everyone saying they hadn’t heard from his father. Nate needed to find a ship to take him to Barbados so he could see for himself.

“Nate! Come down!” his mother called. Nate sighed and went to help serve dinner.

As soon as he entered the dining room, the stench hit his nose. Spoiled fish, tar and who knows what else. Wet sailor smelled as bad as wet dog. The recent arrivals jockeyed for position by the fire, trying to get the damp out of their clothes, while the dryer ones filled the long table, laughing and calling back and forth as Mother filled their cups.

Then the door opened. A blast of cold air entered the room as a tall, bundled-up figure arrived. From his rolling gait, the man had just gotten off a ship and hadn’t quite gotten his land legs yet. Another customer for dinner.

Nate started to turn, when he caught a glimpse of the man’s face. He stared. Was it . . . Nate’s teeth clenched, then he spat.

Captain Williams stood in the dining room of Nate’s lodging house. He stamped his fashionable buckled shoes on the rug, then bent down with a frown to brush a piece of grass off. He straightened up and looked right at Mother, his brown eyes softening. The same softening every sailor had when he looked at Nate’s tiny blonde mother. Nate’s eyes narrowed.

Mother froze in the middle of the room, holding a pitcher with one hand, while her free hand twisted her apron. Her mouth formed a perfect, “O.” She didn’t scream or drop anything, though. She swayed a little, then steadied herself.

The sailors sitting at the table didn’t glance up, distracted by their food, but the three sitting by the fire noticed the tension in the room. They leaned forward, straining to hear. Gawking. Gathering gossip to share at the dockyard tomorrow. Nate wanted to grab them by their rank-smelling collars and hustle them out, even though they were burly and twice his size. His family tragedy was not for their personal amusement. But they were paying customers, drinking steaming cups of tea.

Instead, Nate stepped closer. Between them and Mother. Block their view a little. His hands clenched into fists. The nerve of that ship captain. Leaving his father in Barbados then coming traipsing in here like nothing had even happened. That moment changed Nate’s life forever. Did he not know Mother still cried herself to sleep at night? That Nate ached to see his father again? He didn’t seem to care.

“Mary, wanted to see how you was doing.” Captain Williams gestured, his well-manicured nails contrasting with the rough calluses on his fingers. Father always said you could tell a lot about a man by his hands.

“We’re fine. Just fine.” Mother jerked the pitcher back, sloshing water on a sailor’s sleeve.

“Storm’s a’brewin’,” Captain Williams said. “Pity any ship hasn’t made it in yet.” He shifted his weight from one leg to the other, uncomfortable towering over Mother’s tiny figure.

“What do you want?” Mother took a step back.

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Schunemann - Rev 2

Name: Lisa Schunemann
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: CROWBORN

Pitch:
Seventeen-year-old Ash lives in the Orbis Empire, ruled by shapeshifters known as Therians. Ash is Anthron, one who cannot shapeshift, and spends her days poaching food to keep her family from starving. After a Therian lord murders her father and abducts her sister, she’s given a chance at revenge: free the banished goddess Nex in hopes that she will destroy the empire, including its cruel goddesses that keep Therians in power.

Luca Grey is a cur, half-shapeshifter, and hated by all. At seventeen, he’s survived by being the companion of a noble’s son. Despite their friendship, Luca struggles with secret desires to protect curs against the cruelty of the ruling class. When he hears whispers of unrest—one that may destroy the Therians altogether—he knows he can’t ignore the Therian brutality.

At the Ascension, a competition where the shapeshifter goddesses choose the empire’s next ruler, Ash and Luca’s worlds collide. Ash must avoid detection while unlocking Nex’s prison, or her and her sister’s life is at stake. Luca must choose his true alliances— the Therians who view him as a hated beast or the growing resistance, which may end up killing more innocents than it saves.


Pages:

Poaching in these forests would get me killed.

Snow fell silently and danced in lazy swirls. The flakes landed, only to be consumed by unforgiving ground. I flexed my numb fingers, the leather on my hands crackling. Any longer and I’d be an icicle before the deer wandered closer.

A few more steps. My eyes watered as bitter air played with my lashes. I itched to draw the bow, but the creak would echo as startling as a blade striking wood. Silence was my best ally and worst enemy. Breathe, Ash. You can’t miss any more shots.

Going home empty-handed, again… I had to keep trying.

The skinny deer stopped to nibble on tree bark and its chest came into view. My stomach turned inwards, the growl shocking even me. The wind blew in my direction. I hated trekking into these woods from our valley, but if I didn’t feed us, no one would. Resentment, ugly and fierce, fought the hunger swirling in my stomach.

Death or watch Father collapse again. What a hard choice.

Half-starved, surviving on mushrooms for a night and day, my arm shook as I drew back the string. The snap of thick wood sent the deer fleeing. I blinked. No. No!

Another crack and my blood stilled. Cautious steps never wavered and grew louder. In the darkening twilight, brush rustled in the distance. A silver gaze locked with mine, the briefest of seconds, before I ducked lower.

The deer would live another day. I might not.

“Oh, little carrion. I see you.” The shapeshifter’s chuckle shocked my ears.

My chest trembled and my fingers tightened on the last arrow. I had one chance. Through the twigs, his stained boots came into view. I broke cover and fired.

The Therian moved just enough, arrow grazing his arm, tearing through the leaf and sword crest on his tunic. Soldier. Gens Silvanus. The family controlled the woods bordering the valley and I courted death just by standing there.

Touching his arm, he growled, gaze like bristling fire. “Boys in these woods are up to no good.”

Good. My first horrified thought. He didn’t know I was a girl. If he did… my scars burned fresh, like claws carved my cheek where I stood. So, so long ago but the memories never left.

I jumped as he stalked closer. The silver rings around his eyes contracted.

“You don’t belong in these woods, carrion.” The taunt made me shiver. That’s all we were to them. “No Silvanus slave would dare be out here. I’d bet you belong to Gens Canis.”

He had that right. Getting closer. I took a step, hands shaking around the bow.

“I’ll make you a deal. You tell me where this pack of curs are, how you’re helping them, and I’ll kill you quickly.”

My gasp had him chuckling again. That’s why soldiers are here. They hunted curs, offspring of Therians and Anthron, like me. Just like the curs, Anthron couldn’t fight Therians. We never could.

I tensed to run and the soldier shifted forms with a snarl. Fabric ripped. Fur replaced skin. A tan wolf, shoulders as tall as my hips, stood in the mud. His lips peeled back, fangs glistening.

A blurred shape dropped from the sky, wings fluttering, caws ripping through the air. Ryland! The soldier growled as my pet crow hovered around his head. I did the only thing that would keep me alive.

I ran.

Dense air choked my lungs as I dodged stumps spearing through muddy ground. A howl sounded. Brush gave way as the soldier barreled after me. Frigid creek water soaked my knees. Through it. Up the rise. The crashes behind me increased and then the world shifted. A heavy weight slammed me into the mud, on my back. Fangs snapped in my face. I screamed, brought my bow up at the last second. Jaws clamped around it.

The ring of silver death gleamed at me. I wanted to close my own eyes. See nothing but oblivion before I met it. The last little bit of my courage refused. Somewhere, Ryland cawed again.

An arrow punched into the soldier’s furred shoulder.

His piercing yelp penetrated my bones, brought me to my senses. My hands fumbled in the mud. I gripped the first solid thing my palm touched.

A second arrow pierced him. Time slowed as I saw the feathers, dyed dark red. I knew those arrows! I screamed again, bone-gripping fear feeding me strength, and swung the heavy stone. The yelps cut off and the soldier collapsed. I clawed at the wrap over my lower face. Sweet air flooded my lungs.

“Ash. Get up! Ashina!”

Small, strong hands dug into my clothes. Gemina shook me until her pinched face swam. Her brown eyes were probably as wide as mine.

“G-Gem,” I sputtered at my sister. “Gem, stop.”

“Are you all right?” She glanced at the ground near us. Her bow rested half on her knee, half in the mud.

I surged up, pushed her away. The soldier! He didn’t move. My palm cradled the stone. I’d gotten him good. But not good enough. He’s still breathing.

Sounds disappeared except for a whine in my ears. Hot fury roared to life and a stuttering sob escaped my throat. I scrambled forward and raised the stone. He could track you back to the valley. To Father. Bring it down! Again and again. Until blood soaked the thin layer of snow.

Therians stained most of the world with Anthron blood. Why not do the same?

“Ash,” Gem pleaded. Her arrows quivered with each halting breath the soldier took.

Sister. She wrapped her hands around my shoulders.

The stone thudded to the ground, my courage gone. Nothing except pain and death came from killing a Therian. The body shuddered and skin flowed to replace fur. Naked, the soldier lay twitching, blood streaming down his face.

We ran, together.

My legs were almost too weak for me to keep up with Gem. She was three turnfalls younger, tinier and quicker. Or maybe it’s because you always give her your share of food. The trees thickened as we ran. Night chased our backs but we didn’t stop until the presence of the shapeshifter had faded. I slowed, lungs burning, and lurched against a bent sapling.

Gem’s brown curls bobbed around her face as she crowded close. “I’m waiting for an apology.”

“What are you doing out here?” I demanded instead, pushing my hood back and gulping air.

Her lips tightened. “I knew you wouldn’t stop poaching. I followed you.”

“Not possible.”

“My arrows in that Therian say different!”

“You’re horrible at tracking,” I countered.

A fidget, then Gem’s face broke under my stare. “Fine. Your crow led me to you.” She jerked her head to a tree. Ryland sat on a branch and cocked his head. His left eye was a cloudy orb, a thin gash marring the glossy feathers. He cawed again.

“That bird—” Gem trailed off as I wrapped her in my arms. Her sharp shoulders slowly relaxed. I never said sorry, but this was my apology. Gem’s fingers finally poked my ribs beneath the layers of cloth and leather.

We stood in the silence. Even as Gem finally poked my ribs beneath the layers of fur and leather, I never took my gaze from the darkening forest. We weren’t safe. The soldier hadn’t been by himself. Where there was one, there were always more.

Home. We had to get home.

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Passerotti Rev 2

Name: Katie Passerotti 
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy
Title: Warmaker

200 Word Pitch: 

Eighteen year-old Jennica is desperate to escape her life as a mercenary. Although she revels in the cruelty and suffering she inflicts on others, she knows her brutal way of life is wrong. When the opportunity arises to escape the blood contract binding her to this way of life, Jennica takes it.  Accompanied by her familiar, a wolf summoned by blood magic, Jennica searches for the Shadow Saint. His ancient power is the only hope she has of freeing herself before the blood contract claims her life.  

Wesley, a newly coronated king of a peaceful country, allies himself with Jennica as a political safeguard. He knows that whoever finds the Shadow Saint and claims his power will be capable of bringing war and chaos to the four kingdoms. Adamant about finding a peaceful solution, Wesley's principles are at odds with everything Jennica represents.

As they search, Jennica uncovers the terrible truth about her violent nature--a truth that threatens to destroy the peace Wesley has worked to maintain. When the past she’s trying to outrun catches up, Jennica must make a choice that will either lead the kingdoms into war or destroy her chance at earning redemption for her crimes.

Pages: 

Jennica shoved her captive forward. He stumbled, his body twisting in an attempt to stop his forward momentum. The man collapsed into the thick mud of the stable yard, a whimper escaping from his gagged mouth.

When he made no attempt to stand, she turned her face to the dark clouds stifling the mid-morning sun. Thick, cold rain drops hit against her skin, running down her neck and under her collar. Pressing her lips together, Jennica breathed through her nose.

She glanced sideways at William. His coat clung to his lanky frame and water dripped from his dark hair. Her associate grabbed the man's arm and hauled him to his feet. The prisoner’s dark green doublet was soaked and his pants were covered in mud. Shivering, his gaze darted between them.

William smiled impishly at her and pulled the gag from the man’s mouth. “Tell us again why you don’t belong here.”  

The prisoner opened his mouth to speak.

Jennica grabbed his collar and pressed the tip of her knife to his cheek. “One word and I’ll cut your tongue out.”  

The man swallowed, his eyes wide. William’s raucous laughter sliced through her.

“What is it about this one that’s gotten under your skin?”  he pulled the prisoner from her grasp and started across the stable yard.

Jennica’s gaze narrowed as she trailed after them, the mud sucking at her boots. The prisoner wasn’t the sort of mark she usually went after. Most were criminals in their own right, not a principled businessman. “I’m tired of listening to him whine about his family.”

Jennica pulled open a door and William guided the man inside. She followed, a grey wolf slipping in beside her.

The wolf stepped closer to William and shook, sending water droplets flying from his thick pelt.

"Keep your damn mutt away from me," William growled, aiming a kick at the wolf's side.

Nakama dodged and snapped his jaws.

Jennica's fingers curled around the hilt of one of her knives. Her familiar was a reflection of her and he was all she had left.

Her hand skimmed the wolf's head as he maneuvered past her in the narrow hall. You should have bit him, she spoke silently to the familiar.

And that would have caused more trouble for you, Nakama responded.

Jennica brushed back her hood as a spark of warmth kindled in her chest, pushing against her darkness. Her familiar was right. The blood contract she'd signed trapped her into serving Matthew, but it didn’t protect her from his wrath

She took several steps down the hall before realizing William wasn't following. Jennica looked over her shoulder, raising an eyebrow. She wanted to be done with this business, to be done with this man who reminded her so keenly of what she'd lost.

William gave the man a gentle push. "Surely you can handle him from here? You don't need me to keep him subdued, do you?"

Jennica whirled, her fingers tightening into fists. "You're the one who nearly let him escape."

"And I'm the one who caught him." He placed a hand over the man's wounded shoulder and squeezed. The prisoner winced, his knees trembling.

"If you were any good at doing your job, you wouldn't have needed to put an arrow in him," Jennica snapped. She backtracked and grabbed the prisoner's arm.

William shrugged and gave a mocking grin as he started in the opposite direction.

Wind and rain rattled against the windows as she guided the prisoner through the narrow halls toward Matthew's study. Each step distanced her from who she was, who she wanted to be again. She welcomed the dark thoughts that slithered through her; cold detachment was all that kept her conscience from sinking its teeth into her.

The door to Matthew's study was open and she guided the man through, pausing to close it before continuing towards the desk at the far end of the room. Matthew stood as they approached, his lips curling as he took in the man's soiled clothing.

Jennica dug her fingers into the tender flesh of the man's wounded shoulder. He moaned and collapsed, his knees striking the stone floor with a satisfying crack.

"I expected you back last night." Matthew's assessing gaze turned to her. Dark hair framed an intelligent face and he was impeccably dressed, looking more a noble than the charlatan he was. He prowled around the massive mahogany desk with animal grace.

Jennica unbuttoned her coat, peeling it away from her lithe frame as she strode towards the hearth. Her familiar trailed after her and settled near the fire. She stepped nearer to the flames, appreciating the warmth as it traveled across her skin, soothing her annoyance.  

"Blame Will," she shrugged.

Matthew's attention returned to the prisoner, his pale blue eyes colder than the wind outside. "Do you know why you're here?"

The man swallowed and shook his head, his gaze flicking to Jennica.

"Your brother-in-law wants you dead. Something about taking over the shares you own in a shipping company."

The man blanched. "He wouldn't--"

"But he does."

Jennica untied a leather purse from her belt and tossed it to Matthew. "His brother in-law's payment."

Matthew caught it and weighed it in his palm. "However, it seemed only fair to offer you the chance to outbid him."

Jennica raised her eyebrows. Matthew didn't need the wealth. What could the prisoner possibly offer that would justify this ruse?

The man's expression glimmered with hope. "Name your price. Anything."

"What do you have to offer me?" A quiet smile tugged at Matthew's lips.

Jennica bit back a warning. The man didn't know Matthew well enough to recognize the malice in his eyes. To know that the kinder he became, the more cruel his intentions.

"I can give you double whatever he paid."

"It's going to take more than money. What else?"

The man licked his lips. "I have ships."

"How many?" Matthew considered.

"Fif-fifteen. I'll sign them over to you."

Jennica raised an eyebrow and glanced sideways at Nakama. When did Matthew decide to take up piracy?

Why not? Her familiar's voice rumbled through her like thunder. It would be a step up for him.
Jennica's lips twitched. Matthew was many things and none of them good. She didn't like not knowing what he was up to.

The man hesitated, as though realizing the flaws in his bargain. He could return to his family and if he were lucky, he could rebuild. He would be alive, but penniless. He squeezed his eyes shut, perhaps wishing he would open them and this would all be a bad dream.

"Or, if you'd rather, I'll allow Jennica to finish what she started." Matthew gestured in her direction.

In a heartbeat, Jennica was behind the man. She grabbed his hair, pulling his head back, and pressed the edge of her knife to his throat. His pulse hammered against her wrist. Rich brown eyes, filled with terror, stared up at her.

"No." His voice was frantic. "The ships are yours."

Matthew smirked. "Jennica."

She hauled the man to his feet and sliced the cords that bound his hands. He shrank from her touch and fled to the desk, taking the paper and quill Matthew offered.

Jennica returned the knife to her belt and crossed her arms. If Matthew had wanted the man's ships, she could have obtained them without having to drag this fool back with her.


1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Toran Rev 2

Name: Katherine Toran
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Witch and the Demon

Pitch:

Fatally injured by a witchhunter, eighteen-year-old Ebba flees into a magic-blighted forest and stumbles upon Kryptos, a demon whose heart has been ripped out. She didn’t realize he was one of twelve dark gods planning to invade her world, or she never would have sacrificed her dying heart to keep his beating.

After Kryptos resurrects her, he makes her his mortal champion in Hell’s deathmatch to determine which deity will lead the conquest. Bound by their contract to fight or die, Ebba plots to sabotage Kryptos, only to accidentally initiate a courtship. How was she supposed to know throwing a severed head at him would be taken as a proposal of marriage? Kryptos turns out to be charming, handsome, a bit awkward—and utterly dedicated to world domination.

As her heartless condition erodes her conscience, it becomes harder and harder for Ebba to deceive the demon who possesses her heart in more ways than one. Doing the right thing has never felt so wrong when she must betray her love to save her world.

THE WITCH AND THE DEMON is a 76,000 word YA fantasy novel where Terry Pratchett meets Leigh Bardugo. Both the heroine and I have Asperger syndrome.

Revision:

Ebba’s soaked dress clung to her skin as she ran through the moonless night. The wind and the lake water left from her near-drowning competed to freeze her into a corpse. If she fell, she might not get up again. Keep moving. Get as far away from the witchfinder as possible, may he be reincarnated as a drunkard’s chamber pot.

Heedless of direction, she climbed up the mountain, away from her village and everyone in it. A tree root caught her ill-fitting clog. Her ankle bent sideways with a crack.

Waves of agony crashed over her as she hit the dirt. She wanted to scream or cry. Instead, Ebba took a deep breath. To focus her mind, she pinched her cheek, right on top of the scabs left by the witchfinder’s pins.

Her right hand oozed pus from the burns on her palm, so she used her left one to sit up. When she touched her ankle, the resulting stab told her this was more than a sprain. Her breath came faster. No, no! This couldn’t happen now. If she’d broken a bone, she wouldn’t be able to run, and then…then…

Absolutely nothing came to mind. She’d never had a plan past escaping her cell.

The forest was dead silent; no owls hooting nor insects chirping. An ancient demonic invasion had left this place magic-cursed. After the wolves had first descended, only those too poor to leave remained in Fort Jhaarth. Ebba shivered. Most wolves avoid humans. Except for the red-eyed wolves. The ones generally found deeper in the forest. Anabiel’s crap.

She refused to be devoured like her mother. Perhaps she could sneak back just long enough to steal a knife and some food. She’d been too panicked in her flight, afraid the witchfinder might wake up…

Memory had her hands flying up to protect her face. He’d started with pins, directly on top of the mottled red birthmark covering her left cheek. If it was the mark of a witch, supposedly she wouldn’t feel pain there. Giant hands had held her down, his nails filthy and his liver spots as big as spiders. His too-close breath had reeked of onions.

“Confess,” the witchfinder had ordered after every pin. Each time, she’d refused. They’d kill her if she confessed.

The second day, he’d brought out the hot iron. The third day, the dunking. Peculiarly, what she recalled most distinctly was the smell of sausages. Mad Gill, the local beggar, had gone around selling them to bystanders. The pleas she’d made to her neighbors had only been met with disdain or wide-eyed fascination.

No, she wasn’t going back.

Groping around, she found a stick to support her limping journey. It hurt to breathe through the dryness of her mouth. Still, each step forward was a small victory. The deeper she got, the less likely the charlatan of a witchfinder would dare follow.

Blood trickled from her dry lips. Water…I need water. Just one drop to ease the burn in her throat. And while she was dreaming, she also wanted a nice, juicy apple…Stop it. Coughing up lake water had left her with a throat too sore to swallow, anyway.

Too bad she wasn’t actually a witch. Then she’d be able to cause water to rise up from the earth. Since witches made wells dry up, surely they could do the opposite. Next, she’d blight the crops of every neighbor who’d “forgotten” to pay her for doing their laundry.

Nearby, a burble of water broke the oppressive silence. With a cry, Ebba turned and staggered towards it. The spikes of pain spearing her ankle with each hop could almost be forgotten as the rushing sound grew louder.

Ahead, an unnatural crimson light gleamed. The scent of ash drifted to her nose. A fire, in this deserted forest? A chill skittered like a beetle down her spine.

But dammit, her ankle was killing her, and she deserved a lucky break. There must be a way to reach the stream. Probing with her stick, she hobbled forward, using trees to hide her body. Her heartbeat shook her body with its power.

Peering out from behind a tree, she beheld her first demon.

He lay against a rock, his arms and legs splayed out. Black bat wings spread over his head. The air reeked of a cloying, metallic scent. Blood.

A hole gaped open where his heart should have been.

Yet even with his rib bones exposed, his hand twitched and his gaze flickered. Somehow, he still lived. His blood burned like fire, so brightly that everything in the clearing—rocks, bushes, and straggly trees—cast red shadows. He was the very flame which had drawn her here like a moth. The gory light accented his glistening black hair, pale skin, and slim, high cheekbones. His slender form reminded her of an angel with the wrong type of wings. He could be called beautiful, in an inhuman way—a little too symmetrical to be real.

Her walking stick came down against a rock and snapped in two. His head shot up. “Who’s there?”

Ebba remained frozen.

The demon inhaled deeply. “I can smell you, sheep. Come out where I can see you.”

Some sorcery in his deep, melodious voice enthralled her into taking a few limping steps forward before she could stop herself.

“Look deep into my eyes.” The demon fixed her with a predator’s gaze. “Give me your heart.”

Ebba stammered, “My what?”

“Listen, sheep! I am Kryptos of the Crimson Flame, one of the twelve demonic gods. I command you to offer your heart to me.”

“I-I’d rather not.”

“You dare defy me?” The demon’s arms jerked, making Ebba jump. His legs scrabbled for purchase against the dirt. Strange for him to move at all, with a missing heart, but he only seemed able to thrash, screaming, “Stop! I—argh—gave you an order!”

Ebba’s back hit a tree. The demon’s words echoed like a bell, soothing her and making her limbs heavier—but failing to override her survival instinct. She could shake off the compulsion by focusing on what he was actually saying.

Face turning from angry to calculating, the demon purred, “Come back, little lamb, and bargain with me. I offer you untold riches. Every jewel in this world will belong to you.”

His voice dripped sin like blood trickling from an open wound. Only a fool trusted a demon’s bargain. The stories called them liars, tempters, and soul-stealers. If he thought he could charm her into letting him rip out her heart with outlandish promises, “crazy” should be added to the list. Not about to take her eyes off the creature, Ebba edged backwards, her arms stretched out behind her to avoid the trees.

“I offer you power. I will make you ruler of this world and all your kind, if you will just strike a deal with me…”

Maintaining eye contact had been a mistake. He had a hypnotic stare, irises red as a sunset and pupils slitted like a cat’s. Ebba forced her gaze downward, to where his molten blood hit the ground with a crackling hiss. Horror broke the spell.

“I will give you beauty untold and the ability to entice anyone with your words. Every mortal you desire will throw themselves at your feet.” The demon’s voice broke in pain. Ebba flinched out of pity, even as her feet kept sliding.

She barely heard his last, whispered words. “Please, help me…”