Sunday, February 10, 2019

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Ramos Rev 1


Name: Lisa Ramos   
Genre: Middle grade, Contemporary 
Title: Becoming Invincible Senorita 

In a small town, near Spyglass Island, Georgia, lived Anita Santiago. And she meant “near,” because she was not allowed to give out her exact address to anyone. The island was surrounded by large brick houses with gates, guard dogs, and tall trees. But Anita’s place, just a mile away and a former slave home that survived the Civil War, was the ricketiest, shabbiest tiny home that looked like it could have been blown away in one huff and puff. And like the three little pigs, this worried Anita. But many things worried her. She worried about combing out the tangles out of her long curly hair every morning, in time for school. She worried about stitching the holes in the jeans she outgrew over the summer. But lately, she worried about her mother, who appeared less and less out of her bedroom. 

Anita had knocked. No answer. 

The doorbell rang, but Anita ignored it. She had an idea who was at the door.

“I get it,” shouted Lily, her little sister from the living room. 

She kneeled to squint under the uneven chipped bedroom door, and looked around for a sign of movement or life. She spotted the outlines of her mother’s paints and brushes scattered over the floor. A dim light appeared through the cracks, elongating her shadow on the floor. A second shadow emerged next to hers. 

“Spying on your mom, again?” asked the voice behind her. 

“I’m not spying,” Anita said. The only one who knew where to find her, any time or day, was her neighbor Carmen Fuentes. She lived two houses down the road, in a nice two-story house, with a rose garden, white picket fence, and a cat named, Papaya. She showed up, most of the time, uninvited. 

“Looks like it to me.” Carmen raised an eyebrow. “Hey, maybe she’s doing santeria in there.” 

“No way,” Anita whispered back. She knew Mami avoided magic. When her mother spotted a botanica, displaying candles and magical figurines in the window, she crossed the street. Mami said they contained all sorts of evil. 

Carmen shook her head. “Did she even get up this morning?” 

Lily walked in, sucking her thumb and dragging her doll by the hair. 

“Your mom is definitely depressed,” Carmen said. 

Anita looked at her. “Who says she is depressed?” 

“Says Cosmo magazine." 

“What?” 

"Read it in a questionnaire." Carmen crossed her arms. “She has all the symptoms.” 

“Like what?” 

Lily pulled out her thumb. “What’s de-pless?” Her two pigtails hung lopsided on the side of her head. 

“Like sleeping all day, not eating,” Carmen said, ignoring Lily. She raised her voice. “Anita, your mom doesn’t even comb her hair anymore.” 

“Is Mami de-pless, Nita?” 

Carmen looked at Lily and half smiled. “Yes, your mother is very--” 

“Stop it, Carmen! You’ll scare her.” Anita grew tired of Carmen’s know-it-all answers, especially when it frightened her little sister. Ever since Anita’s dad was taken, Lily feared sleeping alone. Now dolls, a mess of wooden alphabet blocks and a maple crib crowded Anita’s bedroom. She boosted herself up and sat on her knees. “Mami is not depressed. Just sad.” 

“Same thing,” replied Carmen. “I never missed a Cosmo issue and…” Carmen stopped when Anita raised her eyebrows. “What’s wrong?” 

“Shish.” 

Anita heard something scrape across the knotted wood floor. “I hear whispering and music.” 

“Is Mami singing?” asked Lily. She pressed her pudgy cheek against the door to listen, just like Anita. 

Anita smiled and got up. “She’s okay. She's playing her Invincible song.” 

“So?” 

“So, Mami says it makes her feel strong and invincible.” 

“Oh.” Carmen looked uninterested. She flipped her long black hair and rearranged her bedazzled head band. 

“Mami invisible?” Lily’s forehead wrinkled like a puppy. 

Carmen rolled her eyes. “No silly. In-vin-ci-ble. It means having superhuman powers…like Superwoman.” 

“No fair,” said Lily. That was Lily’s favorite word now. She said it all the time. If she spotted a bird flew over her head, she said, no fair. If she was sent to bed early, she said, no fair. If Anita didn’t play with her, she said, no fair. Lily said no fair to everything! 

“Just leave it alone,” said Anita. “She’s only three.” 

“I’m sure glad I’m an only child.” 

“It’s not so bad having a sister.” Anita did not mind watching over Lily. She kept her company. Besides, Lily was potty-trained and allowed Anita to pick all the TV shows. 

“Well, I have to go now. My mom’s making chicken, rice, beans, salad, and my favorite…cheese flan.” Carmen waved. “See you in class tomorrow.” 

“Bye.” 

After Carmen left, Anita headed to the kitchen. Lily followed behind. “You hungry?” she asked Lily. 

Lily nodded. 

“Okay. I’ll make you a hotdog.” 

It was hard to tell when Lily was hungry. One day she ate just fine, the next she refused to eat. 

Anita grabbed a pot from the cabinet and filled it with water. The two hotdogs sank to the bottom. She turned on the stove and placed the pot over the open flames. 

She heard a door squeak open in the hallway. Mami popped her head out and looked around. Her rollers sprung over her forehead like yo-yo’s. She whacked them away from her eyes. “Did Fuentes leave?” Mami called Carmen by her last name because she says she’s the fountain of gossip. 

Lily ran and wrapped her arms around Mami’s fluffy bathrobe. “You not invisible!” 

“Of course, I’m not invisible,” she said, rubbing Lily’s back. 

“Si, Mami,” said Anita. “She just left.” 

“Good. Tell Carmen’s mother I’m not up for a game of dominoes tonight. She’ll have to find another partner to play with again.” 

Anita felt relief. She did not want to visit the Fuentes family anytime soon. Every time they dropped by for a visit, Carmen’s mother interrogated Anita’s mother like a suspect in a mystery novel. Why didn’t you play last week? Did you hear anything from the girl’s father? What are you planning to do? They were questions Anita’s mother had no answer to. And when she did, Carmen’s mother asked the same question again the next visit. 

“Dios mio, Lily. You are still wearing yesterday’s clothes! I think you need a good bath. You don’t want to smell like a skunk, do you?” 

“I stinky-stinky-stinky!” shouted Lily. 

“Mami. Want a hotdog?” 

“No gracias,” she said, patting her belly. “I’m not so hungry, lately. Don’t have the energy to do anything either. Anita, can you?” 

“Si, Mami, I’ll give Lily a bath.” Anita spotted a ketchup stain on Lily’s dress. It reminded her to load the washing machine before going to bed. 

“Lily, go with your sister.” 

Lily hopped over to Anita singing. “I stinky-stinky.” 

Mami reminded Anita to bathe with the lights off. “You know we are being watched by la migre. Don’t want to draw attention to this place. And don’t stay up too late watching TV.” 

“We won’t,” Anita said. 

“I’m tired. Buenas noches, girls.” 

“Buenas noches, Mami.” Anita watched her mother return to the foreign world behind closed doors. She wondered, this time, how long it would take before Mami felt better?

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Crisci Rev 1


Name: Kim Crisci
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Sci-fi
Title: Southpaw

  
Chapter One


There’s a strong, repetitive knock against the bedroom door. My name, spoken in haste, carries loudly over several hallway footfalls.

“Lydia! I know you’re in there! Open the door!”

I hear desperation in the visitor’s voice, her panicked words mingled into the rout of others running by. She wants me to go with her, to join the others in celebration, but at the moment, I’m a little busy tearing apart my room.

“Don’t do this, Lidie! Not today! She’s going to leave without us!”

Silly voice. What she fails to mention is that they all leave without us eventually. The chosen are sent to Nevaeh while the rest of us stay behind and count our minutes to freedom on a clock we can’t see.

I am a Southpaw. My fellow citizens are Southpaws. Together, we thrive in the underground city named after us. Our parents are Southpaws too, but they don’t live here anymore. I don’t remember them very well. The government says they were kind-hearted people, behaved according to our laws, showed exemplary judgement and character. So they were chosen to live above ground, in the paradise we call Nevaeh. Technically, I born in Nevaeh—every Southpaw is, and if we want to return, then we must prove ourselves worthy. The government says all we have to do is be good—whatever that means.

“Lydia!” It’s Sarai’s voice at my door. No surprise there. When I don’t answer, Sarai pounds again. “Briseis is leaving forever! We have to go!”

I know, Sarai. I hear you. Just give me a

I scramble over my unmade bed in search of a treasure, one I thought I kept in the tiny desk drawer. Last year, my neighbor Briseis and I overheard a couple girls talking about friendship bracelets, and we decided to make our own. She crafted hers with blue seeded beads, a tribute to the Southpaws who serve as doctors. I made mine from yellow and ivory pieces, colors that symbolize an indecision about my future.

And I can’t find the damn bracelet anywhere.

I yank the dresser drawers and rummage through my weekly uniforms of white, white and white. Nothing. I pull out the side tables, becoming more frantic as Sarai grows impatient. I rip apart my bed sheets, tossing them into the corner. Where the hell is it?Then, as I push the mattress aside, I see a sparkle of yellow nestled behind the frame.

“That’s it!” Sarai shouts. “I’m giving you to the count of five.”

Bracelet in hand, I strap the school bag over my shoulder, opening my door just as Sarai reaches three.

“I’m ready,” I say. “Let’s go.”

Sarai eyes me carefully, disapprovingly. She steps forward, blocking me from passing. “Um.” She then gestures to her cravat bow, tied flawlessly around her neck. “You’re missing something.”

My hand reaches for the blouse collar and right away, I feel the bow-less space. Proper physical appearance is important to government officials. They say it shows maturity, an appreciation of the rules.

Groaning, I snatch the white bow from its hanger and rush out, letting my door lock behind me. I adjust the strap on my messenger bag and join Sarai and the stampede of other young women from my class, all in a mad rush to get the best spot downstairs for what many believe is a miracle in the making.

Children of Southpaw live in the Delta dormitory, a fifty-story building nestled in the curl of our residential district. The elevators are always crowded. But since my class lives on the fourth floor, it doesn’t matter.

I speed walk down the stairwell with Sarai, mindlessly twisting the bow ends into a butterfly knot. I worry little about my appearance. If something’s out of place, my best friend will tell me. A few others pass us on their way up, but the majority of us are rushing down, the chatter and zeal echoing like thunder across the walls.

“I didn’t sleep a wink last night,” Sarai says, completely giddy. “This might be the second best farewell all year.”

“Second best? Are you expecting another divine intervention?” I ask.

“Absolutely. One of our own was chosen for Nevaeh. Don’t tell me the thought doesn’t encourage you?”

Of course it did. Residents under eighteen were rarely considered viable candidates. According to the doctors, the brain isn’t fully developed until our mid-twenties, so the government can’t be sure who’s worthy of Nevaeh until then—or so I thought.

“I hear Nevaeh candidates can have anything they want on their last day,” I say. “Anything.”

Sarai nods. “As they should. They earned it. If a beautiful candidate asked to spend her last hours with me, I don’t think I’d say no.”

“I know you wouldn’t say no.”

The dorm lobby is a river of students, carefully divided by barriers which lead from one of the elevators to the glass entrance. Everyone is standing behind them, bouncing on the heels, waiting for the woman of the day to arrive and make that triumphant walk to the rest of her life.

Sarai and I scramble to find a free space in the front, a place that comes with a lot of crowd snaking. I recognize a few faces sprinkled into the fray but the rest are strangers to me. Everyone comes to say goodbye, whether you know the candidate or not.

The middle elevator door dings, opening and there, Briseis steps out to a roaring ovation. She’s flanked by two government escorts, both wearing the all-intimidating black with gold trim uniform. Briseis beams at the welcoming crowd, giving a wave before tightening her yellow bow. She’s radiant, poised in her walk, charming with her smile. A young boy offers his hand and she shakes it, thanking him for seeing her off.

Slowly, she moves down the line, offering hugs and appreciation for the kind words. I twirl the friendship beads between my fingers, readying myself for the sleight of hand. Candidates aren’t usually allowed to take gifts with them to Nevaeh, but if I’m clever, her escorts won’t notice me.

We make eye contact and Briseis’ smile blooms into a grin. She hugs Sarai first, the pair promising to see each other again someday. When she leans in to hug me, I take her hand, coyly sliding my bracelet onto her wrist before moving into her embrace. She laughs, covering the bracelet with her sleeve.

“Don’t forget about us,” I say into her ear.

She pulls away and mouths one word: Never.

Briseis disappears into the residential courtyard, a trail of applause following her wake. The lobby disperses for breakfast and Sarai and I follow. There’s an unspoken sadness that lingers between us. Briseis is gone and although we’re happy for her, she will be missed.

We push open the entrance doors and step out into the courtyard, suddenly greeted by a sweet-smelling wind. The holographic sun hangs high over the dome, casting playful shadows across the ground. Today, the government wants the city to be sunny until mid-evening, then it will rain until midnight before clearing again. They advise women to wear pants instead of our standard pencil skirts. I almost never wear the skirt. I hate the way my legs chafe together, creating a sweaty friction.

    


1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Jreije Rev 1


Name: George Jreije
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: Jewels of the Nile

Bashir sprinted across the boardwalk alongside the Mediterranean coastline. He clutched three popsicles between his fingers, which were dripping spots of orange, red, and blue across the scorched cement. Each step he took was like walking over hot coals. It had to be at least 95 degrees in Beirut today. Had Mama brought a few pieces of lahme, they could have cooked the meat into lamb kabobs right there on the ground.

“We’re here, Bashir!” Farrah gazed up from making kissy faces into her phone and waved him to the edge of the rocky coast beyond the sitting area.

She and Ziad were resting along the clear waters, their legs submerged up to their knees. He handed them each their treat and nudged a space for himself in between, shoulder to shoulder. He stuck his feet in the water and let out a breath. Sweet relief.

“Thanks dude.” Ziad bit from the top of his said, “Sahtan.

Bashir signed you got it, but he knew neither of his friends understood what his hand gestures meant. He didn't mind. In the eight years they’d been neighbors here in Lebanon, spending the summers together, their company had always been enough. It always would be.

While they all cooled down, Bashir brushed away one of his black curls, squinting from the too-bright sun. Augusts in Lebanon were the best for swimming, but the mosquitos, heat, and enormous crowds made it miserable for just about everything else. Still, he would trade anything to make the summer last forever. Tomorrow, he would be flying back to America, to the frigid Boston winters. His friends were also returning home. With Ziad heading back to Michigan, and Farrah to California, both would soon be too far away to sit side by side with. They would be too far for him to listen to their complaints about school and summer reading and all the other things Bashir couldn't hear his American friends talk about, because he had none. He sighed at the thought. It was tough being different back home.

“Cheer up,” said Ziad with a distinct lisp, raising his nearly-melted popsicle in a toast. “To surviving eighth grade. Next time we sit here, we’ll all be thirteen!”

Bashir forced a smile as he and Farrah both raised their frozen treats to toast. That’s when he noticed there was nothing but the stick left on his. Peering down, lines of red and blue ran down his bare chest. He gazed back up and, noticing that Farrah was looking at him, he wrapped his arms around his chest, fearing judgement. But she only grinned.

“Uh-oh. Looks like someone needs a bath.” Ziad gripped Bashir’s thin arms. Before Bashir could do anything, Ziad shoved him into the water.

He didn't have time to curse Ziad in his thoughts as water cooled his face and head. He sunk deeper and deeper. The further down he went, the cooler the water. It relaxed his limbs and provided a welcome change from the heat. There was no need to resurface just yet, to get back to the real world. Up there, Bashir had to deal with bullies and schoolwork and all manners of wajbat―what his parents called responsibilities in Arabic.

So he swam deeper instead. Opening one eye, then two, sight settled in quickly. The depths were murky green amidst the sea plants. Fish darted by at frightening speeds, entire schools of them. No different than the kids back home, it seemed.

A gleam caught Bashir’s eye. He blinked and it was still there―an almost imperceptible shine amidst the shades of red, brown, and green all blurring together underwater.

Commanding his burning lungs to hold firm, he swam towards that light. His heart began to thump faster. Seaweed brushed his chest and the fish became larger. He sank down further still, to where the sand and rock intertwined, where tiny critters crawled in and out of holes invisible to the eye. He reached along the rough sea bed. His palm ran alongside the smallest of crabs, then swept across more quickly as the need for air reached desperate levels. His fingers found a soft patch and dug in. Scooping weeds and pebbles, feeling something crawl along his knuckles and fall away, he retrieved the shiny mystery last of all.

A jolt raced up Bashir’s spine and he let out a stream of bubbles. Though it had hurt like in the moment, like touching a hot stove, the pain vanished as he kicked off of the rocky sea floor and shot up towards the sun. He broke surface and his mouth shot open, sucking in quick breaths. Soon his chest settled as he began to take in longer, soothing breaths of air. The popsicle stick floated right beside him.

“I didn't mean to push him, I swear!” Ziad’s lisp separated his voice from all the others, loud and worrisome. “He could be dead by now. I’m going in.”

Farrah shoved him away. “Are you crazy? Going after Bashir will be hard enough, I don’t want to rescue two idiots. I’ll jump in.” Bashir blinked the water out of his eyes, spotting Farrah toying with her earrings. “Hold these, you darn―

He’d just gained full vision, ready for Farrah to come to his rescue when her neck tilted up and she spotted him. Both her and Ziad waved him over. He swam toward them, now several feet off the coast. He was sure to keep his hand closed into a fist. The more he swam, the more sand filtered out his hand, so he squeezed harder, cautious not to drop his treasure. He held tight until, upon reaching his friends, he raised his arm and dropped a glittering golden ring onto the rocks between them. Neither said a word as Bashir hoisted himself out of the water. Both were curiously eyeing the ring’s solid gold finish. It had no scratches or dents, appearing as though it had just been forged.

“Where’d you find that?” Ziad’s eyebrows furrowed, and Bashir swatted away his friend’s hand when he reached for it. “What gives? I push you into the water and you come back with a cool trinket. Not fair!”

“So you did push him, eh?” Farrah reached over and jabbed Ziad hard enough to elicit a yelp.

Bashir laughed soundlessly. He couldn't take his eyes off his prize, and claimed the piece of jewelry shamelessly, slipping it into his middle finger on the right hand. Holding it up to the sun, the shine intensified; he could feel his own smile growing. He’d gone with Baba to to Suh al-Dahab enough times to know that gold didn't rust, that it shined bright in natural light, and it was heavier than other precious metals. This was gold. And not just that, but there appeared to be three ridges along the top. Something looked to be missing from the ring, maybe a jewel or an ornament.

“This sun is roasting me like a chestnut,” groaned Farra. “And it’s getting way too crowded. Can we please get out of here?”

Ziad kicked his feet out of the water. “Ditto.”

They both looked to Bashir, who, gazing up from his ring, just shrugged. He got up with his two friends, still dripping wet. Thankfully, that helped in crossing the hot cement. They weaved around families playing with their young children and groups of old men stroking their chins over a game of backgammon.


1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Kunrath Rev 1


Name: Jenn Kunrath
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Covert Cinderella

It was my first mission. Still only a student at the Grimmald Academy of Espionage, the opportunity to be pulled for official undercover work was rare and unprecedented. I felt the energy buzz in my fingertips as I slipped on that fated suede shoe. Then, I made an attempt to tuck one of my ornery red curls behind my ear. Of course it didn’t stay there. My mother used to say they were as stubborn as me. I straightened and stood at attention for a final inspection. My team leader, code name Fairy Godmother, took his time examining every detail of my disguise. That evening I was dressed like someone who should be noticed. After so much training on how best to blend in, it felt almost uncomfortable to have orders that required me to stand out.

Fairy Godmother gave me a nod. It was okay for me to go. The air was warm when I stepped outside. Light traced the edges of the horizon as the sun faded behind it. My foot nearly slipped as I moved from the step that attached to our pod. Painted orange, it blended with the fall leaves of the forest around it. I always thought it looked kind of like a giant pumpkin. After several intense days of reviewing the mission, I was happy for the fresh air and the quiet of the forest around me. Inside, the pod could be generously described as cramped and uncomfortable. It made Fairy Godmother’s voice seem even louder when he yelled. The sound bounced from wall to wall in a way that filled the space. 

Still, it was odd to be out on my own. Until that point, I had been kept in close quarters with my team. Together, we plotted, planned, and strategized. Before that, I had been at the academy with a whole assembly of instructors and fellow students around me. Though excited to be going out into the field, I couldn’t help but be nervous that I was on a solo assignment.

This was due to the limitations of our mission budget. Sprice had only commissioned one formal ballgown for what was considered an investigative operation. It was the nicest dress I had ever worn. They had not spared any expense in that. When Fairy Godmother gave me the package in which it was wrapped, I had nearly dropped it, my hands were shaking so badly. It was worth more than all my years of tuition at the academy. If I did well on this mission, I wondered if they would let me keep the dress as a “thank you.” I could sell it and send the money back to my mother who had worked hard to keep me in school.

The Grimmald Academy of Espionage had been founded because as the smallest of the kingdoms, Sprice knew its best defense was to be paranoid. From that, a strong initiative in espionage was spurred. Those parents who wanted to give their children an opportunity to work for the royal military, sent them to the academy for training. 

You had to be good. The royal military was the best but most selective employer in Sprice. They only kept a few highly skilled operatives and open positions were rare. Those who did not quite make the cut, could hope to teach at the academy, but those spaces were limited as well. If I did well on this mission, it would give me an advantage no other student could hope for. I would be guaranteed employment once I graduated. The stakes were high. If I failed, all my years of training would be for nothing.

As I walked, I reviewed the mission in my mind. According to our intel, Arydia, a kingdom with which we shared our southern border, had been spending exorbitant amounts of money during recent months. Reports suggested that a new wing had been added to the castle. The archway to the city had been remodeled with marble. And the royal family decided to host a lavish ball for all the kingdom’s citizens to attend. From what I could gather within the limited conversations I had been able to overhear, there was talk of possible black market involvement and concern that funds were also being funneled into military forces for a possible land grab.

Determined to find out what was going on, the Kingdom of Sprice’s special forces recruited me from the Grimmald Academy of Espionage to serve as a plant at the event. They needed someone young and pretty enough to catch the prince’s eye. There were several other girls in my class that were possible candidates. Though the reason I was selected was not disclosed, I like to think it was a combination of good overall performance in my classes and my excellent conversational skills. Once, I tried carefully to have Fairy Godmother confirm if this was the case. He muttered something about dumb luck, so I did not try to ask again.

I was so excited to have been selected but also very scared because I wasn’t sure I was ready.

The plan was to have me attend a ball the royal family was hosting and maneuver through the room until I was dancing with the prince. Then, the objective was to flirt out the explanation for Arydia’s sudden surge of wealth. We had been taught to interrogate at the academy. Flirting, however, had not been a method included in those lessons, so this part of the mission made me a little nervous.

“Just do whatever it is you girls do.” Fairy Godmother had suggested when I asked him to explain how exactly I should try to flirt. I was too embarrassed to ask for further clarification. Part of being a spy required being able to figure things out. If I was going to impress my team, I would need to prove I could do so.

Once I knew where this new wealth was coming from, I was instructed to determine the extent of Arydia’s resources and whatever further intentions they had in how these would be used. Then, I could leave the ball and return to my team to issue a report. Sprice would use this intel to decide if there was any immediate threat to our kingdom.

The way to the castle was not far. When I got close, I looked for a group of girls I could join so it would not be obvious that I had arrived alone. It did not take long to find one. Everyone was so excited, the air seemed to buzz around me. A flutter of pink, yellow, and lilac drifted across the courtyard. The three girls giggled as they hurried toward the stairs. They seemed suitably distracted, so, I slipped in next to them. The deep-blue ballgown I had been issued shifted behind me. 

At the top of the stairs, everyone was forced into a line.

“What’s taking so long?” I heard someone complain.

“They are announcing each guest,” another voice quipped. 

I gulped. It was a more conspicuous entrance than I had hoped to make. I shuffled along but studied the shadows to see if there was any way I could slip through the door. Determined to find something, I did not notice when it was suddenly my turn. From somewhere behind me, hands shoved me forward. The attendant caught my arm so that I would not trip and tumble into the room, a fact for which I was grateful.