Sunday, January 15, 2017

January Workshop Revision 1 -- Lee

Name: Betty Lee
Genre: Young Adult Speculative Fiction
Title: THE BOY WHO EATS SADNESS

Prologue

Dañel

You always remember your first, they say.

This is all I remember.

Waking up with the taste of coffin air in my mouth.

Hunger like a burning inside me.

I don’t brush my teeth, or clean up. I push my way out of Room 212, through this cut of dusty light. It’s the kind you notice because it’s full of things we don’t normally see with our eyes until the light is shifted just so.

Outside, this old lady is sitting by the pool, smoking. Most days, I would brush past her, and head off motel property, to meet one of my friends in town.

But that hunger, Cabron, that hunger was whispering to me. In my mother’s voice.

And that’s why I did it. Why I crossed the line and why that woman, smoking and crying, why she turned that chlorine pool all salt.

That’s all I remember. Not the taste. Not the comfort. Only my mother’s voice and salt water.

But yeah, of course, Cabron, you knew it would go down like this, didn’t you?

What you told me about husks in Room 212, I’ll tell you, it made a lot more sense the morning after. That old lady, she blew away like one of those old school cartoon desert tumbleweeds—and I started searching the motel for who’s next.
 

Chapter One

Roxy Noxy

I’m leaning against my hand-me-down Chevy Malibu station wagon’s back bumper, arms crossed, knees braced together. The smell of gasoline in my nose is some screwed up comfort, but it’s still comfort. And I need it today.

My dad clears his throat. I try hard to remember all the reasons this moment should feel so good.

Escape.

Anonymity.

Finally.

It’s a fact. High school goes down easy for some girls.

That first year I flew sort of under the radar like the other semi-outcasts. The other three, and I’m not exaggerating, were a bit like how I’d picture hell, if I believed in that crap.

Dad clears his throat again and I’m drawn out of my mind and back to the problem at hand. Getting my stuff to college all the way across the country. From Maine to Colorado.

“Looks pretty low to the ground. Don’t you think?” I ask, shifting my weight from the wagon so I can throw a sneakered foot on top of the hitch.

He grabs hold of my arm and pushes me up so I’m balanced on it. He says, “Jump,” and I do.

But I’m not sure why.

I guess this is growing up.

The station wagon’s orange, and old as dirt, but it’s the only car at our house that doesn’t break down. Even dad’s new-to-him truck has been in the shop twice since January. But really, the best thing about the station wagon isn’t that is still has a cassette player when everyone owns iPhones, it’s that it’s all mine. It used to be mom’s. The first thing she bought for herself after she left her parent’s house. The only thing, she says, she held onto from back then, other than me and dad.

Dad lets go of my arm, backs up onto our decidedly not-green lawn. “Looks okay to me.”

“You sure?”

He’s about to respond, his head tilted a little off to the left like he does when he’s thinking, when my mom, who is inside the house, in the kitchen probably, starts screaming.

My dad stops.

The world stops.

I choke mid-inhale, waiting, not sure what kind of scream this is. When the noise becomes clear, she’s screaming my name.

While we were fiddling with the U-Haul, mom was baking something she insisted I take when me and dad drive off in the morning.

Dad is about to offer to go inside on my behalf. I know he’ll offer. But he knows I’ll shrug it off.

I jut my chin at my four-year old sister Ori, who is playing on the lawn with an underinflated football. “Stay here,” I order her.

And dad says, “If it’s bad…”

I know what he means so I don’t waste my breath on a response. I run up the three concrete steps leading to the kitchen door, swing the screen open, and catch sight of my mom. She’s covered in blood.

Well, not covered. But there’s enough of the red stuff to turn my stomach.

Blood and me don’t get along. For reasons.

But mom needs my help. Not dad’s. Certainly not Ori’s. My help.

The kitchen is really where my mom’s at her best. Even now—screaming, bloody—this is better than the other options.

I step further into the kitchen. “What did you do?”

Sometimes her vision blurs. Sometimes her hand jerks, her muscles get weak. Sometimes she’s just tired out. Mom’s an ex-junkie and she’s reminded of that every day of her life. I am too.

“The knife… it slipped,” she says.

When I pull her hand close to take a look, I can see her index finger is cut open along the secondary fold line. And it looks deep. Maybe to the bone. I grab a dishtowel from the drawer, but mom says, “Not that one.” So I choose another. They’re all ragged and over-washed so I don’t get why she cares. But there’s no point in upsetting mom. She doesn’t handle stress well.

I take her hand in mine and put pressure on the wound. Her blood is mine, after all.

The first aid cabinet is well stocked with supplies.

 I’m trying to get the Band-Aid to hold the edges of the wound closed, when Ori, who doesn’t listen, who doesn’t get any of this, not at all, comes running into the kitchen, the football tucked under one arm. She has dirt smeared under her eyes like the Friday night Hamlin High footballers do.

Since she started doing this a few months ago, I haven’t had the heart to tell her they use this grease stuff, not actual dirt.

Both mom and I yell at the same time: “Stop.”

Ori freezes on the spot, like it’s some kind of weird game. But then her face slips. She starts to cry, tracks running through the dirt until she looks like we don’t bathe her.

I guess it sounds as if we’re mad at her. But we’re not.

Mom’s upset about all the blood. I’m only angry—and a bit nauseated—and taking it out on my kid sister like I might hate her.

When Ori was born, the only member of the Remy family who cried was Mom. But I think that’s because she refused painkillers, and not because she was so happy she was getting a chance to do this daughter thing again, and to do it right this time.

But that’s just me.

I used to think this anger would, I don’t know, fade. Instead, something inside me simmers, even now. Last summer I convinced myself it was a little devil, or The Devil himself, brewing inside of me. And I can’t tell you how much I liked thinking the anger didn’t really belong to me.

Blaming it on someone—something—else felt damn good.

I’m holding my mom’s hand too tight, listening to Ori cry. Mom’s whole body tightens, as if anger transfers from body to body easy as all that.

January Workshop Revision 1 -- Farkas

Samantha Farkas
Young Adult Historical Fantasy
UNTITLED

CAMILLE
a gentleman's daughter, presumed dead October 1793

I move as though I walk on glass.

My slippers grasp for purchase on the straw-covered cobblestones as we push forward through the crowd. Hurrying through the Champs-Élysées, Aurélie slipped and sprained her wrist, but if we fell now, we might never get up again. With every step, the ground beneath us seems to crack, and I fear that soon it will shatter completely.

“Do you see him?” hisses Aurélie, gripping her gloved wrist. We are the same age, but my stepsister is a head shorter than me, and the crowd is so tightly packed that it smothers her.

I shake my head. I can just make out the wheel of the tumbril, but the scaffold blocks the rest.

On my other side, my stepmother stares straight ahead, her eyes vacant. A man with a flask jostles her, spilling a dark liquid on her satin gown, but she doesn’t even blink.

I reach into my pocket and pull out the timepiece my father gave me three days earlier. Just before the garde nacionale led him from our house, he placed it in my palm. “All we have is time, Camille,” he said, folding my fingers around the silver. “Don’t waste it.”

The ticking calms me. One minute more is another minute in which my father could be pardoned. The Committee will realize there has been a mistake. God—somebody—will interfere. Please.

Then I see him, mounting the stairs to the scaffold.

They have stripped him of his coat, waistcoat, even his shoes, so that he wears only a white shirt and culottes, and his hair has been chopped to the nape of his neck. Beside me, my stepmother whimpers and presses her handkerchief to her lips.

A guard says something to him and he laughs. Laughs.

I tighten my grip on the timepiece. It is tick, tick, tick-ing stoically. He could be pardoned still. Lefévre will step forward. If anyone can help, it is my father’s best friend, whose influence extends beyond wealth and class and political party. He will stop it. He has to.

My father doesn’t resist as the executioner ties him to the board. Lowers it.

No. This isn’t real. It is an illusion, a nightmare. I will wake up to find that I have dozed off in front of the fireplace again. My father will be sitting in his favorite chair, his expression amused as he glances up from his notebook to tell me that I have soot on my face.

It isn’t real. It isn’t real. It isn’t—


Later, I would find that the timepiece had stopped at 11:58.

The precise moment the blade fell.

SALOMÉ
a housemaid, disappeared November 1794

Somewhere a clock strikes midnight just as I reach the Place de la Revolution. Instinctively, I reach for my father’s timepiece. It stopped working over a year ago; still I take comfort in the familiar notches and grooves. When he died, Madame discarded most of his things—his clothes, his notebooks, his stacks of letters piled high in his study. The timepiece is all I have left.

I stop just in front of the entrance to the Tuileries Gardens. I don’t know why we have to meet here of all places, but Jean-Paul insisted, and I am not in a position to argue. Every few seconds, I glance back at the public square, where the guillotine winks in the moonlight. It seems to get closer each time I look. It has been weeks since the last public execution—months since Robespierre and Saint-Just’s demise—but this remains a heavy, haunted place. I don’t know if it is real or illusion, but I can taste blood in the air, and if I listen intently, I can hear the whistle of the blade, my stepmother’s stifled sob, my own desperate scream.

You’ll come back? I asked my father when they took him.

He smiled and patted my hand, as though I were seven instead of seventeen. I always do.

I catch a whiff of musk and turn to see Jean-Paul approaching with his walking stick, which he calls a constitution and I call a bludgeon. In the four months I’ve known him, I have never seen him without it. “You’re late.”

He shrugs. “Something came up.”

I see now that his coat and culottes are streaked with blood. “Who?”

He takes a moment to answer, which makes me wonder if even he knows. From what I’ve gathered, Jean-Paul Grenier doesn’t ask questions. His source, whom he says is a journalist, gives him names and he listens. “Informant. Admitted to spying on the Comtesse du Moreau.”

Before or after you beat him? I nearly ask, but the truth is I don’t care. I’m not here to talk about Jean-Paul’s vengeance. I’m here to talk about mine. “Do you have it?”

“Eager, are we?” he says. His tone rattles me. Not too long ago, he wouldn’t have dared talk to me that way, but back then I was someone else. Camille Delacroix. Not nobility, but a name that meant something.

Not even my own family calls me Camille anymore.

Jean-Paul retrieves a small vial from his pocket. It’s filled with a clear liquid—mort par rêves, a cousin to belladonna. A single drop will create a powerful sleeping tonic; more, and you have a poison that kills swiftly, silently, painlessly.

I pass him a few assignats. It’s not much—not half of what this is worth—but it’s all I can spare at the moment. I don’t know how Jean-Paul acquires the poison—whether he pays with the assignats he pilfers from his victims or just steals it outright. I’ve never asked.

He dangles the vial above my open palm. “Will you do it this time?”

Growing up, I learned that a lady doesn’t snatch, but I’m tempted. As far as Jean-Paul knows, I’m merely a housemaid. “I don’t know what you mean.”

I know exactly what he means. His lips twist into a vicious smirk. This is the third time he has brought me mort par rêves, something that—when used properly—need only be used once.

“I can’t do this forever, Salomé,” he says. “I’m willing to help you, but you have to go through with it. Look.” He takes my shoulders and turns me around so that I’m facing the square, his touch making my skin crawl. I don’t want to look; I want to turn back to the Tuileries Gardens, where Aurélie and I used to take afternoon promenades in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the dauphin. Now the dauphin is dead, and in a way, so are my stepsister and I, and it all has to do with that thing in the middle of the square. “Look, Salomé. Look at how your father was murdered.”

Murdered. The word lingers in the air. My father was innocent. My stepmother had lived at court in her youth, but my father was just a lawyer. He didn’t belong on that scaffold.

I know now why Jean-Paul insisted we meet here.

He leans in, his breath hot on my neck. “If you want justice for your father, you need to take it yourself.”

“Jean-Paul—“

“Perhaps,” he says, releasing me. I turn away from the scaffold. “You would prefer this.”

He pulls out a dagger.

I stare at it. I have thought long and hard about how I am going to do it; the truth is I never intended to use the poison.

Thibault Lefévre will die by blade. Just like my father.

Still, I don’t reach for the dagger. I have my own reasons for wanting the poison, but Jean-Paul is the type of man who feeds on bloodlust, and he won’t give it to me if he knows the truth. I don’t need the dagger; a kitchen knife will serve just as well.

Jean-Paul flips the dagger over so the blade catches the moonlight. He isn’t much older than me, and with his pronounced widow’s peak and clear eyes, he is striking in a way that leaves me unsettled. He is too sharp—all edges and no softness. Was he always this way? Or did the violence change him the way it changed me? “You ought to take it, Salomé. It will make your revenge so much sweeter.”

“I don’t need it.”

“You do.” He holds it out to me. Even in the shadows, the dagger shines so bright that I can see my reflection distorted in the steel. “Can you guess what it’s made from?”

He cocks his head in the direction of the guillotine.

January Workshop Revision 1 -- Allen

Name: Rebecca J. Allen
Genre: YA Thriller
Title: In A Flash

Prologue

The door at the top of the stairs opened and the thug started gun-first down the steps. On his face was a cold, calculating smile, like he was in no rush to kill me. After all, I had no way out.

“You’re not supposed to be down here, little girl.”

I froze, half-way between the basement and the first floor, immobilized by fear and indecision. I had a gun in my hand. It was cold and heavy and deadly.

I’d picked it up to keep from getting shot in the back, never planning to actually use it. The thought of firing it repulsed me even now. 

How had my life gotten so twisted that firing a gun at another human seemed like a reasonable choice? Possibly the only choice if I wanted to live.

I glanced behind me at the dimly lit basement. I did not want to be stuck down there with his beefy frame blocking the only exit. Raising my hands, I pointed the barrel of the gun at his gut. My hands shook.

He took another step toward me.

Please don’t make me pull the trigger. Just let me go!

It wasn’t just my life on the line. If I didn’t stop this man, he would destroy Seth. If not by killing him outright, then certainly by turning everything he’d built into a tool for theft; keep it from ever making a difference in the world.

But if I pulled the trigger, I’d be taking another person’s life. Could I live with that?



Chapter 1


I squeezed through the crowded halls, silent while chatter filled the air around me. Jokes were lobbed over my head; jibes ricocheted off the walls around me so I wouldn’t swipe them as they swished by, degrade them by smiling when, obviously, they weren’t meant for my amusement. After a full week, Stamford High was no less alien than it had been on my first day.

I was no more impressed by my new classmates than they were by me, but my opinion didn’t matter. I was one, not the crowd. The newbie, not a queen bee. 

These days, I was only happy when I turn myself inside-out and went back. Only a few months. But thousands of miles from where I stood now, to another life.

I shook my head. Not now. When I got to homeroom I could retreat inside for a moment, harvest enough happiness from my past to make it through a few classes. Now, I needed to keep my eyes open and avoid confrontation. I needed to pretend to fit in.

My eyes locked on the disposable water bottle the guy in front of me pitched into a trash can without even breaking his stride. An image flashed to mind, a much older guy who’d gone down our Shanghai street every day, digging out recyclables from the trash to earn what he could from turning them in. His bicycle-drawn cart was always filled higher than his head with bags threatening to burst.

You’re not there anymore, Avery. Get it together.

I tried, but my gaze locked on a poster for the homecoming dance. This dance was the topic of intense discussion between classes. Who planned to ask whom? Who had already asked and been shot down? With what level of maliciousness? It could have been the subplot for a Mean Girls movie.

I rolled my shoulders and shook it off.

Aberforth & Co. clothes were all around me. Half the school wore them, and not the basics, the stuff that worked fall, winter and spring. The popular crowd pulled their wardrobe straight from the cover of the new catalog. Blaze orange and mustard yellow, the “in” colors this season, were everywhere, making me want to poke my eyes out. I’d boycotted Aberforth forever.

I drew in a deep breath, and huffed it out. Rid yourself of that which does not serve you. Head down, eyes straight ahead, I plowed forward. Nine months. One hundred and seventy-four days of Stamford High and I’d be done.

It felt like forever. I had no chance of being accepted here. And the thing that had undone was my last class trip. 

On the first day of school, my L.A. teacher announced that we’d see a play at the newly reopened Shakespeare theater. She’d tried to be welcoming, asking if I’d seen a play there. Asking what kind of class trips I’d gone on at Shanghai American. I made the mistake of thinking that was an easy question, and that my answer would be interesting.

I was wrong. It wasn’t.

“A class trip to the Great Wall of China? Who does that? What planet are you from?” The question came from the captain of the Lacrosse Team. The guy who’d been flirting with me until Mrs. Ackerman called him out to start class.

He wasn’t flirting now. He was now intent on torturing me for the rest of the year.

That day last spring had been so perfect. Standing at the top of the wall looking down at mile after mile of hand-wrought stonework. Imposing…monumental…breath-taking. Towers rising every half-mile as the wall wound along the mountain ridge. Ten-feet wide where we stood, thinning to a pathway in the distance, then a ribbon of stone before fading into the mountain.

All my favorite people were with me. Stone, my best friend, Usain, my first real boyfriend, Stephan, Renato and Jade. Six classmates, five nationalities. The opposite of Stamford, where everyone wanted to think they were unique but really did their best to conform.

And, in complete opposition to kismet, there he was, the captain of the Lacrosse Team. His eyes sought me out through the tight press of people in the hall.

“China’s got her swagger on today. Lookin’ good, girl!” His jab turned the blood in my veins to ice, freezing my hips mid-step.

He stood with a crowd of friends — he was never alone — his shoulder propped lazily against the locker behind him. Dark, curly hair hid one eye, but his other charcoal eye was locked on me, daring me for another round of “haze the new girl.”

The stream of people pressed into a crowd behind me. He liked crowds. Why harass me one-on-one when the opportunity for public humiliation presented itself?

I clenched my gut and refused to let him win this time. No one can hurt you without your permission,” Stone’s mom liked to say. Tipping my head to one side, I brightened my smile.

Never let your opponent see your pain,” Sensei Wu’s deep voice had repeated every class. My smile gleamed like that day on the Great Wall.

“A class trip to the Great Wall? Who does that? What planet are you from?” He’d said it with that same self-assured smirk on his face. Nice way to make the new girl feel welcome, asshole. 

And I gave him the smile from when I’d knocked out my last opponent in the Shanghai Martial Arts Tournament. Not the picture-perfect smile from when I stood on the dais holding the trophy high. The smile from when I heard her breath huff out and saw her eyes go wide as she fell back to the mat. 

This guy was a nightmare, but I would beat him. And he’d never see it coming.

His brow furrowed, three creases appearing just above his nose, as he stood there wondering why I was smiling. He had no idea who he was up against.

January Workshop Revision 1 - McCourt

Name: Joe McCourt
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Title: THE WITCH'S BOTTLE

Dolyn Pierce’s entire body tensed when repair work on the second water main break of the season came to a clattering halt.

“Aw c’mon!” she cried. She was seated in a graffiti-covered bus stop not ten paces from the perimeter of the job site, her trembling fingers ripping pages from the paperback she had shoplifted the night before. “It’s too early to be taking a break!”

The workmen ignored her. They seemed just as irked, if not downright confused, by the sudden shut-down. 

“Dammit!” spat Dolyn, clapping her fists over her ears. She had come here specifically for the blissful din of jackhammers, hydraulics and earth-moving equipment. It was the only noise loud enough to quell the echoes that assaulted her day and night. 

Without the machinery in full gear-grinding mode, her auditory nerves were pounded by more than a decade’s worth of backfiring motors, whining diesel trucks, squealing city bus brakes. She winced at every shouted word, every unexpected blast of a horn, every crash of a fender bender. 

And that wasn’t the worst of it. 

Dolyn could hear, with perfect clarity, what the Mayor had referred to as, ‘a few bad apples disturbing a peaceful protest.’ Voices droned, “We shall overcome.” A window shattered. Someone screamed. Bottles were thrown. Bricks were thrown. Punches were thrown. More windows shattered. Fire ignited in a thwoomph. More screaming. More fighting. Then came the sirens. Then came the gunshots. It might have been a few. It might have been a thousand.

Get a grip, Dolyn.

She reminded herself that this street, Lombard, had been closed for over a month and the riots, which so divided the city, happened a year ago. Today, there were no cars. No mobs. No cops. Not even a kid on a bicycle. The surroundings were, as far as the road crew was concerned, as quiet as a small-town library.

“Moooooove!” Dolyn pleaded.

Her ear plugs, the closest thing to jewelry that would ever accessorize her smooth, narrow face, blocked barely a fraction of the sound only she could hear. 

Gritting her teeth, Dolyn scanned the neighboring buildings. The sun had risen a few hours ago, but the sky was cloudy enough that she thought she’d see at least one lit bulb or flickering TV screen shining through a window. There weren’t any. A power failure? Maybe, but what kind of outage affects electricity as well as combustion engines? She yanked the hood of her sweatshirt over her head and lowered her chin to her knees, simultaneously regretting her decision to venture out and wondering where to go next.

The local newspaper, if she could get her hands on one, would list the day’s construction detours. If this road crew didn’t get back up and running soon, she’d find another site and hope the power outage hadn’t blown all the city’s jackhammers.

If it had, maybe she’d take a dip in the nearest fountain or, hell, throw herself into the harbor. Submerging her ears would give her some relief. Until, that is, the police fished her out and took her for “evaluation.” Again.

I was just trying to drown it out.

She’d used that excuse a hundred times, but no one understood. Not even her old paranoid schizophrenic psychmate, who found it rather funny that Dolyn slept with two pillows over her head.

Drown it out. Drown it out. Drown it out.

Her time in the ward had been the most miserable thirty days of her life. All that wailing and screaming and nonsensical ramblings from patients who had inhabited the room before them; patients long since dead or released or moved to another facility. But their reverberating anguish had been so disturbing that Dolyn couldn’t properly explain to the doctors what was ailing her. Halfway through a sentence she’d flinch or gasp at the horrors that played in her head like a broken record.

She couldn’t give them reason to drag her back. Not on her first full day of freedom.

“Bus ain’t coming today, girlie,” hollered a gruff voice. “And probably won’t be till the end o’ summer.” He laughed. “You got a long wait ahead o’ ya.”

Dolyn squinted up from the bus shelter’s warped, plastic bench. A paunchy man wearing a hard hat and a yellow vest was standing a few yards away, a big stupid grin forming a plank bridge between his ruddy, unshaven jowls. Behind him, utility workers trundled around a massive hole in the middle of the road.

“Do you call every woman you see ‘Girlie’?” Dolyn shouted back, then in a poor imitation of the man, bellowed, “Watch where you’re steppin’ there, girlie. You don’t wanna fall on your sweet patootie! Hey, girlie, you got nicer curves than a stretch of country road! That girlie must be a parking ticket, ‘cause she’s got ‘FINE’ written all over her.” Dolyn switched back to her normal voice. “Does Marjorie know what a sexist pig you are? She’s your wife, right? Would it kill you to say one nice thing about her?”

This was Dolyn’s gift (if you could call it that). She heard the past. And in some cases, could predict the future.

“H-how did you know ...”

Like that. She knew he’d ask. People always asked how Dolyn got her information.

Sometimes, she came close to admitting the truth. “Because right now I’m listening to everything you said two weeks ago.”

Close ... but never fully there.

“Now get back to work, JAKE! That pipe’s not gonna fix itself!”

She wouldn’t divulge how she learned his name, how the off-color joke he had told his co-workers was met with laughter and exclamations of “Good one, Jake!” 

Let the jerk stew in his own words.

And stew he did. His deeply-furrowed scowl suggested that he wanted to tell Dolyn off, but when she raised her book like a shield in front of her face, he stomped back to the job site, every heavy, plodding footstep booming in her hyper-sensitive ears like a thunderclap.

Just get the equipment running. Please.

Busted water mains were not an uncommon occurrence in Baltimore, where the same pipes have channeled the city’s murky H2O since the early-1800s. Usually leaks of this magnitude happened in late winter/early spring, when the rising temperatures caused centuries-old cast-iron to expand and rupture. Considering this was the tail-end of March, things were right on schedule.

“What’s goin’ on, Keith?” asked one of the workers. “Run outta gas?”

Keith, a lean, rat-faced malcontent who was sitting in the cab of a mini excavator, shrugged impatiently, jiggled some levers, then, with an exasperated shake of his head, grumbled, “I dunno. The piece o’ shit just up and died on me.”

He hopped down to the curb, shot a perfunctory glance at the rig’s boom, then the arm cylinder, then the mounted jackhammer. Finally, his perplexed gaze traveled into the cavernous pit. “Now what the hell do you suppose that is?”

Other members of the road crew, all wearing matching fluorescent vests over their jeans and flannel shirts, ambled over to have a look. 

Even Dolyn was curious. She stood, craned her neck, then climbed up on the bench for a better angle. It was no good. The hole was deep and there were too many workmen blocking her view.

“It’s a box,” sighed the oldest member of the crew. He removed his hard hat and ran his gloved fingers through his graying hair, the breath issuing from him in little puffs of steam.

Monday, January 9, 2017

January '16 Guest Author Mentor: Shea Berkley

Everyone, please welcome Shea Berkley, our January guest author mentor for the First Five Pages Workshop. Shea will read each of the five workshop each week and provide her feedback to help guide revisions and ensure that each manuscript is as strong as possible when our guest agent reads the final week!

Since 2011, Shea has had eleven novels published, along with additional anthology stories. She has a fondness for characters, real life ones and those she makes up in her head while she’s tending to a multitude of mundane tasks she’s forced to do in order to survive. Writing gives her purpose (okay it keeps her out of trouble…mostly), and she can’t imagine herself doing anything else. Her interests include painting, kickboxing, riding horses, reading and watching movies and her favorite TV shows just to name a few.






THE MARKED SON (Keepers of Life Series)
Entangled Teen

The first in the lyrical, exciting Keepers of Life trilogy by new talent Shea Berkley. Seventeen-year-old Dylan Kennedy always knew something was different about him. When Dylan sees a girl in white in the woods behind his grandparents' farm, he knows he's seen her before in his dreams. He's felt her fear and heard her insistence that only he can save her world from an evil lord who uses magic and fear to feed his greed for power.

Buy It From Amazon | Goodreads

Saturday, January 7, 2017

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - McCourt

Name: Joe McCourt
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Title: THE WITCH'S BOTTLE

Not ten paces from the graffiti-covered bus stop where Dolyn Pierce was reading a paperback, repair work on the second water main break of the season came to a clattering halt.

“Aw c’mon!” Dolyn cried. Her fingers tensed, ripping pages from the book she had shoplifted the day before. “It’s too early to be taking a break!”

The workmen—a half dozen, give or take—ignored her. They seemed just as irked, if not downright confused, by the sudden shut-down.

Great, thought Dolyn. She had come here specifically for the noise. Just not this noise.

Instead of blissfully loud jackhammers, hydraulics and earth-moving equipment, her ear drums were assaulted by the backfires of countless motors, the whining chuffs of diesel trucks, the shrill squeal of city bus brakes. She winced at every shouted word, every unexpected blast of a horn, every crash of a fender bender.

And that wasn’t the worst of it.

Dolyn could hear, with perfect clarity, what the Mayor had referred to as, ‘a few bad apples disturbing a peaceful protest.’ Voices droned, “We shall overcome.” A window shattered. Someone screamed. Bottles were thrown. Bricks were thrown. Punches were thrown. More windows shattered. Fire ignited in a thwoomph. More screaming. More fighting. Then came the sirens. Then came the gunshots. It might have been a few. It might have been a thousand.

Get a grip, Dolyn.

She reminded herself that this street, Lombard, had been closed for over a month and the riots, which so divided the city, happened a year ago. Today, there were no cars. No mobs. No police. Not even a kid on a bicycle.

All was quiet ... except in her head.

Another reminder: Everything would be fine—‘hunky-dory’ as her former paranoid schizophrenic psychmate used to say—just as soon as the road crew got off their collective asses and did something to earn their union-negotiated wages.

“Moooooove!” Dolyn pleaded.

Her ear plugs, the closest thing to jewelry that would ever accessorize her smooth, narrow face, blocked only a tiny fraction of the sound. Cupping her hands over her ears was equally pointless, but she did it anyway. The same for rocking back and forth. God, what was taking so long?

Gritting her teeth, Dolyn scanned the neighboring buildings. The sun had risen a few hours ago, but the sky was cloudy enough that she thought she’d see at least one lit bulb or flickering TV screen shining through a window. There weren’t any. A power failure? Maybe, but what kind of outage affects electricity as well as combustion engines? She yanked the hood of her sweatshirt over her head and lowered her chin to her knees, simultaneously regretting her decision to venture out and wondering where to go next.

She considered flipping a coin.

“Bus ain’t coming today, girlie,” hollered a gruff voice. “And probably won’t be till the end o’ summer.” He laughed. “You got a long wait ahead o’ ya.”

Dolyn squinted up from the bus shelter’s warped, plastic bench. A paunchy man wearing a hard hat and a yellow vest was standing a few yards away, a big stupid grin forming a plank bridge between his ruddy, unshaven jowls. Behind him, utility workers trundled around a massive hole in the middle of the road.

“I packed a sandwich!” Dolyn shouted back at him. She flapped her hand as though swatting a pesky fly. “Now get back to work! That pipe’s not gonna fix itself!”

The man scowled. He looked like he wanted to tell Dolyn off, but when she raised her book like a shield in front of her face, he stomped back to the job site, every heavy, plodding footstep echoing in her ears like a thunderclap.

Busted water mains were not an uncommon occurance in Baltimore, where the same pipes have channeled the city’s murky H2O since well before the Confederacy. Usually leaks of this magnitude happened in late winter/early spring, when the rising temperatures caused century-old cast-iron to expand and rupture. Considering this was the tail-end of March, things were right on schedule.

“What’s goin’ on, Keith?” asked one of the workers. “Run outta gas?”

Keith, a lean, rat-faced malcontent who was sitting in the cab of a mini excavator, shrugged impatiently, jiggled some levers, then, with an exasperated shake of his head, grumbled, “I dunno. The piece o’ shit just up and died on me.”

He hopped down to the curb, shot a perfunctory glance at the rig’s boom, then the arm cylinder, then the mounted jackhammer. Finally, his perplexed gaze traveled into the cavernous pit. “Now what the hell do you suppose that is?” he said to no one in particular.

Other members of the road crew, all wearing matching fluorescent vests over their jeans and flannel shirts, ambled over to have a look.

“Hell if I know,” said the oldest member of the crew. He removed his hard hat and ran his gloved fingers through his graying hair, the breath issuing from him in little puffs of steam. He zipped his jacket an inch higher, as though that would make a difference against the morning chill. “Well, don’t just stand around pickin’ your seats,” he barked. “Get that goddamned thing outta there.”

Yes, thought Dolyn. Get that goddamned thing outta there so Keith can get back to his goddamned jackhammering and I can get back to my goddamned book.

Without the ratcheting squall of chisel hammering into pavement, Dolyn couldn’t concentrate.

Without one impossibly loud noise quelling echoes of life In The Big, Bad City, she might just go mad.

She reached into her backpack for a fresh pair of ear plugs, the tips of her fingers lingering on the dome of the plastic Frog Prince snow globe she always carried with her, when one of the workmen raised his hand like a schoolboy asking permission to visit the bathroom. “Say, um, Charlie, you really think we ought to move it?”

The older man—probably the crew’s foreman—glared at him. “And why wouldn’t we?”

The subordinate cleared his throat. “It kinda ... um ... looks like a ... coffin.”

His co-workers, all of them, stopped what they were doing and turned expectantly toward Charlie.

Even Dolyn couldn’t resist the lure of the word, “coffin.” She stood, craned her neck, then climbed up on the bench for a better angle. It was no good. The hole was deep and there were too many workmen blocking her view.

“This ain’t a cemetary, Jake,” sighed Charlie. “Never was. That’s just a big box somebody left behind when these pipes were first laid. I doubt there’s anything in it but worthless, rusty tools.”

“Or pirate treasure!” said one of the workers. He was a boisterous man, with a bushy mustache and a fan of red whiskers sprouting from his chin. A strip of tape across the front of his hard hat identified him as Kimball. When he spoke, he held everyone’s rapt attention, including Dolyn’s.

“Look at the markings carved on it, like some kinda hieroglyphics. That ain’t no plumber’s toolbox.”

“So?”

“So, Blackbeard himself use to sail the Chesapeake Bay,” Kimball went on. “William Kidd, too.”

Another worker, this one holding a pickaxe over his shoulder, said, “I thought William Kidd was an outlaw in the Old West.”

“That’s Billy the Kid,” said Kimball, good-naturedly smacking his friend with the back of his hand. “I’m talking about William Kidd, with two Ds.”