Monday, March 4, 2013

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Kroepfl

Name: Jim Kroepfl
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fantasy
Title: Kannihut and the Dying Land

Kannihut focused on the low sky. He was sure this time. It glowed in the distance, silhouetting the trees just a little like the first hint of sunrise. But the light was in the north, like a brother to the sun, threatening to bring a completely different day. The strange light had to be coming from the hills beyond the lake village, out near the mysterious island where the Spirit Father lived, but this side of the great swamp . . . where nobody lived.

He’d seen the light before. The first time had been when he and Willisaw were camping near the village. Willisaw’s anger brewed like a thunderstorm because, once again, Kannihut had been lost in thought. When he’d pointed out the eerie light reaching up from the hills, Willisaw barely glanced up, muttering that it was the winter spirits that danced in the sky. Kannihut wanted to put it out of his mind, but lately he’d seen the glow more and more, and each time the wrongness of it gnawed at him deeper. He was wondering if he dared to bring it up again when his older brother’s command broke through his thoughts.

“Kannihut, pay attention,” Willisaw hissed. “If we miss a deer, Gishgoo will tie us to a tree and leave us for the Hill People.”

Before, Willisaw was known for his humor; now, Kannihut wasn’t even sure if he was joking about Gishgoo. Kannihut wasn’t sure about much anymore; he never seemed to do right in his brother’s eyes. He wanted to explain about the light, but he knew Willisaw would only get angrier because hunting was not the time for talk. He held his tongue and tried to focus on spotting deer. Despite the warm breeze on his face, he shivered. He hadn’t been to this part of the forest since his last hunt with his father. Now it felt wrong to be here. The river was too low, and the Hill People crossed it at will to hunt and to raid. He had hoped he’d never see the western forest again. Not after what had happened.

But here he was, hunting in the same forest with Willisaw and the Beaver Clan.

He told himself he should be grateful he and Willisaw had people to belong to, as much as outsiders could ever belong. Beaver Clan weren’t family—not Water Panther Clan—but like them they were from the lakes. Gishgoo took the brothers in when they had no other place to go, but being this close to the river again brought back all the fear and anger and the reminder of how much he missed his real family.

He shifted his legs. He and Willisaw had been crouching at the edge of the dry lakebed for hours, waiting for dawn. The thin layer of mud on their skins was beginning to crack and break away, making him itch all over. The small pond attracted deer throughout the spring, but it had all but disappeared by now and not many deer came anymore.

“Let me take the first shot today, Willisaw,” Kannihut whispered.

Willisaw shook his head as he watched the clearing. “No. We can’t miss.”

Kannihut started to protest, but Willisaw was right; if they let a deer get away, Gishgoo might kick them out of Beaver Clan. They’d be alone again and might as well walk down to the river and wait for the Hill People to cut their throats.

After their family had been killed, Gishgoo agreed to take them in because Willisaw was a good hunter. But food was scarce, and Kannihut was small, even for his eleven winters and he had yet to prove he deserved a place in the clan. If he was forced out, he wasn’t entirely sure Willisaw would leave with him. He’d never survive alone. Before, Kannihut never doubted his brother’s loyalty.

He shook his head to refocus his thoughts.

Willisaw sighed. “It’ll be too hot today, Kannihut. All the deer will be deep in the forest.”

Kannihut took one more look at the northern sky. Thankfully, the strange glow was gone, replaced by the grayish pink light of morning. He could just make out a patch of flowers at the opposite edge of the lakebed, tiny red and purple dots in front of a stand of young spruce. As he stared at the flowers’ vibrant colors, he felt a strange quivering inside. An area in the trees looked different from the rest, greener and brighter, as if lit by sunshine, and as he stared, the leaves stood out even more and began to shimmer.

Willisaw turned to look behind them as Gishgoo, Kaak and the dog came out of the forest. Kaak was the clan’s best hunter and had spent more time in the woods than anyone. The dog, which Kaak refused to name, stood next to him as it always did, its light brown fur and white face blending into the underbrush, its paws covered with mud to block its scent from dabbing the ground.

“Let’s go,” Gishgoo said quietly. “We’ll hunt near the stream later.”

Willisaw stood, but Kannihut remained crouching, staring at the trembling colors.

“Come on, Kannihut,” Willisaw said with hushed impatience.

Kannihut couldn’t take his eyes away from the vivid shimmering in the trees. “Wait,” he said in a whisper, wondering if he should ask the others if they saw it, too. Then he thought better of it. These men were hunters, used to noticing the smallest movement or the quietest step of a hoof in the brush. The area was too bright, too prominent to be missed—if it was real.

“We’re leaving now!” Gishgoo commanded while a smitch of dried mud fell from the downturned corners of his mouth. As he turned his well-muscled back, the dog’s ears shot up and it focused on the same area in the trees that held Kannihut’s gaze.

Kaak followed the dog’s eyes. “Look,” he whispered.

A young buck moved out of the trees and took tentative steps into the meadow. Slow as glaciers the hunters put arrows to the gut and raised their bows. The deer was out of range but coming toward them. Its rack had four points and there was a unique diamond-shaped patch of white at the base of its neck.

Willisaw slowly moved back into a crouch and held up a finger, signaling that he was closest and would shoot first. Without moving his head, he glanced at Kannihut and winked, looking for a moment like the old Willisaw, before they lost everything. The deer stopped in the middle of the lakebed and looked in all directions, smelling the breeze for danger, its white tail twitching. It took a few more tentative steps toward the hunters as they pulled hard against their bows.

Kannihut held his breath as he strained to hold his bow in place, but his arm started trembling. He glanced at Willisaw’s arm, steady as rock, his bicep unmoving. Kannihut thought about the blue ink marking of a Water Panther on Willisaw’s bicep, the one he kept covered with mud, even when he wasn’t hunting.

“There is no more Panther Clan,” Willisaw repeatedly told Kannihut. It was probably true. After people stopped hunting near the river, his family hadn’t seen other Water Panther families and nobody back at the lakes claimed to be from the lost clan. It was just a story now, like the spirits in the springs.


  1. Jim,

    Great first paragraph! Second paragraph - …anger brewed like a thunderstorm… - love the language, but it seemed out of place.

    Nice set up of conflict with the brothers. Willasaw has had to grow up and Kannihut doesn’t understand or trust him anymore. You hint at danger in every paragraph with the Hill People, the clans, the strange lights, the fear of being cast out of the clan that adopted them. The stakes are high – good.

    One suggestion – I would start with the shimmering trees and the deer scene. That’s where I really got intrigued. (don’t hate me!)

    Your writing is compelling and I would continue to read about this world you’re building!


  2. Jim,

    Great set up, the conflict between brothers, then the community. Also, the intrigue about what happened to the rest of the family. Your use of language is consistent to the characters and world you are writing about, so then draws us in. The description of the hunters when they find the deer, spot on, and imminent.

    Here are three things I loved: 1) The notion that the dog has no name. 2) The conflict within conflict of brother vs. brother, brothers vs. community 3) This sentence: "But the light was in the north, like a brother to the sun, threatening to bring a completely different day."

    However, you start off with the "strange light" which immediately left me wondering what was so strange about it? What color was it? Did it blink, was it steady? Then, by the time I got down to the shimmering leaves and bright flowers, where the "area that was too light, " and he seemingly was the only one to notice, I wondered if there had to be a connection between the brightness and the strangeness of the light we are introduced in the first paragraph. I'd guess they are connected, I guess because that's what I would do as a writer, but maybe you need to make that more attainable to MG readers? And the connection is there is one has to be made clearer. It is quite a trick to learn how to hold back enough yet give enough for your readers to want more. It's a skill I am still working on myself.

  3. Hi Jim,

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I agree with the two comments above. The deer hunt is very compelling, and a great place to start. You can still work in everything from the first part, but the tension and desperation from the deer hunt is really powerful. I would also like a clearer sense of time and place so I can get my bearings.

  4. I'm so sorry this is my first time here. I've had a terrible case of pneumonia and just managed to crawl out of bed for the first time in three days.

    Wow, Jim, I love the voice in this piece-- you've done an amazing job of getting inside the head of a young boy.

    I really like Kannihut, and am very intrigued to see what it means that he can see this light that others can't. I also like that you describe "the wrongness" of it. At the same time, I'd like maybe one more hint. What times does he see it? Are they all the same? Are they very different? I know he isn't supposed to know what it means, but he's a very smart character. Surely he's thought about it, has a theory of some sort. You don't have to lay the theory out here at the beginning but a hint about what is coming-- when else he's seen that light-- would be nice.

    Does Kannihut have a tattoo as well? If not, why not? Not old enough? Not special enough? If he does have one, it might be a nice juxtaposition and point of conflict between him and his brother if he is proud of his tattoo and what it reminds him of while his brother views it as a sign of everything he's lost. It shouldn't be an overt thing, but maybe some subtle layering through out the first half of the book, just to increase the tension between the brothers.

    Speaking of the brothers' relationship, I love the dynamic between them. It's obvious that Kannihut worships his older brother-- particularly the boy his brother used to be. How does he feel about this new brother forged from tragedy? It's obvious he misses who he used to be, but does he feel resentment? Anger? Hurt? He lost everything, too, and in withdrawing the way he has, Willisaw has set it up so that even though he's still there, Kannihut has lost him too. I think that would be unbearable painful to a young boy in the throes of hero-worship who just lost everyone else in his family. The one familiar thing, the one thing he thought he could hold on to is there but so different he is nearly unrecognizable.

    This is a wonderful story, one I would love to share with my own boys. Thanks so much for posting.

  5. Hi Jim,

    Such great world-building! I love the ancient, primal picture you've painted. I can almost feel the dust in my teeth and hear the wind. Really enjoyed the line " a brother to the sun..."

    Ok, I'm dying to know why Kannihut is the only one who pays attention to the light. Is he really the only one who can see its full intensity? Does he have some sort of special ability? Those questions would definitely propel me through the pages.

    I would agree with some of the comments here about the story starting a but early. I think maybe instead of spelling things out so much, try little hints of what has happened leading up to the hunt. For instance, maybe just introduce us to the Beaver Clan-or maybe the whole idea of clans- when they get home. Letting the reader feel the tension in how the brothers interact with each other and with the members of the Beaver Clan instead of writing out the backstory and telling us. The more we don't know, the more we have to turn pages and find out. I love the simple phrase you used "...before they lost everything" toward the end. Perhaps just that statement is enough for now. Then we'd have to read to find out exactly what "everything" means to Kannihut and his brother.

    So interested to read more. This is a world I could happily live in for several hundred pages.

  6. I absolutely love how you've painted this new world through the eyes of your MC!!! Good job. That's what I call world building. :D I love the language and the feel, but I guess I'd like to feel the MC's emotions a little more. Is there something he does physically when he thinks of what happened to his father? Does he think of a certain person in the new tribe that took him in when his mind goes there? Just a few thoughts. I definitely want to know more.

  7. Hi Jim,

    I love the worldbuilding and voice in this piece, and the poignancy of the deer hunt. You've successfully created urgency for the reader by posing questions we want to have answered, so I was sorry when I came to the end of these pages. I absolutely agree with what's been said above, and I won't repeat it.

    My suggestions going forward with this would be to make sure you are describing fully the things that you want the reader to know at this moment and see what information can be woven in through action a little bit later to give us a cleaner intro. Check your balance between present action and backstory to keep it very engaging and accessible for MG boys. Also be careful with how many similes you give us this early on as well. They're beautiful, but make sure you are spacing them out. And yes, definitely see where you can give us a little bit more of his emotional response to what's going on in this situation and in his life overall; make sure that he's relatable for your readers and that we can connect with him.

    Great work! I love the world and the way you write. Looking forward to the revision.