Monday, June 10, 2013

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Park Rev 1

Name: Jennifer Park
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Valor

Chapter One

They sent the old man again.

Part of me is insulted; they believe all it takes to stop a sixteen year old girl is a graying man with a limp.

But looks can be deceiving.

When I was young, I appreciated his demeanor; he didn’t scare me like the others, the ones who watched me with thinly veiled wariness. He reminded me of someone’s grandfather; if their grandfather looked like a crusty old pirate with gold hoops in his ears, minus the eye patch and flouncy hat. I get the feeling this place is nowhere near the ocean.

The forest around me is ancient, that much I know. The trees rise up like giants out of the dark, rich earth; cedar, spruce, pine and fir. They are almost unnatural in their size. Everything is green. Lush. Moss coats the trunks of the trees making it hard to see where the bark ends and earth begins. It doesn’t take long for my arms to be coated in tiny beads of moisture. The woods are thick, mysterious; I’ve never been able to see far from where I stand. Flashes of color, stark against the vivid green, flit in and out of view. They are the barest glimpses of birds and other creatures moving through the forest.

My favorites are the ferns; they cover the ground like scattered green feathers. I’ve longed to touch them for years, run my fingers down their delicate fronds, but they are beyond my circle of safety. The old man shifts, drawing my attention back to him as he rests his weakened leg.

I don’t even glance at his sword anymore; I know he wouldn’t use it on me. But he’s not alone.

He never is.

Several pairs of yellow eyes watch me from the shadows, tucked behind the monolithic trees or lying beneath the lush covering of ferns. They’re always waiting, never moving; hidden so well they might as well be permanent fixtures of the forest.

Except for their eyes.

They follow my every move, their size and intensity hinting at the bodies that encompass them. What they might do, I’m not sure. I’ve never had the nerve to test them, but I’ve never needed to. The day I do should be really interesting. I don’t consider myself brave. I have too many fears for that. But I would be for him, the boy I lost so long ago.

He was my best friend, at times my only friend. He was my secret, not even my uncle or brother knew about him. I understand now why he only came after the rain; so many of the mysteries about him have become clearer now, though what I don’t know has multiplied. As much as I knew who he was, I have learned more about what he was since he’s been gone. But I was a child. I only saw what was in front of me, and he was perfect; I didn’t need to know more.

We stare at each other, the old man and I, waiting. I take one step out of the circle of mushrooms, their iridescent skin glowing in the dim forest light. It’s the only way I can go back in. The hairs on my arms relax, no longer bathed in the rainbow of light and energy. I feel the tension in the air as I step onto the moss-covered ground, not from the wrinkled old man with the kind eyes, but from the others. I hear their breathing cease as they wait for me to move again. They should know by now that I won’t. We’ve played this game for nearly seven years now.

I look expectantly at him. I don’t speak or ask questions. He’s not allowed to talk to me; that was made clear by the others long ago, but it doesn’t stop us from communicating. If he did now, I’m not sure who would know. I only want one answer. I asked the question years ago, and it was the only one he acknowledged. I think he just felt sorry for me. I suppose the tears of a child can weaken almost anyone. But now it’s become our routine. They know when I’m coming, and he’s always there. I wait for his answer, he gives it, and I leave; because it’s never been the right one.

I take a deep breath, already prepared to see him shake his head. I’ve grown used to it now, and it doesn’t hurt the way it used to. The old man smiles with sympathy, but I will never give up, never stop hoping. I have to find him again. This was the last place I saw him when we were separated. They told me to never come back; it wasn’t safe, that it could mean death for all of us; but telling me I couldn’t have him was their mistake.

He was the only thing I ever wanted.

It’s been months since I’ve been able to come back here. This summer has been unseasonably hot and dry, another year of drought. Though it’s late August, I was fortunate that the remnants of a hurricane have lingered over Central Texas for the past few days, because I desperately need the rain.

It’s the only thing that opens the gateway.

So I come back here after it rains, when the mushrooms that create the fairy ring grow up out of the moist ground, creating a gateway to another world, to meet this old man and get the answer to my single unspoken question: ‘Is he there?’

The old man nods his head, almost imperceptibly, and I turn to leave, realizing what I missed as I do so.

I freeze.

I look back at him, confused. He nodded. I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. There is a glint in his eyes that has never been there before, a spark of understanding. The corner of his mouth lifts slightly, and he winks at me. It’s the first time he’s ever smiled.

My heart drops into my stomach.

He waits a moment, and then gives his head a jerk, my signal to go back. My eyes scan the forest, seeing too many reasons I wouldn’t make it very far if I tried to run. I look back at his face. He can read my thoughts, see me calculating. He might not stop me, but they would. He looks up towards the sky, and then carefully traces a finger in a circle on the back of his wrist, close to his body where the others can’t see. Come back tomorrow.

It’s something I’ve never done.

They won’t be expecting it.

I resist the urge to thank him. If I tried to hug him, I might not make it back to the circle. I turn and leave without another glance, the white light blinding me as I enter the gateway. The light fades and the dry heat and strong scent of cedar and pine tells me I’m home.

But not for long.

Chapter Two

It’s been seven years since I last saw him. Seven years to think about what I would do when the old man finally nodded. I realize I’ve never planned past that moment.

I’m completely unprepared.

“Sarah Woods?”

“Here.” I wave my hand but continue to stare at the laminate wood-grain pattern on my desk.

I know what would be required of me, but I can’t leave my family. They wouldn’t understand. I don’t know how long I would be gone, and tomorrow is Kael’s eighteenth birthday party. My Uncle Rhys and I have been planning it for my brother all summer. I still remember the shattered and broken look on my uncle’s face after the last time I went missing. It was seven years ago.

But he is just as important to me.

“Sarah Woods.”

I guess she didn’t hear me the first time. “Here,” I say louder, sticking my hand straight up into the air.

Rafe was as much a brother to me as my own. They say blood is thicker than water, but the connection I felt to this boy was unfathomable. His presence filled the dark places in my heart, the ones left vacant by the death of people and places I have no memory of. We were just children, but he was my hero. I have to find him. I have to tell him I’m sorry.

I broke the only rule we had between us. He made me promise.

But I followed him home that day anyway.

A shadow falls across my desk. I look up, distracted. Mrs. Walker, my World History teacher, is staring at me. A thread of fear unfolds from the knot in my stomach.

“Ms. Woods, while I am glad you are here today, we checked role thirty minutes ago.”


  1. Hi Jennifer,

    I really appreciate the changes you have made. I like having a better sense of the back story and more concrete details of the appearance of the other world. I particularly like leaving the form of the creatures with the yellow eyes mysterious, but hinting at their enormity and unpleasantness. I'd still like the vegetation to feel a little more unearthly than it does. I also find myself a little confused as to why the old man nodding his head makes such a profound difference to the main character. From what we've been told in these scenes it would seem obvious that Rafe is in the other world and that the old man was lying. Why does the main character believe him? I also wasn't sure why she understood the symbol he made on his wrist meant "come back tomorrow." And why isn't the entrance being watched tomorrow. She really only comes on the first day of a rainstorm and never any subsequent day? And if her entry into the other world is so potentially dangerous for them would they ever leave the gateway unguarded? Also, if Rafe made her promise not to follow him and breaking that promise had devastating effects last time why is she planning to do the same thing again? Maybe the crucial question isn't "is he there" but "is he safe".

  2. I appreciate the added clarity in this version that the initial lacked, but I feel like it lost a bit of the energy of the first for it. In some cases, I think you've added a little more detail than you need. For instance, when you say "the woods are thick, mysterious" through to the end of that paragraph and then to the ferns. I liked what you were doing there, but I think it could be cut down to one or two lines so it doesn't disrupt the flow.

    I love the rhythm of your writing. It's so easy to get lost in it! I noticed you use a lot of semicolons, and I've read from various editors that semicolons should be used very sparingly. I don't think it would lessen the impact of any of those sentences if the semicolons were removed or, in some cases, replaced by commas.

    I found myself confused when you mentioned that the old man was "always there" when she comes, because your opening line suggests that he's only one of the people that has been sent to meet her. I also had some of the same questions Rebecca had.

    I really liked the new start of chapter two. It's more engaging, and I loved the confusion over roll as your way of introducing her name. So clever!

    In all, I like the revision and think it's even stronger than the initial entry, which is saying a lot!

  3. Hi Jennifer,

    I think Rebecca and Katy have raised really good points, particularly about why the gateway would be unguarded on subsequent days and the situation with the old man. I'm not sure whether his looks are deceiving or hers. I assumed you meant hers -- that she's tougher than she looks -- but in that case I'm a little turned around because so far he *has* stopped her.

    I really like the image of the moss-covered trees blending into the ground. That's my favorite visual from the entire passage.

    Speaking just for myself, I found your first draft more confusing, but I liked that. I almost think there's too much information in this version, because before I was working hard -- in a good way! -- to understand what was going on, and that had me paying close attention. Now it's good, it reads easily, but I can relax a little more and as a result am less engaged. Please don't get me wrong -- they're both VERY good. I personally just enjoyed some of the confusion in the first draft.

    The new chapter two is great -- really nicely done!

  4. I agree with Elizabeth about the first part. It's still amazing, and I still love it. I just really liked the way the first draft had me thinking and working to understand what was happening. If you can preserve a bit of that in your next revision, while keeping the little details about this other world that bring it to life for the reader, I think you'll be golden.

    Rebecca and Katy raised some good questions, and I am curious to know the answers. Hopefully there's a way to briefly and simply work them in without disrupting the lovely flow you have going in the first part.

    I really enjoyed your revision of part 2. Just awesome, the way you worked in her name I also love the details we learn about Sarah this time around. I would definitely continue reading to find out what happens :)

  5. Okay! I get it better now. Here's what I think you should do. Take the details about the scene and put them AFTER she steps through the circle, so we already know it's a fairy ring. Then choose only the important details like the fern being her favorite, etc. Balance is important - but I am glad you added this! I like learning more about the boy missing. BUT let's keep that for the paragraph you put in chapter two. And when you talk about him in Chapter 1, leave most of the details out, just make it clear that she knows it's his world, but she needs him in hers or some such thing so all we know is he's important to her and he's actually a fairy. I thought the first time they'd stolen a human from her. Now I get it and I'm even more intrigued! Great stuff.

  6. Hi Jennifer,

    Your writing is lovely, and the premise is still intriguing. You've done a lot to pull this into focus more, and that's great. I do appreciate the added information, but by chapter two, some of it feels a bit redundant. I think Lisa's suggestions and the others are on point. It's a balancing act, but it's important to let her experience her thoughts the way she comes across them, I think. Consider what she would ACTUALLY be thinking, what she's stepping on, what she's careful not to step on, what she sees and hears and smells and what thoughts THAT triggers, and deliver it to us in real time, and i think you will nail it. The time to let us know that she's been hoping for seven years is after the old man makes the gesture and she's about to turn away. Wait. What did he just do? In seven years of hoping, he has never done anything like that. He does it again, a deliberate motion of the hands twice around the face of the clock -- twelve hours, twenty four hours. And what does his expression look like? Bring us in. Make us feel this. You'll have us in the palm of your hand -- even more than you do now-- and you will then have plenty of time to explain the rest because between the set up and your lovely prose, we'll follow you anywhere. Trust yourself. You've got this!