Monday, June 17, 2013

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Park Rev 2

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

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.

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, who told me repeatedly to leave and never come back. 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.

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.

We stare at each other, the old man and I, waiting. I take one careful 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. My feet sink into the cushy ground, the rich, earthy smell rising to mix with the damp, clean scent of the forest. 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 many years now.

The forest around me is ancient, that much I know. The trees rise up like giants out of the dark, fertile earth; cedar, spruce, pine and fir, their lower limbs chained to the earth by thick, tangled vines boasting flora and fauna I’ve never seen. They are almost unnatural in their size. Everything is green, shades of emerald, olive, and jade. 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 moist air is thick in my lungs. Flashes of jewel-tone 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. I’ve seen things smaller than hummingbirds and larger than eagles soar through the heights.

Suddenly there is movement in the endless sea of ferns, and several pairs of eyes leave mine for just a moment. The ferns 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.

A fawn rises up out of the green, prancing on delicate legs, oblivious. I am frozen in fear, though not for myself. I fully expect them to attack, and I can almost hear the scream that will rip from my throat.

But they don’t.

Seconds later, the eyes shift back to me, almost bored, and my hands start shaking with relief. I squeeze them into fists to hide it. Things here are not as I expect.

The old man shifts, drawing my attention back to him as he rests his weakened leg. I take a deep breath to calm my nerves and look expectantly at him. I don’t speak or ask questions. I learned it was pointless long ago. He’s not allowed to talk to me; that was made clear by the others, 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 no like he has so many times before. I’ve grown used to it now and it doesn’t hurt the way it used to. The old man is sympathetic, and honestly, sometimes I wonder which one of us regrets his answer more. 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, that it wasn’t safe, that the boy was taken somewhere too far for me to find.

But telling me I couldn’t get him back was their mistake.

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. I have one foot over the fairy ring when I freeze.

Wait. What?

I look back at him, confused. He nodded. He said yes.

He does it again.

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, of knowing. 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.

The yellow eyes shift in the shadows, growing restless, and the old man 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 shakes his head and points at his wrist, then mine. He carefully traces a finger in a circle on the back of his wrist, once, then twice, close to his body where the others can’t see. He smiles again, trying to make me understand, like he’s sharing a secret.

I look down at the watch on my arm, thinking I have underestimated his perception. Two circles: twenty-four hours.

Come back tomorrow.

It’s something I’ve never done.

They won’t be expecting it.

I’ve never had the need to come back before, not in the same growth cycle. I believe the old man wouldn’t lie to me, so I’ve never tried 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

I tap a pencil on my open notebook, the lined white pages empty and waiting.

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 casually 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.

“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, my best friend, at times my only friend. 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.”

Oh no. This is not happening. The words repeat over in my mind until there is nothing but a loud deafening roar. I could die right now. Disappear forever and never return. My face turns blood red in an instant, and beads of sweat form on my face. I feel the stares of the other students, and I realize I’ve done the one thing I vowed never to do.

I’ve drawn attention to myself.

“Now, if you would care to open your book to page twenty-one and follow along with the rest of the class, we were just discussing what you will need to know for your first test next week. You might want to write this down.” She turns and walks back to the front of the room.


  1. I really love the way the first chapter has turned out. I think you've hit that balance between necessary background and a sense of mystery perfectly. I like the more vivid description of the other world too, although you could cut the bit about the ferns and I'm not sure the fawn is necessary. I also found myself momentarily confused as to whether Sarah thought the beasts were going to attack her or the fawn.

    I think the second chapter has improved greatly as well, although I found her embarrassed reaction a little extreme for the circumstances.

    Overall I'm very intrigued. Hope I get to see it in print someday!

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  3. You have added some really nice touches in this version. I loved the scene with the old man and his watch. It was far clearer and more engaging than in past versions. You've also managed to regain a balance of the mystery from the initial version that the second lacked. Your descriptions are just lovely and easy to sink into, but they halt the flow and tension a little for me. I agree with Rebecca that the fern and the fawn felt unnecessary. I'd also consider trimming some of the descriptions, as they can be repetitive. For instance, you mention that the trees are gigantic, then you say they're almost unnatural in size. You also say she sinks into the ground and describe the ground as cushy. Those little redundancies were distracting to me, although the descriptions were vivid and beautiful.

    Rebecca brings up a good point about Sarah's reaction in chapter two. It felt stronger than we have reason to believe at this point. She feels courageous in the first chapter (even though you say she has too many fears to be brave). Then to be so timid in chapter two feels false. If this is a crucial part of her personality, I need a hint of what her fears look or feel like in chapter one, rather than simply being told she's not brave.

    This is such a compelling opening and premise that I find myself wanting to read more every time I reach the end of the entry. I love it!

  4. Hi Jennifer,

    I really enjoy your writing and the way you build tension. I agree with the others that this revision struck a great balance between the uncertainty that I loved in the original and the clarity of revision one.

    This is nit-picky, but saying she'd never seen the flora and fauna struck me as strange, since she's been coming here for years. Maybe that could say that she's never seen them anywhere else, or never been able to identify them.

    I agree that her reaction in chapter two is too strong. It just feels like if the thing she's been waiting for all of this time has finally happened and now she's planning what to do next, she could probably care less about anything that happens at school. I do like the detail about not wanting to draw attention to herself, because that shows how apart she is from everyone else at school and how much her focus is elsewhere.

    You've set up such an interesting premise. Good luck with the rest of the book!

  5. I agree with what everyone has said so far about the first chapter. This is the best, cleanest revision of it, and I love the balance you've achieved between the mystery and the lovely details of this other world. Well done!

    Sarah's reaction at drawing attention to herself does feel extreme to me, too. Especially given how courageous she is in the first part, I could see her maybe flush, somewhat embarrassed, and mentally berate herself for making the mistake of drawing attention to herself. That she's vowed never to draw attention to herself is a key detail, and I hope you keep it, but I think wanting to die and disappear over her mistake feels like too much.

    Overall, a fantastic revision, though, and I'd definitely read more of this :)

  6. Love it! Love the additions. Awesome stuff.

  7. Hi Jennifer,

    I love the details in the first chapter, and the way you've broken things up. The action is much clearer, and the whole scene is far more 3D.

    Couple of very minor thoughts left there:

    "I take one careful 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. "

    That second sentence pulls me out of the story; it's unclear what you're trying to say. What I'm understanding is that she won't be able to go back home unless she first leaves the circle and then steps back into it. But at this point, she isn't ready to go back yet. Perhaps you could talk about needing to get away from the energy in the circle, at which point the next sentence: The hairs on my arms relax, no longer bathed in the rainbow of light and energy" is perfect.

    I'd love a clearer transition between that last sentence and the next, too. Coming as it does after the discussion of energy, tension is too similar a word. Rather than focusing on what she feels here, I wonder if you could turn this next sentence back to what she sees:

    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.

    How does she know his leg is weakened, btw? I'm not sure I have to know here, but it does distract me a bit.

    And yes, I do agree with everyone about the second chapter being less successful than the first. She is so calm and determined in the first scene--and she seems to have no trouble being watched, so it seems to be an inconsistency.

    Is it calls "roll" btw, or "calls role"?

    And finally, I am going back and forth about why you may be choosing to withhold whatever name you have given your fairies. You call it a fairy ring, so we get what they are. The image of a pirate is distinct enough from that to make me wish you could add a clause or a line about him looking more like a pirate than any fairy she had ever read about, or something.

    Sometimes, the suspension of disbelief is like a bandaid. You're better getting the big leap over with at the very beginning and then building everything else off that with perfect logic. Get the fairy thing over with. You've given us a delightful sense that yours are different from other people's fairies already.

    And unfortunately, book jackets and query letters, and so forth are going to give your secret away anyway. :) Just something to think about.

    Good luck with this. Your writing is beautiful, and you've definitely set up a great story question within these initial pages. Job well done!