Monday, June 3, 2013

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Park

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

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. 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 that coat the forest floor. 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.

We stare at each other, waiting. I take one step out of the circle. It’s the only way I can go back in. I feel the tension in the air as I do, not from the 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, but it doesn’t stop us from communicating. If he did, 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 season 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 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. 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 strong scent of cedar and pine tells me I’m home.

But not for long.

Chapter Two

I stare into my locker, trying to remember what I need. I can only follow a train of thought for a few moments before it derails, flinging me back to memories of yesterday. The warning bell rings, urging me to think faster. I check my watch and glance at the schedule taped to the inside of the orange metal door. It’s after lunch? I don’t remember eating. It’s the first week of school and I feel only a mild sense of relief that I am a junior. But it’s still two years.

I have Biology II next and then lacrosse, my last class of the day. A surge of adrenaline floods my body. I’m getting close. I still don’t know what to do, but the bright sun and sultry heat outside remind me I don’t have much time to decide. The mushrooms will fade with the lack of rain in the next day or so, the gateway will close, and I will have to wait weeks, months, or however long it takes for it to open again.

I am done waiting.

I grab my science book and hurry down the hallway. The cover is made from a brown paper grocery sack, and I’ve already covered it with Celtic symbols and knot designs, mostly due to my research of the fairy rings. The old accounts come from Great Britain, the long told stories of people disappearing into a mushroom circle and being gone for days or years at a time. Or forever. They say that they’ve seen fairies dance within the circle and call to them, but I think that’s a little ridiculous. But who am I to judge… I walk through the ring to meet an old gypsy man with a bunch of wolves.

I keep my head down and eyes averted as I navigate the halls. I am by no means a big fish in this mediocre pond.

A large muscular shoulder slams into me, and I spin out of the way, accidentally bumping another boy into his open locker.

“Hey! Watch it.”

I mumble out “Sorry,” and feel the eyes following me, but I don’t look back. I know the looks I will receive. They will say ‘where did you come from?’, ‘watch where you’re going’, or ‘who is that?’ No one looks at me, and if they do, it’s by accident. I prefer it that way. The old man might see me, but no one here does.


  1. I love the simplicity of your opening line. It sparked so many questions -- Who is "they"? Sent him to do what? How many times before? I also really liked the juxtaposition between the heavy fantasy of the fairy circle and the stark reality of being in high school.

    I had trouble getting my feet under me through most of chapter one, but I get the impression that's the point, so that's not exactly a critique. As long as that's what you were going for, I think that's fine.

    Viewing your writing in this format is kind of cool because you can actually see the structure of your paragraphs in chapter one: after the first several, it settles into a rhythm of short, long, short, long, short, short, long, short, long, short, short, long, short.

    I wish that I had more feedback for you, but truthfully, I really like it. I think you're off to a great start.

    1. Thanks Elizabeth, I have been dreading reading these all day, and yours was a great one to read first, not nearly as painful as I thought it would be:)

  2. I really appreciate that we have a strong sense from the very beginning that we are in a fantasy story that will involve a dangerous magical realm. I also like that you hint at mysteries to be revealed later, but my personal preference would be to know a little more about the past history. In particular, I was a little thrown by her referring to the person who vanished into the fairy ring as "the only thing I ever wanted." That phrasing makes me think of a romantic interest, but since she would have been 9 years old at the time that doesn't feel right.

    I also like the vignette in her high school because it does hint at why she'd be willing to risk leaving her current life behind, but I wondered about her relationship with her parents. Why would she be willing to leave them?

    I was also seeking a richer sense of what this other world was like. I just read A.G. Howard's "Splintered" and really fell in love with her ability to visualize extremely bizarre creatures and make you see them in incredible detail despite their novelty. I'd love to see the vegetation, the old man, and the wolves become more unusual, really distinct from what we've seen in other fantasy novels.

    Finally, I'd like to get a better read on the main characters personality. One one hand, there's this aggressive bravado (being insulted that an old man would be sent to keep her out, the way she addresses "they" in her head) and on the other there is this tentativeness (spending seven years going to the fairy ring but not entering the other wolrd, not responding to the bump at the high school).

    Hope this helps. The story seems like it will be a lot of fun.

    1. Thanks Rebecca,

      I did wonder how the 'insulted' line would be perceived. I see how it is confusing about her personality.
      At the end of chapter one the reader learns that she and her brother are raised by their uncle; her parents are supposedly dead.

      Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. This is already so good, it's tough to find good feedback! I really like the main character's instant offense at the old man coming. Now that I know a bit about the situation, though, I can't help but think either she has some butt-kicking powers that give her so much confidence, or she's super naive to think this old man doesn't. And I like wondering that.

    Looking back, I don't understand how she knows that the old man isn't allowed to speak to her. Has someone told her or pantomimed to her the rules? Or is she guessing?

    Like the others mentioned, I had a hard time trying to figure out what was happening at first. I think that you could clarify where she is and what she's looking for sooner without losing any tension or intrigue. How did she first stumble upon the portal? Who is keeping her from "him?" I agree with what was mentioned above, too, that I'd want to know quickly why she'd be willing to say goodbye to her life to chase down this boy, especially when they told her people would die.

    Your writing and descriptions are strong and definitely work for me. I would read the book for sure based on these pages!

    1. Thanks for the suggestions. I was trying to make the first section intriguing, but sometimes it's hard to remember that the audience doesn't know everything that i do!

      Originally, I had the book start off with a flashback of how they met. Then, I began to read interviews of too many agents saying how they didn't want the start of a book to include dreams, waking up, flashbacks, back-story, etc., most of which were in my first five pages. So in cutting that, I also cut some of the explanations to the questions you and the others have had.

      I will try to find a way to clarify some of those questions if I can.

  4. Hi! I love the gypsy man. I'd like to hear more about the person she's searching for - just enough to feel for her. I'd also like to feel a bit more about her. Maybe if you have her thinking about the way she's (and I'm totally making this up) skipping the first day of school, but who will notice? That kind of thing so we can get a better grounding of who she is and why we care for her. I do like the whole fairy ring thing and I agree that I'd like more details of the mystery world she's trying to get in to. What does she glimpse beyond the yellow eyes for example? Can't wait to read the next version!

  5. This is an arresting opening. The first sentence caught my attention, and by the third paragraph you had raised a lot of questions in my mind, to which I wanted answers. Good. Throughout, Chapter 1 has a nice tension.

    I think, however, that Chapter 1 has a "he" problem. Because there are only two characters present, male and female, I assumed that each "he" referred to the old man, which led to major confusion: Why would she be "brave for him," when you just said she wasn't and she's already with him? Why does she "have to find him again" when he's right there? By the time I sorted this all out and realized there are two "he's," I was bumped out of the story. You can get around this by capitalizing the sought-after person as "Him" (although then you risk us thinking that it's God), or giving him a name or designation.

    I was also a bit confused about the circle, since there is so little description of setting that I can't see anything. Tell us right away that it's a ring of mushrooms. Let us see what's underfoot when she's in the ring--grass, dirt, wildflowers? How far away is the forest that the eyes are peering out of? Is it a pine forest, a forest of oak and maple ablaze with autumn colors, a tropical jungle? I want to be there, and that means a few sentences of vivid detail to put me there.

    Finally, I'm confused about her turning to leave, THEN "freezing, and then turning back to get the old man's silent signal. What made her freeze, if she turned away before he made any sign?

    Chapter 2 is not quite as strong as Chapter 1. We are ready for an actual scene, but we get more exposition. Redo this to involve actual conversation between your protagonist and someone else in the hall--a friend, an enemy, a teacher. If she has no friends and nothing significant will happen at school, don't set Chapter 2 at school, but rather at home or her job or wherever some significant interaction is going to occur with someone else. You need dramatization here, after the silent first scene.

    Best of luck with the book!

  6. I really like the mystery that's beginning to build in the opening paragraphs. I didn't mind in the least going along for the ride and trying to piece together what's going on. I'm definitely intrigued to know more. I'm guessing the person she wants is a family member, and I want to read further to find out what happens the next day when she either goes to the fairy realm finally, or waits for that person to come to her. You have some great descriptions there, and I enjoyed the "insulted" line because right off the bat it tells us about her personality.

    I also like the way you showed her reaction to the news that "he" was there, and how she freezes when it registers that this time, his response was different than she expected. Very powerfully done!

    I agree with the suggestion of trimming down the exposition in Chapter 2 and getting to some interaction. Maybe maintaining a few key details, and what leads up to her decision that she's done waiting would work, then bringing us as soon as possible to the fairy ring again for whatever is about to happen there.

  7. Hi Jennifer,

    This is already delightfully strong. Your voice is great, and you deftly build urgency by leaving the reader almost the perfect number of questions to lead us through the story. One question that you might consider answering for the sake of clarity is the identity of the boy/man she is there to find. I'm not sure why you are withholding it, but I feel like we need that to ground us in the story. I would also love for you to give us a bit of overview of the setting in the first scene, especially with respect to the fairy ring. To avoid a jarring disconnect when we wind up in the school, I'd love something sooner to ground us in time and place as well.

    In the high school scene, you show her isolation beautifully, but I'd love to get a better sense of the purpose of that scene. Also, lacrosse doesn't tend to create invisibility, so I am wondering about that choice.

    It's not going to take much to get this in fantastic shape. I'm looking forward to reading more!