Monday, June 17, 2013

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - White Rev 2

Name: Katy White
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Daughter of Ethærea

Thunder roared through the hallway as Asa Huntington eased the zipper on her backpack closed. She could smell the rain, even over the perfume, sweat, and hormones of her classmates. The scent of ozone and rain hitting the dry earth lifted her spirits. It was like a sign from the heavens that taking nine finals to graduate would not, in fact, be her undoing.

Her backpack, on the other hand, might be. As she schlepped it through the buzzing, ancient stone halls of Alder Country Day, she prayed for the creaking seam to hold. One more week, and she could retire the bag forever. She wondered if it would make it.

She heard steps directly behind her and looked down to a see a pair of Docs on the oak floor. “I’m not talking to you,” she told the Docs, skirting around a navy and gray clad couple making out against a stone arch. She looked up at her best friend, his mop of bark brown hair swept to the side. “I mean, six stupid finals? Six? No wonder you have time for rugby and baseball and other stupid things.”

Cal grinned and slung an arm over Asa’s shoulder. “Hey, you brought this evil on yourself, graduating with the losers instead of next year with me. What’s so great about Harvard, anyway?”

“Apart from my phytochemistry internship? The Greenhouse Café’ is supposed to have killer kale smoothies.”

He made a face. “Tempting. At least you won’t be the only freckle-faced nerd there. ‘Phytochemistry.’ You sound like an AP English test. In the normal world, people just say ‘botany.’ ”

Asa laughed, shaking her head. Lightning flashed from the small windows near the top of the pointed arch ceiling. Cal knew exactly what was so special about Harvard and her internship. But she relied on him to keep things light when they threatened to get very, very heavy. She reached up and pinched his tanned cheeks. “It’s a good thing you’re so pretty, Cal.”

At the exit, Cal grabbed the thick double doors, and they stepped out into the pouring rain. “And now you’re flirting with me?” He popped open his umbrella and held it over them. “What will Max think?”

“That we can’t hide our passion—”

“Hold up,” Cal interrupted, looking past her. “What’s going on across the parking lot?”

“Oh, probably some jocks fighting about something important.”

“Funny, real funny.” Cal said, squinting through the rain toward the chestnut trees that bordered the school hill. “No, Asa, I think that’s Max…and, oh, frick. He’s with Evan.”

“What? Grab a teacher!”

Not looking to see where Cal went, Asa dropped her backpack. The seam gave its final groan, and the contents exploded. A moment of horror rooted her in place. Her books. Her notes. Finals. She mentally shook herself. Harvard already accepted you. Then she turned and sprinted across the parking lot, her boots slapping puddles. She snaked through the ring of students encircling the fighters. Her heart jumped to her throat. Max was on the ground.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she yelled to Evan, jumping in front of him.

The oaf glared at her. “Max isn’t some helpless little tree, you know. He doesn’t need your protection.” Evan said.

Asa dropped beside Max, still looking at Evan. “That was four years ago, Evan. Time to move on.” Blood from Max’s nose mingled with rain and spilled down his mocha skin. She put a hand on his cheek. “Pinch your nose below the bones and lean forward.”

Max pushed her hand aside, rising to his feet. “Asa, stay out of this.” Asa followed him up, standing beside him.

“Ooh, looks like trouble in paradise,” Evan’s girlfriend, Gwen, taunted. “What do you care, Asa? Everyone knows you’re breaking up with him when you leave for Harvard.”

Asa ignored the girl and glared at Evan. The large, unhinged boy stared down at her, and she tried to control her nerves. Max grabbed her wrist.

“What do you think you’re gonna do to me, Asa?” Evan asked, his voice thick.

“And what are you going to do to me, Evan? Shake some plants at me again?”

“I know you did something with that tree, you little—”

Her laugh sounded tinny in her ears. “Get over it, Evan! Haven’t you been at this long enough? Letting an argument about a stupid tree escalate like this? You’re 18. You won’t go to juvie for messing with me this time, you’ll go to jail. Is that really what you want?” Evan stepped closer, his rage almost palpable. Max tried to get in front of Asa, but she cut him off. “I wouldn’t try anything, Ev. See all those phones with their pretty little cameras? These kids are recording us. Do you want that much evidence against you in court?”

Rain streamed between Evan’s eyes, and the effect was sinister. He dropped his voice so low, she had to strain to hear him over the rumbling sky. “Oh, I’m not going to hurt you, Asa.” He stepped closer. Dangerously closer. “I just want to have a little chat.”

A fist came out of nowhere, connecting hard with Evan’s jaw.

“Cal!” Asa yelled.

“Run!” he yelled back.

She looked at Max, whose eyes darted between her and the now roaring Evan. “Go! Go!”

She bolted towards her car. She reached for her pocket, realizing too late that her keys were in her backpack. At the school’s entrance.

“Crap!” she screamed. She veered back towards the school. Her eyes flitted towards the circle of students. Evan’s toadies had entered the fight, and Cal and Max were badly outnumbered. Fortunately, several of their rugby teammates were running from the field to help, the coach following quickly behind. She exhaled and slowed to a jog.

“Asa. Oh, Ay-suh,” a thick voice sang. Her head snapped back to the direction of the school. It was Evan. Somehow, he had escaped the carnage he’d caused. And he was holding her keys.

She stopped dumbly. Then Evan started coming for her.


Asa’s thighs burned. Her lungs ached. Her waterlogged boots were getting painfully heavy. And she was lost.

She doubled over behind a cluster of sugar maples, grasping the cool bark. She and Max had crossed through these woods hundreds of times on their morning runs without getting lost. Yet every time she tried to turn back down the school hill, she saw wood sorrel and hobblebush where it didn’t belong. The downpour didn’t help. The only clear path led up the hill. A path she’d never seen before.

“Asa?” Max called. The thick foliage muffled his voice, so she couldn’t tell where he was. She didn’t dare call back to him, in case Evan was nearby. “Ace, if you can hear me, head towards our spot!”

She half-smiled at the clever instructions. She took a deep breath of brisk, wet New England air and listened for the telltale signs that Evan was close. When she didn’t hear tripping or cursing, she pushed off the maple and darted upwards.

At the top of the hill, her eyes lighted on a familiar patch of yellow ragwort at the base of a copse of birches. She furrowed her brow. Two Wildlife Services signs, a ten-foot high chain link fence, and a metal storm pipe marred their spot. Panting, she slowed to a walk, her feet sinking in the mud. She pulled out her phone and texted Max and Cal where she was. Then she squatted among the sour yellow ragwort and peered into the dank pipe. The smell on the other side of the pipe was nothing like the bitter wildflower all around her. She knew that smell. A mix of pear and sweet pea and oil of wintergreen that couldn’t be here.

Steps squished behind her, and her head whirled around. She put a hand to her chest. “Max, you scared me.” She jumped up and ran to him. He held out his arms, and she dug her face into his strong chest. His uniform was as soaked as hers.

“I was so worried something was going to happen to you,” Max whispered into her ear. His nose was cold.

She looked up at him and the heavens boomed. “You’re one to talk. Seeing you on the ground with blood on your face…” she winced. “Why did you fight him?”

Max’s chocolate brown eyes went flat. Droplets of water ran down his shaved head. “He was talking crap about you and your family.” Asa’s eyes popped. She opened her mouth to protest, but Max cut her off. “I know, I know, Ace. But I didn’t pick that fight, he did.” He let out a bitter snort. “It’s all over school. Evan’s locker was searched today and they found like six bottles of oxy. I guess he heard, because he didn’t show up to any of his classes this afternoon. When he found me in the parking lot after school, he told me this was his last chance to ‘settle scores’.”

A cold wind rushed over her. She huddled against Max’s navy jacket. “Is he really that stupid? Doesn’t he realize this will just get added to any other charges?”

A voice growled nearby. “Maybe he’s just stopped caring.”

Asa and Max jumped. Max pushed her behind him, and this time she stayed. “Evan, dude, think about what you’re doing.”

Evan lumbered towards them with a vicious sneer. He was covered in mud and still holding Asa’s car keys. “You don’t get it, do you, Max? After the hell she’s caused me—”

“Hell?” Asa cried over Max’s shoulder. “Evan, you’ve tormented me since I was thirteen, and all because I stopped you from destroying a rare tree? Come on!”

“It’s what you did to it! I broke my arm when that branch fell on me!”

Asa shivered, remembering her shock at seeing the heavy branch break off the Japanese Maple and fall on Evan. “You broke that branch when you ground leaves in my hair, you idiot. And none of that makes up for everything with my mom.” She hardly recognized the snarl in her voice.

A streak of lightning reflected in Evan’s eyes. “Do you know how much worse I got it when the judge found out?”

“That you spray painted ‘Die, witch,’ on my house and stole my mom’s car the night…” Asa shook her head, letting angry tears spill down her face. She gripped Max’s arm. “How could you do that?”

“Well, the message was meant for you,” he said, approaching them. Asa’s keys were clutched in his fist, and his knuckles were white. Max pushed Asa back and she saw his own fists clench. “But I’d call your mom a bonus.”

Evan was only steps away from Max now. “Evan, you come one step closer, and I will absolutely end you,” Max said. His voice was menacing.

Evan leered. “I’d love to see you try.”

Just then, Cal and an army of rugby players, teachers, and four police officers stormed the hill. Evan jerked around and bellowed. He turned back to stare at Asa, fury and defeat warring on his face. He dangled her keys in front of her.

“Screw you, Huntington.” He chucked the keys past the Wildlife Services signs, over the fence and storm drain, and into a field of yellow ragwort. A police officer grabbed him and slapped handcuffs onto his wrists. “And your whole family.”


Hours later, after talking to the police and her principle, Asa curled up on the leather seats in Max’s Range Rover, reveling in the heat from the vents and the seat warmer. The windows were so thick with fog, she could barely make out the gate opening to her winding driveway. Max reached a hand to her wet strawberry blonde curls and tucked one behind her ear. “You okay?”

Asa laughed and sniffed. “With Evan going away for ‘possession with intent to sell,’ among other things? Definitely. With having to use other people’s notes to study for finals? Not so much.”

Max put the SUV in park. He stared out the windshield, watching the wall lights at the front entry come to life. “And how about with what Gwen said? About breaking up with me when you leave for your summer term?”

Asa closed her eyes. “Can we not do this right now?”

Max’s face tightened, but he nodded. Asa’s grandmother opened the mahogany front door, looking anxious. “You’re right, Ace.” Asa collected her torn backpack and what was left of its contents. “Are we still on for tomorrow’s run?” he asked. “We can go hunt for your keys.”

“Sure. See you at six,” she said. Max leaned over and kissed her lightly before she got out of the car. Then Asa ran into her grandmother’s embrace and started to cry.


  1. Hi Katy,

    Wow, you really did a lot of work on this revision! I love the changes you made, particularly when Evan sneaks up behind them. Really nicely done.

    I'm going back and forth on the word "schlepped." If Asa's family is eastern European, it's certainly believable that she'd use Yiddish, but it did distract me a bit because it's so different from the rest of your tone.

    I think you could make Gwen's intro a little smoother by identifying her only as Evan's girlfriend at the first pass, then adding in her name by saying, "Asa ignored Gwen."

    I'm wondering why Max would lean over and kiss her after she's basically said they're going to have a serious talk, if not break up. I think if you add a little bit more description -- did he hesitate first, or act with determination? -- that could be a really poignant moment.

    Great job with this revision!

  2. Hi Katy,

    I really enjoyed this version. Now that we can see the next scene, I think you absolutely made the right call in eliminating the flashback. In fact, I think you could eliminate the scene break and actually show us how Asa got from the parking lot to the woods so there's not a break in the tension until Evan is arrested.

    I also wondered about that detail with the chainlink fence and wildlife service signs marring their special spot - if they go there often wouldn't she already know about those things?

    Overall, I think its a very strong opening. I really like Asa and you have a great gift for dialogue and action.

  3. Fantastic revision, Katy! I think paring down the details in the initial confrontation with Evan was the right call for that scene, and I love the new scene we got. It’s got much more wonderful tension than the flashback, and we get the back story there. Very well done.

    I agree that adding a little more description to the kiss could help make it the bittersweet, poignant moment it deserves to be!

    Oh, one last thing—I think “principle” should be “principal” in that last section where she’s talking to the police and the principal.

  4. This is a great revision. So much more tension and we still get the general idea of back story.

    In reference to what Rebecca said about the fence and signs, you could always say something about the fresh dirt/ concrete, or 'when had this happened? hadn't it only been a few days since they had been here?' or something like that.

    I agree with the others about the kiss. Maybe some detail as to how he's feeling or looks when he kisses her.

    Overall, awesome revision! Favorite so far.

  5. AWESOME!! I love that you dumped the flashback and put the info in a very tense moment instead. You really make Evan menacing. I agree about the word Schlep and was going to mention that myself, being a Jew of Eastern-European decent, I smiled, but not sure how many teens would use it or even get it. :D Love the revision. Great work!

  6. Hi Katy,

    WOW! You've really transformed this. I love your details as much in the original scene as in the new scene, and you can clearly write. In many places, I feel like I am right there with Asa. Losing the flashback didn't really cost you a thing. That new scene is so much more vivid and we have so much more information!

    My suggestions for going forward would be to:

    1) Eliminate the scene break. Show us everything in real time so that we're not left wondering. That doesn't feel so much like a simple cut as it does an authorial convenience or crutch, and readers tend to hate that.

    2) Map all your disclosures to see what we absolutely have to know now and what can come in later. We only need enough to grasp the action and hint at motives. Filling in details can come later.

    3) Read your dialogue aloud and make sure that you're not over explaining -- that the level of detail is appropriate for the emotional tone

    4) Read through for sensory details that seem out of place. For example: thundering rolling through the hallway, while awesome, tends to read like a metaphor. It takes me a second to realize it is actual thunder and that she can smell the ozone inside. Then I wonder how when Cal opens the door!

    These are all very small details though. I think you are definitely on track with this revision, and I hope you'll keep us posted on what happens from here on out!