Monday, June 3, 2013

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - White

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

Over the din of the hallway, Asa’s backpack creaked. She held her breath and prayed for the seam to hold as she eased the zipper closed. One more week, and she could retire the bag forever. She wondered if it would make it.

A pair of heels clicked on the hardwood floor and stopped at her locker. She didn’t bother to look up.

“I’m not speaking to you right now,” she told the heels. “Or you,” she told a pair of approaching Docs. “I hate you guys.” She hefted her backpack and started walking.

“You love us.” Jane caught up and slung an arm around Asa’s shoulders. “You hate you.”

“Yeah.” Cal grinned, elbowing past students buzzing with exam jitters. “You brought this evil on yourself, graduating with the losers instead of next year with me.”

“Who’re you calling loser, turd face?” Jane asked. Cal reached behind Asa and flicked his cousin’s ear.

“Don’t make me separate you two.”

Cal snorted. “You already did. Overachiever.”

“Exactly. You’re going to ace finals.” Jane’s eyes softened. “Your parents would be really proud.”

Asa swallowed the sick taste in her mouth and half-smiled. “Thanks, Janey.”

They made their way to the exit jostled, but unscathed, and stepped outside into a thunderstorm. Asa held out her arms and smiled. “Hey, at least it’s raining.”

Jane’s eyes went flat and she popped open her umbrella. “Dude, this is why I’m going to Stanford. I need a tan.”

The sky rumbled. “An all-American tennis player with a tan. What will they think of next?”

“Says the freckle-faced nerd going to Harvard.”

“Hey,” Cal interrupted. “What’s going on across the parking lot?”

“Probably some jocks fighting about something important,” Asa said. “On an unrelated note, aren’t you late for rugby?”

“Funny, real funny.” Cal said, squinting through the rain. “Asa, I think that’s Ian…and, oh, frick. He’s with Evan.”

“What? Jane, grab a teacher!”

Not looking to see where Jane went, Asa dropped her backpack. The seam gave its final groan, and the contents exploded. A moment of horror rooted her in place. 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. Ian was on the ground.

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

The oaf glared at her. She took manic glee at the milk stains on his jacket. “Ian’s not some helpless little tree, you know. He doesn’t need your protection.” Evan said.

She dropped beside Ian. “Hey, Evan, we’re not thirteen anymore. Isn’t it time you got past that?” Blood from Ian’s nose mingled with rain as it spilled down his mocha skin. She put a hand on his cheek. “Pinch your nose below the bones and lean forward.”

Ian pushed her hand aside. “Cherry, stay out of this.” He rose to his feet and Asa followed.

“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 her. She spun on her heel, glaring at Evan. She tried to control her nerves as the large, unhinged boy stared down at her.

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

“And what are you going to do to me, Evan? You’re 18. You won’t go to juvie for messing with me this time, you’ll go to jail.” Evan stepped closer, his rage almost palpable. Ian tried to step in front of her, but she cut him off. “I wouldn’t try anything, Ev. See all those iPhones? These kids are recording us. Do you really want that much evidence against you in court?”

Rain streamed between Evan’s eyes, and the effect was sinister. “Oh, this won’t be going to any courts, Huntington. Didn’t you hear? I’m testifying against my old roommate at Stonebrook. Turns out he’s running a big drug operation in Bridgeport.” He stepped closer. Dangerously closer. “And guess who he told everything to?”

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

“Cal!” Asa yelled.

“Run!” he yelled back.

She looked at Ian, 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 Ian were badly outnumbered. Fortunately, several of their rugby teammates were running from the field to help. Jane and the coach followed 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.


“He’s evil, mom,” Asa said, trying not to cry as she pulled another leaf from her hair. She sat on the cedar chest at the foot of her parents’ bed, her knees tucked under her chin. A pile of leaves sat by her foot. “He attacked me for no reason.”

Her dad’s voice punctuated her words from the hallway. She couldn’t ever remember hearing him so angry. Evan’s dad was getting an earful. She hoped Gwen’s parents were next.

Her mother reached for her hand. Auburn hair spilled in front of her face, framing a look that could only mean one thing: story time.

“When Lilya was a few years older than you, she learned a difficult lesson like the one you learned today,” her mom said, her Ukrainian accent stronger than normal.

Asa sniffed and rolled her eyes. “I’m thirteen, Mom. Don’t you think I’m a little old for ‘the Adventures of Lilya and Lucya?’ ” Her mother’s brows arched over dark sapphire eyes. “Sorry,” Asa mumbled.

“Don’t worry, I gave up on telling you tales about nymphs and jinn long ago.”

Asa smiled. “It’s about time. So what was the lesson?”

“Simply that people can be cruel.”

Her smile vanished. “That’s it? People can be cruel? Mom, people suck! Gwen’s supposed to be my friend, yet she just laughed while Evan and those jagweeds messed with me.” To prove her point, she touched her hair and pulled out a leaf from the tree Evan had denuded onto her.

“Asa, language.”

“I know, I’m sorry, but they were so mean! They laughed at me, and Evan called me a witch, and they talked about—”


Asa nodded and the tears started. They’d mentioned her father, too, but she wasn’t ready to talk about that. “Evan was tearing apart a really rare Japanese Maple that Gwen’s mom doesn’t have a clue how to tend, let alone their gardener. So I went over there with Cal and Jane and told him to stop. Some of the guys just laughed at me. Whatever. But then Evan launched into this thing about how at his house the foreigners who spend all day in the garden aren’t called mom, they’re called ‘the help.’ ”

“Why did this bother you?”

“They were making fun of you!”

To her surprise, her mother smiled. “Do you think their words hurt me?”

“Um.” She blinked. “I guess not.”


  1. I really like the way Asa interacts with the shoes in the second and third paragraphs. It was cute, and an interesting way to introduce Jane and Cal. That said, this may be just my slowness, but I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters. Evan and Ian, which are similar names, particularly threw me.

    I'm also confused -- Asa is graduating early and Cal and Jane are cousins, right? So how did Asa separate them?

    The iPhone reference makes total sense for teenagers, although it makes me think of an interview I just read with the author of Thirteen Reasons Why. He had his characters use cassette tapes and worked the fact that they're old fashioned into the story, because he figured that whatever modern thing he tried to use would either be outdated by the time the book was published or shortly thereafter. I'm not saying to eliminate the reference, but maybe you can think of a way to make it less specific so your story isn't so tied to 2013.

    I had trouble following the fight -- the players, who was doing what to whom, where they were running off to.

    The second section was my favorite part of your submission. For some reason that description of her curled up on the chest really worked for me. I want to know more about Asa's mom and her presumably witchy background, and whatever's going on with her father. Evan's insult about the help was incredibly rude, but it also felt like something a teenage boy would actually say. Your story had me wanting to know more, and that has to be a good thing. :)

  2. There's wonderful drama and energy in these first few pages, but like Elizabeth I had some trouble keeping track of the characters. I also was confused by the switch in time after "Evan started coming for her" on the first reading. I had to read it a second time before I got that the comment about the "little tree" in the first section referred to the incident in the second section and that Asa was responsible for Evan going to juvie. I do really like how you've laid little hints of mystery in this opening - such as what exactly is so unusual about Asa's father.

  3. It may be just me, but I am very confused. It sounded like she was a senior in high school, graduating a year ahead and already accepted to Harvard. Then all of a sudden she wants her parents and is only 13? That needs clarification. I want to have a firm understanding of who the MC is. IDK about the big guy repeatedly attacking a girl either... IDK what the reality of this is, but it would seem to be treated more seriously by adults, even if he's got a deal going for something else, I don't think that would apply to a new crime.
    Maybe there are a few too many new characters introduced here, perhaps you need to take your time and let us meet a couple at a time.
    I am intrigued by the foreign mother and the stories of nymphs and jinn, however! Nice breadcrumb. :D

  4. The best thing about this is the dialogue, which feels very real and energetic. I also like Asa: spunky, loyal, a fighter. You just know she will be the agent of her own destiny.

    My main issue here is confusion. Since "Asa" is historically a male name (Biblical king plus several eminent Puritans), I wasn't sure at first if "she" was closing someone else's backpack. Then we get Jane and Cal, and I'm not sure who is related to whom or how, and sometimes who is speaking. Three-character scenes need more care than those with two two people. Try to read this as a reader coming to it cold, who does not know all that you do about the characters.

    My second place of confusion is after the scene break. I finally figured out that this is a flashback to when Asa was thirteen, but while I was pondering why she was going to college at thirteen, I was distracted from your story. John Gardner said that fiction should be a "vivid and continuous dream"--the "continuous" part meaning that nothing is distracting. So indicate that this is a flashback by (1) doing the standard first few verbs in past perfect ("had said," "had sat"), and (2) TELLING us so with something as simple as "It had all happened before. Five years ago Asa had sat at the edge of her mother's bed..." etc.

    Now for the "vivid" part. You are missing a few chances to characterize through brief descriptions of setting. Jane's heels "clicked on the hardwood floor"--the only schools with hardwood floors are either really, really old or expensive private schools. I suspect this is the latter (one family at least has a gardener). Name it (if it's in the Northeast, something like "Sumner Country Day" would work)and give me a sentence or so of description do I can see it. Ditto with the parents' bedroom. Environment can tell a lot about socioeconomic status as well as personality.

    Finally-- I know that girls nowadays get into fist fights, (although not usually with boys at tony private schools). But if he has actually beaten her up before, this is more serious than the adults seem to be making it. And even if he has immunity on a drug charge due to turning state's evidence, that will not protect him (as you imply) from an assault charge on either Asa or Ian. The only people who get that kind of blanket protection are on-going FBI informants on terrorism or organized crime.

    One small thing-- Ian is on the ground, bleeding, she's standing and facing Evan, and then all at once Ian is trying to shield her. When did he get up? How badly was he hurt?

    Good luck with this--it has a lot of energy.

  5. Okay Katie, When I read your title, I had to laugh. The title of my book used to have the name of my fantasy world in it before I changed it to Valor. It's called Ithearia. To weird...

    I enjoyed the way Asa talked to the shoes, and I thought the dialogue in the hallway was authentic and believable, but I got lost several times trying to follow who was saying what. And when nicknames or just last names were introduced, that made me stop and go back. For instance, is Cherry another name for Asa?

    When she is telling her mother about Evan messing up the tree, and then they started messing with her, is this a different event from earlier, when she said that Evan was coming for her in the parking lot? Was she attacked by him twice? (Okay, I just read some earlier comments. I didn't catch that she was remembering an earlier time. Maybe clarify that more?)

  6. The voice in this is really fun, and I already like Asa--especially for the way she's standing up to Evan-- and want to read more about her. I was mostly able to follow the dialogue and who was who, though there are a couple places you could maybe make it clearer who is speaking, even by showing him or her engaging in movement, action.

    Like others have said, I'd want to see the flashback introduced as a flashback. At first, I read it as we were jumping to when Asa gets home from the opening incident with Evan. And then it made me stop and think, "Wait, is she a kid genius that got accepted to Harvard at thirteen?" And then I went back and reread the opening, and realized Asa references this incident when facing Evan, saying that they're not thirteen anymore, so I know by that line of dialogue that they're older.

    I really like the flashback scene! In addition to working in setting details to give us a glimpse into her house, maybe we could get some details about Asa to give us glimpse of her clothing and hairstyle at 13 and at in present day, just small things that might convey a sense of how she's changed over the years.

    Happy revising! I'd love to see what happens when the flashback is over and she still has to deal with Evan :).

  7. Hi Katy,

    You've nailed the voice here, and you captivate us with Asa's personality right from that first sentence. Your writing, especially your dialogue and your eye for detail, is very strong. I fimd with writers who spin sentences as easily as you do that it's often easy to overlook what's going on because the sentences flow. I found myself confused by what was going on, and also felt as if the flashback didn't pass what Orson Scott Card calls the "Huh Test." The immunitymfrom prosecution doesn't work for me, and If Evan has been beating her up since she was 13, the initial dynamic would be very different. Did I understand correctly that he has been away at boarding school though? Since most schools have a zero tolerance policy toward fighting. I assume from your setup that she is going to be kicked out for fighting and end up not being able to go to Harvard? If this isn't the direction where you are heading, be aware that your emphasis on her admission, especially in conjunction with the dropped backpack, leaves that impression.
    I recommend staying more linear in these crucial first pages and avoiding the flashback. Although cutting away at the start of the confrontation to give us the backstory adds tension, you have the skill to show us the players in real time and convey what we need to know.

    Overall, slow down a bit and let us get to know your mc and care for her so we feel more as the action unfolds. And above all, make sure that we understand what is going on at all times.

    I am looking forward to reading your revision!