Monday, March 3, 2014

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Moss

Name: Michele McCole Moss
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Mythics

Chapter One

Alfy wouldn’t have shot him if she’d known he was helping her sister. But, when she saw him crossing the field with her, his chestnut haunches gleaming in the late afternoon sun, Bee’s head lolled and her body was limp in his arms. She didn’t even give him a warning. She didn’t so much as show herself. Alfy hid inside the shadows of the cabin and sent one arrow through the window aimed at his heart.

She wished she was like the girls who made her want to learn archery in the first place. They didn’t cower, trying to remain hidden while taking down their enemies. But, none of those girls were real. In all the pages of all the books she’d read, none of those girls fought a centaur.

She missed, of course. The flint head and a decent portion of the shaft lodged in the soft place below his shoulder, to the left of his heart. She was still a terrible shot. He bent his head low over her sweet sister, unconscious in his arms. God, she hoped she was just unconscious. Before she could think it through, Alfy loosed another arrow in the same direction, hoping for his heart. It buried itself deep in his abdomen. Panic ripped through Alfy as she watched him sway. He couldn’t fall on top of Bee. He lifted her sister and curled around her, searching, before he collapsed.

They were lying in the grass, clouds of insects disrupted from their business among the stiff golden shoots. Alfy ran to Bee as fast as her short legs would carry her. Bee looked so tiny tangled up in the arms of the beautiful monster. He’d crashed down, falling backwards on his carved bow.

His breath gurgled out of him. Light brown curls haloed his honeyed face. His ridiculously long eyelashes fluttered. Alfy froze.

“Take her,” he said. “She’s hurt.” A spray of blood dotted her sister’s snowy hair as he spoke. His voice was a plucked bass string, low and musical.

Bee turned her head, yawning like a lazy cat and curled into the centaur’s chest, smearing him with his own blood. Alfy let out a long breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

Carefully, Alfy pulled her sister from his arms, staring at the centaur. Monsters were ugly, vile things. He had no business being that pretty. The end of the world should be dark and disturbing, so why had they made everything so wretchedly beautiful? It was like burying someone you love on a perfect, sunny day. It was wrong.

Chapter Two

MacKenzie Malone dug her toes into the soft sand, looking out into the surf—lost. The beach was clean. Perfect. Ever since the Mythics had come, reclaiming the land, there was no trash. She’d always been disgusted by all the visitor debris, then she’d started making things out of it. Now she missed it. Cleaning the beach was meditative. Trash had been Mac’s treasure. All her pictures started with it, her brain working to sort things into color, shape, or material to make something new. She needed a distraction.

Without the search for bottle caps and chunks of wave-tumbled glass, cans and lost trinkets, her mind was unoccupied. Her mother always joked that there was never a more dangerous time to be around her daughter than when her mind ran idle.

She collected all manner of bits and baubles from the beach. Rows of jars, showcasing her collections, hung from wooden shelves in the garage. She’d helped her dad gather the jars, then drilled the lids into the thick wood. Together they’d twisted the containers into the underside of the pine planks manning the back wall. The topsides of the shelves held cans of oil, wrenches and dirty rags, set down and forgotten during some half-accomplished task of her dad’s. He’d called it his workshop, but Mac never saw him do anything but drink and smoke there.

Her dad died a year ago today, on her sixteenth birthday. She wished she could blame the Mythics, but it was before they arrived. It was just like him to die on a special day, not that anyone celebrated much of anything anymore. If he was still here, he’d unearth alcohol from somewhere and raise a glass to his baby girl.

She couldn’t get her dad out of her head. Morbidly, she wondered if he was trying to talk to her from beyond the grave, still trying to impose his will on this world from wherever he was.

Her mom, Kat, always said Aedan was too full of piss and vinegar to understand when he should quit while he was ahead. The first time Mac heard her say it, her jaw had hung loose in surprise. It wasn’t like her mom to use slang or cuss words. But her mother, a librarian, was quick to point out that Steinbeck used the phrase first. Her mom was funny that way. She would never swear on her own, but if she could find a literary reference to justify it, she dropped little bombs on them, catching them completely off guard.

Her mom was right. Her dad pushed everything too far—his body, his infrequent jobs, his family. That’s why they had to move west. When she was eight, he’d woke Mac in the middle of the night, telling her to pack a small bag because they were going on an adventure.

Driving out of their neighborhood in the dark, Aedan’s eyes met Mac’s in the rearview mirror.

“Well, my little spitfire, if you could go anywhere right now, where would it be?” he asked.

Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Mac kept looking at the back of her mom’s head, her flame red hair escaping a hasty ponytail. Mac knew she was crying.

“Mom?” she said.

Aedan reached out and patted his wife’s knee, but she didn’t move.

“C’mon Kitty Kat,” he said.

She shook her head.

“What do ‘ya say Mac ’n cheese? Where to?” he asked, smiling broadly at her in the rearview.

Mac had wanted to make things better, smooth over whatever was happening between her mom and dad, so she’d said the first thing that came to her mind. It was a happy place.

“The beach.”

When she said the beach, she’d imagined the Jersey Shore, but her dad didn’t stop until they reached the opposite coast. It had taken them four days of driving, never stopping at a hotel, but seeing every weird roadside attraction they could find. They ate at greasy diners where her father’s Irish brogue charmed every waitress that took their order.

She grabbed great fistfuls of her hair and and shook her head.

“Idle mind,” she said aloud.

She relaxed her hands and twisted a lock of her long hair. There were auburn strands mixed in with her dark brown, almost black hair. Those strands might possibly be the only physical trait she inherited from her mother, a freckled beauty of a woman. Everything on Mac’s lean, sinewy frame, from her pale white skin to her sea glass green eyes were compliments of Aedan Malone.

Jumping to her feet, she shook her head to clear it. The long stretch of beach was completely deserted except for herself. The humans that were left never came to the beach now because they were convinced some monster was going to crawl out of the ocean and eat them. The thought wasn’t without merit, but Mac couldn’t give up the beach. It was still hers.


  1. I really enjoyed this, and I would absolutely keep reading if I picked it up of the shelf. I love the opening with Alfy, well written, great tension for both her and the poor Centaur and sister. I think the shift to Mac worked fine, and love the notion that the end of the world shouldn't be so beautiful. The paragraph where you introduce Mac's dad, where they're screwing the jars, made me initially think you were setting dad up to be a good guy, since they were doing a project together, so I was taken off guard when he wasn't. I felt as though the description of driving west, instead of Jersey shore, went on a bit. Might have been more powerful if you have Mac say "the beach" and then just a short sentence like "But instead of Jersey, we wound up clear across the country. Mom cried most of the way." And leave it at that. The next sentence where she's tugging at her hair I found jarring, because I didn't understand you were bringing us back to the present, so I didn't know who was tugging at whose hair.
    But those were really the only parts I can comment on, and really, even those were not a big deal for me. Really like it! Great job.

  2. Hi Michele!

    I love that you start with a scene with such immediate emotional heft--saving a baby sister from a monster that doesn't turn out to be so monstrous has a serious punch. For me, the transition to the Mac chapter was too quick. There wasn't a lot of time to get grounded in that first world with flint arrows and centaurs (which, coupled with the names, make it feel like a totally secondary world) before you take us what feels like modern-day-real-world-with-a-twist.

    My advice is to pick one of the story lines to start with and stick with it for a while so we can get grounded in your world and your story a little better before you mix it up.

  3. Hi, Michele! Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    I can see you're setting up an epic story, which is wonderful. I did have to read the opening line twice. A bit confusing. The last line of that first paragraph was great. I wonder if that would make a better opening line? Just worth thinking about.

    I was also a bit confused about who made everything beautiful. Overall, I was slightly confused after chapter one. Then we dive in to chapter two with a new character. I want to feel for one or the other before switching points of view.

    Now, chapter two was lovely. Different voice. Clearer story. I really like chapter two. My only suggestion would be to leave out the flashback. Chapter two is too early for one. Perhaps you can write something cryptic about the beach, and how it was special to her because of her dad. Leave us wondering how she got there. That can come later in the story, once the reader is already hooked.

    I'm excited to see how your revisions progress! Great job.

  4. Okay, so there's a lot to be admired here! I don't mind the switching of POV from chapter one to two. If you read books at all, this is really common. I am wondering how far apart these things are. Like timewise? Or geographically? Are they happening simultaneously in two different places? I almost want to know that so I can keep the details in my head and find them when you leave clues for me.

    Let's start with the beginning. I think it could be made to be much crisper. I had to read the first whole paragraph several times to really have clear in my head who was there, and what was going on. There are a ton of "he" and "she" and I don't know who's who.

    So: "Alfy wouldn’t have shot him if she’d known he was helping her sister. But, when she saw him crossing the field with her, his chestnut haunches gleaming in the late afternoon sun, Bee’s head lolled and her body was limp in his arms. She didn’t even give him a warning. She didn’t so much as show herself. Alfy hid inside the shadows of the cabin and sent one arrow through the window aimed at his heart."

    Is there a reason you're being cryptic with the "him" in the first sentence? Or with the "her sister"? I'm not sure there is, because you name the sister and tell us he's a centaur later on. This is the FIRST line of your book, and I'm confused already. I'd really tighten this up so readers know what's going on. Like: "Alfy wouldn't have shot THE CENTAUR if she'd known he was helping BEE. But when she saw him crossing the field with HER SISTER, his chestnut haunches gleaming in the late afternoon sun, all Alfy could see was Bee's lolled head and limp body. ALFY didn't give the centaur a warning. She didn't so much as show herself. She hid in the shadows of the cabin and sent one arrow through the window."

    (Note: I took out "aimed at his heart" because I don't think it's needed. You're going to tell us later where she hit -- and that she missed -- and you don't need to use words that don't matter. I actually think you do this quite a bit -- I'll note some spots as examples. My advice is to comb through the MS, looking for "extra" words that just don't add to anything.)

    Here's one: "In all the pages of all the books she’d read, none of those girls fought a centaur." <<Could be: "In all the books she'd read..." You don't need to say pages. It's just more words that don't enrich the story.

    Here's another: "The flint head and a decent portion of the shaft lodged in the soft place below his shoulder, to the left of his heart." <<Could be: The flint head and MOST OF the shaft lodged in the soft place below his shoulder." I'm actually confused about where the arrow is, because I was assuming it was under the left shoulder, above and slightly RIGHT of his heart. But you say left, which to Alfy, would be like, right in the center of his chest...? Yeah? See! I'm confused!

    Another example: "...Alfy loosed another arrow in the same direction, hoping for his heart." <<Could be "...Alfy loosed another arrow, hoping for his heart." We know she's shooting at him, which is the same direction. It doesn't need to be said.

    I could give you more, but I think it's something you can go through each sentence and see if you've used just the right words and nothing more.

    You have some great moments that conjure great imagery. This one is fantastic: "His voice was a plucked bass string, low and musical."

    I liked the ending of chapter one about the end of the world not being beautiful.

  5. Chapter Two: Like I said, I didn't mind the switch. What I minded here was how you told me the same thing with different words. In chapter one, I felt like you used too many words to convey the story, but in chapter two, I feel like you're saying things twice or three times.

    For example: "The beach was clean. Perfect. Ever since the Mythics had come, reclaiming the land, there was no trash." <<These all say the same thing. I'd cut the first two sentences and go with the one that is the strongest. The one about the Mythics coming and how there's no trash. That tells me the beach is clean. Perfect. I don't need to see it three times.

    Then: "She’d always been disgusted by all the visitor debris, then she’d started making things out of it. Now she missed it. Cleaning the beach was meditative. Trash had been Mac’s treasure." <<This is at odds. You say she'd "always" been disgusted with the debris and then that it's her treasure. So what is it? And how does one go from disgusted with someone else's trash to PICKING IT UP?? I think this speaks a lot to the character of Mac, and you should take some time exploring it in meaningful ways. These sentences feel like you, the author, trying to make me know something about Mac without SHOWING me.

    I was also a bit confused as to the "bits and baubles" she'd collected. That's in the past, right? That whole paragraph feels out of place to me. You're talking about how she needs a distraction, and then there's this bit about her dad helping her make these jars -- then you go into his death the previous year. It feels disjointed, like you're trying to give us all this backstory so we'll... I don't know what. Sympathize with Mac? Not sure.

    I'd stay with the idea of developing her into someone who started out disgusted with other people's garbage to picking it up one day, seeing it in a new light--and perhaps she then begun to see HER DAD in a new light (as more than a drunk) when he helped her hang the bottles. That gets in the memory -- and the info about his death -- without it feeling like it's all these jumbled thoughts that don't really go together.

    The whole paragraph about the mother, a librarian, feels inserted too. I don't know why; I can't describe it. But it doesn't feel like MAC'S story is unfolding organically. It feels like YOU'RE behind the curtain trying to make sure I know her mother is a librarian who quotes Steinbeck. I think we can find that out with an active scene between Mac and the mom.

    And here's another example of saying the same thing with different words: "...she dropped little bombs on them, catching them completely off guard." <<Both aren't needed. Getting a bomb dropped on you IMPLIES that you're caught off-guard. No? I'd cut "catching them completely off guard."

    I also thought the transition from the memory was abrupt. It needs to be smoothed over a bit.

    Hope something helps!

  6. Hi Michele,

    I found the opening a bit unclear due to all the he, she, him and hers. Perhaps instead of 'him' actually say 'the centaur' in the opening line? I liked Alfy's nod to the fictional archers who inspired her to learn how to shoot. I thought the description of the centaur's voice as 'a plucked base string' was fresh, but wasn't sure you needed the additional description. I was a bit confused when, after the centaur says Bee is hurt, Bee then yawns. Has he confused sleep with injury?

    I liked the scene with Mac on the beach and the idea of her scavenging to create and keep her mind occupied. The use of Mac's parents' names felt a bit awkward to me in 'Her mom, Kat, always said Aedan...' Ultra-picky point -- I didn't think 'aloud' was necessary in "Idle mind," she said aloud.

    Looks like the start of an interesting story. I want to know how these two worlds and characters intersect.

    - Peggy

  7. Thank you so much ladies! I'll take all your comments under advisement. This is wonderful!

  8. Sorry I am so slow. I am tech challenged . . . but that is another story . .


    I am enthralled by the conflicted emotions of Alfy toward the centaur, a beautiful monster (love that wording). However, I did get lost among the pronouns. I had no idea Bee was a baby. I would like a better idea of the age difference between the sisters, as Alfy has 'short legs.' How does Alfy feel about shooting the centaur with enough power and accuracy to inflict serious bodily harm? About saving her sister?

    What if the transisiton between the two chapters was '. . . burying someone you love on a sunnny day . . .' and Mac at her father's funeral? I really want some kind of connection between the two chapters, like the girls' ages, their families, their situation, their location, their stakes.

    I'm curious about these Mythics with the audacity to clean up the beach (with the suggestion of society in general) without a corresponding improvement in Mac's life. I like the irony that good isn't always good.

    Keep up the good work. I was right there in both worlds. I just want more, and clearer.


  9. Another late comment. (with HUGE apologies)

    This is definitely crisper than what I read last time! And very, very interesting. :) I agree with the others that the transition between the two chapters seems a bit jarring, partly I think becuase your chapters are so short. Short chapters can be great, but when you're shifting between settings and POV like you are, it doesn't give the reader enough time to settle. I honestly couldn't tell if Alfy was in more modern day and just out in the forest using arrows because that's what she read in books, or if you really were shifting time periods. (if that makes sense)

    Also, it seems odd to say it after all the talk of pronouns, but calling her dad by his first name threw me out of the story a bit. Not that she can't do that--she can--but it wasn't really made clear that Aedan IS her dad when his name was first mentioned. Plus she still refers to her mother as mother for most of the chapter. If she specifically refuses to call think of him as Dad, maybe there can be a brief note of that?

    I'm excited to see what you come up with next!