Monday, March 10, 2014

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Ziegler Rev 1

Name: Allison Ziegler
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Aeternium

Hazel Congelier ducks into a gateway at the center of a busy block,
pushing past a gaggle of well-dressed working girls and their t-strap
toes. An inky-black cat of delicate proportions follows close at her
heels. The alleyway dampens the surrounding the din of Allegheny City
locked in afternoon bustle--newsboy shouts and trolley squeals and the
metallic clang of spidery Crawlers pulling trundling carriages. She
stops at a door in chip-paint disrepair, nestled in a vestibule safe
from prying eyes. It is one of many secret doors scattered across the
city, but they all lead to the same place. Magic has little regard for

The cat watches Hazel as she roots through her shoulder bag. She
produces a rumpled sheet of paper bearing a single word--"open."

At least, it would look like a single word to most people. To Hazel,
there are swirls of visible energy woven into ink and paper, a
framework for a spell. It's a flimsy thing, nothing like the ancient
tome her master uses, a toy for an apprentice not yet empowered with
a book of her own. Hazel knows the Church wouldn't find it so
insignificant if they caught her using it. She glances over her
puff-sleeve shoulder, half expecting to find a hulking police officer
or red-face priest watching her.

There is no one.

The cat gives an impatient flick of his tail. His name is Soren, and
he is Hazel's familiar. We're late, he reminds her. He hates to be
late. Hazel is almost never on time. That doesn't mean she has to like
his rushing--or his prying into her thoughts.

She grabs at the magic that hovers over her bond with Soren. Their
illicit partnership is the reason Hazel can do magic, the reason she
will be able to go through this door. All the energy needed for
casting spells buzzes between them. The letters on the page glow
yellow, casting opaque light into sooty shadows. Hazel raps the door
three times and takes three...deep...breaths.

"Open," she says. The world goes black for a split second, and Hazel
wills the spell to take shape. In an instant, it's over. The door
opens, and Hazel steps through to the other side of reality, faced
with a hidden city in miniature for the fantastic things the outside
world has declared undeniably and wholly evil. Dozens of makeshift
structures line the walls and form cramped alleyways, stacked three
high into teetering towers. The air here is clean, free from the heavy
smog outdoor streets. The magic users and familiars that roam its
creaky corners breathe deeply and speak freely.

A large wooden sign, hanging on the nearest second-story platform,
reads "A SANCTUARY FOR FAMILIARED CITIZENS." Hazel takes a moment to
absorb this place, called simply "Sanctuary" by those in the know.
She's been here before, on a visit to the city. That was four years
ago. Four schools ago, four homes ago, four lifetimes ago. Or is it
five? The various lives and identities of Hazel Congelier blend a
little at the edges lately.

She picks her way to the back of Sanctuary's ground floor, all the way
to a brick building with a massive mural on the front, painted in
blinding-bright colors. A dragon waltzes in a rumple-front ball gown
with a monocled turtle, each holding mugs of frothy beer. The top
reads thusly:


I forgot how garish it was, Soren says. He bristles as they walk
through the door.

"It's better than I remember," Hazel says.

Inside, a pianist with a beagle at his feet pounds out a bright tune,
and a man lounges atop the gleaming upright. People dance in a gap
between the tables and the bar. They are as varied as the people
outside--well-dressed and fraying, men and women, old and young. Few
are quite so young as Hazel, though. Magic is generally an adult game.

"Hazel, dear girl! There you are!" calls the man on the piano. His
name is Nixby Glass, and the Drunken Dragon is his natural habitat. He
is the owner of Sanctuary, and the overseer of magic in Allegheny
City. He is also Hazel's grandfather, after a fashion. He hops down in
pink-shoe sprightliness. Purple suspenders poke out of his blue suit
jacket, and a red-and-green parrot takes up residence on his top hat.
He is short, only inches taller than Hazel's rather meager
five-feet-no-inches, but his voice and presence dominate the room.

"Hello, Master Nixby," Hazel says. He pulls her into a tight hug, and
his white whiskers scratch her cheek. She glances over his shoulder,
eyes searching for her teacher. Master Sorcerer Astor Congelier
glowers at her from a table against the wall, his bearded jaw carrying
an impatient edge. He and Soren have similar opinions on lateness.

"Look at you," Nixby says, "Almost a little woman! It's a good thing
you came. I have a birthday present for you." He produces a tidy gift
box and presents it to Hazel with a wink. She pulls her eyes from
Astor's plain disapproval. "How old are you, again? Forty-three?
Eight-eight? One hundred and six?"

"I'm seventeen, Master Nixby. Don't you think I'm a little old for you
to keep pretending it's my birthday every time I see you?"

"So young as that? I think you can still indulge an old man who likes
to dote on you, no?"

Excuse me if I don't watch this charade, Soren says. He fades into the
crowd, and Hazel lets him go. This sort of greeting is a charade, one
that they've acted out dozens of times before. Hazel loves the
familiarity of it--between constant moving and constant hiding, she's
had precious little sameness in her life.

"I suppose for another few decades, I'll be young enough for that."
She takes the box and pulls open the bow in one smooth motion. Inside
is a heavy silver pendant, an oval bearing a delicate rose. It's a
necklace for a grown woman, for someone older and more accomplished
than not-quite-grown Hazel Congelier. "It's beautiful," she says.

"Well? Turn around so I can put it on you. Hurry now," Nixby says.

"Hurry now, Hurry now," Nixby's familiar echoes from atop his hat.
Nixby calls him Luck the Liar, and he is the only familiar Hazel has
ever known to speak out loud.

"Absolutely stunning," Nixby says as Hazel turns with a little
film-star flourish. "Now, I have to attend to something in the back,
but it was so good to see you, darling. Welcome home." With that,
Nixby rejoins the crowd, a king among his people. Home. After only
three days in the city, Hazel isn't sure she can properly lay claim to
the word.

Hazel glances back at Soren, who sits at the feet of her master's
massive familiar, an Irish wolfhound named Lady. Astor taps the table
with an impatient finger.

She makes it halfway to the back of the room when The Drunken Dragon's
front doors slam open, and the deafening crack triggers an expectant
hush among the bar's dancers and drinkers and talkers and laughers.
The piano clanks to a discordant finale. A rumple-coat newcomer
stumble-foots in. He looks up through stringy fringes of graying hair.

"Paladins," he says.

The world stands still. Hazel freezes. The man might have said
"death." It would have felt much the same.

Time catches up. Shouts, screams, murmurs, cracked glass. Panic. It
rings against Hazel's ears.


  1. I'm so excited to get through that magical door! I get a sense of secrecy, but might want a bit more on the urgency front. It is often hard to not be noticed when one is in running late and (presumably) in a hurry, or maybe in this she blends into the busy city surroundings? I think you've done a nice job at the beginning of getting to the action and grounding your MC in a definite type of place.

    While I love the simplicity of the statement 'There is no one,' I would rather SEE the empty alley, even hear the lack of people.

    I recommend italicizing Soren's dialogue and formatting it like any other.

    Once Hazel crosses the threshold, things slow down a little with more telling than showing. You can pick these places out by your use of is and ing words.

    I love 'THE DRUNKEN DRAGON: FOR WHEN A TIPSY TURTLE ISN'T ENOUGH, Nixby's pink-shoe sprightliness, and Hazel's five-feet no inches.

    I'm glad to have an idea that although Hazel loves the Sanctuary, and longs to call it home, she doesn't necessarily feel more comfortable behind the paint-chipped door than she did in the smoggy street on the other side.

    I'm anxious to see more of Nixby and find out about the pendant.

    I'm glad to meet some bad guys and see them in action. I want Hazel's emotion when the stranger walks in, does he zero in on her? Between 'the world stands still' and 'Time catches up', my inner movie camera looms above the scene, with Hazel at the center, and revolves to catalogue the immobilized citizens in mid-action because I want to see what Hazel sees, that silent moment before all heck breaks loose.

    So intriguing!

    Keep it up.


  2. Hi,
    I agree with Jennifer's comments. Happy to be through the door, and I like that you get us there faster. The first line that really drew me in was the line "The cat watches Hazel as she roots through her shoulder bag." I wonder what it would be like to start your story there, and then bring the details of the doorway into the next couple of paragraphs. A girl, being watched by a cat, with a note "open" starts us with some nice questions about what's going on. Just a thought. There are still many many setting descriptors and lots of telling instead of showing, so I am left with more of a sense of place (which is hard for me to care about) than a sense of Hazel and why I should care about her. I think you can cut a lot of the descriptors and sprinkle the setting details into some scenes with dialogue and give us her reactions to things so we care more about her. Also, try cutting back on your use of adjectives and see if you like the way it reads better. Sometimes we feel we need the adjectives, but they only weigh down the prose. I hope this helps.

  3. Hi Allison,

    The rewrite grabbed me and brought me into the story with greater speed. I also liked having the line "Hazel knows the Church wouldn't find it so insignificant if they caught her using it" right near the beginning so we immediately know the stakes are high. The name of the pub was funny and charming and says a lot about this world -- as does the delightful Nixby. I'm not sure why, but the end portion of this line took me out of things for a moment:" ...necklace for a grown woman(, for someone older and more...Congelier). If I'm the only one it jumps out at -- ignore!

    You do a wonderful job folding in details of this world -- like Hazel's age and height, and the fact that most familiars don't speak aloud.

    Near the end of the excerpt, there was one line I thought read a bit clunkily -- and though I like the term "stumble-foots", with it coming so soon after 'rumple-coat" it made the sentence feel over-full. Perhaps change stumble-foots to stumbles?

    And, of course, I want to know what the Paladins are going to do and what will happen to Hazel and the Sanctuary.

  4. I still love the steampunk magical imagery your descriptions evoke, but I think, particularly in that first paragraph as we're waiting for Hazel to get through the door, there needs to be a stronger sense of urgency. Can Soren, as a familiar, act as lookout? If she started right in front of the door, with a cat giving her the go-ahead, that could be interesting. If she hesitates, you could have him swat at her leg, showing his impatience, etc. I love the line "grabs at the magic that hovers . . ."

    I think you need to put Soren's words in quotes. You can establish that they aren't said aloud, but right into her mind. But it's a little strange to read his words without having them set up as proper speech.

    I love Nixby. He feels like sunshine pouring into the dark. I also love the master's familiar, Lady. It made me think of Stella Maria, Lord Asriel's daemon in His Dark Materials. You immediately get a sense of power just by the mention of his familiar. I still think that there are too many descriptives. Again, at the end you're going for a sense of urgency at the end, but it's slowed down by too many adjectives. "A rumple-coat newcomer stumble-foots in. He looks up through stringy fringes of graying hair." It might read a little smoother to pick and choose one or two adjectives. Such as: A rumpled newcomer stumbles in, peering at the crowd through his stringy gray hair.

    I loved this: Time catches up. Shouts, screams, murmurs, cracked glass. Panic. It rings against Hazel's ears. I'd definitely keep reading! Lots of fun.

  5. Great job! I remain SO impressed by your prose and ability bring the setting to life.

    At this point, my issues are still similar to last week. Mostly, I still think we need a deeper POV. The story is still coming across as MG to me, and I can't imagine Hazel's age/look in that opening paragraph. She feels quite young, and the fact that we have no idea how she views herself or the world around her just makes it feel all the more distant/MG.

    If you could giving us a good sense of Hazel's voice--i.e. filter everything through HER--it would bring it to life so much more. Basically, what does Hazel THINK of everything she sees and does?

    For example, if Hazel is poor and hungers for more in life, but is maybe ashamed of her own low class, you might do something like: "Hazel Congelier ducks into a gateway at the center of a busy block. Her eyes catch on a gaggle of well-dressed working girls, their t-strap shoes gleaming in the afternoon sun. Hazel pulls her threadbare jacket tight, ducks her face low, and--for the ten millionth time that day--wishes *she* was the one striding off to work in downtown Allegheny City."

    Obviously, that's just an example and is no doubt completely inaccurate, but do you see what I mean about giving us Hazel's voice and worldview? About filtering the setting through her desires and situation?

    My other issue at this point is the absence of a clear goal. We need to know from the opening paragraph what Hazel wants and what's standing in her way (her goal and conflict). Why is she going where she's going and what is she late for?

    And, on that note, what is Hazel's overall external goal? For example, Katniss wants to feed her family and keep her sister safe--and we know that from page 1.

    Overall, as I said, I think you've got REALLY strong pages here, and I can't wait to see how they turn out next week! Thank you so much for sharing. :)