Tuesday, March 18, 2014

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Ziegler Rev 2

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

A cat watches a girl in front of a magical door.

It stands in chip-paint disrepair, nestled in a vestibule safe from prying eyes. It is one of many secret doors scattered across Allegheny City, but they all lead to the same place. Magic has little regard for geography.

Hazel Congelier has little regard for geography, either. She roots through her shoulder bag. She isn't precisely neat, and it takes her a moment to find her prize--a wrinkled page 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, and besides, a trickle of magic is better than none at all.


The cat and the girl whip their heads in unison. A dingy alley stretches toward a city locked in afternoon bustle--newsboys shout and trolleys squeal and spidery Crawlers clang in front of their trundling carriages. A well-dressed working girl barely older than Hazel whistles by, and her t-strap toe connects with a rock. Ping. It hits a nearby gutter.

Hazel lets out a shaky breath. The alley is empty; there are no priests or policemen rushing to drag her away. Hazel bets the other girl, with her swinging skirts and carefree gait, wouldn't panic over a kicked pebble. In her experience, the magic in Hazel's fingertips has gifted her more fear than power.

The cat gives an impatient flick of his inky tail.

Hurry, he says. We're late. This is no time for philosophy. His name is Soren, and he is Hazel's familiar.

With one last glance at the empty alleyway, Hazel grabs at the magic that hovers over her bond with Soren. Their illicit partnership is the reason she 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 she 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 the 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 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 a hundred 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.

She 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.

Hazel makes it halfway to the back of the room when The Drunken Dragon's front doors slam open. She freezes alongside the bar's dancers and drinkers and talkers and laughers. The piano clanks to a discordant finale. A newcomer stumble-foots in. He looks up through fringes of graying hair.

"Paladins," he says.


  1. I like this opening the best, with her at the door. You might consider using her name in the first sentence, instead of girl, to ground us right away. Then use Soren's name as soon as possible. The frequent use of girl distanced me from her. Also, I wasn't clear what the ping was about, and since it got it's own paragraph, I expected it to be far more important. I think it was just a pebble that caused her to flinch? I had trouble envisioning the city within. Is it in fact a miniature city? When you say structures line the walls, stacked three high, I am unclear what you mean.
    I like Soren, his voice is clear. I have the most sense of him. Hazel comes off as a nice girl, but I don't have a deep sense of her or her stakes so much yet, other than she's moved a lot. I expect the real tension begins with this newcomer, so I wonder if there is a way to get us to him faster? Good luck and thanks for your help with my pages.

  2. Allison,
    I think you've closed in on the action, but I miss the tone I was drawn to in the first submission, even though, yes, it was a lot of showing and felt more MG.

    What if you start with the wonderful statement: Magic has little regard for geography?

    Consider: Magic has little regard for geography, nor does Hazel Congelier. She stands before a door in chip-paint disrepair, one of many hidden in Allegheny City that lead to the same place: The Sanctuary. A stone vestibule shields her from view, save the watchful gaze of a diminutive black cat. (BTW, I like the idea that he is small, but has a big attitude/ego.)

    Soren, Hazel's familiar, flicks his tail. Hurry. We're late.

    Then have her root through her bag. This would introduce Hazel and Soren by name, and their relationship, right away.

    As far as stakes, what is it about being late that irritates Soren? And why doesn't it worry Hazel? I like this opposition in their personalities, in their partnership.

    I get the idea that Hazel goes to the Sanctuary as a start to her 'mission' (what she WANTS-to learn powerful magic and gain respect?) but the introduction of the stumble-footed stranger will start her toward what she really NEEDS (her internal struggle-self identity? self-acceptance?).

    I would also second Merriam's comments.

    Keep up the good work, and thanks for your comments on my submission.


  3. I love the opening now. I think it has the right amount of mystery and enough details to intrigue. This is the sort of book I love and just fall into. I'm still a little thrown by Soren's dialogue. Perhaps in your manuscript you already have it in italics or something. I think it would benefit from being set apart as speech, even if not in quotes.

    I think there is so much description between the first "ping" and then mention of it coming from the girl kicking a pebble, that I got a little lost. You could have her startle from the "ping" and have Soren comment "it's just a . . ." then do the description of what she sees after.

    Also, the descriptions of the city in miniature (like a university?) and the structures stacked three high need a bit more description. The buildings made me think of The Burrow in HP or Cake House in The Probable Future or something like a shanty town which doesn't lend itself to the clean air and suits and heels. Does magic keep the building together, stacked so tall? Can you see the magic? Are they multicolored?

    I was so glad to have the chance to read your second revision. It's coming along nicely. I would definitely keep reading. Good luck!

  4. Thanks so much for all your help! Just a tiny note about Soren's dialogue--it's bold/italics in my MS, and I played with a couple of different dialogue indicators, but I couldn't find one that I liked in plain text. I'm still wrestling with this dilemma a little. Again, thanks so much for your helpful comments!

  5. Oh wow. Way to get the tension going RIGHT from the start. Excellent job!

    I have to say, the story still feels MG to me, and I think that boils down to deep POV (deeper! Always deeper for YA!). Try to give us more filtering/attitude from Hazel. I still don't understand her personality. Is she sarcastic? Ditzy? Short-tempered? Uptight? A do-gooder? A rule-breaker?

    Basically: how does Hazel FEEL about things? Beyond just being nervous, how does she view/approach/feel everything she does/sees in this scene?

    The other problem--at least from a YA standpoint--is the world-building. Names like "Drunken Dragon" or "Nixby Glass" feel very MG to. Like--don't get me wrong: I love them and they're cute, but they don't feel *real*. Even with fantasy, everything needs to feel 100% plausible--especially in YA, where you're dealing with a very skeptical reader.

    All in all, I still think these pages are AMAZING and your prose/writing is SO STRONG. I'd just like to get a better grasp of Hazel and the world.

    Thank you so much for letting me read!

  6. My apologies for posting my comments so late in the day! I like the way the story starts so close to Hazel's entry into Sanctuary. I thought the 'ping' was an effective device to raise an alarm, but agree with Michele things became a bit muddled between the pings.

    Great line: 'the magic in hazel's fingertips has gifted her with more fear than power' showing us Hazel's awareness of the risks that come with magic.

    Since the pub itself is so vivid, perhaps you could introduce some color into this magical world before she enters the Drunken Dragon?

    I'd love to read more.