Sunday, October 5, 2014

First Five Pages October Workshop -- Wolfe

Name: Alyss Wolfe
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Kinship Mantle


Hal would have laughed at me, at the ridiculous number of pearls on my dress that shimmered like a gathering halo as the women wrestled with the silk folds to stitch them on, one by one. The last time I saw him we were both ankle deep in cow manure, straw in my dirty length of hair, dirt long-lived beneath my nails, and he had yelled at me for leaving a pitchfork out on the barn floor where he could and did step on the tines, flipping the wooden handle up to smack him in the face.  I allowed my eyes to drift closed and pictured his face, damp and flushed in momentary anger, and felt my fingers curl into fists at my sides.  My nails were now chewed to the quick, the nubs harmlessly pressed into my palms.

“Your breathing, your grace, you must hold it.”

One of the sewing ladies spoke with words of respect and a tone of impatience and resentment.  I took a small breath and held my stomach in as much as I could, regretting the extra cherry tart I had charmed out of the tavern keeper’s wife the night before, and kept my eyes sealed against the image in the huge mirror before me.  I stood in the middle of the room surrounded by kneeling women of varying ages, their heads bound in plain white scarves and their attention fixed on the slippery silk that filled their hands. 

I tried to keep my brother’s angry red face in focus as someone started to pull at the back of my head, scraping a rough brush against my scalp in an attempt to tame my unruly hair.  Good luck to them, I thought, and wondered how long I had been there.  Not just in the room, but in the castle.  Time had seemed to stand still since I had found myself here, found by one of my uncle’s supporters and rushed about like an animal set to compete in the summer fair from one inspection to another, from the appraisal of my only living natural relative to the bathing chamber to this dressing room.  The bathing chamber had been humid, the steaming air weighing upon me even before I was practically shoved into the wooden tub that felt like a cauldron.  The attendants made no pretense of liking me or their work and carried on as if I were deaf, and while I didn’t care what they thought of me, I did wonder what I had ever done to them to earn such ire.

“Well, if the king is looking for a grubby wench to sit on the throne beside him, he sure and could have come looking right here in castle.  If it’s mucky he wants, any one of us would have fit that bill.”

They snorted with laughter.  I knew I was dirty, but it was honest dirt that had come from honest work, much like their own.  It would be strange, though, for them to be set to work on a strange girl presented to them as their new queen, who looked no more royal then they did.  My head felt fuzzy from the heat, and I wished I could jump in the cool lake back home, with Hal at my side and Conrad watching from the woods, never joining us but on the summer’s hottest days, most likely wanting to.

“What a dizzy creature she is.  Some joke to bring her around and set a crown on her grimy head.”

I blinked and tried to hold my head still as, only a short time later, I stood in another stuffy room, a different woman yanking at my wet mop of hair.  What a fuss, I thought.  No one had ever paid so much attention to my hair before, and I knew Hal would be greatly amused to see it free of straw and mud and whatever else I collected in the woods and on the farm.  I supposed I could take better care of it, since I was nearly grown and probably should be more concerned about my appearance but . . . no.  It would take time away form running and exploring and learning and playing and everything else I could possibly be doing instead of fooling around with my looks. 

A young maid padded into the room softly, carrying a dull silver tray with several wooden bowls that were filled with water.  I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was until I swallowed a bowlful in one gulp.  A burst of sweetness caused me to sigh in satisfaction, and the maid, who could not have been more than ten years old, stifled a giggle, while the women shook their heads in disapproval.  I had no idea when more refreshment would be offered, so I reached for another bowl and drank that down quickly as well.  The maid’s eyes danced and I smiled conspiratorially at her before one of the sewing ladies took the tray from her hands and shooed her out the door. I rolled my eyes and turned my head, finding my reflection in the old, cracked mirror in front of me.

It was cloudy, and as I stared warily the pale smudges seemed to move until the entire surface became blurry, as if each smaller distortion had joined into a larger one that was trying to escape from the edges.  The pearls on my dress twitched like they were alive, straining against the fabric, reaching towards the mirror, and I raised my hand to touch it, to touch the reflection that no longer looked exactly like me but a stranger with my face, a stranger trapped in a world where her actions were no longer her own.  

Chapter One

Sheba had warned him earlier that day, so when Kenley exploded and disappeared into the sword, Hal couldn't say he hadn't been notified.  Of course, he didn't know exactly what was going to happen; his dragoncat was never quite so specific.  Still, he could have been more careful.  He could have made sure Kenley had been more careful. 

That was a laugh, and Hal rolled with it.  Sheba was resting across his shoulders, her weight heavy and relaxed, pressing down and loosening the muscles in his neck. She purred gently against him as he sighed softly, still in awe of what he had seen.  The old wives tales of the one who would reunite the country and save her from centuries of strife.  Kenley? His little sister?  Even she would admit it was more than a little ridiculous.  She was uncoordinated, clumsy, absent-minded - and she had taken the cracked sword in her scratched and muddied hand, raised it high above the straw-hued mane that hung untamed about her head, and stared defiantly at the damaged metal before spontaneously combusting.  Right before his eyes.


  1. Lots to love about your writing and I absolutely wanted to know more. To be honest, in my experience, prologues are tricky. I only have a few pages of your writing to work with, but this one felt more like an alternating chapter from a different pov than a prologue. I'm hoping someone else will chime in on this and give their thoughts. Also, a small thing--I would have liked clarification right off the bat that Hal was her brother. And yes, I adored the pitch fork scene. I was also a little unsure about what was happening at the end in the combusting scene. Not sure if that had to do with where you stopped or your presentation of the concept. :o) I loved the dirty descriptions also--in fact, your words paint lovely, vivid pictures. I had to chuckle because the scene with the maid bring the bowls of drinks I was unsure of. It had the feeling like it was supposed to be something more because it came at the end of the prologue. I thought maybe she she drank a finger bowl that was supposed to be for washing her hands or something LOL! Which would have been cute too. But I was waiting for something and the end of the prologue just didn't seem to pack a punch. Looking forward to see what others think and really love your writing so stay the course!!! <3

  2. What I like about the prologue, is that it starts in the middle of the story, the king has already chosen her griminess, and she is being dressed for something. The first sentences left me breathless, and I had to stop and go back for some reason. I do agree with Kimberly, it goes from first person to third. I am not sure if that is your intention, but I feel as if it might take me a bit to settle into chapter one after getting to know Kenley. Good name by the way...Were the bowls meant to drink? I have no idea about time frame either, maybe a few extra details to point me toward the twelfth, thirteenth or fourteenth century? Kenley does seem like a cool character, someone I will like.

  3. Great writing, I really found myself immersed in the opening scene. I have to agree with the comments so far that the prologue into the first chapter is a little jarring. I was with you through the prologue then completely lost at the first chapter. I think if I knew Kenley and Hal were siblings earlier, I wouldn't have been thrown so much. In the first chapter there are quick introductions to the elements of the world that are absent in the prologue, this is a disconnect for me. Perhaps if Kenley made mention of the cracked sword... Which brings me to another question: are the events in the prologue set before the first chapter or happening at the same time? Can't say I know the rules of a prologue, but I always had assumed a prologue is set some time before the story gets going. While I enjoy the snide banter of the ladies, I wonder if they would be talking in such a way to their new queen, but since I don't know the rules of this world I may be off-base. Over all really impressed with what I have read and am curious what's in-store for Kenley.

  4. Hi Alyss! I'll just add my comments in...

    Right from the beginning, your writing is clean, descriptive and oh-so-vivid. You give us a very visceral image of Kenley as this dirty farm girl, somehow transformed into the girl being fitted with the pearl dress. It's beautifully written, I think you've put us right in the middle of Kenley's world at just the right spot, and I wanted to know more.

    It would have been nice to know straight away that Hal is Kenley's brother, I had been assuming that he was a love interest.

    The attendants are excellent; in their short appearance, you've shown us the resentment they feel towards Kenley and the loneliness and helplessness that she feels in return. From this small except, I understand that Kenley is trapped in circumstances she didn't choose, and I really want to see how that plays out for her.

    All the description of bathing and combing her hair are excellent.

    I'm not sure who Conrad is - is that another sibling?

    It would be nice to get some insight into the water bowl incident. I assume that she has committed some sort of social faux pas - maybe she's drinking perfume, or a hair product, or a fingerbowl for hand washing. I appreciate that the maids aren't in a position to criticize her, but I need to be let in on the joke.

    The last paragraph has a very ethereal feeling to it, which is fantastic, but I kind of wanted to see the prologue end with a bit more of a punch.

    The transition from prologue to first chapter illustrates the issue I have with prologues. I am already invested in Kenley's voice and surroundings and circumstances, and I don't want to be pulled out of that to go into another story told in first person. The chronology of the prologue and first chapter is a bit confusing too; as I understand it, the events of the prologue usually happen before the story, but chapter one starts with Hal and the prologue seemed to be hinting that he was dead.

    There is a lot of information and names thrown at us in the opening of the first chapter, and I'm not really sure who is who and what is going on. Hal seems to be aware of the circumstances... or is he? Is this what leads to Kenley's engagement to her uncle? I'm just feeling a little disoriented.

    Overall, though, I think you are off to an excellent start here, and your writing is incredibly strong. Can't wait to see where you go with this Alyss!

  5. Hi Alyss--

    Thanks for sharing the beginning of your story. I'm going to start by saying that the prose here is lovely--the cadence flows in a very pleasing way and I found myself wanting to read this aloud.

    I am actually one of those writers who loves prologues. However, I feel like they work the best when they contain necessary information that happened prior to the start of the story, or they contain information so jaw-droppingly enticing that you are essentially hooking your reader in with your prologue. (An example of the second kind would be some of the flash forwards you see on TV that show this epic tragic thing, and then take you back to show how it happened.) Your prologue reads like a separate chapter from someone else's POV. And although the prose and description are lovely and some of the images funny (I actually got a Katniss gets made over for THG vibe), watching someone get fitted for a dress isn't that exciting. Not nearly as exciting as seeing someone explode/combust and disappear into a sword. Reader-Me wants to see THAT happen in real time, not just hear about it after the fact.

    Let's see. What else--I wasn't sure what was going on with the bowls. I'm not a big high fantasy reader, but from writing historical work-for-hire I know that mugs and goblets have been around for centuries. I wasn't sure if she was supposed to drink the liquid or not. I'm very curious about why this poor, grimy girl has been selected to be the queen. I'm assuming Kenley knows and that's why she's not wondering, but I'm not sure why she isn't pondering the events that got her to where she is.

    I assumed Conrad was some local boy that she might like or might be a friend of her brother's, but I always recommend that people explain (in some small way) characters the first time they're introduced whenever possible. Something like "his friend Conrad/the neighbor boy Conrad, our Great Dane Conrad watching from the woods" would work.

    I love the idea of the dragon cat and I'm assuming it talks or something since it warned Hal what would happen. I would like to see a little more description of Sheba. Then again, I'm definitely a cat person :)

    Overall, nice writing, great description, colorful characters. I'll be curious to see what decisions you make in your revisions.

  6. Many thanks to everyone for your comments/suggestions. I know that prologues are tricky, and I was a bit reluctant to include it - but I thought I'd put it out there. I'm not sure how to fit in what I (and some of you) like about it within the rest of the story - so for now I'm just going to set it aside and start off with chapter one for the rest of the workshop, just for the sake of keeping the story clear. If I could post the entire book, it would obviously be easier to include the prologue - but that's not happening, at least for now.