Sunday, February 22, 2015

First 5 Pages February Workshop - Thompson Rev 2

Dear Ms. Sampsel,
I am hoping you will be interested in my 100,000-word YA fantasy novel, THE KEYS TO MIST AND LIGHT.  It is the first in a planned trilogy about a “messiah” who refuses to sacrifice herself to save her world. 
Lockrey Margathom, daughter of the clan chieftain, struggles with the limitations of her life: the all-encompassing religion that rejects her for being half-nymph, the clan leaders who ignore her because she is a woman, and the man who will marry her to become chieftain, but will want nothing more from her than an heir.  When she learns a demon is destroying her world, she accepts she must give her life to save Mavornia… unless she discovers some worlds are meant to die.
The manuscript combines the philosophical exploration of His Dark Materials with the stylistic accessibility of The Lorien Legacies.  I am querying you because you expressed an interest in relatable protagonists in YA fiction.
While studying at Cornell University, I interned for the Irish parliament during the peace process, where I learned first-hand how religion colors political and socio-economic issues.  I worked for James Fallows on his book Breaking the News, How the Media Undermines Democracy and briefly at U.S. News and World Report
Nicholas Kristof published my poem “The Doorbell” about the Iraq War on his New York Times blog (available by searching my name and the title) and I contributed a chapter to the first two editions of Skyhorse’s Cutting Edge Therapies for Autism.  I have material ready for a sequel.
Many thanks for taking the time to consider representing me. 
Meghan Thompson
Name: Meghan Thompson
Genre: YA Fantasy
Lockrey sat straight on her bed, her heart pounding against her ribs.  She couldn’t see.  There was no light through the window.  No shadows.  The embers in her fireplace were dead.  She reached out to grab a candle, but misjudging where it was, felt it fall away from her fingertips. 
Instinct told her to scream, but she fought to calm herself.  She was eighteen star cycles old – not a child who called for her mother because she was scared of the dark.  Besides, she wouldn’t give the tower gossips any more reasons to talk about her.
A slight movement on the edge of her bed felt like someone sitting down.  “Hello?” she said, but she couldn’t hear her voice – the word was swallowed by the dark.  Lockrey’s pulse raced and beads of moisture formed on her temples.
Then, she felt the cold.  Tendrils of iced air touched her feet.  She kicked, curling her toes underneath her.  It reached her knees, like some small creature crawling up her body.  She slapped at her legs and jumped up, then tripped, falling hard onto the flagstone floor.  She stayed still, steadying herself like she used to when she was a small child lost in the elvgrove forest. 
A freezing vapor engulfed her and when next she inhaled, it scratched her throat and burned her lungs.  Her body shuddered and her limbs thrashed.  She coughed and clawed at her face as if to remove a mask. 
Something was inside her.
Unable to move, she heard in her mind a voice edged in hate.  It whispered, “Are you… Are you the Redeemer?  I will find you… your soul.  It will all be over soon…” 
Lockrey’s mind filled with thoughts that weren’t her own and her body convulsed, as though rejecting her.  The room dissolved and images flashed before her, like she was flying fast to another land. 
Suddenly, she was in a cart next to a boy, perhaps four star cycles her junior and a girl, no more than eight.  She tried to scream and reach for the children, but they ignored her like a ghost in the wind. 
What is happening?  Where am I? Why can’t they see me?  Fighting to anchor herself, Lockrey quieted her thoughts and observed all she could of her surroundings.  If she discovered where she was, perhaps she’d find a way back.
The boy next to her sat tall, his chest puffed out and his eyes alight.  His dark-green skin told Lockrey he was from the Eastern Edge and the way it stretched tight over his lanky frame told her he needed more food.  The tiny girl, who shared his features, watched his every movement with large almond eyes.  Both children reeked of neglect: straggly hair, threadbare robes, distended bellies.  Brown dust kicked up by the army that marched all around them was ground into their every pore.
The army, Lockrey now noticed, consisted of cressl beasts, which stretched in every direction.  Their moss-colored bodies, covered in spikes and scales, required no armor.  Their five-clawed feet stomped the ground in time to a quick-paced drum. These beasts served one purpose, destruction, and were the minions of the kings of the Eastern Edge.  She tried to shut out the sight of them, but had no eyes to close. 
As the clan chieftain’s daughter, she had been well educated, but she’d never been beyond Mythenrock’s borders.  She’d never truly grasped the scale of this vast, desert-like plain.  Lockrey understood now why her father said the Eastern Edge was nothing but a hard land, lived in by violent people and deadly beasts.
Turning her attention back to the children, she saw the boy glance down at the little girl, his mouth curving wide, revealing brown, crooked teeth.  Reaching to the floor beside him, he opened a bag and pulled out a robe.
“Sister, put this on,” he said, handing her the heavy fabric.  The girl pulled away, wrinkling her nose against its bitter smell. “Come now,” he said, “it’s not for very long.  And by wearing it, you will earn all the pleasures in the world.”  She hesitated. He leaned in, adding to the incentives, “And you will see mother again!”
She accepted the robe with a hint of a smile.
“Look!” said the boy, pointing toward the horizon.  “That’s the village we’re going to.  We’re nearly there now!” 
Just as he spoke, the drumbeat increased to double time and the cressl began to run.  The synchronized pounding of their feet was too loud for the little girl, who covered her ears and ducked her head into her brother’s arm.
As Lockrey looked in the direction the boy pointed, she instantly found herself floating, it seemed, at the head of the army next to a man wearing a fine, blue cloak over a silver tunic.  She assumed by his attire and position he must be the army’s captain.  His skin was lighter green than the boy’s, but his body was far better fed and accustomed to battle, judging by the scars that covered him like twisted ropes. 
He sat upon a raysol, a giant rodent with sunken eyes and hairless limbs, which he rode with abandon.  Racing ahead of the army, he entered the village the boy had seen.  
Lockrey wondered where the people were.  They couldn’t have been gone long – doors to tight-packed cottages swung loose on hinges and smoke still curled from chimneys. 
The captain glanced around the nondescript hamlet and said aloud, talking to himself, “They haven’t gone far.”  He looked down the length of the central road that ran parallel to the Mavornian Ocean, just visible in the distance, and whispered, “What are we meant to dig for here?  Warriors cannot work in riddles.  I need more information.”
He started to head back to the army when something caught his eye.  Lockrey noticed it, too: a reflection.  He lifted the reins, leading his raysol toward the temple in the village green.  The captain’s jowls twitched and his eyes narrowed.  “Oh, they make this so easy,” he said and rode back to his deputies.
“They have locked themselves in the temple,” he told them.  “Destroy it.”
“Shall we take the men for labor, first?”
“No, waste of time.  Burn it.  We will capture men from Mythenrock’s army; if we need more, I’ll request a slave transfer from Vardra.”
“It’s made of crystal; does that burn?” one of the deputies asked, tentatively.
“That’s what the girl-child is for.  Let her brother handle it.”
With that, Lockrey was again riding in the cart, which sped along, throwing the children from side to side.  The cressl around them bawled, their fanged faces contorting with naked hunger.  As they reached the farmland on the outskirts of the village, the army halted, though the beasts were like coiled springs, scratching at the ground. 
Through their lines, a man, who, Lockrey guessed, was the captain’s second, approached the cart and said, “Is the martyr prepared?”
“Yes, Marshall Dregna,” said the boy, standing to attention.  “I have taught her what to do.  She is ready to be received by the eternal kingdom.”
“Good.  The time has come.” 
He waited while the children clambered onto the back of his raysol, then rode, with Lockrey hovering beside them, through the lines of cressl to the edge of the village.  With a nod from the captain, Dregna put them down again and they walked toward the temple, holding hands. 
When they reached it, the boy held out a tentative fist and knocked.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi everyone -

    First, a mighty big thanks for this fantastic experience. I have truly appreciated all the helpful feedback and hope my first pages are in better shape now!

    Speaking of, I have made a few edits to what's posted above. Some lines were frustrating me yesterday. Below are the changes I've made. Feedback welcome!

    1. Instinct told her to scream, but she fought to calm herself. She was eighteen star cycles old – not a child who called for her mother as though she were afraid of the dark.

    2. A slight movement on the edge of her bed – like someone sitting down – made her jump. “Hello?” she said, but she couldn’t hear her voice; the word was swallowed by the dark.

    3. She tried to scream and reach for the children, but they ignored her like a ghost in the wind. She had no voice, no body. (in italics:) What is happening? Why can’t they see me?
    Fighting to anchor herself, Lockrey quieted her thoughts and observed all she could of her surroundings.

    4. The boy next to her sat tall, his chest puffed out and his eyes alight. He was from the Eastern Edge, judging by his dark-green skin stretched tight over his lanky frame.

    5. As Lockrey looked in the direction the boy pointed, she instantly found herself floating at the head of the army next to a man wearing a fine blue cloak over a silver tunic. His attire and position identified him as the army’s captain. His skin was lighter green than the boy’s, but his body was far better fed, and if the scars that covered him like twisted ropes told a tale, he was accustomed to battle.

    6. “They haven’t gone far,” said the captain, glancing around the nondescript hamlet.

    7. Through their lines, another green-skinned soldier appeared. He approached the cart and said, “Is the martyr prepared?”

    8. When they reached it, the boy held out a trembling fist and knocked.

    1. I think your edits are improvements, but none of the lines as they were really threw me. "glancing around the nondescript hamlet" seems even overkill -- I guess if you haven't described it, I assume that's what it is? :)

  3. Meghan,

    I've really enjoyed reading your pages the last few weeks and seeing the changes you've made. All for the better! Congratulations.

    For this final round, I'll leave you with a few comments to contemplate. Continue to tighten up the opening sequence to really draw in a non-fantasy reader like me. I like what you've done so far.

    I've said it before, but you really pull me in at the Battle scene. I really like these revisions, but there were two points where I felt like things were too convenient. The Captain "said aloud, talking to himself," feels like it needs to be there for Lockrey to hear it. Perhaps have him "mutter to himself" or mutter to a soldier next to him. Second point, what controls where Lockrey's "spirit" travels? E.g. she's in the cart, then by the Captain, then in the cart again. I thought for a moment, maybe it was the boy, but not sure. You may have this somewhere already, but try and come up with something that controls where Lockrey's "spirit" travels so it doesn't feel coincidental. For example, if the boy is thinking of his sister, Lockrey is in the cart. If the boy's thoughts wander to the tower or the battlefield, Lockrey hovers by those things. This is just an example to let you know what I mean.

    Best of luck to you. Lisa

  4. Meghan, I also enjoyed these pages but they are so much more developed and polished. I am not a fantasy reader, but was pulled into this story and I hope you keep moving forward. Reading your query let me see the rest of the plot and I'm intrigued. It was fun watching the first pages develop. Congrats on all your hard work!

    1. Thanks Sheri! I've really enjoyed being exposed to books I wouldn't ordinarily pick up... I can assure you, I'll be looking - and buying hardback - all of yours! :-)

    2. Thanks, Meghan. My book came out in September, in paperback and ebook. I'd be thrilled to have you read it! And maybe? add an honest review. From the publishing house, Barking Rain Press, you can get a 35 % discount! But it is on Amazon!! I'll be waiting to read yours!
      All the information is on my website: I hope to stay in touch!!

    3. Done... Buying it in the morning and review will be forthcoming! So exciting! And I'd love to stay in touch! Good luck with the publication of the sequel - you're an inspiration!

  5. Wow, Meghan, I think your excerpt has come really far. You’ve made some great tweaks, and that is very important, because when you get an agent and an editor, they’ll want to know if you are a good reviser. You’ve proven that with these pages.

    I have a few thoughts on your query.

    Are you sure you can’t get this under 100k words? That feels pretty daunting. Granted, there is a lot of YA fantasy that comes in at that word count, the latter Harry Potter books being some of them, but this was after JK proved she was a freaking genius.

    Do you have a critique group or beta readers for more feedback? I don’t want an agent to dismiss your query because of the word count.

    Maybe mention Mavornia as the setting earlier on, because it comes out of nowhere where it is now.

    The last clause in your list needs some work. This is what I suggest. I don’t think you need to say chieftain.

    …and the man who will marry her, who wants nothing more from her than an heir.

    The reason I suggest this is because it starts getting a little convoluted.

    Why does she accept that she must give her life to save Mavornia? Perhaps tie in the messiah angle here: When she learns a demon is destroying her world, she accepts her role as a messiah and that she must give her life to save Mavornia…

    (I think that is what you are trying to get across, but I’m not sure.)

    It’s good that you gave some comparative titles. I also think that your reference to Cornell and studying about religion and socio-economic issues is relevant.

    Do you believe that your work with James Fallow and at U.S. News and World Report is relevant? I’m not sure on that one. I’ve always heard to list writing experience that is only relevant to the book you happen to be querying. The poem is good to list, but not sure if your work with the autism book is.

    Best of luck, Meghan!

    1. As with all your comments, this is SO helpful (and encouraging) - thank you very much! I'll definitely make those edits. And I have pre-ordered Hoodoo - can't wait to read it! Here's to great success!

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  6. After reading Ronald's comments, I've edited my blurb. If anyone has a moment to review and comment, I'd be grateful! Thanks!

    Lockrey Margathom is the daughter of the clan chieftain in Mavornia’s largest country, Mythenrock. Though her life should be privileged, she struggles against the all-encompassing religion that rejects her for being half-nymph, the clan leaders who ignore her because she is a woman, and the man who will marry her for nothing more than a title and an heir.

    When Mavornia is attacked by a demon, Lockrey is told she is the deity Dia’s Redeemer, who must save all life by giving her own. As she tries to accept this responsibility, she begins to wonder why Dia would require death in exchange for life.

    As she stands tied to a pillar of fire, she must choose between freeing herself and saving her world. But maybe, some worlds need to die.

    1. Yeah, this version definitely packs a punch, as Chelsea said!

  7. Wow, your query packs a punch! With every line, I grew more intruiged. Well done! A couple of nits:

    I think you could pare down the bio stuff to one or two paragraphs, and add a bit more about what happens in the book. The query is great set-up, but I’d love just a hint more about Lockrey’s journey from who she’s expected to be to who she chooses to be in the end. Why do her people think she's the Redeemer? Is there something she does to fight the demon, which makes them think this? What happens between this moment, and the moment she is tied to the pillar?

    Otherwise, this is reading great! I love the idea of a messiah who chooses NOT to be a human sacrifice. I would totally pick this up in a bookstore.

    As for the opening, wow, you’ve really stepped up your game. Just when I thought that first page couldn’t get creepier! I felt so bad for Lockrey, and so eager to find out what was going to happen. Amazing stuff!

    Loved the line “judging by the scars that covered him like twisted ropes.”

    Still a big fan of the raysol.

    Really great stuff!

    1. Your enthusiasm is amazing - thank you so much for all the encouragement and great critiques! I'll be getting to my editing as fast as possible today so I can finish The Last Changeling - I love it! Consider me a loyal reader and big fan!

    2. Aw, you are so sweet to read my book! Thank you! Honestly, it's been such a pleasure reading your opening and query. :D

  8. Hi Meghan, I think it just keeps getting better!

    The beginning strikes me as a little melodramatic, not for what happens but I think just because of how the description sounds. The parts I liked best were Lockrey's thoughts while the attack was happening. I guess I wasn't sure if she was scared? I think you /could/ shorten the beginning, or you could maybe give us more reaction in the paragraphs where the cold was attacking her. She says "like she used to when she was a small child..." but I didn't know what that meant. She was used to getting lost? Calming herself down so that she could think? The beginning is short anyway, so you might not need to do much. I know you're trying to work in the hint about the Redeemer, but since it's not immediately relevant to the war scene, maybe leave it for later? But it wasn't a huge deal, just letting you know what this reader felt.

    I think the pace really picks up once she's with the army, looking around. I like how you worked in "If she discovered where she was, perhaps she’d find a way back" to give her a reason to observe. From there to the end it was great -- good tension, good dropping of hints, good description of the world, good comments reminding us that Lockrey was there observing. Deliciously evil big brother!

    Now that I look at your query again, I think the half-nymph part might be something interesting to touch on, although that's probably what the tower gossips go on about (nice hint!). It sounds very interesting!

    1. Thanks Abigail! I'll have another look at those scenes... and you're right - I have second-guessed the line about "... a small child" so best to have another look. Really appreciate this!

  9. Gah! I tried to comment, but the blog ate it!!

    I won't reiterate what others have said, but I agree about expanding the query pitch and shortnening the bio. I do really really love the changes you made after Ronald's comments and I am so jealous of your ability to pitch your book so conciselyand compellingly. Really. So jealous.

    Regarding the pages. Wow. It's just so fun to see how far they've come since round one! I love how much closer I feel to Lockrey's character now. I do agree with Abigail that maybe the Redeemer hint is not necessary. It reads slightly telly. But I do like knowing how sinister the misty darkness is . ... so hmm.. torn on that.

    The only other comment I have is something I mentioned earlier. I loved the earlier version of the Army scene. I like this one too, but I feel much more distanced from it now that we're seeing it through Locrkey's lens. And I'm torn, because I like more Locrkey, but at the same time I don't feel as if I'm getting to know her a whole lot better when she's serving as the "eye" ... and likewise, with her lens/commentary I feel more distanced from the Army scene than I did in the earlier version. Do you need to have Lockrey experiencing this as a vision? I don't know. Like I said, I'm torn. Might be something to play around with though.

    I'm dying to know how this all plays out. Especially after reading your query. What a fantastic, fantastic premise!

    1. Ha, and apparently my fingers are incapable of spelling *Lockrey* correctly ;)

    2. haha - fingers do that, don't they! I thought about what you said re: the battle scene and Lockrey, but think I want to stick for now and if I get any more feedback on that point, I know what to change! :-) It's so hard, isn't it? The subjective nature of this business?!

      That said, I'll have another look at the query (thanks, by the way! It's taken YEARS to get where it is and still a bit more to go).

      As for the Redeemer - that's going to be the crux of the story - is she or isn't she the Redeemer and if she is, what should she do. I've heard that you should try to work in the key to the story early, but obviously, what I've done isn't super effective. So, um... will give that a lot of thought - thank you!

      As always, Carissa, thanks for putting so much time and thought into your critiques! Really helpful! :-)

  10. Dear Ms. Thompson,
    I thought you have a very strong query letter. You covered novel length, the plot, why you chose me as an agent, as well as your qualification. You gave me everything I would need to know as an agent to evaluate your novel. Well Done. I am a little concerned about the phrase “a ‘messiah’ who refuses to sacrifice herself to save her world.” The wording makes it seem like the protagonist isn’t really a hero at all. Later on in the query letter, you hint that this isn’t the case but I still think you might want to consider reframing.
    You take many risks in your first five pages, which is admirable. You throw the reader immediately into a brand new world, which seems remarkably unique. I worry though that you are depending on the reader to bite off a little more than they can chew too quickly. The reader can tell that you have a strong grasp on the world that you have created but I, at times, felt a little left behind. I think the first five pages could strongly benefit from increased world building. We know very little about Lockrey at this point other than the fact that she is a sheltered Daughter to the Clan Chieftan. What color is her skin? (Green perhaps?) What exactly is a Chieftan? Is magic something that happens in her world often or is this teleportation instance really startling? You haven’t set up the parameters of this universe yet so it’s hard to empathize fully with your character, especially since we haven’t gotten time to get to know her yet.
    Thank you for sharing your bold story with me and keep up the good work!