Sunday, February 15, 2015

First 5 Pages February Workshop - Taylor Rev 1

Name: Carissa Taylor
Genre: YA sci-fi

I inched forward on my stomach, craning my neck into the darkness of the duct, pollen dust filling my nose. My hands faltered in the dim light. I wasn’t designed for this. For life on the Asteris. For life on Earth either. I was designed for another planet entirely.

One I’d never see.

I paused, flicking the lavender-green light of my beam against the void. It flared back at me, tracing the impurities in the ductwork in spidery streaks of yellow and blue. Soon they’d grow into cracks, then fissures: a lacy web out of which the air would seep. Away from the ship’s cycling system.

But air wasn’t the resource I was here for. My charges were much less predictable.

I dragged myself onward. Wrist, forearm, shove; wrist, forearm, shove; every movement calculated and heavy against the leaden press of the walls. The air was stale with the hot scent of over-clocked computers and fried autorations. Humid and oppressive. Someday, chasing after these stray beehives was going to be the death of me.

Back on Earth there’d been keepers who’d just let a few swarms go. Let them set up a new hive and a new life somewhere else. But here on the starship Asteris, we couldn’t afford to sacrifice a single pollinator. And a fire-scrub was set to sweep the ductwork in less than 72 hours, incinerating everything in its path. One bee might be explained to the Council, worked off in a month of rations sacrifice. A whole colony reduced to baseline? Disaster. It wasn’t like I could put in an order to Mech level for 30,000 bees. Breeding took time and resources, and meanwhile, I’d have to pollinate Ag sector five by hand.

I adjusted my sensor glove, the webbing dark against the dull gray sheen of my outstretched hand. Beyond it, beyond the safe semicircle of lilac glow, a blackness so long I couldn’t see its end. I double checked my light. If something went wrong and– my throat hitched. I pushed out a slow, measured breath. Calm. I could do this. Jesry had done it, and he was seventy years old.

Only Jesry hadn’t had any reason to be afraid of the dark. 

At the next intersection, I saw the first signs of the bees. Tiny flickers of pollen dusted the duct ahead in a path of farlight that no one else on the starship would see. No one but the bees and I. 
I was only cyborg on the outside – and by the strictest definition, my skin wasn’t even cyborg… just metal-infused - but that was exactly enough to matter to most people. It was why I was here and not a GenPure. My ability to see in ultraviolet was the reason – they said – that I’d been assigned the job of beekeeper. But it wasn’t the real one. The real reason wasn’t about my strengths at all. It was about my weakness.

Gold dust streaked the walls and floor where they’d brushed by on the way to their new home. Clumsy little things. Sometimes I wondered how they managed to survive, bumping around like that. As if to prove me wrong, one sailed over my left shoulder, executing a perfect turn in the bend of the vent.

I narrowed my eyes at it. Now I had them. 

Another bee. And another.

They were coming faster now. A group must have left the hive at around the same time.

I edged to the right, trying to leave passage for the bees.  My light flickered, the tunnel in front of me wavering. I froze. A vision flashed: me, alone, in the dark, with a swarm of bees.

“Amelia?” I said. “Vitals.”


My lungs clenched. I had to stay calm. To think rationally. My light wasn’t out … yet. The blood pounded in my temples. I could almost hear the bees massing.  Waiting for their moment.

“Amelia?” I tried again. “Vitals?”

Her voice flooded my earpiece with the incredible calm of the pilot that was her namesake.

Heart rate: elevated. Core temperature: 97.6 degrees. Blood levels: normal. Need anything else, Violet?

“Amelia: set vitals to auto-report in 15 minute intervals.”

Of course.

People thought that I was slightly overmuch obsessed with Earther lore. But from the time I was nine, when I heard the story of the first woman pilot, I knew I wanted to fly. I also knew that was impossible.

Normally Amelia only reported to the MedBay on an hourly basis, but in here I needed to be more cautious. In here, there was no way of knowing whether or not I’d been stung once, twice, or a thousand times. I’d never realize until it was too late. 

I stared at my hand, its pale silver hue luminous beneath the stringy black webbing of my sensor gloves.  Without the gloves I didn’t feel anything. All my nerve endings were buried deep beneath my titanium-enriched skin.  On that level, me inheriting the job of beekeeper made sense, sure. It made sense unless I was stung by fifty of them at once without knowing, and my windpipe collapsed. Which, coincidentally, was a scenario becoming more and more likely by the minute.

I was only cyborg on the outside, but most of the time that was where it mattered.

I scooted up a few inches and flicked my light around the corner. The empty glare fractured and bounced back at me. A split. There was no way of knowing which way the bees had gone.

I sat back and waited. My flashlight flickered again. If the light went out, I wouldn’t be able to see my hands.

I’d be touchblind.

People take for granted the importance of sensation. Most kids take two years to learn to walk. I took seven. There were certain movements I knew by heart now. I’d practiced them over and over in front of a mirror until I could do them with my eyes closed. Sitting. Standing. Walking. Lying down. Getting up. Lacking the sensation to feel what I was doing, I made checklists. Which muscles to activate and coordinate, contract and release. I could jump, step sideways, push my hair behind my ear.

But there were certain things I didn’t have a checklist for. I didn’t, for example, have a procedure for “trapped in air vents, need to back up and around corner to escape.” I don’t know. For some reason it wasn’t included in my copy of Holden’s Physical Therapy for the Neurologically Challenged.

If I couldn’t see, I wouldn’t know how to move. The beam wavered again. Instantly, I reached back, groping the thigh pocket where I kept my spare light.

All I felt was smooth bioprene against my leg.

I checked again, running my fingertip sensors along the inside of the pocket, digging into the corners. My chest clenched. Nothing.

I groaned.

It must have fallen out. And because my family couldn’t afford a whole body sensor-suit, I hadn’t noticed. I’d crawled right over it and left it somewhere back there in the abyss.

Heart rate: rising. Blood levels: normal. Amelia reminded me.

“OK!” I yelled at her, as if she wasn’t doing exactly what I’d asked. “I know!”

The dark seemed to well up around me, a black wave waiting to surge.

I clicked off the UV, switching to Vis-only: less power drain.

I was just about to choose a passage at random, when a bee buzzed by my ear and into the right-hand tunnel. I wrenched myself forward contorting my body around the tight angles of the ductwork. According to my handheld, I was nearly on the outer perimeter of the starship.

“You’ve got no place left to hide,” I said, gritting my teeth as I wriggled around the bend.

But I was wrong.  As I shone my light down the corridor, ten meters away, the beam flashed back at me.

A dead-end.

A dead-end and no hive.

This was. Not. Happening.


  1. Wow! Okay, this is fantastic! Everything has just fallen into place and I feel like I “get it.” The questions I had last time? Gone. Seriously great revision – congrats!

    I wondered about this: in the first paragraph (which I love!), you mention that pollen dust tickles her nose. But then, later, you said, “I saw the first sign of the bees. Tiny flickers of pollen dusted…” I think there is a subtle difference here – pollen dust in the air, vs her seeing pollen… but I was a little confused whether it is, in fact, “the first sign” at the point you write those words?

    I struggled a little with the paragraph starting “People thought I was slightly overmuch obsessed…” First, with “slightly overmuch” and second, with the placement. It’s interesting to learn she’s interested in “Earther lore” but I’d rather get right to what Amelia normally did. Could that information be included elsewhere? I get that the tie-in is the Amelia reference, but still think it might work in a different spot. I like the tension building when she doesn’t respond right away!

    Why is it becoming more and more likely that she might be stung by a swarm of 50?

    I really like the way you handled the flashlight in this version… didn’t feel clich├ęd - felt tense. So good! Especially the way she checks for her back-up and discovers it missing. Loved it!

    One question I had this time, though, is when did she become cyborg? Was she born that way? Or does she have some birth defect that was solved by making her cyborg. Is it that she was born “touchblind” so they made her cyborg?

    Two little nit-picks: 1) “’Around the corner to escape.’ I don’t know…” – is the “I don’t know” necessary? 2) “Okay” I yelled at her…” I think it would work a bit better if her conversation were all together: “Okay, I know!” I yelled…

    I’m seriously going to have to keep in touch with you all, because it’s too big a tease to get only the first 5 pages… I really want to read on!!

  2. Carissa, Great revision. I was crawling along the ductwork with your MC in these opening pages. Well done. Here are my suggestions, and they get a bit nit-picky, but I hope they help.
    Para. #1 - Try removing the opening "I," and starting the sentence a different way. See how it feels/if you like it. Instead of telling us that pollen dust fills her nose, maybe she sneezes or rubs her nose. Give us her actions. Would her hands "falter" or "fumble?" Para. #4 suggest removing the word "much," we don't need it. I love the "wrist, forearm, shove," sequence. Great stuff. Para. #7 - I think it should be "I can do this." Para. #9 - I have the same comment as above. You mention the pollen dust in the first para. so it doesn't seem logical when you say she sees the first evidence of the bees here. I would suggest picking something else here? Totally making this up, but is it sticky from honey? something else that would indicate she's getting closer to the hive. Para. #10 I love from "My ability . . ." to the end of that para. Not sure it will work, but I would love to see this move up a bit in the sample (without disrupting the action flow). It raises a great question in the reader's mind - what is her weakness? It might bring up some tense issues as its written, so watch for that. Beginning with Para. #11 there are some pronouns issues (they, it, them). Be clear who/what you are referring to here. The first time the MC speaks to Amelia, it might be worth adding something like, "I say into my mouthpiece." So we can picture it right away. In Para. #18, can lungs "clench" and would your MC feel it? Sorry, getting very nit-picky here... 15 minute intervals to check vitals seems too long to me in this scenario. Especially since Amelia reports back a few para's down and it doesn't feel like 15 mins. passed. Maybe 3 minutes? You lost me with the Para. that starts "People thought..." I'm confused since you say "Amelia" is named after the famous flyer, but then your MC talks about her dream to fly. It also pulls me out of the immediacy of the situation. Try weaving in a sentence here or there, but not so much at once. I love the ending. Good job! Also, I'll comment on the title since I raised a question on Facebook. I like Farlight, it's intriguing. Is it one word? I'm not sure.

    1. Yeah, I like the title, too! Like sunlight, moonlight...farlight! And it's both cool and immediately relevant, so we don't have to wonder about the tie in.

    2. Yay! So glad you like the term Farlight! Its a word I made up to refer to light at the far end of the UV spectrum, which Violet sees in. :)

  3. This is a great revision! You do a good job of giving us the situation, her problems and challenges and keeping the suspense flowing. The beginning is much more immediate and I felt like I clicked with your character much sooner.

    Two things:

    I honestly think you can move or take out entirely the bit about being designed for another planet she'd never see. It's a good piece of information, but it feels unnecessary here and actually kind of distracting, because we're suddenly thinking about other planets instead of the ducts of a spaceship. ("Someday, chasing after these stray beehives was going to be the death of me." might be a better hook for your first paragraph if that's what you're trying to do.)

    I really recommend that you read these pages out loud. There are several places where the flow of the story isn't as smooth as it might be and I'm not sure why. It might be a language thing, or perhaps there's a bit too much backstory still, I'm not sure. But reading out loud will help you catch rough spots.

    I think those are the only two things I noticed. Great job! I'm loving this premise so much and I want to know what happens next!

    1. Hmm, I think I agree about the other planet stuff. You can give that info later, but it flows really well to be in the moment and looking for bees. But I do like mention of the Asteris, which helps me place her on a spaceship type thing, so maybe there's a way to introduce the Asteris without the side commentary?

    2. Sorry, "but it flows" -- I mean the opening flows really well to be all about looking for the bees.

  4. On your fist sentence, if you move the word I to after the comma, it moves faster. You grabbed my attention right away with this opening. I loved the tension you added with saying they are using her because of her weakness- being afraid of the dark. In the para# Back on earth, I needed to a sense of why they needed bees. Why is this so important? They couldn't sacrifice even one?? Para# Gold dust streaked- use bees at the beginning and then the pronouns, and I got lost when you mentioned her thoughts of wanting to fly. I enjoyed the description of being a cyborg, but also wanted to know how or why she became a cyborg.
    This is really getting polished- love the tension and want to read more! Good job!

  5. Overall, I loved it! I like the subtle details you added. Talking about Mech level and Ag sector made me think "spaceship" and showed the importance of the bees. Mentioning the Farlight that no one else could see. I have a few questions and suggestions still, but overall I think the story is in great shape.

    "It flared back at me, tracing the impurities" -- instead of 'flared', maybe 'reflected'? It took me a few readings to figure out that it was reflecting off the end of a closed duct (if that's indeed what it's doing ;) ).

    You mentioned purple prosey, so I thought I'd give you an example: "every movement calculated and heavy against the leaden press of the walls. The air was stale with the hot scent of over-clocked computers and fried autorations." You could get rid of "leaden" and "hot" and still not lose the punch of the sentence. Basically a lot of times in fiction, adj+noun could be replaced either by just the noun or by a more specific noun, and having fewer words to convey the same idea helps make it easier to read. When you have time to go line by line you can weigh each adjective to see if it's helping, redundant, or pointing to need for a better noun. Reading aloud can help find sentences that are awkward.

    "a dead end and no hive" -- for "hive" I often think of the physical place that bees live, even though it can also mean "the collection of bees," and so I'm wondering how the bees escaped and whether they could have built another hive already. In the first revision I didn't wonder this, so if I was just reading this the first time, I would probably just read on to find out. :)

    I'm looking forward to reading your pitch!

  6. Carissa, again, you've done such a great job with these opening pages. You are a wonderful writer, with a gift for writing sentences that read easy, but I know they're tough to write!

    This new opening line is much, much better. Perhaps a bit long, but definitely better.

    The sentence "my charges were much less predictable" needs some context. I had to read it a couple of times to know what that meant.

    There's a point where it says "beyond" and "beyond" in the same sentence. Perhaps switch the second one out for "past??"

    At one point Violet mentions that she's trapped in the vent and needs to escape. Based on the text leading up to that point, I didn't really catch on to that. Perhaps make it a big more clear? Or make the urgency come earlier?

    At the point when Violet yells at Amelia, I'd soften that a bit. We want Violet to remain likable during this struggle. Sure, she's mad at Amelia, but she's also frustrated with herself. Maybe make that a bit more clear.

    Otherwise, great job. It's already a wonderful opening. I'm sure it'll only get better with the next revision. Good luck!

  7. Hey Carissa! You’ve done a wonderful job here of tightening and explaining things more clearly up front. I really loved reading your revision. And 30,000 bees! Wow! No wonder she’s scared in this passage! This revision had a lot more tension throughout, and once she started trying to contact Amelia, I was really worried for her. Great work articulating the stakes and danger. Her fear felt real and believable.

    Since this is your second pass, I’m going to get more nitpicky in my comments.

    These lines seemed contradictory:

    “But here on the starship Asteris, we couldn’t afford to sacrifice a single pollinator.”

    “One bee might be explained to the Council, worked off in a month of rations sacrifice.”

    I think you could lose “dust” from “pollen dust” in the opening. Pollen on its own seemed fine to me.

    One thing I missed last time, but struck me this time: are 15 minute updates from Amelia enough? If she got stung by a bunch of bees at once, I’d think the danger would come more quickly than that.

    After she realizes she’s lost her spare light, I’d think she’d use her main light to at least look directly behind her. Even if she couldn’t see far, maybe the other light would be close by. Then again, maybe the vent’s too narrow to even turn her head.

    Love this image: “As if to prove me wrong, one sailed over my left shoulder, executing a perfect turn in the bend of the vent.”

    The paragraph about her being obsessed with Earth lore felt a little out of place. Her situation feels a bit too immediate and dangerous to be pondering on this right there.

    Love the paragraph about her depending on the censor glove. Really beautifully written, and helpful in terms of understanding her situation.

    That's about it. Wonderful work on this! I would totally read on. :)