Sunday, February 22, 2015

First 5 Pages February Workshop - Taylor Rev 2

Name: Carissa Taylor
Genre: YA sci-fi


Dear Agent:

Sixteen-year-old beekeeper Violet Everman is only cyborg on the outside, but it’s enough to make her the ship’s resident freak. No one looks past her silver skin and ultraviolet eyes to see the girl inside. That’s okay, she prefers it that way. On a generational starship bound for New Earth, she doesn’t have time for anyone else.

When a hunt for a rogue beehive goes awry, Violet is trapped in a secret chamber, where she finds Act – cute, charming, and not wholly opposed to silver girls. Problem? Besides the fact that he’s completely getting in her way, she’s never seen him before, and on a ship this size, that’s impossible.

Rushing to free themselves from the chamber, they make an astonishing discovery: what they’d always believed was the entire starship is just one arm of it. Act is from one arm. Violet’s from another. As their two worlds collide, critical supplies vanish from her side of the ship. And Act gets the blame.

Violet does a little sleuthing of her own, and now she’s not so sure he’s guilty. If what he says is true, the enemies are more than just petty thieves. They won’t stop until nothing’s left. But tracking the real culprits could put her own life at risk. It would mean delving into an unexplored arm of the starship: one where the inhabitants were engineered for war.

FARLIGHT is a YA sci-fi complete at 95,000 words, and written as a standalone novel but with series potential. It should appeal to fans of space-based mysteries in the vein of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and INSIDE OUT, and the social identity themes of CINDER and MILA 2.0.

I have a PhD in Sustainability from Arizona State University. My research on the cultural inaccessibility of sustainable development inspired some of the underlying themes of the novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Carissa Taylor

First Five Pages:

Inching forward on my stomach, I craned my neck into the darkness of the vent. Bitter dust filled my nose and my hands faltered in the dim light. 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 less predictable.

I dragged myself onward. Wrist, forearm, shove; wrist, forearm, shove; every movement calculated and heavy against the press of the walls. The air was stale with the 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 free. 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, past 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 the bees had 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, activating voice commands. “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 5 minute intervals.”

Of course.

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 and my windpipe collapsed. Which, coincidentally, was a scenario becoming more and more likely by the minute.

I scooted up a few inches and flicked my light around the corner. The 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. 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 the dark in the 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, as if I wasn’t acutely aware of this already.

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. Carissa,

    You have done a fabulous job. I loved your premise from the beginning, and I love it even more after reading your query. I don't read much Sci-fi, but I would definitely read this. Well done!

    I'm going to pick-on a few words or strings of words in this final round that pulled me out of what is otherwise a clean, tension-filled opening sequence.

    Consider omitting (or revising):
    -Someday, chasing after these stray beehives was going to be the death of me. (is this foreshadowing/ seems tell-y)
    -Sure. (don't need)
    -Which, coincidentally, was a scenario becoming more and more likely by the minute. (you've shown us this, no need to tell)
    -I groaned. (try for something more original, or leave out. I don't think you need it. we get a sense of her physical responses from the heart rate check, etc.)

    Best of luck! Lisa

    1. I know I said I liked the coincidentally line, and I do... but if it's disrupting the flow, it's got to go! ;)

    2. haha! As Stephen King says, "Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” I recite those lines every time I say goodbye to something I thought was especially clever! ;-)

  2. Carissa,

    You've done a great job with this revision. You've established the world and voice in the first paragraph. You've given us a glimpse of this character's strengths and weaknesses. And you've opened with conflict. Well done.

    These opening pages are tight and clean. I honestly can't think of anything to add.

    Good luck!

  3. Carissa, This is wonderful! The difference from the first draft to this is remarkable. I'm not usually drawn to Sci Fi, but I can't wait to read more. I'm hooked! Good for you--
    Seeing your credentials, this is a perfect story for you to write. Congrats!

  4. So cool to read the whole premise after having just had the first five pages! :) I think this is great. You give us a good sense of where we are and what it's like, including who's in charge (the Council), what the punishments would be like, what the cultural values are (no silver girls :) ). It really draws me in!

    "According to my handheld, I was nearly on the outer perimeter of the starship."
    I like this addition to orient me.

    Query feedback (of course Shelby's expertise should take precedence):

    "On a generational starship bound for New Earth, she doesn’t have time for anyone else."
    I wasn't sure why these two things were connected. Seems to me on a starship she'd have nothing BUT time! ;) Maybe leave off 'beekeeper' in the first sentence and say, "As [one of] the beekeeper[s] on a generational starship bound for New Earth, the hives kept her too busy for anything else."

    "Problem? Besides the fact that he’s completely getting in her way, she’s never seen him before, and on a ship this size, that’s impossible."
    Love this line!

    "Rushing to free themselves"
    Why do they need to rush? Can you give us a hint about the chamber?

    "Act is from one arm. Violet’s from another."
    This makes it sound like more than two. If there are only two, "Act is from one arm, Violet's from the other."

  5. I should have done my critiques first as I find I'm writing on everyone's "um... ya, what they said!" I, too, LOVE your premise - especially now I've read the query. It's great to know I'll have this to look forward to after The 100.

    I wondered if you might break up paragraph 1 into two? It's length took away a little of the tension for me, but maybe that's just me.

    In terms of your "darling" - the line about coincidence... what if, instead of telling that's what could happen, you show us "As if to prove the point, I heard buzzing right by my ears." (Something like that)

    And in that paragraph: "On that level, me inheriting the job of beekeeper made sense."
    This confused me a little - are these jobs hereditary? Or was she chosen for it? Either way, perhaps, "On that level, it made sense I inherited the job of beekeeping." I didn't mind the "Sure." But "me inheriting" broke me out of the flow...

    Besides that, this is definitely a book for me! Good luck, keep going - I can't wait to read more!

  6. OH - I meant to add, I loved the little changes to the interaction with Amelia! Even tiny things, like making it 5 min intervals. And I loved, "Dead end... dead end and no hive."

    You've done such a great job!

  7. Excellent. I love the query and I love the changes. You've done a great job. I don't have much to add that's different from what the others have said. It's reading much more smoothly and I really get a sense of who she is and where she is.

    (For some reason I really want "Someday, chasing after these stray beehives was going to be the death of me." to be your first line. But that's probably just me.)

    Great job and good luck!

  8. Carissa, Wow! This premise is KILLER! I LOVE the idea of someone thinking they’re on a small ship, but actually they’re on part of a big ship. Soooo intriguing. The query reads really smoothly. And “cute, charming, and not wholly opposed to silver girls” was just so cute. Fabulous line. I think just a couple of clarifications will tie some aspects of the query together.

    First off, I didn’t get a sense of why Violet doesn’t have time for anyone else. (Well, I know why, having read the opening, but I didn’t feel like the query really explained it.) Maybe something like, “On a generational starship, where everyone has a tasking job, she doesn’t have time for anyone else.”

    I might do something like “Rushing to free themselves from the chamber, and a swarm of angry bees,” to really articulate why they’re rushing out.

    One thing I don’t get from the query: why are all these arms of the ship kept secret from each other? Who is orchestrating the segregation? I feel like the last paragraph of the query should address this in some way. If I found out I’d been living on an arm of a ship filled with other arms and other people, I’d definitely want to know why those people had been kept away from me.

    As for the opening, it’s just wonderful. So, so beautiful, and the tension is AWESOME. I think you could simplify these lines:

    “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.”


    I flicked the lavender-green light of my beam against the void, tracing the impurities in the ductwork in spidery streaks of yellow and blue.

    (I’m not a big fan of pausing in an opening paragraph. I think it slows down what is otherwise some fabulous pacing.)

    Really stellar work here. Great writing and a killer premise!

  9. Dear Ms. Taylor,

    One of my biggest pet peeves when evaluating a query letter is someone not specifically addressing me. “Dear Agent” makes me feel like you aren’t taking this process seriously and you just want to spam as many agents as you can until someone says yes. Having that said, you cover all of your other bases in your query letter. You provide word count, a strong summary, and your credentials.

    I think you have a very strong premise. I think many teens will be able to relate to Violet. The fear that one will not ever be truly understood and appreciated due to their outwardly appearance is poignant and universal. I also really appreciate how much thought you have put into what it’s like to be cyborg on the outside and human on the inside. I found the different ways that Violet compensates for her lack of sensation added authenticity to your pages that I admired. I thought the pages could benefit from a bit more development. How did the bees end up in the vent? How often does this happen? Why does fire go through the air vent? That seems super dangerous in a confined space such as a space station. Why doesn’t violet wear a protective suit to save herself from bee stings? Why in this world can people live in space and be half-cyborgs but we are still cowering in the face of bee stings?

    I really enjoyed this piece and your writing has many strengths. Keep with it and good luck!