Sunday, May 10, 2015

First 5 Pages May Workshop - Pacelli Rev 1

Name: Atesa Pacelli
Genre: Young Adult
Title: The Minesweeper

In the next one thousand years, somewhere in the universe, a Bender will be born. A human mind that can control the organized atoms of our existence: machines, objects, animals.
-       The Writings of Dar Zacariah, The Father of the Golden Way

The hand hit Aden so hard it knocked him to the ground.
Limbs became dangerous projectiles in the minefields, and this one was no exception. Aden swerved and flailed wildly but it was no use. It slammed into him, his mac almost flying out of his hands. Just as his fingers closed again on the weapon’s grip, he went down, hard, hitting the rain-soaked mud with a wet thud.
He froze. He didn’t notice the pain, but slowly, slowly, he did notice that he was still alive. He had narrowly avoided falling directly on top of a Sunn mine. Deep breath. Yes. He was still alive. He wiggled his fingers and toes. All still there, or so it seemed. He gripped his mac harder. Paused to catch his breath. He was out in the open and he would have to get out of here – fast. 
His eyes were alert, analyzing the ramshackle mud and brick huts that made up this village high up on the Sunn-Karal border: the blown-open doors, the mounds of dirt and debris, the rusted-down machines, the flies buzzing around the dead people and animals. The ground underneath this village was riddled with mines in every direction: microscopic bits of coiled death that lay just inches under the innocent-looking soil, their vibrations visible to no one but him. To Aden’s eyes, the air was different directly above each mine. It moved: darkened and swirled like an angry eddy. The gift meant that he was alive four years after being sold by his father to the Karali rebels as a minesweeper. It meant that he could graduate from minefield meat to an actual soldier in the cause of the Karali Liberation Movement. 
All around him, the ground darkened and swirled, darkened and swirled. Target-locked bullets whizzed by and high-powered lasers crisped the earth as the KLM rebels advanced, filling the air with the deafening roars of blasts, one on top of another.
He had to get to cover. A hopscotch skirting the dark swirls would get him to safety behind a mud hut, if he could trigger a mine nearby and run under the cover of its explosion. Aden rubbed the acrid black smoke out of his eyes. Slowly, slowly, he reached out for the arm that had knocked him over. The fact that it was the small arm of a minesweeper boy did not register; he examined it merely for its usefulness. The hand was frozen in a death grip, still clutching the paradise key. Cheap metal that the rebels passed out to boys as the keys to the paradise ruled by the God of Spirits. Entry to this afterlife was naturally promised to each boy sweeping a minefield.
“What will you do for the God of Spirits to let you into paradise?”  
He had to hope the metal detectors in the mines would be triggered by the key. He took a deep breath, then heaved the hand as hard as he could at a nearby mine. The arm landed with a moist thwack. Seconds later, a huge explosion blew it to bits.
“The Soldier is the most beloved hand of God.”
Then he ran. He made it to a hut. He slid along the wet, crumbling wall, eyes on the fighting. For a second, a split second, he wanted to give up. Surrender to the dark swirls. Each time he went out, they became more and more irresistible. He hesitated. Ok, not this time. He shrugged the impulse away as he rounded the corner of the hut, where he found a surprise: a minesweeper boy, crying and shivering, curled up in a tiny turtle-like ball on the ground. The chain that once bound him to the other boys was spread out like a long tail behind him. The boys went into the battlefield in threes and fours, chained to each other. This was to ensure both compliance and coverage of the entire field. But it also meant almost certain death.  
A pang of something pricked Aden, at the spot where his conscience once was. The Karali Liberation Movement mostly wanted to liberate the lucrative Carabalt mines along the disputed Sunn border. They wanted those mines, if they had to kill every boy in Karal to get them. He was supposed send this one back out to the dark swirls. But he couldn’t. 
He took a deep breath and shook the kid, who looked up at him with a tear-streaked, dirty face. He had to come up with a plan. Aden peered around the edge of the hut. They were not more than thirty steps away from a tree line. Behind the trees was a thick forest.
“When I give you the signal, run!” Aden screamed over the noise. The boy nodded, clinging to Aden.
Aden scanned the ground. The most direct line to the trees was seeded with mines, the neat circuits of death patiently lying in wait, their cold explosive power rattling just a few feet beneath the dirt.
Dark swirls, everywhere.
He closed his eyes and breathed in and out, in and out, summoning up the energy for what he was about to do. He would have to bend a couple of mines. That’s what he called it, in his head. Bending. Bending something that wasn’t alive was easy. He had done it his whole life. He could control objects. He could control machines. Turning off lights, retrieving items from across a room, closing doors.
Disabling mines.
Deep breath, eyes closed, and bend.   
Or not.
Aden swore under his breath as he counted the mines in his head. Five mines on the path between them and safety. He had just enough in him for five. But these were five Hephaestus-class mines. The gold standard of planetary battlefield technology. Sunn was taking no chances with this village. They wanted to preserve their assets: the excellent quality Teneb in the ground, the precursor of the precious Carabalt.
No way could he bend five Hephaestus-class mines and activate their kill switches. Or explode them all, for that matter.
Aden closed his eyes for a second, running a finger along the raised tattoo of an exploding sphere on his inner elbow. No inspiration was forthcoming. He scanned the tree line. Flitting in and out of visibility behind the trees was an enormous bracken deer, bolting away from the fighting. Here, near the Sunn border with Karal, the bracken deer were moose-like: several tons of massive and lumbering animal. Totally different from the swift, sure-footed creatures that Aden and his brother Will would hunt in the small remaining woods near Serab, the dusty mining town in northern Karal where Aden was born.
He thought and scratched, thought and scratched, his breath short and shallow, his eyes alert.
And then the solution came, with all its terrifying logic.
The bracken deer. He would have to bend it.
He was an expert at bending things now. But bending anything alive had serious repercussions the few times he had tried. It meant a countdown to a catatonic state that could last for hours. Five minutes, ten max and then he would be out, almost dead. Very soon after he bent something alive, he would have to get somewhere safe, fast.


  1. Hi Atesa,

    Wow, what big changes -- this feels like such a different book!! The action feels more immediate. The pace moves along at a good clip, especially with the shorter sentences and some more white space. The world-building feels much stronger. (I like knowing what a “mac” is now – though would like to have at least a hint of what Teneb and Carabalt are, and why so valuable to the KLM). And because you’ve clarified some key details and eliminated or simplified some unnecessarily elaborate actions (like the hand/projectile, or Aden’s landing on the boy), you’ve brought the whole opening scene into sharper focus. I also like being more in Aden’s head here, closer to his thoughts.

    The whole sequence of him using the projectile to detonate a mine works better now (I love the “moist thwack” as it hits). And I really love the new way he finds the minesweeper boy now—much more plausible. The chain he drags feels so poignant. I love the line “at the spot where his [Aden’s] conscience once was,” and it makes me feel as though his character arc has something to do with regaining his conscience, grappling with ethics or finding a moral compass again, in this world gone mad. I always find ethical dilemmas compelling, and I’d love to know even more about how he plans to help this minesweeper boy to safety.
    (comments continue...)

  2. (Diana's comments, continued)
    I think the epigraph you added works well. It intrigues me immediately, and when I meet Aden, right away I think he might be a Bender. I think his bending ability could use some clarification. I was a little confused when I read that “Bending something that wasn’t alive wasn’t easy” because in the next breath, the narrator explains that Aden had done it all his life, even with mines, so it sounded like a difficult feat that Aden could do. Maybe we need an “even though” in there somewhere (e.g., “Even though Aden had bent objects his whole life, it wasn’t easy.”) Maybe explain WHY not easy – does it take extra exertion? Does it leave him physically depleted? Does it not always work? (As we see later, when we read that the five mines are “Hephaestus-class mines”?) (Love the idea of “Hephasestus-class mines,” by the way, or the idea of grading the mines!)

    Is the fact that bending mines is so hard the reason he initially threw the detached arm toward one, rather than even considering the possibility of bending it?

    At the end of the scene, can you clarify why or how bending the deer will help him to escape with the boy? (I can see how “bending” mines to perhaps defuse them would be useful, but how will he use the deer in his plan? Get the deer to run over a mine and detonate it? Something else?) And earlier it seemed bending something not-alive was harder than bending something alive – but now it seems harder and potentially more disastrous than bending something not-alive (like a mine). It does seem it leaves him physically depleted – “catatonic” – and obviously in a vulnerable state, in a war zone. Again, I think you can briefly clarify the process and indicate which type of bending is hardest (or maybe it’s all hard? Is the comparison between alive / not alive really necessary? What if it always leaves him depleted so he uses the gift very sparingly? And with these mines it would be impossible, so that’s why he must consider the deer?).

    Really nice work! I would DEFINITELY continue reading this book if I picked up these pages cold!


    1. Diana - As before, TERRIFIC feedback: thank you x 1 million :). One thing you commented on that I have a question on: the line "bending something that wasn't alive WAS easy." I think perhaps you may have read it as the opposite and that created some confusion? Let me know if that makes sense. I want to make sure I get all of your edits. Thanks!!!

      - Atesa

  3. Hello Atesa,

    I love the epigraph! The genre and uniqueness of the story is clear.
    The action feels more immediate and the voice seems “closer”.
    You captured Aden’s expertise/gift (“the air was different directly above each mine. It moved: darkened and swirled like an angry eddy”) and portrayed his strength of character/survival emotional state while keeping him relatable: a child who lost his childhood/innocence (“the fact that it was the small arm of a minesweeper boy did not register; he examined it merely for its usefulness.”) but for whom there is still hope (“A pang of something pricked Aden, at the spot where his conscience once was”).
    I find the immediate repetition of “slowly” (paragraph 3) “darkened and swirled” (parag.5), “slowly” (parag 6), and “in and out” somewhat distracting.
    I like the dark swirls – they remind me of a flood like disease he needs to escape
    You have informed the readers enough to make us root for Aden. I understand who he is, what is does and under which circumstances (the lie of the paradise key, the chain, “if they had to kill every boy”).
    I also love the dual aspect of these pages: a physical survival story faced with modern technology (Hephaestus-class mines – love the name-The gold standard of planetary battlefield technology) and the emotional survival one (the spot where his conscience once was.
    I would buy this book based on these first pages.

  4. This is definitely a HUGE improvement. Great job!

    I think I would like him better if he was even a tad disturbed by the arm. He seems a little cold when he only looks to see if it is useful. Is there not a small part of him that remembers that the arm was once a child?

    There are still a few places where you've give actions to body part ("His eyes were alert", "To Aden’s eyes"). In both cases, you can give the action to Aden and it means the same thing and is stronger.

    Best of luck!

  5. Nice revisions. I see this as adult sci-fi, not YA. Your descriptions are great. There is a lot of tech-talk and world-building going on, here. Can you save some of it for the next chapter? You don't want your reader to get overwhelmed:

    I like how you explain that limbs can be dangerous projectiles.

    Still don’t know what a mac is. On your previous submission, I thought it was the British word for raincoat.

    Perhaps try: Aden sensed it because he had a gift.

    Paradise Key: amazing. We all know about the promise of heaven but to come up with the idea of an actual key is brilliant.

    Love the style and frenetic energy. Just think hard and murder your darlings, those phrases that you love so much that may need to be excised for a smoother read. You've got a whole book to lay out your world and characters.

  6. Thank you for sharing your work, Atesa.

    I love this version. It engages me at different levels while the first version was crude and lacking feelings. This version just grips me and helps me connect with your characters for the first time.
    I noticed a few words choices that could be changed.
    How can he “freeze” when he hits the mud? I already see him pinned into the mud. I think you could remove this and maybe mention his breath gets cut off.
    He is wriggling his toes to make sure he is alive. That sounds like something we do to babies; we count their fingers and toes. It just does not work here unless you want to introduce the theme of rebirth. However, I do not see this being exploited. I would remove it. This guy is too tough for this kind of reaction.
    I am confused by this sentence, “A pang of something pricked Aden, at the spot where his conscience once was.” It sounds vague and why mentioning his conscience? It does not seem to fit, IMO. I think at this point, you’ve managed to get the reader to care for your MCs, so the political aspect seems out of place. Maybe you could keep this paragraph for later: “The Karali Liberation Movement […] But he couldn’t.”
    However, I love the description of the place. It just gives me a great feel about the place and who he is. I also love that you included a goal. Your MC actually decides of an action, which keeps us, your readers, at the edge of our seats. Well done.
    I enjoyed reading about the beliefs of these people with the words in italics; that helped me understand the story better.
    I love the description of the binder and what he does and that makes me really curious about your character.
    The mention of the kid stuck under the soldier was a rougher image, an image that gave the piece something inhuman. Now, you’ve changed all that and I see the human side of the scene, which engages me more. Well done too.
    I think this version is more thought about, more cleverly done and makes me want to stay with the MC and see what will happen to him. You won me over with this version.

  7. Atesa,

    There is so much information packed in this version, and it moves the story forward. Aden, this time around, seems much more experienced and level-headed, and also removed from the moment. I like how the urgency in the scene is focused on Aden's survival, not the disembodied hand. For anyone else, that would have been an issue for panic, but flying limbs is normalized for Aden that that isn't his primary focus. Another thing I think you handled really well is all the overlapping action that's going on -- the hand flying in the air hitting Aden, Aden's internal panic as he tries to get out alive, finding the boy, and all this while, the KLM rebels are shooting above him.

    When Aden examines the hand, though, I felt that it didn't have the same emotional impact as in the first rendition. In this version, Aden is cold and calculating, and I'm not quite sure why he has a soft spot for this crying kid.

    And I'm assuming that his mac is a weapon...most likely a gun?

    A new concept introduced: bending! I wonder if his bending -- to disable mines -- is also part of the reason why he is still alive 4 years after his father sold him, or is it just because he can see the dark swirls above each mine, or is it both reasons? In this version, and the first one (I believe), I thought it was just being able to see the mines. If it's both, perhaps it would be more cohesive to tie both of those concepts together, introducing them together, as crucial to his survival?

    I'm interested in the Hephaestus-class mines and why the Sunn want to protect this area, but it brought me out of the action. Aden and the boy are in a very precarious situation, and it seems like too much time is passing by. No urgency. I like the backstory provided for the Sunn and the battle, but having all that information at once, immediately, is distracting me from the main issue Aden is facing.

    I definitely want to keep reading though: What will happen when Aden tries to bend the deer? Will they make it through? I wish there was more!