Sunday, July 19, 2015

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Josephson Rev 2

Name: Kalyn Josephson
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Underground

In situations like this, Ross stood absolutely still and tried to filter out every word her father said. She made it all of ten seconds before seizing an empty plastic bottle from the kitchen counter and chucking it at him. Ericen dodged with all the grace of a dancing hippo, which was more than Ross expected considering he struggled to stand upright. The bottle clattered against the wall before joining a growing collection of empties and fur balls that littered the scuffed wood floor.

“Stop it!” Ross clenched her hands. “I swear, if you say one more word against Mom, the next bottle won’t be plastic.” At the rate her father drank, there was plenty of ammunition.

            Ericen Delshero collapsed back against the wall, his normally golden skin pale and haggard. Ross turned away, unable to bear their resemblance. He’d been a handsome man once, before her mother had been kidnapped and he’d tripped and fallen into an unending pool of liquor. Now Ross loathed their similarity. Amber eyes. Athletic build. Brown hair alight with red.

            “I’m not saying it was her fault,” he said. Six hard drinks in and he barely slurred. Not surprising, since drunk was his natural state. “I’m just saying she shouldn’t have left that night. She knew the people looking for us were close.”

            “She left to meet with your contact!” Ross slammed her hands down and rose from her seat at the counter. “You should have been with her. Now she’s trapped in Haven, with who the hell knows what kind of creatures, and we’re out here doing nothing.”

            Her parents had always said Haven was a dangerous enough place when you weren’t human. It was meant to be a safe place for supernatural creatures, but it went downhill faster than her father before Ross was born. According to the contact they met every few weeks, it was only getting worse.

            Every muscle in Ericen’s face went rigid, his hands curling into fists. “Trapped?” he said, staggering off the wall. “You think she’s trapped, Ross? Your mother’s been gone for two months! She isn’t trapped. She’s dead.”

“No!” Ross swept her hand across the counter, sending a week’s worth of plastic dishes clattering across the floor. “You’re wrong. I know you’re wrong, and I’m going to prove it.” She turned for the hallway.

            Ericen stepped after her. “You can’t go to Haven, Ross! They’ll kill you.”

            “Like you give a shit,” she said without turning around.

            “Ross!” His hand closed around her upper arm, pulling her back. She fought his hold, but he spun her around, slamming her up against the wall. Her head struck the plaster with a dull thud.

They froze.

How had he moved that fast? Ross’s mind focused on the question, on the way her father stared wide-eyed and unmoving down at her, on anything other than the fact that he’d just laid a hand on her. How the hell had he moved like that?

Her throat burned—she wasn’t breathing. As Ericen stepped back, hands held out like he was backing away from a wild animal, she finally exhaled. Ross’s mind screamed at her to go, to run, to lock herself in her room. But her body refused to respond.

“I’m sorry.” Her father’s voice was barely a whisper. “Rossalyn, I’m sorry. Please, don’t go.”

Ross stiffened. Only her mother called her by her full name. Coming from him, it was a slap in the face. It took several more breaths before she regained her voice.

“Don’t ever call me that again.”

She sprinted up the stairs past an orange tabby sitting on the top step. It took off after her, slipping inside the second before she slammed her door. Collapsing back against the chipped wood, Ross slid to the ground, her heart drumming in her ears.

The cat rose onto his hind legs, balancing his front paws against her knees so he could see her face.

“I’m an idiot, Tom,” Ross said. “I kept thinking he’d snap out of it.”

You love him.” Tom’s smooth, even voice floated through her head.

“Not like this.” Ross shook her head. “This isn’t him. The man I know would have gone after her, no matter what.”

Tom leapt up over her knees, settling in her lap. “You know they promised each other that if one of them was taken, the other would stay to protect you.”

Ross snorted. “He might as well have gone after her. He’s not really here.”

They sat in silence for some time. Tom curled up in her lap, purring quietly, as Ross struggled to process what had just happened. Her father had always been a loud drunk, but never a violent one. He hadn’t meant to hurt her. She knew that. But she couldn’t sit here any longer. She’d wasted two months waiting for Ericen to snap out of it and go after her mother, but that wasn’t going to happen. He may have promised that he wouldn’t go after her mother, but Ross hadn’t.

She slid out from under Tom, who rolled sleepily to his feet. Ross grabbed her shoulder bag. Tom watched with a flat gaze, his tail flicking from side to side.

“Don’t look at me like that,” she said. “I can’t stay here another minute.”

            “I wouldn't ask you to.

            Ross stopped. Tom had been the only thing keeping her sane since her mother’s disappearance. If he thought leaving was a good idea, there was no way in hell she was sticking around.

            “Will you come with me?” she asked.

            Despite both being natives of Haven, neither Ross nor Tom remembered any of it. Her parents had been forced to run when she was just a baby, and he’d been taken when he was just a kitten. Or a whatever he was. No one actually knew. Just over a year ago, Ericen’s last contact from the city had showed up with Tom. Her father had bought him for her. He’d become the closest thing she’d had to a friend in a long time, and the idea of leaving him behind made her chest ache.

            “Already packed,” Tom said.

            Ross took a long breath and started packing. Not that she had much to take. Her room was so empty and plain it looked uninhabited, but she’d gotten tired of packing everything up long ago. It was easier to move on a moment’s notice when everything you owned fit into one bag.

The first thing she grabbed was her knives. Though they reminded her of her dad, they were the only set she had. Ericen had given her the thin crystal blades for her twelfth birthday, after another party alone with her family. By that time Ross had stopped trying to make friends. There was no point, not when she’d just have to move again. Her father had gotten the knives from a contact in Haven in hopes they’d cheer her up. They’d spent the rest of the day in the wood beside their rental, eating her mother’s oatmeal butterscotch muffins and practicing until the sunlight faded.

Ross’s throat tightened and she forced the emotion away. Thinking about who her father used to be just made who he’d become that much more difficult to accept. He might not see it, but he needed her to go as much as she did. Not only before he destroyed what remained of their relationship, but because if there was any chance her mother was still alive, she was the only thing that could bring him back from the edge.


  1. Great, great job. I only have a few thoughts, most of them accolades. :-)

    “You should have been with her. Now she’s trapped in Haven, with who the hell knows what kind of creatures, and we’re out here doing nothing.” Ooo. I like that tidbit.

    “…but it went downhill faster than her father before Ross was born.” Great information told so well in her voice.

    Lots of great info about Haven.

    Ericen and Ross’ argument makes sense. I can tell her father is freaked out and is begging her not to go, and that’s why he got so upset.

    Speedbump. I mentally tripped during this phrase: “slipping inside the second before” Maybe consider removing “the second.” When I saw “second,” I started thinking about who went in first and who went in second… It could just me be. :-)

    Great job with Ross’ internal reasoning as she comes to the decision to leave.

    “Thinking about who her father used to be just made who he’d become that much more difficult to accept.” Consider removing “just.” It’s a complex sentence. I had to read it twice, but I like what you’re saying. Maybe it would be clearer if you removed some words or split it into two sentences?

    Love the ending. Awww. Shows she cares for her dad and her mom.

    I really like Ross, and I’m rooting for her. She is tough, but caring. Her motivation seems to come from love, not anger, and that makes her sympathetic and likable.

    I’ve always liked Tom. I do wonder if he’s a plant or spy from the enemy, or maybe he’s a spy from the good guys. No idea, but you’ve done a good job setting up mystery around him. Good job letting us know these aren’t humans. I’m so intrigued. I’d read more if I could!

  2. “At the rate her father drank, there was plenty of ammunition. “ I like this line.

    If he is six drinks in and not slurring but you said earlier that he can barely stand. It doesn’t sound consistent to me.

    I like the way her heart drums in her ears.

    How does Tom know of her parent’s promise not to come after one another? Did he overhear them?

    I’ve mentioned this before but I still don’t know why a cat needs to pack.

    I really like you novel I also would read more.

  3. Nice job! I know I said this before but you have a lot of great phrases and one-liners. I had to say it again! :)

    I agree with Jennifer about Ross’ internal reasoning. I have a much better sense as to why she is so angry and it is justified. And now she isn’t just out to save her mom, she’s hoping to save her dad as well. The additional conflict is great!

    I agree with Eric that when Tom says, “Already packed,” is he referring to himself? What is he taking? What if he said something like, “Ready to go.”

    You incorporate just enough backstory to let the readers know what’s going on, why Ross is where she is and why Dad is the way he is. At the same time, it’s not so much backstory that it slows the pacing or overwhelms the readers.

    I think you have a great combination of description, action, thought, and dialogue.

    Well done.

  4. Really well done! This is coming out so great. I love seeing how much this has developed. :)

    Some thoughts:

    I noticed you added her father’s last name in (I think). I don’t think it’s needed—particularly given Ross wouldn’t be referring to her dad by his full name in her head.

    I still don’t know why Ross leaves to find her mother TODAY. She’s been gone for two months—why leave now? What sets her off? I’d guess it was her dad accidentally hurting her, except she’d already said before that that she was going to look for her mom. I also like that you added that all along she was waiting for her dad to snap out of it and go after her, but I still don’t quite get why she gives up on him today.

    Love that last line. So great! Really sets her determination and shows how much she cares for her parents—which definitely helps us connect to her (which if I remember correctly, was a problem in the original draft, so really, really fantastic addition!).

    Overall I think you've done a fantastic job, you could just use some tweaks. This is shaping up very nicely. Very well done!


  5. LOL- Ava-- I was the one who suggested she add the last name. I think it cements his presence, and works, since she has distanced herself from him. See, Kalyn, just goes to show you that no two authors see things exactly the same!!
    However...Now that you've done the rev, Kalyn...
    WONDERFUL JOB!!!! Just fantastic!!
    LOVE what you've done w/the first paragraph. The only thing is, when she first mentions "Ericen" I immediately think "boy." Not "dad." The first time I read it, I thought there were two people with her. Unless she actually calls her father Ericen most of the time, I'd only mention the name a time or two.
    --What if you swap "Ericen" and "her dad" in the first two paragraphs....
    [HER DAD dodged with all the grace of a dancing hippo...] (Cements char. as her dad.) THEN
    [At the rate ERICEN drank, there was plenty of ammunition.] (she has named him, and now you don't necessarily need the full name in the next paragraph.)
    [HE collapsed back against the wall, his norm...HER DAD had been a handsome man...]
    {{Does that make sense? I think when introducing close secondary characters, it's good to intro their relationship to the MC, then the name.}}
    “You love him.” Tom’s smooth, even voice floated through her head. [Love that you’ve given us some idea of how Tom communicates]
    “Already packed,” Tom said.
    [{{To highlight Tom’s snark, you could show Ross react}}…Ross arched an eyebrow at her feline friend. “Hmm. Collar. Dead mouse. I don’t know how you’ll possibly carry it all.” Tom swatted at her as she took a long breath, and began packing.]

    Ericen had given her the thin crystal blades for her twelfth birthday…[LOVELY and Intriguing!! Totes great little details here!]

    Just a terrific job, Kalyn!! Can’t wait to see how you do in the agent round!! I’ll be pulling for you!

  6. Hi Kalyn,

    You have done a great job with the revision and I like the story.

    Maybe it’s just me but I’m not clear that they are human. I get that they were forced of Haven. Is it because they’re human, or Dad’s political views, etc.?

    I love Tom but agree with the others that what would a cat have to pack for the trip. Also you say he was a kitten or whatever he was. I like the idea that he’s a cat with communication powers. Or if he’s not a cat, why say he was a kitten? Also, how did he know about the promise. Maybe he can read minds. Just my thoughts.

    I also agree with someone’s comment of why the urgency today? What triggered it: her father’s drinking, the anniversary of the day her mother left, some evil lurks, etc.

    I see so many good things: the fight scene, her love of and disappointment with her father, the last paragraph, the description of the knives and of the happy scene practicing.

    Can’t wait for this next revision.


  7. Fantastic!! I love it! Great job on the revisions. I read Ava's comment above and I think if you add a sentence in the paragraph where she's thinking back on him being physical, saying something along the lines of, That's the last straw. But you know, not a cliche. :P That would probably solve the problem. I really think it's come a long way though and I love that you slowed it down a tad and let us in her head more. I will say that this time the dad's name threw me as well. I had to stop and think about it, which means it should probably go because you don't want anything pulling the reader out! :D

    Good luck with it! Please keep us posted.

  8. Hi Kalyn,

    Interesting start -- I get the impression from what you have here that if I were to read on, there would be a very richly developed society in this novel, which is so important with fantasy.

    That said, I did have a tough time getting invested in the characters and narrative from the outset, because the story starts so abruptly in the middle of the fight between Ross and her father. I loved the first sentence, but by the time we get to sentence two and she's throwing the bottle, I found myself feeling lost and a bit confused. I wanted to get a better sense of Ross -- what kind of person she is, what's going on in her head -- before getting thrown into an argument between two characters that I didn't yet know, and so wasn't emotionally invested in. By the time we get to the dialogue about the creatures and the contact, I was feeling uncomfortably confused, like I didn't have all the information I needed to understand the scene. It's always tricky to balance between action and context on the first page without info-dumping, but in this case I think you may tip a bit too far into the "in media res" direction without giving the reader enough time to situate themselves with the characters and world.

    One possible direction you might go could be to not show the fight with the father onscreen at all, and instead begin with Ross alone, packing up her knives to leave forever? That would give us a chance to get to know our protagonist on her own terms -- still in a crucial moment for her, but less being thrown straight into the middle of action? The sentence where I really got interested in Ross as a character here was "The first thing she grabbed was her knives." I wonder what would happen if you started there?

    Other thoughts: as you revise, watch out for expository dialogue that sounds like it's meant to convey information to the reader, rather than sounding authentically like people actually speak. (For example,“Now she’s trapped in Haven, with who the hell knows what kind of creatures, and we’re out here doing nothing.” To me, this feels like it's for my benefit as a reader more than like something someone would realistically say in this context.) Be careful as well about delivering backstory in these crucial first pages -- often you don't need it. (For example, the paragraph that begins "Despite both being natives of Haven..." feels a little dense with background info to me.)

    I hope that's helpful feedback, although keep in mind that these notes (like all workshop comments) are of course subjective, and you should only take those that resonate with you. Great work in being brave enough to put your writing out there -- workshops like this are an awesome way to strengthen your work!

    All best,
    Patricia Nelson
    Marsal Lyon Literary Agency