Free writing workshop for aspiring authors of young adult and middle grade fiction. The first five pages may be all that agents, editors, and readers read, so get them right with the help of three authors over the course of three weeks. During the third week, an agent will also critique your pages and your pitch and pick a workshop winner - the prize is a partial request!
Name: Anthony Tardiff Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Title: Willow and Eagle
“It looks like a haunted house, doesn’t it?”
Petunia had to crane her neck back to see the whole school. It did look a little like a haunted house; not the rickety, falling-down kind, but the rambling, gothic kind, the kind with ornate staircases and faded wallpaper and corners shadowy with history.
She looked at her memo book. Item number three on her list read, “It’s a school like any other.” She hoped that were true. But her uniform felt strange, the blouse starchy and stiff, the skirt brushing unfamiliarly against her legs. And the windows of the school reflected the gray sky.
“Did you know this building is over a hundred years old?” Laura said. “It's an old estate house that the school board was lucky enough to get at a real bargain twenty years ago. Mrs. Gilner told me all about it. You’ll do great here. It’s a chance for a new start. Just what you need.” Laura was new, and Petunia could tell she was a little nervous, unsure of what she was supposed to be doing, and so she talked to fill the space and reassure herself. Petunia’s old social worker had been disengaged for years by the time she retired a couple months ago. Petunia couldn’t blame her; she’d had a pretty difficult job, at least where Petunia was concerned. That had been Petunia’s fault, unfortunately. But Laura was young, enthusiastic, still trying to make a difference. When she had asked Petunia her life goals, and Petunia had told her, Laura had immediately set about trying to get Petunia on that path. She had moved heaven and earth to get her into Canfield Mountain School, the best college prep school in the county.
Now, as that school’s central tower loomed above, flanked by sharp gables and sprawling wings, Petunia told herself she was grateful. This was what she wanted.
The ornate double doors were unlocked, and Laura pushed them open, a little hesitantly. Petunia followed. The foyer was a marvel of brass and marble. Two staircases rose on either side of the room and joined on a balcony that stretched around the second floor. Petunia could look up past the second floor and see a tarnished, unlit chandelier hanging in the dim interior of the dome. She tried not to feel belittled by it all.
“Welcome!” said a voice, and a woman came out of a door to the right. Bustling noise and voices escaped behind her and were stilled when the door swung shut again. “Petunia, right?” She was a plump woman with a cheerful face, and her hand when she shook Petunia’s was warm. “I’m Mrs. Gilner, the Dean of Students. We’re so glad you can join us.”
Oh good, Petunia thought. She’s the motherly type, not the business-y type.
“Pretty neat, isn’t it?” Mrs. Gilner said, seeing that Petunia’s eyes were still drawn to the opulence around her. “We’ve tried to keep the foyer as close to its original state as we can. Impresses the parents.” She winked. “The rest of the school’s not so fancy, I’m afraid.”
“Thanks again for this,” Laura told Mrs. Gilner.
“Oh, we’re glad, so glad to help. I’m sure Petunia will be a welcome member of the Canfield family.”
That would be a first, Petunia thought.
“Petunia, your first class starts in ten minutes,” Laura said. “You have your schedule?”
“Then off you go,” Laura said.
“Right through that door, first classroom on your left,” said Mrs. Gilner.
Off I go so the adults can talk, Petunia thought, but she put her head down and walked to the door Mrs. Gilner had come out of. She pushed it open, and paused.
She was looking down a wide hallway. The floor was linoleum, and lockers lined the walls, but some of the mansion’s old opulence remained in the decorative wainscoting and large, rounded windows. The hall was filled with students, digging into lockers, talking and roughhousing. They all wore the Canfield Mountain School uniform — skirt and blouse for the girls, slacks and dress shirt for the boys, each with the Canfield crest embroidered on the breast pocket — but it seemed that everyone had augmented it in some way. Bright socks flashed in the sea of feet. Long keychains swung from hips, and miniature toys dangled from backpacks. Petunia, in her unadorned uniform, felt suddenly underdressed.
She looked at her list. Item number seven read simply, “Mingle.” She looked up again. How? She didn’t know which locker was hers. And the classroom was right there, steps away to her left. Without some purpose she would look foolish wandering down the hallway. So she ducked into the classroom instead, simultaneously glad to have an excuse to put off meeting people, and feeling like a cop-out for taking the excuse so fast.
There was only one other person in the classroom, a dark-haired girl, sitting by the window. Her uniform was neat and strictly to regulation, no bright socks or backpack tchotchkes. Her books were arranged tidily on the desk in front of her, a fresh page open for notes. She stared with unfocused eyes out the window, her face distant and a little haughty. Petunia recognized the expression. It was the one her face wore whenever it could be spotted in the background in class photographs from past schools. She hated that expression. It made her look cold and unapproachable. What it really was was hardly any better: it was the face of a girl who didn’t belong anywhere, and knew it.
Petunia looked at her list. Item number two was, “You are a new person here. So be a new person.” Item number six was, “Identify a quiet girl and be friendly towards her.” She tucked the list back into her skirt pocket and stepped forward. “Pretty bleak weather out there, huh?”
The girl’s head swiveled around and her eyes met Petunia’s, cool and remote. They flicked down her body and up again. After a moment she said in a flat voice, “It’s March.”
Petunia recognized this, too. The girl didn’t mean to be harsh; she had been taken off guard and that was the first reply she could think of. So Petunia kept the smile on her face. “Hi, I’m Petunia,” she said.
The girl’s expression didn’t change. She held Petunia’s eyes without even blinking. After too long of a moment, one of her eyebrows slowly rose and she said, “Good for you.”
Petunia began to suspect she had made a mistake.
“You’re the new girl,” the girl said. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes,” Petunia said, her smile fixed now. She wanted to say something more, something clever, but her mind had blanked.
“Pet,” said the girl.
“Petunia,” Petunia corrected. Not that it was much better.
“Pet,” said the girl, turning away and looking out the window again.
Petunia stood there for a long moment until she realized that the conversation was over. She turned, feeling foolish, and found a desk in the back of the room, just as a wave of student came in, talking and laughing. The room filled. Petunia hoped she wasn’t sitting at anyone’s chosen desk, but if she was, no one said anything. No one said anything to her at all.