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
Petunia had to crane her neck back to see the whole school. “It looks like a haunted house,” she said.
Laura frowned at her. “They keep it in very good shape,” she said.
“Not that kind of haunted house,” Petunia told her social worker. She studied the sharp gables and sprawling wings. The place even had a tower. This wouldn’t be a rickety, falling down haunted house, but a rambling, gothic one, the kind with ornate staircases and faded wallpaper and corners shadowy with history.
“We’ve talked about your imagination,” Laura said, starting up the path towards the doors.
“I know,” Petunia said. From long habit, her hand slipped into her pocket and pulled out the old, faded memo book, the one she saved for special occasions, big changes. Leather covers, cream paper, three-quarters filled with thoughts, dreams, frustrations, and, most of all, advice from a dozen past lives. The first item read, as always, “Accept reality.” Petunia didn’t really need the reminder: she had mastered that skill long ago, which Laura would know if she’d paid attention to the more recent years in Petunia’s file. But that was the problem with uneventfulness. It didn’t stick in the memory.
“Come on,” Laura said over her shoulder, and Petunia took a deep breath and stepped forward. The tower loomed over her, dark against the gray sky, and then she was under the awning and Laura was pushing open the ornate double doors. Petunia told herself she was grateful; this was what she wanted. But her uniform felt strange, the blouse starchy and stiff, the skirt brushing unfamiliarly against her legs as she stepped inside.
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. Beyond, a tarnished, unlit chandelier hung in the shadows onder the high peaked ceiling. Petunia looked at her memo book again. Item number four on her list read, “It’s a school like any other.”
Was that really true? It wasn’t just that the building was a repurposed estate house, over a hundred years old. This was Canfield Mountain School, the most exclusive prep school in the county. She didn’t belong here.
But when had she ever belonged anywhere? She squared her shoulders and joined Laura in the middle of the room, just as a friendly voice said “Welcome!” 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, 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. And we’ve had a prior good experience, as you know. I’m sure Petunia will be another welcome member of the 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 the noise hit her like a wall, stopping her in her tracks.
Students filled the narrow hallway, jostling for access to the lockers that lined every spare inch of the walls. 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.
A book lobbed good-naturedly by one boy at another almost hit her. She stepped aside as he retrieved it without glancing at her, and looked at her list. Item number eight read simply, “Mingle.” She looked up again and her heart dropped. Wade into that mess? She didn’t even know which locker was hers. And the classroom was right there, steps away to her left. Without some purpose she would look foolish pushing down the hallway. And the noisy environment wasn’t the place for converation, anyway. So she put her head down and didn’t look at anyone as she walked stiffly across the hallway and ducked into the classroom. She tried to ignore a twinge of guilt, but she couldn’t stop herself glancing at her list. Item number three was, “You are a new person here. So be a new person.”
Not the best start.
There was only one other student 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.
Item number seven on Petunia’s list was, “Identify a quiet girl and be friendly towards her.” Well. She had copped out in the hallway, but this she could do. She tucked the memo book back into her skirt pocket and stepped forward. “Pretty bleak weather out there, huh?” She winced at how forced her voice sounded.
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.