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
16-year-old foster child Petunia long ago accepted that the impossible memories of her parents and childhood are merely a protective shield against the trauma of her abandonment. That’s what everyone says, and it makes more sense than the fairy tale in her head. But then she meets Avery, and the mysterious, dark-eyed boy sparks memories that hint that her parents really were loving — and that her unremembered childhood hides a secret even more terrible than abandonment. But can she trust Avery? He shows a dashing concern for her, but darkness follows him. The memories he stirs intrude on her waking life, building to an attack on her school by department store mannequins animated by a sinister force.
Escaping, Petunia finds herself in a world that is entirely different, yet familiar, a world that matches the fantastic fragments of her memory. She carves out an independent life for herself in this half-remembered land, with new friends as close to her as family. But Avery is out there somewhere, in danger or a danger, and so is the darkness that still hunts her. Pursuing the truth about the past that she and Avery share will mean giving up her new life for a life of danger and responsibility, a life in which the fate of many others hangs on her choices.
Petunia had to crane her neck back to see the whole school. “It looks like a haunted house.”
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 as she started up the path towards the doors.
“I know.” From long habit, Petunia slipped her hand 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. Laura would know that 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 under 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 tucked under the soaring staircase on the right. Bustling noise and voices escaped behind her and were stilled when the heavy 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. “Typically students aren’t allowed here. Tomorrow you’ll come in the side entrance. It’s not as fancy, I’m afraid.”
“Thanks again for this,” Laura told Mrs. Gilner. “On such short notice, too.”
“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. “I should get to class,” she said. Her first subject, Ancient History, started in ten minutes, and she didn’t even know where she was going. Her stomach twisted in either antipication or nerves. Probably both.
“Did you get settled into your room okay?” Mrs. Gilner asked. “I’m sure this is a bit of a whirlwind for you. Laura’s a real dynamo.” She smiled at Laura, who smiled tightly back and actually tapped her foot. “When she gets an idea in her head, stand back.”
Petunia nodded. She was not exactly settled, but all her stuff was in her room, and there’d be time later to unpack and look around at what would be her home for, hopefully, the next two and a half years. And then college, where everyone was new and your past didn’t matter. College, independence, a life of her own directing.
She was grateful to Laura for getting her firmly on that path. Mostly grateful, anyway. Okay, and just a touch resentful. True, her old social worker had not understood her very well, and when she had retired two weeks ago she had said with a sigh, “You’re a tough one to figure out.” Laura, if not more understanding, was at least more active. On her first day with Petunia she had had asked her life goals, and when Petunia had told her Laura had sprung into motion. Deals were made, scholarships obtained, and here Petunia was, moving in and starting classes all in the same morning. So yeah, she was grateful, but she also felt a little like she was just a box to be checked off of Laura’s to-do list.
“Great,” Laura said briskly. “Well, Anne, if you’ve got it from here, I have a lot to do.”
Petunia stood awkwardly as Laura and Mrs. Gilner said their goodbyes. She half-expected Laura to brush her hands off as she left, but of course she didn’t.
When Mrs. Gilner turned around again she looked surprised to see Petunia there.
“Um. Ancient History?” Petunia said.
“Oh, I’m sorry! Right through that door, first classroom on your left.”
Petunia followed her finger to the heavy door Mrs. Gilner had come in from. She pushed it open and a wall of noise hit her, 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 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, 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 conversation, 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 neon socks or backpack tchotchkes. Her books were arranged tidily on the desk in front of her, a fresh page open for notes.