Sunday, January 3, 2016

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Grigorova-Schaarschmidt

Name: Lily Grigorova-Schaarschmidt
Genre: New Adult Fantasy
Title: Dragon Season

From the second book of Aalyn Stargazer, prophet of the Change: “It is the year of the Dragon, age third of this earth, and it has come to the birth of what will bring us to ruins. It will be a time of sinking hearts, evil powers, and empty souls. Fear, death, and dishonor will roam the earth unpunished, and good people will hide and keep silent. All hope will go into the ground faster than water on sand and no trace will remain.”

The old road wound along the crest of Alya hill, as it had wound for hundreds of years before the House of Carnelian had settled in the plateaus of the Footmark. Its smooth cobblestones were polished nacreous by feet, horseshoes and wheels, and their age no one could tell. The old Baian Carnelian, father of boyar Baian, used to tell his grandchildren the story of this road, and every time they listened to him open-mouthed. He told how it was built by the sons of czar Aristo, last of the Great Warriors of the Riding People, in the year when he left the steppes to found his dominion here, among the ancient plateaus. “The czar’s sons placed the stones with their own hands and chose them even and smooth so that his footfalls would be heard far and wide and resound over the whole plain; they wanted all the people of the Hand to hear that there is a new czar and lord coming. When the royal procession passed along the crest of Alya, the czar dismounted from his horse and asked his sons: “Why did you make this white road?” His sons answered him: “With toil and blood did we build your road, father, to make sure that this land will remember for all eternity the coming of its new lord.” “Why did you build it with your own hands and didn’t order the villagers to build it for you?” “Because what a man builds from stone with his own hands, he will never leave.” And the czar, pleased, descended into the valley and galloped toward the plateaus of the Footmark to sit on his new throne.” With these words the old Baian Carnelian would sit back in his chair, sucking his pipe, and his grandchildren would jump up eagerly asking him to tell them more. Which he did. And whether his stories were true, nobody knows…

So the road winds along the crest of Alya hill, as white as ever, so old that no chronicle records who and when has built it. And with each passing year its cobblestones look more and more like nacre. Now the stones are reverberating with the impatient gallop of Marya, a young and stalwart mare of the purest Amahrah breed, and on her back is bent the last of the Carnelians. Only she remains of the four grandchildren, who listened open-mouthed to their grandfather’s stories about the great czars of the Riding People. She is the last one who remembers. If she has remembered. Her name is Elena.

It was the month of winds of the year 2207. Elena Carnelian, daughter of the boyar of Alshanai Baian, and granddaughter of Baian Thundervoice, was returning to Khania after six years in the royal courts of the Federation. She spurred her mare along the frozen cobblestones in pursuit of a black shadow that raced ahead of her. The shadow glided over the uneven body of the hill, its outline rippling on the frosted earth as it passed over boulders and bushes. It had the most unusual shape, but Elena had seen it before, back in the colorful years of her childhood. From the moment she had crossed the border river, she had been looking forward to seeing it. And there it was, on the very doorstep of her hometown. The shadow darted over the white frosted meadows of the hill like a wild trick of the light, gradually approaching the open plain beyond Alya’s crest, where the silhouette of Alshanai was emerging from the mist. Elena pressed her heels into the mare’s sides, spurring her on. She couldn’t lose sight of it. For this was no ordinary shadow. It was the shadow of a child.

As it neared the edge of the hill, the shadow got larger and then in the blink of an eye disappeared, sank somewhere beyond the ridge. Elena pulled Marya’s reins and peered at the sky, searching. Up there, in the colorless winter air, a pale shape materialized, rushing headlong towards the ground. The owner of the shadow was a boy, not more than six or seven years old. His arms were outstretched, his feet slightly apart, his head up, his gaze in the distance. He whizzed by a dozen meters above her, without even noticing her, but Elena managed to see his face. There was pure exultation on it. She watched his graceful dive over the plain – a swift black spot, led by its even blacker shadow, skimming the treetops – until she lost him among the wavelike downs at the skirts of Alya.

With a sigh, as if for something irrevocably lost, Elena Carnelian jumped from the saddle. Her feet landed softly on the hard packed earth.

It was a late winter afternoon, and the valley had wrapped itself in silence. A pale sun had emerged from the greyness of the sky, shedding unusual warmth over the frozen land. Elena drew a deep breath, and her heart leapt, awakened. The earth smelled of strength and life, of truth and purpose she had almost forgotten. Alshanai was hiding against the foot of Alya, enveloped in pre-evening mist, but through the grey air she could discern silhouettes of buildings and streets so familiar they touched her soul. Beyond the city, along the east horizon where evening was already draping its first veils, loomed the outlines of the Footmark – the tangle of rock plateaus, among which Khania’s ancient history had begun its regal course.

Somewhere there, amid the winding plateaus, was the city of Baarr, and in Baarr, maybe, was Ivaylo …

Marya nudged her hand, and Elena tore herself away from the view. She opened her saddlebags, fishing out a small mirror, round and pretty, engraved with a silver wood-nymph rose. Her lips were chapped after the long ride, so she moistened them with rose balm. Fatigue had drained the velvet glow from her olive skin; under her eyes, hazel, with the green-brown hues of winter woods, had gathered shadows. She pinched her cheeks to bring out some color and for a moment stared at the tiny star-shaped birthmark on her right cheekbone, just under the eye. In the courts of the Federation her slightly dusky skin, flowing auburn curls, and this birthmark had won her a reputation as a southern beauty. Once, in the late morning of her youth, before the university, before the Federation, this star-shaped freckle had made Ivaylo call her “Errie” – after the brightest star on the east horizon. Because stars, he said, marked their favorites with their beauty …

In a moment of weakness her hands quivered. The small silver mirror slipped through her fingers. Paralyzed, like in a dream, Elena watched its merciless flight to the ground, unable to stop it. Upon its impact with the nacre of the road the mirror burst like a teardrop. She remained petrified, her eyes on the shards, while the sun disappeared behind her, taking its warmth from the world.


  1. Hi Lily!

    I'm very interested to find out more about Elena and the flying boy. Why is he flying, and why is she following her.

    I feel like there's a lot of exposition and backstory in the beginning before we meet Elena that could be spread out elsewhere in the story. There was a lot of information thrown at the reader in these first few pages, and most of it does nothing to introduce us to Elena, but to the road that she's on.

    I also found the names confusing. I got a bit lost trying to figure out which names referenced places, and which ones were the names of other people.

    Speaking of people, who is Ivaylo? Is he an ex-boyfriend? Crush? Lost friend? It says a lot that she is so affected by a memory of him and his nickname for her.

    Some of the word choices were a little off for me. I had to stop in the middle of reading and look up the word nacreous before I went on.

    I'm also not sure about the very first paragraph. I'm pretty sure it's meant to set the tone of the story, and to foreshadow to what Elena will be facing. But it's almost like a mini prologue that raises expectations, then immediately dumps us on a road that's being described by Baian, I believe.

    Maybe that first paragraph is supposed to be on it's own page, which makes more sense now that I think about it. I would use the word 'unfettered' instead of 'unpunished', but I'm not sure if that's the kind of edits we're doing here. Yet I think that's more of what you were trying to portray in that sentence, so I felt compelled to mention it.

    Hope this helps. Let me know if I need to clarify anything.

    1. Hi Adana, you've made some excellent points! Do you notice any other words that sound weird to you? (if so don't hesitate to throw all of them at me).
      I need to rethink a lot.
      Thank you for the great feedback!

  2. I loved the story of the ancient road and the sons who built it. I'm confused by the next paragraph that says no one knows who built it. Is it a different road than the one Elena's grandfather just told us about?

    I agree with Adana, that it takes us a while to get to Elena. I feel like you could begin with her riding on the road and have her remember the tale her grandfather told to give us the road's history. Get Elena and the action in there first and then give us more backstory/worldbuilding.

    I had to look up nacreous also, but that didn't both me. Your use of nacre two more times in this passage did. I love learning new words. I feel like it's also a great way to describe the worn cobblestone. However, I would recommend using some synonyms later in the passage so it doesn't become redundant.

    I loved the childhood nickname that is the name of a star to tie in her birthmark. It's the type of detail that makes a character unique and a nickname believable. I also liked that it was a term of endearment chosen by a boy that clearly loved her. Adana mentioned that there are a lot of names thrown in here. You could, perhaps, leave Ivalyo's out for now, and have her just remembering a boy that once spoke pretty things to her, and later have him greet her by the old nickname. The reader would immediately know how much the name, and the boy, meant to her.

    The flying boy is a bit of an anomaly for me here. Do all children in this realm fly? Are some people gifted with flight? I feel like you just gloss over it like it's no big deal. It made me wonder if I had missed something. I actually went back to read it again to make sure I hadn't missed anything. I feel like he's out of context. I'd love to know more about him and how he's able to fly while Elena is stuck on a horse.

    I think you've got a promising start here. I look forward to reading your revisions.

    1. Hi Gabby,
      your suggestions are really helpful! It's amazing how blindsided we can be when it comes to our own creations.
      Thank you for the great feedback!

  3. You’ve built a very rich and original world, and I love the sense you’ve evoked that there’s a really robust and complex history here.

    There are a lot of characters introduced in the first few pages. It might help to eliminate some names (do we need to know the czar’s name is Aristo, for example; do we need to know Elana’s father and grandfather’s names) so that the reader isn’t uncertain about who needs to be kept track of vs. not so early on. Any of the names that are important can be introduced later.

    I was also most intrigued by the part about the shadow/flying boy. It was especially interesting to me that she’d seen it before, in her childhood, and was looking forward to seeing it again. I wondered if you could elaborate a little on her past experience with the shadow/flying boy, given that it left such an impression on her. Has she been thinking about it ever since? Is this an obsession? So she has aged, but the flying boy hasn’t?

    Given that she was so dedicated to catching up to (?) the flying boy, t was surprised that she just jumps off the saddle and then continues on, somewhat unaffected, once she loses him. Does she know she’ll see him again? Or did she never expect to catch up to him anyway? Or does something more important happen or cross her mind to distract her?

    Looking forward to reading more!

    1. Hi Melanie,
      it's a great idea to eliminate some of the names. I also really have to rethink the flying boy introduction. Thank you so much for your help!

    2. Hi Melanie,
      it's a great idea to eliminate some of the names. I also really have to rethink the flying boy introduction. Thank you so much for your help!

  4. Hi Lily! Wow. This is a very dense text. It has a nice high fantasy feel, though I'm not sure why you're calling it NA--it feels pretty straight-up fantasy to me thus far. My feeling about this first 5 is that you've got a collection of "starts" in a row: The prophet PP (I'd discard--confusing); the road/stones PP; the family tree to Elena PP; the mountain ride/flying boy PP; the mirror breaking PP. In sum, a collection of set-ups but we don't really have a feeling of any urgency that drives us from paragraph to paragraph. When I reached the end, I got a sense that Elena would be the MC (or at least AN MC) but I still don't really know what is driving her. Why is she on this road? Why is the broken mirror so important? While fantasy tends to have more world-building than, say, a thriller at the start, we still need some kind of tension in those opening paragraphs to pull the reader through the backstory. You don't have to give away the BIG plot thread but some small conflict skeleton on which to layer your muscle/skin of fantasy history and road description will make the reader page breathlessly through instead of a little bit feeling like they're just plodding, waiting for the story payout later on. Particularly if this is your first novel, it is important not to do this to the reader. Diana Gabaldon, for example, probably has won the loyalty and trust of her readers enough to have them be more patient with their set-up. But readers don't know the payout they'll get from you, so you need to set up something. For example, let us meet Elana on the road FIRST, the mirror weighing heavily in her pocket (WHY? Should she have brought it? Why does she need to look beautiful where she is going? Who is there? Why is she traveling today of all days? Tell me.) These are small tensions that might speak to her character, her vanity or humility, her sense of what she is about to do. While they may not be the main plot, they help the reader form a real connection to the character. Then, we can see the road through Elana's eyes as she rides, maybe briefly sighting something strange overhead but dismissing it because ????, maybe BRIEFLY admiring the "nacre" (w.c.?) stones, but GOING SOMEWHERE...trying to GET SOMEWHERE. Have I written too much? Sorry. In sum, you've done some gorgeous writing-in to this story. Now you need to brutally pinpoint the CENTER of the maelstrom and let your readers enter near there.
    Best of luck with your work this week! -- Stasia

    1. Hi Stasia, I understand all the points you're making. It will keep me awake tonight, thinking about them, trying to morph the beloved beginning of my novel into something the readers will also love. It's actually very exciting to finally get some real solid feedback (from you and the other participants). Thank you!

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  5. Hello Lily,

    Well, you are a storyteller, and how I do love story. Thank you so much for letting me read this! Here are some particular phrases that drew me in: “last of the Carnelians,” “month of winds,” “The shadow glided over the uneven body of the hill, its outline rippling on the frosted earth…” “evening draping its first veils,” and “burst like a teardrop.” These are some beautiful words and images! And I was so intrigued by the idea of the flying shadow child.

    Overall, I agree with the other comments about needing to get to your protagonist Elena more immediately. (I felt much more drawn into the story once I was with Elena on that horse.) But I’m wondering if this could be solved by massaging your POV. In the beginning we clearly have a narrator telling this story. The narrator even tells us something Elena can’t know, that there might be something she doesn’t remember. So you are very clearly in a third person omniscient point of view. But when we get to Elena’s part, beginning particularly in paragraph five, when she’s chasing the shadow child, it feels like that view narrows to third person limited. In other words, it feels like the narrator isn’t omniscient anymore, that the narrator only knows what Elena is thinking and seeing.

    My suggestion (based on my very limited read of these first few pages, so take this with a grain of salt!) would be to stay in third person limited. To stay only in Elena’s head and thoughts, and not include information she isn’t thinking right then or doesn’t know. That would force you to get right to your character, and allow you weave your backstories into her own thoughts as she rides. It also limits the temptation to tell us backstories first, which keeps us from having too many unfamiliar words and names thrown at us at once without a framework or reference (such an easy thing to have happen with fantasy!). What do you think, Lily? What suits your story best?

    My other comment would be to suggest that you hint more at the coming conflict in these beginning pages. Fantasy is longer and has a slower pace, but we still need some tension to tug at us as we read. Is Elena running from something? Is she running to something? Is she late, and are there consequences for that? Is the road dangerous? Is it dangerous to get off the road? What are her worries and fears? How could you foreshadow her conflicts, either internal or external?

    I hope that gives you tons of food for thought, Lily. Can’t wait to read your revision!

    1. Hi Sharon,

      I feel so lucky that a writer of your experience can take a look at my work!

      I actually tried to have two different POVs (as you pointed out) – the omniscient (present tense) to introduce us into the world and make it all seem mythical and intransient, and then the limited (past tense) when I actually zero in on Elena and get to telling the "current" story. I did this with the first 3 chapters (which introduce the three main characters, who are also old childhood friends and come together near the middle of the novel), thinking it was cool :). Obviously it doesn't work and doesn't accomplish what I hoped, so I'm currently rewriting. I think you’ve made some excellent points and I will take it all into account. It’s a daunting task, rewriting something so special to me, but I find myself excited to be able to improve it all.

      Thank you so much for your feedback!

      And a small remark: I just started reading Rook, it’s thrilling and had me from the first page, can’t wait to see Sophia at her engagement party 

    2. Aw, thanks, Lily. And I hope you enjoy Rook!

  6. Hi Lily,
    I agree with the comments about moving to the character faster, cutting down on the number of names in the beginning and being curious about the flying boy. I like the use of new words but nacreous once is good. Using an unusual word repeatedly was a little distracting for me.

    I particularly liked the comment about meeting the mirror earlier to develop tension or curiosity. I think that would be interesting story wise but also help move to Elena sooner.

    I love the first paragraph. I find it well written and really makes meant to read the story. I think you do a great job with imagery. I can really see the setting and Elena. I think the dropping of the mirror really hits home, so mentions the mirror earlier would make it even more significant,

    I did wonder about the timing. If she has been away for 6 years how does she know the flying boy who is 6 or 7? Perhaps it is an eternally young boy but I found the numbers spdistracting and had to go back to double check how long Elena had been away.

    A couple of other things, I think if a pale sun as cold not warming the land, so it didn't work for me to hear the lake sun warming the land. Do smooth stones make order sounds? I'd never heard that before (which mpdoesnt mean it isn't true) but I found that distracting as I started to wonder about this and if it were fact. If it is something most people know it's great but if not I might rethink that detail.

    Overall I felt really drawn in and am looking forward to your revisions.

    1. Thanks Jessica! I see the problem with the little boy, it seems I didn't manage to portray the encounter well enough. She doesn't really know the boy, he's just a boy, and what she misses is flying. But I'm working on a rewrite, let's see whether I handle it better this time :)