Sunday, January 17, 2016

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Grigorova-Schaarschmidt Rev 2

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

Something is wrong in the ancient country of Khania. People feel it but have no idea how to explain it: weird weather phenomena, mystics who can command the animals, see the future, talk to the dead. And weirdest of all – the flying children.

Asaen of Cranebirds is a student in Khania’s foremost university and in love with the country’s only princess – Sofiya Bahllaar. The two of them are in possession of a trio of mysterious books which seem to explain the strange occurrences and foretell a coming cataclysm.

Before they could decipher the Dragon Books, however, they find themselves on the run from an arcane organization that will readily kill for the knowledge in the books. Meanwhile, Khania begins to shake under the blows of a conspiracy to dethrone the royal dynasty.

Asaen and Sofiya’s only refuge turns out to be their controversial group of friends – Elena, the sole heir to a rebellious northern house, Boyan, a bon vivant and womanizer, and several of Asaen’s unsuspecting classmates, who are also dragged into what has become a cloak-and-dagger war for the greatest power ever to belong to man.

It is the month of winds of the year 2207, and Elena of House Carnelian is galloping home. She is leaning close to her mare’s neck, her breath conjuring angry puffs of white out of the late-winter air. It has been six long years since she has last ridden down this old road, over its paving stones worn so smooth by centuries of hooves, wheels and feet that they look like mother-of-pearl. To her it feels like it’s been forever. But the land is welcoming her home. The stone heart of the hill, the fragrant bosom of the pine wood. She is their last hope. She is the last of the Carnelians.

Elena noticed the soarer as soon as she rounded the wide curve and found herself on the crest of Alya hill. It was a boy, at least judging by his breeches. His shadow had appeared on the ground by the road like a ghost from the past, haunting her on the threshold of her hometown. He was flying close to the thin dove-colored clouds, arms outstretched, oblivious to the young woman on the high white horse who was chasing him across the meadows.

It was the flying children that had made her country famous in the royal courts of the Federation. The miracle children of Khania. Some regarded them as a message from God. Others as incredible feats of nature. To Elena they were simply the joyous days of her childhood. Because she used to be one of them.

The soarer swerved and headed towards the open plain beyond the crest of Alya hill. His shadow glided over the uneven body of the hill, its outline rippling on the frosted earth. Elena leaned even closer to her mare’s neck and whispered:

“Faster, my girl!”

She knew it was silly to chase him. She was a daughter of Carnelian, the sole remaining heir to the greatest house of Khania’s northeast, and it was unbecoming to race through the hills with no good reason. But she simply had to see him, see that look on his face, of pure exultation. Long ago she had been the best soarer among the pack of flying children. She could ascend and dive the fastest, as light as the wind, defying all the laws of gravity and reason. Maybe because her ability had been so powerful, she had been the first to lose it. It had happened near her tenth birthday, she’d been left, desolate, amid the castle’s courtyard, feet glued to the ground. Such freedom was a hard thing to lose.

Marya, her snow-white thoroughbred, whinnied, irritated – the soarer’s shadow was pulling ahead. They were approaching the cliff-like east side of Alya hill which stood guard over the valley of the city. The shadow slid over the rocky edge and disappeared. At the very brink Elena pulled the reins. Then looked up.

The boy was only feet above her, descending swiftly through the grey winter sky. For just a second Elena managed to see his face. Young, baby-like roundness, huge dark eyes. And that triumphant look, which nothing less but absolute freedom can bring.

He whizzed by and sank beyond the edge. His shape sailed gracefully over the treetops before merging with the mist that hung over the city of Alshanai.

With a sigh for something irrevocably lost, Elena Carnelian jumped from the saddle. Her feet landed softly on the hard packed earth. She let her eyes sweep over the view before her, let it wash over her, and felt her heart beat madly in her chest. Her self-imposed exile was over. She was home.

The valley had wrapped itself in silence. A pale sun had emerged from the greyness of the sky, shedding unusual warmth over the land. Alshanai was a sprawling stone labyrinth against the foot of Alya hill, encircled by a forty-foot high wall. A gentle pre-evening mist was now drifting over it, but through the ashen air Elena could discern silhouettes of buildings and streets so familiar they plucked strings in her soul. In the middle of the city, on a soft rise she could see the central square, with the boyar castle and the clock tower on both sides. She squinted through the mist. The tower should have flown the Carnelian banner – the Rider Victorious in russet and bronze – yet no banner fluttered in the breeze. A twinge of unease made her frown.

How could it seem so long ago, and yet as though no time at all had passed! She had left Alshanai in a flurry of regret and tears, hoping what happened will be fixed with time and distance. But now, seeing the city, and smelling the hill, and breathing in the pine wood, she found it all still here, waiting for her.

Was he here? Along the east horizon, where evening was already draping its first veils, she could almost make out the outlines of the plateaus that surrounded Khania’s old capital. Somewhere there was the ancient seat of his House. Somewhere there, maybe, was Ivaylo…

Marya nudged her hand, and Elena tore herself away from the view. She opened her saddlebags, her fingers brushing past the stack of letters that were the reason for her return. She wouldn’t think about them now, or about the missing banner atop the clock tower. Now was the time to make herself presentable. She fished 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 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 …

She didn’t even feel her hands shake. The mirror simply fell 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 stony ground, the mirror burst like a teardrop.

Then the silence was broken by a bird’s shriek. High in the sky above her wound a billow of crows. As though a single mind united the birds’ flight through the sky, turning them into a fierce genie writhing towards the valley of the city.

Two bad omens. Three, if she counted the missing Carnelian banner. Elena stroked Marya’s neck, trying to calm herself enough to resume this journey home. With an effort, she shook off the numbness and forced her eyes away from the hypnotic twists of the bird cloud. Then she jumped on the saddle and without a second glance at the shattered remains of the mirror galloped down the road to Alshanai.


  1. The tension in this opening is much thicker! All of the omens leave me wondering what misfortune they're all portending. Also, the soarer, and his connection to Elena, don't feel so forced. He seems to belong here as she rediscovers her homeland. Also, I like that Ivalyo's nickname for her has reappeared. I liked that bit before, and I feel like it works much better now that there aren't so many other characters vying for attention in the opening passage.

    The biggest thing I would caution you against here is verb tense. It bounces around in a few places from present to past, and there was even a future tense or two in there. Definitely read through and make sure all your verbs are conjugated in the same tense.

    You pitch really surprised me. I expected Elena to be the main character, but your pitch makes it sound like she is just a supporting role in the book. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. It just took me by surprise. I'm worried that you introduce too many characters in the pitch. I know the supporting friends are going to be very important in the novel, but if they aren't a main character, I would leave them out of the pitch. If you have chapters narrated in each of their voices, that would change things, but it seems like you're going with third person.

    I've enjoyed reading your revisions over the past few weeks. I hope the feedback has been helpful. Good luck on the rest of your writing journey!

    1. Thanks Gabby! Wow, got a bit worried about your verbs comment, have to go through it very carefully.
      About the pitch, I had a version with only Asaen and Sofiya (the main MC:)) but since I start with Elena I thought this may be a bit confusing, so I tried to at least mention her in the pitch as well. The story is told from the point of view of three characters - Elena, Asaen, and Sofiya. I'm not entirely sure how to present it without confusing the reader.

    2. You could devote a sentence or two to each maybe? Make them have equal importance in the query. I just felt like Elena got tacked on at the end, and she deserves to be more than an afterthought. I also just realized that participants aren't supposed to critique this week. Oops.

    3. To funny, if you hadn't said that about participants not commenting I would never have realized it. Thanks. Its been fun reading your work. jessica

    4. I also hadn't noticed that we are not supposed to comment this time!
      It's been enormous fun doing this, and extremely helpful! I'd be happy to keep helping each other with comments for the rest of these novels!

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  3. Hi Lily,

    I really like the opening line of your pitch. One sentence in and I'm hooked. But the whole thing was powerful. I too was surprised Elena isn't the lead character.

    I still liked the opening paragraph in the first version. I hope you are planning on keeping it in the final version.

    I like how you introduce and explain the flying boy. It flows much better. I wonder if there is a way to show that Elena used to be one. There is a lot of telling in this section.

    I wonder about how much of the opening is spent on Elena if she isn't to be the main character.

    Having read the pitch, I think it would be good to hint a bit more that something isn't right. To lure the reader in.

    I have really enjoyed reading your work and seeing your world.

    1. Thanks Jessica! The decision about Elena, the pitch, and the beginning of the novel is a very big one, that I need to think about!
      It's been wonderful working together, I wish you a lot of patience and luck:)

  4. It's tricky to discuss the new opening having read the pitch because I feel that, while both have merits, an agent or editor receiving these materials would be confused because the pitch features two MCs while the opening pages feature someone else. In my opinion, if these are your opening pages, you need to focus more on Elena in the pitch to keep them connected. As has been noted above, the introduction of these new characters in the pitch is surprising. I am full of questions: Has Elena met these folks yet? If Asaen is still at the university from which Elena is riding away, have you chosen the right place to start your novel--on the road? Journeys are a challenging type of scene in writing--does the road matter? does the way the destination is reached matter? is much of the text descriptive and/or introspective where another setting would be more active for the MC?--and so, along with the issue of two other MC's, I feel like some decision-making is required in terms of the structure and pacing of the opening chapters. You can keep the first 5, incorporate references to the other MC's, and help readers understand why Elena is the vital person with whom they should begin this journey. OR, you can tweak the pitch. More generally, 3 MC's are a lot to manage, which is not to dissuade you but if this is your first MS, make sure you need them all and that you can make all three voices meaningful and distinct.
    Back to the pitch: Remember that your goal is just to get editor/agent to ask for more so it is important to make your story stand out. Avoid generics like "unsuspecting classmates" and "weird weather phenomena" -- for these two examples, I'd cut the former (no need to mention add'l secondary or tertiary characters) and revise the latter (WHAT kind of phenoma? tornadoes? hurricanes & floods that destroy/threaten something?). Also, in your pitch you call flying children "weird," yet Elena recalls fondly her own flying childhood--maybe this inconsistency should be addressed.
    So, now what? It's clear you've got an amazing world built. You've got characters you love. Now comes the hard work of organizing, plotting, and carving away at places where language and abstraction weaken the power of your story. Best of luck! Be as brave as your characters and you can make this story fly like one of those magical children!

    1. I've been struggling with the question whether to start with Elena or not for a very long time. The three MCs are childhood friends, who are brought back together as the story develops. Initially all three POVs had the same weight, but I had to cut part of Elena's story to reduce word count. So this turned her into a supporting MC. At the same time until now I still think her point of view is the best one to introduce the reader into the world (she's the soarer, and I thought, if I'm going to have flying kids, I'd better introduce them from the very beginning, when the reader's mind is most open).
      I actually just wanted to say thank you so much, Stasia! This workshop and your very thoughtful comments have helped me start the essential process of the "real" editing.

  5. Hi Lily,

    I love the additional detail about the flying children, especially hearing more about Elena’s experience as one of them. I definitely want to keep reading more to learn about them. Also, I think you did a great job bringing back some of the high fantasy elements, like the use of the word breeches.

    One thing that I did miss from the previous revision was the mention of the letters from her best friend early on, how she had to come back despite any misgivings about doing so. I liked the tension in that so early, and wondered if you could bring back something like it. From your pitch, it sounds like even though the flying children may have been around for a long time, there’s something different now about them that’s more alarming (in conjunction with the other signs). Right now, it sounds like the flying children have been totally normal for at least 10+ years (since Elena was a child), so they seem like cool world-building, but not necessarily a sign of a problem. :

    I also was surprised that Elena wasn’t the main character in the pitch. You mention in your earlier comment that Sofiya is the main character, but I actually would have expected Aasen just based on the fact that s/he is mentioned first in your pitch.

    Thanks so much for sharing your work, and all your great comments! I enjoyed being in this workshop with you!!!


    1. Thanks, Melanie, for your comments and encouragement! It was great fun working with you! I wish you and your novel all the best!

  6. Hi Lily,

    Oh my gosh, what a good revision! I think you did exactly what several of us said last time, and that was to weave in the more limited POV with the high fantasy voice that you’re really good at. This version felt much more focused that the first one, and the voice that got a little lost in the second version is now loud and clear. So much better! The flying child really draws me in and makes me wonder about Elena and the rest of your world. And there is some seriously beautiful language in here! Nice job.

    I think this beginning is working well, but I realize that deciding where to start this story has been an issue for you, and of course, without having read the rest of the book, it’s impossible to comment or advise you on that in a real way. So I will just say that if this your beginning, I do agree with the other comments that you should probably rearrange your pitch to start with Elena, so that the pitch and sample pages match a little better. Maybe start that part of the pitch with who Elena is and how and why she is needed by Sofiya and Asaen, thereby introducing them all three, but with Elena first?

    I also wondered about the line “And weirdest of all – the flying children.” The flying child is set up as a very positive, beautiful thing to Elena, not as a negative. So maybe revise this? And maybe add more specifics about what is wrong, or why the things you named are “wrong?” Mystics commanding animals and talking to the dead actually sounds kind of cool rather than bad!

    Another way to strengthen this pitch might be to name your villain, or villainous thing, in order to make your conflict more clear. Who is the leader of the arcane organization? What do they want, and what is preventing your characters from stopping them? Right now it’s unclear whether the real danger is some kind of mystical power gone awry, or a political conspiracy, or whether the political conspiracy is using the mystical power gone awry for their own diabolical purposes! Telling me these key points would make me want to read the story even more, I think.

    I hope all this has been helpful to you, Lily. Thank you for letting me read your work, and keep letting your beautiful storytelling voice come shining through! All my very best writing wishes!

    1. Yes, it's kind of obvious that the pitch and the 1st 5 pages should match, but sometimes, when you are staring at every tiny part of your work you miss the obvious :) Thank you, Sharon! Your suggestions and advice have been extremely helpful, just like this whole workshop. To help me get in the right frame of mind for some essential editing, and at the same time gain confidence that I can do this. I will keep working on the beginnig chapters and the pitch, but now this task doesn't seem so daunting :)
      And, in the course of these three weeks I've read Rook, and enjoyed every page of it. Thanks also for that! You've created a unique world, avoiding the cliche traps (I loved that a plastic toy house, a CD, or a plastic box were display items:)), and I totally fell in love with Rene (from now on I'm going to look at ginger men quite differently:))

    2. Oh, well, if you're looking at ginger men differently, then obviously my work here is done! Glad you enjoyed the book, Lily, and thank you for sharing your writing with me! I look forward to seeing it in a bookshop one day. :)

  7. This is Erin posting for Laura since the blog is giving her trouble!

    PITCH: It’s generally understood in this industry that New Adult is almost exclusively contemporary erotica. There’s an ongoing debate about when YA stops and NA begins, and when NA stops and A begins (is it the age of the protagonist? the content? etc). But what’s typically agreed upon is that NA doesn’t have genre fiction. This is, depending on the direction the manuscript goes (voice, content, etc), adult fantasy or YA fantasy. My first impression is that this is adult.

    Pitching high fantasy is difficult. You don’t want to over-pitch; it’s good to leave just enough out that it piques the agent’s curiosity. But because it appears this is not only fantasy (complex world), but also multiple POVs (two, maybe three or four), and potentially two big threats, it’s daunting for an agent to grasp on the pitch alone. If the two threats (the threatening organization and the strange occurrences) are related, it might be best to hint at that a bit more in the manuscript and drop the names of the secondary characters. The agent will meet them when it’s time!

    STORY: The first line could be used instead as a season/year marker in the chapter title. I’d begin with Elena leaning close to her mare’s neck as she races along the old road, propelling the reader right into the movement of the story.

    What a gorgeous high fantasy voice!

    Now about the pitch versus these opening scenes…I am under the impression we will have two POVs (Asaen and Sofiya) followed by some strong secondary characters, one of them Elena. Not having seen the rest of the manuscript, I wonder if it would be better to start with a scene featuring Asaen first, followed by this one with Elena? Or perhaps alerting the reader ahead of time that this chapter is in Elena’s POV (chapter heading)?

    It’s difficult to provide feedback with multiple points of view without having read the rest of them. But if this writing style continues throughout, with this luscious high fantasy voice, then this manuscript feels ready. It’s just a matter of figuring out whose POV will be presented first.


    1. Thank you, Laura! Categorizing my story was difficult (I feel a bit silly not knowing NA doesn't mean fiction aimed at college age audience). Adult fantasy it is then!
      You've made some excellent points, about making the threats and the connection between them more clear in the pitch, and focusing on one side of the story, just enough to pique the interest. I also need to think about the best way to start, a way that introduces the reader gently into the world, still grips her attention, and doesn't confuse the agent with multiple POVs.Thanks again for the feedback!