Sunday, February 21, 2016

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Clark Rev 2

Name:  Mari Clark
Genre:  YA Mystery


When Travis’s father, an expert on electromagnetism, is lured to Barbados to research whether a bizarre particle accelerator that a billionaire built is linked to a plane crash and other anomalies, Travis begs to tag along—for surfing, not science. The only waves sixteen-year-old Travis cares about are ones he can ride.

After arriving on the island, Travis hears a disturbing rumor: The billionaire was conducting brain-wave experiments on his autistic teenage son to “cure” him. No one knows for sure since the billionaire died in a troubling accident and his son vanished.

Travis, believing his father is being lied to and is in danger, teams up with the attractive daughter of an island businessman and a West Indian surfer to help find their missing friend, the autistic teen. Besides possessing first-hand knowledge of the machine, the billionaire’s son knows what really happened to his father. Problem is, the colonel in charge of the investigation is also hell-bent on finding the boy to unlock his brain and discover how to turn his father’s invention into a military weapon. 

Travis and his friends must find the teen first before the nefarious colonel gains the power to unleash a tsunami of destruction. 


When I’m on my board waiting to catch a wave, I don’t care how buoyancy counteracts gravity to keep me afloat. If I launch myself into the air for a jump shot, I’m not concerned with the mechanics of lift. And if I’d been a passenger on Flight #111, I wouldn’t have spent my last seconds wondering which one of Newton’s three laws of motion was responsible for plummeting my plane into the Atlantic. 

Three weeks ago, Flight #111 from London to Barbados went down—and I can’t stop thinking about it. When my time comes, I hope my final wipeout is aboard my custom-made Firewire because that’s how I want to go out. My father, on the other hand, will probably be calculating pitch angles and contemplating g-forces on his deathbed.

My dad’s a good guy. His ability to solve complex electromagnetic wave problems is the reason we’re in Barbados. The strange anomalies on this island are a career opportunity for him and good luck for me—he’s letting me tag along to surf.

“Come on, Travis. The ocean will still be there on the other side of the airport.” My father drops a hand on my shoulder and turns me away from the water.

An orange-vested worker directs us inside the terminal and that’s when the emptiness hits me. The line at immigration? We breeze through. Shops and kiosks? Half of them are shuttered. The only movement is a lone baggage carousel snaking around, readying itself to spit out luggage. 

Despite the doomsday feeling, I’m not worried. Lack of tourists is expected after a psycho billionaire builds a weird-ass machine that causes a plane to crash.

Finally, an official-looking suit scurries up with two others trailing behind. The Minister of the Interior and his entourage have arrived. “Apologies, Dr. Hutchinson. Last minute political shenanigans,” he says, pumping my father’s hand. 

One of the two men shadowing comes over and picks up my duffle, and the other one grabs my father’s laptop case and carryon. The two men are much younger, maybe not even that much older than me. I offer up a fist-bump to the one closest. “Thanks, dude, but I can manage.”

The guy flashes a crooked-tooth grin. “No worries.” He eyes my Warriors jersey and mimes throwing a ball into a basket. 

For a sixteen-year-old, I’m tall. And unlike the rest of my family, sports are my thing. “Yep,” I say. “I play b-ball. You play? Who’s your favorite? Please don’t say LeBron.”

The guy shakes his head no to my first question and answers “Jeremy Lin” to my second. Only, it sounds like “Jar-uh-me Lean.” 

I love this accent. Back home, girls would be all over this. More importantly, Jess would be on it. I wonder if I’ll pick it up while I’m here. “He’s great. By the way, I’m Travis.” 

“Nigel,” he says, sticking out his hand. The other guy introduces himself as Alastair. 

“Cool. Uh, excuse me a minute,” I say, spotting a sign for the men’s room.

As soon as I enter the empty bathroom, I take out my cellphone with a slight nagging of guilt. I’d been lectured ad nauseam by my mom about limiting my texting and downloading. 

I text Jess anyway. 

Instead of getting on my case, my mom should be thankful I even have friends since she and my dad moved me and my sister across the country in the middle of my junior year!

I’ve only made two real connections since moving from Cali to Boston. Here’s hoping one of them—Jess—isn’t “just a friend” much longer.

Me:  This place as happening as Griffith Park Zoo. Or Dodger Stadium postseason.

Jess answers right away:  Wha? Where r u?

I shake my head, amused. Jess doesn’t always get my SoCal references. Good thing she’s so damn adorable.

Me: Ocean looks amazing. Epic waves. Can’t wait to surf. 

Jess:  Send me pic of beach so I can drool.

Me:  Only if u send one of u so I can drool. 

Hesitating a moment before adding Lol, I hit send. 

I rub my fingers over the fake tattoo on my wrist—ocean waves, circled by a short, cryptic poem. Jess drew that last night after she showed up at my house while I was packing. I’d spent the better part of our flight here trying to decipher its meaning, figuring if I stare at it long enough it’ll tell me whether we can take this relationship past the friend zone.

After our bags arrive, we breeze through customs and exit the terminal, heading for the deserted parking lot. Nigel piles our bags and my board in the back of a black SUV while Alastair takes the right-side driver’s seat. 

We pass miles of green sugarcane fields. When I spot a sign for Soup Bowl, my heart flip-flops. According to Surfline, my go-to guide, the foamy break known as Soup Bowl is unpredictable. Sometimes you get decent sets. Sometimes you get close-out waves. But it’s a notorious spot I’ve been wanting to surf forever. 

The Minister says something to Nigel, who turns and hands the local island newspaper with the headline “Devil’s Playground” splattered across the front. 

My father skims the newspaper article, while I subtly read over his shoulder. I catch a few key words and phrases—Satan’s sinkhole, baffling billionaire, mysterious magnetic machine—before my father folds the paper and passes it back to the Minister. 

We cruise by half-built houses and colorful shacks. We pass a rum shack, a stone church, a cemetery, and a chicken farm. A Rastafarian sitting alongside the highway leans against a Coca-Cola billboard, waving at cars—stoned out of his mind or friendly. Either way, I’m digging this. Occasionally, my nose is assaulted by the burned-toast smell of cane fields on fire. I recognize the aroma from our Hawaiian vacation a few years back. 

A few minutes later, the Minister announces, “We’re here.”

Awesome. We’ve arrived at the wacko billionaire’s compound. I lean forward, anxious to finally see what’s left of Peter Knightsbridge’s crazy-ass machine.

My father notices my excitement. “I’ve never seen you so enthused about a reception,” he observes.

“Reception?” I repeat, like an idiot.

“Weren’t you listening?” He takes off his glasses and frowns. 

No, not really “Uh, sure.” I’d been too distracted by the Soup Bowl sign, picturing myself riding some epic waves. “The reception’s here?”

He shakes his head in exasperation. “This is the home of Ian Van Stiles.” My father finishes wiping the lenses and looks at me like I’m supposed to know who that is.

 “I’m not sure that name sounds familiar,” I slowly say the words, gauging my father’s reaction as to how pissed he is I wasn’t paying attention.

“He’s one of the wealthiest men on the island.” When I continue looking puzzled, he adds, “He’s funding the investigation.”

“Sorry, drawing a blank.”

My father rolls his eyes. “The Minister mentioned he has an attractive daughter about your age.”

“Oh, yeah?” 

“Van Stiles is throwing a shindig to welcome us to the island.” He cuts his eyes to the Minister. “Isn’t that nice?”

Unlike my mom who uses sarcasm as a weapon—when she says something she means ironically, you damn well know it by the tone of her voice—I can never tell whether my dad is serious. I’m guessing . . . not. 

I shoot a thumbs-up sign to the Minister anyway. “A party. Great.”


  1. Your opening sentence is a little long. Perhaps instead:

    “When Travis’s scientist father is lured to Barbados to research whether a billionaire’s bizarre particle accelerator is linked to a recent plane crash, Travis tags along...but not for the science. The only waves Travis cares about are the ones he can ride.”

    I’d give the autistic boy’s name, so you don’t have to keep calling him ‘the autistic boy’ or ‘the billionaire’s son.’ And say THE problem is...

    Do we need to mention the surfer is West Indian? Just call him a local surfer.

    All in all, the pitch is exciting. You’ve got intrigue, mystery, and potential romance.

    Your opening paragraphs are much stronger. We get a better sense of who Travis is and his relationship to the doomed flight.

    I’m glad we know that we’re on Barbados. Can you really see the ocean from the airport? Maybe some description of the heat and scenery before they enter the terminal.

    Travis said he’s not worried about the doomsday device, but was he so confident when he was flying in?

    How does Travis recognize the man as the Minister of the Interior?

    I’m sorry you lost that line about British names in the Caribbean, that was cute.

    This is the first we’ve heard of Travis’s sister or that his parents are still together. In the previous drafts I assumed they were divorced.

    The LOL line is cute. How many times have we joked with our crushes, when we’re not really joking?

    Maybe just a tad more scenery description. I’ve never been to Barbados, so my mind is filling in scenes from Cuba.

    I might cut the ‘drawing a blank’ line. I think he’d just go along with it.

    All in all, I want to read this whole thing and I’m frustrated that I’m stuck with the first five pages. I’ll have to wait till it comes out, I guess.

  2. I love your adds about the fake tattoo and about Travis's family. Your first draft was already so great it's tough to make many more suggestions that Brian already has. I would like more description of the island though. Maybe some comparisons to the west coast beaches where Travis is from. I tend to do that when I travel, and notice the things that are different from home.
    Your pitch definitely gives a good idea of what the stakes are in the story. The 2nd paragraph about the rumor could use some re-wording and tightening. Maybe "Travis hears a disturbing rumor that the billionaire died in a mysterious accident after conducting brain-wave experiments on his autistic son to "cure" him, and now his son has vanished." Something like that.
    Great job on your first five pages. I really wish I could read the rest of it!

  3. Hi I enjoyed reading your pitch. Your efforts have been very productive. I'm interested in the story as it unfolds. I'll add to my comments tomorrow.

    1. The paragraph that begins with the "Orange-vested..." is evidence of a very fluid description that pulls me right along. You touch of details is just enough keep me reading. I most appreciate the pace. I don't feel rushed or overwhelmed with the story. The smell included in the description is a great detail. I feel as if I have a lot to learn from your writing. Thanks for the opportunity.

  4. I think the pitch is well done, it does make me want to read the book. The only thing I found odd was that the autistic teen is missing... so how is he friends with Travis if he hasn't met him? Maybe rephrase that bit.

  5. Cool pitch. I'd rework the first sentence a bit so that Travis, not his dad, is the one with agency (i.e., Travis is beyond psyched that his scientist dad is letting him tag along on his research mission to Barbados. Travis doesn't care that his father has to...ALL THAT FIGURE OUT STUFF. Then your ONLY WAVES sentence.) Also, I'd give the autistic teen a name so you don't have to repeat "autistic teen" in 2nd PP. Finally, it's a tad confusing that Travis teams up with the daughter of a businessman to find the son of a billionaire. Maybe there's a way to trim that up a bit. I think with those minor tweaks, this will be an incredibly tight and appealing pitch. Great work and I look forward to hear what happens next with your story!

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  7. Hi Mari!

    I think your first 5 pages are a lot stronger! I'm interested in Travis and want to know what happens to him. Nice work!

    As for your query, I think all the parts are there and there's some good info, but if I were you I would strip it down quite a bit so it's only the most important info. I've gotten a ton of advice that query should be hook, conlfict, stakes and shouldn't be too wordy. I would play around with it a bit to make it more concise- I'm doing the same thing! Good luck to you!

  8. I think your writing is good and flowed nicely. It definitely kept my interest. I might add in a bit more description of Travis's surroundings so we can a sense of setting sooner. Also, remember there's more than just sight. Sounds, smells etc. are good ways to create a sense of setting. I found Travis himself relatable and the dialogue also read well. Good job!

    My comments mainly had to do with the pitch. I found myself re-reading sections of it trying to make sure I understood what was said. In the first paragraph for instance, I'd simplify a bit. I'm not sure we need to go into details about the particle accelerator and specifics of the investigation. I'd leave it as "investigate a strange plane crash and other anomalies." It just seems that what's really going on might needs more explanation and the science behind it so trying to describe it in a pitch may just come off as confusing. You want to get across the most important aspects of the story only here and leave explanations and subplots for a synopsis. Also, going into why his dad is going in detail takes the focus off Travis and you want it to remain on him in the pitch as your main character.

  9. Thanks so much to Christa Heschke, Brian Katcher, Stacia, Stephanie, and my fellow "first five pagers" for your feedback. Also, a big thanks to Erin for organizing and moderating. I feel my story is much stronger because of the thoughtful comments, and I look forward to working on and revising this story! Good luck to everyone!