Sunday, March 20, 2016

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Marnoch Rev 2

Name: Kellie Marnoch
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fantasy
Title: Bright Young People


London during the Twenties overflows with magic and secrets.

Five souls move through London, unaware of how Fate is drawing them together, into a mystery that threatens to skewer the very heart of society.

Pen, a troubled debutante, unhappily engaged, consumed by terrible nightmares, plagued by guilt over the jubilant part she played in her father’s death, feels something powerful overtaking her. Eva, a student with too much passion for the rigid society she finds herself in, out to experience all life has to offer. Mei, a blind entertainer struggling under the constraints of family obligation and hopes for more. Abby, a refugee from a war-torn America, weighed down with guilt over what she left behind. And Wally, an irreverent self-described rogue with no direction searching for a greater destiny, and finding more than he bargained for. Each representing forces greater than they know, threads within a tapestry long in the making.

As the five circle closer, as the world grows darker and more dangerous, as secrets are revealed and hearts broken, this story takes them literally to Hell...but maybe not back.

Sense8 meets Hellraiser on the set of Downton Abbey, in a story of magic, murder and mayhem.


Bright Young People

Book One
May 1926


Pen tapped her foot to the music, her palms sweating inside her elbow-length gloves, trying not to let her nervousness show. She was glad the introductions were over with, and she didn’t have to fake-smile at all these awful people judging her. No different to her other debuts, really, but it felt worse. All those sassenachs, she supposed.

“Do stop fidgeting, Penelope!” Arabella, her mother - the prime sassenach - hissed, her furrowed brows belying her assured smile.

Pen started, looking down at her now-bedraggled ostrich-feather fan. She swallowed and looked around the hot, crowded, smelly - why did everyone wear so much scent? - ballroom. She hung at the edge of it with her mother and sister, a wallflower, despite it being her ball. If only Pip were here!

She scanned the huge townhouse - one of the few left in private hands - ballroom again, barely taking in the light balls zipping about above everyone’s heads, the black band setting up, the various entertainers in different corners of the room, the side-table beladen and groaning with food, the people milling about, waiting for the real fun to start - the dancing.

“Mother, please. Of course she’s nervous!” Kitty, her elder sister, piped up from next to Pen. She felt hemmed in from the beauty. They looked like the succubus, demon of lust, they were descended from. Pen, according to her worthless, sylph-and-family-legend-obsessed father, looked sylph-like. She’d thought, at the time, that that was nonsense - they were invisible air-spirits; they didn’t look like anything.

“I was never nervous at my debut.” Her mother continued talking over her head.

“Ha! Of course you weren’t,” muttered Pen.

Her mother glanced at her out of the corner of her eye. Pen bit her lip.

“Stop that, or you’ll ruin your lip rouge.” Arabella snapped. She sniffed and strode forwards, mingling with the crowd of the cream of London high society.

Pen bit the inside of her cheek this time. If Pip were here, he would know just how to cheer her up, cracking some joke, or teaching her a new dance, or helping her break into the liquor cabinet in the library. Or perhaps, this time, proposing, like she knew he simply must do soon. Yes, he was a younger son of a viscount, and she was a duke’s daughter with a more-than-healthy dowry and more-than usual secrets, but they were in love.

She had loved him since she was six, when they had first met because their mothers had debuted together and liked to reminisce. They had been thrown together in the nursery, along with his younger sister Olivia, who, at a few years younger than them had been roundly despised as a stupid baby, and had escaped into the grounds together, getting lost for a couple of hours. She had fallen irrevocably in love. They were destined for each other. Pen knew it. She deserved a happily-ever-after with the love of her life, didn’t she, after everything?

Pen jumped as Kitty placed a hand on her shoulder. “Wait here a moment, dear.”

She sighed in relief as Kitty gracefully floated away. She loved her sister - indeed, it was hard not to, Kitty was just so nice - but when they stood together, Pen just knew people were comparing them. How could they not? Kitty was statuesque, voluptuous, with a river of jet-black hair and the most beautiful face anyone had ever seen, just like Venus, as one of her suitors had said. Pen was short, skinny, with the same navy-blue eyes and plush mouth as Kitty (and their mother) transposed onto her pointier face with the Renleigh tip-tilted Nose, with wild ash-blonde curls that no one could do anything with. She had the more fashionable figure, of course, and that was something. Kitty was always on reducing diets while Pen could eat whatever she liked. But men’s eyes didn’t follow Pen about, ever. Even Pip thought Kitty was the more beautiful, so he had said, but he had followed that up with the fact that even so, he preferred Pen. So.

Pen moved a few feet to the left, trying to look like she had something to do. Why was no one talking to her? It was her ball; she should’ve had to fight off the deb’s delights vying for a place on her dance card. It was like she was giving off some terrible smell, or aura, or something. Was it possible people knew?

Just then, Kitty came back, Pip on her arm, and Pen felt herself begin to glow, a huge grin spreading over her face.. He had come! Of course he had, he would never leave her alone at her own deb ball!

“Pip! You came!”

Kitty let go of her bounty, moving back beside Pen, a beatific smile on her face.

“Of course I did, darling! Wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Pip smiled down at her as she gazed up at him in adoration. Oh, he was so handsome - tall, broad-shouldered, glossy auburn hair and peat-brown eyes.

She threw herself into his arms, hugging him close, breathing in his scent - brylcreem and something indefinably Pip, which, to her, was the absolute best scent in the world.

She opened her mouth to tell him that she’d put him first on her dance card, but he was already moving away, saying something about greeting someone else. She gaped at him as he slipped away. How could he leave her already? Pen blinked.

Kitty hissed, “I can’t believe it!” Then, her face smoothing out until she was smiling placidly again, she said, “You shouldn’t languish after him. There are other men in the world, you know.”

“What, like Henry? No thank you!” Pen sighed wistfully. “There’s no one like Pip.”

“Men like him are everywhere, dearest. That’s rather the problem."

Pen frowned at her sister, not understanding what she meant. Pip was her Prince Charming. Much like Henry was Kitty’s. If only Pip would swoop in and run away with her! Though she couldn’t understand how Kitty threw herself away on a mere barrister, especially one who looked like Henry, even if he had been a wounded soldier she had been nursing back to health, and the younger son of a marquess. It was the one thing her mother and herself agreed on. At least, the only thing they agreed on out loud.

She spotted Henry trundling over and she had to keep herself from making a face. He really was such a flat tire.

“Lady Penelope.” He barely even nodded at her, but as soon as he looked at Kitty his face softened, and Pen felt horribly jealous. Why hadn’t Pip looked at her like that? Was it possible Kitty was right about him?

She scanned the room, looking for him, as the band started up the music for the first dance. He would come and claim her for it. He simply must.

But, since he was sailing by with Lucy Montague, who was clinging his arm and throwing Pen a triumphant look, he must simply think her card was full. He would never leave her alone, not at her own debutante ball. It was unthinkable. He couldn’t be…

Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she spun around. It would be some other handsome boy and they would dance up a storm and show everyone. could be Simon, her eldest brother. Who was a double duke, but still: her brother. How mortifying.


  1. This week's version is the best yet! I feel much more grounded in the scene, and I felt more invested in Pen. I even feel sorry for her because I'm worried her beloved Pip is a ladies' man:( I also see a very different relationship between her and her sister. I'm still loving the debutante ball and the overall setting.

    The one main comment is that I'm still not 100% on what exactly the stakes are of this particular ball. We know Pen's already been through a few of these events, so why is this one making her so nervous? What does she hope comes of it? What does she fear might come from it? Why open your novel here? I'm assuming something at this ball will set off the storyline of the whole book, but I still don't feel like I totally grasp what it is. That being said, it's definitely progressing!

    Regarding the pitch: I thought it was interesting. Your last couple of lines were particularly good! The two things I noticed were that 1.) I wish I knew more of what happens. It could be done in a sentence of less, but I'd like something to tie the five people and this trip to hell together. What brings them together? What are they trying to do or accomplish? 2.) This is small, but 1920s America isn't war-torn; it's prosperous. If this is a very alternate reality (I get that hell is involved as is magic, but is basic history also rewritten?), I feel like I need to know that. Other than that: good luck!

  2. Hi Kellie,

    I really love the pitch! It sounds fabulous. I love the weaving of the different characters and stories. I do think you can a bit more to the pitch to show how it is a YA historical fantasy. A bit about the alternate history and the creatures will help the reader to follow your pages. I also agree with Mary, I want to know what brings them together, and what their ultimate goal is.

    And your pages are much improved! I can picture the ballroom more clearly, and Pen and her sister and mother. Re-read it aloud though and trim mercilessly. We don’t need to know about Olivia, or that Pip and Pen’s moms like to reminisce. Just leave it at our mothers were friends.

    Also, I don’t see the stakes here. Maybe weave back in some of the details of the last draft. You could say it was pure nerves keeping Pip on her feet, she’d had yet another disturbing nightmare that kept her up half the night, and the night of her father’s death played over and over in her head – or something like that. Otherwise, it feels like a romance set up with Pen loving Pip, who clearly isn’t about to propose!

    Overall, I think you’ve done a fabulous job with this revision! It has been an absolute pleasure reading your work! And good luck!

  3. Hi Kellie,

    Overall I like the tone of your pitch, and your five characters sound very interesting. My biggest problem is that I don’t know what the stakes are of your book, which is super important to make clear in the pitch. You’ve started by saying there will be a mystery, and then we immediately go into the five characters. At the end, there should be the stakes of what will happen if these characters fail at what they are going to do, but that’s absent and we have more allusions than concrete stakes/consequences. “Forces greater than they know” – what forces? Magical, personal, manipulated? “Darker and more dangerous” – how? “Secrets are revealed” – don’t be vague here, you need to let readers/agents know what secrets. “Literally to Hell… but maybe not back” – this is a little bit closer, because at least from this I can surmise that they maybe risk being trapped in an underworld if they fail at something?

    But I LOVE “Sense8 meets Hellraiser on the set of Downtown Abbey” – that is killer, sign me up.

    For your first 1250, I still love your descriptive writing and how you’ve managed to tighten the words but also keep them flowing and reading well. But have you considered that you are not starting in the right spot in your story? For me when the first five pages stop I, as a reader, want to get a really good sense that something is about to happen, something key to the story and the character. That lures me in and keeps me reading. Where your first five pages are stopping in this opening scene, I don’t get that feeling.

    But this has come so far in just two revisions and I think you are so close to nailing the opening scene, great job!

  4. Hi Kellie,

    Wow, this revision is a great improvement. I feel like I know Pen much better by getting into her thoughts, her insecurity and the feeling that things aren't quite going to work out for her as she has envisioned. Now you have interaction among the characters that lets us learn about them. I found myself hoping things would go better for her. I also like the allusion to something magical or supernatural about Pen.

    I like the line in the pitch that reads "this story takes them literally to Hell . . . but maybe not back."

    Good work.


  5. Your efforts are really paying off! You have successfully stripped away so much of the telling and info-dumps in favor of showing what's happening through action and dialog, and it's SO much stronger. I do miss the hint that she's experiencing something darker and would love more of mention of it, just to alert the reader that there's more sinister stuff going on beneath the surface. The hint now is "was it possible people knew?" and you could add just one phrase or sentence after that to tell us a *tiny* bit more. But just a tiny bit. Breadcrumb-size.

    Apart from that, I think there are still opportunities to trim (like when she thinks "He came!" and then says, two sentences later, "Pip, you came!"<--these things can be integrated into a single paragraph).

    With regard to the pitch, I am concerned that it reads like a list of characters, but we have little sense of plot, conflict, and stakes. I suggest moving that totally badass final line about it being Sense8 and Hellraiser in Downton up to the top, deleting the line about London in the 20s (because Downton tells us enough about setting and time, and Sense8 and Hellraiser tell us about paranormal stuff, and as soon as I read that line, you have my FULL attention). Then I suggest revising the query with a focus on maybe one or two characters, and the plot/conflict/stakes. I have seen numerous agents (including the Query Shark) express concern about laundry-list-like queries that don't make those things really clear, and I think that's what you're up against. But if you can focus it, you clearly have tons of content/ideas to hook a reader/agent with! Best of luck!

  6. Hi Kellie,
    First off, sorry my comments are coming so close to the wire. There's a lot I like in your new draft. I particularly enjoyed the new sense of Arabella's character you've written in and I'm already wondering if she's going to be an awful person or more of a Maggie Smith in Downton type figure. I also like the bit about the bedraggled ostrich feather - it really helped to give that kind of midway through the party feel.

    I agree with the other comments about the pitch. There's a lot going on, and although it's all interesting it might work better to weed some of it out.

    Good luck!

  7. PS I had to look up sassenach and it made me laugh when the meaning came up!

  8. I love the idea of the setting, but I didn’t get much detail on the 1920s here. The tag line was too vague to know what the book was about and the details about the characters were a bit confusing.

    “A troubled debutante, unhappily engaged”
    I thought debutantes were single? Isn’t that why they’re debutantes?

    “The jubilant part she played in her father’s death”
    I think there’s probably a simpler way to communicate this character’s issue. Did she kill her father? If it’s not clear, better to leave the detail out than confuse the reader.

    “A blind entertainer”
    What kind? A singer? A juggler? A dancing girl?

    I liked some of the details here, like her hands sweating inside her long gloves, but for the most part, I was confused about whether these were people or creatures. Are they spirits?

    This part had me the most confused:
    “They looked like the succubus, demon of lust, they were descended from. Pen, according to her worthless, sylph-and-family-legend-obsessed father, looked sylph-like. She’d thought, at the time, that that was nonsense - they were invisible air-spirits; they didn’t look like anything.”

    Be careful to keep the voice consistent. Sometimes it’s stodgy and other times, more modern (“despised as a stupid baby”).

    I didn’t understand the origins of the love story. Did she fall in love … at six?
    And Pip seemed cardboard to me. Is he a villain? A cad?

    “Such a flat tire.” Funny! Loved this line.