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!
Jeff Wooten YA Science-Fiction Jake Tenkiller and the Widow’s Lament
Fifteen-year-old Jake Tenkiller's world is thrust off its axis when he escapes an orphanage and is kidnapped by intergalactic pirates.
Jake's anxiety skyrockets when he learns he is a descendant of an ancient alien race and has inherited powers of unimaginable wonder and unthinkable destruction. This makes him a valuable weapon, not only to the pirates, but to the five great Houses that rule the multiverse. He struggles to gravitate towards becoming the fierce warrior the pirates expect, and after many hours of training, his efforts crash and burn.
Now, the pirates become divided over whether Jake is going to be useful. While the captain has high hopes for him, the first mate would rather kill him than be bothered with earthscum – and half the vessel agrees.
Jake needs to prove his value in order to stay alive. He gets his chance when the ship is attacked by enemies, and he's confronted by another earthborn. Emily Gardner has acclimated well to life light years from her home planet, and she’s not having any problems claiming her place among the stars. Jake better find a way to master his alien skills or his life is going to be bleaker than the darkest black hole.
Emily watched the traffic through the bars of her window, trying to forget the day she fell from the sky. The hospital parking lot was filling up, and I-80 into Berkeley was thick with morning commuters. The world spun, people lived out their lives as if any of it mattered…but they were falling too. They just didn’t know it yet.
The door opened behind her, pulling her back into the moment. It was too early for a doctor, probably the cleaning staff. Either way, Emily didn’t look. People moved out of sight, busy at some task; a hinge squeaked and something locked into place, wheels rolled on linoleum, feet and papers shuffled. Retreating steps and the shutting door told her someone had left. The creak of an office chair told her someone had stayed.
She flinched at the sound of her name but resisted the urge to turn.
“Emily, would you come sit with me?” The voice was male and rang with authority. A small impatient silence followed when Emily didn’t move. “You can come by your own free will,” the man said, “or I can drag you over.”
Emily turned in her seat. An unfamiliar, dark-haired doctor sat behind a small folding table. A smile split his face, a liar’s smile, and Emily knew at once she didn’t like him.
The man motioned to the other side of the table. “And bring your chair when you come.” He riffled through a neat stack of documents on the tabletop. Emily watched him for a few seconds longer. No one had ever threatened her physically; pills and words were the doctor’s preferred method of violence, and she wondered if he would do it. He might, but not without a price.
They’d drugged her into a stupor the last time she’d lashed out. Oblivion hadn’t been horrible, but she didn’t deserve oblivion, and no sin went unpunished here, best to remember that.
She stood, picked up her chair, and walked to the table. The man didn’t look up from his papers. He thought she was powerless, weak and frail, something broken for him to fix. Emily imagined breaking her chair over his head, feeling a rush of something wild. The buzz lasted for just a second and was gone, leaving her emptier than before. She placed her chair across from him and sat. His nose was still in the papers. Who used paper these days? Was it a distraction of some sort? Did it have any purpose at all? Was it working?
Emily took a small breath. It didn’t matter.
Several minutes passed before the man found the page he wanted. He pulled it from the stack, and read it to himself. A few strands of hair fell from his brow that he absently pushed back in place. Emily guessed him to be about forty, as old as her dad. He wore a white lab coat like all the psychiatrists, and wore glasses too. Thick black rimmed glasses. Her dad wore glasses like that.
Had, she corrected herself, had worn. She was alone now, and this doctor was not her friend.
“It says that you were the lone survivor in a plane crash. Is that correct?”
Emily pressed her lips in a thin line as the man looked at her.
“Is something wrong?” A ghost of a smile crossed his face, and he examined his page again. “Your father Bruce was the pilot, your mother Nancy was with you and one more.” He went back to the stack, flipped through the documents until he found something that he stabbed with a finger. His eyes lifted. “Yes, a brother, a younger brother, Thomas. What did you call him? Thomas, Tom, Tommy?”
Emily could feel a fire igniting within her. She dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand, relishing the sharp pricks. Was he taunting her? It was clear he wanted a response. Emily dug her nails in deeper, keeping her expression neutral, determined not to let him see...whatever it was he wanted to see.
“You’ve been here for six months and haven’t uttered a word,” the man said. “Don’t you want to get out of here? A fresh start unencumbered with,” he spread his hands, “this. Fifteen is certainly young enough for that.”He watched her, shrugged, and thumbed through the documents again. After a few seconds he pulled one page out, examined it, and slid it over to her. “Do you remember taking this test?”
Despite herself, Emily looked. It was the front page only of what had been a packet, and she did remember, even though it had been months since she’d taken the test. It was a weird exam, not like any she’d taken before, and that’s what made her remember. She’d skipped questions she didn’t feel like thinking about, and answered only the ones she’d wanted too. It had been surprising how many she ended up answering. The questions about shapes and how they fit together were the best, questions with hidden pictures inside random squiggles. Brain teasers were what her dad called them. She’d thought of her dad, working the puzzles out. Maybe that’s why she’d cooperated and taken the test in the first place. It had made her remember…or forget. It was hard to tell sometimes which hurt less. She picked up the page in front of her, looked into the man’s blue eyes, crumbled the paper up into a tight ball, and placed it lightly on the table.
Her little act of defiance didn’t even register on the man’s face. “It’s rare someone scores as high as you. Did you know that?” He waited for just a second then continued. “Did you know traumatic events--physical or emotional--can sometimes alter brain chemistry? Change the way the human brain functions altogether? Cortisol reaction, serotonin and norepinephrine alterations. Most times these changes are…undesirable. Sometimes they aren’t. Were you injured in the plane crash?”
A familiar mix of emotions washed over Emily but never quite touched her. She wasn’t that girl anymore. That girl had a family, that girl had love, that girl had a future. That girl was dead.
The man’s fingers on the tabletop began to drum a steady beat. Thump-thump-thump-thump. “In all the multiverse there are only a few brains like yours Emily.” Thump-thump-thump-thump. “The genetic material must be present, of course,” thump-thump-thump-thump, “but even then few score so high. My name is Boris. Boris Halt.” Thump-thump-thump-thump. “I have come a long way to see you at the behest of the Emperor.”
He’s crazy. Emily sat up straight, staring at him, trying to see the madness that had to be there. All she saw was cold calculation. He’s not a doctor. The thought exploded in her mind, the mushroom cloud growing with her certainty. Was he a patient like her? An escapee roaming the halls? No, it didn’t fit. Who’d been in the room with him earlier? Emily pushed herself back from the table. Part of her yearned for a fight--even knowing how that must end--but inside she trembled. Don’t I want it all to end anyway?
“My question is,” Boris said, “is there still enough of you in there, or are you too far gone to be salvaged?”
The words stung, they stung more than they should. Emily’s lip twitched, and a short harsh breath, just shy of a growl, escaped her.
“Yes, there you are,” Boris said. “A thing of anger and fear, but there you are.”