Sunday, June 19, 2016

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Whetter Rev 2

Name: Carly Whetter
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Title: Earthrise


When eighteen-year-old Zola Quentin’s father is murdered instead of her, she prematurely performs elemental Earth magic she never knew she had.

Born to the Kerai who ascend to their immortality and magic at nineteen, Zola’s unheard of mortal magical ability could not have been predicted. Only her father’s actions the night he died suggest he kept her secret from everyone. When she discovers her magic is the final piece to a deadly curse, and with her identity no longer a secret, she is swept off to train to become a deadly warrior in both combat and magic.

When a scorned ancient Kerai wages a deathly battle to secure Zola’s power for his own, Zola discovers the crime that her father committed to keep her safe, deep seeded family revenge waged for centuries, and betrayal from those she thought she could trust most. In order to save the Kerai from extinction and avenge her father’s death, Zola must become strong enough to survive her growing powers or risk losing herself and everyone else she loves in the process.


Although it’s been ten years since I first heard the story I always repeat it myself like a mantra.

I’ve never been able to find the story anywhere in print, but my father’s voice gave life to it before I was taken by sleep as a child, and a day hasn’t past without it being with me.

I paint Lady Earth lying on the forest floor in the grove where she seeks shelter. She’s curled on her side with her head cradled in the crook of her arm, and her hair loops with the dirt beneath her, giving way to strong cedar trees. Her branch-like fingers turn into the ivy that cocoons around her in a net of safety. If I can do the story justice, I want to paint her eyes that are said to be the origin of starlight.

I stand on my tiptoes wishing I had thought to grab a ladder from the garage. I lift my paintbrush to the ceiling where I’m working on the branches that will eventually twist their way across to the center of the room and around the light fixture.

The tarp covering my bed crinkles beneath my weight, and I place my fingers delicately on part of the mural that has now dried. When my skin touches the wall, a tingling static sensation numbs my fingertips. I pull my hand back like I’ve been burned, shaking my hand to relieve the sting.

After the sting has left, I press my palm flat against the wall to steady myself, and the sensation whips through me like lightning; it moves up my arm and resonates beneath my sternum, burning as it goes. I’m knocked breathless and I stumble backward. My paintbrush falls from my hand and paint smatters across the hardwood floor. My heart thrums against my ribcage, throttling up to my ears.

“What the hell?” I breathe heavily. My entire body I shaking, my breath knocked out of me. My best friend’s father died of a heart attack, and my muscles constrict at the thought. I press my fingers to the skin of my chest, trying to massage the pain away.

Although I haven’t recovered, I investigate the wall. My bedroom is still doused in the same yellow light, and my mural looks just as unfinished as it did two minutes ago.

I shake my head. The air is thick with the smell of acrylic even though I’ve opened a window to let in the winter breeze. Nothing has changed but something feels like it’s lodged itself deep in my chest, tightening around my bones.

My daze is broken when the front door slams downstairs. I vault off the bed, trying to get as far away from the mural as possible. Paint gushes from between my toes when I land on the floor.

I’d worked so hard on the mural all day, hoping it would be done by the time my family got home. I’d been so obsessive, but when I look at it now it’s so foreign to me. My legs are weak and I’m struggling to stay upright. I rub my calloused hands together, trying to recreate the friction but I think I’m seeing things; I must be high off paint fumes.

Aidan’s stomps echo through the stone house as he makes his way through the living room to the stairwell, and loud thunks resonate with each piece of sports equipment he drops every few feet or so. Dad's warning follows soon after.

I know that someone will come in and see my progress so far, and my mind is whirring and I wipe my sweaty palms on Dylan’s old paint-spattered scrubs I’m wearing.

“Zola?” Dad’s voice is just outside my room, and he raps his knuckles three times against my door. “How is it going?”

I carve a path through my paint supplies with my foot, buying time. There are a million thoughts going through my mind: I’m excited to know what my Dad thinks. But the pain in my chest is only just ebbing, and I don’t know what that means.  “It’s not done yet!”

He ignores my protests and steps into the room anyway. His gaze lands on the mural, thankfully, instead of me because I don’t know what to say to him to convince him that this was worth it. His eyebrows furrow and he shakes his head. “No.”

My entire body goes cold and I stiffen, as this single word forces me to forget everything else. “What?”

“I’m saying no. When I said you could paint a mural I didn’t know you would paint this.” He’s speaking faster now, as if trying to keep himself calm but failing to do so. “I told you those stories to help you sleep, I didn’t mean for you to go and start painting them on your bedroom wall for everyone to see.” He’s oblivious to anything but his own words and the mural.

“But they’re just stories.” I don’t know if I’m saying the words to convince him or myself. Heat blooms inside of me, and my stomach turns over from fear.

Only one thing rests in my mind: he’s betrayed me. He let me put time and effort into something that he will never even give a chance. Not even after our long history of going up and down aisles in art stores as he picked out the right colours to match the sunset. I spend hours on my own in those same aisles now, often wondering what made him walk away, while simultaneously wondering what will happen if he realizes I’m there.

“This is too risky.” He’s moving towards the paint cans in the corner of my room that we’d kept after the remodel a couple of years ago. He forces one of the lids up with a ruler.

I can’t voice my horror and he offers me no opportunity to do so or any explanation for his behaviour. He dips a paint roller into an ivory white that doesn’t even match the original paint, and in three steps he’s on my bed. He smacks the roller on the wall and excess paint showers Lady Earth like rain. The suctioning sound is sickening as he slashes the pigment across her peaceful body.

Lady Earth is no longer in her safe space and neither am I.

I can’t let him do this to her, or to me. When I step onto my mattress after my dad, the sudden shift in weight makes him lose his balance, and I have just enough time before he steadies himself to grab the paint bucket out of his hand and throw its contents across the picture.

“There, are you happy now?”


  1. Carly!

    Wow, can I say I’m really intrigued by your pitch? I’m also doing a form of elemental magic-y kind of stuff in my story, but yours is different than mine, which is really interesting! Her father is murdered? Daaaang girl, like, if only we got to read THAT scene in these first five pages! (Considering her father gets all mad for no reason…)

    Some things (Reject as you see fit):

    1. “I’ve never been able to find the story anywhere in print” seems kind of like a cheap way in getting out of not having to tell the story from your mc’s POV. It disappointed me a bit, because I think it would have really spiced up your whole thing and really set your story out from others. It’d also bring excitement and give your reader a sense of the kind of word manipulation and magic that your author-ness can wield.
    2. I think you should probably mention that you are painting Lady Earth on a wall in a garage in the same sentence or before you mention HOW you paint her. Because the first thing I thought was, “Is she painting Lady Earth in a forest?” There’s a bit of a verb-association confusion there. You might want to take a look at that.
    3. I really like your description with the tarp. It really brings the image of the artist and the aesthetics involved with being an artist to life. However, because your mc is an artist, I suggest taking a step back and really evaluating how your mc thinks and views the world around her. A mc who is an artist thinks and describes the world around her very vividly and with strong imagery. You have some images and descriptive language here and there, but it gets lost in the dialogue and the overall plot.
    4. Btw, super good job that you added the “sting” to give a sense of fantastical element to Lady Earth. However, I suggest you really delving deep into what your mc felt in that very moment. Your mc is living her mundane life and just painting away when all of a sudden the painting like shocks or stings her…Make it seem out of the ordinary…make it seem imaginative and unreal. It’ll convince your reader that there’s something up with this painting as well.
    5. The part where you mention that your mc was obsessing over finishing the painting before her family came home doesn’t have a precedent in the beginning to prepare for that moment you mentioned it. For example, you can mention in the beginning that your mc is hurriedly painting Lady Earth, not caring that the paint is getting on her clothes because she must finish before a certain time or before her family gets home. Then you can dive deep into the descriptions of the painting itself and then the sting comes and then BAM you have a recipe for “What the hell just happened? Oh no…must keep reading!” by your reader on your hands. It’ll also prep for that pretty intense dialogue exchange between the father and mc.
    6. The last four paragraphs of your piece is a really great way to end your piece. It’s a bit sudden and unexpected, therefore def bringing that element of suspension and disbelief that your reader is expecting. However, the part where it says, “Lady Earth is no longer in her safe space and neither am I. I can’t let him do this to her, or to me” doesn’t make sense to me? What do you mean your mc isn’t in a safe place? Her father isn’t abusing her or hurting her…I think If you want to really include that part, you should probably mention earlier that she doesn’t feel safe in her creativity and that she feels a certain protectiveness for the painting. I’m assuming that your mc and Lady Earth develop a trusting relationship later in your story.

    Overall, good job! I’m excited to see what you do with this story and good luck with revisions/edits/drafts, etc.

    Whoop whoop,

    1. Hi Teresa,

      Thanks so much for your in depth feedback! Actually in my first draft from years ago they did get attacked ASAP (a remnant of that is actually in my first submission where the window gets broken etc.) but an overwhelming amount of feedback showed that because we have no idea who Zola is or anything about her family it was hard to get invested. Now I have a quick scene beforehand. Would you suggest having them be attacked right away?

      You make some really excellent points here so I really thank you for your effort. It was great working with you, and I'm super excited that you and I are both approaching elemental magic in our stories! So exciting!

    2. No, I suggest you keeping it the way it is. It's not a lot to feel overwhelmed yet enough to be intrigued. But I think the part where the dad comes in and gets all angry about the painting needs a better transition. I think by adding that imagery and descriptions that brings the artist in your mc alive will help make he dialogue from the mc's dad easier to accept as a normal piece of convo, otherwise it might come off cliche. And you're welcome (:

    3. Perfect - that makes a lot of sense! Thanks so much, again :)

  2. Hi Carly,

    I think you've taken another big step forward here. Nice job! You've definitely got my attention with the sting that Zola feels when touching the mural. It's a mystery that I want to learn the answer to! As for the dad's reaction, I think it's stronger, but I'd love to see a little more of his initial reaction before he says "no." More than just seeing his eyebrows furrow and his head shake. I'd like to be able to better read what's going on with him through his expressions. Just a little more buildup to the "no," so we understand that he needs to struggle for a second to understand the implications of what he's seeing.

    You made a great decision to have Zola herself be the one to splash the paint on the mural. It gives us some insight into her nature and it makes her much more active in this scene.

    A few general suggestions:
    • You have Zola touch the wall and feel the sting twice -- the second time to steady herself. I'm wondering if that moment isn't an opportunity to show a little more of your mc's personality. Instead of having her take the passive action of steadying herself, have her deliberately touch the wall a second time to try to figure what just happened.
    • The writing in the new paragraphs is less polished than in the rest of your sample -- totally understandable given the short time frame we're working with. But I'd suggest focusing on smoothing it out. Watch out for repeated words in sentences like "I pull my HAND back like I've been burned, shaking my HAND to relieve the STING. After the STING has left..."
    • A couple of descriptions left me scratching my head. In the paragraph after the paint gushes between her toes: "I rub my calloused hands together, trying to recreate the friction but I think I’m seeing things; I must be high off paint fumes." I'm not really sure what she's doing here. Is she trying to recreate the sting? And what has she seen that makes her think she's seeing things?
    • Similarly, I'm a little lost in this passage. "Not even after our long history of going up and down aisles in art stores as he picked out the right colours to match the sunset. I spend hours on my own in those same aisles now, often wondering what made him walk away, while simultaneously wondering what will happen if he realizes I’m there." I don't know if it's a narrative tense issue (i.e., when she says "now" it makes me wonder if she's narrating from a future POV, which wouldn't work with the present-tense narrative) or something else. Also, it makes me think Zola and her dad had discussed the subject matter of the mural if he had helped her pick out paints specifically for the project. As you can tell, I'm a little confused. I'm sure I'm getting something wrong here, but it's important to idiot-proof your prose for readers like me.

    Finally, on to the pitch. I'm hooked by the first sentence -- the intersection of murder and magic is absolutely arresting. And the idea of Zola training and harnessing her powers to save the Kerai and avenge her father sounds great! But there are a few things -- mainly around the "secret" -- that I'm a bit confused about. First, can you say a word or two more about the Kerai? Are they secretly living among non-magical people, for example? If Zola is born to the Kerai, why wouldn't her magical ability have been predicted? Similarly, if her father is trying to protect her secret, that suggests he knew she had that magical ability, no? Also, why does her identity as a Kerai need to be kept secret? Those issues aside, I really like the premise of the book, though! Definitely something I'd like to read.

    You've done a fantastic job with both rounds of revisions, Carly. It's clear that you've put a lot of heart and effort into the process and it really shows in the quality of your pages. Thanks so much for sharing them! Good luck!

    All best,
    Rob, 1st 5 Pages mentor

    1. Hi Rob,

      I agree that some of the descriptions are repetitive or need some flushing out. I think showing Zola's personality in reaction to her magic is a great idea, too.

      I appreciate your insight on my pitch, too. There are answers to your questions, so I'll be sure to make the 'secret' bit more clear in my next revisions.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on my pages these last few weeks! Your comments have been very insightful, detailed, and helpful in navigating my first five.


  3. Hi Carly,

    I feel like you've really ramped up the tension in this one. Nicely done! While I liked the family members that you had in previous revisions, I also like that you spent more time developing one relationship in particular here, and I just know the fight is going to haunt Zola for the rest of the book.

    I'm struggling a bit to connect with Zola. I want more from her. I'd really like to feel her pain when she goes up against her father. On an objective front I know that a lot of work goes into painting anything, much less something as huge as a mural over your entire bedroom wall/ceiling, but I don't feel it in the story. I'd like to see how Zola feels - not just in terms of how her neck and shoulders must ache, how her eyes must have trouble focusing after all the concentration, but also how proud she is of this part of the mural, or how she needs to tweak that part, or how much she loves this color or that one. I want to think her dad is just being the biggest jerk when he demands that she paint over it. I want to think he's committing a crime against art and children. I think it will make the devastation all the larger when his murder is directly connected to this event.

    I find your pitch entirely gripping. I might like a couple more specifics, but it sounds like it's going to be action packed and filled with tension.

    Thank you for this workshop, and for all the help you've given! It's been a really great experience for me and I hope you've enjoyed it as well. Best of luck with the novel and everything else!

    1. Hi Claire,

      Thanks so much for your comments, I'm glad you like my pitch!

      Also I completely agree in having more pathos/emotional connection to Zola. That will go a long way in bringing the reader in.

      Thanks for your comments in this workshop, I've enjoyed it immensely as well! :)

  4. Hi, Carly,

    This revision shines! There's much more cohesion, focus, and tension this time around. I love to read about characters who are really good at something and I love Zola's dedication to art, which she shares in common with her father. So I think you can wring more pathos out of his utter rejection of her mural by underscoring this connection--maybe she's making the mural as an expression of her love for him. Maybe he's ill or they have suffered a mutual loss, and she wants to let him know that his love of art will live on no matter what happens.

    That way, when he rejects the mural, it will hurt all the more. Your reader will identify with her deep disappointment and be rooting for her not only to triumph over adversity, but over her feelings of betrayal. This will help ground Zola beef up her characterization.

    I thought your pitch was strong; you covered the bases and an agent/editor would be able to see the story as a whole. I did get momentarily confused about how old Zola was because you mention that she's 18, and then in the next paragraph state that she'll come into her powers at 19. It took me an extra beat to parse that that means on her next birthday. I'd just take a look at those sentences and see if you can make that a little clearer.

    You did a good job of "killing your darlings"--the appearance of her brother and the family dinner--and stuck to the spine of the story. Well done!

    I was glad for the chance to read these pages. Thanks!


    1. Hi Nancy,

      Ah that is confusing, I agree! I'll work on adding that necessary information without overwhelming and confusing the reader.

      Thanks for your comments these past couple of weeks - this workshop has been really helpful!


  5. Carly,

    Can I just say your new title is kickass?

    I like this revision! Here’re some comments:

    This sentence reads badly to me: “If I can do the story justice, I want to paint her eyes that are said to be the origin of starlight.” Maybe tweak it a little bit, because as it is, it pulls me out of narration.

    From the very beginning you’re describing a lot of what the MC is doing, but I feel like I’m not getting enough personality from her right away. The first paragraph gives me a small glimpse of the MC’s personality, but then I don’t see it anymore after a while.

    In paragraphs 6 and 7 you bring up the breath being knocked out of her twice, and the fact that it’s repeated pulls me out.
    By the way, you don’t have to tell us there are a million thoughts going through Zola’s mind :). We know, and we want to know what the thoughts are!

    And woah! The last part of the pages come as a pleasant shock. I loved the way you immersed me. I sympathized with Zola. There’s so much tension between the two I want to keep on reading to know.

    As for the pitch, I think you’re heading in the right direction. I would say clean up a little bit paragraph 2, especially these sentences: “Born to the Kerai who ascend to their immortality and magic at nineteen, Zola’s unheard of mortal magical ability could not have been predicted. Only her father’s actions the night he died suggest he kept her secret from everyone.” If she was born Kerai, why couldn’t her abilities be predicted?”

    So thanks for joining me in this critique workshop! I learned a lot from your comments and everyone else’s. I hope my critique was of some help :). Good luck on your writing.


    1. Hi Gabriela,

      Thanks so much for your detailed comments - they're really helpful!

      I will work on getting her personality to come through!

  6. Carly! This is excellent! I'm sorry for the late comment; I've been dealing with a bit of an emergency this week.

    I think you've done a great job here adding emotion and tension. I'm feeling what the MC is feeling now. Her confusion and betrayal at her dad's reaction is particularly powerful. I also like the addition of the painting shocking her. It lends credence to her dad's freakout and helps the audience feel like there's something more going on here than a weirdly grumpy dad.

    The descriptions of the sounds and feelings (like the paint between her toes) place me right in the scene. I love it!

    I do miss Aidan's comment about the bad guy. Especially with your pitch, I think this line would make the reader make connections and beg us to keep reading. Additionally, how would his mention of the bad guy make Zola feel, especially after she was basically just injured by her own painting?

    As for the pitch, I think you have good bones here but it seems to me there are some repetitious words (waged, death/ly) that could be altered for a smoother read. I also think there are some extra words you could remove for the sake of clarity. For example: "Born to the Kerai who ascend to their immortality and magic at nineteen, Zola’s unheard of mortal magical ability could not have been predicted."

    As a reader, I don't understand what much of this means yet, and you've already told us that no one knew about her powers--in fact, you say it twice in this sentence. Something like "Though she was born to the Kerai who ascend to immortality and magic at nineteen, Zola has magic that could not have been foreseen" might cut out some confusing words and phrasing. This is just a suggestion; feel free to toss it!

    Anyway, I think your first five pages are great, and I would totally read this novel! Thank you so much for sharing your work with us. I hope you go far with this book!

    1. Hi Jessie,

      No problem! Thanks for making time for my pages.

      Ah thanks so much for your comments regarding my pitch. I was wondering what felt off in it and those repetition/unnecessary words may be it! Also there is an answer to the prediction question, so I'll be sure to clarify that as well (it seems to be a big issue!)

      Thanks for your comment about Aidan - I miss him too, so maybe I'll bring him back!

      I really appreciate you saying you'd read the novel (*happy dance*) and I want to thank you for sharing your work and feedback with me and the rest of the June crew. Your comments have been really insightful, and I wish you the best of luck with your draft/adventure in the future.

  7. Hi Carly,

    Your pitch is very compelling, and I definitely found these opening pages to be intriguing; there's a real clarity to your prose overall, which helps pull the reader into the opening with ease. You also do a good job of letting the reader in on Zora's emotional reactions.

    I did find myself wanting more of Zola's character, however. What makes this story of Lady Earth resonate so strongly with her that ten years later she is still painting it? As a reader we can begin to speculate that it is due to a magical connection, but for Zola, who does not know of her magic yet, how does she think about this story or explain not only her decision to paint it but also what seems like a powerful emotional connection, as exemplified by her calling her father's denial a 'betrayal' and describing it as no longer a 'safe space' for her or Lady Earth?

    I'd also like to see you push the voice here a little further. The writing, as I mentioned, has such an excellent clarity, but I do think it is missing those little details and turns of phrase that really illuminate Zola's specific way of seeing the world, and that perhaps parallel her own emotional state. It is finding those few perfect details and turns of phrase that can really make a voice pop off the page.

    Some smaller notes"

    - As someone pointed out, try to avoid repetition of words, such as "sting" and "sting."
    - Your use of 'smatter' as a verb doesn't seem correct?
    - Typo in this sentence" "My entire body I shaking, my breath knocked out of me."
    - What sports equipment is Aidan dropping? As in, what sport? This is the kind of thing where being specific makes it more real, where as leaving it as a vague 'sport' makes it feel not fully filled in.
    - When you say "there are a million thoughts going through my head" and then list just one, and then follow-up with a second perhaps. It's obvious she's being hyperbolic, but because you use a colon, I expected at least a little more to exemplify this parade of thoughts.
    - Be careful that all of the narration actually matches what is happening. For example, when her father comes into the room, Zora narrates, "He ignores my protests," but we never really saw her protest -- she really just said it wasn't done yet, which hardly seems like much protest to him entering?
    - When she says to her father, "But they're just stories," and then says she isn't sure if she's trying to convince him or herself, I wondered a little bit whether it felt too soon for her to try to connect something physically happening to her to the stories -- seems like a big jump unless magic is already a part of her world? If I were her I would think I'd been electrocuted or something like that (and she even speculates something like a heart attack herself).

    Overall, great job!

    Best wishes,