Sunday, November 20, 2016

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Cauthron Rev 2

Name: Kyle Cauthron
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Salter’s Son


Mummifying the dead wasn't ever Paolo’s aspiration, but it’s the work he got. Now no amount of scrubbing can strip the stench of it from his skin, and folks won’t hardly come near him for fear of catching the plague. But he’s a refugee with no family and no money. For him there isn’t any escaping his indenture. Until he discovers the impossible.

In his world all the beasts are reptiles, and commerce, near every bit of it, ebbs and flows with the heat of the sun. That is, until Paolo discovers a new way of warming the beasts. He finally has his chance for cutting free—for buying his way out of his indenture—but only if he keeps his secret long enough to cash in. Unfortunately, Bento, the town's brutal money-lender, catches wind of the discovery and wants it for himself. Soon, so will every cutthroat with a musket or a knife. To stay alive and win his freedom, Paolo will have to venture into the mountains and partner with someone who might just be a cutthroat herself.


Even in the dark, finding the house hadn't been any bother. The air around it was thick with smoke. For seven days they'd burned tallows, sage and whatever they could find for incense. But all I smelled was rot. I ducked my nose into the arm of my jacket, desperate to cut the smell. I nearly backed myself off that narrow terrace of a street just to escape, except that wasn't how I was raised.

The house I stood before was like all the others in the Squalors--all of them made of adobe and barely clinging to the cliffside. Its window didn't have any glass. There were only skins stitched together and sewn with stones to stop them flapping, but there wasn't any breeze that morning. There rarely was when I needed one. My breathing was coming in fast and shallow, making me take in more and more of the stench. Bile splashed against the back of my throat.

I knocked on the door harder than I meant to. The thing wasn't more than a few sticks wrapped in hide, and it rattled something fierce. The shaking released a fresh wave of stench, and I had to brace my hand against their wall. Damn those Nazra and their superstitions! I might be Nazra, but at least I had the good sense to know you don't leave a body out of the vat for a week. Not in Secco.

Beneath me the ground had set to swaying, but I knew it wasn't true. It was the memory coming back. I had waited my own week once and now there wasn't any forgetting. For seven days I had huddled below decks in the bowels of a ship. I had stayed there, pressed against a bulwark in the dark, too scared to move. Around me the ship hadn't ever stopped swaying, and the hammock with its body inside had rocked and creaked along with it. The air had been hard to hold onto then, the breathing a struggle. I hadn't had any smoldering sage or spices to cover it. All I could smell was death.

"You're early," the man said.

I jerked away from his wall and tried to look composed. Lacking the adobe I'd been leaning against, it was hard to appear steady, but I doubt he noticed. His eyes were vacant, his voice hollow. I didn't offer him my hand. He wouldn't have taken it--not even with me wearing gloves. Behind him was a room lit by a dozen tallows, all of them burned to nubs. They were spaced around the boy-sized shape wrapped in burlap. An earthen bowl held the lock of hair they would burn when I left.

Please let this be fast.

The man shuffled out of my way. His body stooped like there wasn't anything left holding him up, and I regretted cursing him and his Nazra ways. They had had to flee their home, same as me, and now they had lost their boy. I nodded at his wife sitting in the corner by the dung fire. I considered explaining myself for being early, but I didn't reckon I could manage. The stench of death was as thick as the smoke.

"It ain't right that you come so early," she said. "We get until dawn." As she spoke, she didn't lift her eyes from the burlap sack.

She was right, but it had taken a double measure of will to get me to the door the first time. I couldn't manage it again.

"I told him not to wander," the man said. His voice sounded strained. "I told him you don't leave the ropes. I told him, 'It's the mines, Son. You don't leave the ropes.'"

My stomach clenched in mini-heaves, but I couldn't duck my nose into my sleeve. It wouldn't have been respectful.

"We get until dawn," the woman said. "It's custom."

I sank to their bare earth floor as far from the body as I could get. It wasn't as refined as what the Salter would have done, but it was better than fainting.

I hadn't known the boy--not well at least--and I did my best not to remember how he had looked when he smiled. It was said he had been in the mine four days before they found him, then another seven in that room. I knew his insides would be squirming with bugs, and I knew I was going to have to carry him on my back. It was easier to think of him as just a body.

Dawn, I told myself. I breathed through clenched teeth, trying not to retch, trying not to curse those people for their ways, because I could feel the ground pitching again like it had on that ship. I remembered what it was to sit vigil.

I couldn't keep doing this. That I knew for true. If I didn't escape, there would be another. And another. Because this was Secco, and I was apprenticed to a Salter.


It was the flies that got me. Soon as I stepped from the smoke, they started collecting, and it only got worse as I carried the Nazra boy down the cliffside ladders. They crawled across my face and into my ears and nose. I ignored them as best I could until, on the last ladder, when I felt it coming. I dropped to the street and rolled the body from my back, but I wasn't sprightly enough. My stomach emptied before I got to my knees. I sat back on my heels to breathe and spied the sick splattered across my shirt.

"You don't care much for the ripe ones, do you?" asked a man behind me.

I leapt to my feet and tried pretending like I hadn't been doing what he'd seen. I wiped what I could from my shirt.

"I don't expect we'd catch the Salter doing that. Over a little stink?"

It was Bento. Even in his boots his forehead barely reached my cheekbones, but height wasn't what defined him. That man was as dried out as a chili and twice as mean. For whatever reason he had always taken an interest in me, and he grabbed every chance he could to drop me a peg or two. He leaned over the body. He pressed in so close I couldn't help but step back. As it happened, Bento was also missing an ear. While most folk would wear their hair long to hide it, he kept his razor short. At the precise end of his lean he cocked his head so that his empty ear hole stared at me from under his hat. I took another step back despite myself.

He sniffed.

"I will admit it. That one is particularly ripe."

He straightened. "You could have just dropped him from the ladder," he said, working a pinky finger around in his empty ear hole.

Breathe, Paolo, I told myself. He's just trying to goad you. I willed my jaw to unclench and forced my breath out slowly. As I did, he turned his attention to the tip of his pinky and wiped it onto his trousers.

I knelt to hoist the body from the ground and noted how little the burlap did to stop the stench. Bento stayed where he was. His eyes were greedy.

"You know I could get you out of this," he said. "I could get you out from under your Salter, get you away from all these bodies.”


  1. Sorry I can't say much about the pitch. I really have no clue how they should go. And Google just confused me more.

    I do like what you've done with the chapter. I get more of a sense of your character. And the good lines I loved are still here. (Ripe ones gets me every time)
    I don't really have any suggestions this round. I'll come back again and dig deeper.

    1. Just wanted to come back and say I really like where this one's going and I'd definitely read more. It doesn't read much like a YA for me, which is good because I don't think mine does either toward the end.

  2. The big change that stood out for me was the transition into scene 2, I finally have a visual of Paolo climbing down the cliffside with the body. Yess!

    I had to re-read scene 1 to see the change but I liked the additional detail of the memory on the ship, the 7 days struggling to breathe took me there.

    Regarding pitch, I'm no expert. All I'll say is it sounds like something I'd read :)

    All the very best Kyle

  3. Hi Kyle,

    You've definitely done a lot of work! Okay, let's start with the pitch: the first thought I had was that I didn't feel acclimated into the world you've created. And it's a great world, so I'd make sure to add even the smallest element to clue the reader into this. Adding a detail in the first paragraph will go along way to pulling the reader into your world. There are areas you can tighten up a bit such as excluding repetitive thoughts. I understand you're probably doing it for emphasis, but in a pitch you really need to be as direct as you can be. Saying that, I wouldn't change the opening line. I really like that one! It's quite drawing and generates intrigue.

    Revision: the first three paragraphs are clear and communicate the where, who, and clue into the what. Nicely done! A few places could still be tightened up a little, but overall it's good. Moving forward I like how you had your MC go through a few brief inner self-examinations like when he regrets his ill feelings toward these people before he met them. That adds character depth and will make the reader want to learn more about this boy.

    One thing you could do is try using substitute words or phrases instead of using the same one. Ex: curse, cursing, curse, etc... So those flies got to your character and they also got to me. Gross! Nice flow and pace with this part. The conversation with Bento is also good. You've left just enough to make the reader suspicious of this guy.

    To sum up, I like the memory details you've added, especially about the ship and his experience there. Tying that into his here and now is effective. The first half can still be clarified a bit more, but the second part is spot on. I hope this helps and all the luck in the world to you with this! Thank you for sharing your work with us.

  4. I like the pitch. It draws me in and catches my interest. I care about the character first and then you bring in the action. Great set-up.

    I too love the added bit with the flies. Great added visual and explains why he fell and puked. Great addition.

    I like your writing. It moves well and draws me in. Good luck!

  5. Wonderful revisions! I continue to love these pages and wish I could read more.

    I agree with the above comment about inserting some world-details into the pitch. Even the words "Nazra" and "Squalors" would be great additions. Also, is the plague just a regular-old plague or is it a plague that's distinctive to your world? (Like "the Gray Plague" - just making that up, but you get my point.) If so, I would add that to the pitch as well.

    The transition to the second scene is terrific, and the detail about the flies makes it very immediate.

    The best of luck!

  6. Hi Kyle,

    I'm intrigued by your pitch and would love to read the first fifty pages of THE SALTER'S SON if you would upload them using this form:

    I feel like I have a clear sense of Paolo's world and impending conflict in both the pages and the pitch. I also like that Bento is introduced early on, but in a way that doesn't scream to the reader, "I am definitely the villain!"

    One thing I would watch for is phrases like, "For whatever reason..." I read this a lot in the submissions pile, and it makes me think that there could be a logic problem or unanswered question that the narrator is trying to brush away. And, in this case, I think it'd be interesting to know why Bento took an interest in Paolo so early? Does Bento tease everybody? Or did Paolo do something (accidentally or not) that put him in Bento's crosshairs?

    I look forward to reading more!

    Tracy Marchini
    BookEnds Literary