Friday, January 29, 2016

Free1st 5 Pages Workshop Opens Saturday, February 6!

Our February workshop will open for entries on Saturday, February 6 at noon, EST. We'll take the first five Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. Click here to get the rules. I will post when it opens and closes on Adventures in YA Publishing and on twitter (@etcashman), with the hashtag #1st5pages. In addition to our wonderful permanent mentors, we have author Brian Katcher and agent Christa Heschke!

February Guest Mentor – BRIAN KATCHER

Brian, a Stonewall Book Award-winning author, is the author of THE IMPROBABLE THEORY OF ANA AND ZAK, ALMOST PERFECT, EVERYONE DIES IN THE END, and PLAYING WITH MATCHES. Brian’s worked as a fry cook, a market researcher, a welding machine operator, a telemarketer (only lasted one day), and a furniture mover. He lived on an Israeli military base one summer, and once smuggled food into Cuba. When he’s not writing, he works as a school librarian. He lives in central Missouri with his wife and daughter.


The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak is Stonewall Book Award-winning author Brian Katcher’s hilarious he said/she said romance about two teens recovering from heartbreak and discovering themselves on an out-of-this-world accidental first date.

It all begins when Ana Watson's little brother, Clayton, secretly ditches the quiz bowl semifinals to go to the Washingcon sci-fi convention on what should have been a normal, résumé-building school trip.If slacker Zak Duquette hadn't talked up the geek fan fest so much, maybe Clayton wouldn't have broken nearly every school rule or jeopardized Ana’s last shot at freedom from her uptight parents.

Now, teaming up with Duquette is the only way for Ana to chase down Clayton in the sea of orcs, zombies, bikini-clad princesses, Trekkies, and Smurfs. After all, one does not simply walk into Washingcon.

But in spite of Zak's devil-may-care attitude, he has his own reasons for being as lost as Ana-and Ana may have more in common with him than she thinks. Ana and Zak certainly don’t expect the long crazy night, which begins as a nerdfighter manhunt, to transform into so much more…

Purchase it at your local bookstore, or online. And add it to your shelf on Goodreads!

February Guest Agent – CHRISTA HESCHKE

Christa started in publishing as an intern at both Writers House and Sterling Lord Literistic, where she fell in love with the agency side of publishing. Christa has been at McIntosh and Otis, Inc. in the Children's Literature Department since 2009 where she is actively acquiring for all age groups in children’s. For YA, she is especially interested in contemporary fiction, thriller/mystery, and horror. She is always on the lookout for a compelling voice combined with a strong, specific hook that will set a YA novel apart in its genre and the flooded market. She is open to all types of middle grade and especially enjoys adventure, mystery, and magical realism, whether in a voice that is more light and humorous or one with more of a timeless, literary feel. For both YA and MG, she is particularly interested in unique settings and cultural influences, interesting storytelling structure, complicated romances, diverse characters, sister or friendship-centric stories, and stories that feature artists of any kind.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Goren Rev 2

Jessica L. Goren
Middle Grade; fantasy
Pollin Pals: The Power of Flowers

I hope you’ll be interested in my middle grade book, Pollen Pals and the Power of Flowers. It is about creatures born from flowers to help save the earth.

The story starts with Owl explaining to Erisa, a Pollin Pal (PP) that she was born to help save the troubled Earth. Erisa sees things a different way. Rather than follow Owl’s advice, Erisa forges out on her own working out her own inner struggles on the way.

Erisa has several adventures. She meets three other PP, Zeki, Pieter and Sammy.  They continue on to have several adventures but lurking in the background is the issue of the struggling Earth.

During their adventures the PPs use problem solving skills to help others. It doesn’t always go smoothly. Working through their personality-conflicts and adventures the PPs find they have become friends.

Meanwhile, during their travails, it unfolds why the Earth is suffering. The flowers are dying because the bees have gone away. The PPs identify the cause of the bees’ disappearance. An errant bee-eater bird has moved in to their neighborhood. They combine their skills to return the bee-eater to his home. The bees return and the garden flourishes.


Owl yawned blinking away the sleep from her large yellow eyes. It  was the night creatures’ turn to rule the world and Owl had to get about  her business. She popped her head out of the nest hole in the tree.  Then Owl launched into the sky. The world was bathed in soft silvery  moonlight.

Owl took a good look around to see what had happened during the  day. The leaves were heavy with rain. The pond was overflowing.  Everything was as it should be. Or, at least as close as things came to  “as it should be” lately.  The large sycamore tree was rooted in place.  No more could he wander the forest. The bee hive buzzed only half as  loudly as before. It had been weeks since Owl last saw a fisher cat. A  few more flowers had black rot creeping up their stalks. Yes, the very  meaning of “as it should be” had changed.

But wait, what was that in the garden below? Owl coasted down,  landing in the crook of the willow tree branch. Her eyes hadn’t been  playing tricks. The rain water pooled in an iris was bubbling. Not a big  rolling boil, but just tiny little blips of bubbles here and there. The  bubbles floated up and swirled around collecting the moon’s light.

Owl heard a distinct pop. Then in place of the bubbles was a tiny  creature.  The creature had all the beauty of the flower which it came.  Its body looked like a human’s. It had delicate high cheekbones, a tiny  nose and pointed ears. Its legs looked like long green stalks with woody  vines growing up from the feet and winding around its eggplant purple  legs and body. The long lean arms uncovered and a lighter shade of  purple. Protruding from its back were the wings of a dragon fly. Topping  it all off was a shock of bright yellow hair.

Owl was so surprised a little hoot escaped. The creature sprinted  back a few inches. It peeked out from behind the iris and hovered a  moment. Then, hands balled into fists, it took one deep breath and flew  straight to Owl.


“Hello,” Owl said back.

“Who might you be?”

“I am Owl. And you are?”

“Erisa. But wait how did I know that?”

Owl patted the branch across from her with her long wing. “Sit  child. You have been asleep for a very long time. I imagine you must  feel all muddled.”

As Erisa settled herself Owl wondered, is it a he or a she? Owl  guessed it was a she. It is always so hard to tell the shes from the hes  with creatures other than owls.

 “How do you know how long I’ve been sleeping? Have you been watching me? Do we know each other?”

“No, child we do not know each other but I have heard of you.”

Erisa straightened up at that. “Am I famous? Is that how you know me?”

Owl hooted and it sounded like small chuckle. “I know you because  when I was a tiny owlet, just out of the shell, my mother would tell me  stories about the Pollin Pals. To be honest I thought you were a myth.  But here you are, so you must be real.”

“What’s a Pollin Pal?”

“You, child, are a Pollin Pal.”

“How do you know that?”

“Well, I heard the crashing of thunder today didn’t I? And from the  soggy state the world is in, it is clear it was a very big storm. Then I  saw pop out of the iris below,” Owl huffed puffing out her feathers.   “Besides, you leave a trail of pollen behind you. You must be a Pollin  Pal.”

Erisa looked skeptically behind herself. There was a fading trail  of yellow pollen marking the way she came. She looked back to Owl. “Is  there anything else I should know?”

“There is always more to know.  I suppose you want to know,  specifically, about the Pollin Pals right now. Now where should I  start?”

“You start at the beginning, of course,” Erisa said looking down  her nose at Owl.  Owl was taller so it didn’t work. Erisa sniffed  instead.

“Which beginning? The world is full of beginnings. It is important  to start at the right one. Very well. The Pollin Pals are born from  flowers. They come only in times of great need.  ”

“What great need?”

“The Earth’s. You see, the Earth is our home but it is also a  living being. She has needs of her own. Sometimes, when we are careless,  we hurt our home without meaning to.”

As Owl continued Erisa hugged her knees into her chest. With her  arms flailing, she rolled off the branch in a backward flip. Red faced,  Erisa sprinted back to the branch and sat as if nothing had happened.

“Excuse me. I didn’t mean to interrupt. Please continue.”

“Very well, it was nothing,” Owl said loftily.

“So where was I? Oh yes, the Earth calls on the flowers to help  restore the magic of the land. It has been a very long time. My mother  only knew of Pollin Pals as stories. I suppose I am lucky to have met  one myself. Although, if you are here I can hardly consider myself  lucky,” Owl trailed off.

“Wow,” Erisa said, slightly deflating as her wings sagged down her  back. “That sounds like a really big job! How would I even start?”

Owl reached out her wing, scooping up Erisa, so she sat under the  dome of Owl’s wing. ”I cannot tell you what you must do. You must be of  the world to know the world. Only then will you know what needs to be  done.”

“Don’t I have to agree? I mean how will I figure anything out? I don’t even know where I am. ”

Owl watched Erisa stifle a yawn. “Ah, I had forgotten. Pollin Pals  are born knowing what they need to survive.  They must learn about the  world each time they return. You are in the garden and there is a great  big world out there to explore. But the world will still be there tomorrow and you need some rest.”

“It certainly doesn’t look like a very nice garden. I mean half the  flowers are covered in black slime. How can something as beautiful as  me come from there?”

Owl watched Erisa stifle a yawn. “That is a lesson for another day.”With that, Owl shooed Erisa from the branch.

“I don’t have to go just because you tell me to.” Erisa pointed  out. She stamped her foot on the branch. But Erisa, being a very small  creature, it made no noise and Owl didn’t notice.

Erisa gave a large fake yawn. She stretched her arms for emphasis. I am tired. I think I’ll go to sleep.”

With that,  Erisa lazily floated in circles down to the iris from  which she came. She climbed into the flower and pulled the petals around  herself just in time to fall asleep.

Erisa kicked off the petals and blinked into the sun. Now what to do? With that thought, the night before came flooding back. Erisa’s wings drooped a little at the thought. But then  straightened her shoulders and perked up her wings. Who did she think  she was, sending me off to bed? She was just some musty old bird.”
Erisa’s bangs rose up and she huffed out loudly. I’ll do as I please.

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Ho Rev 2

Name:  Melanie Ho
Genre: YA Speculative


Lily Chen is living every teenager’s dream.  After surviving a childhood of grueling exams and constant drilling by her “Tiger” parents, she has landed a coveted position at First Corporation, top-ranked company in the nation.  She’ll spend her first four years at the Work Home (think combination office/college dorm), where she’ll reunite with childhood best friend, Acker Rodriguez.

Soon after her arrival, Lily is quickly disappointed to find that Acker is now troublemaker #1.  Even worse, he tries to convince Lily to join him in investigating why several fellow recruits have allegedly gone missing.   Very much a “good girl” who doesn’t like to make waves, Lily refuses to believe him.  Instead, she focuses on her studies and the Work Home’s robust social scene, even making it into the top society (think Greek system).

But what if Acker’s right?  When one of Lily’s friends disappears, she begins investigating the missing recruits – and learns that whenever large projects need to be completed quickly, First Corporation gives recruits performance-enhancing drugs until they’re left brain-damaged.  With Acker next on the treatment list, she must now find a way to save him – even if it means sacrificing everything she’s worked her entire life to achieve.


I wasn’t supposed to be upset on Commencement Day. That’s what I told myself as I hugged my mom for the final time, her arms stiff at her sides while I inhaled her strawberry shampoo, praying I would remember the scent later.   As I stepped back, she stared intently at the ground while I gazed at the few strands of gray hair falling across her forehead.  The only betrayal of emotion was that she had been biting her nails all morning, something she always admonished me not to do.

Was there a way to burn my mother’s image in my mind?  I thought about our annual Christmas photos, how more of her hair lightened from its natural jet black color each passing year.  My breath felt short.  I’d never find out what my mom looked like with any more gray in her hair than this.  Never be photographed with my parents underneath our artificial wreath in matching red and green striped sweaters again.

As if I were a United Corporations of America official, rather than his sixteen-year-old daughter, my dad extended his right hand to shake mine.  “There’s no greater honor than to have a child placed at a higher-ranked company than her parents,” he said, with a firm grip and three shakes up and down.  Then, he added more softly, “I’m proud of my girl.”

His eyes moved to the fireplace mantle, where he had printed my First Corporation acceptance email on non-digital parchment, proudly displayed in a confident mahogany frame.  Every evening without fail, my dad treated the dark wood to a generous polishing with lemon-scented spray.  For a brief moment, I forgot the heaviness in my chest as I laughed inwardly at how the hands of any guests who picked up the rarity smelled of artificial citrus and gleamed with oil for hours after.

How many times had I read the bold letters at the top of the parchment over and again to convince myself they were real?   LILY CHEN, FIRST CORPORATION RECRUIT.  Every time I looked at those words, I felt myself stand a little taller.

I waited for my mom’s predictable lecture on how much they had sacrificed to ensure my acceptance into the highest-ranked and most profitable company in the nation. The wall behind my dad once boasted a ceiling-to-floor 3D television, before they sold it to pay my last year of tuition. They had invested more than we could afford at a private Learning Center, instead of relying on the free education I could have received from their employer, Twelfth Corporation.

And now I would never see them again.   The limo would be here in the next five minutes.  I’d eagerly awaited that limo for the last few weeks, wondering what color it would be, whether I’d be allowed to pop my head out the sunroof.   Now I prayed that it had run into traffic so we’d have even a little bit longer.

“I wish they allowed you to bring more than this.”  My mom picked up my suitcase, a purple metallic rectangle about the size of a twin-bed pillow, with First Corporation’s logo embossed on one side.  Ever since I was five-years-old and started to train for the Corporate Application Process, that logo, a star with the outline of an eagle in the center, had represented the ultimate dream.

Unlatching the handle, my mom inspected the contents before pulling out the small pink memory box.

Inside, I’d placed a note from the tooth fairy she had left under my pillow when I was five-years-old, so that I could remember her handwriting.   A collar belonging to my terrier Spaetzle, so that I could remember the sound of the little bell as he greeted me at the front door when I came home from the Learning Center each day.  Printed versions of the last sixteen years of Christmas cards, since we weren’t allowed to bring any electronic devices with us.

“Are you sure you want to take up room in your suitcase with all these?” my mom asked.  “What about pajamas?  Don’t you need pajamas?”

“She’s going to First Corporation,” my dad tilted his head as he replied. “They have enough money to supply their recruits with hundreds of pairs of pajamas each. Probably in the finest silk.”

Then he turned to me, “I know you’ll have an amazing time, Lily.  We loved the Work Home.  Best four years of our lives.”

I knew what was coming next.  “You know, Lily,” he added, “the Work Home is where your mother and I met. I spotted her across the room on our first day at the spirit rally where we learned Twelfth Corporation’s official hymn for the first time. Remember that, Cam? You had that blue barrette in your hair.”

“You’ll probably meet your future husband there, too,” my mom added, with a glint in her eyes that was reserved for a very small number of topics.  Beneath the sly look, I wondered if I caught a more subversive emotion: sadness, maybe, or wistfulness. I might meet the boy of my dreams at the Work Home, but my parents wouldn’t be allowed to attend the wedding.  They’d at least be allowed the receipt of a form email: Congratulations, your daughter is to be married at First Corporation next month.

As he always did when my mom had a distant look, my dad elbowed my mom and laughed. “Well, we know who Lily’s future husband is—he’s already been at First Corporation for the past year.”

Acker Rodriguez, my best friend from the Learning Center, was seventeen-years-old and had entered the First Corporation Work Home a year ago.  The more I insisted that we were just friends, the more my parents teased me about him.

The truth was that I wasn’t even sure we were still friends. Sure, he was forbidden from contacting me after he left for the Work Home last year. But new recruit lists were public to everyone.  Once I’d received my acceptance letter, he would have been allowed to send at least a hello, congratulations, can’t wait to see you again soon.

Had he completely forgotten about me? As the top-ranked company, First Corporation’s affluence was well known, and supposedly their recruits lived—and partied—in style.  My stomach dropped a little as I tried to picture Acker having such a good time that he forgot about me.  But the mental image wouldn’t come. After all, this was Acker. He only had a few friends when we were at the Learning Center together. It was unlikely that he’d suddenly become a social butterfly.  “I’m counting on you to join me at First Corporation next year,” he had said before leaving.

And yet I’d been accepted to First Corporation three weeks ago, and not a single word.

A white stretch limousine pulled into the driveway, interrupting my thoughts. My eyes moved over the car’s shimmering surface, its tinted windows.

My dad kissed my forehead and ruffled the hair above her ponytail. “We love you. We know you will have a wonderful life.”

My mom hugged me next, this time so tightly that for a moment it was hard to breathe. “Don’t forget, getting into First Corporation is only the first step,” she said. “Once you get there, you must get to the top of the rankings.” The words came with a forcefulness that surprised, then exasperated, me. Rankings? Were those really my mom’s last words to me?

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Washington Rev 2

Name: Adana Washington
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy


In a world where all humans have latent magical abilities and live for hundreds of years, Dailia Lovo only wants to pay her debts, save up money and buy a house in Ageinor, the capital of Emthur. But when she finds an entire city slaughtered -- and her friends desecrated -- she sets out to avenge those that have fallen. In her search for information, she stumbles across some new ideas that are taking hold of the people.

But the harmony on the surface is only a facade hiding the awful truth behind the beliefs being spread through the city. And the more she learns, the harder it is to hide her own secrets when she realizes that there is already a battle brewing in the shadows of the palace.

Then, in one night, all of Dailia’s attempts to exact vengeance unravel and lead to an unspeakable tragedy. As her past comes back to haunt her, she will be forced to decide what she is really fighting for … and if keeping her secrets is worth forfeiting her power. 

She saw the twitch of her opponent's leg just before his body twisted, and in the darkness of a blink Dailia Lovo debated on letting his fist connect with her face. She felt everyone's eyes on her like a small wave of heat against her skin. Torch smoke filled the air of the tavern, carrying the shouts and jeers of  the stomping spectators. They all watched and waited for her to best the man, or get knocked down herself.

Her opponent finally shifted his weight and swung. She stopped herself from dodging and let his meaty fist slam into the side of her face. Pain exploded through her cheek as her head snapped to the side. Dailia stepped beyond the man's reach and flexed her jaw, wondering how many more blows would make getting paid worth the pain.

Tamsin's voice rose over the roar of the crowd. "I said 'win', Dailia. Win!"

Dailia flicked a glance at her employer before she leapt away from her opponent's next attack. Tamsin's demand echoed in her mind. Put this brute down quickly so we can get out of here. She didn't know how much gemstone her boss had riding on the fight. She learned a long time ago that it didn't matter. This was the only way to make up for what she'd taken from Tamsin. She was only to concern herself with winning whatever fight he chose for her. 

Dailia shook her head and focused on the man circling across from her. He stood a full two heads taller than her. His arms were nearly as thick around as her waist, yet he moved deftly for someone so large. The odds were surely against her, and she huffed a chuckle at the amount of gemstone the crowd could have bet against her winning.

She dodged another punch aimed at her temple and watched her opponent stumble past her. He regained his footing and distributed his weight into the loose sand beneath him. He snarled at her, stretching the web of scars around his jaw. "If you're just going to dance, I'd rather you be naked."

Dailia pulled a corner of her lips into a humorless smile. She thought of seven ways to take the man down as she stepped along the perimeter of the ring. Yet her smile faded as she thought of the consequences. Fighting in the ring wasn't the same as killing in the field. Dead men never cornered her in a dark alley, demanding a private rematch. She was free to collect her payment and find a place to rest. 

Yet it never happened that way after she won Tamsin his money in front of the crowds. He would spend half his gemstone in the taverns and brothels of Porold, oblivious to all the unofficial challenges she faced in the streets. Every man who felt slighted by a stronger female would come at her. They all felt the need to best her, either in the streets, or on the cold ground. She couldn't count how many times she'd been forced to kill the men she’d already beaten in the ring.

She spotted Tamsin just outside the ring, his greedy fingers clawed around the rope. His gaze burned into her, demanding that she finish the fight. Chirin stood at his shoulder, his face shadowed by his hood. No one seemed to notice that he'd kept her jaw from shattering. With all the flashes of light from the other Ecteniles in the place, her brother's energy hadn't caught anyone's eye. He inclined his head the slightest inch before she turned her attention back to the fight.

"Nothing to say, princess?"

"Don't call me that," she growled under her breath. She lifted to the balls of her feet.

Dailia saw a possible ending for the fight in her mind. 

Running knee to the face.

She bounced on her toes as the man came at her for another swing. She dodged his fist and drove her own into his solar plexus. He grunted and bent at the waist. She took a step back.

Elbow to the top of the head.

Her opponent recovered. He threw out another punch and caught her in the chest. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from crying out in pain. His reach was far longer than hers. She would have to keep her distance if she was going to stay on her feet.

Kick his legs from under him.

Dailia leaned back on her left heel. She threw out her right leg, her bent arms coming up for balance. He leapt back a second too soon and backpedaled across the ring. Dailia let her foot fall, bending her knees into a wide-legged stance.

Beat him until he bleeds. Or passes out. Whichever comes second.

She smirked at the very different fight happening in her mind. But then she saw herself in a dark alley, her opponent having recovered from his injury. She saw him coming at her again and again, with no crowd to cheer him on or call foul when he fought dirty. She saw herself pull the knife from her boot and drive it through the bottom of his chin into his skull. She saw his body lying on the ground, bleeding as payment for his pride and arrogance. 

Dailia let the man charge at her.

His shoulder nailed into her stomach and knocked the air from her lungs. They both fell into the sand, Dailia taking the brunt of the fall along with the man's weight. Her spine collided with the hard ground beneath the loose sand, threatening to crack under the impact. Her opponent scrambled to sit across her waist. He let all of his weight do the work of holding her down, using his knees to pin her arms.

He bent at the waist and grabbed a fistful of her white hair. He brought his face within inches of hers. Dailia ignored the rank ale and fish on his breath. "So I was right. You do look better on your back."

A bell clang over the noise of the crowd. The fight was over.

"Get off of me," Dailia said through clenched teeth.

The man sneered at her and let his hand roam down her neck and chest. His hand went to grope her breast.

"Do it and lose your jewels." Dailia held the man's stare and let her intentions shine through her eyes.

The man scoffed and looked at her arms. "And how would that happen?"

Dailia twisted her hip against the inside of his thigh. The motion triggered the latch on the side of her belt. The sliding of metal sounded at her waist. Dailia watched the man looks towards the sound. She felt his legs tense around her. He saw the sharp tips of retractable silver spikes peeking from the open spaces in her belt.

His eyes slid back to Dailia’s face. She let her lips curl into a smile. She didn't catch what the man mumbled as he lumbered to his feet. He dragged his foot and landed a kick to her ribs before stepping over her. Dailia stayed still, not ready to deal with Tamsin. Yet dragging it out would only make him angrier, and she still needed to get paid. She took a deep breath and cleared her mind. Then she rolled up, her spine stretching and settling as she got to her feet.

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Gilliam Rev 2

Name: Gabby Gilliam
Genre: NA Peter Pan retelling
Title: Hooked

Willow Gutierrez just wants to go home and pretend that her freshman year of college never happened. Then, a shadow man snatches her half-brothers from their beds and carries them away to Neverland, and college is all but forgotten.

To follow after them, Willow is forced to take Tinkerbell captive. Tinkerbell tells her that the shadow belongs to Peter Pan, who uses his dark henchman to kidnap children. The Neverlanders know that those abducted by Pan are never seen again, but Willow refuses to accept that her brothers are lost forever.

With Tinkerbell as her navigator, and a very reluctant Captain Hook as her guard, Willow travels across Neverland in search of the shadow’s secret lair. She discovers that, sometimes, the stories get things wrong. Sometimes the good guy is an egomaniacal teenager in possession of some very dark magic. Sometimes the bad guy is your best chance. Willow hopes that the happy ending is one thing her story will get right.


My name is a bit of a joke, a cruel trick of nature to punish my parents. They named me Willow, expecting a daughter that fit the name. They got me. I’m nowhere near thin enough to be considered willowy, carrying my freshman fifteen and then a few. I did get the height though. I’ve towered over Mom since I was about fourteen. When I met my roommate Jill, I was excited because she was an inch taller than me.  Instead of a kindred spirit, I just found a spoiled girl who viewed my wardrobe as an extension of her own.

“Jill, have you seen my lip gloss?” I shouted over my shoulder.  Jill’s earbuds were a permanent attachment, and I knew she’d pretend she couldn’t hear me if I didn’t shout.

“Nope.” She smacked her lips which were a suspicious shade of strawberry frappe.  

I rolled my eyes.  Whatever. In a few minutes, I was out of there.  She could keep the damned lip gloss.  I looked around the tiny dorm room I’d called home for the past ten months.  Goodbye, cheap mattress whose probing springs made it impossible to sleep for longer than two hours at a time.  Sayonara, tiny window. Can’t say I’ll miss your beautiful view of the crumbling brick wall across the alley.  Good riddance, inconsiderate roommate and your kleptomaniacal habits, especially where my sweaters and cosmetics are concerned.  I didn’t even wave to Jill before I carried my last bag down the stairs to wait for the taxi that would take me home.

“Later, Quasimodo.”

“Let us know how the weather is in Notre Dame!”

I let my hair fall over my face and ignored the snickers of the girls on my floor as I passed, determined not to let them break me in the last moments before freedom.

For the sake of accuracy, the taxi was not actually taking me home.  It was taking me to the bus stop at Virginia Tech.  My rustic college wasn’t large enough to merit its own transportation service. Once the taxi dropped me off, I would catch a bus to Charlottesville and transfer onto a train bound for Fredericksburg.  It was a convoluted way to get home, but I didn’t care, as long as it got me out of Blacksburg.

There was twenty minutes between when my bus arrived at Charlottesville Union Station and when the train would get there.  It wasn’t long enough for me to do anything other than people watch. My stomach growled, but I decided to wait until I got on the train to quiet it with offerings of food.  I didn’t have enough time to get anything from a restaurant anyway, not that I could afford it.  I spent the last of my money on the tickets home.

A flood of travelers coursed over the platform around me.  My entire college life lay at my feet.  It fit into three suitcases and a knapsack, and the sack was only filled with snacks for the train ride home.  I watched as mothers and children embraced before parting, and lovers cried as their other half pulled out of the station.  My only companions were my battered suitcases, purchased second hand last summer when I still believed that college was the solution to all of my problems.  

As it turns out, my oppressive hometown was not the root of my suffering.  I was even more miserable on campus.  A year of processed, packaged dinners had earned me twenty extra pounds and a bad case of acne.  I thought college would help me discover my true self, that I would blossom outside of my Mom’s walls.  Instead, after the first week of school, I locked myself in my dorm room and avoided interaction with fellow students at all costs.  It was a far cry from the transformation I had hoped for.

My train pulled into the station, so I lugged my bags across the platform.  

“Need a hand, miss?” A porter reached out to take my bags. His wispy white hair poked out from under his cap. He smiled and his eyes nearly disappeared beneath layers of wrinkles.

“Actually, yes. Thank you so much.” I returned his smile, but worried he wouldn’t be able to carry my heavy luggage.

He tipped his hat to me before grabbing the largest of the bags. He moved effortlessly, stronger than I expected given his age. I followed him to the luggage compartment and then found my seat.  When the whistle blew, the seats near me were still empty and I was relieved.  I was unpracticed in the art of small talk.  I fished my headphones out of my knapsack and plugged them into my phone.  I found a playlist that suited my mood, and let the dark melodies drown out the noise of the other train passengers.  I did my best to pretend I was alone, closing my eyes and losing myself in the music.  Pretending no one else existed had kind of become my specialty.  It made the indifference of my peers hurt less.

The rain pelted the windows of the train—each drop striking the glass like the clouds were unleashing pebbles instead of water.  I crushed my hoodie into a ball and tucked it between my head and the window.  I don’t know whether it was the inadequate pillow or the fear that the rain would shatter the glass, but both sleep and comfort eluded me.  I stared out across the dismal fields of Charlottesville.  Normally, the view was lovely—the deep, rich green of fresh grass and trees against the Blue Ridge Mountains.  That day, it was gray upon gray, and I couldn’t even make out the mountains in the distance through the mist.  It was like Nature manifested my emotions.  

My guilt and apprehension roiled in my stomach with the same intensity as the rain crashed against the windows.  I was headed home from Radford University, and I had no intention of going back.  I had not yet shared this information with my mom.  Summer break lasted for two and half months.  I had that long to find my courage, and let my mom know I was pissing my future away just like she had. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?  Lightning forked across the sky, and I did my best to pretend it wasn’t a bad omen.

The train pulled into the station with a squeal of brakes against the wet tracks. I could see my mother’s Mickey Mouse umbrella through my window. She used to walk me to school on rainy days under that umbrella. Now, she was picking me up from my last day of school with it. Weird how some things come full circle.

Mom was everything that I’m not. She had dark auburn hair that fell in loose, natural curls around her heart-shaped face. My hair can, at best, be called coffee-colored. I usually referred to it as an enchanting cow patty brown. I begged Mom to let me dye it when I was in high school, but she refused, claiming it would damage my hair and I’d regret it later.  I bought a home bleaching kit my first night at school. I also got hives, blisters near my hairline, and my left eye nearly swollen shut. My first day of class, I looked like Quasimodo, so of course Victor Hugo was the first author on my Gothic Lit syllabus. I locked myself in my room until the swelling went down, and then every night after that. Mom was totally right.

Even though she was forty three, the freckles that peppered her nose made Mom look more like my sister than my mother. My nose is slightly too large for my face, and doesn’t have any freckles to make it cuter. While her eyes were the green of the first fresh grass of spring, mine are the same dung brown as my hair. She was petite, the shortest person on the train platform even with the ridiculously large Mickey Mouse umbrella.

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Grigorova-Schaarschmidt Rev 2

Name: Lily Grigorova-Schaarschmidt
Genre: New Adult Fantasy
Title: Dragon Season

Something is wrong in the ancient country of Khania. People feel it but have no idea how to explain it: weird weather phenomena, mystics who can command the animals, see the future, talk to the dead. And weirdest of all – the flying children.

Asaen of Cranebirds is a student in Khania’s foremost university and in love with the country’s only princess – Sofiya Bahllaar. The two of them are in possession of a trio of mysterious books which seem to explain the strange occurrences and foretell a coming cataclysm.

Before they could decipher the Dragon Books, however, they find themselves on the run from an arcane organization that will readily kill for the knowledge in the books. Meanwhile, Khania begins to shake under the blows of a conspiracy to dethrone the royal dynasty.

Asaen and Sofiya’s only refuge turns out to be their controversial group of friends – Elena, the sole heir to a rebellious northern house, Boyan, a bon vivant and womanizer, and several of Asaen’s unsuspecting classmates, who are also dragged into what has become a cloak-and-dagger war for the greatest power ever to belong to man.

It is the month of winds of the year 2207, and Elena of House Carnelian is galloping home. She is leaning close to her mare’s neck, her breath conjuring angry puffs of white out of the late-winter air. It has been six long years since she has last ridden down this old road, over its paving stones worn so smooth by centuries of hooves, wheels and feet that they look like mother-of-pearl. To her it feels like it’s been forever. But the land is welcoming her home. The stone heart of the hill, the fragrant bosom of the pine wood. She is their last hope. She is the last of the Carnelians.

Elena noticed the soarer as soon as she rounded the wide curve and found herself on the crest of Alya hill. It was a boy, at least judging by his breeches. His shadow had appeared on the ground by the road like a ghost from the past, haunting her on the threshold of her hometown. He was flying close to the thin dove-colored clouds, arms outstretched, oblivious to the young woman on the high white horse who was chasing him across the meadows.

It was the flying children that had made her country famous in the royal courts of the Federation. The miracle children of Khania. Some regarded them as a message from God. Others as incredible feats of nature. To Elena they were simply the joyous days of her childhood. Because she used to be one of them.

The soarer swerved and headed towards the open plain beyond the crest of Alya hill. His shadow glided over the uneven body of the hill, its outline rippling on the frosted earth. Elena leaned even closer to her mare’s neck and whispered:

“Faster, my girl!”

She knew it was silly to chase him. She was a daughter of Carnelian, the sole remaining heir to the greatest house of Khania’s northeast, and it was unbecoming to race through the hills with no good reason. But she simply had to see him, see that look on his face, of pure exultation. Long ago she had been the best soarer among the pack of flying children. She could ascend and dive the fastest, as light as the wind, defying all the laws of gravity and reason. Maybe because her ability had been so powerful, she had been the first to lose it. It had happened near her tenth birthday, she’d been left, desolate, amid the castle’s courtyard, feet glued to the ground. Such freedom was a hard thing to lose.

Marya, her snow-white thoroughbred, whinnied, irritated – the soarer’s shadow was pulling ahead. They were approaching the cliff-like east side of Alya hill which stood guard over the valley of the city. The shadow slid over the rocky edge and disappeared. At the very brink Elena pulled the reins. Then looked up.

The boy was only feet above her, descending swiftly through the grey winter sky. For just a second Elena managed to see his face. Young, baby-like roundness, huge dark eyes. And that triumphant look, which nothing less but absolute freedom can bring.

He whizzed by and sank beyond the edge. His shape sailed gracefully over the treetops before merging with the mist that hung over the city of Alshanai.

With a sigh for something irrevocably lost, Elena Carnelian jumped from the saddle. Her feet landed softly on the hard packed earth. She let her eyes sweep over the view before her, let it wash over her, and felt her heart beat madly in her chest. Her self-imposed exile was over. She was home.

The valley had wrapped itself in silence. A pale sun had emerged from the greyness of the sky, shedding unusual warmth over the land. Alshanai was a sprawling stone labyrinth against the foot of Alya hill, encircled by a forty-foot high wall. A gentle pre-evening mist was now drifting over it, but through the ashen air Elena could discern silhouettes of buildings and streets so familiar they plucked strings in her soul. In the middle of the city, on a soft rise she could see the central square, with the boyar castle and the clock tower on both sides. She squinted through the mist. The tower should have flown the Carnelian banner – the Rider Victorious in russet and bronze – yet no banner fluttered in the breeze. A twinge of unease made her frown.

How could it seem so long ago, and yet as though no time at all had passed! She had left Alshanai in a flurry of regret and tears, hoping what happened will be fixed with time and distance. But now, seeing the city, and smelling the hill, and breathing in the pine wood, she found it all still here, waiting for her.

Was he here? Along the east horizon, where evening was already draping its first veils, she could almost make out the outlines of the plateaus that surrounded Khania’s old capital. Somewhere there was the ancient seat of his House. Somewhere there, maybe, was Ivaylo…

Marya nudged her hand, and Elena tore herself away from the view. She opened her saddlebags, her fingers brushing past the stack of letters that were the reason for her return. She wouldn’t think about them now, or about the missing banner atop the clock tower. Now was the time to make herself presentable. She fished out a small mirror, round and pretty, engraved with a silver wood-nymph rose. Her lips were chapped after the long ride, so she moistened them with rose balm. Fatigue had drained the velvet glow from her olive skin; under her eyes, hazel, with the green-brown hues of winter woods, had gathered shadows. She pinched her cheeks to bring out some color and for a moment stared at the tiny star-shaped birthmark on her right cheekbone, just under the eye. In the courts of the Federation her dusky skin, flowing auburn curls, and this birthmark had won her a reputation as a southern beauty. Once, in the late morning of her youth, before the university, before the Federation, this star-shaped freckle had made Ivaylo call her “Errie” – after the brightest star on the east horizon. Because stars, he said, marked their favorites with their beauty …

She didn’t even feel her hands shake. The mirror simply fell through her fingers. Paralyzed, like in a dream, Elena watched its merciless flight to the ground, unable to stop it. Upon its impact with the stony ground, the mirror burst like a teardrop.

Then the silence was broken by a bird’s shriek. High in the sky above her wound a billow of crows. As though a single mind united the birds’ flight through the sky, turning them into a fierce genie writhing towards the valley of the city.

Two bad omens. Three, if she counted the missing Carnelian banner. Elena stroked Marya’s neck, trying to calm herself enough to resume this journey home. With an effort, she shook off the numbness and forced her eyes away from the hypnotic twists of the bird cloud. Then she jumped on the saddle and without a second glance at the shattered remains of the mirror galloped down the road to Alshanai.