Sunday, February 19, 2017

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Ruscovick-Smith Rev 2

Name: Jamie Rusovick-Smith
Genre: Young Adult fantasy
Title: The Burn Kingdom
Seventeen-year-old Azara wields fire like it’s an extension of her body. Fitting, as her insides are fashioned of coal. For years, she’s prepared to take her place as head Matriarch of the Acalica, and finally rid Earth of humankind; greedy, worthless bunch that abuse their earth and each other. Or so Azara’s been told... She’s never left the lair or met a human. And until she’s fit to end the world, Mother Nature won’t grant her freedom. Azara’s power makes her unpopular with her sisters, and it’s no secret that any one of them would kill to take her place. Determined to keep her birthright, Azara sneaks out of the lair and spies on the world she must soon destroy.

When she meets a human boy, Salvatore, everything she was told about his kind is proven wrong. Upon finding them together, Azara’s deadliest sister attacks and forces Sal to use Brujeria to defend himself. Turns out the humans aren’t as helpless as Mother has led Azara to believe. If Azara obeys Mother, she’ll have to end all humans, their magic— and Sal. But following her heart means she’ll spend the rest of her life fighting to survive Mother Nature’s wrath.

First Five:
Azara never meant to disappoint Mother, yet she found herself under her narrowed eyes once again. Azara kept her face composed, her shoulders square, and her head high. The weak glow of the rusted sconces which lined the wall of the lair didn’t hide Mother’s growing displeasure. Her color-changing eyes were proof enough, glowing yellow— the color of trepidation or annoyance.
Well, Azara would show her something.
In the near dark, dank cave, Azara took a deep breath, and raised her hands. The musty air sizzled against her coal lungs, and the resulting smoke tickled her nose. One breath, two. Her palms crackled with fire, burned from deep inside her body, and exploded outward. A massive fireball formed, more than three times Azara’s height in diameter, then crept towards the edges of the space. The fire crawled towards the pockmarked walls, towards the ceiling dripping with stalactites. It smothered nearer Mother and Grimmer.
“How’s that?” Azara cocked her head and widened her eyes. Innocent. Not condescending. Much.
Mother inspected the fireball, her glittering, energy-filled skin a stark contrast to the glow of the fire. The silk of her gown swish-swished around her legs as she circled the small sun. She pursed her lips, ran her fingers along the licking edges. “Can you make it burn hotter without expanding the size?”
A smirk snuck onto Azara’s lips. She could make it hot enough to scorch every inch of the underground cave, including her sisters’ quarters and the training wings. But then Mother and Grimmer would burn like dried branches, and Azara would neverbe given permission to leave the  lair. And if she never left, she’d never fulfill her creation.
“Of course.” Controlling fire came easy to her. Perhaps not as easy as she would have everyone believe, but Mother never would tolerate weakness. Azara had to make it look easy, make it look as though she was ready. Flames below, she felt ready.
When Mother clucked her tongue, Grimmer flicked his wrist and the ball vanished in a puff of smoke. Azara’s mouth gaped and she glared at her mentor. The old man grinned, the ends of his mustache tilting up towards his nose, then tipped his head. His long salt and pepper hair was pulled back into a ponytail, but the end fell over one shoulder when he bowed to her.
Mierda. Azara resisted the urge to stomp her foot, but she did fold her arms across her chest. Why must he show off?
“The power is there, but the concentration is not.” Grimmer shrugged. “Easy to dispel when your heart is not in it.”
“Dismal.” Mother crossed the cave floor and scowled at Azara as she passed. “I’d expected more of an improvement in your focus by this point. You’re nearly eighteen and—”
“You act as though I’ll have competition when I go to the surface.” Azara blew a lock of raven hair from her face and followed her mother. “They have no way to protect themselves, right? Wouldn’t help each other even if they could. I’m ready to end the humans. My power is—”
Mother whipped around and her red eyes stopped Azara mid-step. “You are my most powerful Element. I made you with talent to spare. But you are still not powerful enough. You’ve no idea what the outside world is like.”
Azara pointed at the ceiling and all of the world above her that only Grimmer had told her anything of. “I would know if you’d ever let me out of the lair!”
“Silence.” Mother didn’t have to raise her voice to make her point clear. She held a hand near Azara’s throat and squeezed. Azara held firm, tried to be brave, but her knees trembled. The energy pressed into her airway. She couldn’t inhale.
“You,” Mother spat, “won’t leave this lair until you are fit to end the world. The only thing standing between you and your duty, is your massive ego.”
Mother released Azara. Her instincts told her to rub her throat, to take several deep breathes, but she didn’t want Mother to know the attack had rattled her.  She didn’t want to seem weak. So she stood statue-still and lowered her eyes to the floor. It was a good thing a girl made of fire couldn’t cry.
Mother turned to Grimmer. “Have you anything to say?”
The old man exhaled, tucked a cigar between his teeth, and pulled his cloak around his wiry frame. He leaned against the wall of the cave, nodding to himself. “She has a strong will. Not sure we’ll ever break it.”
Mother’s already grim expression hardened. She stalked towards him, leaned in and, in a voice Azara was likely not meant to hear, said, “We’re running out of time.”
“Indeed. I’ll do my best to inspire her.”
Mother nodded, then left the room.
Azara let herself exhale and her shoulders deflated. What was that about? She pressed her hands into her sides, her fingers warming against her internal heat. Grimmer wouldn’t tell her unless she was meant to know, but at present, she had larger coals to burn. “Why did you embarrass me?”
Grimmer righted himself and walked over to Azara. He blew out a coil of wispy smoke, then tipped his head, his grey eyes sparkled despite the poor lighting. He smelled of cherries and cinders. “You’re not trying hard enough.”
Azara turned her gaze on her mentor. “I am trying. It’s not my fault nothing is ever good enough for her.”
The edges of Grimmer’s mouth crinkled, his eyes lost a bit of their sparkle. She felt the change in his posture and guilt clawed behind her ribs.
“Suppose I don’t improve. Mother will have Ria take my place. You’ll have spent all this time training me for nothing.”
Grimmer scoffed. “I wouldn’t worry about that much. Your mother is anxious, to be sure, but she holds to tradition. She’ll not give away your birthright as firstborn unless she’s given no other choice.” His face held a harsh line, a certain set to his jaw which Azara thought might be grief. Of course… Grimmer might be the most powerful of them all, but he was a man in a Matriarchal society. 
Azara gulped and turned her gaze on the cavernous ceiling. “I want to please her, I do. And ashes, do I want to see the outside world. I want it more than anything.”
“So did Ria.” Grimmer shook his head.
“Ria.” Azara’s deadly younger sister. For all her eagerness, Ria listened even less than Azara and she had a slew of bodies in her wake to prove it. Not that Mother minded the deaths. It was just that Ria had gone and done it without anyone knowing. She might not have come back to the lair in one piece. She might have ended the humans without Azara’s help at all. She would have made Azara’s existence— what was the word? It didn’t matter. Ria had been stopped.
Grimmer tucked his hands into his pockets and headed towards the mouth of the cave. “Let’s not be useless. Take a five minute break and meet me in the training room.” His robes ruffled dust as he vanished into the darkness.
“Useless.” Azara snapped her fingers and sighed. That was the word. Ria had almost made her useless.
Azara slunk into the hall, break be damned, and went to follow Grimmer. But a rough wind slapped her in the face and giggled.
“Going somewhere, Coalheart?”


  1. Pitch comments:

    It’s so great to see this story filled out in the pitch. I think you’ve done a great job describing Azara’s journey and setting up the stakes, especially with the closing lines. I wonder if you can set up some of these stakes more clearly in the first paragraph as well. While that paragraph establishes great background, it doesn’t fully tell the reader what Azara wants or what the consequences are; it is more just a set-up of what her situation is.

    The word “Brujeria” also threw me a little, because it was used in a way that assumed the reader would know. And its very possible that I’m just an uninformed reader, but I think if this is a term that is unique to your story, you could add a little descriptor of what this type of magic is or what it does.

    Overall, I am feeling for Azara and the choice she has to make, and I think that makes your pitch successful.

    Pages comments:

    I feel so much more of Azara in this revision! I can feel how she wants to get out of the lair. I like that you’ve eliminated some of her “lazy” tendencies that you had in your previous pages, and replaced them with the sense that she is actually trying but is just not ready yet. I also notices that you rearranged some parts and I think those choices were effective. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but I love the “girl made of fire cannot cry” line.

    You haven’t left much to suggest in these pages, but the one part that stalled the flow for me was the paragraph about Ria. To me, your new ending line feels like Ria is about to make an appearance (if I’m wrong, then you can ignore this) so maybe the point where she is actually present would be a better time to dive into that backstory.

    The world you’ve created feels real and intriguing, and I wish you luck with this story and your writing.

    All the best,

  2. Hello Jamie!

    Your pitch is very interesting... I like where this is going! I do agree with Beth in that I'd love to see some of the stakes early on. I also think that using the term Brujeria is going to throw some people off. I'm from NM where the term is more known than other places, so using a slight descriptor might help!

    I think I'd also like to know where on Earth Azara ends up visiting when she leaves the lair. To me it seems like maybe somewhere in the Southwest. I'd really love to get grounded. Overall, I love this story idea. Seems very unique and I hope to get to dive into this world someday!

    I love the tweaks you've made to the pages. The ending has more to offer, and I find myself wondering who we are about to run in to!

    Ooh, I just love Mother Nature. To me, she has really been able to shine with this newest revision. The tension is so thick between the two...great job!

    You've done such a great job, so the two things that tripped me up are only minor things really. And completely subjective. I noticed that your first two sentences start with "Azara". It was a bit monotonous, and I wonder if you can change it up just a bit. Once again, though, completely subjective. The other was the description of the "dark, dank cave". For me, the two descriptors side-by-side trips me up a bit. Such minor things!

    Other than that, I'm excited to see where this goes for you! I've enjoyed working together!

    A L

  3. Hi Jamie!!

    Your pitch really brought this all together for me, and I think the concept is so interesting! I agree that saying "Brujeria" might be confusing to some people, and that could weaken your stakes a bit. Overall though, I really like the pitch!

    I think the changes you've made to your pages are great, and make things flow a lot better. I agree with A L: I think Mother Nature and her relationship with Azara is really strongly fleshed out now. Again, some of the description is a bit stilted-- I noticed the "dark, dank" cave thing as well (I'm sorry I'm not saying anything too new!!)

    Overall, it's been awesome to see this improve, and I hope I could help you out a bit! Thanks so much for all your feedback over the workshop. :)

  4. Hi Jamie!

    I really like your pitch. The story is fascinating and makes me ask a lot of questions--out of curiosity, not confusion, so that's good. I wonder if her sisters are elements that we know.

    I agree that allowing the humans to have Brujeria lessens the stakes. However, it's still interesting. Maybe make it clear that it has limits. You could also let Azara learn of it and that's why she needs more work and concentration. That way, when she sees it in action, she'll understand. But she'll also know that she is capable of beating it maybe the only one really capable. That'll make her choice even more important.

    So much food for thought here--about Nature and destruction and choosing sides.

    Best wishes with this. I'll be watching for it, so I can read it in full.

  5. Hi Jamie,

    Great job! My comments on your pitch and pages are below even though there wasn't much!).


    This is a fantastic pitch. I have a clear sense of conflict and exactly what is at stake. My only small suggestion would be to go ahead and define Brujeria within the pitch. I can assume what it is from the context, but as a reader, I would rather be 100% sure.

    Again, you’re not leaving much to critique.  These beginning pages ar incredibly strong. I love Mother Nature and her relationship with Azara. I have a very clear sense of their world and just who Azara is as a character. Well done! I can feel the tension leaping off the page--I would definitely read on.

    All best,