Sunday, February 12, 2017

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Rusovick-Smith Rev 1

Name: Jamie Rusovick-Smith
Genre: Young Adult fantasy
Title: The Burn Kingdom
Azara never meant to disappoint Mother Nature, yet she found herself under Mother’s 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. They glowed 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.
A smirk snuck onto Azara’s lips. She could make it even bigger. Make it fill 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 then Azara would never be given permission to leave the lair. And if she never left, she’d never fulfill her creation.
“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?”
“Of course.” Controlling fire came easy to her. Too easy. Azara’s thoughts drifted towards her room. Perhaps she’d give herself an oil bath when this was done. Didn’t she have some—
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 stop 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 face and followed her mother. “They have no way to protect themselves, right? Wouldn’t help each other even if they could. So why should I put forth any extra effort when I can do my job without exerting myself? I can end the humans without trying. I promise.”
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 that doesn’t give you the right to be lax in your focus. 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 frame, as he leaned against the wall of the cave. “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 curious as she was, she was too angry to press him. “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.”
“Only because it comes so easy to me. I have no need to try any harder.” Azara turned her gaze on her mentor. The edges of his mouth crinkled, his eyes lost a bit of their sparkle. She felt the change in his posture and guilt clawed behind her ribs. “But I suppose if I don’t apply myself soon, 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’m sorry for wasting your time.”
“You haven’t. Ria on the other hand—” He 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? Azara shuddered. It didn’t matter. Ria had been stopped.
Grimmer tucked his hands into the folds of his robe and headed towards the mouth of the cave. “Get some rest. You’ll be useless for training tomorrow otherwise.” His robes dragged along the cave floor, ruffling dust as he vanished into the darkness.
“Useless.” Azara snapped her fingers and sighed. That was the word. Ria had almost made her useless.


  1. Hey Jamie!

    I love your story! I'm a fantasy fanatic at heart, and your world has my imagination churning. Great job!

    You've done a great job with your characters. Each has a unique voice, and I feel their personalities popping off the page.

    I read through your submission a few times, and the one thing I kept thinking was this:
    I feel the passage ends on a comfortable note. She's told to get some rest, and things come to a good close. I think I would like to see some tension at the end instead. Something to keep the reader going. I imagine reading late at night (which is the only time with 5 little kids:) ) and coming to the end of the 5 pages and thinking, "This would be a great time to pause for the night. I think if you are able to end with some sort of tension, this book could quite possibly become "un-put-downable".

    Really just an opinion of an avid reader. I didn't see much else, and think you did an amazing job with your revision. I'm anxious for the pitch. The story could go so many ways, so I'm on edge waiting to find out where!

    A L

  2. Hi Jamie!

    I really love the concept of this story, I think it's so unique and interesting, and I definitely think you've added a lot to it with your revisions! I agree with A L's comment about the ending feeling a little too settled. I agree that more tension at the end would make this even more intriguing!

    Other than that, I think there's a couple of times the writing gets a little choppy/tell-y, specifically when you're first describing Mother Nature, and then a bit with the introduction of Ria (which you already fixed a bit when you took out the line about her hair color!)

    I think you've done really well with your revision, and I'm excited to read your pitch next week!!

  3. Jamie,

    I’m still so impressed by this world you’ve created, and the way you immersed me as a reader into your setting. I was much more drawn in by the first paragraph without the elaborate description of Mother Nature. I also think it is much more clear what Azara’s purpose is and why Mother Nature is so testy and impatient. Great job!

    I think there is a bit of a disconnect between Azara’s lack of passion and her desire to leave. If she is so gifted and so able to fulfill her mission, and also so eager to get out of the lair, then why wouldn’t she just put in the effort that Mother Nature is asking for and get out? I wonder if there is a layer to Azara that we are missing to understand why she won’t just try harder.

    I think the fourth paragraph that starts with “a smirk” is a bit tell-y and happens too early in the scene. I think we could get a little deeper into the action before hearing that about how she’ll never fulfill her purpose and get out of the lair.

    Looking forward to reading your pitch!

    All the best,

  4. Hi Jamie!

    I love your revision! You really immerse us in scene, and it's powerful. Mother Nature is nasty. I love it! I love Azara and her confidence too. We have the makings of a lot of great story tension. Mother/daughter, sister/sister, girl/self, girl/world...

    I agree with A L about ending with tension. It wouldn't be hard to tweak though. Even if instead of resting, Grimmer says the opposite, like "Neither of us will be resting tonight. You've got a lot to prove, and time is running out." That puts the emphasis on the ticking clock, which always adds tension.

    Overall, I love your vivid descriptions and how you get to the heart of the action. We might not know exactly what's going on, but we're riveted. And not confused.

    Excellent work! Can't wait for next week!

  5. Hi Jamie-

    So much is more clear on this revision. I'm not sure why, but somehow I didn't get that Mother Nature was bent on destroying the world/humans in the first draft. That is SUPER intriguing though!

    Here's my thought:
    "They have no way to protect themselves, right? Wouldn’t help each other even if they could. So why should I put forth any extra effort when I can do my job without exerting myself? I can end the humans without trying. I promise.”

    1) do you want her to come off as so lazy/petulant here? The opening line is that she doesn't want to disappoint mother nature, but in this line, she doesn't really seem to care. Maybe that's just posturing? If so, I think we need to see more of her inner battle--that she really DOES care, but this is her defense mechanism. Or else she comes off as kind of flippant.

    2) So you're revising a pretty well known idea--Mother Nature. Is it that she only wants to destroy humans? Or the whole world? What makes this version of mother nature so bloodthirsty, when usually she's seen as, well...a mother? What is mother nature's end game? (I don't think you have to outright state it, but your reader should have some sense of what's happening because it IS such a departure from the usual lore/mythology)

    3) What does Azara think about MN's goals? Does she like killing people? Does she not care one way or another? Is she itching to get out into the world, and if so... WHY?? What does she imagine the world beyond the cave holds that she's missing out on? What is at STAKE for her if she stays trapped down below? I think we need a bit of a sense of what she's doing this for--what she thinks she can/what she wants to accomplish.

    Overall, great revision! I'm loving the way this is shaping up!

  6. Oh, how is it Friday!

    Anyway, I love this. I think the revision definitly makes it stronger, and if I didn't say so before, I really really love Azara's character intro. I love we see her strengths and weaknesses up front and her arrogance and impatient feel very real.

    Really the only think I'm tripping over is the use of the phrase "Mother Nature." It just feels oddly out of place in the scene somehow. It may just be me, but simply calling her Mother wouldn't necessarily detract from the story, and you can always explain her full title and reasons later when we have more context.

    Looking forward to seeing your query! Good job. :)