Sunday, March 19, 2017

1st 5 Pages Workshop- Constantine Rev 2

Name: Cal Constantine
Genre: Young Adult Science Fantasy
Title: Keeper's Source


Nick Ramos knew what he saw, and he knew his sister wasn’t dead. She was lost, not gone. Even though everyone around him has accepted she was never coming home, Nick vowed to find her.

Reality broke apart the day he turned fourteen; a meteor shower dropped creatures that tracked his sister and knew their names. With a roar of wind and golden sparks, Chloe disappeared. She flung open a portal to another world, taking their attackers with her. Her last command to him: Hide.

Four years later, Chloe's hunters have returned and they're now hunting him.

Thrust into a reality hidden to him by his parents, Nick uncovers his sister had thwarted the plans of a celestial deity called a Keeper. Forced to flee with others like his family, Nick traverses through portals and travels across space itself to new worlds where similar refugees hide in fear.

Nick unravels the trail his sister has left behind while bringing him close to the very Keeper who hunts his own sister.

Nick must choose how far he will go to find Chloe and where he stands after years of being lied to by his family.


“Chloe! Slow down!”

Nick couldn’t contain his laughter as his body pushed back into his seat. The growl of the engine and the wind through the cabin drowned his voice out as his sister floored it. She fixated on the road ahead, but Nick saw a smirk creep onto her face in response. Chloe’s long black hair tossed wildly in the draft, but she paid it no mind. Her dark eyes were locked on the road and she gripped the wheel with one hand, the other on the shifter.

“Hang on!” Chloe shouted.

He didn’t have time to react before the force pushed him back further into the seat. Cars and trucks blurred past them at dizzying speeds, Chloe weaving in and out of the lanes with narrow precision. He couldn’t control himself, letting out another peal of laughter as he held onto the door’s handle for dear life.

Nick didn’t care, he got what he wanted. He was fourteen today, and his sister made it home safely from her last active tour. He begged Chloe to let him drive her car when she got back; the car she restored with him.

“When is it my turn?” He shouted, wincing as they passed a truck a little too close.

“On the way back. I’m going to turn you loose on back roads; less likely to get caught. But first...”

Chloe turned sharp and pulled off at an exit and turned onto a winding mountain pass. Nick watched as the city below faded away into a haze of gold-yellow lights and a tint of blue hue as twilight settled upon the valley. Chloe carefully guided the car from pavement to gravel, and then finally dirt. The car slowed to a crawl up the mountain as the path narrowed. One wrong move and they would tumble over the steep edge.

Reaching the top of the mountain, Chloe pulled into a deserted observation park. Brother and sister climbed out of the car, their laughter and slamming of doors interrupted the shrill chorus of cicadas. Nick hauled himself onto the hood as Chloe leaned against the bumper.

“We’ll head back in a little bit,” Chloe said as she looked up to heavens. “Want ya to see something and give you your last gift.”

“So you did actually get me something?” Nick laughed.

Chloe let out a snort of disbelief, shaking her head. She turned and tossed her keys to him.

Nick bolted upright, fumbling to catch them. He looked them over but realized there were only two: a small round one and a larger key with a star emblem.

Nick grinned, "Letting me drive isn't really a gift, Chlo."

“Shut up, Nicky. When you turn sixteen, the car is yours,” Chloe said, a wide smile growing across her face. “I asked Pappa, and he was cool with it.”

Her car? She had spent the last summer with him fixing it up, modifying it, making it hers.

“Are you for real? It’s mine?” He paused, giving his sister a doubtful stare, “Why?”

Chloe laughed at his untrusting gaze, nodding, “Yep, all yours. I may have a longer mission coming up, and well, I want you to have it. Better someone uses it than it sitting in a garage. After all, you know more--” Chloe stopped, the smile on her face quickly fading as she focused on something behind him. Nick tried to turn and look, distracted for only a moment as he tried to see what caught her attention.

“What are you looking--”

Chloe lashed out an arm and wrapped it around his neck. Pulling him towards her, she attacked the top of his head with her knuckles; rubbing them roughly against his scalp and thoroughly making a mess of his dark hair. He struggled, swinging at her before ducking out of her grasp.

“Not fair using your training on a kid! What did Ma say!” Nick glared.

She grinned in return, “You’re getting to big to be called kid. You could learn a thing or two if you let me teach you.”

His frown remained. She used her training to knock him off guard at times. Even if she was twentyfour, she reverted around him. More his friend than an elder sister, though their roughhousing got them both in trouble from time to time. At the same time, a knot grew in his stomach, wondering how many times she had to use her training from the army for where ever they sent her on their secret missions.

Chloe laughed and finished her thought: “I was fourteen when this screamin’ little brat came into my life. Really ruined my gig as an only kid.”

Huffing under his breath as he tried to straighten his hair, Nick looked towards his sister and stuck his tongue out her. “Bull! You’re one to call me a brat, Cee-Cee.”

Chloe scrunched her nose at the nickname, but she reached out and gently ruffled his hair one more time.

Nick laughed, pulling his head away from her hand. His cheeks hurt from how wide of a smile he wore all day, but he didn’t care. A glint of silver caught his eye and he looked past his sister’s hand.

“Look!” He gasped, pointing towards the horizon.

The Sun had sunk into the ocean in the west, just beyond the twinkling lights of Los Angeles at their feet. The glow of the city obscured the stars, but silver streaks raced across the sky - from the sea to the mountains at their back. Chloe turned, watching as more streaks appeared, growing bigger as they cut the skies.

“We got here just in time,” she muttered, leaning back against the car, staring up. A grin crossed her face as the heavenly show began.

Soon, the entire sky was awash with shooting stars, glittering against the black depths of space. They stood in silence, watching, but Nick noticed that they were becoming darker, nearly invisible if not for the flicker of silver that followed them.

Chloe’s swearing caught his attention. She snagged the keys out of his hands.

“We’ve got to go.”

“What? Why? This is so cool!” Nick protested, looking up at the sky again.

“Nick, we need to go! NOW!”

There was an urgency in her voice that he didn’t recognize. Chloe grabbed him by the arm, pulling him off the hood and back around the car. Nick kept looking from her to the skies, not understanding why the meteor shower had suddenly spooked his sister.

Then he saw it. One of the streaks started as a tiny blur then grew exponentially before--

“Chloe!” He screamed, his voice cracking an octave higher. A meteor descended on them, illuminating the mountainside. Nick didn’t hear his sister as she pushed him to the ground, covering him with herself.

The sound deafened Nick. His ears rang as the meteor flew over them, crashing trees and cracking stone as it collided into the mountainside above. The ground shook and Nick clutched onto his sister’s arms, curling up under her. Stones and debris pelted them, the smell of smoke and hot metal burned his nostrils.

“You ok?” Chloe’s voice broke through the ringing. He looked up to see she was kneeling above him, alert, and looking off into the distance behind the car.

“W-what was that? Was that a meteo--” Nick tried to sit up, but Chloe’s hand pushed him down back into the gravel.

“Ramos!” A voice boomed around them; grating, deep and crackled like static over a radio. “Come out, traitor!”


  1. Hi Cal!

    Good job on the revisions--I just want to say ever since the first entry of the beginning, yours has improved so much. I especially think the pacing and the flow of the story work exceptionally well. The beginning is easy to read and it really ends on the perfect spot, since you've added some intrigue regarding Chloe's military background and left us on a cliffhanger that questions her loyalties.

    First, a few suggestions regarding your pitch: Queries are usually written in present tense because it's about the character's immediate problem. So if you find yourself writing in the past tense for the pitch, it's a probable sign that you're delving too much into backstory.

    So I'd switch around the order of the sentences. Begin with "Nick Ramos knows his sister isn't dead" to make it even punchier and frame this in the present-day (and I'd mention how old Nick is right now; 18?). Then, you can go into: "four years ago, Chloe disappeared when a meteor shower...etc. etc." I love the way you ended with "Hide." Excellent way to ratchet up the tension.

    I'm a bit confused by what you mean when you say "Thrust into a reality hidden to him by his parents"--is this a literal parallel reality, or a secret his parents were hiding from him? And you can probably just say, "Forced to flee with his family"...and I'm not too sure if anyone can "unravel" a trail.

    Moving onto your pages, I thought the scene was much tighter and smoother than your previous draft--so kudos for the edits! Your writing definitely shines when you're writing action, but it does sometimes get a little more stilted when it covers backstory or dips into Nick's head. For example, this paragraph reads as a bit awkward: "His frown remained. She used her training to knock him off guard at times. Even if she was twentyfour, she reverted around him. More his friend than an elder sister, though their roughhousing got them both in trouble from time to time..." And it's because Nick is telling what's already been shown to us. You don't need to know say Chloe likes to roughhouse or she acts more like his buddy than an older sister because we've already seen it.

    Instead, maybe you could delve a bit more on Nick's feelings about Chloe's involvement in the military. He seems worried, he mentions "secret missions," but what else does he feel? Does he admire Chloe for being in the army? Is he ever envious or insecure about his own strength? Try to examine the layers to his emotions more because it can reveal so much about Nick's personality and relationship to his sister.

    Honestly, I'd say a lot of this is nitpicks. You've done a great job--and I wish you luck!

  2. Hi Cal.

    Your revisions have really polished the work. It reads well and there are a number of great descriptions that paint a nice picture of the scene.

    The Pitch: I pretty much agree with everything Sylvia already wrote. The very first line is a bit confusing. Sylvia posed a nice suggestion. Another could be : "Though everyone believed Nick Ramos' sister to be dead, he knew she wasn't and against a wave of betrayal has vowed to bring her home." Or something like that... Because I believe you have a really compelling concept here and need to hit people with the urgency right from the start.

    One other comment on the first pages: In the scene where Chloe puts Nick into a headlock, I find myself stumbling and backtracking a bit here. I think it's partly because a few lines later the meteors start and I wonder if that is what she saw 'before' the headlock, but as I re-read it I get the feeling that she was just faking to distract him and launch a playful attack. So when the meteor shower does start, I'm slightly disoriented and distracted about the previous action.

    I would certainly keep the whole interaction in there but feel the interplay can be tightened and the backstory here can be shortened as well.

    Overall the writing is looking great and I do really enjoy the concept. If you haven't read any of Brandon Mull's books, such as Fablehaven or The Beyonders you would probaly like them. They are technically middle-grade, but for advanced readers and slightly more mature kids (bordering YA).

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments along the way. I wish you the best.



  3. Hi Cal

    There are redundancies in the first paragraph of your pitch, which I think might run better with something like: “18-year-old Nick Ramos knows his sister isn’t dead. Just lost.”

    When does Nick vow to find her? When he was 14? Or only four years later when her hunters return. And maybe make it more personal: his parents have accepted her death, not a vague “everyone around him” – perhaps even drop a hint that they know more than they’re telling?

    I think your pitch could be more concise and punchier. Phrases like “with a roar of wind and golden sparks” use a lot of words but don’t add much.

    And finally, the stakes for Nick aren’t clear – or very compelling – in the final paragraph. His big decision seems to be choose how far to go to find Chloe and to find out ‘where he stands”. I assume he’s risking his life – if so mention that? Is he also risking his family? The world?

    The revisions you’ve incorporated throughout this workshop have really strengthened your first five pages. I liked them at the beginning, and like them even more now.

    I think in revising the ages of Chloe and Nick some inconsistency has crept in. In one paragraph, she’s described as twenty four, in another she says she was fourteen when he was born (but it’s his fourteenth birthday).

    One minor thing: I mentioned that my first thought on hearing “Ramos” was to think Egyptian myth (not Hispanic surname). You might want to mention the surname earlier, so that when the voice booms out, we know it’s directed at either Chloe or Nick.

    I’ve really enjoyed being on the workshop with you, Cal, and appreciate the feedback you have given me.

    Best of luck

  4. Hi Cal,
    Your pitch confuses me a bit. You mention his sister, his parents, and his family, and suggest they all are in on some kind of secret, but then at the beginning you've said that no one but Nick still thinks Chloe is alive. It seems kind of complicated.

    He is being hunted seems to be the immediate threat; maybe start with that? Is he 18 for most of the book? If so my teenaged girls, who love sci-fi and fantasy, will pipe up that you need to add a little romance, not a lot, but a little.

    The promise of action and adventure shines through. I love that about your first five pages as well.

    It's very HOLLYWOOD, and I mean that in a good way: up on Mulholland, creatures, UFOs? I will be so sorry to see the female bad-ass go:( But maybe a love interest or a female villain? Love what you've done with your pages, Cal. All the best to you and your writing.

  5. Hi Cal!
    Love all the great advice you've gotten here! Truthfully, I don't have a whole lot to add.
    The one consensus seems to be--and I agree--that you need to reword the first paragraph of the pitch. It's too generic.
    What about starting with something like:

    On Nick Ramos’ fourteenth birthday, reality breaks apart when a meteor shower drops creatures that are hunting his soldier sister, Chloe. Chloe’s last words to Nick before she opens a portal to another world, disappearing and taking her attackers with her? “Hide.”

    Four years later, Chloe's pursuers have returned. But now they’re tracking Nick.

    Then, carry on from there, crisping up the stakes. That's what those last few paragraphs need to focus on---what's the end game? What can happen if Nick fails? The "Big Picture"?

    You've done such a great job on the pages!! I'm really proud of all the hard work you've done in incorporating everyone's suggestions.

    I do have to agree with Patrick about the head-rubbing scene. That one always pulled me out of the imminent story. I would think about focusing on Nick's fears for his sister in that scene, versus the rough-housing. In YA emotional richness counts for a lot, and you've already got some fantastic action scenes!

    Again...WONDERFUL job, and GOOD LUCK!!!!

  6. Hi Cal,

    I agree with the comments already made about the pitch. It doesn’t let us know the stakes. I love Janet’s idea on how to start, and I agree – keep it tight and keep the focus on the stakes. What happens if the Keeper isn’t thwarted this time?

    Regarding the pages, great job! I can tell that you’ve really worked hard and it shows! I also agree with the hair rumpling; I’d take that out. It makes Nick seem very young, and you don’t need it. You’ve already established a wonderful relationship between the two. I wonder if you might sneak something in – like, Nick wondering more about his sister’s missions. Was he told she was in the marines, but never learned more than that, for example? You could drop a hint that maybe Chloe and his parents were keeping something from Nick, something just wasn’t adding up.

    Other than that, the pages are so much improved! I really enjoyed reading your story, and I wish you the best of luck!

  7. Dear Cal,

    Congratulations! You are the winner of this round!

    What I liked most about this story was the clear connection between Chloe and Nick. Their relationship is fun, playful, loving, and I love that she is such a badass. I love that small moment of sadness when Nick wonders when Chloe has had to use her training to protect herself on active duty, which also acts as a great piece of foreshadowing.

    And this piece of writing was incredibly kinetic!
    “One of the streaks started as a tiny blur then grew exponentially before--

    “Chloe!” He screamed…”

    However, I found the writing much more interesting than the pitch. “She was lost, not gone” felt a bit trite. I think you can be a little more specific here, or even take that line out. And also it’s not immediately apparent that you are not backtracking to the story’s true start in your second paragraph. Of course, after rereading, I understood, but I recommend making that clearer to the reader.

    I don’t have much more constructive criticism for you. Very nice job here. I am looking forward to reading more!