Thursday, April 27, 2017

Free 1st 5 Pages Workshop Opens on Sat 5/6 w/ Mentors Lit Agent Hillary Jacobson & Author Kit Alloway

Our May workshop will open for submissions on Saturday, May 6th at noon, EST. In addition to our wonderful permanent mentors, we have Kit Alloway as our author mentor and Hillary Jacobson as our agent mentor! (See below for Hillary's background and query preferences!)

The workshop is designed to help writers struggling to find the right opening for their novel or for those looking to perfect the all important first five pages before submitting for publication. Why the first five pages? Because if these aren't perfect, no agent, editor, or reader will continue reading to find out how great the rest of your story really is!

Why is the First Five Pages Workshop a GREAT Opportunity?

  • You are mentored by at least two traditionally-published published or agented authors for the duration of the workshop. These authors have been through the trenches and know what it takes to get a book deal, solid reviews, and sales.
  • In addition, you receive feedback from the four other workshop participants.
  • Feedback is given not just on your initial submission, but on two subsequent opportunities to revise your manuscript based on the previous feedback so that you know you've got it right!
  • The final revision will also be reviewed by a literary agent, who will also give you feedback on the pitch for your story--the one that may eventually become your query letter or cover copy.
  • The best entry from among the workshop participants will receive a critique of the full first chapter or first ten pages from the mentoring agent, which may, in some cases, lead to requests for additional material.

How It Works

Please see the complete rules before entering the workshop, but in a nutshell, we'll take the first five Middle Grade or Young Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. (Double check the formatting - each month we have to disqualify entries because of formatting.) Click here to get the rules. We will post when the workshop opens and closes on Adventures in YA Publishing and on twitter (@etcashman, @MelissWritesNow), with the hashtag #1st5pages. In addition to the rotating team of our wonderful permanent author mentors, the final entry for each workshop participant will be critiqued by our agent mentor.

May Guest Literary Agent Mentor

Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners is actively building a list consisting of commercial and literary fiction, YA, as well as narrative non-fiction and memoir. She is especially seeking high-concept YA, upmarket fiction, and psychological thrillers. Novels with antiheroes or unexpected twists are always a favorite. A lifelong obsessive reader, she got into the literary game as soon as she could. Prior to working at ICM, she interned at Random House, Janklow & Nesbit (for many a summer) and Alloy Entertainment. She is a graduate of Brown University. She can be reached at

May Guest Literary Author Mentor

KIT ALLOWAY writes primarily for young adults, having always had an affection for teenagers. In addition to writing, she plays various musical instruments, decorates cakes, mixes essential oils, and studies East European languages. She lives in Louisville, KY with her family and four very tiny dogs. Dreamfire is her debut novel.


Joshlyn Weaver has always lived with a big secret. Ordinary kids spend their free time going to the movies, hanging out with friends, and searching on the internet. But for her, an evening at home usually means entering people's dreams. For many generations, her family has been part of a very powerful and very secretive society of dream walkers. Tasked with the responsibility of lowering the world's general anxiety — which only leads to war and strife in the waking world — their job has always been to stop nightmares before they go too far.

By stopping nightmares while sleeping, they help to stop nightmares in real life.

But when an ancient feud within the dream walker society resurfaces right when a seemingly unconnected series of very strange and very scary events start occurring during her dream walks, Josh finds herself in a race against time. The one true dream walker has never been known. Could she be the one?

Barnes & Noble   Amazon   Indie Bound
Add It On Goodreads

Friday, April 21, 2017

Thank You to the Participants and Mentors of the 1st 5 Pages Writing Workshop!

Congratulations to all of the participants who worked so hard during our April 1st 5 Pages Writing Workshop! And a big thanks to our wonderful guest mentors, Jennifer Longo as our author mentor and Justin Wells as our agent mentor! They both provided terrific critiques. And as always, thank you to our talented and fabulous permanent mentors, who read, comment, and cheer on our participants every month!

The May writing workshop will open on Saturday, May 6, at noon EST. The workshop is designed to help writers struggling to find the right opening for their novel or for those looking to perfect the all important first five pages before submitting for publication. Why the first five pages? Because if these aren't perfect, no agent, editor, or reader will continue reading to find out how great the rest of your story really is!

Why is the First Five Pages Workshop a GREAT Opportunity?
  • You are mentored by at least two traditionally-published published or agented authors for the duration of the workshop. These authors have been through the trenches and know what it takes to get a book deal, solid reviews, and sales. 
  • In addition, you receive feedback from the four other workshop participants. 
  • Feedback is given not just on your initial submission, but on two subsequent opportunities to revise your manuscript based on the previous feedback so that you know you've got it right! 
  • The final revision will also be reviewed by a literary agent, who will also give you feedback on the pitch for your story--the one that may eventually become your query letter or cover copy. 
  • The best entry from among the workshop participants will receive a critique of the full first chapter or first ten pages from the mentoring agent, which may, in some cases, lead to requests for additional material.

How It Works
Please see the complete rules before entering the workshop, but in a nutshell, we'll take the first five Middle Grade or Young Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. (Double check the formatting - each month we have to disqualify entries because of formatting.) Click here to get the rules. I will post when the workshop opens and closes on Adventures in YA Publishing and on twitter (@etcashman), with the hashtag #1st5pages. In addition to the rotating team of our wonderful permanent author mentors, the final entry for each workshop participant will be critiqued by our agent mentor.

Monday, April 17, 2017

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Lott Rev 2

Name: Courtney Lott
Genre: Young Adult: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Title: Guard of the Ungifted: The Flight of Connor Gray


As one of the Gifted, fifteen year old Connor Gray should only have one power, yet he has three, and according to his parents, he might develop more. For his family's safety and his own, he must hide his extra gifts from a power hungry politician who seeks him. Not an easy task when every bully tests his patience, and self control.

When the politician sends a possessed bounty hunter after him, Connor is forced to risk exposure to save his friends, family, and life itself. Facing blood-cursed beings, shady genetics projects, an ever-present A.I. system, and worst of all, puberty, Connor fights for what's left of his family. If he can't protect the world from a will-enslaving spell he's discovered, the gifts will be destroyed forever.


Drones buzzed over the glass roof of the Avon Counseling Center. Connor ducked his head as their blue lights scanned the area and hit the status button on the rim of his glasses: Full Power, incognito mode active trailed across the inside of the lenses in green text. As he waited for the hum overhead to fade, Connor squinted at the golden words on the squat sign near the front steps.

...No Gift shall be elevated above the rest…

When the drones passed, Connor flipped up his jacket collar against the cold and scanned the crowd of kids shuffling toward the entrance. A few feet ahead, a group from his school pushed their way down the sidewalk. Their leader, Max Anderson, Guardian and unapologetic jerk, shoved an Ungifted boy out of his way. The kid hit the ground with a loud oof.

“Watch where you’re going, junk-genes,” Max said.

Connor cringed at the hissed phrase. So much for Guardians protecting the Ungifted.
With a slow breath, Connor glared as Max jerked the Ungifted kid up by his sweater. The tips of his shoes swung inches from the concrete. Every muscle in Connor’s arms shook, vibrating the sidewalk. In California, he’d blown his cover by Telekinetically shoving someone across the soccer field. His mom would kill him if they had to move again this soon. Another breath and the Telekinetic tremors ebbed.

Leave it alone.

Connor clenched both hands in his jacket pockets and scanned the crowd near the front of the center. Traffic-bots stood close to the entrance, ushering kids and small handfuls of adults inside or directing air traffic. Counselors would all be inside by now.

Leave it alone. You’ve almost made it an entire month under the radar…This time he glanced down the sidewalk. Come on, somebody, anybody...Connor’s palms itched but he forced himself to walk around Max and his victim. Don’t do anything. It’s too risky. Too many people around.

Max shook the kid in his fist.

Connor threw one last glance at the entrance, then pivoted to face Max and his crew. “Leave him alone, man.”

Green eyes narrowed in his direction. Max sneered. “Excuse me?”

A group of other Gifted kids hovered around Max. Some wore aviator goggles over windswept hair; others tossed baseball-sized fireballs between their hands.

Hands still buried in his pockets, Connor flexed his fingers. “Back off.”

“What, you the Guardian police?”

“Good one, Max,” a scrawny Pyrotech said.

Connor rolled his eyes. Original. “Whatever. Let him go, man.”

Max smirked. “Us Guardians are the strongest and the fastest, but junk-genes are at the bottom, even lower than Animal Shifters.” Jerking the Ungifted boy along, Max took a step toward Connor. “Even lower than Guardian Police, here. Your parents gave you up to the system, right? That’s the only reason a Guardian would have to go see a counselor once a month. If he was a Mercy kid. How are those group meetings? Cry about how much your real parents didn’t want you? Are they both dead?”

“You’re going there?” The sidewalk vibrated and Connor forced out a breath. Keep it together. He’s not worth it.

Max laughed, but didn’t seem to notice the shake. “Gonna do something about it?” He shoved Connor with his free hand. “Mercy kid?”

Connor burst forward. The heel of one hand connected with Max’s jaw. A loud crack bounced off the walls of the Counseling Center and his victim dropped, scrambled to his feet, and fled. The Guardian stumbled backward and let out a grunt. Palms up, hands open Connor focused on Max.  

Regaining his balance, Max balled one hand into a fist and swung. Connor ducked and threw out a hand to block him. Max drove punches forward: right, left, right, left, duck, giving away every move with each rotation of his shoulders. Connor blocked his attacks with a simple defense. Sweat formed on Max’s red face and he charged.

At the last second, Connor twisted out of the way. Unable to stop his momentum, Max tumbled forward. His feet twisted together and he fell. When he landed, his arm wrenched at an odd angle and another crack snapped the air.

“My arm! My arm!” Max rolled to one side and clutched his misshapen wrist as color drained from his swollen face. “You broke it! You broke my arm!”

Hands itching, Connor dropped to his knees and touched the swelling limb. A warm golden, light extended from his fingertips to engulf the damaged limb, mending the shards of shattered bone, calming the swelling. Max's cries ebbed and color returned to his skin.

Connor swallowed and glanced up. No sign of drones. Well, that was a first. Couldn’t have happened at a better time. "Can you move it?" He asked, voice low. He couldn’t believe his own stupidity, shocked by his new gift. Four and counting.

Max nodded, flexed his wrist. "How...why?" His wide eyes moved to meet Connor’s.

The words tumbled out: "I had to," Connor said. Because it was broken.

A low hum sent a wave of hot terror up Connor’s back. “citizen, you are under arrest for suspicious gifting usage,” the drone said. “Please stand by for-”

Connor swung his backpack at the silver plated machine. It slammed into the concrete, a shattered, sparking mess. As it twitched, Connor turned and sprinted through the parking lot toward the woods.
Head ducked, Connor ran down the sidewalk, weaving between a small groups of Traffic-bots. Government Safety Monitors towered at various intervals along his path, like great eyes following him. A worker in a gray uniform wiped the black poles with a rag until they shone like the cylindrical video monitor at the top. He didn’t look up when Connor shot past.
Sun flashed between red and orange leaves so the patches of light on the ground glowed warm and bright. Overhead, birds chattered, the flick of rapid beating wings occasionally accompanying their conversation. Still no sound of drones. Maybe he’d gotten away from them, maybe he’d make it home before-

“Connor! What the hell, gringo? Wait up.”

Connor’s stomach clenched into a fist as Alex Kramer matched his pace. Impressive for a Telepath. Connor wheeled around in front of his friend to make him stop. “Don’t worry about it, man. It’s nothing...You’re late for school.”

Alex pulled off his TechSpecs and slid them into the front pocket of his coat. “Are you kidding, bro? How can I go back to school when my best friend, a freakin’ Guardian, just healed a broken arm? That’s not even possible, right?”

Mashing the heals of his hands into his eyes, Connor groaned. “I don’t have time to explain.”

He’d just turned to leave when a smell stung his nose. Acrid and sharp, the Werewolf’s scent warned Connor of attack only a second before it happened. Thick paws hammered into his shoulders and shoved him from the path into a tangle of bushes and vines. Thorns dug into Connor’s skin, his glasses went flying, and his head slammed against a tree root. Bursts of light exploded in Connor’s vision and the woods tumbled around him. Every thought switched to meaningless static, a blur of nonsense and nausea. Somewhere to his left, Alex shouted something, but it made no sense. Hopefully, he’d be smart enough to run. One scratch would turn Alex into one of The Turned, a mindless servant to this particular Werewolf.

As Connor rolled, claws dug into one of his forearms.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Riley Rev 2

Name: Lorna Riley
Title: Locusts
Genre: YA Sci-Fi Thriller

Locusts are ravaging the earth. Only America is immune, so far. Science-prodigy Nila is close to finding the answer, but MonoGlobal have other plans. Stopping her is their number 1 priority.

17-year-old Bostonian Nila is all set. Having won a prestigious science award for her research, she is just about to join her mother working for MonoGlobal, finishing her father’s work on a new pesticide to defeat the locusts. But plagued by her father’s suicide, Nila defies her mother and drops out. Searching for a new purpose, she comes face to face with the horrors of the animal testing lab at MonoGlobal and joins an animal rights group. But when they break in to set the animals free, a mutant swarm of locusts is unleashed. Nila discovers this was MonoGlobal’s plan all along – to cripple America’s economy and monopolize all global markets. Nila must work with her mother to complete her father’s work, defeat MonoGlobal, and save America from the mutant swarm.

Revision 2:

I am my father’s daughter. That’s what people tell me.

It’s supposed to make me feel… something.

But all I feel as I sit here, waiting for the curtains to go up, is the bright white of the stage lights bearing down on me, scorching the air that I breathe. Burning me up from the inside out.

I throw a quick glance over towards the wings. Mom told me to turn my palm pad off, but I switched it to manual instead. As subtly as I can, I rest my hand on my lap, palm up, and swipe through to my second skin controls, adjusting the temperature. A cool wave covers my body, and I start to breathe easier.

A burst of laughter makes me look up. The three other finalists are lined up next to me, and Lucinda’s sideways in her chair, hanging off Leo’s every word. They’re all smiles and teeth. Ready to take a chunk out of each other to make sure they win.

Hope. Desperation. Murderous determination, even. It’s burning in their eyes.

They need it.

The Harvard scholarship. The prestige of being The International Young Scientist of the Year.

All of it.
“May the best man win.” Leo leans over and grins, flashing his sparkling white teeth. As perfect as the rest of him. Not a single blond hair out of place.

It makes me want vomit on his polished brown brogues.

“So that’ll be Qiu, then?”


I don’t say anything, refusing to rise to his feigned ignorance.

“Oh, you mean head-brace boy?” He looks over his shoulder at Qiu, who’s sat at the end, doing his best to pretend he hasn’t heard every word. But I can see the red heat surging up his neck. Leo clutches his chest, with a pained expression. “I’m hurt. So hurt, right now.”

“Don’t. Tempt. Me.”

“Nila!” Mom calls from the wings and hurries over. Then, lowering her voice, though not quite enough, she says, “Ignore him. He’s not worth it!”

“Yes, Mom.”

She raises her eyebrows at my tone, but before she can jump down my throat, Professor Albright claps his hands. “Right ladies and gentlemen, shall we get started?”

Mom turns to leave, but then she hesitates, looking down at my hands. “Stop that.”

“Your fingers. Stop twiddling.” I sit on my hands and start chewing the inside of my cheek instead. Mom shakes her head. “Honestly, you’ve nothing to worry about. You aced the presentation. Everyone was completely blown away. Including the competition.”

The corner of my mouth twitches. If only she knew what I did to make that possible. But today she’s not let me out of her sight for one second. I can’t take it.

The professor clears his throat. Everyone’s waiting.


I nod at the professor, and she turns around all smiles.

“So sorry.”
As Mom leaves, Professor Albright steps up to the podium. The curtains go back, and a burst of enthusiastic applause breaks the silence. “Good afternoon, and welcome to the 2069 International Young Scientist of the Year Awards.

“I trust you have all enjoyed perusing the displays provided by our four finalists. Some impressive work, I’m sure you agree. Indeed, all of us at the university feel truly honored to have hosted some of the world’s brightest minds here today, from as far afield as Asia, Europe, and South America.”

Someone in the audience coughs. A few people clap politely. And I resist the urge to bury my head in my hands. I know he’s trying to make a point, but seriously? Mom and I moved from Lima five years ago. Qiu’s from Houston. But I’ll give him Lucinda. She’s from London. Though, from the look on her face, she’s not so happy about being called European.

They always said the fencing along the English Channel was just to keep the locusts out, but everyone knows it’s for the people trying to escape them too. We’ve all seen the global news reports. The food camps. The gaunt faces staring blankly through the fences.

Scientific research isn’t exactly the most pressing concern for most.
“However, I’m pleased to say, a winner has been chosen! And so, without further ado, I will hand you over to our sponsor! Lara Simmonds of MonoGlobal!”

Sitting up straight, I glance at the others and mimic their smile. Eager. Enthusiastic. Pleased.

Whoops and cheers explode from the crowd as Ms Simmonds joins us on stage. I overheard Leo calling her Annie the other day. I didn’t get it at first. Now it makes perfect sense. The way she walks, even the movement of her head, it’s rigid. Synthesized. The Annie HumAndriod™ 6 that cleans our apartment block is more believably human than her.

Even when it broke down in our living room.

A shudder travels the full length of my body, and I turn my air conditioning down a notch.

As she leans towards the microphone, the clapping stops. “Thank you, Peter. Everyone.”
Holding her hands out, she turns to make eye contact with the four of us on stage. “Each one of our finalists is a winner in their own category. Facing tough competition in each of their respective fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, all their projects blew the judges away with their insight and originality.”

When her eyes rest on me, I sit up even straighter. Smile a little wider. Eager. Enthusiastic.

Please don’t let it be me.
Turning back to the audience, she addresses them all again. “And, yet, the judges’ final decision was unwaveringly unanimous.”

She pauses.

The auditorium is swallowed up by silence.

I can’t breathe.

“And the winner is…”

Shaking my head, I try to remember what Brooke would say. What would she tell me to do?

Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
Forget everything else.

But I can’t.

I can’t do this anymore.

“…Nila Montoya.”
The crowd bursts into ecstatic applause, but I feel as though I’ve been dumped in a vat of glycerol. The sound is a muffled rumble as I try to stand, but my body feels so heavy.

Nothing responds the way it should.
Somehow, I make my way to the podium. Ms Simmonds hands me the glass trophy, and I clutch it to my chest to mask the trembling of my hands.

“Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to hand this award to you, Nila. Your research into novel ways to bind DNA-modulating molecules to their target sites… I can’t tell you how much you take after your father.”

I stumble back. Almost falling.

But supportive hands catch me from behind.

“Didn’t you know? I visited him not long before he died, hoping he would join us at MonoGlobal. Such a shame. He would have been a real an asset.”

She seems to be lost in her own world for a moment as she shakes her head. “He had such a brilliant mind. Exactly like you. So many ideas literally bubbling out of his head. He would have been so gratified to see you following in his footsteps…”

Her mouth is moving, but I can’t hear the words she’s saying. I just stare back at her.

But it’s not her face I see anymore.

It’s his. Papa. Terrible pustules erupting all over his face. Mom shaking him, trying to wake him up. Screaming at me to get out.

An empty phial in his limp hand.

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Collins Rev 2

Name: Timothy Collins
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Title: Neffers


Desperate to save her terminally ill sister, fifteen-year-old Del blindly believes the words of a dying man. He speaks of a fountain with the ability to heal. Undaunted by its steep price of human sacrifice Del amasses a pile of dead bodies.
If lore holds true, she can exchange them for access to the fountain.
Healing requires baptism in Eternum’s fabled fountain. Del and her younger sister, Addie, travel to the walled city, but once inside Del realizes it’s a trap. The only sacrifice the townsfolk want is Addie, and they expect Del to kill her. When Del refuses, they toss her beaten body into the forest occupied by Neffers, beastly protectors of the fountain. These imprisoned once-human creatures survive on the blood of sick children like Addie.
To save Addie, Del needs the Neffers’ help, but success means freeing the Neffers to feed upon the sick children of the world. Doing nothing means sacrificing the last of her humanity and letting Eternum continue to sacrifice children, including Addie. In a no-win battle of monsters and men, Del must figure out how many innocent lives the person you love most is worth.

1st 5 Pages:

The toe tag on the decapitated body read: IF FOUND, CALL <Phone number>, so fifteen-year-old Del pulled out her iPhone.

The burning Texas sun played spotlight for the headless body starring center stage.

“I’m not afraid of you,” Del said, circling the shirtless decaying corpse. She maintained a perimeter outside the buzzing flies and fluid soaked ground but breathed easier knowing it wouldn’t answer. “I’ve seen other dead people, you know.”

Seen. Created. CollectedSame difference.

Del spied a turkey vulture gliding in a copycat pattern around the body. “Get the hell outta here! He’s mine!” she fumed. She snatched a piece of gray limestone from the dirt and hurled the rock skyward. The irritated vulture voiced its displeasure before settling settled into the field’s lone oak tree. For now, Del owned her prize uncontested. Dead bodies were a one-way ticket to life in jail for most, not a bloody precursor to salvation.

She sneered at the corpse. “He’d eat you if I let him, but you’re my entrance fee.” Del flipped her head toward the oak masquerading as a kickstand for her ten-speed bike. “And them.”

Nervous excitement drove Del to chew her last unbroken nail to a jagged nub before dialing. She figured most people would be afraid to call, but they weren’t in her situation. How many people needed to find a magical cure for cancer, like yesterday?

What if no one answered?

The option to call the cops had long since passed. They would canvas the field. Talking her way out of one dead body seemed plausible, but not half-dozen. While her underground fort kept them out of sight, their putrid scent would undoubtedly betray her.

 “Yeah?” Gruff and tumble on the other end, but welcoming in an odd way. “You got Pez.” Del strained to hear him over the hum of the idling truck engine behind the man’s voice.

“I found something I think belongs to you.” Del opted not to slow play her hand. Time wasn’t an ally.

“I’m listening,” Pez said.

“A body. Male. Fat and goopy. Like, ‘loved Taco Tuesday’ fat.” Del noted no blood around the corpse’s wounds. “And no head.” She performed a quick pirouette to verify she didn’t miss it in the open field.

Nope. No head. No smell either. Maybe the perfect guy.

“Should I be freaking out?” Del asked, dragging a sweaty palm across her Deadpool t-shirt. Silence swept over the abandoned field. She dug her teeth into her sun-chapped bottom lip.

“No need to freak out. We’ll take care of everything. Can you tell me where you are?” Pez asked.

A background voice chimed in behind Pez, loud and filled with subtle rage. “Did you put your phone number on a dead body?”

“Do you think I’m stupid? I’d never give out my number, Dermit,” Pez paused. “This is your phone.”

Del laughed so hard the jet-black iPhone slipped from her hands. It bounced harmlessly into the white milky substance oozing from the body. She hesitated but relented and plucked it from the goo.

“Five-second rule,” she muttered, wiping the phone clean on the hip of her jeans shorts before putting it back to her ear.

“Just find out!” The background voice faded, but his anger resonated through the phone.

“Relax. You’re gonna burst a blood vessel.” Pez cleared his throat. “Still there, kid?”

“Kid? I’m not the one losing their dead bodies,” Del scoffed. “This thing’s got no head, and I think it may be smarter than you.”

“Touche,” Pez chuckled. “I like your spirit.”

“And you owe me a new pair of shorts,” Del’s greedy spirit took control of her mouth.

“Liked your spirit may be more accurate. How ‘bout you text me your location,” he said, before lowering his voice, “and if you keep this between us, I’ll make sure you can buy a whole new ensemble to match some new shorts.”

Del’s fingertips danced nervously across the touch screen tapping out her location.

“A magic fountain of life,” she muttered. “Dad better be right.” The stories were entertaining and all, but what Del needed more was hope.

His words ran through her head:
It’s like those trays by the convenience store cash register.
Give a penny. Take a penny.
But instead, the fountain treats lives as pennies.
Give a life. Take a life.

Del amassed enough bodies for six lifetimes, twice what she needed. If these guys coming weren’t who she thought they were, that number would have to increase to eight.

“You’re the first headless body I’ve seen, though. I’ll give you that.” Del relented her guardian’s prowl and knelt near the body. “If you really wanted to impress me, you’d answer.”

Ears or no ears, the dead made the best listeners.

“Can I tell you a secret?” She cupped her hands around her mouth and leaned in close. “We’re not alone in this field.”

She pushed a pile of dirt over the “dude milk” as she referred to it. Dude milk seemed harmless compared to whatever name some scientist would label the white ooze. Maybe they’d name it after her. God, she hoped not. That’s not how she wanted to be immortalized. There was a better way if one was inclined to believe the ramblings of a dying man.

The corners of her lips turned higher when she saw a clear spot close to the body. Del tossed a handful of dirt onto the corpse’s chest. The clump floated on the soggy flesh. She continued until his nipples became a buried treasure.

“Sorry, dude, not a fan of Moobs. You know, man-boobs.” Del leaned in closer and molded the dirt into a bikini. “Everyone’s going to be wearing one of these this summer. All natural, organic dirt bikini. The Dirtini. It practically sells itself!”

The digital readout on her iPhone read ten after three. More troubling was the eighteen-percent juice left on the battery. She rolled her eyes realizing she didn’t ask the guy how long it would take them to arrive.

Clearing her throat, a light-headed Del sat back on her knees examining the random brown splotches on his otherwise bare chest. “Design flaw. We’ll need to work on that.” She moved her finger and thumb to her chin. “Why don’t you smell? The others smell.” Del flipped her head toward the oak tree. “Can’t get enough air fresheners to kill that stench. Can you believe I used roadkill to cover the smell? You’d be surprised how effective a splattered skunk carcass can be.”

Not a single cloud in the blue sky. Not one break from the sun. These were the hardest days to contain the lingering decay of death’s perfume. Her nose had grown immune to the skunk, but not to them. The human body simply wasn’t designed to tolerate that smell.

“When the doctors diagnosed Addie with Leukemia a second time three years ago, I swore I’d never let anything happen to her. A foolish promise, but as a twelve-year-old at the time, I didn’t know any better,” she sighed and returned her focus to the ground. “Two years later, no one had any answer as to why she wasn’t getting any better. I learned words like chemotherapy, metastasize, and hospice.”

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Mbalia Rev 2

Name: Kwame Mbalia
Genre: YA Steampunk Sci-Fi
Title: The Floating Library of Timbuktu Rev. 2


Maysar flees his former master’s hired slave hunters across the unforgiving Vasahn desert. Eluding his pursuers, he rides the front of a sandstorm in a stolen inflatable, crashing into the legendary Floating Library of Timbuktu. The grandson of one of the Library's most revered scholars and himself a skilled wind cartographer, Maysar settles into life aboard the flying palace of knowledge. 

Never quite accepted, never quite trusted, Maysar learns that freedom and servitude aren’t easily separated. And when ruthless slavers attack the Library and threaten the tentative peace of the region, Maysar realizes he has to take a stand. 

Powered automatons, reluctant partnerships, and an eclectic cast of characters drive this sci-fi steampunk adventure through the reimagined landscape of Northwest Africa.


Maysar stifled a sob of relief and tightened the setscrew beneath the sparrow’s wing. Done. The mechanical bird’s gears whirred as it began calibrate itself, and Maysar let his head droop. Almost time.

Everything ached. His lips were dry and cracked from the scorching desert sun, the chaffed skin on his wrists burned, and a salty paste of sweat and sand clung to his arms, his legs, his - well, everywhere. 

It wasn’t easy to strip and reassemble a mechanical creature no bigger than the size of a child’s hand. Doing so while hiding in the dark made it harder. But, as Baba always said, that’s what practice was for. What Baba couldn’t predict was-

“He’s dead if I find him!” A deep voice rose to a shout beneath his hiding spot, and Maysar bit his cheek to prevent from yelping in surprise. “Smashed and burned. Might not even take him back. He’ll be a little brown smear on the sand when I’m done!”
Maysar shivered despite the heat of the sand beneath him. You can’t practice listening to slavers debate killing you, Baba.
He huddled in a small burrow high up the side of one of the Vasahn desert’s massive dunes. The wreckage of a lightship lay scattered at its base, and the airship’s limp inflatable covered him and his supplies. He’d opened a small hole - no bigger than a fingernail, really - into the leather balloon, and now he peeked out, holding his breath. 

“No way the runaway survived this crash, Badon,” a muffled voice shouted back.

“Then where’s the body?” 

The voice was getting closer, and as he shifted to scan the area, a huge pair of worn leather boots stepped into his line of sight a few yards away, just down the slope of the dune.

“Find me a body!” 

Maysar pressed closer, straining to hear the conversation, when a loud blast of air rushing startled him. What was that? He nearly crushed the bird in his surprise - as it was, he jostled the front of the inflatable.

Another slaver joined the others and spoke up with a nasal, wheedling voice. “He’s not stupid enough to hide around here! Besides, Danelo said a pair of tanks was missing. He’s probably a league into the desert by now.”
“He’s around here somewhere! Find him!” Badon said. 

“You wanna dig around in burning sand?” 

“We all will.”

“You go ahead. I can look around just fine from up here.”

The bird - despite his fierce grip - had finished calibrating and now idled in his hands. Every so often a tiny puff of steam hissed out as its gyros whirled, and Maysar cupped it nervously. Not yet.
Another blast shook the ground, and he squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed. A thumping sound shook the desert floor, followed by another. Maysar’s breath came in shudders now, and suddenly the plan he’d hatched over several sleepless nights in a cramped cell seemed insane. He opened an eye, looked out of his peephole, and fought back the wave of despair that threatened to sweep over him.


A man sat astride a squat, six-legged mechanical beast of black iron and charred leather. Black smoke leaked from its underbelly as it crept along the desert floor. Wide, splayed feet covered in rough cloth ensured it didn’t sink into the sand as it moved, and the man perched atop the rough saddle sent a vicious kick into its knobby head. 

“Stupid thing,” he said, wrenching a lever up. The Scorpion ground to halt with a violent shake, and its rider slid down and stomped towards the base of the dune, glaring at the others. “We need to go.” 

The Scorpion let out a blast of exhaust, causing the slaver to flinch. The one nearest Maysar - Badon - turned and slid his way to the bottom.

“Go?” he said. “I’m not going anywhere. We need to find this filth. Scolani wants him, so we’re finding him.”

“Make another pass and then let’s go. Scolani can come search himself if he’s that furious." Maysar's muscles locked and his heart skipped a beat.
Scolani. He clenched his teeth and forced his mind away from his memories. “Focus, Maysar. You’ve got one shot at this.” The whispered words steadied him, and he ran over his checklist while the slavers continued to argue outside.

“Watch it!” He heard the ringing of metal on metal again. “Stupid beast nearly broke my arm!”

A harsh laugh sounded. “Oil the gears more often, idiot. Now stop fooling around and let’s go.”

The Scorpion’s steam engine rumbled as it idled at the bottom of the dune. The sand shifted beneath him, though his hiding place remained secure - for now. 

“Find him!”

"Forget the slave! He’ll be dead in hour. Storm’s coming,” said the newcomer. “We need to head back.”

The fear in his words wrested Maysar’s attention from his memories and he took another peek. The cluster of slavers stood next to the man on his Scorpion, and the beast rumbled as it steamed up.

But Maysar only had eyes for the sky in the distance.
A greyish brown smear stretched along the horizon, and his eyes narrowed. He studied it, flicked his eyes to where a couple of the slavers shuffled nervously behind Badon, then licked his lips. Maysar fumbled with the idle bird as he brought it up to the pinhole of light and checked it one more time. Maybe. Just maybe.

“I’m. Not. Leaving.” Badon thumped a finger on the smaller man’s chest. The man on the Scorpion threw up his hands, and it looked as if the argument was nearing conclusion. Maysar tried to work up a bit of moisture in his mouth. It was now. It had to be now. 

“Revered Father,” he mumbled beneath his breath as he slowly loosened the tiny bird’s setscrew, careful to hold a thumb over the slanted hole in its sculpted beak. “Vasahn of the sands whose winds lift us aloft-”

Badon glared at the others. The slaver on the Scorpion sighed and returned the automaton mount to idle, then slid back down to the ground.

“-whose embrace shelters the ancestors gone before us.”

The slavers spread out and began to methodically search the wreckage. Every loose object was overturned, the fires doused with handfuls of sand until they smoldered in angry red scars on the sand. 

“Grant us the means to continue our pursuit of knowledge-”

Badon watched as the others searched. The giant man clenched and unclenched his fists, growing impatient. He growled and turned to scan the area. His eyes locked on the dune and the inflatable draped along the side. Maysar felt the weight of his stare, and he watched as the hulking man stalked over as he finished the prayer.

“-lest we return to you when you deem ready.”

The slaver scrambled up the hill. His companions turned to watch, confused. Badon’s face twisted into something between a snarl and disgust, and he ripped sand aside in his haste, but for the first time since crawling out of the filth and excrement covered cargo holds where his master - former master - kept his slaves, Maysar held his fate in his hands.

“We honor you,” he whispered to the bird before releasing his thumb from its beak. It took several seconds for the steam to flow past the setscrew stopper and escape with a piercing whistle, just as Badon yanked up the edge of the inflatable.