Sunday, April 9, 2017

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Mbalia Rev 1

Name: Kwame Mbalia
Genre: Young Adult
Title: The Floating Library of Timbuktu
Maysar prayed the sandstorm arrived soon. He was tired, and the chaffed skin on his wrists burned. A salty paste of sweat and sand clung to his arms. A bead of sweat rolled near his eye, but he bit his lip and returned to studying the worn faded map propped beneath his chin.
Almost time.
He lay in a small burrow beneath the wreckage of a lightship; the vessel’s limp inflatable covered him and his supplies - a thick leather document case, a set of oxygen tanks, and an angular metal container filled to the brim with coal. The heavy leather balloon had gone flat less than an hour back, but that seemed an eternity ago. Now, its weight - combined with the dwindling air supply and the heat of the sand - threatened to drive him mad.

Something tickled his neck and Maysar flinched. That’s it. He needed to breathe. He lifted the corner of the inflatable, only enough to allow a trickle of fresh air in, and - more importantly - a gleam of light. 

The sun had dipped to the horizon, so the orange rays were faint over the sands of the Vasahn desert. He risked being spotted, but he needed to be sure of the coordinates. He also needed to sneak another peek at the pair of slavers investigating the wreck. Maysar put his eye to the crack, then froze.

A pair of worn leather boots stood a few feet away.
“No way that runaway survived this crash,” a muffled voice shouted. It sounded distorted, and Maysar’s face fell. Beetlebacks. Great.

“Then where’s the body?” the one next to his hiding spot asked. “He’s hiding somewhere, I can feel it.” Maysar strained to listen while holding his breath. He could barely hear them over the lumbering footsteps of their Scorpions. The six-legged mounts belched thick clouds of smoke in loud blasts.
“His body’s somewhere in these coals! Can’t you smell it?” the first slaver said. “You wanna go down and poke around?” 

“Probably should.”

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

Maysar imagined him staring at the fiery chaos strewn across the sands. At least, he hoped it looked like fiery chaos. He’d worked very hard to make it appear that way. 

And, he thought, hopefully the sandstorm will force them to hurry. To be careless. No one wanted to be stranded when the nightstorms darkened the sky and cleansed the sands. Especially Beetlebacks.
Still, he flinched every time the Scorpions drew near. The vibrations from their shuddering steps pushed grains of sand into every exposed crack and crevice, and he grit his teeth as open wounds burned along his back and arms. 

“We need a body.” 

“We need to go.” A Scorpion let out a blast of steam, and Maysar gasped into the sand as the inflatable pressed down against his spine. He grit his teeth and tried not to panic, but his chest heaved and his breath sounded like thunder in his ears. The ground shuddered, and he lifted his head as a slaver’s mechanical mount thumped by. 

Too close! Sand trickled over and around the balloon and the sloping section of dune beneath his arms shifted. He watched in horror as a long sliver of light appeared where the inflatable pulled away from the ground, and a twinkling gleam bounced off of the metal oxygen tanks.

They’ll see it, he wanted to scream.

“Watch it!” He heard the ringing of metal on metal again. “Stupid beast nearly threw me!”

A harsh laugh sounded. “Oil the gears more often, idiot. Now stop fooling around and let’s go.”
Maysar closed his eyes behind his sweltering half-mask and tried to slow his breathing. Please, he prayed, let the storms start soon.
"You can’t run forever, duga!" One of the slavers shouted.
He twitched in surprise, nearly squeezing the release valve for the oxygen tanks - that would have been a catastrophe. 
"Don’t make it any worse!"
The voice came from just above him, near his head.  He risked another peek. A pair of boots stomped by, and he ducked back down.

He could feel the rumbles of the Scorpion’s steam engine idling below his position at the bottom of the dune. Not good. If the sand shifted even a little bit more he was done for. The scars from his last attempted escape were still healing. They wouldn’t be so forgiving next time. If they let him live at all. 
Boots clanked on metal, and the soft thuds of footsteps on sand sent vibrations through the ground.  The second slave catcher had dismounted now. Maysar’s breathing quickened. Did he see his hiding spot? Did the lightship look enough like a wreck? Was it too obvious? The fires. Should’ve made more fires. He bit down on his lip until he tasted blood as his mind ran over his chances of running. If they noticed anything out of the ordinary it was all over.
"He’s dead. Stop your yelling,” said the second Beetleback. “We need to start heading back. I don’t like the look of the winds.”

Maysar took another peek. The boots disappeared and he heard muffled metal on metal. The slaver was back on his Scorpion. The engines revved as it steamed up and the mechanical beast’s footsteps thudded past not even a dozen paces below him. 

“Make another pass and then let’s go. Scolani can come search himself if he’s that furious."  The voice faded away, but Maysar's muscles wouldn't relax.
Scolani. He shuddered. The name conjured images from a nightmare. The eyepatch. The knife. The raspy laugh as he dragged children from parents and husbands from wives, from the coastal auctions to the holds of the Fortunata. Maysar squeezed his eyes tight against the memories.
Was it just the one raider leaving?  Both?  Where did the second one go?  He couldn’t hear the Scorpions anymore.  It had to be a trap.  

Maysar grit his teeth.  They’d tried this on him before, the last time.  Or was it the time before?  It was all running together - no matter.  It was best just to wait. He slipped the hose from the oxygen tank out and - with slow, gentle movements - attached it to his mask. He wanted to save some for the flight, but if he didn’t get some air soon he’d pass out.

Cool air hissed through the mask and he closed his eyes. His mouth was dry. Maysar tried to work up a bit of moisture but all he got for his efforts was grains of sand lodged beneath his tongue.

Somewhere in the back of his mind Maysar knew he shouldn’t panic. Keep calm and follow the plan. Since he committed to using the tanks, he could just hide for a while longer until the sun set completely.  The winds were starting to pick up - not enough to expose him on their own, but he could imagine the dropping temperatures, the threat of the night storms, and the nervous looks on his pursuers faces. They would have to return to camp soon or risk being stranded.
What was a couple more hours in hiding?
Two hours.  Just two more hours.  Then he could reassemble the lightship and pray that the modified coal chute worked. Maysar opened the stolen oxygen tanks a bit more and took deep breaths. 

Two hours. Rest.

The young man in the mask thought of warm stories and glowing wonder from years past as his mind faded into darkness.


  1. Hi Kwame! Loving the changes to the first paragraph. The only suggestion I have there is that 'propped beneath his chin' doesn't quite work if you don't know Maysar is lying down. you can either cut it or phrase it in a different way.

    All my other comments are similar to this in that they're little niggly ones, really:

    Supplies - It seems like a lit to carry, and I don't think you need to list them exactly here.

    Instead of 'drive him mad', could we have something more visceral?

    Is a gleam of light more important than oxygen?

    'Beetlebacks. Great.' seems a bit of an understatement.

    Maybe include the sound of the scorpions earlier?

    The other thing I thought was, if I were one of the slavers, I'd look under the lightship. Unless, with it being rubber, he's covered it in sand so it can't be seen?

    I also wondered if him falling asleep is the best end to the scene? It seems like a bit of an anti climax. Can we have something more exciting? The sandstorm comes, & the slavers are leaving, but then the wind exposes him, & he has to run?

    But that's it. I'm really loving your revision. I don't miss the bits you've cut, & it all flows together, nicely setting the scene.

    I hope my comments are useful :)


  2. Nice to read this.Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Again, I love the images in this scene. I get a great feel for where he is and his panic is palpable. Suffocating with Maysar as I read! I also really like that you added the memory of Scolani. It really added a lot to the scene.

    A few things that might make the image more clear: are the Scorpions machines that look like scorpions?

    Are they on another planet? (Love the description of the sand, by the way)

    Why are the voices distorted? My assumption is that they're wearing masks, but I also thought it might be that they're modified humans or not human at all. Obviously you don't have to info dump all of that, but it made me wonder if you could clarify.

    Does Maysar still have family? Is his trip to the library going to help them?

    Basically, I just want to read the rest of the story. Haha! You leave us with good questions and great images and a lot of tension. I think with a few little tweaks to clarify some images this scene will be super strong!

    Thanks for sharing!


    1. Thanks for the comments Courtney. I'm going to work on some of the visuals a bit to clarify.

  4. Overall, this is much improved. The tension is increased and the passive verbs have vanished.
    I feel like the opening line and paragraph could use a little more punch.
    I’m still now sure how he can see a map propped under his chin. I’d rework the phrase.
    My biggest critique would be repetition.
    “Grit his teeth” in consecutive paragraphs and then again to start a paragraph later.
    Used “gleam” twice as well. Maybe consider “ray” or an alternative
    I feel like maybe a little too much time was spent talking about sand shifting and constantly restating the risks.
    “Metal on metal” is another repeated phrase.
    There were several times where I read something and had to double check I didn't scroll back up because it felt like I was reading the same thing. I think a bit more cutting can solve that and you'll be good to go!
    Great job on your revision.

    1. Thanks Tim, good catch! Going to do some cutting.

  5. Hi again! OMGosh, I really like your edits to the opening. Totally had me. I could feel, see, & smell so much and you even gave me direction. Great job. I also like the 'voice' I get from the brief conversation between slavers. Adding in the memory you did was great. You could even add more - not much - to show greater emotion and tension from his past.

    I still think you can tighten this more. Look for repeated thoughts and words. Just because you've crafted a fantastic sentence doesn't mean it's necessary there. (Sorry! I'm not fond of this rule either, but it does work.) Like referencing all the sand, storms, and such. See if you can find something else to show the reader; just a peek. You might be able to combine some of those, and even combine the slavers looking for him into a more cohesive paragraph or two instead of spreading it out so much; that slows pace and urgency. Other than that this was a great revision. Looking forward to the next!

    1. Thanks! I'm still working on the pacing, so all of the notes are a great help.

  6. Oh this is much smoother! I do agree with the others that you could probably still do a bit of trimming. You have amazing descriptions and sensory details here, but if there are too many crowded together, it loses a lot of the impact.

    Also I think you could do a bit more backstory trim. We may not need to know his memories of Scolani right here, for example. We know from the dialogue that he's in charge, and we can infer from your MCs reference to multiple escape attempts that he's not a good master. Too much on top of that pulls us into flashback territory and breaks the tensions.

    (Also personally, I don't think we need the list of his supplies in the first paragraph since most of them aren't relevant.)

    Those comments aside, I'm really impressed with the set up and story. It sounds amazing. Can't wait for the next revision!