Sunday, April 2, 2017

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Mbalia

Name: Kwame Mbalia
Genre: Young Adult
Title: The Floating Library of Timbuktu
Maysar glared at the pale patches of skin on his brown wrists. He’d managed to slip out of the heavy iron manacles before attempting this escape and covered his arms with stolen robes. If he made it to the Library - when he made it to the library - the raw, chafed rings would be a clear sign of his time as a slave. He frowned, wrapped them in strips of cloth, then returned to the folded section of map he was studying, careful not to disturb his hiding spot.
Almost time.
He lay flat in a small burrow of sand beneath the wreckage of the HMS Fortunata’s stolen lightship. The cargo hauler’s name - the lumbering whale of a ship from whence Maysar had taken the small craft - was emblazoned on the side in bright silver letters. The pride of his master.
No. Former master, now.
He lifted the edge of the limp inflatable that covered him just a bit, allowing a trickle of fresh air in, and - more important - a gleam of light. The sun had dipped to the horizon, so the orange rays were faint, and it was a risk, but he needed to be sure of the coordinates. He also needed to sneak another peek at the Beetlebacks nosing about the wreck. Maysar put his eye to the crack, then froze.

A slaver’s worn leather boots stood a few feet away.
“No way that runaway survived this crash,” a muffled voice shouted. It sounded familiar - a nasal whine distorted by the thick masks the hired slave catchers wore. Maysar tried to place it with the line of scowling, jeering, leering faces that paraded through his mind. There were too many, and eventually he gave up. More and more bounty hunters and slave catchers were flocking to his master’s - former master, he corrected himself again - newest ship.
“Then where’s the body?” the one next to his hiding spot growled. “He’s hiding somewhere, I can feel it.” Maysar strained to listen while holding his breath. He could just hear them over the lumbering footsteps of their Scorpions. The six-legged mounts belched thick clouds of smoke in loud blasts, but Maysar had trained himself to pick out conversations over the wheezing blasts and thudding footsteps of the automatons.
“Somewhere in these coals! You don’t smell it?” Nasal Whine snapped. “You wanna go down and poke around?” 

“Probably should.”

Maysar imagined him staring at the fiery chaos strewn across the sands. At least, he hoped it looked like fiery chaos. He scattered small piles of blazing coals around and dumped scraps of leather and cloth over them. He’d also removed pieces of the lightship and scattered them around the area as well - unimportant pieces, sure, and he’d taken great care to keep bolts and screws for the components he’d have to reassemble, but it would take an experienced steamship pilot to recognize that.
And, he thought while trying to ignore the heavy leather inflatable beginning to press on him, it was rare for a slaver or bounty hunter to be an experienced steamship pilot.
These Beetlebacks certainly weren’t.
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. 
It was getting hot. The smoke and heat from the coal fires made his burrow in oven. He had no idea how much time had passed. All Maysar could do was wait and hope that they gave up before his oxygen ran out.  The modified coal chute he’d removed from his “wreck” dug into his side, but he didn’t dare shift for fear of giving away his position. He slipped the map inside his shirt, next to the document case he’d stolen, and winced as it scraped against his stomach.
Don’t be ruined, he thought. More beads of sweat rolled down his collar.
A few more hours, he told the case. Give me a few more hours and you’ll be where you belong.
He closed his eyes behind his sweltering half-mask and tried to slow his breathing.
"You can’t run forever, duga!" one of the slavers shouted into the night.
Maysar twitched in surprise, nearly triggering the stolen Beetleback oxygen tanks he’d carried with him - that would have been a catastrophe.  One, because sand would have started rushing into the open seals, clogging valves and gears .  And two -
"Don’t make it any worse!"
The voice came from just above him, near his head.  His eye opened and 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 nearby - probably just below his position at the bottom of the dune.  Not good.  If the sand shifted just a little he was done for.  
The scars from his last attempted escape were still healing.
They wouldn’t be so forgiving next time.
Boots clanked on metal, then the soft thuds of footsteps on sand sent vibrations through the ground.  Another of the slave catchers had landed now. Maysar’s breathing quickened. 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, like, say, the coal chute had been detached and not ripped off, it was all over.
"He’s dead. Stop your yelling,” said the second Beetleback. 

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 away. “Make another pass, and then let’s go. Scolani can come search himself if he’s that furious."  The voice was fading, yet Maysar's muscles wouldn't relax.
Scolani. The name conjured images of a man laughing as he dragged children from parents, 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 Beetlebacks 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.  His breathing was quick and shallow, and somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he shouldn’t panic.  But it hurt.  Everything hurt.  He could just hide for a little while until the sun set completely.  The winds were starting to pick up - not enough to expose him, but he could imagine the dropping temperatures, the threat of the night storms, and the 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! There's so much to love here! The concept, your MC, their situation & there's lots of vivid details to really capture the reader's imagination.

    My main constructive criticism is that there's an awful lot of backstory you're trying to wedge into your opening that you can thread throughout the MS. All we really need to know in this scene is that Maysar has escaped, not for the first time, and a sense of what he has escaped from. I love the para about his slave owner, Scolani. And the details about how he has made it look like his stolen boat has met with disaster and him along with it. I'm not sure you need much else. You need to keep the action moving forwards as much as possible.

    That's it though - I'm really rooting for Maysar to get away!

    I hope my comments help :)

    1. Thanks Lorna! I'm going to work on tightening up the chapter and cutting what drags a bit.

  2. Hi Kwame! Love the title of this read! The first paragraph really sets me in the scene and in character. It even tugs a bit at my emotions, fearing for Maysar. There's a 'feel' here that you're creating, which is good. It gives the reader a track into what to expect from the text and from this new world, and it let's them rest in both.

    I did notice that at some points inner thoughts or explanations (expo) pulled me from the pace. There are points where you have good pacing; that's what we want. Read over the pages and mark any place you notice that might make a writer stop or any place a reader might skim over. #shiver We don't want that because there's a ton of potential here. Just keep in mind these opening pages are to entice and attract the reader with Maysar's current world - his breath, the smells, his fears, and what he sees. We really don't need details such as the name of a ship or that it's new or how many times it's been used; information like that can come later in the second chapter or even later, depending on what you need. One specific that pulled me out is when he's contemplating which slave catcher this guy could be. That can still be said, just more quickly and to the point. Then, move into the action.

    I'm already connected to Maysar. I feel he's a fighter, intelligent, and also has a mission. There's much more to this character, and I want to know! Nicely done. I hope this helped, and I look forward to reading your revision.

    1. Thank you! I'll re-read and try to work on the pacing.

  3. Whew! This piece had my heart racing. I could feel the heat and his difficultly breathing. You set the scene really, really well and talk about stakes!

    There were a few times I got a little confused, but some of that could have been because I was reading really quickly to see what would happen. I think what confused me the most was timing. If I understand right, he's looking at the map while he's hiding in the beginning? It wasn't enough to make me stop too much because the character and his situation pulled me along really well, but I think it could be a little bit more clear.

    Again, I agree with the other comments: immediate connection with Maysar and excellent scene setting.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Courtney! I definitely have some spots to clean and tighten. I'll give it another pass.

  4. Overall, I rather enjoyed this. The setting is somewhat complex since it comes at us in bits and pieces, like the created "wreck." At first, it felt a bit disjointed, but the more I thought about it, the more it worked for it. I'd like to know a bit more about the machines. This has a bit of a steampunk feel to it. Not sure if you were going for that. I saw it was YA, but I'm not sure of the MC's age here. Maybe consider tossing in "the kid" somewhere when the two raiders are talking and looking for him.

    I think you could rework some of those "was" or "were" verbs and move about a dozen parts from passive to active. Also, watch the word "just." It stuck out to me when I read this out loud. I counted 9 or 10 of them. That's not a word you want as 1% of your word count.

    I'm impressed with this start. It's well-done. I do think you could hold the tension a moment longer near the end, but my hats off to you for a really solid start to your novel.

    1. Thanks Tim! Grrrr, those passive verbs are the bane of my existence. I've got some more editing to do there. Good call on the age - I'll have to work that in there.

  5. Kwame, this had my heart racing as well, and I have one odd suggestion, remember this is just a thought - ever considered first person present tense with this? The urgency and the life and death fear seem to perhaps lend itself to it? I felt claustrophobic reading this, which is a huge accomplishment I think. But the past tense gives it a bit of remove, and I wanted to be IN this, every breath, and truly feel it. Wonderful setting, considered sticking to "Said" versus other attributes like growled, keeps it cleaner and almost lets more color in. That said, I love this. Please get this published so I can read this book! - Jen

    1. Thanks Jen! I've never considered that POV - I'll have to look into that. Great tip on the attributes. I fall back on that a lot and need to clean it up.

  6. Ooooooo!

    This is a GREAT set up! I love the tension you set up with Mysar hiding from the slavers, and I adore the sand and steampunk feel of the setting. Your sensory details are vivid, and his panic at being hunted feels real and viceral.

    Right now, I'd say your biggest problem here is flow. Basically this opening is awesome, but it's a bit too overgrown. Like plants, words and scenes need space to breathe, and right now everything feels a little too jumbled together if that makes sense. The good thing is a little bit of pruning will probably set you right. :D

    Part of it is, like a couple other people mentioned, you do have a bit more info in these pages than the reader can process at this point. Honestly, as much as I'm intrigued by the mention of the Library, you could probably start this scene with "It was almost time" and not lose anything.

    The other thing you want to work on is your phrasing. There's some good points in the other comments about that, so I won't repeat them. My suggestion is read it out loud. Normally I'd save that for a later revision, but so much of this is pretty solid that I'm putting it here. Read the pages out loud, aiming for an audiobook pace. Look for places where the format or phrasing is confusing or unclear. Better yet, if you have Word, you can have the computer read it out loud for you. It'll sound robotic but it will help you catch rough spots and awkward sentences.

    Also, a note about formatting. Weird as it sounds, the layout is actually a big part of flow. Part of the problem I personally had was that it's hard to tell when you're moving from one line or paragraph to another. An indent at the beginning of each new of line/paragraph, or an extra space between them (like I've done here in this comment) would help a lot. It'll also help you see when you've put too much into a single paragraph. Sometimes splitting up big chunks of writing can help a lot.

    I'm excited to see the next revision! Good luck!

  7. Thanks so much for your comment! To address the last point first, I growled at the formatting too. Something was lost in the email, so I'll double check everything for the next submission.

    Prune, read aloud, rinse and repeat. That's my mantra going forward.

    Thanks again!