Sunday, May 14, 2017

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Garrett Rev 1

Name: Catherine Garrett
Genre: Young Adult with the genre Urban Fantasy
Title: Randa Rune and the Erie Street Witch

In the snow-covered front yard of the alleged haunted house of Erie Street, I stand with a tree branch in my hands. The glow from the street lights illuminates the crumbling heap of a house. Sections of siding are missing that expose a wooden skeleton beneath, and cedar roof tiles stick up like jagged teeth. 

The attached conservatory’s dome of stained-glass panels are soiled from time and neglect. My breaths drift high in frosty white pillows, my gaze following to the peak where three ravens rest. They always squawk when anyone draws near. Now they are as silent as death. 

A rhyme flits through my thoughts as with me, rhymes always do.

There is a house on Erie Street,
Where ravens, and spiders, and rodents creep.
The man who lives there is a witch you know,
With gnarled fingers and a crooked nose.

Under Asher’s arm, Chester Pug whimpers. He hates when anyone holds him, except me. All I need is my dog and rhyme journal back; then I’m out of here. As Asher grips Chester Pug tighter, I open my mouth to protest, but before I can speak, he snaps his fingers near my cherished companion’s buggy eyes. Chester Pug’s little legs go limp, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth like it does when he’s settling in for a nap.

“Quit stalling and smash a window, Rhyming Randa,” Asher says in a sharp tone.

I hate that stupid nickname. Why didn’t I scream when Asher sprang from behind that tree? Because he’s the boy from school who beat up a senior jock, and I’m just Rhyming Randa who everyone picks on.

“What did you do to my dog?” I say squeezing the branch. Does he know hypnosis or something?

“Don’t worry about your dog. I have a way with animals so just hurry up and break a window,” he says.

I stare at the tree limb in my hands, then at Chester Pug under Asher’s arm, my treasured rhyme journal tucked between them. Bolting to the street is not an option, but neither is breaking my neighbor's window to appease some bully. “Break it yourself.” I pitch the branch on the ground.

Asher huffs and picks it up. With his eyes on me, he raises it like a one-handed batter. I stagger backward and stumble onto my knees. Then Asher faces the conservatory and swings. The tree limb makes contact with a window, but nothing happens; not a crack, nor a shatter, or even a dull thud.

“Now, you take a shot.” He tosses the branch to the ground in front of me. All but my heart remains statue-like as Asher crouches before me, his dark eyes unblinking beneath pierced eyebrows. “Just hit a window, Rhyming Randa.”

“Why?” I let free a held breath and breathe out the word. “If you can’t break it, what makes you think I can?”

“Just do it,” he says, his voice now calm as if he’s soothing a child who’s tumbled off a bike. But I’m not buying it.

With my vision blurred by tears I won’t dare let slip by the border of my eyes, I snatch the branch and haul myself up. Behind me, an old oak’s limbs sway in the frigid winter wind; it’s shadow like gnarled fingers summoning me to escape. I step near the dome of glass, my long blonde hair whipping across my face. Taking aim at a single pane, I swing with all I’ve got.

The branch hits my mark. I know it because the impact stings my hands and vibrates up my arms, but as with Asher’s attempt, nothing happens, not even a sound. Staggering back a few steps, I toss the limb aside when a shower of glass rains onto the snow followed by Asher’s cry of victory.


Before my brain can register the peculiar pause that took place before the glass shattered, sparkling green vapor seeps from within the conservatory. It curls around the edges of the pointy shards, followed by finger-like slithering vines.

As the vapor drifts in the air around us, I detect a sweet aromatic fragrance, perhaps flowers, but remain fixed on the creeping plants filling the jagged gap. I glance at Asher, who also watches with his mouth hanging open, then I look back at the window. The glass has reappeared. The vapor and vines are gone.

“See, that’s proof there’s a spell on this house,” says Asher. He shoves Chester Pug into my arms, but my rhyme journal remains in his grasp.

I inch near the window. Not a mark or a crack is visible, so I slip off a mitten and bravely tap the glass. “A spell? What just happened?” The words glide across my lips in barely a whisper. The longer I ponder what I just saw, the more my mind spins.

Asher grabs the passive dog from my arms and says, “Randa?”

I’m paralyzed, but feel every beat of my heart and hear the rush of blood in my ears. Tingles run up my back raising the hair on the nape of my neck.

“Look,” says Asher. He shoves his palm so close to my nose that I’m set off balance and stumble. Then I notice he’s holding a red pyramid-shaped stone. 

I recover my voice, and with no regard for who hears, I shout, “Did you see that? The window…how did that happen?”

“Yes, I saw it. The rumors are true, and you just proved it. The old guy is a witch. Look a this.” Asher holds up the stone. “I found this yesterday buried under that snowdrift. See those?” He points over his shoulder to a snowdrift rimming the conservatory.

“See what?” I can’t take my eyes off the dome of glass, half expecting more of the eerie green gas to ooze out.

“Those indents in the snow. I bet more of these rocks are buried there.”

I laugh. It’s not a hearty, joyful laugh, but one that stems from nerves on overdrive, which releases some of the tension in my chest. Asher’s right. There must be over ten divots spaced evenly apart, yet I can’t shake what I saw. 

From inside his coat, Asher produces a cloth sack and drops the stone in. Who carries stuff like that around? Asher Eastwyke isn’t just a bully; he’s nuts.

While Asher digs, I scoop up Chester Pug and sneak backward, then dash toward the street. Before I can even make it to the oak tree, Asher seizes my arm. 

“I didn’t say you could leave.”

“Let me go,” I yank free. “Keep my journal. Show everyone at school my rhymes. Like that will make my life any worse.”

“Just help me dig up the rest of these stones, then you can have it back.” 

He latches onto my sleeve and hauls me back to the snowdrift. With no help from me, Asher digs up twelve more stones.

“You have your stupid rocks, now give me back my rhymes,” I say.

Ignoring me, he says, “There’s a window by the porch. I think we can see inside the house.”

“I’m not snooping in windows. I’m taking my dog home before he freezes.” I shove Asher and turn to leave, but he’s relentless and grips my elbow, tugging be behind a barren bush. We crouch down beside the front porch.

“Stay down while I take a look,” he whispers.


  1. I enjoyed this revision. And I like that you moved the rhyme further into the piece so it doesn't seem out of place. I also like that you gave more of an idea of who Asher is. From your description, I'm guessing tough-guy punk kid.

    I love the detail you added about the house so it doesn't sound like a baked dish.

    This leaves so many questions, in a good way, that I hope are answered later on. Ronda was the only one to break the window, but it seems like Asher didn't even try that hard...or does it only react to Ronda?

    1. Thanks Elisa. There are many secrets about this house that lead Randa Rune on a magical journey to the realm of witches. :) Book 1 in the series is done, but in a constant state of revisions on Scribophile.

  2. I still love it, and noticed a number of small changes that I think were all improvements.

    I have a few comments/questions:

    Is it pronounced "Ran da" or "Ron da"? I want to say Ron da, but my mind wants to see that written in the more traditional way - Rhonda.

    It may just be the situation they are putting themselves in, but I feel like they are middle schoolers, until they talk about Asher beating up a jock senior. That seems a tiny bit out of place - like an antic from a realistic fiction high schooler novel more than a fantasy. Maybe it wouldn't seem out of place in a later chapter.

    There seems to be borderline too much info. all at once. I found myself wondering if both kids and the resident of the house all had magical powers. Maybe they do. Maybe that's what you want me to think. Maybe they are all witches, and the kids are being mean to a known witch due to something within themselves that makes them uncomfortable? That could be an interesting human nature angle, if that's where you're going. Wherever you're going, you definitely grabbed and held my interest with suspense and the powerful imagery.


  3. It's pronounced with a short a. NOT ROnda. But hey, I say Ronda sometimes too. Thanks for the comments. I wish we could have shared a short blurb about our stories first so people had an idea what they were about, but this way we totally get to see what people think when they read it knowing nothing. There are lots of twist to this story.

  4. Catherine,
    The word “alleged” distracts me. Why is it alleged? Is it haunted or not? I am wondering if saying it looks haunted, or that it is a creepy, crumbling house might work better. It would imply that it is potentially haunted without saying alleged. But maybe that’s just me. If the house and its ghosts play a major role in the plot, alleging it’s haunted works.

    Should “My breaths drift” in paragraph two be my breath drifts… Also, I have a question about how Asher has Chester Pug. If Asher took the dog and her journal, and that is why she is standing in front of the house, then I would say that. I chased Asher to the alleged haunted house to get my journal, and now he has my dog too.

    Great job demonstrating the time delay in this paragraph.

    The branch hits my mark. I know it because the impact stings my hands and vibrates up my arms, but as with Asher’s attempt, [when Asher tried], nothing happen[ed], not even a sound. Staggering back a few steps, I toss the limb aside when a shower of glass rains onto the snow followed by Asher’s cry of victory.

    And this paragraph is fantastically descriptive:

    Before my brain can register the peculiar pause that took place before the glass shattered, sparkling green vapor seeps from within the conservatory. It curls around the edges of the pointy shards, followed by finger-like slithering vines.

    I would love the whole piece to have this creepy vibe. Rwanda seems afraid of Asher sometimes and then, out of nowhere, she is defiant. I like her defiant. Now, why does Asher need her? He collects the stone without her help. He did get her to break the window, but it was only to confirm the house was under a spell. He already believed this. I am confused. Is the house haunted (ghosts) or is it magical or enchanted? And if they were both out front yelling and throwing tree limbs at the house, why do they need to crouch down and hide?
    If the house is enchanted, I would like to have that concept in mind as I read it. I will have to read book one when it is published. Are you writing this so it can be read as a stand alone too, or is reading book one essential to understanding this book?

    Great revisions, Julie

    1. Thanks Julie. Great catches. I'll make revisions. For more details on the storyline, see my response to Brenda. This is the first book in the Randa Rune Witch Series. You definitely have to read book 1 in order to meet all the characters, and understand the witches realm she will soon enter.

  5. This revision is great. You already have some great suggestions above. I'd add to change one of the staggering phrases so it's not echoed in this scene. Also, "Look a this" should be "Look at this". I like Julie's suggestion of "breath drifts". Now that it's pointed out, it does sound a little MG in some places. Like with the pug and the breaking of the window. You could age it up a bit by adding a little YA attitude/thoughts from the characters or by aging up the voice with work choices. Did the stones appear after she broke the window or were they already there? The stones purpose is still a bit confusing. But this is nitpicking and I love the changes you've made.

    1. Hi Brenda.

      Thanks for your input and I take all advice seriously to help me develop the Randa Rune witch series.

      This is the first book in the Randa Rune series. Randa and Asher are 15. Randa is an outcast because of her love of writing rhymes. The rhyme actually says it all. Neighborhood kids believe it's owned by a witch and guarded by ravens, rodents, and spiders. They call it the haunted house on Erie Street because that's what kids do. No one has ever seen the owner and the place looks abandoned, but whenever anyone tries to get near, the ravens squawk and chase them off, which is why Randa questions why they are so quiet. The whole story is about witches. Asher knows he's a witch, but Randa doesn't yet, and getting into the house is Asher's first goal. So, does he need Randa? He doesn't know, and I could give you all his back story, but to sum it up, he needs in the house and is hoping Randa may be able to help him since he's failed on his own. He's known as being a bully because he beat up a senior jock, so everyone at school is sort of scared of him. So although Randa is hesitant, she isn't a wimp. She just wants her dog and rhyme journal back. To answer your question about the stones, they were there the whole time, and their purpose is revealed in chapter 2, which deepens the mystery about the house and raises Randa's interest. Asher was actually at the house to dig up the stones, when Randa came by walking her dog. So he hid and jumped out at her and took her dog as well as snatched her journal from her pocket. So Randa didn't scream, because she recognized him, but is now being sort of blackmailed to break a window. Originally when I wrote chapter 1 it began with Randa out walking her dog, but it was pointed out to me that the beginning of the book went on too long and this would be a better place to start.

      Randa and Asher's encounter inevitably leads Randa to a grimoire entrusted to her by a dead witch who sends her on a hunt for something unknown. Little does Randa know that it's contents will propel her into the vexing world of witches and their secret realm. This is written in first-person present tense.

      And the nitpicking is welcomed. I'm happy to see that you and others are showing interest. Your questions tell me you are intrigued.

      But I am getting confused with how much I am to give away in the first 5 words.

      :-) Catherine

    2. Catherine - just a little sprinkling of info. - don't add much. Maybe, Randa glances at a freshly dug hole with the pyramid beside it. Just notices he's up to something. You don't have to reveal everything - just enough for the reader to understand what's going on in the scene. But this sample has done more it. Use the critiques that resonate with you and ignore what doesn't. This is your art and you should present it the way you want. Reading is subjective and everyone will have a different experience reading it. You're doing a great job!

  6. Dear Catherine,

    You've done some terrific work on this piece. The descriptions are stronger and more relevant. In particular, the new description of the house is fantastic. Really perfect, especially the skeleton.

    I'm still trying to understand why Asher would blackmail Randa into doing this. As the reader, I need to understand his motivation a lot sooner. I wonder if starting with an earlier scene would help. I'm usually a fan of starting as close to the action as possible, but I almost feel like there's too much back story you have to fit into this scene. What if the story started with Randa finding her journal and/or pug missing?

    Also, I have a stylistic question. Why did you decide to write this story in present tense? I know present tense is very trendy right now, but I feel like it's always a questionable decision in longer works and you need to have a specific reason to use it here, especially if this is going to be a series. Present tense draws attention to itself, and there's enough here that I'm trying to keep track of that I think past tense would make it all easier to follow. Have you tried writing this in past tense and seeing how that sounded? Maybe give it a try. (You can always decide you like the present tense version better.)

    Good work!

    1. Thanks for your comments Kit. I'm not sure how to answer your question as to why I chose first-person present tense. It just felt right for there to be a deep connection with Randa. I'm not sure what else to say.

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    1. Thanks so much A.S. I'll make those changes.

  8. Hi Catherine,

    I read last week and this week’s revision, and wow – you’ve done a great job! You write beautifully, and I love your descriptions. This is very strong!

    I agree with the comment about motivation. You tell us that Asher is a bully and she gets picked on, but I don’t see that. Randa stands up to Asher, and he doesn’t seem that menacing – he has her dog and her rhyme book (I’m not sure you need both) but I don’t feel like he will hurt the dog. If he’s a real bad guy, we need to see it more. In the alternative, you could have something in her rhyme book she’s really worried about getting out – a secret, or a secret crush – something that he can blackmail her with that feels more plausible than him hurting her dog.

    Also, I think she needs to wonder why she could break the window/spell, and Asher couldn’t.

    Overall, great job, and I look forward to reading next week!