Sunday, May 21, 2017

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Garrett Rev 2

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


Boring Rhyming Randa, that was me. | Until I walked inside a tree.

Fifteen-year-old Randa drifts through life; a high school outcast named Rhyming Randa with only her rhymes. That is until a confrontation with Asher Eastwyke, a reputed bully, leads inside the haunted house of Erie Street to a dead witch’s grimoire. Little does Randa know that the unrevealed contents of the grimoire will propel her on a perilous quest to find an ancient witch and save all witches from a terrible fate.

On Randa’s sixteenth birthday, she enters the bewitching realm of Sobelow where new friend, Alazne Cauldron, helps her accept that her rhymes are her gift. While Randa secretly grapples with falling in love, she and her new friends begin to unravel the mystery of the grimoire. A magical story of self-discovery, love, and learning that sacrifice often provides the greatest rewards.


In the snow-covered front yard of the haunted house of Erie Street, I stand with a tree branch in my hands.

Street lights illuminate the crumbling house with gaping holes in its siding that expose a wooden skeleton beneath. On the sagging roof, cedar tiles stick up like jagged teeth. The attached conservatory’s dome of stained-glass panels is soiled from time and neglect.

My breath drifts upward 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 slips into my thoughts:

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

The most feared guy in school wants me to break a window in a neglected conservatory, and a nickname I hear fifty times a day is all he’s got? The only reason I’m still standing here is because he decked a senior jock. Not just any jock, but the biggest quarterback in school. Plus, Asher has my rhyme journal. So, bolting to the street is not an option, but neither is breaking a window just to appease a bully.

“Break it yourself.” I pitch the branch on the snow hoping he’ll abandon this foolish idea of proving the house has a magic spell cast on it by a witch.

“Do it, and you can have your journal back.” His unblinking eyes peer at me from beneath black eyebrows like a bird of prey calculating the precise moment to strike.

I fetch the branch. Behind me, an old oak’s limbs sway in the wind; its shadow splayed on the snow around me like twisted fingers summoning me to escape.

I resolve to get this over with, so near the arch of glass. My long blonde hair whips across my face as I take aim at a single pane and swing.

When the branch hits my mark, the impact stings my hands and vibrates up my arms. However, nothing happens; not a fracture, nor a shatter, or even a dull thud. I pitch the limb aside and move back seconds before a spray of glass rains onto the snow accompanied by Asher’s cry of victory.


Before my brain can register the peculiar pause that took place before the glass exploded, 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 around us, I detect a sweet fragrance, perhaps flowers, but remain fixed on the creeping plants filling the jagged gap. Asher’s mouth gapes as wide as mine. I glance back at the window and gasp.

The vapor and vines are gone. The glass has reappeared.

I inch near the window. Not a mark nor a crack is visible, so I slip off a mitten and bravely tap the glass.

“There’s a window by the veranda,” says Asher.

I shriek at the sound of his voice, then I shout, “Did you see that? The window…how did that happen?”

“Be quiet. You just proved there’s a spell on this place. Come on. I think we can see inside the house.”

“I’m not snooping in windows,” I exclaim, which sounds dumb after smashing a window.

The wind tousles Asher’s straight black hair with indigo streaked bangs. A glimmer of amusement dances at the corner of his lips. Asher Eastwyke is cute, in a mysterious sort of way, with a heart-shaped face and generous lips. It’s his eyes throwing me off; iris’ so black they’re nearly impossible to look at.

“You are, and we will. You broke the window, so your part of the plan now,” says Asher.

“What plan?” I laugh. Not a hearty, cheerful laugh, but one that stems from nerves on overdrive. I know quite well what he means. My thoughts are a muddled mess, but not so scrambled I can’t figure out why Asher needs me. I’ll be the one who takes the fall if his ridiculous scheme goes sour.

Grabbing onto the hood of my coat, Asher hauls me behind a barren bush, where we crouch below a window beside the front porch.

“Stay down,” he says before standing to look through the window. Then he pops back down, leans against my arm, and states, “I can’t see anything.”

The veranda light flicks on.

Asher and I gawk at each other with owl-like eyes as the door screeches open. I slam my eyes shut.

On the wooden veranda stretching the entire frontage of the house, footsteps echo and stop directly beside us. Inside my mittens, I dig my fingers like daggers into the snow to remain still. A hard object jabs my right palm, so to suppress a yelp, I pinch my lips tight. The footsteps retreat into the house and the door creaks shut.

While Asher sneaks another look through the window, I whip my hand up and find the bottom half of a silver skeleton key poking through my mitt. I tug it out. The top is a flat circle engraved with two duplicate leafless trees, their roots joining them one above the other.

On my cheekbone, something tickles, so I strain my eyes left just as the black needle-like appendage of a spider flexes and extends toward my eye. As the glossy black body comes into view, I catch a glimpse of red on its abdomen and fear fires through me, churning my stomach into a tense cramp. My first reaction is to scream, but instead, I clamp my mouth shut, terrified the spider will crawl in.

My brain is a mental soup of conflicting orders; freeze, run, scream. However, the overruling thought is ‘get it off my face and get the heck away from the hideous thing as fast as I can.’ Petrified to touch it, but horrified that it’s about to creep directly over my left eye, I flick the vile thing with a mitt, then bolt from behind the bush.

The shrieks caught in my throat spill over my vocal cords as I whack at my legs, arms, and torso. The spider is still on me somewhere, I’m sure of it!

Asher’s hand wraps around my mouth stifling my squeals. With an elbow into his stomach, I stagger onto the sidewalk, still frantically hunting for the spider.

“What’s up with you?” Asher scoffs, his eyes ablaze.

Still hopping around like a jumping bean, I bellow, “A ginormous spider was on my face. I hate spiders.” I bat at my hair and scurry in circles.

“You’d think you were being attacked by a swarm of bees, not just a little spider.”

I catch Asher roll his eyes. That’s it—I’m out of here. I start down the street toward home.

“Where do you think you’re going? I didn’t say you could leave,” he seizes my arm.

“Let me go,” I pull free. “Keep my journal. Show everyone my rhymes,” I yell.

From his pocket, he shoves my journal toward me. “Go ahead, take it,” he says. “For what it’s worth, your rhymes are good…for rhymes.”

He’s just saying nice things to manipulate me. “What do you want from me?”

“You saw what I saw. A witch lives in that house, and we’re going to get inside and figure it out.”


  1. Is this line "Boring Rhyming Randa..." apart of your pitch? I'm not sure agents like gimmicks like that, at least that's what I've read.

    On this line, "a high school outcast named Rhyming Randa", shouldn't it be "nicknamed"? Right now it reads like that's her actual name. Also, it's "leads her inside" not "leads inside".

    I'm not seeing any stakes. Yes, she has to save all witches from a horrible fate, but what happens if she doesn't save them? Why would she want to save them? Can't she just walk away?

    As for the pages, I see you made a lot of changes. It's a faster pace at the beginning and we get right into the action. I also like that you removed the pug bit, although now I'm wondering how he even got her book in the first place.

    Either way, it reads better to me.

    1. Hi Elisa. Yes, it should be nicknamed. I must have changed this pitch so many times that I screwed that up. Thanks for the catch.

      Regarding the stakes comment. I don't believe that every book has to be centered around high stakes, at least not in the beginning. Not everything is life or death at first. For example, in The Matrix, at first Neo is driven by curiosity. He has a good job, however, he's heard about something that causes him to wonder if there's any truth to it. When Trinity tells him, "It's the question that drives us," he sinks deeper into the rabbit hole. And even when he's offered two pills, one that puts him back in his boring life, and another that will take him down the rabbit hole, he could have chosen to walk away. But he didn't.

      As in Randa's case, the encounter with Asher awakens questions within her. And in all honesty, with this being a series, I'm not sure how much I'm to give away of the whole story. But Asher leads to the house, which leads to a key, which leads to a letter written to Randa from a dead witch who died before she was born, which leads to a grimoire, which leads to a secret quest. In all of this, she must accept that she is a witch before she can dive into the unknown. So at first, curiosity is the driver.

      I'm glad the first 5 pages read better. Thanks for your comment.


  2. Great work on the sample pages. I agree with Elisa that you need to define the stakes in this query. I disagree with you about not showing the stakes. However small or big, they must be in the query for agents. Also, the first paragraph needs to be reworked into 3rd person instead of 1st. Never use 1st person in your query. I get you're trying for voice, but you can bring voice out in 3rd person. This is a query - a business letter. Give us the character(s), goals, and stakes. You have a good start here, but you do need the stakes.

    The mentors for Pitch Wars are critiquing queries and 1st pages on my blog now thru July. You can get a lot of info. on how to write a good query by reading them. It's on

    Here's a break down from a post on my blog on query writing.

    1st Paragraph – The hook. This should be a few sentences that hooks the agent/publisher to read on. What’s unique about your story? Get it in your hook. I usually start with my inciting incident for the hook like in the example below, “Gia unwittingly speaks the key that sucks her and her friends into a photograph and transports them into a Paris library.” It’s the part where after something life-changing happens to your character, they are propelled on their journey. There’s no turning back. No going back to life as normal.

    2nd Paragraph – The book. This is a mini-synopsis of the story. The main plot. What is the character’s goal? What obstacles are in the way of her goals? What will happen if she doesn’t accomplish her goals? Get the conflict and stakes in this mini-synopsis.

    3rd Paragraph – Your bio. Publishing credits and blogs or sites you contribute to that have to do with writing only. Don’t add family, pets, or events that don’t pertain to publishing. Don’t say your mother read it and loves it. If you don’t have a bio like I hadn’t when I was querying, no worries, just leave it out.

    4th (or 3rd) Paragraph – The closing.

    Note: Keep your query to around 250 words.

    If you rework this query, paste it in the comments and I'll stop by to see how you've done. Hope this helps!

    1. Hi Brenda. Thank you for your comments and the opportunity to rewrite my query. Here is what I've come up with.


      I am seeking representation for RANDA RUNE, AND THE ERIE STREET WITCH (approximately 110,000 words). Book 1 in a complete YA Urban Fantasy. [I would also personalize this according to the agent I am submitting to.]

      After the death of her mother, Randa drifts through life; a high school outcast nicknamed Rhyming Randa with only her rhymes. She doesn’t know she’s a witch until, on her sixteenth birthday, she is led through a door in a tree to the bewitching realm of Sobelow. Here she discovers her rhymes are her gift.

      When a confrontation with a reputed bully leads Randa to a grimoire entrusted to her by a dead witch, its contents propel her on a perilous quest to find an ancient witch known as The Watcher. First, Randa must hone her new abilities, while she grapples with falling in love and figuring out who’s on her side and who’s playing her. But time is running out. Randa and her friends must decipher the grimoire’s secret witch code before the Eastwyke Coven returns to destroy this magical realm; the last tie Randa has to her mother and everything she loved and died for to keep her daughter safe.

      I am a debut author who has attended many workshops to develop my writer's voice on, Writers, and The Shakespearean rhyme, Double, double, toil and trouble, is the inspiration for the Randa Rune series, where rhymes are magical, and danger lurks around every corner. I am excited to traditionally publish and share Randa’s journey of self-discovery with YA readers.

    2. Hello Catherine! This was a good revision for the query. Don’t mention this is book one in a series. Only focus on this book. Agents will assume it has series potential. Don’t use “approximately 110,000” words. Round up or down to the nearest 1000th. Also, you don't need the portal/the door in a tree part. That is used in The Secret Tree-house series and The Magicians and can seem “already done.” An agent may pause from requesting more because of it. Let them find out about the portal as they read the manuscript. You don’t want to turn them away before they have a chance to read more of your work. Also, is the only stakes what’s stated in this query? Would Randa’s life also be in danger if she doesn’t decipher the code? Add that into the query. In your bio, don’t mention that you’re exited to traditionally publish and share Randa’s journey. It’s not needed and the only thing that should be in the bio paragraph is writing credits and anything special about writing the book. I’ve reworked your query for better flow and removing the parts I feel aren’t needed. See what you think. I hope it helps. Good luck!

      Dear Agent,

      (Personalization here)

      When a confrontation with a reputed bully leads sixteen-year-old Randa Rune to a grimoire entrusted to her by a dead witch, its contents propel her on a perilous quest to find an ancient witch known as The Watcher.

      After the death of her mother, Randa drifts through life; a high school outcast nicknamed Rhyming Randa with only her rhymes. On her sixteenth birthday, a witch takes her to the bewitching realm of Sobelow where she discovers her rhymes are her gift. Now, Randa must hone her new abilities, while she grapples with falling in love and figuring out who’s on her side and who’s playing her. But time is running out. Randa and her friends must decipher the grimoire’s secret witch code before the Eastwyke Coven returns to destroy this magical realm; the last tie Randa has to her mother and everything she loved and died for to keep her daughter safe.

      I am a debut author who has attended many workshops to develop my writer's voice on, Writers, and The Shakespearean rhyme, Double, double, toil and trouble, is the inspiration for this story, where rhymes are magical, and danger lurks around every corner.

      Combining elements of fantasy and romance, RANDA RUNE, AND THE ERIE STREET WITCH, a young adult urban fantasy, is complete at 110,000 words.

      Thank you for your time and consideration.

      Best regards,

    3. Thanks so much cor your comments and help with the query. You are fantastic and I really appreciate it. Your rewrite is perfect.

    4. Hi, Brenda. Can I ask a question? Why shouldn't I mention that this is a series?

  3. Query: I think the second version, in your comment, is much more professional and polished. A couple of the sentences in the second paragraph seem slightly awkward: "who's on her side and who's playing her", "loved and died" versus lived and died? Honing her abilities first seems a little weak. Maybe something that reflects a little more urgency?


    I hate to give conflicting feedback, but I actually liked your first revision better. I thought it was a bit more straightforward. I liked the pug, the green smoke, the little gems, etc. This one is harder for me to visualize, and we are sort of confronted with the witch, or at least the witch's footsteps right off the bat. I liked thinking that maybe the house was haunted, or under a spell, and being kept a little bit in the dark on what force was actually at work. This would be so much easier if we didn't have to think about all those damn readers with all their different tastes - who do they think they are?!

    A couple other, more specific thoughts:

    "twisted fingers summoning me to escape" doesn't work for me. That smacks of something that is more likely to grab her and trap her there.

    I think Asher is the one that says "Booyah". You even say it is him, but only in the paragraph above. Since everything else to that point is in Randa's voice I have trouble not thinking this cheer is also her. Maybe the dialogue tag could be moved from the above paragraph down to be right after the "Booyah". And, maybe something other than booyah? something that indicates both surprise and excitement, not just pure excitement?

    I think finger-like vines is too soon after the other fingers metaphor.

    I had to read the skeleton key imagery sentences a couple times to comprehend what the trees and the roots were supposed to look like.

    I do really like the story, and the situation makes me root for Randa right off the bat. I just thought this version jumped a bit too quickly from trees to keys to footsteps to spiders.


    1. Thanks for your comments, Zack.

      I know exactly what you mean. I honestly feel that I'm taking all the mystery out of this first chapter to give readers what they want. That or I'm totally whacked in the head. Chester Pug was in there to show Asher's ability and entice Randa with magic. After all, he knows she's a witch, even if she doesn't. However, his magic just seemed to confuse everyone with the house and all that was going on. And people are getting to caught up in 'How did Asher get the dog', when in all honesty, it doesn't even matter. I assume people can come up with a multitude of ways a bully type may do this.

      The part about the witch coming outside was actually the next page that didn't make into the first five, so getting rid of Chester Pug and making Asher have already gotten the stones (which again just seem to confuse everyone), just brought it up earlier. And in all honesty, this scene would happen very fast in real life.

      Thanks though. I'll take all of your comments into consideration. I work with other wanna be authors on Scribophile if you're ever looking for a crit partner.

    2. Thanks, and checking out Scribophile is on my to do list now, after I spied it in one of your other comments! Good luck with this!!

    3. Well look me up if you join.

  4. Catherine,
    For me, this version is it. I read right through it without stumbling or questioning anything, making the profluence spot on. I like that the pug isn't in this version—remove any unnecessary details that do not move the story forward. Good job. This version feels pretty tight. I loved it.
    Good job, Julie

  5. From Hillary:

    Catherine, the second pitch in your comments is super strong and would definitely intrigue me if it landed in my inbox. As for the pages, the voice is strong. My one note would be that the paragraph that starts “the most feared guy in school” is an info dump (which I usually appreciate) but I don’t quite get what’s going on. It’s a bit wordy and I think can be broken down to ease us into the story.

  6. Thanks so much Erin. I'll look at revising that.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments and help. I too miss the pug and may find a way to add him back in. Chester Pug is actually my dog,who is very sick and I had hoped to give him a small role so he would live on forever in my writing. :)

  8. I'm sorry to be responding late, Catherine! I think you and Brenda have now nailed your query - phew! It looks great!

    As for your revision, I think its great! I understand what's going on, it's well written, the voice is great, good descriptions, and a mystery/adventure - you had me hooked! If you want to add Chester, how about having him chase after her at some point, and Asher is able to quiet him mysteriously? You can add him without having him and the journal both being used to bribe her - which feels forced. That was the issue with Chester, not Chester himself (and I do hope your Chester feels better soon!)

    It's been a pleasure reading your pages! Good luck with this story - I think it has great potential - and keep us posted!

    1. Thanks so much. I will definitely keep you posted. At least now I have a great query to use and a basis of how to write one for the rest of the series.