Sunday, June 11, 2017

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Kondryuk Rev 1

Name: Lana Kondryuk
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
When your mom is a walking lie detector, you master the art of withholding the truth.
Sitting under a shady oak, I grab the closest sack full of herbs and tie it so tightly the twine leaves marks on the palms of my hands. Mom’s got to stop canceling my plans every time a high holiday rolls around. My social life is barely surviving. Midsummer—Litha, as witches call it—may be in a few days, but Rick’s end of school party is tonight. Mom knew I’d be missing it when she sent me on a three-day plant harvesting trip to Gram’s cabin in The-Middle-Of-Nowhere, Poconos. So I feel zero guilt about sneaking out tonight.
I planned well; even Mom’s internal lie detector won’t pick up on this. And if she does find out, the worst she can do is make me work overtime at her store. I practically live there already—what’s a few more hours?
Binding the sacks together, I hoist them onto my shoulder. My phone vibrates in my pocket. I fish it out and read the text from Denis Gorash, the self-proclaimed Mayor of Chornohora’s Senior Class: Ian, everyone but you has confirmed. You gonna make it to Rick’s tonight?
Everyone includes Samantha Lawrence—my reason for breaking the rules today. Day one of junior year’s French class, when Sam waltzed over and sat in the chair next to mine, I was a goner. She threw her long, honey-blond hair over her shoulder and said, “Bonjour.” I’m pretty sure time stopped for a while. 
Before I type my response, my phone buzzes with the second text. This one isn’t from Denis. So you aren’t coming. Can’t blame you. Gotta suck knowing Sam’s my date tonight.
My jaw tightens. “You, bastard,” I mutter.
Paul Carter, that filthy-rich, self-absorbed, gym-dwelling, hair-gelling moron. He’s got muscles to make Schwarzenegger jealous and a wallet full of cards with six digit limits. Girls are lining up for him, but he’s chasing Sam. And only because I like her. Just when I finally work up the courage to ask Sam out, Paul ups his game. Coincidence much? I can’t believe we used to be friends.
You bet, I reply to Denis. Determined to spoil Paul’s evening, I tuck my phone into my backpack and head out of the oak grove. Warm summer wind that hisses between the rocks and clear skies promise a perfect night for a party.
In the first clearing, the wind snatches my baseball cap and hurls it into the thorny brush. Crap. With a grunt, I drop the sacks on the ground and climb into the prickly bushes to get my stupid hat. Then I freeze. Scarlet flowers with fuzzy purple leaves shaped like the wings of a Phoenix sway beside my worn blue baseball cap.
I hold my breath and look closer. Then I close my eyes and open them up again—the legendary Phoenix Flame no one’s seen in centuries is still there. It looks exactly like on the drawings in Gram’s old books. All those botany lessons Gram forced on me no longer seem like a waste. If only she were here now. I can’t believe I’ve found the mythical, powerful plant that can unlock the body’s ability to heal itself even if one is an inch from death! This is every witch’s dream, and I’m the one who gets to live it. Me. The guy who was skipped by his family witch gene.
I position my fingers an inch above the ground to snap the stem, but then I pause. The curse. The legend warns that only those chosen by the flower may harvest it; all others will die violent deaths. Which may be total bogus, but uncertainty still creeps into my mind. Do I dare? The worth of one flower can sponsor my college education. I’d be richer than Paul and never have to work at The Moon Goddess again. I’d finally get to make my own decisions. I can almost savor the sweet taste of independence, but a violent death would put a damper on my plans.
I snatch my hand back. “Damnit,” I mumble and leer at the flower. I just can’t get a break. I’ve never been lucky; haven’t even won a dollar playing the scratch-off lottery. But this, hands down, is the worst snub of my life. To be so close yet so far.
Maybe I’ve gotten this wrong? It can’t be a coincidence that my hat blew right to the Phoenix Flame; the flower has to have chosen me. I push my shoulders back.  I’ll only take one, just one from a dozen. Enough for my college tuition and a new car. And I can always come back for more, now that I know where to find them.
Before my resolve fades, I snap the stem of one plant, roll it up in my baseball cap, and hide it inside my shirt. There’s no way I’m parting with it, not even for a second.
Hoisting the sacks over my shoulder, I hurry out of the woods, grinning. My steps and spirits are light until I reach the meadow.
A powerful gust of wind makes me take a few steps back and then lean forward to keep my balance. Dark clouds swarm the skies, blocking out the sun. Angry lightning bolts slice through them and echo with ear-splitting thunder. This can’t be good. I was so enthralled by the Phoenix Flame that I didn’t even notice the storm coming.
I scan the meadow for shelter and spot a protected area between the rocks. But then I remember the party. If I get stuck on this mountain for hours, I’ll miss it. Images of Paul Carter kissing Sam invade my mind, and all of a sudden getting to the party becomes more important than dodging lightning bolts.
Ignoring all self-preservation instincts, I press my treasure-filled baseball hat tighter to my chest and dash for the path that snakes down the mountain.
The heavens open, releasing a torrential downpour. I slip and slide in mud. When I pass a boulder that looks like a turtle, I know the ledge is dangerously close. Swearing loudly, I latch onto a young oak and come to a halt. But the ground under my feet breaks off, like a piece of soft chocolate cake, and slides down the mountain, taking me with it.
My heart drops into my stomach. Frantically grabbing at plants and roots, I struggle to slow my fall. Sharp rocks cut into my skin, and dull waves of pain rush through my ribs and knees. The next bump knocks the wind out of me and sends me into the air. Gasping, I hover for a second in a state of weightlessness and then land on a large stone. My head smashes against something hard and then everything goes black.
I awake to pain tearing through my body. When I open my eyes, my surroundings swim in a gray haze. Slowly, the shapes come into focus. Dancing flames on wax-dripping candles cast shadows on dark mud walls. Plants hang suspended from the ceiling in bunches. I don’t know this place; nothing about it is familiar. My heart starts pounding. Where the hell am I?
I lift my dead-weight head, and a sharp pain shoots down my back. Moaning, I let my head fall back onto the rickety cot.
“Don’t make any sudden moves,” a soft voice says.


  1. Lana!

    I really just want to sit around with you and talk pagan fantasy novels with you because, ugh, I love this story. The way you incorporated the feedback with the flower was great. Now I'm really curious about the curse of the flower.

    The "gym-dwelling, hair-gelling moron." had me laughing out loud. I love this kid's sense of humor. I am curious how old he actually is? Is he old enough to buy a lottery ticket or is he scratching off his mom's? (That's something I used to do before I was old enough to buy them anyway."

    Other than that I don't have much feedback. I think you did a great job and to me, this is sharp. I personally, love it. Bravo!

    1. We definitely need to have that pagan fantasy talk :)

  2. You’ve made Ian more decisive, about the party and about the Phoenix flower, and that is good. I like that you’ve added some information about the curse in here, but it certainly changes things, especially leading up to the decision to pick the flower. I think you need to lead us to that conclusion with Ian a little better. He seems too easily convinced that his hat blowing off is a “sign,” without enough other clues to his motivation. It’s important that we understand, is he dismissing the curse because he doesn’t really believe? Because with the sudden storm springing up, should be the first thing he thinks, “oh crap, here’s the curse after all.” And less, “I have to get to that party.” How does acquiring this herb affect his feeling about the party? More excited to go now that he knows he’s going to be rich and powerful?
    I still feel the weather phenomenon aren’t portrayed in a way that gives enough weight to the fantasy elements. I think you need to dramatize that blowing hat, just a bit more if you want the reader, and Ian to interpret it as a sign.
    Finally you still have four paragraphs that start with an –ing word. It’s a very passive structure, and especially in the 2nd paragraph an active voice is going to bring Ian to life more quickly.

    Good job with your changes!

    1. Yes, Maria, I was going for...I don't really buy this whole curse thing. I hoped 'total bogus' would make that clear, but I can definitely make that stand out more. And I like the idea of dramatizing the blowing hat. I can definitely do that. My only concern is that I'm adding way too much internal dialogue and description into my 1st chapter, when the inciting event is really Ian falling off the cliff.

  3. I thought the inciting incident was finding the flower. Isn't that what triggers the storm and cliff fall? I don't think you need to add much. Just reframe and rephrase what you already have there. And you can tighten even more if you scrutinize every word.

    1. Well, they are connected. But the fall leads to Ian meeting Violet, and that's the game changer for Ian. And yes, you're right; I don't need to add much, I need to rephrase. I have an idea on how to do that :) Thank you so much.

  4. I thought the inciting incident was finding the flower. Isn't that what triggers the storm and cliff fall? I don't think you need to add much. Just reframe and rephrase what you already have there. And you can tighten even more if you scrutinize every word.

  5. This is great! I love where you ended it this time! Honestly, my notes for you are mainly nitpicking. The sentence "Sitting under a shady oak...hands," I think should be deleted completely. Firstly, the opening statement of the novel, which is very catchy, is about the lead character's mom. It seems natural that the immediate sentence that follows should begin to elaborate immediately. In other words, that detail about what he's doing just isn't necessary there. Also, I mentioned before that the character read a little feminine. This is true less and less with this new edit. However, that particular sentence is the only one that really stands out now. Without getting into gender politics, if we're talking about the average guy, I'm not sure he would comment on twine leaving marks on his hands. If you want to keep the sentence, I'd sneak it in later.

    The way you described the ex-best friend was much better this time around, which allowed it to be funny! It could still use a little bit of finesse, but you are very close to it being perfect. The preceding text messages, however, did not feel very genuine. Maybe there's a way to shorten them and convey the same meaning.

    Random, but perhaps there is a different word you can use as opposed to "sacks." It just doesn't sound good (I mentioned I'm nitpicking, right?). It's also an opportunity to use a new or exotic word to help set the idea that this is a fantasy.

    Finally, when the MC finds the flower, I would reconsider your formatting there. Perhaps finding the flower is a one sentence paragraph. In other words, think about how you can help convey that this is important without actually saying it or being so blatant.

    Hope this helps!

    1. Thank you, Elisha :) The purpose of the shady oak sentence is to give us a glimpse of Ian's surroundings. Without it, we have no idea where he is, we can't visualize it. We are purely inside Ian's head. But I will try to move it down a bit. And haha I didn't even think the word sacks could paint an odd imagery, but now I can't unsee it and MUST find a synonym.

    2. So, I've been agonizing over 'sacks'. Unfortunately, the synonyms don't sound that much better. It's either burlap bags, sacs, or sacks. Unless you have other suggestions, I think I'm doomed.

  6. Hi Lana!

    The changes you've made here are really great!

    Only one or two bigger notes: The first line still reads like a non sequitur. Your second sentence should tie into your first, not ignore it. And even though you've tied his "plan" to go to the party to the mom's lie detector, you haven't shown us how he withholds the truth to beat it. As great as that line is, it can't stand on its own. And it loses its greatness when it's not backed up by the story.

    The good news? This is super easily fixable, and I know you'll find a way.

    I also think starting him out in a field by himself isn't your best option, but you did an amazing job toning down the blatant setup stuff in this revision, so well done on that!

    And these are the smallest things ever, but it seems like a pocket would be a much more secure way to carry the flower than under his shirt in a hat. Maybe his grandma/mom made him carry a Spirit Bag around his neck for solstice that he can empty out and replace with the flower? And you lose track of your sacks of herbs right as he starts running from the storm. Maybe a few words to have him stash them by the turtle rock or note that they fall away from him as he's clinging to roots for his life?

    Also, a couple of line edits:

    * Warm summer wind that hisses between the rocks and clear skies PROMISES a perfect night for a party.
    * It looks exactly like the drawings in Gram’s old books. (remove the "on")
    * Which may be TOTALLY bogus, but uncertainty still creeps into my mind.

    I hope these help!

    Good work. :)

    Heather Petty

    1. Heather, thank you so much! Hmmm, I guess I have to tinker with the order of sentences. Originally, my opening sentence was followed by Ian's thoughts on the subject, but the feedback I got urged me to insert some action to break up the stream of consciousness. I was advised to show Ian doing something while the thoughts are running through his head. But I totally see what you mean, I need to connect that opening statement to the others better; right now it reads disconnected.
      Also, question about line edit #1. (Thank you for taking your time to point those out to me!!!) If I have wind and skies, that's 2 subjects (they). Wouldn't predicate reflect that and be 'promise'? I think I need to rephrase this sentence; I clearly didn't make that obvious.
      Thank you again. I'm so glad my opening pages are starting to make more sense now.

    2. I'll mention this again in your rev 2 notes just to make sure you see it, but I think you can incorporate the action into his stream of thoughts more like this:

      "And that's all I'm doing," I explain to the sack full of herbs as I tie it shut. "Withholding the truth is not technically a lie. So, nothing for her to detect!"

      I mean, that's cheesy as hell and you will write this SO MUCH BETTER, but it shows you the idea of how to make things more integrated.

      As to edit #1, I see what you're trying to do now. And it's an easy fix:

      Clear skies and warm summer wind that hisses between the rocks promise a perfect night...

  7. If I had to choose a word to describe your 1st edit, I think it would be WOW. Seriously, it seems like you took everything we said and used it and that’s awesome! I have such a better sense about his relationship with his ex-friend (the jerk), and the importance of the flower.

    I did want to know how exactly he’d ruin Paul’s night since Paul is the one with his girl? Would his presence make him uncomfortable? Would he try and cast some immature spell on his rival? I think you could have some fun here and further our insight into the MC’s humor and personality.

    Maybe focus a little more on his reaction to finding the flower, just a little, it’s great we understand why he knows what it is and how much it’s worth but if all he does is freezes—the magic of it is still a little lost That said, don’t over do it (don’t you just love how feedback is so subjective and inexact?). However, I think you drawing him as kind of an impulsive kid who’s like “it could kill me but…what the hell” is accurate. Kids (especially, I imagine, Witch kids), don’t think about the long term and they certainly don’t think of themselves as mortal, so I thought that was awesome!

    I’m still thrown a little by how a rock that looks like a turtle signifies the edge of a cliff and wonder if it’s necessary unless it’s a mystical –type thing.

    My last thought is on your last sentence. I love the tension and uncertainty. But, to me, by describing it as a “soft voice” kills both the tension and uncertainty. A soft voice makes me think “everything will be ok,” if you’d say it was a voice, or an unfamiliar voice, or a raspy voice, or whatever I’m thinking—am I safe? Who the hell is this?

    I do agree with Heather's comments on those couple of line edits she pointed out.

    Other than those things, I think you’re painting an awesome picture here and can’t believe how much smoother it reads after this one edit!

    1. Jason, thank you for your feedback! The rock resembling a turtle is simply Ian's visual marker. This is his family land and he knows it very well by now. He knows this boulder is right near the ledge, so when he sees it in the downpour while going pretty fast, the tries to slow his momentum.
      Do you think I need to elaborate on that?

  8. Hi Lana,

    Thank you for sharing your revision with us. So sorry my comments are late--airport delays kept me tied up yesterday. That said, I think you did an excellent job on this revision. We have a great degree of clarity now, and that makes understanding the story very easy. The one area I would focus on for the next pass is voice. With clarity often comes a loss of uniqueness, and in this case I think Ian's voice needs a bit of a boost to make him stand out from other male teenage voices. What are his unique perspectives that inform his thoughts? How do his metaphors vary from others? What weird asides might he throw in that give us glimpses into his greater life? I feel like I understand the functional parts of his character and this scene now, but what I need is to fall in love with him a little bit more. I recommend reading a few pages from your favorite novels and then reading your selection aloud. Look for opportunities to amp up the voice and let Ian capture us with his wit, mystery, and unique voice. Adding in this kind of material may mean you don't reach the end of this scene anymore within the length of our selection, but voice is king. We need to have Ian grip us from the first sentence and take us with him.

    My best,
    Melanie Conklin
    First Five Mentor

    1. Melanie, thank you! It's always better late than never :) I appreciate your feedback. I'm thrilled you think the content of my opening is clear enough to focus on voice. *squeals* I'm going to read the pages out loud and see where I can add tidbits of voice. Thank you!