Sunday, June 18, 2017

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Kondryuk Rev 2

Name: Lana Kondryuk
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy


Ian Hill is a dud. Despite being the first male in a long line of witches, his sixteenth birthday has come and gone without even a hint of power. Any power. He would’ve settled for levitating pencils.

Condemned to a dull suburban existence and working at his mom’s pagan supply store, Ian has given up hope—that is, until he meets Violet, a talented witch who awakens his power as well as his raging hormones. Welcome to the world of telepathic trees, killer shadows, and ghost pet cats.

As soon as Ian receives his unique —and practically extinct—tree-whispering Gift, the Dark Soul Stealers are after it. To make matters worse, Ian ruins his budding relationship with Violet by “borrowing” her treasured book of spells for a shortcut to master more magic. Violet disappears from his life, and without her training, Ian fails to prevent the Dark Soul Stealers from destroying his hometown and making his mom gravely ill. As he races to save his mom and to find Violet, his adversaries present him with an impossible deal: his mother’s and Violet’s lives in exchange for his soul.

Revision 2:

When your mom is a walking lie detector, you master the art of withholding the truth.

Sitting in a shade of a mighty oak, I grab the next sack full of herbs and tie it so tightly the twine stings my hands.

Since Mom keeps canceling my plans every time a high holiday rolls around, dooming my social life in the process, I feel zero guilt about sneaking out tonight. 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.

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?

I bind the sacks together and 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. Clear skies and warm summer wind hissing between the rocks promise a perfect night for a party.

In the first clearing, the wind snatches my baseball cap and hurls into the thorny brush. Crap. With a grunt, I drop my 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 is still there. It looks exactly like 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 to witness this. I can’t believe I’ve found the mythical 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.

My pulse pounds in my head as 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. Uncertainty 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.

“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.

The whole curse thing is probably bogus since no one’s seen this plant in centuries. How do we know there ever was one? Not all stories are true. If they were, all witches would sport warts, fly on their brooms, and cook disobedient children for dinner.

But let’s say the legend is true. It can’t be a coincidence that my hat blew right to the Phoenix Flame; the flower has to have chosen me. This is my chance to make something happen; to decide for myself.

I push my shoulders back.  I’ll only take one, just one from a dozen. Enough for my college tuition and a new ride. 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. Letting go of the sacks, I frantically grab at plants and roots 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. I hover for a second in a state of weightlessness, gasping, 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 mud walls. Plants hang suspended from the ceiling in bunches. My heart starts pounding. Where the hell am I?


  1. Lana--

    I love how you were able to sneak in a little humor in the pitch. It's really fun and sets the tone your audience can expect.

    I would rework the sentence "Despite being the first male in a long line of witches..." That particular sentence led me to believe he was a witch with powers, though in the second bit, you explain how he doesn't have powers. For some reason, it was confusing. Maybe it was just the sentence structure, as I think something like, "He is the first male in a long line of witches. And the first one without power," could work. I'm sure you will come up with something brilliant!

    In the second paragraph of your pitch, I would delete the sentence "Welcome to world of ...." It's not necessary honestly. The most important information precedes this sentence, and I'm not sure that telepathic trees, killer shadows, and ghost pet cats are your selling points. What's really interesting is everything you say before that sentence.

    In the 3rd paragraph, it's too much here to explain exactly how Ian loses Violet. Just simply say, "When Ian alienates Violet, this happens XYZ." Keep it short and sweet.

    Revision 2- I still stand by what I said before. I truly believe you need to delete or move that second sentence. It works better than before making it into its own paragraph, though. With that being said, this sentence "Since Mom keeps canceling my plans every time a high holiday rolls around, dooming my social life in the process, I feel zero guilt about sneaking out tonight" explains the truth that he is withholding, which is why I think the 1st and 3rd sentences should go together.

    The second text Ian gets could be shorter. If you just say "Gotta suck knowing Sam's my date tonight," will get the same point across in fewer words.

    The "You bet" reply comes too late after Denis' text, and since we are just getting to know the characters, it's a little confusing who is talking to. I'd rework it to say something like, ignoring Pat's text, I tell Denis I'll be there. Obviously, you'll write a more refined sentence than that, but it will help to be clearer here.

    Perhaps, "The legendary Pheonix Flame is still there" should be its own sentence for emphasis. Its importance gets a little lost in that paragraph. You do a really great job at pointing out the curse afterwards. I love it.

    A smoother segue into him second guessing whether the curse is real would be great!

    I also miss the ending sentence telling him not to move. In that instance, we feel that he’s in immediate danger and we want to know what is going to happen!

    With that being said, I think you’ve finally got Ian’s voice! I no longer feel he is feminine and he feels real.

    Overall, I really enjoyed reading this!

    1. Elisha,
      Thank you so much for your feedback. You know, I tinkered with the beginning, trying to remove that blasted 2nd sentence. I didn't care for the result. We are basically in Ian's head for half the page without the slightest idea where he is or what he is doing. That's the one thing several agents and editors warned me against. That 2nd sentence is what gives us the needed visual. But I'm wondering if I can break up the internal monologue a bit later, like this:

      When your mom is a walking lie detector, you master the art of withholding the truth.
      Since Mom keeps canceling my plans every time a High Holiday rolls around, dooming my social life in the process, I feel zero guilt about sneaking out tonight.
      Sitting in a shade of a mighty oak, I grab the next burlap bag full of herbs and tie it so tightly the twine stings my hands.
      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.
      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?

      Does this read better? I'm curious.

  2. Hi Lana,


    I think your pitch is great! Especially the first two paragraphs. The voice is spellbinding! In the third paragraph, right around “Violet disappears from his life”, I feel like the voice is lost a little. It turns a little to telling. You say he fails to prevent the dark soul stealers from destroying his hometown. I wonder if you could rephrase so you aren’t giving away the ending—more along the lines of how Violet’s absence affects his ability to protect his hometown.

    Other than that, great job, we know the stakes too, and they are pretty heavy.


    I decided to get the suggestions out of the way first. You should consider rearranging Ian’s response to Denis to right after he gets the text from him. Then he can talk about Samantha and then get the text from Paul. Then he wouldn’t have to explain how he wants to ruin Paul’s night and I wonder if this would cut out enough that you could reinstate the last “don’t move” line we all love so much, I’m sure you miss it too, having to cut it for space. I think you could include a quick “if I survive the curse, that is”, or something to that effect when Ian says he can just come back for more now that he knows where the flowers grow, but that’s minimal and wouldn’t be worth sacrificing something more important.

    As far as your other version of the opening, I like it! I think it does keep the ideas more organized, but it needs a softer transition still to sitting under a tree. Along with that, Ian says he’s sneaking out, but later on he says his mother sent him. Maybe you could kill two birds with one stone here and combine these two ideas by saying something like: “…I feel zero guilt about ditching her plans for me. I know she’ll be pissed when I don’t return with her herbs tonight, but it’s hard to care, sitting in the shade of a mighty oak. I grab the next burlap bag…” or something like that.

    Honestly, that’s about it. I loved your voice and the way you took more time now in explaining the flower’s significance and rarity and what it means. There is an internal struggle going on in him now-- to take or not to take, and it really adds to the tension. I was really into it. You’ve created a really 3-dimenional character here and I’m feeling invested in his story more now than ever! Awesome work!

  3. I'm going to start with the pitch. I like the fun tone of the pitch, but feel like it doesn't adequately capture how Ian feels about getting his new gift after being a "dud." The gist of it, he pisses off his attractive new mentor, and the soul stealers who are after him destroy his whole town in order to hold his mom and violet hostage. Which is pretty high stakes, and I feel like you have to give us some hope of how he's going to be able to overcome all of that. And some inkling of how we're going to be able to enjoy the ride, because the tone of the first pages felt like fun, quirky, small-town meets magic world, and now I'm bummed that it's all going to be destroyed! I guess what I'm saying is you need to manage reader expectations. At this point, I'm not going to give further feedback on the pages, because I feel like pages and pitch are at odds, and if the story is really deep in destruction and otherworldly battling for towns, and lives and souls, the tone of the beginning is all off. I know that in fantasy, destruction and threat can be done in a "fun" way but I think you need to show some of Ian's strengths that he can draw on to get out of this situation. I need to believe that he's going to be able to find a unique way to put this all right.

  4. Hey Lana!

    The pitch is fantastic! It really captures your characters personality, and does a really great job of letting up know what's important. The only thing I would suggest is make known who the Dark Soul Stealers are, I'm picturing Dementor-like things, but really it's great otherwise.

    The pages are fab. I really get a sense like the stakes are high even from the beginning. The curse with the flower and the storm, I can tell you're setting us up for something big and honestly I just want to keep reading to find out what happens next!

    I love what you've done with this. Just to give some feedback the only suggestion I would make is maybe make him getting away from the storm a bit more difficult. Expand on that scene a bit to add some more tension. But that's it! Fantastic job, Lana!

  5. Hi Lana,

    Thank you for sharing your revision with us today!

    The voice has come back to this in a much more powerful way, and I think you're headed in a solid direction. My advice would be to settle in to each part of the scene and let us rest with it a little longer. A typical opening YA chapter in a fantasy can be 15-30 pages long, so you have space to really let us feel the environment, his emotions, and the action (especially the storm).

    You have space to weave in more backstory with specific details that make Ian come to life, so do it! One other note of detail: the opening sentence needs to connect logically in a flow with the following sentences. Right now it reads like a log line off the cover of a book. His thoughts need to flow, otherwise it's jarring, and the last thing you want to do is give a reader a reason to stop reading in the opening paragraph. Look for a way to bridge those thoughts.

    My best,
    First Five mentor

  6. Hi Lana!

    I think you've done a great job with the revisions on this. My one note is still that I feel like the first sentence is too disconnected from what comes next.

    As to the pitch, I think you are on the exact right track there! I love the voice and how you manage to work in a few little magical details without making it too extraneous. I would suggest reorienting the info in the third paragraph, however, so that it flows better from the previous info. Maybe a transition like:

    But magic isn't all cute magic tutors, telepathic trees, and pet ghost cats. Having a gift--especially a unique, practically extinct gift like Ian's--comes with its own set of dangers. Dark Soul Stealers (short description of who/what that is) are looking for Ian and unafraid to destroy whatever falls in their path, including Ian's hometown. And when he "borrows" Violet's treasured book of spells as a shortcut to master more magic and fight them, Violet disappears from his life... etc, etc...

    I mean, you'll put that together better. But the idea is to have the plot points build off of each other for better flow. I do love how you've established the choice he has to make and given us great stakes. So well done on that!

    Good luck to you!!
    First Five mentor

  7. To everyone, I thank you. Your opinions on what works and doesn't work, even when the author doesn't agree, is what makes this workshop so special. We have had the chance to get so much feedback regarding that in such a short amount of time, its just amazing! It's taken out a lot of guesswork and I am so grateful! Thank you all again. I would say good luck to us all with our work but we don't need it. We are making our own luck. We are writers, we just need an audience.

  8. Thank you so much for all your feedback. This has been a very fun and helpful experience. Besides the fact that my opening chapter is so much better now, I've also learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn't by watching the other entries grow and flesh out. Thank you!