Sunday, July 9, 2017

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Choi Rev 1

Name: Stacy Choi
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Title: Deity Girl

I flipped open the box of Della’s Donuts sitting in my lap and pulled out a plain glazed. My fourth donut of the morning because, why not? Despite an out of control sugar addiction, my figure hadn’t changed. Not since the first time I died.

Not changed much, anyhow.

Looking down at my old t-shirt, it puckered and pulled a little tight across the middle. Whatever. It would fit right soon enough. When I died again—and that’d probably be soon considering who I just robbed—I’d come back looking exactly like I did when I’d been a half-starved sixteen-year-old runaway, with the worst haircut of my life.

“Thunk!” My head snapped up at the sound. I caught sight of an acorn rolling from the hood of the buyer’s fancy, pearl-colored Lexus. It sat a few feet away, collecting leaves.

Three hours and the guy still wasn’t back. I glared through the film of magic rippling along the town border, between me and the car. The magic looking like oil slicked water when the light hit it just right.

I hunched my shoulders against the chilly fall breeze and rocked forward on the tree stump I’d been using for a chair, dangling one foot to the ground for balance. Turning back toward town, I squinted into the distance.

Still nothing.

Just a rusty sign warning outsiders in big bold letters that they’d crossed into Belleview. As if the dingy gray unicorn scratching its rump against the post didn’t give that away. Not exactly the majestic beast legend described. Its silvery rolled in my direction. Baring big square teeth at me, it heaved from the sign post and clopped away.

Behind me, I heard another acorn plink off the Lexus.

Since cars didn’t work in Belleview, the buyer had left his outside of town and gone on foot to his early morning meeting with my business partner and BFF, Milt. The buyer should’ve been in and out of Belleview in an hour. Maybe less if he walked fast. What could be taking so long?

Worry needled me. Pulse thumping a little faster, my heart knocked against my ribs, like a moth trapped in a jar. What if the deal went sideways? Could something have happened to Milt?

No. What had gotten into me?

I did the dirty work for a reason. If anything happened, it would happen to me. It always happened to me.

An icy breeze raked its way across my bare arms, feeling like frozen fingernails. Cold by Florida standards, normal for the magic-altered weather patterns of Belleview. I tucked my legs closer to my body, folding them to sit cross-legged.

“Don’t forget your jacket.” Milt’s reminder echoed in my head. I’d still been half-asleep when he yelled through my door, so of course I forgot the jacket. He coulda just left a note.

I pressed a fist to my aching back, knuckles rolling along the spine for relief. I’d give the buyer five more minutes, that was it.

Feeling around in the half-empty donut box, I grabbed another. Powdered sugar rained onto my chin as I shoved number five into my mouth.


Jaw freezing mid-chew, I turned toward the voice and slumped in relief. Just the buyer. I’d been so distracted I hadn’t heard him coming. A mistake that could’ve cost me big time.

Had it been Tomas, the Corpse Witch enforcer, chances were I’d already be dead.

These days, almost all the deals Milt and I made were accomplished by barter. But some things weren’t for trade and this job was too good to turn down. So I’d climbed into a silo full of drying, sickle-shaped stalks and stuffed a duffel bag full of Reaper Weed.

I’d tried to trade for it first, but Reaper Weed being the key component Corpse Witches used to raise new ghouls, they’d refused. By now the witches would’ve figured out they’d been robbed, and know I’d been the one to do it. Tomas would be out trying to track me down. I needed to hurry this up.

My question came out with a mouthful of crumbs, “Payment made?”

“Yeah,” the man croaked, nerves clogging his throat.

Licking the powdered sugar from my fingertips, I extended my hand. Sugar-free fingers wiggling impatiently.

“Oh, sorry.” He fumbled a walkie-talkie from his jacket pocket and scooted close enough to hand it to me before scurrying away, putting distance back between us.

Sweat plastered wispy strands of brown hair to the man’s enormous forehead. He pulled out a yellow-silk handkerchief and dabbed it along a receding hairline. Rocking from one foot to the other, the man noticed me watching and quickly shoved his hands, and the handkerchief, into his pockets.

I didn’t blame him for being twitchy. He either had to have huge titanium balls or no brains to be here, a regular human with no way to protect himself, trying to steal from the Corpse Witches—witches whose magic dealt with the dead.

My money was on the no brains thing.

“Uh,” he stuttered, a question obviously on the tip of his tongue.

I arched a brow, “Yeah?”

What was this guy’s name? Didn’t matter. I’d call him Twitchy. It fit and chances were I’d never see him again. Whatever Twitchy and his employer planned, it wouldn’t work. It took Reaper Weed, a corpse, and a Corpse Witch to raise a ghoul. Since they’d never find a Corpse Witch outside of Belleview, the world wasn’t in danger of being invaded by ghouls.

“There’s a… I mean, I think I saw a unicorn on the way here?” He formed his statement as a question.

I shrugged. “There’s a few around.” Probably the same one who’d been using the sign for a back scratcher.

No big deal. I’d been seeing horned horses since the Magic Turn. They’d been regular horses before that—maybe. I didn’t really know. I’d been passing through Belleview and had the unfortunate luck of being here when the magic hit.

Maybe more accurate to say Belleview had the bad luck. I mean, it was my fault the Turn happened.

“Wow, okay.” Twitchy rubbed a hand over his mouth. “Wow.”

No wonder this guy took so long. He’d been sight-seeing.

On my time.

Narrowing his eyes, Twitchy dared a step closer. Leaves crinkled beneath his loafers as he moved from the road into the grass. “I heard you were a zombie.” The man’s unsettling pale blue eyes traveled from the frizzy mess of Crayola-red hair on my head, down to my crossed legs, and back. “You don’t look much like a zombie.”

“That’s because I’m not.” Scowling, I tried to run my fingers through the snarled mess on my head.  

“So, what are you?”

“Not dead.” I gave him my best crazy girl grin.

There wasn’t a word for what I was. I wasn’t undead or anything. I could be killed. I just didn’t stay dead. All because of the magic trapped inside Pandora’s Box that spilled out three years ago when someone tricked me into cracking the lid.

The magic Turned or killed everyone it touched—did a bit of both to me.

“But I heard…”

Knowing Tomas could show up any minute I cut him off. “Didn’t you know anything about this place before your boss sent you?”

“Yeah, but come on. Who’s going to believe it without seeing it?”

I snorted. “Stupid people that come here and get themselves killed. Or worse, Turned.”


  1. Hi Stacy! I really like how you sprinkled in the details of the setting here. I have a really good sense of the look and feel, and you make it clear that it's contemporary yet fantastical. I'm not sure what it is, but I found this version more engaging than the previous. I think the circumstances with Tomas, the Corpse Witches, and Reaper Weed is clearer and more intriguing.

    A few line-edit things, I thought the "Thunk" in quotes was weird, as opposed to putting them in italics.

    This line didn't make much sense to me: Looking down at my old t-shirt, it puckered and pulled a little tight across the middle.

    Maybe if you rewrote it something like, "I looked down at my old t-shirt, puckering and pulling tight across the middle."

    You should probably use a period here instead of a comma: I arched a brow, “Yeah?”

    Anyway, I'm not really sure what else to comment on, so please let me know if you have any questions :)

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Adelle!

      Just when I think I've read the pages over so many times I couldn't possibly miss something... I miss something. So thank you for pointing out the comma after brow. Leftovers from removing a dialogue tag and not the punctuation.

      I also saw an entire word I left out in the unicorn section. Eesh!

  2. Hi!

    Nice changes - nice revision!

    Opening line: “on my lap,” vs. “in my lap.” I actually don’t know which is grammatically correct, or favored, and Google failed me. It just stuck out at me because I would have said donuts are on my lap. Maybe it’s just stylistic preference?

    Otherwise – BAM to your opening paragraph! LOVE it!

    That little addendum – “Not changed much, anyhow,” didn’t make sense to me because it was too far removed from the figure comment and minimized the BAM factor. Delete it and keep us wondering.
    Especially since the next paragraph keeps up the momentum.

    The voice is fabulous. And it’s consistent throughout. You also do more showing, which is great.

    “Thunk!” written the way it is this made me think someone cried the word “Thunk!” If this was normal formatting, I’d italicize this and remove the quotations. BTW, I think plink is a better word to describe an acorn falling onto a car than thunk. Thunk sounds…hefty.

    When I started reading, the placement of the magic film was clear. You have a town, a car, and a girl on a stump. The magic film is between the car and the girl on a stump. OK. But then later on, we read that cars don’t work in Belleview and the buyer left his car outside of town. I thought the magic film defined the border…so wouldn’t the car stop outside town – outside the border – and then the buyer would walk through the film? Or, did he try to drive the car through the film into town, and then the car stopped functioning so he had to walk? I’m sorry if this is nitpicky, but I’m trying to get a clear picture in my head.

    Consider the MC’s placement…she’s sitting on a tree stump, so why does one foot need to be on the ground to balance? She’s sitting, right? No balance necessary.

    Ha – love that unicorn comment. It fits. I think you are missing a word in this sentence: “Its silvery ??? rolled in my direction.”

    These lines we a little confusing because I didn’t have the context: “I did the dirty work for a reason. If anything happened, it would happen to me. It always happened to me.” If I knew what dirty work you meant, these passages would be clearer.

    This is a great line because it ups the stakes and add world-building: “Had it been Tomas, the Corpse Witch enforcer, chances were I’d already be dead.”

    I had to read this a couple of times before I understood: “I’d tried to trade for it first, but Reaper Weed being the key component Corpse Witches used to raise new ghouls, they’d refused. By now the witches would’ve figured out they’d been robbed, and know I’d been the one to do it.” I think it’s just a lot of new information. Maybe go a little slower to allow the reader time to absorb it all? You had just introduced the concept of the Corpse Witches, too.

    Something I found a little distracting is the extensive use of I’d and they’d.

    This time, the Magic Turn had more context and made more sense to me. But I really do like the idea of focusing on Mel’s strange, undead status in this opening scene. It’s more interesting that the Magic Turn, more interesting than the Pandora’s Box. The Pandora’s Box part sounds like it was added just to give something “more” when I’m not sure I need “more,” or to explain something that doesn’t (yet) need explaining. I think Mel’s zombie-esqueness is the most compelling bit of this entire opening – delivered with a super, fun voice - and I would rather keep that a mystery to keep me reading, instead of telling me that Mel opened a forbidden box to make her the way she is.

    Such a nice job! Thanks for sharing,

    1. Appreciate the feedback, Danielle.

      The balancing on the leg is because she is sitting cross legged on the stump and leaning forward to look down the street. I think the cross legged part was somehow lost in revisions when I kept moving that section around. :)

      It's also why I said in and not on, her lap. Technically speaking, I think it should be on and I went back and forth with how which word to use. In my mind sitting, when you sit cross legged you tuck it into your legs to hold it. But I do agree it would read better as "on."

      Thank you!

    2. Oh I see now! About the movement / balancing on the stump. I think you can just leave it that she's sitting cross-legged and not have to say that she's balancing on anything.

      Sit in vs. Sit on - yes I'm not sure! Did you know the use of toward and towards has similar confusion? Toward is mainly used in US publications, and Towards is used in UK publications. Who knew!

    3. Unfortunately, I do know. lol I always type towardS, forwardS, downwardS. Then I have to go back and change them all. My brain is slowly converting, but I still do it plenty.

      As to your suggestion about removing info about the Turn or Pandora's Box, I don't think that's possible. The box is central to the plot. The sale puts everything in motion but everything that happens, happens because of the box. I do agree the Turned or killed line might stick out a tad and I'm playing with moving that, so thank you for the feedback!

  3. Dear Stacy,

    I really like this revision. It clarifies a number of things I hadn’t understood before. You also manage to keep the voice so, so strong.

    One larger comment - She’s being hunted. She doesn’t want to die, though if she does, she’ll resurrect somehow. She’s tense but not terrified. She doesn’t want something to happen to Milt. This led me to two questions. 1) If Milt is caught, would the repercussions be worse? Like he could die for good? If so, can this be clearer? You wouldn’t have to do much. Just write something along the lines of, if they got Milt, he’d be dead as in really dead. 2) From where might the danger approach her? Or, from where might it approach Milt if that’s the real concern? I guess I’m wondering if you can amp up the tension a touch by having her continue to check for danger. Just one more brief mention - a sentence - should do the trick. Instead of the second donut, for instance, she could be doing a scan for danger, danger for herself or for Milt.

    Now that aspects of this are clearer, you might want to take a look at the pacing during the dialogue. First, notice how often they’re saying things that don’t actually convey much. Uh, yeah, etc. are how we speak, but they’re throwaway lines. You might do more to convey who they are through how they speak.

    When you reach the dialogue, I think the pacing should increase. You’ve given us waiting, and now it’s time to take us into action. “These days, almost all the deals Milt and I made...Tomas would be out trying to track me down.” Could move to the waiting section. Maybe place it before “Three hours and the guy…” Another option would be to connect it to the dirty work line.

    You spend a lot of time describing the guy. I’d cut this to a minimum. You’re using up prime real estate on a guy who doesn’t matter at all in the long run. Also, in this section she seems to have completely forgotten she was worried about danger to herself and/or to Milt. The explanations between the lines of dialogue suggest pauses and a lot of time passing while people aren’t saying much. Just keep what’s absolutely essential, and if she’s distracted, have her distracted by looking for Milt and/or danger.

    You have two paragraphs about the Turn. I’d keep it to one. My inclination would be to cut most of the stuff about the horned horses. (Cut “No big was my fault the Turn happened”) This would also tighten that section since she answers him and there’s a long span of time before he responds with the “Wow.” I’d keep the paragraph “There wasn’t a word for what I was…”

    This guy isn’t scared of zombies and what they might do to him? He’s keeping his distance, but he doesn’t seem worried she’s going to attack him. I realize she’s not a zombie, but from his question, he seems to believe she is until she answers him.

    “Knowing Tomas could show up…” reminded me that she was concerned about getting caught, which is why I think you could cut some of the passages here. Give the section a little more urgency by crafting her so she’s trying to finish this quickly to stay away from Tomas.

    I know my comments seem like a lot, but they’re pretty tweaky. This is just a bit of shaping for to increase the pacing.

    Looking forward to our final week with this,

    1. Hi, Laura!

      Thank you so much for the feedback. I really appreciate the time you took to go over the details and agree with you on the "tweaky" points. I'm excited to dive and and see which/how/where to apply changes!

      The issue with Milt does come up before chapter one finishes (cliff hanger chapter ending)! I'm wondering how much or if I need to frontload anything about the kind of jeopardy he is in if he gets caught instead of Mel.

      Looking forward to working these ideas in. Thank you again!


  4. Hi Stacy,

    Great job incorporating the feedback from round 1! I really like the way your pages are reading! This is definitely a stronger draft.

    I think the new descriptive language you've added is working really well. In particular, I LOVE the idea of magic within Belleview not being of the stereotypical variety -- for example, the making the dingy unicorn scratch its backend against the sign is fantastic! I think we've all had our fill of gorgeous, flawless silver unicorns. Not that there's anything wrong with them, but it feels quite refreshing to have a mangy gray one with an itchy butt. I'm really hoping that this type of quirkily unexpected magic is what we'll be seeing throughout your book. Add a few ornery fairies and a rodent-sized pesky dragon or two and I'm hooked for sure!

    As for changes for the next round, I'd say what Laura suggested to you is right on the money. Definitely think about the most efficient use of real estate in these opening pages. Tighten things up where you can and pay careful attention to pacing. It's super important that your first five pages pull readers along at a furious pace.

    On a related note, I'd love to see if you could end your first five on a really tense note. Something that would make the reader HAVE to keep reading on. I'm not sure how you envision this scene ending, but if it were me, I'd have Mel hear what she assumes is another acorn falling (or something else) only to turn around and find Tomas pointing a crossbow (or wand or human femur or whatever weapon a corpse witch would use) at her head. End the pages there and I'd totally want to keep reading. (That's how you get full requests!) This may mean losing some of the dialogue with Twitchy so you can get further on in your story by the end of page five, but that certainly won't be a bad thing.

    Keep up the great work! Can't wait to see the next round!

    All best,

    1. Hi Rob!

      Thank you for the kind words and the feedback. Definitely made me smile. And I agree, who doesn't love sparkly unicorns? But a dingy gray one is just more up my alley. Fits my slightly twisted sense of humor.

      Between your and Laura's suggestions, I have my work cut out for me! However, it gave me a ton of ideas and I'm excited to incorporate them.

      I do get what you are saying about moving up the suspense. There is a big cliff hanger end to the chapter that is coming soon, but I can toy with the pacing and shorten things up. I don't think I can get it in the 1250 words we are working on here, but certainly within five pages.

      Frankly, the feedback from this workshop has made me wonder how necessary interaction with Twitchy is. Who Mel stole from to make the sale happen is what's important. It's what sets everything in motion. Maybe I can have her bale before Twitchy even gets there.

      Thank you again. Can't wait to get to work on the suggestions you and Laura have given me!


  5. Hi Stacy,

    I think this revision really improved on your first submission, great job! Overall I felt there was a better sense of place here, both in terms of being able to picture the scene as well as with the “flavor” of the world with details like the unicorn. I also thought there was some good info about the Reaper Weed here that helped me understand its purpose better, and it was interesting to find out it wouldn’t work outside of the town.

    The tension in this scene really amps up with the line about Tomas (“Had it been Tomas…”) which was great. Because part of the scene has Mel sitting by herself, adding in that sense of urgency was a good move, especially because “Twitchy” is slow to do anything. Speaking of him, the added and changed details about “Twitchy” made him feel more real to me this time around, which made me more invested in the scene as a whole.

    Just a few little things to think about: not sure if it’s a formatting issue, but I didn’t know why “Thunk!” was in quotes, and it also seemed like an extreme sound for an acorn to make. And though there’s less backstory this time, the line about Pandora’s Box feels like telling and slows the pace of the scene. It took me out of the immediate action and seemed out of place. One more thing is the ending of these pages. The dialogue has been going on for a bit now, and I’m not sure if I see it ending shortly, or how. I would have liked to have seen the dialogue building to something to give the scene more forward momentum.

    Overall, great work on this revision! Excited to read the final one next week.


  6. Thanks for the feedback, Alyssa! Taking everything in and I'm applying some changes that I'm really excited about! Can't wait for the final week.


  7. Stacy, I have a revision due to my editor tomorrow. You and your story are on my mind. I'll try to get you some feedback tomorrow evening!

    1. Hi Wendy! I completely understand and appreciate you stopping in. Good luck with the revision!

    2. Stacy, sorry for the delay.

      You've done a lot with this revision and it's much stronger. Mel's voice is ringing strong. I still love the magical references and the fact that magic isn't all fairy dust and rainbows. There is a certain grime that you give to it that I find unique and refreshing. Your details are spot on and engages the reader.

      Okay, as far as feedback for you for improvements. I'm going to be a bit blunt with my thoughts like I would with any of my critique partners. Not that I don't do that for every mentee, but with this second revision I didn't quite see the changes I'd hoped for.

      I've only skimmed through the other comments, but I was glad to see there were more than comment on my biggest concern about your piece. Often times you get one, just one page, to impress your agent. If you you fill it up with exposition and back story, you lose the opportunity to bring in action which engages the reader. All of the story telling appears from my side as a reader of only five pages to be just fluff. The doughnuts, the tight shirt, the unicorn, etc, is great details, but you're wasting too much time on them. For example. "Licking the sugary glaze from my fourth doughnut, I glared at the magic film that shimmered behind the mangy unicorn. I considered a fifth pastry, even though my shirt was snug around my middle. Body image was never a thing I struggled with since soon enough, I'd find myself in the sixteen-year-old body with a bad haircut I once had. That is after I died...again." this crappy, but it was impromptu so you'd see what I'm aiming at. In two sentences, the reader immediately can envision nuances about your narrator, your setting, and your world in its big picture. This frees you to get to the dialogue quick and hopefully spell out a bit more about who she is and what her purpose is to the story. Body language, attitude, clothing, communication habits, etc, tells more about a character than back story (although this is important too but in small doses).

      A quick comment on some editing issues. You use the word "had" often. So often that I counted 25 uses either in its own form or in a contraction before I stopped counting. That's a big red flag for one of three things: "telling not showing", too much back story or flashbacks, or weak verbs.

      This is some harsh feedback, I know, but because I am so intrigued with your story and want to see it in print, I decided I'd give you the heart to heart that I have with my own critique partners. Please, please, don't take it as I think your story stinks. In fact, I think the exact opposite. I love it! And I want to see it sparkle!!!

      Love your imagination and voice. I can't wait to see your pitch next week!

    3. Hi Wendy! You have no idea how much I appreciate blunt honesty with the feedback. I'm a firm believer that without the truth, we cannot improve.

      I have made much bigger changes in this revision already. I moved the action closer, you begin to FEEL it is about to happen at the end of these pages. But I'm looking forward to digging into the suggestions you made today and figure out how to apply them.

      Finally, your kind words on the voice/story were wonderful to wake up to. There are those days you begin to wonder if what you are writing is any good (isn't that a thing with every writer?!?), so your (and the other mentors) generous comments in that regard mean a lot.

      Looking forward to the final critique! Thank you.