Sunday, October 15, 2017

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Harris Rev 1

Genre: Young Adult fantasy 
Title: Valista

Why wasn’t it you?

Father’s words carve through my flesh like a knife.

Kneeling beside his pallet on the floor, I blot his feverish brow with a damp cloth. His body shudders as he coughs, a wet sound that deposits blood on his lower lip. When the hacking stops, he gurgles on his inhalation. I wash the red droplets away, something I’ve done for weeks now that he can’t, and rinse the rag in a bowl of water beside me.

Why wasn’t it you?

I swipe my sleeve across my own sweaty brow, despising this shadow that haunts me still. Father only said it once, on the first full moon after the summer solstice, the day chosen to celebrate my birth, staring at me with eyes blurry from cactus wine. I was barely five, but I remember his voice, thick with alcohol and torment.

Perhaps he later regretted the lapse, yet the damage was done. I knew my father hated me. He provided the required food and shelter, but mostly he sat, eyes unfocused, accusing in his silence. He’d lost his beloved wife to childbirth, their energetic bond broken, ripping away the closest intimacy two people can share. A lethal blow. It’s just taken him sixteen years to succumb.

Staccato raps sound on our door, snapping me from my thoughts, and my heart trips. The village healer. She’s seen fit to come.

I cross the packed-dirt floor and open the door. The healer’s expression is aloof, but her emotions rifle my body as if they were my own. She’d rather be anywhere but here. I step from the threshold. “Please come in.”

My lips tighten—I know it’s sparse. I don’t need her to remind me.

I wrap my fingers around my own necklace. We all carry them, these green minerals found in the mountains far to the north. We keep them close for comfort and small healings, but the healer uses a large one, one free of imperfections. Even from across the room, its pulsing energy thumps against my skin, dwarfing the gentle throb of my own stone.

A hint of a breeze brings me the familiar smell of hay and dung from our barn. I should tend to our neglected sheep while I can. Stealing away while Father slept has allowed me to feed and water them, but there’s a pregnant ewe that needs watching.

My shoulders stay pinned to the wall, and then stiffen when the healer calls my name.

Adanya. I don’t hear the name often. It’s ironic I carry it. It means ‘Her father’s daughter.’ Father never uses it. He calls me Girl.

The healer repeats the call, her tone harsh. I don’t move, my fists tight to my thighs. She joins me outside our hut, and her face is creased in a deep frown. “It is not good,” she says.

I choke on the lump in my throat. Our relationship is not much, but my father is all I have.

She hands me the poppet. “I’ve transferred what sickness I could. Burn it to cleanse your hut.”

Clutching the doll in my hand, I wrap my arms around my stomach and enter the hut. The stench of sickness hangs in the air. A few steps take me to the fire, and I toss the poppet into the flames. It crackles and hisses when it ignites. Its smoke turns a bright green and forms a tornadic vapor that swirls out the smoke hole in the ceiling. The poppet disintegrates into ash.

I freeze at the use of my mother’s name. Before his illness, he often lamented how much I resemble her, his anguish seeping from every pore. He strokes my hair, hand trembling. “My Farai. So beautiful.”

Love flows from him in a way I’ve never felt, and I squeeze my fingers into a fist around the cloth. This emotion is not for me.

Why wasn’t it you?

This is happening more often. The lack of water in our irrigation canals has forced people from outlying areas into our village in search of food. We’ve pooled our resources, but the stress of feeding all the newcomers is forcing raids on enemy Andvari farms. We’re allowed only two warriors to do this task by the Honani leader. The rest of our young men train with her deep in the desert, leaving those of us along the border—old men, women, and children—defenseless against the Andvari.

The other warrior, Nikhil, eyes the pair, shaking his head with a smile, a scar on his jaw blazing crimson in the heat. He slaps Jai on the back and enters the chief’s hut with the bags.


  1. Hi Lynn,

    Keeping Adanya in the hut with her father the entire time the healer is there is an effective and noticeable change. It definitely keeps the reader in a state of worry and grief with her.

    I understand her father is all she has, but in that moment of pain when he lovingly calls her mother's name, it might drive home how much he's hurt her if she decides she needs some physical distance from him. Possibly she could already be standing in the open doorway when the riders appear. Or maybe you've just done such a great job of making me feel sympathy for Adanya that I don't think her father deserves her tears. :)

    Nicely done.


  2. Hi Lynn,

    I really like that you moved the ewe scene! Concentrating on the father works well and just when I was feeling like the scene was going on too long, you introduced the riders. Very nice!

    The riders help move the story forward and open the world for the reader so I think that's an excellent choice here. I was a little confused at all the description of why riders were going out. You may be able to trim that down here and just give us the basics, perhaps focusing on how Adanya feels about them. Are they saviors or necessary evils? The others crowd around, but what does Adanya do? Does she shrink back? Is there any implication for her? Does she hope to take part in the bounty they brought back?

    One new question I have here is that you've really presented them as outcasts--her and her father. In the first round, I thought it was because they were poor, but is there more to them being so isolated? Are they strange in some way? Are there mutterings about her? Or her dad? You've made me wonder.

    I had to pause at the paragraph starting "Perhaps he regretted..." First of all, I had a hard time thinking he did regret it or that she thought he might. And the rest of that paragraph felt like telling. I think the point is that Adanya was supposed to die on that night. Or Father wishes it was her who died. Can you simplify that? You're so good about giving little nuggets that pack a punch. I think you can do that here, as well. We can learn about the mom later, though I don't think much is necessary. When Father calls out the mother's name lovingly, we know all we need.

    A couple of little things: "His words carved through my flesh like a knife." I'm wondering if you can revisit this and find a more unique way of saying 'like a knife.' It's overused and I also think it's an opportunity to world build. Do they have unique knives? Or is there some other tool that would make sense for Adanya to reference that would add flavor (without confusing the reader.)

    Also, I'm wondering how Adanya's world will change when her dad dies? I like how she thinks that their relationship isn't much, but he's all she has. Is she barely managing on her own since he's been sick? Can a girl live on her own in this society? It might not be needed in these first few pages, but when she's outside, considering the ewe and the riders, I wonder if it would creep in to her mind...even to think that she won't think about it.

    Keep going--excited to see how the story develops.

  3. This is an excellent revision. Seriously, well done!

    I only have a couple small comments:
    -watch your use of "my father" and "my mother" (and other names like this). When in deep POV, she would think Father or Mother or whatever she calls them in her head.
    -this is just a suggestion but I feel like this scene should end before you move onto the riders. The goal here seems to be for her to help him despite how bad their relationship is. I think you should wrap it up with her doing something like burning the doll or something else that wraps up the intense emotion you've built. Obviously, I don't know what comes next so maybe there is something related about to happen. If so, it's fine, but if you're moving onto something other than her father's illness, I would start a new scene.

    Good luck!

  4. Lynn,

    I'd echo Holly's suggestion of beginning a new scene with the arrival of the riders, depending on what comes next after this section. Perhaps this scene could even end after she has burned the poppet and then remembers the pregnant ewe. This would hint at that life/death imagery that worked so well in your original submission (but which couldn't be retained here). It would also put her outside for the next scene, where she could still watch the arrival of the warriors.

    The use of the word "energetic" to describe the bond between her mother and father perked up my ears. Knowing that this is a fantasy piece, is it actual, magical energy, or did their love just make them happier and more active? If it's supposed to be ambiguous, I wonder if there's still a better word for it.

    Why were the goats distressed? Is it at the arrival of the warriors, or the lack of water?

    I like how much more of the world your revision has revealed! Great work!

  5. Hi Lynn,

    I like this! This definitely works better without the ewe scene. I had assumed they lived out alone, so it was good to get a better sense of their surrounding. And more details about Adanya and her father's relationship.

    I like the addition of the warriors, but like Amy D, I was also confused about the explanation. I read it as what they were doing is a necessary evil, but I agree it would help to give a little more information about Adanya's feelings about the warriors. But we just get the explanation then an immediate intro to the new characters and now how Adanya feels about them. Given what's happening with her father, is she especially happy to see them? More upset? I don't think there needs to be tons of info, just a little something indicating her feelings with everything else going on.

  6. Lynn,

    I really like this revision. I felt much more invested in Adanya by the end, which made me want to read more.

    I agree that it flowed better without the ewe scene in the first five pages, but I hope you do put it elsewhere in the story!

    I had a much better understand of Adanya's father and his illness in this version. I did wonder how she *felt* about having to care for him (for weeks), especially since Adanya believes him to hate her. Does she begrudge him the care? Or does she do it willingly, just because he's her father? Does *she* love him, despite his feelings towards her?

    When she hears the horses, I got a little lost. Adanya is clearly upset about him mistaking her for her mother. But then she jumps up to see what's going on and tears are done immediately. I agree that maybe she might feel a need to put physical distance between them and already be at the door, or something similar.

    I'm curious about the warriors and want to read more. Great job!


  7. Lynn,

    Nice revision!

    I love that we know more about what's going on with her father and why she believes he hates her. The snippets of the past were enough for me to get a feel for the kind of man he is (at least through her eyes). Very well done.

    I love the detail about the healers living in much more wealthy quarters. You have a wonderful way of adding these story world details. Very nice.

    One thing I really think that could enhance this scene--especially since it seems to be an important part of who she is, is to add some moments of emotion. By the time the healer comes, we haven't had a lot of emotion from her. Like how does she feel that the healer is there, and how does she feel that her father is dying. Right now, I see a numbness, and that can work for this scene, but I still need to feel that. When the healer gets there and it's mentioned that your character can feel the emotions of others (which I LOVE--I might be partial, I have a character who can feel others' emotions, too.) I'd like a little more about that. Just how it works inside of her. What does your character take in from the healer that lets her know she'd rather be anywhere else?

    When we read this line, "Sounds so normal they make my chest ache," we are finally let in to the character's emotions in this scene--by way of showing. I'd like more snippets like this at crucial moments throughout. Another good example of you showing that emotion is this part: “It is not good,” she says. I choke on the lump in my throat.

    And a nit-picky thing: since the healer knows her name, would it be all right to maybe introduce it a little sooner and have the "father calls me Girl" moment? The only reason I say this is because we aren't sure what her gender is. Or, gosh, some mention of her father's blood getting on her dress or something sooner could clue us in, then the name part can wait. I would love to know her gender sooner so I can picture her.

    I agree that making the riders come could be a different scene. The thing that happens here is that we are introduced to a lot of new characters. That's fine, but if they're to be important, make each of those introductions matter--make them memorable.

    I think you've done an amazing job here! Best of luck to you!