Sunday, October 22, 2017

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Harris Rev 2

Name: Lynn Harris
Genre: YA fantasy


Stolen from her desert tribe, sixteen-year-old empath Adanya is cursed to fatten a predatory witch who feeds on fear. Her torment becomes the witch’s meal of choice.

Prince Regin’s glorious destiny is to lead his father’s forces and annihilate the desert tribes. But when he finds Adanya in the clutches of the witch and they fall in love, Regin realizes he must defy his father’s command. 

The only one who covets the imminent war more than Regin’s father is the witch, who knows she will feast on the suffering it elicits. To mitigate the witch’s curse and save their homelands, Adanya and Regin must journey to Valista, a world where their fears take life-threatening forms. Their bond is tested, and a new truth emerges—there’s more to the witch’s interest in Adanya than merely as a meal.

Told in alternating perspectives, VALISTA, a YA fantasy, explores how courage can survive amidst oppression and hate, and how fear drives religious oppression. The manuscript would appeal to fans of THE WINNER’S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski, STOLEN SONGBIRD by Danielle L. Jensen, and SNOW LIKE ASHES by Sara Raasch. It is complete at 95,000 words and is a stand-alone work with series potential.


Why wasn’t it you?

Father’s words are like a well-honed blade through my flesh.

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, then 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 over my own sweaty brow, despising this shadow that haunts me. 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. He hadn’t accepted life as it was—a wretched daughter but no wife, his beloved lost to childbirth. 

I mended his clothes. I cooked his favorite meals. Sheared our sheep and traded our wool while he blunted his pain in drink. It was never enough. He never wanted me.

Yet I do all I can to hold on to him.

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

I hurry across the packed-dirt floor and open the door. The healer’s expression is aloof, but her emotions rip through me as if they were my own. I fight my body’s responses—her disdain urges my eyes to narrow, her scorn clenches my jaw. She’d rather be anywhere but here. 

Keeping my face composed, I step from the threshold. “Please come in.”

She enters, saying nothing, her satchel slung over her shoulder. She glances around our mud hut with a grimace, and my gaze follows hers. A single room. Thread-bare rugs. Sleeping pallets on the floor instead of the usual cots. Nothing like the lavish quarters of a healer. 

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

The healer kneels by Father and places a hand on his forehead. The faint flicker of our fire illuminates the goddess tattoo at the pulse point on her neck. Pulling her satchel forward, she retrieves a poppet crafted from coarse fabric with a simple painted face and places the doll on Father’s chest. She slides a necklace from inside her shirt, kisses the dark, jadeite stone lashed to its leather tie, and lays it on the poppet.

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. From across the room, its pulsing energy thumps against my skin, dwarfing the gentle throb of my own stone.

The healer rests a hand on her gem, another on Father’s chest, and begins to chant in the ancient language of our people, using the stone as a conduit to remove the sickness from his body and transfer it to the poppet. I slip out the open door into the desert sunshine. 

Leaning my back against our hut, I close my eyes and suck in the fresh air, the dry heat is as familiar as my own skin. The sounds of our village drift to my ears. Women bargaining at the market. The rhythm of small feet at play. An occasional old man’s laugh. Sounds so normal they make my chest ache.

A hint of a breeze brings me the familiar smell of hay and dung from our barn. I should tend to our neglected flock 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. They 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 Father is all I have. 

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

Sensing her eagerness to be done with this business, I hand her the bag of wool I placed outside the door days ago, hoping she’d come. She hurries away as all villagers do when forced to visit us. Father’s angry outbursts and erratic behavior drove them away years ago. They avoid him. And me.

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.

When I return to Father, his dark eyes are open. I dampen the cloth in the bowl and mop his face and chest. His gaze, glassy with fever, locks onto mine, and he mutters, “Farai.”

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 around the cloth. This emotion is not for me.

Why wasn’t it you?

Father’s chest racks, and blood spews from his mouth, more than ever before. I dab the mess, but it keeps coming until he lies back on the pallet, eyes closed, barely breathing.

I scramble back, my breath ragged gasps. It didn’t work. The healer’s magic didn’t work. If he dies, the isolation … the loneliness …

I bolt blindly out the open door and stumble into the side of a horse. It whinnies and steps sideways, almost bumping another horse and rider, and the warrior on its back utters a coarse sound. “Watch yourself!” 

The warrior’s irritation lashes through me and curls my hands into fists. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, shrinking back toward my hut.

His face tightens, but he says nothing more, riding on with the other warrior. Goats crying in distress are tied across their mounts in front of them, and bulging burlap bags dangle from the horses’ flanks.

This is happening more often. Drought and crop failure have forced people from outlying areas into our village. The stress of feeding all the newcomers is forcing raids on enemy Andvari farms to ease our hunger. 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 Andvari reprisals. 

The riders stop in front of the village chief’s home and dismount. My neighbors congregate around the men, their voices loud and animated, congratulating the warriors on their success.


  1. Lynn,

    My limited instincts about a query tell me it feels like Rigen and Andanya falling in love comes across as glossed over in the second paragraph. Maybe something more along the lines of, "But everything changes when he finds Adanya in the clutches of the witch, and they soon fall in love. To help her, he realizes he must defy his father’s command." I don't know. I'm sure "everything changes" is cliché as it gets! HAHA! I trust you'll get much better advice from the experts! : )

    Your piece is even stronger after this revision. My primary concerns relate to Andanya's reactions to certain events.

    First, I'm not sure why she slips out of the door while the healer does her thing. I can assume, but I don't know for sure. Is the process overwhelming? Is she glad to have a moment's rest? Just some more insight into her thought process would help.

    I could also use more of her thoughts when she receives the emotion that is not for her. It's the moment that makes me most feel for her. But I wonder if there's more emotion to be mined from the fact that, as you establish earlier, she needs his love even as he's been such a miserable father. What does it mean for her to squeeze her fingers around the cloth? Would it be tempting for her to pour her heart out to him? To reciprocate that love as though his words ARE for her? What causes her not to lay into him with a lifetime's worth of anger and envy for the mother she never knew? If his sharing this misplaced love with her were a frequent occurrence I could understand her not dwelling on it. But it sounds like this has caught her off guard.

    Finally, does she bolt out the door to try to bring the healer back? Maybe that line could say, "I bolt out the door to call after her..."

    And if that's the case, if we're operating on the idea that we need to catch a reader's attention in these first 1250 words, perhaps it would be better to resolve the issue of her father's illness persisting than it would be to introduce us to the warriors, the farm raids, etc. Either that, or flesh out her thoughts on the illness persisting, make us feel even more what a tragedy it would (will?) be for her if her father does not survive. Because at least in this small section, that's where the conflict and the story is.

    If you revise again, you might want to consider doing so with a focus on creating an even more linear narrative. I feel pulled back and forth in a distracting way right now, but it's nothing severe and it's nothing that can't be fixed with some transitional sentences. Or perhaps the solution would be not to have her leave the hut until after the healer is done so that the narrative only switches from the act of healing and Andanya's recollections of her childhood, her family's place in the village, etc.

    Great touch, pointing out how the village doesn't like to visit them even for goods!

    Your work on this has been a pleasure to read these past few weeks! You've managed throughout to set a somber tone for a trying scene without making it too dire and off-putting. It's strong writing and a compelling story! Good luck going forward!


  2. Hi Lynn,

    Regarding your pitch, I like your hook--the predatory witch who feeds on fear. Scary, with an almost fairy-tale-like vibe. My only suggestion for you would be to change the word 'mitigate.' It suggests a weakening of the curse, and I think you could use a stronger verb.

    The paragraph where the healer is eager to be away from Adanya's hut--I like that you changed it a little bit. "Father’s angry outbursts and erratic behavior drove them away years ago. They avoid him. And me." You were more specific here, naming her father's problematic behavior, instead of having there just be a general disregard for their family. That's a good change.

    I like that you have Adanya bolting out the door to get away from the pain her father is causing her--both because he's going to die and leaver her alone, and because the only love in him wasn't for her. It creates even more sympathy for Adanya, and drives the story forward when she bumps into the warrior's horse.

    You did a great job tightening up your pages. Good luck with your manuscript.


  3. Hi Lynn,

    This is an engaging, emotional beginning to your piece. I like that you've shown the fear of losing her father in this world, but also the struggle she's had living with him and being connected to his actions. The pitch, though, made me wonder if the male POV changes his course due to insta-love upon seeing Adanya. Also, consider changing "alternate perspectives" to say exactly how many people tell this story. Agents like to know ahead of time.

    I loved the details you supplied about how the healer tried to draw the sickness away. These were concrete and clear. I also enjoyed the way you immediately established Adanya's abilities. You might add how the emotions of her dying father are what drive her outside when the healer arrives. Perhaps she can feel how her father actually might want to go to rejoin his lost wife? Or she just is consumed by his pain? Just something to consider.

    Kaitlyn Johnson

  4. Hi Lynn,

    I've loved seeing your story develop over these few weeks. You've done an amazing job with small changes that make a big difference. I feel clearer now on why they're isolated; I understand the world better; I'm intrigued by the riders.

    I didn't realize that Adanya is an empath from the scene. But that's in the pitch so I wonder if you can bring that out just a bit more here. I thought she was a healer. I do really like the line about the emotion not being for her. That is an excellent hint to me that she feels emotions in a way the rest of us don't. Just a little more I think would ground us in her reality as an empath.

    I'm no expert in pitches so I've tried not to comment too much on them. (I haven't had to write one in over a decade.) But I was confused by a few things that I wonder if you can clear up. For instance, "cursed to fatten a predatory witch." The language is lovely, but I had to read it a few times. Is there an actual curse? But she was stolen, too.... I'd be as clear as you can: Stolen by a witch and held captive so the witch can feed on Adanya's emotions. I also agree that your pitch makes it sound as if there's Insta-love so I'd take another look at how you can enrich that.

    Overall, great work! Your writing is very strong, and the world feels real to me and immediately you've introduced drama and a character who I want to know more about. Really great work! Thanks for letting me part of the process. Good luck moving forward!

    1. Hi Amy, Quick question. I had always hoped that Adanya's empath abilities would be clear by these lines: "The healer’s expression is aloof, but her emotions rip through me as if they were my own. I fight my body’s responses—her disdain urges my eyes to narrow, her scorn clenches my jaw. She’d rather be anywhere but here." Does this fly by the reader too fast? Or were you primed to see her as a healer by the scene with the ewe?

    2. Hi Lynn,
      Interesting! I did overlook the undercurrent there of her being an empath. I assumed she was reacting to what was an obvious response by the healer. You recognize someone has disdain for you and your eyes narrow and your jaw clenches--so it felt like Adanya's own responses. And perhaps it's because of the ewe scene and my first impression.

      It might be just fine to leave it as is. But it also makes me wonder if you can't use this as an opportunity to really bring her empath abilities to life--to make them (and her) unique. I know this is going to date me, but I still remember an old Star Trek episode about an empath who absorbed pain and it would physically manifest in her as lesions on her skin, etc. You definitely don't need to do anything like that, but I wonder if she does feel other's emotions different to how she feels her own? Does that make sense? Like is it a heat? A blue filter over her sight, a bitterness on her tongue, a slicing pain in her gut? You might not need to address this here, but since I'm fascinated by what it would mean to be an empath, I'm guessing others would be too. Hope that helps clarify.

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  6. Hi Lynn,

    Good comps for the pitch! I was confused by the sentence. One thing I'm missing the connection to Regin take out the tribes and the witch. Does he just happen to find Adanya and the witch or was that part of his missions? I'm assuming he didn't know Adanya was with the witch?

    As for the pages, there are a lot of great edits that make this pop a lot more! "Well-honed blade" is much stronger than "knife." The earlier versions gave us some emotional feelings from Adanya about her father, but it's really ramped up here. I feel like we get more bitterness from her, but also it's clear that she stills care for him in some way. I like the changes regarding the introduction of the warriors as well. We see how she's treated by the healer and the warrior's reaction to her feels inline with that. You really put a lot of work into these revisions and it's certainly working well here.

    Good luck!

  7. Comments on Pitch:

    I have to be honest, I was totally confused by most of this pitch. How is she cursed to fatten a witch? Is she incapable of leaving her? Did the witch curse her or did someone else? Is there an anti-curse? And how does the Prince find her with the tribe he's supposed to annihilate if she was stolen from it?

    Aside from clarifying some of these items, I think you need to focus on the goals of both of these characters. Goals must always be personal and tangible. Saving your homeland is neither of these things as we can't see when it's done nor can we understand the personal motivation behind it. What does she actually want--to be free from the witch so she can return to her family or so she can be with him? And what does he want--to be free to choose her? Finally, what do they have to lose if they don't reach their goals? It can't just be the goal itself (love, for example). There needs to be something bigger at stake--something that is more important than anything else.

    Good luck!

  8. Comments on pages:

    -Watch the places where you're giving the action to the body part. "His body shudders" should be "He shudders" and "my gaze follows her..." should be "I follow...". This happens many other times (My shoulders, my lips, my fists...). Also, saying "A few steps take me to the fire" is also removing the action from the character. You don't want to do this. She needs to own every action and every thought.
    -I think you need to explain why she slips out of the hut and into the sunshine at the moment the healer is trying to save her father's life because it kind of comes across as her caring more about sunshine than him.
    -It doesn't make sense for her to hear women bartering if her property is large enough for a barn. They would have to be doing so right in front of her in order for her to hear.
    -Don't ever use ly adverbs such as blindly unless it's inside dialogue. This is a major no-no!

    Good luck!

  9. Hi Lynn!

    Great job on the revisions. Your voice is really shining through here.

    I'd still love to see a bit more visceral reaction from her when the healer comes. In that scene, I'm not sure how she feels about her father getting healed or that the healer is there.

    And maybe take some more time with her when she realizes the healer's magic didn't work before rushing into the scene with the warriors. It seems a little forced.

    Other than that, this reads so much smoother. Nicely done.

    As for the pitch, I might just work on being specific rather than flowery. I think it sounds very intriguing. But I wonder how would her fear fatten a witch? Is this literal? Her powers? So be specific there instead.

    And in the second paragraph, how would he defy his father's orders specifically? What will happen if he does? If he doesn't?

    And how will Adanya saver her homeland? What will happen if she doesn't? Those specifics in the pitch will really help, I think.

    Very nice job! Best of luck to you!

  10. Lynn,

    Please forgive my delay in response. It's been one of those weeks.

    I absolutely want to read this book. The pitch was intriguing to me (I think it could stand to be tweaked because it had moments that confused me but the others have already mentioned what I was thinking).

    I felt like this revision was a huge improvement from your original. It definitely left me wanting more! It flowed much better and let me into Adanya's head in a way the original didn't.

    As far as her being an empath, and the lines you were discussing with Amy - I didn't catch it either. I'm not sure it needs to change though. If Adanya doesn't know she's an empath yet, I think it's just enough to make the reader go, "Oh!" down the road. If she does know, I think that needs to be further explained a bit.

    I am so impressed with how far your story has come. Good luck to you!