Saturday, October 7, 2017

1st 5 pages October Workshop- McGuire

Name: Amy McGuire
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Chapter One

Chicago. December, 2015.

The low-level tension under my skin notices him five seconds before I do.

It’s Friday, right after fifth period gym, and the crowd is thick as I exit the girls’ locker room. For reasons I can’t name I glance around, searching for something. But what?

I almost give up, prepared to ignore whatever is making me twitchy, when—there. A boy.

In that fleeting moment, I can’t help but wonder if fate is about to mess with me because (a) I usually skip gym, which, on any other day, would have placed me well outside the trajectory of his path, and (b) I’m boy blind.

I can *see* boys; I know they’re there. I just fail to perceive any great difference between them.

Not so with this boy. Though I didn’t catch a glimpse of him until he’d already passed me, his retreating back holds my undivided attention. He’s simply right-place, right-time, and as he walks away, something inexplicable happens. I follow him. One minute I’m heading to calculus, happy to be free of the odor and aggression of teenagers in uniform shorts, and the next I’m trailing an unknown figure down a packed hallway.

It’s a nice figure from behind. At least, I assume it must be, considering I completely changed course to go after it. Just to be sure, I pick a different guy out of the crowd at random, tilting my head as I examine his lean body. Then I choose another guy, chewing my bottom lip as I study his perfect skin and sleek hair. The second guy catches me and he smirks, all arrogant vanity, and gives me an upward nod.


Baseline established, I take another long look at the guy I’m following. I was right. Nice. Watching him move I almost feel…not nothing. And I want more of it.

The guy has roughly six inches on me, putting him around six-one or six-two, and he carries himself with a gravity most guys my age don’t have. He’s wearing dark jeans, black utility boots, and a navy T-shirt. The shirt has a small white graphic centered right below the crew neck on the back. I can’t make it out. I can, however, thoroughly make out how the shirt hugs him in interesting places.


I nearly groan.

“I know you can hear me, Rowan!” It’s a warning. One I’m expected to obey.

Already regretting it, I lift my hands to clutch my backpack straps and look over my shoulder, sifting through the sea of faces for the one I know as well as my own. Harper Boyd, best friend and pocket-sized human, is fifty feet behind me and gaining fast.

Harper and I go way back. *Way*, way back. Free agents at birth, otherwise known as sad little orphan babies, we’ve been hustled in and out of foster care facilities our entire lives. We haven’t always remained together, but peculiar chance keeps returning us to one another. At present, we live in group home in Norwood Park, where we were placed within weeks of each other during freshman year. I call it The Layover: another pit stop on the way to somewhere better.

As I swivel my head back around I realize an enormous guy sporting a Tyler varsity jacket is keeping pace with me, grinning at me. Built like a rock formation, he has the smashed nose of a fighter and a shock of red hair.

“She your sister?” he asks.

I stare at him, puzzled by the intrusion. He’s practicing some sort of football hand drill, the motion so effortless I doubt he’s aware of it. Holding a football palm down, he drops it, whips his hand around it midair, and then grabs it before it can hit the ground.

“No,” I say.

He’s not the first to assume blood connects me to Harper. My earliest memories have her stomping around in them and people pick up on it wherever we go, as if we carry the stink of long familiarity.

“Coulda fooled me,” he says. “She yells at you just like my mom and sisters yell at me. Course, my mom is a battalion chief for the Chicago Fire Department, and my sisters are all cops. They’re trained to sound like that.”

“Like what?”

His grin widens. “Authoritative.”

“Rowan Darroch!” Speak of the Authoritative.

Me and the big guy turn in unison. The second my eyes find Harper’s, she flashes me one of our secret signals—*are you okay*?

I slant my head, brow furrowed, and mouth *Why*?

She jerks her chin in the big guy’s direction.

I flap a hand—*he’s harmless*.

She nods once, satisfied, and resumes plowing through the crowd, leaving a string of curses and pissed off faces in her wake.

It’s always been that way between us. *She* likes to think she’s my protector. *I* like to think she’s a terminator unit sent back in time by Skynet to stick her nose into everything I do. Either way, and whether I like it or not, she kind of belongs to me.

“Sooo,” the big guy says, “you and Harper got plans for tonight?”

I pop an eyebrow. “Harper?” I don’t remember telling him her name.

He shrugs, his cheeks turning pink. “I may have asked around.” He transfers the football to his other hand and resumes the drill. “Anyway, there’s this party happening tonight in Forest Glen. If I mention it to her, you think she’d go with me?”

*No*, is what I should say, because Harper doesn’t date. She and I have that in common. Granted, I’ve never actually been asked (my default facial expression is leave-me-alone; it’s very effective), but Harper is propositioned all the time, by all the sexes.

But when I open my mouth to discourage him, I have one of those sudden epiphanies. If he asks Harper out, she’ll have to deal with him. If she has to deal with him, she’ll be distracted. If she’s distracted, I can sneak away. Alone.

“What’s your name?”

The big guy puffs out his chest. “I’m Jock.”

I blink. “You’re kidding.”

“It’s actually John Michael MacNab the Third,” he says, happy to elaborate. “Granddad is John. He lives with us ever since my Nana died. My dad goes by Mac, or Second Gen Mac. And everyone calls me Jock. The name goes all the way back to…”

I tune him out as he rambles on, letting in the din of the crowd to mute the sound of his voice. He’s so earnest, speaking about his family as though they’re his best friends. It hurts an empty place inside me to hear it.

I reach into my pocket, seeking the black rook I always keep on me. A chess piece from an important match I’d won as a kid, it helps me focus, reminds me to always look to the future. My gaze travels from Jock, to Harper, to… Shit. Where’s the guy I’m following?

The tension returns to my body two-fold, and my breath comes a little harder. “Come on.” I whisper. “Show me my guy.”

The crowd parts, revealing him at almost the exact moment I comprehend I just called him “my guy.” It sounds an awful lot like dibs. Which is ridiculous.

Someone bumps into me, causing me to stumble, but I right myself quickly before I fall on my ass.


  1. Hi Amy,

    A lot of intriguing details here. Why 2015? And you say this is a fantasy so I'm wondering how that comes in to play. I really like the mystery of the boy at the beginning--you set up some good tension because she's not the kind of girl who does this. But then the story shifts so quickly. She allows herself to be drawn into a new conversation and that tension dissolves. In fact, it almost feels like two different stories.

    I guess I'm wondering why the distraction with the guy in the hall?
    And why so much here about Harper? Do we need all of that in the first five pages? If this guy really is special, would Rowan allow herself to be so easily distracted? Why suddenly engage in a long conversation with a complete stranger?

    I also questioned why Harper calling to her would force her to stop. Why she wouldn't just brush her off? Does Rowan get in trouble? Is Harper meant to keep an eye on her and report back to...whom?

    I would suggest as you start to revise that you try and stay focused on Rowan and her need to follow this guy. Even as you do that, you can be letting us know more about her just by how connected she is to the people at this school, how she feels walking these halls. Who knows her...does she make eye she the freak or the mean girl or the bully or the invisible one. And why is she boy blind?

    My favorite line: "Watching him move I almost feel…not nothing. And I want more of it."
    This intrigues me. Why doesn't she feel? It also makes me emphasize with her. She's obviously been through something.

    I hope that makes sense...good luck with revisions. I'm curious to see where you to take it from here!

  2. The first thing Rowan says about Harper is that their best friends, but Rowan only seems to treat her like she's a nuisance. They've been friends for a long time, and I don't expect Rowan to gush over Harper. The hand signal scene seems to just happen and Harper goes off without Rowan commenting on maybe seeing her or calling her later or something.

    I'm intrigued by Rowan having a rook as her comfort blanket, but I'd like to know a little about it. It's clear it's important to her, but I don't get a good sense of what it really means to her. What does it feel like in her hands? She's had it since she was a kid, but she's in high school. So has she had it for 4-5 years?

    I like your writing style a lot. You had a lot of really good lines in there, loved the "free agents at birth..." and "happy to be free of the odor" lines. I chuckled at Jock starts rambling about his name, because I could totally picture someone doing that, LOL.

  3. Hi Amy,

    I feel as if I'm a little lost. I'm interested in why Rowan "sees" the mystery guy, but I don't care about him by the time you reach the point where she is trying to find him again. I actually somewhat forgot about him because I was so distracted by Jock and Harper. I would be more interested in learning more about Roman's rook and her sudden fascination with mystery guy.

    I also don't know who Rowan is (though I think that might come with focusing me on her and mystery guy). It's clear she's not a sporty-type since she doesn't know Jock. Does that mean she's a drama kid? A prep? Doesn't belong to any group in particular? All I know is that she skips P.E. regularly and carries a chess piece around. As your MC, I feel like I should know her better by the fifth page.

    Also, she seems annoyed and trapped by Harper in her statements about her - "...I can sneak away. Alone." Harper seems to care about her well being (overbearing or not). Rowan just seems to want to get rid of her. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I want to understand this dynamic a little better.

    Jock is interesting, but I'm not sure he belongs in your first five pages. Again, I'd think about writing in more time for Rowan and the mystery guy, or just Rowan herself. That's what I want to know more of. Jock and Harper should come into play a little later, I think.

    You have my attention, but I'm not trapped in the story yet. I don't think it'll be hard for you to get there, and I want to see what you come up with next week!


  4. Hi Amy,

    I like the voice of your story and there are some nice lines: Watching him move I almost feel…not nothing. And I want more of it. … he carries himself with a gravity most guys my age don’t have. Built like a rock formation, he has the smashed nose of a fighter and a shock of red hair.

    I also like the concept of being “boy blind” (even though I don’t know what it means 😊)

    That said, I have some questions:

    Because this is labeled a fantasy, I’m looking for fantastical elements, so immediately I wonder:

    Is the “low-level tension under my skin” a gift she has?

    And why would it trigger on a boy if she’s “boy blind”?

    Is being “boy blind” a preference? Disability? Gift? I can’t tell.

    And he isn’t “right place right time.” He triggered her “tension/twitchiness”

    And not knowing these things left me discombobulated with the scene. I needed more information about exactly who Rowan is and what she is to feel grounded in what was going on. I agree with Amy that focusing on Rowan and the boy might give me the answers I’m looking for.


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  6. I like the sort of fantasy that begins in our world. Moreover, I feel like your version of "our world," specifically a high school, feels authentic. Rowan and Harper's hand signals is a great touch. I hear so much about kids nowadays communicating in sign language and/or their own versions of it.

    Like the other commenters, I'm intrigued by the "not nothing" line. That would get me to keep reading. That, and the boy Rowan is chasing, obviously.

    I do have issues with the way Rowan and Harper's relationship is portrayed. Like others, I noticed Rowan seems bothered by Harper's presence. If she does feel that way, I suspect it's because she's trying to follow the mystery boy. Maybe an internal "Ugh. I love you, Harper, but not now!" from Rowan would help?

    In the interest of hooking your reader as soon as possible, I wonder if we need to be introduced to Harper and Jock so soon. I'm assuming Rowan's pursuit of the mystery boy needs to be interrupted to draw out his mystery, but maybe an interaction with only Harper (and no Jock) would serve to trim some paragraphs, get us to the conflict even sooner, and highlight even more about Rowan's character.

    I like the voice, I like that Rowan has the thoughts of someone older than her age, and I'm curious to see what's going on. You've left some great clues that there's a good story here.

    Oh, and the wrestling nerd in me wonders whether Rowan and Harper are named after two former members of the Wyatt Family. : D


  7. Hi Amy,

    I think you have a really nice voice, and these pages are really easy to fall into, really easy to read.

    I would reconsider the first line. "Tension" can't perform the act of "noticing," so this sentence thew me off. I think what you mean is that she feels the tension in her body before she notices him. Also keep in mind that you're writing in first person, so the jumps in time -- however minute -- are confusing. (The first sentence notices the boy. Then you jump five seconds back in time when she doesn't notice him. Then she finally catches back up in time to the first line and notices him.) Remember, in present time you are trying to align the reader's and the characters' reactions as much as possible. The reader should notice the bot at the same time as the reader.

    What follows is intriguing but confusing. Watch the use of the term "blind" as it is ableist language. But I'm confused in general about what is going on. Is her oblivion to boys -- her always feeling nothing -- a medical condition, or is it just an exaggerated way of saying she typically doesn't notice them? I say this because it seems strange that she really can't tell if he has a nice back or not. And the fact that she has to check out her baseline with other guys (which was funny, by the way!)

    She thinks it's gross when a boy she is checking out gives her a nod -- which is not really gross behavior. So this reaction is "not nothing." What explains the way she is? I'd love to understand this a lot more. I'd also love to know what -- exactly -- about this boy draws her. This is the most intriguing part of the opening.

    I agree that the interruption with Harper and Jock dissolves all the tension. This part of the scene reads well, but I wonder if it should be later. I think we need to know more about the boy first. Just a note, too, that Harper is her best friend but Rowan isn't very nice to her in her thoughts, which doesn't endear Rowan to me.

    Finally, this reads very contemporary to me. It might be nice to give a small hint of the fantastical elements that are to come. If you include more about this boy, maybe you'll naturally do that, but you want to give the reader some clue of the story that they're in for, and I don't have a good sense of that from the opening pages.

    Good luck! Like I said, you have a really nice voice, and I look forward to seeing your revisions.


    1. Hi Pintip,

      Thank you for giving up your time to read and comment on my pages. I really appreciate the guidance.

      Regarding my use of "boy blind," I meant it to be a play on color blind. Instead of the inability to perceive the difference between color, she can't be bothered to take the time to notice anything remarkably different about the guys she goes to school with. I was trying for a clever way to say she doesn't have time for guys. Or she has more important things on her mind than guys.

      If you still feel this is problematic language, please let me know.

      Thanks again,

  8. Hi, Amy! It's Sunday night and I was looking forward to reading your revision when it occurred to me that some of my suggestions didn't seem to make it in. In going back, alas!!! comments didn't either. So I'm going to recap what I originally wrote that seems to have not logged.

    I do love Rowan's voice. While there's this sweet naivety to her, she also seems to hold an air of confidence, which I think makes a great strong adolescent character. I'm interested in the "Sees boys" comment,especially when she seems either indifferent or repulsed by the other guys around her. And suddenly, this one boy she's has obviously never seen walks into her life. If this is an ability, I'd love to see you hone into this quickly and make a greater deal of it.

    Harper and her relationship with her is confusing. Granted I'm not familiar with what it's like being in the system. I get the sense that they're like "sisters": close but also annoying at the same time? I love this dynamic, but Harper very little to this scene. Will she be pivotal to future scenes? If not, I'd say cut her all together.

    Which leads me into purpose...what is the goal you're trying to get the reader to grasp? I suspect that in these five pages it isn't quiet spelled out where you intend it to be. Especially with this being tagged as fantasy, it feels like we're missing something.

    Great first start. Heading over to your revision.