Sunday, October 15, 2017

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - McGuire Rev 1

Name: Amy McGuire
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Queen's Rook

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.

Don’t get me wrong, 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. Watching him move, I almost feel…not nothing. And I want more of it.

Before I can quite work out what that means, something inexplicable happens. I follow him. Just like that. 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.

He’s got 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. Not now.

“I know you can hear me, Rowan!” It’s a warning. One that won’t be ignored.

Already regretting it, I 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 seventy 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. Right now we live in a group home in Norwood Park, where we were placed within weeks of each other during freshman year. We call it The Layover: another pit stop on the way to somewhere better.

I sigh and glance at the guy I’m shadowing, not ready to let him go. But I know Harper won’t back off until I acknowledge her. Resigned, I give a sharp whistle.

It brings Harper up short. Her green eyes zero in on me, and she flashes me one of our secret signals—where are you going?

My life consists mainly of school, job, and chess, and you can set your watch to my schedule. If I deviate from it in any way, Harper always manages to appear out of nowhere to interrogate me. Every single time. Like, poof.

Most days I roll with it. Most days I got nothing to hide. But today I’m actually up to something, and no way am I telling her what it is.

Bathroom, I signal.

Rapid hand movement. Not without me.

I love Harper. Really, I do. But sometimes, swear to God, I think she’s a terminator unit sent back in time by Skynet to stick her nose into everything I do.

“Not this time,” I whisper.

I spare a look for the guy I’m following. He’s still in front of me, fast putting distance between us. A look back at Harper and she’s on the move again, drawing closer and closer.

Come on. Think!

There’s a guy standing not far from me, sporting a varsity jacket and an easy smile. Built like a rock formation, he has the smashed nose of a fighter and a shock of red hair.

“Hey, you,” I bark at him.

He glances left, then right. Looks back at me.

“Yeah, you. What’s your name?”

As he approaches me, 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. “I’m Jock,” he says.

I blink. “You’re kidding.”

He grins. “It’s actually John Michael MacNab the Third. My granddad is John. He lives with us ever since my Nana died. My dad goes by Mac. And everyone calls me Jock. The name goes all the way back to—”

“Great,” I interrupt. “You see that girl back there? Blonde. Tiny. Looks like she could take you at arm wrestling?”

We turn in unison. True to form, Harper is plowing through the crowd, leaving a string of curses and pissed off faces in her wake.

“You mean Harper?” Jock says.

I pop an eyebrow. “You two know each other?”

He shakes his head, his cheeks turning pink. “I may have asked around.”

Better and better.

“She’s been asking about you too.” I nod, really selling it. “You’d be doing me a huge favor if you put her out of her misery and ask her out.”

Jock’s expression is equal parts hope and fear. “Are you sure? I’ve heard she doesn’t date.”

It’s true. She doesn’t. Harper 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.

“She dates.” The lie comes easily. “She’s just…particular.”

He still looks skeptical.

“Oh, come on. Do it for me. I’ll be your best friend.”

“Well, there is a party tonight at—”

“Perfect! I owe you big.” And with that, I run.

Normally there has to be a compelling reason for me to take a detour between classes, like fire or free food. Chasing after some guy with no definable objective doesn’t qualify as compelling, but there’s no turning back now. I’m in it.

The Guy takes a left, disappearing down a connecting hallway. Coming around the corner after him, my nose is assaulted by body spray, some other guy in front of me evidently having bathed in it that morning. I wiggle my way around him, only to be blocked by a pair of hand-holders, their lovesick heads resting together and polluting my line of sight.

Going up on tiptoe, I scan the remainder of the teeming corridor. I have no problem finding The Guy, because he’s flickering.

Hold on. Cue the WTFs.

It can’t be. And yet I’m looking right at it. He’s flickering. Like a bad hologram, or crudely spliced film, he’s jumping all over the place, becoming brighter, then dimmer. Brighter. Dimmer.

No one is pointing or staring. Panic isn’t spreading through the immediate area. So I figure it’s just me.

I’ve read about ocular migraines, about how people see an aura, or bright flashing lights, before a monster headache sets in. Maybe I’m having one of those. I close my eyes, and when they open again, The Guy is solid.


  1. Amy, I'm glad that we get to see a bit of the fantasy element in this one. I'm intrigued with the holographic flickering. I'm wondering again if this has to do with her ability to "See".

    I'm glad to see you have thinned out Harper's role. I'm still not clear what she adds to the story as well as Jock. It feels a lot like filler which isn't bad. But when you only have five pages, my gut says it's critical to only include what is necessary to grab the reader's attention. We could easily get the same sense of what is going on if Rowen just makes her way through a crowd of kids and as she turns the corner, she sees him shimmer. I'm curious if what happens next engages the reader.

    Editorial comment...I'm setting you on a trim where you can and a pronoun hunt to see if you can cut some of them out.

    Here's an example:
    "My skin reacts with a tingle five seconds before I notice him.

    It’s Friday, right after fifth period, and the crowd is thick outside the girls’ locker room. I glance around, searching for something. But what?"

    "The Guy disappears down a connecting hallway. Taking chase around the corner, my nose is assaulted by body spray and some other guy who evidently bathed in it that morning. Wriggling my way around him, I am blocked by a pair of hand-holders, their lovesick heads resting together and polluting my line of sight."

    These are just examples, but look for ways to trim the first few pages so that you have more room to reveal content to draw your reader in.

    Great revision, Amy!

  2. Hi Amy,

    I really love what you've done in this revision. I didn't see a way to keep Jock and make him relevant, but I think you did it. For me, it works as a way for her to draw off Harper.

    Speaking of Harper, I'm more comfortable with her here--you've cut out enough of the backstory that I feel it's the right amount. But I still think I need a reason why Harper is on her like that. Is Harper worried for Rowan? Or is it that Rowan is her touchstone? If they're foster kids, maybe Harper worries that Rowan will leave her, too. (That may be WAY off what you want, but the point is that I need at least a hint so Harper's behavior makes sense.)

    I love the flickering and thinks it's much stronger having that in these pages--excellent! You definitely have my attention now and I want to know who he is and why Rowan can see what others can't.

    Also, I thought Rowan's voice came through more clearly in this revision. Her cynical way of viewing the other kids helps to paint a much clearer picture for me.

    A couple little comments: I know what you're going for in the first line, but I had to read it a few times--something about her tension noticing him that feels off. If this were my manuscript, I'd try and write that line at least ten different ways. Sometimes, by forcing yourself to think beyond the first solution, you come up with something unexpected (and something stronger.)
    Also--the Terminator reference. Personally, I like it, but then again I've seen that movie a ton of times and I'm kind of ancient. Do high school kids know that movie? Will they get the reference? It may be that they will, but just throwing that out there since I've made the mistake of using out-of-date references in my own stories.

    Overall, a really strong revision. Keep going with it!

  3. Amy,

    IMHO, this opening rocks! I love the voice. I’d definitely read further and I’m totally curious. If there were any more information to add for me, it would be what the “low-level tension” means and is it out of the ordinary. Has she ever felt it before? If so, what did it mean then? If not, is she freaked she’s feeling it now?

    Just so that I can say something, I’ll give you this:

    “…my nose is assaulted by body spray…” I thought she had actually been sprayed. If you said “…by the smell of body spray…” that would work for me.

    For me, Harper and Jock add tension, something that keeps the MC from her goal.

    Great work!


  4. Amy,

    This version feels a lot tighter and more to the point than the last one. Well done!

    The way the tension is described in the beginning reads to me like Rowan has felt it before. Maybe because it's referred to as "THE low-level..." rather than "A low-level..." But then she is taken as off guard by her need to pursue The Guy and the flickering as the rest of us would be. Is there a way to clarify whether the tension is new to her?

    I also thought Rowan was confident she could ignore what was making her twitchy too easily. Explaining how she would try to ignore it might provide an opportunity for us to get to know a bit more about her. For example, when I get a little anxious, I fall back on plotting a wrestling game I play or thinking of my writing work to refocus my thoughts. Perhaps this is a good place to briefly mention something specific to Rowan that will allow us to get to know her while also moving the plot along. "I'm ready to give up and turn my thoughts to my (pending test, upcoming birthday, etc.) when--there. A boy."

    The trimming you've done on Jock is great. I get from his attempt to explain his name that he's going to be an odd duck. For a moment I thought he was The Guy, but only because the mystery guy was described as a "guy" just before Jock also was. It might be funny if, upon seeing him, Rowan describes him as a jock instead, only to be surprised when he reveals his name is actually "Jock." Eh, that might be too on the nose. But anyway, something other than "guy" might be less confusing. : )

    Her use of him as a distraction shows quick thinking and charm on her part. I hope that continues to be a trait she exhibits, because you write it well!

    I like your description of Harper as a Terminator-like persona, and the way you use that to explain why Rowan would be irritated by her arrival. The description of their background takes me out of the pursuit of The Guy a bit. Is there a way to hold off on that description for this section? I feel like Rowan explaining that Harper is her best friend and also a terminator who will demand to know everything she's doing is enough for me.

    Rowan's possible explanation for her vision of The Guy flickering is perfect. You've established her as a practical person, and I can see her telling herself, "Okay, no big deal, ocular migraines are a thing, right?" It just feels like it fits with her character so well.

    Nice work!


  5. Hi Amy!

    Great job with the revisions. The introduction to Harper and Jock are much more fluid here. And I like that there's just a little more communication between Harper and Rowan.

    I hadn't noticed this before, but I wonder if we're getting too much info about Jock. I'm only saying this because very earlier on we're told Rowan is "boy blind" and there's something special about the mysterious guy. But with Jock, we're given a lot of details about what he looks like and what he's doing. Rowan keeps her convo with him short, which I think makes sense, but maybe we could have less details about him. Like "he's doing something with a football, but I don't care becuase..." Not as poorly written as what I have there, LOL. But something that emphasizes the "boy blind" idea.

    As for the Terminator reference, the last one came out in 2015 and did well, so I could see a reference to it making sense. I think for me the issue is that Terminators are usually feared. But Rowan's reactions to Harper don't seem to indicate fear, just more annoyance. So I wondered if this line was a bit out of place here.

    But the stuff I pointed out is pretty minor. I still enjoy your writing style a lot. I was curious to see what would happen with the rook, but I do like the addition of the holograph (I'm just assuming the rook comes in later, which is totally fine!). It definitely brings a new element to this story and makes me want to read on!

  6. Hi Amy!

    This is great! You've done a really good job with this revision, and the beginning is much clearer than it was last week.

    I would ask once again that you revisit the first line, for the same reasons as before. It really throws me off because it reads funny, and it's very important because it's the first line.

    Great job smoothing out the friendship with Harper - Rowan seems to feel much more kindly towards her.

    I love hearing about the flickering -- and I want *more* in the first five pages. This is what is going to hook the reader -- not a conversation with Jock. You've done a good job paring back the conversation, but it still feels a little long to me. The tension of the chase still defuses, and while I love how you now have her enlist him to get rid of Harper, I still felt that it wasn't particularly relevant at this moment. I would suggest keeping it but paring back even more. I think a small detour from the chase is okay, but this still feels like too large a detour.

    Fabulous voice. I'm really enjoying this. Good luck.

  7. Amy,

    This revision worked better for me!

    I have to agree with the others - I understand what you're trying to accomplish in putting obstacles in Rowan's way (Harper and Jock). But your premise - that this mystery guy is flickering like a hologram - is 150 times more compelling than Harper and Rowan's secret communications or Jock's full name. I still want to know Harper and Jock (because who doesn't have that one friend who won't stay out of your business or know the high school jock that everyone either loves or hates?), but I'm not sure your first five pages is the place for it, where space is so limited. Focusing on Rowan even more would draw me in better.

    The low-lying tension line is throwing me. I don't understand it still. So it doesn't quite hook me right away. That first sentence is so important - I feel like it's too vague.

    I noticed we lost the rook in this version. I'm actually glad. I would want a full explanation on it later, when you have time and space.

    Overall, though, it's very interesting! This would keep me reading.