Monday, October 23, 2017

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - McGuire Rev 2

Name: Amy McGuire
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy


Chess is war, and for sixteen-year-old Rowan Darroch, it's about to become life or death.

Recruited into a lethal chess match between opposing factions of a soulless race, Rowan finds herself carried more than two hundred years into the past, where she's trapped in a time-bending war game that will decide the fate of humankind. Her only guide is Conor, a scarred soldier from an ancient, hidden order tasked with safeguarding human souls. And while she might be infatuated with him, she sure as hell doesn't trust him.

At home amongst the thieves and confidence women of London’s criminal underworld, Rowan and Conor concoct an elaborate plan to infiltrate the court of George IV, where Conor must complete his next move. But as Rowan becomes convinced she has more influence on the chessboard than Conor would have her believe, she faces a choice: play by his rules and make it home alive, or play by her own, and risk everything.


Chicago. December, 2015.

It’s Friday, right after fifth period gym, and the crowd is thick outside 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. 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. Watching him move, I almost feel…not nothing. And I want more of it.

Clocking his every step, I walk swiftly through the noisy mob. Jammed up by a pair of hand-holders, I wiggle my way around them, just in time to see the guy steal a piece of paper from some girl’s back pocket.

My jaw drops like a stone.

Eyes darting, I swivel my head, apparently alone in my outrage.

Do I call him out? What if he took something important?

With that thought, I dig into my own pocket, seeking the black rook I always keep on me. My hand closes over cheap plastic, and relief fills me. A chess piece from the first Illinois K-8 tournament I’d won as a kid, it helps me focus, reminds me to always look to the future.

My gaze finds the guy again. As if on cue, he stops, drops a rectangular object, letting it slip through his fingers and fall to the floor, and then promptly disappears.

Hold on. Cue the WTFs.

It couldn’t be. And yet I’d been looking right at it. The dude had just blinked out like a light.

Tension hums at the base of my skull, and my breath comes a little harder. Because I can’t think of a single reason not to, I jog ahead. When I reach the item the Boy Who Vanishes had left behind, I stare at it, hesitant to pick it up. It appears to be a small address book, the words IF FOUND RETURN TO JMM written on the leather binding.


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 swipe up the address book, jam it into my pocket, and turn around, scouring 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. I call it The Layover: another pit stop on the way to somewhere better.

I shoot an antsy look over my shoulder, not ready to give up on finding the BWV. 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. I’ll join you.

Thanks, but I pee alone.

Her eyes narrow to slits. She knows I’m lying, and she knows I know she knows. It’s one of the more inconvenient side effects of our years together.

Fine, she tells me.

Her hands are still in motion, but I’m already walking away.

The decision to go out of one’s way between classes is never to be made lightly, because a Tyler High School hallway holds unspeakable power. It can take you to other parts of the building, anywhere you wish to go, or it can take you to your knees with a single well-placed idiot. With more than thirty-two hundred students jockeying for position in a building designed to accommodate less than twenty-one hundred, the idiots rule.

Coming around a corner, the scent of body spray almost knocks me over, the guy in front of me evidently having bathed in it that morning. He achieves true douchebag status when he knocks the books out of someone else’s hands and then holds his arms up in victory.

I angle my head to breathe better air—and then it happens all over again. Awareness pricks at me, right before the BWV reappears! I see him enter a room directly across the hall a split second before the door closes behind him. Beyond all reason, and without hesitation, I follow.

Once inside the room I freeze, surveying the scene before me in confused shock. Several guys are standing at irregular intervals facing one wall. Others are washing their hands and fussing with their hair in front of mirrors hanging on the opposite wall. And one guy pulls a small foil packet from a metal dispenser not far from where I stand.

I’m in a boys’ bathroom.

When the synapses start firing again, flight should have been the natural response. Instead I think, Blend!

I tug the bottom of my sweatshirt down over my hips and pull the hood up to cover my hair. I have an asymmetrical bob that falls just above my chin on the right and just below it on the left. With the hood up, only my side-swept bangs are visible.

My gender swap won’t bear up under any kind of scrutiny, but I’m getting a distinct no-look, no-talk vibe from the room’s occupants. Guy etiquette. Who knew?

Head down, I stride over to the wall of urinals, stopping in front of the one with the most graffiti around it (might as well have something to read).

The majority of messages and drawings on the wall are vulgar, but a few show real promise. Someone had sketched a perfect likeness of the school mascot, the fierce-looking Tyler Falcon. Someone less gifted had drawn an arrow pointing to the urinal bowl and scribbled Willie Wuz Here.


  1. Hi Amy,

    Great job establishing your chess theme from the first page. This is an intriguing bit about the character (especially the physical aspect of grabbing the rook) and it helps make her more 3D. Your pitch is also fantastic! Really vivid and engaging.

    So far, this is sounding more Urban Fantasy that pure Fantasy, despite the intention for time travel. You may want to rethink the label. Also, try to avoid so much telling when the boy appears/disappearing. Give us an internal glimpse. What exactly is this feeling that washes over her in regards to BWV? So far it's just a vague awareness, but show us the physical impact on her when it happens. Explain the vanishing act a little more, too, because right now she doesn't even consider she lost him in the crowd or question her crazy assumption. It doesn't feel like a realistic school hallway occurrence yet.

    You did a good job establishing connection to Harper as well. The one thing to explain would be, the secret signals. Is this sign language, a made-up language, telepathy? Right now, it's not clear enough to tell. But I like that they have it, showing even further their discontent from the peers around them.

    Good job! Looks like a promising story!

    Kaitlyn Johnson

  2. Amy,

    It's so interesting being familiar with these pieces and THEN reading the pitches to see where the story is heading. Your premise is bonkers (in a great way)! And your pitch has so much fun energy. I like it! You might want to use a different word for "chess" in the second paragraph. Maybe "game of wits" or something? Also, in the very last line, I'm not clear about her motivations for playing by her own rules and risking everything. I wondered why she would consider that if playing by Conor's will get her home safe.

    The same energy from your pitch is present in your piece, and even more so than in previous revisions. Stories with these sorts of narrators always make me feel like the character is a real person, as Rowan feels to me. The addition of her excursion into the men's room is fun, and also tells me a lot about Rowan and also a lot about how compelled she is to follow the BWV. I was a little confused by the action taking place just before that, when her eye is guided toward him as she's avoiding the Body Spray Douche. Is there a way to simplify that section, maybe? "My head jerked reflexively from a cloud of body spray wafting off a douche, and luckily it guided me in the direction of the BWV"...? You know, but in your hilarious way. : )

    And for a truly radical idea: What if the piece begins with the paragraph that says "My life consists of school, job, and chess..." Because right here we get an immediate sense of who the character is, and not long after we also find out that today is different because she's trying to follow the BWV. It would take some re-arranging of some paragraphs, but it's an option if you're feeling wild and crazy. : D

    I also wasn't sure whether Harper's signals were hand signals or something else. I think in a previous version it was hand signals, but I might be making that up.

    And the "IF FOUND RETURN TO JMM" part is intriguing. You might consider showing us what Rowan thinks about that before she is interrupted by Harper. Does she know who JMM is? Does it make no sense to her at all?

    Great job trimming what you have here. We don't get to meet Jock yet, but we do get a lot more tension as Rowan chases down the BWV, and you've managed to inject even more of your great, humorous narrative into this section. I hope you go far with this story!


  3. Hi Amy,
    It's been so much fun to watch this story develop. You've brought it so far and I feel like it's so much stronger now. I'm pulled in immediately and I like the way you bring in the chess. Considering that chess is such a huge part of her life, I wonder if you can weave in another reference here or there? I'm talking very subtle--for instance, her considering her next move when Rowen shows up. Just a way of sliding in chess thinking/terms/mind-set so we get a feel for her analytical mind. I think, because of her "chess brain" she would also look for rational reasons for the boy's vanishing act, as Kaitlyn suggested. I also agree with other comments that the hand signals need a little more explanation.

    I'm a little torn over the bathroom scene. I'm not sure I believed it. Would she really attract zero attention and blend in? And why does she stay? If this is about the mystery guy then can we see where he is and what he's doing? Right now, she goes in to a stall and reads the walls so I've lost track of him and her purpose in being there. I think that's something you can easily address in revision.

    Overall, a really great start of a fantasy. I had no idea where the story was going but I found your pitch really compelling. After reading that, I'm especially glad you moved up more about the mystery guy as well as the chess reference.

    Awesome work this month. Good luck as you continue!!

  4. Amy,

    Whoa. This one blew me away. Here we go -

    This sounds extremely intriguing! I'm a sucker for time travel and it sounds like you've had your hands full weaving history and fantasy. The only suggestion I have is to find another way to word the last line. In having my own queries critiqued in the past, I've found many people say to avoid "risk it all" type statements. Get a little more specific. Does it mean potential death for her? Or imprisonment? Will she become soulless? State exactly what the stakes are.

    This revision had me way more hooked than your original version. I appreciated less Harper and Jock, to focus on the BWV. I do agree with Amy that her infiltration into the bathroom might not go as unnoticed as it is at the point you stop.

    There is a lot of information in your pages and I wished I knew more about some of it, including who JMM is, if Rowan even knows who it is, etc. It seems like it might be important information, but it's bypassed quickly.

    Otherwise, I feel your pages have come a long ways. Good luck with whatever plans you have for this manuscript!


  5. Hi Amy,

    The pitch is pretty good. I really like the first line, definitely a great hook there. I do agree with Audrianna that I'd like to see the stake laid out a little more clearly. Right now it feels a bit too vague and cliche with the "with risk everything line."

    As for the pages, they just keep getting better and better. I like the return of the rook, it works well in the scene. I think downplaying the interaction with Jock is great as well, it emphasizes Rowan's "Boy blindness." The voice is great as always! Regarding the bathroom scene, I like the idea of it a lot. I think why it's coming off a bit unbeliviable is her reaction when she walks in. Someone using the bathoom isn't really gonna stop and freeze at the door. Seems odd she would have time to stop at the door and cover herself without anyone at all noticing. But it does add a new interesing level to the story, so I hope there's a way to work with this scene to make it more believable. And as always, I love the voice in this story.

    Good luck with this one!

  6. Hi Amy,

    As usual, I love the energy and voice of this piece. And I went to an overcrowded middle school and totally get the setting. All of these things are great.

    I agree with the others about the bathroom scene. While I have inadvertently gone into the men’s room more than once (my mind seems to be somewhere else), from what I’ve seen there’s always something near the door, usually the sinks. And human nature is to look up when someone walks in a room (I’ve never made it out without someone laughing at my mistake). Fortunately, the urinals usually face away. Just something to consider.

    Without knowing absolutely what’s important to the story, I hesitate to say this, but I will just for you to think about. Harper’s intrusion into the scene stops the reader’s focus on the boy, his disappearance, and what he drops, which I assume are the most important parts of this scene. If this is true, consider letting Harper’s appearance come later. Let the reader digest all the information you’ve already given her (setting, MC, mystery boy, mystery trinkets). This scene has a very fast energy, and I found myself reading it quickly as a result. When something is important for the reader to remember, you want to slow down long enough for them to digest it. Give Rowan the time to examine what was dropped (so the reader can absorb it), and ponder how he could have disappeared (so the reader will too), instead of having to now absorb that Rowan is an orphan with a pushy friend who knows sign language There’s already so much to love here without that just yet. Not saying take it out because it’s great. Just delay it so the focus stays on one thing.

    Best of luck with your story,


  7. Hi Amy!

    I’m really glad that you included the chess piece in the revision of this opening. To tell you the absolute truth, when I read the pitch, I was extremely confused. I even checked to make sure I had the right author because it sounded nothing like the pages we had been reading! However, I can see the links much more clearly with the revisions you made, in particular the chess piece and also the disappearing boy, so kudos to you for that! I would love if you can work on adding more details that tells us that this is a fantasy. This opening reads much more like a contemporary. It could be that your actual genre is urban fantasy, as was already suggested, that would also help with the disconnect.

    So, love the revision. Love how we get to see the disappearing boy. I, too, am not sure that the hand signals could communicate so much. And since the boy already disappeared, what is so urgent that she can’t talk to the best friend for a few moments?

    The bathroom scene also threw me off. I think my instinct would be to get out of there as soon as possible. So if she is going to stay, I think you need to give us a more compelling reason.

    Great job this month and best of luck with this story!