Monday, April 16, 2018

The April Workshop in Progress

Our five manuscripts have been selected, but that doesn't mean the learning opportunities for aspiring authors and editors are over this month! We invite everyone to follow along by reading the entries and mentors comments and watching the revisions transform the pages. See for yourself what worked, what didn't work, discover why, and how to make improvements. You're also welcome to make comments yourself about what you feel is working and what isn't. And you can ask questions of our mentors about their comments as well.


Want help from a literary agent and our published, award-winning, and best-selling authors to get your own first five pages and pitch ready for submission or jump start your novel? The February workshop will open at noon on February 3rd. We always accept manuscripts on a first come, first served basis so your chances are as good as anyone else's. All we ask is that your pitch is no more than 200 words, your submission (overall) is no more than 1200 words, and that both are formatted correctly, free of typos and grammar errors, and that you've worked through your story idea to make sure it can be written as presented into a full-length novel.

Need help getting your pitch and manuscript ready? Click here for writing help and submission tips

Sunday, April 15, 2018

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Stoker Rev 1

Name: K. Stoker
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Title: SAMURAI RACING

Pickup for you.

My headphones buzzed with a message from my boss, Eiiji Minami, relayed by an automated voice. The voice sounded tired, but a little rebellious. Or maybe that was just my current mood.

The stale air of Kyoto in the summer sagged against my skin. The early morning sun peeked out from behind the mountains, but the closeness of the buildings meant most of the street remained draped in shadow. Above me, marking the sky like giant kanji, were trails from airships headed to Osaka and Tokyo. Only a few weeks until the Oban Race and already the hotels were filling as spectators flocked to the bigger cities for the speedcycle races. 

Across the street, my neighbor, Mrs. Yamada hobbled toward her husband. Their outdoor slippers made a scrapping shuffle as they moved between the plants in front of their home, watering each with more care than they’d give a person. The water dripped from beneath the pots and seeped into the drains beneath the street. Eventually it would all end up in the Kamogawa River. A simple cycle, repeating forever.

“I can’t believe she drives that thing,” my neighbor, Mrs. Yamada, muttered to her husband. 

I flipped on the switch for my hovers and pretended not to hear. My hovercycle, an outdated Shuriken 500z, lifted off the ground. 

“Doesn’t help the way she drives it.” Mr. Yamada agreed. H picked a few dying buds off a small rose bush. “Last week I saw her drive through a construction site and jump across a half-finished building.” 

Two weeks ago, I wanted to point out.  And I wouldn’t be doing that again, almost popped my backup tires. Like a traditional motorcycle, the hovercycle had two wheels, but they were only used for backup. If the electric battery ran out, the backup tires would catch the bike. Or if the driver attempted a jump that the hover propulsion couldn’t quite handle, the back up tires would prevent the bike from crashing into the ground. I wouldn’t know anything about that. 

“Well, with her mother being…” Mr. Yamada’s voice held all the disapproval only someone over eighty could manage. 

“Yes, it’s a shame,” Mrs. Yamada agreed. 

“Thank you for your opinion,” I called to them. They pretended not to hear. 

I revved the engine of my 500z. On the power lines, a large black bird cawed in annoyance, making me smile. Then my EP, or handheld electropaper, buzzed with another message.

Job location sent to your maps, my dear Aya.

My smile disappeared. Even with the automated voice I could tell the messages had switched from Eiiji to his son Kosuke. That meant this wasn’t going to be a simple errand. Kosuke Minami hovered in the gray space between legal and illegal, and I knew the longer I worked for him and his father the closer I was to sliding forever into the illegal category.

I let out a long sigh. Another pickup, another job. A simple cycle, repeating forever. I pulled in the clutch and let the engine rumble below me, imagining that somehow my bike could feed me its energy. I let out the clutch and the bike rocketed forward. Sometimes I felt like my bike was the only thing that cared about me.

Minutes later, I stopped my bike at a stoplight. I checked the map on my EP. A bright red dot hovered over a warehouse just a few blocks south of where I was, east of the Kamogawa River.  I stuffed the thin device back in my pocket. My fingers tapped on the handlebars of my bike. Pedestrians shuffled across the crosswalk as multi-seater transcycles, speedcycles and a few hovercycles waited for the light to change. 

The light turned green. My 500z jolted forward, skipping over the bumpy ground as the hover propulsion tried to regain stability. I swerved around a pole, almost scraping my knee on the concrete wall that jutted out from beneath an overgrown bush. My thumbs carefully rotated the hovers. The hovercycle spun me around a pile of trash bags the collectors hadn’t grabbed yet. Somewhere behind me the large waste-transcycle rumbled through the narrow streets, robotic arms reaching out to grab the color-coded bags.

A few black dragonflies floated on the slow breeze, darting back and forth in front of my hovercycle. Hissing cicadas hung on trees singing an accompaniment to the rumbling engines below. As I headed south, the speed of my bike pushed me faster and faster. For a moment, with the wind in my face and the bike engine vibrating underneath me, I felt free.

A few minutes later I parked my bike outside of a warehouse. A few solitary vending machines stood as sentinels along the empty street. An occasional hoverbus or transcycle rattled nearby and I could hear the glorious roar of a speedcycle engine from a few blocks over. 

I pulled my EP out of my pocket. It was a simple hand-sized piece of electropaper that could receive and transmit simple wireless messages. Cheap and prone to breaking, like everything else I owned. From it Kosuke’s instructions glared out at me.

Before 8AM. Box labeled 56JJHL, bring to downtown office. Cameras in warehouse disabled.

I clicked off my hovers. The bike sank to the ground, bouncing slightly on the back up tires. I walked my bike to a small alleyway across from the warehouse. The hovercycle stayed hidden in the narrow space between buildings as I casually walked to the vending machine near the large roll up door of the warehouse.

Standing in front of the vending machine, I pretended to examine the selection of coffees and energy drinks. Instead, I scanned the exterior of the concrete warehouse. How exactly I was supposed to get in? A quick check at the rolling door revealed that it was locked, no surprises there. I stationed myself back in front of the vending machine and sent Kosuke a text.

Doors locked.

I selected the cheapest item in the vending machine, a small bottle of water, and had finished half of it before Kosuke texted me back.

Enter from the second floor. Window left open.

“What?” I said, looking back at the three story concrete building.

There were no windows facing the street. Next to the warehouse on one side was a small neighborhood shrine and on the other a doctor’s clinic, currently closed. The clinic had outside stairs that led to its second floor, hopefully next to the warehouse’s elusive window. 

I walked straight up the stairs, as if I had an appointment with the non-existent doctor. Sure enough the warehouse had a small window peeking out at the stairwell. From the top of the stairs, I could feel eyes on me, watching me, and I knew I had been here too long. I had stolen dozens of items for Kosuke, and though I never knew what they were, I knew my chances of getting caught increased everyday. 

But Kosuke had said there were no cameras. I reached the top of the stairs and leaned across the railing to the window of the warehouse. With a gentle push the window swung open. At the sound of footsteps, I glanced back at the street. Just a woman walking her tiny dog. The fluffy animal wore a pink suit that matched the woman’s, but neither dog nor human looked up. Within minutes they had flounced away. 




1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Contois Rev 1


Name: Hannah Contois
Genre: YA Magical Realism
Title: WISHING ON STARS AND OTHER INTANGIBLE OBJECTS

The halls of Stillwater High, stale with teenage angst and an overabundance of cologne and dry shampoo, are alive with songs from souls brimming with Wednesday anticipation. Each song is so vivacious and clear that it’s sad I’m the only one that seems able to hear them.

Music is both my gift and curse, which is why I’m having to fight the intense urge to shred the smudged sheet of music clutched in my hand the entire walk to the cafeteria. Writing this piece should be a cakewalk! Music is easy for me. I can listen to a song once and replay it nearly perfectly. I can compose original pieces using what emotions I glean in the sounds of rain on a rooftop, or from the wind through my wheezing bedroom window. A playground full of children is an entire orchestra piece that I have currently stuffed in my messenger bag. I’ve spent hours creating music to capture the array of emotion that floods these halls, but my damn audition piece, the one revealing my very soul, stubbornly refuses to show me how to finish it! Instead, it has been weeks since I added a single new note, and the deadline for my music school application is the demon riding my shadow wherever I go.

I need them to like me! I need them to see inside me, hear my soul as it cries out for a better future, for a way to escape. My only future rides on getting a full ride. Helena certainly won’t be paying for me to go anywhere, let alone to a 'snobby' music school.

A cluster of students in front of the cafeteria door split apart without acknowledging me as I stomp towards them already trying to find a familiar beanie wearer in the crowd of high schoolers eating lunch. I weave around the chairs and discarded backpacks to where I know Mari is waiting.

I’m not rich in the way of friends since ‘The Incident’ where, back in the days of sophomore naivety I had a boyfriend and social status, I dumped the King of Stillwater High. That’s right, I’d been normal and popular at one point, despite my tendency to carry my violin, Darcy, around like a safety blanket. Post-Incident, I was instantly blacklisted. All my ‘friends’ disappeared like smoke caught in JJ’s wake. All except for Marigold Bibeau, my sassy emo bestie currently staring at the Jock Joint table and their fawning cheerleaders.

I throw myself into a chair at our table, rocking it, but take more care in depositing Darcy at my feet. “I’ve determined that not only am I going to die alone in Helena the Heinous’s attic,” I slap the half empty pages of my audition piece onto the table, my fingers wrinkling the edges. “I’m going to die there only after years of working at the laundromat, marrying out of lonely desperation, popping out a couple of angry children, and when my husband leaves me for the hot local pool-boy, I’ll be suffocated to death by my forty-two cats.”

Mari doesn’t even blink at my declaration. “You’re allergic to cats, Ellena. Why would you have forty-two of them?” Her expression never shifts from her perfectly crafted expression of nothingness, her smooth, pale skin and dark eyes reminding me of a geisha. Her eyes flick away from the jocks to my papers and assess the angry scribbles, like bruises, on the sheet music. “Music is going well, I take it.” She offers me her small baggie of carrot sticks.

I snag one, snapping it between my teeth. “It’s been weeks. Weeks!” I wail, feeling eyes on the back of my head, like a spider’s web caught in my hair. “And Mr. Michals wants to start recording soon.” I collapse my forehead onto the pages and send up a belated prayer that the ink from study hall is dry and isn’t going to mark my face. “I’m Sisyphus pushing his stupid rock up the hill for an eternity.”

She pats the back of my head. “Don’t you think you’re being a little dramatic?”

“No!” I snap defensively, but sit up and stare at her, wide-eyed and a touch manic. “You know that if I don’t absolutely kill this audition, I can kiss my future goodbye.”

“Most action you’ll have had in years,” she quips.

I stab a carrot in her direction. “First of all, shut up. Second of all, if I don’t get that scholarship, how the hell am I supposed to get out of here?”

She sighs in exasperation. “This is a thoroughly beaten dead horse. My parents have a trust or whatever. I’m sure they would help you. It’ll be a great tax write-off.”

I pause mid-chew and give her a hard stare. “I’m not taking money from you, or your parents. I will make my own way or die in a basement from trying. I’ve been doing nothing but writing the stupid thing in any spare minute I have hoping for something to break through my writer’s constipation.”

“Is that why you are late for lunch?” She glances over her shoulder at the clock on the wall. “Very late. Here,” she tosses the rest of the carrots at me. “Eat and walk.”

The bell overhead rings as I catch them. “I’ll get you a gold star for your act of kindness for the day.”

“I like gold stars.” Mari stands, adjusting her overly large sweatshirt and t-shirt that says ‘Who needs a heart when you can have donuts?’ I snort. She has the best sarcastic clothes and they match perfectly with her pitch black hair and kohl-rimmed eyes.

“Great, I’ll steal some from Mr. Michals’ office for you.”

She starts leading us out of the cafeteria. “Like that tight-ass would have gold stars. He wouldn’t know a gold star if someone stuck one to his forehead.” Mari turns to me, stuffing her free hand into her sweatshirt pocket. “Ready for Ms. Ora’s class?”

We both have Ms. Ora for one of our elective classes - Classical Mythology. She’s a lot on the eccentric side with at least three different personalities, one of which speaks in a strange language when she doesn’t think we are paying attention. All last class, she’d randomly burst into sobbing fits, crying into a roll of toilet paper. Her sadness had been a great symphony of tears and pain, with peals of string instruments and soft hiccups of the piano to create an emotional rollercoaster that she and I had been trapped on. I’d left class emotionally drained and as sick at heart as she was. “Not even a little. Mr. Michals gave me the key for the studio room. Maybe I’ll ditch and work there instead.”

“Must be nice to have a teacher who has the hots for you.” She grunts when I backhand her across the arm, hard. “What was that for?”

“You know he’s like the father I never had.” I sigh and catch her arm, making her stop in the hallway and causing a traffic jam around us. “You don’t get how important this is. You could get into any school you want. Yale and Princeton have been begging for you since before you got out of diapers.”

She twists the end of a braided pigtail around her finger and adopts an air-headed, open-mouthed gape. “Gag me, right?”

I shake my head and resume walking. “Getting out of New Hampshire and going to music school is my only future.”

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Larson Rev 1


Name: Kim A. Larson
Genre: YA Contemporary
Title: Stop Mr. Ryden

The spiral-ringed notebook slips from my fingers and drops to the floor. That woman! She—she was in my dream last night. Who is she? And why is she at Walmart? 

Elle, my cousin and best friend, waves her hands in front of my face. “Earth to Anna.” 

I stare at the woman through a maze of back-to-school shoppers. Her short shorts and tank top cover way too little of her fortyish figure. In my dream, she wore a red blouse, white scarf, and navy pants. Like an American flag. She stood next to an open door, against a white backdrop with words written in black letters. Words I can’t remember. 

“Anna . . . Anna . . .” 

While still pondering my dream, I’m thrust into a vision of this woman sorting through a bin of school supplies. When it ends, I nudge Elle and nod toward the woman. “She’s going to buy the yellow highlighters.” 

The woman rummages through markers, note cards, and pens before tossing yellow highlighters into her cart. 

“Wow! You’re good.” 

“Not really. I saw this before—” 

“Haven’t we all.” She flings her long hair over one shoulder. “Every August—getting new school junk. You think we get our ninth-grade planners here or at school?” 

“Seriously, El, I had another vision.” 

“You did?” She bounces into my personal space. 

I turn my face from her warm spearmint breath and from what feels like looking into a mirror. Our hazel-green eyes and straight blonde hair are identical, but then half the girls I know wear their hair this same way. 

“Come on. Spill, already.” 

That’s what I get for showing off. Now she’ll want details, explanations, information I don’t have. To be honest, I like seeing things ahead of time. But I can’t control how or when it happens, and I get anxious not knowing what to do with what I see. It feels like a burden, a responsibility I’m not ready for. 

I take a deep breath. “There’s not much to tell. I just saw her doing what she did, only a few seconds beforehand.” A flash of dream resurfaces, and I brace myself for Elle’s reaction. “She was in my dream last night, too.” 

Elle grabs onto my shoulders and bounces. “For real? That same woman?” 

I nod and pull away. “She stood by an open door with something written behind her. I wish I could remember what.” 

“Yeah, how cool would that be? But what’s up with dreaming and having a vision of . . . her?” Elle gives this woman the once-over. “You think God is trying to tell you something? Like when your dad crashed his car?” 

“Maybe.” I scowl at the mention of him. 

“I still get goose bumps.” Elle shivers. “If you hadn’t had that dream and prayed, your dad might not be alive.” 

“Lucky me.” I cross my arms. He’s all but dead to me anyhow, dropping out of my life after Mom divorced him. “Lane seven’s shortest.” I rush to get in line and out of this conversation. 

After Walmart, we walk to Elle’s. She jabbers nonstop, which is normal—and sometimes annoying—but today it’s a relief. That woman’s image is stuck in my head. It’s not like I want to think about her, but if my dreams and visions are from God, aren’t I supposed to try to figure them out? Not that I want to. It’s a should—as in obey God. People’s lives may be at stake. 

When I dreamed about Dad, I awoke in the night knowing I should pray that he’d live. Maybe I should have prayed the accident wouldn’t happen, but that’s not what came to mind. Now, nothing comes to mind about this woman. I can’t even remember the entire dream. Evidently, God wants me to know or even do something. But what? If only he’d make things clearer. 

I spend the night nestled in the spare twin bed in Elle’s room. Since Mom and I moved to our dumpy apartment, I’ve slept here more times than there. A harvest moon casts a warm glow on the wall. I brush my hand against the velvety wallpaper: stripes of powder-puff pink. The never-been-changed décor comfort me, except for the border of Disney princesses coming loose in spots, which resembles my life too well. 

A breeze from the open window flutters the lacy curtains. Princess Elle snores softly, always the first to fall asleep. What worries does she have? She wants to change schools. Swim in a bigger pond. Did I say pond? It’s more like an ocean. But what does it matter? Socially, I’ll sink just the same. 

Okay, so pinning this on Elle isn’t fair. When I’d asked God about changing schools, I sensed he wanted me to, like it was part of some bigger plan. 

Well, God, I’m reminding you of that. I’m really going to need you. I love you . . . 

As I drift into unconsciousness, the woman’s image flashes through my mind. Now I’m awake. What about her, God? I listen but hear nothing. Why won’t you answer me? I try to recall more details from the dream, but I can’t. 

If only I could get back to sleep, then I might dream about her again. I slow my breathing and quiet my mind by recalling Bible verses. God loves me. He has a good plan for my life. He gives to his beloved even in her sleep. But what he gives is hard for me to understand . . . accept . . . embrace. 

At daybreak, I bolt upright in bed. “Elle, wake up!” My heart pounds in my chest. “I know what’s on the whiteboard!” 

“Whiteboard?” She rolls over to face me. “What whiteboard?” 

“The whiteboard the woman in my dream stood in front of. The name Mr. Ryden appeared in black letters behind her, inside the shape of a stop sign.” 

“What’s that mean? Who’s Mr. Ryden?” 

The image of Elle’s neighbor pops into my head. “Doesn’t he live down the street from you? The P.E. teacher and football coach at the high school. He’s a Mr. Ryden, right?” 

“Yeah, Ride’em Ryden. What about him? And what about that woman?” 

“Maybe they’re married.” 

“Gross. Who’d marry him?” Her face puckers as if sucking on a Warheads candy. “He’s like a possessed Rottweiler.” She growls, showing teeth. “I feel sorry for that woman just being in the same dream as him.” 

I shouldn’t correct Elle, but I can’t help myself. “You know we’re not supposed to talk about people that way, El.” 

“Then how are we supposed to talk about such creeps?” 

“We’re not. Sometimes it’s hard being a Christian.” 

“Well, I know Ride’em isn’t married.” She scoots to the edge of her bed. “I never saw that woman before yesterday.” 

“Maybe he’s going to ask her to—” 

“Then yell STOP!” 

“Hey, maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m supposed to tell her ‘Stop Mr. Ryden,’ and she’ll know what it means. I can only tell what I see.” This feels right. 

“You really think you’d tell her? Or even see her again?” 

“If I’m supposed to tell her, I’ll see her.” Obeying God is mandatory in my book—and in his also. 

“You’d go up to a complete stranger and say, ‘Stop Mr. Ryden’?” She shakes her head. “I couldn’t. Would you tell her about the dream?” 

“I guess, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense.” 

“Like any of this makes sense?”


1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Belich Rev 1


Name: T. James Belich
Genre: Middle Grade mystery
Title: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE LION IN THE NIGHT-TIME

The zoo was quiet.

No monkeys hooted, no cats roared. Clumps of human zookeepers stood on the paved paths below, talking in low, rapid voices. Two police officers waited next to the Galapagos tortoise, who ground away at a breakfast of leaves and flowers. Past him, the flamingos stood on single legs, silent but watching. Even the sea lions hushed.

Ember flicked her tongue. Fear and uncertainty permeated the air. Something had happened. Something unprecedented.

Ember stretched her long, thin body over the flat roof of the reptile building, the sun reflecting off her orange-brown scales. She should be in her cage, asleep for the day, but the morning's activities caught her attention. Ember seized any opportunity to escape her cage. She disliked being used by the humans for their amusement, but the wild was no longer safe for her.

Thud.

The roof quivered. Long, thin fingers grabbed Ember by the tail, and she stared into the upside down face of a monkey. She tasted the air. The monkey needed a bath. She bit him on the paw.

"Ow!"

He dropped her and sucked on his finger. His paw had a small nub in place of a primate's usual thumb. "You're a rainbow boa, right? A constrictor? Not venomous, I mean?"

"You shall have to wait and see." Ember slithered away.

"Wait. The King—that's the male lion—he wants to see you."

"Tell the lion I have no interest in the affairs of mammals." Ember preferred her fellow reptiles. They kept to themselves. She slipped her head between two metal slats in the roof vent.

The monkey yanked Ember out. "The King wasn't asking. And when he wants to see you, you go."

Ember reared back. "And if I do not?"

"He'll make sure you really are stuck in your cage."

A cage barely as wide as Ember was long. Her heart ached for the expanse of the rainforest, green and vast, filled with the sounds of frogs and water, free of attachments.

But Ember could never return. Because she had been so foolish as to put her trust in another.

Down on the path, a tall man with dark skin met the two police officers and led them to the administrative building.

"That's Gordon," the monkey said, "the tiger keeper. He's the one who found him."

"Found who?" Ember could escape the monkey, but she didn't.

"Cameron. He's one of the human keepers." A tuft of dark fur stuck up from the monkey's head. He brushed it back. "Gordon found him in the lion habitat, the outdoor part, next to the King. He was dead. Cameron, I mean."

Ember stared at the monkey through the black slits of her eyes. The monkey blinked.

"That's why the King needs to see you." He reached for Ember's neck. "So let's go."

To the lion who had killed a human. Why? And what had this to do with her? Ember would not allow the lion to use her as the anaconda had done.

But she could not resist a puzzle.

The monkey draped Ember over his shoulders. Her head and tail hung down to his waist, so she looped herself around his neck. The monkey tugged on her coil.

"Do you have to do that? It's creepy, like you're about to start squeezing."

"Ssss. I do not have hands."

A long, thick branch stretched over the roof. The monkey leapt, grabbed it, and scrambled into the leaves. A branch scraped over Ember's scales.

"Ssssss."

"Sorry," the monkey said. He did not sound it.

A herd of keepers waited beneath them, looking lost. Ember tickled the monkey's nose with the tip of her tail. He sneezed. One of the keepers glanced up, but only for a moment.

"Don't do that," the monkey said.

"So little humor for a chimp."

"I'm a black-handed spider monkey. And it's no joke when the keepers find us out of our cages. Last time it took us monkeys a whole week to find a new way to escape."

After the humans scurried away, the monkey skittered along a branch and swung over the path, into the tree above the tortoise pen. Another jump, and Ember and the monkey landed outside the gorilla habitat. They passed the zebras, the giraffes, and more huddled keepers. The monkey dropped onto a long fence and crawled toward a squat, concrete building.

Ember flicked her tongue. She caught the musky taste of cat, a different kind than the jaguars of her native Costa Rica, but no less dangerous.

The monkey fumbled with a grate on the wall and squeezed inside. Ember flattened herself against the monkey's fur. He clambered through the shaft on all fours, his footsteps echoing inside the narrow, metal space. He stopped at a second grate.

"The keepers are, um, keeping the King in one of the inside enclosures," the monkey said, "away from the lionesses. I'll wait here for you." He opened the grate. "Are you going to say thanks or do you want to find your own way down?"

"Ssss. I did not ask you to bring me."

"Whatever." The monkey held Ember by her neck and, gripping the edge of the vent with his feet, he lowered Ember to a wall of fake boulders.

The monkey pulled back into the vent. "Just give a shout—or a hiss, I guess—when you're done." He shut the grate all but a paw's width.

A wall of glass separated the enclosure from the indoor viewing area. On the far side another window allowed visitors—the gawkers—to watch the lions outside.

A large patch at the base of the fake rocks radiated heat. The rocks might be enough to clamber around on for a few minutes, but after that Ember guessed they ceased to be amusing.

She slid into a crack at the bottom. The warm patch stood, shook his mane, and padded over. His hot breath surrounded Ember.

"Come here where I can see you," the King said.

Ember retreated. Her experience with the jaguar had taught her caution. "You killed a human. Say what you wish to say. Your Majesty."

The King's chest rumbled. "Just because the humans do with us as they please does not mean we must abandon our own ways."

"The King of Beasts is a human phrase." Ember lifted her head above the rest of her body. "Why have you summoned me?"

"Did the monkey not explain?"

"He explained that Cameron—one of your keepers, yes?—was found dead with you beside him," Ember said. "He explained you have been found responsible for the human's death. But he did not explain why you asked for me."

The King crossed to the glass. "I did not kill Cameron, but that does not matter. You know what they will do to me."

Ember had not been in the zoo long—a matter of weeks—but she understood. Any animal the keepers considered dangerous would not be allowed to live.

The King stared through the window. He, too, must feel the instinct to hunt, strong as a river current, but Ember could not lose more than she already had. And if the King was indeed innocent, he could be her means to escape the zoo.

Ember unwound herself and slid part of her long body into the open area between the rocks and the glass.

"The Tortoise assured me you could help," the King said. "Knowing how you found the African bullfrog, I believe him."

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Jolley Rev 1


Name: Mary Jolley
Genre: Young Adult: fantasy romance
Title: Gray Throne

I hated the Grays. I hated all the thugs from Alta Belle, but especially Bear Gray—my so-called king, and his son, Angus—my future king.

Not if I can help it.

I twisted knobs as I looked through the telescope. A pack of horsemen came into focus, trotting up the cobbled main street toward the Cromarty Institute. My home. Not theirs.

“So many,” I said.

“Fifty, I guess,” said Lanie, peering down at the intruders from the observatory windows.

“Why?”

Last spring the Grays had come to check up on us with only twelve of their terrifying warriors. My lashes brushed the lens. A dozen of the Gray’s vicious paxaro birds patrolled the skies. The Gray flag depicting twin trees waved from front of the line of riders, right next to the king.

Not my king.

The tyrant wore a leather coat with fur trimming. In the temperate climate of Campbell, he’d opened the coat and pulled the hood back, revealing a bearded face, curling brown hair and deep-set eyes. At Bear’s side, his son rode a black horse. Coatless and hatless, Angus sat almost lazily on his beastly mount. Tilted shoulders and loosely held reins exuded arrogance.

Go away.

“Come on,” I said. “They’re almost at the courtyard.”

“I’m not greeting them like this.” Lanie motioned to her casual khaki skirt, lace-collared tunic, and cardigan. The same outfit I wore.

Who cares? Like they can tell cashmere from canvas. “Secret spot.”

Lanie nodded with a grin.

We fled down five flights of stairs to the storeroom on the ground floor. Dad would have lectured us for hours on propriety if he’d known his daughters had stuffed into a closet to spy on our guests.

I climbed onto a barrel and propped open the glass. We pressed our cheeks together and peered through the narrow window at the granite-paved courtyard, now packed with ruffians. Horses steamed and grunted—more daunting than the district train.

His unwelcome highness, Bear Gray, dismounted from an enormous horse. Worn leather pants wrapped thick legs. A dagger hung from one hip, a pistol from the other. Like many of his men, Bear wore a blue plaid button up. Only his air of cold authority distinguished him as the ultimate power here.

Dad strode into the courtyard wearing a pressed suit, broad smile, and Mom on his right elbow. “Majesty.” Dad lowered his head to the king. “Welcome to Campbell and to the Cromarty Institute.”

The two men stood eye to eye, but Bear looked twice the weight and triple the strength. Bear’s nose buckled in the middle and bent slightly right. He’d broken it three years ago in the uprising in Hogg and he’d never set it properly—a reminder to would-be rebels.

Rebels like me.

It reminded me how close Ian had come to killing the king. Bear was not unbreakable. I would break him. Skirt caught in my clenching fist.

Prince Angus Gray strode from the pack of horses and stood next to Bear. At twenty, Angus stood a palm taller than his father and had the same thick brown hair, although his was cropped short as his ears. His brow appeared permanently furrowed and his jaw remained clenched—as if his stony face would be enough to cow us into submission for another year.

Leave us alone.

“Well,” Lanie said. “Angus has improved over the last year. Much better without the beard.”

“Shush.” I was missing the outside conversation. And seeing his sharp jaw didn’t improve the situation.

“We have the West Tower prepared for you and your party,” Mom said. “I thought you’d like to freshen up after your ride and enjoy lunch before our meetings.”

The travelers looked like they’d had a romp in brown paint. Animal stink puffed through the window.

“We’ll speak in private now,” Bear said to Dad.

Lanie and I shared a look at his ominous tone.

Mom directed the fifty filthy barbarians away. Dad led a small group inside the East Tower, where we lived. A frightening paxaro bird, strutted in after the king. Dad’s brow pinched in worry and his lips turned down at the corners.

Lanie hopped off the barrel, but I watched the warriors from Alta Belle a moment longer—muscle, iron, and stench. I needed a good plan if I had any hope of us Campbells removing them with our puny arms. If only Ian were still here. He’d filled my head with dreams of revolution. He’d painted a bright future—without the Grays. But he wasn’t here.

The Grays had made sure of that.

I snuck out the back of the West Tower. Cutting a wide circle, I slipped in the East Tower and padded down a white plaster-walled hallway. A table bearing juice and pastries had been set up outside the meeting room doors, right below the air vent—my only chance of overhearing Dad’s meeting with the king.

Footsteps neared the corner ahead. Panicked, I dove under the table, smoothing my tablecloth shield into place.

“How many batches of the vaccine have you made?” Bear asked, his voice growing louder.

“Four successful rounds,” Dad said. “We’ve inoculated everyone here at Cromarty and we’re working our way through Campbell.”

“You’ll want a tour of our new lab.” I recognized Wolfton’s whinny voice. He’d been the Gray’s regent (aka spy) here for years.

Hold your tongue, Rat.

Heavy boots stopped at my table. I caged my breath.

“Have some lunch brought up.” Bear’s low voice was tight with disapproval at our snack options. “Something satisfying.” Bear marched down the hall toward the doors.

That was close.

A spindly shadow appeared on the tablecloth. The claw snagged the fabric. My covering ripped down. I yelped. Glass and chocolate splintered on the ground. A silver paxaro landed on the tiles in front of my hiding spot. Beady eyes glared. I stifled a scream. The bird, as tall as a three-year-old, cocked its head.

“Spy,” the bird said, its voice a screech.

I held a protective hand between its sharp beak and my nose.

“No, I’m not,” I whispered to the bird.

“Liar,” the bird said in a loud crackly voice.

Angus’s dirty boots thumped into view. A knife appeared next to his calf. Fear, as sharp as the tip of his blade, spiked my chest.

“Come out, spy.” The bird shifted onto one wiry foot and held up a clawed hand as if it would pull me out—probably by the neck. Talons glinted.

“It’s just me,” I said in a loud voice. I scrambled out, empty hands up and hot face down.

“Vera!” Dad’s voice was a cocktail of shock (fake) and disapproval (real).

Angus’s blade had disappeared by the time I lifted my eyes to his big empty hands.

“Couldn’t wait to see us?” Angus asked. Amusement played across gray eyes.

I never want to see you. “Please excuse me.”

Bear’s chuckles crackled up my spine.

“What were you doing?” Angus asked.

“I dropped something under the table.” I stiffened as he studied my face.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Angus said.

Dad stepped up to Angus’s side. “An excellent quality.”

Liar. Dad hated that about me. Dad knew how to make lies slid off his tongue like silk. He knew how to use his well formed weapon well—his words. If I had half his skill, I wouldn’t be standing here like a mouse with her paw caught in the cream.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Stoker


Name: K. Stoker
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Title: SAMURAI RACING

Pickup for you.

My headphones buzzed with a message from my boss, Eiiji Minami. The message sounded through the automated voice of my handheld electropaper, or EP, and the voice sounded tired, but a little snarky. Or maybe that was just my current mood.

The stale air of Kyoto in the summer sagged against my skin. The early morning sun peaked out from behind the mountains, but the closeness of the buildings meant most of the street remained draped in shadow. Above me, marking the sky like giant kanji, were trails from airships headed to Osaka and Tokyo. Only a few weeks until the Oban Race and already the hotels were filling as spectators flocked to the bigger cities for the qualifying races. 

I flipped the switch for my hovers. My hovercycle, an outdated Shuriken 500z, lifted off the ground. Like a traditional motorcycle, the hovercycle had two wheels, but only used for backup when the electric battery ran out or the hovers failed for some reason. 

Job location sent to your maps, dear.

I shuddered. Even with the automated voice I could tell the messages had switched from Eiiji to his son Kosuke. That meant this wasn’t going to be a simple errand. Kosuke Minami hovered in the gray space between legal and illegal, and I knew the longer I worked for him the closer I was to sliding forever into the illegal category.

Across the narrow street my elderly neighbors nodded to me as the water from their potted plants ran down the street. The moisture seeped into the drains beneath the street and would eventually end in the Kamogawa River. A simple cycle, repeating forever. 

I let out a long sigh. Another pickup, another job. A simple cycle, repeating forever. I pulled in the clutch and let the engine rumble below me, imagining that somehow my bike could feed me its energy. I let out the clutch and the bike rocketed forward.

Minutes later, I stopped my bike at a stoplight and pulled out my EP to check the map. A bright red dot hovered over a warehouse just a few blocks south of where I was, east of the Kamogawa River.  I stuffed the thin device back in my pocket and tapped my fingers on the handlebars of my bike. Pedestrians shuffled across the crosswalk as multi-seater transcycles, speedcycles and a few hovercycles waited for the light to change. 

The light turned green and my bike surged forward. 

I pulled in the clutch with my left hand and closed the throttle with my right, pressing down on the gearshift with my left foot to bump it from first into second. I angled the front hovers of the bike as I turned toward the river. Using my right foot, I pushed off from the curb, hopping my bike off the black pavement and onto the uneven stone of the concrete path that led to the river.  My 500z jolted forward, skipping over the bumpy ground as the hover propulsion tried to find flat ground. 

I swerved around a pole, almost scraping my knee on the concrete wall that jutted out from beneath an overgrown bush.  I pushed off with my other foot, just keeping my balance as I jerked the front tire around the pile of trash bags the collectors hadn’t grabbed yet. Somewhere behind me the large waste-transcycle rumbled through the narrow streets, robotic arms reaching out to grab the color-coded bags.

My speed increased as I steered the bike down hill. The sounds of traffic faded and the morning sun glinted on the lazy river. A literal breath of fresh air. I inhaled slowly, trying to avoid ingesting the morning gnats. A few black dragonflies floated on the slow breeze, darting back and forth across the path in front of my hovercycle. Hissing cicadas hung on trees, singing the song of summer. As I headed downriver, the force of gravity and the speed of my bike pushed me faster and faster. For a moment, with the wind in my face and the bike engine vibrating underneath me, I felt free.

A few minutes later I parked my bike outside of the warehouse. The street was empty, just a few solitary vending machines standing as sentinels along the quiet street. An occasional bus or transcycle rattled down the street and from a few blocks over I could hear the glorious roar of a speedcycle engine. 

I pulled my EP out of my pocket. It was a simple hand-sized piece of electropaper that could receive and transmit simple wireless messages. Cheap, prone to breaking, like everything else I owned. From it Kosuke’s instructions glared out at me.

Before 8AM. Box labeled 56JJHL, bring to downtown office. Cameras in warehouse disabled.

I clicked off my hovers, letting my bike sink back down to the ground, bouncing slightly on the back up tires. I walked my bike to a small alleyway across from the warehouse, checking the street again to make sure it was deserted. The hovercycle stayed hidden in the narrow space between buildings as I casually walked to the vending machine near the large roll up door of the warehouse.

Standing in front of the vending machine, I pretended to examine the selection of coffees and energy drinks. Instead, I scanned the exterior of the concrete warehouse, wondering how exactly I was supposed to get in. A quick check at the rolling door revealed that it was locked, no surprises there. I stationed myself back in front of the vending machine and sent Kosuke a text.

Doors locked.

I selected the cheapest item in the vending machine, a small bottle of water, and had finished half of it before Kosuke texted me back.

Enter from the second floor. Window left open.

“What?” I said, looking back at the three story concrete building.

There were no windows facing the street. Next to the warehouse on one side was a construction site and on the other a doctor’s clinic, currently closed. The clinic had outside stairs that led to its second floor, hopefully next to the warehouse’s elusive window. 

I walked straight up the stairs, as if I had an appointment with the non-existent doctor. Sure enough the warehouse had a small window peaking out at the stairwell. From the top of the stairs, I could feel eyes on me, watching me, and I knew I had been here too long. I stolen dozens of items for Kosuke, and though I never knew what they were, I knew my chances of getting caught increased everyday. 

But Kosuke had said there were no cameras. I reached the top of the stairs and leaned across the railing to the window of the warehouse. With a gentle push the window swung open. At the sound of footsteps, I glanced back at the street. Just a woman walking her tiny dog. The fluffy animal wore a pink suit that matched the woman’s, but neither dog nor human looked up to where I was. Within minutes they had flounced away, probably off for a walk by the river. 

Heart pounding, I crawled over the stair railing and into to the now open window. Inside the dark warehouse I could make out piles of boxes. I checked the instructions on my phone again and then got to work. Ten minutes later I’d found the box, which was small enough to tuck into my shirt. 


1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Larson


Kim Larson
YA Contemporary
Stop Mr. Ryden

The spiral-ringed notebook slips from my fingers and drops to the floor. That woman! She—she was in my dream last night. But who is she? And why is she at Walmart?

Elle, my cousin and best friend, waves her hands in front of my face. “Earth to Anna.”

I stare at the woman from my dream through a maze of back-to-school shoppers. Is it really her? Tight shirt. Short shorts. But yeah, it’s her. In my dream she wore a shiny red blouse, white scarf, and navy pants. Like an American flag. She stood next to an open door, against a white backdrop with words written in black letters. Words I can’t remember.

“Anna . . . Anna . . .”

I ignore Elle and watch this woman sort through a bin of marked-down school supplies. This didn’t happen in my dream—but I know what happens next. I nudge Elle and nod toward the stranger. “She’s going to buy the pack of yellow highlighters.”

The woman tosses markers, note cards, and pens aside before throwing yellow highlighters into her cart.

“Wow. You’re good.”

“No, not really. I’ve just been here before.”

“Yeah, haven’t we all.” She tosses her long hair over one shoulder. “Every August—getting new school junk. You think we get our planners here or at school?”

“Seriously, El, I just had another déjà vu.”

“You did?” She bounces into my personal space. “But weren’t you going to stop calling them that?”

“Yeah, but I just can’t say it.” I fidget, too uncertain of my gift and how to use it.

“Practice with me.” She cradles my face in her hands, pulling my cheeks up and down, moving my jaw with each syllable. “Say, ‘El-le, I had a-noth-ther vi-sion.’” She drops her hands and rests them on my shoulders.

Uncomfortable, I turn my face from her warm spearmint breath and from what feels like looking into a mirror. Our hazel-green eyes and straight blonde hair are identical, but then half the girls I know wear their hair this same way. Yet, it’s still freaky that our dark-haired dads, though brothers, had daughters who look so much alike.

“Tell me more!” Elle bounces, uses my shoulders as a springboard. “Did more happen? Besides the highlighters?”

“No, that’s it.” A flash of dream resurfaces. “Don’t freak now, but she was in my dream last night, too.” As if visions aren’t enough. Now I have strangers showing up in real life from my dreams. What am I supposed to do with that?

“Really? Buying highlighters?”

“No.” I take a deep breath. Sometimes it’s hard for even me to follow what’s happening. “That was just now in the déjà vu—I mean vision. Last night in my dream she stood by an open door with something written behind her. I wish I could remember what.”

“Yeah, me too. Like how sweet would that be? But what’s up with dreaming and having a vision of . . . her?” Elle glances over her shoulder and looks this woman up and down. “You think God is trying to tell you something? Like when your dad crashed his car?”

“Maybe.” I scowl.

The only dream I’ve ever had that actually came true was two years ago on the night my mom kicked my dad out of our house. He’d come home drunk again, and Mom had his suitcase packed and waiting outside the front door. She’d done this before, but this time was different. Earlier         that day she’d had the locks changed and made me promise not to let him in.

“I still get goose bumps.” Elle shivers. “If you hadn’t had that dream, and prayed, your dad might not be alive.”

“Lucky me.” I cross my arms. He’s all but dead to me anyhow, dropping out of my life after Mom divorced him. “Lane seven’s shortest.” I rush to get in line and out of this conversation.

After we pay for our school supplies, we walk to Elle’s. She jabbers nonstop, which is normal—and sometimes annoying—but today it’s a relief. That woman’s image is stuck in my head. It’s not like I want to think about her, but if my dreams and visions are from God, aren’t I supposed to try and figure them out? Not that I want to. It’s a should. As in obey God.

I just want my old life back. Before Dad left. Before we moved. Before changing schools. Who needs dreams and visions on top of all this? Especially when I’m clueless about them.

Walking into Elle’s, her mom greets us with a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. At the first inhale of the sweet, buttery aroma, my mouth waters, and I know I’m at the closest place to heaven—where nothing ever changes.

“Want a warm one with some milk?”

“Mmm, thanks, Auntie Cindy.” The chocolate chips melt and swirl with the lingering grease on my fingers as I gobble the cookie in three bites.

“Do you girls have everything you need for your new school?” Aunt Cindy pours our glasses of milk. The frothy bubbles surface, then pop.

“Yeah, Mom.” Elle licks chocolate from her fingertips.

“You know it’s not too late to go back to Park Christian. Uncle Dave and I will gladly pay your tuition, Anna.”

“Thanks, but I don’t want charity.” That’s been my excuse ever since Elle talked me into switching schools. Then she begged her parents into letting her switch. I take another cookie, break it in two, and dip half into my glass of milk. “This change is finally one I’m looking forward to.” Maybe someday I’ll convince myself.

“We’re supposed to be lights in the world, not hide under a basket.” Elle repeats this Bible verse often, reminding her mom of her reason for changing schools.

Though it’s true, being a light seems as difficult as getting this soggy cookie into my mouth. A crumbly-milk mixture dribbles down my chin.

“See, memorizing a verse every week has already paid off.” Aunt Cindy hands us each a napkin. “And that’s exactly why I’d like you both to stay at Park Christian.”

“We promised to keep memorizing, already.” Elle rolls her eyes. “Besides, you let Brandon change schools at my age.” The switch is a done deal, so I don’t get why they keep going at it.

“That’s because of sports.” Aunt Cindy pulls the last sheet of cookies out of the oven. “He had your father’s blessing, not mine. The twins were babies. I was too tired to argue.” She shakes her head. “Sports! You’d think the world revolves around them.”

Elle scrunches up her face behind her mom’s back. I don’t have to be prophetic to know what Aunt Cindy will say next—how sports have become this world’s god. Elle rushes to her mom and throws her arms around her. “I love you, Mom.” She looks over her mom’s shoulder and winks at me. “Thanks again for letting me switch and convincing Dad.”

I know Elle says this to keep her mom from ranting, but she’s also sincere. She loves her mom, and I feel a pang of jealousy over their closeness.

“What’s fair is fair,” Aunt Cindy says. “If I didn’t think the two of you had such a firm foundation, I’d have never agreed.” She wipes her hands on her apron. “Well then, how are you set for school clothes, Anna?”