Sunday, January 21, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Moskalenko Rev 2

Name: Sophia Moskalenko
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Lauren’s Light


In 17th century France, money buys pleasure, religion peddles bliss, but magic is a gift that sends Lauren’s heart soaring even as it wrecks her life. 

Witch hunts are ruthless and routine. Lauren barely escapes execution. Then her hideout is discovered. She must run--again. When a Parisian perfumer, Andre de Dinan, offers her money and marriage to cure his leprosy, Lauren gives up magic for safety, thinking she’s found a sanctuary.

But courter’s intrigues are as deadly as villagers’ pitchforks. Drunk, Andre reveals Lauren’s powers to his business partner, Ismail, a scientist. Ismail has the formula for a happiness elixir that would disrupt the church’ influence. Except the elixir is cursed, its side-effects deadly. Threatening to bankrupt Andre, Ismail demands Lauren lift the curse.

The church, wanting the elixir for their own miracle, spy on Ismail, steal the formula, and will kill Lauren’s daughter unless Lauren delivers the fixed elixir to them.

As soon as men in power get their scientific breakthrough or religious miracle, they will get rid of Lauren. She can follow her talent into almost-certain death, tackling the elusive magic of happiness, or lose everything she lives for. 


Oh, no.

Lauren picked up the lifeless lark from the doorstep.

“What happened, baby?” She held the bird in her cupped hands. “Were you fleeting a hawk?” The bird did not stir, toes curled, a wing draping down. Lauren took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and blew out a stream of shimmering blue air, a translucent cloud settling over the lark, shifting with the breeze, then fading. Magic was powerless. The bird was dead.

Such a bad omen… Inside, Lauren felt a chord stretch taught, its tremors spreading to her fingertips.

A dead bird fell by the door once, when Lauren was eleven. Two days later the door splintered under fists and feet, and Lauren’s life split into “before” and “after.” “Before,” sunlit and spring-colored, smelled of Mama’s potions, fresh hay, and honey. Before, specks of dust danced in the orange rays of sunsets framed by the window, as Lauren watched Mama tend to patients. Before, warmth--of sour-smelling cinder-smudged bread, of Mama’s hands brushing Lauren’s hair--filled their quaint world.   


In 1658, flames engulfed “the witch’s lair,” Mama and Lauren’s house, and their world burnt to the ground, reduced to smoldering coals before it turned cold and grey. Grey were the stones of the village square, listless grey dust covered the street leading to Aunt Symonne’s house, gray figures shuffled by-- Mama’s killers, Lauren’s neighbors.  

The gray almost swallowed her. Until, out of her misery and loneliness, she conjured the blue light--her own magic, a connection to Mama that colored Lauren’s “After.”

Blinking memories away, Lauren carried the lark down to the creek. She ripped a curved strip of bark from an uprooted willow, and set the makeshift raft with the tiny body afloat. A moment later, the current swept it downstream. “Carry the bad luck away with the omen,” Lauren begged the water.

“Everything had been fine,” she thought, climbing a curvy path up the creek’s bank. “Luke scouted this place for its safety, far from the village, from roads and hunting grounds, deep in the woods.”

She came around a rickety chicken coup and past a fenced vegetable garden. The door handle that four years ago left splinters in Lauren’s fingers was now smooth, polished.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” she said out loud. But under her ribs the chord, struck by the sight of the dead bird, still trembled.

Lauren busied herself, crushing dry mushrooms and poppy seeds, sorting them into small boxes. She could navigate the house with her eyes closed: two steps to the right—a table where the boxes gaped, waiting to be filled; three steps —the fireplace, a shelf over it crowded with flasks and boxes; turn around, two steps, and Lauren was back by the windowsill.

“LAUREN… LUKE,” a call rang over the clearing behind the house.

The taught string inside Lauren’s chest snapped.

Her heart caught in her throat.

“I’VE MISSED YOU,” the voice—a woman’s--was closer.

Paralyzed a moment ago, Lauren sprung to the fireplace, grabbed a poker for a split second, then shoved it back, zipped to the table, snatched a knife. Then she froze again, cheeks hot, heartbeat in her ears.

She considered the knife she was clutching, took a deep breath and placed it back on the table. Another deep breath, and Lauren closed her eyes. She inhaled one more time, opened her eyes, and swung the door open.
Tall grass rustled in the clearing surrounded by birches and willows. Pine trees on the edge of the forest swayed in the breeze.

A stone’s throw away, Annie, Luke’s younger sister and Lauren’s cousin stood, statuesque, a haughty smile on her face. Not men with pitchforks--but it was not a pleasant surprise.

A few paces behind Annie, a wide-brimmed hat obscured her brother Matty’s face. Matty swore to secrecy. He was only to come in case of a disaster. "Maybe that’s the dead bird’s warning," Lauren thought, "Aunt Symonne is sick?" 

“Lauren, my dear,” Annie explored the range of her melodic voice, “How you’ve grown! It’s been too long! And what’ve you done with my big brother? Have you” --Annie made a horrified face--“have you sent a plague on his poor head like you did all those other people?”

Ignoring Annie’s performance, Lauren turned to Matty. “Matty! Is everything alright? Is Aunt Symonne well?”

Matty shriveled to half his size while Annie answered for him, “Mom’s fine. Matty here couldn’t refuse me when I begged him to visit you. He’s such a good brother. Aren’t you, Matty?”

Holding her power at the ready, Lauren folded her arms.

“Alright,” Annie said, “I see we won’t have a nice conversation like I wanted. Are you going to invite me in? And where’s my big brother, I asked you?”

“Luke’s hunting.”

“Ah!” A barely audible sigh of relief. “It’s too bad. Next time, then. Tell him I came by, won’t you?” Annie made a few steps forward.

Lauren spread her arms wide by her sides, tense fingers outstretched, “Stop right there.”

Annie kept right on walking.

“Annie, stop!”

But Annie marched straight on.

With two fists, Lauren jerked her arms to the sky, and Annie felt her feet yanked up from under her. Her back met the ground with a loud thump.

Breathless, Annie sat up, gawking at Lauren over the grass, then burst with giggles, rubbing her backside.

“I told you, Matty!” She mocked Matty’s voice, “’She’s only healed a couple of times… She’s not that strong…’ D’you see it? She’s a natural witch.”

Matty started to back away, but Annie shouted after him, “Where’re you going? Sit down and wait right here. I won’t be long.”

With disarming confidence, Annie walked up to Lauren, grabbed her elbow, and pulled her into the house. Inside, she looked around, nose crinkled, lip curled--an expression Lauren remembered too well. Snatching a glass jar from the windowsill, Annie demanded, “what’s this?”  

Lauren ignored her, collecting flasks and small wooden boxes from the table and setting them atop the shelf over the fireplace. She pulled the jar from Annie’s hand, adding it to the row.

“What do you want, Annie?”

Annie smiled, examining Lauren from up-close. “You grew up pretty, cousin… I knew about you even before the plague.” Annie paused, baiting for a reaction to the accusation that nearly cost Lauren her life. “I watched you once, when you went into the woods at dawn. After Luke helped you escape, it was bad for us. I don’t know if Matty told you… We were blamed for letting you leave.” Lauren tried hard to keep her face still. Annie continued, “Anyway. I’m still glad you ran away. You’d be dead, for sure. And I need you alive.”

At the back of the room, between two sparse beds, Annie noticed something glitter—a small mirror in a gilded frame. “Oh, that’s nice. Where’d you get that?”
“Someone gave it to me. I…” Lauren looked straight into Annie’s eyes. “I healed her child.”

Pushing past Lauren, Annie peered into the mirror, adjusted a strand of flyaway hair, turning her head from side to side. “I’m seventeen, you know. I want to get married. I could have any guy in the village. But I don’t care for them. They’re disgusting pigs. I want something better. I want a better life. I deserve it. Look at me!”

Annie was striking, and fully aware of it. She had the same large eyes as Lauren, though hers were brown, not blue, and instead of Lauren’s pensive expression, Annie’s were sharp and curious. A natural blonde streak in Annie’s auburn braids framed her face like a wreath. 

“There are these merchants that come to the village once or twice a year. Real rich, everyone on a horse. Some ride in carriages, even! Expensive clothes, jewels on their necks, on their fingers. They tell stories about places they see—Paris! Bordeaux! Lauren, I want to go there! I want to see the world. This pathetic life in pathetic Lorraine is not for me! You’ve got to help me.”


  1. Sophia,

    What?! This is so good. Your new opening is amazing and gives a much clearer picture of the stakes and the characters. I love this line: “The taught string inside Lauren’s chest snapped.” I don’t have any critiques because I’m just so blown away by how good your pages are now.

    Your pitch also looks great. I get a little lost when it comes to the elixir. Is it Lauren’s, Andre’s, or Ismail’s? And why will they get rid of her after she fixes it? Sounds very intriguing though!

    Good luck!

  2. Wow!! I'm so impressed with your revision! Great job changing it to Lauren's POV. So much better and more intriguing. I like the bird and how she handles it. That shows us a bit of who she is. Annie is still slightly over the top for me, but at least now I see what she wants and who she is. I would say maybe cut back a tiny bit on the backstory (you can hint at the before and after and what they mean without explaining all yet and drip in the info as it comes into play in the story). You can also slow down slightly. Maybe let us know what Lauren thinks of Matty's betrayal. Give us a little more internal emotion on Lauren's part so we really feel along with her. Beautiful writing!
    As far as the pitch... I'm with you up until you mention her daughter. Where'd she get a daughter? When did that happen? How old is she? Is this still YA when talking about marriage and children? These are questions you need to answer for yourself. I
    I think you need to change the last paragraph: "As soon as men in power get their scientific breakthrough or religious miracle, they will get rid of Lauren. She can follow her talent into almost-certain death, tackling the elusive magic of happiness, or lose everything she lives for." It's a little confusing. Maybe something along the lines of: Knowing full well her life is expendable to either side once she fixes the elixir, Lauren must choose between her own death and that of the daughter she loves. Or something along those lines. :D Good luck!!

  3. Pitch:

    This sounds like a great story. I’m really intrigued to read more. A little bit more clarity in the final paragraph and it’s there.


    Wow, this is so different from the previous versions. It really works. Great job!

    All my feedback is just edits to clean up the text but the story opens at the right place and is looking good.

    1 – watch when you slip in Annie’s P.O.V. E.g: ‘Annie felt her feet yanked up…’

    2 – the descriptions of her past and of both Lauren and Annie’s appearance slow down the narrative. Is it possible to spread these out more evenly to keep it nice and pacy?

    3 – When we read about Lauren’s thoughts, we don’t need dialogue marks. E.g “Everything had been fine,” she thought. You do know this as you do it at the start, ‘Oh no’. It’s clearly just a very quick edit turn around for this workshop so a couple of these have slipped through.

    Apart from that, it’s an easy read and is written lovely.

    Well done!

  4. Hi Sophia!

    Please note (I'm saying this to everyone): I'm reading these pages cold, meaning I'm not reading the earlier versions or comments from others before commenting myself. This may mean that some of my comments repeat what other have said or contradict them - and that's OK! Publishing, in many ways, is a subjective process. It's up to you as the author to take in (sometimes contradictory) information, consider it, and then decide what makes the most sense to you and your book.

    These are very good first pages - well done! And it sounds like a great concept. Well done! Some specific comments:
    -Start with the second line? "Oh no" is weak - "Lauren picked up the lifeless lark from the doorstep" is WAY more interesting.
    -You do such a lovely and elegant reveal of the magic and history. Totally natural! That's hard to do and just what you need to be doing.
    -I think we may need more time before Annie appears? Things change a bit too quickly - let's sit a moment longer with getting to know Lauren and where she is.
    -Why does Lauren go from trying to stop Annie to letting her in the house?
    -Why is Annie evil? I'd would like more of their story and getting to know them before we get to why Annie is there - or less! Make it more mysterious with confidence, which tells us we'll learn about it later on.
    -watch POV - if we're with Lauren's POV then we can't know what Annie "felt"
    -Before you submit, be sure you do a copyedit clean up (as I know you will!) There are some typos, missing punctuation, thoughts in italics v. quotation marks, etc - all stuff that is easy to clean and will help you make a great first impression.

    Good job and good luck!

  5. Awesome job - this is much stronger and I feel more connected to the story starting with Lauren right away. I think cleaning up some of the points mentioned above will improve it further. I find the whole concept intriguing! Good luck with this!

  6. Hey Sophia,

    Wow, your new opening paragraphs are so beautiful! I really love the writing, and it makes it so easy to connect to Lauren right away. I think this is an incredibly strong revision.

    I think my biggest unresolved question from these opening pages is about Annie and Lauren's relationship. Is Lauren entertaining the idea of helping Annie? If so, why? Annie seems so unlikeable, it would be nice to have some sense of what hold she has on Lauren (who is clearly more powerful).

    Just a side question-- are Luke and Lauren related? You say that Annie is Lauren's cousin and Luke's sister. I'm curious. I'm also curious how Luke plays into the overall plot, because I notice he's not mentioned in the query. These are more just personal questions I have, not things that necessarily need to be addressed in these pages/the query.

    Re: your query, for the most part I like it. I think there's a little bit of detail that you could cut ("Then her hideout is discovered. She must run-- again," seems unnecessary), and I'd really like to know her age. The plot seems adult-- she's married, with a child-- so I think you need to make her age clear to justify this as YA.

    I really enjoyed reading this new version!

  7. Hi Sophia,


    “Lauren gives up magic for safety” confused me. I wasn’t sure if that just meant the magic she used to heal him or after healing him she stopped using her magic.

    I found the jump from Andre telling Ismail to Ismail has an elixir odd. Maybe in between you could put the sentence about blackmailing and then explain about the elixir.


    I love your new start. I think starting with Laruen really works, especially following the pitch.

    When you put her thoughts in quotations I was unsure if she was saying them aloud or just thinking them. If just thinking, I’d consider something other than quotation marks.

    I wasn’t sure where in Lauren’s story we were starting. The pitch mentions she barely escapes execution. Is that something from her past or something coming later in the story? She’s hiding in the woods, so it seems like something bad happened, but I was unsure if that was the escaped execution or something else.

    Annie mentions Lauren healing; maybe include that earlier with Lauren. Is it physical and so something you can show with her movements?

    I’d like to know more about Lauren. The scene with the bird seemed very telling, but I feel like I got less from her later.

    This was great! Thanks for sharing!

  8. WOW!!!! This is SO much better. The concept is great, the beginning is so much stronger--fantastic really. I love Lauren and the magic. You capture the reader's attention from the second line, which is lovely, and her POV is great. (Do keep the camera on her though as you lapsed a few times into Annie's POV.) Your sentences are much more vibrant this go around as well, although there are quite a few typos and errors, I've no doubt that you can clean those up.

    I'm assuming that Annie had something to do with Lauren's mother's death? If so, a wee little hint would be great.

    I had no sense at all that this was set in France or the time period. I'd suggest going with names that evoke that setting, as Lauren, Annie, and Matty feel too contemporary American.

    Enormous leap forward, and VERY courageous. I'm SO delighted that you took the risk, Sophia. This is really, really good!

    I wish you all the very best with it!