Sunday, March 11, 2018

1st 5 Pages March Workshop- Femia Rev 1

Charles Femia
Middle Grade - Urban Fantasy
Van Helsing's Blood

Leo glanced out the bedroom window, checking to make sure the driveway remained empty. He crossed to the bed and dug out his father’s sweatshirt from under the mattress. Slipping it on, a faint trace of cologne enveloped him. Details of the memory flashed through his mind. A dark coffin lowered on creaking chains into a hole in the earth. The scents of decaying flesh and something like pickle juice mingled together. Leo’s stomach turned. He’d never see him again, or talk to him. All the possible never agains ran on a loop in his head. What if I forget what he looks like? 

He pushed the thought away, deep down in a corner of his mind. Leo picked up his basketball and paced laps around the nearly empty room, tossing it from hand to hand. Its tacky orange goose bumps sticking to his fingertips.
Sinking on to the bed, he glimpsed at the clock for the third time, propped on the carpet between unpacked boxes. They could stay that way forever for all he cared. Leo wanted to forget about this house in Upstate New York and go back to New Jersey, where his friends and basketball team would welcome him back with a standing ovation.
He tossed the ball against the wall. The thumping against the drywall and the slapping back into his hands created a rhythm to distract him. Clouds of plaster dust mushroomed out with every bounce. He stole another peek at the clock. Where is this kid?Vikram Singh had agreed to bring over his laptop. Leo huffed a deep breath, puffing his cheeks like a blowfish.
Hurricane season hurled major storms through the area for the two weeks since the move, preventing anything from being turned on in the home. Life for a twelve year old without TV or internet access proved to be no life at all. Rumbling thunder rattled the windows as though on cue, mocking him.
A knock on the door made him jump. Leo dropped the ball amid the boxes and tugged the sweatshirt off. He folded it on the comforter, glided his fingers across the smooth fleece and returned it under the mattress. He went to open the door.
A thin boy in a sky blue Columbia hoodie smiled, freeing himself from his backpack straps. “Hey, dude. Sorry I’m late.”
“Vik, where you been? Did you bring your laptop?”
“Relax, man. Yeah, I got it. I was helping your Mom unload some decorations and pumpkins from her car. Some son you are.” Vik laughed and punched Leo in the arm as he entered the room.
Leo pushed the door closed. “I didn’t even hear her pull up. I must’ve zoned out. Did you find anything?”
Vik shook his head and pulled a fully-rigged laptop out of the backpack. “Not a whole lot, besides what you already told me. Good thing our power came back on so I could charge this. I don’t know how you been living without anything this long.”
Leo frowned. “Right? If I hadn’t seen you that day, I wouldn’t even have a friend to hang out with here.” Leo had been unloading the station wagon on the day of the move when he spotted Vik holding a bow and waiting for an archery lesson from the old woman next door. Leo crossed the lawn to introduce himself and check out the bow. The boys hit it off right away and hung out every day since.
Ordinarily, an archery instructor living right next door would have been awesome. It being one of the many things Leo’s father used to teach him. But over these past few weeks, his love for many things, especially those connected with Dad vanished.
That wasn’t the only reason. In truth, the old lady weirded him out. She showed all the signs of a typical old woman, the white hair and glasses swaying on a chain around her neck. Except for the one time. Leo had been staring out of his bedroom window overlooking the expansive forest at the end of his street when she pulled into her driveway.
Tires crunched over the gravel and squealed to a stop. When she exited the car, a gale whipped through the area, sending leaves spiraling like a cyclone. Wind chimes clanged their displeasure. She rushed toward her front door hauling a bunch of grocery bags. A pitching mound-sized puddle blocked her path. She looked up and down the street and leaped right over. Leo’s eyes bulged. She landed with a thud and snapped her head up right at him. The penetrating stare sent chills radiating over his skin. Something was definitely off with her.
Vik watched him. “I heard the school’s got power, too. So you’ll make plenty now that you can finally start.”
Leo shrugged. “Not going’s the only good thing about this blackout. So you didn’t learn anything?”
Vik kneeled, placing the laptop on the bed and reached to flip it open, but stopped. He turned to Leo. “Is it possible you’re obsessed with this?”
Leo tilted his head. “What?” He squinted. “What’d my Mom say to you?”
Vik opened and closed his mouth several times. “Nothing. Just...she’s worried. Can you blame her?”
“I’m not obsessed. And I’m not a little kid. I can—“
“Dude.” Vik cut him off. “I’m on your side. But, this is heavy for anybody. Your Dad was... murdered.”
Leo winced. The word carried an almost physical weight. He breathed in short shallow gasps and tried to swallow but his saliva had disappeared. His tongue bumps raked across the roof of his mouth. The clouds of pain threatened to swarm in again.
“And considering everything else you told me?” Vik paused. “I mean, why would he think you’re in danger?”
Leo hesitated. “I didn’t tell you everything.”
Vik looked up at him but didn’t speak.
“Me and my Mom…we didn’t know anything about this house. We only found out from his will.”
“Whoa. That’s crazy. He must’ve made a lot of money to own two houses at once.”
Leo shook his head. “That’s just it. He was only a translator for Nike.”
“And how could he keep it secret from your Mom?”
Leo plopped down on the bed and stared off into space. The look on his mother’s face when they found out, still haunted Leo. Her dropped jaw and head shaking in denial. Why would I need protection? From what?
“Leo?” Vik asked. “You Ok?”
Leo blinked several times. “Yeah. I’m good. Really. Look, I’m not obsessed, and I’m not crazy. I just have to know what happened to him.” He pointed at the laptop. “What’s it say?”
Vik watched him for a beat and shrugged. He lifted the screen. A silver bracelet dangled about his wrist as he punched the keys. A newspaper article popped up on the screen in Italian. Two commands later, it enlarged and translated into English.
Leo looked on and his heart battered against his rib cage like a piston. He read the headline:
American Slain in Hotel Room
Roma- An American man on business was found murdered early Thursday morning in his hotel room. Police have yet to positively identify the body, but believe it to be the man to whom the room was rented. Police were alerted when the Nike employee failed to appear for several meetings. Upon entering his hotel room, police found a body submerged in a tub full of water.   
“Apparently the body had been placed there for several days which is why we can’t yet ID the body,” Bruno Marchetti, a Commandante Generale said. “We have been able to match blood found in the room to the DNA of the American...
Leo fought back tears, blinking the sting out of his eyes. He recognized the article. “Is this all you found?”


  1. Hey Charles!

    This is a much better start. I like how you mentioned his father straight away and made it clear he felt pain when remembering him. It’s conflict, one we’re definitely interested in, and a more exciting beginning.

    One thing I noticed is you wrote ‘he glimpsed at the clock’. Glanced is a better word. Glimpsing something is when you see a snatch of it rather than a quick, deliberate look.

    You also said he’d be welcomed home with a standing ovation. You think so? Why is that? Is his ego huge, or was he some sort of hero? A standing ovation is a big deal. Why wouldn’t they just say ‘nice to have you back, dude’ or something?

    I like how you’ve changed the speech to reflect their age. It read much better.

    I stopped when you wrote ‘you’ll make plenty’. Plenty what? This confused me, and I had to go back up the paragraphs to figure out what he was talking about. Plenty of friends, right? I didn’t get that. I think it’s because of the long description between one comment to the other. I forgot what had been said. My advice would be to put the speech together and then go into the description.

    I hope this helps!

    Happy revising! :)

  2. Hi, Charles,
    LOVE the opening. It is clear now why he’s lamenting, who died, why he’s reacting the way he is. Very nicely done!!

    Back to his relationship with Vik – when he first wonders why he’s not there yet, he thinks, “Where is this kid” But by calling him “this kid,” there is an assumption the reader makes that Vik is some random kid who isn’t much of a friend coming over for whatever reason. But later, you say they got close quickly, so there is a disparity there.

    You talk about the weather and give these consecutive lines. “Rumbling thunder rattled the windows as though on cue, mocking him. A knock on the door made him jump,” which seems odd. There’s rumbling thunder that rattles everything, but a knock at the door makes him jump?? Maybe he almost misses the knock because of the thunder, or he’s been waiting for the knock so it’s as loud as thunder. Just suggested ideas here.

    Again, when it comes to characterizing Vik and Leo’s relationship, you give a paragraph with the dialogue, “Right? If I hadn’t seen you that day, I wouldn’t even have a friend to hang out with here.” But him saying this to Vik seems forced, like you are trying to feed the reader the info, and you don’t need all of it anyway. As a reader, I just want to know who was the forthright one, who instigated, primarily because I want to know if I should be suspicious of Vik in any way, especially since he goes into the creepy neighbor’s house. By Leo just thinking what you’ve written, you answer all those questions quickly -- “On the day he’d moved in, Leo was lucky to have spotted Vik holding a bow and waiting for an archery lesson from the old woman next door. Leo had crossed the lawn to introduce himself and check out the bow. The boys hit it off right away and hung out every day since.”

    This line of Vik’s -- “I heard the school’s got power, too. So you’ll make plenty now that you can finally start.” – had me backtracking to figure out “plenty of what”? This response is too far from Leo’s initial statement for me to remember they are talking about friends. I’d clarify “plenty of friends.”

    When Leo says, “Not going’s the only good thing about this blackout,” I wonder why. Is he nervous about the first day or is he not much of a student and doesn’t like school? Again, goes to characterization, and a simple thought on it will clarify.

    I’m also not sure why Leo accuses Vik of saying he is a little kid. Vik just said he was obsessed. If Leo doesn’t like Vik talking to his mom about it all, then he could have a retort about his mom not understanding or something similar since adults canb e obsessed too.

    During this exchange – “Leo shook his head. ‘That’s just it. He was only a translator for Nike.’
    ‘And how could he keep it secret from your Mom?’ “-- Vik seems to jump a beat too quickly into the next question without reacting at all to this revelation that he was only a translator for Nike, and therefore, didn’t make a lot of money. Although, it seems like that might make some good money?? Have you checked to see how much a translator for Nike would make?

    You also talk about “protection” and question “Why would I need protection?” but in your first draft this was much clearer. It seems to come out of nowhere in this draft. In your first draft you mention that this protection was mentioned in the will.

    Hope this helps! Just love how this is progressing!

    1. Hi Heather,

      Thanks so much for the feedback. It’s very helpful.

      You brought up a good point. I hadn’t realized that Leo referring to Vik as ‘this kid’ might come across this way. I’m now wondering if this is a regional reference as around here (greater NY area) children use this phrase for everyone, even siblings. I wanted to keep dialogue/internal thoughts as authentic as possible but if it is regional then I could simply change it to ‘where is he?’. I do have a few other instances of this throughout the MS so I’d have to change them as well.

      Great point about the knock making him jump but not the thunder. I was going for the idea that Leo doesn’t want his mother to catch him wearing the sweater. He doesn’t even want her to know he snuck it out, because he thinks it would make her sad. Obviously this fell flat, I wonder if I should get into detail about this or just change it.

      I think I have a beat on your other suggestions, as for what I can do, hopefully I can make them work. I really appreciate it.

      All the Best,


    2. Hi, Charlie,
      So I got called out by my editor and my copy editor for calling soda "soda" instead of "pop," the way we do here in Michigan. They wanted the character to speak the way the character would, so perhaps you should keep "this kid" if that is what they do in that area.

      When it comes to his mom catching him for him wearing his dad's sweater, I didn't catch that at all. I saw the sweater as device for showing his grief and for helping the reader see that he missed his dad a lot. I wouldn't go into great detail about this now since you have a pretty balanced draft here. In other words, the pacing is strong. Maybe when Vik comes over, he yanks him in and shuts the door not only because he wants to see what info Vik has discovered but also so his mom doesn't see him in his dad's sweater. To be honest, by the time we get to Vik showing up, I'd totally forgotten about the sweater, so this will remind the reader that he's still wearing it. Just an idea. Hope this helps!

    3. Hi Heather,

      Yes, this is all helpful. I can't thank you enough.

      You're not the only one to get drawn out by the 'kid' line. So I think I'll just change it here in the beginning and leave it for later. I don't think it's worth the risk of stopping a reader so early.

      I really appreciate you doing this for us.


  3. Hey Charles,

    This flows so much better, great job! Leo's character comes through more clearly, and I get a better sense of Vik as well. The chronology, which seems really important, is clarified too--although I still wonder how long his dad's been dead. Since they've been in the house two weeks, guessing it's not much longer then that.

    Let's see...Leo keeps saying he's not obsessed, which of course is a clear sign of obsession (nice) but I wonder if he could vary the wording a little, or even give a few words of explanation that could give us an even better sense of his character. "He's my dad, even if he was gone all the time, so of course I want to know what happened..."

    This line, "If I hadn’t seen you that day, I wouldn’t even have a friend to hang out with here" is a little clunky and I think you could probably just cut it.

    I got hung up briefly on the "pitching mound-sized puddle" since mounds are, you know, convex. Maybe something else big and flat? Otherwise, the old lady's weirdness comes across great.

    The gist of Dad's will and the need for protection got a little muddy in this version. Right after Leo tells Vik, "I didn't tell you anything" seems like an ideal moment to lay it out. Will-->secret safe house-->baffling need for protection.

    Is the "need for protection" why Leo seems reluctant to leave his room? Why he's happy to miss school? Why Vik is coming to him instead of vice versa? Just a few questions to play with.

    Excellent work, this version took big strides forward.

  4. Oops, I meant to reference the "I didn't tell you everything" line (not "anything").

  5. Hello Charles,

    Love the new start how you have added his voice to it. it is clear from the start that the boy troubled due to his father's death. and because of this, his emotions become natural for the readers until the end of the 1st 5 pages.

    I do think the dialogue has become a little awkward, Vik and Leo jump too fast from one question to another, and I think being the only translator for Nike will earn him some good money. and Vik will definitely reach to Leo's father working at Nike, maybe not it depends on the character but still. it seems like are talking because you need some dialogue. it was better in the previous there was a flow urgency and reason for communication here, it didn't off right.

    Also, I like it that he said where is this kid, I don't see a problem with it.

    Good luck. Happy writing.

  6. Charles, not exactly sure what all you did here, but this is much more reader-friendly. The dialogue is good, and you say pretty early on that Leo is twelve. I feel that this has more of a middle grade feel to it. The language is good and flows well, and it doesn't seem burdened with unnecessary exposition.

    A few small things stuck out:

    This seems like a weird thing for a kid to say:
    Leo frowned. "Right? If I hadn't seen you that day, I wouldn't even have a friend to hang out with here."

    I stumbled on this:
    A pitching mound-sized puddle blocked her path.

    Perhaps: A puddle the size of a pitcher's mound blocked her path.
    I just thought that a pitching mound doesn't seem like an everyday example of something that is large.

    Other than that, I think this reads a lot more kid friendly. Great job.

    1. Hi Ron,

      Thanks for your guidance. It means a lot to me, for all of you to take the time.

      I'm really glad the voice came across as more MG. I was really worried about it.

      All the Best,


  7. Hi Charles,

    I like the first line. Creates suspense and urgency :) Also, love the addition of him slipping his father’s sweater on. Great job there.

    I love the detail and atmosphere you create with this paragraph : Hurricane season hurled major storms through the area for the two weeks since the move, preventing anything from being turned on in the home. Life for a twelve year old without TV or internet access proved to be no life at all. Rumbling thunder rattled the windows as though on cue, mocking him.

    I stumbled when Leo says that he wouldn't have any friends and then Vik says at school he will make them. I think it's because there are three internal narrative paragraphs between the dialogue. Not sure if you could shorten it or move it around?

    Very good addition here: A pitching mound-sized puddle blocked her path. She looked up and down the street and leaped right over. Leo’s eyes bulged.

    The flow is great and I find it feels a lot more MG now. Awesome job! I really don’t have much to critique. I think it’s a lot stronger now. Great job!

  8. Hi Charles,

    Ooh, I like this opening so much better. I'm instantly intrigued and I find myself connecting with Leo on a more personal level. I see something deeper going on that I missed the first time around. I feel for him, which is a good thing. The voice and word choices are much closer to the middle grade age, too. I also enjoyed the flow of your writing in this opening. It was natural and easy.

    I was a little jarred when he mentions this kid. I'm not sure if it's the phrasing or that my brain asked Why not just say Vikram? It just took me out of the read for a second.

    The dialog, the lady, and then back to dialog - Obviously, there's something about this old lady that's important to your story. But the placement of this information feels off. Can you shorten it and elaborate in more depth later on? Maybe put some of it with the dialog? And the other thing is that you can still clean up a few dialog 'action' tags by simply using said.

    Small observation:

    Laps, in the 2nd paragraph, implies a large space; at least that's how my brain interprets it. But the opening paragraph has that intimate, cozy feel that one might find in a small space. And then you go on with more inner personal thoughts. It's just something I noticed.

    Again, this version has a greater MG tone and feel, and the writing flows nicely. Nicely done!

    1. Hi Sheri,

      Thank you so much for your help and encouragement. I really appreciate it.

      Hopefully this revision, with your and the others' comments will make it all come together.

      All the Best,