Sunday, April 22, 2018

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Jolley Rev 2

Name: Mary Jolley
Genre: Young Adult: fantasy romance


Vera, a nineteen-year-old artist with a dream of freedom, has a choice to make: marry her enemy or condemn her parents to death.

Vera hates the Grays. She hates that they own her small country and act like uncivilized brutes. But it’s not the taxes and dictates that turned her heart to hostility. That happened when the Grays killed her best friend.

So when Vera chooses to marry the prince to save her family, the sacrifice takes all her courage and determination. While Prince Angus Gray plans the wedding, she plans her rebellion. Using her new position of power, Vera determines to free her country and destroy the Grays from the inside.

Vera joins the Gray’s training squad, bent on learning all she can about her enemy. As she gains strength and skill, she can’t help gaining a better understanding and appreciation for the Grays. Her hatred for the Grays was built on a foundation of her father’s carefully constructed lies. When the time comes to kill Angus Gray, she learns where her true loyalties lie and how far she will go for love.


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 my sister, 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 the front line of riders, right next to the 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 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 khaki skirt, lace-collared tunic, and cardigan. The same daily 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. A dagger hung from one hip, a pistol from the other. Worn leather pants wrapped thick legs. 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 two years ago in the uprising and he’d never set it properly—a warning to would-be rebels. Rebels like me. Ian had broken the king’s nose. The king killed him. And his entire family. Skirts 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 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 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 of freedom. 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 Red Velvet 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, tall as a three-year-old, cocked its head.

“Spy,” the bird said, its voice like fingernails on a chalkboard.

I held a protective hand in front of my face, imagining its sharp beak spearing my eyeballs. “No, I’m not,” I whispered to the bird.

“Liar,” the bird said. Round intelligent eyes scanned my face.

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. It could crush my windpipe with its grasp. 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.


  1. Great job! I felt the closeness between sisters again. Everything is described well. My suggestions are really only nit picky, but I'll pass them along.

    I've been told we can often eliminate directional words such as up, down, etc. "Grays had come to check up on us," so remove "up."

    Possibly typos: cropped short as (at) his ears.
    slid (e) off his tongue

    "And seeing his sharp jaw didn’t improve the situation." Maybe improve his appearance.

    I'd leave out "fifty" here in "filthy barbarians"since you mentioned it earlier and its a tongue twister.

    "Wolfton’s whinny voice" Did you mean whinny like in a horse sound or whiny and in childish?

    "The claw snagged the fabric. My covering ripped down. I yelped. Glass and chocolate splintered on the ground." I'd have the glass and chocolate happen right after "snagged the fabric," moving cause and effect closer.

    This confused me. "Angus’s blade had disappeared by the time I lifted my eyes to his big empty hands." From her POV, how did she know it had been in his hands?

    About your pitch:
    I love your story idea. Great stakes and compelling situation. I'd move the first line into the second paragraph where you tell us she chooses to marry Angus. Maybe instead of when the times comes - when the opportunity arises ... I love the last line, as you don't tell us but we can guess. Sounds like a very interesting read. Well done!

  2. Now things are clicking! Your pitch really helped clue me in on Vera's reaction to the prince and has me wanting to read more - this is definitely a story on my wishlist!

    I'm much more grounded in this revision and have a better idea on where the girls are with your opening and am getting a much clearer vision on what the Institute looks like.

    I would still like to know more about why she doesn’t like the king. I know that he killed her friend Ian but I wish I knew why she was a rebel from the beginning. Why is the king so bad?

    I really enjoyed these revisions and hope to read more one day!

  3. Pages:

    Overall, I think this is a strong opening. Great job setting the scene and establishing the conflict.

    I like that you give us a little more about Ian. Could you give us evene more about his and Vera's relationship? Understanding how much he meant to Vera will help us see the Grays through her eyes and understand why she hates them so much. Not only will this help us relate to her now, but that will provide a bigger payoff later on when Vera realizes her perception of the Grays is based on her father's lies. This makes me curious, does Vera also discover later on that Ian's motives weren't as noble as she thought? I like the personal connection that Ian is the one who broke the king's nose.

    "...with our puny arms" – In the pitch you tell us Vera will join the Gray training squad. You could add something here that gives us a hint of how the Grays and their people maintain their military might, to tie into Vera's later decision.

    Small note: the phrase "freshen up" feels very modern. Make sure you're conscious in how you use phrases like this as you shape your world.


    Personally, I like "Vera hates the Grays" as an opening line. One idea (and just that) would be to move the choice about marrying her enemy into the third paragraph: "Now Vera must either marry Prince Angus Gray or condemn her parents to death. While Angus plans the wedding, she plans her rebellion (Love this sentence!)."

    "...they own her small country" – "own" doesn't feel like the strongest verb choice here. Something like "conquered" or "oppressed" would give us a clearer sense of how Vera perceives the Grays.

    I'd love to see a specific detail as to how the Grays aren't as bad as Vera thought. What does she learn that makes her question her assassination plans? A strong detail here will help us feel her internal conflict. I really like that (based on the hints you give us) her conflict is more than Vera falling for Angus. Her choice will affect her entire country.

    Your last sentence sets up the stakes, but I'm concerned here that "where her true loyalties lie" and "how far she will go for love" are a little cliché. Is there a way you can say this that's more specific to your story?

    I don't think we need to know Vera's an artist in the pitch. I would keep the focus on her being a rebel.

  4. Pitch: first of all, will you come write my query for me? K, thanks ☺ I do agree, though, that describing her as an artist at the beginning threw me since nothing about art is mentioned in the rest of the pitch. I also think starting with the second paragraph might make the pitch stronger.
    I love the line about while he plans the wedding, she plans her rebellion. So great! And I love the conflict that you set up, between having to choose between Angus and her family!

    I love how you’ve added new details – like about Ian breaking the King’s nose. You also do a great job of adding a variety of details – temperature, smell, sounds, etc.
    One question I had: it seems like some of this is in a more modern setting (like the clothing, or presence of an air vent) so I assume there is a reason for the Grays being on horses? I think the air vent detail is great because it pulled me out of assuming I was in a medieval setting, but maybe a few more details like that would make it seem more intentional – like having them go down an elevator instead of the stairs, for example.
    I’ve always loved these pages, you do an amazing job!

  5. Hi Mary,

    This looks great, and I love the intrigue! You set up the two sides of the conflict so well, and tease that twist in your pitch. If anything, I would have loved a little more specificity in the pitch—for example, what does Vera have to save her family from (death? jail? banishment?), how specifically does she plan to bring down the ruling family, and maybe tease a few of the lies her father told her. The clearer the conflict, the more tense and exciting the pitch.

    The pages are great and really set up your characters well. I knew exactly who all these people were and what they wanted. But I would have wanted a little more context clues when you introduced new world-specific lingo. When it comes to world-building, the tricky part is balancing just enough information to ground your reader and keep them intrigued, and too much information and inundating them with facts they don't need right away. But, I think including a little bit of context (like what kind of place Alta Belle is, what a paxaro looks like, who Ian and Wolfton are, etc.) could do a lot to really establish these characters and concepts in the reader's mind.

    Overall, this is a really strong idea and execution, and you're on a great track!

    All best,