Sunday, April 8, 2018

1st 5 Pages April Workshop- Jolley

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

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

Not if I can help it.

Today was March nineteenth of the year one hundred and four.

Today was check up day.

Fiona and I bolted through the white hallways of Cromarty Institute. Up five flights of stairs, we emerged at the observatory. My long braid rapped my spine. I gulped air, pulse soaring with a mixture of exertion and anxiety.

Fiona twisted knobs as she looked through the telescope.

“Let me have a turn.”

“Hold on, Vera.” Fiona whistled. “There have got to be at least fifty of them.”

Fifty! Why? Last spring they’d come with only twelve of their terrifying warriors.

Fiona was twenty-two; the three years she had on me were the only thing keeping me from pushing her aside.

My sister stepped back and I stuck my eye to the lens. A pack of horsemen came into focus, trotting up the straight cobbled main street toward the Cromarty Institute. A dozen of the Lang’s frightening paxaro birds patrolled the skies. The Gray flag depicting twin trees waved from the front of the line, right in front of the king.

The tyrant wore a leather coat with fur trimming the hood and edges. In the temperate climate of Campbell, he’d opened the coat and pulled the hood back, revealing a brown bearded face, thick curling 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. His tilted shoulders and loosely held reins exuded arrogance. My jaw tightened. Go away.

“Come on,” Fiona said, tugging at my sleeve. “They’re almost at the courtyard.”

We scampered down the stairs to our secret hiding spot in the storeroom on the ground floor. Dad would have lectured us for hours on propriety if he’d known the heirs of Campbell had stuffed into a closet to spy on our guests.

In my khaki skirt, lace-collared tunic, and cardigan, 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 frightening than the district train.

His unwelcome highness, Bear Gray, dismounted from an enormous horse and took off gloves. A stable hand accepted the reins and the king’s coat. Worn leather pants wrapped thick legs. Like many of his men, Bear wore a red and blue plaid button up. A dagger hung from one hip, a pistol from the other. Only his air of cold authority distinguished him as the ultimate power here.

Dad strode into the courtyard wearing a pressed blue suit, broad smile, and Mom on his right elbow. Wolfton, the king’s regent to Campbell, glided at Dad’s left.

“Majesty.” Dad bowed his head to the king. “Welcome to Campbell.” 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.

He was not unbreakable.

Mom dipped into a graceful curtsey.

Prince Angus Gray strode from the pack of horses and warriors and stood next to Bear.

Like all elevated people in The Kingdom of Gray, the prince had been a student at Cromarty as a teenager. His four years here had failed to civilize the man outside.

At twenty-four, Prince Angus stood a palm taller than his father and had the same thick curling 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,” Fiona said. “Angus has improved over the last year. Much better without the beard.”

“Shush.” I was missing the outside conversation.

“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.

Fiona and I shared a look at his ominous tone.

Mom directed servants to take the fifty filthy barbarians away. Dad lead a small group inside the East Tower, where we lived. A paxaro bird and its tender followed the king. Dad’s brow pinched in worry and his lips turned down at the corners.

Fiona hopped off the barrel, but I watched the Langs a moment longer—muscle, iron, and stench. We would never have 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 for Campbell and Hogg—without the Grays. He’d know what to do.

Ian died a traitor.

Fiona retreated upstairs to study, but I snuck out the back of the West Tower. Cutting a wide circle, I slipped into 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 and Bear.

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 McAndrew.”

“You’ll want a tour of our new lab,” Wolfton said.

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. “Something satisfying.”

Not a fan of our snacks.

Bear marched down the hall toward the doors.

That was close.

The tablecloth ripped down. I yelped.

Glass and chocolate splintered on the ground.

A 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 up between the long 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 in view. The tip of a knife appeared next to his calf.

He's going to kill me.

“Come out, spy.” The bird shifted onto one 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.

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.”

“You’re a terrible liar,” Angus said.


  1. I love that your MC is so feisty and inquisitive. You have a compelling opening. I am rooting for Vera already. I like the mystery about the vaccine, and the interchange between Angus and Vera. It reveals a history I want to know more about. His name depicts him well.

    I want to know more about Ian, too, but some things about him seem to contradict. Vera wishes he were there because he'd know what to do but he died a traitor, intriguing but also a bit confusing.

    I wasn't sure how Cromarty Institute fit in and why they were there. I assume Cromarty is in Campbell, and that her father was once king of Campbell until they were overtaken, since she is an heir, but I wanted things spelled out a little more. How can she be an heir if someone else is reigning.

    The italics distracted me. I know they are her thoughts, but you are in such deep POV anyhow, I didn't see them necessary. I would delete them or change them. For example, "He's going to kill me" I'd change to a visceral reaction, such as heart pounding or sweating, etc. We know she fears him killing her.

    Fiona retreating to study seemed to lessen the degree of danger I sensed earlier. Possibly her commenting on how there was nothing anyone could do would suffice or something urgent she remembered she had to do.

    One last thing: The titles Mom and Dad jarred me when I first read them. Probably because of the archaic setting, king and all. I would think more formal Mother and Father would be better. Just my two cents.

    Great beginning. Well done.


  2. Hi Mary!

    First off - great hook! I immediately want to know who Grays are, why the MC hates them, and what is check up day. The addition of the date was a little jarring and wasn't something in that particular moment I cared about. I wanted to get to what Vera was up to!

    When Fiona states that "they are almost in the courtyard" I almost want an introduction into what she is waiting to see before Vera actually sees them - maybe other senses cluing us in to what is approaching them.

    I wasn't quite sure what the Cromarty Institute was and how it fit into the story, or how I should picture what a paxaro bird was - are they steampunky and a man-made machines, trained real animals?

    Vera's hatred for the Grays is clear but I want to know if the grudge is personal (since you mentioned that she went to the Institute with Angus), or political. I can guess that it is a little of both since her father is meeting with the king but she also makes a comment about Angus so I am curious.

    I agree with Kim about wanting to "feel" her reactions as opposed to just seeing her thoughts, and about Fiona's sudden disappearance. It makes me wonder about who is the mastermind behind spying and if they are both in on the political plot or if Vera is just dragging Fiona along?

    I want to find all the answers and keep reading so excellent work and I look forward to reading more!

  3. Mary,

    One thing that was a little jarring was the really short paragraphs. It felt a little like sound bites. I liked the internal thoughts, it helped ground me in the scene. Overall though, the scene seemed to jump a bit, making us wonder about Ian and then back to what was happening, then bringing Ian up again. I do think you probably started in the right spot, I definitely don’t like the Grays, haha, and I want to know more about why Vera hates them so much too!

    -K. Stoker

  4. I'm enjoying the voice here. Moments like "shock (fake) and disapproval (real)" are very fun. Vera feels like a strong, active character so far. I'm definitely interested to know more about the vaccine and what it's for. I found that element in particular to be intriguing.

    It's clear Vera doesn't like the king or the prince. I'd like a more specific hint as to why, something that the king has done, for example. Also, sometime you refer to the Grays as the Langs and the use of the two different terms confused me. Consider sticking with one, at least in the opening pages. Does Vera's family run the Institute? You mention the prince studied there, but I wasn’t clear if he and Vera were students together or if it was more that she knew of him when he was at the Institute. What does the Institute teach?

    I don't want to be told the soldiers and birds are frightening. How can you describe these so we see this?

    The mentions of a cardigan and a blue suit felt out of place at first (they felt too much like something from our world). Later on, as you talk about the vaccine and the lab, I realized this world has more modern elements than I thought. I think it was the reference to "the year one hundred and four" that made me think the setting was less modern. What about adding some kind of clarifier to the year (for example, "one hundred and four years since...") to help us understand you don't mean 104 AD?

    You mention Wolfton early on, but then he disappears for a while, and so when he reappeared I couldn't remember at first who he was.

    I wasn't clear at first what made the tablecloth come down, but after a few reads I realized this was the bird. Consider rewording so it's clear Vera didn't make this happen and she's being discovered (for example, "Something ripped away the tablecloth"). I love that Vera thinks she's safe only to then be discovered. Nice use of tension there.

    I loved the line "Rebels like me" – this tells us a lot in few words and makes the stakes for Vera very clear. You do a great job making it clear what Vera wants.


  5. Thanks so much for sharing your first pages!

    This reads smooth and is engaging. The beginning few paragraphs, it feels like there are two starting points. One is the paragraph about hating the king and his son, and the next is that Today was March 19 check up day. The way it's paced to me feels like you don't need both. You could move the March 19 check up day to after you show Fiona and her racing through the halls.

    The italicized internal thoughts became a little distracting the more they were used. Stylistically, you can use it for emphasis every so often, but being in first person POV you really don't need to italicize the internal thoughts UNLESS you want to make it a stand out - like the first italicized line Not if I can help it. You are setting up this goal for her that she will try to prevent the next King in line, which deserves added emphasis.

    Admittedly, the Mom and Dad threw me here. It felt quite casual for a fantasy. It's not wrong, I just thought I'd share it since it was noticeable.

    I'm not quite clear on the Cromarty institute. You don't need to infodump a bunch on backstory, but a little more context would help. Cromarty Institute and white walls reads modern, the horses and kings do not. "Thug" and Mom and Dad have a modern feel, while words like Kingdom read more high fantasy. All of this can work, but a little more worldbuilding to show us this modern but otherwordly setting would help.

    You have lots of good action verbs and descriptions. I like the pacing, though again the italicized inner thoughts later in the selection read a little more distracting than quickly paced for me. There is plenty of conflict here and I like that the first pages are active. Nice job!