Sunday, June 3, 2018

1st 5 Pages June Workshop- Stryker

Name: Elisa Stryker
Genre: Young Adult Science Fantasy

“If it can be created, it can be destroyed,” I mutter, staring at the data filling the holographic panel. Then again, I’m sure the gods said the same thing about us.

The intercom emits a loud beep, snapping me from my thoughts. A calm, almost robotic voice pages one of the many doctors. My lab is isolated on the sixth floor, away from the coughing patients and scurrying medical staff. I prefer it this way. Cultivating a cure for the virus ravaging our island city allows me to tuck away the reality of the disease’s horror in my mind, rather than watching people die from it—especially those I know.

The door swings open and in strolls Anette, focused on the tablet she’s carrying, with a manila folder tucked under her arm.

As I straighten myself in my chair, she drops the file onto my desk; another unwelcome addition to the ever-growing mountain of assigned labor. My chest tightens as I glance down at the stack of pages.

“Here are some paper files since you refuse to use tablets.” Anette’s unbuttoned lab coat reveals a red silk blouse, its color in stark contrast to her dark skin.

Paper doesn’t require power to operate.

I didn’t sign up to be buried under mundane work. I’m here to be a virologist, not a secretary.

Blowing my bangs out of my face, I shove the papers aside and grab my notebook from the drawer. I tap a pen against my lips as I let out a long breath, none of my stress exhaled with it.

“Five patients diagnosed with the Konadai Virus were pronounced dead by the time I left the cafeteria.” Anette slides into her chair and pulls on a pair of gloves before filing through a box of microscope slides. “The families didn’t bother to show up,” she mumbles as if an afterthought.

Most families don’t.

The time from infection to death is an average of four hours. Family members would rather stay at home than watch their loved ones suffer. I’m not sure why paramedics continue to bring people here to die. We haven’t even made a hint of progress in synthesizing a vaccine in the five months since I became an intern.

The new deaths bring the toll to over four hundred and thirty this year, and it’s only June. The virus itself is mutating, raising the death toll each year, and that’s only the reported numbers.

“Are you going over last week’s notes?” Anette asks, staring into the microscope.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Excellent. Now tell me, what you’ve learned so far?”

“Nothing I didn’t already know,” I mumble.

Anette glares at me. She must’ve heard what I said.

I clear my throat and read off my current findings.

“Since scientists accidentally created the virus sixty years ago, none of the researchers have discovered a cure. So far, we’ve learned the virus is transmitted through bites from the reanimated corpses we call Konadai. The pathogens attack the cardiovascular system which sends the victim into organ failure.”

Anette nods, relaxing her brows. “Good. So you managed to pay attention to the files I gave you. Did you also study the other transmission possibilities?”

I let out a sigh. She’s only doing this to make sure I’m paying attention, even though I learned all of this at the academy before joining the internship program. Not wanting to lose my job, I continue rattling off a few lines from my notebook.

“A weaker strain of the virus is air-borne which mainly affects those with less-than-perfect immune systems including infants and the elderly. A good filtration system, medical-issued nose plugs, and bi-weekly checkups can help with that.”

Anette nods once again and turns back to the microscope. “These are all the things we need to keep in mind when experimenting with the infected tissue samples.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

It’s hard not to keep it in mind. Out of everything I learned, mahou plus experiments leads to flesh-hungry mutants—at least in this case. We were created with mahou running through our veins—the gift of psychic abilities or the ability to produce fire, lightning, or energy waves from our fingertips. Yet the gods failed to give scientists the intelligence to not mix mahou with science.

I scribble a few lines of data into my notebook, underlining humans are idiots.

The analyzer beeps, flashing little sparks of light over the small screen. A cutesy melody plays to get our attention. Some of the other researchers think it’s a nice way to brighten the outcome. To me, it’s the tune of defeat.

A list of results riddled with red marks shoots out of the front of the machine.

While sitting in her desk chair, Anette glides over to the glass-topped table. One of the plastic wheels clicks as it spins. She groans through clenched teeth, and looks over her shoulder at me, shaking her head.

Another failed test.

“Do we have any more virus samples?” Before I can speak, Anette pushes away from the analyzer toward the two-foot-tall, sterilized refrigerator. She swings open the door and a cold fog swirls out, dissipating into the warm air as she leans down.

“No, that was the last batch we had. We should have some of the first and second stage samples left over.”

Anette closes the refrigerator door, tapping her fingers on the side. She removes the blue latex gloves from her hands and scratches at the hairnet covering her short dark hair.

“No, Hiromi.” She says my name like I’m the one who burned through all the samples. “I need full-blown Konadai infection samples. We’ll work on the first stage next week.”

“Right, sorry.” I bite my lip to keep from saying anything more, but we should work on the first stage now. If we can slow down the virus’ progression, we might save lives—or at least allow people to live a bit longer than four hours. But what do I know? I’m just an intern, not a doctor who wasted all the samples we had. Pay attention to the calendar, she’ll say if I utter a word against her schedule. I’m the professional here. You’re my intern. I roll my eyes at the thought of it. She kindly reminds me of who I am so much, I can recite her little speech word for word. I’d rather gouge my eyes out with forceps.

“I need you to transfer the papers in the folder I handed you into digital format,” Anette says.

I nod, knowing she’s not looking at me. She has only said please once, maybe twice, in the several months I've worked by her side. Mainly, she treats me as if I'm some insubordinate volunteer. Do this. Do that. It never ends.

One thing I’ve learned from Anette is to stay in my place. According to her, that place is following her around with a notebook and a smile. If she’d listen to me then maybe we could’ve found something useful by now. I’m proficient in the common viruses, such as the flu, unlike the other teens in training who are only now learning the cure for the common cold. I’ve studied since I was a little girl playing with microscopes.
Someone knocks on the door.

Anette, without looking up, motions for me to answer it.

I move away from the desk and walk to the entrance. Another researcher stands in the sterile hallway.


  1. I like the opening to this as it gives us a real feel of the desperation to find a cure before everyone dies. I’m a little curious why teenagers would be doing this kind of work but I assume that’ll be addressed later.

    There’s a lot of exposition in explaining details of the virus. Some of the conversation between Anette and Hiromi seems meant for our benefit so it comes off a little unnatural. There’re also a lot of aspects to this that maybe could be saved for later or simplified: the virus can be transmitted by zombies, but it can also be transmitted by the air – but there’s a way around this. Plus we have the fact that these folks have special abilities that may have helped create this problem.

    That’s a lot to digest.

    I might home in on why it’s so much more of an issue now if it’s been around for 60 years. Do the zombies have powers that make them harder to stop?

    Hiromi seems to have a bit of a chip on her shoulder and comes across as if she knows best which seems hard to believe for an intern in such a complicated field that nobody’s cracked In 60 years. That’s fine if that’s your intent but if we’re to be sympathetic to her, we may need to see more to justify her attitude.

    This is a different take on a zombie type story than I’ve seen. Good luck with it.
    Ben L.

  2. First of all, thanks for putting your work out there for evaluation – this is, of course, a seemingly obvious part of publishing, but it is also quite nerve-wracking, so congrats for taking that leap!

    Before I dive in, I like to give a short explanation about my workshop philosophy so that you know where I’m coming from. One of my writing teachers, Sands Hall, likes to say when we approach another writer’s piece, we must assume that this writer has put everything where it is on purpose. Thus, it is not our job as the responders to try to make this piece of writing what we would want it to be, but rather to ask questions that allow it to become the best version of the author’s intention. I do this with a couple of first steps. I am going to tell you two things I think you’re doing well – sometimes, just knowing where the work shines allows other parts of the work to rise to that level of sparkle. Then, I’ll give you two things to consider for revision, usually through two questions to ask yourself while you’re revising. Okay, let’s get started:

    This has lovely writing and a nice pace to it – you’re giving us a lot of information without weighing it down which is no easy feat. The first line is especially strong – sets up the peril and the idea that there might be something mythological at play.

    You have solid quick character detail through action (for example, “blowing the bangs out of my face,…) and these are all welcome because they help me see your character in her body and root me to the story.

    Two things to consider for the next round:

    I’m going to ask an obvious YA question – How old is your MC? She’s an intern, which makes me assume she’s in her twenties, but this is a YA novel so maybe she’s more like 17? If she’s a teenager, consider places where you can weave in what a teenager is doing in a role like this one (a special program, perhaps? Or in this world maybe teenagers have “adult” jobs?)

    Which brings me to a “world” question. Where are we? Any chance you want to let us in on that sooner? Is this earth? If so, when? Is the virus affecting just their “island city” or is it spreading? You don’t need to go too into depth answering this (your pacing is so strong I wouldn’t want you to drag it down) but maybe just a hint or clue here and there?

    Looking forward to seeing the next revision!

    1. Thank you! I mention the year on the next page, at word count 1430 so I can't really move it up since it goes along with what happens when the lady shows up at the door. But I'll try to squeeze in that they're on Earth and why teens have adult jobs. It's not a normal situation like today where a 17 year old is still considered a child. Hopefully my fix will help without adding too much extra detail.

  3. Your writing is good in this sample, and I like the immediacy of first person present. It matches the feeling of urgency you set up to find a cure for the virus. I also like how you introduce the problem (stakes) right away, and you give us the detail needed to understand how serious it is.

    At first, this doesn’t strike me as YA. Before I find out that the MC is a teen, I assume she’s older than 18.

    It’s not apparent why after 5 months that she’s been an intern, they are having this conversation now—about obvious facts they already know. Some of the dialogue seems telling for the reader’s benefit.

    I’m a little confused by the statement “mahou plus experiments leads to flesh-hungry mutants.” If the MC knows this, then how can she go on to say “Yet the gods failed to give scientists the intelligence to not mix mahou with science.”

    I’m intrigued by her statement, “humans are idiots.” I wonder if she is not human. But the hint is very subtle. If she’s not human, maybe give us a few more hints of this.

    What I think you do really well is set up the conflict between these two characters. It’s not just dialogue between two coworkers, but it’s building tension that makes us want to read on.

    Nice job, and good luck with revisions!

  4. I like the way you introduce us to the main character - you get the sense that she's smart, a little sassy, and frustrated with the way things are running. One question that popped up was, is there another reason for her frustration? The tension between Hiromi and Anette is evident from the beginning and while their conversation is great at getting us up to speed on what's going on, there are a few moments where I felt it was a little forced (e.g. reading off the current findings which is really the history of the virus)

    It would be great to get more insight on what's going on outside the lab - what year is it? Is it chaotic? Who are the people that Hiromi loves that she doesn't want to see die?

    Although you gave us a lot of great insight into the virus, it was a little hard to follow the explanation of the mahau and how the virus affects this ability. It would be great to have one or two more sentences about Mahau upfront, especially since it seems like a vital gift that the reader is unfamiliar with.

    I thought you had great lines such as "I tap a pen against my lips as I let out a long breath, none of my stress exhaled with it." I can't wait to read more!

  5. Right away this has a very sci-fi, medical thriller, dystopian feel. Very cool.

    The first two paragraphs really grab my attention with character personality, vivid setting, and a sense of genre. Plus, I get the feel for your writing, and I like it the voice.

    There are a couple of things I'd like to draw your attention to that I think could enhance the scene.

    When the character calls Anette ma'am, that throws me a bit. Are they not the same age? It seemed that way when Anette walked in. If the MC is younger, I would suggest making that distinction when Anette walks in. Especially because I'm thinking the MC is older than YA age right now.

    I think we learn a lot about the virus itself up front that isn't quite needed. Before the MC starts reading off the notes, we learn what I would call "enough" for this opening scene. Maybe a detail or two more would be fine. But as it is, I think there's too much dropped in right away that makes it feel like an info dump and slows the pacing. I might pull back on some of these other details and bring them in naturally as the story progresses.

    When we get to this part, you lose me a bit. "Out of everything I learned, mahou plus experiments leads to flesh-hungry mutants—at least in this case. We were created with mahou running through our veins—the gift of psychic abilities or the ability to produce fire, lightning, or energy waves from our fingertips. Yet the gods failed to give scientists the intelligence to not mix mahou with science."

    the mahou is explained fine, so that's not confusing. What I'm missing is what experiments. What were they doing that didn't sit well, and why aren't they smart enough to stop. That's the little detail I'd like to be able to understand better. Is this virus a result of that experimentation? If so, that's a connecting tissue that would really help to make it so this comment doesn't seem to come out of the blue.

    Something about Hiromi's personality is likable even though s/he? is a grump. :) BUT I'd love a sense of a goal from the MC early on. I see that there is a story problem--the virus. And I see that there is a bigger hint to the problem--the mahou not taking well to experimentation. But I am not seeing where Hiromi fits into all of this.

    I see Hiromi's opinions. ;) But I'd like to have a sense earlier on what Hiromi's actual goals are. That will bring a sense of tension to the story that is missing right now. Does Hiromi want to find a cure, feel s/he must find a cure? Something deeper? I think that thread needs to start this early.

    That's it. Thank you so much for sharing your first pages here! I am really intrigued by this story!