Monday, July 16, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Bohan Rev 1

Name: Patrick Bohan
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Title: Into the Inferno

There’s a storm demon in my shed. San Francisco is pouring rain, my eye bags have eye bags, I still don’t have a prom date, and now there’s a freaking demon in my shed. That all changes tonight.
I check my watch. 2:12 a.m. I’ve got less than forty-eight minutes till the witching hour begins. Perfect.
I grab Jimmy the duffel bag, and root through the tools, making sure everything I need is in there. Yeah, I named my duffel. I get lonely sometimes.
Digging through the bag, I find three red candles, two feathers, four chunks of chalk, and a box of cinnamon rolls. But no silver bell. I drop the duffel to search my bedroom shelves. 
If I can’t find my bell soon, I might have to use myself again. I’ve already donated a quart of blood this month just to keep the lights on, but I can’t chat with a demon empty-handed. It’s like showing up to a company potluck without any food -- you just don’t do it. Especially when the host can bring a thousand volts down on your head. Just another day at the office.
I should introduce myself. My name’s Paul Bernelli, and I’m a sorcerer. 
/Sorcerer/ is the fancy way of saying I cast spells. That I do magic. It means I brew up love potions, summon demons, and sneak into abandoned sheds to shout biblical Aramaic at three in the morning. But to everyone else, /Sorcerer/ just means that I’m crazy. I’ve gotten pretty used to the snickers and dirty looks.
Where /is/ that bell? I peek under my bed, then tear through a pile of old sci-fi magazines. Nothing.
I dig into the pockets of my ratty black jeans, then fumble underneath my mattress for the silver bell. No luck.
BANG! Something porcelain shatters upstairs.
“It’s not here, Linda. Where the hell is it?”
“Jesus, Randy, I’m not responsible for your crap.”
Uh-oh. My aunt’s fighting with her boyfriend. Again. And judging from the horrible noises upstairs, I should get going as soon as possible. Whenever I get involved in these scuffles, somebody always gets punched in the face. And this time, it’s probably not going to be my aunt’s new ex-con boyfriend who gets the knuckle sandwich. I’m lucky to even be here. Better just mind my own business.
I root through my dresser drawers, turning over a mess of socks and t-shirts. Not there either.
That was a pure silver bell, handmade in Romania. It took me two months of blood donations, hustling, and makeshift yard sales to afford that bell -- I can’t just lose it!
My eyes turn to my desk chair. AHA! A shiny piece of metal peeks out from under the cushions. I pounce, raising the metal up to the light. It shines in my hands.
Aunt Linda opens my bedroom door and, seeing the expensive silver bell, her beady eyes light up like a kid on Christmas morning.
“Give it to me, Paul,” she says. “Don’t make me ask twice.”
“No! I need this. It’s important!” I duck away, cradling the bell in my hands.
“What’s important is that you learn to show your aunt some respect! Sixteen is old enough to help out with the bills, bug-eyes,” she says. “Besides, I thought I told you I didn’t want that freaky Satan stuff in my house. Gives me the creeps.” She shudders, seeing the duffel bag full of ritual tools. My tools.
Aunt Linda isn’t exactly religious, but she still can’t stand seeing my occult stuff in the apartment. I never understood why. As hobbies go, magic is harmless. It has me learning all about history, Latin, and sometimes, even anatomy! Sure, most of those anatomy lessons involve voodoo dolls and goat dissections, but it all seems pretty edifying to me.
“I’m not giving it to you! I paid for this. I need it!”
“Why you ungrateful little…” Aunt Linda reaches for the bell, but I easily dodge out of the way. She makes a few more clumsy grabs, tripping over her own feet. I smirk. Dodging drunk people has always been a favorite of mine. In life, you’ve got to enjoy the little things.
“You lousy disappointment. Just you wait!” she screams and storms out of the room.
I hear Aunt Linda yell something about silver and brat from outside the doorway. A few seconds later she comes back into my bedroom, only this time she comes with Randy, her scary-looking boyfriend of the month. He raises a huge fist and I yelp, throwing both hands into the air like a total clown. Randy grabs my right arm, twists, and pulls the bell away. The two go back to bickering, this time about what pills they can buy with their loot.
Dammit. Getting my bell snatched sucks, but it’s not earth-shattering. I’ll just have to use blood. It was careless to bring anything remotely paranormal home, and now, I’m paying for it. Another reminder to always play it safe when it comes to magic.
Throwing the duffel over my shoulder, I bound out the bedroom door, eager for tonight’s evocation. Whenever I’m feeling blue I go out to my shed, light a few candles, and cast spells. They usually work. Besides, if a ritual doesn’t solve my problem, a part of me still enjoys having a dark secret. It’s like being a superhero, without having to fight crime, or wear underwear outside my pants. Even if everyone thinks I’m nuts, I know the truth, and the power is nice. Who wouldn’t want to be able whip up a luck spell, or talk to spirits with a Ouija board? Everybody needs an escape. My escape just happens to involve pentagrams and storm demons.
I grab a box of stale pastries on the way out the apartment, scale the building’s creaky steps, and start the long march to my shed. Since I’m self-taught, demonic evocations are always tricky as hell. All the old Latin and Aramaic grimoires might as well be gibberish Fortunately, I have access to the most magical tool of all: the internet. It’s taken me years of pouring through Wikipedia pages and occult blogs written in all caps, separating the real spells from the fake, but I’ve finally got it down. You can learn just about anything online these days. I guess that’s why moms and dads put parental controls on their kids’ computers. But I never had parents. I had an aunt. A very busy aunt, who was just glad I wasn’t breaking into homes like mom and dad.  
Tonight, I’m summoning Paimon, a demon of storms and forbidden knowledge. Paimon grants me the occasional wish or occult secret in exchange for goodies. He’s also one of my only friends.
I walk down the apartment stoop to the sidewalk and shudder as a gust of cold wind slaps my face, rain pelting my coffee hair. I wrap my striped scarf tighter around my neck.
I live in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The name comes from Mario Fillipi, a Mafioso who’d bribe the broke and underpaid police force with household items. As he famously put it, in the Tenderloin district, or “TL,” you can “pay the sumbitches in steak.” The name stuck.
Drugs. Crime. Hookers. None of those are in short supply in the Tenderloin. It’s not all bad, though. 


  1. I still adore your opening and the humor in this! I love that he's named his duffel bag. One line which didn't quite work for me was "Just another day at the office." because that didn't seem like an analogy a teenager would use. Would an analogy about showing up in class with no homework or without his part in a group project be able to substitute? Minor point, though. Also, I'd only italicize the first "sorcerer." It's not a foreign word, probably doesn't need that treatment repeatedly.

    The line: "I’m lucky to even be here." Is that really true? His aunt's house doesn't seem any better than the average foster care home. Probably worse as foster parents aren't allowed to be ex-cons. Also, "Getting my bell snatched sucks, but it’s not earth-shattering": why not make it earth-shattering? Every good story begins with the protagonist suffering serious set-backs, and given how much effort he spent getting that bell, I'd expect him to be upset about losing it. I was upset on his behalf. He even gave up his blood to be able to afford it!

    I enjoyed getting some background on how Paul got into the occult. He's got a rough life, which makes me sympathetic to him right off the bat, and I liked how this revision emphasizes that more. The main character's voice is also extremely strong and makes the story a pleasure to read. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi Patrick,

    I just love this character and idea so much. I really want to read more of this post-workshop! Into the feedback...

    I think overall I keep feeling like I need some higher stakes in this first part. I almost feel like you’re going a little too easy on him! Might be worth playing around with some more dire conflict, e.g. losing the bell sends him off on an alternate path, or he has to flee the house to get away from the wrath of the boyfriend. Just to play devil’s advocate… did you play around with starting in the middle of the demon scene? Not sure if it would work or not, just a thought.

    Mentioning donating blood for money twice in such quick succession puts a lot of focus on that! Is it a crucial part of the story? You might want to downplay it if not.
    Along those lines, later when the bell gets taken and he says “I’ll just have to use blood”, it could actually mean that he’s going to use blood for a spell, or that he might be using blood to get money to pay for another bell…

    An assortment of other notes:
    —I like some of your new descriptions about why he likes having power, and using it to solve problems, but I almost want to center that description around a specific problem he’s having, not have it be general.
    —It’s great to get some more context about his parents/aunt, and you bring it up in a really natural way when talking about parental controls!
    —His mom and dad were breaking into homes? I’m confused by that offhand mention but also intrigued!
    —I’m still not really centered in the importance of the shed or what he’s going to be doing, but maybe you’re trying to keep that a little mysterious still?

    Really awesome job, keep going! Can't wait to see how you tweak it next week.


  3. Patrick,

    I have to say, once again, that the irreverent voice of your narrator is fabulous. He has some great thoughts: “It’s like being a superhero, without having to fight crime, or wear underwear outside my pants.” So funny. However, if your story is going in the direction I think it is, then he will be like a crime fighter, right?

    I also thought you did a nice job giving us further insight into your character’s sorcery powers. “Even if everyone thinks I’m nuts, I know the truth, and the power is nice. Who wouldn’t want to be able whip up a luck spell, or talk to spirits with a Ouija board?” Questions: is he going to the shed to make the storm demon stop the storm? Your first paragraph sort of hints at this. “That all changes tonight.” That would be totally cool! And, if so, does that mean he’s also going to get that prom date?

    There are two things I would really like to know more about. The first is the bell. Is it a symbol in the story? Or merely a tool of his trade, as is suggested? And, if it’s a symbol or an object that might be significant later, and he is willing to grapple with his Aunt and her scary boyfriend for it, would he let it go and then “bound” off with “eager” anticipation?

    Second, the shed. I love your first line. It makes me so curious. I would love to know more about the shed. Right now, I’m assuming he’s going to the shed. If he is, the information will likely come when he arrives (after these first-five pages), and you can ignore this.

    Nice work. I look forward to reading more of your writing.


  4. Once again, I really enjoy your work here. I love the voice, esp. the humor of his voice. Still love that he names his duffel bag! I also love the intriguing contents of the bag.

    I like that he’s addressing the reader here. Nice job making it clearer that he lives in Tenderloin. Still love the intrigue with the blood donation.

    So, tonight he’s going to get rid of the demon in his shed and get a prom date? Love that juxtaposition!!!

    Later it says he likes to go to the shed whenever he’s feeling blue. So, is it a respite place and now a demon has possessed it? A demon he needs to get rid of?

    In this moment, is he going for the respite or for the demon-ridding? I guess I’m a little confused about the shed and his role as a sorcerer. Is it really about having a dark secret or is more about being a superhero…using his powers to some greater good.

    Love the mention that the internet is a resource for him – one of his most powerful resources. But it takes more than caps to distinguish bogus spell sites from real ones. Could you maybe come up with something a bit more authentic in that description? Love the idea of it though, esp. since the internet has bogus info about just about every topic.

    I love the action in here and would welcome more of it. What are the stakes in this scene? Could getting the bell and/or getting out of the apartment have huge stakes? What if he can’t get rid of the demon in the shed – what would that mean in this moment? Would love some tension.

    Also, when he finally finds the bell, is there a reason he holds it up in the light? For such a valuable relic, I’d think he’d bury it away quickly, especially with fighting going on in the house and being vulnerable.

    And, speaking of family/the house, I LOVE that his world is so complex. This is real. Here’s a sorcerer with dark secrets and complications – including real life prom and family matters. Really good!!! Keep going!

  5. Wow. This is really great. I don't know if I said it last time but you are definitely a writer. I really fell into these pages this time. The story is compelling and I want to know more.

    A few small points:

    You wrote:
    The two go back to bickering, this time about what pills they can buy with their loot.

    Maybe they leave the room first and he hears them bickering through the door. Seems odd that they would do that straight away with him still in the room.

    You wrote:
    Throwing the duffel over my shoulder, I bound out the bedroom door...
    I throw the duffel over my shoulder and bound out the bedroom door...

    You wrote:
    ...or wear underwear outside my pants LOL:)

    What’s coffee hair?

    This is great work overall. I can't find much more to quibble with. I know that on my first critique I felt the voice skewed older, but I'm okay with it now. Maybe the reader just has to get know the character and the way he thinks.

    Anyway, great job. Good luck with this piece!