Sunday, July 8, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Bohan

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 warehouses 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 melees, 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 door and, seeing the expensive silver bell, her 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 to 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 upstairs. A few seconds later she comes back into my room, 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 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 door, eager for tonight’s evocation. I grab a box of stale pastries on the way out, then start the long march to my shed. /Time to make the donuts!/

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.

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 building steps to the ground floor 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. There’s great Indian food, and a few cheap theatres if you know where to look. But the best part: anonymity.

Here, nobody cares if you sneak into a warehouse shed, screech Latin, or summon demons from the pits of hell. Everyone has something to hide, and nobody gets looked at too closely.

Which is perfect, because I’m about to do all of those things.

After walking about half an hour towards the San Francisco Bay, I reach an underpass and come into a small, abandoned cove. There are stumps of wood sticking out of the water, smothered in dark sludge and brown goop.

/Decades ago, these were piers, vibrant hubs for fisherman and container ships./

My rubber rain boots crunch into a pile of old soda cans and iron siding.

/Not anymore./

I weave my way through the beach, trying to stay as quiet as possible, all while avoiding the shopping carts, carbonators, and other pieces of metal lying in the muck.


  1. Patrick,

    Thank you for sharing the beginning of what seems like a captivating read. Honestly, I think your book would provide a journey I would love to take, and I believe many of my students—even the reluctant readers—would enjoy it, too. I love the impertinent, irreverent voice of the narrator and how he responds to what the reader might be thinking. “Yeah, I named my duffel. I get lonely sometimes.” Hilarious.

    And, your list of items in his bag totally reminds me of reading Mark Twain, where seemingly random things could be significant, or simply an element of the scenery. It makes a reader wonder.

    You also do a good job of introducing a few mysteries a reader will want to solve, like the fact that this is a setting where blood is used as a form of currency. Why? How? I can’t wait to find out. You give a reader enough information to garner questions and make her want to keep reading for answers. I would absolutely love to see where this goes.

    Best wishes,

    Heather Hicks

  2. Hi Patrick!

    First off, killer voice. The cadence and irreverence here is great, especially for a 16 year old. There was only one or two places where I felt like the voice broke or seemed inconsistent--the biggest one was when he uses the world melee, which almost seemed too formal for the rest. The make donuts line also threw me--I didn't understand the reference or what he was meaning.

    A couple of things you might want to consider-
    1- There's a lot of time (at least in relation to these short 5 pages) spent looking for and needing the bell, but then it's gone and it seems like no big deal that his aunt took it. You might want to cut back on the search for the bell so you have more room to include some other world building.

    2-the shed thing is confusing. The opening line is great--awesome really. But from that line, I was picturing a shed in his backyard. By the end of the first 5 pages, that doesn't seem like it's the case. What is the shed, really? And can you mention where/what it is early on so a reader isn't surprised to find he's walking through the tenderloin to find a warehouse?

    3- I was surprised he was 16. From the opening voice, he seemed older, and then the issue of selling blood made me assume he was over 18. Are you talking about some kind of black market sale and not selling plasma, as I first suspected? That might need to be specified. The other thing is that if he is 16 and a minor, when he first hears his aunt and the BF fighting, you could give the reader a sentence or two that lets them know that she's his guardian rather than just a roommate or the person he's staying with. Considering how easily they dominate/take his bell, their fighting might bring up more emotions--fear, anger, frustration at being stuck with them. It isn't clear until Randy comes in that the MC here is stuck with them.

    4- re-look at the action of the bell taking. They come to him (presumably he's downstairs or in a basement?) and then she leaves and brings back Randy, but then they don't leave. They just go "back to bickering." Seems to be missing an action tag or something.

    5-Why does Paul dabble in the occult? Where did the knowledge/interest come from? You don't have to give a complete backstory in the first 5, obviously, but there's a lot of contradictions. If his aunt is super religious, it's not like a family thing, is it? Was it a way to rebel? Did something happen that made him interested--or that made him NEED to learn?

    A sentence or two that alludes to that backstory will give the reader a better sense of who this character is right away. It doesn't have to be concrete or a giveaway. It could be something like, "ever since that night when everything went wrong..." You can imply that there's more story there and give your reader a way to understand what's happening. I think you need that because without it the reader isn't going to know why it's important that *Paul* is the one to take care of the storm demon or what's at stake if he doesn't. The storm demon is cool, but if it's not tied immediately to the stakes for Paul, the reader isn't going to understand why they should care about it.

    Overall, this is a strong start and a cool premise with a killer voice. Can't wait to see where you go with this!

  3. I LOVE the voice in this! I also love the world of the story. Really nice work. Such a great start here!!!

    Though as I mention, I love the voice, there were a few places it stopped me: the “time to make the donuts” reference. Is that still used in Dunkin marketing? Also, the line about eye bags having eye bags, and melee. I also wondered if he was being literal or sarcastic when he described the role of a sorcerer. The screaming at 3AM part. Is he being sarcastic/funny, or does he really think that’s mainstream/normal?

    Other things I loved – that he names his duffel bag and admits to being lonely; your first line; the items in the duffel bag (so intriguing). I love that he’s friends with a demon and that they have this mutual relationship of bartering – wishes for goodies.

    Questions I have:
    The significance of the shed. It’s in the first line. I’m assuming it has a big place in the story, but we don’t really get that from these pages. He ends up going to Tenderloin (love this name, btw) for another demon (so maybe the one in the shed is less desirable). I want to understand him and his place in the world just a bit more. You don’t want to give too much away in the first 5, but I’d love to feel a bit more grounded.

    The relationship between the MC and his aunt. He says he’s lucky to be here. In what way? Why? And where are his parents? A lot of this could obviously come later, but still I was curious. Why does he live with the aunt? How much does he have to sneak around? Does their being so different make him feel even more isolated?

    The relationship between the MC and the demon he seeks in Tenderloin. What is it? Does the MC have to “conjure” him up each time? What are these wishes and goodies? Are they truly friends? Or just helping one another/have this mutual relationship of getting from one another?

    Why does he have no friends in his non-demon world? Does everyone think what he does is “freakish?” Or does he hide it in any way?

    The rules of this place – the collection of blood? What is that about? Could I get a bit more? And the significance of the bell. It seems really important, but then it doesn’t.

    Really intriguing piece – so much potential. Well done! I’m in!

  4. I loved the voice and humor in this. (Humorous fantasy is my jive). I had too many lines I liked to count, but my favorite was, "Which is perfect, because I’m about to do all of those things."

    I really liked your first paragraph. The only place which lost me a bit was "That all changes tonight" because I couldn't initially tell what it meant and it broke up the tone/tense of the rest of the paragraph.

    Your dialogue and thoughts are both great. The only thing I'm missing is a clear picture of the setting: what the room/house looks like and where everything is.

    While it’s very funny to have Paul dodging his drunk aunt, the scene might be more interesting if there was genuine tension that he might be hurt. Speaking from personal experience, I sometimes have trouble balancing trying to be funny as a writer with keeping the serious moments real. Funny is my first instinct, but sometimes it detracts from the drama.

    Overall, I loved it! This is 100% my type of story and my type of main character. Humor is hard and you do it so well.

  5. Hi Patrick,

    Oh man, I loved this so much. I would absolutely read the rest of the book based on this opening. There are so many unique and visual details that really grab me, starting with the very first sentence! You do such a nice job of juxtaposing the mundane problems of being a teenager (prom) with fantastical problems (shed demon), while also having fun weird details that really stick with me and tell me a lot about Paul's personality (the duffel! Ha).

    A couple of things to echo that the other comments touched on, so I won't go too much into detail:
    - I also was unclear on the setting details re: his shed vs where he's going in the Tenderloin
    - I definitely do want to be able to picture his room a little more than I can now!
    - Also didn't get the "time to make the donuts" reference

    I noticed that the conflict in the scene gets resolved pretty quickly, e.g. he can't find the bell... found it! Aunt sees the bell... takes it! And then he's immediately over it. I would love to see that conflict ratcheted up a bit.

    To be honest, I had to read this through a couple of times to come up with some constructive feedback to give you, because I was so swept away by it the first time! I was immediately engaged, and just really love what you've done so far. Great job.


  6. Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for submitting your pages. You have a nice rhythm to your words. These pages read easily and flow well.

    Your protag is snarky and interesting, but I want more description: the room he’s in, what he hears and smells. Is there light coming in through the window? What does his aunt look like?

    Slow down. Let us get to know him.

    I want to read your prose—those paragraphs that flow together filled with imagery and a singular voice that only you can bring to the piece.

    He also sounds pretty confident for a sixteen-year-old. He comes across as much older.

    The passage that comes after he is walking toward the San Francisco Bay, begins to feel more like a story. It slows down, and I start “falling into the page,” which is what you want your reader to do.

    Overall you have a great voice, and the story really seems intriguing. Looking forward to reading more.