Sunday, July 22, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Hicks Rev 2

Name: Heather Hicks
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy


Finley Blaise has spent most of her life hiding in plain sight.  A few trips to Juvie and the threat of institutionalization have a way of teaching a girl the value of a well-told lie.  But when her foster Dad goes missing, and she’s forced to take shelter at his old school, Terreau Volcanaeris, a science and technology academy shrouded in mystery, she realizes her lying skills are novice-level.  At best.

There, Finley discovers a secret society that has been working for hundreds of years to conceal one dangerous truth: the four Humours—yep, those weird bodily fluids (blood, bile, and phlegm) that your English teacher glossed over while forcing you to sort-of-skim Shakespeare—really do determine a person’s nature.  And worse.  What about science and the Enlightenment you ask?  Smoke and mirrors, folks.

At Terreau, Finley can finally come out of hiding and set her freakish abilities free.  But when the life of a new friend is threatened, she’s forced to team up with a cocky Scot and an Algerian immigrant and take a leap of faith back into the eleventh century, where witches haunt her dreams and villains are both foul and fair, to face a truth only known to a few, to fight for a twenty-first century future she would never have believed possible.


The first time the fire came to me, I woke up with a broken nose and a mouthful of silt and stone.  I was twelve.  It was the middle of the night.  And I felt the cold, for the first time in as long as I could remember. 

I’d gone to Fuller Brook to hide.  The painful cramping had been coming so often, and the hallucinations…well, they were no longer possible to hide.  Then, the fire came again, and there were nothing but questions.  From school officials.  The police.  The court-appointed therapist.  None of my answers would have been even close to plausible.  So, I told them lies.  They didn’t believe those either, of course, but that’s the thing about adults and unlikely situations—they like to create their own truths. 

It’s funny how a single truth can take so many shapes.

Take my reflection in the lavatory mirror that I’ve been staring at for the past few minutes, as I hold my hands under the pathetic stream of water coming from the tiny sink.  Everything about my outward appearance—from my pale, freckled skin to my rounded light eyes—projects vulnerability, naivete even.  Yet, if the Air Marshall were to worry about one passenger on this flight, it should be me, the juvenile who was sent to the meet the pilot during boarding, because she was—sniff, sniff—having to fly all alone. 

Usually, my foster Dad, Jefferson, comes to me for the few weeks we have together each summer, but this year, he’s the key-note speaker at some science symposium in Edinburgh, Scotland.  He thought it would be good for me to get away.  See the sights. 

So…here I am.  A girl who can create fire with a wish.  In a storm on an airplane, where very flammable oxygen is being pumped into the air. 

I sigh, when someone bangs on the door.  “Ocupado.”

“Miss.”  It’s the grim-faced flight attendant.  “We’re about to land.  You’ll have to take your seat.”

While the rest of the unsuspecting passengers have been doing what passengers do on Trans-Atlantic flights, I’ve been practicing my Yoga breathing and making a trip to the WC every half hour to…relieve the pressure.  Obviously, she’s noticed the frequency.

I dry my hands with a flick of heat.  Small flames encase my hands, then suck back in through my pores.  When I slide open the door, she’s waiting.

“You could get in trouble for smoking on an airplane,” she whispers warningly, as I slip past her. 

If only my primary concern was emphysema as a senior citizen.  I doubt I even live that long, but I’d certainly like for the rest of the people on board to have that chance. 

By the time the plane’s wheels touch down on the tarmac, my exhale is at volcano steam-vent level, but when I’m finally able to exit the plane and head up the ramp toward baggage claim with the rest of the herd, the tension begins to recede.  

I catch my first glimpse of Jefferson’s pasty, bald head down the concourse…and the dial moves as close to calm as a freak like me can get.  Seeing his goofy face after so long is like winning front row tickets to an Imagine Dragons concert and a new iPhone to film it with all on the same day. 

I’ve missed him.  The bland, rubbery meals.  The ridiculous quizzes on the periodic table, Latin root words, and the books we’ve read together-apart.  Even the awkward conversations about my non-existent (and-definitely-not-ready-to-talk-about) sex life.  But, as the distance between us narrows, I realize something’s not right.  His expression’s off.  Where’s the crooked smile and embarrassing waving?  And, where the heck is the bowtie?

When he breaks into a jog, it’s like a slap to the face.  First, because the man only gets excitable about a few things, all of which—besides my grades—are physics related.  Second, Jefferson isn’t really the running type.  At all.  In fact, most days, he moves at sloth-speed.  He’s more an I prefer to exercise-my-synapses type of guy. 

And…just like that.  My already pathetic version of Zen?  Poof.


I squeeze my backpack straps tightly and suck in a breath, yanking the memory back where it belongs.  The residual uneasiness does have me picking up my knees.  I cover twice the distance Jefferson does in the same amount of time.  My birthparents must have been lightyears ahead of his in terms of athletic evolution. 

We collide in a desperate hug.  “Oh, thank God.  Thank God,” he mumbles, pulling back, but still gripping my shoulders.  “You’re alright.”

I smile, trying to reassure him, because he looks wrecked.  “I’m good.”

“Okay.  Okay.” 

“What’s wrong?”

“We have to get out of here.”  He takes my hand and begins pulling me toward the exit, head swiveling, searching.

Instinct tells me, he doesn’t just mean out of the airport.  “What?  We’re not staying?  What about your presentation?  Nessie?  Your puke face I was planning to film, when you try haggis?”  When he doesn’t take the bait, I get serious.  “Where?”
“I don’t know.”  He doesn’t stop scanning the sea of people.  “I’ll…I’ll figure it out.”

We’re heading toward the exit.  “What about my bag?”

“We’ll have to leave it.” 

“Jefferson?”  I think about the things in there.  My favorite pair of jeans.  My Green Bay sweatshirt.  Everything else I thought I might need this summer.  “What’s going on?  Talk to me!”  I pull against his hold, but his grip is surprisingly strong for a guy who spends ten hours a day analyzing particle accelerator data. 

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.  I thought we’d have more time.  Thought I’d done everything to cover our tracks.”

Cover our tracks?  “Jefferson, what’s happened?” 

“I’ll tell you all about it.  Everything.  After we get out of here.” 

But he stutters to a stop forty yards from the main entrance, looking like he’s seen a ghost.  All I see are strangers.  Lots of people sitting around bored and waiting, some moving with intent.  The same view you see at any airport, but something has obviously spooked him. 

Then, just as suddenly, he’s shoving me towards a bathroom, one of those reserved for families with small children.  “In.  Inside.”  Luckily, it’s empty.  As soon as we’re inside, he presses the door closed and throws the lock.  It’s dark.  He doesn’t flick on the lights. 

I squeeze his hand.  “Jefferson, you’re scaring me.”  And, when I get scared, bad things happen. 

He squeezes back, but his voice remains all business.  “Listen to me, sweetheart.  We have to separate.  It will be safer for you that way.  You remember the code, right?” 

Run.  Don’t stop.

“Yes,” I manage, but it’s barely a whisper.  The code was always just something he reminded me about, sort of like flossing.  He’d regularly stress its importance, and I’d nod and wait until he left the room to go back to whatever I was doing.

He sniffs deeply.  “Breathe, Finley.  It’s going to be okay.”

Jefferson adopted me when I was ten.  Rescued me, really, and loved me, when he didn’t have to.  It’s been the two of us against the world for almost as long as I can remember.  We’ve never talked directly about the fire, but he knows there’s something not normal about me.  Just like I know about the secret he pretends to keep from me. 

Still, I trust him more than anyone, so I breathe deep and grip control by the throat.


  1. Hi! This is really great. The pitch is fab and your pages are so much tighter! Truly great.
    My only comment is that Jefferson either needs to be a foster dad as is mentioned in the beginning, or her dad who adopted her. I would advise the latter since then you can keep the timelines where they are away from one another for long periods. This would not be possible if she were in foster care. Otherwise, the character development and pacing seem a lot tighter and stronger in this final revision. I wish you the absolute best of luck with your pitch and your writing, and I'm grateful you trusted your pages to us!

  2. Query:
    First line could be stronger. It’s not bad, it’s just that “hiding in plain sight” is a bit of a cliché. The second line gets much more interesting, and it would be great to see that in the intro.
    I like the ideas of the second paragraph! That said, the first sentence has a lot crammed into it, I’d suggest breaking it into at least two. We may not need all the world-building since it doesn’t end up being relevant to the rest of the query.
    The time travel sounds really interesting and like a big part of your story! I think you should bring it up sooner instead of saving it for the last sentence. It completely changed my perception of what your book would be about. Plus, it would make a great hook.

    First 5 Pages:
    A suggestion: It might be interesting to see the MC take longer to recover from almost setting fire to the airplane. Especially because she later seems to be struggling with control—you could create a lot of tension if the entire first five pages make it feel like she’s about to blow. Otherwise, great job and great revisions!

  3. The Pitch:
    I would simplify a bit. Keep sentences short and intriguing. Some of the sentences were long and paragraphs seemed jam-packed. I felt myself working hard to try to piece things together. I want the pitch to be bare-bones – just enough to tease me into wanting more.

    The Pages:
    The first time the fire came to her – what does that mean exactly? The fire came to her in what way? And, when it comes to her, she feels cold? Though I love the flow of this paragraph, these details might stop a reader. Might you consider opening up in scene, rather than telling the reader about the cramping and hallucinations?

    I like that we’re in scene with the incident in the plane. I’d love even more tension here. Really ramp it up. Let’s really see her stress and angst over starting a fire in the bathroom. And, let’s see her suffer a bit more. She gets over it rather quickly. Could she be more impacted?

    Overall, though I love the scene work – bravo! – I want to be in her head a bit more. I want more of her internal thoughts. I’d recommend slowing down a bit. Open up with her on the plane and her predicament there – the risk, the mortification, the impending danger… Let’s really see her suffer.

    Lastly, is she adopted or is Jefferson her foster dad. In pitch, it's the latter. Best of luck with this. So much potential!

  4. Hi Heather!


    What amazing voice! I really enjoyed your query, but I think you could make it stronger by getting right into the fire power in the first line. Otherwise, the reader doesn't have a reason to get into the juicer bits. I'd open the query with the power. Maybe "Finley Blaise starts fire with her brain."

    Did I mention I love your voice? Well, I do. The humor (pun intended) was so clever, and drew me in. That's the sort of style I'd open with.

    Also, I'm possibly the biggest Shakespeare fan to have ever fanned, and old school spiritual biology is sort of my thing. I have a diagram of the humors on my laptop. Not kidding. Would love to read more of this post workshop!


    I enjoyed these too, and I'm happy we get less exposition and the bits we get are so punchy. However, since we get less, I think you ought to be more specific, especially with he opening line. Just add a few details about what the power is like, and the extent to which she can control it.

    I love Jefferson even more now. Now I know just enough to keep him mysterious, interesting, and incredibly likable. Maybe too likable. He's a really interesting character, and I'm happy he's thrown into the mix the way he is.

    I'd enjoy more time on the airplane, and even more stress and tension. It's such great scene concept and I think you can take it even further than you have. Consider starting much before they land, and injecting exposition while she freaks out.

    Great work. This is such a fantastic concept, a really original take on fire starters. Good luck!

  5. Hi Heather,

    This has really tightened up and clarified a lot over the last couple of weeks! You're doing such a great job.

    I really like the voice in the pitch, I feel like it sets up your story very well, and it definitely makes me want to read it! I like how you introduce some stakes in the third paragraph, but I’m wondering if you could get more specific and elaborate on what the personal stakes are for her. Very noble of her to fight for a “twenty-first century future”, but I want to know if it means anything else to her and her life and the people she loves (foster dad?).

    Overall I'm just really loving the story. I feel immediately sucked into the action and love all of the characters and what little of the plot you've revealed thus far!

    A couple of specific notes:
    - Love the contradiction in the opening—why is she feeling cold when the fire is coming to her? Makes me immediately intrigued, and I'd like to know more.
    - I like where you’re going with the transition from the first couple paragraphs into the present day moment on the plane. It feels nice to start with those big, intriguing questions and narrow down to a pinpoint of action.
    - I’d love for you to expand the plane scene even more—maybe have her struggling more to control her powers. Might be interesting to throw some more complications her way from that very first scene (turbulence setting her off? A conflict with another passenger?)

    Good luck! I really enjoyed reading your pages every week. Keep in touch! @brookeparrott on Twitter if you want to find me there.


  6. From Paula:

    The Pitch: This pitch is well-crafted, and the premise is intriguing, but:
    1) No word count.
    2) Add some comps.
    3) You only name three of the four Humours.
    4) The last paragraph is too generic. Be more specific in terms of your villain, the “truth only known to a few,” and the “twenty-first century future.” Paint a picture of the specific obstacles she faces and what’s at risk should she fail.
    The Pages: This was fun to read. The voice is great, and your heroine is very sympathetic and likable. She’s someone who will endear herself to readers. That said:
    1) Describing a character by looking in the mirror is a terrible cliché. Just don’t do it.
    2) You tell us about her powers rather than show us her powers in action. Show, don’t tell.
    3) Your story begins with Finley and her foster father on the run. (The rest is all info dumping and backstory.) Start there.
    4) You need to name your heroine right away.
    5) Balance Keepers is a very generic title, as is The Walking Shadow. You can do better.