Sunday, July 8, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Hicks

Name: Heather Hicks
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

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.  Being a student at that first pretentious boarding school was hard enough.  Being the weird, adopted kid with the sweats and vacant looks was damning.  So, I’d sneak out.  Every night.  Some nights I’d take a pillow and blanket.  Most nights, I’d just fall asleep at the water’s edge, fingers dangling toward the easy current. 

After a while, the other girls began to look the other way and the teachers stopped asking about my mud-stained uniforms.

Until the fire came again.  Then, 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.   

I was in Juvie for only a few days that time.  Learned some great life skills in Juvie, actually.  You never know when you might need to pick a lock or take a punch. 

Eventually, Jefferson showed up.  My few things were packed, and I was carted off to another school in another state.  This pattern repeated itself a few times. 

Of course, that was before I became more than just a girl who seemed to always be present after a fire.  I became something worse.

After a while, the police began thinking beyond Juvie.  I overheard whispers of psychotherapy and institutionalization. 

When I saw the look on Jefferson’s face the last time, I hated myself.  And everything that I am.  Whatever freaking thing that is?  That’s when I knew I had to figure things out.  I had to learn to hold it in.  To control it. 

The truth was—the real truth—I didn’t want to hurt anyone.  Most of all Jefferson. 

Somehow, his lawyer managed to talk the state prosecutor into sending me to one of those camps for teenage delinquents.  Camp Gyossa, or, as we inmates called it: Camp Get Your Shit Straight.  Lots of talk therapy with sociopathic bunkmates.  Lots of journaling.  Lots of becoming one with ourselves in the middle of nowhere, Utah. 

Mostly, that summer really stunk.  And not because of the poor shower pressure and open-air latrine.  It was the first summer, since I was five, when I couldn’t visit Jefferson, the only living human being who hasn’t thrown me away.  I resent anything that keeps me from him, but, I’m woman enough to admit, that summer—that camp—saved my life.  All that time spent walking alone—with a tracking bracelet (of course)—so I could become one with myself and nature?  Not a total waste.  It really did help.  Not in the way the counselor’s expected, but it helped.  The topography was nothing but rocks and hard-packed dirt with a pathetic-looking shrub thrown into the mix, so I was able to practice letting the fire loose without the concern of burning down something.  Or someone.

Small fires.  Explosions of fire.  Hours of heat and madness and everything in between.  After a month, I could not only control the fire’s comings and goings, I could target it, make shapes, twist it, and will it to turn directions.  I was uninhibited.  Unbound.  Free. 

For the first time in my life, I felt powerful.

The camp therapist might not have seen that summer as one of progress, but I did.  Every morning when I’d bare my soul to my fellow crazies, she’d frown, her disappointment obvious over my perceived lies about how I could light up like a blow torch.  I can still hear her frustrated sigh.  Can we take this seriously, please?  If you want to make a change in your life.  If you want to get better.  To have a hope-filled future amongst society.  You have to take this seriously.

Well…I was taking it seriously.  Even if she was too narrowminded to see it.  And, anyway, society’s overrated.

Mornings were for truth/lie telling, afternoons were for introspection/freedom fire.  By the end of each day, I felt light, relieved of all the pressure of maintaining control, maintaining a fake persona.  I tried to tell the therapist that she really was helping me, but it was no use.  It’s like that weird French guy once said: “Truth, like the light, blinds.  Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.” 

At the end of the summer, there was a totally crap graduation with certificates and bogus awards.  Everyone got one.  Even the boy who never said a word to anyone and mostly just slept through every activity.

I stuffed the phony certificate into my suitcase and was shipped off to another school with the promise of a sealed criminal record, if I kept my nose clean.  This time, I was hopeful that I just might be able to do so. 

I’ve spent the past year at a boarding school outside Boston, laying low and trying to blend in.  Mostly, the kids and teachers at my new school see me as just another quiet kid.  Someone who isn’t real social but does her homework.  Someone who arrives on time to class and keeps out of trouble.  If I spend too much time alone, walking near the cliffs, sometimes coming in late to dinner, smelling like smoke, everyone just thinks I’m sneaking cigarettes.  Luckily, their little minds can’t comprehend a teenage sin outside of the spectrum of a CW episode.  Those cliffs have become my Fuller Brook. 

At the moment, I could really use those cliffs, or even a Utah desert. 

Instead, I’m inside a tin can with wings, where very flammable oxygen is being pumped into the air all around me, trying not to panic as we hit another batch of turbulence. 

A plane (flying through a storm) filled with people + a girl that can spontaneously combust = not a good ending for anyone.  I’ve been trying to keep it together for the past six hours.  While the rest of the unsuspecting passengers have been doing what passengers do on a Trans-Atlantic flight—sleep, watch movies, whatever—I’ve been practicing my Yoga breathing and making a trip to the toilet every half hour to…relieve the pressure.  At this point, the flight attendants definitely think I’m a chain smoker.  Even the nice one, who let me keep the entire liter of water, warned me in a whisper when I got back a few minutes ago that I could get into trouble for smoking on an airplane. 

If only my primary concern was emphysema as a geriatric!  I doubt I even live long enough to be a senior citizen.  But I’d certainly like for the rest of the people on board to have that chance, so I’ll deal with the judgmental attitudes.


  1. Hi Heather! Thank you so much for sharing your pages with us!! I really enjoyed them and you have some real gem lines here: "that’s the thing about adults and unlikely situations—they like to create their own truths." And, "It’s funny, how a single truth can take so many shapes"--among others. I also love the juxtaposition of fire and cold in your opening lines. You clearly can write! I will say that I'm fascinated with her control over fire, or her gaining control over fire and that was the real hook for me. I also LOVE that this is a contemporary setting so you have to balance the paranormal against the "normal". That said, I did feel like we got too much backstory in these opening pages. We learn of her movement through schools and settings but that doesn't really move the plot forward or deepen our understanding (or hers) of her fire-related power. I'd suggest pulling back on most of the backstory and start with the plane scene. Especially if she *can't* control her fire yet. Then we can get a look at some things that might happen (these can be things that happened in the past, but have concrete examples of when 'fire came to her' and the chaos that ensued). I hope this makes sense. I will say that I can feel the confidence in your writing and BRAVA for that alone. I'm willing to go on whatever storytelling adventure you take me on. But I do wish this started with her current predicament (and all the implications for her trans-Atlantic flight--like...where is she going and why) and focused less on her path to get there. All that backstory can be woven in as you move the pages. And as you say, "a single truth can take so many shapes" so focus on that single truth (is it the fire or something more?) and let us see the shapes it takes, and the places it takes her. I'm along for the ride and look forward to reading your revision!

  2. Consider starting at second paragraph – I’d gone to Fuller Brook to hide. Love that line!

    Instead of saying pretentious boarding school, consider showing us what makes it pretentious.

    Such a great job blending short and longer sentences to keep the pace moving – well done!

    What were the lies she told? Why was she in Juvie? So, she started the fire? Then came to Fuller Brook to hide from that past?

    So intriguing with the fire/power. I want to understand it more.

    Lots of telling going on – interesting telling, but would be even more compelling and interesting if we see some of this played out in scene. What do you want to show versus tell? Let the story and her character unfold through scene work.

    Would love to know the most bogus graduation award – and what was hers? That would be telling of her character.

    I love the line about her being a tin can with wings.

    Love this piece – so much potential! And, as I mentioned, you do a really nice job with pacing. On revision, consider starting in the middle of the present-day action, in scene. I feel like a lot of this is backstory – good, intriguing backstory, but backstory nonetheless.

    Now that you know what her past was, use that information to begin in her present-day action, in the middle of things. Her backstory could come through more organically through the choices she makes, the people she associates with (both the positive and negative relationships), and the dialogue you’ll use.

    Also, what does she want? Why does she want it? What will keep her from getting it? Keep going!!!

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  4. Hi Heather,

    What a punchy opener! Absolutely amazing voice, with an intriguing concept.

    My biggest critique is prologue-ing. I’ve heard that many agents don’t appreciate them, especially when there aren’t actions in them (I.e. just description of past.) You could fix this by adding some past tense dialogue/actions. Maybe tell us something a teacher said, or some imagery of what a police officer might have done at seeing the mayhem. I loved the bit about locks in Juvie! You’ve got enough action to keep us thoroughly hooked in the second half, but I’m worried there might be a touch too much telling in the first half.

    Another issue is that I don’t understand who Jefferson is. He’s an interesting character, but I don’t understand his role. Maybe add in a sentence to make that clear.

    Did I mention that I love your voice? Well, I do. Some amazing lines in there, especially “It’s funny, how a single truth can take so many shapes” and “Learned some great life skills in Juvie, actually.” I also absolutely love the short, punchy sentences describing the fire power.

    I’m sold on your voice alone. I’m obsessed with that sort of snark, especially in first person. And obviously the pyrokinetic hook works too. Your protag strikes me as Liz Sherman crossed with Edie Kramer, which works very well. I’d definitely love to read this!

  5. Hi Heather!

    Surprise, surprise, I also love your first line! The whole first paragraph, really. Hooked me right away. I feel like I’m getting a really clear voice from the beginning which is great. You have (and the character has) a distinct staccato style that I really like. There are also such vivid details ("And not because of the poor shower pressure and open-air latrine") that tell me a lot about who she is.

    “They like to create their own truths”—I’m so intrigued! I sense that there is a more to this story and belief. I want to keep reading to find out what it is.

    I wasn't sure who Jefferson was and what his role was in the story. I'm not even sure what role he plays: love interest? Uncle? Friend? I can't quite get a feel for the vibe there.

    There's so much rich backstory here that you could parcel out in flashbacks or dialogue, or even show in a scene! Random strategy that I'm using in revision: I made a massive list of things I wanted to "tell" and started parceling them out over my first couple of chapters so that I wasn't infodumping too much, and that I could fit in things where they felt natural or mold a scene around it.

    I also wanted a more immediate opening! What if it opened as a fire is happening? Or you could open on the camp therapy session—I kept picturing her, after weeks/months of sarcasm with the therapist, trying to genuinely thank the therapist and having the therapist be like “cut the shit”. The thought made me laugh, and even the fact that I was picturing that scene tells me that you do such a great job of getting her personality across to me. And of course by the time I got to the end of the scene with the plane thing, I was like "YES, start it with this."

    SUCH a good start, have fun revising this week! Really amazing job so far!!


  6. I enjoyed your first line. You also have numerous other lovely gems in here, such as the "tin can with wings" line. Great language.

    I noticed these first five pages had a lot of telling us what happened instead of showing the action. I thought it would be interesting to actually see what happened the first time the MC started a fire. Or what happened the first time she tried to control her powers.

    Also, I've seen a lot of young adult stories which put a sarcastic kid in a camp. That's not a bad thing; it means it's a very popular trope. But if you showed more of what was happening instead of telling us, then it would give you a chance to make your camp different from the others with lots of little, original details.

    There was one line which made me wonder if the MC was in love with Jefferson. It was "Jefferson, the only living human being who hasn’t thrown me away. I resent anything that keeps me from him, but, I’m woman enough to admit.." I don't think you intended that to be romantic since he's her guardian. The reason why I was confused was because this was the first time the MC called herself a "woman" instead of a "girl" and it felt deliberate.

    One final question: Why is the main character on a plane? With her lack of control over her powers, that seems criminally irresponsible, assuming she had any choice. She jokes about killing all the other people on the plane, but that seriously could happen. That said, the conflict of her being in such a tense situation is so interesting, it could be another great place to begin your story if you don't decide to flesh out the camp instead.

    You've got an interesting premise here and the talent and humor in the writing definitely made me curious to read more!