Sunday, July 15, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Toran Rev 1

Name: Katherine Toran
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Persephone’s Waltz

I, Holy Maiden Ysabel, had only four months, three weeks, and two days to live, and I intended to make the most of every single day. To my mind, this meant spending as little time as possible in meetings with the Council of Patriarchs. Yet here I was. I needed a smoke or a stiff drink. Not both; I’d learned from bitter experience on my knees in the outhouse that redleaf and alcohol did not mix.

Patriarch Rakir continued, “…As the maid said to the bishop.” He laughed uproariously. So did the rest of the room. I contemplated the five minutes of my life which I would never get back. Rakir deserved a beating for making me sit through, by my last count, eighty-nine jokes where the punchline was “women are sluts.”

“What did you think, Ysabel?” Patriarch Rakir asked, smirking. The average intelligence of humanity will be raised the day his nighttime activities cause his old heart to fail.

I widened my eyes. “Oh, it was dreadfully entertaining, but I think it went over my head. Alas, the Sun God has not blessed me with a wit equal to you gentlemen. Why did the bishop tie the maid up? Did she do something wrong?”

They exploded into laughter. I kept my vapid, pretty smile on my face while I contemplated the sharp limits of Rakir’s knowledge of bondage. Just tied hands and a blindfold? If you’re going the sensory deprivation route, at least take advantage of the increased sensitivity with a bit of hot wax and ice cubes. As they had become more obvious, it had gotten harder to pretend I didn’t know far more about how to dominate a partner than they did.

When I’d claimed the Sun God told me as his chosen Holy Healer I should be allowed into their monthly council meetings, the patriarchs discovered having a woman in the room made it awkward for them to brag about their sexual conquests during worktime. They’d “forgotten” to tell me when the council meetings were being held. So I pretended to be too virginal to understand sexual innuendo if it mugged me in a dark alley. I was still being excluded from the wheeling-and-dealing in the private drinking sessions, but at least I got into the planning room.

It was a gorgeous room if you could overlook that it was paid for by charitable tithes. Silver and gold etched dozens of little angels on the ceiling. Statues of muscled men crowded the alcoves, fig leaves covering where the Last Archbishop had gone around hacking all their penises off. The round table made of pure gold had to be replaced once a month because gold is a very soft metal. The hand-woven silk carpets didn’t last much longer on account of the drinking parties I wasn’t invited to. A new-fangled gas lamp burned in a violent-tinted glass case.

Rakir flipped through his papers. “I’m pleased to announce construction of the stadium for the 549th World Games is complete and under-budget. The damn heretics are still insisting on double the number of guards we’ve room for.”

Patriarch Poul grunted. “House them in the whorehouse and mail the issue to them in nine months.” I recognized him by his black hat and long beard. My face-blindness meant I could only tell the patriarchs apart by the customary dress of their different sects. The ones who just wore brown robes, like Farruco, Franshall, Lordon, and Envio, all blurred together.

Everyone but me laughed. Poul’s father was a virgin and his mother sucked eggs in hell.

“Ysabel doesn’t know where babies come from,” a patriarch said, pointing at me. Must be Lector judging by the vile smell.

My forehead wrinkled. “Babies come from true love and the Sun God.”

Not my finest line of nonsense. Anyone who had the tiniest respect for my intelligence would have heard my sarcasm. Happily I did not have that problem. The room laughed even harder. I should have learned to never underestimate how stupid this bunch thought women were. Not being allowed to marry and too important to council commoners, the only women they associated with were prostitutes. It made for a massive virgin-whore complex.

Sobering, Orwin said, “If we slight them, it will only fuel their self-righteousness. Better to embarrass them with our hospitality.” Orwin is a horny old goat like all the others, but smart enough to have invented the printing press and bribed his way up from a lowly church-raised orphan to the council.

As they all fell to bickering, I let my eyes wander, memorizing the shirtless bodies of some of those statues for later use. Sadly, this was the closest I’d gotten to a naked man in nearly two years. I’m forced to be discreet for political reasons, by which I mean if this lot ever found out I like to tie men up and step on them, several might die of heart attacks.

Eventually, Orwin said, “Put it to vote: do we provide housing for the Heretic Church’s additional guards?”

“Excuse me.” I clasped my hands together. “Please allow my humble self to plea for diplomacy. The heretics are misguided, but they worship the Sun God just like us.” More importantly, we don’t want to provoke another trade embargo when our economy has barely recovered from the last one, you brainless morons. I cast pleading eyes at Santos, the nicest of the lot and probably the only sincere believer at this table, patriarch being more a political position than a religions one these days.

Unfortunately, that meant he resented the “heretical” sects which had split away from the council even more. Looking away, Santos murmured, “Holy Ysabel’s kindness does her credit,” in a condescending way. The vote went against me, seven to two. I’d known it was a lost cause. I exchanged eye rolls with Orwin.

The brass double-doors creaked open. Patriarch Jiohnanny strode in, his white coat heavy with gemstones and his black beard bristling. Everyone in the room sat up straighter. Jiohnanny was head of the council. I hated him with every fiber of my being.

“Noble Jiohnanny, the air becomes more holy now you have graced us with your presence.” I beamed at him. “The Sun God must have sent your wisdom to help us with the thorny tasks assailing us from all sides.” Sorry for making you bear the blame, God.

“I wouldn’t dream of letting you struggle on your own, Ysabel.” His tone was both patronizing and sarcastic. Unlike the rest of the council, I’d never managed to quite convince Jiohnanny that I was an empty-headed ninny happy to sacrifice myself, so he kept a close eye on me for any chance that I might try to escape our bargain.

He planted his giant body, both muscular and rippling with fat, down on his throne with a thud. “I come bearing news of an emergency.” His silver cane topped by a white orb leaned against his legs. He took it everywhere, despite having no leg injuries. Of all the patriarchs, only he still appeared to be a young man. He had dark monolid eyes, a lumpy face, and thick black hair he kept curled and shoulder-length. I would say something unpleasant about his mother, but I couldn’t possibly insult an unfortunate woman who had to squeeze such a bloated head out of her womb.

His next words echoed throughout the small room: “The Holy City shortly faces a siege from Dark Lord Kaine.”


  1. Thanks to everyone for all your comments! You'll probably have noticed my revision looks REALLY different. I've gotten enough feedback that my story starts slow that I'm going to try opening it in a completely different place. Plus, it makes more sense to start from Ysabel's POV since she's the main character. However, all your comments from last time are still useful since I'm keeping the content of my prologue, just moving around where it's located.

  2. Hi Katherine,

    Wow, you weren't kidding!! This is going in an interesting direction—it really reads like a completely different book than last week! You must have spent a lot of time on it. I never would have imagined that this would be the direction of the story, given your other opening!

    When I read through the first time, I totally breezed over the details about how long she had to live, which is a HUGE thing. That’s a super big hook! I want to hear more about why that is, how she knows that, etc. It also might be worth reiterating in at least one other way, or at least placing more emphasis there. Also: if she’s telling this story in past tense first person… I feel like it takes a little of the urgency out of that part of it, since we can presume that she is telling this story after the fact and has survived.

    A few other notes:
    —There are some super interesting themes here about sexism, patriarchy, etc—I'm excited to see where you take that.
    —I think you could probably come up with a more natural way to drop her name into the story without having to say it in the first sentence—I actually think it might be a stronger first line without it.
    —Having language like “women are sluts” so early in the story is quite jarring! I would consider finding a different way to show that characterization or move it to later in the chapter. That also seems like more modern language, and it took me out of the time that I presumed this was set in.

    Devil’s advocate thought: seems like she’s into some bondage stuff that made me question if this was YA… could be right on the line between YA and adult (or new adult?), so you might want to keep audience in mind as you develop the story more.

    Keep up the good work!!


  3. Katherine,

    I like your new first line. It creates immediate tension. Though the tone of narration is significantly different than the first version—more antagonism, less elegance and high fantasy—I think it works with what Ysabel is forced to sit through. What horrible human beings.

    Speaking of that…why is she forced to sit through such sexism? Isn’t she the Holy Maiden and they only Bishops? Perhaps the world you’ve created works differently than many traditional religious hierarchies. If so, ignore this question.

    I do love that Ysabel hints at an agreement she made with a man she sees as her enemy and your overall criticism of the patriarchy. I’m hoping, outside of the first-five pages, your heroine will eventually be able to assert her power, not merely circumvent the men in charge and call it a win.

    If your projected audience is on the older end of the spectrum of YA, I think they might understand the tid-bits about bondage and the virgin-whore complex, but I’m not sure younger readers will.

    Overall, though, I like how this version begins with some of the conflicts Ysabel faces, since she’s the protagonist. Good idea for a revision. Can’t wait to see where your beautifully descriptive writing takes us next!


  4. I love your first paragraph – love it!!! So much at stake. Such a great hook! I have so many questions. What’s going to happen? How does she know? Would love some of that urgency later on too. I feel we spend so much time in the meeting and that’s such a huge bomb you’ve dropped.

    And speaking of the meeting…so clever that she orchestrated her admission/attendance to these meetings. I love that she’s smarter than them – so character revealing. She’s passionate and clever and manipulative in this patriarchal world. Love that!!! But, initially she says she doesn’t want to waste her time in these meetings. Is time of the essence? What does she get out of attending these meetings with all the sexual-conquest talk? What is her goal? I don’t want it spelled out, but a hint would be nice, esp. since timing for her is limited.

    I love her feisty potential hinted at here. She has secrets and agenda and meanwhile time is ticking. So intriguing.

    Who is your attended audience here? Upper YA/adult crossover? That’s what I was thinking.

    Overall, nice revision. Stakes are high. Reveal a bit more character/less meeting – just a trimming – and make us understand a little more why she spends her limited time at the meeting. What is her bigger picture/end goal?

    Nice work - keep going!!!

  5. Some big changes here! I really love how punchy yet simple the opening is. Your first lines immediately set up stakes, and make me want to read more.

    Then there's Ysabel. She's great! I love her snarky voice, and her analytical way of thinking. One thing I think is important, though, is to make it clear that although she doesn't want to waste time at the meetings, she has to be there anyway. I'd also suggest inserting a few lines about how she feels about her upcoming death date, and just her situation in general, so we can bond with her more.

    Your imagery is fantastic. Really put me into the scene. While most of your dialogue is great, you drop some pretty intense language early on, notably "women are sluts." Consider it moving it down. Plus, just having the guys be known as 'patriarchs' does the job pretty well.

    All in all, fantastic work. I'd definitely love to read this, especially now that we're seeing more of Ysabel. She's really interesting. Can't wait to see what you have next week!

  6. Hello Katherine,

    This excerpt confused me from the one before. The tone is completely different and sounds like it's in another time. You mentioned the one before it was a prologue. I'd get rid of it and try to give that information out organically throughout the story.

    You have many good suggestions above, so I won't repeat what they said. Just that I agree with them. I'm actually having a hard time figuring out anything else to say. I don't feel grounded in this story or world in this opening. You may want to add more emotion and senses to this. I do like the voice here and Ysabel is a strong and interesting character. I'm uncomfortable with “women are sluts” but that is only my opinion. I wonder if you could come up with something different. Also, the themes seem adult/NA to me too, but some YA have stretched to such scenes (SJ Maas). I fear that I'm just not the best person to critique it. So just think about adding more setting details, emotion, visceral responses, and the senses to it.

    Great job with bringing out the voice and showing us a strong character. Good luck with the revisions!