Sunday, July 22, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Toran Rev 2

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


Holy Maiden Ysabel has only four months left to live. Determined to live life to the fullest, she conceals that behind her “virginal” image is a chain-smoking, alcohol-loving dominatrix. Acting the part of the naïve do-gooder healer allows her to manipulate nobles and the priesthood to advance her political agenda of improving women’s rights and helping the refugees who fled into her country from the Blight.

War among the civilized nations has been eliminated, replaced by the World Games. Victory in these wizarding death matches will allow her to re-write laws and win the refugees land. In exchange for her ticket to form the first female team, Ysabel has agreed to be sacrificed in a magical ritual.

Then she saves Dark Lord Kaine from being outed as a trans man, and he takes it on himself to rescue her from her grisly fate—by threatening to invade her country. Fortunately he likes her enough to back off when she shoos his prohibited army off her doorstep. Unfortunately, she likes him too, and the nagging survival instinct she thought she killed with booze and recreational drugs is coming back with a vengeance. But to fail to die as a proper Holy Maiden would be to betray the goals she’s inches from achieving and the people she wants to save.

PERSEPHONE’S WALTZ is a 130,000 word young adult fantasy novel.

First Five Pages:

I, Holy Maiden Ysabel, have only four months, three weeks, and two days to live. I’d prefer to spend as little of that as possible in meetings with the Council of Cardinals, 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.

Cardinal 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 idiots.”

“What did you think, Ysabel?” 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. 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 to join the council, the cardinals discovered the presence of a woman made it awkward for them to brag about their sexual conquests during worktime. 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 they didn’t “forget” to tell me when to show up at the Cardinal’s Chamber to cast my vote.

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 Archpatriarch 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 gas lamp burned in a violet-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 brightness of the sun in my smile and my voice, I said, “Then I’m sure you have the aracoins to build the bathrooms for women I asked for. Such wonderful news!”

Cardinal Poul grunted. “The Games are too violent for women to be interested in attending.” Poul’s father was a virgin and his mother sucked eggs in hell. We’d be humiliated in the eyes of less patriarchal countries around the world if we made every female dignitary hold it all day. Our economy had barely recovered from the Rashiban queen’s last trade embargo. I didn’t intend to hold it all day.

I scanned the eight men in the room, looking for potential supporters. Two cardinals were missing, but who? Poul I could recognize by his black hat and long beard, but my face-blindness meant I could only tell the cardinals 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. Cardinal Orwin, decked out in rings and necklaces, was my closest ally: he had the morals of an alley cat but he was smart enough to have invented the printing press and bribed his way up from a common church-raised orphan to the council. I held up two fingers at him, promising to vote his way the next two times. He nodded.

I cast pleading eyes at Santos, who murmured, “Holy Ysabel’s kind-heartedness does her credit.” Orwin rolled his eyes at me and I resisted the urge to do the same. Santos was the nicest of the lot and probably the only sincere believer at this table, cardinal being more a political position than a religions one these days. Mix him and Orwin together in a bowl and there’d be one decent cardinal between them. It probably said something negative about me that I liked Orwin more. If every cardinal who owed me a favor voted with me, I’d have just enough.

“Excuse me.” I clasped my hands together. “Please allow my humble self to plea for charity in the name of the Sun God. Let us call this esteemed council to vote.”

The vote was four to four. A tie meant no change. Time to pester them to recount until someone changed their mind just to make me stop babbling nonsense.

The brass double-doors creaked open. Cardinal Jioh strode in, his white coat heavy with gemstones and his black beard bristling. Everyone in the room sat up straighter. Jioh was the head of the council. Unfortunately, I had about as much chance of convincing him to vote with me as the Moon Devil did in seducing the Sun God. I hated him with every fiber of my being.

“Noble Jioh, 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 Jioh 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 cardinals, only he still appeared to be a young man. He had dark monolid eyes, a lumpy face, and a full head of 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 may shortly face a siege from Dark Lord Kaine.”

My hands clenched into fists as my mind spun.


  1. Katherine,

    Holy Maiden Ysabel has quite a few internal conflicts: face blindness, sexual proclivities deemed inappropriate for the culture in which she lives, drinking and smoking she feels she must hide, and the fact that she doesn’t want to be a sacrifice any longer. Whew. That’s a lot to cover. To be fair, I wouldn’t have known about two of them without the pitch, so maybe a few of them only cause her minor problems.

    I think the world you’re creating is filled with beautiful things, but almost only ugly people. I hope Ysabel will turn out to be a woman of beauty and strength, not just a lovely sacrificial lamb.

    In this version, Ysabel is trying to accomplish something “for women,” which is nice to see, rather than just have her dealing with patriarchal tools. I think the message in the piece about the role(s) of women has such value, and I wish you all the luck in presenting it to the world.


  2. Hi Katherine,

    First of all, I don’t think I mentioned this before, but I like your title! Super intrigued by that. Okay, here we go.

    There is so much intriguing me in here! All of your plot points and characterization sounds very interesting to me, and is definitely making me want to read more. However, you shoved a lot into this pitch, and I’m a little confused by it all! For example, I’d love some more info on the motivation for the sacrifice—why does she need to be sacrificed in order to participate in the games? What does Dark Lord Kaine have to do with her plotline? Why does invading her country save her from her fate? There are so many fascinating plot ideas here, I’m just not necessarily always seeing how they are connected or following your thought pattern!

    I’m really liking how you’ve whipped this new starting scene into shape—I feel like you’re on your way to finding a really nice balance of plot, exposition, dialogue, characterization, etc. I get a feel pretty immediately for the stakes and the layers of deception and politics that are going on!

    A couple of nitpicky things:
    - In the first paragraph you’re switching between present and past, e.g. “I have only…” then “here I was.” - make sure you do a pass for consistent tense!
    - “average intelligence of humanity will be raised the day his nighttime activities cause his old heart to fail” ← love this addition, hilarious. I feel like your voice is starting to shine through more and more.
    - Face blindness! Twist!
    - You may want to work a little bit more on the joke + exposition that surrounds it. It feels a little abrupt to get dropped into “Cardinal Rakir continued” when it’s the first dialogue that appears, and I didn’t at first make the connection with her talking about “Rakir’s knowledge of bondage” with the joke. At first I thought that maybe she was involved with him…? I got it after a reread, but might need some work to get your point across clearly here.

    Keep up the great work!

  3. The pitch:

    I love your first line – really nice hook. I like that first paragraph too. I felt overall, however, there’s a lot in that pitch. Could you go through and trim it a bit? Just give enough to tease and entice us. I felt myself working hard, trying to make connections and understand all that was packed in here, especially since there’s so much to this world. You may not want the reader to have to so hard in the pitch. Streamline. For example, the line about her being sacrificed as part of the games, in a ritual…that’s huge, but it’s buried in that last line of paragraph two, with a lot of text around it. Love the idea of this – and her character. I’m totally fascinated, but I want the pitch to come across a bit more accessibly.

    The pages:

    I love the humor in this. And, as mentioned, I love the character and story idea here. I also like where you’ve chosen to open up the story. You do flip between present and past in here – something to be careful of.

    Like the pitch, I’d like just a bit more streamlining. I think you’re really getting there. The voice is amazing – really well done!.We have a nice blend of narrative, action, and exposition. But, like the pitch, this is your first 5. You don’t want to lose anyone in too much world or information. Take your time. There’s no need to rush or feel like you have to fit everything into the first five.

    I love that first line. But a bit further on, I do wish Cardinal’s first dialogue was a bit clearer. I get that she’s bored and only half-listening, but it was a little confusing to the reader that we get this half-dialogue, esp. since it’s his first speech in this.

    One more thing, what are the stakes here? I would think the sacrifice, but if that’s the case I would also thing the tone of this would match that desperation a bit more. Right now, I can see her hard work in attending – and orchestrating her attendance – at these meetings, but she’s so witty and sarcastic. Is she just confident she won’t be sacrificed (though it doesn’t seem so from the first line)? Is she nervous at all? The stakes are so high, but she seems almost resigned to her fate.

    Really nice work here. I love where you’re going and I love the idea. Keep going!

  4. Hi Katherine

    Pitch: Great opening paragraph! Captured the characters and stakes so well. I do think, however, it does such a great job explaining everything that you could afford to cut some details from he second and third.

    Your concept is so intriguing. Wizarding death matches... wow! Really interesting. Would, however, suggest using more traditional MUST DO X OR Y, OR Z WILL HAPPEN in the end, just to keep things clear. All in all, this is very strong. You had me hooked with paragraph 1.


    Really into the voice here, plus the themes you set up right from the start. It's clear everything means something, and everybody's got strong objectives. Really don't have much to nit pick here. Maybe review your imagery and make sure that everything is consistent, and clear, so that I get a clearer picture of where and who everybody is, especially cardinals. Ysabel's thoughts do a great job of this, but it might help to streamline some of those. Also, consider streamlining some of the cardinal's lines too. Lastly, that last line about the siege seemed a little to sudden. Consider setting it up more, and letting Ysabel really slow down and process it. This is probably coming, but I think her fists clench too soon.

    Great work. Your pitch really drew me in, and made me want to read more! Plus, the already strong voice seems to get stronger every time I read. Good luck.

  5. Hello Katherine,

    Great job on the revisions. The pitch could use some tightening. You start off with a great hook. The rest just needs the stakes stated better and the pitch to read with more urgency and clarity. At 130K, this manuscript may be a tough sale for a young adult debut author. You might want to consider cutting the word count of the manuscript down as much as you can. Not that this length hasn't been sold before, just that it will make it tougher to get agent interest. Laurie has given you some great notes for the pages and some I didn't pick up on. I agree about streamlining as much as you can. For instance, this line, "He planted his giant body, both muscular and rippling with fat, down on his throne with a thud." Could be done like this. "He planted his mammoth body down on his throne with a thud." Also, I can't visualize a body both muscular and rippling with fat. Might just be me though. Make your sentences concise and strong where needed. Make sure your sentences don't end up being all the same length though. They should be varying in length.

    So just some clarity in the query, focusing on the stakes, and tightening of the prose in both the pitch and sample pages would help elevate this sample. You're doing such a great job and your sample keeps getting better.

    Good luck in the agent round!


  6. Hi Katherine,

    Thank you for sharing your revision and pitch with us!

    I love the opening line of the pitch, but as a whole it is more of a synopsis than a pitch. A pitch should tell us what the inciting moment is, what the goal is, and what the consequences are if the main character fails to reach her goal (ie: the stakes).

    I recommend trying another pitch in this basic format:
    When [main character, ex" Harry Potter] [inciting moment, ex: arrives at Hogwarts to study magic], s/he [encounters conflict, ex: discovers there is evil magic threatening the castle] and must [goal/action, ex: find the sorcerer's stone] before [consequences/stakes: he or anyone else is killed.]

    Try focusing on just those elements: inciting moment, conflict, goal, and stakes, to build a strong foundation for your query. Once you have that simple query (or logline) you can expand it to tell us more about the character, layer in complications and conflicts, and end with a real punch regarding the stakes.

    Here's a great resource for a model query:

    This should also bring some clarity and focus to the pitch, which right now has so much plot it's a bit hard to take in. We need to know who your character is, why her situation is tough, and what her *personal* motivation is for achieving her goal. Wanting to fight for women is a lofty and wonderful goal, but it's not personal. How is Ysabel's goal personal to her?

    As far as the pages go, I love the opening line! You have real talent for hooking the reader. As we move into the pages, I think there's a lot that you could cut in order to improve the pace and the voice. Here's one example:

    "I contemplated the five minutes of my life which I would never get back."

    The "I contemplated" part of this sentence removes us from Ysabel's POV a bit. I recommend removing filter words like "contemplated" because that action doesn't need to be described. Instead, you can let Ysabel share her thought immediately: "That was five minutes of my life I would never get back."

    The same applies to "I widened my eyes," which slows us down and isn't really necessary unless her dialogue cannot convey her attitude. Right now, the dialog does just fine on it's own, so cut all physical cues unless they are absolutely necessary.

    One way to judge what to keep and what to cut is to read the work aloud. I think some of these opportunities to cut will be apparent when you read aloud.

    I'd also love to hear a little bit more hope, what Ysabel hopes for, where she sees a bit of light in the world. Just to balance all of the intensity. Maybe a bit more humor would do that--I do love her sarcasm. A good reference on a dark protagonist who still radiates hope is ARCHIVIST WASP.

    Best of luck!

    Melanie Conklin
    First Five mentor

  7. From Paula:

    The Pitch: The pitch itself is intriguing, but:
    1) At 130,000 words it’s too long for a debut. I won’t shop anything over 100,000 words by a debut author regardless of genre.
    2) A dominatrix heroine for a YA novel may put some off from the get go. If this is EpicFantasyXmeets Fifty Shades of Grey, you might shop it as adult instead.
    3) You need to reveal more of the main action and how your heroine drives that main action in the pitch.
    4) Include some comps in your pitch.
    The Pages: You’ve got a great heroine in your Holy Maiden, and the voice is fun and engaging.
    1) You surely are not starting in the best place. Meetings of politicians are boring, and readers tend to skip them. You need to start at a more exciting point in your story. What happens 50 pages in? Often this is where your story often starts, as it takes many of us writers that long to warm up….
    2) Is the myth of Persephone a theme here? If so, you should milk that in the pitch and the pages (perhaps through the use of a device).