Monday, July 16, 2018

1st5Pages July Workshop - Hicks Rev 1

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.  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.   

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 until I mostly learned to control the fire’s comings and goings. 

Of course, none of my training prepared me for being caught in a storm inside a tin can with wings, where very flammable oxygen is being pumped into the air.  I’ve been keeping it together for the past seven hours.  While the rest of the unsuspecting passengers have been doing what passengers do on a Trans-Atlantic flight, 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 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. 

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.  

And when I catch my first glimpse of Jefferson’s pasty, bald head, 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 so much.  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?

Clearly, something’s wrong, but 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 of an I prefer to exercise-my-synapses type of guy. 

And…just like that.  My already pathetic version of Zen is gone.


I squeeze my backpack straps tightly and suck in a breath, yanking the memory back where it belongs.  The residual uneasiness has 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 in Edinburgh?  What about your symposium?  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.  I take a deep breath, trying to hold back the process, but I can physically feel my pores begin to open.

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.  It 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.  Get it under control.” 

Jefferson’s been my calming, cooling presence for so long.  My only real person in the world.  Whatever is going on, I know I can trust him.  So, I breathe with him and force myself to pull it in.   

“We’re going to get you clear of the airport.  Then, you’re going to go somewhere very public and wait.  Hide.  It will likely be kids closer to your age this time.  I’ve sent them your tracking information.  They’ll find you.  Wait for them.”  He squeezes my hands again, this time comfortingly, but his voice deflates with sorrow.  “Like you waited for me.”  

Run.  Don’t stop.  He’ll come for you.


He ignores the plea in my voice.  “Don’t stop running, no matter what you hear.  Do you understand?”  He waits for my assent, before cracking the door and peeking out.  “Here we go.”


  1. I like your new opening better! It was cool to get a hint of how the fire power worked: that it comes with painful cramps and a sense of cold. I also like that you got us to the airplane much faster, as that's an really interesting part of the story.

    When we transitioned from the past to the present, the airplane ride, I was expecting the story to start to feel like it was in real time. But that part of the story still felt like a flashback. I'm not sure how to explain it, but that part of the story still felt like the main character was describing something which had happened in the past, not which was happening to her right now. There wasn't much sense of urgency about if her fire powers were going to erupt because the plane landed so quickly. Also, there wasn't much sense of the setting. We readers get told that the flight attendants believed the main character was a smoker, but we don't see those confrontations happen, which is why it still felt like a flashback. We're told she's doing breathing exercises but they don't happen in real time. Honestly, that's such an interesting scenario you have--a fire user on an airplane! Such potential for everyone dying fiery deaths!--that I think you could make that scene last longer. Even give us real tension that everyone might be about to die if the main character's control slips.

    The scene with Jefferson is really cool. The tension is great--I enjoyed the subtle hints that they've been preparing for this, that they have a "code." The dialogue is strong. I have some sense of white room syndrome--my descriptions of the people are clear but there isn't much description of setting. I'm not even sure if this is a big airport or a tiny one.

    I like the sense of tension throughout the piece. My favorite line was: "And, when I get scared, bad things happen." I liked the sense that the main character herself was a ticking bomb. A nice set-up for conflict. You've definitely got my curiosity as to what's going on.

  2. I like the tighter opening and getting to the plane faster. I do think the reader needs to know where she is flying to and, most important, who Jefferson is to her. We need to be grounded in these facts within the first one or two pages. As I'm not sure how her fire comes into play throughout the whole story, I would have you consider allowing for more mishaps. Like, let her set the bathroom on fire. A teen isn't thinking about living to be a senior citizen (and the attendent's comment don't hint at old age so I'd reword if you keep)-so give us the danger of the now. It feels too "safe" that she's so good at controlling her fire now. Let your character come really close to really messing up to up the tension. Clearly there is tension with Jefferson at the end of the pages, but since we don't know who he is or how often they see one another or really anything, their encounter loses that immediacy you want in that section. Just things to think about!! I'm looking forward to reading your next round!

  3. Thanks so much for the revision! Like the last draft, I really enjoyed the voice here. I also think you’ve got a really fascinating character – someone who creates fire and has to keep that (blessing, curse?) under control. In a way, I assume it’s a curse because is it’s caused her pain, hallucinations, coldness and a reason to hide. But I’m not exactly sure. What is your intent? Is the power all bad? Or does she use it to her advantage in some way?

    My overall comment is that I really want more of this told in scene. We’re told about the flight attendant’s comment, as well as the breathing exercises she does. Let’s see these scenes/that scene played out. Let’s see her stress in the bathroom, trying to control her issue. Let’s see the confrontation with the attendant played out and get her stressed-out, interior thoughts.

    I’d also love to know where she’s going? And who is Jefferson? Is he a friend? Or a mentor? I’m assuming they are the same age, otherwise they wouldn’t be talking sex lives.

    I really love the sense of urgency you’ve created in seeing Jefferson, but I really don’t understand where it comes from. Where are they going? What does this meeting mean for them? What is at stake? Overall, I wanted to be grounded a bit more with respect to her, her power, and this scene. I think the intensity can really be ramped up by showing us her anguish. You’ve created such a fabulous idea for intensity here – I mean, if she blows it the plane could literally go up in smokes. So. Much. Tension. Let’s be there in the moment and see it! Nice work – keep going!

  4. Great work! I love how we get right into the plane scene, and see more of Jefferson. And your voice is still fantastic.

    While I do prefer this tighter opening, I do feel that there's a bit of a disconnect from the opening paragraphs and Jefferson showing up. Maybe if you added just one or two sentences before that, to give weight to the fire, it would be a tad smoother. Just a little more description of the fire, or how it makes her feel about herself and her opinions, to balance out all that external description.

    Now let's talk about Jefferson. What a great character. Immediately grabs my attention, seems likable, and is characterized incredibly well. The big issue I have with him, though, is that I don't understand his role. It's fine to leave me with questions, but just one or two sentences explaining his role would be nice. Hint at why he's there, just so the reader knows you're intentionality withholding that information.

    Lastly, I think you could spend more time on the plane, and use that as a vehicle (No pun intended) to deliver more exposition. Use that scene to describe what the fire power makes her feel about herself, what her opinions of it are, and how she copes. The plane scene is so much fun, and it's such a wonderful concept, that you could inject exposition and the reader would still eat it up.

    All in all, very nice revision. My biggest pieces of advice are to flesh out Jefferson's role a little, give more weight to the fire itself, and stretch the plane scene. Great work and good luck!

  5. Hi Heather,

    This is getting so so good! You did such a good job with this first revision.

    Love how you’ve brought up the plane part of the story! BUT, if it were me, I would actually pull it up to the very first line/paragraph, and then delve into the rest of the backstory and characterization. It’ll mean more to me once I’m firmly rooted in time in the story, otherwise I’m sort of floating and not sure what to grab onto.

    I love all the action in this, and was super engrossed in it (both the airplane part and airport part), but for some reason I didn’t feel quite ready to delve into the airport chase scene *quite* so early in the story. I feel like you could blow out this first airplane part even more and up the stakes, only going into the Jefferson part and that action at the very end of the first chapter (not sure how long your chapters are!).

    A couple of other notes:
    —“I’d certainly like for the rest of the people on board to have that chance”—love that because it tells me a lot about her empathy and also tips me off that she’s not a suicide bomber or anything like that.
    —Definitely more context clues to tell us more about who Jefferson is and what their relationship is, but one sentence of more explicit detail about how they know each other would be good.
    —“the books we’ve read together-apart”—this whole paragraph is so evocative! I really feel how she feels about him, and I love how you’ve cemented that in real details.
    —“My birthparents must have been lightyears ahead of his in terms of athletic evolution”—this confuses me again. Do the sets of parents have something to do with each other, despite their obvious age difference?
    —“his grip is surprisingly strong for a guy who spends ten hours a day analyzing particle accelerator data”—so intrigued!

    Such great work this week, keep it up!!!


  6. Hi Heather!

    Thanks so much for sharing your work! I really enjoyed the chance to read your first few pages. You have a very strong voice here and I can feel your character's personality, which is so important to hooking a reader.

    I agree with the comments that have been given to you already. I do believe the first few paragraphs give a lot of backstory that can be more organically given to the reader as the book or scene progresses. For example, it may be more interesting to actually see Finley pick a lock and then find out she learned how in juvie rather than just being told from the get-go.

    The plane offers you a really strong setting for your first pages, so I'd slow it down and bring the reader into that moment, into her stress about the fire coming out, into her interactions with others. The geriatric comment also threw me a bit because for a second I thought your character was elderly.

    Thank you again for participating in the workshop and sharing your work. I'll look forward to reading your pitch and pages next week.

    All the best,