Sunday, October 14, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Zhu Rev 1

Name: Mayee Zhu
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Traveling by star was a sweet but sour treat. Fourteen-year-old Ari Pippin could see the universe zoom by and get to her destination faster than a speeding bullet, but hearing the mouthy stars insult her, and everybody under the sun dear to her, left a lot to be desired.

Leaning back so she wouldn’t be repeatedly smacked in the face by the star Pyxis’s billowing, platinum hair, Ari watched Earth shrink further away. Other stars sped by, their fused legs humming.

“What’s the deal with your mannish eyebrows?” Pyxis asked as they hurtled past Jupiter. “They’re like two fuzzy, overfed caterpillars.”

Stars could have passed for wingless angels if it weren’t for their smack talk. At least here in the Core dimension, stars wouldn’t flash-fry bystanders like the flaming space farts in Ari’s world.

Pyxis screeched to a halt so sudden, Ari was nearly thrown off the star’s back. The only thing that saved Ari from falling was her firm grasp on the stretchy starbone attached to Pyxis’s bicep like a horse’s rein.

Pyxis caught her breath. Silver light streamed from her mouth when she exhaled. “Twenty-seven dzaras. Cough up, ginger pits.”

“Whoa there, glitterbomb. Last week, Yesi took me twice as far for eighteen.”

“Price hike. A black hole might as well have swallowed my bank account with all these new taxes.”

“And these taxes were created between last week and now?”

The star’s golden lip curled. “Do you want proof, cheapskate?”

Impatient to see Mintaka, Ari didn’t argue further and rummaged in her knapsack for the money she had earned from foraging plants. She pulled out the glowing dzaras. The neon blue jellyfish floated dreamily in small circles above her hands.

Taking off the curved bone, Pyxis pummelled it as easily as it was pizza dough. She swept the dzaras into the makeshift bag, tied it up, and fastened her rib-rein back to her side.

Pyxis saw Ari’s brooding expression. “Don’t worry. Mintaka’s only the second most awful being I know. You’ll get along like me and your money.”

Before Ari could sarcastically thank her, Pyxis zipped away as fast as Superman on steroids.

Sitting on top of Melon Moon, Mintaka’s home loomed over Ari. A behemoth made out of rare jewels twinkled. Curved towers created serpentine shadows onto the stairs.

Ari stared. The castle then preened like a prize-winning, purebred Siamese cat. The balcony curved into a smug smile, and one of the two windows’ blinds above it shut and open, like a coy wink. Ari waved, immediately felt stupid, and began her trek up the winding, moonrock steps.

Mintaka was the youngest triplet in Orion’s Belt. Even though being Orion’s daughter made her unofficial star royalty, it was rumored she had an inferiority complex towards her two siblings.

Wheezing once she reached the top, Ari thought, ‘No one’s calling me Ari Swolzzenager anytime soon, that’s for sure.’ Though she looked asleep back in her bed on Earth, she still felt effects from dreamwalks, or as the professional lingo called it, worldhops. One time, a star didn’t dial down her rib’s heat all the way before Ari grabbed it. Ari’s hand came away with a severe burn that still ached after she woke up.

Ari rolled her eyes at Mintaka’s platinum door knockers, which were carved in the striking likeness of Mintaka, and banged both against the why-not platinum double doors. The knocks echoed throughout the house. One mini-Mintaka’s eye whirred and opened, revealing a camera microlens. It zoomed in on Ari.   

The doors opened soundlessly. Ari blinked. The interior obviously didn’t want to be upstaged by the exterior. Expensive-looking artwork decorated the walls. A jeweled chandelier sparkled from the ceiling. Ari wiped her feet on the welcome mat. It purred.

Mintaka’s satin voice slithered out the sound system: “I await you in the parlor, little one.”

“I need help finding that as this place is a tad big.”

Mintaka whistled. With a rattle, a gaunt man with a gold collar around his neck and a ball and chain around one ankle appeared so close to Ari she took a step back.

“Hello,” she greeted politely.

The man glared at her and opened his mouth. He had no tongue.

Tempted to say ‘Doooope’ instead of ‘Sorry,’ Ari settled on: “Hey, silence is golden.”

Grimacing at Ari's cheesy crack, the tongueless man turned away from her and slowly walked forwards. His iron ball and chain dragged behind him. They walked through many hallways and rooms. Ari stopped counting after she reached fifty. Two perfectly good parlors passed by.

There were absurd rooms with no clear purpose. One had two voodoo dolls in the middle of the floor. Another had only a painting of a macho star in uniform. A third had a customized dartboard that was the current US president’s face. Ari didn’t know what Mintaka’s beef with that president was, but she hoped by the end of their meeting that her face wouldn’t be used for target practice, too.

Mintaka’s slave stopped. He gestured to a room that Ari could partly see through an arched entrance. As Ari turned to thank him, he vanished.

“Don’t mind him, Oliver resents anyone young and hopeful.” Mintaka chuckled.

Stars were a diverse bunch. There were some, like Pyxis, who squeegeed through their lives by being glorified taxi drivers. Then there were high-born stars like Mintaka who foresaw the future. Whenever they had a vision, it had to do with desire or death. Mintaka gave Ari a prophecy last week.

Ari stepped over the threshold and into a room larger than her entire house. A marble fountain spewed stardust and the walls were embedded with glass displays filled with bobbing dzaras. Ari shielded her eyes when she saw Mintaka. The willowy star sparkled much more violently than Pyxis.  

“My fault.” Mintaka dimmed herself enough so that Ari could comfortably look at her chiselled face, but still be awed by the flecks of diamond light she scattered on the walls. Her robes flowed and shimmered like silk, but was opaque like frosted glass. Her pearly hair and clothes fluttered gently, though there was no wind. “Have a seat, child.”

Ari sat in an identical recliner opposite Mintaka’s. “I’ve thought about your warning since you sent it to my Core mailbox yesterday.” She pulled out a slip of paper and read, “Beware the forbidden fruit you seek, for its guardian snake lies on its cheek. Mintaka, smiley face." She looked up. "Care to explain?”

“Stars are forbidden from interfering with fate. This is even more so for me, as I need to set an example.”

Ari crossed her arms. “So you’re just going to torment me with cryptic warnings of doom and gloom.”

“I already wasn’t supposed to tell you anything. But now that you’re here…” for a second, Mintaka’s amber eyes gleamed like a polished knife, before it was replaced by her standard pleasantness. “I want you to get something for me.”

“Another palace, my queen?”

“The Heartsword from Centaurus.”

“...I understood only half the words in that sentence.”

“You haven’t heard of the Heartsword?”

“It’s hard keeping track of everything in the universe."

“The last time the sword was seen was when the hero Titus was drowned with it bound to his back, in Europa’s subterranean sea. The Heartsword was believed to be lost forever. But my source told me Kaosian Centaurus has it now."

Kaosian. Kaosian. The familiar word spun around in Ari’s head like a hamster on a wheel.


  1. Hey everyone!

    I tried to incorporate everyone's advice into this new revision. I'm still not completely sure on whether to make this MG or YA, so if you have any advice concerning that after reading this, that would be great!

    Also, do you think I should edit out the rib completely and call it the vaguer, curved starbone instead?


  2. Hi Mayee,

    I like this revision. I think it's better without the flashback, and I'm glad that you were able to get into the actual meeting with Mintaka. I'm intrigued to find out more about how the world of the core dimension is related to and interacts with Ari's Earth world, as well as more about her relationship with Mintaka.

    One thing that I wished you had kept from the previous version was the beginning. I thought that "sweet but salty" flowed better and I thought the "salty" better described the stars' way of talking. Although, I think that "sweet and sour" would work better if you want to keep the "sour".

    While this passage is still very enjoyable and entertaining to read, there were a few parts where I got kind of taken out of the story.

    As funny as this was "stars wouldn’t flash-fry bystanders like the flaming space farts in Ari’s world.", it left me wanting more explanation. Does it mean that stars in her world are the same as the stars we know on earth today in that they are hot and would fry anything near them? Or are they literally space farts, in which case what do they have to do with stars?

    Also, "A behemoth made out of rare jewels twinkled." I think you were referring to Mintaka's house, but just saying "a behemoth" made me think you were talking about a separate being. You could just add "The house was a behemoth.." to the front of the sentence to clarify it.

    Regarding the rib/starbone, I would suggest not using either if you can. I was having a hard time making sense of a star having bones, anyway. Maybe the star can wear a harness for its riders to hold onto?

    Also, to me this reads Middle Grade all the way. It perfectly matches Middle Grade humor, and I think that teenagers might consider it too juvenile.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you! I used "space farts" because stars are balls of gas, but I was kind of side-eyeing it the whole time I was typing it lol. I'll take it out--I don't want the humor to seem too juvenile or confusing.

  3. Hi there -

    —I’d just take out “and everybody under the sun dear to her.” I think it makes the sentence clunky.

    —Ok, I hate to harp on the star thing, but do they always have “fused legs,” like the Academy Awards statuette, or only when they are flying? Otherwise they just look like sparkly humans?

    —I liked the explanation that the stars aren’t “flaming space farts.” It made me laugh.

    —I did find the starbone/rein/armband a little confusing still. I don’t understand pummeling it like pizza dough.

    —If stars are shaped like humans, would it make sense to have the stars carry the humans in their arms, like Superman does to Lois Lane? Or a tandem harness like a skydiving instructor?

    —The phrase “why-not platinum” seemed confusing. Just say platinum.

    —I don’t understand why she would say “Dope” upon seeing the tongueless servant. Sometimes people say “dope” if something is cool. Does she think it’s cool? Also, isn’t she sad about a tongueless slave? Why does she make a cheesy crack to him, then?

    —“A macho star in uniform” doesn’t mean anything to me. Like, military uniform? Football uniform?

    —I really liked the description of Mintaka dimming herself but still scattering flecks of diamond light on the walls.

    —In general, it’s still so fun and inventive it’s really charming! On the other hand I feel like there’s so much information and so many new ideas being thrown at us all at once I had to read it slowly to make sure I knew what was going on. I might try to narrow the focus of this first part to have fewer new ideas all at once if possible.

    —Regarding MG or YA, I think the tone and humor might be MG, but the difficulty or reading and parsing out what’s happening is probably above that level.

    Good job!

    1. Thank you for your critique, Mary!

      I'll focus more on star travel than Mintaka's house in the next revision. I'll clarify that their legs fuse only when they're flying, and the starbone is stretchy and malleable so it could be formed into different shapes.

      Ergh, I don't want the stars to cradle their passengers like a baby, since that may be too juvenile for this story.

      I was also unsure about the "Dooope" part--thanks for pointing out your thoughts on that. Ari has a very laid-back approach to life, so I tried to show that through this part, but I can see how it can be viewed as callous or uncaring.

  4. Hi Mayee,

    This is a terrific revision! One of the best selling points of our manuscript is your outlandish world, and I think it is smart that you expose the readers to the world as much as possible from the very beginning. Your unique world and voice are sure to hook anybody in.

    Regarding the genre, I think you should stick with MG. The writing, the humour, it fits perfectly with MG. Personally, I think you have dealt with the rib issue well. I raised some concerns about it last time, so allow me to explain: In your original submission, I was thrown by the 'bending rib' because I was having difficulty picturing your stars. First, your writing made me picture Strawberry Shortcake-ish land (don't judge me; I loved that cartoon as a kid!), only with more glitter. Then, out of nowhere, you wrote about Ari actually pulling the ribs of these poor glittery stars. I guess the two scenes jarred me. But now? I think it is perfect. You described that the stars have fused legs, they look like wingless angels, which makes me realise that the stars look humanoid. So, when you describe the FLEXIBLE ribs, I think: 'Well, of course they have ribs. They look like humans. But why do their ribs poke out of nowhere? I don't care! This world is crazy and that is precisely why I love it!' I hope this explains my opinion more, and of course, this view is completely personal. But since I know how much you love the ribs detail, I advice that you don't get rid of it just yet. If your manuscript sells, it will be edited after all. Let the publishing house or agent - those that really know the market - decide.

    Now, the potential improvement:
    1. I agree with Lisa that I find the line 'flaming space farts in Ari's world' a bit ... odd? I don't understand what you mean by that.

    2. Is Mintaka's house alive? Because you suggest that it is - which I won't be surprise given the world you have created - but then you said 'Ari feels stupid'. I feel that those two lines contradict each other.

    3. Is this the first time Ari visits Mintaka's house? At first, it certainly seems like it, with Ari's star-struck (pun intended) way of looking at her surrounding, her counting the number of rooms etc. But then, you said that Mintaka told Ari a vision 'last week'. So... Another contradiction in my opinion.

    By the way, I am seeing where this story is going and I am LOVING IT! Looking forward to your revision.

    Best regards,

    1. Thank you for your critique, Shirlyn!

      Thanks for pointing that out--Mintaka sent Ari a prophecy through the mail, so this is the first time Ari's been to her house. I'll reword that passage so it's clearer next time.

      I used "space farts" because stars are gases, but I slightly side-eyed it the whole time I was typing it. I'll take it out--I don't want the humor to seem too juvenile or confusing.

  5. Hi Mayee,

    Great job with your revision! Taking out the flashback definitely helped transform your story and make it flow seamlessly. I also really like the description of the star and can picture one easily now.

    I also really like the fact that Mintaka can dim herself - that's a really cool feature of being a star, and I'm very intrigued to find out why Kaosian is familiar to Ari.

    I was confused a bit about the star burn still making her hand ache after she woke up. I'm not sure if this is implying a separate reality or if her hand simply hurt the next morning.

    Also, I love the description of the castle, but it confuses me a little bit when it purrs, winks and preens. Is it alive or does it just remind her of a cat?

    As for MG or YA, I would definitely go MG (and keep the part about space farts). And I kind of like the rib. It seems almost more symbolic/poetic in a way.

    Great job with your revision!!

    1. Thank you for your helpful critique!

      Argh, I guess what I imagined in my head got lost in translation to paper. Ari is in a different world than her own right now, and her soul dreamwalks/worldhops while she is asleep. I thought I exposed that with the star comparison and the injury bit, but now I'm doubting myself again. Do you have any suggestions on how I could make this clearer?

      The castle is sentient! I'll try to work that in as well.

      Thanks also for letting me know what you thought was good as well as the bad.

      I didn't expect space farts to be so divisive...right now half of ya'll like it and half of ya'll are confused by it. I guess I'll wait to see what my two mentors and Mary Taranta have to say about it!

      Thanks again,

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  7. Mayee,

    I have to say, this is so much improved! The world you've created is so rich and vivid. I can really see kids eating this up.

    I know you mentioned before how you had some darker themes in the book, but I don't know how well that would mesh with what you've already established. This still feels distinctly middle grade to me.

    I like how you changed the way Ari rides Pyxia. A star bone is much more visually understood.

    Here are a few things that could be improved upon:

    Taking off the curved bone, Pyxis pummelled it as easily as it was pizza dough.
    *Why does she pummel it? Is she absorbing it back into her star body? I couldn't visualize this. I thought it was an appendage, like a unicorn's horn.*

    *Is Mintaka's house shaped like a human face or something? That's what I'm getting from the description. If so, cool.*

    Wheezing once she reached the top...

    *Make this more active. How does she reach the top? Is she climbing?
    Ari tightened her grip as she made her way up the railing/ladder/whatever.*

    Tempted to say ‘Doooope’ instead of ‘Sorry,’ Ari settled on: “Hey, silence is golden.”
    *Why does she say this? Would that really be her reaction at seeing a man with no tongue?*

    Two perfectly good parlors passed by.
    *How about: *She passed two parlors, absurd rooms with … *

    I think the quest sounds pretty cool. Again, the world-building is very good. Nice job on these revisions!

    1. Thank you so much for your critique, Mr. Ron!

      If you have time, I'll love if you can answer a few questions!

      There are some discussions about death and its aftermath later in this book. There's nothing graphic, but Ari will be indirectly responsible for some deaths. Do you think that will be too much for this kind of book? Or do you think there is a way to handle that with tact? If so, what books would you recommend as a good reference for this subject?

      Thanks again for all your pointers! I appreciate all the time you put into this workshop!

  8. Hi Mayee,

    Echoing what I saw above already: this is definitely a middle grade! You can keep the quirky humor and be more over-the-top with the details.

    Secondly, I definitely feel like your intro is much stronger, but I did get confused: there are flaming space farts in Ari's world? But later, she says she looks like she's asleep in bed on earth--so did I miss some new flaming fart technology? Or is this referencing something else? Secondly, Ari references the prophecy she got from Mintaka last week, but then reads the email she received the day before. Which, signing with a smiley face is awesome, but are they the same thing, or did she receive a prophecy AND a warning?

    One nitpick: I kind of went bleh when Ari made a joke about Oliver not having a tongue. He's clearly held against his will, and it felt unsympathetic to me. Which might be part of her character, and if so, embrace it! Unlikeable heroines can be awesome! But if not, it might be a good place to hint at how dangerous Mintaka can be? (She sounds like she could be dangerous, and potentially an ally-villain.)

    I feel like overall, we're definitely more invested in the storyline as opposed to getting worldbuilding in-between the story, so excellent job with the revision. Skimming some comments above, I also agree with Ronald that the bone pummeling piece was a little confusing to picture, but otherwise, I love this world. I want to know more about it. :)

    1. Thank you, Mary!

      I used space farts because stars are gases, but I'm taking that out now because it caused more confusion than laughter.

      As everyone so far has agreed on this, I'm definitely making this MG!

      Ari's tongue joke was just another one of my failed attempts at humor. I'll take that out--she's supposed to be blase, but I don't want her to be unlikeable.

      As for more macabre themes, Ari later is indirectly responsible for some deaths. Do you think that is too much? If you think it is worth the risk, how can I write that tactfully? What are some sources you would recommend for writing scenes like that?

      Thank you for all your time and help!

  9. Definitely feeling middle grade here. Such an inventive, fun story!

    The second paragraph would read more easily starting with : Ari watched Earth shrink further away. The earlier part of that line could be moved to after Pyxis speaks. I had to read this over several times to get what was happening as is, so the context of seeing Ari leave earth helps make the personification of the star make sense.

    When Pyxis halts, keep them in the moment and show the action: Perhaps: Pyxis screeched to a halt. [add dialogue > Whoa! Hey! Or have her gasp for a reaction] Ari gripped the stretchy starbone attached to Pyxis’s bicep like a horse’s rein.

    Maybe say who Mintaka is - Impatient to see her friend Mintaka – or if not a friend, hint at that. We definitely need an idea of why Ari is going to see Minaka.

    This is good description. To take it one step farther, can you attach anything more personal about Ari to what she sees? The rare jewels twinkled like a tempting invitation (if she’s intrigued by them) or twinkled like a gaudy eyesore (if she’s annoyed by them). Maybe after the shadows on the stairs line she could shudder – but only if this fits. Tell us her mood as she’s taking in these details. The next details are so cleverly written! I really like it. Not every line needs to connect to Ari herself, but pick a few in any sentence that is solely description and see if you can connect the character’s emotion or mood to it.

    “the why-not platinum double doors.” LOVE THIS

    This dialogue is so funny and full of voice. Love it! Tempted to say ‘Doooope’ instead of ‘Sorry,’ Ari settled on: “Hey, silence is golden.”

    The info about the letter could be hinted at earlier – give us a taste of why Ari is leaving Earth to visit a star AND how she feels about it. You show wonderful attitude and sass with the star, so those intereactions are all great, plus other clever descriptions. Is Ari annoyed she has to leave Earth to deal with this cryptic letter? One line about that earlier could help establish context – Ari would rather being doing XYZ, not chasing down some posh star about a cryptic letter (etc).

    At the end you’re getting to the mission or assignment which is great. This was an enjoyable read!

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback, Stephanie! :) Your comments were very helpful, and I'm going to incorporate them right away!

  10. Hi Mayee,

    There are several middle grade books that deal directly with people dying and they are very well-known. Bridge to Terabithia is one example.

    If handled well, the concept of death and dying can be very useful in a middle grade book. It sounds like that is not the main thrust of your book, so you should be fine. If your book sells, your agent and editor will have more advice on the topic.

    As for now, write the book the way you see it! There's always ways to revise and adapt.

    1. Thank you for your advice, Ron! You're an awesome mentor!