Sunday, October 21, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Zhu Rev 2

Name: Mayee Zhu
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy


Twelve-year-old Ari Pippin enjoys traveling to different worlds in secret. For many magical, wonderful years, she had hitched rides from speeding stars, foraged for life-saving plants on exotic islands, and explored the infinite multiverse.

Her easygoing days abruptly screech to a halt when a star cryptically warns her and refuses to reveal any more information unless Ari retrieves the fabled Heartsword. Ari knows she cannot ignore a high-born star’s foresight, as whenever they prophesize it’s about desire or death.  

Just as the legendary sword is almost in Ari's grasp, an impish boy her own age steals it from her. The thief, Cavan, fatefully transfers to her class, but refuses to give back the Heartsword.

As if the snarky, sword-stealing Cavan wasn’t enough to deal with, Ari also has to worry about Cavan’s fellow members of a wide-spanning secret society--the New Wheel. The New Wheel wants to improve the world by feeding shady bits of souls to black holes. Ari wants to drop-kick into the next galaxy whoever first thought that was a good idea.

THE DREAMWALKERS is a 71,700-word middle grade fantasy novel. It is the first book in a series, but works as a standalone novel, too.


Traveling by star was a sweet and sour treat. Twelve-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 through several galaxies left a lot to be desired.

Ari watched Earth shrink further away. She would rather be at home instead of heading to a meeting where she might discuss her future death. But ignoring the situation would gnaw at Ari even more than confronting it.

Other stars sped by, their fused legs humming.

“What’s the deal with your mannish eyebrows?” The star Pyxis asked as they hurtled past Jupiter. Ari leaned back so she wouldn’t be repeatedly smacked in the face by Pyxis’s billowing hair and tightened her grip on the stretchy starbone attached to Pyxis’s bicep. “Obese caterpillars look better.”

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 gas giants in Ari’s reality.

Pyxis screeched to a halt.

“Yo!” Ari yelled angrily. Her red hair whooshed over one hazel eye, and she smushed face-first into Pyxis’s shoulders. Letting go of the starbone, Ari hopped off Pyxis’s back and brushed her hair back. “What gives, glitterbomb?”

Pyxis caught her breath. Silver light streamed from her mouth when she exhaled. Her legs unfused.

“Twenty-seven dzaras. Cough up, ginger pits.”

“Whoa there, Twinklebell. 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.

Pyxis swept the dzaras into a coin purse strapped to her thigh. After swallowing all the dzaras, the purse belched.   

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. The twinkling castle was a behemoth made out of rare jewels. Curved towers created serpentine shadows onto the stairs. Ari grimaced. She hated snakes and over-the-top eyesores. Trust Mintaka to have both.

Noticing it captured Ari’s attention, the castle 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 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. Ari grumpily thought this rumor must have some truth to it as she clutched the stair railing for the fiftieth time to catch her breath. A swirly stair post curled around her hand. Not trusting this strange place one bit, Ari slapped it off.

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 technical lingo called it, worldhops.

One time, a star didn’t dial down her heat all the way before Ari clambered aboard. Ari’s hand came away with a severe burn that still ached after she woke up. Even though only Ari’s soul traveled while asleep, it could still feel pain that manifested physically.

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.

“Sorry,” Ari automatically said, even though she had done nothing wrong.

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. She passed two perfect parlors.

Many rooms had no clear purpose. One had two voodoo dolls in the middle of the floor. Another had only a painting of a macho star in military 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 first 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 hopeful.” Mintaka chuckled. “He’s been that way ever since he disobeyed me and lost his speaking privileges.”

Someone reads too many villain handbooks, Ari thought, unimpressed instead of scared.  

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.

Ari stepped 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, 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 other cheek. Mintaka, smiley face." She looked up. "Care to explain?”

“As stars are forbidden from interfering with fate, I already wasn’t supposed to tell you anything. But…” For a second, Mintaka’s amber eyes gleamed like a polished knife, before it was replaced by her standard pleasantness. “I’ll risk breaking the rules, if you get something for me.”

“Another palace, my queen?”

“The Heartsword from Centaurus.”

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


  1. Good job on your revisions! The new details you added made things clearer and continued to be fun and inventive. I have a few suggestions:


    If she’s only 12 it probably hasn’t been “many” years, right? I was under the impression this whole thing is happening in a dreamland. If so, I think it’s worth mentioning in the pitch. Something like “Every night 12-year-old Ari Pippen travels to diverse magical worlds through her dreams. She hitches rides on speeding stars….”

    It’s prophesy not “prophesize.”

    When Cavan transfers to her class, is that back on earth? If so, I would say, “Back on earth, Cavan transfers to her homeroom class, but he refuses to return the Heartsword in the dreamworld” or whatever makes sense.

    I think we need clearer stakes at the end of the pitch. What happens if she doesn’t succeed? Especially since it’s sort of a dreamworld, right? Or maybe it’s real but she can only access it in her dreams? Make that clear.


    In the sentence “Ari hopped off Pyxis’s back and brushed her hair back,” I think you mean Ari is brushing her own hair back, but because you mentioned Pyxis more recently, it sounds like you mean Pyxis’s hair. I would reword.

    The rest of the pages are way less confusing and brimming with fun details.

    1. Thanks as always for your fabulous comments and critique!

  2. Hi Mayee,

    First, my feedback on your pitch:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning. It gets right into the point by introducing us to your imaginative world. As it continues, however, I pause a couple of times to try to understand it. Remember, you have a very unique world, which is an incredible thing! But unfortunately that means you need to do more explaining in your pitch. Mary has already raised most of my concerns, so I won't repeat. The only other thing I will point out is the part about the prophesy. You mentioned the prophesy and what the prophecies of highborn stars mean in two sentences. I advise to combine them, to lessen confusion.

    As for the pages, wow! You have taken the myriad of advices and incorporate them so well. I love the new detail you added regarding Mintaka asking something in return for her breaking the law. The Stakes! Ari cannot not get the sword (double negative intended) because Mintaka's vision could mean death, but we know just how Mintaka thinks with this simple sentence; she could betray Ari at any minute. I am completely hooked and I want to know if Ari can somehow out-maneuver Mintaka! Personally, I think these pages are solid. Incredible job, Mayee. Smiley face. *wink*

    1. Thanks Shirlyn!

      As you said you agreed with Mary on the issues with my pitch, do you have any thoughts on whether I should include how long Ari has been dreamwalking? In my story, she starts on her seventh birthday, but I could see how that can be confusing. Do you think I should say 'since she was seven, Ari had been...' or just completely get rid of the 'for many magical, wonderful years' and keep it in the present tense?

      Thanks for all your critiques and support! :)

    2. Hi Mayee, sorry for only getting back to you today. Personally, I think adding 'since she was seven' might be better. Short, to the point, and avoid any confusion. :)

  3. Pitch
    Great job in your pitch Mayee! I really liked the first three paragraphs. You really sucked me into your story’s premise.

    It sounds like this thief Cavan is going to be a major character since he’s talked about the rest of the pitch. Still, I think just using the word thief would suffice. Then, dive into the secret society of the New Wheel. Otherwise, it just seems like a lot of information and names dumped on the reader at once. All in all, very strong and nice job!

    I think when you first introduce Mintaka, you should have her like hovering or something cool. I don’t like that she’s seated in a recliner when she’s described as so beautiful and shiny. I feel like someone like that would be standing regally waiting for her guest. Unless, she’s old and needs to sit - in which case, there’s a joke to made there.

    Great job on all your revisions. This is definitely the strongest one and I could see this becoming a book!

    1. "I could see this becoming a book!"--Wow, thank you so much! That really made my day.

      Thanks for participating in this workshop! I really enjoyed working with you and reading your awesome critiques and story!

  4. Dear Mayee,

    I'm confused by the world rules in this pitch. How does she travel by stars? What is the actual warning and how could the Heartsword help? Does she know why Cavan stole it or what his companions purpose is to feed souls to black holes? There's a lot going on in this query, but it doesn't really give me the stakes or what she intends to do about her conflict.

    The pitch didn't set me up for these pages. I had no understanding this girl was from Earth and, while you told us she loves her traveling life with the stars, the first thing we hear is that she'd rather be staying at home. You also say that outside the Core dimension, stars fry bystanders. So... how did she manage to get to the Core dimension from her own without being fried?

    Introduce the method of payment for star travel earlier. The star says "cough up" and she complains another star took her farther for eighteen, but I have no idea what currency they're talking about. I also felt the worldbuilding fact that she travels like this through dreams also needed to be made known earlier. Perhaps begin this story with the reading of her warning in her Core mailbox? That may help the reader establish worldbuilding and her placement in the storyline.

    Kaitlyn Johnson

    1. Hi Kaitlyn!

      Thank you for volunteering your time in this workshop! I appreciate all the work you and the other mentors do in nurturing newbies like me.

      Do you think I should get rid of the star travel completely in the pitch, as it may be too confusing, and reveal it in the first five pages? Or should I add a quick description?

      Thank you,

  5. Hi Mayee,


    You do a good job of revealing the main conflicts in the story, as well as the stakes for Ari.

    I would like to see more of an explanation of how Ari’s life on Earth relates this fantasy world, though. In your pages, you say that she travels in her dreams, so is she in school in her dreams when Cavan transfers to her class? From your pitch, it seems like the whole story takes place in the fantasy world, so I’m almost wondering if you should just have her live in this fantasy world and leave out Earth altogether, unless her life on Earth intersects with this world in an important way.

    It also seems like you have two main conflicts - she needs to retrieve the fabled Heartsword an Cavan won’t give it to her, and then there is the New Wheel society that’s feeding souls to black holes. I would like a clearer idea of which one is the main conflict. Does the first one lead to the second one?


    I don’t have many comments, except that I thought this paragraph took away from the light-hearted tone at the beginning that I liked so much before:

    Ari watched Earth shrink further away. She would rather be at home instead of heading to a meeting where she might discuss her future death. But ignoring the situation would gnaw at Ari even more than confronting it.

    I liked it better when the purpose of her meeting was more of a mystery. It made the the journey to Minataka’s house seem much more fun.

    I think that if you just make a few tweaks to your pitch, you'll have a very engaging pitch to go along with your delightful story!


    1. Thank you Lisa! You raised a good point about the two different worlds and how they could be confusing. Off to revise again! Fhdnsjhddjndbd