Sunday, November 4, 2018

1st 5 Pages November Workshop- Monson

Christine Monson
YA Speculative Fantasy
The Promethean Effect

I am in control.

Steel gears grind overhead along thin aluminum girders. A red glow illuminated the gray cinder block wall to my right. The weighted anodized-pistol warms my palms. As I wait for the targets to line up, two questions rotate on heavy cycle: Why did my brother have to die? And, will Ms. Reddington remember I prefer chocolate cake over spice this year?

The panel next to the speaker box embedded into the wall beeps and ten cardboard birds drop down from the ceiling. According to my father, the gaming system is the latest in target technology. I wouldn’t know. My siblings and are allowed to leave the compound. The birds’ tails flash red, blue, and green. It doesn’t matter how quick they move or in which direction, blue is always first. I adjust my stance and squeeze the trigger. One by one, the targets return to the rafters.

“Kade,” Mother’s voice crackles through the intercom speaker on the wall. “Come upstairs. Your father and I wish to speak with you.”

My gaze flicks to the red START button. Two-tenths of a second and I’ll have beaten the high score. Perhaps I can squeeze one more–


Game over.

My dress shoes squeal along the glossy anti-static tiles as I sprint across the open atrium. Spotless glass gleams all around me. Like the gaming system, the three-story, fully-staffed house in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains is supposedly hi-tech. Again, I wouldn’t know. My brother’s unexpected death changed a lot of rules. As I dash up the staircase, two steps at a time, my mother’s urgency slips through the cracks. I halt, I press my back against the wall. The smell of Ms. Reddington’s overly-peppered roast beef mixes with chlorinated-air of the basement.

“You promised this time would be different, August,” she exclaims.

“He has been here two years longer than–”

“Don’t say his name.”

“Dang it, Grace. Stop fighting me. You knew this day was coming. Wouldn’t you rather he be able to walk there?”

“I rather he be drugged and gagged,” she quips. Mother is never sarcastic. “Of course, I want him to walk over there, but when he is ready. Not when she says he is.”

I steal a peek. Under the three-tier chandelier, both of my parents face each other in the foyer. Grace Maddox is dressed in her usual travel attire, black slacks and sweater with her gold hair tied up in a loose bun. Father’s sleeves are rolled to his elbows, his work pants wrinkled.

Mother moves to the other side of the round, mahogany-red table. A dazzling display of rainbows reflects of the crystals above her onto the walls and floor around her feet. “Be their father for once in your life.”

Father smacks his hand down on the table and skinny orange petals rain down from the bouquet of chrysanthemums. “I am not doing this now.”

Mother sweeps the petals in her hand and deposits them in a small crystal bowl. Like me, the table and flowers don’t seem to belong in this icy world of crystal and snow-white furniture. I step into the foyer, closing the door behind.

Honestly, I despise liars. But, sometimes telling my parents the truth is dangerous. “Sorry to make you wait, but I had to go back down and retrieve my jacket.”

Father shifts his favorite brown journal and electronic pad behind his back. “You’re here now.”

Mother reaches out to touch me, then stops. She withdraws her hand back to her side. “You’ve wrinkled your dinner suit.”

I run my hands over the thick black wool of my dinner jacket. Static cracks under my fingertips. “I wanted to get a few more rounds before dinner.”

Father places his hand on Mother’s shoulder. The twins say I look like him but I don’t see it. We have the same brown hair and eyes, but my father’s complexion is pallid and dull from sitting under florescent lights all day. While I have a ‘kissed by the skin glow’from running outdoors every morning. The only time Father steps outside is to walk from the front door to the awaiting Lincoln Town Car or SUV that drives him next door to work.

“Your mother and I are leaving,” he says.


“We have to go back to the lab. It’s important.”

“What about dinner?”

On the other side of the foyer, Father’s office door opens. Sofiya Snyderman, my parents’ colleague at AIB– the Advanced Institute of Biotechnology– and family creeper steps out. The click of her high heels sends a chill up my back. The chandelier above flicks on and off. I glance up at the top of the staircase. Thankfully, no one is there.

“Sofiya,” my father chokes out. A patch of black lace peeks from under the doctor’s lab coat. “I thought you were in D.C.”

“I stopped by to admire your stamp collection, August,” she purrs. Her German, Russian, and possibly Ukrainian accents blend together in a sticky dialect-pudding. The click of her heels taps across the tile towards us. “I kid. I am here to oversee the… hello, Kade. Happy birthday.”

I take a tentative step back. I have known Doctor Snyderman my entire life, and she still sends shivers up my spine. The psychiatrist adjusts her short, black wig, and turns her attention to Mother. “You haven’t spoken to–”

Mother cuts her off. “We were just telling Kade we won’t be joining him for dinner.”

Movement at the top of the main staircase catches my interest. I shake my head in warning for my two younger siblings to stay upstairs. Behind Snyderman’s red cat glasses, her eyelids narrow.

“Why can’t work wait until morning?” I snap. “For Pete’s sake, it’s my birthday.”

Mother gasps. “What in the world has gotten into you?”

“Kade Maddox, recite the rules, right now,” Father demands. Like Snyderman, his gaze narrows behind rimless eye wear.

Mother’s gaze jerks over my head. Her shoulders drop. I drop my regard and focus on the white scuff on the tip of my left shoe.

“Rule number one, obey authority. Rule two, never ask questions. Rule three–”

“August,” Mother interrupts my tangent. Her eyes flick from Father to me. “We should go. Kade, Ms. Reddington made your favorite dinner. Roast beef and herb potatoes. Cake is in the sitting room. Hummingbird, I believe.”

“This is what I have been talking about, Grace. You coddle them too much and–”

“–coddling encourages disobedience,” Mother quips. “Yes, I know, August. Thank you for reminding me. Again.”

A smug grin slides across Dr. Snyderman’s thin lips. “Where is Bishop, Grace?”

“I don’t know what you mean, Sofiya.” Mother touches my arm briefly, sending a nauseating wave of prickly pain through my body. “It is not my job to keep track of the hired help. My husband deals with kids’ schedules. So why don’t you interrogate him?”


  1. I’m going to jump in and start with the feedback as I’m a Type A keener and don’t feel like starting my day job this morning.

    You definitely have me intrigued by a lot of things: what happened to his brother, what the facility is and why they are there, who is this mystery person Kade’s parents were talking about. There is a lot going on in the first five pages to build interest and I want to keep reading.

    There is so much going on that I had to read it a couple of times to grasp everything. For example, when Kade eavesdrops on his parents conversation, I think you need a line to explain that he is eavesdropping on his mother and father. All of a sudden there is an “August” and a “she” that come out of nowhere (at first I thought it was Ms. Reddington talking because she was the last character mentioned).

    Another example: The “honestly I despise liars” line, confused me until I read the dialogue after it (you either need a bit of a set up line here or perhaps reverse the two lines?). Then all of the sudden Father shifts his journal/pad behind his back. I think it’s meant to show that he’s hiding something but I had to read it a couple of times to get that.

    I love fast paced fiction. I’m definitely super intrigued by this story, I just need you to slow it down a tiny bit so I follow everything and live in the moment with Kade.

    1. Thank you so much, Kate, for all of the wonderful things you said. You're right, I need to slow it down. Pacing has been my problem since the beginning. I can see now that there are some lines that need to moved, removed, or replaced. And, I can see how the sudden name changes can be jarring.

      Thank you again!

  2. There's a tense shift in the first paragraph. I like the jolting nature of your narrator's worries, the death of the brother, the weird futuristic setting, and the cake

    The conversation between the parents was confusing at first, I didn't get that Kade was overhearing his parents talking. And why is he wearing dress shoes at home? The drugged and gagged line seems a little flippant and confusing. I don't think the narrator would call his mother 'Grace Maddox,' even when describing her. We're getting a bit of a character dump here at the beginning, with the parents, the dead brother, the twins, Sofiya, Ms. Reddignton and Bishop. You don't want your readers to be overwhelmed by names, especially when you refer to them as both Mother and Father, and by their given names.

    The 'walking' conversation confused. me. I wasn't sure if they were talking about Kade or someone else. At first I thought Kade had some sort of disability, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

    We need more description of Kade. I can see him being anywhere between 8 and 15. And since we're in his head, I'd like to know more about him. I'd start off with a little more introspection at the shooting range rather than the argument at dinner. And I think it might be more powerful if Kade held his disappointment about his birthday inside, rather than arguing, though the father's 'rules' speech was very nice.

    I'm loving your futuristic unhappy family and Sophiya gives me the creeps after only a couple of paragraphs. It makes me want to read more.

    1. Thank you, Brian, for the great advice. The last thing I want is my readers to be confused.

      You're right about the drugged and gagged line seeming flippant and confusing, but it is an important clue. Not sure how to fix it. May have to cut it and let it go.

      Consider the tense shift fixed. :)

  3. Overview: I think you have a great writing style, it just needs a little bit more care and attention sometimes. You get into a really good flow in a lot of places here, and in result I get into a really good reading flow as well, but it’s broken up sometimes by confusing lines of dialogue or trains of thought. I really enjoy Kade’s voice, I like your use of thought and dialogue interruptions, but try not to overuse this tactic.

    Your descriptions are fantastic, you’re really good at painting me a picture, so use that to give us even more details. One or two extra words can make all the difference in letting us know exactly what is going on in a scene.

    I agree with Brian in that I feel like Kade is lacking some development here. I don’t know how old this character is, but I actually lean more towards younger. Especially since he uses expressions like ‘for Pete’s sake’. I have a feeling this is either because you want to avoid swears or it’s part of the family’s rules maybe? But I feel like if you’re going for an older character, 14 or up, I want Kade to be a little bit more brash. He’s clearly upset at this, and the mother’s reaction shows that he’s obviously stepping out of line a little, so I’d like to actually see that or feel it. Maybe if you don’t want to change the dialogue, you can express in the narration just how scandalous his “Pete’s sake” is.

    All that being said, I think you have a really solid set up here, and you’ve done a great job introducing a lot of characters very gracefully (I know Brian said he felt like it was a bit of a character dump but I only felt that way right at the end with the mention of Bishop), and a lot of questions that will make the reader want to continue reading. Where are these characters? Why is it implied that they are seperated from society? What happened to Kade’s brother? What is this strange arrangement with Sofiya?

    Definitely a strong start!

    Line by line notes:

    I’m not a huge fan of the first line. It feels like you’re trying for a hook line but it’s just not that for me. For me it feels like I’m skipping right over it to get to that next meaty paragraph. It also feels disconnected from the follow up so it’s just like, why is it there?

    As Brian said, you have a bit of tense problems in the first paragraph. Based on the rest of the work, It should be “A red glow illuminates”. Besides that, this is really strong first paragraph that I enjoyed reading and it gave me super dynamic starting visuals.

    The first line of your second paragraph is a lot to read. Consider breaking it up a little or cutting it down slightly. Is it necessary to mention the panel next to the speaker box? Would it not be the speaker box beeping? Consider “The speaker box embedded into the wall begins to beep before as ten cardboard birds drop down from the ceiling.”

    Are these cardboard birds part of the ‘gaming’ system you mention? Consider making this more clear by joining these thoughts with a semicolon. Ie: The speaker box embedded into the wall begins to beep before as ten cardboard birds drop down from the ceiling; the gaming system is the latest in target technology, according to my father.

    “My siblings and are allowed to leave the compound” - Should this be “my siblings and I aren’t allowed”?

    I would consider making a new paragraph at “The birds’ tails” to signify that we’re returning to the topic of the gaming system and away from the topic of family that the previous paragraph strayed to.

    I really think you hit your strides right around here. Your character already has a strong voice in just the small bit of information you’ve given. Great job! (continues in reply)

    1. (con't)
      I would say you can afford to make the following sentence it’s own paragraph: “Again, I wouldn’t know. My brother’s unexpected death changed a lot of rules.”

      The reason for this is that it’s a powerful thought that the MC is having and it stands on its own. It deserves extra attention. That means the next bit of text would be a new paragraph after, turning the one paragraph into three.

      “I halt, I press my back…” - I would consider just “I halt, press my back…” See how you think it reads.

      You just expressed that the MC was heading up stairs, does that mean that the chlorinated air was coming up from the basement where they just were? In that case I would simply change ‘of’ to ‘from’ for just slightly more clarity!

      Once you get into the dialog I was instantly confused. Who’s speaking first? I’m assuming Ms. Reddington since she is mentioned in the previous paragraph, but that’s not clear, nor is it clear who she’s talking to. At first I thought she was taking to the MC, so I got confused that she called him August, but as I read on it sounds as though the MC’s mother’s name is August and Ms. Reddington’s name is Grace? Just a bit more detail stippled between the dialogue would make this a lot more clearer. Even just mentioning that the MC is eavesdropping. I missed that implication in the previous paragraph with ‘my mother’s urgency’ so maybe you could even add a little bit of extra detail there like ‘my mother’s urgent tone slips through…’

      I am now reading forward and finding out it was her mother and father speaking. So as you can see, dialogue is very unclear.

      Be very careful with the ‘The twins say I look like him’ paragraph because I feel like it’s nearing a physical description paragraph. I also think that the paragraph is a little clunky. I like the information but I don’t feel like we need both ‘sitting under fluorescent lights all day’, and the line about the town cars. The last line is to express the same thing as the previous line, that he doesn’t go outside much, so one or the other is more than enough. Consider something like “We have the same brown hair and eyes, but compared to my sun-kissed skin, my father’s complexion is pallid and dull from sitting under fluorescents (we know that they are lights and maybe it reads better without the extra word) all day”

      Your introduction of Sofiya is also a lot to read. I don’t think you need to give the abbreviation. The reader will be able to figure it out the next time you want to use it, and it will make the introduction less clunky.

      In the mother’s dialogue “We were just telling Kade we won’t be joining him for dinner.” is the first time we get confirmation on the character’s gender I think? (other than slightly vague dialogue) Which is fine, I personally don’t take issue with delayed genderization of the MC, but it’s just something to be aware of. Until then I was unsure and was waffling back and forth between genders as I read.

    2. Thank you so much for the line by line notes, Danielle. They are a tremendous help. I agree with all of them.

      And thank you for disagreeing with Brain, after his comment I was disheartened. Not because of the negative comment, but because all of the characters and names have to stay. Each character is key to the story.

      You're right. I should break up some off the heavier lines in the first few paragraphs. (I'm still waffling on the first line.)

      I'm glad you liked the pages, and thanks again for all your tips and encouragement.

  4. Hi, Christine! There are certainly a lot of intriguing things happening here! I'm curious to know more about this family and what exactly is causing such a tense situation. As a reader, I was not crazy about opening with a video game. I struggled to figure out where we were and what was going on. And when I finally figured out it was a game, then I had to orient myself to the real setting, which was some kind of high-tech mansion (cool!). That felt rather jarring to me, having to start all over again orienting myself to the setting. It's kind of similar to opening with a dream, where we feel let down when we find out the situation isn't real and doesn't have any stakes.

    Additionally, it felt like you were introducing a whole lot of characters all at once. I wonder if there's a way to slowly introduce them so we can keep everyone straight. As a reader, I found it difficult to connect. I did feel sympathy toward Kade because his parents were arguing and his brother recently died. But the reader in me wanted more of a feel for Kade's emotional state, how he is responding to all of these difficulties.

    I'm also curious to find out more about this world and how it's different from our own. I can tell there are a lot of cool things here, and I think as you keep working on it, you'll find just the right way to introduce all of the most important elements so that we have a good sense of the world and of Kade and his family without being overwhelmed with information.

    I'm looking forward to reading more!

    1. Thank you, Lana, for your comments. I'm glad you felt sympathetic to Kade's plight. I've been worried about that readers might not connect with him.

  5. There’s certainly lots of tension in this family in the opening pages! And I’m intrigued to know more about Sofiya in particular, since you did a great job making her feel nefarious.

    Opening with the video game felt like a bit of a false hook to me—it definitely caught my attention, but it didn’t seem to have any lasting impact or consequences on what happened later, so it didn’t feel quite like it belonged. I also personally found the shift from targets to the brother’s death to cake gave me a bit of whiplash, and it definitely made me think the targets weren’t important, if the narrator doesn’t need to give them full attention.

    I almost always assume girl narrator until proven otherwise for YA, so I had to adjust my thinking by the time it was revealed Kade was a boy. (Although this problem would be easily dodged if I had a query letter.)

    I got a little lost with the first conversation, since the first few dialogue lines weren’t tagged with who was speaking. I assume Kade at least recognizes the voices? I didn’t know who was speaking or who they were speaking about. There were a few names (Grace and August), but I really wanted to know who they were in relation to Kade. I was also temporarily confused if Grace was Kade’s mother or not because sometimes he calls her Grace and sometimes Mother in the narration.

    Is Bishop the brother who died? Or one of the twins? Or someone else entirely? If it’s the brother who died… that’s an even creepier question, but it’s not clear to me. This is another case where a character’s name is dropped, but without an understanding of Bishop’s relationship to Kade, I don’t quite know what to think, and I feel lost.

    Also, it could definitely be more apparent later, since there isn’t much to go on here, but from these 5 pages alone, I’m wondering why you’re calling this fantasy? It feels much more sci fi to me. I didn’t get the sense there’s magic coming—just that this is a much more high-tech world than our own today.

    1. Ellie, thank you for your comments. Yes, Sofiya is a baddie and she only get worse. She and her counterpart were my favorite characters to create. Bishop is Kade's trainer. Who he is was cut off at the five page break. One more paragraph and who he is and how he fits into the story is revealed.

      You are right about the conversation attributes. I hope to have this cleared up on the next revision.

      I was baffled about the genre too until I ran it by an agent. He said it's speculative fantasy. :)

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  7. Speculative Fantasy is a confusing term to me. Generally speaking, speculative fiction is a broad category that includes science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and the like. To say speculative fantasy seems redundant, like saying "fiction novel." And I do agree that this story has more of a science fiction feel to it. But there's a lot that I don't know, so I'll leave it at that.

    1. This was my understanding of the term speculative fiction too--and I'm not familiar with speculative fantasy as a subgenre of fantasy. But obviously, I'm not an agent, just a writer hopeful, so *shrug*

    2. speculative fantasy is a fairly new term. It covers things like magical realism, or when fantasy elements are present in the novel, but a majority of the novel takes place in a more grounded, 'real' universe. I think if it as 'speculative fantasy' challanges your -speculation- of new, unexplainable things.

    3. Danielle for the win! Because my story is set in present day Appalachia with characters that possess superpowers then it is considered both speculative fiction and fantasy.

  8. Interesting! I mean, technically speaking, all fantasy is speculative fiction, but it sounds to me like speculative fantasy is kind of like a generic form of magical realism, without the latinx element. Which is cool! I've heard discussions about whether magical realism needs to be connected somehow to Latin American literature, so maybe we need a new term for when it isn't. I haven't heard this term before, and it'll be interesting to see if it catches on. Always fun to learn something new! (Sorry, I'm a genre nerd!)