Sunday, February 17, 2019

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Jreije Rev 2

Name: George Jreije
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: Jewels of the Nile


Summer vacation is a magical time for twelve-year-old Bashir. In Lebanon, away from the bullies and schoolwork in Boston, he passes the days swimming with his two best friends. And when he discovers a golden ring on the last day of vacation, he slips it onto his finger, not realizing that he has awakened the centuries-old djinn living inside.

Yet the djinn proves only to be good at making life miserable, which Bashir learns when his parents are kidnapped by a demon. As it turns out, only a djinn can harness the power of an ancient weapon dating back to the Egyptian empire―the Jewel of the Nile. And the demon has been hunting shards belonging to the Jewel in an effort to make it whole again.

The last obstacle in the demon’s way of fusing the shards is Bashir―but to stand against the demon, he must first learn to become one with his djinn. Only together can they save his parents and rid the world of the demon’s evil.

Please consider JEWELS OF THE NILE, a 65,000 word #ownvoices Middle Grade fantasy with Lebanese-Arab themes. This novel will appeal to fans of Roshani Chokshi’s ARU SHAH AND THE END OF TIME and Sayantani Dasgupta’s THE SERPENT’S SECRET.


Bashir sprinted along Beirut’s sunny coastline, clutching three popsicles that were dripping spots of orange, red, and blue across the scorched cement. Each step he took was like walking over hot coals. Had Mama brought a few pieces of lahme, they could have cooked the meat into lamb kabobs right there on the ground.

Farrah gazed up from making kissy faces into her phone. She waved him over to their usual spot beyond the crowds in the sitting area. “Over here!”

She and Ziad were resting along the clear waters, their legs submerged up to their knees. Bashir handed them each their treat and nudged a space for himself in between, shoulder to shoulder. He stuck his feet in the water and let out a breath. Sweet relief.

“The good stuff,” said Ziad, taking a bite off the top. “Shoukran dude!”

Bashir signed you got it, but he knew neither of his friends understood what his hand gestures meant. He didn't mind. For eight years, the three of them had spent most of their summers together. And to him, Ziad and Farrah’s company had always been enough. It always would be.

While they all cooled down, Bashir brushed away one of his black curls, squinting from the too-bright sun. Augusts in Lebanon were the best for swimming, but the mosquitos, heat, and countless tourists made it miserable for just about everything else.

“Jealous that you get to go home tomorrow,” said Farrah. “I have to stay another week, and I bet my friends already went shopping without me.”

Bashir shrugged. Farrah’s shopping paradise sounded like torture while Ziad. an athlete, must have been excited to return to the soccer field. And as for Bashir, he’d rather find a private corner in the library. A quiet place to curl up and read until his vision grew blurry.

Bashir would trade anything to make this summer last forever. Thinking about how he’d soon be leaving his friends made his stomach ache. Only one day after his flight, Ziad would be returning to Michigan and Farrah to California. No more listening to their interesting school stories or complaints about summer reading. And it wasn’t that he didn't like America; even the frigid winters weren’t so bad. It was just tough being different back home. Unlike Ziad and Farrah, most kids didn't like different.

“Cheer up!” Ziad seemed to have noticed Bashir’s smile fading and raised his nearly-melted popsicle in a toast. “To surviving eighth grade,” he said with his familiar lisp. “Next time we sit here, we’ll all be thirteen!”

Bashir nodded, hoping his luck might change this year. He and Farrah both raised their frozen treats to toast, but that’s when he noticed there was nothing but the stick left on his. Peering down, lines of red and blue ran down his bare chest. He gazed back up and, noticing that Farrah was looking at him, he wrapped his arms around his chest, fearing judgement. Instead, she leaned back and chuckled.

“Uh-oh. Looks like someone needs a bath.” Ziad gripped Bashir’s thin arms. Before Bashir could do anything, his friend shoved him off the rocks.

He didn't have time to curse Ziad in his thoughts as water cooled his face and head. He sunk deeper and deeper. While he knew that he should be kicking and reaching to get back to his friends, there was a strange sense of peace beneath the surface. Up there, Bashir had to deal with bullies and schoolwork and all manners of wajbat―what his parents called responsibilities in Arabic. None of that existed in the sea. No pressure to be like the other kids, to smile and nod when adults talked to him. Here, it was quiet.

Bashir liked the quiet.

So he swam deeper instead. The further down he went, the cooler the water. It relaxed his limbs and provided a welcome change from the heat. Opening one eye, then two, sight settled in quickly. The depths were a murky green amidst the sea plants. Fish darted by, entire schools of them.

A gleam caught Bashir’s eye. He blinked and it was still there―an almost imperceptible shine amidst the shades of red, brown, and green all blurring together underwater.

Commanding his burning lungs to hold firm, he swam towards that light. His heart began to thump faster. Seaweed brushed his chest and the fish became larger. He sank down further still, to where the sand and rock intertwined, where tiny critters crawled in and out of holes invisible to the eye. He reached along the rough sea bed. His palm ran alongside the smallest of crabs, then swept across more quickly as the need for air reached desperate levels. His fingers found a soft patch and dug in. Scooping weeds and pebbles, feeling something crawl along his knuckles and fall away, he retrieved the shiny mystery last of all.

A jolt raced up Bashir’s spine and he let out a stream of bubbles. Convulsing, the pain was like the time he poked an electric socket, only ten times worse. A sudden, thundering voice entered his ears and said, awakened at last.

The pain vanished as quick as it came. And the voice…

Bashir saw no one nearby. He wanted to search around, to see if there had been anyone nearby, but he was out of air. Desperate, he kicked off of the rocky sea floor and shot up towards the sun, breaking the surface seconds later. Swallowing large gulps of oxygen had never felt so good as the moment his mouth shot open. The popsicle stick floated beside him as he paddled alone. It just drifted along the water, almost unnoticeable.

Funny, he often thought of himself that way. Drifting through life. For the most part, going unnoticed.

“I didn't mean to push him, I swear!” Ziad’s lisp separated his voice from all the others, loud and worrisome. “He could be dead by now. I’m going in.”

Farrah shoved him away. “Are you crazy? Going after Bashir will be hard enough, I don’t want to rescue two idiots. I’ll jump in.” Bashir blinked the water out of his eyes, spotting Farrah toying with her earrings. “Hold these, you darn―

He’d just gained full vision, ready for her to come to his rescue when her neck tilted up and she spotted him. Both she and Ziad waved him over. He swam toward them, now several feet off the coast.

Sand filtered out of his hand with each stroke so he squeezed his fist harder, careful not to drop his treasure. He held tight until, reaching his friends, he raised his arm and dropped a glittering golden ring onto the rocks before them. Letting go of the object sent a shudder through his body and he felt oddly tired. Neither Farrah nor Ziad said a word as Bashir hoisted himself out of the water. Both were curiously eyeing the ring’s solid gold finish―it had no scratches or dents, appearing as though it had just been forged.

“Where’d you find that?” Ziad’s eyebrows furrowed, reaching for the ring until Bashir swatted his hand away. “What gives? I push you into the water and you come back with a cool trinket? Not fair!”

“So you did push him, eh?” Farrah reached over and jabbed Ziad hard enough to elicit a yelp.

Bashir laughed soundlessly. He didn't care all that about the ring, treasuring Ziad and Farrah over any hunk of metal.


  1. George,
    First off, you do a great job giving the reader a sense of location. I love the culture, and it certainly differs from Boston (I'm a native, born and raised nearby). In comparison to the first submission, this one is my favorite. You did a great job leading the reader to the mysterious ring...though I had one question regarding that (see comment below).
    What I love:
    Your first line introduces the exotic place: Bashir sprinted along Beirut’s sunny coastline. My mind immediately pictured orange rays glimmer over the waters.

    Just a little typo: while Ziad. an athlete, (I think you meant to hit "," instead of a period after Ziad. :-)

    He gazed back up and, noticing that Farrah was looking at him, (I'm wondering if it'll read easier if it were something like: He gazed up and noticed Farrah looking at him...? Just a thought. :-?

    When he is pushed into the water, his thought process and emotions flow nicely: Bashir liked the quiet.

    George, I'm wondering if a line is missing between these two: Scooping weeds and pebbles, feeling something crawl along his knuckles and fall away, he retrieved the shiny mystery last of all.

    A jolt raced up Bashir’s spine and he let out a stream of bubbles. Convulsing, the pain was like the time he poked an electric socket, only ten times worse. A sudden, thundering voice entered his ears and said, awakened at last.---Did he feel that jolt when he slipped the ring in his finger, or touched the ring?

    So he swam deeper instead. The further down he went, the cooler the water. It relaxed his limbs and provided a welcome change from the heat...

    George, you did a great job with this one.

  2. Hi George! Once again, you continue you impress me with your storytelling abilities. The narration is strong, your prose is beautiful and your sense of place puts the reader right in the middle of the action. You’ve done an awesome job, and I can’t wait to see this book on store shelves, just so I can jab my friends and say, “I know that guy!”

    Because your passages are so well-refined, my notes here are about the pitch:

    1) You hit a lot of excellent points. You show the conflict, highlight the stakes. I didn’t know a djinn was a genie. If there’s any way you can put that in your pitch: “awakened the djinn—a centuries-old genie living inside”, that’ll give the agent a brief sense of what creature lives in the ring without them having to stop and look it up.

    2) Another small thing that confused me is why the demon is collecting the shards if a djinn is the only creature that can harness the weapon’s power. Unless djinns and demons are secretly the same thing? I’d love any additional info on that if possible.

    3) This line: “the power of an ancient weapon dating back to the Egyptian empire―the Jewel of the Nile.” In my opinion, the “dating back to the Egyptian empire” part can be cut, simply because a reader can infer its relation to Egypt from its name “Jewel of the Nile”, and the fact that it’s an ancient weapon.

    4) The line: “to become one with his djinn.” This one’s a little more nit-picky (sorry!) but as a reader, I worry that becoming one with something is a vague concept and misses a chance to highlight any potential conflict between Bashir and his genie.

    It’s a shame the workshop only lasts a month, because I’d be interested in reading more. This is a strong piece of fiction and you have every reason to feel proud. :)

    1. I am stunned by the kind words, Kim. I enjoyed reading your novel and am genuinely excited to read this week's excerpt :)

  3. George! This is amazing work.

    Honestly, there are nitpicky things here and there, but I just want to focus on the pages as a whole. They are amazing. They are heartfelt and lively and draw me in, even after reading them three times. You are a brilliant reviser (and writer). I really am so excited to see what happens with this project. I hope to one day see it on the shelves.

    Great work. Thank you so much for sharing your work. Best of luck to you!!

    1. I don't even know how to react to this! It all felt very natural to write, and I could not have done it without your help and that of this amazing workshop! *tearing up*

  4. Hi George!

    Great work yet again. I particularly enjoyed the detail about the thundering voice Bashir hears. That added a lot in terms of bringing me into the story and giving the first few pages that sense of foreboding. Its been great being in this workshop with you and best of luck as you submit!

  5. Hey George! Okay, so THIS is what I was waiting to see! I think this version is so much tighter, yet it still retains everything that made the first rounds of your submission so terrific. Very nice job!

    As for your pitch, I love it! It gets right to the point and is really compelling. The comps you listed are spot on! Have you read Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus series? Bartimaeus is a djinn in a world in which magicians get their power by harnessing the abilities of afrits, marids, etc. It's a fantastic series!

    I'm about to jump into a Skype classroom visit, so I have to keep this short. But overall, I think you've got a pretty great story here! Well done!

    All best,

    1. Thanks so much, Rob! I will head over to my library and check out the Bartimaeus series as soon as I can. Good luck with your skype class and thanks again :)

  6. Wow! I think you really nailed these revisions. I found the setting just as detailed, but with a lot more sympathetic eye toward character development. I really liked the mentionof his signining, and the great line hinting both character development and conflict at the end of the pages.
    The pitch looks solid, and you've picked excellent books to use as comp titles