Sunday, March 10, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Baxton Rev 1

K.L. Baxton
MG Science Fiction
Intrec and the Earth's Venom


If Intrec couldn’t gather the antidote on Earth within the next several days, Granddad would die.

When would the spaceship fly to their parallel planet again? He had to find out.

On the zap path, he streaked past the houses in his neighborhood, landing several feet with each stride. He also passed other numahs in gray blurs who wore various clothing: short arm tops, black and blue twilled bottoms stretching to their knees and ankles, suits, and slips.

As the ground light between crossroads beamed from orange to purple, a few people stopped and filed in lines, waiting for blue to emanate. A gust of wind drifted over him, and palm fronds swayed in the opposite direction. Two lanes divided on each side, and a straight black line separated between the directions.

“Intrec, what are you doing?” Mom spoke without moving her lips while standing on the walk path. Her work uniform revealed a black slip that swayed at her knees and a white top that stretched to her elbows. The golden ball-of-shine light beamed over the white dotted mountains and Mom’s shiny star-shaped work badge on the side of her top—the embroidered OSH (Outer Space Headquarters). His eyes squinted.

“You’re supposed to be at home studying.”

He wiggled his ear tips and shuffled toward her. “I already finished…I wanted to visit you at work.” More like eavesdrop.

She grinned down at him, revealing her white squared teeth. “Jezum is in meetings,” Mom answered as they shuffled down the walk path. Jezum was her boss at Outer Space Headquarters. “He gave me the rest of the day off.”

“About going to Earth?” Intrec’s heart skipped a beat.

Mom nodded.

“When?” Would another journey take place soon enough so he could figure out how to stow away on the spaceship to collect an extra serpent for Granddad?

“Within the next couple days.”

Dad and millions of people had already died from Tapergnaw’s disease, the deadly plague that suddenly started spreading on Harte over ten years ago. Earth’s serpents held the cure, but at limited supply, senior elders never received treatment, and youngsters were always treated first.

“How many trips have been made to planet Earth?” Their twin planet, just on the other side of a black hole. What kinds of lifeforms lived there?

His stare connected with hers, the tips of his ears slowly rising. He missed her during the many evenings she worked late.

“So far, there have been six successful journeys to Earth.” Scientists rarely stayed there more than several days at a time. The longer they explored their parallel planet, the more likely the earthlings would discover them. About three decades ago, that’d happened to Zuko, his great grandfather who was also a research astronomer that discovered Earth, so now they took extra caution.

He jumped up and down. “I’d love to go to Earth someday.”

Mom shook her head. “I’m sorry, but that’s very unlikely.” Intrec frowned.

“Things aren’t so bad.” He begged to differ. Since Tapergnaw’s disease stole Dad’s life and would soon be stealing Granddad’s, how could she possibly say that? They dawdled up their wheelway toward a peach-bricked house with a maroon-colored roof. Mom rested her hand on the automated sensor beside the door. It lifted, and Intrec stepped inside.

He called for Twyzoe and bent down on the black wooden floor. A tricolor wagger barked and ran toward him, his white legs and black paws rested and scratched on Intrec’s knees. Twyzoe licked his face full of kisses while he patted his white head, also petting his floppy brown ears and back.

Although Intrec had to find a way to travel to Earth, Mom wouldn’t want him to risk exposure to the earthlings. But since when did a youngster genius listen to his mother?


“This move will give us a brand new start,” Mom had said several times already.

Ethan wanted to argue, but the words didn’t budge from his tongue. His dad always used to say, “Sometimes people make bad choices. It’s no use to dwell on the past. All you can do is learn and move on.” But some mistakes were bigger than others. When they resulted in death.

 She peered straight ahead as she drove, her gaze fixed on the white beam of the headlights. She seemed quite sure of what their new home would be like. He had no idea what to expect, though silhouettes of cacti, palm trees, and the sun rising behind the mountains started brightening the horizon.

The rays grazed her face: the dark circles under her eyes, the large yawn she let off—he did the same thing. He didn’t have to stare into her eyes to know how they’d look: chocolate brown amid redness. And he was certain that his mirrored hers. Ethan wanted Mom to pull into a hotel like they had the past four nights, but she insisted she’d drive through the night, so they could start their new lives sooner. Seriously, what was the hurry? She took a swig of coffee from her large cup.

“So…” Ethan propped his elbow in between the two seats and ruffled his hand through his dark, gelled hair. “Have you always missed living in Benson?”

Mom nodded and grinned. “I certainly won’t miss Connecticut’s cold winters, that’s for sure.” She chuckled. He held back a groan. However, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her smile, and that was his fault. He caused his father’s death, and the move must’ve been his punishment.

“Your grandfather is really looking forward to seeing us.”

Ethan blew air from his lips.

“Try giving him a chance…He’s always wanted to spend more time with us.” She briefly patted his hand. “And he wants to get to know you better."

Ethan’s grandfather had practically been a stranger before he lost his perfect life. One where he played ice hockey with Dad every winter and was always surrounded by the friends he’d known from kindergarten to eighth grade. His grandfather only visited them once a year, sometimes twice, and they’d soon be living with him. For sure, it was weird. Ethan also wasn’t quite sure whether he wanted to fill his father’s shoes, but it seemed possible. He cringed.

Somehow, he had convinced Mom to move them back to her hometown, Benson, Arizona. Ethan eyed Mom’s white knuckles on the steering wheel, wanting so badly to grasp the wheel and turn back to where they came from, Westport, Connecticut.

She peeked up in the rearview mirror at Savannah, his eleven-year-old sister, whose lean body curled up across both backseats. Her long blond waves draped across her face. Their dog, Benny, curled beside her, both sound asleep. Must be nice. Savannah’s pale bare arm covered with goose bumps. Dad always made sure they were warm enough. A bulb of sweat dripped down Ethan’s back. It was unusual that he wouldn’t need his winter coat as often or even his hoodie. He yanked off his sweatshirt, reached back, and draped it over her.

As Mom veered off the next exit in Tucson, she tugged at the top of her turtleneck. Ethan pressed his finger against a button under his window. Cool gusts of dry winds swooshed through the Escape, whipping Mom’s brown hair across her cheek. Dad used to tuck her hair strands behind her ears every time they hung over her face, always followed by a kiss. His heart split.

A mushy wet nose sniffed Ethan’s arm. He hoisted his puppy and set him in his lap, stroking his back. Benny stuck his head out the window, and his ears flopped with the air.

They passed a sign that read:


“Wow,” Ethan said. “This town is so small.” Westport wasn’t huge either with a population of 27,840, but Benson seemed like it’d be cramped and the sort of place where everyone knew each other. People would soon stick their noses into his business, no doubt.

“I’m sure you’re going to like it here…in time,” Mom insisted. She rolled into a subdivision, slowly driving past houses until she veered onto a driveway belonging to a peach-bricked house with a maroon-colored roof. A moan stretched from the backseat. He glanced over his shoulder. Savannah gathered into a full sitting position, rubbing her eyelids. A familiar older man with black and gray hair stood on the front porch, beaming and waving at them.

“I hope he’s making us breakfast,” Mom said half-jokingly.

Savannah nodded. “Me too.”

Grandpa stood outside Ethan’s window, petting Benny’s head.

“Hello, Ethan,” Grandpa chanted. Ethan swallowed hard and feebly nodded once.

Ethan’s intestines squeezed. Getting to know Grandpa wouldn’t be enough, he knew. Even if he was the nicest grandfather anyone could have, even if he wished they could develop a closer relationship, it still wouldn’t fix what was wrong with his family.



  1. Interesting twist adding the second chapter. Certainly something I didn't see coming. I admit I was drawn into Ethan's store more. The character was one I could easily relate to, sympathetic even. The sample ends on a great punch as well.
    Reading through Chapter 1, I'm not sure this is the right place for the story to start. The dialogue feels a little forced with an info dump after each phrase or short action. I want to feel Intrec's desperation to get to Earth. A quick glimpse at the devastation the loss of his father has caused him/the family would be good as well. I see that with Ethan, but not Intrec. Also, the part with the mother popping in was confusing at first. I couldn't tell if it was a hologram or she was physically there (I'm still not sure). I almost wonder if starting out with chapter 2 might be better as I see it with the stronger punch at the moment. The way it ended was fantastic and stayed with me. Well done.

  2. Hi KL,

    This version is so much more clearer. While I don't get as much sense of how alien the numahs are relative to the previous version, the clarity more than makes up for it, particularly given your target audience. Learning that this will feature two kids is interesting, too. Likewise, you do a great job of setting up Intrec's stakes.

    Unfortunately, there's still so much information getting packed into the story that the story is getting lost. While there were a lot of elements in the first version I found confusing, it felt more centered on Intrec's experience. Can you come up with a way to get him closer to the narration? He believes he has to travel to Earth immediately or his grandfather will die—can his questions have a more loaded sense to them? If his Mom sees through his questions and is dismissing his plans, you'll get some immediate conflict and be better able to show some of the stuff that's in there as backstory/info dump. However you do it, if the overarching need expressed in the opening line is reflected in an immediate conflict/crisis with his mom, ending with him resolving to find a way to go forward despite the barriers, we'll be engaged and want to see more of this interesting world.


  3. Hi K.L.

    I enjoy your premise and can already imagine really cool future scenes where Intrec (I'm assuming) goes to Earth and meets Ethan. Nicely set up!

    I find myself a little confused with the new world in chapter 1. I think I need to feel a little more connected to Intrec in that first scene before being introduced to other elements (the world, the disease, etc.)

    I love chapter 2 and feel more grounded in Ethan. As I read it, it felt like an opening chapter, so I'd suggest considering switching the order, though then you lose a little of the space hook. Having said that, I felt a little confused jumping into chapter 2 and actually thought I'd missed something for a second, since I didn't catch it was a new main character (not Intrec.) Is there a way to make this clearer, like with names at the beginning of chapters (Intrec, Ethan?) Or maybe it's just me. :)

    Solid start. Looking forward to your revisions!

  4. This version is much clearer. I loved the opening lines, and the conversation with Mom gave a lot of great information and moved the story forward. I do think you could cut the paragraph starting “As the ground light between crossroads beamed from orange to purple” and add in those details at a less pivotal moment. I also felt the line “About going to Earth” was an odd response to Mom saying: “He gave me the rest of the day off.” I think there’s a way to connect those thoughts a little better. Other than that, I loved the conversation with Mom and the introduction to Twyzoe. That chapter ended on a great note.

    The next chapter opening was really fantastic, and I love that there’s a human family in the story. The line “He caused his father’s death, and the move must’ve been his punishment” was really sad and powerful. Overall, that section flowed wonderfully. Ethan covering Savannah with the sweatshirt was a really sweet gesture. I might tweak one line to read: His grandfather had practically been a stranger before Ethan lost his perfect life” because on first read, I thought his grandfather had been the one to lose “his “perfect life.

    The second chapter was so real, so heart-wrenching… I might consider starting with it. It will help to root readers in reality, and then, when they meet Intrec, it’ll be easier to slip into the new world, having already gotten comfortable in one they recognize. Either way, this is a great improvement! I LOVE the final lines.

  5. K.L.! Great job with this revision! You really took the feedback you got first round to heart and it shows. You now have a strong hook in your very first line and Intrec's stakes are nice and high, without any of his concerns about fame to distract or confuse your reader.

    I love that this is a dual-narrative story with two kids from different planets who are in more or less similar situations. I'm sure they'll meet up and have a terrific adventure together. You're setting up Ethan to have a nice arc with his relationship with his grandfather. And you have enough mystery in the idea that Ethan killed his father to keep readers turning the pages.

    Now, while I like what you've done with Intrec's part of the story, that first chapter still feels a bit rough--understandable given how much of a revision it's been through. What I'd focus on for the next round is really polishing that up until it's at the same level as chapter 2 (which is much smoother).

    Here are a few places to start:
    -- Mom just seems to appear out of nowhere and Intrec doesn't seem surprised to see her, or really react at all to her sudden appearance on the zap path.
    -- The description of "other numahs who wore various clothing" feels like it's a bit flat and pro forma. Description is good to establish the world, but what you've given us there doesn't do much to add dimension. I'd focus more on other things Intrec is experiencing. What color is the sun? What does the air smell like? Is it hot or cold? What's he hearing? Maybe, if possible, establish what language he's speaking--you could do this by describing familiar objects but using the numah language to label them. Bottom line: make sure anything you describe really adds to the reader's experience.
    --I love that ear tips are used to show emotion, but it'd help to know what emotion they're meant to convey. When mom grins, it's clear to us what emotion is attached. But what does it mean when Intrec wiggles his ear tips? A small fix, but it would be helpful to orient the reader to the differences between species. Once established, the reader will get to recognize these alien gestures her/himself.

    Again, I'm really pleased with how hard you worked on this! These dramatic changes have made your pages vastly better. Keep up the good work! I can't wait to see the next round!

    All best,