Sunday, March 17, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Baxton Rev 2

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

To ensure that nobody stops him from helping to fulfill their task, he secretly ejects himself to Earth, lands in a desert, and gets to work.

Soon thereafter, thirteen-year-old Ethan discovers a gray-skinned alien hiding inside his treehouse. Ethan’s father died, too, and he agrees to help Intrec. But that’s easier said than done, because his next door neighbor is an FBI agent.

If the FBI finds Intrec, he could be locked up for experimentation, dissection, or worse—he and his grandfather could both die. 


If Intrec couldn’t snatch another one of Earth’s serpents, Granddad would die.

He’d already lost Dad to Tapergnaw’s disease. As tears blurred his vision, he passed by houses in his neighborhood, landing several feet ahead with each stride. I can’t lose my grandfather.

Harte’s golden ball of shine light beamed over the white-dotted mountains. Its warmth latched on his black short arm top and trickled over his sky-blue twilled bottoms that stretched to his knees. A gust of dry wind rustled the palm fronds as they leaned in the opposite direction. Every numah who zapped by him in a gray blur never failed to smile and wave. His head dropped.

All he did was discover the antidote to Tapergnaw’s disease, the deadly plague that suddenly spread on planet Harte over ten years ago. He just tried to save Dad, he never asked to be famous. Although his discovery saved millions of Hartians, the tape substance had already strangled Dad’s heart to where he’d only lived a few more months. And if Granddad didn’t receive the antidote within the next several days, he’d suffer the same fate. His chest puffed.

As the ground light between crossroads beamed from orange to purple, the traffic of people on the zap path stopped and filed in lines. He glanced at everyone’s ear tips that stood on both sides of their bald heads. Two lanes, divided by a straight black line, allowed the traffic to move in either direction safely.

Since he’d broken into the experimental lab once before and borrowed one of Earth’s creatures, he’d do it again. As he twiddled his thumbs, the ground light emanated blue.

The line thinned, and he maintained traffic’s pace. Several blocks ahead, he crossed over a patch of green strands as he sidled closer. He sucked in several deep breaths and darted his gaze everywhere, no numahs were in sight.

This must work again. He vanished, but a familiar voice shouted, “Don’t try to attempt that again, Intrec.”

He materialized, whirled around, and Mom paced toward him. Her gray slip swayed at her knees and the breeze ruffled her white top. She always passed the lab on her way home—but why was she off work early? The person he’d least expected had spotted him. He sighed. She worked many late evenings, so why did today have to be different? He squinted as the shiner brightened the medal star-shaped work badge below her shoulder—the embroidered OSH(Outer Space Headquarters).

“Security measures are tighter now…you wouldn’t make it past the sensors even with invisibility.” She spoke telepathically.

“I have to save Granddad,” he stammered, the words sounding from his brain.

She blinked her oblong black eyes sideways. “Don’t worry about that.”

How could he possibly not worry about Granddad dying? Ever since Granddad Podo moved in a few months before Dad died to help Mom care for him and his thirteen-year-old sister, Meeca, they’d developed a closer relationship. “Why aren’t you at work?”

She grinned down at him, revealing square white teeth. “Jezum is in meetings,” Mom answered. They shuffled down the walk path, and her heel lifts clicked on the pavement. Jezum was her boss. “He gave me the rest of the day off.”

Intrec’s heart skipped a beat as he wiggled his ear tips. “Are the meetings about going to Earth?”

Mom nodded.

An idea popped to mind. “When?” Would another journey to their parallel planet take place soon?

“Within the next couple days.”

He gasped. Earth’s serpents cured Tapergnaw’s disease, but at limited supply, elders never received treatment. Youngsters were always treated first.

“How many trips have been made to planet Earth?” Their twin planet was just on the other side of a black hole.

His stare connected with hers, the tips of his ears slowly rising.

“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 they’d be discovered by earthlings.

His chest puffed. “I want to go to Earth.”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but that’s very unlikely.” He frowned, and his ear tips wilted.
“Things aren’t so bad. If Granddad dies, he still lived a full life.”

Still not long enough. Since Tapergnaw’s disease stole Dad’s life and would soon be stealing Granddad’s, he’d be losing another parent. Somehow, he needed to collect an extra serpent. They dawdled up their wheel-way toward a peach-bricked house with a maroon-colored roof. She rested her hand on the automated sensor beside the door. It lifted, and they stepped inside.

He called for Twyzoe, and his tricolor wagger barked and ran toward him. His white legs and black paws rested and scratched on Intrec’s knees. Intrec bent down on the black wooden floor. 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 said for the millionth time.

Ethan wanted to argue, but the words didn’t budge from his tongue. When Dad was alive, he 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.

 Mom 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, but he had no idea what to expect. 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 a 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 through his lips.

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

Ethan’s grandfather had practically been a stranger before Ethan 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 now they’d soon be living with him. 


  1. The pitch is clear and strong. I come away with a great sense of stakes and conflict. I think the first paragraph can be tightened a bit; however, the overall pitch is well done!

    I'm still not sure Chapter 1 is the place to start. We're trying to pack in a lot of info under 1000 words. The flow of the first few paragraphs is a bit unbalanced. Ending with "his head dropped" in one, then "his chest puffed" in the next feel somewhat forced. It's possible extending the first chapter might be the way to go. That way you don't have to overwhelm the reader while trying to ground them in an entirely new world.
    I do get a great feel for how much Intrec cares for his family, but his mother seems somewhat cold to the dad's death and the grandfather about to die. Is there a reason behind that? If so, I think it would be great for the reader to know; otherwise, she may come off as very unlikable.
    One really good suggest I received was to break out the dialogue and listen to it without anything other than the dialogue itself. It might help smooth the exchange between the mother and Intrec.
    Chapter 2 is still the star here. It draws me into the story. I immediate connect with all the characters and I want to keep reading. I'd consider starting the story here unless there's an absolute reason why it cannot be done.
    Great work these past few weeks. I really enjoyed the subtle connections of a mirror/parallel world and this story looks like it will be a lot of fun for readers!

  2. Hi K.L.,

    Pitch: You have an interesing premise with high stakes for Intrec. Since Ethan is also a main character (from what I'm inferring), I think we need his GMC in the query as well. I believe the format might be something like 1st paragraph - character 1, 2nd paragraph - character 2, and 3rd paragraph how they fit together, but I'm not positive, so check into how to properly write a query for dual POV.

    It starts out easy to follow but the third paragraph has a lot of adjectives and description, and it's hard for me to figure out what is going on. I also feel like chapter 1, while clearer in a lot of ways than the earlier versions, has lost some emotion. Try to show us with little details what Intrec is thinking and feeling instead of him crying and gasping (these feel a little overstated.)

    Chapter 2 reads smoothly, with perfect little details to help us connect with Ethan and his mom. I'm really there, in his world. Nice job!

    Thanks for letting me read! Best of luck on revisions!

  3. Pitch: I love the premise of this book! I was so happy to learn that Intrec and Ethan become friends, and that Ethan hides Intrec in his treehouse. This is clearly going to lead to some hijinks (as well as some healing for the boys, who are both suffering from loss). And the FBI agent living next door immediately upped the stakes by a thousand. Great stuff! My only suggestion is that you could streamline the first paragraph. A lot of the sentences feel like they could connect to each other better, rather than standing on their own.

    Pages: You’ve done a really great job focusing these pages on Intrec’s need for a serpent. I felt like things moved forward a lot better in this revision. You’ve created a better balance of action, dialogue and inner thought. I do still think the reader is getting too much information about the new world. Because it’s so different and unique, even a few paragraphs can feel like a lot. That said, chapter one has been greatly improved and chapter two continues to be fantastic. Really excellent work!

    1. Hi Chelsea,
      Thanks so much for all your input during the revisions. But if it's okay to ask, do you have any recommendations as to what information I could cut back on chapter 1? Just curious.

  4. Hi K.L.,

    Overall, I like the pitch. The first paragraph, in particular, set it up very nicely. One thing I think is missing is that Intrec is a science prodigy who invented/discovered the cure the Tapergnaw Disease. It makes his decision to go himself more important than if he’s a boy who doesn’t really understand the adults and goes off ignorantly on his own.

    I’d rework that phrase, “secretly ejects himself.” That makes it sound like the spaceship wasn’t going to earth, just passing by.

    For the pages, I’m going to echo Tim’s sentiment: Chapter 2 is stronger than Chapter 1. I think this has to do with what they’re doing: In first, you’re trying to get right to the stakes—Intrec’s grandfather is dying; the cure is being given to young people, so grandad won’t get it; his mom has connections that could get him to where the cure is; she won’t let him go.That’s a lot to get in and while you do it fairly well, that doesn’t leave space for anything else in the chapter.

    In the second chapter, you’re not trying to set up as much, and, I suspect as a result, your strengths as a writer come through much more strongly. You have a lot of stuff to set up before Intrec stows away, and I wouldn’t rush it. As long as the process of discovering his world and life are engaging and have conflicts for each part, it doesn’t have to go immediately to the inciting event.

    Fantastic work on the revisions so far. This new version shows some fantastic writing. I’m confident this is going to be a great book. Good luck!


  5. I love that Intrec is trying to solve his own problems or at least try and help. One thing that makes me curious is what about him makes him think he can help? It would seem that he might want to be the one to stay and take care of his grandfather, help him as much as possible, and leave the way-over-his-head stuff to scientist mom. It makes me feel like I'm missing a key element to Intrec's character. And the last sentence supports that something is missing, because the grandfather is supposedly going to die if Intrec fails, not if his mother fails.
    Tighten things by combining elements like ‘Only their twin-planet Earth has the antidote that could’ve saved his father’ and eliminating unneeded phrases like ‘Soon thereafter.’
    It seems like a coincidence that Earth was just discovered and miraculously holds the cure for this plague. Really think if that is a necessary element or if they’ve been studying it for a long time and just never needed to get there this badly.
    I love that venom is their antidote.
    For the pages…
    I had to reread several of these paragraphs over again. Because this is SF, you’re going to have to be careful about world building. Not too much at once, but little bits layered in consistently. I think you have the little bits layered in, it’s just too much adjectives and such that trip us up. Like golden ball of shine light, black short arm top, etc.
    The world building also feels inconsistent in that the sun isn’t called the same thing but they have palm trees?
    I also think he has an unrealistically high amount of self-depreciation. For saving a million-plus people, it’s no big deal? I get that his father wasn’t saved, but still. Could he at least be happy that he saved those people related to everyone who’re waving at him? And that’s the reminder that sends him low, that it wasn’t enough to save his own father. And it would also give the opportunity to turn what is now telling into internalization. You could use dialogue and action to have those people show us by telling Intrec how they’re doing, that they’ve recovered, that they said to pass on their thanks. And all the positive comments that should be making him happy are actually reminding him of how his father would never get better or be able to speak to him again.
    In this first scene, is Intrec walking or riding or driving something? I don’t know what it means to zap by someone.
    I think the challenge of trying to squeeze a lot into five pages might be part of the struggle. You’ve done a great job setting this up. I love the parallel lives the boys are living, and doubly love the idea that two people from incredibly different walks of life can not only be feeling the same things but also be the help that the other needed.

    Overall, I think you’ve done a great job.
    Good luck!
    Heather Cashman

  6. Hi K.L.,

    I have to keep my comments this round short, but I like your pitch a lot. It does a good job of outlining your story. The one question I have is with the final line. The idea that he and his grandfather would die is pretty clear already when you talk about dissection--and there's not much worse than that. I'd rework that last line a bit.

    As for the pages themselves, to be honest, I liked round 2 better. You've gone back to Intrec having discovered the cure and hating fame, but since that's not in your pitch, it's hard to understand why that would be an important part of the story. If his being a genius kid is important, you should probably mention it in your pitch.

    Overall though, you've clearly put plenty of hard work into these pages, and it shows! Well done and good luck!

    All best,

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