Monday, March 4, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Braxton

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

                                                                                                                                                  CHAPTER 1—THE LIFE OF FAME

Intrec was determined to disappear.

He had several days to sneak the antidote, otherwise Granddad would die just like Dad.

As he trudged home, a pair of footsteps thudded behind, their thumps growing louder with each step. A gust of wind drifted over him, and palm fronds swayed in the opposite direction. He fought the urge to turn his head back and paced straight ahead, passing houses in his neighborhood. At this point, the less attention he drew to himself, the better.

An additional set of footfalls joined the first. And another. And another. Intrec blew a long sigh. Now four people were following him. Why couldn’t it be dark outside? He swallowed the lump in his throat and took bigger strides. Don’t look at them.

“Thank you for being so intelligent,” one man chanted. Intrec balled his hands into fists. Would all the unwanted attention ever stop? Besides, it wasn’t his fault that he was much smarter than his peers—and perhaps even most scientists. Almost every time he tried visiting with a friend, they told him they were too busy studying. Probably just an excuse.

The other men yelled, “Thank you for finding the cure.”

“You’re my favorite icon.”

“You’re the best youngster genius that ever existed.”

Intrec’s chest tightened. People his age ignored him; older people stalked him. Zap off, he wanted to yell back, but he remained silent.

“Follow back, we just want to oralize,” one of the followers pleaded.

Intrec spotted the sign etched on the side of the path, Rozwok. One more block until I get to my house. He focused straight ahead.

He broke into a jog, but two houses up, a man in a suit dashed from in between one of the chasers and halted in front of him. Intrec stole a quick glance at the others, all dressed in suits. No doubt they were news reporters. The man who blocked him flashed a live screen in his face while the other three stood beside their coworker.

Intrec groaned inwardly and shook his head. “Zoom free,” he barked. His voice echoed through his brain.

“But you’re the most famous youngster on Harte,” the man who stood in front of him said.

Not by choice.

“You should be proud of what you did,” another man who stood behind him said.

Intrec’s chest knotted. All he tried to do was save Dad from Tapergnaw’s disease, the deadly plague that suddenly started infecting millions of people over ten years ago. Unfortunately, the sticky-tape substance had wrapped around his heart and strangled it to where he was too weak—the antidote had only given him a few more months to live. And if I can’t snatch the remedy soon, Granddad would be next.

Rumbling blasted from the sky. Quentine, the other extremely smart youngster of Intrec’s age, eleven-years-old, snickered down at him while floating on a long, narrow flyer. Why couldn’t Quentine realize that being famous for finding the cure to Tapergnaw’s disease wasn’t so great? You can have my fame.

Was Intrec just wanting a shred of normalcy too much to ask? As he tried bolting past the news reporters, they synchronized each other’s movements. However, a familiar voice pierced through his eardrums.

“Get away from my son,” Mom spoke without moving her lips. Her work uniform revealed a black slip that swayed at her knees and a white top that stretched to her elbows. A slight shadow darkened the pavement. Mom’s face faded from gray to purple, and the bridge of her nose flexed from her face. Intrec tucked himself behind her, and the tightness in his chest dissolved.

“We only want to ask him some questions,” the man with the live screen pleaded.

Mom’s lips reached her temples; she clenched her teeth. Intrec gulped as her glare fixated on the four chasers. “I’m sure you’re aware that it’s unlawful to talk to a youngster without a parent’s permission.” All sets of eartips spiked as Intrec held back a grin. “If it happens again, I’ll summon a complaint. Do I make myself clear?” They nodded and blinked their black oblong eyes sideways. Intrec eyed a prickly growth perched atop a patch of green strands. He urged to yank it out of the soil with telekinesis and throw it so the needles would puncture their skin.

They stepped backward, turned their heels toward the zap path, and quickly flashed out of sight. Mom sighed, cupped his cheek, and curled a half smile. “Let’s go home; Granddad is preparing evening meal.” Granddad Podo moved in a few months before Dad died to help Mom care for Intrec and his thirteen-year-old sister, Meeca.

Intrec and Mom craned their heads up and glared at Quentine, who flew away. As Intrec shuffled beside Mom, her black-heel lifts clicked the walkway. She wrapped her arm across his back. More numahs streaked past them in gray blurs on the zap path wearing various clothing: short arm tops, black and blue twilled bottoms stretching to their knees and ankles, suits, and slips. Not one individual failed to nod and smile at Intrec. His head dropped.

As the ground light between crossroads beamed from orange to purple, people stopped and filed in lines, waiting for blue to emanate again. Two lanes divided on each side on the walk path, and a straight black line separated between the directions. More eyesets landed on Intrec, and he picked up his pace.

“Don’t run,” Mom warned. It was illegal to zap on a walk path. Why did he have to be outside during rush hour traffic? If anyone broke transportation laws and a patroller caught them, they’d be fined in ritzes. But if two numahs crashed into each other, creating an accident, they went to a recoupery if their injuries were too severe for their natural healing powers to fix.

The golden ball-of-shine light between the eastern and western horizons beamed over the white dotted mountains and Mom’s shiny star-shaped work badge on the side of her top—the embroidered OSH (Outerspace Headquarters). His eyes squinted. Could outerspace be the answer, a possible escape from all the excessive admiration?

 “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.

Mom grinned down at him, revealing her white squared teeth. “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.

“Jezum plans to fly there again soon,” she added. Jezum was Mom’s boss at Outerspace Headquarters. Would another journey take place soon enough so Intrec could stow away to Earth to collect a serpent for Granddad’s antidote?

Intrec 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 all that bad,” she insisted. They dawdled up their wheelway toward a peach-bricked house with a maroon-colored roof. “You’ll get used to all the attention.” Mom rested her hand on the automated sensor beside the door.


  1. Zap paths may be my new favorite thing. The concept is so darn cool. I did get a better sense of everything after reading this a second time as some of the early dialogue is a bit confusing until you understand we aren't on Earth and the world is different. I'm not sure if a subtle hint can be placed early on.
    I didn't quite follow the "cure." Folks were thanking him for finding a cure, but his father still died and his grandfather required more antidote or he was going to suffer the same fate. Was it a cure/procedure he discovered, but the actual medicine required (snake venom?) in short supply and not readily available for treatments?
    Numahs is a clever anagram for humans and plays well to the age target of the reader.
    Watch the use of the word "just" as I saw it 5 or 6 times "just" in this sample ;-)
    Even as an adult, I found the story/concept entertaining. Once I hit the realization this wasn't Earth, there was a fun ah-ha moment.
    Great job overall! You should be very proud of this start.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi K.L.,

    The voice reminded me of the joys of reading MG. I haven't read a lot of it, but should. I like the way you set up the stakes immediately—which feels especially good for younger readers. Then you show the short-term conflict that will, I assume, drive the plot until Intrec goes to Earth.

    The only issue for me in these pages is that there's so much information, I had a hard time digesting it. Sometimes, I can almost feel your joy in imaging things, but it comes so fast, I can't always process it.

    I think it would work better if you quickly establish that Intrec is a numah, give a brief description, and then work in a few clues about the differences in worlds rather than building it up slowly. They key thing for this chapter is getting us oriented and building on that opening hook.

    Comments from as I read, with quotes from the text in double slashes, e.g., //quote//.

    //He had several days to sneak the antidote, otherwise Granddad would die just like Dad.//—well, there’s some stakes!

    //“Follow back, we just want to oralize,”//—this was a bit confusing. I'm not sure about the quotes as a way to show what I think you're showing. They're literally disembodied, and when I realized it was adults following him, a tad creepy. Is there another way would approach this? Thew news reporters might be all you need here.

    //Tapergnaw’s disease//—great MG name for a disease.

    //Mom’s face faded from gray to purple, and the bridge of her nose flexed from her face//—I don't know if you're describing her shadow or her. Her nose flexed away from her face? Faded from gray to purple? I'm confused.

    //All sets of eartips spiked//—so these aren't humans. I think this needs to be clear from the start, or really close to it. This is a writing problem I've never had, so I'm not sure what a good approach would be. Maybe introduce all of the elements at once, so there's no doubt they aren't human.

    //…they’d be fined in ritzes. But if two numahs crashed into each other, creating an accident,…" These two sentences don't appear to have a "but" relationship. I'm also not clear why this is relevant to him, in particular, being outside. Is he at risk of being fined or being in an accident?

    //The golden ball-of-shine light between the eastern and western horizons beamed over the white dotted mountains and Mom’s shiny star-shaped work badge on the side of her top—the embroidered OSH (Outerspace Headquarters).//—that's a very long sentence. You can remove some description. Is the ball-of-shine light notably beaming over the mountains AND Mom's work badge? This reads like it does, which is odd. The sun is shining over the horizon (or, if I was near a mountain, the mountains) where I'm at. It's also shining over my computer, but I'd only mention the later if it were in my eye or otherwise relevant.

    //“You’ll get used to all the attention.”//—nice reminder of the immediate conflict


  4. Hi K.L.,

    You have a great premise! I love the idea of the main character discovering a cure that brings about unwanted attention. My main critique is that there is so much world building that I'm feeling a little confused in the first few pages. I'd suggest slowing down the world building and number of characters on the page so we can get to know each thing in time (especially for middle grade!) I love the way you start us in the action with an immediate goal, motivation, and stakes. Nice job!

  5. You’ve created a really fascinating world here, but I think you’re giving too much information at once. You’re also introducing two conflicts at once, and one seems to cancel out the other:

    1. Intrec is famous for creating a cure for a deadly disease

    2. Intrec needs an antidote to save his grandfather, because the “cure” he created isn’t really a cure.

    If Intrec wants people to leave him alone, couldn’t he admit the cure isn’t a cure? It seems like this could solve his problem—and possibly grant him clearance to get to earth.

    It also seems like I’m getting contradictory information. At the start, you say Intrec wants the antidote for Granddad. But farther down, the antidote doesn’t seem permanent (“Unfortunately, the sticky-tape substance had wrapped around his heart and strangled it to where he was too weak—the antidote had only given him a few more months to live. And if I can’t snatch the remedy soon, Granddad would be next.), and you refer to a “remedy.” Are the antidote and remedy the same thing?

    I think it might be better to focus on one conflict in the opening scene. Saving his grandpa’s life is a much bigger problem than the annoyances of fame, and focusing on getting to earth will clue in the reader much earlier to the fact that this takes place on another planet. That way, you can let this unique story really stand out, and give the reader something very relatable to focus on (helping a family member) rather than something most people don’t deal with and might not think they’d be annoyed with (fame).

    Thanks for sharing this with us. I’m looking forward to reading the revision!

  6. Hi K.L.,

    Thanks so much for sharing your pages! I'm really interested in learning more about the world you're creating here--I love the idea that it's being told from an alien perspective. So intriguing!

    I have some suggestions that I think will help you tighten up these pages. As others have mentioned, I feel like so much is being thrown at the reader all at once that it's a little tough to follow. You're introducing an alien world and alien beings along with a pair of conflicts that your main character is facing. That's a lot!

    To start with, I'd focus on just one of those conflicts. The idea that Intrec hates his notoriety feels fairly weak compared to the need to find an antidote for his grandfather. That's life and death, whereas his desire for privacy merely seems like an inconvenience. So I'd drop the fame angle and just focus on the antidote.

    One of the things that confuses me a bit is what's going on with the antidote. If he discovered it and everybody knows this, why does he have to "sneak the antidote" to keep his grandfather from dying? Wouldn't the adults in his world be using the antidote he discovered to save people affected by the plague? Or is there something going on here that isn't explained? Is the antidote rationed? Is there a reason his grandfather can't have it? I'd suggest making it really clear why this is all on your main character's shoulders.

    Finally, I was left scratching my head over the two opening lines: "Intrec was determined to disappear.

    He had several days to sneak the antidote, otherwise Granddad would die just like Dad."

    They seem so unrelated to me. Like you have a separate opening line for each of the conflicts. Unless I'm misreading. Does Intrec's desire to disappear have something to do with getting the antidote? Again, I'm a little confused. And that's definitely not something you want your reader to feel when looking at your opening lines.

    Overall, I think you've got some great ideas here, but you need to work at articulating them in a clear, focused way--especially for a middle-grade audience.

    Looking forward to seeing your next round!

    All best,

  7. This is Erin posting for Ron:

    Hi KL,

    Interesting premise. I love the sci-fi angle and the world-building. That said, I think you need to ease your reader into it slowly. Right now it’s a bit overwhelming and we get a little lost.

    I’m not sure who is human and who is not. I thought the reporters were human in appearance, but then you stated that: They nodded and blinked their black oblong eyes sideways.

    And what about Mom? Mom’s face faded from gray to purple, and the bridge of her nose flexed from her face.

    I’m a bit confused as to who these characters are and how they navigate in this world.

    I would suggest taking all of the comments and revising in a way that still keeps your vision but introduces your readers to the world a little more slowly. Or, really describe these characters in a way that tells us if they’re human or alien right up front. I hope this makes sense. It’s an interesting premise, as I stated, and I’d like to read more.

    Ronald L. Smith