Sunday, March 10, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Collins Rev 1

Name: Tim Collins
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Title: Fountains, Wishes, and Nefarious Creatures

Chapter 1

The foot tattoo on the headless body read: IF FOUND, CALL (512)555-1212, so Del pulled out her iPhone.

Call the cops? Not on her life. Or his.

Talking her way out of one dead body seemed plausible, but the police would canvas the field. The putrid scent of its occupants would undoubtedly betray her.

Del spied a turkey vulture gliding around the decaying body. “Get the hell outta here! He’s mine!” she said, snatching a piece of gray limestone from the dirt and hurling the rock skyward. The irritated vulture voiced a guttural hiss before settling into the field’s lone live oak tree. For now, she owned her prize uncontested.

“I need him,” Del whispered.

Normally, dead bodies were a one-way ticket to jail, not a prerequisite to salvation for a sixteen-year-old girl. But life hadn’t been normal for a while.

The burning Texas Hill Country sun played spotlight for the decapitated man starring center stage of abnormal and necessary.

“I’m not afraid of you—” Del circled the shirtless corpse. She maintained a perimeter outside the buzzing flies and fluid-soaked ground but breathed easier knowing it wouldn’t answer. “—I’ve seen other dead people, you know.”

Seen. Caused. CollectedSame difference.

Besides, if this body meant what she thought it did, there wouldn’t be a need to continue. She could retire her dad’s wooden-handled nine-inch Winchester bowie knife back to its hiding place in his office.

Del remembered his mantra: those who do not fear the call of death will find eternal healing.

Her dad told stories about the fountain of youth, a fountain that could heal even the sickest of people. People like Del’s sister, Addie.

The story varied every time he told it, but she never forgot his explanation.

“It’s like those trays by the convenience store cash register.
Give a penny. Take a penny.
But instead, the fountain treats lives as pennies.
Give a life. Take a life.”

Del amassed enough lives to heal Addie six times over.

Hashtag overachiever.

She chewed her last unbroken nail to a jagged nub. No turning back now.

Del’s jittery fingers dialed.

“Yeah?” A voice answered, gruff and tumble on the other end, but welcoming in an odd way. “You got, Pez.”

Del strained to hear his garbled, raspy words over the hum of the man’s idling truck engine.

“I think I found something that belongs to you.” Del skipped the pleasantries. Time wasn’t an ally.

“And what might that be?” Pez asked, the echo of his voice hinted he had her on speakerphone.

“A body. Male. Never missed Taco Tuesday fat and goopy.” Del noted no blood around the corpse’s wounds. “And no head.” She performed a quick pirouette to verify she didn’t miss it in the open field.

Nope. No head. No smell either. Maybe the perfect guy.

“Should I be freaking out?” Del asked, dragging a sweaty palm across her vintage t-shirt. She dug her teeth into her sun-chapped bottom lip. Silence swept over the stale air of the abandoned field.

“Text me your location.”

An angry background voice chimed in behind Pez, “You put your phone number on a dead body?”

“Do you think I’m stupid? I’d never give out my number, Milt. I have your number forwarded to my phone.”

Del laughed, but the iPhone slipped from her hands as she tried adjusting it against her ear. It bounced harmlessly into the white milky substance oozing from the body. She hesitated, never seeing a substance like this from any of the other bodies before but relented and plucked her phone from the goo.

“Five-second rule,” she muttered, wiping the phone clean on the hip of her jean shorts before putting it back to her ear.

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

“Dammit, Pez!” The background voice faded, but his anger resonated through the phone.

“Relax. You’re gonna burst a blood vessel.” Pez cleared his throat. “Still there, kid?”

Kid? I’m not the one losing their dead bodies.

“Yeah,” Del said. “This thing’s got no head, and I think it may be smarter than you.”

“Touche,” Pez chuckled. “I like your spirit. We’ll be there shortly.”

Del’s fingertips danced nervously across the screen tapping out her location before she slid her phone into her pocket.

“A magic fountain of healing.” Del muttered as she unsheathed the Winchester and twisted the silver blade to reflect sunlight onto the body’s tattoo “—Dad better be right, or you might have some new friends.”

Chapter 2
“You’re the first headless body I’ve seen. I’ll give you that.” Del relented her guardian’s prowl, tucked away her companion blade, and knelt near the bare-chested body. “If you truly want to impress me, you’d answer.”

Silence. The dead made the best listeners.

“Can I tell you a secret?” She cupped her hands around her mouth and leaned in. “We’re not alone in this field. I convinced this boy Jason to build me a fort under that live oak tree up yonder.” Del glanced in the direction of the field’s lone oak. “Took him two hours to find a plot that didn’t have limestone fighting the shovel for every inch. Only had to do a biology lab with him. Dissection. Aced it.”

No one would partner with him in class. No one ever partnered with him.

“He hung himself. Right there.” Del flipped her head toward the tree. “I found him. He’d been swinging there a week, almost as if he’d been invisible to the world. That was the reason on his suicide note. He felt invisible.

“Sometimes I still see him swinging there, eyes pushing out of their sockets, tongue amputated by his involuntary bite, jeans soaked in urine. Maybe I should’ve seen the signs, but I can’t save everyone.” Del wiped her eyes free of tears.

“I’d drag you up the hill and show you Fort Jason, but we have people coming. Important people. If they’re who I think, then I can make good on my promise to Addie.” Del pushed a pile of dirt over the goo oozing from the body. She referred to it as “dude milk,” which seemed harmless compared to whatever name some scientist would label the white goop.

Maybe they’d name it after her. God, she hoped not. It’s worse than having a fort named after you. That’s not the way she wanted to be immortalized.

The corners of her lips turned higher when she thought about immortality.

A cure.

Addie’s cancer didn’t stand a chance.

Clearing her throat, Del sat back on the heels of her boots. “Why don’t you smell? The others smell,” Del said. “Can’t get enough air fresheners to kill that stench. Can you believe I use roadkill to cover the smell? You’d be surprised at the effectiveness of a splattered skunk carcass.”

Del wiped the cascading beads of sweat from her forehead. Not a single cloud in the blue sky. Not one break from the sun. These were the hardest days to contain the lingering perfume of death. Her nose had grown immune to everything else, but not to them. The human body simply wasn’t designed to tolerate death’s stench.

“Life is fragile. It’s tough to get ahead.” Del’s wide chocolate eyes challenged the expansive blue sky when she giggled. “See what I did there?”

“Nothing? Man, you’re tough.” She wrinkled her nose and glanced where the man’s head should be. “Bet nothing sounds funny to you these days. Little friendly advice. Humor keeps the darkness at bay.”


  1. Yay! I think this is a much stronger opening for you ... it makes me immediately interested in what's going on, and why, and why she's reacting as calmly as she is.

    The addition of "Texas Hill Country" helps, though a little more description would also be okay; the Hill Country isn't exactly deserted for the most part, but there's a ton of ranch land; is she on her own family land, for instance? Can she see her neighbors? How far out of town is she? Etc. I know those seem like meaningless details but small hints here and there can help us out a lot in drawing a mental picture of your world, because right now all we have is a field, a vulture, a girl, and a dead body. Clues about her world help us get grounded.

    The one thing I think you're still missing here--if this is a dark horror/fantasy story--is real tension. I don't really feel the stakes yet. She thinks about her sister, but that's not an immediate problem, that's the long-term goal. You need two kinds of tension: short-term tension in the scene (can be subtle, but needs to be there) and long-term plot-related tension.

    Scene tension is some kind of in-the-moment worry or challenge or looming threat of discovery. That can be as simple as hearing a police siren on the road, and worrying if you're going to be discovered, etc. Or a phone call that threatens to tip everything over, like someone looking for her to find out where she is. But what really sells tension is reaction from your character to what might be otherwise a normal event. We hear police sirens daily, but the way you react to the sound in the middle of a crime is very different.

    GREAT WORK! I really thing this is tighter now, and you've still got room for improvement in tightening your nuts and bolts and creating the real, driving tension of the story, but good framework to build on.

    Just remember that your character exists in a world, and you need to make us familiar with her world at the same time that you do all the other stuff. The challenge of writing that way is to do it all without making it obvious, but you can do that! I'd say you're 90% there already. Keep going!

  2. Once again, I enjoyed this almost too much to be critical. I like the shift to starting with the toe tattoo—that's such a memorable and engaging bit of mystery, it's hard to imagine any reader who is going to enjoy the dark humor of your story not reading on.

    The one thing that remains missing for me is a hint of why she thinks Pez will be helpful in getting to the fountain of youth. If she's already collected six bodies (does that include the suicide?—I'd be clear about that), I'd expect she had some idea about where/what she needs to go/do with them, so it's odd that she thinks about everything else but that.


  3. Hi Tim,

    Nice job! I love the revisions. I feel more immediately grounded in what's happening, which makes everything clearer and more interesting. The reordering of events really helps! I also enjoyed hearing her "voice" come out (and sense of humor) as she talks with the dead body in chapter 2.

    My only real comment is about the phone number and her calling it. Maybe this will come out later, but why did they leave their phone number? Did they lose the body? Did they want someone to find it? Did they know she was hiding bodies there and want her to find them? And why does she think they will be the answer to what she's looking for? I feel like this revision might be hinting that this is her field, where she keeps the other bodies, which I didn't understand in the first version. So maybe making some of that clearer would help answer those questions. I don't feel like I need to know everything about that right now, but just a little bit here and there to help me understand why she's thinking what she is and why the body is there would help! Looking forward to the next revision!

  4. ​​This is a much stronger and super engaging beginning! You've really streamlined the voice - it reads so much more dynamic now. And the flow/logic of the narrative is so much clearer now too.
    In the beginning, I’d recommend adding a few tangible reactions of Del's body to the heat and her surrounds. I'm sure you're familiar with "show, not tell" (and OMG I still struggle with it myself!) but "The burning Texas Hill Country sun" is telling that it's hot while writing about Del's forehead and neck gathering sweat would be showing. I think you could really nail this opening scene by zeroing in on her bodily reactions (without going over the top - just a bit, here and there). You do this later on - in the end of chapter 2 - and you do it well, and some of that would be helpful here in the beginning!
    Overall, things that in the first version stood out to me as being too abrupt now flow so much better. It makes so much more sense, this whole body collection thing and Del's father/fountain of youth bit.
    Regarding "Del amassed enough lives to heal Addie six times over/Hashtag overachiever." I think after thesesentences, it would be a good place to hint at the fact that Del is yet to achieve her goal, right? Because at this point, we learn that she's collected 6 bodies but (I suspect) her sister is still sick? So what's wrong with this process then? Maybe you could show Del's growing frustration at this point? Or clarify this process a bit more - does she need some number of dead bodies? Or is it some specific quality she seeks in the dead body? (Also, on a note of personal reaction - if the fountain's "rule" is "give a life/take a life", does this mean Del needs to kill people with her own hands or just collecting dead bodies will do the work? Perhaps, this point can be clarified via a subtle hint earlier when you talk about the fountainfor the first time?)
    When we get to the bit in Chapter 2 where Del is talking to the dead guy and telling him a story about building her an underground fort.... I have a few notes on this. First: can one boy build an entire fort? (And how long would that take him??) And is fort what this really is? It seems like there's a digging involved and that this structure is located UNDER a tree. I think in the previous version you mention underground tunnels.. I guess, I'm just confused what this fort actually is and what it looks like. My second note here goes back to this one boy who built this fort for Del. I like that you've gotten rid of the "sexual favors in exchange for fort building" part but I'm not very convinced that he'd do it because Del partnered with him on biology lab (though I did like the part about dissection - and Del's subtle characterization here!). I think the key here is that Jason was lonely (?) and Del manipulated him into helping here by befriending him - right? I think there's a great opportunity here to show MORE. Think about the subtle dynamics between them here. Instead of "I convinced him.." you could start with "This boy Jason build me a fort under that live oak tree up yonder..." and then say a few subtle but poignant things about his relationship with Del and how maybe she's torn about him - how she used him, befriended him, and then about Jason's suicide.
    Then, I'd get rid of "It’s worse than having a fort named after you." It seems to stick out to me. Earlier we learn that she refers to this fort as Fort Jason, so the fort is not named after her and this string of thoughts in this paragraph is internal/self-directed. Hope this makes sense.
    Third paragraph from the bottom (in the end of Chapter 2) is BRILLIANT.
    Overall, to reiterate what I said in the beginning - you've done a fantastic job revising! This is great!! Now, you just have some polishing and refinements to do to really nail down Del's character and the setting. Well done!

  5. Yes! You nailed it! This version reads much smoother, and the original was already fantastic. I also love what you did with Jason’s story, having Del partner with him in biology. It led so perfectly into the story of his loneliness, and gave an example of why he felt invisible (no one partnering with him). That storyline was heartbreaking, and Del’s feelings about it were so much clearer this time.

    My only critique is my curiosity over the number of bodies she’s collecting. If she hasn’t found the fountain of youth yet, and doesn’t know if it works, why not just try with one body after she’s found it? Or is she looking for a particular body? I thought maybe the headless guy’s tattoo might mean something, but maybe I’m reaching there. Anyway, that was my one critical note. This revision was so enjoyable, and if I were an agent, I would definitely request more pages.

  6. Hi Tim, nice job with your revisions, and this version feels much stronger. However, I do have a couple nitpicks: I'd like to be more engaged with Del's thoughts, and another line "his anger resonated through the phone." How does this happen? Is the voice so loud that the phone vibrates? Does the voice pierce Del's eardrums? What I'm basically getting at are characterization and show vs tell. A great book that helped me with these issues is "Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)" by Janice Hardy. Great job and I look forward to reading your next revision.