Sunday, March 17, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Collins Rev 2


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

PITCH
Sixteen-year-old Del is desperate to save her terminally ill sister, Addie. When a decapitated corpse appears in her family’s desolate Texas field, she calls the number tattooed on the body. If her dead father’s stories were true, the call would reveal the location to Eternum, home to an ancient fountain of healing.
Del and Addie travel to Eternum with the body of their father. Once inside, Del’s father is resurrected; however, Del learns it was all part of his plan to get her to come willingly with her sister. The town needs Del to fatally spill Addie’s cancer-ridden blood to complete a ritual. Without it, the townsfolk will be massacred by Neffers – imprisoned beasts who give the fountain its power but only remain satiated by cancerous blood offerings.
To save her sister, Del must free the Neffers from the shackles of Eternum. Doing so will condemn the town and enable the Neffers to feed upon the sick children of the world. Doing nothing means watching Addie die and letting Eternum continue to bleed children. In a battle where the line of monsters and men is blurred, Del must determine how many lives the person she loves most is worth.
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.

A turkey vulture glided around the decapitated body. “Get the hell outta here! He’s mine!” Del said, snatching a piece of gray limestone from the dried 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,” she 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.

Del stared across the empty landscape of her family’s Texas Hill Country field. The neighboring houses all mysteriously burned to the ground a century ago, bodies of the families dismembered and spread like fertilizer. The same thing happened three times over before the land became unsellable.

“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, she could retire her dad’s wooden-handled nine-inch Winchester bowie knife back to his office.

Del remembered her dad’s mantra: those who do not fear the call of death will find eternal healing.

He told stories about the fountain of youth, a fountain that healed even the sickest of people. People like Del’s sister, Addie.

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

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

“Call of death.” She chewed her last unbroken nail to a jagged nub. “Dad wasn’t talking in metaphors.”

Her jittery fingers dialed.

“Yeah?” A gruff and tumble voice answered. “You got, Pez.”

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

“I think I found something that belongs to you.” Del skipped the pleasantries.

“And what might that be?” Pez asked, the echo of his voice hinted she was 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.

“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.

“Probably a mix-up. Text me your location.”

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

“Do you think I’m stupid, Milt? I have your number forwarded to my phone.”

Del laughed, but the iPhone slipped from her hands as she tried stifling the sound. It bounced into the milky-white substance oozing from the body. She hesitated, never seeing a substance like this from any of the other bodies but relented and plucked her phone from the goop.

“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!” Milt yelled.

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

“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 tucked her phone into her pocket.

“Call of death. 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. Speaking of new friends…”

The vulture’s courtship with the oak ended its monogamy. A second bird arrived. Then a third. Within minutes a wake of bald heads and black feathers blotted out the sun and pressed the tree limbs to the brink of survival.

The charcoal eyes stared at the body. Del slid three steps left when she realized they weren’t eying the body.

They were staring at her.


Chapter 2

“Don’t worry, I won’t let them eat you,” Del said. She pulled a stainless-steel Zippo from her back pocket. With a flip of the lid, the blue-orange flame jumped to life. “I’ll burn it down!”

As if understanding her words, the nightmare birds peeled off the tree one by one.

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

“Nothing? Man, you’re tough.” She wrinkled her nose and glanced at his empty shoulders. “Bet nothing sounds funny to you these days. Little friendly advice. Humor keeps the darkness at bay.”

Del relented her guardian’s prowl and tucked away her weapons before kneeling near the bare-chested body.

“Can I tell you a secret?” She cupped her hands around her mouth and leaned in. “We’re not alone. I convinced this boy Jason to build me an underground fort under that tree.” Del glanced in the direction of the field’s lone oak. “Took him two hours just to find a plot that didn’t have limestone fighting the shovel for every inch and another two weeks of digging to finish. 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, invisible to the world. That was the reason on his 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.

Clearing her throat, she sat back on her boot heels. “Why don’t you smell? The others smell. 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.

“I’d drag you up the hill for proper introductions, but we have people coming. Important people who can make good on my promise to save 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 some scientist would label it.

Maybe they’d name it after her. God, she hoped not. That’s not the way she wanted to be immortalized.

The corners of her lips turned higher.

Immortality.

Addie’s cancer didn’t stand a chance.


16 comments:

  1. Hi Tim,

    Your pages look amazing now!

    Regarding the pitch: first sentence is great as it immediately sets up Del's motivation and stakes, but then there needs to be a better segue between the first sentence and what comes next. To me, it feels like 2nd sentence should be about Del's father and how/why he knows about Eternum. The connection between the dead body Del finds and Eternum is also not clear. Also, the way the first two paragraphs read, it may appear as if the body of Del's father IS the very same body she finds in the beginning, which I'm pretty sure is not the case! Also, this just raises more questions - why is her father dead? What is this body she finds? What does the body have to do with Eternum?... Since father turns out to be an antagonist here (right?) as he lures Del and Addie into this place, maybe give a bit more info about him and what's the conflict here. Is he from Eternum? It would also help to know whether Eternum is something that exists on Earth/this dimension or it's some kind of mystical land beyond the portal...

    I've read the pitch a few times now and I think overall it's clear (aside from the first few sentences) and I know what predicament Del finds herself in and what are her options. The story itself is definitely unique - I tell you that! I don't think I've read anything like this recently or ever. I think the structure of the query is all there, but perhaps what's missing is the style/voice. I find that queries that match the book's voice work best because they immediately draw me in and it's clear what kind of book this is going to be. From reading the opening pages, Del is to-the-point but also darkly sarcastic. Can you think of some ways of transferring that voice into the query? Think of the things that worked in the chapters to set up Del's voice and begin her characterization (e.g. her conversation with Pez about the headless body, etc.).

    The pages read really well now! Just minor things from me:

    After "The same thing happened three times over before the land became unsellable" I'd add something like "the townspeople spoke of a curse that haunted this land, but curses or not...[add Del's opinion]" Something like that - a bit of Del's contemplation about this strange place. Otherwise, that paragraph ends a bit abruptly - at least, to me.

    Going back to your query/pitch, this phrasing from the pages is great and perhaps you could use it or a version of it in the query when you talk about Del's father: "He told stories about the fountain of youth, a fountain that healed even the sickest of people. People like Del’s sister, Addie".

    Overall, once again, the pages read REALLY strong to me!! Congrats and well done!
    Cheers,
    Katya

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  2. Hi Tim,

    Pitch: I think you have the main elements, but it feels a little stiff. Adding some transition words to get us between paragraphs and thoughts would help. I also think it might be nice to change up the sentence length or something to infuse a bit more pace and emotion.

    Pages:
    I love the vultures at the end of chapter 1, and the way chapter 2 is more active now. I also love the line Del uses about not being able to save everyone. Nice job!

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  3. Pitch: I found the first two paragraphs a little confusing. First there’s a headless body, then they’re traveling to Eternum with their father’s body. What’s the connection between body 1 and body 2? Other than that, the pitch was really unique and engaging. I LOVE that the whole thing was a trick to lure Del and Addie to Eternum, and that the father isn’t as heroic as we might’ve thought. This will cause a ton of emotional conflict for Del, which is great for character development.

    Pages: Your pages continue to stun and entertain me. I definitely think you’ll have some agent interest in your future. I really have nothing to complain about here. I love the ending to chapter one, with the vultures. Such a great (and creepy!) image. Really fabulous work.

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    Replies
    1. Many thanks for the kind words on the pages. I've known my pitch is a weak point. I've been trying to rework it (and push the length slightly). No need for feedback, but this is the direction I may head.

      Sixteen-year-old Del loves hearing her father spin tales about a fountain with the ability to heal even the sickest of people. People like Del’s younger sister, Addie. Desperate to save Addie, Del calls a phone number tattooed on a decapitated body that appears out of nowhere. If her dad’s stories are true, the call will reveal the location to Eternum, home to the ancient fountain.
      The call summons messengers who reveal the path to Eternum, but in doing so they awaken an evil that kills Del’s father. With his dead body in tow, Del and Addie escape to Eternum. Once inside the walled city, their father is resurrected; however, Del learns it was all part of his plan to get her to come willingly with her sister.
      The town needs Del to fatally spill Addie’s cancer-ridden blood to complete a ritual. A ritual her father has been party to for more than a century. Without it, the townsfolk will be massacred by Neffers – imprisoned beasts who give the fountain its power but only remain satiated by cancerous blood offerings.
      To save her sister, Del must free the Neffers from the shackles of Eternum. Doing so will condemn the town and enable the Neffers to feed upon the sick children of the world. Doing nothing means watching Addie die and letting Eternum continue to bleed children. In a battle where the line of monsters and men is blurred, Del must determine how many lives the person she loves most is worth.

      Delete
    2. Hi Tim,

      I'm going to play off of Rachel's query because I LOVE what she did with your pitch. My version adds in a little more information, while keeping some of the more confusing details (the dad's involvement, why he'd sacrifice his own daughter, etc) out of it. Here's what I came up with:

      "Sixteen-year-old Del is desperate to save her terminally ill sister, Addie. If her dead father’s stories are true, the answer lies in Eternum, home to an ancient fountain of healing.

      The problem is getting there. Del’s been collecting corpses to open the way, but it's not working ... not until a headless body with a phone number on it appears in her family's desolate Texas field. This is the body Del’s been searching for, the one her father told her about.

      Del and Addie travel to Eternum, only to learn they’ve been lured into a trap. For the past century, the townsfolk of Eternum have been sacrificing children to the Neffers, imprisoned beasts who give the healing fountain its power but only remain satiated by cancerous blood offerings. In a battle where the line of monsters and men is blurred, Del must determine how many lives the person she loves most is worth."

      I feel like my version gets a little messy at the end, but I wanted to tie some of your wonderful threads together. I'm hoping this helps in some way. I think you're getting so close, and with your stunning pages, it's only a matter of time before you get the right agent's attention.

      Delete
  4. Hi Tim,

    I don’t think I saw your pitch when I first read your chapter. It’s great seeing the context of the whole story. The pitch lays that out intriguingly and clearly…except the part about the body with the number tattoo. It’s unclear if that’s her father’s body or another one.

    The quibbles: I’m unconvinced by the final line. Your story is anything but cliched, but that summary feels a bit routine. I think you could skip it entirely—we already know the stakes. If you keep it can you rephrase it so it reflects the uniqueness of tis world a bit more? I don’t have any sense of the story’s voice here, and since that to me is the star of your pages, I want to see it in the pitch. Finally, I’d like to see a version of this where you start with an elevator pitch—this is a hooky book: can you distill it into a sentence and lead with that?

    The pages remain really strong, but the question about why she thinks this body, as opposed to the others, remains. It’s the kind of thing the voice almost makes you lose track of—it’s a great voice!—but at least after several reads, it doesn’t make any sense—from what you tell us—that she would think this body is the one.

    With the query, a new question arises: is this her dad’s body, and, if so, isn’t there something about it that suggests it to her? Is her dad dead at this point? Her extreme emotional remove is part of the charm, but there’s no sense that her dad is dead. If he’s alive, then I’d adjust the query. If he’s dead, I’d put that in the pages. Either way, you don’t want a disconnect between the query and the pages.

    These pages were really strong when I first read them something like a year ago and they’re even stronger now. Go get yourself an agent and a publisher so I can read this in print.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Tim,
    I like your pitch, but what confuses me is first you talk about Del saving Addie, but what'd make Del think that it'd save Addie's life by calling the number? The first sentence of the 2nd paragraph feels creepy and confusing. Addie's dying, but yet they're taking their father to Eternum? Otherwise, your pitch feels strong.
    I really enjoyed reading your beginning pages, especially this time and during the last revisions. They read clearer and the writing is very strong. I hope you find an agent.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey, Tim, I'm going to focus on the pitch. I feel like there are just too many questions that get raised without answers, and I think it's actually too long.

    The idea is to interest us but not confuse us; it's the 50,000 foot view. So personally, I would cut it down to something like this:

    Sixteen-year-old Del is desperate to save her terminally ill sister, Addie. If her dead father’s stories were true, the answer lies in Eternum, home to an ancient fountain of healing.

    The problem is getting there. She's been making sacrifices to open the way, but it's not working ... not until a headless body with a phone number on it appears in her family's desolate Texas field. It's an invitation, and a trap.

    Because the secret of Eternum is a monstrous one. As the line between monsters and humans blurs, Del must decide how many lost lives the person she loves most is worth.


    ... the rest of it should go into your synopsis, not your pitch. Also, give us a comparable, if you can. I'm thinking Dia Reeves's SLICE OF CHERRY would be a good one ...?

    Your mileage may vary, of course! Nothing in this business is ever an absolute, but I recommend a shorter pitch. The pages are strong, the voice is good, but to be honest the pitch only muddied the waters for me in its current form. Great work, and I wish you good luck going forward!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now that was a little slice of awesome! I really like that direction. I knew the pitch was an issue, so that example really helps. Thank you very much!

      Delete
  7. For the pitch…

    The first and second sentences didn’t follow, so I found myself in a bit of a stupor. But I kept reading and it became clear. But it would be best not to ever have that halting feeling. Use a transition or something. Del is desperate to save her sister, so she’s even more devastated to find her father decapitated in their corn field. I know that may not be the right emotion or whatever, but this is just an idea.

    Also, this might sound trite and I don’t mean to be, but if Del knows that a fountain of healing exists, then why aren’t they just trying to get Addie there in the first place? That would seem a more logical course for her and their dad. And even if it is the dad’s idea to get Addie there, why not just lie and tell Del that he can take her there to heal her? It feels illogical and somewhat circular.

    Another inconsistency I’m sensing is that the children of the world are already being fed on, right? I mean, Addie is going there to be sacrificed, and other children have been. So I’m not sure what the difference is if they’re loose. Or why they’re bound in Eternum.

    Simple is best. When you create too many questions, it becomes overwhelming.

    For the pages…

    You have great dialogue, the ability to add in humor, and a fantastic sense of the macabre. They’re intriguing for sure! The opening with the dead body and that she needs the dead body is quite compelling.

    In the first line, does Del not know this is her father? You would think that, even without his head, that she would know who it was. And so, I’m wondering why you’re withholding that info from the reader. Because it feels like a betrayal (and confusing) when a character withholds information from the reader on purpose and can be off-putting this early in the pages.

    After reading all five pages, I guess I don’t understand what’s going on here completely. Are there lots of dead bodies in the field? It feels like it’s going too many directions when what we really need is straightforward motivations and character development. I had to reread to understand that she’s become a killer and hacks up bodies for her father to give five lives so someone can have eternal life. But the unreliability of her father’s stories makes me question why she even believes him.

    I don’t get why her friend killed himself there? And why would she let him hang there for a week? And why is she the one slicing and dicing all the people up? I’m gathering that she’s completely psychotic, has no love of anyone except her sister, and is emotionally detached from her own humanity after killing so many people. Perhaps that’s what you’re aiming for? If so—nailed it.

    In these first pages, I’d take out anything that’s not completely necessary for us to get through the scene. Like the part about the field being burned and bodies strewn everywhere. I’m feeling the need to have things simplified and added in later. It’ll just let all the great stuff you have in here, like the dialogue and the bits of humor that add so much to really shine.

    I’m also feeling a huge gap in what all these things mean to Del in these pages. How does she feel about everything? I’d love some visceral responses from her. Do her hands shake? Or is this completely run of the mill and her heart doesn’t even skip a beat? Show us the setting. Let us smell specifically what she smells instead of telling us it doesn’t smell. Give us some internalization if you can.

    This is one of the most unique stories I’ve seen, so I think with a bit of finessing, you’ll get some attention with this one.
    All the best!
    Heather Cashman

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