Monday, March 4, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Collins

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

Chapter 1

Normally, a dead body was a one-way ticket to life in jail, not a prerequisite to salvation for a sixteen-year-old girl’s desperate dream. But life hasn’t been normal for a while.

The burning Texas sun played spotlight for a decapitated man starring center stage of abnormal.

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 oak tree. For now, Del owned her prize uncontested.

“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.

The toe tag 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.

They would canvass the field. Talking her way out of one dead body seemed plausible, but not a half-dozen. While her underground fort kept the other bodies out of sight, their putrid scent would undoubtedly betray her.

Besides, if this was what she thought it was, there wouldn’t be a need for anymore collection. Time had come to cash in her handiwork.

She remembered her dad’s words: only those who do not fear the call of death will find eternal life.

He wasn’t talking about Heaven. No. He told stories about a fountain that heals.
A fountain of youth.

She chewed her last unbroken nail to a jagged nub before dialing. Most people would be afraid to call, but most weren’t in her situation. She needed to find a cure for cancer, like yesterday.

“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 idling truck engine behind the man’s voice.

“I think I found something that belongs to you.” Del opted not to slow play her hand. Time wasn’t an ally.

“And what might that be?” Pez asked.

“A body. Male. Never missed a 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 Deadpool t-shirt. Silence swept over the abandoned field. She dug her teeth into her sun-chapped bottom lip.

“Can you tell me where you are?”

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. This is your phone.”

Del laughed, but the jet-black iPhone slipped from her hands when 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 jeans shorts before putting it back to her ear.

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

“Just find out!” The background voice faded, but his anger resonated through the phone.

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

Act tough. Be tough. You won’t get hurt.

Del repeated the mantra in her mind.

“Touche,” Pez chuckled. “I like your spirit.”

“And you owe me a new pair of shorts.” Del’s greedy spirit seized control of her mouth.
Liked your spirit may be more accurate. How ‘bout you text me your location,” he said, before lowering his voice, “and if you keep this between us, I’ll make sure you can buy a whole a dresser full of shorts.”

Del’s fingertips danced nervously across the screen tapping out her location.

“A magic fountain of life,” she muttered. “Dad better be right.”

The stories were entertaining and all, but what Del needed more was hope.

His words ran through her head:
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 bodies for six lifetimes. If these guys couldn’t help her sister that number might have to increase to eight.

Chapter 2

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


Ears or no ears, the dead made the best listeners.

“Can I tell you a secret?” She cupped her hands around her mouth and leaned in close. “We’re not alone in this field. I convinced this boy Jason to build me a fort under that oak tree up yonder.” Del glanced in the direction of the field’s lone oak. “He didn’t have a clue why. Just did it. Took him two hours to find the only plot that didn’t have limestone fighting the shovel for every inch. Only had to sacrifice two squeezes of my boobs. Over the clothes of course. Boys are so easy to seduce. The internet is a goldmine of YouTube videos and articles on how to bag your man. I think I’ve watched or read them all.” Del winked at the body. “We planned intricate tunnels, but Jason wanted more than I was willing to give him to build a treehouse.

“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 everyone but me. That was the reason listed on his suicide note. He felt invisible. Maybe I played a part. Maybe.

“Sometimes I still see him swinging there, eyes pushing out of their sockets, tongue amputated by his involuntary bite, jeans soaked in urine. Death seems to have a way of finding me.” Del wiped her eyes free of tears. “I’d drag you up the hill and show you the fort, but you have friends coming. Friends more important than mine, but together, I think we can make good on my promise to save Addie.”

She 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. That’s not the way she wanted to be immortalized. There was a better way if one was inclined to believe the ramblings of a dying man.


  1. Hi, Tim! Thanks for posting this. I know it's not easy to ask for criticism and you're brave for doing this! So please believe that everything I'm saying I intend to be helpful. I'm just going to give broad strokes, since we're talking what we'd call "developmental edits" here.

    First: I don't have a clear sense of your world or setting. You do a good job of dropping me directly into it, but a little grounding would be necessary, I think, for this to work.

    Partly that's because it's so close to "real life" ... you mention iPhones and Deadpool (watch out for trademarks in your work, btw), so clearly it's close to our own reality. I need to understand how exactly it differs or the whole thing feels muddy and unformed.

    You don't need to explain the *whole* world to me, just explain to me what she's after, how she feels about it, and why, but in a way that interacts with her environment.

    I'd recommend you start with the body and her reactions to it. That would allow you to show me what she wants the body for in a more effective way, and also the danger associated with having it--because I'm not getting a real sense of danger here. Or emotion, either. What does she want out of this? It's unclear.

    Personally, I would save the news that she's got a whole cache of bodies a few feet away as your kicker at the end, but that's just me. If you make it about "a girl finds a body" that's interesting b/c her reactions are not typical, and you can then escalate to "girl is a serial killer but this is not her body" and that creates dramatic escalation and tension. Always know where you're heading and what ramps you up to getting there.

    (Also: have you considered doing first person for this story? I almost feel like it would be a natural fit with this character.)

    I'm not sure how to take Del. Is this a world where magic exists and everybody's fighting for it? Is she deluded, and this is the real world and she's a serial killer? Uncertainty's fine but right now it all feels as if I'm not resolving it into a clearer picture. Give me hints. Lead me to conclusions you want me to have.

    Last thing: setting and environment. Texas is a big state. Where in Texas? She could be in mountains, desert, wetlands, rolling hills, coastland ... just saying Texas doesn't tell us about where she's standing. I assumed desert, but it doesn't really fit either; oak trees (live oaks generally, in Texas) are common in the more temperate areas ... mesquite and creosote trees are the largest native species in the desert plains. Trans-Pecos grassland and yucca flat desert generally has the occasional mesquite or creosote tree and not much else. (But you can't hang yourself from either one of those, most likely.)

    Last thing, I promise: experience your setting through your character. If it's hot, don't tell us it's hot, show us through her discomfort, her sweat, her wishing she'd brought a hat or sunglasses. Tell us what things smell like (not just the dead body, but the scent of the tree, the way the dry air smells, etc.) When she touches something, tell us through that sense as well. What does she hear? Is she standing on sand? What color is the sand, the sky? How is she dressed? Boots, I'd assume, if she's out in the desert, because of the snakes and scorpions. So ... express her environment, and your character, as one. Use her observations to build her character along with it.

    Thank you for being brave and putting it out there! I really liked a lot of the ideas you have in here, and I thought "This thing's got no head, and I think it may be smarter than you" was a really great line. I think with some focus and polish you might have something really interesting.

    Keep going! - Rachel Caine

  2. Hi Tim,

    Deja Vu time—I read this chapter for you via a FB group exchange a bit over a year ago. I don’t recall anything about that draft, other than I was really impressed by it, so this will be a read with relatively fresh eyes.

    I have almost no good feedback to give you because, other than one issue, I can’t imagine this being better. I love this voice, the stakes are clear and the overall weirdness leaves me wanting more. And I say that as somebody who thinks of horror as one of the genres I want to avoid.

    The one issue is that chapter one ends without me having any idea as to why she thinks calling the number on the toe tag is going to lead her to the fountain of youth. There’s nothing about her conversation (or anything in start of the next chapter) that suggests it. I’d keep reading because everything else is so solid, but I’d prefer to get at least an inkling about why she thinks this body is different.

    //The toe tag on the headless body read: IF FOUND, CALL (512)555-1212, so Del pulled out her iPhone.//—Okay, when I looked to verify that I’d read an earlier incarnation of this chapter before, I noticed that my comments on it compared to Deadpool meets The Library at Char Mountain. I think that still stands.

    //While her underground fort kept the other bodies out of sight, their putrid scent would undoubtedly betray her.//—ha.

    //She chewed her last unbroken nail to a jagged nub before dialing. Most people would be afraid to call, but most weren’t in her situation. She needed to find a cure for cancer, like yesterday.//—Excellent stakes setting

    //jet-black iPhone//—jet-black doesn’t add anything.

    //“Five-second rule,” she muttered//—ha

    //Del amassed enough bodies for six lifetimes. If these guys couldn’t help her sister that number might have to increase to eight.//—I expected that I’d at least get a clue about why she thinks these guys will show her where/help her find the fountain of youth, but I didn’t get any sense of why this body was different than the previous six.


    1. You have put me to shame with your in-depth & wonderful commentary on all the entries. I need to up my game. Hat tip to you, London!

  3. I thought this was absolutely fabulous. The voice, the setting, the characters…. Everything leapt from the page. I’m seriously so into this, I’m going to have to be particularly nitpicky to give you anything to change, so my only suggestions are:

    The first line felt overly wordy. Your story opens with such a bang, I think you could change “not a prerequisite to salvation for a sixteen-year-old girl’s desperate dream” to “not a prerequisite to salvation for a sixteen-year old girl.” Prerequisite for salvation is such a killer phrase, I felt the ending overcomplicated a really fantastic set-up.

    I think you can trim a little during the phone conversation. One tip I was given a while back, which has been immensely helpful is: copy all your dialogue and paste it into a document by itself. You’ll be able to see lags in the conversation, and unnecessary repetition. I felt like Pez asked her about her location a few times more than necessary, and the voice in the background seemed to know what the call was about when Pez hadn’t said anything to indicate a dead body. Maybe he put Del on speakerphone and I didn’t notice, which would explain the confusion. But if not, I’d like to hear him mention the body (or make it clear that Milt is listening to the call, rather than hanging out in the background).

    Lastly, having Del give a guy sexual favors in exchange for help felt a little… I don’t know… obvious? Your world is so unique and the voice is so incredibly fantastic, that was the only place where I thought you could’ve gotten a little more inventive. I also felt a bit bad that she was talking so dismissively of a guy who killed himself. You’ve given us enough hints about her situation with her sister to understand why she’s collecting dead bodies. It’s a very unusual hobby, yet you make her sympathetic. The story about Jason detracted from that a little bit (or maybe it was just her tone).

    But again, I’m being nitpicky. I LOVED this. You grabbed me with the opening lines and had me hooked straight to the end. I would DEFINITELY keep reading to see what happened next. Really excellent work!

  4. Hi Tim,

    You've got a great voice and a unique premise. I'm intrigued by what she's doing with the bodies and how that will help her save her sister. I did find myself a little confused by the world and what she was doing/why, so I had to read it several times to figure that out. Might be just me though, but wanted to point that out. I also read your first line expecting it to be in first person so I was a little surprised to see it in third, but that's a preference thing for you. Overall, nice job!

  5. ​Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the opportunity to read. I love YA horror and was excited when I was assigned this!!

    Now to the comments. I hope you'll find these useful. Like Rachel has said, it's never easy to open yourself up for critique, and I praise you for being brave and submitting pages for this workshop. ​

    The first things I look for in the opening chapter are strong voice and an intriguing hook. That's what usually keeps me reading. In the case of your submission, I think there's definitely a GREAT hook - a girl is collecting dead bodies!!! Yes, I NEED to know WHY she's doing it. You can make it even stronger by making Del's motivation clearer and more consistent from the start and throughout.

    Think about your MC as being driven by a strong motivation: What does she want? What does she need to get it? Her actions and thoughts and inner logic would then be informed by her motivation/s. From what I've read so far, I think what's going is this: Del's sister is sick and dead bodies have something to do with the cure. But I'm not sure where the fountain of youth comes into this...

    As for the voice, I'd like to get a better sense of Del as a person. It's obvious she's not freaked out by a headless corpse and it's clear that something is going on with her - that she's involved in something weird and dark but that it's a regular thing for her. But then I was lost a bit: I think there's too much information thrown in... There's Del reminiscing about her father. There's mention of a fountain of youth. There's a mention of cancer... Of her ex-boyfriend... The shifts between these bits of info are somewhat abrupt.

    Perhaps you could focus on one/two things at first. This is your opening chapter, so you don't want to overload the reader with too much going on. it's better to reveal the MC's backstory in some doses but also tell the reader a bit more about things that matter - by hinting a bit more strongly at why Del's collecting bodies and about her saving her sister.

    Good luck with the revision. I can't wait to read your next iteration!

  6. So much awesome to take in. Thanks to everyone for the feedback.
    Really weighing 1st vs 3rd person.
    Probably need to at least write it to see how I feel about it.

  7. Hi Tim, I'm really into horror stories, so I was excited to see this is a YA horror opening. I found it intriguing that a 16 year old girl was collecting dead bodies, but what are her feelings about it? I like the setup, but I'd also love to see who Del is as a person more (deepen characterization). Good job and I'll look forward to reading your revision.