Sunday, March 10, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Crocket Rev 1

Name: London Crockett
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Blasphemer’s Cypher

Rules are important. Without them, you have girls strutting into houses of worship, wearing pants, with hands on their sword hilts. It’s not a rule that anybody ever wrote, because everybody knows to never do it. I should say, everybody except Lady Margaté Sesedo Tucánrarin Dogualfse.

In the middle of community girls’ choir practice, the temple doors slam open. An hour before siesta, the light almost blinds. Nothing but the silhouette of a slender boy shows, his legs apart as if trying to take up the space of both doors. Together, the doors are wide enough you could stand three cows side-by-side in the gap. The boy hardly occupies a sixth of it. People don’t enter a temple like that. I doubt you enter a tavern like that unless you want to fight somebody. 

The only sound as he struts down the center aisle is the click of his boots on the mosaic tiles. When my eyes adjust, I gasp. Everybody does. The boy isn’t a boy. It’s a girl in pants. Women don’t wear pants, and certainly not in temple. Her only accommodation to modestly is a black scarf tossed over her hair. Otherwise, she looks like an idalgu freshly dismounted from a horse.

When she gets to the base of choir stand, I notice her sword. It’s long and…well, I don’t know much about swords. It looks fancy and lethal. None of that matters: it’s a sword in the Temple Naserys. Pants are shocking. A sword is an offense I don’t have the vocabulary for.

Pra Traceu rushes down the choir stand and nearly knocks poor Hope Eternyl down. “Lady Margaté.” He bows. Then everybody bows except for me. I’m sitting, because I can’t stand for a whole choir practice. Nevertheless, I bow my head and say, “Your excellency,” along with everyone else.  

“I’d like to join the choir.” It doesn’t sound much like a request.

“We would be honored to have you join us, your excellency, but you’re attired inappropriately. Can you come back next week, please? We start two hours before siesta.”

Her hand goes to her hilt. She’s remarkably fine-boned for somebody wearing a sword. Why would anybody wear a sword? People don’t have sword fights any more—not for a century—and that was only men. “I’ll stay today and listen. My mother wrote me last year and told me you were bringing cantes into the temple. It seems like a dreadful idea, but she insists I participate.”

“So you’re aware Lady Sesedo fully supports the choir?”

She doesn’t answer right away. Expressions aren’t my forte, but her look is a challenge. She has no respect. He holds her eye until she finally answers. “I’m aware of my mother’s choices. Don’t expect that I’ll continue that support when I inherit my father’s title. Consider this an amusing experiment in reform theology that ends in two years.”

“With respect, Lady Margaté, I sought Lady Sesedo’s approval as a courtesy. I’m appointed by the Deóm Siódossio and serve by his grace, not yours nor your mother’s. Should you disapprove, you may join another faith community. Please note that from now on, if you wish to attend choir practice or services, you must leave your weapons at home. They are never permitted here.” Pra Traceu is possibly the nicest person I’ve ever met, so he doesn’t say this with even a hint of anger, which I suspect is a feat. I’ve just met Lady Margaté but I’ll need to pray a lot to not hate her.

Her fingers creep about her hilt, then her hand falls away from her sword and she smiles. It’s more like a child’s drawing of a smile, exaggerated and crooked. “We all serve under somebody else’s authority. I wouldn’t assume people like the Deóm Siódossio will exert theirs forever.”

He gestures towards the pew at the front of the temple reserved for the Sesedos. “There is no authority except that of the Lord’s, your excellency. We must return to our practice.”

As Lady Margaté unbuckles her sword belt and sits, Promysed comes over and whispers in my ear, “Oo-la-la,  Jinxx, what a delicious scandal the Lady is.”

Promysed says things like that. I don’t even know what “oo-la-la” means. She read it in a book and now says it all the time. I hide my frown and shrug. There is nothing delicious about Lady Margaté and her scandal.

“Girls, I believe Miss Melesda and Doñita Promysed were on the verge of a solution for us before our esteemed visitor arrived. Let’s continue and see if we can get it down before we break for lemonade.”

 Promysed scrambles off to work with Melesda on figuring out how to turn the song we’re practicing into a bulería. Going from a staid 4/4 time song to a 12/12 one with plenty of duende is something only somebody with Melesda’s heritage could ever work out. 

“Miss Jinxx,” Pra Traceu says, coming up next to me, “can we continue?” I adore him, but he has less rhythmic talent and duende passion than Doñita Mouse-Mouse, the temple cat. 

I nod, distracted by Lady Margaté’s stare. I haven’t seen her since Lord Sesedo’s funeral. She’s about my age, fourteen, and has been gone for six years. There’s no way she knows who I am, but I can’t help but check on my crutches, as if it’s them or my threadbare dress she’s staring at instead of Pra Traceu. Perhaps she hears my belly complain about eating only some olives and a slice of bread.

He smiles, as if he’s unaware of her menace. “I’m certain I have it down this time. The emphasis is on the three, six, eight, ten and twelve, right?”

“Yes. The same as all the soleás. Ready?”

He holds his hands up in front of his grin. If enthusiasm were duende, he’s have more than the Song Thrush.

I count the beat out loud, less for him than to distract myself from Lady Margaté. She’s clapping along with exaggerated hand motions. She holds the emphasis beats instead of hitting them harder. My rhythm synchronizes with her off-beat one.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “Can we start again?” 

“Of course. It appears Lady Margaté would appreciate some instruction as well. Your excellency?”

“Has no desire to have her teach me anything.” 

Ten minutes later, the rest of the choir girls go quiet, leaving only Melesda and Promysed’s singing. Melesda’s smokey voice does a paso doble around Promysed’s crystalline tones until they reach the bridge. They’ve figured out how to make it work. At moments like this, the combination of their voices is more delightful than a good chess game with a kitten in your lap, but I can’t look away from Lady Margaté. 

She stands as if to watch the girls sings, but picks up her sword belt. Her eyes don’t waver from mine until I avert my gaze. She slides her sword out a few hands and takes a quick step towards me.

When I force my eyes back to her face, she’s looking at me with an expression I’ve never seen, some kind of madness, for sure.

Melesda and Promysed finish the song and the choir bursts into applause.

“Bravo, girls, bravo!” Pra Traceu says. 

Lady Margaté smiles, something with actual pleasure in it, and belts the sword on, then walks out of the Temple, shoving the both doors open with as much of a bang as when she entered.


  1. Apparently, my comment didn't post the first time I wrote it up. I'll go with user error on that.

    This version is such a great improvement. We launch right into the conflict and the characters without needing a ton of backstory as it is woven in well. You still present the strong elements of music, but in a format that even a layperson as myself can follow along.
    This version is very difficult to critique as I see it as very straight-forward.
    I might like some hint why Lady Margate seems to despise the church. Did something happen in those 6 years she was gone? The only other nitpicky item I might consider revisiting in the repetition of the MC saying she doesn't know something (not an expert in swords, not knowing ooo-la-la, and expressions aren't my forte). That was the only other thing that stuck out to me, but overall, this is REALLY WELL DONE. As Pra Traceu might say, "Bravo, girl, bravo!"

  2. I really enjoyed this revision. Everything flows smoother to me and makes more sense!

    I still find myself a little confused that we start with the opening line telling us Lady Margete walks in with pants and a sword (by way of saying no one does this) and then moving to the MC thinking it's a boy and discovering it all for herself as the scene unfolds. I understand the hook of it, but it feels like we already know what happens and then go back a little bit to watch it unfold, if that makes sense. That takes away some of the intrigue when we find out the boy is really a girl (and the shock that brings in this society). I like the opening line though, so my suggestion would be to start there and then move forward (and you can say she'd originally thought it was a boy--past tense--until she spoke or something, but keep it all in chronological order).

    I also thought we could use a transition or more conflict after Lady Margete says, "Has no desire to have her teach me anything." It feels like a good opportunity to dive into more conflict but we just move to "ten minutes later."

    Overall, I really love what you've done. Nice work on this!

  3. I LOVE the rewrite of the opening paragraphs. The first feeds so perfectly into the second, and I greatly enjoyed seeing the Lady arrive in real time. The tension crackled!

    I would definitely put their ages closer to the front. As it was, they were reading much older than fourteen to me, so getting that in earlier will help to inform the reader of the age group.

    One thing I noticed this time around is that your main character is pretty much a spectator in the scene. She says almost nothing, describing instead everyone else’s actions, outfits, singing ability, and words. Can she be a more active participant? I did feel the tension fizzle out a little after the Lady decided to join them. The opening was so strong and intriguing, and the argument with Pra Traceu felt very layered (although I’d love to see your main character joining in) but after that, it felt like the narrator was interpreting aggression from the Lady mainly based on facial expressions. I’d love a clearer idea of the danger the Lady presents to her, the choir, their way of life, etc. There’s so much to love here, I think making your narrator a more active participant will go a long way in making the conflict clearer throughout the entire passage.

  4. I found this revision to be smoother and less confusing. I like how we're right in the conflict without being bogged down with backstory.
    But how does Lady Margate feel about the church? Try to deepen your characterization as it's always important to connect your reader with your character. A great book to help with this is "Understanding, Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), by Janice Hardy. The show, don't tell issue and characterization are closely linked. Overall, nice job, and I'll look forward to reading your next revision.

  5. Great job on the revisions!

    I'm noticing that in this version, you jumped right into Lady Margaté's arrival. I feel like coming to that point sooner was a good story choice; however, it takes the punch away from the POV character thinking she's a boy in the next section. Because readers already know who it is. So smooth that transition a bit. Mentioning that the POV character thought she was a boy at first would be fine, but because we already know, it loses that spark otherwise.

    My major critique is that we learn so much about Lady Margaté right away, that the POV character becomes background. I would love more emotion and depth to the mc off the bat. Also a bit about what the POV character is doing in the scene. Before we knew that clearly upfront, now we have to wait a bit, and it's helpful to know in the scene. Maybe move the part about the POV character seeing her at the funeral to earlier. :)

    I'm also unsure sometimes who's talking. So I would suggest to be clear with the action beats.

    Whether internal, external, or both, I need a response to this line: “Has no desire to have her teach me anything.” It will really ramp up the tension.

    I'm excited to see the next revision.