Monday, March 4, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Crocket

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 it’s obvious that you never bring a sword into a temple or prayer house. I suppose it’s not formally a rule that girls don’t wear pants to worship, either, but everybody understands that when you come in the presence of the Lord, you cover your head and wear a skirt out of modesty and holy intent. I should say, everybody except Lady Margaté Sesedo Tucánrarin Dogualfse.

As an example, I clap out a 4/4 beat, like they use in temple music, for Pra Traceu. “See, the emphasis is on the third beat. One-two-THREE-four.” 

He laughs, “That much I know, Miss Jinxx. It’s the cantes and those twelve note rhythms. After two years, you’d think I could get it.”

I smile. I adore Pra Traceu. He’s so kind and smart, but, my gosh, he has less duende and rhythm than Doñita Mouse-Mouse, the temple cat. “One-two-THREE-four-five-SIX-seven-EIGHT-nine-TEN-eleven-TWELVE.” I go back to the bulería we’re working on, this time using my castanets and going as slowly as I can. 

As he mangles the beat and I repeat it to him, I listen for Melesda and Promysed. They’re the ones who figure out how to make these weird fusions of temple music and cantes work. Melesda’s smokey voice does a paso doble around Promysed’s crystalline tones until they reach the bridge. “The Truest Love is in the Lord” is one of the simplest temple songs Pra Traceu has decided to give a folk treatment to, but the bridge is impossible. 

Promysed trills it out in 12/12 time, but it’s perfunctory. As Promysed repeats it, Melesda sings under her, her hips moving like the Song Thrush, her skirt swishing on the three, six, eight, ten and twelve.

The other choir girls start to grin and Pra Traceu stops clapping. This is the moment where Melesda is going to show her Yngsano blood and make this work by wrapping her smoldering duende around Promysed’s technical precision.

The temple doors slam open. An hour before siesta, the light is almost blinding. 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 don’t think 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 gasps. 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 we all bow, except for me. I’m sitting, because I can’t stand for a whole choir practice. But 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, ever? People don’t have sword fights any more—not for a century, at least—and that was only men. “I’ll stay today and listen. My mother wrote me last year and told me you were trying to bring cantes into the temple. It seems like a dreadful idea, but I told her I’d give it a chance now that I’m home.”

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

She doesn’t answer right away Expressions and such isn’t my forte, but look she gives him is a challenge. 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 are free to join another faith community. Also, please note that from now on, if you wish to attend choir practice or services, you will need to 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.

She makes a face like she’s sucking on lemons, 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, Pra Traceu. 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, 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.” Pra Traceu returns to me and Promysed scrambles off to work with Melesda. 

“One-two-THREE-four-five-SIX-seven-EIGHT-nine-TEN-eleven-TWELVE.” I count it out loud, less for Pra Traceu than to distract myself from Lady Margaté, who is staring at him—and, because he’s standing next to my chair—me. It feels like she’s staring at me more than him. One reason I don’t like to meet new people is that they either stare at my crutches or avoid looking at them. But new people  don’t often gawk at me when I’m seated. My crutches are behind me, so I doubt Lady Margaté can tell I need them. I watch my castanets and multiply 123,456 times 654,321, which makes me lose track of the beat. I groan. 

Pra Traceu smiles at me. “Let’s start again.”


I glance at Lady Margaté and she’s silently clapping the rhythm, but she’s off, which throws me off. I stare at my boots.


  1. Fantastic dynamic between Lady Margate and Pra Traceu. I'm intrigued where this conflict is going, but I think you could benefit from getting into it a bit quicker. We seem to spend a lot of time on the music and the technical components behind it. As someone not well-versed in music vernacular, I felt lost in the first half of the piece. By lost, I couldn't picture everything that was happening and how it might relate to the second half of the piece.
    You created a likeable MC and the subtle introduction of her physical challenges plus admiration/intrigue/hesitation with Lady M was incredibly well done.

  2. Hi London, you have a good start! You have lots of great musical description to show you really know that world, but in the intro it feels a bit too much when I'm not sure what all the things mean. I'd suggest toning that down right away to give the readers time to connect with your characters and get oriented first. Also, while the first line is interesting, I was thrown off by what it meant since we go back in time after that before and then come to the part where Lady Margate makes her appearance. Love the descriptions you use as well as your voice. Good luck revising!

  3. I LOVE the opening paragraph. The image of a woman striding into the temple with a sword is so striking, and you introduce us to the narrator so well by illustrating her shock at such an occurrence. The next paragraph felt like it came out of left field though, since you jump from introducing the Lady to clapping out a beat for Pra Traceu. That wonderful thread, of a woman striding into temple armed, is lost. And it doesn’t return for several paragraphs.

    At first, I thought maybe you could tie it into the next sentence (something like” I was clapping out a 4/4 beat for Pra Traceu when she entered the temple”) but the tense makes this impossible. (My line is in past tense, your story is in present). That made me realize a larger issue: if the story is taking place in real time, how is your narrator introducing the Lady’s offenses before they actually happen?

    I think it might work better to have the first paragraph lead right into the Lady’s entrance, and then you can weave some of the lovely details about the song (and the way Melesda and Promysed’s voices blend together) after the entrance.

    I loved the descriptions of the different characters’ voices, and you immediately gave me a great sense for Pra Traceu. The Lady, too, came across quite strongly. Overall your imagery and descriptions are fabulous.

    I do think things could move along a little quicker, though. There were moments when I felt information was being repeated in different ways. “Melesda’s smokey voice does a paso doble around Promysed’s crystalline tones until they reach the bridge” is such a stunning line, I’m not sure you need the later one about Melesda wrapping her smoldering duende around Promysed’s technical precision.

    I also thought there was going to be a huge confrontation between the Lady and the people in the temple (the sword seemed to imply it) but there was no confrontation. In fact, she just wanted to join them. I admit to feeling a little let down because your opening was so strong and tension-filled. Clearly, there’s a disagreement between the Lady and your narrator, but I think that needs to come across much stronger in order to fit with the conflict the first paragraph implies. Otherwise, the Lady’s greatest offense really is her outfit, and everyone goes back to singing. Your language is beautiful and your characters leap from the page. A little tightening of the scene, and a lot more tension, will help to really make this shine.

  4. Hi London, I enjoyed reading your opening pages, and I'm intrigued by how you have women wearing swords but yet you also seemingly have it mandatory that women need to be wearing skirts. Time's have changed, but I'm just laughing at the visual of women wearing skirts with swords.
    Another thing I'd like to point out is to avoid clichés. "She makes a face like she’s sucking on lemons," for example. It's frowned upon for debut writers to use them. I also agree with the above comments, and good luck with your revisions.

  5. I love this opening line. It’s hilarious and sets a great tone for the story.
    The phrase “as an example” kind of throws me off. Because the entire next scene is an example, but the phrase indicates that what is written next will be the example. So I would suggest instead stating “Take the day I met her, for example.” Then we know the following scene will be the example.
    The first paragraph starts out being written in second person (you) then the story moves to first (I), which is fine, but make sure it’s a conscious choice.
    Also there are some sentences and phrases that seem to be getting a little cluttered with extra words. For example, we could clean this up a bit: Rules are important. Without them, you have girls strutting into houses of worship wearing pants and placing hands on their sword hilts. It’s not a written rule, because it’s obvious that you should never bring a sword into a temple or prayer house.
    Just to cut out some extra words. I would say perhaps trim a bit throughout to get it really tight. 
    I love the opening with the voice and the culture that’s being brought into the first scene. Very rich. But I need a little more setting. What’s the temple like? Can a few details be thrown in near the beginning to really help me picture where they are?
    Also, suddenly there are a lot of people in the scene, and I would like to know up front that the narrator is in the temple with a whole group of singers. At first it seems it’s just Pra Traceu, then it isn’t. So set that up so characters aren’t suddenly popping into the scene.
    You have beautiful musical and clothing details. I love them. A few more setting details would be great. Also, I need a bit more emotion from this main character here. We get a lot of the narrator’s thoughts, but I would love a bit more internal emotional reactions to things.
    Expressions and such isn’t my forte, but look she gives him is a challenge. This line is so wonderful. It tells me a lot about this character. And the last few paragraphs of this really start to pull stuff together. It's very intriguing, and I'd love to keep reading.

    So, a bit more emotion, and tightening of the words are my big suggestions for now. Happy revising!