Sunday, March 17, 2019

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Crockett Rev 2

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


Lady Margaté wants to ruin Jinxx’s life. Not make it uncomfortable, but send the fourteen year-old seamstress and apprentice mage begging for coins in the street. As Baroness-in-Waiting, Margaté can do whatever she desires, and she believes Jinxx’s family is responsible for her father’s death.

Jinxx is hired by Margaté’s mother to make Margaté a quinceañera dress. While working in the castle, Jinxx discovers a hidden, enciphered note. After breaking the code, she realizes Margaté’s appetite for vengeance is worse than she imagined: Margaté anonymously accused the local priest of molesting Jinxx. 

As word of the accusation spreads, people think the priest is innocent, but Jinxx is immoral. The priest doesn’t believe Margaté is behind the accusation, even after Jinxx shows him the note. Nor does a second one convince him, but Jinxx knows Margaté isn’t going to stop at an accusation: her next step will be violent. 

Reliant on crutches, Jinxx is the worst sneak in the world and a dreadful liar. She has one advantage: her secret magic studies. If she can learn how to cast a spell—any spell—she might be able to prove she’s innocent and Margaté is guilty.


Rules are important. Without them, you have people strutting into houses of worship with hands on their sword hilts. It’s not a rule anybody ever wrote, because everybody knows to never do it.

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 beyond words.

Pra Traceu rushes down the choir stand and nearly knocks poor Hope Eternyl down. “Lady Margaté.” 

Lady Margaté Sesedo Tucánrarin Dogualfse, heir to the Barony Naserys.

He bows. Then everybody does the same, except me. I’m sitting, because I can’t stand for a whole choir practice. Nevertheless, I bow my head and say, “Your excellency.”  

Why is she back now? I thought she’d be away at whatever fancy academy she attends until she inherits her father’s title at seventeen. She’s my age, fourteen.

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

“We would be honored to have you join us, your excellency, but you’re attired inappropriately,” Pra Traceu says. “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 carry a sword? People haven’t dueled for a century. “I’ll stay today and listen. My mother wrote me last year and told me you were bringing cantes into the temple. It’s as dreadful an idea as the modern reforms. But she insists I participate.”

“So you’re aware Lady Sesedo 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 answers. 

“I’m aware of my mother’s choices,” she says. “Don’t expect that I’ll continue that support once I inherit my title. This experiment in theological democracy ends in three years.”

“With respect, Lady Margaté, I sought Lady Sesedo’s approval as a courtesy. I’m serve by the Deóm Siódossio’s grace, not your family’s. Should you disapprove, you may join another faith community. From now on, if you wish to enter the Temple, you must leave your weapons at home.” 

Pra Traceu is possibly the nicest person I’ve ever met, so he doesn’t say this with 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 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 reformists like the Deóm 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 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 Melesda can 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. There’s no way she knows who I am, but I can’t help but check on my crutches, as if instead of Pra Traceu, she’s staring at them or my patched and threadbare dress. Perhaps she hears my belly complain about eating nothing but some olives and a slice of bread today.

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,” she hisses.

How could she know who I am?

I pull my crutches between my legs, imagining how I’d use them to fend off her sword. I might be tiny and a cripple, but it doesn’t mean I’m not strong.

Pra Traceu moves between us. “Let’s try again. I’m so close to getting this.”

I nod and push myself to focus on the rhythm. Soon, Lady Margaté’s terrible clapping mostly fades from my mind.

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 chess game with a kitten in my lap. 

Lady Margaté 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’s, she scowls at me like a bull threatening a fallen picador.

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

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


  1. Solid pitch. We have our conflict and our stakes. I was a little unsure on why the mention of her being a bad liar or sneak had anything to do with the pitch since it doesn't seem like sneaking or lying are needed for her to get out of her situation. That's really the only little thing that didn't work for me; however, it does make for a nice transition to the magic.

    The first paragraph holds the suspense now of the boy-not boy surprise. I wonder if there should be some very subtle hint toward magic since it is mentioned in the pitch, but I didn't get that feel in the first chapter. I don't know that it is needed here, but I imagine it probably should be hinted in the early part of the book (which you may do already).
    It appears as though you've been able to incorporate the previous suggestions from the mentors well and it shows. This reads smooth and you have a better balance between MC and villain. Excellent start!

    1. Thanks for your comments throughout, Tim. They've been much appreciated. Although not as much as those awesome pages you've presented. Get that published soon!

  2. Pitch: Good pitch that shows us the story and motivation, as well as stakes. A little transition between paragraphs would help smooth it out. For example, between paragraph 1 and 2, you could use a "but when Jinxx is hired..." and then in that same line even add "she discovers..." I felt like the reference to the note being enciphered and decoding it were unnecessary here. When you mention her being a bad sneak and liar, is this to mean that she's trying to use those skills to uncover proof against Margarte or something but can't, so has to use magic? I think there's some connection you're drawing but it isn't showing up in the pitch.

    Nice job on the revision! The flow is so much smoother, and the order of events is easy to follow. My main thought is I'd like to see a bit more of the tone here (since it will become magical). Overall, nice job!

    1. Thanks for all of your Comments, Sammi. They've all be really good.

      I'm excited to see how far your pages have come…and to see the final version when it gets published. Good luck!

  3. Pitch:

    The first paragraph is great! In fact, it’s so great, I’d love some hint of it in the first five pages, since it would go a long way in explaining the conflict between Jinxx and Margate. I did find the second paragraph confusing—how does accusing the priest fit in with Margate’s plans for revenge, unless she specifically knows people will automatically assume the priest is innocent and that Jinxx is immoral? Why accuse the priest and not Jinxx herself? It seems like a really round-about way to seek revenge, and so much of the plot revolving around a false (I think?) accusation is raising some red flags for me. Then again, maybe Margate’s plot revolves around knowing her society will blame the girl (Jinxx) and assume the man (the priest) is innocent. As it is now, I don’t feel like there’s quite enough information to understand this as Margate’s big act of revenge.


    I LOVE the tweaks you made to the opening lines. It keeps up the suspense about the boy’s identity, and gives us a bigger reveal when we realize it’s a girl. Overall, this section moved really smoothly. My only thought, having read the pitch, is that Margate could be more antagonistic toward Jinxx earlier on. If she’s here to cause Jinxx grief, let that be her sole mission. The line “Has no desire to have her teach me anything,” is a fabulous clue, but I think you could have this sort of thing show up a little earlier and happen more often. That’s about it for notes. I loved the line “When I force my eyes back to hers, she scowls at me like a bull threatening a fallen picador,” and overall, this is reading really wonderfully!

    1. Thanks so much for your insightful critiques. Each round, you've given me fantastic feedback.

      If you don't mind a question (I'm not sure how much we're supposed to ask them), something I'm struggling with in the query is that Jinxx is wrong about who is behind the notes. She reasonably believes Margaté is behind it (Margaté loathes Pra Traceu's reforms as much as she hates Jinxx), but she misread a piece of evidence. However, that doesn't come out until the last act.

      I'm not sure how to balance what Jinxx thinks for 3/4s of the book—Lady Margaté is murderously evil—with the reality that Margaté is a reckless bully, but isn't going to do something criminal.

    2. Hi London,

      I want to be really honest because your work is so engaging and I want you to get that “yes” from an agent. With everything coming to light in the real world about predatory behavior (in Hollywood, for example, but not only) I have some wariness about a manuscript centering around a false accusation. I think that kind of narrative can contribute to the belief that accusations are false more often than not, and if I were an agent that would give me pause about requesting pages. That said, I’m not an agent and this is one person’s opinion. It could also be that the accusation turns out to be true, or that there’s a lot of nuance to the situation that’s difficult to fit into the query. I do have some ideas about how to tackle that, and address your concerns about Margaté not actually being the one to make the accusation:

      “Lady Margaté wants to ruin Jinxx’s life. Not make it uncomfortable, but send the fourteen year-old seamstress and apprentice mage begging for coins in the street. As Baroness-in-Waiting, Margaté can do whatever she desires, and she believes Jinxx’s family is responsible for her father’s death.

      When rumors start to fly that Jinxx is having an inappropriate relationship with the local priest, Jinxx is certain Margate is behind them. Going undercover as a seamstress at Margaté's castle, Jinx does her best to find answers, determined to clear her name and expose Margaté for the tyrant that she is.

      Reliant on crutches, Jinxx is the worst sneak in the world and a dreadful liar. She has one advantage: her secret magic studies. But when a spell reveals that Margate's life is being threatened by the same person who murdered her father, Jinxx must team up with her greatest enemy to save her kingdom, her reputation . . . and both of their lives.”

      Obviously, I’ve made some guesses toward the end, but I think this could take things in a direction that addresses your concerns. Hope this helps, and thanks for letting me read your work!

  4. Did you have a different title before?
    Something like Jinxx (last name) is a Liar and a Sneak.
    I know I'm wrong on the exact wording, but the name Jinxx has always stuff with me as a fav

    1. Very close! Jinxx Relinkerys is a Liar and a Thief. I scrapped that book after a very sharp writer friend of mine pointed out a bunch of problems, the most significant being that I didn't find the antagonist compelling, so neither did readers.

  5. I enjoyed the world and setting of these pages. It's not a common one, and it was good to see such an interesting cast of characters. And this set up lets us know there's a lot of conflict brewing, which is great.

    Your first paragraph of the pitch makes it sound like we should be expecting Margate to be the main character, but it's actually Jinxx. I'm also wishing the stakes were at the end. In the beginning, I don't care as much about the character as I do after getting to know her. If you attach us emotionally to her first, the stakes will be felt more when they're presented.

    I like the first paragraph about rules. I think it sets us up for what the story is going to be about. I do wish it said something about how rules affected (or didn't) the people who were too powerful to have them matter. I think that's the main conflict, and it would be great to see it.

    For the pages...
    I see a bit of telling and distancing language that is making your pacing lag a bit. Here's an example:
    When my eyes adjust, I gasp. [This is a great action response. It tells us they're shocked.] Everybody does. The boy isn’t a boy. It’s a girl in pants. [This tells us why they're shocked. You've done a brilliant job showing it.]

    Women don’t wear pants, and certainly not in temple. [This tells us what you've just shown. So it's telling and redundant.]

    Her only accommodation to modestly is a black scarf tossed over her hair. Otherwise, she looks like an idalgu freshly dismounted from a horse.

    Distancing language like I saw, I heard, I noticed, etc. should be taken out. Especially in first person, we should just have what they're seeing. Like her sword glistening in the light of the candles or whatever.

    I'd love to see more scents and setting here. Small details like what the inside of the temple looks like, how the people interact with it. Also, I feel a lack of noise. Does the sword belt clank and clunk irreverently when Margate lays it on the pews?

    Overall, you've got a great start! Bravo! ;)
    Heather Cashman

  6. Hi London,
    Regarding your pitch, I believe it's well structured overall, but I think you should introduce Margate and Jinxx first so we can get to know the characters better.
    As for your beginning pages, I've really enjoyed the tightened pacing, but I think there'd be room to add more magical elements so it feels more like fantasy rather than a contemporary story from a setting of hundreds of years ago. Also, you might want to check up on the publishing industry's ages for main characters. The last I heard from a year ago, publishers weren't wanting books with MC's that were 13-14 years old, so maybe you could make Margate 15 instead? Just a though.Overall good job, and good luck.

  7. My main critique for these opening pages is that I would still love Jinxx to be a bigger player in these opening scenes. In this version, we still don't have the inclination that this is written in first person POV until the fourth paragraph. I am wondering if maybe you're actually starting the story in the wrong spot. I know we need to get to the conflict between Margaté and Jinxx, but since Jinxx is the main character, I would love to just meet her first, independent of Margaté. Then perhaps ease into Margaté entering the scene when the readers already have a chance to connect with Jinxx first. :)

    I have a few thoughts on the pitch as well. :)
    in the opening paragraph, again, we get the sense that Margaté is going to be the main character. And throughout the pitch, Margaté is the character who is doing things (making accusations, ruining Jinxx's life, going after revenge, etc) while Jinxx is having things happen to her (being hired, being falsely accused, etc). Later in the pitch we learn really cool and unique things about her (she's a bad sneak, a terrible liar, and someone who uses magic!) So mu suggestion would be to rework this pitch so that Jinxx is seen as the main character (unless I'm totally off base and she's not at all!).

    So, I would try setting it up this way Jinxx, a fourteen year-old seamstress and apprentice mage wants (insert what she wants most). She can't have it because (reason she can't have it). So she decides to (what proactive action does she take in the story? Apply to be hired as a seamstress?) This backfires because (she uncovers a plot from the baroness-in-waiting to destroy her life by--all the specifics you mentioned, which a great story plot elements). In order to save her reputation and THE THING MENTIONED EARLIER THAT SHE WANTS MORE THAN ANYTHING, Jinxx will have to (what will she have to do?) because if she can't/doesn't then SUPER HIGH STORY STAKES!

    This formula will help to show some of those great plot elements that you have in there, but in a way that puts the main character at center stage. I wish you the best luck on your revision and in your journey to publication!

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  10. Testing. Sorry for the distraction.