Sunday, April 21, 2019

1st Five Pages April Workshop - Jolley Rev 2

Name: Mary Jolley
Genre: YA Magical Realism


After their mother dies, Serena Saltvik—a sixteen-year-old with an aversion to fish—and her sister, Elin, move from Utah to Denmark to build a new home and family with their estranged father.

Her father’s enemies—wearing sealskins and looking like Marines—kidnap Elin. Serena resolves she will do anything to rescue the sister she loves. To get Elin back, Serena must leave the comforts of dry land to find the vand—a mysterious group of underwater dwellers.

Serena finds more than just her sister. She finds the exasperating Nix, who shows her a society living in an ocean ravaged by her father’s mining company. If she cannot uncover her father’s secrets and stop the mining barge, the vand will die, and she with lose the new home she never could have imagined.

From the cottage on the cliffs of Denmark to the grand halls of the sea kingdom, this is a sweeping story about a young woman who must decide where she belongs, and if she’s willing to sacrifice her future and her freedom to stop her father’s deep sea mining operation from destroying her friends.


The ocean roared against the cliffs, calling to me. The squawking of birds filtered over the plateau to the cottage. Even though my sister, Elin, was eleven months older, I led out on our bikes. I was five inches taller and hewn from stronger material. Lean muscle, lithe, and athletic.

And I knew where I was going.

The beach I’d seen last night on Dad’s brief Faroe Island tour beckoned to me. A narrow strip of black beach nestled among the crags. I wanted to stand where sea meets land—where two worlds collide.

We pedaled away from the whitewashed cottage, past Hardrada Energy, Dad’s mining company. The steel buildings looked like alien invaders among the sleepy pastures. The main gate of the company compound opened as we approached. I enjoyed a false sense of escaping, even though I was still stuck on this island, in Dad’s custody now.

I took the curving road south along the rugged coastal cliffs. We passed verdant pastures and red and white houses, but few cars. Far out to sea, Dad’s mining barge looked like a toy boat surrounded by a world of shimmery navy. The wind woke me, and the pounding of my legs brought me back to myself.

“Slow down, Serena,” Elin called from five yards behind me.

I did. For a minute.

Growing up in landlocked Utah, I hadn’t been to the coast. Mom never took us to the ocean. Ever. Yesterday, seeing the deep beauty, I thought maybe she stayed away because the memories were too painful. But today, for the first time in my life, I would touch the ocean.

We rode for two miles along the cliff before I found a path that looked like it led down to the shore. I stopped in front of a handwritten sign that read, Beware the beach below. Danger. Danger of what? I wanted to see this beach. Find out why I couldn’t stop thinking of that strip of black sand I had seen from the cliffs last night. I stood in front of the sign, blocking it from view. I would be careful.

Scowling and panting, Elin rolled to a stop. “I’m ready to turn around.”

“Just down this path a little ways. Then we’ll take a rest before heading straight back.”

She wiped at a thin layer of sweat on her brow, tucking a blonde strand behind her ear. “Fine.”

The path turned to packed dirt and shifted steeply down as it cut into black cliffs. Exhilarated by the beauty, I loosened the brakes and flew. Elin whooped behind me. She cheered when having fun. When we went sledding, she was the loudest on the mountain. People flocked to her for it. I enjoyed the pleasure in silence—that made the riot bigger inside my chest.

At the bottom of the cliffs, the path ended abruptly at a swath of small rocks. I slammed my brakes and skidded to the side. Elin wasn’t so quick. She hit the gravel.

 “Whoa!” Her wheels twisted and stopped with a jerk. She jumped off as the bike slid to the ground.

Well, we found the danger. “Nice move.” My heart thrummed. “You okay?”

“Banged my leg.” She panted and grimaced as she surveyed her scratched shin and red knee. “It hurts.”

Elin didn’t like pain.

I couldn’t see any deep cuts. No broken bones. She’d just have to be tough. I wasn’t turning back. Not when we were so close.

I picked up her bike. Flat tire. Rats.

“I didn’t want to bike home anyway,” she said. “Call Dad.”

Last night Dad had given us a local service flip phone since our smartphones didn’t have international calling yet. I pulled it out of my sports bra and wiped off the sheen of sweat. “No service.” I flipped it closed.

“We can try again up on the main road.” She looked up. “Out of this canyon.” The path back disappeared between towering rock faces. The way forward was a jumble of massive boulders. She winced dramatically as she hobbled to her feet.

“First, we are checking this out.” I left the bikes and started for the crack of blue visible between massive rocks lining the path. Sneakers crunched on sharp gravel. Protective Plexiglas covered the sheer face of a slanting boulder. Engravings etched the black basalt rock underneath, the familiar swirls and braids indicative of Viking carvings snaked around four detailed images.

“So sick,” I said, my voice eager. I pressed my hands over the glass, wishing I could trace the curves and slashes with my fingers. I loved myths, Norse most especially. There was the Yggdrasil, the world tree. Crude animals and weapons surrounded it. The symbol for Rán, goddess of the sea.

“What’s that?” Elin pointed to an icon depicting a scaly fish with shark teeth and human arms.

“The Vikings believed mermaids patrolled these waters,” I said. “They made sacrifices to the wave maidens for safe passage.” I studied the joining of human limb and fish tail. This was so cool. “I’ve read stories they sacrificed their own children.”

“Who would do that?” Elin asked, wrapping her arms around her ribs.

I shrugged. “The sea creatures were suppossedly brutal and merciless. Fear and supersition make people do unspeakable things.” I pointed to a serpent coiled around a mutant fish, his mouth opening and devouring the human head. “Check that out.”

“I think they had island fever,” Elin said, with her grossed-out face.

My chuckle died when I fixed on a crude drawing of the male fish-person holding hands with a woman, his tail twisted around her legs. Usually it was the men who were enchanted by sea-maidens—and then subsequently drowned. I didn’t know any stories where women were beguiled by the sea. But I wanted to read them.

Elin turned from the ancient art, and I reluctantly followed. We emerged from the canyon a short distance later. The beach.

The gravel turned to fine black sand. The soothing sound of lapping waters rolled over the secluded cove. To the left, boulders jumbled down into the waves, creating hidden pockets.

“It’s perfect,” I said. I could see how Vikings believed exotic creatures existed under this mysterious blue expanse. I almost did, too. It was fun to pretend anyway.

“Beautiful,” Elin said with a swoon. “And so much bigger in real life.”

Shoes and socks dropped to the sand, and I ran down the middle of the beach. When I hit the water, I jerked to a stop, my teeth slamming. The sweat on my skin turned to ice. I fisted my hands. Mom’s diamond ring on my pinky, hewn from sea coral, dug into my skin. Elin cautiously approached and stuck in a toe. She shrieked and retreated.

I stood, ankle deep, and threw out my arms. The frozen froth, salty air, and crystalline beauty awoke something deep inside. The mysterious ocean glimmered like liquid jewels. I was alive—for the first time in two months.

Since that police officer had shown up at our door.

The sea spray kissed my skin, sending electricity skidding across it. My heart beat with the rhythm of the waves. My hair had fallen loose of my braid, and it danced with the wind. Time and sorrow faded. This vast expanse was my soul—dark, frozen, and churning. I wanted to wrap up in the brine and stroke through the mysterious waters.

With wicked delight and full of freedom, I gave into the wild urge gripping me. I let go of my worries, my grief, and let the strange magnetic pull of the ocean have me. Arms over my ears and hands together, I leapt forward and dove headfirst into a small cresting wave.

The sea welcomed me.

Blood retreated to my heart as cold encased me. I resisted the urge to rocket to the surface. Instead, I waited, listening to the crackle of tiny creatures. I’d been in a thousand swimming pools, but this was a different experience completely. This was—I wasn’t even sure. But I loved it. Needed it. Eyes closed, I floated in numbing emptiness. The waves rocked me like a cradling mother.

“SER-EEE-NA!” Water muffled Elin’s panicked screams.

Icy pain snapped me from my fantasy. I was the fastest sixteen-year-old swimmer in the western United States, but my limbs were sluggish and slow. Anxiety rose as reality broke through my reverie. What had I been thinking jumping into the ocean like that? Fighting paralysis, I jolted out of the water.

Elin, stricken and white, stood ankle-deep in the ocean, her arms reaching for me. “What happened?”

Stiff as frozen fish, I shuffled up the shore. “It’s colder than it looks.”

“You jumped?” Her voice had gone dangerously high as her warm finger wrapped my forearm.

“It was dumb.” But wonderful. The ocean invited me back even now. I would return another day, when I had a towel and a ride home.

“Yes, it was.” Her nostrils flared, and her tone mimicked Mother’s when she was angry.

My chattering teeth were my only reply.

Her face softened. “Let’s get you home before you freeze.”

Home. Dad’s unwelcoming cottage mocked the word. Elin led the way toward the path in the rocks. I hesitated, looking over my shoulder for one last look at the beautiful blue.

The wind shifted. I inhaled and then breathed again—trying to hold the delicious smell. Pineapple, thyme, and clean skin. What was that? I gulped down each whiff of the tantalizing swirls, failing to find the source. The scent wrapped me like an embrace, stirring up the desire to be kissed, before dissipating. Feeling as though I’d lost something valuable, I shuffled up the beach.


  1. So uhhh after reading the pitch, I’ve GOT to read the rest! It sounds SO COOL. You’ve got all the makings of a complex and rich plot, and you have the beautiful writing and voice to back it up. I LOVE Norse mythology and this is such a unique idea!

    One small tip for the pitch: maybe include a line about how Serena discovers this kingdom and finds a place that feels like home for the first time since her mother died. You allude to her feeling of belonging amongst the Nix with that line “or she could lose the new home she never could have imagined”, but I think you could be more explicit about what the underwater kingdom means to her so that the last line with the stakes packs more punch.

    The pages are really great. I love your description, your characterization, your world building. You do it all without making it sound info dumpy and you really get us to care about your characters from the start. I’m in love with this story and I really hope to read more of it one day. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d ever like to swap pages or need a beta reader (paigewyatt55 at gmail dot com). Good luck!

  2. Hi Mary, Wow! Your pitch is wonderful and makes me long to read the whole story. The sea kingdom and the vand are intriguing, and the stakes are so high. You have the reader rooting from the beginning for Serena to overcome her father's destructive mining activities. And I like the "exasperating" Nix already!

    Your pages are rich with description, and I like how you expanded a bit on the mythology. Mentioning in your pitch how the story takes the reader to Denmark ties it all together so well. I know I'm hooked! I noticed you changed Elin's crash a bit to make her appear from vulnerable--Elin doesn't say she is fine in this revision. This ramps up the protectiveness that Serena has towards her. Well done.

    Your writing sings. Best of luck--I look forward to seeing Black Bay on the shelves.

  3. From our agent mentor Karly Caserza:

    First, thank you for being brave and sharing your work. It's a scary thing to open a piece of your heart for critique. Second, remember that this industry is completely subjective. Opinions will clash, advice will contradict. Do what's best for your story and stay true to your art and heart.

    Your pitch is wonderfully clear. I immediately know who the main character is, the main story arc, and the decisions she’ll have to make.

    Sample Pages:
    Your main character’s voice is strong, and you’ve done a wonderful job balancing narration with dialogue. I felt the movement, the wind, the water. You also embed character building within the storyline wonderfully (the way she led her sister, her eagerness and fearlessness while biking and swimming, her love for mythology). And the ending left me curious. Well done!

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  5. Hi Mary. What a joy to read your final revision! It's improved so much, especially in hooking me and wanting me to read more. Wonderful descriptions--I can almost feel the sea. Love your world-building, I think I can learn a thing or two from just reading your pages.

    Your pitch sounds very interesting and packed with action--looking forward to seeing your book on the selves!

  6. Comments by L. E. Sterling:

    Mary, I really think you have such a unique premise for a novel here -- and your opening pages (and your pitch!) set the scene so well. The ocean scene -- so pivotal to what will take place later -- is really powerful in this version, and I love that you play with whether the narrator is facing something supernatural or engrained in herself. And I absolutely love the carving of the merman and the human woman -- this is a lovely touch of foreshadowing!

    Maybe consider making this detail jump out a bit more for the reader -- does the human girl look like the narrator? Long hair? Shape of the eyes or nose? Braided coronet? What does the merman look like? She seems to have a pretty big reaction to this carving but can you make it stand out more? Does a shiver run up her spine? Does she get a weird sense of familiarity? Or is it just excitement? Does she think: I wish this was me?

    Finally, this unique opening poses a unique challenge to you as the writer in that you’ll really need to establish your narrator’s motivations firmly in these opening pages. Is she a character driven by stories (that will later come to life) or is she motivated by knowing things? This is a pivotal distinction -- as yours will be a novel driven by the character’s motivations -- so it’s one you will need to answer immediately for the reader.

    Love this! Brava!

  7. Pitch: Oh my goodness, I adore the pitch! Nice job working the voice in there. The general premise reminds me of the TV show "Siren" on Freeform. The second paragraph is a little on the wordy side (especially the middle section) and could be condensed to save space for elaboration in other areas. Specifically the stakes at the end could use some clarification--how does giving up her future and freedom stop her father's mining?

    Pages: Gorgeous, mesmerizing, enthralling! All the good things! The only thing that pulled me out was the second sentence in the first paragraph. I suppose the sounds don't technically clash because one is in her head/metaphorical, but the visuals clashed having both auditory descriptions and very different kinds of sounds. I'd go with a different sense for the second sentence or cut it all together (personally, I'd cut, it flows better). Excellent work on this revision, I love all the subtle backstory cues, they fit in the moment beautifully!

    Good luck with this story, I look forward to seeing it in print one day! (If you ever want to swap beta reads, email me: