Sunday, July 21, 2019

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Sova Rev 2

Name: Jericho Sova
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Thriller
Title: The Lates Society


Twenty-five years ago, the tiny town of Autumn was rocked by a serial killer. In all,  seven victims were killed in a brutal, ritualistic fashion that included signs of alchemy. But then the murders just stopped. 

Now, as Percival Wolfsbane is trying to finish his first year at Autumn University, the killer comes back. At first, Percival wants nothing to do with the murder case or the gossip surrounding it. But that all changes when he meets Lilith, a smart, mysterious woman, who lives in a graveyard. She has a few theories about the killer. She just needs Percival’s assistance to prove them.

Agreeing is Percival’s first mistake, as he soon discovers Lilith is hiding some dark secrets of her own. Her father is a mad scientist and the number one murder suspect. She looks exactly like her dead aunt and, at times, doesn’t even seem human. The more Percival digs into the mystery, the less things make sense. But one thing becomes certain. The killer doesn’t like Percival’s investigation. And after an attempt is made on his life, Percival is left with a choice: trust Lilith or take his chances on his own.

Chapter 01

It was a cold day in Autumn, and the leaves were turning blood red. 

"I don't know what happened," Percival heard someone say as he sat on a bench overlooking the courtyard. "It's too early to tell if it was him." 

Having been gone for a month, Percival didn’t know who they were talking about, and normally he wouldn't have cared anyway. Campus gossip was something he preferred to ignore. But today there was a tone to the conversation that Percival didn't like. A certain kind of fear was behind that other student’s voice; a fear mixed with reverence. And looking around, Percival caught the same dreadful unease in other people as well. It was hiding in the way a woman was rushing to her car before the sun set, swimming in the wide-eyed gazes of two passing professors, and flaring up in the cigarette of a man smoking in the library gazebo. The fear was everywhere, permeating the campus like a disease.

And yet, Percival tried to ignore it. He told himself it was just his nerves and a byproduct of dealing with his brother’s death. Since the accident, Percival had been ignoring a lot of things. He found it easier than dealing with the pain. Instead of asking what was wrong, he flipped his notebook to a math problem he’d been working on and focused on solving it. 

This one, however, was a nightmare. He’d been working at it for three solid hours, and the only thing he had accomplished were a few eraser marks and one bat-winged smiley face with fangs drawn in the upper corner of the page. 

Now, he concentrated on the problem and tried willing the numbers to fall into place. But they were obstinate things and refused to listen. Everything he attempted failed to work. 

Frustrated, Percival slammed the notebook closed and shoved it into his pocket. Then the clock tower clanged announcing the time as six o'clock. Percival’s stomach grumbled, and he made his way toward the cafeteria. As he crossed the courtyard, a rush of cold air swept through the valley, tearing leaves off their branches. One leaf danced its way around his head and landed in his untamed black hair. He shook the leaf out and continued on, while somewhere in the distance police sirens screamed.

After the buzz going on outside, the Autumn U cafeteria had all the excitement of a well-kept mausoleum. The walls were a beaten dull gray; the floors a coffin wood brown. People shuffled from one food kiosk to the next like zombies while they waited for their share of sizzling mystery meats and blighted vegetables.  

Percival made himself a salad and found an isolated table in the back. While he ate, he refused to look at the math problem as a matter of principle. It had already given him enough trouble as it was and adding indigestion to the mix wasn’t going to help.
He had been content to eat alone, but when Benjamin’s tray clattered onto the table, causing him to jump, Percival found he was glad to have some company. And Benjamin was good company. Sure, he was somewhat odd, but he was a friendly face, and since the accident, those were scarce. 

"You scared the hell out of me," said Percival.

Benjamin sat down and examined a slice of pizza for defects. He was gangly and thin with unkempt straw-colored hair and thick framed glasses. If he were a bit less animated, he might have made for a good-looking scarecrow. 

"Nice to see you too,” he said. “When did you get back?" 


"And you didn't call? I'm hurt."  

"I don't even have a phone. Mine was on my brother’s account."
Benjamin’s smile faded. "I’m sorry. If there was anything I could have done."

A familiar sense of loss rose in Percival’s stomach. He shoved the feeling back down and forced a grin. “It’s fine. Besides, what was it your favorite author said? ‘Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt?’”

“Too true. Now let me be the first to welcome you back to Autumn U, or as the shirts say Au, the gold standard.”

Percival took a bite of his salad. “It’s good to be back. And maybe you can tell me what I’ve been missing.” 

Benjamin tore a burnt section of his pizza off, flicked it away, and bit into the pizza’s other side. “You mean you haven’t heard,” he said around a mouthful of cheese. “The Triangle Killer's come back." 

Percival nearly choked on a black olive. He had heard about the killer. Everyone in Autumn had. It was the campus ghost story, the thing seniors told freshmen to keep them up at night. There were seven original victims, if he remembered correctly. Each one had their hands chopped off and placed on either side of their head. Signs and symbols were cut into the flesh, the most notable of which were triangles sliced into the victim’s palms. Last of all, the victim's blood was used to write cryptic messages. No one ever figured out what the messages meant, and the killings stopped after a few weeks.  

"Are they sure it's the Triangle Killer," said Percival. "I mean that was what, twenty years ago?”

"Twenty-five,” said Benjamin. “And no, the police haven't confirmed anything yet. But I was talking to someone on the force, and she says it's definitely the killer.”

“How does she know?”

“Something to do with the symbols used. She was kind of cagey on the details.” Benjamin leaned in close. “And you want to know the best part? I think this might be supernatural.”

Percival rolled his eyes. Here it went again. Benjamin’s second greatest fault. His first was his fondness for breaking into places he shouldn’t be, but followed closely behind that was his desire to make everything paranormal. In his world, Occam’s razor could be summed up in three words. Ghosts or aliens. 

“You can't be serious,” said Percival. 

Benjamin shrugged. “Look, the original killings stopped when that fire happened over at Lates Hall. Someone died in that fire. Do you see how these things add up?”

“No, not at all.”

“Obviously, whoever died in the fire was the original murderer, and now they’ve come back to finish the job.”

Percival rubbed his forehead. This attempt at logic pained him. “Oh my God. How many times have I told you correlation is not causation?”

"Look, twenty-five years is a long time to go between murders. And to come back without missing a beat seems supernatural to me."

"Twenty-five years is not that long," said Percival. "If the killer started when they were twenty, they'd only be forty-five now. It’s more likely the killer’s just… come back."

“Don’t you mean come back from the dead? There is no way you’re going to convince me this isn’t supernatural.”

“Nothing is ever supernatural. There’s just things we know and things we haven’t figured out yet.”


  1. Jericho,

    This is an intriguing pitch! I'd definitely want to read more to find out about the mysterious Lilith. A couple of small things about the pitch itself: 1) Is it really alchemy you're looking for? 2) If it's fall semester (the turning leaves), I wouldn't say Percival is trying to "finish" his first year. Seems like it would just be starting.

    It's been a pleasure watching this piece evolve as you've revised and polished in response to feedback. The pace is much improved, and I love the addition of the triangles in the victims' palms and other small bits you've incorporated (I'm a fan of the black olive instead of grape).

    Thinking back to the original version, I'm truly impressed with how far this has come.

    A couple of tiny things:

    1) "Having been gone for a month" Could you make it clear he was gone because of his brother's accident? If not explicitly stating that yet, maybe he "missed a month"--something to differentiate it from a scheduled break.

    2) Benjamin’s smile faded. "I’m sorry. If there was anything I could have done." <- That second sentence sounds a little stilted. Does he mean something to prevent the accident? Something to help Percival get through?

    3) Could the "someone on the force" be more specific? I just wonder if a person on the case would share ANY detail with a random college student. But if Benjamin had a connection..."My sister's old roommate is working the case, and..." Something along those lines.

    I really like the correlation/causation addition.

    I hope some of my thoughts have been helpful, and I wish you great success as you begin the challenging submission process.

    All best,


  2. It's difficult to judge on such a small amount, but my first thought was that you were trying to hard to be clever in the opening sentence (the word play surrounding "Autumn"). How does Benjamin know it's the Triangle killer if it was too early to say moments ago? I am already suspicious of him!


  3. Hi Jericho, thank you for posting your revision!

    Your pages have improved even more since last revision. Very interesting beginning and I definitely would want to read more.

    I'm not sure about the first line (I do like the sinister atmosphere of "leaves were turning blood red") but I still prefer you'd start with the dialogue :).

    "dreadful unease" - just say unease ("dreadful" is a bit overkill)

    ‘Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt’ quote, in my view, doesn't really fit in here. It's jarring as part of their conversation. I suggest dropping it.

    ..."or as the shirts say Au, the gold standard” would be better as part of Percival's inner monologue, unless Benjamin says it ironically – in that case, emphasize that.

    Changing “The Triangle Killer's come back" to "The Triangle Killer is back" will read punchier.

    The addition about the fire is brilliant and a perfect way to explain Benjamin's insistence on the supernatural stuff.

    Regarding pitch: overall it's ok, it's got the right structure/parts, but could benefit from finessing in order to be irresistible. Some specific suggestions:

    Opening lines are super important! It's totally fine to start with the murders/serial killer, however in the first sentence ("Twenty-five years ago, the tiny town of Autumn was rocked by a serial killer"), I'd replace "serial killer" with "a series of ritualistic murders" and then fine-tune the rest of the paragraph accordingly. I'm not sure what do you mean by "signs of alchemy". Do you mean alchemical symbols? Also, unless you go any deeper into the alchemical connection in the rest of the query, I'm not sure it makes sense to reference it here. Just say "mysterious/sinister symbols"? I'd also mention the bit about the killer coming back in the end of the first paragraph - that would be a nice segue into the "present times" part of the pitch.

    In the second paragraph you'd need to do a bit more to establish Percival's motivations. For example, when you say, "At first, Percival wants nothing to do with the murder case or the gossip surrounding it", it's not clear why would he be expected to be involved in the murder case in the first place? (That's how it reads to me!) Can you say "wants to stay as far away as possible from the sinister rumors surrounding the murders". Also, when you first introduce him, you might want to mention that he's grieving for his late brother and just wants to lose himself to his studies. That would make him feel more as a real person.

    The circumstances of his meeting Lilith are not clear to me. Can you think of a better way to bring Percival and Lilith together? Why would she be asking for his assistance at all? Is he somehow connected to the murders? Why does he agree to help her since earlier we learn he doesn't want ANYTHING to do with the murders/investigation. I feel like he needs a strong personal stake at this point.

    The last part of the pitch would need to pack a bit more of a punch. Currently, the stakes are "trust Lilith or take his chances on his own" - but what does it mean exactly? I think you need to make it clearer why Percival gets involved and then imply he might be the next victim!

    A small note: it's better not to say "mad scientist" as it's a bit of a cliche and could be seen as offensive.

    I know there's a lot of feedback to take in but I really hope this is helpful to you. You have a VERY interesting idea but, instead of dancing around it, you'd need to say what this story actually is - is it about a secret society and some kind of immortal beings, right? If I'm correct, these could really be your points of strength in the query. Well done - you've done a lot of work and it really shows. Hope the workshop was of use to you!

  4. I like the pitch. Tells us what we need to know about the story.

    The Revision: The opening sentence sets the right tone for the story. “Blood red” leaves sets the right tone for a murder mystery. I would like to be grounded a bit more from the start. You capitalize Autumn in the opening line but that doesn’t identify it as a university. Maybe something like this would help: Percival had missed a month of classes while attending to his brother’s funeral. It was both comforting and jarring to be back at the university.

    Could be just personal taste but the prose gets a little purple with “swimming in the wild-eyed gazes”

    It wasn’t quite clear to me whether Percival thought there was really something weird or fearful going on around him or that he was overly sensitive because his brother had died. He says fear permeates the campus but then wonders if it’s true or his imagination. Later he mentions (mentally) there was a buzz going on outside but earlier he wasn’t even sure if there was something strange or not going on, perhaps only his imagination.

    I think you can drop ‘the attempt at logic pained him” Percival’s feeling is made very clear by his action and words.

    “A certain kind of fear” leaves me wondering how many kinds of fear there are and what kind this is. You can probably find a better way to describe what he’s feeling. Maybe something like “There was something odd about the conversation that made him uneasy.” I think you’d be better off describing people’s actions and words than suggesting fear was ‘hiding’ etc.

    His focus on math problems does a good job of showing how much he wants not to dwell on unpleasant things.

    You mention a valley. Perhaps that might be good to include earlier to put the reader in the setting more clearly.

    “You scared the hell out of me” seems a bit strong. I would think he might be startled but no more. Otherwise, the conversation between Percival and Ben feels natural.

    I don’t think the line “Don’t you mean come back from the dead? There is no way you’re going to convince me this isn’t supernatural.” adds anything to the conversation. Try reading those last few lines without that line and see if it sounds better to you.

    All in all, good editing and a good beginning to what I’m sure is an entertaining, engaging story.

  5. Hi Jericho!

    Your pages have gotten so much stronger and I really enjoyed them once again--especially the banter between Percival and Benjamin (the correlation vs. causation amused me).

    My comments are mostly to do with the pitch, which I feel was good but could be made even stronger.

    1) I think it'd be nice if the first line could be changed from the passive voice to active. It would be a pretty easy restructuring to say "ritualistic murders rocked the tiny college-town of Autumn."

    2) I agree with comments I've seen that "signs of alchemy" is vague. I'd rather know something more specific, like about the carvings on the bodies. I also think you could take out the second sentence and just have the detail about there being "seven ritualistic murders" in the first line.

    3) In the second paragraph, I feel like I'd like some more detail about Percival (although I know it's tough since the pitch has to be short). Still, I don't know why Percival has such an aversion--is it because of his brother? Perhaps you could say, "Still recovering from the death of his brother, Percival has no patience for his fellow students' gossip." The main detail I'd like to know though is why Lilith needs Percival's assistance. Is it because of something he knows about math? Or something about his brother's death? Whatever it is, I think adding it in the pitch would help us understand why Percival is the protagonist of this story.

    I hope my comments are helpful and I've enjoyed participating in this workshop with you!


  6. Hi Jericho

    Wow! Honestly, I don’t have much to say. This is all looking in great shape  The pitch is great, I love that you get straight to the plot, we know who the antagonist is, and the stakes are pretty clear.

    With the pages, I think it is worth clarifying in the first sentence that Autumn is a city/town, or a university, so people don’t think he is talking about the season straight away. If you just say Autumn University, that’ll clear it up.

    Also still not quite sure what is ominous or invokes fear in a man lighting a cigarette, which seems a pretty normal behaviour, or what he’s talking abiut when he says his phone is on his brother’s account.

    The only other thing I was going to mention was that you could tighten the clock tower sentence by deleting ‘announcing the time’.

    Great work, can’t wait to see this published one day 