Sunday, July 21, 2019

1st 5 Page July Workshop - Lowrey Rev 2

Name: Nicole Lowrey
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Beneath the Abyss
As a keen environmentalist, Laina just wants to be a climate scientist, like her dad. Until her life is flipped on end when searing heat fills her body and two stray dogs die at her touch. Desperate to control this strange magic before she hurts anyone else, she and her sister follow their dying dad’s instructions and make their way to the last home of magic—the fabled city of Atlantis.
But Atlantis is in the midst of a civil uprising. Humans who accidentally find the city are accepted, but forbidden to leave for fear they will expose the secret of Atlantis and magic to the world. A human rebellion is rising, recruiting an army of mythical creatures to strike against elitist Atlantian rule. When water dragons attack, Laina discovers her magic is linked to animals and she is the only one who can hear their thoughts.
As Laina uncovers a plot by the rebellion to steal one of the most powerful yet elusive creatures known on Earth, she must make a choice. Join the rebellion and turn on the city that gave her and her sister a home—or fight back, against her own kind and any chance at freedom.

First five pages:
Laina flinched as thunder rattled the windows in the lounge. Raindrops drummed against the windows louvers and she flicked them shut, clicking reload on her phone, again. Come on, come on.
Why wouldn’t the internet load? Maybe the storm was making it worse.
A text from Veronica appeared.
Got the email from school? Results are up.
Laina’s stomach rolled with the beans and rice she’d eaten that morning. She moved the phone around near the window, hoping to get a better connection.
Finally her inbox appeared. There were her mid-term biology results. She clicked on the email and scanned, looking for the result she’d been dreading all morning.
There it was.
Eighty-eight per cent.
Her chest sagged. Not the A she’d hoped for. She’d need ninety per cent to get into senior year bio. Higher to get into climate science at an Australian university, like her dad had done. A knot formed at the back of her throat. How would she break it to him? He’d been so thrilled when she’d told him her plans, to take her little sister Fiona to Melbourne and live and study there. That hinged on if she could make the marks for a scholarship. Unlikely, now.
She clicked back to her messages.
B+, you?
The phone pinged.
Three squiggled lines flashed across the screen. Another message came through.
Can I come over?
 Gritting her teeth, she tapped back.
Maybe later.
Laina pinched her eyes closed and wiped away the sweat brewing on her forehead. The summer heat in Mexico felt stifling. More humid than countries they’d lived in across the Pacific, or even South America. It’d be nice to live in the dry heat of Australia again, settle down in their home country and just stay there, not moving every year or so for their dad’s climate research. The traveling was fun, but making friends and starting school all over again sucked.
She cringed as thunder crashed again. If only she could hurl the ache in her heart into the clouds, watch it combust in an electrical flash. The storm was moving on, but there’d be another one later. There’d been nothing but rain all week. Right in the middle of dry season too, it was unheard of. Almost unnatural.
They’d had to cancel the school fundraiser for the drought relief efforts when rain washed the stalls out. Totally ironic.
Laina’s phone vibrated again. Fiona had messaged her from her bedroom down the hall.
Something’s burning.
Laina ran to the kitchen and swore. She’d been so in her head, she hadn’t even noticed. Thick smoke billowed in plumes as she opened the oven door, dragging out the sunken black carcass of her sourdough. A blast of heat smacked her in the face, like she hadn’t been sweating enough already. Smoke filled her nose and she sneezed and flapped her hand to fan it away.
Martha, their in-house nurse, appeared out of nowhere and slammed the oven door shut.
“Que haces niƱa? I told you to be careful when you left the stove on two days ago. You’ll smoke the house out. What about your poor father?”
Laina tensed, flicking her head towards his bedroom door. With it closed shut, no smoke would creep in. Thank god. The cancer was drawing the last of his energy. If she’d aggravated his lungs…
She didn’t dare think what could’ve happened.
“Let me clean up,” Laina said and followed Martha as she bustled to each window, opening the shutters wide.
Martha swatted her away. “I’ll fix it. Just make yourself useful somewhere else.”
Laina bit the inside of her cheek, blinking twice to stem angry tears. She couldn’t even handle the smallest things anymore, not even a damn loaf of bread. Her grades had slipped over the past couple of months. And to top it off, Fiona still wouldn’t talk to her. School had given her time off to help around the house, but how was she meant to keep up, missing all her lessons? There was no way she could look after Fiona, the house, and be everything her dad needed her to be. Not with a foster home looming ahead of them.
She chucked the smoking heap of charred dough in the bin. A new wave of anxiety kicked its way up her throat and she fought to keep it down. She’d cried enough this week.
All she wanted to do was burst into her dad’s bedroom, wrap him up in her arms and tell him she had it all figured out. She’d look after Fiona, study hard and make it work when he was gone. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t bear the disappointment in his eyes, knowing it wasn’t true.
The door to his room was splintering near the hinges, and needed a coat of paint. She’d meant to buy paint last week, but then got caught up when the water tank bust a leak again. It was hard enough keeping on top of the urgent jobs. Before he…
No, don’t think about it. Laina chewed on her lip until the tang of blood hit her tongue.
Martha swept up again like a belligerent sparrow and thrust a basket into her chest.
“You’ve been hanging around doing nothing all day. We need water and groceries. How can I make your dad’s dinner when we have no water?”
Laina dropped the basket to her feet. “I’m more useful here! And what if something happens to him while I’m out?”
“That’s why I’m here. Now go.” Martha bustled her to the door with a jab of the broom’s sharp bristles before she could protest. The door to Fiona’s room stood ajar and Laina dug her fingers around the wooden frame before Martha swept her outside.
Fiona sat against the wall, her knees curled into her chest, nose deep in a fantasy book. “Come with me,” Laina said, swallowing as her voice wavered. Fiona’s eyes lifted from her pages then dropped. So Fiona was still giving her the silent treatment. The worst part? She had no idea why.
Laina slammed the front door behind her and ran through the puddles, pulling her hood up over her head. She needed to get away, get far away from it all. Their cottage by the coast in Tulum was a short walk from everything. The market, the forest, the beach. Pelting down the dirt track, she slipped between timber posts and into the woods behind the line of bright homes. A soft breeze flicked at the tendrils of her hair, tickling against her flushed cheeks. She stopped when she reached her favourite spot, pressing her palm against the rough bark of a flame tree.
A patch of sunlight hit the leaves of the flame tree, setting them ablaze like crimson fire. Her heart swelled, looking at the way they glittered, catching the light. 
A blue-crowned motmot, one of her favourites, flitted down to land beside her, his plumage shining bright.

There was something strange about the birds here, like they were always drawn to her. A few weeks ago, a boy had thrown a stone at her. A flock of sparrows had swarmed him, swooping his face until he bolted off. Laina had nursed the smallest sparrow with a broken wing back to health. When she’d released the small bird, it had nibbled on her ear as if to say thank you. She’d seen him preening outside her bedroom window most days since.


  1. A very intriguing pitch! In fact, an awesome pitch! I would totally read a story with trapped humans siding with mythical creatures to gain their freedom from Atlantis...there's a start to your elevator pitch. The only thing I would say about the pitch itself is to cut the word "just". It's an unnecessary adverb. I'm not sure how the touch of death relates to her being able to hear mythical creatures. It seems very unrelated. I think you either need to make some sort of connection or have her possess one ability or the other.

    I still stand by my former comments regarding the ray of hope. I know you only have 5 pages, but if 5 pages are all you have with an agent you may very well lose the opportunity to show that there is hope. Ultimately, you're the author of this story and you have to follow your heart. However, my gut is still saying you have to give the reader something, some thread of hope that they can depend on that this story is not a pity party. It can be something soooo small. Like maybe Martha has been the only mother she's ever known. Or maybe Fiona resembles her mother and it reminds her of all the advice her mother gave her along the years to give her the tools to be able to take care of her dad and Fiona. It doesn't have to be big. Just something little that lets us know that our MC has something positive in her life.

    I'm rooting for you, Nicole. There's a lot of great stuff here! I seriously would love to read this story someday. Thanks for sharing your work with me and everyone else. I hope to see your name on the spine of a book one day! If you ever need help, please feel free to reach out. Best of luck to you! ~ Wendy

  2. Hi, Nicole!

    I agree with Wendy; this is an exciting pitch! Three tiny notes on the pitch itself: 1) I'd link the first 2 sentences with a long dash between dad and until. 2) I'd add Fiona's name; and 3) add a colon after "she must make a choice".

    Okay, you've made some great changes in response to previous feedback. Having Laina NOT in the kitchen at the start makes all the difference, and you handled it without adding anything unnecessary. The puddles also work well, and the motmot description is nicely tightened (though I personally miss the blue "ornaments").

    You've addressed suggestions about ditching cliche language very successfully.

    You might take Wendy's thoughts on the ray of hope into consideration (note how tiny that ray can be, while still being effective).

    One content suggestion: I realize Laina starts out totally unaware that fantastical elements are about to invade her life; that's key to a big, surprising reveal when it happens. However, with your pitch so focused on these incredible Atlantian details, I wonder if you might give a hint at something otherworldly in these first five pages.

    It needn't be major or obvious (to avoid spoiling the surprise), but perhaps a bit of description that foreshadows the searing heat (when you mention her sweating, could she be sweating lately no matter the weather?)

    Or maybe there's something unearthly about the storm (cloud formations? lightning that "communicates" something?).

    Or is it the motmot? Does she imagine she can hear its thoughts? I just feel like, without some "magical" element, there's a bit of a disconnect between these first five pages and the astonishing Atlantian fantasy promise of your pitch. As-is, it reads more like a contemporary realistic piece. Does that make sense?

    Really nice work here! I've enjoyed watching this excerpt take shape, and I wish you success as you begin the submission process!

    All best,


  3. I wondered if you were starting in the right place because the pitch makes this seem like a lot of fun, but the opening pages were very in the main character's head. Not much seemed to happen.


  4. Very good pitch. Your pages are good and your revisions are making them better. I would just note that your pitch is all about a deadly magic touch and a rebellion in Atlantis while your opening pages are about a girl overwhelmed with a dying dad, a foster home future, a truculent little sister and a test score insufficient to get her into Dad’s alma mater. I think the pitch should establish the primary conflict in the story. I assume the same is true about your opening pages. Does her involvement with Atlantis and the magic help her get back to Australia and be accepted in the university? Will what happens in Atlantis save the girls from a foster home?

    I think the italicized texts make it more readable and you’ve got her far enough away from the burning bread to make if feasible for her not to notice it right away.

    Some small things to think about:
    -Might have her think or say, “Oh no. I forgot about the bread!” when she realizes it’s burning to show she was the one baking the bread to begin with and simply forgot because she was distracted. (Does beg the question as to why she was baking bread, seems the nurse was also the house cook.) And perhaps she can fumble with the burned bread trying to clean it up but only making more of a mess before the nurse shoos her out of the kitchen to clean it up herself.
    -How did the nurse appear out of nowhere? Did she come in from outside? If she was in the house certainly she would have smelled the burning bread.
    -If Dad has lung issues painting his door is probably not a good idea. And with all that’s going on why would she even be concerned with that?
    -Laina dropped the basket when the nurse was shooing her out. If she dropped it she needs to pick it up before she goes out the door. Or does she leave it there?
    -Why does the nurse say that Laina was doing nothing all day?
    -Near the end of the pages she says she needs to get away, far away from it all. Earlier she was reluctant to even leave the house. Maybe those are two different things but they seem at odds.

    I hope something here is helpful. Anything not, please ignore. You’ve done good work and the story sounds like it’s going to develop into something very interesting.

  5. The pitch: I liked it. For the most part, it was solid. A few sentences could be cut to streamline it, and a few details are unnecessary, but overall, I thought it was good. I'd just delete some sentences to make it more streamlined and action-packed.

    The story: First off, the opening line is good. You get that Laina is focused on something because the thunder scares her. I also think you did a reasonable job of showing something was weird with the birds. It's subtle, but it's interesting. Birds don't act like that. And I like the idea of not revealing everything right off.

    That being said, I might consider adding in a hint of the searing blaze powers. Like maybe she can touch the tree and singe it a little. It's a big part of your story, although you have hinted that she has a connection with animals already. But that's just a thought.

    I'd consider cutting the "almost unnatural" sentence when Laina is talking about the rain. It might be a little too much and is not needed.

    The part about the dad's door being splintered and the water tank being busted sounds unnecessary to me. I get that you want to show the house is in disarray, but I kind of already got that. So I felt that the paragraph didn't accomplish much.

    "Pelting down the..." I don't think pelt is the right word here. Typically pelt means to throw something at someone or fall down. Maybe rushed or sprinted is a better word.

    You mention twice that Fiona isn't talking to Laina. I like their family dynamic, but I'd consider cutting one of the references.

    These are small edits. All in all, your pitch was good, your story interesting, and your family relationships are handled well. A few edits here and there would help streamline everything, but I think you've got a good story.

  6. Hi Nicole!

    Your pitch seemed super strong and enticing to me--definitely sounds like a story that would intrigue me. The one thought I had is about the sentence that she can hear animals' thoughts. Do these animals include the mythical creatures who are being recruited by humans as part of the rebellion? If so, I think that could be made a little more clear because it makes her role and decision about what side to choose even more monumental.

    Knowing now how much magic there is in the story, I think it's important to give the reader a bigger glimpse of it in these first five pages. Does searing heat fill her body when she's angry? Because if so there are plenty of opportunities for that to occur when she feels angry during these first few pages. I even wonder if the bread burns because she filled it with heat before she put it in the oven--maybe there is a moment where she's super confused at how it could possibly be burning because she just put it in the oven!

    I also liked the idea about her possibly being able to hear the thoughts of the motmot. Or maybe her powers aren't as pronounced yet since she's not on Atlantis, so she can't hear them but she gets some kind of feeling from the bird that calms her down. She could think to herself that she must be going crazy because she feels more understood by a bird than by anyone else in her life.

    I definitely like the detail about how the animals are drawn to her because it does get us an introduction to the magic, but I think the more magic you can get sooner, and the more you can make the reader realize that something strange is going on, the bigger the hook you have.