Sunday, October 20, 2019

1st 5 Pages Oct Workshop - Barrios Rev 2

Name: Anita McDivitt Barrios
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Dragon's Leap


When the lung pipes sound, calling the valley's youth to the Leaping Cliff to dive and attract an immature dragon with their courage, 14-year-old Iric MacDraegan aches to answer the call and be like his father, a respected rider, trusted to care for a fledgling at the castle Mews. 

Then a nest of dragon eggs is slaughtered. The valley's protector senses Iric's nascent telepathy and plucks him from a field. In exchange for a place at the Leap, Iric agrees to flush the killer - a juvenile dragon - from the castle's perches. He must find the murderer before the eggs' grief-enraged mother rallies a cadre of vengeful dragons to destroy the castle and everyone inside.

When a second nest is slaughtered, Iric pieces together the clues and the circumstances of his father's death. He realizes they both point to another predator lurking in the castle and it won't stop killing until it eradicates all dragons from the valley, including the dragon he loves.

DRAGON'S LEAP is a complete YA fantasy at 93,000 words and will appeal to fans of the dark tone of Tui T. Sutherland's Darkstalker, but naturalistic depiction of dragons of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series.

Chapter 1 - The Call

Iric MacDraegan jammed his thumbs into his ears as the heavy drone of two clashing notes followed him into the farmhouse, scraping his disappointment raw.

They're calling another Leap. He balled his fists as if he could pummel the sound into a pleasant harmony. Everyone else in earshot was already responding to the lung pipes, packing a sack and getting ready to fling themselves over the Leaping Cliff, hoping and praying they'd be dragon-chosen.

But not Iric. He was trapped on the farm with stalls to muck, a cow to milk, chickens to feed and fences to mend.

The fire crackled. A three-footed black pot, full to the brim with porridge, simmered in the flames. He placed the egg basket and milk pail on the table and served himself a bowl.

His mother appeared, sweaty from stoking the fire, skirts gathered in one hand. She wiped her brow on a rolled-up sleeve and served him a ladle of last night's mutton and gravy from a smaller pot. Her red hair, a glorious crown of curls pulled off her neck and piled
on her head, was greying around the edges. Her hands, rough and cracked from washing and weaving and tending fires, were strong and steady.

The droning penetrated the room, swirling like wood smoke. Heavy. Stifling. Suffocating. He couldn't stand it.

"I'm 14. I want to fly."

Her eyes locked on him. She didn't even pause before answering. "I can't lose you."

"That's not fair. I could be dragon-chosen. Like Dad."

She flicked an imaginary crumb off the embroidered tablecloth. "Your Uncle and I were talking the other day. He thinks you could lead the next drive to the shearing house. Take the horse and drive our quota in. He could use the help."

He flinched like she had slapped him. She may as well have. "Why're you always trying to get me to care about sheep?"

She bunched her rough wool shawl higher around her neck and smoothed her hands on her skirts. "You don't understand. If the River Maw is running low, you could bust your head open on the Beach of Sorrows. Break your legs. One of those beasts could rip off
your arm."

"I'll be fine. I'm not a kid anymore. I've outgrown Dad's boots. I'm taller than he was, too. Uncle Luak says so. If you let me Leap, I could get you all the stuff you have to barter for now, dragon mutes and dragon-casted wool. I could really help you then." He stabbed a piece of mutton with a knife. It screeched and pushed a glob of gravy over the edge.

The sound of the pipes ricocheted off the walls, louder and shriller.

"No one knows what they want in a rider, not even them." She sniffed. "What if you're not chosen? You want to spend the rest of your life with a mangled leg? How about losing an eye?"

"I could be like my father."

"Dragons killed your father and nearly broke me. Don't you ever forget it!" She hit the table with a fist and half rose off the bench.

"I get it. You hate the Mews." He tried again. "But it can't be as bad as you say, or no one would ever Leap. I think it'd be amazing."

Her arm flashed across the table. She grabbed his wrist, pinning it between her thumb and fingers. He dropped the knife and pulled back. She held him fast.

"You think being dragon-chosen'll make you different? Special, somehow?" She sneered the word, special. "That a dragonling'll care about you? Make no mistake. They're beasts. They're not pets. They don't think like us. They don't love. They don't have friends. They're not nice. Ever. They're selfish to a scale. All they care about is getting what they want, what they need. Not what anyone else wants or needs. Not about you or anyone you love. They're the true Lords of the Mews, not the Council or the Masters or the Wing Leaders. Everyone serves them. It's twisted."

"Are you any different?" He yanked out of her grip and stood up. "Isn't that all you care about? Making me stay here so I can chop wood and round up the sheep and do chores for you? So you don't have to?"

Droning filled the silence.

"I only want what's best for you." Her shoulders slumped and she curled her empty hand into a fist. "I want to keep you safe. I want you to have a long life surrounded by people who love you. I want you to have what I never could."

He took a deep breath. He couldn't stop now. "I want the chance to Leap."

"You don't understand what you're saying." Her hands shook. She covered her face.

"What did Dad want for me?"

Her head shot up, face stony white and lips set in a grim line. "No," she whispered.

"See? It doesn't matter what I say. You'll never listen to me and you'll never let me go!" He stomped out the front door, slamming it shut. He ran to the barn, then out to the empty corral, sucking in the cold air, holding back tears. She'd never understand him, never see, never know how he felt stuck on the ground when he could be touching the sky.

The empty pasture mocked him in the dawning sun.

He had to round up the damn sheep.

The dragon lung pipes bellowed across the fields, calling.

Chapter 2 - Zoll

Iric plucked a snail from the trampled grass. There were so many of them, after the relatively warm winter, the sheep couldn't help munching them as they grazed. He absently traced the swirl of its shell with his index finger while searching the edge of the pasture. Two brown roe deer, a doe and fawn, peeked out of the high brush. They tested the air with their noses and froze.

Where were the sheep?

Two days ago he'd tracked most of his mother's spooked herd to old man MacSeaghan's place and drove them home, but a small group of about 20 split off. He'd only now followed their hoof prints to the pasture by the gentle stream on the westernmost edge of the
ranch, the call gnawing at him. Wool earmuffs dampened the sound, but it was like water, soaking him head to toe. He gritted his teeth, anticipating another sleepless night. He was a wolf caught in a trap. How long could he endure this before he gnawed off his own
leg to escape?

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It would be so easy. He knew the route, at least as far as the shearing house and barge crossing the River Maw. From there, he had to imagine it: the road around the castle Mews, through the Fields of Prey, ending at the
Leaping Cliff. Baltair and Ealar, his mates from lessons in the Widow Affrey's barn, would be stunned.

But he couldn't do any of that without changing his mother's mind. He wouldn't abandon her. That was too close to what his father did.

He'd been a baby when his father disappeared. Uncle Luak said weeks went by before the fouled waters of the Lake Maw led ranchers to his father's and the dragons' corpses. A dragon rider brought his mother a box containing all that remained: a few pieces of torn
dragon scale armor, a helmet and his bones.


  1. Hey, Anita!

    Pitch- The first paragraph is one really long sentence. I suggest breaking it up. I also think that you should add ‘dragons’ before ‘lung pipes,’ just so you ground your readers from the start.
    Paragraph 2- I feel like it should read something like: When a nest of dragon eggs is slaughtered, the valley’s protector plucks Iric from a field, hoping to use his telepathy to find the killer.” Or something like that. It just reads a little difficult the way it is.
    Paragraph 3- This is where you can use “Then” instead of “When.”


    Pg. 1- I think you can do without “scraping his disappointment raw.” It doesn’t make sense to me.
    Pg. 2- “The dragons are calling another Leap.” I think naming the dragons would ground your story.
    Pg. 7- Personal preference, but I suggest spelling ‘fourteen.’
    Pg. 20- I think “It’s twisted” is not needed here. It takes away from the effect of the paragraph.

    Chapter 2- You state the sheep couldn’t help munching on the snails, but then right after, you ask where the sheep are.

    Wow! I have enjoyed reading this and seeing your growth from the original to this. I can see this promises to be an adventurous story! I hope one day to be able to read more!


  2. Hi Anita,

    So this story has grown SO much since we first started. I dont normally go for fantasy but I really like your style and the allure of The Leap!

    For your pitch, I think you could remove the part in the 2nd paragraph that says "a juvenile dragon-from the castle's perches". You tell us who the predator is here, yet treat it as though it's still a mystery below.

    Is the Uncle Luak mentioned in paragraph 14 the same uncle who told his mother Iric could help lead the next drive? If so, he strikes me as playing both sides.

    There are still just a couple places where the dialogue is a bit too on the nose. Think about trimming Paragraph 19 down to starting where you say "It can't be as bad..."

    Try reworking paragraph 21, it feels like backstory disguised at dialogue.

    The information in paragraphs 24 and 25, the ones starting "he took a deep breath" and "you don't understand" seem like repeated information. You may be able to cut them and pick up with "what did Dad want for me?"

    But that's it! I love, love, LOVE this new version! I think it's gripping and gets us right in to the action but also let's us in to Iric's day-to-day. It's reminiscent of the first chapter of The Hunger Games. Iric is doing something, stuff is happening all around him. He has all this internal conflict going on...I'm totally immersed!

    I wish you nothing but the best and hope to see it on shelves someday!

  3. You've worked really hard on this and it shows! As for your pitch I think you have all the elements that are needed. Catalyst, goal, stakes and twist all seem to be stated. It's a strong pitch! The only comment I would have is I've never heard of either of the comps. It might just be that I'm not deep into ya fantasy but maybe one comp that is a bit more popular may be necessary. Feel free to disregard if you disagree.
    I think your voice is great. I also think your world building is really good. Great job all around!

  4. These pages still get stronger each time! Great job. I think the dialogue is better this time, but I still get this feeling when reading it that more of what they're saying could be omitted. The strongest paragraphs are when his mom goes "You think being dragon chosen'll make you different" I love that paragraph, and I LOVE that he comes back at her saying the same thing.

    But I feel like you might be spending too many words before that repeating the same information, but not digging deep like you do so well in that exchange. It feels real too, that come back he goes at her with in return.

    Maybe you need to shorten this conversation, and just go ahead and combine chapters one and two!

    About the pitch:
    I think you might be trying to cover too much. It's always really hard not to resist the temptation to talk about the end of the book where you've got big scary stakes at hand. But usually the query is more character focused and has to do with stakes that feel more personal. For Iric, it seems like its this exchange he's going to make for a place at the Leap, and what that's going to cost him -- because really that's what he wants. I would almost suggest throwing out the third paragraph, and honing in more on what this chance means -- what is it going to cost him to get this chance to do the Leap, and what is going to cost him if he doesn't (that's more obvious, it costs him his chance of ever Leaping).

    Queries are hard, awful things, but from what I've learned about them, they tend to be more focused on saying here is the trial my character is going to go through to get what he wants -- and its usually the same want that we see in the first chapter, that almost juvenile want that probably changes as they learn and grow in the book.

  5. Hey, Anita!

    I love dragons. Your sample pages are so immersive, and I love the voice. Your pitch hits everything it needs to. I would for sure ask for the full if this came across my inbox just the way it is. But here's some feedback anyway.

    You have the first words of the pitch as 'when, then, when' and I'd avoid the repetition.

    Lung pipes sound across the valley and call youth to the Leaping Cliff to dive and attract an immature dragon with their courage. Fourteen-year-old Iric MacDraegan aches to answer and become like his father, a respected rider, trusted to care for a fledgling at the castle Mews.

    There's so much world building. We hear the pipes, which dominate the beginning of the book, so I love that correlation. A few more word choice changes.

    In the third paragraph, I'd cut out 'He realizes,' which is distancing language.

    I like the comps. Love Marie Brennan. That one's a little old to be comping but only by a little, and the series is recent enough and well-known enough without overstating your writing that I think you should keep it. My only change would be to put that title paragraph at the top of the query letter so we see the comps right away as well as the title and word count. I prefer queries that way, anyhow. Because those comps would make me jump down to the pages and skip the query itself. (Just my personal take.)

    The pages are beautiful. My only bit of confusion was when he's studying the snail in the field and we have no idea that the sheep are gone. Because just before that, we're going to tend the sheep. We need a transition that leads us on the hunt for the lost twenty sheep. Just a sentence or two plucked from the telling explanation that shows the sheep are missing, which makes him realize that he has to stay. His mother would never be able to track and care for all those sheep--what was he thinking. He goes, but the call still haunts him.

    Overall, I really do think this is beautiful writing and you have a wonderful start.


  6. I'm only commenting on the pitch because the pages are so wonderful now, really great work! I find the pitch to feel very crowded. I wonder if you're trying to cram in too much. As it is, the sentences are long and confusing. Perhaps trying to think about Iric's voice as you're writing? Someone once told me to boil my story down to one sentence or just the hook and then expand a longer pitch from there. That might work well here. It does sound like an intriguing story though!!

  7. Fantastic revision! I think you're basically there. Others have commented on the pitch, and I've really got nothing to add beyond what they've said. My only suggestion with the pages is that conversation could benefit from a bit more grounding detail. Work in a little bit of what he notices, some thoughts, something to break up the stark exchanges and make it seem less on point. Not much--just a tiny, tiny bit. Read it aloud a few times and really listen to the flow. You'll "hear" what's needed or missing more easily that way. Best of luck!!! I have every faith that this will hit the bookshelves in the not too distant future.

  8. I really love the changes you've made through out our weeks here. My schedule got blown up this week, so my comments are late. Sorry! In any case, love that you've got the desire of your protagonist up front and the world is already very clear. This project is definitely going in the right direction. Really wonderful how you've taken comments and done so much. I look forward to finding out what happens to Iric!