Sunday, October 20, 2019

1st 5 Pages Oct Workshop - Loftis Rev 2

Name: Taelor Loftis
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Veil of Sparks


After eight years of sorrow and pain, Cailan Murray is convinced that her past is what happened to her, not who she is. Secrets her dead mother bore swirl inside her own soul, and the name of the place these secrets dwell, Aspen Springs, rings through her. Here, magic reigns in the midst of mundane and Veils between worlds are visible—if one has the eyes to see them. With a promise to learn what her mother hid, Cailan enters Aspen Springs University, where things aren’t always how they appear. 

Atlas Collins, a blood-sworn Sentinel, lives by an oath: to protect the righteous and destroy the evil, so long as the light burns within. Though his path has long been destined to cross with Cailan, nothing can prepare him for the sacrifice he must make, all in the name of duty. 

The Great War between the Veils and the Underworld is ancient and Cailan’s dangerous secrets add fuel to the flames. Does she let her mortal weakness show, allowing the Night Army to claim her life and all of the Veils, or does she harness the power of her secrets and bravely rise above? Deadly decisions must be made.

Revision 2:
I am Cailan Murray and weak has never been my name—the affirmation rings through Cailan’s bones as her eyes scan the jagged peaks of the Sangre de Cristos in a last ditch effort to hold herself together. The chaos of students and parents scurrying around amidst a maze of boxes, furniture, and other various belongings becomes a distant reality as her eyes search the horizon for anything to focus on to settle her mixed emotions.
Aspen Springs, with its beautiful and haunting surroundings, has always been the kind of place that makes Cailan peer a little more closely at things. Often, she’s convinced she’s glimpsed the unfamiliar sky of some other world beyond her own or noticed a phantom sparkle swimming in the depths of a passerby’s eyes.
Across the parking lot, someone’s possessions tear through the bottom of cardboard box and scatter across Aspen Springs University’s cobblestone pavers. The sound echoes off the granite, moss-covered buildings, tethering her back to reality. College move-in day is in full force, but for Cailan it’s come to an end—her few belongings tucked away safely in her new dorm room, and her uncle readying himself to leave. Despite the buzz of anxious excitement, today serves as a gentle reminder of times spent with her mother hiking these very mountains, and as a whispered promise to believe that she is not sorrow, that she is not pain, and that her past is what has happened to her, not who she is, and not who she will become.  
“Are you all right?” her Uncle Oliver asks, searching her stormy eyes for the truth they both know her words won’t say. “You look just like Fiona when you get lost in your thoughts like that.”
“I’m…good,” Cailan murmurs half-heartedly while flashing an even less stellar smile. She supposes another half-truth tagged on to the endless stream of them she’s told throughout the years won’t really matter.
A sharp talon of a memory claws its way up from the dregs of her mind like a nightmare sprung to life—her mother’s funeral on an unseasonably cold spring day. She pushes back against that memory, willing it to fade into the darkness where it resides. But her relief is short-lived. Another memory replaces the first—this one a still-life image of Ollie’s two-bedroom house in Williams, the home they’d shared for the last eight years.
Cailan swallows hard against a sob rising in her throat, fixing her eyes on the ground and absentmindedly toeing at some loose gravel.
Ollie starts to speak but she waves him off and cuts in, wiping away a tear. “You’re the only family I have left. Mom was the last person I ever said goodbye to.” Her voice cracks on the last few words as her emotions threaten to consume her. “I’ve been saying goodbye to people and places my entire life. I don’t want to ever say goodbye again.”
Furious at herself for allowing tears to form, Cailan kicks the pile of loose gravel towards Ollie’s truck. He peels himself from his resting spot against the old, blue Ford, nervously adjusting and readjusting his faded ASU cap atop his sandy curls, before embracing her in a giant bear hug. His arms tighten around her to the point where she finds it difficult to breathe, and as her tears betray her, spilling over the seams of her eyes, the soft knit fabric of his t-shirt collects them.
“Cai, I think you’re worrying about too many things you shouldn’t be worrying about today. You’ve got this.” Ollie’s words resonate through his chest.
When Cailan’s trembling slows and the nightmarish memories grow dim, she releases Ollie and dares to meet his eyes. His lopsided grin stretches across his face, a trait he shares with his sister. Longing pangs through her as she thinks about how much he resembles her mom.
“Don’t be afraid to have fun, Cai. You have your whole life to be adulty and serious. Enjoy your time here. You only get to do college for the first time, once.”
“I promise I’ll try—will—I promise I will have fun.” The sound of these words tumbling from her mouth are strange and foreign to Cailan. She’s always been more of a work first and play never type of girl, though she supposes Ollie is right. Getting an education is important, but discovering the secrets she knows her mother harbored is a priority—and being in the center of the place where those secrets began is exactly where she needs to be. After all, her mother’s memory lives here, nestled amongst the grotesque gargoyles with their ever-watching eyes and whispering through the pale, silvery leaves of the towering aspens.
As Ollie makes his way around his truck, Cailan studies the Sangre de Cristos surrounding the sprawling, gothic campus. Her blue-grey eyes climb higher and higher until nearing the top of the tallest peak, lingering on that spot, anticipating something more—an answer, perhaps, that there’s more to life than what’s perceived. And maybe her mother understood this. Maybe she, too, felt and saw veils of worlds beyond our own, she thinks.
Her attention is drawn away from the mountains when someone rushes past her, brushing her shoulder. She spins, expecting to find another student or parent juggling too many things and racing towards the dorm. Instead, now a few paces away, strides a man—no, a boy—with his hands shoved in the pockets of his cuffed jeans. As if aware of Cailan’s gaze, the boy glances over his shoulder, wearing a wicked grin beneath his dark stubble. Flecks of silver dance in the midnight pools of his eyes. And when he winks at Cailan, a dark chill runs through her, driving home the truth that this place is, in fact, more than it seems.
The sound of Ollie’s rusted truck door slamming shut startles her.
He leans across the bench seat speaking to Cailan through the passenger window. “Cai,” he begins, “I won’t say goodbye. Goodbye is permanent.” Again, his lopsided grin spreads across his face. “So instead, I’m saying later.”
And in the words between his words Cailan finds grace against her fears. “Later,” she says, daring to let a smile slip across her lips.
Cailan listens to the old Ford’s engine echoing off the granite buildings as it winds its way out the main entrance of the university.
I will do what I must to learn the secrets of this place—to become a part of the world my mom lived in, she thinks, even if it means becoming a secret myself.


  1. I think my email messed up font in the first 2 paragraphs of my revision! It doesn't look like that at all on the original document I have. Of course it does this on the final one.

  2. Taelor, I think you did a great job on all of your revisions. It's pretty clean now other than a few minor nitpicky things. You have the word "memory" echoed three times in one paragraph. I'm soooo glad you put this into your submission--Maybe she, too, felt and saw veils of worlds beyond our own, she thinks. However, it's the first real hint that there is magic in this story and comes a bit of a surprise. I wonder if there can be a few more hints that her mother possessed an ability that Cailan hoped she had.

    Regarding your pitch, while I like the allure of there being secrets that she's kept, I wonder if you can drop a small hint as do what that secret/power is. It seems a bit vague. I also wonder what is at risk if she doesn't harness the power. While the Veils may war with one another, how does this effect humanity, her, people she cares about? Also, does Uncle Ollie possess abilities too? Not that this has to be spelled out in the pitch, it was just a thought. Great job! I'm really excited to see how well you've revised this. Also, check your email. I sent detailed critiques on your submission and first revision since I couldn't get to them.

    1. Wendy,

      Thank you for your feedback these last few weeks. Your notes will continue to serve as guidance and reminders for me throughout the rest of this novel. I am currently working to finesse this pitch and you have provided excellent direction for this. Take care! 1st 5 is lucky to have you!


  3. Hi Taelor, 

    It was very interesting to read the pitch for yours pages. I was excited to see that some things about the book's plot i guessed correctly but others I did not:) 

    I hope my feedback is of use to you. Here are my suggestions, in no particular order: 

    - I suggest getting rid of italics in the query. It's distracting and not particularly warranted. I'm also torn about capitalization. I don't think it's necessary for Veils, Sentinel, Great War, Underworld and Night Army.
    - It's important to have a strong opening in the query that immediately pulls the reader in by giving some idea of the protagonist and/or setting (and you do that!). But it's also a good idea to get the story moving from the start. I think the first paragraph could do with some tweaking, for flow, though all the information is already there.

    Here's what came to my mind when I was reflecting on your opening lines: 

    "Eight years following her mother's [tragic, mysterious death?], Cailan Murray must overcome her grief and sorrow and unravel her mother's secrets. It is with this purpose in mind that Cailan comes to Aspen Spring, a place where magic reigns in the midst of mundane and veils between worlds are visible—if one has the eyes to see them. Enrolling in Aspen Spring University, her mother's beloved alma mater, brings Cailan close to the mystery surrounding her mom."  

    And then we get to paragraphs 2 and 3 and I'm a bit confused. Paragraph 2 comes out of nowhere and gives too much and too little at the same time.

    Can you think of a logical segue from "Cailan enrolled in a magical university" to "this other character is sentinel and takes his duties very seriously."

    How about something like (please forgive the Hellmouth reference - I couldn't help myself!): "But little does Cailan know, Aspen Spring is a lot more than meets the eye, magical or otherwise. Located in the spot where veils between the worlds are thin, the town is an actual hellmouth [! :)] and the underworld that stirs beneath its ground is ready to crack open, unleashing all kinds of horrors on the world. A sentinel, whose job it is to prevent that from happening ,Atlast Collins is [something something]; but when he meets Cailan... "

    Then comes your last paragraph: Cailan's stakes and dilemma. 

    But given how paras 2 and 3 are a bit too vague, you might want to consider how much you want to give away - you might be reluctant to give away all your secrets right away and you're not expected to, but  you also need to give reader something to sink teeth in. Otherwise, it's like "Cailan has a difficult decision to make". Well, what exactly is this decision? What happens if she makes one choice or another? Your last line of the query must be a super enticing hook to the rest of the book, and what you have at the moment ("Deadly decisions must be made") is not personal or specific.

    I really hope this is helpful to you. Please keep in mind that I loved your pages and overall you've got the structural bones of the query and I think with some finessing and tweaking you can make it into an interesting pitch for a contemporary fantasy. 

    About your pages: I love the addition of the "close encounter" with a smirking boy and hope that we get to see more of him in the book :)
    x, K


    1. Katya,

      Thank you so much for your guidance these last 3 weeks. I have learned so much through this process and you’ve been a large part of that! I will definitely work to finesse this pitch. I had originally had many of the things you mention in my pitch, but it ended up being over the 200 words the directions suggested it be, so I had to cull. You have been a great mentor and 1st 5 is lucky to have you!


    2. I'm really happy to hear that you've found the workshop useful, Taelor! Please don't hesitate to get in touch with me any time if you have any questions or need advice. (And yes, it's difficult to pack everything in a query of 200 words, but good news is you can expand it a bit when you're approaching agents, so a slightly longer query might work). x, Katya

  4. Hi Taelor,

    It's been wonderful getting input from you over these last couple of weeks. it's sad our time is coming to a close already. Everyone has done such a great job revising that it's hard to find much that needs fixing, so I'm sure everything I say will be nit-picky stuff that I'd never notice if just reading for pleasure, you know?

    Anyway, with your pitch I think we just need to get a slightly better idea of what the stakes are for Cailan. You mention the war, and the veils and all that, but how does that effect her? What personal connection does she have to the veils? I think you could spend a little more time explaining Atlas' connection with her. He sort of feels tossed in to the mix in the pitch. I'm assuming he's a possible love interest but we don't know in what way his path is supposed to cross with Cailan's and therefore don't know what it will mean for her motivation and choices. Lastly for the pitch, i think you could tighten the first paragraph but cutting out the part that says "...rings through her." it just read a little clunky for me in an otherwise spotless paragraph.

    At the end of paragraph three I wonder if the last sentence is too long, which makes it a little clunky with all the and's. What if you put a period after "mountains". And then the the next sentence starts: "It's a whispered promise..."

    The only thing I'm questioning is the need for the tag line "she thinks". You're probably fine dropping it as the reader will infer that what came before it was a thought, and saying "she thinks" could be accused of being a filtering statement.

    Other than that, way to go. The gothic tones have me all craving more of this world. I wish you and Cai the best!

  5. Taelor, your 1st 5 pages read so well! The move-in day at college setting is very strong now, I'm rooting for Cailan and you establish that something mysterious and dark is going on with the mountains in the background.

    The only place where I tripped this time was when you introduce the "boy" (Atlas, yes?) in paragraph 14. In the next sentence, you mention his "dark stubble." I think of "boys" in middle grade lit, with just a touch of fat in their cheeks and completely smooth faces. Mention stubble and an adult or young man immediately comes to mind. But I know the young women at college probably (still? IDK) call them "boys." Maybe it's just me?

    I had a lot of questions about the query. There are a goodly number of terms in italics, some of which I wasn't familiar with. Aspen Springs University I got, it's the college, but I wasn’t sure why it's italicized. Then, "Sentinel," "Great War" and "Night Army" -- I didn't know what they were (nor Veils nor Underworld, but those weren't italicized). Sentinel I think I got -- Atlas is a warrior, a kind of guard who destroys anything tainted beyond saving with evil. But that could mean anything, so I wondered, what specifically does Atlas guard against? Vampires? Monsters? The Undead? When you write about Atlas, you use "lives" and "must make," but as a warrior of some sort, I wondered what else he does? You use "protect" and "destroy," but specifics right here would help me to understand. Does he fight with a special sword? Slay monsters with his bow? Use special powers to burn them to cinders? Specific details here would help me to understand those other terms, "Great War" and "Night Army." (I mean, I think I know what "Night Army" means -- I'd assume vampires or undead or both -- but what if I'm wrong?)

    The third paragraph was vague, and while you state Cailan's secrets "add" to the conflict (the Great War), I don't get a sense as to how. This paragraph has few things your characters are doing. Is there a way to rewrite it so Cailan fuels the fire by withholding secrets that could end the War for good? And here would be a great place to put the stakes. What consequences are there, if Cailan doesn’t reveal those secrets? You end with, "Deadly decisions must be made," so someone's life is on the line. Whose? And what happens if the Great War isn't ended? Does life at the University go on, like before? Or are there some dire consequence -- the monsters will break free?

    I'm looking forward to reading more of this! You've really piqued my interest in this story.

  6. Great job! It's been fun getting to know you and your work these last three weeks.
    I think your pitch needs some mention of a catalyst and stakes. What happens that causes a change in the main character and what becomes that character's goal. Then what's at stake if she doesn't meet that goal. I'm missing that from the pitch.
    I found this for working on pitches and it has helped me to hone in on what to say.
    When [x event happens] character must [goal] or risk [stakes] but [twist].
    I appreciate your flowery language in your pages but I think you need to get more to the point in the pitch. The first two lines of the pitch might be eliminated to get to the heart of what your story is about.
    Stick with your main character in your pitch. I don't think you need to mention Atlas at all unless he's part of the catalyst, goal, stakes or twist that happen to the mc.
    There is vague language in the pitch as well. Be specific. "where things aren't as they appear"-What things specifically.
    The line "magic reigns" promises magic but I don't see any in the rest of your pitch or pages.
    One thing I've questioned in reading your pitch and your pages is the veils. I'd like more specifics about them. What are they? What worlds are they going to? How does this work?
    The line "more than it seems" when the boy winks is pretty vague. I'm not sure how a wink is more than it seems. I think you can expand on it.
    I've enjoyed reading your work! Good luck with your future revisions!

  7. Hey! I'm just going to focus on the pitch, as that's really all I've got to critique anyway.

    So I think there might be a little too much in the query that is left unexplained and vague. I know how hard that is to handle with fantasy queries (I usually write fantasy). Some of this is seen when atlas is mentioned. A blood sworn sentinel probalby means something to you, but it doesn't mean anything to me, as someone who doesn't know your story. Also the idea of "as the light burns" doesn't mean anything without knowing the context. I think part of the struggle here is that you almost have to personalize the pitch more to the specifics of Cailan.

    Based off your pages, I would have expected your pitch to do a lot more with her mother, and some kind of stakes revolved around her discovering her mother's secrets, and what discovering those secrets is going to cost her, and what she'll gain at discovering them.

    Usually queries are written about the stakes in the first fifty pages, not the whole book. Talking about what happens in the whole book is for the synopsis.

    My suggestion would be to look back at what Cailan wants in the first fifty pages (based off your first chapter it seems related to her mom), and what gaining that thing will cost her -- and the choice she'll have to make to get it that will cost her either way. Because that's what makes a great query, a choice that means losing something no matter what.

  8. Taelor,

    This is such a heartfelt beginning. I was tearing up just watching Cai's uncle leave. But I love how this chapter ended with an upswing of determination. The setting is intriguing, and this promises to be an interesting read.

    For the pitch, I'd simplify. The vagueness of it makes us ask more questions that cause confusion and frustration. We need the most unique thing about the character and the most unique thing about their world. What the MC wants, and what's stopping her from getting it. End the first paragraph with the inciting incident.

    Then, the inciting incident tumbles from action to reaction to new problem until we hit the key incident, which is where the MC must make a choice. This is the choice of whether to go on the grand adventure or not. End this second paragraph with what's at stake if they do either thing.

    For the pages, you have real strength in the writing emotion. I began to really connect after we get to the fact that she's at college and has to say goodbye to her uncle. This is really touching, and you did a great job of pulling us in with empathy. Then you hooked us with her finding out the mystery about her mother. But be specific. Simplify. Give the reader all the information you possibly can about what she knows and what she's there to find out.

    The language in the beginning feels like you're masking things, hiding them from the reader to try to create suspense, but it's just making us a little confused and frustrated when we have to read it over to try and figure it out.

    Overall, this is a great job!

  9. I had advising days all week at the college where I work and it just blew up my time. I don't have anything to add to the comments, except it was a joy to read your work the last few weeks and to see you massage the pages into the shape they're in now. I'm very much interested in what happens to Cailan and you already know who much I love Oliver. Thanks for taking the time to do this!