Sunday, October 20, 2019

1st 5 Pages Oct Workshop - Simon Rev 2

Name: Kelsey Simon
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Title: The Guilt of Healing


Sixteen-year-old Clay thinks it’s probably a good thing he’s not one of the rare people in the world blessed with the ability to heal. His best friend, Nicco, already pulls enough crazy stunts without a healer around.

Ever since Clay accidentally shot Nicco and almost took his life, his friend has chased after every adrenaline rush he can, often putting himself in danger―and Clay feels obligated to always be there to pick him up. Clay wants Nicco to be safe, but deep down, he also wants to be free from the guilt he feels. Maybe even free of Nicco. 

When a classmate healer fixes Nicco’s ankle after he jumps from a balcony, Clay is relieved. That’s one less trip he has to make to the ER. But the rush Nicco gets from being healed is his new obsession, and he starts throwing himself into more dangerous situations―situations that put Clay in danger too. Clay has to decide how far he’s willing to go, and just how much Nicco’s friendship―and his guilt―matter to him. Him and Nicco have been a duo for as long as he can remember, but if he sticks by Nicco’s side, he might just find himself arrested, or worse, hospitalized.  


Nicco leans out over the second-story balcony as far as he can. The gray of late evening spans out before us, the waters of the bay as dark as ink on the right. Below, a large pool rests in the center of a well maintained backyard, the whole area swarming with kids and booming with music.

“I could make it into the water,” Nicco says, eyeing the drop from the balcony to the pool. “It’s not a big jump.”

I clench my jaw and force back a sigh. When Nicco slammed my locker shut and told me we had plans tonight, I said what I always say―I’m in. Being with him is the best way to make sure he doesn’t do something crazy―like jumping from a second story balcony and into the shallow end of a pool. 

“Come on,” I say from my spot a few feet behind him. “You’ll get hurt.”

The kids below us have started to notice Nicco and turn to stare. Each set of eyes is one more reason he won’t back down.

“Why don’t you get down and have another drink,” I say, bargaining. That’s always the first step when Nicco gets a hunger like this one. Bargain first, argue second, get physical third, if the situation is desperate enough to warrant it. The two girls he’d been flirting with earlier whisper to each other behind me. One lifts her phone, obviously framing Nicco with her camera. He gives her a casual thumbs up, his grin wide.

I refrain from rolling my eyes.

“Oh, you come on, Clay. It’ll be easy.” His eyes widen as he turns to stare down at the pool and the challenge I know he’s contemplating. He’s probably imagining it―the drop down and all the eyes that would be on him as he fell.

“And if you get hurt?” I say, because that’s what I’m really worried about anyway. Nicco can drag me to a party two hours from home. He can leave me feeling awkward as I stumble through a conversation with a pretty girl I’ve never met before. He can even drink himself into a buzz while I stand sober, the designated driver. But him jumping from a second-story balcony for a few seconds of adrenaline and fame? That’s likely to leave him with a broken bone or worse? I can’t stand idly by.

“Well, at least there’s a healer here,” Nicco answers, pointing.

“What?” I step forward, joining him at the railing, following his finger to a girl standing at the front of the pool. “Is that Lacey Stephens?”

She’s tall, her hair the same rich brown as I remember it, just a few shades lighter than her skin. Not much has visibly changed about her, but she seems to stand taller. We had pre-calc together that year, but then she’d discovered she had the rare ability to heal, and left to attend Kisper High, the boroughs school just for healers.

“I’m sure if I hurt, she’ll heal me,” Nicco says, shrugging.

She pushes past a dancing couple, and just when she’s about to disappear beneath the balcony where we won’t be able to see her, her eyes flash up and lock onto us.

I jerk back. “That’s a stupid assumption,” I hiss. We don’t know Lacey, certainly not well enough to ask for a healing. Besides, who knew what she could heal, or how much or how fast. There were rules about those sorts of things, rules neither Nicco or I knew.

“I’m doing it,” Nicco whispers under his breath before he leans forward and shouts, “Do you dare me to jump?!”

“Don’t,” I say, stepping toward him but Nicco is already climbing the railing. He’s probably sees Lacey being here as a sign. “She’s not going to heal you if you get hurt. They’ll just call an ambulance,” I try to reason. I know he can’t afford an ambulance. His family doesn’t have health insurance like mine.

“It’ll be fine.” He glances at me over his shoulder, the muscle in his left cheek twitching and his eyes shifting side to side. He’s already feeling the adrenaline pump through his veins. He won’t back down. Not now.

Any whisper of the bay’s waves crashing into the nearby is completely drowned out in the chant of everyone below. Their words soar around us. “Do it! Do it!” It grows louder and louder as more and more kids pick up the chant. Everyone’s watching Nicco now, some even raising their drinks to the sky, cheering him on.

This is what he lives for. The attention, the rush. It’s probably not even worth me trying to stop him, but I’ll give it one more try. It’s why I’m here, after all.

“You’ll break a leg, just look,” I say, pointing over the railing to the pool. “That’s the shallow end, you idiot.” The deep end is the one farthest from us. He’s got three feet of water to stop his fall.

I’m judging the distance between us now, judging how hard it would be to grab his arm and yank him back. He’ll be mad. He’ll be roaring with the loss of the rush he didn’t get. He might even shove me down and do it anyway, his determination so solid not even I can break through it.

Let him jump and be there to pick him up and take him to the hospital? Or fight him only to get hurt myself and still see him jump?

He’s done worse than this and survived.

One of the girls behind me grabs my shoulder in excitement, and I turn my head. Just a breath, and I’m not looking at Nicco.

He disappears from the corner of my eye.

The crowd inhales like a single giant beast.

“Shit,” I shout as I scramble to the spot he just vacated, leaning over to see. He pulls up his legs, cannon-balling down, plummeting toward the water. He smashes into it, spraying everyone brave enough not to back away. I release the breath I’d been holding. He made it. Time to get down there and make sure he made it in one piece. I shove past the two girls and back into the house. I take the stairs down two at a time, pushing anyone in my way out of my path. I need to get to Nicco as fast as possible. I need to make sure he’s okay, and if he’s not, I need to get him help.

It’s hard not to see him in my mind, on the ground of his brother’s room, a pool of blood seeping from under his chest. I grit my teeth and wipe the memory away. That was three years ago. That was my fault. This isn’t the same. People shout and laugh as I squeeze past them―a good sign. Surely they’d be screaming if Nicco was injured. I jog down the stone path that winds around the house to the backyard, the salty, musty scent of the bay barely distinguishable over the smell of spilled beer, making my knotted stomach flip and bile rise up my throat.

Finally, through the crowd, I catch sight of him.  He’s in one piece, no blood, casually leaning against the edge of the pool like what he just did wasn’t dangerous and dumb. His black curls drip with water, and he even has the audacity to accept congratulations from the few people willing to offer it.


  1. Kelsey, loved the rewritten 5 pages! I have no notes, no questions, it's super-polished and reads incredibly well.

    Reading the pitch, however, raised a bunch of questions for me. Now, I'm admittedly not good at writing queries, so I'll just mention the questions I had as I read. It's a window into what I was thinking, as I read the pitch.

    The first sentence I read "he's not…" and immediately thought, then what is Clay? What does Clay do? Does he have powers of some sort that hurt Nicco?

    When I read the first sentence, 2nd paragraph, "and almost took his life," again I wondered, what did Clay do? How was it "almost," if Clay's not a healer? How was Nicco saved? How can Clay think he can prevent a friend from hurting/ killing himself, unless Clay is a healer too -- maybe just not an identified one? Or maybe he's trying to hide it? Or maybe he's a totally normal guy trying to cope in a world of people with fantastical powers?

    Aside from the healer / healing aspect, I wondered, by the time I got to the end of the pitch, if there was more to the fantasy element of the story?

    That's it. This is very powerful story and I'm excited to read more!


  2. Hi, Kelsey!

    Pitch- Pg. 1- I’m wondering why Clay wouldn’t want to be a healer? Is it a curse? I think you’re trying to say he’d be healing Nicco all the time, but the connection is vague.

    Pg. 3- In the final sentence, I’m struggling with “Him and Nicco.” But, that could just be me. I always think it sounds strange when ‘him’ or ‘her’ are used first in a sentence.

    In the pg. that begins with “One of the girls behind me..” I don’t think “just a breath needs to be there.
    Something like:
    ….in excitement, and I turn away from Nicco.
    He disappears into the crowd inhaling him like a giant beast.
    --Just a thought!

    Overall, this start is amazing and I hope to one day be able to read the entire novel! You’ve done an excellent job revising this throughout the weeks!


  3. Hi there! I can't believe it's this time already and that I have to say goodbye to these characters.

    For your pitch, in paragraph 2 you talk about the guilt Clay feels--but guilt for what, exactly? Guilt for shooting him when they were kids? Or is it guilt for something else? The only thing I'd say about your pitch is that Clay doesn't seem to have much agency in the story--he comes off as being more of a spectator or even a secondary character because by the way it sounds, things happen to him more than because of him, does that make sense? Why does his friendship with Nicco mean so much? Also, you've let us know that he could wind up in jail or hospitalized, but maybe give us insight in to what lasting affect this would have for clay. I'm sure his emotional motivations and everything is there already, but I think it needs to be at the forefront of your pitch.

    1st 5 pages- I love the 3rd paragraph, you got your orginal idea in there but pepped it up nicely.

    If clay is more of a reactive character, then maybe the way to give him more agency in the sotry is to just up his voice a little more. Make his lines something only he would say. Like in paragraph 4--"You'll get hurt." How might someone with all his conflicting emotions from guilt to not wanting to see his friend get hurt, to maybe being a little jealous, react to something like this?

    In paragraph 11, to whom is he saying "Is that Lacey Stevens?"

    In Paragraph 19 I think a word got deleted that didn't mean to be: "Any whisper of the bay's waves crashing into the nearby..." nearby what?

    You know I've always loved your opening pages. I like how the crowd is a character all its own. I do still wish you could find a way to give Clay more agency in these opening pages. There's a lot going on and he reacts to all of it logically, but the way i read it he only reacts, and based on my experience, some agents may have issue with that.

    But that's all I got. Great job with these edits so we know what happens to Nicco. I love her way he's just standing there by the pool, basking in the glow of his own awesomeness. He's quit a character! Looking forward to see this on bookstore shelf.

  4. Your first pages are so good you've got to nail that pitch so agents read them!
    Your pitch should state a catalyst, goal, stakes and a twist. Your catalyst should be what happens to the mc. It seems likes the catalyst happens to Nicco. He's the one that jumps and breaks his ankle. Maybe you can reword and make it "Clay watches Nicco jump and get healed..."
    Then what is Clay's goal? Is it to protect Nicco? If he doesn't do this what is at stake? It's a little vague here. What situations happen that could cause him to get in the hospital. I think you need to be a little more specific.
    Finally, what's the twist? What happens next? I think you can allude to something more at the end...
    Great job! I look forward to reading more when it's published!

  5. Hey, Kelsey,

    Very impressive story here. This is an excellent premise and you've done a great job with the pages. They were easy to read and the characters are both very compelling.

    For the pitch:
    "Sixteen-year-old heal."
    This statement contradicts the pages in that you say it's rare to not be a healer, yet there's only one in a whole party of people. And it's also inferred that there's a special school for healers instead of a special school for non-healers. So Clay's non-healing isn't rare.
    This statement also makes me wonder why Clay wouldn't want to heal people. That makes him sound selfish right away.

    Be straightforward. Leave out this first paragraph and head straight into the second one. It gets us to the heart of the relationship between Nicco and Clay.

    Ever since Clay accidentally shot Nicco and almost took his life [add historical context here--when they were six-years-old], Nicco's chased after every adrenaline rush he can, often putting himself in danger. Even though he's not a healer, Clay feels of Nicco.

    This pitch indicates something about the story, which is that Clay is basically along for the ride. His life is not his own--it belongs to his guilt and to Nicco. It's a different kind of story, one where the main character isn't his own master. That's perfectly fine and makes for a great character arc. However, we need to see the desperation of Clay wanting to escape this life rather than his nonchalance in continuing to go along with it. To that end, in the pitch and the pages, I'd rather see Clay risking his reputation, not caring what the girl behind him or everyone down below thinks, and see him getting physical to the point that Nicco shoves him away and jumps, with Clay just missing catching Nicco as he lunges off the balcony. Right now, while Clay is compelling, I'm not sure I can get behind him as a hero I want to spend a whole book with if he's not willing to do something rather than non-act in the pathetic way he's currently trying to convince Nicco not to jump--all while admitting to himself that Nicco won't back down. It feels like a bit of a contradiction in Clay's character as well.

    This might also add some conflict between Nicco and Clay if Nicco blames Clay at first for his busted ankle only to thank him later for helping him discover the high of healing.

    Have to finish this in a second comment.

    Continued below...

  6. My comment continued from above...

    When a classmate his new obsession.

    Tighten and avoid passive. Remove 'he has to make to'
    'is' in the last sentence.

    This last sentence is about Nicco and not Clay. Keep it in Clay's POV. Unless this is a shift in the book. If we see Nicco's POV in the book, then put a second POV paragraph in the pitch so we know. Also, add internalization to this last sentence. Example: When the rush Nicco gets from healing becomes his new obsession, Clay [be specific--falls while trying to stop Nicco from climbing without any safety rope] and nearly gets killed too.

    With increasingly dangerous stunts, Clay has to decide...matter to him.

    Show the increasing stakes with a phrase like I added here. I like the tough decision here. The 'his' before guilt refers back to Nicco, which is a little confusing.

    Clay and Nicco have been a duo...or worse, hospitalized.

    I like this too, but it would be easy to already see that they are lifelong friends in the first line with that small adjustment I already added before.

    I do think the stakes here are great and steep enough. I'd expand on them and specify. Personal and vivid stakes are what pack a punch. Will he end up at the bottom of a ravine with his head split open? Will he find himself in jail with no hope of parole, and worse, no hope of saving Nicco from his next stupid stunt?

    As for the pages, I'd just take one last close look. As I was reading, it felt like there were a couple of words missing that made things a little clunky. But only a couple. And maybe a missing end quote. Really polish as best you can.

    Really excellent job overall.

  7. I think this is such a strong open, now. Really love the tension you've built from the start (even felt it the first time I read, but the revisions you've done have been absolutely excellent). My schedule at the college where I work went berserk this week. I apologize for the lateness of getting in here. I'll just say, it's been a pleasure reading your stuff and I so appreciate your openness to making changes. I look forward to seeing this book on shelves in the near future!

  8. Hi Kelsey! With apologies for the delay, thanks for the pleasure of reading your work. You're a skilled writer and I see a lot of potential! The struggle I'm feeling in your pitch and opening chapter right now is that you have two main characters, Clay and Nicco, and you either need to really embrace that and build them out together, or focus that laser in more tightly on Clay. I see the things Clay doesn't want but -- outside of a sense of guilt and an emotional "want" -- I'm not fully connecting to Clay's wants as a main character. The challenge I would put to you as you continue to develop this manuscript is to built an in-the-now plot that puts Clay at the center (a goal at school, a romantic interest, a competition or challenge that pits Clay against...Nicco?). I think that when you add this layer, your manuscript will sore. Do not be discouraged! Plots are really challenging. But I have confidence you'll get there. Happy writing! (And good luck with NaNoWriMo if it's in your plans!) -- Stasia