Sunday, January 19, 2020

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Gonzales Rev 2

Name: Gina Gonzales
Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: Talented


Deep within the swamp lies the home of The Narluu. The price to live in his territory is Talent, and he has collected every month for centuries without fail. When Daddy’s Talent is taken, fourteen-year-old Madge Boudray reluctantly follows her older sister Bryce into its underground lair to steal it back.

Even though Bryce led the charge, it was Madge who returned clutching all that’s left of her sister after the explosion that killed the monster — her now magically sentient hand. At first, the girls are hailed as monster slayers, but when Talents begin disappearing again, the town fears The Narluu is out for revenge and banishes the Boudrays. Hoping all will be forgiven if they can prove the monster is dead, Madge and her sister-hand race back to its lair.

Along their journey they make a shocking discovery: The Narluu hadn’t only been terrorizing their town, it had been protecting it. Now Madge will be forced to step out of her sister’s shadow and take the lead if she’s going to save her family from the greater evil that lurks within the swamp.

TALENTED is an Over the Garden Wall meets Where the Woods End dark MG fantasy.


It was cold behind The Teeth.

The grove of pearly white cypress trees stood bright against the tangled green of the swamp, the jagged entrance into the underground lair of The Narluu.

Madge shivered against them and squeezed her sister’s hand twice.

Love. You.

Three squeezes came back.

Love. You. Too.

Letting out a controlled breath, Madge carefully reached into the right pocket of her jacket (right for raspberry). She removed a packet of jelly that she gave to Bryce before grabbing a lemon curd for herself (left for lemon). Quiet food.

Tearing open the packet, the citrusy curd added a bright tart smell to the dank cave air before melting into the darkness. Her inventory system was simple, yet effective, and kept her from fumbling around. She might not be Talented, but at least she was organized.

Her stomach gave a mighty growl and she tensed. They’d gone the entire trip communicating only with squeezes, taps, pinches, and scratches, but it was her stomach that was going to get them caught. Bryce, ever the older sister, pressed her unopened jelly packet back into Madge’s fingers and squeezed.

If they weren’t in a monster’s nest, she would have given it back. Her sister must be as hungry as she was. But it was Bryce who ran away. Bryce who took Daddy’s canoe into the swamp. Bryce who wanted to steal Daddy’s Talent back from The Narluu. So even though Madge wasn’t sure about any of these things, she followed along as always in her sister’s shadow.

Madge sucked on the raspberry packet, the fruity smell reminding her of breakfast toast. Daddy always made it just right, golden brown for her and amber for Bryce. One whiff from a dollop of jelly had given her that entire memory. Hiding underground in the pitch black for hours had apparently heightened her other senses. It would be nice to see, but it was also nice not having to wear her glasses.

Bones and rocks crackled beneath her as she stretched out a leg. If everything went according to plan, they’d soon be out of this suffocatingly dark place for good. Home to Daddy and Coralynn and James. Back under the grey cypress that bent over like elderly grandparents gazing into a cradle. Even the hot humid air and getting her boots stuck in the mud sounded wonderful.

When she and Bryce were little, they’d stay awake after Daddy turned out the lights trying to guess what The Narluu looked like. It had started out fun, with them giggling to the music of frogs singing and plopping into the water outside their window, but it always ended with Madge crawling into Bryce’s bed, clutching her flashlight. The very same one she carried with her now, ready to pierce the inky darkness the moment Bryce gave the sign.

The Teeth began to vibrate. Both girls froze. A buzzing sound bubbled up from deep within the nest. It grew louder and louder until it surrounded them, like they were in the middle of a beehive. The sisters leaned together, holding each other tight to keep from screaming. The jelly sat on Madge’s tongue like a lump.

Fais-do-do. Fais-do-do. Fais-do-do, she chanted to herself. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Be anywhere. Anywhere but here. 

The buzzing sound changed into erratic clicks that came from all over like the dainty feet of a metal-booted spider exploring its surroundings. Madge flinched. Staring into the black, her mind stretched trying to imagine what was above her, because no one knew what The Narluu looked like. The only thing they could agree on was the goosefleshy feeling they got when he was about to take a Talent.

Click. Click. Click.

The legs, or what she pictured as legs, sounded like they were pausing as they slid over them. Madge held her breath and squeezed Bryce’s hand with all her might. Blood rushed in her ears and she prayed that if it was going to eat them, it would be quick.

Finally, blessedly, The Narluu squeezed through the gap in The Teeth, back into the swamp to check on its many territories. Madge groaned as she let out a loud breath and let her body sag. But before she could recover, Bryce was already scratching a nail against her thumb.

Let’s go.

Madge swallowed a sigh and crawled after her, kicking up the settled rotting smells from the matted pile beneath them. She choked down a gag. It was only that morning that they had followed The Narluu into its lair and hid near the entrance waiting for it to leave. Now that it had, all they had to do was find Talent Room. Talents were the price the town paid to live in and use the swamp, and The Narluu collected every month on the full moon without fail. Moving as fast as their stiff bodies would allow, they followed their noses just like Daddy taught them, searching for a sweet smell that accompanied the Talent Room.

Around the third bend to the right, they turned into an outlet and the air freshened. Madge rushed to stand under the hole in the ceiling and tilted her face upward to enjoy the breeze. But not even a minute passed before Bryce pulled her to the center of the room and tugged on her pinkie. Madge reached into her left hip pack (left for light) and pulled out her flashlight. Holding it to her chest, she paused before cracking the darkness. Maybe in some ways it was better not to be able to see where they were, the horrors they were crawling through. But they had no choice. There was no other way to find Daddy’s Talent. 

Gritting her teeth, Madge flicked the switch upward. Spots bounced before her eyes and she blinked. It took a few moments for them to adjust, and a few more to remember that she needed her glasses.

The underground room was round and covered in curling vines and roots. They jutted out from the ceiling and walls, like giant fingers holding jars, plants, rocks and other mysterious things. It reminded Madge of her friend James’ workshop. He’d be ecstatic to poke around here looking for treasures to use in his experiments. The floor was a mixture of dirt, mud, and something grey and fluffy that Madge was hoping was just animal hair. Above them tinkling like wind chimes were the Talents.

They hung down in lines, straight as soldiers. Sometimes only one Talent swung at the end of the string like a plum-sized bead, while others were laced with so many that they hung all the way down to the floor. They blanketed the ceiling, creating a mass that seemed to shimmer as it moved.

“I told you. Just like the stories,” Bryce squealed, just above a whisper. Her eyes danced in the beam of the flashlight. “Hurry, look for Daddy’s.” 

Madge nodded and moved to the other side of the room, shaking her head. It was just like Bryce to be excited at a time like this, and for her to be shivering in her boots. It wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t she be more like her sister? What was she going to do when Bryce went off to college in a couple of years?


  1. Hi Gina,
    Your pitch is awesome. It gives the reader just enough teasers to entice us to read on. The interaction between the sisters is lovely. This time, somehow, I felt some dialogue in the memory scenes might be nice. Just quick verbal interactions. Perhaps the thought of being home with Daddy and Coralynn and James, a thought of a typical quip from one of them, or when Madge crawls into Bryce’s bed a flashlight.
    Your descriptions create super visuals, and I could feel the tension of the scene.
    You have an amazing story here.
    All the very best,

  2. Hi Gina,

    Wow! There are definitely some interesting tidbits in your pitch. Sentient hand… what?! The only thing I think I was missing is the fact that Madge is talentless. This information would contrast nicely with your hook of her having to take the lead and save her family and show a little more of her character arch.
    I really like your pages and I finally have a picture of the Teeth in my head 😊.

    All the best,

    1. You're right. I was struggling to decide if I should push the she's in her sister's shadow thing or the Talentless thing. Thank you!

  3. Hi Gina,

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! Here are some thoughts:

    Pitch: Great first paragraph. Maybe add a detail or two about what "Talent" refers to?
    I like the sentient hand part in the second paragraph, but I was confused about the reaction by the town. Are both Madge and Bryce (her hand?) hailed as monster slayers? Isn't the town concerned about what happened to the rest of her? Third paragraph - love the twist about the Narluu!

    Pages: I'm a little conflicted about the paragraph where Madge recalls how her and her sister imagined what the Narluu looks like. On one hand, I like it. But at the same time, it felt tension was building steadily before that paragraph, but then it stalls.
    Similarly, the part about James's workshop deflated for me some of the tension you create with the two girls in the monster's lair. Finally, the line about Madge wondering what she would do when Bryce was goes off to college seemed a little out of place.

    Overall, fantastic job! You have a really unique and intriguing premise and a love your writing. Keep at it - I can't wait to read the whole thing some day.


    1. Thanks Michael. I paused in those places too and I'm also conflicted on whether to keep them or not. Maybe they work in terms of a longer submission, but then maybe not? Thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback!

  4. Hi Gina,

    I really like your pitch. I'm pulled in and want to read more!

    Great job on showing more sensory details. I can feel the air around them.
    The only area that felt out of place was the mention of her needing her glasses. I think you could do without it unless you show her searching for them, to wear.

    Good luck with this, I'm looking forward to reading it someday.

  5. Hi Gina,

    Thanks for sharing your revision and pitch with us. I love the opening paragraph of your pitch. It's compact, gives us just enough info to understand your world, and gets right to the inciting moment of the story. Bravo!

    The second paragraph gets a bit dense with details, however, and that can kill the momentum of reading the pitch. I don't think we need to know everything you've shared here...I especially find the "sister hand" part a bit hard to comprehend without reading the actual pages, so I vote for giving agents less to question and just let them fall in love with your awesome characters.

    I suggest dialing back the details in the second paragraph and focusing on the challenge Madge faces, the risks it entails, and the potential consequences if she fails. Leave us wanting to know if she succeeds, so that we dive straight into your pages.

    The third paragraph already does some of this, and I like the tone of it. I just think leaving out more of the plot will actually make a stronger query, as sometimes magical worlds are very hard to condense into just a few words.

    The pages are looking great!

    I still think we need an indication that Bryce is the older sister very early on, as the default in MG is to assume the child carrying the food and distributing it is the older sibling. It should be easy to fit in an indication, like Madge reaching UP to tap Bryce's shoulder, or Madge admiring her "big" sister, or Bryce having long legs or a grownup item of some sort with her... Take that early opportunity to control the narrative and avoid confusion. As it reads right now, our first indication of Bryce's age is the final sentence in this selection. Apologies if I missed an earlier one, but a small mention could set this stage clearly.

    I love the edits you've made to finding the Narluu's lair and the way the Talents display. So richly visual, and so unique. There is a lot to love here.

    I wish you the best!

    Melanie Conklin
    First Five Mentor

    1. Thanks so much for all your feedback, Melanie. You have pushed me to think about my story in new ways. It was wonderful working with you!

  6. From Karly Caserza:

    Thank you for being brave and sharing your work. Reading critiques about your work is never easy so I appreciate you opening yourself to different ideas. Don’t forget that advice given is always subjective. These are edits that I think would help your work though someone else or you may completely disagree. Pursue the path that’s true to you as the author and your work.


    HER SISTER’S HAND?!!?!? *faint* Poor Madge.

    I think overall this is pretty good only I’d tighten up the end of the second paragraph and tie it in with the third.

    “Even though Bryce led the charge, it was Madge who returned clutching all that’s left of her sister after the explosion that killed the monster — her now magically sentient hand. At first, the girls are hailed as monster slayers. But when Madge makes a shocking discovery the Narluu had actually been protecting their town, she will be forced to step out of her sister’s shadow and save her family from the greater evil that lurks within the swamp.”

    This is definitely a cute story! The idea of “talents” being consumed makes me curious what happens to the people and what these talents are being used for. I wonder if Madge could be aged down though to fit the MG age group.


    The beginning scene is alive despite the stillness of the scene. The anticipation is wonderful. But I feel like there’s a little bit of editing that can be reworked to help heighten the moment. When I find myself right there in the darkness with Madge and her sister, some of the telling narration takes me out of the moment and then I have to work to get back into that eeriness that you worked so hard to establish prior.

    The voice does fluctuate from a young MG tone to an older, possibly YA, narration.

    But there are so many wonderful elements here that make me quite curious about what’s going to happen.

    Thank you again for sharing your work. Good luck on your writing career.

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