Sunday, March 8, 2020

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Grigorova

Name: Lily Grigorova
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Title: Pan’s Island

Sofia, Bulgaria
Thursday, June 13, 2019

I slid my fingers around the loudspeaker in my pocket. A smooth, round shape, kind of soothing to rub and squeeze. I started walking past the planters of boxwood forming the perimeter of Parliament Square and pretended to look at my phone in my other hand. There was a CCTV camera on the side of the Parliament Building. I angled my body slightly to the left and let my hair fall over my shoulder to curtain off my face.

A single police car idled near the entrance of the InterContinental across the square. I stopped when the monument of the Tsar Liberator stood between the cops’ line of sight and me. Then I stumbled toward the nearest planter, sneaked my hand out of my pocket and dropped the loudspeaker at the base of the boxwood.

That was the last one.

I glanced at my phone. 21:43. Two minutes till we went live. My hair still a curtain between the CCTV camera and my face, I ambled toward the cobbled sidewalk which divided Parliament Square from Kliment Ohridski Garden.

My phone vibrated in my hand.

Alex: ?

I texted back: Speakers planted. Punch it

Alex: Nice. Get out of there

No way. I wasn’t getting out of here before I saw our creation live. I leaned against a tree trunk on the edge of Kliment Ohridski Garden. The Parliament Building sparkled white and imposing in the summer night, bathed in the illumination of dozens of floodlights. I glanced at my phone. 21:46.
Come on. Come on.

I imagined Alex and the twins gathered around Alex’s laptop in our usual booth in the White Rabbit. Alex typing, checking and rechecking his algorithm, the twins jumping in their seats, giving him useless advice and urging him to hurry. Alex would recheck for the hundredth time and then, finally, he’d press Enter.

Color flooded the white imposing façade across from me. For a second I was breathless with awe. Cartooned pigs gamboled across the building’s front, talked on cell phones, passed legislation, ate meatballs, and smoked cigars. There were speech bubbles, mock fights, money passing under the table. The stars of the cartoon resembled prominent political figures, including my uncle: the fattest of them all.

It was perfect, just as I’d imagined it: the colors saturated and distinct; the projection didn’t pixelate or freeze. I glanced at the roof of the InterConti, where our projectors were hidden beneath the hoods of webcams. Perfect alignment; the projection streamed in synchronization.

The sound of laughter broke through my awed observation. Several groups of people had paused on their way across the square to enjoy the projection laughing and filming with their phones. I grinned and did the same.

The first run of the cartoon ended with my personal contribution in large black letters: Their stink is on you!

Then it hit me: something was missing. I stopped filming and dialed Alex’s number.

“There’s no sound,” I hissed in the receiver.

The loudspeakers I’d spent the last fifteen minutes surreptitiously planting around the building were silent.

“What are you still doing there?” Alex hissed back.

“Check the audio!” I raised my voice.

“Audio is green,” he said. “Should be working.”

“Should,” I growled, “but it’s not. I’m right here. There’s no sound.”

I waited on the line as Alex checked the program. I’d made sure to place the speakers carefully on the ground and not throw them, I’d made sure they were all charged and set to transmit. So it had to be a software issue, especially because all four weren’t working.

Pigs’ grunting filled the square. It was so realistic, some of the spectators looked around in shock. I chuckled.

“Sorry,” Alex’s voice in my ear,“ my bad. Now come already.”

“Be right there,” I answered.

The grunting raised it to a whole new level. The crowd of spectators went wild, laughing out loud and clapping. I joined in the applause, a ridiculous grin splitting my face. We did it! A year of planning and execution, and our masterpiece was live, shining gloriously in the June night.

The two cops had crawled out of their patrol car and were trying to disperse the crowd. I raised my phone to make a video with sound, the grin still on my face. I had about five minutes until Sofia PD’s finest started cordoning off the square and writing down people’s info for investigation. Just enough time to show off my work to the Pan.

I logged into the Pan’s darkweb chat room. Its background filled my phone screen: a mercurial gray with the Pan’s dragonfly logo shimmering in the middle. A chat window opened. I paused, my thumbs hovering over the keyboard. I didn’t want to sound childish. Polite and confident, that’s what I had to aim for. He would be begging me to work with them after this job anyway.

I typed:

user416 A8i5w9Dear Pan

I giggled. This formal opening was going to get his attention.

user416 A8i5w9: How are you? How is life in the underworld?

I pressed Enter and waited. As usual, he responded within a minute. A thrill went through my chest at the sight of the three dots that indicated typing next to his Admin tag.

Admin: Sunny

I grinned. A quick glance around the square assured me Sofia PD’s lamest were still scratching their heads, so I bent back to my phone.

user416 A8i5w9Sending greetings from Sofia

I uploaded the video I’d just made and waited. Ten seconds later, the response flashed on my screen.

Admin: I see. Very imaginative

Imaginative? It was frickin’ genius! I looked up to behold the glory of our piggish cartoon on the face of Bulgarian politics. Then I stooped back over my phone.

user416 A8i5w9: When you say imaginative, you mean the best damn thing you seen this year?

AdminI mean good enough for a bunch of kids with nothing better to do.

My jaw dropped. This job was the paragon of what we did. It mocked the corrupt political class in their faces and was bound to make the news cycle. The Pan should applaud its freshness and audacity and thank their lucky stars a genius like me wanted to join them.

I clicked the phone off and stuffed it in my jeans’ back pocket. Two additional police cars pulled up in front of Parliament. A duo of disheveled plain-clothes officers climbed out of one. Their uniformed colleagues started rerouting the night traffic and cordoning off the square with crowd-control barriers. Time for me to go.


The voice made me jump on the spot.

“Your ID, please.”

A policeman stood behind me: a small, pudgy man in his twenties, sweat stains radiating from his armpits over the faded-blue uniform shirt.

“Excuse me?” I asked, voice cracking. How hadn’t I noticed this guy? I cleared my throat and added in a more relaxed tone: “What’s the problem, officer?”

“A routine check. Your ID, please,” he drawled.

No, no, no! The CCTV footage had my shape strolling across the lawn over the exact spots where the loudspeakers would sooner or later be found. As long as the authorities didn’t have my info in their system, there would be no way to connect that hooded shape to me. But if this guy recorded that I’d been lurking in the vicinity…

“Miss,” the cop’s bored tone held a hint of suspicion now. “Your ID!”


  1. Super great world building. I want to read more. Every time I had questions about something they were answered. This seems very thought out. This also has a great balance of narration, dialogue, and media (texting).

    One thing that got me – The police officer that wanted her ID – unless there is a significance to his age I think it’d be good if he looked older. When I was reading I was questioning if someone in their 20’s would be pudgy and sweaty on the police force. The body type seems like that of an older police officer who has been on the force for a long time. (Or maybe it just made me feel old. Haha)
    I really enjoyed your use of technology. I know I said it before, but I really enjoyed the mix in your writing. I’m curious about The Pan and also Sofia’s gang of friends. Are they trying to join the dark web too? I’d love to read more (later) about her relationship with all of the above, plus her uncle. Would being the niece of an important politician get her noticed by the police faster? What will her uncle say if she gets caught? What’s with the dragonfly logo? Basically, I’m invested in this story now. Lol.
    One thing I’d enjoy is the incorporation of more senses. Maybe the smell of asphalt, pollution, car exhaust, something, could be incorporated. (unless I missed it)
    “A smooth, round shape, kind of soothing to rub and squeeze.” – I THINK this is a dangling modifier. Needs an action or “did what” to finish the sentence.

    1. Laura, thanks so much! The positive feedback lifts my spirits. Your comments are very helpful!

  2. Hi Lily,

    Your opening paragraph is very intriguing, it grabbed my attention from the start. I like the voice and the tone of your writing.
    'The stars of the cartoon resembled prominent political figures, including my uncle: the fattest of them all.' I liked this sentence a lot.

    The way you built up the scene and your overconfident character fooled me at the end because I didn't expect for her to be caught so soon. Maybe you could emphasize on this part of her personality so it would bring her character more to the page.

    As you introduced the stakes at the end, I would have liked to know more about her goal. I don't know if planting the loudspeaker (and organizing all this I assume) was worth it because I have no idea why she did it. Is it only to join Pan or does it have something to do with her uncle, or it could be both? I also want to know if she's the mastermind behind this. I first assumed it was Alex because he controls everything from behind the scene but as she contacted Pan I wasn't sure anymore. Maybe you could make this clearer. Does she want to get into Pan or does she wants the whole team in?

    Good job!

  3. Wow, this is a great piece! I read it twice through and love the action.

    A few things stood out: the character's name - I think you could easily work this in during the first text exchange with Alex. And also, a sense of why the character is doing this. There is a reference to it when the character chats the Admin - and I love that tension there with wanting approval and acceptance from this unknown figure - it notes what the Pan is about.If there's a way to hint at why mocking establishment politics is key to them, a foreshadowing or a hint, that will make this even stronger.

    The very first line I think you could add something before the loudspeaker in the pocket. A snappy first line that orients the reader or gives us a clue what this character is thinking. Something like: We had it all planned out. Or The plan was in action (maybe more creative than that, but a line that is quick and stands alone).

    That way when you get to the end of these 5 pages, we're already seeing the plan deviate because they haven't fled the scene and now they're potentially caught.

  4. Wow, Lily,

    Great ticking clock tension! Mine, that is, because Sophia is cool as a cucumber. Our only hint that she's at all affected is that the smoothness of the speaker is soothing. So, I'm missing her reaction to this initial suspense, even if it's just physical--heart rate, dry mouth, etc.

    Your setting is well-done and effectively used to move the story forward.

    I wondered that her name wasn't mentioned until quite a way into the posting, but maybe that was intentional, to add to the intrigue.

    The stakes are high with Sophia's uncle involved in the corrupt government and her part in this high-tech mockery or protest. I like the interaction between the characters. I'm interested in the Pan and all its players.

    I was surprised that she was caught so soon, but that also just makes me want to find out what happens.

    Good work here.

  5. So much to love here! As others have mentioned, the pacing is excellent and the concept is super intriguing. I would definitely keep reading! I really like the main character who is confident and almost a little cocky but relatable in seeking approval. I think this MS has a hook that would be massively appealing to teen readers. The setting is also another great element here as there aren't a ton of teen books set in eastern European countries even though I think there's a lot of interest in that region. Very exciting!

    In terms of notes, I agree with Steph that your opening line/paragraph isn't the strongest. If it were me, I'd try to work the section that reads, "This job was the paragon of what we did. It mocked the corrupt political class in their faces and was bound to make the news cycle. The Pan should applaud its freshness and audacity and thank their lucky stars a genius like me wanted to join them," into the opening paragraph. Teenager pulling a techno caper as basically a job interview with a shadowy, secret organization would totally have my full attention. I would really try to work that into an opening since it is interesting and could synthesize both what is going on and why.

    Also, we are introduced to quite a few things here. There's the MC, Alex, the twins, the White Rabbit, the MC's uncle, the Pan and Admin. If you can whittle that down at all, I would do it. Personally, I question whether it's necessary to have the MC both text and call Alex. You've put a ticking clock in place (literally) because the character checks the time and it seems like it would be just as easy to have a the character stress about getting things in place in time rather than text Alex.

    Personally, I wasn't quite clear on the meaning of "Their stink is on you!" Like is that directed at the politicians? The people viewing the graphics? I think that if this is the character's big contribution to the program, that line needs to really be a memorable zinger.

    Also, the line about the uncle (for me) got a bit buried, which cheats your stakes a little bit since it's clearly going to be a VERY big deal if this character gets caught. Bigger than if she had no relationship to the political situation.

    On the tech side, do you literally mean algorithm? And honestly, I really don't know but I hired a technical reader for DAY ZERO who crossed that word out almost every time I used it because he said I was continually misusing the word. I'd also be careful/strategic with using the term White Rabbit in a CS context unless you're openly acknowledging that's it's kind of over done.

    Overall though, I think this is so exciting and fast-paced and Loved it. :)

  6. Hi Lily,

    This is brilliant! You writing is clear, concise. Your descriptions are to the point. The tension builds gradually, leading to the encounter with the police officer at the end. As a reader, we HAVE to know how your MC is going to get out of this one! And you brilliantly made us aware that your MC is mocking someone from her own family. Now we want to know why!

    Your MC is a girl, right? I gathered that from the way she lets her hair fall to hide her face from the CCTVs. Is she a (young) adult?

    I have very few comments:
    - I'm not sure about your first sentence. What if you started with something like 'Four minutes till we go live', to get that clock ticking right away? This is just a suggestion, of course.
    - I also wonder about the meaning of 'Their stink is on you!' (is 'you' the citizens?) but if you get to that later, then that's fine.
    - You might need to expand on 'Sofia PD’s finest'. I just realized you start the chapter with 'Sofia, Bulgaria'. Consider adding 'City of Sofia' to avoid young readers thinking you're referring to a person. And I'd expand 'PD' the first time you use it.
    - A tiny spacing issue here: 'Alex’s voice in my ear,“ my bad.'

    Awesome! Congratulations!

  7. Thanks everyone! So many useful comments and great suggestions! Seeing the piece from another's point of view kind of lifts a fog from my mind, so that I can also see what I've written in a fresh way. I'm digging into it now. Happy writing to you all:)