Monday, October 3, 2011

9 1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Entry #1

Trudy Zufelt
Middle Grade


Deep within the realm of the Underworld, the Mayan god, Ah Puch groaned. The ground rumbled beneath him. God L wailed in response and the whole earth trembled. From the ancient cities of Chican Itza to Tikal, the walls within the great Mayan temples shook. For miles around the ancient ruins, children clung to their mothers, fearful of the wrath of the Mayan gods. Grown men dropped to their knees in submission, begging the gods of the Underworld for an answer to what had awakened their fury.

“You promised my treasure was safe with the map,” Kukulkan hissed with fury while Ah Puch and God L cowered at his feet. “First, the Spaniard runs loose again. Now the guardian no longer holds the map safe. Must I call the god of war to settle this?” God L shook his head in shame. Ah Puch groaned and the earth moved again in response.



Over a thousand miles away, in Benicia, California, the ground stood still for one boy. Twelve-year-old Michael Cowan knew nothing of Mayan gods nor the reason for their anger. And, though the earth beneath his feet was solid today, tomorrow his own world would be shaken like the foundations of the Mayan temples.


* * *


“Heads up!” their father called.


The two brothers ran after the Frisbee, their brown-haired heads bobbing against the blue sky. Racing toward the cool water, the tide lapped against their ankles and the sand curled around their toes. Michael Cowan gave his little brother, Andrew, a head start, but caught him after a few quick strides. The Frisbee landed in the water, the tide catching and carrying it just past the beach. Diving into the ocean, Michael caught the Frisbee with his skinny arm and waded toward shore.

As he shook the water from his hair, he smiled, looking for his dad against the setting sun. Without warning, Michael was pummeled by a giant wave.

His dad yanked him from the water and said, “Are you okay?”


Michael followed his father on wobbly legs. “Come on Michael, run,” his father pleaded and cast a nervous glance behind him.

Turning his head over his shoulder, Michael tried to see behind his dad. “Don’t look!” Dad said, but
not before, Michael caught the shadow of a man peeking around a rock.

“Faster! You have to move faster.”

At the car, Dad threw open the back door and nudged Andrew inside. Michael had barely sat down in the front seat when his dad backed the car and squealed out of the parking lot.

“Buckle up!” Dad said.

Michael asked, “Who was that man?”

Looking in the rearview mirror, the color returned to his Dad’s face. He sighed and said, “I’m not sure, but I hope to find out tonight.”

Andrew interrupted and said, “Why did we have to leave so soon? When do we get to go to the beach again? Did you know I found a whole bunch of sand crabs? Do you think Mom will let me have a crab? I bet she won’t. She wouldn’t let me have a snake, would she Dad?”

Their dad smiled and shook his head. Michael wondered how his brother could find so many things to chatter about when Dad looked so worried. Andrew stopped talking and hummed, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” over and over again.

Michael thought about their family outing the week before at the park. They were flying kites on the last day of May. Just as they got their kite in the air, their dad reeled it in and rushed them to the car just like he did today.

“Dad, what’s going on?” Michael asked. Is somebody following us?”



His dad rubbed the dark stubble on his chin, hesitant.


“Come on, Dad!” Michael coaxed.

His dad lowered his voice and said, “Michael, buddy, if anything happens to me, I have a map you have to keep safe, no matter what.”


“A map?” Michael said.


Andrew stopped humming like he wanted to hear.


“How you doing, Andrew?” Dad said with a light voice.


“Are we almost home yet? I’m hungry.”


“Almost there and then we can eat,” Dad said.


“Dad…” Michael said.



“Not now, Michael!” his dad whispered. “But tomorrow, after church, I need to talk to you about the map.”


After dinner, Michael followed his dad to his office. “Dad, tell me who followed us today and about the map.”


“It’s a long story and I have some things I needs to take care of tonight,” Dad said, turning his back to Michael. His father scooted over some boxes on the bookshelf. He reached to the back of the shelf and pulled out an aged canister, tucking it under his arm. Then he slid some books off his desk and held them out to his son and said, “Here, take these and follow me.”

Michael followed his dad to the garage where his dad opened the trunk to his car and put the books and canister inside.


“Where are you going?”


“I’m not going anywhere yet and I can’t tell you until tomorrow. I’ll know more then.”


“But Dad,” Michael protested.


Before he could say more, his father cast Michael a weary look, walked past him, and locked himself in his office.


Dejected, Michael went into the family room where he found his mom reading to Andrew. He tried to listen, but kept looking at the clock until he gave up and said, “Goodnight, I’m going to bed.”


“I love you. Have a good night.” His mom called after him and he rushed to bed where he read until he fell into a fitful night’s sleep.


He was abruptly awakened by his dad’s panicked voice, “I don’t have the map!” Don’t kill me. Please, I beg you!” From the shadows emerged a dark figure who moved like the wind across room, somehow not making a sound over the usually creaky floor. His wet teeth glimmered in the starlight and his wild, black hair, lay in greasy strands across his face. When he reached Michael’s dad, he pressed the heel of his buckled shoe into his chest and shoved the tip of a sword into his neck.

Michael sat up in terror, sweat dripping from his forehead. He expected to see his father on the ground, begging for mercy beneath the foot of some madman. Instead, he saw nothing but the shadows cast by the moon, across his bedroom wall. He listened for his father’s voice again, but heard only knocking coming from downstairs. The doorbell rang then the knocking grew faster and louder. Michael’s mom walked past his room and he hurried after her.

When his mom reached the bottom of the stairs, she peeked through the window and opened the door a bit. A policeman with a bushy mustache introduced himself as Officer Romero and introduced his partner. Michael’s’ mom opened the door wider, peering into the darkness at his badge. Officer Romero asked her if she recognized the wallet he held in his hand. A shadow of fear crossed her eyes and they filled with tears as she nodded her head.

“No, please no,” Mom said in a muffled cry and covered her mouth with a trembling hand.


Officer Romero looked at his partner who stared at his feet and shifted back and forth. “I’m afraid I have some terrible news. May we come in?” he asked.

9 comments:

  1. Hi Trudy,

    What a fun concept! I love the Mayan gods squabbling and the idea of a map that has somehow resurfaced. I think middle grade kids would love it too. I'm intrigued about where you are going with this and see a ton of possibilities. I love many of your details. Wet teeth? Awesome! :D

    That said, I see a number of things that you could address.

    1) Clarity. A lot of what is going on gets lost here. In the prologue, I'd like it much clearer that the argument between the gods is taking place in modern times. The way you introduce the ancient cities makes it easy for the eye to skim over the word ruins and the past and present start to blur a bit. Consider choosing some modern details to contrast against the ancient--oh, and do be careful about repeating words (like ancient) in close proximity.

    What is going on at the beach is muddled, too. The wave takes away focus from the man the father sees. I suggest you simplify that and make the man more concrete and incorporate a small scene between him and the father that explains the threat more clearly.

    Similarly, the dream/waking sequence where the father is attacked by the pirate??? left me completely confused. Is it a dream? A vision? Is he overhearing this under his window? A little mystery is good, but you have enough going on with the gods and the map. Don't leave the reader drowning in questions.

    2. Point of View. I assume this is Michael's story? I suggest you take a closer POV on him, which means describing events more fully from his perspective. Things like describing his father snatching him by his skinny arms add distance, and also affect how the reader will perceive him. Be careful, especially this early in the ms, to be sure you are conveying exactly the image of the characters you want the reader to take away.

    3. Language and writing. In a close third POV, you'll be able to really show us how Michael thinks, but I don't get the impression you know him that well yet. Your language is sometimes older, sometiems younger. There are instances where you repeat a concept or fact, while other times we don't have enough information.

    Overall, all these problems are easily fixed. It may be helpful to go through and map out your information before the next draft. Step away from the pages and write down what information you absolutely need the reader to know, and in what order you want to convey it. Then think through your characterizations and how that information might most naturally come out in their thoughts and dialogue.

    You're almost there. It all just needs a bit of tweaking. I'm looking forward to the next draft.

    Best,

    Martina

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  2. Hi Trudy,

    I'm really curious about where you'll be going with the map, treasure and the Mayan gods. What pulls me out is inconsistency in the language.

    The context for who/which Mayan god Kukulkan is feels like its missing an explanation and is a bit jarring when he appears after the introduction of the other two gods. Also, when are they having this argument? I like the introduction, L and Ah pushing each others buttons and resulting in an Earthquake is clever.

    The paragraph where the brothers are playing with the frisbee is a little confusing because of your word choices (like beginning with father then switching to dad, catching a Frisbee with an arm, nudging Micchael into the car rather than shoving if the Dad is in a hurry etc.)

    Lastly, I have to agree with the previous comment about POV. During the beach scene and the pirate dream the stakes don't feel like pressing danger because there is a distance.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi. I do like the concept of the story - the Mayan Gods, treasure. Sounds like a definite seller, especially for boys. I also like the earthquake idea.

    I agree with the suggestions above. I would also look at frequently used words such as God in the first paragraph. It gets a little confusing and interrupts the flow.

    It is important to find a specific POV for your story. After that it should be easier to address the language sounding older and younger in areas.
    Thanks! Looking forward to future drafts.

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  4. Hi! Really cool concept. Very exciting - I know my son would love it. That said I think there is still some work to be done. While I like the Mayan gods introduction, I'm not sure you need it. I think starting with Michael and being followed throws us right into the action and we can discover along with him about the connection to the Mayans. I say this because I know prologues (which is what that really is) are controversial. So if it isn't NEEDED I would stay clear.
    I felt like the information was coming at me in a rush and that it was too much telling. You have great details, and what sounds like an awesome plot, but I need more world and more character. SO, what I recommend is trying first person POV to get into Michael's head. You don't have to change the whole manuscript, just test it out to see the difference. I think if you are in his head, we will be too and we will feel what he feels and experience what he does. Right now I don't feel like I know him enough as a person.
    I can't wait to see your revision!

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  5. The idea is exciting, but I was confused by a lot of things.

    • Didn't understand why the Dad would be frightened by a man on the beach. (I understood a bit more later, but still, his reactions didn't ring true, but were kind of melodramatic.)

    • The dialogue with the son seemed to be running in circles rather than moving the story forward. Wasn't sure if you were trying to build suspense here, but I don't think it was doing that.

    • Very confused by final paragraphs. If Michael wakes up in bed, how does he know what is happening to his dad? Point of view issues, or I'm missing something somewhere.

    (I'm reading Les Edgerton's 'Hooked' for fabulous beginnings. You might enjoy it too.)

    Here are the "speed bumps" that I hit:

    • The names Ah Puch (Made me laugh, although I think it was supposed to be serious. I think it wouldn't come out right if a teacher was reading this aloud to a class.) and God L seemed odd.

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  6. I agree about dropping the prologue. Either that or making it longer and more detailed. Richer.

    I also think you can start the first chapter without the first bit of dialogue from Dad.

    My thought on Dad running to the car with the kids is that he would pick up one of them. Andrew seems young enough for that.

    Sarah Laurenson (Still fighting Blogger login issues)

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  7. Your story sounds very interesting and makes me want to read more. However, the first chapter drew me into the story more so than the prologue. As a reader, if I opened the book to read the first few pages to see whether I would purchase this book, the first chapter is what would draw my attention—two boys on an outing with their dad, then dad suddenly rushes them into the car and speeds away because a mysterious man is watching them from behind a rock.

    Next, I wouldn’t want Dad to answer Michael’s questions. I would want him to ignore him as if everything were normal. And I would want Andrew to totally annoy Michael with his constant questions, especially seeing how worried their dad is.

    Example:
    Looking in the rearview mirror, the color returned to Dad’s face. He sighed and ignored his son’s question just like he had the week before when they were at the park. Michael recalled how they were flying kites on the last day of May. Just as they got their kite in the air, their dad reeled it in and rushed them to the car just like he did today.

    Andrew interrupted Michael’s thoughts with his usual barrage of questions. “Why did we have to leave so soon? When do we get to go to the beach again? Did you know I found a whole bunch of sand crabs? Do you think Mom will let me have a crab? I bet she won’t. She wouldn’t let me have a snake, would she Dad?”

    I would also want to know both their ages in the first chapter as well. And I would want Mom introduced earlier. Perhaps as soon as they get home, Dad hastily ushers Mom into the kitchen to discuss the mysterious man and mentions that he saw him the previous week as well. But they still don’t tell Michael anything. They just try to act as if everything is normal.

    Others might feel differently, but I would like to get to know the characters a little bit better in the first chapter and throw in the mystery of the map toward the end of the chapter. Maybe Michael could follow his dad into the office and badger him until he tells him about the map.

    After dinner, Michael followed his dad to his office. “Dad, tell me who followed us today.”

    “It’s a long story and I have some things I needs to take care of tonight,” Dad said, turning his back to Michael. His father scooted over some boxes on the bookshelf. He reached to the back of the shelf and pulled out an aged canister, tucking it under his arm. Then he slid some books off his desk and held them out to his son and said, “Here, take these and follow me.”

    Michael followed his dad to the garage where his dad opened the trunk to his car and put the books and canister inside.

    “Where are you going?”

    “I’m not going anywhere yet and I can’t tell you until tomorrow. I’ll know more then.”

    Michael’s dad sighed heavily and frowned. Lowering his voice he looked sternly at Michael and said, “Michael, buddy, if anything happens to me, I have a map you have to keep safe, no matter what.”

    “A map?” Michael said.

    Again, his dad shutdown and started walking back to his office. Michael followed, inquiring repeatedly about the map. But rather than answering him, his dad simply cast him a weary look, walked into his office, and locked the door behind him.

    On another note, I think a little variation in sentence structure would help the flow of the story. Some examples:
    His dad yanked him from the water. “Are you okay?”
    Michael nodded but followed his father on wobbly legs.
    Michael’s father cast a nervous glance behind him. “Come on, Michael. Run,” he pleaded.

    Hope this helps.

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  8. I really like the idea here, but I did feel like it was really distant. I know as a kid, I wanted to feel like I was part of the story, instead of just observing it. The prologue is neat, but I agree that it might not be needed. I cut my prologue because I know a lot of readers (and agents) skip them. I'd also like to know more about Michael, like his age, how he feels about his father, his brother, his mom. There's a lot of interesting teases here, but I need to care more about your MC to really get hooked. This is a great start and I know you can really make it shine!

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  9. I actually like the idea of your prologue - I know everyone's picking on prologues here, lol, but I agree that it has to be clearer that the gods are fighting in the present and not some distant Mayan past. I agree with a lot of the previous comments - especially when Jenny says make us care about your MC. Great writing - looking forward to reading your rewrites ;-)

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