Monday, October 3, 2011

6 1st Five Pages October Workshop - Entry #2

Katie O'Sullivan
Middle Grade, Contemporary Fantasy

Nantucket Island, North Atlantic Ocean
Fifteen years ago

“Congratulations, it’s a boy.”
Brynn lay on the hospital bed clutching her newborn against her chest, the doctor’s words echoing in her head. The baby sighed in his sleep. Brynn smiled down at the peaceful face, longing to share her good news. But she knew that was the one thing she couldn’t do. Father would never congratulate me, nor accept a half-breed into his household.
The King of the Atlantic was a stern ruler… and a strict father. He didn’t approve of his only daughter marrying a drylander. So the Princess did the only thing she could think of and swam away to marry the human she loved.
In the corner of the hospital room, Tom groaned in his sleep. Brynn glanced at him and smiled again. They were barely twenty, but she’d been in love with him since the first time she’d seen him aboard his father’s fishing boat. For many summers, Brynn had watched Tom and his twin brother help their father work the nets, hauling in the cod that this area was famous for.
She stared at him now, remembering their first kiss one moonlit summer night when she had just turned fifteen. The age of consent in her world. He gave her a diamond and moonstone ring the summer they both turned eighteen, the age of consent in his world. Now here they were, not two years later, on the island of Nantucket giving birth to their firstborn. A son.
A half-drylander son who bore the Mark upon his back. Could he be the child of the legends?
The nurse with the white hair and the kind eyes entered the room, interrupting Brynn’s thoughts. “It’s time to take your baby for his first shots,” she said cheerfully, pushing her wheeled bassinet cart up next to the bed. She leaned over to lift the sleeping infant from his mother’s arms. “You should get some rest, too. You look exhausted. Was it a hard labor?”
Brynn shook her head as she reluctantly released her newborn. She watched the nurse settle him into the cart. He looked like any other human baby, lying there asleep and helpless, one arm loosed from the striped hospital blanket and splayed out to the left. “Labor was fine. It was the whole pregnancy that was hard.”
She hadn’t been in the ocean for nine months, afraid her father or his guards would capture her or – worse – discover the pregnancy. Nine months with only the small bathtub in Tom’s house to swim in. Her long blonde hair, once her crowning glory, now hung rather timidly around her head looking more like strands of limp seaweed than her former halo of golden curls. Her milk white skin was also suffering from air exposure, feeling as fragile and wrinkled as the autumn leaves blowing past her hospital window.
Brynn longed for the feel of salt water billowing through her hair, her fingers, her scales… she closed her eyes, imagining the sheer pleasure of the ocean caressing her body.
“I’ll bring him right back, I promise,” the nurse was saying, startling Brynn back into the present moment. “Have you decided on a name?”
“Sheachnadh,” Brynn said, leaning back again against the soft white pillow, staring over to the corner of the room at the still-sleeping Tom. “Sheachnadh Maguire.” Sheachnadh is an old Aequorean word for wandering from the expected path, Brynn thought with a smile. My marriage to Tom was certainly not what Father expected.
The nurse narrowed her eyes. “Hmm. A Celtic family name, I guess? I’m just not sure how to write that…” she said, and started spelling out loud. “S- H- E - A…” She stopped. “How about I leave it at ‘Shea’ for now? You and your husband can fill out the paperwork later.”
Brynn nodded wearily. She watched the nurse wheel the cart with her sleeping son from the room. Her eyes filled with water, the salty tears still a relatively new concept for the mermaid. It was like she was leaking, every time it happened. She closed her eyes and felt the teardrops burn twin paths down her cheeks.
“Where is the half-breed?” The unfamiliar voice startled her. Brynn’s eyes flew open to find a shirtless man looming over, his muscles rippling under the fluorescent lights. His eyes were deep-sea blue, fixed with laser precision on her own.
Merman, not drylander, she quickly assessed. One of the King’s Guard.
They’ve found me.
“Quickly, Princess. Give me the child.”
“There is no baby,” she heard herself lie. “It died at birth.”
“Neptune is good and just.”
She grimaced to hear the religious fervor in the soldier’s tone. Apparently the anti-drylander sentiments had penetrated even into her father’s palace. Her eyes darted over to Tom, who was snoring quietly. The soldier followed her look and advanced toward the sleeping human, unsheathing his dagger as he approached.
“Stop,” Brynn commanded, her voice suddenly regal. Her father’s soldier froze. “I’ll come willingly if you but let him live.”
He looked back at her, narrowing his eyes, as if considering her plea. Or his orders. “So be it,” he said finally. “We must leave at once. There is more unrest brewing, and you are not safe in the company of humans.” He grabbed her wrist and yanked her from under the bed sheets.
“Wait!” she cried, stumbling unsteadily as her bare feet hit the cold tile floor. “I need to say good-bye!”
The merman slipped a necklace over her head, the medallion thumping against her chest as it fell into place. “No,” he said. Without another sound, he dragged her from the room and down the hallway.
No one noticed the pair leaving the hospital, the tall bare-chested man and the woman in the hospital gown. No one saw the second man fall in step with them, flanking Brynn’s other side, as they walked silently down the empty cobblestone street. The three made their way from the medical center to the Nantucket docks, which stood deserted except for the swirling fog of early morning. Together the trio walked straight to the very end of the dock and kept walking, right into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, where they disappeared below the churning surface.

Chapter One

Plainville, Oklahoma, dry land halfway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
The present
It almost felt like an ordinary day.
Almost. But not quite. Something was off.
Shea Maguire tried to shrug off the weird feeling. He couldn’t ignore the tingling sensation running through his muscles. Maybe he’d overdone it in the back fields yesterday. Or maybe it was just the stupid drill putting him on edge.
Finally, the all-clear bell rang and Shea heaved a sigh of relief.
“Okay people,” said Mr. Kelley, clapping his hands to get the attention of the freshmen milling next to the bleachers. “Let’s line up and head back to the classroom. The tornado drill is over.”
“At least we missed most of the class,” said Shea’s friend John Hansen, pushing into line behind him. At a solid six foot four, John was taller than most and built like a blond brick wall. The other kids scattered to give him room. “I really hate history this year. I mean, some things about high school are great. History isn’t one of them.”


  1. Hey Katie,

    I'm a little thrown by this and don't quite know what to say. You did the prologue very well and very completely, adding some intriguing elements to what is--obviously--a very familiar trope. Because of that, although my initial reaction was to think it had been done too many times to be truly original, I'm still intrigued. As you know, prologues are problematic. They really need to add a LOT before they work. Obviously, this does add information that would be very hard to get into the story otherwise. Overall though, I am going to suggest that you do find a way to work it in some other way.

    Here's why. Your first chapter? The voice is great. THIS is when the piece comes to life and my interest quickened. I wanted more of it.

    So. Much as I hate to say it--ditch the prologue. Sharpen up the first chapter a little bit, things like letting us know what you mean by back fields and putting the word "tornado" in front of the first instance of "drill."

    Second. Ditch the idea of doing this as middle grade. It's Young Adult. Go with it.

    I know you are going to hate hearing this, and that you may not see how to bring the information into the book without the prologue. If you would like to brainstorm, email me and maybe we can talk by phone. I'd be happy to noodle this around with you.



  2. If this is middle grade the main character (I assume who is Shea) is getting burried under so much of the Mother's backstory. I think the prologue could be made better by either removing the extra details of Brynn's life (that she and Tom became engaged at 18, details like that) or just getting rid of it completely.

    Also, one glaring error I found is Oklahoma isn't halfway between the Pacific and Atlantic ocean. That would be New Mexico or Colorado.

    I have to second the previous commentor, this isn't Middle Grade. If Shea is in high school, this is YA.

  3. I hate to tell you this, but I agree with Martina. I was shocked when hearing about falling in love that this was MG. Go from the protag's POV. Let us discover the truth with him. You are clearly a good writer. I think you just started in the wrong place. Don't be afraid to try YA if that's where it's leaning, but I don't know enough of the actual story to know for sure, only you do.

  4. Very intriguing idea, but I was confused in beginning. Might want to use past perfect tense which shows completed action (I.E. "So the Princess had done the only thing she could...) to make it more clear that it has already happened in the past. Had to read it twice.

    Just a note: babies don't get shots right after birth. (At least, they didn't last time I had one.) They do sometimes take the baby away so that the mom can sleep.

    Really got caught up in the story, but I think the soldier would have been more persistent in looking for the baby, and the mother would have been more desperate to get him out of there to save her child. Too easy. A friend rides with a comic book writer to work on the train, and he urges her to add more peril. I guess you can't have too much. ; )

    Not sure about the prologue. It takes away a lot of the mystery by giving all this information. If you've read Kathleen Duey's Unicorn's Secret series, you know that you simply can't put those books down. They are so masterfully done as the protagonist tries to discover who she is before it is too late. This might be a better route to go.

  5. Even though I don’t typically read this kind of story, I was immediately drawn into this one, possibly due to the fact that a mermaid had defied her father, married a human, and bore a son that she knew would never be accepted by her people. However, having the merman come in right after the nurse took the baby away, kind of pulled me away a bit. Plus I felt that Brynn left too easily, especially seeing that she had been bold enough to defy her father and allow a bathtub to suffice as her ocean during nine months of pregnancy so she could keep it secret. I just felt like Brynn should have put up a fight. I need her to have a more compelling reason to just walk away with them and leave her baby. Maybe Tom could wake up and try to put up a fight, then Brynn is captured. And that no one noticed them leaving the hospital kind of takes away from the plausibility of the story. However, none of this matters if you decide to scrap the prologue. I, however, happened to like the prologue.

    Hope this was helpful.

  6. I do think this is YA and that the prologue slowed down the story, at least for me. If Shea is our MC, I want to stay with him, not his mother. I think prologues can be really great tools for writers. They help us clarify our stories. But I also think they can be dropped most of the time. The start of the first chapter is very visceral. I can feel that tingling in the muscles just reading it. I didn't get the same feeling from the prologue, even though I'm a mother myself and had that hospital experience not that long ago.

    In a few short sentences, I care about Shea. I want more of him!


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