Sunday, May 6, 2012

9 1st 5 Pages May Workhop - Hawke

Author: Heather Hawke
Genre: MG SF

I crouched under the covers so Mom couldn’t see the glow from my cell phone. She’d flip if she caught me awake after midnight. I texted, “Finished ninth level. Blew everything up.”

My phone buzzed with a new message, but it wasn’t from one of my gaming buddies. It read, “Justin. Do not skip this class: Essential Lessons for Frost Dragon Egg Maintenance. All Lab. No Lecture.”

I snapped the phone shut. Stupid spam. Didn’t even have a number to say who sent it.

A light flicked on in my room. I puffed out a breath. I was so busted. Trying to think of an excuse, I pushed aside my old plaid camping blanket. But Mom wasn't there.

From the window, electric bright light rippled across the walls. The light shaded into pink and then turned burning red.

A noise from outside roared like a freight train, and an enormous thump shook my bed. Adrenaline surging through my legs, I ran to the window, threw it open and leaned outside. My mouth fell open. Frozen lightning hung in front of my house, stretching from the lawn up to the roof. Across the narrow street, red haze swirled around a hulking animal, big as a backhoe. It cast about, as if looking for something.

Smoke drifted into my room, making me cough. The animal snapped its head up. It gazed directly at me with a golden eye big as my fist. The pupil thinned to a narrow vertical line.

I staggered back. “Ahhh….”

From downstairs, Dad shouted, “There’s a fire! Get down here.”

I ran to the landing and bolted down the stairs. “Wait! Don’t go outside.”

But my mom and dad walked out the front door anyway. I leaped after them. That monster might snatch them up. But they remained on the shadowed step. I edged next to dad. Beyond, there was no monster.

The silver thread and red haze were gone. However, flames licked the small house across the street. The one where Amber, the girl who used to be my best friend, lived. She and her mom might need rescuing. Where were the firefighters?

I blew out a breath as Amber and her mom, Mrs. Yao, ran around from the back hand-in-hand. They crossed the street to our side and held onto each other. Amber’s bare feet stuck out the bottom of her pajamas.

I jogged down the walk to her. “What happened?”

Amber’s curly black hair flew about her face. She scowled. “What do you think?”

I shrugged. I’d only been trying to help.

Fire exploded out of their roof with a shower of sparks. It felt like I’d opened an oven door and squinted my eyes against the heat. Right under my feet, wisps of smoke curled up from our lawn. My breath caught as I took in a wide blackened trail leading across the street and to the burning house. It was almost like an arrow pointing from my house to hers. Sirens blared, getting closer.

A fire truck and an ambulance rounded the corner, lights strobing. Firefighters attached a hose to a fire hydrant and water gushed through the looping coils. The water made clouds of smoke and steam erupt from the broken roof.

Once the firefighters had the blaze out, an official-looking black car pulled up and a woman stepped out. Her suit strained over her barrel-shaped body as she pounded her feet on the sidewalk like she were trying to beat it down. Stopping next to me, she put her fists on her hips. Instead of facing the fire, she stared at me.

I looked at the woman from the corner of my eye. Creepy. What could she want? Finally breaking her gaze, she took in the burnt lawn. Then, walking up to my parents, she flashed some kind of badge. “I’ll need to talk to you,” she said to them, gesturing to Amber’s house, “about this. Send the boy to bed.”

A blaze of anger burned in my chest. She didn’t have the right.

Mom’s lips trembled.

Dad put his arm around her. “I’ll take care of this. Don’t get upset.” He gave me a stern look. “Go on to your room. I’ll talk to you later.”

Back in my room, I watched the sky turn grey. Night was almost over. I hoped Mom had kept it together, hadn’t fallen into one of her funks. Things were bad enough without that.

My cheeks felt like they were sunburned. I rubbed them and my hand came away dirty with soot. At least I was at home. I wondered where Amber and her mom had gone. Maybe I should text Amber to see if she was okay. But I hadn’t hung out with her since she’d called me a geek in front of a bunch of her girlfriends soon after we started junior high last year. My face had felt hotter when they giggled at him than it did now.

The door slammed downstairs. A minute later, Dad came into my room. “That was an arson inspector. She thinks you might have had something to do with the fire.”

I sat up and clutched the sheets. This couldn’t be happening. “You don’t believe that.” My voice sounded strangled, even to me.

Dad’s face was lost in shadows. “Of course not.”

He took too long to answer. Something squirmed in my stomach.

Dad shook his head. “Your mother was right. We should never have let you play all those violent video games. We’ll talk to a lawyer tomorrow. Get some sleep.” He left and closed the door.

I flopped back on the bed. Sleep. Right.

I finally did doze off a couple hours later, and when I came downstairs, my parents had already left. To see the lawyer I supposed. Mom would be all worked up, so Dad probably took her with him. She might have to go back on meds. It made my stomach hurt just thinking about it.

My cell phone buzzed and I flipped it open. “Learn how to avoid feeding dragons. Sign up now before it’s too late.” More dumb ads.

Someone knocked on the front door. Through the living room window, I could see it was the arson inspector. I edged along the wall, placing each foot in careful silence. The inspector pounded again. This time, it sounded like she was using her fist. I leaned forward to peer through the peephole. The inspector was not alone. Amber stood next to her.

The arson inspector put her eye to the peephole. An orb filled the view. It was brown, with red veins snaking away from the iris. I jerked my head back.

Perhaps I could pretend I wasn’t here. But Amber might have seen my parents leave without me. I swallowed and opened the door.

The inspector folded her arms so her shiny gray suit wrinkled up in her armpits. “Well young man, are you ready to tell me how the fire started?”

I took a step backwards. “I didn’t do it!”

The woman shook a piece of paper under my nose. “You texted that you had blown everything up right at the time of the initial explosion.”

She had a copy of my texts already. I racked my brain for what I had sent last night. I shook my head. “That was just a game. Crysis. On the computer.”

The inspector stared in disapproval. “You don’t have time for games.”


  1. This definitely moves along at a fast pace. It held my interest. I want to read more, so in that sense it really works. I like the voice but I thought it was a girl so maybe emphasize the dad more over the mom or work the name in sooner. I loved the mention of temperature. Even more description of the surroundings and weather might enhance the effect. Great work!

  2. The action certainly moves along at a good pace. And the mystery comes in early to hook your reader and make them want read on. I'm assuming that the strange texts will become important.
    What's not pulling me in is the character - I didn't know if it was a girl or boy until very late in this piece and I didn't connect with the character himself. Even though it's definitely an action driven piece, I would suggest spending time on your character- giving the reader more to go on to form a bond. Character is what gets me into a story even when the focus is on the action.
    Great job and I look forward to reading your next revision.

  3. I thought the MC was a boy right away. That text he sends about blowing everything up - totally boy to me! One way you can make us sure is when the dad calls him downstairs. Just make him call the MC's name.

    Some of your MC's reactions didn't seem to match up to what was going on. When he saw the dragon outside his window, I felt like he didn't freak out enough. That, combined with the spam text he got, made me think he lives in a world where dragons are the norm. If it's not normal to have a dragon land in your yard, then I felt like he would be more in disbelief about seeing it. Maybe he wonders if he's dreaming, or if the game he was playing is making him see things. I felt like it was too casual when he asked Amber "what happened?" And he never tries to tell anyone what he saw. Does he even believe it himself?

    Also, Amber doesn't seem very upset that her house in now in cinders.

    A couple minor things: Your MC "puffs out" and "blows out" a breath several times. And the "roar like a freight train" is a bit cliche.

    Otherwise, it was great action. Definitely intriguing, and I would turn the page to learn more!

  4. Really interesting premise, though a bit confusing if it's sci-fi and not fantasy. Is this a world different than ours? I tend to assume it's like ours or is ours unless I'm told differently. In which case there's a lot happening to the MC and the MC is doing very little in response. I want to get to know him and right now I feel like the complex situation is overshadowing his character. Give me some time to get to know him and the world before everything breaks loose.

  5. Positives:

    • You started with action that hooked the reader.
    • Interesting concept
    • Definitely had a MG feel to it, so you're on age target.


    • Although you started with action, it was a little confusing.
    • The language tended to be jolting rather than smooth. This kept pulling me out of the story.
    • Some of the characters seemed too melodramatic to take seriously (the inspector). It seemed to me that she wouldn't immediately be threatening a family and throwing around accusations. She'd more likely be thoughtful, possibly suspicious, etc. Something like that kind of trail and fire could only be caused by a kind of flame-thrower anyway, which is not something a MG kid would likely have or have access to. She wouldn't immediately assume a kid did this, but she might start to investigate.
    • I'd like to see more character development. (See Margaret Peterson Haddix's 'Found' for great development of MG characters. Loved the way she did this.)
    • I do think that it seems a little more fantasy than sci-fi. I don't think dragons when I think sci-fi. I think fantasy.

    Looking forward to what you write next. : ) Beth

  6. Thank you all for your excellent suggestions! I think I need to call this a fantasy/SF - the science is biology rather than the more typical technology, and not set in the future. There is definitely a theme in all of your comments - that's really helpful as it shows me exactly what to work on. Until next week!

  7. You have some great descriptions, and this is an intriguing start to your story! :)

    The very beginning confused me a little because at first I thought the returning text was a hint that the world of the story wasn't the ordinary world I'd expected but a magical one (which, combined with cell-phones, would have been pretty cool!). But then the main character dismissed the text as spam. Wouldn't he think it strange that a spam text would start with his name? (is it his name? In a real book/query, we would go into the story knowing the main character's name, age, and gender, but I wasn't clear on any of those things while reading this)

    I had a little trouble believing Amber's response to Justin's "What happened?" I'd think she would be too shocked and dismayed for sarcasm when her house is burning down—and it's not obvious at all to the reader what did happen, or at least what she thinks happened. How did the fire start? Also, Amber and her mom are both described to be here, but a few lines down, Justin wonders where they went without ever having mentioned them leaving. How did they disappear without his noticing? (isn't he watching them from the window?)

    Also, I found it somewhat unbelievable that Justin would be accused of arson unless he had a prior record or something, especially since they know he was in his house at the time of the fire's start.

    Overall, very interesting premise, and hints of dragons are always awesome :) I like how you start with action, but maybe give the reader a little more time to get situated before everything starts. It would be nice to know more about Justin and Amber before diving in. My biggest issue was just the few points on believability.

  8. Hi Heather,

    I agree that while this moves along at a great clip, we aren't grounded enough in the world to have suspended disbelief for the strange occurrances. Maybe if we knew a little bit more about the mc and the video game that he is playing, if you really built up a picture for us to start with. Show the room and the screen and any similarities... Also, if there are dragons in the game and the spam is related to dragons and then there's a dragon on the lawn... You get the idea. Either he's thinking dragons, in which case, he's going to assume he has dragons on the brain when he sees one on his lawn, or he's going to be trying to move from something hi-tech to dragons and his brain is going to stutter on that. As it is, he is accepting all of this too easily. Amber's reactions and even his father's reactions aren't credible. And under the circumstances, would his parents just leave him alone without telling him where they were going? Wouldn't the lawyer want to talk to him?

    I do like the ominous note from the arson investigator. But how would the arson inspector have his emails so quickly? And wouldn't that raise major red flags with his parents? If this is a highly monitored society, you need to build that up in advance. If it is basically our world with the introduction of dragons, then the genre is misleading and probably not your best bet as a description.

    Looking forward to seeing a revision,


  9. Firstly, thank you so much Heather for having provided me with wonderful feedback in the past. It’s great to finally be able to offer some thoughts back.

    The first text made me smile, the second even more so. The humor and characterisation in those few short lines is great.
    I love the attention to detail with the line about the creatures pupil. It’s so tense, and you follow it up with more great description with the inspector’s eye. It tells me the book will be vivid.

    I was a bit jarred by all the sentences being the same length here: But my mom and dad walked out the front door anyway. I leaped after them. That monster might snatch them up. But they remained on the shadowed step. I edged next to dad. Beyond, there was no monster. Also, the line ‘that monster might snatch them up’ seemed to state the obvious. Could you weave that thought in another way? If, for example, you show it through his worry for his parents it might hook the reader even more because everyone loves a character they can empathise with.

    I’m so curious as to why they used to best friends, especially when she snaps at him. The two plots hold a lot of promise.
    You’ve got puffed out a breath and blew out a breath – can you chose another beat for one? The repetition seems more obvious when the MC’s breath catches in the next paragraph. (By the way, the only reason I’ve said MC is that up until this point I’m not certain it’s a boy, I’m only assuming so because of the video game, so you may wish to clarify sooner).

    My face had felt hotter when they giggled at him than it did now. Is this supposed to be giggled at ME?

    Love the last line. Overall, I’d love to read more, too. The only problem I have has been repeated – both his and Amber’s actions don’t quite match the events unfolding. The crazy fire stuff got forgotten too quickly and replaced by the inspector.

    Good job!


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)