Tuesday, June 16, 2009

First Pages: MG / Stone's Nest

The problem with a castle carved from a stone monolith was that the plumbing was notoriously unreliable. All he wanted was a hot bath. Was that too much to ask? But the spigots sputtered at him, spitting cold water on his hands, and then vomiting huge quantities of the icy stuff into the sunken bath. Also carved from stone.
Interesting... but "vomiting"? Is that the right word?
Stefan had gone to school in the north, where it was cold and castles were built from timber and there was movable furniture. He’d had the hardest time explaining how…organic his home was. The furniture was part of the room, carved into the dark black stone the way the stairs and toilets and beds and bathtubs were.
His grandmother had spent her lifetime making the stone castle less dreary. Every wall hung with colored fabrics, raw satins dyed the colors of rich jewels,
Rich jewels? As compared to the colors of cheap jewels?
or soft, cool cottons tie-dyed in whimsical patterns. While the bed and bedposts were carved from rock, they’d been intricately designed with mythological creatures and personified virtues. (Ten years later when gryphons were discovered to have returned to the land, a hasty amendment was made in the architectural books about the idealization of gryphons in early decoration. “Hmph,” Zac had said. “As if they could apologize for making my beak look that big.” Zac was slightly vain about his beak.)
You had me up until the gryphon speaks. Feels out of place here.
Magic-handlers had figured out a way to make decent mattresses from sea foam – for a rather exorbitant price. The castle boasted no fewer than 500 of the mattresses within its walls.
“But food?” Stefan’s friends had asked. “Do you cook? Or is everything roasted over an open spit?” They’d laughed as though he were the butt of a joke, but he didn’t get it. He’d explained about the great bread ovens, warmed underneath by a fire that never needed to be put out. Breads, cakes, muffins, all cooked as well as any roast.
“Although we don’t eat much meat,” he went on. “Serafina made the decree when she was first made queen.”
Of course, Sera had been made queen when she was three, and her vegetarian declaration was made when, at age five, her favorite chicken found its way into the dumplings. By the time the advisors could figure out what to do, Sera had outlawed the killing and eating of chickens, rabbits, pigs and cows. It was Stefan who had convinced her to allow the eating of deer and fish, and he’d always thought he had an easier time of it because Sera had never been let out of the castle long enough to meet a deer.
I'm definitely curious enough to continue. Could be a promising fantasy.


Dominique said...

I enjoy fantasy, and this seems unusual enough to hold my attention. I would continue reading. There did seem to be a lot of flitting back to previous events for a few seconds; however, if you don't make a habit of it, then I, as a reader, could overlook that.

Buffra said...

As far as setting the story, this is a great start. I don't know how early the "action" part should come in, but...well, it isn't here yet. I like it, but don't have any sense of the overall conflict just yet.

The Storylady said...

I feel like there's potential, but I was confused about whether "Zac" was the one who went to school in the north. Also, I felt like I was jumping from topic to topic too quickly. Is this about architecture, or about gryphons or about cooking and vegetarianism? Who are Zac, Stefan and Sera? Which one is the main character?

However, the fantasy world you're creating is intriguing.

Chris Eldin said...

I liked this, and I'd continue reading. But I felt the writing was awkward in the first few paragraphs. Where it really smoothed out (for me) was at this point: Sera had been made queen when she was three, and her vegetarian declaration was made when, at age five
I also felt you could start there and delete the other stuff, working it in a different way...
Just my opinion, but sounds intriguing! Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I officially give up trying to figure out what EA's is thinking. Ones that get slaughtered don't read that bad to me and others that seem to need sorting out get praised. SO take this with a HUGE grain of salt... :)

I have to say I am confused. The entire page reads like a pyramid of thoughts that don't seem to have a point (where he'd gone to school, gryphons, the way his grandmother decorated a castle). The only dialogue present is from a conversation that's already taken place in the past: "Stefan's friends had asked." And then thoughts on eating deer meat and a queen named Sera are tacked on at the end. For what purpose?

Where is Stefan now, right now? Outside? Inside? At school? You say he wants a hot bath so I figure he's in the bathroom but then you go into fifty examples of what his former life was like. The writing itself is good and strong, but I'm lost. I haven't got a clue what this character might be facing in terms of what he might want, or need to accomplish here.

MelissaPEA said...

It seems intriguing, and I have a lot of questions, but some of the questions are because it's confusing. The beginning needs more focus. You start out basically with a complaint about plumbing. Is this kid-friendly enough to sustain a MG reader's interest? "A castle" seems too generic; "the castle" might be better here. "Was that too much to ask" borders on cliche and is close to whiny. Spigots, sputtered, spitting is too much alliteration. I agree with EA that vomiting is the wrong word. "Also carved from stone" seems unnecessary. You use too much past perfect tense throughout. Change wherever possible; it makes it seem like you're telling old news. "Explaining how...organic his home was"? Explaining to whom, the other students? And why would the composition of his home even come up in conversation at a middle school? Do we need to meet Granny here? Who is Zac? Do you mean self-conscious instead of vain, but regardless, you can cut that sentence anyway, because it's telling rather than showing and the reader can infer it from the previous quotation. It felt like you had too much description here, not enough action, and you're throwing too many characters at the reader at once. Still, the writing has a nice quality to it, and I think with tweaking it could turn into something fun. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Like this a lot.

I would definitely take this off the shelf.
And this sounds MG, which means if you don't have a fun voice, a new look of fantasy, and potential plot staring me in the face, I'm putting it back.

Good luck! I hope to read the rest sometime...

BuffySquirrel said...

Hmm, yeah, this is the sort of unfocused stuff that I don't like, so it's probably fortunate for the reading world that I don't get to play in this market.

There's lots of great detail here, making me think that this Fantasy world is well-developed and probably an interesting place to spend some time. But oh, the wandering.

Emily Kokie said...

I liked the first line, but quickly started tripping over what seemed to me to be odd word choices or over-alliteration:

- spigots sputtered at him, spitting cold water on his hands,
- vomiting huge quantities of the icy stuff into the sunken bath.

Both the multiple Ss felt a little forced, and the vomiting brought me up short.

I'd read on, but if it became a pattern it would probably cause me to lose interest.

I'm also wondering what boy wants a bath...so I wondered about MG boy readers and whether it would hook them.

"whimsical patterns" also struck me as an odd boy POV word choice for a MG book.

And I'm for setting scene, but the description was going a little long, making me a little antsy because I wanted to know more about Stephan...and then I got confused as to who Zac was and who he was talking to...so I got a little confused...

I did like the tone of it, and the earnest quality you seem to be building into Stephan is very nice and could make him an exceptionally empathetic character. But it all felt a little...well, quiet for me.

Not sure MG readers would get sucked in with so much description and such a quiet tone.

So, if it were me, I'd read a few more pages to see what came, but some action would have to pick up and give me more of Stephan - who is he, what does he want or need...

good luck.


Anna Claire said...

I don't read MG or fantasy, so take my comments with a huge grain of salt.

Where I got interested is toward the end, where you start talking about Serafina. I think it's because it's clear what she wants, even if it's something small or not so connected to the plot (she wants to save animals from being eaten; this tells us about her character).

I think what might help tie the first several paragraphs together is focusing on one thing that Stefan wants. (a bath? for the school friends to understand his home? to explain how interesting his home is through cooking/gryphon/mattresses/fabrics? to explain a little bit of his history, through the story about Serafina?) Whatever it is that he wants at first, you form your descriptions or whatever around that, and it might help the opening from being disjointed.

Anonymous said...

I did understand right away that Zac is a gryphon who objects to the portrayal of his beak as large, (I guess that's an advantage of being a very slow but careful reader,) but I agree with others that his voice breaking in to the action (or lack of action) right here to say so is confusing and distracting.

I also agree with the others that MG boys are not usually nearly so attuned to their surroundings (rich jewel tones and tie-dye cottons. *I* know the difference between a silk and a cotton, but my MG son does not.) (BTW, I'm new to the terminology but I'm assuming MG means middle grades?) A boy COULD be aware of these things, but you'd have to give the reader a good reason to believe he would be -- like if he'd had some training as a weaver. But only if his being trained as a weaver were pertinent to the story. :)

Also, a whole castle carved from a monolith is pretty hard for me to believe in, even though I've seen Petra in Jordan and the Anasazi ruins in the four corners area, because in those cases I think they at least started with natural caves. Cutting and hauling all that rock OUT of the interior of a monolith would be quite a work. I'd expect to be told that it took a few generations to accomplish the feat (and I'd have to be pretty persuaded that there weren't easier options like caves to work with.) All that said, I think that little quibble of mine is one that wouldn't even occur to your MG reader.

Anonymous said...

Hee hee hee.

I totally forgot about this. Um, it's mine, and I did NOT understand the instructions - I am just in love with moonrat and often lose myself in stalking her.

Um, so this is the very first, poured out NaNoWriMO-like first page of a first draft. I seriously apologize for not reading the assignment more carefully.

Criticisms noted, edits will definitely be made, and yay to anyone who wants to read further!