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Author Topic: The Tower is Burning: YA Contemporary  (Read 1536 times)
GlitterFox
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« on: August 31, 2017, 06:52:35 AM »

Hey guys! I sent out a round of queries in the spring, with no luck. I got pretty positive feedback on my query (included below), so I'm taking another look at my first chapter. As always, thank you for your help!

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QUERY

Sixteen-year-old Chessie DeLinko wants two things: to be a professional astrologer, and to lose her virginity to Nicholas Pelican. So when Nicholas offers her a job reading horoscopes at his pirate-themed bar, it seems too good to be true.

Avery, Nicholas’s brother and Chessie’s best friend, warns her not to get involved. His tarot cards show only bloodshed and burning buildings, but these bad omens don’t discourage Chessie from getting closer to Nicholas.

Close becomes too close when a romantic evening on an isolated beach ends in a violent sexual assault. Threatened into silence, Chessie isolates herself from friends and family. She pushes Avery away, determined to protect him and his parents from the truth.

Chessie hates the person she’s become—withdrawn, fearful, secretive—and she knows her only chance at closure is destroying the person who hurt her. But there’s one major complication in her murder plot. Nicholas took something from Chessie, but he also left something behind. Something her horoscopes failed to predict. She’s pregnant, and that’s one secret she can’t keep.

Even if she manages to scrounge up enough money for an abortion, pull off an untraceable murder, and save her friendship with Avery, she’s not sure she’ll ever feel whole again. But for months, all the cards have shown her is tragedy, and she’s determined to prove them wrong.

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CHAPTER ONE

My best friend, Avery Pelican, is an honest-to-God psychic. If he tells you you’re going to die, believe me, kid, you are going to die. Not like he’s ever predicted a death. I’m his main customer—okay, his only customer—and my future is always cloudless.

Just like today’s weather. It’s unusually warm for March, so Avery and I find a picnic table near the docks and play around with his tarot cards. Sometimes we’ll do complicated spreads like the Tree of Life or the Celtic Cross, but most days we stick to a basic one-card reading.

When he hands me the cards, my palms tingle a little. It’s hard to say the word “energy” with a straight face, but there’s no other way to describe the electricity I feel when shuffling a tarot deck or reading a star chart. 

I close my eyes and empty my mind, trying to be receptive to the universe’s daily newsletter. Letting muscle memory do the work, I cut the deck into three piles with my left hand, gather them with my right, and shove the new stack towards Avery. I open my eyes. “Read away, magic man.”   

Today is a good day; I can feel it. I’m expecting a card with dancing, horseback riding, or getting drunk on the wine of life, so it’s kind of a shocker when Avery pulls The Tower.

Black sky, blood red at the horizon. Column of bricks shattered by lightning. Little people tumbling out the windows, cloaks on fire. More people, broken like toothpicks, on the ground. A total picnic—for the carrion crows.

“Well,” Avery says.

I must’ve shuffled wrong. I don’t get cards like this.

To reassure myself, I look at the copyright information on the deck box. Produced by AmeriGames inc., Pensacola, Florida. Last I checked, Florida didn’t hold my thread of life.

“Let me try again,” I say, reaching for the deck.

Avery slaps my hand. “The cards are never wrong.”

Cradling my hand against my chest, I give him my best pouty face. “I’ve gotten The Tower before,” I say. “And nothing happened.”

“You drove into a tree.”

Yeah, but I prefer not to talk about that. Avery specifically instructed me to stay home that night, but instead I took an icy curve too fast and collided dead-on with a poorly placed oak. Avery was pissed that I didn’t trust his clairvoyance, and I was pissed at him for being so controlling. It’s been a year, but Avery insists on bringing it up every time I draw a questionable card. 
For the record, I had a good reason for going out that night. I really wanted Taco Bell.

“You nearly died,” Avery says.

“Yeah, nearly.”

Avery opens his mouth, probably to remind me how precious and delicate my life is, so I quickly direct his attention back to the card. “So, The Tower, huh? Am I going to total another car?”

“Hang on.” Avery stares intently into the distance, and I respectfully let him commune with the spirits or whatever. Suddenly his eyes go wide and he jumps to his feet, frantically stuffing his tarot deck back into its drawstring pouch.

I look over my shoulder, expecting a tsunami or axe murderer, but the river is calm and none of the pedestrians look particularly homicidal.

Maybe Avery has finally has a psychotic break. Or maybe his vegan radar is reacting to that full-dairy mocha I bought him earlier.

“sh**, he saw me,” Avery moans, sinking back to the bench.

“Wait, who?” I’m scanning the crowd, but I don’t recognize anyone.

“My asshole brother.”

My heart leaps into my throat. Nicholas.

Avery’s asshole brother is the coolest person I know. He lives in Portland and works as a bartender, and he has a side-shave and a man bun. Now that I know who I’m looking for, I see Nicholas striding toward us, looking heartbreakingly hot in his skinny jeans and bomber jacket.

I smile and wave, but Avery grabs my wrist and slams it against the table. “Don’t encourage him.”

I jerk away. “What’s your problem? Are you still mad about last time?”

Nicholas visited about a year ago, bullied by his parents into celebrating Avery’s birthday with them. He brought a six-pack of some artisanal honey beer from a Portland microbrewery. Their hippie parents were chill about it, but Avery was outraged that he would give a minor alcohol. I accepted a bottle, and later—after their parents were in bed—I accepted some weed too. Avery locked himself in his room while Nicholas and I smoked on the back porch, and sometimes it feels like he’s still in there.

Avery’s pained expression tells me everything I need to know. “You don’t have to stay,” I say.

He shakes his head. “I’m not leaving you alone with him.” 

Maybe it’s part of being psychic, but Avery can be pretty dramatic.

By now, Nicholas is within earshot. “You look surprised to see me,” he says, crossing the distance to our table. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I? Is this a date?”

“No,” I blurt. “Avery was just giving me a reading.” I shake my hair from its ponytail and think of that poem we read in English. Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air.

“Chessie!” Avery hisses.

Nicholas slides onto the bench, next to Avery. I’m disappointed he didn’t pick my side, but this way I get to look at his perfect face. God, those cheekbones could cut my heart in half.

“Still doing those card tricks, huh?” Nicholas asks.

Avery scoots down the bench. “They’re not tricks. I’m not a magician.”

“Magicians are scam artists,” I supply. “It’s a pretty offensive term for real wizards.”

“Or it would be,” Avery says. “If wizards were real. And now if you excuse us, Nicholas, we were just leaving.”

“Don’t you want to know why I’m here?”

“Not really.”

Nicholas grins. His teeth are a little yellow, but there’s something charming about the imperfection. “Tell you what,” he says, reaching for the drawstring pouch. “Why don’t you tell me what I’m doing here?” He takes the tarot deck from the bag and begins lazily shuffling.

If Avery were a cat or an anime character, all his hair would be standing on end. He hates it when people touch his cards without permission. “That’s not how it works,” he says through gritted teeth. “You can’t ask questions just to test me.”

“Why, scared you’ll get them wrong?” In Nicholas’s hands, the cards defy gravity. I watch, entranced, as they cascade from one palm to another.

I’m not psychic, but I know what Avery’s thinking. If he takes the bait, he’ll get to prove what a capable reader he is. And if he refuses, he’ll be the bigger man. Either way there’s satisfaction.

“Okay, fine,” he says, grabbing the deck from Nicholas. “But after this you have to leave.”

He closes his eyes and deals out three cards, facedown. Looks like a past-present-future spread. Interesting choice for the situation.

“First card,” he says, flipping over the Two of Wands. In this card, a man stares pensively at the ocean while holding a small globe in his hand. “Whatever you’re doing here, you’ve been planning it for a while. Your life has stagnated and you’re ready to pursue something more meaningful.” He taps the globe. “This means you’re ambitious, but not necessarily realistic.”

Nicholas shrugs. “Won’t stop me.”

Avery doesn’t respond. Instead, he flips over the next card, Judgment. This one’s kind of creepy. A red-winged angel plays a trumpet at a bunch of naked people rising from their coffins, which are floating like lifeboats in a choppy sea. Lots of ocean cards for Nicholas. If I were any good at this, I’d know what that means.

Avery puzzles over the card. “You’re trying to rectify something that happened in the past. Something that hurt a lot of people...” He bites his lip.

“You don’t sound so confident now,” Nicholas says. “Am I that unreadable, or are you just a sh**ty psychic?”

“No, no, no,” Avery waves the question away. “It’s just, this card seems kind of out-of-character.”

“Are you saying I’m not a charitable person?”

“Something like that, yes.”

Nicholas smiles at me, which is like being caught off guard by a tidal wave. “What do you think, Chessie? Am I as evil as your boyfriend thinks I am?”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” I say automatically.

With more aggression than necessary, Avery flips the third card over. It’s The Tower again. Avery and I share a shocked glance, and Nicholas grabs the card to inspect it. “Is this bad?” he asks.

“It’s unusual,” Avery says.

“It’s mine,” I say. “Avery pulled it for me a couple minutes ago. I’m going to die a horrible death and there’s nothing he can do to save me.”

Nicholas rolls his eyes, but I’m pretty sure the gesture is affectionate. “He’s the one who needs saving. Once he screamed at his own reflection.”

“I didn’t know there was a mirror on the door!” Avery snaps.

Ignoring him, Nicholas points slowly to the Two of Wands, and then back to The Tower. “Is it possible,” he says, “that Chessie is part of the plan?”

My heart hits a speed bump. I’m important. He’s in Astoria because of me.

Avery runs his hands through his mousy hair. “You know what, Nicholas? I give up. You caught me. I’m a garbage magician and I learned all my tricks from the back of a cereal box, so I won’t waste any more of your time.” Delicately, he removes The Tower from Nicholas’s hands and scrapes all the cards back into their pouch. “There. Now why don’t you tell us all about your big plan?”

This is clearly the moment Nicholas has been waiting for. He leans in conspiratorially and whispers, “Have you guys heard about the pirates?”
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maryj59
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« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2017, 09:40:10 AM »

Oh, this is really well-written! Just two things jarred me. One's a small grammar point; Avery should say "if you'll excuse us" rather than "if you excuse us". It's a nice turn of phrase, in any case. It tells us a lot about Avery that he's so deferential and polite to the brother he despises.

The other thing is a bit more of a problem for me. Chessie seems much too foolish and headlong. Why doesn't she believe Avery about his brother? I understand she's young; I understand physical attraction is really powerful at any age, and especially in your teens. But she's so dismissive of her friend's concerns that it renders her almost unlikeable. Almost.

I would keep reading, though!
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Tigerlily1066
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« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2017, 12:25:09 PM »

This is delightful! It's confidently written and engaging. I don't read a ton of YA but this seems pitched at the right level to me. Love the closing line about the pirates, and I would definitely have read onward if I had more in front of me. Some minor points:

My best friend, Avery Pelican, is an honest-to-God psychic. If he tells you you’re going to die, believe me, kid, you are going to die. Not like he’s ever predicted a death. I’m his main customer—okay, his only customer—and my future is always cloudless. So I like this as an opening very much, but it made me perplexed when Chessie then spends a bunch of time later on denying Avery's reading of her tower card. She doesn't give him credit for predicting her incident with the tree and claims he's wrong about the reappearance of the tower card. This dissonance may need to be resolved somehow.


To reassure myself, I look at the copyright information on the deck box. Produced by AmeriGames inc., Pensacola, Florida. Last I checked, Florida didn’t hold my thread of life. I didn't quite understand how the origin of the cards plays into their authenticity.

Yeah, but I prefer not to talk about that. Avery specifically instructed me to stay home that night, but instead I took an icy curve too fast and collided dead-on with a poorly placed oak. Funny stuff! I liked the poorly placed oak.

For the record, I had a good reason for going out that night. I really wanted Taco Bell. Hee hee! Loved this too.

Maybe Avery has finally has a psychotic break. Or maybe his vegan radar is reacting to that full-dairy mocha I bought him earlier. I'm not sure I'm understanding this correctly. Is the idea that Chessie tricked her vegan friend into eating non-vegan food? If so, that's a really crappy thing to do and it makes me not like her much.

Avery locked himself in his room while Nicholas and I smoked on the back porch, and sometimes it feels like he’s still in there. To me, this reads like Nicholas is still in the porch.

Nicholas rolls his eyes, but I’m pretty sure the gesture is affectionate. “He’s the one who needs saving. Once he screamed at his own reflection.”

“I didn’t know there was a mirror on the door!” Avery snaps. I LOLed at this. Great back-and-forth between the brothers.

This is clearly the moment Nicholas has been waiting for. He leans in conspiratorially and whispers, “Have you guys heard about the pirates?” Fabulous hook to end a chapter!
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GlitterFox
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« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2017, 12:56:51 PM »

These are great observations! Thank you for your feedback, guys. I already have ideas about how to clarify some of those ambiguous/inconsistent places.

I've been wondering if the concept alone is a turnoff for agents. Based on the research I've done, there seem to be a lot of readers who don't want books where rape is a major plot point. But then I look at all the YA books about sexual assault that came out recently (Exit, Pursued by a Bear, The Way I Used to Be, Asking for It, etc.) and I'm not sure how to reconcile these two pieces of information.
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Tigerlily1066
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« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2017, 01:00:32 PM »

I've been wondering if the concept alone is a turnoff for agents. Based on the research I've done, there seem to be a lot of readers who don't want books where rape is a major plot point. But then I look at all the YA books about sexual assault that came out recently (Exit, Pursued by a Bear, The Way I Used to Be, Asking for It, etc.) and I'm not sure how to reconcile these two pieces of information.

A couple of thoughts on this:

1. I think sexual assault is definitely fair game in YA. As you note, there are a ton of successful books that have dealt with this issue.
2. Possibly the rape leading to pregnancy might be a bridge too far for some. Your novel sounds like it goes VERY dark places, while the opening chapter is bouncy & humorous. It makes me curious how you handle the later stuff! Smiley
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GlitterFox
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« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2017, 01:19:14 PM »

Those are good thoughts. It was definitely challenging negotiating between the tone and the content--the voice gets progressively darker as events unfold, and part of Chessie's internal battle is trying to reclaim her bubbly, optimistic old self. I struggled with the query, because I didn't want the heavy themes to come off as absurdly melodramatic (you're absolutely right--rape AND pregnancy is a lot to grapple with, especially in a book for younger readers). When writing the current draft of the manuscript, I considered getting rid of the pregnancy entirely, but it ended up being critical to plot and character development. I don't want to make any major structural changes to the book itself, but there might be a way of adjusting the query to make it easier to swallow.
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Munley
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« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2017, 02:05:02 AM »

I second the positive comments you've gotten already. You really know your characters and where they stand in their development as of this point. They come off as acting according to who they are (not author making them do things for effect like a puppetmaster).

To me the mocha thing fits well with Chessie's not fully consistent evaluation of Avery as a psychic. The mocha's an exception to being such a good friend to him, just as there are exceptions to how blindly she accepts his psychic abilities. She starts out with, "If he tells you you’re going to die, believe me, kid, you are going to die." But she hedges in some areas, especially when she doesn't want something to be true. She's not likely to to welcome anything that doesn't fit well with her blind, swept-away feelings for Nicholas, so she's likely to downplay anything that doesn't encourage those feelings. This opening scene lays a lot of important groundwork for things to come.

In the query, I'd avoid the word "closure" -- my second least-favourite word in current psychobabble. I think it's really a bogus, typically unexamined, concept that adds to the torment of injured people as an impossible-to-satisfy gauge for how well they're "doing their griefwork" or "dealing with their issues." When people have trouble "reaching closure," they can worry about other people judging them for not doing what it takes and can fear people who've been "supporting" them sidling away because of this. This is fine for a character to have feelings like that, but the query reads as if "closure" is a goal readers would all agree is something Chessie should be striving for.

There is so much originality in your writing that "closure" stands out to me as really marring it.

As for the pregnancy, I would not bow to genre conventions or expectations, but stay true to your character and to life itself. Rapes can, and do, result in pregnancy. It's hard to imagine a teenager getting raped and not agonizing whether she'll be pregnant. Even when it turns out that she isn't, the dread, and, therefore, the topic, comes with it. Instead of whether to include pregnancy, just be confident of your ability to write about it in ways that fit your book.


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Jodic
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« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2018, 02:55:00 PM »

Glitterfox,

Impressive first chapter! You start and end with strong hooks. The tension keeps building, starting with The Tower for your protagonist, Nicholas showing up, and the obvious tension between Avery and Nicholas, and Nicholas and Chessie (romantic longing!!). You also have some lovely turns of phrase!

-I like the segue from cloudless to 'just like today's weather'. Seamless!

I only have a few small things to mention. Please take what works and toss the rest!!

-I wonder if you might consider cutting 'kid', from the first paragraph. It seems (the first time I read this) that the protagonist is talking to someone younger than them. No information in that paragraph is lost if you cut it.

Great descriptions. Also, I like the way you show us about Tarot card reading without it being an info. dump. And now...there is tension with The Tower! And you continue to build it well with Avery seeing his brother.

One minor detail:
I must’ve shuffled wrong. I don’t get cards like this.
-Maybe rethink the above line. If the protagonist never gets cards like this, later on she reveals that she did in fact get this card.

I was a little confused by the below line. Maybe it's just me!
Avery locked himself in his room while Nicholas and I smoked on the back porch, and sometimes it feels like he’s still in there.
-I had to reread the last 'sometimes it feels like he's still in there'. On the porch?

A great first chapter!!
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