Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer '16 YayYA Entry #5: THE GATEKEEPER

Name: Kristen Clouthier (@kris_clo)

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Title: The Gatekeeper

35 word pitch: Charlotte Durward is a seventeen-year-old girl with the potential to unleash a corrupted entity whose reign humanity barely survived the first time around. Now, if only someone could convince Charlotte of all that.

First 500:
Darkness seeped in through cracks made by life.
Death abounded, quenching the light.
The earth ravaged.
Its souls corrupted.
Despair and fear cried out for the one
To destroy the bridge and heal what was done.
-The Archive: Writings of the First, Sec. 12

Confusion and panic crackled down every nerve as I flung myself out of bed and scrambled towards the nearest door.  Darkness bled in everywhere. Seeping down the walls, and through the windows. The shadows found me. They were coming for me. It was the only clear thought I could grasp onto as the haziness in my brain took full control of my body. My breaths came heavy as my palm slammed hard against the wall, working feverishly to find the switch.  The light erupted and the shadows disappeared… or were they ever really there? I stared into the bathroom mirror, the tremble along my body still visible. It took longer than normal for the confusion in my eyes to lift.  I let out a sharp sigh. I was gripping the brush, again.
“It’s not real,” I said, again and again, because nothing could combat psychosis like a little repetition. 
I leaned forward, shaking my head at a girl who should’ve long been able to separate reality from some ice-cream induced nightmare. Or at the very least been able to scrounge up images that weren’t the result of a Craven and Hitchcock collaboration. I threw the brush to the ground, hesitating to examine myself further. It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d awoken in the warm, Rio de Amarillo. Just sweat. I let out a deep sigh and pressed my forehead against the grimy countertop. It was getting out of hand.
I plugged up the sink and let the icy water fill, almost overflowing, before submerging my face into the silent world. It was a cleansing ritual I’d adopted in a desperate attempt to wash away the fear etched into the crease of my brow and the dark circles that were growing more pronounced after each restless night.  I was sure that these recurring night adventures warranted some sort of psychological intervention, or at the very least a careful combination of Ambien and Xanax. However, the coffee shop wasn’t going to open itself, so my pending diagnosis of schizophrenia or just straight up insanity would have to wait.
I kept my back against the kitchen counter and poured myself a quick bowl of sugar covered carbs. The map was always kept where I could see it. Here, it was taped to the tarnished, metal fridge. It was worn, folded so many times the lines had begun to tear. Texas had been practically split in two, and we’d lost North Dakota to a cigarette burn. Even with the wear and tear it was still one of our most cherished possessions.  It was our attempt at stability, erected in every city we never dared to call home.


Name: Kristen Clouthier (@kris_clo)

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Title: The Gatekeeper

35-word pitch: Seventeen-year-old Charlotte was raised by a grave robbing uncle, and the occasional smuggler manny; she’s understands difficult circumstances. But destroying an archaic evil without being corrupted— that’s a fight neither she nor humanity may endure.

500 word:
The map almost had me believing in magic. It was a splotched and stained scrap of paper weighted with enough memories and coffee stains to keep me anchored every time the word run was whispered by my “uncle.” As long as I had my map, home could be anywhere— a tent pitched across the dunes of the Gobi Desert, an overturned boxcar opening up to a Kentucky plain, and as of late, a starless motel with a pay-by-the-hour standard and a rat colony with boundary issues. I never understood the urgency behind his command, but I’d grip tight the paper anyway and truck along beside him. When asked in polite company, Elijah was a dedicated archeologist. When dealing in back alleys, he preferred treasure hunter, or grave robber, or collector of unauthorized goods. Whichever title best conveyed the illegality and risk involved with his line of work.
It never left my sight. Here, it was taped to the mini-fridge I’d finagled out of the motel manager. The map was worn, folded so many times the lines had begun to tear. Texas was practically split in two, and we’d lost Cuba to a cigarette burn. Elijah had the idea to mark each spot we set up camp with a sticker; it was his way of making the nomadic lifestyle fun. A sparkly chicken was curling at the edges near Arizona; the first one I picked out at the age of four. I ran my thumb along the ragged ends, pressing the sticker back into place.
Staying behind wasn’t the norm, but after our digs in Egypt, Israel, and then Guam, I was desperate for a locale that didn’t require a redefinition of my personal hygiene. It was only supposed to be two weeks. We hit four this morning. After receiving the first package, I’d known Eli wouldn’t be leaving the sandbox anytime soon. The means to make illegal ends-meat were only sent when his excavations lacked an end date; news that always brought about a bittersweet smile. I missed Eli, but the extended stretch of solitude was worth it if meant I got to pay a visit to my favorite middleman and resident manny, Benjie. I was technically a player in the contraband game, but more like the water girl or equipment manager. I knew the ropes, but unloading pieces on my own was a rush had only when the meeting involved a face I’d once played peek-a-boo with.
I dug the package out from beneath the bed and ripped open the top in a way that Eli would’ve scolded me for. Then I saw the neon tee waiting inside and wished I would’ve ripped a little harder. It was a jarring yellow shirt depicting a group of melting snowmen having a Mexican standoff, each urging the others to keep their cool. It was one of a matching set. We’d be dressed to impress during our next pseudo-daughter/daddy outing.


  1. Pitch: The pitch was good, but didn't excite me as much as I'd hoped. I feel like the stakes are not as personal as I hoped they'd be. Maybe go into your MC a bit more, and show more details about your story so that the reader can get hooked right away.

    500 words: Poem was nice, but didn't really hook me in. At the beginning of a story, you want to grab the reader immediately, get them to keep on going. I didn't get that feeling of urgency from your opening. The first sentence worked okay, but again, still didn't grab me. I actually really like the sentence: The shadows found me. That's creepy, dark, gave me chills. Maybe consider starting out with that?
    There are also places where you could condense a bit. For example: I stared into the bathroom mirror, the tremble along my body still visible. You could just change that to: I stared into the bathroom mirror, trembling.
    Or: “It’s not real,” I said, again and again, because nothing could combat psychosis like a little repetition.
    Change to: "It's not real," I said again. Nothing combated psychosis like repetition.
    It helps with the flow. Also, try to avoid were/was when you can. It's essential sometimes, but other times, it just makes your writing passive.
    I'm curious to know why the shadows are coming after her. I'd definitely keep reading. I think her voice could be a bit stronger, but I can hear it slightly, and I think I'd really like your MC. :) Great job!

  2. Pitch:

    This would feel a little stronger if you had more concretes for "corrupted entity" and "first time around". A specific thing and a specific period would help orient the reader to the kind of story they're getting.

    That said, the voice is strong and Charlotte is pretty clear throughout!


    I've started a novel with a dream, so when I say this, it's from the perspective of someone who understands how important it feels, but consider picking a different spot.

    The intense nightmare to standard day is hard to sell because it's been done so often.

    I like the voice and the details you linger on help focus the character, she's leaning on the unsympathetic side. If that's not your intention I'd be happy to point out details, if it is, it's well done.

    I hope this helps!

  3. Thanks for all your input Lana! I totally know what you mean about opening with a dream being a kiss of death in a novel, but i'm hesitant to scrap it because they aren't really dreams, but glimpses into the past, and it's her "dreams" that lead to her being hunted... Given the importance of them.. do you think it's still bad to start out that way?

  4. Pitch: I like the feeling you evoke in you pitch. It reads like a high fantasy, but in contemporary times—very fresh. Snaps for also including a sense of Charlotte’s personality.

    500: Nice poetry. You’re much braver than I am. (And coincidentally way more talented at poetry, haha)

    This is a full throttle opening! This is the first entry in YayYA I’ve critiqued so far that has gone for the “both feet first” approach. Action first, explanations later.

    Try making the first graph shorter, possibly breaking it up at “The light erupted.” Shorter paragraphs add to the sense of urgency. You're fighting against the dream opening cliche here, so you'll have to work hard to make it really grab readers.

    “I was gripping the brush, again.” This line is a little confusing without context.

    I don’t often read contemporary YA, but when I do, it’s always refreshing to get current references.

    It’s very interesting how you switch from the panicky opening to much slower, descriptive paragraphs. There’s a balance between action and contemplation in your writing.

    The entrance of the map is sudden. This may be a good place to employ the power of a new paragraph to draw attention to it, a place for the reader to slow down and notice something new and important.

    “Texas had been practically split in two, and we’d lost North Dakota to a cigarette burn. Even with the wear and tear it was still one of our most cherished possessions.” Love the Texas sentence! Excellent descriptions. What sticks out to me here is that Charlotte is talking about we.

    If you decided to rework your opening to avoid the dream sequence, I'd try starting with the map. The map is evocative and gives a sense of place (uh, obviously, haha), and brings up interesting questions about who Charlotte is and what she's doing.

    It’s obvious you have a lot of skill and your story has great potential. Great job!

  5. You have to do what's right for your story, but in my case I realized my whole first chapter was a darling that had to go. (Time travel/astral projection that seemed like dreams). I'm going to overhaul that whole book one day, it was my first.

    Listen to all the advice you get, but only change what feels right for you!!!

  6. Pitch: The pitch clearly shows there are some high stakes in the story, but it could possibly be a little more specific. The first line is a little long and could be broken into two sentences for more impact. The second line makes me want to know why Charlotte doesn’t know about this threat, which is good, but I think more specifics might be an even better hook. Does she need convincing because she thinks she’s crazy or is there some other reason that’s preventing her from learning the truth?

    500 words: Great opening line! I like how this gets straight into the action, then slows down to give the reader a better understanding of what’s going on. There are some great descriptions in the opening, particularly those that give a sense of Charlotte’s voice (e.g. “some ice-cream induced nightmare” and “nothing could combat psychosis like a little repetition”).

    There were a few aspects of the opening that I didn’t understand however. Firstly I didn’t understand the significance of the brush. Why does it matter that she’s holding it again? Is it because she picked it up to use as a weapon? When I first read the opening, I assumed it was taking place in a bedroom, with an ensuite bathroom, but then when the countertop and the sink were mentioned I thought she was in a kitchen? After reading it again, I thought she might be in a coffee shop (is that was Rio de Amarillo is?). That was really the only issue I could see with the opening. Overall, I really liked it. A great mix of creepy, with a few hints of humour :-)

  7. You've been give some really solid and practical advice already for your pitch and for the first 500. I'd echo the gentle advice to see if there's any way to avoid starting with a poem/prophecy and the nightmares (unique though they are)...readers and agents tend to be wary of books that start that way.

    My favorite line, by far, is "we’d lost North Dakota to a cigarette burn" And i think the paragraph in the kitchen is the strongest in the opening 500, you might want to start with it. The "never dared to call home" is a solid set-up of character and history without telling too much.

    In general, I see potential in the premise, although it is still a bit vague from the pitch...I'm filling in some blanks by reading into your title a bit. Your MC seems to have a definitive personality in these opening lines which is a great thing to establish right away. Your writing style is probably where I would concentrate your editing the most, there's snippets of strong phrases hidden in sentences with wordy descriptions or passive verbs.
    For Ex:
    It was a cleansing ritual I’d adopted in a desperate attempt to wash away the fear etched into the crease of my brow and the dark circles that were growing more pronounced after each restless night.
    After a restless night, I plunged my fears and the dark bags under my eyes into cold water, a cleansing ritual, both desperate and temporary.

    Hope this helps! Happy writing!

  8. Hi Kristin!

    WHOA this was an intense opening! You hooked me right from the beginning. I know starting with a dream-like sequence is a no-no, but to be honest, this didn't feel trite or cliched to me, because you did such a great job of conveying how terrifying the experience was for your MC. Also I'm a grown woman who's scared of the dark so it seemed extra creepy to me ;)

    I really love your MC's voice. She's clearly someone who's fraying at the seams, but she's also intelligent and got a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor, and I will follow an MC with those qualities to the ends of the world and back.

    The one thing I'd suggest is rewording the following: "I threw the brush to the ground, hesitating to examine myself further. It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d awoken in the warm, Rio de Amarillo. Just sweat. I let out a deep sigh and pressed my forehead against the grimy countertop. It was getting out of hand."

    To me, the wording of that paragraph was confusing in that I didn't immediately realize she was checking herself over to make sure she hadn't been in the river. I had to re-read a couple times for comprehension, so if you could just find a way to convey that more clearly, you'll be golden.

    Awesome job--I'd absolutely be reading on if this was a book I'd picked up off the library shelf!

  9. Charis M. EllisonJuly 2, 2016 at 1:11 AM

    I like your pitch!

    I really like your 500 words--personally I think the opening paragraph would be stronger without the rhetorical question of 'were they ever really there'. The narrator seems pretty sure (or determiend to be sure) that they weren't there, so the question feels a little pointless.
    I'm stuck on why the brush (again), and why she doesn't examine herself further--does she regularly grab the brush after nightmares? does she do something with it? I felt like I was supposed to be picking up on something and missing it (maybe I am?).
    I love the description 'bowl of sugar covered carbs'! Breakfast of champions :)

  10. Hi, Kristen! Nice pitch and poetry.

    Pitch: I loved it. It made me feel sad for Charlotte. She resembles to Jean Grey from X-Men. Her Phoenix side controlled her and brought her tragic death. Let's hope same wouldn't happen to Charlotte.

    I'm a bit confused about "corrupted entity". Maybe instead of "corrupted", try "demonic" or "diabolical". Just "corrupted" doesn't sound as scary and fearful as I imagined it to be.

    500 words: As an occasional poet myself, that was really good. And you used poetry to describe opening scene which was a dream sequence in disguise. I had no idea until I read other's critique. Well done.

    I loved the sentence "we lost north Dakota to a cigarette burn." Hilarious. The narrator, I'm guessing Charlotte, is sarcastically funny. But she broods a bit too much, IMO. I understand she's nervous about the nightmare and the shadows. But have her act a bit more. I found the standing before the mirror scene a bit abrupt. Then jolted in the breakfast scene. A little scene break sign would help. Maybe use asterisk? I do whenever a big break is coming.

    Hope that was helpful. Your MC sounded different that others. Her situation unique. Best of luck with revisions!

  11. Hi!!

    Remember that all crits are subjective and that you are welcome to use or dismiss mine as you see fit for your story! Thanks for entering #YayYA!

    Pitch: I'm afraid this is too vague. Also, seventeen-year-old technically counts as just one word and that's acknowledged by most contest runners, so take advantage of those two extra words! :)

    You've got some fantastically beautiful imagery going on here. I love it. I know the others are concerned about opening with a dream, but maybe if you just started with her in the bathroom you could pull it off. My other comment is that the last three paragraphs all start with "I." Make sure you vary it around throughout your manuscript. I'm guilty of this myself :)

    Can't wait to see your revisions! Happy writing :)

  12. I love, love, love the first line of your pitch. Great voice. I wish I could more of a feel for your world, but its so hard to convey everything in 35 words.

    Great intro. I love the imagery of the desert, boxcar and motel.

    'grip tight the paper' read a little awkwardly for me, and I think make ends-meat should be 'ends meet.'

    This is an interesting concept and an intriguing and evocative beginning.
    Good luck with it!

  13. Comments on the revision:

    In the pitch, I initially thought manny was nanny misspelled. After reading I'm still not sure what a manny is. But I wouldn't spring a word most people won't get in the pitch, although it's fine in the story itself as long as you explain at some point.

    I don't get a strong sense for how old the main character is. Daughter tells me young, but I could see anything from middle school to early twenties.

    There's a lot of telling here; we don't get to the main character acting until the last paragraph.

    However, except for these minor suggestions, I was intrigued by the concept here. I like your voice and the lovely descriptions of places the main character has been in the first paragraph.