Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Monday, October 8, 2012

90 Days to Your Novel Update: Days 36 - 42

Still chugging along on my latest Middle-Grade novel. And, I'm loving every minute of it. Never thought I would say that because I am using 90 Days to Your Novel to write it, and it is not how I usually write. But, I am a true believer this point anyway.

This update covers FIRST SCENES. Yahoo! I got to really, really write and write. 

"It's absolutely essential to begin your novel in the right place, in the right moment, with the right character, and in the right manner." ~ Sarah Domet

Read that again!!!! I keep re-reading it, because I have started my last novel over and over. Thrown out chapters, re-written them, and I did not want to waste time doing that on this one.

ACT ONE: Things you must know and do to have a successful 1st act....or 1st chapter.

  • introduce your main character with all the quirks, clothing choice, attitude, age, gender, name...
  • grab your readers attention with action - something MUST happen here
  • make sure your MC wants something and don't give it to her
  • dialogue must be strong, realistic, interesting and each word SHOULD reveal something about one of the characters or the situation
  • get the pacing right - no long descriptions with little going on 
  • DO NOT start in the middle of a dream!
  • make your readers want to know more - end in a dramatic way with a cliff hanger so they want to turn the page

The best cliff hanger I've witnessed on television came from GAME OF THRONES.

Spoiler Alert

I was bored one night, husband out of town kids asleep and no interest in I chose this show called Game of Thrones. I didn't know what it was about, but it peaked my interest right away. But, that was not all. The very last scene was of a Prince pushing a little boy out of a window. I had come to know this little boy during that first hour. I loved him. When he was shoved out I couldn't believe it. I promptly ordered the next show, and the next, and the next.... Now, I am waiting for this season to begin!!!

So, have your characters DO something - something evil - something crazy - something so unbelievable that your readers will want to turn that page....and keep turning.

Below you will find my ACT ONE. Originally, it was one chapter, but now I am working on separating it into two. 

by Angie Azur

Chapter One: Totem Graveyard

I am freezing, walking behind my Uncle, in my bare feet, on the cold muddy earth. Yes, my bare feet, no shoes, no hat, not even a jacket, I'm going to freeze to death and he doesn't even care. I think he'd actually prefer me in nothing but deer pelts, but there was no way that was happening, even if they did bring out the red flecks in my green eyes. On the balls of my feet, I hop around wet leaves, sticks, slugs and small snails, trying not to cut my heels, or kill anything in the process.

"Seita Blakshak!"

His voice booms like a bear in the woods. I leap forward, trying to keep up, but obviously the bottoms of my fourteen-year-old feet are way more sensitive than his fifty-year-old ones. He tramps on sharp rocks, fallen trees, and thorny berry bushes without as much as a groan. He doesn’t say anything to me either. He keeps moving, faster and faster, and deeper and deeper into the muted woods. And, trying to see past him is like trying to see around a redwood. At 6'5", Rocky, blocks everyone's view. Yes, that's what everyone calls him, except me. I'm not calling him Uncle Rock either. And, he refuses to be called a Blakshak, ever since he and dad stopped talking. So, it's Uncle, just Uncle, for now.

"Seita. Hurry!"

"I am." God, maybe if he'd tell me where we’re going. But he just says I have to learn about my Indian ancestors. No wait, my Aleuhalfan ancestors, and apparently there’s only one way to do that in his mind. He's all about me having the true Indian experience, whatever that means. I'm guessing the reason people invented shoes was that Indians had tons of foot problems. And mine feel like they're about to fall off.

I take a breather to rub them back to life, but Uncle takes off at a jog. I do my best to charge after him. I can't lose him, my only guide back to camp. This place is a maze. A maze of towering pine trees making everything look exactly the same in all directions. I'm sure there are bears and wolves hiding behind them too, waiting for a chance to attack. That's why I hid my pocketknife in my back pocket. No way a bear's eating me for dinner.
A howl on the mountain makes me run. My arms fill with goose bumps, and I’m second-guessing my judgment big time on following my insane Indian wanna-be Uncle into the woods. That's right, wanna-be. Because, Uncle is only part Indian, way down the chain on that one. And I'm even lower.

“Hurry.” He motions harshly with his empty hand at me. The other one is carrying a long, leather covered circular cylinder, like the ones I've used to keep my canvases safe. I don’t know why, and I won’t ask because he won’t tell me anyway. But if there's a bow and arrow in there, we have a problem. I won't kill anything, well, unless said thing attacks. And, even then I'd try to wound it and get away.

“I’m going as fast as I can without shoes," I say, but he doesn't respond. "You know what shoes are, right? Normal people wear them. They're those things that go on your feet, so you don't get blisters.” He still says nothing. Taking my eyes off the path, to give him the evil glare, I step in something squishy. It's all through my toes, and I want to scream, but I won't. Instead, I try to wipe whatever that poor creature was off with a wet leaf, but it's super gooey, and gross. I'm icked out, completely.

I try a stick, but pieces of it still stay. I give up. "This is not fun. Not fun at all." I don't even try to hide the edge in my voice. "I don't see why I can't read a book about the natives, like everyone else." He gives a humph. Finally, I get some sort of response.

He picks up speed again. Well, this time, I am not running after him. I can't feel my feet anymore, and my legs keep shaking. We’ve been going downhill for what feels like a year. The wind is kicking. Whipping my dark hair into a nightmare. The curls tangle around branches and leaves, pulling them into a hurricane made rats nest. The air keeps getting colder the lower we go. My favorite thin, black t-shirt of Winter, one of Mucha's best pieces, by the way, is about as warm as a seal. I’m starting to think Uncle wants to kill me out here, either by bow and arrow, or hypothermia.

“There.” Uncle stops ahead and points. He sounds more like a bear than a human, constantly grunting, clearing his throat, and scratching his big hairy belly. Did I mention he seems to disagree with wearing shirts? Let's just say the two of us won't be making it on the cover of any magazines anytime soon.  

“What?” I say. If he’s going to speak to me in one-word sentences I figure I can do the same.



He stares at me with that look of irritation, and I want to smile, but he’s so serious right now I look harder at where he’s pointing. In a dense spot up ahead, there’s some kind of fence. I step closer.

He grabs my shoulder. “Wait.”

I don’t know why he brought me all the way out here, in the cold, to show me some stupid old fence, and not let me go through it. Maybe he's crazier than I thought. Mom said once, that he used to be normal. That before he got all obsessed with this Aleuhalfan tribe stuff, sold all his belongings, and moved to this tiny, Alaskan island, with more history than future, he lived in Seattle too. He used to come to dinner all the time. She even said he and I hung out a lot, like when I was four or five. Supposedly, I even curled up on him for naps. I can't imagine that now.

“First, you must know something,” Uncle says.


“What do you know?”

I suck my upper lip into my mouth, and bite, just a little to know I could really hurt myself. Can’t he for once speak in normal sentences? “What I know is this is stupid, and I shouldn’t have come.” I turn to go back, but there’s no path. And, I don’t remember which way to go.

“What do you know?”

“I know I’m lost.” I laugh a little, but it’s nervous laughter, and doesn’t do much for him or me. “I know I’m 1/8th Indian.” I wait, but he is still staring at me like I’m supposed to know what the heck he wants me to say. “I know you’re 1/4th?” Nothing. “I know I’m freezing, and you wouldn’t let me wear shoes or my sweater.”

He taps on his gut with his fingertips, like he's annoyed and bored. Or maybe that's his Indian sign for hungry. If I had a piece of bacon, I'd toss it to him.

“Look, I don’t know anything, okay.”

“The child speaks the truth, for once.”

I recoil like I've been hit. I always speak the truth and he knows it. "You know, if Mom and Dad were still alive, I wouldn't even be here."

"Second truth. The forest has enlightened you in unexpected ways."

I harden my eyeballs at him, but it doesn't faze him. I feel heat starting to boil my insides. I want to scream, but what would it matter? He doesn't care. I'm his prisoner until I'm eighteen, awarded by the state, two months ago, as my only living relative. They didn't even look into him. He could have been some psycho child kidnapper. And, they didn't even blink when he showed up in wolf furs. They just handed me over. But I swear, after this, after tonight, I am done with all this Indian crap. He can go find himself another pet project for his made-up tribe. I never said I wanted to be the next chief anyway. It's all his idea, and it's a dumb one.

He removes a key from a small leather pouch he’d been carrying around his neck. I thought it was a water bag. That's how much I know about Indian props. And, I don't know why I thought that anyway. Uncle can probably will water from the trees, or squeeze it from a rock.

He shoves the key into a small rusted lock. With a jerk, it pops open and the gate swings inward, creaking the whole way. I don't go near it because I’m sure I’ll get tetanus, and he won't let me see a real doctor. I'd have to go see the other half-breed he's crowned camp medicine woman. Now, maybe that's something I'd be interested in learning more about. But, there's not way I'm telling him. He'd stick a bone through my nose, and make me dance for the moon before the end of the week.

Uncle mumbles something that I can't hear, and steps through. I hesitate. I don’t like being behind bars. I think that’s normal. Like not wanting to swim where sharks feed, or not following crazy Indian wanna-bes into the woods to totem pole graveyards. Unfortunately, I already did that one.


I take a deep breath, and look over my shoulder one last time for any signs of the path. None. I can’t make it home myself, so I have to suffer this a while longer. Fine. But, I'm not going to make it easy on him. Just like he hasn't made the last two months a piece of cake for me. He never wants to hear about them, and he even washed my mom's sweater. It was the only thing I had left that smelled like her. And he destroyed it. And, it doesn't matter how many different bottles of lavender he keeps buying me, it will never smell the same.

I step through the gate, and burn my feet.

(I am thinking this would be a good 1st chapter ending. Readers, what do you think?)

It's like when you come in from the cold, toes numb, and you stick them in warm water. It burns. It feels like boiling water. The ground is so hot I can't stop hopping from one foot to the other, while Uncle just stands there.

"It will pass," he finally says.

As my feet become accustomed to the heat, I start to notice other changes around me. On this side of the gate, there are no fallen leaves, bushes, rocks, snails or as far as I can tell, any life at all. It’s like the earth is dead, one big void. And hot like a sweat lodge, or at least what I imagine one would be like. And, even though I'm not freezing anymore, I don’t like it. I want to run, but he won’t stop pestering me until I do this one ridiculous thing. He promised, after this, after I confront my spirit guide, if I still want to ignore my bloodline, he'd let me.

It’s steamy in here too, like the bars can even keep it from leaving. Creepy. There are tall, straight wooden poles sticking out of the white mist, and I want to be home. My home, with my parents, and my stuff. God, I wish the accident never happened. I wish they never owned that stupid seaplane. I wish so hard sometimes, I think my head will explode. But it never comes true. I wipe sweat from my upper lip, and try to think of something else, anything but the pictures of that mangled wreck.


Of course, that’s all I’ve been doing since my parents died, following him around, with little or no explanation. I mean, I think I'm entitled to know why he thinks I'm the best candidate for his position. I don't even want it. And, I can give him about five names of other kids at camp who do, and who give me dirty looks because of it. The only thing he's ever said about it all is that my blood link is stronger. Stronger than what? Someone 1/16th Indian? It doesn't make any sense.

I continue to walk behind him through this dead place. The steam thickens. The hot wetness sticks to me, leaving droplets in my hair. I can’t stop sweating. My tongue feels three times as thick, my fingers fat. I don't know how Uncle's so cool and collected with all the whale blubber eating, and Salmon head sucking, he's packed on the pounds. I might be exaggerating a little on the blubber, but I have seen him eating the heads of fish. My legs buckle. I feel faint. If I die of thirst, at least I’ll get to see mom and dad again.

Uncle slaps his hands together hard, the beads in his long dark hair shake, clanging together. Yes, he’s braided beads and feathers into his black hair, giving him a bad Indian Halloween costume vibe. He rubs his hands together three times, and then lays them on my shoulders. A jolt of ice sears me, diving like a roller coaster through my whole body. It feels like I have the coolness of mint inside. My fingers feel normal sized again, my tongue the same, and I feel hydrated.

“Hurry.” His hands pull back, but the chill stays within me.

I keep up his pace this time, because I don’t have to worry about squashing a slug through my toes again, or stepping on thorns and rocks. The ground is completely bare, still searing, but easier to negotiate. We come to a dip in the ground, and it must be man made. It curves out on both sides, and probably makes a whole circle, but I can’t see past three feet on either side of me, the fogs so thick. Uncle kneels, says something in a strange language and then steps down. He doesn't tell me to stop, so I follow him deeper into the middle of this circle filled with tall, telephone pole structures.

He pauses in what’s probably the dead center. The pole here is three times taller than the others, and has carvings of strange animals, faces, and symbols all over it. It’s one of the totems he’s always going on and on about. He thinks they have magic powers, or something. I wish they did, so I could ask them to wizard me home. I stand there waiting a long time while he stares at this piece of wood.

“They are happy you have come.” Uncle strokes the totem like he’s petting a dog.

“Great,” I say. “Can we get on with it then? It’s getting dark.” I want to add you're kind of creeping me out too, but I don't want to offend my only way out of here, at least not until we get back to the hut. That's one thing about Uncle; he's never disciplined me. No matter how angry I get, and I've gotten pretty loud, he's never once made me stay in the room, or taken anything away. Even when I wake him up with a bad dream.

“This is a day you will remember. The day you come face to face with your spirit guide. Do not be afraid. Do not fear whatever it is that comes to greet you. Within this circle you are protected.”

“Okay.” I don't know what else to say. I want this over as soon as possible.

The chill inside me starts to fade, as Uncle pulls out a long pipe from the leather tube. It’s covered in the same animal carvings, but painted red, blue, and yellow, unlike the dull brown totems. He dumps some stringy looking coffee-colored leaves in the end of it, and lights. Again, he says some strange words, sucks, blows, and passes the pipe to me. I want to giggle. I mean I’ve seen this type of thing in cowboy and Indian movies, but never in person.

I take the pipe and hold it. I’ve never smoked anything before. Some of my friends tried a cigarette once. All they did was cough and cough and cough. One even gagged. When they passed it to me I doused the thing with my water bottle.

I hold it back out to him. “Sorry. Tobacco's not my thing.”

“Smoke.” He stands with his arms to his sides, head up, chest puffed, like he’s showing me how big he can be. I want to point out that the biggest thing on him is his huge gut, but I keep my thoughts out of it.

“When I die of cancer, it’s your fault,” I say, putting the end to my lips. It’s warm, and a little wet. Gross. I suck. The fat end reddens and crackles as air is pulled through it. The warm smoke enters my mouth, and for a second I want to hurl. But then it finds my lungs and fills them. I feel weird. Strange. I feel different, but in a not so different way. I don’t know how to explain it.

I push the pipe back toward Uncle. He does not take it, because he’s not there. He’s gone. “Uncle!” I know he’s probably like five feet in front of me, but in this steam I can’t see anything. I’m holding a burning pipe of tobacco, in the middle of a totem circle, in the middle of the woods in my bare feet, and he’s playing hide and seek. “Uncle! I’m serious. What do you want me to do with this thing?” I hold the pipe out again, but he does not answer.

End Scene:
  • Did I do the job?
  • Do you want to read on?
  • Do you know who the main characters are?
  • Do you like them?

I still have a ways to go. This is only my first draft. But, it is coming along. I think I have to give the readers a little more emotional link to Seita. But, for now, I am moving on. I want to keep up with 90 days - so I must go forward. 

That can be hard for a move on even when they don't feel like the previous chapter is 100%. But you have to. You won't complete anything if you keep going back and doing the same chapter over and over. It probably won't even be the first chapter anyway, right? So move on!

Till the next time I update you. Keep writing. I hope those of you who are also doing the 90 day challenge have completed your manuscripts and/or are continuing along. Good luck!


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