Friday, November 6, 2015

On the Block #21: JOURNEY TO RYU AIRU 12:20 PM

TITLE: Journey to Ryu Airu
GENRE: YA Fantasy

A Japanese slave trying to pay her father’s debts, Kaiya is abducted by Chinese pirates and taken into foreign waters. The pirates are oddly congenial, befriending Kaiya and helping her forget the family duty left behind her. But when she discovers the captain intends to sacrifice her to a dragon, she will do anything to escape, even blackmail her new friends.

The teahouse was loud with alcohol-enhanced laughter and the roll of dice. Some men came in, adjusting their dirty robes as they sat at a table. Keeping my eyes lowered in deference, I hurried over and served their tea. I feared if I raised my gaze, I’d find the man in the corner watching me again.
Long black hair was knotted at the back of his head, revealing broad shoulders and a fearsome look. He hadn’t stopped staring at me since he came in. I once beat off four feral dogs with a stick, but his expressionless eyes made me feel cold and jittery.

Mindlessly I took an order for wine and headed toward the kitchen. A hand rubbed across my cotton skirt and I shifted out of the way smoothly, hearing titters behind me. Four years working in a portside teahouse taught me quick reflexes, especially being the doughy kind of girl men looked for.
In the safety of the kitchen, Gorou-sama lugged a barrel across the floor from the cellar and Midori, my fellow slave, stirred a pot of okayu. I paused in the corner to catch my breath, but Gorou noticed me.

“Kaiya, more wood.”

I bowed. “The newcomers ordered sake and the group in the corner wants more rice wine.”
He nodded without looking up. “Midori will serve it. Go get wood. Oh,” he added, changing topics at lightning speed, “There’s a new ship anchored this evening. It will probably get busier.”

I felt a nervous jolt.

“You said I could go home in an hour.” I tried to keep my tone respectful.


  1. Hey, here are my thoughts. Georgiana (Checks and Balances, No.22)

    Things I liked:

    • Unusual setting, well-described

    • “ I once beat off four feral dogs with a stick,” and “four years working in a portside teahouse taught me quick reflexes” give a really good sense of character

    Things I thought could be improved:

    • “Came in” used twice in the first paragraph. Perhaps a different term could be used for one of those sentences, eg. “he hadn’t stopped staring at me since he’d arrived”

    • “Some men” is a little weak. Is there a better description you could use eg. “a party of drunken men…” (or old men or tough men or something more descriptive)

    • You use “feel” and “felt” quite a bit. I’ve always been taught that it’s best to avoid those words, so maybe something like “I shivered at the sight of his expressionless eyes” or “his words sent a nervous jolt through my body”

  2. I love the concept and the elements of fantasy in the summary.

    I agree with the above poster, you did frame a lot of things with "feel" or "felt" when I thought some of these things could just be explained outright.

    I liked that there is something bothering her from the first paragraph, it makes me want to read on to see what that guys wants.

    I would have liked more explanation/description about the tea house. Although by just calling it "portside teahouse" gave me am immediate image in my mind. So I think you used your words economically there.

    All in all, I liked it. Great start and I definitely want to know what's going to happen to Kaiya next.

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  4. Great premise, and I found the logline enticing. The first page drew me in and I would read more.

    I don't think you need:
    >Oh,” he added, changing topics at lightning speed,

    Good luck!

  5. Intriguing premise! I am pulled in by the mysterious man, but I feel a disconnect with the line: "I once beat off four feral dogs...cold and jittery." If you changed the ending to something like: "...but his expressionless eyes were more frightening than theirs." Or something that connects the two things. Why do those feral dogs come to mind when she looks at him? Also, I think it would flow better if you flipped the last two things Gorou says. Then you wouldn't need the filler about him changing topics either. She needs to get the wood, because he thinks it's going to get busier because the ship came in. (Unless getting the wood has nothing to do with it getting busier.) Overall, I like your imagery. Good Luck!

  6. I really like the voice of this piece. The phrasing gives it a great sense of atmosphere and a sense of the character, so I was pretty well hooked throughout.

    That said, the last two paragraphs jolted me a bit.

    "changing topics at lightning speed," feels like a departure from that voice and is also unnecessary for reader understanding. It would maybe be nice to get a glimpse of his expression or some other little detail instead.

    And then the very last line does not come out sounding respectful at all and seems at odds with the main-character's bearing. Saying it's said respectfully after the fact doesn't change the first impression.

    Random note: I like the feral-dog bit. It reads like a careful bit of pride held close. :)

    Hope this was at least a little helpful, and good luck!

  7. Sacrificed to a dragon? EEK! Love it!
    The writing was just my style, and I'd definitely turn the page, but this one sentence caught me as slightly awkward: "I once beat off four feral dogs with a stick, but his expressionless eyes made me feel cold and jittery."
    I feel like there should be a better bridge between the two facts, something like: 'I once beat off four feral dogs with a stick, and thought I was scared then, but this man's expressionless eyes made me feel cold, jittery, and far more frightened.'
    My final comment is on the last line. As a slave, would she really have the right to expect regular work hours?
    Good luck!

  8. I like the setting and Kaiya's characterization. The man in the corner provides an immediate mystery. Even though I think it might be very common in fantasy, I'm also partial to stories that start in taverns (or teahouses).

    "Some men came in, adjusting their dirty robes as they sat at a table."

    The structure here confused me for a second. For some reason, I read it expecting a general observation, ala, "Some men came in looking for information, others to drown their sorrows..." etc. So I had to reconfigure my image when it turned out these were specific men in the present. It might help to be more descriptive about them: "Four men," "A group of sailors," etc.

    The last line struck me as something a slave might not say... I guess slavery is different here than I'm used to. But she also seems to be the kind of person who doesn't complain or slap customers for grabbing her backside, so it seemed a little upfront, you know? Maybe make it more diplomatic?

  9. I’m hooked on your logline, but would like some reference to the danger the pirates have in store for the main character on the first page. Yes, the mysterious man keeps looking at her, but there’s no indication he may be eyeing her for a dragon sacrifice. The way it reads, he may just be a lecherous pirate. I’d suggest rewriting the opening line to make it tighter.

    ie. Loud alcohol-enhanced laughter and the roll of dice echoed from the teahouse. Men came in, adjusting their dirty robes and sat at a table.

    Eyes lowered in deference, I hurried over and served their tea, fearing if I raised my gaze, I’d find the man in the corner watching me again.

    And I’m lost on doughy girl. What does that mean?

    Good luck! ☺

  10. I like the way you worked in important details about the characters. I like that the protagonist seems in danger, but she can probably take care of herself if need be. I like the little epoch and cultural details. Very nice!

  11. I think this is quite strong. The logline is solid and does a nice job of combining a historically-inspired setting that seems to have realistic depth with the fantasy element of the dragon.

    The voice works well for me, and I think the scene does a good job of using details to create a sense of the place and Kaiya's position. I don't see a problem with the filtering (using 'I felt', etc.); that's one of those things that's gotten a bad rep in recent years but can actually be effective -- as long as it's not overdone I wouldn't worry about it, and you really haven't overused it here.

    I do agree with the others who've said that the reference to her having beat off the dogs would work better if you used a more specific comparison to the man who's watching her, and I think Stephanie's suggestion for how you might do that is spot on.

    Also, although it's subtle, I'm pretty sure the sentence beginning with 'Four years working' is not grammatically correct. I think the second clause needs to be something like, 'especially since I was the doughy kind of girl men looked for.'

    This looks like a great story -- best of luck with it. :)

  12. Your hook is great. Cool and intriguing. I wanted to read more!

  13. This has an interesting setting and the logline holds the promise of a strong adventure story.

    As others have noted, you could work on picking stronger verbs and removing some of the filtering language from your narration, but even so you do a good job in this first page of establishing setting and character and creating suspense. I'd keep reading.

  14. Love the voice and atmosphere of the piece. The premise also promises to be a lot of fun! I definitely agree with the others about filtering language, though. I'd also try to make the descriptions more concise, possibly so you can bring in the danger of pirates on the first page.

    Good luck!

  15. I like your MC because she seems strong yet trapped and I'm curious how she finds freedom. The teahouse setting is well written, and I agree with the above comments for the tweaks.

  16. There isn't much I'd alter here. I liked it! I agree with others' feedback.

    The four dogs she beat with sticks - I'd describe the scary behaviour of the dogs, rather than just call them feral. (e.g., snapping, lunging, salivating) to give readers a better picture of her bravery, which they can then juxtapose against the man who is staring at her.

    For your tagline: '...she will do anything to escape, even blackmail her new friends.' To me, 'will do anything' is so overused I think it's lost its intensity. 'Even blackmail' felt like an under-description as well. (Blackmail conjures an illegal business transaction in my mind, made by someone with a bit of time and patience, which she might have, but I thought giving a sense of urgency and desperation might be better in the tagline). I'd go for something like: 'she is frantic to escape' and 'betrays her friends to survive'.

  17. I'm going to contradict a lot of the above comments, but that doesn't mean I think they're wrong, or that they make bad points. This is just what I'd suggest or leave alone if this was a book I'd acquired:

    - I like the filtering language. To me, filtering language used carefully suggests that the way things seem to the POV character doesn't necessarily reflect the actual situation they're in, and with mysterious guy staring at her from the corner, I'm willing to believe that's the case here.

    - "beat off feral dogs with a stick" is something I would edit and recast immediately, because 'beat off' is slang for something she's definitely not doing to those dogs. "Beat away four feral dogs with a stick" maybe.

    - If daring to complain about her hours is something she would do, especially in a setting where deference is expected, then let her dare! From your logline and the way she's been "working" there for four years, I assumed she's working to pay off debts but not yet a slave. I got the feeling deference doesn't come as naturally to her as her context expects it to, if she has to remind herself to be deferential, and I liked that.

    - Four dogs, four years... I would ask in the margin if the numbers are significant here (as they are to Chinese culture; 4 is particularly inauspicious). If it was deliberate, it adds a nice bit of foreshadowing. (Four-shadowing?)

    I'd be curious to see more!

    1. I'm thrilled you picked up on the repeated use of "four"! It's the number of death in mainstream Chinese culture. Thanks so much for your comments - very helpful!

  18. I liked the fact that your MC comes off as a doer. She's not going to sit back and be the helpless type. I'm already identifying with her.

    I think the problem with the 'feral dogs' line is that she's telling it to the reader. Instead, have her say the line as if she's thinking it, not explaining it.

    And I thought you could use more world building. She has to get more wood, and I assumed it was to keep the fire going to cook the food and warm the room. If that's true, this isn't set in modern times, but then, she's wearing a skirt. Perhaps she should be wearing something more traditionally Japanese? (I think it would be called an obi, but that's a guess). And perhaps there's a game other than dice they would be playing. Are they sitting on cushions on the floor?

    I realize this is fantasy, so your world can be anything you want it to be, but I think making it feel more Japanese would help.

    You might cut "even blackmail her new friends' from the log line. If she's willing to do naything to save herself, we can assume that means she might even kill, so blackmail doesn't seem all that bad, And if her new 'friends' are going to sacrifice her to a dragon, are they really friends?

  19. Very intriguing premise. I loved your main character as soon as we knew she had beaten off four dogs with a stick - fabulous - juxtaposed with the black, cold eyes she is terrified of. I also like the slight side-step to avoid roving hands. I would take out the "blackmail" her friends part b/c that doesn't sound very bad...maybe add something worse!

  20. You have set the scene very well--just enough description that I feel like I'm there. You have a nice balance between inner thoughts and dialogue--and the dialogue seems very natural. This is a nitpick: maybe alcohol-induced instead of enhanced? Doughy--great adjective! I really like this!

  21. I enjoy very much all the physical details in this page; you do a great job of setting the scene. I believe you could strengthen your log line by eliminating the "oddly congenial" pirates and going straight to the verbs: they befriend the MC and help her.