Every Tuesday afternoon this last week of June, I met with this group of dedicated novel writers and natural storytellers. I was repeatedly impressed by their insight and enthusiasm, and the humor and imagination they brough to the Zoom classroom and to the page. The scenes and sentences they wrote were full of beauty, humor, and depth. These writers wrote opening scenes, developed complicated characters, mapped out plot, and brought the landscapes of their novels to life.
A testament to their hearts and imaginations, here we have excerpts from novels about families, dystopian futures, alternate realities, magical worlds, all of which seem to have a real knack for creating suspense and world-building. Most of all, I was been so impressed by the emotional depth of their work. These writers understand that the greatest books are the ones that make us feel deeply. I can’t wait to read what they dream up next!
Badgerdog Teaching Artist
The Desert Sky
My dreams were the same. For the past few days, all of my dreams had been about the stars.
The sky’s the best thing about The Desert, after all. It is always clear and fresh, no towns to ruin its beauty. During the day, it is always blue and warm. During the night, you can watch all of the stars in complete silence, while smelling the crisp, cool air.
Excerpt from The Twin Academies
The magical land of Eira consisted mostly of pastoral countryside, with the occasional walled fortress or snowy peak here and there. Villages sprawled, small against the fields. On the horizon rose two entwined stone towers that made up the Twin Academies. Every child in every village dreamed of going there, but the odds were so small, they might as well have spent their time on other things. Only two children—one boy and one girl, between the ages of five and thirteen—were taken every year, and they never returned. Despite this, excitement preceded every Enrollment Day, and disappointment followed it.
I didn’t bother myself with such things. I was called lazy, even unmotivated, because I spent my time reading for fun instead of sword-fighting or studying. Half the time, I never even bothered with my appearance. This particular late autumn day, I woke up with the seventh volume of Ria’s Adventures lying on my face. I slapped it off with some difficulty and sat up. The sun was already shining through the glass window, and I could hear the banging and clanging of pots and pans downstairs as my mother prepared breakfast. It smelled delicious, and I figured that I might as well go and see what it was.
Downstairs, my father was seated at our oak-wood dining table, drinking a mug of hot apple cider. Not an unusual sight, considering how chilly it was outside. My mother bent over the black iron woodstove, preparing something that was probably fried eggs traded from our neighbor. I sat down across from my father, enjoying the three seconds I had to relax until my mother noticed how unruly my hair and clothes were.
Her mother-sense kicked in, and she whirled around. “Tris!” she said, exasperated. “For heaven’s sake, you look like you’ve just wandered through a whirlwind on your way to breakfast! Do you want Kyla to see you this way?”
Well, okay, Mother, you’re playing the girlfriend card? “I was planning to wash up afterward.” Not a lie, of course. I was planning to do that.
She sighed. “Very well. But you had better make good on that promise. Oh, and don’t forget to do your chores.”
Ugh. Chores are the worst.
“I do require some winter blankets from the attic,” she added. “Would you mind getting some?”
I nodded, and she served up breakfast. I stuffed my face with delicious, runny eggs, and then went back upstairs to clean up. I stood in front of the mirror and washbasin, wiped the egg off of my face, and combed and tamed my wild dark hair. Then I walked over to my wardrobe and selected a simple off-white tunic, light brown pants, and my dark brown boots. As an afterthought, I slung my sword over my back. I don’t sword fight for fun, but it felt good to have some kind of protection, even if my blade only ever saw pest-control duty.
I decided that I looked good enough, and climbed the rickety ladder up to the attic. It was cool and musty inside, a year’s worth of dust stirred up at my disturbance of their rest. I located the wooden crates labeled “Winter Bedding,” and strode over to them. As I moved, I disturbed a smaller box, but it wasn’t just square. It had a lock with a keyhole, but no key in sight. I might have kicked the box aside, but something in me said, This is important. Don’t just leave it. I decided to take the sheets down to my mother now, and later I’d search for the key. Maybe Kyla could help.
Excerpt from Wisps of Smoke
The green leafy branches dappled the bright blue sky. It was a chilly Thursday morning, on the 21st of February. Simon was fifteen years old.
He had been kicked out of the house once again. This time, Simon had made too much noise coming down the stairs for breakfast. He couldn’t remember a day when he hadn’t gotten in trouble for some odd reason.
When he was ten Simon had discovered this clearing in the meadow west of the house. It felt magical to Simon, though his older sister had called him stupid when he had asked whether she felt the same. Simon dared not ask his younger brother.
Simon wandered around the area while he thought. He wondered why he had been born to this family, when his Gold traits were so obviously opposed to the rest of the family. The Acriman line had been Sharp-minds for ten generations, as Simon was constantly reminded.
In his family’s eyes, he had broken the streak of Sharps and ruined the family`s reputation in the Sharp government. Simon was a waste, a yucky piece of Gold-minded trash whose only purpose was to ruin his family’s lives.
And the Acrimans treated him as such.
Excerpt from Saving a Song
It started with scientist Cara Corelet. It was her discovery that changed the world. Destroyed it, you could say. The best in her field, Cara researched the workings of the human mind, specifically its process of emotion. She worked alongside the government and was considered one of the most important researchers of her generation. But from her genius, a kind of insanity was born. After losing her son in a dreadful accident, she began feverishly researching for a way to numb her grief. It became an obsession and the government, worried by her slipping grasp on rationality, stopped supporting her experiments. She was approached by a privately funded organization which offered to help her, but their motives were questionable. They were considered a dangerous and controversial group; well financed and powerful, but hungry for acclaim and control. No doubt, looking to use Cara’s research as means to gain both. However, Cara had been overcome.
She continued her research under an organization called X-Uncovered. They watched her constantly, often encouraging her to let the insanity fuel her work. After many months, she made a fateful discovery. A serum which could be injected into the bloodstream and cause the brain to dull all emotion. It was far from complete, but Cara could no longer continue her work. Her time with X-Uncovered had driven her to madness. Though much of it was due to their encouragement, the X-Uncovered organization had no use for an insane woman, scientist or not. They eliminated her and continued her research themselves.
The X-Uncovered organization had many scientists working for them, but none were able to perfect the serum. Perhaps, it simply could not be completed. After all, emotion is as difficult to control as the tide; headstrong and ever moving, changing. But X-Uncovered was not ready to give up yet. They enlisted the help of more researchers from institutions and organizations from all over. Until then, X-Uncovered had hidden Cara’s research, hiding it from the world. However, the researchers could not help without knowing what they were working on. X-Uncovered had no choice but to reveal the incomplete formula. A few scientists, upon learning the potential power of the serum, reported it back to their superiors. Soon, acquisitive eyes turned to X-Uncovered and their priceless serum and conflict began to stir. Jealousy, greed, and hunger for power and fame fueled the fire of inevitable war. X-Uncovered had no shortage of enemies and the list was growing.
As the tension grew, X-Uncovered finally hit a breakthrough. It was not the ideal formula, but they had to take action. Armed with what they called “the dulling serum”, X-Uncovered flew straight into a war that consumed the world. They felt no guilt or compassion for anyone and their strategies were notoriously straight-forward and flawless. They bombed cities, sank ships, hacked satellites, and tore down laws and leaders. And as others retaliated out of anger, betrayal, and fear; the order of the world began to crumble. The Earth was destroyed and life was nearly completely wiped out.
Me and mom slam the cars doors and run inside the hospital.
“Where is he?!,” Mom asks the person at the front desk “My son, Harry! I was just called a couple minutes ago by this hospital saying that he’s in critical condition!”
“What was his last name?” The person asks
“Harry Anderson! He’s nine years old and 4 feet tall!” My mom yelps
“Ok she’ll show you the way” He says, pointing to a nurse
As we follow the nurse down to Harry’s room, we see lots of doctors and nurses rushing around.
“Harry!,” Mom bawls. “I was so worried!”
“He’s sleeping now” The nurse says, pushing me aside
“C-can I at least stay in the room with him?” mom says, trying to hold back a tear
“Sorry but no. His injury is very serious and we can’t risk any chances.” The nurse says, handing my mom a tissue.
“T-then can I sit outside?” Mom says, dabbing her eyes with the tissue
“Well you can sit downstairs.” The nurse says shrugging
Then, I hear a long beep.
“His heart stopped,!” The doctor shrieks “I need more help!”
A doctor rushes into the room.
I stare at mom’s face. It’s pale white
“…Mom? Are you okay?” I say, feeling worried.
“H-his heart stopped?” Mom suddenly shrieks.
“It’s ok they’ll take care of him.” I say trying to comfort her.
The nurses face turns dark and sad. “Time of death, 6:49 pm.” The nurse writes down on a piece of paper.
Mom falls on her knees.
“W-what are you talking about? This is the best hospital in town!” Mom cries.
I try to hold in my tears, but I can’t. A river of tears come out of my eyes. Mom holds me tight and I hear her whisper something.
Excerpt from The Caged Princess
The water stuttered as the drops fell down. I looked around, scanning the ill-lit halls of the catacombs. Nothing but halls of darkness only lit by one weak flame resting on a torch against the wall were ahead. I slowly started to walk through the halls, making my feet slosh in the dirty water below me. A tiny gust of wind passed through the catacombs making me shiver. But I continued to walk. It was quiet, so quiet you could hear the wind blowing. I didn’t like it, it was too quiet.
Then I felt something—something cold and sharp touching the back of my neck. I stopped. Then slowly moved my hand over to my dagger, and slowly grabbed it off the baldric. Then I sliced my dagger through the air, and then it hit something—the wall. I exhaled unaware that I had been holding my breath. If there’s nothing behind me, then what was touching the back of my neck? I thought to myself, and looked behind my shoulder, revealing nothing but the previously walked hallway. It’s probably me just being paranoid. I thought to myself. Then I continued to walk.
Though, as I walked, I realized that the halls got darker and darker, and darker as I got closer to my destination. Once I finally got to the catacombs tunnel system, I stopped and got my map from my bag. The map said to continue to go north, so I went into the tunnel on my right. The tunnel looked about the same as the one into the catacombs, but it had much more torches lighting my way. And, the floor didn’t have as much water as the other one. My shadow seemed to dance as I walked because the fire wouldn’t seem to stay still. I continued to walk.
And after walking for two hours in this dark and cold maze, I finally saw light come into my view. I dropped all my belongings and then ran right to it. It was beautiful. Green trees and green grass suddenly came to my eyes, and pink, purple, blue, and flowers of all colors too. I let out a sigh of happiness and joy. I finally escaped the awful unlighted halls of the catacombs. I felt happy to finally escape that place.
But my happiness didn’t last for long. Because soldiers in red and gold started to surround me. My happiness and joy immediately melted off my face and turned into a scarred face. One of the soldiers walked up to me, and then said: “Princess Anastazia Souliere of Aiwerinad you are under arrest for the murder of King Azar Souliere of Aiwerinad .” He nonchalantly said to me. “B-but I-I would never k-kill my own f-father.” I stuttered, trying to fight back my tears. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be used against you in court.” He said, and then walked over to me and cuffed me with Valrite shackles. “No! You can’t do this to me! I screamed at the soldiers. I tried to escape their grasp, but it was too tight. I was going to die. And I would never see the beauties of the green trees and grass ever again. I felt hopeless. I felt powerless. And I felt stupid for thinking that I could run away. I shut my eyes tight, so I could think. I wish I could go back in time, I thought to myself. Then, when I opened my eyes, nothing happened. I wished for something that wouldn’t happen. How stupid of me. I thought in my head. I wouldn’t ever escape. I wouldn’t ever go back in time. What was done, can’t be undone.
Excerpt from The Lost
I wake up groggy, my head throbbing. I rub my eyes, slowly opening them to a beautiful, alive world, the birds are chirping and the flowers are blooming. There are flowers of every color: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. The sky is a beautiful shade of blue. The breeze runs through my hair, I think for a second that my life is perfect then I remember reality. I get up and the world seems duller. The plants look like they’re dead and the sky turns into the color of tears. I clutch my locket, the silver heart with a picture of my family before it happened. I pulled out my phone to take a picture. No reception, the screen says, I groan, Wondering where I really am. I quickly get up and walk to the closest place with people.
I stumble into town, I am greeted with glares but I eventually see a friendly face. I start walking towards her as eyes are glued to me. I glance at the color stalls seeing every shade of colors that exist. I glance around me and see booths filled with fruits, another one filled with stuffed animals and another one filled with vegetables. I stop right before a booth selling glass animals, seeing a glass chicken with red, black, yellow, and gold markings. It’s so beautiful yet so fragile, yet despite this you don’t want to be called a chicken.
“Hi” I say
“Hello, I’m Ava” the girl says then whispers as quietly as she can “my next victim” and chuckles. I don’t read into this as everyone stares at us. It’s like they want to tell me something but don’t.
“Emily” I said as friendly as possible
“Oh I know” she chuckles.
I look at any signs of why she would know my name then I see my face plastered against a building, the chocolate hair pulled back, my pale skin exposed with only a tank top and shorts and my green eyes glowing behind glasses. I look down realizing this is what I’m wearing, my pajamas. Then I notice something else, something strange, everyone has hazel eyes, the exact same shade of hazel.
No wonder everyone was staring at me I think to myself.
“Let’s go to my house,” Ava exclaims.
“Ok” I reluctantly said, Realizing I am breaking my mom’s biggest rule. Don’t trust a stranger but she already told me her name and she seems nice so I go along with her. She walks to a castle sized house and rings the doorbell. Her whole neighborhood has houses the size of castles. The same shade of grey and the same white, green, and blue flags. They are the exact same and have the same exact gates and plants.
I groan and check my watch. 3:45 AM. He should be here by now. I swing my bat over my shoulder, wincing at the sudden pain. A stifled laugh alerts me. I clutch my bat tight whilst squinting my eyes struggling to see through the dark. “Weakling” I relax and roll my eyes at the familiar voice. He emerges from the bush he was hiding in. “Says the person who was hiding in a bush like a coward.” I said, emphasizing coward. He just laughs. I roll my eyes again. “Stop, tell me what you found about him or her” I say, strictly. “Okay, Ms.Boring. But I take my payment upfront, you don’t pay me now, I won’t talk.” He spoke, stretching his arm forward, palm facing up. I sigh, take out the crumpled dollar bill from my back pocket and place them on his palm. “That should be enough” He looks at the cash and counts them, fingering through each of them. He clicks his tongue. “You’re a dollar short”. He said, smirking. “Whatever information you’re about to give me is worth however much I gave you, your skilless.” I snapped, wiping the smirk off and replacing it with a frown. “Fine, He is a powerful mafia. Mafia KING. I snuck behind his base area which is located near the abandoned bakery, off on Oaks Vill. It’s heavily guarded with men who are huge. Like 6 feet tall. He is an important guy after all. I couldn’t get any pictures of him but I have some of his base and men. Maybe you’ll be able to recognize them if they ever, you know, come around.” He mumbled the last part, I guess not wanting to give me ideas of doing anything stupid, but I heard it. “What was his relationship with my parents though?” I whisper, holding back my tears. He hung his head low. Anger rushed through my body. “They didn’t DO anything.” I said, raising my voice, causing him to look up. “Right?” Silence fell. We both stood there in the dark, our faces being lit up by the old ‘Gas ‘em up’ sign. The only sound was the occasional woosh of cars going past us. The strong smell of gasoline lingered in the air. Litter piled up in the corners and sprinkled on the ground. I didn’t want him to feel bad or even comfort me, if he was even going to. So I secretly wiped the tears that escaped my eyes, cleared my throat that had been clogged with grief, and said. “Thanks, for the information. It was helpful. I’ll prepare tomorrow.” He looks up. “Yeah, yeah yeah yeah, of course. G-go ahead.” He stuttered with a tint of awkwardness in his voice. And from there I walk away. My steps, slow. I turn back to see him do the same. Slowly walking away. Awkward.