Sunday, September 21, 2014


96 084 words
YA Dystopian Steampunk

Revised Pitch

A thousand years after nuclear war reduced the planet to a barren wasteland, only the protection of a walled city offers life to those left behind.

Arianna grew up within the mechanical city-state of Sanctum, forced to hide her family's affiliations after her mother’s murder. When she’s propositioned by a wealthy aristocrat who claims to have knowledge of her mother’s forbidden research, Arianna finds herself assisting in a plot to overthrow the charismatic and devious Viscount who rules the city. This gives her a chance she’d only dreamed of – revenge on those responsible for her mother’s death.

As Arianna becomes entangled in the glamour and corruption of Sanctum's aristocratic elite, she's unexpectedly thrust into a vicious struggle for power as the horrifying reason for the city's iron walls is unexpectedly revealed. 
When her power-hungry benefactor begins to descend into madness, she’s forced to ally with his mysterious brother to continue her quest for vengeance and protect what's left of her family.

First Five Pages

The day of her mother’s murder was the last day Arianna could remember her father smiling.

Like every day, they kissed too long for an appropriate goodbye. Her father whispered something that made her mother blush prettily. Jace giggled and covered his eyes. Arianna was a curious spectator to their openly displayed affection, her memories of that moment illuminated by the bright golden naiveté of childhood.

She remembered sitting on the floor that day, carefully winding a broken pocketwatch her father had given her to repair. She remembered the feel of the miniature brass gears in her hands, as well as the tiny indentations for missing release pins. The device felt magical under her fingers, the metal seeming to ebb and thrum in response to her touch. She ran her fingers over the contraption, flicking the tiny gears, watching them spin and stop together.

Her mother had returned too early, bursting through the door and slamming it loudly behind her. Her eyes were wide, darting wildly around the room, as if seeking out a hidden threat. She clutched a twisted menagerie of metal wiring to her chest with soot-blackened fingers.

Jace, oblivious, toddled towards her. A shock of blonde hair had fallen across his face, his eyes illuminated with the joy of welcoming her home.

“Ma-ma, up!”

After a moment, her mother’s panic melted away, and she carefully set down the contraption she carried. She picked up Jace, holding him close and burying her face in his baby-soft curls. Unshed tears appeared, sparkling in her deep blue eyes.

“Arianna.” At her mother’s voice, Arianna came forward obediently, sliding her arms around her mother’s slender form. She burrowed her face in the practical cotton skirts of the laboratory uniform, her cheek grazing the protective leather overlay. The uniform was oddly streaked with dark stains, and the faint scent of something unfamiliar clung to the fabric.

When her mother’s body shuddered suddenly, Arianna looked up and realized her mother was crying. She suddenly felt uncomfortable and confused.

“Mama, what’s the matter?”

Everything seemed wrong, and her five-year-old mind didn’t know how to process it. She clutched the broken watch tightly, the exposed gears digging painfully into the flesh of her palm.

“It’s nothing, sweetling.” Her mother reached up and wiped the tears from her cheeks. Her cheeks were too pink, her hair in uncharacteristic disarray. She crouched down and put Jace back on his feet, but kept one arm around him. Her other arm pulled Arianna close.

“You know I love you both very, very much.” Her mother’s voice broke slightly, and she took a long, steadying breath. “More than anything else in the world.”

“I love you too, Mama.” Arianna cuddled closer in her mother’s arms, comforted by the familiar warmth of her embrace. Jace babbled happily, his gap-toothed grin full of toddler sunshine.

“There’s so much I wish I could say,” her mother spoke quietly, almost to herself. “And yet… no sense in dwelling on it. I’ll do what I must.” She looked down and met Arianna’s questioning gaze, the hint of a smile ghosting her lips.

“Can you two darlings keep a secret for me?”

Arianna nodded obediently. Her mother rose, leading them both into the downstairs bedroom. Kneeling down, she pried up the well-worn corners of one of the floorboards. Arianna had felt a thrill as she stared into the blackness, which whispered of secrets and big-girl responsibilities. She crept closer, and her mother retrieved the device she’d abandoned by the door. Handling it carefully, she manipulated the tangle of wires to fit into the narrow space.

“There will be people who come looking for this,” her mother spoke as she worked, her tone quick and hushed. “They might try to trick you, and say they need it, but you have to keep it safe, okay?” She flipped the board back down, carefully smoothing the edges.

“Yes Mama,” Arianna reached over to clutch her mother’s hand, her brow furrowed. She glanced over as her father appeared in the doorway. “And Daddy too?”

Eldon Dawney’s face was pale, and his questioning voice shook slightly.


“It’s as we feared, Eldon. They’ve torched the lab. I’m certain they’ll be arriving here shortly. It’s up to you to keep the children safe.”

Her father’s face twisted, a terrible anguish distorting his handsome features. His voice was broken.


“Eldon! Please. Not in front of the children.” The severity of her tone startled Arianna, momentarily displacing fear.

As her father disappeared from the doorway, Arianna felt cold tendrils of dread creeping into her chest as the sense of wrongness intensified.

“Mama, what’s happening?”

“Hush, sweetling.” Her mother’s voice was soft. “Mommy’s going away for a while, but I love you and your brother, so very much. Will you tell him that for me?” Her voice caught suddenly, and she squeezed her eyes shut, tears flowing freely down her cheeks.

“Arianna, I…”

A loud crash at the front door cut off her words. Men spilled into the small space, black-robed Sentinels each armed with a double-barrel blunderbuss. Arianna gave a cry of terror, clutching her mother. Jace began shrieking. Her mother held them close, unafraid, and stood up. Her cheeks were wiped clean of tears, and her eyes blazed with an unfamiliar fire. When she spoke, her tone was strong and clipped.

“I am Joanna Dawney. I believe you gentlemen are here for me.”

A man stepped forward from the throng, his wristplate gears clicking as he drew out a rolled parchment.

“Doctor Joanna Ellis Dawney, you are hereby under arrest by authorization from Viscount Conroy Rivington. You have been charged with the use of illegal research in a devious assassination scheme against Lord Baelish.”

“Take me, then.” Joanna’s voice was calm. “Just don’t hurt my children.”

Arianna and Jace were ripped from their mother’s embrace as the Sentinels descended as one, forcing her mother towards the door. Arianna began shrieking, trying to cling to the fabric of her mother’s skirts as it slipped through her fingers. Jace was crying “Ma-ma! Ma-ma!” over and over in between hiccupping sobs.

The door slammed shut, and an otherworldly silence descended. Eldon Dawney was crying, clutching both Arianna and Jace to his chest. Arianna screamed and struggled until she broke free. She ran to the front window, pressing her face against the uneven glass. The sea of brass uniformed Sentinels was impenetrable as she searched for her mother.

There was a sudden flash, a dazzling light of a thousand colors that crackled across the cobbled street square in front of her house. Arianna saw the men closest to her mother collapse screaming, their skin unexplainably shredded to strips of bloodied meat. She had a single glimpse of her mother’s face, pale and luminescent, before her body was shattered by a barrage of blunderbuss fire.


The schematic was still unfinished.

Arianna’s stylus glided over the rough paper, seamlessly outlining mechanics that she could have drawn in her sleep. She always drew the central console first – it was smooth, oblong and symmetrical. Three sets of wires, each twined around an oddly empty conduit. A modified compressor chamber, which had ghostly imprints of missing gears.

A rumble underfoot signaled the afternoon shifting of the underground cogs, jolting her out of her imagined solitude.

“Place your stylus on the desk and fold your hands,” her elderly theology professor droned, walking the aisles of desks while tapping his gold-etched cane threateningly.

Arianna frowned severely at her desk tablet, which was littered with unanswered questions. This was fourth exam in a row that she’d failed.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, your pitch is really strong! My only piece of criticism would be that you introduce a lot of characters in such a short space and it’s a bit difficult to keep track of them. I wonder if you really need to mention the brother at the end, or if you can just say, “she’s forced to execute her quest for vengeance and protect what’s left of her family.”

    I really like the writing style here, but the first section of the first five is written in a way that seems much more mature than a five year-old’s perspective. When it was stated that she is five, I was a little confused. Is she older and looking back on this memory? Or is she a very adept child with a large vocabulary? Either would work, but I’m not certain which is correct, so it’s a little jarring.

    Also, since this is told through Arianna’s perspective, it seems a bit odd that the father is referred to by his first name. It might read more like a child’s perspective if he’s described as Daddy or Papa.

    You also do not need a comma after “you” in: “They might try to trick you, and say they need it.”

    I love the interesting take on the dystopian genre; I think the steampunk elements really bring it to life. In fact, the latter section is sort of reminiscent of “The Golden Compass,” which is one of my favorite books. On top of that, you do a great job of intriguing the reader with the mystery of her mother. I’d love to read more and find out what happens.

    Good luck!


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