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First Page: The Demon Woods

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Mirai was abandoned by her mother and raised by demons cursed never to leave the Demon Woods. She knows that the brother she’s never met is out there somewhere beyond the trees, bound to her by their mother’s last spell. But when she finally meets him, not only does he know nothing about her, he’s become a Guardian, sworn to kill demons and eradicate magic. Kier has grown up in the shadow of his infamous late mother, who left the Guardians to practice heretical magic and traffic with demons. He must choose between his duty and the chance to salve his family’s reputation, and the sister he didn’t know he had–who was harmed even more than he was by their mother’s actions. Can Mirai free the demons from their curse and herself and her brother from their mother’s spell before the Guardians destroy them all?

An ant was crawling over Mirai’s foot, slow progress tickling her. The leaves at her neck, which she’d hardly noticed when she picked her hiding place in the tree, now itched. She leaned to the side. The leaves itched more. She didn’t dare move much more than that. Like any predator, Taggath noticed movement, and if he saw her, she would suffer.

It had been safer last time, when it had been Haset coming to the bridge. Since Taggath had bloodied her, he took every opportunity to torment her. Still, she couldn’t resist. It wasn’t often she got to see her mother’s people.

The tree she perched in offered a good view of the old bridge. Once, the bridge had been the main thoroughfare onto the island in the center of the river. The constant assault of the river’s currents had eroded the stone pillars of the supports, and holes gapped the cobbled stones over the top after centuries of neglect. People still came here occasionally. That was what she hoped to see.

Taggath stood on the near side of the bridge, barely visible in the strong sunlight. She could see the stones of the bridge through his torso. He didn’t look back, but stayed focused on the traces of the old road on the river’s other bank. An insect hummed somewhere over Mirai’s shoulder. Her neck itched.

Taggath straightened. A moment later, Mirai heard it too: someone crashing through the growth across the river. A woman emerged from the brush, face flushed and shiny with sweat. She looked much like the other humans Mirai had seen, dressed in homespun and leather. Mirai thought she’d seen her here before, trading with firalim now and again. Her face had settled into lines of age, which Mirai had never and would never see on any of the people of the forest. Her gray hair still had a few strands of black. She straightened as she came into the clearing around her end of the bridge, and lowered the knife she’d been using to clear the brush. The one who had come to trade with Haset had been a man, and younger.

“There you are, demon.” She put one foot on the bridge, eyes trained on Taggath. A breeze off the water ruffled her cropped hair. She spoke the human language, Ifflin. Mirai silently thanked Yan for the lessons in her mother’s language.

“I said I’d be.” The wind didn’t touch him. Mirai couldn’t see his face, but she could imagine his predatory smile. She’d seen it often enough.

“Let’s get this over with.” Taggath glided forward to meet her. Mirai glanced at the crumbling ruin of the wall on the opposite bank of the river. This close to the wards, he had to be uncomfortable, but he showed no sign of it.

“Are you ready?” Tension edged his voice.

“Your word,” the woman said. “You’ll go past the Ring and leave these villages alone.”

“I swear it, may the wards chain me forever if I lie.”

She lifted her knife and ran the blade along the edge of her palm. Red drops sprang up along the cut.
Taggath ran an insubstantial hand over her bared skin, and she shivered. His ghostly head bent over the woman’s arm. It happened suddenly, like a rush of blood into water. One moment, he was a ghost, the next he lifted a solid head from the woman’s hand, the wind tousling his hair.

She pulled her hand back, a smear of red darkening line of the knife wound. “My turn.”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. SAO
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 08:45:12

    I thought there was a lot of info thrown at me at once. Haset, Taggath, who/what Marai was, her mother, the scene. I spent my time figuring out what was going on, which meant at the end of the page, I had not made any connection to Mirai.

    I think you could strengthen this a lot by giving Mirai more of a goal or emotion. You have her watching the bridge, but not feeling the need to see, to know she’s not alone in a world of demons. Don’t give a dispassionate description of the woman, tell it from the view of someone who’s braved whatever threat Tag offers, who’s been cramped in the tree because she hungers to see someone like her. And what it feels like that the closest connection she can make is to view the woman from a distance.

    You don’t describe the demons. When you say, “People came here occasionally” even at the end of the page, I don’t know if the demons count, and I wouldn’t know they were demons if you hadn’t given us a blurb. I don’t know that Taggath is ghostly until he loses the ghostliness.

    Haset is just confusing. He’s one more char that I had to figure out who was.

  2. theo
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 10:08:51

    Okay, wait, it’s not your Hn that’s trading, it’s some old woman? Is that right? And your Hn is watching?

    This is just too confusing. Too many characters, too much unnecessary information, I haven’t a clue what’s going on except that what I think is a demon is licking some woman’s hand. And your Hn is watching all of this?

    You have your sense of place described, but there are too many other things that don’t draw me in. I don’t care about Haset if he’s not contributing to this opening scene. Leave him out. Is firalim a thing or another person?

    And I also didn’t get the People still come here line. Again, it doesn’t matter, it’s not integral to this scene. I get that you want to let us know what’s going on, but too much too soon leaves your reader uninterested. Drop para 2 & 3, 7, 9, 10 & 11. They don’t really add to things. The information in those can be worked in later. You want to grab your reader, not make them question what’s going on.

  3. cbackson
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 10:47:28

    Author, I felt like you were cheating a bit with the blurb. The first page should grab us even if we don’t know about the mother, the brother, the curse, etc. Figure out what pieces of that backstory need to get incorporated into the opening scene (I think you probably could at least lay the groundwork for her inability to leave the forest), and don’t lean on the blurb to interest us.

    In general, I thought this had a lot of potential, but that as you write more, you may end up junking this scene. It’s fine, but it doesn’t do much for me. I bet your real story starts a bit further down the road.

  4. SAO
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 11:11:15

    I think it’s a great scene, Marai, hiding, desperate for a glimpse of her kind, from whom she’s been banned/cursed to never meet. You just didn’t execute. You’re so busy telling us what’s going on (an awful lot) that you’ve lost the emotion. With not much change in wording, she could be hoping for a glimpse of whatever present Taggath was buying for her birthday, because she can’t wait to find out.

  5. theo
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 12:07:54


    Taggath is buying her a birthday gift? I really missed a lot here then. I thought he was trying to leave wherever it is he lives. Huh, more confused here than I thought.

  6. SAO
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 13:03:44

    No you didn’t misread it. My point was that there was so little feeling that you could substitute
    a very different set of events with not much rewriting.

  7. Marianne McA
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 13:39:19

    Just about the blurb – I thought you could do without “who was harmed even more than he was by their mother’s actions” – because it’s a bit clunky, and slows the thing down.

    Also, by the time I get to the end of the blurb I’m interested in Kier as well, and I wondered if the last sentence could reference them both in some way? “Can Mirai free the demons before Kier (whatever he does)… ” or something?

  8. theo
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 14:29:24


    You know, between was it yesterday’s that was posted before and then your comment now, I really was trying to decide if I was the only one noticing that my mind was going…

  9. Author
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 14:50:57

    Thank you very much for the commentary. It’s extremely helpful and has crystallized some things to look for in my next revision. Streamlining this and front-loading the emotion are top of the list. Thank you again.

  10. Caro
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 17:26:55

    There’s quite a lot here that I like. You definitely have a talent for building a world. You also have the makings of a really strong voice.

    It happened suddenly, like a rush of blood into water.

    A great image delivered well.

    For me, the problem is that I don’t have enough of Mirai to connect. She’s observing something happening instead of having something happen to her or making something happen. So I kind of feel a bit distant also. I also think this start –

    An ant was crawling over Mirai’s foot, slow progress tickling her.

    – does not help you. Even a simple change like “The furry ant crawled along the edge of her foot, its spindly legs tickling her skin.” makes it more active but when it comes down to it – is this really what you want to emphasize at the very beginning of your story? I always think the first sentence should pull you in – even if it’s just a metaphor. For example, what if Mirai feels like an ant when she’s confronted with Teggath? Maybe she’s been bothering him and tickling him and distracting him. Then the ant metaphor works. Right now? It’s just an ant.

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