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LGBTQ+ YA Fantasy - Sonja Legere - In Our Dreams


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Opening Scene: The opening scene introduces my protagonist’s (Aurora) inner conflict of being unable to move on from the life she had before she died. Aurora’s love interest Genevieve (enemy to lover) is introduced, and there is the start of some worldbuilding with Genevieve teaching Aurora about The Other.

Chapter One

 

If there was a light at the end, I must have walked away from it. That was the only explanation of how I ended up in this purgatory. Actually, Hell was probably a better description. I don’t know what I expected death to be like, but it certainly wasn’t to spend my eternity haunting the halls of my former high school, Adirondack Prep. Apparently, I was a masochist. 

My memory was hazy. I could recall the basics, like that my name was Aurora Graves, and I had been a sophomore at Adirondack Prep. The details of my death were spotty at best, just flashes of a car accident that landed me in the depths of the icy Maine waters, then somehow waking up in my dorm two hundred miles away in upstate New York.

The bell rang, signaling the last class of the day was done. The doors opened all around me, and students filed out into the hall. I quickly caught up to two girls who looked familiar but that I couldn’t quite place. I fell into step beside them.

I waved my hand in front of the taller girl who was laughing at something her friend had said. “Hi!” She ignored me, but I didn’t let that deter me and stepped right in front of her path. “Can you see me?”

Neither responded and instead continued down the hallway toward their dorms. They walked right through me, sending pins and needles down my whole body. I rubbed my arm, trying to get rid of that unsettling feeling. I should have been used to it by now. I had been repeating this same futile exercise for the last week. 

Two boys in letterman jackets tossed a ball around, and I jumped to get out of their way. I was suddenly surrounded by darkness. I started to panic until I noticed three slats that let some light in. I moved my face closer to inspect and let out a sigh when I peered out into the hallway. Great, I had somehow ended up inside of a locker.

“Are you kidding me?!” I yelled out in frustration. 

It’s not like it mattered. No one could see or hear me anyway. I could be as loud and obnoxious as I wanted to be. I stepped through the locker and into the hall that was now empty and headed back to my old dorm. At least I knew where I slept. 

I stopped in front of the door and ran my hand along the frame that was just out of reach. When I first woke up after my accident a week ago, I had spent the day trying and failing to grab onto different objects in my room. When I walked right through the thick wooden door, I decided I was either dead or insane. I was still trying to determine which of those options were better.

I grimaced when I looked down at my sweater and ripped jeans. I wondered if I would be stuck wearing this forever. At least I hadn’t died in the shower. Now that would have been tragic to be naked for eternity.

I walked through the door and into my dorm. The room was small, but the space was well utilized with just the essentials. There was an old wooden bed with a matching vanity across from it. The desk was to the right, and the wood was worn from use. Twinkle lights hung on the ceiling, and the only decoration on the beige walls was a Notorious RBG poster. There was no personal touch to give me any insight into what my life had been like besides the photographs of a redheaded girl placed with care throughout the room. 

I stared at the picture on my nightstand of the two of us together. My face was partially turned, and the wind had lightly lifted my long dirty blonde hair. I was smiling at the redhead, and she had her head tilted back with laughter. Loneliness stirred in me every time I looked at the photograph. She haunted my dreams, and I had been searching the halls for her to no avail. How could I not remember someone who clearly had meant so much to me?

I closed my eyes and willed myself to at least recall her name. Moments with her flashed before me, and I tried to hold onto them. Red hair tangled in my hands, her lips against mine, and the smell of rose shampoo.

I had an overwhelming need to get closer to her. My hand trembled, and I reached for the photograph, but it went right through. I cried out in frustration and sank to the floor.  

I jumped at the voice that questioned me from the opposite side of the room, “Have you had enough of throwing your tantrum? I could feel you all the way across town. Some of us are trying to have a nice afternoon and not be interrupted by a banshee.”

I looked up to see a girl standing in front of me who was around my age. She towered over my five-foot-two frame by several inches in platform boots. She was beautiful with thickly lined golden eyes that stood out against her tanned skin and long wavy brown hair with subtle highlights.

She snapped her fingers in my face. “Hello! You need to stop leaking energy, or you are going to become a feast for an angry ghost. You’re lucky I’m the one that showed up.” She cocked her hip and stuck a red lollipop into her mouth. “What’s your name?”

I stared at her and tried to form words. I was still stunned to have another person who could actually see me. It’s too bad it was someone crazier than me. What did she mean that I was leaking energy?

I tried to pull myself together as much as I could, but I wasn’t fooling anyone. “I’m Aurora.” I lifted my chin slightly. “Now, who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my room?”

She smiled broadly and twirled the pop around in her mouth. "I'm Genevieve Navarro, the best ghost in The Other. I’m in your room because I could hear a maniac screaming, so naturally, I made my way towards the chaos. It’s great to see a new face in The Other. It’s been pretty boring with just Marta and me. Well, I guess not just us, but we’re some of the only sane ghosts in the area.” She looked me up and down. “Well, I guess if you are sane or not is still to be determined.”

Genevieve reached out to take my hand, but I pulled away and scowled at her. She rolled her eyes and sat back on the bed. Her body bounced, but I noticed the bed didn’t move beneath her. She crossed the legs of her high-waisted plaid pants and swung her heavy boots. I stood up and started to pace to get out some of my nervous energy while trying to process the nonsense Genevieve just said to me.

I ran my hands through my hair. “Is this some sort of joke? First, you say a ghost is going to eat me. Then you ramble on about someplace called The Other, like everything you are saying is entirely normal.” This was too much to take in, so I decided to start with the basics. “What’s The Other?”

Genevieve seemed unfazed by my outburst and instead sounded delighted, “The Other is where you are. The place between the land of the living and Heaven or Hell or whatever it is you believe.” She stood up and started to look around the room. “Nothing this exciting has happened since Marta met that poltergeist a while back. Now that was a nasty guy. You wouldn’t believe the damage he did before we were able to subdue him.”

The Other. At least I had a name for this Hell I called home. I almost wanted to laugh at how ridiculous this was.

I started to get scared, which naturally turned to anger, and Genevieve was the only one around for me to take it out on. “A poltergeist? How naïve do you think I am?” The room was starting to spin, and my hand shook when I pointed to the door. “I think it’s time for you to go now.”

I stomped over to the desk and tried to get as far away from her as possible. My eyes lingered on the photograph of the redhead. I felt in my gut that she was someone I had loved and trusted, and I wished she was here to tell me everything was ok, instead of being stuck with this cocky stranger. I reached down to pull out my chair to sit and sighed when I couldn’t grip the wood. I pulled my hand back to my chest and cradled it.

Genevieve started to leave, but I stopped her. “Why can’t I touch anything?”

“I can see in your eyes you are still trying to come up with a rational explanation for what is going on. You aren’t going to find one.” Genevieve tapped her foot as she spoke. “Let me spell it out for you. You are D-E-A-D dead.”

I knew deep down that I was dead, but the rational side of me refused to believe her. I went to argue, but before I could get the words out, Genevieve disappeared. I spun around the room and searched for her. Great, the only person who could give me answers just left. I rubbed my face, and Genevieve reappeared right in front of me. I jumped back, surprised to have her so close. I wanted to shake her, but I was too shocked to do anything.

Genevieve beamed and stood with her feet apart and her hands on her hips. I noticed her nails were painted red and black to match her pants. She looked at me expectantly, but I wasn’t ready to give her the satisfaction of how curious I actually was by asking how the hell she had just done that. 

Genevieve pointed her lollipop at me. “Aurora, you died. The hard part is over. Now is the fun part. The rules that once applied to you when you were alive no longer do. I can teach you anything you want to know, as long as you are willing to learn.”

I wrung my hands. “Maybe I can just see ghosts. Or maybe I’m just having a breakdown, and you are a figment of my imagination.”

Genevieve sighed and shook her head. “Don’t be dense. You know I’m real.” She raised her hands in exasperation. “Are you going to act like your hand didn’t just go through the chair or that I didn’t just Shift out and then reappear?”

I rubbed my hands over my face, unable to deal with this. I didn’t want to be a ghost. I was still so young, and there was so much more I had left to do. This couldn’t be happening. I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe and tried to take a deep breath to calm myself.

I wanted to wipe that smug smile off of Genevieve’s face. “There has to be another explanation for all of this. How can I be dead if I don’t even remember dying?”

Genevieve came up beside me and put her hand on my shoulder. I didn’t realize how much I missed the touch of another person until she did that. She gave me a look of pity, and I turned away from her, hiding the tears that I could feel starting to build.

Genevieve’s voice was soft when she spoke, “Most people wake up confused after they die, especially about their deaths. Some never remember. I know this is a lot to accept. I promise you will be ok. There are lots of perks of being a ghost.” She counted on her fingers. “You never have to shower again. You can change into anything you want, whenever you want. You just need to think of a place, and you Shift like I just did. Oh, and the best part is you can spy on the living.”

I closed my eyes and decided to test her theory. If I was insane, I might as well have fun with it. I tried to think of something to wear, but my mind was still all over the place, and I couldn’t focus. My skin felt like tiny ants were crawling all over it. It made me think of how itchy those adult bodysuit sleep things looked. When I opened my eyes, I was wearing a floral fleece onesie that covered my whole body besides my hands and face. Genevieve doubled over with laughter at the sight of me.

I glared at her and started to unzip it, only to realize I had nothing on underneath. “It’s not funny! I somehow can change my clothes into apparently any ridiculous thing that pops into my head. I’ve had people walking through my body all week.” I shivered at the reminder of how violating that felt. “That isn’t normal, and frankly, not very safe. How do I know I didn’t leave a kidney in a freaking door somewhere? My whole body feels weird.”

Genevieve didn’t even try to pull herself together, and tears streamed down her face from laughter. “That was just what I needed. If you think that is unsettling, wait until you learn how to Shift in and out of places. It feels like an out-of-body experience.” She pulled the red candy out of her mouth with an auditable pop as she pondered her theory. “Well, I guess we don’t technically have bodies, so an out of spirit experience?”

I tried to keep my voice even, but she was infuriating, “Can you focus? This all may be normal to you, but it is not to me. I am a logical person, and this is not logical at all. I need a scientific explanation for what is going on. None of this makes any sense.”

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Sonja, a couple things.

You can write, and write well. The overall prose narrative is professional, no question, however, given the trope-ness of the subject matter (realizing one is actually a ghost), the opening action feels way too tame and overly familiar, like the opening of a TV show for pre-teens who want to watch a show about teen ghosts.

If you're going to compete, I'd strongly suggest a new and radically unique opening.

Consider, there are lots of writers out there writing very similar stories with similar hooks. How to distinguish yourself?

Hope this helps. I'm sure it's not what you wished to hear.

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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Hey Sonja,

First, I like your writing. Incorporating all the elements of fiction into scenes is hard, but you have a good balance throughout the sample I've seen. The quirkiness of Aurora's first thoughts and the introduction of Genevieve also help to set a light-hearted tone. 

My main critique is similar to Mike's. Aurora's shock and denial is understandable, but predictable. Maybe there is a place to start where Aurora is further into her afterlife. She has accepted that she is dead, and is trying to piece together her past. Then, when Genevieve suddenly appears, Aurora is taken off guard by the presence of another person. Or perhaps she encounters something from the Other that is dangerous. narrowly avoids disaster, and then meets Genevieve? (I'm just throwing things at the wall here. Without knowing the structure of the rest of your novel, the suggestions might be utterly off the mark). 

I think, as a reader, one of the things I need to know as soon as possible in a story is what is at stake for the protagonist? Aurora is dead, but--as you have hinted--she is still in danger. If we start at a place where she is reeling from her first death, her second one might seem more like a relief than anything else. But if she has come to terms with her existence--or at least, understands that there is something far worse than what she is already experiencing--that amps up the tension.

Back to my first point. Excited to see where you go with this, and for your progress on it.

Thanks,

ZCS 

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