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Monday, September 3, 2012

Beta reader search

 By J.R. Wagner

Yes, things are getting THAT close for book 2.  

While I have my core group of beta readers in place already, I think some fresh blood may be helpful. So, if you are interested in being a beta reader here is what you need to do:

  • Print/copy/paste/whatever the story below
  • Send it back to me as a .pdf with comments or a .doc with track changes  (sorry, those are the only file formats I'll take) NO HANDWRITTEN COMMENTS
  • Based on your thoughts, I will select one (yup, only one) beta reader for book #2 of The Never Chronicles. -you will have to sign a non-disclosure agreement if you are selected so if you aren't comfortable with that please do not submit.

What I'm looking for:

I'm NOT looking for an copy editor, a grammarian or someone with the ability to pick out quotations pointed in the wrong direction. All these things are helpful but not essential in this phase of the process.

I'm looking for someone who can share their thoughts on the story as a whole -the pacing,  clarity, character development etc. Also, I'd like someone who is good at picking out inconsistencies timeline issues and age appropriateness (it is a YA novel).  This person will be able to write these thoughts in a clear and concise manner. BTW, you get extra 'ranking points' if you are actually in the YA age range (12-24).

One final note. In order to be a beta reader you must have read and be intimately familiar with book #1, Exiled. This means you must have read it and have a copy to reference while you are beta reading.

I've pasted three chapters from a serial story I've written with another author below.  It was not edited save a quick once over and so should make good test fodder.  The formatting is all screwed up as a result of the paste but that isn't something you should be looking for anyway.

I'm not sure when I'm going to close the entries (maybe a few weeks, maybe less) I've got several things that are in process that may alter this date.

The Searcher
“That’s me,” I whispered.

“Well of course it is, darling who were you expecting?” the woman asked with an expression that told me she was legitimately concerned with my response.

“What is that?” I asked, pointing to the rectangular doorway reflecting our images. “Is that magic?”

“No, dear. It’s called a mirror. It is glass brought to such a shine that we can see whatever it reflects as if it is a whole new world identical to our own.”

“Can I touch it?” I asked, apprehensively.

“Of course you can, dear, “ she said with the kindest smile I’d ever seen.

She helped me forward, her arm around my waist, mine around hers. My other was extended and shaking slightly. I wasn’t sure if it was from excitement, nervousness or simply fatigue from being immobile for so long –long enough to grow more hair than I’ve had since I was a child.

We stopped when we were within reaching distance. I hesitated. I could see the wooden frame in which the shined glass sat –that gave me slight comfort, which was something I needed because I truly believed I would reach out my hand and my twin on the other side would grasp my wrist and pull me into her world. I realized it was a silly thought but there was something different about the reflection. Something darker. I couldn’t quite place it but I knew it was there.

I looked up at the kind woman who was holding me upright. She showed no signs of strain or fatigue as she supported most of my weight. That smile –that comforting smile was there as she looked into my eyes. Somehow, I could feel her pushing comfort into my mind. It was a strange feeling. It felt invasive despite the comfort she was trying to pass along. I broke eye contact and looked at her reflection in the mirror. For an instant, her eyes looked different in her reflection. They were bright –too bright. It was as if they provided their own light. She blinked and it was gone.

“Go ahead dear, it’s okay”

I extended my hand once again and slowly reached for the fingertips of my reflection. I could see the concern on her face as she did the same but we both tried to ignore it as they inched closer. Then, I felt the cool surface of the glass. Immediately, I relaxed. I let my hand lay completely on the mirror. My reflection did the same. Her face smiled at the silliness of our concern from earlier. I glanced at the woman by my side –by her side. She was looking on with intense interest. It was strange, yet I quickly disregarded it as I studied the girl –my reflection close up.

I was beautiful. My skin was flawless. The scars on my cheeks I’d had since I was five were gone. My amber eyes sparkled as if flecks of gold mixed with the brown highlights. My hair was similarly perfect. Not a piece out of place. I smiled. My teeth –her teeth, our teeth were white and straight. I’d never seen teeth so white and nobody in the district had straight teeth (most of them were lucky if they had half their teeth left by the time they turned twelve). I was one of the few who could boast having a full set of teeth at my age although they were stained yellow and brown from years of eating district slop.

“How long has it been?” I asked. “Weeks?”

“Months, my dear. Nearly six.”

“How is that possible?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Things are different here,” she said, “it would be best if we sit and I start from the beginning.”

I nodded and we started to turn away from the mirror when I realized my hand was stuck to the glass.

“Something wrong?” she asked, looking back at my hand.

I pulled again but my hand would not move. This is when things got really strange. The smooth glass around my hand began to ripple like a still pond that’s been disturbed by the toss of a stone. I pulled harder but my hand would not move. I began to panic. To my horror, I realized my hand was actually sinking into the mirror. For an instant, I thought I saw my reflection wink at me and chills went down my spine. The harder I pulled, the further my hand sunk into the mirror. I could feel the warm skin of the girl on the other side as she gripped my hand.

“Help me,” I said, looking at the woman who was staring with a transfixed expression. She snapped out of her ponderous paralysis and stepped forward putting her body between my own and the glass –blocking my reflection.

“Look at me,” she said.

I couldn’t take my eyes away from my arm, which was now wrist-deep in the mirror. I could feel the girl on the other side gripping my hand even tighter.

“Look at me,” she repeated slowly.

I looked up at her beautiful face. Our eyes connected and I could feel her invasive calm surging into my mind.

“You must remain calm. The more you panic, the further into the mirror you will fall.”

“I can feel her,” I said, tears beginning to roll down my cheeks. She is pulling me.”

“I know, dear. You must ignore her, ignore your arm, ignore everything and focus on me. You must or you will fall through and you will be lost.”

I opened my mind (don’t ask me how) and allowed her calm to flood in. My breathing slowed and the tears stopped.

“Very good,” she said. “Now, I’m going to get you out. What you’re about to see may disturb you but it’s the only way. You just need to remain calm.”

I nodded, overwhelmed by a fatigue that seemed to come along with indifference. The woman stepped aside revealing my reflection. Her expression wrought with concentration as she tried to pull me further into the mirror. The woman beside her –the woman beside me, moved out of sync with her reflection. The moment she did this, the background inside the mirror darkened so only the girl desperately pulling my hand and the woman could be seen.

The girl looked over at the woman –enraged.

“No,” she said. “We need her. You cannot do this,” she shouted.

The woman took no notice at the shouts as she moved toward the girl. Toward my reflection. What happened next, happened so fast. The woman removed something from beneath her robes. I never got a good look at it but can only assume it was a dirk of some sort. She moved with such speed I only saw the result of her action. My reflection immediately dropped my hand and I was able to pull my arm free from the mirror. I looked at her. Her neck was bright red. She’d been cut across the throat.

The blood seeped down over her chest and onto the floor. Somehow, she remained standing as it drained from her body. She stood there and looked right at me. Right into my eyes. I heard her speak, not out loud but in my head. “You must save us,” she said.

She then fell to the ground. Her body convulsed once and was then motionless.

“No,” I shouted, running to the mirror and stooping so I was even with her on the ground. I put my hand on the floor for fear of falling and realized a pool of warm blood had formed on this side of the mirror.

The Searcher

The woman quickly drew a curtain over the mirror as I stood. My hand was still warm from the blood that had somehow trickled through the mirror. I looked at my hand in horror. She was dead –I was dead. The woman had a nervous expression on her face as she watched me –waiting for my reaction. My legs were shaky, but somehow I’d managed to stand on my own. I was getting stronger. I looked up at the woman.

“What just happened?” I asked.

“You met your chirality,” she replied as if I should know what she was talking about.

“My what?”

“Your chirality. All Searchers have a chirality,” she said.

I was becoming more confused by the second. I recalled her mentioning the word ‘searcher’ before but brushed it off as irrelevant. The blood on my hand was thickening –like sap. The color was also darkening as I watched.

“Lets get you cleaned up,” she said, reaching for my arm.

I pulled away. I was becoming more unsettled in this place and after what I just witnessed, my trust of this woman was waning. The blood was darker still. I flexed my hand and it pulled away at the lines on my palm. I looked up at the woman. She had a startled expression on her face.

“What is a searcher?”

“You are, dear,” she replied.

My impatience was growing.

“What does a Searcher do? How do you know I am a Searcher?

“Please, dear, let me get you cleaned up and I will explain everything,” she said, again reaching for my arm. This time I did not flinch. She held me under the elbow and guided me to the far end of the room to the other side of a large cabinet where a sink was tucked into the wall.

As I rubbed my fingers together, pieces of dry blood were balling up and falling to the wooden floor. This was my blood and this woman had spilt it. She turned on the water and opened a cabinet above the sink. After removing something from the cabinet, she put her own hand into the water, nodded to herself, then placed her hand on my back and coaxed me forward until I was directly in font of the sink. The water was steaming –imagine, warm water right from the tap. I’d never heard of such a thing.

She handed me something –a white oval. I looked at her curiously.

“It’s soap, dear. It will take the stain away.”

Soap. Never heard of it. I could smell it without even lifting it to my nose. It had a floral scent to it. I put it on my bloody hand and waited to see what happened. I heard the woman chuckle as she watched me.

“No, dear. You need to get it wet and rub it in,”

She reached for my hands and pulled them into the stream of warm water. I flinched –the water was hot. She kept my hands under the stream and, after a moment, I was used to the heat. She then began rubbing the oval of soap on my palms until it left a slimy layer of white residue. After setting the soap on the edge of the sink, she began rubbing my hands gently, slowly removing the residue and with it, the dried blood. The feel of the warm water along with the gentle massaging of my hands was incredible. I’d never felt such pleasure. My knees started to weaken as I let the feeling take hold.

I couldn’t help but smiling and the woman smiled back as she removed the last evidence of her terrible deed. She then turned off the water and dried my hands with a perfectly white towel. I had never seen such a thing.

The woman led me through the door out onto the porch. The same blue sky, green rolling hills and turquoise sea stretched out in front of us as she invited me to sit in one of the wooden chairs. I sat. She sat beside me. For a moment, we both looked at the landscape in silence. When my patience neared its end, she began to speak as if she could feel my frustration.

“I suppose I should start at the beginning, I’ve never had a candidate quite so ignorant as you.”

That sure sounded like an insult but I let it slide in order to move the conversation along.

“Do you know why you were brought here?” she asked.

“I fell through a hole in the floor and woke up here –wherever here is.”

“This is the place all candidates come. They come here to be either confirmed or denied. If they are confirmed, they go on.”

“What is a candidate?”

“A candidate is someone who has the attributes necessary to become a Searcher.”

“What is a Searcher?”

“The Searchers are the ones who search.”

“For what?” I asked, annoying feeling returning quickly.

“For two hundred years, the Searchers have looked for the key.”

“Key to what?”

“To the door of the sanctuary –where we all must go if we are to survive the next event.”

I took a deep breath. I felt like I was asking a four-year-old about his family history. Every answer prompting more questions. At this rate, I’d be dead before I knew what the hell she was talking about.

“Where is the sanctuary door?” I asked, making it obvious I was growing impatient.

“In the city –below the city, actually.”

“And there is only one key?”

“Before the first event there were three keys held by the three Vizors of the city. Two of the three Vizors prematurely evacuated the city for fear of their own lives and in the process were taken. They’ve never been seen again.”

I decided not to take the bait about what ‘taken’ means and push for more answers to my original questioning.

“Where is the third Vizor?” I asked.

“She is still in the city. She is very weak. Without the other two Vizors, she is virtually powerless.”

“And she obviously doesn’t have her key, correct?”

“In her weakened state, a Sentinel –the Sentinel overpowered her and took the key.”

“A Sentinel?”

“You are familiar with the term?”

“Sentinels guard the outer walls. My father was a Sentinel. My sister is a Sentinel. I don’t understand, if a Sentinel had the key to this sanctuary, why wouldn’t they use it to escape?”

“It was stolen in haste and ignorance. Only the Vizor can use the key. As her health wanes our chances of getting into the sanctuary decrease. Soon, they will expire and when the next event comes, all of us will perish.”

“Do you know the Sentinel’s name who stole the key? Two hundred years –that’s nearly ten generations. Where would you even begin…”

It dawned on me at that moment that if the key was stolen over 200 years ago from this Vizor, then she would be older than anyone I’ve ever met by nearly ten times. Impossible.

“I don’t understand how anyone could live that long,” I said.

“things were different before the first event. People had managed to extend their lives well past the century mark. When the event came, most of the technology and nearly all of the people familiar with its application were destroyed. There are, however, those who remain. As you have no doubt noticed, I am further along in years than you by almost triple.”

“Even so, to live past 200 is something different entirely.”

“ It is because she has no chirality that she endures. Every person has a chirality. You saw your own for the first time today.”

“Yeah, and you killed her,” I said angrily.

“Kill?” No. “One cannot kill another’s chirality. Only you can kill your own chirality.”

“So…she’s not dead?”

“No. Barley wounded. Things are different on the other side. They may look the same to us, but they are different. More powerful, more violent as well.”

“Why was she trying to pull me through?” I asked.

“A chirality always seeks its own chirality –you. If she managed to pull you in, her power would increase exponentially and you would never be able to return to this side. Now that you know, you must always beware of your chirality. Never get too close.”

“I don’t understand, your chirality attacked mine to set me free. Why would it do that?”

“Your chirality can be trained.”

Now my head was really spinning. I was thankful to be sitting at the moment. All this information was enough to make me want to barf all over my neatly painted toes. I took a moment to review what I’d been told before speaking.

“So this Vizor killed her chirality?”


“How?” I asked.

“That, I don’t know.”

“Where are the Searchers looking?

“Some scour the city, some the wastelands beyond the districts. Most have infiltrated the Sentinel strongholds and search for clues among those linked to the theft.”

“Where do you believe I must search?”

“You must decide that for yourself. You will be taken to the tracking ward and there you will decide where you must begin.”

“Why haven’t I heard about all this before? It seems like a big deal not to be common knowledge.”

“The Sentinels have kept it quiet in hopes of gaining access themselves –they don’t want our kind traveling through into the sanctuary with them.”

“What is your kind?”

“We are city dwellers.”

The Searcher
After our conversation, the woman led me around the porch to what should have been the front of the house. Our bare feet padded across the wooden planks as we made our way around the corner. Somehow, in that short amount of time, I managed to regain even more strength and found walking was no longer a difficult task.

When we rounded the corner to what should have revealed the main entrance, I immediately stopped and my heart rate immediately increased.

“What is that? I asked.

“That, my dear is the passage to the world which you are familiar.”

The porch ended abruptly, not turning with the square of the building and for good reason. The ground fell away. It was a mild gradient at first but eventually it became sheer and I struggled to see the bottom. A loud mechanical noise reverberated from the hole.

“That’s how I got here?”

“Remember, dear, things are never always as they seem.”

“Must I go in there now?”

“goodness no. Look at you. You’re still dressed in your pajamas. I will get you clothes, shoes and supplies and then you will travel through to the tracking ward with your guide.”

“My guide?”

“Yes, dear. You didn’t think I’d let you go in there alone, did you? We are awaiting the arrival of your guide.”

I heard a noise. Something organic mixed with the mechanical sound rising from the pit. Would my guide be a man? I wondered. I sure hoped not. First because no man should ever see me dressed like this and second because they’re slow and weak.

A mist formed over the top of the pit –like the fog that permanently enshrouded the wastelands beyond the districts. The organic sound grew louder and it had a sense of familiarity I couldn’t quite place. I looked over at the woman. She had a slight smile on her face.

“He is almost here,” she said.

He. Great.

Then it broke through the fog. It literally jumped up out of the mist and onto the porch beside me. Ignoring us both, the dog trotted around the side of the house as if it owned the place. The woman smiled, clearly satisfied then turned to follow.

A dog. A dog, I could deal with. We had plenty of dogs in the districts. Most of them served as wall guards along with the sentinels but a few had become pets to the more affluent families.

Back inside the cabin, the dog was drinking greedily from a bowl of water that I was certain wasn’t there when we left several moments ago. He was a big dog –bigger than any I’d ever seen. He wore some type of pack strapped to his torso.

We both stood there like idiots watching this dog drink until finally it lifted its head. I felt a pressure in my forehead as it made eye contact with me. It was similar to the pressure I felt when the woman was trying to relax me with her mind. Could it be coming from the dog?

The pressure immediately ceased when the dog turned its attention to the woman. She nodded, moved to its side and unzipped the pack. She removed three things. The first, was a map folded in on itself so many times I could only make out a small section. The second was a green circular object with which I was unfamiliar. The third was a set of knives. Three in total, each sheathed one behind the other. Their blades were strangely shaped and the handles much narrower than a typical knife.

She walked the three objects to the table. I followed. The dog circled a spot just in front of the door a few times before laying down. The woman spread out the map. I was familiar with looking at maps –we had many back in the districts, all crude, hand-drawn things that the sentinels used when they moved from the districts to the wastelands. This map was quite different than what I’d seen before. There were no smudges, erase marks or notes scribbled all over the paper. It didn’t even look hand-drawn, although I’m not sure how else it could have been created.

The woman took the green circular object, pulled a latch I hadn’t noticed earlier and opened it revealing a needle floating inside.

“Do you know what this is?” she asked.

“No,” I replied.

“We call it a compass. It tells you the direction in which you are traveling. It, along with the map will be your lifeline as you travel between here and the tracking ward.”

“What about my guide?” I said, nodding at the dog, who lifted an eyebrow as if he knew I was talking about him.

“Your guide will get you through the reentrant without falling to your death. Once you reach the bottom, it is up
to you to make it to the tracking ward,” she said, pointing to a small rectangle drawn on the map. “You will come out here and must travel this distance to get to the ward,” the woman said moving her finger from top to bottom of the entire page while tracing a red line.

“The topographical indicators along with the compass will provide you with all you need to keep your bearing. If your health continues to improve at its current rate, the journey shouldn’t be overly arduous for you. I’d hazard a guess that you’ll make it in under a week.”

“A week?” I said, incredulous.

“Of course, dear. What were you expecting?”

I really didn’t know what I was expecting. I was hoping the tracking ward was a building around the back side of the house but I knew that wasn’t the case when we went looking for Mr. fuzzy butt. The dog again lifted his eyebrows and let out a low growl. I knew I wasn’t expecting to travel alone in what looked like a system of tunnels for a week. I wasn’t a fan of enclosed spaces or complete darkness and I was about to be thrown into both of them.

“You must eat, pick out your clothes and rest. At sundown, Kingslayer will take you through the passage.”

“Kingslayer?” You’ve got to be kidding. Again, fido growled while giving me the evil eye and I knew the damn dog could read my mind. Wonderful.

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