I’ve been writing a middle grade series for several months now. I think it started in September. I could never get the first chapter. After finishing the rough draft and getting a few comments on the second and third chapter, I decided to try my hand at a first chapter. A first chapter is horrifically important. Obviously, buyers will pick up a book, read a bit and decide. But it’s actually even more important than that. Buyers don’t see it until after the book has gone through an editor and a publisher. But before that comes the query process. The query process involves the first 10-25 pages of the book. Period. Not the best 10-25, the first. That means your first chapter has to hook in that agent or editor immediately.
So, one day, I just started writing. I don’t know what happened, but this (see below) came out. I thought it was pretty awesome, but others had problems with it. In fact every other writer that read it thought it was a turn off. I didn’t really care about that too much, although I did take it into consideration. I wasn’t writing for other writers. But one said that it was too much plot for the age group, especially to start out with. And they were right. I start out with a woman that’s only part of the series every beginning and end of each book. The flash forwards and backwards were too complex and confused many, even adults. They liked it, but for the first book in a middle grade series…
I didn’t want to get rid of it. I planned a time to lie in the floor kicking and screaming, but then I laughed. I had a hard time accepting the stupid chapter to being with. What was my problem? I couldn’t figure out how to make it work in the first place and was forcing it to, so why was I making such a big deal about it? So I threw it out. I decided the second chapter can stand on its own as the first, and if everyone says it’s not good enough, I’ll find another hook then. But the more I looked back over it, the better I feel that it will be OK. I pray it is at least. The first chapter will always have a special place in my heart and hard drive. Who knows? It may even turn into something else one day.
For your enjoyment, however, and just to show you what I’ve been up to, I decided to post the first chapter just for those following along. You’re welcome to comment, but bear in mind it is not, repeat not part of the final manuscript. Also, please note, that sense this is being tossed, it never made it to the final edit of tense agreement, typos, etc, so there are a few mistakes. So, without further ado, I give you the first chapter of Kitchen Elf and the Secrets of Cupola.
CHAPTER 1: WELCOME TO CUPOLA
“Welcome to Cupola! The land of mystery of magic. Enjoy our mystical gardens full of fairies and nymphs! Ride our dwarven mine coaster or soar with our dragonettes!” Your tour guide spreads his arms as he opens the tall and rounded blue gates to the Magical World of Cupola. He is a short, portly man of about fifty. He is wearing a large hat of bright blue, green, and red colors with grandiose black and yellow plumage that shimmer brightly in the sunlight. It matches his multicolored sneakers perfectly but clashes horribly with his dark grey waistcoat and lighter grey, pinstriped suit. You follow along as our group enters through the gates and waits further instruction.
Beyond him, fairies fill the air, elves run across the paths, and citizens cheerily wave at the tourists. Every year the land of Cupola opens its doors to those of “the earthly realm” as they call us. It allows them to make a profit and prosper on the income of our visits.
He continued, “If you are one of our VIP’s, you may join our present ruling monarch for dinner.” He lowers his voice, his neck bulging over his frilly white tie, “I do apologize, but all VIP tickets have been sold out for the season. So there are, unfortunately, no upgrades allowed at this time.” He starts shouting again, opening his arms in invitation, “But you are always welcome to check back. Cancellations are rare, but they do happen.”
He continues to back away into the main road, gesturing in the different directions for where things are. “For those who are staying with us, the hotel is over there. Our main street with refreshments, finely created crafts, and souvenirs is this way.” He looks down at the foremost family, winks at the children and says, “Of course, our adventurous visitors will want to join Azizi and his dragonettes for excitement and thrills.” The children smile up at him with delight, and then a loud dragon roar sounds in the distance with rising flames and smoke. The children’s faces sag as they back away in fear and reach for their mothers’ hands.
But this façade isn’t why you’re here. Your interests lie elsewhere. “And of course, for your education, please visit our Library in the Tower of Learning, where you will learn of our history and culture.” And there it was, the history of Cupola and your reason for coming here. You share a history with Cupola that no other “earthly visitor” could dare guess. You’re the grandchild of the woman who was there when our two worlds met.
Your grandmother was an amazing woman. She never stopped. Her mind was vigorous, even until the end. But even more amazing, she passed on a secret to you that would change your life forever. Oh you didn’t believe it at first, of course. Who would? As she lay on her death bed, with you alone by her side, she handed you her diary. It told her story, the story. For you see, it was she who discovered Cupola.
Our tour guide points out some venders and activities and answers a few questions, dismissing the crowd. About half the visitors run off to seek the adventures that await them: caves to explore, forests to traverse, mines to visit, sword fighting to learn. There’s even a stable for those wishing to joust or take an equestrian tour of the realm. The other half jaunt off to the hotel, eager to check in so they can enjoy their day like the others.
You ignore them, avoiding the guide’s eyes, and slink away to make a quick detour. You traverse off the main road and into the forbidden residential area. Walking as quickly as you can while remaining silent, you remember the directions you made sure to memorize before arriving. Straight at first, then a right and finally a left. Slowly you creep down the path recently paved with flag stone, and stop outside one of the houses. Your breath catches. There’s something inside of you that tells you it’s the one. You just know. The wooden door is heavily grooved but feels warm to the touch. The sound of a nearby neighbor talking scares you to return to the “approved” course as quietly and hurriedly as possible.
As you near the worn stones of the road at the entrance gate, you let out your breath and look around you. You follow it onto the main street of the courtyard where it transitions into smooth, red paver bricks. The small shops outlining the courtyard are bright and open, ready to showcase their crafts for the doting tourists. Their scaled roofs slope sharply, providing privacy for the shopkeepers and their families. Their wooden windows are small and thick, some with wooden shutters, others adorned with boxes filled with glowing flowers.
You pass the costume maker with its lavish Victorian imitations, the jeweler with its grand exhibit of gems and precious metals. On the other side of the courtyard is a weapons shop, filled with large dwarven swords, shields, helmets, and armor. The architecture of many of these shops looked as though they were placed in at a later date. That would definitely support Grandma’s stories, especially since they weren’t built on top of the previous buildings, but appeared to be squished in between them. You mentally note the magic at work.
As you enter the middle of the courtyard, vendors serving “exotic meat” pies and milk shakes guaranteed not to melt call out for your patronage. But your mission stirs your concentration to pause and study the landscape, to get your bearings. You decide to check in at the hotel and drop off a few things first. There’s no telling how long it will take to do everything you came for.
You reach the hotel, a large, decorative wooden building. It’s completely out of place with the rest of the courtyard, almost as if it were a last minute addition, and more land were created to fit it in its place. Its window frames are so ornately engraved that the gems cradled within them appear bland. It is amazingly exquisite, obviously made just for these occasions. Its size looks as though it couldn’t possibly hold the population it claims to. You note another obvious use of magic and enter.
The receptionist is a small creature, about a foot tall, with rapidly flapping wings of the same size. She’s hovering over a large book, checking off the last of the names of what was once a very, very long line. There are some more creatures, just as herself, flittering here and there with burdens of feather dusters and drinks.
About six creatures groan at the strain of lifting one suitcase using a special harness made just for the demand. You habitually leave the line to help but falter when you hear the creatures shout at another patron for doing the same. The patron puts his hands up and apologizes profusely as they continue to berate him for his insulting action. Ah, wood sprites! You recognize them from your grandmother’s drawings. That explains the gorgeous carvings and purely wooden architecture. You smile as you realize how lucky the man was for not having to spend the rest of his day pulling sprites off of his body where they would have sunken their teeth into him. They were displaying a great deal of self control.
“Next!” The receptionist calls for you, one hand on her hip, her mouth smacking tree sap, and her wings buzzing softly as she hovers over her desk. “Thompson.” You had used a false name when making the reservation in order to prevent suspicion. She gives you a large leaf in the shape of a key. You thank her and head up the stairs for your room.
The key lets you into a sizable room, much larger than the outside appears, with wooden floors and huge leaves for wallpaper. Upon further inspection, you notice that the wallpaper is probably the wall itself. It is stiff and thick, almost like paper mache. The bed is a hammock made of flexible leaves and hanging between two wooden, branchless tree trunks.
You deposit your backpack on said hammock and pull out Grandma’s diary. You’ve read it so many times since you first heard about the Magical World of Cupola that you know most of it by heart. But here, actually here. You check the door to make sure it’s locked, make a sweep of the room for even the tiniest eavesdropper, and read again:
Dear Diary, June 18
I can’t believe what has happened to me these past few days. It all started June 6, just 5 days after my 16th birthday. A small light shone from the corner of my room. I didn’t notice it at first because of all the noise Dad was making from the TV in the living room. He always stays up late watching silly westerns and game shows and drinking his beer. If I am lucky, he forgets about me. If I am not, he finds reason to be angry with me.
But anyway, this light started to grow. It had rays that extended out in all directions, like the sun. And then the center started to change. At first I thought it must be another TV, because that is what it looked like. I saw a woman dressed oddly, and another woman standing next to her. They were both looking at me the same way that I was looking at them!
I got off my bed and walked over to the shining picture. They walked closer to me too, and for a long time we just stared at each other. Finally, their mouths started to move. It looked like they were trying to say “Hello.” I said “hello” back and waved. We all smiled.
They conversed with each other a moment, in such a position as I couldn’t see them, and then waved their hands in a “come here” gesture. This made no sense to me whatsoever! Come there indeed. How on earth did they expect me to do such a silly notion? I simply shrugged my shoulders and said, “I can’t,” exaggerating my mouth movements as I did so.
They nodded and pleaded with me so that I finally extended my arm towards their picture. But it went through! My arm went into the hole within the light!
I was sore afraid and pushed myself backwards, up against my bed. I shook my head repeatedly at their insistence that I try again. It was then that I heard my father get up from his chair and start yelling at my mom. I tried once to protect her. It did not end well. Fearing his wrath more than the glowing photo that moved, I dove into it!
It was only a slight sensation, like walking into a giant freezer. The air smelled differently there. It was crisper, cleaner, and a bit cooler. It was explained to me that I had traveled into the land of Cupola.
It was a beautiful place. I was there for many days before they were able to return me to my home. My family thought I had run away, but did nothing about it. My mother was glad I was able to get away, and my father was happy to have me away.
She went on to describe every adventure she ever had in this magical realm, including the main reason you’re here now. She also wrote down this place’s history, and how it came to be so beautiful. It wasn’t always this fabulous. Its past is rich and complex, full of mystery and adventure. She described the time before her arrival as one of great deprivation, a period when even the happiest of souls would shrivel in a life in Cupola. But that time also produced one of the greatest heirs Cupola would ever see. An heir that would bring it to the glory it has today. But finding that heir and making it all happen was up to just three children. This is the story she was told.