Friday Snippet: The Ruby Key

Genna, Dan, Yarri and the cat travel the moonroad the old woman told them to seek.

We had barely caught our breaths than the cat said, “And now Coldfall,” and something in my heart contracted at the sight of the red sparks that spun around him, brightening and tightening until they coalesced into a terrifying spiral.

“I don’t want to,” Yarri whispered. Dan clutched my hand, and I grabbed Yarri’s arm, and I dragged the three of us forward and into that spiral before the road could slide away from us. And before I lost my courage.

Things moved around us as we fell. Creatures, shadows, glowing eyes that stared at us in bodiless pairs. Broken people, twisted animals. Monsters. They slid past us or dropped behind us as we raced by, and some of them opened mouths and screamed without sound, and others reached out to try to grab us, though their hands slid through us as if either they or we were made of nothing but smoke.

And some saw us and laughed, and even though I could no more hear the laughter than the screams, it was somehow worse. It was as if they knew—absolutely knew—what was about to happen to us.

I yearned for wings, or a way off the road. I wished Dan still had Papa’s sword.

I tried to breathe, but my terror clogged my throat. Hands grasping, and eyes staring, and shadows wrapping themselves around the three of us and trying to slip inside, as if they wanted our bodies to wear like coats.

We crashed out of the road, all three of us feeling filthy and ill-used, and the cat landed in a heap on us, hissing and spitting and with his claws out.

“Up, quickly,” he said. “The old woman said this was the way, though I didn’t want to believe her. This way, though, nothing good lies between her and what we seek.” He got to his feet, and stared over my shoulder, and puffed himself to twice his size.

“Run,” he whispered.

We did not look behind us. I could feel something there. Something big. Wet-mouthed. Hungry. I could hear the moist noises of its movement. I got to my feet and bolted after the cat that streaked away from us, and Dan followed me, and I hoped that Yarri followed him. I could not hear her when she ran, so I did not know, and I feared that if I looked behind to check on her, I’d see the thing making those wet, crunching, smacking sounds….and then Dan passed me and Yarri shot past Dan and I was the one at the back.

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9 responses to “Friday Snippet: The Ruby Key”

  1. Holly Avatar

    Rose–My technique for using words that I suspect the majority of readers might not know (and for using foreign and conlanged words) is simply to use the word in a context that provides a visual or other sensory description of the word the first time I use it. With second and further uses of the word, the reader is on his own.

    In the snippet above, coalesced was used once previously, with ‘tiny lights spinning inward, coalescing into a tight mass.” Used in this fashion, most readers who didn’t know the word will still grasp the sense of it without needing to stop reading, grab a dictionary, and look it up, which I consider an imposition of the writer on the reader which breaks the immersiveness of the story and demonstrates a lack of concern for the reader by the writer.

    I’m not just doing this with the YAs. I’ve done it with every book I’ve written. The responsibility of the writer who wishes to communicate with readers (rather than to baffle them) is to be understandable. I’ve always taken that responsibility seriously.

  2. eowynjedi Avatar

    Oooh! I’m definitely keeping an eye out for this. And thank you for not simplifying things for us YAs. If we run into words we don’t know we can always find a dictionary.

  3. The English Rose Avatar
    The English Rose

    I wrote a comment and don’t know where it went. Huh.

    Interesting! I had a question about voice, too. For the most part this sounds like a 14-year-old, but then you use words like “coalesced.” Myself and English-loving friends at that age aside, I don’t know many 14-year-olds who would know that word. How do you decide on vocabulary in cases like that? I like it, and I always like learning new words, but then I’m not part of the YA audience.

  4. The English Rose Avatar
    The English Rose

    Interesting! I had a question about your voice, too. I like that you don’t “dumb down” anything, in so far as it sounds like a fourteen-year-old, for the most part, but yet you throw in “coalesced”. Myself and English-loving friends at that age aside, I don’t know of many fourteen-year-olds who’d know that word…? I like it, I just wonder how you decide on using words like that. (I enjoy books that make me look up new words, but that’s me, and I’m not part of the YA audience.)

  5. Holly Avatar

    😀 Glad you’re liking it.

    Chassit–I haven’t changed the writing to target it for a YA audience. Rather, I’ve worked to find the voice of the fourteen-year-old girl who’s telling the story, and have paid close attention to keeping it. The trick I use (not original to me–I learned it from Lawrence Block) is to back up a page or two and start editing the previous day’s work, letting the current day’s work build on the voice of the day before. Mostly, it works.

  6. Chassit Avatar

    I was meaning to ask you this before today, but I forgot to. Anyway, have you had to work to keep your voice different for the YA audience, or is it pretty simple?

  7. Chassit Avatar

    Whoah! Oh man, Holly, you deliver over and over again!


  8. shawna Avatar

    Oooh… shivers.

  9. TinaK Avatar

    Holy crap. Talk about leaving me hangin’! Excellent work Holly.

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