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December 6, 2013

SCORCHED – A Holiday Present From Mari Mancusi

Scorched

 

 

Trinity
Don’t leave me here… It starts with a whisper. At first Trinity thinks she’s going crazy. It wouldn’t be a big surprise—her grandpa firmly believes there’s a genuine dragon egg in their dusty little West Texas town. But this voice is real, and it’s begging for her protection. Even if no one else can hear it…

Connor
He’s come from a future scorched by dragonfire. His mission: Find the girl. Destroy the egg. Save the world.

Caleb
He’s everything his twin brother Connor hates: cocky, undisciplined, and obsessed with saving dragons. 

Trinity has no idea which brother to believe. All she has to go by is the voice in her head—a dragon that won’t be tamed.

 

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Scorched by Mari Mancusi
Publication Date:  September 3, 2013
Publisher:  Sourcebooks Fire

Available for Purchase:
Chapter-Indigo|amazon|B&N|TBD|indiebound

Discovering your story’s true beginning…

Sometimes the most difficult part about writing a book is figuring out where to begin. And sometimes authors like myself end up with several false starts before finally discovering the true first page of their book. In the original version of Scorched I started the story with Connor and Caleb at age ten, on the day their father was killed and their destinies changed forever.

But while it’s certainly a dramatic, important scene with tons of dragon action, it doesn’t drop the reader right into the real crux of the current conflict—the dragon egg arriving at the museum and the soldiers trying to steal it. Ultimately, I ended up using a shorter version of this as a flashback later on in the final book. But I do still have some affection for this extended peak into the boys’ family life, before it was torn apart by dragons.

The second deleted chapter shows exactly how much a story’s backdrop can change over the course of editing. In the original version, Trinity goes to an Upper East Side boarding school in New York City, not Texas. And she has a history of hearing voices in her head, rather than hearing the first voice in the museum just before the break-in. And lastly, Connor is already there—watching her, readying to make his move, instead of arriving four months late. In this version you get to meet Trinity’s best friend Caitlin, who is mentioned a lot in the final version of Scorched, but never made a real appearance on the page.

It’s fun to look back at the story as it might have been. And I hope you enjoy the sneak peek into a writer’s head. Oh and by the way? At this stage the working title of the book was “Scales of Time.” (Which no one seemed to like but me! Sigh.)

 

 

Prologue

Year 100, Post-Scorch

           

            “RAWR!!!”

            Ten-year-old Caleb Johnson leapt from the pile of twisted iron wreckage he’d been hiding behind, arms outstretched and fingers curled into claws. “I am the dreaded ruby dragon, Epsilon!” he declared, a fierce expression on his sunburned, freckled face. “Beware or I will unleash my mighty flames upon you!” He roared again for emphasis.

            His identical twin brother, Connor, squealed into a mixture of delight and surprise as he expertly dodged his brother’s charge and took off running through the Pre-Flag building—down a rubble-filled corridor, beneath a blackened archway, leaping over crumbling cinderblocks and ducking rusty steel pipes, his brother hot on his heels. From above, orange rays of light from the setting sun leaked through cracks in the battered tin roof, effectively illuminating his path.

            “You cannot get away!” Caleb cried from behind him. “No one can escape a dragon! RAWR!”

            Connor dead-ended in a long, chamber, filled with rotting wooden benches that faced some kind of elevated stage and dusty altar. The roof had held here, allowing him a better glimpse into what the room must have looked like, once upon a time. A church, his mother had told them when they’d taken shelter here earlier that day.

            Caleb burst into the room, his crooked teeth bared in a ferocious snarl. Connor laughed, running down the aisle and grabbing a metal scepter that lay abandoned on the ground near the altar. Turning on his brother, he wielded the metal object as if it were a mighty gun-blade.

            “I don’t need to escape,” he proclaimed bravely. “I am a Hunter. And I will take you down!” He leapt forward, ready to destroy the mighty dragon once and for–

            “Caleb? Connor? Get back here where I can see you.”

            Connor lowered his gun-blade. “Awh, Mom.”

            “We’re just having fun,” Caleb added.

            Their mother poked her head into the chamber. “Well, dinner’s almost ready,” she informed them. “You do want to eat, don’t you?”

            It wasn’t really a question. Dropping his makeshift weapon, Conner scrambled after his mother and brother down the rubble-filled hall and into the stifling heat of a smaller entry room with four good walls, ceiling and door. His mother had swept out all the ashes when they’d first arrived and set up a makeshift camp—complete with cinderblock fire, on which she had set her large cast-iron pot. She looked over at her boys and smiled.

            “And how are my brave little Dragon Hunters?” she asked, a teasing look in her eyes.

            “Starving,” Connor replied, peering into the cauldron where the soup bubbled and boiled. The smoke stung his eyes, but the smell more than made up for it.

            “Well, you’re in luck. My snares caught a couple of rats today. So there’s real meat in the soup.” She grabbed two cracked ceramic bowls from one of the worn knapsacks she’d piled in a corner, ladling the cauldron’s contents into them and handing them to her sons. Mom was an expert at making what Dad jokingly called “stone soup” with the scarce ingredients she could scavenge while camping out on the surface lands.

            The boys settled down on their sleeping mats and Connor brought the bowl to his mouth, burning his tongue on the steaming liquid. It was a bit bland–they’d run out of salt earlier that week–but it would fill his rumbling stomach and that was all that mattered in the end.

            A sudden noise outside made Mom leap to her feet, grabbing the knife from her belt and gripping it tightly in her hand. “Who’s there?” she demanded, her voice almost fierce enough to disguise her fear. “We’re armed and will not hesitate to defend ourselves.”

            “Will you now, my love?” asked the tall, burly man sauntering through the door. The boys squealed in delight as they dropped their bowls to great their father. Mom set down her knife, letting out a sigh of relief, as Caleb and Connor fought to hug Dad first. He dropped down to their eye level and ruffled their matching brown heads of hair.

            “My boys!” he cried, kissing each of them on the cheek. “Have you been good? Keeping your mother safe for me?”

            “Yes, Sir,” Connor assured him with a small salute. “She’s all right. And there’s rat in the soup tonight.”

            Dad flashed a smile at Mom. “Rat in the soup,” he repeated. “Well, this is a good night indeed then.” He rose to his feet and walked over to his wife, wrapping his arms around her and squeezing her close.

            “Any luck today?” Connor heard her ask in a low voice.

            Dad released her from his embrace and walked over to the corner to pull off his dusty jacket and boots. “No,” he replied. “But he’s out there. I can smell his smoke in the air. And his shadow crossed the sun at least twice today. It’s as if he’s searching for something.”

            Mom handed him a bowl of soup. “Forget him, then,” she urged. “We’ve been out here thirty days now and he’s not come down. We’re out of food and it’s not good for the boys to be out here so long.”

            “Is it really any better down below?” Dad asked her pointedly. “With no dragon heart, we have no money and no means to buy bread or meat. We’ll end up living in Shanty Town. At least up here, we’re free.”

            “Free to get eaten by a dragon or murdered by wandering bandits.”

            “But thirty pieces of silver, love! I slay this dragon and we’ll live like kings and queens!”

            “Please. I’d rather have you alive and well than be any kind of stuffy royalty.”

            Dad chuckled at her grumpy face. “Oh, wife,” he teased. “What did I do to deserve you?” He planted a kiss on her sunburned nose. “Okay, you win,” he said. “Tomorrow when the sun rises, we’ll head straight to the C Gate. Go underground and regroup. Maybe send the boys to school for a bit.” He sat down on his mat and started sipping his soup.

            Connor and Caleb looked at one another with distaste