Week 4 Finalist – 2nd Place Winner

TITLE: Dark Shadows
AUTHOR: Kylie Griffin
CATEGORY: Futuristic & Fantasy Romance, with a touch of Paranormal

SMUGGLING WAS A dangerous occupation but it kept much needed credits rolling in. Kat reminded herself of this as her stomach churned like an meteorite entering the upper stratosphere.Taking a deep breath she stepped into the tavern and ducked into the shadows. Ignoring the raucous laughter she scanned the patrons, searching for the tell-tale cobalt hue of a Vorish patrol uniform. There were none. Relief made her light-headed.

“There has to be a better way to earn credits,” she muttered and drew her shaking hand away from the small hand-laser attached to her belt.

She scanned the room again. Half a dozen alien races patronized Borvaal’s bar. Her arrival drew a few curious glances from the group of furred Hurrans and grey skinned Balian seated closest to the door. With a gentle thought she encouraged them to return to their drinks and conversations, pleased when their alcohol-muddled minds easily adopted her telepathic suggestion.

Sour sweat and stale smoke hung thick in the warm air. Her breath hitched and goosebumps prickled down her spine as past events mingled with the present. The crisp odor of burnt flesh and the echoes of desperate cries filled her mind. She could almost taste the dry dust of crumbled and broken walls in her mouth. She pushed the image back, hating how the simplest things triggered memories best left untouched.

A draft of fresh, cold air slapped her face, refocusing her. Behind her the door closed. Kat stepped deeper into the shadows, keeping her back to the wall. Another late night customer pushed past her. She wished she could’ve waited until morning but the busiest time of night offered anonymity from the Vorish Patrol, something she would not forfeit for personal comfort.

“Kat! Over here!” The husky female voice warmed her, driving away the lingering chill of the past.

Through the smoky haze she spotted Zeena, Borvaal’s business partner, overseeing the bar. A few more smile lines bracketed her blue eyes and full mouth and her long hair was now a dark auburn to hide the grey peppering her temples. Kat picked her way through the scattered tables towards the bar, her stomach beginning to roil again when she couldn’t spot Borvaal. Where was he? Had something gone wrong?

“About time you finned down, Kateryn Indie!” Zeena passed a bottle of liquor to one of the slave girls then came out from behind the bar to engulf her in a tight hug. The heavy, floral scent of her perfume filled Kat’s lungs. “You’ve been away too long, darlin’.”

“I’m sorry.” She returned the hug, regretting the long cycle of absence. “I’ve been busy.”

“Too busy even to send a vid-message?”

The censure in her voice sliced her heart with razor sharp shards of guilt. “It’s been a rough, few months.”

Red lips pursed, the woman scrutinized her from head to toe. “You’re even skinnier than you were the last time you were here. Don’t you eat?”

“It’s called lean, hard muscle.”

“So muscle put those shadows under those pretty grey eyes of yours?”Kat shifted her weight from one foot to the other. The businesswoman clucked her tongue. “Toran, I’m taking a ten minute break.”

Kat’s gaze flickered to the bartender, glad to have something to focus on other than her shortcomings. He was older than her, perhaps in his early thirties. The man rose from placing a tray under the bar. Her eyes widened in appreciation as he rose to his full height, a good six feet.

Stars, he was gorgeous.His hair fell to his shoulders, its color so dark it absorbed the light like a black hole. Wavy strands brushed the high collar of his shirt. The semi-transparent garment did little to hide broad shoulders and well-defined muscles, the sort a woman wanted to touch to make sure her eyes weren’t deceiving her.

Now there was a man accustomed to hard work. Heart thudding hard in her chest, Kat wondered just how swiftly profits had risen since he’d begun working behind the bar.

“Like what you see?” Zeena’s murmured query reminded her she was staring. It took a concentrated effort to glance away. A knowing look twinkled in Zeena’s eyes.

Heat worked its way up Kat’s neck then into her cheeks. “I’ll wait for Borvaal over there.” She pointed to a vacant table. “Coming?”

Kat made her way over to the quiet corner. She sat down and leaned back against the wall. Zeena soon hooked her booted foot around a chair and sat opposite her.

“So, where’ve you been?”

Kat sighed. “Try the Dorphinian System and back again.”

One delicately plucked eyebrow arched high. “What were you doing all the way out there?”

“Collecting Borvaal’s cargo.”

“I’m sure he’ll compensate you for the trouble you went to. The demand for Gorvin brandy has risen ever since the Vorish established a Patrol base here.”

Kat nodded and filed that piece of information away.

“How long are you dirt-side this time?”

“A few days. My crew are staying with the ship tonight, but I’d appreciate a room for them tomorrow.”

“They can have the suite. No one’s booked in there.”

“Thanks, Zeena.”

“I guess you want to see Borvaal?”

Kat nodded. “Come sunrise I need to be at the markets to pick up another shipment. A good night’s sleep wouldn’t go astray.”

“Borvaal’s in the middle of a meeting but it should be over soon. I’ll send Toran to tell him you’re here.” The woman caught the bartender’s attention. “Tell Borvaal Kat’s here then open up the attic room and fill the bath.”

Toran’s green gaze locked with hers. The color was the same shade as the moss that grew on Pantherus IV, only it was flecked with amber highlights that reminded her of shards of shattered gold. One of his eyebrows arched in silent query as she continued to stare. Shifting in her seat to cover her embarrassment Kat nodded a greeting. A smile of male satisfaction curved his lips.


Kylie, your first line intrigued me, since smuggling is an interesting occupation for a hero/heroine. Then, when I found out the heroine was the smuggler, I was even more intrigued — of course, I’m wondering what made her resort to illegal activities, but I’m willing to wait a bit longer, trusting that you’ve given her a good reason that keeps her heroine-like and will allow me to continue to like her.

Great world-building, here, with your character’s thoughts and words all in sync with her world, i.e., “…her stomach churned like an meteorite entering the upper stratosphere.” and her exclamation of “Stars…” And her world is portrayed wonderfully, with the “…the group of furred Hurrans and grey skinned Balian seated closest to the door.” along with the “Sour sweat and stale smoke hung thick in the warm air.” Yikes! I can practically smell it!

And let’s not forget Toran. He hasn’t said a word and I already like him! Strong, intriguing heroine, sexy hero, interesting circumstances — I can’t wait to turn the page. Great job!

P.S. One teeny, tiny, thing … when Kat couldn’t spot Borvaal and asks herself, “Where was he? Had something gone wrong?” it seemed to increase her anxiety a bit. So I expected her to ask Zeena if Borvaal was around, instead of immediately engaging in smalltalk, then leaving it up to Zeena to mention Borvaal.

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43 responses

3 02 2010
5 02 2010
Phyllis Campbell

This is a very interesting entry. I’ve always wondered what makes a fantasy story interesting…and this one definitely was intriguing!


3 02 2010
Leigh Michaels

Kylie, great details here! I love how you’ve built your world by showing us the specific, small details of Kat’s surroundings — items, expressions, attitudes which are so natural and familiar to her that we feel immediately grounded in her world even though it’s so much different from our own. I especially like how her references are so natural for her surroundings — comparing the color of his hair to a black hole, for instance.

Of course, mother figures like Zeena are going to be pretty much the same across the universe 🙂 … and that’s a key point when writing other-worldly stuff, or creating paranormal settings. We can relate to Kat and the situation and the other characters, so we’re drawn into it.

Good job!

3 02 2010
Kylie Griffin

Wow, what a wonderful surprise to get your email this morning, Rachelle, thank you for an exciting start to my day!

I read both your comments and the first thing to pop into my head was a quote from Samuel Johnson that I have pasted on the wall of my office near where I work on my lap top – “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”

I’m very happy to read that this seems to apply to DARK SHADOWS for both of you 🙂 Thank you again, for this great opportunity to Chase My Dream!

For those interested, this is the blurb I’ve written for this ms.

(Bk1 of the Talent series)

“Shadows from the past haunt the present…”

Her planet invaded, Katheryn Indie conceals her identity and psi-Talents from the corrupt Vorish Confederation. Threatened with capture, she discovers an unexpected ally in the mysterious tavern slave.

Condemned to a life of slavery in the confederation he once served, Toran Suune craves vengeance. Rescued during a smuggling run by the spirited Captain Indie, Toran now has the means to strike his target.

His knowledge, her Talents, one quest – defeat the ruthless Vorish. Will love survive the shadows?

3 02 2010

Congrats again, Kylie. I’ve already said so on the loop, but I had to come in here as well. Hope this leads to bigger things for you buddy.

4 02 2010
Nita Nichols

Can’t wait to read the book, there is a shelf in my bookcase just waiting for your published works

4 02 2010

Kylie, hi! Fab to see you’ve made the finals 🙂 I, too, really enjoyed the effortless way we’re familiarised with Kat’s world. Great job!

4 02 2010
Kylie Griffin

Hi, Tamara, thanks for your well wishes! I’m certain this is a step in the right direction in the journey to publication! 🙂

G’day, Nita! I like the sound of having that reserved space on your bookshelf! Who knows what might happen and when it may be filled (soon hopefully 😉 ).

Maggie, I’m glad you liked the world building. It’s something I work hard to integrate into my writing. Thanks for reading it and commenting.

4 02 2010

Hi Kylie,
As wonderful as I had expected. I too have space on my shelves just waiting for your books.
Keep it up .
Cheers Mary

5 02 2010

HI Kylie,
This isn’t usually my genre, but I loved the visualizations and world building and am waiting for publication as well. I think I already have a soft spot for Toran 😉
Best of luck!

6 02 2010

Very nice job world building. I also like how the names and titled fit, but weren’t out of reach for the reader. I enjoyed it.

6 02 2010
Kylie Griffin

Hi Maryde – I like these spots on empty shelves you have reserved, ladies – thank you 🙂 .

Jessica, Toran is yummy, and sexy, and hot, and … I could go on 😉 And another possible convert to the sf/f/p world – I love it! You won’t regret crossing over, Jessica 🙂 .
When I first thought of the characters for this story, he was the one I “saw” first. I knew the general roles I wanted the characters to play – smuggler and soldier turned slave, but I wanted a new twist on the man saves woman idea. Coming from a race of people fed xenophobic mantra from the cradle by their gov’t, and being a soldier forced into slavery and needing rescuing was the perfect twist. More conflict than you could poke a stick at!
Kat was always going to be an telepathic empath – her special Talents are what makes her race so special (they have a number of Talents, not just T&E) and is the underlying reason for the Vorish sub-plot. I had a lot of fun throwing the two of them together.

Hi, Kathy, thanks for the compliment about the world building – it’s something I work extra hard at.
You’re one of only a couple of people who’ve mentioned the connection between the characters and the title. Most assume, based on the title alone, that it’s going to be a vampire story (thanks to Christine Feehan’s infamous use of the Dark word) – lol.

6 02 2010

I agree with Jessica that it’s not usually my genre. But your opening to this entire piece caught my attention and kept it. The details you give in how she feels and her environment is what kept me reading. Very enjoyable and something that I would definitely read to the very end.

I think it’s the last paragraph that I really enjoyed the most. They way the two interact with no dialogue. They got each other’s attention. Excellent and keep it going. If this is the beginning, I can’t wait to read the rest.

6 02 2010
Kylie Griffin

Tessa, thank you, I appreciate the time you took to read and comment on Dark Shadows.

Knowing the story and characters appeal to a range of readers is immensely satisfying. 🙂

6 02 2010
Cruisin The Blog & Member’s News « Romance Writers of Australia

[…] an email from Rachelle Chase to inform her she had been selected as one of the finalist in the Chase the Dream contest. Congratulation Kylie, best of luck with the next […]

16 02 2010
Robyn Styles

Hi Kylie,
Loved the intro,reminds me of a scene from star wars. Maybe this book will end up as a block buster movie.Your descriptions are so detailed that i have no problems seeing everything clearly in my mind. Well Done. Can’t wait to read the completed manuscript.

25 02 2010

Kylie –

I don’t usually read sci-fi romance, but you may have convinced otherwise. I really love all the potential you’ve set up with these characters and this world, all in the first scene. It’s definitely a unique setting for a love story, which makes it feel very fresh to me.

26 02 2010
Kylie Griffin

Hi Gwen,

Thanks for taking a look at DS even though this isn’t your preferred genre. I love the idea I may have converted you!

This genre is an exciting one to write in and I’m glad it seems to be gaining popularity in the paranormal umbrella/market.

10 03 2010
Christine Witthohn, Agent

Not a genre I rep, but I thought you did a good job with your opening.
LOVE the heroine being on the wrong side of the law 😉

I thought the writing was pretty good and would be happy to provide you with names of a few heavy hitting sci fi/fantasy agents.

Good luck!

10 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

Hi Christine,

Thank you for your comments on DS – especially as you don’t rep. SF romance!

How might I contact you to find out those names? – I’d certainly appreciate being able to query them.

Perhaps if I leave my email? (kyliegriffin@clearmail.com.au) Thank you in advance.

10 03 2010

Hi Kylie – I will follow-up with Christine on those names and make sure she has your contact information.

11 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

Thank you, Rachelle! 🙂

11 03 2010
Laura Bradford

Very nicely done. You have a solid hook here, the setting is nicely detailed and there is an ease to the writing that makes this very pleasant to read. I think you have also done an excellent job with the world building. From the opening, Kat was a character that was easy to relate to…I felt I understood who she was right away. And Toran promises to be a sexy addition to the story so I am eager to see where the story goes with the two of them. As a complete aside and total coincidence, this agent just *might* have been reading one of your other mss just a couple hours ago. What a surprise to encounter your work twice in one day!

11 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

Wow, thanks, Laura for your great comments – I certainly appreciate the feedback of what worked for you in this opening scene. World building is something I’ve worked hard on in the edits of this book so I’m glad you noticed.
And I’m just a wee bit excited to here you’ve been reading some other work of mine – woohoo!

12 03 2010
Theresa Stevens

This piece really hits all the right romance buttons for this story type. Strong characters, good hints of sexual tension, a good premise, controlled and clear world-building, all well done. The dialogue is good, too.

If you’re looking for ways to improve, focus on the non-dialogue portions of the narrative. There are one or two small slips into “telling” language — don’t tell us what she’s thinking, just let her think it. Like here:
Kat reminded herself of this as her stomach churned like an meteorite entering the upper stratosphere.

We’ve already been given the direct experience of the character’s thought (“smuggling is dangerous but keeps the credits rolling in”), so following that with the “reminder” is a small instance of telling in that the narrative is qualifying or interpreting the character’s direct thoughts. I give my writers a rule of thumb for this — if this were a cartoon panel, would these words appear over the character’s head? Sometimes they will pass that test, and sometimes they won’t. “Remember why you’re doing this, Kat,” might appear in a cartoon bubble. “I reminded myself of this,” might not. This is a very small, fine-tuning kind of thing that can really make a difference in the prose.

I’m well aware that this can be hard to “see” in your own prose, but just look for head words — thought, wondered, etc. — and try the cartoon balloon test. Sooner or later, as you practice, this will click. And once you learn to see this, you’ll always see it easily. It’s just one of those things.

That said, this is a fairly minor issue, and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of your excerpt. I work with a fair amount of SFR, and I think you have a really good example of the subgenre here. Good luck!

12 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

Theresa, I’d never have thought of but really like the speech bubble technique. I’m going to give this idea a go in the WIP I’m editing at the moment and add it to my “bag of tools” – thank you for this. 🙂

I’m glad you enjoyed reading DS, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

13 03 2010
elizabeth Pomada

Hello, Kylie!
This story could be great fun. I hope you’ll think of another title, since that’s already been done in this genre. I do agree with Rachelle’s comments on this book. And though it’s just not for me, it would be super for my associate, Laurie McLean. Send her the first 10 pp. and a 2 p.synopsis at query@agentsavant.com. I love her use of telepathy. And your use of all the senses. Don’t stop!
Elizabeth Pomada

13 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

Hi Elizabeth, I loved making the hero and heroine switch roles – placing Kat in the position of rescuing Toran, it was a heap of fun to write! Thank you so much for pointing me in the direction of Ms.McLean! 🙂 Both you and Ms.Witthohn have now advised me to try querying her, and I shall indeed.

13 03 2010
Christine Witthohn, Agent


Funny you should mention Laurie… I already gave Kylie her contact info 😉

16 03 2010
Esi Sogah

Hi Kylie–Great writing. Nice balance between dialogue and exposition, and really strong world-building for such a short piece. This isn’t the genre for me, so I was even more impressed by how engaging it was. I particularly like how we get a glimpse into Kat’s past that lets us get to know her with being an info dump. I couldn’t quite put my finger on where the story was going yet, but I think a reader would be engaged enough to keep going and find out. Nice job.

Happy Writing!

16 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

G’day Esi – thank you for your comments on DS.

It’s a very satisfying feeling to know that, although sci-fi romance isn’t your preferred genre, you were interested in this scene and its characters. 🙂

16 03 2010
Brenda Chin

Hi Kylie,

You’ve done a good job with this. I especially like how you’ve managed to make us buy into the situation by creating a character we can identify with. A conversation with a friend is always a good way to show character, regardless of the genre. And it definitely works here.
Well done.

16 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

Hello, Brenda, thank you for your comment on DARK SHADOWS – I’m pleased you could identify with Kat as a character. She was an interesting heroine to profile and create – strong, independent and resourceful but also vulnerable and guilt-ridden. Playing off those conflicting characteristics was fun!

17 03 2010
Deb Werksman

I like the pacing and the heroine is quite sympathetic. I would have liked more originality–I feel like I’ve read this world before. I liked the chemistry between the heroine and the hero–good to know immediately who the hero is and that there’s a spark between them. I liked the way you used the “made up” words–they fit, but again, not enough originality. Felt too much like a cross between Star Wars and The Cat Star Chronicles. The writing is good and strong though, so you’d be able to execute well when you do have some original directions to go.

20 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

Thank you for this feedback, Deb, you’ve given me some food for thought re the Star Wars/The Cat Chronicles references (I’ll have to check out the later series as I’ve not heard of it before).

20 03 2010
And The Winners Are… « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] Place – Week 4 Finalist – Dark Shadows by Kylie […]

20 03 2010
Donna Cummings

Congratulations, Kylie!

20 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

I’d like to thank everyone who read, commented or voted for DARK SHADOWS during the time this contest has been running – it’s been a fantastic learning curve.

To Rachelle & Leigh – THANK YOU for giving unpubbed authors your time, experience and the chance to go through something like this. I’ve really enjoyed reading each of the finalists entries and the mini-crit winners, and the comments made by everyone. There’s been so much to take and apply from them. I look forward to following the contest next year. 🙂

A special thank you to our volunteer editors and agents who gave so generously of their time and for providing such valuable feedback. I’ve kept every comment and have spent a lot of time reflecting on them (or following some of the references up 😉 ).

Thank you again!

24 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear Kylie:

Nice job on second place. Especially happy about your agent requests. Looks like you’ve piqued the interest of a few. Way to go. You give a great sense of realism to this world you’ve created. I loved her reaction to the hero. Good luck with this. Here’s hoping you’re on your way to a sale.


24 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

HI, Vicki, thanks! 🙂

The CTD experience has been a great learning curve and I have found the comments (and agent referrals) a valuable experience!

25 03 2010

Kylie – HUGE congratulations on your Golden Heart Final!!! 😀

25 03 2010
Donna C.

Kylie — congratulations on being a Golden Heart finalist! That is so exciting!

26 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

Hi Gwen and Donna – thank you so much for the congratulations – I don’t think I’ve slept much in the last 24hrs since that phone call and I’m just starting to realise how huge this is *gulp*. 😉

If you’re heading to Nashville I hope I’ll see you there (amongst the hordes!). It makes our Aussie conferences seem so small!

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