Friday, November 29, 2013


TITLE: The Dyslexic Spell Reader
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

When Aubrey’s severe dyslexia turns out to be a trait of advanced spell readers, the only person who can help is her ex-best friend and current tormentor, Seth. Since the society of spell readers sees her as a threat and constructs “accidents” to end her life, Seth says he’ll keep her alive—but can she trust him?

They’re discussing my flaws. Again.

Usually math is the one place where I’m okay.

Or, at least, I thought it was. Now at this impromptu sister-teacher conference, I’m realizing that my capacity for failure is endless and that this classroom smells like stale dry erase markers, pencil shavings, and a fresh dose of disappointment.

I don’t understand why Nala is so obsessed with finding answers. It’s an impairment. A disability. A handicap. Something that transforms me from an average girl to a “slow learner.” I try so hard and never succeed. But I’ve memorized all the spelling and decoding rules, even if I can’t ever play by them.

There are six types of syllables.

1. Closed. Short vowel sound. Examples include hag, bitch, and many other derogatory terms, such as ass, that I’m internally chanting on a repeated loop as Mrs. Manilow politely tells us I’m an idiot. Nala acts like a bobblehead doll. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before.

“Do you think this is due to her dyslexia?” Nala asks Mrs. Manilow. Seriously? What isn’t?

2. Vowel-consonant-e. The “e” at the end turns bossy and forces the first vowel into submission, twisting its arm until it screams its name. Like in “grade,” “life,” or “hate.” My “wires” (“E”: “Say your name, letter ‘I,’ or I’ll end you!”) are crossed in my head and therefore I have a boatload of problems.

“She isn’t asking for help, but that could be due to her speech and language issues,” Mrs. Manilow says as if she’s explaining something delicate and profound.


  1. Just hopping in to say that the idea of dyslexia being a side effect of something supernatural/magical was done in Percy Jackson. If you knew this, ignore me. If you didn't, pick it up so you know what you're up against and how to show that it's unique. Not at all a deal breaker, just something to be aware of.

  2. I also thought Percy Jackson when I read the logline. Which was why I went into this assuming it'd be MG for some weird subconscious reason, and being jarred by the swear words. Putting my own mistake aside, I liked this passage quite a bit. The narrator has a strong voice and sense of character, but I'll admit by syllable number two, I'd lost track of what the conversation was supposed to be about. About Aubrey and math, I think. I'd recommend balancing the writing, so the voice doesn't overwhelm the plot.

  3. I agree with Staey that Percy Jackson was the first thing I though of when I read your logline, but your first 250 was so good I was anyway.

    I love your MC's voice. It has a great amount of snark mixed with frustration. My only criticism is that she sounds young to me. I'm not exactly how old she is, for YA I guess she could be 14, but there was something about her language that read more like a 12-year-old to me. Or maybe it's just the fact that she's thinking all these nasty things and not saying them aloud? Or that she's going over grammar rules? I'm not sure.

    I would totally read on, though. Good luck!

  4. Your use of the grammar rules is fantastic. This is something your target audience would relate to easily. The way the list lends itself to introducing us to your mc's personality really worked for me.
    I would suggest weaving in a few more comments from the teacher might help keep the scene on track.

  5. Your use of the grammar rules is fantastic. This is something your target audience would relate to easily. The way the list lends itself to introducing us to your mc's personality really worked for me.
    I would suggest weaving in a few more comments from the teacher might help keep the scene on track.

  6. The quirkiness of this appeals to me hugely! Love! It's such a unique way to launch into your story, and captivates me immediately. Good luck! This is a story I'd love to see on shelves some day. :)

  7. I immediately thought of Percy Jackson too, but I like that this is a YA. I thought your use of the grammar rules was unique. Good luck!

  8. The log line makes it seem like the MC is a bystander, that everything is in Seth's hands.

    The story also begins that way. She stands there doing and saying nothing while others discuss her failings, and mentally, she seems to agree. She seems to lack spirit and fight.

    Explaining the types of syllables also slows the page. At this point, we don't know what any of that means, or how important it may or may not be. Instead of that, is there a way to show her as a stronger person who will fight for what she wants, despite her assumed liabilities?

  9. For some reason the grammar rules didn't resonate with me - I felt myself wanting to skim through them to find out more about the MC and the current scene. But that may just be a matter of personal opinion, given that several other comments applauded them.

    In the second paragraph I was a bit thrown at first because I thought that "it's an impairment" was referring back to Nala's obsession with finding answers.

    I wasn't fully drawn into this scene but I do think the premise is compelling so I'd certainly give it further pages to see how things begin to unfold.

    Best of luck!

  10. This is an interesting premise which promises lots of conflict and action (although I too thought of PJ--though it's not a bad thing to be compared to a highly successful series :-).

    I enjoyed many aspects of the opening, but found it slightly dense in detail. I wonder if some of this could be spaced out slightly more. I think the syllable rules are unique and a great way into this character's world, but maybe slighttly more space to dole them out to the reader.

    Best of luck with it!

  11. I'm going to English Teacher geek out here for a moment and say I LOVE the grammar rules, because it's not just the "what" of them that helps us understand Aubrey -- it's the way this author conveys her voice through how she defines and describes the rules. Like CROWDED, one of my favorite elements of this story concept and its first page is what it teases me with for future pages. I would keep reading because I want to know, "What's up with Aubrey's life that she's having a sister-teacher conference, instead of a parent-teacher? What happened to mom and dad? Is Nala just Miss Butt-Insky?" and so on. There are good things to make a reader confused about on page one, and bad things. I think this is a very good thing!

    Good luck!

  12. Strong premise--the log line pulled me right in! And I loved, loved, loved this opening.

    I got caught up on sister-teacher conference though. I get where the writer is going on this one, but I think it could be stronger if it was presented as "parent teacher conference, except my parents aren't here because X and my sister is because Y."

    Also, the list--while incredibly entertaining (I love that it wasn't written like a text book and gave humorous examples to illustrate each syllable) pulled me right out of the story. I think flipping between the sister/teacher dialogue and the list creates too much confusion.

    I'd rather see the conflict present itself between the sister/teacher conversation and some of Aubrey's inner monologue as reaction. Also, where is she that she's overhearing this? Ground us a little in the scene so it's clear where all the characters are, setting wise.

    That said, I can see teens (especially reluctant readers) latching onto this one!

  13. I love the voice. I was even drawn in by the title of the book. Maybe it's my lack of familiarity with the genre, but what is a "spell reader?"

    I liked the way the spelling rules are covered. However, the second and third sentences make it sound like the discussion is about her math skills.

    "sister-teacher" -- threw me at first. I wondered if this was a Catholic school.

    I wonder about all the negativity, too. Many dyslexics can succeed with proper intervention. So what's going on here?

  14. I liked this...after the second read, I got the "sister-teacher" reference.

    I was about to skim over the spelling/decoding rules until I realized she was saying more than just the rules themselves.

    I have a child with reading disabilities and he is just about at this stage. I felt you captured this perfectly.

  15. I really liked this passage. Like some of the previous posters, I thought of Percy Jackson. I work at a school for kids with learning differences and love any literature that can help them see how brilliant their brains can be, even in a fictional setting like this.

    I agree with Valerie about the 6 syllables list--it was really funny and gave me a good feel for Aubrey, but it pulled me out the story. Even so, I'd keep reading because I like Aubrey's voice enough and I want to know where Aubrey's parents are.

  16. Cool premise (even though I'm lukewarm on the title--but that's never a deal-breaker for me.)There are a number of MG/YA novels dealing with dyslexia (beyond Percy Jackson--see this recent post on the Project Mayhem blog-- and as I am closely connected with a school for kids with learning differences, I am always eager to welcome more.

    I did get a sense of an individual voice in this one, although I would consider paring back the grammar rules for stronger effect. How about "Closed. Short vowel sound. Examples include hag, bitch, and ass, that I’m internally chanting on a repeated loop as Mrs. Manilow politely tells us I’m an idiot," and not have the interpolations with the sister just yet? I actually want to see her doing more things than just thinking--how is she sitting? Is she flexing her fingers to mirror strangling someone? Is she defiantly staring out the window? Or staring aggressively at the wart on Mrs. Manilow's nose and giving said wart a pet name?

    I did like her observations about the smell of the classroom--I want more!

    I would read on to see where this is heading. Good luck!

  17. I love the voice in this and the premise is really interesting!

    Although I thought of Percy Jackson when I read your title, I didn't expect this to be the same kind of dyslexia issue, thanks to your logline.

    The transition from spelling and decoding rules to types of syllables left me wondering how syllables relate to the other two--or if they're in any way connected. A bit of smoothing over there would be helpful, I think, as it currently comes across as choppy. But I really like the way the syllables list communicates attitude and voice. As Michael suggests, a bit of tightening might help make those paragraphs even stronger.

    I would definitely keep reading.

  18. Not a fan of the list, and wanted to skim that. Plus, there are six types of syllables and so far we have only got 2 which means there are still 4 more to come - not enticing enough to want to turn the page for me, just to read 4 more syllable rules.

    I liked the fact her sister was there, you know there be a story there. I also thought Mrs. Manilow was well done. (although the conversation between them doesn't ring true, as Mrs. Manilow never answers the sister's question so it sounds like they are both speaking but not talking.)

  19. I strongly agree with pretty much everything that Valerie Cole said up above so I'm not going to rehash those points.

    I absolutely adore the first 4 paragraphs here, everything up to 'the list' which so many commenters are having problems with. I, too, had some of the same points to make BUT...

    1) I do think the flow in the conversation between Barry's wife (am I the only one old enough to think Barry Manilow here? Sigh...) and Nala (name nit #2: um...I didn't immediately think Percy, but Nala did have me thinking Lion King...) needed to be more a conversation fluid and flowing rather than 2 statements thrust in the middle of 'the list' which, obviously, brings us to point #2) 'The List' I LOVE the way 'the list' brings out the heart of Aubrey. Loved it so much that I'd really hate to follow all the other commenters and recommend losing it. (well, other that the parenthetical statement in #2 which sort of confused me). However, this is YA Urban Fantasy and I can easily see 'the list' included in the novel, even on the first page, but formatted as a separate entity (think the comics in WINGER, which is a book I highly recommend anyway). There's no law that says that 'the list' of the types of syllables needs to be in the body of the text. It could be in a bunch of boxes off to the side, or in bubbles scattered throughout the page or any number of other formatting artistic ideas which would allow you to include the wonderful list and wouldn't create 'speed bumps' on the opening page. Just a thought...

    I love Aubrey's voice and personality and definitely want to see more of her!

  20. Great opening. Personality and voice shine right through. And I like the line about the "sister-teacher conference" - that little bit right there tells us a lot about her home life.

    With the logline, I'd like to know what a spell reader actually is; my first thought was magician (or like Harry Potter-esque wizards) so if that's not accurate, maybe try to clarify if you can.

    The list is good and voicey and shows us what the MC lives with on a daily basis, but to be honest I skimmed over it at first because I assumed it would be boring. Of course, you did a great job with keeping it applicable to the situation at hand and the MC's mood, so when I did read it I saw ts worth. I just don't want to read a list of six different kinds of syllables, to be frank.

    When I first read the title, I thought this would be MG Fantasy. Your voice and story definitely seem YA, which is good, but you might want to rethink the title.

    Hope this helps - this has a lot of promise.

  21. I too, immediately thought of Percy Jackson, sorry. Your logline is exciting, but I didn't understand the premise - if her dyslexia means she's a spell readrer, why would the other spell readers want to harm her? We need a reason.

    I liked a lot about this first page, but also got lost, like some others, in the grammar rules. I like rules and lists and fun things that break up the narrative, especially at the start of books, but this one was too hard to follow for me, especially the second one. Personally I'd keep the rules, but try to clarify and simplify the language a bit.

    Overall this is well-written and has an interseting premise, and if it were smoothed over a bit I'd definitely read on. Good luck!

  22. Hi there!

    I *have* to join the chorus—your log line is evocative and interesting and absolutely makes me want to take a second look. I love the idea of Aubrey’s ex-best friend and current tormentor, Seth, becoming her advocate and protector. Confession: I’m a total sucker for a romantic interest who has been secretly hiding his/her feelings behind excellent snark—so you hit my sweet spot! I am slightly off put by your thread that Aubrey’s dyslexia is an indicator for a unique spell reading ability, not because it reminds me of Percy Jackson, but because I feel it’s generic. I’ve read a number of urban YA fantasy submissions in the past few years where the protagonist’s dyslexia turns out to be an indicator of special talent (likely due to the popularity of Percy Jackson). As an editor, I’m dying for something new and unique! But then again, your excerpt doesn’t give me a glimpse into just how fascinating and original Aubrey’s spell reading can be—so I can’t really judge the potential marketability of your novel on this thread alone.

    I love that you’ve used grammar to subtly provide insight into who Aubrey is as a person. With a few lines of internal dialogue, you’ve transformed her from a basic character on a page into a complex, intriguing, different person . . . and I can’t wait to get to know her better. Great job.

    Keep an eye on the Society of Spell Readers—make sure that their motivations are evocative and original enough to draw your readers’ attention. There are a lot of “society” baddies in YA Urban Fantasy. Make sure that yours are memorable and have depth—make me want to sink my teeth into them.

    Good luck!

  23. You know, maybe it's because I don't read a lot of YA of any genre and I'm not familiar with what's already been done, but I absolutely loved this opening. As a teacher, I felt you captured the essence of the self-pitying/petulant/in need of love tweenage angst perfectly.

    I loved the grammar rules.