Wednesday, October 18, 2017

WHAT ARE THEY UP TO NOW? Featuring Beth Revis

Today's Author: BETH REVIS

Here is Beth's ORIGINAL ENTRY ON THE BLOG (2009 Query Critique with Jodi Meadows).

Here is Beth's SUCCESS STORY PAGE.




QUESTIONS FOR BETH:

1. What role did your participation in a Miss Snark's First Victim contest or critique round play in your ultimate success as an author?

The specific contest didn't help me as much as reading all the entries of all the contests that had happened in the months leading up to my querying. It really is true that you can get a better sense of understanding what works and what doesn't by reading lots of different works. Between queries, first pages, and loglines, I found the greatest benefit was participating and learning from judging and commenting on other works than compiling the comments and forming a check list of my own.

2. Tell us what your journey has looked like from your MSFV Success Story until now.

When I wrote ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, all my critique partners believed that the first three chapters were weak....but I was stubborn and holding on. The critique I got confirmed that I really needed to listen to others and bite the bullet. Soon after, that manuscript sold. And everything changed after that. It debuted on the NYT list, it enabled me to become a full time writer, it led to more book deals. I divide my life before the book deal and after.

3. What has been the best part of your experience as an author? What has been most difficult/challenging?

There's a line in Harry Potter where Ginny tells Harry a lesson she learned from her twin brothers: "Anything's possible if you got enough nerve." Getting my book published was a lifelong dream, and once it actually happened, I realized that dreams really can come true. That sounds so cliche, but it's true. It's affected my worldview.

Most difficult, however, was realizing that not everything was a dream. Even after you get to Cloud Nine, edits can be hard, contracts can be cancelled, deals can fall through, reviews can be negative. And at the end of the day, publishing is a business. Writing is craft; publishing is a business.

4. What's your latest offering, and where can we find it?

My most recent book is Star Wars: Rebel Rising. It tells the story of Jyn Erso from the movie Rogue One, following her as a child to her just before the Rebellion breaks her out of jail. If getting a book deal was Cloud Nine, writing for Star Wars was Cloud Ten--it was such an amazing experience!

5. Please leave us with some words of wisdom for all aspiring authors.

There is no one right way to write. Once I let go of the idea that if I just did "X," I'd get the book right, and accepted instead that I had to find my own process for my own story, everything clicked far better.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was the book that changed my life, but it was also the book I almost quit before. I'd written ten manuscripts over the course of a decade and compiled about a thousand agent rejections. I'd come close to the finish line, but never crossed it. I had decided enough of my life had been thrown away at the impossible. But I had one last idea, one last story to tell, and if I'd given up before it, I never would have seen my dreams come true.



Would you like a signed copy? Contact my local indie Malaprops.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Early Info: Submissions for the Write Her Bio Contest!

Here it is--a chance to let your creativity shine!

You don't know my name or anything about my personal life, aside from what I've chosen to share on the blog over the years.  Take what you know--and use your writerly imagination for the rest--and come up with a brief author bio for me.  Think about what you might read on a jacket flap or on an author's web site or blog--a few sentences that make it sound like you actually know everything about me.

The approach is your choice!  You can be humorous, go for something completely wacky, or do your best to try to get as close as possible to the truth.

Example:

Henrietta Toothsome spends most of her time spelunking in abandoned mines on her 4000-acre property in South Dakota.  When above ground, she enjoys writing stories while watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond.  She has won three local awards for her short stories, as well as a blue ribbon for the largest spaghetti squash at last year's Harvest Fair.  Her husband and three grown children live in the basement.

(Okay, not really.  I'll be more impressed if you write something that's actually believable.)

Here are the guidelines*:

  • Submissions will open at noon EDT on Friday, October 20, and will close at noon EDT on Monday, October 23.
  • Your "authoress bio" should be no more than 120 words in length.
  • Come up with a FULL NAME for me!
  • Please go HERE to submit your entry.
  • This is not a lottery; I will read all the entries and choose my favorites.
  • Two winners will each receive a Barnes and Noble e-gift card!

Any questions?  Please leave them in the comment box below!

*Those of you who actually do know me are not eligible for this contest. You know who you are. :)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

AUTHORESS REVEAL: The Official Schedule of Jollity


I've invited you all to celebrate my taking-off of the perpetual hat, so I thought it might be a good idea to share what I've got planned.  

Without further ado, here is the official schedule!

OCTOBER 20:  Submission Day for Contest 1: WRITE HER BIO (details to post on the 16th)
OCTOBER 23:  Contest 2 - ORDER OF EVENTS
OCTOBER 25:  Contest 3 - FAVORITE AUTHORS
OCTOBER 27:  Contest 4 - 2 TRUTHS AND A LIE
OCTOBER 30:  Contest 5 - TRUE OR FALSE
NOVEMBER 1:  REVEAL DAY

Points of interest:
  • The completion of each contest will reveal 1/5 of my photo.  On November 1, you'll see the whole thing.  
  • Each contest will have its own offering of fabulously bookish and writerly prizes!  I will post the full prize list next week.
  • Contest 1 (WRITE HER BIO) is the only submission-based contest.  The other 4 will take place on the blog, in the comment boxes, real time.
  • The winners of Contest 1 will be chosen based on merit; the winners of Contests 2 through 5 will be chosen at random (via Rafflecopter).  All winners will be announced in a separate post on Reveal Day.
Please ask your questions below--I've gone over and over this, but am still worried I may have forgotten some necessary bit of information.

Also?  Thank you so much for your outpouring of enthusiasm, encouragement, and love.  I've done far less blogging and fewer contests this year, and I honestly didn't expect this level of outpouring from the masses.  I FEEL SO BLESSED.

And less terrified to reveal myself.  Thanks for that!  :)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

WHAT ARE THEY UP TO NOW? Featuring Tara Dairman

Today's author:  TARA DAIRMAN

Here is Tara's ORIGINAL ENTRY ON THE BLOG (2011 Secret Agent Contest, in which her agent was not the judge, but was lurking and requested pages!), and her 2011 BAKER'S DOZEN ENTRY (from which she received multiple offers of representation).

Here is Tara's SUCCESS STORY PAGE.


QUESTIONS FOR TARA:

1. What role did your participation in a Miss Snark's First Victim contest or critique round play in your ultimate success as an author?

It played a huge role! I first entered a Secret Agent contest in October of 2011; the judging agent picked my middle-grade entry (GLADYS GATSBY TAKES THE CAKE) as a runner-up, but it turned out that another agent was lurking and reading the entries and requested a query and pages from me. It was Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency, which is normally closed to unsolicited queries, so I was pretty excited to get this second request.

Then, two months later, I got into the annual Bakers Dozen agent auction. The agent who "won" my manuscript ended up offering rep, as did multiple others. In the end, Joan was the best fit for me and I signed with her. She's still my agent!

2. Tell us what your journey has looked like from your MSFV Success Story until now.

Joan sold my debut MG--which ended up being retitled ALL FOUR STARS--to Putnam shortly after I signed with her, and it came out in 2014. I'm still represented by Joan, Gladys's story turned into a three-book series, and I just published my fourth MG novel, THE GREAT HIBERNATION, with Wendy Lamb Books/Random House...and the whole journey started right here on this blog. :)

3. What has been the best part of your experience as an author? What has been most difficult/challenging?

There are so many best parts. Writing the words "The End" after slogging through a difficult draft. Getting an enthusiastic reaction from critique partners, or my agent or editor, the first time they read a new manuscript of mine. Hearing from young readers who've connected with one of my books. My writing tends to focus on humor and plot, and I never thought I'd be the kind of author kids said changed their lives...but I actually hear regularly from kids who have been inspired by my books to cook or to try a new cuisine they'd never tasted before, which is SO COOL.

The most difficult...oh, it's the same as ever: Getting through that first draft. Knowing it's terrible, but having the confidence that, eventually, I'll make it good. I still struggle with this, several books after my debut.

4. What's your latest offering, and where can we find it?

My newest book (just out September 12!) is THE GREAT HIBERNATION (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House). You can find it in hardcover or as an e-book wherever books are sold. It's a humorous, quirky MG mystery about a town where all of the adults fall asleep; the kids are left in charge and have to figure out what happened and what they should do about it. It kicks off with the Annual Tasting of the Sacred Bear Liver, features a sheep in snowshoes, and just gets weirder from there. I had an absolute ball working on it. (Well, except for that first draft, which was as painful to write as ever.)

5. Please leave us with some words of wisdom for all aspiring authors.

When you're prepublished, it can feel like you're waiting forever to make it (whether you define "making it" as signing with an agent, getting a book deal, or something else). Looking back, my journey from contest entrant to person-with-a-book-deal was relatively fast, but I remember that it felt torturously slow at the time. What I'm not sure I appreciated then was the freedom that being prepublished gave me to write whatever I wanted, no matter how outlandish the premise seemed. Once you're "in" the industry, there can be some pressure to stay in your lane (whether that's MG, humor, etc.), especially if your early books in that area see some success. So use that prepublished time to be as outlandishly creative as possible. Write the book that ONLY you can write. And have fun with it, if you can.



The Great Hibernation (and other books) by Tara Dairman

Monday, October 9, 2017

Pssst. I'm Nervous.


I've been talking about this--and you've been encouraging me--for quite a while now.  Maybe even, I don't know, two years?  I've talked about it, but I haven't done it.

But this time, it's really going to happen. 

I'm taking off the red hat.

For real.

Of course, I'm going to do my best to make it fun.  With prizes and audience participation.

And, of course, photographs.

Of me.

(That's the terrifying part.)

It's already in the works.  It's happening SOON.

And I wanted you to know.  Because it's going to be a party, and you're invited.

I'm ready to say hello to you as the real me.

Will you be there?

:)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

WHAT ARE THEY UP TO NOW? Featuring Alice Loweecey

For the next several weeks, I'm going to be posting updates on some of our Success Story Authors (who attribute the turning point of their success, either in whole or in part, to participation on this blog).

First up:  ALICE LOWEECEY

Here is Alice's ORIGINAL ENTRY ON THE BLOG from a 2008 Secret Agent Contest.

Here is Alice's SUCCESS STORY PAGE.



QUESTIONS FOR ALICE:

1. What role did your participation in a Miss Snark's First Victim contest or critique round play in your ultimate success as an author?

After learning how to write a query and beginning to amass what would become nearly 200 rejections, the contest was a huge confidence boost. People gave me feedback in real time, and some of it was positive! The query-go-round is soul-sucking. Hearing from avid readers really helped.

I took that confidence and ran with it. I firmly believe attitude affects presentation, and now I had a more positive attitude.

2. Tell us what your journey has looked like from your Authoress/MSFV Success Story until now.

Long. Hard. Tiring. Exciting. Did I mention hard? While the Secret Agent whose contest I won did not ultimately offer to rep me, I did find an agent about a year later. This agent brokered my debut 3-book deal with Midnight Ink. I proudly say I made my mother cry in public over that: I was performing with Denver and the Mile High Orchestra and waylaid my parents in the lobby before the show to give them the news. Sorry not sorry.

Things change and Midnight Ink dropped me after those three books. I stocked up on coffee and worked my heinie off to sell the series to another publisher. I'm pleased to say that Henery Press picked up the series several months later (that was a nerve-wracking phone call! I'm not a natural salesperson).

Things change, and that agent and I moved in different directions. I negotiated my next contract extension myself (there is NOT enough wine in the world for those phone calls), and recently Henery extended the extension for a total of ten books. I'll be busy for the next few years.

None of these books have any connection to the book that won the Secret Agent contest. After more rewrites, I sold the book to Dark Recesses Press. It was published in 2015 under the title The Redeemers. If any book is close to my heart, it's The Redeemers. It was my learning curve and it contains my favorite villains. I published it under a pen name--Kate Morgan--because my mystery brand is light and funny. I didn't want to scare my mystery fans.

3. What has been the best part of your experience as an author? What has been most difficult/challenging?

The best part is connecting with fans. I meet so many fans at conferences and signings and I love talking with them. I will say that writing "TheEnd" on a WIP is incredibly satisfying.

The most difficult was learning to fly on my own without an agent. That wasn't a learning curve, it was a learning bungee jump into the Niagara Gorge. "I Will Survive" is one of my theme songs now.

The most challenging is keeping a series fresh. If I'm feeling worn out, the characters will too. That's not the way to engage fans. After 3 books with Henery we changed up the series from humorous PI to humorous ghost-hunting PI. The research has been so much fun! I may be making a spirit box next. Buffalo has some famous cemeteries.

4. What's your latest offering, and where can we find it?

My latest mystery is The Clock Strikes Nun. It's everywhere: Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Kobo, Google Play. And please don't forget The Redeemers by "Kate Morgan"!

5. Please leave us with some words of wisdom for all aspiring authors.

Never give up! Never surrender! This is a career. Treat it as one: Work at it. Network, improve your craft, research, write--and READ. Don't neglect reading. It refills the creative well when you get burned out. I reread some of my favorite books when I can't find a new word to add, and those favorites make me remember why I love reading and writing.

The Clock Strikes Nun by Alice Loweecey



Monday, October 2, 2017

Amazing Editing Services For Serious Writers

You may or may not have heard me gush about the fabulous Adam Heine.  He's been my colleague/friend/critique partner for a number of years now, and he wrote this awesome book:



Izanimi's Choice by Adam Heine


Adam amazes me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that he lives in Thailand and is a foster (and biological) dad to more children than you could possibly imagine living under one roof.



It's thrilling for ALL WRITERS that this man has now hung his official editing shingle.  I can honestly say that I couldn't imagine not sending my work to Adam for critique.  Adam is a master worldbuilder, and he's adept at poking holes in worlds that need shoring up.  (And when I get something right and he praises me? It's like Sudden Christmas.)  His in-line notes are relevant, thoughtful, and infused with his special brand of humor.  (Seriously, I laugh out loud. And everyone needs a bit of out-loud laughter in the midst of reading a critique, yes?)

I recommend him to you with great enthusiasm!  Here are his own words:

I've been writing (professionally) and editing (unprofessionally) for years, but I've recently opened up my services as a professional editor. I love helping authors, whether seasoned novelists or those still on the road to publishing, and I offer several different levels of editing -- including a sample edit so you can try before you buy. My specialty is speculative fiction (all categories), but I'll edit anything.

So if you'd like to have a professional author with an obsessive eye for detail take a look at your novel, I'm your guy. More detailed information can be found here: Editing Services


Friday, September 29, 2017

Friday Fricassee

Dear ones!

Isn't it funny how a shift of color and setting can suddenly make blogging more appealing?  I didn't realize until after I made the changes yesterday how utterly tired I was of that old, brown blog theme.  And yes, I DO sit and stare at shiny-new things after I've created them, so I've done a lot of staring since yesterday.

I so appreciate your positive comments as well!  Some of you mentioned the writing spot and/or view, and what's interesting is that I don't usually write there.  On the day I took the photo (a couple months ago), I was working on an intense revision and needed the space to spread out my worksheets.  Kitchen tables are good for that sort of thing, yes?  I didn't snap the picture with any intention to use it on the blog; I was simply documenting my journey.

You're probably not dying of curiosity, but here is my most usual at-home writing spot:

Disclaimer:  The panoramic setting stretched the room to make it look nigh palatial.  Yes, it's an unusually large bedroom, but it is in no way as big as it appears in this picture!

I like sitting by the windows because I can stare out them while I'm thinking.  And also because I love natural light.  I like putting my feet up on the other chair, and the bathroom is right through that door there.

(And yes, the wardrobe does lead to Narnia.  I know you were wondering.)

I've got other "spots", too.  Most of us have more than one, right?  I've spent a lot of time this past year writing on a pub-height table in our TV room (again, by a window), and I can also be found on the sofa downstairs, legs stretched out, beverage on the coffee table within easy reach.

When the weather's nice, I can sometimes be found on our back porch.  But then this happens:




I often say I wish I had my own little office, but when I think about it, I'm pretty adept at making any space my "office".  Coffee shops work especially well (as long as I've got earbuds).  I've even written during long car trips, but I have to swallow vast amounts of homeopathic motion sickness tablets, or it would get ugly fast.

The bottom line is that I am so very thankful for my laptop.  My stories come with me everywhere.

You may have noticed the red book sitting on the table in my bedroom.  THAT, my friends, is my latest recommendation for you!  Lisa Cron's THE STORY GENIUS boils it down to what REALLY makes a story a story.  And you don't just read it--you work your way through it, following along with little exercises that help you work your way from the tiniest seed of a new idea to a fully realized novel.

No, really.  If you want to take your storytelling to a new level (note: STORYTELLING; not WRITING), I highly recommend this book.


As I've lamented about before, I am not an ideas-flow-like-the-Nile writer.  It's more like waiting-for-giraffes-to-go-into-labor.  Lisa's book is helping me take my New Idea (sparkly! exciting!) and grow it into something viable.  I'm thinking, if I can train myself to take this approach with every itty-bitty idea that crosses my mind, I'll get a better handle on developing these mere thoughts into ACTUAL BOOKS.

Maybe this is what I've needed all along--a concrete way to make flitting thoughts STICK.

Anyway.  It's working for me.

And that's all for today!  My goodness, it's just so freeing to call this place "Authoress".  I may even post more regularly!

(Yes, I know.  If I'm feeling this free being "Authoress", how much freer will I feel when I'm my REAL SELF?  It's coming.  I'm working on it.  I promise.)

Have a glorious weekend--and thanks for being here!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

New Title--New Look

So, today I snapped.  I've been meaning to refresh the blog for a while now, but...well, life.  Also, I had it in my head that I wanted to do something all customized and fancy.

Then, of course, it hit me that I really just needed to choose a different theme (took 2 minutes), then edit and add an appropriate photo (took 10 minutes), and then do a little rearranging (took 5 minutes).

I'm hoping the new color scheme will be easier on the eyes.  (What was I thinking, opting for white text on a brown background?  You are all so forbearing.)

I'm getting ready to post some exciting updates on several of our Success Story Authors over the next few weeks, and I think a spiffy new blog look is appropriate.

As for the title?  Two things.  First of all, Mr. A suggested to me a long time ago that I go with "Authoress", since that has been my moniker from the beginning.  Secondly...well, I'll just say it.  Too many people call me "Miss Snark".  In emails, in contest submissions, in comments, on Twitter.  And I am not Miss Snark.  She's part of my history.  My journey.  I was her First Victim.

But I am not she.  I am Authoress.  And there you have it.

Please let me know what you think!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Our Queen of the Query Quagmire: Danielle Burby


Here's the scoop on the lovely Danielle Burby, who will be gracing our winning entries with her thoughtful feedback this week.

On a personal note, and in case you are new and didn't know--Danielle has been my agent for a little over a year and a half now, and it is truly a match made in heaven.  I couldn't be more thankful for her expertise, her passion, her editorial eye, her ne'er-say-die-ness, her verve, and her incredible and unflagging support.  Never have I had such a champion.  My journey has been a long one, and I'm so thankful that, through its twists and turns, I've ended up with Danielle.  If your work is query-ready and lines up with her wish list, don't hesitate to query her.  She is truly the créme de la créme.






Based in New York City, Danielle became an agent at Nelson Literary Agency (NLA) in January 2017. Previously, she was an agent at a NYC-based firm where she managed foreign rights in addition to building her client roster. She also interned at several top agencies and publishers before graduating from Hamilton College with a dual degree in creative writing and women's studies. 

Danielle represents all genres of YA and MG along with select passion projects on the adult side in women's fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, and mystery. She particularly enjoys complex female characters, quirky adventures, narratives that ask readers to think deeply, girls with swords, and seaside novels. Danielle also looks for a strong narrative voice and characters she wants to spend time with. For more information about her wishlist, check out NLA's Submission Guidelines page. You can find details about her recent sales on Publishers Marketplace.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Query Quagmire: Critique Guidelines

Today's the day!  CONGRATULATIONS to our five winning entries, which you will see posted below.  You are warmly invited (and encouraged) to critique some or all of these entries while we wait for Danielle Burby's agently feedback.

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Of special note: When leaving your thoughts on a query, please focus on WHY you are or are not hooked, rather than attempting to line edit the query.  
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique at least 2 other entries.

*I can't possibly read every comment.  If you ever see a comment that is truly snarky, please email me.  I count on your help.

Query Quagmire #5

TITLE: The Salter's Son
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Dear Miss Snark’s First Victim,

Mummifying the dead wasn't ever Paolo’s aspiration, but it’s the work he got. Now folks won’t hardly come near him for fear of catching the plague. He’s a teenaged refugee with no family and no money in Secco, a dust-choked mining camp where the sun is relentless and the sweat stains run as thick as the debts. For Paolo there is no way out from under his indenture. Until he discovers the impossible.

In Secco all the beasts are reptiles. From cart-pulling beasts of burden to twitchy-eyed mounts, life depends on the heat of the sun. That is, until Paolo discovers a new way of warming the reptiles. His discovery means Paolo alone can ride into the mountains even with winter approaching to pursue Secco's quickest source of coin--the skinning trade. It's a chancy endeavor that could buy him out of his indenture and then some. But it's not long before Bento, a moneylender as dried out as a chili and twice as mean, catches wind of the discovery and wants it for himself. Soon so will every cutthroat with a musket or a knife. To stay alive and win his freedom, Paolo will have to partner with the only person willing to give him a chance, a woman old enough to be his mother and who drinks so much she pees herself. Worse, she might just be a cutthroat as well.

The Salter’s Son is a YA fantasy, complete at 81,000 words. It's a tale of trust and betrayal on a brutal frontier, a True Grit set in a world of reptiles.

I am a member of SCBWI. I have a concentration in literature and history from Baylor University and a law degree from Harvard Law School. When I’m not writing or reading, I’m usually burning my mouth on Mexican chilis or sleeping out-of-doors in the landscapes described in this manuscript.

I have included the first 250 words below. Thank you for your consideration.
                                                




There wasn't but the sound of the sea moving as I tied the nartak to the hitching block. The moon was bright but low in the west, and all its glow was swallowed by the cliffs above me. Where I stood, everything was dark. I knew miners were digging in their cliffside tunnels and fishermen were straining at their nets, but I couldn't see a one of them. In the dark I could still pretend it was just Constanza and me. That's what I called her, our oldest nartak. The Salter would have branded me a fool for wasting a name like Constanza on her, but she was a fine creature, far too fine not to know such a name. I reached out my fingertips to scratch behind her horn, in the spot where her scales were softest, but she butted me away. The night was stealing her heat, and she was testy.

"We'll get you warm, girl. I promise. I'll be quick."

I adjusted her warming blanket as best I could. I pulled in deep breaths of sea air as I moved, trying to hold the smell of it in my nose. I gave her a final pat on the neck and turned towards the cliffside streets of the Squalors. With shaking hands, I slid on my gloves.

Even in the dark, finding the house wasn't any bother. The air around it was thick with smoke. For seven days they'd burned tallows, sage and whatever they could find for incense. But all I smelled was rot.

Query Quagmire #4

TITLE: Magic Undone
GENRE: YA Fantasy romance

Dear Agent,

Time can be frozen and magic can be undone in the world Shai lives in, but when it comes to reuniting with the prince she loves from afar, some things can seem impossible.

Shai used to be friends with Prince Jistan back when she lived in the Casland palace seven years ago. But when her mother lost her position as the Queen’s handmaiden, Shai grew up on the streets and became involved with The Cliq, a notorious gang of thieves. Since she’s an unmancer, meaning she can undo or break magical spells, she is valuable in helping her gang pilfer protected goods. While she’s now on the wrong side of the law, she can’t help but remember the past and her feelings for the prince.

Prince Jistan, tasked with leading the Royal Defense Patrol, is surprised when Shai is captured during a heist and brought into the kingdom. He pardons her on the condition that she joins his patrol and help in the Border Wars. Jistan’s magic involves stopping time, so together they are a formidable team against the enemy.  As they fight to save their country, Jistan can’t help remembering the Shai of his past and falling for her in the present. But she’s a former criminal, and now that she’s left The Cliq, there are those who want to assassinate her. Then there’s Jistan’s father, the Sultan of Casland, who may be sabotaging his son’s efforts in the Border Wars for unscrupulous reasons. So Shai and Jistan must survive the strife in their two worlds first, before finding out if their love can survive.
MAGIC UNDONE is a 74,000-word YA fantasy romance written in dual POV. This novel is middle-eastern inspired, and can be described as ALADDIN meets SHADOW AND BONE.

The manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.




Shaielle squeezed to the front of the gathering and strained to see down the street. She just wanted one glimpse of his familiar features, that smile that could light his entire face, showing his dimples. A hollow ache clawed in her stomach at the thought of seeing him again.

She adjusted her thin black headscarf so she could see through the eye slit better. No one could see her face, or the deadly knives tucked into her purple pantaloons, their steel weight cool against her hips. In the crowd she could hide what she was, but she could never for a moment forget.

Because of what she was, the one who made her heart flutter seemed a world away, even though he was about to pass right by her face.

A lively musical tune blared from the horns of musicians as they swayed down the cobblestone road. Behind them came ladies in knee-length skirts and midriff-bearing tops of rainbow colors, dancing to the music. Next came a group of male singers, their strong, baritone voices joining with the melody of the trumpets as they sang a song about the Pact Day parade.

It was the celebration of the Quint Pact, when the continent was split into five different countries over a thousand years ago. Five Sultans were chosen to rule over each country, thus ending the worse of the Mancer War. And Casland, the country in the middle of the others, always had the largest jubilee of all.

Query Quagmire #3

TITLE: The Real Hero
GENRE: MG Historical Mystery

Dear Agent,

In The Real Hero an 11-year-old boy eats worms, chases trains, cracks codes, and kisses the girl in his quest to unmask a spy posing as a patriot.

Steve Abernathy is on a mission to protect the home front while his brother fights Nazis in Europe. A loyal member of Captain Asgardia’s fan club, Steve has pledged to help his comic book hero Fight for Freedom, Defend Justice, and Destroy Evil. His patriotic zeal is put to the test in the summer of 1944 when German POWs are stationed in town. Morse code flashes from the prison camp at night. Dieter Zinzerdorf, a suspiciously charming prisoner, seems to be everywhere he shouldn’t be, like swapping gum with Steve’s older sister. When Steve discovers his own Sunday School teacher passing coded messages to Zinzerdorf, he vows to expose their spy ring and gain his rightful fame as town hero. But the villains on either side of the prison camp fence don’t wear easily identifiable masks like the bad guys in Steve’s comic books. If he can’t sort out friend from foe, Steve won’t just fail his mission, he’ll put his sister’s life at risk.

The Real Hero is a middle-grade historical mystery complete at 56,000 words. The tale is rooted in the true history of the German prisoner-of-war camp based in my hometown of Reedsburg, Wisconsin during World War II. The manuscript has 32 chapter illustrations gleaned from primary source graphics.

I have a MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Teenagers from Hamline University and was a history teacher for more than twenty years. I have had several nonfiction books published by ABDO and Nomad Press for the education and trade markets.

What follows are the first 250 words of my manuscript.

Thanks for considering my work.



Chapter 1: Metamorphosis

The coffin at the front of the church looked so sad and lonely that all of a sudden my heart twisted and I couldn't breathe. My brain knew who was being buried today, but my gut didn’t always trust my brain, and my gut had to be absolutely, positively certain my big brother wasn’t inside that brown box. If I didn’t find out soon, I was going to suffocate right here in the fourth pew of St. John’s  Church!

Maybe if I dashed up the aisle and hid behind the altar, I could crack the coffin lid just enough to get a peek inside before anybody noticed. Opening my mouth so wide my jaw cracked, I gulped a mouthful of air. I was debating whether to sprint or belly crawl when suddenly a big hand clamped down on my thigh.

Dad leaned over the pew, his long arm pinning me in place. Mom stood in the aisle behind him, holding Junie on one hip and shooting me the evil eye. I hate it when parents know what you’re going to do before you even know it yourself.

I leaned back. Dad and Mom headed up the aisle with Eleanor trailing behind. When she passed me, Eleanor rolled her eyes. One of these days her pupils were going to get stuck behind her forehead. That would teach my stupid sister.

“Why you breathing like that?” Gordy said.

I stared at him. “Like what?” The words came out sounding like Donald Duck.

His eyes got real big and scared looking. If Gordy cried for Mom, I'd be the one in trouble.

I coughed and tried to clear my throat. “It’s nothing,” I said. “I’m just hyperluccinating a little bit.”
“What's hyperluccinating?”

My brother had the vocabulary of a five-year-old. Probably because he was a five-year-old.

Query Quagmire #2

TITLE: Through a Dark Wood Lightly
GENRE: MG Fantasy

To whom it may concern,

As an immortal magician of "The Circle," Servais le Roy is accustomed to secrecy, following clues and international intrigue, yet after pilfering a cryptic message from a suspect, he's completely flummoxed, left wondering--

"Who is Max Brighton?"

Young Max is an eleven-year-old, wanna-be stage magician who spends his days practicing tricks out of manuals, constructing his own props and dreaming of traversing the globe with real magicians. He is most enraptured by the myth of a secret organization made up of master magicians calling themselves The Circle, rumored to have Harry Houdini in their ranks. While attending the International Magician's Convention in Las Vegas, Max discovers how true The Circle really is when he's attacked by a sinister villain named Francois Charbonneau whose intentions for him are cloaked in mystery.

Max is forced to stop Charbonneau on his path to resurrecting the darkest sorcerer of all time, the Russian mystic called Grigori Rasputin, and follows clues to unearth a mystery decades in the making. All that Max knows about magic is tested as he navigates a complicated world of long dead magicians, a headquarters set beyond the realm of time and the reasons of why he was targeted at all.

Combining elements from Flights, Chimes and Mysterious Times with classic magic craft and history, THROUGH A DARK WOOD LIGHTLY would also appeal to fans of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
I am currently a stay-at-home father for two boys under three with an English degree and dreams of becoming a full-time author. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you.



Prologue: Paris

Blood red neon splashed the street.

Atop the roof of one side, Servais le Roy watched the slim figure exit a building and walk up the sidewalk. Midnight merrymakers were out in force, weaving along the streets of the seedy Parisian district, but that slim figure, a kid named Balor Dullahan, stood out with his shiny leather clothes, tight as plastic wrap.

He smiled and bobbed his bleach blonde head to the music drifting from the clubs. That smile didn’t fool Servais. Dullahan’s easy grin was a mask for a monster.

Servais tweaked his handlebar mustache and then stood up, unfurling the black cape over his tuxedo. He bent his knees, crouched down, and pushed up off the ground. He sprang into the air and flew upward, feeling the cool wind rush against his face as he rose higher and higher.

Soon he was more than a hundred feet over the city. The black cloak spread out around him, stretching to four distinct points against the inky sky, resembling a shadowy monarch.

Far off in the distance, the Eiffel Tower sparkled like a midnight beacon as Servais sailed over the old world Parisian buildings like an enormous labyrinth of avenues and roads. He spotted Balor walking down a narrow alley. Servais sped forward through the air, far ahead of Balor’s path, and landed on a side street. He peeked around the corner and saw his target headed toward his spot.

Servais put his hands near his mouth and whispered, “Somnus.” A purple mist blew into his waiting hands and he cupped it like a ball. With a sharp motion, he thrust his arms out and willed the mist to travel across the street and hook onto the far building. It became tight as a tripwire.

Query Quagmire #1

TITLE: The Poachers' Code
GENRE: Adult Mystery/Suspense

I hope you will consider THE POACHERS' CODE, my 91,000-word upmarket suspense novel.

While researching an invasive beetle ravaging New Hampshire's woodlands, an entomologist must confront the murder she covered up as a child, before her silence ruins an innocent man’s life.
Sadie Kessler has spent the past three decades trying to forget about the body in the woods, the murder she and her estranged childhood friend Daniela covered up as kids. Now an entomologist with the state forestry department, Sadie is on the verge of proving an invasive beetle is triggering forest fires when she receives a text from Daniela. They found him. Daniela begs Sadie to return home—her undocumented father has been falsely accused of the decades-old murder and may be deported if they don’t reveal the truth. Ignoring threats from the presumed killer, Sadie returns to the woods of her youth to search for evidence that will exonerate Daniela’s father, knowing it could destroy not only her life, but the lives of people she cares about. The real killer follows her into the woods—and so do the forest fires that edge closer as local officials dismiss Sadie’s warnings about the beetles. Forced to decide what she is willing to sacrifice to protect the people and the forest she loves, Sadie will learn that no one can hold back the power of Nature—whether in the form of species migration, wildfire, or the truth.

THE POACHERS’ CODE will appeal to fans of Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls, Emily Fridland's History of Wolves, and Jane Harper’s The Dry.

As a journalist, I have published more than a thousand articles in The Boston Globe, BusinessWeek, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. I workshopped THE POACHERS’ CODE in GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator, a year-long, MFA-level novel intensive. I have a Master’s in Creative Writing from Harvard University Extension School and have published short stories in the Charles River Review and The MacGuffin. I contribute regularly to DeadDarlings and GrubStreet’s writer’s blogs. I also own and operate a 100-acre organic farm in rural New Hampshire, where invasive insects chasing climate change present a looming threat —an unavoidable phenomenon scientists worldwide are bracing for.

Thank you for your time and consideration of THE POACHERS’ CODE.



Sadie peeled a strip of bark off yet another dying pine tree. Her fingers, blistered and raw from hunting the elusive pine beetle, froze as a gush of tiny insects writhed against the exposed wood. Beetles scattered for cover, but not fast enough.

“Got you.” Her voice, scratchy and dry from not having spoken in days, echoed off the granite boulders on the sparsely wooded slope. She scraped the insects into a small envelope and tilted her head up to the morning sun. Tomorrow she would storm her research director’s office, dump bags of dead beetles on her desk and her lap. Now no one could deny the invasive insects had migrated from the Rockies to New England.

‘I told you so’ burned sweet on her tongue.

This drought. This wildfire. This beetle. With a four degree increase in summer temperatures, New Hampshire had practically invited the beetles and the fires that followed them. She could head off the wildfires if someone would just believe her. The anticipation of being right, of being the hero, had lulled her to sleep the past several nights under a canopy of stars.

Smoke scratched the back of her throat, confirming the late summer wind was already pushing the fires east. She paused for a sip of warm water. Working alone in the woods, Sadie marked time in elevation and ounces of water. She was running out of both.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Fricassee

Dear hearts!

I know I've already said this, but I'm just so blown away by the level of thoughtfulness and seriousness of intent in the vast majority of the queries I've received for our Query Quagmire.  I'll be spending part of this weekend making my final decisions and getting the posts ready for next Tuesday.  (Please note that there will be no email notifications.  You will know yours was chosen if you see it appear on the blog on Tuesday morning.)

I haven't done a Friday Fricassee in a while, but today felt ripe for one.  Not that I have anything particularly pressing or earth-shattering to say, but simply because this has been a connection point for me (for us!), and I wanted to return to it.

My writing life right now consists of a) waiting for news (isn't this almost always the case?) and b) painstakingly combing through a manuscript while blank-paging it (that is, rewriting word for word in a new document) in order to give it new life and a trimmer figure.  I got all the way up to chapter 28 doing a regular revision, when suddenly I felt stuck.  I also felt a sort of inexplicable hatred for the thing, which didn't make sense, because this is a couple-years-old project that I love and believe in.

So I did what any (in)sane writer would do--I started over.  Scrivener is magical and wondrous to behold--it's simply a matter of splitting the screen horizontally and having the old version in the upper window while typing the new version below.  (My love for Scrivener knows no bounds!)  It's quite a high, flying through those staying-intact passages at my superhero typing speed, but I do have to continually slow myself down and really listen to--taste--feel the words, to make sure I actually want to keep them.  It's actually much easier to slash and kill them this way, and I'm happily watching my word count shrink as the writing becomes (hopefully) tighter and more compelling.

I'm also toying around with an teeny-tiny idea or two for new stories.  Ideas come slowly to me, and I need to let them percolate for a while.  (And one of them came from something quite macabre that I stumbled upon yesterday while searching the net for something completely unrelated.)

I sometimes envy those of you with a huge cache of story ideas waiting to burst forth from your fingers.  I know we can't all be that sort of prolific idea person (and I'm thankful to be an implementer, at any rate, since it means I always finish what I start), but, dang--it would be nice to not have to wait so long and try so hard to get those new story seeds to germinate.

Are you a hundred-ideas-a-person day?  Or do your ideas come sparsely and slowly?  I'd love to get an idea of where I fit into the grand scheme of things among our community here.  Our diversity is part of our beauty, so please do share a bit of yourselves in today's comment box.  I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU.  Solidarity keeps us strong!

Have a wonderful weekend--and I'll see you on Tuesday for Query Quagmire!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Query Quagmire--On Reading Your Entries

So far, I've read 60 of the 107 queries that graced my submission box last Thursday.  And I'd like to say a few things!

1.  I'm honored that each of you made the decision to submit. It means two things--that you see value in this contest/exercise, and that you trust me.  Neither of these is small, and I don't take that value and trust for granted.  So allow me right now to say THANK YOU to each of you who entered.

2.  There are an awful lot of THOUGHTFUL, SERIOUS writers who sent in their queries.  Some of you hold MFAs or have published short stories.  Others of you are stay-at-home moms (or dads!) or graduate students or are working full time outside of the writing world.  Many of you took the time to research Danielle's tastes/what she represents, and most of you (so far) know exactly what you write and where it belongs on bookshelves (this is sort of a big deal).

I'm impressed.  And, again, I feel fortunate that each of you entrusted your queries to me.

3.  Of course, regardless of all this goodness, my "no" pile grew quickly from the beginning.  I know you've all heard a hundred times how agents will read just so much and know right away whether or not they want to read more, and you scratch your collective heads wondering what, exactly, this means.  After having done years of contests here on the blog, I finally get this.  And reading actual query letters has made it even clearer to me.  When you know what you're looking for and you know what you feel "good writing" looks like, the "nos" come quickly.

The "maybes", which everything else falls into during the first pass, are a little trickier.  Once I get through all 107 queries, I will have to go back to my "maybe" list and cull my 5 winners.  I think there's only been one entry so far that I'm pretty sure is going to be a "yes".

It's quite a process.  And I really (really really really really) don't know how agents do this all. The. Time.  (I certainly can see why they save it for last, since taking care of their clients' needs has to come first!)  I'm absolutely certain that I could never be an agent. :)

4.  For the record: I am not "Miss Snark".  (Yep. Lots of queries addressed to Miss Snark.)  I am Authoress.  The story of this blog's title (i.e., why I call myself Miss Snark's first VICTIM) can be found HERE.

Here's where I tell you what you've also heard before:  IT ONLY TAKES ONE YES.  I know you know this, but somehow, it helps to hear it a lot.  Because rejection is hard.  And you can't pursue a career as an author without getting REALLY GOOD at being rejected.

So please bear that in mind when I post the winning entries next week.  And please also know that I will not be able to offer you reasons for my rejection of your entry.  I'm doing my best to choose queries and (especially) first pages that are strong, and that Danielle will find appealing.  If yours isn't one of them, KEEP QUERYING WIDELY.

(Also, if Danielle is on your to-be-queried list, please do still send your query to her if yours isn't chosen for Query Quagmire.  While I do have a good idea of her tastes and what she's looking for, I'm certainly not going to get it 100 percent right.  So don't cross her off--she's an amazing agent and you deserve a chance for her to see your work.)

Again, THANK YOU FOR ENTERING!  I feel so connected to each one of you as I read your entries.  We are all of us, as always, in this journey together.

Onward we go!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Call For Submissions: QUERY QUAGMIRE

You asked for it -- you're getting it!

Over the years, I've stayed away from query critiques, for the reasons stated in this post from 2009, with the notable exception of the 2009 Query Contest with Jodi Meadows.  (If you'll click on that link and look at the list of winners from that contest, you'll notice one of them is #15, A LONG WAY HOME.  That is none other than an early, pre-published, pre-agented version of Beth Revis's ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.  True story!  But I digress.)

I've had numerous requests, though, so I've finally decided to go with it, mostly because I have a WONDERFUL AGENT WHO IS WILLING AND EAGER TO TAKE PART.

Here's how it works:

1.  On Thursday, September 7, at noon EDT, submissions will open for your ONE-PAGE QUERY LETTER (single-spaced) plus the first 250 words of your manuscript (double-spaced).  THE FOLLOWING GENRES WILL BE ACCEPTED:

  • YA -- all genres
  • MG -- all genres
  • Women's Fiction
  • Mystery

2. The submission window will remain open for 24 hours.  I WILL ACCEPT ALL SUBMISSIONS THAT COME IN DURING THIS TIME.  THERE WILL BE NO LOTTERY.

3.  From these submissions, I will choose FIVE queries that I think will capture my agent's interest.

4.  I will post the 5 winning queries on TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19.  At this time, the entries will be open to public critique, and my lovely agent will be reading and critiquing each one, to let the author know why she would or would not want to read more.  

5.  Note:  YOUR MANUSCRIPT MUST BE COMPLETE AND QUERY-READY.  No incomplete manuscripts.  No first drafts.

6.  This contest is open to non-agented writers only.

This is an excellent learning opportunity for all aspiring authors, even if you don't have an entry in the contest!  It's always a blessing to get a peek inside an agent's head during the querying process.  I'm hoping that, by vetting the entries ahead of time, I will come up with 5 plausible query-reading scenarios, so that the agent feedback received isn't "I don't represent this genre", but will actually be more specific and helpful.

All-righty, then!  Polish your queries and proofread your first pages.   And if you have any questions, leave them in the comment box below, or accost me on Twitter!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Power of a Story

I grew up in a small town with an even smaller library.  For a while, my mom worked there, and through her, I befriended a new librarian who took me under her wing when she discovered that I loved to read fantasy.  Throughout her short stay, she sent books home with my mom for me to read, simply because she thought I'd love them (and I did).  Sometimes they were new releases that she would set aside for me; other times, they were simply books off the shelves (and who knew how old they were...and who cared!).

What a tremendous gift to give a child--stories to feed her hungry soul and stoke the deep wells of imagination within her!  This lovely woman, whose name I can't even remember, played a huge role in turning my heart forever toward the world of fantasy.  How I wish I could thank her.

Amid all those wonderful novels, a certain story niggled at my memory throughout my adult life.  I couldn't remember the title, the author, or even the main storyline.  In fact, there was really one scene that stuck out in my mind, tantalizing and frustrating me because it was all I could remember.

A sister and brother inside a barn.  A Pegasus foal hidden there.  Something evil outside, trying to get in.

Over the years, I tried to find it on the Internet.  Surely, I thought--surely--if I type in "Pegasus" and "brother and sister" and "barn", it'll pop right up on this list-of-forgotten-books.

Nope.  No luck.

Then, a few months ago, I decided to try again.  AND I FOUND IT.

It took me five minutes, and there it was.  And here it is:



The Stolen Telesm by Caroline Baxter was published by Lippincott in 1975.  It is, of course, out of print.  As you can probably tell by the photo, the copy I purchased is an old library book.

I was SO VERY EXCITED to read it.  Suddenly I was ten years old, eager to fall once again into the world where Pegasus was real and children my age got to have a grand, scary, fantastical adventure.

You guys.  The writing was horrible.

HORRIBLE.

Not only that, but the plot was lame.  Point of view jumped erratically between the brother and the sister to the point of distraction.  And the clunky, adjective-heavy sentences went on ad infinitum.

On the back flap, the author bio states that Ms. Baxter wrote this story when she was seventeen.

And Lippincott published it.  Well, huh.

Here's the thing, though, and it's a big one:  When I was a child, I didn't know about points of view or plot arcs or overwriting.  All I knew was that there was a Pegasus foal trapped in a barn with a boy and a girl.  

Now, this isn't a nod of approval toward bad writing for the sake of good story.  I think it's a travesty--really, I do--when someone who's a good storyteller does not hone his craft so that he also becomes a good writer.  (Good story and good writing are two separate things. Sometimes they are mutually exclusive.)  What I'm really saying here is that stories are powerful.

So powerful, in fact, that the best one stick with us for years despite deficiencies of writing.  So powerful that, decades after having read something, a wistful adult will search and search until she finds the long lost treasure.

You are a writer.  YOU HOLD THIS POWER IN YOUR HANDS.

It's not about lovely sentences or a wonderful premise.  It's about STORYTELLING.  And yes, there is plot arc and character arc and all that really important stuff.  But the ART OF STORY is what will draw your readers in and keep them hooked--sometimes for life.

As for me and my little book?  I passed it on to a sweet young person in my life who happens to be a fantasy-loving bookworm.  She devoured it.  Loved it.  Raved about it.  Like long-ago me, she wasn't bothered by the weak plot or point of view mess.  It was all, "Pegasus! Magic! Scary things!"


She has a steady diet of well-written literature in her life, so I don't think I've ruined her by handing her a book that would certainly never be published today.  I have it under good authority that she has recently started Fellowship of the Ring, so there you have it.  (She's not quite ten. I know for a fact that I was not reading Tolkien at that age. The sad truth is that I didn't know who Tolkien was. But that's a story for another day.)

And there you have it.  We all remember things from our childhood that, upon being revisited, don't come close to living up to our memories.  Like Moon Pies.  And freezer pops.  And Michael Landon as Pa.

But if even one kernel of a story nestles in our hearts and inspires us for years to come, it's worth revisiting, and worth giving credit to, despite its faults.  Go forth and find a story that's lodged in your brain from your own past.  Who knows--it may actually be as wonderful as you remember!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hello. It's Me.

I've been wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet...

Okay, it hasn't been THAT bad.  (I do love that song, though!)  But for months I've been less communicative than I'd like to.



There are reasons.

  • I've been revising.  A lot.  Heavy-duty, deadlined revising.  For a revise and resubmit.  It's all good, and I'm moving on to the next thing during the exclusive.  
  • I've been practicing.  Piano and voice.  Mr. A and I hosted a Beer and Madrigals party for members of the symphony chorus, and I accompanied as well as singing.  And I cooked.  And cleaned.  And moved furniture.  And...it was a big party.  You get the idea.  It's over now.
  • I've been focusing on other things in general.  Writing.  Resting.  Life-ing.  The blog has always been the one thing that took up time that I probably could've used another way.  And yet I can't seem to let it go.  Seeing my readers grow as writers...achieve success...find encouragement...there's no way to measure the importance of all that.  It fills me up.  And I don't want it to go away.
On that note, it's my goal to have another Secret Agent Contest by the end of this year, as well as some more in-house crit (which you all rock at).  And I'm going to do my best to start Friday Fricasseeing again.

So, that's me, in a nutshell.  I still want to be present for you.  I still want to share this journey with you.

OTHER THINGS:

1.  I currently have an opening for one PREMIERE CRITIQUE, first come, first served.  This is:
  • A detailed line edit of your first 75 pages
  • An editorial letter
  • Guaranteed 1-week turnaround
  • $260 in 2 equal payments
If you're interested, please email me ASAP at authoress.edits(at)gmail.com to secure your place.

2.  I'd like to pick your brain about some HOLIDAY FUN IDEAS for the blog.  In the past, we've done things like Christmas/Hannukah song lyric contests and such.  I'd love for you to share your ideas in today's comment box!

Hugs to you all -- serious, squooshy, full-body hugs.  (Or, if you're the no-touch type, a friendly air-high-five.)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Are You Hooked? Critique Guidelines

Here we are, folks -- 15 opening pages that will attempt to draw us in!

Please follow the guidelines below.

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

*I can't possibly read every comment.  If you ever see a comment that is truly snarky, please email me.  I count on your help.

Are You Hooked? #15

TITLE: Silent March
GENRE: YA Recent Historical / Diversity

          Dad fixes people’s ears, but he doesn’t listen. Seven a.m. first day in the new house is Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work Day? Bogus.

            “We’re leaving in five,” Dad calls from upstairs.

            I raise the volume on my walkman. Here I go again on my own, my hands sign my current anthem. Maybe knowing some sign language will keep my big mouth shut at East Maryland Prep instead of ruining my life at West Miami High. Dad didn’t hear a peep from me when he yanked me from Florida midwinter senior year.

            “EGG, did you hear me?” Dad pokes his head in the door.

            I lift one headphone. “Yes, I’m not one of your patients.” If I was deaf, he’d give a damn.

            “Watch your tone young lady.” He pushes his coke-bottle glasses back up his nose. “And turn that music down or you will be. Let’s go.”

            ‘Why I don’t speak,’ for $100 Alex. I pound up the stairs from my basement bedroom. In Miami, basements don’t exist. Dig and hit water. Now I live in one.  At least this one comes with a kitchenette, bathroom, and French doors to the backyard. No soundproofing, though. Mom and Dad fight. Constantly.         

            In the mudroom, I layer on sweater, jacket, scarf, gloves, hat, and boots.

            Dad eyes me. “It’s not that bad.”

            “You grew up in Brooklyn.” I fling open the door to the garage which is like a freezer.  The car ride is equally icy. Why talk? It’ll come out wrong. I speak my mind better with my hands.

Are You Hooked? #14

TITLE: Seeking Sara Sterling
GENRE: YA Contemporary

A tiny, cream-colored spider crawled across the outside of the windshield. Sara couldn’t take her eyes off it. In that moment, she almost wished she were that spider. She wanted to be anywhere but in here.

    A silence as thick as mud hung between her and Bryan. She wasn’t sure how long it had been since he’d spoken those words. The ones she’d contemplated saying for more than a year now. But she’d always been wishy-washy, going back and forth about things. It was so hard to know what her true feelings were sometimes.

    The spider angled downward and then leaped onto the Jeep’s windshield wiper. A second later, it disappeared from sight.

    “Say something, Sara.” Bryan’s strained voice finally cut through the silence.

    But she had nothing to say to him. Inside, she felt completely numb. Like she’d just swallowed an entire bottle of that chloraseptic throat spray her mom used to give her when she was younger. 

    Sara bit her bottom lip, staring out the windshield again. A dent marked one side of her maroon garage door. Her younger brother, Derrick had backed into the drive, hitting it with the hitch of his Tundra a few weeks ago. She was surprised her parents hadn’t done something about it yet. 

    In her peripheral vision, she saw Bryan run a hand through his hair before placing it back on the steering wheel. As if he were ready to just get the hell out of here. “Come on. Don’t be like this,” he pleaded.

 

Are You Hooked? #13

TITLE: TALISMAN
GENRE: YA Paranormal

          Matt Flaherty’s heart pounded in excitement as he ripped open his Study Abroad confirmation packet. Moving his laptop to the foot of his bed, he flipped through photos of smiling students in front of lush landscapes and ancient buildings.

          “God, this itinerary looks awesome.” The Irish summer program offered hiking, city pubs and kooky mythology–his perfect idea of adventure. He couldn’t wait to see the Blarney Stone, and climb the Cliffs of Moher.

            At the Galway page, a surge of energy ran through Matt’s hands all the way down to his bones. The aftershock left a warm tingling up and down his limbs.

          Holy shit, that was weird.  

          He focused on his next move. The fact that he’d forged his dad’s paperwork and created a fake parent email hadn’t bothered him then. Now, he had to face the fireworks.

         Matt hurried down the hall to his father’s office with the packet. Barely stopping to knock, he rushed in, holding the brochure over the massive desk. “Hey dad, look at this.”

         Making his face as guiltless-looking as possible he raised his eyebrows. Like when he was ten years old. Back then, it was the three of them: his mom, his dad and Matt. Life was halfway decent, even when Flaherty Sr. rebuked him for the smallest misconduct. Instead of timeouts or swats, Matt’s childhood was filled with humiliation and rejection. His mom always got between his dad and him, like some blinged-up Rottweiler. She kept the balance; kept them civil.

Are You Hooked? #12

TITLE: CASEY BUCKLES AND THE KEEPER OF THE ICE CAVES
GENRE: MG Contemporary Adventure

Casey Buckles sank back, trying to bury himself in the bus’s musty seat. He clutched a note, certain its words would lead to someone’s death:

Marty, your family, danger, killing, get to the ice caves.

A shiver tingled down his back at his dad’s name. His father had taken off on a sudden trip—fifth one in three months. No explanation, no discussion. Was the family breaking apart? Casey’s blood ran cold at the thought. Could be why his mom cried harder than normal when he’d boarded the bus.
He smoothed the note across his thigh, wishing he hadn’t found it that morning, wedged between the fridge and cabinet. Thinking it a lost page from his geography notes, he shoved it into his camping bag, not giving it a second thought, until now. Reading it made him want to crawl out the bus’s emergency exit and take his chances in the forest. Bigfoot would be cake compared to the backflips and somersaults his imagination was doing over this note.

Snatching his lucky magnetite lodestone from his jeans pocket, he turned it over and over in his hand. Silver flecks across the black-grey surface winked back at him. The metamorphic rock was his favorite, morphing from one rock type to another. Too bad he couldn’t morph into the son his dad wanted to hang with.

The rickety bus jostled Casey about as it bumped along the dirt road. The note played on his mind. Where in the heck were there ice caves in the mountains of Idaho?

Are You Hooked? #11

TITLE: Cordelia
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Our red Ford Festiva was nicknamed The Clown Car by my late father, and I have a love-hate relationship with this crummy compact. It holds lots of memories but is older than me and falling apart. This morning, we’re running late, and Mom sets her jumbo insulated tumbler of frappuccino on top of it while my ten-year-old brother, Declan, gets in the backseat. She needs both hands to shove her purse and workbag in beside him.

I take the passenger seat, and with an uncontrollable grin, say, “Mom, don’t forget about my driver’s test after school.”

She smiles and turns the key in the ignition. “Of course I won’t forget, and guess what—”

Boom.

Panicked, I look around for a fire, and a strangling sound escapes me as cold, bony fingers of dread squeeze around my neck.

“Are you okay, Cordelia?” Mom asks, rubbing my shoulder in concern. “It was just the car backfiring.”

Declan says, “Yeah, that was loud.” Laughing, he adds, “Usually it sounds more like the car’s farting.”

Taking a deep breath, I loosen my death grip on the door handle and laugh too, feeling silly for my overreaction.

“The mechanic’s going to take a look at it this week,” Mom says. She begins to back out of the driveway but immediately slams on the brakes and gasps, “Oh no!”

The slushy, chocolaty, caramel contents of her tumbler—that she couldn’t find the lid for—start oozing down the windshield in front of us.

Are You Hooked? #10

TITLE: Deyou's Heart
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

Before I pass, I wish to give you something of your mother’s. Jeran

Sia An’Terran crumpled the parchment with its crabbed writing in her hand as the ocean breeze tickled hair as it teased across her forehead. The enormous black-stone causeway glittered in the early morning light, its massive surface nearly packed full with people making their way across it to Deyou’s Isle, currently visible to one and all. She’d been atop the cliff at dawn when the Voice brought the shield down, exposing the Isle to the world and marking the beginning of Dragon Day.
This would be the last day she saw the causeway. Either she’d be dead by mid-day for setting foot on the Isle or she’d be on her way back to Capita. She tucked the crumpled note into the pouch hidden in her belt, next to the quite-illegal tools she kept there.

Her jaw firmed as she gritted her teeth and took the last steps down the well-trodden path which led from Verisit atop the cliff to the beach leading to the causeway. Merchants hawked their wares from stalls that lined the walkway, some having wisely decided to remain on the mainland rather than cross to the Isle.

Heavy sand crunched beneath her feet and she wound her way through the crowds. Not in a rush exactly, but she wasn’t going to waste her entire day on this idiocy and if she didn’t make it by the final calling bell, her chance would be gone.

Are You Hooked? #9

TITLE: Counting Perfect
GENRE: YA Contemporary

There’s no such thing as luck. As far as I see it, life happens one way no matter how much you wish it would turn out another way. If it does take your side on certain days, then that’s how it’s meant to be. But everything evens out, so you can bet the next day, things won’t be perfect. You can count on it.

My brother badumpthumps over every gap in the pavement riding solo on my skateboard. “Stop!” he shouts at me. “You’re gonna crush him.”

He jumps from the board, letting it glide to the grass, and engages in mini acrobatics to protect yet another insect.

I resist a close inspection. Bugs and I don’t get along. They crawl through their own poop, and I’d rather not mix with anything covered in insect feces.

Alex has different standards when it comes to the world of gross.

“Look, Z, he’s so soft. Feel him.” He strokes the fuzzy orange and black critter.

“I’ll take your word for it.” I walk over to retrieve my board then freeze. “Where’s his family? I don’t want to step on them…as gross as he is.”

“Caterpillars are loners. Like you. The mother butterfly lays eggs…then she just flies away, I guess.” His finger barely touches it. I’ve never seen Alex so gentle.

I lean over his shoulder. “And the father butterfly?”

“Oh he’s probably dead by now. They don’t hang around long after getting the female pregnant.”

Thanks for the replay of my childhood.

Are You Hooked? #8

TITLE: The Wall
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction

          Jo rose on her tiptoes straining to see beyond the white wispy zigzag pattern that stretched across the great Pacific. She longed to catch a glimpse of the land that the sailor had spotted from the crow’s nest earlier that afternoon. Her heart pounded. Her fear that last week’s storm had tossed and hurled the boat back towards Shanghai gripped her chest. She desperately needed to see the port of San Francisco, to know that Shanghai and the danger that lurked beyond the dirty Yangtze River were far away.

           She wondered, Did the Pilgrims feel this way as they were fleeing England to find safety in the New World?  Could America become my New World, too?

            The boat swayed and tipped back and forth to and fro, but Jo’s sea legs were strong.  She no longer weaved and stumbled, sometimes even falling, like she did a month ago when they first boarded The Orient. She remembered that first day as she clung onto anything stable to keep from falling while her younger sister, Lizzie, twirled and jumped around her in circles. Her poor mother faired far worse. She had to be near a bucket for what seemed like a week. Jo had never seen her mother so pale.

            Darkness began to cover the sky like a mother her covering her child for the night. There would be no land sighting today. As a child Jo loved this time of night when the sky became a dark blanket speckled with silver sequence.

Are You Hooked? #7

TITLE: For the Love of a Child
GENRE: Adult Suspense/Thriller

When I passed out last night, I gave myself a fifty-fifty chance of waking up again. The sunlight slanting through the blinds let me know fate’s coin flip had come up heads. This time.

I turned my head slowly, careful to keep the rest of my body still. My shoulder dropped back ever so slightly and my neck strained as far to the side as possible in an attempt to see directly behind me.
Even before I laid eyes on him, his hot breath caressed my ear. My arms tensed.

I waited five breaths before turning back and easing out of bed. A glance behind verified that my husband slept on undisturbed. Another coin flip won. I should find a casino.

The digital clock on the nightstand confirmed the suspicions the sunbeams put in my head. Half past noon. The pills had done a number on me, but I could still make it to work on time. A double shift should give him enough time to cool off, maybe even forget.

I grabbed my purse from the floor and slipped into the bathroom. In went a brush, some deodorant, and my toothbrush and toothpaste. There were fresh scrubs at the hospital, and I’d manage wearing yesterday’s for a few more hours.

Shoes in hand, I tiptoed into the disaster of the apartment’s living room — a problem for another time. Right now my well being relied on getting out of here without making a sound.

The telephone rang.

Are You Hooked? #6

TITLE: COMPLEX SOLUTIONS
GENRE: YA Contemporary

     Crisp October air sweeps inside as I pull the front door open. I take a deep breath and bristle with anticipation. Bailey, my yellow lab, waits patiently by my side.

      My grandmother steps into the foyer, her flowered robe cinched tight, the one Mom gave her last Christmas. She tucks the morning paper under her arm. “You two heading out?”

     “Yeah, it’s perfect running weather.” I tug at my sleeves, pulling them over my thumbs.

     I need to lose myself for an hour and clear my head, push away the bad feelings that darken my mind. Running is the only thing that makes me feel good in my skin, when I don’t have the urge to hurt myself.

     “Are you okay, Alexandra?” Gram touches my sleeve and I wince, the bandage underneath rubbing against my raw wound. 

     “Yeah, fine.”

     “I’m always here to talk,” Gram says.  Her eyes linger on my face.

     “I know.”

     “Have a good run.”

     I step outside and head to the bottom of the grassy hill, wet with the morning dew. Lying to Gram churns my stomach, but I need her to believe I’m fine. She’d be disappointed if she knew I’m cutting again. But it’s the only way I can cope with the isolation at school and Jess, the girl who’s making my life hell. It’s the only way to deal with my insecurities, the voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough.
     When I reach the curb, the mailbox door hangs open. Wait, mail on Sunday?

Are You Hooked? #5

TITLE: The Secret of Mount Pella
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction

Her mother’s words, laden with impending death, seared Satara’s heart but ignited her soul.
   “This is a very important necklace, Satara.” With a shaky hand, Lucia placed it in her hand. “The key on this necklace opens the way to Mount Pella. There you will find the Secret Place.”
    “What do you mean, Mother?”
    “One day, you will have your own adventure, your own quest,” her raspy voice crackled. “You must make your way to Athenica, through the back gates of the palace, and up to the first summit.”
    “The palace? How will I ever get there?”
    “You will know when the time comes, my dear. It is your destiny.” Lucia clenched her eyes shut. Whether in pain or in recollection of something, Satara couldn’t tell.  
     Satara’s forehead tightened with concern. “Mother, you must rest.” Perhaps the fever was affecting her mother’s mind.
    “Not yet. You must promise me to keep this necklace safe. You are special, my child. You will do great things, but you must promise me.”
    “I promise, Mother.” She kissed her mother’s forehead and Lucia closed her eyes for the last time.