Wednesday, December 14, 2016

YA Are You Hooked? -- Critique Guidelines

As you critique, remember that today's offerings are all YA, so keep a keen eye to voice (is it an authentic teen voice?) as you read.


General 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 4 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? Young Adult #30

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Common-born mages are forbidden. When the peasant Adara accidentally destroys a hut with blue flames, the Dragonmaster agrees to hide her on two conditions: she must pass as a noble, and she must fling enough fireballs at his enemies to make the risk of being caught worth it.

As I got off the hay-cart, I realized a major problem in my plan to hide in a city: I’d never been to a city before.
One street had more life crowded into it than all of Stoneyfield. Horses with carriages and horses with merchant wagons, horses carrying men who looked down their noses. Women in trousers hurrying with purchases, chattering women in skirts of endless orange and blue. Trinket-pushers shouted behind me, bracelets and combs and eggs for—First One above, for an entire copper apiece—and the buildings crowded together with two, three layers of windows. Already the hay-cart was lost in traffic, lost in noise, lost in horse shit and people churning.
I stood gaping at it all like a bewildered cow.
Snap out of it, Adara. The sooner you get used to this, the better. I picked a trousered woman and tried to copy her easy-yet-rushed way of moving. The hay-cart farmer had promised this was a street of cheaper inns. I ambled until I came to a door.
The noise didn’t dim, it just changed. Through an arch across the foyer, people laughed, talked, and cursed. Pipes and a drum tried to be heard over it all. The foyer itself was empty except for a man bent over a book at a counter. Keys dangled from hooks on the wall behind the man, and several uncomfortable-looking chairs lined the opposite wall.
The man glanced up with a smile. It vanished.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #29

TITLE: Harm Ye None
GENRE: YA Magical Realism

An introspective Invisible strives to escape her born-again mother and the Cretins who make school a living hell, but when the new girl at school gives her the power to fight back, she discovers that getting everything what you want can change you for the worse.

Good girls don’t let everyone see their underwear. My mother’s voice is clear and concise even though, realistically, I know she’s miles away in her shop, and not currently squeezed into the bathroom stall with me. Still, the words tickle my ears. Mom has always been very black and white. Good girls don’t let people see their panties; only naughty girls do.

It’s a lesson my five-year-old self learned after going down the slide in my new Minnie Mouse skirt. The only thing running through my tiny brain was that the slide was the best thing in the world and I wanted to slide again and again. When my mother snatched me up from the bottom of the slide, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I’d done something wrong. I just didn’t know what.

“Dude, so what?” My best friend’s voice calls out to me from the other side of the blue, metal door. “So people caught a peek at your a**. You wouldn’t be the first girl to show your goods around here.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“Well, at least you’re the only one of them that hasn’t whored yourself around school.”

My face is still firmly planted on my knees, my hands clasped on the back of my head. With the social suicide I had just committed, I’m assuming crash position. Put your head between your knees and kiss your a** goodbye. “It’s not even that everyone saw my panties.” Lie. “It’s which panties they saw.”

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #28

TITLE: Prime Vector
GENRE: YA YA Sci-Fi with Romantic Elements

In the new world, only immortals matter…
During a routine tour to Earth, first-year cadet Catita Johns witnesses the murder of her immortal twin, Ry Johns: something she believed to be impossible. When the incident is covered up, Catita agrees to take her sister’s post on the dreaded Forever Queen’s immortal army to unravel the mystery behind Ry’s death. She’s prepared to do whatever it takes, including living the rest of her life as someone else. 

I glance out the window. Again. Every time, I expected to catch a glimpse of the Old Planet, but everything out there was black, vast empty space. The Epoch1955, the fastest ship on the Martian fleet, had been my home for the last twelve universal weeks. And though I knew it’d be years before I could download to the surface, I’d hoped to see Earth from a distance. No such luck. I glared at my wristband for what had to be the hundredth time since I left my bunk.
Ry’s not coming.
The halogen glow that replicated daylight in the Epoch dimmed another notch, turning the stark white walls to a soft grey. I should call it a night. With a sigh, I spun around and almost ran into a worker from the south quadrant. He ducked his gaze and stopped to let me pass. As protocol dictated, I kept my eyes forward, and strode past him. It was all about the dark uniform. The Forever Queen’s coat of arms alone commanded respect — and in most cases, fear. He had no clue I wasn’t a commando from the immortal army, the QEC, Queen’s Elite Cadre. But I was military; he had to play it safe.
Before I reached the end of the corridor, the elevator slid open. A unit of QEC lieutenants pounded out of it, laughing and shoving each other. If I’d had time to react, I would’ve done what the worker did.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #27

TITLE: Running Toward Illumia
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Astrea must flee Mist, the land of fog that's always been her home, when an old secret her parents kept threatens her life.

Astrea stalked the pure white creature, wondering how she would live with herself if she caught it. Unicorns were a rare sight in the Mist. This was the first one she’d ever seen. Vapors swirled away from its glittering silver sword of a horn, as if it had the power to dispel the fog entirely.
A red curl tickled her forehead, sticking to the sheen of sweat. The mud caked on her pale skin was starting to dry and crack, and she longed to scratch it off, but she didn’t dare move a muscle and spook her prey.
Her lungs strained against the warm, wet fog. Taking another careful step forward, Astrea gripped the reed, already loaded with a poisoned dart. She was close enough now, the musty smell of sweaty hide ambling through the still air. Its flank twitched, silky white tail slapping away flies.
Silently, she lifted the reed to her lips, her cheeks filling with air. One shot. She wouldn’t have time for another. Her hand shook. Stay true. For the tribe.
“What was that?”
The voice echoed in Astrea’s ears in an odd sort of way. She tensed, willing herself to pick up on the approaching footsteps, but the forest yielded no unusual sounds. If one of the youngers spooked the unicorn, that would be the end of it. Her face grew hot, her lips and grip tightening, but no further sound came.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #26

TITLE: Luli's Unibrow
GENRE: YA Magical Realism

When Luli, a Tajik gypsy girl, accepts an outrageous gift from a wicked customer, an entire village comes after her. Proving her innocence requires to grow a horrible unibrow and hide among a group of nomads in the Pamir mountains where dealing with vengeful spirits change her destiny.

The fragrance of freshly baked delicacies fill the market. Tajik samosa and manti, a dumpling filled with chopped lamb and squash, tempt me as I wander through the labyrinth of stalls. My stomach makes knots inside me. I tighten the scarf that holds my baby brother on my back. The pressure eases the hunger, enough to keep my hand from snatching a brown juicy grape the size of my baby brother’s fist.
I am a gypsy and covered in silver jewelry, wool ornaments, and layers upon layers of brightly colored skirts. The gaze of vendors follow me and housewives press their hands over their inner pockets where they hide their money. The fluttering of padded robes hiding a lining of silk robes cause my little brother hiccup in fright. I move the pan of my veil over his head. Maybe the brouhaha of the market will finally lull him to sleep.
The friendly vendors greet each other with soft salaams. “Peace upon you.”
Women with flopping scarves topping flat hats are dishing up cups of kymyz or mare’s milk. I don’t care very much for the beverage, but my stomach pinches me so hard, I would drink anything just to get the hurt out of my body.
I snake my way further between the piles of vegetables, jiggling a copper coin in my hand. Some people add few more coins in my hand after spying the baby. Not enough to eat. I thank them anyway.
“God bless you, my prince.”

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #25

TITLE: One of the Lucky Ones

Falling in love with your best friend is always risky, especially when she already has a girlfriend. And you thought you were straight.

“Okay, guys, you remember the rules.” Dad was doing his best to look stern as we stood outside the door to the library on a warm Saturday afternoon. It was not a convincing performance. He sounded like he was talking to all three of us, but he was watching Millie and especially Owen. He uncrossed his arms and waved a hand in an “I’m-waiting” motion until we all answered.

 Yes, even me. I might have been sixteen, but I knew if I didn’t play along Owen would start yelling, “Annie’s not saying it!” and the rest of the morning would be much less pleasant. At three, he had very strong ideas about what was “fair.”

“No running, no fighting, no yelling,” we all chanted together. “We don’t pull all the books off the shelf,” — I muttered “Owen” under my breath — “we use our indoor voices, and if we want the same book we have to take turns.” Dad nodded and opened the door. The kids didn’t quite run to the children’s section.

Oh good, Ms. Davis is here, I thought. That’ll make it easier.

Ms. Davis was the new children’s librarian, and already had my siblings wrapped around her perfectly manicured little finger. Owen acted much better when she was there, but Dad and I still made sure one of us was close enough to intervene if a storm broke. Millie was five-going-on-twelve; I didn’t worry about her unless Owen made her mad.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #24

TITLE: The Seven Laws
GENRE: YA High Fantasy

Seventeen-year-old Roiden practices elemental magic in secret experiments, to preserve the only connection he has left to his parents, and where he was born. When he tries to save his friend, his use of elemental magic is discovered—and attributed to her. Now he must either confess, or find a different way to secure her freedom, and the cost of failure is death.

Prologue - Nine years ago

Roiden watched from his place at the dormer window, as the dark closed tighter around the grand bedroom and the heat became suffocating.
He thought he might’ve been forgotten, in the window seat. No one glanced his way when they went in or out, though they passed close by, and the light from the fireplace didn’t quite reach him there.  It seemed to glow stronger, in the air right before him, but he didn’t move out into it.  It would’ve felt better than sitting in the dark, but he wasn’t allowed to.  It was wrong, to notice it anymore.
Two servants had just gone out, leaving the bedroom more still than before.  They’d each carried their own burden wrapped in cloth, one bigger than the other and trailing withered leaves, and the other small and heavier, tied before Roiden had seen what it was.  The servant holding the smaller one had carried it at a distance, as though he could hardly bear to touch it.  Roiden thought it might’ve been cold.
He pulled himself tighter against the curtained window, wishing he could disappear, or that he could’ve gone out with the servants without being seen.  He didn’t think he was supposed to be here.  Aerael’s mother was asleep in the bed, but Aerael, the little girl almost his age, stood by the nightstand, and the old healer woman sat beside her.  Aerael was crying.
The old healer woman took one of her hands gently, and Roiden suddenly felt he should be crying, too, without knowing why.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #23

TITLE: love hurts than death
GENRE: YA dystopia

Never ever in my worst nightmare had I dreamt that I would lose you one day. But fate has it's own way. I lost You. To say honestly, I am lost to u.
Could fate break true love? Yes it can, if it was not a true love. Wasn't my love true?
Sorry, I couldn't agree to it. I wholeheartedly loved you. I loved you more than I loved myself. Love is a small word for me to describe my feelings for you.
The moment you left me alone, my dreams were shattered. I couldn't think anymore, everything was blurred. My friends used to tell me to divert my mind. How could I? I lost my mind and feelings to you. It would be better if I slept for some time. But I had a fear of losing u. You may go from my thoughts if I sleep. I don't know when I slept last?
You used to tell me you wont leave me alone at any cost. I promised you the same, even if i was on my deathbed.
Yes I did not change. I did not leave u...
You moved on, you moved on with a guy whom you have been knowing just days back. What did you saw in him that was more than my true love? Did you forget all your promises? You gave me the reason that it was mere liking, it wasn't love. 2 years, wasn't that too long to know the difference between loving and liking?
Didn't you feet for me a single day? I left everyone just for you. My friends warned me that you are using me, but I believed you, more than I believed myself. You had broken my trust, shattered me into pieces . You came as a lesson to my life, not to trust anyone and it's just because of you, I still can't love anyone. I can't forget you, I don't want to forget you. It was infatuation from your side, but I... I loved you and still loves you, purely from my heart, my soul.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #22

TITLE: Bumper Cars
GENRE: YA Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Being seventeen and pregnant isn't easy.  But when Ainsley is diagnosed with ovarian cancer at twenty weeks, the impossible decisions of motherhood can't wait.  Putting the life of her baby first, Ainsley starts a journal and writes down everything she would like her unborn baby to know about life before her own life comes to an end.

June 16

     I am a child without a mother who is about to have a child who will have no mother.  That's all they're gonna remember about me when I'm gone.  They're not gonna remember that my GPA was 3.9 or that I ran the fastest times Hamilton High had seen on the track field in thirty-four years.  And they sure aren't gonna remember that I've taken care of my little brother, Mo, practically by myself, for the last four years, but that's mostly because nobody knew.
     When your dad owns buisinesses all over town, working his fingers to the bone so that his heart doesn't have time to remember that his wife isn't waiting for him at home because the cancer treatments were more than her body could take, you spend a lot of nights at home alone.  Or in my case, with Mo. That's okay though, because Mo and I do alright on our own.
     And we would have kept on doing alright on our own if it hadn't been for three things:  Penny Parker beating my record in the 400 meter, Jacob Singleton's grayish green eyes, and those damn bumper cars.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #21

TITLE: Desperately Seeking Normal
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fantasy

After sixteen years of yearning to escape her tiny trailer and maniacal mother, Thomas Miranda gets her wish.

“Thomas Miranda Little, did you steal my cigarettes again?” my mother squawks like a hungry pterodactyl.
That’s me.
A sixteen-year-old girl.
My mother found it a fantastic idea to name me after her father. When I complain she says, “Just be glad your sperm donor and I split before you were born, or you could've been a Eugene.” But Eugene is my favorite. Unlike Grandpa Thomas he doesn’t enjoy whiskey with his breakfast, and he sends a birthday card on the 18th of every month, just in case - he nails it in July.
I am Miranda to my friends and Randi to my mother when she is not in breakdown mode from quitting smoking, which happens twice a month.
Three years ago my school signed me up for freshman football because they thought I was Thomas Lawry. I got flyers in the mail with suggestions on what size sport cup to buy.
They say a soul chooses its family. I challenge whoever came up with that theory to live for a week in a 500-square foot trailer in small town Ohio with one absent parent and one who creates dead bug jewelry for a living. Every day I dream of teleporting to a magical land with dragons and fairies and hot sword fighting men on shiny horses, or at least a normal family with a mother who doesn’t enjoy singing old Doors songs with her unemployed hippie friends at two in the morning on a Wednesday, surrounded by cockroach carcasses.
Or preferably no parents at all. I’ve basically raised myself, anyhow.
I shuffle out of my room and step into a scene from a disaster film as it seems my mother has tornado'd through the entire trailer searching for the cigarettes she hid from herself three days ago.
With a sigh I turn around, lifting the lid of my music box with the one-legged ballerina - a gift from my father before she drove him out of our lives.
“Looking for these?” I dangle the little red carton.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #20

GENRE: YA Paranormal Thriller

17-year-old Daniel has survived five near-death experiences. After the fourth, he started seeing ghosts. The fifth murdered his brother. When another boy is brutally killed, Daniel makes a pact with a grim reaper to track down the serial killer and avenge his brother. Even if he has to sell his soul.

Six years old

You never forget the first time you nearly died. We were six. Mom took me and Ian to the pool. Abuela wanted to drive us to the beach, which really meant Mom would have to drive us, but Mom said the beach was too dangerous, which meant it was too far and she wanted to save on gas. Abuela muttered something like “bambalan,” which made Mom go, “What was that?”
So the public pool it was.
Ian blended in like chocolate to milk. He was always a bit darker than me, so he sported that effortlessly tanned, athletic kid look. He romped over the water like a baby killer whale, winning oohs and aahs from the pasty and elderly. I think at one point he was even chatting up some girls, who looked like hot college chicks in string bikinis, but were probably preteens at most, with frilly flattened tops.
By the time he joined me in the shallow end, I was sulking and not saying why. “Maldito, quit being a girl,” Ian muttered, and he splashed me. We started a splash war until a hairy dude told us to cut it out, then we played who-could-hold-your-breath-the-longest.
Just once I really wanted to beat Ian. I grabbed the pool ladder and crossed my feet around the bar and held on for dear life.
I nearly drowned.
Ian still beat me.

Nine years old
Abuela came to “housesit”—Ian said he’d riot if Mom got us a babysitter—because Mom had a church picnic and Dad was chasing down some killer who liked to leave heads in buckets. Abuela was watching the UFC finals, hollering stuff like “Harder, muchacho! Punch him to the ground!” so Ian suggested we watch our own special video, which was rated R for a whole different reason.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #19

TITLE: A Beastly Beauty
GENRE: YA Fairy Tale

Isabella's lived her whole life as a hideous beast, thanks to a wicked fairy's curse. And as if that weren't bad enough, a blonde in glass slippers just stole the one man who might be falling for her anyway. (Gender-swapped "Beauty and the Beast," featuring Cinderella as a villain.)

I glanced back at the castle in the moonlight. Father’s windows were dark, except for the ones in his study. In another few minutes Amelita would bring him a hot toddy, and then he would retire for the night.
My night was just beginning.
I clutched Domino’s reins with one hand and the cool metal clasp of my cloak with the other. My pulse pounded with the familiar thrill of being out and on my way to town, the one night each month when I was—when I looked—well, normal. Human.
I had Amelita, my faithful nursemaid, to thank for it. She had decided on my sixteenth birthday, which happened to coincide with the full moon, that I ought to spend the evening beyond our castle grounds.
“After all, chérie,” she had said then, “how will you ever find your true love if you just sit about here, waiting for him to thunder through the gate? Your father’ll have him into the dungeon faster than he can say ‘Be mine, Lady Isabella!’”
That night I had slipped on my cape and sneaked through the gate to ride Domino into Molinas, the town below our estate. I had played darts, tasted ale, and danced with a handsome stable hand. It was glorious. I had impatiently counted the days between full moons ever since.
And for over two years of full moons, Father had been none the wiser.
I slowed Domino to a walk. Tolly, our ancient gatekeeper, leaned against the wall.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #18

TITLE: Bark at the Moon
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

In Winnipeg ca. 1987, 15-year-old headbanging werewolf Richard must convince his girlfriend Lydia he didn’t kill his best friend — while the real culprit is after them both. Richard must gain control of his lycanthropy and stop the murderers before they get him and Lydia, too.

Lydia was someone worth not dying for, so I was pretty sure I’d make it across the highway alive.
It was June and I’d just turned fifteen. I shivered in my holey Kick Axe t-shirt in the cool summer night, since I refused to cover up the Vices album art with a hoodie. Staring at the headlights of cars and the occasional semi roaring down Highway 59, I gripped the handlebars of my Canadian Tire special. Which means, a crappy bike that didn’t have the greatest brakes in the world. The whoosh of the traffic heading into Winnipeg pulled me toward the highway with every vehicle that passed and I told myself Richard, if you make it across the road alive, you’re going to kiss Lydia tomorrow night at grad. Of course, I couldn’t actually hear anything because I’d cranked the volume on my Walkman and was listening to Poison wail through “Look What the Cat Dragged In.” I sure couldn’t hear whether Vance was still following me, either, and I didn’t look back. Later I felt like kind of a dink about that. Because if I had, I’d have noticed a lot sooner he was missing.
Behind me was the neighbourhood we lived in, where all the houses had been built, like, five minutes ago. My older brother Ross would have said he remembered when our street was like where I was now — just bush and grass on either side of surrounding the road.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #17

TITLE: Anomaly
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

After she wakes up dead -- buried behind a house in the middle of the woods, a teenage girl must make sense of her past and the experiment that that gave her life again. 

  The first time I died I was too young to remember it.
   I know it happened because it’s written in the notebook. A three page epic poem detailing my death. Three pages worth of guts and gouging. Silver tools and hungry fingers.
   I know it happened because I still have the scar. A long, thin thing that stretches from above my sternum to just below my navel.“The kiss of the scalpel”, the notebook says. I don’t remember it, but I’m sure it didn’t feel like a kiss. Not even close.
   The scar is faint. The first time I died I was seven years old. I’m seventeen now. It makes me wonder how large the wound was when it was fresh. It makes me wonder how many stitches it took to patch me up after they brought me back to life. Now the scar is close to invisible. Because of my age, because of the way they fixed me after they were done tearing me apart.
   These things are discussed in detail within the pages of the notebook. Words like “unethical” and phrases like “moral consequences” are scrawled more often than my own name. I think that my name -- I think that “Memi” is written five times, maybe six tops. “Unethical” is repeated at least a dozen.
   If I could, I would ask which one of them wrote it, but it’s impossible. I’ve been alone for two years.
   I’ve been alone since the last time I died.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #16

TITLE: The Art of Insanity
GENRE: YA Contemporary fiction

A high-school senior wants to earn a scholarship to art school, but a diagnosis of severe bipolar disorder interrupts her life.  When she throws her best art pieces off a bridge while in a manic state, she's in danger of missing the competition deadline. 

            The car accident last summer wasn’t an accident.
            Secrets have weight, and that one is heavy.  It’s not the light, fun kind of secret that provides fodder for late-night sleepover chats or hallway gossip.  It’s the dark kind of secret that lurks in shadows, and I spend my days hoping that it stays there and never comes into the light.
            I step out of my new-to-me Toyota Camry, and I run my fingertips along the metallic silver of its side.  I won’t let anything happen to this car.  I grab my backpack, shut the door, and head across the parking lot to my last first day of school.  Do I look like a senior?  I don’t feel like a senior.
            My new blue shirt matches my eyes, and I’m hoping people will notice that instead of my slight limp.  People always say I have beautiful eyes.  I’m wearing jeans and old tennis shoes because I don’t want anyone looking at my legs.  Look at my eyes, people!  Remember how beautiful my eyes are?!
            I take a deep breath and walk into the school.  The one-story brick building is big enough to hold our 600 person student body, but small enough that news travels fast.  I think that perhaps because the accident happened in the summer, maybe not many people know about it.  Maybe I can pretend it never happened.  I’m wrong.
           “Oh my gosh Natalie!”  Alyssa Jackson runs over soon as she sees me.  I had physics with her last year (I think), but I never talked to her outside of class.  She gives me a hug, which feels awkward.   “How are you?!  I heard all about the accident!  How terrible!”  She pulls out of the hug and gives me a once-over, looking for evidence of injuries.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #15

TITLE: The White Glove Society
GENRE: YA Contemporary

When a teenage guitar phenom is ousted from the band she started and forced to attend her conservative South Carolina town’s annual White Glove Society Ball, she challenges the decades-old tradition by doing  more than just being presented to society.

There’s nothing more satisfying than fingers flying over cold steel. Heart pounding in rhythm to the beat. Silky sounds feeding the soul. I look over at Zander and try to get him to look at me, but he’s staring down at his own hands drumming out the beat. Odd. He usually watches Grace.
I focus on my own riff and then steal a glance at Grace. She smiles and even winks at me. That’s a first. Her norm is the stink eye when I stand too close to her or steal the applause. It’s looks that make me feel like gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. From the first moment Zander urged me to try out for the band, Grace had a beef with me, but now I think I’ve won her over. Tonight everything feels like I’m cocooned in good karma. I even scored a free latte from the barista. I step a little closer to Grace and sing the chorus along with her. I don’t want this song to ever end.  This is where I belong. I let my mind wander.
Instead of the twenty or so coffee-loving-media-reading people we’re performing for, I imagine twenty thousand music-loving-media-posting fans. They’re all chanting my name, wanting more. I step closer to the edge of the stage and give the crowd what they want—an added guitar lick in the middle of Grace’s favorite song.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #14

GENRE: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Zoe's found the girl of her dreams—if she can ignore the fur and fangs. The creature responsible for her beast’s torment isn’t finished with her, and this beauty could be cursed as well unless they can defeat this ancient evil.

Tonight is a Magus Moon, almost unnaturally large and bright. A trick of the light, out-of-towners claim.

It’s perfect for a party I don’t want to be at. The crisp night air mixes with the burgers, hot dogs, and chicken sizzling on the grill, but there’s no way I can eat. Someone is bound to say something about class today.

“It’ll be fine, Zo,” Jenny says. “Besides, we have to be here. We couldn’t be the only two cheerleaders not to show up.”

“I guess…”

“Breathe,” she says, as if this anxiety is something I can turn off. “No one’s going to bring it up.”
I grip the sides of my dress, my cheeks burning. “It was humiliating.” It only proves everyone knows how stupid I am. “It took me ten minutes to read a fucking haiku. God, they must think I’m such a dumb blonde.”

“No one laughed. I would’ve killed them if they did. Or fed them to The Magus.”

Despite my mood, I chuckle at her bringing up Statfield’s boogeyman. “I think they’re too old for him.”

“We can always hope they get lost in the woods?” I give her my stop-this-idiocy-now stare and hope she gets it. “Well, I’m scary enough.” She pulls me closer. “Relax. Have a good time.”

“Okay. I promise I’ll try.”

Jenny scans the crowd, a familiar glean in her eye. “Look, check that one out. He’s hot.”

“I just want a nice boy.” Or girl, but I don’t say that part. Somehow, I don’t think the concept would stick. I’d be ‘confused’. And I’d have to hear all about it.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #13

TITLE: LIONCLAD - The Coins of Cruelty
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Corey Roote’s an idiot. The ugly earring he found on the Isle of Man won't come off. It also turns into an enchanted, pushy lion helmet that gives him heightened strength and senses. Corey hopes it’ll help him and a sea-wielding local face a killer who gambles with human souls.

A wave was coming to devour the Isle of Man.
Eoin Wade waited on the Tower of Refuge ramparts. The stout, neatly bricked fortress glowed red and green under artificial spotlights. It sat on a patch of stone and sand four hundred yards from the shoreline of Douglas, the Isle of Man’s capital city. On the horizon, the jagged outline of the English coast peeked through the mist.
At Eoin’s back stood a line of three-storey Victorian guesthouses. Vacancy signs creaked on their hinges. Pigeons shuddered under flake-painted eaves. The pre-dawn sky was salmon flesh in colour. There was still time until silver-haired shoppers and leather-clad motorcyclists filled the promenade behind him. Provided that the ocean didn’t fill it first.
Black hair trailed from Eoin’s oilskin hood. Salty air rushed through his trimmed beard, making the skin underneath itch. Heavy metal screeched from the earbuds hanging from his shirt collar. To think there was once a time, a long, yawning river of time, when he couldn’t stuff his head with Motorhead or Thin Lizzy. Was it from so distant an age, when letting music leak from little sponges into your ears would’ve been considered witchcraft? Of course, much had changed since Eoin’s longship first caressed these sands. Too much.
The most pointless thoughts stirred in Eoin’s head when he was afraid. It was one of many reasons he never felt like the right man for this...role he’d been given. His father would’ve agreed, no doubt.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #12

GENRE: YA Contemporary

Abandoned by her former friends after a vicious rumor circulates about her, Rosaline, adrift, alone, and out of options, joins the high school stage crew and tries to find a place for herself among the school’s resident band of weirdos.

It’s not the moment your life collapses that’s the worst part.
It’s what comes after.
When you wake up from the nightmare to find out that it wasn’t, unfortunately, a nightmare, but your life, and you have to go on living it.
So this is me, approximately three months after my life ends and I have to start it all over again:
Sitting like a taut wire at the edge of one of those red velvet, deceptively uncomfortable auditorium seats, while on stage a short, skinny boy with skin issues is eking out Hamlet’s soliloquy.
“What dreams may come,” he squeaks, “When we have shuffled off this mortal coil—”
Which sounds exactly what I’d like to be doing right about now.
My knuckles are white. My intestines have tied themselves up into a knot and are currently trying to escape through my throat. I’m two people away from my audition. Some people have sucked, like this kid, but most have been pretty good.
And me? I’ve never done this before. But if we’re going to base this on my high school endeavors to date, I’m placing my bets on the “suck” end of the spectrum.
I could just get up and leave. I should just get up and leave.
But that would be admitting defeat. To Mom, to Vicky. To myself.
This was my last great idea. I’m out of options.
I take a deep breath. I can do this. I love plays. Especially Shakespeare. Especially Hamlet.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #11

TITLE: A Complex Solution
GENRE: YA Contemporary - Romantic Suspense

Lonely teen who cuts herself learns her dead parents secretly solved a famous math theorem. She must curb her addiction if she’s to find their research before her stalker does and preserve her parents’ legacy.

     The voices died away as the doors thudded shut. I glanced down the empty, unfamiliar school hallway, my pulse racing. My head spun as I shuffled along the tiled floor. I needed to do this. Quickly. I slipped a hand inside my jeans pocket and pushed open the girls’ bathroom door with the other. My heart stopped.
    Two girls leaned over the sinks. “Shouldn’t you be in class?” asked one of the girls, touching up her mascara. She turned and looked me up and down. “You must be new here,” she said, before screwing up her face. “Geesh, how tall are you, like, six feet?”
     I froze, clutching the penknife in my pocket, and glanced away.
     “C’mon, Jess, let’s go,” said the girl’s friend, smacking her freshly glossed lips together.
     They whirled around and headed out the door, their laughter echoing down the hallway.
     I tucked into the last stall and shut the door. Tears leaked out of my eyes. Just one cut. Enough to silence the pain inside. It was worse here than home, all the stares and whispers. I couldn’t even make it to first period.    
     Yanking my sleeve up, I drew the knife out, looking for a fresh square of skin. I pushed the blade in and dragged it through. My heart raced as the blood bubbled out, streaming down my arm. I gritted my teeth and felt the tears wet on my cheeks. The pain was like fire in my veins. But it felt wonderful.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #10

TITLE: The Sky Will Fall

Elysium meets Resident Evil as Bree and Kennon must work together to defeat a power-hungry mad scientist from the exceedingly advanced Sky Cities before his venomous mutants ravage what remains of humanity on Ground Level and destroy the few things left to love in a forgotten world.

 Moon and stars, I needed to get out of the stupid Bio Sector before I palm-heel-striked the next person who asked me to slow down. I marched through the maze of wide corridors toward my dorm room, feeling like the proverbial mouse as the white-scape walls pressed in on me.

“Bryony,” a voice called from behind and I paused, cringing at my given name.

Only one person could pull off such loathing and condescension into a falsely sweet, childlike voice: Patron Alice. I forced my shoulders down from where they’d begun to creep near my ears and turned. My features settled into the familiar blank I reserved for the Patron Mothers.

“Yes?” My toneless voice conveyed none of my inner rage. I would not give them that. Not today.
Patron Alice’s slate-gray eyes appeared buggy in her full face. She clasped her chubby hands together under her ample chest like some proper lady in novels I’d scanned. Her narrow shoulders were nearly nonexistent under the layers of skin fed by bon-bons she stashed in her personal cooling unit.
Everything about her was very…round.

“I do believe you are going the wrong way.”

She sniffed, tilting her head back a notch so she appeared to be looking down at me, though we stood eye-to-eye. Her starched-into-submission smock crinkled with every movement, pleading for some give. A single, thin eyebrow curved up toward the dishwater bangs cut too short for her face as she glanced at my feet. No doubt they straddled the red line, designed to keep all the campers in their proper lanes, bisecting the pristine marble floor.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #9

TITLE: Knights and Daes
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Tragedy is the reason Jaycie’s name is famous. Her brothers died from being struck by lightning - the first in 50 years. But she uncovers a letter that tells a different story. During the reign of hoverboards and a game of lightning, Jaycie unravels a century-old family conspiracy that changes everything.

Most nights it rains. Others, it storms. Those are the nights the games begin. Those nights the darkness is alive with laughter, lightning, and canons of thunder. Tonight there is only silence in the absence of rain on the rooftops or the soft hum of hoverboards. The stars and the moon shine like beacons in the darkness, beckoning me out into the stillness of the night. It’s nights like this I can still smell the bloodred roses in my hair, feel the spring breeze in my face, and hear summer chimes in the distance.

I slip my feet into a pair of shoes, pull my gray sweatshirt over my head, tug a black face mask over my mouth, and move to the window. Through the glossy windowpane I can see a thin fog blowing through the yard, seeping in and out of the forest trees like spirits. The window whines as I carefully slide it open and punch out the screen, trying not to wake anyone. I duck through the windowsill and climb onto the roof of the porch. With one deep breath, I slip off the edge, the grass squishing under my feet when I land. I take, one, two, three steps and run, heading straight for the woods.

The wet air lingers on my reddened face as I duck under low tree branches and leap over fallen logs. Still, my mind is full of nonsense, almost as infuriating as the hum of hoverboards in the middle of the night. The trees thin and I enter the clearing, approaching the ancient, thick-barked tree. A drop of water slips down my neck as I reach into my sweatshirt pocket and wrap my fingers around the stems of flowers.

Under the starlit sky, I lay the white carnations beside their names and run.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #8

TITLE: The Truth about Justyce
GENRE: YA Realistic/Crossover

Cassie Thompson skips town on her eighteenth birthday to escape a scandal, changing her name to Justyce. But an accident, a musician with his own troubled past, and a pattern of behavior that leads to disaster, causes her to rethink her old, and new, life.

I spit out the first glob of the god-awful cereal. Not only is it crap, it hurts like hell to chew. It’d be just my luck to survive the accident only to die of starvation.

Everything hurts. Trying to move, even a twitch, about kills me. Lift my head from the pillow just a tad and my head pounds like my worst hangover. Trying to talk is a bitch, too. So I just lie here in a dream-like state, wondering what’s next on my big agenda.

Doc and these nurses keep telling me I’m lucky to be alive. Considering my life so far, that’s not such a prize.

That said, it’s not all bad being in a hospital. It’s not like I have any place else I need to be. I hurt—hell yeah, I hurt—but most of me doesn’t much care. Anytime I have the slightest discomfort, they give me these chill pills. I just may plot to extend my stay here at “Club Med.”

When they told me how I got here, it took me awhile to process it all. Everything’s pretty foggy. I know I’m in this hospital far from where I used to call home, but that’s about it. I feel like I’m in an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” that old TV show Dad used to watch reruns of. They say I’ve been here for days, the first two are blanks since I was in a coma. But little by little, things are coming back.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #7

GENRE: YA Magical Realism

Ma’s dead. The burning nightmare’s back. Weird creatures stalk Thea at night. And now a guy emerges from her rowan tree. Is he her protector from the Shee that hunted her? Or will Thea end by saving him?

            Ma always closed Thea’s bedroom window at night. But on the night Garrett proposed to her, Ma forgot.

            Thea was eight then and lay awake on her bed. Her room faced the Wisconsin lake at the bottom of the big yard behind the house. Water lapped against its ragged shore. Night herons cackled. Northern pike coiled through submerged tree roots and rose to the lake’s surface with heavy plops. The cool April wind blew a mineral-y, fishy scent through the second-story window. Occasional soft laughs punctuated the murmur of Ma and Garrett’s conversation downstairs. Thea’s eyelids drooped.

            Trees groaned outside as the wind picked up. Half asleep, Thea imagined the wind blew along a companion. Something—or someone?—Other.

She stiffened. Deep inside, she sensed Other descend from a lakeshore tree. Her skin crêped with fear as Other winged across the lawn, up the wall of the house, and into her room. Other settled on the quilt Ma had made, a darker shadow in the darkness of Thea’s room.

It sang a snatch of mocking song. Thea strained to catch the words but couldn’t make them out. The tune stole inside her, made her whimper. Her legs thrashed beneath the quilt. The bed creaked. Her hands flew up to guard against—

            Hot fingers touched her neck. The mocking tune, a hint of laughter. Two words—her name. “Thea. Thea.” The smell of rotten eggs. Something crackled. Smoke. Pain.

            The meaty odor of burning flesh—Thea’s flesh.

            She began to scream.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #6

GENRE: YA Adventure

Top spy for Queen Victoria must stop evil Lord Wilford from sending the ruler back in his time machine to change history in his favor; to succeed, sixteen-year-old Nicola must survive his bomb squad.

August 4, 1878
Number 7, Arlington Road
London, England

Dear Miss Nicola Blake,
Please arrive at the above address at precisely 2 p.m, September 4th for your orientation meeting.
Miss Emma Peele
Miss Peele’s Finishing School

As the driver of my hansom cab pulled up to Miss Peele’s School, I swallowed hard. This was my last chance. I couldn’t afford any more disasters.

A quick glance out the window at the fog and misty air made my heart sink that I’d left
our beautiful home in Devon where the flower garden smelled sweet and quiet filled the sun-warmed air.

Here, in this immense and smelly city, overpowering odors of smoke and animal waste assaulted me, and noisy hansom cabs appeared to come out of nowhere, barely turning fast enough to avoid smashing into each other.

This was not where I chose to be, but here I was, breathless and faint from too much travel. After a rousing ride that nearly left me on the floor of my filthy cab, I stepped down onto the street with as much grace as I could muster.

Ahead, the stone fortress waited. The huge metal door to the school looked impenetrable by anything but a canon.

“You can do this, Nicola.” I whispered the words and started toward the entrance of my new school.
To top off the strangeness of this city, a deep and convincing male voice startled me.“There is nothing more deceptive than the obvious fact,” he said.

“What?” I turned to look in the direction of the sound, but saw no one.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #5

TITLE: One Thousand Stars That Bind
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction / Fairytale Retelling

A YA gender-bent and steampunk'd ALADDIN set during the 1989 fall of the infamous dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and with him, communism in Romania. Street-rat Alina finds a rusty (but magical) oil lamp and crosses paths with the runaway Prince Iulian, igniting a love greater than social class and oppression.

Sometimes I have to catch myself, as if I haven't been breathing for who knows how long. Now’s one of those moments. I fill my lungs as if they’ve been deprived of oxygen all day.


It’s between each breath it’s easy to do the things I’m least proud of. Or most proud of. I guess it depends on your perspective, with your perspective molded by how many years you’ve spent on the streets.

And I’ve lost count.

I look down. It’s in my hands, swaddled in muslin and still warm, like a baby. I’m holding onto it as if it were one, too. Precious. Delicate. The cozonac loaf, sweet and filled with poppy seeds, should keep me alive and full for the remainder of the day. But that’s just today. That’s if I don’t share, which I always do.

And that’s all if I don’t get caught.

The loud and harsh tongues screaming from behind tell me it’s not my lucky day. I suck in as much air as my lungs can manage, and then a little more after that. With my wild mane of brown, unpredictable curls corralled to one side, I pull the large cowl hood up and over my head, cloaking my figure, becoming a silhouette. A shadow. My skin is dark enough alone to disguise me and I melt into the growing darkness as the day’s eve approaches.

Unfortunately, this time I’m not sure it’ll be enough. They’re still on my tail. And gaining.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #4

TITLE: Designs of Euphoria
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

When seventeen-year-old Lottie discovers her first love is a genetically modified warrior loyal to a supercomputer, the only thing worse is the reason why.

I looked behind, barely able to see Dad buried between the sacks, hoping against hope that he’d stay there. Grains of sand whipped around us, scattering as we neared West Gate. A slow ache rippled through my shoulder blades as I turned back around. Everything hurt, everything always hurt, by the time we got to the gate. Even my hair hurt. I tugged at its knot, letting the tangled mess fall to my shoulders.

A ding on the transport’s front display called, igniting a faint orange glow. They identified us. Up ahead, the warriors stood erect with their backs against the chiseled stone, looking as greyed and weathered as the wall they guarded, but also as proud. Cursing myself for not moving sooner, I slammed the text closed and jumped from the makeshift perch. A hollow slip ran between the transport’s interior wall and flat deck. Two quick bangs and the rusty casing opened enough for me to hide the book inside. A good kick and it closed.

As we neared the gate, the darkened silhouettes shifted, drawing electrified braided spears outward. Black synthetic leathers ran smoothly over their bodies, layered on top of the concealed source of their inhuman strength: exogear. More warriors watched from the top of the warded wall, hidden from view and lost in the depths of the sky.

Either the automatic alert or my frantic scurry woke Dad. He wrestled a bit as he made his way to the front of the transport, reeking from...

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #3

TITLE: The Wicked and the Wild
GENRE: YA Romance

Fourteen-year-old Meagan Bubky considers adolescence to be survival of the wickedest and spends her time comparing humans to their counterparts in the wild. When Meagan is forced into yet another new school, she becomes the target of the most dangerous predator she has ever encountered, a jealous teenage girl.  

The first day of school is always a tragic event in my life. The only thing worse is the first day of a new school and today that was my fate. In fact, this would be the fourth new school that I had the pleasure of enrolling in this school year. I deserve some sort of VIP status for my continued patronage of the public school system. If there were such a program, surely I would have earned a notebook, or at the very least, a pencil case by now. But no, all I had to show for my loyalty was a thicker than usual academic file and lower than usual self-esteem. I would prefer the pencil case.

  The problem did not lie solely with my academic abilities. I was actually a pretty decent student. I'd even had the word gifted used once in the same sentence with my name. Some other adjectives were also in that sentence but gifted was the only word I chose to keep.

   No, the problem was a man; a very specific man by the name of Arnie Kramer. Arnie Kramer had decided to leave my mother, Valerie Bumbky, two weeks prior, and like every other man who left my mother, he did it with a total lack of imagination.

 “I’m going out for a cigarette.”

 “I’m going out for a cigarette.” Six little words that I would be asked to repeat a thousand times over the course of the next fourteen days.

“Did he say a cigarette or cigarettes? Was he going to buy a pack or stepping out front to smoke one? Come one, Meagan! Remember, for God sake! It’s very important!!” Valerie shouted at me, holding my face inches from hers.

It wasn’t important. It was the least important part of the equation.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #2

GENRE: YA Contemporary

An old friend’s suicide attempt forces seventeen-year-old Karina to confront the guilt and grief she buried after her older sister committed suicide almost two years earlier. Told in alternating reverse timelines.

I get the text on Monday night, in the locker room at the Y. My phone chirps in my pocket, but I don’t pull it out. My parents would assume I’m either in the pool or on the road, and none of my friends bother to contact me anymore. I towel off my hair, then stuff my things into my bag. It isn’t until I’m trudging out the door, the last one to leave (as always), that I slide my phone out of my pocket. I don’t recognize the number, but the message makes me trip:

at pearl st bridge. its over

A dozen explanations race through my head—a car died, a race ended, someone just had a baby on the side of the road—but the only one that sticks is also the only explanation I can’t think out loud.
I flick back to the number and remind myself to breathe. The digits gleam in the dim light, but I still can’t place them. The number isn’t in my contacts, and the sender didn’t sign it.

Whoever sent this text didn’t mean to send it to me.

At least that’s what I tell myself as I half jog, half stumble across the parking lot to Lily’s car—my car—the car she left behind. For the first time since I inherited it, I have a hard time getting the key into the lock.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #1

GENRE: YA Historical

In 1984, the son of a marijuana cultivator falls in love with the daughter of the local sheriff who vows to eradicate the illegal marijuana trade.  The sheriff will do anything to stop the young love including breaking the laws he swore to uphold.  Romeo and Juliet retelling. 

Before my machete cuts into the stalk of the marijuana plant, the leaves shake.  My immediate thought is an earthquake; something on the lower spectrum of the Richter scale,  Maybe 3.5 or 3.6, just enough to cause a low rumble that vibrates the ground.  Then it hits me and it’s too late. 

Descending on our property is a convoy of white and green patrol cars, their lights flashing.  They speed towards us not giving me much time.  I should have known this was coming; the signs were there, the presence of the Blackhawk helicopters flying low to the ground over the past week, but during harvest season, there are more helicopters in the sky than birds.

“Run.” I drop my machete and race into the redwood forest with my cousin Benny one-step behind me.  The Mexican workers rattle off in Spanish before they scatter like a flock of geese being chased by a dog.

I want to run to the house, warn dad, but I don’t have time.  Dad always talked about this day coming, he knows the risk involved in a million dollar a year marijuana business.  

Taking shelter in a magnolia bush, I slow my breathing as to not give away my whereabouts.  Benny climbs an oak tree, hiding amongst the branches and leaves.

“Come out and act like a man,” Tyson says.  I don’t know Tyson but know of him.  His tan shirt, which he more than likely used a half bottle of starch, appears unyielding.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Call For Submissions: YA, It's Your Turn!

Earlier this year, we held Are You Hooked? rounds for Middle Grade and Adult novels.  For a final hurrah this year, I give you -- Are You Hooked? for Young Adult!

If you write anything YA -- any genre -- this round is for you!  (If you write middle grade or adult fiction, this round is not for you.)

Submission guidelines:

  • The submission window will be open from 3:00 PM EDT today until 3:00 PM EDT tomorrow.
  • Submit a 50-words-or-less LOGLINE and the first 250 words of your manuscript.
  • The bot will accept 25 entries (this is not a lottery).
  • (If for some reason response is bigger, I'll open a few more slots.)
  • Your excerpts will post on WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14.
  • YOUNG ADULT FICTION ONLY!  If you enter anything else, it will be disqualified.
  • Enter HERE.
Questions below!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Hello, dear ones!

So, I'm in the midst of a second round of revisions of my current YA fantasy, after having sent it out to beta readers and my wonderful agent (have I gushed about her lately?) and gotten a good feel for what needs to be fixed.  The good news?  There isn't a lot of heavy lifting involved, and I'm beyond thrilled that, at only a draft-two level, Danielle found my structure solid and the story in overall good shape.

Hmm.  Maybe I've learned a thing or two about writing novels over the past few years??

At any rate, I'm thrilled to be moving forward with this story.

My new experience this go-around was asking a local, I-know-you-in-person person to read for me.  (Well, okay--I've had local people read before.  But they've all been family members.  Which, as you know, isn't quite the same.)  A lovely gal in my ballet classes spent some time as a freelance editor, and she aspires to return to the editing world at some point.  She's also an avid reader (of course), so I felt like she would have a sharp eye and wouldn't be afraid to say things that needed to be said.  And she was delighted when I asked her to read my story.

She had some good insights, but mostly she was highly complimentary.  Loved the novel.  Talked about how, when she was working as an editor, so much bad writing crossed her desk.  So, sure, that felt good, but also I trusted the things she had to say about the story because I knew she had experience reading critically.

We had our discussion about the book via email, but last night after class, she proceeded to gush about my novel in front of another of my ballet friends, whom we'll call Kelly.  Later, as I was dropping Kelly off at home, she asked me if she could also read my book.

"I've done that before for people," Kelly said, "and I would really love to read your story."

Ugh.  That's when things get messy.

I know Kelly's "done that before", because, about a year ago, she went on and on about a book a friend of hers had published, and how it was so very good, and how I should read it.  So of course I looked up the book, and read the first page or two.  And it was terribly overwritten and I knew I could never sit through the whole book.

That doesn't mean it wasn't a good story.  And it doesn't lessen Kelly's enjoyment of it--this stuff is so very subjective.  It does, however, lessen the value of Kelly's input.  I am almost one hundred percent certain that, if I handed her my book, she would read it, love it, and proceed to tell me how wonderful it was.  She might actually have an opinion or two about something she thought I might want to change, but the opinions wouldn't be based on anything useful from a structural standpoint.

I would call this a "vanity read".  Sure, the person's opinion is valid--we are all entitled to our opinions.  But this is not the kind of read that will be in any way useful to us, despite the obvious ego strokes.

So I said to Kelly--ever so gently--that I was finished with this round (which is true), so I didn't need any more readers at this time.  She proceeded to tell me, as I knew she would, that she would be happy to read it at any time.

I thanked her.  Sincerely.  Between you and me?  I probably won't ask her to read it.  But I do appreciate her offer, and her desire to support me this way.  Because, yes, she is a supportive friend, and we all know how important that is.

But the truth is that handing out our stories to every friend who offers to read it isn't necessarily the best strategy.  A handful of beta readers who are going to read with a keen eye to the things we need feedback on -- story arc, character development, world building -- is what we need to propel us to the next level of revisions.  What we don't need is a sycophantic gaggle of friends ready to shower us with praise.

(And, hey.  Those are the friends who need to buy our book--or request it from their local libraries--once it's published, yes?)

So, dear fellow writers-in-the-trenches -- choose your readers well!  Ideally, you want other writers to read your work (and you will read theirs in return), but it's also valuable to find people who may offer a particular insight.  For instance, my current novel is set in a world that is based on ancient, dynastic China, so I've asked a Chinese friend to read it for me.  So far, so good -- she emailed me after she'd read the first three chapters to tell me that she was in tears because of how something in my story so deeply reflected her own personal experience as a Chinese daughter.  Talk about affirming--for both of us!

It's tempting to hand our story to people we know (or at least hope) will fawn over it, but in the end, that's not going to help us grow as writers.  Of course, it's always okay to give it to your mom or your sister or your husband, because, yes, a little bit of unconditional love goes a long way.  It feels good to share the fruit of our labors with people who are important in us, and who are invested in us.  But in the end, we need to be far more discerning in our choice of beta readers and critique partners.

Ever growing, ever learning, ever pushing ourselves to the next level.  That's what it's all about.  Now go share your story with someone you're pretty sure will pick it apart.  Be brave!  It's amazing how much better our stories become once they've been subjected to the critique of folks who aren't doing it to soothe our feelings.

And now, I'm off to Christmas shop, and then come back home to slip into fuzzy socks and -- what else? -- work on revisions.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Our First ON THE BLOCK 2016 Success Story!!

This may just be our FASTEST SUCCESS STORY EVER!  Within days of the auction, Rena Rossner let me know that she had offered representation to the author of the first full she'd read from her auction winnings.  Shortly after that, the author accepted.  I'm happy to share her story, in her own words: 

So I have this little book, a lighthearted romantic mystery about a struggling actress and above-average dog walker who has inherited a police dog with a nose for crime. She's kind of ridiculous, and she has a major luck problem—which is how I could describe myself. No surprise then that I felt daunted at the prospect of looking for a literary agent.

Before I began my search, I belonged to a Facebook group of authors who were in the midst of querying, and the tales of spreadsheets, rejections, R&Rs, or the dreaded silence made the prospect seem bleak at best, muse-killing at worst. But the fact is, there are a lot of manuscripts out there and a finite number of agents. And each of those agents represents perhaps a few genres, and then, within those genres, he or she has preferences, wish lists, and an existing stable of authors with work that shouldn't be cannibalized by something similar. I'm sure many agents dread their inboxes full of queries that miss the mark. As writers, it's our responsibility to get to know as much about each agent we query as possible to increase our chances of a good fit.

Luckily, the Internet and social media now offer some fun and efficient ways for agents and writers to match up. At Miss Snark’s First Victim, the hardworking Authoress provides a super-supportive critique forum and runs a number of very successful competitions where writers and agents can meet. The one I took part in was On the Block 2016, which was an agent auction. I entered it on a whim, not having entered anything like it before, and then as the selection date approached, I readied myself to hear nothing. But then I got an email! I was number thirteen. Lucky number thirteen.

During the week that my excerpt was posted, I was bowled over by the generous and encouraging comments and helpful feedback that I received from Authoress’s writing community. I started to get my hopes up. My husband noticed that I had started to vibrate (kidding!).

When my auction time arrived, I was touched to learn that my sister and my friend Lynne were watching with me. Rena Rossner from The Deborah Harris Agency and Danielle Burby from Hannigan Salky Getzler—both amazing agents who I’d be lucky to have represent me—bid with so much enthusiasm that it was all over in four minutes! I was in shock. I think I shrieked. Rena Rossner had won a one-week exclusive with my full manuscript.

And then I waited. It was an exciting time. I lost a few pounds because my body was whirring as if I had a hamster wheel inside me. My husband started to speculate about whether I might explode if I was offered representation. The final day of the exclusive, I woke up to an email from Rena saying she’d finished my book in two sittings. She was offering me representation! Then my husband had to inform me that I was slapping his arm and he was now awake and I could stop.

Later that day, Rena and I talked on the phone for about an hour. I was impressed with her experience and industry knowledge. And she was so friendly and easy to speak to that I was immediately put at ease, which I feel is important when you’re working with someone on a creative endeavor. We were already batting around ideas for my character’s arc across my planned series. I could tell we were a good fit. And I was very encouraged by her thoughts on the different ways my book might fit in the marketplace. Rena also represents sectors and genres I have an interest in writing in at a later date (middle grade and speculative fiction), so in that respect, she was also a great fit for me.  I’m still pinching myself! I couldn’t be happier to be represented by Rena Rossner and The Deborah Harris Agency. And I haven’t exploded—yet!

Thank you, Authoress, for all you do to help aspiring writers to improve, find community, and match with agents. Your hard work is very much appreciated.

—Maggie Findlay

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

An MSFV Success Story UPDATE

Author Susan Mann boasted a win during the 2014 BAKER'S DOZEN Auction, signing with Rena Rossner and finding her "happily ever after".  (The original post is HERE.)

I'm happy to share this update from her.  Enjoy!

I was fortunate to be chosen as one of the entries for Authoress’s Baker’s Dozen contest in November of 2014. Two agents bid on my contemporary romance about a librarian who gets mixed up with a spy. The fabulous Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency won the full manuscript. Within a week of sending it to her, she e-mailed me to say she loved it and wanted to represent me. I was thrilled and dumbfounded.

I accepted Rena’s offer and after several rounds of editing, she submitted the manuscript to editors in April of 2015. Over the course of the next few months, we received some very nice rejections.

Fast forward to October 2015. I flew to California to visit my parents for a few days. During the two-hour flight, I was incommunicado for the first time in six months.

The plane landed, I switched my phone off of airplane mode, and it was immediately under assault. I had an e-mail, texts, DM’s, missed calls, and a voicemail, all from Rena. I nearly dropped my phone as I tried to deplane, listen to the voicemail, and read the DMs all at the same time. I found a place to sit in the terminal and was about to call Rena when my phone rang. She’d decided to give it one more try before she went to bed. (She lives in Jerusalem, so time difference.)

We’d gotten an offer. And it was for print and e-book! I was floored and ecstatic and stunned. The next step was to let the editors she hadn’t heard back from yet know we’d received an offer. She gave them a deadline to get back to us if they were interested.

I did the only thing I could do. I celebrated with a Double-Double and fries at the In-N-Out ten minutes from the airport.

I had a lovely visit with my parents and drove the 90 minutes back to the airport a few days later. In the time I couldn’t look at my phone—yup, you guess it—we received a second offer. (I will always have warm feelings toward that particular airport.)

Over the course of the next week, Rena worked her magic and negotiated a marvelous three-book deal with Kensington Publishing under their Zebra Shout imprint. It’s a privilege to work with my wonderful editor, Esi Sogah. The first book, The Librarian and the Spy, will release on April 25, 2017. Books 2 and 3 of The Librarian and the Spy series will follow.

It has been an incredible journey so far and I look forward to when my novels are out in the world. I’m forever grateful for the time, energy, expertise, and passion Authoress invests in the contests she runs. We, as a community of aspiring writers, are blessed to have her championing us.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Fricassee

So we've wrapped up another ON THE BLOCK auction, and it was fabulous to see so much enthusiasm from the bidding agents.  Hooray EVERYONE!

I promised to give out a free 10-page critique, to be chosen from among the commenters on our 20 ON THE BLOCK entries.  I'll be scheduling time to do that this weekend (counting/numbering comments while excluding those of editors and published authors is a bit...daunting), and I'll announce the winner next week.

For those of you who are new around these here parts:  I run a small editorial business called AUTHORESS EDITS (see the link on my side bar).  I offer:
  • 30-page critiques for $95
  • 3-page critiques for $18 (to see if your opening is working)
  • Premiere Critiques (guaranteed 1-week turnaround) for $260 (I only offer these once a month or so, as I find time, so keep your eye out for these announcements.)
  • Occasionally, I will agree to a full manuscript critique, but this is on a per-project basis, and I am fairly selective.  These are priced per page.
If have any questions about any of the above, or would like to hire me to edit your work, please email me at authoress.edit(at)

We're heading into Thanksgiving week (and my sister and her family made a last-minute decision to come join us -- yay!), but I'm planning on squeezing in another in-house critique round before Christmas, so stay tuned.

Thanks for being the wonderful, supportive community you are.  I can't tell you how often in my life I mention to folks-on-the-outside (literary muggles) how incredible the writing community is.  Support, solidarity, empathy, and good will--these are the hallmarks, and it's like a big safety net that catches us when we need it to.

Write on!  Keep sharing that which is uniquely YOU with the world.  I'm honored to be part of the wonderful melting pot that makes us US.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Our ON THE BLOCK 2016 Winners

Thank you, agents, authors, editors, and EVERYONE who participated in this year's ON THE BLOCK.  Here is the list of final, winning bids:

#1 BUGSY’S MOLL: Josh Getzler, 25 p
#3 BREATHING IN DARKNESS: Nicole Payne, 20 p
#4 NOW AND WHEN: Nicole Payne, FULL
#5 THE FIX IS IN: Josh Getzler, 25 p
#6 KYTE’S REVENGE: Hannah Ferguson, FULL
#7 HERITAGE OF HATE: Lauren Spieller, FULL
#11 EVEN: Pam Howell, FULL
#12 SIGNAL VOID: Nicole Payne, 20 p
#13 STICKS AND BONES: Rena Rossner, FULL
#15 THIRD TIME’S A CURSE: Danielle Burby, FULL
#16 THE ANTIDOTE: Rena Rossner, 50 p
#17 DANGEROUS PLAY: Nicole Payne, FULL
#18 UNDERCURRENTS: Caryn Wiseman, 5 p
#19 THE ZEAL: Susan Hawk, 5 p


Please email me at facelesswords(at) to request specific submission instructions.  Please include your NAME, POST NUMBER, TITLE, and WHAT YOU WON in the body of the email (which will save me vast amounts of time).

ALSO IMPORTANT:  The agent who won your material will have a 1-week exclusive.  After that, ANY OTHER AGENT may request your material.  So if you saw agents fighting over your work, PLEASE DON'T CONTACT THE LOSING AGENTS.  If they are interested (and they probably are), you will hear from me next week!

Hooray, all!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


GENRE: YA Fantasy

In WEBS OF GHOST MAGIC, a princess of Glenwys reaches across two kingdoms to save a prince of Emlyn from a Cadmarian assassin, but saving him reveals her as the dreamer Emperor Cadmar sent his ghost mage to find. And the prince can’t let a dreamer live.

Prince Lael caught his first whiff of murder three weeks before his seventeenth birthday. No one committed murder in the Kingdom of Emlyn.

Lael and his champion were on their way back from the Southern Markets when Lael smelled the corpse. Lael swung down from his horse to investigate—not from any real sense of concern or urgency but because his backside needed a break. They’d spent a lot of time in the saddle over the last few days, setting a much needed renovation in motion. Kellen protested the detour at first, but then he dismounted to follow.

Deep snow grabbed at Lael’s boots, nearly yanking them off with each step he took. Sun shining on the vast expanse of white made him squint to protect his eyes.

Which direction had the wind blown that smell from?

There. A patch of brown splotched the white to his left, not far from a tall pine tree. Lael veered toward it. Wavy brown hair covered most of the bloated face. A girl. She lay stretched out on her side, arms flung wide. Up close, the stench made him hold his breath. It was difficult to tell her age, but she looked younger than he was. Horrified, he reached for the knife handle protruding from her shoulder.

“Don’t touch that,” Kellen said, investigating the surrounding area. “It isn’t safe this close to the border, my prince. We should go.”

“But we aren’t that close to the border, Kel, and this little knife shouldn’t have killed her.”

OTB #19: THE ZEAL (MG Historical)

TITLE: The Zeal
GENRE: MG Historical Fiction

12-year-old Beryl O’Brien moves from North Carolina to South Boston during the busing desegregation crisis of 1974. She gets involved in the violence, but when the family secret of her being biracial is revealed, Beryl must negotiate being loyal to friends, her school, and an entire community or being true to herself.

September 12, 1974
Boston, Massachusetts

I step in front of the line of shouting protestors and hurl the rock as hard as I can at the yellow school bus. Because I don’t have a dad to teach me to throw, and the only thing Mom and I have thrown are insults at the church ladies back in North Carolina, I expect the rock to miss my target and bounce on the street, the pavement chipping its sharp edges. But the rock has white stripes that go all the way around it, and Mom says that makes a rock as lucky as a four-leaf clover.

Bam! My lucky rock shatters a window on the bus. Police officers in the street look toward the crowd, but I’ve already slipped back between the rows of demonstrators.

A girl inside the bus puts her hands to her face. Fragments of sparkling glass in her puff of black hair catch the morning sun like a tiara of small diamonds. She opens her mouth in the shape of a scream and holds her hands to her face, then turns and looks down and disappears below the window.

The yelling drowns out any sounds from inside the bus. I didn’t hurt her. There’s an ambulance, nearby with its siren blaring, but it’s for someone else. Maybe I wouldn’t have cared if I did hurt her. They should all go back to their own junior high school, in their own neighborhood.


TITLE: Undercurrents
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

In a world when water is more precious than oil, fifteen year-old Marin Holbert takes a summer job to earn more water rations for her family; there she inadvertently uncovers a plot to take over water resources across the country and must find a way stop it.            

The water level in the cistern was low. Too low. And no amount of checking the gauge ever changed that, or the fact that I hadn't had a real shower or done a proper load of laundry in months. Despite myself, I stared at the gauge anyway.

Grandma caught me. "A watched cistern never fills, Marin" she warned.

It never seemed to fill, watched or not, I thought.

“Did you know that when I was a girl it rained every afternoon at this time of year?” Grandma asked. I wasn’t meant to answer. Grandma herself was like a fountain that just kept spouting stories and recycling them. She continued, “Not that it mattered – we washed our clothes or took a shower any time we wanted.”

I glanced over at her on the couch. I loved my grandma. I really did. But if she hadn’t moved in with us last spring, I might have had a better chance at more than just clean underwear. I sometimes wished she would’ve just stayed put in Tucson, even though no one was staying put in Tucson. Or anywhere in Arizona. Or Nevada. Or Texas. Yet that was beside the point. I didn’t need Grandma’s fountain of stories. I needed real water.

“Sounds nice, Grandma,” I answered.

She put her ancient book, one actually made of paper, on her lap. “It was,” she said, her eyes not looking at me anymore, but inside her memory to a time when water just flowed and nobody thought much about it. Her dreams were probably decadent.

OTB #17: DANGEROUS PLAY (YA Contemporary)

GENRE: YA Contemporary

Best friends and soccer all-stars Ashton, Jesse, and Z are on opposite sides of a prank text that spirals into a vicious social war and escalates to serious injury. When a common rival pits them against each other, threatening to destroy their friendship and futures, they must take him down—together.

I’ve been pantsed. Again.

And I wouldn’t be so annoyed if this wasn’t the third time today. Or if I wasn’t standing in the middle of Hollister. With Hot Register Girl. In Batman boxers.

I hate my friends.

Hot Register Girl blushes as I pull up my shorts. “Sorry about that.” I scratch my nose with my middle finger at my friends. Z’s holding up a turquoise shirt that reads If you’re hot, I’m single. “This goes great with Ashton’s boxers, yeah?” he asks.

Yep. I hate them.

“You play for Penn Ridge, right?” Hot Register Girl points a pen at Z. He waggles his eyebrows, charm oozing off of him like cologne off a Hollister model. “Your friend scored a hat trick on my ex three weeks ago. He was totally pissed.”

“So is he,” I say. Her brow scrunches. “Tonight’s the midnight release of Urgent Fury Five. We’re hitting up GameStop and heading to my buddy’s for a shoot-em-up Zombie fest. He’s ticked I asked you out. Bros before hos, and all.”

Z’s words, but did I seriously say that aloud? I want to sucker punch my own nuts. No wonder I’ve never had a girlfriend.

I’m ready to bail when she tuts. “Movie’s out by then. I’m done at nine. Meet me here?”

“Sure.” I fumble for my phone. My next question’s bound to be a date-killer. “What’s your name again? I was too mesmerized by your beauty to concentrate.”

would be proud of that one.

OTB #16: THE ANTIDOTE (MG Fantasy)

TITLE: The Antidote
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Lonely 12 year old Adam Revelstoke can see disease, and comes to accept, even revel in, this family “gift” while he reluctantly battles ILL, the ancient evil behind most maladies.

England, 1348

No one in this village was safe.

A woman sat weeping, a still man laid out on the bed beside her.  His fingertips were black, rotted away.  Blood crusted at the side of his mouth.  An hour before he’d been coughing, hacking, rust-tinged sputum filled his soiled handkerchief.  Now he was quiet.  An hour before, his breath had come heavy and harsh.  Now there was none.

Outside the cottage, in the churchyard at the end of the lane, a pit waited.  Shrouded bodies lined its bottom.  Soon the man would join them.

A hooded figure stood beside the pit, looking over the scene with satisfaction.  One of his greatest creations.  Oh, he didn’t invent the plague, the rats, the fleas.  Yersinia pestis had been around for centuries.  But he improved upon it.  More deadly, easier to catch.  In a year, a third of this village would be dead.  In the pit.

*   *   * 

The Hot Dog Kid

Everyone loved pizza day.  Except for Adam.   

Kids crammed the middle school lunchroom, sitting ten or twelve to a table, jostling, laughing, joking.  All so easy, all so casual.
Someone bumped his elbow and his tray lurched.  Jack and another guy.  Adam caught his apple just before it rolled off.  He put it in his mouth to hold while he maneuvered his pizza back onto the paper plate.

“Nobody eats the apples, Revelstoke,” Jack said as he tossed his in the compost bin.

 “He likes eating wax,” the friend said, jabbing Jack in the arm and sniggering.

 Adam put his apple back on his tray and slunk to his usual table, uncrowded even today.

OTB #15: THIRD TIME'S A CURSE (YA Supernatural)

TITLE: Third Time's A Curse
GENRE: YA Supernatural

When fifteen-year-old competitive softball pitcher Tish Reilly and her friends investigate a haunted road, they uncover two bitter ghosts and a long buried secret. Tish must find a way to help the ghosts move on or they’ll all end up on the losing team of a deadly game; a game her mother started.

The old convertible swept out of town with a throaty purr. I sat next to Tony and tried to act nonchalant, like it was perfectly natural to be up front with him, while Sophia and Ethan were in the back seat, going out on a Friday night.

Not that this was a date or anything.

It had been Tony’s idea to skip the first football game of the season and drive down creepy Weary Lane, something different to do on the last Friday night of summer.

An orange moon rose above the trees and cast eerie shapes on the dark pavement. Tony shifted and the GTO lurched as it ground into gear. “Sorry, Tish,” he said, wincing. “Still getting used to this old shifter.”

Sophia never missed a chance to tweak her brother. “If they gave you a driver’s license, I shouldn’t have any trouble getting mine next year.”

I thought he was doing pretty well considering he’d only had the car for a week. He shifted into the next gear, a little more smoothly this time. One strong hand rested on the steering wheel, the other on the shifter.

Shadows partially hid his face, but there was enough light to see his square jaw, dark hair long enough to curl at the neck of his t-shirt, full lips, and . . .

He definitely wasn’t the scrawny kid who’d chased me with dead frogs when we were little.

OTB #14: THE PUSH (Upmarket)

TITLE: The Push
GENRE: Adult Upmarket

Cuckolded and laid off, a thirty-year-old guy with "dad body" transforms into an Olympic skeleton athlete, and may become the first competitor representing Mexico to win a medal at the Winter Games – never mind that he doesn’t speak Spanish, and grew up near the Canadian border.

Nobody believes this story I tell.  It’s not like there’s a Wikipedia entry for Eddie Martin.  I remain his only authorized biographer, though I’ve goddamn earned that right.

I think it’s best to start with Eddie’s eleven-year-old self.  The fall of 1983, two days before he made headlines in the U.S. and in Canada.  That moment found him sitting on the floor outside his bedroom, his knees to his chest.  Holding his breath.

It was that time in American history when tin vents could shepherd a conversation through a household, and the late-hour words of his foster mother reached him through a grate in the baseboard.  “But what am I supposed to do?” she said, her voice haunted from travel through the ductwork. “Drop them off at a fire station?”

To his knowledge, Mrs. Martin had no friends but she was talking with someone she knew.
“Yes, that’s a better idea.”  There’d been a pause for the inhalation of cigarette smoke.  “Yes, tomorrow, like we agreed. It will just be us.”

Thoughts of banishment twisted for Eddie’s attention, poking at his belly.  He was perfectly aware the Martins hadn’t made the short list for a parenting award, but he was fed and he was clothed.  There was one other foster kid at school, a boy with middle-aged eyes they called McPickle, who never deviated from long-sleeved outfits, even on hotter days.  One day the other boys held him down and sheared him of his shirt.  Later, much later in life, Eddie would place what he saw as cigarette burns.


TITLE: Sticks and Bones
GENRE: Mystery

Lucky Blackstock, struggling actress but above-average dog walker, inherits a police dog with a nose for crime. When Brock digs up a human bone, Lucky can’t seem to stop being a suspect. Unfortunately, her cool name did not come with luck included. Can Lucky’s acting skills unearth the real killer and clear her name?

I’m not lucky. My name is Lucky. Lucky Blackstock. It does have a cool ring to it, I’ll admit, but it’s not so cool when your life is an entertaining series of disasters. Entertaining for other people, that is. And who wants to be the poster child for irony?

I’ve been living in the guesthouse behind my famous friend’s starter mansion the past couple of years, trying to kick-start my acting career. I could wax philosophical about how I’m literally living in her shadow, but that would be self-indulgent, and I try not to go there more than once a day. I’m more of a get-on-with-it kind of girl.

You’re wondering about my friend. Yes, you’ve heard of her: the famous Winter White. Not her real name. When I met her in acting school, she was Wendy Butz. I was the one with the cool name.

Last night, Winter’s HBO series picked up Emmies for writing and directing, and this morning I found her lying on a well-shaded chaise lounge by the pool, clearly nursing a hangover as big as Alaska. I tiptoed across the terrace so I could let myself in to walk her dogs. Yep, that’s what I do. Four years at Juilliard, and I currently walk dogs and blow auditions for a living. I’m having an extended dry spell. Things’ll pick up.

Winter groaned, peeling a wet washcloth off her eyes. “Lucky. I think I’m dying.”

“Don’t die. Where will I live?”


TITLE: Signal Void
GENRE: YA Light Science Fiction

Kate Hirst falls off Grid hours before her parents are murdered. With every citizen Bio-chipped, The EYE suspects Kate. In an attempt to prove her innocence, Kate’s thrust into a seedy world of Junkers and Tag Dealers. Ironically, her only hope lies with Defiance, the rebellious group she fears responsible.

Fifteen missed calls.

Knowing my mother she’s been glued to her bit-map since I left, only breaking to call my holophone or pee. Guilt knots in my gut. I press my foot against the accelerator and speed through the quiet intersection where the bright advertisements and holoscreens of Metro City fade behind me.

An announcement bleeds through the radio prompting citizens to get their annual Biochip scans. Brushing my fingers against the back of my neck, I push the tag beneath my skin. At any time, my parents could have tracked my location but they didn’t. An uneasy sensation swells in the pit of my stomach. Why didn’t they?

A shiny billboard catches my attention. With the upcoming 25th anniversary of The EYE my father’s face is everywhere.  His illuminated image next to his partner, Dr. Vandegard, glares back at me from beneath the caption:

America-the safest place on earth! 

Who am I kidding? I’m so busted.

If my father had shown up to drag me home tonight, the media would annihilate him.  I can see the headlines now, Co-founder of our nation’s security provider and mastermind behind Biochip technology, traces daughter Kate Hirst via his own invention to an illegal underground bar. 

I pick up my speed, relieved the Police don’t patrol this side of town at night. Wasteside seems to keep them busy enough.

Besides, nothing bad ever happens in Hampton Heights.

The holographic image of my phone-log hovers above the dash. I should call home.

Instead, I swipe Sidney’s number.

OTB #11: UNEVEN (YA Contemporary)

GENRE: YA Contemporary

An elite gymnast turns her back on the sport after a trusted coach crosses the line. But when Hollie has the opportunity to join the decidedly un-elite team at her new high school, she might just fall in love with gymnastics all over again – and with a boy who has overcome struggles of his own.

What I’m feeling is perfectly normal.

Anxiety, excitement, apprehension, curiosity. According to Incoming: A Heads-Up Guide to Your First Day of High School, these are all natural emotions for a high school noob to experience. But it didn’t specify I would experience them all at once – which I am, though anxiety is the clear ringleader. I drag my palms across my stomach to dry them, not for the first time that morning.

Apart from that, things start to veer off-script. Like the fact that my introduction to public high school is about to kick off in the middle of my junior year.

I glance over at my mother, white-knuckling the steering wheel as she pulls into the drop-off line at North Puget High. It’s the only detail that gives her away. Her face is a brick wall – an expression she’s carried since I made the decision to quit my gymnastics career.

Career. A bizarre word, really, to use for an activity that most girls drop out of before they hit college. We’ve got eighteen years, maybe a few more, for those that are lucky enough to stave off career-ending injuries. Not to mention the cellulite and saddlebags, which spell impending doom in equal measure. Until that happens, every hour, every minute of training is precious. A gift. And a decision to leave the sport is not something that’s taken lightly.

So while my mom’s face might not show it, I know that her overriding emotion is disappointment.

OTB #10: TWO WOMEN AND A MAN (Women's Fiction)

GENRE: Adult Women's Fiction

When Robin’s adoring husband succumbs to drinking after his student’s death, he verbally attacks her, but doesn't remember the abuse. While Robin pieces together what the insults meant, she befriends a troubled 20-year-old, only to discover her husband and the woman have a history that may destroy her marriage.
Robin checked her phone again. 1:00 AM.

David should have been back by now. He hasn’t called. Hasn’t texted. She’d tried calling him but only got his voice mail. No response.

Winter’s twilight had been closing in when he’d driven off to deliver one of her homemade pizzas. Sienna, a freshman in his high school art class, was very sick.

“The chemo drip has stabilized her leukemia,” he’d told her, “but she’s wiped out, and they don’t know if she’ll recover. Her family is stricken.”

She wasn’t supposed to take a turn for the worse, Robin thought. Doesn’t chemo fix fifteen-year-olds nowadays?

Though none of this explained why her husband wasn’t home.

“Too invasive,” she’d told him when he suggested downloading the Find My Friends app to their iPhones. “Why would we ever need to track each other’s movements?”

Damn it. He was right, as usual.

She walked to the window and looked down the snow-covered street. Another six inches were expected in Fettle, a suburb of Pittsburgh, before morning.

David’s last text had come when the kids were still awake—Leo, coloring a paper mask he had brought home from preschool that morning and Pearl, having finished a drawing, looking up from her Percy Jackson book.

“When is Daddy going to be home?”

Robin read his text again: Going to miss kids’ bedtime. Group of students visiting Sienna. She’s unresponsive. Trying to comfort them. She clicked the phone’s home button and dropped her arm to her side.


TITLE: One Night with the Devil
GENRE: Adult Thriller

Intelligence Agent Sean York’s commitment to the protection of his country is unparalleled. But his world is turned upside down when he realizes the current threat his homeland faces hinges on the centuries-old fine print of his family’s will—and the true parentage of an elusive, innocent child.

Agent Sean York’s objective was clear. But the plan was thin.

He ordered his team to move out—exuding plenty of commando bravado. Usually it wasn’t an act. This time it was. Inwardly he was simply praying for a miracle. Kicking down doors was one thing, this would require more finesse—finesse he wasn’t sure he had.

He was to enter the west entrance of The Historic Grande Aston Theater at exactly eight thirty-two and take the back stairwell to the balcony-level private boxes. She would be in box seventeen, seat two. One minute before intermission he was to enter box seventeen, sit next to the girl, and in sixty seconds, convince her to leave with him—convince a nine year old girl to abandon everything she's ever known and leave the theater with a perfect stranger. And do it very quickly and quietly. Perfectly clear, not simple.
If she screamed or resisted, the scene would attract more attention than he and his team wanted to deal with. In and out. Quick and quiet. That was what they needed.
Given they’d confirmed her location only three hours ago, they’d devised a good plan. Good, not great.
Her handlers were from the Geshek government, but they had brought the child across the border into Candaria for reasons he still wasn’t sure of. He had reason to believe her life was in danger. And he was certain she knew things. A lot of things. Things he needed to know.

OTB #8: THE NETTLE SPINNER (YA Fairytale Retelling)

TITLE: The Nettle Spinner
GENRE: YA Fairytale Retelling

After the death of her mother, all Renelde wants is to provide for herself and her great-grandmother. But the Count Burchard's jealous attentions spur a rash oath, requiring Renelde to complete what seems an impossible task: spin cloth from nettles—or risk losing the man she truly loves.

“Ay, lamb, it’s time.”

I took the flaxen burial shroud from the wooden chest at the foot of my bed and clutched it to my chest. The spongy layer of crushed, fresh rushes lent a sweet fragrance from beneath my thin-soled shoes.

There were eight gathered in our little cottage, including great-grandmother Adela and me. Too many.
“Joan must have longed for death, even before she became ill,” said Mrs. Molke.

She hadn’t even tried to lower her voice.

“Hush.” Mrs. Bette chided softly and darted a glance in my direction. “Speak well of the dead or not at all.”

Mrs. Molke pursed her thin lips and turned away.

“Joan?” Great-grandmother Adela called from her bed in the adjoining room. “Joan! Come here!”

I handed the burial shroud to Mrs. Bette and hurried to Grandmama's side. “Mama can’t come right now,” I said in a hushed tone, fairly at wit’s end. I’d already told her three times that morning Mama had passed.

“You tell her to come, Renelde.” Grandma Adela insisted, her lips trembling.

I nodded and brought a wooden cup of mead to her lips. “After you take a nap—“

“And what are all these people doing here?” She pushed the cup aside. “You know I dislike visitors!”

“Shhh.” I hushed softly, and drew the blankets up around her. “Mama’s sleeping.” I felt terrible to say it again, but didn't know what else to do.

“With all these people here? Unlikely!”

“You’ll wake her,” I warned in a whisper, and my heart broke again.