Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Fricassee

What a fun assortment of Middle Grade!!  Thanks for all the great critique -- KEEP IT COMING!  If you haven't had a chance to leave feedback for your colleagues, don't hesitate to pop in any time over the weekend.

Participants, please remember to critique a minimum of 4 other entries.  Your way of giving back.

PSA from Operation Awesome for all entrants (whose work is FINISHED and POLISHED), and also any of you middle grade writers who missed the entry window:

Their PASS OR PAGES contest is open next month for MIDDLE GRADE SPECULATIVE FICTION.  If that's you, and if you'd like to enter for a chance to have your query and first page evaluated, GO HERE TO READ THE DETAILS.

(Note:  PASS OR PAGES includes agents, like our Secret Agent Contests.  So be sure your work is agent-ready if you decide to enter!)

For those of you who DON'T write Middle Grade:  The success of this week's critique round has encouraged me to do more of the same, so keep an eye out for the next one:  Adult Genre Fiction!  (Spread the word!  Spread the word!)

As for me--quick Authoress Update:

  • I'm hitting 45,000 words in my WIP today.  SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE!
  • I'm also thickly into the planning of Another Novel, about which I am so excited that I can barely contain myself.  My protagonist now has a name (this was no small task--for whatever reason, her name simply would NOT come to me!  But now it has.), and I've developed a secondary character whom I'm already in love with.  I'm just exhilarated right now!
  • Story Idea #2 won't go away, so this weekend I'm planning on jotting down all the little snippets that have been dancing around in my head over the past several days.  WHO AM I?
I'm so busy writing and planning and dreaming about stories that I haven't had a whole lot of time to obsess about the submission process, which feels SO VERY HEALTHY.  Sure, we've had a few early rejections come in, which is normal, but for the most part my manuscript is out in the editorial wild, and the silence is deafening (and also normal).  I'm thankful to have so much creative energy right now.  (If any of you figure out how to regulate that, rather than to simply be a victim of its fickle waxing and waning, please clue me in!)

All right, then -- onward!  Happy weekend, happy writing, happy everything!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade -- Critique Guidelines

Ready to dig into our 40 MG excerpts??

Remember that, in addition to everything else you'd normally critique, we're looking for comments on VOICE.  Things to think about:
  • Is the voice (particularly the main character) believable for the age?  Or does it sound a little too old or a little too young?  (In other words, if the protagonist is 12, does he sound like a believable 12-year-old?)
  • Are their instances where the author's "grown-up voice" is showing?  (Turns of phrase, word choice, a perspective that is too adult, etc.)

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? Middle Grade #40

TITLE: The Elephant Tree
GENRE: MG - Magical Realism

Armed with a book of spells and the necklace that was left with her at the orphanage when she was born, ten-year-old Tilly must contact her Haitian ancestors to cast a spell that will bring her broken adopted family back together. A Snicker of Magic with a sprinkle of vodou.

When I was little, I checked every flower I passed, sure I’d find a sleeping fairy nestled inside. Now, at just-turned-ten, I wasn’t so sure that kind of magic existed anymore. Not in my world.

Angry voices echoed up the hall to my bedroom as I blinked sleep from my eyes. I suck in a breath, listening, my eyes trained on the Grumpy Cat poster taped to my ceiling above my bed.

“You’re so stubborn sometimes, Teresa,” Daddy thundered from downstairs. “Why don’t you just admit it? We can’t go on like this.”

That cat looked just like Daddy sounded, all squinchy-faced and angry.

Mama shushed him, then said something in a quieter voice. A few seconds later, the front door creaked, then slammed. So much for Daddy’s birthday pancakes. Sliding Matilda off my nightstand, I burrowed deeper under the covers and traced the soft yellow spine of the book with my finger.
The special hard-backed edition mama got me would keep me company until things calmed down. I’d read it a zillion times, but the words still gave me hope that even the most awful things could work out okay in the end. Right now, I wished I could crawl right inside that story and stay for a while. Matilda was fierce and funny, powerful and magical.

“Happy birthday, baby girl!” Mama said, flinging the door open with a big smile and eyes a bit too shiny for happy thoughts. “Ten years old and nine years mine.”

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #39

GENRE: MG - Fantasy

The tunnels are home to eleven-year-old Lilly but as her body grows so do her fears. For when she grows too big she’ll be Taken. They all will. As secrets of the tunnels and her past are revealed she must make difficult choices to save herself and her friends or lose the only family she’s ever known.

There was a song the children knew, but kept to themselves:

Crawl and Creep
Creep and Crawl
Move on through
But don't get tall
Do your work
Zag then zig,
Move on through
Don't get big
Tunnels, tunnels
Walls get tight
Take you, Take you
She just might          
Lurking, watching
Always near
Might be pretty
But let’s be clear
Rotten, foul.
Beware her meaning.
May seem kind.
But likely scheming.

* * *

Lilly knew the tunnels as well as any of them. Heading to light her hearth to earn her meal, she paused - her hands and knees resting on the cool, firm dirt beneath her. The slight breeze always present in the narrow shafts brushed against her cheeks. Her stomach rumbled. Was that a clang far off or just her imagination? She didn’t believe the stories anymore—not really. The Beetle King, Brundibar the Centipede and all that. The old tales were for Smalls new to the tunnels. Stories to keep them wide-eyed and behaving. Though without the stories to explain their situation, things got as murky as the tunnels were dark. And the tunnels were dark.

Her flame carved a wobbling, deformed sphere of light into the darkness. The small shadow of a torch alcove was set in the upper right wall there to illuminate the tunnel. There was usually one every few paces. This one must have blown out. She touched her lit torch to the small space and a brief flash of blue added a welcome glow to the dim surroundings.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #38

TITLE: Walking in Webbed Feet
GENRE: MG - Fantasy and Science

Magically transformed into penguins, eight-year old Clara and her brother are attacked by skuas. Clyde the Penguin asks: when do skuas really pose a danger. To get home, the kids must find the answer…. This series wraps fantasy in science, pleasing fans of Bill Nye and the Magic Tree House.

"I saw him!" said Henry. He pointed to the bushes.

"Sure you did," said Charlotte. The leaves glowed in the afternoon sun. They looked as green as her lunchbox. Her empty lunchbox.

"But I did see him!" said Henry.

The school bus drove away. Their kitchen seemed far.

Henry grabbed her arm. "Look!"

Charlotte looked. Like she had a choice.

She saw oak trees. She saw the twisty creek.

"I don't see any penguins," said Charlotte.

Charlotte marched toward their home. She didn't want to play with Henry. She wanted a snack.

"You wouldn't see penguins," said Henry. He sounded cross. But he followed her down their long driveway. "It's one penguin."

Henry loved to imagine animals. Yesterday they had seen a Komodo dragon. An imaginary Komodo dragon. Today was a penguin. An imaginary penguin.

But Charlotte was almost nine years old. She was too old for Henry's games. At least sometimes. Like now.

"Henry," she said. "Penguins don't live in forests. They don't live in Illinois. They only live in the Antarctic."

"Du-uh," said Henry. He didn't sound cross anymore. He just sounded annoying. "That's why we need to look for him. He's lost!"

Her little brother never gave up. "I think he's just fine where he is," said Charlotte.

"What if he's hurt?" asked Henry. "We have to help him."

"It's hard for a pretend penguin to get hurt," said Charlotte.

"No, it's not," said Henry. "Maybe a leopard seal got him."

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #37

GENRE: MG - Fantasy

In SAFFRON, twelve-year-old Saffron battles master chefs in a magical culinary tournament, to protect her father’s honor, save their restaurant and win her ultimate dream—the Diamond Blade.

Saffron filleted a scorcher fish faster than a flapper cutting a rug.

Valiant, her chef's knife, sliced through the red scales with no problem.

The fillets ought to keep the staff happy. A hungry crew was a sluggish crew, and speed was key to dinner rush.

After plucking out the pin bones, Saffron laid the fillets in hot cast iron pans. The fish sizzled, salty and fresh as the sea. On the back burners, she cooked rainbow carrots in sugar and butter, so sweet and nutty.

"Time to add my special touch," she said to Valiant. "What'll the crew go peaches over?" Tuning out the kitchen noise and the ragtime song playing on the nearby phonograph, Saffron closed her eyes and pictured herself in the Diamond Blade Tournament.

The excitement of the contest surged through Saffron as she imagined rousing cheers and blazing flambés. The familiar warmth in her chest and hands began to spread to Valiant, and Saffron couldn't help but smack her lips, tasting the fireworks in her magic.

A gruff voice interrupted her spell. "Lass, mission report."

Saffron blinked away her focus to the sight of Grinder's zucchini-crooked nose. A former Royal Battalion sergeant, Grinder was the perfect sous chef, the restaurant's second in command.

Saffron snapped to attention. "Scorcher. Rainbow carrots. For the family meal, sir."

Although not as action packed as working on the line, cooking dinner for the staff was a trillion times better than dishwashing duty.

Great chefs don't do the dirties.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #36

TITLE: Snow Day!
GENRE: MG - adventure/magical realism

Fifth graders take on the seemingly impossible challenge that has eluded previous classes for decades: find a way to make it snow hard enough to get school cancelled.

   There are Mondays and then there are Mondays… and I’ll give you three guesses what day of the week it was when I first met her.

    As soon as I was out of my mom’s line of sight I yanked the embarrassingly purple mittens off my hands and stuffed ’em roughly back into my coat pockets.  I was in absolutely no hurry to get where I was going.  My twerp of a kid brother, on the other hand, was far more motivated.  In fact, he had skipped so far ahead he’d already rounded the corner.  Little runt.  Yeah, you could safely say he was more excited about a full day of learning than I was.  Whatevs.

    I could sympathize with the broken sidewalk which led to where I didn’t want to go.  It didn’t react well to the winter.  I didn’t react well to that time of day.  Cold and I get along just fine.  Mornings and I are another story entirely.

    And then it happened.  There was, ohhh, maybe about a twelve second span where I was wasn’t able to see or hear either my mom and my wart of a brother, and, even though I didn’t know it at that time, those were the finest twelve seconds of my entire Monday.

    It was on that thirteenth second that my brother came flying back around the corner yelling my name and flailing his arms.  Good ol’ lucky thirteen.

    “D.C.!  D.C.!  D.C.!” the toad screamed.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #35

TITLE: Blazing Frost
GENRE: MG - Fantasy

As the hybrid daughter of fire and ice dragon changelings, Sahsa’s perfectly content never knowing what scaly abomination she’ll shift into. But when her father’s clan kidnaps her mother, Sasha must uncover the reason behind the warring clans, before either side forces her to fight against everyone—including her family.

The idea of scales and horns horrified Sasha. Everything about being a dragon did. Not even the thought of flying could soften the blow of what she was about to become. And the more she resisted, the more her insides tore apart at the seams. She crossed her arms and leaned against the barn wall.

"Sasha, you have to shift," her mother pleaded for the thousandth time. "It's unnatural to keep denying the instinct."

"Instinct or not, I don't want dragon breath." She sighed. "What's the big deal if I never shift? Who's it really hurting?" But she knew the answer already. The longer she waited, the worse the pains would get. And the war inside her mind approached a point of explosion. Risk her life, or someone else’s. It was only a matter of time.

Her mother's eyebrows fell as she frowned. She blinked for a moment too long. When her eyes opened, water filled them.

“If you’d have grown up in a clan with other changelings, maybe you’d want this,” her mother said.

Sasha had heard it a million times before—be like the others of her kind, change into dragon form, learn to fly, speak telepathically. On the surface it all sounded so wonderful, until she’d learned about the immense responsibility those abilities required and the horrors other dragons had committed.

Not all dragons were bad, of course, but as a hybrid, she didn’t know what tendencies she might develop, including whether she’d spew fire or ice breath.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #34

TITLE: How Ty and I Saved the World
GENRE: MG - Sci Fi caper

Cousins Reggie and Ty disagree about whether aliens really exist. When aliens actually arrive in Spokane, the boys realize they have gotten way more than they asked for. When the aliens run amuck, shrinking a neighbor girl, Charlie, the kids know they have to fix things. But how?

I set the colander on my head and adjusted it so that I could glare at Ty. This whole idea was his and it was just plain stupid.

"That's good.” Ty stood back to admire the tin foil “antennas” he'd added to the colander's legs.
"Define good." I peered at myself in the mirror. I looked like you could plug me into a three-way socket and blow some serious fuses. Maybe black out half of Spokane.

"Quit being negative, Reggie," Ty said. "This is going to work."

Colander, green wig, matching face paint. Ty had mined the Halloween closet as well as the kitchen to come up with this getup. I had lost the toss, of course, so I had to wear it. I looked weird. We were supposedly going for alien. I cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Seriously, dude,” Ty said, “you look awesome.”

My cousin Ty is like that. He gets caught up with stuff. Then he eggs me on until I get caught up, too. You want to know, most of the trouble I've gotten into in the past eleven-plus years has been thanks to him. This dare wouldn't even have made our Top Ten Crazy Dares list. Not then, anyway.

Like a lot of our stunts, it had started with an argument.

"Wouldn't it be awesome to meet a real alien?" Ty had asked. It was summer vacation, and he'd been watching way too much of the sci-fi channel. He has cable at his house.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #33

TITLE: Picket Town
GENRE: MG - Science Fiction

When adventuresome Amanda discovers a spaceship near her house, she secretly witnesses all the adults in town—including her parents—fly out of it, forcing her to alert the authorities before the alien-imposters conquer Earth.

Mr. Garrison strode to the front of the class, placed his briefcase on his desk, and drilled everyone with a gaze way more piercing than usual. I shivered at my desk in the third row, a layer of ice sprouting on my spine.

I knew that look. He had news, all right. Big news. And I was pretty sure I already knew what it was.
"Good morning, everyone," he said in his calm, smooth voice. Kind of ironic considering how intense his face looked, though he always talked like that no matter what mood he was in. His tall, thin figure leaned over the class like a narrow tsunami about to crash on it.

“’Morning,” a couple kids said. Others just grunted.

Mr. Garrison adjusted his thick-framed glasses on his nose. “Before we begin, I would like to announce that Zack Goldman has come down with the purple circle, and, therefore, has been transferred to Sedgwick Hospital for treatment.”

Yep. Just as I’d thought. A series of chills rippled through my body, a numb feeling settling deep inside me. Coldness sifted into my stomach and threatened to spread to my other internal organs.
Not that Mr. Garrison’s news was all that much of a surprise, though. Zack had been coughing and sniffling ever since homeroom. And his symptoms kept getting worse. By lunch his face even looked like it belonged in a wax museum, his eyes all red and puffy.

 Yeah, he’d definitely been coming down with something.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #32

TITLE: Nixie
GENRE: MG - Fantasy

A jaded fairy gets roped into seeking a magical Stopwatch with a boy who doesn’t want to grow up.

          My light sparkled and spun in circles, just like fireworks on the fourth of July. I even managed to pull off a strobe effect. The fireflies were dazzled and came flocking to me. When they saw I was a fairy, not a fabulous hunk of a firefly, they became angry and pulled my hair and tore my dress.

            As I escaped and looked behind to see their scowling faces, I flew straight into something soft but firm and was knocked onto my back with my legs straight in the air. When I recovered I found that I was sitting in the palm of a boy’s hand. I sighed. It really wasn’t fair! I had just gotten rid of the last kid. I didn’t even bother trying to fly away. I knew the drill. I stood up, still in his hand, and tidied myself as best I could.

            The boy, meanwhile, had brought his hand up nearer to his eyes. When he saw me, he shrieked and stared at me with wide open eyes and mouth.

            I decided to give him a moment to regain his dignity. But it didn’t happen, so I intervened.

            “I’m not an exhibit in a freak show, so you can close your mouth and stop staring, thank you.”

            He shut his mouth so quickly that he bit the tip of his tongue and winced. I was feeling annoyed and grouchy by this point so I threw my hands up in a dramatic gesture of despair.

            “We’ll never get anywhere at this rate.”

            He recovered sufficiently to stammer, “Are… are you really real?”

            “Of course I’m real!”

            He gulped and then said, “But you’re a fairy!”

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #31

TITLE: The Oddballs: Fully Armed
GENRE: MG - Contemporary Fantasy

Robert's arm is a jerk, Cassidy's leg is lazy, Jan's spine sticks out of her back, and Bethany static shocks everyone around her. Fighting a kingpin of crime probably isn't their best idea.

Robert Drot glared at his left arm. It was the reason he was stuck in his room–the reason he didn’t have any friends–the reason he’d gotten home late. “You got me double detention!”

As always Lefty hung limp while Robert yelled at it.

“First, you fly up for every question. And when Ms. Cross picks us, you drill up my nose with your finger. Then you push off Bethany’s desk and slam me into Skye’s.”

Robert’s arm stayed still, but that did not mean it wasn’t listening.

“And that bathroom thing was disgusting.”

It was, but Robert wasn’t going to talk about that anymore. He just had to hope Gordon Baker didn’t tell anyone. Fat chance of that though–Gordon Baker told everybody everything.

“Robert? Dinner time.” Robert’s mom called from downstairs

Robert wanted to stay in his room, but he knew his mom would fetch him. And she’d sigh again, like she usually did.

His parents must have given up on him being normal. Lefty wrecked everything. It glued his leg to a desk when model building. It yanked down his bathing suit in swim class. It wedgied the ref at a soccer game. In fact, Robert had been kicked out of every club and booted off every team he’d ever joined.

In the dining room, Robert’s parents were already seated. They shared that blank stare they always got when they weren’t sure how he’d behave.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #30

GENRE: MG - Fantasy

WEATHERLY DARK is untethered from everyone in her life and prefers the company of birds, but when she discovers that KUK is separating people from their shadows, she teams up with the extraordinary HORACE CHANDILIER to stop him. 

On the thirteenth day after her father disappeared in his submarine, Weatherly Dark trudged home from school, daydreaming about blackbird pie. Did it have actual birds in it, and if not, what? Licorice and chocolate? As the blustery, October-y wind shivered through her clothes, her arm warmers (which were previously leg warmers) slouched around her elbows, and she tucked them back into her vest.

Something screeched. It sounded like the wail of a dying peacock, and it went on and on. As a fan of mysteries and birds, she figured she’d investigate. She trotted down the sidewalk, and found a treehouse. Maybe a bird was stuck up there and couldn’t get down? As she hoisted herself up the rungs, the high-pitched screaming stopped.

“Who’s there?”

“Nobody.” Weatherly had been expecting a bird, not a person. Her cheeks flushed.

“Um. Okay, Nobody. Go away.”

On the ladder, Weatherly checked her outfit. For some reason, she always seemed to make a bad first impression. She steeled herself. “Do you need help?”

“Um, maybe a little.”

She climbed into the treehouse, and it was like stepping into someone’s secret snowglobe. A disco ball hung in the tree and polka-dotted the room with sunshine. Gauzy curtains billowed from the branches, and a blue shag rug covered the floor. A boy sat at a sewing machine in a bow tie, paisley shirt, and plaid pants. He was deeply black, and Weatherly felt translucent next to him with her fishbelly-pale skin. He glanced at her.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #29

TITLE: Two Plus One
GENRE: MG - Realistic Fiction

When a cool new kid inserts himself right in the middle of Samantha and David’s best friendship, the two seventh graders learn how easy it is to hurt a friend, and how hard it can be to own up to what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you.

            I’m doing Shrinky Dinks with Allie when the doorbell rings and Mom shouts from upstairs, “Answer that. It’s probably Luke,” even though she’s the one who set up this Meet the New Kid date, and ruined my last winter vacation Saturday.

            It would be so much easier if she would just come downstairs, open the door and do a Mom thing, with cookies and “let me introduce you to my son, David, who’s in seventh grade too.” But no. I push my Shrinky Dinks over to Allie’s side of the table and turn on the TV to ESPN so it will look like I’ve been watching sports, not dorking out doing arts and crafts with my little sister.

            I open the front door, and think: twelve minutes. Because that’s how long Luke Sullivan will be my friend.

            He’s already started his growth spurt, and has hair on his upper lip, enough to maybe even shave, plus some kind of sideburn action happening. Me? Think pale ginger. The Pillsbury Dough Boy with a curly carrot top -- except I do not giggle when people poke my belly. Oh, yeah, and freckles. Lots of freckles. I’m rocking the freckles.

            The only person who would ever think that I have anything in common with Luke Sullivan is my mother.

            “Hey,” he says. “Thanks for having me over.”

            “Come on in,” I say, thinking that he is one of those guys who will have every girl in school writing his name in stupid cursive with hearts around it.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #28

TITLE: The Worst Villain Ever
GENRE: MG - Science Fiction/Super Hero

George Pruwell challenges a superhero to prove he’s got the chops for villainy despite being unfortunately kind-hearted. But when his enemy turns out to have a big problem of his own, George must choose to follow his instincts and help the superhero, or crush him and become the most villainous Pruwell ever.

If the Pruwell family villains were a perfectly coiffed head of hair, twelve-year-old George would be the cowlick that kept on sticking out no matter how much spit was firmly applied.

The George in question was currently peering out his second-floor window wearing his Mastermind Magnifying Goggles. With those bad boys on, he could see the yellow centers of Ms. Wutherford's daisies all the way across the street. But George was far less interested in the daisies than in what would hopefully be his first successful villainous trick.

He zeroed in on the location of the tripwire stake between the leaves next to the sidewalk and saw nothing. Excellent. He’d perfected an invisible tripwire using Gloss Over-It[1].  He’d covered Rule Number One of High Villainy:  Don’t get caught.

The thought of someone tripping and landing in a glorious pile of limbs and scattered papers should make George smile with anticipation.  It was a classic. Any self-respecting young villain would be rubbing his hands together.  Perhaps even cackling maniacally. Instead, George felt like he had swallowed a dozen white mice from a mad scientist’s laboratory.

Chewing a thumbnail, he turned his gaze north. Mike Kahn was coasting down the sidewalk on his skateboard as he did every night. George wished someone else could be the victim.

[1] Gloss-Over-It:  Sold at The Thrifty Villain store and website for only $9.99. Refracts light to make small objects almost invisible. A priceless addition for villains who must pay attention to prices.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #27

TITLE: The O'Malley Curse
GENRE: MG - Adventure

To break the family curse and heal his defective leg, Finn O’Malley, a twelve-year-old boy, embarks on a dangerous quest with his eccentric grandpa to find Old West treasure hidden by outlaw ancestors.

The fourth teenager hiked past me as I limped up Scar Mountain. I clutched the sled on my good side, opposite my bum leg, using it as a cane. The air was heavy with humidity, left over from one of those crazy Amber Storms, and my T-shirt was soaked. I heard shouts – they were sledding the ravine. I tried to climb faster.

We weren’t supposed to be here. Climbing, heck, touching Scar was against the law, but this is what kids from Wakanda did after an Amber Storm. The storm hits, with raindrops sharp as a wolf’s fangs and winds so strong the mountain sways, and carves a ravine down Scar that no kid could resist the urge to sled. Then the grownups would ruin the fun and fill in the ravine. Today, we lucked out because grownups were trapped at work, but kids were out of school.

And we were gonna sled.     
More teenagers passed me. One knocked the sled out of my hand. “Finn O’Malley’s sledding? This should be good for a laugh.”

I picked up the sled, noticing younger kids were heading toward me. I groaned, knowing I’d get to the top with ten-year-olds. I gritted my teeth and forced myself up the steep slope covered with wildflowers and spongy moss the color of tea. My leg ached, a sensation starting in the hip and shooting to my toes. I was used to that, the daily pain. I wasn’t looking forward to what my father nicknamed, “Finn-being-stupid-pain.”

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #26

TITLE: The Doppelgangers
GENRE: MG - Contemporary w/fantasy

Reed Bradley is beside himself - really. That's because a doppelganger just popped out of him. The villian Rasputin is to blame but left no instructions to reverse the curse.

   It was a school tradition. Nobody cared about the Quiz Bowl. Not since the very first one – back when phones were on walls and STEM was part of a flower. Reed Bradley only cared because the Quiz Bowl was the one day of the year that anybody wanted him around. The homerooms compete against each other and this year his homeroom was a pretty tough crowd. Socially, that is – not academically. Reed was all they had.

When his name made the roster for the Quiz Bowl team, nobody was surprised. But making the team wasn’t like making the basketball team or soccer. Parents didn’t even attended it and nobody ever remembered who won.

 “I mean, really,” said one girl, checking her fingernails, each painted a different color, “Non-Event.”

That apathy ended abruptly when Gretchen Goodwin visited the school. Suddenly, everybody took it seriously. This year everybody cared.

It started in April with a surprise assembly in the gym. Climbing the bleachers, Reed knew something was up.  His homeroom teacher, Mrs. Baker followed the class up and sat next to Reed. He wished she wouldn’t do that – it just drew attention to the fact that he sat alone. Reed thought that she seemed twitchy, like she knew something that she hadn’t told the kids.

Principal Grant stood in the middle of the gym floor, looking the same as always– like he was impersonating a bundle of dirty laundry.  His pants were buckled low under his droopy middle and his limp mustard-stained shirt was untucked on one side. But something was different. Mr. Grant was standing straighter than usual and was smoothing his hair with his hand.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #25

TITLE: The Third Gift
GENRE: MG - Fantasy

Eleven-year-old Marisi gets more than she bargains for when she wishes for adventure instead of babysitting duties: her parents disappear in a storm and a witch takes over her home. To save herself, her home and her parents she has to solve three riddles before sunrise – all while taking care of her baby sister.

Marisi was raised on stories that didn't have happy endings. It's what happened when you grew up on an island. Ships sank. Priceless cargo was lost. Sailors never came home. It was said the tears of grieving mothers and lost children filled the oceans. Sad laments echoed through rafters and rattled down hallways in every manor house, on every island in the world. They were cautionary tales with lessons tucked in along the way. Everyone cried when they heard them. Which only made the water rise higher. There was something almost poetic about it.

But Marisi had learned that being the star of your own sad story wasn't so great. Certainly nothing poetic. As far as Marisi could tell there wasn't even a lesson to be learned. Unless it was to never have a baby sister.

She sat on the sill of her bedroom window, folding a sheet of paper in half.  Then she folded it again until it had a pointy snout, slender body and broad wings. Her mother called it a ‘featherless bird’ or ‘sail without a ship.’ Marisi wrote ADVENTURE across its wings in bold block letters.

Perched on top of a cliff, her house was a perfect launch site. Leaning out her bedroom window she set ADVENTURE free. “‘May you find a current to your liking. Sail high! Sail long! Sail true!’”  The blessing for ships leaving safe harbors, or in this case, Marisi’s hand, sent ADVENTURE skimming the sky.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #24

GENRE: MG - Magical realism

Josh has until the shortest day of the year to solve a mysterious riddle, find a bloodstained mountain, and finish his not-yet-determined science project, all while dealing with Festy—a mischievous boggart who insists on helping Josh save their small town’s forest from a magic-stealing monster.

  Being the only boggart in a forest village full of elves had its perks. They had no prior knowledge of his kind, so Festy made up reasons to escape on important boggart business while the others went about their chores. Not that he was useless. Awkward, maybe. Overbearing, certainly.
Misunderstood...always. But Festy thought in another fifty years or so, he’d fit right in...especially if a certain elf leader kept giving him boring duties that stopped him from spying on the neighboring humans.

    On the last day of summer (his favorite time of year) the squirrel-sized boggart flew out of his tree hole home to soak in the cheerful morning air. Sailing over the nearby creek, he flew low enough to slurp a drink from the cool water that ran along the edge of the village. A bucktooth hung out either side of his snout as he caught a whiff of excitement—a celebration with food, fun, and an extraordinary play (with only one actor).

    Festy drew his bat-like wings in front of him like a stage curtain. His big round eyes peeked out as he flung his arms open for his first scene: “Hark! Who goes there?” he said in his thick British accent.

    His lean blue body leapt over a fallen tree limb and landed on a pair of pointy feet attached to an irritated elf. Festy froze. Two of the elf leaders stood in his path.

    Rue crossed her leafy arms. The bristly yellow flowers that grew out of her body sprung up and

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #23

TITLE: Dragon Dilemma
GENRE: MG - Fantasy

Long ago, the enchanted genes of Earth had become dormant and the world was disenchanted. Now, beyond the aftermath of severe climate change, the enchanted gene, which exists within every living thing, has been reactivated. Earth has become magical again.
But not everyone is okay with that.

I didn’t usually break the rules like this, but Mom and Pop were worried. Last year’s crop of specialized corn produced only half of what we were supposed to get. All of the crop-farms had been duds over the last several years. It didn’t make sense. Mom worked non-stop on her scientific calculations and formulas, looking through microscopes, scratching her head, trying to figure out why. And now it was planting season and the seedlings were sad and sickly, so Mom, usually a law abiding and uptight, paranoid woman was ready to try anything — even an old method Gran suggested — fertilizing naturally with cow droppings.

So, here I was hauling cow manure we got by trading eggs we weren’t supposed to have through the outlands, with a silly cat following me, pretending he wasn’t. I breathed deep and relaxed. There wasn’t a soul around besides the specs of farmers below planting their spring crops, so I’d be able to keep my promise to not talk to anyone.

I pedaled the rusty bike my brother, Reggie, put together with spare parts he’d found from somewhere, along the access road at the base of River Wall. The cart of manure bumped along behind me, buzzing with flies and attracting a flock of crows. The crows caw-cawed at me. Some dove in to peck at the cow pies. I wondered if Mom meant I shouldn’t even talk to crows or the cat. I shrugged. Who were they going to tell?

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #22

TITLE: Secrets Never to Be Told
GENRE: MG - Science Fiction

Twelve-year-old boy/girl twins use newfound ESP skills to search for their physicist father being held by a terrorist in a parallel universe before the wormhole cinches shut.

“He’s psychic!”

Henry knocked his twin sister’s hand down as she pointed at the turbaned swami waving a cheap stuffed animal as carnival goers passed. “No. He’s a scammer. How hard can it be to guess the month you were born within two months? He scribbles a couple letters that look like they could be January, June or July. So every month is covered except October.”

“You sound like Dad.” Maggie turned to step into the Viking ship.

Grimacing, Henry extracted his tennis shoe from the sticky mess on the ground and followed her on. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”

“Skeptical, is all I mean.” Her tone was teasing, but when Henry scowled she shrugged. “Just saying.”

As she headed toward the tip of the boat, he yanked her back. “Let’s sit in the middle.” He made for the center row but a gray haired lady in a Virginia Tech t-shirt beat him to it. In the short time he’d wasted, the next two rows filled up. He turned to leave. “It’s a sign we need to find the new Demons and Aliens’ trailer, instead.”

“Not a chance.” Maggie pushed him into the only seat still open—one row from the back and next to a man with stomach folds sticking out from beneath his shirt. “If I can’t have someone guess my birthday, you can’t waste Dad’s money on video games.”

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #21

TITLE: Mikravim Empire
GENRE: MG - Adventure

Danny bites off more than he can chew when he tries to get to the bottom of a secret world his father is involved in.

My dad drew a picture of someone breaking into our apartment as someone broke into our apartment.
I put my book down once I heard the front door open. Dad and I had lived in our little apartment on the north side of Chicago my entire life, all twelve years of it. We never had a break in before. I thought with that kind of a track record, we would be safe for life.

Don’t jump to conclusions, Danny, I told myself. That was a Dad-ism.  He would want me to think through the evidence before I made up my mind.

Dad was in his study, drawing. It was his job. He worked with the Chicago Police Department creating those artist renderings of unknown criminals they post on the news. I knew he wouldn’t leave the apartment in the middle of work, not without saying something to me first.

I also knew we didn’t tend to get visitors this late at night. Even if there was an on-going, high-priority case, a guest would have needed to buzz just to be let into the building. The front door was always locked. There was no other way around it. Our apartment was being burglarized.

The smart thing would have been to turn off my lamp and hide. Dad always told me not to be a hero and do something stupid that would get me killed. Typical protective Dad stuff. I didn’t disobey him to be heroic. Something else compelled me to get up and peek out from my bedroom doorway. Mainly disbelief.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #20

TITLE: The Dolphin Nexus
GENRE: MG - Magical realism

Irene sees the world through a microscope of science. Diana sees it through a kaleidoscope of dreams. They’ll have to see eye-to-eye to save the ocean they love.

        The port rail gave Irene the best view of the tourists in their natural habitat. A chuffing breath behind her announced a dolphin periscoping out of his natural habitat. He surfaced so close, she could identify him by the speckles around his eyes:  Snoopy.

            “Folks, check out portside.” Captain Jimmy’s gravelly voice crackled over the microphone. “That’s left for landlubbers. There’s a sight ya don’t see ev’ry day.”

            She did. Jimmy returned her smile with a thumbs up. Irene winced as tourists engulfed her in an odor bomb of sweat, Coppertone, and bug spray. Her hobby was sightseeing, not smelling, the passengers. Sidling out of the crowd, she escaped to Jimmy at the helm.

            “We saw it yesterday,” she reminded him.

            Jimmy lowered the mic to tell her, “Owe ya double then.” His cheeks wrinkled around his gray eyes as he aimed a wink at her. “Thanks for reelin’ him in.”

            Irene shook her head. “I had nothing to do with it.” Jimmy’s theory that she was some kind of dolphin lure was as wild as his fish tales. “You gonna tell me why I had to ride again today?” Jimmy had promised she’d have the best virtual world travel of the summer this morning. So far, he was so wrong. She said, “Nothing new in this crew.”

            “A poet and she don’t know it.” He winked, his cheeks crinkling around his gray eyes. Ignoring her question, he went back on mic with: “Folks, I’ll idle; see if he’ll stick around.”

            “It’s Snoopy. Of course he’ll stick around.”

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #19

TITLE: The Age of Our Hearts
GENRE: MG - (very recent) historical fiction

Even before the 9/11 attacks, eighth grade soccer teammates Mel Miller and Rima Hassan are questioning whether they should be friends. After the attacks, the girls try to mend their troubled relationship. But can a broken friendship do anything but hurt, especially in such a broken time?

It’s kind of silly to have an athletic award ceremony at a public library, but nobody asked me. And I’m jumping-out-of-my-skin excited anyway.

This is the first award I’ve ever gotten, unless you count the time I won a rubber frog keychain in the ring toss at the school carnival. Realistically, that doesn’t seem like something anyone should count.
I’ve been ticking off the days to the ceremony in a tiny corner of the sky-blue journal Rima and I share. And I’m still holding out a final, shaky hope that Rima will show up. That my best friend will be here. Like she promised.

My mom sits next to me, smiling as though I’m winning an Oscar or something. My dad’s on my mom’s other side, still wearing his custodian pants. The deep navy blends into the darkness, which I’m hoping means no one will notice he’s a janitor. Maybe the baggy blue pants can pass for hospital scrubs, like the ones Tory Tyson’s stepdad always wears to our games.

We listen to the Courier staff hand out the other awards. There’s the longest-serving Little League coach. The Teammate of the Year, who raised a bunch of money when her tennis partner’s house got hit by a tornado.

My dad curls one hairy, lanky arm around my mom. With his stretched-out hand, he taps my shoulder, then nods at the program resting in my lap.

“There’s your name, up next! That’s our Mel-ificent Mel.”

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #18

GENRE: MG - Science Fiction

Forming a bond with something that feels at home on Jupiter is hard. Two different buddies take on bullies and intolerance in a world with flying saucers and alien invasion films. The boy’s assignment: Saving the world by embracing diversity. Maybe they succeed. Maybe the world blows up.

Carlos McGuire was a boy who liked to fit in and didn’t want to stand out. Normally, he wasn’t the kind of kid found in a book. He wanted to do well in school and please his parents. He didn’t run around town or dig holes or live in a graveyard. He wasn’t a wizard. Carlos thought his life was boring, but boring was okay with Carlos.

His dad was exciting, though, at least in Carlos’s eyes, but this isn’t a story about his dad. Being an astronaut in the year 2068 was not that big a deal anyway. Lots of people were astronauts by this time, but his dad did have an adventure once, and that adventure was about to spill over onto Carlos, messily, like dumping a soda in one’s lap while watching a movie. Maybe it’s a movie about aliens. They’re  currently popular.

The story begins one afternoon while Carlos waited and looked out the window of his simple room in a normal suburban neighborhood. The story begins here because Carlos was afraid that things were about to get weird.

Of course, lately, things had been getting weirder and weirder in the world. Carlos looked up to the sky, but he didn’t see one. That was good. He hated to see them, all ghostly and electric like a storm cloud. They reminded him that things most likely would never be the same. To a kid that likes to fit in and doesn’t want to stand out, change is bad

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #17

TITLE: Layers of Lennon
GENRE: MG - Contemporary Mystery

A boy with O.C.D. finds a portrait of his dead dad beneath germy mounds of gum at a local tourist attraction. The search for more artwork leads to clues about his dad’s death, which can only be pieced together by trading a hierarchy of fears for one of dreams.

Deep breath number one.

Five feet away looms the germiest, nastiest, most disgusting landmark in Seattle. It’s also one of the most popular. If you haven’t seen The Gum Wall at Pike Place Market, and for some reason actually want to, imagine sixty feet and twenty years’ worth of gooey wads and ropes drooping from every surface. Someone once counted fifty pieces of gum on a single brick. I don’t even want to think about how they went about counting saliva-saturated blob atop blob, pink, green, yellow, blue, ick, ick, ick, ick. All oozing in a vapor of spearmint and sugar that could gag a person in mid-summer.

Deep breath number two.

Okay, you might be asking why I’m standing in front of such a monstrosity. You’d be wondering even harder if you knew about my issues with germs. My mom, who doesn’t know the half of it (or, let’s be honest, even the tenth of it), thinks my worries about contamination might be the beginning of a “disorder”. I can say with certainty, although not publicly (duh!), that I have obsessive compulsive disorder, otherwise known as O . C . D .

But I can also report I’ve got it under control. The same way I got voted as sixth grade class president and taught myself to speak conversational Spanish. With a well-thought out and researched plan.
So, this thing I’m doing, standing in front of the gum wall right now? It’s rung number six on my germ ladder.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #16

TITLE: The Midnight Flight of the Salem Magi
GENRE: MG - Fantasy

Salem's witches must ally with the patriots because when dragons are coming, it's 1 if by land, 2 if by sea, and 3 if by air. 

At dusk I'll burn at the stake. I don't like to brag, but I'm very good at it. This will be my third time. It's made me something of a celebrity around New England. While burning magi has always attracted large crowds, I like to think I've taken the spectacle to a new level.

Thanks to my reputation, the villagers have packed the town square despite the short notice. A local baker rambles through the crowd, hefting a food tray overhead. "Get your gingerbread cookies! It's not a bonfire without your favorite foods."

I'd wave the baker down, but I'm chained to a stake atop a log pyramid. Unwilling to let mere captivity get in my stomach's way, I hop in place to rattle the chains. "Do you have any oatmeal cookies?"

The baker raises his bushy eyebrows. "Kid, no one likes oatmeal cookies."

"Well, I do."

He shakes his head. "Magi are weird."

I let out a huff that turns to fog in the cold air. "I'm surrounded by barbarians."

They form a crowd that stretches toward the horizon until their faces blur in the fading light. Latecomers scramble up ladders to reach the nearby rooftops. A few have even taken the time to bring telescopes.

From the audience size, every person in the region must have come to find out if I can honestly survive being burned alive. Thank goodness. If everyone is watching me, no one is searching for my sister and cousins.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #15

TITLE: Devils in the Air
GENRE: MG - Fantasy

The desert scorch rapped its tongue over Casablanca, causing Moroccans to fan themselves with large straw hats and sponging their necks. Twelve-year-old Anis Mimouni left the mosque after noon prayer, closing the heavy wooden door behind him.

His wet hands sizzled as he unfolded a piece of paper clutched in his pocket. His pointy Moroccan hoodie fell over his eyes and he folded the front part over his brow. Magic vibrated in his hands, like static that coursed through his veins. He squinted to be able to read the piece of paper: All junior apprentices to report in the library with their key.

“Ouch, no key!” He waved one hand in the air to let the magic fall to earth. “Gee, I never got one of those before. I can’t believe graduation is one key away.”  
He stared at the paper, but nothing mentioned a way out. His fingers left a wet mark on the paper before he tucked it inside his jellaba. He lifted up his ankle length cotton robe and slipped into his babouches. The heelless slippers cracked as the leather stretched.

A dust devil swirled around, churning the desert sand on the battered ground.

“Little devil yee. What are you looking for?”

Anis ran after it, stamping and finally pinned it down.

“That’s right,” he said, “You return to the hell fire where you came from.”
The ground waved under the heat and gathered a second time into another dust devil that kicked the sand all around. Anis ran after it, then stopped when someone waved at him: a beggar.

The beggar sat in a pile of dust, the stripes of his jellaba tucked under his legs in a pile of clothes. He lifted a tin in Anis’s direction, demanding attention.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #14

GENRE: MG - fan

12-year-old Geraldine Grey lives in the most haunted house in Louisiana, where she is in charge of taking care of the ghosts.

In the backwoods of Louisiana, where the trees are draped in Spanish moss, and mist rises from the swamps, there is a grand old house called La Maison de Fantômes. It is a mysterious house, cobwebbed and covered in ivy. Its columns are French, its gardens English, and just beyond it, where the alligators rest in the oak grove, is the oldest graveyard in all of the state. Its keeper is Geraldine Grey.

If you ever saw Geraldine, the first thing you would notice was that she was a Very Serious child. At twelve, she had already mastered the stern calmness of a professor, and was prone to carrying exactly three books in her satchel at all times (so as to always have a spare on hand). Her skin was brown, her hair was long, and her elbows and knees knobbier than the branches on an old elm tree. Her most important features, however, were her eyes, which were ghostly white, except for the faint black ring separating her pupils.

Geraldine’s eyes were important, because they were what allowed her to see ghosts.

“Bonsoir, Mister Thompson,” Geraldine greeted the groundskeeper when she arrived at the graveyard that evening – bonsoir, of course, meaning good evening in French.

The crusty, bad-tempered old ghost did not agree with this salutation. “I don’t see what’s so good about it,” he grouched as he rose from his grave and stretched. His bones rattled from the movement.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #13

TITLE: Garrett Gordon vs. The Cyberians
GENRE: MG - Science Fiction

When technology genius and middle school dropout, Garrett Gordon, accidentally sells an unbeatable encryption program to the Russian mafia, he becomes ensnared in a dangerous game – one that he must win, or everyone he cares about will be lost.

 Garrett Gordon typed the five-digit password into his mother's computer on the first try.  She was great, as moms go, but she totally lacked imagination.

This time it was "31588," her wedding anniversary. It'd been a decade since Garrett's dad had left them without so much as a See ya! Garrett was completely over it. I mean, he was only four, after all. And by every appearance, his mom was over it too, but she still held out on the sentimental passwords.

He hated having to use her dinosaur of a machine, and waiting as it grinded and choked on even the smallest chunk of input. Garrett had his own computer - a much, MUCH better one - he had built himself at the end of seventh grade. He used birthday money, which covered the operating system ($98.95) and the tower he found at Goodwill ($15). The rest came from the generous and anonymous hipsters and grandmas of Kickstarter. They helped him raise the rest of the $1500 he needed for components.  The thing about his mom's computer, though, was that it was so obviously an "adult's" computer. So, if Garrett got a wild hair to, let's say, buy three cases of butane lighter fuel, or whatever, and the site conducted a "cookie sample" to see what kind of activity the computer's been up to, they would find all the telltale signs of adulthood: a purchase for sensible shoes at, downloads of romance novels at Amazon, and a Google search for crabgrass killer.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #12

GENRE: MG - Fantasy

Princess Calypso’s gift for blending in lets her pull elaborate pranks. When her latest hoax gets the royal family kidnapped, no one notices her. To rescue them, she must learn to speak up in the spotlight.

The nameless princess climbed the North Tower of Cochem castle. The stairs wound past the Palace Agricultural Library (PAL)—closed today in honor of her christening—and came out on the sun-warmed parapet.

Rooks wheeled above her head. The stone was warm under her hands, but the Mosel valley was cloaked in its usual mist. The striped tents of the Red, Yellow, Orange, Magenta, Indigo and Violet Kingdoms poked up through the white, fluffy, layer. But there were no yurts along the riverbank, and even more telling, no clouds of blackflies. No blackflies meant no Blackfly royals.

Lifting the hem of her brocade christening gown, the princess galloped down the stairs to the castle’s great hall. All she had to do was keep her parents on task until the Blackfly family arrived. It had to be possible.

In case it was, the princess came up with a name for herself for each step:


Anything but Sibyl.

All seven of her sisters were named Sibyl.

“Sibyl—” In Cochem castle, King Oliver leaned over to whisper in Queen Sibyl’s ear, a pointless effort since the hall was already so noisy that he had to shout to be heard.

The youngest princess, back at her self-appointed station underneath the head table, had no trouble making out the words.

“Is the child here?”

“Which child? Oh, you mean—what’s her name?”

“Yes, that one.” King Oliver hesitated. “But she is a she? You’re sure of that.”

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #11

GENRE: MG - Science fiction

Science-geek Mike meets an alien and agrees to test candies from an alien PEZ dispenser to find out what planets humans can visit. He’ll have to survive bizarre reactions and aliens who hate Earthlings. If he doesn't finish in time, the Galactic Emperor will lock Earth in an anti-spaceflight field.

Mike shifted on the hard bench and glanced from his math book to his fifth grade classmates dashing around the community soccer field like superheated atoms. So far, the negatively-charged molecule known as “Brutus” hadn’t swooped in to repel the others like an electric bowling ball. Brutus was probably searching for Mike.

He’d show up eventually, hunting those on The List of Chumps to be Pounded After School. Failing to call Brutus, the biggest sixth-grader at Evanston Elementary, by his self-chosen nickname broke Chump Rule #1. Mike blew that the first day of school. On the second, he sat in Brutus’s swing. His name had topped The List ever since.


Mike jerked upright. A soccer ball bounced away from the side of the bleachers. He gritted his teeth and clenched his math assignment. Home was only five blocks away…

No. He would not hide in his house like a friendless dork. With summer coming and Brutus able to stalk the park all day, Mike’s plan to escape Evanston Ohio had to work.

Step one: attend the Academy section of Space Camp two years ahead of his age group. Step two: get noticed by NASA. Step three: move to Florida as the space program’s youngest astronaut. Step four: “accidentally” drop an International Space Station toilet into Brutus’s backyard.

“C’mon Mike, we need another player.” Carlos picked up the soccer ball and bounced it against the lowest bench.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #10

TITLE: The Adventures of Finn Farrow and the Infallible Time Travelers
GENRE: MG - Science Fiction

Finn Farrow always thought his dad was crazy until he inherited the silver comb. He could now Leap Behind and explore ancient worlds. With the help of his new friends, Finn quickly learns how dangerous time travel can be.

Finn Farrow opened the bottom drawer of the dresser, pulled out a stack of jeans and threw them into his duffel bag. He glanced at Bags, sitting on his bed, playing with his phone. His friend preferred to wear a Greek toga, just in case he could squeeze in a quick trip to Ancient Greece, but today he was dressed like an ordinary kid, jeans, a tee shirt and flip-flops.

“Are you packed?” Finn asked.

Bags grinned and said, “Yep. Three togas, a toothbrush and my Leap Behind. I’m ready to go!”

Both were both tall for fourteen, just under six feet. Bags had a thin frame with brown wavy hair, brown eyes and a crooked smile. He was outgoing and very popular. Finn was fair with serious green eyes. They were more than roommates, they were best friends, and they were time travelers.

Finn continued to pack, emptying his closet and checking under his bed for any wayward socks. He couldn’t believe his freshman year at Whispering Pines was over. In some ways he was glad, he really wanted to go home and see his dad.

I’m not going to time travel this summer. At least not until I know dad is okay. Finn pulled out the silver comb in his back pocket and turned it over in his hands several times. If I comb my hair, would my Leap Behind take me back to Egypt? Would King Tut still be dead?

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #9

GENRE: MG - Fantasy Adventure

After his middle school nemesis is kidnapped at a retirement home by its possessed dance instructor, Ellis must save the girl and lead the oddball elderly residents to battle the demon and its raven minions.

The news hit Ellis Brown like a blindside tackle, instantly ruining his once-promising Saturday morning. He could not believe what he just heard. “You mean a girl has already been here selling these tickets?”

Mr. McGregor nodded, “Yes, she came about an hour ago. Still in the building, I believe.”

"Such an angel, blonde hair, blue eyes, and beaming with joy,” said Mrs. McGregor perched beside him in a matching red velvet armchair.

Yep, that’s Alicia. What a fake. Ellis forced a smile as anxiety bubbled in the pit of his stomach. “And I suppose she sold you tickets to our show?”

“As a matter of fact, she did," Mr. McGregor said. “She seems to be a sweet young lady.”

Sweet? Maybe, if rattlesnake’s venom is sweet. “She does have a way,” Ellis said.

“She did mention that a friend might stop by later. That must be you.”

Ellis had one big problem, Alicia Swanson. She had been a thorn in his side since the very first minute of middle school. She beat him at everything. Worst of all, she had a habit of broadcasting it to everyone. Ellis stifled a groan and wondered how long until the whole world knew of this latest conquest.

Ever since their summer drama teacher announced a contest to sell the most tickets to their performance of Alice In Wonderland, he’d been banking on winning by selling a boatload of tickets to the old people at the Destiny Gardens Retirement Community. Instead, Alicia had beaten him to the punch.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #8

TITLE: Adventures With Auntie Mischief
GENRE: MG - Fantasy

A big brother learns he has a powerful magic, that if he does not learn to control, will get him in a lot of trouble, all while keeping his precocious little brother safe and out of the clutches of a sinister organization bent on taking that magic for themselves.

There’s nothing worse than an itch you can’t scratch.

Joshua clucked and coughed, gagged and grimaced, as he rubbed his tongue against the roof of his mouth. If only he could get at that annoying tickle. He finally attacked it with a carrot stick. Then the tickle moved around like it was trying to escape.

Joshua growled in frustration. It seemed getting rid of this tickle was going to be impossible. He knew what it meant too. Somewhere in this crowded house, among the many family and friends attending Christmas dinner was a secret conversation. He was sure of it. First the roof of his mouth would tickle, then itch, then he’d happen to find himself in just the right place to hear it. Then there would be trouble. Grown-up conversations are for grown-ups, not children. But he didn’t mean to eavesdrop. It wasn’t his fault, really. It was the tickle. It was almost impossible to ignore. It was like it called to him and he couldn't help himself.

"Joshua," his father said, as he walked by, three drinks in his hand. "Where's your brother?"

Joshua shrugged. His father frowned for a moment but then smiled as his guest took their drinks. When he looked back at his son, his frown had returned.

"Remember what we talked about."

Joshua sighed but nodded. He looked around the room for Brandon.

Ignoring this tickle was only the second impossible task he'd been assigned today. The other was even harder.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #7

TITLE: Ho'onani: The Wahine With Ku
GENRE: MG - Narrative Non-ficiton

A young girl in Hawai’i dreams of leading the boys-only end of year high school performance while having to prove to her older sister, there is nothing wrong with being a tomboy.

I spy one of the school’s soprano ukuleles leaning in the corner of the hall and jog over.

Spinning in my brain is this brand new song, and I have an idea.

With one foot against the wall, I twist my favorite baseball cap backwards and check the clock. Seven minutes until our next class, Hawaiian Culture.

Finding G on the fret board, my fingers settle and with a flick of my wrist, the strings vibrate.

“Faam-i-ly,” I sing softly.

I like how the word rolls, but want to hear it in F.


Whoaa! That's way too deep - even for me!

My friends hover around. Most of them like my songs, even the boys who consider me as one of them.

“Ho’onani,” a boy calls out, “don’t be late, Kumu Hina has an announcement!”

I nod thanks and strum out the remaining song.

Kumu Hina’s very special. She was born male, but grew up in a time boys couldn’t be girlish. She got bullied a LOT.

But then she learned about our ancestors who, like her, were also people in the middle. One gender outside, another inside.

They were, Mahu, respected as teachers and healers.

Because of her, I’m not teased for being a wahine-kane, tomboy.

Almost everyone accepts me, everyone that is, except my older sister, Kana. The day she understands me will be a Hawaiian miracle.

The bell rings and with a tinge of regret, I leave the ukulele where I found it.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #6

TITLE: Vampire Mask
GENRE: MG - Contemporary

Piper is a thirteen-year-old vampire.

Unless you ask her mom. If you ask her mom, she’s an adorable thirteen-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with lupus—right after she lost her father to complications from lupus.

But in Piper’s mind, she’s a vegetarian vampire, waiting for her magic powers to come in.

I remember the day I was reborn into this new life. The day they told me not to go outside because the sun could kill me. That day, my whole life changed.

It was not a change I am happy with.

"Piper, eat your breakfast."

I blinked at my mom. "Vampires don't do mornings."

Long suffering sigh. "You aren't a vampire."

"Then why can't I go in the sun?" I asked, mushing up my pancakes.

"You can go in the sun. You just have to cover up. Wear that cute floppy hat I bought you."

I pushed away from the table, glaring at my mom. She would never understand me. I resisted the urge to bare my fangs at her and instead I jumped to my feet and stalked out…or at least, I tried to stalk out. But the big black combat boots she bought me yesterday make it very hard to stalk. I think they weighed as much as I do, and they made my knees ache.


Vampires wear black. And since I'm sure I'll have to be fighting other vampires soon, I must have combat boots.

"Piper!" Crap. My mom had noticed my retreat and my still-full plate left behind on the table.

"I'm going back to sleep." I called as I tried to bound up the stairs. I only fell once.

Do vampires sleep in their combat boots? I was new at this, so I wasn't sure.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #5

TITLE: Music Camp of the Rockies
GENRE: MG - Action and Adventure

There’s no turning back as Liza wraps her slender fingers around my wrist.

           “Ready or not!” She yells and yanks me down the grassy slope. We pick up speed, running faster and faster. My scream echoes all the way to the main lodge where we thunder onto the wooden porch.

            “You're crazy!” I say between gasps of laughter. We stand in front of the massive doors propped open wide like welcoming arms. I read the banner above the door:


75th Anniversary

            It’s weird how life comes full circle. Less than a year ago, I stood in this very spot and swore I'd never come back here again…or play my French horn again.

            It’s not that I don’t love this place. I do. It’s like home to me. More home than the small apartment Mom and I live in now. But last year turned out to be the worst ever and I’m still not sure I’m doing the right thing by being back here.

            We step inside where the stone fireplace fights off the mountain breeze.

            “I can't wait to get to our cabin,” I tell Liza, but what I really mean to say is, I want to get out of this room and out of this building before we run into anyone from last year.

As Liza says hi to some campers I don't recognize, I wander over to some old-fashioned photographs hanging on the log wall that’s darkened with age.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #4

TITLE: Return to the Mountains
GENRE: MG - Contemporary

When 12 year-old Kate finds a lynx with kittens on her family's remote Colorado ranch, she must choose between keeping the lynx a secret to keep her brother from killing them, or tell her family in order to protect the ranch's livestock from the lynx.

An empty chicken coop is like a rodeo without mutton-busting. It just isn’t right. But that’s how I found the coop when I went back out after talking on the phone with Lupita.

Every single bird I’d raised from egg-hood…gone.

The gate was wide open.

My older brother Tyler was always on me about the gate. Kate, he’d say in his in-charge-of-everything tone, you have to latch the gate every time. But surely I’d at least shut it on my way to get the phone. Had the alpha rooster orchestrated a coop-break? If King Strut was as desperate to get out as I was, I wouldn’t have put it past him.

I stood there a good long time, too long, staring at the cracked red soil littered with feathers. A pile had settled in the corner like a snow drift. All those feathers together like that almost looked like a whole chicken roosting there. Taking care of them was my responsibility, and I’d let them down. “Sorry,” I whispered to the drifts of feathers.

That ‘sorry’ was also for my own benefit. If Tyler and Dad found out I hadn’t latched the gate properly, it would give them one more reason to go on treating me like a little kid. Tyler would spend the summer following me around the ranch, his shadow trampling on mine all day long, making sure I did things right. Or at least that I did things his way.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #3

TITLE: WHITE ISLAND - An Adventure of Color
GENRE: MG - Fantasy

When the Danger Bell clangs in Phoebe Featherwell’s small village of White Mice, she learns that a huge creature has come ashore during the Dark Time and ransacked their food storage bins. Worse yet, her little brother, Maurice, has disappeared without a trace.

The Danger Bell rang out with a loud CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

Phoebe awoke with a start. She hurried to the backyard to get Maurice, but when she looked inside his tent, he was nowhere to be found. Moments later, she and her parents were hurrying toward the Village Square to see what had happened to cause such a commotion at such an early hour.

“Oh, I hope Maurice hasn’t been hurt,” her mother said.

“He’s probably fine, Mother,” Phoebe replied as they rushed along. “You know how he wanders off chasing dragonflies and such.” And Phoebe didn’t give it any more thought for the moment.

A sizeable group of White Mice was already gathering when Phoebe and her parents arrived. Phoebe could see members of the White Guard patrolling the perimeter while others, with their weapons drawn, were conducting searches of the area surrounding the Village Square. This activity and the buzz of conversation filled the crisp morning air, and there was a great deal of anticipation and uncertainty evident on the faces in the crowd.

An elderly White Mouse with a small wooden cane shuffled up beside Phoebe and asked, “What’s all this fuss about, dear?”

Phoebe shrugged politely. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know, ma’am. It must be something very important, though.”

A few moments later, Mayor Oglesby, a rather heavyset, middle-aged White Mouse with long, drooping whiskers and very little hair left on the top of his head, climbed up onto a small, flat rock in front of the large Danger Bell.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #2

GENRE: MG - Historical Fantasy

THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS meets LOVE, AUBREY, when a war, a boat accident and a missing brother, takes Alice into her shadow world in search of the cloaked stranger who took him, whilst fighting a deranged boy king intent on hiding the truth.

September 1940

I pressed my cheek against the cold train window. My heartbeat thudded with each chug of the engine, taking me away from Mother, waving her hanky from the platform edge. She faded into the blanket of fog and out of sight, but I kept my face against the glass. Edwin couldn’t see me cry, no one could — especially not the classmates sharing my compartment. My first time away from home and branded a crybaby? No, thank you. Besides, Mother said I had to be brave. Instead, I squeezed Purrl, my beanbag cat, hidden under my grey school blazer, until my breath stilled.

I leant back against the checked seat. Across from me, my little brother’s face remained glued to the window, his breath fogging up the glass. He knelt backwards, his unruly black hair sprouting like a carrot top at his crown, despite Mother’s attempts to plaster it down with Vaseline. Next to him, the silver-haired housemaster, Dr Dickerson, whom Edwin and I had known for all of three minutes, drew a long breath at my fidgeting brother beside him.

“Eddy, sit down,” I said. “Mother’s gone.”

A sob exploded from his skinny seven-year-old body and he spun around, slumping into his seat. Tears streaked his cheeks and clumped his long eyelashes together. He wiped his eyes with Roar, his stuffed lion, and sniffed a snot trail back up his left nostril.

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #1

TITLE: The Rookery
GENRE: MG - Fantasy

Twelve-year-old Kellen absolutely refuses to be turning into a bird, or really, a Freak. But when her younger sister becomes the next victim of Avian kidnappers, she realizes that the only way to save her is to accept her newfound powers.

            Secrets used to be cool to Kellen.  Mysterious and intriguing.  But now that she had a secret of her own, she knew otherwise.  Secrets were stupid.  Secrets were embarrassing.  Secrets were disastrous.

            She looked at her unmade bed and shame rushed to her cheeks.  There were feathers splayed all over her bed.  How the heck did they get there?  They weren’t goose-down, like the white ones you find when your pillow explodes.  These were different.  Fluffy and soft, like the lining of a bird’s nest.  Some were white with black stripes and others were tawny with white specks.

            Her window had been closed all night—nothing could have come in.  Rat, the family cat, was locked out—he couldn’t have left her a “present”.  How could the feathers have gotten into her bed?  A strange thought snuck into her head like an oil leak.  Could the feathers have come from her?

            Someone pounded on her bedroom door.  “Kellen!  There’s been another!  Kellen!  Wake up!”  It was Linnet, her little sister.

            “Not now, Linnet!” she muttered under her breath.  But she knew, with Linnet, it had to be now.  Kellen had to hide her secret, quick!

“Kellen!  I’m coming in!” Linnet warned.

            A metallic tinkling came through the doorknob.  She had to act fast.  Linnet had been working on her lock-picking skills lately, and it wouldn’t take long for her to get in.  Most seven-year old girls loved horses or wanted to be princesses.  Kellen’s little sister was in training to be a detective.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Just For You, MG Writers!!

It's been a while since I've hosted an in-house crit session.  (Cutting back on the blog, etc. etc.)  But it's been on my mind to offer something specifically to those of you who write middle grade.

Why?  Well, I've noticed in my experience with our big contests over the years as well as with my clients that it is VERY CHALLENGING to nail that middle grade voice.  Often, that "adult writer voice" will seep through, stealing authenticity from the novel.

So.  I'd like to give some of you a chance for public feedback focusing on YOUR MIDDLE GRADE VOICE.


  • The submission window will be open from 1:00 PM EDT today until 1:00 PM EDT tomorrow.
  • Submit a 50-words-or-less LOGLINE and the first 250 words of your manuscript.
  • The bot will accept 20 entries (this is not a lottery).
  • (If for some reason response is bigger, I'll open another 10 slots.)
  • Your excerpts will post on THURSDAY.
  • MIDDLE GRADE ONLY!  If you enter anything that's not middle grade, it will be disqualified.
  • Enter HERE.
Questions below!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Friday Fricassee

I'm still alive!

So, as you know, I've been drafting these past weeks.  I'm also currently working on a fairly time-consuming editing project, as well as SOMETHING ELSE.

The SOMETHING ELSE is -- *drum roll* -- a new story idea that popped out of nowhere.

I know that's happened to many of you!  But, honestly?  It doesn't usually happen to me.  I'm sure I've said this (numerous times) before, but I'm not an idea person.  When, just prior to starting our submission process a month or so ago, Danielle asked me to share all my story ideas with her, I was

Literally.  "Um."


Sure, I had a couple of older novels that I was burning to rewrite.  But that's not quite the same as a fresh, new idea. 

So you can imagine my utter glee when I found myself all a-flutter over this New Idea.

Even better?  When I shared the idea with Danielle a few days ago, she was BEYOND ENTHUSIASTIC.  "You must write this book!" she said.

Nothing like fanning the flame with a single sentence, right?

So, in the midst of my rabid, 1000-words-a-day-or-die on my current draft, I'm dabbling in the research and worldbuilding and character-creating of my New Idea.  I even bought some new music and created a playlist.  (You know it's serious when that happens!)

And there you have it.  The bottom line is that my current novel-on-submission is a YA Fantasy (as most of you already know), and Danielle feels (and I agree) that it will be smart to brand myself as a YA Fantasy author before moving into the YA SF I so love (and have written, well, lots of).  The New Idea is decidedly YA Fantasy, so we're good to go.

(Have I mentioned that I cut my proverbial teeth on fantasy novels?  It's undeniably my first love.)

As for my draft?  It's growing slowly and steadily beneath my fingers. To wit:

(That's from yesterday.  So, yep, I'm almost 1/3 of the way through this first draft.  Which feels SO VERY GOOD.)

And while we're staring at pretty project target graphics from Scrivener-without-which-I-would-surely-perish:  Please don't take on other people's word counts.

I've done this at times.  I'll be plugging merrily away at my self-imposed thousand-a-day, and some smarmy writer will declare, "Yee-haw!  Got 4200 words in today.  Time for some beer!"  And I'll look at my measly 1000 and think...huh.

Here's the deal:  I do think it is SO VERY IMPORTANT to write regularly.  Every day, if possible.  But whether it's every-other-day or every-single-weekend or whatever it is, MAKE IT SACRED.  200 words a day or 1500 words a day or WHATEVER FEELS DOABLE TO YOU is what you need to strive to accomplish.

It doesn't matter the number of words.  What matters is consistency.  Regardless of what your personal writing rate is, that manuscript WILL GROW BENEATH YOUR FINGERS if you keep at it.

I know you know this.  But I wanted to remind you.  Because, yes.  Writing regularly (whether you feel like it or not) is so very important.

Okay, then!  Nose to the grindstone and all that.  Have a glorious weekend!

Monday, April 4, 2016

And We Have Winners!

Here's the post you've been waiting for!  Beth's winners are as follow:


The prize: Full manuscript and synopsis


The prize:  Full manuscript and synopsis


The prize:  Query, synopsis, and first five chapters

Yay!!  Winners:  Please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific submission instructions.

Also!  Here is a message from Beth Campbell:

First I want to thank all of you once again for entering! It takes a lot of guts to put your work on a public forum.

There was a ton of talent in these entries, and picking the winners took considerable deliberation. Many of you piqued my interest, so please don't hesitate to query me at if you'd like me to consider your work further (and please mention this contest when you do!). Cheers to you all!

Secret Agent Unveiled: Beth Campbell

A shower of flower petals and thanks to this month's lovely Secret Agent, Beth Campbell of BookEnds Literary Agency!

Beth's Bio:

After an academic career filled with publishing internships, Beth joined BookEnds as a literary assistant in September 2012 and was promoted to Assistant Literary Agent in 2015. She's diligently building her client list and is always excited to meet an author with an excellent story. She's also spent years as the company's rights coordinator and now works alongside Moe to continue selling foreign and audio rights.

Beth's obsession with books began with a distinct fantasy/sci-fi flavor, and she's happily never kicked the addiction. She is primarily interested in signing clients within those genres, YA, romantic suspense, and mystery. She loves seeing diverse characters (sexuality, gender, race, you name it!) and strong friendships across all genres.

Beth currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat. Outside of reading, her personal hobbies include drawing, cooking, gaming, and spending far too much time on the Internet.

What Beth is currently looking for:

I'm currently accepting submissions in fantasy, sci-fi, YA (no middle grade), mystery, and suspense. Right now I'm particularly interested in YA of all sub genres and am always on the lookout for diverse characters and stories that feature strong friendships and/or found families.

Many thanks, Beth!  Winners forthcoming.