Monday, December 15, 2014

"Why I Write Inclusively as a White Woman" - Bronwyn Deaver

Happy Monday everyone!

Today we have the amazing Bronwyn Deaver with a guest post on Writing Inclusively (#WriteInclusively). Seriously, I'm in love with this post. As I am also writing a book from the first-person perceptive of a man of a different ethnicity than mine, Bronwyn's words speak volumes to me - and hopefully, to you too.

Take it away!

Books are gifts. The words contained in them can carry someone through a rough time or open his or her eyes to a world that has never been experienced before.

Children's literature is even more special. The characters that you read in childhood often help shape a piece of who you become. You can stick those characters right in your backpack and carry them around - revisiting their words over and over again. They're frozen in time even as your own sense of self changes.

Fondness flutters around a whole cast of characters in my memory. I love them all! Anne Shirley and her temper, Jo March and her writing, Ramona and the pink worm ring, Kristy Thomas and her leadership qualities, James and his adventure in a peach. I could go on and on and on. Do you see a pattern though? They are all white. That never stood out to me as a child. My world was a white world. So, they fit. But I think I deserved more and my friends who were not white definitely deserved more.

When I started writing, I had every intention of writing books that children could pick up and connect with. If you are writer of children's literature, you have the same goal too. You want your story to stay with a child forever.

With that in mind, I need to write for my audience. My audience is not just a bunch of white children. I write for all children. I can't promise that in every book I ever write any person will be able to find a character in them that looks just like they do. But I do need to write so that more than one set of people can find themselves across my work.

I'm not going to say that writing characters from other racial backgrounds doesn't intimidate me. I want to get it right. I want to give respect to culture and heritage and I want to stay away from stereotypes. But it is my duty to the children who might pick up my words one day.

The first novel I wrote had a whole cast of characters from different backgrounds. It's a YA fantasy novel and crafting those characters and their personalities was immensely fun. When I write picture books, I tend to write characters that could be drawn any way possible in regards to race, ability, socio-economic background, etc. But I also think it is important that since there is not a lot of diversity in books, that I write characters whose race cannot be ignored or changed.

A while back, I had a character get stuck in my head unlike any I had written before - a biracial male teen. I let him sit in my head for months. Could a white woman of privilege write a biracial male teen whose story isn't one of privilege? The words "write what you know" kept circling in my brain. I didn't know anything about being male or biracial – not in a first person sort of way. But I wanted to write this story.

At first I found myself writing in third person. I realized that I was keeping distance from my main character. It wasn't going to work that way. I had to let the main character, Reece, tell me about his life. So, I switched to first person and it worked.

Then I came across this by Keesha Beckford [please do read it, it's incredibly powerful - SC]. Her words just twisted my heart. I was angry that my fellow mothers had to have such fears. And they have every reason to have those fears. She solidified my resolve to "write what you haven't lived but are willing to learn about". Parents have so much on their plates these days. They deserve to be able to send their kids out to play and not worry that they will meet disaster for any reason. Skin color should never be a reason for disaster. And writers can help change that.

White kids need black role models. Make sure you read that sentence correctly.  Yes, black kids need black role models, but non-black kids do too. Children deserve safety and love and good books with characters that are similar to and different from them. We can't expect them to change the world if we don't give them stories that will help them learn what they don't know.

Our society is so divided. I think whites sit on the sidelines a lot because we don't know what to do. We think we will be seen as "invading" if we speak up. We don't want to intrude. It is the whole "I support you, but this is your thing and I don't want to get in the way." As writers of children's books we all have a right and a calling to provide the best stories possible for all children.

Books stick with people. The power of your keyboard could change perception. One character, one page, one story at a time – you could have the power to help change racial attitudes. You could help people feel valued. There may be a child right now just waiting for one of your stories to touch his or her soul in a way that nothing else will all because you decided to write for them. And maybe you will be teaching that child what he or she will need to know later in life to keep a tragedy from happening.

I am an ally. I will do what I can to promote diversity in books because that mirrors real life. The children are my audience. The children deserve no less.  

Bronwyn Deaver is a writer of children's literature. She is currently seeking representation for her work, but as she queries and stalks her inbox for positive news, she continues to write. She is currently working on a retelling of a YA classic as well as various picture books. She is a member of SCBWI. She Tweets.
 
YES. What an amazing post. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Bronwyn!

These discussions aren't just for minorities, they're for everyone. It's not taking a 'stand' on the political spectrum - it's a human rights issue, since when did that become political?

How do you approach these issues?

(This guest post is part of a series of #WriteInclusively guest posts. If you would like to take the pledge to Write Inclusively, feel free to sign up!)

The Pact to Write Inclusively and the List:
(When you click the link below, it'll ask for a URL to a blog post - feel free to link to your main blog, or your Twitter!)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Debra McKellan on Writing Inclusively

As part of my pact to Write Inclusively, I've started a blog series where guest bloggers come and talk about writing inclusively. It's time for to sit back and just listen.

We've got a great writer to start this series off - the incredible, generous, and supremely warm-hearted Debra McKellan, someone I've known for years through Agent Query Connect.

Take it away Debra :)



I will:

1) actively write, edit, and revise to challenge stereotypes that may be present in my writing;
2) actively work against the normalization of a single identity;
3) actively work towards the normalization of diversity.

SC Author started this pact for diversity in books, which you can follow on Twitter under the Hashtag #WriteInclusively. If you’ve noticed on my blog, the emblem above is the symbol for this pledge: A white flag with a gray circle. The blue rose icon is just something I use in signatures, but it’s also from one of my favorite screenplays “The Glass Menagerie.”

By the time I graduated college I'd had many instances of uncomfortable racial prejudice from both black and white people, but before that I grew up fully believing in equality for all. I’m not a big fan of culture shocks, so I still have trouble handling and understanding the deeply ingrained stereotypes of people of different races.

Racial hatred occurs not only because of those still ignorantly passing down their hatred from generation-to-generation (my cousin is a teacher, and a little girl told him she doesn’t like him because he’s black. I don’t think he teaches any higher than the 2nd grade), but because it’s been thrown in our faces as early as Antebellum America. Look up “Stereotypes of African Americans” on Wikipedia, and you’ll get part of a couple of things I learned during a couple of my history classes in college. (Side note: I’m pretty sure some people think we’ve been living in Birth of A Nation for the past term and a half. Thanks (?), D.W. Griffith.)

What's on your television? My mom just recently stopped watching Hallmark because she realized they never feature any black actors as the main character. God bless "Law & Order: SVU" and their 2 million episodes, because that might just be the most diverse show on TV today. Black reality shows are: "Love & Hip-Hop," "R&B Divas," "Real Housewives of Atlanta," etc., shows that glorify the most hood of black people who seem to reduce themselves to fights and cursing people out on an episodic basis. Rap & Hip-hip videos portray “gangsta” lifestyles that millions like to emulate but wouldn't actually last a minute living in.

Society has been trained to look at the “others” (black people in this instance) as interesting and entertaining people, but not valuable human beings (athletes, actors, comedians, musicians). So when injustices happen to black people, there is a huge apathy. When I say this, I'm focusing on the Eric Garner incident, because a cop who was supposed to uphold the law BROKE the law (and apparently Eric was selling loose cigarettes, but two negatives don’t…you know) which resulted in Garner’s death. And it was recorded. And the coroner ruled it a homicide. And there was still no indictment. And a barrage of people blame Garner.

When people get mad because a protest ruined their Christmas Tree Lighting experience, or they’re threatening to shoot protesters if they can't make an Eagles game, or the first thing they say is about a victim of an unlawful police death, “Well, what did the person do?” the love or compassion for someone else's humanity can’t possibly be there.

So how does this relate to writing inclusively? Back to my mention of Birth of A Nation. Fear is created because people take what they're given at face value and walk away believing it's true. Leave your boxes and GET TO KNOW PEOPLE. Walk into a bookstore and head on over to the "African-American Literature" (I wrote a post about that issue, too, don't remember when) and pick up a book that you find intriguing. Then, actually, pick up one that has totally different content by a different A.A. author. And keep doing that. Because black people are also diverse.

As a writer, if you really want to know how someone of another culture speaks, acts, lives, don't just place a person in your story molded by what you think you know. LEARN. Good example, Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. Fat Charlie is a black man from England, Spider is his brother from California, if I recall. You don't see Gaiman perpetrating black men. You see Fat Charlie and Spider. I imagine Gaiman took time to learn about black cultures (because there are more than one), and he did it brilliantly. It can be done. Write inclusively. Write diversity, and be real about it.




I have been a writer for most of my life. I've been a GOOD writer for much, much shorter, but that's neither here nor there. My first story was for a class project where they gave the class a blank book. I wrote about my older sister. My next story was based on the X-Men cartoons because they were popular at the time.

I love fantasies, superheroes, a little sci-fi (I'm a trekkie and a brown coat!). I love television. I live for Final Fantasy video games. I have most of them. I've read a myriad of authors from Arthur Miller to Christopher Pike. My favorites are currently George R.R. Martin, Robert Olen Butler, and the late Octavia Butler.

Follow her Twitter and blog!

Thank you so much for sharing!!!! It's a great  post with a HUGE message: diversity within diversity exists and is true. People of color have differing ideas on their own identity as well, something that is sadly overlooked much too often.

Again, THANK YOU!!

Below is the linky list to the pact, if you would like to join. If you would like to guest blog, please send me an email.

On Monday, Bronwyn Deaver has a simply incredible post on "Why I Write Inclusively as a White Woman." Make sure to check it out! As I am also writing a book from the first person perspective of a character of another race, her post spoke volumes to me.

How would you like diversity to be seen in literature?

The Pact to Write Inclusively and the List:
(When you click the link below, it'll ask for a URL to a blog post - feel free to link to your main blog, or your Twitter!)

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Pact for Writing Inclusively - Please, We NEED Diverse Books


I haven't been quite bloggy these past few weeks. 

It's hard to admit, it's weird to admit. 

The live stream of Michael Brown's verdict played as I sat in my chair, and then the aftermath of these two non-indictments (Michael Brown's and Eric Garner's) followed soon after. It's odd because in just over a week, more frustration, anger, and hopelessness than I ever thought possible seeped into me - which is a privilege of my Indian ethnicity, because I can feel frustrated instead of afraid.

One of my friends - usually so happy and bubbly - descended into something dark and hopeless. In her words, "I am hurting. I hurt so fucking bad right now.'

And I've been exercising self-care. I needed time to deal with it all, and - recently - to realize what my place is in this discussion. Do I have a place?

It's a myth that non-blacks and non-Hispanics have no place in this dialogue on racism. One of my favorite quotes of all time has guided my action:


Let me reiterate: whites, Asians, Native Americans, all other races, have a place in this dialogue, namely, to acknowledge the privilege that comes with not being perceived as a threat everywhere we go and then to work against the systems that don't afford that privilege to other people. Non-whites have their own stereotypes to deal with, which is a whole 'nother issue. 

Firstly, we must come to terms with our privilege. Accept that it exists, realize that no one is blaming us for it, but understand that it exists. 

The media  portrays blacks and Hispanics as looters, threats, and criminals - and when a black or brown person succeeds, it is in spite of their race, their race 'doesn't hold them back,' as if being successful is not a black or brown thing to do. Their race has been erased.

The system is not fair or just (I've done so much research on this - I didn't want it to be true - but quite simply, it is true; if you want, I can talk to you one-on-one about it). Learning about the extent of its unfairness might put you in the same state I was - and am - in. 

With what little influence I have, I'm on my knees and begging you, please, change this. 

NO MORE DEAD INNOCENTS. No more corpses due to our racialized fears. No more seeing people as threats simply due to their race. We are KILLING people, children and parents and loved ones, simply due to our racialized fears.

Most of those who are reading this blog are writers. We are WRITERS. Many of us are YA writers - which is great, since I have more hope for today's children to solve race problems than today's adults to solve them. Use the power of the pen, use what amazing gifts you have. I am begging you. Our 'normalization' of one race, one gender, one sexuality, one religion, same physical/mental ability, etc. is destroying us. Our silence is murder, for our silence normalizes oppression. Please please please please, don't ignore this blog post, don't ignore this message.

Diversity is not political - and if it is, that's sad. Diversity is truth. Since when did championing for human rights ever become politicized? Fear of being 'political' has led us to quiet our tongues (we are writers). Few of us speak about these issues because no one wants to be labeled as a 'liberal' or a 'Democrat'. Is anyone not disgusted by this? Since when did empathy become a stance?

Empathy and free speech are our fundamental tools of trade! How can we have lost them? Since we create writing that enters into mass media, we must responsibly portray the subjects of our novels in a realistic way and fight against the normalization of diversity-less communities or stereotype-riddled character tropes. We must portray the truth.

Our silence is murder.

It'd be foolish to ignore the cultural impacts our words have - and how that relates to the cycle of racism and oppression. The habitual instinct to make every character white since it is 'normal' or a 'blank slate' ties in directly with the lack of nuance in society's perception of people of color. To make a character colored, for example, is a 'big deal'. To make them have problems that don't relate to their race: an even bigger deal (although, since many colored characters' biggest problems deal with their race, doesn't that prove that racism isn't over? Maybe we do need more race-dealing novels).

We have to change the portrayal of minority groups.

(I use the word 'minority' quite ironically, since globally, many Western minorities are in fact majorities.)

We are allies, not leaders. Remember to make space for those writers who have dealt with these issues: they know more about it then the rest. For the writers who have dealt with these issues: please, take space. No matter who you offend with your truths, take space. 

I can't sit here and do nothing anymore. I'm sick and tired of it. With the little influence I have, I'm begging and I'm going to try and be an ally.

I'm asking whoever wishes, minorities and majorities, to join me in a pact to write with an active goal for diversity:

The Pact to Write Inclusively:

I will:

1) actively write, edit, and revise to challenge stereotypes that may be present in my writing
2) actively work against the normalization of a single identity
3) actively work towards the normalization of diversity

This does NOT mean every single character in your novel has to be a minority at ALL! That would be the erasure of the white race (which is not our intention). It doesn't even mean most or any of your characters have to be minorities. It just means you will work towards diversity however you choose to interpret that.

This is a solid pact. Make sure you know what you're signing up for - to actively work towards the three objectives. Meaning, to look for the generalizations in your writing and then to work against it. 

Below will be the symbol of everyone on the pact. I've been searching for universal and simple signs for inclusion and diversity; the circle seems to pop up very often.

A circle of inclusion will be our symbol.

Once can easily, with some picture manipulating tools, overlay it on top of their Twitter/Facebook icons:

For example, mine! (Dang, I really should change my icon. So unprofessional! Ah well.)

If you need help overlaying the pact onto your Twitter/Facebook icon, PLEASE TELL ME! Send me an email SC_Author (at) yahoo (dot) com with your picture attached; I shall send you back the edited one :)

#WriteInclusively

If you have a blog/Twitter account, sign the pact by clicking that little blue 'Add your link' button at the bottom of this post. It's a list thing. It'll be the master list of pact-signers. I purposely made the links public: part of working towards diversity is being open about working towards it. Seriously, there's no pressure for you to sign the pact - it's your own will and no one will judge you (at least, the non-crazy people won't).

If you've signed, please please spread the word! Tweet with #WriteInclusively about what writing inclusively means to you, why it's important, how it relates with Ferguson and Eric Garner, and the power of writing to change the world. Why did you decide (if you decided) to take this pact?

Write blog posts about this pact and why you decided to take it.

This is what I came up with. This is what I can do at this stage of my life. All I know is, I'm done doing nothing or only ranting on Twitter. I'm sick of ranting. Everyone rants. I want action.

On a separate but related note, I also would like guest posts on the intersection of diversity and writing from writers of underrepresented identities, no matter what that identity is. If you have a good idea for a post and want to guest post, please send me an email (SC_Author (at) yahoo (dot) com) about your possible post. To writers that do not identify with underrepresented identities, it's time to simply read the posts. Make space instead of take space.

It's time we put our money where our mouth is. Too many promises have been made.

If you have anything to add to the pact, any ideas you think I've not incorporated, please comment and tell me! But please please, we're begging you, be an ally. Work in solidarity. Silence is murder, and people can't breathe.

The Pact to Write Inclusively and the List:
(When you click the link below, it'll ask for a URL to a blog post - feel free to link to your main blog, or your Twitter!)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What I Am Thankful For


HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!

Sorry for not posting much! It's a busy few months for me. Especially with the current goings on in America, I've felt too depressed, frustrated, conflicted, hopeless, angry, and so many other emotions that constantly swirl in my mind, day in and day out, so much so that I don't know if I can handle all this emotion. Maybe Thanksgiving couldn't have come at a better time.

As a writer, I'm thankful for this community. You guys are seriously one of the best things to ever happen to me.

As a human, I'm thankful for compassion. One of the only things that's keeping the little hope I have left is my trust in the power of love and compassion.

I am also thankful for God. I don't know exactly what I believe, but I think I believe, and so I am eternally thankful.

Many happy wishes to you all! Please, make room in your heart for love and compassion. It washes hate away like a river and opens up your minds to new and profound truths.

I'm planning to spend it with a lot of family and also planning to ski :D What are your plans? 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Kim Long - Query Kombat 2014 SUCCESS STORY!

 Happy happy happy again, WE'VE GOT ANOTHER SUCCESS STORY! These make our days :) This one is from Kim Long who participated in Query Kombat 2014.   

TAKE IT AWAY, KIM!

A couple years ago I decided I wanted to write a book. I always enjoyed writing, and every now and then I'd get inspired for a few weeks and work diligently at putting words onto paper, but it wasn't something I took seriously. One night I was reading Game of Thrones and thought how great it'd be if there was a book solely about Arya Stark.I've always considered Arya the most interesting (even though there's other characters I love, like Tyrion), but there's so many characters in Martin's books that we don't see enough of her. So, with this bright idea, I closed the word document containing my legal thriller and started a YA fantasy that focused on a fourteen-year-old girl. Fast forward to a year-and-a-half later. Manuscript is finished. I write my query (getting suggestions from Query Tracker folks) and send it out.

Crickets.

I enter it in Pitch Madness.

Crickets.

I enter Sun & Snow.

Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.

I decide to read some YA fantasy. (Now there's an idea--one I should have had much earlier, but hey, better late then never.) I learn that my original ideas aren't so original, and, overall, I'm not sure there's anything really unique or spectacular to make my YA fantasy stand out. I do a complete overhaul and decide to query one more time. I also enter a few more contests (The Writer's Voice, LIke a Virgin, etc. - same crickets as before.) But during this time, I also come to the conclusion that it's probably best to move on and write something completely different. Because the one thing I did learn over the two years was how much I really loved writing. Why hadn't I been doing this earlier? Oh that's right, I have a day job and a zillion other things to do. But I didn't want to stop, and with tons of ideas popping into my head, how could I?

So I send out my last batch of queries for the YA in late January 2014 and start an MG fantasy. The words came easier this time--much easier, as did pacing, showing vs. telling, the query letter, everything really. Apparently, that YA novel had taught me something. I finished in early May 2014 with my eye on Query Kombat. I entered before my beta readers finished it and was thrilled when Michelle picked my entry, Star Light, Star Bright, for her team. I advanced a few rounds, but the greatest part was all the incredibly positive comments I received. Overall, people loved the query letter, the idea, and the voice. I was definitely onto something!

I sent out five queries in late May and then a few more in July. I received two requests for fulls out of the first six queries I sent. Wow. I couldn't believe it! Between July and early September I sent out a few more queries (basically, whenever I read about someone who said she/he had received a rejection a year after getting a full request, I got scared and sent out a few more queries). The request rate stayed pretty constant. I had six full requests out of 22 queries.

Then in early October I got an email from an agent saying she loved the book, but thought certain parts could be more developed. She passed, but said if I felt like revising, please send it her way. At the time, I had been revising one of the parts at issue, having come to a similar conclusion. I really liked the way the revisions were going and, even though the agent had passed, I was hopeful she would like the revisions . . . and that's when Agent #2 emailed that she loved the initial manuscript and would like to offer representation. But what about the revisions I loved so much? Since I liked the changes, I quickly completed the revisions, notified the other agents of the offer, sent the new version to everyone (including the agent who had indicated she'd love to look at a revised version) and waited.

I ended up with multiple offers, and everyone I talked to was great. But Sara Crowe had been one of the first agents I queried, and when she emailed, "I LOVE this book," my heart skipped a beat. The ensuing conversation was just as amazing, and everyone says to go with your gut, so that's what I did. I'm thrilled to say I am now represented by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger.

Now, I know this is very long for a success story, but if I had said I wrote a book in three-and-a-half months, sent 22 queries, got six full requests, and an offer three-and-a-half months later from my dream agent, it would seem like things came very easy. They didn't. It was three years of writing, of rejection on the YA, of entering contests and not getting picked, and of getting no favorites in twitter contests. But persistence does pay off, as does knowing when it's time to try something new. My YA is still there, and there are parts of it I love and may try to rework some day, but the best thing I could have done was move onto something new. If I had any advice, that would be it--stick with it, use contests to get to know people and improve your writing, and don't get discouraged. Remember that we're in this for the long haul and for the love of the story.


Kim Long is an attorney working in the Chicagoland area who, when not lawyering or writing, spends time drawing, bicycling, and becoming way too invested in her fantasy football and baseball teams.



Without a doubt, success seems to come fast and easy.  Rick Riordan has an AMAZING blog post about this. Anyway, CONGRATS CONGRATS KIM! Check out her blog AND CONGRATULATE/FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER! Good luck with everything :)

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Secret to Writing a Retelling

So sorry for the long wait to post! I've been taking a nice and relaxing break after the craziness and awesomeness of Nightmare on Query Street. This break has been so...nice. I feel  relaxed and energized and ready to start anew.

I posted on Twitter that I wanted to do a post on retellings and I got a good amount of positive feedback.

There's been a  surge of fairy tale and fable retellings in the market today, and as a consequence, as a contest host, I've seen a lot of retellings being submitted to the contests. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, etc.

The hook of writing a retelling is that it already has a high concept story angle. Yes, the same high concept that many agents are saying they want. I think this high concept is what attracts a lot of writers to retellings.

But here's the catch. Anyone can retell as story. Not everyone can retell a story.

Yes, yes, confusing! But here's what I mean. There are a lot of tips about retelling a story so I'm only going to share my personal view on the 'secret' to a successful retelling.

The Secret to a Retelling lies in the word 'retell' itself. Meaning, you must REtell the story, completely changing it to become your story. Don't just retell it, we know the original story. REtell it.


  1. Do NOT let the original story cripple you. 
    This
    story you're writing is YOUR story. Not the original writer's. Not the mass media's. Do you really want to spend possible/probably years on a novel that isn't yours?

    I've seen this in some stories where in order to 'fit' the original story, the writer stretches themselves and breaks their narrative to fit some things in. Let's take, for example, Snow White. You know the whole apple thing. What if you're writing a retelling and, in this mythological world of yours, apples exist only in a faraway country? Will you do the equivalent of stopping the narrative, take the characters on a trip to the country just for the apple? Screw the damn apple if it doesn't fit in your narrative! Let the apple rot!

    I beta-read for this one amazing author who wrote a retelling I'm still in love with. Her story was mainly because of her love for the original story. Iconic scenes from the original story forced their way into this retelling and did nothing but stop the narrative and check off another box on a hypothetical list of 'famous parts I must retell.'

    Now, this does get into tricky territory. The question you must ask yourself is this: Where am I going to draw the line between taking inspiration from the original story and creating my own ideas? If I were ever to write a retelling, I'd stick mainly/only with that initial 'spark'; the reason I want to write the story in the first place. What part of the original story do I love? What arc of the story is the arc I want in mine? The similar arc would be my retelling.
  2. Predictability.

    This is a biggy. Since most probably know the original story, you must come up with an unexpected ending. This is almost a must (I say almost because I don't like talking in 100%s). How you'll make the ending unexpected is up to you. Keeping the same ending as the original story but pointing all clues towards the idea that you won't be ending it the same way? Changing the ending completely (but also making that unpredictable because if the ending is Snow White doesn't need a man's kiss, she can revive herself, we're all expecting that as well)?
  3. Originality.

    Create your own characters. The hard part, for me, is wondering if I like the retelling because of the retelling itself or because I like the original story. Sort of like loving a stranger who looks a lot like a deceased loved one - do you truly love the stranger?

    Separate yourself from the original story. Take an axe to it. Proclaim to the reader, "This is my story!" and you'll have it. This is hard to do ("But I love the original story, I must treasure it and respect it in my retelling!") but crucial. Don't give a reader the same story; they might technically like it but it'll be boring for them. Add something new to the narrative. Find your twist, and make that twist huge.
These are my tips. Especially for retellings, I'd STRONGLY recommend you thoroughly plan out (yes, plan, even you pantsers!) what your story is going to be about. It's crucial to have a story that is planted with the same seed as the original story, but sprouts to become a totally different, more ambitious, and (hopefully) better story than the original. After all, why are you retelling the story if you don't want to push it to new extremes?

Hopefully this helps! Any other tips you think would be helpful? 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Caitlin Sinead "Heartsick" COVER REVEAL!

GUYS GUYS GUYS Caitlin Sinead from Nightmare on Query Street 2013 HAS A COVER REVEAL!!!!! I'm so excited for this. (Before this, read her success story.)

LOOK LOOK LOOK.



Quinn is looking forward to her senior year. She has big plans to hang out with her best friend Mandy, flirt with cute boy-genius Rashid, party at her favorite dive bar, and figure out what she’s going to do after graduation with her not-so-useful art major degree.  But that is before she meets Luke, a hot townie who moves back home to help take care of his dying sister. And it is before the weird epidemic that starts sweeping campus in which people’s eyes mysteriously turn purple.  Is it an odd side effect from a new party drug? Is it a rogue bacteria that was developed in a campus lab? Whatever it is, tensions are heating up as the town starts blaming the university, and the student religious group is convinced that it’s the mark of the devil. Quinn and Luke are caught in the middle, especially when Quinn learns that Luke isn’t just a happy-go-lucky, redneck boy-next-door—he is a detective—a fact that triggers Quinn’s phobia of guns and memories of her deceased uncle.  In spite of herself and her desire to remain unattached and independent, Quinn finds herself falling for him.  But when town and gown relations heat up even further, and Quinn’s friend Danny mysteriously falls to his death, Quinn vows to discover the truth behind the epidemic.  As she searches for the people responsible, she realizes that sometimes to gain your independence, you have to be willing to give a little bit of it up.

Excerpt

“Did you go to college?”

His jaw is tight. “Yes.”

“Do you think I could guess your major?” I ask.

“Probably not,” he says.

I don’t like that I don’t even get a hint at what he did before or what he studied. I shrug, start on my second hotdog and then lean back, really aiming for a glint in my eye, if that’s possible to control. I’ll make this a game. “Well, do you think you can guess mine?”

He smiles. “Do I get something if I guess right?”

I hop up onto a stool and let the tip of my toe brush against his knee. When I make contact, he starts, before leaning in. “What do you want?”

“I want a lot of things…” He stares at me. “But for now, I’d settle for a second date.”

“Okay, if you can guess my major, on the first try—” I emphasize that bit with a pointed finger, “—then I’ll reluctantly agree to go out with you again.”

“I don’t like the reluctant part, but I’ll take what I can get. Now, let’s see…” He rubs his chin as though he’s an old-timey detective. He’s ready to pace back and forth across the room with a pipe and a deerstalker hat. “You like photography.”

Shit, he does know that. I start to hum the Jeopardy! theme song. Maybe if time is running out he’ll be more likely to guess quickly and get it wrong? Do I want him to get it wrong

“Okay, I got it.” He rubs his hands together. “You’re an art major.” His cheeks swell with the weight of his smile.

“You got that just because I take pictures?” I rub my forehead

“I know more than that.

“Someone told you,” I say. “If this bet was rigged, it doesn’t count."

He jerks back and shakes his head, frowning. “No, I wouldn’t do that,” he says. “I noticed you had some pottery on your coffee table, with initials on it, a Q. B.?"

I nod. He’s talking about the bowl I made last year. Initials usually go on the bottom, but I painted them big and proud in the middle. And the bowl is empty. Mandy and I haven’t decided what to put in it. We narrowed it down to fake fruit (lame), M&M’S (which we would devour) or Micro Machines. Clearly, we’re leaning toward Micro Machines.

Luke takes my hand. I think he’s trying to convey his earnestness, his respectability and seriousness of not tricking me into a bet. The pads of my fingers brush against his rough palms and I suppress a sigh. His thumb runs along my pointer finger, sliding to the fingernail. “You also have paint under your nails.” His victorious, smug smile is in full bloom.

I pull my hand away, embarrassed. “Yeah, it’s hard to get all the paint off.”

“I’m sure,” he says.


Links

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Caitlin Sinead’s debut novel will be published by Carina Press in 2015. Her writing has also appeared (or is forthcoming) in The AlarmistThe Binnacle, Jersey Devil Press, and Northern Virginia Magazine, among other publications. She earned a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University. She tweets at @CaitlinSineadJ.









HOW AWESOME IS THIS? Congrats, Caitlin!!!! Thank you so much for keeping us in touch with your successes, and good luck with everything!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

"Nightmare on Query Street" Wrap Up

"Nightmare on Query Street" this year was bigger than ever - more reading, more people involved, and more Twittering. It was a TON of fun.

I'm so so SO happy to announce that the Spooks (my team) tied for first place with Michelle's Minions!!!!


Minions had:

4 Screams
32 Requests


Monsters had:

9 Screams
22 Requests


Spooks had:

9 Screams
32 Requests


What is a bit sad is that a healthy fraction of Spooks (in fact, a healthy fraction of all our total 36 entries) did not get any requests. Although entries without requests are normal for contests, this time the fraction was higher than usual (although the total number of requests were roughly the same). 

What this boils down to is agent taste and subjectivity. We hosts (and our slush readers) thought you had amazing entries, or else we would not have picked you. ALL IT TAKES IS ONE YES. Although we had a good number of agents, there are so many more out there! Go search, explore, and don't give up!!!

Congrats on an amazing contest, everyone :) Now, time to catch up on sleep, writing, and general life. Until next time, GO SPOOKS!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Happy Halloween!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!!!!!!!!


Make sure to have a spooky awesome amazing time! I'm going to dress up as a Hufflepuff this Halloween. They're under-appreciated and few people see their true awesomeness. 

How about you? Costume ideas? You? Your kids?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Nightmare on Query Street has BEGUN! Agents, Welcome!




NIGHTMARE ON QUERY STREET IS HERE!!


Are you guys excited? BECAUSE WE ARE!!


Below this post, you'll find the thirteen Spooks I picked with the help of the amazing slush readers, Laura and Nicole. 




You can head over to Michelle's and Mike's blogs as well. (But why would you, when we Spooks are obviously the best?)




Sorry everyone, but no commenting, cheerleading, etc. (I've deleted the few comments that have been made.) Only agents will be able to comment.

BUT

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE


CHEER OVER ON TWITTER! We're going to be under the hashtag #NoQS and we will be having FUN. So vent, be nervous, cheer each other on, and hold hands over Twitter. One of the best parts of contests is seeing how the writer's community gathers and supports each other.


Spooks, we all have to gather and annihilate the Minions and Monsters (both start with M, how boring).

For the next two days, agents will have fun ways to request in the contest.

They can SCREAM for a full request.
They can SHRIEK for a 50 page request.
They can SHIVER for a 10 page request.

Agents, in your comments, be sure to include any other material you'd like to see (like a synopsis) and any unique email address you'd like the submission to be sent to.

And agents can make as many requests as they want! So go wild! We have some awesome talent for you to peruse.

GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!! Hope you all get a ton of frighteningly amazing requests!


Once a Spook, always a Spook!




Saturday, October 25, 2014

NoQS Spooks 13: DOWN FOR THE COUNT, Adult Mythic Fiction

Title: DOWN FOR THE COUNT
Genre: Adult Mythic Fantasy
Word Count: 94,000

My Main Character's Most Fearsome Obstacle:

Persephone’s stuck between the orders of her stubborn, powerful parents. In one corner, wearing a green gown and threatening to starve mankind: mother Demeter (“stay chaste; help me in the fields for eternity”). In the opposite corner, wearing a sexy tunic and not caring much if mankind starves or not, father Zeus (“marry Hades; be trapped in the underworld forever”). But she’d rather reject both alternatives and chose the direction of her own immortality. That’s tricky enough, but she must first escape the heretofore escape-proof land of the dead—and deal simultaneously with the devoted attention of its love-struck god.

Query:


Persephone has killed thousands…of violets, tulips, and roses. While the other gods are off smiting humans, ravishing the slow-of-foot, or dominating the world, she’s stuck overdosing on bucolic delights. So when Hades interrupts yet another scintillating bout of floricide and carries her off to the not-so-sweet hereafter, she’s face-slapping mad—but also a little thrilled. The high point of her life thus far had been inventing the corn dog.

Once down under, she finally has clout. As the supposed consort of its smitten ruler, she soon improves the quality of (after)life for the shades, pardons an unjustly defamed woman, and even turns a misunderstood three-headed hellhound into her beloved pet. She might achieve more were she to agree to become Hades’ actual wife. And she’s tempted. He is the most honorable god she knows, actually respects her opinions, and sports a physique better than the average Greek god.

Unfortunately, without her, the upper world goes to Hades in a Grecian urn. Her worried mother, the goddess of agriculture, stops work, then is assaulted and disappears. While Persephone’s finally found her place in the (under)world—and may have fallen hard for Hades—famine looms, and someone has to find Mom and punish her powerful attacker. But being the first, dead or alive, to slip out of the underworld without discovery will take more ingenuity than inventing the world’s first fast food. She’ll actually have to act like the goddess she has proclaimed herself: Dread Persephone, the Bringer of Death. (“Pass it on.”)

First 250 words:

With two powerful gods as parents, you might think I’d have something better to smite than flowers. If so, you’d be wrong.

Violets had seemed an inspired choice two hours ago. Now my hands and back ached from picking the little suckers. I threw down my half-full basket and plopped my butt onto the grassy, be-flowered paradise on Earth known as Nysion. It wasn’t that I lacked choice; the place always abounded with a variety of flowers. And, of course, bees that never stung and butterflies in an array of colors and glorious weather at all times. Utterly delightful.

And after a hundred years, utterly mind-numbing.

Maybe I should use my divine powers to do this. I concentrated. New plants sprouted, instead. Nope, I could still only make them grow, not pick themselves and leap into my basket.

A rustle from the woods surrounding the meadow made me jump. No, that must have been the wind blowing through the trees. I didn’t feel any breeze, but what else could it be? An unbidden shiver coursed through my body until I told it to stop. It wasn’t cold. It was never cold here. Like everything else in my life, Nysion was always the same. The only difference from all my previous trips was I was here alone.

I didn’t understand why Zeus had asked me to get the flowers for our quarterly banquet tonight. I was handling the food, too. Why didn’t Dad ask his favorite daughter, Hebe, to be useful for once?

NoQS Spooks 12: TIMBER POINT, Adult Thriller/Mystery

Title: TIMBER POINT
Genre: Adult Thriller/Mystery
Word Count: 86,000

My Main Character’s Most Fearsome Obstacle:

Growing up on the streets has a way of making you hard. As a cat burglar people would think I'd be afraid of getting caught, afraid of the cops, but I’m too smart for that. Okay, maybe I feared people getting too close, but that's not a real fear. It's when I got that first midnight phone call that a cold, hard shiver raced down my spine. It was a serial killer. He called to tell me he'd found me. Me, the so-called "expert" cat burglar. I'd accidentally stolen his trophy box.

And he's coming to take it back.

Query:

Cat burglar Shawny Daniels always believed her “fearlessness rules” mantra would keep her on top and out of jail. When her latest break-in leads her to a secret room with an aquarium filled with cockroaches-- roaches like she heard about on the news-- she instantly realizes there are some people more dangerous than cops-- serial killers.

She tells herself it’s no big deal until a mutilated chipmunk arrives at her door soon after. Somehow, he’s found her. When the midnight phone calls start, she knows he’s not going away. She listens as his demon-like voice whispers how she inadvertently stole his precious trophy box-- and he wants it back.

The only problem is, she can’t find what he wants. Did she drop it when she ran from the house? She’s afraid, but going to the cops isn’t an option without risking her freedom. When her “helpful” best friend insists on a blind date with charismatic Detective Levon Samuels it might make that impossible, though. Ordinarily Shawny would rather drink bleach than date a cop, but Levon might help her get this psycho off her tail.

Now she’s juggling being stalked by a killer, dating the lead detective on the case and trying to hold on to her own heart. Plus, the closer she gets to Levon and the case, the more she realizes she’s responsible for the killer’s next victim. If she doesn’t find the trophy box, the killer’s coming for her. If she doesn’t come clean with Levon, more will die. And if she does, she could lose the only man she’s ever loved.

First 250 words:

I eyed the perfect house, a two-story contemporary in an upscale neighborhood in Revere, Massachusetts. Cased it night after night to learn the occupant's schedule. Shattered a street light out front with a rock to cloak me in darkness, and then returned tonight for the heist. I left nothing to chance.

No way am I going back. The cops will never catch me. I'm way too good for that.

Learning the target's habits is essential in good prowling. The last thing I need is an unannounced arrival or a half-asleep homeowner surprising me in the dark. I get in and get out. That's my specialty. Simple. Smooth. Stealth. Homeowner's insurance covers the stolen goods anyway. It's a victimless crime. And the only way I know to survive.

I waited for just the right moment to strike. The ideal opportunity when the neighbors' homes blackened and all movement stopped inside the target property. To me, it's like a dance. The music starts slow as the first house-light extinguishes, enhances as the second home darkens, and then elevates into a vibrant symphony once the last glimmer vanishes from sight.

This contemporary house, fronted with glass and stucco and a stone-columned carport on the left side, had no swing-set or signs of children in the home.

A perfect mark.

My favorite feature: the catwalk, made from the same wood as the house with chest-high railings that began at the front gate, traveled over a rocked stream-- a manicured lawn on either side-- and continued straightly to the front door.

NoQS Spooks 11: ERASING RAMONA, Adult Thriller

Title: ERASING RAMONA
Genre: Adult Thriller
Word Count: 75,000

My Main Character's Most Fearsome Obstacle:

Haunted by her discovery of the Orwell Massacre a decade ago, Miranda needs to find out what really happened that night – and whether or not she played any part in the murders.

Query:

On the run for the last ten years, 27-year-old Miranda Burgess hasn’t seen her hometown since the day she awoke inside a strange house and discovered six dead bodies, including that of her boyfriend. With no idea who committed the murders and afraid she’d wind up the prime suspect, Miranda panicked and ran to L.A. where she changed her name and made a fresh start. After a decade with no cops coming for her, Miranda braves a trip home to Mill Valley for her father’s funeral.

When a man with a message from an ‘old friend’ tries to drag her to his van, Miranda manages to get away, but ends up hiding on the streets of Mill Valley. Her new identity is compromised, but Miranda refuses to start over again or go to the police. With no idea who the ‘old friend’ is or why a thug was sent after her, Miranda investigates the crime now known as the Orwell Massacre. Convinced the answer lies buried in that blacked-out night, Miranda returns to the murder house. There she discovers she holds the key to a fortune and winds up in the cross hairs of a killer. If Miranda can take down the killer, she may finally be able to stop running. But, if she fails, she’ll wind up the Orwell Massacre’s final victim.

First 250 words:


November 1984

Where the hell was I? My mouth tasted like sour cherry and a hammer pounded somewhere behind my eyes. We must’ve kept partying after Billy’s gig. But where? Here? I freed myself from the tangle of sheets. “Billy?” My voice sounded hoarse and thin. Leaning against a bedpost, I pulled on jeans then fished through the pockets for my vial of pills. I shook out a Xanax and swallowed it dry. A dark sleeve poked from beneath the bed. Shivering, I turned my sweatshirt right-side-out and yanked it on. After struggling into socks and ankle boots, I looked out the closest window.

Gray sky loomed above rolling hills dotted with sycamore and sequoia. Definitely not San Francisco. Was I back in Mill Valley? Which one of Billy’s friends lived out here? I turtled my icy fingers inside my sleeves and stepped into the hall. A wide staircase led down. “Billy?”

Nothing looked familiar – not the tiled entryway, the gilt-framed family portrait, nor the heavy wood shutters covering the windows. When I reached the first floor, a faint hum mixed with the tick of a clock, but the place still felt abandoned.

A door stood open on the far side of the entry. “Billy?” I covered my nose. “Oh, man. You been eating refrieds again?” I stepped inside. A cast-off shoe sat near one of the sofas. I rounded the end of the six-foot sectional and stared.

Dried blood webbed the carpet. Three bodies lay snared in the rust-brown strands.

NoQS Spooks 10: THICKER THAN WATER, Adult Historical Fiction

Title: THICKER THAN WATER
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Word Count: 90,000

My Main Character's Most Fearsome Obstacle:

Evelyn Carmichael wants all eyes to be on her. To be seductive and adored, Rita Hayworth-style. If her rural hometown wasn’t so uptight, Evelyn might have become a movie star herself. Since she’s stuck in tiny Eaton Springs, she sets her sights on achieving fame and admiration from the local men. But eligible bachelors are dying at the war front, and that frightens Evelyn. With fewer respectable, Midwestern men available, she cannot shake her fear of being unhappy, alone, and ignored. Because what’s more terrifying than being a single woman wasting her beauty on cripples and dairy cows?

Query:


In the wake of the second world war, the small town of Eaton Springs is bending beneath the pressures of food rations, low morale, and losing their men to the war in Europe. But the watchful town is focused instead on the Carmichael sisters, who are fighting a different sort of battle: one inside the home.

Boy-crazy Evelyn Carmichael longs for a man in uniform, but is forced to settle for Harvey, the sincere, asthmatic boy-next-door. As Evelyn struggles to settle into her new role as a married woman, she finds it difficult to live a picture-show perfect life.

Meanwhile, shy, anxiety-ridden Clara Carmichael is the opposite of her charismatic older sister—she simply wants everyone to get along. As Clara battles with depression, she moves in with the newlyweds. But getting along with Evelyn proves difficult as Clara finds herself slowly falling for Harvey.

When Evelyn is charmed by a wounded war hero and becomes pregnant with his child, the sisters’ lives are blown apart. Evelyn is forced to choose between her uniformed fella or her life with Harvey. Clara, too, must decide where her loyalties lie: with her self-absorbed sister, or her sweet brother-in-law. Both sisters know they will have to live with their decisions within the conservative confines of their community, but how can they turn their backs on love?

As the Carmichael sisters’ drama unfolds, the same question is on both of their minds: is blood thicker than water?

First 250 words:


Evelyn Carmichael liked to dig her fingers deep into the penny candy bins at D’Antonio’s Sweet Shoppe. To feel the crinkle of the wrappers in her hands, the sweets filling her palms. The candy store was no bigger than the nearby tailor shop, but it was filled with every kind of sweet treat imaginable. Evelyn normally chose the candies with the liquid centers—strawberry was her favorite—but every so often she bought anise or horehound and tried to trick her siblings into eating it.

Evelyn was knuckle-deep in a mound of root beer barrels when she spotted Peter Mayes. It was just Evelyn’s luck that she would run into Peter on an afternoon when she’d forgotten to swipe a coat of red lipstick over her too-thin lips. Peter was behind the register, pulling the crank handle with a satisfying ching! that clanged throughout the small store. She couldn’t help but recall the feeling of his lips, the way he’d tried to slide his hand up the front of her blouse. How she’d pushed him away. His words—“Don’t have a cow!”—rang in her ears along with the noise of the register.

If Evelyn had her druthers, she would’ve had a plan for the next time she saw Peter. To have a smart-but-funny remark handy: No cows here, maybe, with a wink of her left eye, her mascaraed lashes long and dark. She would’ve brightened her face with borrowed make-up from her stepmother’s stash.

Being plain-faced and in the care of her stuffy next-door-neighbor Mrs. Jansen was not what Evelyn had in mind.

NoQS Spooks 9: WHEN YOU DON'T KNOW ME, NA Sci Fi

Title: WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW ME
Genre:
NA Science Fiction
Word Count
: 71,000

My Main Character's Most Fearsome Obstacle:


Lucy fears everyone. A biker in the canyon, two middle-aged women out for a run, the homeless man chanting incoherent nursery rhymes. She hides in a maze of San Diego canyons because she can’t be seen by anyone wearing spex. And in the near future, the thought-activated eyewear are as common as smart phones. The mysterious hacker chasing Lucy can access the minds of those wearing spex. If he finds her, he’ll erase her memories. If she doesn’t find him--and stop him--no one will know that minds can be hacked and lives rewritten.

Query:


When college freshman Lucy Campbell makes a fool of herself in front of her long-time crush, Marco Han, she wishes she could erase the whole episode from his brilliant mind. She’s shocked to learn that her older sister can do just that.

Mollie, a stay-at-home mom who once hacked for the government, tells Lucy that she’s found a way to delete people’s memories via spex, the thought-activated successor to Google Glass. But when she breaks into Marco’s mind, Mollie decides not to erase any embarrassing moments because he already has a crush on Lucy. Encouraged by her sister’s discovery, Lucy stops avoiding Marco. Soon, the two are dating; and Marco, a tech guru in his own right, elevates Mollie’s mindhacking from a guilty pleasure to an efficient crime-solving tool.

As the three infiltrate more minds, they realize they’re not the only ones who can steal memories. Marco suddenly forgets Lucy; and Mollie forgets that she could ever mindhack. Lucy’s mind should be safe because she doesn’t wear spex. But when the mysterious hacker comes after her in person, Lucy must make a choice. She can give up her memories and continue to live in comfort and safety. Or, she can save the knowledge that minds can be hacked, and run for her life.

First 250 words:


There’s a thin line between having a crush and stalking; and Lucy wasn’t sure if she’d crossed it. She lay flat on her tummy on the hand-stitched quilt her mom sent with her to college. Her blue eyes peered over the book she was supposed to be reading. A lanky young man with wavy black hair unlocked his bike outside the computer science building. Marco Han. The reason this sunny scrap of lawn was her place to study. He hopped on his bike and rode the opposite direction. Lucy returned to her book, Walden, certain its author wouldn’t approve of her spying.

“I always know where to find you on a Thursday afternoon.” Karen sat down next to her. “How’s the view?”

“He just left. I barely saw him.”

“Bad day for stalking, huh?” Karen wore peacock blue spex. The frames matched the colored streak in her blond pixie-cut hair.

“It’s not stalking,” Lucy laughed at herself. “It’s caring.”

“Well, you obviously don’t care enough. If you were a true stalker you’d take his class. That way you’d have to sit in the front row and gawk at him twice a week, like the rest of us.”

Lucy pulled herself up off her stomach, a somewhat tricky maneuver since she was wearing a yellow sundress. “Can you see me in computer science?” She smoothed her skirt, the ruffled hem fell above her freckled knees. “I’d be the only one in class without spex,”

“Sweetie, you’re the only one on campus without spex.”

NoQS Spooks 8: JACKED, NA Contemporary

Title: JACKED
Genre: NA Contemporary
Word Count: 57,000

My Main Character's Most Fearsome Obstacle:

The only thing worse than callin’ Casey when I was drunk is the possibility that Mom found out about it. I wish I could remember what I said and who was in the room. I was an idiot for dialin’ the number at all. The last thing I need is for somethin’ stupid to happen that causes Mom to find her way back to the hospital. I can’t keep bein’ the reason she wants to kill herself. And what if bein’ myself causes someone else to pull a stunt like hers?

Query:

Jack's freshman year of college was supposed to be an escape from his parochial, poverty-stricken hometown in Appalachia. That is, until his mom tried to commit suicide right before the start of the first semester. If she hadn’t found him in bed with Casey—the only boy from home who ever came close to understanding him—Jack could’ve left town and never looked back.

Fitting in with strange people in a college town is easier said than done when faced with Mom’s constant reminders of his sinful habits and selfish decisions. It doesn’t help that Jack hasn’t slept since his mom kicked him out of her room at the psychiatric clinic, or that Casey hasn’t returned any of his calls since the “incident.” No, college isn't quite the escape Jack had imagined.

Feeling overwhelmed by familial guilt, and desperately trying to understand why he needs a guy who’s too stubborn to open up about what he wants, Jack finds that his mental state is heading in the same direction as his mom’s. The lower his self-esteem gets, the harder it becomes to fight off the pills calling his name. Jack must learn to set boundaries between the life he’s been dealt and the life he wants before he can patch up the situation with his mom and win back the boy he might love.

First 250 words:


I wouldn’t have recognized Mom if a nurse hadn’t led me to her room.

The first thing I noticed was her head. Her bushy hair was haphazard and choppy, like a careless nurse had thrown a chainsaw in her general direction. Her neck was kinked to the side, and her tongue sagged out of her mouth as she snored. Wrists cuffed to the bed, her once-long fingernails were clipped and filed down. The sheet was tangled ’round her ankles like she’d tried to kick it off before the drugs took effect. And don’t get me started on the gauze coverin’ her left forearm.

She wasn’t goin’ anywhere.

I stared through the glass door leadin’ to Mom’s room. The nurse said I’d be allowed in when she was more responsive, probably in a couple days. God, I wouldn’t’ve wanted to talk to her even if I was allowed. I could already hear the conversation: “Hi Mom, how’s it goin’?” “What do you care, Jack?” “Nice talkin’ to you too, Mom.”

I helped myself to the coffee and Styrofoam cups at the end of the hall, even though I wasn’t sure if they were free. I paced in front of Mom’s glass door, waitin’ for my coffee to cool and grumblin’ about how the nurses weren’t nice enough to offer me a chair. It wasn’t long before I realized I didn’t need to linger—if I wasn’t allowed inside, there was no reason to stare at mom’s patchwork head and dried-up tongue.

NoQS Spooks 7: THE BATTLE BORN, YA Survival

Title: THE BATTLE BORN
Genre: YA Survival
Word Count: 76,000

My Main Character's Most Fearsome Obstacle:


Out of food, gas, and water, John Lockwood's most fearsome obstacle is the Nevada desert.

Query:

Seventeen-year-old John doesn’t know what caused the blackout 21 days ago, and he doesn’t know why help has yet to reach his rural Nevada town. The water pumps are out, their gasoline storage is depleted, and most of the town has already evacuated. Cut off from communication, John’s fifteen-year-old brother, Stew, is convinced it’s the zombie apocalypse. But John was left in charge of him, and he knows the power will be back soon, they just need to wait it out.

When a group of men rob them of their food and water storage, that plan changes. They’ll have to attempt the impossible: walk 90 miles down one of the most desolate highways in the state to reach help.

Teenager Cleverly and her younger brother are also desperate to reach help. When John agrees to let them tag along, he knows he’s making a mistake. After all, cutting their scavenged water supply in half is not exactly conducive to surviving a three day walk through the desert. And as Stew falls into a pessimistic downward spiral, John has serious doubts about their chances of making it. Not only are they dealing with physical exhaustion, unbearable heat, and a dangerous lack of water, but he’s not convinced they’ve seen the last of those men who robbed them.

If they’re going to beat the odds and survive this disaster, John will have to let go of past mistakes and learn to trust his instincts.

First 250 words:

Dad always said if things get desperate, it’s okay to drink the water in the toilet bowl. I never thought it would come to that. I thought I’d sooner die than let one drop of toilet water touch my lips. Yet here I am, kneeling before a porcelain throne, holding a tin mug for scooping in one hand, and my half-gallon canteen in the other.

Don’t worry, I’m going to boil it first.

Behind me, my brother Stewart is making gagging noises. “I’m gonna throw up,” he says, which is something Stew says all the time, but does he ever actually throw up? No. He doesn’t do most of the things he says he’s going to do, like run away, or kill himself, or kill me—I was actually already dying when he said that one. “C’mon, John,” he says, the whine in his voice setting my teeth on edge, “do we really need this?”

I stop mid-scoop and stare up at him, holding the pink padded toilet seat up with my elbow. “No, we don’t need it, Stew. I just thought, ‘Oh look, water from a toilet. That sounds refreshing, let’s drink it.’”

His sullen, dark eyes narrow at me, and I thrust the canteen into his unwilling hands. He kneels down to help me, but adds in a mumble, “We have two canteens of water already.”

And that’s a perfect example of how my brother thinks. Two canteens of water, and we have a 90 mile walk down a desolate stretch of desert highway before we reach Brighton Ranch, our last chance for help.

NoQS Spooks 6: BEYOND THE WILD, YA Fantasy

Title: BEYOND THE WILD
Genre: YA Fantasy
Word Count: 66,000

My Main Character's Most Fearsome Obstacle:

Trusting the enemy is Syra’s most fearsome obstacle. All her experiences tell a story of her enemy killing innocents of her kind. Trusting them is terrifying, and if Syra wants to save her friends and stop the fighting, she’ll have to overcome this fear.

Query:

Syra made a horrible mistake. She saved the life of a human.

Seventeen-year-old Syra never met a human, but she's told if she ever does, they’ll kill her for what she is. Two hundred years ago natural disasters nearly destroyed the world. Natura, unaffected by the Storm, emerged from hiding to help humanity rebuild. Instead of being grateful, humankind blamed Natura, Syra’s race, for the destruction and ever since, the two races have been at war.

All Syra wants is to commune with the earth’s energy and develop her healing powers, but when her tribe infiltrates a human survival camp, all her desires are put on hold. To help her tribe destroy the camp, Syra is forced to befriend the enemy and locate the camp’s armory. As she spends time with the humans, she sees qualities in them worth protecting and defies what she’s been taught, healing and saving a human girl’s life.

Syra must trust the girl to keep her Natura identity a secret because if the girl doesn’t, the guards protecting the camp will kill her. With the tribe setting their plan to destroy the camp in motion, Syra’s human and Natura friends’ lives are in jeopardy. She can save her friends, but if she does, she risks banishment forever from the only family she has ever known.

First 250 words:


The wind sets my skin tingling, and with a deep breath I stretch my mind down through my toes and into the Earth, pulling on the humming energy beneath my feet. A pleasant warmth floods through my limbs as the nature around me sings.

The smell of pine and wet soil fills my nostrils, but the sharp, musky stench of humans cuts through everything—instantly making me gag. My heart beats faster, and any calm I had is gone. They’re lined up in front of me, waiting to pass through the camp’s metal gate and return to the protection of the compound’s nine-foot high-fence.

I’d give anything not to be in this line, pretending I’m one of them. Over my shoulder, the forest’s treeline reaches into the distance. That’s where I belong. Out there, with crunchy, dried leaves beneath my feet and unspoiled air in my lungs. The Wild. Sighing, I shift my laundry bag to my other shoulder.

A bird above me cries while in flight. It swoops down in a burst of white energy. It’s too close and I cringe.

CLACK.

Wings out, the bird spirals to the ground. A blue jay. Dead. Its essence ceases as quick as lightning across the sky. There one second, gone the next. The kids around me glance up, but its death doesn’t echo through them like it does through me.

By now, the animals should know better than to come this close to the camp. Every time they do, the guards shoot them down.

“Syra,” Trax whispers, tugging on my arm.

It’s time.

NoQS Spooks 5: EIGHTEEN YEARS LATER, YA Mystery

Title: EIGHTEEN YEARS LATER
Genre: YA Mystery
Word Count: 52,000

My Main Character's Most Fearsome Obstacle:


I don’t fear open spaces; I'll put on my turquoise boots and wander for days in the West Texas Desert. I don’t fear swamps; I could sleep in Spanish moss covered trees with alligators snapping below me, and I wouldn’t flinch once. But I do fear that my dead parents wouldn’t understand me. I fear their world of high society and how smoothly they fit into it. So I’m facing my fear. I’m immersing myself in the life they lived, so different from mine, and I’m trying to figure out who took them from me. I will find that person.

Query:


Jane had come to terms with her parents’ death. She had accepted that her youth would be spent moving from one Texas town to the next, her grandfather crunching tortilla chips while driving their RV and telling her stories of Texas history.

But when she discovers her grandfather lied about the most important thing - how she lost her parents - she packs her bag, slips on her turquoise cowgirl boots, and leaves the only stability she’s ever had, her grandfather and the constant open road. Jane drives straight through Texas to Michigan, where she was born and where her parents died.

In Traverse City, Michigan she finds all the things she’s never had: people who know her past, stories about her parents, and the mixture of self-doubt and excitement that inevitably comes with a first crush. But what she wants more than anything is to find out the truth about her parents’ death, and everyone in town, except her, seems to have a different opinion about it, some say murder and some say murder-suicide. Trying to navigate a world full of social niceties and resort houses on Lake Michigan, she begins to wonder if her parents could have loved someone like her, someone from a rugged landscape of jutting rocks and harsh light and with a personality to match. It’s only when she is finally confronted with the truth that she realizes how much her grandfather loves her and wanted to protect her from the danger she must now face.

First 250 words:


I held the newspaper article up for my grandfather to see. It was soft to the touch from age, creased down the middle. “I’m leaving.” I grabbed my backpack from the RV’s floor, swinging it over my shoulder, knocking over an empty mug that cracked into large pieces on the brown linoleum floor.

“Jane, I’m sorry.” He shook his head. The dim light from our trailer’s only lamp made it difficult to see his weathered face.

“How you could lie to me?” I stormed out, the almost weightless screen door swinging behind me.

“Get back in here,” he said, following me. “It’s dangerous there.”

“You don’t know where I’m going,” I said without turning around.

“I know,” he said, and I stopped.

Of course he knew. Where else would I go?

“I always thought you’d go with me,” I said looking at him, hating the pleading in my voice.

I gave him a second to reply. A second is forever to give someone when they have hurt you that much. He put his hands on his hips, shook his head and looked out to the desert, as if the words he needed might be there.

I got into the old truck and peeled out, trying to ignore him standing there, looking small and insignificant beneath the West Texas starry sky and bright moon. He’d always been bigger than life to me. I turned the radio up so that I could feel the vibrations in my arms, legs, and right into that aching spot in my chest. I needed it like that.