Friday, August 29, 2014

Max Wirestone - Query Kombat 2014 SUCCESS STORY!


There's a certain "there and back again" quality to my story.

A COZY FOR GEEKS was my first attempt at novel writing, but I had flirted with success at screenwriting somewhat in my twenties. That experience-- which involved terrifying conversations with agents that led me nowhere-- had ultimately left me limping away from the writing world, a trail of blood and ego behind me. It was ugly-- although in retrospect, most of my wounds were imaginary. My confession: I was afraid of being a Failed Writer-- to the point that was I willing to give it up. I put it all behind me and instead focused on good, solid life goals: Husband, Librarianship, Kids, Xbox Achievements.

For a while.

Time passed, and through the magic of aging (and probably parenthood,) I found that I suddenly didn't care if anyone else regarded me as a Failed Writer. The thirty-something version of me, paunchier, and with considerably less hair, suddenly regarded the twenty-something version of me as some sort of self-involved thick-haired doofus. And so I started writing again.

I did it completely alone, in secret. No writing groups. No community. When I started submitting, in April, I was sending to ONE AGENT AT A TIME. I was working through WRITER'S MARKET alphabetically.

I eventually started following agents on twitter, and I heard about Query Kombat at the last minute. What the hey, right? I figured I'd lose in the first round (and Carol Ayer's DEAD PRINCESSES DON'T KISS was stiff competition), but I soldiered through. I eventually made it all the way to the quarter finals, where I was slain by the fabulous Betsy Aldredge.

Then the requests started.

I got three requests from the contest itself. But after the feedback from the first round, I had applied changes to my query. Hot changes! Awesome changes! And I wanted to test them out. So I started querying wider. Suddenly, I was rolling in requests.

Next came a "let's chat about your book" email just a few weeks after the competition. Can I just take a second to say that I found all of these conversations a little weird? More power to you if you instantly connected with your agent, but I was like a nervous first-date. I was awkward and bumbling, and that twenty-something version of me who had been rejected by film agents was listening in on my conversation and whispering things like, "run, you fool! It's a TRAP!"

Despite my ramblings-- I ineptly described my next project as a "comedy about the death of libraries"-- I still got an offer of rep. I told the agent thank you and that I would get back in a week. I then DM'd incoherent messages to amazing QK Judges Glen Coco and Omar Comin (N.K. Traver and Tatum Flynn), the content of which was basically: ZOMG!111!!!!1!1! Only longer. I may have initially gone over the 140 character limit. Also there was drinking.

I ultimately got four offers of representation (with a fifth 'let's talk' that came too late,) and so I got to repeat my awkward conversation three more times. I eventually started prefacing the talk with an admission that I was weird at this. Not in real-life, just this. The agents seemed to understand. Although, by conversation number four, I wasn't awkward at all. Talking with agents, like querying and synopsis-writing and everything else along this voyage is just another task that practice makes you good at.

Anyway, the agents were all awesome. I described them to my husband in byte-sized terms. Book blogger, enthusiastic new guy, geek enthusiast, editor-turned-agent. I DMd Tatum Flynn relentlessly, as well as writer friends I had made along the way. People said things like, "go with your gut," and "trust your heart," which sound good, except that my gut did not have a lot of insight. Mostly it was hungry.

Then came the awful bit: I had to pick one of them. If you've ever had the fantasy that at the end of all this rejection you might get the joy of turning down an agent for a change, I'm hear to tell you: it's awful! I liked all four agents. I would have been thrilled to be represented by any of them. Of all the things I'd been forced to write on this process, the rejection letters to agents were the most painful. It's like writing a Dear John letter, only worse. Blech. Just blech. 

In the end, I settled with Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates. Caitlin represented lots of books I have in my own library, had a Hugo winner under her belt, and had given me scads of intriguing and detailed notes about my project. She also seemed supportive of a double-genre approach, with the sensible proviso that I write quickly. Now that I've been with her for a few weeks, and have made the first round of changes to my manuscript, I can't imagine having done anything else.

So that's my story. Shaggy, but true. And for you twenty-somethings, if things don't work out now, there's always hope a few years down the road. Worked for me.

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Max Wirestone can be found on Twitter here!

CONGRATS MAX!!!! Great job, seriously. Everyone, make sure to congratulate Max on Twitter. Good luck with everything!

Monday, August 25, 2014

An Indian's Reaction to the Racism in "The Goldfinch"

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt has taken the literary world by storm since its publication. It won the Pulitzer, has been hailed by Stephen King (although derided by higher literary critics), and became a bestseller. So I decided to give it a go and read it. I loved the prose, thought it was fantastic. And when I finished the book, I thought it was good, but Pulitzer-worthy? Maybe, if there weren't any better contenders. Frankly, it was underwhelming. The prose won me over, but the story and especially that last chapter didn't seem like the work of a master. But I was beyond glad I read the book, because the book revolves around art's immortality. As a writer and a painter, I loved hearing Theo talk about The Goldfinch (painting) and about how much it meant to him. The fact that art, in itself, is everlasting, which is the reason we do it. I've never read a book that talked about art in such a personal way. I loved it.

But then someone on Twitter linked me to a post which was picked up by Salon here. Please read the post and come back, because I can't explain it better than the post does.

Of course, unless Ms. Tartt tells us herself, we can't ever truly know what her intention was with the novel. We can simply make our best guess using the evidence she gave us. If you read the post, I believe you've read some pretty strong evidence.

It's a novel filled with stock characters of color and with, when explained, painfully obvious racist themes. The Goldfinch is a nostalgic lament to a past filled with art, culture, beauty, while today's modern world of multiculturalism and diversity is, supposedly, sad and distasteful. As an Indian who is part of the multicultural hoopla Tartt finds sad in the present world, I was furious to realize that this book won the Pulitzer prize. This book. This book, these 800 pages from one of the world's most cherished authors, won the Pulitzer even though any literary scholar could realize the theme instantaneously (I'm no scholar, I couldn't realize it without explanation). The Pulitzer committee must have realized the theme. Is this not another Gone With the Wind? No, it's even worse, because Gone With the Wind is not focused on racism, it's focused on the complete upheaval of a society of which race-relations was one of many changes. The Goldfinch is very much about the decline of white supremacy. I was pissed. Upset and disgusted with the path English literature took with giving this book the Pulitzer. A racist, backwards novel - beautifully written - is being hailed as the greatest modern work? Have we moved forward in society or no?

So imagine my surprise when I was asked what my favorite books are, and The Goldfinch accidentally sprang up in my mind before my anger took it back down.

Why did that book come up to my mind so fast? 

It's the beauty of literature. Even though I - as an Indian - should be upset by the book, I realize now that I still love it with all its faults. The book is Tartt's lament, yes, but it's a beautiful lament. Who am I to insult someone's deepest feelings? One of the main reasons I fell in love with literature is because through books, I can learn about people different than me, people who think differently than me. This book and its message are Tartt's thinking. The reason I was so upset about the book was because of the themes, and to me that's not right. I can dislike a book because of its prose, its characters, its shoddy craftsmanship, etc. but I try hard not to dislike a book because of its message.

This book beautifully presented the feeling of retreat that many like Tartt must have felt when people like my parents entered this country. As non-European immigrants and children of these (incredibly hard-working) immigrants, we see people (sadly and too often) show us their hostility in ways not nearly as peaceful as Tartt does, and not nearly as beautifully. And while there's no way in hell we're leaving (frankly, we've earned our place several times over), there's never a perspective that deserves to be ignored.

Nowadays, controversy is no longer being an activist for the gay community but being against it. Controversy is not being pro-diversity but against it. In a time where such true controversy is avoided, it's stunning to see a writer with such huge expectations take such an incredible risk with her writing by revealing her inner self. That, by any account, is to be commended. There's rarely anything nowadays that presents the condemned side of an argument in such an amazing light. I'd take The Goldfinch over Fox News any day.

Due to The Goldfinch, even as a son of an immigrant I can understand, sympathize, and (due to Tartt's use of first person) sometimes even empathize with the sadness of the dwindling prestige of white supremacy. That's not to say at all that I agree with it. That's not the point. The point is to listen, and if we can't even do that, our bigotry will be the true mark of a degrading society. I'm willing to bet there are a lot of other people who silently agree with Tartt's views but are too scared to speak because of the possibility of backlash. Yes, I'm aware of how ironic it sounds but so many times, we who are progressive and for equal rights condemn our opponents just as strongly as they condemn us. Why can't we speak our minds and let others do the same? If we are truly progressive, we'd let everyone speak in an embracing environment. 

I also think I like this book because of that horribly amateurish last chapter. The whole rest of the book is good, (mostly) free from cliché. It's almost painful to see Tartt work so hard - and when she finally lets go, so to speak, in the last chapter, it humanizes the whole story. It's accessible. The reader smiles at the faults, almost laughs, and thus breaks the hard ice of 'sophistication' that caked the rest of the novel. Now it's a novel, a good old novel and no longer a Novel. And in that way, it's become my friend. A friend that I want to punch, yes. Inflict pain on because of how much it's been wrongly praised. But then hug right after because I still do grudgingly love it.

Do I think it's a good book? Even apart from the themes, not really. Do I really really really like it, almost love it? Yes. It hit a personal spot for me with its love for art.

It still shouldn't have won the Pulitzer though.

What did you think about The Goldfinch? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Candice Marley Conner - Query Kombat SUCCESS STORY (Yes, Another!!!!)

Can it be? ANOTHER success story? I post on Monday's and Friday's and I haven't done one of my normal posts for a while because of all these awesome success stories!! I secretly kind of like it: makes me not have to work as hard, just copy and paste and read awesome stories :D Also, I didn't visit blogs this week but I will today!

ON TO THE STORY!!! I like this one :) (I like all of them, though.)
I still can’t quite believe I received The Call. I’ve seen so many success stories on blogs and twitter and I’m beside myself to add my own.

I wrote my first real manuscript, a chapter book, beginning my senior year of high school and throughout college as it became part of my senior thesis. I queried small publishing houses and received form rejections. For good reason.

Once I graduated, I worked fulltime and the only writing I did was a column in a magazine and a monthly company newsletter. But after I had my daughter in 2010, my husband and I thought it best if I stayed home with her. His one stipulation was that I make time to write. So I followed Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way to reprioritize my life. And wrote two YA manuscripts before I had my son in 2013. I revised, hunted for beta readers without really knowing how to go about it, joined a local Writers’ Guild, entered contests and received some agent attention but ultimately, rejections.

Then I saw tweets about QueryKombat. I initially wasn’t going to enter. I mean, SC Author had in BOLD that this wasn’t a contest for the faint of heart or thin-skinned. And it had the word kombat in it.

But my manuscript deserved a chance to fight and Ravenous Rushing picked me for his team. I was estatic. Until I read my combatant's query and first 250. It was amazing; I would have voted for her. I was KO’d after the first round.

By this time, I had made some contacts during the twitter party and one of the judges, Melinda, offered to look at my manuscript after I had put on twitter that I needed help finding ‘plot evolution problems’ as one agent put it. I honestly just expected her to tell me when she grew bored.

But she shocked me by emailing me back that night. She got sucked into my story and had read the entire manuscript. She’d loved it. She got my characters and best of all, she could see my plot problems.

She mentored me for about a month and toward the end, surprised me by offering to recommend it to her agent. She thought she would love my voice-driven narrative and Southern setting. After her help polishing my query, I emailed it to her agent.

It was the longest sixteen days ever. Then I received an email. The subject said “Representation”. She wanted to set up The Call for the next day. We had a three year-old’s birthday party to go to that morning so by the time came for the phone call, I was hyped up on nerves and birthday cake icing. I’m not good at phone calls in a normal situation and even asked “I’m not making any sense, am I?”. Luckily, the agent laughed. She answered all my questions, told me how much she loved my manuscript and then gave suggestions on how to get it ready for submissions. I liked--and agreed--with all her suggestions.

Melinda had advised me to trust my gut, so I did and signed with Priya Doraswamy of Lotus Lane Literary.

Ya’ll, contests are the best way to meet other writers and authors. It amazes me how folks are willing to help you succeed. I’m so glad I entered QueryKombat and put my work out there.

Candice Marley Conner is a mom by day and a writer by naptime. She loves all fairy tales and has to take turns with her three-year-old daughter on who gets to be the evil queen. She feels most at home near water so her characters do too. She has articles published in the Wiregrass Living Magazine, Good Taste Magazine, Tanning Trends and has poems and short stories in Oracle Fine Arts Review. Her YA mystery, THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL is available for submission.


Congrats Candice!!!!!! Good luck with everything and thank you so much for sharing! Everyone, make sure you all congratulate her on Twitter.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Interview with Nikki Roberti - Become an Agent WINNER!

I'm very very excited because here, for you today, is the awesome Nikki Roberti. She recently won the Become an Agent Querypalooza (as we've renamed it). And today is Pitch Wars submissions day, too. Hopefully this interview will help keep your mind off of it as you press the submit buttons!

The interview is seven questions because seven is awesome Harry Potter number and so it has to be seven :)

1. Fun facts about you: name three!

1) I am a pretty gnarly balloon sculptor. Once made a full size bike as a bribe for a kid at summer camp.
2) When I was 18, four of my theatrical pieces I wrote were performed at the Kennedy Center in DC
3) I once got punched by a photographer while covering a Michelle Obama event in DC as a journalist because I had the better spot.

2. Tell us about your writing/publication experience. How did the drafting go? How do you cope in the querying process?

My writing/publication experience is pretty varied with most of it being 12 years of published journalism experience (which I still do as a writer at an international non profit). After years of interviewing people, I started channeling my familiarity with dialogue into plays. I've had short pieces performed from coast to coast with a monologue also being performed in a studio off broadway in NYC. I took a break from playwriting to focus on my journalism career, but in 2012 I needed a creative outlet again and started writing full-length novels.

I've written four complete novels so far, but THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO SHOES is the first one I've really felt struck a chord within myself and even among other people who have volunteered to read it for me. I started writing this while working with Stark Contrast Editing on my light sci fi, THE CURED, because I was 1) learning so much about what I did wrong with my other book and 2) and I just needed a break. I was dealing with some pretty serious frustrations on numerous levels and worked it into this YA contemporary. My goal was to apply what I learned working with my editor on my other book and see if my writing improved.

As far as querying goes, I've learned a lot since I wrote my first book. I've had some nibbles over the past two years, but no agent yet on those projects. THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO SHOES is still new, so I haven't really put it out there yet. I'm hoping maybe this one will grab some attention. When it comes to coping...lots of chocolate, and my therapists named "Ben & Jerry" (Phish food is the best flavor ever).

3. What/Who keeps you going on this quest for publication, especially if you feel like giving up some times?

It's definitely discouraging at times, but writing is what I'm meant to do, and it's who I am. I can't imagine not writing. And since it's such an integral part of my life, rejection has no ability to tear my determination away from me. It will happen when the time is right. In the meantime, I'll keep at it.

4. What is your favorite book? Genre? Author? Also, what writer would you most love to be compared to?

I love ALL YA. I just love reading teen books because it transports me to a time I want to escape to. Favorite book is so hard!!! I'd have to say "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman. I nearly used excerpts in my wedding, I loved it so much. It made me laugh and feel things in a way nothing had at that point in my life.

I don't know which writer I'd want to be compared to. I have such a huge respect for so many, but at the same time, I hope one day I can just be known for my work. If I had to pick one, I'd say John Green because of how he can make people laugh in dark situations, and that's how I've always tried to focus my books on even before I ever read one of his.

5. What are your long-term and short-term goals, writing-wise?

Short-term, my goal is to make my deadlines at work this week! Kidding aside, I really hope to query THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO SHOES more this year and see where it goes into the New Year.

Long-term, I want to eventually freelance full time instead of having a day job. I freelance for various magazines and websites now while writing my books when I get home, but I would love to have an office at home where I could focus on my projects and editing clients more.

6. How was your experience in Become an Agent? What part of the contest did you find the best, and what part did you find the hardest? Anything to tell the other entrants?

My experience with Become an Agent was an interesting, but definitely a beneficial ride. I really appreciated the thoughtful critiques people gave me. But I was very confused by some of the conflicting notes and by the fact that for some reason, more people commented in general on mine than any others. At one point I thought maybe I had both more nos than anyone too. But overall, it really taught me how subjective the industry is and how people can have a strong reaction either way-- but that's better than no reaction at all. I'm definitely going to mull over a lot of the constructive feedback I received and see if I can apply it before Pitch Wars, but I also definitely learned that in the end, I have to trust my gut since people will be split.

To the other entrants, thank you for your thoughtful critiques and good luck on your projects too! I loved reading your entries, and it was so hard to only vote Yes on two. You all are so amazingly talented, and I predict good things for all of us in the future.

7. What would be a dream review for any of your books? Meaning, what would you LOVE for someone to say about your writing/stories?

I actually got a review from a beta recently that made me all sorts of weepy in a way I don't think I'll ever see again (or at least, I can't fathom happening any time soon). While my book is not Christian lit, my main character in THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO SHOES is a Christian who is widely persecuted by other Christians. However, as she struggles outwardly and inwardly throughout the plot, she remains true to herself and what she believes in. The plot is not reliant on this piece of characterization, but one beta approached me later saying that it really resonated with him how awful the supposedly "nice Christians" were to her, and it made him start visiting churches again since he saw that there is a difference between mainstream religion and personal faith. The idea anything I write could help people on their journey to asking questions or finding out more about themselves in any way is a privilege I don't even feel honored enough to accept. But it meant the world to me that he said my book helped him want to take steps toward learning more about something that had been weighing on him for some time.

Nikki Roberti Miller has more than 12 years of published journalism experience spanning newspapers, magazines, newswires, and more. Currently, she is a full-time writer for an international relief non profit and a freelancer for various magazines and websites including Engagement 101, and As an editor, she was invited to present her theories on the mentor-mentee writer relationship at the 2011 International Writing Center Conference and also started her own online magazine, REALITY Check Girl, back in 2009. For fun, she's a recreational balloon sculptor who loves to cook and go to the theater with her husband.


I loved loved those answers. Thank you so much Nikki for submitting and doing this interview! Good luck with everything and be sure to tell me if anything exciting happens.

This is also a call for EVERYONE that submitted/participated in Become an Agent. If you get a success story because of the Querypalooza, I WANT TO HEAR IT! Make sure you Tweet me, email me, anything, because success stories make my day :)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Judy Clemens - Query Kombat 2014 SUCCESS STORY!

WOOT WOOT WOOT!!!!! Today we have Judy Clemens, the author of TAG, YOU'RE DEAD, in Query Kombat. I've had the honor of reading her book, and it is honestly a thrill ride. I was up at 3 am reading it. A success story WELL DESERVED!

When I entered Query Kombat I came to it with a different background than most of the other Kombatants. I’ve been in the business a while. My first book, an adult mystery called TILL THE COWS COME HOME, came out with Poisoned Pen Press in 2004 after years of writing (at that point I had only two manuscripts in a drawer, compared to today when there are…a lot). This sale came through my own submission, after a bad experience with an agent who sent the book to three editors before dropping me like a bad cell phone connection.

COWS, a book about Stella Crown, a Harley-Davidson-loving dairy farmer, was nominated for the 2004 Anthony and Agatha Awards for Best First Novel, which was awesome and wonderful. PPP published a second book in the series, THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET, and I was approached by a lovely agent who wanted to represent me. She did for three books…and then retired.

Having become a part of the Poisoned Pen Posse, I no longer needed an agent to sell them books, and they published five more of my novels, including a sixth Stella book this past December, and a four-book Grim Reaper series before that. PPP is a lovely community to be a part of, and I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for me.

However, my heart had taken a detour to a different place. YA novels. MG novels. Writing for that younger audience. I love to read those books, and I love to write them, but I had no luck getting them published. Eventually I found myself in a place where I wasn’t even enjoying writing anymore. Finally, I stopped myself to ask, “Where is the joy?” and I remembered that the joy should be in the writing, not solely in the final result. I loved the characters and worlds I was writing about, and needed to let that be enough. I wrote more books, and searched for agents, and realized anew what a tough business this is. But I tried not to let it get me down.

And then I thought of the concept for a new book that got me really excited. After spending Nanowrimo on the book, I had my first 50,000 words. A writers’ retreat in January got me the next 25,000, and I had a first draft. The next few months were spent revising and working with beta readers, and then the next stage of work began...searching for an agent. Again.

My non-tech process for figuring out the timeline of TAG, YOU’RE DEAD.
Sometimes computers just aren’t enough!
I sent out query letters like anyone, and got involved on Twitter after encouragement from Dee Romito who told me what a great way it is to learn about the industry and enter writing contests. I started following writers, editors, and agents and received a completely up-to-the-minute feel of what was going on with them. And then I found Query Kombat! I entered and was picked for Michael’s team (yay!) and made it all the way through to the championship round. Along the way people gave great feedback on my query, and I received several agent requests. And then the waiting began!

But not for long.

Within two hours of receiving my email, Uwe Stender of TriadaUS contacted me, requesting the full. I sent it, and less than a week later I answered the call every writer dreams of getting.

“I love your book!”

Cloud Nine, anyone?

So now I am a part of the TriadaUS family, and couldn’t be happier. But this didn’t happen overnight. It happened over a decade of learning, fun, misery, disappointment, support, discouragement, friendship, frustration, and excitement. It’s all wrapped up in there. But writers gotta write, and if we want to get published, we persevere.

And we find the joy.


Judy Clemens lives in rural Ohio with her husband and two children, two cats, and a gerbil named Watson. She is the author of the Stella Crown and Grim Reaper mysteries, and a stand-alone entitled LOST SONS. She loves the people in the writing industry and is excited to be heading out on this new adventure.

It's an absolutely incredible story, your success story AND your novel. Thank you so so so much for sharing, it was a joy to read. Make sure to congratulate her on Twitter! Good luck with everything in the future!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

'Become an Agent' Revision GUIDELINES

Read this post before you criticize revisions!

Pitch Wars is coming up very very soon. I had the September deadline for votes to be on Tuesday at 9 pm but since I'll be away from the Internet starting Wednesday morning until Sunday (VACATION TIME !!!!) I thought I'd bump it up to make room for revisions .

The new deadline is today, Monday, 6 pm EST.

Most of You have Already done your votes so thank you! If You Have not done it and can not get it done in the time frame, do not worry about it, just do it before 9 pm Tuesday. I'll tally up the votes and post the winner on Tuesday.

Starting at 6 pm EST, I'll edit each post and replace  the entry with a review that you 'guys can send me at the same email, same format, same everything, except  in the email's subject line, say 'Become an Agent Post # __ '(whatever post number you are).

Everyone That PARTICIPATED in the contest have the opportunity to submit a revised version of Their query and 250 The revisions will come from the feedback gotten From this contest.

That Those revisions have posted, I'll list below. (I'll try to do it as fast as possible: D)

Revised List of Entries

Post 1
Post 2
Post 4
Post 5
Post 6
Post 9
Post 11
Post 17
Post 18
Post 19
Post 20

The quicker you send me your revisions, the quicker I ll have them up! Already I've got a few.

Same rules apply for  voting etiquette , except now you can give as many as you want Yes's (way too hard to track with a changing number of revisions). And, more Importantly, say if the review was an improvement or not! 

So, still give the 'Yes' and 'No' (sorry, it might feel a lot more brutal to get No's now after revisions, but honesty is the best, in my opinion). But Also say, "Improvement" or "Not Improved".

As always, be  constructive.  brutally Do not be harsh. There's a smaller number of entries now so take your time to tell them what they 'did right In Their query and 250 as well :) I feel That it's almost as Important as Knowing Knowing what's working what's not working.

Be sure to return the please if your review gets to criticize! posted If You Have to revision and are critiquing someone else's review, make sure to include your number in your post so the writer has criticized An Easier time finding your post.


Now That the contest is over, it's the time for feedback for  me.  In the end, all I want to know is:  How was the contest? Any suggestions for the next time?  Be as honest as you need to be.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Betsy and Carrie - Query Kombat 2014 SUCCESS STORY!!

I'm very very excited about this. Betsy and Carrie are Query Kombat 2014's GRAND CHAMPIONS (they won the whole freaking thing!) and already have an agent! Plus, Betsy named her daughter after a Harry Potter character. That's awesome. I love this story, so read on!

Close friends from NYU, we’d worked together on a variety of creative projects through the years. Some have been more memorable than others, like the time we produced and performed in a dystopian version of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in an old store front on the Lower East Side, but we’d always planned on writing something original together.

One Halloween, while on a ghost tour of Greenwich Village, we came up with an idea for a YA Paranormal novel. We passed chapters back and forth, just for fun, over the next two years. Once we had written about 40,000 words, we decided it was time to get serious about finishing the book and enrolled in a MediaBistro online class with writer Micol Ostow, which started in January 2013. The class was just what we needed at that time to push us to finish and revise the manuscript. Plus, we met other writers, learned how to work under deadline, how to give and accept feedback, and how to query agents.

After a few more re-writes, we started writing and re-writing queries and sending them out. We even made it into the Nightmare on Query Street contest and got some requests from that along with requests the old-fashioned way. In total, we probably queried 30 people, most of whom were pretty positive. But one theme stuck out over and over, even among those who liked the manuscript. No one was buying paranormal anymore. A couple of very nice agents told us to write something else and to be in touch. That was all the encouragement we needed.

After a crazy brainstorming session in August 2013, we came up with a wacky idea, to write a YA contemporary romance about Bigfoot hunters. We still had queries out for the other manuscript, but rather than refreshing our inboxes every two minutes, we got excited about writing again. We drafted, revised, and worked with our critique partner and a couple of beta readers, until we felt it was ready.

Then we heard about Query Kombat and thought it would be a great way to test the waters with this manuscript and get some valuable feedback from other writers before wading into querying again. We wrote and re-wrote our query (sense a theme here?), with insight from a few professionals (thanks Lauren Spieller, Kate Brauning, and Taryn Albright).

We know how competitive pitching contests are, so when the hosts announced they were giving away free passes, we entered, and won one from Mike, who loved our short pitch. Phew! We were so relieved to be able to skip the slush and go right into the contest.

We figured the competition would be stiff and we’d be lucky to just get past the first round and get seen by agents. But something happened along the way. We kept winning. At the top of each round we assumed this would be the last round for us – that we would be eliminated. But it never happened. Before we knew it, we were the grand champions and had received 10 agent requests! We were completely floored that so many folks liked our pitch and writing sample so much.

During the contest, we also sent a handful of queries to other agents who were on our short list, a few of them responded asking for partials as well. We expected that it would be a while until we heard anything, but within a few days we had an offer of representation on the table from Agent A who loved the manuscript. We quickly went back to everyone who had a full, partial, or query, because you never know. We heard from all but one agent. Most requested the full and said they would read our manuscript before our deadline. Only a couple bowed out right away, and a few agents came back later on saying they really liked it, but weren’t quite in love. Then two more offers came in from Agents B and C!

We had a long phone conversation with each agent who offered. They were all great in different ways, but we were undecided. Then, two days before we were going to make a decision, we got a fourth offer. We quickly set up a call with the fourth agent, knowing our decision deadline was around the corner. However, before we even ended the call, we just knew, “the way you know about a good melon,” to quote When Harry Met Sally. This was our agent, the one we wanted to represent us. She really seemed to get what we were trying to do and had great ideas to make our manuscript even better. We knew we would enjoy working with her and that she would be a rock star champion for our novel.

So now, we are thrilled to say we are represented by Christa Heschke at McIntosh & Otis, who was one of the agents who requested our manuscript during Query Kombat.

If we had to offer some advice, based on our story, we would say to keep writing. You never know if the manuscript you are writing now is the one that is going to get you an agent, or the one that is going to teach you how to write the one that gets you the agent. Also, working on a new project keeps your mind off of all those queries out in the world.

Thanks to all the Query Kombat judges, and especially to Michelle, Mike, and SC for playing literary matchmakers and for creating such a wonderful community!


Betsy Aldredge (on the right in the picture, while Carrie is on the left - SC) is a former magazine editor turned museum professional. She’s worked at a library and at two independent bookstores including Shakespeare and Company. Born a book nerd, she is happy to pass on the tradition. Her four-year-old daughter is named after a Harry Potter character and already insists on sleeping with piles of books in her bed. She lives and works in New York.

Carrie DuBois-Shaw has had two plays for young audiences produced in New York City and spearheaded the new play development program at The New Victory Theater, a performing arts venue in Times Square dedicated to engaging and entertaining kids and families. She recently relocated to San Francisco, where she is enjoying the abundance of independent bookstores, sour dough bread, and fog.

Betsy and Carrie are members of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). They met at NYU where they lived in a haunted dorm, studied theater, and were secretly delighted to be mistaken for English literature majors.

Check out their blog and congratulate Betsy and Carrie on Twitter!

CONGRATS BOTH OF YOU!!!! Can't wait to see how everything turns out. Keep us informed, and good luck!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Become an Agent Critiquing Guidelines!

Read this before you start critiquing or voting!!

We are #BecomeAnAgent on Twitter :) Please please please, join the discussion! I'll even set up a question: What aspect of your entry do you want to improve on the most?

 Read this for full details on this contest because I kind of suck at summing things up. Basically, the entrants will vote on other entrants' entries (woah, say that 1304983 times fast) and say Yes or No based on the question: "If I was an agent, would I request more pages?"

Non-entrants can participate in this contest too!!!

Here are the voting guidelines for the entrants (those who are in the contest) AND the audience.

For the entrants
  • Entrants will have to critique a minimum of seven other queries and can vote Yes on two out of those seven. They MUST  critique at least seven and give a however-brief explanation as to why they voted Yes or No. Read on to see what are acceptable Yes's and No's.
  • Entrants must critique the seven queries which have lower numbers than their post (each post will have a post number). So, if you have post #9, you critique #2 through #8. But, say, if you have #3, you critique numbers 2, 1, then start from the other end, 20, 19, 18, 17, and 16.
  • At the end of each critique, entrants, put down your own post number so I can tally how many critiques each entrant did.
  • If entrants finish critiquing their seven queries and so amazingly want to critique more, then they have two choices:
  1. Give a Yes or No for seven other queries. Two Yes's for the batch. If they critique ALL 20, then they'll have six Yes's to give out all together! (But you can only give out 6 Yes's if you've given out 14 No's as well.)
For the audience
  • Audience members have only three Yes votes for the whole lot. (With no need to give/explain No's.) However, if the awesome audience does decide to give/explain No's, then just follow the same rules for the entrants.
  • The only difference between the audience and the entrant voting procedures is that entrants are required to give a minimum of seven critiques, and explain Yes or No for each one. Audience can give three (or even less) Yes's to whichever queries they want without explanation (but, really, explanations would be best).

Pretend you are agents and are sifting through your slush pile.  Mention the reasons you voted Yes or No! And explain them enough so the writer can use the feedback to improve. If you want to give an in depth critique, please, do so. That'd be awesome :D

Since there is a maximum amount of Yes's, you can say in explanation of a No: "I would have given this a Yes, but I liked query #89234234 better. Sorry!" But keep these types of No's to a minimum. This query is about feedback and helping writers make better queries. This type of critique won't help them improve.

And don't vote No just because you don't like the genre. (Hopefully) the writer will only query agents interested in their genre. So read each query pretending that you like that genre. Exceptions are for hard-to-sell genres like paranormal or dystopian. In those cases, the genre is a hugely significant factor in determining why agents say no. Be honest with the writers here and tell them if it's their genre that's holding them back. Be honest in saying if the premise of the story is not unique enough to stand out in the suffocated genre.

The premise of this whole post? Be honest. But nicely.

The only types of unacceptable No's will be:
  1. Genre-based No's. (See above paragraph for explanation and exceptions.)
  2. Cruel, spiteful No's.
  3. No's with little-to-no explanation. Be specific! (But no need to do a whole line-by-line critique). This will absolutely be the main problem for the contest, and it'll lead to angry or sad writers. In text, it's really hard to convey nuance in a critique. What the critiquer writes will be interpreted differently by the critiquee, and usually negatively. Writers: remember, nothing is personal here. To help stop this problem, try saying at least one good thing about each No (while staying honest, even brutally honest!) and thoroughly explaining your reasoning.
  4. There is absolutely NO tolerance for No's that stem from prejudice or for a personal dislike of a subject matter. There are no exceptions to this rule. 
The only types of unacceptable Yes's will be:
  1. Yes's obviously based on friendship ("Oh, she's my friend, so I have to give her a yes.") If you are friends with the writer and you truly love their query, then go ahead and vote Yes. This is on the honor system. We're all adults and I trust you guys.
  2. Yes's with little-to-no explanation.
Also, if you see that there is a entry or a few entries that aren't getting many comments (maybe the posts lower down on the blog's page that sometimes get hidden from view) please try giving them votes to make the number of critiques mostly equal throughout the 20. That's why I made the whole 'critique the 7 above you' so the votes would be fairly equal in number. I'll be Tweeting links to posts that don't get much feedback so follow me on Twitter.

Please try not to share what post is yours over Twitter. Doing so might inadvertently get you some 'Yes's' from friends that other entrants who aren't on Twitter don't have the chance to receive. But feel free to Tweet about the contest! Twitter is awesome :) 

One more thing

Don't expect all Yes's. DON'T. Because I'm guaranteeing it, you won't get it. This isn't a contest where the goal is to win. It's to grow. Because, for many of you, this contest will be brutal. But it'll be brutal in a good way; I know from experience in one of the Authoress's critique contests! Hopefully, you entered this contest to fix your query/250 and grow. It'll be a brutal few days of voting but, hopefully, in the end, the feedback will be worth it all :D

Phew. That's it!! Go go go!!!!!!!!!

The deadline to finish up all critiques is Tuesday 9 p.m. EST. On Wednesday, I'll announce the winner - the one with the most Yes's - and (if they permit me) do a mini-breakdown of their entry to try finding out why the entry won. I'll also set up an interview with the winner :)

Have fun guys! And be nice! And please, comment on this post, Tweet me, or email me (I rarely check my email though) if you see some mistake in your entry! The mistakes will probably be a missed italics. I will not fix typos that were in the original email. 


Become an Agent #20

Genre: YA Low Fantasy
Word count: 110,000

The worst part of Tessa’s last semester of high school wasn’t when Jason Garvie confessed his undying love for her best friend, Maria. It wasn’t when Maria squealed with delight at Jason’s confession. It wasn’t even the disastrous pre-prom dinner date where Tessa double dated with Maria and Jason—may they both break out in hives before the pictures! Nope, the worst part of the last semester happened before all that, when an investment broker gave a lame speech about the glory and beauty of being a teenager to an all-school assembly. Instead of listening, Tessa hid behind Maria, trying to write a love letter to Jason. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.

But the investment broker was actually a wizard pretending to give money to the school so he could see all the students. He was scouring the area looking for the Settfyrian, a powerful human born with magic to serve as the liaison between the magical races and the human nations of his world. To conquer his kingdom, he needs the Settfyrian—in a pinch, just her blood—to cement a spell to take control. After seeing Tessa’s aura leaking around Maria, the wizard assumed he’d found his girl. When he mistakenly kidnaps Maria from the doomed double date, he’s got the wrong girl, but that won’t make Maria any less dead when he spills her blood. The fourth dinner guest, the new guy at school with a penchant for making Tessa laugh, volunteers to guide her to this neverland of magic and mayhem. Now Tessa’s going to jump down the rabbit hole and get her friend back or burn that magical world to the ground, unicorns and all. There’s only one problem: her guide’s allegiance might not be what she hopes. He is the wizard’s son.

PROM, MAGIC, AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS is a YA low fantasy complete at 110,000 words starring a snarky Jewish girl.


The most dastardly form of literature was the love letter. Bearer of hopes, crusher of dreams, which was why I didn’t trust it to something as impersonal as a text. I’d already written the greatest love letter, but now I had to turn it into a true work of art. Maria bumped into me, and the ink smeared across the page. Again.

Damn this timing. I could have written this letter at my leisure during French. Then Jason Garvie would have been right there. I could have just dropped it into his backpack. He’d get home, read my letter, and then he’d know. Simple.


Far more deniable than a text.

But I wanted it to be special. I wanted it to be unforgettable. When he started asking me about kinds of paper, that was when I knew I had to whip out my glass quill and perfectionist lettering. Who knew a skill I’d agonized over in fourth grade would finally pay off.

Hiding behind Maria in the gym during an assembly didn’t qualify as “perfect.” “Do you have to shake the bleachers?”

She leaned back. “You’re the fool trying to make art on the benches.”

“It’s more than art.” I crumpled the ruined paper and hunted for a fresh piece in my backpack. “What’s the deal with this assembly anyway? It wasn’t on the schedule.” Fresh paper in hand, I dived back down to get back to work.

Maria shook her head, and her perfect curls bounced. “It’s some investment guy.

Genre: YA Low Fantasy
Word Count: 100,000


After writing a love letter to her long time crush, Tessa expected fireworks. Before she could deliver the letter, her crush gave her one of his own, but it’s addressed to her perfect best friend Maria. Determined not to be the loser who couldn’t get a date to prom, Tessa asks the new guy, Sean. He doesn’t know basic things like how to make a smoke detector stop squawking, but he has the most important qualification: he doesn’t already have a date. Still, he’s fun, so the pre prom double-date with Maria and her new boyfriend—may they both break out in hives before the pictures—shouldn’t be a complete disaster.

When a wizard crashes the dinner and kidnaps Maria, it becomes abundantly clear why Sean doesn’t know how to use a cell phone. Sean’s from another world, a world similar to the world of fae, Underhill. The wizard has mistaken Maria for a powerful mage, but the only thing magical about Maria is her ability to style hair. Being normal won’t make her any less dead after the wizard uses her blood in a spell to conquer his world. Tessa moved heaven and earth to land a date to prom and some blood sucking wizard isn’t going to ruin it. With Sean to help her, Tessa is going down the rabbit hole to get her friend back or burn the wizard and his magical world to the ground, unicorns and all. But Sean might not be as helpful as she hoped. He’s the wizard’s son.

PROM, MAGIC, AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS is a YA low fantasy complete at 100,000 words starring a quirky Jewish girl.


Without a doubt, the most dastardly piece of literature known to mankind was the love letter. Something so light shouldn’t carry so much weight. My hand slipped when Maria leaned back, smearing romantic, old fashioned ink across the page.

“Art in progress here!”

Maria put her finger to her lips. “Shh—I’m actually trying to hear what he’s saying.”

Damn this All School Assembly. I should have ditched like all the other self respecting seniors. Then I’d have time to craft the perfect letter, but Maria actually wanted to listen.

I’d wanted this letter to be special, not a rush job on the top bench, hiding behind Maria.

“Do you have to shake the bleachers?”

She leaned back. “You’re the idiot trying to make art on the benches.”

“It’s more than art.” I crumpled the ruined paper and hunted for a fresh piece in my backpack. “What’s the deal with this assembly anyway?”

“It’s some investment guy. He’s new in town. Big money.” She paused as if an extra moment could help her fathom the truth. “Tessa, he’s giving straight answers. I don’t understand. It’s so…unpolitical.”

I pulled out a fresh piece of paper and copied out the first few lines so it looked like a document from Shakespeare would have had. If I was going to write a love letter, it was going to be pretty.

Art was my thing, and only my best friend could make me compromise any aspect of my art.

Become an Agent #19

Title: The Faithful
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Word Count: 85,000


Written with a noir flair, THE FAITHFUL is an Adult Urban Fantasy set in another world about a gangster's journey to becoming a god. It is complete at 85,000 words. It is the first novel in a series.

Raine Morgan didn't mean to kill her. Things just got fuzzy.

As the right hand of a local crime family, Raine is tasked with hunting down two miscreants who have been screwing the family's bottom line. A streetwise collector who protects his marks regardless of the cost, he finds them assaulting a woman, charges in, but in the confusion, murders her instead of the men.

Armed with only his wits and reputation, he forces his way through the ghettos, pursued by a relentless Officer. Not sure if he can trust his senses, he sees shadows moving, whispering in the dark. He tracks down both men, but Dion, an alcoholic god, intervenes before they can kill him, whisking him to safety.

Tucked away in a dingy shack on the edge of the water, Raine learns he is becoming a god. While Dion is passed out, Raine tries to escape, only to find a twisted, rotting god intent on destroying the old pantheon.

Now the gods are returning to the city they had abandoned. As they come together, a civil war erupts between them and they learn an awful reality - even gods can die.

With the city crumbling around him, Raine adapts to the changing landscape in search of one thing.



Raine Morgan pulled a crushed pack from his jacket, fished out a twisted cigarette. Flame flickered then vanished. He took a drag, stared at the bars, the neon flashing through the evening haze, calling the shuffling drunks out into the dead of night for some faintly promised tail.

The chill air reeked of the sea. In the distance, a bell dinged, signaling choppy waters and an endless night. He shifted position, regretted it when the blue light from Oki's Veins blinded him momentarily. Above his right temple, a needling pain thrummed, causing the light to appear that much brighter. He planted his arm once more to cover the thick pane of glass. Grasping his watch chain, Raine checked the time, shoved the piece back with a sigh.

“Mr. Morgan,” a soft, earnest voice said. The man fumbled with a sheet of paper. It crinkled as he flipped it over.

Leaning into the brick, Raine replied, “Where to?”

“The Deserted Temple.”

“The target?”

“Manal Ratula.”

Raine flicked his cigarette into a mound of trash and walked forward. He rolled his fingers against the night's bitter cold as if sliding a quarter along his knuckles. Turning a corner, he stopped at a rundown dive, chains rattling above where a sign should've hung. This place would've been all too comfortable on Liquor Row, steeped in mounds of trash, crammed in with the dilapidated structures. The Deserted Temple's shattered windows gleamed with candlelight. Its warped door hung slightly ajar, ragged holes in the wood revealing mischief and deeds better left to dark corners.


Complete at 85,000 words, THE FAITHFUL is a Fantasy Noir that combines the punch of True Detective with the dark fantasy of Alan Campbell's Deepgate Codex.

Raine Morgan is a mobster, the right hand of Na Creidmhigh. As a collector for the Family, he is recognized by most citizens. If he's after you, there's no hiding.

When he's tasked with hunting down two miscreants who have been messing with the bottom line, he thinks it will be an easy job. Raine utilizes all his sources to track them, only to find them assaulting a woman. He charges in, accidentally murdering her in the scuffle.

As news spreads of Raine's crimes, a greedy middleman overthrows the current leadership of Na Creidmhigh and works out a plan to dispose of the only man able to reclaim control: Raine.

A fugitive from the cops and the Family, Raine is determined to clear his name, delving deeper into the seedy underbelly of the city. It's only with the help of a friend inside the crumbling Na Creidmhigh as well as a streetwise artist that Raine remains undetected.

While eluding the authorities, Raine crosses paths with something far older than the Family. Killing the girl and damning his soul had some unexpected consequences: one being the attention of long forgotten gods.

As the old pantheon returns to the city they'd abandoned, they expect to find some naive god for them to manipulate. Instead, they find a man stripped of everything, intent on playing both sides as civil war erupts between them and they learn an awful reality - even gods can die.


Raine Morgan pulled a crushed pack from his jacket, fished out a twisted cigarette. A match's flame flickered then vanished. He took a drag, stared at the bars from his niche across the street. Neon flashed through the evening haze, calling the shuffling drunks out into the dead of night for some faintly promised tail.

The chill air reeked of the sea. In the distance, a bell dinged, signaling choppy waters and an endless night. He shifted position, regretted it when the blue light from Oki's Veins blinded him momentarily. A needling pain thrummed under his right eye, causing the light to sear his vision. He planted his arm to cover the thick pane of glass. Grasping his watch chain, Raine checked the time, shoved the piece back into his vest pocket with a sigh.

“Mr. Morgan,” a soft, earnest voice said. The man fumbled with a sheet of paper. It crinkled as he flipped it over.

Raine leaned into the brick. “Where to?”

“The Deserted Temple.”

“The target?”

“Manal Ratula.”

Raine flicked his cigarette into a mound of trash and sauntered forward. He rolled his fingers against the night's bitter cold as if sliding a quarter along his knuckles. Turning a corner, he stopped at a rundown dive, chains rattling above where a sign should've hung. The Deserted Temple's shattered windows gleamed with candlelight. Its warped door hung ajar, ragged holes in the wood revealing mischief and deeds better left to dark corners.

He slipped in, hot air wafting over him as the cold chased in vain.

Become an Agent #18

Genre: MG Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Word Count: 33,000


Eleven-year-old Opal never sleeps.

Nobody she knows sleeps. Nobody knows what sleep is, or that it ever existed, thanks to a government pill that keeps citizens awake twenty-four hours a day in an attempt to foster intense productivity.

Opal leads a lonely but content life in her world. With no friends at school, she finds comfort in spending time with her scientist Dad. Opal’s life is disrupted when she begins to experience inexplicable events, like flying through an unfamiliar tunnel one moment and sitting back in her house the next. Before she has a chance to talk to Dad about her distressing ordeal, he is arrested for reasons Opal can’t figure out.

Without her Dad to talk to, she warily turns to older Sidney, a dark boy who has just joined her class after serving time for a grave crime that he refuses to discuss. Using Sidney’s knowledge and cryptic messages that Dad has left behind for her, Opal uncovers her Dad’s plans and why he was arrested: he has created a new pill that allows citizens to sleep. Even scarier, he used his children to test his pill. Feeling betrayed, Opal begins to question his motives and his trustworthiness. Unfortunately someone else has also uncovered Dad’s new pill: an underground society of people who still sleep known as The Dreamers.

The Dreamers want Dad’s research, but when Opal refuses to help they kidnap Sidney. After learning the details of his abominable crime, Opal must make the choice between saving Sidney or protecting her Dad’s secret.



I turned my head back to see what I was escaping from and was shocked to see my own family. My father, his arms stretched out to me, reaching for me, “Opal, wait!”

My younger sister and brother, weeping and sobbing uncontrollably. Every fiber in my body yearned to go to them, but something forced me to keep moving.

A dim tunnel stretched before and behind me, dirt and rock held from collapsing by thick wooden beams. A musty chill covered my arms with goose bumps and filled my heart with dread. Where am I?
Suddenly I was moving so fast that the flickering drops of light in the tunnel became streaks in my peripheral vision. I knew I was not normally this fast; I looked down and it seemed as though my feet weren’t even touching the rocky ground.

I felt hot tears streaking sideways on my face and I moved faster, faster. A bright light at the end of the tunnel grew bigger until I saw that the tunnel opened into sunlight. I unwillingly flew towards it and as I reached the end of the tunnel, my body was thrust into the light.


I look down at my text-reader on the floor. That’s weird. It was just in my hand a second ago. How did it get there? Even more puzzling is how I was in the strange tunnel one moment and back in my dwelling the next, with no memory of changing location.

Genre: MG science fiction
Word Count: 33,000


Nobody eleven-year-old Opal knows sleeps. In an effort to advance productivity and technology, the Government has created a pill that keeps citizens awake twenty-four hours a day by providing the body with all the benefits of a nightly rest.

The thought of spending every day for the rest of her life following the same exact schedule makes Opal want to scream. She likes being different, and doesn’t care that her favorite purple dress gets her labeled as an outcast among her white and beige classmates; she’d rather spend time with her scientist dad anyway.

Excitement finds Opal when something strange happens. She’s flying through an unfamiliar tunnel one moment and sitting back in her house the next. Before she has a chance to talk to Dad about her distressing ordeal, he is arrested for reasons Opal can’t figure out.

Without Dad to talk to, she warily turns to older Sidney, a dark boy who has just joined her class. Although he served time for a crime that he refuses to discuss, Opal knows she can trust him after he stands up for her. Using Sidney’s knowledge and cryptic messages that Dad gives her, Opal uncovers why Dad was arrested: he has created an illegal pill that allows citizens to sleep. Even scarier, he used his children to test his pill. Unfortunately someone else has also found out about Dad’s new pill: an underground society of people who still sleep, known as The Dreamers.

The Dreamers want Dad’s research, but when Opal refuses to help they kidnap Sidney. After learning the details of his horrible crime, Opal is torn between saving Sidney or protecting her Dad’s secret from getting into the wrong hands.

First 250:

“ALERT! Opal Reeves take your pill. ALERT!”

The loud computerized voice echoes off the curved white walls of the kitchen and snaps me out of my thoughts. If I don’t take my pill in thirty seconds, an alarm will go off at the Government Health Department and police droids will barge through the front door. Or so I’ve been warned.

Mom rushes by me, hardly pausing to chew me out. “Opal, why do you always have to wait until the last second? Please take your pill.”

I roll my eyes and pick up the cartridge of little blue pills off the metal counter, which must satisfy Mom, as she leaves the kitchen. I examine the label, OPAL REEVES. DORM ZERO-5. TO BE TAKEN EVERY 24 HOURS. NO EXCEPTIONS. I sigh. Fine. The pill forces its way down my throat and I feel it every inch of the way, like hands squeezing my insides.

Today’s routine is just like yesterday’s, and the day before that, with nothing to break up the pattern. For eleven years, I’ve known nothing else. Pill at noon, or else. Family Quality Time at 1pm. Solitary Leisure Time at 4. Sundown Meal; School; Personal Fitness; Midday Meal. Repeat.

The thought of doing the same exact thing every day for the rest of my life kind of makes me want to scream. When I tried to talk to Mom about it, she brushed it off, saying I was “just going through a phase.” I wonder if everyone my age goes through this “phase,” though I doubt it. All the kids at school look perfectly happy in their regimented lives. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart from the droids.

Become an Agent #17

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Word Count: 65,000


When seventeen-year-old Amalia Cornaro saves Venice from balefire, no one is happy.

Eccentric heiress Amalia was only trying to buy a rare magical science text. She had no intention of linking to Zaira, a brash pickpocket with fire magic more dangerous than flintlocks or cannons; but someone had to put a seal on her out-of-control power. Now Amalia is Zaira’s Falconer, the only one capable of binding or releasing her magic — a military role forbidden to aristocrats like Amalia by the laws of the Venetian Empire. And Zaira, furious at her loss of freedom, is determined to make sure their unwilling partnership is not an easy one.

Then a political conflict between Venice and tributary Florence threatens to escalate to war, and Zaira’s fire magic becomes Venice’s strongest argument to dissuade revolt. But Amalia has friends and family in Florence, including an unconfessed love among the rebels. She must navigate a course as narrow and twisting as the canals of Venice itself, with treason on one side and betrayal of her Florentine friends on the other.

When Amalia discovers a treacherous plot at the root of the conflict, she and Zaira must overcome their mutual mistrust and class differences to work together to unravel the scheme before it triggers a war. If they fail, Amalia’s orders are clear: to unleash Zaira’s power against Florence, consigning the city and those she loves there to fiery destruction.

A FALCONER OF VENICE is a YA historical fantasy set in an alternate Venice at the turn of the 18th century, complete at 65,000 words.


“Here, my Lady? Are you sure?”

As the prow of my gondola nudged the stone steps leading up from the water’s edge, I realized I should have walked — or at least hired a gondola that didn’t belong to my mother. The gondolier was bound to report back to La Contessa that her daughter had disembarked at a grimy little quay in a particularly dubious corner of Cannaregio sestiere, the least aristocratic district of Venice.

But by the time my mother heard anything, I’d already have the book.

“Yes, thank you. Right here.”

The gondolier made no comment as he steadied his craft, but his eyebrows conveyed deep skepticism.

He knew me well enough not to offer a hand as I clambered out. I’d worn a country gentleman’s coat and breeches, to avoid standing out in working class Cannaregio. I was glad not to have to keep skirts from trailing in the murky water. Trash bobbed in the canal, and the tang in the air was not exclusively salt.

“Shall I wait for you here, my Lady?”

“No, that’s all right.” The less my mother knew about my errand, the better.

She had not precisely forbidden me to visit the pawnbroker who reportedly had a copy of Muscati’s A Study of Tidal Enchantment and Artifice ,but she’d made her opinion of such excursions clear. I personally felt having survived assassination and kidnapping attempts in the past proved me qualified to perform a simple unescorted errand in broad daylight. La Contessa held the exact opposite belief.

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Word Count: 65,000 words


Seventeen-year-old heiress Amalia Cornaro never wanted to become a Falconer — a mage handler for the Venetian Empire — but someone had to seal Zaira’s out-of-control fire magic. Now Amalia, who relates better to magical devices than to people, is the only one who can release Zaira’s power; and Zaira, a brash pickpocket, isn’t allowed to leave the fortresslike Mews without Amalia at her side. Furious at her loss of freedom, Zaira is determined to make their unwilling partnership a difficult one.

Then a devious plot incites conflict between Venice and Florence, and the threat of Zaira’s fire magic becomes Venice’s strongest negotiating tool. With friends and family in both cities asking for her help, Amalia must navigate a course as narrow and twisting as the canals of Venice itself to avoid betraying her city or the people she loves. But when the plotters turn to kidnapping and murder to protect their plans, Amalia’s life may be in even more danger than her honor.

Zaira’s courage and street-smarts combined with Amalia’s wits and political clout may be enough to unravel the treacherous scheme before it incites war... if they can learn to work together. If they fail, Amalia’s orders from the ruling council of Venice are clear: to unleash Zaira’s power against Florence, consigning the city — and her friends there — to fiery destruction.

A FALCONER OF VENICE is a YA historical fantasy set in an alternate Venice at the end of the 17th century, complete at 65,000 words.

First 250:

“Here, my Lady? Are you sure?”

As the prow of my gondola nudged the stone steps at the water’s edge, I realized I should have walked — or at least hired a gondola other than my own. The gondolier was bound to report back to La Contessa that her daughter had disembarked at a grimy little quay in a particularly dubious corner of Cannaregio sestiere, the least aristocratic district of Venice.

But by the time my mother heard anything, I’d already have the book.

“Yes, thank you. Right here.”

The gondolier made no comment as he steadied his craft, but his eyebrows conveyed deep skepticism.

I’d worn a country gentleman’s coat and breeches to avoid standing out in working class Cannaregio. I was glad not to have to keep skirts from trailing in the murky water as I clambered out. Trash bobbed in the canal, and the tang in the air was not exclusively salt.

“Shall I wait for you here, my Lady?”

“No, that’s all right.” The less my mother knew about my errand, the better.
She had not precisely forbidden me to visit the pawnbroker who claimed to have a copy of Muscati’s A Study of Tidal Enchantment and Artifice, but she’d made her opinion of such excursions clear. And no one casually disobeyed La Contessa Lissandra Cornaro. Her word resonated powerfully in every walled garden and forgotten piazza in Venice.
Still, there was nothing casual about a Muscati. This book might give me exactly what I needed for my design.

Become an Agent #16

Title: Within the Sickle's Compass; or, The Haunting of Springett Hall
Genre: YA historical mystery
Word Count: 73,000


Lucy's such an incompetent ghost that nobody notices she's haunting the Victorian estate of Springett Hall, but she's certain she died trying to fix some terrible mistake—one she must remember and set right before oblivion reclaims her forever.

Ghosts terrorize the household as Lucy tries to piece together the mystery surrounding her death, and shadows close around her each night, forcing her back into the darkness. The servants whisper about black magic and cursed souls. She suspects her forgotten task is the key to stopping the supernatural attacks as well as saving herself.

When someone finally sees her, she grasps the connection to the world of the living, even if it's only Philip, the assistant gamekeeper. His memories are as fragmented as hers, though, and as they delve into the secrets of Springett Hall, Lucy worries that her only friend, for whom she's developing an impossible attraction, may have been her mortal enemy.

With ghosts tormenting the living, a beast stalking the halls by moonlight, and cords of black magic tightening around Lucy and Philip, they have to face their past and unravel its secrets to save everyone at Springett Hall from a curse that reaches beyond death.


Light drew me back from oblivion's abyss. The sun’s rays pooled around me through a crack in red velvet curtains and spilled across the floor. I blinked at them, my mind as still and dark as a well. Shimmering flecks of dust hovered in the air. I waved to stir them, and they floated through my palm.

I gasped and jerked my hand back, staring at it. Through it, really. Even when I covered my eyes, I could see the furniture on the other side of the room: a grandfather clock with its hands stopped, a mahogany side table and sofa, and a portrait draped in black.

Someone had died.

I turned my translucent hand back and forth. Yes. Someone had.

My eyes tingled, but no tears came. I raced to the curtains to fling them open. My fingers passed through their thick folds. Trembling, I wrapped my arms around myself and paced. It was a nightmare. I would wake up. Everything looked solid and real, though. Everything except me.

I fled the room. My skirts swayed but didn't rustle. Nor did the crinolette weigh on my hips, or my corset squeeze my ribs. The memory of them clung to me, but I'd moved beyond their pressures.

A housemaid dressed in black strolled down the hallway, dusting delicate side tables. She didn't glance in my direction, even when I scooted closer.

“Hello?” My voice rasped out in a whisper.

The girl shook her dust rag and walked through me.

Become an Agent #15

Title: Blood Reign
Genre: YA Fantasy
Word Count: 81,000

Seventeen-year-old Alice finds herself trapped between the men who murdered her mother and a five-hundred-foot drop. Rather than face the killers’ dark plans, Alice jumps.

But instead of death, Alice wakes up in a blood-soaked battlefield in an unfamiliar world, where armoured men are slaughtering peasants. Terrified, she flees and encounters a seer, who reveals to Alice that the only way back to her world is by seeking a witch with the power to transport her back.

In this alternate reality, Alice is forced to disguise herself as a man to protect against marauders. She must survive the war between the queen and rebels while battling the flesh-eating monsters stalking Wonderland. She needs to find her way home, fueled by a lust to avenge her mother’s murder.

As Wonderland falls into chaos, Alice finds herself drowning in violence and bloodshed. Struggling to keep her sanity, she discovers that slaying monsters has its price. If this world falls apart before she can return home, Alice risks becoming the worst monster of all.


I’ve been fighting with a sword since I was eight. It was the only way to feel alive; to feel the blood running in my veins. I stalked my prey, eyeing him from behind my mask. My ragged breathing amplified inside the white fencing suit, drowning outside noise. The suit was supposed to protect me, yet it served to protect him from me.

Strike him. Go for the throat.

I dodged his attack and lunged forward, stabbing the blade toward his heart. The sports hall exploded with cheers as blood sang in my ears. Victory rushed through me, echoing the sweet, sharp metallic twangs of clashing swords.

“15-8! Southampton college—champion of the Summer Duel!” the words boomed. And just like that, it was over.

I pulled back, my jaw ticked with irritation. Too soon. I should’ve stalled rather than pouncing for him like a homicidal maniac.

I clenched the sabre, curbing myself from giving in to the roaring hunger. One reason I hated local tournaments was that many opponents were hardly worth fighting. But it served to kill time whilst waiting for the regional games. My opponent grabbed his mask and yanked it off. Sweat streamed down his face, skin flushed.

“Nice game.” He saluted me with his sabre, expression sullen.

My classmate Leona flanked me immediately, her face smug. "What do you expect? Our captain’s the best fencer in the region. Probably in the whole world."

I pulled my mask free, blond hair escaping the hairband to tumble down in long waves.

Become an Agent #14

Title: The Guardian
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Word Count: 86,000


Being the son of a business tycoon makes Baxton part of the elite and in the major metropolis of Camden, where whispers of political corruption are stoking the fires of revolution, the elite are being hunted like dogs. But unlike most, Baxton has something most can't afford; a guardian angel.

Ash, a well-trained soldier, dishonorably discharged but skilled none the less, is that angel. To the boy, he's an unnamed man who follows him in the shadows, on rooftops, or in nondescript cars, ready to take out anyone who threatens the boy's life. With such a guardian watching over him, Baxton lives a life devoid of the fear most young people his age live in and as long as he protects Baxton, his criminal record will stay hidden.

Both depend on each other in a strange and twisted symbiotic way, completely ignorant of the other who holds the success of failure of their fate. But when a rebel group shuts down the city, and a successful coup that would put the French Revolution to shame starts, both Baxton and Ash meet and must depend on each other if they want to make it out alive...and maybe discover a couple harrowing secrets about the city they live in, the rebels and worse of all, their connection to each other and the rebels along the way.

First 250:

The soirees the Waynes’ family threw, like clockwork on the third Saturday of the month four times a year were the talk of the town a few days before, and several days after. The guest list rarely changed drastically, but always subtracted or added a few people depending on Ms. Clara Wayne’s patience with certain people in the finance circle, and Mr. Wayne’s level of irritation towards those in the land developers’ field. To them, it was a perfect chance to spy on the competition without coming off as paranoid of conspicuous; cultured espionage, was the phrase they threw around with a perfect pitched, almost plastic chuckle. To seventeen-year-old Braxton Waynes, it was the perfect cover to blend in with the populous, slip out the side door, and meet his friends around the block, a celebration that was strong enough to dull the ache that came from handing over a freshly withdrawn stack of bills from his account and giving to the kitchen staff who would look the other way.

“Come home at a decent hour, won’t you, Mr. Waynes?” The snowman shaped chef who looked even more like a snowman with his white jacket—maybe more so a murderous one as he chopped the fried chicken with expert precision—asked. A jackal like smile on his lips cast a dark juxtaposition against the rhythmic and clean thump, thump, thump of the clever hitting the counter. “I’d prefer to not clean up your vomit again. Hiding your alcoholism weighs heavy on my Catholic consciousness.”

Become an Agent #13

Title: The Truth About Two Shoes
Genre: YA Contemporary
Word Count: 80,000


Sixteen-year-old Ellie knew what everyone was saying about her. She also knew it wasn’t true. Being the pregnant daughter of a Mississippi pastor has been social suicide, leaving her exiled by her once-”perfect” Christian friends and labeled the embarrassment of her crumbling family. Now Ellie is left to navigate an already complicated junior year with the only people who aren’t judging her: some weirdo called Freeble, a gorgeous hot head with great hair, and a thrill-seeking, slacker chick who is hellbent on plotting revenge against the guy responsible for knocking Ellie up.

But there is more than just judgement hovering over the former goodie-two-shoes now that the “goodie” is gone from her nickname. Ellie struggles to conceal the truth surrounding her pregnancy-- especially since she doesn’t know all the details herself. The more she runs away from the truth, the closer she gets to letting it define her. But when she faces it head on, she realizes not all is as it seems regarding friendship, faith and most of all-- herself.

And there it was, scrawled across my locker in jagged, red chicken scratch. Staring at the words, I pulled my faded, red cardigan tighter around myself as if fidgeting would do any good or make this better. The stifled laughter was already erupting around me in little waves of awfulness. They were watching. They always were.

I squeezed my eyes shut as I forced a shallow breath— Just breathe, Ellie. Don’t let it show— and then fluttered my lashes open again, only to see the words even more clear than before. I knew closing my eyes wouldn’t make them automatically go away. But I figured it would at least make it easier to face. It didn’t.

The red lipstick clashed with the muted green metal of our lockers. WHORE.

Technically, the R and E were actually on my neighbor’s locker, so I guess I could just pretend “WHO” was the real message meant for me. Rather than a label of what I was, perhaps my peers just wanted to know WHO I was. Who was Ellie McSatterfield? I knew I sure would like to know.

WHORE. I couldn’t look away from it. No amount of kidding myself made the message any less there. WHORE was meant for me. It’s who they thought I was. And no amount of crying or yelling would change that.

Wrapping my arms around my swollen belly as I sucked in one last strained breath, I somehow moved my feet toward the words, letting my flats quietly slap against the dingy tile.

Become an Agent #12

Title: Doomed and Cool
Genre: NA Contemporary
Word Count: 50,000


Twenty-two-year-old Evan returns to his privileged home and new BMW in oil-rich Alberta from Columbia University with a commerce degree and no direction. His college friends have moved forward with their lives, most working for multinational oil companies. Chantal, his high school girlfriend, has their life planned out as a socialite couple moving in political circles, but Evan can’t bring himself to care.

As Evan gets reacquainted with his old friends and scores never-ending eight-balls from his old coke dealer, he learns his friend River has chosen the unexpected path of producing graphic online videos. Evan is shocked at his old friend’s willingness to post his violent films online and is intrigued by the amount of notoriety his friend receives from anonymous sycophants. The lure of fast money and online popularity forces Evan to choose between a daily grind at an oil company, or sink into the cesspool of River's violent video productions.

Intrigued, Evan takes part in the production of one video, inducing painful torture on a girl for the pleasure of others. If he doesn’t pull himself away from his friend’s obsessive impulses, he risks becoming the same type of monster as River and losing Chantal along with any future political opportunity.

DOOMED AND COOL is a gritty, new adult contemporary at 50,000 words. A modern-day take on Less Than Zero, and similar in feel to The Slaves of New York, it explores the depth to which someone will go for instant online recognition and validation.


“I hope you packed some warm clothes,” she says.

She flicks on the signal, and we turn to exit down the ramp and onto the four-lane highway toward the city. The traffic is dense because of rush hour, but she handles it with ease, moving smoothly between the other vehicles.

“Did you hear me?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “Warm clothes.”

The fact that she is talking about appropriate clothing doesn’t bother me, but I start to get uncomfortable at being home and feel that, other than getting back on a plane, nothing else matters. I reach into my carry-on bag and pull out my glass vial of coke and do a hit. I tilt it in her direction.

“Do you want some?”

She shakes her head.

“Not while I’m driving.”

I put the coke in my pocket and push into the chair, letting the heat sink into my body. The lights along the edge of the highway swipe across her dashboard in a regular rhythm and I start counting them. A wave comes over me, and then I don’t care anymore. I don’t care that I am twenty-one and it is May and that my flight from New York was delayed and that the couple from Fort McMurray, who were sitting with me in first class, got drunk to the point that the man threw up and the lady laughed like a hyena. I don’t care that the spring thaw splattered my new Hugo Boss shoes, which felt like a perfect fit when I put them on this morning.