Tuesday, May 31, 2011

0 1st Five Pages Final May Revisions Are Up!

I've just posted the final round of revisions for the May First Five Pages Workshop. Please jump in and comment constructively and kindly.

We'll start the June Workshop on Saturday at noon. We'll accept the first five 1250 word entries emailed to kidlit at writeedge dot com starting at noon eastern time.

Thanks,

Martina and Lisa

3 1st Five Pages Workshop - May Rev 3: Entry #1

Ann Braden - Young Adult

Sally heaved her cello case onto her back and felt for the map in her pocket. She undid two of the three locks on the door, but when her host sister emerged from the bedroom, she retracted her hand. Sneaking out wasn’t good etiquette, no matter what the country.

“I can be ready soon,” Irina said, running fingers through her pink highlights. “I’ll walk you there.”

“You don’t have to. I remember the way.” The Russian rolled off Sally’s tongue, but her voice shook. Probably because she was freezing. She peeked at the last lock.

“You sure? It’s on my way to school.”

Sally nodded. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Irina waved her hand. “It’s probably good to be on time once in a while, change things up, you know? Did you already eat?”

“I ran into your mama in the kitchen,” Sally said, tugging at the waistband of her jeans. “It didn’t matter that I was still full from last night.”

“Food. It’s like the official Russian welcoming party.”

Sally managed a smile. “But I need to go now. To clear my head before it’s time.”

“Of course.” Irina reached over to undo the final lock. “I’m glad I’m not in your shoes. I’d be a nervous wreck.”

So Irina thought Sally was calm? Maybe being in a fog of sleep deprivation had benefits.

“Sally?” a voice called.

“Quickly,” Irina whispered, “before--”

But Mama burst into the entryway, carrying two pieces of bread wrapped in a towel. The smell of sautéing onions arrived with her, and a large black poodle trotted close behind.

“I didn’t realize you were leaving so soon, Sally. Here, in case you get hungry,” Mama thrust the bread into Sally’s hand despite Sally vigorously shaking her head. The poodle bounced between the three sets of legs. “You’ve already changed your dollars into rubles at the bank, right? Do you still have that map where I circled the concert hall?
Irina, aren’t you going with her? Why aren’t you dressed yet?”

“Sharra! Get down,” Irina scolded, as she pried the poodle off of Sally. Sharra next tried her luck with the faded wallpaper and was again up on hind legs, the pads of her front paws skidding against it.

“Irina offered to come,” Sally said, “but she showed me how to get to the concert hall yesterday, and it’s better if I go by myself. I need to stay focused.”

“Certainly,” Mama said, putting her hand on Sally’s arm. As soon as she touched her, her eyes shot to Sally’s face. “Sally dear, you’re shivering. Are you alright?”

Sally nodded, but as she reached for the doorknob, Mama intercepted her hand and pressed it against her cheek. “You’re so cold. Why didn’t you say something? The city doesn’t turn on the heat until October 1st. Is that coat all you have?”

Sally was hoping they’d assume the shaking was an American thing. You know, all that caffeine in the bloodstream. “I’ll be fine once I start walking. That’ll warm me up.” But Mama was rummaging around in a closet. Sally dug into the pockets of her fleece. “I have some gloves,” she said, pulling out a pair that had been there since last winter. That was lucky. Gloves hadn’t even made it to the “If There’s Extra Space” section of her packing list. She had never thought she could be so cold in September.

Mama didn’t say anything until she emerged from the closet, holding a scarf.

“You must keep your throat warm. Very important for your health.”

Sally resisted, but not for long. The scarf was beautiful. Small black flowers wove around each other against a gold background.

“It was my great-grandmother’s,” Irina said, nodding to the scarf before she shuffled down the hallway to get a mop. A puddle had appeared on the worn floor boards. Sharra sat next to it, looking relieved.

Soon Sally was heading down the apartment stairwell with the scarf around her neck. Her cello bumped against her with each step. She let out a long breath. She was relieved to be on her own so she could focus, but the truth was this family had been nothing but kind to her.
Her friends back home had no idea what they were talking about.
Evidently watching James Bond movies didn’t qualify them to accurately characterize a whole nation of people. And, anyway, they had been wrong about Sally, too. Not tough enough to last a week here, eh? Here she was, cold and exhausted with just a few hours to go before the first round of competition, but was she a sobbing pile of mush? No. So what if she always teared up at Hallmark commercials when she and her friends would veg in front of the TV. Hallmark probably spent millions making sure people cried. Market research. Focus Groups. The works.
She was just doing what what she was supposed to do.

And she could do that here, too. Just supposed to focus on the competition, right?

No problem. Blocking out everything but music happened to be Sally’s specialty.

At the bottom of the stairs, Sally pushed against the heavy metal door, and it swung out into the cold St. Petersburg air. But she didn’t move.

Sprawled across her path was a man, ripe with alcohol and snoring forcefully. He hadn’t made it far before calling it a night considering that the bar was right next door. Not quite the same as the stray cat that greeted her every morning when she left the house in Minnesota for the bus stop. Of course, they weren’t really that different. But the man took up the entire stoop.

Sally reached an arm back to steady the cello against her and leapt over the man, barely missing the edge of his black leather jacket. She straightened up and headed for the concert hall.

Take that, Hallmark.

But halfway down the block she stopped, looked at the bread in her hand, and hustled back to the stoop. Before she had time to chicken out, she had placed it next to the man. Everyone deserves a good breakfast.

As she continued down the quiet side street, she could hear the beginning of the Dvorak concerto rumbling deep in her body. Soon the soles of her green Converse sneakers scratched against the concrete like a metronome, and the first passionate phrases pulsed through her.

When she turned onto Nevsky Prospect, the main street of Saint Petersburg, a blast of wind sent her brown curls flying. She tugged the scarf up over her chin. Even though the scarf was thin, it trapped precious heat against her. Next to her, a bus lumbered into motion after making a stop, belching out oily fumes. Sally held her breath until the smell dissipated and then paused to check her map. The Bolshoi Concert Hall was only seven blocks ahead, and as much as she had been impatient to leave the apartment, she didn’t want to be too early for her time slot. Extra time would give her nerves a chance to get out and stretch. As it was, her insides were already churning.

Walking more slowly, Sally heard the gentle phrases from later in the concerto, the ones that shimmered in their stillness. Waves of people in blacks and grays rolled past her. The faces were grim, sealed off, but that was alright with Sally. She had Dvorak.

A piece of trash blew out of a narrow alley and grazed her hand on its way down the sidewalk. With runs of sixteenth notes now spinning through her head, Sally watched it get caught in an updraft, but the music faded when she tried to figure out what it was. A section of pantyhose? A bandage? She didn’t have a clue. That must be the definition of a foreign country, Sally thought: a place where you can’t even recognize the litter.

Sally had always assumed a city meant skyscrapers, and none of the other cities she’d been to for competitions had made her question that. But there were no skyscrapers here. The buildings, five stories at the most, were from another era. Sally studied the Kentucky Fried Chicken across the street, and even the upper floors of that were adorned with angels, their mouths open, proclaiming who knows what?
Probably not something about a bucket of drumsticks. And the colors of the buildings. Pink. Blue. Green. Peach. That was the first thing she’d noticed when she’d arrived. Why did other cities let buildings be gray when there were so many other possibilities?

Sally crossed over a narrow canal and came to the statue of a man and horse, where yesterday Irina had paused to explain the abbreviations on her map. Sally stared up at the statue and tapped out more patterns of sixteenth notes against the smooth stone base. It was not your average man sitting sedately atop a horse. Instead, silhouetted against a fuchsia building, man and horse were locked in a desperate wrestling match. Sally shook her head. The faces that passed her on the street might be expressionless, but emotion bubbled out of the concrete.

Ahead, the road rose into a bridge, and a sidewalk tucked beneath it where pedestrians disappeared into shadows. When she was with Irina, Sally had crossed over without a thought, but now the sad notes of a Russian folk song floated up from below. Sally wavered, and soon two Converse sneakers were among the pairs of shoes heading under the bridge.

Clustered on stools and blankets, selling trinkets, were bundled old women. Their faces poked out from head scarves like the one wrapped around Sally’s neck. She fingered her scarf and then saw the musician.

The man had a weathered face, and his eyes were closed as he plucked the strings of a balalaika. The folk song danced above Sally like an injured bird, until it came to rest on her shoulder. The cold wind was gone. The air closed in, humid and thick. As beads of sweat formed on her upper lip, a stench, rife with decomposition and decay, coated her mouth with rank sweetness. Weaving around her, twitching in her ear, was a buzzing. Sally could no longer even hear the balalaika. Only the buzzing. Until a man’s voice thundered behind her, and she spun around.

“Keep digging or you’ll be lying there next to him. He’s lucky to die in the morning because the tsar ordered this done today. Unless you want the last thing you see to be the side of this ditch, you’d better move!”

The voice was so close, but where was the man? And who was he shouting at? Looking around, Sally saw only the same grumbling crowd, but even they seemed to be fading in and out, rippling with the waves of heat.
And what was that buzzing? Like a mosquito. But it couldn’t be that.
It was so cold. At least, it had been. Sweaty hair stuck to the back of Sally’s neck. Desperate to cool down, she tore off the scarf.

It was cold again. The wind was back. The buzzing was gone. She rubbed her neck, and she wasn’t sweaty anymore. Like she had imagined it.

What was wrong with her? A panic attack? The beginnings of a fever?
Sally shook her head. Getting sick this week was the last thing she needed.

She took a deep breath and stuffed the scarf in her pocket. The music had stopped, and the man was tightening the strings on his balalaika.
She shouldn’t have stopped to listen. The Bolshoi Hall was just a few blocks further.

As she walked she found herself rubbing the back of her hand against her jeans, and she glanced down.

She came to an abrupt halt. There, angry and itchy, was a mosquito bite.

4 1st Five Pages Workshop - May Rev 3: Entry #2

CHAPTER ONE
Death
The sun shines on this Saturday afternoon in the small town of Dayville Connecticut.  I stroll along the sidewalk that leads into the park.  I take the antique pocket watch from my vest pocket and look at its face.  The second hand ticks, its sound available to my ears alone.
2:38
Four minutes and it will be time to collect him.
There are people everywhere milling about the park.  None of them suspect it, but a dark cloud lingers and edges its way closer.  A gentle breeze swirls around and through the turning leaves that fade from waxy caterpillar green to shades of lemon zest, saffron red, and rusted orange.  I squint, looking up at the sun and wonder what its warmth feels like or the chill in the air that comes with the changing of the season.
The ticking clock echoes in the otherwise deafening silence that surrounds me.   I know that happy shouts emerge from the children as they play, their mouths open in laughter… it is on their just out of focus faces.  It is this way in the Children’s Heaven.  Only there, I can hear their shrieks of delight and without having to imagine it.  I keep the living this way, nothing more than a palate of bright dancing colors.
Focusing only on the one I am to collect, I keep his image sharp.  He flies out from the tunnel slide and into the arms of his older sister who waits for him at the bottom.  His blonde hair catches the afternoon light, a golden halo upon his head.  His cheeks puff up.  Jake smiles with his heart, his eyes dance with pure joy as only a child’s can.
Disappointment in knowing that this soul is so young makes me sigh.  There is so much the young ones have yet to experience and never will in this life.  There is so much the human soul can do.  There is a stir of hunger within me for the human experience instead of watching from the sidelines.   But it will never be.  I am not a soul.
I continue to watch only the boy.  His sister carries him to the bench and sets him down where he squirms, eager to head home.  It is his fourth birthday and cake is waiting.  She tugs off his shoes, and tips them over, emptying out the fine grains of sand that fill them before returning them to his feet.  Her hands are delicate and her fingers nimble as she ties the long laces into bows.
“It’s my birthday, Aamira!” Jake tells her; I read his lips.  “It’s my birthday, it’s my birthday!”
She responds with her face turned away from me.  Aamira picks up her purse and holds out her hand.  Instead of taking it, he slides off the bench and bolts down the sidewalk towards the parking lot.
 He giggles as he runs.
Aamira bolts after him. 
A squat man round man walking his dog watches Jakes runs by.  He could stop what is about to happen, should he reach out for the child… or move out of her way.  His poodle jumps on her and the leash becomes entangled with her feet.  Aamira falls to the ground.
For a moment, Jake stops and looks back.  As soon as he sees her get up, he lets out a happy shriek and resumes his flight.  But Aamira quickly gains ground.
She reaches out to in a desperate attempt to grab him, missing his shirt by a mere inch.  He jumps off the curb and heads for their vehicle.  A silver car tries to veer, but clips Jake none the less and he is thrown to the ground.  The ticking is at its loudest and its fastest, it has reached its pinnacle.
I am surrounded by complete and utter silence.
His soul is on my plane of existence now.  We stand together as Jake looks down.  At our feet is the body he has left behind.  He studies the silver car.  It had not been enough and there is nothing to be done for it.
His small hand grasps mine and he looks up at me with wide frightened eyes.
"I want my Mommy and Daddy.  Do I get to go home now?"  His voice shakes, not quite grasping the events.
His trembling voice is a sad comfort.  I am no longer alone, if but for a brief moment.  "Yes Jake, to your new home.  You parents will meet you there later."
"What about Aamira?  I want her to come with me now."
I shake my head.
Jake watches his elder sister and his lower lip pouts, "I don't want her to cry. Please…"
I do what I swore I would never do again: I break one of my own rules.  For the first time since Uriah, the first soul I collected, I fully look at the one left behind.
Aamira is sobbing silently. Tears stream down the gentle slopes of her cheeks as she shakes her head vehemently, as if it will change the outcome, refusing to accept her new reality.  She cradles Jake’s soulless body.
This is similar to when I collected Uriah.  Uriah’s brother had fallen to his knees and pulled Uriah into his arms.  There, they said goodbye; one begging the other to stay, the other futilely clinging to life.  There was so much heartache I had to remove myself.  The ticking clock I had been given stopped and Uriah was beside me just as Jake is.  It was then, thousands of years ago, I decided to never look again; until now.
Suddenly she looks up.  Aamira sees me and her stormy grey eyes pierce mine.  She becomes stunningly real to me in this instant, no longer an invisible casualty of my job.
I hear her gasp, a distinct sharp intake of breath.  I hear someone from the other side; this has never happened, not even when I watched Uriah’s death.  Her eyes, I know those eyes and her soul from a time before, but from where?
I breathe her in.  Her hair is the color of hazelnut streaked with honey, her sun-kissed skin still glowing from the summer, and her lips are ripened berries.  I have to know her.
The moment disappears in an instant, as if I imagined it.
Once again she is looking at Jake, rocking him on the pavement.  But still, I hear them.  I hear them all.  A crowd of people gathers around. Sirens wail in the distance, coming closer with each moment.  It is an overwhelming swirling mass of jumbled noise.
"I don't want her to cry," repeats Jake and tugs on my hand.
With remorse, I tear my eyes from Aamira and back to Jake.  I understand the sadness in his eyes.
"She will not cry forever," I tell him.  "One day she will be with you again."
Right then and there I desire to trade his soul for hers.  I would if I could.
She should be dead.
I find myself longing for her.  She has to die, I want… no, need… her to die.  Perhaps in her death, I will be made whole.
No.  That is wrong.  I do not want her life to end.  I would rather experience it with her.  To live… to feel something, anything real…  I shake my head to clear it of impossibilities.
“It is time to go now,” I say although I am tempted to linger.
Death, it is an inevitable part of life.  For some, it is a means to an end, whereas for others it is an unavoidable prospect everyone must face.  Every life comes to an end at precisely the right time.
Death is immortal.  I am immortal.  I am Death.

3 1st Five Pages Workshop - May Rev 3: Entry #3

YA--Bix For Short by Margie Senechal

“Simon,” Mom calls down the hall to me. “If you make us any later, you can meet Omar alone.” You’d think we were having lunch with someone more important than her latest boyfriend. But seeing as she’s reached the critical get-to-know-my-son juncture in this relationship, she’s a little on edge or ready to jump off one.

“I’m ready.” I head her off before she can get even more creative and vindictive. Yes, in our home, they sometimes go hand in hand.

From my desk, I glance outside. Across the street, MAX—Portland’s light rail system--is pulling out of the station. I have about a twenty minute window before the next one arrives.

I take out my phone and tweet. Lunch at Melting Pot with Omar. Rather stay home than break bread (and dip it) with Mom’s florist/terrorist boyfriend.

Jury’s still out whether Omar is actually a terrorist but it does make good blogging and tweeting. It’s not like anyone takes me seriously anyway. That’s kind of the problem when you’re sixteen and look like you’re twelve. Which is why my cyber life is so important, I’m judged by my words not by looks.

“Simon,” Mom’s yell borders on hysteria. Sounds like she got the tweet. “You’ve got to stop calling him a terrorist.”

I walk to the bathroom doorway and duck under a lingering mist cloud of hairspray. I hold my breath as I pass. Don’t want to die of cancer before I get my first kiss. “I can’t help it if I think he’s a terrorist.” Although last week, after I heard him talking Russian, I was pretty sure he was KGB. Turns out he’s a Croation-Arab hybrid who speaks four languages fluently. Mom calls him worldly, I call him suspicious.

“What if he reads it? What’s he going to think?” Mom watches me in the mirror as she applies her eye gook.

“Mom,” I meet her gaze in the mirror, our brown eyes locking. “That’s assuming he reads more English than plutonium rich or C4 explosives.”

Mom bites back a laugh, her mouth forming a heart. “He is not a terrorist.”

Notice she didn’t say he could read.

The doorbell ends our witty exchange.

“Get that.” Mom flicks me away with a recently manicured hand.

I check to make sure her ring finger is still unadorned.

“What are you looking at?”

I shrug, heading for the front door. “Making sure you’re not the gangster’s diamond-studded moll.”

“I thought he was a terrorist,” Mom’s voice rings with humor.

“Potato, potahto.” Even though it’s been drilled into me, I don’t check the peephole. Number one, I’d need a stool. Number two, it just looks out into a dark hall toward the elevator. And number three, my best bud, Raj, is probably covering the hole with his finger.

I open the door and immediately wish I’d taken the couple of minutes to pull over a chair. Two men in dark suits with dark glasses and even darker expressions stare down at me. Standing like twin sentries they block any view behind them.

“Hey,” I say, trying for casual. How fast can I shut the door if this goes bad?

In unison, they look down, way down, at me.

Okay, let’s just get it over with and deal with the mouse in the room. Me. At four-nine and 93 pounds on a good, sopping wet day, I am not intimidating.

“Simon Rook?” Man-in-black 1 lowers his glasses, peering over the rim at me. “Are you Simon Rook?”

Never admit to anything. “Who wants to know?”

MIB 2 flips through this small, wire-bound notebook. “Are you Simon Rook—” He scans the page with a frown. “Sixteen?”

This is my chance. I can say I’m someone else. Nobody ever believes I’m sixteen, so maybe it’s time to let the eternal youth gene do me a solid.

MIB 2 decides not to wait for confirmation. He head signals his partner and they brush past me with an air of authority. He flips a badge at me. “Federal Marshals, kid. Get your mother.”

Feds? What do they want? I rack my brain trying to figure out what exactly the Marshals do? All I come up with is The Fugitive. And since I didn’t kill anyone, one-armed or two, I think I’m in the clear.

Mom’s heels click down the hall as she leaves her bedroom. I can track her by the sound of her heels. I’ve done it before, especially when I’ve been expecting trouble. She passes the bathroom. “Hey, Si,” she calls, unaware that we have unwanted visitors who are probably armed. “I can’t reach Omar so he must be in a dead zone.” Our apartment isn’t big enough for her not to be heard by all of us—even when she’s using her indoor voice.



I mute my phone and tweet behind their backs.

Good news: Looks like lunch is delayed.
Bad news: We’ve been invaded by Men in Black.

MIB 2 nudges me further into the background as he takes a step toward the hallway. “Lily?” he removes his Ray-Bans and hangs them between the buttons of his shirt.

Mom rounds the corner, her hand flying up to her mouth. “Frank?”

Wait! Mom knows him? What the frak? Since when is Mom on a first name basis with a Federal Marshal?

Mom moves in slow motion as if she’s slogging through quicksand. “What are you doing here?” Her voice, which earlier had been ordering me around like a platoon sergeant, now sounds weak and weary.

“There’s been an incident.” MIB 2, now known as Frank, says. “We have to get you two out of here.”

Who? What? And out of where?

“In-ci-dent?” Mom’s voice cracks into tiny pieces.

We’re still all standing in the hallway although it’s beginning to feel a little surreal, like time has stopped momentarily. Nobody moves or says anything as Mom seems to be frozen.

“Ma’am?” MIB 1 finally breaks the silence. “Maybe you should sit down.”

Uh-oh. They never tell you to sit down for good news.

“Simon?” Mom reaches out for me.

I’m not sure why she needs me, but she does, so I sweep past Frank and slide in next to Mom. Her arm clutches my shoulder. “Let’s sit down.” I man up and lead her to the couch. Always compact, she feels frail and weightless as she clings to me.

Men in Black follow closely behind us.

Mom and I sit on the couch. It’s always been this way. Just me and Mom. The runt who sired me has never been in the picture.

Frank sits down on the coffee table so he’s facing us. “You okay, Lily?” He pats her hand. “Do you need anything?” He doesn’t wait for an answer before turning to his partner. “Get them some water.” This Frank dude is kind of bossy.

MIB 1 scurries out of the room.

Frank squeezes Mom’s hand. “Lily, I need to ask you a couple of questions.”

I swallow all the sarcastic barbs begging to spurt out of my mouth like projectile vomit.

“Are you acquainted with Omar Jahara?”

Mom nods, tears threatening to spill. “We’re dating.”

Frank doesn’t seem surprised by this revelation, as if he was expecting that answer. How does he know so much about our lives?

“Were you meeting him today?”

Mom quivers beside me, her entire body rocking with her nod. She’s quit trying to hide her tears and when she opens her mouth to speak, only gasps of air come out.

I jump in to cover. The sooner we get these Feds on their way, the better. “We were on our way to meet him at The Melting Pot.” I meet Frank’s steely-eyed gaze. “You probably can intercept him there.”

Even though Mom’s a basket case waiting to be carted off, I’m feeling a bit vindicated. I knew there was something about Omar.

“Lily.” Frank reaches out and lifts Mom’s chin, so he’s looking her in the eyes. “There was an explosion at his shop.”

Do floral shops spontaneously combust? I need to Google that one.

Frank’s voice is monotone and exact. “Omar Jahara is dead.”

3 1st Five Pages Workshop - May Rev 3: Entry #4

Cassandra - YA steampunk

Where did the casting director find this guy? Villians-R-Us?

I grunted as I hung from the Cliffs of Broken Glass, my fingers barely holding on to the plastic edges fifteen feet above the soundstage.

“See what happens when you mess with me?” Captain Aragno said in a bad imitation of Jack Black. He pointed down at me, his head back in laughter. “Let’s see how you get out of this. Your precious Mikaehl can’t save you now! So long, Princessa!”

Aragno laughed again and stomped away. I watched his saggy belly sway above the ridiculous codpiece as he strutted down the back ramp and over to the nearby table. He took a quiet drink from a large Nalgene bottle and winked at me, the feathers in his hat blowing madly from the force of the wind machine beside him.

Ew. He really was awful. But enough of him. I had a job to do.

Refocusing on the ledge, I started swinging my legs up, trying to get a foothold. The sharp plastic edges dug into my fingers, but I pushed down the pain.

At a training day about a year ago, my father took me to the Navy Seals training grounds in North Carolina and we worked on dangling techniques.

“Keep your arms slightly bent,” he had said. “Try to pump if you can, keep that blood flowing. You don’t want to tire out your muscles too quickly.”

It’s not easy to get tired muscles moving, but I worked on it tirelessly for weeks after that. I had bigger guns than Madonna for a while there. It was awesome.

I had been hanging for nearly five minutes now, and my muscles were definitely burning. I pumped my arms like Dad had taught me and I swung again, barely missing my foothold.

“Need a break?” The director said from below me.

“No!” I yelled back, voice shaking with the effort. I made sure to keep my face away from the cameras.

Pull it together. Pull. It. Together.

I gave my legs another swing and finally found purchase. I gripped the plastic and rubber grass for all it was worth, and heaved myself up and over the edge, where I landed with a thump in the fake dirt. It smelled like someone had just whizzed in it. I smiled anyway, sure that I had bested my own personal record for hang time with a successful completion.

“Cut! Alright, Pom, you’re in.”

A girl dressed exactly the way I was approached me from the right. Her corset was just the tinniest bit tighter and her boobs popped out over the top the way I wish mine did.

“You could have been more graceful, you know. Everyone’s going to make fun of the way I did that. We’ll have to cut out all of your grunts too.”

I stared up at her flawless skin and sighed. “Pomegranate, I—”

“Really,” she interrupted. “Get out of the frame.”

I groaned and rolled towards the cliff edge and looked at the fifteen-foot drop. Pom gave me a shove off the edge with her manicured foot.


2.

Pom’s giggle faded as I fell away from her. I barely managed to get my hands up and my knees in the right position before I slammed against the hard mats.

The air left my lungs for just a second and I sucked in a renewing breath before I lifted an arm to wave off the waiting medic. Tingles spread through my body before slowly fading away. A few laywer heads raised but quickly bent back down into their iPads and smartphones.

They don’t worry much because I, Alison Arroway, do not get hurt. It’s one of the rules.

I’m the stunt double for Pomegranate Posy. Normally you can’t even be a stunt double until you’re 18 but my dad’s history with the studio managed to get me a “limited contract” with Pom.

I can’t do the really serious stuff like hang from real cliffs, but Pom wouldn’t even fall backwards onto mats so the studio really had no choice but to hire me, a perfect match in both build and skin tone. Pom’s a goldmine, they’d be nuts to just fire her. She can just look at something in a shop window and it’s sold out in an hour.

But I really can’t complain. I just need to stick it out until I’m eighteen and then with Pom on my resume I’ll be sure to get lots of job offers.

When the director called, “Action!” again, Eric rode in on a white horse, his logo-clad armor shining in the bright lights of the studio. The horse didn’t seem to like the feel of the fake cliff under his hooves. It’s eyes reminded me of that dramatic gopher video everyone and their dog saw on YouTube a few years back.

It didn’t really matter anyway, as soon as Eric jumped off the horse and wrapped his arms around Pom, pulling her up from where she lay atop the cliff above me. A trainer crept beside the horse and led it away. That horse probably got paid as much as I did today.

“Oh Mikaehl, I was so scared! I wished and hoped for you and now here you are!”

“My dear Princessa! Have no fear! We are together now and you never have to worry again.” He pulled the can of Armor from his pocket, popped the tab, and took a long drink. He looked up at the center camera and flashed his signature lopsided smile with a cheesy wink.

All eyes in the studio focused on Eric and Pom’s faces as they leaned in for the kiss.

I couldn’t look. Pom and Eric have about as much chemistry in this commercial as their last film, Zero to Hero. At least that one had an amazing sword fighting scene. I got to take three weeks of fencing lessons. Pom was adamant that no “knives” would come anywhere near her long strawberry blond hair.

I gripped my copycat braided wig and pulled it from my head. I watched the people around us, the men behind the cameras and holding boom mics, the makeup people waiting with palates for touch ups, the caterers wistfully looking in Eric’s direction and wishing they were in Pom’s shoes.

“And, CUT!” The director yelled. He rushed over to Pom and Eric and gushed about how well the scene turned out, how he could really feel the passion behind their words, how Pom really seemed to have struggled and how her sense of relief at being rescued by Eric was felt throughout the entire studio lot.

Pom pushed Eric away with a long and slender arm. “God, your breath stinks.” No less than five crewmembers thrust out their tins of mints.

I stuffed my face into the wig and tried not to laugh too noticeably.

No one seemed to care that Princessa saved herself there, that all that grunting and pulling I did meant that the princess didn’t really need the prince to save the day after all. If he hadn’t shown up, she could have walked into the sunset on her own like a bad-ass. She deserves the energy drink, not him.

Swarms of people gathered around Pom, dabbed her with swabs, and handed her soft damp cloths and bottled water as the makeup and wardrobe teams did their best to clear off the dirt she picked up.

Most moviegoers don’t like to see dirty heroines. Dirty was my job.

As I gathered up my things I glimpsed the plane ticket for Portugal between a list of things to pack and a list of rules while there about what is and what is not acceptable to talk about to the press. Pom’s next movie was scheduled to film in Portugal for two weeks and every time I saw my ticket my heart sped up a little. I pulled it out and scanned its face, seeing my name and the date. Less than twenty-four hours and I’ll be spending two weeks in sunny Portugal. I might even get a day or two off to go sightseeing.

4 1st Five Pages Workshop - May Rev 3 - Entry #5

CHAPTER ONE

Sunlight beamed in through the window and bounced off Grandpa’s bald spot. “It's time."

"It's only 3:30, Grandpa." Ten minutes to say good-bye to my nursing home buddies, five minutes to bike home. Plenty of time to win our weekly chess smack-down.

I slid the black pawn into position and leaned back to observe my work.
A few more moves and this time the win would be mine. All mine. I waited patiently for Grandpa’s next move--sometimes he forgot he was supposed to be playing chess and fell asleep. I looked up, but his eyes were far away, an even more faded blue than my favorite jeans. “Grandpa? Do you want me to call the nurse?"

“Eh? What?” He jerked back to the present and scowled at the board. I was winning. Finally.

I rubbed my palms together in glee. Mwahahaha. All those months of chess club had finally paid off. Now he would succumb to my brilliance. Now he would sink into the black abyss of failure. Now he would . . . move his knight across from mine, totally blocking my capture of his queen. Then he gave a little chuckle. I always lost when he gave that chuckle. The Chuckle of Doom.

"Pay attention, boy." Grandpa wiggled a finger in his ear, causing the furry gray tufts of what hair he had left to stick out like a horned owl’s. "I'm trying to tell you, it's time."

"And I'm telling you it's only 3:30." Having a grandpa in the nursing home meant repeating yourself. Over and over and over. But still, he was pretty cool for an old dude. We had the same red hair, blue eyes and freckles. And our chess games rivaled some WWE wrestling matches.

My hand hovered over the knight. The perfect move? Or the Kiss of Death?
I slid it into position, and a trickle of sweat zoomed down my nose.

Grandpa coughed – years of cigar smoking – making him sound like a cat hacking up a hairball. He shuffled to the closet and rummaged around.
"It's time I passed along to you my greatest treasure."

Treasure? My ears tuned in like a satellite dish. "Cool, Grandpa.” A watch? A medal from the war?

Something heavy flopped into my lap. It clanked, heavy metal sounds like that time I dropped my dad’s tool box. Soft black leather, a long strap that dangled down.

I looked over my shoulder at Grandpa. He seemed smaller than usual, maybe a bit more wrinkly. "What's this?" It looked like some kind of purse. I was not impressed.

"It's a fanny pack." His voice was dry.

"A fanny pack." Mine was dryer.

"What are you, a parrot? Put it on, put it on."

I stood and half-heartedly strapped it on. If one of the kids in my class saw me, my Dwayne the Dweeb status would be sealed for all eternity.

The strap was too long, but with a mighty tug, Grandpa shortened up the belt, leaving several feet of black webbing dangling by the side of my hip. Even I, secure in my nerd world of graphing calculators and electronic gadgetry, would never wear a fanny pack.

"Perfect fit." Grandpa's voice was extra croaky today, rattling around the words like a marble in a washing machine. He settled back in his chair, seemingly satisfied at having made me an even bigger dork than I was that morning.

“What’s in here, Grandpa? Bricks?” I wiggled back and forth, listening to the clinking of heavy metals. It weighed more than a weeks worth of homework. I tugged at the zipper to see what was inside, and received a sharp zzzzap for my efforts. I jerked my hand back and jammed tingling fingers in my mouth. Who on earth wires a fanny pack for electronic shock?

“Eh, maybe it’s not quite time yet.” Grandpa reached over to undo the clasp – thank you baby Jesus – but jerked his hand back when a small blue arc reached out and got him. I could hear the sizzle of fingerprints being burnt off. “Criminy, that smarts,” he mumbled around his fingers. “Or maybe it is.”

I held my arms out to my sides, not sure I wanted a repeat lesson in Electric Shock 101. “How do we get it off?”

“Looks like you’re stuck in it for awhile laddie, until it decides to let you in.”

Crazy talk. Grandpa’s meds must be off again. Fanny packs don’t decide when to let you open them. Gritting my teeth I took another yank at the zipper.

Zzzzap!

Criminy. I jammed my fingers in my mouth. The fanny pack must be cursed.
And I was stuck wearing it. I snorted. As soon as I was out the door, I'd find some way to get it off and toss it in a closet at home. "Umm, Grandpa?" He stared at the chess board, obviously blown away by my latest maneuver. The fanny pack was forgotten. I rubbed my hands together again and waited as he contemplated his next move.

And contemplated more. Coming from a long line of geniuses, I’d learned they required more time for contemplating. And quiet. After a few more moments of further contemplating however, I heard a snore.

Game time was over. Grandpa was down for the count with his afternoon nap and I was wearing a fanny pack.

Well, this was bogus.

I left Grandpa sleeping in his chair and tiptoed out of his room.

Truthfully, most of our chess matches ended up just this way. Except when he won. And then the old man giggled up a storm and did a butt wiggle in some kind of senior citizen victory dance. Whatever.

The door closed quietly behind me, and I took one small step in the hallway, my hand already on the strap of the pack. I checked the hallway to see if anyone was looking. The coast was clear. It was coming off.

Right. Now.

There was no way José I was walking past the nurse’s station with this thing swinging from my waist.

Keeping my hands away from the zipper, I tugged and pulled, spun it around and tugged again. Nothing. I jumped, pushing down on the webbing when I jumped up. Nada. Maybe I could slip it down over my hips. I gave a little butt wiggle. Zero. I was starting to break a sweat. Trapped in a fanny pack. With that thought, I wiggled even harder, failing to notice anyone approaching until suddenly two feet clad in those awful plastic white clogs stopped in front of me. Nurse McMurphy. The most hated nurse in Shady Acres. She looked like a bulldog with liver spots.

I quickly spun the pack to the back. Maybe she wouldn’t notice. "Problem?"

Great. She'd noticed.

"No, no problem."

"Did you need help unfastening that?"

She pointed a finger at my nobbly bits. At least that's where it felt she was pointing. I'm pretty sure she was really gesturing to the fanny pack. Besides, the thought of her, fiddling right there? So not gonna happen.

"Um. No. Ma'am. I mean, no, ma'am." I hung my head and poked at the strap. “Here.” She reached out a blue-veined hand and hooked it in the strap. I quickly sucked in my gut and any other parts nearby as she started to reach for the buckle, jerking my body from side to side like a Great Dane with a chew toy.

35 In Stores This Week (with Interviews and Giveaways) Part 2

Here comes another round of fabulous new YA books. If you missed day one, please check out the other books that hit shelves this week. You can enter the giveaway twice to double your chances of winning!

This Week's Interviews

Bloodspell by Amalie Howard
  • From Goodreads: The spell was simple... Cruentus Protectum (Defend the Blood). But what do you do if your blood is your enemy? Victoria Warrick has always known she was different. An outcast at school, she is no stranger to adversity. But when she receives an old journal for her seventeenth birthday, nothing prepares her for the dark secrets it holds -- much less one that reveals she's a witch with unimaginable power. What's more, when she meets the dazzling but enigmatic Christian Devereux, she has no idea how much her life is about to change. Enemies will hunt her. Friends will turn on her. The terrible curse that makes her blood run black will stop at nothing to control her. And Christian has a sinister secret of his own... Without knowing whom to trust, can Victoria survive her blood's deadly desires? Or will she lose everything, including herself?
How long did you work on this book?
This story has been germinating for years and years. The actual book took me about three months to write – we're talking about three months for the – in Anne Lamott's words, the crappy first draft, and then came a few more months of editing, then some time off, then some more editing. It's definitely been a work in progress.

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
My journey to publication is an interesting story. Two and a half years ago, when Bloodspell went out to agents, I received 8 offers from top agencies in NY within the first week. I chose one of the 8, which in hindsight turned out to not the most intelligent decision because I went for an agent looking to break in to YA, and not one with already established contacts. Note to new authors – when starting out, go for the agent with the network and the sales in your genre. Needless to say, as much as I personally loved my agent, it didn't work out quite as I'd envisioned…you know, like writing on a yacht in the Mediterranean. So anyway, after about a year, I separated from my agent, and I decided to look into independent presses on my own. I found a good one, and here we are. I'm looking into some rowboats in the interim until I get to the yacht. As far as rejections go, the publishing business is a tough industry especially if you're a newbie, so let's just say that I'm planning to wallpaper a room in my house!

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
The most heartfelt advice I can pass on to other writers is to never give up. Carve your own path. And don't let rejection hammer you – it's all part of the process, take in the constructive and make your work the best it can be. And keep going no matter what. Believe in yourself and you can't fail. Sounds a little preachy, but it's true.

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
It's surprising how passionate people can become so quickly about a book, my book in particular. It's overwhelming and very very humbling. I'd only hope to inspire my readers the way that authors like J.K. Rowling and Kristin Cashore have inspired me.

Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

  • From Goodreads: Epidemics, floods, droughts--for sixteen-year-old Lucy, the end of the world came and went, taking 99% of the population with it. As the weather continues to rage out of control, and Sweepers clean the streets of plague victims, Lucy survives alone in the wilds of Central Park. But when she's rescued from a pack of hunting dogs by a mysterious boy named Aidan, she reluctantly realizes she can't continue on her own. She joins his band of survivors, yet, a new danger awaits her: the Sweepers are looking for her. There's something special about Lucy, and they will stop at nothing to have her.
How long did you work on this book?
The first draft was actually pretty fast, about 3 months. Someone once said that writing is all about revision though and I definitely find this to be true. Writers write in different ways. I tend to try to get a good draft down as quickly as possible because I find it quite difficult. Then I revise before giving it to my beta readers, then more revision. In the case of Ashes, Ashes I queried agents at that point and was lucky enough to sign with one very quickly. Then I revised some more. And after he sold the manuscript to Scholastic? More revisions! Fortunately I love to revise. Getting a first draft down? Not so much.

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
It was actually very quick. Once my agent had sent out the manuscript, I think Scholastic responded with an offer within a few weeks. There was maybe one rejection at that point, but we accepted Scholastic's offer before anyone else had a chance to reject it. :)

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Perseverance is key. Innate talent is definitely a good thing, but I think a willingness to work really hard, learn your craft and accept constructive criticism as a valuable tool, are even more important. I think most of us can become better writers just by working at it and staying flexible. And never giving up!

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
I am still somewhat blown away that readers are responding so well to the book- identifying with the characters and communicating their enthusiasm. Books have always been so important in my life, and I'm such a fan girl of writers, that it's a little strange being on the other side now. I am so grateful to be able to do what I love so much.


Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

  • From Goodreads: How do you defy destiny? Helen Hamilton has spent her entire sixteen years trying to hide how different she is—no easy task on an island as small and sheltered as Nantucket. And it's getting harder. Nightmares of a desperate desert journey have Helen waking parched, only to find her sheets damaged by dirt and dust. At school she's haunted by hallucinations of three women weeping tears of blood . . . and when Helen first crosses paths with Lucas Delos, she has no way of knowing they're destined to play the leading roles in a tragedy the Fates insist on repeating throughout history. As Helen unlocks the secrets of her ancestry, she realizes that some myths are more than just legend. But even demigod powers might not be enough to defy the forces that are both drawing her and Lucas together—and trying to tear them apart.
How long did you work on this book?
Starcrossed took me about a month to outline and then eight months to write.  I was lucky.  My unbelievably supportive husband told me to quit my job and focus completely on my writing, so I had the rare luxury of being able to write all day, every day, until it was finished.

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
Again, I was crazy fortunate.  When I finished the manuscript, I had no idea what to do with it.  My husband is a screenwriter, and he has a lot of contacts in the movie industry, but not in publishing.  Figuring we had nothing to lose, he reached out to a manager here in Hollywood, Rachel Miller, on Facebook.  Rachel was having a slow day and decided, what the heck?  Why not read the first chapter?  She ended up loving my book, and gave it that day to a literary agent friend of hers in New York, Mollie Glick.  Mollie read it that night and wanted to work with me.  I literally woke up the next morning with a manager and an agent.  Then my killer agent gave the manuscript to an editor friend of hers which led to a pre-emtive deal with Harper Teen.  I was still patting myself on the back for getting representation-- which is a huge hurdle-- while I was being introduced to my brilliant editor, Laura Arnold.  It took about two months for it to really sink in that I was going to be published, and sometimes it still feels like it's too good to be true.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Never underestimate the power of a good outline.  The outline is your friend.  It banishes writer's block and it will be there for you all through your edits.  If you make a detailed outline before you start working, your story will pretty much write itself.

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
Interviews!  At first I felt so goofy doing these.  I kept thinking, "why would anyone want to know all this stuff about me?" and I felt so shy opening up.  It's like going on a thousand blind dates, but I'm starting to get the hang of it.  :)


Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

  • From Goodreads: Fifteen-year-old Felton Reinstein has always been on the smallish side, but in his sophomore year he starts growing...and growing. During gym one day he smokes the football jocks in a 600-yard race. Felton has never been interested in sports, but there's no doubt-he is "stupid fast." As he juggles his newfound athletic prowess, his mom's sudden depression, an annoying little brother, and his first love, he discovers a shocking secret about his past which explains why he's turning out the way he is.
How long did you work on this book?
I had a weird experience with this book...  I saw my cousin walking really fast one day, thought, "He is stupid fast!" Then got all crazy and wrote the first 70 pages in two days and then finished a draft in a couple of weeks (it was like something was falling out of the sky on top of me).  Then, of course, I thought it was done.  About six months later, after several rejections, I looked again and realized there were huge holes!  I spent another couple of months going after those problems and it sold shortly thereafter.  You know when you hear you should set aside your manuscript for awhile and revisit it with fresh eyes later?  Yeah, that's good advice.

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
Once I got it to my agent, I think it was about 8 months.  I did have to do that re-write in the middle or it would not have sold, I imagine.  There were LOTS of rejections. Many were related to the audience: I saw notes that said something like: Really love this character, but can't imagine a market (BOYS DON'T READ) for the book.  Hopefully, those editors were wrong!  Yeah, I wrote the book for boys (because my 13-year-old son doesn't have enough to read), but I'm seeing enough feedback from girls to know that the book crosses over.  I think!

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Write who you are. I'm a goofy person.  When I try to strip the humor out of my work, it is so flat.  Know thyself!  Then, make sure that's who you are as a writer. This art is definitely not about hiding or trying to be something other.  The truest representation of your vibe, values, aesthetics, etc. will take you to your best material.

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
How cool other YA writers are.  I was at BEA last week and had an absolute ball meeting with people.  I write contemporary and wondered if there would be sort of cliques based on genre, but I couldn't see any of that.  It was like the biggest gathering of excellent dorks of a thousand flavors one could imagine.  I also saw very little in the way of competitiveness, which is something writers are famous for.  Publishing in YA is comforting compared to the adult literary world.

Drama High: So, So Hood by L. Divine
  • From Goodreads: For Jayd Jackson, a new school takes the drama to a new level. . . With her senior year just beginning, Jayd s drama is going nowhere anytime soon. Although she's graduated to the next level with her powers, she's also going head-to-head with her former best friend, Misty. Jayd's also got to deal with the aftermath of the debutante ball, her boyfriend's cheating, and her ex-boyfriend/best guy friend Rah's continuing baby mama drama. Luckily, when her crew gets to be too much, Jayd can turn to her new crush Keenan, a UCLA first draft football pick, for a time out. Jayd's got to keep a cool head now more than ever because there's a new enemy waiting to pounce if she lets down her guard. . .
How long did you work on this book?
Volume 14 took approximately 4 months to complete, but I chose the name and subject matter about three years ago.

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
It was and still is a long road to publication. My first novel, The Fight had about twenty rejections before I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I started this journey in 1999 and it wasn't until November 2004 I was finally picked up by my first publisher.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Keep writing no matter what. If you believe in your craft, your voice and your purpose your audience will find you.

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
The ups and downs of it all. It's amazing to me how many readers attribute my "lil series" to giving them a love for reading they never had. I am humbled by this and don't take it for granted-ever. But I am not a rich or famous woman by-far as a lot of my readers assume. I have lived as a full-time novelist for several years and it's a daily struggle :)

Additional Releases

The Ivy: Secrets by Lauren Kunze and Rina Onur
  • From Goodreads: Gregory or Clint? Clint or Gregory? Matt, anyone? And what is Lexi up to . . .exactly? When we last saw Callie Andrews, she was caught on the horns of a dilemma. Lexi was threatening to expose all of her safely guarded, deeply buried secrets from high school, and Callie had just hooked up with bad-boy Gregory--despite the fact that she had a perfect (sort of) boyfriend and her BFF Vanessa had claimed (sort of) Gregory as her own. Yow. Entertaining, hilarious, addictive, scandalous, sexy, and smart, The Ivy series is an insider's look at freshman life at Harvard University. This isn't high school anymore!
The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • From Goodreads: Set in Calcutta in the 1930s, The Midnight Palace begins on a dark night when an English lieutenant fights to save newborn twins Ben and Sheere from an unthinkable threat. Despite monsoon-force rains and terrible danger lurking around every street corner, the young lieutenant manages to get them to safety, but not without losing his own life... Years later, on the eve of Ben and Sheere's sixteenth birthday, the mysterious threat reenters their lives. This time, it may be impossible to escape. With the help of their brave friends, the twins will have to take a stand against the terror that watches them in the shadows of the night--and face the most frightening creature in the history of the City of Palaces.
Giveaway

In addition to the prizes offered yesterday, you can enter to win ASHES, ASHES, STUPID FAST, and BLOODSPELL! Please fill out the form below and leave a comment on this post to enter to win. The contest is open to US residents. We'll reveal the winners this Thursday.

Happy reading!
The Ladies of ACP


Monday, May 30, 2011

51 In Stores This Week (with Interviews & Giveaways) Part 1

Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to bookmark sparkly summer reads! Read on for author interviews and be sure to scroll all the way down to enter our giveaway.

This Week's Interviews

Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
  • From Goodreads: 16-year-old Molly Dix loves her ordinary life in suburban Indiana, so when her single mother passes away, she is shocked to discover that her biological father is Brick Berlin, world famous movie star and red carpet regular. Equally intrigued and terrified by her Hollywood lineage, Molly moves to Southern California and plunges head-first into the deep end of Beverly Hills celebrity life. Just as Molly thinks her new life and family couldn't get any stranger, she meets Brooke Berlin, her gorgeous and spoiled half-sister whom welcomes Molly to la-la land with a healthy dose of passive-aggressive "sisterly love."
How long did you work on this book?
JESSICA: Actually getting to the point where we were writing the book itself took longer than the actual writing process. We worked on the outline, sample chapters and proposal for AGES -- it felt like. But once it went out to publishers and sold to Poppy, we were on a pretty tight deadline. I think we had about three months to write the book itself? So the overall process was lengthy, but the actual TYPING was pretty speedy!

HEATHER: You'd think with two of us, it'd be half the work, but no. We each would take a chapter and write the rough draft, then we'd trade and work through each other's and add ideas or substract stuff and then we'd smoosh them together and move onto the next two, and so forth. So basically every chapter was written by both of us, more than once. In that three-month span. Seriously. With the most concentrated work coming from January to March, which is the busiest period of our blog's life (Globes, Oscars, Grammys, SAGs, Fashion Week...) My back hurt by the time we were done with all that typing.

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
JESSICA: Heather and I were really fortunate. Because our blog, Go Fug Yourself, was fairly well-known amongst publishers and editors, and because we'd written a book based on it in 2008, our awesome agent -- Scott Hoffman, at Folio, who deserves a shout-out! -- was able to drum up some interest in the project before we were done with the proposal. And we were really lucky that we had an agent before we even started working on it, which I know is not always the case. I think we definitely benefited from being a known quantity. So when he sent the actual proposal and sample chapters out, we got feedback pretty quickly. Certain publishers definitely passed, but we ended up taking phone calls from a few of them and two made offers. We really, really liked both sets of editors, but we eventually decided to go with Poppy.

HEATHER: We did a whole proposal that we threw out -- same premise but kind of a brain dump, where we threw ALL our ideas out on paper and then were able to sift through it and say, okay, that's extraneous, that's good, that's just flat-out terrible, oh my God what are we thinking with this, etc. From there we wrote a modified one that we felt really good about, and that's what made the rounds. It was far from perfect, but I think it showed that the raw material was there. Thankfully the ladies at Poppy agreed. For us, the trick, and the focus of our first round of notes, really was learning to write a Hollywood parody novel that didn't descend into all-camp, all-the-time. It's always better to throw in too much and scale back than to have too little, but since the pages we sent for the proposal were all about establishing the universe, we tended to push really hard with the parody and our editors were awesome about shepherding us through scaling back on that and mixing in enough heart to get people hooked. And then we were off and running.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
JESSICA:  The best advice I ever got was just to KEEP WRITING. Simple, but true.

HEATHER: It really is. You don't know who or what you are as a writer until you try it. And, be prepared to have the first thing you try really, really suck. It might not, but if it does, you're in good company with, oh, almost everyone else who's ever written anything. Nobody is perfect out of the gate. Our first proposal, the one we dumped and started over with? I look back and shudder. I have kept it and occasionally look at it just to remind myself how much we've grown as writers even just since then. It's hard to see it and know we didn't knock it out of the park from day one -- Jess and I are both perfectionists and we don't like screwing up, which is not to say we don't DO it, just that we hate it. But thank God we got it on paper, because we learned a TON. It takes guts to try and fail but that's all part of it.

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
JESSICA: I think the most delightful thing about it, so far, is hearing from the readers of our blog how excited they are about the book, and how much they're enjoying it. I wouldn't say I'm surprised, per se, about how supportive they've been, but it has been really lovely to find out how many people are happy and excited for a friend (or someone who feels like a friend) when they publish a book.

HEATHER: I am surprised that anybody becomes an author in The Age Of The Amazon Sales Rank and still retains their sanity. So far I'm doing okay, though. Who knew?


Nightspell by Leah Cypess

  • From Goodreads: Here be ghosts, the maps said, and that was all. In this haunted kingdom, ghosts linger—not just in the deepest forests or the darkest caverns, but alongside the living, as part of a twisted palace court that revels all night and sleeps through the daylight hours. Darri's sister was trapped in this place of fear and shadows as a child. And now Darri has a chance to save her sister . . . if she agrees to a betrothal with the prince of the dead. But nothing is simple in this eerie kingdom—not her sister, who has changed beyond recognition; not her plan, which will be thrown off track almost at once; and not the undead prince, who seems more alive than anyone else. In a court seething with the desire for vengeance, Darri holds the key to the balance between life and death. Can her warrior heart withstand the most wrenching choice of all?
How long did you work on this book?
Well, that depends on how you're counting. I started it over a decade ago, when I was still in high school. (Okay, far more than a decade!) I worked on it for a summer, got the plot hopelessly entangled, gave up, and moved on to other things. But I never put that notebook into my "discards" pile, because I really like the idea of a kingdom where ghosts lived side by side with the living, and I wasn't willing to give up on it. A few years ago, when I took a year off to write full time, I pulled out that notebook, read through it, then put it aside and started over. From there, it probably took me about three years.

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
Put it this way: when I got my offer from HarperCollins, I also got an agent, and he asked me to send him a complete list of my manuscripts and their submission histories. It was sixteen pages long.

I had written three manuscripts that had all been rejected by every publisher in existence, one that was still making the rounds, and then Mistwood. Mistwood was snapped up almost immediately, but I think of it as the culmination of that whole process; every book I wrote allowed me to add a few more editors to the list of those who had asked me to send them my next manuscript. In fact, the imprint that bought Mistwood (Greenwillow Books) is currently closed to unagented submissions - but 7 or so years ago, when they were still open, I got my first "but do send me your next book" rejection letter. So I was sort of grandfathered in.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Not to pin all your hopes on a single manuscript or story. I had one manuscript that I was *sure* was going to be the one published – it got a revisions request from one editor, a request for its submission status from another, positive responses from pretty much everyone. But in the end, it was "almost but not quite" everywhere I sent it. Eventually I had to shelve it and move on to the next thing. I still think it's a great story, and maybe someday I'll be able to revise and publish it, but it obviously didn't have whatever it took to be my break-in novel.

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
While I was on my submissions journey, getting published was the gold at the end of the rainbow - I didn't think past it - so pretty much everything has been a surprise! Some surprises have been pleasant, some unpleasant, but in a way it's like I entered an entirely different world. I would say my first and possibly biggest surprise was how thorough and intensive the revisions process is. It seems that even when a publisher likes a book enough to buy it, it still has to go through huge changes before it's publishable.


She Loves You, She Loves You Not... by Julie Anne Peters

  • From Goodreads: Seventeen-year-old Alyssa thought she knew who she was. She had her family, her best friends, and most importantly, she had Sarah. Sarah, her girlfriend, with whom she dreamed with about the day they could move far away and live out and proud and accepted for themselves, instead of having to hide their relationship. Alyssa never thought she would have to make that move by herself, but disowned by her father and cut off from everyone she loves, she is forced to move hundreds of miles away to live with Carly, a mother she barely knows, in a town where everyone immediately dismisses her as 'Carly's girl.' Struggling to forget her past and come to terms with her future, will Alyssa be able to build a new life for herself and believe in love again? Or will she be forced to relive the mistakes that have cost her everything and everyone she cared about?
What routines do you find helpful for you to stay actively writing?
If I'm working on a first draft, I get up early every morning (five days a week) and write until my hand hurts or I can't stay in the alternative universe I've created. Three hours is about as long as I can project myself completely into a story. Since I write in longhand, I have to take occasional mini breaks to shake off the carpal tunnel. I'm a morning person, so all the writing I do, whether it's original or revision, is completed while I'm coherent. By the afternoon, my brain is sludge. That's when I answer my emails and do my social networking.

I read as much as possible to remind me why I write -- because writing is the hardest work I've ever done. Over time, it takes its toll emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially. My love affair with reading and my readers keeps me going.

Between writing books, I try to take a month-long mental break. But since I write for a living, I'm not allowed the luxury of slacking off for too long.

As a published writer, do you feel pressure to balance your creative writing license with what the audience wants? If so, how do you balance the two?
No, not really. I write books I'd want to read. I'm my own best audience.

What advice would you offer writers to build their marketing platform before they become published?
This is an ongoing issue we discuss in my critique group. We have writers who are in the early stages of publication or on the verge of having their first book published. We talk a lot about blogging, twittering and social networking. In addition to suppporting each other, we're making plans to create our own Web site and blog to drive traffic to our books and art. I definitely think it's advantageous to combine your marketing efforts with those of other writers. A chorus of cheerleaders is louder than one lone voice in the crowd.

How much do trends influence your writing?
The trends I watch carefully are societal and political changes in the LGBTQI movement. For example, young people are coming out sooner and feeling comfortable calling themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Bisexual youth, especially, would like to see more literature featuring them. LGBTQI characters aren't as prevalent as they could be in many of the genres, including paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, horror, mysteries, etc. And writers for younger readers, even as young as picture book readers, should be considering stories about gender and sexual diversity.


Queen of the Dead (The Ghost and the Goth #2) by Stacey Kade

  • From Goodreads: After being sent back from the light, Alona Dare - former homecoming queen, current Queen of the Dead - finds herself doing something she never expected: working. Instead of spending days perfecting her tan by the pool (her typical summer routine when she was, you know, alive), Alona must now cater to the needs of other lost spirits. By her side for all of this - ugh - “helping of others” is Will Killian: social outcast, seer of the dead, and someone Alona cares about more than she’d like. Before Alona can make a final ruling on Will’s “friend” or “more” status, though, she discovers trouble at home. Her mom is tossing out Alona’s most valuable possessions, and her dad is expecting a new daughter with his wicked wife. Is it possible her family is already moving on? Hello! She’s only been dead for two months! Thankfully, Alona knows just the guy who can put a stop to this mess. Unfortunately for Alona, Will has other stuff on his mind, and Mina, a young (and beautiful) seer, is at the top of the list. She’s the first ghost-talker Will’s ever met—aside from his father—and she may hold answers to Will’s troubled past. But can she be trusted? Alona immediately puts a check mark in the “clearly not” column. But Will is - ahem - willing to find out, even if it means leaving a hurt and angry Alona to her own devices, which is never a good idea.
How long did you work on this book?
Let's see...I think I started working on Queen of the Dead in May 2009. I turned in the final draft in June 2010. But that included extensive (and necessary) revisions/rewrites as well.

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
I've been writing for publication since about 1998. And yeah, it was a long road. :) Many, many rejections. But I learned a lot during that time!

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Finish your draft. No matter how off the rails it seems to have gone. Don't stop and attempt rewrites while you're still in the middle of the story (as I have done many times before). You don't always know what you need to fix at the beginning until you make it all the way until "THE END." :) A very hard lesson for me to learn, that was.

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
When I was a kid, I used to sort of think there would be a day when I'd wake up and know everything I needed to know to be an "adult." :) I think I had the same misconception about being published. You know, the idea that once your book is on the shelf, you're instantly filled with all this wisdom and confidence when it comes to telling stories. Um, yeah. Not so much. I'm still figuring it out as I go along, just like always. :) (And if someone actually did receive an instant download of wisdom and confidence on their release day, don't tell me. I don't want to know. Believing that ALL of us are out here doing our best and yet still kind of flailing around helplessly sometimes is what allows me to sleep at night.)


Forgiven by Janet Fox

  • From Goodreads: Kula Baker never expected to find herself on the streets of San Francisco, alone but for a letter of introduction. Though she has come to the city to save her father from a cruel fate, Kula soon finds herself swept up in a world of art and elegance - a world she hardly dared dream of back in Montana, where she was no more than the daughter of an outlaw. And then there is the handsome David Wong, whose smiling eyes and soft-spoken manner have an uncanny way of breaking through Kula's carefully crafted reserve. Yet when disaster strikes and the wreckage threatens all she holds dear, Kula realizes that only by unlocking her heart can she begin to carve a new future for herself.

How long did you work on this book?
FORGIVEN is the second novel in a four-novel series of connected stories. I finished the edits on my first novel, FAITHFUL, in November 2009 (it came out in June 2010) and I had a deadline for novel #2 – which became FORGIVEN – of July 1 2010. So I had no time to lose in writing FORGIVEN! I started it in December 2009 and sent it to my editor before the deadline, which meant I wrote the entire novel in under 6 months, a record for me. It felt like a bit of a race, but I was also in the final semester of my MFA program, which meant I had the oversight of my amazing advisor Leda Schubert, and I was able to work on it for my creative thesis.

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
I had a million rejections. Well, maybe not a million, but a very large number. I’d been writing and sending things out for four years before I sold my first story to Spider Magazine. Then I sold a non-fiction piece to Highlights, and a non-fiction book to Free Spirit Publishing (GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT.) Those successes gave me the confidence to go on. I found my agent at an SCBWI conference critique; she sold my first novel, FAITHFUL, almost a year after I signed with her, and she sold it as part of a two-book deal, which was fabulous. There is no question that the main character trait of a successful writer is perseverance.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Other than to persevere, I have several pieces of advice. First, show up. As Jane Yolen likes to say, BIC – butt in chair. Writing to success takes a lot of hard work and the willingness to revise and learn and grow. Second, read everything. Read constantly. Read in your genre and outside your comfort zone. You cannot become a writer who writes in a vacuum; what kids and teens read today is not what your mother read or even what you read. Third, (the advice I’d give anyone, anywhere) be nice. Respect other authors, editors, agents, reviewers. Be yourself, but be nice.

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
What a wonderful community the kidlit community is – how many lovely friends I’ve made, and how caring, warm and open is the community of people who write for children. That community is just as important to me as my success – in fact, it’s more important. It’s a community that truly believes that writing for children is a mission: a mission to improve literacy, to improve the condition of children everywhere, to reach kids and touch them as individuals. That I belong to such a selfless and dedicated family of friends has surprised and pleased me more than anything.

The Eternal Sea by Angie Frazier
  • From Goodreads: Romance and adventure are just around the corner . . . After the thrilling journey that led Camille through the dangerous discovery of love, secrets, and a magical stone that grants immortality, Camille has everything she wants. She's escaped the men who wanted her dead, and now she is ready to build a new life with Oscar, her one true love. But things are not to be so simple. Oscar is acting strangely, and before they can even board a ship from Australia back home, to San Francisco, Camille learns that the journey is not over. If she does not follow the magic of the curse of Umandu, her life and Ocar's could be in grave danger.
How long did you work on this book?
I started writing The Eternal Sea before I’d even sold Everlasting. I knew I wanted to continue Oscar and Camille’s story, so even without knowing whether or not it would sell I started it. I did what I usually do: I wrote fast and then revised slowly! Overall, I think it took me about three years to write and revise. I still wish I’d had more time to write it though!

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
It was long and painful with numerous rejections. I had a box filled with all of my rejection slips and letters at one point, but I’ve since tossed it. I remember the crushing pain well enough! But with every rejection, I would get more and more stubborn, and I’d send out another query. I pushed aside the hurt, and move on. It’s the only way to make it.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Besides not letting the rejections stop them from sending out more queries (and I’m not talking about 10 or 20 query letters and rejections, but up to 100 or more!) my best advice is to concentrate on the writing. Ultimately, your writing is the final factor. If you read as much as you can, pay attention to the craft, and spend more time writing than networking online, your devotion will show in your manuscript.

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
One year from my debut release, I’m the most surprised by how being a published author is just as anguishing (if not more so!) as it was being an aspiring author. I’m extremely grateful to have three books out with Scholastic—it’s my dream come true. But there have also been disappointments, setbacks, and factors that are completely out of my control. Being published is like entering a new side of my dream job, and it comes with new goals. Now, more than ever, I realize that the writing is the most important thing for me to concentrate on.

Additional Releases

The Vampire Stalker by Allison Van Diepen
  • From Goodreads: Amy is in love with someone who doesn't exist: Alexander Banks, the dashing hero in a popular series of vampire novels. Then one night, Amy meets a boy who bears an eerie resemblance to Alexander. In fact, he IS Alexander, who has escaped from the pages of the book and is in hot pursuit of a wicked vampire named Vigo. Together, Amy and Alexander set out to track Vigo and learn how and why Alexander crossed over. But when she and Alexander begin to fall for each other, Amy wonders if she even wants him to ever return to the realm of fiction.
Giveaway

Thanks to generous authors and awesome publishing houses, YOU can get your hands on some of these great books. FORGIVEN, SPOILED, THE ETERNAL SEA, SHE LOVES YOU, SHE LOVES YOU NOT, and QUEEN OF THE DEAD are all up for grabs. Don't forget to enter again tomorrow when we reveal even more giveaways! Please leave a comment on this post and fill out the form below. The contest is open to US residents and we will announce winners on Thursday!

Happy reading,
The Ladies of ACP