Wednesday, October 31, 2012

3 WOW Wednesday: Gretchen McNeil on How to Write Scary

Just in time for Halloween, today's guest is a queen of YA horror. Gretchen McNeil is an opera singer, writer and clown. Her YA horror POSSESS about a teen exorcist debuted with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins in 2011. Her follow up TEN – YA horror/suspense about ten teens trapped on a remote island with a serial killer – was released September 18, 2012, and her third novel 3:59 – sci fi doppelganger horror about two girls who are the same girl in parallel dimensions who decide to switch places – is scheduled for Fall 2013. Gretchen's new YA contemporary series Don't Get Mad (Revenge meets The Breakfast Club) about four very different girls who form a secret society where they get revenge on bullies and mean girls begins Fall 2014 with GET EVEN, followed by the sequel GET DIRTY in 2015, also with Balzer + Bray. Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4's Code Monkeys and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. Gretchen blogs with The Enchanted Inkpot and is a founding member of the vlog group the YARebels where she can be seen as "Monday." She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Find her on her website, Gretchen McNeil, or on Twitter, @GretchenMcNeil.

by Gretchen McNeil

Here's the thing about writing horror: it's all about the set up.

We're all scared of different things.

For some people, the idea of a giant spider lurking under the bed, is enough to paralyze them with fear. For others, it's the idea of being buried alive in a close, black coffin, utterly sightless in the dark. Still others fear the darkness. Or heights. Or being abandoned in the middle of nowhere.

So many different kinds of scary. The things we fear most come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the physical – like spiders and sharks – to the esoteric – like claustrophobia and paranoia – to the otherworldly – like demons and vampires and witches (oh my!). What scares one person might be unicorns and rainbows to someone else. But set up properly, even unicorns and rainbows can scare the crap out of you.

To me, conveying fear isn't just about describing a situation, object, or person that someone might find scary, but giving a blow-by-blow of the event and actually detailing the fear reaction in the characters.

We all know exactly what it feels like to be scared. First you have the anticipation: What's behind that closed door? What's making that scratching noise in the attic? What's lurking in the deep, dark waters? It's the tensing of muscles like you're expecting a blow, that stretching of all your senses, trying to see/feel/hear/smell danger before it pounces on you. The higher the tension is pitched, the bigger the wallop.

Next, the reveal. The door opens to expose a dead body that spills out on top of our poor heroine the moment she turns the doorknob. The scratching noise in the attic inexplicably moves through the ceiling, down the stairs and manifests in a dark, demonic entity. The dorsal fin of a great white shark breaks the surface of the water in which you're swimming. The terror has been revealed in one jarring, scream-inducing moment!

But that's not scary enough, not for the expectant reader. You need the next step in the process – experiencing the fear through the eyes of the main character. We need to feel their bodies tremble as they break out into a cold sweat. We need to hear the blood-curdling scream that explodes from their mouths. We need to internalize the sick, sinking feeling in their stomachs as death closes in around them.

And lastly, the action. Our heroine's panicked flee from the house, our hero's desperate attempt to out maneuver a man-eating shark. Will they survive? Will they escape? Hearts pound in anticipation with every turn of the page!!!!

Broken down, none of these steps in the process seems particularly scream-worthy, but strung together with pacing and tension? WHAM. Horror show.

* * *

TEN by Gretchen McNeil

 And their doom comes swiftly.

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives – three days on Henry Island at an exclusive house party. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their own reasons for wanting to be there, both of which involve Kamiak High’s most eligible bachelor, T.J. Fletcher. But what starts out as a fun-filled weekend turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly, people are dying and the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

POSSESS (Balzer + Bray, on sale now!)

TEN (Balzer + Bray, on sale now!)

3:59 (Balzer + Bray, Fall 2013)

GET EVEN (Don't Get Mad, Book 1, Balzer + Bray, Fall 2014)

GET DIRTY (Don't Get Mad, Book 2, Balzer + Bray, Fall 2015)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2 Thinking of Everyone Caught in Frankenstorm

I'm traveling today and tomorrow after a wonderful writing retreat with a couple of wonderful friends and an amazing YOUR BEST BOOK workshop down in Charlotte.  I'll post more about that next week, but just wanted to take the opportunity to send good thoughts and hopes for a speedy clean-up to everyone affected by the storm. Hope you are all safe!

Best wishes,


Friday, October 26, 2012

12 New YA Books in Stores 10/27-11/2 Plus Two-Book Giveaway

Touching the Surface
by Kimberly Sabatini

Signed Hardcover with Extra Swag

Experience the afterlife in this lyrical, paranormal debut novel that will send your heart soaring.
When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time, she knows she must have messed up, big-time. She doesn’t remember how she landed in the afterlife again, but she knows this is her last chance to get things right.     Elliot just wants to move on, but first she will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. Memories of people she’s hurt, people she’s betrayed…and people she’s killed.      As she pieces together the secrets and mistakes of her past, Elliot must find a way to earn the forgiveness of the person she’s hurt most, and reveal the truth about herself to the two boys she loves…even if it means losing them both forever.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Touching the Surface?

My favorite thing about my book is that my MC, Elliot, is not an instantaneously likable character. I think she wears some of her faults on her sleeve and camouflages quite a few of soft spots--for protection. I adore characters that sweep me off of my feet from the very first sentence. I want to be best friends with them, but a character like Elliot, is more like me--not always perfect. She gives me a lot of hope that I'll some day be able to get my own act together. And of course there is that thing where MY BOOK IS A BOOK! That is also pretty awesome. :o)

Order Touching the Surface on Amazon

View Touching the Surface on Goodreads

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Dead Girl Moon
by Charlie Price

Signed Hardcover

As their hardscrabble lives intertwine in a small, corrupt Montana town, Grace, a scheming runaway, JJ, her drifty fostercare sister, and Mick, the son of a petty thief, discover the body of a young woman. Afraid to come forward, the teens try to hide their knowledge of the crime, because they believe the murderer is one of the corrupt officials and businessmen who rule their town. But after a series of false moves and dumb mistakes, the teens are soon suspects themselves in a murder investigation threatening their freedom—and maybe their lives.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Dead Girl Moon?

In Dead Girl Moon I get to follow three teens with significantly different life challenges. They represent composites of kids I met in psych hospitals and schools who were trying to rise above their difficult and sometimes damaging home lives to forge their own dreams with their own resources. In this novel they encounter a situation that forces them to collaborate to cope with an increasingly dangerous, possibly lethal threat. I knew, from my work experience, that they could be successful together, but I had no idea how they would develop solutions to their dilemma. I loved watching them make choices and deal with the consequences. I always tried to "observe" them rather than "steer" them. For me, the unfolding process itself was my greatest pleasure.

Order Dead Girl Moon on Amazon

View Dead Girl Moon on Goodreads


by Gina Linko

WINNER: Alyssa Susannah

All Emery Land wants is to be like any other 17-year-old—to go to school, hang out with her friends, and just be normal.  But for as long as she can remember, she's suffered from seizures. And in recent years they've consumed her life. To Emery they're much more than seizures, she calls them loops—moments when she travels through wormholes back and forth in time and to a mysterious town. The loops are taking their toll on her physically. So she practically lives in the hospital where her scientist father and an ever-growing team of doctors monitor her every move. They're extremely interested in the data they collect when Emery seizes. It appears that she's tapping into parts of the brain typically left untouched by normal human beings.

Escaping from the hospital, Emery travels to Esperanza, the town from her loops on the upper peninsula of Michigan, where she meets Asher Clarke. Ash's life is governed by his single-minded pursuit of performing good Samaritan acts to atone for the death of a loved one. His journey is very much entwined with Emery's loops.

Drawn together they must unravel their complicated connection before it's too late.

Order Flutter on Amazon

View Flutter on Goodreads

* * * *

The Crimson Crown (A Seven Realms Novel)
by Cinda Williams Chima

WINNER: Stephanie27

A thousand years ago, two young lovers were betrayed—Alger Waterlow to his death, and Hanalea, Queen of the Fells, to a life without love.

Now, once again, the Queendom of the Fells seems likely to shatter apart. For young queen Raisa ana’Marianna, maintaining peace even within her own castle walls is nearly impossible; tension between wizards and Clan has reached a fevered pitch. With surrounding kingdoms seeking to prey on the Fells’ inner turmoil, Raisa’s best hope is to unite her people against a common enemy. But that enemy might be the person with whom she's falling in love.

Through a complicated web of lies and unholy alliances, former streetlord Han Alister has become a member of the Wizard Council of the Fells. Navigating the cut-throat world of blue blood politics has never been more dangerous, and Han seems to inspire hostility among Clan and wizards alike. His only ally is the queen, and despite the perils involved, Han finds it impossible to ignore his feelings for Raisa. Before long, Han finds himself in possession of a secret believed to be lost to history, a discovery powerful enough to unite the people of the Fells. But will the secret die with him before he can use it?

A simple, devastating truth concealed by a thousand-year-old lie at last comes to light in this stunning conclusion to the Seven Realms series.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about The Crimson Crown (A Seven Realms Novel)?

My tagline for The Seven Realms is: A thief-turned-wizard and a headstrong princess join forces to battle wizards behaving badly.. The series was intended to be a trilogy, but morphed into a quartet when I ran out of room in book 3. That's what happens when you don't outline! I did everything in my power to let people know a fourth book was coming, but there are still people out there who think it ended with book 3. Because The Gray Wolf Throne ended on a cliff-hanger, I got these reviews on Goodreads that said, "Why did it end like THAT!?" So for all those readers, I promise that in The Crimson Crown, I will untangle the skeins of lies, deceits, and red herrings, and you will get that finish you were looking for!
Except now, I have readers saying, "It's Seven Realms--why aren't there seven books?"

Order The Crimson Crown (A Seven Realms Novel) on Amazon

View The Crimson Crown (A Seven Realms Novel) on Goodreads


by C.J. Skuse

She's got it bad, and he ain't good -- he's in her garage?

Gonna have to face it: Jody's addicted to Jackson Gatlin, frontman of The Regulators, and after her best bud Mac scores tickets, she's front and center at his sold-out concert. But when she gets mashed in the moshpit, loses her precious moon rock, and bodysurfs backstage, she ends up with more than a mild concussion to deal with. By the next morning, the strung-out rock star is coming down in her garage. Jody -- oops -- kind of kidnapped him. By accident. And now he doesn't want to leave.

It's a rock-star abduction worthy of an MTV reality series . . . but who got punk'd?!

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Rockoholic?

My favourite thing about Rockoholic is probably the fact that I managed to finish it. I’d written my first novel with the support of my MA peer group and tutors but for Rocko, I was pretty much on my own and that was quite scary. I’m proud that I got it finished and that it doesn’t completely stink. Well, Jackson does, for the most part…

Order Rockoholic on Amazon

View Rockoholic on Goodreads


Ruins (Pathfinder)
by Orson Scott Card

A complex fate. A deadly path. Book two in the New York Times bestselling series Publishers Weekly calls “an epic in the best sense.”When Rigg and his friends crossed the Wall between the only world they knew and a world they could not imagine, he hoped he was leading them to safety. But the dangers in this new wallfold are more difficult to see. Rigg, Umbo, and Param know that they cannot trust the expendable, Vadesh—a machine shaped like a human, created to deceive—but they are no longer certain that they can even trust one another. But they will have little choice. Because although Rigg can decipher the paths of the past, he can’t yet see the horror that lies ahead: A destructive force with deadly intentions is hurtling toward Garden. If Rigg, Umbo, and Param can’t work together to alter the past, there will be no future.     The adventure, suspense, and time travel continue in this second installment in the critically acclaimed New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestselling Pathfinder series.

Order Ruins (Pathfinder) on Amazon

View Ruins (Pathfinder) on Goodreads

* * * *

Rebel Heart (Dustlands)
by Moira Young

Nothing is certain and no one is safe in the second book in the highly praised Dust Lands trilogy, which MTV’s Hollywood Crush blog called “better than The Hunger Games.”It seemed so simple: Defeat the Tonton, rescue her kidnapped brother, Lugh, and then order would be restored to Saba’s world. Simplicity, however, has proved to be elusive. Now, Saba and her family travel west, headed for a better life and a longed-for reunion with Jack. But the fight for Lugh’s freedom has unleashed a new power in the dust lands, and a formidable new enemy is on the rise.     What is the truth about Jack? And how far will Saba go to get what she wants? In this much-anticipated follow-up to the riveting Blood Red Road, a fierce heroine finds herself at the crossroads of danger and destiny, betrayal and passion.

Order Rebel Heart (Dustlands) on Amazon

View Rebel Heart (Dustlands) on Goodreads

* * * *

Death of a Kleptomaniac
by Kristen Tracy

At sixteen, Molly is a girl who’s just started living—at last she’s popular. But for a girl who has everything, Molly feels like she never has enough. So she steals. At least there’s plenty of time to fix this last little problem.  Except Fate has other plans for Molly. Like death. Suddenly dead and in denial, how can Molly move on when life was just looking up?  Can she abandon her earthly ties or will she jeopardize her soul to stay close to her loved ones? From critically acclaimed author Kristen Tracy, Death of a Kleptomaniac is the heartfelt story of one girl’s search for redemption, a family’s encounter with grief, and love’s power to rise above even the most final of boundaries.

Order Death of a Kleptomaniac on Amazon

View Death of a Kleptomaniac on Goodreads

* * * *

Sapphire Blue (Ruby Red)
by Kerstin Gier

Gwen’s life has been a rollercoaster since she discovered she was the Ruby, the final member of the secret time-traveling Circle of Twelve. In between searching through history for the other time-travelers and asking for a bit of their blood (gross!), she’s been trying to figure out what all the mysteries and prophecies surrounding the Circle really mean. At least Gwen has plenty of help. Her best friend Lesley follows every lead diligently on the Internet. James the ghost teaches Gwen how to fit in at an eighteenth century party. And Xemerius, the gargoyle demon who has been following Gwen since he caught her kissing Gideon in a church, offers advice on everything. Oh, yes. And of course there is Gideon, the Diamond. One minute he’s very warm indeed; the next he’s freezing cold. Gwen’s not sure what’s going on there, but she’s pretty much destined to find out.

Order Sapphire Blue (Ruby Red) on Amazon

View Sapphire Blue (Ruby Red) on Goodreads

* * * *

Venom (Secrets of the Eternal Rose)
by Fiona Paul

Love, lust, murder, mayhem and high society converge in one thrilling debut

Cassandra Caravello has everything a girl could desire: elegant gowns, sparkling jewels, invitations to the best parties, and a handsome, wealthy fiancĂ©—yet she longs for something more. Ever since her parents’ death, Cassandra has felt trapped, alone in a city of water, where the dark and labyrinthine canals whisper of escape.

Order Venom (Secrets of the Eternal Rose) on Amazon

View Venom (Secrets of the Eternal Rose) on Goodreads

* * * *

The Bar Code Prophecy
by Suzanne Weyn

The third book in the Bar Code series, in which one girl struggles to escape the conformity of a dystopian world.

Just as in the original Bar Code Tattoo, the year is 2025 and the mysterious, ubiquitous, and seemingly omnipotent multi-national corporation, Global 1, is in power through their agent President Loudon Waters. But now this ominous situation is experienced through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Grace Morrow.
When Grace finds out that she's adopted, her biological father, who's the head of the Global 1 nano-bot injection project, urges her against getting the bar code tattoo when she turns seventeen. Stunned by the revelations, she goes home to find her adoptive family vanished, and she's determined to find them, turning to the anti-bar-code group Decode. As they uncover more information about tracking, Grace must hide deep underground and under cover, trying to discover information that will allow Decode to figure out what Global 1 is up to, and trying desperately to shut the organization down for good.

Order The Bar Code Prophecy on Amazon

View The Bar Code Prophecy on Goodreads

* * * *

Scrivener's Moon (Fever Crumb)
by Philip Reeve

The final adventure in Philip Reeve's brilliant Fever Crumb trilogy.

The Scriven people are brilliant, mad--and dead.

All except one, whose monstrous creation is nearly complete--a giant city on wheels. New London terrifies the rest of the world, and an army of mammoth-riders gathers to fight it. Meanwhile, young Fever Crumb begins a hunt for Ancient technology in the icy strongholds of the north. She finds a mysterious black pyramid full of secrets. It will change her world forever.

Scrivener's Moon follows Fever Crumb and A Web of Air to complete one of the most exciting and inventive fantasy adventures series ever written.

Order Scrivener's Moon (Fever Crumb) on Amazon

View Scrivener's Moon (Fever Crumb) on Goodreads

* * * *

by Eliot Schrefer

The compelling tale of a girl who must save a group of bonobos--and herself--from a violent coup.

The Congo is a dangerous place, even for people who are trying to do good.

When one girl has to follow her mother to her sancuary for bonobos, she's not thrilled to be there. It's her mother's passion, and she'd rather have nothing to do with it. But when revolution breaks out and their sanctuary is attacked, she must rescue the bonobos and hide in the jungle. Together, they will fight to keep safe, to eat, and to survive.

Eliot Schrefer asks readers what safety means, how one sacrifices to help others, and what it means to be human in this new compelling adventure.

Order Endangered on Amazon

View Endangered on Goodreads

* * * *

by Chris Howard

17-year-old Banyan is a tree builder. Using salvaged scrap metal, he creates forests for rich patrons who seek a reprieve from the desolate landscape. Although Banyan's never seen a real tree--they were destroyed more than a century ago--his missing father used to tell him stories about the Old World.

Everything changes when Banyan meets a mysterious woman with a strange tattoo--a map to the last living trees on earth, and he sets off across a wasteland from which few return. Those who make it past the pirates and poachers can't escape the locusts . . . the locusts that now feed on human flesh.

But Banyan isn't the only one looking for the trees, and he's running out of time. Unsure of whom to trust, he's forced to make an alliance with Alpha, an alluring, dangerous pirate with an agenda of her own. As they race towards a promised land that might only be a myth, Banyan makes shocking discoveries about his family, his past, and how far people will go to bring back the trees.

Order Rootless on Amazon

View Rootless on Goodreads

* * * *

No Second Chances (Border Town)
by Malin Alegria
Paperback Original

In Dos Rios, Texas, things aren't always as they seem.

Santiago might be in over his head this time. . .

Santiago's grades are slipping again, but he's determined to prove to his family that he can be successful at something, even if it's not school. When a fancy new taco chain moves in across the street from the Garza family restaurant, Santiago is inspired-- he'll open a food business of his own!

Unfortunately, running a business is not as much fun as Santiago thought it would be. Fabi and Alexis keep interfering, customers aren't easily won over, and even worse, El Payaso is back in Santiago's life-- and just waiting for him to mess up.

Order No Second Chances (Border Town) on Amazon

View No Second Chances (Border Town) on Goodreads

Thursday, October 25, 2012

17 Character Bucket List: Katie from THE HALLOWED ONES by Laura Bickle

My Amish Heroine’s Bucket List
By Laura Bickle


Katie, the heroine of THE HALLOWED ONES, is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers are free to experience non-Amish culture before officially joining the church. There are a few things that she wants to experiment with before she settles down to a quiet life as an adult Amish woman.  Among them are:


5. Driving a car. Katie walks or uses her bicycle to get pretty much everywhere she wants to go. She also uses horses and buggies to get around. Katie’s curious about what it would be like to drive a car. She sees girls her age driving them on the ribbon of two-lane road behind her family’s property. She imagines that it’s both empowering and just a little bit terrifying.


4. English fashion. Plain women wear dresses that they’ve sewn themselves and forgo makeup. Katie has seen the English (non-Amish) girls her age wearing jeans in the nearby town, and she’s wandered through the drug store to play with the tubes of lipstick. She might be tempted to try some if she’s beyond the watchful eye of her parents and the community Elders. She wonders if she might even be able to pass as an English girl…


3. Falling in head-over-heels love. Katie expects that she’ll marry the neighbor boy, Elijah, when she grows up. Elijah is something of a straight arrow, and she likes him well enough. But Katie wonders what it’s like to fall in the kind of love that’s depicted in books and movies. Does it really exist? And is Elijah really the one for her?


2. Seeing the world outside. There’s a city beyond Katie’s fence that she’s never seen. On her Rumspringa, Katie intends to travel there, to see what life is like beyond her small community. But now that there are rumors of mass disappearances and contagion in the outside world, she may discover that there’s more evil beyond her fence than she ever could have imagined.


1. Coming back home to a safe place to land after her adventures. Katie’s home has always been her haven. But evil has crept into her safe community, and she may find that everything she took for granted is disintegrating.



By Laura Bickle

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Graphia

Release Date: September 25, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0547859262


If your home was the last safe place on earth, would you let a stranger in?


Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning.

"This is a book to make you fear the shadows--a horrifying and gruesome tale of faith, and things that blink red eyes in the night. I began reading in the daylight, and read on into the late hours, leaning close, biting my lip. I could not look away; I was obsessed. Katie is an unbreakable soul."

--Lauren DeStefano, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of the Chemical Garden Trilogy

“What an eerily believable, unique story! I can’t stop thinking about it—or shivering.”

—Melissa Marr, New York Times best-selling author of the Wicked Lovely series

“Readers will find it hard to put down this suspenseful, scary, compulsively readable adventure…”

-Kirkus Reviews

THE HALLOWED ONES is available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Powell’s, and Books A Million.

A free excerpt of THE HALLOWED ONES is available here:


For more info about Laura and her books, please visit her website at She’s also on Facebook and Twitter, usually exclaiming over cute cat pictures and nerdy things. 


We also have a giveaway of the book. Just fill out the form below to enter!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

7 WOW Wednesday: Katherine Catmull on the Writer and the Storyteller

Today's WOW guest, Katherine Catmull, is a writer, stage actor, and voice actor in Austin, Texas. Her debut middle-grade fantasy, Summer and Bird, released by Dutton Juvenile (Penguin) this month, has received starred reviews in Kirkus and Booklist and been named one of Booklist’s 2012 Top 10 First Novels for Youth. She is now working on her second book, which will be released in 2014. Catch her on her blog, or on Twitter,

The Writer and the Storyteller

by Katherine Catmull

Maybe it’s obvious to you that everyone knows how to tell stories, but it was not obvious to me.

I’m not talking about writing. I love writing, I love putting words together next to each other. All my life, if left alone in a restaurant or bar, I would pull out a notebook or any scrap of paper I could find, and write.

But writing’s not the same as making stories, not the same as the What Happens of it all.

From what I can tell, some writers draft merrily away, writing thousands of words a day (sob). Maybe for these writers it’s revision that’s agony; I can only hope. (Revising is where I come alive; revising I can get lost in for hours upon hours.)

But some of us face drafting like a small child faces a doctor with a syringe. Nothing worse could happen. I will do dishes, I will exercise, I will fall asleep at my desk, even, before I will draft.

For the first 18 months of working on my first book (which just came out this month), I thought I couldn’t write story at all. I was already in my 40s, and I’d been telling myself I couldn’t make stories since I was a teenager, which is a lot of telling. (Why, given that, I decided to write a novel, is a very good question.)

So instead I’d been shaping the narrative voice, and getting to know the characters, and creating the world. In doing that, I’d made a string of scenes I liked. But I had no idea where it was all going. I was stalled.

Then by chance I took a workshop with the playwright Steven Dietz, who spoke with cheerful annoyance of his grad students who said, “I can do characters and dialogue, but I don’t know how to do plot or story. I'm bad at that."

This was exactly what I'd been saying, of course. But Dietz's position was that everyone knows what makes a good story, that that we’ve been telling stories and judging other people’s stories every day since we could talk. He led us through some brisk simple exercises to prove it.

This was a revelation. This was stunning. He was right—I judge stories every day, whether it's a friend telling me about what happened on her vacation (internally: "SKIP the part about whether that was Aunt Susan or Aunt Eleanor, I don't KNOW THEM, get to the part with the food fight!"), or a bad TV show ("good lord this is so predictable"), or a book I'm putting down, or a book I can't put down. I know instantly whether a story is good or bad.

All I needed to know, I guess, was that I already knew, if that makes any sense. That workshop pulled me from bogged down in the first third of my book to finished draft in six months.

In the process, what I came to understand was that my writer and my storyteller are quite different creatures.

My storyteller is childish, passionate, decided, stubborn, impulsive, and anxious. She is a decent story creator, but a horrible writer. When I write out initial story thoughts, it sounds exactly like a seven year old describing a movie she’s just seen: all present tense, strung together with “ands” and indeterminate pronouns. “And so then she hears her coming up the stairs, and she hears the voice saying ‘I will kill you!’ And so then she, the bad one, she says ‘no you won’t! because I have—‘ oh she has this magic cup! I forgot to say. And she takes the cup and fills it up with that stuff she had before? and she sneaks into the room— “ etc etc. Literally, that is how my plotting comes out, I am not kidding.

My writer, in contrast (in contrast! I swear!) is nuanced (I hope), sophisticated (at least in contrast), thoughtful; she likes to open up possibilities and unfold ideas and add texture. And while sometimes my storyteller will come up with some striking imagery--the way a child sometimes can—most of the writing gets done by the writer.

But that little seven-year-old storyteller is difficult, I can’t even begin to tell you. She does not want to. Although maybe it’s better to say: whoever is running things inside my head does not want to let her be in charge.

Either way, knowing that it’s a child I’m dealing with has changed the way I come to drafting. I kinder to myself, more coaxing, trying to find a mixture of firm hand and gentle encouragement—as opposed to my old method of “You will sit down right this second and you will be creative.”

At least I know I’m not alone. Philip Pullman, one of my idols, recently wrote  of his upcoming collection of retold fairy tales, “An enormous relief and pleasure . . . comes over the writer who realises that it's not necessary to invent: the substance of the tale is there already, just as the sequence of chords in a song is there ready for the jazz musician, and our task is to step from chord to chord, from event to event, with all the lightness and swing we can.”

But if we’re not retelling old tales, we have to draft. We have to make a story. Malinda Lo, who seems like a writer after my own heart, said this quite beautifully in her blog post, On Writing the First Draft: “I could compare writing a novel to sculpting a piece of art, and there are some similarities I’m sure, but there is one main difference. With sculpting, you can acquire the clay that you’re sculpting by buying it. With writing, you have to make the clay first.”

If you’re a writer like me and Malinda and Philip for whom drafting is neither the pleasantest not the easiest part of the process, have faith: you know how to tell the story. And be kind to that difficult, rebellious little storymaker inside you. She’s making the clay, she’s laying down the chords, she’s giving your writer the material your need to do your work.

Available now from Dutton Juvenile (Penguin)
One of BOOKLIST's 2012 Top Ten First Novels for Youth.

BOOKLIST (starred review): "Catmull's stunning debut unleashes a fierce imagination to build a wholly original world, rich with the familiar shimmer of folklore and drawn with the elegance of a Russian ballet. . . . As a piece of fantasy, this atmospheric adventure thrills with complex storytelling, carefully threaded with bits of foreshadowing and overflowing with poignant imagery. But lurking beneath the girls' parallel journeys and heartbreaking reconciliation is an allegorical exploration of family, where the obscure difficulties and rewards of sibling loyalty and parental devotion become painfully, startlingly clear."
KIRKUS (starred review): "A haunting fable inflected with mythological and fairy-tale motifs . . . meticulous, symbol-rich narrative with a light, storyteller's voice . . languorously beautiful."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

7 Character Brainstorming Worksheet and Notes on Characters We Love

Developing characters is hard. It's also not a separate process from plotting. Plot and character feed off of each other in a tightening spiral until they become virtually inseparable. Why? Because what the character wants (her external goal) and what she needs (her internal quest) stem from who she is, what has hurt her in the past, and what might hurt her in the near future unless she acts. Goal and motivation, both are key to plot, but they are forged in character, and that character is forged by the life he or she has lived before your story begins.

I've recently updated the character worksheet I use for brainstorming because I found myself wanting to dig even deeper into my characters than I did when I first put my worksheet together.

Character Development Notes

I was very lucky to attend a workshop on Saturday presented by literary agent Tracey Adams of Adams Literary, supported by editors Emma Dryden, Lorin Oberweger, and Brenda Windberg. The workshop overall is a week-long event called Your Best Book. I would highly recommend these to anyone serious about developing their craft. It's been an incredible experience so far, and I feel beyond lucky to be able to attend.

Saturday's topic was Developing Character, and Tracey Adams began with the origins of the word. Language and so forth aside, it came back to this:

A stamping tool, distinctive mark, token, feature, or trait.

Isn't that perfect? It's something that we often forget when we're creating character, at least I do. A character isn't just a laundry-list of features, mannerisms, habits, likes, and dislikes. Sure, in a well-defined character, a rounded character, all of these exist, and they exist in minute detail--the finer the detail the better. But a character also needs to have a hook, something that defines them, both in personality and in appearance to keep them from being generic and forgettable. J.K. Rowling is a master of that. Think of all her characters. Everyone of them has a hook, some trait that makes them completely distinct and instantly recognizable both in the way they behave and in the way they look.

The workshop also brought up the point of a character. Every character has to have a point, but that's especially critical in a main character. Why are they in the story at all if they could be exchanged for any other character? When a character is integral, the story feeds and precipitates from their character arc. We may love the plot of a book, but we don't fall in love with plot the way we do with characters.

Emma Dryden put it this way: the point of the character is what they want. And the point of the book is what the main character wants, which may be different from what he or she needs. That's what makes a character drive the action.

Characters We Love

As part of the workshop exercises, Tracey had us list the characteristics of our favorite literary characters from the present as well as from our childhood. The characters and the books they came from varied, but oddly, the characteristics were always similar. We love characters who stood up for what was right, who had one or more positive traits like courage, sass, smarts, curiosity, independence, non-conformity, hope, and the ability to grow . . .  We love characters that make things happen.

Emma Dryden asked us to consider why we were able to fall in love with our favorite characters. The answer to that was very telling. We fell in love because they were pushed into circumstances that left them with no choice but to show us how brave, or smart, or hopeful they were. We saw them in circumstances that tested them, pushed them to the wall, and would have broken a lesser character.

Positive versus Negative Characteristics

It's easy to create a character with a wound. That's important. But it's even more important to let us fall in love with that character by giving us a reason to love them, as Lorin Oberweger pointed out. No matter how fantastic their character arc is going to be, how wonderful that person will become by the end of the book, readers aren't going to read far enough to find out unless we first create a foundation for the characters novel-worthiness and use that as our starting point.

Characters, like humans, have filters that show them the world through the lens of their own experiences. As writers, we embrace the flaws, but readers need more. They don't want characters who are too perfect, but they don't want characters who are horrible all the time either. In antagonists as well as protagonists, there has to be something redeeming and understandable, something lovable.

As we're brainstorming our characters, it's important to put the characteristics into pro and con columns. For protagonists, Lorin reminded us, we need to convert as many negative straits into positive ones to give the reader something to connect to.

Happy brainstorming,


Monday, October 22, 2012

0 1st 5 Pages October Workshop Final Revisions Posted

This month's First Five Pages Workshop mentored by the lovely P.J. Hoover is almost over! The final revisions are posted below. It's been a wonderful experience for us to peek over P.J.'s shoulder as she read the initial entries. We learn so much from our mentors at every workshop, and working alongside P.J. has been an honor and a pleasure! It's also a joy to watch the manuscripts take shape.

Our next workshop will open for entries the first Saturday of November. If you have a manuscript you'd like to consider submitting, please check our Contests page.

Meanwhile, please help us give the writers from this month's workshop the best possible experience by giving them your feedback on their final revisions. Just scroll down below this post to see their entries.

Thanks so much, everyone! Happy Reading!

Martina and Lisa

ABOUT P.J. Hoover

P. J. Hoover first fell in love with Greek mythology in sixth grade thanks to the book Mythology by Edith Hamilton.

After a fifteen year bout as an electrical engineer designing computer chips for a living, P. J. decided to take her own stab at mythology and started writing books for kids and teens. When not writing, P. J. spends time with her husband and two kids and enjoys practicing kung fu, solving Rubik's cubes, and watching Star Trek.

For more information about P. J. (Tricia) Hoover, please visit her website P. J. is also a member of THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS AND SCOUNDRELS and THE ENCHANTED INKPOT.

2 1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Marshall Rev 2

Name: Laura J. Marshall
Genre: Young Adult
Title: All the Angels Stood



Struggling up from her bed to see the time, she felt comforted that it would soon be over. She had a few minutes to lie there before the mad rush to school, so she rolled on her side and pulled the heavy blankets over her head with just enough cool air circulating through a tunneled hole near her mouth.

Closing her eyes, she thought back to the day her mother left.

It was windy, almost winter. Stacey ran all the way home, clutching the small pink and white bag in her cold hand, trying not to squish the contents.

Her mother was sitting in her bedroom, a small electric candle burdened by the encroaching cloying darkness.

“Momma? I’m home.” Stacey noticed the untouched cup of coffee and toast she had brought her mother that morning before school.

Her mother’s eyes slowly focused on Stacey’s face. They squinted slightly as she asked suspiciously, “What do you want? You only talk to me when you need something.”

“I brought you…a cupcake, for your birthday.”

Stacey held out the small bag so her mother could see.

“It’s chocolate, your favorite.”

“My birthday,” her mother repeated, as if awakening from a stupor. She took the bag slowly and opened it to peer in. She gave a small smile and patted Stacey’s hand.

The alarmed screamed pulling her back to the present. She wanted to scream back and stomp her feet, her temper rising. So much for that birthday surprise. Her mother had disappeared that night, almost 8 years ago and she in turn, would disappear on her birthday. A permanent disappearance. It would only be 7 days now.

Stacey put her feet on the cold floor. Glancing in the mirror over her bureau, her eyes took in the outside exterior of her hollow self. Long hair fell over dark eyes. Didn’t anyone notice the old Stacey was slowly being replaced with this hopeless person she didn’t recognize or like at all. She made her way downstairs. The house was silent. Her father had left for work already. Mr. Coffee said good morning as she chose a banana off the counter and stuck it in her backpack.

Studiously trying to keep her mind empty, she headed into the bathroom off the kitchen to brush her hair. A small ant caught her eye in the sink basin. She watched it slip and struggle up the wet porcelain. With pause, Stacey put her finger out and squished the tiny black body. She stared at her finger, the six little legs flat and now lifeless. Better sooner rather than later, she did it a favor. She wiped her hand across her jeans and rushed out the door to make the bus.

Claire was waiting for her in the same seat they usually sat in together. She was a year younger, a sophomore, and always full of energy, so much so that her petite frame seemed unable to contain it all. Her bright blonde hair bounced with life and her tiny white teeth flashed at Stacey.

“Hey, coffeecake! How are ya’?”

Claire greeted Stacey each day with whatever breakfast food she had eaten that morning. Stacey used to find it amusing, now it made her think of Claire having breakfast at home with three rowdy older brothers and a mother who doted her. She slumped down low in her seat and picked at the dark blue nail polish on her pinky.

She wondered now at her choice of colors, a deep sparkly blue. She had been determined to feel better, about herself and about life lately but settled on the dark color.

Stacey remained silent.

“Sorry I couldn’t come over Saturday,” Claire’s eyes slid over Stacey’s wrinkled clothes and slightly mussed hair. “Everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine. You know how it is…Mondays.” Stacey forced a small smile and exhaled a very real sigh. She missed her mom and a normal life, whatever that was. Why did she have to run away and leave them all alone?

Her father tried but he was a guy. He didn’t get teenage girls or their need to talk. He wanted to fix everything and if he couldn’t fix it then Stacey knew he didn’t really want to hear about it. He had buried his pain beneath his work and now he had Ellen in his life.

The bus pulled in front of the old two story brick building. Stacey grabbed her backpack and walked with Claire as she chatted with Simon, a boy that caught up to Claire every day just outside school. He had sandy brown hair and freckles across the bridge of his nose. They made a cute couple, thought Stacey as she waved and she walked up the hall to her first class, Science with Mr. Kimble. She walked with her head down to her desk, glancing at the clock on the wall, counting the hours and the minutes until this would all be over.

She didn’t see Bobby in the hall that day. Her eyes darted between classes up and down the hallways. The old places they used to meet were occupied by other couples passing notes and holding hands. She put her mask on, the smile, the wave to people she had known for years. Busy, busy, busy. No one really cared about anyone but themselves. She knew the score. The first week of the breakup had been the worst of it. Everyone wanted to talk, talk, talk about it and offer solace. Now it was old news. Bobby had a new girlfriend and she stood, stricken still in that moment, the moment of his text. Not even enough guts to tell her to her face after over a year of professed love.

She rode home the same way she went to school, slumped down, head back, nail polish almost all chipped away.

“I wonder if it will help make the coroner’s job easier.”


She glanced back and returned to the kitchen, keeping an ear on her father’s low voice as he talked on the phone to Ellen. She filled her sports bottle half way up with wine from the refrigerator quietly replacing the cork.

As she filled the garden tub in her bathroom, she sipped slowly trying not to pucker. She looked at the walls of the tub and thought about the ant from that morning, struggling to get higher and slipping. Wasn’t it better to just cease? To stop? Darkness. Was there just darkness next? Her father believed in heaven and hell. She believed, well…she didn’t know what she believed. Lately, it was the old adage ringing in her head, “Life sucks then you die.”

Stacey lay back with the wine in hand, the water running loudly. She didn’t like to be in the tub without the water running. She liked the noise concealing her thoughts and making her feel safe, like no one would enter or intrude.

The wine made her head numb-er. Was numb-er a word? She smiled a small smile. No. But that was okay. She was numb-er and as she sipped, even numb-er.

She pulled the plug, turned the water off, and hopped out. Quickly she rinsed the bottle out several times, the last with a bit of Listerine, climbed into her pajamas, hit the alarm button and floated off to sleep.

2 1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Simone Rev 2

Author: Heather Simone
Genre: YA - Paranormal
Title: Barely There

Nothing could’ve prepared me for seeing my own name etched in a cross on the side of the road. The blood drained from my face at the sight of the treated two-by-fours nailed in the shape of a cross. My sophomore picture from last year sat on the ground next to red roses, my favorite yellow carnations, an orange and brown stuffed cat, and several teddy bears. Balloons, tied to the cross, bobbed in the breeze, the helium no longer kept them above the overgrown grass and weeds. Someone had written Phoebe in puff paint on a yellow ribbon attached to the balloons.

Tucking a wayward strand of long brown hair behind my ear, I bent and reached for one of the teddy bears leaning against the cross. My hand tingled as it permeated the stuffed toy. I gasped and tried again, this time with the balloons. My fingers coasted through the ribbons connecting the balloons to the wood. This had to be a dream. Flicking a balloon my fingers tickled their way into its middle while it kept shape.

Taking a deep breath I surveyed the area noting the guardrail had some slight damage to it. My eyes followed a bird flying overhead in a cloudless sky. It swooped over the rushing river below the bridge where tire tracks led from the guardrail into the water.

A cross with my name on it, not being able to touch anything, and the tire tracks combined caused my heart to stutter into overdrive and my breathing to quicken. I always paid attention while driving. I learned my lesson after popping a tire while changing the radio station two weeks after receiving my driver’s license. One more accident and my truck would be gone. That was the threat, and my parents always stuck to their word. Incident free for six months now.

A car sped past plunging into a puddle. Water splashed onto the cross, stuffed animals, and me. My head snapped up watching the car disappear around the bend. That’s it – I would stop someone and ask what happened. San Angelo’s not that big, someone should know.

When the next car rounded the bend I jumped into the middle of the street, waving my arms in the air. My heart hammered as the car approached with no signs of slowing. I hopped up and down, slowly edging closer to the curb. At the last possible moment I jumped out of the way and the car flew by.

The lady driving gave no signs of seeing me. As if I was invisible to her. I ran my fingers through my hair, dry. My clothes shouldn’t be dry after the douse of water they got, yet they were.

Crap! Oh, crap! Maybe she really couldn’t see me. Pacing up and down the hill beside the river I couldn’t remember anything substantial. My memories fused together leaving me bewildered as to which was the most recent. I didn’t remember an accident, or anything bad, the cross just appeared before me.

On the verge of hyperventilating I needed to calm down, then I would find my brother and ask him what was going on. He would know.

I closed my eyes and pictured the garden of waterfalls by the San Angelo Visitor’s Center, my favorite peaceful place to relax. I told myself to breath in and out, slowly, it was all a dream. When my eyes fluttered opened I stood next to one of the waterfalls.

One second I stood by the cross, and the next, miles away at the heart of San Angelo by the Concho River. A little oasis in the middle of West Texas where cotton grew, cattle roamed, and tumble weed actually tumbled across the flat highways, which stretched for miles and disappeared somewhere beyond the horizon.

Shaken to the core, my feet carried me to the banks of the river. A soft, barely noticeable breeze blew past. The water hardly rippled in response which allowed for flat smooth reflective surface. Beautiful.

I glanced into the water, no reflection. The sixteen year old girl with big chocolate eyes everyone recognized as Phoebe did not peer back at me. My shoulders slumped in defeat. How could I be dead and not remember dying?

I gulped back the fear rising inside and took a deep breath to relax.

The sensation of cool fluid eluded me when I stuck my hand in the water. Instead, deep within me a gripping cold rushed from my toes to my neck. Gasping for oxygen I tore at my throat with my free hand as my airway constricted. Stars sparkled at the edges of my vision and I fell onto my back. With my hand out of the water, the icy grip released me and my breathing returned to normal.

My eyes stung – tears threatened to burst free. I blinked them back, refusing their escape.

“Hey, are you okay?” The guy’s voice behind me could have frightened me to death if I wasn’t already dead. It was the only explanation for everything so far. Out of habit I forced the tears away so he wouldn’t see them. Not like he could see me anyways.

My heart sputtered to a stop when I turned around. A guy around my age stood watching me, waiting for me to answer.

“Um, do you need help?” He stepped closer. I stared, no clue what to say. He could see me, talk to me, so maybe I wasn’t dead after all. Hope the size of Texas swelled in my chest.

“You must be new.” His mouth drew into a sympathetic smile. He ran his fingers through his dirty blond waves before sticking his hand into the pocket of his baby blue board shorts.

I opened my mouth to find I could only spit out one word – when I really wanted to ask a bazillion questions. Such as, who are you? How can you see me? Are we dead or alive? What day is it? Do you know what happened to me? Instead the only word that came out was, “New?”

“Yeah, that is what some of us call it. New to the afterlife, or whatever this is.” He shrugged as though it wasn’t a big deal.

“Afterlife,” I grimaced, all hope dissipated. He nodded and took another step, closing the gap between us.

“I’m Finley, but you can call me Fin.” He extended his hand to shake mine. I averted my gaze to his hand and slowly extended my own. The sensation of touching his skin sent warm currents through my body. His hand was the first thing I could grasp all day and I didn’t want to let go. Even when he tried to pull free, I stared at his hand, and held on for dear life.

“This is the part where you tell me your name.” His clear blue eyes sparkled in the light.

“Uh, I’m Phoebe,” I sputtered releasing his hand. Immediately something was missing, his touch, I needed it back.

Fin glanced at the water, then back at me. “I see you have found we don’t have a reflection.”

My eyes dropped to my hand – his touch made me feel so alive. “So, what do we do now?”

He sat by the water’s edge, kicked off his sandals, and patted the ground next to him for me to sit. “Well, that’s up to you.”

1 1st 5 Pages October Workshop -- Mezher Rev 2

Name: Helene Mezher
Genre: YA High Fantasy
Title: (?)


My fate was woven from dripping wax. By way of dying candlelight, I had practiced with my wooden spear as an eight-year-old with stick-arms should. I had begun the quest to reclaim my destiny, yet no measure of self-taught defense protected me from the soot of my city, and the ashes of loyalty burying my doorstep. Upon my emergence from the surrounding woods, the fragments of my city-ship were lit in crackling-red clarity.

Incense burned on every street corner, and crops shriveled like the women who tried birthing life. Livestock died within weeks, while laments wailed for the dead and those stamped by the plague. My spear propelled me through the disease-ringed roads, its familiar scent imparting a hint of hard-won security until I discovered the throng of bodies amassed around my house.

As the sparks of lightning flared through the night, so did my familial mob, carrying herbs, tonics, and staffs ablaze. Cousins who had bathed with me when I was younger, and aunts who had embraced me within their chests, bore the solemnity that razed families to dust. My relatives came seeking the dark shield of glory, and there was no escape. I was the ember of the evil, they said, and they would quench their city.

The moment I surrendered my weapon, they rent it to halves and shoved me towards the front door with their callused strength. If I had not noticed her presence, I would have fallen and exposed my back to their desperation. She kept me on my feet, her eyes complete with the salacity of greed.

Robed in sleeves of gossamer silk and with a sash that uplifted her breasts, our Oracle, Rhea, waited at the forefront. A voluptuous woman with a self-righteous attitude, she held her staff like it was an extension of her body, carved of the finest cedar, an eagle at its pedestal, and motioned for me to allow their entrance without a word of acknowledgment. Her movement triggered their eruption.

"Why must we wait?"

"The halfling deserves no pity!"

"Let us begin the purge now!"

"My children," Oracle said, her voice like the whip of flames in an empty grate, "Stop."

At once their chants faded, as if imprisoned within the rotten brigs of our mast-less city. With her authority, Oracle held their keys, much as she held the decrees of the future, written within the hearths which only she could read. Her power was the burn I could not heal, and even I fell prey to its heat. I did not deal in forecasting destiny.

She followed me inside, and I tried to ignore the thud of her staff.

Sigils decorating skin bared for ritual, my would-be murderers trailed into the house after us. Almost thirty people blurred in my vision, and among them, a traitor whose presence--whose support of this ceremony--was poison to my veins. Father, bearing his dirty nails and slouched posture, perpetual fixtures on his small, sinewy frame--he held the four bird cages while his eyes avoided mine. Unlike my sister, who numbered one of the unfortunate sleeping in an earthly tomb, and unlike Father, Mother was strangely absent.

Someone lit the wax towers on my table until they wept orange and yellow. The candles cast shadows on the walls that crept like the pervading whispers of the mob, saturating the house with the untold monstrosity of our ritual. I closed my eyes in an attempt to distract myself, but the smells rendered my imagination futile. Despite the incense and candlelit vanilla, the stink of days-old excrement clung to those present, a blessing for the coming purgation. When I brought my hands to my face, I realized they still smelled of wood--the wood of my broken spear and a past that I could control. I held myself tight to this reminder.

In final preparation, Father deposited the cages by Oracle's feet, kneeling in servitude before scuttling in retreat. His form melded into the dark circle without offering the explanation that I deserved. It was then, though, that I understood.

I remembered the fire on his face when we washed the blood from my skin. The solidarity in his embrace that bound my bones with strong-armed courage. The smell of dough which clung to his unshorn beard, warm and sweet. And I knew that he had deceived Mother. There was no emergency council meeting. He had planned to exploit her lack of interference.

His betrayal was the most monstrous shadow.

Oracle tap, tapped her staff to cease the whispers. In the absence of action, the intruders noted my every breath, my every shake. I straightened my back, though fear was my crutch, its knobs thudding my shoulders.

"We are gathered here today to pay a bloody tribute for our city's cure. Lenaea"--she paused until everyone glared, their gazes as hot as the flames behind me--"daughter of Andrea and Petros,"--she indicated Father, who shrank from the attention--"and prisoner to the light, was destined to live a half-life. My mother's mother decreed this ruling at the conjoining of the moons, when Lenaea entered this world and all was revealed. We call on the Others now to distribute their judgment."

Oracle released one of the birds from its cage. Immediately it pounded its wings, searching for freedom. For a moment, it seemed a mighty beast, flapping feathers with an inky sheen, and a beak of some proportion. Then the truth was revealed: it would never find peace. An arrow pierced its throat before it flew five feet. Father had brought his finest bow, and knew precisely where the death mark lay. I stared into the candlelight to stave an outpouring of tears. I knew what it meant to be caged until my wings broke.

Energy pulsed in the room, a palpable heave of murmurs, menacing laughter, and torches at the ready. I could smell their excitement, their sweat palpitating like a heart-drum for the violence they craved. My fellow citizens, the women who worked in the mornings and voted by night, and the men who raised their children and baked bread with love, had clustered together, a circle of faces that no longer accepted mine among theirs. The table dug into my skin, reminding me that this was real. I could not wake from this nightmare. When Oracle closed her eyes and lifted her hands, prayers began.

"Grant my daughter strength, Healer."

"And mine courage, wisest of all."

"Mastermind of the senses, I am your slave."

I blocked their prayers from my mind--I was a captain of the vessel that sailed for enemy shores; I was a phalanx of the fifth that ran my spear through life; I was nothing when Oracle gasped and shouted, her nails diving into the bird. I fisted my hands, for I knew what was coming, and I could do nothing to prevent the unseen from unfolding. My life would douse the residues of death within the foundation of our city, and heal the sickness while I lay crucified.

As if he longed to see that vision, Father edged closer. My stomach churned when I noticed the eagerness tainting his face. With my broken nails, I clutched the table; it was solid but sure, a buttress of support.

While Oracle rummaged through the bird, reading the future in its entrails, I tasted the stench of fresh blood and incense, and the noxious perfume of their collective anticipation. Rhea made noises--distraught, disappointed, doubtful--I could not read them well. I knew little beyond the thump, thump dirge of my heart, and the murmurs of a mob thirsting for my death.

(All conversation ceased when Oracle let out an agonized cry that reverberated through the thatched house. The flames danced, their fingers reaching for the sky. Every candle caught fire, a flash of sunset smudged light that flared and steadied, as sound as the stone pillars of our theater. The features of those surrounding me were brought into clarity, alight with astonishment.

The fire had introduced another change: one in me. Power thrummed through my veins, gifting me with a strength I had never experienced. Each flex of my muscles and each twitch of my eyebrows pushed the wings of fire closer to the surface. I wondered if the others could sense it, this magic flowing through my blood, whispering to me of the flames' secrets.

Then Oracle smiled, sharp teeth and shadowed holes. I no longer doubted that she knew what had happened. A precocious child, I had never believed in her prophecies until that night. I resented her, for I did not understand these mysteries. Most children wanted to be told they were destined for something greater, something special. I did not. That was a double-edged blade waiting for when I least expected its twist.

This power was a rapier of force.

"My children," Oracle said, "we are alone in this decision. I could not read the Others' message, so I recommend no course of action."

As if in response, the flames roared.)

1 1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Di Gesu Rev 2

Name: Michael Di Gesu
Genre: Y/A Edgy Contemporary
Title: The Blinded Gardener

One moment I’m Dad’s personal punching bag, and the next, well, I’m a pawn in his maniacal master plan. That was, until Danny entered the picture and discovered my secret ...

Once again, I found myself at a new school, the third in two years. It sucked having to live by Dad’s starched and mind-numbing military code 24/7. How much more could I take? No honorable discharge was in my future. Not until I turn eighteen. That is if I live that long.

As the son of a Marine Corp Captain, I had little choice in the decision making of my life. Dad used his usual tactics to persuade me to leave my mom and San Diego to move across the country with him. Needless to say, life in Beaufort, North Carolina wasn’t anything like I had expected.

The warning bell rang for first period. The halls cleared with the slamming of doors. As I wandered about searching for my classroom, I heard someone approach me from behind. Long bangs fell over his eyes as he loped past me with a kind of natural ease.

Didn’t he see me standing here, screwing around with this frickin’ map?

“Hey, dude. Could you tell me how to get to room 305?”

A slight curl formed on his lips as he faced me. He tossed his head. Platinum fringe shifted to the side and revealed freakish blue eyes that glanced toward me, unfocused.

Holy shit! Is he blind? Or is he stoned?

“I’m heading that way.” His deep voice held a trace of a southern accent.

I envied his height: well over six feet and me just an average dude.

“You better move. Connors has little patience when you’re late.”

I rushed to catch up to him. His hand overshot the dented metal banister. On the second swipe, he made contact and climbed the stairs.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

He never looked back, not even when he spoke.


His shoulder bumped the wall turning the corner. “Damn!” Rubbing it, he coasted down the hall and stopped midway. “Here you are.” A glint of blue shot at me from under his bangs. “By the way, I’m Danny,” he said, low. He did an about face and was gone.

I shook my head and wondered, what’s his deal?

As I entered the classroom, Mr. Connors paused in mid sentence. “You’re late, Mr—?.

Was he serious? No one calls me mister. “Eh, Forester.”

“Well, Mr. Forester, welcome. Now if you would please take your seat.” In the next breath he continued with the lesson.

Eyes darted from all directions as I made my way toward the back of the classroom. I dropped into the only vacant seat and fumbled through my backpack, searching for my social studies book.

The girl next to me checked out my every move.

Not bad. Redheads really know how to getta dude off.

She caught my eye. After flexing, my pecs and abs strained under the muscle tee that clung to me.

Thick black lashes fluttered as her hazel eyes widened, and the blush in her cheeks matched the freckles on her nose.

Mr. Connors cleared his throat, bore his eagle eyes right into me, and droned on about the domestic issues and conflicts of the Federalist period. I picked up my notebook and tried to comprehend his jabber. If I failed another class, I’d end up in the hospital again. All those prying questions; I couldn’t cover for Dad much longer. Not if he kept drinking. After a few unsuccessful attempts to follow I spaced. My eyes wandered, sizing up the kids in class.


I didn’t need to search long to see the usual cliques. Two jocks, clueless in the first row, looked more confused and bored than me. Next to them, a couple of cheerleaders licked their bubblegum pink lip gloss, trying to capture Team Beaufort’s attention.

Glancing to my left, a pig-tailed chick in specs scribbled non-stop, keeping up with the three nerds in crisp, white button down shirts surrounding her. Behind them a group of tough, tattooed, and pierced guys, wearing leather vests and torn jeans shifted in desks far to small for their bulk.

About half the students were black or hispanic. A lot more than in my last school. Not one Asian kid. That surprised me.

Connors’ jagged pacing captured my attention. I listened to a few words before peering out the window. The bright blue sky reminded me of Danny’s unfocused eyes.


After another half-an-hour of mindless drivel, the bell rang. The smoldering redhead asked about my next class. I shuffled through my notebook and found the schedule.

“English with Hartnett in room 223.” I snapped the notebook shut, and stuffed it into my backpack.

“Oh, I’m in that class, too.” She stood and ran her hand through her hair, pushing it behind her ear.

She stepped toward the door and locked her eyes on mine. “Well, are you coming?”

Not yet. You love bad boys, don’t you Red? I’ll give you what you want. You’re not the first.

“Yeah, I’ll be there in a minute.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Later then.”

Before she turned away, I flexed the guns, picked up my backpack, and adjusted my crotch. catching her off guard. Ha, it works every time.

Under furrowed brows, she remained motionless. I took my sweet time before drifting over to her.

“What’s your name, tough guy?”

Now it was my turn to be taken down. I had to laugh at the attitude. It suited her. “Aidan.”

“I’m Tanya.”

As we made our way down the hall, I caught a glimpse of Danny and jerked my chin toward him.

“Do you know that dude?”

“Yes. Why?”

“What’s his story, anyway?”

Tanya paled and her eyes dulled. As she spoke, her voice quivered. “I really can’t talk about it. Let’s say he had it all and now —”


“Let’s go. We’ll be late.” She proceeded toward the staircase like a mouse trapped in a maze.

What the hell’s up with the people at this school?

At the sound of the bell, I peeled in the same direction as Tanya. She almost disappeared in the crush of bodies with only her fiery mane visible.

Shoving my way through the mass, snide remarks and “What the fuck” expressions shot back at me. I ignored them and focused only on Tanya’s hair. A few minutes later, I found room 223 and burst through the door with a loud bang. Necks snapped in my direction. Mr. Hartnett dropped the book from his hands and it crashed to the floor.

Spotting Tanya, I worked my way toward the back and sat in the seat she had saved for me.

“Sorry about before,” she whispered.

I rolled my eyes and glanced at the black and white cover of a book propped on top of the desk.

Flipping through it, I scoffed.

Hmmm. The Crucible, by Arthur Miller. What a joke. Like I’m gonna read this shit.

I slammed the book shut. Four or five people around me flinched.

“Is there some sort of problem?” Mr. Harnett asked with a shaky voice.

Man this guy is ancient. He’s way past retirement.


“Then please open your book and read the first chapter like your classmates.” He shuffled some papers on his desk and picked up what looked like a roster. “What’s your name young man?”

At first I ignored him. School was such a waste of time. I’m no scholar, films are all I care about. Not this crap.

Someone nudged me. I shifted toward Tanya. She grimaced. “Aren’t you going to answer him?”

“Fine,” I muttered and faced Harnett. “Aidan Forester,” I called out.

Tanya stroked my arm and I got an instant rise.

Fire and ice ... I like this chick. I can’t wait to hook up with her.