Wednesday, February 29, 2012

19 WOW Wednesday Nikki Loftin on How a Nap Changed My Chapter

Today's WOW guest, Nikki Loftin, lives and writes just outside Austin, Texas, surrounded by dogs, chickens, and small, loud boys. Her middle-grade novel, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, will debut on August 21, 2012. You can visit her online at www.nikkiloftin.com, on Twitter as @nikkiloftin, or on Facebook at Splendid Academy.

But I Didn’t Write a Bedtime Story

or,

How a Nap Changed My Chapter

I knew most of the kids in Mrs. Mahaney’s third grade class. I’d coached some of them for UIL contests, recommended books in the library, seen them at birthday parties or the park. They were excited about having a Real, Live Author come into their classroom to read from her soon-to-be published middle-grade novel.

I was excited, too, and only a little nervous. I mean, the book had been through everything but copyedits, and my editor seemed pleased. These bouncy, happy kids had to love it, right?

Wrong.

They fell asleep.

To be honest, only two of the kids closed their eyes for longer than a slow blink. But my opening chapter, those vital first few pages that I’d written and re-written, showed itself to be the literary equivalent of a big turkey dinner, a glass of warm milk, and a dose of Benadryl.

Students shuffled and shifted, trying for a position that made my boring prose more palatable. Mrs. Mahaney politely stifled a yawn behind her hand.

I wanted to disappear. I wanted to cry. I wanted to tell them, “It gets better! Just let me read until I get to the murder-y part!”

I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I went home, ate enough chocolate to dull my humiliation, re-read those pages for the millionth time, and emailed my editor to schedule an emergency phone call.

She must have thought I was crazy. Final edits were due in two days! We were way past the “I want to change the whole beginning of my book” stage. But when I explained that I thought I’d made a mistake somewhere along the editing way, and I felt compelled to explore just one more revision, my trusting and supportive editor said “do it.”

So I did. I spent that afternoon rewriting the opening chapter, sent it off the next day, and those words will be the first ones the next set of middle-grade readers see when it hits the bookshelves in August.
Now, if you’re a writer who’s been to a few conferences or poked around the Internet for a while, you know that using kids to “critique” your work is considered, well, almost unprofessional. Cautionary tales abound of writers who send queries off to agents and editors, prefaced with “My Sunday school class loved this story,” or “All my grandchildren think this novel is the absolute bomb.” One agent said it bluntly at a conference I attended: “It doesn’t matter what kids think of your work; what matters is what the editor thinks.”

I had heeded that advice, resisting the temptation to read works-in-progress to the classes I subbed for and volunteered in. (Although, I must admit that my two middle-grade sons were and are my first listeners. Reading aloud helps me find typos, word repetition, and continuity flaws faster than anything else.)

Still, I’d had that toothache-y feeling for weeks, ever since the last revision pass. I couldn’t ignore it. I’d been a mom of extremely mischievous boys long enough to know when to trust my instincts, and my subconscious was sounding the alarm. But I couldn’t see the root of the problem.

And neither could anyone else, or so they said.

I’d sent those pages to at least a half dozen writer friends, my mom, my agent, and my editor. I just knew that someone would tell me what was awry. “What about the first page,” I asked. “Is the first chapter good enough?”

No one called me out on the soporific nature of my latest revision. I don’t blame any of those dear readers, of course – it wasn’t awful, or poorly written. It was just… boring.

It’s possible they thought it was good enough – or the best that I could do. But I had a hunch something was wrong, and if I could just figure out what it was, I could fix it.

So I went against all the advice I’d heard. If the experts didn’t see the problem, maybe it was time to take it to the audience. I called Mrs. Mahaney and asked her for a half hour with her twenty-two narcoleptics.

When those kids snored, my own inner child/editor woke up screaming. “Now do you get it? Now do you see?”

Did I ever. It hurt, but those somnolent students made it very clear that I still had work to do, even if no one else thought so. Performing an emergency heart transplant on that first chapter was the best decision I made in the whole revision process.

Of course, if I hadn’t gone against the advice of that anonymous agent – and conventional wisdom – and read those pages out loud to those kids… well, I’m not sure I would be quite as excited about my impending book launch.

And I’m certain I’d be a lot more nervous.

My advice to other writers? Contrary to what you may hear, it does matter what kids think of your work. It matters a lot. I’m not advocating using third-graders as your only critique group (and you should NEVER mention the darlings in your query letters!), but if you find yourself in the situation I was in, ignore the experts.

Pay attention to your inner child – your inner editor-child, that is – and read your work out loud to your future readers.

Watch their faces. Pay attention to their expressions. And listen for snoring.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

0 February First Five Pages Workshop Final Revisions Are Up

The final revs are in. Please comment, cheer, and make any final suggestions. Need to know more about what to do? Or have a manuscript you need a jump start on? Check here. And remember that our next workshop starts at noon on Saturday!

Happy reading and revising,

Martina and Lisa

3 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Braden Rev 3

Name: Ann Braden
Title: Sciencetastic SuperGirls
Genre: MG Light Sci-Fi

I’m pretty sure nobody’s ever gotten good news from a man with twitching eyebrows. So when our English teacher disappears for an emergency appendectomy and the new sub Mr. Trolp appears at the lectern with eyebrows all a-wiggle, I’m not expecting him to start handing out cookies.

Of course, I’d likely get the first cookie if he did – because he’s staring right at me.

“You never know who’s going to be out to get you in life.”

Right. No cookies coming from this guy.

“You’ve got to stay on your toes. Always looking behind you.”

Actually, it’s not just his eyebrows – his whole body is twitching like a rabid spider. I didn’t think it’d be possible to find a sub loonier than the lady who only walked on her tiptoes, and she spent half the class talking about leprechauns. I get it, Mr. Trolp. I’ll be on my toes. Now, look at someone else, so they can benefit from this juicy morsel of very-important-advice-instead-of-actually-having-English-class.

He glances at the door. Then at me. Back to the door. When his eyes dart back to me again, his mouth twists like he has to chew each word before it comes out. “It could happen anytime – next Tuesday, for example – when you think everything is going fine.”

Jeff Harkiss tips back in his chair, his hat perched on top of his head so he can claim he’s not actually wearing it. “Just start the DVD, dude.”

There’s always a first time to agree with Jeff Harkiss.

Without pausing in his door-Julia-door-Julia eye workout, Mr. Trolp fumbles for the DVD case on the front table. Somehow he manages to locate it and looks down long enough to pop the case open. But then his eyes are boring into me again with the DVD around his finger like a hostage. “It’s like dark energy.”

Right. Even Jeff Harkiss puts all four legs of his chair on the floor for this one.

“You think you know what the universe is like, and then BAM!” Mr. Trolp smacks the lectern. “You find out most of it is made up of this invisible stuff that we didn’t even know existed. And while that stuff has been forcing the universe to expand faster and faster, you’ve just been sitting around, twiddling your thumbs.” He seems to have lost interest in the door and leans toward me, his mouth morphing into a weird kind of smile. ”You know, every minute you spend chatting away with your little friends, the universe has stretched an additional 66,392,269 miles.” He sticks his jaw out, and the smile is gone. “Give or take.”

Ben Michelson looks up from his drawing. “Isn’t that kind of like the Big Bang?”

Mr. Trolp’s at last turns away from me to fix a stare on Ben. “More like the Big Rip.”

I sigh and can’t help but mutter under my breath, “Except that the universe has somehow managed to go for 13.75 billion years without ripping apart.” The man’s making it up like a wackadoodle.

“Except!” Mr. Trolp smacks the lectern again.

For crying out loud.

“Except dark energy didn’t exist for the first 4 billion years.” The weird smile is back. “But since then it’s been popping into existence pretty damn fast. You don’t end up as seventy-three percent of the universe without a fight, now do you, Miss Peterson?”

There’s a whole load of things I want to say back to that, like “How do you know my name?” for starters, and “Why on Mars do you keep looking at me?” while I’m at it. But since more than anything I want him to get on with class, I keep my eyes glued to my desk where long ago someone tried to carve out IDK but gave up halfway through the K. Thankfully, on the far side of the room, I hear some boys fall out of their chairs – like they always do when there’s a sub – and the attention switches to them.

Seventy-three percent. There’s no way that could be true, right? That’s like thinking you know what the earth’s like and then finding out there’s this little thing called oceans. And how would I have not heard of this stuff? Sixty-seven meetings of the Sciencetastic SuperGirls, two freakin’ physicists for parents, and it hasn’t come up once? No way.

I dig my pencil into the groove of the D in the desk. Whatever. Everyone knows energy doesn’t just pop into existence. Of course, I’m not about to be the one to explain to this guy how E=MC2 applies to the conservation of energy – not with him staring me down at every opportunity.

Still, those are some wicked specific statistics for someone who has no idea what he’s talking about.

I look at the clock. One hour and thirty-seven minutes until the next Sciencetastic SuperGirls meeting. I sure know what I’m going to propose for today’s agenda.

When the lights go off, I look back up front and am relieved to see someone has rescued the DVD from its hostage situation and inserted it into the safety of the DVD player. But Mr. Trolp is still on the loose, and damned if he isn’t circling around the back of the room toward my desk. Pretend you don’t see him. Focus on the movie. My, what fascinating opening credits these are. Truly awe-inspiring. But even though I am obviously engrossed by the beginning of this B-grade version of The Time Traveler, he still stops right next to me.

And soon that nervy, rabid spider leans closer, smacking his lips like I’m the fly he’s packaged up for a later meal, and proceeds to growl into my ear: “Not without a fight, Miss Peterson, Not without a fight.”

Like a complete and utter wackadoodle.

I hear him swallow before he adds in a hoarse whisper, “And that’s all I’m going to say about it.”

Of course, it is.

He stands up abruptly, circles back around as though his mission is complete, and settles down at Mrs. Hamshaw’s computer. Because after thoroughly freaking people out, it’s always good to check your e-mail.

* * *

Maddy puts on as solemn a face as you can have when you’ve got a pink pen stuck behind your ear. “As president of the Sciencetastic SuperGirls, I hereby call the Sciencetastic SuperGirls to order. Now for the oath.”

The four of us, sitting around our corner table in the deserted cafeteria, repeat together: “I will pursue the truth that is science, and I will not be distracted by the boys in that other, way lame science club.” We all put the appropriate emphasis on “way.”

“OK, SuperGirls.” Maddy says, “Let’s get to business. Caroline, what’s on our agenda?” Since Caroline has just popped the rest of a mini doughnut into her mouth, she slides a piece of paper over to Maddy. I bite my tongue to keep from interrupting protocol as Maddy looks it over, tapping the pink pen against her temple.

“Tessa, how’s ‘Assignment: Acquire Dry Ice’ coming along?” Maddy’s pen migrates to her mouth.

Across the table, Tessa is tugging at the strings of her black softball sweatshirt, pulling the hood tighter and tighter around her face. “It’s a no go. Too expensive if you include shipping. We only have $13.75 in our budget.”

Maddy mutters “snazzifrass Swedish fish” under her breath and draws a pink box around ‘Acquire Dry Ice.’

“Anyway,” Tessa continues with just her eyes, nose, and mouth visible, “I still don’t see why we don’t first do my question about how to make a fireball with common household cleaners. If we’re going to go dangerous, we might as well go big.”

“And it’s free,” Maddy says, nodding. “That okay with you, Caroline? The dry ice was originally your question.”

Caroline nods as she daintily wipes powdered sugar from her fingers with the corner of her napkin.

Maddy looks at me. “Sound good to you, Julia?”

The opening I’ve been waiting for. I look at each of them. “Something’s come up. Something we need to look into.”

“Whatever it is, we can do it after the fireball,” Tessa says, but her voice is muffled since her mouth has disappeared into the sweatshirt. “Everything’s more fun when your eyebrows have been singed off.”

2 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Blair Rev 3

Title: Voice
Author: Chelsey Blair
Genre: YA Magical Realism

If you could speak to your stepsister, what would you say?

I scanned reply to my post on the Selective Mutism support message board for a third time. Across from me, Jessica flipped a page in her Cosmo magazine. I tried to imagine the words I’d use if I could, but nothing seemed adequate. My fingers hovered over the keyboard, waiting for my brain to come up with a response to Ursula89’s question.

The train conductor came up the aisle before I’d figured one out. He stopped at the table Jessica and I had taken over on the way out of Hartford. “Nearly there, girls. Time to start packing up.”

Jessica nodded without glancing up from her magazine, so I got his intrigued smile. “You know, I saw you two’ve got a lot of luggage for a day’s shopping. Whatcha heading into the city for?”

We’re spending the summer, I thought. Of course, the words didn’t come. I tried to part my lips. Blowing air through them would be step one, the way my therapist had tried to teach me a hundred times. My mouth stayed shut, like I’d applied a layer of Gorilla Glue instead of lipgloss. The conductor’s bushy gray eyebrows furrowed. He only wanted an answer. He probably asked this question of every girl on the train, making small talk to report back to his wife that night.

Had the rudest girl on the ten o’clock from Hartford. Wouldn’t answer a simple question.

My lungs protested against my efforts to make them produce more air, and my palms slipped off the laptop covered in sweat. Panic must have shone bright in my eyes, because the conductor’s expression became concerned. He turned to Jessica, who didn’t lower her magazine.

Please, Jess, I thought. Please help me. I’m sorry about this year. I’m sorry I ruined everything. I’m—

“We’re in a college prep program at Manhattan University. Studying art.” Jessica smiled at the conductor, and his worry-wrinkles disappeared.

“Fancy stuff! Good place for it, too.”

I let out a long breath, and knew he must have heard it whoosh out of my lips. He continued chatting with Jessica while the train slowed, but didn’t glance at me again. Probably didn’t want to delve into the mystery of the silent girl. Not many people did.

I returned my gaze to my laptop screen. The question still sat there, an eleven-month late response to my post about how much I missed being able to speak to my stepsister. For seven out of the ten years I’d suffered from Selective Mutism—an anxiety disorder that kept me from speaking to most humans—I’d been able to talk to her. Until a year ago. Until everything had changed between us.

I let her conversation with the conductor wash over me while I typed, remembering the days we’d had animated conversations like that, in a world where no one else mattered.

I’m sorry, I typed. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

I hit send, intending to move on to a post I’d bookmarked about tips for getting by silently in the big city, but my computer didn’t respond to the cursor. My response to Ursula89 stayed on the screen, then slowly pixelated until the bright boxes of color at them up.

Conniving computers, I thought, pushing the power button. The screen went black, but the power light turned orange instead of turning off. I jabbed the button, over and over. Dad had bought this laptop only a year ago. I knew he’d shelled out a lot for it, and the text-to-speech software I didn’t use. I didn’t want to have to bug him about a repair. I kept pressing. Nothing changed, until the train jolted forward and the whoosh of the brakes echoed through the car. The laptop slid away from me, hitting Jessica on the arm.

“Watch it!” she snapped. I yanked it back toward me and jabbed the button again. Around me, people gathered their things and disappeared out the open door, Jessica among them.

I finally shut the lid and slipped the unresponsive computer into my messenger bag. Through the window, I watched her leap down to the platform and lean against a pillar, waiting, but not happy about it. If I didn’t hurry, I’d have to find my way to the Manhattan University dorms on my own.

My duffel bag sat in the luggage rack of the New York train, taunting me from two feet out of my reach. Of course, I couldn’t ask for help getting it down. Other passengers’ eyes met mine for a split second each. If my voice box would cooperate for half a second, I could force the words excuse me out of my mouth and get one of them to grab it. No chance of that. I hadn’t spoken to a non-family member in eight years, and for the past eleven months my father had been my sole confidant.

“Can I give you a hand?” the conductor asked, appearing next to me like an Amtrak-employed genie. I let him help me lower things into the aisle. The duffel bag that held my art supplies clattered on the way down. “There ya go. Anything else I can do for you?”

His expectant gaze made my stomach clench. Hadn’t he figured it out earlier? Now Jessica wasn’t around to take up the slack, I would have to watch his gaze turn puzzled, then disappointed, then resigned. Again.

“Thank you,” a voice said.

I scanned the aisle. Everyone else had left the train. The conductor didn’t join in my search for a mysterious interloper. He nodded, and pushed past me to the door with a quiet, “Have a good summer.”

So, unless somebody had said the words seconds before dematerializing, the person who’d spoken had been me.

I’d spoken.

To a stranger.

I inhaled, waiting for my breath to catch. Waiting for the panic attack that would invariably follow. My anxiety seemed to have been somehow delayed. If I hurried, maybe I could make it off the train before it caught up.

I slung my bag over my shoulder, but couldn’t go any further.

I had thanked him.

If an impatient voice hadn’t broken into my thoughts, I might have stayed there, a breathing version of Rodin’s “The Thinker”, forever attempting to figure out what this meant. “If you’re chickening out, you still have to get off the train.” Jessica stood with one foot on the step leading to the platform, clearly not wanting to waste anymore time.

I met her gaze, hoping she’d read what had happened on my face. She only scowled. She’d stopped trying to understand me.

We banged our bags through Penn Station. Jessica’s long legs propelled her way ahead of me. I struggled to keep up, my mind still reeling.

I had spoken to the conductor.

Without severe psychological trauma.

“Kyra, move your ass!” Jessica shouted. I’d frozen again, in the center of the corridor. I hurried to take my place in the cab line. It moved faster than I thought such a large group of people could. Fine, I based my expectations on the sluggish pace of the Grott’s Crossing cafeteria line, but I couldn’t believe how little time passed before we’d taken our seats in the back of a cab with a driver asking, “Where to?”

2 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Mezher Rev 3

YA Science Fiction
Revision #3
Helene Mezher

Navigating the morning swarm is not the worst part of my day.

Shoulder to shoulder, my brother and I slog through masses of Middlers and Standards, their faces set in grim lines. They rush toward the trains, scrambling for space next to the already filled seats, shoving and pushing when necessary. We try to squeeze between bodies, but it is like walking through sludge. The rank odor of sweat clings to the air, stealing my breath before it comes. Tor falls behind and I grab him by his backpack, hauling him to my side. He looks at me ruefully before accepting my outstretched hand. Twisting through the crowd, we never break our bond.

We pass through blocks of towering buildings until we reach the looming gray of Tor’s school. The second he spots his friends sitting on the school steps, he drops my hand. Biting back a sigh, I drag Tor into an unoccupied alley and crouch to his level. In the dim light, he grows smaller, frailer, his eyes less steely. His ill-fitting Ozone may protect him from harmful radiation, but it does nothing to hide the jut of his collarbone. Our government provides Ozones in the interest of preventive medicine, not realizing how weak the far-off threat of cancer is compared to finding enough food and water to sustain my family for the week.

Eighteen years old, I am just another mouth to feed in a world where a thousand other people are competing for the same job. It is impossible to imagine what my life will look like five years from now, in this world of restrained chaos. I can fend for myself, but my brother's youth makes him vulnerable.

He watches me as I fiddle with the edges of his sleeves, a habit I can't seem to control. I wish I could tell him how much these moments with him mean, how they carry me through my errands. The whistling of distant trains fades to the background in the bubble of silence and stillness and peace created by the two of us. He clears his throat, yet his voice squeaks when he says, "Take me with you, Zanny. Please."

Yearning plasters his face. But he already knows my answer. Too young, too inexperienced, too small. After my lengthy sigh, his shoulders droop. He starts to turn, but I can't leave it like this, so I wrap him in my arms and hold tight. My little anchor. Without him, I am lost; because of him, I am lost. My family’s needs will always trump my own, but as I finger the edges of his spine, the wanting lessens. I believe in my actions, believe that some things are worth the cost.

Tor remains downcast until I tickle laughter out of him. He grins as if reminding me to relax, as if foretelling my success. The warning bell blares, but before I can muss his floppy hair as goodbye, he joins his friends. Something lodges in my throat as other kids charge the school, swallowing my brother in a black blur of Standard Ozones. They look like toys on a conveyor belt, churned out of a scholastic factory, some assembly required. Solar panels on the drab factory concrete reflect the dark shuffle of bodies. Our blurred figures distort in the glassy surface as the children march into the building and I head toward my errand. To the food depot of choice. Storming clouds shadow the roads, but I refuse to lose sight of my path.

Once I enter the market, everybody stares at me. I give a friendly wave to the store owner and smile. His frown deepens into a grimace, but after a few minutes, he turns to the Middler at the counter and they resume their conversation. His action thaws everyone else; they pay no further attention to the scruffy girl strolling through the aisles. In their minds, Standards like me cannot afford the price of fresh food. They think that I am wasting my time, that I have come to drool over what I cannot have, but they are wrong and I will be long gone before they realize it. Silently thanking my mother, I rub the hidden pockets she sewed into my Ozone.

At the produce section, I look around. I weigh the apples in my hands and when no one is watching, stash them in my pockets. I move to the vegetables and on my tip toes, search for the ripest fava beans. While searching, I knock over the assembly and apologize to no one in particular. The shoppers lift their noses and turn their backs while I promise to return the beans to the stand. When I straighten, only half have made it back to the display.

The store owner’s gaze snaps onto mine. Somehow he knows. My hands drop to my sides, stinging, useless. A tremor threatens, but I hold myself steady under his judgment.

“You…” His voice echoes in the sudden silence of the store. Everyone fixes their eyes on me, the person who does not belong. The person who steals another’s livelihood for her own. I used to be one of you, but the words lodge in my throat, a broken bridge of time dividing our classes. “Come here. Let me see what’s in your hands.”

I do not obey. Before he can alert the security, I bolt from the market, shouts and mingled oaths trailing after me.

Darting down the stairs and through the masses awakens another part of me. The part not reserved for my family. The feeling of my hair flying through the back zippers of the Ozone lights my nerves on fire. Hot blood pumps through my veins, pulsing with adrenaline, and I am alive, so alive. Nobody can stop me.

After seven flights of stairs, I pause to take a deep breath and lift my gaze. My pursuers glare down at me, unable to squeeze through the cracks between the throng of bodies separating us. Floor after floor of food rises above me and I am glad that the nearby ration depots are conglomerated in one towering building. If they had separate spaces on the street, the owners might grow to recognize me, even through the plastic facemask of my Ozone. And no thief would survive pursuit from a body hunter.

Out in the open, too many eyes find me, the Standard who does not fit with the granite columns and carpeted floors. Wild hair, slouched shoulders, the hems of my Ozone caked with mud--it's almost too easy to notice me. Sucking in a breath, I stalk toward the exit and disregard grunts as I shove through the spectators. The cache of food rubs against my belly, chanting not enough, not nearly enough, and I have no answer. Among the stores bursting with pastries and designer meal Pills, there is nothing for me. Nothing I can afford anyways.

Leaving the food depot, I make a sharp left and blend into the crowd with my head down for cover. Inevitably someone bumps into me and I stumble, almost falling into the street and tripping over the train tracks.

Overcrowding: the price of modern medicine and scientific advancement. Before the world swelled past capacity, everything--meals, clothes, homes--had cost less. Now the rich rule and my family pays the price in sweat.

We will never have enough and this cycle will consume my life before I get the chance to live it. The stolen food weighs my pockets down, the burden of a hope too silly to be consequential. If only…

The moment I spot them at the Forum, my mind blanks, concern overriding the usual worries.

2 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Wilson Rev 3

Author: Rhen Wilson
Genre: YA/New Adult Paranormal

Lyndon Harker's living room was covered in mounds of paper. Shredded paper to be exact. Lyndon counted dozens of tiny mounds of ripped up, cut up, and obliterated stationery scattered about the apartment. Mostly old newspapers and out-of-date magazines. His home looked like a mole field.

"Isaac," he sighed, shutting the front door. He glanced into the open kitchen and saw the oven clock: 3:02. His interview was in twenty-eight minutes. He didn't have time for this. His unexpected lunch shift had cost him enough time.

He could hear his brother grunting back in his own room. Lyndon dropped his server's apron next to the front door, crossed to Isaac's room, and knocked.

"Hey, Eyes," he said, using his brother's nickname. "You in there?"

The grunting continued but there was no response. Lyndon considered this permission to enter.

Lyndon Harker's twin brother sat on the floor with a pair of scissors in one hand and a half-annihilated book in the other. Isaac was going to town ripping the text to pieces. A sliver of his tongue poked through his lips as he sliced into at least twenty pages at a time. Isaac grunted as he destroyed more and more pages — it was a rather thick book. Thicker, Lyndon noticed, than the destroyed newspapers and magazines in the living room. . . .

"Wait! No!"

Lyndon realized what Isaac was chopping into and scrambled for it. Isaac jumped back, flinging the scissors behind him. Lyndon grabbed the remaining half of the text book from his brother, but it was too late. Mass Media in the 21st Century: 3rd Edition had been cut down the middle. It now read, "Mass Me in 3rd Ed."

"That's great, Isaac," Lyndon seethed. "This book cost $150."

"You're not in school," Isaac reminded him. Indifferent, he pushed Lyndon aside and grabbed the scissors. He held his hand out expectantly for the rest of the book. "Give it to me.”

"No, give me those," Lyndon said. He took the scissors from his brother and stood up, holding onto a now $75 journalism textbook. Fuming, Isaac dropped his head toward the ground. "What's the matter, Eyes?"

Isaac didn't respond. He picked at a loose thread in his left sock.

Lyndon checked the clock on Isaac's bedside table. It was almost ten after. Only twenty minutes left. He needed to change and go, but he couldn't leave Isaac in a state like this.

"Eyes, wait right here," Lyndon said. He hurried to his bedroom and grabbed the suit he had laid out before his morning shift at the restaurant and hurried back into his brother's room. He began changing at once, stripping off his uniform that reeked of steak-and-potatoes.

With his shirt and pants off, he grabbed his undershirt and button-up and returned to the topic of Isaac’s distress. "So what's wrong? Why are you cutting up half a library?"

"It didn't come," Isaac grumbled. He yanked out the loose sock thread and tucked it in his pocket.

"What didn't come?" Lyndon was buttoning the last few buttons, and then grabbed his pants.

"The chain for the drawbridge."

"What?" Lyndon was currently distracted. He had put his left leg into the right pant leg by mistake, and momentarily panicked when he thought half his pants were gone, fearing Isaac might’ve started his tirade on polyester. He quickly corrected his mistake.

"The chain, Lyndon. The chain!" Isaac groaned. He scrambled over to his castle. It was an enormous model built from plastic building blocks and sat in the corner of his bedroom. The structure was impressive and at least four feet tall. The turrets and towers were built with amazing uniformity and skill. But the drawbridge was the only piece left unfinished. At the moment, it lay flat, as if the king and queen had lowered it for guests, but as the drawbridge was without a chain to control its openings or closings, Lyndon knew the castle could be invaded at any moment. At least, that was what Isaac kept reminding him of.

"Right, I'm sorry," Lyndon said, tightening his tie. He needed a mirror to make sure it was on properly. "You speak with the mail woman?"

"She wouldn't talk to me," Isaac said.

Lyndon had heard this before. Isaac rarely spoke to strangers, especially women. Though born only moments apart, Isaac’s condition had stunted a normal and mature development. Lyndon would have to remember to catch the mail woman the next time he was off a lunch shift. Whenever that may be.

"Listen, Eyes," he said, grabbing his jacket and throwing it on. "I've got that interview at the paper in about fifteen minutes, remember?"

Isaac nodded, but he was still staring at his vulnerable castle.

"You think you'll be all right while I'm gone? I can take you with me if you want, but you'll have to wait in the lobby."

Isaac shook his head. No surprise there, Lyndon thought.

"Okay. I'll only be gone for an hour or so."

"Go!" Isaac moaned, shoving his face in his hands.

Lyndon sighed, but there wasn't anything else he could do for his brother. He checked the mirror in the bathroom between their rooms — the tie was a little short, but no time — and he barreled out the front door.

Luckily, he had found a parking spot in front of his building and was at his car door in a second. He unlocked the door and had one leg inside when he heard his name.

"Lyndon Harker!"

It was a female voice. He looked around and saw a young woman he had never seen in his life, and, by the way she dressed, he was sure he would've remembered her. She had bright frizzy red hair and wore a large purple shawl wrapped around her thin frame. He couldn't understand why a person would smother themselves in wool in the middle of the summer, especially in the humid climate of Arkansas.

But he had more harried concerns than her wardrobe choices. How was he supposed to tell her he was running late and couldn't bother to talk? Over the years, he was used to strangers greeting him in public. His parents had been well-known in the community while they lived, and during his teens, he frequently met their fans. However, the random meetings had waned in the last few years.

"You're Lyndon Harker, right?" she said, hurrying to him. Her red hair bounced behind her, and she pulled her shawl tightly around her shoulders. She had a face full of tiny freckles that lightened as she exclaimed, "You are him!"

"Yes, I am, but — "

"I've been trying to speak with you for weeks," she gasped. She was too young to be a fan of his parents. Most of them were in their fifties or older. His parents had died so long ago.

"Thanks. I — "

She cut him off again. "My name's Koral Waters."

Despite his hurry to leave, her odd name tripped him up. "I'm sorry. Koral Waters?"

"Yeah, yeah. I've heard it all," she dismissed. "And it's Koral with a K, okay?"

"Okay," Lyndon said. "I'm sorry, but I'm actually running late."

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she said, her cheeks flushing. "I didn't know. I should've known that, too. Shoot."

"No, no, it's not your fault," Lyndon said, confused by what she meant. She should've known? "I've got a meeting. And I just need to get there, like, fifteen minutes ago."

1 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Basso Rev 3

Name: Lisa Basso
Genre: YA Paranormal


My insomnia is killing me from the inside out.

The weight of my backpack causes me to stumble, though the only things inside it now are a notebook, a few pens, and a handful of papers with red F’s and notes from teachers wanting me to “see them after class”. This has been the norm off an on for almost five months now. I know the drill. So I ignore every one of them.

I take the long way to…what class? English. That’s right. And the long way is to avoid my Super Nurse best friend. She doesn’t need to see me this bad off. Our lunch visit was more than enough. I don’t need another lecture. Maybe I’ll even sneak out the side door after school. I love her to death, but her home life is bad enough.

My breath feels heavy inside my chest. A surge of dizziness clocks me like a heavyweight punch to the jaw. I sway on my feet, watching the Santa Cruz High School crowd thin.

Not in the hallway. Anywhere but here.

“Whoa.” A girl I recognize from Geometry stops walking toward her next class. She takes two steps toward me. Her body jerks and jumps. I blink in the hopes she’ll even out. She doesn’t.

“Doing okay there, Grace?” The guy clasping the girl’s hand leans in. His eyes remind me of a toad’s, too far apart. But then again, the right side of his face is melting, so who am I to judge?

The girl’s lipstick wavers from orange to purple while I think up the right thing to say. “No problem guys.” The corner of my lip twitches. “Just dreading Grabowski’s class.” I lie as plain faced as I can, hoping they can’t see the condensation on the back of my neck. Just in case I angle away from them.

“Seriously,” the girl nods, her concern switching to understanding. “That guy gives me the creeps. I can’t believe they let him teach here.” She squeezes the boy’s hand and yanks him away. “Take it easy. See you tomorrow!” She waves over her shoulder before they turn the corner.

The hallway quiets in its empty state. I’ve done a decent job, but acting normal steals all the normal I had left. I suck in air like a drowning person who’s just reached the surface. It doesn’t help. I can’t freaking breathe.

The instant my knees hit the ground I know. This is going to be one of those days, the bad ones. I struggle to pick myself up, but the sweat on my palms turns cold, tacking my hand to the faded mauve linoleum. The faint odor of disinfectant and dirty sneakers wafts up, stinging my nostrils. Gross.

My pulse thrums erratically in my ears. White film spots my vision.

Ride it out. Just ride it out.

But I can’t control anything anymore. I slump back against a set of coral half-lockers, butt firmly plastered to the floor. Sleep is such a cruel idea by now. A distant one.

Only one more period, then I can go home, deal with this in private.

A dark figure by the window catches my eye. The guy’s tall frame casts an irregularly long shadow across the floor. It grows, draping over me like a psychopath in a movie.

I open my mouth to ask him if he’s enjoying the view—my sad idea of a joke—but the sight of him stops me. I grow cold. He’s dressed all in black, some emo kid probably hoping to get off on watching my meltdown. But the chill that pricks my spine warns of something different. Something dangerous.

He ghosts away from the window so fast I swear he hit fast forward, zooming dead at me. He hits the brakes, stopping on a dime mere inches from where I’ve collapsed. The hood over his head shrouds his face, making it impossible to see.

From this close, I notice emo kid isn’t in black, he’s in shadows. As if they’re cloaked around him, sealing him from the light. A new couple holding hands swerve to avoid us, their eyes follow me as they walk. Just me. I can still see the girl’s horrid purple pants through emo kid’s torso.

More hallucinations.

The couple enter the second classroom on the right together.

The sweat at the back of my neck subsides and cools. “I don’t know what your problem is,” I swallow, “but—” I slap my palm down on what should be his foot , but my hand smashes the scuffed linoleum with a thwak. I bite back my hiss of pain. Black smoke disperses, wafting up and filling my nostrils with the smell of a thousand trees crackling in a forest fire. Emo kid still stands there, without a freaking foot.

My heart jackknifes into my ribcage. I jerk back, slamming my head into the locker behind me. Explosions flare behind my eyes and my long hair tangles in the Master Lock.

Holy crap.

Darkness, something blacker than tar, hovers above. The stench of acrid smoke attacks my nose again. This weird, smoky liquid leaves his body and wraps around my wrist. I can’t feel it attach to me, but I see the thick thread that links us.

A sharp chill of fear freezes me. For a moment I try to convince myself none of this is real. Sucking in a gulp of burnt air helps me remember my industrial-strength self. The almost-tough-enough person I’ve become in the last five months since my brother, Jake’s death. Weirded out and determined to land a kick in crazy emo kid’s family jewels, I try to pull my arm away. Only I can’t move. My hand is glued to the floor, shackled by the shadows. I’m left to watch it swirl up my wrist and around my arm. I grit my teeth, refusing to let out a whimper.

“Grace? Are you okay?” Raf’s voice comes from out of nowhere.

The shadows expand then float away like moths caught by a gust of air. The sound of a train passing by roars for half a second, then The black disperses like smoke, leaving no trace, no proof of its presence. Everything about emo kid is gone.

Raf darts across the hall.

What. The hell. Was that?

“Did you fall?” He takes my hand and pulls me to my feet. “Or pass out?” Once I’m steady, he drops his hand and wipes it on the bottom of his green polo shirt.

“Uh…” I fight for focus, but the insomnia pelts me again. I’m unable to recover from whatever just happened.

“Do you want me to take you—”

Finally my mind jumpstarts. “Not the nurse!” I belt out a little too quick. “I didn’t pass out. Everything’s fine. See?” I try to paste on a smile, but I’m sure it looks more like I’m about to have a dentist check-up. Another major fail.

Raf twists his lips to the side, probably trying to decide whether he believes me or not.

I allow myself to look at him, really look. I hold on to the breath I tend to lose whenever I see his face. His faintly freckled skin, stubbled chin, too amazing lips, and those sea green eyes. The combination causes giddiness to swim in my stomach.

Friday, February 24, 2012

10 This Week for Writers 2/24/12: Our Favorite Articles and Blog Posts

I'm sorry, but no giveaway this week because I'm still traveling due to a death in the family. We'll do a double giveaway next week--we have SO many great books that have come in recently!

Have a great weekend,

Martina


Book Reviews and Giveaways

Craft

Inspiration and Smiles

Issues, News, Trends, and Congratulations

Social Media, Book Promotion, and Self-Publishing

To Market

Other Weekly Round-Ups:
Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment!

Happy reading and joyous writing,

Clara and Martina

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

29 WOW Wednesday: Rachel Harris Gives You Permission to be Stubborn

Today's guest, Rachel Harris, writes YA and Adult Romance, Magical Realism, and Historical fiction. As a teen, she spent her days throwing raging parties that shook her parents’ walls and creating embarrassing fodder for future YA novels, and as an adult, she spends them reading and writing obsessively, rehashing said embarrassing fodder, and dreaming up characters that become her imaginary friends. You can ALWAYS find her on Twitter (@RachelHarrisYA), at her website RachelHarrisWrites.com, or on Goodreads where she loves sharing her reading obsession with others.

Permission to be Stubborn

Hey, I’m a Taurus. On the up side, astrologists describe me as persistent and determined. Great qualities to have as an author to get through the myriad of hurtles, heartbreak, and Haagen-Daz you need to succeed. But on the flip side of my astrological coin, Bulls are also known for being inflexible and obstinate. Now if you spend more than five minutes with me, you’ll learn I have a heavy dose of people-pleasing-itis running through my veins, but I’m human. I think it’s natural to become too adamant about my work. I get so close to the fun plot or my beloved characters that I fail to see the story’s inherent flaws or the honest ways I can improve it.
I am not talking about that.

There is countless advice out there, which I wholeheartedly agree with, telling authors we need to remain open to criticism. We do. We also need to be willing to kill our darlings to make the story tighter, the pace faster. The beautiful story of our heart we’ve slaved over for years without moving forward may have to be set aside so we can better listen to our muse whisper shiny new ideas. While it’s true that in many ways we write for ourselves, my guess is if you’re visiting this site, you’re not trying to write in a vacuum. You want readers, so that means you need to keep an eye on the market as well.

These are not areas to embrace your inner-bull.

What I AM giving you permission to do is hold tight to the story you want to tell. The core of your book. The things that turned you onto the shiny new idea to begin with. About a year ago, I read that author Stephanie Perkins always makes a Love List for her works in progress, and now I do, too. I’m a total plotter, so while I painstakingly map out my story in the beginning I now also make my own Love List.

I record each of those little things that make me smile, that make me giddy, that make me want to get out of bed, sit in front of that computer screen, and type each day. And when other voices and well-meaning advice start crowding my mental space, I pull my Love List out and remember the essential things I will refuse to budge on.

For Maggie Stiefvater, her core thing for SHIVER was the mood. She was willing to change most everything else, was open to suggestions and critique, but she knew the story she wanted to tell, and she tenaciously held tight to that. And we all know how well that worked for her.

For my upcoming debut, MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY, my Love List looked like this:
  • a beautiful boy
  • magic
  • friendship
  • trust
  • fairy tale
  • dresses and balls
  • Renaissance art
  • Italy
I can’t tell you how grateful I was for this list when it came time to query! Really, I was amazingly blessed with my submission process. Just because I love knowing this kind of info, I’ll quickly share my stats: I sent my query out in batches of ten, and ended up querying thirty-five agents. Of those thirty-five, four asked for partials, ten asked for fulls, twelve passed with personalized letters back, and nine closed with no response. Four months to the day that I sent my first query, my agent, Lauren Hammond, emailed saying she received my signed contract and we were diving into revisions.

But what made me choose to work with Lauren is that she understood the story I wanted to tell. I got wonderful feedback from the other agents who read my manuscript, and while some may not have loved it quite enough, or felt it just wasn’t right for their list at this time, I also got two requests for R&Rs—Revise and Resubmit. One of those requests led me to discover a hidden side to my antagonist, which I absolutely freaking adore and completely fits with the mood I was aiming for, but the other completely didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, the ideas were great. The story the agent suggested I tell would’ve been filled with drama and snark and intrigue. It would’ve rocked! It just wasn’t the story I wanted to write. I took out my handy dandy Love List and saw that I would lose almost every single thing that I loved about my kernel idea when I first sat down, the things that inspired me to type furiously for months. It would lose the fun, romantic adventure that I wanted attached to my name. I know there are probably a bazillion writers out there who think I’m crazy for rolling the dice and not making the changes that would’ve obviously told a great story, and for not seizing the opportunity to be represented by a very well established and respected agency.

But I decided to be stubborn.

I held out. I kept my pretty little manuscript the way I wanted it, although I did tweak a few things that I agreed with, suggestions that I liked that also happened to fit within my framework. I chose to believe that someone else would fall in love with the same quirky, romantic fun that I loved. And I was right.

In the next batch of queries I sent out, I got my agent. She loved my story as much as I did and only had me tweak a few things for clarity. A week and a half later, we entered our first round of submissions and ended up getting an offer from Entangled Teen the next month. My editor, Stacy Cantor Abrams, loves my story, the one I always wanted to tell and believed in from the beginning. And MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY will hit shelves this September.

So, see? Sometimes it pays to be a little stubborn.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2 Blind Date: Those All Important First Five Pages

Our February First Five Pages workshop participants have been busy with their revisions, and we're ready to present their second revision results. Please pitch in! Let them know what's working and what isn't.

As you read them, and as you write and read your own work, consider everything those pages must accomplish. The list is pretty daunting.

  • Is there a clear and unique story world and setting?
  • What do you see about the characters?
  • Are they new characters? Or have we seen characters too similar to this in other books?
  • Are the voices of the characters distinct?
  • Is the author's voice/writing competent? Compelling? Unique?
  • What kind of expectations are we setting up about where the story is going based on these pages?
  • What kind of a story is it going to be?
  • Is there enough detail? Too much?
  • How's the balance of narrative, action, and dialogue?
  • Is there so much action/tension in the opening that we can't possibly sustain it through the rest of the book without exhausting the reader?
  • Have we put in enough to make the reader root for the main character?
  • Is the reader feeling with the main character?
  • What is the tone? Theme? Opening image? How do these relate to the rest of the book?
  • Would you keep reading? Would ordinary readers keep reading?
  • Would ordinary readers off the street buy THIS book?
  • What is in these first five pages that will SELL this book?
The first five pages of a novel is our covenant with our readers. It's where we set up our promise of what is to come. Yes, we absolutely have to take readers somewhere unexpected in the rest of the novel--we have to offer up surprises, twists, and revelations. We are taking readers on a journey, and they want to be sure it isn't one they have traveled before, but at the same time, they want to know what kind of a journey it is going to be.

Think of the first five pages as the set up for a first date. The pitch or cover blurb may be what your friend tells you when she tries to set you up, but how the guy looks and greets you when you first open the door is going to determine the tone of the whole date. If you're wearing a little black dress and your favorite Manolo's for a nice dinner out, and he shows up in camo pants and a tank top to take you bungee jumping, your reaction to the switch is going to become a really important factor in the success of the date. And guess what? There aren't all that many people who would handle that switch well enough that there would be a second date.

We can write the best book on the planet, but if it doesn't set up the RIGHT expectations for the reader, we are setting ourselves up to fail with many potential readers.

For me, I think, this is one of the hardest lessons. We know what comes next in our books. We love our characters and our plots, and we have reasons why we do things. We can always explain.

But here's the thing. However far we think we have taken the characters away from the ordinary, however emotional or tense or action packed we have made our opening, however much we have put into our first five pages, if we don't set up the right expectations and lead inevitably into the next five pages and into the rest of the book, at some point we are going to get in trouble. If the reader gets to page five and doesn't understand something that is going to be revealed on page six--and doesn't CARE enough to go on to page six, then we haven't done our jobs.

It doesn't stop there, of course. The first five pages lead to the next five, and the first ten lead to the first twenty-five, and the first twenty-five lead to the first fifty. It's no surprise, really, that these are usually the increments in which agents make requests, and it's amazing what a great agent or editor can spot that we writers miss. (Seriously!)

Our responsibility to satisfy our readers never stops. But it all starts with the first five pages.

So. What do you think? If you read the five entries below, have they rocked the first five? What else can they change?

Thanks so much for your comments on the entries!

Happy reading,

Martina

3 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Braden Rev 2

Name: Ann Braden
Title: Sciencetastic SuperGirls
Genre: MG Light Sci-Fi

On the whiteboard, the large block letters spelling MR. TROLP slant toward the floor at what’s got to be a 40° angle. In two seconds flat, I’m plotting the angle on my “Sub Ineptitude As a Predictor of General Mayhem Graph,” and a quick glance confirms this level of downward drift is one of a kind. Even the sub who only walked on her tiptoes comes in at a distant second. We’re clearly on our way to art-teacher-comes-up-from-the-classroom-below-us-to-deliver-a-lecture territory. Unfortunately, further analysis is cut short when I look up to see Mr. Trolp leaning across the lectern, staring right at me.

His eyebrows are twitching. “You never know who’s going to be out to get you in life.”

Really? This is how he’s starting class? It wasn’t even worth taking the graph out. Anyone could tell you the art teacher’s going to show up. And actually, it’s not just his eyebrows – his whole body is twitching like a rabid spider.

“You’ve got to stay on your toes. Always looking behind you.”

I flip my notebook shut. OK. He’s even loonier than the tiptoe lady, and she spent half the class talking about leprechauns. I get it, Mr. Trolp. Now, look at someone else, so they can benefit from this juicy morsel of very-important-advice-instead-of-actually-having-English-class.

He glances at the door. Then at me. Back to the door. When his eyes dart back to me again, his mouth twists like he has to chew each word before it comes out. “It could happen anytime – next Tuesday, for example – when you think everything is going fine.”

Jeff Harkiss tips back in his chair, his hat perched on top of his head so he can claim he’s not actually wearing it. “Just start the DVD, dude.”

There’s always a first time to agree with Jeff Harkiss.

Without pausing in his door-Julia-door-Julia eye workout, Mr. Trolp fumbles for the DVD case on the front table. Somehow he manages to locate it and looks down long enough to pop the case open. But then his eyes are boring into me again with the DVD around his finger like a hostage. “It’s like dark energy.”

Right. Even Jeff Harkiss puts all four legs of his chair on the floor for this one.

“You think you know what the universe is like, and then BAM!” Mr. Trolp smacks the lectern. “You find out most of it is made up of this invisible stuff that we didn’t even know existed. And while that stuff has been forcing the universe to expand faster and faster, you’ve just been sitting around, twiddling your thumbs.” He seems to have lost interest in the door and leans toward me, his face morphing into a weird kind of smile. ”You know, every minute you spend chatting away with your little friends, the universe has stretched an additional 66,392,269 miles.” He sticks his jaw out, and the smile is gone. “Give or take.”

Ben Michelson looks up from his drawing. “Isn’t that kind of like the Big Bang?”

Mr. Trolp’s at last turns away from me to fix a stare on Ben. “More like the Big Rip.”

I sigh and can’t help but mutter under my breath, “Except that the universe has somehow managed to go for 13.75 billion years without ripping apart.” The man’s making it up like a wackadoodle.

“Except,” Mr. Trolp says loudly, looking back at me.

For crying out loud.

“Except dark energy didn’t exist for the first 4 billion years.” He lowers his voice. “But since then it’s been popping into existence pretty damn fast. You don’t end up as seventy-three percent of the universe without a fight, now do you, Miss Peterson?”

There’s a whole load of things I want to say back to that, like “How do you know my name?” for starters, and “Why on Mars do you keep looking at me?” while I’m at it. But since more than anything I want him to get on with class, I keep my eyes glued to my desk where long ago someone had tried to carve out IDK but gave up halfway through the K. Thankfully, on the far side of the room, I hear two boys fall out of their chairs – like they always do when there’s a sub – and the attention switches to them.

Seventy-three percent. There’s no way that could be true, right? That’s like thinking you know what the earth’s like and then finding out there’s this little thing called oceans. And how would I have not heard of this stuff? Sixty-seven meetings of the Sciencetastic SuperGirls, two freakin’ physicists for parents, and it hasn’t come up once? No way.

I dig my pencil into the groove of the D in the desk. Whatever. Everyone knows energy doesn’t just pop into existence. Of course, I’m not about to be the one to explain to this guy how E=MC2 applies to the conservation of energy – not with him staring me down at every opportunity.

Still, those are some wicked specific statistics for someone who has no idea what they’re talking about.

I look at the clock. One hour and thirty-seven minutes until the next Sciencetastic SuperGirls meeting. I sure know what I’m going to propose for today’s agenda.

When the lights go off, I look back up front and am relieved to see someone has rescued the DVD from its hostage situation and inserted it into the safety of the DVD player. But Mr. Trolp is still on the loose, and damned if he isn’t circling around the back of the room toward my desk. Pretend you don’t see him. Focus on the movie. My, what fascinating opening credits these are. Truly awe-inspiring. But even though I am obviously engrossed by the beginning of this B-grade version of The Time Traveler, he still stops right next to me. And soon that nervy, rabid spider has leaned closer and is quietly growling in my ear, “Not without a fight, Miss Peterson. Not without a fight.”

Like a complete and utter wackadoodle.

I hear him swallow before he adds in a hoarse whisper, “And that’s all I’m going to say about it.”

Of course, it is.

Then, as though his mission is complete, he circles back around and settles down at Mrs. Hamshaw’s computer. Because after thoroughly freaking people out, it’s always good to check your e-mail.

* * *

Maddy puts on as solemn a face as you can have when you’ve got a pink pen stuck behind your ear. “As president of the Sciencetastic SuperGirls, I hereby call the Sciencetastic SuperGirls to order. Now for the oath.”

The four of us, sitting around our corner table in the deserted cafeteria, repeat together: “I will pursue the truth that is science, and I will not be distracted by the boys in that other, way lame science club.” We all put the appropriate emphasis on “way.”

“OK, SuperGirls.” Maddy says, “Let’s get to business. Caroline, what’s on our agenda?” Since Caroline has just popped the rest of a mini doughnut into her mouth, she slides a piece of paper over to Maddy. I bite my tongue to keep from interrupting protocol as Maddy looks it over, tapping the pink pen against her temple.

“Tessa, how’s ‘Assignment: Acquire Dry Ice’ coming along?” Maddy asks as the pen migrates to her mouth.

Across the table, Tessa is tugging at the strings of her black softball sweatshirt, pulling the hood tighter and tighter around her face. “It’s a no go. Too expensive if you include shipping. We only have $13.75 in our budget.”

Maddy mutters “snazzifrass Swedish fish” under her breath and draws a pink box around ‘Acquire Dry Ice.’

“Anyway,” Tessa continues with just her eyes, nose, and mouth visible, “I still don’t see why we don’t first do my question about how to make a fireball with common household cleaners. If we’re going to go dangerous, we might as well go big.”

“And it’s free,” Maddy says, nodding. “That okay with you, Caroline? The dry ice was originally your question.”

Caroline nods as she daintily wipes powdered sugar from her fingers with the corner of her napkin.

Maddy looks at me. “Sound good to you, Julia?”

The opening I’ve been waiting for. I look at each of them. “Something’s come up. Something we need to look into.”

“Whatever it is, we can do it after the fireball,” Tessa says, but her voice is muffled since her mouth has disappeared into the sweatshirt. “Everything’s more fun when your eyebrows have been singed off.”

4 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Mezher Rev 1

YA Science Fiction
Revision #2
Helene Mezher

Survival is the substance of Pangaea. No outdated code of ethics or modern law holds more importance. My family abides by this rule with unparalleled determination, but our success robs time from the others.

Shoulder to shoulder, my brother and I slog through masses of Middlers and Standards, their faces set in grim lines. A swarm of multicolored Ozones, they head towards the trains as the seats fill. We try to squeeze between bodies, but it is like walking through sludge. The rank odor of sweat clings to the air, stealing my breath before it comes. Tor falls behind and I grab him by his backpack, hauling him to my side. He looks at me ruefully before accepting my outstretched hand. Twisting through the crowd, we never break our bond.

We pass through blocks of towering buildings until we reach the looming gray of Tor’s school. The second he sees his friends sitting on the school steps, he drops my hand. Biting back a sigh, I drag Tor into a less populated alley and crouch to his level. In the dim morning light, he grows smaller, frailer, his eyes less steely. The ill-fitting Ozone does nothing to hide the jut of his collarbone. I try to imagine what he will look like in five years, but our future smudges at its edges. I can’t get a job, not when there are thousands vying for the same opportunity. Knowing the future, having one is the utmost luxury.

My throat tightens with an unspoken need. Tor extends his arms and I crush him to me, my little anchor. Reeling me home while holding me prisoner to a lifetime of unfulfilled dreams. My family’s requests will always trump my own, yet, as I finger the edges of his spine, the burden lessens. I believe in my actions, believe that some things are worth the cost.

Withdrawing from the embrace, Tor grins in his nine year old way, as if reminding me to relax, as if foretelling my success. I push back the gloved sleeves of his Ozone, disliking the thick, radiation resistant material, wanting his hand and nothing more. Dirt cakes his nail beds but at my frown he shrugs and swings our hands back and forth.

The warning bell blares, and before I can muss his floppy hair as goodbye, he joins his friends. Kids charge the school, swallowing my brother in a black blur of Standard Ozones. A line of small forms ascending the steps, they almost resemble products chugged from some sort of educational factory. Glass inlaid with solar panels covers these factories, reflecting the incongruous glob made by our shadows across the city.

As their childish figures distort in the glass, so does mine when I venture in the direction opposite my school. To the food depot of choice. Towards my errand, the roads darkened by storming clouds, yet I refuse to lose sight of my path.

Once I enter the market, everybody stares at me. I give a friendly wave to the store owner and smile. His frown deepens into a grimace, but after a few minutes, he turns to the Middler at the counter and they resume their conversation. His action thaws everyone else; they pay no further attention to the scruffy girl strolling through the aisles. In their minds, Standards like me cannot afford the price of fresh food. They think that I am wasting my time, that I have come to drool over what I cannot have, but they are wrong and I will be long gone before they realize it. Silently thanking my mother, I rub the hidden pockets she sewed into my Ozone.

At the produce section, I look around. I weigh the apples in my hands and when no one is watching, stash them in my pockets. I move to the vegetables and on my tip toes, search for the ripest fava beans. While searching, I knock over the assembly and apologize to no one in particular. The shoppers lift their noses and turn their backs while I promise to return the beans to the stand. When I straighten, only half have made it back to the display.

The store owner’s gaze snaps onto mine. He knows. My hands drop to my sides, stinging.

“You…” His voice echoes in the sudden silence of the store. Everyone fixes their eyes on me, the person who does not belong. The person who steals another’s livelihood for her own. I used to be one of you, but the words lodge in my throat, a broken bridge of time dividing our classes. “Come here. Let me see what’s in your hands.”

I do not obey. Before he can alert the security, I bolt from the market, shouts and mingled oaths trailing after me.

Darting down the stairs and through the masses, I know that I take the risk for more than my family. The feeling of my hair flying through the back zippers of the Ozone lights my nerves on fire. Hot blood pumps through my veins, pulsing with adrenaline, and I am alive, so alive. Nothing can stop me.

After seven flights of stairs, I pause to take a deep breath and risk a glance. My pursuers glare down at me, unable to squeeze through the cracks between the throng of bodies separating us. Floor after floor of food rises above me and I am glad that the nearby ration depots are conglomerated in one towering building. If they had separate spaces on the street, the owners might grow to recognize me, even through the warped plastic facemask of my Ozone. And no thief would survive pursuit from a body hunter.

Out in the open, too many eyes find me, the Standard who does not fit with the granite columns and carpeted floors. Sucking in my breath, I continue my exit. The cache of food rubs against my belly, chanting not enough, not nearly enough, and I have no answer. Among these delicacies, there is nothing for me.

Leaving the food depot, I make a sharp left and blend into the crowd with my head down for cover. Inevitably someone bumps into me and I stumble, almost falling into the street and tripping over the train tracks.

Overcrowding: the price of modern medicine and scientific advancement. A price those with money can pay but something of which we all are aware. A price my family paid and continues to pay in sweat.

We will never have enough and this cycle will consume my life before I get the chance to live it. The stolen food seems heavy in my pockets, the burden of a hope too silly to be consequential. If only…

The moment I spot them at the Forum on my way home, my mind blanks, concern overriding the usual worries. Policemen patrol the area, scouring for members of the anonymous group that reminded us of our fragility. Posters depicting Tyme as a ticking time bomb plaster the city’s columns of engraved laws. White against reinforced steel, they hold their own, a presence the policemen cannot remove without causing a scene.

That doesn’t include my thievery though.

As if he heard my errant thought, a policeman looks at me, scrutinizes my bundled form. My mother once told me that the grace of my movements tends to attract attention.

Not the good kind.

I steady the hidden pockets with one hand and push through my hair with the other, trying to appear more presentable.

4 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Blair Rev 2

Author: Chelsey Blair
Genre: Young Adult

If you could speak to your stepsister, what would you say?

I scanned the text of the post below mine on the Selective Mutism support message board for a third time. Across from me, Jessica flipped a page in her Cosmo magazine. I tried to imagine the words I’d use if I could, but nothing seemed adequate. My fingers hovered over the keyboard, waiting for my brain to come up with a response to Ursula89’s question.

The train conductor came up the aisle before I’d figured one out. He stopped at the table Jessica and I had taken over on the way out of Hartford. “Nearly there, ladies. Can I see your tickets?”

Jessica slipped the printout with her confirmation number out of the back of her magazine and handed it to him. It took me a second longer to retrieve mine from the front pocket of my messenger bag, so I got his intrigued smile. “New York, New York. Are you spending the summer there?”

Yes, I thought. One word. Yes. I tried to part my lips. Blowing air through them would be step one, the way my therapist had tried to teach me a hundred times. My mouth stayed shut, like I’d applied a layer of Gorilla Glue instead of lipgloss. The conductor’s bushy gray eyebrows furrowed. He only wanted an answer. He probably asked this question of every girl on the train, making small talk to report back to his wife that night.

I met the rudest girl today. Wouldn’t even respond a simple question.

My lungs protested against my efforts to make them produce more air, and my palms slipped off the laptop covered in sweat. Panic must have shone bright in my eyes, because the conductor’s expression became concerned. He turned to Jessica, who didn’t lower her magazine.

Please, Jess, I thought. Please help me. I’m sorry about this year. I’m sorry I ruined everything. I’m—

“We’re in a college prep program at Manhattan University. Both of us study art.” Jessica smiled at the conductor, and his worry-wrinkles disappeared.

“What an adventure!” he exclaimed. “Where will you be living?”

I let out a long breath, and knew he must have heard it whoosh out of my lips. He kept chatting with Jessica, probably not wanting to delve into the mystery of the silent girl. Not many people did.

I returned my gaze to my laptop screen. The question still sat there, an eleven-month late response to my post about how much I missed being able to speak to my stepsister. For seven out of the ten years I’d suffered from Selective Mutism—an anxiety disorder that kept me from speaking to most humans—I’d been able to talk to her. Until a year ago. Until everything had changed.

I let her conversation with the conductor wash over me while I typed, remembering the days we’d had animated conversations like that, in a world where no one else mattered.

I’m sorry, I typed. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

I hit send, intending to move on to a post I’d bookmarked about tips for getting by silently in the big city, but my computer didn’t respond to the cursor. My response to Ursula89 stayed on the screen, then slowly pixelated until the bright boxes of color at them up.

Conniving computers, I thought, pushing the power button. The screen went black, but the power light turned orange instead of turning off. I jabbed the button, over and over. Dad had bought this laptop only a year ago. I knew he’d shelled out a lot for it, and the text-to-speech software I didn’t use. I didn’t want to have to bug him about a repair. I kept pressing. Nothing changed, until the train jolted forward. The laptop slid away from me, hitting Jessica on the arm.

“Watch it!” she snapped. I yanked it back toward me and jabbed the button again. Around me, people gathered their things and disappeared out the open door, Jessica among them.

I finally shut the lid and slipped the unresponsive computer into my messenger bag. If I didn’t hurry, I’d have to find my way to the Manhattan University dorms on my own.

I couldn’t ask for help. My duffel bag sat in the luggage rack of the New York train, taunting me from two feet out of my reach. Other passengers eyes met mine for a split second each. If my voice box would cooperate for half a second, I could force the words excuse me out of my mouth and get one of them to lift it down.

No chance of that.

I hadn’t spoken to a non-family member in eight years.

“Can I give you a hand, young lady?” the conductor asked, with a wink.

I let him help me lower things into the aisle. The duffel bag that held my art supplies clattered on the way down.

“There you go. Time to start your New York adventure.”

His expectant gaze made my stomach clench. Hadn’t he figured it out earlier? Now Jessica wasn’t around to take up the slack, I would have to watch his gaze turn puzzled, then disappointed, then resigned. Again.

“Thank you,” a voice said.

I scanned the aisle. Everyone else had left the train. The conductor didn’t join in my search for a mysterious interloper. He nodded, and pushed past me to the door.

So, unless somebody had said the words seconds before dematerializing, the person who’d spoken had been me.

I’d spoken.

To a stranger.

I inhaled, waiting for my breath to catch. Waiting for the panic attack that would invariably follow. My anxiety seemed to have been somehow delayed. If I hurried, maybe I could make it off the train before it caught up.

I slung my bag over my shoulder, but couldn’t go any further. My focus zeroed in on my luggage tag. K. Anderson, it said in Dad’s neat script. He liked things tidy and predictable. So did I. But we could never have predicted what had just happened.

I had thanked him.

If an impatient voice hadn’t broken into my thoughts, I might have stayed there, a breathing version of Rodin’s “The Thinker”, forever attempting to figure out what this meant. “If you’re chickening out, you still have to get off the train.”

I met Jessica’s gaze, hoping she’d read what had happened on my face. She only scowled. She’d stopped trying to understand me.

We banged our bags through Penn Station. Jessica’s long legs propelled her way ahead of me. I struggled to keep up, my mind still reeling.

I had spoken to the conductor.

Without severe psychological trauma.

“Kyra, move your ass!” Jessica shouted. I’d frozen again, in the center of the corridor. I hurried to take my place in the cab line. It moved faster than I thought such a large group of people could. Fine, I based my expectations on the sluggish pace of the Grott’s Crossing cafeteria line, but I couldn’t believe how little time passed before we’d taken our seats in the back of a cab with a driver asking, “Where to?”

4 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Basso Rev 2

Name: Lisa Basso
Genre: YA Paranormal


My insomnia is killing me from the inside out.

The weight of my backpack causes me to stumble, though the only things inside it now are a notebook, a few pens, and a handful of papers with red F’s and notes from teachers wanting me to “see them after class”. This has been going for almost five months now. I know the drill. So I ignore every one of them.

A surge of dizziness hits me. I sway on my feet, watching the Santa Cruz High School crowd thin.

Not in the damn hallway. Anywhere but here.

“Whoa.” A chick I recognize from Geometry stops walking toward her next class. She takes one, two, three steps toward me. In my warped vision the closer she comes, the more her body jerks and jumps. I blink in the hopes she’ll even out. She doesn’t. Her lipstick wavers from orange to purple.

“Doing okay there, Grace?” The guy clasping the girl’s hand leans in. His eyes remind me of a toad’s, too far apart. But then again, the right side of his face is melting, so who am I to judge?

I whip up enough BS to shoo them away before things get worse, though I have no clue what I’ve said. Something about being fine I’m sure. By now I’m gold-metal at convincing people of that. Eventually they turn the corner. The hallway quiets in its empty state. I suck in air like a drowning person who’s just reached the surface. It doesn’t help. I can’t freaking breathe.

The instant my knees hit the ground I know. This is going to be one of those days, the bad ones. I struggle to pick myself up, but the sweat on my palms turns cold, tacking my hand to the faded mauve linoleum. The faint odor of disinfectant and dirty sneakers wafts up, stinging my nostrils.

My pulse thrums erratically in my ears. White film spots my vision.

I can’t control anything anymore. Sleep is such a cruel and distant idea by now that when my energy seeps out, threatening to pull me into unconsciousness, the only thing I can do is wait it out. I slump back against a set of coral half-lockers, butt firmly plastered to the floor.

Only one more period, then I can go home, deal with this in private.

A dark figure by the window catches my eye. The guy’s tall frame casts a shadow across the floor, draping over me like a psychopath in a movie.

I open my mouth to ask him if he’s enjoying the view—my sad idea of a joke—but the sight of him stops me. I grow even colder. He’s dressed all in black, some emo kid possibly hoping to get off on watching my meltdown, but the chill that pricks my spine warns of something different. Something dangerous.

A hood shrouds his face, making him impossible to identify. Harnessing my anger in place of the odd fear which lays bitter on my tongue, I turn a scowl at him.

He ghosts away from the window so fast I swear he hit fast forward, zooming dead at me. He hits the brakes, stopping on a dime mere inches from where I’ve collapsed.

From this close, I notice emo kid is not in black, he’s in shadows. As if they’re cloaked around him, sealing all of him off from the light. A new couple holding hands swerve to avoid us, their eyes follow me as they walk. Just me. I can still see the girl’s horrid purple pants through emo kid’s torso.

More hallucinations.

The couple enter the second classroom on the right together.

The sweat at the back of my neck subsides and cools. “I don’t know what your problem is, but—” I slap my palm down on what should be his foot to punctuate my annoyance and allow me stand up with some dignity. But my hand smashes the scuffed mauve linoleum with a thwak. I bite back my hiss of pain. Black smoke disperses, wafting up and filling my nostrils with the smell of a thousand trees crackling in a forest fire. Emo kid still stands there, without a freaking foot.

My heart collides with my ribcage. I jerk back, slamming my head into the locker behind me. Pain flares behind my eyes and my long hair tangles in the Master Lock.

Holy crap.

Darkness, something blacker than tar hovers over me. The stench of acrid smoke invades me again. This smoky liquid leaves his body and wraps around my wrist. I can’t feel it attach to me, but I see the thick thread that links us.

A cold chill of fear freezes me. For a moment I try to convince myself none of this is real. Sucking in a gulp of burnt air helps me remember my industrial-strength self. The almost-tough-enough person I’ve become in the last five months since my brother, Jake’s death. Determined to land a kick in crazy emo kid’s family jewels, I try to pull my arm away, only I can’t move. My hand is glued to the floor, held there by the shadows. I’m left to watch it swirl up my wrist and around my arm. I grit my teeth, refusing to let out a whimper.

“Grace? Are you okay?” The shadows expand then float away like moths caught by a gust of air. Raf darts across the hall from out of nowhere. The black disperses like smoke, leaving no trace, no proof of its presence.

What. The hell. Was that?

Emo kid, or whatever he was, is gone too.

“Did you fall?” Raf takes my hand and pulls me to my feet. “Or pass out?” Once I’m steady, he drops his hand and wipes it on the bottom of his green polo shirt.

“Uh,” I fight for focus, but my serious lack of sleep pelts me again with the inability to recover from whatever just happened.

“Do you want me to take you—”

Finally my mind jumpstarts. “Not the nurse!” I belt out a little too quick. “I didn’t pass out. Everything’s fine. See?” I try to paste on a smile, but I’m sure it looks more like I’m about to have a dentist check-up. Another major fail.

Raf twists his lips to the side, probably trying to decide whether he believes me or not.

I allow myself to look at him, really look. I hold onto the breath I tend to lose whenever I see his face. His faintly freckled skin, stubbled chin, too amazing lips, and those sea green eyes. The combination causes giddiness to swim in my stomach.

Crap. I suppress the urge to sigh or swoon or embarrass myself with some other super girly action.

Emo kid couldn’t have been real. Get a grip…and stop ogling your second best friend!

The late bell signaling beginning of last period rings.

“Want me to walk you to class?” He asks.

“No, thanks. I’ve got it.” I think.

The way he hangs back while I take control of my feet and push forward tells me this isn’t over. I beat him to the punch before we both end up with detention. “Do me a favor and don’t tell Pen about my hallway sideshow. She worries enough.” The last thing I need is another lecture from Penelope, my very best friend and toughest critic.

Raf sighs so softly I almost don’t hear it. “If you promise to get a good night’s sleep, Pen will never know.”



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