Friday, March 30, 2012

49 In Stores Next Week and Giveaway

What Are We Reading and Giving Away?

What if the person you're meant to be with lives in another time?

Isn't that a great tag line? It's on the back cover of TIMELESS by Alexandra Monir, which showed up in my mailbox yesterday and looked so delicious I couldn't resist starting it right away. Here's the blurb.

When tragedy strikes Michele Windsor’s world, she is forced to uproot her life and move across the country to New York City, to live with the wealthy, aristocratic grandparents she’s never met. In their old Fifth Avenue mansion filled with a century’s worth of family secrets, Michele discovers a diary that hurtles her back in time to the year 1910. There, in the midst of the glamorous Gilded Age, Michele meets the young man with striking blue eyes who has haunted her dreams all her life – a man she always wished was real, but never imagined could actually exist. And she finds herself falling for him, into an otherworldly, time-crossed romance.

Michele is soon leading a double life, struggling to balance her contemporary high school world with her escapes into the past. But when she stumbles upon a terrible discovery, she is propelled on a race through history to save the boy she loves – a quest that will determine the fate of both of their lives.

To win this lovely book, fill out the form at the bottom of the page by midnight on Thursday, 4/5/12. I'll announce the winner next Friday.


What's New to Read?

There are a lot of great new young adult books coming out, and ever since Marissa stopped doing her AMAZING In Stores This Week posts, I've started to lose track of what's out there a little bit. So. Even if we don't have time to do the full monty, we're going to try to do at least a little round-up of the week's books and hopefully get some additional giveaways going.

If you happen to have a book coming out, and want to send in an interview, please contact us. Time isn't going to allow us to request them from all the authors, but if you send them, we will post and promo for you.

In Stores This Week

Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers

In Dying to Know You, award-winning author Aidan Chambers has created an indelible portrait of a young man discovering his own voice in the world, and has constructed a love story that is as much about the mind as it is the heart.

In this contemporary love story, a teenage boy named Karl enlists a famous writer to help him impress his girlfriend, Fiorella. She has asked him to write her a letter in which he reveals his true self. But Karl isn’t convinced he’s good enough with words, so he tracks down Fiorella’s favorite author and begs him to take up the task. The writer reluctantly assents, on the condition that Karl agree to a series of interviews, so that the letter will be based on an authentic portrait of Karl. The letter, though effective, has unexpected consequences for Karl, Fiorella, and the writer.




Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg

From the fantastic author of The Lonely Hearts Club and Prom & Prejudice comes a story of all the drama and comedy of four friends who grow into themselves at a performing arts high school.

Emme, Sophie, Ethan, and Carter are seniors at a performing arts school, getting ready for their Senior Showcase recital, where the pressure is on to appeal to colleges, dance academies, and professionals in show business. For Sophie, a singer, it's been great to be friends with Emme, who composes songs for her, and to date Carter, soap opera heartthrob who gets plenty of press coverage. Emme and Ethan have been in a band together through all four years of school, but wonder if they could be more than just friends and bandmates. Carter has been acting since he was a baby, and isn't sure how to admit that he'd rather paint than perform. The Senior Showcase is going to make or break each of the four, in a funny, touching, spectacular finale that only Elizabeth Eulberg could perform.


Above by Leah Bobet

Matthew has always lived in Safe, a community hidden far beneath the pipes and tunnels of the city Above. The residents fled to Safe years before to escape the Whitecoats and their cruel experiments, and now Matthew is responsible for both the keeping of Safe’s stories and for Ariel—a golden-haired shapeshifter, and the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen.

But one horrifying night, an old enemy murders Safe’s founder, Atticus, and the community is taken over by an army of shadows. Only Matthew, Ariel, and a handful of friends escape Above. Now they not only have to survive in a sunlit world they barely know, but they must unravel the mystery of the shadows’ fury and Atticus’s death. It’s up to Matthew to find a way to remake Safe—not just for himself and his family, but for Ariel, who’s again faced with the life she fled, and who needs him more than ever before.

An urban fantasy and a love story, Above is the breathtaking debut of an extraordinary new voice.

The List by Siobhan Vivian

An intense look at the rules of high school attraction—and the price that’s paid for them.

It happens every year. A list is posted, and one girl from each grade is chosen as the prettiest, and another is chosen as the ugliest. Nobody knows who makes the list. It almost doesn’t matter. The damage is done the minute it goes up.

This is the story of eight girls, freshman to senior, “pretty” and “ugly.” And it’s also the story of how we see ourselves, and how other people see us, and the tangled connection of the two.




I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

The dark thriller, described as Dexter meets The Silence of the Lambs for teens, tells of a boy who uses his killer instinct, inherited from his serial killer father, to help solve a series of murders.



Black Heart by Holly Black (Curse Workers #3)

Cassel Sharpe knows he’s been used as an assassin, but he’s trying to put all that behind him. He’s trying to be good, even though he grew up in a family of con artists and cheating comes as easily as breathing to him. He’s trying to do the right thing, even though the girl he loves is inextricably connected with crime. And he’s trying to convince himself that working for the Feds is smart, even though he’s been raised to believe the government is the enemy.

But with a mother on the lam, the girl he loves about to take her place in the Mob, and new secrets coming to light, the line between what’s right and what’s wrong becomes increasingly blurred. When the Feds ask Cassel to do the one thing he said he would never do again, he needs to sort out what’s a con and what’s truth. In a dangerous game and with his life on the line, Cassel may have to make his biggest gamble yet—this time on love.





Fear: A Gone Novel by Michael Grant


Despite the hunger, despite the lies, even despite the plague, the kids of Perdido Beach are determined to survive. Creeping into the tenuous new existence they've built, though, is perhaps the worst incarnation yet of the enemy known as the Darkness: fear.



Immortal City by Scott Speer

Jackson Godspeed is the hottest young Angel in a city filled with them. He's days away from becoming a full Guardian, and people around the world are already competing for the chance to be watched over by him. Everyone's obsessed with the Angels and the lucky people they protect--everyone except for Madison Montgomery.

Maddy's the one girl in Angel City who doesn't breathlessly follow the Angels on TV and gossip blogs. When she meets Jackson, she doesn't recognize him. But Jackson is instantly captivated by her, and against all odds the two fall in love.

Maddy is swiftly caught up in Jackson's scene, a world of glamour, paparazzi - and murder. A serial killer is on the loose, leaving dead Angels' wings for the police to find on the Walk of Fame. Even the Guardians are powerless to protect themselves in the face of this threat … and this time it's up to Maddy to save Jackson.



The Fame Game by Lauren Conrad

In Hollywood, fame can be found on every corner and behind any door. You just have to know where to look for it. Nineteen-year-old Madison Parker made a name for herself as best frenemy of nice-girl-next-door Jane Roberts on the hot reality show L.A. Candy. Now Madison's ready for her turn in the spotlight and she'll stop at nothing to get it. Sure, she's the star of a new show, but with backstabbing friends and suspicious family members trying to bring her down, Madison has her work cut out for her. Plus, there's a new nice girl in "reality" town—aspiring actress Carmen Price, the daughter of Hollywood royalty—and she's a lot more experienced at playing the fame game... When the camera's start rolling, whose star will shine brighter?

Filled with characters both familiar and new, Lauren Conrad's series about the highs and lows of being famous delivers Hollywood gossip and drama at every turn.



The Marked by Inara Scott (Delecroix Academy #2)

In her second semester at a boarding school for teenagers with special powers, Dancia Lewis faces danger from both inside and outside of Delcroix Academy.

All of her life, Dancia Lewis has wanted to use her powers for good. And now that she’s learned the truth about Delcroix Academy—and herself—she may just get the chance. But being part of Delcroix’s top secret Program isn’t anything like Dancia expected. She has to ask herself: what happens to the Talented kids who refuse to pledge their loyalty to the Program? And why did her friend Jack run away rather than join? Dancia’s adorable boyfriend Cam insists they need the help of every Talented student to defend Delcroix from dangerous enemies outside their gates. But Dancia has to wonder: what if Delcroix’s most frightening enemies come from within.



Winners Announced

The winner of last week's SWEETLY by Jackson Pearce was RivRe. Riv, please send my your address so I can get the book to you!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

18 WOW Wednesday: Katie McGarry on Listening to Become a Better Writer

Katie McGarry's Young Adult novel, Pushing the Limits, will debut with Harlequin Teen in August 2012. To find out more information, visit Katie at www.katielmcgarry.com or follow her on Twitter @KatieMcGarry
Listen

by Katie McGarry


That’s the best advice I can give to anyone pursuing publication. It may seem like an easy piece of advice, but it may be the most complicated. Listening is what changed my path from writer to author.

Like many other writers, I decided to enter my manuscripts into contests. And like everyone else, I had the dreamy eyed hope that I’d final and that the brilliant agent or editor judging the contest would fall in love with my pages.

Let’s just say that isn’t exactly what happened. In fact, it’s far from what happened. The first couple of contests I entered, I scored near last if not dead last.

Yep, that’s right—I stunk so badly that skunks held their breath.

I had judges who scored me as low as they could without going into negative numbers, all without comments. I had a judge who told me she’d be okay if my heroine died. I’ll admit, that one made me cry—a lot. But then I had a handful of judges who gave me okay scores, but what I loved is that they gave me a goldmine in comments.

You have a fabulous voice, they’d say, but you’re overusing ‘to be’ verbs and you tell way too much. Have you taken a class on showing? Maybe on body language?

One judge went as far to add links for online classes and books that she thought could be helpful.

Now I had a choice to make: I could listen or ignore the comments. I loved my story—loved. It hurt to think that someone didn’t love it as much as I did. My initial reaction was to discount the judges; to say they were wrong.

But the judges were right. I used a passive voice and I told more than I showed. So I listened. I took the online classes. I read the recommended books and became a sponge; learning about the craft called writing. By combining all of that knowledge with my love of storytelling, I wrote a new manuscript.

Now there are different types of listening. While working on my new manuscript, I joined a critique group. I had thought after living through the criticism of contest judges that I would easily be able to withstand criticism from a face-to-face critique group.

That palm sweating anxious feeling I would get when I saw the e-mail from the contest coordinator was nothing like attending my first meeting. My stomach dropped out of my body in the parking lot and my throat practically swelled shut.

My critique partners told me their thoughts on my story and I swear, I was so nervous, I didn’t hear a word they said. The next day, I got out the comments they made on my manuscript and reviewed them.

Sometimes, their comments stung. Why? Pride I guess. I wanted to be right, but in the end, some of their comments were spot on. So I developed a rule, no making a decision on my critique partner’s comments for twenty-four hours.

I found that if I gave the comments time to settle into my brain, into my soul, that I could remove the emotional sting. Just because I may not like the comment, it doesn’t mean that it is wrong.

So, we’ve covered listening to strangers (judges) and listening to friends (critique partners). The most important listening is listening to your instincts.

While comments from critique partners and judges may very well be valid, there are times that their thoughts are not what is best for your story. So if you are caught wondering whether you’re just being stubborn in not taking people’s advice or if, instead, you are following your instincts ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Are you jumping to an emotional response? Did you give yourself time to process before assessing whether or not it works for your story?
  2. Is more than one person telling you the same thing?
  3. Have you studied the craft of writing? Are you reading other works within your genre?
  4. Have you tried out their advice to see if it improves your manuscript?
In the end, I’m a firm believer in listening to your instincts. Storytelling is a gift. The instinct on how to tell those stories is ingrained into those of us who enjoy writing. Learn to listen to that inner voice. Don’t let others tell you aren’t capable of writing a story or that you’ll never get published. Those are comments we should never listen to.

Listen to that small voice inside of you that says you have a story to tell. Listen to that voice that says that you can.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

9 Narrative, Transitions & Maintaining Forward Momentum In Your Story

Our job as writers is to keep readers reading. Beyond that, we want to make them forget they are reading so they feel they are in the story and have a stake in the outcome. That's easiest to do in scenes, which consist primarily of action and dialogue with some internalization and description sprinkled in. But narrative, much maligned, is often useful or even necessary despite the bad rap it gets from the oh-so-often-repeated "show don't tell" rule we all throw around.

Narrative lets us do some things faster than we can in scene, in ways we can't do in action or dialogue. We can use it to:
  • Create mood and tone
  • Describe characters
  • Build a setting for the story
  • Provide emotional context for the scene or coming scenes
  • Fill in necessary background information
  • Cue the reader to understand character reaction or decisions
  • Foreshadow future events
It's true narrative can add distance between the reader and the story though, so it's critical to get in and get out. Narrative has a different rhythm than action, dialogue, or even introspective. It's a slower rhythm, a more leisurely rhythm closer to a lullaby than to the pounding drum of running feet or tense conversation. And the moment the reader's brain is lulled into a slower rhythm, that's the moment they can start thinking about checking email or deciding what to make for dinner. Making shorter paragraphs can help, but our eyes can skim a paragraph very quickly to see something that ends up looking like blah, blah, blah pretty tree, blah, blah lovely sky, blah blah, went to fifth grade with him, blah, blah most popular boy, blah blah and too blah. Time to close the book.

To keep the reader from getting lulled right out of the story, there's a school of thought that says we should have no more than two paragraphs of narrative before we interrupt it with something more active. But switching from one element of fiction to another is often the most dangerous moment in fiction, the one where we risk jarring the reader out of the story into confusion, or force them to reread something to catch what they missed. The moment they are doing that, they aren't reading forward. We risk losing them to the lure of the refrigerator or the television, or the thousands of other things competing for their time at any given moment. Moving smoothly in and out of the switch requires a good transition.

Transitions are bridges that help keep the reader on the path of the story. They should be short and smooth, and there are many different types that connect different elements of a story:
  • Between times or moments
  • Between locations or settings
  • Between characters (POV shifts)
  • Between stimulus and reaction
  • Between scenes and sequels
  • Between moods, tones, emotional shifts, or significant changes of pace

Transitional words and phrases describe the shift using references to time passing, location shifting, etc. Common transition phrases include:
  • A month later
  • After the confrontation
  • After dinner
  • Afterwards
  • As the moon came out
  • As the rain stopped
  • At the same time
  • At one o'clock
  • At school the next day
  • At the appointment
  • At the same time
  • At the summer solstice
  • By noon
  • By the time that
  • For three days
  • In the morning
  • In the second year
  • It took two weeks to
  • Later that afternoon
  • Meanwhile
  • On the way to
  • On the first day of school
  • That night
  • The next meeting
  • The next morning
  • The next week
  • Two weeks later
  • Weeks passed
  • When dinner was over
  • When it was time for the date
  • When the moon came up
  • When the police arrived
  • When the rain stopped
  • When they got back
  • When they saw the place
  • When we reached the location

We can incorporate these transitions into narrative in different ways, too.
In action: She spent an hour picking out her dress and two hours in front of the mirror, and when it was time for the date, she was ready to make the boy swallow his tongue.
In description: When it was time for the date, she was dressed in black to match her mood. The moon hung low and shrouded in cloud, and the city streets had an eerie sense of waiting. 

In dialogue: "I can't believe it's almost time for the date. How has it been three days already?"

In exposition: When it was time for the date, she had been waiting at the bar so long, she knew the name of the bartender and the lifestory of all his kids.

In introspection: I glanced at my watch and confirmed my suspicion. I'd slept too long and now I was two hours late for my date.
   
In recollection: Sitting at Rita's later, I swiveled around in my chair and searched through my pockets again for the business card he had given me, the one where I'd scrawled the time for our so-called date on the back. It was still nowhere to be found, but I was sure I had gotten the time right. I remembered exactly how he had sounded, half-way to breathless, when he said, "Seven o'clock at Rita's, sweetcheeks, and don't be late."

In sensory detail: The sun beat down mercilessly for the next four hours, and by the time she should have been getting ready for her date, Jemma's skin stretched too tight over her bones and her lips were cracked.

In summary: Three days of the usual, impossible boredom went by full of school, and studying, and the dramaqueen text messsages full of who was hot for Ally and which cretin on the football team was caught with Paige. When it was time for my date with Alden, I was ready for some drama of my own.

You can also ease in and out by reusing a word, object, or concept that appears in the previous sentence or paragraph in the beginning of the next paragraph.
She raced through the empty street, the slap of her footsteps on the asphalt echoing off the darkened buildings reminding her that she was too alone and vulnerable.

But she was used to being alone. Even in the foster homes surrounded by other unwanted kids, misfits and miscreants most of them, she had been alone, and all too often she had needed to run from someone. It had made her fast.

If all else fails and we are moving from one scene to another, or we deliberately want to increase the pace of the story, we can use four blank lines or centered asterisks to indicate a scene break.

The most critical thing to in any kind of narrative or with a transition between scenes is to remember that every word and revelation has to count. Everything we include needs to be new and critical information for the reader either on an emotional or informational level. Ideally, it should multi-task the same way that great dialogue often reveals emotion, character, and information to propel the story forward. That's hard for us to guage of course, and for me, I know it's one of my hardest tasks as a writer to guage where I've added too much. Narrative can be a writer's quicksand. To avoid lulling the reader out of the story, we need to make sure that our narrative is never plain vanilla. We invoke strong images and precise verbs to make it count and make it compelling, and that leads to the risk of writerly indulgence. Narrative is most often where we fall in love with our words. Hopefully, our transitions are smooth enough that we take the reader along for the ride until we get right back into the next, necessary, scene.

Where's your writing achilles heel? Is it in narrative like mine?

Happy writing and may the transitions always move you forward,

Martina

About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

Monday, March 26, 2012

0 First Five Pages Workshop Revisions Up For Comment

Our final March First Five Pages entries are up to be workshopped--just scroll down. Pitch in and tell them what works, what hooks you, what still needs a little tweaking.

And don't forget, our next workshop starts this coming Saturday. Need the rules and details? Check here.

Martina and Lisa

5 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Pine Rev 3

First Five Pages Workshop--Amy Pine
YA Dystopian

I suck at flirting, which is why right now, as I look into Will Connolly’s beautiful blue eyes, my inner monologue repeats my secret mantra: Be honest, but b nice!

“What’s your sanctioned artistic release activity?” He asks as he sips his green tea.

“I sketch, portraits mainly.”

“Very cool. How do you decide who is worthy of a Livvy Moore portrait?”

I giggle, in that flirty sort of way that Summer has tried to teach me because, as she says, boys like that kind of thing. It’s not entirely natural, but I’m actually enjoying my conversation with Will, so I give it a shot. He smiles, so I guess he buys it. “I don’t know,” I say. “And worthy is a pretty strong word. If I’m angry, I usually draw the person who’s angering me and add some sort of blemish. You should see how many portraits of my brother I’ve drawn with various ill-placed moles or a missing eyebrow.” This time he laughs.

“Maybe next time you’ll let me see one of those. I’d love to see Ben Moore with one eyebrow.”

I smile. Next time. I’m beginning to believe it myself, which is why I’m afraid to reciprocate the question. But it would be rude not to. “What’s yours?”

“I’m a bit of a portrait artist as well. Photography.”

“Very cool yourself. I’d love to see your work some time.”

“Actually,” he says, “I have most of it right here on my tablet.”

He wakes up the screen and slides it across the table, and I instinctively close my eyes, silently repeating the mantra, willing myself to like what I see. Then I open them and find myself looking at a picture of…shrubs? I scan through more of the photos, and they are all of the finely manicured landscaping that decorates all of the yards in our sector. “It’s shrubs,” is all I can say.

“Yeah. I’m fascinated by landscape design. There’s just such beauty in symmetry.”

I can’t do it. “You mean monotony? All our yards look exactly the same. All our houses are the same. The only way to tell the difference from yard to the other is by the number that’s over the front door. Where’s the beauty in that?” Just like that, the mantra is out the window, and I know there won’t be a next time.
***
I make it home before my parents, but before I can change out of my uniform, an incoming communication comes through on my tablet. The polite, female voice notifies me. Communication from Summer Taylor, April 4th, 4:27 p.m. Recording has begun.

“Livvy. Why are you home? It’s only 4:30!”

I think I would prefer the third degree from my parents. “How do you know I’m home?”

“I can see your pillow and bed post behind you! Come on, Liv. How could you mess this one up?”

“He takes pictures of landscaping. That’s his release activity. Shrubs!” I’m exasperated at this point. “You know I’m a terrible liar. I cannot feign interest in such a ridiculous activity.”

“Livvy, I don’t get it. You’re beautiful, but when you open your mouth, total disaster. Why do you have to be so judgmental?”

“Why can’t someone find honesty endearing?” I retort. I know she’s right, about the judgmental part. I can’t help it, though. If I think it, I say it, and this does not bode well on the dating front.

“Can we just not talk about this? I’ve got a ton of research to do before tomorrow.”

“Fine,” she relents. “For now. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thanks.” Communication terminated. 4:32 p.m. Recording archived.

At dinner I have to face my parents. I can immediately read the disappointment on his face.

“Dad, I’m sorry,” is all I can muster. I know my parents know all about the date as I’m sure they’ve either read my communication log from Summer’s call, or they are able to connect the dots that I had an after school coffee date at 3:30 yet logged back in to the home security system less than an hour later.

Ben snickers, and I kick him under the table. “And you,” I say. “You just wait until next year when you have to start dating too.” This is hardly a comeback since, at fifteen, his tablet already loads up nightly with messages from the girls who can’t wait to be one of his twice-a-monthers next year.

“Livvy,” my mother starts, in a tone meant to reassure me that I’m not on trial when I know that I am. “We’re just looking out for your best interest.”

“I’m trying, Mom. You have to believe that I am.”

“Well, sweetheart,” my father adds. “You’re seventeen. It’s time to try harder.” He pauses to reset the mood. “So, how were classes for everyone today?” And just like that, the discussion is over. I should be put off by his unwillingness to hear me out, but I’m more relieved than anything.
***

I pick Summer up at the foot of her lawn the next morning. She decides to go easy on me.

“Let’s be single together,” she starts. "I’m gonna break up with Jackson.”

“Already?”

“Please, Livvy. He’s a biologist. I’m a physicist. It was doomed from the start.”

If only I could have it so easy, to be so picky. She could be a walking cliché with her long blond hair and flawless honey skin, but she owns it—the look, the name, all of it. I roll my eyes as we make our way past numerous front yards whose shrubs most likely hold a place of distinction in Will’s tablet gallery. The score for this month? First dates, two. Second dates, zero. Go me.

As we make our way toward the front steps of the Academy, I notice someone heading our direction from across the street. It’s a boy, and I don’t recognize him, which doesn’t make sense. Our eyes meet, and I just stop and stare. Summer must be a step behind because she doesn’t notice and walks right into me, knocking me to the ground. Thankfully I snap back to reality in enough time to catch myself with my hands.

“Livvy, what the flux?”

I look up at her with an eyebrow raised.

“What? It’s not profanity,” she defends. “I’m sorry, but why in the world did you stop walking?”

I look up, and he is gone. “I don’t know. I thought I saw something.”

“Can you be more specific? It must have been some thing.”

“No. I don’t know. Forget it. Can you just help me up?” She does, and we continue to our first class.

***
As soon as we sit down, the apparition reappears. He’s standing up at the front of the room with Mr. Pierce. His presence brings immediate silence, all eyes on him. I’m pretty sure I’m starting to sweat, though I know this room is always frigid. The calm he emanates is not entirely natural, and he looks like no other guy I know. His hair is the darkest black I’ve ever seen, cropped close to his head. The subtle stubble on his jaw indicates he has not shaven in a couple of days (completely against code), and his hazel eyes are fixed in my direction as Mr. Pierce introduces him. Again I’m staring.

“Class, this is Wes. He’ll be with us through graduation.” As hurriedly as he says it, Mr. Pierce ushers Wes to the empty table at the back of the room.

That’s it? No explanation? New students don’t enter the Academy. In fact, new people don’t enter the sector. Where did this guy come from?

Everyone’s eyes follow Wes to his table. He gives us a slight, closed mouth grin, tucking his hands into his front pockets. His forearm peeks out from his cuff, and I see what looks like writing on the underside. He must notice too because he instinctively pulls his sleeve back to his wrist as he sits down. My tablet chimes with an incoming message, from Summer of course. It says one word—tattoo.
***
I don’t see Summer again until lunch. She’s late and comes running to the table. “Livvy, that boy has a tattoo!”

I don’t have a chance to respond or ask where she’s been. She slaps the last bite of sandwich out of my hand.

“Seriously?” I ask.

“Shhh! He just sat down at the table behind you!”

I try to be subtle and turn around. Our eyes meet. Again, that same closed mouth grin. I turn back around.

“What was that?” Summer demands.

“I have no idea.” Thankfully, I’m saved by the bell. I won’t see Summer again until after school. I hope by then she’ll forget the familiarity in that smile.

She does. I don’t.

5 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Robert Rev 3

Name: Cecilia
Genre :YA dark fantasy


A bus zooms by. The seventh bus since I perched myself on the hard wooden bench next to the school gates, to wait for my family. I slap the book on my lap shut, and fumble for my mobile inside the rucksack. They should be here, what’s taking them so long?

I swallow hard, trying to squash the sudden nervousness and panic. What if I fail to mend my family together? I press my hand on my knee. immediately my leg stops its jiggling, and breath in.

As I exhale, a sudden sharp pain slashes through me, cutting air from my lungs. I feel as if invisible threads have been cruelly severed. Before I recover, a loud crash punctures the peaceful spring air, ripping the silence in tiny shreds. Tyres squeal on tarmac followed by the grinding sound of metal against metal. Everything around me seems to move at dizzying speeds, or is it me? The air around me reverberates with echoes of the crash, then, silence.

Moments later the world settles. I glance around, the only sound the pounding of my heart. The sky is still its cheery untouched blue. The silence shifts, as if it’s a living thing. Everything happens simultaneously. Someone screams, another yells words which sound muffled to my ears. The faint wailing of sirens soak the air. The earth trembles beneath my feet as pounding feet stampede past me. For some reason, I can’t move.

And then, I see them. The flock of white birds from last night’s dream. I can’t tell if they are doves, but I’m dazed to immobility by their dance. They twirl, dip and rise to the sky, then dip low to the ground. As they ascend into the sky, four birds separate from the flock. They fly low, and just as soon reattach to the others, then vanish. I blink once. Something cold crawls from inside me, slithers over my skin and clings on like a second skin. Instinctively, I know what the dream means.

No! It can’t be.

I shoot to my feet, whip my head to my right. Forcing my legs into action, I sprint, following the sirens. The smell of burnt rubber is stronger here. I skid to a stop, almost knocking a woman holding a baby. Impatient to get around the group of people, I skirt and shoulder my way to the front. I freeze, the only sound the pounding of my heart in my ears. In the middle of the road is a white truck, bent at a strange angle. I can’t see the driver. Someone pushes me aside, but I bounce back, my feet propelling me forward, unable to resist the strange, yet morbid pull. I round the truck, my eyes searching hungrily.

A family car, an Opel, the same navy blue as ours, lays on the road, a flattened mess, partially obscured by the truck. I stumble toward the car, my throat aching. A hand clamps around my upper arm, and yanks me back. I snatch my arm back and rush forward, glancing wildly at the wreckage. There’s a limb, a familiar limb poking through the mess. I drop to my knees, and cautiously touch the lone hand, the only thing that confirms the car’s previous occupants. I grasp the tiny fingers. I’d applied red nail polish on them last night. My eyes burn with hot tears, as I search for a body, a face. Everything is just… flat.

A soft breeze blows gently, but the air around me feels heavy, stifling. Something claws from inside my throat wanting out. Hands grab my shoulders and pull, but I heave forward and vomit.

When I finally drag myself to my feet, I’m face to face with a man. His dark eyes gaze down at me, his face mysteriously hidden in shadows, even though the sun shines bright. My eyes sweep past him searching. I stumble forward, toward what is left of our car. Distractedly, I notice how the shards of bloodied glass winks in the spring sunlight. A crew from the fire department are working on the ruins.

I’m about to take another step, when a set of hands press gently on my shoulders, and turn me around.

“Ana.”

I glance up. It’s the mysterious man. His expression is so kind, and my life has fallen apart. I need mom and dad, Lucy and Anton. But they are gone. I throw myself in his arms, and sob. Strong, comforting arms wrap around my shoulders, hold me close. They remind me of my dad. I sob harder.

“All I wanted was my family united, not taken away,” I mutter to myself, “Why them?”

“It was their time,” The man says, his voice gentle, yet strong.

I lift my head from his chest, and wipe my eyes with the back of my hand and glare at him through bleary eyes. “No, no it wasn’t. That was my family. We were supposed to go to Italy. We were supposed to be together.” My eyes drop to his shirt where my head was moments before. There’s a wet patch from my tears, but he seems oblivious to that.

“Ana, Ana. Fate doesn’t know about family. Fate collects when the time comes.”

“I don’t care. She can take me too.” I say, detaching my self from his arms. Something niggles me at the back of my mind. This strange man, I’ve seen him before, yet he knows my name. “Who are you?”

“I’m Ernest. But people call me,” he seems to hesitate as if weighing what he should say. “Grim or Death, whichever you prefer.” He shifts from one foot to another.

My jaw drops, my swollen eyes widen. Fear sizzles in my veins and I stumble back. I’ve seen photos of what or who I know as Death. He doesn’t resemble this thirty-something year old looking man whose hair is neatly slicked back, black suit as if he is a tycoon from one of those high rise expensive offices. The only thing about him that sends a shiver scuttling down my shoulders, is his eyes: dark and bottomless, ageless, yet young. Although kind, I see something like danger flash in them.

Then I remember. Grim. No wonder he knows my name. Oh, the possibilities of what he can do! Am I ready to shake hands on a deal with this guy? Yes. The fear morphs into excitement. Maybe I’m crazy but I don’t care. I want my family back.

I sidle closer, fully aware that he could have my soul in a split of a second. Somehow I doubt he will. I doubt Fate is hanging around here to decide if it’s my time. If that’s the case, I’d be dead this minute. Ernest studies me, the mysterious air around him heightens as if he knows what I have in mind.

His eyebrows shoot up. “Are you sure?”

I freeze on my tracks and gape. He knows. He knows what I’m thinking. Crap! Can he read minds too? He’s supernatural. Who knows what else he can do. “How did you know?”

He shrugs.

I try to school my features, unsuccessfully. I give up. I’m already too excited at the prospect. I nod.

“There is always a price to pay.” His voice low, yet confident.

“And I will gladly pay,” I say. If he asks me to trade my legs and hands for each of my family member, I’d be happy to throw in my incisors just for good measure.

Grim… er.. Ernest tilts his head to one side, so slowly as if he has all the time in the world. Of course, he does. He is Death. Time means nothing. I guess being immortal one hardly feels the passage of time. “Don’t you want to know what the price is?”

I shake my head quickly, impatient.

Without a word, he places both hands on either side of my head. My heart doubles its efforts to keep up with my pulse. What is he doing? Is this part of taking the soul? Is he going to kill me?

“Relax, Ana.”

His voice calms me, and my eyes flutter shut. A tickling sensation travels along the surface of my skin. Different scents flit by. And what stands out most is fresh-baked chocolate cookies, and well, my room. I’d know the smell of my room anywhere. My eyes snap open. Voices drift up from downstairs, a soothing balm to my battered heart.

I tilt my head to one side, and listen. Mom and Anton’s voice, then Lucy’s. Is this a joke?

I jerk my head up. Grim’s intense eyes are latched on mine. He shakes his head, answering my question. Unsettling.

“Are they really here?” I breath out, my eyes stinging with tears.

He nods.

I struggle to hoist myself on trembling knees. His hands drop from my head, and grasp my shoulders, helping me up. My hands tremble as I brush them on my hair, ready to bolt out of the door to witness what I can only say is a miracle.

“Ana. Welcome to the world of Novicehood.”

I stare at him blankly.

“The price, Ana. That’s the price. My novice,” he says patiently.

I frown, bouncing from one foot to the other. “You mean you don’t want an arm or leg, or… my soul?” The latter I add in a whisper. Can a person survive without a soul? Wouldn’t that someone be…soulless? Images of movies I’ve watched about soulless creatures flit through my mind. I shiver.

“I already own your soul. Besides, you are of no use to me without your hands or legs. You can keep those. As I said, welcome, Novice.” He is all teeth and wide smiles, and animated elegant hands, very pleased with himself as if he has just handed me the whole world wrapped neatly.

He just did.

I’ll deal with the soul details later. Right now, nothing else matters. “Thank you… Grim.” The smile disappears, and a scowl replaces it. Oh. “Thank you Ernest.” And his face splits into a wide toothy smile. Ah, the magic word.

As I dash out of my bedroom door, and fly down the flight of stairs, the last words I hear are, “I’ll be seeing you soon, Novice.” I can’t help wondering though. Have I done the right thing? Have I disturbed some sort of balance of nature? I wonder what involves being Reaper’s novice. How many of those does he have?

I leap to the bottom of the stairs, and my eyes zoom in on my mom taking out the cookies from the oven. I shrug the thoughts aside, and throw myself at her, almost upsetting the whole tray of hot cookies. She laughs, and I can feel my heart begin to mend.

5 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Casey Rev 3

Author: Kheryn Casey


My balcony overlooks the satellite. Steam rises from the black ground below. The fluorescent sun hums down from the top of the dome, illuminating the colony as though it’s on display – as though the satellite is a glass box, made just for the universe to peer into and smile. White light shines down on the twisting streets and the tilting complexes and the human beings. The faint wails of sirens bounce across the stretch of uneven towers. Far below, the tops of heads push across the road like blood cells pulsing through a vein. They bump and shove in a steady stream. The edge of the great barrier wall looms like a mountain in the distance.

My mother stands behind me. She’s a tall woman – taller than most men, and certainly taller than me. She holds her height with pride. It’s intimidating. I, on the other hand, haven’t grown into my height even after sixteen years. My mother complains that I hunch. I won’t look at her, but I can hear her breathing. She does it slowly. In and out. A perfect demonstration of calm. I’ve never been able to control myself as well as she can.

“Why are you being so difficult?” she asks. “Most girls would be grateful. At the very least excited.”

If she’s waiting for an answer, I won’t give her the satisfaction. The skin covering my knuckles tightens as I grip my balcony’s railing. The heat on the satellite follows no matter where I go. It makes my fingers slick with sweat. My mother realizes that I’m refusing to speak. She sighs as though I’m a child.

“What are you trying to prove?”

I’m not trying to prove anything. That’s not what I’m trying to do.

“This is an important tradition, Sigourney. I need you to follow it.”

When I don’t respond, my mother walks to the door. “Get ready to leave, then. I’ll be downstairs.” She pauses. “Don’t keep me waiting.” The door clicks shut behind her.

I stare at the people below. I count the seconds until I’m sure that a good amount of time has passed – that I’ve kept my mother waiting long enough. I stride into my bedroom and snap the balcony doors shut. I tug the drapes close, burying myself in a grainy shadow. The ornate designs covering my bedroom walls seem to ripple and sag, and the imported paintings of beautiful women crack with decade’s old dust. The marbled tile floors shine like the white of an eye, even in the dim light.

My mother thinks it’s important to follow tradition. She believes that following tradition is safe. You don’t stand out if you do what everyone else is doing. No one can hear you if you say what everyone else is saying. Blending in is camouflage. Protection. Being noticed is dangerous.

She might be right, but I that doesn’t mean I like it. I doubt I ever will.

I pull on my black uniform, smoothing out the creases in my pants and tying the laces on my shoes. I button my collar and tuck in my top. The shirt clings to my chest, reminding me that I’m not as shapely as my mother is. I often imagine her comparing the two of us and saying, “What a shame. She looks too much like her father.” I really do look a lot more like him – or the paintings of him that hang in the hall, anyway – with my tightly coiled hair and my dark eyes and my brown skin. My hair is proud, too proud to be told to lay flat or allow a comb to shape it any which way, so most days I just let it be. My black eyes are as solid as the onyx jewels my mother likes to hang around her neck, and my brown skin is dark enough to seem purple at times. People have called me beautiful, despite the flatness in my chest and hips, and I know that I am, but that’s not the type of thing I pay so much attention to. Not as much as my mother says that I should, anyway.

I walk down the stairs. My mother doesn’t say anything about the time it took me to join her, though she watches me to let me know that she isn’t pleased. Together, we leave for the slavehouse.

><><><

The boys on display are behind glass walls lining the edges of the hall. Their cages are so narrow that there’s only enough space for them to stand. They can’t move. They can barely breathe. They squint in the white light that shines down on top of their heads. The cages, blue and clear, were made so the slaves can’t see out of them. When they open their eyes, all they can see is a black mirror and a reflection of themselves. That’s what I was told, anyway, but I still feel nervous whenever I walk in front of them. I still feel their eyes following me as I pass them by.

The boys here are the sons of criminals – murderers, perhaps, or men and women that couldn’t pay their taxes. Some of the boys might even be criminals themselves, arrested by the military for smaller offenses – something simple like petty theft or breaking curfew. It doesn’t matter what the offense is. Once a citizen of our satellite breaks any military law, they relinquish their rights and are sold as slaves. Those who commit particularly offensive crimes have a choice between execution and the labor camps beyond the great barrier wall.

There are the rumors, of course, that some slaves never broke a law – that they were set up and arrested by Federation officers for no good reason at all – but that’s not the sort of thing my mother wants me to talk about.

The hall is filled with polite laughter. Wine glasses clink. Sweet perfume drifts through the air and burns my nose. Dresses made of ruffles and lace slide across the marbled floor. The walls shine like porcelain. A group of women and one man dressed in uniform stand together in front of a cage and whisper as they examine the boy inside. They eye him as though he’s a statue – a piece of art to be analyzed – and gesture and smile. The back of one boy’s cage opens and he’s pulled out, having been bought and sold. The sound of a piano spills into the hall.

My mother’s heels snap on the marbled floor. She clicks her tongue impatiently as we walk. She wants me to hurry and make a decision, even though we’ve only just arrived. “Do you know which one you want?” she asks.

I press my lips into my mouth to stop myself from answering. My mother already knows that I don’t want a slave. Many girls on the satellite receive a male slave for their sixteenth birthday. Owning a slave of opposite gender is supposed to be a symbol of entering adulthood – a birthday present for society’s debutantes. My mother claims that she wants me to follow tradition, but really, buying a slave is only an opportunity for her to prove that a person such as me can afford to own another human being. She doesn’t want anyone to think otherwise.

4 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Wedgbrow - Rev 3

Author: Sarah Wedgbrow
Title: A Girl Named Jack

My name is Jack, and I know kung-fu.  Of course it’s all in my head:  my killer moves, my Training Field of cherry blossoms, Bruce Lee and Mr. Miyagi dispensing offensive and defensive lessons.  Still, this is what I think about as I navigate the high school hallways of mass self-destruction.  Nevermind that I stick to the lockers and flow around the students stopped in bubbles of conversation.  Nevermind that the soundtrack in my mind this morning is from the musical Pippin, with the jazzy addition of the zither.  That’s what happens when you fall asleep to House of Flying Daggers after viewing karaoke covers of “Corner of the Sky” on YouTube with your little sister. 

The never-ending hallway rounds off in the distance.  It’s like old-school cartoons, the way the scenery seems to scroll by and repeat, and I’m always surprised when I stumble upon the glass doors leading to the Dreaded Cafeteria.  No one sees the Room of Requirement unless you’re hungry. 

Hungry for battle. 

Clutching the Chuck Norris lunch box my sister made for me, I scope out the cafeteria for a good spot to hide.  I listen for a word from Mr. Miyagi, but he’s silent, preferring to pop up at seemingly random times.  I know he must have his reasons.  In my left ear, Bruce Lee whispers, “Just be ready, not thinking but not dreaming…ready for whatever may come.”

I sit at a table on the edge of the room, close to the doors, and next to a row of white pillars.  It’ll be easier to blend into the surroundings over here, well away from all the raging conflict of adolescence.  Thing is, I might be too well concealed.    

As I swing my legs into the bench seat, a small square object hurtles in my direction.  Its intended destination is the trash cans nearby, but the pillar I’ve been leaning against is in the way.  BAM!  Security is breached.  A cold, wet sensation seizes my upper body.  Liquid oozes into my shirt, and pools in my bra.    

I stand up and within seconds, everyone in the small cafeteria gawks at me—the girl with milk dripping from her frizzy brown hair.  At the other end of the lunchroom, Samantha Gross smiles sweetly like I shouldn’t be bothered about it.  But she’s never had a milk carton explode over her head.  Just a guess.

“It was an accident,” she shouts from across the room.  I think I hear a “Sorry” after that, but it could be my imagination.  Most things are.  

An accident?  I guess that’s probable, except there’s a semi-long history to Samantha Gross and I.  Mostly it involves middle school marching band.  Specifically me tripping into her during her important trumpet solo (she should stick to second trumpet), and the entire brass section tumbling like dominoes.   

She maintains that I did it on purpose, and I’ve been paying for my “accident” ever since.  Even when I quit band, she acted like I should have been kicked out anyway.  But there was one week in seventh grade when we were best friends.  We had necklaces and everything until she flushed her half down the toilet. 

Samantha may have it out for me, but she’ll always play second trumpet to my real nemesis—He Who Shall Not Be Named.

This thought gives me the strength to pass through the lunch tables toward the bathrooms with my head held high.  It helps with the dripping too.  Somewhere close, I hear, “Hey Jack!  Got Milk?”  My first instinct is to ignore it, and my second is to jab with my crane’s beak move.  But the familiar voice stops me…in front of William Blake’s table. 

It’s William Blake—who’s not the poet—who I haven’t spoken to other than in English when he needs to borrow a pencil.  Or paper.  Or my notes.  Most of the time, I try not to interact with him.  My strategy with boys has always been to ignore the ones that I like.  It’s for the good.  Boys and crushes?  They’re my kryptonite.

Will offers me some napkins—it’s a fair exchange for all the homework I’ve lent him this year.  I smile in thanks, and work on drying my hair and neck.  I notice that Will is alone at the table, and wonder where all of his jock friends have gone. 

Even though he was the new kid last year, it didn’t take long for Will to become a celebrity around Ypsilanti—the “Brooklyn of Michigan.”  He plays varsity for every sport offered, except for football.  Great Lakes boys are big, but Will’s not so much. 

But even if his friends make me intensely aware that I’m athletically challenged, having some extra people around would take the focus off me.  What does Will want and why is he pointing to a seat across from him?  Surely he knows that’s Milk Suicide  

Suspiciously, I sit, telling myself that it will only be for a moment.  I slide my belongings onto the table.  Will smiles, and it hits me that his neatly styled hair and sad blue eyes are only a fraction of his beauty.  I have, of course, noticed his Hollywood good-looks before.

He comments on my lunchbox.  “Chuck Norris?  Really?”

I can’t believe he recognizes The Norris.  I study his expression—slighty admiring, slightly amused—and mention, “My little sister made it for me.”  I try to sound like it wasn’t my idea in case he thinks it’s lame, but I would have cut, pasted, and shellacked that sucker if my sister wasn’t superior at craft-making things. 

Will’s eyes light up at the mention of my sister.  My heart squeezes closed as I realize now why he wants to chat.  Junewind is the hot freshman that every guy is lusting after this year.  It’s only been a few weeks since school started, and I’m already used to the trying-to-be-casual questions.  “June’s your sister?  Oh.  Well, tell her I said ‘Hi.’”  “Do you think she likes me?  Could you ask her?” 

Junewind doesn’t like this any better than I do.  Only this morning she was saying to me on the bus, “Why don’t they just ask me out themselves?”

Maybe she doesn’t know how intimidating hotness can be. 

I love my sister, but I hate how she’s so much better equipped for social experiments than I am.  Even though Junewind’s name is as crazy as mine—Jack Li Garcia—she embraces hers.  “A name’s a name,” she says and shrugs.  Not much fazes my little sister. 

So, it seems that Will and I have another exchange.  We are eating lunch in (what our biology teacher would call) a symbiotic relationship.  I’ve now got an extra set of eyes scanning for rogue milk cartons and he gets information about Junewind.  Though, I can’t decide which is worse:  getting doused with milk or having to listen to Will skirt around the subject of my sister.

“So…Jack.”  Will’s voice is golden.  It makes me feel warm inside, like I’ve just had a giant gulp of hot chocolate that’s still fairly close to scalding, and my taste buds kind of burn off.  And then I think all day about how I’m not going to be able to taste anything until they regenerate.  It’s that golden.   

 “What are you doing this weekend?” he asks.

“This weekend?  Catching up on the Monty Python movies I missed last weekend.”  I laugh to hide how nerdy I sound.

Will leans forward and lowers his voice.  “You like Monty Python?”

I lean in too.  “You’ve got no arms left!”

Will mocks seriousness, and an English accent.  He says, “Yes I have.  It’s only a flesh wound.”

My heart starts beating again.  It’s official.  I’ve just fallen in love with this guy.  We laugh for the first time together—crucial in any relationship—and then notice a few football players grabbing chairs at the other end of the table.  Will tenses up and changes the subject.

“The new Under 18 club opens this Friday.  A bunch of us are going.”  He gestures with his head, nodding towards his friends.  “You in?”

I glance at the guys wolfing down their food, thankfully not paying any attention to our conversation.  I think for a moment.  “Should I bring June?”      

5 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Silva Rev 3

Author: Jessica Silva

On the same day for the last six years, I have skipped class to sneak into a private lecture for the historian interns. I had the procedure perfected now. By the time the morning’s cleaning staff finished their last sweep of the castle, I was already crouched in the frosty shadows by the stone steps outside the east entrance. They all left in a big group through the front entrance at exactly seven o’clock.

I counted to thirty, their chatter fading into the distance, then hurried inside. A warm draft from the fires in the main halls curled around me. Slipping down the hall to the left, I yanked off my mittens and drew down my turtleneck. This was getting too easy, really.

The familiar creak of the lecture hall’s double doors brought a smile to my face. One more year I wouldn’t have to try using one of the excused I’d penned on my hand in case I was caught. After I slipped into the dark auditorium, I shut the door behind me. Motion sensors set gears clicking into place until sparks ignited the Blaugas lighting. I surveyed the auditorium empty seating and the stage set with just a lectern. Only shadows stared back.

I bit off the last chunk of my apple and threw the core into the compost bin hidden by the velvet drapery on the walls. The same two stairs as last year squeaked under my feet. My fingers slid over the smooth finish on the tables in the third row as I moved to the fourth section. No one ever sat over here. I sank into the last armchair and stilled. After a minute, the lights shut off to conserve the gas.

Now I just had to wait. Thirty minutes was nothing compared to the year I’d already waited to see Dad again. Or the year I’d have to wait after today. My hands clutched the lion heads at the ends of the armrests. This would be easy.

Suddenly, the door creaked. I shot under the table as the Blaugas lit again. My hand clasped my shirt over my heart as a soft, low hum filled the auditorium. Footsteps climbed down the stairs to the front of the room. Casual, comfortable.

The professor who taught this class the last five years had allowed me to watch as long as I’d remained hidden, but he’d been one of Dad’s colleagues. Sympathy had been on my side. All I had to do afterward was hack the system and change my attendance for the day. My professors never knew the difference. I was too good of a student to distrust.

This year a transfer from our university’s affiliate was teaching, Professor Tassitis. I’d only met him once. If he caught me, he could give me the two demerits I deserved. One for sneaking in to a private lecture. The other for skipping my own class. Both I wouldn’t be able to hack my way out of. I’d be put on probation, and then so much for graduating and goodbye potential internship. Who wanted to be stuck on secondary education an extra year? Hang that.

I could not be caught.

When the footsteps finished down the stairs, I peeked around the corner of the table. White hair puffed on the top of a head like a cloud. It was Professor Tassitis as I’d thought. He shuffled to the stage in full academic robes. His knees cracked, and the sound echoed through the room.

“I guess that’s what I get for refusing those joint replacements last year!” he said to himself. He grinned his way to the lectern on the left side of the stage. His hands opened its cabinet door and started fiddling with the projector’s settings.

I released my shirt and ducked back under the table. He had no idea I was here. All I had to do was keep it that way. My entire body loosened, and I resettled myself under the desk. Closed my eyes. Started my mental countdown.

Professor Tassitis wasn’t the only one who’d refused to trade out their arthritic joints last year. Premier Castol had, too—and every year beforehand. That old man even wore glasses. He was the only person I knew who did. He insisted he didn’t need prosthetics to be healthy. Most of the professors who’d been born at the end of the war were like that.

The door opened again. Much too soon.

“Aren’t you rather early, Eques?” Professor Tassitis asked.

I choked. I’d forgotten Gavriel would be attending the lecture this year, since he’d become an intern. But he was probably here for class, not to tattle.

We had been still best friends when I’d told him my plan to sneak in to see Dad’s only lecture. That was five years ago. He wouldn’t remember something stupid like that, right? Didn’t matter either way, though. If he was going to betray me, I would hack into the system and fail him in every single one of his classes.

Gavriel’s soft chuckle resounded through the room. It pinched the nerves all the way down my spine. “I can leave and come back later if you’d prefer?” he said and padded down the stairs anyway.

“No, no,” the professor said, “that won’t be necessary. I do enjoy the company of a good, youthful mind from time to time. Perhaps you’d like to help me set up for our lecture this morning?”

“With pleasure.” His boots met the hollow stage with muffled thumps.

The door opened again, but this time the room filled with the chatter of several students. My legs had fallen asleep by the time Professor Tassitis finished his rambling introduction of the day’s lecture and stepped off stage. I didn’t need it. I knew exactly what today’s topic was.

The room darkened. Under the blanket of shadows, I crawled from beneath the desk and sat on the carpeted stairs. Hidden from the interns with roaming eyes, I was alone in my own little corner. Finally, the projector hummed and golden wisps of light stuttered to life.

On the stage, the holograms of nine dead historians lounged in oversized armchairs. They went down the line with intros, and then it was his turn.

“Hello, interns,” the last historian said with a bright smile. The same as always. “My name is Dr. Evander Clemens.”

“Hi, Dad.” I wrapped my arms around one of the table’s legs. My eyes burned with tears. I didn’t hold them back. But it was fine since no one could see me.

“You will be stuck with me for twenty minutes,” he continued, “while I attempt to entice you to consider the History of the Universe your specialty.” It wasn’t as if he could hear me. What was on stage was just an image. Dad could never come back. “Mostly I’ll just obsess over it until your ears bleed.”

He sat, then the first historian stood again and started his pre-programmed lecture. I watched Dad’s frozen form stare into the aisles as each historian took turns. I tried to commit every angle of his face to memory all over again. His slicked back blond hair, clean-shaven face, sturdy jaw, and sharp nose. After an hour and forty-five minutes, Dad cleared his throat and rose to his feet. My wet cheek rested against the cold wood leg.

Friday, March 23, 2012

18 Connect the Books Game and Giveaway

As  I mentioned last week, we're going to discontinuethe Friday round-ups at least for a while. In their place, We want to continue with our giveaways, but I also want to do something fun that introduces us to some great books in a creative way. Are you up for it?

The rules are simple:

  1. We pick a secret book and select a piece of trivia or a tidbit about the plot, cast of characters, setting, theme, or the author's inspiration for writing it and connect that tidbit to another secret book. The first person to comment should name the first book or the second book or both and who wrote them.
  2. The first person to comment may also choose to create a new connection between any element of the second book and a new (secret) third book.
  3. The next person to comment should reveal the mystery third book or any previous book that remains unidentified. If possible they should also create a new connection.
  4. Any commentor may try to guess the identity of any book that has not yet been correctly identified at any time. The author must always be included in the identification.
  5. Any commentor may, if they are stumped by the identity of the last book named, create a connection based on any of the previous books hinted by us or by another commentor.
  6. Correct guesses are worth 2 points toward the giveway, incorrect guesses made in good faith are worth 1 point, and connections are worth 3 points. Finally, anyone who comes back and confirms the identity of a book they used to create a connection once the answer has been guessed will get an extra 2 points. (So total of 5 points possible toward giveaway.)
  7. There is no limit to the number of entries.
  8. The address form for the week's entries will be posted next Thursday. To consolidate your entries, you will need to come back on Thursday, fill out the form and tally up how many entries I need to put in the hat for you. The form will help you do that.
  9. The giveaway winner will be posted on Friday along with the next giveaway.

Ready to play?

The first book is a Young Adult novel whose author was inspired in part by the myth of the tributes Athens was required to send to King Minos of Crete as sacrifices to the Minotaur. Like the heroine of this first secret book, Theseus volunteered to take the place of one of the tributes and ultimately emerged victorious from the labyrinth or playing field.

The first book connects to a second, excellent Young Adult novel, which has a character whose first name is actually Theseus, although he prefers to go by Cas.

Name the books and authors, please. And provide a link to your own secret book!

Our winner will receive a copy of Jackson Pearce's SWEETLY.

As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear, too.

Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They're invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.

Life seems idyllic and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past -- until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn't gone -- it's lurking in the forest, preying on girls every year after Live Oak's infamous chocolate festival, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is.

Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

8 WOW Wednesday: Catherine Knutsson with Tips on Patience, Editing, and Heart

Today's WOW guest, Catherine Knutsson, is the author of SHADOWS CAST BY STARS (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, June 2012), a post-apocalyptic fantasy of myth, spirituality, and one girl's journey to healing herself and the world around her. Catherine lives on Vancouver Island and divides her time between writing, running, and walking the wilds. Visit her at www.catherineknutsson.com or on Twitter at @catknutsson.


Writerly Tips on Patience, Editing, and Heart
by Catherine Knutsson

So. I am here to inspire! I hope I do, because goodness knows we all need a little inspiration! Writing is hard work, and often lonely work, and for me, it’s often scary work, too. But, there are things every writer can do to smooth the path, so to speak. Some of what I suggest below may go against the grain, but think of this as food for thought, or tools to stick in your toolbox.

Item #1: Be One With the Stew

When I was trying to figure out what to write for this post, a writerly friend reminded me of a bit of help I gave her once regarding stew. Here’s the thing: writing is like stew. Stew takes time. If you try to eat stew before it’s, well, stewed, you’ll be eating a flavorless slop that’s tough and chewy and not so great. But, if you wait, if you’re patient, if you tend it and season it and nurture it, stew will, given time, become mellow and rich and layered with flavor, and it only gets better as time goes on.

Writing, for me, is often like that. If I rush something, I inevitably don’t do my best work. I need to let things rest, mellow, hang out in my mind, steep. Sometimes, that means letting a work sit for a really long time until I feel I’ve garnered the skills I need to do the story justice. And, by a really long time, I mean years! Sometimes, the stewing process means I write multiple drafts until I find the one that tells the story in the way it’s meant to be told. That’s an arduous process, to be sure, but it’s a necessary one. Skip it, or rush it, and I always seem to end up having to do more work in the end, rather than less.

And, look at all the things in life that take time: wine, tea, mail, having a baby, having a book. So, rather than fight the stew, be one with the stew. Settle in, give it some love, and wait...

Item #2: Make Friends With your Inner Editor

I know, I know. Everyone says that you shouldn’t listen to your inner editor, that mouthy, nasty voice in your head that says “You suck! You so suck! You are the suckiest sucker in all of Suckington!”

That, I think, is what happens when one isn’t friends with one’s inner editor.

Because, here’s the thing: I have learned that often, my inner editor is right. Not about the sucking part, although, goodness knows I have written sucky things. Suck happens. This is a fact. And that’s what my inner editor resorts to yelling when I haven’t listened to her good advice along the way. Because, like anyone, she/he/it starts off as a perfectly reasonable voice, saying things like, “You know, you should probably take a bit of time before sending this out to readers”, or “You know, “it’s okay for now” is a bit of a cop-out”, or “Um, yeah, if you think it’s dumb, it’s probably dumb.”

But then, as I continue to not listen, things begin to escalate. She starts to yell louder, and get ruder, because the inner editor knows where to hit a writer when she’s down. She knows me, she knows my foibles, and she knows my vulnerabilities, and by gum, if I’m not going to listen to her, well, she’ll darn well make me listen!

So, yes -- things escalate, and she gets nastier, and I have to work harder and harder getting her shut her yap. I yell at her. She yells at me. I yell louder. She says, “Oh yeah? Let me show you some yelling!”...and so on. Unfortunately, while all this fighting is going on, the original message, the one of value, gets lost.

What I’ve learned (the hard way) is this: had I only listened to her in the beginning, I would have saved myself all sorts of heartache and headache, because all that yelling in my head is taxing and exhausting and never does me or my inner editor (who, incidentally, is also me) any good.

So now, I try to listen. I don’t always take everything she says as gospel, but I make note and keep it in mind. Besides, she’s not such a bad gal, my inner editor. Really. She just wants to be heard, is all.

Item #3: Write Your Heart Out; Or, Write Your Heart Into Your Writing

In my travels around the internet, I’ve noticed a lot of discussion about market, and writing query letters, and how to get an agent, and what editors want to see, and how to build a brand for yourself. This is all valuable information. Absolutely.

But, while everyone is reading about markets and queries and agents and brands, are they writing? Are they honing their craft? Are they writing the best story they can write, the one that will buck the trends, the one that will be impossible to reject?

Because, no matter how much one knows about all that other stuff, it’s still not writing. Writing is inserting one’s butt into one’s chair and putting in the time crafting and honing and shaping and pruning. Writing is the one element we writers have control over. All the rest? We can educate ourselves about market and trends and what others want, but in the end, that’s out of our hands. What we can control is our work. Our responsibility is to write the best work we can, to mine our hearts and our souls and put words on the page as only we can, and write stories so compelling, so alive, so honest and true, that they steal our breath away, and the breath of others, too. These are the stories I want to read. These are the stories that impossible to reject. When time is precious, spend it here, in these stories, with your craft, with your heart beating in every word.

Writing is hard work. There’s no two ways about it. Embrace it. Make stew with it. Don’t fight with yourself. And make your work shine like only you can.

These things light my way when the path gets dark and murky. I hope they shed a little light on your path, too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

0 First Five Pages Workshop Revisions Up For Comment

The entries are below. You know what to do! Comment on what works, what doesn't, what you love, what you question... But also consider what this opening tells you about the characters, story, tone, and so on. See if there are holes or things that need to be buttoned down.

Thanks for helping!

Martina and Lisa

9 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Pine Rev 2

Name: Amy Pine
Genre: YA Dystopian


I suck at flirting, which is why right now, as I look into Will Connolly’s beautiful blue eyes, my inner monologue repeats my secret mantra: Be honest, but be nice!

“What’s your sanctioned artistic release activity?” He asks as he sips his black coffee.

“I sketch, portraits mainly.”

“Very cool. How do you decide who is worthy of a Livvy Moore portrait?”

I giggle, in that flirty sort of way that Summer has tried to teach me because, as she says, boys like that kind of thing. But it’s not forced because I’m actually enjoying my conversation with Will. “I don’t know,” I say. “And worthy is a pretty strong word. If I’m angry, I usually draw the person who’s angering me and add some sort of blemish. You should see how many portraits of my brother I’ve drawn with various ill-placed moles or a missing eyebrow.” This time he laughs.

“Maybe next time you’ll let me see one of those. I’d love to see Ben Moore with one eyebrow.”

I smile. Next time. I’m beginning to believe it myself, which is why I’m afraid to reciprocate the question. But it would be rude not to. “What’s yours?”

“I’m a bit of a portrait artist as well. Photography.”

“Very cool yourself. I’d love to see your work some time.”

“Actually,” he says, “I have most of it right here on my tablet.”

He wakes up the screen and slides it across the table, and I instinctively close my eyes, silently repeating the mantra, willing myself to like what I see. Then I open them and find myself looking at a picture of…shrubs? I scan through more of the photos, and they are all of the finely manicured landscaping that decorates all of the yards in our sector. “It’s shrubs,” is all I can muster.

“Yeah. I’m fascinated by landscape design. There’s just such beauty in…”

I cut him off. “Uniformity? All our yards look exactly the same. All our houses are the same. The only way to tell the difference from yard to the other is by the number that’s over the front door. Where’s the beauty in that?” Just like that, the mantra is out the window, and I know there won’t be a next time.
***
I make it home before my parents and am able to escape the third degree, but before I can change out of my uniform, an incoming communication comes through on my tablet. The polite, robotic female voice notifies me. Communication from Summer Taylor, April 4th, 4:27 p.m. Recording has begun.

“Livvy. Why are you home? It’s only 4:30!”

I think I would prefer the third degree from my parents. “How do you know I’m home?”

“I can see your pillow and bed post behind you! Come on, Liv. How could you mess this one up?”

“He takes pictures of landscaping. That’s his release activity. Shrubs!” I’m exasperated at this point. “You know I’m a terrible liar. I cannot commend him on such a ridiculous activity, on seeing beauty in monotony.”

“Livvy, I don’t get it. You’re beautiful, but when you open your mouth, total disaster. Why do you have to be so judgmental?”

Now I laugh. Beautiful? My skin is so fair, I’m surprised I don’t burst into flames in the sun. Maybe she means my unruly, dark waves that I can barely tame into a pony tail, my standard daily hairstyle. Summer is the gorgeous one, hair—blond, straight. Skin—flawless honey. Her parents ran the risk of making her a cliché, but she owns it—the look, the name, all of it.

“Whatever,” I retort. You know we have to date at least twice a month unless we are in a monogamous relationship. Will was single, so he had to ask someone.” I know she’s right, about the judgmental part. I can’t help it, though. If I think it, I say it, and this does not bode well on the dating front.

“Can we just not talk about this anymore? I’ve got a ton of research to do before tomorrow.”

“Fine,” she relents. “For now. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thanks. Bye.” Communication terminated. 4:39 p.m. Recording archived.

I pick Summer up at the foot of her lawn the next morning, and she goes easy on me for today.

“So,” she starts. “I think I’m breaking up with Jackson.”

Summer always has a boyfriend. The two date minimum isn’t an issue for her because she’s always in a relationship, whereas I rarely make it past a second date.

“Already? I thought you really like him.”

“Please, Livvy. Jackson’s a biologist. I’m a physicist. It was doomed from the start.”

I roll my eyes as we make our way past yard after identical yard until we reach the clearing that denotes the school grounds (also impeccably manicured…I’m sure Will has some photos of it). As we make our way toward the front steps of the Academy, I notice someone heading our direction from across the street. I don’t recognize him and realize he must be a first year. Our eyes meet, and I stumble backwards, knocking Summer to the ground and landing on my butt right next to her.

“Livvy, what the flux?”

Oh how I never tire of Summer’s work-arounds for the no profanities ordinance.

“I’m sorry. I must have tripped or something. Are you ok?”

“Yeah, but do you think that next time you get weak in the knees you could give me some warning?”

“Sure,” I say. We both get up, and I look across the street again. Whoever he was, he’s gone.

***
As soon as we sit down in our first class, I realize I was wrong. He can’t be a first year because he’s standing up at the front of the room with Mr. Pierce. His presence brings immediate silence, all eyes on him. I’m pretty sure I’m starting to sweat, though I know this room is always frigid. The calm he emanates hides something, and he looks like no other guy I know. His hair is the darkest black I’ve ever seen, cropped close to his head. The subtle stubble on his jaw indicates he has not shaven in a couple of days (completely against code), and his hazel eyes are fixed in my direction as our instructor, Mr. Pierce, introduces him. That’s when I realize I’m staring.

“Students, I know this is unorthodox, but we have a new addition to the Academy. This is Wes. He’ll be with us through graduation.”

Unorthodox is an understatement. New students don’t enter the Academy. New people don’t enter the sector. Everyone who lives here is born here, so where did this guy come from?

Wes gives us a slight, closed mouth grin, tucking his hands into his front pockets. His forearm peeks out from his cuff, and I see what looks like writing on the underside. He must notice too because he instinctively pulls his sleeve back to his wrist. All eyes in the class follow as Mr. Pierce leads Wes to the empty table in the back. My tablet chimes with an incoming message, from Summer of course. It says one word—tattoo.

I don’t see Summer again until lunch. “Livvy, that boy has a tattoo!”

“Tattoos aren’t allowed in the territory.”

“Livvy, I know the rules, but he’s obviously not from here. And he looks like no guy I’ve ever seen before. I mean, every boy I’ve ever met looks like every boy I’ve ever met.” This is true. It’s not just the uniform. There’s also a certain uniformity to all the guys in our class. As we get closer to starting our lives in the Administration, the males are beginning to look more the part.

“And he’s kind of skinny, too,” she continues. “Not in a bad way. I like a change from the thick manufactured muscle of the male student body.”

“Some of that manufactured muscle is your current boyfriend and every other guy who has auditioned for the role. It’s not like they have a choice. All male students are required to take a military fitness class as part of the curriculum.”

“Whatever,” she replies. “We both know I’m not going to marry anyone from here.”

“Oh, but you’re going to marry the illegally tattooed stranger?”

There has to be a reason why he’s allowed to break code. Before I have a chance to think of it, Summer slaps my sandwich out of my hand before I take another bite.

“Seriously?” I ask.

“Shhh! He just sat down at the table behind you!”

I try to be subtle, but my glimpse turns into a full-on face-to-face stare. Again, that same closed mouth grin. I turn back around.

“What was that?” Summer demands.

“I have no idea.” Thankfully, I’m saved by the bell. I won’t see Summer again until after school. I hope that by then she’ll forget the familiarity in that smile.

She does. I don’t.

10 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Silva Rev 2

Name: Jessica Silva
Genre: YA sci-fi (with steampunk elements)

On the same day for the last six years, I skipped class to sneak into the intern’s lecture. I had the procedure perfected now. When the morning’s cleaning staff finished their last sweep of the castle, I was already in the shadows outside the giant double doors. I counted to ten. Then I hurried inside and slipped down the hall to the left.

The familiar creak of the lecture hall’s double doors brought a smile to my face. One more year I wouldn’t have to try using one of the excused I’d penned on my hand in case I was caught. After I slipped into the dark auditorium, I shut the door behind me. Motion sensors set gears clicking into place until sparks ignited the Blaugas lighting. I surveyed the auditorium seating and stage set with just a lectern. Only shadows stared back.

I bit off the last chunk of my apple and threw the core into the compost bin hidden by the velvet drapery on the walls. The same two stairs as last year squeaked under my feet. My fingers slid over the smooth finish on the tables in the third row as I moved to the fourth section. No one ever sat over here. I sank into the last armchair and stilled. After a minute, the lights shut off to conserve the gas.

Now I just had to wait. Thirty minutes was nothing compared to the year I’d already waited to see Dad again. My hands clutched the lion heads at the ends of the armrests. This would be easy.

Suddenly, the door creaked. I shot under the table as the Blaugas lit again. My hand clasped my shirt over my heart as a soft, low hum filled the auditorium. Footsteps climbed down the stairs to the front of the room. Casual, comfortable.

The professor who taught this class the last five years had allowed me to watch as long as I’d remained hidden, but he’d been one of Dad’s colleagues. Sympathy had been on my side.

This year a transfer from our university’s affiliate was teaching. I’d only met him once. If he caught me, he could give me two demerits. One for sneaking in to a private lecture. Another for skipping my own class. I’d be put on probation, and then so much for graduating and goodbye potential internship. Who wanted to be stuck on secondary education an extra year? Hang that.

I could not be caught.

When the footsteps finished down the stairs, I peeked around the corner of the table. White hair puffed on the top of a head like a cloud. It was the professor as I’d thought. He shuffled to the stage in full academic robes. His knees cracked, and the sound echoed through the room.

“I guess that’s what I get for refusing those joint replacements last year!” he said to himself. He grinned his way to the lectern on the left side of the stage. His hands opened its cabinet door and started fiddling with the projector’s settings.

I released my shirt and ducked back under the table. He had no idea I was here. All I had to do was keep it that way. My entire body loosened, and I resettled myself under the desk. Closed my eyes. Started my mental countdown.

This professor wasn’t the only one who’d refused to trade out their arthritic joints last year. Premier Castol had, too—and every year beforehand. That old man even wore glasses. He was the only person I knew who did. He insisted he didn’t need prosthetics to be healthy. Most of the professors who’d been born at the end of the war were like that.

The door opened again. Much too soon. I held my breath. No one had seen me, right?

“Aren’t you rather early, Eques?” the professor asked.

I choked. I’d forgotten Gavriel would be attending the lecture this year, since he’d become an intern. Even if he’d seen me, he wouldn’t tell, would he? I would hack into the system and fail him in every single one of his classes if he did.

Gavriel’s soft chuckle resounded through the room. It pinched the nerves all the way down my spine. “I can leave and come back later if you’d prefer?” he said and padded down the stairs anyway.

“No, no,” the professor said, “that won’t be necessary. I do enjoy the company of a good, youthful mind from time to time. Perhaps you’d like to help me set up for our lecture this morning?”

“With pleasure.” His boots met the hollow stage with muffled thumps.

I resisted my urge to peek around the desk just to see his stupid mug. Not worth it if he spotted me. He had some kind of trick with that sort of thing—be it finding me from across the parterre or hearing me from two floors down. It was a worthless talent.

He was probably here for class, not to tattle. We had been still best friends when I’d told him my plan to sneak in. That was five years ago. He wouldn’t remember something stupid like that, right? And if he’d were going to betray me, he would’ve said something by now. I was safe for now. I still had to manage to sneak out, but I had a routine for that, too.

After twenty minutes, the rest of the interns—all eleven of them—filtered in and took their seat. Always in section two and three. My legs had fallen asleep by the time the professor finished his rambling introduction of the day’s lecture and stepped off stage. I didn’t need it. I knew exactly what today’s topic was.

The room darkened. Under the blanket of shadows, I crawled from beneath the desk and sat on the stairs. Hidden from the interns with roaming eyes, I was alone in my own little corner. Finally, the projector hummed and golden wisps of light stuttered to life.

On the stage, the holograms of nine dead historians lounged in oversized armchairs. They went down the line with intros, and then it was his turn.

“Hello, interns,” the last historian said with a bright smile. The same as always. “My name is Dr. Evander Clemens.”

“Hi, Dad.” I wrapped my arms around one of the table’s legs. My eyes burned with tears. I didn’t hold them back. But it was fine since no one could see me.

He sat, then the first historian stood again and started his pre-programmed lecture. I watched Dad’s frozen form stare into the aisles as each historian took turns. I tried to commit every angle of his face to memory all over again. His slicked back blond hair, clean-shaven face, sturdy jaw, and sharp nose. After an hour and forty-five minutes, Dad cleared his throat and rose to his feet. My wet cheek rested against the cold wood leg.

“So I heard you want to be historians,” he said, folding his arms over his chest. The black silk of his robes rippled with the movement. “Not a bad choice, if you want my opinion. Which of course you do. You wouldn’t be sitting there if you didn’t.” He flashed a boyish grin, and despite my tears, I smiled right back. “Just kidding. None of you really had a choice. Mandatory lectures were always beastly annoying, so I’ll be quick.” He twisted his mouth. “Quick-like, rather. I’m a rambler.”

The interns stifled their laughter, and my grin only grew. I couldn’t help it.