Friday, June 29, 2012

15 Time Concepts in Young Adult Literature and a Giveaway


Time is a River w/o Banks
I've always been fascinated by the concept of time. I grew up on fantasies like Madeleine L'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME and Alison Uttley's A TRAVELER IN TIME.

Even my favorite Eleanor Cameron book, THE COURT OF THE STONE CHILDREN, mentioned a Marc Chagall painting called Time is a River without Banks. There are so many ways to think of time, and endlessly creative ways to incorporate them into different genres of fiction.

I was fascinated last year when Myra McEntire's HOURGLASS came out because of the way that it blended together romance, timeslip, paranormal and science fiction. And I am dying to read the sequel TIMEPIECE to see where the story went. It's next on my TBR pile, and I'm savoring having it there the same way I savor the idea of the box of Mozart Keugels (the best chocolate in the WORLD) I've got tucked away on the top shelf of the pantry.
Dealing with the concept of time is tricky. It requires a steady hand, a great grasp on all the writing basics, and an understanding of fantasy at its most intricate levels. Any slip in your worldbuilding will call everything into question and bring the reader out of the moment. (Pardon the puns.) If you haven't read HOURGLASS, go get it now. Then pick up the sequel. (Blurbs are all at the bottom of this post). HOURGLASS has already been optioned for a movie.

For a different take on time in young adult fiction, pick up TIMELESS by Alexandra Monir. It came out in January, 2011. Amazon.com named it one of the “Best Books of the Month”, and Barnes & Noble featured the title in their “Top Teen Picks.” The sequel is coming out shortly. Alexandra also integrated original music into the novel’s pages, writing two songs for the book, which she recorded with producer Michael Bearden (musical director of Michael Jackson’s last concert, This Is It ). The songs were released on iTunes as a supplement to the book.

Read below for interviews with both Myra and Alexandra and the book blurbs, and then fill out the form at the bottom for a chance to win TIMEPIECE or TIMELESS. Enter by midnight on 7/5. US and Canadian entries only.

INTERVIEW w/ ALEXANDRA MONIR

Q. What first interested you in the concept of time?
A: I think time is the most magical of the elements! I'm a history buff and also fascinated by the future, so I was just drawn to the idea of writing a book that explored time in a non-linear way.

Q: How long did you work on TIMELESS and “Secrets of the Time Society?”
A: I spent a year and a half working on TIMELESS, from writing the outline all the way to copyediting the final draft. Half of that time was spent on my extensive research of New York history, particularly focused on the three different eras I was writing about.

Q: How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
A: I had a very unusual journey to publication- in many ways, the book deal fell into my lap when I came up with the idea, as if it was meant to be! Random House was actually the first publisher my agent submitted my book proposal to, and they bought it. But since I was a teenager I'd been paying my dues as an aspiring screenwriter and recording artist, so even though the book deal was such an amazing surprise, it was also like "Success- finally!" :)

Q: What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
A: My best advice is to read constantly- especially the enduring classics, and the new books on the market that are making a splash. Also write every day, even if it's just in your journal. Regular practice is so instrumental in developing your writing skills and signature voice.

Q: What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
A: Since I'd never imagined myself a novelist until I got the book deal for Timeless, I was surprised by how thoroughly I fell in love with writing books and how quickly it came to feel like my calling in life. It's been a thrilling road so far, and I'm excited to continue and see where the path leads! :)

TIMELESS book trailer: TIMELESS book trailer
Alexandra's TIMELESS music -- you can hear clips on this page
New York slideshow of places in TIMELESS “then” and “now:”

TIMELESS by Alexandra Monir

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.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

2 Sarah Ockler: Getting Lost on the Road to Publication


Sarah Ockler is one of our two guest mentors for our July First Five Pages Workshop, which will be open for entries at noon on July 7th, so mark your calendars! Sarah is the bestselling author of BittersweetFixing Delilah and the critically acclaimed Twenty Boy Summer, a YALSA Teens' Top Ten nominee and IndieNext List pick. She is a championship cupcake eater, coffee drinker, night person, and bookworm. When she’s not writing or reading, Sarah enjoys taking pictures, hugging trees, and road-tripping through the country with her husband, Alex. Visit her website or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

Getting Lost on the Road to Publication

by Sarah Ockler

Wherever you are in the publishing journey, you've probably figured
out that writing takes serious perseverance and patience (by which I
clearly mean drugs and alcohol. Just kidding. Mostly kidding.) I mean,
books don't just write themselves! *stamps foot*

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah
OcklerBy the time I wrapped up my first novel, Twenty Boy Summer, I'd taken the word "commitment" to frightening new heights (there's a reason it's so close to "committed," because that's exactly what my husband wanted to do to me). I was obsessed, writing every spare moment -- lunch hours, late nights, weekends when everyone else was having fun. It was an intense time because I knew that if I was going to succeed, I had to make writing my number-one priority.

I don't regret it. I finished, landed an agent, and sold the book relatively quickly (something that still feels like a dream, even four years later). I always advise new writers to do the same -- make writing your top priority. But I've also realized that while I needed to push myself hard to overcome insecurities, naysayers, and a whole host of ready-made excuses, the write-every-spare-second method is not sustainable.

Art + Business = Burnout

Fixing Delilah by Sarah
OcklerWhether you're already published or still dreaming of ideas for your first book, once you decide to write for publication, the art of writing becomes impossibly tangled with the business of writing, and it changes things. Some of the pure joy of it fades; the shininess dulls. Not to say that being an author isn't rewarding and incredible, but it's challenging at every turn, fraught with rejection, self-doubt, publishing industry craziness, and straight-up writing overload.

Thing is, we're writers. We can't not write. If I go more than a week without scribbling, I get cranky and start serving myself large quantities of Ben and Jerry's and/or white cheddar popcorn and/or Bombay Sapphire gin, sometimes all in the same bowl. So I realize that not writing is not an option. But taking small breaks is an option --- a necessity, even.

Losing It

Recently, I'd noticed some serious burnout smoke coming from my head (it smells like burnt coffee and lightening, in case you were wondering) -- a sure sign it was time to get lost. So my husband and I planned a week-long trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

I left my laptop behind. I had no internet. I paused all deadlines.

Sarah Ockler, lost in
Rocky Mountain National ParkWith my bestie husband, I took long, strenuous hikes up mountains. I rode a horse. I smelled trees and photographed wildlife. I explored alpine lakes and trails. I read books at night and ate homemade pie and chatted with the college interns working at the B&B where my husband and I got married (and where I wrote much of Twenty Boy Summer). Yes, I jotted a few notes on paper when I felt creative, but I didn't work. I put plot and character development and marketing plans aside and let myself wander, physically and emotionally.

After a week in the mountains, when I found my way back and pulled my chair up to the keyboard, I was refreshed, energized, and absolutely ready to write again. Creativity lost, creativity found.

Travel a No-Go? 8 Ways to Get Lost in Your Own Backyard

Traveling is a great way to escape and recharge, but you don't have to pack your bags to break from the stress of the writing biz. There are some great ways to get lost locally, even if you're short on funds or time. The important thing is to walk away from the page, and here are 8 ways to do it:
  1. Find a new writing spot. If you write at home, venture out to the park. If you're usually typing away at the bookstore, try the library or coffee shop, or buddy up and write at a friend's place. Even a short-term migration from the desk to the kitchen table counts -- just enough to change the scenery.
  2. Play tourist. Put on your walking shoes, get on your bike, or hop in the car or bus and sightsee your town as if it's your first visit. There are tons of things to experience in every place --- historical sites, restaurants, architecture, nature, local oddities. When was the last time you visited a museum, took a home and garden tour, drove down an unfamiliar street, or shopped on the other side of town? Inspiration often strikes in new places.
  3. Read a book. All the better if it's not your usual genre. How fun to go on an adventure with a character who hasn't been plaguing your mind and waking you up every night! Reading something amazing and unexpected always makes me want to be a better writer.
  4. Immerse yourself in non-writing creativity. Every try sketching or painting? What about putting together a recipe from scratch? Taking photos? Making up a song or rap? Don't be shy about droppin' dope rhymes in the privacy of your own home. Getting in touch with the other creative parts of your soul can boost your writing mojo.
  5. Wander off the info highway. The internet is awesome, but it's also a ginormous time suck, and it rewires our brains to be less original and creative. A few days sans email, social networking, and online gossip is like a cold shower for your mind.
  6. Mix up your playlist. Like music? Experiment with something totally whacky. Country lovers, check out acid jazz or ambient. Is classical your thing? Why not rap? Swap your easy listening for classic rock or indie stuff. Get lost in some new tunes and see where the music takes you!
  7. Reboot your writing routine. Do you only write between the hours of one and three, with Mercury in retrograde, the ambient temperature at 67.9 degrees, imported lavender incense burning, a mug of earl gray tea steaming near your left hand, and a purple-haired troll doll perched upon your keyboard? OMG, me too! But... what if you woke up in the middle of the night and wrote in bed? Ditched the laptop for some on-paper cursive writing? Shake things up in your writing life to break patterns, habits, and ruts and you might see things in a new way.
  8. Veg. Nothing wrong with a little R&R on the couch, remote in hand. Taking a nap is an awesome pastime, too. So is a hot bath. A long daydream. Sometimes you just need to turn off your brain and let the muse find you.
Writing is hard, often weighted with frustration, doubt, fear, anxiety, panic, and pure hatred for the written word (wow, first car on the emocoaster, anyone? Sit next to me and hold my hand!). Wandering off, even for a little while, can actually help you find your way back. And when you do return to the page, you'll be a better writer, excited and maybe even full of new ideas.

So get lost, dude!

Take a deep breath, turn off the computer, close the notebook, clear your mind, and go. Your creative soul will thank you. And your readers will, too.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

12 WOW Wednesday: Only You Can Write It by Lynne Kelly

We are thrilled to have author Lynne Kelly joining us today. Her debut novel CHAINED released just last month through Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. She's represented by Joanna Volpe at New Leaf Literary & Media. Lynne grew up in Houston, then lived in a couple of much colder places before running back to the Houston area. For a few years she was a special education teacher, until she realized it was a job for someone with good planning and organizational skills. She now works as a sign language interpreter and writes novels for children and young adults. CHAINED is her first novel. Visit her website and blog, or follow her on Twitter.


Only You Can Write It

by Lynne Kelly

Often when I finish reading a great book, I close it and think, “Man, I wish I wrote that.” Usually it's a story with an amazing plotline that never occurred to me, along with a spot-on voice that made me feel like I'd met the characters in real life.

I'm sure all writers feel that way at times, and it's a great compliment to an author to wish that we'd had the imagination to have written the same thing. But we know we couldn't have, right? Even if I did have the same story idea as the author, and the same talent, we wouldn't have written that book.

After having a novel published, I'm amazed at how everything came together to make it happen. Not only could no one else have written the book, I couldn't have written it if any number of lifetime events had been altered just a little.

There's a reason I started out the Chained acknowledgments page by saying I wanted to thank everyone I've ever met, and I'm really happy that my publisher let me carry on for three pages. Other than the obvious ones who helped, like critique members or experts who vetted the manuscript, sometimes a casual remark I overheard sparked an idea for a new plotline or character trait. Even with all the people I did mention, I'm sure I left someone out.

When I first got the idea to write a book about an elephant, I was at a presentation by author Jack Canfield, who talked about believing in your ability to succeed even if you've failed in the past. To illustrate his point, he told the audience a little something about elephants: if they're caught and tied up when very young, they'll struggle and struggle to break free, but once they give up, they give up forever. So years later, the full-grown elephant is still tethered by that same thin rope or chain, because he doesn't know it could easily break free if he just tried again. Although the lesson was “Don't be like the elephant,” for some reason as I sat there I started thinking about a children's book about an elephant who doesn't know she's stronger than the chain that holds her captive. I don't know how many people were in the audience that day, but it was a pretty big group. Of course we all heard the same presentation, but for some reason that one message struck a chord with me, and I sat there turning it over in my head for the rest of the night, and started writing it down the next day. I wasn't even a writer before that night. What if I hadn't gone to that presentation? I shudder to think of it.

It helped that I was a teacher at the time, in a resource classroom for elementary school students with reading levels ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade. Because of that, I was more familiar with children's literature that most adults. Teaching is something else I never thought I'd do; I'd been a sign language interpreter for years, and started teaching when asked to fill in a vacancy in a high school American Sign Language class. I discovered that I liked teaching, but wanted to work with younger kids, so I became certified as a special education teacher. So there were more things that fell into place just the right way—if I hadn't started that new career and hadn't selected that particular field of teaching, I wouldn't have had children's books on the brain so much. Also, the book wouldn't have turned out the same if I'd ended up at any other school, because the conversations I had about it with my co-workers helped shape the direction of the story.

I could go on, but you get the idea—there's work to writing a book, but there are also pieces that fall into place that make the stories possible.

A co-worker of my husband, when he found out I write for children, advised, “You know what your wife should do? Write a book like that Harry Potter.

Really? I hadn't thought of that. I should get on that right now. Oh wait, it's already been written. Never mind.

Of course, it'd be lovely if I'd have been the one to write the series, but I couldn't have. It doesn't mean that no one else ever thought of an orphan boy who attends boarding school after finding out he has magical powers, but no one else has the same imagination or experience that J.K. Rowling has. Even if we'd all been on that same train Rowling was on when the idea came to her, and if she'd exclaimed that idea out loud, as fully-formed as she says it came to her, none of us would have written Harry Potter. There's only one author who could have written it; each of us would have gone home and written completely different stories. Our experiences, ideas, and people we've met all weave into our imaginations to create stories that only we can write.

At the end of Chained, Hastin reflects on his whole journey and remembers his father saying to him, “A story is no good if you hear only the ending. You have to know how you got there.” Also he acknowledges that everything that's happened to him, the good and the bad, have all made him who he is and brought him to the road he's standing on at that moment.

And the same is true for you. You'll read novels that you wish you wrote, although you couldn't have. But that author couldn't have written yours. The characters running around in your head will meet everyone you've ever met, will learn from everything you've ever done and learned, and you will write the story only you can write.

That's the book that will make people say, “I wish I wrote that.” 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

18 Crafting Multi-Layered Characters

If you’re a writer, it’s pretty much a given that you love to read. But when’s the last time you really sat down and observed an influential character in one of your favorite books? I mean really went through the book and took notes on the many facets of your character that the author intentionally crafted. If you’re like me, that would be never. It’s been a whirlwind starting the first week of my M.F.A. in Children’s Literature, but doing this very exercise was revealing and well worth it.  

Using a popular middle grade novel, I combed through the pages looking for five methods of characterization that, when put together, made the characters memorable and realistic. You may be saying, I don’t have time for that or, “I’ve read it and I can tick off things I know about the character.” But consider this a crucial task in developing as a writer so that your characters don’t fall flat.
So what exactly can we observe about memorable characters to demystify why they work? It breaks down to the following five items:

·    Physical descriptions: These are usually scant and easy to start with because good writing includes a somewhat limited idea of what a character actually looks like. But memorable writing hooks the reader with at least one thing they can hold onto for each character.

·    Actions: How does your character move? Do they have a physical hobby or a way of moving when interacting with someone else? What they do reveals a lot about your character by showing, not telling.

·    Dialogue: This is a two-step process. Not only are you looking for what a character directly says, but delve deeper into that speech. Is there something they’re really saying but not coming right out with it? Is there something they’re not saying? Read between the lines, so to speak.

·    Effects on others: Take a close look at how characters are responding to the character in question. Are they influenced by the way your character is behaving or speaking? Does your character compel others to act or speak like them? Unlike them?

·    Beliefs or thoughts: Good writing is likely not going to come right out and tell you about your character’s belief system or values. You will have to read between the lines again, maybe using some of the features listed above to draw your own conclusions. Are they optimistic, fearful, conservative, liberal, faithless? This is hard to pin down, but will pay out in dividends because as you write your own characters, you’ll be able to anticipate their reaction to an event you craft.
The idea is that in closely studying why you fell in love with (or blatantly despised) a character from another book, you’ll be better equipped to craft your own memorable characters. You’ll be amazed at how much double-duty your writing is doing to reveal character while moving your plot forward.
We’d love to know what you think. Can you recall a memorable character from a favorite read that you can hold onto through one of these methods of characterization? Have you studied these facets of the characters you’re currently writing? Please share to comments.

Happy Character-Crafting,
Marissa

Monday, June 25, 2012

1 1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Poston 3rd Revision





Author: Ashley Poston
Genre: Supernatural
Title: Malevolent


The man in the black suit was staring at Mallory again.

It was unnerving---the tilt of his head, the sheen of his hair, not quite gray and not quite green, the color of his pallid skin that reminded her of faded cement. I just sort of wish he’d stop staring at me, she thought, concentrating on her bitten fingernails, her knees jumpy under the table. His eyes were the weirdest thing of them all, white halos around ink-black pits. He stirred his coffee with a white-gloved hand, slowly, clockwise, around and around.

She knew she should’ve just stayed in her train compartment.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

Startled, Mal snapped her head up. It was the waiter, an eyebrow raised in query. He set a cup of coffee as dark as the night sky down in front of her. “Sorry ma’am, we were all out of creamer. Half-and-half?”

“Oh, sure, that’s fine,” she replied. “I’m sorry to bother you again but do you have anything sweet? Naturally sweet, nothing with any preservatives? Anything?” And maybe a rape whistle, just in case?

A girl traveling alone---it’s not like she hadn’t thought about the possibility of never reaching her destination. She’d traveled her entire life. She knew what precautions to take, like never leave a drink anywhere and always keep her purse in front of her and zipped tight, but she wasn’t quite sure what to do about someone just staring at her.

She had half the mind to go back to her train compartment where her suitcase and pillow occupied her seat, but what if he followed her? What’d he do then?

The waiter gave a slow nod, “We have honey buns.”

“That would be glorious.”

“Glorious, good word.” He slid a grin across to her and departed back to the station. He couldn’t have been more than twenty. How did he end up waitering on a train, she wondered, and rested her head against the cool window.

The stranger was still staring; she could feel his eyes on her.

Her knees jostled up and down quickly. Was she really that interesting? Perhaps her hair was a shade too mauve to be auburn, and maybe her eyebrows matched it flawlessly, because it was as natural as the day she was born. Maybe it was the tilt of her mouth? Or maybe how her eyes looked a little too wide and too blue?

The waiter came back with her honey bun and a flourish of napkins. He must’ve been quite good at ignoring creeps in dining cart corners. He leaned against the edge of the booth and asked, “So, where’re you headin’?”

“New York,” she replied.

“You from there?”

“No.” The edges of her lips tilted up just enough to be considered an almost-smile. “No where, really.”

“Ah, a vagabond type of girl. I like those. No home, no worries, right? I like to consider myself one too, but I’m from Columbia---Columbia, South Carolina.”

“Nice place.” She tore the lid off of a creamer cup and poured it in.

He shrugged. “It’s home.”

She tore off another lid and dumped it, and another, until all six cups made her coffee an almost milky white. Home was just a word to Mal. She’d lived in plenty of them with Mom---trailers, duplexes, hotels, motels, condominiums, and cheap houses. They’d even lived out of a retired ice cream truck in California, and just thinking about that small, cramped space made her back sore. Home meant as much to her as Mom’s whereabouts meant to the fine authorities of the Philadelphia Police Department.

Which was to say, not at all.

In the corner, the creeper set down his spoon and took a long, quiet sip.

Mal asked, “I’m sorry, this is a rude question, but do you see that guy over there?”

He glanced over his shoulder. “Oh, yeah, he took the last of the creamer. From Illinois, I think. Asked for the Sunday paper, which was really weird because it’s Friday.”

And he hasn’t creeped you out? But it’s not like she could actually ask him to kick the guy out for staring at her. If the waiter didn’t seem bothered… Maybe I’m just paranoid.

Three days ago, she’d returned to a deserted house. Mom’s clothes were gone. Her jewelry missing. She hadn’t left a note or directions or even pizza money. She hadn’t left… anything. Kidnapped people didn’t take their jewelry, shoes, and favorite photographs, do they? When she realized what had happened, she felt like an abandoned back of luggage in the rain.

“Although I can’t wait for Sunday’s Times. Supposed to be the review of Grant White’s play, Bones Apart. He’s a genius---am I talking too much? I’m sorry, it’s just really…” he leaned in closer and whispered through the side of his mouth, “…boring on the midnight train.”

She took another sip of coffee to hide her scowl. “He’s my godfather, actually.”

“No shit.”

“No shit,” she confirmed.

Mal only knew three things about Grant White. One, he was an esteemed Broadway playwright. Two, he bought a penthouse apartment in Fifth Avenue across from Central Park when she was four, and Mom had taken her to spend a few weeks there. The apartment had been spacious, and so clean she could eat cookies off the hardwood floors. And three, he was less than excited when the phone call came that his goddaughter would be spending an unidentified amount of time there until her Mom could be found.

Which, they both knew, might be a while. If Mal couldn’t find her Mom, then it was scary to admit that her Mom couldn’t be found at all.

Don’t think about that. She’ll turn up, she scolded herself.

“… I mean, he’s freaking excellent. Some of the stuff he writes? Shakespeare himself would cream his jeans. Hey, you know what? I got a card---I’m an actor, you know?” He began to pat down his pants pockets. “Hold on a sec, I’ll be right back. I think I got some over by the register. Man, I knew ya were special.”

A grin so wide cracked his freckled face in half. She smiled with him, because it was the polite thing to do. Stretch lips over teeth, edges upwards, hold pose. Then he left, and her smile sprung shut like a trap.

If he knew what Grant White was really like, would he still ask for an autograph?

The man with the white eyes lifted his cup to his lips again. Mal tried to keep herself from staring, but she couldn’t. He was like a king cobra at the zoo, staring from behind six-inches of glass, completely harmless until given the chance.

The dining compartment jostled ever-so-slightly with the steady hiccup of the railroad. The wheels squeaked underfoot like a symphony of mechanical birds.

I wish Mom was here, she thought. She’d know what to do. She always did. Whenever Mal had nightmares, her Mom knew what to say, what teas to fix with just the right amount of honey and sugar and soothing words. Mal had never gone to the doctor, because Mom was a plethora of healing herbs and spices. When she had the sniffles, Mom would make her drink a nasty concoction, and when she was sad Mom would twine dandelions into her hair. And when the mood set in, whether it was with the change of the tides or the seasons of the moon, they’d pick up everything they owned and migrate, because it was good for the soul.

Mal was never sure if Mom was running, or searching for something. She’d learned not to ask questions when once, after they’d celebrated the summer solstice and blown out all of the candles on the deck, she’d asked, “Why’re we leaving the wine?”

“For the rest of us,” Mom had replied and kissed her auburn curls.

The pre-dawn light outlined the fir trees passing her window, intermingled with cold patches of clear night and crisp stars. Where are you?

Mal took a timid sip of her coffee, the warmth biting her cold lips. Loneliness always made everything a little bit colder, even under the air vent.

“You haven’t eaten your sweet.”

Mal froze, her fingers gripped around the coffee cup. Her jaw clenched, her knees stopped jostling.

The stranger in the immaculate black suit slid into the booth beside her. Her breath stilted, heart hammered. He smelled like lilacs and frosty mornings.

“S-Sir, I’d like it if you’d leave,” she tried to say, but he just leaned in closer, narrowing those snow-white eyes at her in scrutiny.

“You are apprehensive? Nervous. Your eyebrows furrow in that peculiar way when you are.”

She slapped her hand to her eyebrows, feeling their crinkles, as her eyes darted to the waiter. Fright filled her like a gasoline fire. What was his name? Did she ever get his name? Then it crawled up her throat to her lips, suddenly found. “Ethan Wachowski!”

But it didn’t help. He was folded over the counter, slumped in such an awkward position it looked painful, his arm twisted under him, his cheek pressed against the fake marble. A thin line of drool oozed from his mouth.

She hitched a sharp gulp of lilac and snowy morning air, ready to scream.

He held up an immaculate white-gloved finger as if to warn her. “I… wouldn’t.”

Her mouth clamped shut, out of her control.

He tilted his head thoughtfully. “You are not who I imagined you would become. With your… knack… for finding things, you should have at least been able to find yourself,” he said more to himself than to her. Her muscles twisted, tightened. She hoped that whatever he was going to do, it’d be painless at least. “But then again, you have always surprised me.”

She realized she had control of her mouth again only after she’d asked, “Do I know you?”

“Perhaps.” He slid out from the booth. At the counter, the waiter groaned and lifted himself off the counter, wiping the drool from his mouth. A glint of pre-dawn light caught the stranger’s hair, and it glittered like stardust. “Perhaps someday.”

Then he departed through the exit door, but the smell of crisp snowy mornings lingered well after he’d gone, and the waiter came back with his business card.

“Dude, I must’ve spaced or something. Sorry about that.”

She slid out from the booth silently, putting his card in her back pocket. “I think I’ll get going,” she said distantly, trying to keep the quiver out of her voice.

He gave her a confused look. “You haven’t touched your honey bu---”

“I think someone’s looking for you,” she interrupted, slinging her purse over her shoulder, and left.

3 1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Zoltack 3rd Revision

Author: Nicole Zoltack
Genre: YA Paranormal
Title: Crystal’s Magic

Crystal rubbed her eyes and leaned back onto the hard plastic chair. She could feel a headache coming on from staring at the computer screen for so long.

“What’s wrong?” her mom asked as she came into the living room.

“It’s this project for history class. I can’t find enough information from credible websites.” She made air quotes and huffed out a breath. “And it’s due tomorrow.”

Her mom shook her head. “It’s not like you to wait until the last minute to get your homework done.”

Crystal shifted to look at her mom. “What’s all that?” she asked, nodding to the two large trash bags her mom held.

“I was doing some cleaning up in the attic. So much crud up there it isn’t funny. I don’t know why I kept so many doubles of pictures… We’re lucky the house hasn’t caught on fire, but at least I’m making some progress. In fact, I’m going to head to the bakery to get a cupcake.” She wagged a finger at Crystal. “I’ll pick you up one but you can only eat it after you finish your project.”

“Yum!” Crystal jumped up and kissed her mom on the cheek. “I’ll take these out back for you.” She reached for the bags.

Her mom hesitated before handing them over. “Thanks, honey. I’ll be back soon.”

Crystal waved, then lugged the bags through the dining room to the kitchen. She dropped the bags so she could open the back door. As she lifted one of the bags, it ripped open and pictures scattered across the floor.

She opened another bag and shoved the pictures into it. One caught her eye: a picture of her grade school graduation, her gown too long and slightly wrinkled, her mom grinning wider than Crystal.

Smiling at the three-year-old picture, Crystal tucked it into her jean pocket before retrieving all of the other pictures. She brought the pages onto the back porch. A warm breeze caressed her face, and she closed her eyes, leaning into it. Something crinkled beneath her foot, and she bent down to pick up yet another picture.

Crystal gasped and blinked, unsure of what she was seeing. A lump formed in her throat, and her mouth grew dry as she tried to swallow it away.

A tall man wore a broad smile, his dark hair streaked with a little white on the side. The woman beside him wore the same smile. She had long, chocolate brown hair and soft brown eyes.

Crystal could have been twins with the woman in the picture.

The lump moved down into her chest and grew to be the size of a rock. Her trembling fingers held the picture so loosely, the breeze teased it free from her grasp, and it fluttered to the ground like a leaf. The woman stared up at her, smiling the same smile Crystal had.

How could this be? Who was the woman?

Crystal snatched the picture and flipped it over, hoping their names would be written there, but the back was blank.

Her knees buckled, and she sat down. Dimly, she realized the porch was in desperate need of sweeping, but she still sat there. She pulled out the graduation picture and compared the photos.

She looked exactly like the unknown woman.

She looked nothing like her mom.

The rock-size lump in her chest sank into her stomach, and she felt queasy. Could she have been adopted? Could this woman be her birth mother?

Dizzy, scared, unsure what to think, Crystal shakily climbed to her feet. It wouldn’t be long before her mom returned from the bakery, and although her emotions were a swirling mess, she knew she did not want to see her mom right now. She went into the house, left a note for her mom on the fridge that said she was at the library, and left.

It didn’t take her long to reach the library—she jogged the entire way, trying to outrun her thoughts, to leave her emotions behind. She found some books and worked on her project, but the distraction only worked for a half hour. Her mind refused to focus, and she kept rubbing the photos through her jeans.

Finally, she walked over to the computer lab and pulled out the photo of the couple. She stared at the picture, willing it to give her some clue as to who they were, where they were. The strange shape in the background… was the cone a volcano?

Crystal did a search for volcanoes and eventually realized they were standing in front of Diamond Head in Hawaii. Since they weren’t Hawaiian, she assumed they were there as tourists. Maybe on their honeymoon? Although the little bit of white suggested that he wasn’t young. Or maybe he was prematurely turning white?

She opened up another window and was about to search for information on adoptions when she noticed the time. Instead of jumping to her feet and rushing out like she should have, she stared at the couple some more. She loved her mom. Sure, they didn’t always get along, but her mom was always there for her. These people—if they were her birth parents—she never knew them. Yet she felt a burning desire to get to know them, as if she wouldn’t be complete until she knew their story. Why had they given her up for adoption? Why hadn’t they wanted to keep her?

With these thoughts, she gathered her things. Still holding the Hawaiian picture, she pushed open the library door to see the drooping sun splash cherries and mangoes across the sky. Her school bag bounced on her back as she walked the quiet streets of Claymore. She nodded to the few people she passed, but soon she was alone as twilight descended, and a few stars began to twinkle in the sky.

It was much darker than she expected. Her mother had to be worrying about her right now. If Crystal had a cell phone, she could call to let her mom know she was on her way home, but no, Crystal had to be the only junior—probably the only teenager in her high school—who didn’t own one.

A sudden gust of wind blew the picture from her hand. She tore after it, chasing it down alleys and across the empty streets. Finally, she grabbed it and returned it to her pocket.

She glanced up. Her heart skipped a beat when she realized she didn’t know where she was. Darkness colored the brick buildings, giving them an almost sinister feel. The icy tendrils of fear squeezed her heart.

Her head held high, she turned around and marched the way she thought she’d come. Claymore looked different this late at night. The trees seemed bigger, the pavement more uneven.

Where was the library? If she could just find it, she would know how to get home.

A figure appeared at the edge of the sidewalk. Claymore wasn’t a big town, and she knew almost everybody, but she didn’t recognize the person.

A cloud shifted and blocked the moon. The void of light made her panic, and she ducked down an alley. Although it was even darker than the street, at least she was alone again. The stench of rotting garbage seared her nose. Holding her breath, she picked up her pace. If she could just find a recognizable landmark…

None of the buildings looked familiar, and the cloud still blocked the moon.

4 1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Freeland 3rd Revision

Freeland
Paranormal
Awakening

Chapter One

No More Lies



The lies would end. Tonight.




No matter what lame excuse Claire threw out, I’d had enough of her weird, cryptic crap. No more secrets. No more arguments. No more dodging questions. I was going to confront her and demand the truth.




Something I should have done months ago. The first time she lied.




My headlights splashed across the back of her baby blue Beetle. While my twin drove a cuter, newer, sportier car, I’d opted for an older, cheaper Corolla. If I had to pay half, I wanted to pay half of less. Claire still owed our parents money. I was free and clear.




Sometimes I made good decisions.




I slid my car into the narrow space next to the Beetle, claiming the last spot in the small parking alcove by the creek. I slammed the gearshift into park and ripped the keys out of the ignition.




Other times I didn’t make good decisions at all.




Like rushing out here on the whim of one of my sister’s histrionic rants. Claire might think it was cool to hang out here in the dark, but I didn’t. Why couldn’t she pout at Starbucks or the nail salon like a normal sixteen-year-old? Somewhere bright and safe where finding her didn’t require a Mag light?




My hand strayed to my pocket, my fingers brushing the soft denim of my jeans.




Get a grip, Kate. It’s a piece of paper.




A piece of paper with some pretty damning words—written in Claire’s barely legible loopy handwriting.




The twilight sky began a slow slide into night—the horizon a hazy pink, growing duskier by the minute. Thanks a lot, Claire. Stupid text—At creek. Need you. You couldn’t have needed me before it got dark?




I checked my phone again. Ten unanswered messages in my outbox in response to the one she’d sent twenty minutes ago. I tossed the phone on the dash and opened the glove compartment. Owner’s manual. GPS. A half-empty pack of Trident. And a tiny red flashlight.




Nothing that made me feel even a little bit okay about getting out of my car. I grabbed the flashlight and shoved open my door anyway.




Crunch.




Right into the car next to me.




Crap. It was a nice car, too. Even under the dimming street lamp, I could make out a deep scratch highlighted with beige paint, marring the black shine on the passenger door. Now I had to find Claire and get back here before Sleek and Sporty’s owner returned and wrote down my license plate.




I let my sweatshirt sleeves fall over my hands. Even mid-December, the winter chill hadn’t quite hit Texas, but the sun’s disappearance lowered the temperature another ten degrees and the breeze brought a bitter edge.




Claire’s sanctuary under the wooden bridge wasn’t too far down the winding creek—just past the huge tree that twisted and bent and practically fell into the water. Maybe a quarter mile or so.




I’d try there first.




Dead leaves and grass crunched under my boots. Long strands of hair whipped across my face. I brushed them back.

Something snapped behind me.




I whirled around, clenching my fingers. A branch blew across the ground. My heart sped again and the loud pounding echoed across the water and got lost in the blackness. A tight knot curled in my stomach. If something happened to me out here, I was going to kill my sister.




What would they say when they found me disemboweled and hanging from a tree a la Scream? Probably—stupid girl came out here all alone, she deserved it.




I quickened my pace. There were other more pressing things to deal with. Real things. Claire things. Crazy things. Things my head couldn’t process that should immobilize my heart more than the thought of some psycho hiding in the trees with a machete.




That slip of paper burned the proverbial hole in my pocket. But exaggeration was Claire’s specialty. I just needed to find her, before it got any darker, and we could talk about this in the car. With the doors locked. Or at Saxby’s over a latte. And I would fix it. Whatever it was.




Nothing ever turned out to be as dramatic as she made it out to be. And what was with all the sneaking around? What did she think she had to hide? Especially from me? Up until junior year started this fall, we’d never kept secrets from each other.




Liar.




My stomach twisted at the accusation.




Okay, one secret. I kept one secret. No point in sharing what couldn’t be fixed.




The bridge loomed ahead, a tall arching structure made of wood and metal that connected one side of the creek to the other. The barely-there-sliver of a moon might as well have been MIA.




I switched the tiny flashlight on and pointed it toward the platform, shining it from one end to the other. Empty. She was probably huddled under the metal supports against the stone wall—which meant I had to climb down there to find her.




“Claire?” I whispered, angling the light toward the shadowy place where I expected her to be, but the dim light and distance made everything black.




I hugged myself, rubbing my arms through the thick sweatshirt. Oh yeah, perfect slasher set-up. Dumb blonde. No common sense. Armed with a penlight. I could almost hear the people in the theater screaming, “Run Kate! Don’t go down there.”




“Claire?” I boosted my volume. “Not funny, okay? Let’s pick up a pizza and go home. I’ll pay.” I glanced over my shoulder at the deserted street, then back to the creek. A cluster of dense trees moved in rhythm with the breeze. It should have been a beautiful dance. It wasn’t.




A sliver of ice skipped across my spine, wrapped around my middle, and took up residence low in my gut. My breath caught. Why didn’t I tell Dad like I’d threatened? Then he’d be out here instead of me.




The third time I said her name, my voice hit the bottom end of yelling and came out a shaky warble. “Claire?”




I stuck the flashlight between my teeth and worked my way one careful step at a time down the steep sloping bank, holding onto to trees and rocks, my hands trembling along with my breath.




“Oh, Claire, you’re going to owe me big time for this. Do you hear me? Work shifts. Bathroom cleaning. Dog poop duty. All yours.”




Almost to the bottom, an old gnarled tree bent and hung over the water, attached to a flat, narrow ledge. I tripped on a giant root, grabbed a low-hanging branch, and barely saved myself from falling the three feet off the edge and into the icy water.




The flashlight fell out of my mouth and landed in the mud, pointing across the creek.




“Don’t text me to come here and then be a jerk, Claire. Whatever’s going on, you don’t need to be mean.” If I could have hissed the words, I would have. “I’m going home.”




Right after I snagged my only source of light.




I slid down the rest of the slope—mostly on my butt—until my feet hit the dirt. I reached for the flashlight. The edge of the narrow beam caught a dark shape in the water.




A log? A broken tree? Or a psycho killer stalking me crocodile style?




Whatever. I was done here. I loved my sister, but I was tired of being pulled into her craziness. Dad could deal with her.




I snatched the flashlight, most of it covered in mud, and prayed Croco Killer wouldn’t jump out of the water once I turned my back. I kept my eyes forward and climbed up the bank, chanting, “Horror movies are made up by sickos with freaky imaginations that get off on scaring people to death. They’re not real. They’re not real. They’re not real.”




The chanting didn’t do much to stop the sliver of ice in my gut from multiplying and spreading to the rest of my body. The longer I refused to look back, the more I could feel someone watching me, rising up out of the water, slow and stealthy, stalking me up the bank, preparing to strike quiet and quick.




I couldn’t look.




I had to look.




Don’t be such a baby, Kate. I braced myself for the worst, held my breath, tensed my shoulders, and spun around ready with the flashlight in case I needed to use it as a weapon.




The bank was psycho free. Unless I counted myself and I was beginning to wonder.




My breath escaped in a sigh of relief that softened my entire body. “It’s just a log.” I pointed the flashlight at the shape one more time. And froze.




Everything faded into a black void. Paralyzed in disbelief, I couldn’t think, couldn’t react, couldn’t do anything. My mind couldn’t process what my eyes were seeing and for a moment, I stood there transfixed by the leg and arm crooked over a fallen tree, mesmerized by the long strands of hair that fanned out and rode the surface of the water.




That moment could have been a second.




Or a year.




A snatch of shimmery purple glinted off the beam of light—my sister’s jacket.




The flashlight hit the ground and the vacuum imploded. A splintered scream shattered my lungs, knocking my breath across the muddy ravine. “Claire!”

Friday, June 22, 2012

6 Interview wtih Hilary Weisman Graham and REUNITED Giveaway

I'm on haitus for a few weeks, so the In Stores Next Week feature will resume at the end of July. For your reading pleasure though, we have a great giveaway from Hilary Weisman Graham this week, plus an interview. And come back next week for givaways of Myra McEntire's TIMEPIECE and Alexandra Monir's TIMELESS, plus interviews with both authors about their writing journeys, best advice, and fascinating use of time concepts.

THIS WEEK'S GIVEAWAY

Please complete the form at the bottom and enter by Midnight 6/28/2012. US and Canadian entries only, please! I'll announce the winner on July 6th.

1 Concert


2,000 Miles

3 Ex-Best Friends

Back in middle school, Alice, Summer, and Tiernan were inseparable.

They were also the number one fans of the rock band Level3.

But when the band broke up, so did the girls' friendship. Alice spent high school with her nose buried in books, Summer was in the popular crowd, and Tiernan was lucky if she made it to class. Now, just as the girls are about to graduate, Level3 announces a one-time-only reunion show. Even though it's 2,000 miles away, Alice buys three tickets on impulse—and as it turns out, Summer and Tiernan have their own reasons for wanting to get out of town. And thanks to Alice's graduation gift (a newly refurbished '78 VW van affectionately known as the Pea-Pod) they've got the perfect vehicle to get them there. But on their cross-country drive, the girls hit more than just a few bumps in the road.

Will their friendship get an encore or is the show really over?

Interview with Hilary Weisman Graham



Hilary is an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter. Her debut young adult novel, Reunited (Simon & Schuster), came out June, 12, 2012. Visit her at: www.hilarygraham.com


Q. What inspired you to write the book?

I had a friendship break-up of my own freshman year of high school, and even though my story is very different than Alice, Summer, and Tiernan’s, the feelings around that break-up always stuck with me. I think for most 14-year-old girls, their best friends are the most meaningful relationship they’ve had at that point in their lives, apart from their family, so I thought the idea of ex-best friends reuniting at the end of high school, when they were older and wiser, would make for an interesting story.

Q. How long was the learning process in getting the book written?

Writing my first novel was definitely a learning curve, but it got easier over time. When I sat down to start my second book (still a work in progress) it didn’t seem nearly as scary. I know it’s not the most glamorous bit of advice, but I think a lot of it comes down to just keeping your butt in that chair and doing the work.

Q. What was your road to publication like? Long, short, hard?

For an impatient gal like me, the hardest part about getting REUNITED to come to fruition was the wait. The book was born way back in the fall of 2008 when I started discussing the concept with my editor at Simon & Schuster. After submitting an outline and the first three chapters (which went back and forth a couple times with revisions), my agent finally made the deal in June of 2009. REUNITED comes out June 12, 2012, over three and a half years since the process began. Whew!

Q. What is the best advice you have ever received that helped improve your writing?

Probably the best piece of writing advice I’ve gotten came from Robert McKee, the author of “Story,” a popular (almost cultish) book on screenwriting. And I have the audiobook, so it feels like McKee’s talking directly to me (which, if you’ve ever heard McKee speak, comes off more like a reprimand, but that’s part of his charm). Anyway, Robert McKee insists that you not write dialogue or scenes prior to having worked out the structure of your story first, because if you do, you’re in danger of falling in love with your own words and keeping a wonderful bit of dialogue that ultimately, doesn’t belong in your story. I think I fell victim to this a lot when I was first starting out as a writer. But sadly, we all must learn to kill our darlings. There’s really no other way.

Q. If you could pass on one thing that you’ve learned to young writers, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to write crappy first drafts. But make sure you keep revising until you get it right. Revise, revise, revise!

Q. What are you working on next?

Right now I’m writing a screenplay for a Disney Channel movie. There’s no guarantee it’ll end up on the air, but if it does, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

3 To MFA or Not To MFA by Gabriela Pereira

Guest Post By Gabriela Pereira

A few weeks back, Marissa started the journey she is sharing with us toward her MFA by talking about various MFA programs that focus specifically on Writing for Children and Teens. This past week we heard about the virtual summer writing camp run by Kate Messner, which sounds amazing. Even though I learned about it too late to participate officially, I plan to follow the posts for inspiration. All this discussion got me thinking about something that periodically presses on my mind:can creative writing be taught, and if so, how do we teach it?

Some writers believe that creative writing degrees are moot because the writing process can’t be taught. It's a talent and you've either got it or you don't. (Notice how his belief only benefits the "havers" of the talent and not the "have-nots.") Others believe that writing can be taught, but only by writers who have already been published, because only they know how to write something of publication quality.

This mindset brings with it a whole other set of problems. First, it assumes that all writers aspire to be published, which is not necessarily true. It also assumes that to be a great teacher you must also be a great writer, and that is often also not the case. Sure, to be a writing teacher you do have to know something about writing, but knowing how to write well does not always imply that one will be well-published. Some of my best writing teachers were excellent writers, though not necessarily NYT Bestsellers or award-winners.

For example, my favorite writing teacher had not published her first novel until after I had taken two or three classes with her, yet she taught me more about writing than many other more prominent novelists. In fact, it was by watching her navigate the publishing process and following her through it that I learned a lot about the business of writing.

Conversely, the most brilliant writer who has ever taught me was also my worst teacher. Sure, he had a whole slew of fancy titles and awards after his name but he was such a terrible teacher that I left his course discouraged and didn't write one word of fiction for--I'm a little embarrassed to admit this--seven years.

Clearly writing talent does not necessarily indicate a talent for teaching. Nor does it mean you must go to an MFA program to receive excellent (or the opposite of excellent) instruction. Neither of the above teachers taught at the program where I got my MFA.

Maybe it isn't possible to teach someone how to write, but a good teacher can help writers learn it for themselves. There are four basic components to a well-rounded writing education.

1) The BEST way to learn how to write is to do it. Write like it's your job. No. Write like it's your obsession.
If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.
~Isaac Asimov
When it comes to writing, try anything at least once. Not a fan of 2nd person? Try it once. Hate writing poetry? Give it at least one shot. Don't worry about what your writing will turn into, just get the words down on the page. Everything else, you can figure out later when you reach the editing stage. One of the best parts of an MFA program is that it forces writers to focus and dedicate time to their writing, but you don't need an external motivator like deadlines and a thesis to learn how to write. Most writers are already internally motivated so they can set their own deadlines and push themselves to write without the structure of school.

2) The second best way for a writer to learn the craft is to read. Read books that are similar to what you want to write. Read books that are completely different. Read good books, read bad ones (if you can stomach it). Even if you have to put a book down because you just can't get through it, you'll learn something from that book. What was it that kept you from wanting to read on? What would you have done differently? A good MFA program will have literature study built into it, either through a course or a required reading list, but you don't need school to make you read. All you really need is a library card.

3) Get feedback on your work-in-progress, but make sure it's from trusted colleagues. One of the most valuable--but at times also the most dangerous--aspects of the MFA system is the workshop. Best-case-scenario, you bring a messy piece of writing and your colleagues help you build it up and make it stronger. Worst-case, you bring your fragile brain-child to class and it's torn to shreds. Don't get me wrong. Writers can learn both from sharing their work with others and giving feedback to their colleagues. The trouble happens when trust turns to competition and constructive feedback turns to cut-downs.

This is why I have found it far more valuable to create my own group of trusted colleagues. It's taken years to find that balance of writers who I know will be honest with me but who also have my best interest at heart. Most of these colleagues are not fellow students from my MFA program, but writers who I've met through other channels. While an MFA program might help you find some trusted colleagues, it's not the only way.

4) You can learn a lot by engaging with the writing community. The online writing community is one of the most giving and generous group of people I know. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of writer blogs that share insight into the writing process. Dozens of agent and editor websites and blogs give writers an inside look at the publishing industry. And let's not forget those countless other online resources, from agent search engines to free workshops and conferences. With a few clicks, a writer can learn a great deal about publishing and writing, all from the comfort of his or her own computer.

If in-person interaction is more your speed, there are also hundreds of writing conferences and retreats where you can study the craft, learn about publishing and connect with other writers. Some events are huge, with thousands of writers, while others limit attendance to a few dozen, giving you lots of one-on-one contact with the teachers and presenters. To find a conference, a good place to start is by checking out a writing association website and seeing if they have a national conference or a local chapter near you. This link gives a good list of writing associations, organizations and guilds.

The beauty of writing education is that you can do it yourself. While a writing class or MFA program might provide structure, most writers can create this combination of reading, writing, workshop and community all on their own. This is one of the main ideas behind DIY MFA, a project that has been dear to my heart for the past few years. The idea is to help writers get that MFA experience without actually doing an MFA. And let's face it, if you're a writer, chances are you like figuring most things out for yourself anyway. DIY MFA is just here to help.

Gabriella Pereira

Gabriela Pereira is the founder of DIY MFA, the Do-It-Yourself MFA in Creative Writing. She has an MFA from The New School with a concentration in Writing for Children and when she’s not writing for DIY MFA she loves writing middle grade and teen fiction. She works as a freelance writing teacher, leading workshops throughout New York City. Her fiction has appeared in literary magazines and one of her lesson plans was selected for the anthology "Don't Forget to Write," published by 826 National.

Connect with her at DIY MFA:

Twitter: @DIYMFA
Facebook: /DIYMFA
Web: DIYMFA.com

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

4 WOW Wednesday: Catherine Knutsson on Putting Your Writing First

Today's WOW guest, Catherine Knutsson, is the author of SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, which came out this month from Atheneum. She lives on Vancouver Island, where she spent most of her life, aside from short stints living in Iran and in Vancouver. When she's not writing, she runs (she's currently aiming for her first 10k in June, and then a half-marathon either in October or Spring 2013). She also rides horses (not as often as she'd like, these days), hikes, gardens, takes photographs, and bakes bread. And, sometimes she knits, and sometimes she paints. Oh, and she's a classically trained singer (early music specialist) and taught singing for years. (She really needs to learn to do something, right? You can find her on her website at http://www.catherineknutsson.com/.


Putting Your Writing First



by Catherine Knutsson

Before I was a writer, I was a singer. And, one of the greatest gifts my musical studies gave me was the Alexander Technique. For those who have never heard of it, the Alexander technique is a way of learning to use your body and rid it of harmful and/or excess tension. That’s probably the simplest way of describing Alexander, but really, it’s so much more than that. Lots of singers and dancers taken Alexander training (the conservatory where I trained had an Alexander teacher on staff and we received weekly Alexander lessons as part of our movement classes) because not only does it help with performance, but it extends to the connection between mind and body and spirit, and has so much to teach about living life in a more holistic way. And, for those of us who work in the sometimes crazy-making world of the arts, well, any tool to help connect body/mind/spirit is wonderful!

So, there be the nuts and bolts.

But, what I wanted to write about specifically is something my Alexander teacher brought up all the time, something that’s a particular bugaboo of mine: end gaining. End gaining is a term used in Alexander to describe what a lot of us do: worrying so much about the goal that the process, which is where our focus should be, gets lost. Back in my singing days, end gaining, for me, meant obsessing about the roles I should learn and what voice type I was, when, in fact, I should have been devoting that energy to becoming a better singer. Learning a role is moot when you haven’t yet got the technique to perform said role.

For writers, this translates in a lot of ways: Worrying about market. Worrying about genre. Worrying about branding yourself. Worrying about sales. Rinse, and repeat.

I catch myself doing this all the time, and what’s amazing is how I can justify my end gaining: I’m researching. I’m studying. I’m learning about market. I MUST read my Goodreads reviews.

All of which, I’ve come to realize, really is an excuse for not dealing with what really needs to be dealt with: developing my craft. Staying in the moment. Putting one word after the next. Making my story the best story it can be.

The thing is, there’s a place and a time for everything. At some point, a writer needs to research agents, and editors, and publishers, and a writer needs to be aware of marketing, and how to write a query letter (which, I think, is a very important part of craft!), and creating an on-line presence and all the things we’re told we need to do. But, for me, I know that it’s easy to become so focussed on all that other stuff that I forget about what needs to be done right now: write. the. blinkity-blank. story.

Like anything else, learning not to end gain is a process. Slowly and surely, I’m getting better at it, because, as Anne Lamott says, the only way you get anywhere with any artistic pursuit is bird by bird, or, in the case of writers, word by word. Yes, it’s good to educate oneself about what happens when you get an agent, or get a deal, or have a book out in the world. Education is never amiss! But, sometimes what passes as education is merely a way to avoid getting the words down on the page. The words need to come first - before Twitter, before Facebook, before establishing an internet presence, before marketing and press and all that good stuff.

So, note to self: words first. The rest will come.

Monday, June 18, 2012

10 1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Zoltack 2nd Revision

Author: Nicole Zoltack
Genre: YA Paranormal
Title: Crystal’s Magic

Crystal pushed open the library door to see the drooping sun splash reds and oranges across the sky. Her school bag bouncing on her back, she walked the quiet streets of Claymore. She nodded to the few people she passed, but soon she was alone as twilight descended and a few stars began to twinkle in the sky

Her mother had to be worrying about her right now. If Crystal had a cell phone, she could call to let her mom know where she was but no, Crystal had to be the only junior, probably the only kid in her high school, to not own one.

She thought about going home but didn’t. For the past eleven years, Crystal had known a secret about her mom, a secret that was becoming more than she could bear. She’d even dreamt about it last night and hadn’t been able to fall back asleep again.

With a lump in her throat, she pulled a picture out of her pocket and stared at the happy scene: her grade school graduation, her gown too long and slightly wrinkled, her mom beaming proudly, grinning wider than Crystal was.

The lump moved down into her chest and grew to be the size of a rock. Crystal coughed as she pulled out another picture. A woman with long, chocolate brown hair and soft brown eyes stared at her with a broad smile on her face. The tall man beside her wore the same smile, his dark hair streaked with a little white on the side.

Her mom didn’t know Crystal had this picture.

A picture of her real mom and dad.

Crystal stared at the photo for so long she stopped walking. Even though she knew it was blank, she turned the picture over. Why couldn’t their names by written there? Heaving a sigh, she brought the picture to her lips and kissed it. She had found the picture by accident shortly after her dad—not her real one—had died when she had been almost five.

She could have been twins with the woman in the picture.

She looked nothing like Regina, the woman she called Mom.

Why she hadn’t confronted Regina all those years ago, Crystal wasn’t sure. It probably had something to do with the scariness of the funeral. And Regina had hardly left her bed for nearly a month after her husband passed away. And it wasn’t until Crystal had been eight and watched The Parent Trap for the first time before she understood the significance of the picture—that the woman had to be her real mom.

Crystal rubbed her dry eyes and shoved the graduation picture into her pocket. Before she could tuck away the picture of her parents, a sudden gust of wind blew the picture from her hand. She tore after it, chasing it down allies and across the empty streets. Finally she grabbed it and reverently returned it to her pocket.

She glanced up. Her heart skipped a beat when she realized she didn’t know where she was. Darkness colored the buildings, giving them an almost sinister feel. The icy tendrils of fear replaced the rock in her chest and squeezed her heart.

Her head held high, she turned around and marched the way she’d come. Claymore looked different this late at night. The trees seemed bigger, the pavement more uneven.

Where was the library? If she could just find it, she would know how to get home.

A figure appeared at the edge of the sidewalk. Claymore wasn’t a big town and she knew almost everybody, but she couldn’t see who it was.

A cloud shifted and blocked the moon. The void of light made her panic, and she ducked down an alley. Although it was even darker than the street, at least she was alone again. The stench of rotting garbage seared her nose. Holding her breath, she picked up her pace. If she could just find a recognizable landmark…

She turned down another alley and bumped into someone.

“Hey there, pretty lady.”

Crystal didn’t recognize the voice or its owner. He reeked, as if he hadn’t bathed in months. Her heart pounding, she backed up into a trash can. The lid clattered to the ground, the sound as loud as thunder. She jumped, whirled around, and ran in the opposite direction. None of the buildings looked familiar, and the cloud still blocked the moon.

She glanced up and down the street. No one was around. She closed her eyes. Please, dear Lord, help me find my way back home.
Crystal opened her eyes. She crossed the street then paused, uncertain where to go. The wind picked up and blew to the right. Not having a better idea, she walked with the wind until it died down.

The surroundings were still unfamiliar, and Crystal again prayed for help.

Just then, the cloud moved, and moonlight bathed the world below. At the end of the street, Crystal spied her church.

With a sigh of relief and a quick prayer of thanks, Crystal climbed up her porch stairs fifteen minutes later.

Her mother must have been standing by the window because she opened the door and immediately pounced on her. “There you are. I was worried sick!” Her mom enveloped her into a tight hug. “Don’t go scaring me like that. Where were you?”

Crystal hugged her mom back and breathed in her familiar lilac perfume. It was wonderful to be home, but she still felt aloof from her mom. “I was at the library working on a project and lost track of time. I still have more homework to do.” She bounded up the stairs to her room where she dropped her bag onto the floor.

Biting her lip, she took out the picture of her parents from her pocket. After giving it another kiss, she returned it to its hiding place underneath her mattress.

A knock sounded on the door, and her mom popped her head in. “Is everything all right, Crystal?”

She nodded. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

“It’s not like you to not call. I know your homework is important to you, but you shouldn’t have been out so late. I bought you your computer last year so you wouldn’t have to go to the library so much.” Her mom sat beside her on the bed. “You know you can talk to me about anything. What’s bothering you?”

Crystal thought about showing her the picture they were sitting on. She even opened her mouth to mention it but couldn’t bring herself to. “I’m fine, Mom. I’m just tired. I have a lot of work to get done before school tomorrow.”

Her mom pursed her lips and shook her head. “I know something’s wrong but if you don’t want to talk about it, I won’t push you. Don’t stay up too late. I love you.”

“Love you,” Crystal mumbled as her mom shut the door behind her.

She collapsed onto her bed. Her conscious prickled at her. Although she had been at the library, she hadn’t completely finished her project. She still had to type up the bibliography and print out the report in the morning. Despite having a mountain of homework to do, she closed her eyes. She hadn’t lied about being tired. Within seconds, she was asleep.


***

Huffing and puffing, Crystal climbed onto the bus and slid into her customary seat beside Kelly Mae.

Her best friend took one look at her and raised a perfectly arched eyebrow until it disappeared behind her blonde sideswept bangs.

15 1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Freeland 2nd Revision

Lori Freeland
YA Science Fiction Romance
Awakening

Chapter One
No More Lies

Tonight the lies would end.

No matter what lame excuse Claire threw out, I’d had enough of her weird, cryptic crap. No more secrets. No more arguments. No more dodging questions. I was going to confront her and demand the truth. Something I should have done months ago, the first time she lied.

My headlights splashed across the back of my sister’s baby blue Beetle. I slipped my Corolla into the narrow space next to her car, claiming the last spot in the small parking alcove by the creek. Slammed the gearshift into park. Ripped the keys out of the ignition. My hand strayed to my pocket, my fingers brushing the soft denim of my jeans.

Get a grip, Kate. It’s a piece of paper.

A piece of paper with some pretty damning words—written in Claire’s loopy handwriting.

An engine turned over with a loud roar and the car at the end of the lot backed out onto the street, flipped on its lights, and drove away.

My heart jumped twenty stories, paused for what felt like forever, and then dropped even faster. I slapped my hand over my chest and pushed against the quick thud, thud, thud.

Why couldn’t my sister pout at Starbucks or the nail salon? Somewhere bright and safe where finding her didn’t require a Mag light?

The twilight sky began a slow slide into night—the horizon a hazy pink, growing duskier by the minute. Thanks a lot, Claire. Stupid—At creek. Need you—text. You couldn’t have needed me before it got dark?

I checked my phone again. Ten unanswered messages sat in my outbox in response to the one she’d left twenty minutes ago. I tossed the phone on the dash and opened the glove compartment. Owner’s manual. GPS. A half-empty pack of Trident. And a tiny red flashlight. Nothing that made me feel even a little bit okay about getting out of my car. I grabbed the flashlight and shoved open my door anyway.

Crunch.

Right into the car next to me.

Crap. It was a nice car, too. I glanced around and then checked out the paint. Even under the dimming street lamp, a small beige smudge showed up, marring the black shine on the passenger door. Now I had to find Claire and get back here before Sleek and Sporty’s owner returned and wrote down my license plate.

I let my sweatshirt sleeves fall over my hands to warm my fingers. Even mid-December, the winter chill hadn’t quite hit Texas, but the sun’s disappearance lowered the temperature another ten degrees and the breeze brought a bitter edge.

Claire’s sanctuary under the wooden bridge wasn’t too far down the winding creek—just past the huge tree that twisted and bent and practically fell into the water.

I’d try there first.

Dead leaves and grass crunched underneath my boots. Long strands of hair whipped across my face. I brushed them back.

Something snapped behind me.

I whirled around, clenching my fingers. My heart sped again. The loud pounding echoed across the water and got lost in the blackness. A tight knot curled in my stomach. If something happened to me out here, I was going to kill my sister.

What would they say when they found me disemboweled and hanging from a tree a la Scream? Probably—stupid girl came out here all alone, she deserved it.

I quickened my pace. There were other more pressing things to deal with. Real things. Claire things. Crazy things. Things my head couldn’t process that should immobilize my heart more than the thought of some psycho hiding in the trees with a machete.

That slip of paper burned the proverbial hole in my pocket. But then again, exaggeration? Claire’s specialty. I just needed to find her, before it got any darker, and we could talk about this in the car. With the doors locked. Or at Saxby’s over a latte.

Whatever this was, we could work it out together like we always did. Nothing ever turned out to be as life-ending as she made it out to be. And all the sneaking around? What did she think she had to hide? From me? Up until school started this fall, we’d never kept secrets from each other.

Liar.

My stomach twisted. One secret. I kept one secret. No point in sharing what couldn’t be fixed.

The bridge loomed ahead, a tall arching structure made of wood and metal that connected one side of the creek to the other. The barely-there-sliver of a moon might as well have been MIA.

I switched the tiny flashlight on and pointed it toward the platform, shining it from one end to the other. Empty. Not her favorite place but I’d hoped she’d be hiding there instead of huddled under the metal supports, against the stone wall, because that meant I had to climb down there.

“Claire?” I whispered, angling the light toward the shadowy place where I expected her to be, but the dim light and distance made everything look black.

What if she wasn’t down there, but someone else was? Why couldn’t she have met me in the parking lot, while I waited in my locked car?

The wind picked up, rattling the trees. Oh yeah, perfect slasher setting. Dumb blonde. No common sense. Armed with a penlight. I could almost hear the people in the theater screaming, “Run Kate! Don’t go down there.”

“Claire?” I boosted my volume. “Not funny, okay? Let’s pick up a pizza and go home. I’ll pay.”

I glanced over my shoulder at the deserted street, then back to the creek. A copse of dense trees moved in rhythm with the breeze. A sliver of ice skipped across my spine, wrapped around my middle, and took up residence low in my gut. Why didn’t I tell Dad like I’d threatened? Then he’d be out here instead of me.

The third time I said her name, my voice hit the bottom end of yelling and came out a shaky warble. “Claire?”

I stuck the end of the flashlight in my mouth and worked my way one careful step at a time down the steep sloping bank, holding onto to trees and rocks, my hands trembling along with my breath. “Oh, Claire, you’re going to owe me big time for this. Do you hear me? Work shifts. Bathroom cleaning. Dog poop duty. All yours.”

Almost to the bottom, an old gnarled tree bent and hung over the water, attached to a flat, narrow ledge. I tripped on a giant root and barely saved myself from falling the three feet off the edge and into the icy water by grabbing a low-hanging branch.

The flashlight fell out of my mouth and landed in the mud, pointing across the creek.

“Don’t text me to come here and then be a jerk, Claire. Whatever’s going on, you don’t need to be mean.” If I could have hissed the words, I would have. “I’m going home.”

After I snagged my only source of light.

The ground evened out below the tree and I slid down the rest of the slope—mostly on my butt—until my feet hit the dirt, putting me in reaching distance of the flashlight. I followed the narrow light with my eyes. The edge of the beam lit up a dark shape in the water. A log? A broken tree? A psycho killer stalking me crocodile style?

Whatever. I was done here. I loved my sister, but I was tired of being pulled into her craziness. Dad could deal with her.

I snatched the flashlight, most of it covered in mud, and prayed Croco Killer wouldn’t jump out of the water once I turned my back. I kept my eyes forward and climbed up the bank, chanting, “Horror movies are made up by sickos with freaky imaginations that get off on scaring people to death. They’re not real.”

But it didn’t do much to stop that sliver of ice in my gut from multiplying and spreading to the rest of my body.

“One more glance over my shoulder,” I whispered. “I’ll know I’m alone and then I’ll run back to the car.”

I turned with the flashlight, pointed it at the log one more time, and froze.

That dark shape wasn’t a log. It was my sister.

3 1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Poston 2nd Revision

Author: Ashley Poston
Genre: Supernatural
Title: Malevolent

The man in the black suit was staring at her again.

It was unnerving. The tilt of his head, the sheen of his hair, not quite gray and not quite green, the color of his pallid skin that reminded her of faded cement. And his eyes―white pinpricks. They had to be contacts. Thick ones, too. He stirred his coffee with a white-gloved hand, slowly, clockwise, around and around.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

Startled, Mal spun to face―the waiter. It was just the waiter. She slapped a hand over her hammering heart. “Please don’t do that.”

Hesitantly, he set a cup of fresh coffee down in front of her and a honey bun. At her request, the coffee was almost a nutmeg brown. “Sorry, ma’am. We were all out of creamer so I hope half-and-half is fine.”

“Absolutely. And I’m just, you know, antsy traveling alone… and stuff.” And your other customer doesn’t help things, she ached to add, pulling her auburn hair over onto her left shoulder. Maybe you can ask him for a few things of creamer because he’s monopolized like twenty of them. “You know how it is, a girl, alone, going to the big city. Good times.”

“I don’t know about the girl part, but I get the big city.” He tilted his head, and a curl came untucked from behind his ear. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. How did he end up working on a train, she wondered. “Long way from home?”

Home. It was just a word. She’d been in plenty of those with Mom― trailers, duplexes, hotels, motels, condominiums, and cheap houses. They’d even lived out of a retired ice cream truck in California, and just thinking about those few months made her back cramp up. Home meant about as much to her as her Mom’s whereabouts meant to the fine authorities of the Philadelphia Police Department.

“Yeah,” she lied, fighting the bitter in her voice, “a very long way from that.”

He nodded, as if he understood her completely. Which was funny in it's own right. He probably could relate to her as well as a sheep dog relates to a cat. “So where ya headin’?”

“My godfather’s in the city.”

“That’ll be fun! Ever been to the city before? I love the city.”

“Once, the last time I went to see him. You might know him… Grant White?”

His eyebrows shot up in disbelief. “Might know him? The Grant White―the playwright?”

“He writes something.”

“No shit! I was Harry in Bones Apart!”

Oh God, she thought, I just opened up a can of worms.

“…And Julius in Midnight Wedding in Dallas! And you know that one, The Clocktower? I friggin’ love that one. Oh man, you―hey, you know, you think you could get me his autograph?”

“Umm…” She only knew three things about her godfather. One, he was an esteemed playwright. Two, he bought a penthouse apartment across from Central Park when she was four, and Mom took her to spend a few weeks there. The apartment had been spacious, and so clean she could eat cookies off the hardwood floors. And three, he was less than excited when the news came that his goddaughter would be spending an unidentified amount of time there until her estranged Mom could be found.

Which, they both knew, might be a while.

If Mom didn’t want to be found, the police wouldn’t find her. Three days ago, Mal had returned to a deserted house. Mom’s clothes were gone. Her jewelry missing. She hadn’t left a note or directions or even pizza money. She hadn’t left… anything. When Mal realized what had happened, what it meant, she felt like an abandoned bag of luggage in the rain.

And now I get to spend quality time with His Impeccable Whiteness.

The train’s food car jostled ever-so-slightly with the steady hiccup of the railroad. The wheels squeaked underfoot like a symphony of mechanical birds. If only it could drown out the waiter’s voice.

“…I mean, ya don’t have to but it’d be amazing. I’d love to cold-read his scripts. Maybe be a stagehand? Does he need an assistant? Here, I’ve a card too…” he began to pat down his pants pockets. “Oh yeah! I’ll be right back. Left ‘em over by the register. Man, I knew ya were special!”

A grin so wide cracked his freckled face in half. She smiled with him, because it was the polite thing to do. Stretch lips over teeth, edges upward, hold pose. Then he left, and her smile sprung shut like a trap.

If he knew what Grant White was really like, would he still ask for an autograph?

She curled her fingers around the steaming mug, and inhaled. The sweet smell of sugar untied her muscles and tamed her nerves. Sweet things did that to her. She didn’t know how, or why. Whenever she had nightmares, Mom would be there with a glass of milk and cookies as if she knew when she had them. Maybe she screamed aloud. Maybe her Mom could hear her thrashing.

Or maybe that was just the way her Mom was. Mal had learned to not ask questions when once, after they’d celebrated the summer solstice and blown out all of the candles in the yard, she’d asked, “Why’re we leaving the wine?”

“For the rest of us,” Mom had replied and kissed her auburn curls.

Whatever that meant gave her nightmares for the rest of the year. For the rest of us, as if she and her Mom were just a small part in something larger. Whatever that community was, it’d ostracized them. She still felt as alone as she did the moment she stepped into their abandoned house three days ago.

Mal shivered. Loneliness made everything a little colder, even under the air vent. Was it bad that she missed her Mom’s weirdness? Mom did a lot of crazy things, and because of the way she was, Mal had never gone to the doctor. When she had the sniffles she’d drink a nasty tea, and when she was sad, Mom would twine dandelions into her hair. Sometimes her Mom would lean against the kitchen sink and speak with the moon. She even missed that, although it frightened her, but not as much as the possibility that the moon might talk back.

For the rest of us, she mocked.

The pre-dawn light outlined the fir trees that passed her window, intermingled with cold patches of a clear night and crisp stars. But somewhere in the distance there were towns on the cusp of another ordinary day where ordinary families wavered on the brink of ordinary alarm clocks.

She pressed her head against the coolness of the window as someone slid into the booth opposite of her. The waiter? If he thinks he can smooze up to me to get my godfather―The booth across the compartment was empty. A cold chill trickled down her spine. Don’t look at him, she urged herself, definitely don’t look.

“You haven’t eaten your sweet,” the stranger observed.

She pressed her lips into a thin line, her eyes trained on the space between the trees and the sky. He slithered a hand over the table to move the pastry closer to her, insisting. She said lamely, “I’m not hungry.”

“Sweets sooth me, as well.”

Her skin scrawled. “Sir, can you please get awa―”

“I can tell.” He sounded amused. That rubbed her the wrong way. “You are apprehensive. Nervous. Your eyebrows furrow in that peculiar way when you are.”

Her knees began bouncing under the table; he was seriously freaking her out. His shoulder leaned inward, his arm stretched across the table, successfully barring her into the corner of the booth. Where’s the waiter?! She began to motion to him, but he stood slumped against the counter, a thin line of drool oozing from his mouth. Oh, great. Such a help he’d be.

“You’re not who I imagined you would become,” he said, more to himself than to her. She stiffened at the remark. She’d seen scenes like this on CSI, and she didn’t like where this was going. Two people alone in a dining cart, if one of them screamed and no one was around to hear it… would she make a sound? “But then again, you have always surprised me.”

“Do I know you?” she couldn’t help but ask.

“Perhaps.” He tilted his head, his index finger tapping the table in frustration, “...someday.”