Sunday, September 7, 2014


73,000 words
YA Contemporary


Miriam has lived her entire life within the secluded Children of Daniel cult. Kept separate from the rest of the U.S., she has no idea that outside the walls of her city, women are allowed freedom and choices. All she knows are her own community’s stifling rules of obedience and submission—rules she can’t seem to follow. When her Leader forces her into marriage with a stranger, she begs him to reconsider. But like everything else in the city of New Jerusalem, what Daniel decrees is not easily undone. As Miriam begins to question some of the beliefs of her faith, she realizes her community may not be the paradise it pretends to be, and Daniel might not be their savior. And the first choice she has to make on her own is an impossible one: the only boy she's ever loved or the only life she's ever known.


The girls never get a choice. This has always been our way, for as long as I've been alive and longer. My father chose my mother, a fact he seldom lets her forget. Now that I am sixteen, and a woman, tonight it is my turn to be chosen. And though the very thought turns my insides liquid, it’s more from anticipation than fear.

My mother perches beside me on one of the low benches the men have dragged out into the Mojave Desert. Tonight—and tonight only—we are allowed outside the high, concrete walls of the city.
She holds out a plate piled with sticky rice, some slices of roast lamb, and a crumbling chunk of bread. “You need to eat something.” She raises her voice to be heard above the music booming from big speakers into the open air; the same sound system that in less than an hour will be used to announce my marriage.

The smell of the charred meat churns my stomach. This is a feast compared to our daily meals, but I push it away.

“Ruth is over by the food station, with Leah.” She points through the crowd, toward the fire in the distance. “They look as nervous as you. Perhaps more.”

“I’m not nervous.”

Ruth and Leah are terrified of what tonight will bring. They don’t know who will choose them, or whose wives they will become. But I have no reason to share their fear.

Still, my stomach lurches again as I turn away from my mother’s finger, toward the cave opening in the steep red rocks to our right. I’ve never been inside. Like most of our rituals, the men are free to attend, while the women go only once, on their wedding night. Afterward, they are forbidden to speak of it. My own father is the only man I know well enough to ask about it, and he refuses to answer. I can’t imagine why the Ceremony must be shrouded in such secrecy. I can only suppose the proceedings are too sacred to speak of, or too profane.

After tonight, I will be able to ask my husband.

“Surely you can tell me something,” I say, watching my mother’s headscarf twist in the cool night breeze. “The time is nearly upon us. What will it matter now?”

She shifts her gaze from mine. "It's better if you don't know." she says. "The unexpected should feel like a gift, not an obligation.”

“What is one more obligation?”

She must hear the bitterness in my voice, because she sighs and lays a hand on my arm. “Please. Not tonight, Miriam.”

I pull my hand away. “I need to talk to Ruth,” I say, jumping from my seat and spilling the plate balanced between us. “Sorry.”

“Go.” She waves me off and kneels in the sand to clean up my mess.

I hesitate only for a moment. Her body language calls me to help, but the urge to get away is too strong. I pull up my skirt and run, scanning the faces of the girls for my best friend, though it is a half-hearted gesture. Someone else is on my mind tonight.

I skirt the crowd, ducking behind the groups of chattering women and around the booths and tables piled with mouth-watering food. I leave the warmth of the fire, the familiar sounds and smells, until I am far enough into the darkness to see the stars. They decorate the sky like thousands of candles, while back near the Celebration, the smoke from our bonfire climbs toward Heaven like an offering to God.

I stop only when the patrolling guards come into view. We are free for this one evening, but freedom requires protection. The rest of the United States—the rest of the world—do not live as we do. It is only inside the walls of our communal society that we are safe. Outside, I have been told, people do unspeakable things to one another.

It is my greatest shame that I have tried to imagine these things. But all I can picture is the vast desert, stretching on forever; faceless people hovering at the perimeter, bodies contorted, though not in prayer. This life is all I’ve ever known. I was born in New Jerusalem, and tonight I will marry someone who was born here, too. We’re the Second Generation of Daniel’s Children, a title that carries its own obligations.

I turn my back on the guards and walk back towards the light, my heart pounding loudly in the stillness. For the first time, I am afraid. Not of being chosen, but of being caught—here, on the boys’ side of the fire. From the shadows, I see them all gathered together, shoulders jostling, hands waving. My skin tingles at the sound of their laughter.

They sound just like Ruth and Leah and I.

Girls aren’t allowed to speak in the presence of boys, and because we’re separated whenever possible, they rarely speak in ours. The only time we’re together for any length of time is Sunday, at Chapel. And at Chapel there is no speaking. That is a rule even I have never broken.

I seek out Boaz. He seems illuminated tonight, his skin bronze against the white of his shirt, his eyes bright in the firelight. His voice carries through the night, warm and strong, as I imagine his embrace will be.

His gaze is drawn to mine like a magnet, even in the darkness. There is a heat between us far greater than the desert sun. For a brief second, I worry he will give away my presence. But then he smiles, the corner of his mouth curving like the crook of a finger.

It is an invitation. The tether between us grows ever stronger, sending shivers of excitement to every part of my body. Boaz is going to choose me, and I will finally know what it is like to speak to him. Touch him. Be touched by him.

“It’s Boaz for you, isn’t it?”

I bite my tongue to keep from crying out as my friend whispers eagerly into my ear.

“What are you doing out here?”

It's dark this far from the fire, but Leah’s pale skin seems to glow in the moonlight, her freckles scattered like stars across her wide nose.

“I followed you,” she says.

“Did anyone see you?” I peer into the darkness, but can’t see anyone else. If we get caught out here, especially on this night, Daniel’s punishment will be severe.

Leah seems oblivious to my concern as she twists a lock of orange hair around her finger. “I saw you. Watching him. Don’t worry, I won’t tell,” she promises. “He’s going to pick you, I can tell.” She sighs and looks towards the boys. “I just wish I knew -”      

Before she can finish, the music cuts out and a microphone squeals, the reverberation echoing off the walls of the Piute Mountains. I look for Boaz one last time, but he and the others are moving toward the cave.

“We have to get back,” I say. “If we’re late . . .” I don’t actually know what will happen if we’re late, but it won’t be pleasant.

There is no time for keeping to the shadows. I grab Leah’s hand and break into a flat-out run, sand dragging our stride and chafing inside my leather sandals.

I don’t see Aaron until I barrel into him.


  1. I like being able to read the pitches this time around to see what the whole story is about. This definitely sounds interesting, although I still don't think this sounds like contemporary. Might just be me. For your pitch, I think you set up your story really well, but I only have a vague idea what the stakes are. What will happen if she chooses to leave? What will happen if she stays? It was also a little odd that you say her intended husband is the only boy she's loved, but earlier you mention that your MC tries to convince Daniel to not marry them. Wouldn't she want to marry the boy she loves? Why would she insist on not marrying him?

    Still love the pages. :) Good luck!

  2. Your story sounds great and I love strong female characters who fight for what they believe in.
    You set up the setting well and do a great job weaving descriptions into the characters' actions. I like the hints you give throughout these first pages about Miriam not being afraid of the ceremony and then we learn it's because she thinks she's going to marry the boy she loves. Of course, even without reading the pitch, we know that can't happen.

    I already feel involved with Miriam and can't wait to see what happens next. Great job!


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