Friday, October 3, 2014

Pitch Plus Five Winners!!

First I want to offer my congratulations to ALL of the Pitch Plus Five participants! You've all done an amazing thing by entering and opening yourself to comment and critique. Those who didn't win, or didn't make it past round one or two, remember that it's nothing a bit of hard work and perseverance can't change.

I'd also like to offer congratulations to Kristen Scheer, author of LEGAL MOXIE which was withdrawn early on. Kristen signed with the amazing agent, Laura Bradford! Always great to share good news. :D

A huge THANK YOU to all of our amazing blogger, author, and agent judges who took time from their hectic schedules to help out our fifty writers.


The four runners up are:

  • THE TROLL DIARIES by Jennifer Park. Jennifer has won a one chapter critique from Christa Heschke of McIntosh and Otis!
  • TWICE DEAD by Caitlin Seal. Caitlin has won a one chapter critique from Alex Slater of Trident Media!
  • NOBLE VIRTUES by Ashley Horn. Ashley has won a one chapter critique from Victoria Lowes of the Bent Agency!
  • APOTHECARY OF FORBIDDEN CLOCKS by Carolyn McDowell. Carolyn has won a one chapter critique from Jordy Albert of Booker Albert!

The GRAND PRIZE winners are: 

  • THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION by Rosalyn Eves. Rosalyn has won a three chapter critique from Melissa Nasson of RPC and a free query pass to the currently closed Ammi-Joan Paquette!
  • TIMEKEEPER by Tara Sim. Tara has won a three chapter critique from Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown and  a free query pass to the currently closed Ammi-Joan Paquette!

And I haven't forgotten our two winners from the first the first rounds by popular vote! 

The runner up is: REGINA'S HEIR by Rachel Green! Rachel, besides having a fabulous last name, has won a critique from Angela Ackerman!

The winner is: THE SECRETS WE SHARE by Laura E. Adams! Laura has won a critique from the New York Times best selling author, Jennifer Nielsen!

It's been a fabulous contest. I've loved interacting with all of you on Twitter and seeing everyone being so supportive of one another. That's what this is all about.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


96 084 words
YA Dystopian Steampunk

Revised Pitch

A thousand years after nuclear war reduced the planet to a barren wasteland, only the protection of a walled city offers life to those left behind.

Arianna grew up within the mechanical city-state of Sanctum, forced to hide her family's affiliations after her mother’s murder. When she’s propositioned by a wealthy aristocrat who claims to have knowledge of her mother’s forbidden research, Arianna finds herself assisting in a plot to overthrow the charismatic and devious Viscount who rules the city. This gives her a chance she’d only dreamed of – revenge on those responsible for her mother’s death.

As Arianna becomes entangled in the glamour and corruption of Sanctum's aristocratic elite, she's unexpectedly thrust into a vicious struggle for power as the horrifying reason for the city's iron walls is unexpectedly revealed. 
When her power-hungry benefactor begins to descend into madness, she’s forced to ally with his mysterious brother to continue her quest for vengeance and protect what's left of her family.

First Five Pages

The day of her mother’s murder was the last day Arianna could remember her father smiling.

Like every day, they kissed too long for an appropriate goodbye. Her father whispered something that made her mother blush prettily. Jace giggled and covered his eyes. Arianna was a curious spectator to their openly displayed affection, her memories of that moment illuminated by the bright golden naiveté of childhood.

She remembered sitting on the floor that day, carefully winding a broken pocketwatch her father had given her to repair. She remembered the feel of the miniature brass gears in her hands, as well as the tiny indentations for missing release pins. The device felt magical under her fingers, the metal seeming to ebb and thrum in response to her touch. She ran her fingers over the contraption, flicking the tiny gears, watching them spin and stop together.

Her mother had returned too early, bursting through the door and slamming it loudly behind her. Her eyes were wide, darting wildly around the room, as if seeking out a hidden threat. She clutched a twisted menagerie of metal wiring to her chest with soot-blackened fingers.

Jace, oblivious, toddled towards her. A shock of blonde hair had fallen across his face, his eyes illuminated with the joy of welcoming her home.

“Ma-ma, up!”

After a moment, her mother’s panic melted away, and she carefully set down the contraption she carried. She picked up Jace, holding him close and burying her face in his baby-soft curls. Unshed tears appeared, sparkling in her deep blue eyes.

“Arianna.” At her mother’s voice, Arianna came forward obediently, sliding her arms around her mother’s slender form. She burrowed her face in the practical cotton skirts of the laboratory uniform, her cheek grazing the protective leather overlay. The uniform was oddly streaked with dark stains, and the faint scent of something unfamiliar clung to the fabric.

When her mother’s body shuddered suddenly, Arianna looked up and realized her mother was crying. She suddenly felt uncomfortable and confused.

“Mama, what’s the matter?”

Everything seemed wrong, and her five-year-old mind didn’t know how to process it. She clutched the broken watch tightly, the exposed gears digging painfully into the flesh of her palm.

“It’s nothing, sweetling.” Her mother reached up and wiped the tears from her cheeks. Her cheeks were too pink, her hair in uncharacteristic disarray. She crouched down and put Jace back on his feet, but kept one arm around him. Her other arm pulled Arianna close.

“You know I love you both very, very much.” Her mother’s voice broke slightly, and she took a long, steadying breath. “More than anything else in the world.”

“I love you too, Mama.” Arianna cuddled closer in her mother’s arms, comforted by the familiar warmth of her embrace. Jace babbled happily, his gap-toothed grin full of toddler sunshine.

“There’s so much I wish I could say,” her mother spoke quietly, almost to herself. “And yet… no sense in dwelling on it. I’ll do what I must.” She looked down and met Arianna’s questioning gaze, the hint of a smile ghosting her lips.

“Can you two darlings keep a secret for me?”

Arianna nodded obediently. Her mother rose, leading them both into the downstairs bedroom. Kneeling down, she pried up the well-worn corners of one of the floorboards. Arianna had felt a thrill as she stared into the blackness, which whispered of secrets and big-girl responsibilities. She crept closer, and her mother retrieved the device she’d abandoned by the door. Handling it carefully, she manipulated the tangle of wires to fit into the narrow space.

“There will be people who come looking for this,” her mother spoke as she worked, her tone quick and hushed. “They might try to trick you, and say they need it, but you have to keep it safe, okay?” She flipped the board back down, carefully smoothing the edges.

“Yes Mama,” Arianna reached over to clutch her mother’s hand, her brow furrowed. She glanced over as her father appeared in the doorway. “And Daddy too?”

Eldon Dawney’s face was pale, and his questioning voice shook slightly.


“It’s as we feared, Eldon. They’ve torched the lab. I’m certain they’ll be arriving here shortly. It’s up to you to keep the children safe.”

Her father’s face twisted, a terrible anguish distorting his handsome features. His voice was broken.


“Eldon! Please. Not in front of the children.” The severity of her tone startled Arianna, momentarily displacing fear.

As her father disappeared from the doorway, Arianna felt cold tendrils of dread creeping into her chest as the sense of wrongness intensified.

“Mama, what’s happening?”

“Hush, sweetling.” Her mother’s voice was soft. “Mommy’s going away for a while, but I love you and your brother, so very much. Will you tell him that for me?” Her voice caught suddenly, and she squeezed her eyes shut, tears flowing freely down her cheeks.

“Arianna, I…”

A loud crash at the front door cut off her words. Men spilled into the small space, black-robed Sentinels each armed with a double-barrel blunderbuss. Arianna gave a cry of terror, clutching her mother. Jace began shrieking. Her mother held them close, unafraid, and stood up. Her cheeks were wiped clean of tears, and her eyes blazed with an unfamiliar fire. When she spoke, her tone was strong and clipped.

“I am Joanna Dawney. I believe you gentlemen are here for me.”

A man stepped forward from the throng, his wristplate gears clicking as he drew out a rolled parchment.

“Doctor Joanna Ellis Dawney, you are hereby under arrest by authorization from Viscount Conroy Rivington. You have been charged with the use of illegal research in a devious assassination scheme against Lord Baelish.”

“Take me, then.” Joanna’s voice was calm. “Just don’t hurt my children.”

Arianna and Jace were ripped from their mother’s embrace as the Sentinels descended as one, forcing her mother towards the door. Arianna began shrieking, trying to cling to the fabric of her mother’s skirts as it slipped through her fingers. Jace was crying “Ma-ma! Ma-ma!” over and over in between hiccupping sobs.

The door slammed shut, and an otherworldly silence descended. Eldon Dawney was crying, clutching both Arianna and Jace to his chest. Arianna screamed and struggled until she broke free. She ran to the front window, pressing her face against the uneven glass. The sea of brass uniformed Sentinels was impenetrable as she searched for her mother.

There was a sudden flash, a dazzling light of a thousand colors that crackled across the cobbled street square in front of her house. Arianna saw the men closest to her mother collapse screaming, their skin unexplainably shredded to strips of bloodied meat. She had a single glimpse of her mother’s face, pale and luminescent, before her body was shattered by a barrage of blunderbuss fire.


The schematic was still unfinished.

Arianna’s stylus glided over the rough paper, seamlessly outlining mechanics that she could have drawn in her sleep. She always drew the central console first – it was smooth, oblong and symmetrical. Three sets of wires, each twined around an oddly empty conduit. A modified compressor chamber, which had ghostly imprints of missing gears.

A rumble underfoot signaled the afternoon shifting of the underground cogs, jolting her out of her imagined solitude.

“Place your stylus on the desk and fold your hands,” her elderly theology professor droned, walking the aisles of desks while tapping his gold-etched cane threateningly.

Arianna frowned severely at her desk tablet, which was littered with unanswered questions. This was fourth exam in a row that she’d failed.


48,000 words
Upper MG Fantasy


Life for twelve-year-old River is dodging rabid forest gnomes, staying out of the deadly sunlight, and trying not to disappoint his father, the fierce and mighty Troll King. He’s a misfit, and some have even dared to call him…symmetrical, but River does his best to spy on the trolls’ greatest enemy, the fairies.

When a botched spy mission gets him captured by the fairies, River expects death, but gets the truth: River isn’t really a troll, he’s a fairy, given to the Troll King when he was born.

Forced to stay in the fairies’ kingdom, River decides to become the spy his father always wanted, learn the enemies’ weaknesses, and discover the dark secret the Fairy Queen doesn’t want him to know. When the time comes to choose where his loyalties lie, River will find the line between friend and foe isn’t as clear as he was led to believe.

First Five:

It had to be the mushrooms.

It’s the one thing I can’t resist, and Rot knows it. Not juicy blackberries, wild onions, or any other tempting forest delicacy. Nope. Mushrooms.

And the worst part? I didn’t even taste them. Not a lick.

I mean, yes, it’s kind of bad that I’m hanging upside down from a tree, but I can get over that.
Now the ruined fungi are scattered below me in pieces on the ground, their perfect white skins marred by the scuffle only moments ago.

Looking back, maybe I was too obvious in my search for a meal. Trolls don’t exactly forage for food from the forest floor. Yes, trolls; nasty, ugly creatures that live in caves and under bridges. It’s what we do. Well, it’s what the other trolls do when they’re not torturing me. We guard bridges, take tolls, and occasionally grind bones to make our bread.

I’m kidding.

Well… sort of.

Even the trees are laughing at me, the scratchy sound of rubbing bark echoing the grumbling laughter of my captors below. At least the wind seems to be on my side. A strong gust gives me a boost and I start swinging. I stretch my bound hands as far as they will go. If I can just…reach…


The branches have gone from laughing to screeching as I twist and turn to free myself, but it’s not going to happen. If I was the size of the other trolls, this slender tree wouldn’t even be able to hold me.

I’m not, though, and everyone knows it. I guess you could call me the black sheep of the family. Maybe not a sheep though, since my family eats those…I’m pretty sure they don’t want to eat me. I’m a vegetarian, which doesn’t sit well with them at all because the main staple of troll life is bone-bread. Made from…you know…bones.

Kind of like the one being shoved in my mouth at this very moment. I grit my teeth, but it’s no use. “Here you go, little River. I know you missed breakfast.” Rot says, inspiring roaring laughter from the other trolls. I bite down in anger, but I think a tooth just cracked, so I try to relax and settle for glaring. At least the bone has been boiled clean. The last time I wasn’t so lucky.

I try not to puke at the thought.

Truthfully, I prefer to eat things that didn’t scream in fear when they died. Like berries, mushrooms, and whatever I can poach from the farmer’s crops at the edge of the forest. I’m not proud of stealing the food, but at least I’m not trying to eat the farmer. One night I took my baby sister, Ivy, with me, and things got a little ugly. She’s three, and big for a troll of her age. Anyway, the farmer’s dogs chased us out of the tomato patch, and, well, my sister was hungry.

Let’s just say the farmer has one less dog now.

I won’t make that mistake again.

I just wish I could say the same thing about my current situation. Unfortunately the mistake I keep repeating involves breathing, according to my exceptionally foul-tempered cousin.

“Line ‘em up, boys.” Rot’s deep, grumbling voice says from behind me. His sausage-like fingers grab my sleeves to steady me, and I wonder what I am to be used for today.

“It’s a good day for bowling, eh, River?”

Great. I would reply and say something clever just above his intelligence level, but I can’t speak around the bone. I settle for rolling my eyes like I don’t really care.

I do care, but letting him know only makes it worse. I’ve learned to endure it, because I can’t seem to avoid it.

Sludge and Mire, Rot’s most loyal cohorts, gather nearby, trying to painstakingly place whatever targets they have gathered in a small pile. I hope it’s mushrooms since I’ve missed breakfast, or something soft that won’t leave a mark on my face. When the hulking, lop-sided trolls finally move, a patch of knee-high angry forest gnomes stand glowering, tied up more tightly than I am. They’re tired and filthy. No doubt Rot has had them trapped for a while, awaiting this special occasion.

One of them bares his teeth at me. He looks hungry. Or rabid.

I cringe as the gnome snaps those teeth. This day is going downhill fast. As the rest of the trolls line up on either side of my intended path, I see flashes of silver and gold. They’re taking bets and it’s not even past breakfast.

Rot pulls me back, his dark chuckle close to my ear. “See that little one in the middle? I saved him ’specially for you, River. He’s a hungry one.” Rot steps back again, taking me with him. The vines creak in protest. I’m pretty sure my body does too.

The trolls lean in for a better look, their crooked faces making a grey, mottled patchwork against the deep green forest. They’re probably betting on whether or not I’ll scream.

It’s a definite possibility.

I close my eyes, steeling myself against the inevitable. Those gnome teeth are really going to smart. What would my father think if he knew the heir to his throne is currently being used as a hanging bowling ball?

Probably that I deserve it for eating something other than bone-bread. As if looking different isn’t bad enough.

Rot lets go and I’m flying through the air, and none of that matters anymore. The trolls cheer, stomping their blocky feet against the moss-covered ground. The gnomes cringe, realizing too late what’s about to happen to them, not that any of us can do a thing about it now.

Here it comes. This is so going to hurt.

And just as quickly as I started, I suddenly stop.

I’m a hair’s breadth away from snapping, yellow gnome teeth. It would probably offend him if I told him he needed to clean them. Forest gnomes aren’t known for their social graces, not like the tamer garden gnomes that live in the farmer’s crops.

I hear an irritated sigh and look up, only mildly surprised to see my twin sister, Peat, staring down at me.

I smile in relief.

She frowns.

“That’s twice this week, brother.”

I shrug, waiting for her to notice I can’t speak. She doesn’t seem to care.

“Enough, Rot. This has got to stop.” She swings around to stare at our cousin, her flame red hair flying around her like some wild huntress of the forest. “River’s done nothing to you. Father won’t be pleased when he hears about this.”

“Oh? And who’s going to tell him?” Rot walks slowly over to Peat, eyeing her like a dragon eyes a sheep, which my sister is anything but.

“I am, you big oaf. This is ridiculous.” She waves her arm, “All of you should be on duty right now, guarding against the fairies, but here you are, gambling and tormenting innocent creatures.”

The trolls laugh, but I don’t care what she calls me, just as long as she gets me down. She pulls her dagger and slices it across the vine holding my feet.

I fall head first onto the ground. Thanks, Peat.


83,000 words
YA Historical Fantasy


Sixteen-year-old Anna Bradforde’s sharpshooting would make her an asset in the secret war against the vampires encroaching on the young American south. If she weren’t dying.

Anna’s family has shielded her from the fight since chronic illness left her body fragile. Safe, but useless. A burden.

When a new vampire clan makes themselves known, the Bradfordes find their already-tight resources stretched to the breaking point. Anna will do anything to keep her family and their secret safe. Even marry a rich man and murder him.

Eighteen-year-old Roland Madison is the perfect target: heir to a fortune; impulsive; a closet romantic. Luring him to the altar will be far too easy.

The trap is set, a debut ball with Anna as the bait. But as the vampires close in and Anna’s health continues to fail, she must decide if Roland’s death is really the only way to ensure her family’s survival.


December 16th, 1818

Too sick for my own debut.

I pressed my forehead to my bedroom window. In the garden below, silver moonlight shone on the guests, on Daddy and Mama, on the ivory pins holding her blonde curls in place. The orchestra struck up a quadrille, and my parents stepped to the center.
I should have been down there. Coughs as sharp as claws wracked my lungs. I clutched the quilt closer. I should have been at the center of the quadrille, all eyes on me, radiant in silk and velvet.

One couple at a time, more people joined in. My brother Christopher and sister-in-law Elizabeth. The mayor and his wife. The Augusta elite, their faces familiar from my years of watching though they hadn’t even seen me since I first got sick. We’d spread a story that I was studying abroad with my uncle. He’d been dead for years, but the gentry didn’t need to know. If they did, they’d be concerned.

Concerned people were curious, Daddy’d said. Curious people were nosy. Nosy people were a liability.

“Miss Anna!”

I whipped about, and the world spun.

“Can’t I take my eyes off you for one minute?” Deladis stood in the open door, her arms folded tight over her apron. “You’re supposed to be in bed. Don’t make me get Mr. Bradforde.”

I stiffened. Too sick to dance. Too sick to greet the guests. And now too sick to watch my own ball.

I pulled in as deep a breath as I could and let it out slowly. “Just a few minutes longer?”

Deladis gave an exaggerated huff, but the corners of her eyes crinkled. “One more dance, Miss Anna, I mean it. I will get your daddy on you.”

I smiled at her and turned my attention back to the garden. The opening quadrille ended. Mama stood at Daddy’s side, radiant in my dress. Deladis’d worked on it for months. And I didn’t even get to wear it.

“I want to extend my thanks to everyone for joining us here tonight," Daddy said. "As you know, this was to be my little Anna’s debut. Unfor—”

The ballroom door burst open, and my brother Samuel rushed to Daddy’s side. His bleak mourning attire set him apart among the glittering gems. He laid a hand on Daddy’s shoulder, whispered something, and retreated. Daddy motioned for Christopher and Mama to follow.

“I’m very sorry,” Daddy said. Whispers welled around him, and he raised a hand for silence. He still smiled, but his voice was stern. “I’m afraid there’s a family emergency. My daughter-in-law Elizabeth will entertain you. Please, enjoy the music and refreshments. We’ll rejoin you as soon as we’re able.”

 “I have to go.” I swung my feet off the window seat, swayed, and Deladis steadied me.

“It’s all right, Miss Anna,” she said, keeping a hand on my shoulder. “Let them handle it. You need rest.”

I shook my head. The room swam. “I need to be with my family. Something’s wrong.”

“But the guests—”


I looked up into her dark brown eyes, and she gave an indulgent shake of her head. “Take the back stairs.” She held my redingote for me, and I slipped it snug around my shoulders. “Do you need help?”

“No, I’ve managed on my own before.” I said it more steadily than I felt, but she still followed me out of my bedroom and along the corridor.

My feigned strength lasted until I reached the top of the stairs. Out of breath already, I looked down at the fifteen steps that stood between me and the hallway to the study. Damn my pride.

“Are you sure, Miss Anna?” Deladis asked softly. “It’s nothing shameful.”

“No. I’ll manage it.”

I gripped the smooth wood railing with both hands and took the first step. I made sure of my footing on the hardwood stair. One step. Another. Another. My lungs burned. Deladis hovered behind me, ready to catch me if I swayed.

I gripped the railing tighter and pressed on. One more step. One more. By the time I reached the bottom, my arms trembled from keeping myself upright. Still, I looked up the stairway and gave a shaky, triumphant laugh. True to my word, I’d done it alone.

I stumbled the rest of the way to the downstairs study. Over Deladis’ retreating footsteps, the music in the garden, and the rasp of my breathing, I heard whispers. I rapped lightly on the door.


The brass knob turned, the door opened a crack, and Daddy’s brown eyes peered out. “Anna! You should be in bed!”

“I wanted to be here,” I assured him. “I’m well enough. I want to work.”

He glanced over his shoulder at Mama, who nodded, and he swung the door wider. Once the door was locked, Daddy guided me to a seat at the table between Mama and Christopher.

Mama pushed a cup of tea to me, but I hesitated before I picked it up. This was one of her favorite tricks: if my hands shook at all, she’d whisk me back to bed, and not a thing I could say would stop her.

“Thank you,” I said. Commanding my hands to be still, I raised the fine china cup to my lips and sipped. Honey and lemon played over my tongue. I delicately set the cup back on its saucer. “Delicious.”

Her expectant gaze turned to frustration, but she didn’t press me. “I know what my daughter needs,” she said with the same practiced smile she’d taught me.

“Let's have the report,” Daddy said, nodding to the man across the table from me, Commander Petersen.

He’d been part of our war since before I was born. Usually, I was glad to see him, but the set of his shoulders was wrong. Tight. His hair was grayer about the temples than it had been just a few months ago, and he had dark rings under his eyes. I’d only ever seen him impeccably groomed, but mud had splattered on his jacket.

Petersen spread a map over the table and placed a marker a few miles from his station in Richmond. “We found a new warren here,” he said. “A dozen bodies, drained dry. Heap of weapons to your hip.

“These aren't the vampires we're used to. They're careful. Old. We hit hard, but the bastards had already escaped. All slipped out but one.”

Mama set her teacup aside. “That’s disappointing, Commander,” she said coolly, the remains of her French accent curling around the words. She usually tried to hide it, but when we were in private. “We expect better of you. Still, it's nothing that couldn’t wait for your month-end report. Why come at a gallop?”

“Because the one they left behind had this.” He reached into his coat pocket and flung a letter upon the table. The profile of a moose’s head was pressed into the wax seal. Petersen slid it to Daddy. “It’s addressed to you.”

Daddy broke the seal and unfolded the letter. Samuel stood just behind his shoulder and read along. I watched their faces, but they gave away none of the letter’s contents. Daddy passed the parchment to Petersen and then to Mama who, curse it, read just as impassively. Then she crumpled the thing and tossed it into the fireplace.

I watched the edges blacken and shrivel, my hands balled into fists in my lap. Too sick even to read.


65,436 words
MG Paranormal Adventure


Dying once at the hands of history’s most notorious pirate is bad enough, but a second time?

Jase Byrne is just trying to get through fifth grade and exert his independence, but he’s at the mercy of an overprotective mother and a classroom tormentor. When the bully traps Jase alone, he flees into nearby woods where he finds a mysterious box. The box unlocks memories of his past life, and as visions flood his mind, Jase realizes he was killed by the pirate Blackbeard to keep his treasure’s location secret.

The treasure’s clues are resurfacing. Jase is convinced finding the treasure will give him the independence he desires, and new strength to confront the bully. But with each clue he uncovers, the ghost of Blackbeard becomes more desperate. Jase must dig deep into his past and find the treasure before Blackbeard succeeds in killing him again.


I can never resist a find. Something stuck in the mud may look like a piece of junk, but to me, it has potential to be a treasure.

Please be something awesome. I cross my fingers for luck and walk to the edge of the lake for a better look. My sneakers sink into the mud and the bottom of my jeans are wet, but it’s all in the interest of exploration. At least that’s what I’ll say when my parents complain. What do they expect when they force me to play outside?

I reach in, pull out a box, and rinse it off in the freezing water. It’s silver metal, tarnished, dented, and really, really old, probably as old as my parents, but still worth keeping. My fingers tingle when I think of what could be inside.

I examine each side of the box, the gold lock, and initials. Too bad they aren’t JB because everyone would think it’s for my name, Jase Byrne. I trace the ET engraved on top; a coldness touches my fingertip, then creeps through my hand and up my arm. An icy breeze tickles my neck, and I whip around. No one’s there.

I’m fumbling with the lock that refuses to open when a booming voice invades my peaceful afternoon. My hands freeze.

It’s the enemy.

“Hey Jase, let me ask you something. Are you sure you’re eleven, because my five-year-old cousin is bigger than you,” Luke taunts.

“Yeah, and can beat him up too.” Ross laughs like his friend is some big comedian.

There they are, near the street, in faded jeans that sag so low, if they bend over, they’ll show things no fifth grader wants to see.

“Ha ha, you’re so funny.” I turn and stuff the box in my pocket. Don’t they have candy to steal from little kids or something?

Luke and Ross stand there, two bulldozers ready to dig a hole and bury me. I clench my hands and picture myself charging Luke and knocking him to the ground. Can I do it? I would if it wasn’t two against one. I sigh. Who am I kidding?

Time to find an escape route. First choice is the street toward my house, but they’re blocking the way. I can swim across the lake to someone else’s backyard, but even though the sun is shining, it’s still January in North Carolina, and that brings up the issue of freezing to death.

Luke and Ross step toward me.

I back up and consider my options again. The street and the lake. Then the breeze whispers a third choice.

“Hey Jase, you wanna go swimming? What do you think Ross, you take his arms and I’ll take his legs?”

“Yeah Luke, great idea. In the lake,” Ross says.

“There’s nowhere else for you to go, Jase.”

Even Luke doesn’t want to think about choice three.

No one goes there.

The tunnel.

My stomach churns at the thought. The tunnel itself isn’t the problem; it’s where it ends up that worries me. The woods. Where the ghosts live. At least that’s what the rumor is. I heard it from my best friend’s sister, who heard it from her boyfriend’s cousin. Supposedly, there’s a headless girl in there searching for a new head, and a coal miner with a pickax. I haven’t believed in that kind of stuff since I was a little kid. But, what if I’m wrong?

The boys inch closer; their claws ready for action.

My feet start to freeze in the lake. There’s no other choice. I zip my jacket all the way up and put the hood on to hide my head. A kid can never be too careful. I scamper out of the lake as fast as my soaked jeans will let me and scoot along the edge into the tunnel’s entrance.

“Hey, where are you going?” Luke yells.

Except for the squish of my sneakers, I don’t make a sound. I don’t even breathe. I focus more on the path than who’s behind me, or what’s in front. I step over jagged rocks, use the concrete walls for support, and try not to look at the spray-painted pictures of women on them. Except to make sure my hands don’t land on a place they shouldn’t. Maybe they’ll slow Luke and Ross down, but chances are they’ve already seen stuff like this.

“We’re going to follow him in there?” Ross asks.

“Yeah. You can’t let him be braver than you.”

I’m running into the woods instead of fighting two eleven-year-old boys. I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being brave.

“Relax, Ross. Look at this lady, she’s beautiful,” Luke says.

I let out my breath. He’s so predictable.

“Quit it,” Ross says. “How can you make jokes? Aren’t you scared?”

I peek over my shoulder. Luke’s practically drooling, probably with the idea of pounding me into the ground. It’s too late to turn back so I look toward the woods hoping to see something inviting. Sunshine, flowers, anything. But it’s dark, and most of the trees are dead. My stomach’s doing flip-flops now. The cement walls are closing in. I have to get out of here.

I run through the tunnel and stop at the end. The path leads deeper into the woods, probably the way the ghosts want their prey to go. Lure them into the darkness, snatch them, and cut their heads off. I pull my hood tighter, put my hands in the pockets, and take a deep breath. Then I step on to the path.

The rocks turn to leaves and twigs, and I bolt like a racehorse. I leap over logs. Dart around trees. Dodge hanging vines. Behind me are muffled voices. I look back, expecting to see the boys, or maybe the headless girl, but no one jumps out. Still, I run faster, alongside a creek and past groups of rocks. Deeper into the woods, where the sun won’t go and a blue fog floats through the trees.

There’s a bush full of leaves and I collapse behind it. I take deep breaths to calm myself and try to blend in with the ground. It’s not the best spot, sharp rocks poke all the wrong places and beetles give me the evil eye. I ignore it all, settle in, and peer through the branches for any sign of my enemies.

“Do ya mind, kid? Yer squatin’ on me grave.”

Entry #6: TWICE DEAD

about 86,000 words
YA Fantasy


Seventeen-year-old Naya's last memory is of the poison searing through her body, and the scrape of dirty cobblestones against her cheek. After dying while making a delivery for her adoptive father, she's resurrected as a wraith. Naya’s horrified her father would use necromancy — the magic of their enemies — to turn her into a monster. But when he reveals he's been working as a spy and begs her to help him uncover a necromancer plot, she agrees.

Naya disguises herself as a servant in the necromancers' capital, only to find that the necromancers and undead aren't the monsters she was raised to expect. One young wraith even makes her feel like her life didn't end the day she died. But that life shatters when she overhears her father talking about a new plan that requires her to die again — this time permanently.

Chapter 1

Naya clutched the oilskin folder to her chest and tried not to think on how any one of the people brushing past her might be undead. She took a deep breath. The mingled smells of the market flooded her nose — flowers, strange spices, sweat. Underneath it all she could still detect the reassuring brine of the sea. She glanced back once more at the docks where her father’s ship lay at anchor, then shouldered her way into the crowd.

Naya stuck out her chin and tried to match the expression of controlled calm her father always wore. Everyone said the things the necromancers brought back from the dead looked and acted like ordinary people. All she had to do was ignore the walking corpses and they’d do her the same courtesy. Probably.

The press of the crowd trapped the afternoon heat, making her head spin as she searched for a street sign. Her father’s directions had been clear enough. Market Street to Sunset. Right at the inn with the sign that looks like a fish. Uphill, then left where the road splits to four round a fountain. She’d deliver the documents to the wool merchant, ensure he signed the contract, and be back on the ship in an hour. Come dawn tomorrow her father’s Gallant would clear the lip of the bay and turn its prow north towards Talmir, towards home.

A whistle shrieked as she tried to take advantage of a gap in the crowd to cross the street. Naya turned in time to see a rune powered tram barreling towards her. She jumped back, her nose only inches from metal and wood as the single boxcar rattled past. Someone laughed behind her, obviously amused by her near encounter with death. Naya's cheeks burned as she hurried on. How could the brightly colored chaos of Bellavida have looked so enticing from the deck of her father’s ship?

Well, no matter. She wasn't here for pleasure. Though she was already past her seventeenth name day, today was the first time her father had let her finalize a contract alone. It was a test, one she could not fail if she was ever going to prove herself worthy of the gifts he’d given her. Most wealthy merchants would never consider acknowledging a bastard daughter, much less supporting her. But not her father. After Naya's mother died he’d taken her in and raised her as his own. He’d forced the Royal Academy to admit her despite her questionable blood, and taken her as his apprentice when she graduated. She would not, absolutely would not, fail. She tucked a damp brown curl back into her braid and hurried on.

People stared at she squeezed past them, continuing down the main road. It wasn't hard to imagine what they must be thinking. Foreigner. Her dark olive skin and brown hair could have let her pass for local. But her clothing made her stick out like a barnacle on a well-scrubbed hull. The people of Bellavida wore loose, bright colored cottons. Men and women alike favored brass-buttoned vests that stopped just above the hips. Even the poorest embroidered their hems and cuffs with elaborate geometric designs. A drop of sweat trickled down Naya’s back and into the hem of her gray wool skirt. She fought the urge to tug at the high collar of her blouse where it itched her neck.

Even away from the docks, the crowds were thick. Naya’s blood pounded in an uneasy tempo with the ebb and flow of morning shoppers. She finally found the street her father had indicated and hurried off the main road and onto a cobbled lane. There were fewer people here, and the warm smell of fresh bread drifted from a nearby bakery. Naya breathed deep, trying to soothe her ragged nerves. But she couldn't shake the powerful sense that someone was still watching her. She clenched her teeth. This was foolish. She was a merchant. Merchants traveled the world. They faced the strange, even the unholy, with a smile. They did not cower next to bakeries making themselves late.

Naya was about to step back out into the street when she saw the woman. Gooseprickles rose on her arms despite the heat. Someone was watching her. A strange woman with dark, tangled hair stared at her from across the street. Her brightly dyed clothes were frayed and dirty. But it wasn't her clothes that made Naya shudder. It was the tattoos — black runes ringing her neck and wrists, binding her soul to her formerly dead body. She’s one of the undead. Why was one of them staring at her? And why was she smiling like that?

“You lost, little girl?” the woman called out in the local tongue.

The heat had dried her mouth, and at first Naya’s reply stuck in her throat. “No. Of course not.”

Before the walking corpse could say anything else, Naya hurried away. Her breath came fast in her chest as the road beneath her feet twisted its way up one of the steep hills that dominated the eastern half of the city. The back of her neck tingled, but when she glanced over her shoulder she saw no sign of the woman. She continued up the hill, passing wood and stone houses painted bright blues, greens, even purples. Her calves burned with fatigue by the time she spotted the jumping cod, a red two story inn with a fish leaping over the doorway. A narrow lane branched away to the right, overshadowed by wooden tenements. Naya eyed it as she caught her breath. This had to be the right way, didn't it?

Fifteen minutes later she wasn't so sure. The city below was laid out in a proper grid. But up here the streets looked like they’d been mapped by wandering cows. Blind cows, Naya thought as she glanced back down the hill she’d just climbed. The shimmer of the bay was barely visible above the rooftops. She saw no sign of the woman, no sign of anyone really, though the alleys between the tight packed houses offered any number of places where someone might hide.

Naya swallowed. Up ahead the road ended in a wide intersection that looked nothing like the one her father had described. She forced her breathing to slow. Maybe she ought to turn back and find the stupid fish again. There must have been another turn she missed or — Wait. Naya held her breath and listened, catching the faint sound of falling water from somewhere nearby. That must be the fountain. She took a few more steps up the hill, peering down an alley between two faded blue houses. At the far end she saw a much larger street. And on the far side of that street was a shop with a brilliant white sign shaped roughly like a sheep. She couldn't see the full name of the shop, but the letters she could see matched part of the name scrawled on the contract. Naya grinned as excitement washed away her unease.

She jogged into the alley, her boots splashing through puddles. The city stench was stronger here, but Naya didn't care. Finally. If she hurried she could finish her business and be back on the Gallant before dinner. With all of her attention focused on the sign, her mind barely registered the scrape of boot steps behind her. Something stung the back of her neck. What the…?

Entry #5: MASH-UP

MG science fiction/mystery


Twelve-year-old Jared lives for video games. So when sunglasses turn everyone at school into their favorite avatar armed with laser gun, sword or fireballs, it’s a dream come true.

Before jumping into the fray, Jared searches for his little sister.  Maxine’s such a bookworm. She can’t handle the ninjas and space marines battling in the halls. But Maxine doesn’t want to hide. She’s decided the game is trouble and is searching for a way to shut it down. Worse yet, she wants Jared’s help to do it! His first instinct is to lock her in a closet so he play. But the school descends into chaos and people start to vanish. Jared has a decision to make:  get his game on, or help his annoying little sister take down the Best. Game. Ever.

MASH-UP is told in alternating POV (Jared’s and Maxine’s).

First 5 pages:


Chapter 1:  One Odd Day (Jared)

I stepped through the steel, gray front doors of Thompson Middle School, then stopped dead.  Aaron followed my gaze to the center of the wide-open foyer and snorted.

My tall, balding, evil science teacher stood in the middle of the room wearing rock star sunglasses even though the fluorescent lights weren’t bright. The glasses were dark and mirrored, the kind that wrap around on the sides so no sunlight could get in. Sykes held a second pair high over his head. He yelled something I couldn’t make out over the start-of-school-day confusion. But I could see a crowd of kids listening to him.

Voluntarily listening to him.


There was something odd going on.

“Somebody’s needs tell Sykes he’s just not cool.” Aaron grinned.

“Not me. My science grade is at half a heart and I’m out of health potions.” I cocked my head to the side. “Still, this is odd, even for Sykes.”

“Yo!” someone behind us called. We were blocking a busload of kids on their way in.

What’s your hurry? I wanted to ask. Why rush to get stuck in a desk all day? But when you’re one of the shortest boys in the sixth grade, you don’t go looking for trouble. Trouble finds you easily enough. I started forward.

We were sentenced to two years of torture in this brick and cement building. Fifth and sixth grades. Then we got turned over to the junior high for torture of a different flavor.

As I trudged past the door to the front office, I saw Principal Colgan had her eye on Sykes too. She looked out through the window in the door, her lips pressed into a line, her eyes narrowed. The cheery smile with which she usually greeted a new school day was gone.

“Try these, Jared.” My friend, Brad, walked up wearing sunglasses identical to Sykes’s. He drew a small black case out of a bag slung over his shoulder. With a flourish, he scanned a bar code into his smart phone, selected my name, Jared Cooke, from a list of students, then handed me the case. He repeated the process for Aaron.

“What’s this?” I opened the case. Inside was a pair of those sunglasses.

“Free trial of Game On! glasses,” Brad replied. “Mr. Sykes says they’re supposed to be great. The next big thing. Only catch is you gotta fill out a feedback form on how you liked them at the end of the day.” With a nod, he stepped past us, taking two more cases out of his bag.

I stared at the sunglasses in my hand. They did look cool. It was weird that my evil science teacher had gotten them for us. But I’d try them. I slid them on. The frames fit snugly, like they were made for me.

“So,” I turned to Aaron, “do I look good?” I struck a pose, arms crossed over my chest, head cocked to one side, big attitude.

“Sure, dude. Cooler than Sykes anyway.” He grinned and slid on his own pair.

Aaron was my gaming bud. He was also the most chilled-out guy in the sixth grade. You could tell right off by his shoulder-length black hair and lopsided grin. For him, the black sunglasses totally worked. I hoped they looked as good with my short brown hair and freckles. Probably not. I had the brains of our video game team. Aaron would never get through the major battles without me. But he had looks.

I imagined I looked as cool as Aaron, and we headed down the hall to our first stop, Aaron’s classroom.

“Later.” Aaron gave me a mock salute.

“Later,” I echoed, tipping my imaginary hat.

I wished we were home, settled in for a marathon session of LEGO Lord of the Rings. But today was Tuesday. There were four full days ‘til we could get a serious game going. Maybe we could catch an hour if we had a light homework night. But there weren’t many light homework nights for sixth graders at Thompson Middle School.

I forced my feet down the hall to my own classroom.

Four days.

“For heaven’s sake, Jared,” Mrs. Wainright called in a shrill voice as walked to my seat, “will you please take off those ridiculous sunglasses? I don’t know whothought it was a good idea to run a sunglass trial at school! You can use them outside at recess.”

But, of course, she did know who thought it was a good idea. Everyone who’d come in the front entrance had seen Sykes waving these sunglasses around. I smirked as I pulled them off. Sykes was gonna get an earful when he stepped into the teachers’ lounge.

I flipped open the case to put them away, and a piece of paper floated to the floor. I picked it up.

We Need Your Feedback!
Thanks for trying Game On! glasses, a revolutionary product designed to bring out the best in your
 inner warrior! Please provide us with feedback by rating these sunglasses on the dimensions below.
Strongly Disagree
Strongly Agree
Game On! glasses are cool.
Game On! glasses make me look good.
Game On! glasses make me feel powerful.
Game On! glasses make the day more fun.
I would recommend Game On! glasses to a friend.

Strange feedback form. I didn’t generally expect sunglasses to make me feel powerful. Or to make the day more fun. I just expected them to keep the sun out of my eyes. I guessed they should look cool too.

I shook my head and tossed the case into my backpack. How could sunglasses make the day more fun?


90,000 words
YA Science Fiction Thriller

150 word pitch:

To escape dying Earth, seventeen-year-old Lesha and her little brother take passage to Eris, a newly-colonized planet halfway across the galaxy. The spaceship crashes in Eris’ wasteland, stranding her far from civilization with only a few survivors... including the man who stalked her on Earth, Riley.

If lack of supplies doesn’t kill them, flesh-eating snakes that erupt from the sand just might. Fellow survivor Malik swears he’ll get the group to safety or die trying. Lesha lived through famine and riots back home. Malik might be cute, but no way will she let a hot-shot military dude with a savior complex tell her what to do.

But after they find a boy’s mutilated corpse in a sick desert shrine, it’s clear something stalks them. Something predatory. Something else. To protect her brother, Lesha must work with Riley and Malik, before their alien hunter picks them off one by one.

First five pages:

Screams erupted from the televid when I entered our room at Bunker Number Four.

“It’s happening again, Lesha.” My eight-year-old brother huddled on his bed, brown eyes focused on the screen mounted on the cinderblock wall. He clutched his worn, stuffed rabbit to his face and dented his lower lip with his thumb.

I stared at the scene, and the backpacks I’d retrieved from the storage unit thumped on the floor. “Riots.”

Joe’s thumb slid into his mouth.

A roving camera flew above the protesters racing through the streets, zooming in, highlighting the lines of fear on their faces. From the buildings nearby, I recognized an area near us in South Boston. So close.

Tear gas canisters tumbled on the ground, spewing chalky smoke. Police dressed in full SWAT gear stomped behind the protesters. Deportation vans hovered in the distance, ready to haul those caught to some undisclosed location.

Never to return.

I’d shut the vid off if wasn’t so mesmerized myself. I fidgeted with the end of my braid, and the inky strands coiled around my fingers. Like I was five again, I gnawed on the tips.

The televid cut to a ReGreen commercial and a dreamy, computer voice drifted through the room.
“First the bees died. Then much of our plant life. Thirty percent of our animal species are extinct. But this doesn’t mean the end of our world.”

The leaders of ReGreen needed to stop sniffing the hovercraft fumes.

“Never fear.” The words burst through a crescendo of uplifting music. "This is just a phase in our planet's never-ending life cycle." A vid from Earth’s history played on the screen. Lush, green vegetation swayed in a light breeze, nestled under a clear, blue sky.

What a joke. No one had seen blue sky for years.

“Call it whatever you want,” I told the screen. “A phase. Global warming. Life cycle. Giving it a name doesn’t change what’s happening.” Years of floods were followed by endless drought. Wildfires burned whatever remained, leaving next to nothing for plants to take root in. Or kids, for that matter.

“We must be patient,” ReGreen reminded us.

I snorted. Done with that.

The Group’s slogan flashed on the screen, signaling the end of the vid, and my voice chimed in with the computer’s. “The Recovery is at hand.”

My wrist com beeped. “We need to leave for the spaceport soon, kiddo.” I nudged Joe’s shoulder. “Turn off the televid. Go wash. Put on a clean durasuit.”

He groaned. As he stomped past me toward the bathroom, I ruffled his kinky hair. He swatted at my hand, but I couldn’t resist. He looked so cute when it stood on end.

In our old life, he’d have slammed the washroom door to punctuate his irritation. An electronic panel took the zap right out of his laser gun.

Sitting on my bed, I opened my bag.

Tonight, we’d board a starship to Eris, a planet halfway across the galaxy, to join a colony settled ten years ago. The Relocation Project drew Joe and my name in the lottery just before I turned seventeen. Our parents had been dead a year, and we lived with Uncle. When the lists came out, he dumped us at the Bunker with one bag between us. We hadn’t heard from him since. No loss there. Uncle liked heavy-handed discipline. Among other things.

On Eris, we’d make our own family. Joe and me.

A sad smile twisted my lips as I lifted the digital picture frame off the nightstand. The short vid clip projected our family’s last fine moment before an accident upended our world.

Dad had his arm around Mom’s shoulders, and they giggled and smiled more at each other than at the camera. I stood beside them, a gangly, fourteen-year-old jumble of skinny arms and legs, black hair hanging in my eyes like wet seaweed. Joe danced by my side, a goofy grin on his brown face.

I stroked their faces before wrapping the frame in three of Dad’s t-shirts and tucking it into my pack. Since our Instructors told us we could only bring one bag on the ship, I weighed each possession like gold.

Essentials first. I couldn’t live without my digi-journal and stylus. If I didn’t write before bed each night, I’d lose my mind.

My first aid kit.

Mom’s dress. It was all I had left that was hers. No way would I leave it behind.

A glolight and my jacket bulged the sides of the pack.

We didn’t need to bring clothes. They’d stored cases of durasuits in the ship’s hold. Woven from nylatec, they lasted forever. Impervious to stains and tears. In fourteen different styles and twenty-seven shades of the rainbow. That’s what the televid commercials said.

I set my orange treds aside to wear later. I’d scored my favorite footwear at a reclamation warehouse. Despite their age, they showed little wear. The splurge had meant a tight budget for weeks, but every girl needed something bright in her life, especially when her planet had fallen to pieces. And I was a sucker for anything orange.

Zipping my bag closed with trembling fingers, I stared at the flecked grout lines between the blocks on the wall above Joe’s bed.

A heady mix of excitement and trepidation muddled together inside me. I wanted to go. Who wouldn’t? Most people outside the false insulation of the Bunker would kill for the chance we’d been given.

“Eris.” The name of my future home slipped past my lips like a prayer.

Why did this traitorous, bittersweet mix of sadness and joy flood my soul?

Not cool, brain. I needed to cut it out. Joe and I had to escape this dying, third rock from the sun before it imploded. Or exploded. Or whatever it planned to do.

The bathroom door flew open. Joe jumped out, looking pretty snappy in a light blue durasuit. He posed in the doorframe, hands on his hips, a red suit knotted around his shoulders so it hung down his back like a cape. “Ta-da. I’m Superboy Space Cadet.”

Smoothing my face, I pointed to his bag. “Your mission, Cadet, is to pack what you can’t live without.”

“Yes, Sir.” He grinned, spoiling his stiff-soldier image.

“I need to bring Tiff her bag.” I’d also told my best friend I’d wake her. That girl could sleep. “Be back in a few.”

“Sir, yes, Sir. I’ll begin packing immediately.” Joe saluted as I left our room.

Slipping Tiff’s pack over my shoulder, I jogged to the North Corridor.

Hundreds of years ago, a well-organized doomsday community had built bunkers underground. When the Relocation Project got underway, the government took them over and retrofitted them for orientation and housing.

Long, gray cinderblock halls without a single window. Flickering, coverless fluoros shedding just enough light to see where you were going, but not enough to catch the roaches lurking in the corners. And freaking cold. They piped in heat during the winter months, but the ancient boilers barely brought the place above see-your-breath range.

Dark, gloomy, and damned ugly. Not that people preparing for the end of the world cared much about ambiance, but they could’ve given the place some color. Fluorescent orange came to mind.

I knocked, my fist creating hollow thumps on Tiff’s door. As expected, she didn’t answer. Lazy bum. I keyed in the code on the touchpad, and her door slid open. Darkness enveloped the room. “Tiff, get your ass up.”


78,000 words
YA Historical/Steampunk/LGBT


Clock towers control cities around the world. If one breaks, time stops. It’s a truth Danny knows too well; his father’s been trapped in a town near London for years. Despite being a clock mechanic who repairs not only clockwork, but time itself, Danny’s unable to free him.

Danny’s assigned to a damaged clock tower in Enfield. The boy he mistakes for his apprentice is odd, but that’s to be expected when he’s the clock spirit who controls Enfield’s time. Although Danny and the spirit are drawn to each other’s loneliness, falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, no matter how cute his smiles are. But when someone plants bombs in nearby towers, cities are in danger of becoming trapped in time—and Enfield’s one of them.

Danny must prevent Enfield’s time from stopping, or else he’ll lose not only his father, but the boy he loves, forever.

First Five Pages:

Two o’clock was missing.

Danny thought it had to be a joke. He stared at the clock tower before consulting the silver timepiece in his hand, but it only mirrored what he saw above: both clocks read 3:06  in the afternoon, when not fifteen minutes before they had read 1:51. The hands had jumped an entire hour like it was of no consequence.

Because it no longer existed.

He looked back at the clock face and swallowed. Not a joke.

The tall, thin man at his side wrung his hands together, glancing between Danny and the tower. He cleared his throat with a sound like an engine stalling.

“Can it be fixed?”

Danny wrenched his eyes away from the clock. The mayor of Enfield was sweating, but then again, so was Danny. The back of his neck felt damp and unpleasant, making him shudder when a gust of cold wind hit.

“Er, yes,” Danny said, trying not to make it sound like a question. “Yes, it can be fixed.”

The set of the mayor’s shoulders relaxed, but not by much. “Then, please, by all means.” The mayor gestured to the tower as if Danny had forgotten where it was.

Colton Tower was a pillar of limestone and plated cast iron with a brick base and pointed spire. The iron gleamed bronze in the weak sunshine, illuminating the sentinel-like tower that stood above the shingled roofs of Enfield. The clock face shone yellow, its numbers and hands black against the opal glass. That made it even easier to see the empty space between one and three o’clock.

The clock ticked on despite the malfunction, but Danny felt the lost hour as he would a missing finger on his hand. That wrongness, sharp and shocking, bore down on his body until he could barely breathe. Just to make sure he still could, he took a breath through his nose. It made his heart pound even harder.

Stolen. An entire hour, a chunk of time, taken like it was the last piece of cake on a neglected platter.
He snapped his timepiece closed with a loud click. This was his first assignment since the accident, and they had given him the most difficult one they had.

I bloody asked for it, he thought ruefully. He’d had to make a scene and say he was ready, that he was finally healed. The other mechanics were probably having a good laugh right about now. Well, let them. He’d wipe the smiles off their faces. Somehow.

“Do you need assistance?” the mayor asked when Danny continued to hesitate. He was still wringing his hands, and Danny really couldn’t blame him. A missing hour was alarming on its own, but now police were combing through the town in search of the missing numeral.

Danny tried to smile reassuringly, but all he achieved was a grimace. “No, thank you. I’m sure the apprentice is waiting for me inside.”

Turning back to his automobile, which sat dusty and exhausted in the street beside the village green, he swore under his breath. He could feel himself sweating in other places now, ranging from the mildly uncomfortable to the downright disconcerting. Danny furtively bent his head to get a whiff of one underarm and his nostrils tightened in offense.

The small, quaint homes and shops along the street were empty at the moment, giving the street a vacant, eerie atmosphere. In startling contrast, a large crowd had formed before the clock tower. The people had come not only to stare ineffectively at the clock, but also for a peek at the young clock mechanic. He worried they would be able to smell the fear on him.

A few constables kept their eyes on the murmuring crowd while the children gawked. This was probably the most excitement Enfield had seen in some years, and he had become the main attraction. He still wore his driving gloves, the finger pads brown with dirt, and his goggles hung bug-speckled on his chest. Another gust of wind that smelled of oncoming rain ruffled his dark, unruly hair. Because that was what he needed: a sheet of freezing rain while he worked.

He wondered if they knew the extent of the danger they were in. The threat of an absent hour wasn’t as simple as missing appointments or rushing through afternoon tea. If one hour was off, one hour subtracted every day, Enfield would be out of alignment with the rest of the world. There was no telling what would happen to the town if that continued. No telling what would happen to the people who lived here.

Enter Danny, the clock mechanic. The healer of time. Enfield’s supposed savior.

Danny clenched his hands into fists and ordered himself to calm down. He had asked for a difficult assignment. But he hadn’t expected one like this, not after what happened to the last tower he had set foot in.

The message was clear enough. If he was going to prove that he was ready for The Assignment, he had to tackle Enfield’s tower first. He had to restore their two o’clock or make a fool of himself trying.

Danny dragged a heavy, rectangular package from the car’s back seat and hoisted it onto his shoulder. He briefly touched the side door for luck; the car had once been his father’s, and he hoped to feel him there, somehow.

The mayor told the others to stand back and give Danny space. Once through the tower door, his foot nearly collided with the first step in a long flight of wooden stairs. There was nothing else on the bottom floor, just shadowed corners and hidden cobwebs. He looked up the stairs and frowned.

“How’m I going to do this?” he muttered. He had studied any number of clock-related catastrophes during training, but the theory on paper and the reality of the situation couldn’t compare.

Only one way to find out. He climbed the stairs towards the belfry, each creaking step giving birth to small clouds of dust. It smelled of moths and age, the scent of a childhood willingly forgotten. He counted fifty stairs until he reached the bells. They would chime again at the next hour, having already mistakenly announced the hour of three.

Farther up he reached the churning clockwork, the bronze wheels and gears that turned the face. Below his feet swung the pendulum that swayed diligently side to side, beating every two seconds. He planned to keep going, to ignore this room altogether, but it was like ignoring a large mole on a small nose; it screamed to be looked at.

As Danny watched the clockwork turn, his throat and stomach tightened. His breaths came too fast and his vision darkened at the edges. But he refused to give in to panic. He tried to push it ruthlessly down, down, down until he could convince himself that it didn’t exist. He was Danny Hart, and he was a clock mechanic.

A clock mechanic who was now afraid of clocks.

It won’t be like last time, he told himself firmly, touching the scar on his chin. It can’t.

Whirs and clanks and ticks echoed throughout the tower, a sound both familiar and new. The sounds vibrated through the wooden floorboards, traveled through the soles of his boots, up his legs, to his heart. Strangely, that calmed him. Each tower sounded different to him, like a voice. The sound of this tower was curious, bright, unassuming.


94,000 words
YA Fantasy


A forest where it always rains. A six-foot tall elf with no sense of humor. A beast that is half-wolf, half-human, and completely disgusting.

Sam Gordon never thought this would be his life until two of his classmates are abducted. Intent on rescuing them, he travels across dimensions where a sinister being demands the Lost Pearls of Indarnini in return for his friends. Formed by the first witch, the Pearls hold the key to all magic, and Sam is the only one who can retrieve them.

Now he must decide how far he will go to protect those he loves. If he does obtain the missing jewels, he cannot fathom surrendering them to a kidnapping sorcerer. Yet if he keeps the Pearls, he may never see his friends again. Sam faces an impossible decision, but he knows at least one thing; he must either save his friends or die trying.

First Five Pages:

Elisia’s bloody feet ached, each step resulting in excruciating pain. Her wrists, bound by rope that dug deep into her flesh, lurched forward as the men sped faster, and she lost her balance, tumbling onto the jagged gravel. Her dress tore, and stones clawed at her skin, leaving behind rivers of sticky blood, yet the men dragged her further. The cloth sack over her face shrouded her vision, but the sound of a falling drawbridge and the touch of the cold marble floor confirmed her arrival at court.

“Stand up, wench, and do not bleed in the presence of your king.”

The girl wanted to inform the knight that she had an unfortunate lack of control over when she did and did not bleed, but she held her tongue.

A firm, calloused hand cut the bindings and pulled the sack off her face, and the hall’s golden light seared at her eyes. Elisia looked down at the tattered remains of her clothing and covered herself as best as she could.

“You will bow in the presence of your king,” commanded a cold and sinister voice.

The girl’s knees buckled and smashed against the rock-hard surface as she was pressed to the ground, and a lightning flash of pain drove up her thighs. She stared down at the ground as a rush of anger surged through her veins.

“Look up and face me, girl.”

Slowly raising her head, she took in her new surroundings. To both sides were single rows of black columns that fed from the back of the hall. Behind them lay narrow passageways that undoubtedly branched off into deeper corridors of the castle. The giant hanging chandelier, fashioned completely of white antlers, held dozens of brightly burning candles that fully illuminated the room.

At the other end of the hall hung a blood-red tapestry, the only color in the whole grim place. Sewn in the brightest of yellow threads was a bustling fire; three flames licked upwards with tiny sparks floating above. His Grace had chosen his crest as a warning to all; everything can burn, and those who stood in his way would surely do so.

King Irsad was seated on the most disgusting chair ever created; the rumors did it no justice. Lining every crevice of the throne were the skulls of dead kings, the rulers of ages past. Elisia could only wonder at the identities of those unfortunate enough to spend eternity under their descendants’ backsides.

“What is your name, girl?” The king smiled slyly, his sausage fingers tangled in the stringy hairs of his ratty beard.

“Elisia,” she replied, her proud voice reverberating through the hall.

“And do you know why you are here, Elisia?” The king placed extra emphasis on her name.

“I do not.”

“You will refer to our liege as Your Grace.” A warm breath crept upon the back of her neck, and Elisia could taste its foul scent. If only this guard knew what she could do; perhaps then he’d know better than to anger her.

“I do not…Your Grace.”

“You take me for a fool,” the king said. “Word spreads like rapid-fire throughout my kingdom; there is little I do not know. Tell me, girl, do you wish to overthrow me, or do you merely take pleasure in performing your tricks in the Sylvára Forest?” She did not answer, and the king snarled.

“I care not for waiting,” he spoke, “as I am sure you will soon realize; I urge you to confess.” Elisia looked up defiantly, her eyes ablaze. She said nothing.

The king stood and hobbled a few steps forward. “Well gentlemen, it seems as though we may have some fun after all.” He tottered, and the guard grabbed Elisia by both shoulders and hoisted her to her feet. The king was but inches from her face, and their eyes were parallel. His crown, inlaid with three white pearls, lay askew, nearly falling off of his head; he did not move to fix it.

King Irsad put a sweaty hand to her cheek, and Elisia spat in his face, almost instantly feeling the backside of his hand whip across her skin. Her jaw snapped in pain, and she could taste the metallic liquid forming within her mouth. He smacked her again and grabbed hold of her chin, squeezing her cheeks together.

“All you need to do is show me, girl.” His voice was a hoarse whisper. “Move a chair across the room. Tell me the name I think in my head. Take me to see what lies ahead in the future.”

He coughed, his breath soaked in a thick layer of wine.

“It…it is not that simple, Your Grace. I cannot…command it.” She winced when his grip on her face grew tighter, but she would not cry. She would not cry. No, she would end this.

“Then tell me,” he urged, “what provokes it?” His face was crazed, and he did not flinch when blood began to drip from her mouth and onto his hand.

“E…extreme emotions, Your Grace.” His grip tightened. Her lips could barely move. “Joy. Excitement. Anguish. Fear.” She paused. “And anger.” She growled the last word.

It was happening. The power, the fury. She no longer felt the bruise on her cheek, the cuts on her feet, the rope-scars on her wrists. She was whole again. A low cackle gurgled upwards out of her throat, and she grinned savagely, hoping that her bloodstained teeth made the king’s stomach lurch. The game was reset. Now she was the terror. Now she was the monster. Now she was the witch.

She threw her hands in the air and the king flew backwards. The blood on his hand turned to fire, and it raged, consuming his entire limb. Cries of “Seize her!” and “Help me!” could barely be heard through screams of agony. The nauseating scent of burning flesh quickly filled the room, but Elisia did not flinch.

A horde of guards sprang towards her, and she clenched her fists together, hurling the men backwards; they fell to the ground like their burning king.

There was a distinct crack as the knights’ armor began to shrink, squeezing their innards as iron and steel puckered and bent. Elisia relished in their pain and did not cringe when the first bone snapped. Instead she laughed a shrill, crazed cry, for these monsters were being eaten alive by their own defenses. Pleas of mercy and shrieks of pain rang in her ears, but there was no mercy to be had. These men had kidnapped her, beaten her, threatened her. She was neither cruel nor evil; she was just.

Elisia stepped to the knight who’d dragged her into this godforsaken place and lifted the visor of his helm. His face had turned yellow, and huge red vessels formed upon his skin. His eyes bulged, and the top of his nose started to break. Elisia stared deep into his bloodshot eyes, making certain that she would be the last thing he ever saw. His pupils dilated, offering one final plea for humanity, and then he was gone. Soon the shrieking and the screaming ceased, and the girl turned back to her sovereign king.

His arm had burned black and crisp, and a bone stuck out through charred flesh. He held his good hand over his face and shuddered. Elisia stood over him in all her broken beauty and promised: “You will never again lay a hand on me.”


92,000 words
YA Historical Fantasy


Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden yearns to join the Luminate society that dominates an alternate Victorian England. But in a world where social prestige stems from blood, money, and magic, Anna needs magic—or a miracle. When her plan to join society via her sister’s suitor ends in the destruction of her sister’s debutante spells, Anna is banished to Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

But nothing in Hungary is as it seems. Fissures in the Binding that contains her world’s magic are expanding, and the ancient creatures bound by that spell clamor for release. As revolutionary currents envelop Hungary, Anna’s unique ability to break spells becomes the catalyst both creatures and revolutionaries seek. In the company of nobles, rebels, and gypsies, Anna has a choice: cling to the life she’s always wanted, or risk everything to free the creatures, win a rebellion, and change the face of magic itself.

First Five Pages:

London, April 1847

I did not set out to ruin my sister’s debut.

Indeed, there were any number of things I deliberately did not do that day.

I did not pray for rain, as I knelt in the small chapel of our London townhouse that morning, the cold of the floor seeping into my bones. Instead, I listened to Mama’s petition for successful spells and sunshine. Peeking through my lashes at Elizabeth’s smug face, I yearned to ask for disquiet, disorder, and torrential downpours—calamitous words that might have eased, a little, the restless crawling in my heart. But I swallowed the words unsaid. Even should God heed such a treacherous prayer, my father would not. And though Papa’s weather magic would cost him a headache, my sister would dance under clear skies.

I did not argue with Elizabeth, when she banned me from the ballroom where she and Mama were laying the final grounding for her illusions. “You’ll break my concentration and spoil my spells,” she said, though it had been years since I had spoiled any spell, accidentally or otherwise.

But then I did not go to the schoolroom, where I was expected to improve my sketching while James studied his Latin. Instead, I lingered (Mama would say loitered) in the lower hall, watching the servants scurry back and forth with their brooms and buckets and cleaning cloths, in feverish preparation for the ball. I did not rest, as Elizabeth did.

Because of those omissions, I was in the hallway when Lord Frederick Markson Worthing came calling. I heard Freddy’s signature knock—two short, three long—and my heart leapt.

Barton reached the door first and sent me a cross look down his long nose. He accepted a small white visiting card from Freddy, and I slipped into the open doorway.

“Lord Markson Worthing!” I smiled up at him, remembering to use his formal name just in time. “Won’t you come in?”

I didn’t have to look at Barton to know his brows were lowering. Our butler disapproved of forwardness in general and me in particular.

Freddy returned my smile, his gloved hands tightening around the bouquet of roses he carried. “Thank you, Miss Anna. Only for a moment. I don’t want to leave my horses standing too long in this wind.” In truth, Freddy had no need for horses. As a Luminate of the class Lucifera, he could compel the carriage with spells. But he preferred the aesthetic of horses.

Barton led us upstairs to the Green Drawing room, so named for the ivy pattern sprawling across the wall and the deep emerald drapes.  “I will notify your mother, Miss Anna. And Miss Arden.”

Freddy and I sat on matching high-backed chairs near the window. Freddy leaned toward me, nearly crushing the roses he held.

“I hoped I might see you.”

My face grew warm as I met Freddy’s intent gaze. I had been alone with Freddy only a handful of times, usually moments stolen on walks through the park, but there was no one in the world I liked so well. I adored the way his honey-colored hair curled a little above the collar of his coat. I admired his eyes, which were not really grey, but a band of blue around a center of brown. And I loved him for the way the corners of his lips trembled when he was impassioned: When he spoke about his plans for Parliament or his dreams of a salon in London where Luminatecould mingle freely with artists, poets, politicians, scientists, even revolutionaries, where wit would trump magic and ideals would matter more than money.

There was little room in the real world for people like me, but there might be room in Freddy’s.

“I have something I want to say to you. Will you be at the ball tonight?”

“I am not yet out,” I reminded him. And Mama does not trust me around magic.

“Then meet me. In the herb garden, at midnight.”

The heat in my cheeks deepened. I adjusted my skirts, pretending a composure I did not feel. “Very well.”

“Good girl.” Freddy stood then and adjusted his top hat. “I must go.” He thrust the flowers at me, roses of a red so deep their centers were almost black. The petals spilled over my fingers like blood.

I watched him walk away, admiring the straight line of his back. In the doorway, Freddy spun around to face me. “The flowers are for Elizabeth. See that she gets them, will you?”

“Anna?” Grandmama stood in the doorway, her fingers tight around her cane. “Has Lord Markson Worthing gone already?”

I looked up from the flowers. “He couldn’t stay. His horses were waiting.”

“And you were with him alone this entire time?” Her mouth was tight, her Hungarian accent more pronounced. First Barton, now Grandmama. At least Grandmama’s disapproval stemmed from affection.

My shoulders lifted a little. “He left these for Elizabeth.” I held out the roses and wondered if Grandmama would guess how much hid behind that small truth. Though it was customary to bring flowers to a debutante, I could not fathom what Freddy meant by asking me to meet him at midnight but leaving me with my sister’s roses.

“Do not shrug. It is not ladylike.” Her dark eyes studied my face, guessing at my discontent. “And do not pine so for this Luminate society, for the magic and the dancing. In Hungary there is not this obsession. You are not yet seventeen, szivem. Your turn will come.”

 “Mama would hide me in the country if she could.”

“Your mama loves you. She is afraid for you, is all.”

I did not believe that. Mama was afraid of me, of my strange lack of magic and my caprices. My fingers found a missed thorn on one of the roses, and I snapped it off.

Grandmama sighed. “Give me those flowers. I will take them to Elizabeth. You should go upstairs before your mama finds you.”

I relinquished the roses, but their scent followed me down the hall like a promise.
I sat on Elizabeth’s bed, hugging my knees to my chest. As children, we had often sat like this, watching Mama transform through the artifice of her dresser from an ordinary mother into something resplendent and strange. I suspected, however, that Elizabeth was not thinking of our old habit when she summoned me to help her dress, but of flaunting her debutante status.

Elizabeth’s maid attached a small coronet of pearls to my sister’s mahogany hair. Elizabeth surveyed her reflection in the ornate mirror, smiling at the effect. Her image seemed unfamiliar, her usual severity softened by the glass and the late afternoon light. Behind her, I could see the smaller circle of my face, a pale smear of flesh with dark holes for eyes.

I disliked mirrors. Sometimes when I looked at my reflection aslant, I caught an uncanny doubled reflection, as if I were not one person, but two—as if I were a stranger in my own skin. I never knew if such reflections were a byproduct of my lack of magic, or merely a defect in my vision.

Elizabeth must have seen something in my look to distrust, because she whirled suddenly.

“Anna, you will be good, won’t you? You know how much tonight means.”

As if I could forget. “What would I possibly do? I won’t be anywhere near you.” Except at midnight, in the gardens.

“Strange things happen around you. You’re so very . . .” She paused, searching for the right word.

“Quixotic? Unconventional? Immodest?” All those, and worse, had been hurled at me by exasperated governesses in the past.

Her brows drew together, a faint tuck of disapproval. “You’ll never get a husband with that attitude.”

“Perhaps I don’t want one.”

Saturday, September 20, 2014

And Then There Were TEN!

I'm sure the last couple of weeks have been stressful for our top 25 finalists! I want you all to remember that if you didn't get in to the top ten that doesn't mean you should quit. Far from it. You should be thrilled and give yourselves a pat on the back for doing so well! It was close for a lot of people, but there were in the end, a clear top ten.


According to our esteemed author judges the ten that will go on to our agent round (in no particular order) are:

  1. The Lost Pearls of Indarnini
  2. The Apothecary of Forbidden Clocks
  3. Twice Dead
  4. Timekeeper
  5. The Troll Diaries
  6. Mash Up
  7. The Blood Rose Rebellion
  8. Noble Virtues
  9. The Past Life of Jase Byrn
  10. Phoenix Rising
Congratulations to our winners!! Please send your revised pitch (remember only the pitch part) and first five pages by midnight EST tomorrow, so that we can post them for our Agent Round! 

Good luck!