Sunday, November 30, 2014

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Jellison

Name: Ashley Jellison
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: The Dare

"Watch out there, Brent; you might get burned." Meg Brooks tried tuning out the boys messing around behind her.

"Ha, no, I'm so hot I think the fire will get burned!" It was the last line from jock that sent Meg away from the basketball court. She had been trying to read To Kill a Mockingbird for English, but the entire basketball team had showed up. And the only thing they were good for was flirting to make other guys jealous. Other than that, zip. Each had a personality, and each was worse than the previous. All thirteen boys had failed at least once and a few were looking at failing their junior year, as well. It said something about Washington High School. If a minimum-grade limit was placed on sports, the school would not have many teams. Besides chess, that is.

 "Hey, Meggie! Where you going? Wait up!" Blond hair sailed through the air as the girl looked for the voice. Her eyes settled on a teenager about thirty feet away, next to the fountain.

 "I have to finish this book. The project is due tomorrow and I just starting reading it last night."

 Meg's best friend, Aria Sanders, sauntered up, smoothing down her almost-crossing-the-line skirt. "Oh, honey, you're not going to finish it. It's so boring. The only reason I know is because Mrs. Schel made us listen to the audio book."

 "Whatever, I have to try. I cannot fail a project. If I don't pull an A in the class, Dad's going to kill me. And I'm not so sure he didn't mean literally this time."

"Meg, you know--" The rest of Aria's words were cut off by an insistent ringing. She pulled out a bright green cell phone and pushed it to her ear.

 "Okay, I'm on my way," she said immediately.

 "Wait, where are you headed?" Meg demanded. "You only just arrived."

 "My mom wants me to meet Johnny for dinner. Besides, you have an entire book to read, remember?" she smirked at her friend and then walked off before Meg could speak, leaving the latter alone at the fountain with Harper Lee's novel.

It was a tradition for the "It" students of Washington to hang out after school on the campus for a few hours daily. That's where Meg found herself with Aria. Sometimes a few other girls joined them, but mainly it was the two girls, who also ruled the school.

 Meg was raised by a wealthy family. She was given everything she wanted, and more. Aria lived next door to her and had a similar childhood. The two girls bonded instantly over a love of material objects. Ever since the third grade, they had promised to be the top of the school, wherever they were. And it had happened.

 So maybe Meg had told a few white lies about the geeks. And Aria had spilled former friends' secrets. Sometimes, they even whispered about each other. But it was all in the name of popularity, so everything was great. Meg got to live a life fit for the Homecoming Queen. She was able to attend every party that was worth her time. And she could act like any kind of girl she wanted to around guys. But, probably one of her biggest accomplishments was doing all of the above without her parents suspecting a thing, as long as she had a reason for being out.

 Which, currently, Meg did not have. Looking at her watch, she cursed under her breath and sprinted towards the parking lot. Her little yellow Porsche sat in the second row, gleaming in the evening sun. Mr. Brooks had asked her to be home at six, which was, unfortunately, five minutes away. And she lived at least fifteen away from the school.

 With enough speeding and darting through traffic, Meg slid into her home only three minutes late. "I'm home!"

 "Honey, can you come in the kitchen for a moment?" Her step-mother's melodic voice floated through the large entrance hall.

Meg didn't even bother wasting her breath, just began the short trek through the mansion. An aroma made up of delicious spices grew stronger as she approached. Just when it didn't seem like it could get any stronger, Meg pushed open the door, letting it swing shut behind her.

 Mrs. Brooks was standing in the middle of the kitchen, wearing an apron and holding a spatula. On the stove sat a pan with freshly baked bread in it.

 "Surprise! I made your favorite, sweetheart!"

 "I thought we agreed that you wouldn't be calling me 'sweetheart' anymore."

The happiness slid from the older woman's face. "Right, uh--I'm sorry, Megan. Did you want any bread? I made it for you to have before dinner, if you want some."

"Thanks, but I don't want it. Lately you've been putting too much ginger in. I'll just have some cookies instead." The seventeen-year-old grabbed a pack of oatmeal raisin cookies from the pantry and left her step-mother staring behind her. As she climbed the stairs to her bedroom, she heard a reminder.

 "Dinner is in five minutes. And Meg, you will be eating with us tonight."

 "Shove off, Dad," Meg mumbled. She had been very close to her father for most of her life after her mother asked for a divorce ten years ago. But when he had announced his engagement to his girlfriend of four years, Meg was less than pleased. She didn't want another woman in the house. Another female meant less money would go towards her. Her budget would be cut in half. And she would be expected to move all of her winter clothes out of the hall closet. She couldn't even begin to fathom where she would put them. But Mr. Brooks adamantly told his daughter that Val Gibson, soon to be Brooks, would be moving in. And it was final.

 Meg had since decided that she was going to do everything in her power to avoid the lady. She refused to call her anything but Valerie in her father's presence. And in her mind, the woman didn't even get that much; Meg just referred to her step-mom as 'the other woman', or 'the lady'. Someday, once her father opened his eyes, he would realize that Meg was unhappy and would kick his wife out. One could only hope.

 "Meg! Get down here now!"

 "George, it's okay! She'll come down in a second. Don't be so hard on her." Meg felt a flash of satisfaction at Valerie's words. Sure, the lady might not have moved out yet, but she did have a healthy disappointment in Meg so far. Nonetheless, Meg decided it was best not to push her father and she stepped onto the landing outside her room.

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Chou

Name: Jenny Chou
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: The Jewel Thieves
At a café in downtown Rome I sat beneath an ivy-covered trellis pretending to read while my eyes drifted back and forth from the worn pages of Sense and Sensibility to the no-parking zone in front of the bank next door. My brother Raj lounged in his chair across from me and appeared to be doing nothing more than scrolling through the news on his iPhone.
“Signora’s limo just pulled up,” I said softly in French, which we usually spoke to each other even though it was not the first language for either of us. 
Very subtly, Raj lifted his eyes from his phone. “Not a minute late,” he whispered.
Signora D’Agnelli visited the bank every Wednesday at precisely 8:45 am, fifteen minutes before it opened.
From beneath my eyelashes I tracked her burly chauffeur as he marched around to the sidewalk, nodded to the security guard and opened the back door of the limousine. Placing her cane on the pavement, Signora emerged slowly and took the chauffeur’s arm. Her long silver-grey hair had been pulled into an elegant chignon and her maid had added a spray of small white flowers. The diamond choker around Signora’s neck caught the sunlight and sparkled.
The two American girls at the table next to us paused in their conversation and when they spoke again it was in hushed whispers. We could all see the radiant girl Signora D’Agnelli had been at eighteen when she’d married an Italian movie star in a fairy-tale wedding. I’d watched the video on YouTube a million times. Signora’s father had been a Spanish prince and an aura of old-fashioned glamour surrounded her. Together she and her husband had travelled the world, partying with Hollywood royalty and dining with presidents. Signora had known all the most fashionable designers and had dressed in clothes considered very risqué for her time. Also a famous collector of jewelry and art, her two Monet’s and an early Andy Warhol were worth a fortune.
“She’s still so lovely,” I said with a sigh. The bank’s security guard tipped his hat as he held open one of the intricately carved iron doors. Signora disappeared inside the building. “So heartbreaking about her husband.” Signor D’Agnelli had died two years earlier.
“Sasha,” Raj said very evenly, fixing his dark eyes on me.
“What?” I put my sunglasses on. “I’m completely detached.”
Of course I hadn’t told Raj about the YouTube video. Or the copy of Life Magazine with Signora’s wedding photograph on the cover I’d bought at a used bookshop in Paris.
“Sure you are.” He snorted and stole my chocolate biscotti.
The wind picked up, carrying the scent of brewing coffee through the unusually warm November air and blowing my shoulder length hair around my face. Yesterday I’d dyed it from a blond the color of buttermilk to brown. Not a striking copper or a deep chestnut, but a brown that could only be described as brown. Grey contact lenses toned down the cornflower-blue eyes I’d inherited from my father. In my silk blouse and pencil skirt I hoped to be mistaken for an executive assistant or the receptionist at a law firm.
Certainly I wouldn’t strike anyone as a seventeen-year-old veteran jewel thief.
Continuing to ignore the playful looks the Americans had been throwing at him for the past half hour, Raj clicked onto his favorite financial site on his phone. I’d managed to tame his unruly black curls into a straight ponytail. His oxford shirt masked the tattoo between his shoulder blades of the Chinese characters for genius and he’d removed all his earrings. Grudgingly, he wore the conservative tie I’d chosen but he’d also put on his battered old running shoes. So much for blending seamlessly into the business district. Maybe he’d pass for a quirky advertising copywriter.
Raj updated me on a couple of his favorite stocks but I barely heard him. My stomach fluttered as I thought about Signora opening her safety deposit box inside the bank. Before I finally closed my book I’d read the same sentence about the dashing Mr. Willoughby at least twelve times.
Glancing around for a distraction, I caught sight of a two college-age boys walking past the café carrying lacrosse sticks. They stopped on the corner to wait for the light to change, arguing in a mixture of English and Italian about a game. One guy had artfully tousled hair and dark, slim jeans. Recklessly handsome just like my brother and just as destined to break hearts all over Europe. 
My gaze wandered over to his friend. Tall and thin, his button-down shirt half untucked from his wrinkled khakis, he also lugged a backpack so crammed with books he couldn’t get the zipper to close. He wore glasses with vintage metal frames and swoon-worthy golden red hair fell into his eyes. Even better, he spoke with a delicious Scottish accent. For a moment I allowed myself a daydream about a backpack of my own and a class on Nineteenth Century British fiction in an ivy-covered lecture hall. And an adorable Scottish boyfriend to meet for coffee.
Though we’d taken a lot of classes online, neither Raj nor I had ever gone to any kind of formal school. Dad had taught us about language and art and history as we’d trailed behind him, crisscrossing Europe and Asia and sometimes the Atlantic in search of the next big heist. Everything I knew about high school I’d learned from reading American novels. And to be honest, the ins and outs of high school sounded far more terrifying than the thought of breaking into a villa owned by Spanish royalty and stealing millions of euros worth of diamonds. But college would be different. A chance to start over. To reinvent myself as anyone I wanted to be.
The Scottish guy noticed me checking him out. He took off his glasses and winked before turning to cross the street. Feeling my cheeks turn all kinds of red, I quickly picked up my cappuccino.
With a nod, Raj drew my attention towards the bank. “Remind me why we’re in Italy?” He shot me an evil grin.
I kicked his ankle with the pointed toe of my high-heeled shoe.
While I’d been scoping out hot college guys, the bank’s security guard had stepped outside again, accompanied by a second guard. The chauffeur brushed past them and opened the door to the limousine. Dressed in a navy-blue suit and a tie very similar to Raj’s, the bank manager himself appeared next holding Signora D’Agnelli’s arm.
All traces of humor vanished from Raj’s face.
In her right hand Signora carried a red leather box the size of a hardcover book. I felt a tingle race up and down my spine.
A necklace made from two hundred glittering carats of oval, pear, marquise and round brilliant white diamonds rested inside that box. Long ago Signora D’Agnelli had worn the diamonds to the Oscars, outshining all the American actresses. According to the flurry of emails Raj had been monitoring between Signora, her younger sister in Barcelona and her niece Giana in Milan, the necklace would be presented as a gift to Giana at the rehearsal dinner on the eve of her wedding, to be worn at the ceremony the next day.
I sighed. Hopefully Giana had a back-up plan.
“I’d say this is a done deal,” Raj said, his eyes flashing with excitement as he unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and loosened his tie.

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Ungleich

Name: Amanda Ungleich
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: Unwritten

“Elsi, wake up.”  

Warm hands grip my shoulders and startle me from sleep. Nadu stands over me, her grey hair barely visible in the dark room. I rise up on my elbows and glance out the window. Darkness presses through the glass. There’s no telling how late it is.

“The Council needs you,” Nadu says.

Well of course they do. Tossing back the covers, I stand and thrust my legs into the pants Nadu hands me. I throw my nightgown on my bed and pull on my tunic. Nadu doesn’t have to tell me to hurry like she does the others. I glance down the length of the room where all ten of the female heralds room together. The rest are all still sleeping. There are eleven boys in the room across the hall. Twenty other people they could send, but instead this is my third interrupted night of sleep in the past few weeks.

I tiptoe past the other beds and grab my cloak. The braid I sleep in hangs loose and messy over my shoulder. It will have to wait. I follow Nadu to the door of the house.

“I’ll spare you the lecture on how to act.” Nadu flashes a cheeky grin as she hands me the lantern.

The newer heralds have to be reminded of our protocol and how to act when called by the Council. You can hardly blame them. Everything is new when we come here, pulled from our families and lives as soon as our fate is known. I smile at Nadu. “I think I remember.”

I have been here for five years. Not the oldest herald, but I’ve been called to the Council more often than all the others put together. I bend down, kissing Nadu’s cheek. Her skin is old and wrinkled, and has been as long as I’ve known her. What was Nadu like before she was old? I can’t imagine her as anything but weathered. She holds the door open, and I step out into the darkness.

The woods are quiet, and I relish the stillness. Fires dance here and there - some have died down throughout the night, but others have been tended. Spring has finally found us here in Ilan. The air outside is chilly, and I’m thankful I had the sense to grab my cloak. I forgot it the on the last errand I was sent on, which was to Riffhaden in the dead of winter.

I make it to the Council building quickly and walk in without knocking. If the Council summons, it means they do not want to waste time with politeness. Inside, the center of the room glows in candlelight where the Council gathers around their table. The rest of the room lies bathed in darkness. Soft murmurs bounce off the walls. The room has the feelings of secrets.  

“Elsi Aker,” a voice says.

I step forward into the light. “Yes.”   

“A story awaits in Galvanour.”  The voice has a face now. Rynn Lannard. There are twelve on the Council. He is not the oldest, but is usually the voice of the Council. “Can you find your way?”

I’ve never been there. But I can find it. “Yes.”

“Your Seeker has been summoned. She will meet you at the gate.”  

I nod, ever the obedient herald, then turn and leave.


Nadu has given me Marion to take with me. She is young, just thirteen. Nadu wouldn’t let us put our pinky fingers through a portal before she has trained us for a solid year. Marion is capable, of course. It is a brutal, but thorough training that we heralds receive. We are ready for everything. Nadu sees to that. But heralds always start by going with someone more experienced. And as I’ve passed through about as many portals as I have actual doorways in the past couple of years, Nadu uses me to train the others rather frequently.

Marion is eager, her dark hair pulled back into a messy braid. I move and stand behind her, undoing the braid and doing it again, neater, just as I did my own earlier. Marion fidgets, a bundle of energy. I smile down at her dark head bobbing in front of me. She hasn’t traveled to another world yet, and her excitement practically reverberates off of her skin. I wonder when I lost that excitement, if I ever had it. All I’ve ever felt is anxious, and intent on my task. I finish the braid and drop Marion’s hair right as she nudges me.

“A Seeker,” she says in a hushed voice.

I look up to see our Seeker coming towards us. She is tall - taller than me and I am not short. Her hair is a mass of thick red waves that cascade down her shoulders, and her creamy face is dotted with freckles. On some freckles look goofy, but on her, they are beautiful. She’s so pretty you would want to befriend her just for that reason, but her green eyes are so intense that I think she intimidates most that she comes into contact with. She walks with an air and confidence that some would say is cocky. If she is cocky, it is deserved. Seekers have a gift, the rarest and most coveted. They find stories.

She stops in front of us. “Are you the herald?”   

“I am Elsi,” I say, dismissing the title. “This is Marion.”  

“I am Aya,” she says.

As if she needs an introduction. I’ve never been on a mission with Aya, but I’ve heard of her. Everyone in Ilan has. As a Seeker, her gifting is practically considered sacred, and she’s good at what she does. But the magic that flows through my veins is the same as hers. It just shows up differently. “Blood is blood,” my father would say. We all live and die the same.

Aya peers down her nose at us both with a look of not quite disdain. A necessary appreciation maybe? Seekers can’t go into other worlds without a herald. It is we heralds who know how to get through portals into other worlds. We rely on our knowledge and senses to find the portals, then use the magic we are taught to harness, and push our way through. Though we are not as desired or respected as Seekers, we are necessary.

“We have a task,” Aya says.

I’m impressed that she says “we” and not “I”. Most Seekers I’ve gone with are snobs. Though rightly so I suppose.

Aya’s green eyes flash at me. “You know our destination?”

I nod. I will know it when I am there.

“Then let’s go,” she says.

She takes the lead, which is ironic, given that I am the herald and am the one who will find our portals. Aya just heads off, assuming that I will find one no matter which direction we travel. I don’t know if she is generous to think this or not.

Regardless of her motives, Aya is not new to this. There are no portals directly in our village, so Aya leads us further into the woods. The path we take barely breaks the continuity of thick trees as it weaves through them, a ribbon of a walkway through the woods of Ilan. Morning sunlight filters down through the branches, making Aya’s hair shimmer like red waves of an ocean. She strides through the woods as if she owns them.

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Manning

Name: Katharine Manning
Genre: Middle grade contemporary fantasy

Chapter 1

It began with the fireflies, as magic often does. Jenny was in the field behind her grandparents’ house with her younger brother, chasing fireflies. She spied a good one, low-flying and lackadaisical, and followed it past the shed and into the darkening woods.

“Jen-ny!” Billy’s voice echoed through the trees. Jenny laughed, but left him behind. She left them all behind – her grumpy grandparents and their stuffy old house, her parents a million miles away in Evanston. Her eyes were on that flashing yellow light and her ponytail sailed behind her like a flaming banner. It was Maine in early July and the day had been humid and heavy. It felt so good to run in the cool night air, the ground soft under her feet.

The light flashed to her left. She lifted her jar and leapt toward it, but missed. She was past the tree line now, scanning the forest. She pursed her lips, her special blue jar clasped tight in both hands. Had she lost it? She took a few more steps. It flared beyond a low bush a few feet away. She grinned and crept closer. She was so close, she almost had it.

With a sharp inhale, Jenny launched herself over the bush. She came down with a yelp and a thud, missing the firefly and tearing her skirt. Darn. It was her favorite skirt, long and soft, purple with silver thread running through it. Her mom said it was too ratty and needed to be thrown out, but Jenny didn’t mind that it was a little threadbare. Well, maybe Gran would stitch it up for her.

Jenny brushed herself off and got to her feet, tucking the jar in her skirt pocket. She was farther into the woods than she’d thought. She’d have to get back or she’d be in trouble. Gran told her and Billy the woods were off-limits the day they’d arrived.

It sure was pretty in there, though. The sun was going down and it made the green leaves look almost yellow. They waved like butterflies in the light evening breeze. Jenny inhaled the forest smell, pine needles and honeysuckle, and tried to hold it inside. Maybe she could stay for a minute longer.

The woods here were different from the ones back home. They seemed older somehow. The trees were gray and knotted. As she walked, the light seemed to turn gray, too, as the leaves got thicker overhead. Purple star flowers nestled in the roots of a tree that split in two and grew over itself like crossed fingers. Jenny bent to get a better look, but heard a rustling in the bramble to her right. She looked over, expecting a squirrel, maybe, or a chipmunk. To her shock, there was a person, where no one had been before. She was small, maybe the size of a kindergartener. A firefly flashed near her face, though, and it was that of an old woman, deeply lined and craggy. She had messy gray hair that fell in thick ropes past her shoulders and clothes that blended with the branches and leaves around her.

Jenny goggled at her, mouth open. The woman spoke in a low and croaky voice. “Ah, ye came. Knew you would, knew you would. Best go now, can’t wait.”

Jenny straightened, looking down on the little woman. Jenny wasn’t tall – she was the second shortest in her sixth grade class – but this woman was really short. Some people were like that, she knew. There were illnesses that could make people small. Maybe she was even a child. Wasn’t there some disease that made kids look old? She thought her mom had seen someone like that at the hospital once.

Jenny fingered her horseshoe necklace as she thought, and bit her lip. “Who are you?”

“Name’s Magda,” she said. “I’m a Keeper. Elf, you call it. Must come now, ‘e’s hurt.”

An elf, did she say? Jenny thought small people were called dwarves, but maybe she had that wrong. And someone was hurt? She should probably get Gran. Jenny glanced back at the house – the boring old house where nothing ever happened and no one did anything.

“He needs you, no time to wait,” the woman said, and her dark eyes shone with determination.

Jenny dropped her necklace. She’d go. Just to see, just for a minute. Someone needed her help. She wouldn’t go far, and then she’d come right back. Billy wouldn’t even miss her. She gave her necklace a quick kiss for luck and ran after.

She was fast, this small one. She glided over tree trunks and through bushes. Jenny stumbled along, trying to keep up. Branches caught her face and she felt a sharp sting on her cheek. She didn’t pause, though, or even slow down. She couldn’t, Magda urged her on so insistently. “Come, now! Almost there, almost there.”

“Where are we going?” Jenny called out to her, panting.

“Going to Kharoun,” she answered. “Old nag. Never stays where he’s supposed to. Got ‘imself caught.”

“Who?” Jenny’s voice came out higher than usual.

“You’ll see, you’ll see. Move along. Got sap in your legs, eh?” She made a sound like a car engine sputtering that Jenny realized after a moment must be laughter.

It was getting dark, the outlines of the leaves harder to see. Jenny slowed. She was going too far. Billy must have noticed she was gone by now, and maybe he’d even told Gran and Grandpa. She was going to be in such trouble. Jenny’s stomach hurt at the thought of it. She had to go back. This little woman and whatever help she needed – well, she’d have to figure it out on her own.

Jenny turned. The forest, though, was indecipherable. They weren’t on a trail, and all Jenny could see were trees and more trees. She didn’t even have a flashlight. What was she thinking following a stranger into the woods?

She turned back toward Magda. It took a second to find her picking her way through a honeysuckle bush, and then Jenny’s attention was drawn beyond Magda. There was a light shining. A clearing, maybe. The moon must be up. Was that it? Were they there? Jenny stepped warily closer.

She neared the edge of the clearing. There was light from the moon above, but also, strangely, from the ground. There seemed to be something on the ground. Magda halted by a fallen tree, but Jenny kept moving, curious, toward the light. As she passed the tree, she saw it clearly - a horse. A beautiful white horse was lying on its side with its back to her. It was radiant in the moonlight. Just as Jenny was forming the thought - how pretty, a horse - the creature lifted its head to look back at her. And Jenny saw, in that moment, that it was not a horse. A long, spiraled horn rose tall and majestic from its shining white mane, and Jenny saw, for the first time in her life, a unicorn.

With a sharp intake of breath, Jenny stumbled. Her vision went momentarily dark as her brain struggled to make sense of what she was seeing. She grabbed the fallen tree to steady herself, grateful for its solidity, the rough and familiar feel of it.

Magda scampered onto the trunk to Jenny’s right. “That’s him, Kharoun,” she said. She tugged Jenny’s hand, then hopped down and scurried to the unicorn.

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Baird

Name:  Jeri Baird
Genre:  Middle Grade Magical Realism
Title:  The Adversity Tree

Deep down, in the part of me that knew things my head didn’t understand, I got that flutter feeling. My gut said go, and it would tell me where. All I knew was that wherever I ended up, trouble would be waiting. Always.

I jumped on my bike and shot down the street. I should have grabbed my jacket. The April wind whistled clean through my New Kids on the Block t-shirt.

Tanner Wilson pedaled after me. “Hey, Lily. Are you looking for trouble?”

Tanner was usually the one causing it, so he liked to follow me if he thought there was some coming.

“Shut up, Tanner. You know I don’t look for it.” I stood to pedal faster. I got my bike for my tenth birthday, and since my legs were almost two years longer, it jerked back and forth.

Tanner paced me on the beat up bike he’d found at the junk pile. He could have bought a new one with the money he’d spent on his Air Jordan high-tops, but he was pretty proud to be the first boy at school to get them. He got a size too big and stuffed paper in the toes so he didn’t outgrow them too fast. As he peddled, his Nike sweat band kept his brown bangs out of his eyes. He always needed a haircut.

We skidded into the playground just in time to see Nick Fuller jump off a swing. He rolled on the ground, crying, and holding his foot. I threw my bike down and ran to help, but Nick kicked at me.

“Leave me alone, curse girl. I don’t need help from you. You jinxed me.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh because that was so ridiculous or cry because he believed it. What I wanted to do was yell at him. What I wanted to do was kick his good foot. What I did was get on my bike and ride home, knowing Tanner would help him.

That’s the day I realized everyone in town knew about the preacher calling me cursed.

It started three weeks before Nick hurt his foot. Mama and I stood at the front door of the church shaking Preacher Glenn’s hand after the service. We almost made it outside before he bent to whisper in Mama’s ear, “Rose, that daughter of yours is cursed the way she brings trouble to our little town.”

I looked up in surprise. He said it loud enough for me to hear. Those words and the hateful way he said it, changed my life. I started questioning myself. Did my gut lead me to trouble or did I cause it? If I was cursed, could I cause trouble and not know it? I remembered the times I thought I was rushing to help. Maybe I’d been rushing to make the bad things happen.

Mama raised herself tall and looked him straight in the eye. “My baby is not cursed. And we will not attend a church that thinks anything different.”

I’d never seen Mama with so much fire in her which made me think that some part of her thought he might be right. Mama marched me right out the door, and by the way she stomped around, I could tell she was still mad when we got home.

I asked Mama about it, but she said, “Lily, it’s ridiculous. This is 1989. I think we’re past believing in curses. Preacher Glenn’s an old man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Then she said, “We’re not discussing this.”

I wished she would have let me talk about it. I had to swallow my fear where it settled in my belly like a serving of Mama’s Brussels sprouts (no cheese). After that, my stomach hurt a lot.

We quit going to church even though the preacher came over and apologized. That was fine with me. I never liked sitting that long, listening to a grown-up man wearing a dress, telling me I was going to you-know-where, unless I repented my sins and got dunked clean under in the water of baptism. Especially one who thought I was cursed. Apology or not.

Tanner Wilson’s mom made him get baptized, on account of him being so much trouble. He bragged about how he made sure one pinky finger didn’t go all the way under. I didn’t think I’d brag about going to you-know-where for lack of one finger getting wet, but then I wasn’t Tanner Wilson.

Since there was one and only one church in our little town of Blue Springs, we stayed home on Sunday mornings. While Daddy cooked breakfast, I crawled into bed with Mama. We snuggled under the pink and blue flowered comforter and stole a few extra winks of sleep. Then, Daddy would bring in a white wicker tray, like room service at the fancy hotel I saw once in a movie. We punched up the pillows and sat there eating pancakes and fruit salad and drinking big glasses of SunnyD orange drink.

Daddy prayed over those pancakes. “Dear God,” he said. “Bless this food and this family. Amen.” That ought to count for something.

Daddy was a story-teller and on those mornings in bed, Mama and I laughed until we had orange juice coming out our noses. I thought God didn’t care if we went to church as long as we had love in our hearts. I never had as much love as I did on those mornings with Mama and Daddy.

Sometimes, Mama’s sister joined us. Aunt Jazzie was the reason my parents moved to Blue Springs before I was born. Two months after they settled in, Aunt Jazzie’s husband and two little boys died in a car accident. Aunt Jazzie never attended church after that.

Mama said she asked Aunt Jazzie if she was afraid of what God thought about that, and Aunt Jazzie said, “God can deal with me after I’m done dealing with him.”

I guess that’s why Mama found it easy to quit church too.

Everyone in town knew about my gut leading me to trouble, but until the preacher called me cursed, no one blamed me. With my gut and having a white mama and a black daddy, I was used to being different. It didn’t bother me being the only family in Blue Springs that wasn’t all white. But being proclaimed cursed? That bothered me a lot.

People in town acted mostly nice, but sometimes I got those looks. The kind that made me feel like I forgot to wash my face, or I had my shirt on inside out. Daddy said it would make me grow up strong, but Mama had another opinion – an opinion she said I shouldn’t repeat.

At school, I got called names I didn’t dare tell Mama. Daddy called her feisty, but I called her embarrassing. If I’d told her about Nick calling me curse girl, whoo-eee, I don’t know what she would have done.

Mama called me hot chocolate. That was a nick-name I liked. She said when you mixed up milk with chocolate syrup and heated it in the microwave, you got something special. That was me. I had Daddy’s black curly hair and Mama’s green eyes. My skin color was exactly between them. Hot chocolate. But they weren’t cursed. I didn’t know where that came from.

I don’t remember the first time I knew trouble was coming. I was only two. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

December First Five Pages Workshop Opens On November 29!

The First Five Pages November Workshop has come to an end.  This group worked so hard on their revisions, and it showed! A huge thanks to our guest mentor,  J.R. Johansson (I can’t wait to read CUT ME FREE!) and also to Pam Glauber, my editor for The Exceptionals, and now a free lance editor.  And thanks to our own Rob Smith who read two participants entries this month.

We at the workshop are so proud of our amazing mentors!  COMPULSION, by Martina Boone, workshop founder, permanent mentor (and founder of AYAP), came out a few weeks ago, and is already #9 on Goodreads best books for the month! And FORBIDDEN, by permanent mentor Kimberley Griffiths Little, received a starred review by Booklist! 

Our December workshop will open for entries at noon on Saturday November 29, 2014. We'll take the first five Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. In addition to our wonderful permanent mentors, we have the talented Peter Salomon, author of HENRY FRANKS and ALL THOSE BROKEN ANGELS, and agent Ginger Clark!

Click here to get the rules!


Peter graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, GA.  His debut novel, HENRY FRANKS, published by Flux in 2012, was named one of the ten ‘Books All Young Georgians Should Read’ by The Georgia Center For The Book in 2014. His second novel, ALL THOSE BROKEN ANGELS, was published in 2014 by Flux. His short fiction has appeared in the Demonic Visions series and he was the featured author for Gothic Blue Book III: The Graveyard Edition. His poem ‘Electricity and Language and Me’ appeared on BBC Radio 6 performed by The Radiophonic Workshop in December 2013. In addition, he edited the first book of poetry released by the Horror Writers Association, Horror Poetry Showcase Volume 1.  He lives in St. Petersburg, FL with his wife Anna and their three sons

ALL THESE BROKEN ANGELS (Flux, September 2014)

Richard Anderson was the last person to see his friend Melanie alive. She vanished when they were six and while the police never found Melanie, a part of her remained—a living shadow that is now Richard’s closest friend.

For ten years, Richard has never questioned the shadow that keeps him company . . . until a new girl moves to town, claiming to be Melanie. Desperate to prove the girl is a fake, the shadow leads Richard to the place where her killer buried her bones. But Richard finds skeletons from several different children . . . and evidence suggesting that perhaps the shadow isn't who she says she is. (From Goodreads)

We are thrilled to announce that Ginger Clark, of Curtis Brown LTD., will be our guest agent for December! See below for Ginger’s bio!

Ginger Clark has been a literary agent with Curtis Brown, LTD. since the fall of 2005. She represents science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, literary horror, and young adult and middle grade fiction. In addition to representing her own clients, she also represents British rights for the agency’s children’s list. Previously, she worked at Writers House for six years as an assistant literary agent. Her first job in publishing was as an editorial assistant at Tor Books. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a member of the Contracts Committee of the AAR. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband. Ginger is taking on new clients, and she prefers emailed queries. Please send just a query letter and your contact information to gc at She responds only if she’s interested in seeing material.