Thursday, August 18, 2016

From Submission to Offer with Alison Weiss

I'm thrilled to share my interview with Alison Weiss, an editor at Sky Pony Press. I got to pick her brain about Sarah S. Reida's MONSTERVILLE: A LISSA BLACK PRODUCTION, which comes out on September 20, but we're giving away a signed copy right here. DETAILS ON THAT GIVEAWAY ARE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POST, but in the meantime, enjoy the interview!

KV: First off, tell us a bit about MONSTERVILLE. What is it about, and what did you love about it?

AW: If I had to give a one-liner for Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production, I'd call it Boxtrolls meets Jumanji meets Goonies meets Candyland. The novel stars Lissa, who's moved from New York City to Freeburg, PA--a town that might as well be the miiddle of nowhere. Lissa dreams of being a famous actor, writer, and director, and that's just not going to happen in this small town. And then, walking in the woods, she runs into a very mixed up monster. And what do you do with a monster? Make monster movies of course! It's Lissa's ticket to fame and fortune! But when her little sister is taken to the monster realm, Lissa will have to venture Down Below to stage a rescue and become something else--an epic hero.

I fell for Monsterville because it's just brimming with heart. Lissa is a total fish out of water, and she's also a little bit of a snob at the beginning o f the book. But that comes out of a sense of a worry that all of her friends from back in New York will move on without her, and I just couldn't help but feel for her. And I couldn't help but love Sarah's characters. In addition to LIssa, Blue (our beloved monster) and Haylie (Lissa's little sister) and Adam (the ever-prepared soon-to-be-friend) have such wonderful, warm, personalities. They really feel like living beings to me.

KV: Do you recall how quickly you read Ms. Reida's manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times, or do those vary?

AW: I really can't remember how long it took me to read Monsterville. Sarah would probably say too long. I try to be prompt on manuscript reading, but there are so many manuscripts and only one me, and despite best intentions, editing and life sometimes get in the way. I try to get back in a month, but I know I miss that more often than I'd like. I never mind a gentle nudge, though. And I try to respond on everything. Even if it's been an eon. 

KV: Once you decided to take MONSTERVILLE to your acquisitions meeting/editorial board, did you inform Ms. Reida’s agent of your interest in the manuscript? Do you typically keep in contact with the agent throughout the process, or do you prefer to have a final decision in hand before you reach out?

AW: Acquisitions at Sky Pony goes a little bit differently than it does at some other houses. We don't have a formal acquisitions board. But we still have to make our case to our editorial director if we'd like to take on a project. In the case of Monsterville, I think I let the agent know I was taking the project to acquisitions. In general, though, I try to play my cards pretty close to my chest. I'll let agents know if I'm reading and really loving something--you don't want them to go take a pre-empt on something you're head-over-heels for--but there's always a strong possibility that an agent will go drumming up other interest if they know you're interested. I guess I decide the best approach with each project. And sometimes that means having to stop my hand from rattling off a gushing email to an agent until I'm ready to go.

KV: How did you prepare to bring MONSTERVILLE to your editorial director?

AW: I put together a pitch for the book thinking about questions like: Where would I position this in the market? Why is it a good prospect for the Sky Pony list? What are some comparable titles and how did they sell? I had a conversation wit my editorial director, as well. I think she read a little bit of the manuscript before we moved it on to the next stage.

KV: How did you present your offer to Ms. Reida's agent, and what was that conversation like?

AW: I think I just sent her a gushing offer letter and the terms I was offering. And we did a little bit of negotiation on terms and then moved forward.

KV: I know Sky Pony Press is open to unagented submissions, so what other kinds of stories are you looking for?

AW: I tend to have quite eclectic tastes. I like to edit all sorts of books across a list. In middle grade, I always love stories that have a lot of heart and a bit of a classic feel, while still resonating with a contemporary audience. Books like Circus Mirandus and The Penderwicks and Savvy. In YA, I love a sweeping romance--I'd especially love a sweeping Southern Gothic. And across the board I really enjoy spies and assassins and thieves--but the Robin Hood-types. You have to have a crook with a heart of gold.

KV: What's the best way to submit to you?

AW: The easiest way to submit to me if you're unagented is to follow the submission guidelines on Sky Pony's website. You can email

Thank you for these helpful answers, Ms. Weiss! It's really nice to know that at least one editor likes to play her cards close to her chest:)

And now on to the giveaway for a signed copy of MONSTERVILLE! To enter, leave a comment below that includes your e-mail address. This contest is open to U.S. and Canadian residents and closes in two weeks, on Thursday, September 1, at 11:59 p.m. EST (or 8:59 p.m. PST). I'll announce the winners the next day!


Beware what lurks beneath your bed. . . . It could lead to a monstrous adventure.

Thirteen-year-old Lissa Black is anything but happy when her parents force her to move from New York City, the perfect home for an aspiring writer/director/actress, to Freeburg, Pennsylvania, nowhere capital of the world. There’s not much for Lissa to do there, except play Monsterville, a Candyland-esque quest to survive, which Lissa’s little sister, Haylie, has becomed obsessed with, and hang out with her new neighbor, Adam, who is intent to prove to her that Freeburg is a great place to live.

But even Lissa can’t call her new home totally boring when a trek into the woods lands her face-to-face with a sea monster looking for brains to eat and then a Sasquatch that moos! With Adam’s help, she discovers a monster secret . . . or maybe just a monster: a poor little goblin they name Blue, who’s fled the world Down Below, desperate to decide on his scary form.

And what do you do with a creature that can be literally anything? You make monster movies, of course! Lissa is convinced that Blue will be the secret to her big break.

But when Haylie goes missing on Halloween, Lissa, Adam, and Blue must ventrure Down Below to stage a rescue—and face the real Monsterville, which is anything but a game.

Monsterville is a fusion of The Boxtrolls, Jumanji, and Candyland, weaving together friendship family, and monsters into a funny fantasy-horror brimming with heart from a great new middle grade voice.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


When you sell your first manuscript, you're ecstatic. Your lifelong dream is (finally, always finally) coming true. You did it. You really did it.

But you can't make a career out of selling your first manuscript (unless your name is J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer). You've got to keep selling them, and as I mentioned in this post, that was the one thing I hadn't been able to do.

Until now.

From Publishers WeeklyBrett Wright at Bloomsbury has won at auction Krista Van Dolzer's Don't Solve the Puzzle, a middle-grade murder mystery set at a math camp, with built-in logic puzzles that readers can solve alongside the main character. Publication is scheduled for winter 2019; Brent Taylor at the TriadaUS Literary Agency brokered the deal for world rights.

If you've been a longtime reader, I can guess what you're thinking: What the heck is DON'T SOLVE THE PUZZLE? Only slightly better known as Clyde the Second, DON'T SOLVE THE PUZZLE is a companion novel to DON'T VOTE FOR ME, also known as Clyde, and features Esther Lambert, an art kid from DON'T VOTE FOR ME who ends up at a math camp by mistake.

When Bloomsbury showed up on Brent's submission list, I couldn't have been more excited. Some of my very favorite authors are published by Bloomsbury (hello, Shannon Hale and Lindsey Leavitt!), and when I was browsing my own bookshelves, I was surprised to see how many of my books had that funny-looking archer on their spines. But the first interest in the manuscript came from another press, and when it became clear that neither of these publishers was going anywhere, Brent set up an auction. I'm sure you can guess who won:)

For more information on DON'T SOLVE THE PUZZLE, feel free to check out the "Books" tab at the top of the screen. I hope you'll have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Ms. Nelson's Winners!

Ms. Nelson picked her two favorite entries:


Ms. Nelson would like to request your first 50 pages!

She also picked a runner-up:


Ms. Nelson would like to critique your first 10 pages!

Congratulations, winners! Please e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com for instructions on how to submit your materials.

Thank you, Ms. Nelson, for taking the time to read and critique everyone's entries. And thank you, everyone else, for reading, critiquing, and generally being awesome. These contests wouldn't work without each and every one of you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

On Your Marks, Get Set, Critique!

Check out the entries below, then leave some feedback in the comments if you feel so inclined. (ENTRANTS, PLEASE REMEMBER TO CRITIQUE AT LEAST THREE OTHER ENTRIES!) And I'm sure this goes without saying, but please keep your comments constructive (i.e., not rude or mean-spirited). If you want to think like The Agent, you might consider the question, "How much of the entry did you read, and if you didn't read it all, why did you stop?"

I'll announce Ms. Nelson's winners and prizes at the beginning of next week, but until then, have at it!

(And entrants, if you find a Krista-generated error in your post, feel free to shoot me an e-mail, and I'll correct it straightaway.)

An Agent's Inbox #14

Dear Ms. Nelson,

A decade after September 11th killed her voice teacher and her opera career, a still-traumatized soprano returns to Mendocino, where her rekindled passion for music threatens her relationships with her husband and son.

MENDOCINO MUSIC, upmarket women’s fiction complete at 96,000 words, explores the sacrifices necessary when talent pulls in one direction and love in another. New Yorker Marina Bridgepoint and her teen-aged son Jimbo move to her childhood home when her husband’s job sends him to Hong Kong. The aging church choir director who first nurtured Marina’s talent pulls both Jimbo and Marina into the world of music, and Marina finally grapples with the trauma of 9/11. Marina’s prodigious talent tempts her back into the world of opera, though her son’s growing ambitions as a jazz trumpeter may be sacrificed to his mother’s dreams. Through it all, the stresses of long-distance marriage threaten her relationship with her husband. Though Christianity shapes several of the secondary characters, this is not a work of inspirational fiction. Like Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, the novel examines the tensions which arise when a talented mother and her precocious and equally talented child pursue their competing interests. Mendocino Music does not have the absurdly comic tone of Semple’s novel, but shares its fascination with the deep bonds between mother and child.

I have published a 2,500-word story entitled “Knitting,” in the anthology, The Adventure of Creation and have written extensively for local charitable organizations. I am passionate about vocal music, though do not sing opera. This is my first novel. 

Thank you for your consideration. 



Walking away, walking towards. Maybe that was wrong. Marina was cowering away. The thought of actually desiring something enough to move towards it was so foreign now.

Behind her rose the steeple of the Mendocino Presbyterian Church, a white landmark on the windy, damp coast. Further back and across the highway stood the shabby little house she’d grown up in, her suitcases and her son Jimbo’s now adding to the clutter. Their brownstone in New York was a continent away, sublet to strangers. She walked away from it all, pulling her cashmere close. Even her sweater was out of place here in the land of fleece. Her sister Connie, walking with Jimbo just in front of her, looked completely at home. Connie had never left Mendocino, and still ran the hardware store the two sisters had inherited from their parents.

Mendocino wasn’t the sunny California New Yorkers imagined. Today, the fog hung low to the ground, flattening the light. Once it lifted, she and Jimbo and Connie would be able to see the Pacific, but now the grasses in the meadow across the street only hinted at the wilderness of cold salt water just beyond the town.

She and Jimbo were supposed to be on the other side of that ocean, living with James in Hong Kong while he opened a new office for his New York law firm. They’d told their friends they’d be leaving New York, and then Marina had failed in Hong Kong.

An Agent's Inbox #13

Dear Ms. Nelson,

SAUL AND ALYSSA (Working title) is a futuristic romance complete at 71,000 words. It is the first in a series of four books, each focusing on one couple as the story unfolds.

Alyssa is a rank-and-file soldier in the Earth Army; Saul stands to inherit the opposing Shadow Empire throne. They meet on the battle field where he falls in love with her power and the freedom she represents. He defects, leaving his sadistic younger brother in line for the crown. Together, Saul and Alyssa fight the hordes of the Shadow Army and discover a safe place in each other’s arms. Until the day comes when Saul’s brother murders their father and the Empire falls into the hands of a madman.

In a strategic power play, The Earth Army convinces Saul that he should return home and claim the throne. They reason that if Saul can ascend to the highest position in the enemy camp, then he could sign a peace treaty and bring the war to an end. Accepting responsibility, Saul and Alyssa sneak into the Shadow palace to confront Fen, Saul’s brother. The plan succeeds and Saul regains his rightful place in the spotlight, but the Shadow government has no interest in peace. Cast into the roll of a puppet on the throne, Saul must make a choice between abandoning the Empire to a monster or becoming a monster himself.

It is not really a choice, and Saul and Alyssa flee once more to take up residence as the power couple within the Earth Army. Officially married by the Earth Army general, they dedicate their lives to the war against Fen and his forces of evil.

Thank you for your time spent reading this email and I hope you have a wonderful day!



The first born son of Emperor Janus Ry’all, Saul spent his childhood learning battle techniques from the Shadow Army generals. He is the golden child; beloved by a government steeped in corruption and violence. Finding solace in marching with the common soldiers, Saul encounters Alyssa and her friends on the battlefield and falls instantly in love.

A soldier all her life, Alyssa struggled through the loss of her parents to become a mid-level liaison in the Earth Army. When she catches the eye of the Shadow prince, the higher-ups encourage her to flirt. Her suspicion blossoms into true love when she discovers how large Saul’s heart is.

King of the officially neutral planet Bejania, Zon Valerian dreads a Shadow victory. He reasons that once released from its conflict with the Earth Army, the Shadow Empire would seek to expand into Bejanian territory. In a show of solidarity, but one that would provide plausible deniability, he disguises himself as a defector and leaves home to assist the Earth Army.

King Zon’s general and bodyguard, Thamelia travels with her regent to take up arms against the Shadow Army. When Zon is killed by Fen’s henchman, her world falls apart. In disgrace and unable to go home, she enlists in the Earth Army and is sent to the front.

The youngest son of Janus Ry’all, Fen spent his life in Saul’s shadow. His hatred turns outward and he begins experimenting with torture, on animals first and then people. As Saul is drawn further into his father’s inner circle, Fen collects a posse of madmen and one particular courtier who envisions him on the throne. Fen is instrumental in assisting Saul to escape, thereby leaving the path open for his own ascension. He murders their father and descends on the imperial office with his thugs. In desperation, the remnants of the Shadow government turn to Saul for help, but they are unwilling to discuss peace. It becomes clear that Saul will be a figurehead, a beloved mirage with no real power. Saul appeals to Fen one last time for help escaping from the prison the palace has become, and Fen is crowned in his place.

The Romance
Saul turns his back on his inheritance to seek Alyssa out. He finds her at the Earth Army base and pledges allegiance to her and her friends. In a series of battles, Alyssa discovers that while Saul harbors no love for his family, he is unwilling to kill even the most offensive Shadow officer. Worn down from a lifetime in the trenches, Alyssa finds Saul’s kindness both enchanting and infuriating. When he is asked to resume his place on the throne and attempt to forge a peace, she travels with him. The Shadow government is seeking a love story, as the only explanation as to why their beloved son would abandon them. Alyssa agrees to marry the man she has fallen in love with, and sit on the throne with him so long as they remain Earth Army in spirit. Saul tries to play both sides, to be everything to everyone, to remain the gentle soul Alyssa depends on, and the strategist the Shadow Army remembers. He returns to her arms in despair when he discovers the Shadow Army wants nothing to do with peace. Together, they flee the Shadow palace, leaving the monster to his war machine.

An Agent's Inbox #12

Ms. Nelson,

16-yr-old Travis wants to get married. Alas, there aren't enough lasses to go around. 

Stupid genetic apocalypse.

To satisfy his nuptial needs, Travis enters the Husband Trials. Within three years he must prove himself worthy of the object of his affection and then get busy repopulating the earth. Unfortunately 500 other lads have similar plans for Wendy.

Despite rigid tournament rules, high-ranking "Alpha" suitors are enforcing some of their own. Those lads they see as threats are neutralized in "shaving accidents" or "random toilet viper attacks".

If the Alphas discover Travis was Wendy's best friend growing up, they'll kill him. But if she never learns Travis is there, he's just another faceless contestant. With no athletic ability. Or experience in hand to hand combat.

His only chance is to make it into the top twenty, earn a private dinner with Wendy, and warn her not to give away their history. No big deal. He'll only have to beat 480 genetically improved sixteen-year-olds in dozens of deadly challenges. While hiding from the girl he loves.

Good thing he's got inside help.

At 92K words, GROOMED is a YA sci-fi with series potential. (The Selection meets Red Rising without the gore.) My previous publications include An Uncommon Blue (YA Fantasy- Cedar Fort 2014) and a series of comedy sketches by Pioneer Drama (2009). I read in a recent interview that you're a fan of Blake Snyder. I used his Save the Cat outline to write Groomed. He's awesome!



Mr. Candace was three hundred years older than his wife but he certainly didn't act it. When he learned he'd be required to attend his son's childhood graduation he made such a fuss that all of Travis's younger brothers came into the kitchen to watch. 

"I don't have time for this!" he shouted. "I'll miss my shows."

Eventually the tantrum wound down and Mr. Candace retired to his room to change into his tuxedo. The nine younger boys wandered back to their telegame and Travis, who'd been dressed and hairsprayed since three o'clock, followed his mother into the entryway. 

Travis couldn't keep from grinning. This time tomorrow, he'd be at the bachelor colony. Nonstop telegames and pastries. No creamed carrots. No little brothers using his toothbrush. No snide remarks from Da about his weak chin and red hair. 

Those would be the first things Travis would change when he transferred into his clone. Hair color, chin/jaw prominence, and areola size. Although it would be a few more decades before he had to select his genetic improvements, he kept a running list. When he entered the husband trials, he would be as tidy as any father. And if anyone called him nipplits he'd tear off his own shirt right there and show them how grand and symmetrical his nipples were.

"That smile makes me nervous," Candace said. "Have you fallen in love?"

Travis made a face. "That's balmy. I'm barely sixteen."

Candace straightened his collar. "I wouldn't mind if you had a weensy crush. Wendy, perhaps?"

An Agent's Inbox #11

Dear Patricia Nelson,

In a world where America no longer exists, where a new, corrupt government rules with an iron fist, sixteen-year-old Telila Togia thinks she’s a nobody. Insignificant. But she’s about to lead a revolution.

After being arrested for a crime she was forced to commit, Telila is taken to The Compound--a military training camp and prison. It’s a death sentence. But having been instilled with a warrior’s heart from her disabled Samoan father and the will to overcome from a mother who abandoned them, Telila refuses to give up hope that she’ll make it back to take care of her destitute family. 

But The Compound isn’t what she expects. Prisoners are forced to fight each other in mock battles, testing experimental weaponry. These are the Toy Soldiers and Telila becomes one of them. Fighting to stay alive, the Toy Soldiers plot their escape, but Telila must choose between obedience to the government and security for her family or the revolution her people are screaming for. While betrayal threatens to tear her apart, she must find a way not only to hold her heart and family together, but to save her country.

TOY SOLDIERS is an 87,000-word YA tale of young love, betrayal, and survival. Fans of Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT and Suzanne Collins’ HUNGER GAMES will enjoy similar elements and a strong teen voice.

I have published five books with Clean Teen Publishing, The Ransomed Souls Series--RELUCTANT GUARDIAN-2013, THE ELEMENTALIST-2015, and THE UNDOER-2016. And the Into Terratir Series--THE EYE OF TANUB-2014 and THE CELESTINE SWORD-2014. I am querying you at this time because I’d like to try my hand with an agent, to go bigger, so-to-speak. I am a member of LDStorymakers and used to write a column for the Tremonton Leader, a local newspaper.

Thank you so much for your consideration and I hope to hear from you soon.



The United States is gone.

Taken over by other, more powerful countries that let us keep this little edge of the continent to ourselves. The war is over, but I can still hear the bombs falling, whistling through the night sky and crashing like thunder on my unsuspecting city. These visions fill my nights with terror and the memories fill my days with sorrow.

They keep us afraid and are always watching.

They are NUCA. The New United Coalition of America, and they span from what used to be the state of Oregon, all the way down through half of Mexico, and then east to the Rocky Mountains.

But I can’t help wonder if it’s better on the other side--the old central and southern parts of the United States--the Outlands.

Anyplace is better than here.

I check my watch. It's 8:56 p.m. It’s almost dark and exceptionally warm for April. I've been out after nine before, scuttling around, from shadow to shadow, to secure black market supplies for my family, but I don’t do it often. It’s dangerous.

If I’m caught doing something wrong--like being out after curfew, trading for food at the black market, or reading books that have been outlawed--I run the risk of being turned in by a neighbor… if they catch me. And then I’d be arrested and taken to The Compound. Nobody ever escapes The Compound.

I stick to the shadows and try to blend in, wearing and slate-colored clothes, maintaining a low profile. Most of the time the soldiers’ gazes slide right over me as though I’m invisible, which is what I want, to keep anyone from looking too long in my direction.

An Agent's Inbox #10

Dear Ms. Nelson:

Sixteen-year-old Brooke Wagner’s perfectly privileged world dies when her parents are ruthlessly murdered in front of her in a random attack.

Brooke helps the police locate the shooter and is on the scene when he’s gunned down. Only she hears his last confession--her parents were targeted--but the police are all too eager to close the high-profile case.

Desperate to find the real killer, Brooke takes to the streets. Since she can’t exactly bring her fencing epee everywhere, she convinces an old boyfriend to teach her self-defense moves, and she fights back against purse thieves and muggers, all while still seeking clues.

Her search leads her to multiple dead bodies of young girls hidden at Wilderburn Cliffs. In any other city, the police would be glad to crack the case, but corruption is rampant in Glenvil. If Brooke, now dubbed The Marvelous Menace, wants to have any kind of justice for her parents or the girls, she’ll have to get it herself.

MARVELOUS MENACE is a YA thriller, a gender-swapped Bruce Wayne/Batman story complete at 109K.

I have two trilogies with Desert Breeze Publishing. Astraea Press published a YA novella, two Regency time travels, and republished two Regencies (previously with Swoon Romance). Fifteen of my short works have appeared in various anthologies, including Holiday Magick by Spencer Hill Press.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,


“Brooke Wagner, get down here right now!”

It was the fifth time Mom yelled for me, but I still wasn’t ready. I grabbed a necklace and earrings--would have to put them on in the car--and rushed downstairs. “This acceptable?”

Mom eyed me critically, probably comparing my out-of-control locks with her flawlessly coiled hair. Her gaze lingered on my eyes, and her mouth tightened. Guess the blue eyeshadow to match my dress wasn’t the right choice. Unlike her, I couldn’t apply my makeup so perfectly it looked like I wasn’t wearing any. Her gaze shifted lower, and she shook her head and sighed.

“What’s wrong now?” I asked. Yeah, okay, by her standards, my dress was way too tight and a little short, but it wasn’t that low cut, and I thought I looked good with my sweet boots.

“There’s no time for you to change.” Her pursed red lips relaxed into a smile. “I really am glad you changed your mind and decided to go with us.”

I stopped myself from rolling my eyes. In eight days, I’d turn sixteen, and the best way to get my parents to throw me the huge party I wanted was to be the obedient daughter and join them for some boring play.

The fact that hunky Sebastian Karr was rumored to be there didn’t twist my arm any. Nope.

Mom patted her strawberry blond hair before donning a feathered hat. “Shall we?”

An Agent's Inbox #9

Dear Ms. Nelson,

GLOW is a futuristic Science Fiction Middle Grade with steampunk elements complete at 65,000 words.

Twelve-year-old Enna has only one desire--to fly. She has the ability to telepathically see how other living creatures work, and after studying flying squirrels, designed a wingsuit of her own. Her parents worry that the wingsuit will kill her or Ari slavers will spot her while she’s learning to fly. But the slavers are far away, and jumping off a little tower isn’t going to kill her. 

During a secret flying adventure with her partner in crime and cousin, Tahoma, her eyes begin to glow, a sure sign that she is an anomaly and will attract slavers no matter how well she hides. Determined to keep her family from getting captured with her, she glides into the canyon known in ancient times as the Grand Canyon and meets other anomalies heading to Sona for refuge. But Sona isn’t as safe as she thought it would be. Someone is helping the slavers capture anomalies and Enna is next on their list.

Enna must constantly watch out for captured anomalies who have been turned into terrifying steampunk slaves called gearheads. Once captured, she too would be turned into a gearhead and forced to fight in a war against her own people. Then Enna learns that Tahoma has been captured and her ability as an anomaly could be the key to freeing him. If she can’t figure out how to free the gearheads before war breaks out, Enna’s people will be enslaved and the slavers will rule the world.

I work with learning-disabled middle grade students, have three children, and two very spoiled cats. My debut novel, Rebel Princess, was published through Cedar Fort, Inc in 2014. My Christmas pamphlet, The Candy Cane Queen, was also published through Cedar Fort. 



Red dust swirled around Enna’s buckskin boots as she hurried to the top of the canyon butte. Her foot hit a small stone, sending a noisy cascade of loose gravel over the side of the cliff. She froze and pressed her back against the rock face, pinning her long black braids behind her. For once, no one came running to see what she was doing. The hunters had gone north with their ligers to hunt bison, and those left behind were busy inspecting the ropes and pulleys used to get the meat in and out of the massive canyon. 

Her plan was working perfectly so far.

The path continued to narrow until it was too thin to walk along. She tucked her braids into the back of her shirt and grabbed a protruding rock with her dusty brown hands. No one minded when she scaled the butte; she’d been climbing since before she could walk. The adults only went volcanic when she tried to glide off of it. All she needed was enough time without adults around to prove that her wingsuit would fly. Being twelve didn’t mean her ideas wouldn’t work. If squirrels could glide, anyone could.

Her wingsuit was made out of an enormous sword plant leaf cut down to her size that attached to her wrists and ankles with leather straps. So far she’d only managed tiny jumps that barely caught any air before she was stopped by an adult, but this time would be different. This time she was really going to fly and there wasn’t anyone around to stop her.

An Agent's Inbox #8

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Five months ago someone dragged seventeen-year-old Bek out of a collapsing building and changed her life. Now she can’t get rid of the guilt or the questions. Guilt that she walked away unscathed while her friend didn’t. Questions about the mysterious hero who saved her. If she could answer any of it, maybe she could fill in some of the blank pages in her sketchbook diary. Maybe the nightmares would stop.

Unraveling the pieces of what happened that night from her incomplete memories isn’t easy. Her best friend--and unrequited love of her life--Adam doesn’t understand her need to know the truth and the closer she gets to finding it the more she thinks the secrets between them aren’t just about her unspoken feelings. When she figures out that he’s the Fox, a local superhero, everything starts to come together--like why the Fox saved her first the night of the building collapse and why she and her brother are suddenly caught in the crosshairs of the Fox and his biggest foe, Dr. Blair.

And why Adam keeps kissing her and pushing her away.

To prove that she can hack it as a superhero girlfriend and save Adam from having to choose between her and saving Pride City, she has to stay away from Dr. Blair and his most indestructible weapons yet--genetically modified kids bent on destroying the Fox. And if she can’t? Dr. Blair will finish what he started five months ago--only this time, neither Bek nor the Fox will make it out alive.

KISSING A SUPERHERO is an 84,000 word young adult contemporary novel with a superhero twist that will appeal to fans of Kiersten White. 

I have two published contemporary romance novels, Playing for Keeps (2015) and Double Play (2016), both published by Covenant Communications. My third novel, Dear Jane is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2017. I serve on the board of directors as communications chair for LDStorymakers and also on the LDStorymakers 2017 Conference Committee. I also am a member of the American Night Writers Association, where I have served in the past as my chapter president, as well as a member of RWA. I have also served on the Whitney Awards committee.

As per the submission guidelines, I have copied the first 250 words below. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.



The thrum of old pop music drifted through the parking lot of Victory Lanes bowling alley as I hurried toward the front door, enjoying the soft-and-warm, late summer air. I swung the door open, feeling conspicuous for arriving alone. I gave my clothes a quick once over and spotted a streak of jelly on the back of my sleeve. Classy, so classy.


I saw Lilah and waved. She sat amid our normal crowd, who’d shoved together several tables, eating pizza in the restaurant. It was already well past eight o’clock, but no one was bowling. I swept my gaze over to the lanes. The Washington Academy snobs--which is what most kids who went to my high school, Whitson High, thought of the kids who went to the nearby private school--had taken over three lanes, right smack in the middle. That explained it.

My gaze fell on Adam Axley before I could help it. He and my brother Josh both went to Washington. They sat on a bench talking and laughing, and I sort of wanted to stare at Adam’s smile all night long.

Okay. I didn’t like Adam like that. Well, I shouldn’t. He was easily the best looking guy on the planet. But all those girls. Fawning over him. I did not want to be one of them. Tearing my gaze away, I marched toward the bathroom to see what I could do about the jelly streak.

“Be back in a minute,” I called to Lilah.

An Agent's Inbox #7

Dear Ms. Nelson,

All Lucas Evans wanted was to make his father proud. So when his dad dies days after Lucas singlehandedly loses the championship game, Lucas feels he’ll never have the chance to make things right again.

In BROKEN, a 71,000 word YA novel, football is the furthest thing from Lucas’s mind. But a little urging from his best friend, Weeds, as well as from Emily, the mysterious girl he met during his dad’s chemo, draws him back into the sport. As the season progresses, the hits keep coming, both on and off the field. By the time the championship rolls around once again, Lucas understands that holding on to his past leaves no room for his future, and that his life is far from the only one that’s broken. Can he win the game and, with it, redemption for himself? Or will he drop the ball again, losing not only the game, but those he holds most dear?

After graduating from the University of Arkansas with an MA in English, I have spent the last few years of my life teaching teenagers and still have most of my sanity somewhat intact. When I’m not teaching, I am an active participant in SCBWI, enjoying the perks of being a real-life wallflower and testing the human body’s ability to survive on a diet made up exclusively of dark chocolate.

Thank you for your time. I have included the first page of my manuscript, and I look forward to hearing from you.



Two hours into Dad’s fourth round of chemo, I watched as a sickly yellow liquid oozed into his body through a matchbox-sized port the doctors had implanted in his chest. He lay on his back, trembling. Before this, he’d been a tall man with laughing eyes. Now the laughter was gone, replaced by a terrible weariness. 

One of the nurses came in. As she checked to see how Dad was responding to his treatment, he asked her if he could have some water to drink. I volunteered to get it--I was sick of sitting in that chair.

Standing at the water cooler, I noticed the door to one of the other rooms was open. I could see a girl about my age inside getting chemo. And as I filled the cup, I wondered how she’d look if she had hair--immediately becoming ashamed at the thought. No one else was with her, so she just stared out the door, looking lonely. I gave an awkward wave, spilling water onto my pants. Embarrassed, I turned and sped back to Dad’s room.

The nurse had already unplugged him. I handed him the water, helping his shaky hands steady the cup.

“Lucas, would you help me with your father?” the nurse asked. “Dr. Matthews wants to speak to him privately.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I nodded, taking Dad’s hand in my own. Although the room itself was cold, I was immediately stricken with how icy and damp his hand was--and how terribly weak.

An Agent's Inbox #6

Dear Ms. Nelson:

Seventeen-year-old Prince Vael meets his long-lost brother, Mordred, for the first time, only to discover that they’re destined to become enemies. 

After years with only swords and tomes as companions, Vael finds his first true friendship with the arrival of his surly half-brother, Mordred--a boy even more familiar with rejection and loneliness than Vael. However, an ancient prophecy haunts Mordred’s footsteps--he is destined to kill King Arthur in a battle that will destroy Britain. Vael may not believe in fate’s power, but that means little to the superstitious kingdom that wants his brother dead. 

When Mordred’s sorceress mother gathers an army against Camelot and plots to use him as her pawn, Vael vows to show Mordred that destinies can be chosen, even if it means challenging the fearsome sorceress himself. If Vael cannot free Mordred from the sorceress’ twisted grasp, he will have to watch his father and Camelot fall or defend his home from the only friend he’s ever had--his brother.

THE PENDRAGON’S SON is a standalone YA fantasy complete at 97,000 words with series potential. An excerpt from this manuscript received the Superior Award from the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) Creative Writing Contest and the ACSI Regional Creative Writing Festival. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Thank you for your time and consideration. 



As I hurried down the castle’s vast stone corridor to meet my half-brother for the first time, his name echoed around me, whispered like a curse: Mordred.

The vaulted doorway of the Great Hall loomed ahead. Pushing my shoulders back and making my spine straight as a sword, I marched toward the raised dais, careful to keep my pace steady. Calm and collected as a Prince of Camelot should be. My muscles strained as my legs urged me forward. Every step proved too fast, and the dais still seemed so far away. 

Armored knights and soldiers filled either side of the high-ceilinged hall. I passed them, my gaze focused ahead. Poisonous words infused the room, burning my ears and hardening my jaw.

“How is that bastard Mordred still alive?” one asked.

“Vermin never did die easy,” a knight said, sneering.

I bit my tongue, not for the first time that day. Such disrespect, all because of an unfounded--and unreliable--prophecy made decades ago. One that set Mordred as Camelot’s greatest enemy. 

My steps clipped the stones, leaving the boorish speakers behind. No point in arguing with them; they’d not heed me, prince or no. In terms of garnering respect, Mordred and I stood on almost equal ground. 

But all of the rumors were whispers on the breeze compared to this resounding truth--I had to meet him, had to know my only brother. Surely he’d understand me, a fellow outcast. A mere shadow in Camelot’s cold stone walls.

An Agent's Inbox #5

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Michael Flynn and Shelly Miller, the main characters in my contemporary YA novel, BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA (Merit Press, 2016,) started appearing in my dreams, leading me to write what has become a three book series. Part two of the trilogy, THE LANGUAGE OF THE SON, is 65,000 words and ready to ensnare readers further into Michael and Shelly’s story.

In the first book of the series, Michael’s quest was to find his father, a man he has never met because Michael’s mother refused to reveal his identity. With his girlfriend Shelly’s help, Michael unburies the secret of his origins. Now that he knows the man’s name and where to find him, Michael needs to decide what to do with that information. Will bringing up the past send Michael’s emotionally fragile mother further into an abyss? 

Now a recent high school graduate, Michael is granted a life changing opportunity to participate in a summer workshop taking place in Seattle, the same city where his father lives. Yet it’s also where Shelly ex-boyfriend Theo resides, and they will be staying with him during the early part of the journey. Suddenly Michael feels overwhelmed. He has left behind everything and everyone he loves, and as much as Michael wants to bond with Theo, he’s threatened by Shelly’s intimate connection to him. 

Will the ever increasing conflicts between Michael and Shelly cost them their relationship? How will knowing his father enable Michael to complete the puzzle of his identity? And if he meets the man he has yearned for all his life, will that man welcome him or reject him?

I am a former high school teacher now writing full-time. Enclosed are the first 250 words of THE LANGUAGE OF THE SON. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.



My girlfriend Shelly insists I take the window since it’s my first flight, so I’m crushed against the wall on this claustrophobic jet and more than a little freaked out. Pretty much everyone knows I’m headed to Seattle for a five-week summer writing workshop. It came with a full scholarship, so how could I pass up the deal? But only a select few know the real reason I’m going there: to meet my father. Problem is, until four o’clock this morning he didn’t know he was my father.

“Statistically, flying is the safest way to die,” Shelly says, and grins at me.


She bumps her shoulder into mine. “I’m teasing, silly. It’s statistically the safest way to travel.”

“I hate you so much,” I say. I turn my face toward the window. Below me guys in neon yellow vests are loading bags onto the plane.

“Yeah, but you can’t live without me.” She wraps her hands around my bicep and snuggles against me. Muffled chatter, the click of seat belts, the slam bang of bags stowed overhead, a baby crying, and the acrid odor of jet fuel surround us. If this is the end of my life, are these the last things I will remember before we explode mid air? I take a hard swallow to keep my breakfast down.

My mother used to say bad things didn’t happen on sunny days, but I have learned my mother is not a reliable source.

An Agent's Inbox #4

Dear Ms. Nelson,

The world’s first virtual reality game is under attack by a virus: a nameless non-player character who offers fake quests, loots players’ treasure chests, and has triggered a massive orc-human war between two cities.

Unknown to the players, the rogue NPC is actually Natalie Peijing Cai, a Chinese-American scholarship student. After losing every cent in her bank account to an online thief, she enters a massive multi-player virtual reality game with monetary rewards. There, she is accidentally categorized as a non-player character when she makes her username her initials, NPC.

In the real world, Natalie struggles with impatient landlords, incompetent TAs, and a handsome classmate who seems determined to catch her stealing food from the school cafeteria. In the virtual world, she’s hunted by the same classmate, genius inventor of virtual reality Erik Cederstrom, who believes her to be a dangerous AI.

When Natalie’s family spirals into financial difficulties, she tackles a high-level quest to loot a dragon’s hoard. Her only recourse is to trick other players into fighting her battles by handing out fake quests. With thousands of dollars at stake, she’ll end up in serious legal trouble if anyone finds out she’s not a real non-player character.

My 72,000 word young adult novel NPC: Non-Player Character explores a virtual fantasy world with real world consequences.

I have had fiction published in the Whortleberry Press anthology Strange Changes, Short-Story.Me and Short Fiction Break, and I have stories forthcoming in Abyss & Apex Magazine and Every Day Fiction. While studying for my economics PhD, I have coauthored eight nonfiction research papers and four blog posts.

I submitted this novel for your consideration because your interest in young adult fiction with strong heroines and diverse characters. Upon your request, I am prepared to send the complete manuscript.

Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work.



I’m not proud of it, but late at night after everyone had left the virtual reality center, I snuck back in. A thousand excuses sat easy on my lips as I stood before the white door, fumbling with my key: I forgot my cell phone; I accidentally walked out with the check-in clipboard; I thought I saw a light and just went in to turn it off like a good employee. Admittedly, if anyone caught me inside a VR capsule, I had no idea what I would say.

Once inside, I let my flashlight trail across the concrete floor, white-grey walls, and the receptionist’s desk in the middle. Finding another key on the ring, I opened the door to the capsule room.

The ceiling was high, my flashlight lighting up exposed pipes and beams overhead. Six hundred dentist-style horizontal chairs covered by glass capsules were packed together in twenty rows.

Keeping the flashlight tucked under my arm, I fiddled with the control panel and got the glass capsule to slide open. After placing the shiny silver helmet over my head, I lay back on the reclining chair. The blood pressure cuff around my wrist would alert the machine if I started moving while in the trance state. A button on the chair’s arm closed the capsule. The helmet covered my face and a screen lit up in front of my eyes.

My solitary voice sounded weak and embarrassed as I spoke into the deserted building: “Activate the Game.”

An Agent's Inbox #3

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Reading on your MSWL that you like heartwarming MG with a dash of magic, I am hoping that MY SOMETHING AMAZING would be a good fit for your list. It is contemporary about a childhood friendship evolving into something different and perhaps more. In the vein of FLIPPED with a touch of magical realism. 

When a mysterious lady moves into the ramshackle leftover farm in the woods, 12-year-old Evie cannot believe her luck. Suddenly, there are horses on the edge of her suburban neighborhood. Evie decides that she is going to ride one of the horses if it’s the last thing she does. She hooks her best friend Oliver into helping her sneak a ride.

As seventh grade comes to an end, Evie thinks of nothing except learning to ride. Well, maybe Oliver is popping up in her thoughts too. Lately, she is not thinking of him as just a friend.

Turns out the lady at the farm is more than mysterious. When Evie secretly witnesses what she suspects is the horse lady bringing a bird back to life, she strikes up a friendship with her. Her name is Jemima Blaze and she allows Evie to hang around the barn. It becomes Evie’s favorite place to be, especially when Oliver starts ignoring her in favor of his baseball team.

Jemima grows more fascinating to Evie. Although she explains it away, animals seem to heal in seconds flat after she gives them a little encouragement. As her friendship with Oliver seems to slip away, heartbroken Evie escapes to the barn and Jemima. She finds that a little magical healing works wonders. 

MY SOMETHING AMAZING is complete at 31000 words and my first 250 words are below. Thank you for your time and consideration.



I was never supposed to be alone in the woods, but I had to veer off the path to see the horses. It was dumb luck I guess, but a lady with horses moved back into what my dad called the old ramshackle place. No way that should have happened in my regular neighborhood. But just at the peak of my horse obsession, there they were. 

The owner of the horses was considered a mystery on my street. All we knew was she inherited the place about a year ago. It stood empty for years looking pretty sad and saggy. Then all of a sudden, the barn was being renovated and a new roof was put on the house. Moving trucks showed up in the late fall. As me and the other kids walked to the bus stop, we watched what was going on through the trees.

Once winter hit, we usually got a ride to the school bus so it wasn’t until last spring that I was walking through the path and saw him. The palomino horse appeared first. The leaves were just getting full so when I saw movement through the trees, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing things or not.

I thought I was dreaming or something. I could not believe that a horse was right there. I crept through the woods as though if I moved too fast, I would scare him away forever.

An Agent's Inbox #2

Dear Ms. Nelson,

After reading your page on the Manuscript Wish List website, I was eager to see if my work might be a fit for you. I’m grateful Krista’s contest presents an opportunity to connect.

I offer PINK GUITARS AND FALLING STARS; a YA contemporary RAPUNZEL meets ROMEO AND JULIET mash-up from the prince’s point of view set against the backdrop of the music industry.

In fair Hollywood where we set our scene, sixteen-year-old indie musician, Justin MacKenzie, is determined to kick it to the top of Rampion Records’ Summer Number One professional vs. amateur singing competition. The chickadee to beat in the annual televised contest is the rock establishment’s pop princess, Zeli, our Rapunzel. Her trademark Joseph’s Coat of extensions stretch as a long as a football field with designs ranging from a neon flexi-straw weave to original Peter Max art. Zeli’s bubblegum brand of pop played on a pink guitar is an affront to everything Justin loves about music.

On the eve of Summer Number One auditions, Justin unwittingly puts Zeli and her million dollar extensions in danger. Enraged, the label’s creeptastic president, Grant Gothel, banishes Justin from the competition and locks prize pony, Zeli, in the Rampion Record’s Tower to protect his investment. Now Justin must create an alternate identity for a shot at the competition. In the process, Justin sees through the veneer of Zeli’s fame to find a girl worth saving from the tower.

This story would interest readers who enjoy the fairy tale twists in THE LUNAR CHRONICLES series. PINK GUITARS AND FALLING STARS works as a stand alone, but has series potential for other playful fairy tale/Shakespeare mash-ups. Its word count is approximately 96,000.

While on the faculty of the Department of Theatre at UCLA, several of my plays were produced. Short stories of mine appear in small presses. I teach in elementary education and am a member of the SCBWI.

Following please find the first 250 words of my story. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Chapter 1: Jumper

You only get one parachute. No point packing two for a B.A.S.E. jump since you’ll be pavement art before the second chute blossoms.


Uncle Timmer startles me, and my toe jerks to a stop an inch above the trigger pedal of my launcher. Is his gray matter shredded, distracting me during a safety check? There’s no chute on my back. One accidental tap on the business end of this launcher, and I’ll be eye to eye with the flock of seagulls patrolling Hollywood skies. I retreat onto the non-ballistic end of my perch. Peering over the edge of the Rampion Records Tower, I analyze the antics of the wind.

“Join us,” Unc calls, teeth clenched in a smile. He hosts a cluster of reporters near the center of the circular roof. “Meet the youngest member of the Slinging Seven.” Their faces morph into a collective portrait of panic as I leap more dramatically than necessary from launcher to the terra firma of the rooftop. After saluting the Hollywood sign, a photo op Unc will appreciate, I join the party to keep a smile on Timmer MacKenzie’s face. He controls the green light for my carcass to launch off skyscrapers, bridges, and cliffs in a wing suit.

Unc adheres to a superhuman canon of safety, but he can’t control the wreath of clouds adorning the tower. Humidity. Trickier conditions. My bangs congeal into a sweaty clump. Sixteen is too young to die when you have plans, and I have plans.

An Agent's Inbox #1

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Thank you for considering my novel LIKE BLOOD FROM STONE, a 60,000-word young adult bildungsroman set in rural Pennsylvania at the onset of the fracking energy revolution. I am sending it to you because of your interest in LGBTQ literature. 

In LIKE BLOOD FROM STONE, high school seniors and childhood friends Nick O’Connor and Rory Amato look for a way to make the most of their last year. They design a scheme to spend more time together, but the pact brings a volatile layer of intimacy and threatens to derail their college plans. At the same time, their home in rural Hartfield, Pennsylvania, is imperiled by the coming of Energon, a natural gas company whose heavy equipment and hefty mineral contracts threaten to industrialize the area and turn families and neighbors against one another. As the boys decide to gamble their friendship for a shot at something more, Hartfield itself is forced to question what it values. When Nick's own family is caught in the crossfire and his relationship with Rory is brutally exposed, he discovers that no cause is ever pure, and that sometimes going after what we want means letting go of what we have.

This is my first book-length work. My fiction has appeared in The Rampallian under my pen name, Heath Fields. I have also published curriculum projects for Journeys in Film at the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, and an article in Independent Teacher. I hold degrees from St. John’s College and the Bread Loaf School of English. During the academic year, I teach English at Groton School in Massachusetts.

I have included the first 250 words of LIKE BLOOD FROM STONE. Thank you again for your time and consideration.

Sincerely yours,


Nick looked out the window and traced the rise and fall of the power lines, synchronizing his breath to their rhythm. He closed his eyes against the sun and watched the phosphenes dance like bubbles across his vision. But for his parents’ voices in the front seat, he could almost believe he was back in the water, pushing through the liquid gloaming, watching for that glint of golden light that would lead him to his quarry. He held his breath and leaned deeper into the darkness, his skin reaching out to make contact with the desire of his dreams, his arms closing around the elusive body when the car lurched and brought him rushing back to reality. They were home. 

The O’Connors’ Suburban pulled into the driveway between their house and the Amatos’. Nick’s pulse quickened as he scanned the driveway for the familiar Volvo wagon, but no. Rory wouldn’t return until school forced him to. One more week.

The vehicle came to a stop under the carport behind the house. 

“Ya did good, Sally,” Jack said, stroking the dash as the engine ticked. “This girl’s got life in her yet, ya know,” he said, looking significantly at his wife in the passenger seat.

“She won’t last forever,” Cheryl replied. “One day she’ll turn over for the last time, and I don’t want to be on I-81 when it happens. Poor thing’s eleven years old as it is.”

“I’m just saying don’t put her in the grave before her time is all. We can’t afford to go out and buy a new car every time her oil needs changed.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

DON'T VOTE FOR ME Is Out in Paperback!

It's been a year since DON'T VOTE FOR ME came out in hardcover, and you know what that means--DON'T VOTE FOR ME is now out in paperback! You can purchase it at any of the retailers listed above or ask your favorite indie to order it for you (if they're not stocking it already).

And now we return to this week's round* of "An Agent's Inbox" with Patricia Nelson of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency!

*Speaking of this week's round of "An Agent's Inbox," we still have several open slots to fill. Ms. Nelson is willing to consider MG and YA fiction of all stripes as well as romance and women's fiction, so if you have a finished manuscript in one of those categories and/or genres, definitely check out the submission guidelines.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Now Accepting Entries!

I'm now accepting entries for this week's round of "An Agent's Inbox." Here's a quick refresher:

The Rules

1. To enter, your manuscript must meet two conditions: First, it must be COMPLETE, POLISHED, AND READY TO QUERY, and second, it must be in one of the genres The Agent represents (which are listed at the bottom of this post).

2. IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN MARCH'S ROUND OF “AN AGENT’S INBOX,” please DO NOT participate in this one UNLESS YOUR HAVE A NEW MANUSCRIPT that meets the criteria listed above. If the entry slots don’t fill up by Tuesday, August 2, I may allow previous participants to enter.

3. All entries must include A QUERY and THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. You must paste these items IN THE BODY OF YOUR E-MAIL; otherwise, I'll disqualify it.

4. THE ENTRY WINDOW OPENS AT 12:00 NOON EDT (OR 9:00 A.M. PDT). Once the entry window opens, I'll accept the first 25 entries. I won't accept any entries sent before the entry window opens or after the first 25 slots fill up.

5. If your entry makes it in, I'll send you a confirmation e-mail with a post number. If your entry doesn't make it in, I'll still send you an e-mail, but it won't have a post number.

6. If your entry makes it in, YOU MUST COMMENT ON AT LEAST 3 OTHER ENTRIES.

The Prizes The Agent, Patricia Nelson* of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, will select both the winners and the prizes. The Agent might pick 25 winners, or she might only pick one. The Agent might offer full requests, or she might only ask to see another page. It all depends on how good the entries are.

Please keep in mind that THIS CONTEST ISN'T FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. I've encouraged The Agent to treat the entries exactly as she would a normal batch of queries. Essentially, The Agent will be answering the question, "How much of the entry did you read, and if you didn't read it all, why did you stop?" I think this process will be instructive for all of us, but if you enter, you need to be prepared to hear exactly what The Agent thinks of your query and first page.

The Genres

MG fiction (all genres)
YA fiction (all genres)
Adult Romance
Women's Fiction

To enter, please send an e-mail with YOUR QUERY and THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript to kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com. And please, please, please remember to PASTE THESE ITEMS IN THE BODY OF THE E-MAIL.

*I know this probably goes without saying, but if you’re thinking about entering, you should probably treat this round a little differently than you would if you didn’t already know The Agent’s identity. Feel free to do a little research and include personalization in your queries. Also, if you've already queried Ms. Nelson, PLEASE DON'T ENTER UNLESS YOU HAVE A NEW MANUSCRIPT THAT MEETS THE CRITERIA LISTED ABOVE. Since I don't have access to Ms. Nelson's inbox, I can't really police this, but you--and she--are going to get a lot more out of this contest if you enter something The Agent hasn’t seen before.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"An Agent's Inbox" Contest Alert


“An Agent's Inbox” is exactly what it sounds like--next week, I'm turning the blog into an agent's inbox, a public one. We'll get to see 25 queries along with their first pages, and we'll get to hear what a bona fide agent thinks of each one.

The queries and first pages will be yours, of course. I'll accept your entries this Monday, August 1, and then I'll post them next Wednesday, August 3. The entrants and anyone else who wishes to review them may comment until the following Monday or Tuesday, August 8 or 9, when I'll announce the winners.

Those winners will be chosen by The Agent, and this month, The Agent is Patricia Nelson* of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency!

The Rules

1. To enter, your manuscript must meet two conditions: First, it must be COMPLETE, POLISHED, AND READY TO QUERY, and second, it must be in one of the genres The Agent represents (which are listed at the bottom of this post).

2. IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN MARCH'S ROUND OF “AN AGENT’S INBOX,” please DO NOT participate in this one UNLESS YOUR HAVE A NEW MANUSCRIPT that meets the criteria listed above. If the entry slots don’t fill up by Tuesday, August 2, I may allow previous participants to enter.

3. All entries must include A QUERY and THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. You must paste these items IN THE BODY OF YOUR E-MAIL; otherwise, I'll disqualify it.

4. THE ENTRY WINDOW OPENS AT 12:00 NOON EDT (OR 9:00 A.M. PDT). Once the entry window opens, I'll accept the first 25 entries. I won't accept any entries sent before the entry window opens or after the first 25 slots fill up.

5. If your entry makes it in, I'll send you a confirmation e-mail with a post number. If your entry doesn't make it in, I'll still send you an e-mail, but it won't have a post number.

6. If your entry makes it in, YOU MUST COMMENT ON AT LEAST 3 OTHER ENTRIES.

The Prizes The Agent will select both the winners and the prizes. The Agent might pick 25 winners, or she might only pick one. The Agent might offer full requests, or she might only ask to see another page. It all depends on how good the entries are.

Please keep in mind that THIS CONTEST ISN'T FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. I've encouraged The Agent to treat the entries exactly as she would a normal batch of queries. Essentially, The Agent will be answering the question, "How much of the entry did you read, and if you didn't read it all, why did you stop?" I think this process will be instructive for all of us, but if you enter, you need to be prepared to hear exactly what The Agent thinks of your query and first page.

So get those queries and first pages polished up, then meet us back here on Monday, August 1, at 12:00 noon EDT! At that time, you may send your entries to kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com. Looking forward to it!

The Genres

MG fiction (all genres)
YA fiction (all genres)
Adult Romance
Women's Fiction

And of course, if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

*I know this probably goes without saying, but if you’re thinking about entering, you should probably treat this round a little differently than you would if you didn’t already know The Agent’s identity. Feel free to do a little research and include personalization in your queries. Also, if you've already queried Ms. Nelson, PLEASE DON'T ENTER UNLESS YOU HAVE A NEW MANUSCRIPT THAT MEETS THE CRITERIA LISTED ABOVE. Since I don't have access to Ms. Nelson's inbox, I can't really police this, but you--and she--are going to get a lot more out of this contest if you enter something The Agent hasn’t seen before.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Road I Didn't Want to Take

About six months ago, the husband got a call at work. His employer was pleased with the lessons he'd been writing on the side for their curriculum department. They wanted him to come and write full-time out of their central office, so they wanted to know if we'd be willing to move back to Utah.

Honey Bear works as a religious educator for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which runs a coordinated network of seminaries and institutes for teenagers and young adults around the country and the world. When he was hired out of college, the Church assigned him to teach seminary in Mesquite, Nevada, which is where we've lived for the last ten years.

I loved Mesquite. I thought I was a city girl--or at least a suburban girl--until I moved to Mesquite, at which point I realized I would be more than happy to live with my husband and kids in a remote cabin in the woods (with electricity, indoor plumbing, and an Internet connection, of course). I loved the small-town feel, the laid-back lifestyle, and even the heat.

In other words, I didn't want to move.

It didn't seem prudent to move, either. I mean, we'd bought our house in 2006. At the height--or depths--of the recession, our thousand-square-foot house was worth about a third of what we'd paid for it. The market had started to come up again, so it was now worth about two-thirds of what we'd paid for it, and thanks to careful planning (not to mention my book deals), we'd managed to pay down that other third. For the first time since we'd bought it, we were (almost) in the black.

After several intense days of pondering and praying, we decided to move forward (though, admittedly, Honey Bear was more gung-ho than I was). We'd always intended to move back to Utah someday, and who knew when this chance would come around again? Plus, the change of pace really excited Honey Bear. As much as he loved the classroom and his students in Mesquite, he was eager to write full-time. (Ha!) So we started de-junking in anticipation of an advanced appraisal. For a week or two, I converted all my writing time into cleaning, de-cluttering, and reorganizing the whole house. When the appraiser came, I knew I'd done everything I could. I thought I was at peace.

Then we got the appraisal back, and it was almost ten thousand dollars less than what we still owed on the house.

I'd mentally prepared myself for a slightly lower number, but not ten-thousand-dollars lower. And despite my efforts to move forward, all my doubts and reservations bubbled back up to the surface. This wasn't going to work out. We couldn't afford to move. Maybe I just didn't WANT to move. At one point, we were on the phone with an assistant administrator--there are, like, five or six guys who oversee the Church's seminaries and institutes in every corner of the world, and we were actually speaking to one of them--and I just broke down. I pressed my fist into my mouth so he wouldn't be able to hear me sobbing, but when he asked me a question, Honey Bear had to admit I wasn't capable of answering. Fantastic.

For days, I asked myself why I couldn't just have faith. While the emotional side of my brain struggled, the rational side of my brain acknowledged that this was a great opportunity and probably the right thing to do. But I was terrified of losing control of my finances, of getting in over our heads, of having to borrow money from our parents (even though they'd already offered). I had this tidy, safe idea of what I thought my life should look like, and I wanted everything to fit neatly inside it.

And yet we forged ahead. I went through the motions of working with the realtor to put our house on the market, and somehow, our spring break, which we'd already planned to spend in Utah, devolved into a de facto house-hunting trip. The mother-in-law had already scouted the best properties, and when Honey Bear and I walked into her favorite house, we instantly fell in love. After reviewing our finances and praying again, we decided to make an offer--and promptly lost the house in an unexpected bidding war.

The rest of that week was like a bad episode of House Hunters. After having such a similar reaction to the dream home, Honey Bear and I were never on the same page again. Before we'd even heard back on the dream home, he'd been cooling toward the house that was supposed to be our consolation prize, and though we saw several other houses he wanted to make an offer on, I never felt as strongly about any of them.

Then, late Friday night--we were planning to leave on Saturday morning--I happened to be going through the listings I'd gone through a thousand times when I noticed that a house we'd initially had on our list was back on the market. We immediately called our realtor and asked if she could get us in before we left, but our realtor did us one better--since the sellers were still out (and since their realtor happened to live in the same neighborhood), we could see the house that night. We went and took a look, came home and said another prayer, and made an offer on the house, which the sellers immediately accepted.


As we drove home the next day, I almost couldn't believe how everything had come together. It made me wonder if maybe this was going to work out after all.

But we still had to sell our house.

Actually, our house had received an offer in the week that we were gone (and only one day after going on the market). But it was even lower than our appraisal, and when we countered the offer, the prospective buyer never responded. Then we got offer number two, which was higher than the appraisal but still less than what we owed. Still, it seemed stupid to refuse it, so we resigned ourselves to somehow making up the difference between the sale price and our mortgage.

But when our buyer found out that Honey Bear worked for the Church and that they'd be facilitating the sale process, this prospective buyer backed out, too. Less than a week later, we received an identical offer, which also ended up falling through because this prospective buyer also wasn't interested in working with the Church. But before that offer fell through, we heard from a third buyer, who knew about the second buyer and wanted to make a competing offer. Long paragraphs short: we ended up selling our house for a thousand bucks over our asking price, which was already a few thousand bucks over what we owed.

Lots of people would probably chalk this up to good luck or coincidence, but I believe God was doing more with my life than I could do with it on my own. It's hard to let go, but I believe He loves and cares for us as a father loves and cares for his children. And because fathers are anxious to see their children succeed, He will help us steer our ships if we're willing to trust Him. In other words, when we let Him in, He won't ever let us down.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Writer's Voice: Where Is Ashley Turcotte Now?

Writing is a process. I think we're all aware of this, but what we don't always acknowledge is that this process can change over time and that what worked for one project may not work for another. Cue Ashley Turcotte's courageous piece on writing and rewriting in which she discusses LUMINARY, the project that was on my TWV 2013 team.

I first met Krista during “The Writer’s Voice” in 2013, when she picked my YA fantasy LUMINARY for her team. It was a wonderful experience, though it didn’t lead to an agent offer. Neither did any of my queries, as it turns out. In the end, I had to admit that the book was extremely flawed and undercooked. But my general motto back then was Keep Moving Forward. Even if I did a major rewrite of LUMINARY, I wouldn’t be able to query any of the same agents with it. So despite the fact that I was pretty sure it was the best idea I’d ever had, I moved on. Wrote a new book. And that’s the one that got me my agent.

Suddenly, I didn’t have to worry about having something fresh and new and shiny to send to agents. I could go back to LUMINARY! In fact, I had my agent’s blessing to do so, as she also loved the idea (though she agreed that my execution was, alas, rather lacking). We talked over a new plan and, while my other book went out on submission, I dove into a total rewrite.

I was inspired! I was full of ideas! I hadn’t gotten to hit the restart button on my earlier projects, and the whole process was terribly exciting to me. When I had a shiny new draft, I sent it off to my agent, sure that she would absolutely love it.

Only she didn’t. It was better than the last draft, yes. But there were a number of fatal flaws and, after much discussion with my very brilliant agent, I ultimately decided it needed another full rewrite.

Remember my whole Keep Moving Forward thing? I’d never written a book twice, let alone three times. Revisions, yes. Dozens and dozens of those. But total, start from scratch, rebuild from the ground up rewrites?

It was daunting. Exhausting. Terrifying. Because what if I got it wrong again? It’s not like I could let the idea go—not when it’s the best idea I’ve ever had. Would I spend the rest of my life rewriting the same exact book, because I just couldn’t seem to get it right?

I know this is crazy. I know it now, looking back from the other side. I even knew it then, though the crazy voice telling me I was doomed to some sort of Groundhog Day version of writing told the quieter, more rational voice to shut up. All that inspiration and excitement and joy dried up in a flash.

There’s a line I’ve heard several times over the years that goes something like this: “Inspiration is for amateurs.”

And I agree, to an extent. I want to make a career out of being a writer. With book deals come deadlines, and I can’t spend too much time staring into space waiting for inspiration to come when that happens. Especially since inspiration can be an elusive little thing.

However. (And this is a big however.) I firmly believe that if I have no heart while I’m writing the book, it will come across in the writing. There’s an author I used to adore and love and revere who now so clearly only writes for the paycheck. None of the recent books have any heart. They’re just half-developed stories full of soulless characters, and reading them left me so unsatisfied and heartbroken that I had to stop. And I will never let that happen to my own books.

So what’s the solution here? How do you flush inspiration out when it’s gone into hiding? Below, please find my simple, step-by-step process for finding inspiration again.

1. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Tell myself over and over again that I can do this.
2. Finding that I’ve forgotten the entire English language, stare into space instead of actually writing anything.
3. Cry. A lot.
4. Then cry some more.
5. Send my agent a crazy email talking about groundhogs that makes no sense whatsoever.
6. Give myself permission to take a break before I completely break. Because, at the end of the day, taking care of myself will lead to way more awesome books than writing myself into complete and total depression.
7. Write something new. Because it turns out I didn’t forget the entire English language. I just forgot how to write LUMINARY. And guess what? I was so excited to be writing again that I pounded out a draft in only 22 days. Writers are meant to write. It’s as simple as that. We just have to find the right project.
8. Ride the wave of that inspiration and dive back into LUMINARY.

It’s like my creativity needed a jumpstart, but now that it’s running again, I can drive it wherever I want. In fact, I just finished the third version of LUMINARY this weekend. It was the hardest work of anything I’ve ever written. Times five. But you know what? I’m pretty sure it’s also the best thing I’ve ever written. Hearts flash in my eyes whenever I think about it. And I’d get so lost in the writing that I’d forget to eat, or drink, or move. Sometimes for ten or fifteen hours at a time. If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.

And yes, a tiny part of me is still afraid that I’m doomed to write this book for the rest of time. But if I can fall this head over heels in love with the book every time I write it, I suppose that’s not the worst possible fate. Especially when I get to write scores of other projects in between drafts, to keep my inspiration overflowing.

Thank you so much, Ashley, for sharing these insights with us. Fingers crossed for LUMINARY!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Spotted in a Smith's Parking Lot

I have nothing against stick-figure-family decals--in fact, I kind of like them--but this one made me LOL.
(And if you don't know what a stick-figure-family decal is, you've clearly never been to Utah.)

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Writer's Voice: Where Are Kati Bartkowski and Heidi Lang Now?

In all my years of doing "The Writer's Voice," I only worked with one pair of coauthors, Kati Bartkowski and Heidi Lang. I'll admit that I wasn't sure what to expect, but if there was any conflict on their end, they kept it well hidden from me:) Their entry garnered multiple votes, and their manuscript, now titled LAILU LOGANBERRY'S MYSTIC COOKING, went on to land an agent and sell to Aladdin. I asked them back today to talk about that process and what it's like to work with a coauthor (especially a coauthor you're related to). Enjoy!

KV: Congratulations on the sale of LAILU LOGANBERRY'S MYSTIC COOKING! What inspired you to write it?

KB: I had the idea of a chef who opens her own restaurant and serves fantastical things, like kraken calamari and gourmet gryphon linguini, and then I was planning on writing a different book about a fantasy world slowly being taken over by science, where the elves are actually gangsters fighting to keep control of the city as the scientists gain more and more power.

HL: Kati and I often discussed our writing ideas with each other long before we ever tried co-writing. So when she told me these ideas, I started coming up with suggestions for her. I proposed the idea of combining both stories, so the chef would be working in that fantasy versus science world. I also suggested that the scientists be steampunk scientists, because I thought that would be the most awesome. And then I kept thinking of things she could do with that story--I was really excited about it, until finally she asked me if I wanted to just write it with her.

KV: What was it like to work together, and what tips do you have for other coauthors?

HL: It was (and still is) really fun to work together. Our first draft flew by so quickly because we were just having fun with it, passing it back and forth. As far as tips go, I’d say cowriting can be really tricky because you have to trust the other writer, and you also have to be willing to be completely honest about anything you don’t think is working. For us, it’s worked out because Kati and I have a lot of complementary skill sets. For instance, she likes to plot everything out, and I’m a total pantster.

KB: Chiming in here to say that was one of the hardest things to work with. I’d have this whole story planned out, and then Heidi would add in something…unexpected.

HL: But usually awesome!

KB: …usually. ;)

HL: I think it also helps that we’re sisters, so we’ve had many, many years of being forced to work together one way or another. But for other coauthors, I’d say it’s important to find someone who you trust, who you have fun working with, and who you can be honest with without worrying about it destroying your relationship. Having similar goals for the story and similar tastes in books is also important. For instance, both Kati and I love stories with kick-butt female protagonists who are not afraid to chase their dreams. We also both like a little bit of romance, lots of unique magic, and characters who are not exactly evil, but not exactly good, either.

KV: Tell us about the submission process. Did it move fairly quickly, or did it take some time? And if it took some time, what did you do to stay sane? :)

KB: I know a lot of authors really hate the submission process, but I didn’t mind it. After the stress of querying agents, it was kind of nice to kick back and know someone else was taking over for a bit. And both Heidi and I felt really confident in our agent--she was so excited about our book and did a fantastic job of putting it out there. We figured it would either sell, or it wouldn’t, but at least it was in good hands now.

HL: It did take kind of a long time, with some really close passes. I wasn’t as zen about it as Kati, but mostly I tried not to think about our book out there, circling, potentially never selling. Instead, Kati and I started working on a completely new story in order to pass the time.

KB: We managed to finish the first draft, too. So we’ll have that to go back to after we’re done with revisions on MYSTIC COOKING.

KV: Now tell us about getting the good news. Were you aware of Aladdin's interest beforehand, or did the offer come out of the blue? And how did you find out?

HL: We were not aware of their interest, but Kati had told me when we were first on submission that she felt like Aladdin would be the perfect place for our story.

KB: I still feel that way. :)

HL: Me, too! Anyhow, as you can tell we’re both still really excited about it! We found out when Jennifer, our agent, sent us an email basically asking if we were free to talk that afternoon because she had “news.” Kati was at a play-date with her toddler, so she didn’t see the email right away and I had to call her about twenty times--

KB: Or a hundred times.

HL: It might have been closer to a hundred. ;) Eventually she answered the phone, we set up a call with Jennifer, and the rest is history. I remember there was a lot of dancing around the house and squealing after we hung up.

KV: Once you officially accepted the offer, what were the next steps? And are you working on edits now?

HL: Once we accepted the offer, we didn’t hear anything from Aladdin for a couple of months. I hear this is really typical, but part of me worried they bought our book by mistake and were trying to think of a nice way to tell us.

KB: Luckily it didn’t come to that, and eventually we received our first edit letter and our first deadline. Most of their edits were more bigger picture questions about the world and the roles of some of the side characters, so before making any changes we had to spend a lot of time thinking about it and outlining it, much to Heidi's pleasure. ;)

HL: We actually just received our second edit letter a few weeks ago, so we’re going through that whole process again. There aren’t as many things to change this time, though, so we’re getting closer. And then we need to really get moving on the sequel, which we’ve been slowly, slowly plotting and writing on the side.

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you'd like to share with us?

HL: Don’t give up! We finished our first “final” draft of MYSTIC COOKING back in 2012. It was originally YA and was over 100,000 words long…when we signed with Jennifer we had it down under 60,000, and it’s MG now, which is definitely a much better fit. But it took a while to get to that point.

KB: Which leads to our second big advice: learn how to take and apply criticism. We had a lot of people take a look at our story and offer suggestions for improvement. We made it into Pitch Wars back when our story was YA, and then the Writer’s Voice contest after we revised it to MG, and through those we found a lot of wonderful critique partners who all helped make our story much better.

HL: That’s about it. Writing is sometimes so frustrating, and the whole process can feel like it’s taking forever, but it’s so worth it. We love creating these worlds and these characters, and we’re so excited that other people are going to get to read the stories we created.

KB: Exactly. Write on, everyone! And thanks so much for inviting us to chat with you, Krista!

It was my pleasure, ladies. If the book is half as charming as this interview was, it will be charming indeed:)