Thursday, September 22, 2016

Krista's Impromptu Critique Contest

If you didn't make it into Pitch Wars, if you know your manuscript needs something but can't quite pinpoint what it is, if you just want another set of eyes looking for plot holes and inconsistencies, then this contest is for you. I'm between projects at the moment, so I have some time to critique someone's full manuscript.

If you want that manuscript to be yours, you must meet the following conditions:

1. You cannot be a 2016 Pitch Wars mentee. I want to give someone else an opportunity to receive the same kind of critique.

2. Your manuscript must be rated PG-13 or less. I'm open to virtually any category or genre as long as the content isn't overwhelming. (If in doubt, you're welcome to enter, but know that if I select your manuscript and find the content too uncomfortable, I may stop reading and only send you a partial critique.)

3. Your manuscript must be complete and ready to send by the first week in October. You're probably going to get more out of this experience if you don't send me a first draft, but since you know your process better than I do (and since I can't really police it), I'm also not going to say that you can't send me a first draft.

To enter, please leave a comment on this post that tells me something about your manuscript, its approximate word count, and an e-mail address I can reach you at. (For instance, copying and pasting the summary from your query would be perfect.) I'll leave the comments open until Friday, September 30, at 11:59 p.m. EDT, then announce a winner sometime the following week. One entry will receive a full critique, but I may offer to critique some partials if I feel so inclined.

Can't wait to find a great story to dig into!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Winners Below!

Without any ado, Ms. Johnson-Blalock's winners:

First place: #5 DROWNING IN AIR

DROWNING IN AIR wins a full request!

Second place: #13 A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES

A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES wins a request for the first 100 pages!

Third place: #4 THE PARIS TRIP

THE PARIS TRIP wins a request for the first 50 pages!

Fourth place: #8 IF YOU FIND ME and #20 CROSSROADS

IF YOU FIND ME and CROSSROADS win a request for the first 20 pages!

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

In addition, Ms. Johnson-Blalock named two honorable mentions: #9 SIGN OF THE COCOA BEANS and #10 THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING. In her own words, "these queries and pages were fantastic, but for wholly subjective reasons, they aren't quite right for me. But congratulations on a job well done and all my best wishes for finding the perfect agent."

Thank you, Ms. Johnson-Blalock, for your time and thoughtful critiques. And thank you, everyone else, for YOUR time and thoughtful critiques. These contests always restore my faith in humanity:)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"An Agent's Inbox" Is Live!

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, "If you were an agent, would you request more of this entry?"

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

(For your information, I take out profanity when I'm formatting the entries, so if you notice any asterisks, they're my asterisks, not the entrants'. Also, 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 #22

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock,

After reading your page under the Liz Dawson Associates website, I was excited to learn you are interested in thrillers/mysteries, contemporary romance, and young adult. I have a manuscript that fits all three descriptions, titled OLD MAN BOONE, of roughly 75,000 words.

In OLD MAN BOONE, anything is better than living with a lying, cheating, no-good father--even living in a town with more horses than people. Still, sixteen-year-old Hailey Johnston suspects her life is over when her divorced mother moves them to Clearmont, Wyoming.

The rural town looks more promising when Josh Turner, gorgeous star athlete, asks Hailey out. He’s the guy every girl dreams of, but his ex-girlfriend is the stuff of nightmares. Once Hailey sees Josh and his ex getting cozy in the hall after school, she doubts his feelings are genuine.

The bugs in her locker and rattlesnake in her backpack have psycho written all over them, and Hailey can only assume Josh’s vindictive ex is the culprit. Things take a strange turn, however, when Hailey’s little sister claims the rumored town phantom--the ghost of Old Man Boone--is following her. When her sister wakes up screaming in the middle of the night, claiming someone is lurking outside her window, Hailey realizes the danger is real. Before Hailey can solve the dilemma, her sister disappears one stormy winter night without a trace.

To save her family, Hailey must put her doubts aside and trust Josh. Working together is the only way they will survive the snowstorm that spirited away her sister and defeat an unexpected villain.

OLD MAN BOONE was greatly influenced by my own experiences as a youth, when I moved to Clearmont. Though the plot is made up, many of the details of the town and rural society are true. I recently e-published my first novel under the penname Liz McCraine, and am preparing a second for publication later this year. While my adventures self-publishing have been invaluable, I want to follow a more traditional route with OLD MAN BOONE. Pasted below are the first 250 words of the story. The completed manuscript is available at your request.

Sincerely,
R.C.


OLD MAN BOONE

Things could only get better.

Hailey stared out the window at dull valleys overflowing with gray-green sagebrush and felt the familiar hot rush that came just before an onslaught of free-flowing tears. She swallowed, forcing down the sob threatening to burst free. It would do no good to cry. She’d already spilled a million tears, but it hadn’t changed anything.

This was hard for all of them. But whatever their troubles, they were in this together. The three of them. They had survived the upheaval of the last six months, and they could survive the next six. They were making a fresh start in a new place.

“What do you think?” Her mom, Ruth, glanced over from the driver’s seat, a hopeful expression on her too-lean face. The weight loss from everything that had happened over the last six months was evident in her hollow cheeks. The gray hairs at her temples were new, too.

Hailey knew her mom was doing her best to find the positive in a bad situation, and it was because of her example that Hailey found the strength to calm the gush of bitter emotion.

She summoned a small smile. “It looks like it could use a few more people, Mom. Maybe even people like us.”

The creases on her mom’s forehead smoothed. “Good!” She smacked the steering wheel enthusiastically. “I wholeheartedly agree. Why don’t you wake up Sarah? We’ll be at our new home in no time.” She stepped on the gas.

An Agent's Inbox #21

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock,

Your appreciation of female power-driven narrative attracts me to your representation. If you enjoy tales of growth, diversity, and the art world, my novel may interest you.

Down-and-out stripper Velvet spends her nights dancing at the Boom Boom Room, Tampa’s dirtiest nightclub, and dreading the club owner’s demands for sex. So when eccentric painter Byron Beauvoisin offers her a job as muse and nude model at his avant-garde art studio on the refined side of town, she goes for it. 

There she befriends his clan of devoted students and blossoms into a confident woman with creative potential. But the experimental practices of the art studio spark indignation in the community, followed by a protest and police questioning.

Then Byron is brutally murdered. Velvet is the sole witness, but who would believe the testimony of a barely conscious ex-stripper? Not the police and certainly not Byron’s neighbors. In fact, they may be hiding the killer. 

Velvet must choose whether to face or flee a community that would rather see her dead, all while balancing two potential lovers and a shot at fame.

PAINT THE RAIN is a contemporary women’s fiction novel of 87,000 words. I am an active member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the Florida Writers Association. Below you will find the first 250 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

G.L.


PAINT THE RAIN

Byron Beauvoisin’s first visit to the Boom Boom Room didn’t affect me much, except for the fact that he turned down the private dance I offered. Or the fact that my boss Matty almost beat the crap out of him. Nothing unusual. That clammy Sunday night, after the dinner crowd petered out and left the place dead, a giant worry weighed me down--how to make the request that had burned in my brain for over two weeks. 

Sweat started under my arms at the thought of a confrontation with Matty. I’d almost asked twice but wimped. Tonight I’d walk straight up to him and say, Please, Matty, please let me quit hooking. 

I loitered at my station in the dressing room, brainstorming reasons he should help me clean up my life. My only family, Grammie, died four months after I turned eighteen. Since her loss, I vowed to purge the coke habit. And I did it, even though it took two energy-sucking stints of rehab. My dance style proved I’d transformed myself--I was Boom Boom’s best. Not that ‘best’ meant much in this sagging mildew shack on seedy Nebraska Ave. Point was, if he had been a caring, sensitive boss, Matty would have wanted to help me be my best self.

But caring, sensitive dudes didn’t manage strip joints in the nastiest neighborhood of Tampa, and Matty sure as h*** wasn’t a self-improvement kind of guy.

An Agent's Inbox #20

Dear Ms Johson-Blalock,

I see that you are currently seeking contemporary young adult fiction and that you have a special interest in unreliable narrators and stories with a psychological focus. My manuscript may be of interest to you. CROSSROADS (69,000 words) is a contemporary young adult novel with elements of suspense and romance. 

When fifteen-year-old Bliss Peters moves to a new town to live with her dad’s new girlfriend and daughter Paige, she thinks it could be a chance to start over. Always the overweight girl, she resolves to lose weight, believing this will be key to her transformation. But what starts as determination soon becomes a dangerous obsession. 

Paige Doyle is fourteen and a popular, talented dancer. She had the perfect life until a tragic accident and her dad wound up in prison. More than anything, Paige wants her family back together. But the intrusion of Bliss and her father sets Paige off on a spiral of destructive behaviour and she’ll stop at nothing to drive them out.

When sixteen-year-old Gretel Le’s brother is killed in an accident, she is left to pick up the pieces. Forced to put her own needs last, she cares for her alcoholic mother and young sister. When she receives an email from a mysterious admirer, she finds a confidant, friend and potential love-interest. But is he who he says he is?

Making use of different formats such as emails, food logs, letters and newspaper articles, CROSSROADS is a story about three teenagers whose lives become linked through family, tragedy, secrets and lies. I am a clinical psychologist who specialises in child and adolescent issues.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration

Sincerely,
J.C.


CROSSROADS

I had that sinking feeling all through French. And as the minute hand crept two minutes, then three minutes past one, I knew it was going to happen again. As soon as Mrs Kingsley dismissed us, I hurried out of the classroom and down the hill towards the Year 10 area. Why did she always let us out late? And why did the language centre have to be at the opposite end of the school?

The common room was basically deserted with only a few students milling around the lockers, and none of them were Taylor and Jess. At my locker, I stalled, pretending to reorganise my books and folders, all the while looking over my shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of Jess’s long brown hair or Taylor’s black hoodie that she was forever getting dress-coded for wearing. After five minutes I had to admit it. They’d already gone. I could have walked around the school looking for them, but I hated walking around by myself, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. 

I grabbed the Jane Austen novel from my bag and slunk down the corridor towards the girls’ toilets. I went into the far left cubicle, sat down, and opened my book. Soon, I was transported to Emma’s world of glamorous balls, matchmaking pursuits, and misunderstandings with eligible bachelors. It seemed more real to me than my boring life where nothing ever changed. 

The bathroom door opened and noise from the yard outside floated in.

‘Thank God we escaped,’ came a familiar voice.

An Agent's Inbox #19

Dear Jennifer Johnson-Blalock:

When DC Madam Faith Crawley receives a call from former client, Senator Bill Drummond, she thinks it’s the answer to her prayers. The money he offers her to smear political rival Finn Billings will save her company, her lifestyle, and her girls. Finn is the Tea Party’s wet dream, and if Drummond can’t smear his squeaky-clean image, he can kiss his senate seat goodbye. 

Raised in the shadow of a political magnate, Finn seems more enamored with the rocks he collects than with politics. While offering to make over Finn into a political powerhouse, Faith plots against Finn--but in the process falls in love with her mark. Now she has a tough decision to make: turn over the incriminating pictures of Finn to save her own a** or give up everything for the sake of love.

FULL GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE is my work of women’s fiction complete at 90K words. 

I earned my MFA in creative writing from Wilkes University, and I am the Regional Director of the Florida Writers’ Association, Palm Beach County. I lead three local writers’ critique groups, and my blogs have appeared on The Good Men Project, and DivorcedMoms.com. I was senior editor of Fabulous 40rties Magazine and am an active member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the Florida Writers’ Association. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Sincerely,
C.D.


FULL GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE

I was sitting across the table from one of the most dangerous men in Washington. William Drummond, aka slippery Bill, had the hungry look in his eyes of a half-starved animal. The greediness in his gaze could’ve been attributed to my dress’s plunging neckline, but I soon realized Drummond had other things on his mind. Complications which involved me. And like the aged steak slowly digesting in my belly, sharing company with the man who almost killed one of my girls did not sit well. 

Still, I had problems. I had to at least hear him out.

I lifted my empty champagne flute and motioned for a refill. Drummond obliged. 

The bubbly was good and dry, and it was tempting to down the bottle, but I needed a clear head since I was dealing with someone less trustworthy than my drycleaners. 

While sipping my drink, I looked around. Subdued conversation and the sound of china tinkling filled my ears. The Capital Grille was an ideal setting for whatever Drummond had in mind. The place was elegant, a landmark decorated in a combination of old money rich and frou-frou contemporary. 

A place one didn’t make a scene. 

I glanced at my watch. Forty minutes had passed, and Drummond still hadn’t mentioned why he’d invited me to lunch. It was time to end the pleasantries and get down to business.

“I was surprised you called,” I said, circling my flute on the tablecloth. “But you hinted it was urgent.”

An Agent's Inbox #18

Dear Jennifer Johnson-Blalock,

We've had retellings of the classics: Cinderella as a cyborg, Elizabeth Bennett and zombies.

The Girl Who Said No To God reworks an even older classic. It’s based on the (fictitious) legend that before God sent the angel Gabriel to ask Mary to be the mother of the Messiah, he asked twelve other young women first.

The twelfth, Keziah, who’s seen too many tragedies in her short life, is willing to tell God exactly what He’s done wrong. In this YA historical novel, complete at 57,000 words, we witness village life under oppressive Roman rule and female life under patriarchy and catch glimpses of Biblical characters, including Mary herself, along the way.

My first novel, Brother’s Keeper, Sister’s Child, was published by a small literary press, Carolina Wren. I won first place in a short story competition judged by the late Southern novelist, Doris Betts. That story was subsequently published, as was an essay in the Phillips Exeter Academy’s book of memoirs, Exeter Remembered.  I wrote arts reviews and lifestyle columns as staff writer for The Knoxville News Sentinel, and somewhere in the archives of the U.S. Senate, have a speech in the Congressional Record from time working there.  My play, The First Mrs. Crockett, won first place in a regional theater competition and was subsequently produced. I contribute regular YA book reviews to the Sewanee Mountain Messenger as well as occasional columns to other papers. I was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers Conference, where I studied with novelists Tim O’Brien and Ellen Douglas. I hold an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a Master’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to hearing from you.

M.S.


THE GIRL WHO SAID NO TO GOD

I’ll be remembered as the girl who said no to God.

If anyone remembers me at all. The fact that I turned You down pretty much guarantees that when my earthly remains crumble into our Galilean soil, my name will disappear as well.

Keziah.

Keziah?

People will shrug their shoulders. “Never heard of her.”

Mary, now--. Her name will live forever. In songs and stories, hymns of praise and prayer.

My name? It will die right along with me.

“Write,” my Aunt Martha snaps, pushing a quill pen into my fingers. “You won’t talk about what happened. So write it down. Get it all out into the open.  All of it. No one else has to read it. Just--get it out. It’s all you think about anyway, am I right?”

Of course she’s right. My Aunt Martha usually is.

Which doesn’t make it any easier.  I lift my eyes to hers and glare.

“Well, that’s an improvement over staring at the wall,” she says, before marching back to the low stone house, her short figure sturdy as a young heifer’s beneath her homespun robe.

She leaves out the part I overheard her say yesterday to Aunt Mary: “…with that look of death in her eye.”

Staring at the wall: that’s about all I’ve done since they brought me south from Nazareth here to Bethany, a quiet village just outside Jerusalem where Martha lives with Mary, my youngest aunt. Neither ever married, though I’m sure Mary, anyway, had her chances.

An Agent's Inbox #17

Dear Jennifer, 

If you are looking for an MC you could bond with over drinks, Alexis Gold would be more than happy to regale you with stories about her re-entry to the single life and her foodie tendencies.

Advertising copywriter Alexis Gold, 33, has just been dumped by her boyfriend of seven years. Firmly planted in the denial stage, she throws herself into a new business pitch at the Atlanta ad agency where she works. Once the pitch is over, Alexis has nothing left to distract her--so she does what she always does when things get tough: she runs.

At first, Destin, Florida provides Alexis with a welcome escape. It’s been twenty years since she visited the sleepy beach town where she spent summers growing up, and after one breath of the salty air, she can’t remember why she stayed away so long. 

As Alexis reconnects with her old beach friends, forgotten memories of the last summer she spent in Destin resurface. Most of the memories make her smile, but others leave her feeling unsettled, and it isn’t until a friend’s husband kisses her that she understands why. The kiss triggers a suppressed memory that brings with it feelings of hurt, betrayal and mistrust that make Alexis question her past and current relationships. Now she must decide whether to run again, or for the first time in her life, stop and face the music. 

FACE THE MUSIC is upmarket women’s fiction, complete at 117,000 words. It not only tells the self-discovery story of Alexis Gold, but it also gives readers a realistic look inside the advertising industry and how much things may or may not have changed since the days of Mad Men. 

Like Alexis, I am a writer / creative director at an ad agency. While I have written hundreds of TV and radio commercials, billboards, print ads and online banners, this is my first novel. I am also an active member of WFWA. 

Per the “An Agents Inbox” guidelines, I’m including the first 250 words below. Thank you so much for your time and consideration. 

A.H. 


FACE THE MUSIC

I have many talents, one of which is avoidance--I can avoid something or someone like it’s nobody’s business. I also have a special knack for finding free food. The second isn’t really a talent, it’s more like a perk of working in advertising. And the first, well, that explains why I’m pulling into the parking garage of my office on a Sunday night. 

Mine isn’t the only car here, which practically doubles my chances of finding free food. A good thing, since my stomach has been growling for hours, and my refrigerator is empty in silent protest. Grocery shopping used to be his job. 

At least the odds are pretty good I’ll find leftovers from one of the junior creative teams taking advantage of overtime meals. Or there’s always the secret stash of granola bars that my art director partner, Becky, hides under the Tampax box in her bottom drawer. It’s a brilliant hiding spot for snacks when you work in an office like ours that has more in common with a frat house than corporate America. 

As the elevator doors open on the 19th floor, I’m greeted with the aroma of melted mozzarella, pepperoni and green peppers. Following the trail like a bloodhound, I cross the dark grey cement floor of the reception area where faux graffiti lets clients and job applicants know they are in the presence of Creativity. 

My key card lets me in behind the magic curtain where there isn’t a wizard, just rows of cubicles.

An Agent's Inbox #16

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock,

I am seeking representation for my manuscript, HARVEY THE BEDAZZLER. It is a contemporary middle grade novel with some speculative elements, complete at 37,000 words.

Eleven-year-old Sydney thinks her only problems are losing her best friend to the most popular girl at school and overhearing her parents say something about a divorce. But when her family travels to Amelia Island, Florida to attend the funeral of a grandfather she barely remembers, things really begin to unravel.

For the first time, Sydney hears stories about Grandpa Harvey’s too-incredible-to-be-true adventures. Like the tale about how her grandpa was rescued by a giant turtle when he was in Vietnam. And one where her grandpa entered a pig in a dog show--and won. And another about how he made repairs on a witch’s house in exchange for a map to find his way out of the swamps. But Sydney’s dad, who’s still holding a grudge, thinks they’re all lies and wants to bury the stories with his father.

Sydney, with the help of her new friend, Nick, has only days to find proof and convince her dad that the stories are true. Along the way she might find the courage to have an adventure of her own and finally get to know her grandfather. And just maybe she can help fix the hole in her dad’s heart and save her family from falling apart.

I’m a member of SCBWI and a school counselor in one of the largest school systems in the Southeast. I read that you liked literary middle grade. HARVEY THE BEDAZZLER can best be described as Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions (Daniel Wallace) for kids, alternating between the present and past (1960s-1970s) in a way similar to Holes.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
D.E.


HARVEY THE BEDAZZLER

It’s weird to go to a stranger’s funeral, especially when it’s your grandfather’s. But there we were, headed to Amelia Island to “pay our respects” to a man I’d only seen once when I was a baby and again when I was five. Pay our respects…what a weird thing for Dad to say, seeing as how he didn’t seem to respect Grandpa Harvey all that much.

At first I’d begged Mom to let me stay home. I mean, I barely knew my grandfather, and I’d planned my first week of summer already. It was opening week for the neighborhood pool and my only chance to win back my former best friend, Jenna.

But Mom wouldn’t understand, so I’d reminded her about the mile-long seventh grade gifted summer reading list and how she’d forgotten to get the books from the library. It would take an average of 19.5 pages each day, including weekends, to finish before school started again, and I had to get to the library pronto.

But she’d said, “Forget it, Sydney. We’re not leaving an eleven-year-old girl home alone while the rest of us go to Florida.” When I reminded her I’d be twelve in thirty-seven days, she gave me a disappointed look like I should be ashamed for trying to get out of going to my grandfather’s funeral.

She was right. I was a horrible person.

At least she let me sit up front with Dad so my younger brother and I were separated for the almost six-hour drive from Atlanta to Amelia.

An Agent's Inbox #15

Dear Ms. Jennifer Johnson-Blalock,

Based on your interest in diversity and contemporary middle-grade, I am submitting to you my upper middle-grade mystery with light fantasy elements CODE X: DA VINCI’S SECRET. It is complete at 48,000 words and is told from a dual POV. Lockwood & Co. meets the Wells and Wong Detective Society in this stand-alone book with series potential. 

Twelve-year-old Jack Nash lives in a house full of weird things: a rare Da Vinci journal and a ghost who communicates via Post-it notes. 

When a supernatural being invades Jack’s home shortly after his dad purchases the Codex Hammer, he doesn’t lose any sleep over the off-key phantom. But he won’t leave Jack alone, torturing him with non-stop karaoke and nagging-by-sticky-note to find his killer. 

Adventurous Piper McHenry moves into the secluded historic district where nothing ever happens, and the only other kid her age is Jack, a boy in a back brace. There goes adventure. When Jack asks for Piper’s help in solving the ghost’s murder so Jack--and the ghost--can rest in peace, he doesn’t have to ask her twice. After another person drops dead, they must learn to work together and unlock the mystery of the Codex in order to find out who is next on the killer’s list.

I am a member of SCBWI and Children’s Book Insider and am actively involved in their critique groups. This manuscript won third place in the AUTHORS.me Diversity contest (September 2016). 

I have pasted the first 250 words of my manuscript below. My manuscript is available in part or in full upon request. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Warm Regards,
J.L.H.


CODE X: DA VINCI'S SECRET

Our house was rigged with 24/7 security, but not because of the ghost. I pressed the eight-digit code, jack0315--my name and birthday--into the keypad on the front door. After I slipped inside, I expected our Rent-a-Cop’s usual frisking or another background check. I live here. It gets old. I searched the living room where the weird artifacts hid behind bulletproof glass. No sign of the security guard or my dad or the supernatural being haunting my house.

In the kitchen, I threw a bag of popcorn in the microwave. Without the annoying ghost around, this might be the best night ever. But as the seconds ticked down, yellow squares of paper popped onto every surface. I’d never heard of the dead communicating with sticky notes. 

You’re out of T.P.

Did you locate the smoking gun?

Try watching Law & Order or Matlock or CSI.

My dead neighbor had yet to convince me he was murdered. Who was Matlock anyway? Franklin was such a drama ghost.

As I ignored the rest of the notes and headed into the living room, the floor lurched beneath my bare feet. I stumbled and dropped my bag of popcorn. A cold sensation swam up my spine, or was that my back brace? My dad thinks all the bizarre things happening lately are a direct result of living in an old house. Wrong. I blamed the ghost and his endless pranks and tricks, like the lights blinking on and off.

“Boring,” I yelled.

An Agent's Inbox #14

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock,

Professor Beatrice Blake always figured that by twenty-six she’d feel like an adult instead of an awkward teenage PhD student. Despite all her accomplishments, the bookish girl still dominates.

A relationship with the new ski instructor, Jake, should do the trick. Athletic, light-hearted, and far outside the academic realm, Beatrice reasons he’ll bring variety to her life. Jake insists he likes her old-fashioned ways. Until her inability to even say the word s-e-x, let alone perform the act, brings them to a halt faster than her recently perfected parallel stop. Her students have more experience than their history professor. It’s time to figure out how to join the modern age.

Though, Beatrice may have her back to the whiteboard, instead of facing it, it’s the same place she’s been since age fifteen--at the University. Rather than grades and a diploma on the line it’s now performance reviews and tenure in jeopardy. The department dean is demanding her overdue research article for the academic journal. For the first time Beatrice rebels and plunges ahead with the crafting of a historical romance.

Even Grandpa, who she is caregiver for, is seeing more action than her. While her life seems like a fly stuck in molasses he is moving ahead, becoming engaged to the widow down the road.

Between conquering the black diamond run and searching through dusty tomes, Beatrice must make the transition to a woman of substance and depth or remain trapped within the insecurities of youth.

Beatrice Blake, Novice is a 76,000-word contemporary romance. It is a stand-alone book with series potential.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
N.M.W.


BEATRICE BLAKE, NOVICE

Beatrice's hand shook and her empty glass clunked onto the granite counter. The sound rang through the silent house. She fought against the bone deep fatigue and the emotional exhaustion that came after a week of twelve hour days filled with hard labor. Only adrenaline, nervousness, and possibly the thirty ounces of Coke she'd drunk that day, kept her standing--that and the fact that this was good-bye. Beatrice looked up at Liam, her brother’s lifelong best friend and, this week, her personal savior. She loved how tall he was, that even at her taller than average height she had to tilt her head back to see his face. She realized, once again, despite trying to be conscious of it, despite knowing it was wrong, they stood too close, too close for a married man and his best friend's sister to be standing. She took a deliberate step backward.

Liam spoke in a low voice. His wife slept in the next room, her grandfather snored in the guest room down the hall. "You sure you're okay to drive tomorrow?"

"Yes, I'll be fine. I don't have much choice. I'm presenting at the university seminar in two days and classes start Wednesday. I'll push through to Salt Lake in one go. That'll give me a day to prep for the seminar and get Grandpa somewhat settled." She watched her fingers as they twisted the hem of her shirt refusing to look at Liam's hazel eyes because if she did she'd melt like chocolate left in the summer sun.

An Agent's Inbox #13

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock:

Paris Escala is the perfect progeny for an aspiring Republican Presidential candidate: straight-A student, star basketball player, Ivy League shoo-in. Except Paris has a secret that even his sister Rose doesn’t know. It’s not Julia Capua--his ideal political partner--he’s attracted to, but her forbidden boyfriend, Montae Romero. Still, dating Julia would put an end to all of the rumors about Paris, and might finally make his control-freak dad proud. 

But a nosy reporter from the Washington Post is doing her best to get a Pulitzer by investigating Paris’s family; his sister is struggling with managing her diabetes and her love life; and his best friend is starting fights that land him in the hospital. Paris has to deal with these problems and decide how to keep his life from becoming a tragedy.

Complete at 58,000 words, A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES is a contemporary Romeo and Juliet with a twist of House of Cards. It will appeal to fans of Shakespeare and WHEN YOU WERE MINE by Rebecca Serle. A full manuscript is available upon request.

I graduated from Vassar College and have worked as an intern for Inklings Literary Agency, though my full-time job is as an elementary school librarian. In addition, I am a member of SCBWI and Scribblers of the Eastern Time Zone, an online critique group. I have been published in Cobblestone magazine and Flash Fiction World-Volume 4. My debut YA Paranormal Romance, THREE WISHES, was published in April 2014 by Astraea Press/Clean Reads.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
D.K.


A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES

My palms were moist. I’d never been able to control my nerves completely, despite the number of appearances I’d made alongside my dad. I took a deep breath to steady myself. Yup, smelled like money--like all of these events we attended.

Trying to focus on my role as official sidekick, I surveyed the scene from the top of the ballroom stairs. It was then that I caught my first glimpse of him mingling below: he was pure young hotness, sharply contrasting with the older, fleshier crowd. I couldn’t ignore the color rising in my cheeks and the sudden twist in my stomach; part dread, part anticipation, and part something I couldn’t--wouldn’t--name.

I struggled to compose myself and straightened my tie again. My dad brushed by, the odor of his cologne enveloping me, distracting me from my reverie. His aide, Sam, standing at attention, asked, “Ready, Mr. Secretary?” 

Picking at imaginary lint on my sleeve, Dad examined me one last time, then nodded and gave a thumbs-up. “Born ready, Sam.” Dad let out his trademark guffaw, beaming as he began his descent down the marble stairs to the ballroom below, strutting in his custom-made designer tuxedo and Italian shoes. Music boomed from the speakers hidden around the room while lights glistened off the beadwork on the women’s fancy dress gowns.

Carefully, I trained my eyes away from that spot below where I knew Montae Romero had last been standing. He was forbidden fruit in more ways than one.

An Agent's Inbox #12

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock:

In 1880, sixteen-year-old Adrianna is the sole heir to Peruvia’s throne. When her cousins in Bolivia make another attempt on her life she flees to her fiancĂ©e, Marcelo and Brasilia’s future king for her safety and the security of her nation. Too bad he doesn’t want her leaving Adrianna fearful for the alliance. 

Adrianna’s ladies devise a plan to make the future king fall in love with her Adrianna starts to understand the connection she had to the king’s illegitimate son Rafael. As she tries to make Marcelo fall for her Adrianna begins receiving mysterious notes in her room, warning of danger to come. Soon after, strange things begin endangering her life, and threaten the alliance with their frequency. The only person she feels she can trust is Rafael, the king’s illegitimate son and Marcelo’s older brother, but he’s dangerous in his own way with secrets of his own. Her heart is supposed to lie with Marcelo, but how can she when Rafael has more feelings for her than her own fiancĂ©. 

With rumors traveling around court of Bolivia’s desire to begin another revolution Adrianna knows there’s no time to waste she needs her ladies plan to work fast because Peru is depending on her. If she can’t put aside her feelings for Rafael and secure the alliance with Brazil, her entire reign will be in jeopardy. She thought the alliance was safe until the castle seer tells her otherwise.

HER GRACE WILL REIGN is a young adult alternative historical complete at 70,000 words. Fans of CW Reign and Richelle Mead’s Glittering Court will love HER GRACE WILL REIGN.

I am currently getting my Master of Arts in Library Science. Per your guidelines, I have pasted the first 250 words. 

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work.

Sincerely,
V.P.


HER GRACE WILL REIGN

Adrianna knew the crown had always been in jeopardy. 

Adrianna knew it as did her mother and the Privy Council. For as long as her cousins ruled Bolivia they would never stop the attempts on her life. She bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted metal. She tried not to lean into the ribbing of her corset. 

“Your grace,” a voice called.

Adrianna tilted her head snapping her thoughts from the fate her father left her as the aroma of candlewick filled her nostrils. 

“Yes, Lord Octavio,” Adrianna said. 

“The Privy Council asked your opinion on what should be done about Bolivia,” Lord Octavio said.

Adrianna knew what she was about to tell would set them on edge, but she knew what she believed was right. It was best to prevent conflict rather than to start it.

“Your grace,” a maid said. “I shall retreat to your chambers and see to your gowns.”

“Thank you,” Adrianna said. The maid bowed before exiting the room. She snapped her attention back to the Privy Council.

“I firmly believe,” Adrianna said. “We should do nothing.”

Heads around the table turned facing each other whispering at the response they never would have dreamed of hearing. Members on the council had wanted to fire the first shot, but Adrianna knew the decision she was making was to protect her people.

“I beg pardon?” Lord Octavio said. “Do nothing?” 

“Yes,” Adrianna said. “If the first shot is fired by us, and Bolivia retaliates who knows what they’ve got planned.”

An Agent's Inbox #11

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock,

Sarah Lowe knows the labels: ADHD, Asperger syndrome, autism. Words pasted on kids who don’t fit inside neat little boxes. Labels that don’t belong on her son.

Except not many nine-year-olds crawl under the table and whimper like a dog when they’re upset. And most of them don’t come unglued over a too-thick cucumber slice or an overdone cinnamon roll. Maybe her son isn’t just quirky, and maybe finding the right label will make life easier for him. And her.

Sarah dives into a complicated new world of doctors and therapists. She embraces every tool they offer--from swings to timers to lessons in self-control via race car driving--to help her son navigate life’s ups and downs.

But experts aren’t cheap, and Sarah’s husband is convinced she’s looking for problems where none exist. Sarah’s still not sure what she believes, but figuring out how to help her son is worth any cost. Even if the price is her marriage.

Complete at 88,000 words, SMALL THINGS is a work of women’s fiction that will appeal to fans of the character-driven narratives and flawed protagonists of Kristina Riggle and Jodi Picoult. Small Things is my debut novel. In my current role as a respite caregiver for children with special needs, I work directly with children on the autism spectrum and their families.

Thank you for your consideration.

H.S.


SMALL THINGS

Sarah stepped into the hallway and smiled: coffee and cinnamon. Michael was doing his best to bring some happy to this birthday morning.

He stood at the sink washing strawberries when she entered the kitchen. The rising sun framed in the window behind him bathed everything in golden light, like something out of a fairy tale. She wrapped her arms around him and kissed the back of his neck. "Good morning, Prince Charming."

He returned her kiss with a more heated one. "Prince Charming, huh?"

"Yep. Even if you have been stealing strawberries meant for your son's lunchbox."

He grinned and popped a berry into his mouth. “I thought I’d take Aiden to school today."

Her eyebrows shot up as she filled a mug with steaming coffee. “Maybe I should call you Super Dad.”

“I figured Super Mom deserves a break on her birthday."

Sarah groaned. “Do you realize I’m officially closer to fifty than twenty-one?”

“And even more beautiful than the nineteen-year-old girl I married.”

“I think you’d better get your eyes checked, old man.”

Michael wagged his finger at her. “Watch who you’re calling old, missy!” He chopped a cucumber into thick, uneven slices.

She winced. "I can do that."

"That's okay."

"It's just," her gaze drifted to the pile of cucumbers, "He likes them cut a little thinner." 

The shrill beeping of the kitchen timer pierced the air. 

Michael's lips tightened in a thin line and he set the knife down. "Fine. I've got to get the rolls out anyway."

An Agent's Inbox #10

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock,

I am seeking representation for THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING, upmarket women’s fiction dusted with magical realism and complete at 88,000 words. As you reference that you are looking for #OwnVoices manuscripts and women’s fiction I thought my book, with a protagonist who deals with similar mental health issues to mine and comes from a similar past to my own, might be a good fit for your list. The book is written in the vein of THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE in that magic highlights the challenge of finding yourself in the wake of dysfunctional family. Readers of Joanne Harris and Alice Hoffman will also enjoy the irrepressible magic in this novel.

Willa Waters, (Middle Willa), mother and wife, has long fled her childhood country home. Desperate to stitch together the happy family she didn’t experience growing up, she represses memories of her abusive childhood to focus on being a loving wife and mother. Instead she finds herself obsessed with bleaching bathrooms and military style bed making in an effort to order her world to such an extent that she hasn’t time to think of the past. That is until the magical garden from her childhood reappears.

As the garden begins to regrow her current house transforms into her childhood home and her carefully ordered life is ripped apart as she is transported back to country Boonah where she grew up. The garden also confronts her with Little Girl, her eight-year-old self and Silver Willa, her one hundred and three-year-old self.

With the help of Little Girl and Silver Willa, Middle Willa begins to face and believe some of her childhood memories and, with the help of a counsellor, she decides to confront her father. But the healing process is halted when her father calls Willa a liar and his version of events from the past implicate that Willa wasn’t abused but gave consent. When Middle Willa’s gravesite is found by Silver Willa, it appears time is running out for Middle Willa to challenge her father and change her future choice to end her life. If Middle Willa rejects the truths her other selves bring about her innocence her father’s lies will destroy her hope, her chance for healing and her future.

THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING is set in Boonah, Australia, where I reside, and draws from my own experiences of healing from trauma by nurturing and embracing the little girl I once was. This is a story of hope for readers who have faced trauma and are now trying to reconnect with their identity and worth. As a winner of the March 2016 Pitch to Publication Twitter contest, this novel has benefited from working with professional editor Sione Aeschliman. My writing has appeared in Mused Literary Review and MOPS Australia, among other markets. The first fifty pages of my novel are attached as a word document to this email as requested.

My sincere thanks for your consideration,

T.B.


THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING

Willa Waters

Before

8

The ocean arrives in a box.

Moon sees it in my backyard, so do I. The cardboard is soggy where it sits in the dirt, dead leaves clinging to the sides. A white card the size of postcard is stuck on top. Waves that look a bit like storm clouds are drawn in swirls on one side; the blues and greens like bruises. On the other side in loopy handwriting it reads, 

One Ocean: Plant in the backyard.

Dig too deep and the roots suffocate. 

Too shallow and the roots won't anchor. 

Standing over the box, I scratch my head, look over my shoulder and then stare at the box again. Mango Girl, my mango tree, stands behind me. Watching too. I tuck the card inside my dressing gown and underneath my vest close to my skin where you should keep all special things. My breath curls in the cold and I watch the curls as they make shapes. 

“You can be my friends, shapes,” I whisper. “Cold-shape friends.”

There's no address, no stamps, no name on the box at all. The string falls off without much help. A bit of help. Okay, I pulled. 

What kind of ocean arrives in a box? You should be able to collect oceans. That’d be some kind of magic job. That's what I told Nannie the other day. Then you could pour one into a jar and take it home.

An Agent's Inbox #9

Dear Jennifer Johnson-Blalock,

After reading your interview with David Slayton, I thought you might be a good fit for SIGN OF THE COCOA BEANS. Complete at 35,000 words, the tone of this upper middle grade is similar to THE BITTER SIDE OF SWEET but it's more focused on discovering Deaf culture like the TV show SWITCHED AT BIRTH.

When making a choice between saving a life and rescuing his neighbors’ crops, 12-year-old Tau accidentally sets fire to his African village. He loses all hope of gaining acceptance among the villagers who consider his deafness a sign of dangerous unintelligence. Only his brother, Sam, shields him from abuse and encourages the villagers to give Tau another chance. When Sam is taken by a menacing man, Tau will risk anything to find him.

With only one clue left behind--a burlap bag with a mysterious symbol--Tau follows their tire tracks to the nearby city of Bamako, Mali. He loses the trail and finds himself lost and afraid until he meets Koowa, a Hard-of-Hearing girl with albinism. She not only introduces him to Deaf culture, she secures his job in a candy shop. While he’s working in the store, a matching burlap sack filled with cocoa beans arrives with the supply shipment. He discovers the darker side of chocolate and, more importantly, Sam’s location: a cocoa plantation south of Mali.

Koowa agrees to help Tau rescue his brother, but in sight of their goal they are stopped by the border patrol. Stranded, they realize abduction by the same child trafficker who took Sam is their only ticket into Cote d’Ivoire--a place where children go to never return.

I am former ASL student, and I'm actively working with sensitivity readers to maintain the quality of the cultures found in this manuscript. Thank you for your time. 

Sincerely,
A.H.


SIGN OF THE COCOA BEANS

Tau struck a match and lit the edges of the corn leaves until they curled away, taking the flames with them. Small embers grew into a billowing fire, engulfing the stems and creeping along the field. 

Tau wandered to his tree several yards away where he could feel the air if an unexpected wind arose. He slung his arm around the trunk and grabbed a branch, hoisting himself up higher and higher until he could watch the fire spread. Only bare cornstalks remained of his labors. Dying evidence of the sweat and aches he had sacrificed to grow food for his family and village. Kernels picked from dry cobs waited in barrels to sow next year.

The fire steadily consumed the field, gradually wrapping its long fingers around the next row of cornstalks. 

Ash will feed the hungry soil, he reminded himself. Tau could feel the warmth from the flames inside him, acknowledging his work well done. 

Then the winds changed.

A swift breeze swept into the tree, twirling loose leaves into a delicate dance--a dangerous one. Tau climbed down the branches and glanced toward the pile of farm tools. Rust caked the blade of the hoe leaning against the hut and the wooden handle was cracked. If he tilled the ground a few paces farther from the field, he could keep the fire contained. 

The breeze grew stronger, and as Tau grabbed the last branch he stopped. On the other side of the farm, the cornstalks stirred.

An Agent's Inbox #8

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock:

Julie and her older sister Carter have different memories of the night of their mother’s accident. Julie was at the hospital trying to convince the doctors--and herself--that the traces of heroin found in her mother’s blood were a mistake. Carter was drowning memories of their latest mother-daughter fight with loud music and drinking games. 

Eleven months after their mother entered a medically-induced coma, the uncommunicative sisters attempt reconciliation by teaming up at a local celebrity’s annual scholarship competition. Carter wants to transfer a local school in the spring so she can stay with her friends. Jules has always dreamed of attending Cornell. But unlike the usual intricate puzzles and week-long scavenger hunts, this year’s challenge is in a league of its own: contestants must find the donor’s missing daughter.

Guided by the clues the kidnapped girl left behind, Carter and Julie’s search takes a deadly turn when the original kidnappers try to stop their investigation by any means necessary. The clues keep circling back to their mother’s accident, causing Julie and Carter to disagree on which trail to follow. Old tensions arise and the sisters set off on separate teams. But if they want to win their futures, they’ll have to find a way to mend their broken relationship and confront the truth about their family’s past.

Told in the sisters’ alternating perspectives, If You Find Me is a YA thriller, complete at 65,007 words and features a strong f/f romantic subplot. I am an MFA candidate at Fairleigh Dickinson University studying Writing for Young Adults under the guidance of critically acclaimed authors such as Donna Freitas, Eliot Schrefer, and Coe Booth. My fiction has appeared in The Stonecoast Review, Marathon Literary Review, and Rozlyn: Fiction by Women Writers. My writing for young adults has been awarded the Mitch and Lynn Baumeister Global MFA Scholarship in Creative Writing and the Adrian Tinsley Grant.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
B.R.M.

PS. In case my FDU degree didn't give me away, I'm a fan and reader of your lovely client Nicole Melleby's work! She wouldn't let me join this competition unless I mentioned she was amazing...as if you didn't already know :) 


IF YOU FIND ME

Eleven Months Ago - Julie

When we received news of Mom’s accident, Carter was at a party. The hospital couldn’t get in touch with her. Auntie Kris couldn’t get in touch with her. I listened to dull ring after ring, that hopeful click followed by a voice message. Please leave your message for…Carter Thompson…at the tone. When she eventually got the message, she showed up drunk.

I don’t remember much of those days. I can feel them, prickly and hard against my skin, tight and suffocating against my arteries. But I can only recall scattered phrases.

Car accident. Induced Coma.

Heroin.

I remember Lev. I remember Carter drunk and sobbing in his arms and how--standing wrapped around each other--they looked like a couple. I remember wondering if they were a couple, and hating myself for caring.

I remember a hundred cards and mismatched flowers sent by classmates. I remember they were all addressed to Carter, that she never set them up. I arranged the cards around Mom’s nightstand, and I clipped the ends of each flower and arranged bouquets from the mismatched picks.

I remember Carter avoiding the hospital. Drunk and crying as she struggled with the house keys on our doorstep at night. I remember Auntie Kris pouring her wine after dinner, how they grieved together in a language I didn’t speak.

And I remember kneeling by Mom’s bedside and feeling, in my heart, that the only person who could get me through her accident was her.

The woman in the coma.

An Agent's Inbox #7

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock,

I’d love for you to consider my 79,000-word middle grade novel, HERO BOOTS. Eleven-year old Dingo desperately wants to see his dad who lives an ocean away in the Outback of Australia. Dingo’s desperation grows when his mum’s boy boyfriend tries to pinch hit for his dad. The hard earned money Dingo saves to help his dad buy a plane ticket goes missing. Clues point to the same criminals who are breaking into local businesses. Dingo turns detective, matches wits with the suspects, and braves danger to track them down.

HERO BOOTS has the flavor of Sheila Turnage’s THREE TIMES LUCKY with its small town charm and its spunky kids.

In crafting Dingo’s story, I drew on the adventures of my two sons, of my nephews, and of the many sixth grade boys I have worked with.

P.S.


HERO BOOTS

Dad lives 8,044 miles away in the Outback of Australia. I haven’t seen him in two years. So I’m doing everything I can to get back home, even if it means getting into trouble. That’s why I’m sitting outside Mr. Bronson’s office with his beady eyes glaring down at me. 

Bronson grabs a behavior slip from his mail slot and thumbs through the papers clipped to the report. “Well, well” he says, his face looking like he’s been sucking sour balls. “If it isn’t Steve Dunagan. Back again.” He tosses my caricatures onto his desk. “I’ll give you some think time, Steve. When I return you better have a good explanation for those drawings. ” He adjusts his orange tie and disappears down the hall. 

The money I got selling sketches to my friends is crammed in my pocket. I haven’t counted it yet, but I’ll bet I have twenty bucks. When I add it to the stash I hid in the mound of blackberries across from the school, I’ll have two hundred fifty bucks to send to Dad. 

My feet start jiggling. I need one of those sour balls Bronson stockpiles in his office. I always do better when my mouth has something to work on.

“Good grief, kiddoe,” the office lady grumps. “Sit still. I can’t concentrate with all that jumping around.” She turns back to her computer.

Her wrinkled eyes and bristly baboon hair would make an awesome caricature. My fingers itch for a pencil and my sketchpad.

An Agent's Inbox #6

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock:

Harry Strickland is very methodical about hiding the cash and jewels that he and his gang of thieves steal during their high stakes jobs.

Harry thinks stashing their loot for a few years is the way to go. By laying low and staying under the radar, he and his boys will have a chance at the good life, with no one on their tail.

But Harry's gang will never decipher his trail of clues that point to their hidden loot. One by one they fall prey to Anthony Russo, an angry mob boss who will stop at nothing to revenge his son's death. Knowing he is next on Anthony’s list, Harry accepts a plea deal with the FBI in exchange for all he knows about Russo and his mob connections. 

Will the loot still be hidden when Harry gets out of jail? 

Or will the reader find where Harry Hid It?

Harry Hid It is a unique opportunity for the reader to find the clues hidden within the chapters and claim a growing cash prize that starts at 5,000 and can go as high as 500,000.

As a writer, editor, and consultant I have contributed to the success of many books within a variety of genres and categories.

In addition to my writing, I advise businesses and organizations on management techniques; helping them implement better people skills. 

I have a background in theatre as well as an MBA and PhD and enjoy speaking in front of audiences on a variety of subjects.

The other rewarding part of my time is spent in career counseling. Helping people gain clarity on what they want to do in life and by structuring their resume to target employment. Both tasks are very fulfilling, whether they are fresh out of school or displaced from a 25-year career.

I hope this query sparks your interest in learning more about Harry Hid It. I believe strongly that this story, as well as the interactive aspect of the book, has the potential to encourage people to read and bring them together in a healthy debate and fun challenge.

I am the proud owner of JJ Writing-Consulting and currently live in New Jersey. I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my query, I am available at your convenience for further discussion.

Sincerely,
J.J.M.


HARRY HID IT

Harry Strickland eyed the tollbooth coming up. The sign cautioned him to approach at 15 mph. Harry glanced down and saw that he was only 80 miles an hour above that restriction. Looking quickly at the rear view mirror, he saw the red lights of the state trooper following him and trying to keep up. Instead of touching the brake, Harry stomped down on the gas pedal, straightened the car out so that he could smoothly enter the tollbooth area, and held his breath. He zipped past the tollbooth and concentrated on zigging in and out of traffic on the Meadowbrook Parkway. Looking behind him, he saw that the cop car had slowed down a little to negotiate the toll area. Harry had put a little distance between himself and the trooper. Figuring the cop had radioed ahead for help, Harry maneuvered the Mercedes C450 so he could access the parkway area and turn the car around. 

It was a good thing he was driving a graphite gray model car and it was nighttime. When Harry was 100 feet from the turnaround, he shut down all the running lights of the car. He pulled the emergency brake up to slow the car down without his brake lights shining. As he came to the turnaround, he threw the car into low gear. The tachometer maxed out as he entered the turnaround and he yanked up on the emergency brake again. The Mercedes started to spin around.

An Agent's Inbox #5

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock:

I was so pleased to see your introduction of the new Twitter hashtag #querywin--what an encouragement to writers! I hope you’ll enjoy DROWNING IN AIR, an 82,000-word young adult contemporary novel told from dual point of view.

The first time seventeen-year-old lifeguard Calli tries to save Noah, he’s poised to jump from a way-too-high roof into a way-too-far-away pool. When he jumps anyway, she walks away. She has enough problems of her own. Like caring for her dying mom while trying to cinch the valedictorian spot and win a swimming championship.

New in town, Noah knows he has to do something big to keep from earning a reputation as a loser--or the sick kid. He doesn’t need some lifeguard with a hero complex telling him “no” like she’s his mother. Besides, he’s invincible. Surviving the heart transplant that killed his twin brother proved that.

Hard as they try to stay away from each other, Noah and Calli are drawn together by a mutual love of the water. But as Calli turns to Adderall to keep her grades up and Noah performs ever more daring feats to prove his survival wasn’t some cosmic mistake, both spiral closer to a devastating end. They have to figure out how to save each other--before it’s too late to save themselves.

DROWNING IN AIR will appeal to fans of emotionally resonant novels such as Jessi Kirby’s Things We Know by Heart and Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes.

I am the author of more than 200 children’s nonfiction books for the school and library market, published by Lerner, ABDO, Creative Education, and The Child’s World. I also make frequent author visits to schools and am a member of SCBWI.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best wishes,
V.M.B.


DROWNING IN AIR

I bury my face in the sticky-sweet grass and try to tune out the shrieks and splashes coming from the pool on the other side of the yard. The sun sears my limbs, making them heavy and light, solid and liquid, at the same time. I never want to move again.

A sharp fingernail pokes my side.

I crack one eye open, even though I already know it’s my best friend Sashi. I swat her hand away, but she pokes me again.

“What?” I grumble. 

“Check this guy out,” Sashi says, her Indian accent making “guyout” sound like one word. 

I groan. I should have known this was about a guy. The faint bite of chlorine penetrates through the smell of burgers as I push myself onto an elbow.

“First you drag me to this party. And then, when I finally manage to relax, you...” My words evaporate as I follow her gaze across the backyard, over the pool, and to Tom Brant’s mansion, site of this annual end-of-summer soiree. 

I wait a second for my brain to catch up with what I’m seeing. 

Then I spring into full-on lifeguard mode, launching myself toward the pool deck. My feet sizzle when they hit the concrete, but I keep running. 

Idiot. He’s going to kill himself. 

A guy I’ve never seen before balances at the edge of the second-story porch roof. He leans forward and flexes, the outline of his pecs and biceps standing out through his blue Superman t-shirt.

An Agent's Inbox #4

Dear Ms. Jennifer Johnson-Blalock,

THE PARIS TRIP is a completed 100,000-word women's fiction. A bit like Meredith struggling in Emily Giffin's First Comes Love and Rachel torn in Something Borrowed, my main character hides her problems and makes the universal wrong choice to set her marriage right. 

There are a lot of things Zella Weiss doesn’t want. She doesn’t want the year-long separation her husband Charlie just surprised her with. She doesn’t want to go to Paris in the middle of her marriage crisis, not with two women she barely knows. And she surely doesn’t want a man wooing her when she’s most vulnerable.

The other women know nothing of Zella’s marriage-gone-rocky, and Zella intends to keep it that way. Touring museums with quiet bouts of reflection is her plan. But Ana, a fifty-year-old newlywed going through her own troubles at home, is determined to make this trip ultra-exciting. And then there’s boisterous Robyn. No one can be that happy, no one who drinks so much. Before this vacation ends, the women must learn to rely on one another. They must agree to keep each other’s secrets. They’re creating tons. 

As a military spouse who has lived in Europe for seven years, I have drawn upon this experience to add realistic detail to the novel. I also have an EdD in Higher Education and have taught writing and research for over ten years. 

Thank you so much for your time,

C.D.


THE PARIS TRIP

It’s been only ten days since my husband Charlie delivered the worst news I’ve ever heard. And that includes when he told me he was going to Iraq. In this past week and a half, I’ve hardly spoken to that man or stayed in the same room as he, which is why it’s so weird we’re huddled together at the back door off the kitchen. The only reason I got this close to him is because I thought he was walking all the way outside, not suddenly stopping midway. 

“Sorry.” I don’t mean to shut the door on his heel. It’s just a bonus.

When he turns to face me, sandalwood aftershave wafts in with the morning breeze. We’re too close. I let go of the wooden door and take a giant step back. Why won’t he leave for work already? I look down to adjust the legs of my comfy pants that don’t need adjusting. When I look up again, he's studying my red-rimmed eyes. My arms automatically cross in front.

"Zella, I’m just saying you love Paris. And if you get some distance from all this, you might start to see things aren’t so bad." I stop looking at him when he says this last thing.

But--Paris. He’s referring to that phone message Ana Frangetti left on our machine yesterday. Apparently, she has this fabulous hotel room on the Left Bank. And now that her husband isn’t coming, she's looking for someone else to share the room.

An Agent's Inbox #3

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock, 

I am responding to your request for “contemporary, realistic young adult with a strong voice and compelling characters” as well as “books that help you figure out how to do life better”. I believe my novel, THE EDGE OF HAPPINESS, fits this description. 

Annabelle Winters has met happiness, and his name is Peter Jones.

After her mother’s death and her sister, Jane, runs away with a drug addict, sixteen-year-old Annabelle has resorted to a life of isolation and social anxiety. Her number of friends have hit an astounding zero. The only company she has is paper, a pen, and the deep recesses of her creative mind. But then she meets Peter, a Peter Pan-esque man, who invites her into a world full of love, swing dancing, and God. Where happiness reverberates off of rooftops and sings to everyone’s soul, and if only Annabelle could learn to be like him, maybe she could be happy too.

Except now Jane is back. At twenty, she's fallen in love with Peter's brother, an underage Ezra Jude. They decide to run away and burn--travel the world fast and free, no s***s given. If his beloved brother leaves, Annabelle knows Peter’s happiness, the thing she so desperately yearns to have for herself, will die.

Annabelle must warn Peter. But as Jane’s plan gets closer, Annabelle’s anxiety intensifies. She could never tell him. She’s too afraid. Peter may never want to see her again, and he could put Jane in jail. Besides, when Ezra Jude admits that he’s questioning his religion, Annabelle notices hints of darkness in Peter’s light.

Perhaps happiness is not what it seems. 

THE EDGE OF HAPPINESS is a completed 56k word YA contemporary that would appeal to fans of THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER and THE OUTSIDERS due to its shy, relatable narrator and the dire world which surrounds her. 

I am a communications major at George Mason University. This book stems from many issues I have faced during my life, and my hope is that it will one day help others going through the same.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
J.L.R.


THE EDGE OF HAPPINESS

The first time I met Happiness, I was at the park. It was summer, and my day had been filled with the usual ritual: walking downtown, past the little antique shops and old brick buildings, searching for something to spark my imagination. Then, I’d walk to the small grass area dubbed “Hudsonville Grand Park” where I would write. I wrote a lot. Especially during the summer, when the tediousness of high school lectures and mediocre grades and wearing all black, lipstick included, to scare off any form of socialization faded into bright pink workout shorts and time. Time to write. Time to create.

Today’s creation was Blake Metal from the record store down the street. His last name wasn’t really “Metal” but Schwartz. People from our high school just called him Metal because that’s what he listened to. The noise skyrocketed out of his headphones whenever he slept in the back of our chemistry class, shoulder length brown hair falling past his lip ring and onto a bare, pencil-less desk. He was the type of tall, misfit, lanky guy that got stoned every day and claimed to know every good song that was put on a record. “Music elitists,” my sister would call them. 

This morning while I walked by the record store, I saw him opening up the blinds. He had a black eye. Dark green and purple, swollen, it seemed too colorful to have been an accident. He had to have gotten it from a fight.

An Agent's Inbox #2

Dear Ms. Johnson-Blalock:

A medieval baron's daughter must marry the man who murdered her father or put the rest of her family in danger. Marguerite de Courcy is fifteen and in love with her brother's best friend. The thirty-five-year-old Earl of Felgor has already broken one young wife and is now determined to own the piece of land that is Marguerite's marriage portion.

When the earl threatens to lay siege to their castle, her brother sends Marguerite and their younger brother John to safety in London with two household knights who've known them all their lives. They must also find Marguerite's twin sister Marie and warn her of the danger. But the knights have no intention of taking Marguerite and John to safety. The earl has promised a rich reward for bringing them to him.

Though Marguerite and John escape and reach Marie, the earl's men are always on their heels. Now, racing through winding city lanes behind her sister and brother, Marguerite must make a choice. All three of them can go on running. Or she can sacrifice herself by turning into one of the side alleys and letting the pursuers capture her so the other two can get away.

My young adult historical adventure, BEYOND THE CASTLE WALLS, is set in late twelfth century England and is complete at 74,000 words.

I took graduate courses in medieval English language and literature at Indiana University. A grant from Culture Works, a local arts agency, allowed me to visit Canterbury and London. My young adult story "The Fairy Godmother's Trial" appeared online in the September 2011 issue of Enchanted Conversation, and a medieval story, "John's Bluff," took eighth place in the Children's and Young Adult category of the 2011 Writer's Digest competition. I'm an active member of SCBWI and a reviewer for childrenslit.com, a subscription website for teachers and librarians.

Many thanks for adding this contest to your busy schedule.

Sincerely,
J.D.


BEYOND THE CASTLE WALLS

Silburn Castle, July 16, 1199 

Marguerite de Courcy pressed her forehead against the trunk of the tallest apple tree and beat her fists against the bark.

I'm not ready. I'll never be ready.

All too soon, her father and her brother Hugh would ride back from the siege of Winham Castle. She would rejoice to have them safely home, but Robert Severin, Earl of Felgor, would ride with them.

She beat the bark with her fists again. He was so old. Already thirty-five. She wouldn't even be sixteen until October. And when he arrived, her freedom would end forever.

From the top of the tree, she'd be able to see if he was coming. She pulled off her shoes, her stockings, and the gauzy veil that covered her long, red-gold braid. The last time she'd climbed, she'd torn her stockings on a dead twig and suffered Hertha's fury.

She hitched up her skirts and tied them with the silk cord that circled her waist. If only all she had to worry about was the old housekeeper's anger. Being married to Earl Robert would be torment of a far worse kind.

She reached for the lowest limb and caught hold of it with both hands. The familiar feel of bark between her fingers spurred her on, and she wedged her bare right foot into the space between trunk and limb. From there she climbed, making sure to keep her skirts away from ragged wood.

An Agent's Inbox #1

Ms. Johnson-Blalock,

Sixteen year old Ivy longs to learn more about her mother stricken with a brain tumor nine years ago. When she finds her mother's journal from the summer of 1992 in a box clearly marked "Private--KEEP OUT!!!" she can't resist taking it to read with her best friend.

Within the handwritten pages, Ivy discovers her mother Angel at eighteen bound for college and rock stardom in a world on the eve of the digital revolution. But first, Angel secretly believed that God had sent her to the beach with her two best friends to save her lost true love from his own self-destruction.

While reading about her mother's seven tumultuous and unforgettable seven weeks in Ocean City, MD, Ivy learns things about her mother she wouldn't have guessed. With best friends and big dreams, she realizes they have more in common than she ever thought. But who is this mysterious true love she's never heard of? Definitely not her father!

She's dying to know, but can't risk letting on that she knows about anything in journal for fear of her father's punishment and ruining her own summer dreams.

Complete at 94K words, SUMMER,1992 is a YA/contemporary novel with a love story at its heart that will likely appeal to fans of ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell.

Thank you for time and consideration.

A.C.


SUMMER, 1992

The Discovery

“Mom? Mom! What's the matter?!” the terrified girl cried, her seven year old heart beating faster than it ever had before. Ivy watched, frozen in helplessness, as her mother shook and convulsed right there beside her. Horror filled her big blue eyes.

Just moments before on that rainy September morning, the little blonde girl had snuggled close on their yellow pull-out pinstriped couch to listen to her mother impersonated a pig, a spider, a rat, bringing them all to life. But something happened. She stumbled over a word. Then another. And another. The next one got stuck in the middle and she couldn't stop, like a talking doll low on batteries. Then she started to shake.

Still clutching Charlotte's Web, the shaking intensified. When her green eyes rolled back into her head, she dropped the book. Ivy screamed. 

“Dad! Dad!” the little blonde girl shrieked, exuding urgency like only a child can. “Something's wrong with Mom!” Her father rushed in with her younger brother Jude a few steps behind. 

That was almost nine years ago. And there hasn't been a day in the 3,195 since then, that she hasn't wished her mother hadn't had that brain tumor. Things could be different. I could know her.

Ivy checks the computer's clock in front of her for the fifth time in five minutes. Her father has been droning on with an impromptu lesson on derivative functions in the living room chair beside her for what feels like an eternity--maybe two.