So when the lovely Elana Johnson asked me to do something similar to what I did with QueryTracker, I decided to jump on the band wagon and help out. After all, the lovely organizers behind Write On Con did such a fabulous job of setting everything up, I was willing to help out in any way I could.
Plus, if you haven’t already heard, I kind of love slush.
What am I doing, exactly? Well Elana put out a call for volunteers to submit their opening pages. Fifty people entered their YA or MG opening pages, and she asked me to narrow it down.
I asked her to take out all the vampires, witches, angels and werewolves.
That left us with 17 remaining entries.
Now, before you go and blog or Tweet or get mad at me for this, please understand something: This is a really good example of how saturated the market is right now. This explains why agents are salivating over the opportunity to see something new. Because most of our slush consists of several of the same creatures and concepts.
Does it mean I’ll never sign one of these books? No. If the right twist came along with stellar writing to back it up, I’d be all over it. I have a client with a paranormal manuscript, but it’s definitely way different from what I’ve seen in YA. I just want you to understand that it is absolutely essential you stand out as much as possible from query / pitch to the manuscript / voice itself because of the current ratios of paranormal to…well…everything else…that’s currently popping up in my inbox.
I then looked at the 17 entries and decided to take out the ones which I’ve either already rejected in the past or currently have in my ‘requested submissions to read’ folder. I did this for various reasons, and this left me with 12.
So, back to the point of what this post is all about: I agreed to read the 12 (instead of narrowing it down to five as originally suggested – I like a challenge) and these awesome volunteers are cool with my not only marking where I stopped reading, but also explaining to the Interwebz why I stopped reading.
My comments will be a 110% honest. If I simply say “I didn’t connect with the voice,” then that’s what it means. If I say “It’s not for me,” then it’s just simply not something I typically gravitate to and the writing / plot wasn’t enough to suck me in and change my mind. Please understand that this is such a subjective business. My thoughts may be completely the opposite of my fellow industry professionals or they may mirror other agents’ thoughts. Totally depends.
1. TWISTED SUMMER is a contemporary YA novel where Sydney conquers depression by walking a thin line between control and obsession.
Deep breaths in and out, in and out, I recited, trying to slow my racing pulse as I headed to the locker room. Even after three years on the cheerleading squad, try-outs always did a number on me.
After changing, I headed out to my car to meet up with my teammates. As I walked up to them they were looking patiently at me like I was about to give a speech. I didn’t understand what was going on. When I got to the door of my Mini Cooper, a gift from my parents for my sixteenth birthday, I saw something lying in the front seat. Who broke into my car, I never left my car unlocked.
When I reached for the door handle to see if it was locked I saw a dozen white roses lying in the seat. Now I knew why everyone was staring at me. Since I had a history of never dating, it was strange for me- of all people- to have flowers in my car.
“Well, are you going to tell us who your secret romance is with or are we going to have to guess?” Zoey was usually the one to say something first.
“Nope. I don’t know who those are from. My guess would be my parents. You guys know about as much as I do right now.”
I really didn’t know what to expect when pulled the card from the flowers. Not that I got flowers on a regular basis, but the couple of times I had they were from my parents, usually red roses. Even then, those were at home waiting on me, not in the front seat of my car. I thought white roses were supposed to mean something different than red roses.
“Ok so which one of you knows what the white roses mean?” I thought maybe one of my all- knowing friends would have the answer to a little bit of useless trivia.
“Are you kidding me? You want to know what the color means instead of who sent them. I’m really beginning to question your mental well-being.” Zoey obviously didn’t have it. (stopped reading and started skimming)
“Yes Zoey, I want to know who sent them. I’d also like to know the meaning of white roses. The card doesn’t say anything about who put them here. Just that I would find out when I figured out what they mean. Besides, I’m still a wreck from try-outs. I know I did everything right, but how can you stand this?” I hoped there was a chance I could change the focus from my flowers to try-outs, at least for a few minutes.
“It’s the same thing it has been every year. I really don’t understand why you get so worked up each year. It’s not like you aren’t going to be put on the squad. We need you to be our number one base again. Without you how are we supposed to so beautifully execute the Flying Windmill pyramid?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, you do need me. I wondered if they were going to let us do some stunts during try-outs this year. That would have made it worthwhile to be able to show off to the underclassmen. I don’t know why I get all worked up each time around. I guess I’m just afraid I will fall on my face or something.” I was suffering from post try-out jitters and replaying everything in my head.
“Well you do have a valid concern there. In fact, how do you become so graceful when you are cheering? I swear you can’t walk down the hallway without tripping, but you can make it through an entire routine without even missing a beat.” Zoey and a couple of other girls laughed at her insult. She was right, coordination wasn’t something I was known for.
“Hey Zoey, thanks for the confidence builder. I’ll be sure to remember that the next time I’m saving your butt from hitting the floor.” Instinct told me not to worry about Zoey’s jab, but I wasn’t up for that. I knew she’d be embarrassed even by a comment like that.
We always went to eat after cheerleading try-outs. Now that we were seniors it was tradition.
While everyone decided who they would be riding with I figured I would take advantage of a few minutes of peace and quiet. I wanted to find out what the meaning of white roses was. Thank goodness for the internet on my cell phone and a quick connection.
Secrecy, innocence, and purity; how was this supposed to help me figure out where those came from? I didn’t know anyone with those qualities, at least not any guys. I was going to have fun finding out more.
For a moment I pondered the chance for me to do some reconnaissance work of my own without any of my girl friends finding out who put the flowers in my car before I did. I wanted to know why and who. I couldn’t just believe that someone all of a sudden had a crush on me and wanted to surprise me with flowers. This seemed too much like a prank from Will and Noah, a couple of close guy friends that liked to play pranks. I decided it would be better to work on solving the mystery later, right then we were celebrating and headed to Wendy’s.
Zoey and I decided to ride over together. It was only a ten minute trip, so we didn’t have time to talk about anything more than trivial topics. Mostly I kept her away from the flower subject. We talked about how both of our groups did with try-outs, who we thought would get on the squad, and started talking about what we were going to do this summer. Soon after we started fantasizing about our trip to Europe we pulled into the parking spot at Wendy’s and went inside to meet the rest of the girls.
There were six of us that had been on the squad together since we started our freshman year. Katie, Zoey, Melissa, Monika, Michelle, Christi, and me; we could be quite the little terrorists if we wanted to be. The M sisters were the worst of all when it came to mischief and mayhem within the squad. All three of them shared a room when we went to any competitions or camps and you could always count on them to bring extra coke, chips, and chocolate. The three very important “C’s of cheerleading”. While sitting at the table waiting on our food I found myself staring off into my own little world thinking about school, boys, and my upcoming summer plans. It occurred to me that the group was getting increasingly louder and louder. I was usually the one in the group that kept us socially acceptable. For once I felt like I’d rather be the instigator than the moderator.
Zoey and Melissa were throwing trash at each other while Christy and Monika were hitting on a couple of guys that had just walked in. Their laughter was grating on my nerves. It wasn’t an honest laughter. It was a high-pitched squealing laughter, kind of reminded me of a really pissed off cat meowing. The mental picture I got of the cat’s tail puffing up like a raccoon and hissing at the boys made me laugh. Watching them with the guys brought me back to the flowers. What would everyone think if the flowers were from Noah or Will? Sure they weren’t popular; both of them were part of the nerd herd. That didn’t bother me so why would it bother anyone else.
Would they react better if it were someone like AJ, captain of the soccer team? AJ was popular and confident. He knew what he wanted and went for it, the opposite of Noah or Will. If either of them were the culprit would they disown me from the squad? Would Noah or Will be ok with sharing me with the squad and the other people I hung out with? How would AJ act around all my nerd friends? As frustration set in I made myself focus on everyone around me and join in the fun.
“Hey Mel, who’s the guy Monika is drooling all over? He looks a little old for her don’t you think?”
“ Hah, there isn’t anyone too old for Mon. You know that as well as I do. I don’t know who the hell he is. He and his sidekick were ordering and then came over to talk to us. Wanna have a little fun with them? I was thinking we could mess with them a little.”
“What did you have in mind?” Melissa’s wrinkled brow and tight lipped smile suggested something horrible was going to happen. I probably shouldn’t have encouraged her, but what was the fun in that?
“I was thinking something along the lines of getting their hopes up that they will get to go out with all of us and then smashing their dreams with a swift kick to the groin?” Ok, so maybe she wasn’t thinking the way I was thinking. I was going for more humor and less harm.
“Ummm, well that would work except I’m not really in the mood for explaining to the cops why we assaulted them when all they did was innocently flirt with a deranged group of high school girls.”
“Oh come on Zoey, we aren’t deranged; just bored.” When Melissa said this I saw her golden brown eyes twinkling ever so slightly. This happened when she wanted to inflict harm on someone. I was pretty sure she teetered on a very thin line between sane and crazy.
Instead I played the moderator again and reminded everyone it was time to get back to the school. They always posted the list of people that made the squad on the backdoor of the gym. We had been gone for nearly an hour and the list was surely posted by then. It was a good diversion to keep from getting in the middle of Melissa’s plot for pain. After I pried Monika and Christi from their oh-so-enthralling conversation I got everyone else out the door and we were headed back to the school.
Melissa and Christi decided they wanted to ride back with me while Zoey went with the other girls.
I feel as though the voice is too formal for a female teen – the dialogue is awkward at points and it didn’t really have an organic feel. This is a pass for me.
2. My fantasy YA novel is about a nosy teenager who discovers far more than she can handle when her neighbors turn out to be urban unicorns.
Elizabeth Brooke was not spying. She stood in her own backyard, admiring a fine view anyone could see from the road behind her, trying out a brand new pair of binoculars. If she happened to be pointing them at the tiny guesthouse next to their barn, what was the difference? Technically, it wasn’t even off of their property.
She glanced over her shoulder, making sure the blinds of their single-story ranch house remained shut. Mom might suspect her of spying, but suspecting and knowing were two different things. Elizabeth preferred the former. She wiped her hands off on her shirt, telling herself it was the warm weather that caused them to sweat, and focused on the scene below.
The eldest of the Fischer boys lounged on the front porch, taking long lazy sips out of a glass of lemonade. He paid no attention to the world around him, flipping through the glossy pages of a magazine as he drank. A CB radio rested in his lap, along with what looked like a professional grade air horn.
Elizabeth pulled the binoculars away from her eyes. Aside from fending off bear attacks and scaring the horses, she couldn’t think of many uses for the air horn.
A sudden gust of wind rattled the door to the main house, and Elizabeth snuck a look at it to make sure it was the wind that made the door move and not her mother. Satisfied that her covert actions went undetected, Elizabeth adjusted the lenses and zoomed in, on the stables this time.
The barn nestled into the hillside, the building itself a long sweep of textured wood and corrugated metal. The roof arched high over sliding doors, giving plenty of room for a wide aisle and roomy stalls. It made a good home for their horses.
She noticed a movement in the shadows of the barn, and leaned forward. This was the moment she’d been waiting for, a good look at the kid she’d been hearing rumors about. Word was that Peter Fischer had visited her school right before summer break. He’d stood in front of the principle’s office for an hour while his father and the staff spoke. Kate said he looked creepy. Kate’s boyfriend said he looked dangerous. Elizabeth was eager to find out how much of each he was.
“What are you doing?” Mom asked from behind her.
Elizabeth dropped her binoculars, gasping when they hit a rock instead of grass. “I was just looking!”
Mom raised an eyebrow at her, the binoculars, and the view down below. “I thought you wanted those for bird watching.”
The speech Elizabeth had planned for this moment dribbled out of her mind under her mother’s matter-of-fact gaze. To give herself more time, she bent to scoop up the binoculars.
They didn’t appear damaged, but she buffed the lenses on her sleeve just in case the haze of dust on each lens hid a scratch. “You said those two were special. I wanted to see why.” (stopped reading and skimmed)
Mom pinched her nose between her fingers, and closed her eyes. “I suppose I don’t need to tell you that spying is wrong.”
All her usual witty comebacks had fizzled along with her speech. “No,” Elizabeth said, looking down. She tucked the binoculars under her elbow, hiding them from view.
“Then why–?” Mom made a jerky motion at the binoculars.
Nothing Elizabeth said would make a difference. She looked down at the cracked brickwork surrounding the viewing bench, and found the words stumbling out of her mouth anyway.
“Do you remember when Aunt Deb stayed in the guesthouse,” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, of course. That was a bad business.”
“Remember what you told me when she came?” Elizabeth pressed.
“That she was having financial trouble and needed to get back on her feet.”
Mom didn’t seem to see the connection.
“And that really skinny lady that always licked her lips?”
It took mom a minute to remember. “She bought one of our first horses.”
“Yeah, you told me that before she moved in.” Elizabeth waited for that to sink in. “Why are the Fischers here?”
Silence stretched between them, silence Elizabeth hoped Mom would fill with explanations.
“It’s not forever,” her mother said at last. “They need this. I hope you can understand that.”
Elizabeth nodded, turning away so her mother wouldn’t see the hurt on her face. Mom never hid things from her until they had come.
“I know this is going to be hard for you, but I want you to stay away from the barn for a while.” Mom said. “I’ve asked Peter and Zev to take care of the horses.”
Elizabeth twisted her lip. “Peter that kid down on the porch?”
Mom moved forward, so that she could look down at the field also. “No. Peter is that one down there.” She pointed, her finger aimed at the back of the pasture.
At first Elizabeth couldn’t see anything but endless waves of brome grass, a fence and a border of trees. Something about the boy standing by the fence blended in with the surroundings, making jeans and a button up as camouflaging as leopard spots.
He stood at the very border of the property, hands in his pockets, staring out at the forest. He didn’t look creepy or dangerous through the binocular lenses. Kate was going to flip when she heard Peter Fischer now lived in her backyard.
“Come in the house,” her mother said. “Summer will be over before you know it.”
She put a hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder, perhaps trying to lessen their emotional distance with physical closeness. It didn’t work. All Elizabeth thought of when mom touched her was how little Mom trusted her.
“I thought I’d go see Kate,” Elizabeth answered. It surprised her how easily that lie slipped from her mouth.
Mom nodded, the lines around her eyes relaxing. A wave of guilt swallowed Elizabeth. Mom might not trust her anymore, but what she was about to do would validate her.
“Don’t stay out too long,” Mom said. She gave Elizabeth’s shoulder one last squeeze, and turned toward the house.
Elizabeth ignored her, just as she tried to ignore the piercing whinny one of the horses gave. It was out of her hands now. The horses belonged to them.
The overall voice didn’t grip me as much as I would have liked. This is a pass for me.
3. YA Contemporary: Life After Send: Image-driven, high school junior Kendall Shoreman is ready to take the next step with her superstar lacrosse-playing boyfriend. After all, they’re absolutely perfect together. But when she sends him a topless text picture, what’s meant to be a private sneak preview twists into a very public display of how life can spiral out of control with one horrible click.
Thursday, 4:17 p.m.
Whoever said cell phones made life easier was full of BS. If it were true, then I wouldn’t have spent the past fourteen minutes sitting on my bed, half-naked, wondering why my thumb couldn’t do something as simple as press a button.
Girls did this sort of thing every day. Probably every minute at Pembroke, which meant I’d just wasted fourteen—no wait, fifteen—opportunities to prove to Tommy that—damn it Kendall, just do it already.
Grinding my teeth, I lifted my arm and pointed the viewfinder at my chest. A bead of sweat gathered above my upper lip. Had my phone always been this heavy? And slippery?
I shivered, flicked my gaze to the full-length mirror I’d angled toward the bed, and cringed. My skin resembled a stripped chicken’s, all puckered and pasty-looking. How was I supposed to get in the mood if I looked like something you’d find out of the packaged meat section?
Maybe I just needed to think of hotter things. Beaches with blistering sand. Coconut-scented breezes whispering across glistening, steaming skin. Dripping popsicles and cherry-stained lips. Tommy’s naked body on top of—
I slammed my eyes shut and sucked in a breath. I could smell my anxiety, and trust me—it didn’t smell like sunshine or sandy beaches. It reeked of pathetic.
When I blinked, the peephole on the camera phone seemed oceans away. A whole universe separated me and this tiny plastic device that probably cost less than two bucks to make in a sweat shop.
Pressing my lips together, I took another deep breath. My nostrils flared as I reminded myself to hold still, smile, and—
Five, six, seven, eight…
Click. The noise echoed like a shotgun in my room.
I swallowed the massive lump of saliva that had collected in my throat.
While the picture uploaded, one crawling pixel at a time, I rubbed and rubbed and rubbed the flat panel of the phone until all the smudgy prints had disappeared. I blew my bangs out of my face and allowed my gaze to drift to the image.
Okay. It wasn’t that bad. The lighting would’ve been better if I had turned on my nightstand lamp. And maybe I should’ve draped my hair over my shoulders the way models did in magazines, with their glossy tresses whispering Touch Me! Smell Me! Love Me! Or maybe I should’ve leaned forward a bit more. Sucked my stomach in another inch.
But the picture wasn’t a complete mess. I looked…playful. Kind of sexy. More importantly, I looked ready.
And wasn’t that the whole point?
The message on the screen asked if I wanted to send. For a split second I contemplated taking another shot, even lined the phone up again. My thumb itched to shoot. But I knew if I did, I’d end up taking another one and another one until I was left wilted and consumed with stupid insecurities.
So I pressed the key for yes and heaved a great sigh that must’ve shed about ten pounds. I even managed to smile a little once I got over the initial shock of seeing myself, like that. But in a weird way, it was kind of similar to getting your brows waxed—the first rip always slapped tears in your eyes, but after a few minutes of cool, sweet air, the skin would tingle until it got used to the nakedness, the raw flesh underneath.
A dull beep sounded. UNABLE TO SEND flashed across the screen.
Seriously? Out of all the times for my service to suck, it had to be now? I strode to the window, pulled the curtain shut, and balanced on my toes. There was a sweet spot in the corner. If I hit it just right, I could usually get a bar or two. But after a minute of flailing my arm in the air, I was out of breath without a blip of reception. I tossed the phone on the bed and watched it disappear within a mound of pillows.
Maybe lousy cell service was for the best. Tommy was at practice anyway, so this little break would give me a couple hours to get used to the whole idea of what I had planned. And besides, Coach Buckner had a strict rule: no distractions. Cell phones were the number one offender, followed closely by girlfriends and school work. Coach was a bit old-school, so he was a dick about his rules.
I made a joke about it once to Tommy and he told me about the time Buckner had flushed Scott Webb’s cell phone down the toilet. Apparently Scott had been talking to his girlfriend, Chrissy, in the locker room when he should’ve been gearing up. Double whammy and the whole team had to run fifty laps. It cost the school a few hundred bucks to get the plumbing fixed. Coach made Scott pay for it. Ever since then, no one’s thought twice about bringing their phone into that world.
Which meant Tommy wouldn’t get my textual surprise until later. And then he’d see me—really see me. No smoke and mirrors. No nervous false starts.
Just me, ready for him.
I strode across my room, snatched up the phone, and gave it a good shake. Still no bars. My heart thumped against my rib cage, an uneven tempo compared to usual. But it always skipped a beat when I was nervous. Like on every first day walking through the doors at a new school, or right before the heavy bass started in our new Shakers number, which by the way, was so kickass it wasn’t even funny. It took me four days to choreograph that dance and had WIN stamped all over it for next week’s County Regional’s competition. If everything went according to my plans, I would be a totally different girl by then.
Of course, the damn picture had to send first.
Crossing my arms, I burned a path between my dresser and closet, wondering how Tommy would react later. I envisioned him standing in his room after practice, hair damp, face scrunched up once he heard the beeps of his cell phone alerting him to a missed text. His lips always looked so kissable when he concentrated like that.
Maybe he’d look under his bed or comb through his lacrosse bag or check his pockets. He’d storm through his room, ripping pillows apart, wiping sweat off his forehead. And just as madness threatened to consume him, he’d locate his phone (wedged underneath his Civics book so Coach wouldn’t flush it down the toilet). And Tommy would slide his phone open, scroll down, and smile—that slow, sexy grin where his dimples flashed like diamond rivets.
Then he’d lounge against his headboard and jerk off.
Or maybe he’d jump into the salvation of a cold shower. Or two. Because no way would he be able to walk down the stairs for dinner, and Mrs. Delorio always prepared her infamous pot roast and potatoes on Thursday nights. Tommy’s favorite.
My smile stretched my cheeks. I could almost smell the rosemary from the roast and the pine soap Tommy used to lather his body. Two cold showers and a patch of fresh calluses on his palms to show for all his efforts—my efforts, really, since it was my brilliant idea to take this next step. I was an awesome girlfriend. My powers unmatched by any other female.
But my awesomeness wouldn’t stop there because once Tommy saw my text picture, he’d know I was ready without me saying a word. And then we’d have The Night.
Everything would go without fault, including Tommy cursing the years he’d spent without me, wondering why we hadn’t done it before. The entire female population at Pembroke High would put hexes on me and jab Kendall-like voodoo dolls with needles because if I could conquer Tommy then I could conquer it all.
I collapsed on my bed, clothed in nothing more than pink boy briefs and fantasies of world domination.
* * *
Or…what if he clicked on my message, scrolled down, and laughed?
My smile faded. Intestines bottlenecked.
Why was it always right after you did something, you thought maybe you shouldn’t have?
I screwed my mouth into a pucker. Tapped the phone with my nail. Once. Twice.
I hadn’t really given much thought to a negative response. I mean, Tommy’s pretty much seen me naked before. In the dark. Under the covers. Top only. And okay, I sometimes (always) make him turn around while I put my shirt back on. But it wasn’t like he ever had any complaints about my semi-in-the-dark nakedness. At least none that he voiced to me. In fact, I usually had to bat his hand away from attempted detours up my shirt, under my bra, or down my pants whenever we went out. No matter the place. It was embarrassing—the hormones in that boy.
But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t laugh at my expense without me there to filter his reaction. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t show his stupid friends on his stupid lacrosse team the stupid text picture I just sent him in a complete lapse of common sense.
Oh my God. What did I do?
I’d definitely request to read more, though I would be concerned if she kept having this inner-reflection of what she just did for several more pages. But I’d definitely request more. The voice is great and you have me hooked on what’s going to happen.
4. An young lab assistant and his eccentric employer must recapture their steam-driven flying dinosaur after it terrifies the inhabitants of 1850s London in this humorous, MG Steampunkish story.
In Which a We Meet a Boy
The boy in the chimney held out his hand as a tiny brass and gearwork bird flew down towards him. When the bird landed, it folded back its thin leather wings and looked up at him. The bird leaned its brass head back, as if looking back at the top of the chimney.
Then it pecked the boy hard with its sharp beak.
The boy pulled his hand back. At the same time, his knees also jerked back just enough to loosen his foothold on the cramped chimney walls.
That was when the boy slipped. Only the rope tied around his chest kept him from falling.
“Watch it, you miserable brat,” grumbled a voice from the roof. “And be quick about yer sweepin’.”
The boy felt the rope jerk upward and then slackened again, like a dog being told to heel.
Cautiously, he looked again at the bird in his hand. Its jewel-red eyes blinked at him. It smiled. The boy stared, open-mouthed.
He wedged his broom between himself and the sooty wall of the chimney. Tentatively, he reached out a finger of his free hand to stroke the bird’s head.
Just as he touched it, the bird spattered, shook and snapped about in his hand. When it had stopped, the boy was holding a smooth brass egg.
His eyes opened even wider.
That was when the boy fell.
When a chimney sweep’s apprentice fell to the bottom of a chimney, they usually did so with an explosion of black, dusty soot that billowed out into whatever room the chimney sweep landed in. If he survived, and is lucky, the room was filled with dusty, old furniture with no people about. If he wasn’t lucky, he was dead. If he was very unlucky, he was still alive, very badly hurt, and the room was filled with what was, only moments before, clean, new furniture and people all dressed in their finest clothes, none of whom would be clean, fine, nor happy to see him.
The boy picked himself up from the wood stacked on the fireplace grate. He was relieved to find that, although he was sore, none of his bones felt broken. Steeling himself, he stole a quick look at the room to see if he was lucky or very unlucky.
He was, in fact, quite lucky. Not only did he appear to be the only person in the room, but the large, dark furniture looked old and well lived in. Two large chairs sat on either side of the fireplace and crowded bookcases lined the walls in front of him.
The curtains were open on the far side of the room. The boy gasped as he saw the tiny glint of golden light that he had seen in the chimney repeated all across the room. From all of the bookshelves, side tables and desks, shiny golden metal sparkled a warm glow for him.
On a nearby table, sat a glass dome. Inside, golden lights flickered back and forth, swirling, dancing. Forgetting his situation for a moment, the boy tilted his head slightly, trying to see just what it could be.
A chimney sweep’s apprentice was never supposed to actually walk into a room, even if he fell down the chimney and was hurt. The place for a chimney sweep’s apprentice was in the chimney and that all there was to it.
This particular chimney sweep’s apprentice, however, had never seen anything so fascinating. He and took a step into the room, toward the table and the spinning lights inside the glass dome. The boy could see silver rings and copper rings mixed in with the golden ones. They all seemed to be inside and outside of one another, each turning in different directions from one another.
“Ah, curiosity!” exclaimed a voice from the other side of the room.
The boy jumped. Looking toward the source of the voice the boy saw the strangest man he had ever seen looking at him from across the room by the open curtains. Tall and thin, with a great cloud of white hair growing wildly in all directions, his bushy white eyebrows spilled over the top of his round eyeglasses. He wore a long canvas coat that was stained with such a variety of colored splotches that it was hard to tell what color it had originally been.
Strangest of all, he was smiling. The boy was not used to seeing adults smiling at him.
The boy quickly looked back at the chimney. As bad as it was, it seemed safer than being in someone’s house, especially an odd-looking someone who was talking to him.
“Curiosity is the light behind Intelligence!” continued the strange man, snapping shut the large book he held in his hand. He opened the curtains more fully, taking no notice of the boy’s slight sidestep towards the chimney.
The man walked over to the boy and pointed to the shiny, many-ringed object.
“What do you think this is?” the man asked, pointing with the book he still held in his hand. He turned to look at the boy, his eyes wide with anticipation.
The boy screwed up his face a bit. He had no idea what all the rings were, or how they were held in place. He also had no idea why the man seemed so interested in what he thought. No grown up had ever done that before, either.
He started to shrug his shoulders, thinking it better to not say anything, when the man reached over and adjusted two small dials at the base of the glass dome. The rings started spinning in unison, going around and through one another.
The boy stopped in mid-shrug and stared, his mouth open.
“Now what do you think it is?” the man asked, eyes wide and nodding his head happily.
Light continued to flash off the spinning surfaces. They reminded him of a lightening storm he had sat through, hidden, alone and scared in an abandoned building a year before.
“A storm,” he said, before realizing he had said anything.
“A Storm!” the man exclaimed, slapping the boy on the back. “Complex, abstract thinking! A Swirl of Thought Processes flashing across this Amazing Brain!” The man shot his hands in front of the boy’s forehead excitedly. “Then forming a Simple Phrase, creating a Common Concept that Grounds the Thought in day-to-day life.”
The man sighed heavily, shaking his head in wonder as he gazed at the boy.
“Intelligent Boy,” he said, well satisfied.
The boy was about to inch back towards relative safety of the open chimney when he felt something vibrate in his hand. Looking down, he was surprised to find that he was still holding on to the egg-shaped object.
“Please, sir,” the boy whispered.
He held out the brass egg, more than a little sorry to part with it.
“Tell me, where did you find it?” the man asked, full of curiosity.
“I didn’t steal it,” the boy said with a frown. Accusations from adults, he was used to.
“A good dose of Self-Respect and an Indignity towards Injustice!”
The man actually danced just a bit.
The boy took a long step backwards to the chimney.
“Hmmmm?” the man said shaking his head from side to the side as he realized the boy was no longer standing in front of him.
“Sit,” the man said, gesturing the boy to a nearby chair. “Sit sitsitsitsitsitsitsit!”
The boy was most definitely not accustomed to sitting in comfortable chairs like the one the man was pointing to. He compromised and sat at the hearth of the fireplace.
Taking a chair himself, the man continued eagerly, “Now, tell me: Where did you find it?”
The boy slowly raised a finger toward the fireplace opening.
The man’s eyes widened with amazement. He smiled so broadly that he raised himself out of the chair.
The man stepped around the boy, looked up into the black of the chimney and then back at the boy, shaking his head.
“And you found it there?” he asked.
The boy nodded, holding the egg out to the man again.
Part of me is thrown off by the fact that the main character is referred to as ‘the boy’ and the other part of me isn’t really pulled into the story enough because of its formal tone. This is a pass for me.
W-O-W. Amazing. Thanks Kathleen! The next part of this series will be posted in 20 minutes, with four more samples.
Kathleen Ortiz began her career in publishing at Ballinger Publishing as an editorial assistant and interactive media designer for the young adult section, working to boost the magazine’s online presence through social networking. She then moved on to uwirepr.com as online editor for the features, art & entertainment sections. She has also taught high school classes as a visual media instructor. Currently an Associate Agent and Foreign Rights Manager at Lowenstein Associates, she is seeking children’s books (chapter, middle grade, and young adult) and young adult non-fiction.