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.
5. FAKE is a contemporary YA novel about Jen Carter, a seventeen-year-old girl who creates a male alter-ego online to escape her religious family’s tyranny.
introducing the carters
Dinnertime at my house is the noisiest in the country.
The nannies scoop mush into the mouths of Aaron and Gabriel, my littlest brothers. Beside me is four-year-old Jack. He’s old enough to eat by himself now, but he’s too young to be tidy about it. He flicks his peas everywhere and they bounce off my arm, leaving tiny grease marks from the butter.
There are fifteen Carter Kids. Aged twenty-six to eleven months. And Mama is incubating another one right now. Including nannies and the spouses of my older siblings, we fill up a twenty-five seat table.
So yeah, we’re freaky. And that’s why there are cameras.
As I’m eating my ordinary supper of chicken and mashed potatoes, I’m surrounded by complete abnormality. Three cameramen are circling the table, because even our average family dinner is interesting enough for the Life-n-Love Network. Boom mikes crowd overhead.
Can those cameras see straight through to my soul? It’s a possibility. I keep my head down and my face out of sight.
“Carters!” Dad’s voice booms. “Listen up, Carters!”
He’s lording over us all at the head of the table. He’s looking around at everyone fondly, but every time he addresses us by our last name, I just want to stab him.
“Tomorrow is the church picnic!” he announces. “We’ll all be trying our very best to represent the Carters in the games and events, right, gang?”
Dad keeps talking. I keep eating. Chicken, peas, and mashed potatoes. Delicious, but it tastes hollow. That’s because it was cooked by two cooks who are paid for by the network that airs our reality show, Lucky Fifteen. Mama used to cook, but these days all she does is breed.
And complain. In the middle of dinner she drops her fork and stretches around in her chair.
“Oh, John,” she whines. “I’m bone-tired. This little ‘un is kickin’ up a storm!”
Dad lays his big hand on her swollen belly. He gazes into her eyes with a glazed grin. He doesn’t say anything, but as if his touch just heals her pain instantly, Mama melts into a simper.
A familiar sensation grows, bubbling up my throat. Hate. Panic. I’m ultra-conscious of the cameras. I refused to be a cast member, so any time a camera catches my face, they blurr it out before it goes to television. But right now, when my parents are acting like the creepy religious zealots the country thinks they are, I just want to get involved. Ruin the scene with the blurr over my face.
The distance between my body and my mind grows until it feels like I’m just watching myself do and say these things.
“Hey, Dad? Mama?”
They glance at me. Mama’s smile is still fixed on her face, but Dad’s slips.
“Yes, Jenny-fer?” He says my name like it rhymes with “Lucifer.”
“Can I cut my hair?”
All the smiles in the room fall off the faces of my siblings. Their forks are suspended in mid-air. The cameras are madly capturing the minor note of chaos. Utter glee courses through me.
“Why would you ask that at dinner?” Dad says through gritted teeth. “This is a matter for private discussion, Jenny-fer.”
Mama is wringing her hands.
“Jenny, why would you want to cut your hair? It’s so long and pretty, you’ve been growing it out your whole life.”
I don’t care all that much about my hair, to be honest. It’s just the first thing I thought of that would upset them.
“I was just thinking it would be fun. How about a big pink streak?”
Dad stands up. His well-stuffed stomach is heaving with his gasping breaths.
“You,” he booms, pointing at me, “have no respect for us, do you?”
All eyes, from Dad’s beetle-black ones to baby Gabriel’s periwinkle blue ones, are on me. I might as well have asked if I could leave the church and join a Satanic cult. This scene has definitely been wrecked; they’ll have to film it all over again. Victory.
“Why do you constantly torment your family?” Dad asks, glaring.
Okay, maybe the fun of disrupting things is wearing off.
“I don’t,” I murmur, but no one hears because Dad’s shouting now.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another! Slipping grades, wearing clothes that do not reflect the values of our family, wanting to do unsightly things to your hair — what’s next? Tattooes? A giant ugly ring through your lip?” He pauses to catch his breath. “What is wrong with you?”
Replies speed through my mind. Did it ever just occur to you that nothing is wrong with me? That I’m just being myself? That I’m starving for freedom?
But there’s nothing I can say. I’ll just get beat down further. I can picture an episode of our show ending with this terrible screaming match. I can already imagine the way the cameras and careful editing will skew this fight so that I’m the villain and my father is the righteous crusader for goodness, and there’s just nothing I can say to fix this.
So I turn on my heel, in the middle of dinner, and retreat to my room.
It’s dark and stuffy way up here, so I throw open the windows to let the warm night air in. For the hundredth time, I’m grateful to have the attic bedroom. Four storeys up, out of the way. The cameras aren’t allowed up here, I made sure of that when we signed the contract for the show.
I sit down on the floor in the dark and try to calm down. But my heart is still racing.
I’m an idiot, but I do this all the time. Lash out, start fights in front of the cameras. Dad starts screaming and shit generally hits the fan. I can’t help it — I lose control of myself and whatever part of me takes over just loves to cause trouble.
It’s like a shift goes on inside me. First it’s meek Jen, then at just the slightest provocation, a violent shadow comes over me and I act out. But it feels so good.
So, sitting here in the dark, I let that shadow take over again.
I would be lying if I didn’t know where that shadow came from. I know exactly where it came from. I’m just not sure what it is, exactly.
I’m just about to sink into that delicious feeling when my bedroom door opens. I jump, and my skin starts to prickle.
The silhouette in the doorway has bristly hair and scrawny legs. It’s my brother John — sixteen, just a year younger than me, and my only ally in the house.
“Hey,” I say, trying to calm my heart. It feels like he just walked in on me naked, like he interrupted something totally private.
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” I sigh. “Come in. Turn on the light.”
He comes in and sits down on my bed.
“What was all that?” he asks.
“At dinner. Why’d you ask about a haircut?”
I shrug, trying to be casual, but I can’t meet his eyes. “I just want a change, that’s all.”
“We’re not allowed. You know that. And you’re hardly the type to want a big pink streak.”
No. Stop thinking about telling him the truth because you can’t.
“Maybe I just wanted to stir up trouble,” I say.
John frowns at me from behind his wire-framed glasses.
“You’re weird now,” he says. “Ever since you quit soccer. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” I tell him. And it’s true. Nothing’s wrong: everything’s right.
He leave before long, put off by my one-word answers and shrugs. The door closes softly behind him, and that is when I reach out and grab my laptop.
This laptop… it has become my whole world.
Definitely would keep reading. Super unique premise, great voice and you have me wanting to keep turning the page.
6. YA/SF Blackwatch: Lamarr accidentally pauses time, opening the floodgates to an army of nightmarish creatures which he must defeat by dinner
The Way It Was
The first time I paused the world, I managed to sleep through the whole thing. Without knowing it, I’d set a chain of events in motion, unraveling order itself. While I slept, two heroes attempted to defend our peaceful existence from scores of savage monsters hell bent on invasion.
They failed. In the morning, the city burned. And everything was my fault. All things considered, not one of my better days.
It took me a while to figure out what had happened, to realize that I was the one responsible for the world around me being stuck in time. But the damage had already been done. If I’d have known then what I know now, I’d go back to that day in Uncle Jonas’s pawn shop and do things a bit differently.
That day started off like any other school day. I woke up to a blaring alarm that had been going off for forty-five minutes. My hour long window to get ready for school had shriveled down to fifteen minutes.
My feet got tangled up in my sheets as I stumbled out of bed. I practically dragged them into the shower with me.
“Just a quick rinse to wake me up,” I thought.
When I went back to my room to get dressed, somehow ten minutes had gone by. As I rushed to put my clothes on (mismatched sneakers and an inside-out t-shirt) I couldn’t help but think about how time always seemed to have it in for me. By the end of the day, I’d realize how right I was.
With one and a half shoes on I hopped into the kitchen and threw open the fridge. Good old, Mom. Even though she works two jobs she still had time to make me a lunch and write me a note. The lunch I appreciated, honestly, but I didn’t have time to read. As I grabbed the brown paper bag, the note fluttered to the floor.
My backpack strap broke as I ran down the apartment stairs that opened out onto our busy street. I could hear the rumble of city buses just outside the door. I burst out into the warm August morning, just in time to see the 54C roll by. If I hurried, I could still make it in time.
I pumped my legs as fast as they would go. It was like my muscles were still snoozing, dragging along like lead weights. I dodged the rush hour traffic that was jammed across all four lanes of the street. Angry shouts and blaring horns followed me as I bumped into random cars. I was almost caught up to the bus when it belched a thick greasy cloud of black exhaust right into my face. It pulled away faster than I could keep up.
As I stood in the middle of the street at a loss for what to do next, a horn blast behind me nearly made me jump out of my shorts. I turned to curse at the driver, when I saw my salvation: a bright yellow checker cab with no morning customer inside!
I put my hands up to tell the cabbie to stop, then jumped into the backseat.
“Pittsburgh Central High and step on it!” I’ve always wanted to say that. The cabbie glared at me in the rearview mirror. “Sir.” I added.
“Got money, kid?” he grumbled. I searched through my pockets and pulled out a crumpled up twenty-dollar bill, my bus fare for the whole week.
“Is this enough?” The cabbie smiled and said, “Barely.” I got the feeling he would have answered in the same way even if I had handed him a hundred-dollar bill.
“Buckle up,” he said, giving me about a half-second of warning before jamming his foot down on the gas pedal. He carved through rush hour traffic like a running back racing for the end zone. I never had a moment to strap myself in. I was tossed around so much that by the time we got to school, my bag was somehow hanging upside down around my neck. My stomach felt as if it had shaken loose and taken a pinball trip around my insides. The cabbie slammed on the brakes so hard that I smashed my chin into the back of his seat. (Stopped reading and started to skim)
“Your stop, kid,” he grumbled. I managed to force my eyes to focus on one of the three drivers spinning in front of me and handed him the twenty.
“Keep the change,” I said, grabbing my bag and exiting the cab. He laughed and peeled away, barely letting me get clear. I need a second to steady myself, my brain was still in vertigo mode. As I lurched onto the sidewalk I figured my brains had finally descrambled themselves. Then my stomach did a neat somersault trick and I vomited my last night’s dinner up onto the cement.
“No big deal,” I thought. “Nothing the janitor can’t hose off the sidewalk.” Except somewhere between the concrete and my partially digested pepperoni pizza was a pair of sneakers, size 13 at least. To my great dismay, they were connected to a pair of legs as thick as tree trunks. The picture kept getting worse the further up I looked, until I was staring up at a red-faced, thick-necked ogre in a letterman’s jacket. He had a look in his eyes that said he was about to murder someone.
“What’s your name, kid?” That someone was apparently me.
“Lamarr,” I said, wiping some bile off my chin. “Lamarr Jeffers.”
“Well, Lame-R,” he changed my name, clever guy, “you’re about to have a very bad day.”
It wasn’t until he said that that I looked around and noticed a few of his equally large goon friends surrounding me. After that, well, things got very dark.
The sound of the first period school bell was muffled somewhat since, for the moment, my head was encased in aluminum. I think I may have had a banana peel stuck in my ear. By the time I had managed to extricate myself…extricate? It means ‘to remove from or get free of.’ Maybe that’s why I get beat up a lot, for using words like that. Anyway, when I finally got myself out of the trash can, I was beyond late for my first class. I probably should have taken the hint and called it a day.
Instead, I walked into Honors Algebra and every head turned my way. As I was covered in stains and smelled like garbage, I made for the back of the class where I could hopefully draw the least amount of attention. Before I could slink to a chair and hide myself in the corner, the teacher called me out.
“And you would be?” he said. He had a husky voice and a sharp, gray buzz cut, more like a drill instructor than a math teacher. Maybe a gym teacher, I could see that.
“Lamarr Jeffers,” I said, my voice sounding shrill and small in the quiet classroom.
“Well, Mr. Jeffers, in my class we are to be in our seats before the bell sounds, not after.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. For some reason this caused a snicker to develop and spread throughout the class. The teacher looked at me and raised his eyebrow. I noticed just then that he wore diamond earrings in each ear. And he had his hands on his hips, a posture I’d seen my mom use about a hundred times. Crap.
“I mean, yes, ma’am. Sorry.” I must have turned as red as the Kool-Aid stain on my shirt because the class burst into laughter.
“Class, that’s enough distractions for one day. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Ms. Marks,” they answered in unison. I hid my face behind my bag and slumped down into my desk chair, begging the clock to speed up.
The rest of the day went pretty much like you’d expect. I got jostled in the halls between classes. Whenever people had to walk by me I’d hear,
“God, what stinks?” “Did something die in here?”
“Have you heard of a shower?” “What’s that smell?”
among other things I can’t repeat here. I was late for nearly every class since I tried to scrub the funk out of my clothes between periods, with little success.
By the end of the day I’d managed to irritate every teacher and earn a reputation as a dumpster diving homeless kid. I already had a pile of assignments due by Friday and I was out of a week’s worth of bus fare halfway through the first day. I guess you could say I was off to a great start. At least I hadn’t seen my friends from the goon squad the rest of the day. Not until I left school anyway.
I didn’t really click with the narrator’s voice. For me, it didn’t have that authentic teen feel to it – too many clichés/formalities. This would be a pass for me.
7. Pitch: In DEALBREAKER, a YA dystopian novel, sixteen-year-old Eliana tracks down the killer of her family with the help of Raff, a protection demon interested in all things human.
In order to survive in demon territory, one must have three things: an adequate weapon, a strong stomach, and a pair of lightning-fast feet.
I had none of these things as I made the leap across the wall into the Dark Side.
Chaxton was the first city to be divided after the Portal opened. Its division came in the form of a thick brick wall that spliced the town straight down the middle. At over eight foot tall, it was a miracle I made it over the wall in the first place.
Once I was in the Dark Side, however, I knew any miracles were far behind me.
The cement beneath my bare feet was cold enough to send chills to the very top of my head. The short, second-hand cocktail dress I wore didn’t help to keep me warm, nor did the sun that was ever-so-slowly sinking behind the abandoned skyscrapers in front of me. Definitely not a good omen.
I had been to the Dark Side before, but never at night. Six o’clock was curfew for the Light Side, and I had never been anything of a rebel … well, until now, that is. Tourists were usually allowed over on the Dark Side during the day, to take photos of the decaying suburbia and wild gardens. I suppose, in a way, the Dark Side demonstrated what would happen if all mankind suddenly disappeared.
I clutched the satchel at my side with sweaty hands, trying to stick to the shadows as much as possible. Ironic though it may seem, demons were generally ill-sighted when it came to darkness. Some said it was genetic, others claimed it was simply chance. Either way, I was eternally grateful for that particular flaw, as it meant a slighter risk of my being caught on the way to Heaven.
Heaven was the most infamous nightclub in the Dark Side. It was populated by demons looking for an easy score, and humans (mostly women, as the stories went, but sometimes men) looking for cheap thrills and a rush of blood to the head. It was highly discouraged for any human to willingly place themselves amongst demons, but that didn’t stop them from doing so. I couldn’t think of any reason why a human would want to keep company with demons, but then, I had never actually met a demon before, so maybe there was something I was missing.
The streets were completely deserted, as I had expected. There was a good chance I was being watched from above, but I made it to the city centre without being attacked or held up, which was a plus.
Heaven also happened to be a favourite hangout for the man I was going to kill: Ari Paymon. Lord Ari Paymon.
There was a gaggle of human girls hovering outside Heaven, all of them pulling at the hems of their dresses and reapplying lip-gloss, causing me to involuntarily roll my eyes. Guarding the door of the club were two bouncers, each as beefy and thickskulled as the other. This was going to be tougher than I had originally thought.
I found myself imitating the girls outside the club, tugging down the corseted top of my dress, displaying as much pasty skin as I was comfortable showing.
Demons were like moths to light when it came to human flesh. They weren’t interested in eating it, by any means, but they had something of a collective fetish for it. The color, texture, and smell didn’t matter – it was purely the warmth of it they were interested in.
I took a very deep, reassuring breath, and click-clacked my way towards Heaven.
“I.D.,” growled one of the bouncers when I stopped at the door. With shaking hands, I held up my fake driver’s license. The high-heels I wore added an extra four inches to my height, and the amount of make-up I had caked on made me look ten years older than I was. It was only the shape of my body – my distinct lack of hips, my child-like torso, my reedy legs – that would have given my true age away.
I found myself holding my breath while he looked between the little card and my face, which I tried to keep as passive as possible. As was customary whenever I got nervous, my ears began to twitch. I’ve never been able to work that particular quirk out – surely twitching ears weren’t normal? But then again, in my world, few things were normal.
“Go on in,” said the bouncer gruffly, slapping the I.D. back into my sweaty palm. I murmured something of a ‘thank you’ before pushing past the pair of them, and through the door to Heaven.
I tried to put on a coolly indifferent face as I descended into Heaven, though internally, I could feel my heartbeat reverberating throughout my entire being. The nightclub was huge – I think it may have once been a warehouse. Below me was the dance floor – dimly lit, sweaty, and crammed to the brim. I could see a row of private booths and bars in the far corner of the room, and I knew that was where I would find Ari.
Pushing my way through the writhing, slimy bodies on the dance floor, I ignored the sighs of longing that followed me when I brushed against the skin of a demon, and made a beeline for one of the private booths. The music from the front of the club was drowning out my thoughts, and the bass wasn’t doing anything to settle my frantic heart.
Eventually I settled for a booth filled with empty alcohol bottles, trying to overlook the stench of beer that lingered over the table. I just needed to sit down and strategise before going in for the kill.
I would have much preferred to face Ari in the cold, empty streets than in the claustrophobic, clammy nightclub. However, I knew that there was a slim chance he would ever be seen in broad daylight, or even out in the streets, and so I was forced to meet him on his turf.
Just as I opened my satchel to check what things I had in my arsenal, from the corner of my eye I saw a figure slide into the booth beside me. I chose not to acknowledge their presence, instead continuing to rifle through my bag aimlessly.
So, I had a can of deodorant, a wallet, a set of house keys, three packets of disinfectant wipes and sprays, a map of the Light Side…
“Would it be too forward of me to ask for your name?” asked the figure beside me. I groaned in frustration and turned my head to tell him that yes, it would be too forward, when I caught sight of him.
I had never come face-to-face with a demon before. I always assumed it would be somewhat scary, because their eyes were uniformly black, their ears were usually slightly pointed, and they always had dark, creepy features.
But assumptions are often misleading, and in this case, my assumption had been just plain wrong.
This demon was far too good-looking for his own good. He didn’t look a day over eighteen, yet those black eyes told me he had been around a lot longer than eighteen years. He had unruly blue-black hair – it reminded me vaguely of a night sky lit by a full moon – and his skin was a rough shade of bronze.
And he was absolutely, without a doubt, somehow familiar to me. As soon as my eyes met his, I was hit with the memory of stifling darkness and a scream… and then of an apple and a rush of adrenaline … and then of exhaustion and the smell of cheeseburgers…
I had met this man before. Not once, but three times, on separate occasions. His face was far too unique for me to label him as common-looking … so why couldn’t I remember him?
“Eliana Olwen,” I breathed, without even meaning to. His gorgeous face split into a white smile, and I didn’t miss the rather sharp points of his canine teeth. He knew I recognised him from somewhere, and I was willing to bet my measly amount of savings that he knew where.
“Would you like a drink, Eliana?” he asked bluntly, and I just gaped at him. Oh my God, he wanted to buy me a drink! Me, with the hideously fire-red hair and doe eyes that screamed naivety. Me, who had never so much as been second-glanced at by a boy, let alone hit on. I wanted to get up and do a celebratory dance.
Pull yourself together, snapped a voice in my head, he’s a demon, you idiot!
“I’m underage,” I managed to croak, regarding him coolly, trying to maintain a shred of dignity. Then I quickly shook my head, as if to shake the spell he had put me under. “So, no, thank you,”
He didn’t look at all dejected or disappointed – on the contrary, he looked a little more interested. I don’t know why he was staring at me with such an elated expression – I wasn’t exactly looking my best at that point in time. Maybe he liked girls who wore two inches of foundation?
“Actually,” I said suddenly, right as he opened his mouth to say something. “I could use your help with something, if you don’t mind,”
“Sure,” he shrugged nonchalantly.
“I’m looking for Ari Paymon. Do you know where he is?”
At that question, a look of panic flitted across his lovely eyes. I didn’t blame him – just thinking about Ari Paymon made me panic.
“I don’t think you know who you’re looking for,” he said quickly, leaning in towards me. “No human – especially a human girl – wants anything to do with Lord Ari.”
I rolled my eyes, attempting to look casual.
“I want a lot to do with Lord Ari.” I practically spat the name. “So I need for you to tell me where he is. Please,” I added hastily, knowing that impoliteness wasn’t going to get me anywhere.
He ran a hand through that amazing hair, and let out a tense laugh. I resisted the urge to laugh along with him, and ruffle his hair affectionately. What was wrong with me? Was I ill? Could demons cause momentary insanity?
I quickly felt my forehead. No, there was no fever…
“If I tell you where Ari is, will you let me buy you a drink?” he asked reasonably, and I actually cracked a smile.
“If I survive my encounter with Ari, I’ll come straight back here, and you can buy me a drink.” I promised him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that there was a very slim chance of me surviving that encounter.
He leaned in very close to me, so that his mouth was just above my ear. I prayed he couldn’t hear how rapidly my heartbeat sped up when his breath tickled the side of my face.
“He’s in the private bar at the end of these booths,” he mumbled, though why he had to be so quiet, I had no idea – the music obscured any conversation anyway.
“Thank you,” I whispered, flashing him my most grateful smile.
For a moment, he simply stared at me, blinking those huge obsidian eyes at me, almost dazed. Then, as if he realized how strange he looked, he slid out of the booth gracefully, and allowed me to pass him.
“Be careful, Rusty,” he said seriously. “I don’t want to have to look after you tonight.”
I frowned at him, totally confused. Rusty? Look after me? Was he high? I went to ask him what he was talking about, but, swift as a shadow, he brushed past me, and disappeared into the mass of sin that made up the dance floor.
Steeling my resolve, I sauntered towards the end of the booths, appearing much more self-assured than I felt. The seedy lighting made it hard for me to identify any figures at the bar, but, after much squinting and eye-straining, I saw a tall man at the bar wave a hand for another drink.
Even from behind, I knew it was Ari. His slick black hair, his broad shoulders, the crisp, dark suits he wore…
Immediately I was hit with the urge to throw up. It had been six years since my run-in with Ari Paymon, and suddenly revenge didn’t seem all that sweet. The mere sight of him brought back a memory that had haunted my dreams every night for six years, of blood and darkness and horror.
Maybe I should come back another night, with an actual weapon, instead of my uncanny powers of improvisation…
“Can I help you, miss?” Came a voice to my left. I flinched at the sight of a large bodyguard – or perhaps another bouncer – gripping the velvet rope that restricted me from getting any closer to Ari.
“Um,” I stammered, my ears twitching like there was no tomorrow, “I’m here to see Lord Ari,”
The name tasted sour, and I had to stop myself from wincing.
“And you are…?”
“Alannah Ruddick,” I lied without missing a beat. The guard looked me over, his black eyes lingering on my bare collarbone just long enough to make me squirm uncomfortably.
“What business do you have with the Lord?” he growled, and I jutted my hip out impatiently.
“I’m an old friend,” I shrugged, and his lips curled into a sneer.
“Uh-huh,” he said. There was no way this guy was going to buy my sassy, no-nonsense approach, so I decided to switch tactics.
“It’ll only take a second, I promise. Maybe once I’m finished with Lord Ari, you and I can talk some more?” I asked, batting my lashes innocently. Oh my God, how did normal girls do this? I had no idea how to flirt! There was no way on Earth he was going to fall for that half-hearted attempt at seduction…
“Alright,” he said gruffly, and I tried not to look too shocked at my success. “Come through,”
He unclipped the rope, and ushered me through to the bar. In the corner were two human women, tittering away to each other, casting occasional glances towards Ari. I involuntarily rolled my eyes.
“Lord Paymon, another human girl to see you, sir,” said the bodyguard, pulling me forwards forcefully.
Ari spun around, and I gasped. His eyes, black and empty, studied me carefully. He had acquired a scar since the last time I had seen him – a white line ran diagonally across his pointed, narrow face, from his left eyebrow to the bottom of his right cheek. I was also a little surprised to see that he hadn’t aged a day since our encounter six years ago – he had to be in his late twenties, though his eyes told me that he was a lot older than that.
“Leave us,” he snapped to the guard, who exited the bar hurriedly. I felt irrevocably cold under Ari’s gaze. I was like a deer caught in headlights.
“What do you want with me, girl?” he asked casually, swirling the glass in his hand. Fear gripped at me with an iron fist, but I steeled my resolve. There was no backing out now.
“I simply wanted to meet you, sir.” I mumbled, completely lost for where I was going with this. Practicality had never been one of my few talents, and I had never envisaged getting this far with my plan: usually, I imagined being halted by a guard, or arrested by the police for being in demon territory, or something. Hell, I hadn’t even brought a weapon with me. I was the most underprepared assassin in history.
“And how,” he continued, “would a human girl know about a demon lord? Your face is regrettably unfamiliar to me.”
I pretended to look flattered, while my gut churned in repulsion.
“Your name invokes fear in a lot of humans in the Light Side,” I said quietly, “and I … I wanted to judge that opinion for myself.”
“And so far?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “What do you think of me?”
“I think you are…” I decided to try a new tactic. Again, perhaps my (severely deficient) feminine charms would get me further than aggression. “I think you’re powerful. And underappreciated,”
Oh God, please oh please let him have a regular man’s ego, I prayed silently. His black eyes widened slightly, and a shark-like grin appeared on his face. It was nowhere near as charming as the boy from the booth, and Ari’s teeth looked a little more … deadly.
“Underappreciated?” he repeated, laughing a little. I bobbed my head fervently.
“Yes, sir. I mean, look at the people around you,” I gestured mainly to the women at the end of the bar, who crinkled their noses in disdain at me, and to the crowded dance floor behind us, “Surely they should be the ones hiding in a dark bar. If this were a human nightclub, you would be rightfully respected. I know your true potential.”
The opening pages have a very familiar feel to another YA book, so I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that; however, the premise is intriguing, the voice is authentic and you certainly have my attention. I would keep reading.
8. SOUL STONES: CURE- Urban Fantasy, YA, about a love triangle involving five souls, three bodies, and a rivalry that threatens the human race.
Some days, Becca wishes she were invisible. That way she could get passed Gisele, her mother, without ever having to endure her daily pep talks. “I’m just saying that maybe you’d have some flowers of your own if you’d fix yourself up,” she says as she sniffs a vase of roses. Like Becca needed another lecture from her beautiful, tall, and curvaceous mother about what a boy wants. Gisele was what every boy wants, unlike her. “Boys are visual creatures; they don’t look deep enough to see your personality.” Becca sits at the dinner table forking her lasagna as she tries to tune her out.
“I beg to differ,” her dad says as he enters carrying a small bouquet. “Happy valentine’s day sweetheart.” Roberto kisses the top of her head, before taking his seat.
“She’s fifteen now. She has to know the truth.”
“I think you mean your truth, Gisele.” Her mother slops a big square onto his plate with pursed lips and takes her seat. They lower their heads as he says grace before they begin eating.
“How was school today?” her father asks.
“Did you get any valentines?” Gisele asks in a tone that suggests she already knows the answer. She never concerns herself with Becca’s grades, or how she’s feeling. All she wanted to know was what she was wearing or what guys have shown interest, which was the furthest thing from Becca’s mind. She almost wishes they could switch places, she’s sure Gisele would love high school a lot more than she does.
“No,” she lies thinking about the anonymous rose delivered to her in homeroom. An admission of the truth would only start a whole new conversation she doesn’t what to hear. Plus, she’s almost certain it was a joke, it has her friend Hector written all over it. As if there’s a guy in all of Hermosa that was interested in her. The thought of it makes her angry that she ever let herself think it was real. (Stopped reading and started skimming.)
“I’m just saying…” Gisele starts in again. Becca drops her fork, making an audible clanging sound.
“May I be excused?” she asks her father.
He huffs and stares at Gisele. “Sure, but take your dinner with you. The last thing I need is a daughter with an eating disorder.” Becca gathers her plate and flowers and rushes off to her room. She just barely gets the door closed before they start yelling.
“If you keep babying her she’s never going to grow out of this.”
“I’m not the one attacking her every chance I get. I’ve told you to lay off her. She’s not some doll.” Becca turns up her stereo to drown them out. She sets her plate on her dresser and removes her oversized sweater. Red and blackened scars cover most of her arms, most of them old, but there are a few fresh ones. She locks her door before pulling off her jeans where there are even more. Staring at herself in her wardrobe mirror is part of her nightly routine, she hates looking at them, wishes they would just go away. Then she remembers how they got there. They’re all her fault. She traces the large one with her finger from her elbow to her wrist, this isn’t one she did herself, but it doesn’t demise her guilt. It consumes her mind to the point that it’s all she can think about. Her eyes glass over and the tears escape. She rubs the thick and rough lines sitting on the surface of her skin, far from the soft and smooth texture it was a year ago, back when she thought she looked like a shorter, thinner, version of Gisele, with her same long black hair and naturally thick eyelashes. She rushes to the bathroom cabinet under the sink and reaches all the way to the back, pulling out an old metal tin and places it on the counter. She takes out the gauze and antiseptic then slips an x-acto knife out of an old band-aid box. She catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and wipes her tears before searching her arm for a clear patch. She finds one right above her right elbow and places the tip of her knife to it as she squeezes her eyes shut. She promises herself that it will only be a little one, it won’t even leave a scar, she thinks, knowing it’s a lie, she tells her self that every time. She also tells herself that it’s the last time she’ll cut, but one bad night or rough day at school and she always winds up here. So she gives in, if not tonight, then it will happen tomorrow, I should just do it now and save myself the trouble, she rationalizes in her head, but just before she can apply pressure, her cell phone rings from her bedroom dresser. She returns the tin and its contents to the back of the cabinet, and flips it open to read a text: LONELY HEARTS RAVE TONIGHT. YOU IN? She turns down her stereo, her parents are still yelling. Her eyes dance between the bathroom cabinet and the mirror before she replies: HELL YES.
Rachel sits quietly beside Adeline’s bed, gripping her shriveled hand. She’s worried about what could happen if she gets caught, what if I screw this up, she thinks. Then she realizes she’s exhibiting mortal traits and smiles just as Adeline opens her eyes. She tries to speak, but she can’t get a word out before she starts coughing. Rachel strokes her thin white hair; her eyes much too wise for even the most mature twelve year old girls.
“Anna!” Rachel calls.
Anna, the nurse, enters the bedroom and rushes to the other side of the bed. She takes Adeline’s pulse and listens to her heart. “What time did you say your parents were coming?” she asks.
“Is it time?” Rachel asks, deliberately avoiding her question. Anna nods her head as she tucks Adeline in. “You should go then. I want to be alone with her.”
“I’ll stay until your parents get here.” Rachel stands and approaches her. She grips her arms, and a white light flashes in the center of her eyes. “On second thought…I better go,” Anna says confused. She stares at Adeline, who’s now resting peacefully.
“She’ll be fine with me.” Anna hugs her and looks back once more, before closing the door behind her. Rachel pulls off the covers and effortlessly lifts Adeline, who’s more than three times her size, lying her down on the hardwood floor. She places a pillow under her head and folds her hands across her chest before rushing to the window. She watches as Anna gets in her car and drives off, then opens the bedroom door and runs down the hall. She flips on her bedroom light and looks around at the pastel pink walls. She opens her closet and grabs a satchel, throwing it over her shoulder.
“Ra–chel,” Adeline calls.
Rachel grabs an old cigar box out of her top drawer and runs back to the bedroom where Adeline is gasping for air.
“I’m right here,” she says gripping her hand.
“You promised,” Adeline whispers.
“I know I did.” She reaches in her bag and pulls out a small sack. She opens it up and drops a small white stone into Adeline’s hand. “This is Ari? Remember I told you about him. He will keep you company.” Adeline nods as she closes her eyes. Rachel returns the stone to the sack and unbuttons her shirt to reveal a matching one, embedded in her chest, between her collar bones. It glows as she closes her eyes. What if I can’t finish it in time, she thinks. The angst building inside of her is disturbingly unnatural, but then again the wait the human race was depending on her no being discovered.
“Why do I have to die first? Can’t you just take me now?” Adeline tries to lift her head, but she’s too weak to even open her eyes.
“You know why I can’t; now just lay back. It will all be over soon.” Rachel grabs a book off the dresser. “I’ll read to you.”
“No.” She nocks it out of her hand and Rachel huffs. “I’m already dying. I don’t need any more lessons, play me some music.” Rachel returns the book to the dresser and turns on the stereo instead. She rolls her eyes as Adeline nods to the pop music, thinking what a pain in the butt she’s going to be when she’s young again.
There’s a lot of telling, which makes for an awkward read. This is a pass for me.
When a terrifying secret puts her BFF’s life at risk, seventeen-year-old Calleigh has to live a lie to protect her (YA romantic suspense).
It was like diving off a ten-meter platform when you’re terrified of heights. Easy, really.
Yeah, right, I thought, as I watched one of the girls from the swim team practice her freestyle in the lake—while I pretended not to care about swimming anymore. My muscles ached to race across the sand and dive in. To swim like I was born to do. But doing what I craved wasn’t so easy. Not without serious consequences.
I looked down the stretch of sand and fidgeted with the dolphin charm on my bracelet. A slow breath escaped my lips. I was safe. No one was watching me. At least not from the busy beach.
“Calleigh, are you cold?” Alejandra asked from the beach towel next to mine, the warm breeze brushing brown strands of hair against her face. She’d already stripped down to her bikini, while I sat, barefoot, in my jeans and navy hoodie. The hood hid my light blond hair. The way I now preferred it.
“Maybe I’m coming down with something.”
“Or maybe you’re just not eating enough.” She unscrewed the cap of her sunscreen, and smeared coconut-scented lotion on her light olive skin.
I knew where this was headed. “Your sister’s the anorexic, not me.”
“Yeah, well, when we were on the swim team, it was like you were eating all the time. But now, nada. You’re just skin and bones.”
Knowing I wasn’t going to win this argument, I turned my head and quickly searched the beach and nearby trees for something—anything—to distract her.
A water boat zipped across the surface of the northern Minnesota lake, which bordered the city of Branford. Small waves sloshed against the wet sand. Kids raced across the beach, giggling and screaming.
Great. Where were the cute guys when you really needed them?
“She’s nowhere near as good as you are,” Alejandra said, her eyes focused on the swimmer, who was now approaching the long wooden pier. “Her timing’s all off.”
“She’s fine,” I lied.
“You know, the team needs you. Everyone’s still trying to figure out the real reason you skipped tryouts.”
“You already know the reason.” My insides twisted. I hated that I couldn’t confide in my best friend, but I knew she’d never understand why I had to keep what happened to me a secret.
That I did it to protect her.
I squinted in the direction of the parking lot, the sun bright in my eyes. I shaded them with my hand and smiled. “Hey, there’s Garrett.”
Garrett, a swimmer on the guys’ team and our friend since fourth grade, strode toward us, wearing shorts and a forest-green Camp Chippewa t-shirt. The dorky one the junior day-camp counselors wore. The one Alejandra had on until she yanked it off, and stuffed it in her beach bag before any cute guys saw it.
As if he had no control over his long limbs, Garrett careened into her as he flopped onto her towel. He swept his dark blond hair out of his eyes, and gave her hair a playful tug.
“¡Por Dios, Garrett! Stop being such a jerk.” She shoved him hard on the arm. “And give me some space, would you, or get your own towel.”
He laughed, rubbing his arm, but didn’t budge. “You know you missed me, querida.”
“Hardly!” she shot back, though I noticed she didn’t move, either. “And don’t call me that. I’m not your lover.”
That only caused Garrett to laugh harder.
“Oh, great,” Alejandra muttered, glaring over my shoulder.
Before I could look back to see what the problem was, Liam, my ex-boyfriend, plunked down next to me. He pulled down my hood, exposing my straight, shoulder-length hair.
“Hey babe, did ya miss me?” He stroked my hair like I was a kitten begging for his attention. Without thinking, I scrambled away, my heart racing.
“Hey, Calleigh,” Liam called out.
He’s not the one who’s going to hurt me, I reminded myself. I’m safe. It’s only Liam.
I stopped several yards from the towel in time to notice a football hurtling in my direction and several college-aged guys charging toward me. I dodged out of the way and slammed into something solid.
Before I could react, a hand grabbed my arm and yanked me sideways, causing me to stumble.
I glared at the guy. “Hey, what’s your problem?”
He threw his hands up. “Whoa, sorry. Didn’t realize you wanted to be trampled by those guys.”
I looked at the spot where I’d just been. One of the football players staggered up, grinning. He waved the football at his teammates.
I twisted around to find Alejandra yelling at Liam, her hands flailing about, which meant two things. One. She was giving him a piece of her mind. Two. It was totally in Spanish . . . none of which he understood.
I returned my attention to the good looking, dark-haired guy next to me, who I guessed to be about my age—seventeen, maybe eighteen. He was tall with lean muscles and broad shoulders, and wore the same Camp Chippewa t-shirt as Garrett, only the remnants of chlorine clung to the guy’s t-shirt, unlike Garrett’s.
“Sorry,” I said. It wasn’t the guy’s fault what had happened, but seeing Liam and having him act like nothing had changed between us was like sea water on an open wound. “I was upset and I guess I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.” My voice quavered as I spoke.
“No kidding,” he said, his tone softening. “Maybe next time you might wanna try that.”
I looked at my friends. Liam was still with them. Guess it would have helped if Alejandra had told him off in English. Then he would have realized what a jerk he was.
Or maybe not.
“Okay, well, thanks.” With a sigh, I walked back to my towel. Might as well get this over with.
Standing with my hands balled at my hips, I glared at Liam. “Off my towel. Now!”
He gave me one of his god-you’re-sexy-when-you’re-mad looks that made me want to kick him in the shin. Too bad he was still sitting. I rolled my eyes, wondering what I’d ever seen in the idiot. So much for thinking I’d never see him again once he disappeared off to college on a football scholarship last September.
“Look, Liam,” I said. “How can I make it any clearer? I never want to see you again.”
“What, you’re dating this loser now? Is that what the problem is?” Only he wasn’t looking at Garrett. He was scowling at someone next to me. I pivoted my head to find the guy I’d crashed into standing there.
I was about to open my mouth to say, “No,” but Alejandra spoke first, “Well, unlike you, Liam, Aaron isn’t a loser. And yes, they’re dating. Weren’t you listening to me?”
I choked back a laugh. I was sure that was not what she’d been telling him in Spanish.
“Well, they don’t look like they’re dating,” Liam said, standing.
“And what exactly does dating look like? What, you want them to be making out on the beach?”
Ohmigod, I hoped not. As much as I wanted to get rid of Liam, I wasn’t that desperate.
There are a few places that could use some tightening/edits; otherwise, I love the voice and would keep reading to see what happens.
Again, great stuff here! Thanks to Kathleen for taking so much time on these!
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.