Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Interview About All Things Contests

I said I’d have an interview for you about “The Writer’s Voice,” and now it’s up! Julie DeGuia asked me some really interesting questions about “An Agent’s Inbox,” “The Writer’s Voice,” and the similarities and differences between them. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work with agents to host blog contests, here’s your chance to find out!

Hop over to Julie’s blog and check out the interview, then feel free to hop back over here and ask any other questions you may have in the comments. Ever since “The Writer’s Voice” ended, I’ve been in need of a new distraction:)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

(Work-in-) Progress Reports: Bonnie and Clyde

Word count (to the nearest thousand): 3,000 for Bonnie, 24,000 for Clyde
Status: Chugging through the first drafts
Attitude: Excited

Look, a (work-in-) progress report! It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. I’m happy to report that my new project, who shall be known from this day forth as Clyde, is coming along at a nice pace. I’m not writing him quite as quickly as I wrote Steve, but then, I have been a bit distracted, what with “The Writer’s Voice” and all. Still, I’m hoping to finish the first draft sometime within the next month. We’ll see how I do.

Clyde is a straight-up MG contemporary, with no fantastical elements or funny business. He’s a cute, quirky little manuscript who’s forced me to get in touch with my inner nerd:) But mostly, he’s just forced me to admit that I might really be a writer of realism and not a writer of fantasy.

I started to suspect this while I was writing Steve. Sure, Steve has a few less-than-plausible plot points, but I truly believe that, at his core, he’s a genuine historical, with period characters making period decisions according to the standards and mores of their day. Steve is about real life, and so is Clyde. Real life, apparently, is what I write about.

To further cement this theory, my other Shiny New Idea is also for a contemporary, this one a YA. Since I kind of think of these two manuscripts in the same thought, I’m naming this one Bonnie. She’s going to be my pet project for the time being, my experiment, and as such, I’ve only written a little more than her first chapter. Once I get my buddy Clyde into the hands of beta readers, I’ll reward myself by writing Bonnie:)

I’ve wanted to write a book set in two different timeframes for a few years now, so I’m going to try that with this one. I’ll tell the front story moving forward from a particularly significant day for the MC and the back story moving backward from another equally important day. This will also give me a chance to try my hand at present tense. In truth, I’ve never been a huge fan of present tense--it often feels like a gimmick to me--but in this case, I think it will help me keep the front and back stories straight.

Yep, these two projects have definitely forced me to reevaluate my own writerly self. I’ve always considered myself to be a writer of big, bold fantasy and science fiction, with lots of explosions and action scenes. But the truth is, I think I’m better at writing the quieter, more intimate moments between characters, and for the first time in, well, ever, I feel like I’m playing to my strengths.

So how are your projects coming along, and have they ever forced you to think about your writer-self differently?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Judith Engracia

I have a treat for you today! Judith Engracia of Liza Dawson Associates has graciously agreed to join us for an INTERACTIVE installment of “Interview with an Agent.” Check out Ms. Engracia’s answers to the usual questions, then meet us at the bottom for details on the interactive part.

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

JE: I started at Liza Dawson Associates two years ago, but I first heard about literary agenting as a sophomore in college when I was looking for editorial internships. Until then, I had no idea such an awesome job even existed. Once I found out, I was hooked and I interned throughout college, holding positions at Random House and various literary agencies. As soon as I graduated, I joined LDA full-time.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

JE: I'd like to reference Avatar, if I may. When an author and agent decide to work together, I like to think of it as forming a bond of tsaheylu. I sign only those authors whose projects I absolutely adore, and inevitably, we hit it off right away. We discover we're on the same wavelength; we share the same vision for the project; we "get" it. We're a team now and both parties are going to do whatever it takes to get the work published and help him or her grow as an author. So yeah, tsaheylu. I'm the six-legged horse to your blue giant.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

JE: I'm looking for literary fiction, thrillers, urban fantasy, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and the whole gamut of YA, from sci-fi to contemporary. I'm also interested in middle grades with heart and perhaps just a touch of magic, like WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead.

Right now, I'm not actively seeking nonfiction projects, though that could change...

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

JE: The only pet peeve that comes to mind is when a query starts off with a question like, "Have you ever wondered what would happen if ___?" The plot could be brilliant, but for some reason, phrasing it in a rhetorical question makes it sound oversimplified and silly.

KV: You only want to see the query letter in a writer’s initial contact, but several respected industry sites have advised writers to include a few sample pages at the bottom of every query, whether the agent asked for them or not. So if a writer goes ahead and adds those pages, do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

JE: Neither. I just assume it means the author didn't check our website guidelines. It doesn't really bother me, though. I'll give it a quick look-see if you insist!

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

JE: If I had a genie, I'd probably use up a wish to get a snappy, witty manuscript with a bullet-fast plot, something like Josh Bazell's BEAT THE REAPER. In literary fiction, the plot doesn't have to move at breakneck speeds, but there should definitely still be a plot and a fresh voice, like Cal from Jeffrey Eugenides' MIDDLESEX.

I'd also love a middle grade that isn't afraid to delve into the issues of death, divorce, abandonment, sickness, or racism. I know that sounds awfully morbid, but there's a way to address these topics without being too depressing. I already mentioned WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead, but other titles that tackle those issues poignantly are DEAR GEORGE CLOONEY, PLEASE MARRY MY MOM by Susin Nielsen-Fernlund, the classic WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech, and my childhood favorite MAMA LET'S DANCE by Patricia Hermes. They're humorous and have a whole lot of heart.

As for what type of story I'm shying away from, I don't think purely fantasy or adventure middle grades are my cup of tea.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JE: Shoot me an e-mail at queryJudith@lizadawsonassociates.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!

And we’re looking forward to hearing from you, too, blog readers! If you have a question for Ms. Engracia, feel free to leave it in the comments below. She’ll drop in later this evening or sometime tomorrow to answer any questions she finds down there, leaving her answers in the comments, too.

You have until midnight tonight to leave your questions, so until then, ask away!

P.S. Don’t forget to wish Ms. Engracia a happy birthday. And Ms. Engracia, extra special thanks to you for spending your big day with us:)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

All About "The Writer's Voice" Twitter Pitch Party

And to wrap up the month’s festivities, we give you “The Writer’s Voice” Twitter Pitch Party!

If you want to play…

Pitch your finished manuscript on the hashtag #WVTP. (In other words, your Twitter pitch must include the hashtag #WVTP; otherwise, the agents will only see it if they're already following you.) You may pitch anytime you see an agent online--just don't go crazy and pitch more than once during an agent visit. We will monitor the hashtag and gently inform you if you're being obnoxious.

The agents will be hopping in and out of the feed during the party hours (12:00 noon to 6:00 p.m. EDT tomorrow) and tweeting their requests for the manuscripts that pique their interests. Simple, right? Not if more than one makes a request on the same pitch!

Keeping in the spirit of “The Writer's Voice,” if two or more agents request the same pitch, you must choose one of them and announce it in the feed. (They promise not to hold any rejections against you.)

If you get a request...

You must e-mail us at TheWritersVoiceContest(at)gmail(dot)com and tell us which agent requested your work. We'll verify the request and send you the agent's submission guidelines.

So get your Twitter pitches ready and meet us at #WVTP tomorrow, May 24, at 12:00 noon EDT. Anyone may enter, including “The Writer’s Voice” finalists and even other writers who didn’t make it into the contest, so it’s sure to be a party! And don’t forget to check out the agents’ Twitter feeds to get a feel for what they’re looking for:

John M. Cusick as @johnmcusick
Vickie Motter as @Vickie_Motter
Natalie M. Lakosil as @Natalie_Lakosil
Pam van Hylckama as @BookaliciousPam
Hannah Bowman as @hannahnpbowman

Good luck! Feel free to leave any questions you might have in the comments below.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"The Writer's Voice" Results!

And just like that, “The Writer’s Voice” is over. It’s been a crazy, wild ride, and I can honestly say I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, and I’ve even happy-danced. Here’s how things turned out for Team Krista:

#1: FACE THE MUSIC Lauren MacLeod, Andrea Somberg, Kevan Lyon, Louise Fury
#2: CHRONICITY Tricia Lawrence, Susan Hawk, Louise Fury
#4: AN UNCOMMON BLUE Louise Fury
#5: SILO Louise Fury
#7: DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN Andrea Somberg, Susan Hawk, Louise Fury
#8: DRIVERS Andrea Somberg, Louise Fury
#9: PLAYING WITH FIRE Louise Fury
#10: THELMA BEE Tricia Lawrence, Susan Hawk, Louise Fury
#11: THE COIN DIVER Andrea Somberg, Susan Hawk, Taylor Martindale, Roseanne Wells, Louise Fury

That brings our total vote count to 23, and THAT means Team Krista won!

Team members who received requests, please e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com for instructions on how to submit your materials to the agents who voted for you. Team members who didn’t receive requests, please e-mail me, too, so I can set you up with our celebrity guest coaches, who want to give you some additional feedback on your entries!

Our celebrity guest coaches:

Carrie Harris, author of the zombie-licious BAD TASTE IN BOYS and its forthcoming sequel, BAD HAIR DAY

Alexandra Duncan, author of the forthcoming SALVAGE, a YA sci-fi that recently sold to Greenwillow

Liesl Shurtliff, author of the forthcoming RUMP, an adorable MG fantasy that comes out next year from Knopf

I’m in the process of answering some questions about “The Writer’s Voice” for new blogger Julie DeGuia, so I’m going to hold off on saying much more until she posts that interview. I’ll let you know when it goes up!

Last but not least, a huge thank-you to everyone who entered, read, or commented; to all our voting agents; to the amazing Tara Dairman, who took the time to critique each and every entry; and most of all, to my fellow coaches, the talented and lovely Cupid, Brenda, and Monica. (Those adjectives apply to all three of you, by the way:) ) I literally could not have done this without you, ladies. It’s been a privilege to work with you.

P.S. Don't forget about "The Writer's Voice" Twitter Pitch Party coming up on Thursday. It's going to be epic!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"The Writer's Voice" Is Live!

“The Writer’s Voice” is a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Cupid of Cupid’s Literary Connection, Brenda Drake of Brenda Drake Writes, Mónica B.W. of Love YA, and me. We based the contest on NBC’s singing reality show The Voice, so the four of us selected projects for our teams based on their queries and first pages and coached the talented writers who wrote them as they polished their entries.

And TODAY we get to post our team members’ finished entries on our blogs!

Eight amazing agents are going to read these queries and first pages, then vote for their favorites on Monday, May 21. Each vote will count as a partial or full request depending on how many votes the entry receives. If an entry receives 1 or 2 votes, those votes will count as partial requests. If an entry receives 3 or more votes, those votes will count as full requests.

Our eight amazing agents:

Louise Fury of L. Perkins Agency
Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency
Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency
Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Lauren MacLeod of The Strothman Agency
Taylor Martindale of Full Circle Literary
Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Inc.
Roseanne Wells of Marianne Strong Literary Agency

But that’s not all! After the agents vote, the doubly delicious Tara Dairman, author of THE DELICIOUS DOUBLE LIFE OF GLADYS GATSBY (coming from Putnam/Penguin in 2014), will comment on all the entries and provide each one with her awesome feedback.

To read the other teams' entries, please use the following links:

Team Cupid
Team Brenda
Team Monica

Lastly, cheerleading is allowed, but only until Sunday! We want to leave the comments free for the agents to vote on Monday. (Also, we will only allow, well, cheerleading and/or positive feedback. Please don’t critique the entries before the agents vote. On the flip side, please don’t try to convince the agents that they want to vote for one of your favorites or, you know, threaten to douse the agents in silly string if they don’t vote for your critique partner. This is a silly-string-free site.)

Happy reading!

Team Krista #11: THE COIN DIVER

Title: THE COIN DIVER
Genre: YA historical
Word Count: 90,000

Query:

Prohibition has turned Eve Medina’s rural hometown into a center of black-market wine trade and police corruption. So when Eve kills a wealthy man, she knows it won’t matter that she’s sixteen, or that she acted in self-defense. What will matter is that she’s poor, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, and that she makes a living pretending to be a fortuneteller. If she gets caught, she’ll hang.

Jakob Gellert, a young Hungarian immigrant who works as a magician, knows about the murder, and keeping him quiet will cost Eve. His younger sister Lilika has disappeared, along with all state record that she ever existed, and Jakob wants to use Eve’s knowledge of the town’s politics, prejudices, and secrets to find her. Jakob’s reputation as an illusionist, equal parts skilled and dangerous, tells Eve he won’t hesitate to use what he knows against her if she doesn’t help him. If she does, however, his reputation as a fledgling criminal could draw police attention she needs to avoid.

When Eve discovers she and Jakob have similar tattoos, she decides they’re better as allies than enemies. But if they think they know the truth about the crocus on Jakob’s arm and the lily on Eve’s neck, they’re wrong. The history behind their shared tattoos could be the only way to find Lilika. It could also get them killed.

First page:

Eve knows the rumors. Some swear that the boy makes rosebushes vanish at night and reappear in the morning. Others say his talent is turning himself into a cat with eyes black as its fur. But Eve didn’t come for his tricks. She came to find out why he never leaves coins in the fountains.

She chooses an empty seat at the back of the great room. A few women look over their shoulders to shame her for being late. They don’t guess the truth, that Eve is not one of them, that she wears no earrings not because she forgot them but because she doesn’t own any.

Her dress, blue as a gas flame and weighted with beading, trails on the hardwood floor. The too-long hem might give her away, but with her hair swept off her shoulders, her lips painted to make them appear smaller, no one looks closely enough to notice. Too many girls visit the Banagher estate to keep track of each new one.

Even the guests whose fortunes she’s told in town don’t recognize her. Earlier, in Gloria’s bronze-framed mirror, Eve barely recognized herself, the evening gown and chignon a country apart from her everyday floral dresses and loose hair.

Banagher’s men stand the boy with his back to the fireplace. She guesses it is because they prefer not to see his face, the color of Darjeeling tea steeped a minute too long. They dim the sconces, and the boy is nothing but a body and hands.

Team Krista #10: THELMA BEE

Title: THELMA BEE
Genre: MG adventure
Word count: 34,000

Query:

Eleven-year-old Thelma Bee might turn red as cherries when she’s embarrassed, but she’s no wallflower. Thelma has adventure in her blood. There’s not a whole lot of opportunity for exploration in her hometown of Riverfish, Massachusetts, though, so she and her best friend Alexander Oldtree are often left to their own devices--with mixed results. The full-scale Viking Longship, for example, was a magnificent flop.

But one October night, Thelma’s sixth grade year takes a turn for the peculiar. A ghostly visitor kidnaps her father, leaving her alone and scared to death. Her only clue is a centuries-old jewelry box and one cryptic word the ghost whispered into her ear: “Return.”

That one word draws this adventurer-in-training into a world where her family tree unfolds a mystery that’s more extraordinary than anything her imagination could concoct. With her team of amateur ghost hunters, Thelma delves deep into the New England woods, where the lines between folklore and reality become dangerously blurry. It’s there, where the creaking trees have long memories, that she comes face to face with the devious Mr. Understone, who has been stalking her bloodline for centuries. Thelma has something he wants, and he’ll keep her dad until he gets it.

To save her father, she must find the bravery to overcome a dark magic…and discover just what she’s made of.

First page:

Thelma Bee had short, confident bangs, a heavy red backpack, and no idea that a very strange thing was about to find her. When the final bell rang that Wednesday afternoon, she closed her eyes and the sound transformed into a celebration of mariachi trumpets. Just one more school day until the long-long weekend. She busted out of the front door with the excitement that only 2:30 p.m. can bring, and navigating a path through a weird-smelling ocean of middle-schoolers, Thelma set a course for her dad’s antique shop.

Mr. Henry Bee was the proud proprietor of Bee’s Very Unusual Antiques--which was, in Thelma’s opinion, a bit of false advertising. Sometimes they sold items that were quite ordinary, like an old chipped mug, and sometimes they sold things that were not antique at all, like Mrs. Edelstein’s homemade cookies. Maybe, she thought, the shop should be named something more like Bee’s Very Unusual Antiques and Also Some Very Normal Antiques and Also Cookies. Not very catchy, but honest.

“Hey, Dad!” She threw down her backpack and plopped herself on an overstuffed avocado-and-orange-colored chair from the 1970s.

“Hey, kiddo!” hollered Henry. He emerged from his workshop in a worn-out brown apron.

Henry Bee sported the kind of thick eyeglasses that had been fashionable in the 1950s, as he had a passion for the old and unique. Once a journalist for the American Post, Henry had traveled the globe reporting on strange occurrences from Albany to Antarctica. In fact, it was there in Antarctica that he’d met Thelma’s mother, Mary “Goosefoot” Bee.

Team Krista #9: PLAYING WITH FIRE

Title: PLAYING WITH FIRE
Genre: YA urban fantasy
Word count: 76,000

Query:

Seventeen-year-old Pollock Avery can steal anything for anyone. Her electrokinesis allows her to short out security systems with a quick zap, then it’s as easy as breathing to nab a priceless painting. Since her parents’ murders, the money has kept her and her little sister out of the foster system.

When a mysterious new client offers Pollock information about the murders in exchange for the private use of her unique form of thievery, she knows the deal is sketchy. But she can’t resist the allure of finally uncovering the killer and getting revenge. As the heists get riskier, the client grows more deceptive, and Pollock realizes he wants more than art and jewels…he wants the key to her ability.

Ending their arrangement won’t be easy, though. The client will do anything to obtain the Avery sisters’ abilities, even kill them like he did their parents. When he kidnaps Pollock’s sister, she has to work fast to get her back or she’ll be adding another number to the Avery body count. Killing a murderer won’t be as simple as stealing, but Pollock’s electrokinesis packs a shocking punch.

First page:

The security guard’s heavy boots echo on the stairs below us. A static buzz fills the air as his radio clicks on.

“This is SG9. Robbery in progress at the James Anderson Museum. Two female suspects headed for the roof.”

“Are you happy now?” I huff. We burst through the roof access door and dash to the edge. The scarf covering my mouth and nose muffles my voice. “On my back, Rem.”

My sister climbs on and digs her heels into my side. I twist my long ponytail over my shoulder so she won’t use it as reins. The last time she did that I expected to be bald when we landed. I imagine my body is a spring. Shiny metal coils squish against one another. My muscles contract. Tension builds.

A deep breath and…release!

Together, Rem and I leap through the night sky. I look back as the guard runs on the roof. I don’t know if he saw us jump, but right now I need to focus on the landing. I shot too far.

Gritting my teeth, I try to pull back, but it’s too late. We slam into a tall oak tree in the park a mile or so from the museum. Sharp pain shoots through my left shoulder; twigs scratch my face. Loud cracks of splitting wood cut through the silent park as Rem tumbles off my back and falls through the branches. She better hold on to the backpack.

Team Krista #8: DRIVERS

Title: DRIVERS
Genre: Science fiction
Word count: 84,000

Query:

Ash Palmer sold his life for 150,000 dollars. The money will go to his parents, and he’ll go to his grave. All he has to do is drive a supposedly unmanned vehicle into battle for a foreign army, and it will all be over. This time, the inevitable second thoughts won’t steal the ending Ash seeks.

It’s the suicide to end all attempts, but Ash just isn’t any good at dying. When he and Zephyr, another driver, make it back from their first mission, Ash discovers that she understands him better than he thought possible. So many reasons to die, yet one reason to live might overrule them all.

Unfortunately, their employer won’t let either of them quit. He’ll kill them to advance his career. They know too much. And inside each vehicle is a self-destruct to destroy all evidence of the human drivers if anything goes wrong.

Ash has a plan to override the self-destruct and escape, but it’s a suicide mission in and of itself. The future looks darker by the hour. Giving his life to save Zephyr’s is a far better death than Ash has ever faced. But is it really the best thing for her? Maybe the question isn’t whether he has the courage to die for Zephyr, but whether he has the courage to live for both of them.

First page:

I don’t exist anymore. Not as a real person, anyway. I’m more like cargo. Expensive cargo, with my own guard and a corporate jet. The steps down to the tarmac are steep but sturdy. The sky arches overhead, splashed with clouds. A city squats nearby, skyscrapers reaching. And the air smells foreign.

I’m not a prisoner, exactly. I’m an employee. My first day on the job has been everything they promised--exciting, new, well-paying. My last day on the job is less than a week away, though they’re not certain exactly when. That’s too bad, because I’d really like to know when I’m going to die. Mostly, I just want to get through the days until then.

My guard hands a passport to another man who must be airport security.

“Ash Palmer,” he mutters, glancing up at me. I guess it’s my passport. This ain’t normal airport security. There’s no metal detector, no customs, not even a desk. Just the one guy who writes something in a book and doesn’t bother stamping passports.

There were three others like me on the plane, each with his--or her--own guard. Mine looks like Yul Brynner: bald, sharp jaw line, intense manner. He collects the passports of the two recruits who went through security first, drops them into a small vinyl pouch with mine, and waits for the girl behind me.

She’s the only girl. The guards, security guy, and the other recruits are all men. I suppose that applies to me as well, though I’m still more comfortable with “boy.”

Team Krista #7: DUET WITH THE DEVIL'S VIOLIN

Title: DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN
Genre: MG magical realism
Word count: 43,000

Query:

Thirteen-year-old prodigy Miranda Harper craves the kind of perfection that goes beyond hitting all the right notes--she wants to be inside the music. Thanks to her new violin, she achieves her goal, but it's more than she bargained for. A flawless performance of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” lands her in a flying chariot piloted by a six-and-a-half-foot Valkyrie delivering a dead soldier to Valhalla. She’s sure there shouldn’t be dead bodies inside the music.

Miranda snaps back to reality, only to battle exhaustion and a reluctance to play for several days. She decides the Valkyrie incident was a hallucination, until the magic strikes again during a Halloween concert. This time her world goes black and white, and a dress-clad psycho chases her with a butcher knife. As a bonus, the scratches Miranda gets during her escape come back to the real world with her.

With each trip into the music, it’s harder to return and the side effects get worse. Miranda knows she should stop, but the violin and its promise of perfection call to her. The euphoria of one extraordinary performance is worth a few days of exhaustion and some cuts and bruises. But when she discovers continuing to play the violin could trap her forever in an alternate reality, she must decide what perfection is really worth.

First page:

Perfection.

I knew it wasn’t really possible. Near perfection, yes. Total perfection, no way.

I’d learned that lesson after years of playing the violin. Something that sounded flawless to the average person was bound to have minuscule errors.

A tone so slightly off pitch that even someone with a highly trained ear couldn’t tell.

A note played a hundredth of a beat too soon.

A bow pulled at the wrong speed to produce the right sound.

A measure performed in mezzo piano instead of pianissimo.

Joshua Bell, classical music superstar and my idol, once said: “When it’s perfect, I feel like I can do no wrong. I could change my fingers--do it on a different string--because I have that much concentration. Also, you feel like you’re inside the music.”

That was what I wanted to feel--that I was inside the music. That I was the music.

I especially wanted that sensation today, my first day as concertmaster of the youth symphony. Miranda Harper: concertmaster. I loved the sound of it. I should have had the title last season, but Dr. Kamensky had said I needed a year to observe. It probably hadn’t helped that my first year was the previous concertmaster’s final year before college, and it would have really sucked to be bumped by a seventh grader.

Instead he’d named me principal second violinist. At least we’d played some Mozart. Good old Wolfgang sometimes let the second violins outshine the firsts.

Now it was my turn to shine, and we weren’t playing Mozart today.

Team Krista #6: THE FALLEN PRINCESS

Title: THE FALLEN PRINCESS
Genre: YA fantasy romance
Word count: 85,000

Query:

Sent away at age sixteen to serve as an artist in a foreign ruler’s court, Princess Delfina is eager to leave her uncle’s palace. Not only will she get to use her training as a painter of illuminated manuscripts, but she will delay the looming threat of an arranged marriage.

The price to be paid for such an opportunity? She must gather information for her uncle, the ruling Khan of Karavai. No easy task, since the Khan expects her to charm Prince Darclor--one of Karavai’s worst enemies--into sharing his secrets. Yet when Delfina meets the handsome young prince, his deep passion for the arts charms her. But as long as he poses a threat to her homeland, she cannot risk falling in love with him.

Upon learning she must return to Karavai, to marry an aging, half-crazed monarch, Delfina runs away. Only too late does she learn that her uncle promised her to Darclor instead, to secure an alliance between their kingdoms. When Darclor captures her, seeking revenge for the humiliation she caused him, Delfina must win back his heart. If she doesn’t, he will turn her over to the Khan, who knows just how to punish disobedient nieces--by imprisoning them for life. 

First page:

The door to the palace workshop burst open, disrupting the silence of the afternoon. One of the younger apprentices stood there, catching his breath. “The Khan is coming for his inspection!”

I looked up from my work, placing the delicate, squirrel-hair paintbrush next to the unfinished page. My uncle was coming. Now. And I was in no state to greet him. “I thought he wasn’t due to visit until next week.”

“No, he’s on his way. He’ll be here within minutes!”

Master Giordani strode to the center of the room and clapped his hands together. “On your feet! Put everything away except the pages for the Khan’s book. Fetch them from the shelves and place them on the table. Hurry!”

Without hesitation, all of us--the apprentices, calligraphers, and senior artisans--were up and moving. To the untrained eye, the studio appeared a chaotic mess, the wooden tables crowded with paper, reed pens, brushes, and oyster shells filled with oil paints. Every bit of it was essential for our work, but the Khan would regard it as clutter.

Giordani reviewed the pages, nodded in approval, and then ordered everyone to stand in line. I lingered by the shelves until he caught my eye.

“Delfina, you need to join the others.”

“I don’t think I should. If I leave now, you won’t be blamed for my unkempt appearance.” I wound my finger around a stray curl--one of many that had escaped from under my headscarf.

Team Krista #5: SILO

Title: SILO
Genre: YA speculative fiction
Word count: 84,000

Query:

After a global disaster strikes, seventeen-year-old Lizzie Wallace is kidnapped from the rubble of her high school in Los Angeles and flown across the devastated country. Her new home is an underground silo hidden deep in the Adirondack Mountains. In this modern-day Noah's Ark, the children are paired--male and female, ranging in age from ten to eighteen. They are the future, each one chosen for their special skill to rebuild society. There's only one problem--Lizzie doesn't have the skill they think she does.

Her repeated failure at growing their food cements her belief that she doesn't belong. Even her growing attraction to her chosen mate, Brand, doesn't stop her from plotting to escape and return to the family she knows is frantic about her. But when desperate looters breach the silo and murder her kidnapper, Lizzie learns the truth about why she was chosen. Now she must decide: Stay to defend the silo and her friends or fight her way back to her family in Los Angeles.

First page:

The first explosion rocks the room, sending my books flying off the desk. The second makes the ground tremble and the lights flicker. Ms. Clark drops the dry eraser and grabs the corner of her large desk. I brace for a third and don't have to wait long. This one flings the glass specimen jars from the walls, smashing them onto the concrete floor. The smells of formaldehyde and death fill the science class.

"Everyone remain calm," Ms. Clark says.

"Should we get under our desks?" I ask.

Ms. Clark, now frozen in place, doesn’t respond. I don’t wait for an answer, crawling under my desk.

“Lizzie,” Christopher calls to me, but in the chaos I can’t find him. Bodies swarm everywhere in panic. Doesn’t anyone remember the drills we’ve been practicing for a decade now? We’ve been hearing about The Big One since we could walk. They’ve trained us for this. Get under your desks, curl into a little rock, and remain calm until the earthquake stops.

Only this isn’t stopping. The ground shakes again and the lights go out. Screams and sobs reverberate over the din of the creaking building, its beams groaning in protest.

I feel a hand on my arm, strong and warm. I don’t even have to look to know whose it is. I have every callous on Christopher's hand memorized, including the wart he keeps cutting off that stubbornly grows back on the inside of his thumb. I grab his hand, lacing my fingers through his, and squeeze tight.

Team Krista #4: AN UNCOMMON BLUE

Title: AN UNCOMMON BLUE
Genre: YA fantasy
Word count: 89,000

Query:

Days before graduation, sixteen-year-old Bruno Nazaire makes the worst mistake a Blue can make--he grabs the hand of a suicidal Green, saving the boy’s life and forever altering his own.

In Télesphore, the glowing color of a person's palm determines their place in society, and touching hands with another mixes the colors permanently. Changing identities might not be so bad for the weirdoes and wallflowers, but Bruno is the most popular guy on the rugby team. Or, was. Now with a turquoise palm, the best he can hope for is a backbreaking life in the sewers. Only a last-minute arranged marriage to another Blue might save him. The problem is, he's already fallen for Véronique, a girl from the Red Slums who's opened his eyes to the suffering of the lower colors.

As classifications approach, Bruno sees only two choices: turn his back on the oppressed and embrace the posh life he was meant to live; or leave his family, hide from the law, and continue imparting his blue to give the less fortunate a chance at a better life. When he learns Véronique is in danger of falling victim to a lecherous member of the Royal Council, Bruno decides neither option will do, and he'll face the fight of his life to tear down the color boundaries and win the girl of his dreams.

First page:

The exam hit my desk like a textbook.

“Good luck, Bruno,” Madame Axelle said.

I tried to smile, but only managed a grimace. This was it, the last test before classification. I should’ve gotten up earlier to study. Maybe then I would’ve remembered the protein bars. Only two hours past lunch and I was already hungry.

The room went dark.

“Begin,” Madame Axelle said.

I picked at my eraser and waited for my eyes to adjust. I knew the school just wanted to make it harder for us to see our neighbor’s answers, but I’d never been any good at writing by firelight.

I flipped the test over and read the first question by the bluish light of my palm:

1.         According to Télesphorian legend, how did the first man and woman populate the world?

a.       One at a time through natural reproductive means
b.      Teaching wolves to walk upright and speak
c.       Bringing stones to life by touching them
d.      Planting their severed fingers in the soil to grow children

I grinned. Every kid in Télesphore knew the story of the couple that had wandered the planet touching rocks and turning them into people. Maybe this test would be easier than I thought.

I was already through two more questions when I noticed a folded piece of paper at the corner of my desk. I glanced behind me, where Drea sat smirking.

Yeah, right. Even if she was one of the prettiest Blues in class, there was no way I was going to get caught cheating for her.

Team Krista #3: THE ROAD OF THE DEAD

Title: THE ROAD OF THE DEAD
Genre: Science fiction thriller
Word count: 93,000

Query:

In a resource-starved future, most people view The Program as a godsend. A technology invented by reclusive scientist Gary Fratangelo, The Program converts energy from the souls of the dead into cheap and limitless power. But there are some who believe that it is an abomination.

Singer-songwriter Sheppard Lorren hasn’t given much thought to the Program until he collides with it head-on. Far from home on tour, he receives devastating news. Not only is his cancer-stricken daughter Lily close to death, but his estranged wife has promised Lily’s soul to The Program. Joined by Fratangelo’s sister, and Mako, a brilliant technophile whose biggest secret is his involvement in the Program, Sheppard embarks on a journey to the Sacred Lands, ground zero for Fratangelo’s technology. To get there, the trio must survive a nightmare landscape where the earth is cracked and lifeless and ectoplasm falls from the sky in a deadly blue rain. And even if they make it, they may be too late to save Lily, and there may be no stopping The Program as it reaches critical mass.

First page:

Even with his head ducked low to avoid recognition, Sheppard Lorren saw the prophet hovering above the street corner adjacent to the hotel. With his arms spread wide to draw in the gathering crowd, the prophet floated nearly three feet up, his feet planted as if the air he stood on was as solid as the sidewalk below.

“Through our greed we have defied the natural order.” Evangelical in its cadence, the man’s amplified voice boomed out across the people who’d stopped to listen. “No, not defied. We have defiled the natural order.”

Thankful that his guitar was back in the hotel room, Sheppard tugged the brim of his baseball cap lower over his eyes and then approached the edge of the gathering, glancing around to make sure he hadn’t been noticed. But with everyone’s eyes focused on the larger-than-life figure levitating there like a god come to earth, nobody so much as blinked in his direction.

The prophet shimmered, a rippling in the three-dimensional image, and Sheppard recognized the figure for what it was. A hologram.

He’d seen prophets before. In some cities they were on practically every street, their clothes tattered, their hair dirty. As plentiful as robins had once been in springtime, they perched atop shipping crates or the bases of statues, preaching God’s wrath and the end of the world. But with all the cities he’d visited on tour, he’d never seen a manifestation like this one.

Team Krista #2: CHRONICITY

Title: CHRONICITY
Genre: MG fantasy
Word count: 54,000

Query:

Thirteen-year-old Grim Grinnert has no idea how he got stuck as an Apprentice in Chronicity, the Town of Time. All he knows is that he wants to go home, because there’s something wonky about this place where HoroHounds search the centuries for era-hopping prowlers and a class assignment can send you to the Peloponnesian War. He’d take his mother’s stale-pizza-and-flat-soda suppers any day over the Count’s relentless lecture fests and his TimeWheel teacher’s attempts to off him.

But the Watch, the robotic police force of Chronicity, has other plans for Grim. He’s missing the hourglass birthmark that’s supposed to brand everyone who enters Chronicity, and they’ve given Grim one month to convince them he’s not a Timbukker--an illegal. With the help of his two best friends and a 400-year-old girl he may or may not have a crush on, he sets out to determine how and why he stumbled into Chronicity. If he fails to find the answers before the Watch watch strapped to his arm hits zero, they’ll send him someplace horrible…like 1932. Forever.

Tick tock, says the clock. And in Chronicity, time is the one thing Grim doesn’t have.

First page:

Grim hated his name. It wasn’t short for Griffin, or Grissom, it was just Grim, and he’d never understood why his parents called him something that meant “extremely unpleasant.” Some kids at school, mostly girls, thought it sounded mature, but to him it just sounded depressing. Why couldn’t he have had some nice, normal, average name, one that didn’t make him stick out like a sore thumb?

But then, his parents never had been exactly average. And although the Grinnerts lived in an average town, on an average street, in an average house, it took approximately five seconds to see that they were anything but.

“HEY, KID! YOU BETTER WATCH IT!”

Grim poked his head out his bedroom window and snickered. His eight-year-old brother, Tyrus, was throwing jumbo marshmallows into the windows of passing cars and calling out, “Want s’more?”

Tyrus was a Grinnert through and through, and this afternoon he was wearing an aluminum foil hat with ears that pointed straight up, like a horse’s. Grim threw his algebra textbook onto the bed. He had quit being embarrassed by his family’s oddities long ago--at least most of the time--and this particular scene looked like it was going to be too good to miss. A few seconds later, his mother barreled out the front door.

“Tyrus Grinnert!” she yelled as she ran. “How many times have I told you not to waste your father’s aluminum foil? If you’re going to use it, make something useful, like an alien antennae!”

Team Krista #1: FACE THE MUSIC

Title: FACE THE MUSIC
Genre: YA contemporary romance
Word count: 75,000

Query:

Tate's dad used to say when words fail, music speaks. It's the one language she could always hear. Not with her ears, which hadn't worked since birth, but with her heart. To the faculty at Ravenswood Fine Arts Academy, she's a cello prodigy. To her peers...let's just say they don't call her Beethoven because they like her.

Through three years of concerts and solos and duels for chair placements, Tate has always been defined by what she lacks instead of what she has. But this year is different. This year she has Silverton. The prospect of a full ride to the most prestigious music college on the West Coast is enough to make the daily torture known as high school worth it. She will win that scholarship and finally find the one place where music overrides her disability. All she has to do is practice really hard, be nothing less than perfect and--duet with pianist Jared Lynch?

In a stunning twist, Silverton decides on a theme competition this year, partnering Tate with the one boy who both frustrates and fascinates her. Jared's rich, he's popular, and he's dating the she-devil rival cellist who crowned Tate Grand Marshal of the freak parade. He also has a passion for music that she yearns to understand and secrets as complicated as Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante. But as they clash over their duet--she wants to play it safe; he wants to risk everything--it's clear he has the power to see through the deafness Tate brandishes like a shield.

First page:

Most of the students at Ravenswood Fine Arts Academy knew one word in sign language. Beethoven. It’s what they called me. And it wasn’t meant as a compliment. I was the mad cellist, and whispers circulated about how I must have sold my soul to be able to play cello “like that” when I couldn’t even hear the music.

It didn’t matter that I’d earned my place at the exclusive high school instead of having Mommy and Daddy pay my way. It only mattered that my talent was unnatural. I was unnatural. And I did everything in my power to make sure they all continued to think so.

My fingers slipped on the C string, bending the illusion of perfection I tried so hard to maintain. The second movement of Dvorak’s "Cello Concerto in B Minor" was supposed to be lyrical and romantic, and damn it all, I couldn’t feel it under the muddled vibrations that swirled around me.

I glanced up to see Cassie, my one and only ally in Ravenswood hell, making faces at me on the other side of the practice room glass. I motioned her inside with a wave of my bow, and she bounced in, tossing her black curly hair out of her eyes.

“Party at Melanie’s house tonight. You coming?”

Absolutely not.

Melanie was second chair to my first. She’d hated my guts ever since I’d beaten her out of the top spot in the orchestra’s cello section my freshman year.