I think I neglected to mention I was interviewed by Slate about my experience as a sensitivity reader. They of course took all my quotes out of context, so I don’t know how I come off here, but it’s still super cool to be interviewed, and that they did an article on this subject in the first place!
This was seriously hard, guys. Judging contests is always hard, but I love reading about people’s stories so much, and I learn so much about query-writing and beginnings from judging them, that I’ll continue to put myself through this torture fairly regularly.
Some entries I didn’t choose because of technicalities like word count, market forces (as I understand them), and stuff like that (for instance, the fact I’d get yelled at if I only chose entries from my own team). Others I love the concept and voice, but think they’d be better served by another edit or two. And some entries are DEFINITELY ready for querying, but I didn’t choose them because other ones were more to my taste.
So, here are my votes:
THE SOCIAL SEASON
RAMBLN’ HAND OF SHERRY ANN
(And yes, I know that I chose three from #TeamLeia. I tried not to, because I felt like I was being partial, but I really just got a spectacular team. I would have chosen more from my team, actually…but see above.)
All of you, keep querying. I know the only reason I’ve gotten published is my dogged and stubborn refusal to quit. I’m using the same tactic with marketing, hoping it will work for me someday in that arena, as well.
It’s almost here—the release date for Love and War, installment number three of The Other Place series. It comes out on March 7!! But you can order an e-copy right now!
This is a novella told from Arty’s point of view. It describes events that took place during The Other Place, from her perspective. Originally, this was the beginning of the last book in the series, Synchronicity. I cut it out before turning the book into Limitless, though. I loved the story, and Arty’s voice, but it seemed awkward and out of place as the beginning of another book told in Justin’s voice.
However, when Limitless said they would publish it as a separate novella, I was thrilled!
I don’t know how many of you know the story of The Other Place Series, even though I’ve told it a million times. I began writing The Hustle a couple years ago when I’d first moved to a tiny little desert town in southern California. My marriage was unstable, and I myself was going through a transition (my psych would say I was in a manic phase, but that sounds too clinical).
With writing The Hustle, I was opening the time capsule of my late teens and early twenties. It wasn’t an appetizing process; it was as if someone had put an egg salad sandwich in there in 1999, and I was dissecting it. But I felt it was time to examine this part of my life, and see what I could come up with. So I wrote a book with a main character who was homeless and addicted to heroin, and who had to do a lot of things she wasn’t proud of in order to survive.
It was a really difficult process, but I’m glad I did it. I was able to root for Liria, and this helped me to forgive myself for a lot of my mistakes.
I’d been thinking about the book I’d write after The Hustle, and I was trying to gather the courage to write another book dealing with my personal issues. At that point, I hadn’t been very open about the fact that I had periodic episodes of psychosis, but when I was younger, I’d been terrified I had schizophrenia. Turns out I don’t, but I still felt the need to face that fear by writing a book from the point of view of a schizophrenic person.
Then, when I was still writing The Hustle, a weird and synchronistic thing happened. I was giving away sack lunches in the local park as part of the summer lunch program, when this young and handsome dude approached me and started talking about my shoes. I could tell right away he had schizophrenia, but I wasn’t scared of him at all. In fact, he was the coolest guy.
I only talked to him for about fifteen minutes, but I couldn’t get the guy out of my head. He ended up as a character in The Hustle, and then as the main character in the two books after that, The Other Place and Synchronicity.
I didn’t see the guy again for months—I didn’t even know his name. I called him “The Real Justin”. But I got to a point in the books when I knew my experience with psychosis wasn’t enough to get the narrative right. I needed to talk to The Real Justin in person.
Not knowing where to go, I went back to the park where I’d originally met him. He walked into it right after I did, came up to me, and told me he wanted to talk to me.
The Real Justin is, of course, Phoenix: my psychic vampire bastard and the other half of my soul peanut. We stuck together through the destruction of my marriage, and now we’re together as a couple. I’m so glad I have him. He’s taught me that being neurodiverse can be pretty damn awesome. And he’s brainstormed with me—during late-night delusions of mind-reading—ways to show the world what it truly means to be crazy, so that they can see the raw beauty of our worldview.
It was a long and heart-rending process, finding a home for a series this different. It’s hard for people to identify with people like Liria and Justin. This is why Phoenix and I feel like such outsiders: because we are. But I did finally find a home for the books with Limitless Publishing.
So, that’s the story of this series. I hope you like seeing the world through these different eyes, and that you can see the value in characters like Liria and Justin.
Category and Genre: Literary Fiction/Magical Realism
Word Count: 70K
A FOREST GUMP meets PRACTICAL MAGIC tale.
Most everyone in the family calls Dylan “slow.” Worse, his abusive mother claims he’s wicked. But Dylan has magic, and can spin marbles from oysters and whip up Chicken Alfredo by tapping his thumbs together. The only one to appreciate his magical abilities is his loving uncle and caretaker, a disabled Vietnam veteran. When Uncle Jim dies, Dylan is torn from the home he loves and placed in an adult boarding house. There he meets an equally gifted but troubled young lady named Liona.
Dylan finds a friend in Liona, and finally settles into his new life when a tragic accident drives him away. His only refuge now is the beach and the oyster beds. His old Vietnamese friend, Tim Lan, offers him a room in his shanty in exchange for his magically-made pearls. Dylan is tormented by the suspect requests of Tim Lan and muddled by his feelings for Liona. His nightmare ensues when his mother, who had once washed her hands of him, returns to exploit his gifts. Through his troubles, Dylan must find truth, and the courage to walk his own path.
By the time I was eighteen I didn’t care what Aunt Agnes said about me.
“He doesn’t connect the dots right,” she complained to everyone at my graduation party. “He can’t carry on a civil conversation. In fact, I don’t know if he is past the third-grade level of reading.”
I rolled my eyes, but Uncle Jim got mad. By the time we got home, Uncle Jim’s face was red and I swear he foamed at the mouth like a rabid dog. “He’s smart enough to finish high school, with decent grades to boot. So don’t you be talking him down.” Uncle Jim rolled his wheel chair into the house, threw his baseball cap on the couch, and grumbled something fierce, steering his chair through the litter in our living room. I appreciated his support, but I didn’t like him yelling. I dodged into the kitchen and waited for Aunt Agnes to leave.
I was happy enough. I had all I needed – a life with Uncle Jim in our little house at Windy Point. Best of all I had magic. I knew that someday that magic would make me a famous chef.
The sea empowered me. All I had to do was close my eyes and imagine the foamy surf splashing over the oyster beds, and then think of the water gliding gracefully down the beach, leaving imprints of its ripples in the sand. If I meditated long enough, the power flowed into me and tingled my left side.
In the aftermath of a car crash that claims the lives of his wife and child, world-renowned actor and musician Jonah Wilder spirals into the hell of heroin addiction. To avoid publicity during rehab, Jonah slips into his most ambitious role to date, becoming John Walker — a bearded, long-haired, reclusive auto mechanic. Under the guise of Walker, Jonah checks himself into a sobriety house in upstate Minnesota, determined to keep everyone at arm’s length and his tragic past hidden.
Divorced from her abusive, controlling husband, Andi Sawyer’s first priority is to provide a stable home for Charli, her musically gifted, special-needs daughter. Then an unexpected friendship blossoms with John Walker, the new arrival at the men’s sobriety house next door. But when the feeling that she’s met him before drives Andi to put her artistic skills to work, she realizes that John may not be the man she thought she knew.
As his walls crumble and love opens the door to dreams of a new life, John Walker envisions a future for the three of them as a family. But Andi’s dangerously obsessed ex-husband arrives in town, and Peter Sawyer will stop at nothing to reclaim what’s his. Jonah must reconcile his past and accept the better man he’s become, or he will lose everything he’s come to cherish—Andi, Charli—and his second chance at life.
FIRST 250 Words
God, do I need a hit. One little hit. Just one.
Jonah Wilder tried to silence the thought as soon as it appeared. But those in charge of his treatment program had changed the daily routine he’d come to depend on, and free-falling into agonizing withdrawal was the result.
Stay in your room this morning, the nurse who brought his breakfast said. No activities. Dr. Vance will be in shortly.
With nothing to do but pace his room in this prison that masqueraded as a chemical dependency treatment center, Jonah stopped and gazed out the window at the beautiful view it offered. Oh, how he longed to be out there with sunshine, fresh air, greenery, and not trapped in the same shit, different day, meaningless lump of inertia his life had become.
One hit. Just —
His emaciated body twitched.
Gripped by a wave of nausea, Jonah moved away from the window just as there was a soft knock on the door and the man of the hour stepped into his room.
Dr. Vance was a bespectacled, thin, gray-haired man with a New England accent, an enormous beak of a nose and kindly brown eyes. “Hello, Jonah,” Dr. Vance said, closing the door. “How are you today?”
Every morning it was the same greeting, as if he was expecting a different response than what Jonah always provided, whether it was true or not.
“I’m okay.” But this time he added, “What the hell is going on?”
“God, Adds! Do you ever let up? The season hasn’t even started, yet,” Jessica whined from her position inside the goal.
“After 14 years, I thought you’d have learned the answer to that question,” I teased.
“Well, there was that ONE time in first grade when we sat in your living room and watched a movie,” Jessica quipped sarcastically.
“Ha. Ha.” I rolled my eyes. Jessica Strobel and I had been best friends since first grade. Now, going into our junior year at Northwestern University, our relationship subsisted entirely on sarcasm and caffeine. “I’ll tell you what. Since you managed to block almost 10% of my shots, and I know what a sore loser you are, I’ll take you out to coffee after we’re done here.”
“Wow, your highness! You are so magnanimous. Thank you soooooo much…” Jessica continued her sardonic charade. As much as we teased, I did feel a little guilty for dragging her to this practice. It was the last day before the start of fall classes, and while pre-semester practices weren’t mandatory, I was beginning to feel the stress of the inevitability of graduating in two years. I only had two seasons left to impress scouts and get picked up by a professional team, or risk becoming another college has-been. That was a fate to which I refused to succumb.
Title: The Social Season
Category and Genre: Adult Speculative Fiction
Word Count: 110,000
The forty-fourth Social Season isn’t optional for Natalie James. She’s being forced to participate, a stipulation from her trial for treason back when she was a child. While she’d been spared, her mother wasn’t so lucky. And she’d be damned if she let that death be in vain.
Instead, Natalie begins scheming to use the system to her advantage. Her plan is to go unnoticed through the various events, meant to showcase the qualities that would make her a good wife, mistress or servant to a member of the elite.
If she succeeds, she’ll be able to marry her best friend, a man who isn’t determined to control her and will help her take down the tyrannical government controlling their lives.
There’s just one problem. While searching for weaknesses in the government, she’s caught trespassing by one of the most powerful men in the city: Nicholas Olsen, future lord of Dolfian.
Nicholas finds himself intrigued by someone who doesn’t want to obey orders. And he’s determined to make her his wife, a task that will please both his family and his city.
Most girls would be delighted by his proclamation. But Natalie isn’t most girls, and she has no plans to let Nicholas Olsen take over her life and mark her as his legal property.
The Season quickly becomes a battle of will and power, as Natalie works to circumvent an oppressive system and Nicholas bends the rules of the same system to take what he so desperately wants.
First 250 words:
I was pacing anxiously in my father’s office, searching for an escape route from this horrid conversation. He was not easily evaded, however, and he’d been adept at bringing me to his office immediately following my arrival. He’d doubtless spent many hours crafting this particular speech. The conversation had been lingering at the edge of our meetings for months now.
As I continued to pace, he spoke. “Son, it’s time for you to choose. I’m not saying it has to be this season. I’ll give you…let’s say…three seasons. But you will attend each one until you’ve claimed a mate. Do you understand?”
He was just barely speaking, his voice a bit louder than a whisper. He didn’t need to yell, anyway. I’d spent enough time with him to know when to argue. But I’d no interest in a wife; I didn’t need a woman following me around, groveling at my feet.
“Father,” I said. “I’m only twenty-five. I’ve been training under you for five years now. I shadowed you for a long time before that. Don’t you think I should be able to relax for just a bit before I take on a wife? And if I’m going to be the next Lord of Dolfian, do you really think I should be distracted? Why don’t I go through a season looking for a servant or a mistr-“
I broke off quickly, seeing his face grow dangerously cold. I’d gone too far in my desperation. But I wouldn’t apologize.
When Maggie summons her twin Josie for lunch in the middle of a work day, Josie knows there’s a favor looming. When Maggie asks asexual Josie to be her surrogate, Josie is tempted to brush aside the clump of hair that’s hidden her eyes since high school to see if she’s serious. But when Maggie insists that Josie get pregnant the old-fashioned way, by sleeping with her husband, Josie’s heard enough. She packs up her salad and heads for the door.
That’s when Maggie says if Josie doesn’t do it, she’ll use a former classmate who just ducked embezzlement charges and wants to have sex with her husband. What choice does Josie have? She’s spent her life protecting Maggie, saving her soul at the expense of her own. She’s never said no to Maggie. After all, they’re practically one person.
But there’s a lot about Maggie that Josie doesn’t know — the reason for her infertility, that she’s having an affair . . . her compulsion to claim for herself everyone who has ever wanted Josie. Flirty and adorable, Maggie doesn’t expect the shift in her husband’s affection. It never occurred to her that he could fall for sexless Josie. Or Josie for him.
Told from the perspectives of Maggie, Josie and their husbands (one of whom is unreliable), it turns out Maggie’s not the only one with something to hide. In the aftermath of the “act,” their marriages seemingly over and the twins at odds, the couples wait to learn whether Josie is pregnant. At long last, Maggie and Josie must come to terms with the incestuous relationship that turned them toward and away from each other, and molded their identities.
Josie’s cell phone rang again, the ringtone it came programmed with emanating from the battered vinyl purse slung over the back of her desk chair. It had been ringing repeatedly for an hour which meant it was Maggie. When her twin wanted to talk, she meant now. Maggie didn’t know what it meant to work. That you can’t stop an experiment mid-culture to yack about whether Maggie should try bangs or to congratulate her on losing two pounds.
Eighteen. Josie counted the rings subconsciously. She was math-y that way. Numbers spoke to her better than people.
“Would you pick up the damn phone, Josie? It’s driving me nuts,” Jack Randall called from the next office. It wasn’t like Jack, who co-directed the forensic lab with her, couldn’t be annoying. He spent plenty of time on YouTube and Hulu while he set up cultures and rubber-stamped requisitions. If he was doing something rote, it never occurred to him that Josie might be trying to concentrate, even if she pointedly closed her door. But Josie never spoke up, never told him off, didn’t today. She wasn’t that way.
The office walls were paper thin. They weren’t even proper walls, just dividers that gave lab directors the illusion they’d risen above the mere benches. As a result, Josie knew way too much about Jack, his rocky marriage, his druggie kid, his gambling, his girlfriend. She didn’t want him, or anyone, to know about her.