Thursday, February 27, 2014

Agent-Author Chat: Laura Zats and Erin McGhee Petti

So happy to welcome Laura Zats of Red Sofa Literary to the blog along with one of her newest clients, Erin McGhee Petti! It's worth noting that Ms. Petti is actually RETURNING to the blog, as she was one of the original members of Team Krista back in 2012, and I'm thrilled to announce that she found representation for THELMA BEE, the very manuscript that was part of that inaugural round of "The Writer's Voice."

Ms. Petti took a break from querying after she had her first baby, because as every new mom can attest, it's tough to find the time to buy toilet paper, let alone query a manuscript. Then two of Ms. Zats's #MSWL tweets caught Ms. Petti's eye:

And the rest, as they say, is history:)

As always, Ms. Petti's query and responses will appear in orange, Ms. Zats's in blue. Enjoy!

Ms. Petti's Query Thanks so much for participating in #MSWL! After reading through your feed, I think you might enjoy reading THELMA BEE. It's got a non-treasure hunting quest through a swamp! Thelma's adventure has a little bit of creepy, a lot of fun, and an MC who is part Dana Scully...but turns out to be a little bit Buffy as well.

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. 

Please get in touch any time if you need additional information, and thank you for your time!

KV: Ms. Petti, how did you first come up with the idea for THELMA BEE?

EMP: Honestly the very first thing that inspired Thelma Bee was a weird looking rock formation in the river in my backyard. I thought, "Oh man, that looks like the back of a sleeping river monster. THAT'S COOL." I'd just moved out of the city and the change of pace really opened up my imagination. Now, Thelma and her crew are so dear to my heart that I kind of feel like I've been living with them forever. 

KV: Tell us a little bit about your query-writing process. Did you work on it here and there as you were writing the manuscript, or before, or after? How many times did you revise it? And how did you decide what order to put things in?

EMP: I had no idea what a query was while I was writing the book, and was embarrassingly clueless at first. I'd read a blog entry that said a query should read like the blurb on a book jacket--so that's what I did for the first round. Not quite the level of compelling detail that agents are looking for, it turns out. It took me a while to plug into the right blogs, Twitter feeds, etc, to put me on the right track.

I revised the query eleventy billion times.

Luckily, I was chosen for your team in The Writer's Voice! Your critique of my query was an incredibly important step to getting it where it needed to be. 

KV: What was the hardest thing about writing your query? What was the easiest?

EMP: Cutting the fat and streamlining the ideas were my biggest challenges once I got going. The easiest part was probably the voice, weirdly, because when I start writing about Thelma, she just peeks through. No matter how ill-shaped the query was at any point in time, I always felt that her personality was there.

KV: Ms. Zats, when you first read Ms. Petti’s query, what caught your attention?
LZ: I loved the mention of the Viking longship. Clearly, this story had a smart protagonist, and had just the amount of odd and whimsy that I obsess over.​
KV: I have to add that the Viking longship stuck out to me, too:) Such a great detail! Okay, back to the interview…

Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about THELMA BEE?
LZ: Thelma is such a cool kid. She is a nerd, but she's scientific, which I don't think you see a lot. Her life is full of adventure, so she takes every setback in stride and with a good humor that makes me want to be her best friend. I also loved that who you originally expect to be the villain in this story is just the opposite, which opens the door to a lot of surprises.

KV: How quickly did you read Ms. Petti's manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?
LZ: It took me about a week to request a partial, and then two weeks after that, I requested the full. After that, I had it a month before the Call. That response time is pretty typical, but a bit on the faster side of things.​

KV: Ms. Petti, what tips do you have for fellow writers as they work on their queries?

EMP: For beginners who are just figuring this out, read blogs like these. Find authors you love on Twitter and follow who they follow. Query Shark is terrifying but useful. Your best friend will love your query no matter what, and she's fabulous, but hand it to someone who has been in the trenches for a while for an objective opinion.

For those who have been querying for a long time, stay open to new ideas and track your progress. Talk to folks who are going through the same things as you for support. Publishing is weird and twisty and one email can change everything--have faith! 

KV: Same question to you, Ms. Zats. What query-writing suggestions do you have?
LZ: Rule number one: be nice. Do research and query the agents you actually believe would be a good fit for you. Follow the basic query structure. Instead of being innovative and attention-grabbing, just frame your book in the best and most exciting way possible while retaining you book's essence. Let your book speak for itself. And if you're not sure your query is the clearest, give it to someone who doesn't know anything about your book. Let them read it, and then ask them what the book is about. If they don't give you the answer you'd like, rework it. ​

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?

EMP: If you're writing, you're doing something truly awesome. Enjoy the freedom of creativity and try not to get too bogged down with the rest of it. As long as you're creating and finding joy, you're winning. 

LZ: ​It's better to have no agent than an unenthusiastic one. Make sure you're writing the book you want to write, and stick with it. The right agent is out there, but it might just not be the right time for you yet. And for those of you waiting to hear back: agents take way longer with books they like than with books they don't!

I couldn't agree more:) Thanks again, ladies, for taking the time to answer my questions. Fingers crossed for THELMA BEE! 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ms. Gref Has Picked Her Winners!

Without any ado, the winners of this month's round:


Congratulations, winners! You win a 50-page critique from Ms. Gref! Please e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com for details on how to submit your first 50 pages.

Thank you, everyone, for promoting, entering, and critiquing. And thank you, Ms. Gref, for your insightful comments. I'm sure I'm not the only one who learned a lot from your feedback.

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Critique Away!

And we're off! Check out the entries, then leave some feedback in the comments if you feel so inclined. (ENTRANTS, PLEASE REMEMBER TO CRITIQUE AT LEAST THREE OTHER ENTRIES!) And I'm sure this goes without saying, but please keep your comments constructive (i.e., not rude or mean-spirited). If you want to think like The Agent, you might consider the question, "How much of the entry did you read, and if you didn't read it all, why did you stop?"

I'll announce Ms. Gref's winners and prizes at the beginning of next week, but until then, have at it! And don't miss the awesome entries on the second page. I always tell Blogger to put the entries on the first, but it rarely listens...

(Also, just so you're aware, I always take out profanity when I'm formatting the entries. In other words, any asterisks you see in the entries are mine, so you don't need to point them out to the entrants. I just prefer to keep things as PG-rated as possible on the blog.

Last but not least, entrants, if you find a Krista-generated error in your post, feel free to shoot me an e-mail, and I'll correct it straightaway.)

An Agent's Inbox #20

Dear Ms. Gref,

My previous agent left the business, so I'm querying again. Because of your listing in #MSWL for a story containing fantasy world building with a contemporary voice, I'm hoping to pique your interest with my latest work.

While the world sleeps, Alice Kingston spends her nights fighting creatures known as Nightmares. Without someone to stop them, these fugly beasts threaten to plunge the world into chaos and misery. When the tall, dark, and annoying Addison Hatta charmed Alice into this life, she expected things to be less guts more glory. Instead, the battles grow bloodier, the days darker, and Hatta a little mad…der.

When his mental state deteriorates into fits and rages, Alice crosses into his home world of Wonderland to find out what the fel is going on. She’s intercepted by The Black Knight, whose sharp wit and sly compliments disarm her better than any weapon despite the fact he's an a**. He’s the one controlling the Nightmares, using them to spread his darkness and destruction. Once his power reaches far enough the bastard will unleash a cataclysm, warping Wonderland from the inside and Hatta along with it. Alice’s world is next. Countering the Black Knight’s spell will save Hatta’s life, but the backlash could shatter the bridge between worlds, throwing them off balance and casting both into eternal terror.

DREAMWALKER is a young adult fantasy with series potential complete at 86,000 words, where the whimsy of Alice in Wonderland meets the unadulterated a**-kickery of Buffy. Per the contest guidelines the first 250 words are posted below. I thank you for your time and consideration.



This is stupid, Alice decided. If someone Googled stupid they’d find a picture of her sitting in the dirt waiting to be attacked. Hatta and his dumb ideas. Try live bait, he said. Won’t take long, he said. A**.

The cold of the ground seeped into her jeans and numbed her skin. A shiver shook her and she wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the nighttime chill.

As time stretched, shadows filled the forest. Tangled branches, leaves and vines choked the canopy, keeping the moonlight at bay. The smell of damp earth mingled with the sharp scent of moss and fresh water. Creatures chittered, calling to one another, no doubt mocking her. She felt incredibly mockable.

This wasn’t just stupid, it was crazy, but after trudging through the woods for hours, exhausted and starving, who wouldn’t be somewhat unhinged?

Something croaked a low moooooooron.

“Oh, come on!” Alice’s shout swept outward in echoing waves, silencing the forest save the whispering wind. “Fine. Fine! S’fine.” She pushed to her feet and dusted off her butt. “Guess we’ll do this the hard way.”

She’d backtrack to the Gateway. Hopefully the trail hadn’t gone cold. As she walked, an odd sort of pressure slid along her limbs. Goose bumps prickled her flesh. She paused. 

Everything remained still, quiet enough for her to hear to the wind more clearly as it became a low, heavy pulsing rush. Whuush. Whuush.

Not wind. Breathing.

This plan was stupid, but it worked.

An Agent's Inbox #19

Dear Ms. Gref:
Dee Diller writes lists, mostly about her unsatisfactory fourth grade life. When her mom accidentally flashes the entire class at Parent PE Day, Dee’s humiliated. She figures this is the worst thing that could happen to her. Unfortunately for Dee, school gets worse. Way, way worse. A popularity book lands on her desk and Dee is shocked. People don’t think she’s Funny, or Pretty, or Athletic. Nope, Dee Diller is the Messiest kid at school. There’s an excellent chance Dee won’t ever overcome this awful title. She turns to her secret lists, hoping they’ll save her from a fate of social ruin.
THE DEE LIST is complete at 20,000 words and will appeal to fans of Lauren Child’s CLARICE BEAN series. I’m a member of SCBWI and a Most Promising Middle Grade SCBWI Award Winner.
I understand you’re looking for all genres of MG fiction and while I was reading your well-written blog, sky lavender and cornerless, I discovered you’re a list maker. With this in mind, I thought you might connect with Dee. Thank you for your time and consideration.
My very best,


Facts about my Name
I’m named after my great aunt who I never met and she’s dead now.
That’s really bad luck.
One of the nicknames for my name is Desi.
I do not let people call me Desi.
Desi sounds like someone who likes to drink pickle juice.
My middle name ends with the word man.
Which is weird because I’m a girl.
Desdemona Hillman Diller.
Most people call me Dee.
As if being born with the name Desdemona wasn’t horrible enough, my school had to go and create something called Parent PE Day. God help me. If my mom shows up, school will go from bad to one hundred percent unbearable. She’s the worst athlete I’ve ever seen. When she moves quickly her toes point in towards each other and she flaps her arms all over the place like a bird. 
“Sweetheart!” Mom shouts across the field. "Sweetheart, it's me!"
It's as if she knew I was just thinking about her, except I'm sure she thinks I want her to come, the exact opposite of the truth. I sink my head towards my lap. When I look back up, Mom stands next to Mr. B.
“Hahahahaha,” she laughs.
“Hahahahaha,” he responds.
“Mom,” I interrupt the giggling, on purpose.
“Darling!” Mom says. “Your teacher was just telling me we’re going to be tied together for some sort of race. What fun for us!”

I’d love to dig a hole and hide myself inside it.

An Agent's Inbox #18

Dear Ms. Gref,

The Army doesn't want kids who are unreliable.

Thirteen-year-old Jamie Hazuki knows that. Knows the soldiers in Iraq will be counting on him to protect them, to stop the bullets with his power. That's how PILOTs serve their country, and Jamie spent the last two years training hard to become one.

He doesn't fail his final test. But he fears failing when it matters most.

Not on his first mission. That was easy. Jamie and his friends--energetic Alesia and headstrong Marie--helped Special Forces search for a missing PILOT in the hostile city of Samarra.

Not on his second mission. That was easy too. They investigated a devastating attack on an Army base that only the missing PILOT could have done.

On his third. When Jamie, Alesia, and Marie are tasked to hunt down and stop the rogue PILOT. The rogue PILOT who tricks the Army into attacking them. The rogue PILOT who's growing strong enough to destroy entire cities. The rogue PILOT who wants to bring the world to its knees before her. Every nation on Earth is looking to the three of them, and Alesia and Marie can't stop the rogue PILOT without him. Jamie has to push past the fear that freezes him. He has to. Has to...

PILOT is a YA science fiction novel complete at 73,000 words. I've used my military experience to add to the authenticity of the PILOTs' own experiences in the story. Thank you for your time and consideration.




The bullet stopped right in front of the boy's face. It stayed there, frozen in midair. His whole body shuddered as he eyed the bullet only six inches from his forehead. Gravity started to take it. The bullet didn't fall straight down, but rolled in a curve away from the boy's body. It bounced along the concrete floor of the lab's firing range, its soft tink-tink-tink easily heard. The boy watched until it stopped. He closed his eyes and swallowed what little saliva he had left in his mouth.

"Are you nervous, Jamie?" the female scientist said over the intercom.

Of course. But it wasn't the bullet. This was the big day. Test day. Jamie was only thirteen, and the last two whole years of his life would amount to nothing if he couldn't pass this test. So the bullet couldn't hurt him, oh no. He was his own worst enemy right now.

"A little," he said, looking up at the elevated observation room's big windows. The bright yellow lights inside made it a beacon in the sterile lighting of the firing range. The observation room had two scientists and a few military personnel in it, but more importantly, Alesia was there. Both of them were testing out today, and she already passed. Most kids washed out well before the test, but some managed to come this far and fail. And the Army didn't want kids who were unreliable.

An Agent's Inbox #17

Dear Ms. Gref,

At great risk of losing everyone she loves, Hania must decide if she is willing to help bring back hope to those around her.  I am reaching out to you, Ms. Gref, at Lowenstein Associates for assistance in publishing my recently completed manuscript. I am drawn to you as an agent because we enjoy reading similar books and I often find myself laughing out loud at your blog.  My book, The Heart Song, is a young adult fantasy novel complete at 87,000 words. It is a stand-alone book with series potential, featuring a strong female lead and Native American folklore and practices.

After running from her past for 400 years, Hania, a Golem, discovers that someone she once knew is responsible for the lack of hope and compassion in America.  She must decide if she will open her painful history and draw from her experiences during the Trail of Tears and World War I to fight her way back to finding her self-worth.  With her unusual companions--a snarky New York run-away, a free-spirited musician from Denver, and an elderly medicine man from Moab--she embarks on a quest to defeat, Halleck, a leader set on controlling mankind through his army of Seminole warriors.

Native American folklore has been a passion of mine since growing up in Bicknell, UT, the desert heart of the trilogy.  An avid reader and storyteller, I have a Masters Degree in Business Administration, am a member of the League of Utah Writers, and contribute to numerous literary blogs including Write from the Mountains. 

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon. 



I was breaking and entering, but I didn't care.  I stood quietly in an alley behind the village shops in downtown New York City.  I was amazed at the size of this bustling city. Coming from a small community farther west the lights and movement of the city overwhelmed me.  Listening closely for any sound or movement, I reached out and turned the knob to the back entrance of a barber shop.  It held fast.  I removed a small metal knife from my front pocket and placed it quietly into the lock.  Moving slowly and precisely I slid the pick up and down until I found the correct grooves and all the pins clicked into place.  Turning the knob I pressed on the door.  It made a light squeaking sound as it slid inward.  I looked around once more, before I stepped into the shop and closed the door quietly behind me.

Grabbing clippers from the desk I moved to the sink at the back of the shop away from the windows and leaned my head over.  I shaved my hair down nearly to my scalp leaving dark, shiny black hair covering the sink, counter and floor.  When I finished I stood up and looked in the mirror. A man peered back at me, but I still could feel the woman inside.  Missing her already, I ran my hands over the top of my newly-shorn hair and watched loose pieces fall to the floor. I realized that I didn't even recognize myself anymore.

An Agent's Inbox #16

Dear Ms. Gref,

Sixteen-year-old Kenzie Moriarty doesn’t believe in luck or signs. As far as she’s concerned her status as class president, girlfriend of the football star and honor roll student are a result of her actions and personality. That all changes when her Grams tells Kenzie and her two sisters they’re the immortal Fates. To determine which sister will be responsible for each job--spinning, measuring or cutting life-threads--the girls must take tests to reveal their true character. The thought of having eternity to see the world thrills her, but ending lives is an option she won’t even consider. When she meets her soulmate and discovers the only way to be with him forever is to end someone else's life early, though, she finds the life hanging by a thread isn't at all what she expects.

In interviews I’ve read that you’re interested in stories incorporating mythology and fantasy. THE CARDINAL SIGN is a 71,000 word young adult urban fantasy that will appeal to readers of Mindee Arnett’s The Nightmare Affair and The Goddess Test series by Aimee Carter.

As one of three sisters, I spent many years in the midst of sibling relationships and rivalries. I’m a member of SCBWI and received my English degree from The University of Texas at Austin.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. 



The cardinal saved me. That blur of red, so out of place in a sea of metal and asphalt. I hesitated and watched him fly into the trees before I ran into the high school parking lot.

The referee’s whistle and shouts from fans echoed from the stadium. I’d gone a few steps when I heard the parking lot light creak. I looked up and threw my arms over my head just as it crashed in front of me, a spray of glass. I jumped back, shards crunching under my boots. Had I been a couple of steps ahead the light would’ve crushed me.

But Fate had other plans.

Running through the lot I kept clear of the other towering lights, not that two could break in one night. But I had a job to do at half-time and I intended to be there for it.

When I got to the stadium I climbed the steps, my boots clanging on the metal. My friends had saved me a spot in our usual place.

I leaned against the rail and let out a whoop. Of course, where I stood I knew my backside would get some attention. Not everyone goes to games for the football. The crowd rose to its feet, stamping the bleachers when my boyfriend, Dylan, ran the ball in for a touchdown. I waited for him to blow me a kiss or wave or something, but he just high-fived his teammates. Typical.

“Kenzie, he’s awesome. You're so lucky.”

An Agent's Inbox #15

Dear Ms. Gref:

Germany, 1148. A young woman seeking sanctuary is murdered near the abbey of St. Nicholas. Struck by similarities between the victim and her own dead mother, Eva von Hirschburg, a fiery teenage noblewoman, partners with a peace-loving monk named Brother Clement to find the killer, but the two clash when Eva suspects Brother Karl, a disturbed young man that Clement wants to protect.

As she investigates, Eva is courted by the charismatic Friderich von Starkebr├╝cken. At first Eva rebuffs him, convinced he is only looking for an indiscretion. After days of verbal sparring, reluctant dancing, and thwarted kisses, Eva relents, but Friderich wants Eva to give up what he believes is a dangerous obsession with the murdered woman. Is Friderich trying to protect Eva or is he trying to protect his childhood friend Ragenard, a dark knight with violent tendencies?

Eva cannot capture the killer alone, but trusting the wrong person could prove deadly.

A SERPENT IN THE GARDEN (60,000 words) is a historical mystery for young adults, a medieval Nancy Drew with the lush, sexy feel of Anna Godberson's The Luxe. This book could be either a standalone project or the start of a series. I am writing you because I read several online interviews in which you said you were actively seeking YA and enjoyed stories that went deep into character, time, and place. The first 250 words of the manuscript are below, per agent's inbox guidelines.

I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators and the North Carolina Writers' Network. As a developmental psychologist, I have authored/coauthored numerous academic articles and an adult nonfiction book under my maiden name (Knickmeyer). As a child, I lived in Germany, where I decided I wanted to live in a castle, wear silk brocade, and dance on floors strewn with lavender and hyssop.

Thank you for your time and consideration.




Germany, June 1148

Soon they would be safe. When she reached the abbey, she would find an advocate, a protector, someone who could convince him to acknowledge his son. Her arms tightened around the baby nestled in her cloak.

She lost her heart at fifteen when he followed her into the churchyard and, with burning eyes, demanded a kiss. Two years later, despite everything, she loved him still. In her dreams, she savored the saltiness of his lips and felt the weight of his body as they lay on his cloak, the night curled around them like a raven's wing.

A whistle sounded in the distance. The young woman's head jerked up. She knew that tune, his favorite hunting tune. It coursed through her veins like ice water. How had he found her?

She ran but stopped after a few seconds. She could not escape him that way. He would strike her down from behind; the baby would be thrown to the ground, his skull broken.

She would reason with him. She would promise to run away. To go where nobody knew them. She would not endanger his prospects. But he would never believe her. Not now.

Tears streamed down her face. They would hide in the woods. A ridiculous notion. He was an expert hunter. He would find them. She could picture his knife slicing her baby's throat, feel the blood on her hands, taste the screams in her mouth.

She saw only one choice.

An Agent's Inbox #14

Dear Ms. Gref,

I read that you have a "weak spot" for fairy tale retellings. I hope that my YA contemporary fantasy, THE GLASS PRINCE, is a story that will appeal to you.

Clara Knight wants nothing more than to perfect her baking skills, enjoy her seventeenth birthday party with friends, and go to prom with her super-popular boyfriend. But then Rion rolls into town, complete with golden-boy good looks and a sexy British accent. When Rion kisses her in front of her boyfriend and all her party guests, all social-hell breaks loose.

Clara flees to upstate New York, accepting her estranged Grandma’s invitation to spend the summer with her. Grandma did promise to unveil some secret family tradition, after all.  What Clara actually learns is that she shares a curse with Rion, the immortal son of Snow White, and that her family is bound to help him. Too bad he seems more interested in kissing Clara than breaking curses.

When a family heirloom and moonlight whoosh her away to the prince’s hometown of Elysia, hundreds of years in the past, Clara finds a cryptic riddle--her first clue to breaking the curse. As she digs deeper into her family’s past, she realizes that Dad’s death, always thought to be an accident, might have actually been murder. And when Grandma starts acting rather “witchy” and seems to be plotting against her, Clara realizes that working with the boy she loves to hate is her only chance for survival.

THE GLASS PRINCE is complete at 72,000 words and the first 250 words are pasted below, per the contest guidelines. I earned a BA in English from Weber State University, am a member of SCBWI, the League of Utah Writers and the Pied Pipers online critique group. I attend at least one writing conference every year and, of course, I'm always reading. I appreciate your time and consideration.



My grandma is alive. Wow. I’d said the words earlier, when I’d first opened and read her letter out loud. They’d tasted foreign on my tongue. I thought them again now, alone and safe in my bedroom. I sunk deeper into my cushy turquoise comforter as I stared at the ceiling and contemplated my not-so-dead grandma’s words. Come to New York, her letter had said. I’ve got a family secret to share. I snorted. As if the fact that she was alive wasn’t secret enough?

I picked up the letter again and held it at arm’s length in front of my face. Her words were so cold, so matter-of-fact. There were no apologies. No explanations for her absence in my life for the past seventeen years. She did wish me a happy birthday. Did she think that was enough?  Oh, yeah. The necklace. I dropped the letter and let it flutter to the edge of my bed. I felt around for a thin chain that had a silver key attached to it. When my fingers made contact with it, I held it up so I could see it. The head of the key was a red ruby apple wearing a tiny silver crown and when the sun rays filtering in from my bedroom window touched it, it twinkled.

Funny. For a grandmother I’d never known, her gift somehow seemed familiar. I let it swing like a pendulum in front of my face, dipping my hand lower and lower until the bottom of the key hit my nose.

An Agent's Inbox #13

Dear Emily Gref,

Immortality isn’t a gift. Elsbeth desperately seeks mortal witches to end the isolation which follows her through every life, every death. But she’s traveled the world and hasn’t found another witch for centuries. After taking refuge in her old home in Salem, Massachusetts, Elsbeth breaks her biggest rule: trust no one who isn’t magical. Elsbeth lies about her motives just enough to a strangely familiar non-magic human, an Innocent, named Andrew to elicit his help in her search. Andrew in turn invites Elsbeth to a supposed magic festival where she discovers the cruel reality that warlocks hunt witches. Except when a warlock finds a witch, he kills her.

In fact, warlocks encounter no trouble uncovering witches under the leadership of Hopkins, Elsbeth’s old executioner, in his goal to slaughter witches for warlocks’ gain. Terrified at seeing her torturer, Elsbeth flees the festival but is kidnapped by Hopkins where he reveals she is the last; she alone maintains the balance witches are taught to provide for mankind. Only Elsbeth’s immortality prevents the extinction of witches, yet Hopkins vows to break the curse and kill her as a mortal.

Elsbeth must escape, prevent Hopkins from killing her a second time, and protect Andrew whom she put in danger by letting him close. If Elsbeth dies, witchcraft ends, and all that is humane and good in the world ceases. But in order to stop Hopkins, Elsbeth fears she’ll have to sacrifice her magical teachings and become the evil she hopes to prevent.

Complete at 83,000 words, THE FLAME WARS is a contemporary adult fantasy novel with series potential. Please find below the first 250 words of the manuscript for your consideration. Thank you in advance for your time.

Best regards,


I am cursed; I was saved.

Blue smoke, thick as ash, swirls inside my body. Dropped in the dew-covered grass, I clutch my chest, roll over, and curl fetal. Hot bile stings my throat. Come on, heart, pump. Come on.

The smoke drags through me, forcing a shout, then chokes my lungs closed. One minute I’m convulsing on a gurney in New Orleans, the next I’m here--always here. Reborn in Germany after each death, twenty-five years old and still searching.

Some lifetimes I live for decades, others only a few years before… Either way, no one mourns me. Letting anyone close isn’t an option.

Sweat coats my scalp as pain splinters across my ribs. Not a moment too soon, the tight weight lifts and thick hazy spirals exit my body, form a cone above me, and vanish.

Come on, heart. Beat.

Frozen as a corpse, I stare at a spotted falcon circling above. I’d cry his name if I could.

Finally, oxygen rushes in, and I gasp. Shaky moans come between coughs and gags. My heart thumps as I shiver on the frigid ground while blood retraces my veins. Each death is the same. Each death is different. This time a car accident, last time a… I don’t recall. Time distorts my memory.

Tremors jolt my torso as my temperature normalizes. Full recovery is inevitable, but takes time. Time I don’t have.

Every inactive minute equals time lost in my search for witches.

An Agent's Inbox #12

Dear Ms. Gref:

I read that you have a weakness for mythology and folklore retellings, so I thought you might be interested in my YA Russian folktale retelling, THE FALCON SPY, set in Tsarist Russia.

Princess Natasha is not used to the word nyet. So when Lev, a French boy who transforms into a falcon, falls injured into her garden, she ignores her family’s protests and nurses him back to health. They bond over art, Moscow, and the loss of their parents. But rumors fly that Napoleon, who’s just invaded Russia, is using falcons as spies. Natasha is certain that she can trust Lev, but her sister and cousin warn her to stay away from him. Then one of them leaves broken glass in a birdbath and Lev is injured. Believing Natasha betrayed him, he flies away from her manor, vowing never to return.

At odds with her family and desperate to find Lev, Natasha runs away. To leave Moscow, she must dress as a soldier, though a uniform does not conceal her from the infamous witch, Baba Yaga. In order to gain safe passage through the Russian forest, Natasha promises to bring Odile, the witch who turned Lev into a falcon, to Baba Yaga. Capturing Odile is no easy task, and when Natasha finds Lev, he begs her to return home. But if she can’t defeat Odile and release Lev from his curse, it will not just be Odile threatening Natasha and her family, but Baba Yaga herself.

THE FALCON SPY is 72,000 words and was inspired by “The Feather of Finist the Falcon.” It would appeal to fans of the historical fiction of Marissa Doyle (COURTSHIPS AND CURSES) and the Russian-inspired world of SHADOW AND BONE (Leigh Bardugo).  I minored in Russian and studied in the Crimea, Ukraine. My work has appeared in Highlights for Children, Calliope, and Learning through History.

Thank you for your time and attention.



In Russia, a bird in the house means death. And one just landed on my windowsill.

I ran for the window. My poor seamstress trailed behind me, sticking pins in the hem of my gown. The pins scraped my bare legs, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t let that bird in the house. Not with my brother Alexei riding off to face Bonaparte tomorrow.

“Natasha! What are you doing?” Mademoiselle Tourneau hissed through the pins in her teeth.

It was no ordinary bird, but a gray falcon, no bigger than my forearm. Black marks lined its white chest like someone had dabbed it with ink, its head dark like a helmet. It peered at me with eyes almost human in their intensity.

All the more reason to keep it out.

I pulled on the window sash to close it, but it wouldn’t budge.

Mademoiselle waved at me to get back on the stool in the parlor. I ignored her. My gown might rip to shreds for all I cared.

“Go away,” I whispered to the bird.

The falcon dug its yellow talons into the windowsill and scraped up bits of blue paint. Stubborn thing.

Behind me, Father and the governor of Moscow mumbled about the French invasion and the state of the Russian army near our unlit fireplace. The governor blew a puff of smoke from his pipe, and Father coughed. Had they not seen the bird?

“Alexei?” I called.

No answer.

A crackle of gunfire erupted in the garden.

An Agent's Inbox #11

Dear Ms. Gref,

SEEKING MANSFIELD is a young adult romance complete at 85,000 words. It’s MANSFIELD PARK meets ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS with a fresh, contemporary twist.

Fifteen year-old Finley Price knows two things better than most: how to direct a world-class production, and how to fly way, way under the radar.  The first she inherited from her movie star father before he died three years ago.  The second she mastered after her mother became an alcoholic.  Finley continued to use the latter skill when her disapproving godparents, the Bertrams, took her in. The only person who seems to notice her is her adorable, do-gooder best friend, Oliver Bertram. If she could just take Oliver’s encouragement to heart and step out of the shadows, she’d chase her dream of joining Chicago's prestigious Mansfield Theater...and maybe chase Oliver, himself.

But next door to the Bertrams, teen megastars Harlan and Emma Crawford have just moved in.  They’re used to getting who they want, when they want them.  So when they set their sights on their attractive new neighbors, well, it’s only a matter of time.  But as Emma and Oliver Bertram grow closer, Harlan finds his attention shifting to the quiet, enigmatic, and thoroughly unimpressed Finley.  Leaving him puzzled, wondering why she wants nothing to do with him--frankly, a new emotion for heartthrob Harlan.  

The more he seeks to win her, the harder he falls.

But Finley doesn’t want to be won, and she doesn’t want to see Oliver with anyone else.  To claim Oliver’s heart--and keep her own--she’ll have to find the courage to do what she fears most:  step into the spotlight.




Finley Price stared at her computer screen.  Her hands had hovered above the keyboard for so long, they were starting to cramp.  The words “Mansfield Theater Youth Council Application” mocked her in bright red font.  She should really answer another question.  Any question.  But a highlighter smudge on her computer desk caught her eye.  She rubbed at it, trying to get the streak of orange out.  Hmm.  It was stubborn.  She swiped her thumb across her tongue and tried again.


She leaned back in her chair and stretched.  She started to yawn but her jaw cracked.  She winced and sat stark upright.

How could you apply for this? she asked herself, hearing Nora’s voice in her head.  Is this how you repay the Bertrams?  Have you forgotten how they saved you? 

Finley wiggled her jaw, rubbing just below her ear.  No.  She hadn’t forgotten.

Her eyes returned to her laptop and her mouth went dry.  A knock at her door interrupted her.  She exhaled and rolled her chair away from her desk.  “Come in.”

The door opened, and Oliver entered in a Pac-Man t-shirt.  His light brown hair was messier than usual.  “Hey, Fin.  I was going to ask if you--wait, is that your Mansfield application?”  He crossed the room, squinting at her screen.  “You still haven’t completed it?” 

“It’s not due till April,” she said as Oliver approached.  He dropped to his knees beside her.  “I still have a couple of months to get it in.”

An Agent's Inbox #10

Dear Ms. Gref:

The young king of Orkeia will stop at nothing to exterminate all magic holders from his kingdom. Seventeen-year-old Kenna, a white witch, will stop at nothing to avenge her family’s lives.

When she’s captured, taken to the city, and thrown into a dark, damp dungeon, it seems her quest is over. That is, until she’s rescued--by the king himself. Kenna finds herself a welcome guest in the castle, perfectly situated to take her revenge.

But how can she avenge her clan when she’s falling in love with their murderer?

OPEN EYES is a YA fantasy complete at 98,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Ahead of me, the stone shelter was caved in on itself. I ran past bodies of vicious knights scattered on the ground. No visible movement came from inside the shelter, and my heartbeat quickened at the stillness. I prayed silently to God as the scene grew steadily closer, pleading that my clan was all right. Stumbling through the door, I froze.

They were all dead.

A sob escaped my throat and I collapsed to the ground. No, no, no…

The woman who’d raised me as her daughter lay a few feet away, her eyes staring blankly into the stars through the fallen ceiling. I crawled over the bodies separating us and took her in my shaking arms.

Not Elizabeth…

A seal barked on the beach, but my own wails drowned the noise. Though Elizabeth’s dress was stained red, my skirt remained free of blood. It was dry--she’d been dead at least a day. And I hadn’t been here.

I took a deep breath and glanced around the room. Everything was gone. Our cauldrons, candles, talismans, even our cooking pots. What was once a home was now a burial chamber, four thick, crumbling stone walls surrounding this massacre, a product of the king’s “Great War”--the Slaughters. Their deaths wouldn’t be remembered, forgotten, or even noticed. All we’d had was each other.

Now I was alone.

An Agent's Inbox #9

Ms. Gref,

I have completed a fantasy novel with paranormal romance elements of approximately 118,000 words. I would like you to consider my novel for representation.

In BLOODSWORN, Liana, a construction business owner from Colorado, has two problems: her sister is missing in another world, and her untrained ability to transfer emotion and energy constantly disrupts her life. When a worldgate opens and her talent informs her that her sister is in grave danger, she jumps through the gate--into the action.

Two feudal rival races covet any human with talent--especially Liana’s. Unfortunately, Liana doesn’t know how to use her gift to protect herself. Then someone smuggles a pistol from Earth into the hands of the man-eaters. Liana must decide if she wants to align with the charismatic Warlord--aka the vampires, to save her sister or take her chances on her own.

Liana's knowledge of Earth’s technology makes her invaluable to both species. When war erupts, humans are caught in the middle and unless Liana learns to wield her talent, her sister will remain a slave until she’s eaten.

Bloodsworn is the first of a series that I believe fans of Laurel K Hamilton will enjoy. Currently I’m a business owner of 20 years and I understand a quality product, deadlines, and commitment fulfillment. As a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, I have honed my writing skills at regular critique group sessions, and feel confident you will enjoy my novel. 

Per your instructions, I have pasted the first 250 words below for your review. Thank you in advance for your time.



I didn’t know what a portal jump would feel like, but that wasn’t what I expected. And this rutted wagon road surrounded by creepy dense forest wasn’t the sunlit cottage I thought I was headed toward either. Besides, shouldn’t someone be here to greet me?

The fast thud of my heart and sweaty palms made me question why I was stupid enough to step into a different world, but the gate was gone, committing me to my decision. I scanned the forest with my senses. Most of the birds and mammals were similar to Earth’s fauna, their dark auras indicating animals that rely on instinct for survival. Others, like a family of canines, had a brighter glow. They weren’t human intelligent, but probably smarter than a dog at home.

The trees and plants were mainly green and normal. I stepped closer--but not too close--to a pink bush with two inch thorns. Its energy spiked as if anticipating lunch. I skittered sideways almost tripping. D*** it. Why couldn’t Lizzi call for help from someplace normal, like Safeway or the Apple store?

My sister’s fear and despondent misery leached across a thousand miles through our birthbond. How could I find her--and rescue her when survival might override my best intentions? I had to try, even though it would take me months to reach her. I shuddered, what had brought my free-spirited sister to such depths?

I’d have to use my senses judiciously, so I didn’t exhaust myself and be completely defenseless.

An Agent's Inbox #8

Dear Ms. Gref,

Twenty-five-year-old Arlyn Dianore Moore has always known two truths--the elves of myth are real, and her father is one of them. 

Arlyn sells handmade bows at Renaissance festivals and spends her free time practicing archery. Never fitting in and curious about her elven father, Arlyn is more than willing to honor her mother’s dying wish--to find the father who never knew she existed.  She makes the arduous journey through the mysterious Veil, the misty realm leading to a planet called Moranai’a.

Just after arriving in the strange new world, Arlyn is welcomed by her father and grandmother, meets an elf who claims to be her lifebonded--one whose soul could bond with her own--and learns of magical abilities she never knew she had.  But not everyone is happy about her arrival, and Arlyn must face prejudice from those who scorn her human heritage.

After a series of murder attempts, she must quickly learn to use the secrets of her mixed blood to defeat the unknown assailant.  As head of House Dianore, Arlyn’s father is the gatekeeper between Moranai’a and Earth.  Should her family fall, there will be no one to stand against those who would destroy humanity.

At 93,000 words, THE HALFBLOOD is a complete fantasy novel.  Fans of Mercedes Lackey and Ilona Andrews will enjoy this novel.  

I have a B.A. in English from Middle Tennessee State University.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



She might never escape the swirling mists.  For endless days, Arlyn had walked across a ground she could not see, not even when she lay down to sleep.  There was no sky, no plants, no trees, no life visible anywhere, just the rolling gray mists shot through with a rare strand of color.  Only the occasional pool of water, clearer than any she had ever seen, interrupted the monotony.  With no point of reference, accurately measuring time was impossible, but she had slept and eaten enough to account for about a month.  As her supplies dwindled, entering the portal began to seem like a mistake, but Arlyn had promised her mother.

The request had seemed so straightforward as she had stood before the unassuming rock formation carved into the hill at the back of her family’s land.  Cross through the barrier, find her father, then return home.  Though her mother had warned her that it might take some time, Arlyn had not expected to wander through the strange mists for this long.  She tried hard to hold on to the description her mother had given her of the place she sought, but the details were frustratingly few.  No surprise since her mother had never actually been to the land called Moranai’a.  Thirdhand stories were rarely precise.

An Agent's Inbox #7

Dear Ms. Gref,

I am querying you because of your interest in middle grade manuscripts. I admire the Lowenstein Associates' hands-on approach in contributing to their writers’ careers, and would be honored to be represented by such an outstanding agency and agent.

River has always been a misfit among trolls. He prefers the open sky to the muddy underside of a bridge, and he’d pick Brussels sprouts over bone-bread any day. On top of that, he’s the ugliest troll in the entire forest of Mystwood. But at least his unusual features make him the perfect spy against the enemy fairies. When his father, the Troll King, entrusts him with a dangerous mission, River hopes that this time, finally, he will make his father proud.  

Unfortunately, River is captured by a fairy hunter--a girl, no less--but he realizes that Astrid is different, unlike the terrible stories of winged monsters that go around snatching troll children from their beds. She doesn’t want to kill him, and her reasons for sparing him are more terrifying than the fierce crystal blade she wields. Astrid believes there’s more to River than there appears, and he’s afraid she’s right.

But the truth of his origin is locked deep within Mystwood, and bringing it to the light of day will unleash war and chaos throughout the forest, putting everyone River cares about in mortal danger. To save those he loves, River will have to choose between what he was born to be, and who he really is.

THE TROLL DIARIES is an upper middle grade adventure/fantasy, complete at 46,000 words.

I am a full-time mom with a teaching background in middle school art, and a member of the Houston chapter of SCBWI. I have included the first page, and I can send the completed manuscript upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



I know what you’re thinking. Trolls; nasty, ugly creatures that live in caves and under bridges. And you’d be right, for the most part.

I come from a long line of proud, ugly bridge trolls. It’s what we do. We guard bridges, take tolls, and occasionally grind bones to make our bread.

I’m kidding.

Well, sort of.  

See, I’m not really a normal troll. I guess you could call me the black sheep of the family. Maybe not a sheep though, since my family eats those. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to eat me. I’m a vegetarian, which doesn’t sit well with them at all.

My mother is considered to be the best bone-bread maker in the whole forest of Mystwood, or at least here in the Hob, our home. It’s really the truth. Of course, the last troll who challenged her sort of disappeared. Permanently. I tried to eat it once. Not by choice, mind you. My brothers Bog and Mud held me down and forced me to eat a whole loaf. It was kind of dry… and crumbly, like you would expect bone-bread to taste, I guess.

I prefer to eat things that didn’t scream in fear when they died. Like berries, and mushrooms, and whatever I can poach from the farmer’s crops at the edge of the forest. I’m not proud of stealing the food, but at least I’m not trying to eat the farmer. One night I took my baby sister, Ivy, with me, and things got a little ugly.

An Agent's Inbox #6

Dear Ms. Gref:

Gail has spent her whole life waiting. She's a fourteen year-old with a useless talent and an immense need for fulfillment. When she hears about the Community and gets an opportunity to go, she takes it. They embrace her--tell her she is just like them. Talented. She’s gifted, lucky, part of an important group with a wide range of abilities.

Like every other Talented, Gail feels the Community is the only place where she is needed. But then she meets another Talented who hasn’t joined yet, another kid. He's been around for a little longer, and with his help, Gail discovers why it’s every Talented’s goal to join the Community. They have no other choice. Refusal is suicide.

When she discovers they have controlled her life from the beginning, even taking her from her parents, Gail is done waiting. She attempts an escape from the Community's network with the help of her new Talented friend. They have many secrets, which Gail is only beginning to uncover. The Talented boy might have the knowledge to save her, but his bitter past keeps attracting more trouble.

Gail must decide whether to continue on her own journey for fulfillment or put herself in danger by helping the Talenteds in their fight against the Community. In the process, she will discover what it really takes to be fulfilled.

TALENTED is a 79,000 word MG light science-fiction. Conceived as an adventurous super hero tale, it has retained its adventure while evolving into a deeper story of disappointment, trust, and strength. Things even un-Talenteds have to deal with.

TALENTED was a Quarterfinalist (top 250 of 5,000) in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. My short fiction has also been published in teen literary journals such as Flip the Page of central Ohio.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,


I stepped over to the bathroom curtains and pulled them tightly shut, blocking out the black void that was the starless night sky. It was a rule here, no daytime showers, but I hated the feeling of showering at night. I stood in front of the shower reluctant to turn it on. I was shivering from the bathroom fan blowing and the cool winter chill.

“Gail, why isn’t that water running?” Ruth asked through the door. It was her way of warning me that I better hurry up.

I cranked the water on and stepped into it. It was freezing. Our building had no hot water--one of its many flaws. I stood to the side, trying to let the water pass me, but it was no use. We never had gotten the money for all the extra things that needed done. No one cared enough, I guess.

I paused, listening to the water as it hit the rigid plastic curtain.

I’ve been taking showers since I was eighteen months. I was three when I stopped taking them cold. I don’t remember the transition, but one day I was somehow able to step into a warm shower. Just by thinking about it. I looked at the water again, and drip by drip, it turned warm. With the effort it took, though, I wondered if it was really worth it.