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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Mentorship apreciated

When a literary agent suggested a few months ago that I start my story earlier and give a sense of the characters' daily life before they set out on their adventure, I added an extra scene to the beginning of the novel. It seemed enough at the time, and I was still getting requests from other agents. Fast forward to my The Writer's Voice entry. Liz's advice resonated with what that first agent said. She encouraged me to add an extra chapter and suggested the hanging I mentioned during the dinner conversation as the opening scene.

The panic of attempting to write a chapter in a week lasted until I woke up in the middle of the night with the scene taking form in my head. The new chapter spilled out in two days, and I even had time to gather comments from my critique partners before I needed to send revision for the contest. This new chapter also gave me details to strengthen other scenes in the novel, making the revised version stronger and whole.

I could not have asked for better coaching. My revised query and first page were well received during the contest, and I am including it here to show the difference mentorship can make.

Query

Seventeen-year-old Sophia de Paula would rather drown like her brother than wed a conqueror who keeps trying to take her by force. Since these fair-skinned men arrived from across the sea, they’ve been wedding native women like Sophia’s mother to recruit laborers for their sugarcane fields. And the one after Sophia has the audacity to call himself her cousin.

To escape her arranged marriage and save her rainforest tribe from the conquering Easterners, Sophia sings awake the Water Goddess Ig. But Ig is more interested in Easterner fashion than the devastation of the rainforest and the tribes. Her advice is to seek another deity, the powerful Air Goddess who can bring freedom to the land.

With the help of her childhood friend Gavin and armed with the songs her grandmother taught her, Sophia braves the rainforest the Easterners keep burning. As they climb the equatorial snow-capped mountain in search of the Air Goddess, Gavin and Sophia's relationship warms as the temperature drops. But now marriage to her so-called cousin is the least of her worries. If she fails, Sophia’s tribe will perish at the hands of the conquerors who married into her family.

SHROUDED GODDESS is a 74,000 word YA fantasy set in a world that mirrors South America during the Portuguese colonization of the sixteenth century. This story will appeal to fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series.


CHAPTER 1

Sophia

Only Uncle Hector would hang a man then go fishing.

The giant jatoba tree, where the noose is set, shades the corpse but doesn’t protect it from the heat. Winter is more merciful than the hellish summer of this land, but only slightly. Noon is fast approaching, and a stench of emptied bowels permeates the village like early morning fog. I press an arm over my nose and quicken my pace to the bakery ahead. At least there is some advantage to being forced to wear long sleeves in this weather.

Vultures circle the cloudless sky above the tree, but not even they dare to defy Uncle Hector. Why did Aryeea send me to the village now? I glance over my shoulder at the fortress’s four-story tower spiked on the Igjommi Hill. The fluttering white cloth, billowing like a sail in the valley breeze, can only be my grandmother’s skirt. Of course she’s watching me from the balcony.

I find the bakery door closed, so I shut it behind me. The warm scent of dough helps me ignore the heat. Steps approach from an inside room, and the baker’s rosy face beams at me as he ambles through the doorway.

“Lady Sophia.” He wipes his hands on his tunic. “What do you like today?”

I’d like someone to cut down that man and bury him before he rots. But if I voice the request, the baker will feel obliged to carry out the order. No need to tempt another hanging.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Writer's Voice Blogfest

I am participating in The Writer's Voice 2015 Blogfest. You can check out the other entries here.

Query:

Seventeen-year-old Sophia de Paula was raised among the foreigners, who wed native women like her mother to recruit their family for the sugarcane fields. Her fair, noble cousin is convinced marriage to Sophia will guarantee the prosperity of his barony, but she’d rather drown like her brother than wed someone who keeps trying to take her by force.

When her native grandmother entreats her to awaken Ig, the Water Goddess, and save the rainforest tribes from the conquering Easterners, Sophia leaps at the chance to flee her arranged marriage. No one has seen Ig since the blond invaders arrived from across the sea, but, disappointingly, the Goddess Sophia awakens is more interested in Easterner fashion than the devastation of the rainforest and the tribes.

Apart from bestowing water-controlling powers on Sophia, Ig’s advice is to seek another deity, a powerful Goddess no one knew existed. Ig’s quest will send Sophia deep into the rainforest the Easterners keep burning, and if she doesn’t succeed, marriage to her cousin will be the least of her worries. If she fails, Sophia’s tribe will perish at the hands of the conquerors who married into her family.

SHROUDED GODDESS is a 71,000 word YA fantasy set in a world that mirrors South America during the Portuguese colonization of the sixteenth century. This story will appeal to fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series.


First page:

Silence settles over the great hall as four men bring forth a spitted manatee like pallbearers at a funeral. The five people seated for dinner occupy less space than the roasted beast. A charred leather stench arrives with the procession, and my stomach recoils as if it were a cornered rat scurrying against a wall.

Uncle Hector stands to inspect his catch then slices a sliver of pink meat from a gash in the thick skin. He chews ceremoniously while clear juices pool on the stone floor and neck muscles twitch on those supporting the beast’s weight. A nod of approval later, the roast is set on the table from which I wish I could flee.

Victor doesn’t ask if I want any meat before he serves me. "Quite the treat, isn’t it, Cousin?”

His childhood habit of stressing our familiarity is only less annoying than his determination to make me his wife. But the thought of wedding him does nothing to entice my appetite.

Grandmother Aryeea huffs from the head of the table opposite to my uncle. “Enough meat to feed two villages and it all got cooked at once. If I’d seen the animal, the cooks would have salted half. You said it was small.”

“There were larger ones in the river.” Uncle Hector, seated where Father should have been, serves his wife as if she were a princess from across the sea instead of a neighboring Baron’s daughter. Aunt Ana isn't allowed a knife either, even if she doesn't want to stab the man who cuts her meat.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Middle grade books for elementary school kids

My sons are seven and nine, with overactive imaginations and slapstick humor like kids their age seem wired to have. As much as they enjoy living vicariously the rough days of a wimpy middle-schooler, they are more than ready to embark on wild, fantastical adventures, be it on the Hogwarts Express or through a portal to Narnia. Quick trips in a magic tree house still entertain my younger son, but the older one needs more volumes in a story--as long as there isn't much kissing. Even though he reads above grade level, he is as interested in relationships as James Bond.

Of the many books people have pitched my older son's way, Rick Riordan's novels always score. And not just due to my son sharing Percy Jackson's dyslexia. Be it Greek or Egyptian, Riordan's take on gods among earthlings mingles enough reality into his stories for suspension of disbelief, while keeping the peril fantastical enough not to give nightmares. That sense of safety in reality is essential for my son. The later Harry Potter books do not scare him, but the kidnapping during Halloween in the opening of the Five Kingdoms series did. He found it was a lot easier to empathize with kids that get into adventurous trouble because they are supernatural than because they did something stupid. Whether he was conscious that the kids' behavior in Sky Raiders was of the kind that fuels helicopter parenting, I'm not certain. But after reading three chapters aloud together, we had to set the book aside.

The fidgeting is the first sign of discomfort, which can develop into cartwheels or brash declarations of "I'm too tired" from a kid who has choosen not to go to sleep voluntarily since he was old enough to open his eyes. My counter-tactics alternate between stopping to discuss the issue, sending him to bed, and plowing on through Harry's jitters whenever he tried to talk to Cho. Even after watching the movie, my son was not prepared for the crush-related angst of the Order of the Phoenix. On the other hand, Harry kissing Ginny in the Half-Blood Prince was, as for the boy at the end of The Princess Bride, not a problem.

Maybe my kids will feel the universe shift when they meet a new classmate in forth grade, or watch their crush kiss their frenemy from a rooftop balcony when they are thirteen. For now, I am happy that they still want to read aloud with me, even if what we end up discussing is toilet papyrus and Egyptians walking sideways. Rick Riordan, thank you for the connection.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Revised Query

Thank you to everyone who stopped by to comment on my query during Michelle Hauck's and Amy Trueblood's blog hop. The hop is still open for another day, so join in if you would like your query, pitch, and first page critiqued.

Here is my revised query, in case anyone is interested. All comments are appreciated, and if you leave me a link to your query in the comments, I'll return the favor.

Query:

Seventeen-year-old Sophia de Paula sings like a rainforest bird, but her most marriageable quality is her Peetanguara decent. The so-called Easterner nobility wed red wives to recruit native laborers for the sugarcane fields, and Sophia’s fair, noble cousin needs her in order to claim the family barony. But she would rather drown like her brother than marry someone who keeps trying to take her by force.

When her native grandmother entreats her to awaken Ig, the Water Goddess, and save the native tribes from the conquering Easterners, Sophia leaps at the chance to flee her controlling Easterner relatives. No one has seen Ig for fifty years, since the fair invaders arrived from across the sea. But, disappointingly, the Goddess Sophia awakens turns out to be more interested in Easterner fashion than the devastation of the rainforest and the tribes.

Apart from bestowing water-controlling powers on Sophia, Ig’s advice is to seek another deity, a powerful Goddess no one knew existed, and ask her to bring peace to the land once and for all. Ig’s quest will send Sophia deep into the rainforest the Easterners keep burning, and if she doesn’t succeed, marriage to her cousin will be the least of her worries. If she fails, Sophia’s tribal relatives will perish at the hands of the conquerors who married into her family.

SHROUDED GODDESS is a 68,000 word YA fantasy set in a world that mirrors South America during the Portuguese colonization of the sixteenth century. With Avatar waterbending in the rainforest, this story will appeal to fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Query Blog Hop

I'm joining the query critique blog hop hosted by Michelle Hauck and Amy Trueblood. Any comments are appreciated.

Title: SHROUDED GODDESS
Genre: YA fantasy
Word Count: 68,000

35-word pitch: When Sophie, a seventeen-year-old of half-tribal descent, awakens the Water Goddess, she needs to use her new water-controlling powers to pacify both sides of her family, before her Easterner uncle kills off the rainforest tribes.


Query:

Seventeen-year-old Sophia de Paula sings like a rainforest bird. She yearns for the close-knit families the local tribes enjoyed before the blond Easterners invaded from across the sea. But given her mixed descent, Sophie spends her days disguising her tribal heritage and fending off her noble cousin's groping.

To escape a forced marriage to her cousin, Sophie decides to flee with her childhood friend, even though her uncle rewarded Gavin's marriage aspirations to Sophie by publicly flogging him and executing his father for treason. But before they can leave her family’s sugarcane plantation, Sophie sings awake the Water Goddess who disappeared after the invasion. A Goddess who turns out to be more interested in Easterner fashion than what Sophie’s uncle is doing to the rainforest and the tribes.

Apart from bestowing water-controlling powers on Sophie, the deity’s advice is to seek help elsewhere. Now Sophie can’t just hide from her family and live a peaceful life with Gavin. Either she uses her new powers to confront the Easterners, or she seeks another Goddess, one nobody knew existed, and convinces her to bring peace to a land with more scars than Sophie’s uncle can lash out onto those who oppose him.

SHROUDED GODDESS is a 67,000 word YA fantasy set in a world that mirrors South America during the Portuguese colonization of the sixteenth century. With Avatar waterbending in the rainforest, this story will appeal to fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy.


First 250 words: 

I unlock my bedroom door with a hairpin and sneak out as soon as the hallway empties of gossiping maids and Uncle Hector's spies. Harp notes and laughter drift in the air from the festivities downstairs. But mingling with the drunken nobility without my grandmother’s protection will only get me married to my cousin by morning.

At the thought of Victor catching me alone by an alcove, my heartbeats fall off tempo with the secular music coming from the dining hall. I tighten the bows on my dress and try to ease the wild drumming in my chest. All I need is the unfinished tapestry I left in Aryeea’s room, to distract me so I won’t feel like a prisoner in my own home.

Flickering candlelight frames the doorway of my grandmother’s chamber, and I squeeze through the narrow opening to avoid announcing my presence with creaking hinges. Eyes closed and ocher-colored hands folded over her chest, Aryeea seems at peace on the four-poster bed my grandfather brought from across the sea. She’s only half the Baroness I knew in my childhood, but her dark hair is still as black as mine. Tribal blood pumps strong in our veins, no matter what we do to disguise our descent.

She’s so still. My throat constricts. The thought of never seeing my only ally again brings me shivers on this warm winter night. I’ll even miss the snapped orders she flings at me all day long.

“Sophia, stop viewing me. I’m not dead.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas writing song

It's been a while since I made up song lyrics, so this contest at MSFV was the prompt I needed. Here is my writer's version of Jingle Bells for your enjoyment:

Dashing through the words
On a newly open doc,
Over the keys I go
So many things amok.
Cell on tabletop rings,
Ignoring it I sigh,
What fun it is to write a sin-
gin' manuscript tonight!

Delete this, Delete there,
Change it all the way.
Oh! what fun it is to write
On another open page.
Typin' here, typin' there,
Typin' all the way.
Oh! what fun it is to write
On another open page.

A day plus two ago,
I thought I'd swallow pride.
Nowhere my trusty muse,
Was seated by my side.
The story lean and lank,
To be trunked seemed its lot.
I got stuck and my mood sank,
And nothing seemed upshot.

A month or two ago,
The story I need'd tell
I typed faster than slow,
'Fore in a slump I fell.
No words came zooming by
On the empty open page,
My muse taken for a lie,
Scenes quickly died away.

Now the page is white
And the night is young,
Put the words in sight
and hum this writin' song.
Just get a cup of tea,
No more block to fend,
My muse shines just for me,
And smack! I'll type the end.


Check out the other holiday songs writers came up with on the MSFV blog. I found the lyrics for Jingle Bells here, and you can read my other lyrics here. If you like the nail artwork, the Jamberry wraps are called Newspaper and Reindeer Games.