Hey, everyone! Sorry for missing last week. I had thought about doing a post about why you shouldn't shove messages into fiction, but I feel like I already may have written that one and in any case, I need to think it over a little longer. But today is the kick-off of the next part of my attempting to market my manuscripts before turning to self-publishing.
Before I get started, I do have other news. I also placed two short stories in magazines. Yay! A sci-fi-esque retelling of "Echo and Narcissus" titled "Mathematically Perfect" was accepted by Purfle and Gyve, and a fantasy called "Siren Song" was picked up by Rivet. Again, yay!
I also have news on the Under Locker and Key front. One agent has rejected the story. All others have been silent. I never said it was impressive news. But after three weeks of waiting, I feel justified in starting another send-off.
Today's special: The Sands of Cartha. Query below, followed by the first chapter of the novel. Genre: YA high fantasy with my own twist. Feedback in the comments, and telling of your friends is, as always, appreciated.
Four humanborns marked Cartha’s history. The first was a powerful warrior, the second a gifted healer, the third the most ruthless tyrant the world had yet known. The fourth is Alder Torrance.
High school sophomore Alder is used to change. Thanks to his military dad, he’s moved often, never getting to stay in one place for more than a school year. But getting attacked at his high school, then tossed into a magical world, is a little more change than even Alder can manage, especially when that world is peopled with elven Kingdoms, winged firepeople, and roving bands of desert dwellers who kill travelers for magical power.
Disoriented and endangered, Alder finds friendship and protection in Zed, a fireperson with a unique and dangerous talent, and Orion, a slave boy with a gift for weaponry. And he needs all the help he can get. The son of a human father and Carthan elven mother, Alder is humanborn, and humanborns have always been powerful. Many Carthans expect Alder to save them from the bloodthirsty invaders from the North, but others see in Alder a worse evil by far.
Alder doesn’t want fame or power; he just wants to go home. To do that, he must travel through Cartha without being identified and killed, infiltrate a Kingdom under siege, and contact a god-like being nobody in Cartha fully understands. But with each day, Alder cares more for his new friends. If he stays, he’d be giving up the normal life he had. But he might have the chance to change an entire world. If he can live long enough to do it.
THE SANDS OF CARTHA is a YA fantasy complete at 92,000 words. I received an MFA in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University. My poetry has been published in FLARE: The Flagler Review and Sassafras and my fiction has been accepted for publication at Rivet literary journal.
And the first chapter:
It’s weird that I can be the new kid eleven times without feeling nervous at all, but when I’m a returning student, I get slammed with crippling anxiety.
When I wake up, I’m okay. Excited, even. But while I’m showering, a heavy feeling of dread settles in my chest. By the time I get out of the shower and shave, my hands begin to shake, resulting in a nasty cut on my chin.
I curse and press a wad of toilet paper onto the cut as I put on my jeans and the red-and-white shirt I picked out last night. After a couple minutes the bleeding stops, as does the trembling, leaving me to wonder where this fear came from. Is this what the back-to-school jitters feel like? Or am I nervous about seeing Rosemary again, after what happened last night?
That’s ridiculous. Last night was amazing. Her fingers between mine, her warm cheek on my neck, her skin’s fragrance like flowers in the rain…amazing.
School today will also be amazing, now that for the first time in my life I get to put down roots. But I’m so tense my stomach bubbles and churns.
It gets so bad that when I go downstairs and the smell of Dad’s breakfast burrito hits me like a salsa-slathered prize pig, I have to duck into the bathroom to retch.
There’s a knock at the door. “Alder, is everything okay in there?” Dad calls in.
“Yeah,” I call back, wiping my chin. The cut stings. “Just great.”
“Do you want to stay home today?”
“Yeah. I must have eaten a funky burger at the diner last night. I feel better now.” Not that I’ve ever had food poisoning before, but it makes a good excuse.
“Okay.” Dad walks away.
The nausea passes, but the anxiety doesn’t. I breathe fast and heavy with no idea why. It’s weird how fast it came on. I felt so confident about going back to school and seeing Rosemary again when I woke up. Now I want to run back to my room and hide under my bedcovers.
But that won’t happen. Dad’s not going to think anything is going on other than a mild case of food poisoning. If he thinks I’m really sick, he’ll tell Mom, and Mom will make me stay home. I won’t stay home. Not on the first day of school. That would be weird, and I’m done being the weird new guy. So I rinse out my mouth, take a deep breath, shove my shaking hands into my pockets, and walk into the kitchen.
Dad sits at the table, hunched over the morning paper. He’s wearing his Air Force uniform today, so he’s probably teaching a class and wants to put the fear of John Torrance into the new ROTC students.
“Feel better?” he asks when I come in.
When I nod, he adds, “Did that back there mean you’re nervous for your first second first day of school?”
It takes me a minute to figure out what he means, but when I get it I shake my head. “It was something I ate. Seriously. I’m good now.”
“You’re sure,” he says, staring me down. “No nerves whatsoever?”
I give him a wide smile. “Yep. I’m fine.” My whole body convulses in a shudder. Does Dad notice? “C-cold this morning,” I say through chattering teeth.
Dad nods and rolls his eyes. “As it will be every morning until next June, here in Connecticut. If you try out for a team this year, go for basketball. The games are indoors. Plus, that coach at your last school thought you showed promise.”
I shrug. I’m not too interested in sports, like my dad is. I don’t hate them or actively avoid them. I like the competition of team sports, but the arbitrary rules and point-scoring systems have always seemed a little useless to me. What good does it do me in the real world if I can carry a lemon-shaped ball across a line or make a three-point basket at the buzzer?
That doesn’t mean I don’t participate in gym class, because I do. At my last school, I impressed Coach Powell with my jump shots and rebounding; he tried to convince me to join the basketball team. But we moved two months later so I never got the chance.
I have lived in sixteen different towns, in sixteen different states or even countries, since I was born. That’s impressive, considering I’m still on the back end of fifteen years old. My family has never lived anywhere for more than a year. Dad’s in the military; although he teaches, we still move around a lot. For some reason, though, he decided we should in Connecticut for a few years.
Mom didn’t like the idea of sticking around here until I graduate. Surprising, because when we first got here she couldn’t stop raving about the trees and how beautiful the forests were. But over the summer, when Dad got the opportunity to move us to Hawaii, she said she wanted to go.
She acted more and more freaked out since school ended in June, looking out of windows all the time and getting up in the night to make sure the security system was on. My curfew went from eleven to ten to nine-thirty, and would have gone down to six, I’m sure, if I hadn’t begged Dad to step in.
He must have spoken to her about it, because the next evening Mom announced over dinner that she thought we should stay in Connecticut until I graduate from high school. Still, I can’t stop thinking about how she’d acted. Why would she worry like that over staying a few years in Coventry? Had years of rejecting normal medicine for her weird herbal mixes finally cost Mom her mind?
Maybe it’s because I’m all she has. Mom and Dad tried to give me some brothers and sisters, but despite their best efforts, I’m an only child. While it’s lonely, I don’t have to worry about sibling rivalry. Nothing goads me in to raising my B-minus average or trying out for basketball.
This year, maybe, I can do both, and more. Anything’s possible now that we’re staying. I can spend my weekends with Rosemary and maybe Bryce, join that basketball team or one of Coventry High’s many clubs…whatever normal people who don’t move every eight months do.
My mom glides into the room as I pour myself a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. “Ugh,” she says. “I don’t know how you can eat those. They look like dog food.”
“Good morning, Mom,” I say. “How’s the painting coming?”
“Hmm?” Her grass-green eyes widen and she touches the dried drops of pink and beige paint in her loose brown hair. “Oh, right. It’s coming along. Not quite done, though. It would go faster if I had a live model.” She raises an eyebrow at me.
“No, thanks.” Mom usually paints portraits, but right now she’s working on a series of paintings of ears. I don’t get it, and Dad just shrugs and tells me Mom’s always liked the shape of human ears.
I don’t like my ears. They have weird little notches at the tips and hang out from my head like they weren’t stuck on tight enough. I would grow my hair out to cover them, but Mom refuses to let me run around looking like a “barbaric desert dweller,” whatever that means, so I get regular haircuts.
In return, I refuse when Mom asks for a model for her bizarre ear paintings. She can use a mirror if she wants to paint my ears; I inherited their weird shape from her. In fact, Mom and I share a lot of physical features. We’re both tall and thin with brown hair and full lips. Our eyes are the same rich green. Dad has called me “Miranda” by accident on more than one occasion.
Ears. Of all the obsessions…it’s not like she’s starving for artistic talent. Mom calls herself a “renaissance artist.” She sculpts, writes, sings, but most of all, she paints. All the time. And her latest obsession made me lose any love of painting I used to have. Once, when I was little, I thought I might become an artist like my mom. I flooded printer paper with watercolors and paid attention to the details of people’s appearances as if I were going to paint their portraits. Noting whether their eyes were cerulean or sky blue, that kind of thing, and how dark I’d make the shading of the jaw. But that was a long time ago, back when Mom still did portraits.
After she gets past this ear craze, Mom may someday become famous for her portraits; over the couch in the living room hangs one of my dad that looks just like him, or did, back when he was in college.
Now, Dad looks like your stereotypical All-American superhero after a couple decades. I’ve never seen him use his weights, but he still looks like he outmuscles locomotives every morning before breakfast. Leaps tall buildings, too, as a cool-down.
I look nothing like him, but who cares? Rosemary kissed me last night, not the football star I might have looked like if my parents’ genes melded differently.
Neither I nor my friend Bryce nor even Rosemary can understand how a military guy like Dad could have ended up with an artistic free spirit like Mom. “He broke up a hippie riot,” Bryce said after he and Rosemary first met my mismatched parents. “That has to be the answer.”
“Come on,” Rosemary had said, pushing her black hair behind her ear. “True love has no reason. They could have met anywhere.”
“Okay, then, let’s discover the truth. Alder,” Bryce said, “how did your parents meet?”
Honestly, I had no idea, but I said, “Witness protection.” Which made them howl with laughter, and in that moment I knew I’d keep these friends.
I watch my mom place her hands on my dad’s shoulders and lean down to kiss his cheek. I turn my attention down to my cereal and take a bite. My stomach lurches. The cereal is fine, but what is happening to me? It’s got to be something more than watching my parents act all romantic while I’m eating. I force the food down, but now Mom’s looking at me. “Are you feeling okay?”
“He was throwing up before you came in,” Dad says.
Mom shakes her head. “Honey, if you want to stay home today, you can.”
“I’m fine.” I have to go to school today. I want to see Bryce and I have to see Rosemary. But, even more than that, I feel like if I miss the first day of school I’ll jinx myself. I’ll never fit in, and I’ll stay the guy with the mismatched parents who doesn’t know if he’ll be living in Guatemala in six months. I don’t care if I’m nervous or throwing up or if I get struck by lightning on the bike ride to school; I’m going, and I’ll be a normal student whose only long-term worry is the SATs.
“Are you feeling nervous? Is that was this is?” She turns to my dad and gives him a look that kind of resembles her “I told you so” look.
I set my bowl down and lean against the counter, putting my hands in my pockets. “No. I ate something bad at the diner and now it’s gone. I’m fine.”
Dad holds Mom’s gaze and shakes his head. “Miranda, if Alder wants to go to school, there’s no reason to keep him home.”
Mom walks to the refrigerator and pulls out a thermos that must have been chilling there all night. “All right, then. But just in case you feel sick again, take this.” She hands me the thermos. “It’s cold, but it should still work.”
I sniff it. Ugh. Peppermint and ginger tea, an herbal remedy for an upset stomach.
“Uh, no, thanks,” I say, pushing the thermos away. “Bryce is picking me up for school, and he’s protective of his car. I don’t want to risk spilling it. I feel fine, I swear.”
Mom nods. “Fair enough. Wait a moment.” She leaves and returns with a leather packet. “Keep this close.”
I take the packet and open it. “Geez, Mom!” I throw the knife, the actual, eight-inch hunting knife, on the table. “I can’t bring that. I’ll get arrested!”
Dad stares at the knife and then at Mom. “Miranda, is that necessary?”
She raises an eyebrow at him and folds her arms. Turning to me, she says, “Hide it, then. I want you to be safe.”
“I can’t bring this to school.” I shake my head. “Dad?”
“Alder, maybe, if you keep it at the bottom of your bag—” Dad stops, like he realizes what he’s saying. Putting a hand on Mom’s back, he says, “The school has great security. Alder will get in trouble if he tries to bring that inside. Any psycho would, too. Alder’s safe there. He’s fine. It’s just a little nausea.”
While Dad calms Mom down, I eye the knife lying, half out of its leather sheath, on the table. I love my mom, and I know she means well, but sometimes she’s so overprotective it’s smothering. All through elementary school she volunteered in my classes to “see how I was doing” and in junior high she refused to give me permission to go on a class field trip into the city because I would be gone overnight.
I haven’t even gotten my driver’s permit yet because Mom’s worried I’m going wind up in a fiery car wreck. She means well, I know. But I’m almost sixteen and I need my space.
This is the first time she’s tried to get me to bring a weapon to school, though. My stomach lurches again and I almost lose my cereal.
“Your school day still ends at three, yes?” Mom asks.
I pour the rest of my cereal into the disposal; I’m so anxious I’ve lost my appetite. “Yeah, but I might stay after school if they have club sign-ups. I’ll catch a ride home with Bryce.”
My mouth still tastes bad, so run upstairs to brush my teeth and use some mouthwash. When I’m satisfied, I run out the door.
“Call us when you know for sure. Have fun,” Mom calls as I walk out the door. “But be safe.”
I wave back at her, and run towards Bryce’s used gold car. He’s honking and waving me over.
“Hey, man,” I say as I pull open the passenger side door.
“Hey.” Bryce looks at me as I sit down. “Where’s your stuff?”
I look around. With the nerves and the knife and the weirdness, I’ve forgotten it. “Wait here,” I say, kicking the door open amid Bryce’s protests that I respect the vehicle. “I’ll just be a minute.”
My bag is where it always is: in a closet in the front hall. I open the door quietly; I don’t want to rehash everything that happened over breakfast. As I kneel to pick up my backpack, I hear my parents arguing in the kitchen.
“Did you see him?” Mom says. “He looked so nervous. We shouldn’t have let him go unprotected.”
“He said it was a bad burger.”
“And you believed him?” Footsteps pace the kitchen floor.
“Yes, Miranda. I believe him. Why shouldn’t I?”
“Because you know as well as I do that he doesn’t get food poisoning. We’ve worked so hard to keep him safe, moving around. Something’s wrong now. I can feel it. We should pick him up from school and tell him everything.”
A chair squeaks. “Maybe someday,” Dad says. “But not yet. There’s no reason to be afraid. We’ve tested him again and again, and there’s no doubt that Alder is a perfectly normal boy.”
“I suppose you’re right.” She sighs. “I wish schools would allow children to protect themselves here. I’m just so worried that someone followed us and now they’ll find him.”
A curl of cold, spiky fear snaps through me and I fall against the wall, panting. Who are they? What are my parents talking about? I lean closer, curious. Panic snaps my gut apart, and I squeeze the straps of my backpack to release the tension before it forces the contents of my stomach up my throat. I don’t understand. Yes, the knife and this kind of talk is weird and a little frightening, but Mom’s always been a worrier. This doesn’t merit this kind of panic.
The footsteps stop and start again, growing louder. I use the wall to pull myself and my bag up, and I work hard to slow my breathing.
“Alder? I thought you left.” Mom crosses her arms over her chest She looks small and scared.
“Yeah. I forgot this,” I say, hoisting my bag. “I’ll see you after school.”
“Are you sure you don’t need…anything?”
I want to ask her what she and Dad have been talking about, why she’s been so weird all morning, but I don’t. I can’t. I nod, run out the door, jump into Bryce’s car and slam the door.
“Really, Alder?” Bryce says as he starts the car and puts it in gear. “Kicking the door open like a barbarian? I agreed to give you a ride out of the goodness of my heart; I might change my mind if you keep disrespecting Eowyn.” He pats the dashboard twice and looks at me. “Alder?” He puts his foot on the brake. “Are you okay? You look kind of freaked out.”
“I’m fine. Just drive.” I wrap my arms around my backpack and wonder why I’m so afraid.