Yes, the Utah Arts Original Writing Contest results are in. You can see them here. Looked them up? Good. No spoilers for you. For the rest of you, I didn't win; I didn't even place.
Throw it on the heap, I guess. One more sting in a summer and fall that have had too much pain and too little joy to balance. The decision mentioned last week came to be and pass, and while the change was good, it too carried pain. It wasn't the contest, by the way. No, it was something else. With the contest my big mistake was hoping too much. I shouldn't have done that. I should have entered and forgotten about it.
I wish I had good news to share. All I have is a new decision (to self-publish or not to self-publish now that the contest was a bust) and some actions that may be stupid or wise. Only time will tell.
Now that the contest is over, I'm planning a mass querying of all the books I haven't tried to market yet. Jeremy Wilderson, Retrieval Specialist: Under Locker and Key. The Sands of Cartha. The Seer of Milligan. I've been so focused on The Shifting that I haven't even tried to sell these three. But they're ready to go.
Here's my plan: I'm going to, in the next few weeks query the agents and publishers I think are right for these books. I have already made lists. I've done my homework. That way I can get an idea of if that's still an option. Then, I'll know that I tried before turning my attention to self-publishing. What will be, will be.
I'm starting with Jeremy Wilderson, Retrieval Specialist: Under Locker and Key. I have the query letter ready and the story is polished. I have a list of people to send it to. Though the last publisher I sent my work to, due to a bad experience, has sunk to the bottom of my list of priorities.
And now here's the good part, for you, I hope. I'm posting my query letter and the first chapter below. Feedback and comments are welcome. If you like what you read, please pass my name on to someone who might care and might be able to help me. This is the last push, and then I may try self-publishing.
So here we go....
Sixth grade isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s harder (though a lot more fun) on the wrong side of the law.
Eleven-year-old Jeremy Wilderson is not a thief; he is his middle school’s one and only retrieval specialist. Confiscated cell phones, stolen lunch money—he’ll discretely retrieve it before the last bell rings. Business is good, and if it weren’t for the meddling of preteen private investigator Becca Mills and the fact that Jeremy has gotten so good at retrieving that his work has become boring, he’d be happier than a gym teacher on dodgeball day.
But a new job shatters Jeremy’s comfortable lifestyle. Now, thanks to Jeremy, the master key to the schools’ lockers is in the hands of an aspiring crime kingpin who doesn’t exactly have Jeremy’s strong moral character. Soon not even combination locks can protect the students’ textbooks and jackets. Retrieving the key is too big a job for one crime fighter, and only one person wants the key returned as much as Jeremy does: Becca Mills.
Lockers are being robbed, the teachers are looking for the culprit, and Jeremy’s only ally is the girl who has been trying to nab him all year. If Jeremy isn’t careful, he’ll end up in detention until his last day of high school.
JEREMY WILDERSON, RETRIEVAL SPECIALIST: UNDER LOCKER AND KEY is a middle grade novel complete at 45,000 words. I received an MFA in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University. My work has been published in FLARE: The Flagler Review and Sassafras.
And now for the first chapter:
First off, I am not a thief. I am a retrieval specialist. Big difference. Thieves take what doesn’t belong to them. They steal. Me, I take back the things thieves steal and return them to their rightful owners. The job runs everywhere from crazy to boring to dangerous, but someone has to do it. Kids need protection from the jungle out there.
If you’ve ever been in middle school, you know what I mean. Bigger kids ripping sixth graders off for lunch money, new shoes, whatever. Even teachers contribute to the problem by confiscating cell phones and iPods. The poor things spend so much time and energy managing their classes that, more often than not, they forget to give back what they took. I have the highest respect for teachers—my mom is one—but they don’t always understand that the cell phone belongs to your dad, not you, and if you don’t give it back right after school you’re grounded.
So I step in. One meeting with me over a cafeteria lunch or before class and I guarantee to return your stolen property before the late bus leaves. No payment needed; I just ask that you pass my name on to someone else who needs me. And don’t tell the teachers that I retrieved your stuff. Or Becca Mills. Especially Becca Mills.
Still convinced I’m a thief? Read on. After you become more familiar with my method, you’ll change your mind. Where to begin? How about somewhere exciting…?
* * * * *
The tiles froze my bare knees as I knelt in front of the backpack. I’d like to tell you my heart raced and sweat dripped down my forehead, but I never get nervous on a job that routine. If anything, I felt annoyed at the school for pumping the boys’ locker room full of icy air. Why can I almost see my breath in the one room in school where people strip down?
Anyway, the bag didn’t belong to me. But the Hello Kitty wallet shoved at the bottom sure didn’t belong to the owner of the macho blue-and-black backpack with the X-Games key chain.
The client: Carrie Bethesda. First chair trumpet in the concert band. Sixth grader with a habit of carrying multiple twenties in her wallet. Her parents trusted her with a month of lunch money at a time, a bad idea in the long term.
The mark: Adam Lowd. Nothing out of the ordinary; eighth-grader with a taste for after-school pizza that left him constantly short on cash. He lifted Carrie’s wallet during a scuffle in the lunch line, or so Carrie suspected.
She was right. I found the wallet crammed between a pair of Lowd’s gym shoes and a wad of old vocabulary tests. A quick check verified that all $43.75 was still there. This girl was loaded. All that cash may have tempted a real thief to pocket it and leave the client destitute, but I tucked the wallet, bills and all, into my hoodie for temporary safekeeping.
My watch beeped. Ten minutes until the end of eighth grade gym; the students would come back any minute to change out of their uniforms. Gotta love gym—the only class where you have to leave all your belongings in a room with minimal security. It’s like the school tries to make my job easier. I zipped Adam’s backpack and then left, one hand in my hoodie pocket, resting on the retrieved wallet.
And because it’s written in the fabric of the universe that no job can go off without a hitch, with the whir and click of a camera, Becca Mills stepped in front of me in the hall outside the gym. “Jeremy Wilderson,” she said, twirling her little silver camera by its strap. How did such a tiny girl manage to block the whole hallway?
“Hi, Becca. Shouldn’t you be in class?”
“Mrs. Campbell let us go early after we promised we wouldn’t get into mischief.” A true statement. That camera wouldn’t give her anything on me.
Becca smiled like I imagine a cobra would, if it had lips. “Breaking promises now?”
I raised my hands. “Hey, I’m clean. No trouble here. Why don’t you go investigate Scottsville’s illegal gum trade? I swear there was some under-the-desk dealing during homeroom.”
The eleven-year-old detective stepped closer. Her dark hair gleamed in the June sun coming through the dirty windows. “If you’re so clean, where is your backpack? Why were you in the gym locker room right now when your last class of the day is science?”
I sighed. I should have remembered she memorized my schedule. “Like I said, I got out of class early. It’s a nice day. I thought I would put my stuff in my gym locker before I go outside so I wouldn’t have to carry it around until after track practice.”
Becca’s gray eyes narrowed. Her hands lifted, reaching toward the slight bulge in my hoodie pocket. An actual frisking? Really?
“Whoa,” I said, backing away. “I know I have an athlete’s body, but hands off the abs. People will talk.” I shoved my hands into my hoodie pocket. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, the sunshine calls.”
As I walked away Becca said, “I know you’re working a job, Wilderson. You always are.”
I turned and saluted her, which, judging by her scowl, she did not appreciate.
The bell rang and I hurried away down halls beginning to crowd with kids. I had to steer through the mess like a getaway driver at rush hour to get back to my locker and retrieve my own backpack. Yeah, I lied to Becca. I wouldn’t have to if she’d loosen up and see that I provide a necessary service, instead of trying to put me in detention for the rest of my middle school life.
Carrie waited outside the instrument room, fussing with her ponytail. I shook my head. I had told her to go about her classes like normal, and she had to act like she stole the principal’s car keys (much easier than it sounds, by the way). What if Becca or Adam saw her like this? I beckoned her to follow me into the instrument room.
The loud, busy instrument room made a great place for handoffs. I used it a lot—band kids need my services more than most people. Their instruments have so many loose parts, like reeds and slides and buttons, that have a knack for disappearing just before the winter or spring concert. In return for my help finding mouthpieces that cost way more than a month’s allowance, the band kids grant me a certain amount of discretion when I show up in their room. No one bothered me as I leaned into a corner and brought Carrie’s wallet out of my pocket.
“You got it!” Carrie said. Or at least I think that’s what she said; some trombone player took that moment to run a scale.
“It was Adam. He had it in his backpack. You should stop carrying all that money,” I said. “Leave some at home in your sock drawer.”
Carrie smiled. “I’ll do that. I owe you one.”
“If you hear of someone who needs something retrieved, send them my way,” I said. “But if you feel the need to pay me with something a little more…physical, I like chocolate cake. You know where to find me at lunch.”
Before I could move, Carrie hugged me. When she let go I spun on my heel and walked away. It happens a lot. A guy like me, good-looking, athlete, hero—no girl can resist.
Thank you for reading, please put comments where they belong. I'll keep you posted as things happen (or don't).