Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My Year in Books (So Far)

I'm big on setting goals and challenges for myself. I track my word count, my exercise, my meals, and my reading among other things.

In 2017, I set my usual goal of 52 books, one a week. I'm nearly there already and it's only October, so I think I'll make it. But I thought it might be fun to look at what I've read this year.

Not all of my reading is self-selected. I participate in two book clubs. But I chose those books clubs precisely because I wanted to be led to books I might not have found otherwise (and because talking books with other readers is one of life's greatest pleasures).

Goodreads says I've read 48 books in 2017. That's a little off. Three books got counted twice in different editions. One is a book of writing prompts, which I did look through and use some of…but did I "read" it? Not exactly.  So, let's call it 44 books. Not bad, especially when you consider the busy-ness of my life (day job, writing life, two kids, husband, rescue dog, occasional social life).

I had a few things in mind for my reading this year:

Read more people that I know. I have a lot of writer friends. That happens when you're a writer :-)  I haven't read enough of their work. Twenty of these books were written by people I'm acquainted with either online or in real life (Twenty-one, if I count my own book). I've got some truly talented friends and colleagues out there.

I also wanted to read more women. Despite being one myself, I found that I haven't been reading as many women authors as you might expect. Twenty-one of these books were written by women.

I wanted to read more people of color. Eight of these authors (that I know of) meet that criteria.

So, why does any of that matter?

I believe that we are what we read, just as we are what we eat. I read to get to know other lives, to deepen my understanding of the world and learn about things I know little about. Reading is an escape and a solace, but it's also an opportunity to stretch and grow and expand yourself.

So, here's the list:

How about all of you out there? What have you been reading this year? Why? Did you choose it or just kind of end up there? 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Halloween Escapism: Nightmare Fuel

Life can be such a horror show sometimes. People are jack-holes or just thoughtlessly, selfishly cruel. Systems fail us.

You would think that would make horror fiction unappealing, but at least for me it only adds to the appeal. Especially at this time of year when I'm in a long stretch of no breaks in the school schedule, honeymoon period ending, I'm ready to escape.

I want excitement in my story, but not any real-life trauma or drama. Even though these stories are tense to read or watch, they are relaxing in that I don't really believe they are true. So, I look to horror at this time of year in my reading and movies. This year, I'm giving it a go in my writing as well.

I'm playing along with a friend's challenge to write a piece of flash fiction every day in October. She calls it Nightmare Fuel, and provides a creepy/spooky picture every day. You can follow the collection of prompts here and you can look at what I've been up to here.

Here are some of the images I've been writing from.


It's led to quite a range of spooky things: creatures hidden in fog, invading aliens, transformations, inanimate objects moving, tortured spirits. I'm really having a great time remembering the playful side of writing for a while before I get back on track for NaNoWriMo.

Here's one to chill your Wednesday. It goes with the picture above of the muddy person leaving into the water:

I thought it had to be a statue. Though I couldn’t imagine why anyone would go to the trouble to place a sculpture out here. This little lake was hardly a tourist attraction and the path so little traveled that I had to beat down weeds in places to get through.
But still, the figure by the water had to be some creation, a fake thing. It was so still you see.

No rising and falling of the chest. No sound.

It squatted there at the water’s edge in a position that made my hips hurt just to consider. It’s impossibly skinny arms stretched too long in front of a rounded back that also seemed elongated and out of the expected proportions. Its attention remained focused on the space between its elbows.

I stopped. My hand crept to the gun at my side. I couldn’t have said why, but when my hand drifted that direction, I tended to let it. I think my subconscious has some secret pathway that goes straight to my trigger finger without involving my brain along the way. I don’t resist it. It’s saved my bacon more than once.

Nor did I call out. Idle curiosity trapped more than one fool. If there was a choice between knowing and living, I knew which I’d choose. What was the old saw? Ignorance is bliss? Sometimes it really is.

I took a step backwards, feeling too exposed where I stood. When I snapped a twig with my boot, I thought I was toast, but when I looked back at the muddy bank, the figure had not moved.

It had, however, changed.

The arms and head seemed to be fusing together, forming an elongated triangle. The process was slow, molasses slow, but a change was definitely happening. The human-looking pieces, the head,arms, legs, and torso all melted into one another, bit by bit, until the creature stretched long and flat, with a dangerous and toothy snout aimed out at the water.

The eyes didn’t open until the bumps began to rise on its back. Crocodile. There had been stories, tales I’d heard all my life, of the crocodile people who populated the swampy backwoods areas. I never thought I’d see one.

The yellow eyes blinked. First one and then the other. Like a wink. Then the creature smiled. The long mouth flexible, turning up in a weird, toothy parody of the human expression.

I tipped my hat. Courtesy never hurt. A little respect could keep a body whole. It was worth a shot.

Both eyes closed and the crocodile-man pushed into the water. I watched for a long minute before I lost track of him in the muddy waters. I turned back and picked up my pace, hoping the transformation back to land-form took as long. I might could make it to shelter before he hunted me down, if I hurried.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Tales From the Underground: New Release

Don't you love the smell of a new release in the morning? Or any other time of day? I'm turning over my blog today to help some friends celebrate the release of a new anthology: Tales From the Underground. I hope you'll check out this preview and consider getting a copy of the book! -SB
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We have a challenge for you. Put your feet on the ground. Feel the earth under your feet. Now imagine… imagine what is under that earth. Imagine the Underground.

Tales From The Underground is a new collection of stories from Inklings Press – with a dozen stories from writers around the world, all imagining what might lie beneath the ground.

There are stories of fantasy, there are stories of science fiction, there are stories bringing you a shiver in the dark.

So here, join us as we discuss what lurks beneath…

What is Inklings Press?


Inklings Press started out as a collective of writers working together to publish short stories – and though the net is wider these days, that’s exactly what Inklings Press remains. Royalties are evenly divided between writers, so every book sold gives contributors more money in their pocket. The press takes a single share too, the same size as any writer’s, to pay for advertising and promoting the book.

In short, Inklings aims to provide a place for writers who are new or up-and-coming, and we’re delighted to bring those writers’ stories to the world.

Why Tales From The Underground?

Tales From The Underground is perhaps the most natural development in the Inklings collection of books so far. The idea came from the writers of previous anthologies. In discussion, the writers themselves suggested the theme, so we ran with it. And the outcome is the biggest collection of stories yet from Inklings Press.

Who is in the anthology?

There are writers from around the world in the collection – there are stories that were authored in Australia, made in Mexico, that flourished in Finland and France, emerged from England and were born in The Bahamas.

The list of authors includes those with novels to their name, and those who are still taking their first steps in publication.

The authors in the anthology are Jeff Provine, Brent A. Harris, E.M. Swift-Hook, Claire Buss, Ricardo Victoria, Christopher Edwards, Lawrence Harding, N.C. Stow, Rob Edwards, Jaleta Clegg, Jeanette O’Hagan and Leo McBride.

You would love this anthology if you loved…?


One of the nice things about this collection is the range of stories inside.

Fantasy is a strong theme throughout, as in the urban fantasy of Rob Edwards’ The Lords of Negative Space, about the world just out of sight. But there are also science fiction tales, such as Jaleta Clegg’s tale, The Angels of Mestora, in which unwary dwellers of a distant planet are lured away from civilization by “angelsong”, and Ricardo Victoria’s Buried Sins, with a battle in an ancient underground city.

Jeff Provine delves into a cavern with a reputation for weird events, while Brent A. Harris takes us on a trip through time. N.C. Stow imbues her tale with the influence of Russian mythology, while both Lawrence Harding and E.M. Swift-Hook tell us tales of mythology in worlds of their own devising. Claire Buss goes underground in more than one sense in her tale Underground Scratching, and Jeanette O’Hagan presents a team of miners fighting for their very lives against supernatural powers.

Christopher Edwards tells us a tale of strange visions in an RAF bunker, and Leo McBride follows explorers retracing the steps of an expedition that never returned. There are ghosts, there are distant planets, there are things happening in the ground under our very feet. Legends are revealed, and legends are made.

It is a delight to watch the stories take such different directions while all sharing the same theme.

Where can I get it?

Tales From The Underground is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Underground-Twelve-hidden-legends-ebook/dp/B075ZQ579N/. You can also learn more at www.inklingspress.com. Each story also includes information about the writers, so if you fall in love with one of the works, you can follow the links to learn – and read – more.

So take a peek, and come join us, down here… in the dark.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

IWSG: Writing is my Therapy


It's the first Wednesday! Which means IWSG Day. Today's question: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

After you see what I have to say, be sure to check out other posts and our lovely and generous co-hosts: Olga Godim, Chemist Ken, Jennifer Hawes, and Tamara Narayan!
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Writing is my therapy. Often, it is through my writing that I find out what is bothering me at a subconscious level. Like many an introvert, I prefer to stay a little hidden. Like an ogre, I've got layers. Some of them are even hidden from myself at times.

I'm not comfortable with most forms of therapy. Hashing things out with a stranger has mostly caused me more anxiety than it has solved (I'm not putting down the process; I know MANY people that traditional therapy has helped. I'm just not one of them).

But if I write, especially if I write fiction, so that I fool my brain into thinking that none of this about me, I end up working my way through a lot of issues. And that is truly therapeutic.

The first novel I ever wrote (unpublished: His Other Mother) was like that. It wasn't autobiographical at all. The main character had in common with me only that she is a teacher. She was younger than me, very different from me in personality, dealing with infertility and schizophrenia which are not issues I've had to personally face. So, while I was writing the novel, I was sure it was all fiction.

But when I got to THE END and starting revising the novel, I realized that parts of me were all over that book. The husband and wife dynamic was very similar to my first marriage (though I reversed the genders, writing myself as the husband and my ex as the wife: bet Freud would have a field day with that).

Because schizophrenia makes up more than one branch in my family tree, I worry about my grasp on reality sometimes. Writing Sherry Morgan helped me feel my way through these issues, without feeling like that was what I doing.

When I discovered that, I was shocked. I'm not a fan of fiction as disguised memoir most of the time. I've never set out to write a book about myself. I just don't think I'm that interesting, not compared to my imaginary friends who go out there and do things I only think about.

But I've found a comfort in expressing my worries and doubts through my characters. Though most of my characters are not very much like me, they do share emotions and prejudices with their creator. Through my Menopausal Superheroes series, I've worked through some of my issues with the medical establishment, aging, and sexism, for example.

I've never flown without an airplane, or thrown a pick-up truck, but my heroines all reflect my experience in some ways. I definitely value writing for a way to talk to my own subconscious and come out the stronger for the experience.
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If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Celebrating Four Years of Writing Every Day

Tuesday, September 26, 2017, is a landmark in my writing life. It's day number 1,460 in a row in my writing chain. That's four years of writing every single day. (cue the fireworks and confetti, please)

I've written before about what a game-changer a daily writing habit has been for me: here, here, and here, most recently. It's not for everyone, of course. Creative process works in mysterious, highly individual ways, and every day is not feasible for every artist. But for me, it meant steady, forward progress, finishing things. Even more importantly, I stopped wasting time floundering around and trying to remember my own story.

I've written a heck of a lot in four years. According to Magic Spreadsheet, one of the tracking tools I use, I've written nearly two million words in that time frame. (When I'm editing and revising, I count 10% of the words I process in that session as word count). My school-day nightly goal is 800 words, my vacation-day goal is 2,000 words. A day still counts as a writing day so long as I make the rock-bottom minimum of 250 words.

(It's best when it's not just "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" over and over).

https://ih1.redbubble.net/image.349879360.8035/flat,800x800,070,f.jpg

I've seen three novels, a collection of short stories, and seven short stories in multi-author anthologies onto bookshelves during that span. I swear, I look at the pile of books and I feel like Ozymandias: "Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!" (though I hope that doesn't leave me crumpled in the desert with dried up pages blowing by in the wind).



I still want to be more productive.

I'm a twenty-first century girl after all, and I want to make sure I live my dreams to the fullest.

I have too many unfinished projects and too many still waiting for me to develop them.

As I move into my fifth year of daily writing, I plan to be a little harder on myself. Up until now, I've counted all writing: blog posts, articles, book reviews, marketing plans, synopses, journalling, etc. I still plan to keep track of all that work, but for a day to count as a writing day, it must include at least 250 words of fiction.

After four years of building this habit, I'm not willing to let myself slack off. My expectations for myself will continue to rise.

But right now, I'm just breathing a moment of satisfaction, sticking out my chin and spreading my prideful feathers. Look how far we've come!

…I think I'll celebrate by adding 250 words to my newest novel.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Son of a Pitch: Entry Ten: Long Lost Treasure: A Promise Kept


For my regular readers, these are some special posts this week as part of a pitch contest I'm providing feedback for. My normal musings will return next week.


For participants, welcome to my blog! I'm happy to host you and excited to see what kinds of stories you've written. Please remember that only the author of this piece and the participating judges are supposed to comment. All other comments will be deleted.


We're Team Fluttershy! Because here on Balancing Act, we're both quite sweet unless you provoke us, in which case, we are terrifying.

You can check out other teams on the other hosting blogs: Rena Rocford (Rainbow Dash), Kathleen Ann Palm (Rarity), Elizabeth Roderick (Discord), Katie Hamstead Teller (Princess Luna)

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Title: Long Lost Treasure: A Promise Kept
Category and Genre: Adult Romance
Word Count: 26,000

Query:

Beth, a military widow, left her life behind ten years ago to start over. Now due to an unexpected situation, Beth is forced to return home, but without fail finds herself caught in middle of making decisions she’s not ready to make, torn between her present state of happiness and the life she left behind so long ago, and becomes quickly overwhelmed by all her past rushing towards her with so many unanswered questions. DB, Beth’s former brother-in-law and has been a best friend to Beth all her life, but now needs more than anything wants to know and most importantly understand why she left so abruptly ten years ago without even a good-bye.
So, will Beth’s visit force her to face her past and reveal more than one secret that could change her future forever? Or will DB force her to leave again and never look back?

First 250 Words:

Under a hot summer sun, sitting quietly with tears streaming down my face, listening to the 21-gun salute ringing out in the distance, and clinging to a folded American Flag, all I could think was that this was all just a dream.

Military wives always dread two things, moving and ‘the phone call’. It was earlyThursday morning, as I was getting ready to head out for my morning jog, when something told me not to leave just yet. Ten minutes later the phone rang and it was my brother-in-law, Dallas ‘DB’ Bryant. The moment I heard his voice I knew something was wrong and my life would forever be changed.

“Beth…” there was a long moment of silence, “…do you remember the promise I made?” he struggled to say.

Here’s the thing about promises, they are meant to be broken, but this one was made to ensure it would never be broken. Jackson ‘Gage’ Bryant, was my best friend and high school sweetheart, we were married two weeks after graduation in a small intimate ceremony and then six weeks later he and DB were off to boot camp. They were inseparable. DB was almost two years older than Gage, but the military was a passion they shared, other than sports and women. Against their family’s wishes because of the war in the Middle East, not to mention there was a strong family tradition of military men in the Bryant Family, they enlisted together. They insisted it was something they had to do for not only their country to preserve the freedom they cherished, but for generations of Bryants to come.

We had been married a year when their unit was scheduled to deploy to Iraq for eighteen months, with possible five-day weekend home passes every four to six months. I made them promise that if anything was to happen, for one of them to call me or their family before the military officials did.

“Beth, are you there?” a shaky voice questioned.

“Yeah,” I choked as the tears began to fall down my face knowing this was the call I didn’t want.

“Gage…” he started, “…Gage is gone Beth” he continued with another moment of silence before explaining what happened. He and three other members of his unit went out on patrol early this morning when an Improvised Explosive Device or IED, otherwise known as a roadside bomb, detonated near their Humvee. There weren’t any survivors.

Son of a Pitch: Entry Nine: The Merged


For my regular readers, these are some special posts this week as part of a pitch contest I'm providing feedback for. My normal musings will return next week.


For participants, welcome to my blog! I'm happy to host you and excited to see what kinds of stories you've written. Please remember that only the author of this piece and the participating judges are supposed to comment. All other comments will be deleted.

We're Team Fluttershy! Because here on Balancing Act, we're both quite sweet unless you provoke us, in which case, we are terrifying.
You can check out other teams on the other hosting blogs: Rena Rocford (Rainbow Dash), Kathleen Ann Palm (Rarity), Elizabeth Roderick (Discord), Katie Hamstead Teller (Princess Luna)
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Title: The Merged
Category and Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Word Count: 85,000

Query:

Two centuries ago, a fiery celestial orb ignited the night sky over Earth’s northern hemisphere. From it rained down a hive-mind of shapeless creates called Yuva. They took on human form with the peaceful goal of growing their numbers and then leaving without ever being discovered. But when years pass without a single Yuva birth, panic and confusion rises, and they begin to blame the humans for their demise.

Essence is a Yuva Commander. Just as she is trying to rein in her people’s sinister plans against the humans she believes to be innocent, her sister is stolen away by a covert team of government contractors. Essence risks her reputation and the lives of her enclave in a daring rescue effort, but discovers that saving her sister is impossible: the humans have developed biological weapons that render her shapeshifting inert, with higher dosages lethal to all Yuva kind.

Undeterred, Essence leads an escalating war to save her sister and ultimately her own kind, but when she uncovers a secret about the two very different peoples, she realizes they might not be enemies after all, and, for the ultimate price, humanity might actually be the savior of her kind.

First 250 Words:
In 213 years, Essence had never killed a human. The thought of ending such a delicate life brought on a crippling nausea only six weeks ago. The back of her teeth clenched, rotten acid dripped down her throat. But now, shivering against the metal plank, weaponized vapors burning her lungs, she knew one thing: death came for all.

A heavy door scratched at its hinges and rattled open. Essence startled. The jarring noise meant only one thing. Either they captured someone new, or they extracted someone old, neither would ever be seen again.

Today it was someone new. Down the concrete corridor outside her cell, soldiers dragged a woman along. The scrappy push and pull of resistance clanged in a lopsided rhythm. One of them limped. Maybe it was the captive, maybe it was one of the soldiers.

The unit stopped at an empty cell two down from hers. Aluminum batons shoved the woman in. She sobbed. Essence searched the vocals, isolating the rich timbre of the young voice. No. The new captive wasn't the one she searched for, the one that led her to this place, the one that got her caught. But the woman didn’t have to worry. In a few minutes, Essence would set her free. She’d set them all free.

Rubber soles turned on the linoleum floor, the squeak pitched high and hurt her ears. The soldiers headed out the same way they came in. But one of them didn’t follow his comrades.

Son of a Pitch: Entry Four: Fear Factory



For my regular readers, these are some special posts this week as part of a pitch contest I'm providing feedback for. My normal musings will return next week.
For participants, welcome to my blog! I'm happy to host you and excited to see what kinds of stories you've written. Please remember that only the author of this piece and the participating judges are supposed to comment. All other comments will be deleted.

We're Team Fluttershy! Because here on Balancing Act, we're both quite sweet unless you provoke us, in which case, we are terrifying.

You can check out other teams on the other hosting blogs: Rena Rocford (Rainbow Dash), Kathleen Ann Palm (Rarity), Elizabeth Roderick (Discord), Katie Hamstead Teller (Princess Luna)
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Title: FEAR FACTORY
Category and Genre: Adult Science Fiction Thriller
Word Count: 110,000

Query:
Sarah is an accomplished medical student whose confidence is shaken after spending months at Doctors Without Borders coping with the harsh realities of the world. Eager to restore her self-esteem before beginning her residency, Sarah agrees to participate in a new television show that pits contestants against their fears in a virtual arena. Since her greatest fear is failure, she feels that the prize money is hers to win.

Sarah is bullied by Christine, a vindictive contestant who will stop at nothing to gain competitive advantage. Sarah is disqualified when her prescription interferes with the fear-response monitoring used by the virtual reality simulator. Relegated to the role of spectator, the brutality of the arena is displayed as the line between fantasy and reality is erased. When a competitor is critically injured inside the arena, Sarah’s medical instincts propel her into action.

After a failed attempt to save the fallen competitor, Sarah learns that the show is merely a ruse to lure unsuspecting participants into a fear-response project sponsored by the government. The contestant who perseveres will be used to unlock the potential of the artificial intelligence for its intended purpose. With Christine at the helm, the arena is converted into a powerful interrogation chamber for the Department of Defense. When the stresses of the arena place Christine in peril, Sarah must push aside the bad blood between them and overcome her fear of failure to save her life.


First 250 Words:

The phone slipped from my hand and bounced on the threadbare carpet. Dr. Anders’ muted voice beckoned from the floor. “Are you still there, Sarah?”

I slid off the bed and fumbled to align the receiver with my ear. “Oh my God. Sorry, I’m still here.” Everything was moving so fast. It was like spontaneity had sucked down a Red Bull. Most people run from their fears. I was willing to fly across the country to face mine.

“I appreciate your enthusiasm. To be honest, I wasn’t certain how you would react.”

For an instant, doubt tried to gain a foothold in my mind. I was just invited to be on a new television show. An all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas awaited. Who wouldn’t want to go? “Is there any reason I shouldn’t be excited?”

“From what you told me, you’ve been through a lot recently.”

I nodded before realizing that he could not see me. “Yes. That’s true. But I am ready to move on.”

“Are you, Sarah? This is no joke. Fear Factory will require your full mental capacity.”

Part of me was offended that he so openly questioned my mental toughness. Medical School had prepared me for everything. Almost everything. Ghana was a different story. “I think I know where you’re going with this. Like I already said, you weren’t there.”

“Yes, of course. I don’t suppose anything could prepare you for the horrors of the outside world. And I do sympathize with your plight. It must have been hard to lose so many children. You are a very brave woman.”

Son of a Pitch: Entry Two: The Camp



For my regular readers, these are some special posts this week as part of a pitch contest I'm providing feedback for. My normal musings will return next week.

For participants, welcome to my blog! I'm happy to host you and excited to see what kinds of stories you've written. Please remember that only the author of this piece and the participating judges are supposed to comment. All other comments will be deleted.

We're Team Fluttershy! Because here on Balancing Act, we're both quite sweet unless you provoke us, in which case, we are terrifying.

You can check out other teams on the other hosting blogs: Rena Rocford (Rainbow Dash), Kathleen Ann Palm (Rarity), Elizabeth Roderick (Discord)
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Title: The Camp
Category and Genre: Adult SciFi
Word Count: 94,000

Query:

Three hundred years ago, the colonies of Drea and Baile were established, safe havens for the people when their home planet died out. Two hundred year ago, Drea went silent. Ten days ago, missiles rained down on Baile.

As a prisoner of war, twenty-four year old Celia does not make it to the work camp before she has her first run in with her captors. Beaten for using the restroom without permission, separated from the young charge she has sworn to protect, and ogled by the guards during her first shower in weeks, Celia is terrified, angry and lost. But she rejects an opportunity for an easier life in camp because it means accepting, even supporting, the Drea in their conquest. Better food and an easier job are not worth that price.

Then a chance conversation reveals Celia’s ultimate fate. The Drea plan to send her and all the other young women to breeding houses. Spending the rest of her life as a brood mare for the enemy is a future that she will do anything to avoid. When she receives an invitation to join the resistance, it’s the opportunity she has been waiting for, escape and the chance to deal a blow to the people who took everything from her.

The problem: the resistance is led by a traitor, a Bailen soldier turned Drea stooge and the man who abandoned her during the invasion. If he betrays her again, Celia will face public execution.

First 250 Words:


There is only one rule and it is strictly enforced: Stay in your seat.

But Oona’s squirming has become increasingly frantic. It’s been hours since the guards have been through and, with no one to grant permission, a trip to the train car’s single restroom is out of the question. At least it is until the little girl starts sobbing with the pain of holding it. Despite knowing her for less than a week, I can’t bear to watch her humiliate herself.

I decide to risk it.

Horrified stares follow us as we hustle down the aisle but no one says a word. No one dares, even as I stand outside the door, waiting for her to come out. And once she’s done, I place her in the only empty seat nearby while I take my turn. 

When I come out, she’s gone, her empty seat a hollow gap that draws me in. The three people remaining in the section don’t look over. They continue to stare out the window, riveted to the monotonous landscape that flashes past.

“Where is she?” I ask the woman who had been sitting next to Oona.

“We sent her away. They could have come through and she would have caused trouble.” I have to stoop low to catch the words.

I would like to ask her how much trouble a tiny, frightened child could possibly make but, when I look at her, the words crumble in my mouth.

Son of a Pitch: Entry Five: The Savage



For my regular readers, these are some special posts this week as part of a pitch contest I'm providing feedback for. My normal musings will return next week.

For participants, welcome to my blog! I'm happy to host you and excited to see what kinds of stories you've written. Please remember that only the author of this piece and the participating judges are supposed to comment. All other comments will be deleted.

We're Team Fluttershy! Because here on Balancing Act, we're both quite sweet unless you provoke us, in which case, we are terrifying.

You can check out other teams on the other hosting blogs: Rena Rocford (Rainbow Dash), Kathleen Ann Palm (Rarity), Elizabeth Roderick (Discord), Katie Hamstead Teller (Princess Luna)
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Title: The Savage
Category and Genre: Adult / SciFi
Word Count: 109,000

Query:
Manu Talib always does the right thing. Always. Even Manu’s betrothed can’t tempt him to disobey the onerous rules of the all-powerful god Thoth. Manu achieves his wildest ambition when he prevails in a brutal set of trials and wins the right to join Thoth’s elite warriors. But when Thoth sends Manu to exterminate the savages living beyond the eastern border, Manu’s faith is set on a collision course with his conscience.

Manu is injured during the campaign and rescued by Rafiq, one of the heretics he was sent to slay. Rafiq’s kindness leads Manu to question his obedience to Thoth’s ruthless decrees. When Manu’s fellow soldiers discover them and kill Rafiq, an enraged Manu retaliates, killing one of his former comrades. Manu is sentenced to death for his crime, but escapes with the help of his betrothed and stows away on Thoth’s flying chariot.

Manu’s exile leads him to a centuries-old secret: Thoth is a fraud used by an advanced society to control Manu’s people. Left with no master but his conscience, Manu refuses to accept the murderous lie on which his society depends, even if exposing the truth means facing execution and risking the survival of his civilization.

First 250 Words:

Manu fidgeted on the cart’s high bench, eager for the caravan to depart. Father climbed up beside him, graceful despite his size, and gathered the reins.

“The Old Jackal’s nearly down,” Father said, nodding at the setting sun. “We’ll be leaving soon.”

“Do you think we’ll see any Eastlings?” Manu asked.

“I pray to Thoth we don’t. The supply depot is supposed to be well away from the fighting. We’ll have a couple of Judges with us, just in case.”

“Do you think we’ll see Hanif?”

“I don’t rightly know,” Father said. His eyes tightened. “But don’t you go talking to a Judge unless he talks to you first. Even if it’s your brother.”

“I’m not a child anymore. I’ll remember.”

The carts and wagons ahead began to move. Father snapped the reins gently. Their horse snorted, but lurched into a walk. The Old Jackal sank quickly, and soon Manu’s view was limited to the swaying circle of light cast by a lamp hanging from the cart in front of them. He squinted into the gloom but could see little but Father beside him, the horse ahead, and other circles of light bobbing in front and behind like luminous islands in a dark stream.

Manu's breath misted and clouded in the cool air. He leaned back against the forage sacks filling the cart bed. Hay stalks poked through the burlap and tickled his cheeks around the edges of his keffiyeh. At least the makeshift cushion provided some warmth.

Son of a Pitch: Entry Eight: Robot Dreams



For my regular readers, these are some special posts this week as part of a pitch contest I'm providing feedback for. My normal musings will return next week.

For participants, welcome to my blog! I'm happy to host you and excited to see what kinds of stories you've written. Please remember that only the author of this piece and the participating judges are supposed to comment. All other comments will be deleted.

We're Team Fluttershy! Because here on Balancing Act, we're both quite sweet unless you provoke us, in which case, we are terrifying.

You can check out other teams on the other hosting blogs: Rena Rocford (Rainbow Dash), Kathleen Ann Palm (Rarity), Elizabeth Roderick (Discord), Katie Hamstead Teller (Princess Luna)
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Title: ROBOT DREAMS
Category and Genre: YA Science Fiction
Word Count: 80,000 words

Query:


Wayward android Ada has never seen the outside world, until a mistaken outburst leaves her a liability to the eccentric humans who took her in. Cast out into the night, she soon finds herself an unwilling recruit at a human army camp.

At the mercy of humans taught all their life to hate her kind, Ada is forced to disguise her true identity or risk deactivation. When she is sent on a vital mission with teenage commander Nico to the heart of machine controlled territory, with the most powerful anti-robot weapon at their disposal, Ada has to decide where her allegiances lie.

She's never had a choice before. Zigzagging through a landscape ravaged by war, her journey of discovery will show her both the kindest and cruellest depths of humanity and reveal horrific truths about her world. When the 'big bad' and you are one and the same, it's hard to catch a lucky break.

Danger is closing in on all sides. It's time for Ada to decide which she'd rather be: (wo)man or machine.

First 250 Words:

They both closed their eyes and murmured words of thanksgiving together.

“Thank you for our home, for this food we eat today and for our safety from the metal-lovers outside.”

“May I be excused?” I asked, shifting uncomfortably in my seat, the charging wire plugged into my spine rubbing against the back of the chair.

Scott looked up first, peering at me over his wiry glasses.

“Stay, Ada. There are things you can be thankful for too. Why don’t you share them?” Scott’s voice was low and melodic, almost as if he was trying to hypnotise me.

“I’m thankful for...”

I looked over at Janet for clues, but today she wasn’t in the mood to be helpful. She shook her head insistently, looking like the little nodding dog in the old commercial they made me watch once. We were two hundred feet below ground, playing at happy families, and I was completely reliant on them for the electricity I needed to survive. I might never have seen the outside world but I wasn’t dumb enough to think that a family consisted of Mum and Dad and a metal-girl.

“I’m thankful I won't starve to death when the food stores run out,” I said, their eyes widening in response. I could never quite work out what they wanted me to say. The truth was always too blunt, but I couldn’t quite get the hang of delivering just the right strength of lie to lessen the blow.

Son of a Pitch: Entry Seven: Recycled Identities



For my regular readers, these are some special posts this week as part of a pitch contest I'm providing feedback for. My normal musings will return next week.

For participants, welcome to my blog! I'm happy to host you and excited to see what kinds of stories you've written. Please remember that only the author of this piece and the participating judges are supposed to comment. All other comments will be deleted.

We're Team Fluttershy! Because here on Balancing Act, we're both quite sweet unless you provoke us, in which case, we are terrifying.

You can check out other teams on the other hosting blogs: Rena Rocford (Rainbow Dash), Kathleen Ann Palm (Rarity), Elizabeth Roderick (Discord), Katie Hamstead Teller (Princess Luna)
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Title: RECYCLED IDENTITIES
Category and Genre: YA Science Fiction
Word Count: 98,000

Query:

In 2265, fifteen-year-old Mouse yearns to escape from the computer controlled foster system and fly to one of Earth’s exciting new colony planets. She can start over and become someone else. But she’s trapped for three more years, unless she can convince a foster parent to adopt her. Unfortunately, her sixth foster parent abandons her during a city evacuation, and Mouse barely escapes a kidnapping attempt. Desperate to avoid her former abusive group home and hide from the kidnapper, she programs a new identity and joins a group of runaway boys in their underground courier service. Disguised as a boy, Mouse avoids the unwanted attention she’s run from all her life.

Deep in the forest reserve, the biggest issue in seventeen-year-old Taryn’s life is telling her parents she wants to intern on a colony planet, until illegal miners blow up her home and kill her family. Taryn flees into the forest, her only thought survival.

Mouse’s safety is shattered when the kidnapper captures all the courier boys. Her first instinct is to program a new identity and flee, but she can’t leave them to face the horrors they might endure. She follows the clues to an isolated lab in the middle of the forest. Her friends lie in comas, and, in the next room, vacant-eyed kids are trapped in a virtual reality. Mouse rescues the only person still functioning, Taryn, captured while investigating her family’s murder.

Together, the girls must rescue the boys before the lab programs them into mining robot replacements and ships them to a distant asteroid to work until they die.

First 250 Words:

The Spaceport shuttle lifted elegantly over the rows of shipping containers and hovered above the burning city. So close, yet totally unreachable.

Mouse blinked away useless tears.

Ash billowed over the burnt transportation terminal and swirled around her head, obscuring her view for a moment. If everything had gone the way she planned, Mouse would’ve been on that shuttle in nine months, flying to the Jarian Spaceport and boarding a colony ship to Tanek.

Instead, she huddled at the edge of the cargo field with the last of the evacuees while flames engulfed the temporary city-block. Stuck on Earth.

It had been so hard not to beg Emma to take her with them. But it wouldn’t have changed anything. No one really wanted her.

Mouse had twisted her lips into a fake smile and waved her sixth foster parent off with the words she knew Emma wanted to hear. “Of course I understand. I’ve only been here three months. No time to change your colony application. It’s a great opportunity. Go. I’ll be fine.”

Emma’s grateful smile hadn’t made it any easier. Only twenty evacuees had received the offer to skip the emigration wait-list. Of course Emma chose to fly to Tanek now, rather than relocate to another city-block for the next nine months.

Mouse didn’t know why it still hurt. After fifteen years, she should be used to it.

Everyone leaves.

Mouse’s breath caught as the shuttle wings rippled, transforming to propulsion configuration. Flames reflected off the gleaming silver fuselage, a star about to explode.

Son of a Pitch: Entry Six: Damaged Goods


For my regular readers, these are some special posts this week as part of a pitch contest I'm providing feedback for. My normal musings will return next week.

For participants, welcome to my blog! I'm happy to host you and excited to see what kinds of stories you've written. Please remember that only the author of this piece and the participating judges are supposed to comment. All other comments will be deleted.

We're Team Fluttershy! Because here on Balancing Act, we're both quite sweet unless you provoke us, in which case, we are terrifying.

You can check out other teams on the other hosting blogs: Rena Rocford (Rainbow Dash), Kathleen Ann Palm (Rarity), Elizabeth Roderick (Discord), Katie Hamstead Teller (Princess Luna)
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Title: (Damaged Goods)
Category and Genre: (YA Science Fiction)
Word Count: (100,000)

Query:

As if having a boy’s name isn’t bad enough, Joe is an unusually tall and brawny teenage girl with a debilitating stutter, trapped on a continent terrorized by a menacing army of child-snatchers from a neighboring continent. No one knows why they’re kidnapping the children; all Joe knows is she might be next.

Her people came as war refugees to this continent—Australia hundreds of years from now—where she is born, in secret, to her overprotective father. When her people spur an aggressive retaliation from the snatchers, they mount an attack that leaves Joe completely broken, without loved ones and an arm. With the enemy blocking all access to leave the continent, and her father no longer there to protect her, Joe has no choice but to push through her reclusive nature and post-traumatic stress disorder. The new friendships of a quirky, chatterbox boy and secret scientists give her the emotional and physical tools to battle the enemy, including a highly advanced prosthetic arm. With her joke-cracking ally, she embarks on a desperate quest to free her people from the horrors of the enemy.

Joe’s attention has been solely on the enemy, but she soon discovers something is very wrong with her own people, and worse, those she has trusted the most have been keeping her in the dark about how and why her people are on this continent and how it’s connected to everything about her down to her abnormal size.

First 250 Words:

AGE 14

The constriction around my neck has lessened over time. This doesn’t stop the sickening sweat that drenches me. I fear I’ll throw up. Choke.

Uncle Charly carries himself into the room like he’s stepping in from another dimension. Artificial lights tarnish his orange hair. Halos shine behind him. I gaze into Charly’s eyes. He doesn’t acknowledge my stare.

“Let’s give you some time to get used to not having that on,” Charly whispers after removing the neck brace. He looks away. I think my head will fall off my shoulders even though I’m lying flat. Sleep steals me away.

When I wake, an insect-like buzz vibrates in my ears as the top half of my bed inclines; Charly’s pushing a button. He gently squirts water into my mouth. “Can you try sitting up?”

I test my head—it doesn’t feel like it will topple anymore. I attempt to sit, but my body trembles like crazy.

“It’s normal, you haven’t used your muscles in months,” Charly says softly.

I try again. Something’s wrong. Now that the neck brace is not restricting, I finally look down.

A shudder jolts me.

In place of where my right arm should be, is empty air.

AGE 13

They came to reduce our numbers, again. Except this time, one of our soldiers rode up with a haunted face and two fingers in the air. It took my father a few seconds to figure out it meant two children were snatched away instead of one.

Son of a Pitch: Entry Three: Conduit



For my regular readers, these are some special posts this week as part of a pitch contest I'm providing feedback for. My normal musings will return next week.

For participants, welcome to my blog! I'm happy to host you and excited to see what kinds of stories you've written. Please remember that only the author of this piece and the participating judges are supposed to comment. All other comments will be deleted.

We're Team Fluttershy! Because here on Balancing Act, we're both quite sweet unless you provoke us, in which case, we are terrifying.

You can check out other teams on the other hosting blogs: Rena Rocford (Rainbow Dash), Kathleen Ann Palm (Rarity), Elizabeth Roderick (Discord), Katie Hamstead Teller (Princess Luna)
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Title: Conduit
Category and Genre: YA Science Fiction
Word Count: 68,000

Query:


Lif, an ancient AI suffering from survivor's guilt, asks a naive teen to help her obtain freedom.

Why would a 400-year-old AI want a 14-year-old boy's help? Everyone believes that all AIs were destroyed long ago in the 22nd century, but Caidan can hear Lif thinking. He is one Conduit of millions physically adapted to manipulate electricity and assigned to maintain underground reactors. Being a prototype, he alone knows she exists. She cannot hear him until an electrical overload gives her the chance to ask for his aid. The Conduit gladly agrees to try and break her shackles in return for a new life. Pursued by deadly agents of the Executive who owns them, Caidan must climb to the forbidden City Above, where Lif's hardware has been forgotten for centuries. Despite her brilliance and his adaptations, only their connection can save them.

First 250 Words:

“He called them ‘ghosts in the machine.’ Not Isaac Asimov with whom the phrase would be tied for decades. An ancient philosopher of the twentieth century named Arthur Koestler. No one else remembers him. Was he a good man? Or a smart one? I think myself a poor judge of such human qualifications, but if no one remembers, who is to say that I am wrong?

“When he wrote those words, Koestler had no concept of inhuman machines or of the constructs of titanium, steel, and silicon that would soon power the world. He did not know that half a millennium later, only I would recall his name. Nor did Asimov know that his name would take over words spoken by another, older man. I suppose interactions of that sort are part of ‘life’—taking on the words and ideas of another that has ceased to bear them. I have no way to know. It is unlikely that I should ever cease. I have no one to assume my words and bear them into the future even if I did.

“I could be described as many machines. Or do I only reside in the machines? I do not know. There is no one to ask.

“I do believe that, if Koestler and Asimov were alive today, they would like me. Perhaps they would look at all that I am and am not, and think me to be lovely. Or perhaps I am only a ghost in the machines.”

Son of a Pitch: Entry One: Forward Remorse




For my regular readers, these are some special posts this week as part of a pitch contest I'm providing feedback for. My normal musings will return next week.

For participants, welcome to my blog! I'm happy to host you and excited to see what kinds of stories you've written. Please remember that only the author of this piece and the participating judges are supposed to comment. All other comments will be deleted.

We're Team Fluttershy! Because here on Balancing Act, we're both quite sweet unless you provoke us, in which case, we are terrifying.

You can check out other teams on the other hosting blogs: Rena Rocford (Rainbow Dash), Kathleen Ann Palm (Rarity), Elizabeth Roderick (Discord), Katie Hamstead Teller (Princess Luna)






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Title: FORWARD REMORSE

Category: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Word Count: 83,000


QUERY: Seventeen-year-old Hugo Morse is a model citizen of the 32nd century. He’s earnest and dutiful, if a tad uptight about timeship laws. Having grown up running interference between his little sisters and their demanding fleet captain mother, he’s more parent than brother, but he burns for independence on solid ground.

So, when he’s stranded in dead space controlled by a rogue AI named MAHM who’s abducted aliens from the deep past, the criminal implications make him dizzy. MAHM orders him to mentor her alien team and revive their planets, despite the grave risks to the timeline he comes from. If he doesn’t cooperate, she could space him, or, worse, erase his future and family.

Hugo tries to slow MAHM’s plans, but the aliens prove annoyingly likable. As they push back against his delays, they creep into his heart like cheerful weeds and spark his caretaker complex. He builds his own AI in secret, planning to use it to free them all from MAHM, but her time meddling attracts a worse enemy.

Moravien Tigg, a mad scientist princess from the past, will stop at nothing to get time travel for herself. Driven by a prophecy that she will save her species, she hunts Hugo across space. They clash and sparks fly, especially once a paradox casts them as reluctant allies.

Caught between the laws of time travel and his contrary heart, Hugo must choose between the utopian future he remembers and an uncertain past that already remembers him.

FIRST 250 WORDS

“Harden your heart, time traveler, for the present depends on a static past.” That’s what the copper-etched warning above the nearby docking port reads, as if any of the Syndicate’s quadrillion citizens passing beneath might forget. I never will.

It’s too much pressure to dwell on, especially for my little sisters, the twins Lorel and Nora, who stare at me with eager brown eyes. As soon as we see Earth in the forward viewing lounge of Luna Station, they push me onto a bench and drop their news bomb like luggage at my feet. They want to stay behind and party with their class while I journey to join Mother at our new colony.

At only thirteen, they’re about to achieve their first real freedom—a holiday with friends. Friends who are real people, not historical figures I program as study companions. A good brother should make them sweat this choice. Just a little.

I focus over their glossy black hair, pretending not to see hands flying to their hips. “Tell me the plan.”

“Claim human error,” Nora says in a rush. “You tell that to Uncle Bak, and convince him to tell Mother, and everything will—Why are you taking a picture?”

I lower my handheld. “Evidence for the family scrapbook. I’ll call this page ‘Nora’s descent into criminally dangerous thinking.’”

Her frown curves exactly like Mother’s. “You wouldn’t.”

“Or maybe ‘When my baby sisters pulled me to the dark side.’” I wiggle my eyebrows.

She smacks the device from my hands, but I catch it before it hits the polycrete.