Posts Tagged ‘novel’

I’ve been here before.

My last novel, an Upper Middle Grade Fantasy, was the first book I ever seriously tried to get published traditionally. I queried well over 100 agents to that end, without much success. I’m now about a dozen queries into the process with my latest novel, ACTUALLY EVER AFTER, another Upper Middle Grade book. However this time, I have some experience under my belt.

What does it mean to “be prepared” to query? You might be surprised.

First, your manuscript

  • Finished! If you’re querying a novel, you can not query a WIP. Agents only consider completed manuscripts.
  • Polished! Do not send off a first draft. Do not send off a draft just read by your mother. Use alpha readers to review each chapter. Use beta readers to review your whole manuscript. Do a pass for consistency. Do a pass for grammar and punctuation. If you’re novel contains sensitive topics or you are writing about a culture other than your own, find or hire a sensitivity reader. Consult experts on your research.
  • Properly formatted. There are plenty of resources to define this, but basically, 1 inch margins, double-spaced, indent each paragraph, no spaces between paragraphs, start each new chapter halfway down the page, 12-point Times New Roman. Each page should have your last name and the page number in the upper right corner. There should also be a title page containing your contact information, your genre, and your word-count.

As hard as this is to accept, the manuscript is only the beginning. Querying means approaching individual literary agents with a pitch for your novel. But there are multiple ways to get agents’ attention. You may go to writer’s conferences and have an opportunity to talk to agents face-to-face. You make want to take advantage of the numerous Twitter pitch events throughout the year. In either of these events, you will want an “elevator pitch” to promote your novel. The standard for this is to describe the key theme, conflict, and plot of your novel in 35 words. For Twitter, you have total 280 characters (including spaces) to do this (however you need to leave around 12-18 characters for the required hashtags). And even if you don’t attend a single conference or intend to participate in Twitter pitches, you still want to develop your elevator pitch. Firstly, many agents specifically request one, but secondly (and more importantly) you want one. In order to talk about your book in a way that will entice agents, you need to be able identify the theme and conflict and express them in a couple of sentences.

This turned out to be a revelation for me when I began to query my last novel. Because I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t identify the key conflict — that one thing my hero needed to accomplish, and what would happen if she failed. It’s not that I was blind, it’s that it wasn’t clear in my story to begin with. It turns out this is a major problem and common stumbling block for new writers. It turns out (I learned way too late) you want to have this clearly in mind before you start writing your novel. You can decide this in the middle of writing your novel, too, or even after you have finished if you don’t mind going back and doing a major rewrite. It’s a lot like changing your major after three years in college, or right before graduation. You can do it, but it will take a lot of extra work and you’ll wish you had done it sooner. That’s what I did with my first novel, and I ended up doing several major rewrites in an effort to nail down a clear theme and compelling conflict The fact that no agent wanted to represent that book may be the results of my poor planning.

Here is the elevator pitch for my current novel:

One accidental wish and Clio and Mary are in 1507 Ireland, caught between Cinderella and her wicked faerie godmother. Strength and friendships are tested as the girls must choose between going home or saving Ireland.

And here is one of several Twitter pitches (I settled on 5, because most contests let you pitch multiple times over the course of several hours):

Yesterday Clio & Mary were ordinary 13yo girls. 1 wish later: Clio the faerie princess & Marigold the pixie are caught between Cinderella & her wicked faerie godmother, who’s bent on conquering Ireland. Strength & friendships are tested as they go to war. #PitMad #MG #HF #FTA

Once you have your pitch nailed down, you’re in a good place to begin writing your query letter. Because you want to express that same theme and conflict in a couple of paragraphs, but in such a way as to entice your agent-of-choice to want to read your book. There are many resources on the web for how to write a good query letter, and I could write several long blogs on various approaches, so I’ll leave that up to you. Generally, you want to keep it to 1 page, keep the actual pitch for your novel to 2 paragraphs (don’t give away the ending!), then a paragraph describing your audience and providing comps (books comparable to yours), and a brief biography of your writing experience and why you’re the best person to write the book you wrote.

Here’s where it get’s personal. A query letter shouldn’t be just a boilerplate you send out to every agent on your list, just substituting their name at the top. The best way to get an agent’s attention is to personalize your letter to that particular agent. Show you have done some research and chosen this agent for specific reasons, rather than just pulled their name from Writer’s Market. That means search the web for interviews they have given recently, check the Manuscript Wish List website. Manuscript Wish List a true godsend, and it comes in three flavors. Originally, it was a Twitter event where agents were invited to tweet what they were looking for under the hashtag #MSWL. Now, that hashtag is perpetually being used by agents to share what currently tickles their fancy or what they are on the lookout for. You can go to Twitter and filter by that hashtag, as well as by other hashtags such as #MG for middle grade, or keywords like horror or LGBT or pretty much anything else. Or, you can go straight to and do the same thing. This site makes it easier, though. Things are organized there by keyword and by agent’s names, etc. This eventually evolved into the website I mentioned above, which is where many agents have a profile that details everything they want authors to know — their bio, who they represent, their wish list, their favorite books, and how to submit.

Use these resources! You don’t have to write a thesis on every agent you pitch to, but it helps if you include in your query a sentence pinpointing those specific things they said they were looking for which they will find in your book. For example:

I see from your wish list that you’re looking for fairytale-esque fantasy in a historical setting, and I hope ACTUALLY EVER AFTER fulfills your wish.

This shows the agent you went to some effort to seek him/her out and that your book should be a good fit for them. Both of these will be checkmarks in your favor.

But you’re still not done!

The Synopsis. Yes, the dreaded synopsis. This where you describe the entire plot of your book from start to finish, including the ending. The synopsis is not so much a pitch to sell the idea of your book, but to show that you know how to plot a story and that it hits all of the key elements of a story, as well as the tropes of your particular genre and age group. Some agents want it to be under 1,000 words (about 2 pages), and some require that it be under 500 words. Again, resources abound on the Web for how to so this.

NOW YOU’RE READY. I mean, there is always more you can do to prepare. Going back to polishing your draft, you want to give special attention to the first three pages, and especially the first paragraph. These are your first real impression, query letter aside. These can make or break a prospective agent’s interest, no matter how good your query. Also bear in mind that different agents or agencies have different submission requirements. Some request the first 3 chapters, others only the first chapter. Some ask for the first 50 pages, some want 25, while some ask for just the first 5. So, with that in mind, you maybe want to consider when you write not to leave the really good part for page 45. I knew this when I started my current novel, and made sure there was a really good gut-punch on page 3, and the inciting incident before page 20. Every little bit helps.

If you have queried before and have advice of your own, please share it. And good luck out there. KEEP CALM AND QUERY ON!


Air horse illustration

We’ve all read or written in first-person (I) and third-person (he/she), but where is the elusive second-person (you) novel?

Second-person seems to be exclusively the realm of the choose-your-own-adventure novels (which had their heyday in the 80’s), Internet fan fiction, and instruction manuals.  There is one notable literary exception: Jay McInerney‘s Bright Lights, Big City. In this novel the narrator is actually talking about himself from a distance to separate himself from his own trauma.  Whereas in the choose-your-own-adventure books and most fan-fiction, the “you” in the story is the reader, who steps into the role of the hero.

So, there are specific examples, but they are so specific and far-between (and non-commercial), that writing in second-person has become kind of a trick, a gimmick, a badge of being different for difference’s sake.  And yet….

As a children’s author, the notion of writing an adventure (in which I will do the choosing, ahem) has much appeal.  As readers, children are much more forgiving and willing to experiment than are most adults.  Children expect the unexpected, and are drawn to books that are unique in their own way, be that in the setting or characters, the shape of the book itself, or in how the story is presented on the page.  My gut tells me that an adventure story featuring a young person solving puzzles, getting into wild scrapes, and being heroic would be a natural fit for second-person narration.  Particularly if written in such a way as to allow readers to immerse themselves in the story even further than traditional stories allow.

Consider the following (rough) opening paragraph, for example:

The young pearl-diver gulped another great lungful of early-morning air then scrambled again for the bottom of the ocean.  The mermaid has to be here, he told himself.  He had seen her!  He kicked and swam his way down toward the sunken hull of the ancient ship, the pressure in his lungs burning.  The pouch at his hip slapped his thigh with every stroke, reminding him of the wicked gull woman and her terrible price.  But now he had the enchanted ring, and soon … even his very dreams.

Now in first-person:

I gulped another great lungful of early-morning air then scrambled again for the bottom of the ocean.  The mermaid has to be here, I told myself.  I had seen her!  I kicked and swam my way down toward the sunken hull of the ancient ship, the pressure in my lungs burning.  The pouch at my hip slapped my thigh with every stroke, reminding me of the wicked gull woman and her terrible price.  But now I had the enchanted ring, and soon … even my very dreams.

More intimate, right?  You feel like you’re more inside the diver’s head, as opposed to just a distant observer.  But second-person goes even further.  And by putting it in present tense instead of past tense, the story becomes immediate:

You gulp another great lungful of early-morning air then scrambled again for the bottom of the ocean.  The mermaid has to be here, you tell yourself.  You saw her!  You kick and swim your way down toward the sunken hull of the ancient ship, the pressure in your lungs burning.  The pouch at your hip slaps your thigh with every stroke, reminding you of the wicked gull woman and her terrible price.  But now you have the enchanted ring, and soon … even your very dreams.

Did you find yourself holding your breath?  Do you think a child might?  I said my gut tells me such a story written in second-person present tense would be a natural fit for a kid’s book.  Unfortunately, agents and editors are all adults, and while many of them represent (and adore) children’s books, they are only willing to represent something they believe will sell.  And there is no historical market trend for such a book.  It’s a risk — as much for me as for a prospective agent and any subsequent publisher.  Plus, it screams “gimmick.”  Is it enough simply to write a book in an almost entirely unique style, or is there some reason this particular book must be written in that style?  Jay McInerney found such a reason, but that reason isn’t going to work a second time, and it isn’t going to work in a book for 10-year-old readers.

So this particular unicorn eludes me.  But I haven’t given up the hunt.  I may find an approach that makes second-person irresistible and absolutely necessary.  And when I do, I’ll be willing to risk it.


Ideas come at the oddest times.  In the shower.  In the car.  In the middle of an unrelated conversation with your spouse.  At that last possible moment before you drift off to sleep.  You never know when you’re going to get one.  Which makes ideas precious.  So precious, in fact, that sometimes you’re compelled to hang on to one tooth and nail.  This can become a problem if you are committed to selling a novel.

Writing a novel, that’s the easy part.* Hanging onto ideas is a necessary skill; sometimes they get lost betwixt “Once upon a time” and “Happily ever after.”  But the harder part of writing a novel is re-writing a novel.  It turns out this is a huge step in the process of selling a novel.

Think of climbing Everest as an analogy for selling a novel (no, I’m not being overly dramatic — you try it.)  Doing your research, psyching yourself up, taking the training classes, getting in shape, buying all your gear, and getting to the base camp — that’s writing the novel.  Planting your flag on the summit — that’s signing a contract with a publisher. All of that mountain in between the base camp and the summit?  That’s re-writing (also known as slogging).

This is where you will find you need to begin to let go of some of your precious ideas.  Ideas that have served you throughout the writing process, informed your characters, served as a framework for your plot.  Because it will take lots of people reading your manuscript and giving you constructive feedback to work out all of the hidden hitches and subtle slowdowns you can’t see yourself. And by “people” I don’t mean your mom (unless she is an accomplished novelist or literary editor).

My daughter’s and my novel, THE LAST PRINCESS, has been “finished” for over a year.  We’ve workshopped it and rewritten the first several chapters, taken the advice of beta readers and editors, and revised and resubmitted to an interested agent.  But despite these spasms of retooling and polishing, we do not yet have agents lining up for a chance to offer us a contract.

Then we got two more people to read it. One was a #PitchWars mentor from whom we won a three-chapter critique, and the other was a shiny new critique partner we found though #CPMatch.  They both noticed something — or at the very least described something — that no other reader/agent/editor had ever pointed out before. And bang! we saw what was missing.

That “Aha!” moment.  This idea means we will have to rewire a lot of things in the book.  Disconnect A from B and attach Q.  Find a new place to plug in B without short-circuiting F-J.  And do it in such a way that all of the original buttons, dials, bells and whistles still work correctly.  Or, hopefully better than before.

Wanna know what the editor and CP pointed out that will make our manuscript magically delicious?  If you eat all of your vegetables and promise not to complain when I say it’s time for bed, I’ll tell you next week.  Stay tuned; it’s a good one.






*I know this; I’ve written two.


This is the big one, kids.  The gold standard of pitch contests, and one of the longest-running. There are something like 130 mentor teams participating this year, broken into four age categories: Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult and Adult. The contest runs from today through November 9.

But what is it?

Oh! I didn’t see you there, under that rock.  Okay.  PitchWars is a contest for writers with complete manuscripts and a polished query letter. You choose four mentors or mentor teams (a lot of those this year) and submit your first chapter, query, and contact info. Over the course of the next three weeks, those mentors will review all of their entries and request additional materials from those writers whose manuscripts they like. And by “like” I mean they feel like they can connect to the story and the author, and can offer concrete advice for revising the entire manuscript to agent readiness. These are experienced people — slush readers, professional editors, published authors. Many of them are past PitchWars winners.

Then, for the next two months, the chosen mentees will be in constant communication with their mentors, frantically revising their manuscripts and query letters according to their mentors’ advice.  Then, during the first week of November, these revised pitches and manuscripts will be showcased for participating agents.  There are over 60 of those, this year.  The goal, of course, is for an agent to sign you.  That happened to over 50 people last year, and over 200 in the 4-year history of PitchWars.

Do you have a manuscript you are ready to query?  If so, and you want to enter, the details are here.  When you are ready, the entry form is here.

Good luck!


Those of you who are my regular readers may have noticed that I haven’t actually written about writing for awhile. That’s because I have been concentrating on querying and contests these last two months, and have not done much writing.

Apparantly it is too much to expect of myself to manage two jobs, family time, chores, sleep, tweeking Twitter pitches, polishing my query letter, researching agents, writing this blog, plotting a second middle grade book series, and making headway on my work-in-progress.

Sounds like a perfectly valid excuse, doesn’t it?

In fact, I hit a wall. The wall was made up of all different kinds of bricks.  Many of the bricks were rejections letters from agents.  A rather big one was failure to advance in a contest where things looked very positive for several days. One brick was a snag in the plot that I just couldn’t seem to get past. Another was simple burnout after forcing myself to write something — anything — every single day for a month, when that was not my regular process.

I pulled my manuscript out or called up the file on my iPad any number of times, only to put it away again. I just wasn’t feeling it.  This happens to everybody, I imagine. If you’re a writer and this has never happened to you, I’d prefer you keep that little nugget of sunshine to yourself.

So how do you get out of it?  Well, there are many ways, each of them appropriate for different reasons, and one of which may work for you.  Here are a few:

  • Leave it alone.  Forget about it.  Give yourself permission to take a writing vacation and figure out what thing you do get excited about, then do that for awhile.   At some point you will find yourself missing writing.  That’s the time to pick it up again.
  • Write something else.  Career writers need to be versatile in any case, and this is as good a time as any to branch out.  Try a short story, some flash fiction, that screenplay you’ve had in the back of your mind since high school.  You’ll gain valuable experience and maybe by getting out of your box you’ll see something that will revitalize that stalled project.
  • Write anyway, knowing you may throw it away.  Or write a different scene.  Jump ahead to later, or write the ending, or create a prologue you’ll never use.  Write a character sketch.  Invent a scene that will never appear in your book and see what your characters do.
  • Find some writing exercises or writing prompts and do them. Experiment with scenes you’ve already written as a way to learn a new technique or concept: reverse the gender roles of all of your characters and see what happens; rewrite the scene from a completely different POV; change the setting or time and write the scene that way.
  • Take this time of not writing to read some books in your genre.  I tend to avoid reading when I’m in the middle of a project, because 1) I am easily distracted and 2) I have limited time to write already.  But writers are supposed to read widely, and if you’re not getting anywhere on your book, at least use the time to explore other authors who wrote similar stuff.

There are doubtless many other techniques for finding your mojo, but these are all that I could come up with at the moment … and I am eager to get back to working on my own WIP. That hasn’t happened in a while and it feels great.

There was a survey posted the other day on the front page of one of my favorite writerly websites:

You’ve decided to write your first novel. What’s the single best way to learn how to do it?

o Take a class.
o Join a writers group. Get some advice.
o Read a good book on how to write a novel.
o Just write! Tell your story as you think it should be told.
o Read some great novels, from a wrier’s point of view.

I’ve actually done every one of these things. And each of them has made me a better writer. I would recommend any of these as a way for a novice writer to improve his or her craft. Or all of them. But one in particular stands out in my experience as absolutely necessary.

Join a writers group. Get some advice.

All of the rest – even taking a class – are fairly solitary endeavors. And what you need to be a successful writer (besides good ideas, devotion to craft, commitment, and a better-than-basic grasp of your language of choice) is feedback from other writers. All of the theory in the world will only get you so far. You need people to actually read what you’ve written and tell whether it is working. It’s all well and good knowing you aught to have a hook at the beginning of chapter one, but it isn’t as if there is a list of them somewhere you can choose from. You have to craft it. And once you’ve done it, how do you know if it is any good? Just because you think so? You’re the novice, remember?

To quote Nanny Ogg, “There’s many a slip twixt dress and drawers.”

So it will serve you well to surround yourself with fellow writers, hopefully writers engaged in the kind of writing you yourself are pursuing – young adult, historical romance, science fiction, whatever. Otherwise they may not represent your target audience, and may not be able to render useful advice about whether or not your vampires are scary or if Penelope’s bosom is heaving properly. Plus the structure of meeting weekly or bi-weekly provides a tremendous motivation to produce pages of story, which is often hard to muster when one is only writing for one’s self.

There’s an even better reason to find a group of like-minded writers, a reason most novice writers fail utterly to grasp: the real value in the critiquing process comes from giving critiques. There are a number of reasons for this. Writers often reject sound advice if it means tossing out their favorite lines, ideas or characters. Critique groups are fallible; you may get conflicting advice, or your readers may simply not “get” what you are trying to convey in your story (although if they do not, that is in itself often a problem). But when you read the work of other aspiring writers and identify the problems – or triumphs – you begin to see what is working and not working with your own writing.

So where does one find such a group, I hear you cry. Fear not; there are thousands of local writers groups of every genre and experience level looking for new members. Professional writers associations, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, will even help you form one if you can’t find one to your liking.

But, really, it’s even easier than that. You’re already on the Internet; just click here. This will take you to that writerly website I mentioned earlier, the one with the survey. The site is call the Critique Circle, and it has been around for over ten years and has over 3,000 members. The site is designed specifically for writers to submit their work for peer review, in categories ranging from children’s to romance and fantasy to horror. And the critique process works well because it is based on a point system – in order to submit your own work you need to earn points by critiquing the stories of others. People are polite, helpful, and for the most part able to render meaningful advice (in my experience). Plus there are dozens of writer forums where you can discuss your genre, your story, your premise, or your characters. You can ask questions in the research forums, and somebody is bound to know something useful. Many of the members are published authors, from all over the world. The site also contains a whole boatload of useful tools for helping your story along: a name generator, writing exercises, a word meter for tracking your progress, a submission tracker, and many more.

I personally filtered my entire novel through this site, to my very great benefit. I can say with complete clarity that the advice I received consistently improved my chapters and my story, and my finished manuscript would not be nearly as good had I worked on it alone.

Oh, and it’s free. And anonymous, if you want.

So if you’re serious about writing, particularly about writing a novel, find a critique group and dive in. The sooner the better. You have nothing to lose but poor writing.



Posted: February 17, 2016 in Writing
Tags: , , , , ,


I believe I’ve finally heard enough times that we should cut almost an entire early chapter from our book. I’ve rejected this notion for a year or so, because 1) it is among the best writing in the book  (I think), and 2) because I have rationalized that it is an important (although admittedly lengthy) setup to the tone of the rest of the story.

i think I’m finally ready to admit it doesn’t need to be there, and that it slows down the book too much.

So, before one of my favorite scenes is lost to the ravenous beast known as “#amediting,” here it is – one more “lost scene” for you to enjoy (I hope) that the rest of the world will never see.



I looked up from my history textbook. “Yes, Mom?”

She lifted the book out of my lap and sat down on the couch next to me. “Enough homework for today.” Mom smiled and stared into my eyes, brushing a lock of hair out of my face. “I’m very proud of you. The way you’ve shown how grown up you can be. And you are a beautiful girl, Catherine; I don’t tell you that enough.” She kissed me on the forehead and it turned into a hug that felt like sleeping in on a Sunday morning.

“Thanks, Mom.” I smiled into her shoulder. The hug made the last twenty-six and a half days without my fantasies feel a little less heartbreaking.

“Your father and I have decided to give you a reward for all of your hard work.”

“We have?” Dad looked up from where he was building a LEGO spaceship with Thomas. “What was it we decided, again?”

“We decided to take Cat to Joustorama for dinner, tonight.”

“You did?” I beamed. “Excellent!”

“And,” Mom continued smoothly, “because it will help with your studies of medieval England.”

“Right.” Dad nodded. “That’s exactly why I suggested it. Because, homework. Did I make reservations, Adelle?”

“Of course, Richard.”

Joustorama has got to be the coolest single place in the whole world to eat dinner. Outside, it’s a castle with a real moat and drawbridge and everything. And inside knights in armor actually joust each other on horses, just like in medieval times. While you watch the show, serving maidens bring your dinner on metal plates. And the best part?

“Do we get to eat with our fingers?” Thomas jumped up and down with a grin as big as his head. He’d been a toddler the last time we went, but he remembered that.

“Yes,” I said. “We all get to eat with our fingers.” Because they don’t give you any silverware. Just lots and lots of napkins.

As soon as we walked through the giant double doors it felt like we were in a different world. All of the people who worked there were dressed like maidens and courtiers, with long sleeves and big belts. Swords and spears and other old weapons hung on the walls between suits of armor.

My older brother, Alex, stood looking at a wall covered with photographs of young women and girls, each posing with one of the knights. “What’s this about, Cat?”
“Oh. Each knight chooses a girl from the audience to be his lady fair, and if he wins the tournament she becomes princess of the realm.” Most of the pictures had either the red knight or the green knight, but I thought the green knight was definitely more handsome.

“You should be up there. You’re into princess stuff, right?”

“I used to be.” I shrugged. But my eyes lingered on the green knight and all of the smiling girls wearing their golden crowns.

When the serving maiden led us to our seats I got the same thrill I got every time I came here. We stepped out of the tunnel into the stadium, and it was huge! There was the great big dirt floor in the middle – big enough for horses to run at full speed toward one another from opposite ends – and hung all around were banners and pennants of different colors. The seating went all the way around the dirt floor, and rose row after row like the bleachers at a football game, but here they were divided into six sections, each one with different colored pennants representing one of the knights. We were in the green section.

The serving maiden saw my excited grin. “The green knight, Sir Reginald, is always a favorite to win, M’lady.” The small, blonde girl handed each of us a green paper crown.

Pixie, I thought automatically, then glanced at Mom, who didn’t seem to notice my backsliding.

The maiden smiled at Alex as she left and his eyes followed her. But as soon as we heard horses’ hooves, he turned back to the arena. The knights were walking their horses around the outside of the dirt floor, smiling and waving at the guests who had already arrived. We were in the front row, so Sir Reginald came right by us.

“Wow!” Thomas shouted, and he climbed onto one of the chairs for a better view. Sir Reginald spotted him in his cape and reined his white horse to a stop right in front of us. My heart sped up. Sir Reginald was even more handsome in person, and both he and his horse wore green and black. He had a dark beard and curly mustache, and a green cape of his own that matched his eyes.

“What is thy name, young master?”

“I’m Thomas.”

“I see thou dost wear a cape of red. Art thou a knight?”


Alex leaned closer and said, “He thinks you’re a knight, buddy, because you’re wearing a cape like him.”

“Oh.” Thomas grinned and struck his warrior pose with fists raised. “I am a knight!”
Sir Reginald chuckled, “Aye, ye must be, stout lad. But red is the color of Sir Frederick, my mortal enemy. Are you sure thou art not a spy?”

“No. I’m a good guy.”

Sir Reginald nodded gravely then turned toward me. I felt my face grow hot, but my smile never wavered. It might have looked a little manic, though. “And who is this young vision in pink?”

That did it. I was definitely blushing now. “I-I’m Cat. I mean Catherine.” I curtsied.

“Surely you mean ‘Lady Catherine’. For thou must be of royal blood.”

“I guess,” I said shyly.

“With you cheering me on, I am sure to triumph.” He snapped his reins and shouted,

“Enjoy the revels!” as his horse galloped away.

People were really starting to fill up the seats now, and the stadium became more colorful with all of the paper crowns in each section. I felt especially grown up after my “interlude” with Sir Reginald, so I took my seat as gracefully as possible.

“Thomas, may I help you with your napkin?”

“Yeah. Tuck it in my shirt.”

Dad leaned over. “What do you say to your sister?”


“Of course, Thomas. You’re very welcome.” I tucked the corner of his napkin into the collar of his shirt.

A couple of tables over in the red section, a family of three made their noisy entrance. The girl was having her thirteenth birthday and made absolutely sure the serving maiden and all of the tables around her knew it. Her parents had their arms full with gift bags and brightly-wrapped presents. When the birthday girl saw me staring, she made a smug face, turned up her nose, then flipped her dark hair dismissively.

Ohhhh-kay. She’s a charmer.

The serving maiden brought buttered rolls and pewter mugs of tomato soup. I remembered from before that the mugs were called tankards, and they had lids so the soup stayed hot and you didn’t need a spoon. Thomas and I got cold milk, which tasted funny in a pewter goblet, but Thomas thought it was the neatest thing he’d ever seen. “Mommy. Look, my glass is made out of metal!”

The soup was very good, and it was fun to drink it out of a mug and not feel guilty about slurping. When I looked over at the birthday girl, I noticed she had dribbled tomato soup onto the front of her white party dress. The old me would have burst out laughing, but I promised myself I would behave like a perfect lady, tonight. No way I was going to let a month of hiding my heart under a rock and biting my tongue go to waste.

“I want pizza,” the birthday girl yelled at the serving maiden. Her bottom lip stuck out and she crossed her arms.

“I’m sorry, M’lady. We’re serving roast chicken, potatoes and corn. If you don’t like chicken, I can bring you steamed vegetables.”

Princess Pouty-puss barked, “I hate vegetables. This place is stupid.” She made a talk-to-the-hand gesture and turned her back on the serving maiden, who apologized and left. The parents rewarded their daughter by handing her presents and telling her they were sorry there was no pizza. No wonder she acted like that. Plus, I would’ve bet money she was a sprite. Sprites were always causing trouble in fairy tales.

No. I shook my head. No more fairy tales.

Four men dressed in yellow and red blew a fanfare on long horns and people started clapping and cheering. A man with white hair and wearing official-looking clothes strode out to the middle of the arena carrying a big scroll, which he unrolled and read in a deep, serious voice.

“On this day, the king did command that there shall be a contest of arms between his sons to determine who among them is the bravest and strongest knight in the realm. Whosoever does triumph this day shall win the hand of his lady fair and together they shall rule the kingdom as prince and princess. Knights of the realm, come forth and present your ladies fair!”

The trumpeters blew their horns again and six knights on horseback, each dressed in a different color, came galloping into the arena to great cheers and whistles from the audience. They carried their lances – the really long wooden spears they used when they jousted – and each lance had a colored ribbon tied to the end. Together the knights rode around the outside of the arena until each one came to their colored section, and halted.

The herald began reading again. “Sir Charles the Brave. Present your lady fair.”
The blue knight lowered his lance until the tip was level with a young woman in the front row, who grinned and took the blue ribbon. Sir Charles bowed his head and turned to the crowd. “I present the Lady Angelita.” People clapped, especially the people in the blue section.

Then came Sir Anthony the Swift who handed his yellow ribbon to a little girl who looked about seven. Her mom had to take it because she was shy, and Sir Anthony announced, “Lady Tabitha.”

And so on with Sir Edmond the Cunning, in black, and Sir Kent the Strong, in brown, and their ladies fair. As the presentations went around the arena closer and closer to our section my heart began beating faster and faster. Who would Sir Reginald choose? There were a lot of pretty girls in the green section.

“Sir Frederick the Fierce. Present your lady fair.” The red knight – our knight’s mortal enemy – edged his horse closer to the railing, but even before he had lowered his lance Princess Pouty-puss shot to her feet and shouted, “It’s me! Ashlyn! I’m the lady fair!” She stuck her hand out for the ribbon.

I gasped, and the arena got very quiet.

Sir Frederick hesitated. I think he had been about to give his ribbon to someone else, but all eyes were on him – not the least of which were Ashlyn’s. I think he realized if he didn’t give her the ribbon she would jump over the railing, climb up his horse and wrestle him for it. He trotted forward and lowered the ribbon to her waiting hand. “I present Lady Ashlyn.”

I was pretty sure Princess Pouty-puss was fiercer than Sir Frederick, and I smiled. Plus, the red ribbon went very well with the soup stains on her white dress.
“Sir Reginald the Valiant, present your lady fair.”

Finally. I turned and looked at the other people in the green section. Surely Sir Reginald could find somebody better than Lady Ashlyn of the Scarlet Stains. If Princess Pouty-puss became the princess of the realm, I would just die. Or at the very least go somewhere private and scream something quite unladylike.

“Hey, Sis.” Alex nudged me.

“Huh?” I turned toward him and saw the tip of Sir Reginald’s lance and the green ribbon lowering right in front of me.

“Hey, Cat. It’s you!” Thomas was standing up in his seat, vibrating with excitement.

Me? No way! I gulped and carefully pulled the green ribbon off the end of the lance. My hand shook as I held it, as if it might fade away or possibly explode if I took my eyes off of it.

Sir Reginald nodded and smiled, flashing his teeth, then turned with a flourish. “I present Lady Catherine, future Princess of the realm.”

My heart pounded and Mom flashed me a smile, surprising me.

“Nay, braggart,” bellowed the blue knight. “Lady Angelita will be the Princess of the realm, when I best you in battle.”

“You may best our brother in battle, Sir Charles,” exclaimed Sir Edmond the black knight, “But I shall win the tournament. And Lady Elizabeth and I shall rule the kingdom.”

All of the knights rode into the center of the arena, yelling and shaking their fists, much to the delight of the audience who cheered their own champions loudly. Through all of the noise and waving of paper crowns I caught a glimpse of Ashlyn glaring at me with hatred in her eyes.

I smiled sweetly. Bring it on, sister.

The trumpeters sounded their horns again and their fanfare silenced the quarreling knights and cheering people. The herald declared, “Let preparations commence.”
The knights broke up and rode out of the arena to get ready, while pages carried in sections of a wooden railing and set them up down the center. I remembered from the last time I’d been here that this railing was called a “tilt barrier.” It was there to separate the horses as they ran toward each other so they didn’t crash and get hurt. More pages assembled a stand that held six colored flags, one for each knight.

During all this our serving maiden brought our dinner. My big metal plate overflowed with a half of a chicken, corn on the cob, and cheesy potatoes still in the skin. Both of my brothers started grabbing food with their fingers and wolfing it down. Dad, too. I wanted to do the same thing because everything smelled heavenly and I was starving. But after seeing Lady Ashlyn and her unladylike tantrum and her soup-stained dress, I couldn’t exactly eat like a troll. When Sir Reginald beat Sir Frederick and won the tournament, I wanted to be an example of a perfect princess. This was probably the only chance I would ever get in my entire life to be a princess, and I was going to do it right.

I looked over at Mom. She managed to use her fingers, take human-sized bites and not have food on her chin – a proper lady. I copied her and ate careful bites, using my napkin frequently.

The herald walked to the middle of the arena again and raised his arms for silence. “Our first contest shall be between Sir Edmond the Cunning and Sir Kent the Strong.” The black and brown sections erupted in cheers as the two knights positioned themselves at either end of the arena, now wearing metal armor and helmets. Even the horses wore armor on their heads. Squires surrounded each knight, tightening straps and handing them their shields and lances.

When both knights reached their starting position and signaled readiness, the herald dropped his hand and the knights spurred their horses into action. The two horses thundered toward one another kicking up dirt, and the knights leaned forward and lowered their lances as they got closer and closer. The cheering became frantic.

I held my breath and forced myself not to close my eyes.

Sir Kent’s lance struck Sir Edmond’s shield and shattered into flying splinters. But Sir Edmond’s Lance struck true, and Sir Kent sailed backward off his horse, landing with a crash in the dirt. In an instant it was over, the two horses stirring up more dust as they slowed at opposite ends of the tilt barrier. The crowd gasped, cheered, and booed in equal measures as Sir Kent’s squires rushed to help the fallen knight to his feet. When he slowly stood and waved to his section, their cheers drowned out the rest of the crowd.

But being unhorsed in a joust meant instant defeat, and Sir Kent had been eliminated from the tournament. A page solemnly took his brown flag down.

All through dinner we watched as knights’ lances splintered and points were awarded depending on where they struck. Sir Charles the Brave was eliminated. Sir Anthony the Swift proved not swift enough, and he too was unhorsed. Through all of it my heart never slowed.

Soon, just Sir Reginald and Sir Frederick remained. Only the red and green flags still flew. And Ashlyn actually bared her teeth at me, as if intimidating me would somehow help her champion win.

Oh, you want to compare attitudes, little sprite? Maybe if an entire shaker of salt “accidentally” spilled in her soda it would erase that smirk. I pushed back my chair to get up, but Mom’s gentle hand touched mine and she gave me a Look.

I swallowed. Right. Wrong attitude. Instead I lifted my goblet of milk to her in a silent toast and smiled like a perfect princess. Lady Ashlyn scowled like a villain.

I couldn’t eat any more – I was too excited. Mortal enemies Reginald and Frederick stood at the ready on either end of the arena, their lances pointing up and their horses pawing the dirt. The herald dropped his hand and I heard Sir Reginald shout, “Hyah!” as he kicked his great white horse into motion. The red knight slapped the hinged visor of his helmet closed and urged his own horse forward.

“Get him, Freddie!” Ashlyn screamed, standing and cupping her hands around her mouth like she was at a football game.

The red and green lances both lowered at almost the same moment and the snorting horses raced toward each other. Both shields lifted and CRACK! Wooden shards exploded as the two knights passed, both still firmly in the saddle.

But Sir Reginald had lost his shield. It lay in the dirt surrounded by red and green hunks of wood.

“Point for Sir Frederick,” barked the herald, and the red section swelled with cheering and waving red crowns. Ashlyn leered and shook her tankard at me.

Idiot, I said to her silently. You don’t toast with a mug of soup. But I remained poised and nodded back at her with no emotion on my face. I was determined to live up to my title, Lady Catherine. I forced my teeth to unclench.

A burst of inspiration struck me as I remembered my favorite stories. As Sir Reginald passed below us on his way back to his starting point I stood up and threw the green ribbon as hard as I could. He had the visor of his helmet raised so he spotted it as it flew toward him. He leaned over and snatched it out of the air in his metal-gloved hand and halted his white horse, looking into the stands. I waved and he pulled off his helm. He had the worst case of helmet-hair ever, but it made him no less handsome. He grinned up at me, nodded, and tied the ribbon loosely around his neck. “I shall win this bout for you, M’lady.” He put his helmet back on and spurred his horse toward his starting place.

Moments later Sir Frederick and Sir Reginald were bearing down on each other again at break-neck speed. I could see the ends of my green ribbon flapping behind Sir Reginald as he rose and fell in his saddle. I crossed my fingers and held my breath as their lance tips pointed straight forward.

Sir Frederick’s lance-tip glanced off Sir Reginald’s shield, but Sir Reginald’s lance struck Sir Frederick squarely in the chest and broke in two. Sir Frederick leaned back in his saddle and nearly fell. But he righted himself and was rewarded with loud shouts of encouragement and applause from the red section.

“Two points for Sir Reginald the Valiant!” declared the herald.


Surprised, I turned and stared. Alex whooped and punched the air, a big grin on his face. He glanced over at me. “What?”

I raised my eyebrow. Alex liked football and working out at the gym – I didn’t think knights of the round table were his thing.

“I just want you to be the princess of the realm, that’s all.” He sniffed. “No big deal.”
Now it was my turn to grin. “You like this stuff as much as I do!” I punched him in the arm.

He shrugged. “It’s all right. I could probably do it. How hard could it be?”

“Yeah, okay, Sir Alex the Overconfident.” I patted him on the shoulder. “Have you ever even been on a horse?”

Chanting and stomping drowned out any further talking as the combatants took their places for the final charge. The score was 2-1 in Sir Reginald’s favor. Victory was just moments away, and then the prince and princess of the kingdom would be crowned. And it could actually be me. Really, really me.

Mom reached over and grabbed my hand and smiled. I couldn’t hear her over the noise, but I saw her lips say, “Good luck.” I squeezed her hand back. Thomas stood in Dad’s lap so he could see better, and Dad winked at me and gave me a thumbs-up.
I felt light-headed as the herald raised his hand into the air, then dropped it.

It seemed like slow motion as Sir Reginald’s heels kicked his white stallion into action and he leaned forward into the charge. The stallion’s neck stretched forward with every graceful stride as the two knights arrowed toward each other and the final collision. I could feel the hoof beats pounding in my chest. Like lowering drawbridges, the red and green lances swung down until they were level. Neither horse nor knight flinched as the distance between them vanished.

Sir Reginald’s lance struck true and clean on Sir Frederick’s shield.

But Sir Frederick’s lance found Sir Reginald’s breastplate, wrenching the green knight from his saddle with the force of the blow.

The horses passed in a cloud of splinters and thundered onward to the opposite ends of the arena. The cheering died and the audience seemed to hold its breath as the herald made his way to the center of the arena.

“Sir Reginald has been unhorsed.” He pointed toward the red section. “Sir Frederick the Fierce is the victor!”

I couldn’t breathe. I felt the color drain out of my face as I just stood unmoving, staring at the broken pieces of red and green lances scattered around the center of the arena. The squires were helping Sir Reginald to his feet. I didn’t hear the shouts of triumph and defeat erupting all around me, but I did hear one shrill taunt: “Fierce is better than valiant any day, you green loser!” And I saw Ashlyn – Princess Ashlyn – throw a half-eaten chicken leg toward the green knight as he limped toward the exit.

My throat hurt and my eyes blurred as I watched a page take down the green flag.
I felt a tugging on my sleeve and I shook myself. Thomas in his red cape stared up at me. “Hey, Cat. Did the good guy win?”

I swallowed. “No, buddy. The good guy didn’t win.”

We didn’t stay for the crowning ceremony. Dad said it was so we could beat the crowd, but I think he understood what I was feeling.

I don’t remember walking to the car. My mind wouldn’t stop wrestling with itself.
I had tried to be the perfect lady. I’d held my temper, used my manners, kept my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds. I’d completely changed my entire attitude and given up my favorite things. For four whole weeks! I’d done everything I was supposed to do. And what happened? The other girl got to be princess. That whiney, bratty, sprite bully. I should have thrown a chicken leg at her. Ashlyn was right: fierce was better than valiant.

During the quiet drive home, I made the decision that would change my life forever: I wouldn’t – I couldn’t – be the person my mother wanted me to be.

Grudging (1)

michelle_h (2)Title: GRUDGING

Author: Michelle Hauck

Pub. Date: November 17, 2015

Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse

Format: eBook

Find it: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Goodreads

A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.

On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.

The Women of the Song.

But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power.  And time is running out.

A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.


Shortly after the combat, Ramiro made his excuses to the men at the wall and left, returning to the citadel and taking the stairs to the roof. Some alcalde’s wife from the past had turned this spot into an outdoor garden and dining room, making it a favorite retreat for many. A peaceful place when he felt anything but.

Other people’s blood spotted his white shirt. Had things gone differently, it could easily have been his own. He needed a bath and a rest, but his mind hummed from the conflict, leaving him unable to stop pacing. Cold chills claimed his limbs. His stomach was sourer than when alcohol had filled it. With no clear single-combat victory, he hadn’t earned his beard. The night reeked of disappointment.

How long? How long could they keep the Northerners out?

Stars spotted the night sky here, where the citadel met the top of the world. Or so it had always seemed to him as a child. Life was no longer so certain now that he was older.

He drew in the cool scent of creeping jasmine, carefully tended and watered by hand in pots across the rooftop. Colina Hermosa spread before him, a humbling sight. The city stretched away from the citadel on all sides, a jewel shining with lights. It spread down the hill, becoming wider and grander as it sprawled, with imposing avenues and white-clad stucco buildings whose thick walls and small windows kept out the noonday heat. There was squalor and dirt as well, fits of temper, rudeness, and often impatience. But the darkness hid all that, washing the city of its faults and giving it a fresh life until it tumbled like the sea against the immovable stone walls that now held out the Northerners.

His heart swelled with love. Something worth defending. Home.

Outside the high, white walls, well beyond arrow shot, was a sight not so welcoming. There, jammed between the city and a deep, old quarry used to build the city walls, campfires burned. A red swarm of rage and death, brimstone and smoke, offering a grim contrast with the peaceful firmament. Not by the hundreds did they burn, but by the thousands, mirroring the stars in the sky. How many peasants’ houses did they demolish to feed so much hungry fire? They must be down to burning cacti. How they kept it up night after night, he couldn’t begin to comprehend. Salvador had talked on about supply trains and quartermasters, but Ramiro had let his imagination dwell on his first ride instead. An indulgence he regretted now.

If only each fire meant a single enemy, but that was wishful thinking. Each fire contained tens of men. Tens and thousands. And behind them, the siege machines waited their turn. A lethal combination for Colina Hermosa.

He touched the spot above his spleen, and whispered, “Santiago, don’t let me give in to despair.”

About Michelle: 

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Two papillons help balance out the teenage drama. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. A book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for any excuse to reward herself. Bio finished? Time for a sweet snack.

She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query Street, and Sun versus Snow.

Her epic fantasy, Kindar’s Cure, is published by Divertir Publishing. Her short story, Frost and Fog, is published by The Elephant’s Bookshelf Press in their anthology, Summer’s Double Edge. She’s repped by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary.

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The other day I read a blog by a fellow writer, who posed the rather intriguing question: “How do you behave when writing using the POV of a character that’s not the same sex as you?” I thought it was a brilliant question. And while she made some excellent points and gave some wonderful literary examples, she never really quite answered the original question.

So I thought I’d take a crack at it.

I speak from some experience; the main character of my latest novel is Cat, a twelve-year-old girl. And before we go any further, I can assure you that I did not start behaving like my daughter while I was writing it. But I did learn to think like her, or like a variation of her. Really, the challenge wasn’t to think like a different gender; Cat is something of a tomboy and is unconventional is other ways. She likes to sculpt clay with her dad, she thinks princesses are supposed to be leaders not clothes-horses, and she wins the day by punching the villain in the nose. No, the challenge was thinking like a twelve-year-old.

In retrospect, I suppose, this seems a little odd. After all, I have never ever been a girl. I have been twelve. But I was twelve almost 40 years ago, and most twelve-year-olds today would not relate to who I was then. The coolest toy I had was Hot Wheels, and the only time we ever rented a movie, my dad brought home a movie projector and an 8mm Pop-eye short. Star Wars and VHS wouldn’t happen for several years. On TV we had three channels — plus PBS if we were lucky and the weather was good.

My behavior didn’t change. But I was fortunate enough to have a real live twelve year-old-girl living in my house who I could observe and ask questions. It really didn’t seem like that big of a challenge. Perhaps because of my fondness for Robert Heinlien. Of course he wrote many of his young adult novellas with female lead characters, but I didn’t get into those until later. I started with the adult novels. I Will Fear No Evil caught me out and fascinated me right from the start, because here was the story of an old man who used his wealth to move his intellect and personality out of his dying body and into that of a vibrant young woman. And Heinlien writes as if he has been a woman. Then came Friday, and The Number of the Beast, both told from the points of view of strong female characters. And Heinlien doesn’t just write female characters, his characters explore their femininity and sexuality. But when To Sail Beyond the Sunset came out, it was a revelation. This book is a first-person (fictional) autobiography of a woman, starting with her childhood in Missouri in the 1880s and through her entire remarkable life of 100+ years. And it is utterly believable and satisfying.


So when the idea of me writing a female lead character in first person occurred to me, it did not seem like an impossible hurdle. For inspiration I re-read the entire 13 book Hollows series by Kim Harrison, about a kick-ass bounty-hunter/witch in her early 20s. Those books, along with my own daughter, gave me insight into my character’s motivations, attitude, likes and dislikes, and priorities in life.

But for most science fiction, fantasy and horror writers, the idea of merely writing across genders must seem pretty mild. I know a woman who is writing a novel about a teen dhampire – a vampire/human hybrid. In this kind of book her gender could very easily take a back seat to her other qualities and motives. In my own book, The Last Princess, Cat encounters people who have interbred with dwarves, pixies, brownies, gnomes, ogres, elves, and even jinn. So I had to showcase their fae qualities in the way they acted and the way they spoke. Incidentally, I’ve never been any of those things either. And I did not, as it turns out, need to start living in the woods or start pounding swords on an anvil to get into character. There’s yet another dimension to these characters, too: I gave them foreign accents coinciding with the country of origin for their particular fae race. A German dwarf, a Cockney brownie, a French ogre, etc. Some of them are friendly, others are sinister, and that colors their character, too.

The bottom line – the answer to the question, “How do you behave when writing using the POV of a character that’s not the same sex as you?” – is this: I behave like a writer. I do my research, I collect my notes, and fill out my characters with qualities appropriate to their race and age and motives and profession and country of origin – and gender. Their gender is only one of many qualities or “categories” one needs to think about when writing a character. This way I avoid stereotypes and banal, flat characters. One’s gender almost never defines a person, nor should it define a character.

But what about you? Do you find your behavior changes when writing outside of your own person “box?” What are some examples of characters that you have written that are utterly unlike yourself?  And what was your experience while writing them?


The theme of my first book, The Last Princess, boils down to “be yourself.”  12-year-old Cat learns she may be a princess and spends a good part of the book trying to conform to a stereotype — and failing.  Only when she embraces her utterly unprincess-like normal self does she triumph.  And furthermore, she bucks tradition and appoints an ogre-born to her counsel (in this world, many people are descended from ogres or elves or faeries who interbred with humans hundred of years ago).  She trusts this man because he, too, has learned to be himself and not to be like his vile ancestors.

I’m working on the sequel now.  And in this book, The Last Fearie Godmother, Cat is wished back to Ireland around the year 1500.  When ogres where still particularly vile.

So now I’m faced with de-evolving my ogres.  And every other kind of fae I introduced in the first book (as mostly-human hybrids).  It shouldn’t be too difficult — fun, even — because, after all, I adapted my fae-born characters by toning down the original stereotypes in the first place.  I just have to go back to their roots.

Humans are proving to be more difficult.

I mean goblins and ogres in the Middle Ages are basically the goblins and ogres we are familiar with from fairy tales.  Beastial, vicious, and cruel.  Monsters in the true sence of the word.  Ogres with green skin covered in coarse black hair, with claws and sharp teeth, living in caves and cooking children who strayed too far from the path fit right in to 1500 Europe.  And the contrast to the toned-down, mostly human version Cat knows from her own time will be clear and shocking.

But humans were mostly the same as today, at least physically.  However I’m learning that attitudes, beliefs and values were very different 500 years ago.  Obviously life was very different then than the one 21st century Cat is familiar with.  But if I thought writing in the point of view of a 12-year-old girl (while being myself a 50-year-old man) was a challenge, populating a book with people from the late Middle Ages is going to be much more  difficult.  After all, my daughter was a 12-year old girl from the 21st century less than two years ago.  Where are my examples going to come from, now?

I haven’t settled on a theme for the sequel, yet, but it might very well be something like “people change,” and let the stark contrasts speak for themselves. There’s going to be some pretty serious reverse-stereotyping going on when Cat expects ogres to be like her mostly-human friend and they utterly fail to do so.  Nobody will be like she expects, not even the humans.

And the best part will be when she finally returns home after her adventure and is never quite able to look at her ogre-born friend the same way again….