Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This has nothing to do with publishing.

I don't feel like talking about publishing today. Or writing. Mostly because I just had midterms for the last two weeks, pulled an all-nighter last night, and have about zero brain function.

But what could I possibly talk about, you wonder?

The answer, dear readers, is simple. Myself! I shall talk about myself. And then you shall talk about yourselves so I can get to know you better, and you can get to know me better, and then we can all be friends, because everyone likes having more friends. I know I do. And that was a really long (and really unnecessary) sentence.

So! Without further ado, this is what my sleep-deprived brain has come up with for you today:


  1. I'm only 5 feet tall, and I haven't grown since 5th grade. All of my clothes still fit. No joke.
  2. My full name is Samantha, but only my dentist (whom I loathe) calls me that.
  3. I have a younger brother (20) and sister (17).
  4. My aunt spells my name wrong on every card she sends me. I don't think I've ever seen it spelled correctly. And she's known me for nearly 23 years.
  5. I'm obsessed with cheesy popcorn.
  6. And you can pretty much bribe me to do anything with a box of Andes mints.
  7. I've lived in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ireland, and Washington, D.C.
  8. Kirk Cameron (before he turned into a crazy preacher man) was the reason I became a writer.
  9. I've gone to a different university every fall.
  10. I hate touching raw meat. I think it's a legit phobia, or something. I just won't do it.
  11. However, I love eating meat. Go figure.
  12. Bina women are notoriously good bakers. I'm thankful to have inherited that from my mom.
  13. There's a raccoon living in my attic as we speak. I hate him.
  14. If anything, I'm probably TOO optimistic.
  15. I love 90s UK/Irish television.
  16. I live for monopoly season at McDonald's.
  17. Not a big fan of big crowds.
  18. I've never been to a baseball game.
  19. I don't like the movie Pulp Fiction. Sue me.
  20. I also think MOBY DICK and HEART OF DARKNESS are the two worst books ever published.
  21. I'm one of those losers who paints their nails every day or two.
  22. You'll probably never see me with the same hair color. Though I have been a redhead for the last year...
  23. The people at Sephora know me by name. I can't decide if this is a bad thing or a good thing.
  24. I think you can put avocados on anything and it instantly makes that thing 10x better.
  25. I hate Wisconsin.
  26. Fall is my favorite season.
  27. Call me crazy, but I love riding public transportation.
  28. I like mice.
  29. My favorite color is Tiffany Box Blue.
  30. Until this past summer, I was petrified of dogs.
  31. I'm not good with money.
  32. I have this weird obsession with owls.
  33. I've had my current Netflix movie for three months. Mostly because I'm too lazy to open the envelope, watch it, and return it.
  34. I miss Boo Radley. I need a new mouse. One that doesn't have rabies, which means the ones infesting my house are out.
  35. I never have a black pen on me because I lose them all.
  36. I think budget theaters are the best things ever.
  37. I did theater in high school. I miss it.
  38. I'm not afraid to admit I have an entire playlist on iTunes dedicated to my favorite 90s songs.
  39. David Bowie rocks my world.
  40. I can't drink caffeine.
  41. I went through this really awful phase in high school where I wore pants that could fit four of me, skater t-shirts, and chains. Luckily it only lasted for a month or two, but it's one of the most embarrassing/horrifying memories I have.
  42. If I could, I'd dye my hair pink again.
  43. Breakfast at Tiffany's and My Big Fat Greek Wedding are my two favorite movies.
  44. Do you remember Sully from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman? I wanted to marry him when I was a kid.
  45. Hoarders is my not-so-secret guilty pleasure.
  46. I can happily claim to have never done drugs. Or even smoked a cigarette.
  47. I like mojitos.
  48. I sleep with my window open year round. Even in winter. When it's below freezing.
  49. My room is an ice box right now. And the window isn't open.
  50. Titanic: Adventure Out of Time was my favorite computer game as a kid. I can still quote most of it. I keep telling myself that doesn't make me pathetic.
  51. I like taking stupid pictures of myself. This generally happens when I'm tired. See below:

Lucky for you guys, none of these are from today. Because I look like a member of the homeless walking dead. Midterms will do that to you.


Now it's your turn to share! Tell me something about yourself. Anything. Post a picture. I don't care. But I'd like to get to know my readers! If anything, it's an excellent source of procrastination for those of you still in the midst of midterms! Or parenting. Or grown-up jobs.

Come on. You know you want to.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Formatting Your Manuscript

While cleaning out my inbox, I stumbled upon some rather useful information I knew I had to share with you guys! Last semester, while working on my senior thesis, my advisor sent out a handy dandy email detailing how to format your manuscript's front matter. You can download the word document HERE. Also, he provided us with instructions on how to properly number everything, which I've copied and pasted below:

It's kind of a pain, but I'm making you put front matter together because I want you to have practice putting together professional manuscripts; that is, manuscripts that could show up on a publisher's desk and be taken seriously, so seriously, in fact that the editor says to herself: "Wow, this person really knows that they're doing.  They must've done this before!"

Remember:  "Front matter" is publishing lingo for "everything that comes before the first page of your actual fiction, be it a first chapter of a novel or the first page of your first story." I've attached my front matter template once again, just in case you've lost it.

Okay, here's how the page numbering goes so that your front matter is numbered in Roman numerals while the rest of your book is numbered in arabic numbers: 

Step 1:  Make sure your manuscript begins with your title page.

Step 2:  Make sure your EVEN numbered pages in your front matter are blank!  So, go to Insert and click "Page break" to give yourself blank EVEN numbered pages.  This way, page 2 will be the BACK side of page one when you print this thing double-sided.

Step 3:  Go to the first page of your actual writing -- the first page of the first chapter or the first page of the first story in your collection -- and make sure it begins on an ODD numbered page.

Step 4:  Put your cursor on the same line as your title or chapter title, just before the title.  It will look like this: 

[BLINKING CURSOR HERE] Chapter 1: Nate is Amazing

Step 5:  Go to the "Insert" menu once again and choose "Insert Section Break (odd page)"

Step 6:  Go to the "View" menu and choose "View Header and Footer."  This will open the header and footer menu for you, and you'll be able to see boxes (the headers and footers) on your manuscript that are normally invisible.

Step 7:  On the header/footer menu, there will be a button to format your page numbers, OR you can go once more to the "Insert" menu and choose "Insert Page Numbers" and then click the "Format" button when the menu pops up.  Once there, under "Number Format" you should pick regular, standard Arabic numbers and also choose, "Start At: 1"  This will put the # 1 on the first page of your stories or your first chapter.

Step 8:  Scroll up to your front matter.  Notice at the bottom of your document that when you place the cursor on the page, near where you get your page count, it will say "Sec 1."  This is because you've separated the document into two "Sections" where "Sec 1" is your front matter and "Sec 2" is everything else.  

Step 9:  Now that you're in "Sec 1" go to Insert Page Numbers.  Choose Roman Numerals, un-check the "show number on first page" box and click "Okay."

Now you're done!

Here's a link for more info. and it includes pictures!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bad Boys vs. "Bad Boys"

Copied from LTWF


If there’s one thing I love, it’s a bad boy. I’m a sucker for stories where Lonely Girl befriends him and fills his horrible life with puppies and sunshine. I adore the push-and-pull dynamic of “good vs. evil” and their otherwise messed up relationship. I live for those scenes where Bad Boy reverts back to his badness and Lonely Girl is left feeling devastated until Bad Boy realizes his mistake and transforms into a knight in shining armor.

But you’ve got to admit, that’s pretty cliché. And as much as we love the stereotype, it isn’t very realistic.

Up for discussion today is #24 on my Intern Tips list: Black clothes, tattoos, and an earring do not a bad boy make.

Like you all, I’m a pretty avid reader. My book shelf is full of beloved YA novels that contain the stereotypical bad boy. And until recently, I thought nothing of it. I didn’t actually pay attention to the unrealistic portrayal of my favorite male characters. Instead, I was sucked in by my favorite cliché and never bother to look beyond it. It’s fiction, I told myself. It’s not meant to be realistic.

And while it’s true that fiction doesn’t have to be realistic, lately I’ve come to find that these stereotypes and generalizations just don’t cut it for me anymore. After all the submissions I’ve read, after all the books I’ve bought, and after all the blog entries and articles I’ve read, I’ve decided I want a realistic story I can get behind. I want a bad boy who’s actually bad.

But where do we draw the line between bad boys and “bad boys”?

Based on the reading I’ve done in the last few months (both published and unpublished), most “bad boys” seem to be labeled as such simply because of their physical appearance. They wear all black, or have a leather jacket. They have ripped up jeans and dark, brooding eyes. Their black, grungy hair tends to fall in their face, and an earring hangs from one or both ears. They might have a tattoo or six as well. But beyond that, they aren’t much of a bad boy at all. They’re just quiet or misunderstood. Maybe their home life isn’t so great. But, overall, they’re generally not bad people. You’d feel safe spending time with them, and to be honest, your grandma probably would too. Basically, the guy’s harmless.

But if your character really is an honest-to-god bad boy, you have to dig beneath the surface. Maybe they wear black, but it isn’t a requirement. So what if they don’t have tattoos? A true bad boy is all personality. They’re rude, they cheat on their girlfriends, and they get in fights. They’re uncomfortable to be around and bring your insecurities to the forefront. Maybe they drink excessively, smoke, or do drugs. Maybe all three. But, generally, they aren’t the guy you’d want to bring home to Daddy.

Need some examples?

I thought Patch from Becca Fitzpatrick’s HUSH, HUSH was a pretty believable bad boy. He was snide at first, rude, hung out in sketchy pool halls, got into fights, and was an overall mystery. There were times when I didn’t like him, or wanted to slap him just as much as Nora did. Sometimes I questioned his morals or his actions. And in the end, he may have redeemed himself somewhat, but the reader’s left questioning who he really is. Is he still the guy from the beginning of the book, or has he actually changed? Therein lies the mystery, and the reason he can still pull off his bad boy image. I have yet to read CRESCENDO, but I’m assuming the bad boy image carries over; it certainly looks like it, based on the synopsis.

Or how about Draco Malfoy? If you want a perfect example of a bad boy, look no further. He’s a hard-to-read asshole with unclear motivations. Frankly, most of the time you’re just wondering what the heck he’s up to. He’s generally a pretty awful fellow, and yet you somehow feel bad for him. He’s a sympathetic bad boy, and the very best kind. You want to believe he’s good at heart, but is he really?

But there are bad boys in published literature that I think fall short. In another take on the fallen angel story, I didn’t buy into Daniel’s character from Lauren Kate’s FALLEN as much as I’d have liked. Though the overall story is good, and I really enjoyed Luce’s narration, I just couldn’t get behind Daniel. The mystery that Patch presents is absent; Daniel’s motivations seem pretty surface-level. In other words, he wasn’t complex enough. The bad boy image was only skin deep.

And that, dear readers, is where I feel some authors slip up. They forget that some guys really do just wear black but are perfectly harmless. And that there are others, who might also wear black, that have killed someone, or sell drugs for a living. It’s all in the presentation. Your bad boy doesn’t necessarily have to look the part, but he does have to act it.

Also, you have to consider the redemption factor. As you may well know from real life, bad boys can be difficult to change. Girls like to think they can conquer his bad attitude and poor manners, but how often does that actually happen? You’re allowed to bend the rules in fiction – there’s no doubt about that – but make sure you aren’t bending things beyond a reasonable level of belief.

I still read books containing “bad boys,” but these days I pay close attention to the way the author has portrayed him. Maybe the unreliable portrayal of my beloved male character will ruin the story for me, but maybe it won’t. There are still plenty of authors out there who know how to create bad boys that behave exactly how you’d expect. And the closer we can get to that, I think the better off we’ll be.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Intern Tips: Edited & Consolidated

I have to admit, the recent upheaval about agency interns has me terrified. Petrified, even. I watched InternAmie disappear, and have watched as other interns quickly regressed back into their intern holes (aka their offices or bedrooms, depending on where they work). The whole situation is just depressing. Before the recent controversy over #queryslam and #queryfest, interns were still sometimes disrespected by querying authors. I saw many comments and entries on blogs about how we shouldn't be allowed to make decisions on incoming queries and submissions, and how, because we aren't agents, we don't know what to look for.

I believe that's false, but I'll let Janet Reid argue that point, since she says it better than I ever could.

I truly believe any intern or agent who has tweeted or blogged about queries or submissions was trying to be helpful. Rejection is never fun, but this business is full of it. I've learned to accept it, and I think every author, querying or otherwise, would benefit from a hard shell.

That being said, I know there are still going to be people who are unable to look past this. And that's their right; they're allowed to feel however they want to. And because I would never want to hurt someone's feelings, or make them think they're being criticized, I've made the decision to take down all of my intern tip posts and consolidate them into one giant list. I've taken out repeats and deleted those that could have been misconstrued as someone's personal submission. I promise that everything below has been seen in numerous submissions, or is just a general tip I've picked up over the last few months. I will not be adding to this list in the future, and I'll probably keep #interntips on twitter to a bare minimum. I hate seeing authors upset, and I hate seeing interns lose their voice. There really is no happy medium, so I'm bowing out gracefully.

1. Do not write a synopsis that is a blow-by-blow account of each chapter. 2-5 pages is normal. Anything above that gets a bit iffy.

2. Label anything you send to an agency. Page numbers in one corner (upper right), along with your name and the title of your novel (upper left). Don't forget to label your synopsis, too.

3. Make sure you know what your genre is, and don't overdo it. You don't need to have vampires, werewolves, zombies, mythical gods, witches, warlocks, unicorns, and aliens in one story just for it to be considered paranormal.

4. Keep pop culture references to a minimum.

5. Do not forget to send a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) with hard copies.

6. Double-space your material.
7. Stick to traditional fonts: Times New Roman, size 12, is always acceptable.

8. Be careful of repetition. Show your readers your vocabulary isn't limited to basic adjectives.

9. But please don't make your entire manuscript a ride through the thesaurus.

10. Not every line needs a dialogue tag.

11. DO include a copy of your query when sending partials. Either that, or provide some sort of cover letter, reminding us what your story's about, and how long it is.

12. It's not always necessary to send a copy of your query with full manuscripts. I asked Naomi about this, and she told me that, because the number of fulls agents request is so much smaller than partials, it isn't really necessary. "If they've asked for the full, chances are they'll remember who you are."

13. A partial that is free of typos is impressive.
14. Know the difference between 'too' and 'to,' and 'their,' 'there,' and 'they'er.'
15. Your synopsis shouldn't be longer than the first chapter. Neither should your prologue.

16. If the information in your prologue is repeated in the first chapter, you don't need the prologue.

17. Be a good intern. You get cupcakes. (This is the best advice I will ever give. Take it to heart.)

18. It's probably a bad sign if your supporting characters are more interesting than your main character.

19. If you're writing a mystery, your killer needs to have motivation. Unlike killers in real life, who sometimes just murder people for the sake of murdering people, fiction needs motivation.

20. If you're going to put quotes at the beginning of every chapter, make sure they're relevant.
21. SHOW, don't TELL.

22. If someone requests a partial, send a decent amount of pages. If your first three chapters only go to page 20-something, it's probably a good idea to send the first 50.

23. Your average human being doesn't have fuscia, purple, yellow, or red eyes.
24. Black clothes, tattoos, and an earring do not a bad boy make.
25. You probably don't need a prologue.

26. For those embarking on collaborative projects, make sure your voices blend seamlessly.

27. Be open to feedback. If any agent gives you suggestions on how you could improve your story, and offers to look at the manuscript again if you make them, it's worth considering.

28. 30,000 words is not a novel. 200,000 is a monstrosity. 60-80,000 words is generally a safe number to strive for.
29. Characterization is SO important. Even if your plot is The Greatest Thing I've Ever Seen, it won't go anywhere without characters who are well rounded and believable.
30. I can tell when you basically rewrote a movie.

31. Proofread.

32. If you're going to write about an actual town/city/school/place, do your research. If your facts aren't accurate, someone's going to notice.

33. Unusual names are fun. Indecipherable ones are not.

34. If your female character has a male name, make sure you let readers know, right away, what her gender is. Same goes for men with feminine names.
35. Never send out your first draft.

36. If you're going to use foreign words in your manuscript, give some context clues.
37. Keep the text speak to a minimum, and make sure people can understand it.
38. Watch out for shifts in tense. You don't want a sentence to start off in present tense, then switch to past tense by the end.

39. Multiple punctuation marks are not necessary.

40. If one of your characters has an accent that's actually written into the story, make sure you're consistent.
41. 'Anyways' is not a word.

42. Always give away the ending in your synopsis.
43. Setting: you need to have one.

44. Don't spell real people's names wrong.
45. A synopsis should always be written in present tense.

46. Be careful of leaving things out. If your character is outside one minute, and the next minute they're walking around the kitchen, you need to mention that they actually went back inside the house.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It Gets Better

Let's take a brief interlude from publishing to deal with something far more important: The Trevor Project and the recent string of gay teenage suicides. This is my contribution to the It Gets Better campaign. For more information, you can go here.

I love you all ♥

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Boo Radley

Boo Radley says hello!
(Yes, I name my pets after literary characters.)
(I'm cool.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Inappropriate Intern?

Many of you have probably heard about the great debate over former twitter user InternAmie's use of the hashtag #queryslam to document her current slushpile finds. Sadly, the backlash she received forced her off twitter and, from what I can tell, has opted to turn her blog private.

This, dear readers, saddens me greatly. Twitter has been a great place to connect with fellow interns, and I feel as though there's a quiet bond between us, even though we don't know each other very well. (For those of you who enjoy following industry people on twitter, interns included, I have a growing list here.)

I'm sure Amie meant no harm by her comments; from what I've seen, many others believe she was just trying to be helpful. I've always found agents/interns who use the #queries hashtag to be incredibly useful. I myself learned a lot from that thread, and adjusted my query letter accordingly. Much of what's been said over the past few months has been nothing but helpful to me and my fellow querying writers.

That being said, I think we interns walk a fine line when trying to offer our help. After all, we're still learning, too.

Because I don't read many queries - I spend most of my time reading manuscripts - I've never felt the need to participate in the #queries hashtag. Obviously, I have nothing to say. But even if it were the case that I could add something to the conversation, I doubt that I would. From experience, I know how personal queries are to a writer. You've slaved over it for weeks, maybe even months. You know it inside and out, and I'm pretty sure I'd be able to pick my query out of a supposedly ambiguous reference online. I wouldn't be bothered by it because I'm always open to critique, but I know many others don't feel that way. And in this case, I think it may be best to err on the side of caution. Perhaps it might be best to follow that age old saying, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." We don't always have to learn from others' mistakes; we can learn from their successes as well.

The fact that I religiously read SlushPile Hell probably makes me a raging hypocrite. Oh well.

However, I'm pretty sure that those tweeting queries never meant any harm by it. I've done my best, as an intern, to offer help when I can. I've been using the #interntips hashtag to continue what I did here on my blog all summer. With all the backlash about #queries and #queryslam, I was afraid that maybe I'd crossed that boundary, too. I've spoken to a lot of my writer friends about this, and they've assured me that what I'm doing is fine. I've tried to keep my tips as general and free-of-association as possible. Many, MANY authors make the same mistakes, so the things I've said always apply to more than one person.

However, I want to ask you, dear readers, what you think. Do you think #interntips (both here and on twitter) crosses that thin line? Because I don't want to offend anyone, and if I have, then I profusely apologize.

I'll leave you with this endearing article from agent Janet Reid: Not All Interns are Idiots.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Teaser Tuesday

I promised an actual update, and I figured this would count. Here's the first chapter of my YA dystopian, SILENCE! It's rough and unedited, but I think you'll get the gist of things. Enjoy!

A note: Originally this was supposed to be a historical piece set during WWII, so there are some inconsistencies with setting. You can just ignore that for now :-p


The room was dark. Soft petals of dust fell through the air and landed on Neva’s skin. A thin ribbon of light shone through the crack beneath the door, illuminating the tiny particles that clung to the hairs on her arm. She watched them dance before her eyes, shimmering in the near darkness. When she reached up to wipe away her tears, the dust swirled up and away from her, only to settle moments later, creating new patterns on her body.

Curled up on her side, she trained her eyes on the thin golden line, a barrier that separated her from the outside world. In her mind’s eye, she could picture the massive room that stood empty, save for the workbench covering the door to her hiding place, and the hallway that led to a set of stairs. A bare light bulb hung in the center of the room, the only thing keeping Neva’s world from sinking into total darkness. She could hear people moving around above her, pots and pans banging as someone – probably Mrs. McGarvey – began to prepare dinner. Mr. McGarvey must have been standing near the top of the stairs, because his laugh boomed down into the depths of the house, ringing in Neva’s ears. It was a distinct sound, one that came from so deep within his paunch belly, she wasn’t sure of its origin. She liked to imagine that it started at the very tips of his toes and worked its way up his lumbering body until finally escaping through the mustache-lined hole in his face. It was a pleasing sound, one that had lifted the corners of her mouth on more than one occasion.

But Neva never joined in. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever have a reason to laugh again. The thick scab forming on the inside of her wrist was yet another reminder of everything she’d lost over the last year. First [the country] had lost its leader, only to be replaced by the cold and efficient running of the Guard. Nearly every freedom she’d once had had been ripped away. Everyone living in [country] was forced to have a tracking device inserted beneath their skin, a daily curfew of 8:00pm was set, and everyone was forced to register with the Guard. For the first time in her life, Neva had been unable to hide from anyone; no matter where she was, someone would be watching.

Her back was pressed against the back wall of the tiny room. It wasn’t much more than a closet, with only old, moth-eaten garments to keep her company. They smelled of disuse and old age, the fabrics musty and dank. The air was thick with the smell of fear and dead things; Neva had spent the night curled up next to a dead mouse she’d found in the pocket of an old tartan jacket. It was stiff with rigor mortis, hardly more than skin and bones, but she’d set it next to her head and named it Rufus.

It had been just over a week since Neva came to call this closet home. It was nothing compared to the house she’d spent most of her childhood in, with its posh bedrooms and oversized, updated kitchen. There had been a garden, too, full of rose bushes and apple trees. When she was angry with her parents, she’d often climb those trees and hide there until one of them came to coax her down. They had been good friends, those trees, keeping her company throughout her childhood. When they’d moved to Galway when she was six, she’d lost touch with her old friends, and being the quiet thing that she was, hadn’t really made the effort to find new ones. She’d been perfectly content to sit under the trees all day and read about other girls who still had friends.

That was before the war. 

But then, one night, a man came to their door and told them they had to leave. He did not tell them where they were going, only that they had an hour to pack, and they could only bring one suitcase with them. Neva could still remember the crisp lines of his uniform, the baton at his side, and the deadened look in his eyes as he ordered them about. She’d been too afraid to say anything, and allowed her mother to pack her things for her, only opening her mouth to tell the woman that she needed her blanket.

“Of course, pet,” her mother consoled, and immediately folded the ratty yellow thing and tucked it into Neva’s suitcase, which she was forced to carry all the way to the edge of town. They joined a growing number of displaced neighbors, all talking quietly under their breaths, trying to figure out what was happening. But after a lengthy train ride that introduced them to the Warsaw ghetto, Neva and her family found themselves the proud owners of a tiny one-room apartment that was so filthy, even the insects refused to live in it. Her cot hadn’t been much bigger than her closet was now. The only difference was that, in Warsaw, she’d had her family close by. Now, she was completely alone.

She shifted slightly, so that her back came to rest against the knotted floorboards, her knees bent because the three-foot space couldn’t even accommodate her tiny limbs. Though the vortex above her was nothing but darkness, she knew there was a spider web draped across the left corner, its maker’s home now on the bottom of her shoe. Her toes just brushed the metal can she used as a bathroom throughout her day, though today, like many days, it was empty; the acrid smell of stale urine was something Neva could not get used to.

Closing her eyes, she strained her ears for any signs of life. Something scuttled across her fingers, and she jerked her hand back, flinging the creature into the bucket. There was a tiny ping as it landed, and then a succession of quiet tap-tap-taps as the critter continued to hit the side of the can. Through the brick wall and the cabinet that kept her hiding place secret, Neva could just make out the tinkling sounds of Mrs. McGarvey’s voice as she asked her husband about his day. She couldn’t quite make out his response, but he seemed to be in a good mood. That meant no one had grown suspicious yet, and Neva felt herself relax, if only slightly.

Just as the smell of stew began to suffocate her, she heard the telltale scraping sound of wood against wood. The light beneath the door grew to a luminous glow, warming the lower portion of her face as the sun had once done. There was the sound of a key jiggling around in the lock, and finally the door swung open, revealing a boy not much older than Neva herself.

“Miss Shulman,” he nodded. “And how was your day?” Bending down, he offered her a hand that she readily accepted. Being pulled into a standing position resulted in numerous pops as her cramped bones and muscles relaxed. 

“August,” the boy’s mother called from the kitchen, “dinner’s almost ready. Could you tell Neva?”

Cracked lips strained against a smile as August imitated his mother’s high soprano. “Neva, I thought you should know that dinner is almost ready. Would you care to join us?” He gave her an impish smile, knowing a response would never come.

Hesitantly, Neva nodded, and slowly followed August down a dark, soggy corridor and into the kitchen. At seventeen, he’d surpassed the height of everyone in his class, and loomed over Neva’s petite frame as he pulled her chair out for her. She had to shield her eyes for a moment, letting the dull ache behind her eyes slowly subside. The McGarvey’s kitchen was always glowing and warm, but after countless hours spent in darkness, it still took some getting used to. 

The family’s politeness had been overwhelming at first. Mr. McGarvey had insisted on carrying her bag, despite the fact that all it contained was her blanket, a worn copy of Romeo & Juliet, and a spare dress or two. His wife had provided her with a comb and a clean set of clothing, as well as a pillow on which to lay her head. Not unlike his parents, August had given her a tour of the home, and had thus far pulled her chair out each and every evening. He also held doors open for her, and helped her up whenever he came to let her out of the closet. At first, Neva had wondered if they were merely putting on a show, but nothing had changed during the past week, and she had heard others come and go throughout the day, each treated with the same level of kindness and propriety. She was left to assume that the McGarvey’s really were just a descent lot.

Already familiar with the drill, Neva nodded her thanks and took the seat offered to her, patiently waiting for a plate to be set in front of her. She nodded once more when Evie McGarvey set a steaming bowl of lamb stew in front of her, and offered the tiniest of smiles when the woman asked if she was doing all right. 

“I really wish we had somewhere more comfortable for you to stay,” she babbled, dishing up food for her husband and son. “But I’m afraid anywhere else in the house, and you might be discovered.” 

“I cut up an old mattress for you,” Carl joined in, tucking his napkin into his collar. “It’s a little lumpy, but it has to be more comfortable than the floor.”

Neva appreciated the effort her new family was making. Where her real parents had tried – and failed – to provide for her, the McGarveys were wealthy enough that they could afford real food, and a roof that didn’t leak. The cold that had settled in her chest long before she arrived had been cured with a few doses of medicine, and while most of her day was spent alone, they welcomed her each evening, handing her books and magazines to read, or letting her listen to the radio. It wasn’t a great life, but it could have been much worse.

“Go ahead, dear. Tuck in,” Evie urged, smiling kindly at Neva, who had yet to begin eating. Maybe it was out of habit, or just consideration, but she couldn’t bring herself to start before the rest of the family. They continued to feed her first, but she always waited until everyone was seated, food in front of them, before picking up her fork.

August, noticing her discomfort, immediately grabbed his utensil and dug in, mumbling praise around a mouthful of lamb. Silently thanking him, Neva finally reached for her own spoon and let it sink into her bowl. Over the tip of her nose, she regarded the boy across from her with quiet interest. He was tall and lean, but didn’t look starved like all the other boys she’d seen recently. His sandy curls were unruly and hung a bit low for his mother’s taste, and yet he somehow managed to avoid getting a haircut. But what Neva really liked were his eyes. They were a clear opalescent blue, and shockingly wide. It made it appear that whatever August was looking at, it was the first time he’d seen it. When he smiled, two dimples formed on either side of his mouth, a characteristic Neva found rather charming. In her seventeen years, she’d seen only one boy as handsome as August, and that was the boy who’d lived across the street from her. But she’d watched the Gestapo beat him to death just last week.

“I had Carl draw you a bath,” Evie said after a while, concerned eyes roving over what Neva presumed to be her disheveled appearance. “Do you remember where the upstairs bathroom is?”

Neva nodded. Though she’d only been shown the second floor upon her arrival, she’d spent countless hours during the day mentally retracing her steps. And even if her memory wasn’t accurate, it couldn’t be that difficult to find.

“Take as long as you’d like.” Evie reached over and patted her hand, a gesture that caused Neva to shrink back in surprise. It hadn’t been that long since she’d last seen her mother – just over a week – but the wound of losing her parents was still fresh in her mind. Though the McGarveys had been nothing but kind to her since her arrival, allowing Evie to touch her was still terrifying. She liked the woman, but she couldn’t allow herself to grow close to these people. What if she lost them, too?

No, it would be better to keep her distance. In the end, it would be easier on everyone.

An expert at covering up awkward moments, Evie drew her hand back and immediately turned to her husband, asking about those others they knew who were harboring Jewish children. Neva listened for a while, cherishing the stock that burned her throat as it slid down like butterscotch. She tried to keep her eyes trained on her bowl, but on more than one occasion, caught August watching her from across the table, his eyebrows knit into a frown. She wasn’t sure it was because he disapproved of the way she acted around his mother, or something else entirely. She didn’t care enough to ask, so she finished the last of her dinner, never asking for seconds, and disappeared into the front hallway.

Neva liked the McGarvey’s parlor. It was lined in dark mahogany and plush couches, and an ornate crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. There was a large bay window that overlooked __ Street, and exerted a strange pull on her as she stared at it from the doorway. The sun was still out; she could tell by the copper light streaming in through a gap in the curtains. As a girl who enjoyed spending time outdoors, it had been difficult to spend the last week cooped up in a closet. All she wanted was a glance, a quick peek. She needed to feel the sun on her cheeks, to see others strolling about. She needed to know the world hadn’t ended while she was locked away.

The sound of footsteps brought her back. Turning, she wasn’t surprised to find August standing a few steps away, hands shoved deep in his pockets. He glanced toward the window, then back at Neva, his expression sad. 

“I’m really sorry,” he said, his voice gravely and low. Neva always wondered how someone so handsome could have such an ugly voice. “Maybe you’ll be able to go outside soon.”

But they both knew it wasn’t true. Based on the snippets Neva had caught on the radio, it was unlikely that things would improve any time soon.

August’s fingers reached out to her, brushing against the tender skin on the inside of her palms. The heat he transferred to her, if only briefly, was enough to replace the missed sensation of sunlight. He was the only person Neva trusted to come near her, and she allowed him to touch her like that for a few lingering moments. His eyes bored into hers, sending shivers down her spine. To Neva, it always seemed as if August was trying to piece her together, like one of his father’s complex puzzles. He’d told her just yesterday that she was a mystery he wanted to figure out, but had no idea where to begin.

Uncomfortable by his sudden closeness, Neva took her hand back and turned on her heel, taking the stairs two at a time. She heard August blow out a sigh, then his receding footsteps as he returned to the kitchen. He was only trying to get to know her, but beyond the few times Neva let him touch her, she couldn’t bring herself to make an effort. August was a nice boy, who, unlike her, had his whole life ahead of him. No one was going to come to his home in the middle of the night and drag him out into the streets. He was German, through and through, with an uncle and grandfather serving directly under Adolf Hitler. He still had parents who loved him. Instead, Neva found herself living in constant fear of being discovered, completely alone in the world. She’d watched a Nazi soldier shoot both her parents from where she hid in an alley beside her building. So while she appreciated August’s concern, he just couldn’t understand what she’d been through, and she didn’t have the strength to try and explain.

Her feet padded along the carpeted hallway towards the last door on the right; inside was the bathroom, just as she’d remembered it. The dark maple floor contrasted sharply with the creamy white tiles, offset by the burgundy towels Evie had provided. The tub was filled to the brim, a small selection of salts and perfumes lined up alongside it. Eager to rid herself of the stench imbedded in her clothes, possibly even her skin, Neva tugged off the filthy dress she’d been living in all week and slipped into the water. It was still warm, and she took her time testing each and every bottle. The scent of roses and chamomile wafted over the surface, curling around her and enveloping her in quiet luxury. She washed her hair with a bottle of shampoo she recognized as August’s, and lingered in the plush towel left for her to use. She couldn’t remember ever having felt this clean.

As she sat in the humid bathroom, staring at the heap of clothes at her feet, Neva felt a wave of shame wash over her. The floral pattern was faded and yellow, the spots beneath her arms discolored and in need of repair. Dust and dirt cling to the fabric, and as she peered at herself in the mirror, wondered if the rest of her had looked the same not half an hour ago. There was still dirt stuck beneath her fingernails, but she’d long since given up trying to rid them of it. Her skin was cracked and dry, her lips chapped, but at least her hair was clean now, and she didn’t smell of decay.

It took another half hour before she could bring herself to go back downstairs. Knowing that she’d soon have to go back into hiding, she dawdled as best she could, slowly combing out her shoulder-length brown locks and buttoning up the dress she’d been given. She made sure to drain the tub and clean up any mess she’d made, glancing furtively at the bottles. She hoped no one would notice that each was missing a little more than necessary.

Around nine o’clock, she poked her head into the parlor, where everyone was gathered around the radio. She took her place on the divan and waited for any news about the war, but after half an hour, grew bored. Nothing had changed in Germany that day, and as much as she disliked her cramped quarters, found herself returning to them nonetheless. August followed her, despite the look she sent him.

While she’d been cleaning up, Carl had shoved the tattered mattress into the closet, along with another pillow and blanket. There was also a parcel wrapped in butcher paper. She looked questioningly at August, who was grinning.

“I thought you might want some candy. The corner store had a special on chocolate today.”

It had been over a year since Neva had had anything sweet, let alone something as expensive as chocolate. She couldn’t repress the grin that leaked out, and without thinking, reached out to give August’s hand a squeeze.

“You’re quite welcome,” he said matter-of-factly. “But you know what would be an even better thank-you?”

Neva could only hazard a guess.

“You could say something. Anything. Just ‘hello’ would be fine.”

She shook her head sadly, and sank down onto the uneven mattress. Carl was right – it was infinitely better than the floor.

August loomed over her, blocking the faint light that had made it to the end of the hallway. He looked… not frustrated. Sad, maybe. Confused. “I just wish I knew what to say to you, Neva.”

And while a small part of her wanted to tell him he’d already said more than enough, done more than enough, the words just wouldn’t come out. The overwhelming sorrow of losing her parents had knocked her voice right out of her. And if she were being honest with herself, she wouldn’t really mind if it never came back.

Knowing their one-sided conversation had ended, August said goodnight, taking his time closing the door. It was almost as if he was waiting for her to stop him, Neva thought.

Well, she couldn’t provide that kind of satisfaction. So she sat there, watching the light slowly fade, until all there was was darkness once more.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Odds and Ends

Once again, I have been sucked into the vortex of my college education. And that, dear readers, is the only excuse I have for my sporadic updating. But I come bearing apologies! Which should pacify you for some time.

Because school's been keeping me so busy (220-something days until I graduate and am done with school forever!), I haven't had much time to write. However, you should probably know that I've completed my outline for SILENCE, and am about 15k into OBSESSION. Which reminds me that I should probably update the word counts in my sidebar.

But anyway.

I'm also waiting to hear back on a copy editing job I applied for. I suspect I'll get an answer this week, so my fingers are crossed.

In terms of reading, I've got an ever-growing TBR pile. I started INCARCERON last night. I have one chapter left in Lauren Kate's FALLEN, but I could probably tell you how it ends without reading it. So maybe I won't. I've also read the opening chapters of GIRL IN THE ARENA and BEAUTIFUL CREATURES. And am 250 pages into THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin. So, as you can see, I'm as ADD about what I read as I am about writing. At this rate, I'll start every book on my list, but never finish any of them.

I promise I'll update with something substantial soon.