PW #213: Middle Grade Light Science Fiction: THE SOCIETY OF FLYERS

Manuscript Status: Finished Mentor Name: Kim Long Mentee Name: Taylor B. Gardner Title: THE SOCIETY OF FLYERS Category: Middle Grade Genre: Light Science Fiction Word Count: 51,000 Pitch: Twelve-year-old Nicole will do whatever it takes to join the Society of Flyers—a secret club that relies on ancient, mystical science to travel the skies. But passing its impossible entrance exam while balancing her best friends and their poi spinning team proves harder than flying through an electric storm blindfolded. If Nicole can’t navigate through, she’ll end up without friends or wings. Excerpt: A purple blur whirled over Nicole’s head like a helicopter propeller. She tightened her grip on the strings maneuvering the two spiraling balls. She hadn’t even heard of spinning poi last year, but now it was hard to imagine her life without it. On a grey, cushy couch a few feet away, sat the two best friends she’d ever had. Sabine’s feet bounced, and Sam’s eyes grew wide. Now or never. With the slightest movement, Nicole cast the rotating balls behind her back in alternating motions, under her leg, and up again with the skill of a puppeteer. She danced with grace she only felt while spinning. Sam jumped up. “Amazing!” “Nah,” Nicole replied, shifting the balls in front of her. “It’s not hard. I’ll teach you.” She glanced out the window. Glimmers sparkled over a moldy green roof a couple of houses away. Strange. Her hold on her right string slipped. No, no. Concentrate. She jerked to recover, and the right armband protecting her elbow shimmied down to her wrist. Mayday! Mayday! Last time the armband came undone and exposed Nicole’s freaky elbows, someone called an ambulance before her mom convinced them everything was fine. She anchored her elbows to her sides. Once secure, she reeled in the two purple tennis-sized balls like fish on a fishing line until they rested in her hands. She exhaled. Disaster...

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PW #214: Middle Grade Contemporary Realistic Fiction: THE SOUND OF BELONG

Manuscript Status: Finished Mentor Name: Ellie Terry Mentee Name: Marcia Hoehne Title: THE SOUND OF BELONG Category: Middle Grade Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction Word Count: 41,000 Pitch: Bitsy was three when her sister dropped her off at Jellicle House, a cross between a boarding home and cat sanctuary. Now, eight years later, Bitsy’s admission ticket—her own cat—goes missing. The search fails, and a fellow resident urges her to combine science and poetry to discover and call Mewy’s “true secret name.” If she can’t, she risks losing her pet, her home, and her chance to change what she fears is her own true name: Abandoned. Excerpt: Today was Bitsy’s first-ever time as pallbearer. Granny Annie had asked her. And she’d do anything for Granny. The burial ground lay at the end of the yard, backed against a wrought-iron fence. A fresh hole waited beside a mound of crumbled earth. Bitsy couldn’t tear her eyes away. Before she knew it, she’d taken one step forward, then two, as if the hole had the power to pull her to its edge, make her fall in. Tears brimmed. “…too hard,” someone murmured. “Funerals are too hard on children.” Bitsy lifted her chin, then dragged her gaze toward Ben, the bear of a man leaning on his shovel. Cradling the blanket-wrapped body, she led Eugene, Claudia, Eliza, and Granny Annie across the grass to form a circle around the open grave. Brittle, brown leaves swirled in a cold wind. She stooped and tucked the rounded bundle, snugly, into its final resting place. Not crooked. Not wedged. Sleeping easy. Bitsy stood. She clasped her hands in front of her stomach. “Scramble was a good cat. He was eighteen years old. Healthy almost till the end.” She paused for a slow breath. “Scramble loved tomatoes. He would steal one from the kitchen whenever he could and scramble under Granny Annie’s bed with it. Once he scrambled under mine instead. It was an honor.”...

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PW #215: Middle Grade Contemporary Animal Story: CALL ME ALASTAIR

Manuscript Status: Finished Mentor Name: Amanda Hill, Cindy Baldwin Mentee Name: Cory Leonardo Title: CALL ME ALASTAIR Category: Middle Grade Genre: Contemporary Animal Story Word Count: 53,000 Pitch: THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN meets FLORA & ULYSSES, (mixed format, three POV): All disgruntled, de-feathered parrot Alastair wants is to fly off with his beloved sister, retire in a palm tree, and feast on Norton Anthologies. But when that sister goes home with pre-pre-med student Fritz, and elderly dance-enthusiast Bertie adopts Alastair, the future looks grim…and full of polkas. Alastair’s keen plotting reunites the two birds at last, but when one final escape looms large on the horizon, he’ll be forced to choose between the life he’s always dreamed of and the love that will cost him everything. Excerpt: A FISH BIRD STORY “Call me Ishmael.” I ate that sentence once in a thick steak of a novel. It wasn’t my usual diet of Keats, Whitman, Frost, but it tasted alright anyway, a little salty maybe, a smidge fishy, but good. I prefer the poetry though. Always have. Since the first time I wrapped my beak around the meat of a Norton Anthology, I was a fish on a line—hooked. When all your tongue has known has been the blandness of phone books, the sour snack of tax forms, the cardboard-y flavor of cardboard, that first bite of Shakespeare is nectar, I tell you. Almost makes a fella forget there are other books to chew, the way it satisfies long. And the act of remembering, regurgitating—it fills the taste buds once more… “Call me Ishmael.” I ate that sentence once and knew it would come back to me to be savored again if ever I set out to write my story. And it has. Just like the poems, it’s come back, filled my beak, taken flavors old and new, same and different. I am a bird. These are my poems. This is my story. Call me Alastair....

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PW #216: Middle Grade Contemporary Magical Realism: BREATHING UNDERWATER

Manuscript Status: Finished Mentor Name: Ellie Terry Mentee Name: Sarah Allen Title: BREATHING UNDERWATER Category: Middle Grade Genre: Contemporary Magical Realism Word Count: 46,000 Pitch: While on the cross-country road trip of her dreams, Olivia hopes to acquire the perfect shot for the National Geographic Photo Contest, but when her sister Ruth’s depression takes a turn for the worse, Olivia’s determined to do all she can to save her sister—even teaming up with a bearded motorcyclist no one else can see. Excerpt: My big sister’s bladder is the size of a pea. We’ve stopped for bathroom breaks at least three times since we left Knoxville a few hours ago. If Mom were here, she’d say Ruth was doing it on purpose, making us stop all the time. But I don’t mind. The loft of the RV already feels like my bedroom back home. I’ve got my biography of Anne Bonny, my stack of National Geographic magazines, and of course my stuffed killer whale Murphy that no amount of eye-rolling from Ruth could make me leave behind. I tried to sneak him into my backpack before Ruth noticed, but she saw him and said, “Really, Olivia? Are you thirteen or three?” Mom made her apologize. Then we climbed into the RV and took off. Mom’s cousin Eddie, the one driving, gave a whoop when we got onto the freeway. I wanted to whoop, too, but it would have bugged Ruth. My head is pressed against the window, where I can look at the lollipop sky and the passing trees and the tops of cars that look small from up here. I wish I could see it all at once, and never stop looking. I’ve got that whole stack of National Geographic magazines, but I’m so distracted I haven’t needed them yet. Even the telephone poles look beautiful today. If my new camera had come in time, nothing would be safe.  ...

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PW #217: Middle Grade Contemporary Fantasy: SISTERS OF THE SEA

Manuscript Status: Finished Mentor Name: Alexandra Alessandri Mentee Name: Suzi Guina Title: SISTERS OF THE SEA Category: Middle Grade Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Word Count: 60,000 Pitch: While visiting Faial, twelve-year-old Isabel learns she’s descended from Portuguese mermaids and can transform. But the legacy has a darker side. When her great-grandmother’s prophesies of natural disasters leave her gravely ill, Isabel turns to the mermaids before she loses Vis-Avó forever. Excerpt: Isabel scanned her bookshelf, looking for more books to pack. She should bring something she hadn’t already read for their eight weeks in Faial. But she kept coming back to her old favorites. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. Inkheart. Goblet of Fire. Isabel hugged them to her chest, inhaling the familiar smell of the paper. If she couldn’t have Amelia with her this summer, at least she could have September, Meggie, and Hermione. Except, for once, they didn’t seem like enough. Not quite. Isabel’s stomach twisted. I hope Amelia makes it over before we leave. Her eyes drifted to the open album on her bed. Isabel dropped her comfort reads on her backpack and flipped through her mom’s pictures again, lingering on images of black-sand beaches and windswept waves, seaside cottages and smiling Portuguese relatives she’d never met. Faial. Would they smile that way at her? She stopped at a photo of a dark mountain hunched in a bleak, gray landscape with a lone, lean tower rising from it. Farol, her mom had written. It might as well have been hieroglyphics. “Isabel!” Isabel whirled around as Amelia walked in holding two brightly wrapped packages. “You made it!” Isabel shoved her backpack and album aside for Amelia. “I can’t stay. My mom’s waiting outside, but I wanted to bring you a present.” Amelia held out one of the packages. “Open this one now. The other one’s for later.” Isabel tore open the sparkly paper, and a lump rose in her throat when she saw what it...

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PW #218: Middle Grade Light Science Fiction/Humor: MISHAPS OF A SIXTH GRADE SCIENTIST

Manuscript Status: Finished Mentor: Allison Ziegler Mentee: Chrystal Carver Title: MISHAPS OF A SIXTH GRADE SCIENTIST Category/Genre: Middle Grade Light Science Fiction/Humor Word Count: 40,000 Pitch: Eliana’s sixth grade to-do list includes winning the science fair, defeating her nemesis, and resurrecting her pet turtle. Perfecting the formula for a home-grown zombie should cover all three. But when her best friend goes rogue and drinks her zombie juice, she’ll have to find a cure before he transforms their school of geniuses into a horde of the undead. Excerpt: The metal signs secured to the chain link fence read HIGH VOLTAGE. Tucker was right. The sub-station was the perfect place to test my turbo charged turtle robot for the science fair. All we needed to do was jump start its internal battery and duct tape his fin back on and he’d be ready to launch. Easy-peasy. Science for the win. I puckered my lips in an upward motion and blew a brown frizzy curl off my sweat-beaded forehead. The sun hadn’t shown itself in days, and of course it picked the one day that we needed to walk through a gravel yard to blast its rays. The heat rebounded off the gravel in waves, making me feel like a bacon wrapped sausage cooking over coals. “Were you able to attach the rockets last night?” Tucker asked. He glanced over his shoulder like he expected an angry mob of power station workers to ambush us. It was Sunday and it wasn’t like anyone would care that we were at the power station. The signs surrounding the station said ‘high voltage’, not ‘keep out or you’ll die’. How much damage can two six-graders do to a power station anyways? “I wrapped the boosters around the robot’s torso with packaging tape.” I didn’t have much of a choice. My dad refused to let me have real tools, and super glue wasn’t as super as it could be....

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PW #219: Middle Grade Contemporary: STEPPING UP

Manuscript Status: Finished Mentor Name: Shari Schwarz Mentee Name: Patrick Thornton Title: STEPPING UP Category: Middle Grade Genre: Contemporary Word Count: 40,000 Pitch: When twelve-year-old Nate’s dad deploys to Afghanistan, Nate’s Xbox, a gift from Dad, is stolen and he feels responsible. Father/son emails gloss over the dangers and hardships each face while Nate is determined to make Dad proud by catching the thief and holding their family together. Excerpt: Twelve-year-old boys don’t cry. They just don’t. Not when they get sucker punched, not when a bad hop gets them a baseball in the face, and not when their dad could be killed. “Think fast!” I look up just in time to grab a flat plastic box before it hits me in the chest. It’s a new Xbox game, the one Dad and I’ve been waiting for. “Nice catch.” Dad is standing in my bedroom doorway in his National Guard police uniform. He comes in, sits next to me on my bed, and puts a hand on my knee. It’s a big hand, strong, heavy. I hold up the game. “Guess we’ll play when you get back.” I almost choke on the words. “Practice up so I don’t embarrass you.” I give him a fierce grin. “Fat chance.” He claps me on the shoulder and stands up. “Time to go.” “Already?” “I don’t want to have to arrest myself for being AWOL.” AWOL, I think as I follow him downstairs. As if. Dad’s a good soldier. He’s as tough and brave as any soldier I ever saw in a movie. But this isn’t a movie. It’s real life and it sucks. In the living room Dad puts his hands on my shoulders and bends down just enough so we are eye to eye. “I know this will be hard. But we have some important things to do, you and I, and we can make each other proud. People depend on us. Focus on...

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PW #220: Middle Grade Contemporary: HOLD ME UP

Manuscript Status: Finished Mentor Name: Melyssa Mercado Mentee Name: Dana Kramaroff Title: HOLD ME UP Category: Middle Grade Genre: Contemporary Word Count: 48,000 Pitch: Eleven-year-old Nat’s got aching knees she’d like to trade in—and a busted friendship she only wishes physical therapy could cure. When Nat’s paired with the girl who started the whole BFF mess for a one-take video project, she’s got to find a way to heal her bones and her broken friendship problems. Excerpt: A lot can happen in one kickball game. You can be chosen as captain, get to pick your best friend first, be forced to pick her ex-best friend last, and…have your wrecked knees be the reason your team loses. I didn’t mean for it to go so horribly wrong. Really. But when your knees have hurt all summer long and you face-plant before you reach home plate to make the scoring run—destroying your cute back-to-school outfit…well if that’s not the worstest way to kick off sixth grade, I don’t know what is. I concentrate hard on brushing the dirt off my yellow shorts. If I just rub at this spot without looking up, maybe everyone will just keep their lips zipped. But Margo makes a beeline my way, her big, mean mouth already wide open. “That was not pretty, Natalie,” she says as I plop down on the bench, wiggling my hip so Becca moves down. Mind your own business, Margo. Becca scoots, patting my back. My head falls on her shoulder, harder than I mean. My best friend’s body jolts. I lurch forward, almost falling off. “Owww, Nat.” Becca’s annoyed with me and my hard head. “Sorry,” I say. Her expression softens. “What happened?” she whispers. “Stupid knees, again.” My voice comes out all growly. Saying it out loud reminds me of how they’re throbbing…like my heartbeat’s pulsing inside of them. And with each beat, my brain says: Some. Thing. Is. Wrong. With. You....

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PW #221: Middle Grade Paranormal Mystery: GHOSTBESTIES

Manuscript Status: Finished Mentor: Kara Seal Mentee: April Wall Title: GHOSTBESTIES Category/Genre: Middle Grade Paranormal Mystery Word Count: 45,000 Pitch: Winnie Birchwood lives for the dead. Sadly, her principal doesn’t, and demands Winnie’s ghost-hunting club prove spooks exist in thirty days or else be disbanded. Consumed with chasing ghosts, Winnie neglects her flesh-and-blood friends and realizes her biggest challenge just may be communicating with the living rather than the dead. Excerpt: Nestled beneath the shadows of a dark September night sat our target. The old carousel beckoned to us, screaming to be investigated by two daring sixth-grade ghost hunters. Well, one daring and the other, my scaredy-cat BFF. “Oh. My. Ghost! This is seriously spooktacular.” I pushed back a section of fence for the two of us to fit through. “Come on, Lillie.” The fence was chained with a padlock and a big sign slapped on front: KEEP OUT. DANGER. Who cared about a dumb sign? I came for the danger. “Will you come on already?” My arms shook keeping the hole open for Lillie. So far, she hadn’t budged one inch. She shooed me forward. “You first, Winnie.” “No problem.” I wiggled my way past the opening and pulled it back again for her. She crawled on all fours keeping her head low. “Don’t worry. Your hair won’t get caught,” I assured her as she guarded her perfect puffy pigtails from the fence’s sharp edges. I could never pull off that look. Whenever I tried pigtails, they dangled like limp spaghetti. Moving slower than my baby cousin, she finally made it through. She stood up, checked her hair, and dusted herself off. “I’m going to get so grounded if I ruin these jeans. It’ll be the third pair this month.” “Necessary consequence of being an awesome ghost hunter.” “Yeah, right. I know you live for the dead and all, but we’re never going to find anything.” “Not with that...

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PW #222: Middle Grade Mystery-Twist of Magical Realism: HEARST’S GREATEST TREASURE

Manuscript Status: Finished Mentor: Jenna Lehne Mentee: Tara Creel Title: HEARST’S GREATEST TREASURE Category/Genre: Middle Grade Mystery with a twist of Magical Realism Word Count: 52 000 Pitch: When thirteen-year-old Amelia’s parents ship her off to her Grandpa’s in California, she discovers a clue to Hearst’s greatest treasure and her boring summer turns into a treasure hunt. But when artifacts go missing, Grandpa’s job is in jeopardy. The treasure and the artifacts are linked, but if Amelia doesn’t find out how, Hearst Castle is going down, and taking her Grandpa with it. Excerpt: Jump. The dry, Californian heat forces crazy thoughts into my mind. I’m standing at the edge of the pool, staring at the blue, glass mosaic tiles on the bottom, which make the water look even more inviting. Do it. I know that lady dropped me off here and told me not to touch anything, but technically, I’d be floating in the water … still not touching any of the fancy stuff around this place. I mean, with this heat-pool combo, she’s basically setting me up to fail. Seriously. At least the voice in my head agrees. I look deeper into the water. Wow, are those tiles made of gold? Only one way to find out. I reach down to slip off my Converse — I’ll only dip my toes — “Amelia! I’m glad you made it safely!” My grandpa calls out from the arched doorway. He looks just like his picture — dirty blond hair like mine, a few wrinkles, pale blue eyes, and a shiny, white smile. “Thanks.” I wrap my arms awkwardly around him in the first Grandpa hug of my life. I’m hot and sweaty, but Grandpa feels as cool as a refrigerator, and smells like aftershave and coffee. Without thinking, I sink into his arms. Immediately, the internal battle I’ve had of whether to be excited about the visit or mad at my parents for ditching me for Africa, shifts in the direction of excitement....

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PW #223: Middle Grade Contemporary: OPERATION: NORMAL

Manuscript Status: 6 Weeks Delivery Mentors: Dee Romito and Jen Malone Mentee: Elizabeth Dimit Title: OPERATION: NORMAL Category/Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Word Count: 33,000 Pitch: When ten-year-old Avery Lawson learns she has ADHD, she launches Operation: Normal—a plan to prove she’s (mostly) like every other kid in class. Because if she can’t stop staring at her teacher’s furry eyebrows or resist her unrelenting need to doodle, she’ll never prove she’s more than a diagnosis. RAMONA QUIMBY meets FISH IN A TREE. Excerpt: Avery Lawson had nine hundred ninety-nine cats. Too bad none of them were real. Her parents had told her she couldn’t get a live, breathing cat until it didn’t rain in their town of Mount Crescent, Oregon, for a year. Or when she became responsible. Whichever came first. Avery scowled out the window at the soggy schoolyard, uncapped her blue marker, and prepared to draw her one-thousandth cat. The pleasant squeak of marker on her paper drowned out the annoying scritch-scratch of pencils as the other fifth-graders copied spelling words. Boring words like peaceful and business and vulture. The squeaking filled her ears as she drew a fluffy tail right over the word cabbage. She added whiskers, but one got so long it wouldn’t fit on the paper. She stopped the marker at the edge of her worksheet. She shouldn’t draw on her desk. Only kindergartners did that. But the whisker wanted—no, it demanded—to be longer. Clutching the marker, Avery stretched the line to the end of her desk. Perfect. “Avery, can you define this for us?” Mr. Silva’s voice poked its way into her ears. Her head jerked up. What was he talking about? Avery’s teacher tapped on the word policy, which loomed on the glowing screen. “Are you with us?” he asked. She stared at her cat-covered paper. It’d happened again. Avery’s rocket-speed brain had propelled her to Mars while the rest of her class stayed on Earth....

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PW #224: Middle Grade Contemporary Mystery: THE CAROUSEL KEEPER

Manuscript Status: Finished Mentor: Rebecca Wells Mentee: Hope Grietzer Title: THE CAROUSEL KEEPER Category: Middle Grade Genre: Contemporary Mystery Word Count: 43,000 Pitch: Following a family tragedy, Maggie makes a secret wish on the rumored-to-be-magic carousel at her uncle’s island amusement park. When mysterious sabotage endangers the wooden horses and her wish, Maggie must race to unmask the culprits. The carousel’s fate, the park’s destiny, and even Maggie’s future will depend on finding her courage. Excerpt: Maggie hurried ahead of her mother, slipping between the jumble of elbows and beach bags crowding the wooden pier. One last dodge around some boys in soccer jerseys and a group of teens sucking down sodas and there it was—the ocean. Seagulls cried overhead and waves splashed like fireworks against the rocky shore. The whole world was as blue as a robin’s egg. Maggie climbed on the bottom rung of the pier railing and breathed the salt-soaked air. This place was nothing like Ohio, and somewhere out there, hidden beyond the horizon, an entire amusement park waited for her on an island poking out of the sea. A tiny candle of hope flickered in her chest. She slipped her fingers into the pocket of her jeans, touching the creased newspaper clipping nestled inside. “There you are.” Her mom joined her at the railing and handed her the soft, salty loops of a pretzel wrapped in wax paper. “I thought you might need a snack.” “Is that the ferry?” Maggie asked, nodding toward a weathered ship moored at the end of the pier. “Sure looks like it.” Her mom stood on tiptoe and scanned the flock of tourists departing from the boat. “But I don’t see your Uncle Jon. Maybe he met your father at the ticket booth. Stay…” “I know, stay right here.” Maggie waited until her mother was out of sight, then set down her pretzel and tugged the newspaper clipping from her pocket....

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