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6 Things I Learned From Hosting Contests

  Posted by SC_Author , 24 July 2014 · 11 views

I'm a guest over at the awesome Operation Awesome! Head over to their blog to read my complete post.

First up, my credentials, so you know I'm not just pulling this out of thin air. I've co-hosted "Query Kombat" twice and "Nightmare on Query Street," hosted "The Writer's Tank" and twice hosted "Become an Agent," and I was a slush reader in "In With the New." So, yes, I've went through...dang, nearing a thousand queries and first 250 words.

When going through the slush to pick entries for the contest, we usually have a hashtag that we slush-readers use on Twitter. On this hashtag (different for each contest) we tweet our thoughts as we go through the slush, but I've never done a blog post on the subject.

1. It is SO, SO, SO subjective.

Maybe you need to be a slush-reader to truly understand this, but picking entries (and, to an extent, requesting material) is so subjective. We're not trying to make you feel better by saying this, we're not babying you: IT IS THE TRUTH. Very rarely do I ever feel 'satisfied' when I make my final picks. Most of the time I'm torn apart because there were so many others I wanted to pick but because of the limit on entries, I couldn't.

The same is true for agents. They can, technically, request a ton of material, but that means they'll fall behind on their own clients' work. No human can read five manuscripts a day. Agents must be picky for their clients' sake and their own sake.

2. In picking entries, it came down to "I MUST MUST MUST have this entry on my team."

This is related to point #1. Ultimately, especially with "In With the New" where I could pick only 4 entries from a slush of 191, I picked the entries that I just had to have on my team. Subjectivity played a huge deal.

This must be true for agents as well, and I've seen many echo the same sentiment: they must be dying to request. You've got to force them to request. Otherwise, if they find any reason to pass, they will. Of course, different agents act differently, but I've heard this sentiment many times and as a contest host, I do the same thing.

3. Follow submission guidelines. Please.

I automatically passed on an entry that forgot its header of Title, Word Count, Genre. I didn't even read the entry. I passed on one that had 200 sample words instead of the required 250.

Do yourself a favor and follow agent guidelines. They're there for a reason, and it's annoying and frustrating when submissions don't follow guidelines. It doesn't help you, either; it's an automatic pass.


Want to see the last three? Head over to Operation Awesome's blog to read the full article!

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My Picks and Maybe's for "In With the New" Contest

  Posted by SC_Author , 23 July 2014 · 10 views

Here were my picks for Michelle's "In With the New" contest going on right now!!!

Before you read, know this:

I read almost all of the 191 entries, but not all. There is a chance I might not have read yours! But don't worry, one of the other five slush readers did.

Also, this was INCREDIBLY subjective and hard to decide (if you follow me on Twitter, you know). More about this in tomorrow's post.

My Yes's:

In Between Them 
Ratman’s Revenge       
Sajiva 
Missing 

My Maybe's:

Supernatural Freak
His Game, Her Rules
Barnswallow Summer
Vestige
Life As I Knew It
Deadly Triggers
Dead Man’s Watch
Logos
Life Set Sail
The GAP Project
Summer Confessions
E=MC[Squared]
The Black Dragon’s Mate
Shattered
The Truth About Two Shoes
Perfect Together
The Front Range
Land of the Free

Some of my Maybe's were picked as Yes's by other slush readers! Just shows how subjective it all is.

Good luck in the contest!!! Hope you get awesome requests.

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The Best Mentality to Write With

  Posted by SC_Author , 21 July 2014 · 28 views

I rarely ever say something is the 'best' way to do something. Quite simply, there are many ways to do anything and one way could work best for one person and another way for another. But what if I told you what I believe to be the best way to write?

It all started when I read the article, "The Secret of Effective Motivation". Read it quickly then come back, to this page.

Basically, the article summarizes a research project studying motivation. The researchers surveyed about 11,000 cadets at West Point, asking them to rank their motives to attend the academy. The motives were split into internal motives like being trained to be an officer (basically, goals that are inherently related to the journey itself) and instrumental motives like finding a job later on (goals that aren't inherently related to the journey).

The researchers expected that the cadets who would become officers, got early promotions, and stayed in the military longer would obviously have strong internal motives but also strong instrumental motives. The most surprising thing was this: the cadets that had strong internal and strong instrumental motives "performed worse on every measure than did those with strong internal motives but weak instrumental ones."

What does this mean for your writing journey?

Obviously, we probably all want to be published, become NYT bestsellers, etc. The idea of winning prizes, holding a physical copy of our books in our hands, etc. drives us to write. We love to write, sure, but we'd love recognition. In fact, what might be best to getting that recognition is not running after it at all.

It's a hard mentality to switch to, but I think it's necessary. Could JK Rowling really have spent nine years simply in planning the Harry Potter series and writing the first book if all she desired was publication? Nine years is a long time to wait for something. What must have driven her was the journey itself; the intrinsic goals of writing the book, being with the characters, discovering her world, and crafting prose.

The funny thing is that there really shouldn't be a balance between intrinsic and instrumental motivations. To be successful, as the study shows, your intrinsic motivations must outweigh your instrumental ones by a lot. Don't try going for the best of both worlds; pick the better world and your world will become better as a result. Don't go for a 50-50 balance unless you're absolutely certain it works for you (I'd be skeptical, because the study proves that weak instrumental motivations and strong intrinsic ones win out every day).

This also helps a lot in keeping your chin up through the rejection-heavy process of writing. If you don't long for winning contests, prizes, even being published, rejections won't hurt nearly as bad. It might be scary to think, I don't need to be published, but think of it as: I need to create the best book possible for myself, as a writer, and publication will come as a side effect.

If you are intrinsically motivated to create the best book possible, publication itself shouldn't be the goal (just think how many bad books are published). If you want publication alone, you might just do the bare minimum to get a book deal instead of pushing your writing the furthest it could go. I highly doubt that writers like Hemingway, Angelou, Hugo, Salinger, Rowling, Tartt, and more just wanted to be published. They pushed writing to a new height, and it couldn't have happened unless they were intrinsically motivated to be the absolute best they could be, instead of just publishable.

I know, it's easy to say 'forget about your dream goals'. I still long to be published, win prizes, etc. It's hard to get out of that mentality, but it might be necessary. Don't shut down or ignore your instrumental motivations, that's just dangerous. Just let it flow through your mind like water. Acknowledge them and move on. Obsess over your intrinsic motivations instead: creating the best prose possible, fleshing out your characters, tightening that plot. And, as a result, you'll be on your way to success.

I loved that article - it completely changed the way I think about motivation. What do you think about the study?

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Christina K - Nightmare on Query Street SUCCESS STORY!!

  Posted by SC_Author , 19 July 2014 · 27 views

GUESS WHAT. ANOTHER SUCCESS STORY.

I'm very very happy about this one, too, because Christina was on my team (the Spooks) for Nightmare on Query Street!!!! I picked her entry based on my gut reaction to how much I loved her query and 250; and lo and behold, it worked. She got the MOST requests out of all the Spooks!

ON TO HER STORY!

The second novel I completed, and the first I queried, was called EMMY & MARI. It was inspired by the friendship between two students at my school that I had observed for a couple years. It was dark and somewhat depressing - full of death and drugs and general unpleasantness - but I loved it. Nightmare On Query Street was the first contest besides #pitmad I'd ever entered and I was understandably terrified. I sent in my characters' fears, query and 1st 250 and watched the slush talk like a hawk. SC tweeted something about a YA contemp that had a pitiful fear answer but great writing and it turned out that was me! The fear answer was definitely sad, but I was tickled beyond belief that someone saw something in my words.

I was completely over the moon to find out SC had picked me for his team, the Spooks. I met so many wonderful writers through NOQS, learned a ton about what makes a good query and opening, and told myself that even if I got zero requests from the participating agents, I'd come out on top. Well, I didn't get zero. Over the course of the request period, and even a bit later on, I ended up with 8 requests. I was completely shocked and flattered and thought that maybe I wasn't fooling myself that I had a shot at this writing thing. Those requests ended in mostly passes, a couple of no responses (booo), and one R&R with an amazing agent who ultimately didn't offer but went to the top of my list for the next project.

So I wrote another book, and another one, and the 4th book, VALEDICTIONS, found its way into the hands of the agent who made my dream of representation come true - Kevan Lyon. Kevan is fantastic and I can't wait to start this journey with her!

I am more grateful than I can express to SC, Michelle and Mike for holding NOQS, and all their other contests, and spending time on fledgling writers. This experience was so very positive and gave me the confidence to keep going. I never expected to form so many connections with this generous and supportive writing community when I started, but I know I would not have gotten this far without them. Writing, for me, is not a solitary endeavor, and is made richer by the people who have influenced my words. So, thanks. :)




Christina writes YA contemporary fiction when she's not writing college recommendation letters. She loves to read, travel, and hopes to one day be bi-coastal - the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland.  She is represented by Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary and tweets. MAKE SURE TO  CONGRATULATE HER!!









CONGRATS CHRISTINA!!!! Can't wait to see what the future holds for you. (GO SPOOKS!)

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Lara Rectenwald - Query Kombat 2014 SUCCESS STORY!!

  Posted by SC_Author , 18 July 2014 · 26 views

ALREADY WE'VE GOT A SUCCESS STORY FROM THIS YEAR'S QUERY KOMBAT!!!! I'm so so happy. The entry was Lavender Marriage (go read the entry). It's truly an amazing story and ended up being the adult co-champion....with NO agent requests.

Yup. None.

And now, Lara is our first QK 2014 success story. Talk about subjective? Talk about never giving up? 

Here's the story from Lara's words!


By the time I finally decided to write this book, I had been thinking about the story for ten years. I had originally conceived of the idea as a piece of ballet choreography while in college. At the time, I didn't have the courage to execute the idea and so it followed me around, stuck in the back of brain. In September of 2013, I decided I needed to get this idea out of my head for good, so I sat down and started writing. It was the first thing I had ever written and I finished the first draft in four months.

By February of 2014, I decided that after one full draft revision it was ready to be queried - it wasn't. The first 40 queries were not productive. At the end of April, I stumbled on Pitch Slam and decided to enter. It was a great experience and I made several new writer friends. I made the cut and did reasonably well, receiving one partial request from an agent, but the critical feedback I received from the judges caused me to completely rethink the beginning of my book. I cut the prologue and rewrote my first two-fifty, which led into the fifth full revision of the manuscript. All the while, emails from agents politely declining my queries continued to trickle in.

After Pitch Slam, I saw that Michelle was running another contest called Query Kombat and I decided to enter that one too. Spurred on by this new contest, I started from scratch and wrote my third and final query. I loved it, but wasn't sure if anyone else would. Reception was mixed - I was picked for Mike's team and ended up the Adult Co-Champion, but I didn't get a single manuscript request. It was disheartening. I had a few fulls and partials outstanding with agents, but I was feeling burned out on querying and decided I'd send one more before taking a break. Lucky 82.

I queried Brianne on July 1 and she responded on July 2 asking for 50 pages. I sent the 50 pages, with no great expectations. At this point, no partial request had ever turned into a full. On the morning of July 4 I woke up to see that she had sent an email at midnight requesting the full manuscript. I sent it immediately and went about my Independence Day activities. All day I surreptitiously checked my phone, looking for a confirmation that she received the full manuscript. At 4:30, while helping my mom cut watermelon, I checked my phone and there was The Email. She loved my book and wanted to talk on Monday!

My pessimism had me convinced it would be at best a request for an R&R. But it wasn't - it was The Call. Brianne really “got” my story and her excitement was contagious. I loved her suggested edits and I accepted on the spot. I quickly let every other agent who had a full, partial or query know that I had accepted representation. I am relieved to be done querying and thrilled to move on to the next steps toward publication!




Lara Rectenwald writes historical fiction and is represented by Brianne Johnson of Writers House. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two cats and has degrees in History and Political Science. When not reading or writing, Lara enjoys fixing up her old house. Follow her on Twitter and CONGRATULATE her!









Congrats Lara! I'm so happy for your success - and more to come!!

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"How to Date Dead Guys" Rafflecopter GIVEAWAY!!!

  Posted by SC_Author , 16 July 2014 · 36 views



Goodreads Book Giveaway

How To Date Dead Guys by Ann M. Noser

How To Date Dead Guys

by Ann M. Noser

Giveaway ends August 14, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win



A book release from a Query Kombat 2013 (last year's!) Kombatant!!!! If the book appeals to you (just read the title!) enter the  Rafflecopter giveaway

Or, if you don't want to wait...

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/how-to-date-dead-guys-ann-m-noser/1119938862?ean=9781620075197


Congrats Ann!!!!

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Vote for a London Bench to be Painted in Harry Potter Art!!!

  Posted by SC_Author , 14 July 2014 · 25 views

Look how awesome the benches look at this link or in the beautiful pictures below taken from that same link (I don't own the pictures!).

Dr. Seuss
Mrs. Dalloway
The Time Machine



NOW HOW AWESOME WOULD IT BE TO SEE A "HARRY POTTER" THEMED BENCH?

There's a chance that we can! BUT WE HAVE TO VOTE BEFORE 6 PM EST.

Harry is lagging behind in second place by a few percentages; we need votes, a LOT of them. Please please please! "Harry Potter" does deserve a bench in London; the series is classic and has cemented King's Cross station and other London landmarks in the global mind.

If you believe as I do that "Harry Potter" deserves a spot, please vote for it in 


using your phone, laptop, desktop, everything and everything! And please please share this message on Twitter or anywhere else! We must vote before 6 pm EST TODAY (July 14th)!!!!

Vote to get a Harry Potter artistic bench in London! Voting ends 6 pm EST TODAY! http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/poll/2014/jul/09/poll-choose-literary-character-for-51st-london-book-bench [Tweet this!]"

Want to see a a Harry Potter artistic bench in London? VOTE!! Voting ends 6 pm EST TODAY! http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/poll/2014/jul/09/poll-choose-literary-character-for-51st-london-book-bench [Tweet this!]


THANK YOU!

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The Secret to a Great Book Title

  Posted by SC_Author , 07 July 2014 · 30 views

I recently read If I Stay by Gayle Foreman. The main reason I bought it? I'm obsessed with the premise. The second biggest reason? The title.

As of yet, I don't think I've ever heard of a better title for a book (of course this is just my subjectivity speaking). Why do I think it's a good title? How about we ask the bigger question:

What makes a good title?

Basically, one thing: It makes you want to find out more about the book.

It makes you pick up the book from a bookshelf lined up with only the spines of the book facing you. It makes you ask, "What's it about?" genuinely when someone mentions the book's title in passing. It makes you stop in your tracks when you come across it at a bookstore and you think, "Hey, I heard about this book before."

It makes you want to read the blurb (and hopefully, the blurb and the first few pages will make you buy the book).

If I Stay as a title accomplished all that and more for me. I still can't stop thinking about the title and what it means. (Basically, the book is about a girl who gets in a car crash and is comatose. She has a big choice to make... and as the book's blurb doesn't tell you what the choice is, I won't either, but the title should make it pretty obvious. Don't worry, knowing what the choice is doesn't ruin the book at all; I bought the book because I wanted to know how she'd make the choice.) But anyway, back to the title!

If I stay. The main character is thinking, what will happen if she stays?

But notice there's no question mark at the end of "If I stay."

It's not framed as a question, it's framed as an option. "If," the most powerful word, maybe ever, in my opinion. "If I Stay."

And the thing is, it's not even "If I Go" which is the other option and, technically, just as viable of a title. But you see, I was thinking about this and wondering exactly why I like 'stay' better than 'go' and I think it's because 'go' is much more...stereotypical, for lack of a better word. One can always find reasons to go. But by having "If I Stay" be the title, it shows that the main character is thinking much more about that option - not because she wants to live or is just so happy, but because she's trying to find reasons to stay. To me, trying to find reasons to stay is much more heart-breaking and thought-provoking than finding reasons to go.

That's why I bought the book. A good title is everything, folks. A mediocre title is fine - just make it memorable. A bad title can kill your novel. But an incredible title - it can make it.

So what's the secret to a great book title?

Here's what everyone knows:

1. Unique (don't let it show up if you Google it or Amazon it)

2. Memorable (short and sweet, usually, unless it's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" or something like that; case in point: I just tried looking up the title to another book that I thought was memorable. I kept Googling different versions of the book's title (it's something like "A Great Work of Epic Proportion" or something like that, I have no clue) and no books show up. Only links like 'great works of art' show up. I can't ever find the book now unless I try really hard (and I won't). There goes one potential buyer)

3. Related to the Book in Some Way The title can't be gimmicky; it has to be related to the book's overall purpose/main idea/plot/character/anything big about the book. It can't be called, "How to Cure Hangovers in Ten Minutes" and then be a MG Thriller.


But if everyone knows these three things, they're not a secret. Those three bullets are crucial, I would say, but the way to have a great book title...read on.

4. Thought-provoking. Just the right amount of confusion to get the reader to pick up the book, just the right amount of detail to give the reader some idea of what the book is about, and hinting at big questions or ideas. Notice how If I Stay is not forced. Thought-provoking also could be, for that novel, 'Live vs. Die' and that could be the title. But that freaking sucks. It's nasty. It's preachy and too themey. Which is why the next bullet-point (in conjunction with #4) is:

5. Natural to Your Book's VoiceIf I Stay was written in the first-person, and so is the title. You get a hint of the character's voice in the title and thus, the reader immediately connects with the main character (which is why great titles might be slightly more achievable for writers in the first-person). The title gels with the book; it's seamless. Make sure yours is too.


Now it's time for me to take my own advice with my mediocre, quick-and-easy title of 'Saving Penelope'. Sigh.

How about you? How do you come up with your titles? What title is your favorite? Do you have a favorite?

By the way, it's 7/7/14!!!! Two sevens and then a 14 (7 + 7!). LUCKY NUMBER WOO!!!! It'll be a good day :)

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Query Kombat MG Champion!

  Posted by SC_Author , 06 July 2014 · 20 views

Wade White

A final congrats to the last, but not least, author in our awards ceremony! 


Wade hails from Nova Scotia, land of wild blueberries and Duck Tolling Retrievers. He teaches ancient languages, dabbles in animation, and spends the rest of his time as a stay-at-home dad. It is also possible he has set a new record as the slowest 10K runner. Ever. He owns one pretend cat and one real one, and they get along fabulously. He has been writing fiction for over thirteen years.
Twitter




Mid Grade Championship Entry:


Entry Nickname: Girl Destroys World
Title: MAGICK 7.0
Word count: 85,000
Genre: MG Fantasy

Query:

In fourteen-year-old Anne’s opinion, there are two kinds of quests: the kind that lead to unicorns and lollipops, and the kind that get you and everyone you love killed, horribly and painfully (possibly by zombie sharks). She knows this because her budding magick abilities have accidentally entangled her in a quest, and so far she hasn’t encountered any lollipops.

She could opt out, but then as per Paragraph 5 Subparagraph 3 of the Official Questing Regulations she’d be exiled forever and all of her friends would be tossed into a dungeon. She’d rather kiss a Steam Troll than let that happen.

Her task? Slay a silver dragon that doesn’t exist. In just three days. With only the guidance of a wizard with a platypus for an arm and a sassy holographic sparrow. It’s all pretty straightforward (“straightforward” being a relative term) until she meets Lord Oswald, a weirdo in a cryogenic chamber who wears a lab coat and comfortable loafers. As the duly licensed Antagonist, he should be trying to stop her. Instead, he swaps roles and steals her quest.

That’s when Anne learns she wasn’t on a mission to save the world, but to destroy it (so not exactly environmentally-friendly). And Lord Oswald seems more than happy to see it through to completion. With the atomic clock counting down, Anne must figure out why she’s suddenly the villain of her own quest and pray to all things platypus-related that her unstable magick can defeat Oswald’s ten-thousand-year-old “technology.”

If she stops him, she might yet become a HeroTM

If she doesn’t, everyone dies (in which case, definitely no lollipops).

First 250:

At Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children they didn’t play favorites. Each orphan was treated with the same amount of disdain and neglect. They were provided with one threadbare tunic, one pair of ill-fitting shoes, and one dusty and moth-eaten overcoat. They were given a daily ration of gruel, and they were bathed exactly once per month, just before going on duty in the coal mine. This, incidentally, was consistent with the advice given in the popular self-help guide, How to Raise Orphans and Make Money.

There were three ways to leave Saint Lupin’s. The first was to get adopted. Perhaps by a nice family who would whisk you away to your long dreamed-of castle on a hill—one surrounded by forests and glens, filled with interesting and friendly people, rich with history and bright with promise and hope. The board of governors was extremely pleased with its track record in this regard as it had managed to prevent all adoptions since the Institute’s foundation.

The second way was to reach the age of fourteen and be unceremoniously kicked out on your bottom.

The third way was to embark upon a quest. Although quests were heavily regulated (so they could then be heavily taxed), there were no restrictions regarding age or background and thus anyone could apply. The secret to a successful application was first to fulfill a prophecy (also heavily taxed). At Saint Lupin’s, both of these topics, that is, quests and prophecies, were considered particularly taboo subjects of inquiry.

Fantastic job! Good luck! Don't forget to send him a congrats on Twitter!!

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Query Kombat YA Champion!

  Posted by SC_Author , 06 July 2014 · 19 views

Judy Clemens

More congrats are in order for YA Champ Judy Clemens!!! Her awesome entry made it all the way to the finals.


Judy Clemens is the author of the Anthony- and Agatha-nominated Stella Crown mysteries and the Grim Reaper series, as well as the stand-alone LOST SONS. She loves YA & MG literature and hopes to soon be published in those categories, with help from Query Kombat! Judy lives in an old Ohio farmhouse with her husband and two kids, and spends her days writing, shuttling her kids to various events, and working part-time at a recycling yard. 



Young Adult Championship Entry:

Entry Nickname: Tag, You’re Dead
Title: Tag, You’re Dead (originally The Game)
Word Count: 80K
Genre: YA Thriller


Query

When six teenagers play Tag in present-day Chicago, there’s a twist from the childhood version…if you get Tagged, you get Dead.

The three "Its" have their reasons for buying a place in the Game: surgically-enhanced Brandy is dying to destroy a naturally beautiful girl; untalented Robin desires his target's position on the school basketball team; and brainiac Charles craves a battle against an intellectual equal.

Three hand-picked innocents play as “Runners,” under threat to their loved ones should they refuse to participate: lovely, small-town Laura; superstar athlete William; and Amanda, gamer extraordinaire. These three want only one thing…to survive.

As soon as the Runners receive the “Go” on smart watches locked onto their wrists, the Game rockets them through the city, from the El to Michigan Avenue to the Lincoln Park Zoo. There is no time to rest; every thirty minutes the Runners’ coordinates are transmitted to the Its, which diminishes the Runners’ chances of ever reaching Home Base alive.

The Game will not end until someone is Tagged, so the Runners must choose how to play: will they accept death, murder their Its, or find a way to use their individual strengths to stop the Game before anyone dies?

TAG, YOU’RE DEAD alternates among the POVs of all six players in the Game – who will live to see it end?

First 250:

BRANDY
Friday, 8:00 PM

“I can’t choose,” Brandy Inkrott said. “I want to kill them all.

“Tag,” her mother said from her brocaded antique chair. “You want to Tag them all.”

“No. I don’t.”

“Either way,” her father said, “I’m afraid you have to pick one.”

Brandy studied the images of the teenage girls on the screen. Brunettes. Blondes. Asians. Hispanics. Light-skinned. Dark-skinned. Every one of them gorgeous. Every one of them middle-class. No-names. None of them like her. “They’re all so perfect. Can I pick more than one?"

A woman’s voice pierced the air, emanating from Surround Sound speakers. “The price for two would be extravagant, Ms. Inkrott. Plus, Tagging more than one Runner would be difficult. Almost impossible.”

“I don’t care. I can do it.”

Her father shrugged. “If that’s what you want.”

“I suggest this,” the woman said. “Play this time with one. If you are successful you may play again, and then you can go after two. I know it’s tempting when you see all those beautiful faces, but you’d be setting yourself up for disappointment.”

“What do you know?” Brandy said. “You’re probably some fat old lady in a trailer park somewhere. I could Tag you.”

Silence sizzled over the speaker.

“I’m sorry, Madame Referee,” Brandy’s father said. “She didn’t mean it.”

“Did so,” Brandy said.

“Bran, honey, please.

The girls’ faces on the television disappeared, replaced by only one, which took up the entire surface of the eighty-inch screen. The woman shown there was incredible.


Amazing story; congrats Judy!! Make sure to congratulate her on Twitter!

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