Agents may request queries, partials, or fulls in the comments.
The top seven scores are shared by fourteen entries.
- Mystery—A little learning is a dangerous thing
- Historical Fantasy—The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships
- Contemporary—nobody, not even the rain
- Contemporary LGBT Speculative Fiction—Hulk hate paperwork! Hulk smash paper shredder!
- Dark Fantasy—I think of you when shadows slant
- Contemporary Fantasy—Double, double toil and trouble.
- Time Travel—To lose – if One can find again
- Fantasy—Miles to go before I sleep
- Fantasy—I made an airplane out of stone
- Speculative Fiction—In a Sieve they went to sea
- Contemporary—Stand up for the stupid and crazy
- Speculative Fiction—hear the library humming in the night
- Fantasy—This being human is a guest house
- Speculative Thriller—Hope is the thing with feathers
A little learning is a dangerous thing
Religion worked like this in my family: Dad said that by being ethnically Jewish, he had the right to only practice the religious aspects of Judaism during the High Holidays and God would understand. I was the only one who ever went to temple with him. Mom was such a self-hating Catholic that her version of church was watching that HBO show about the American pope on Sunday morning and praying that her ultra-Catholic family wouldn’t call and ask her about that week’s Confession.
Dad had his glasses and laptop out, Mom was watching TV with a notebook, and James was making chocolate chip waffles in the shape of Death Stars, seemingly not hungover from last night’s “accidental” bender. I could almost convince myself that Landon and Claire didn’t live here. That James hadn’t proposed to Claire the night before.
“Jem, what’s your savings looking like right now?” Dad asked.
“Sixty grand or so,” James replied.
It took little moments like this to remind myself that James was an actual adult who just happened to live in his parents’ house. It should make James’ impending marriage more normal, but it didn’t.
Word Count: 80K
7-Word Description of Main Character: Sister sabotages depressed brother’s relationship. Instant regret.
The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships
Tembre peered at Stefan, trying to decide if she should stay. He was welcoming, and he had showed her kindness by sharing his food. Maybe there was more he could offer her. “I’m trying to figure out the best way to get to Conva. I’ve already been mugged. My horse and all my money are gone.”
“No, just a common thief.”
“Save a thief and he’ll thank you by cleaning your purse and cutting your throat.”
“Do you speak from experience?”
“Not exactly. The thief didn’t get past cleaning my purse.” Tembre scraped her boot in the dirt, nervous to respond. “What a shame for you. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my horse.” Stefan’s head turned to their left, where the steed she’d noticed earlier was eating grass, still tethered to a tree. The horse was beautiful with a glossy black coat.
“That’s Tianma. She’s so fast, it’s unnatural. You’d almost think her celestial. Although, she’s not been herself lately.” Fondness rounded the corners of his eyes.
It was obvious he prized his horse. A man who loved animals couldn’t be so bad.
He looked back to Tembre. “Best be careful. These are dangerous parts, especially when traveling alone. You have to watch out for nomads, they eat the flesh of their fathers, and are infamous for sewing clothes from the scalps of their enemies.”
Tembre blanched. “Then why are you traveling by yourself?”
“Because I’m one of the dangerous parts.”
Word Count: 77K
Genre: Historical Fantasy
7-Word Description of Main Character: A cunning, justice-seeking concubine defies sultan, exposes his treachery.
nobody, not even the rain
That’s where you’re wrong,” he said simply. “If you have to know my real name, we’re never gonna be friends. I have a few personal names, and one on my birth certificate, but I’ll go by Bear any day of the week.”
I sniffed. “Fine, I’ll ask Earl. He probably knows.”
Bear leaned forward. “Oh, he knows all right. And he knows if he ever tells anyone I’ll kick his ass, if you’ll excuse my language. I’ve done it before, in eighth grade. I don’t think he’ll ever say my real name again as long as he lives.”
“Wow, must be seriously embarrassing.” I tapped my lip with a clean paintbrush, baiting him. He shook his head.
“It’s not. I just prefer going by Bear, okay? Names are special, in my family. But I’ll tell you where this one came from. My great-aunts, my Navajo grandma’s sisters, called me Little Bear when I was a child. Thank God the ‘little’ part eventually dropped.” He looked around conspiratorially. “And I don’t know if Earl does know that, so it’ll be our secret, okay?”
I nodded. “If it makes you feel better, my parents call me ‘Lucy in the Sky’, so that’s kind of weird and embarrassing.”
Bear glanced at me, amused. “As in, ‘with Diamonds’? Like the Beatles’ song? That’s ridiculous.” I gave him a look of long-suffering, as if to say “tell me about it.” Then he got a devilish glint in his eye and said, “Can I call you that?”
“Of course not!”
Word Count: 92K
7-Word Description of Main Character: Boyfriend, bestie, music: yes!
Hulk hate paperwork! Hulk smash paper shredder!
I strode over to his family and dropped beverage napkins. “Hello, folks,” I said, concentrating on keeping the greeting from spilling over into gibberish. Mentally I rehearsed my middle name, my mother’s maiden name and the name I used at G’s. Like Devon, it was a male name that swung female. I prayed that wouldn’t serve as a clue.
“My name’s Ryan,” I said, “and I’ll be your server. I’m so sorry about your wait. Can I get you something to drink?”
All of this tumbled out in my Christian-kid voice; unattractive, respectful. It was the voice of someone who was not Devon.
Corey turned to me, and opened his mouth—you’re going to recognize me, I thought, my heart skittering, I just got done kissing you—and maybe he did, because his mouth hung open and he squinted.
“I’ll have a Sprite,” said Bailee.
“Iced tea, please,” said Corey’s mother. “Lots of sugar on the side.”
I collected myself, looking away from Corey, still grinning my fake server-smile. “You got it, ma’am. And you, sir?”
Corey blinked and shook his head. “Oh, sorry. A water would be fine.”
My heartbeat made a noise in my ears, like flip-flops slapping pavement. “Awesome.” I checked their closed menus. “Are you ready to order?”
I scribbled the meals off on my pad—Corey got the mostaccioli, my favorite, because of course he did—but as I slipped the pad back into my pocket and turned to go, Corey stopped me.
“Hey, Ryan. Do I know you from somewhere?”
Word Count: 92K
Genre: Contemporary LGBT Speculative Fiction
7-Word Description of Main Character: Triple life: popular girl, pious child, and…
I think of you when shadows slant
“I said be quiet!” Ms. Hatch yelled at the students. Bits of the dirt ceiling fell onto the floor, making baby anthills around her toffee brown boots. “Form a line and follow me.”
Evelyn squeezed behind Julianna and followed, unsure and warm. **Still no shadows,** she thought, fidgeting with the seam of her jeans. **They”ll come quicker if I think about them too much. They always do.**
Luckily, there were distractions.
Painted portraits of men sitting beside groomed animals lined the walls: dogs, birds, men with white hair, no hair, lizards, pigs, young men, old men. The biggest portrait was a middle-aged man with dark skin. A male lion sat beside him with gray thick in its mane. Underneath their picture, a gold plate was etched with the name LANIR DARWIN. Each portrait repeated down to the sewing room.
Inside was cramped with five cutting tables at the center. Rolls of fabric covered the empty chairs and cluttered countertops. Spools of colorful threads lined rotting shelves, while more rolled onto the floor, leaving trails of swirling, overlapping patterns. The elderly women working on garments kicked the spools away.
A large cubby with neatly folded clothes rested against the wall at the far end of the room. Ms. Hatch stood beside it and said to Evelyn’s group, “Stand here and someone will measure you. Then change into your new uniform and put on your dress shoes if you haven’t already done so.”
The woman measuring Evelyn smelled like musky perfume and sour glue. Her name was Martha.
Word Count: 75K
Genre: Dark Fantasy
7-Word Description of Main Character: Her dead friends make really terrible friends.
Double, double toil and trouble.
“Oh shit.” I throw my hands in the air and bring them down to the ground, focusing all my energy on one task—stopping the fire.
Two more pines go up in flames, the tangy smell of burning sap spreading. No amount of waving and puffing on my part helps.
“No!” My stomach plummets. This can’t be happening.
I dash inside the cabin and grab the fire extinguisher from the kitchen. When I return to the backyard, the entire first row of pines is ablaze. The trees moan and swing their branches in a futile attempt to shake the flames off. Sparks hop from one tree to the next. I can shove this fire extinguisher up my ass now. What have I done?
“Help! Somebody help. Fire!” I holler before I remember the closest neighbor is miles away. The nearest town is fifty minutes away. The fire department will take an hour to get here.
Heat from the fire singes my hair and makes my eyes water. Dark gray smoke turns on me. Coughing and wheezing, I try to run, but my legs turn to rubber. My heart pounds; I can’t catch a breath. What was I thinking stealing Violet’s Book of Spells and attempting to make Odolen potion on my own?
My heart stutters. Violet’s book. I left it in the backyard. It’s the only thing that can save me now. It must have a spell to stop this fire. I spin around and scream in horror. The backyard is now one giant fire pit.
Word Count: 90K
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
7-Word Description of Main Character: Male witch finally gets powers; doesn’t suck
To lose – if One can find again
Lance folds his hands on the table. “I understand your social worker has advised you to seek help.”
More like forced.
“Let me guess. They thought you had PTSD, but the medicine didn’t take.”
Now he has my attention.
“And no one understands what it’s like to be fully engrossed by the visions, like you are in a different world.” He leans forward. “No one understands how *real* they feel.”
My heart pounds so hard I can’t distinguish the beats. Finally, someone I can talk to. “What are they? What do the visions mean?”
Lance bows his head so his slate eyes align with mine. “It means you are Aware.”
I blink. “Aware of what?”
He smiles, like he knew that was coming, and tilts his head. “Tell me, what do you think your visions are?”
No one has ever asked me that. They’ve only told me what they probably are and then tried to get rid of them. My only guesses are the regurgitated theories from therapists and school psychologists. “I don’t know what they are…but I know what they show me.”
“And what’s that?”
“Different versions of someone murdering my dad.” It pains me how easy it is to say that.
“Different versions,” Lance repeats. “That is an excellent way to put it. Any idea why you might be seeing different versions of this?”
I shake my head.
“What if I told you that you are correct?”
“What do you mean?”
“What you are seeing is indeed a different version. Of your *life*.”
Word Count: 96K
Genre: Time Travel Speculative Fiction
7-Word Description of Main Character: Senses changes in time, can change reality.
Miles to go before I sleep
“That’s really cool,” he says. “I wonder who it is.”
“Your relative for sure.” I take the portrait photo and hold it beside his face. “You two have the same eyes and nose. His jawline is a little more squared.” I gesture to my own chin. “And your mouth is different. Your lips are fuller—”
The corner of his mouth twitches, and I realize I’ve stared at his lips a moment too long. I look away and set the photo down before my sweaty hands can mar the surface.
When I glance back *he’s* looking at *my* mouth—and very intently.
His chestnut eyes meet my gaze, and he lifts his chin. He inclines his head slightly. The space between us shrinks. “So, uh.” His voice cracks, and he clears his throat. “I’ll ask my grandmother about the pictures.”
“Y-yeah.” Another centimeter closer.
“Hey, Kazoo!” The spell is broken by Dad’s booming voice. “Could you come have a look at these?” He appears in the hallway from the kitchen. “Oh. Sorry. I didn’t know you had a guest.” He blinks and cocks his head. “Miguel? How are you, son?”
Miguel jumps to his feet. “Mr. West! Sir. I didn’t—Is this your house?”
“Wait.” I glance from one to the other. “You guys know each other?”
They shake hands and Dad clasps Miguel on the shoulder with his other hand. “Miguel was in my class a while back. What grade are you in now, son?”
“I’ll be a senior in the fall, sir.”
Word Count: 56K
7-Word Description of Main Character: Toolbelt-wearing DIY girl with cursed boyfriend.
I made an airplane out of stone
Vale reaches into his pocket, and I slip my hand into mine, for a pair of simple bands. The one I give him is silver. The one he slips onto my finger is gold.
In a few more phrases, we’ll be married. I never thought this would happen. My hand trembles.
“After those vows, there’s no need to ask whether you promise to support each other,” my father rumbles.
“But protocol must be followed,” Adalia says. I fight the impulse to roll my eyes. Or punch her in the face. “Teressa?” she says to Mama.
“Averill Skye and Valberion Teague.” Vale’s hand twitches in mine at his full name, and I tickle his palm. “Will you help each other?” Mama asks. “In fortune and in misery?”
“I will,” I say.
“I will,” Vale says.
“Will you trust each other?” Papa asks. “In all things?”
“Will you keep each other in check?” Adalia asks. “If the need should arise?”
I set my jaw as we answer. “I will.”
“And will you keep the needs of your kingdoms in high priority?” Esrius asks. “Despite familial feuds?”
“With these vows,” the kings and queens say, “we declare you wed.” They bow their heads, signaling us to complete the ceremony with a kiss.
I turn to Vale. “You can still change your mind. You haven’t kissed me yet.”
“But I’m about to,” he says, and dips his head toward mine.
“I figured,” I chuckle. I close my eyes and tilt my chin up.
The kiss never comes.
Word Count: 94K
7-Word Description of Main Character: Headstrong, bisexual princess. Loves hard, fights harder.
In a Sieve they went to sea
The announcement didn’t surprise Allii. There was a sad inevitability to it. Bellizza had been pregnant every year of her married life. Rumours of another pregnancy had been permeating the palace ever since the king recommenced his nightly-visits to the queen.
Allii kissed her stepmother. “That’s marvellous, Belle. And it’ll be a boy.”
“It was a boy, eight times out of nine.” Bellizza’s voice was as barren as a desert. During the first pregnancies she had been happy, blooming like a flower. Now she looked as if she was facing an ordeal without end.
Allii gave her stepmother a mock-glare. “Belle, stop depressing yourself. At this rate, you’ll turn as blue as your hair.” It was an inane joke, but it did wring a smile out of Bellizza; grimace really, still better than that unfocused ‘no-one-at-home’ expression she had been wearing since her last miscarriage.
“You’ll be a friend to my child, won’t you, Allii?”
“I’ll be more than a friend. I’ll be his big sister.”
“This child will need a friend far more than a sister or a father, or a crown, Allii.”
At the official prayer-ceremony seeking divine blessings for Bellizza, the chief priest intoned a quick supplication to the bronze god before braying a sermon about fecundity. When he compared a woman who cannot bear a living child to a cow incapable of giving milk, Allii would have screamed at him, had it not been for Nana’s imploring look.
Bellizza sat expressionless, head held high, hands clasped on her still flat belly.
Word Count: 93K
Genre: Speculative Fiction
7-Word Description of Main Character: Falsely accused princess pursues stepmother’s real killer.
Stand up for the stupid and crazy
“At the rate she’s going, Claire will have to hold her wedding at the Taj Mahal,” Mom fires as she parallel parks about a block from the hotel.
“She’s already booked it for her debut,” I snipe back, friendly fire. Mom’s spent the afternoon putting finger waves in my hair and helping me learn to foxtrot. I slip on my shoes then grab my duffel bag from the back seat.
The hotel is bright and glittery, bustling with activity as young lawyers and government employees enjoy the bar.
Mom and I ate here once after seeing **Peter Pan, put on by a children’s theater troop, right down the street, a rare splurge. I’d been so excited after the show, I’d begged her to sign me up for acting lessons. She’d pursed her lips over the menu. “We’ll see, honey,” she’d said, universal Mom language for “The answer’s no, but let’s not argue about it right now.”
Mom stays with me until I give my name and my duffel bag to a guy in a shiny hat behind the counter. “You’re sure Claire can bring you home tomorrow?”
For the fifth or sixth time, I affirm this plan.
“Call me if anything changes, okay? Or if you’re in an uncomfortable situation. Or if—“
I cut her off before she can continue. “—Mom, really, it’s okay. I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll call you if there’s excessive drinking. Or a knife fight. Or a sudden, unplanned pregnancy. Or if someone ODs on energy drinks.”
“You forgot the onset of an eating disorder,” she jokes.
Word Count: 60K
7-Word Description of Main Character: Can love camouflage her middle class flaws?
hear the library humming in the night
Nestled between a knee-high bookcase and a papasan chair, rested my favorite flower, and next to its pot, my favorite machine.
Whenever the electronic-censored watering system detected dry soil, it pumped water from the three-gallon reservoir to my thirsty plant.
I built it myself. It was also the first thing I always checked.
While leaning over the mechanism, cheek half-pressed against the windowpane, the door hinges squeaked behind me.
I knew Mallow had entered without looking at all. Not because Gigi had a hard time with the stairs in my sunroom—in fact, she often hopped in on one leg just to terrify our mother—but because Gigi would’ve spoken. Mallow stayed quiet.
“Was this a mistake?” I asked, my back to him.
“No,” he said simply.
“Can I trust you then?”
A pause met me before his answer. “I don’t know.”
I finished checking my machine before I stepped back and into Mallow’s chest. He steadied me. His hands on my bare shoulders. His grip pressing in, protective. “Kalina…”
When his coarse breath met my neck, I forced myself to shift away. Still, I couldn’t convince myself to face him.
I’d come into my sunroom for privacy, to clear my head, to sort out all the craziness. Not to add to the mess.
Mallow, however, seemed unaffected while he moseyed around my sunroom, drifting this way and that. He walked past the gardenias and the ivy and daffodils. Once, he whistled low and soft.
“This is…beautiful,” he said. “You’re not missing a single flower.”
Word Count: 80K
Genre: Speculative Fiction
7-Word Description of Main Character: Botanist enters alternate reality, brings home monsters
This being human is a guest house
”You can trust me and Sable. That’s it. And this.” He motioned the kitchen in a grand gesture.
Wren chewed the inside of her cheek in thought. Hale’s words were a good reminder. Distrust everyone. This had been the unofficial motto she lived by, after she had learned the hard way that humanity’s capacity for cruelty was only surpassed by the ease of its betrayal. She had grown too comfortable with Lucas too quickly, when she didn’t truly know anything about him. Perhaps his decision to vouch for her was intended to gain her trust in some way, to use her for some purpose she was too ignorant to conceive of. So she would trust nobody but Sable and Hale. She looked at Hale, leaning against the countertop with an easy arrogance. Her new ”family,” could have ulterior motives for helping her, as well. So she would trust nobody, she amended.
”You’re right,” she said sweetly. “I’m lucky to have you and Sable. There’s much I don’t understand about this place.”
”That’s all right,” Hale said, brightening, pulling two stools up to the counter. “We’re here to teach you.”
Wren sat, donning the guise of a wide-eyed and pliable pupil. But as Hale began to talk, she found herself growing into her charade, fascinated by what he told her.
”Our understanding of the Gifted is limited, because each guild is secretive about their own power. Kasper made you drink the binding wine, yes?”
Wren touched her lips, shivering with the memory of her mouth and throat sealing shut.
Word Count: 93K
7-Word Description of Main Character: A murder. A secret. A magic cupcake.
Hope is the thing with feathers
“What are you doing? Eddy said you were acting weird,” they whispered in French.
“Getting information.” I took a breath. “I’ll have a full map for us before the end of the day. We’re getting out of here.”
Sunny blinked. “Seriously?”
I nodded. “Watch my back, will you?”
“Okay.” They nodded back. “I’ll come with you. Play look out.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I think I do.”
“All right.” I pointed my chin toward the re-education wing. “Let’s go.”
Sunny followed me down the tunnel. There was no one down here right now, and the patrol wouldn’t come through for another twenty minutes. Now that I was in front of the wall with the hidden door, it was easy to see how I’d missed it. There was no reason for anyone to come all the way back here. It wasn’t even a good place to hide out.
I tapped into the cameras as quickly as I could and set them back to loop.
I went over the wall, tapping into the HUD lens settings to get to the infrared. Which made it infinitely easier to find the keypad.
“Their tech is so out of date. I could hack this with a paperclip.”
Sunny snorted. “No big surprise there. They count on us not having access to anything.”
“Very true.” I broke into the keypad, which popped open the hidden door. A section of cinderblock that pushed back and then slid into a slot.
Word Count: 73K
Genre: Speculative Thriller
7-Word Description of Main Character: Bisexual, girl scout, spy, pilot, devoted daughter.