ABNA - Happy Relief

Finally! Amazon updated the ABNA page on their web site today, and my pitch for Urban Mythos enabled me to reach the second round. You can find the complete list of the YA entries that made the second round on the ABNA page. So, now I'm one of 1000 YA novels whose excerpts will be critiqued and scored by Amazon editors and at least one Amazon top reviewer. I'm not sure if the YA group had completely filled up to the 10,000 entries that were permitted, although the General Fiction group had.

So now I wait until March 22nd, when Amazon announces the Quarter-Finalists. Big shout-outs and congrats to my fellow writing buddies Kate Larkindale, Louisa Clarkson, and Tamara Heiner (and hubby) who also made the cut!

Here's the pitch that got me into the second round.

Sixteen-year-old Zydeco Hill uncovers a plot to capture former mythological creatures and expel them to a barren world filled with hungry beasts. Two years since his own transformation from griffin to human, he's been attending clandestine meetings of the city's ex-mythological creatures. When the police raid one such meeting, he discovers the conspiracy goes all the way up to the mayor's office.

As other mythos vanish from the city's streets, the deputy mayor demands Zydeco turn in Octavio, the missing leader of their kind. His initial resistance causes the disappearance of both his stepmother and best friend, and it won't be long before they're served up as chimera-chow. While trying to keep the mythological truth from the girl he adores, Zydeco must rescue his friends and step-mom. Along the way, he unearths critical information about an even larger conspiracy to rid the world of his brethren, but he needs Octavio's help to put it to use. The only problem is he has no idea where the guy is hiding.

At 80,000 words, Urban Mythos is a young adult urban fantasy novel that blends action and romance while dealing with issues of trust and assimilation. It will appeal to readers who enjoy the distinctive voice and humor of S.G. Browne's Breathers: A Zombie's Lament and Catherine Jinks' The Reformed Vampire Support Group.

Maybe I can breathe now and get back to Ghost Fishing.


Melancholy Music

It was a very strange weekend. My daughter had her guitar lesson at 1pm on Saturday. Rachel has played guitar for about 18 months and as it turns out, is kind of a natural. In fact, music is really her thing. She plays flute, tried out and made jazz band in 6th grade (not all that common for 6th graders to make it), has written and performed her own songs on both guitar and keyboard, took voice lessons a couple of years ago and stood up in front of a packed restaurant to sing. It blows my mind, because she's always been an exceedingly shy child. But music is her way of connecting.

The elementary school band teacher was her guitar teacher for the eighteen months leading up to early January. After a while I noticed she was floundering a bit, and not as enraptured with her guitar. I felt strongly that she needed to be in a situation where she might perform in an ensemble. She needed to be pushed in order to get to the next level. The community newspaper had an article about a place nearby called the Academy of Modern Music, in which they had exactly what I thought Rachel needed. Private lessons as well as ensemble performances.

I spoke with Pat Cerello, the guy who ran the Academy, and subsequently brought Rachel over one Saturday to get a feel for the place. He spent fifteen minutes listening to my shy girl play and said she wasn't quite ready for ensemble work, but he'd be glad to take her on in private lessons. We decided to go for it, and believe me, it wasn't an easy decision because Rachel was extremely attached to her current guitar teacher, who'd also been her elementary school band teacher the previous couple of years. The transition from elementary school to middle school isn't always easy, and this, for Rachel, was one more break. Still, she really wanted to do this and was excited at the prospects of working with Pat.

Her lessons started six weeks ago, and I was amazed at how quickly he got Rachel playing more advanced music. He focused and challenged her in an extremely short period of time. The guy was full of great stories, having played with a huge number of people over the years, while also teaching music at NYU and here in New Jersey. My daughter remarked that he was giving her a ton of hard stuff to work on and that she was enjoying it a great deal. By the second week of lessons, Pat told me she was much farther along than he'd realized and began to challenge her even more.

This past Saturday, we arrived at the music school to find a hastily scribbled note on the door that said lessons were cancelled indefinitely. While we stared dumbfounded at the sign, a man walked up the street and asked us if we were there for lessons with Pat. When we replied that we were, he told us that unfortunately Pat had passed away earlier in the week (the Monday after Valentine's Day). Despite being only 56 years of age and in good health, he'd had a massive heart attack, and left behind his wife and two daughters.

This man, Pat's landlord and friend for many years told us that the family was going to continue on with the music school -- Pat had many friends who would take over lessons -- and that they hoped people would stay with them.

Rachel and I stared at each other, completely at a loss. We'd only known Pat for six weeks, and then, for only about 30 minutes or so each week. But the loss struck hard for some reason. I feel awful for his family, and for his friends and students who had come to rely on this talented musician and teacher.

While working with her on a Taylor Swift song (Taylor Swift is my daughter's idol), he would always try to get Rachel to sing because he didn't feel like he could carry off the nineteen-year-old girl voice. He was teaching my daughter bar chords and and explained that while Taylor Swift would play certain chords, she needed other musicians in her band to play slightly different chords. He asked her to consider what would happen if Taylor Swift hired the two of them for her band. Then he paused, and said that, well, Taylor Swift was more likely to hire Rachel for her band. Pat's wife called from the front desk, "You got that right!".

He made Rachel giggle. He made her laugh. He challenged her. Pat made her a better musician in an extremely short time -- too brief a time. The suddenness of Pat's passing shocks me even now. He'll be missed. My deepest sympathies to his family and his many friends.


The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Tom Petty had it right. ABNA judging is underway, and all I can do is wait. Thousands of entrants with just a pitch to differentiate us all. It'll be another couple of weeks until I find out if I make the first cut, which I haven't done before. Of course those previous tries were with a different book.

Meanwhile, I soldier on. I've been spending a lot of time reading and critiquing the revisions on Alex Lidell's terrific YA fantasy, Service of the Crown. It's on the slate to be published by Dial Books, and was a finalist in last year's ABNA. She's done a great job with these changes. When this book comes out - buy it! Hmm. Now I need to find out exactly when it will be coming out.

While that's going on, I'm plugging along on Ghost Fishing, my middle grade adventure. I just finished writing the chapter in which the protagonist encounters a somewhat grumpy chimpanzee poet who wears a suit and fedora. The next chapter is going to be fun to write because I get to introduce the antagonist and some spooky bits. And then it's on to the next location. I've got a bad feeling, though, that my word count is going to be completely over the top for middle grade. Ah, well. I'll deal with that during revisions. For now, the words must fly.

And I've been getting to know my Nook Color quite a bit more. I bought a couple of eBooks from Borders on New Years' Day - they had a big sale - $5 books. And yes, you can buy an ebook for the Nook from everyone but Amazon. But I haven't read them yet, because all the eBooks I reserved at my local library suddenly became available. I was bombarded with eMails listing all the eBooks I initially reserved because, well, I wanted to read something. But I've read The Hobbit and The Stand too many times to count, so I let those reservations expire. However, Seth Grahame-Smith's, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter was a total blast. And now I'm in the middle of Sara Gruen's, Ape House, which is equally terrific, albeit for entirely different reasons.

Did I mention that the Nook Color is the best-selling item in Barnes & Noble's nearly 40 year history?

Back to waiting!


Ice and Other Life Moments

Two days of snow, slush and now.... ice.  Schools were closed today - a very good idea - and I wound up working from home because the driveway was under an inch of ice. I worked from home yesterday because the storm which began yesterday left accidents all over New Jersey, making it extremely hard to get out of my neighborhood.

The groundhog did not see it's shadow, so they tell us we're not getting six more weeks of winter. Somebody might want to tell the meteorologists about that. Oh, I'm sorry they already know, but they're predicting more nastiness for Saturday.

Still, I know spring and summer will be here soon enough, and I'll be complaining about how hot it is. Life is like that. Cold one moment and warm the next.

We're heading to my wife's uncle's funeral on Friday, which is sad enough. On top of that, the father of my childhood best friend (and later on my best man), passed away suddenly yesterday. His funeral is on Thursday, but I won't be able to make it. I'll probably pay a visit on Saturday.  All this brings back painful memories of when my own father passed away six years ago.

Work has been as stressful as I've ever known in my life. The f-bomb has escaped my mouth quite a few times over the last couple of weeks. But in the end, real life and death puts it all in perspective. When my daughter plays her flute or guitar in the living room while I'm working nearby, instead of wishing she'd keep it down, I'm loving every note. Every note.

Life is short. Savor every moment.