Wordy Wednesday (“Masquerade”)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another piece that I wrote towards the end of my junior year of high school. It was for the Enemy Contest on Figment, which I had the humungous honor of winning. Later on, I also used it as part of my senior writing portfolio for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which received an honorable mention. (Basically, I have a thousand and one reasons to love this short story.)

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I didn’t always know Will Orson. In fact, we didn’t even meet until the fifth grade, and even then we were only classmates, not friends. But it felt natural, like we had always been close, always been that close, when, without a word, he slid into the booth beside me at lunch that day in the middle of February of freshman year.

Sarah and Kimberly, on the other side of the booth, stared at him. Will Orson wasn’t popular—I won’t go as far as to say that—but he definitely was not of our social type. There was a reason we were the only three at our table.

“Um, hi?” Sarah squinted at him through her mile-thick glasses.

“Hey.” Will smiled easily at her. “Do you like tuna fish?” He dropped a brown paper bag on the table in front of him and took out a sandwich.

I scrunched up my nose and, without thinking, said, “How’s this. I buy you a slice of pizza and you take that thing as far away from here as humanly possible.”

And, just like that, Will Orson became my best friend.

It’s funny to think about that now, how companionship came so easily between us, as I stare at him through the holes in my masquerade mask, eyes wide and hands raised as far as they will go in a gesture of defeat. The frown on his face, reaching all the way to his forehead, where his skin puckers into solid creases of wear and anger, seems so unlike him. I know he doesn’t recognize me. If he did, he would put the gun down.

Wouldn’t he?

I didn’t know it would be him, or I never would have accepted this assignment. Ms. Bradson said it was an easy counterintelligence mission. All I had to do was attend the Lincoln Masquerade Ball and make sure nobody took a shot at any of our delegates. She could’ve sent me to scout out the jewel heist in Alaska instead, so I should be thankful. At least this way I got to stay in the city and I didn’t have to miss any school.

My mind continues to whirl as Will and I stare at each other, unblinking. If only his mask hadn’t slipped off during the tango, I never would have realized it was him.

He still doesn’t know it’s me.

My face is hidden behind a cardboard mask and I have a chocolate brown wig on. It’s the same color as his hair. I remember thinking about that when I picked the wig out this afternoon, because I love Will’s hair. It’s probably his best feature. Either that or his eyes.

I still can’t believe I missed it before now. That Will Orson works for Cambridge. I should’ve known. And he should’ve known that I was with the government.

Taking a threatening step towards me, he switches the safety off on his gun.

Will.”

I don’t know what makes me say it, but I do, and he stops. His eyes widen and his mouth drops. I can hear the party continuing, just on the other side of the ballroom door, and it’s so strange to think that it all might be over in a second. The moment they hear the gunshot, the secret service will surely escort everyone to safety. But it’ll be too late for me.

“How do you know my name? Who’s your source?”

I don’t respond right away, biting my lip instead to keep back the tears. Suddenly that jewel heist assignment is looking better and better.

With a yell, he crosses the space between us and puts his hand to my throat. I feel the air leave my lungs and I struggle for breath. Red hot needles of pain shoot across my neck as his nails dig deeper into my skin. My hands drop to my sides. I can feel my pulse beating haphazardly and after a moment spots appear before my eyes.

I never knew Will was capable of doing things like this. Of having rage, and power, and being dangerous. He was the cute boy on the soccer team. He was the closet geek who chose me, out of everyone at Ridgeview High, to sit with at lunch that day in February. He was my best friend.

“Will…” I struggle to say again. I don’t fight back. Every nerve in my body tells me to, to kick out or punch him in the face or something, but I refuse to. He’s bigger, stronger than I am. And I could never hurt him, even if it means sacrificing myself in the process.

“Tell me your source!”

“Will, please…” I finally can’t help it, and reach up, trying to pry his fingers from my throat. “You’re Will Orson. You’re a senior at Ridgeview High School in upper Manhattan and you’re the captain of the varsity soccer team.”

Instead of his grip loosening like I hope it will, he tightens his hold on my throat and my larynx feels like it’s going to explode.

I can barely see or feel anything, there’s so little oxygen in my body, but I notice that he’s no longer angry. Instead, he’s scared.

“How much do you know about me?” His voice shakes.

“Please, Will…” I try to say, but I can’t get out any sound. I mouth the words, “Charlotte Tyler,” and his hold tightens even further. I can hear choking sounds escaping from my mouth, but I’m not aware of making them.

“You know about Charlotte?! Don’t you dare hurt her!” he screeches, moving so that his face is inches from mine.

My mind is growing fuzzy, but I still manage to form one last sentence, “Why do you work for Cambridge?”

“Why?” he laughs. “So I don’t have to put up with creeps like you.”

It’s at that point that, with my last ounce of energy, I reach up and, against my better judgment, pull off the mask. He doesn’t recognize me for a second, in the lowlight of the hallway and with my wig still on, but then his hand disappears from my throat and he stumbles backwards in one solid movement.

“No…” he whispers, and then yells it, “No!”

I’m choking. Gagging. On my knees, trying desperately to swallow down air. The music stops on the other side of the door. They’ve heard us. They know, finally, that something is going on.

“Charlotte, why? Why do you work for the government?” he stutters out. Repeating back my question, only changed. Different, somehow.

“I thought it was to save people like you,” I manage. “But I guess I was wrong.”

All I can think about is that day in the cafeteria. The way he smiled at me. He doesn’t look like the Will Orson I know, now. He looks scared; like a rabid dog.

“It’s corrupt!” he shouts.

“Funny to hear that coming from a terrorist.”

“Charlotte.” For a second, he looks like maybe he’ll kiss me, but instead he picks up the gun from where he dropped it, hands shaking, and takes aim.

I didn’t always know Will Orson. Maybe I never really knew him at all.

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17

~Julia

PS. I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep at all for the next week and a half, between last minute projects and studying for my finals. Somebody please save me.

Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference NOTES, Part 3”)

More notes today! 🙂 These are going to be on pitching and agents.

FRIDAY:

Pitch Perfect by Chuck Sambuchino

 

  • When pitching to an agent at, say, a writing conference, your pitch should be memorized and you should aim for a 60 to 90 second pitch (preferably closer to 60).
  • DO NOT REVEAL THE ENDING IN YOUR PITCH/QUERY LETTER. If you reveal the ending, the agent won’t have a reason to read your story.
  • Do anything you can to cut down on confusion in your query.
  • Make sure you share the following:
  1. Genre
  2. Title
  3. Word count
  4. Complete or not
  • Logline: Your story in one sentence. Introduce main characters, introduce something interesting or wanted by your main characters, share your inciting incident – what propels your story into motion, what happens if there’s a mistake, complications in your story (what bad stuff happens), and leave off with an unclear wrap up (end where you’re comfortable and don’t give away the ending). Extra credit for including your MC’s character arc.
  • Avoid generalities, phrases like “highs and lows,” “ups and downs,” “life gets turned upside down,” etc. Be specific; there’s a difference between a secret and a generality.
  • Only use names that are absolutely necessary and skip subplots.
  • Bring an emotion to the pitch – make the agent feel something (but not like, “Gosh, somebody get this buffoon out of my face already!! *aaaanger*).
  • Don’t talk about yourself unless necessary (unless, you know, you’re querying a memoir)

 

 

SATURDAY:

Panel: Ask the Agents by Chuck Sambuchino (moderator), Mary Kole, Diana Fox, April Eberhardt, and John Willig

 

  • Publishing house editors don’t do a lot to edit your work anymore, sometimes, so you have to edit with your agent; the agent’s role is increasing in scope in the publishing industry.
  • You have to remember when querying an agent that although you’re only pitching one novel, if that agent signs you, you’ll ultimately be working with him/her on MANY novels.
  • An agent is like a Sherpa.
  • Make sure that your query letter is perfect. If the writing in the query letter isn’t good, the agent will assume that your book won’t be good either, and they’ll reject you based on that assumption.
  • Don’t get too excited over partial requests. If your writing is at all decent, you’re going to get a bunch of them, and you’re still very likely to get rejected off of those.
  • The biggest reason for a novel to get rejected after a partial is because the story doesn’t have a good hook or gets sloppy after a while.
  • If an agent suggests edits, you should take them – even if you haven’t signed a contract yet, the agent wants to see how well you can work with them.
  • Agents look for high-quality writing and good pacing, and pacing counts double in kid lit because kids aren’t going to keep reading something if it bores them. Make sure your voice rings true.
  • Platform is a built-in audience for your book, but it’s not entirely necessary in fiction.
  • Agents are looking for writers who can be partners in getting a quality book out in the market
  • Self-publishing is okay – you can still get an agent – but you need to really good sales on your self-published book, then. At least a thousand copies, hopefully more.
  • The odds are stacked against debut authors; it’s very difficult to break into the industry.
  • Marketing is especially important for author-illustrators.
  • Generally, narrative nonfiction and memoir are represented by fiction agents rather than nonfiction, because although they’re about real life, they read like fiction.
  • Sometimes it’s good to have an agent even when you’re self-publishing, because even then they can act as your guide.
  • There’s a lot of blending of roles these days between agent and editor.
  • If one agent passes from an agency, the entire agency is a pass.
  • When doing a partial request, always start with the beginning of your book and go from there – don’t be like, “Oh, you want to see fifty pages? Here, let’s go from page 73 to 123!” (Because then you’ll look really stupid.)
  • When establishing your platform with children’s books, make your target audience the parents, not the children, unless you write YA – teenagers are on the internet. Five year olds whose parents read them bedtime stories are not.
  • If you have a nagging feeling about editing something before you send it to an agent, do it. Even if it’s a lot of work.
  • When you are sick to death of your novel and don’t think you can revise it one more time, put it away for two months. Do something else, generate new ideas, and then go back to it – edit it ONE MORE TIME – and then it’ll be ready.
  • When you write multiple genres (like women’s fiction and thrillers, or something), you might need multiple agents to represent all of those, but make sure that all of your agents know about each other and are constantly updated on what’s going on between them. However, if you sign with an agent who represents all of those different genres, they’ll automatically expect to represent all of your projects in those genres.
  • While you can’t copyright an idea, you can trademark a logline, chapter header, hook, etc. Check out: www.legalzoom.com
  • Agents do general marketing, but if you’re blogging – market that. That’s your marketing.
  • In YA, there are different levels of edginess, and there are agents and editors for all of those different levels. The key is finding the agent and editor who like the level that you’re writing at.
  • Don’t follow the market. Be yourself. Don’t be edgy for the sake of being edgy.
  • The biggest reason for parting with an agent is a lack of enthusiasm for a project.
  • Remember that there’s a difference between an agent screwing your career and not being able to sell your book. Sometimes the market’s just not right for your project and, despite the agent’s best efforts, nobody’s buying.

Be on a look out for even more notes from the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, coming this weekend!

Oh, and guess who just found out last night that she won stuff from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards?? YEEEEY!! 😀 I got silver keys for my short story “Touch” and memoir “I Am,” and an honorable mention for my senior writing portfolio (which contained lots of different types of pieces).

~Julia