Thursday, January 29, 2015

MUSINGS OF A FRUSTRATED CHILDREN'S BOOK AUTHOR

I haven't posted in a while, mostly because I've been so busy getting my new book ready. THE CRYSTAL KEEPER will be released in print and ebook formats on February 9th.

In the meantime, I've been thinking a lot about writing, and publishing, and why I feel so compelled to keep going despite so many setbacks and failures. Over the past eight years since I started writing fiction and trying to get my books published, I've discovered that the universe of children's books is vast, and it is only getting bigger. There are just SO MANY books out there! And more are published every single day!

In other words, competition is fierce. I don't mean children's books authors are competitive or mean to each other. Quite the contrary. In fact, being a writer of children's books means you are part of a wonderfully supportive and encouraging family.

But...

With so many thousands of writers all vying to get their work in front of agents and editors, the odds of landing that dream deal with one of the Big 5 publishing houses feels a lot like winning the lottery. I have many friends who have been so lucky (and I don't think lucky is quite the right word, but who knows) and I used to think there was room for every good writer at the top, or at least somewhere in the middle.

I don't think that anymore.

Why not? Well, it's pretty simple. I've written a lot books. In eight years I've submitted six novels to well over 300 agents and editors. To date, I've had three "Yes"s. And "yes"s are good! But they represent about a 99% failure rate. And yet I've been very fortunate to have three books published with small presses, and my experiences with them has been very positive.

But let me be frank--for the majority of us, there is little money to be made in writing children's books. Unless you are fortunate enough to land a deal with one of the top traditional publishers via an agent, it is very likely going to cost you money to be an author. Sales are often dismal, royalties even more so, and promoting takes a lot of time and money. You can promote by visiting schools, but many school either can't afford to pay for author visits or are understandably only willing to pay for the big names.

The whole thing can be pretty discouraging.

Of course, now there is the whole self-publishing thing, which provides more control over the final book and greater potential for higher earnings--but the reality is self-publishing a book for middle grade readers runs into the same problems mentioned above, but on an even greater scale. Let's face it. Most kids are exposed to books through their schools Scholastic book fliers, and only a very, very minute percentage of books published end up in those, and those are usually titles written by famous authors or that have already proven themselves in the market.

MIDDLE SHELF MAGAZINE, the publication I work for, is trying to change that. We are doing our best to seek out great books for kids no matter who wrote or published them. We review books published by Random House, Holiday House, Candlewick, Tanglewood, and dozens of other large and small presses. We also include select independent titles. The goal is to help more kids discover the vast wealth of amazing books out there, books that are probably never going to end up in the Scholastic fliers or become mega-hits, but are really worth reading.

As a writer, this gives me hope, for myself and for my fellow writers. The whole point in writing a book is for people to read it, right? And how will anyone be able to read it if they never hear about it? Promotion and marketing are key. Promoting books to kids is always a challenge. They are dependent upon the adults in their lives to put those books in their hands--teachers, librarians, parents--it is our responsibility and privilege to introduce our kids to a variety of books to read, which means we need to know what's out there, what books are being published, and which ones will appeal to our kids.


Of course there the usual resources such as Publisher's Weekly, The Horn Book, and School Library Journal, but these cost money. Fortunately, there are several really great FREE resources for adults and kids to find new books. These are also great venues for authors of kids books to advertise and promote their books as well.

1.  MIDDLE SHELF MAGAZINE

Middle Shelf Magazine launched in 2013 and is published bi-monthly. Each issue includes interviews with award-winning and debut authors, book reviews, spotlights, and features on different themes, fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, illustration, and poetry. The full-color magazine is electronic, but designed to read just like a print magazine, so kids can flip through every page. The best part is that subscriptions are free and are delivered directly to your inbox.

2.  CHILDREN'S BOOK REVIEWS
The Childrens Book Review

This incredible resource posts daily reviews and spotlights of books for children of all ages. They have an extensive list of recommended books, plus author interviews and regular giveaways. 

3.  MIDDLE GRADE MANIA

Middle Grade Mania is an online directory of blogs that regularly post about books for middle grade readers (ages 8 - 14). Well over 200 blogs are listed with links to each, and these blogs post book reviews, author interviews, excerpts and giveaways.  The list is updated every few months, and samples from participating blogs are posted frequently.

4.  THE CYBILS
Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards 
"The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious." - The website is a great place to spot nominated titles for a particular year. Finalists and winners are a good bet.

Monday, January 19, 2015

BOLLYWOOD STYLE GIVEAWAY!!!

Romance and Intrigue: Bollywood Style Giveaway
Something Bollywood Going On Here
Sonali Dev and Susan Kaye Quinn met in a most unusual place: Library Journal's Top 10 E-Romance List for 2014. Sonali's A Bollywood Affair and Susan's Third Daughter both made the list with their Bollywood-themed romances - something that was so cool, it cried out to be celebrated!
Scroll down to win some great Bollywood-themed prizes!
Contemporary and Steampunk Bollywood Romance
A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
Mili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years—not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. Her grandmother has even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be—if her husband would just come and claim her.
Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a na├»ve village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life—cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie.
The Third Daughter of the Queen wants to her birthday to arrive so she'll be free to marry for love, but rumors of a new flying weapon may force her to accept a barbarian prince's proposal for a peace-brokering marriage. Desperate to marry the charming courtesan she loves, Aniri agrees to the prince's proposal as a subterfuge in order to spy on him, find the weapon, and hopefully avoid both war and an arranged marriage to a man she does not love.
Third Daughter is the first book in the Dharian Affairs Trilogy (Third Daughter, Second Daughter, First Daughter). This steampunk-goes-to-Bollywood (Bollypunk!) romance takes place in an east-indian-flavored alternate world filled with skyships, saber duels, and lots of royal intrigue. And, of course, kissing.
~*~
Romance and Intrigue: Bollywood Style
This short Q&A with Sonali and Susan talks about marrying for love and writing romance!
 
Q: Marrying for love is a modern, and in some ways Western, concept, but arranged marriages have a long and complicated history. How does your novel tackle the subject of arranged marriage?
 
Sue: Third Daughter is set in a fantasy world, but it’s a blend of cultures in the real one, including being an analog to India (both current day and some of the past). In the Dharian Affairs world, royal marriages have a history of being arranged for political purposes, but the general population of the countries marry for love. This leaves the titular Daughters with varying conflicts between marrying for duty and marrying for love – some embracing their arranged marriages, some fighting against it. The marriage dynamics of the three daughters in the trilogy (Third Daughter, Second Daughter, First Daughter) drive much of the story – along with political intrigue and skyships, of course!


Sonali: In India where I grew up arranged marriages are still very much a part of the fabric of the culture. Having said that, one of the most interesting and unique things about Indian society is how diverse it is within itself. While you still have communities and families who will give the marrying person absolutely no say in whom they marry there are those who don't believe their parents and families have any say when it comes to whom they choose to marry or live with, and then there is the rest of the sizable population who falls somewhere between those two belief systems. In A Bollywood Affair, Mili is from a tiny village from a very orthodox family and it is perfectly natural that her family would arrange her marriage. She would expect that. It wouldn't even strike a girl from her background that she could choose for herself. The age at which she was married isn't usual, though, but there is a reason why her grandmother gets her married that young. As for her being in love with her husband, again, the conditioning to be devoted to your husband is so ingrained in the culture that it would be strange if someone like Mili didn't love someone she believed was her husband.


Q: Whether set in a fantasy world or the modern one, romance is romance! There are many romance tropes – star-crossed lovers, lovers thrown together by circumstance, enemies turned lovers – what kind(s) of romance tropes does your novel contain?
 
Sue: My books are really a blend of romance and adventure, although the first book is a classic “lovers thrown together by circumstance” as Aniri (the Third Daughter) goes undercover in accepting a marriage proposal from the barbarian prince in the north in order to spy on him and determine if his country truly has the rumored flying machine that would upend the political dynamics in both their countries.
Sonali: Although I didn't set out to write it that way, several readers have pointed out that A Bollywood Affair is a Worldly Rake and an Ingenue Virgin trope. And now that I think about it, there's truth to that.
Q: Are you planning on writing more romances in this story-world? If so, tell us about it!
 
Sue: The Dharian Affairs trilogy is complete, but I’ve enjoyed writing in this east-Indian steampunk fantasy romance world so much, I’ve decided to do a follow-on trilogy from the point of view of a new character—a female tinker who has a grand invention that may change the world, but also is caught between the spy she might love and the spy she can’t resist. Those books likely won’t be written for a year or two, but I will cycle back to writing in this world in the future!


Sonali: The Bollywood Bride comes out next year and it's the story of a Bollywood star who comes home to Chicago after ten years to escape a scandal in Mumbai and comes face to face with the man she betrayed for stardom. And then there are two more stories I'm working on in the same series. Which isn't a series in terms of continuity or overlapping characters but because the stories are set in the same world and either the hero or the heroine work in Bollywood. 
~*~
WIN BOLLYWOOD PRIZES
Paperback of Third Daughter (The Dharian Affairs #1)
The Dharian Affairs Trilogy in Ebook
2 Paperback copies of A Bollywood Affair 
Handwoven Pashmina shawl from India
Sticker Henna Tattoos
Indian bangles (bracelets)
(all physical prizes are US ONLY; ebook is INTERNATIONAL)

Monday, January 12, 2015

TIPS ABOUT AUTHONOMY

I recently put my novel MEMORABLE up on Authonomy, a share site hosted by HarperCollins where authors can post their books to receive feedback from readers and have a shot at getting noticed. After I posted it, one of my friends, who has asked to remain anonymous, gave me some useful advice that I thought might be helpful to some of you interested in the site as well.

In truth, after reading her advice, I've decided to take my book down for the simple reason that I don't have time to read a lot of other people's books (outside of my job with the magazine) nor am I interested in playing a game of favoritism. But in case any of you want a chance to read my book for free, I will leave it up for another week or two. Thanks!


1.  Upload the best book you can present. In general I would tell any participant, clean up absolutely as many typos and little picky mistakes you (and a couple trusted reviewers) can find before putting up any part of it. And don't just write blindly and throw it up there. Learn a little about the craft first. The book doesn't have to be publication ready in order for you to get something valuable out of the site, but take pride in it anyway. Put your best foot forward as a writer.

2.  Be humble. Approach the site as a learning opportunity, not a way to get a publishing contract. Ask for constructive feedback and take it gracefully, applying the best of it to your work with the idea of making the story better. ALWAYS respond to any reviews you receive with gratitude and a willingness to make changes, even if all you can say is, "I'm going to give your suggestions some serious thought before deciding which way to go." Then go in and MAKE your changes as soon as possible, so that you don't come across as only paying the reviewer lip service. I might even go so far as to let the reviewer know what I changed according to their advice and if appropriate invite them to take another look at that section to see if it works better for them now. I don't get the impression that many members go this far. To my mind, however, it serves to validate the contribution of the reviewer and lets them feel that you think they are really helping you. Which, if you follow my personal Golden Rule—Sincerely CARE About People—they are. Because you have taken these extra steps, no one can accuse you of being disingenuous. Furthermore remember, do not take the critique personally. If the reviewer is doing his or her job right, then this is not about YOU. It's about what someone thinks you might do to make your story better. You don't have to listen to that person, but don't shoot the messenger.

3.  Support others. Take the time to read and review as many books (or excerpts) as you can, offering positive comments first and then gently suggesting where you think something might be improved. Keep your comments professional and impartial. Remember to critique the book, not the author. Do not expect a response. Give freely and expect nothing in return. That way you avoid feeling like someone owes you something, which breeds resentment.

4. Network. Create a genuine positive presence on the site by participating per #3 but more importantly, become active on the forums. That is how you make real connections with people who will then want to support you. Notice I did not say "support your book". That actually seems a secondary motivation for many members. The proof is that, at least before the revamp, the books that made it to the Editor's Desk were not necessarily the best the site had to offer at that moment, nor it would seem did the review process do enough to eliminate major flaws within some of the manuscripts that made it to the top. So one must conclude that ultimately this is (or was) a popularity contest to some extent. How does a person become "popular"? By applying 1-3, and also by Playing Nice on the forums, such that people come to respect and support you and therefore your work. Again, my Golden Rule is critical here. It's easy to get people to care about you when you Sincerely Care About Them. (And likely, since you actually CARE about people, you will enjoy the contacts, if nothing else.) And of course, the reverse is true. One can ruin one's chances by earning a reputation as an arrogant a**. And finally, remember to respond professionally, with grace and courtesy, ALWAYS. Once an online reputation is tarnished, it's hard to get back the golden one.

5.  Don't allow Puppets. A "sock puppet" is strictly in violation of the rules. It means this: A participant is not supposed to have more than one account. Some people apparently sign on with different names and then promote their own book "anonymously". A "meat puppet" is not against the rules; right in their FAQs (unless they have changed them with this revamp) Authonomy encourages members to invite friends and family to sign on and support their book, but DON'T. It's tempting to have people you know create an account, put only your book on their shelf and give you a high star ranking. Then nine times out of ten these people sign off, never to return. They don't participate in the site at all. They are only there to support YOUR book, and no one else's. The community does not respect that. And really, if someone just creates an account to put your book on their shelf and never comes back, that does you little good anyway. For the most part, stick with earning real support the long and tedious way from active Authonomy members. 

6.  Don't invest your time and energy with the hope or expectation that Authonomy will publish your book. Use it as a learning experience and a way to get feedback to make your work better. If anything else comes of it, BONUS!

Friday, January 9, 2015

BOOK BLAST: THE AWAKENING by Dorine White

Awakening


The Awakening by Dorine White Nightmares really do come true, and for fifteen-year-old Kyler Birkwood, they are just beginning. Raised on a farm by his Aunt Martha, Kyler has no clue about the magical heritage swimming through his blood. When he discovers evidence of a mythical creature, a terrifying beast thought only to exist in fairy tales, his safe world shatters. Left at a school of magic to hunt for clues, he is overwhelmed and disbelieved. As loved ones begin disappearing and Orcs roam the land, Kyler must undergo a journey that takes him from the High Courts of the King to the unknown forests of the East. His magic just awakening, Kyler is the lone hope for a world that will not listen. 

Purchase Your Copy


Praise for The Awakening:

"Dorine White delivers twists and turns to the plot that will keep you turning the pages." ~ Melanie Mason, author of the YA historical, The Line That Divides

"The Awakening is a clever blend of folklore and fantasy, perfect for fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. A furiously fun read!" ~ Laurisa Reyes

Author of the YA thriller, Contact   Author Dorine White My name is Dorine White. I am a children's fantasy author and a book reviewer. I grew up back East in Maryland and attended BYU in Utah. I have a BA in Humanities with an interest in Art History and French. Currently I live in the beautiful, yet rainy Northwest with my husband and 6 children. My first novel was published in 2012 and is the beginning of the Cleopatra's Legacy series. The first two books are out, The Emerald Ring and The Ruby Pendant. Look for the third book, The Diamond Looking Glass in the summer of 2015.
 

  25_Amazon_Paypal 
$25 Blog Tour Giveaway Enter to win an Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash Ends 1/29/15 Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by readinglight.com. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

CAN'T PUT A PRICE ON THE PERFECT COVER


The blog Write Kids' Books posted her top 19 favorite indie children's/YA book covers for 2014. My friend, Julie Musil's THE BOY WHO LOVED FIRE made the list.  Check it out HERE.

Not too long ago I posted about the prevalence of poorly designed book covers for indie kidlit books. After one nasty response, I took it down, fearful of offending people.

But I've been thinking about this a lot lately. As most of you know, I am the Editor-in-Chief of Middle Shelf Magazine, a digital magazine about books for middle grade readers. The magazine boasts interviews with some of the top authors and cover artists in the industry, and many of the books we review and spotlight come from the best publishers, both small and big.

But not all.

I make an effort to include at least one, often more than one, indie title in each issue. When I say indie, I mean specifically books created and published by the author. I strongly support indie publishing and would love to see an explosion of indie books for kids.

But the #1 reason I pass on so many indie books is the cover design. Most of what comes across my desk literally stink. Even if the story is superb, I cannot include a bad cover in my magazine because that will bring down the overall appeal and quality of the magazine itself. Also, placing a bad cover alongside the slew of professionally designed covers only harms the indie book, highlighting the amateurish-ness of it and discouraging kids from wanting to buy it. No author wants that.

There are two places where indie authors really need to invest time and, yes,money:  cover design and professional editing (more on that in another post). My soon-to-be released fantasy series, THE CRYSTAL KEEPER, required three separate covers for the ebooks and a wrap around for the print. I hired Emma Michaels, who also designed the cover for CONTACT and other Hallowed Ink Titles.


I also recently discovered Joel Friedlander's blog, The Book Designer. He designs some amazing covers, too. And my sister-in-law hired Dale Pease to design the cover of THE AWAKENING.

So, if you are an indie kidlit author, I'd love to consider your book for Middle Shelf Magazine. But please make sure it has the perfect cover first (and a great story!!!).

Have you run across any indie covers that really knocked your socks off?








Tuesday, January 6, 2015

READ "MEMORABLE" FOR FREE


I just posted my novel, MEMORABLE, on Authonomy. You can read it for free, and I would greatly appreciate your honest reviews/ratings there. Might help it get noticed.  https://www.authonomy.com/book/293106/

SUMMARY: After being expelled for getting high at school, Ryan's parents condemn him to a year of homeschooling. He meets Penny, the bald girl next door, but she's got more important things than Ryan to worry about, like keeping an eye on her sometimes suicidal older brother, Brett.

Following a difficult Christmas with Brett in the hospital, Penny and Ryan become tentative friends. With her encouragement, Ryan signs up for BandMasterz, a local group of teen musicians who practice together for a month and then perform in a public concert. Brett, a BandMasterz veteran, teaches Ryan everything he knows about playing bass guitar. Just as Penny and Ryan's friendship transforms into something more, tragedy strikes, forcing them to ask questions for which there are no easy answers.



EXCERPT:



One pill. One stupid little pill, and for that Principal Knowlton calls the Sheriff’s station.

Okay. It was more like nine.

"We have a no tolerance policy at Middleton High," says Knowlton, tapping the eraser end of a pencil against his desk. "You knew that coming in, Ryan."

He's not going to have me arrested, he says, but I do have to answer some questions “in light of the situation.” I see the situation through the office window—paramedics wheeling Jenn out on a gurney, an oxygen mask pressed to her face.

My stomach lurches and I have to look away.

The shriek of the ambulance siren spikes adrenalin through me, making my heart pump like I’m running up hill. As the siren fades away, an officer comes in and introduces himself as Deputy Stratton. I have to tip my head way back to see his face. He’s big—like weight lifter big. When he glares down at me, I nearly puke.

“You’re Ryan?” he asks, sliding a small notebook and pen from his shirt pocket. “What’s your last name?”

“Rojas.”

“Speak up, son.”

“Rojas.” My voice squeaks, and I clear my throat to cover it up.

“So, your principal here tells me Jennifer Bonner passed out in Spanish class. Hit her head on a desk on the way down. That right?”

I nod stiffly. He asks my age, address, phone number and the names of my parents. I keep my eyes down while he scribbles it all in his notebook. I don’t want to look at him, and I sure as hell don’t want him looking at me.

The window blinds rattle when the office door opens again, admitting someone else into the room.

“I’m glad you made it,” says Knowlton, rising from his desk. “So sorry I had to call you under these circumstances. Deputy Stratton, this is Mrs. Rojas.”

I swear my blood freezes and my heartbeat skids to a stop. Mom glances at me before fixing her gaze on Knowlton, who acts like he’s consoling someone at a funeral instead of a concerned parent. He offers her a chair and she lowers herself into it, but she doesn’t say a word to me—not a word.
Mom is pretty cool about most things. She’s not what you’d call strict, but she does have her limits. She doesn’t like music or video games with cussing. She won’t tolerate tattoos or piercings. And she absolutely, positively hates tobacco, alcohol—and drugs.

 “What happened?” she asks.

Knowlton’s eyes skitter from her to me. “Go ahead, Ryan.”

Me? He wants me to tell her? I swallow hard and my face starts to burn.

“Ryan—” he says again.

“I, uh, I took some pills.” I lick my lips, but my tongue is dry as dust. “A girl took some, too.”
Deputy Stratton drops a plastic baggie with half a dozen red pills on the table. “Apparently, your son took at least three of these today.”

“What are they?” Mom asks.

 “Coricidin. Over-the-counter cold medicine,” says the Deputy. “The kids call them Triple C’s or Red Devils. They take them for their hallucinogenic effects.”

“I saw an ambulance. . .” says Mom.

Knowlton scratches at his temple. “Yes, well, one of our students is on her way to the ER.”

“I—I’m so sorry to hear that.” Mom picks up the baggie, fingering the tablets through the plastic. When she looks at me, her eyes narrow, peering into mine. My pupils are probably still dilated, but I force myself to meet her gaze. “How long has this been going on, Ryan?” she asks.

“I dunno," I mumble. "A couple weeks? A month?”

I'm burning up inside. I don't know if it’s the buzz or the fact that I want to melt right into the floor and disappear.

“Where did you get them?”

Here it comes—the part where they ask me to snitch on my friend. If I do, I’m damned for life. No one at Middleton will ever talk to me again. Ryan the Rat. That’s who I’ll be.

Knowlton eases himself back into his office chair and leans his elbows on the desk. Clasping his hands together, he gives me the look—the one adults use to try and guilt kids into doing the right thing.

“Listen, Ryan,” he says. “I know this is difficult for you. You’re worried about what your friends will think of you.”

No crap.

“But this is very serious. Yes, Jenn injured her head, but that’s not our biggest concern right now. An overdose of these pills can cause brain damage, even death.”

Death? I think of Jenn crumpling to the floor, the gash on her forehead leaking blood onto the carpet. What if—? No. Jenn won’t die—will she?

 “We both know you haven’t been the ideal Middleton student,” Knowlton continues, shooting an apologetic glance at Mom, “but I’m fairly certain you are not to blame for this. Tell Deputy Stratton who’s been handing these out on campus, and I will see to it that you and your parents will not be held responsible.”

Knowlton leans back in his chair and crosses his arms, waiting for me to speak. No.

To tell.

I’m no George Washington. I’ve lied before, mostly stupid stuff like saying I did my homework when I didn’t. But lately I’ve had more reasons to lie—telling Mom I was at Andrew’s house when I was at the park smoking weed, or that I broke my skateboard and threw it away when really I traded it for a couple of joints, one of which is still stashed in my underwear drawer at home along with a few more of the Triple C’s.

I could lie now, tell them I don’t know where Jenn got the stuff and that I got mine from her. But this is Jenn—the straight ‘A’, class president, nice to everyone Jenn. It’s not like we’re friends or anything, but she’s on her way to the hospital, and maybe she won’t ever go home again.

“Chris Segarra,” I say, dropping my gaze to the floor. “And he’s been dealing a lot more than cold medicine.” My guts clench and my throat tightens like it’s in a vise. Chris will be expelled for sure, maybe worse. If I’m lucky, no one will ever find out it was me who told. Maybe no one will care. But then I think of all the kids who buy from him. He’s got friends, teammates, a girlfriend. Who am I kidding?

I’m screwed.

The Deputy scrawls something in his notebook and puts it back in his pocket. I dare a glance at Mom. Her face is totally calm and controlled, like none of this surprises her. That’s when it hits me like a hot knife through my ribs. She’s not surprised. I haven’t fooled her at all.

“Unfortunately, Mrs. Rojas,” says Knowlton, “Ryan hasn’t left us much choice here. You can either voluntarily withdraw him from the school, or we can expel him.”

Wait…What?

He slides a form across the desk and hands Mom a pen. I hear the click of it, followed by a long pause. This can’t be happening.

“But I gave you Chris’s name,” I blurt out.

“Yes, you did,” says Knowlton, smoothing down his shirt front. “And I appreciate the courage it took for you to do that. But school policy is firm on this.”

I hear the scratch of pen on paper as Mom fills out the form. I want to say something more, to tell Knowlton I don’t deserve this. But when I try, nothing comes out. My voice stays stubbornly silent.
Mom leaves the form on the table when she stands to shake hands with Knowlton and the Deputy. Then we both leave the room. She leads the way toward the front office, and I follow like some dumb animal being led to the slaughter. She doesn’t even look back to make sure I’m behind her. I keep thinking this isn’t real. I’m in someone else’s nightmare.

We pass the front desk where Mrs. Stone mans the office phones. She smiles sympathetically at me. “Take care of yourself, Ryan,” she says, her hand pressed over the phone’s receiver. I give her a sheepish smile. She was really nice to me. I liked her.

The December air bites into my skin as Mom pushes through the office door. She trudges across the parking lot to our minivan that we’ve had forever and starts the engine before I even get my seat belt on. Pulling out of the school parking lot and turning onto the street, I watch the school shrink in the side view mirror.

After a few minutes, the tension in my throat starts to ease up a bit. I think maybe it’s safe to talk again. “So, what are we going to do?” I ask.

“What do you mean?” Mom white knuckles the steering wheel.

“I mean where am I going to go to school now? Battersby?”

She signals left and makes the slow turn onto Foothill Road. Traffic’s heavy for this time of day.

“You can’t go back to Battersby,” Mom says, “or have you forgotten what happened there?”

“But that wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my liquor.”

“It was in your locker.”

“I was set up.”

“Ryan—”

“I was!”

Mom presses her lips into a thin line.

“There’s always the charter school,” I tell her, but her mood doesn’t improve.

She lets out a defeated sigh. “I don’t know, Ryan. I really don’t know.”

The next signal turns red, and the minivan comes to a stop. Mom stares straight ahead, her expression hard as iron, but then I notice her bottom lip start to quiver. Her eyes fill with tears. One escapes down her cheek.

I’ve only seen Mom cry once before, at my grandma’s funeral. During the service she wept silently behind a tissue. She thought I couldn’t tell. Sobbing soft, silent gasps she doesn’t even try to hide it from me now.

I look away to stare at the car next to us. I don’t know what make it is or even what color. All I can think of is Mom, and Jenn, and—

The muscles in my chest clench up, burning again. “Did you—did you call Dad?”

“Not yet,” Mom says, swiping a hand across her damp face. The light turns green, and she eases her foot onto the accelerator. “But I’ll have no choice once we get home. You know that, don’t you?”

I pinch my eyelids shut and lean my head against the window. I swear I’m gonna hurl.

Crap, I think. Oh crap, crap, crap.


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