Saturday, January 24, 2015

Free First Five Pages Workshop Opens on February 7!

I was sad to see the First Five Pages January Workshop come to an end.  What a talented group! Everyone worked hard on their revisions and gave thoughtful comments. A huge thank you to our guest mentor, workshop co-founder, Lisa Gail Green! SOUL CROSSED , will be published on February 25, 2015. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!  And also a big thank you to agent Tracey Adams of Adams Literary! Both provided great feedback.


Our February workshop will open for entries at noon EST on Saturday, February 7, 2015. We'll take the first five Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. In addition to our wonderful permanent mentors, we have the very talented Chelsea Pitcher, author of THE LAST CHANGELING.  If that wasn’t enough, in the final week agent Shelby Sampsel will not only review the first five pages, but a query letter too!

Click here to get the rules!

FEBRUARY GUEST MENTOR: Chelsea Pitcher

Chelsea Pitcher is a native of Portland, OR where she received her BA in English Literature. Fascinated by all things literary, she began gobbling up stories as soon as she could read, and especially enjoys delving into the darker places to see if she can draw out some light.
Chelsea’s paranormal fantasy, THE LAST CHANGELING, is available now!

 A Kingdom at War . . .

Elora, the young princess of the Dark Faeries, plans to overthrow her tyrannical mother, the Dark Queen, and bring equality to faeriekind. All she has to do is convince her mother’s loathed enemy, the Bright Queen, to join her cause. But the Bright Queen demands an offering first: a human boy who is a “young leader of men.” 

A Dark Princess In Disguise . . .

To steal a mortal, Elora must become a mortal—at least, by all appearances. And infiltrating a high school is surprisingly easy. When Elora meets Taylor, the seventeen-year-old who’s plotting to overthrow a ruthless bully, she thinks she’s found her offering . . . until she starts to fall in love.
 









We are thrilled to announce that Shelby Sampsel of the Vicky Bijur Literary Agency will be our guest agent for February – and Shelby has agreed to review a query letter, too! See below for Shelby’s bio!

Shelby Sampsel joined the Vicky Bijur Literary Agency after graduating from NYU. She comes to the agency with previous internship experience at Thomas Dunne Books, Simon and Schuster, Tor Books, Penguin Group, the Maria Carvainis Agency, and McIntosh and Otis. She is interested in Young Adult and New Adult Fiction as well as memoirs with a strong voice.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

First 5 Pages January Workshop - McKenna Rev 2

Name: Virginia A.McKenna
Genre: YA Contemporary
Rise Up (2nd revision)

                              Chapter 1
      
       Thwack! The best sound in the world: a baseball careening off a bat!
      
       I toss on my green and white Woodrow Wilson Tigers baseball shirt, check that my cleats are tied tight then tilt my chin upwards toward the light to check out my reflection in the cracked mirror above the sink. Still as smooth as a baby’s butt. Crap! Not one whisker!  At seventeen, I look more like the friggen Chinese hairless cat I saw last week on National Geographic than your average teenage guy.
      
       The team’s already warming up as I leave the locker room.  Way out past right field, I see a sliver of the Washington Monument poking out above the trees. Wonder if anyone in Tigers baseball team history ever hammered a ball deep enough to hit it?  I shake my head. Nah, that monument has to be at least a quarter mile away. You’d have to hit the ball perfectly dead center, in the sweet spot of the bat, and be on steroids to boot!
      
       Wish I could be the one to hit it though.  Especially today.  According to Coach Silverstein, some college scouts, including one from UNC, are going to be checking us out today. This’s the day I’ve been waiting for ever since I started playing Little League back in first grade.
      
       I stop a ways behind the chain link fence, my shoes churning up a small cloud of red dust. Sixteen wannabee baseball stars of the future, just like me, are crowding the field, warming up, playing catch with partners or having balls hit at them: pop-ups, grounders, line drives and slow rollers. Each and every one of the guys out here is good, really good. No wonder we’ve been the best team in the division for three years running.
       
       I flex my glove open and stare at three faint tick marks that are etched into the shallow pocket of the glove. One for each year I’d been named MVP for the Woodrow Wilson Tigers. My mom had carved them in last April with her very own Swiss Army pocketknife, right before she died.  I trace the marks with my index finger. She’d barely had any strength left by then but she’d wanted to do it all by herself. “Every time you see these marks, you’ll think of me, Josh,” she’d said.  My eyes start tearing up. She’d been wrong. I don’t just remember her when I see the tick marks, I remember her all the time. Man, what I wouldn’t give to have her standing here next to me right now, pumping her fist and saying: “I believe in you. You can do it!” She was always so good at that.
      
       “Hey, Josh,” a girl yells. I blink, wipe the tears away fast as I realize whose voice that is, then turn. Ginette, my best friend Con’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, is walking towards me, struggling to hold on to a stack of big and heavy books.  She’s wearing khaki colored cargo pants and a camouflage t-shirt, and has about seven piercings in each earlobe. And even though she sometimes makes me mad as hell with the anti-war stuff she spouts off, I like her spunk and she’s cute, to boot.  I wouldn’t mind carrying her books.
      
       Out of the corner of my eye, I see Coach S. waving me over to him with his black and green Tigers hat. I should get out there I know. I glance around the field, up into the bleachers. Completely empty. Nobody, not even one of the scouts is here yet. 
      
        I hold up my hand, wave at Coach S. as if to say ‘hold your horses,’ but stay put.  I turn around to face Ginette. “Hey you. No SAW meeting today,” I ask, meaning the Students Against War after-school club she’s been vice president of for the past three years.
      
       “Nope, the meetings are on Wednesdays. Today is Tuesday.” She kneels down and drops the books onto the ground in front of her, then stands up. She looks out towards where the rest of the team is practicing.  “Big game today, huh? You guys ready?” 
      
        “Yeah…I…uhm… sure, why not,” I stumble.
      
       “No reason.  It’s just that I heard St. Albans’s new pitcher is awesome. He threw a no-hitter last week against Anacostia, didn’t he? 
      
       “Yeah. Well one no-hitter can’t beat our three-year win….”
      
        Coach S.’s voice butts in across the field.  “Let’s go Nowak!”
      
       “I…uhm…I gotta go,” I say.
      
       She nods. “Yeah, sure. Go on.” She smiles.
      
        For a sec, I don’t answer, because I’m kind of lost in her smile and liking it.  She nudges one of my cleats with her shoe. “Hey?”
      
       I shake my head like I just woke up from a deep sleep.
      
       She jerks her head in the direction of the field. “You better get going.”
      
       “Yeah,” I say, walking away from her. “I’ll see you later.”
         
       “We’ve got a game to win today, Nowak,” coach says in a clipped tone when I reach him. 
      
       “Yeah, I know that, it’s just that...”
      
       “Save it,” coach says, holding up his hat, stopping me. “I’ve heard it all before.”
      
      He puts his hat back on and shakes his head. Then he checks his watch, snorts.  “You know, Nowak, I don’t get you.  You’ve been talking about this day ever since I’ve known you. You know the scouts are going to be here and yet you’re late.”

      I look back at the cement bleachers. Ginette’s the only one sitting in them, up in the highest row. “Yeah, but no one’s here yet, coach,” I say.

         “You just don’t get it do you,” coach says, glaring at me.   “I’m not just talking about the scouts, Nowak. Whether you’re one minute late or twenty, you’re late, it’s disrespectful to me and to the rest of the team.”  Coach cocks an eyebrow.
      
       I try to be serious, but it’s hard. All I can think of is where the hell he got his crazy ass ears. They stick out so far from his square face that he looks like he could be Shrek’s double.  I look down at my cleats, bite the inside of my lip.

       “Something funny, Nowak?”  Both of the coach’s ears move at the same time. I’m about to laugh out loud but the pinched look on coach’s face lets me know that’s not such a great idea. I clench my fists tight. “No…I…uh…” 

       “You’ve got a lot of skill, Nowak, I grant you that, but skill alone isn’t going to get you into college ball.  Respect for your team is. And part of that respect comes from being on time.”  The coach continues jabbering but I tune out. Jeez, this guy must be related to my dad, both hard asses when it comes to being on time. I feel as if I’m sitting at the dinner table, listening to my dad blabber on and on about how important it is to have respect for others, to have good manners, and to always be on time. I wonder if coach was ever in the military like my dad. Then I wonder about the fifth of whiskey my dad downed last night and how he was late to Walter Reed this morning. Are those examples of good manners, being on time, respect?

        “Hey, Coach S.,” a husky voice yells out. Coach and I both turn. Con jogs over towards us from first base, nearly knocking us both over.
      
        “Jesus Christ, Connor!” Coach S. yells after pushing Con off him.
      
       “Hey, Joshie,” Con says with a huge grin plastered across his face. He jerks his chin at Coach S., winks, then mouths the words ‘Bite me.’
      
       I slap Con five and then we both burst out laughing, falling over each other.
      
        “You two are closer than two dogs in heat, you know that,” coach says. He looks from Con to me. “And if you don’t get your act together, you’re not going to land anywhere except in the same pile of dog crap!”
      
       I grab Con’s arm and we start kicking our heels up at the same time, like we’re doing the Can-Can. “Our act is together, Coach, can’t you tell?”
      
        “Look I’ve just about had it with the both of you,” Coach S. says. “Why don’t you think about that while you’re running some laps?”
      
       “Laps?” Connor whines.
      
        A ball whizzes by Coach S. barely missing his shoulder. “What the hell are you doing, Newman?” Coach S. says, walking towards the infield. “If your arm is so out of whack, maybe you should run some laps, too?”
      
       Seeing that coach is focused on Newman, Con and I head towards the infield. “Whoa,” coach says. “What do you guys think you’re doing?”
      
       We stop and look at him like he’s asked us what the circumference of the moon is.
      
        “What are you waiting for,” coach asks, pointing towards the open field behind infield.  “Give me ten laps, back and forth between here and the locker room and then get your tardy asses out on the diamond, d’ya hear me?”
      
       We’re in the midst of the fifth lap when Coach S.’s booming voice echoes across the field. “Okay, guys, bring it in.”

       The other players stop what they’re doing and head towards home plate. “That goes for you, too, Nowak, Pressman” he yells, motioning at us. Con and I take off and a minute later we’re both standing towards the back of entire Tigers team.
      
Coach removes his hat, checks his watch. “We’ve got about twenty minutes left before St.
Albans gets here, so let’s play a quick scrimmage.” He points at me, Con and a few other guys. “You’re up first. Let’s see what you can do.”

       “Saweet,”  Con, me and the other guys who’d been picked yell out together. A lot of the guys, who weren’t picked first, though, start to whine.
      
       “Shut your bellyaching,” coach says.”Get your butts into the dugout and pay attention, maybe you’ll learn something.” He marches toward the fence behind home plate and picks up a bag of bats and balls. “Nowak, I want to try something new. You play catcher for right now.”
      
 “But I….”

 “You wanna play or not?”

 “Yeah, sure.”

“Well then here.” Coach bends down, picks up a catcher’s mitt and a mask and throws
them at me. “Here’s a mitt, and here’s the mask. Put ‘em on!”

 I toss my glove behind the fence and put on the mitt and mask. I squat down and
point my mitt hand at the pitcher. I shake my head. This is a bunch of shit. I should be playing pitcher.  How am I going to get the scouts to notice me if I’m not playing my position? What is coach trying to do? 

  Coach S, carrying a bat and some balls, places himself at home plate in front of me.

 “Jackass.” I hiss under my breath.

  “Okay, let’s make this look good,” he shouts. “I don’t want to see one
ball go by the infield, got it?”

He smashes a line drive towards first base. Newman, on first base, makes the stop but then
throws it over my head, almost sending the ball out of play. I snag it though.

      “Ha,” I yell at Newman.

      At that moment, Ginette moves from the top row of the bleachers down to the lowest.

      “Hey, Gins,” Con yells. “Coming down to get a closer look?” Then he acts like he’s hooking up with her, making all kinds of long and loud slurping noises. All the guys, including me, start laughing.
      
       Ginette rolls her eyes and frowns. “You’re an idiot, Connor, you know that,” she says kind of serious and laughing.
      
       Yeah, he’s an idiot all right, I’m thinking as I slap the inside of my mitt.
      
       Hitting left-handed, Coach S.  lasers a line-drive towards Con out at short. Still focused on Ginette, the ball whizzes by him.
      
       Coach checks his swing. His face twists up into an angry scowl.  “Pressman,” he yells. “Are you paying attention to the game, or not?”  He turns and tosses me the bat. “Here, Nowak, hold on to this.”
      
 I stand, grab the bat mid-air and remove my mask. This isn’t gonna be good, I say to myself as
I watch the coach charge over to Connor.
      
       “How’re we gonna win, Pressman, if every little thing distracts you?” Coach jaws, so close to Con’s ear, it looks as if he’s chewing on it. “I want you to think about that on your way to my office. I need my cell!”
      
       Just at that moment, a couple of St. Albans guys show up on the field. Con glances at them and then pleads with Coach S.: “What, you’re taking me out?  But…the game’s about to start,” he stammers.
      
       “Come on, coach,” I say. “Con’s just fooling around. We need him in the game, you know that.”

First 5 Pages January Workshop - Pierson Rev 2

Name: Kim Pierson
Genre: New Adult Contemporary
Title: Skipping, Jumping, Leaping
 

My therapist says I’m not actually a head case. She says grief just fucks a person up. Sometimes for years. Maybe even your whole high school career.

It was good to hear. Until I met Danny, no one else really gave a shit about my grief.

Because that’s how it works when you’re fourteen and your sister gets high and crashes her car into a family of four on their way home from the movies. When that happens, no one cares that your sister is dead. No one cares that you miss her every single day. All their caring is saved for the people in the other car: the dead parents, the fifth-grader who will never start middle school. And for the only surviver, now confined to a wheelchair after countless life-saving surgeries. She and I started our freshman year together, her chair one more reminder that there was no going back to the way things used to be.

My parents wouldn’t let me transfer schools. They said I had nothing to be ashamed of.

The girls at my high school, the ones who fanned out to form a protective shield around the girl’s wheelchair every single time I came by, didn’t see it quite the same way. You know how the Bible says the sins of the father shall be visited on the sons? For high schoolers, the same principle works with sisters. The guys weren’t so bad. When you’re built like a Victoria’s Secret model, guys tend to be pretty friendly, no matter what tragedy indelibly stains your reputation. But the girls? From the day of the crash until the day I left town, the girls were all dirty looks and nasty whispers. 

Like I was the one responsible for the only mistake my sister ever made.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the girls at my high school would have voted me Ms. Congeniality if Cathy hadn’t run that stop sign. Not the way their boyfriends looked at me. And besides, I didn’t really know how to talk to girls. Other than Cathy, that is. Talking to Cathy had been easy like Sunday morning.

Still, life is all about second chances, and tonight was mine. Fifteen hours from Louisville, where no one had ever heard of me, or Cathy, I was finally going to make some friends.

I basked for a moment in the flashing lights of the BU rec center, surrounded by girls who were treating me like just another overly-pretty freshman. That’s when I felt the guy’s eyes on me. Don’t look up, I told myself. 

But I did. It was like taking a really stupid dare. I knew that nothing good could come of it, and still I couldn’t resist. I’m not sure if that makes me crazy or just stupid.

His eyes were waiting for mine. He stood up as soon as we made eye contact, taking it as an invitation, or a challenge, maybe. He started walking over, his lanky frame temporarily eclipsing part of the limp “Welcome Future Class of 1999” banner that hung across the rec center wall. Then he paused a minute to pull out a flask and take a not-so-discrete gulp. One of his buddies slapped him a high five.

I was sitting in an oversized booth, all the way up against the wall. The crowd of girls I'd just met formed a barrier between me and any guy who might be tempted to approach. It was a technique that had worked before. Not today, though. Didn’t even slow this guy down.

“Evenin’, ladies,” he said, his voice a faux drawl.

“Hey there,” the girl sitting next to me said, looking him up and down. 

Maybe, just maybe, he was going to hit on someone else. 

“My friend over there—” he began, grinning over his shoulder at the group of guys behind him. One of them flashed him a double thumbs-up. “He bet me twenty bucks that isn’t your real hair color.”

Even if Future Frat Boy hadn’t been looking right at me, the hair reference had to make it clear to everyone at the table who he was talking to. The girl who’d said hi to him rolled her eyes. I couldn’t even judge. If I had been watching this unfold, I’d roll my eyes, too.

“Tell your friend he owes you some money." I raised my eyebrows at the girls around the table. “Like anyone would choose this color,” I said, in what I hoped was a self-deprecating tone. I was trying to save the evening — which meant getting rid of this guy as quickly as possible. Tonight was supposed to be about making friends. Girl friends.

It was too late, though. The girl who had rolled her eyes pushed her way out of the booth. “I want to dance,” she said. “Maybe you want my seat?” she offered the guy. Most of the other girls stood up too. 

Of course they did. It was high school all over again.

“Oh, yeah, great, thanks,” he stammered, nervous now that he had made it through his script. He tripped over the exiting girls in his haste to slide into the booth.

“I’m Jason,” he said, to no one and everyone, although his eyes were on me.

The two girls who hadn’t deserted me for the dance floor introduced themselves. They'd told me their names before, back when I'd first come in, but there had been too many people for them to register. The names actually slipped past me this time, too. I was distracted. And to be honest, I wasn't really used to paying attention to the names of other girls. My therapist would say that the past four years have given me trust issues.

I went last. “Ping,” I said.

“Excuse me?”

“My name. It’s Ping.”

“Ping. Really? You wouldn’t be bullshitting me, would you? Isn’t that the sound a radar makes when another sub is getting too close or something? Ping, ping.” His hands mimicked explosions with each “ping.”  

It was way too early in the evening for this. And besides, that was sonar. 

“Yes.” I cut him off in a voice that was as cold as I could muster. So cold that if I’d been speaking in comic strip bubbles, he’d have been able to see the word dripping icicles. “It’s short for Penelope Ann.”

“And how the heck is ‘Ping’ short for ‘Penelope Ann’?” the guy scoffed.

How indeed? Maybe he wasn’t as drunk as he seemed.

“It just is.” I tried to keep my voice neutral. “No cute backstory. It’s just what they call me.”

“How ‘bout you give me your number so I can call you?” he suggested, winking broadly.

Could I have given him a better opening? Really? I’d been dealing with guys like this ever since I turned twelve and got boobs and I couldn’t do better than that?

“Sorry,” I said with a small smile. “Hey, I think—” I paused a second here, unable to remember Eye-Roller’s name, before just saying the first name that came to me “—Karen wants me to come dance.” I pushed my way past him. “Have a good evening, Jason.”


“You, too, Penny,” he replied. “Hey, Penny!” His voice grew louder as I reached back to grab my purse before walking away from the booth. “Now there’s a name that suits you! You’ve got hair the color of a penny!” He was shouting by the time I reached the dance floor.

First 5 Pages January Workshop - Cortazar Rev 2

Name: Shannon Cortazar
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Silhouette



I never put much thought into the lives of orphans. Now, that worry has led me to leave today and find the source of our ruin. I watch from our kitchen doorway and wait for the rise and fall of my mothers’ chest. She’s weakened since we fled here. I see the thin fabric of her blouse swell. “Time to go.”  I step to the mantle, leave a note tucked inside her glove and ease myself out the door. A blast of winter air tangles my hair in its talons as I step through.  I pause and think this may be the last time I cross this threshold.  Hidden under my mothers’ long wool coat is a blunt knife, dried meat and a water sack. “I’m sorry mom, this is the only way.”



I pass through the clapboard houses set in rows like gravestones. Almost a year has passed since I first saw this abandoned gypsy village from my father’s pick up. My mother insisted we hide here. “It’s a sacred place,” she said. “I don’t know why, I just know it will protect us.” I wasn’t so sure. “You were born near these mountains. Anything that pure is worth believing in,” she insisted. I was wary, but with no other options it’s where we settled.



Not much has changed except for smoke churning from chimneys and new graves in the cemetery. I reach Finn’s house, stop and crouch to the bottom of his door where I slip a note under the worn wood. Colorful chips of paint echo what I imagine used to be a place of celebration and living. The silence of its walls makes me think of his parents. He’s all that’s left of his family, except for mom and me. His parents didn’t make it to safety the day the Throne came. A lot of people didn’t. My family fled without a second thought, leaving everything behind. Finn was cutting our grass the day we heard our country was under siege by an unnatural race of people. My father had to drag him away, there was no time to search for anyone. He eventually gave in. He wouldn’t have made it otherwise.



From what I know, the Throne is gaining control of everything. I’ve seen their hold over the living through the memories of a sparrow. A gift, mom calls it. Though I’ve come to disagree. Nowadays it feels like a curse. They murder or maim anyone who doesn’t pledge allegiance to them and receive a mark inside their wrists. It’s young girls they seek the most. Girls who’ve aged sixteen years. Girls like me. I suppose they think we’ll go willingly and beg for salvation. But I’m not a begging kind of girl. They’ll have to try and take me, I dare them.



That darkness seeds from the woman at their helm, they call her Elin. It’s her that searches for the girls, to find one girl. Her words are what prompted my purpose today. “Find her,” she said to one of her legion. “Look for the divine Auspice, it comes in the form of a sparrow. It will lead you to the girl.” “She’s a sentient, and our only way back to our kingdom.”  I knew then, weeks ago when the sparrow came to me. But I waited. Fear mostly. But I decided if I can find her, maybe I can kill her. Or at least keep them from coming here. Somehow. I won’t be her prey. She will be mine.



No one is in sight as I walk along the uneven paths leading to the stone wall surrounding our village. I see only shadows peeking from behind clouded windows. I look back to see if mom is following. Nothing but rows of depressed shacks, tattered clothes grey with age hanging to dry and the mountain behind us. I think fear of the Throne more than the winter chill keeps the people here shut in. Most know the paper thin walls won’t hold off their legion. We just don’t say it out loud.



I see a raven’s shadow glide away from the timber. The ground is littered with their ink stained feathers, our one triumph against the Throne. My eyes follow the trail of plumage across the pocked earth and I hear a break in the air above me.

The dull thwack of an arrow pierces the foul creatures’ flesh and it fall’s dead at my feet.

The ravens, we realized a while back, are seekers for the Throne. Their ploy, controlling the minds of predators.  But this one won’t be returning to their keep. He won’t be giving us away today.



“Another one down.” I say. “Countless more to go.”



I turn and see an archer high in the watchtower, lowering his bow. The grin on his face is enough to lighten my mood. Finn. It’s his watch and he left a note on my door to meet him. I expect he has a birthday gift for me. He’s a good friend, lately I think he hopes for something more.



“How many is that today O’Leary?” I shout.



“I’ve lost count.” “Hey.” There’s a change in his voice now, it’s soft, almost tender. I immediately look away.

“Noelle,” he says.

A person could get lost in his grey eyes. His dark hair and pale skin make them seem to glow. A strapping young man, some of the elder women call him. His beauty seems out of place in this ugliness. He’s been different lately. Smitten is what mom says. Though I don’t know if it’s out of kindness or desperation. Maybe he just wants to hold onto something other than misery

A flutter in my chest makes my breath hitch. The way he says my name makes me think of velvet, the soft flow and warmth of it. Its beauty would be wasted on my pale lifeless skin. I look up to him and a pang of guilt cuts my thoughts short.

“Happy birthday, your grace.” 

I roll my eyes.

“Thanks.” I say and roll my eyes. “You coming down soon?”

“Maybe you should come up here. I could let down my hair for you to climb up—.”



“Ha ha. You know that’s not a good idea.”



“You’re probably right,” he says resting his elbows on the tower rail. “I’d be too distracted by your beauty.”



“Finn--.”



“I know, I know. Boundaries,”  his voice sounds deflated.



“See you in a while?” I ask and look up to him. Though I know I won’t. It’s better he doesn’t know. I wait for him to answer. But he just looks at me. Not an angry or pleading look. One that says, I won’t falter. I have to tear my eyes away from his. I won’t. No, can’t cling to something that will bring both of us heartache. I’m not that strong.



“Yeah, see you in a while,” he says as I walk away.



Farther across the courtyard are my brother and father. I see their graves through a rusted iron gate. Frost, our surname, carved in wood at the base of an angels’ robes. They hunted deer and tapped for fresh water on the mountain behind of our village. A pack of wolves attacked them both. They made it to the village, but infection is what killed them in the end. The water they searched for came trickling out the next day. They still took care of us even in death.

First 5 Pages January Workshop - Smith-Allen Rev 2

Name:  Rebecca Smith-Allen
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Mystery
Title:    All Out


Chapter 1: Designing Apps  (Jared)

You wouldn't call me gifted unless awesome video game skill counted. According to Mom, it doesn't. But here I was on a bus headed to a camp for math and science nerds.

The camp was run by Hartland Mountain Science Academy, a private school for smart kids. I don't go here. Even my teacher's-pet little sister, Maxine, doesn't go here. This school costs money, but Mom's reaction to the price of camp was a sigh, not a heart attack.

Geek camp was not my top-pick summer activity; that would be Boy Scout Camp. Building campfires, toasting s'mores, and shooting BB guns-so many things Mom never let me do with just one downside, the latrines. You gotta get good at holding your breath and going fast. Boy Scout camp should last all summer, not just a week.

My sister couldn't to Boy Scout Camp, obviously, so she'd gotten it in her head to sign up for Hartland's Geocaching program, "treasure hunting" through the forest with a hand-held GPS. Only a dork like my sister could think that sounded fun.

Aaron, my best friend and gaming bud, had looked over her shoulder at the Hartland catalog and found the program on Designing Apps. Designing apps sounded good, even if target shooting and fires weren't involved. Even if I had risk a camp full of Maxines to take it. Everyone else here might be a math or science geek, but I could hold my own in gaming.

I stomped off the bus following Maxine and Aaron. My head was pounding from the twenty-minute ride up the windy mountain road during which I'd had to share my best friend with my sister. I wasn't looking forward to school next month, but at least when Aaron and I got on the junior high bus, I could leave Max in the dust.

My sister headed toward a friend who'd signed up for camp with her. I turned in the opposite direction toward a couple guys my age. I didn't know them, but getting away from Max was the only push I needed to make new friends.

My eyes darted to the right. Aaron had followed me, not my sister.

Good.

I eyed the chunky, red-headed guy I was headed toward. What do geniuses talk about? Do they watch Phineas and Ferb? Or only Discovery Channel shows? Do they play Minecraft? Or just chess? Do they have major problems in their lives, their little sister liking their best friend? Or would a genius find some colorless, odorless, tasteless poison to take out his sister?

"Hey," I said, taking in the guy's camouflage T-shirt and rust-colored cargo shorts.

"Hi, I'm Conlan," he said with a smile.

I was tempted to tell him those loud shorts kinda defeated the purpose of the camo shirt. Maybe he liked his clothes to match his equally bright hair. Weird. But that probably wasn't the best way to introduce myself.

"Jared," I said. "This is Aaron."

"This is Tariq." Conlan gestured at the short, skinny, dark-haired, dark-skinned guy next to him.

"Hey," Tariq said.

I dragged my eyes off Conlan's odd clothes to look at his friend. His T-shirt read, "Come to the nerd side. We've got π." What was that about? Hanging with nerds for a week was gonna be harder than I thought. I considered retreat.

"Have you guys been to this camp before?" Aaron asked.

"Yeah," Conlan answered. "We go to school here too."

Ok, so I'd stumbled into guys who weren't just willing to get categorized as geeks for a week. They were actual, legitimate, full-time geniuses. Wow.

I considered retreat more seriously.

"Which program-" I started to ask.

"Designing Apps," Conlan answered before I even got the question out. "You?"

"Same," I said.

"Cool." Conlan smiled again. He had a huge, cheery smile that took up half of his face, and almost as many freckles as me. "So did you hear Brent Kagon is in our program? That's why I signed up."

"No way." My jaw dropped. My eyes bugged out. He couldn't be serious, could he?

"Way!"

It didn't seem possible, but Conlan's smile grew broader. Tariq smiled and nodded as well. They weren't joking.

Who hadn't heard of Brent Kagon? He was the local golden child. The guy who'd created this game app that like a zillion people downloaded.

Ok. I'd played it for a week. It wasn't that good. But it'd been designed by a kid - a kid who'd made enough money to take his parents to Disney World. I'd read all about it. Brent Kagon was my idol, my inspiration for spending a week of summer vacation in a computer classroom instead of on the couch playing Wii. I figured if he could do it, I could too. I wanted to be Brent Kagon. I had a great idea for an app. And I had visions of raking in the bucks, buying every game system known to man, getting the Lego Death Star, paying someone to do my science homework. I'd take my parents to Disney for vacation. Aaron would come too, of course. My sister could stay home.

How could Brent Kagon be taking a class like this? Didn't he already know everything?

"I took Designing Apps last summer," Conlan said, "but when Mom complained about paying for it again I said, 'Kagon's taking it.' And she was like, 'Really? Then there must be more to learn. Ask him for pointers.'"

Our discussion got cut off when a shiny black car rolled up next to us. It was the only car that pulled into camp 'cause the rest of us had taken a bus to the top of the mountain.

The car stopped and a guy wearing dark, mirrored rock-star sunglasses got out of the passenger seat. He was a couple years older than me with messy black hair sticking out in every direction. He wore faded black jeans even though it was hot and everyone else wore shorts. His face was set in a scowl. And he had the thinnest, most beautiful MacBook I'd ever seen tucked protectively under his arm.

Conlan elbowed me. I grimaced but he didn't notice 'cause he hadn't taken his eyes off the guy.

"That's him," he whispered. "Brent Kagon."

The rock-star shades and MacBook caught the attention of a bunch of campers. I stared too. I didn't want to act like some pathetic fan, but I couldn't help it. There was something about him. I wanted his autograph. I wanted to peek into his brain and find out how he came up with such a great idea for an app. I wanted his programming secrets.

But there was something annoying about him as well. It was the first day of camp, a bright, sunny summer day. Why was he scowling? His black T-shirt read "Watch and Learn," in gray, 3D letters. A little full of yourself? And he knew we were standing here, staring at him. Even my sister came over and whispered something in Aaron's ear. But Brent ignored us all. With a nod to the driver, he turned and walked past us and into the building.