Exit Haven, Upmarket

Name: Erik Fernando Cruz

Genre: Adult Upmarket

Title: EXIT HAVEN

Word Count: 81,000

Themes: #ownvoices, Interracial, Mental Illness, LGBT

 

Your 35-Word Pitch:

When Payton Castillo’s father dies, a summer in Singapore finally allows him to live for himself. But his relationship with his girlfriend at home suffers…and can never be repaired after tragedy tears her away forever.

 

Your first 500 words:

A warm hand grazed my neck. Her slender fingers made their way around the collar of my shirt and down to my solid red tie. She straightened it, smiled and said, “Much better. Have to be honest, it’s driving me nuts.”

I stood still in front of the mirror, my closed eyes aimed at the ground. “Thanks,” I weakly replied, trying to smile. She grabbed my arm and rested her head on my shoulder. We must have remained like that for nearly five minutes in complete silence. It was comforting, because she was around, yet depressing nonetheless.

“Payton, I really wish I could say a magic word to make you feel better. But I’ve never lost someone so close to me, so it’s impossible. All I can do is be here for you.”

I wanted to tell her how much I appreciated it but I was unable to open my lips. I didn’t want to talk about any of this, yet so is the nature of funerals, you respect the departed while freaking out over your own eventual demise. I remember thinking, What’s wrong with me? My father passes away and I’m worrying about myself. Well…humans are self-centered like that. I’m no exception.

“Talk to me. You’re not alone, you know.”

I nodded and finally responded, “I know, Keontra. I should get going and check on Candace and Michelle. I’m not the only one who lost a father.” I grabbed her hand and led her out of my bedroom, past my old Sammy Sosa poster. That room, and especially that poster, always bothered me when I was growing up. It’d take a while longer before I allowed myself to realize why.

We headed to Candace’s bedroom around the corner from mine, the open door displaying bright lilac walls. She sat on the bed, struggling to brush Michelle’s hair. The moment Michelle saw Keontra, she got up from the floor and ran over to her. “Yes! Thank God you’re here. Keon, I want braids, and Candace sucks.”

My dear sister reacted in a way fitting a teenager; she threw the brush at our seven-year-old sister, hitting her smack-dab in the back of the head. Grabbing the brush from the royal-blue carpet as Michelle stared down her bigger sister, Keontra asked, “Why do you want braids? Your hair is gorgeous like that! I wish I had long straight hair like yours.”

“I’ll trade it for your curls,” Michelle replied, shuffling her feet with a big smile on her face.

“Let’s go to the bathroom. I’ll see what I can do,” Keontra responded, probably noticing that I wanted to speak privately with Candace. She always picked up on my hints, even when I didn’t realize I was displaying them.

“Was that really called for?” I said the moment Candace and I were alone.

“Yes! She’s been bugging the fuck outta me nonstop since papi died.”

“She’s a 2nd grader!” I said, shaking my head. “It’s what we do at that age. You were always annoying the crap outta me when you were seven.”

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Making Tamales, Women’s Fiction

Name: Annette Chavez Macias

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Title: Making Tamales

Word Count: 77,000

Themes: #ownvoices

 

35-word pitch:

Family bonds, romantic relationships and careers are all turned upside down during one tumultuous year for four Mexican-American cousins. Mi Familia meets Sex and the City.

 

500 words:

CHAPTER ONE

Erica

 

“Who the hell breaks up with his girlfriend three days before Christmas?”

It was a rhetorical question, of course. I knew the answer. They knew the answer. I just asked it because I still couldn’t quite believe it.

The answer was my boyfriend…scratch that…my ex-boyfriend. That’s who.

“Ugh. I hate that pinche asshole,” I yelled and slapped my steering wheel. Instant pain burned my palm and I cursed again.

“Maybe you should pull over. It’s not safe for you to be driving when you’re so, um, ragey,” Gracie finally said through the Bluetooth speaker inside my Ford Focus.

“Rage is good. She needs to get it all out now,” Selena’s voice cut through next. “Besides, angry driving is better than weepy driving. Crying will just ruin her make-up and no one wants that. Right?”

Despite my anger, a smile tugged at my lips. While one cousin worried about my safety, the other fretted about my appearance. It was classic Gracie and Selena. And it comforted me, like always.

That’s why I had texted them 9-1-1 first thing in the morning. I had needed to scream and curse and call Greg all kinds of names—in both English and Spanish. I had needed to make some sense of how a man who had told me he loved me could simply walk away after two years together with barely an explanation.

My world had fallen apart last night and I needed my primas to help me put it back together.

A familiar twinge of sadness pinched my chest. There should’ve been three voices on the other end of the speaker. But I hadn’t even bothered texting Mari this time. Why should I? I was done holding out hope for replies that came days later—if at all.

No, the only cousins I needed to talk to at the moment were the ones on the line.

“I still can’t believe he first tried to break up with you over the phone,” Selena said, her disgust palpable even through the speaker.

I nodded as I glanced out my window at the passing storefronts. “Right? Only reason he finally came over was because I threatened to sell the video games and clothes he kept at my place. He could barely look at me even then.”

“I’m so sorry.”

The crack in Gracie’s voice knotted my own throat. Dear Lord, if she started crying then I was going to lose it too.

I blinked away the wetness behind my eyes. “Knock it off, chillona. You can’t be sorry or sad right now either.”

“I just hate seeing you get hurt…again.”

“Me too,” I admitted on a long sigh.

“Alright, that’s it. No more feely feelings,” Selena ordered. “Welcome to the single ladies’ club, Erica. You’re going to love it here. There’s lots of tequila and sex and all-around fabulosity.”

“That’s not even a word, Selena.”

The younger Lopez sister groaned. “God, Gracie. Do you always have to be the teacher?”

Eminent Domain, Speculative

Name: Michelle J. Fernandez

Genre: Adult Literary/Speculative Fiction

Title: EMINENT DOMAIN

Word Count: 69,000

Themes: Climate change, exile, “invisible” illness

 

Pitch: In 2026, marriage is illegal. Haughty and haunted Shiri Shapiro is a catastrophe adjuster in the romance insurance industry whose world is meticulously under control until she encounters a relationship she can’t decode: a friendship.

 

First 500 words:

The dying city’s sidewalks were uneven. Shiri noticed this for the first time since the pavement had thawed a few days before. In the winter, a sheet of ice, impervious to the salt and sand laid out by cautious homeowners and shopkeepers alike, smoothed the surface of the sidewalk. More often than not, this sheet was adorned with powdered snow or slush, but even under the claustrophobic glare of the winter sun on a cloudless day, it glimmered with a lawsuit-enticing opalescence. This became, of course, the obstacle most deserving of immediate attention. Waddling along, maintaining all of her weight in her heels, arms akimbo for balance, proved enough of a task that it required Shiri’s full concentration. But, as always seemed to happen at some mysterious point in February – earlier every year, but always assuming the same form – the ice had vanished as unceremoniously as it had appeared, leaving the aged sidewalks of Albany exposed to the weary people of Albany anew. The air felt crisper than it had yesterday. Shiri wondered if the cold of the ground had only shifted up to lung-height, and if so, was she breathing in filth from the street? She felt lighter.

Lighter, but less grounded, less stable. Shiri, like all other humans who inhabited what were, funnily enough, once known as the temperate zones of planet Earth, suffered from some mild form of seasonal amnesia. Although every equinox fulfilled its promise to come around every year, she felt and acted as if it were a complete surprise each time. What was this iceless city, and how was she expected to live in it? She peered down at the sidewalk from what seemed a stratospheric altitude, her hands clenched in the deep pockets of a camel trench coat, and concentrated very hard on not flying away. She walked like this down Lark Street, heading south towards Madison Avenue, flatfootedly, placing each step very deliberately on the sidewalk. The sudden lack of bulk and ease of movement made her feel not unlike a loosely tied balloon.

In the fingers of her right hand she held a smooth stone in a deep shade of orange, the name of which, she was almost sure, began with a C, and the material of which held some meaning to the ancient peoples of some part of Asia, and also to Shiri’s mother, who believed in invisible things like chakras and chis. Shiri carried this stone with her everywhere, fondling it thoughtlessly within her pocket. Her mother had gifted it to her years before, for the purpose, she later realized, of a makeshift cognitive-behavioral therapy. As a kid, Shiri engaged in minor compulsive self-injurious behaviors. No branding irons, nothing exciting, just nail biting, hair pulling, scab picking, zit popping, and the like. After one too many self-inflicted skin infections, her disgusted mother, standing at a safe distance and grinning thin encouragement, had dropped this stone into her daughter’s hand.

Whatever Happened to Saturday Night, Science Fiction

Name: Sierra Granillo

Genre: A Science-Fiction
Title: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SATURDAY NIGHT
Word Count: 87,000 words
Themes: LGBT, #ownvoices

 

35-Word Pitch: After her newly-sentient AI program is accused of hacking the Pentagon, Marvalee Adame must travel cross-country to search for evidence of its innocence—before the FBI can find her and destroy her creation.

 

500 Words:

 

In his will, Jim Adame asked for a simple ceremony to honor his death. He had requested a cremation and the “jubilant tossing” of his ashes over the brown, shrub-speckled peak of Hayden Butte, so that he could look over the city of Tempe, Arizona, nestled cozily at its base. And, in his exact words from the legal document, so he could “flip those racist, bat-shit crazy assholes off for all eternity.”

He had not, apparently, accounted for the wind. Or maybe he had planned on it, for a gust had blown his coarse, bony remains back into the blubbering mouths of his relatives with as much poignancy as any “fuck you” from a ghost could convey.

The will explicitly read that “sprinkling the disgusting remnants of my former mortal shell is for pansies. Don’t treat me delicately now that I’m dead.” The inhalation could’ve been avoided, though, if Richard “Dick” Adame—Jim’s older, crankier, and more alive brother—hadn’t thrown his handful of Jim straight into the path of the wind blowing back at them.

The entire family simply had to deal with the consequences of his actions by sputtering and wiping the soot from their eyes. The powder fused with the tears streaming down their cheeks, forming a sticky, gray paste that everyone felt awkward rubbing off onto the backs of their legs.

Everyone except for Marvalee Adame, who found the situation so hilarious, she doubled over in hyena-like laughter at the exact same instant the rest of the group had screamed.

After receiving stupefied looks from the others in the funeral posse—and only after she noticed the looks, at that—Marvalee straightened her back and coughed into her fist. A smile still stung the corners of her lips, and even though she was trying her best to be serious, she couldn’t help the giggle that hinted at the far reaches of her voice.

“Sorry,” she said, holding her other hand up in apology. “I just think that, y’know, Dad has an odd sense of humor. Joshin’ you from beyond the grave… that’s great, isn’t it, Auntie Janis?”

Said aunt, who looked perhaps the most emotionally-distraught out of the group, burst into an undignified sob.

Marvalee coughed again. “Well. You know. Better place and all that.” She needed to at least act like she was having a miserable time, she figured—lest she give Aunt Janis a heart attack.

Uncle Dick, after making sure his sister wasn’t dying (she sure as hell sounded like it), turned to Marvalee and gave her an only partially-judgmental look.

“I’m not throwing him again,” he grumbled under his breath, his words hidden behind his bushel of a black mustache now pepper-gray from ash. Jim had worn a mustache, too—at least, he had in the picture haphazardly taped to the side of the ash box.

“Well, just don’t throw him like that again,” Marvalee said. “Throw him perpendicular to the wind, or off to the side. Doesn’t take an engineer.”

 

All of Us With Wings, Literary Magical Realism

Name: Michelle Ruiz Keil

Genre: Adult/Literary Fiction/Magical Realism

Title: ALL OF US WITH WINGS

Word Count: 92000

Themes: Own Voices, Feminist, Coming of Age, Found Family, LGBTQ

 

35-Word Pitch: In a mashup of Western fairytale, Native folklore, and Mexican myth, Xochi loves her job as live-in nanny for San Francisco rockstars, but a riot-grrl ritual uncovers old trauma, threatening her place in the family.

First 500 words:

In the reserved section, people wore their backstage passes with white Victorian picnic clothes or spiderweb layers of black, eyes painted like Egyptian royalty. A knot of hippie girls lounged by the lobby doors, scoping for no-show seats up front. Xochi had grown up around so many kids like this—tanned skins, tangled manes, names like Sunshine or Freedom or Feather.Wide blue eyes locked onto Xochi’s, definitely familiar. She should have expected this. Lady Frieda’s fans were more black leather than tie-dye, but the Rite of Spring concert would be catnip for the hippie kids, with pay what-you-can balcony seats and after-parties all over town. 

The girl waved, slipping through the crowd like a fish in a river. “Hey now!” she called. “Aren’t you the girl with the Aztec princess name?” 

 

And you’re Marley, right? You used to trim for my next door neighbors.” 

 

Xochi’s Badger Creek neighbors owned the biggest pot growing operation in town. After a winter in Mexico they came back convinced Xochi was an incarnation of the Aztec goddess who shared her name. Xochi tried to explain that her mom had gotten the name out of some book, a sentimental nod to the Mexican boy who knocked her up. They’d just smiled and nodded, assuring her there was no such thing as coincidence. 

 

“They’re my aunt and uncle.” Marley grinned. “Small world, huh?” 

 

“Yeah it is.” Too small.

 

“Um, hey. I heard about your grandma. She was friends with my aunt. I’m really sorry. She seemed super cool.” 

 

“She was.”

 

“So…” Marley’s eyes moved from Xochi’s face to her chest like a slow reader trying to decipher a difficult page, “…how’d you score one of those?”

 

Xochi froze, gripping the backstage pass hanging from the lanyard around her neck. Now she remembered—Marley was a total gossip. Seeing Xochi at a concert in San Francisco was nothing to write home about, but Xochi with a backstage pass? That was going to get repeated. It doesn’t matter, she told herself. No one’s coming. No one cares. 

 

“Io and Leviticus have a kid,” Xochi said. “Pallas. I take care of her.” Her official job title was still undetermined. Pallas was pushing for governess, but Xochi felt ridiculous saying that out loud.

 

Marley moved closer. Amber under patchouli. Amber, patchouli and pot. Too familiar. “So do you live with them?” Some involuntary movement must have given Xochi away because Marley was nodding. “Damn, girl. That’s sweet.” 

 

Now Marley knows where I live. 

 

“So,” Marley said, “is there any way you could get me into the after-party? I hear the house is awesome.”

“I wish I could. I’m supposed to stay upstairs with Pallas.” Xochi was lying her ass off now. The entire family had been talking up the concert and party for weeks. This was a special year, Lady Frieda’s tenth anniversary.

A Midnight Spell, Magical Realism

Name: Alexis Márquez

Genre: Adult Contemporary Magical Realism

Title: A Midnight Spell

Word Count: 70,000 words

 

35-word pitch: A three-hundred-year curse condemned Lizzie’s ancestor to wander the earth forevermore. Breaking the spell can cost Lizzie her life. Only true love’s first love can make the difference between evil and magic, life and death.

 

500 words:

Montgomery Island

Lizzie stared at the water curling into small arches as the white boat distanced itself from the deserted dock. There went her ride back to civilization. If she had any second thoughts now was the time to scream to the top of her lungs and hope the skipper heard her. Instead, she stood there, reminding herself the water taxi would return for her in six weeks from today.

Determined to enjoy her time in Montgomery Island, the Carmichael’s private getaway near St. Barts, she turned into a circle, basking in the warm breeze enveloping her. Montgomery Island was thirty minutes away in all directions from the nearest neighboring isles, which meant minimal to no interruptions. She’d be able to explore it, learn more about her great-aunt Charlotte’s life here. Why did the love of her life, Giancarlo, abandon her if he loved her as much as everyone believed he had? Why was she forced to wander the earth forevermore?

Lizzie grabbed her suitcases and rolled them down the pier until she reached the cobblestone path. Manicured shrubs, blue iris and multi-colored tulips lined the walkway leading to the house. The iron table and chairs next to the pond would be the perfect place to relax in the afternoon. She pictured herself sipping a chilled glass of Riesling while watching the sunset.

A worn pathway came into view and Lizzie made a mental note to add it to her list of things to check out later. She didn’t recall her friend Rosalind mentioning anything about a secret path. Filing away the thoughts rushing through her head she continued her inspection coming to a full stop.

Her mouth dropped open at the neo-gothic three stories château standing before her. Anyone who wasn’t familiar with her family’s singular style would say it was an unusual architecture design for the Caribbean. Ivy clambered up a wall to the balconies on the second and third floors. The elaborate decorative twists, window pointed arches and the steeply sloping roof took her breath away. It was a shame her ancestors sold this jewel, and a miracle the structure stood as if it had been built a few decades ago.

Mesmerized by its subtle dark beauty, she resumed her progress and rolled her two cases the rest of the way to the front door. She had her work cut out, but if everything went as planned she’d have no trouble accomplishing what she’d come to do.

Her top priority for the next several weeks was locating the lost book of spells. It held the magic spell to set Charlotte’s soul free on the night of the three-hundred-year anniversary of her disappearance.

She twisted the pentagram ring on her finger. “I can do this.”

“Do what?”

Startled by the man’s voice, Lizzie faced the door recalling she’d yet to ring the bell. Clear, observant gray eyes studied her, rendering her speechless for a moment. “Are you the housekeeper?”

The housekeeper? What the hell made her say that?

Remember it Differently, Women’s Fiction

Name: Janett Serrano

Category: Women’s Fiction

Title: Remember It Differently

Word Count: 83,000

Themes: Immigration, #Ownvoices

 

35-word Pitch: A heartbroken woman visits Cuba and falls for a charming local. When he is implicated in a conspiracy and their relationship is thrown into question, she must decide whether to trust him or walk away.

 

First 500 words:

Part One: Home

Chapter 1

Falling in love was a lot like discovering your new favorite book at a second hand store, its pages dog-eared, its cover slightly warped by a reading in the tub, its most inspiring words underlined, highlighted, and starred. You are still grateful to have it, but you can’t shake the feeling that someone else discovered it all first. Someone was moved deeply by this book before you even knew it existed.

Gabriella sat out on the balcony considering whether Henry would be able to read the just one book for the rest of his life. He certainly thought so a few short hours ago when he proposed to her.  One minute they’re sipping wine quietly, watching the silhouette of a sailboat cast a swift, black drag across the sunset, the next he’s sitting at her feet so suddenly she couldn’t help but let out a little yelp of surprise. It was like he’d been struck by the idea, instantly moved to action. The ring he held wasn’t what she would’ve picked and she was already thinking of the uncomfortable conversation they would have to have in the future.

From below, a burst of half-hearted clapping could be heard as the sun did what it has done for billions of years, though the crowd that gathers at Mallory Square each sunset continue to clap as though it were the first time.

“I can’t,” she said. His chest visibly collapsed as though beneath his rib cage his heart had snapped in two. But she couldn’t say yes. Not yet.

He got up off of his knees and dusted them off, then slumped down low in the wicker chair beside her.

“What are you talking about, Gabriella. I thought you wanted this?” he said, mournfully.

“I did. I do,” she corrected quickly. “You’ve just caught me off guard. We have a lot going on right now, don’t you think?”

She looked over at him, unsure if the red flush in his cheeks was a result of a sun-filled afternoon or the sting of rejection. She tried everything she could to hide the prickle of heat beneath her own cheeks. That, she knew, was caused by the memory she kept in her pocket like a worry stone.

Rubbing until the corners were smoothed out and the stone itself radiated heat.

It wasn’t even her memory. It was woven from the stories of him and his ex-wife, Lucia. Basking in the afterglow of sex one night, their lowered inhibitions allowed them each to divulge secrets they only faintly recalled having said in the morning. Supported by a glimpse of a picture she came across the other day that had slipped behind a drawer as she helped him pack. Henry, in a pressed shirt and slacks, his pale ankles visible as he knelt before Lucia like a knight courting a princess, overcome with emotion. Of the shaky handwriting that praised her kindness and beauty in a ten year anniversary card.

And look how that turned out.

The Haunting of Casa Soledad, A Horror

Name: Yvonne Dutchover

Genre: Adult/Horror

Title: The Haunting of Casa Soledad

Word Count: 107,000 words 

Themes: immigration, Texas history, women, Mexican folktales

 

Your 35-Word Pitch

In this ghost story, a modern retelling of a Mexican folktale, Marcy must uncover her family’s connection to la llorona before she repeats a gruesome murder-suicide in San Antonio, Texas. 

First 500 words: 

Marcy knew she should feel satisfied and relieved, maybe even proud. She was done with college, and it was time to celebrate. Instead, she dreaded the night ahead. She stood on the balcony of her mother’s second-floor bedroom. It offered an unobstructed view of the backyard and the crowd that had spilled over from the large patio and onto the lawn. The crowd stood underneath lights that twinkled like stars in the enormous oak trees. Everything looked impeccable, of course. Mercedes was not a woman who believed in doing anything halfway, especially not parties.

Even though the invitation highlighted Marcy’s college graduation, it was hard not to feel that the true purpose was to show off her mother’s new house. Mercedes moved every two years or so, each time finding a place, fixing it up, then selling it and making a profit. She worked in real estate, but Marcy felt like there was more to the constant moving than just investing. This house was the largest, the most extravagant yet. Mercedes said she wanted her dream house, and she’d had the Spanish-style villa built to her specifications on a one-acre lot in Stone Oak.

The potted palm next to her began to sway with the breeze and Marcy closed her eyes. The graduation party was impeccable, but it was also crowded. Too crowded and too hot. Marcy had escaped to find a little peace inside the house. She heard the bedroom door open but didn’t move. A few seconds later, a cold glass pressed against her bare back and she gasped. She’d chosen a backless dress that night in turquoise, her favorite color, but she regretted that choice for a moment. Then the cold was gone, as if it had never been there in the hot and muggy San Antonio night. Next came the light touch of David’s fingertips. She shivered, then turned to smile at him. He handed her a champagne flute filled with golden liquid, bubbles rising to the surface.

Marcy stared up at him, looking into the hazel eyes she loved so much. Tonight they appeared both blue and gray because of the dark blue shirt he wore. His eyes never looked the same; they changed with his clothes and the light. It was one of the many reasons she loved him, but it wasn’t the only one. He was the kindest and calmest person she knew. When chaos swirled around her, he found a way to hold steady and, even better, he helped to steady her too.

“To you,” he said, clinking his glass against hers. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” she said and savored the dry, crisp champagne as it rolled over her tongue. She’d felt tired and out of sorts all night, but the bubbles seemed to lift her mood as they traveled down her throat, and she found herself laughing, though she wasn’t quite sure why.

“What’s so funny?” David asked.

Where Hazard Meets Newhope, YA Literary

Name: E.G. Languzzi

Genre: YA Literary Fiction

Title: WHERE HAZARD MEETS NEWHOPE

Word Count: 55,000 words

Themes: Identity, Social Class Structures, Alcoholism, Gang Violence, Higher Education, STEM

 

 

35-Word Pitch: Thirteen-year-old Perla Vega’s fundraising for science camp is jeopardized by an identity crisis and circumstances outside her control, when her father’s business burns, her mother’s injured at work, and her family’s victimized by a drive-by-shooting.

 

 

First 500 Words:

 

Liquid candy. That’s what the sticky sweet smell of night jasmine made me think of–invisible tendrils of liquid sweetness floating through my bedroom window. The same window headlights flashed through, illuminating the kitten poster on the wall over my little sister’s headboard. Most nights I’d hide under the covers with my trusty flashlight to read ahead for science class. Not tonight.

Cut–spoon–mash–sprinkle–spread.

Instead, I rehearsed the steps to making an avocado-with-alfalfa-sprouts-n’-bacon-bits-sandwich for the stupid “how-to” speech, I’d give in Mrs. Goodman’s class the next day.

Our teacher wanted to “expand our horizons.” She’d invited an award-winning Toastmaster to teach us how to speak, which I thought we already knew how to do, seeing as we were in the eighth-grade. Then she clarified. We’d be speaking “in front of people.”

The beady-eyed man with the hooked nose and flaky skin reminded me of the turtle illustration in the TV Guide ad promising to test my artistic abilities for free. “By the time I’m done with you,” he’d said, “you will all be able to address any group with poise and confidence.”

Right. Toast-Maker, Toastmaster…heck, it wouldn’t have mattered if she’d said he was a toaster-oven. The truth is I would have much rather written a ten-page paper on parasites, cell division, or even single-cell organisms than get up in front of twenty pairs of probing eyes. ¡Para nada!

“Mother of God, please don’t let me barf in front of everybody,” I whispered to the miniature statuette of the Virgin Mary that cast its soft glow on the nightstand next to my bed.

I closed my eyes and conjured images from the latest issue of National Geographic. Dew-sprinkled carnivorous flowers, red-eyed frogs, iridescent jellyfish…one day I hoped to travel, experience more than the concrete world comprised mostly of strip malls, chain-link fences and river beds I called home. I hated where I lived.

Cut–spoon–mash–sprinkle—spread.

A fire truck’s siren wailed in the distance. By the second-grade, I’d learned to distinguish between an ambulance, fire truck, and police cruiser, which was the difference between a scream, wail, and a shriek.

The engine rattled our windows, as it went by. Then was followed by two more.

I jumped up on my knees to look out the window and caught the taillights of the last truck go by.

“Did you hear that?” Ofelia, my middle sister asked, scaring the crap out of me. “That’s a three-alarm fire.”

“Uh-huh.” Our little sister, Aimara, propped herself up on one elbow, her stuffed cat pinned under it. “They didn’t go far.” Her short hair stuck up like a halo of chicken feathers in the back.

“Go back to sleep, guys. It’s probably a dumpster fire,” I said, not wanting them to worry. I remembered what I’d read in one of the library books I’d checked out on brain development. Developing brains could only withstand so much stress before they became damaged.

Dangerous to Go Alone, YA Sci-Fi Thriller

Name: Kayla The Rivera

Genre: YA/ Sci-Fi Thriller

Title: Dangerous To Go Alone

Word Count: 99,000 words

Themes: This is an #ownvoices novel that focuses on belonging, family ties, morality, and immigration policies in the not-so-distant future.

 

 35-Word Pitch: Rebecca enters a lethal video game tournament to rescue her family from war-torn Mexico. But when a terrorist virus turns her headshots into real-life murders, she must decide who to sacrifice—family or humanity?

 

Your first 500 words:

Rebecca Leroy was nine points from beating the world record in Guttural Gladiators 4.

Of course, she’d been the one to set the world record nine months ago. Her fingers flew over the controller, herding an enemy through grainy weeds. That record had secured her a spot in this year’s Global Games Tournament. And the GG Tournament was the reason she was sitting here, alone, in a safe house, playing games to the noiselessness of 3 am solitude.

Her thumb hesitated over the pause button. She shook her head. Now wasn’t the time to get superstitious. Breaking the record again couldn’t make her situation any worse.

She drove her character forward.

Muffled insults poured through the comm-wall’s baseboard speakers. Rebecca reached forward and turned the volume lower, so it wouldn’t wake Mrs. Shepard. The woman had been a gracious host mother for the past two months, but Rebecca wasn’t dumb enough to take that for granted. She plugged her in-game character forward, around the high-resolution ruins splayed across the comm-wall of her temporary bedroom. Really, she was lucky Mrs. Shepard had taken her in at all, after her family got deported. In 2052, it was lucky to find anyone who’d risk being near her after that.

Rebecca shook her head again. Nine points away from her record. Concentrate. It was the perfect goal to distract from the cabin’s silent walls.

There were two minutes left in this player versus player round, plenty of time to break her record. She equipped her character’s sword. Crouched. Moved forward. The grasses swayed in her first person camera, fingering over the nearest player. She smirked. She’d herded them between two fallen pillars in the gladiator arena, where they wouldn’t see her approach.

The enemy player turned. She drove the sword straight through their chest.

The opposing team’s chat box blew up.

>WHAT THE HELL?!

>THAT WAS CHEAP!

>YOU STINKIN’ BORDER!

The last phrase hit her between the ribs. She’d heard it often enough, spouting from puckered mouths since she was in middle school, but its hit never softened. Her mouth curled down on the left side. Border, huh? She memorized the commenter’s username—Erader—pressed her joystick forward and, catching his avatar with its back turned, skewered her sword straight through his spine.

His character crumpled in a gulley of animated blood.

ERADER HAS BEEN KILLED. ERADER LEFT THE GAME.

“Take that, sucker.” She set the controller down in her lap and punched the air with a victory fist.

Her spare hand hardened over the controller as the end-match statistics rolled in. Her username, Reb-ellion, sat at the top of the charts. Most accurate, most kills, most points. New Guttural Gladiators 4 Multiplayer record set. Congratulations. She didn’t smile as the low, celebratory music trickling out of the comm-wall’s baseboards. Congratulations. Another record broken.

She’d expected that to make her feel better. Slowly, she lowered her victory fist. It was supposed to feel like she’d faced a fear. Or at least make her feel less alone.