Thursday, March 13, 2008

Another IWBYJR Review and Sneak Peek: The Runaway Novel

There is another early review for IWBYJR posted, this one at and I’m thrilled to say that they gave the book a Gold Star Award for Excellence! So check it out here!

And now, as promised, here is my other WIP. The first chapter is a bit longer than the Revenge/Persephone novel. And it's not really a first chapter, it's a prologue. The story actually picks up two years after this. And it will be told in third person by three different narrators. Tamra, who narrates this section, Trevor, who you meet here, and Jenny, who you meet in the next chapter (or the real first chapter?). So I'm not sure this one chapter quite gives the sense of the story as the first chap of the other WIP does. But maybe I'm saying that because right now I feel more pulled into the other story. I had another really productive writer’s group last night working on that one. But I still want to do the first three chaps of both and let agent (and hopefully editor!) help decide. And first impressions are always good because I will be writing both books eventually, I just have to figure out which one is immediate and which I save for later.

So comment away on this and the Revenge/Persephone excerpt, which you can find here.

“Is that it?” Hope giggled.

“I don’t know.” Kat squinted uselessly through the darkness in the direction Hope gestured. “I can’t even tell if there’s a house over there.”

They might as well have been wearing blindfolds. Going for a walk in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin so close to sunset had been stupid, Tamra thought. Irritation spilled into her voice as she asked Hope, “Shouldn’t you know? It’s your family’s cabin.”

Hope inhaled sharply from her cigarette. The cherry cast a glow that momentarily lit up her smirking face. “Screw it. If we walk past it, we’ll just keep right on walking.”

“What?” Kat’s lighter flared, the brief spark showcasing a pierced eyebrow arched in intrigue. She exhaled a thick cloud of smoke.

“We’ll just keep walking,” Hope insisted. “You know, instead of running away, we’ll walk! We’ll keep going until we eventually hit a highway and then we’ll hitchhike. We could go anywhere! There’s three of us, so nothing creepy or bad will happen ‘cause we’ll have each other’s backs.” She bounced up and down in her Converse sneakers, getting excited. “We’ll be gone without a trace. No bus tickets. No plane tickets. We’ll just start over somewhere. Where should we go? Austin?” She nudged Kat with her hip. “We could get a new band together and play South by Southwest next spring.”

Kat laughed, but her dreds swayed side to side as she shook her head no. “New York City. The biggest, busiest city. Best place to get lost.” She turned her sparkling green eyes on Tamra, indicating it was her turn.

California,” Tamra sighed. “Palm trees and oceans.”

“Too hot,” Kat objected.

“Too plastic,” added Hope.

“Fine,” Tamra shrugged, trying not to be irked by the way they always teamed up to shoot her down. “The first person who stops to pick us up, we’ll just go in whatever direction they’re headed for as far as they’re willing to take us.”

“I like it!” Hope declared, flicking her cigarette at the gravel road and bounding over in between Kat and Tamra.

She put her arms around both of their shoulders, forcing them to walk in sync with her in long, straight-legged strides. The Monkees walk. Hope loved cheesy stuff like that. Reruns from twenty years before she was born.

She belted out, “Hey, hey we’re the Monkees!” loud and pitch-perfect. Those pipes were the reason she used to get the lead in all the school musicals. Then she growled, “People say we monkey around!” with that whiskey-and-cigarettes Janis Joplin voice. When she’d been caught drinking like Janis, she’d gotten banned from school activities.

Of course, with Hope singing at the top of her lungs like that, they weren’t lost in the woods surrounding Hope’s family’s cabin for all that long. Eventually, Ethan shouted from somewhere off to their right, “Hey, keep it down! You’ll wake the neighbors!” Then he and Trevor stumbled out onto the road, stoned off their asses, Trevor planting a kiss on Tamra’s lips. But in those few minutes that they were lost and plotting to run away and start a new life together, Tamra felt closer to Kat than she had since junior high and closer to Hope than… well, ever.

It was one of those movie moments when life seems so perfect that someone must have scripted it. Tamra’s relationship with Trevor finally felt solid after more than two years of hooking up and then breaking up over something stupid—usually something to do with Hope, who’d been his best friend since before kindergarten. Tamra was also beginning to shake the third wheel feeling she’d had around Kat and Hope for the past three years even though Kat had been Tamra’s best friend practically since birth and Hope had only glommed onto Kat in art class freshman year. No, not glommed on, Tamra corrected herself. She planned to stop thinking of Hope as the interloper who consistently hijacked Kat and Trevor’s attention and start thinking of her as a real friend.

Senior year would be starting in two weeks and after the trip to Hope’s family’s cabin, Tamra was convinced it was going to be the best year of her life like all the magazines and books and movies seemed to promise. She could picture that scene of her doing the Monkees walk with Hope and Kat in the credits of some TV show about being seventeen… But she should have realized that no one ever stays happy in those TV shows for long.

One month later: Chocolate. Headlights. A loud belch from Ethan. Sizzling bacon from someone’s late night order of Moons Over My Hammy. Sticky vinyl booth against her thigh. Taste. Sight. Sound. Smell. Touch. Tamra remembered exactly what each of her five senses was attuned to the instant her life changed.

She was sitting at Denny’s with Trevor beside her and Ethan across the table. They were waiting on Hope and Kat. Ethan passed the time by being a jackass as usual, belching out the alphabet or something like that. Trevor laughed and Tamra did, too. Then, she paused, wrapped her lips around the straw of her milkshake and sucked. Chocolate flooded her taste buds. Flooded, then stopped. Because of the headlights, Hope’s headlights.

The car seemed to be headed straight for the restaurant, aimed directly at the big, glass window that Trevor sat beside. It swerved at the last minute. Did a 180 almost. Funny, Tamra didn’t remember tires squealing. They must have squealed, but something covered the sound. Probably a very loud belch of Ethan’s. One she should have laughed at, but instead she watched Hope spill out of the driver’s side door: hysterical, tripping over her own feet, hands plastered to her cheeks like that painting, “The Scream.”

Tamra should have nudged Trevor and declared, “Oh my god, Hope!” But she didn’t. She just watched Hope stumble toward the restaurant. Tamra let the chocolate shake flow back into the straw. Her lips parted. A split second passed before Trevor saw what she saw. Maybe he noticed Tamra wasn’t laughing at Ethan when she should have been. Maybe he heard the tiny pop as she detached sticky lip-glossed lips from the straw. Or, most likely, he was just psychically attuned to Hope.

After all, as soon as he caught a glimpse of Hope through the window, he shoved Tamra out of the booth to get to her. Shoved Tamra so hard, so abruptly that the chocolate milkshake toppled. Thick, brown liquid cascaded across the table causing Ethan to jump up, declaring, “Shit!” Then, he finally glanced out the window and repeated more urgently, “Shhhh-it!”

They met Hope just outside the entrance to Denny’s. And, of course, Hope launched herself into Trevor’s arms. Black and purple makeup smeared in raccoon rings around her blue eyes. Before Trevor could even say anything, Hope wrenched herself away and pounded her fists against his chest. Spit frothed from her red lips like a rabid dog. Then, finally, the wail, “Robbie!”

The scream into the night. “Robbie!”

And Tamra tried to place which of Hope’s boyfriends Robbie was. Current? Ex? And what had he done to upset her this bad? This was melodramatic even for drama queen Hope. Hope generally drove Snow White, her aging white, convertible Cavalier with care because it had been her brother Robert’s….

Damn. Tamra felt guilty for every bad thought she’d ever had about Hope the moment she realized that Hope wasn’t talking about one of her fresh-out-of-or-soon-destined-for-Joliet-State-Correctional-Facilities boyfriends. She meant her brother. The soft-spoken, mild-mannered, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly, older brother who’d moved into the city a year ago to go to cooking school.

Everyone but Hope called him Robert, not Robbie, but Tamra should have known. It shouldn’t have taken looking at the car to connect. And when she realized, she just stared at the car. At the rust around the wheel-well on the driver’s side. The dents in the hood from the hail storm last spring. And finally at Kat in the passenger’s seat, her rainbow-colored dreds tumbling loose from her messy ponytail like usual, but she sat staring straight ahead in pure shock. Normally Kat would have trailed Hope, trying desperately to resolve her crisis even though Trevor was always the only one who could.

While Tamra stared at Kat and Kat stared at Denny’s and Ethan stared at his feet uncomfortably, Trevor forced Hope’s wild eyes to focus on his and invoked that connection they shared just by softly speaking her name. “Hope?”

“They called me,” she stammered. “The police. The hospital. I don’t know!”

As her voice arced toward hysteria again, there was Trevor’s like a steady drumbeat, soothing, “Hope.”

“It happened on the train,” she gulped as Trevor enveloped her shaking hands in his. “In Chicago. He tried to break up a fight and some asshole stabbed him!”

Hope broke from Trevor’s grip again. Her fists flew helplessly at the air, at invisible versions of her brother’s attacker. Trevor caught her hands again, clapped them together between his. Her palms flattened together, pointed up. Praying hands.

“No one can reach my parents. They’re in Wisconsin at the cabin. I have to get to him. I tried, but I’m shaking too bad to drive.”

Hope was shaking and Trevor was comforting her and Kat was frozen and Ethan was stoned like always, so Tamra drove. It was her first time on the highway even though she’d had her license a year because Hope always drove and when Hope wasn’t around, Tamra walked. She liked walking. She and Trevor walked a lot. It was their thing. Driving was not Tamra’s thing. But she did it. Forty miles on the highway in the dark.

Tamra drove fast because she felt guilty. Especially when she glanced in the rearview mirror and found herself resenting Hope because both Trevor and Ethan had their arms wrapped around her. Their messy brown hair pressed against her wilted blond spikes.

Tamra drove even faster because she was scared. Especially when Kat still wouldn’t move, but managed to whisper, “Drive as fast as you can.” The words creaked from her blood-drained lips and she sounded so sick, like they should have been rushing her to the hospital.

But the main reason that Tamra held down the accelerator like her shoes were coated in cement was because she knew would blame herself forever if they didn’t make it in time. Which they didn’t. Robert died twenty minutes before they arrived at the hospital in Chicago.

Two weeks after Robert’s funeral when Tamra showed up at Denny’s to meet her friends, who were all grief-stricken, but still trying to maintain some level of normalcy, she found Trevor lying stretched out across the maroon vinyl seat of their usual booth.

His head faced the wall, feet dangling in the aisle. He stared blankly at the neon green lights that spelled out “Ice Cream” above the cash register. Strangest of all: the thin wisp of smoke coming from the cigarette in his mouth. Trevor never smoked. Hadn’t even tried it once.

“Trevor! What’s wrong? Why are you smoking?” Tamra exclaimed, hovering over him, prepared to pull the cigarette from his lips.

“Hope and Kat left,” he said flatly, still fixated on that neon green glow.

Tamra’s gaze shifted to the table, to two empty coffee cups across from Trevor. They were lipstick-ringed. Plum was Kat’s color. Hope was cherry red, of course. There were two cigarette butts in the ashtray with the same stains. Stunned, Tamra collapsed into the seat they’d vacated. “They wouldn’t….”

Trevor still lay on the seat across from her, still spoke in a monotone. “I gave them sixty bucks. I told them to leave me a cigarette.”

“Where were they going?”

“Dunno. Said they were just going to walk down the highway.”

Tamra thought about the night at the cabin. The three of them. The silly plan. The Monkees walk. She also thought about how she didn’t have bleached, dyed, funky hair. Just the mousy brown stuff she’d been born with, parted straight down the middle, cut to her chin with bangs to her eyebrows. And she wore clear lipgloss. And she didn’t smoke. And the words she said were selfish, but she didn’t think, just spoke them. “I know I’ve never been as cool as Hope, but Kat was my best friend first. Why didn’t they take me?”

Trevor slammed his hands down on the seat with a loud thwack and pushed himself up to glare at Tamra. He spoke well above the din of the restaurant. “Hope’s brother was murdered. Murdered. My best friend’s brother was brutally stabbed and now she’s run off to god knows where and I couldn’t do anything to stop any of it! But to you, it’s a popularity contest?” He shoved his coffee cup off the table, shattering it. “Tamra, you are so shallow.” Then, he got up and left the restaurant.

Senior year was nothing like Tamra imagined it. Trevor didn’t speak to her for half of it until Ethan finally managed to bridge the gap between them. The three of them had to be friends after all. They only had each other. Because, Hope and Kat? They never came back.


keri mikulski :) said...

Congratulations on your review!!

Good stuff.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...


Anonymous said...

I like both stories a lot, so I'm unhelpful. I know you'll do a fantastic job with whatever you choose to write first! Congrats on the great review.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks! And it is helpful to know they are both worth something. I'm still slogging along with both for now and will see what pulls me/agent/editor more.