Dear Ms. Kotchman,
I’m querying you because I read your wish list and understand you're interested in young adult fiction as well as thriller and suspense. I notice you'd also like a novel with well-crafted characters, particularly one struggling with a duality of culture, which is a conflict with both of my main characters. I would like to show you my 70,000-word Paranormal Young Adult Romance, SOUTH OF LIGHT'S END. If I may, I'd also like to direct you to my blog (address is below) where I posted a review from Harper Collins in which they expressed an interest in the outline of SOUTH OF LIGHT'S END and wished to read once completed. I won the review by vote and was very encouraged by their compliments.
Willamina Holt finally finds a boy who understands her completely, a boy she could fall for; unfortunately Elliot is already dead.
Willa turns inward after a bed of snakes almost kill her father, and she’s left to deal with her good-intentioned foster parents, an obnoxious boy from school and a ghost boy with enough Southern charm to talk a chicken out of its feathers. Though the town thinks Elliot drowned, Willa hears the truth from the ghost’s own mouth and sets out to help him find his murderer.
Sympathy turns to love, though Willa knows a relationship with Elliot is as hopeless as getting her farm back. But there is someone in town she could find happiness with if she would only look. Someone in Willa’s new beachside town needs her as much as she needs him and he could help uncover the secrets of Elliot’s death.
If that doesn't put pepper in her gumbo, this other boy’s hang-ups sure do.
Tate, a British transplant, sticks out like a one-eyed cow on this Florida peninsula, and his cheating father doesn't make life any easier. Tate’s issues make a fifteen-year-old mute girl seem positively healthy.
Full of mystery and the kind of bond that death can’t stop, SOUTH OF LIGHT’S END tells the tale of three teenagers whose paths cross in unexpected and haunting ways.
I am the editor/owner of The Headland Voice newspaper and I have more than fifteen years of experience as a journalist: The Dothan Eagle, The Eufaula Tribune, The Jackson County Floridan. With this background, I have a considerable multi-state following from loyal readers and contacts with former colleagues.
Thank you for your consideration.
Per your submission guidelines, the first chapter:
A wrinkled ocean lies in the embrace of violet skies;
sprinkled throughout are tiny stars,
sprinkled throughout are tiny stars,
flickering as though preening for more attention.
They halt at the sound of the sirens.
They halt at the sound of the sirens.
Don’t leave. I’m scared.
Red and blue beams rotate over the ocean, again and again,
threatening to drown out the starlight.
But the stars are steadfast and soon resume their flickering,
a Morse code of sorts.
a Morse code of sorts.
Never fear. We’ll be waiting for you. It’s not time yet, young man.
You must find the great thing, cherish it, and then you will be among us.
South of Light’s End
Chapter 1 Willa
My fingertips trail along the gleaming wood of the banister as I tiptoe down the stairs. But when I reach the bottom, the unmistakable creak of wood ricochets off portraits adorning the three-storied walls. Chills shoot up my back when I realize the sound didn’t come from me. It’s the balcony that curves in front of the rest of the rooms. Squinting into the dim light, I scan the open hallway, but what I’m looking for stays just out of reach.
Cool air blasts over my feet. Deep breath. Look down. A vent.
With a shake of my head, I glance around for an open door…blown by a breeze? Anything to explain the slam I heard a minute ago.
Just forget it.
I turn to make my way back up the stairs and almost stumble when I feel it—something that can’t be explained away like a vent. My ear hums like something’s hovering too close, like listening to a seashell for the sound of the ocean. I stay still as he lifts my hair. Sparks fly inside me when I feel his hot breath on my neck; I close my eyes and tilt my head. A whisper of warm air sweeps back and forth, from the back of my neck to the side. Back and forth, back and forth. My stomach leaps with each movement.
Then he’s gone…or never really there. I tighten up when I feel the shivers coming again.
Loneliness does weird things to people.
Tears pool in my eyes. I’m not capable of real affection; I have to make it up. The imagined ghost that floats around in my head since I moved here. How long does it take to drive a perfectly sane girl crazy? Three days at the Choehola Bed & Breakfast will do.
I could ask my faux parents if they’d seen anything freaky, but there’s a couple of problems with that.
“Willa,” my foster mother calls from the balcony above. I hate that this place is so big. “Are you okay?”
I covertly wipe the tears from my face, relieved that she’s probably too far away to see them. Okay, maybe a big house has a few perks.
She makes her way to the landing and comes down the stairs. “I thought I heard a door. Chad and I were just about to come say goodnight.”
Chad pops his head out of their door, looking sheepish, his black hair a little ruffled. Ew! I don’t want to know what they were doing. “Uh…,” he stammers. “I was about to hop in the shower. Let me get my robe.”
I head to my room, trying not to roll my eyes as Jackie follows me. You don’t have to tuck me in like a baby. I’d tell them this, but I don’t speak.
Nope. No one has gotten a peep out of me in the two months since the accident. But that’s not the only thing keeping me from telling them about my ghost. They’ll think I’m crazy. Ha! I’m mute. They thought I was crazy the moment they took me in. That day was one of the worst days of my life. Second only to one other.
I squeeze my eyes shut and almost walk into my door jam. Jackie watches as I ease down on top of my covers. I’m fifteen years old—not five!
She tucks her pale brown hair behind her ear as she eyes my bed. I know she wants to pull the covers over me. No. Just no.
Chad leans against the door jam and waves. I think he forgets that I’m not deaf. You can speak to me, Chad, I just won’t speak back.
“Goodnight, Willa,” they chime.
Short and sweet, unlike the discussions Daddy and I used to have before going to bed—anything from moonbows to mythology. Some nights he played plaintive notes from a violin. Not necessarily a lullaby for me, though. He only played when he was sad, and it would go on late into the night. Now those notes are often in my dreams, the only sound overlaying a nightmarish scene. One of the reasons I can’t sleep. One of the reasons I keep thinking I hear things. But didn’t Jackie say she heard something?
“Try to get some sleep,” Jackie says. “You’ll need it for your first day of school.”
New school as a sophomore. Yay.
After they leave, I roll myself tightly in my blankets. The only thing showing is my head, a tribal babe in a papoose. Security for the lonely girl. Pitiful.
I stare at the ceiling and recite Sappho’s Hymn to Aphrodite in my head until I fall asleep.
At my new school, class begins at eight o’clock. Late. Back at home, the bell rang at seven thirty on the dot, though eighty percent of the student population had been up for at least three hours already. There were chores to do on the farm. I’ll continue to wake with the sun just to stay in the habit. The only problem is filling the time. It’s the very reason I’m standing on the porch, ready to go, thirty minutes before the bus is scheduled to run. At least the view is pretty.
My temporary home is less than a mile from the mouth of a peninsula…the cape in Cape San Blas. I have to admit, though grudgingly, mornings are beautiful here. The most beautiful I’ve ever seen. My eyes ache as I pry them open further to take everything in. The purple, blue, and green sky rests softly on the teal-blue ocean water, topped with white curls of waves. The sea oats, darker without the full power of the sun, wave in the ever-present breeze. I wave back. It’s a southern thing.
By the time I make my way to the end of the drive, the sun is fully up and restarting its roast of the earth. In Florida, the twelve-hour rotisserie feels more like a steam bath. The Snow Birds complain—that would be the Canadian tourists—but I love it.
Tilting my head up, I inhale the humidity-laden air deeply just before the rumble of the bus reaches my ears. I ease my mask down: I imagine something between a scowl and disinterest. I’m surrounded by rich people here on the cape, and the last thing I want is them talking to me or, worse, attempting to take me on as a charity case. I have no plans of talking back and I definitely don’t want to make friends, charitable or real.
I swing my hair, trying to get a little air to my heated neck before the bus arrives.
Before I walked out the door earlier, the faux mom, Jackie, asked me if I was nervous about the first day at my new school. I only shrugged. First day or last day, it’s all be the same to me. “Your hair looks pretty down like that, Willa.”
In appreciation for the compliment, I gifted her a half smile. Little did she know, I left it down just for the bus ride. It isn’t comfortable to wear a pony tail on a bus as it bumps down the road. A hair tie is around my wrist for later.
She should have stopped there but Jackie has foot-mouth disease. Open mouth and insert foot. “You can see more of the red in it that way, less blonde.”
My hair is red like my daddy’s. Not blonde like the meth-addicted, white trash mother I’ve only seen in pictures, or the blonde cardboard cut-out Florida girls.
The bus grinds to a stop in front of me. “Good morning,” the driver chirps after swinging the door open. I take stock of this woman before stepping up. She’s wearing a silky white shirt and matching pants, and it’s nothing less than red high heels that press the brake pedal down. She grins between blonde flat-ironed flaps of hair, and I notice a dot of magenta lipstick on her left front tooth. Okay….
I nod and keep my eyes down, hiding my smile as I make my way past her.
We’ve only made it past two driveways when the driver stops the bus abruptly. I catch sight of a brainless idiot running up to the stop with a little girl in tow. He grips her purple backpack, and her mouth hangs open as though she’s surprised and amused at the same time. Her eyes are full of five- or six-year-old mischief.
The boy, a year or two older than me, wears a scowl under his pronounced cheekbones and deep-set dark eyes. His thick brown hair waves as the wind seems to be in on the joke and decides to ruffle his feathers even further. The girl walks onto the bus, still giggling. I guess this means we’ll be stopping at an elementary school first. She plops into the seat ahead of me and waves out the window. He rests his hands on his hips before giving a curt nod and heading to a three-car garage. Hmm. Too cool to take little sister to school, huh? Rich fathead.
When I registered Friday, they went ahead and showed me around. No confusion, no talking. Check. So I go straight to homeroom this morning with no problem. Emblazoned in blue ink across the dry erase board is Welcome to Mr. Christy’s class. He stands at the front of the room and greets students with a grin so big his gums show at times. Mr. Christy, a tall and lanky man with curly brown hair, is also my first period teacher. So after the bell rings I stay in my seat located in the front of the room, two steps from the door. Easy access.
I didn’t look around much during homeroom, just stared straight ahead, but I note every student as they enter the classroom for first period Honors English. It’s like a leaky faucet. Drip, drip, drip. Over-privileged, bleached blonde, pretty. Over-privileged, bleached blonde, pretty. Over-privileged, bleached bl—Someone fix the faucet!
Then in walks a brown head. Yay, different. Whatever.
“Tate, you missed homeroom.” Mr. Christy picks my desk to lean on. His khaki-covered backside rests just above my notebook. Awkward. But he has those soft eyes that say he’s just plain ole good, and his manner of speaking is gentle and non-judgmental.
The boy, Tate, is halfway across the room before he turns back with a guilty expression on his perfect face. It’s the rich fathead. When he answers, I almost gag.
“I’m sorry, sir. Here is my tardy slip.” Seriously? He’s going to have a British accent in freaking Florida. Who does he think he is?
My eyes narrow as I replay his words in my head. Fake accent? I can’t be sure. Suddenly, his eyes turn to me. He furrows his brow and his mouth forms a circle. I open my eyes full force and shrug a shoulder. He presses his lips together, forming a thin line. Haha! He has found someone who doesn’t like him. Poor idiot—it must be quite a shock.
When class begins, I forget about the Englishman and actually become excited about class as we go over the syllabus. This teacher is more passionate about poetry than even me. Well, it’s close. Frost, Sapho, Plath….
“Whup, I forgot to call roll.” Finally, he gives my desk a rest and sits at his own, tapping on his keyboard. It’s going to be that way, huh? Roll is taken on a computer here. They still take attendance in roll books back in Caryville. Ooooh, archaic.
A girl in the back with a blonde French braid gives a bored, “Here.”
“Here,” a blond curly head says beside me.
A cheerful “Present,” comes from somewhere behind me. I stop looking.
“Willamina.” The teacher raises his head and looks around the classroom with an open expression.
After he catches sight of my raised hand, Mr. Christy’s eyes shoot back down to the screen. The teachers have been warned that I won’t talk.
A few giggles erupt from the back of the room, and I jut my chin out. Screw them. Three months ago I would have cracked someone in the jaw for calling me by my full name. Truthfully, I did – Joey Sewell felt my wrath, but that was a rarity. I used to be happier, cheerful even. No, I won’t go that far. Peaceful. My changing mood has nothing and everything to do with the newfound pride in my name. I used to only answer to Willa, but since the accident, Willamina is just fine.
When the bell rings later, Mr. Christy gives me a little half wave good-bye, and I almost smile. Almost. And then he walks in front of me, blocking my view.
“Excuse me. Do I know you?” Tate asks.
I look up and shake my head.
“I didn’t think so.” He tugs at a green spiral bracelet on his wrist. “But you looked at me earlier like I’d pissed in your porridge.”
I shrug, gather my things and stand to leave.
“You’re not going to tell me why you gave me the go-to-hell look?” he asks right before someone walks into the backpack slung over his shoulder. Tate sort of twists at the same time he pitches forward, knocking a notebook out of my hand.
“Sorry,” he says and retrieves it.
He doesn’t hand it over, though; he clasps it to his chest instead. I hold my hand out with eyebrows raised.
Much closer now, closer than I want him to be, he stares down at me. His eyes are a weird mixture of brown and green. A silky brownish color covers the outer part of his irises and green takes over the inside in a jagged pattern like a sunburst.
“Shoot your daggers elsewhere,” he says, pronouncing neither of the R’s. So maybe the accent is real. Tate slaps the notebook onto my palm and tilts his head as he gazes down at me a second longer. He turns and leaves the room.
Oh, I know he didn’t just dismiss me. And I will shoot my “daggahs” at whoever I want!
It only takes me a couple of classes to realize my mistake as far as the type of students at my new school. Not so rich. The elite students are mixed with the not-so-elite. Actually, the elite are the minority. Cape San Blas, for the most part, consists of tourist rentals and summer houses, therefore not many students. The majority of the kids are from Port St. Joe, a town full of fishing families. That’s closer to my caste level.
Beth, from Honors English, belongs to one of those families. During Chem lab, she sits beside me and has free reign to fill me in on all of the ins and outs of my new school along with her entire life’s history. The instructor walked out of the room minutes after class started, mumbling something about a mix-up of his and Mrs. Peterson’s syllabi.
“What do you have next? Oh, lunch of course and then Florida History,” she says after I show her my schedule. “Jerome has that. He’s my step-brother and absolutely nothing like me. He’s a sophomore too. Jerome cusses like a sailor, and he thinks he has to wear this ugly, full-of-holes cap everywhere. Calls it his holy hat.… Absolutely disgusting.”
I stop listening as I peer at my new lab partner. Beth smiles all the time. She scratches her head, she smiles. She bumps her elbow, she smiles. Her long, sandy blonde hair tangles around a bolt on her chair, she smiles. Her freckles stretch tightly across her face the more animated she becomes, and her top lip sticks to her slightly bucked two front teeth with the lack of moisture.
She has an entire one-sided conversation without questioning my lack of participation. At her next words I figure out why.
“Isn’t it just absolutely perfect that we’re lab partners? Mr. Christy is our debate team sponsor, and I had to go back to his class after English. I asked him about you. It’s totally fine that you don’t talk. The way I see it, we’ll get along just absolutely perfect. I love to talk.”
That explains it. So maybe it’ll be harder than I thought to keep to myself. This girl, while excessive, doesn’t seem like someone I can hate.
“I noticed you highlighting things on Mr. Christy’s syllabus. You must like reading.” At the nod of my head, she carries on as though she’s just swallowed a Skittles rainbow, “Oh, I love reading. I even catch myself reading brochures sometimes. You’ll love our library.”
I perk up at that. Why not dig up some history on the B&B? And maybe a ghost too. Real or imagined, that thing has stunned the sarcasm out of me three times now.
Where’s the library? I scribble on my notebook after the instructor walks back in and shushes everybody.
Beth writes her instructions in bubbly handwriting.
When the bell rings, I head to the cafeteria and grab a slice of pizza. With directions in hand, I make my way to the library, shoving the pizza in as fast as I can, almost choking on the last bite. I wipe my greasy hands on my jeans and walk through the library’s double doors. Immediately, a sign tells me exactly what I need to know: Newspaper archives, thataway.
It takes me a while to find an article containing the death of someone living at the B&B. A couple and their son lived there a year ago while the husband upgraded all the wiring, clearly not an easy feat with the size and age of the house. Dang, it must have taken a while to do it for them to have moved in. So, according to the article, fifteen-year-old Elliot Gibson drowned in the bay while fishing with his dad one night.
I analyze the small head and shoulders picture accompanying the article. Elliot has dark, messy hair and an adorable boyish grin. Boyish. There’s no way that what I’ve been feeling is from a fifteen-year-old.
The story continues on an inside page where there is another picture. This one is black and white, so I can’t make out much detail. I finish the article that says the circumstances were especially tragic when the —oh, the stepfather—anyway, it says he had a hard time pointing the emergency workers in the right direction. It seems he was so distraught that he couldn’t remember exactly where they were on the beach. Finally, he remembered it was actually the bayside, not the ocean side, where they were. Weird. I guess those in power didn’t find it weird since the final ruling was still an accidental drowning.
I glance back up at the picture of Elliot. He’s leaning against a Jeep, his head level with the top. He’s pretty tall—tall and lanky. Reminds me of Mr. Christy. This can’t be my ghost, though. My ghost has much more experience “wooing” women. Ick, what if he is forty or something? What am I worried about? It can only be my imagination anyway, right?
As I ready the papers to place them back in the bin, something catches my eye. On the page facing the one I was just reading is a write-up about a parade. There’s a picture of an old, tiny convertible and none other than Tate sits in the driver’s seat. His sister presides like a southern debutante on the hood with a white dress spread around her.
Tatum Julius Von Loux III drove his sister, Katherine May Von Loux, in the 19th Annual Seafood Festival Parade.
No way! I’ve never in my life heard a more pretentious name, and why does the paper run their full names? Oh, society section. Those names are insane though. But, in Beth’s words, just absolutely perfect.