Pitch Your Story to Melissa Ann Singer

melissaannsingerMelissa Ann Singer is a Senior Editor at Tor/Forge books, where she edits fiction for adult readers in a wide range of categories, including horror, mystery and suspense, urban fantasy, epic fantasy, thrillers, and more. She has been at Tor/Forge for more than thirty years; before that she was at the Berkley Publishing Group, working in science fiction and fantasy. She can be found on Twitter as @maseditor. A native New Yorker, she lives in a small apartment with a large cat and spends as much of her free time as possible in museums.



In all areas, I’m definitely looking for under-represented voices, cultures, and points of view. Romantic plotlines are always welcome but should not be the engine that drives the book. HEAs not necessary.

Horror: all types, from Lovecraftian to psychological (though I tend not to be drawn to end-of-days stuff) and back again. Urban and non-urban settings both okay. I cast a wide net here.

Urban fantasy: I’m highly selective here but definitely looking. As with horror, all types welcome though I generally don’t like angels or deus ex machina endings. Important: urban fantasy is not the same thing as paranormal romance.

Mystery and suspense: No cozies, please. I tend to like books with a harder edge and to prefer professional investigators of some kind (law enforcement, PIs, forensic people, spies, etc.) to amateurs. In mystery, generally looking for series.

Thriller: I love disaster thrillers, both natural and man-made. Science thrillers–killer diseases, genetic tinkering, etc.– and family-in-jeopardy also appeal.

Epic fantasy: again, highly selective in this area. Swords, magic, armies, dragons, bring it on!


Pitch will be read: February 15, 2017

Pitching Guidelines can be found HERE.

Please post your Pitch in the Comments section below in this format:


PITCH (under 200 words):




  1. Judith Thompson says:

    The Visit
    I SAT IN MY BROTHER, Russell’s living room, now 44 years since our mother’s horrible murder that night in October 1952, listening to the same confused rhetoric of my family trying to unravel the events. I really thought they were trying to sort it out. Then I suddenly realized that the conversation hadn’t changed over the years. I introduced new insight that I had found about the legal process that took place in 1952. I tried to walk them through the gaps, where the man had been taken to serve his time and when he’d gotten out.
    “Did he get the punishment he deserved?” I asked.
    “Hell no!” They all raised their voices to me. This set off a barrage of angry comments about the 10 of 18 years he’d served for killing my mother.
    “Well let’s go see him and tell him how we feel,” I suggested.
    A few days later the lady on the phone at Seton Hall Nursing Home confirmed that they had a patient named, Glenn Greathouse, the man who had murdered my mother.
    I drove up East Main Street in Clarksburg just 15 minutes away. Seton Hall, a three story colonial revival house, had once had a large front porch with pillars and decorative trim like the others I had driven by. But now the porch was enclosed. A woman in a blue uniform led me down the hallway to his room.
    I was almost startled finding myself standing here in front of this man who looked so like my father. He did not match the picture of the monster that my brothers had painted over the years. He didn’t match the picture I had stored of him either. The man who had once unsettled us with his reclusive way of life. The man who had in time spread his tools on the floor of the kitchen with half his body under our sink. I knew the name and what he had done but I realized I had never known this man, who had once wanted to marry our mother. The smell of urine and cigarettes filled my nostrils as I watched his dark eyes looking me over. I watched his face for any sign of recognition as I introduced myself.
    “I am Judy Hartzell, Agnes Hartzell’s daughter,” I stated, as I leaned down to his level. He looked small sitting in the big vinyl chair. His skin was paste white against the dark vinyl. His eyes drifted to the television across the room. If he recognized the name he showed no visible sign that I could see. Perhaps he wanted to ignore me, so I moved a chair closer in front of him.
    “Do you remember Aggie Hartzell?” I asked again. I said it a little louder thinking he may have been hard of hearing. He looked right into my eyes. His gaze was intense. His brows raised up but I couldn’t tell if he recognized her name or if I had just startled him. I wanted to startle him. I wanted to shake him. I wanted to know why he took my mother away from me. I wanted to see shock when I said her name. I wanted him to know that we were still dealing with the consequences of his actions 44 years later. I felt I had the right to hear at least that much from his mouth and so I tried again.
    “Why did you hurt Agnes Hartzell?”
    Lost Creek
    FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER and before I understood why, I was called “Nose.” It was Russell who started it. I stepped into the circle he had just drawn in the dirt for his marble game.
    “Aw, why don’t you go play somewhere else,” he said as he grabbed my arm releasing my scream. My heart sank and my eyes filled with tears.
    “What’s going on out there?” Mother called from the screen door.
    “She keeps taking my marbles. She’s always following me around and nosing into everything. Can’t she play somewhere else?’ he complained.
    From that day my brothers, so much bigger, older, taller tapped me on the top of my head and pronounced me “Nose.” They could out run me taking my doll in one big swoop laughing as I tried to reach up to their arms stretched high over their heads. Hard as I tried I couldn’t get my foot on the first rung of the ladder nailed on the big oak tree down by the creek. I was reduced to playing under the grape arbor watching as they, screaming and laughing, swung like Tarzans on the long rope dropping down into the creek on hot summer days. Their fast bikes slid to a stop in a cloud of dust. Too big and heavy for me, I tried leaning them against the side of the house, but I still couldn’t reach the pedals. The boys blocked me, putting a chair or something in my way so I had to go around to try and catch them. They pushed and pulled sending me and my tricycle on a fast path out of control and out of their way.
    The big yard around the old rectory house that we rented in Lost Creek, West Virginia in 1948 was the extent of my whole world. Our house sat facing forward more toward town and Main Street on about an acre of land that included a large vegetable garden at the back. Lost Creek ran parallel to the house on the north side. It was a small creek shaded by the tall oaks that lined its banks from the hot humid summers. It had a few deep pockets like the one below the large oak tree back toward the garden and grape arbor. A small wooden bridge crossed the creek to the alley that led to town or school. Other times we sat there and dangled our feet in the cool water. The large grassy space from the creek to the house was always full of activity; Mom hanging clothes, bikes taking short cuts between the house and pump house down to the creek and over the bridge. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad paralleled the house on the south side. A chain link fence covered in honeysuckle and Mom’s lavender pink roses ran along the yard on the south and west sides closing off the yard from danger. It was on this side that Grandpap rested under the big apple tree defending his space with his cane or an apple aimed at anyone who threatened his peace. My oldest sister, Jean and her friends, sat out there on summer evenings and watched as I caught fireflies in a jar. Mother rested here sometimes too on her way to or from the garden.
    Sharing this old parish house with three of my older brothers, Carl, Robert and Russell, was like living with a swarm of bees. Their boundless energy drove them out the back door in the mornings leaving me behind with the smell of toast and hot chocolate. If an interest caught their attention like the leaves falling from the big oak tree that left it black and naked, or a heavy winter blanket of snow, they stayed close to the house so I could catch up, otherwise they did not return until the last of daylight disappeared behind the hills. If it was fall, mounded leaves of deep red and gold became forts or soft landings for me being tossed from the arms of Carl to Robert and eventually into the pile of dry rustlings screaming with laughter. I begged them tugging on their legs “please Carl one more time?” The thrill of my brothers playing, no matter how rough, thrilled me and created memories that I cherish today. It ended all too soon as they lit their cat tails that had been dipped in kerosene and started their battles. Mother and Jean both came running then to the kitchen door in a panic having smelled the smoke and heard the screaming.
    “You boys put that fire out. What do you think you’re doing? You’ll burn the house down. Judith Ann you get in here this minute.”
    “Oh do I have to? Just a little longer?” I was having so much fun and when I had their attention I never wanted it to end.
    I didn’t realize it then of course, but the boys had nicknames too. Mrs. Weise, a woman who was hired to do laundry when I was born, gave the boys their names. Charles or Charlie then 20 and Jean soon to be 17 escaped with their given names intact. Walter 15 was already “Bud” so as not to be confused with Grandpap Walter Matthews then 64, my mother’s father. Carl turned 11 that May and became “Monk” for monkey, as he climbed up anything available. He was almost killed climbing up the water tower when a bolt came loose from somewhere above and hit him in the head knocking him unconscious. Robert was so tall and thin for his 10 years, reminding her of a bed slat, thus “Slats.” It’s carved along with his given name on his tombstone in the Seventh Day Cemetery in Lost Creek, West Virginia. Russell just 8 liked to hide in the nook in the kitchen. I don’t think anyone after that knew his given name. He was just “Nook.” His tombstone at the Bridgeport, West Virginia Cemetery doesn’t even have his full given name, Russell Lee Hartzell, but reads Russell “Nook” Hartzell.
    Charlie, my oldest brother, was handsome, a slim 6’1.” He had, dark hair and brown eyes. There wasn’t much that Charlie couldn’t do and he was not shy about telling you of his accomplishments either. Later in his life, Patty, his wife would pat him on his shoulder or thigh and say with a kind gentle smile, “Now Charlie.” He was good with his hands. His long arms gave him a big advantage for cutting glass. He could handle large pieces of window glass and cut faster than anyone at the glass factory. He was not only a good student in High school but the star basketball player all 4 years. He was a tenor in the church choir and sang at weddings as well as school plays. As I was growing up Charlie showed me his special maneuvers that allowed him to fake the other players out getting him to the basket before they knew what he was doing. Walter was always jealous of his older brother and worked hard to try to keep up with him in school and on the basketball court.
    It was my sister, Jean who made it clear to me that I was to answer to Judith Ann. “Judith Ann you get yourself in here before I tan your hide.” Or “Judith Ann you hold still so I can get the soap out of your hair.” Jean was a beautiful brunette with hazel eyes. She was only 5’4″ tall but full of life and energy at 17. I would later call her “sister-mom” and she would become my memory of my childhood and my family. Over the years Jean told me of my birth, as well as my sister Linda’s many times. I can’t remember my sister without a cup of black coffee beside her and a cigarette in her mouth with an ash tray nearby. She sat with one of us between her legs combing and braiding our long thick hair, as she passed on her memories.
    I remember her story about my birth. I remember it word for word like some favorite children’s story. We had no books. The stories we were told were passed down by word of mouth-stories of family members and things that happened to them.
    She put her cigarette between her fingers and took a long drag on it. Then taking a sip of coffee she began her narration of the birth. “Well” she would say, she always started her tales with well. It seemed to give her time to release the smoke threw her nose and time to recollect the facts and get them in order before she began.
    I was born the 8th of 9 children on a Tuesday. Dad and Charlie left for work as usual driving to the Adamston Flat Glass Company. Mother got up early and worked until her labor took her to her room and bed signaling to all around that the time had come. She had prepared ahead giving my siblings their duties, as she had done just 6 years before with Russell. Carl and Robert were to take the sheets after my birth and bury them in the garden at the back of the house. Jean and mom had worked and planned that week discussing what needed to be done as they worked in the kitchen. Jean was also to help her deliver if help was not able to get there in time. Russell was to run up Main Street for the doctor.
    It was a hot humid day and the lawn was already brown and crunchy from lack of water. All the windows and doors were open waiting to let a breeze into the house. No breeze, just Russell blew through the open door.
    “He’s on his way, right behind me,” Russell out of breath announced much to the relief of my sister.
    Jean stood beside mother’s bed patting her forehead with a wet rag, acting brave not wanting to upset her. Mother’s face registered her painful contractions, her eyes squeezed shut and her mouth drew tightly closed like she might be holding a scream. By the time Doctor Pletcher appeared in the doorway mom was grunting hard, pushing the rag and Jean’s hand away. Cries and relief filled the house. Doctor Pletcher announced a baby girl, a big baby girl 10 pounds, 2 ounces.
    “Well old Doc Pletcher handed you to me. You was kickin’ and cryin’ and I was tryin’ to wash you off. I guess that doctor cuttin’ that cord and slappin’ you made you mad. Your chubby fat little legs just kickin’ like you was ready to get up and run away. You were big and I seen that you were a girl and I was so happy.” Said Jean. And so it was with my birth June 4th 1946 that started my life time of memories, stories, secrets and jokes that I would spend a lifetime trying to become a part of.
    Mother had lost her first child, a little girl, just a few months old to pneumonia. Mother never talked about it. In fact, it was a surprise to all of us when 40 years later family history research revealed that she had been previously married. This information also solved the mystery of a picture we had looked at for years trying to identify the unknown man with our mother. She was just 18 in October of 1924 when she married Ira C. Lutes, a rough handsome looking man who rode a loud motor cycle much too fast for the neighbors. He was the opposite of her second choice of a husband our father. However they would both leave her.
    My mother, Agnes May Matthews, was described by friends and family as a pretty woman. She had brown hair that she wore wound around a form up and away from her full face and blue eyes. She was about 5’2″ and would become heavy after giving birth to 9 children. She was particular about her home and appearance. Although we couldn’t afford it mother ordered all her clothes from expensive stores like Kauffmann’s in Pittsburgh. She measured her feet with clothespins in order to size her shoes when she ordered. She sat at her vanity at night carefully cleansing her face with Ponds Cold Cream, advertised to keep the wrinkles of time away.
    My father Wesley Miller Hartzell was born just a few miles from my mother in Hempfield Township, Pennsylvania. They would not meet until mother returned from Cameron, West Virginia to visit her grandmother in Jeannette, Pennsylvania after she lost her first baby. Her marriage to Ira was not going well. She and her friend, Dot, were planning to spend some time together, while my mother recovered.
    It was my mother’s friend Dot who first heard my father Wesley play the piano on KDKA, Pittsburgh and told mother about him. Wesley, like his father, went to work at the Jeannette Glass Factory owned in part by Dot’s father Mr. James Donahue. Dad born in 1902 and his brother William in 1897, like so many young boys, had to go to work to help their families. They needed the extra income for clothes, food and that month’s rent. He was one of the 5,658 kids that became known as the “Glass House Boys” between 1890 and 1917. The boys were part of the Pennsylvania state’s glass house “small help program” earning 75 cents a day or $1.35 a day more if they worked nights. The boys, some just 8 years old, fetched and carried for the glass blowers adding to their speed and wages. The skilled workers were paid by the piece so the faster they worked the more they earned. The men and boys sang as they worked to take their minds off the dust from the batch mixing process, and the extreme heat that reached 145 degrees on hot summer days. The heat closed the factories in the month of August. Then there was the extreme cold in the winter in factories with no insulation. Some sang songs from their far away homelands of France, Belgium, Ireland and Wales.
    Dad was one of the lucky ones and at 14 he apprenticed under his father as a glass flattener. His mother Agnes Elizabeth Smeltzer was not happy about her son working with his hands. These hands, she had hoped, would play beautiful music. She had begged and pleaded with her husband, first for the piano lessons for Wesley and then to not have him work in the factory. Agnes already had two sons and a husband working in the factory and she wanted just one to have a different life.
    One day when mother was still in Jeanette recovering from the loss of her child and her marriage, she went to visit her friend Dot.
    “Agnes come walk with me to meet my dad.” said Dot, knowing they might encounter Wesley as the men filed out of the factory. She knew Agnes needed something to cheer her up. She hadn’t told Agnes about Wesley yet, not wanting her to reject the idea until she met him.
    “Alright, I guess if that’s what you want to do.” Agnes was still depressed after all that had happened. James Donahue, Dot’s father, was already in site as Dot and Agnes made their way to the entrance. Dot could hardly contain her excitement as she spotted Wesley right behind him.
    “Agnes, this is Wesley Hartzell,” James introduced my mother to my father. That evening Agnes and Dot compared Wesley’s appearance to the young actor Edward G. Robinson, the 1920’s “King of gangster films.” They both had thick black hair combed neatly straight back from their foreheads, revealing a widows peak (a genetic trait that would be passed on to me). The full face, dark chocolate eyes and full lips forming a soft gentle smile.
    “Yes and he plays the piano beautifully. I heard him play on the radio.” Dot told Agnes.
    Wesley and Agnes were married the 17th of May 1927 at the Orphans Court of Westmoreland County, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The ceremony was a simple one attended by their parents, brothers and sisters and a few friends. Cake and coffee were served at the home of my mother’s parents. Their eight by ten wedding portraits carefully hand tinted in soft pastel blues and browns today hang on my family picture wall in my hallway. These pictures like the others that document my family history were not carefully placed in a family album and neatly stored on a shelf but were tossed in a cardboard box that Jean brought out on her visits to family members over the years.
    There was no honeymoon for my parents like we might have today, but instead a room at Charles and Agnes Hartzell’s, my father’s parents’ home, for the next year and a half. I am not sure what happened other than my brother Charles’ birth in that year and a half, but mother never wanted to go back. Anytime dad even mentioned going up to Jeannette to visit his parents, mother just threw a fit. She came down with a headache before it was time to leave. And she really didn’t like Aunt Margaret, dad’s sister. Mother’s opinion of that side of the family was passed on to us kids. Any of the boys would have said that they all disliked Aunt Margaret and avoided her when she was around.
    Two years after my parents’ marriage and about the same time as the stock market crash of 1929, my father and Grandpap, Walter Scott Matthews, my mother’s father, were recruited by Mr. Donahue to go to Cameron to work at his new factory. My grandparents, my parents and siblings, all moved into the old house up on Schoolhouse Hill. The depression and then WWII left people looking for work. Unemployment was moving up from 17.2 percent to 19 percent and they were happy to move anywhere they could work. The struggling economy eventually hit the Cameron Chimney Glass Factory too and first my Grandpap and then my father were laid off. They went fishing and hunting, raised chickens and rabbits to help sustain the family until Grandpap found work managing a pool hall when the owner joined the Army. My father found work on a government sponsored WPA Project a program that Franklin D. Roosevelt started as part of the “New Deal.” These were public works projects building dams, bridges, tunnels, parks and in Cameron a swimming pool and community center. This put people to work from 1935 to 1939. Many of these projects like the Cameron Pool are listed on the National Registry as Historical sites today. The pool was unique not only because of its half-moon shape and size but the 235,000 gallons of water it held could be used to fight fires as well.
    I find it hard to believe that I never actually met my Grandmother Matthews. I had seen her pictures many times growing up as they were passed around the room. The pictures left vivid images of her large frame, her full bosom hanging over her apron and her round face. All the shared memories of her over the years brought her to life, making me feel like I was right there with them.
    They told me how on Monday mornings Grandma got up early. She and mother washed clothes and hung them on the clotheslines strung across the backyard. Grandma took her broom on Saturdays through the house under the beds extracting pet groundhogs that the boys had slipped into the house. Carl loved animals and had one groundhog trained to stand in a corner and eat a banana. Grandma Matthews had been there to cook for the family, making the baby formula, canning all the summer fruits and vegetables. She and Mom had worked side by side while listening to the radio. After listening to my sibling’s musings, hadn’t I tasted her homemade jams and pies and eaten her Sunday dinners too? I must have been around the table on those Sundays with cousins Paul, Dean, Nevin, Reba and Uncle Frank and Aunt Laura. And hadn’t I just been too young to remember Grandpap taking me to church on Sunday mornings with the boys and singing those hymns?
    After my grandmother’s death in the spring of 1939, seven years before I was born, my mother had a hard time dealing with the loss of her mother and her support. When Russell was born, he was mother’s first child born without grandma at her side. So much of the family care had now fallen solely onto my mother’s shoulders.
    It was in April of 1948 mother was 5 months pregnant with our sister Linda when
    Dad and the doctor decided a move to the old parish house in Lost Creek might help with mother’s “fits” as we called them. It was not a big move just 7 winding miles over and around the gently rolling hills.
    Lost Creek had been so named when an early resident found a skeleton beside a tree somewhere down along the creek. “I am lost” and the initials, K. D., were carved into the trunk above it. In 1923 Lost Creek had been the largest cattle shipping town east of the Mississippi River. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that ran through town was already there when coal and gas were discovered. Now in 1948 big coal trucks rattled through town leaving clouds of dust as they made their way from the mines to the coal tipples east of town. The hotels and boarding houses that had accommodated the workers and drummers that came along selling animal feed were now boarded up. There was talk of the old streetcar tracks along the creek being removed soon after our move. The streetcar came through town from Clarksburg then on to Weston. It had a freight car attached that carried fresh milk and produce for the small stores and restaurants. On Main Street only the Stonagers Garage, Dr. Randolph, Dr. Pletcher, the depot, the National Brand Food Store, the Cobbs Confectionary and Browns Restaurant had survived the changes.
    I don’t remember if the blinds being drawn or the screening of the magazines and newspapers started first. Jean had been picking up the newspaper by the front door after school for months now and at mother’s request, cut out any pictures of women especially ads of women posing in scant clothing. They had to be cut out before dad came home from work. Mother never left the house or yard except at night to go for quiet drives with dad. She had begun waiting until dark to even go into the yard on a summer evening.
    Now my Mother depended more on my father and she came to know him as a quiet man who read books, maybe too much and he liked nice cars and music. Mother liked nice things too, beautiful things, and a nice house decorated in the latest color schemes and fabrics. She wanted her bedroom painted her favorite color blue. The move to Lost Creek, another pregnancy and the condition of the old house sent mother off into a crying fit. She wanted a sofa for the den and a black linoleum floor with new curtains she had seen in the catalog. Perhaps she had even dreamed of a prominent place in the community, as she sat before her vanity mirror applying cold cream or quietly playing the piano. Her grandmother’s lace table cloth covered the now seldom used dining table. Mother closely guarded it, running and yelling if anyone dared to put anything even a pencil on it. The crystal vase made by her grandfather sat empty in the center. Her “good dishes” reserved for special occasions sat in the china hutch in the corner of the dining room.
    Mom and dad had few possessions. One precious possession was a glass Santa lamp that sat on the mantel during the Christmas Holiday season. I still remember the beautiful little lamp, the plump Santa of colored glass and the soft warm glow it cast over the room. The hand painted lamp was purchased for an unknown special occasion at Cook & Jewel T. Company in Cameron. Mother cried for a week when one of the boys tripped over the iron cord and the plug flipped up in the air and hit the lamp shattering it into a hundred pieces.
    Mother hadn’t ventured out into this new town. She had not been out anywhere in daylight since Russell was born. Her dark moods had intensified. She spent more time in her room. We were left downstairs waiting for her to reappear. One night we listened to the muffled voices of mom and dad arguing and then the door slam. Dad had pressed her to go to a movie. “Oh I have nothing to wear,” she said before she checked the windows for neighbors. When she saw Mary Alice, the neighbor’s daughter, out in the yard she flew over to the window.
    “Just look at that bathing suit there is nothing to it,” Mother said hotly. “It’s shameful. No daughter of mine will be seen wearing anything like that in public. And those shorts she had on yesterday,” she declared. She quickly grabbed the blind rolled up above the window and pulled it to the window sill.
    Sunday mornings became particularly hard for mother. She could see women dressed in their “Sunday go-to-meeting-clothes” clothes, better than her simple house dresses, pass by the house on their way to church. I think that this was about the same time mom told Jean that she was not to bring her girlfriends home anymore. This new suspicion that dad was watching these women became so exaggerated that dad called on Dr. Pletcher. He thought mother might be having some sort of postpartum breakdown. There was no cure at the time, the diagnosis was still unclear and there certainly wasn’t any Prozac or Zoloft, only a mental hospital. He knew of women that had trouble leaving their beds and rooms after they had given birth. A “nervous condition” he called it. But he had never heard of anyone trying to hurt themselves and he didn’t know what he could do about it. He’d said he’d read where patients were sometimes sent to mental hospitals for some kind of shock treatments. Dad cried and said he just couldn’t send her away.
    “Hey dad you coming to watch the game tonight?” Walter asked. Mother stopped midway from the table to the sink with dishes in her hands. She glared at Dad as we all waited for her response. It was his first basketball game at the new school and he was excited.
    “He’ll do no such thing. Wesley this sink is leaking and the washer is making that funny noise again,” Mother stated as she placed a stack of dishes in the sink.
    “I won’t stay long. I’ll just watch the first half and be back before you know it,” Dad said. But he knew as soon as he said it that it was not going to happen. He could tell by the look on her face. Her jaw was set firmly and her body seemed to follow suit.
    “Well you can’t just go off and leave me here with the kids all the time,” Mother snapped as she threw the dish rag into the sink. She started to cry as she made her way to the stairs. The room got quiet as the boys, knowing what was coming, slowly disappeared. They knew the signs of what they called mother’s “bad days.” Days when they came home from school and all the blinds would be drawn down. They knew before they went into the house that mother was in bed and that the laundry was where it had been that morning. Dinner would be whatever they could find in the refrigerator.
    “Aw come on now Agnes I just want to see the boys play ball,” Dad pleaded. Their voices rose as they climbed the stairs. He knew where she was going and he was trying to work his way around her to block her.
    “I might as well go in here and never come out,” she shouted back. “Then you all can do whatever you want.” Mother was referring to the bathroom. Dad ran to the shed and dragged the ladder over and leaned it against the house under the bathroom window. He climbed up to the window prying it loose from years of paint and weather, pushing it up and holding it while he climbed in and turned the gas heater off.
    Walter knew not to expect dad at the game and of course by the time dad convinced mother to come out and go to bed any school activities were over. I suppose the bad days are remembered more vividly because the memories came with some pain they caused. But then mother had good days too and those were light and melodic.
    On mothers “good days” we could hear her playing the piano in the den. It was on these days mother spent extra time at her vanity in the morning carefully applying rouge and tangerine lipstick highlighting her face, bringing out the blue in her eyes, before making her way downstairs in her crisp freshly pressed cotton dress and white sandals. It felt special seeing her come slowly down the stairs not just because she looked bigger from the bottom of the stairs but the way she stepped down with her chin high and smiling. It was like watching a performer walk on stage. When Charlie and Walter came home they pulled the piano out into the center of the den while coaxing mother to play “The Old Lamplighter,” a new song by Sammy Kaye, from the movie “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Mother took her seat on the little stool with the big clear marbles clenched in the black claws of the feet. Charlie and Walter started humming the song until mother found the right key. After the long weeks of silence the music floated through the house touching each of us with its melody pulling our attention away to its lyrics. Everyone it seemed except dad that is. Dad didn’t move from the rocker in the dining room. The boys, turning the radio off silencing the calls of “High Ho Silver,” left dad with his book and pipe.
    Grandpap, the boys called him “old Walt,” made his way slowly down the stairs, his cane tap and then his foot step like a rhythm all his own. His deep bass voice so strong it seemed to lift his aging body upright filling the house with music. It was absolutely thrilling, almost startling, to hear and see my mother interacting with other people doing something outside the kitchen or laundry room.
    The music and voices eventually lulled me into a sleepy trance as I hid under the dining table trying to avoid the taps on my head that my height made so available to the boys. In spite of distance of age between us, my nickname and these taps on my head held me close within their reach. I thought I’d be safe there under the table as I listened. I had no idea that all of this was about to change. That my nickname and these taps on my head so annoying at the time were about to become just fond memories.
    Looking back, knowing that this could have been more than just a few years is what tugs at my heart. Oh to have this safe, secure comfort and pleasure, like a soft warm blanket wrapped around you, suddenly ripped away. Even now a thunderstorm or the smell of a newly mown lawn will trigger one of these evenings. The music lyrics play in my mind and then faces and voices rise up.

    In the 1940’s and even into the 50’s the newspapers were full of stories about destitute men and their families. Men riding in box cars on the railroads looking for work like the ones we waved as they passed by the house. Carl said that they were Hobo’s hitching a ride. There were more than 200,000 evictions in New York alone due to the poor economic times. People were moving back to the countryside so they could grow their own food. Our family debt, to the grocer, debt for the clothes and household items had accumulated and had now reached its limit and would have to be paid. Dad must have felt so alone and trapped.
    In the spring of 1948, not only was the economy still struggling but the weather struggled as well. If the weather in Harrison County, WV is not to one’s liking, it is said, wait awhile; in ten minutes an abrupt change will occur. But this unusual spring meteorologists would later describe the weather phenomenon in this small region between 1944 and 1950, as occurring “once-in-a-lifetime.” Tornados like the Shinnston Tornado of 1944 are referred to as the greatest natural disaster of the state. People had no warning. Today we have computers and measuring devices to calculate the severity and track the paths of the storms, as well as show us on a large full colored map. We have flash lights handy, generators for when the power goes out and survival kits in our homes. We have shelters to go to in case of flooding. Some of us might even have a community plan so that neighbors can help each other. We have our cell phones to call 911. When the Shinnston Tornado hit that June of 1944 people had no such warnings and no plan. It took the lives of over 100 people with hail the size of baseballs, winds stripping the bark off trees and then slamming them into whatever was in its path. One man claimed that it stripped the feathers off his chickens. The storm took a layer of security from the people too, leaving a fear they would never forget. Just the mention of a storm after that sent mother hiding behind the piano with a blanket over her head.
    People were used to floods. Large winter snow melts and heavy rains would overflow the banks of the Ohio River that fed the Forks River and the many tributaries, sending rushing water in under our doors. Residents could see the depth of the water rising above the banks but they had no way of seeing a funnel forming in the distance and no way to predict where it might go. Radios were our only communication and many like my family did not have phones. It was with this fear and no warning other than rising water and high winds that we met the storm of May 2, 1948.

    That day Dad and Charlie had been sheet rocking the last wall in the dining room when the radio voice suddenly changed.
    “A flood warning is now in effect for Harrison County.”
    Jean and Mom were taking turns beating the Seafoam icing for Carl’s birthday cake. It had been decided to celebrate on Sunday so that everyone could be there. I was anxiously awaiting a beater to lick when, Dad called to the boys.
    “Quiet down in there, listen. I can’t hear a thing. There’s a storm coming,” he shouted.
    Heavy rains were causing floods up river. We were prime targets, as our house sat in the lowlands by Lost Creek. Yet there was little warning. Severe thunder storms and tornados were plotted by hand. The equipment needed for accurate predictions like we have today would not be invented or perfected until November of 1965. The U.S. Army Signal Corps recognized the need for a better more accurate prediction for severe weather in 1870. Sgt. John P. Finley charted tornado-producing weather patterns on maps that could be used as tornado “alerts.” But the word “tornado” could not be used at that time. The Weather Bureau “felt that the mention of the word “tornado” provoked undue fear amongst the public.” The word ban was lifted in 1938 but the apprehension continued into the 1940’s. It was a tornado on 20 March 1948 at the Tinker Air force Base in Oklahoma City and the accurate prediction by E.J. Fawbush and R. C. Miller that led to the Air Force establishing the Severe Weather Warning Service but it wasn’t until 2006 that the National Weather Center on the University of Oklahoma Research Campus would become the center for our accurate predictions of today.
    It took a while for the boys to settle down from their usual “rough housing” as Mom called it and realize why the sudden request. The beater I had my eye on was suddenly abandoned in the pan, as Mom walked away from the stove. The radio announcer was talking about Harrison County and a storm warning.
    The silence and the serious tone of the announcer soon drew us around the radio. Mother, already frightened by the word storm, changed places with Dad and sat in the rocker. I scrambled up into her lap, frightened by the deep serious voice of the radio and the look on my siblings faces. The warmth of the oven and the smell of the cake still lingered in the air.
    “Where will we go?” In almost a cry, a whimper mother asked,
    “Now don’t get excited it’s headed west toward Salem. They think it won’t hit until tomorrow evening. That’s a long time and things can change by then. If the report is still the same in the morning we’ll start getting things up on the second floor in case.” Dad tried to reassure her.
    “But they say the river is way up already. I just don’t like it,” Mother continued to fret all evening.
    The storm clouds and rain had started early. It could have been just an ordinary storm lasting an hour or so and moving on, but the clouds grew dark as night and then the rain, heavy and coming straight down in sheets on and off all day.
    Instead of making bread on Sunday morning, Dad and the boys started moving furniture up the stairs.
    “Ok, now when I count to three lift.” Dad guided them “Walter and I will get the bottom of the radio and tilt it. Carl, you and Robert get the top. Now pay attention and don’t drop it.”
    Charlie watched the flood waters creeping up over the bank into the yard, inching closer to the house. We had heard about the floods but until now we had always lived on a hill. Gusts of wind forced the trees to bow down and loud claps of thunder, so loud that we covered our ears, replacing the music on the radio and any conversation. When the lightening started lighting up the whole town, Mother ran for the safety of the space behind the piano taking me with her, calling out frantic pleas from her hiding place,
    “Hurry get the china cabinet upstairs. Don’t forget the radio,” in between, “oh the piano, don’t forget the piano, and the music.”
    Dad shouted back. “Yes, Aggie. We’ll get it.”
    The boys ran to the commands, taking hold of boxes, chairs, furniture legs and heaving them up the stairs.
    Charlie kept an eye on the creek watching, monitoring the muddy rushing water, as it overflowed, making its way into the yard inching up to the porch steps and then covering the porch, eventually calling out,
    “Everyone upstairs now.”
    Mother grabbed me tighter unable to move from our secure nest behind the piano.
    Walter coming into the den, coming closer, shouting to us,
    “Come on now, get out of there. You have to get upstairs before the water comes in Mom.”
    “Get the piano, Walter, please get it up. Get Charlie, he can help.”
    Then reaching, grabbing me, pulling me from Mother’s grip and then helping Mom to her feet leading us to the stairs. Water like an uninvited guest made its way up through the floor boards, under the doors, into the house shocking us into disbelief and confusion with Dad and the boys still running in ankle deep water, as we made our way upstairs. Then to counts of three, Dad, Charlie and Walter lifted the piano up so Carl, Russell and Robert could slide the concrete blocks under.
    The sky was an angry gray turning that late afternoon into total darkness. The radio, our only contact with the outside world, was replaced with only sounds of the wind and what it carried with it. The loud cracks of thunder and then the bright light of the lightning took our breath away. The muddy water was cold and just the sight of it there in the house sent chills through our bodies. Our minds, confused by the intruder, raced with snippets of thoughts about what was happening and how to react, as we sat waiting, trapped on the stairs.
    The fist pounding on the front door frightened us to cries of alarm. A voice called out,
    “Is anyone in there?”
    “Yes.” We all shouted back.
    We all sat huddled on the stairs as the fireman pushed the front door open. His flashlight shining into our eyes. The water, we could now see was up to the ankles of his heavy waders. He was holding a rope attached to a boat floating on what had been the front porch.
    “How many of you?”
    We all looked at one another for the answer before Dad shouted,
    “I’ll take the youngest ones.” As he guided Russell off the step lifting him into the boat. Jean handed me wrapped in a blanket to the fireman as she climbed in.
    “The Harrison’s will take you all in for the night; I’ll be back for the rest of you. Keep warm and please stay right there. Take only what you have to have tonight.”
    As the following days of shoveling mud out of the house and replacing windows sucked out by the storm passed, we became aware of how fortunate we were. Mount Clare, just 4.5 miles away, was one of six communities hit and it was in shambles.
    Our only communication had been the radio until the power went out that Saturday afternoon. Now we listened to Mr. Corder, from over in Big Isaac, as he told reporters in an interview after the storm, “the tornado formed 2 miles below Big Isaac, and as it moved through the community, completely destroyed the church, wiped out two houses and wrecked the schoolhouse; then the “twister” hopped over the hill and dipped down the valley below to destroy a house and killed a man; went on down Big Isaac Creek and Buffalo Creek area to Mount Clare.”
    Martha Hudkins, reported, “The winds destroyed the Hutchinson Coal Company Store and the company’s meat house and damaged homes, as the storm roared down Hutchinson Hollow in Mount Clare leaving the church in shambles.”
    The Clarksburg newspaper reported that a Sunday school banner from a church in Big Isaac was found the next day in Mount Clare. A car was found in a tree and a whole house was moved 40 feet and set down intact somewhere along route 50. The tornado left 5 dead and 75 injured.
    As soon as the house came back to a livable state of repair, we turned to Carl and now Walter’s birthday celebrations. The storm had closed schools, churches and businesses that week. Dad, Charlie and the boys worked repairing what they could putting in new sheet rock and replacing some of the floors. The firemen came with their truck and hosed the porches and yards of those of us closest to the creek. Jean and Mother now 7 months pregnant with my youngest sister, Linda, cleaned the refrigerator and stove. Neighbors who lived on higher ground came to help. The Red Cross came with fresh water and food.
    Mother had a hard time realizing that her plans for the house would not happen anytime soon. They had been flooded too, drowned in muddy water. She cried for days after our return to mud caked floors. It took longer for her to come downstairs in the mornings and she was the first upstairs to bed at night.
    Like accumulating clouds, dark and threatening, these problems were mounting like a storm. As children, busy playing, going to school, and work we didn’t see the signs. No one could have known what dad was silently thinking and planning as he sat brooding in his chair. The store list mother wrote out for dad that morning included ice cream to go with the Hershey’s chocolate cake with grandma’s caramel icing recipe she was making. Charlie was bringing his girlfriend Patty. Mom loved her boys and missed having Charlie; having to share him now. He was her favorite son. Walter’s friends from his basketball team would come by after dinner and perhaps mom would play the piano.
    Wednesday we were looking forward to a family dinner together. Walter and Carl would now share the cake. The ice cream was a splurge but then it was a celebration and payday. School had started again on Monday and the boys were full of stories about the storm from their friends at school. They laughed and talked while dancing around the room, giving me a tap on the head whenever they felt like it. I gave them a fist to their thighs as they jumped back away from my blow, laughing at me and my futile attempts.
    “Ooh… you almost got me ‘Nose’.” Dad was not in his chair by the radio reading his book or there to referee them.
    By the time dinner was nearly ready, Dad had still not arrived. We all sat around the big kitchen table, as mother started putting the food on the table and the hungry boys started filling their plates. We all watched through to the dining room window for his car lights to come down the driveway, as we ate our dinner.
    When the music finished and the announcer was introducing the next show, a comedy “Fibber McGee and Molly,” no one moved to the dining room to take their usual places on the floor or under the table to listen. The empty rocking chair intensified Dad’s absence and the silence in the room as we waited for the headlights to shine in the window. Mom was expressing concern, as Jean got the cake and Charlie started to sing.
    The strong loud knock at the door startled us like the rescuers knock the night of the flood just weeks before. We all froze in our chairs. The quiet rushed in just like the water so quickly and unexpected leaving us trapped. The second knock brought Charlie back from that place deep inside us where we run and hide from the unexpected. The open door revealed two policemen.
    “Is this the Hartzell’s? Wesley M. Hartzell?”
    They stepped inside releasing Walter, Jean, Carl, Robert and Russell from their chairs. Jean grabbed me settling me on her hip as she made her way around the table to mom.
    Charlie choked out a “yes that’s our dad.”
    “Does he own a 1936 black Pontiac?” Sgt. Nutter asked as his eyes roam around the room to see who might give him an answer.
    Mother let out a scream and darted out of her chair almost running not towards anything but rather like she had to find something and quickly. The sudden scream locked my arms and legs onto Jeans body as she made her way around the table. Charlie and Jean had to grab her and while trying to sooth and eventually settle her into the rocker there by the radio.
    Young Sgt. Nutter seemed nervous uncomfortably fingering his hat in circles as he moved forward into the dining room. His partner, I don’t remember him saying his name, followed with his head down avoiding any direct eye contact. They both waited, shifting their weight in their black shoes, for Charlie to get mother quiet before continuing.
    “So your dad owned a 1936 black Pontiac?” The Sgt. asks again.
    “Yes that’s right. What’s happened? Is he alright?” Charlie asked.
    “Well his car was found down by the Ohio River in Parkersburg this evening. Would this pocket watch…?” The officer didn’t have time to get the whole sentence out. Mother let out another scream struggling to get to her feet, Jean and the boys move closer blocking her path enough so that she sat hard back down. The strange sounds from our mother were unnerving like a puppy when you step on a paw.
    “Now mom it’s some mistake.” Jean reassures her. “Let Charlie settle it.”
    The boys seeing the watch in the Sgt.’s hand surround him each answering in almost a chorus.
    “Yea that’s his. Where is he? What happened?”
    Charlie walked around the boys stretching his arms out around his sides like playing defense in a basketball game herding them back away from Sgt. Nutter.
    “Just shut up and let me get this straightened out. So he wasn’t with the car?” Charlie questioned the officer still unable to take in the information.
    “Yes that’s right he was not with the car. Just the watch on the seat and some groceries in the trunk. Looks like he was coming home from work. They found it along the river down in Parkersburg?” The officer clarified.
    “Oh my God. No. No. No. This can’t be.” Mother lets out with heaving sobs.
    “Now mom it will be alright. They’ll get to the bottom of this.” Jean trying to comfort her rubbing her shoulder.
    “Parkersburg. That’s nearly 90 miles from here.” Charlie states to no one in particular.
    “They are searching but its dark and we will have to wait until morning to get a good look in the river.” The officer continues.
    A slow moan grew louder and more forceful as the word “river” was pronounced by this stranger standing before us. The sound so foreign to our ears paralyzed our bodies with fear. I leaned back covering my ears nearly knocking Jean off balance.
    “Can we get Doctor Fletcher for your mother? Sorry to.” Sgt. Nutter again concerned about mother and stops midsentence.
    “I’ll go.” Walter called as he ran for the door.
    Jean recruits the boys with her eyes as she readjusts me to the other hip.
    “Let’s get you to bed mom.” Jean said.
    The boys gathered around the chair to help her up. She can hardly stand and Charlie turns toward them. The police concerned pausing and waiting until mom is on her way out of the room.
    “Now it could be the car broke down and he went for help or to find another way home. You say he was on his way home from work. Where does Mr. Hartzell work?” The Sgt. asks Charlie.
    “Over in Clarksburg at the Adamston Glass Factory.” Charlie clears his throat and answers.
    “Well now do you know why he would have gone to Parkersburg? He had some groceries in the car and a can of paint.”
    “I have no idea.” Charlie looked down shook his head.

  2. Title: DISORDER

    Genre: Medical thriller

    Word Count: 80,000 words

    Author: Loretta Lost

    After her younger sister’s suicide attempt, Vera abandons a lucrative career as an athlete to focus on helping Saara overcome her eating disorder. Opening a gym in a small town, and committing herself to being her sister’s personal trainer, Vera organizes educational events on health and nutrition.

    The outbreak of a strange disease occurs while celebrity scientist Dr. Bryce Harmon is visiting. Saara falls ill with a madness that seems to be affecting other members of the community that all have one thing in common– they are overweight. When the diseased begin to kill and cannibalize others, no one is safe.

    The whole town is placed on quarantine, and Vera finds herself in a terrifying situation, locked up in her gym with Dr. Bryce, her sister, and a few townspeople, while the diseased rip the town apart just outside. Vera begs Dr. Bryce to help find a cure for Saara, who is unintelligible and must be restrained, but they only have access to the supplies within the gym.

    When Saara begins foaming at the mouth, and vomiting every time she eats, it becomes a race against time to save her, and identify the mysterious illness that is decimating the population…

    • Melissa Ann Singer says:

      Dear Ms. Lost:

      While I’m fond of medical thrillers, I must say that the pitch for this doesn’t excite me. It’s hard to tell from what’s on the page alone, of course, but I worry that there’s an element of fat-shaming in this story and in the MC’s attitude toward her younger sister.

      In terms of the content of the pitch itself, I feel that it’s under-informative. What does being a star athlete have to do with knowing how to treat an eating disorder? What sort of scientist is Harmon and what makes him a celebrity? Celebrity scientist is not a common thing in US culture so I would really want to know about this guy, what he does, why he’s in this town, and what his and Vera’s qualifications are in terms of being able to MacGuyver a cure out of the supplies found in a gym/health club.

  3. TITLE: Wings of Fate

    GENRE: Epic Fantasy with paranormal elements

    LENGTH: 101,218 words

    AUTHOR: Sabrina Crestwood

    Grigor are winged lions which have been depicted as guardians throughout history.

    What would you do if you woke up and found yourself in a white castle, surrounded by half naked warriors? Being a sensible woman, Meghan decides to go with the flow.
    She also finds out that she can now do magic. Bonus!
    But, nothing is ever perfect: she should’ve expected that there’d be bad guys. There’s also the matter of an old flame who tries to kill her, repeatedly.

    Keitar is a grigor warrior. He bound Meghan to him but the price might be his humanity. He needs to find a balance and her love is the key. When she is captured, he rushes to her rescue but also falls prey to evil. He is willing to give his life for Meghan but she refuses to accept his sacrifice.

    By using their bond, they can defeat the Shadow Masters but will they figure it out in time?

    • Melissa Ann Singer says:

      Dear Ms. Crestwood:

      This pitch feels like it’s for a romance, not an epic fantasy. Is this actually portal fantasy–is Meghan a woman from our world/time, somehow mysteriously transported to another world?

      For a fantasy pitch, I want to know about the characters–not just “she can do magic, he’s a warrior,” but what drives them as people.

      I also want to know about the actual story–what’s the quest or prophecy or war or whatever is going on? In most epic fantasy, the ultimate battle is of course between good and evil, so it’s the specifics of the situation that are going to attract me as a reader.

      And finally, I want to know something about the world. Is it sort of Arthurian or inspired by ancient China? Is there hereditary royalty or some other political system? What sort of magic are we talking about–potions and incantations, power of the mind, talismanic, etc. Not a huge amount of detail but something to root me in your world and show off your world-building, even in the pitch.

    • Thank for your input. I’ve attempted a revised pitch with your suggestions:

      Meghan is a modern woman, a runner both emotionally and physically. She is Summoned to a world where woman can manipulate the energy of the Light. This is a world without technology where tasks are accomplished by the power of the Light. Women can manipulate it, the warriors can use it to transform into winged lions: Grigor who combat the Shadow Masters.

      Keitar is a flight leader training at another Realm when he meets Meghan. He is a man of duty & honor who would not pursue a woman outside of his realm; however, the women chose their mates and Meghan is attracted to Keitar.

      At their joining, Keitar receives new abilities but the price could his humanity. When Meghan is threatened, she runs and Keitar is worried that she feels he is unworthy. Keitar professes his love and Meghan finally stops running. They return to his realm where she perfects her skills.

      An old flame kidnaps Meghan and brings her to the lair of the Shadow Masters. Keitar rushes to her rescue but also falls prey to evil. By using their bond, they can defeat the Shadow Masters but will they figure it out in time?

      • Melissa Ann Singer says:

        That’s a better pitch, though your third paragraph is a bit clunky, possibly because there’s no sense of what the threat is.

        It’s not for me, I’m afraid.

  4. Virlana Kardash says:

    Title: Susanna Bailey and The Bag of Unknowns

    Genre: Suspense/Romantic Suspense

    Length: 80,000 words, completed

    Author: Virlana Kardash

    Fish-out-of-water Washington D.C. court reporter finds the body of a witness on a park

    bench, is sucked into a web of espionage, and falls for sexy, dangerous Naval

    Intelligence officer, exposing old wounds and deep secrets. No guaranteed HEA.

    • Melissa Ann Singer says:

      Dear Ms. Kardash:

      Not really enough here to judge and it’s fairly generic in phrasing. In a pitch like this, I’d want to get at least some sort of sense of what sort of espionage was involved–another country? dueling intelligence agencies? weapons secrets? What makes the court reporter a fish-out-of-water?

      No guaranteed HEA is fine with me; I don’t require them. For suspense, I’d want to see something that could be the set-up for a series featuring one or both of the main characters, and this doesn’t have the feel of that at the moment.

      • Virlana Kardash says:

        Dear Ms. Singer,
        Thanks for your time and valuable input. In a three-line pitch it’s hard to know what to include and what to leave out, but Susanna Bailey is, indeed, the first of a series of books where Susanna, due to the different cases she works on, is thrown into a variety of dangerous/deadly situations. This first book involves military espionage and a weapons secret. If I can give you any more information or the first couple chapters, please let me know.
        Virlana Kardash

  5. Title: Woe to the Wicked

    Genre: Romantic Suspence

    Word Count: 65,000

    Author: Judy Malcolm

    The crisis in June Harber’s life isn’t when she loses her lab tech job—it’s when she finds a new one. Her new co-workers are incompetent bullies and when she falls for a married doctor, things get even worse. When Dr. Hamid abandons her, June blows the whistle on her colleagues’ mistakes. She’s heartbroken, alone and afraid. After a near head-on crash, her new resolve is strengthened and just when she thinks all is for naught, karma turns out to be the biggest bitch of all.

    • Melissa Ann Singer says:

      Dear Ms. Malcolm:

      I’m sorry to say that this is just too short for us. 80,000 words is pretty much my lower limit.

  6. Title: Still Water

    Genre: Suspense with horror and romantic elements

    Word Count: 64,000 words

    Author: Stephanie Bedwell-Grime

    Callista Collins sees dead people, including the curmudgeonly ghost inhabiting her trailer. So the last thing she wants is to be pulled into a supernatural investigation by her ex, police detective Tully Marten.

    But when shapeshifters start going missing and strange bones start piling up in the swamp, she can’t say no. It doesn’t hurt that she’s attracted to the new investigator on the team, sexy shapeshifter, Hunter Cole.

    When Hunter discovers the shifter teen is about to be sacrificed in an ancient ritual, the trio find themselves in a fight for their lives.

    • Melissa Ann Singer says:

      Dear Ms. Bedwell-Grime:

      I’m sorry to say that this is too short for us. 80,000 words is generally my lower limit.

    GENRE: Epic Fantasy with romantic elements (book one of planned trilogy)
    WORD COUNT: 110k
    AUTHOR: Fallon DeMornay

    One man will shape a legend
    One woman will change the world
    Myth becomes prophecy…

    SZERSCHEN VALE’s flaming red hair and bi-coloured eyes (one green and one blue) mark her as one TOUCHED BY FIRE. Any found are offered in a ritual sacrifice. For ten years, she’s hidden behind epoxy plates and hair dye, living as a common woodworker in a struggling coastal city. All she wants is to find someplace where she can live without fear of mutilation, or death by flames.

    She tasted them once, when a sect of enchantmen captured her as a child, and cut off her right leg. Haunted by the smell of her own burning flesh…

    RAINE DAS LOHENER is a merchant intent on bringing peace to the thronelands—even if it means starting a war first. There’s power in superstition, and Schen’s red hair and odd eyes set her apart from all others.

    With the help of a surviving echantmen, he plans to mold Schen into a powerful weapon to seize back his newly conquered homelands. Caught in the uncompromising grip of a tyrannical Majesty, the world is a clash of the sexes. Young boys/men are maimed and slaughtered for no reason other than being born male in the Time of Women. And everyday women fear of the Return of Men.

    Armed with fire magic and an ancient phantom blade, Schen has the power to change her world. But it’s a vengeful deity she must destroy first.

    I am repped by Elaine Spencer with The Knight Agency.

    TOUCHED BY FIRE is #OwnVoices featuring a WOC, bi-sexual, amputee heroine and a virgin hero. Inspired by the plight of albinos in parts of Africa/Caribbean, TBF is grounded in a world with a strong matriarchal society built on the broken, bleeding patriarchal back.

    First draft out with beta readers.

    • Melissa Ann Singer says:

      Dear Ms. DeMornay:

      I think some of the information in this pitch doesn’t come in the right order. I think I need to know that the country was recently conquered and that there’s a tyranny in place doing bad stuff before it will make sense that Raine wants to start a war/bring peace.

      Schen is afraid of enchantmen but lower down there’s a reference to “a surviving enchantman,” which implies that there aren’t that many of them around anymore? If Schen has been hiding, how does Raine know who/what she is?

      Interesting stuff in here, though. Once you have a draft you and your agent like, please make sure I see it.


    Genre: Romantic Mystery Thriller

    Word Count: 78,000 words

    Author: Diane L. Kowalyshyn

    High Concept: Gifted Scientist (think Rosalind Franklin) hooks up with Cartel family member (think Michael Corleone).

    Aliesa Atworth, Boston University’s brilliant stem-cell biochemist is continually pandering for money to fund her fountain-of-youth research. When she returns from such a meeting she finds her laboratory in ruins and her best friend and lab assistant murdered.

    Elliot Vance’s war on drugs began after his kid sister died of a drug overdose. When his mother passes, he learns his estranged grandfather is a South American cartel kingpin. Van quits the DEA and his fight becomes personal.

    A supplier under Van’s surveillance couriers Aliesa a shipment of cocaine and he follows the package. When he arrives at the destination he finds an active crime scene and learns that Aliesa’s assistant had been killed because she’d been wearing Aliesa’s lab coat. Van pulls some strings and takes Aliesa into his protective custody to work the case. Soon he realizes his personal vendetta has put both of them in peril and they work to escape the clutches of the South American cocaine cartel. Only then do they discover this case has never been about cocaine—it’s been about her research all along. Her financial backer, a fortune-five-hundred pharmaceutical conglomerate would lose millions if her research rendered their current cancer treatments obsolete…and the CEO of Panacea will stop at nothing to suppress it.

    • Melissa Ann Singer says:

      Dear Ms. Kowalyshyn:

      Unfortunately I have seen three fountain-of-youth/disrupted medical research submissions in the last year (no joke–there must be something in the water) and none of them have worked, so I’m now leery of the whole topic.

  9. Title: CROSSBONES

    Genre: Horror with romantic elements

    Word Count: 96,000 words

    Author: Diane L. Kowalyshyn

    High Concept: A man-beast, who is half noble Native American (think Jacob Black from Twilight) and half murdering cannibalistic psychopath (think Hannibal Lecter),is ousted by a rich socialite (think Paris Hilton).

    Keme didn’t think his life could get any worse until he is turned into a windigo––a creature with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Remorse over his first kill prompts Keme to end his miserable life. The unsuccessful attempt frees Arthur, the first and last victim ensnared in the windigo’s internal soul-cache, and they switch places. Two souls, one body, what could go wrong?

    Arthur relishes his new windigo skill-set and intends to exact revenge on Nathanial, the man responsible for ruining his previous life. But eating Nathanial is too easy, Arthur wants to play with his food first. He wants to systematically destroy everything Nathanial holds dear.

    Arthur is captivated with Loretta, Nathanial’s daughter, but Keme is in love. After a whirlwind marriage, Loretta begins to realize her husband is made up of two diametrically opposed beings. She may be too late to help her father, but not too late to save herself. Loretta outsmarts Arthur at his own game and Keme, once again, seizes control.

    This time, Keme, succeeds; failure is not an option.

    • Melissa Ann Singer says:

      Dear Ms. Kowalyshyn:

      I’m afraid that this just isn’t for me as I’m not a big fan of the windigo myth.

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