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Grand Prize Winner, Novel Beginnings Contest!

As promised, today is the big reveal of the Grand Prize winner for the Kidlit Novel Beginnings Contest! Without further ado, I present an entry by Mary Danielson, a (light) paranormal/mystery YA called THE SHERWOOD CONFESSIONS. This entry embodies the voice, tension, and intrigue that I like to see at the beginning of a novel. While we haven’t gotten a scene yet — which I’ve always said is very important at the beginning of a novel — I think that one is coming, just by the set-up. Find out why this book sounds compelling enough to read “from beginning to end.”

The funny thing about Mary Danielson, today’s winner, is that she actually entered the contest twice. For my initial judging, I like to keep entries anonymous. Lots of my frequent readers — whose names I recognize from comments and the like — enter the contests, so I don’t want to be biased when reading their entries. Either way, I whittle down the entries to about the top 25 or so without looking at names. Then I start to really analyze the top choices. And, by some incredible stroke of either luck or genius, two entries from this selection of the top 25 (out of more than 400!) belonged to Mary Danielson! And both entries were so good that it was difficult to choose just one to place among the winners that I’ve posted here.

Read on to find out what caught my eye… twice!


Five weeks before his disappearance, Miles St. John pushed me up against a locker and kissed me. Hard.

I really enjoy the voice here. And we have a disappearance already in play. There’s a lot of action in this sentence, and that “Hard,” for emphasis, is a nice touch.

This didn’t exactly make it into the police report. A lot of things didn’t. Not that night, not our plan, and especially not this little fact: I could have saved him.

Lots and lots of mystery! And the danger element of lying to the police. And the high stakes idea of her being able to save him. There’s immediate tension!

Even the reporters, who descended on Verity with their news vans and power ties, didn’t discover our secret. They badgered witnesses and dug up rumors, but still not a single tabloid mentioned my name.

And this character has managed to fly under the radar. I want to know a whole lot more about that.

In a few hours, I could be away from it all. Suitcases and secrets in hand, I could get on that plane to Texas and never be caught. Those stories would stand and you people could go on guessing and wondering, your theories swirling around and around until pretty soon everyone loses interest. It would be yesterday’s headline.

It would all be a lie.

Now she’s running from it, “suitcases and secrets in hand.” But will she get away with it? Will it be a clean severing of ties? And what will the emotional ramifications of all this secrecy be? I’m already so invested in this character’s story and I’ve only read a few sentences.

And if there’s anything my time at Verity Prep taught me, it’s this: a lie, even one that no one suspects, will do more bad than good every time. So, this isn’t going to be like before. I’m telling the truth now.

Lots and lots of tension again. My question from my last comment — about the ramifications of her lie — still stand here. I find that when the reader thinks something, and then the author mentions it and picks up on it, that’s a really well-written manuscript. I was just thinking about how the lie would impact her, and then it turns out Mary has thought about it too, and mentioned it right as it bubbled up in my brain. There’s the risk here, also, of this character finally telling the truth. I’m guessing this is the “confessions” part of THE SHERWOOD CONFESSIONS. What does this have to do with her impending escape? There’s also tension with the mention of “before” that piques my interest, and I want to know more about Verity Prep, where they’re apparently teaching whole lessons on lies and scandal instead of calculus and chemistry.

Not just about Miles, but about everything – the robberies, the fire, the curse.

And there’s a CURSE! *swoon* I want to know about all these things, but especially the curse.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Uncle Dash says that the best quality in a good journalist is that she gives all the facts – from the very beginning, when things first get fishy, all the way until the villain’s confession.

I also like that she’s a journalist. If I hadn’t know this, I would still have noticed the way she talks about reporters and the news, abov,e and guessed that it was one of her interests. It’s cool to see a character’s narrative through the lens of their passion, and her interest in journalism is clear even before she says it outright. Good voice here, too.

So, here it is – from my beginning to his end — the confessions of Evie Archer: amateur sleuth, freak of nature, and criminal mastermind.

Great button for this excerpt. I want to know about all three of these roles that she’s taken on for herself.


So there you have it, folks! Congratulations to all the winners and the entrants… it takes a lot of guts to share your writing and put it out there into the world. I’ll do a bit of a “deconstruction” post for this contest on Friday, with some of my lingering thoughts on novel beginnings. Thank you all for playing along with this great exercise!

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  1. anita Nolan’s avatar


    I awarded you a One Lovely Blog Award too (I know Samantha did too, but couldn’t resist because your blog is great!)

  2. Kristie’s avatar

    Stellar pics, Mary! I hope all these manuscripts find a home. I want to know what happens in each and every one!

  3. Marybk’s avatar

    This is a great character. Congrats to all the winners!

    Laughing about the male writer thing.

  4. Eva’s avatar

    Just wanted to add a note of caution here. Mary’s opinion is just that, “HER” opinion. What one likes in a story is subjective.

  5. Eva’s avatar

    Pulled this from the WN site: They certainly have a point.

    But just because Mary likes a story doesn’t mean that other agents and publishers would agree. She’s expressing her “personal” opinion, only. It is not carved in stone. BTW, what kind of credentials does Mary have? I know you don’t need any to hang your shingle out as an agent, but does she have a degree in English lit? Hey when you’re pontificating like this, as if you were the cat’s pyjamas, you better have something to back it up.

  6. Mary’s avatar

    Eva — Everything in publishing is subjective, of course. Every person who works in this business has their own opinion in regards to what they’re representing, buying, publishing… Every person who walks into a bookstore has their own opinion about what they will buy… Every reader has their own opinions as to what they like or don’t about a book in their hands.

    I don’t think I ever claimed, ONCE, anywhere on this website or on other websites, that my opinions are the end all and be all. If you have some time to waste, I invite you to check.

    As for the other comment you posted, it IS very easy for any person to hang a shingle out as an agent. It’s a bit harder — infinitely harder — to get brought on board as an agent, not as an intern or reader, at a reputable agency. If you check my bio on the Andrea Brown Literary Agency website, you might learn that I not only have a degree in English but am earning my MFA in creative writing. Not only have I worked for Chronicle Books, a publisher, in their children’s editorial department, but now I work for ABLit, a nine-person literary agency representing children’s books for 28 years. We’ve been #1 in terms of juvenile sales, according to Publishers Marketplace, an industry deal reporting service, for the last three years. If you check Publishers Marketplace, also, you’ll see my reported deals from books I’ve sold.

    While I’m relatively new to this business (two years), I was hired to do this and am surrounded by people who aren’t. I know some people want to “out” agents who aren’t reputable or who don’t have a background in book publishing or, more specifically, children’s books, and that’s very valuable for writers, who may not know the difference. With me, though, these efforts are appreciated but unnecessary.

  7. Eva’s avatar

    I guess I just dislike middle men, on principle, nothing personal. I’ve always done very well without agents. Some writers actually believe you can’t get decently published without one. Not so.

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