Book Blitz: The Second Window by Erica Kiefer

The Second Window
Erica Kiefer
Published by: CTP Pulse
Publication date: December 5th 2017
Genres: Romance, Suspense, Young Adult

As her senior year flies by on cruise control, seventeen-year-old Olivia Cole yearns for excitement—something her upscale private school no longer provides. Her job as a grocery store bagger isn’t much help…until the day she has a bizarre exchange with the cagey town recluse. When the woman abruptly surrenders to the police, Olivia feels compelled to dig deeper into her perplexing story. But the investigation stalls when Olivia receives another piece of news—Andre Steele, the golden boy of Westmont and her previous tormentor, has unexpectedly returned from his four-year stay in Brazil—and the whole school is buzzing! All at once, Olivia’s dull and predictable life is uprooted, and she wonders if “boring” was so bad after all.

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A stranger to me, I knew nothing about Jodie except that she lived on the outskirts of town. People referred to her as a hermit because she rarely ventured from her home, and when she did, it seemed only long enough to purchase groceries. She was nobody important to me—just the occasional name carried through the wind when there was nothing else to talk about. However, like clockwork, I bagged her scant items every Thursday at four PM. The odd interactions I’d have with the woman would sometimes be the most interesting part of my shift at Wayland’s, a discounted store that served as employment during the summer, and now into my senior year.

I met her eyes again, which seemed to never leave mine, peering at me with an intense silence that I couldn’t explain. She didn’t frighten me, exactly. On the contrary, there was a meekness about her that suggested her gentle nature. While she hardly smiled, she didn’t have a mean face. It was more like the bland expression of a person who had little to smile about. Yet I wondered at her reservation, certain she had more to say than she ever allowed.

Jodie’s slender fingers pulled cash from her wallet and she handed over the bills. When she turned to me once more, her teary eyes alarmed me. She swallowed hard, like she was washing down emotions that rose against her will.

“Are… are you okay?” I asked, hesitating as I placed her grocery bags into the cart. Her hand fell swiftly on top of mine, squeezing my palm. Startled by the sudden physical contact, I jerked my hand away. I regretted my actions the moment her expression shifted.

Eyes wide, she shook her head, her mouth opening as though horrified by her behavior. A tear slid down her cheek, and she brushed it away in haste. “I’m sorry.” Sniffling, she snatched her three bags from the cart and scurried toward the exit. “Hey!” I called after her. I exchanged a look of confusion with Marlene before following Jodie to the automatic sliding doors. “Wait! It’s Jodie, right?” She paused, sniffing once more. She looked back at me over her shoulder, eyes red and sorrowful. “Um, can I help you to your car? I really should have double-bagged that one.” I pointed to the bulging bag containing the heavy soups, grasping for an excuse to stall her from leaving.

The tiniest smile crept along the corners of her mouth. Her green eyes brightened beneath the sheen of tears. Relieved, I smiled back. Her next words fell from her lips in a low, quiet tone. “You take care of yourself.” Then she walked out into the cool air.

I stood there perplexed, watching this strange woman escape to the parking lot. Jodie had been a consistent presence in my life for months now, a once-a-week visit in which she spoke no more than a murmured, Thank you. Why did I feel a sudden permanence to her goodbye?

A familiar female voice called out from behind me. “I need a bagger on lane three please!”

I rolled my eyes and flipped around to see my friend Jordyn standing at the other end of the store, hollering into her cupped hands. I glanced at Marlene. My grey-haired co-worker pushed out her lips with a frown, throwing a hand onto her plump hip. I cringed and held up my index finger. “One minute,” I mouthed, and hurried toward Jordyn before she could garner anymore unwanted attention from my employers.

“You know Marlene hates when you stop by, right?” I said to my best friend. She beamed confidence at me with her wide smile, her lips stained in a bright coral that I could never pull off. Though only one-eighth Native American, the tan skin she’d inherited helped her get away with wearing colorful makeup combinations that I would never attempt on my fair skin. Jordyn also relished in the theatrics that I shied away from.

“I’m a paying customer,” she said, grabbing a box of powdered donuts off the shelf. She held them up to make her point, waving wildly at Marlene’s scowling face. Jordyn raised her voice again, like she was hollering at the deaf elderly. “She’s just gonna bag these for me and I’ll be on my way!”

I shook my head at her. “You’re going to get me fired.”

“You’ve got other problems to worry about.” Jordyn put her hands on my shoulders, and spun me around.

“What am I looking at?” I asked, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. Leave it to Jordyn to make me guess, rather than just tell me. She rotated me forty-five degrees.

“Not what. Who.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Past the cashiers. Aisle twelve.”

I loved her to death, but sometimes her games were a bit much. “Jordyn, come on—” I stopped, suddenly very aware of just who she was pointing out to me. I caught a glimpse of his smile first, gleaming brightly against his bronzed skin—a deeper brown than I remembered, and a compliment from his Brazilian mother. I’d almost missed him, hidden behind the cluster of kids clamoring for his attention. But then I heard his laugh, boisterous and infectious. Unique.

And stirring memories I resented.

I crossed my arms over my black apron. “What is Andre Steele doing back in Arizona?”

Jordyn inhaled noisily, letting out her breath as she spoke. “I don’t know, but Brazil sure did a nice number on him.”

I scowled and nudged her with my elbow.

“But we still hate him,” she corrected, giving a nod of solidarity.

“Of course we do.” We watched him disappear down aisle nine with his posse. Another burst of laughter trailed behind him, coupled with giggles from the girls hanging on him and the other guy slapping Andre’s back like they’d never heard someone so funny.

“Then again,” Jordyn added, “Four years can change a person. Maybe he’ll surprise you.”

I stepped away from her, returning to my position at the end of the register. I grabbed the boxes of toothpaste and floss sliding past Marlene and tossed them into a fresh bag. “I never liked his surprises.”


Author Bio:

Erica Kiefer’s debut novel Lingering Echoes was published by Clean Teen Publishing in November 2013. She continued the series with Rumors (A Lingering Echoes Prequel) and her newest release Vanishing Act. All of her books can be read as stand-alone contemporary YA fiction, touched with romance, emotional drama and suspense. With a degree in Recreation Therapy from Brigham Young University, Erica’s experiences working with at-risk youth have influenced the realistic and relatable nature of her writing. Her first inspirational non-fiction entitled Borrowed Angel (published in April 2014 with Currawong Press) describes the loss of her infant son and her journey towards healing.

Married since 2005, Erica resides in Las Vegas, Nevada with her four children and can often be found satisfying her sweet-tooth with chocolate-chip cookies and a glass of milk. Now and then, she dusts off her collegiate rugby skills and dives back into the game.

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Cover Reveal: The Canary Club by Sherry D. Ficklin

The Canary Club
Sherry D. Ficklin
Published by: Clean Teen Publishing
Publication date: October 16th 2017
Genres: Historical, Young Adult

“Bad Luck” Benny is a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Recently released from jail, he has vowed to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. But he also needs to care for his ailing sister and the rest of his struggling family, and he’ll do anything to make that happen—even if it means taking a position with a notorious crime boss. He soon finds himself in over his head—and worse still—falling for the one dame on earth he should be staying away from.

Masie is the daughter of a wealthy gangster with the voice of an angel and gun smoke in her veins. Strong-willed but trapped in a life she never wanted, she dreams of flying free from the politics and manipulation of her father. A pawn in her family’s fight for control of the city, and with a killer hot on her heels, she turns to the one person who just might be able to spring her from her gilded cage. But Masie is no angel, and her own dark secrets may come back to burn them both.

Two worlds collide in this compelling story of star-crossed lovers in gritty prohibition-era New York.

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Author Bio:

Sherry D. Ficklin is a full time writer from Colorado where she lives with her husband, four kids, two dogs, and a fluctuating number of chickens and house guests. A former military brat, she loves to travel and meet new people. She can often be found browsing her local bookstore with a large white hot chocolate in one hand and a towering stack of books in the other. That is, unless she’s on deadline at which time she, like the Loch Ness monster, is only seen in blurry photographs.

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Slush Pile: Interview With a First Reader

You’ve finished your novel, done no fewer than a hundred proof-reads and thirty revisions. Now you are ready to submit. But what happens between the moment you hit that ‘Send’ button and finally get a response can be a bit of a mystery to many writers. Who reads your manuscript? What’s the process? What gets my manuscript past a first reader and into the inner sanctum?

Sherry Ficklin is a YA author and also wades through the slush pile for Clean Teen Publishing. She was kind enough to answer some questions from the perspective of a first reader about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of so many hopeful queries.

How did you become the “Slush Slave” for Clean Teen Publishing?
Dumb luck. Really. I was at Book Expo with my publishers and they had brought a bunch of subs with them to go over, and me being me, I was being nosy and putting my two cents in. I found out later I’d flagged the same ones they had. So they decided I had a pretty good eye and wanted to bring me in as part of the acquisitions team.

How many unsolicited submissions do you read in a month?
20+ on average. More during certain times (post Nano and post Pitmad). Never less than 2-3 a week. But nearly ALL our submissions are unsolicited. It’s beyond rare that we will reach out to an author and request they send us something. It has happened, but it’s the 0.1%.

What is the process for a manuscript going from the point at which it’s received until a decision is made?
The team is made of three readers, myself included. When a sub comes in it comes to all of us. It only takes one of us to request a full. Once we have a full, we all read the first 50 or so pages, more if we like it. Once we all reach the end, we discuss it together as a committee. The biggest question, even if we love a submission, is always, can we sell this book? It takes a unanimous vote on a full submission to make an offer. And there have been books that we all loved, but didn’t accept because we felt that, for whatever reason, we wouldn’t be the best place for it. If we can’t do a book justice, we won’t take it. And that’s to the author’s benefit.

Is that process different if a writer has an agent?
For most houses, it is. But for us, not really. We look at agented and un-agented submissions just the same. They get no special treatment here (much to their chagrin).

What is the difference in the number of books that you select that are submitted by new authors as opposed to established or previously published writers?
We look at previously published authors much more closely, in fact. We full on stalk them, we look at how much/how well they interact on social media, what their other sales/reviews look like, and we look for professional web presence. Because of this, we seem to take more first time authors. We can help grow an author’s career, but an author who has already had several books out and still isn’t where they should be in any area, well it makes us question why. A successful, experienced author, however, bringing us new material, make us extremely happy. The ratio of new to established authors is probably 3-1 or very close to that. We love launching new authors and helping them build their brands and careers.

What is it about a query or first pages that best grabs your attention?
I look for a book that hooks me immediately. Something that intrigues me from the first paragraph. My biggest turn offs are:
1) When the first chapter begins with a dream or a character waking up
2) A lot of immediate and unnecessary backstory
3) Flat dialogue

Any of those in the first few paragraphs will immediately turn me away. There are RARE exceptions to that. But yeah, mostly those are red flags to me. And a tip, if you only get 15 pages to make a first impression, don’t waste 9 of them on a prologue that I don’t really need to see. Jump me right into the meat of the story. If your first 15 pages are boring set-up, then you need to scrap them and start your story later in.

What are some mistakes you see over & over when reading submissions?
The two biggest mistakes I see are, firstly, books that genre jump. For example, if I’m reading tour contemporary romance and then on page 50, out of nowhere, a paranormal element comes into play, I will immediately quit reading. You can’t set your story up to be one thing, then throw a genre curveball in later. We should know, fairly early on, what the genre is just by reading.
The second mistake I see often is the overuse of tropes. Now, tropes can absolutely work, and I’m not looking for people to reinvent the wheel, but there should be something about your book that sets it apart from others. Often it’s just the voice or the world, but if it feels too similar to something else we’ve read, that’s a bad sign.

Hooks are important. How far will you read into a query letter if your attention hasn’t been piqued right away?
I often skim the query looking for 3 things, the age range of the characters, the genre, and the page count. I don’t put too much weight on a query because, to be frank, I know how hard they are to write. I’ve done it. And I suck at it. So I let the first few pages speak for the work instead. That said, if the query is REALLY heavy in poetic or sci-fi language (ie, oddball names for planets and systems, etc) that is a turnoff for me. But those are super rare.
One thing I see, and I would heavily avoid, is being demanding in your query. I’ve seen queries come in saying things like, ‘don’t show this to anyone else at your house without my express permission’ or ‘I only accept serious offers that come with big advances’ etc. Because it earns you a big red flag and a one way ticket to the trash can.

If a query letter isn’t strong–but doesn’t contain any major errors–are you likely to read the first pages?
I read the first pages no matter what, unless the query is in a genre we don’t represent, or is rude, you get your pages read.

We hear so often about tastes being subjective. That leads a lot of aspiring authors to wonder, does the fate of each submission lie with just one person or is it a consensus to accept/pass on a submission?
As I said, it takes only one to request a full, but all three to make an offer. Each reader on the team has wildly different tastes and opinions, which works to our benefit. We had a sub come in once that I was on the fence on, but one of the other readers argued passionately for it, and once she gave me some examples of similar titles and how they were done, it was a big yes from me. I’m happy to say that book is now one of our best sellers. At the end of the day, regardless of personal preference in genre or POV or tense, we all know what has the hallmarks of a good read, and that’s all we need.

What things are on your Wish List for submissions?
I’d love to see some spicy NA, we have very few on our list, and my personal favorites are paranormal of any flavor, humorous contemporary, and of course, I’m a sucker for a good YA romance. Also historical, or fantasy with historical elements.
Our ideal submission is a book that is part of a series or that has series potential. Standalones are wonderful, but harder to sell. And I love cliffhangers. Give me those all day long. Also,keep in mind that we have an adult imprint, Crimson Tree Publishing, so you do not have to be YA to submit.

Are there any subjects that you are just “over”?
No. I really believe that there’s no such thing as a ‘dead’ genre. A great book will always find an audience, trends be dammed.

There was some recent controversy about a publisher with a similar name to Clean Teen Publishing. Also the company name might cause some writers to wonder if their work is appropriate to submit to Clean Teen. Is there anything you’d like to clarify about your books or the rating system?
Yes, what a nightmare! It is hard, sometimes, for people to understand what we are trying to do at CTP. It’s not about all our books being ‘clean’ but it’s about being able to judge for yourself what level of content you want to read. Our disclosures are done on a four point system detailing the language, sensuality, drug and alcohol use, and violence. What one person considers ‘clean’ might horribly offend someone else. So rather than trying to judge, we simply let you know, right on the cover, how much of those things you can expect in any given book. I will say, out mature titles tend to sell just as well if not better than our less mature books. We love all books, with all content levels. We just like people being able to judge for themselves before they buy a book, whether it will be right for them.

If you are curious about Clean Teen Publishing (or the adult imprint, Crimson Tree Publishing) you can follow this link the their website. You can also review their list and check the submission guidelines.

You can also find information about Sherry Ficklin and her books on her website (I totally recommend the Stolen Empire series!)

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