Wednesday, September 5, 2012

CAGI Entry #48

Genre: YA Magical Realism
Word Count: 62,000


Betrayal is a concept Taylor Anderson knows all too well. Thanks to a lie orchestrated by her best friend, Sunny, her friends won’t talk to her and the boy she might love won’t return her calls. Betrayal is the reason Taylor wants to disappear, and after an accident her wish becomes a reality.

But instead of disappearing to a peaceful place filled with puffy clouds and harp-playing angels, Taylor opens her eyes to find an endless gray staircase climbing up, up, up into a clear blue sky. Led Zeppelin? Yeah, they totally nailed it. 

Until the ghosts appear.

Not the ghosts of others trapped on the stairs – Taylor would welcome a visit from anyone who could explain why she can’t turn around or how snow can fall when there’s not a cloud in the sky. Instead, the ghosts of everyone she wants to forget swirl before her and plunge her back to the horrible week before the accident. Turns out that disappearing from your life doesn’t mean you get to leave it behind. 

But the staircase is more than a haunted punishment. Within it lies a second chance to uncover the true value of everything Taylor thought she wanted to leave behind. But first she must learn the truth about Sunny’s betrayal, and find the strength to forgive the unforgivable. 

Unless the staircase breaks her before she can reach the top.

WHERE THE STAIRCASE ENDS has both contemporary and fantastical elements. The humor, emotion and character transformation will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver’s BEFORE I FALL and Gayle Forman’s IF I STAY. 

First 250:

I never noticed how pointy my elbows were.  They were thorny things, jutting out from my sides like useless wings.  I flattened them against my body, not wanting to give anyone yet another reason to avoid me. 

It didn’t help. 
A line of three girls made an unnecessary show of skirting past me, exchanging smirks with the subtlety of elephants. Once out of view I heard the hiss, hiss, hiss of heated whispers passing between them.

That was her, right? She’s the girl?   

I fought the urge to spin around and shoot venom right back at them, but I didn’t want to waste my words on three girls I wouldn’t have cared about yesterday. Besides, Sunny was the one who caused this whole mess.

No one was at Sunny’s locker when I passed by. Without the swarm of bodies and hum of morning activity it looked like any other locker in any other hallway.  The only sign that it meant something more was the key-scratched heart and initials I had carved into the tan paint earlier that year.

I <3  J.C. 

My heart lurched. Had Sunny gotten to him, too?

The hallways seemed longer than they had before, twisting labyrinth-like between the classroom wings. Posters hung above archways, their edges curling into the hand painted block letters like they were ashamed of the drips and wrinkles in the imperfect writing announcing the upcoming spring formal. I straightened my shoulders. I would not be like the posters. 


  1. Wow. I remember this from Blind Speed Dating and I'm amazed at how far it's come! Everything from the new title to the query to the voice in the first 250 is fantastic! Good luck!!

  2. I like the premise of this, confronting the demons you tried to escape. I want to know how Sunny betrayed her BFF :) The first 250 drew me in and I would definitely read more. A few minor suggestions, you could get rid of a had and have:

    three girls I wouldn’t have cared about yesterday. (How about... three girls I cared less about yesterday)

    I had carved into the tan paint earlier that year. (Just drop the had. I carved into the tan paint earlier that year reads smoother).

    Other than that I think this is a fabulous start and I wish I could read more. Good luck!!

  3. I really like this - it's an interesting concept! Kind of reminds of of the Lovely Bones, in the sense of a character experiencing her past from some ethereal place. A few nitpicks - Led Zeppelin. Would teens know this? (I sure hope so, but I asked my four teenage siblings on facebook just now - no dice.) I read the line about elephants as smirking like elephants, so found it slightly distracting. Weird elbows also doesn't strike me as something a girl would fret about - I can think of a bazillion more obvious ones. Fat [insert body part here], mono-brow, general hairiness, pimples, nose, any other facial feature, boobs or lack of... I just got stuck on 'weird elbows'?!? Anyhow, that might just be me - overall I liked it!

  4. I remember this from somewhere, too (Write On Con?) and I think you addressed the concern a Ninja agent raised there about the whole thing taking place on a staircase by telling us in the query that the MS plunges her back into her pre-accident life. Nicely done! I'm so sad right now that a whole generation is missing out on Stairway to Heaven. That just doesn't seem RIGHT! I had to take a Brady Bunch reference out of my MS for the same reason- none of my teen beta-readers knew who Bobby Brady was:( I do have to disagree with Jess on the elbow reference. I didn't get the sense they were something she fretted about but rather that she was just noticing their sharpness for the first time in that particular situation. Didn't bother me. I did get stopped a bit on the "I heart J.C." line because I wasn't sure if it referred to a boy (I assumed) or if it was a religious reference to "the" J.C. Just gave me pause... Each connotation would say something quite different about the character. I like the Lovely Bones comparison- that alone would keep me reading on to see if it played out that way...

  5. @Jess, Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" is probably one of the all-time, most famous, over-played, classic rock songs of the late 20th century (whew). Geez, I still hear it played today on classic rock stations. Perhaps if you ask your teenage siblings if they're familiar with the song and not just the artist, they'll say, oh yeah, I know that song.

    So, it may be more effective to say, "Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven'? Yeah, totally nails it."

    I dunno. Just a suggestion. Good luck. Interesting concept.

  6. Love it. And I used to obsess over super nit-picky things on my body so the elbows line was actually a relatable point for me. I'm writing this as I'm teaching and just surveyed my hs class on Stairway to Heaven. 75% know it and think I'm crazy for even asking. They know who Elvis is, too. And Marilyn Monroe. Many know James Dean. No dice on some of the lesser ones. Back to the story, I've seen it around as well, like the updates, and am looking forward to buying it. Doubt you'll have a hard time selling it.

  7. I love this beginning. And, as the mother of three teenage daughters, let me assure you that pointy elbows would be something a teenage girl would definitely notice. haha. And all all my kids are well informed on the works of Led Zeppelin (although that's partly because of good parenting) ;)

    I'm instantly intrigued by the beginning of this. I want to know what Sunny did and why all these people are whispering about the MC. If I picked this up in a store, I'd definitely keep reading.

  8. Love everything about this! The new title is fantastic, and I really like the query changes you've made since WriteOnCon. I also love the ending of the excerpt, where she doesn't want to be like the posters. Awesome :-)

  9. Really enjoyed your query - it was tight and to the point. Loved your comparisons at the end as well as it gave a good idea of what the story was similar to. Also loved the images you used - pointy elbows and wrinkled posters. Excited to read more!

  10. This is so fantastic! I want to read it!

    The titles you picked to compare this to were a great choice!

    Best of luck!!

  11. I read a ton of query letters. Sometimes they strike me as just okay. Sometimes they slam right into my gut. This story...sounds SO, SO cool. The one line that killed me (in a good way) was about "how snow can fall" on the stairway. Just gave me the coolest image in my head.

    Your writing is great. The descriptions---fascinating. I was actually okay with the pointy elbows thing. It gave her a quirky flare that I loved.

    Anyways- this's going to be great. I can feel it!!!

  12. Yay You! Love your new opening. Good luck!

  13. Wow! I saw all the comments and had to check this out. (Entry #1) it was totally worth the stop. I love the voice!!! Everything flowed beautifully and I would totally keep reading. Like another commenter--my only pause was the "J.C." I wasn't sure if this was her friend's locker, boy? girl? I'd prefer just a single sentence to say the name and who that person is to her, crush or bf. Good luck!

  14. I really liked the hiss, hiss, hiss of the whispers. Best of luck!

  15. I love your 250! You did a great job of sweeping me into the story. I've only got a couple of suggestions (practically unheard of for me): (1) The first line. "I never noticed..." but, she did notice or she wouldn't be talking about them. It's a good beginning line, but the logic problem caused me to stumble. (2) When the girls go by, I wouldn't mind a bit of expansion there so the girls don't feel so generic.

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  17. I missed this the first time around. Great comparison to IF I STAY. Good luck in the agent round, I hope you get lots of interest! :)