Huge Prize Pack Giveaway!

Just wanted to announce that we’re giving away an AWESOME prize pack. Get Underlined arranged a gift basket of all my favorite science fiction things in honor of Nyxia’s launch week. Check out the link below for your chance to win!

If you win, you will receive:

– The only annotated version of Nyxia, with notes from me throughout the book
– Stranger Things T-shirt
– My favorite science fiction books (Illuminae, Red Rising, Across the Universe)
– My favorite science fiction movies (Gattaca, Ender’s Game, Fahrenheit 451)
– Star Wars minis!
– And an Alabama Shakes album that features a song that’s a huge inspiration from one of the scenes in the book

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Week One: Recap!

So we’re getting closer to the end of my first week as a debut author… and what a week it was! The whole thing kicked off with an event at Cary High SchoolMy alma mater brought some 250 students to the auditorium and we talked passion, books, and more.

Later that night, I was humbled by the support of friends and family at our Barnes and Noble launch event. We had over 175 people come out! The next night, at Quail Ridge, we had a showing of another 60-75 people. It was honestly so much fun to see all the familiar faces and celebrate Nyxia.

I had memorable school events at Apex High, Apex Friendship, Knightdale, Green Hope, and Apex Middle after that. The one that maybe stands out in my mind is Apex Middle. Those kids were so thrilled to be speaking with an author!

Finally, I was in New Orleans on Sunday for SIBA 2017. I sat next to Alan Gratz, Sarah Tolcser, and Corabel Shofner on stage, talking about our books and why we wrote them.

We close out the first official week with an exciting event in Tempe, Arizona. Marie Lu and I will be at the Changing Hands Bookstore. If you haven’t seen Marie’s WARCROSS campaign, you’re seriously missing out. Not only is it a brilliant book, but the marketing for it has been so much fun.

So here’s my final plea: have you gotten the book yet?! Tracked down your own copy of Nyxia? Consider getting another copy to donate to a local school. Think about gifting it to a young reader who might like these kinds of stories. I’m encouraging folks to go out one more time if they haven’t already as we close out the week! Here’s the link! Thanks so much for all your support:

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September 12, 2017 – NYXIA RELEASES

What a day! What a lovely, lovely day!

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I could not be more thrilled to announce to the world that my book has officially hit shelves. You should be able to find it any number of book stores, order it on Amazon, or through Barnes and Noble. I’m seriously flattened by the fact that this is all REAL.

I think it’s appropriate to share my acknowledgements page here. I’m so incredibly thankful, and this page doesn’t cover half of the ways people have helped, loved, and supported me along the way. I’m thankful for all of you. Please send pictures of the book if you see it in the wild. I hope you love Emmett Atwater and the entire crew of Genesis 11.

Acknowledgements for Nyxia:

I still remember holding my first, published book. I was in fourth grade and I had written The Chronicles of Rascal. Our elementary school class had the projects printed and bound. I turned the pages of a story I had imagined and made a promise to myself to never stop writing.

I’d like to thank the team at Crown BFYR for taking my childhood dream and surpassing all expectations. To Emily Easton, for having an even higher vision for this book than I did. Settling for anything less than my best writing wasn’t an option for you, and I’m so thankful for that.

I’m really thankful for my wife, Katie. She’s far kinder than I could ever be, and I’m always trying to learn from her example. Her hard work gave me the opportunity to write full time while we were abroad. I owe that period of creativity and growth to her. More importantly, I get to laugh with her every night before I go to bed. What would this life be without those brief, eternal joys?

I owe a great deal to my family. Momma, thanks for reading my stories long before they made any sense. You always believed I had something worth saying. Daddio, thanks for diving into new worlds with me and asking the right questions. I owe my love of science fiction and fantasy to my brothers, Matt and Pat. Endless hours playing video games and slaying dragons finally paid off for us! So if you two are up for another run through Molten Core, I’m game. The Zaccardos deserve a hat tip here as well. Thank you for making me feel so welcome and always encouraging my dreams.

A great big thank you to the teachers that inspired me throughout the years. I’m especially indebted to Susan Letts and Anne Dailey. Your mutual conspiring to land me in a creative writing class was such a demonstration of faith for a young writer. I’ve never forgotten it.

And the relationship between teachers and students works in both directions. I’m indebted to a number of brilliant students for reading my book in its earliest stages. The same teens who inspired me to write a character like Emmett eagerly dove into beta reading on my behalf. Over fifteen students offered their sage advice and life experiences to help me form Emmett into a more fully realized character. If you ever need a reminder that you’re capable of moving mountains, all you need to do is look at my first and final drafts. Thank you so much. I hope all of you keep writing, and reading, and thinking deeply: the world needs your brilliant stories.

To the members of the Cramp, thank you. Life is unpredictable, but on Thursdays, you’re all there, waiting to talk shop about whatever project is on the table. The leaps and bounds in my writing career might look impressive to the casual observer, but really it was all of you lifting me on your shoulders and throwing me off of a cliff, confident that I had learned to fly.

To Daniel, Wes, and Scott. You’re a bunch of clowns, but you’re my clowns. Half of what I know and who I am has shades of each of you in it. Thanks for always being there for me.

To my agent, Kristin Nelson, thanks for being such a warrior. From our very first conversation, there was no other option in your mind for this book than to be a smashing success. Such was your confidence and faith in me, and never once did that falter. Thanks for always taking up my fight. That same gratitude should be extended to the rest of the amazing team at Nelson Literary Agency and their affiliates: Angie Hodapp, Jamie Perischetti, Kassie Evashevski, and Jenny Meyer.

Lastly, people always ask what I do for a living. In an effort to sound remotely normal, I tell them I’m an author, but in reality I’m a sub-creator. As such, my biggest thanks will always be to God. I look around at our world, which Gerard Manley Hopkins described as charged by His grandeur, and I’m stunned by the endless creativity. It’s a pleasure to take all that He invented and try to make my own characters, stories, and worlds from it. There’s joy in sub-creation, but always with a nod to the God who was clever enough to envision baboons:

“And you? You shall have a bubblegum butt…”

Digging – Lessons from My Grandfather


It was early in the day. I followed my granddaddy to a construction site. This kind of work was almost a rite of passage in the Martin family. A way to make a few bucks, but it was never easy work. My grandfather runs things in his old school way. I’ve joked before that getting in the truck with him was risky, because that truck might hit five construction sites in 8 hours, and before you blink it’s nighttime, even though you planned on being home around 5pm. And the work itself was always hard labor. Digging ditches and clearing out landscapes, all under the gaze of a bright North Carolina sun.

We worked into the afternoon that day. I remember glancing over and seeing a gash on my grandaddy’s arm. Blood was running down. “Hey. Grandaddy. You’re bleeding.”

He hitched for just a second, eyed the wound. “It’ll stop when it’s done.”

And he kept working.

There are other stories. I do not doubt that each of his grandchildren have their own. Some border on the fantastical. Chasing down a burglar outside of a Food Lion, tackling and holding onto him until police came, something he did at the ripe age of 70. Stories about him stopping to show city workers how to fix potholes, or how he got up on a roof just three months ago at age 89. That’s just who he is. A tireless force of nature who has worked every day of his life like it’s a privilege and a blessing just to be breathing today.

I never took to that work, and sometimes felt guilty for that. I wasn’t great with machinery. I didn’t enjoy climbing on roofs or wrestling trees to the ground. It wasn’t until college that I came to terms with it. I read a poem– “Digging” by Seamus Heaney– that gave me a new perspective.

The poem starts simply. Heaney describes his father and grandfather as they work the land. In the poem, he’s looking out from the window with clear admiration for their work as potato farmers. He brags on them saying: “By God, the old man could handle a spade./ Just like his old man.” Heaney isn’t pretending they’re more than they are. He’s simply stating a fact: they worked hard and they worked well. At the end of the poem, he makes the inevitable conclusion: “But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.”

That’s how I always felt. I remember that line hammering its way into my heart. I so admired my grandfather– how he loved and supported his family– but I didn’t have the tools to follow him. I didn’t like to dig. I didn’t like to work the land.

Heaney provided me an elegant solution. His poem comes back around. He sits there in the upper room, looking out the window and remembering his father. He concludes:

“Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.”

There are no lines of poetry that mean more to me than those. It gave me perspective and purpose. I didn’t have to do the same work my granddaddy did. The solution was to find my own tools. What was always worth mimicking about him was not the way he used a shovel. No, what was worthy of our aspiration was how he worked and the passion that drove him onward.

Ever since then I have done my best to work as hard as he does. Every time I sit down to write, I feel like I’m doing my own kind of digging. I am building houses, clearing out construction sites, and mending fences… but in my own way, as an author. Story after story, I get to walk in the footsteps of his passion, his determination, and his work ethic.

In just a week, my first book will debut. I wonder if this is how he felt when he built his first house, or apartment complex. Most people see the finished product and don’t think twice about what went into it. All the digging and all the setbacks, the struggle and the toil to create something from nothing. Readers will take Nyxia off the shelf, but they might not see the fifteen revisions, or the hundreds of hours that went into making the book what it is.

And that’s okay, because I think my granddaddy will understand. Maybe we’ll share a secret nod or smile on the night of my launch, because we’ve both spent time digging. We know the work was worth it, and we know there’s still more satisfying work to do tomorrow.

10 Days until Nyxia Launches into the World

I really can’t believe it’s here. We’re 10 days away now from the launch of Nyxia. I’ve been posting this around on social media, but if you’re local, feel free to come say hello at any of these tour stops:

September 12th – Barnes and Noble, Cary, NC

September 13th – Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC

September 23rd – Barnes and Noble, Durham, NC

September 28th – Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

I hope I get to see you, and if not, I really hope you enjoy reading Nyxia

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Before and After Queries 3 – Kosoko Jackson

The third in our Before and After Queries – Mini-Series. This one comes from author Kosoko Jackson and features the very first query, as well as the query that landed him an agent. Commentary follows each. Let’s dig in!

First Query Ever (2014):
Dear XXX Agent,

For the past 5 years, Charlie has lived in The December Zone –the remainder of the world where the nuclear war has left everything completely covered in snow, ice and blood hungry creatures; some animal, some human, some a grotesque mix of both. The lucky people who escaped the explosion, or who bought their way into the safe haven, live in The Summer Domes all over the country. Sometimes, Charlie can’t help but wonder what his life might have been like if he had listened to his best friend Trevor and left his family behind to live in the safety of the warm and bountiful walls. But those days are sealed away and nothing but a pipe dream. But when Charlie’s younger sister gets ill and the only medicine available lies within one of The Summer Domes, Charlie has no choice but to wander down and use the trump card he’s been saving for so many years in order to get inside of the walls. Charlie knows who brought about the nuclear explosion that created this endless winter , and he knows where the culprit, the most hated person in the world, lives. But he has no intention of actually giving the information. After all, how do you live with yourself when you give up your father? His only hope is to get in, get out and never have to tell the truth.

But The Summer Dome not only keep the cold out, but keep the citizens inside. A prison is only a prison when the outside world is better than the world inside and Charlie quickly discovers leaving will be significantly harder than entering. Things get more complicated when he meets Trevor 5 years laterand sees the life he could have had…and the life he still can have if he just tells the truth. No matter what, the choice is clear: Someone’s life hangs in the balance of Charlie’s choice. The only question is will it be his sister or his father and will they take him down with them.

The December Zone has a strong theme of ‘choices have consequences’ and deals with a lot of things many young adults deal with commonly, including the temptation of drugs, sex, ‘teenage rebellion’ and sexuality. Charlie, struggles during the novel with coming to terms with romance, something he never had in The December Zone, which is even more jarring when romance happens with another male. The novel’s is peppered, not saturated with science fiction themes and heavily focused on weighing pros and cons of choices, while at the same time dealing with those actions. Charlie’s biggest struggle, and something many young adults can relate to, is discovering they cannot control everything and finding their place in the world while not letting the harshness of reality overpower them…even though for many, it does.

The December Zone is 81K and the first installment in a trilogy.A full ten pages are seen below. I hope to hear from you soon.

Why It Didn’t Work:

  • I trimmed the query, but the actual query? 650 words. YIKES – FAR too long.
  • The last 2 sentence paragraph was actually 10 sentences. The bio should be short, sweet, and accent what makes YOU the best person to write this story–too many random details.
  • The query reads like a (boring) synopsis. A big no no.
  • It has a very much of “then this happened, this then happened” feel to it, not an enticing story.
  • It takes too long to get to the meat (again, remember, the FULL query is 650 words!)
  • This was 2014, the last leg of dystopian literature.
  • I assumed it would be a trilogy, and sell as one, instead of a singular story.
  •’s just horribly written, cliche, and lots of ‘ugh!’.

The Query That Got an Agent (2016-2017):

Dear Agent,

Seventeen-year-old James Mills has to spend his senior year in God forsaken, cold-as-heck Kosovo. That’s what happens when your parents are USAID workers more interested in helping the “needy” than fixing their marriage.

Through letters to his older sister enjoying her freshmen year at George Washington, James describes his days navigating a new country, a crumbling parental unit, and Tomas, the son of a Brazilian sanitation engineer. While his sister reads about the sweet romance developing with Tomas, the reality is much worse.

Ethnic tensions between the Albanians and Serbians have boiled over, trapping James far from his family. As James struggles to survive a world saturated in war, armed with only his wit, family lessons gathered from years abroad, and a loyal boyfriend, he must not only decide if he’s willing to do anything–or become anyone–he needs to in order to survive, but if survival is something he even wants. Especially when he discovers the secrets surrounding his family’s questionable involvement in the genocide.

A KISS OF BLOOD AND GUNPOWDER is a YA historical fiction novel, complete at 60,000 words. Told non-linearly through a mix of first person narrative and epistolary styles, it will appeal to fans of Code Name Verity and How I Live Now. I have 2 personal essays published on The Advocate.Com and Thought Catalog, as well as one short story publication in RFD Magazine & one in my college anthology. I’m also a2016 Pitchwars Finalist.

Thank you for your consideration.

Why it worked:
  • MUCH shorter – 250 words.
  • Shorter, cleaner sentences help to keep the pace and feel.
  • The query only gives away the first 70 pages, and is enticing for the rest – A good trick when writing a query.
  • The ending is much more of a cliffhanger, but gives enough that you know the story.
  • There is world – and character – building without it feeling dull and like reading a manual.
  • There is voice too – something the first query really lacked.
  • COMPS, though not a requirement, very much help to establish where your book would go on the shelf. The more unique the book, the better the comps – this, unlike the one above, has them.
  • ALSO, there were two typos in this query – try not to do this, but don’t think its the end of the world if you have one (or two…)


A huge thanks to Kosoko for contributing! As always, we will end with this final encouragement about the querying process:

Time and practice build the necessary skills to survive in this industry. If your first queries slip through the hands of agents, do not fear or worry. You will get better at this. Your writing will improve. Put the time in and I expect the same kind of leaps you see above. We can’t wait to read your stories.

Bio: Kosoko was born and raised in the Washington D.C.metro. He has taught elementary kids how to read, educated millennials about the power of voting, and held various communications positions in political organizations. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BS in Public Health with a minor in new media communications. When not writing, he can be found obsessing over female driven period pieces, explaining how Slytherin is obviously the best Hogwarts House, and painstakingly finding the right GIF for tweets about them.
Twitter (@kosokojackson)

Before and After Queries 2 – S.F. Henson

The second in our Before and After Queries – Mini-Series. This one comes from author S.F. Henson and features her very first query, as well as the query that landed her an agent. Commentary follows each. Let’s dig in!

First Query Ever:

Eli Samuels is the first person he knows to ever enter creepy old Mrs. Collins’ house.  Before today no one else had ever even been invited inside.  He’s the first person to see the hallway of humungous paintings, the first person to meet Mrs. Collins’ talking cat-creature guards, and the first person to discover that Mrs. Collins is the Seporax—whatever that is.

Now Mrs. Collins is dead.  Unfortunately for Eli she gave him a cryptic message about his “power” and named him as the next searcher before she died, which means her guards are forcing Eli to find her replacement.  Armed with only a magical letter opener dagger thing, Eli travels to the worlds beyond the paintings to find the next keeper of the doorways before Maleficius, a power hungry ex-king , destroys the doors—and the worlds they lead to.

Eli just wants to complete his task and go home, but when his dreams start coming to life and he finds an ancient photograph of a boy who could be his twin, he starts to wonder if the home he knows is really where he’s from or not.  He has to find the Seporax before he can figure it out though, a quest that grows more difficult and dangerous with every new world he enters.

THE QUEST FOR THE SEPORAX is a 79,000 word Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Why it didn’t work:

Oh, let me count the ways. No seriously, let’s count them.

  1. It’s just off. I think the query should have the same voice as the book—to set it apart and to give agents a taste of your pages—but this one misses the mark so badly. Things I thought were “voice-y” as a baby writer just…aren’t. The “cat-creature guards” and “whatever that is” lines in the first paragraph, the “magical letter opener dagger thing” in the second (are you cringing yet? Because I am!). Those lines don’t show Eli’s voice as much as they show my bad writing and confuse the reader.
  2. The query drags. There’s no real immediacy here, no real hook. Nothing here grabs your attention. Too much set-up and not enough pow.
  3. If I didn’t know the story, I’d be confused about a lot of these plot points and how they connect. There are gaps in logic and no real stakes. What does Eli stand to gain and lose if he fails? The plot problems in the query indicate that there are plot problems with the story itself. And there were! Which is why this novel ended up in the trunk after going to a whopping 6 agents.


Last Query Ever (I hope!):

Sixteen-year-old Dot Parker has forty-eight hours before the government kills her dad.

Her father invented the cube, an electrical system that harvests energy from emotions. Thanks to Dot’s dad, for the last ten years the country has been powered by love. But the system is failing, and now the government wants to switch to a more efficient and controllable emotion: fear. A shift that can only be activated with a password.

And the password only exists in Dot’s head.

Alone, broke, and on the run from the same agents who took her dad, Dot has two days to scramble from her home in Alabama to the government facility in California. The string of numbers in her brain is the only thing keeping her dad alive, and she has no intention of turning it over. Not until she sees her dad in one piece. And definitely not until she learns how to destroy the cube system.

Because Dot has been behind Door Number Four. She’s experienced how the government plans to elicit fear, and she has the torture scars to prove it. Her dad knows the system, Dot knows the password, and only together can they stop the switch —and the torment of millions of innocent people. If the agents catch her first, though, Dot’s going back behind Door Number Four, and this time there will be no escape.

DOOR NUMBER FOUR is a 60,000 word YA Speculative Thriller. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Why it worked:

  1. There’s an immediate hook. The first line draws you in and makes you want to know more. Why does the government want to kill Dot’s dad? Why does she only have forty-eight hours? What’s going on here? That’s the point of a query: to keep the agent reading and make them want to know more.
  2. The story is clear. You know from the outset what event set the plot in motion and where the story is going. There’s a logical flow that was missing in the first query. This shows an agent that the manuscript probably has a good flow too.
  3. The stakes are also clear. The reader knows exactly what Dot stands to lose if she fails. We know the obstacles in her way, and we know why the antagonists are after her.
  4. There’s just overall more immediacy. The quicker pace keeps you reading to the end. This query gives away just enough, without telling too much.

My now agent requested the full manuscript just four hours after I queried her. I’m not saying this query is perfect, but it did its job and here I stand, plucked from the slush pile.


A huge thanks to S.F. Henson for contributing! As always, will end with this final encouragement about the querying process:

Time and practice build the necessary skills to survive in this industry. If your first queries slip through the hands of agents, do not fear or worry. You will get better at this. Your writing will improve. Put the time in and I expect the same kind of leaps you see above. We can’t wait to read your stories.



S.F. Henson was born and raised in the deep south. She graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Animal Science, which she put to great use by attending law school. Her law degree has gotten some mileage, though, giving her the experience to write about criminals and other dark, nefarious subjects. She lives beside a missile test range in Huntsville, Alabama with her husband, dog, two oddly named cats, and, of course, the missiles that frequently shake her house. Her debut novel, DEVILS WITHIN, releases from Sky Pony Press on October 17, 2017.