Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing Prompt Monday

(Photo source)

My hands are still soiled with dirt when I reach her. The woman made of stone. She's so still and cold, her eyes closed, her head bowed in prayer. Sadness is written upon her gray face. Sad for me. Sad for the dead. Sad for everyone who've come and gone throughout the gates.

I collapse against her, and let the soothing temperature of her cold stone rest against my skin. I don't know how long I've been wandering. I don't know how long I've been crying. I only know that he's gone. He's gone so far away, I can't reach out to grasp him in my arms. So far away that his scent has faded into nothingness. Far enough that even the memory of him seems so long ago.

My burning temperature collides with hers, as the rush of sobs in my chest fight to break free. The others have gone. Departed. Left me alone with my cries ringing out into the darkening sky. My hands curled around the freshly placed soil, wanting so badly to carve it out. To lift the weight of the dirt barrier from his casket and release him from the biting dark.

"Don't leave me," I cried out to him, as the mourners shook their heads.

"Unstable," one said. "She needs help," said another.

"Leave her," a voice said. "We can't help her."

And why would they? After all, it's my fault. I'm the reason he's not here, with them. With me. I can still hear their murmurs upon my arrival. "The nerve," they said.

It was an accident, I wanted to say. To scream until they heard me. But no one cared to listen. Not then. Not now.

"Please," I beg the lady above me. "Please. Don't do this," I say, as if she holds the key. The key to life and death.

"I'll do anything to take it back," I promise her. I place her prayer-like hands between mine, my head bowed, eyes closed. My eyes are closed so tight, like the harder they're shut my prayer would be heard. "Anything," I say again.

The chirping birds go silent at my words. The leaves come to a standstill along their branches. And the air itself seems to freeze in time.

Dare I open my eyes?

My sobs halt in my chest as if my breath has been sucked right out. I can't breathe. Can't feel. But I don't panic. I can't panic, because all fear, all the pain, it's suddenly . . . gone.

I dare to look. Two stone white eyes stare back at me, inches from my own. Her lips no longer draped in a frown, but a smile.

My mouth fights to speak, but I'm motionless. Her eyes absorbing every emotion, every thought of mine, taking them as her own. And just when I think I'm completely undone. That there's nothing left of me.

I hear my name. No. Not just my name. I hear him.

It's not possible.

Again, he calls out.

Could it be?

I look to my right where I hear him. And as if he'd never been gone, he's there. Waiting. For me.

"Thank you," I say in a wisp of breath to the lady made of stone, but it's too late. Her white eyes are no longer. Her smile set downward.

I nod my head with understanding, wiping the tears from my cheeks. His outstretched hand awaits. His face bright with invisible light. The scent of him crashes into me before I even reach him. And I know then. I know he's really here.

"Come with me," he says.

I look from his face to his hand.

"Only the devil could bring him back," my mother had said.

But how could the devil look so beautiful? I ask myself.

And before I could think to turn away. From him. From our love. I take his hand in mine.

If you wish to take part in this writing prompt, please be sure to share your blog link in the comments section so we can read it. Happy writing! 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Author Interview: Elizabeth Otto

Yay! I just love author appreciation Thursdays! Today, we have the fabulous Elizabeth Otto with us. Elizabeth is awesome! We met in the WrAHM group a while back and it's been great watching such a deserving lady succeed! I've never met a harder working writer. She writes like a mad woman and does an amazing job! Let's get to it!

What inspired you to start writing?

To be honest, I’m not really sure. I’ve just always written. I was an early reader, and my parents didn’t restrict me from reading certain genres or titles, so I had a varied early reading experience. My mother said I was asking her to write stories, that I recited to her, before I knew how to write words, so I guess I was just born with the drive to be a storyteller.

Can you tell us a little about signing with your agent?

Sure! I have to say, that my story is one that makes other writers a little angsty, because my querying days were short and sweet. Trust me—I know stories like this are both frustrating and encouraging. I was lucky to land my agent ten days after I started querying my book. The contemporary romance market was hot just then, apparently, because my query garnered eight full requests within the first five days, and ten days later, I had offers. I choose my agent, Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill Associates, firstly, because she truly loved the book, and mostly because of her past deals, current client list and eagerness to help plan my career as a writer. 

If it helps, I did query my adult paranormal romance BLOOD OF ISIS for several months without much interest, before deciding to give up on the agent search, and sign it to a small publisher. I think having a fresh book, in the right market at the right time, helped me snag my agent the second time around. 

What has the editing process been like for you?

Enlightening! I had no idea what went into taking a book from a draft to the polished edition you get on your Kindle or hold in your hand. When you finish your book and think you’re done—yeah, you’re not really done. The first two passes of content edits are rough because you may end up changing the meat and bones of your story. I’ve been blessed with great editors so far, who have offered great insight into making my books better. Copyedits have shown me just how badly my grammar sucks! LOL

What books do you have coming out? 

My debut paranormal romance, BLOOD OF ISIS, debuted on April 5th.  I have a contemporary romance series, PAINT RIVER COWBOYS, coming from Entangled Publishing’s Indulgence line starting with book #1 in October, 2013 (titles are being changed, so I can’t announce them just yet).  The second and third book in that series will launch in January and April, 2014. People interested in my upcoming releases can find an up-to-date announcement schedule on my blog or Facebook page. 

I love #traumafiction! How did you come up with such a great idea?

Thank you! I actually can’t take credit for coming up with the idea for TraumaFiction (just the name). My critique partners encouraged me to do it, after we had several discussions in our group on the lack of adequate medical information for writers.

The idea behind TraumaFiction is to give writers a resource for finding realistic medical advice for their fiction. Need to know how or where to shoot/stab your character without killing him? Need to know how to set a broken arm in the middle of a forest? TraumaFiction helps with that and so much more. Every Tuesday at 10 am CST, I host a different medical topic—from diseases, to treatments, to trauma and more—and people are encouraged to follow along and jump in at ANY time with questions. Even if the questions aren’t related to the weekly topic. Viewers can use the #traumafiction hashtag to follow along. 

As a career emergency medical technician, I get really annoyed when I read a book in which the medical or injury scenes are anything but believable. I mean, we should at least try to lend some credibility to what we create, right? I hope to help with that. Very soon, I’ll have a backlist of medical topics on my blog that are readily accessible.

Do you have any secret writing habits?

I’m a panster. Not sure if that’s a secret anymore, but I very rarely outline a story before I dive into it. I do utilize the Save the Cat beat sheet to help organize major plot points and the ending, but that’s it—and rare. I also try to fast draft. This lets me get ideas out of my head very quickly, and then I go back in several sweeps to add layers and depth to the story. Generally, I can complete a fast draft in a couple of weeks and have a polished manuscript in about eight weeks.

What's next for you?

I’m currently working on a novella that my agent and I plan to put on submission soon. I’m also working on story lines for a three-book contemporary romance with paranormal elements, and hope to have the first one ready for submission this fall. I plan on being a career author, so I’m sure I’ll always have something in the works.

Elizabeth's links:

Pick up BLOOD OF ISIS today!

Passion isn’t the only thing that burns…

When a designer drug rocks the small town of New Brighton and makes junkies spontaneously combust, Paramedic Jayda Swenson suspects the worst. The super-methamphetamine her husband created before his death has resurfaced. She’s worked hard to create a safe, tidy life and put her meth-ravaged past—and her secrets—behind her. But when tourists start disappearing and charred body remains crop up, Jayda learns the hard way that this drug doesn’t just fry people’s minds—it also fuels demons.

Sexy new medic Ben Tierney is a demon-hunter in disguise, but his demon-busting powers don’t work so well anymore…until he realizes Jayda’s touch can refuel the energy he’s lost—a touch she’s not so willing to dish out. Now Jayda finds herself wedged between an ancient demon that knows her past and her secret, and Ben, who has plenty of secrets of his own. He’s willing to help—for a price—but Jayda’s not sure if it’s a price she’s willing to pay…

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

SeCrit Tuesday: NA Contemporary

First off, thanks to everyone who submitted their first 250 words for SeCrits this week. It's always so difficult to choose one, and the way I personally go about it varies. Most of the time, I read through each entry twice—once to get a gist of the story, and a second time to see if any ideas pop into my mind. It's also tough because while there are a ton I love (including a YA murder mystery), if I feel like they don't need that much work I have to leave them in the Secret Life inbox graveyard. *sniffs* 

This Tuesday's entry caught my eye because it's interesting, yet also something that could still use a little tweaking. So here it is, the first 250 words of a NA Contemporary. (Crit is in orange, per usual.)

Kate dropped the overloaded clothes basket on the floor with a thump and scanned her new dorm room. [A sense of scene here would be nice. What does this place look like? You don't have to go into a ton of detail; even just a quick description of the chipped paint and crooked bunk beds would help. Maybe her roommate's stuff is already there—sans roommate. That way we can get the sense that it's move-in day without having to tell us it's move-in day (see below).]   She heaved in and out, trying to catch her breath after carrying her last load of belongings up eight flights of stairs. [If you tell us about the room and the roommate's stuff, we don't need the heaving in and out sentence.] It was move-in day and she had grown annoyed with jockeying for a spot in one of two elevators and decided she could make it eight floors. [You can take out the part about specifically telling us it's move-in day if you shift some things around above :)]

She’d been assigned to room 808 of Summit Hall. The dorms consisted of two-bedroom suites with a main living area flanked by two smaller bedrooms. While she’d have her own bedroom and share the living space with a roommate, unfortunately she’d be sharing the bathroom down the hall with twenty other students. [Something about this paragraph is a little dry. These are the kind of details that are important, but they don't have to be told to us. Maybe Kate could shift through her roommate's stuff a little bit and find something weird in there, and then she can panic at the idea that she's going to have to share a microscopic space with a weirdo. OR Kate could poke her head in the bathroom and think something to herself like, "Not impressed." These are just suggestions, but overall, we need more showing, less telling.]

She glanced at the two bedroom doors, contemplating which room she'd take, when she heard shouting down the hall. [Move-in day is pretty loud, yeah? Especially since she had to fight for a spot in one of the two elevators. There's probably lots of shouting. What makes this shouting distinctive?]

"Hey. You dropped something!" It was a male voice. And then its tall, dark haired, blue eyed owner appeared in her doorway. He was holding her favorite gray t-shirt. "You dropped this." He held it out to her while trying to catch his breath. [Is he annoyed? Genuinely happy to help? Is there a weird expression on his face that gives away he isn't telling her about everything she dropped yet? Even just adding something like "with a smile" will help clear that up.]

She quickly grabbed the shirt. "Thanks." 

"Yea... you dropped something else," he replied, looking down the hallway. [Once again, I need a hint about what he's thinking. Is he smirking like he thinks it's funny? Or biting his lip because he's embarrassed for her? etc.]

She raised her eyebrows in response, wondering why he hadn't bothered to pick that up too. She leaned out the door to look down the hall, where she saw a pile of fuchsia on the floor in front of the door to the stairwell. And then she gasped as realization hit her. [Let's make this a touch more embarrassing, shall we? Yeah, it's embarrassing Hot Guy saw her bra, but what if it's in the middle of the hall and there are a ton of people stepping around it (being move-in day and all that)? Just a thought.]

It was her bra. [Haha, love! Poor Kate.]

There you have it, folks! What do you guys think? Suggestions/thoughts and welcome in the comments below.
Friday, April 19, 2013

Stefanie's Friday Reads Recommendation!

Happy Friday everybody! You're all looking lovely today, if I do say so myself.

I'm totally flirting with you all right now.

I've got a book recommendation for you guys today, for a sort of "quieter" book that you all may not have heard of (I hadn't until someone recommended it to me). I've been on a bit of a contemporary/realistic kick lately, which is weird for me because, unless I'm beta-reading things like Leah's awesome book, I tend to gravitate toward sci-fi and fantasy stuff.

But, for whatever reason, I was in the mood for some so-called "issue" books, so I went on a search and ended up enjoying several things outside my normal reading comfort zone. Which, first of all, is a GREAT idea every now and then, I think. I found it especially helpful since I'm pretty deep into writing my epic fantasy WIP (as in, I'm at the point of no return where I've started to realize that I'm going to have to show this book to people and ohgodwhatifitsucks???), and so anytime I pick up stuff in the genre I'm writing in, it's sort of impossible not to compare my rough draft to those pretty, polished, complete books that mine sort of has to "compete" with. Okay, not compete with, necessarily, but you know what I mean. Hopefully compare to, live up to, etc...

So anyway, out of all the books I read on my contemporary binge over the past month or so, the one that's probably stuck with me the most is a book called BLACK BOX by Julie Schumacher

The blurb from Goodreads: WHEN DORA, ELENA’S older sister, is diagnosed with depression and has to be admitted to the hospital, Elena can’t seem to make sense of their lives anymore. At school, the only people who acknowledge Elena are Dora’s friends and Jimmy Zenk—who failed at least one grade and wears black every day of the week. And at home, Elena’s parents keep arguing with each other. Elena will do anything to help her sister get better and get their lives back to normal—even when the responsibility becomes too much to bear.

It's, quite frankly, a pretty terrible blurb. It probably wouldn't have caught my eye, which is why I'm recommending it here-- because the book is much, much better than the blurb and if you even sort of like books like this, I definitely think you should check this one out.

As someone who's dealt with depression and anxiety issues since I was a teenager, this book hit pretty close to home for me. It also manages to do what I think is a rare thing in issue-driven fiction: it captures the subject without over-dramatizing it or relying mostly on shock value to keep readers turning the pages. I have a pretty low tolerance for melodramatic writing, and I managed to get through this book without being offended or rolling my eyes even once--so that's a huge plus for me.

Writing-wise, it's short but poignant; every word counts and carries its weight. Clear, concise, with occasional, appropriate flourishes. That's how I like my writing. The POV choice was great too, because it's actually told from the POV of the girl dealing with her sister's diagnosis. It's a fascinating outside perspective that still manages to develop both of the sisters characters really well. I could complain that some of the other characters weren't developed quite as thoroughly as a result, but mostly I overlooked that because I love sibling-love stories (FALLS THE SHADOW is very much a sibling-love story) and this book was definitely that. Dora and Elena's relationship felt very real in a very tragic, yet ultimately hopeful way.

So, if you have any interest in books that deal with mental illness, family issues (especially sisterly-bonds), etc... then I highly recommend you check this one out!

Have a great weekend everybody!

Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, and her debut novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers in September, 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Knowing When To Take A Writing Break

We all experience that pressure of needing, not wanting, to squeeze in a word count every day. You know that feeling in your chest when you've been sitting around all day, watching Veronica Mars, eating some chocolate, and then all of a sudden you remember: "OMG! I need to write two thousand words today!" And if for some reason you're just not in the mood, or you were only able to write 1k, you suddenly start to feel guilty. We all know that feeling right?

Well I'm here to tell you that it's okay. It's okay to take a day off. It's okay to sit around all day watching Netflix not getting a thing done. You know why? Because sometimes it's better to take a break from writing and go back when you're refreshed. It'll save you from jotting down a thousand or more words that you'll just go back and delete anyway.

And you know what? Sometimes it's okay to take days, if not months, off from writing in order to get the most out of your writing. I've done that before. I felt guilty at first and even started to feel extremely bad about myself. Almost sick over it. But when I finally came back to that WIP, I started to see what I couldn't before. And having a group of friends who will support you and encourage you along the way is the best thing to have on your side. Because even when you're unsure about yourself and your writing, they'll be there to cheer you on. It's amazing how much that helps.

But just remember this: You don't have to push yourself so hard when it comes to your writing. I mean, yes, sometimes you'll have a deadline and you'll HAVE to get a certain word count in, but even then it's okay to take a break every once in a while. Believe me. You hear about it all the time. Even best-selling authors take a break during a deadline. Don't overwhelm yourself more than you need to. Know when it's time to take a break and walk away for a few hours, or even a few days. Your writing will thank you. You'll see.
Monday, April 15, 2013


Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people in Boston right now. Out of respect for them, regular posting will continue later in the week.
Thursday, April 11, 2013

Author Interview: Francesca Zappia

Hey guys!

I had the opportunity to interview someone I've been interested in for a long time, not only because she's awesome and hilarious, but because I'm dying to read her debut novel, ASK AGAIN LATER, coming in 2014 from Greenwillow/HarperCollins. I adore Chessie, and I'm sure you guys will too when you read about her success story below.

Tell us a little bit about your book, ASK AGAIN LATER, which snagged you your agent and super kick ass book deal with Greenwillow/Harper Collins.

Here's the Publisher's Marketplace summary: ASK AGAIN LATER is about the ultimate unreliable narrator, a schizophrenic teenage girl unable to tell the difference between reality and delusion who discovers -- thanks to a Magic 8-Ball, her little sister, and the boy she thought was imaginary -- that sometimes there really is someone out to get you.

Basically it's about my MC, Alex, trying to get a hold on her schizophrenia before it gets the better of her. Complications arise, as they are wont to do.

Yeah, I hate when that happens. How did you come up with the idea for AAL? Was it something that
came at you all at once, or did it develop over time as you drafted/revised?

It definitely developed over time. The very original draft, which was written back when I was in fifth or sixth grade and looks NOTHING like the book now, had nothing to do with paranoid schizophrenia. I'm not sure when that was thrown in the mix, but over time it became the focal point. (I'm not sure you can write about paranoid schizophrenia without it being the focal point. But I heard someone say that this story sounded like a plotting nightmare, which made me laugh, mostly because it does seem like it would be one. But it took so long for it to come together, and it's such a mix of so many different drafts and ideas and pictures that I never really felt like I was plotting it at all. 

So it was very much a develop-over-time book, which I think it needed to be. Its selling point is the two central characters, Alex and Miles, and I've been with them for so long that I know them inside and out. It wouldn't be half the book it is if they weren't so clear in my head.

I love that! Can you talk a little bit about the submissions process now that you're through it (WHEW). How many drafts did you go through before your agent submitted it to publishers? And can you say how long you were on sub for, even just vaguely? AND how did you handle being on sub without wanting to hurt someone?

I'm pretty sure I can, haha! I don't remember the exact number of rounds of edits we did--it was at least three or four--because some details were so delicate and precise and we wanted to make sure everything about the story was perfect before we sent it out. If I remember right, we were on submission for a little less than a month. I've heard horror stories about writers being on submission and that whole experience of waiting being an absolute nightmare, but my agent Louise was so great about updating me on what was going on, who was looking at the manuscript, and who was/wasn't interested that the waiting never felt so bad.

That being said, I feel EXTREMELY lucky and grateful that my submission went the way it did. Others don't have that sort of experience, and I know there are plenty who want to rip their hair out by the end of it.

That is AH-MAZING! So you just announced your deal (YAY!). Tell us about the deal itself.
How did everything go down? What was it like having to keep that a secret for so long?

Yay! I can tell you this deal was amazing, and also one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. HarperCollins made a house offer on the manuscript, and I had to pick between two of their imprints, both of which I loved. In the end, I decided to go with Greenwillow.

Keeping the secret was AWFUL. I know sometimes it takes months to get things moving, and it may take a while to be able to announce, but there were times when I got really frustrated about it, mostly because I was afraid me or someone else who knew about it would let something slip, and we'd all be in trouble for letting the news out too soon. So now that it's out, there's a lot of pressure off!

What's next for you? Are you drafting something new? Can you giveus a hint? ;)

I think it's safe to say I'm always working on something, haha. ASK AGAIN LATER is YA contemporary, but normally I'm a sci-fi/fantasy writer. I really love creating and exploring other worlds. Right now, I'm working on sort of a sci-fi/contemporary crossover that will hopefully appeal to both contemporary fans and sci-fi fans. That's all I can say for now, but I hope I get to share more info about it soon!

Thanks, Chessie! You can add ASK AGAIN LATER on Goodreads here, and follow Chessie on Twitter right over here

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Game of Secrets: THE WINNER!

Hello readers!

First off, thanks sooo much to everyone who participated in our Game of Secrets Event, and to The Mod Podge Bookshelf for playing hostess to us :) Choosing a "winner" was definitely not an easy task, but in the end we managed to come to a consensus. So congratulations are in order for....*drumroll*....

Courtney Washburn!

Courtney, please email your address to us at so we can get prize stuff sorted out.

And now for the winning entry!

Ha! Simon Roberts, love Isabelle Stone?

Give me a break.

It was almost too easy, manipulating these sheep. Flash some puppy eyes, stutter a few oh-so-helpful words, spilling secrets like breadcrumbs, and they do exactly what you’d expect.

So predictable.

Behind these thick black frames, I see so much more than people think. Just because my vision’s 20/400 doesn’t mean I’m blind. You don’t think I know they use me? Bat their f***ing spidery lashes, stick out their Wonder Bras, ask me to do their homework like I’m some chump who’s deluded enough to think Miss Ice Bitch herself could actually be interested in a bona-fide nerd?

Not likely. I have an I.Q. of 163. It’s f***ing insulting.

I didn’t do it for me, though. I did it for her.

They call her ‘Mouse,’ when they’re not even worthy of licking dog sh*t off her Mary Janes. They pull her hair. Shove her in the hall. Even that ball-buster Emery can’t protect Amy from the constant attacks. Last month, Is-a-bitch Stone snapped a cell phone pic of Amy changing in the locker room and posted it on Facebook with the caption: Country Mouse wears granny panties. Now, a month later, people still call Amy ‘grundy-undies’ and pants her in the hall between classes.

Something had to be done.

It was almost too perfect when two days later I caught that skank Haley slipping in those extra ballots. A month of planning, of doing Isabelle’s Advanced Calc homework and following her around like a spineless, lovesick dope, and I’d scored a pity invite to her party. Like I said—predictable.

All it took was a few concerned words about Haley’s cheating to separate Isabelle from the herd. My knowledge of circuit design and electrical engineering—courtesy of a few summers at MIT robotics camp—did the rest. I overrode the electricity without having to trek through the mansion to the basement and back. Some flickering lights and darkness and those drunken morons stayed right where they were, allowing me to sneak past unnoticed.

And Isabelle…well…she didn’t know what hit her.

Well, I did.

When Amy touched my shoulder and stared at me with those big, beautiful eyes, it was almost like she wanted me to do it. Was begging me to do it.

For her.

So yeah, I confess. Ding dong, the bitch is dead.

Does Amy know I did it for her? Maybe. I watched her afterwards to see. Maybe I wanted her to figure it out, to know. Because I love her. 

Turns out, love hides all manner of sins. Like motive. Getting close to Isabelle gave me the perfect cover—after all, I loved her. Why would I kill her?

And my “confession” to the police? Well, let’s just say they bought the nerd-in-love sh*t just like all the brainless masses that make up public education’s student body. I even got to say, I confess; it’s my fault, right to their faces. The little needle on their lie detector didn’t so much as flicker.

As for Amy, well, no one at school is going to be yanking down her pants on Monday. Maybe the rest of these jokers will think twice before choosing their next victim. Before tormenting the meek and defenseless. After all, they’re the ones under fire now. They’re the ones with the motive. The vendettas and scores to settle.

Isabelle found out the hard way—live as a bitch and then you die.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Writing a Successful Query: A Special "SeCrit" Feature

Hi lovelies!

Today's SeCrit is going to be a little different. Instead of critiquing a user-submitted query, we're going to break apart one of our own successful queries and attempt to help you see how and why it worked. Below is Stefanie Gaither's original query, which had about a 2/3 request rate and resulted in multiple offers.

Okay, here we go!

Dear Agent,

I’m currently seeking representation for my YA novel, FALLS THE SHADOW. Given your interest in science fiction, I thought it might be something you’d enjoy reading. Here’s a quick look at the plot:
 [This first paragraph was pretty standard across all the queries Stef sent. Short, sweet, and to the point. A lot of people will make a big deal about bending over backwards to get really specific in the personalization and show that you've spent hours and hours stalking researching the agent. Which you should research, definitely. But if you've targeted your queries well enough (that is, you know it's definitely something the agent will want to read) then it should speak for itself--no elaborate declarations of love or personalizations necessary. In short: stop stressing over this. Story is most important.]
When Cate Benson was twelve, her sister died. Two hours after the funeral, they picked up Violet’s replacement, and the family made it home in time for dinner and a game of cards.
[This is the "hook" paragraph. Its purpose is to make the agent/editor sit up and pay attention, the same way the first line in the manuscript should do. Notice all of the things just these two sentences establish: character(s), the fact that this is sci-fi (as implied by the "replacement" bit), world-building and voice-- the non-nonchalant bit about the cards was a way of using voice to show that, in Cate and Violet's world, this "replacing" is commonplace. You have only so many words to work with in a query, so they should ALL count, and pull double-duty whenever possible. Actually, that's just a good rule of well-paced writing in general.]    
It's the year 2055, and Cate's parents are among the wealthy elite who can afford to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth. So this new Violet has the same smile. The same laugh. That same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all the same memories as the girl she replaced.  
[This paragraph builds on the intrigue established in the hook. At this point, you've (hopefully) already caught the reader's attention, so you can afford to elaborate a bit without worrying about losing them. If Stef had started with this paragraph, it probably would not have been as effective. This paragraph is important in its own right, though, because in sci-fi, worldbuilding is incredibly important-- so your query should demonstrate some level of it. Notice that it stays central to the characters, though, and includes only the worldbuilding necessary for developing the hook. There is a ton of other cool sci-fish stuff in the book, of course, but the query isn't the place to discuss that.]
She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.
[And now we have our Story Worthy Problem-- our MC has a murder mystery to solve] 
Or at least, that’s what the paparazzi and the crazy anti-cloning protesters want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that, though. She’s used to standing up for her sister too, and she’s determined to do it now—even if proving Violet’s innocence means taking on those protesters and anyone else attacking her family. But when her own life is threatened—not by protesters, but by the very scientists who created her sister’s clone—Cate starts questioning everything she thought she knew about the cloning movement. About herself. About her sister.
[Again, we've dropped a bomb of a hook about a possibly murderous sister, so now we have the reader's attention and can feed them a bit more information. This paragraph does two things at once: establishes more about the world of the book, and also about Cate's character by showing the way she deals with that world. It is all tightly intertwined to make the query feel more cohesive.]          
And the answers she finds reveal a more sinister purpose for her sister’s copy—and her own replacement—than she ever could have imagined.
[This last paragraph is purposefully vague, hinting at a bigger story and more complications to come.]
FALLS THE SHADOW is an accessible, character-driven sci-fi thriller of 81,000 words. The completed manuscript is available, in part or full, at your request. As per your agency’s guidelines, I’ve enclosed a SASE for your reply. Thanks for your time and consideration!

[Like the opening, the closing is short and sweet and to the point. Including "As per your agency's guidelines..." and whatever they ask for is just a quick and easy way to show you read said guidelines.]

A few random thoughts on query writing:

-Almost as important as what's in this query is what is not in it. There is no mention of subplots--nothing about the romance or the love interest (though there definitely is one of those), nothing about any other characters except for Cate and Violet. The reason? Because they are the crux of this particular story-- the characters that this story wouldn't exist without. Of course there are more characters, and they all complicate this story in their own way, but tangled and complicated is not what you're going for in a query. You don't want your query to seem muddled, because you don't want an agent/editor to think your book is just as muddled.

-Sometimes it's easier to write the query before you write the book (which is what Stef did with this query-- it changed very little through the process of writing the actual book). Because you don't get caught up in the aforementioned subplots and such, since you don't know about a lot of those subplots and intricacies and complications. Which is not helpful to those of you with completed books, but something to think about for future projects, maybe?

-Pay attention to white space. Break up your paragraphs. Set apart more dramatic lines (hooks), because it makes them feel more dramatic. Is it a cheap trick to manipulate reader's emotions? Of course it is. The same way using shorter sentences for dramatic effect and emphasis is. Writing is full of cheap tricks.

-You've probably heard this before, but a good way to think about queries is to think of them as cover copy on published books. That copy is intended to make a reader buy a book, and you're essentially doing the same thing here--trying to sell your pitch to agents/editors

-There is no completely wrong or right way to write a query, just like there's no wrong or right way to write a book. This query worked for Stefanie, and for her book, but all writing is subjective. Bottom line? You just need to make people want to read the thing, however possible. So take everything in this post with a grain of salt. Hopefully it helps in some way!

Feel free to post your query writing tips and tricks in the comments, or if anyone knows any great resources for query writing, share away!

Also, quick housekeeping note: 
The winner for our GAME OF SECRETS event will be announced tomorrow! And be sure to come back Thursday for an awesome author interview as well :)