Last Tuesday, Amazon announced the first round of ABNA cuts based on the pitch. For those of you just tuning in, ABNA stands for Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, an annual competition aimed at discovering new writing talent for publication. The prize money ($50k grand and $15k for four first places) isn't bad, either.
Amazon starts with 10,000 hopeful authors who have submitted a pitch, excerpt, and their entire manuscript in hopes of making it to those top coveted spots. Mimicking the real publishing world, Amazon cuts out contestants at each stage of the game, advancing only so many each round. From the initial 10,000 we now number only 2,000 based on our pitch alone. In a little over two weeks we'll be down to 500 after Viners (Amazon Top Reviewers) have weighed in on our excerpts and graded them.
So, I'm now waiting to see what the reviewers have to say and whether or not I'll be biting away at my nails for another round. To pass the time, I've been querying another project and doing a round of revisions on MOTHER OF MONSTERS, trying to keep my mind busy. I've hit one of my favorite parts of MOTHER OF MONSTERS, the introduction of the Harpy Twins, Helen and Helena. I thought I would share a bit of it. Let me know what you think.
Antioco had never seen anything as bizarre or terrifying as these creatures currently leering at him. Now they had stopped moving and his life was in danger, the details of the forest edge jumped out at him. How had he missed the scraps of fabric hanging in the branches and the bushes? Everywhere he looked there were half-eaten corpses of the previous unfortunates who had wandered this way.
“Do you have names?” Antioco asked the one closest to him. She smiled, revealing rows of sharp teeth. Her mouth was crusted dark brown with dried blood.
“We only call each other sister and have no need for names. You will not be here long enough to call us anything and we shall now call you dinner.” Her breath was hot and smelled of rot when it hit Antioco’s face. He ignored her remarks.
“There is no name by which men call you? Surely they would not call you sister.”
“Men tend to run screaming from us, not call us to them,” the second one giggled. On Antioco’s back Spiro dug his claws in further.
“Although we have heard the word ‘harpy’ escape from a couple of their lips.”
“But that’s the only thing that escaped.” The two bird-sisters fell into a fit of laughing so high pitched and grating that the horses both whinnied and bucked involuntarily.
“Oh, look sister, we’re scaring our dinner,” the harpy closest to Antioco said. Her hair looked like it might have been blonde at one time, before the dirt and tree debris became stuck in the smattering of blood.
“How’s it different from any of our other dinners?” shrieked back the second. A ray of sunlight hit her, shining on a clump of auburn hiding amongst her macabre collection.
“Have you always lived in these woods?” If these harpies were going to eat them anyway, Antioco had nothing to lose by asking them some questions.
“We’ve lived here long enough,” said the blonde one Antioco was beginning to think of as the leader.
“Ever since Hera took us off the island and brought us here.”
Antioco smiled. His assumption had been right. These harpies were more products of Hera’s twisted agenda. It was strange they recalled the island. When Ercole had spoken to them he hadn’t mentioned the island at all.
“You remember living on the island?”
“Of course we remember living on the island,” the lead harpy said.
“We were there long enough. Not enough flying there. And Mother wouldn’t let us eat the other children.” Both harpies went into a laughing fit again.
“Yes. We have a mother, you know.” The leader snapped her teeth at him.
“What did you think, we fell from the trees like pieces of rotten fruit?”
“It would have been an improvement.” Antioco had forgotten Thanatos was behind him until he spoke up. And of all the things for him to have picked to speak up about.
“Ack, did you hear that, sister?”
“Indeed I did, sister. The pretty gray horsey thinks he is funny.” The second harpy fluttered awkwardly down to roost near Thanatos and stuck her face into his.
“Your breath is the most foul thing I’ve ever smelt,” he snorted, backing away slightly and shaking his nose to try and clear the stench.
“Thank you, horsey. Say something else funny. Me and my sister like a good laugh at meal times. It helps with the digestion.”
“You are by far the most disgusting creatures I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.” The harpies screeched with laughter again.
“Horsey is right. It is your biggest misfortune to meet us.” She turned her attention from Thanatos and addressed her next comment to her sister. “Can we eat now? Our last meal was over an hour ago and I’m starved.” A terrified squeak drew both harpies’ attention to Spiro, who had remained unnoticed until that point in time.
“What’s this?” The blonde harpy peered at Spiro’s shaking form and poked at him with a wing.
“Dessert?” screeched her sister. “Or perhaps an appetizer. But only enough for one of us.” She looked over on Thanatos’ back.
“Do you have a little treat on your back as well, funny horsey? One small treat and a pretty horsey for my sister and another small snack and the funny horsey for me. Make everything evensies. We like things evensies.”
“There is not another squirrel with us and you’re not eating this one,” Antioco said. He hit the tree the harpy sat in with his front hoof. The whole tree shook causing the harpy to flap her wings to regain her balance on her perch.
“Ack, pretty horsey has a temper. Temper not good for the meat, horsey. We like our food calmer and slower. It tends to be on the fatty side, but tasty.”
“Maybe the tiny appetizer is his snack, sister. Pretty horsey angry for us trying to steal it away. We sorry pretty horsey. We eat you first so you no see us eat your snack.” They laughed again.
“There will be no one eating anyone else. You said something earlier about a mother. Do you remember anything about her?”
“Mother?” croaked the blonde harpy. “Yes, we remember Mother. She was pretty, but very tired all the time. Taught us about family and told us to never forget our loyalty was first and foremost to her, our mother.”
“She taught you that?” Antioco was impressed. How had Maya managed to impress such a lesson upon her children with Hera looking over her shoulder?
“Yes. Hera left us with Mother on the island until our first birthday. Father taught us to fly and hunt, but Mother taught us loyalty. Every few days she visited with us. She would tell us we were beautiful and she loved us. She told us to remember she loved us always, no matter what happened. We have not felt the same for anyone since leaving her.” The harpies had become serious, the screeching banter gone.
“What was her name?”
“Hera called her Maya, but we called her nothing but Mother. Mother is who she was and who she remains to us.”
“Why do you terrorize people the way you do if Maya taught you all she did and she meant so much to you?”
“She told us to mind Hera and do what she bid until the time came and she could come for us. We wait here for years, doing Hera’s bidding, but with no word from Mother. We fear she has forgotten us.” The second harpy squawked sadly in agreement.
“Maya hasn’t forgotten you. Hera has messed with her timeline and the timelines of everyone on the island. Your mother has only recently returned to the mainland and is trying to regain her life. No one believes her in our town and many think she is crazy.”
“You know Mother?” The blonde harpy was peering suspiciously at Antioco.
“Yes, I know your mother very well. I was on the same island as all of you, but Hera took me off before any of you children were born.” There was a gasp from the harpy and she backed away, shaking slightly.
“You are Antioco? The dark stallion. Ack, what have we done?”
“Oh, sister, could it be true?” The second harpy joined in with the change of attitude towards their visitor.
“Mother would have been furious if she had found out. Please, don’t tell her. It would break her heart, it would.” Antioco snorted, confused by the sudden turn in these creatures. While he certainly hadn’t planned on being eaten by them, he also hadn’t thought he’d be allowed to simply walk out without a fight.
“I’ll tell her you both were very helpful the next time I see her.”
“Thank you, thank you, Sir Antioco. Mother talked of you always and would never forgive the likes of us if we ate you.”
“Tell her how helpful Helena and Helen were.”
“I’m Helena,” said the blonde. “I was born first so Mother gave me the extra ‘a’.”
“I’ll be sure to tell her all you ask us to, if you could answer one more question.”
“Anything,” both harpies cried in unison.
“Has anyone else been through here recently?” The harpies looked at each other and the one claiming to be Helena scratched at her perch.
“There might have been a visitor or two who got away not long ago.”
“What did they look like?”
“The first one look like you, but have a man’s body. We thought he was a hunter until he got close and we could see he not a proper horse at all. Or a proper man. He was like us, but not one of the children we knew on the island.”
“Helena sister is right. Crazy horse-man tried to shoot us with arrows when we came down to talk to him. We wouldn’t have eaten him, only wanted to talk.”
“Horse-man no want to talk to us. No, he just shoot. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. We go way up into the air and watch him go all across the meadow.”
“Watch him and yell nasty things at him.” Helena cawed and shot her sister a look to shut her up.
“I was saying, we were so high up for so long, we never saw the small, scrawny human going through our den until it was too late. We saw him clambering through our den from way up high and flew down to grab the tasty snack, but he was through and to the meadow.”
“He looked too scrawny anyway. Too many bones and not enough meat. No good. Too much work for too little food. Like your little friend,” Helen said pointing towards Spiro. Spiro squeaked and snapped his teeth towards the outstretched wing. Now he knew they were no longer on the menu, Spiro was feeling a little braver.
“Watch out, little Crunchy Bits, you still could be tasty snack for us.”
“The boy must be Alexander,” Thanatos said as he sidled up next to Antioco.
“I was thinking the same thing. At least we know they both made it this far.”
“Horsey-man made it farther. To next town, anyway. We know.” Helena pecked at her feathers, pulling out bits of dried food and eating them.
“How do you know for sure he made it to the next town?” Antioco asked. Helena pulled her head out of her wing, strands of food dangling from her mouth.
“Ack, yes. Smoke. I starting to wonder what Mother saw in you. Not very bright. Smoke from the next town when he burnt it down. No more town there now.”
“But the snacks were good. Bit overdone in places, but nice and crackly.” Helen grinned at the memory.
“So Ercole, the man-horse, burnt down the next town? He must be getting desperate to get his message through to people.”
“No idea why he did it, but there was no sign of the little skinny boy-man who followed after him. Don’t know if he caught up to horsey-man or not. Maybe he was one burnt too badly for even us. Who knows?”
“Well, I would like to thank you ladies for all your help. We’ll be going on our way now, but be aware Mother will be calling for you all soon.”
“Mother!” the harpies cried, a look of what passed for joy on their faces. Antioco walked by the two, followed closely by Thanatos. As they reached the clearing they could hear the harpies talking in the woods behind them.
“He is a handsome horsey. Mother was right about that.”
“Ack, but Sister Helena, we both should have known he was the noble Antioco. We did call him the pretty horse.”
“Yes we did. Maybe he will remember and tell Mother. She would be so pleased.”
“I wonder if she knew funny horsey, too. Why would noble Sir Antioco choose such a travelling companion?”
“I don’t know, Sister. Perhaps he amuses him, like one of those comical-actor men who came through here once.”
“Mmm, those actor-men were quite tasty. Amusing to watch with their fake swords of paper and wood. Silly, silly actor-men. Maybe funny horse taste like actor-men. Too bad we didn’t eat him.” There was a rustling of leaves as the harpies pushed branches aside to see where the travelers were.
“There still time. If we fly very quickly, we could catch funny horse and eat him. See if he tastes like those funny men.” A thud as Helena hit her sister with her wing.
“No, Sister. We no eat the funny horsey, companion to Sir Antioco. Mother would not be pleased if she found out. Sir Antioco would be cross with us as well. We should not anger Mother and Sir Antioco.”
“You are right, Sister. Can we not eat the little furry rider? He would only be a mouthful, but he looks so very crunchy.”
“No. We stay here and leave Sir Antioco and his companions alone. Mother will be here for us soon and we should be ready.” More rustling of leaves as the harpy sisters retreated back to their den with a final comment from the red-headed Helen.
“You think they saving little Crunchy Bits for their own snack?” The distance and rustling of foliage obscured any answering remark from Helena.