Mentee NameTitle of ManuscriptMentor NameAge CategoryGenre(s)Total word count (approx.)
Gina GonzalesTalentedHannah Kates and AJ SassMGDark Fantasy65000

Deep within the tangles of the swamp lies the home of The Narluu. The price to live in its territory is Talent, and it has collected every month for centuries without fail. On those nights, the inhabitants of its domain shiver beneath their blankets and wait, hoping they won’t be next. 

Everyone, except thirteen-year-old Madge Boudray, sibling to the most Talented person in town—her older sister, Bryce. With Bryce around, The Narluu would never have a reason to steal from her. It’s the one good thing about being Talentless.

But when their Daddy’s Talent is taken, Madge follows Bryce into The Narluu’s underground lair to steal it back.

Bryce leads the charge, but after a horrific encounter with the monster that ends in an accidental explosion, Madge is the one who stumbles home clutching all that is left of her older sister—her magically sentient hand. At first, the townspeople hail the girls as monster slayers, but when Talents begin disappearing again, the town fears The Narluu is still alive and out for revenge, and banishes the entire Boudray family. 

Hoping all will be forgiven if they can prove the monster is dead, Madge and Bryce race back toward the lair. But along their journey, they make the shocking discovery that The Narluu hadn’t only been terrorizing their town—it had also been protecting it. Now, it’s up to Madge, the girl without Talents, to gain the courage and confidence to step out of her sister’s shadow to save her town from the greater evil that lurks within the swamp.

TALENTED is a 65,000 word middle grade dark fantasy. It is a sibling quest with self-acceptance themes similar to Over the Garden Wall with the swampy atmosphere of Evangeline of the Bayou. I am a 2020 #WriteMentor mentee, a SCBWI member, and have been running a writing group with my husband for several years with assistance from our dog, Jasper.

Bryce’s Shadow

It was cold behind The Teeth.

The grove of pearly white cypress trees stood bright against the night sky, their fluttering leaves beckoning like dancers’ fingers.  

Madge ached as she gazed up at them, wishing she was back near the jagged entrance instead of staring up at them from inside the underground lair of The Narluu.

Shivering, she scooted back against the chilly rock wall behind her and squeezed her older sister’s hand twice.

Love. You.

Three squeezes came back.

Love. You. Too.

Letting out a controlled breath, Madge carefully reached into the right pocket of her jacket (right for raspberry). She removed a packet of jelly that she gave to Bryce before grabbing a lemon curd for herself (left for lemon). Quiet food.

Biting open the wrapper, the citrusy curd added a bright tart smell to the dank cave air before melting into the complete darkness. Madge’s inventory system was simple, yet effective, and kept her from fumbling around. She might not be Talented, but at least she was organized.

Her hollow stomach yowled, unsatisfied by another curd meal. It would be just her luck. They’d gone the entire trip silently communicating with hand squeezes, pinches, and scratches, but it would be her ungrateful stomach that was going to get them caught. 

Bryce pressed her unopened jelly packet back into Madge’s fingers and squeezed. If they weren’t in a monster’s nest, she would have given it back. Her sister must be as hungry as she was. But it was

Bryce who ran away. Bryce who took Daddy’s canoe into the swamp. Bryce who wanted to steal Daddy’s Talent back from The Narluu. So even though Madge wasn’t sure about any of these things, she followed along as always in her sister’s shadow.

Madge sucked on the raspberry packet, the fruity smell reminding her of breakfast toast. Daddy always made it just right, golden brown for her and amber for Bryce. Amazing that one whiff could carry an entire memory. Maybe hiding underground in the pitch black for hours had heightened her other senses. She waved a hand in front of her face. Nothing. It would be nice to see, but it was also nice not having to wear glasses for awhile.

Bones and rocks crackled beneath her as she stretched out a leg. If everything went according to plan, soon they’d be out of this suffocatingly dark place for good. Home to Daddy and her best friend, Coralynn. Back under the grey cypress that bent over you like elderly grandparents gazing into a cradle. Even the hot humid air and getting her boots stuck in the mud sounded wonderful.

The Teeth began to vibrate. Both girls froze. A buzzing sound bubbled up from deep within the nest. It grew louder as it engulfed them, like they were in the middle of a beehive. The sisters held each other tight to keep from screaming. Raspberry jelly sat on Madge’s tongue like a lump.