Drawing on her experience as a high school teacher—this time with a social concern, Spero infuses the rites of passage for the teenager—cliques, first kisses, peer pressure, and bullying—with magic. This stresses how tenuous and critical this time is for young people in a new, fascinating way. Written from Sami’s point of view, Spero’s narrative puts the reader into the mind of a fifteen-year-old who must navigate the tumultuous waters of being the new girl—the underdog who starts to win and is intoxicated by it. Truly a page-turner, this action-packed story will have readers of all ages eager to see what happens next.
Spero’s debut novel, Catcher’s Keeper, was chosen as a Finalist in the 2014 Indie Excellence Book Awards contest and also made the top 5% out of 10,000 entries in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
The Author Visits
1. How long does it normally take you to write a novel?
I’d say the first draft takes a few months. My shortest turnaround was 3 months and longest a full year. But that’s only the first draft. Then the hard work begins. Revisions and editing can—and usually should—take years.
2. What inspires you to write? 27. Is there any book that really inspired you as a writer (fiction, craft, etc.)?
Good writers! If I read a book that takes me to another place, makes me cry, or helps me see the world differently, I take notice. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl wowed me with her mastery of voice. Stephen King is the quintessential suspense-builder. Hunger Games series gave great examples of pacing. The list goes on. I’m always reading. Always a student. There’s always room to improve.
3. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote all the time as a child. Stories, poems, journaling. But it wasn’t until my late twenties that I felt driven to try writing a novel. It was a cathartic experience that helped get me through a hard time. I’ve been writing ever since.
4. How do you handle the editing process?
I put my ego aside, make sure I’m well rested, and dig in. There’s nothing more rewarding than taking some tough criticism and seeing major improvement in your story. When you get the “nailed it!” from your editor, you’ve arrived.
Finally, the time has come. I ride the giant wave to the locker room, letting myself get sucked into the energy. It’s like every single freshman girl is going to tryouts. The excitement is contagious. The locker room has transformed into a sort of primping party. It’s a more amped up version of backstage before one of my piano recitals. I’m giggling as I change into gym clothes and follow the others onto the court.
But I stop short on the sidelines.
Payne has the girls running the court lengthwise, tapping the endline paint with their fingers, and running back. What’s this exercise called again? I see Maddie, Shaunie, and Thalia. Pixie is here too, looking miserable. She’s not awful, though.
“Nice work, Maddie,” Payne calls across the gym.
Okay, so Payne has favorites. No biggie. Has she already made the cuts? I have better chances trying out for the New York Philharmonic. What am I thinking? I’m no athlete. They’re all going to laugh at me. Maybe it’s not too late to make a quick exit.
“Are you playing?” asks a voice beside me.
My eyes don’t leave the court. “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just watch.”
“Me, too, then.”
“Why?” I turn and am startled to see it’s the girl with the scarred neck.
“I thought you might want a friend.”
The scars look terrifying up close—shiny, raw strings of bumpy tissue that used to be skin. My mouth is stuck open, and I blink like mad.
“I’m Brenna,” she says with a huge smile. “Sports aren’t really my thing.”
“Sami.” A tiny wave. “Me, neither.”
“What are we doing here, then?” She laughs.
“You have a really nice smile.”
“You sound surprised,” she teases.
I must turn redder than her scars, my face is so hot. Because it’s true. I was surprised. Am surprised. It’s wrong, but I can’t help it.
Payne’s whistle interrupts us. “You girls joining tryouts or just socializing in your gym clothes?”
No time for apologies. Payne’s eyes are focused solely on me. “Come on. You’ve missed the warm up. On the court now. Let’s go.”
A nervous laugh with Brenna, and I concede. Whatever. This tryout is another orientation thing, right? A rite of passage for the new girl. It will be over soon, and I’ll go home and use my fingers the way they were meant to be used. Piano. What kind of tune will I conjure, what will my muse inspire? I’m daydreaming as I wander into the middle of the court.
Payne’s voice rings louder than her whistle.
“No, Sami. Right in front.”
In front? Me?
Payne grasps my shoulders to place me at the net when I feel something strange. My chest tightens with panic—a force enters me, making my insides quiver. What’s happening?
A jolt, vibration. A charge surging out from my chest to my fingertips, my toes.
The faces around me blur, but the ball is radiant. A blue glow. The ball sails over the net. Bumped. Set. To me? I leap, and it’s like my feet sprout wings. Out of nowhere I reach and—
It slaps the opposite court untouched. A clean strike.
“Point,” Payne cheers.
My body tingles. How on earth did I do that? And then I do it again.
I zone in. That neat leather ball leaves a laser-blue contrail as it’s punched into the air. I know what will happen next. I can predict its path! Am I the only one who sees it glow like that?
Bump, set, spike!
Wahoo! I’m a giant, tapping a ping-pong ball with my big paw. Easy. I’m above everything. Everyone. Even Brenna—the one person who’s tried to be my friend—now wears a worried grin. Something has separated us.
I’m separate from everyone.
The ball comes again. Soaring, my hand curved in perfect form, I guide it over at cheetah-speed that somehow feels slow. My arm retracts within a millimeter of the net, but it feels like yards away.
Everyone cheers. For me.
How did I get so good?
My eyes go to Payne, who’s already studying me. As much as I want to, I cannot turn away. My arms and legs tingle—itching to move, to play ball. The veins in my wrists pulse like a heartbeat. My birthmark throbs on my hand, ready to throttle that volleyball. I make fists, trying to contain it.
I stare back at Payne, the question ringing loudly in my mind: Did you do this?
She gives me a slow, wry smile. Goose bumps rise on my suddenly-athletic arms.I think I’ve just made the team.
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