The Writer’s Voice

I’m excited to participate in The Writer’s Voice this year! Thanks so much to the organizers.

TITLE: The Weight in the Clouds
GENRE: Contemporary Upper Middle Grade
WORD COUNT: 54,000


Twelve-year-old Sylvia Strand can’t believe she has to spend her entire eighth grade year in Germany. Moving for her dad’s new job means saying goodbye to friends, Gram, and the woods and water that define her home.

But there’s more to living overseas than fumbling through a new language and navigating Skype. Sylvia has an assignment to worry about as well: her choir teacher back home has charged her with composing a song the eighth graders can sing at graduation. It should be easy, since Sylvia’s always inventing music in her head. The only problem is that she’s never actually finished a choral song—because as much as she likes singing other people’s lyrics, she hasn’t figured out how to write them herself.

Hearing the music in a new language helps. So does meeting other “third culture kids” who share common interests despite their different pasts. And when the German boy who lives next door teaches Sylvia to ride horses, she senses a growing love for her new home. In her composer’s notebook, a song begins to emerge. But finding words to tie two worlds together seems almost as hard as feeling completely at home in either one. Sylvia fears that if she can’t finish the song that binds her past and present places, she won’t belong anywhere at all. 

This novel’s lyrical style and focus on a life-changing journey will appeal to readers of Beth Hautala’s Waiting for Unicorns and Thannha Lai’s Listen, Slowly. I previously worked as a middle and high school teacher in international schools overseas and wrote about travel as a Glimpse Correspondent for The Matador Network. My creative nonfiction chapbook was awarded publication by the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press.

FIRST 250:

I think about what I would grab in a fire. That helps.

I already know that the things I love most have to weigh less than fifty pounds stacked one on top of the other. They have to fit into a suitcase small enough to drag behind me, big enough not to break under the weight.

I’ve started a checklist. Everything already feels heavy, the numbers rolling together, adding up fast—my supersoft t-shirt with tiny quarter and eighth notes soaring up the back shoulder: 6 ounces, the hiking boots I bought downtown with my Christmas money: 24 ounces, framed picture of Gram and me: 8 ounces. I’m really glad my iPod only weighs 1.1 ounces, and that I can store as much music as I want without making it heavier. Because there’s no way I’m going anywhere without songs.

I know I might have to take some things out, tossing what I thought I needed into a corner to forget. I’ll probably haul my suitcase onto the bathroom scale five times before I get it right.

But I also know this. If you live in a world where the things you carefully planned and packed get thrown out of your hands onto a moving belt and then into the belly of a metal plane, in a world where crackling flames and silent smoke could lick them up before you realize they’re gone, you might as well get used to not having them at all.

45 thoughts on “The Writer’s Voice

    1. Thanks, Michael! I’ve been trying to comment on your post, but there’s some glitch. Your entry looks awesome– Nita shines as a strong character right away, and the vivid descriptions are great as well. Best of luck!

  1. I’m in love with your sample! Your character’s voice is so clear, so interesting. It grabbed me right away. Good luck!

  2. This is gorgeous. I loved reading and would keep reading in a heartbeat. 🙂 My husband and two children survived–barely–when our home burned to the ground. We got out in our pj’s, with our pets, and luckily my hubs grabbed my purse. But everything else was lost. So I really relate to her comparison. Good luck in TWV!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment, Kristin! Wow, I am amazed and moved by your story of escaping that house fire. So glad you got out with what was most important. Best of luck to you!

    1. Thanks so much, Laura! I’m glad you could relate– I’ve done a lot of moving and packing as well. I loved your entry– that haunting premise is terrific. Best of luck!

  3. I love this. Measured. Sure. Engaging. And the premise is appealing with great promise for how it will change your protagonist. Good luck!

  4. Hi Sarah! Your entry was at the top of our MG picks because Rachel and I both really liked your concept and your writing/voice. The only reason we ended up not picking you is because we worried the stakes in your book were too low and that the conflict wasn’t big enough. Now, it could just be that your query needs to be tweaked to make the stakes more obvious, but we were worried it was a problem with the book itself and something we couldn’t really fix in the short timespan of this contest. So my suggestion is to look at that, in both your query and the book itself, and see how you can amp up the stakes a bit. Hope this helps!

    1. Elizabeth, you must be incredibly busy right now with all of the contest wrap-up, so thanks very much for taking the time to make this comment! I really appreciate your positive words and your extremely helpful suggestions. I’ll definitely take a closer look at the stakes and think about how to proceed. Again, I’m really grateful for your comment and for the whole Writer’s Voice experience in general. I can’t wait to see how things go during the agent round!

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