Edited by Victoria Griffin victoriagriffin.net


I am seeking representation for THE POACHERS’ CODE, my 88,000-word upmarket suspense novel. An entomologist must confront the murder she covered up as a child before an innocent man is convicted—or worse, deported—because of her silence. The narrative unfolds in alternating timelines from my protagonist’s perspectives at ages eleven and thirty-eight.

Sadie Kessler, an entomologist with the forestry department, is on the verge of proving an invasive beetle is triggering forest fires, when she receives a text from her estranged childhood friend, Daniela. They found him. Sadie has spent the past three decades trying to forget about the body in the woods, the murder she and Daniela covered up as kids. When Daniela’s undocumented father is falsely accused and threatened with deportation, Sadie abandons her research and returns to her drought-stricken hometown to help Daniela expose the truth. But doing the right thing isn’t always the right thing to do. Forest fires edge closer, but local officials dismiss Sadie’s warnings about the beetles. Sadie returns to the woods of her youth to search for evidence that will exonerate Daniela’s father, knowing it could destroy the lives of other people she cares about, including herself. The real killer—and the fire—follow her, forcing her to decide what she is willing to sacrifice to protect the people and the forest she loves.

THE POACHERS’ CODE will appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret, Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls, and Emily Fridlund’s debut, History of Wolves.

As a journalist, I have published more than a thousand articles in The Boston Globe, BusinessWeek, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. I workshopped THE POACHERS’ CODE in GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator, a year-long, MFA-level novel intensive. I have a Master’s in Creative Writing from Harvard University Extension School and have published short stories in the Charles River Review and the MacGuffin. Excerpts from my novel have won five literary contests, including a Writer’s Digest contest, taken one Second Place, and made one Short List. I am a frequent contributor to DeadDarlings and GrubStreet’s writer’s blogs. I also own and operate a 100-acre organic farm in rural New Hampshire, the backdrop for my book.

Thank you for your time and consideration of THE POACHERS’ CODE.


Julie Carrick Dalton


First Five Pages:

Chapter One

Sadie shook an envelope filled with dead beetles to the rhythm of a song she couldn’t quite remember. The spirited rustle, like seeds anxious to be planted, emboldened her, even as her quads ached under the weight of her backpack. These insect husks would be all the proof she needed. She trudged, one step at a time, beyond the tree line. Only fifty more meters to Mount Howell’s summit.

Smoke scratched the back of her throat, confirming that late summer winds were already pushing the forest fires east. She paused for a sip of warm water. Working alone in the woods, Sadie marked time in elevation and ounces of water. She was running out of both.

She dialed Thea, her research director.

“It’s the pine beetles. Just like I thought.” Sadie’s breath was heavy as she stutter-stepped on the gravelly incline. “They’re killing off the pines, and with this drought, it’s all going to burn.”

“The fire’s shifting. You need to come down. Now.”

“Wait till you see my wood samples. This is going to change everything.”

“Sadie, listen—”

“If we thin the beetle-infested trees ahead of the fire, we can head it off.”

“You lost the grant.”

Silence as deep as her dying forest surrounded Sadie.

“I’ve got proof now. The beetles everyone says aren’t here yet? They’re here.” Sadie looked down the slope at the defenseless pines. “It’s just like California and Colorado. You want me to pretend nothing’s happening just because I don’t have grant money?”

“Write a paper. You’ll find more funding.”

“By then the whole state will be on fire.”

“Look, they took you seriously enough to start digging firebreaks. You grew up in Maple Crest, right? They started clearing there yesterday morning. You did that. Be happy.”

“But the beetles.”

“You need to come down.” Sadie heard Thea’s fingernails cantering against her desk. “Show me the samples tomorrow or I’m done defending your research.”

“I need more time,” Sadie said, but Thea had already hung up.

Sadie’s backpack grew heavier, compressing her knees and spine, as if she might crumble into the rock under her feet. She had hoped the summer fellowship would morph into a full-time forestry position so she could escape teaching community college students who only wanted an easy science credit. They wouldn’t care about her beetles either.

This mountain pine beetle. This drought. This spate of fires. She could slow the fires if someone would believe her. The anticipation of being right, of being the hero, had lulled her to sleep the past several nights under the canopy of stars. Cocooned in her sleeping bag the previous night, she’d written the opening to her imagined TedTalk. When someone says you are overreacting but you know you’re right, keep reacting until it’s over.

She forced herself up the final incline. If gravity pulled from the dense fist at the center the Earth, then the higher she pushed herself up the mountain, the farther she removed herself from the core, the looser gravity’s grip would be. It tugged at her heels and stole the oxygen from her lungs. Only on the summits did Sadie feel a lightness in her chest. She stood untethered in the rushing wind. Anything seemed possible from the top of a mountain.

Sadie dropped her pack to the ground. A gust whipped her hair across her face, carrying traces of pine and the reedy flute of a distant hermit thrush. Stretching out like a starfish on the granite, she soaked in the morning sun. Wind stretched the clouds below her like raw cotton on a comb, allowing the rusty tips of dead pine trees to peek through. She pulled samples of tree bark and pine wedges from her backpack and laid them around her in a semi-circle. The invasive beetle she had been hunting the last four days had carved lacy lines into the wood. The pea-sized creatures were killing off trees and leaving them as kindling in the parched woodlands. She traced the delicate destruction with her finger.

She stroked a wedge from a dead tree stained with the mountain pine beetles’ telltale blue fungus—the color of Civil War soldiers and the autumn sky before sunset. That color meant death to a forest. She held the wedge to her face and inhaled the freshly-cut wood. The tang of sap should have rushed in. But dead trees don’t bleed. They burn.

Smoke blurred the edge of the mountaintops to the west. Mount Griffin rose from the mist, green on the north slope and charred on the south. When she finally convinced crews to start thinning the beetle-infested pines, she would salvage a few trunks to mill into floorboards for her home. If she ever stayed still long enough to own a home. The grooves the beetles carved would feel better under bare feet than the slick linoleum in her one-bedroom apartment.

From the mountain top, home felt distant, as if it might not be there when she came down. Time moved more slowly in the woods, sliding by like the lazy flow of pine sap. When she was young, she used to imagine the outside world slipping away as she leapt from rock to rock though the ferny woods surrounding her home. The pine and beech trees had been her friends. They had guarded her, swallowed her secrets whole. It was her turn to protect the forest.

She bit down on the silence at the summit, an island of stone in the low-hanging mist. If only time would stop. Right here. Right now. The beetles would pause their insatiable attack, the fires would stall, her grant would freeze in place, and Sadie would remain at the top of the world, where she could hide from gravity.

Sadie selected a potato-sized stone from the ledge and dusted it against her thigh. She pressed her tongue to the rock, leaving a wet oval revealing its hidden mineral life. The dull gray and muted brown of New Hampshire granite burst into streaks of silver and layers of radiant amber at the touch of her saliva. A creamy, jagged vein glowed in the sunlight. The oval shrank as wind sucked the light from the rock until it reverted to its dry, flat finish. The iridescent taste of secret colors fizzed on her tongue. Her mouth watered.

She tucked the stone in the bottom of her backpack. When she built her own house someday, the stones she’d collected would form the skirt around her hearth. Pieces of every hike, markers of time. The stack of stones—at least thirty by now—formed a cairn in her apartment. She often wondered if the poorly maintained building could bear the weight, or if one day it would all come crashing down.

When she got home she would storm Thea’s office, dump bags of dead beetles on her desk and her lap, and nail the poisoned wood samples to the wall. No one who looked at the beetles could deny the insects had migrated from the Rockies to New England. They were here, rattling in her hand, draining the life from her pine trees.

Her cell phone buzzed against the granite slab as a text came through.

It’s Daniela. They found him.

More than twenty-five years had passed since she had spoken to Daniela García. The minerals on her tongue turned to acid. The firebreaks. Fire crews were digging in the woods where she and Daniela used to play. A jolt split the air. Not a sound or a vibration, but an electric whip that stunned her from the bottom of her feet to the crown of her head as her past exploded into her present.

The fiction of Sadie’s childhood, rewritten and edited so she could sleep at night, was coming undone. The single gunshot echoed in Sadie’s mind. She hurled a rock off the ledge and held her breath until it struck the slope below, unleashing a torrent of cascading stone.

I’m home. I need you here, Daniela wrote. They’re questioning my dad.

If she acknowledged Daniela, Sadie would no longer be able to pretend that long-ago summer had never happened. Or she could stay on her mountaintop and turn off her phone. She put her head between her knees and stared down at the fissures in the granite slab. She scratched a rock on the surface of the ledge, leaving white letters next to her wood samples. Sadie was here. It felt childish, but she traced over the letters until they stood out in bold blocks. Sadie was here.

Her thumbs felt thick and clumsy as she typed and retyped a response.

On my way to the cottage. Meet me at 9? The tacky layer of sap, which felt like part of her skin after four days of climbing trees, stuck to the screen as she typed. She added three rocks to a cairn someone else had built. An offering. A prayer. The chilled morning air telegraphed the metallic peal of mineral against mineral, broadcasting her location into the valley.

Sadie imagined the text message in Daniela’s childhood voice and didn’t restrain the sob that burst out with decades of compressed guilt. Daniela—like the forest—had been her ally, her friend, a keeper of her secrets. Sadie had played everything like a grand adventure back then. Until it wasn’t a game anymore. Maybe she had always hoped the truth would rise one day. Or maybe she had convinced herself that the deeper she hid in the woods, the more gently she walked this Earth, the more likely their secret would stay where they left it—where they left him. Buried in the woods.

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I'd be open to a full MS query for MFP, standard query for THP. Submissions info: https://kaelanrhywiol.com/submission-guidelines/ Multifarious http://multifariouspress.com/?ref=submissions
Written on Mon, 22 May 2017 19:51:09 by Kaelan Rhywiol