by Afton Nelson (@realaftonnelson)

Editor: Stephanie Eding (@saeding)
Middle Grade Contemporary

Query

Nothing about becoming a writer is easy for Nora—until her blog, The Jello Project, goes viral. Everyone loves the cringe-worthy descriptions of her grandma’s retro Jello salads and the hilarious reactions from Nora’s family. The comments flow in faster than she can respond, along with advertising money and an actual recipe book deal. It’s her dream come true!

There’s only one catch. Her fans think she’s a groovy, caftan-wearing grandma—not a 12-year-old middle-schooler who’s one pop quiz away from flunking math. But, trying to publish her school’s writing anthology, meeting her own publisher’s deadlines, and continuing to eat and write about weird Jello salads have left her no time to address the little misconception about her actual age.

When she’s invited on a nationally televised morning show, Nora can’t say no, even though it means coming clean about her age—unless she can talk her unassuming, technology-averse grandma into pretending to be the famous blogger. As long as Grandma can pull it off on live television, Nora can keep all the sweet perks of being famous and avoid turning into a national disgrace.

THE JELLO PROJECT is a middle grade contemporary story with heart, humor, and a dollop of social mortification. Complete at 50,000 words, it’s a mix of Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen and Linda Urban’s A Crooked Kind of Perfect.

When I inherited my grandma’s aluminum Jello molds, I started blogging about my family’s reaction to the unique salads I served. Once I realized there was no cultivating a love for the jiggly stuff, I turned my writing skills to magazine articles, business writing, and ghostwriting. I’m a member of SCBWI and currently work as a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

First Five Pages

Chapter 1

Green Jello with Pears
October 26

Green Jello with pears is the little black dress of the Jello world. Whether you accessorize it, or serve it plain, it’s practically perfect for any occasion.

Tonight, the delicate Jello mold rests like a sparkly emerald on a single lettuce leaf, topped with a dollop of sour cream.

These three ingredients may sound strange, but this motley assortment works together in harmony, creating a perfectly delicious treat.

At least, some people thought so.

That little rascal, Frankie, barely tasted it. He removed the Jello from around the half-pear like he played a high stakes game of Operation, making sure his spoon didn’t touch even the smallest bit of fruit.

Sweet, sweet Bev, on the other hand, used the side of her spoon to slice through the pear, ensuring a bit of fruit, Jello, sour cream, and cheese in each bite. She even had a second helping. Bev is, by far, my most loyal taste tester.

In the beginning, I was skeptical about this dish. However, green Jello with pears won me over in every way.

Check back next week to see what unique ingredient gets suspended in Jello and what new and creative ways Frankie will use to avoid eating it. Leave your guesses in the comments!

___

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Nora’s toes dug into the shag carpet as she fanned through the soft, worn pages of her thesaurus. She stopped at the M’s, moving her finger across the words with fluid efficiency—motivate, motion, mother, motley. Ah, “motley”. She’d used this glorious word every chance she got since she’d discovered it a few weeks ago. But, did it work for this story? She tapped the page as she read the entry again then closed the book.

Her heart clenched with excitement. This was it—the moment before everything changed. It would be impossible for Bright Voices not to choose her entry. The two hundred dollar prize was as good as hers.

True, the magazine had already rejected eleven of her submissions, but none of them had been as good as this one. The thought of her words in a real publication made her stomach flutter.

The only thing left to do was copy her story into the application and hit submit. Thank goodness she hadn’t waited until the very last minute. She had a full three and a half hours before the midnight deadline. Plenty of time.

She typed “Bright Voices” into her search bar and waited. A few seconds passed, and a new screen popped up.

WEBSITE BLOCKED

What? Nora tried again. She must have made a typo. There’s no way her school laptop would block Bright Voices magazine. It published poems and stories written by kids for Pete’s sake! They loaned it out in the school library!

She tried again, but the same results came up a second time. And third. And fourth. No, no, no! The only other computer in the house was also a school laptop assigned to her brother Frankie. If he weren’t already in the middle of playing Cavern Saga, it wouldn’t allow the Bright Voices site either. Her breaths came fast, and her face flashed hot, then cold. She’d worked so hard on this piece. What kind of ridiculous school would block a website and keep her from her dreams?

At least she had over three hours to figure it out…

Oh, no.

The time difference! She’d completely forgotten. Bright Voices was on the east coast, and she was on the west. It wasn’t 8:30 at Bright Voices. It was 11:30. She only had thirty more minutes!

This shouldn’t be happening. Things were supposed to be easy now that she finally had the internet. She figured she’d been the absolute last person at her school to get Wi-Fi. The last kid in the whole state of Oregon who still had to sign up for thirty-minute chunks of online time at the library.

Selling Grandma Bev on the idea of getting Wi-Fi at home had been no easy task. Bev was convinced the internet was evil and would steal their identities, their money and maybe even Nora and Frankie.

First, she and Frankie had to promise, with their hands on Nora’s favorite thesaurus, that they would never visit what Bev called “a chitchat room” and talk to strangers. Then, she had to show her newspaper articles—Bev’s most trusted source of information after Wake Up America’s Tad Cooper—how good the internet could be.

Finally, Bev caved and Nora rejoiced. Now she could get online any time she wanted. She was on the path to publishing success and nothing would stand in her way.

Except an internet-blocking, school-issued computer.

Her hands clamped down on the edges of her laptop, and she imagined herself hurling it against the wall.

It would be so satisfying to watch bits of plaster rain down around her room like angry confetti. Of course, there was no way she’d ever do it. The school would make them pay for another laptop—even though destroying this one felt completely justified.

Nora’s breathing slowed, and she sunk her face into her hands. There had to be something she could do. Maybe Sarah could help.

Her best friend had a regular computer, like normal people do. If Sarah could turn in the application for her, all would be saved. She fumbled around in her backpack for her flip phone and dialed.

“Sarah! Code red!”

“What’s up, buttercup?” Sarah answered.

“I need you to enter the Bright Voices contest for me. My stupid laptop is blocking the website.”

“On it!” Sarah clicked away on her keyboard.

“Emailing you my doc now . . .”

Sarah hummed. “You really waited until the last minute, didn’t you?”

“I had to make sure everything was perfect before I sent it off. Waiting until the last minute is a very important part of making sure it’s perfect,” Nora said.

“Got it.”

Nora flopped back on her bed and sighed. “I knew you wouldn’t judge my procrastination.”

“No, I mean I got your email.” Sarah laughed under her breath. “And of course I won’t judge your procrastination, although it is first rate. If procrastinating were an Olympic sport, you’d win gold.”

“That’s kind of judging,” Nora pointed out.

“I’m judging your greatness. Totally different.”

“Fine. I’m giving you a gold in judging then.”

“Excellent,” Sarah said. See you on the medals stand.”

Nora heard more clicking. “Hey, I read what you wrote on My Crazy Brother. I left a comment. When’s your next blog post?”

“Not going to be one.” Turns out little brothers obsessed with computer games weren’t as popular as she’d thought. “I’m pretty sure you’re the only one reading it. Again.” It was the same story of obscurity with every blog she’d started and abandoned. One loyal friend may be enough for life, but not for internet fame. Nora shook off the rising tide of disappointment to focus on entering this contest.

“Building an audience takes time,” Sarah said.

“We worked on Slime Time for six months . . . and not even one comment.”

“YouTube would have been a better outlet for our slime knowledge. You know, so we could demonstrate the different recipes,” Sarah said.

“My laptop blocks YouTube, too.” Nora shook her head at the school’s audacity.

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