Wrap Up! Get your manuscript past the gatekeeper

Get past the gatekeeper

Special Thanks to author Donna Galanti for spending the past ten weeks with us (Wow has it been that long?)

It has been really interesting hearing from someone who sifted through an agent’s slush pile, and listening to the actual comments she made, as well as the suggestions to avoid these mistakes.

In case you missed any of Donna’s great advice, here is a wrap up of all the great tidbits she offered and links to each topic. This will also be made a permanent page under writing advice so everyone can refer to it again.

I hope everyone found this series useful!

Introduction: Score! You guys are going to love this next series of Monday writer’s-help posts! – Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper

#1: World Building

#2: Uneven Narrative Flow

#3: Those pesky Unnecessary words

#4: Does your manuscript have CONFIDENCE ISSUES

#5: Where’s the Beef? Is your dialog too beefy?

#6: Hook ‘Em and Hook ‘Em Good!

#7: Let’s Talk About Character Development Part 1

#8: Character Development Part 2

#9: Pacing and Tension – Too Much or Too Little? Part 1

#10: Pacing and Tension – Too Much or Too Little? Part 2

 

Now go. Work on making every scene the best it can possibly be! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

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About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

Sometimes a retelling just “works”. A review of the 2014 animated Tarzan movie

For family movie night recently, my husband pulled up “Tarzan – The Legend lives” (The 2014 version)

To be honest, all three of our boys 9, 12, and 14 rolled their eyes. I think I did, too.

ANOTHER Tarzan adaptation?   Pleeeeease say it isn’t so.

Within about three seconds, though, the movie caught my twelve year old’s attention as dinosaurs ran across the screen, and we were taken into outer space to see a meteor throttling toward Earth. For a while, I’d forgotten what the movie was about. This didn’t seem like Tarzan at all!

Really impressive animation

My fourteen year old and I jumped on board when we skipped to the future to see that they’d updated the story to a more present-day-like setting. Then a little accident happened, and the little boy gets stranded in the jungle.

This is where my youngest set aside his computer and started watching with the rest of us.

I have to say, this adaptation seemed the most “real” from the perspective of how Tarzan was raised by apes and how he moved and learned to live like an ape. My husband didn’t think that Tarzan would have forgotten people and words (he was about six when lost, and people show up when he’s about seventeen, I’d guess) I’m not so sure this is true.

While all the basic elements of the Tarzan story are there, I love how they wove in a sci-fi angle. And where stuff like this (crossing genres) usually bothers me, somehow it really worked in this story.

By the end, we were all huddled on the couch watching and enjoying this together – something that rarely happens in our house these days.

This movie had plenty of good old Tarzan for Dad, lots of explosions for Mom, and enough action and adventure to keep the kids happy.

For us, this adaptation totally worked. I’m surprised that I hadn’t even heard of it. I’m not sure if it did well in theaters, but I think this one is worth a watch from home.

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Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper: Pacing and Tension – Too Much or Too Little? Part 2

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

PACING AND TENSION – TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE? Part 2

Be aware of things that can slow down your story – or make it race by too fast – and deflate the tension.

Backstory, continued

By weaving in just the necessary information in short bursts throughout your story it will:

*Keep the reader’s interest

*Keep tension high

*Keep the reader wondering

*Keep it dramatic – no matter the genre

 

Could your action be bogged down?

Girl sideMy First Reader Notes: “In action scenes we were slowed down by long, descriptive sentences such as during this chase scene: ‘Mr. Brown slipped over his excessively waxed floors.’ ‘His frantic breath pressed the pause button on the hot chase.’ ‘My toes became the texture of raisins as they squished up against one another like slimy slices of sautéed mushrooms.’” Descriptive sentences like these forced me to pause (and trip) in this supposed fast-paced action scene and have to create the visual from the words before moving on in the story. You don’t want to do this!

Can there be too much action on your story?

PKO_0008514 SICK GUYIs your story TOO active, TOO reactive and over-dense with words, concepts and emotions? This makes for a frantic tale, every moment fraught with intensity. It comes at you from every angle and is exhausting. The desire should be to invite the reader to turn the pages not run for cover.

TIPS: *How to change this? Incorporating the setting instead of using biological emotion would add a richer layer to the story.

*Take a break from the action – let it explode all around, then let it settle and give your character time to digest and reflect on all that has happened. They need to breathe.

 

TIPS FOR PACING AND TENSION:

  1. Deciding HOW and WHEN to reveal information is often more important than the info itself. Decide on your method used to make a big reveal to increase pacing and tension. PKO_0004442 Nervous ScaredHINT: Don’t bury it in the middle of a paragraph! (YES, I’ve done this too!).
  2. Move the story along by cutting out extra, unnecessary details in action moments.
  3. SHOW more of what is happening around your character vs. his telling us.
  4. Don’t have your character waffle back and forth! Chart their growth as they grow in the story.

Now go. Work on making pacing and tension flow with each scene! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

 swish skid mark

About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

The narrator of an audio book can make or break the novel.

The joy of audio books …

Game of Thrones has been out for quite a while now, and despite being a fantasy lover, I haven’t picked it up because hey, these things are HUGE, and I’d been warned that they were so detailed that the story moved slow at times.

1430695 YAY CHEERBut when I saw the audio book at the library, I figured that would be a great way to experience the book without cutting into my reading time. So I prepared to make Game of Thrones a part of my commute for the next few months (There were 28 disks in the set).

Project2At first I enjoyed the narrator, who’s British accent really added flavor to this medieval fantasy tale. The problem was, though, that his voice sounded like an older man. Now, this was fine when voicing Ned Stark, or the King …but most of the characters in Game of Thrones are kids 14 years old and younger.

I’ve listened to many talented actors voice novels this year, and each and every character sounded different. The female narrators had a knack for sounding like boys, and the male narrators had no problem sounding like girls.

Project1No matter who’s part this narrator read, though, sounded like an old man.

That made it really hard for me to get absorbed in the story when we were in the points of view of characters that were young, or even worse… GIRLS.

No matter how hard I tried, I envisioned an old man playing all the characters. It kinda ruined it for me.

Yesterday I got a ping from the library that my audio book was due back. I was only on disk 4 of twenty eight. Since someone else had requested it, I could not renew, so I returned the discs figuring I could take them out again at a later date.

Butttt…

But the more I think about it, I probably won’t. The sad truth is that I really wasn’t enjoying it, and I don’t want to get a bad taste for the book just because the narrator didn’t spark my imagination.

This will be my first DNF of 2015. Bummer.

If you’re interested in listening to narrators who were great, consider the audiobooks of Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress (All the Lunar chronicles) or the audio book of “14” by Peter Clines. Those narrators totally rocked a distinct voice for every character, be they male or female.

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Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #9: : Pacing and Tension – Too Much or Too Little? Part 1

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

PACING AND TENSION – TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE? Part 1

Be aware of these areas that can slow down your story – or make it race by too fast – and deflate the tension.

purple hairWatch for creating false tension This is tension built up just for the sake of tension but in doing so a character can waffle. Readers get tired of false tension as they will come to believe then that things introduced are not really a threat

 These are the notes that Donna presented on an actual manuscript that came into the slush pile.

My First Reader Notes: “The main character had conflicting thoughts that created false tension. Like ‘I can’t scale that fence, it’s too tall. Oh wait, I bet I could.’ It’s like crying wolf. ”

TIP: Create immediate tension that is not so easily resolved.

Think you need a prologue? Think again.

Shakespeare closeMy First Reader Notes: “The prologue of the boy’s thoughts about his father dying is not necessary.  It’s too poetic, too abstract, and too introspective with too much backstory trying to give us a foundation. His thoughts here and his people and culture can be woven into the story later. Right now it just slows the story down and kills the tension.”

Backstory

Weave it in. We, the writer can know it all but the readers don’t need to know up front about everything. Readers want teasers. They want to have questions and feel smart for guessing. Throw them into the bowels of the story right away to keep the tension tight. Readers will catch up.

Frog HopHead Hopping:

This pulls you from the story – and slows the story down. A reader must re-adjust their thinking to a new point-of-view instantly. Ask yourself “Whose scene is this?” and write from that.

My First Reader Notes:

PKO_0012884“I am at page 78 and starting to feel like this journey is dragging on. Not too much has happened since it started. The reader hasn’t really learned much more.”

TIP: See what other info can be included up to this point that we find out later. What else can we learn by now to move the story forward? Don’t wait to reveal everything later… reveal some now. Drop it in along the way.

My First Reader Notes:

PKO_0004816“The writer needs to slow down some action scenes and even add an extra day at certain spots. I felt like I was running and couldn’t stop to see all that what was happening. I couldn’t entrench themselves in the richness of the world and story.”

TIP: Sometimes when it comes to pacing and tension we need to slow down scenes.

Now go. Work on making pacing and tension flow with each scene! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

 

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

 swish skid mark

About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #8: Character Development Part 2

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

Here are some notes Donna presented to the agent after reading a manuscript:

“The reader should have felt sympathy for the character. But we spend so much time in his head, and not enough time watching him act or react. He is always telling us what he wants, thinks, hopes for, and the same thing over and over, perhaps expressed differently, but the same idea or concept. Therefore, he often comes across as whiny and not all that capable. We need to see him go from hapless tween to reluctant hero to hero.”

Could your characters be one-dimensional?

Huh womanAsk yourself:

Are your characters people we are being told about? We need to get a sense of their personality or what they fear, or what they are capable of from an emotional or physical standpoint. We can’t see this if mostly the narrator tells us.

 

PKO_0002742TIPS: *The kinds of characters that have a history, actions, and reactions are the most well-developed – and the most enjoyable to read. Using the senses to show character is a great way to do this.
*Is your main character always having one emotion or the other? Like being shown as either angry or super sad. How else can he feel? Show him feeling other things. Look for repetitive sections where he is telling us what he feels and change to action. SHOW him reacting vs. TELLING us what’s in his head.

*Ground the reader in the beginning to a character’s description. When a new character enters the story describe them most richly upon entrance.

*Do a global search for your characters actions. Is your character always throwing their hair back? Snapping their fingers? Tapping their feet? Chewing their lip? You need to mix it up a little bit.

Now go. Work on building characters to care about! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

 swish skid mark

About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

How can a book be both the worst and best you’ve ever read?

Alien Huh Close

I think we’ve all been there… we are gobbling up a book, loving every minute, and then all of the sudden Bam! Something happens in the plot that kills the book for you. Disappointment lingers. You place the book on your nightstand and think up reasons NOT to read. Then, after a few days, you grab something else, and that original book sits on your dresser, collecting dust.

I came very close to this in reading “14” by Peter Clines. Notice that I said “close.”

Let me explain.

This book was recommended to me by two readers on Instagram. This year my goal was to read only books that were recommended in order to really submerse myself in the current trends.

Anyway, that’s how I found “14”. Within a few pages, I was instantly engaged. This is odd for me, because the book is about an everyday guy who has a low paying job and gets an apartment in an old, historical building. Nothing exciting, right?

Yet I was flipping pages.

Then we meet the other people living in the building, and they each have their own quirks, their own voice, and their own … hmmm, I don’t know how to put it, but they each have their own “something special” that that drew me to them and made me want to read more.

So I kept flipping pages.

Soon, they all start discovering odd things about their building and their apartments, and that’s when the fun begins. I really can’t tell you anything else without ruining it, but at one point, something “happened.”

One of the characters looked out the window and saw a “xxxxxx”. Now, when I read this, I thought,

“Please tell me that he didn’t really see a “xxxxxx”.

But, alas, the main character actually DID see what I didn’t want him to see.

Alien SnarlI stopped reading. I was angry. Why did the author have to go there? I was loving this book! Why did he have to ruin it with a “xxxxxx”?

But the story festered and simmered in my brain. What were the characters going to do? Would they stop? Would they continue? Would the one character tell the others about the stupid “xxxxxx”?

I picked up the book, and eagerly started to devour it again. To my glee, the “xxxxxx” was not there after that scene, and I dove back into this amazing world.

Enter the climax. Wahoo! There were things I didn’t expect, and boom were we on a fun ride! (Meaning me and the characters, because we were all buds by this point.)

But then another hard stop, because the “xxxxxx” came back. And not only that, the “xxxxxx” “****ed”.

I wish I could fill in those blanks, but it would completely ruin this book.

Again, I was so frustrated that not only was there a “xxxxxx” in the book, but the “xxxxxx” also “****ed” that I considered placing the book down.

But I couldn’t.

My friends were in imminent danger. Would they survive?

Alien sour I realized that I wasn’t reading a book anymore. I was experiencing events. The story was happening around me, not inside the pages of a book. The writing is totally on point, maybe bordering on brilliant being that I WANTED to abandon the book. I just couldn’t.

After a while I was able to accept that the “xxxxxx” “****ed”. Not sure why. Maybe I just got used to it? Anyway, I was then totally able to enjoy the adventure with my new friends.

Yes, I’d have to say that this is one of the best-written books I’ve ever read, simply because of my need to find out more about the characters. But I would subtract one star in a review for two reasons.

#1, obviously, the “xxxxxx” – which I still wish was written differently, but so be it.

#2, The book starts out with a false action beginning. This was not a problem initially. Actually, I thought it was brilliant to show what would happen later in the story, since the beginning is very “everyday” contemporary. Unfortunately, this ended up ruining the end for me, because I thought I had read a passage that would happen in the future. When that DID NOT happen later in the book, I was taken aback, and scratched my head when the book was suddenly over.

Alien PKO_0003410-JPGBut in the end those things did not ruin the book for me, and I think it will be a long time before I am able to stop thinking about this story.

If anyone reads this book, (Please please please read this book) I would love to talk about it with you. I am very interested if anyone else was annoyed by the “xxxxxx” and if that aspect of the story was enough to ruin it for you.

Note: Mature content (mild sex scene) and a few F-bombs, but I didn’t find the language overused. I might even drop an F-bomb myself if I saw a “xxxxxx” coming at me.

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Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #7: Let’s Talk About Character Development Part 1

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

Use of Formal Language

prince PKO_0001172prince PKO_0001172Are there places in your book where the language feels a little too formal?

Watch for use of contractions.

They are best used in dialogue and less in the narrative.

Read your story aloud to check.

.

Remember your audience

And when it comes to language, always remember your audience. For example: You can have mature characters but make sure when writing for tweens, for example, you think like a tween. The reader needs to believe that this is a 12-year-old boy that is going through all of this. His thoughts, actions and reactions need to match that.

The Dreaded “Voice”

Watch for “breaking the fourth wall” like in the TV shows Malcolm in the Middle and House of Cards where the characters speak directly to the camera. This can take us out of the story. In fiction writing this is called breaking the frame of the novel and this style of oral storytelling can reveal an author feeling around for the voice in his story if not done well.

Be consistent!

Be consistent with your character’s voice. Does one character speak formally unlike the others? Carry that through the story. You don’t want your readers to say “Oh, he wouldn’t say that. That’s so out of character.”

Character Growth:

Build up your characters as you write them. Show us their faults, their desires, their conflicts with others – show us their reactions. Reactions are stronger than “telling” us how they feel and even stronger than “dialogue” as what they “tell” is not always the truth – but it’s our reactions that show who we are, right?

swish skid markTIP: Incorporating dialogue and body language can provide another character’s point of view without breaking away from the voice the scene is written in.

Now go. Work on building characters to care about!

It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

 swish skid mark

About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

An 11 year-old Reviews Joshua and the Lightning Road by @DonnaGalanti “Omigosh! Action Adventure!” @Month9Books

Since Donna was nice enough to hang out and chat on Monday nights with us, I thought it would be great if I could get a middle grade perspective of her book.

This review comes directly from my eleven year old son, with a little prodding by Mom.  Details about what the book (and the book trailer) are about are at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!

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 Let’s start out with what you liked.

The main thing I liked about it was the non-stop action and adventure.

Other details I liked were how different things and different problems were introduced and there were so many things they had to do all at once. And I also liked how the story didn’t take place in one area, how they had to move to different realms all the time.

Also I liked how things started winding down at the end, and then they started winding back up at the end– At 75% it seemed like everything was safe and then it was like “Omigosh they’re not safe because (character name removed) is back!”

 

 Did anything special catch your eye?

Some of the things that caught my eye were how you didn’t know Joshua’s name until his friend mentioned it. You didn’t know his name until the second chapter. I kinda liked that.

Also, at the beginning, I liked how when the storm happened out of nowhere and then this guy showed up and all this action suddenly came out of nowhere. It was like, “Omigosh! Action adventure.”

(Mommy plays Devil’s Advocate) Was there anything you didn’t like?

(He had to think a minute)

The only thing I didn’t like was how hard it was to keep track of who the characters were. There were too many kids that he meets.

There was also one character that has something bad happen to him, but he still goes on the adventure, but is only mentioned once when they are eating but then you never hear about him again. What happened to him?

[Minor spoiler] They never found out who spilled the beans on the plan they had to escape from the mill. [End minor spoiler]

 Overall thoughts?

Even though there were a few things that bothered me, overall I really liked this book.  

Would you read another book n the series if there were one?

Yes.

 

On a scale of 1 for the worst book you’ve read and 5 for the best book you ever read, how would you rate this book?

I would rate it a four

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There you go! Directly from my eleven year old son. I hope you enjoyed it!

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

 swish skid mark

About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.