Monday, March 27, 2017

April Secret Agent Early Info

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open next Monday, April 3.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

*To enter, please use THE SUBMISSION FORM HERE.  (Please note: email submissions are no longer accepted.)
*THIS WILL BE A LOTTERY: The submission window will be open from NOON to 6:00 PM EDT, after which the bot will randomly select 50 entries.
* 2 alternates will also be accepted, for a total of 52 entries.
* PLEASE NOTE: You are responsible for figuring out your own time zone. "Time Zone differences" are NOT a reason for not getting your entry in.
* Submissions received before the contest opens will be rejected.
* Submissions are for COMPLETED MANUSCRIPTS ONLY. If you wouldn't want an agent to read the entire thing, DON'T SEND IT. If an "entire thing" doesn't exist, you shouldn't even be reading these rules.
* Manuscripts THAT WERE IN THE 2016 ON THE BLOCK will not be accepted.
* Only ONE ENTRY per person per contest. If you send more than one, your subsequent entry(ies) will be rejected.
* If you WON A CONTEST WITHIN THE PAST 12 MONTHS (i.e., offered any kind of prize from a Secret Agent), please DO NOT ENTER THIS CONTEST. (Unless it's a different manuscript.)
* Submissions are for THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. Please do not stop in the middle of a

GO HERE to submit via our web form.

As always, there is no fee to enter the Secret Agent contest.

This month's contest will include the following genres:

Romance (YA, NA, Adult)
Thriller (YA, NA, Adult)
Contemporary (YA, NA, Adult)
Speculative Fiction (YA, NA, Adult) (especially time travel)
Suspense (YA, NA, Adult)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Fricassee

Yesterday I bought a 1-year membership to JibJab.

This is significant.  Years ago, as you may recall, JibJab was free.  You could pick out a funny little dance, stick in the faces of your friends or family, and make everyone laugh.  I loved it.

Then they added a paid membership feature, but there were still a few free choices.  Slim pickings, but still free.

Finally, they went to membership-only.  And I got annoyed.  My inner, entitled brat screamed, "The nerve!  They've taken away my free fun!"

I turned my back.  I'd find my fun other places.

Then, yesterday, I saw the cutest St. Patrick's Day step-dancing JibJab, and I was annoyed all over again.  As in, I-would-so-do-this-if-only-it-were-free.

Suddenly, though, something inside me clicked into focus.  It occurred to me, as it should have earlier, that these were creative videos made by creative people.  Hours (and hours....and hours) of work go into each 45-second gem.

Sort of like the hours (and weeks and months) that go into writing a novel.

There I was, creative being that I am, scoffing at the idea of paying other creative beings for their work.

I was ashamed.

So I bought the yearly membership (a measly $18 -- what's there to complain about?) and made my first video.  And it felt good.

How easy it is to forget, in this age of download-fun-things-for-free, that every person investing time in creative pursuits, whether literary or musical or theatrical or whatnot, deserves to be paid if they're putting their stuff out there for others to read/listen to/watch/enjoy.

(Note:  If the content sucks, they don't deserve to be paid.  But that's a different story.)

Basically, if I expect people to pay for my novel, then I should be willing to pay for someone's fill-in-the-faces video.  It's creative content.  It represents time and talent and energy.  Why should I expect to use/enjoy it without paying?

And there you have it--my not-so-subtle reminder to HONOR THE CREATIVE OFFERINGS OF OTHERS.  It's easy enough to do it with books, because that's what we're all about.  We scream with rage when we hear stories about illegally downloaded novels.  We froth and groan when we hear tales of plagiarism.  But we've got to remember to honor the other creative folks in our universe as well.

And, hey.  I'm not calling JibJab a higher art form.  It's not.  But it IS creative and well done and fun, and I'm happy to have paid my $18.

Also, my family is going to hate me.  I think they already might.

Happy weekend, everyone!  Go support someone creative.  :)


Monday, March 13, 2017

On Touching People's Hearts

I think most of us, when we sit down to write a story, aren't thinking, "How can I come up with words that affect people in ways I've never dreamed?"

It's more likely we're thinking things like, "What is going to be my protagonist's main obstacle?" and "How am I going to make this plot twist work?" and "OMG-this-is-the-coolest-world-I've-ever-ever-come-up-with!"  And if you're me, you're thinking, every day during the drafting, "I hate drafting."

But then the draft is done, and the notes come back, and the edits begin.  And after a while, after however many rounds it takes to get it right, you've got a polished novel.

And then someone reads it--someone, perhaps, who has never read one of your novels before--and it sets his heart on fire.

And you get an email that's time-stamped 2:00 AM, with a subject line that says, in all caps, MY HEART IS GOING TO EXPLODE.

And the reader is exclaiming (with many exclamation points) that he just finished, that he read it in 3 days, and that it's one of the best stories he's ever read.

It's not just about a great story or a captivating world ("I was thrown into the world and never wanted to leave," this reader said), though. It's about deep-heart issues that resonated more completely and more profoundly than you thought possible.  A level of relating to the protagonist beyond what this writer dreamed possible.  An overflowing thankfulness for how my story spoke to significant issues and situations in this person's life.

I have read this email at least six times.  Pretty sure I'm going to keep reading it, too.

What makes this even more exciting--mind-blowing, even--is that this was a "sensitivity read".  The reader was my, well, "sensitive reader".  I never expected a response like the one I received.  I never expected my words to go THAT DEEP.

The first time I read the email, it was with one hand pressed against my wide-open mouth.  Honestly.  I could hardly breathe.

That, my friends, is the unexpected reward for our labor.  We've worked hard to get everything right--the pacing, the arc, the world, the characters.  But in the midst of all that work, we really don't know--can't possibly know--how our words will affect someone.  And when they do, it's hard to describe the feeling.

It goes beyond making people cry (5 of my readers this time around cried).  Or making them happy or angry or invested in our characters.  It's something we could never plan, and rarely anticipate.

And I think it's the best part.


Never doubt that you have the ability to touch people with your words.  Indeed, it's your greatest power, and it will come only after you've put in all the time and sweat and angst and WORK it takes to create a novel.  I've been writing novels for 12 years (yikes), and there was no way those early works were going to touch anyone on a deep level.  Not even a wee prick.  So there's something to be said for honing your craft over time as well.

But don't doubt that it's possible.  I'm telling you that it is.  And that it's humbling and magnificent and beyond any experience you're bound to have as a writer.

I have no words for my thankfulness.  And blown-away-ness.

Keep writing, lovelies.  I'm beginning to believe that the possibilities are infinite.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Talkin' Heads: Critique Guidelines

We've got 10 dialogue-rich excerpts ready for your sharp eye!

As you critique, please bear the following questions in mind:
  • Does the dialogue sound natural (do people actually talk this way)?
  • Does the dialogue propel the plot or develop character relationships in a meaningful way?
In addition, please feel free to add any additional critique that you feel will be helpful.

Here are the general critique guidelines for MSFV:

  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 3 other entries.

*I can't possibly read every comment.  If you ever see a comment that is truly snarky, please email me.  I count on your help.

Talkin' Heads (SFF) #10

TITLE: Aqueous
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Indigo and McKile belong to a secret group of mermaids who are struggling to find a way to stop themselves from transforming into mermaid form.  Often at odds, these two characters make a connection for the first time in this scene. 

Irritated, I walk to the kitchen. I open the fridge and examine the food. There’s plenty in here for a week. Maybe next time they need to refill it I’ll offer to buy. I open each cabinet, studying where the plates are, the mugs, the glasses.

“Beer stash is in the top right cabinet.” McKile leans against the door frame.

“Good to know.”

“Your parents really strict?”

I shake my head, opening another cabinet.

“So they let you drink and stuff,” he continues.

“My mom and I will have a glass of wine, yeah.”

“Ever had beer?”

“Yeah. But I don’t like it.”

“What about your dad?”

“Don’t have one.”

“Me, neither.”

I look at him, pausing in my cabinet rummage. “What happened?”

“Divorced. He battled for custody, but I’ll never know why. His interests included drinking and prostitutes, not kids.” He pauses casually, like he’s telling me what he ate last week. “Lived by the beach, though, and bought us all the surf gear we wanted. So in the end it worked out.”

“We? You have siblings?”

“Older brother, younger sister.”

“I always wanted an older brother.” I slide up onto one of the counters. “I’m an only child. Mom raised me by herself. I’ve never met him— my dad. I only just learned his name, actually.”

I don’t know why I’m telling McKile this.

“What a dick,” he says through a mouthful of raisins. “Leaving you and your mom.”

I can’t help but widen my eyes in surprise.

“What? You think I’m such an a**hole I'd defend your dad?”

“I don’t know. You’re always…”

“Such an a**hole?”

“Pretty much.” I grin, and to my surprise, he does, too.

Talkin' Heads (SFF) #9

TITLE: Dead City
GENRE: YA Dystopian

Eric has been challenged to a dual by Orion, who holds claim to Eric's girlfriend if he wins.  Regina, who is not Eric's girlfriend, surprises him at night.


“Hello, Eric.”

Eric jumped at the sound of the female voice close behind him.  Regina emerged from the shadows, hood pulled forward so that her face was almost completely invisible.

“I wish you’d stop sneaking up like that,” Eric said.

“I would’ve come to your house, but I saw you walking here as I approached the lane,” Regina said.

“You could’ve called out.”

“I wanted to see where you were going.”

Eric smiled.  “At least you’re honest.”

“I have something important to tell you.”

“You’ve found our spy?”

“No,” Regina said.  “Not about that.  About Orion.”

Eric’s stomach dropped.  “What?”

“He’s planning on using a poisoned knife.”

“That’s not allowed.” Eric had at least been paying enough attention to remember that part of Vann’s summary.

“No, it’s not,” Regina said.  “But he’s spent years working with different toxins, extracts and oils from plants you’ve probably never heard of.  And he says he’s got something virtually undetectable.  So no one will know.”

“They’ll know when they see me die from a flesh wound,” Eric said.

“No.”  She drew closer than she should have.  “It’s slow-acting.  It’ll look like you died from an infection.”

“You mind telling me how you get your information?”

Regina reached her arms around his waist, pressed her hands against the small of his back.  When she looked up, her hood slid back, revealing those dark eyes, tendrils of thick hair spilling from a loose tie at the nape of her neck.

Talkin' Heads (SFF) #8

TITLE:  SUBSISTENCE
GENRE: YA SF

Quinn's sister, diagnosed with a fatal illness, has been scheduled for voluntary termination.  Quinn wants to convince her best friend Troy that there might be a way to save her.



I sit, avoiding his eyes.  It’s never been this hard to say something to Troy.  He usually knows what I’m going to say before I even begin.
But not this time.
“I want to sneak past the shooters and go outside the territory,” I say.
Troy’s face is slack, like I’ve slapped him.  “What?”
“Great-Daddy believed in the Earthies,” I say.  “He told me they could help Beverly.”
“That’s crazy.”
“I thought so, too.  But I’ve been thinking about it.  And I want to go and see for myself.”
 Troy has never looked this incredulous.  “Quinn, what are you talking about?  One hour outside and you’ll be so toxic they’ll have to quarantine and detox you.  Four hours and you’re dead!”
“That’s never been proven.” 
He sighs.  “I know you just lost Great-Daddy and I know you’re upset about Beverly’s termination.  But you can’t go running outside the borders just to prove your great-grandfather was right about something.”
“But if he was right, then there’s hope for Beverly.”
Troy looks worried—probably for my sanity.  “Earthies are a myth.”
“My Great-Daddy lived thirty years longer than he should have,” I say.  “And he said something about my Grandaddy knowing about the Earthies, too.”
“Your Grandaddy the shooter?”
I cringe.  “Yeah.”
“So you want to break health law and go outside the borders to look for Earthies because a shooter and an old, dying man said they existed?”
“I can’t sit around and let Beverly die.”

Talkin' Heads (SSF) #7

TITLE: The Shadow of the Tree
GENRE: YA Fantasy

After their initiation camp is raided, Evja (the guardian) finds Hauk half dead in the river. The two teens belong to neighbouring forest tribes, which live in peace with each other and celebrate initiation rites together. They both grew up thinking their tribes were the only people in the world.

“Do you think you’re able to get up, now?” the guardian asked.

Hauk didn’t know how much time had passed, but the sun had moved to the top of the sky. “I think so.” His voice sounded strange in his own ears.

“Good. Let’s go then.” The guardian got to her feet. “We have to get home. Find out what this was about”

Hauk gritted his teeth and turned to his back. The pain was bearable. He managed to push himself up with his elbows, but his whole body screamed at the effort.

The guardian held out her hand.

He didn’t take it. “What do you mean, what this was about? They took them. Snow and the others.
They took them!

She startled, and her hand dropped to her side.

Finally some emotion. Hauk lay back breathing heavily. It felt like he’d just run up a steep hill. Maybe he wasn’t ready to move after all.

“What do you mean? They? And who’s Snow?” The guardian sat back down.

“The bloody Darklings.” He didn’t know what else to call them, the monstrous men from last night.

“And if we’re going somewhere, it will be after them. I’m not letting them slip away into the darkness.”

“What are you talking about? We’re not going after anybody. You least of all.”

Yes I am. If only I could get to my feet.

“ Anyway, this must have been some kind of test,” the Wight continued.

 “A test? What the D makes you think that?”

Talkin' Heads (SSF) #6

TITLE: Finding Darwin
GENRE: Adult Urban Fantasy

The burritos were cold by the time we made it home. Harvey disappeared upstairs while I weighed the pros and cons of the microwave versus the oven. The gentle patter of footsteps behind me on the stairs preceded Yolanda’s voice.

           “Took you boys long enough,” Yolanda said. “The fur ball said you were playing with a zombie?”

            “Yeah.” I turned to greet her. “We got the text on the way—what are you doing?”

            “What?” She wrinkled her nose at the burritos.

            “You’re naked.”

            “I have panties on.”

            “Uhh…not sure those little wisps of thread count.”

            “You complaining?”

            “No, never,” I laughed. With a body that would prompt fits of jealous rage from the Crazy Girl dancers and a gorgeous shock of ginger colored hair, I sometimes forgot Yolanda wasn’t human. “What do you think about the zombie?”

            “You’ve dealt with zombies before.” She grabbed a banana from a basket on the counter. “Was there something special about this one?”

            “Special enough to make a trip to see our friends at the Blue Lake,” I said, trying not to be distracted by a half-naked redhead eating a banana in my kitchen. “This zombie was smart.”

            “No such thing,” she said automatically.

            “Rent-a-dead are smart.” Harvey jumped up on the table next to the burritos.

            “Ugh,” she replied. “Granted, those things are smarter than the average, but any zombie is a fluke of nature. Whether it’s the body’s own soul or another one that found its way in, zombies would struggle in a battle of wits with an earthworm.”

            “Unless someone is making smart zombies,” I said, the thought jumping from my mouth before my brain registered what I was saying.

            Both my friends gave me a hard look.

           “That’s a bold claim, Boss. I thought we were talking rent-a-dead, not raise the dead!”
           
          

Talkin' Heads (SSF) #5

TITLE: Desperate Knight
GENRE: Adult Fantasy/Romance

Marissa sagged. It was all just too much. The search for the portal, and the most unwelcome revelation that she possessed limitless quantities of magic. Which she certainly didn’t want and absolutely didn’t need. And now this. Trapped here in a magical portal with no way out.

“Can’t we go back?” she asked.

Sebastien shook his head. “No, not with this one. Some containment spells do work that way. You can’t get out of the portal, but you can return to your point of origin. This one is more complex. It keeps anyone who arrives here, here.”

“Well, what if we yell until someone comes to let us out?”

Sebastien cocked a brow. “These are priests here, not wizards. I doubt there's anyone around who would have either the knowledge or the skill to free us. Assuming they wanted to. After all, we are in point of fact intruders. Anyway, the containment spell is pretty solid. We could yell ’til doomsday and I doubt anyone could hear us.”

“Then why is the portal even here?”

“An excellent question. And one I will be happy to explore at some more opportune moment, for it will need a long lesson in history. Suffice it to say the Holy Mother Church and the Royal College of Wizards do not see eye to eye on most subjects any longer.”

“So here we sit--well, stand, really--like rats in a trap. We can’t even get word to the king that he may be in danger, since no one can hear us. Mmmmph!” Marissa clenched her hands in frustration.

“There may be a way,” Sebastien said slowly.

“Oh? The last time you said that, I ended up possessed of a great deal of magic I really didn’t want.”

Talkin' Heads (SSF) #4

TITLE: Silver
GENRE: Adult Science Fiction

Alinda, head of the Peacekeeps, is investigating the mysterious death of one of the city's Venerables. Roen was the Venerable's assistant and has requested to speak with Alinda. Pol is a Peacekeep Cadet.

“Thank you for contacting us, Mer Roen. When you’re ready to speak —”

“A memory square,” Roen burst out, then wrung her hands and fell silent again.

Alinda raised her eyebrows, and she and Pol exchanged a curious look. “Go on,” Alinda said gently.
“One of the things that was stolen. I just realized it yesterday.”

“The robber stole a memory square?” Alinda said.

“I think so. It’s still missing. It’s the only thing — I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing that never showed up.”

“What was contained on this memory square?”

“It was Venerable Jallaian’s.”

“And?” Alinda prompted after yet another silence.

Roen’s eyes were suddenly wet with tears. “I think it might explain why she died.”

Alinda came to Roen with a start. “Are you serious? Tell me exactly what you mean.”

But Roen’s chest had started heaving, and her sobs kept her from speaking for several minutes. Pol gripped her shoulder and murmured consoling words. At last, with a hiccup, Roen rubbed her eyes and said, “It was a specialist. Someone she was seeing in addition to her regular Caretaker. I — I think something may have gone wrong. I remember at the funeral yesterday, when the other Venerable —” Her face crumpled up. “When she collapsed. The same thing happened to Jallaian once, a month or two ago. She said it was just a side effect from some new medication — she told me not to mention it to anyone —”

“Shh, shh.” Pol gave Roen a solemn look. “It’s not your fault. You cannot blame yourself.”

Talkin' Heads (SSF) #3

TITLE: Kairos
GENRE: YA science fiction

The power has just gone out, trapping sixteen-year-old Maya five stories underground. She’s with Beck and a group of kids from school—though except for Cam, she doesn’t know who else is there. Beck stands behind Maya, holding her. She wonders what makes a strange clicking noise.

If it’s a giant bat I’ll freak. I hate bats.

Someone screeches and people shout, “Don’t DO that!” The air stinks of breathy fear and something else. Something horrible.

“Did anyone see it?” a girl whispers. “Does anyone know what it is?”

“What’s that smell?” a guy asks.

Someone yells, “Shut up!” God. I think it’s Lance Monson. He’s a total jerk at school.

“We all heard it,” a girl offers. “Back in the hall—”

“I said shut up! You guys are gonna get us killed!”

“You mean like Dustin?”

The darkness swirls with clicking. A girl whispers, “We don’t know he’s—”

“Shut the freaking hell up or I’ll shut you up myself!”

A sudden jet of air tickles my ear. Then the darkness sniffs me with reeking breath. My eyes open wide, burning to see. “Wh … wha—?”

Beck exhales, “Shhhhh.” His hold on me is cement.

Prickly fur or whiskers touch my cheek. My skin crawls hot then cold. I dig my fingernails into Beck’s arm.

He relaxes his hold on me and disappears.

I whirl around, grabbing at air. “Beck!” My voice cracks. “Where are you? Beck?”

A girl yells, “I can’t take this anymore!”

Something slams into me. I punch and kick it with everything I’ve got. A warm hand catches my wrist. A quiet voice says, “Maya. Stop.” Beck pulls me into a full body hug. I almost melt. “It’s okay,” he whispers. “It’s just me.”

Talkin' Heads (SSF) #2

TITLE: The Edge
GENRE: MG Sci Fi

MG- Sci Fi. Felix, our lead, is about to get into a capsule to go to space.  The last occupant of the capsule was a goat, and it was sent by a different group. Holly and John are his best buddies, Tercelle is a reluctant member of the team.


Felix stared. They hadn’t been airmailing elephants, but it must have been a small goat. “That’s it?”
“Yes,” Tercelle and John said in unison.

John smiled at Felix. “It can withstand the atmospheric pressure and you’ll have twelve minutes of air. Given what we have learned from the last sample–”

“–which blew up–” Tercelle barked out as he smiled at Felix.

“You’ll be fine.” John scowled at Tercelle. “And Holly upgraded a communication device for the trip.”

“What’s the upgrade?”

“Both ends send now. Two-way communications.” Holly handed Felix a simple phone device.

“They didn’t expect the goat to type?”

“Nope. And I added an electronic tag so we can trace you.”

“Like my mom?”

She smiled. “Yep.”

This mission was uncertain. Would he make it? Would he return? Felix scowled at the capsule. For certain, the process of being loaded into the capsule would be crushing.

“If potato killer is scared, I can go,” Tercelle said.

“How long would it take to make a larger capsule?” Felix asked.

Holly said in a cold Tang-like tone. “Six months–at least.”

 “This is your ride Spud Boy,” Tercelle slapped the capsule, “unless, I go instead.”

Felix sighed, “No Tercelle, I’m going.”

John bumped his elbow. “There’re a couple of other things I need to fill you in on,” he said.

“And remember we are on the clock,” Holly said. She moved to the new command center behind a glass wall.

Talkin' Heads (SSF) #1

TITLE: Ravens Rise
GENRE: YA Medieval Slipstream Fantasy

Alexander (Duke's son) and Mitchell (Duke's Ward) have been separated for a week as punishment for yet another stunt. This is their first weapons practice since the best friends reunited, disrupted by the appearance of Alexander's love interest. Mitchell's love of mischief gets both 15 year olds in trouble–again.


"If you keep staring, you're going to get caught."

Heat rushed to his face. Standing up, Alexander snatched the second practice sword out of Mitchell's hand. "A single word and t'will give you bruises to rival those I gave McVarmint."

Shoulders shaking silently, Mitchell bit his lip and moved into a defensive stance. Alexander smacked the sword to the side, Mitchell more focused on containing his mirth than actually defending himself.

"I swear, Mitchell."

He held up a hand and leaned against his knees. Inhaling several deep breaths, he got himself under control. "Fine, fine. I'm good." Mitchell raised his sword again, but the smirk grew. "Just never seen that shade of red on you before."

Alexander attacked. Mitchell backpedaled but managed to parry each blow—his laughter egging Alexander on. The flurry of strikes clanged across the practice field. Vision condensed to only Mitchell and his burning need to exact revenge. The impact across his back from the flat of a sword had Alexander spinning, his body's instinctive defenses reacting to the new threat. A sword point held level at his neck.

"Never concentrate yer focus to just one opponent, Lord Alexander." Corporal Gairdan stared at him impassively; the blade lingered next to Alexander throat. "T'was I the enemy, ye'd be dead."

"But you'd be joining him, Gairdan," Mitchell teased.

"Ye'd naught be close enough to stop me, Mitchell."

Mitchell chuckled and pointed to Gairdan's abdomen. "No, but his dagger is."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Call For Submissions: Talkin' Heads, Fantasy/SF Edition

This should be fun!

For those of you who are new:

"Talkin' Heads" is a critique of excerpts that are mostly dialogue.  Its purpose is to hone our dialogue-writing skills, asking ourselves these questions:

  • Does it sound natural (do people really talk this way)?
  • Does it propel the plot forward and/or develop character relationships in a meaningful way?
I think it's sometimes a special challenge to write dialogue for fantasy and science fiction.  In an effort to make our characters sound otherworldly or magical or alien, we tend to try too hard.  We end up with stilted, unbelievable dialogue that doesn't work.

So now's your chance to test your dialogue-writing skills!
Here's the scoop:
  • Your submission should include a brief lead-in (50 words or fewer) that sets up the scene, followed by 250 words of a dialogue-rich scene (80% dialogue).
  • Submissions are open to science fiction and fantasy novels in all categories--adult, NA, YA, and MG.
  • Submissions will open TODAY (March 7) at 7:00 PM EST, and will close at 1:00 PM EST TOMORROW (March 8).  A maximum of 25 entries will be accepted.  If there are more than 25 entries, the bot will make the selection via lottery.
  • Submit your entry HERE.
If you have any questions, please include them in the comment box below.

Looking forward to reading your entries!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Public Brainstorm #4

TITLE: The Dreamery, book 1
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Set 50 years in the future when the recording of dreams is a big entertainment industry, a 16-yr-old orphan named Vibeka Sörendóttir gets accepted into The Dreamery. She can spin crazy-imaginative visions, but if she can’t keep her past trauma from surfacing as nightmares, she’ll lose her chance at stardom.

The Problem: I pantsed this thing and an now STUCK at 56K words, so close to the end. I feel like I only need about 3-4 more chapters to wrap it up. But the problem is: My. Story. Is. Boring.
Because I envisioned this as book 1 of a triology, much of the story is character building and showing her going through the technology of dream recording and production. The answer to "what does the MC want?" is currently: "She wants to become a successful, glamorous Dreamer so she'll never have to go back to her dead-end life." However, I have a mystery sub-plot around the nefarious intentions of the CEO of The Dreamery, who's trying to secure funds for his financially-strapped enterprise. Am feeling like that sub-plot kind of got away from me, and is making this less YA and more adult mystery.

Public Brainstorm #3

TITLE: The Severed Crown
GENRE: YA Fantasy

BLURB:  17 yo Vespen has been forced to remain in the palace and keep the king's crazy daughter company since he was born. Now betrothed to the girl, Vespen will do anything to break free of this royal leash. That's when he makes a pact with the king's mage. In exchange for a safe escape route out of the capital (using the mage's invisibility potion), Vespen will have to free the mage's son from the palace dungeons. But what the mage didn't tell Vespen is that his son's cell is poisoned, and that Vespen will need a cure to survive.

From the mage POV, he doesn't tell Vespen about the poison so Vespen will be forced to come back to him for the cure. No son, no cure. But from Vespen POV...why trust a man who is asking him to go against the king he's supposedly loyal to?

The mage is loyal to the king (or rather, scared of him) but the king is the one who sent his son in the dungeons. I'm looking for a good reason/blackmail that would explain why the mage is still working for the king (even though he doesn't know if his son is still alive).

Public Brainstorm #2

TITLE: A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES
GENRE: YA Contemporary

This is Romeo and Juliet, with a twist of House of Cards, told from the POV of a gay Paris, son of a prominent politician, who has a crush on Romeo but wants to date Juliet as a cover. I am working on upping the drama beyond the usual r+j reinterpretation. At the moment, one of the biggest sources of tension is the threat of exposure by a snoopy newspaper reporter. How can I add some more teenager-y tension to this scenario? Thank you! And...sorry for poor sentence structure here. I am typing this on my phone during my daughter's piano lesson.

Public Brainstorm #1

TITLE: The Disappearance of Audrey Thorpe
GENRE: Adult women's fiction/ book club

Laurel is a middle-aged, down-on-her-luck woman who takes a job as a caretaker to 90-year-old Audrey. This is Laurel's chance to prove her worth. For the hours her son is in school, she helps Audrey around the house. Things are going well until one day Audrey disappears.

Issue: I need Laurel to leave town to search for Audrey. Problem: I don't want her to look like a bad mother to her 10-yr-old-son, Oliver, or to assume her husband will take care of everything. Even though Laurel has failed at prior jobs and despite other faults, she is a good mother. She can't take Oliver with her b/c he would miss school. A school break is too coincidental. Laurel could ask her mother to watch Oliver. She would feel uncomfortable doing so b/c her mother is judgmental and hasn't been supportive of Laurel's new job. I can't think of how else to handle this. There's no friend/neighbor to step in. Oliver does want Laurel to find Audrey; he has met the older woman and likes her. How do I make sure the reader is rooting for Laurel and believes leaving her family to search for Audrey is a good and wise decision?

Monday, February 27, 2017

Call For Submissions: Public Brainstorm

We had a round of Public Brainstorm a couple years ago, and then it fell off my radar.  This week, I'm resurrecting it!

You know how, sometimes, you get really stuck on a plot point, to the point where you are despairing of its ever resolving itself?  We've recently talked about how our brains figure out (sometimes unusual) ways of breaking through--but don't you just wish, sometimes, that you could bounce your problem off a fertile mind or two, to brainstorm your way out of the corner?

Well, this is my attempt at providing just such a forum.  There is SO MUCH CREATIVE ENERGY HERE.  Let's tap into it to see if we can help some of our fellow soldiers-of-the-pen get through a tough spot.

Here's how it will work:

1.  I will accept 10 entries (first-come, first-served).  Enter HERE.
2.  Include a short blurb for your novel so that we understand the premise.
3.  Briefly outline your problem--your stuck place--and what you're not able to figure out.
4.  Our fellow writers will offer their ideas to you in the comment section.
5.  THIS IS IMPORTANT:  As folks leave their ideas, don't come back and tell them why their ideas won't work--UNLESS it is posed as a question!  For instance, if someone says, "What if she finds the bloody razor after the donkey relay?  Would that throw off your time line?"  In this instance, it's fine to answer yes or no, and engage in dialogue.  But please don't be a Negative Nellie and punch down other people's brainstorms.  Read, absorb, let your brain start quietly ticking.
6.  The entries will post tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.

So, basically, your entry will look something like this:

TITLE: Seven Dead Spiders
GENRE: YA Thriller

BLURB:  Sven is a 17-year-old genius headed for an Ivy League school--until he starts murdering people in his sleep.


So we're at the point of the story where Sven realizes he's been planning (in his dreams) to kill his girlfriend Flopsy.  It's the middle of the night, and Flopsy is knocking at Sven's back door.  The problem is that I can't come up with a compelling motive for her to be there.  They just had an argument earlier in the day, but it's not in Flopsy's character to come running over in the middle of the night just to apologize.

Got it?

Ask your questions below!  I will open the submission window at 1:00 PM EASTERN TIME (NYC) TOMORROW, and will close it after we have our 10 entries.