Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Query Quagmire: Critique Guidelines

Today's the day!  CONGRATULATIONS to our five winning entries, which you will see posted below.  You are warmly invited (and encouraged) to critique some or all of these entries while we wait for Danielle Burby's agently feedback.

Guidelines for Critique on 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.*
  • Of special note: When leaving your thoughts on a query, please focus on WHY you are or are not hooked, rather than attempting to line edit the query.  
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique at least 2 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.

Query Quagmire #5

TITLE: The Salter's Son
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Dear Miss Snark’s First Victim,

Mummifying the dead wasn't ever Paolo’s aspiration, but it’s the work he got. Now folks won’t hardly come near him for fear of catching the plague. He’s a teenaged refugee with no family and no money in Secco, a dust-choked mining camp where the sun is relentless and the sweat stains run as thick as the debts. For Paolo there is no way out from under his indenture. Until he discovers the impossible.

In Secco all the beasts are reptiles. From cart-pulling beasts of burden to twitchy-eyed mounts, life depends on the heat of the sun. That is, until Paolo discovers a new way of warming the reptiles. His discovery means Paolo alone can ride into the mountains even with winter approaching to pursue Secco's quickest source of coin--the skinning trade. It's a chancy endeavor that could buy him out of his indenture and then some. But it's not long before Bento, a moneylender as dried out as a chili and twice as mean, catches wind of the discovery and wants it for himself. Soon so will every cutthroat with a musket or a knife. To stay alive and win his freedom, Paolo will have to partner with the only person willing to give him a chance, a woman old enough to be his mother and who drinks so much she pees herself. Worse, she might just be a cutthroat as well.

The Salter’s Son is a YA fantasy, complete at 81,000 words. It's a tale of trust and betrayal on a brutal frontier, a True Grit set in a world of reptiles.

I am a member of SCBWI. I have a concentration in literature and history from Baylor University and a law degree from Harvard Law School. When I’m not writing or reading, I’m usually burning my mouth on Mexican chilis or sleeping out-of-doors in the landscapes described in this manuscript.

I have included the first 250 words below. Thank you for your consideration.

There wasn't but the sound of the sea moving as I tied the nartak to the hitching block. The moon was bright but low in the west, and all its glow was swallowed by the cliffs above me. Where I stood, everything was dark. I knew miners were digging in their cliffside tunnels and fishermen were straining at their nets, but I couldn't see a one of them. In the dark I could still pretend it was just Constanza and me. That's what I called her, our oldest nartak. The Salter would have branded me a fool for wasting a name like Constanza on her, but she was a fine creature, far too fine not to know such a name. I reached out my fingertips to scratch behind her horn, in the spot where her scales were softest, but she butted me away. The night was stealing her heat, and she was testy.

"We'll get you warm, girl. I promise. I'll be quick."

I adjusted her warming blanket as best I could. I pulled in deep breaths of sea air as I moved, trying to hold the smell of it in my nose. I gave her a final pat on the neck and turned towards the cliffside streets of the Squalors. With shaking hands, I slid on my gloves.

Even in the dark, finding the house wasn't any bother. The air around it was thick with smoke. For seven days they'd burned tallows, sage and whatever they could find for incense. But all I smelled was rot.

Query Quagmire #4

TITLE: Magic Undone
GENRE: YA Fantasy romance

Dear Agent,

Time can be frozen and magic can be undone in the world Shai lives in, but when it comes to reuniting with the prince she loves from afar, some things can seem impossible.

Shai used to be friends with Prince Jistan back when she lived in the Casland palace seven years ago. But when her mother lost her position as the Queen’s handmaiden, Shai grew up on the streets and became involved with The Cliq, a notorious gang of thieves. Since she’s an unmancer, meaning she can undo or break magical spells, she is valuable in helping her gang pilfer protected goods. While she’s now on the wrong side of the law, she can’t help but remember the past and her feelings for the prince.

Prince Jistan, tasked with leading the Royal Defense Patrol, is surprised when Shai is captured during a heist and brought into the kingdom. He pardons her on the condition that she joins his patrol and help in the Border Wars. Jistan’s magic involves stopping time, so together they are a formidable team against the enemy.  As they fight to save their country, Jistan can’t help remembering the Shai of his past and falling for her in the present. But she’s a former criminal, and now that she’s left The Cliq, there are those who want to assassinate her. Then there’s Jistan’s father, the Sultan of Casland, who may be sabotaging his son’s efforts in the Border Wars for unscrupulous reasons. So Shai and Jistan must survive the strife in their two worlds first, before finding out if their love can survive.
MAGIC UNDONE is a 74,000-word YA fantasy romance written in dual POV. This novel is middle-eastern inspired, and can be described as ALADDIN meets SHADOW AND BONE.

The manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Shaielle squeezed to the front of the gathering and strained to see down the street. She just wanted one glimpse of his familiar features, that smile that could light his entire face, showing his dimples. A hollow ache clawed in her stomach at the thought of seeing him again.

She adjusted her thin black headscarf so she could see through the eye slit better. No one could see her face, or the deadly knives tucked into her purple pantaloons, their steel weight cool against her hips. In the crowd she could hide what she was, but she could never for a moment forget.

Because of what she was, the one who made her heart flutter seemed a world away, even though he was about to pass right by her face.

A lively musical tune blared from the horns of musicians as they swayed down the cobblestone road. Behind them came ladies in knee-length skirts and midriff-bearing tops of rainbow colors, dancing to the music. Next came a group of male singers, their strong, baritone voices joining with the melody of the trumpets as they sang a song about the Pact Day parade.

It was the celebration of the Quint Pact, when the continent was split into five different countries over a thousand years ago. Five Sultans were chosen to rule over each country, thus ending the worse of the Mancer War. And Casland, the country in the middle of the others, always had the largest jubilee of all.

Query Quagmire #3

TITLE: The Real Hero
GENRE: MG Historical Mystery

Dear Agent,

In The Real Hero an 11-year-old boy eats worms, chases trains, cracks codes, and kisses the girl in his quest to unmask a spy posing as a patriot.

Steve Abernathy is on a mission to protect the home front while his brother fights Nazis in Europe. A loyal member of Captain Asgardia’s fan club, Steve has pledged to help his comic book hero Fight for Freedom, Defend Justice, and Destroy Evil. His patriotic zeal is put to the test in the summer of 1944 when German POWs are stationed in town. Morse code flashes from the prison camp at night. Dieter Zinzerdorf, a suspiciously charming prisoner, seems to be everywhere he shouldn’t be, like swapping gum with Steve’s older sister. When Steve discovers his own Sunday School teacher passing coded messages to Zinzerdorf, he vows to expose their spy ring and gain his rightful fame as town hero. But the villains on either side of the prison camp fence don’t wear easily identifiable masks like the bad guys in Steve’s comic books. If he can’t sort out friend from foe, Steve won’t just fail his mission, he’ll put his sister’s life at risk.

The Real Hero is a middle-grade historical mystery complete at 56,000 words. The tale is rooted in the true history of the German prisoner-of-war camp based in my hometown of Reedsburg, Wisconsin during World War II. The manuscript has 32 chapter illustrations gleaned from primary source graphics.

I have a MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Teenagers from Hamline University and was a history teacher for more than twenty years. I have had several nonfiction books published by ABDO and Nomad Press for the education and trade markets.

What follows are the first 250 words of my manuscript.

Thanks for considering my work.

Chapter 1: Metamorphosis

The coffin at the front of the church looked so sad and lonely that all of a sudden my heart twisted and I couldn't breathe. My brain knew who was being buried today, but my gut didn’t always trust my brain, and my gut had to be absolutely, positively certain my big brother wasn’t inside that brown box. If I didn’t find out soon, I was going to suffocate right here in the fourth pew of St. John’s  Church!

Maybe if I dashed up the aisle and hid behind the altar, I could crack the coffin lid just enough to get a peek inside before anybody noticed. Opening my mouth so wide my jaw cracked, I gulped a mouthful of air. I was debating whether to sprint or belly crawl when suddenly a big hand clamped down on my thigh.

Dad leaned over the pew, his long arm pinning me in place. Mom stood in the aisle behind him, holding Junie on one hip and shooting me the evil eye. I hate it when parents know what you’re going to do before you even know it yourself.

I leaned back. Dad and Mom headed up the aisle with Eleanor trailing behind. When she passed me, Eleanor rolled her eyes. One of these days her pupils were going to get stuck behind her forehead. That would teach my stupid sister.

“Why you breathing like that?” Gordy said.

I stared at him. “Like what?” The words came out sounding like Donald Duck.

His eyes got real big and scared looking. If Gordy cried for Mom, I'd be the one in trouble.

I coughed and tried to clear my throat. “It’s nothing,” I said. “I’m just hyperluccinating a little bit.”
“What's hyperluccinating?”

My brother had the vocabulary of a five-year-old. Probably because he was a five-year-old.

Query Quagmire #2

TITLE: Through a Dark Wood Lightly
GENRE: MG Fantasy

To whom it may concern,

As an immortal magician of "The Circle," Servais le Roy is accustomed to secrecy, following clues and international intrigue, yet after pilfering a cryptic message from a suspect, he's completely flummoxed, left wondering--

"Who is Max Brighton?"

Young Max is an eleven-year-old, wanna-be stage magician who spends his days practicing tricks out of manuals, constructing his own props and dreaming of traversing the globe with real magicians. He is most enraptured by the myth of a secret organization made up of master magicians calling themselves The Circle, rumored to have Harry Houdini in their ranks. While attending the International Magician's Convention in Las Vegas, Max discovers how true The Circle really is when he's attacked by a sinister villain named Francois Charbonneau whose intentions for him are cloaked in mystery.

Max is forced to stop Charbonneau on his path to resurrecting the darkest sorcerer of all time, the Russian mystic called Grigori Rasputin, and follows clues to unearth a mystery decades in the making. All that Max knows about magic is tested as he navigates a complicated world of long dead magicians, a headquarters set beyond the realm of time and the reasons of why he was targeted at all.

Combining elements from Flights, Chimes and Mysterious Times with classic magic craft and history, THROUGH A DARK WOOD LIGHTLY would also appeal to fans of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
I am currently a stay-at-home father for two boys under three with an English degree and dreams of becoming a full-time author. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Prologue: Paris

Blood red neon splashed the street.

Atop the roof of one side, Servais le Roy watched the slim figure exit a building and walk up the sidewalk. Midnight merrymakers were out in force, weaving along the streets of the seedy Parisian district, but that slim figure, a kid named Balor Dullahan, stood out with his shiny leather clothes, tight as plastic wrap.

He smiled and bobbed his bleach blonde head to the music drifting from the clubs. That smile didn’t fool Servais. Dullahan’s easy grin was a mask for a monster.

Servais tweaked his handlebar mustache and then stood up, unfurling the black cape over his tuxedo. He bent his knees, crouched down, and pushed up off the ground. He sprang into the air and flew upward, feeling the cool wind rush against his face as he rose higher and higher.

Soon he was more than a hundred feet over the city. The black cloak spread out around him, stretching to four distinct points against the inky sky, resembling a shadowy monarch.

Far off in the distance, the Eiffel Tower sparkled like a midnight beacon as Servais sailed over the old world Parisian buildings like an enormous labyrinth of avenues and roads. He spotted Balor walking down a narrow alley. Servais sped forward through the air, far ahead of Balor’s path, and landed on a side street. He peeked around the corner and saw his target headed toward his spot.

Servais put his hands near his mouth and whispered, “Somnus.” A purple mist blew into his waiting hands and he cupped it like a ball. With a sharp motion, he thrust his arms out and willed the mist to travel across the street and hook onto the far building. It became tight as a tripwire.

Query Quagmire #1

TITLE: The Poachers' Code
GENRE: Adult Mystery/Suspense

I hope you will consider THE POACHERS' CODE, my 91,000-word upmarket suspense novel.

While researching an invasive beetle ravaging New Hampshire's woodlands, an entomologist must confront the murder she covered up as a child, before her silence ruins an innocent man’s life.
Sadie Kessler has spent the past three decades trying to forget about the body in the woods, the murder she and her estranged childhood friend Daniela covered up as kids. Now an entomologist with the state forestry department, Sadie is on the verge of proving an invasive beetle is triggering forest fires when she receives a text from Daniela. They found him. Daniela begs Sadie to return home—her undocumented father has been falsely accused of the decades-old murder and may be deported if they don’t reveal the truth. Ignoring threats from the presumed killer, Sadie returns to the woods of her youth to search for evidence that will exonerate Daniela’s father, knowing it could destroy not only her life, but the lives of people she cares about. The real killer follows her into the woods—and so do the forest fires that edge closer as local officials dismiss Sadie’s warnings about the beetles. Forced to decide what she is willing to sacrifice to protect the people and the forest she loves, Sadie will learn that no one can hold back the power of Nature—whether in the form of species migration, wildfire, or the truth.

THE POACHERS’ CODE will appeal to fans of Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls, Emily Fridland's History of Wolves, and Jane Harper’s The Dry.

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. I contribute regularly to DeadDarlings and GrubStreet’s writer’s blogs. I also own and operate a 100-acre organic farm in rural New Hampshire, where invasive insects chasing climate change present a looming threat —an unavoidable phenomenon scientists worldwide are bracing for.

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

Sadie peeled a strip of bark off yet another dying pine tree. Her fingers, blistered and raw from hunting the elusive pine beetle, froze as a gush of tiny insects writhed against the exposed wood. Beetles scattered for cover, but not fast enough.

“Got you.” Her voice, scratchy and dry from not having spoken in days, echoed off the granite boulders on the sparsely wooded slope. She scraped the insects into a small envelope and tilted her head up to the morning sun. Tomorrow she would storm her research director’s office, dump bags of dead beetles on her desk and her lap. Now no one could deny the invasive insects had migrated from the Rockies to New England.

‘I told you so’ burned sweet on her tongue.

This drought. This wildfire. This beetle. With a four degree increase in summer temperatures, New Hampshire had practically invited the beetles and the fires that followed them. She could head off the wildfires if someone would just believe her. The anticipation of being right, of being the hero, had lulled her to sleep the past several nights under a canopy of stars.

Smoke scratched the back of her throat, confirming the late summer wind was already pushing the 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.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Fricassee

Dear hearts!

I know I've already said this, but I'm just so blown away by the level of thoughtfulness and seriousness of intent in the vast majority of the queries I've received for our Query Quagmire.  I'll be spending part of this weekend making my final decisions and getting the posts ready for next Tuesday.  (Please note that there will be no email notifications.  You will know yours was chosen if you see it appear on the blog on Tuesday morning.)

I haven't done a Friday Fricassee in a while, but today felt ripe for one.  Not that I have anything particularly pressing or earth-shattering to say, but simply because this has been a connection point for me (for us!), and I wanted to return to it.

My writing life right now consists of a) waiting for news (isn't this almost always the case?) and b) painstakingly combing through a manuscript while blank-paging it (that is, rewriting word for word in a new document) in order to give it new life and a trimmer figure.  I got all the way up to chapter 28 doing a regular revision, when suddenly I felt stuck.  I also felt a sort of inexplicable hatred for the thing, which didn't make sense, because this is a couple-years-old project that I love and believe in.

So I did what any (in)sane writer would do--I started over.  Scrivener is magical and wondrous to behold--it's simply a matter of splitting the screen horizontally and having the old version in the upper window while typing the new version below.  (My love for Scrivener knows no bounds!)  It's quite a high, flying through those staying-intact passages at my superhero typing speed, but I do have to continually slow myself down and really listen to--taste--feel the words, to make sure I actually want to keep them.  It's actually much easier to slash and kill them this way, and I'm happily watching my word count shrink as the writing becomes (hopefully) tighter and more compelling.

I'm also toying around with an teeny-tiny idea or two for new stories.  Ideas come slowly to me, and I need to let them percolate for a while.  (And one of them came from something quite macabre that I stumbled upon yesterday while searching the net for something completely unrelated.)

I sometimes envy those of you with a huge cache of story ideas waiting to burst forth from your fingers.  I know we can't all be that sort of prolific idea person (and I'm thankful to be an implementer, at any rate, since it means I always finish what I start), but, dang--it would be nice to not have to wait so long and try so hard to get those new story seeds to germinate.

Are you a hundred-ideas-a-person day?  Or do your ideas come sparsely and slowly?  I'd love to get an idea of where I fit into the grand scheme of things among our community here.  Our diversity is part of our beauty, so please do share a bit of yourselves in today's comment box.  I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU.  Solidarity keeps us strong!

Have a wonderful weekend--and I'll see you on Tuesday for Query Quagmire!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Query Quagmire--On Reading Your Entries

So far, I've read 60 of the 107 queries that graced my submission box last Thursday.  And I'd like to say a few things!

1.  I'm honored that each of you made the decision to submit. It means two things--that you see value in this contest/exercise, and that you trust me.  Neither of these is small, and I don't take that value and trust for granted.  So allow me right now to say THANK YOU to each of you who entered.

2.  There are an awful lot of THOUGHTFUL, SERIOUS writers who sent in their queries.  Some of you hold MFAs or have published short stories.  Others of you are stay-at-home moms (or dads!) or graduate students or are working full time outside of the writing world.  Many of you took the time to research Danielle's tastes/what she represents, and most of you (so far) know exactly what you write and where it belongs on bookshelves (this is sort of a big deal).

I'm impressed.  And, again, I feel fortunate that each of you entrusted your queries to me.

3.  Of course, regardless of all this goodness, my "no" pile grew quickly from the beginning.  I know you've all heard a hundred times how agents will read just so much and know right away whether or not they want to read more, and you scratch your collective heads wondering what, exactly, this means.  After having done years of contests here on the blog, I finally get this.  And reading actual query letters has made it even clearer to me.  When you know what you're looking for and you know what you feel "good writing" looks like, the "nos" come quickly.

The "maybes", which everything else falls into during the first pass, are a little trickier.  Once I get through all 107 queries, I will have to go back to my "maybe" list and cull my 5 winners.  I think there's only been one entry so far that I'm pretty sure is going to be a "yes".

It's quite a process.  And I really (really really really really) don't know how agents do this all. The. Time.  (I certainly can see why they save it for last, since taking care of their clients' needs has to come first!)  I'm absolutely certain that I could never be an agent. :)

4.  For the record: I am not "Miss Snark".  (Yep. Lots of queries addressed to Miss Snark.)  I am Authoress.  The story of this blog's title (i.e., why I call myself Miss Snark's first VICTIM) can be found HERE.

Here's where I tell you what you've also heard before:  IT ONLY TAKES ONE YES.  I know you know this, but somehow, it helps to hear it a lot.  Because rejection is hard.  And you can't pursue a career as an author without getting REALLY GOOD at being rejected.

So please bear that in mind when I post the winning entries next week.  And please also know that I will not be able to offer you reasons for my rejection of your entry.  I'm doing my best to choose queries and (especially) first pages that are strong, and that Danielle will find appealing.  If yours isn't one of them, KEEP QUERYING WIDELY.

(Also, if Danielle is on your to-be-queried list, please do still send your query to her if yours isn't chosen for Query Quagmire.  While I do have a good idea of her tastes and what she's looking for, I'm certainly not going to get it 100 percent right.  So don't cross her off--she's an amazing agent and you deserve a chance for her to see your work.)

Again, THANK YOU FOR ENTERING!  I feel so connected to each one of you as I read your entries.  We are all of us, as always, in this journey together.

Onward we go!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Call For Submissions: QUERY QUAGMIRE

You asked for it -- you're getting it!

Over the years, I've stayed away from query critiques, for the reasons stated in this post from 2009, with the notable exception of the 2009 Query Contest with Jodi Meadows.  (If you'll click on that link and look at the list of winners from that contest, you'll notice one of them is #15, A LONG WAY HOME.  That is none other than an early, pre-published, pre-agented version of Beth Revis's ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.  True story!  But I digress.)

I've had numerous requests, though, so I've finally decided to go with it, mostly because I have a WONDERFUL AGENT WHO IS WILLING AND EAGER TO TAKE PART.

Here's how it works:

1.  On Thursday, September 7, at noon EDT, submissions will open for your ONE-PAGE QUERY LETTER (single-spaced) plus the first 250 words of your manuscript (double-spaced).  THE FOLLOWING GENRES WILL BE ACCEPTED:

  • YA -- all genres
  • MG -- all genres
  • Women's Fiction
  • Mystery

2. The submission window will remain open for 24 hours.  I WILL ACCEPT ALL SUBMISSIONS THAT COME IN DURING THIS TIME.  THERE WILL BE NO LOTTERY.

3.  From these submissions, I will choose FIVE queries that I think will capture my agent's interest.

4.  I will post the 5 winning queries on TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19.  At this time, the entries will be open to public critique, and my lovely agent will be reading and critiquing each one, to let the author know why she would or would not want to read more.  

5.  Note:  YOUR MANUSCRIPT MUST BE COMPLETE AND QUERY-READY.  No incomplete manuscripts.  No first drafts.

6.  This contest is open to non-agented writers only.

This is an excellent learning opportunity for all aspiring authors, even if you don't have an entry in the contest!  It's always a blessing to get a peek inside an agent's head during the querying process.  I'm hoping that, by vetting the entries ahead of time, I will come up with 5 plausible query-reading scenarios, so that the agent feedback received isn't "I don't represent this genre", but will actually be more specific and helpful.

All-righty, then!  Polish your queries and proofread your first pages.   And if you have any questions, leave them in the comment box below, or accost me on Twitter!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Power of a Story

I grew up in a small town with an even smaller library.  For a while, my mom worked there, and through her, I befriended a new librarian who took me under her wing when she discovered that I loved to read fantasy.  Throughout her short stay, she sent books home with my mom for me to read, simply because she thought I'd love them (and I did).  Sometimes they were new releases that she would set aside for me; other times, they were simply books off the shelves (and who knew how old they were...and who cared!).

What a tremendous gift to give a child--stories to feed her hungry soul and stoke the deep wells of imagination within her!  This lovely woman, whose name I can't even remember, played a huge role in turning my heart forever toward the world of fantasy.  How I wish I could thank her.

Amid all those wonderful novels, a certain story niggled at my memory throughout my adult life.  I couldn't remember the title, the author, or even the main storyline.  In fact, there was really one scene that stuck out in my mind, tantalizing and frustrating me because it was all I could remember.

A sister and brother inside a barn.  A Pegasus foal hidden there.  Something evil outside, trying to get in.

Over the years, I tried to find it on the Internet.  Surely, I thought--surely--if I type in "Pegasus" and "brother and sister" and "barn", it'll pop right up on this list-of-forgotten-books.

Nope.  No luck.

Then, a few months ago, I decided to try again.  AND I FOUND IT.

It took me five minutes, and there it was.  And here it is:

The Stolen Telesm by Caroline Baxter was published by Lippincott in 1975.  It is, of course, out of print.  As you can probably tell by the photo, the copy I purchased is an old library book.

I was SO VERY EXCITED to read it.  Suddenly I was ten years old, eager to fall once again into the world where Pegasus was real and children my age got to have a grand, scary, fantastical adventure.

You guys.  The writing was horrible.


Not only that, but the plot was lame.  Point of view jumped erratically between the brother and the sister to the point of distraction.  And the clunky, adjective-heavy sentences went on ad infinitum.

On the back flap, the author bio states that Ms. Baxter wrote this story when she was seventeen.

And Lippincott published it.  Well, huh.

Here's the thing, though, and it's a big one:  When I was a child, I didn't know about points of view or plot arcs or overwriting.  All I knew was that there was a Pegasus foal trapped in a barn with a boy and a girl.  

Now, this isn't a nod of approval toward bad writing for the sake of good story.  I think it's a travesty--really, I do--when someone who's a good storyteller does not hone his craft so that he also becomes a good writer.  (Good story and good writing are two separate things. Sometimes they are mutually exclusive.)  What I'm really saying here is that stories are powerful.

So powerful, in fact, that the best one stick with us for years despite deficiencies of writing.  So powerful that, decades after having read something, a wistful adult will search and search until she finds the long lost treasure.


It's not about lovely sentences or a wonderful premise.  It's about STORYTELLING.  And yes, there is plot arc and character arc and all that really important stuff.  But the ART OF STORY is what will draw your readers in and keep them hooked--sometimes for life.

As for me and my little book?  I passed it on to a sweet young person in my life who happens to be a fantasy-loving bookworm.  She devoured it.  Loved it.  Raved about it.  Like long-ago me, she wasn't bothered by the weak plot or point of view mess.  It was all, "Pegasus! Magic! Scary things!"

She has a steady diet of well-written literature in her life, so I don't think I've ruined her by handing her a book that would certainly never be published today.  I have it under good authority that she has recently started Fellowship of the Ring, so there you have it.  (She's not quite ten. I know for a fact that I was not reading Tolkien at that age. The sad truth is that I didn't know who Tolkien was. But that's a story for another day.)

And there you have it.  We all remember things from our childhood that, upon being revisited, don't come close to living up to our memories.  Like Moon Pies.  And freezer pops.  And Michael Landon as Pa.

But if even one kernel of a story nestles in our hearts and inspires us for years to come, it's worth revisiting, and worth giving credit to, despite its faults.  Go forth and find a story that's lodged in your brain from your own past.  Who knows--it may actually be as wonderful as you remember!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hello. It's Me.

I've been wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet...

Okay, it hasn't been THAT bad.  (I do love that song, though!)  But for months I've been less communicative than I'd like to.

There are reasons.

  • I've been revising.  A lot.  Heavy-duty, deadlined revising.  For a revise and resubmit.  It's all good, and I'm moving on to the next thing during the exclusive.  
  • I've been practicing.  Piano and voice.  Mr. A and I hosted a Beer and Madrigals party for members of the symphony chorus, and I accompanied as well as singing.  And I cooked.  And cleaned.  And moved furniture.  And...it was a big party.  You get the idea.  It's over now.
  • I've been focusing on other things in general.  Writing.  Resting.  Life-ing.  The blog has always been the one thing that took up time that I probably could've used another way.  And yet I can't seem to let it go.  Seeing my readers grow as writers...achieve success...find encouragement...there's no way to measure the importance of all that.  It fills me up.  And I don't want it to go away.
On that note, it's my goal to have another Secret Agent Contest by the end of this year, as well as some more in-house crit (which you all rock at).  And I'm going to do my best to start Friday Fricasseeing again.

So, that's me, in a nutshell.  I still want to be present for you.  I still want to share this journey with you.


1.  I currently have an opening for one PREMIERE CRITIQUE, first come, first served.  This is:
  • A detailed line edit of your first 75 pages
  • An editorial letter
  • Guaranteed 1-week turnaround
  • $260 in 2 equal payments
If you're interested, please email me ASAP at authoress.edits(at)gmail.com to secure your place.

2.  I'd like to pick your brain about some HOLIDAY FUN IDEAS for the blog.  In the past, we've done things like Christmas/Hannukah song lyric contests and such.  I'd love for you to share your ideas in today's comment box!

Hugs to you all -- serious, squooshy, full-body hugs.  (Or, if you're the no-touch type, a friendly air-high-five.)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Are You Hooked? Critique Guidelines

Here we are, folks -- 15 opening pages that will attempt to draw us in!

Please follow the guidelines below.

Guidelines for Critique on 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 5 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.

Are You Hooked? #15

TITLE: Silent March
GENRE: YA Recent Historical / Diversity

          Dad fixes people’s ears, but he doesn’t listen. Seven a.m. first day in the new house is Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work Day? Bogus.

            “We’re leaving in five,” Dad calls from upstairs.

            I raise the volume on my walkman. Here I go again on my own, my hands sign my current anthem. Maybe knowing some sign language will keep my big mouth shut at East Maryland Prep instead of ruining my life at West Miami High. Dad didn’t hear a peep from me when he yanked me from Florida midwinter senior year.

            “EGG, did you hear me?” Dad pokes his head in the door.

            I lift one headphone. “Yes, I’m not one of your patients.” If I was deaf, he’d give a damn.

            “Watch your tone young lady.” He pushes his coke-bottle glasses back up his nose. “And turn that music down or you will be. Let’s go.”

            ‘Why I don’t speak,’ for $100 Alex. I pound up the stairs from my basement bedroom. In Miami, basements don’t exist. Dig and hit water. Now I live in one.  At least this one comes with a kitchenette, bathroom, and French doors to the backyard. No soundproofing, though. Mom and Dad fight. Constantly.         

            In the mudroom, I layer on sweater, jacket, scarf, gloves, hat, and boots.

            Dad eyes me. “It’s not that bad.”

            “You grew up in Brooklyn.” I fling open the door to the garage which is like a freezer.  The car ride is equally icy. Why talk? It’ll come out wrong. I speak my mind better with my hands.

Are You Hooked? #14

TITLE: Seeking Sara Sterling
GENRE: YA Contemporary

A tiny, cream-colored spider crawled across the outside of the windshield. Sara couldn’t take her eyes off it. In that moment, she almost wished she were that spider. She wanted to be anywhere but in here.

    A silence as thick as mud hung between her and Bryan. She wasn’t sure how long it had been since he’d spoken those words. The ones she’d contemplated saying for more than a year now. But she’d always been wishy-washy, going back and forth about things. It was so hard to know what her true feelings were sometimes.

    The spider angled downward and then leaped onto the Jeep’s windshield wiper. A second later, it disappeared from sight.

    “Say something, Sara.” Bryan’s strained voice finally cut through the silence.

    But she had nothing to say to him. Inside, she felt completely numb. Like she’d just swallowed an entire bottle of that chloraseptic throat spray her mom used to give her when she was younger. 

    Sara bit her bottom lip, staring out the windshield again. A dent marked one side of her maroon garage door. Her younger brother, Derrick had backed into the drive, hitting it with the hitch of his Tundra a few weeks ago. She was surprised her parents hadn’t done something about it yet. 

    In her peripheral vision, she saw Bryan run a hand through his hair before placing it back on the steering wheel. As if he were ready to just get the hell out of here. “Come on. Don’t be like this,” he pleaded.


Are You Hooked? #13

GENRE: YA Paranormal

          Matt Flaherty’s heart pounded in excitement as he ripped open his Study Abroad confirmation packet. Moving his laptop to the foot of his bed, he flipped through photos of smiling students in front of lush landscapes and ancient buildings.

          “God, this itinerary looks awesome.” The Irish summer program offered hiking, city pubs and kooky mythology–his perfect idea of adventure. He couldn’t wait to see the Blarney Stone, and climb the Cliffs of Moher.

            At the Galway page, a surge of energy ran through Matt’s hands all the way down to his bones. The aftershock left a warm tingling up and down his limbs.

          Holy shit, that was weird.  

          He focused on his next move. The fact that he’d forged his dad’s paperwork and created a fake parent email hadn’t bothered him then. Now, he had to face the fireworks.

         Matt hurried down the hall to his father’s office with the packet. Barely stopping to knock, he rushed in, holding the brochure over the massive desk. “Hey dad, look at this.”

         Making his face as guiltless-looking as possible he raised his eyebrows. Like when he was ten years old. Back then, it was the three of them: his mom, his dad and Matt. Life was halfway decent, even when Flaherty Sr. rebuked him for the smallest misconduct. Instead of timeouts or swats, Matt’s childhood was filled with humiliation and rejection. His mom always got between his dad and him, like some blinged-up Rottweiler. She kept the balance; kept them civil.

Are You Hooked? #12

GENRE: MG Contemporary Adventure

Casey Buckles sank back, trying to bury himself in the bus’s musty seat. He clutched a note, certain its words would lead to someone’s death:

Marty, your family, danger, killing, get to the ice caves.

A shiver tingled down his back at his dad’s name. His father had taken off on a sudden trip—fifth one in three months. No explanation, no discussion. Was the family breaking apart? Casey’s blood ran cold at the thought. Could be why his mom cried harder than normal when he’d boarded the bus.
He smoothed the note across his thigh, wishing he hadn’t found it that morning, wedged between the fridge and cabinet. Thinking it a lost page from his geography notes, he shoved it into his camping bag, not giving it a second thought, until now. Reading it made him want to crawl out the bus’s emergency exit and take his chances in the forest. Bigfoot would be cake compared to the backflips and somersaults his imagination was doing over this note.

Snatching his lucky magnetite lodestone from his jeans pocket, he turned it over and over in his hand. Silver flecks across the black-grey surface winked back at him. The metamorphic rock was his favorite, morphing from one rock type to another. Too bad he couldn’t morph into the son his dad wanted to hang with.

The rickety bus jostled Casey about as it bumped along the dirt road. The note played on his mind. Where in the heck were there ice caves in the mountains of Idaho?

Are You Hooked? #11

TITLE: Cordelia
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Our red Ford Festiva was nicknamed The Clown Car by my late father, and I have a love-hate relationship with this crummy compact. It holds lots of memories but is older than me and falling apart. This morning, we’re running late, and Mom sets her jumbo insulated tumbler of frappuccino on top of it while my ten-year-old brother, Declan, gets in the backseat. She needs both hands to shove her purse and workbag in beside him.

I take the passenger seat, and with an uncontrollable grin, say, “Mom, don’t forget about my driver’s test after school.”

She smiles and turns the key in the ignition. “Of course I won’t forget, and guess what—”


Panicked, I look around for a fire, and a strangling sound escapes me as cold, bony fingers of dread squeeze around my neck.

“Are you okay, Cordelia?” Mom asks, rubbing my shoulder in concern. “It was just the car backfiring.”

Declan says, “Yeah, that was loud.” Laughing, he adds, “Usually it sounds more like the car’s farting.”

Taking a deep breath, I loosen my death grip on the door handle and laugh too, feeling silly for my overreaction.

“The mechanic’s going to take a look at it this week,” Mom says. She begins to back out of the driveway but immediately slams on the brakes and gasps, “Oh no!”

The slushy, chocolaty, caramel contents of her tumbler—that she couldn’t find the lid for—start oozing down the windshield in front of us.

Are You Hooked? #10

TITLE: Deyou's Heart
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

Before I pass, I wish to give you something of your mother’s. Jeran

Sia An’Terran crumpled the parchment with its crabbed writing in her hand as the ocean breeze tickled hair as it teased across her forehead. The enormous black-stone causeway glittered in the early morning light, its massive surface nearly packed full with people making their way across it to Deyou’s Isle, currently visible to one and all. She’d been atop the cliff at dawn when the Voice brought the shield down, exposing the Isle to the world and marking the beginning of Dragon Day.
This would be the last day she saw the causeway. Either she’d be dead by mid-day for setting foot on the Isle or she’d be on her way back to Capita. She tucked the crumpled note into the pouch hidden in her belt, next to the quite-illegal tools she kept there.

Her jaw firmed as she gritted her teeth and took the last steps down the well-trodden path which led from Verisit atop the cliff to the beach leading to the causeway. Merchants hawked their wares from stalls that lined the walkway, some having wisely decided to remain on the mainland rather than cross to the Isle.

Heavy sand crunched beneath her feet and she wound her way through the crowds. Not in a rush exactly, but she wasn’t going to waste her entire day on this idiocy and if she didn’t make it by the final calling bell, her chance would be gone.

Are You Hooked? #9

TITLE: Counting Perfect
GENRE: YA Contemporary

There’s no such thing as luck. As far as I see it, life happens one way no matter how much you wish it would turn out another way. If it does take your side on certain days, then that’s how it’s meant to be. But everything evens out, so you can bet the next day, things won’t be perfect. You can count on it.

My brother badumpthumps over every gap in the pavement riding solo on my skateboard. “Stop!” he shouts at me. “You’re gonna crush him.”

He jumps from the board, letting it glide to the grass, and engages in mini acrobatics to protect yet another insect.

I resist a close inspection. Bugs and I don’t get along. They crawl through their own poop, and I’d rather not mix with anything covered in insect feces.

Alex has different standards when it comes to the world of gross.

“Look, Z, he’s so soft. Feel him.” He strokes the fuzzy orange and black critter.

“I’ll take your word for it.” I walk over to retrieve my board then freeze. “Where’s his family? I don’t want to step on them…as gross as he is.”

“Caterpillars are loners. Like you. The mother butterfly lays eggs…then she just flies away, I guess.” His finger barely touches it. I’ve never seen Alex so gentle.

I lean over his shoulder. “And the father butterfly?”

“Oh he’s probably dead by now. They don’t hang around long after getting the female pregnant.”

Thanks for the replay of my childhood.

Are You Hooked? #8

TITLE: The Wall
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction

          Jo rose on her tiptoes straining to see beyond the white wispy zigzag pattern that stretched across the great Pacific. She longed to catch a glimpse of the land that the sailor had spotted from the crow’s nest earlier that afternoon. Her heart pounded. Her fear that last week’s storm had tossed and hurled the boat back towards Shanghai gripped her chest. She desperately needed to see the port of San Francisco, to know that Shanghai and the danger that lurked beyond the dirty Yangtze River were far away.

           She wondered, Did the Pilgrims feel this way as they were fleeing England to find safety in the New World?  Could America become my New World, too?

            The boat swayed and tipped back and forth to and fro, but Jo’s sea legs were strong.  She no longer weaved and stumbled, sometimes even falling, like she did a month ago when they first boarded The Orient. She remembered that first day as she clung onto anything stable to keep from falling while her younger sister, Lizzie, twirled and jumped around her in circles. Her poor mother faired far worse. She had to be near a bucket for what seemed like a week. Jo had never seen her mother so pale.

            Darkness began to cover the sky like a mother her covering her child for the night. There would be no land sighting today. As a child Jo loved this time of night when the sky became a dark blanket speckled with silver sequence.

Are You Hooked? #7

TITLE: For the Love of a Child
GENRE: Adult Suspense/Thriller

When I passed out last night, I gave myself a fifty-fifty chance of waking up again. The sunlight slanting through the blinds let me know fate’s coin flip had come up heads. This time.

I turned my head slowly, careful to keep the rest of my body still. My shoulder dropped back ever so slightly and my neck strained as far to the side as possible in an attempt to see directly behind me.
Even before I laid eyes on him, his hot breath caressed my ear. My arms tensed.

I waited five breaths before turning back and easing out of bed. A glance behind verified that my husband slept on undisturbed. Another coin flip won. I should find a casino.

The digital clock on the nightstand confirmed the suspicions the sunbeams put in my head. Half past noon. The pills had done a number on me, but I could still make it to work on time. A double shift should give him enough time to cool off, maybe even forget.

I grabbed my purse from the floor and slipped into the bathroom. In went a brush, some deodorant, and my toothbrush and toothpaste. There were fresh scrubs at the hospital, and I’d manage wearing yesterday’s for a few more hours.

Shoes in hand, I tiptoed into the disaster of the apartment’s living room — a problem for another time. Right now my well being relied on getting out of here without making a sound.

The telephone rang.

Are You Hooked? #6

GENRE: YA Contemporary

     Crisp October air sweeps inside as I pull the front door open. I take a deep breath and bristle with anticipation. Bailey, my yellow lab, waits patiently by my side.

      My grandmother steps into the foyer, her flowered robe cinched tight, the one Mom gave her last Christmas. She tucks the morning paper under her arm. “You two heading out?”

     “Yeah, it’s perfect running weather.” I tug at my sleeves, pulling them over my thumbs.

     I need to lose myself for an hour and clear my head, push away the bad feelings that darken my mind. Running is the only thing that makes me feel good in my skin, when I don’t have the urge to hurt myself.

     “Are you okay, Alexandra?” Gram touches my sleeve and I wince, the bandage underneath rubbing against my raw wound. 

     “Yeah, fine.”

     “I’m always here to talk,” Gram says.  Her eyes linger on my face.

     “I know.”

     “Have a good run.”

     I step outside and head to the bottom of the grassy hill, wet with the morning dew. Lying to Gram churns my stomach, but I need her to believe I’m fine. She’d be disappointed if she knew I’m cutting again. But it’s the only way I can cope with the isolation at school and Jess, the girl who’s making my life hell. It’s the only way to deal with my insecurities, the voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough.
     When I reach the curb, the mailbox door hangs open. Wait, mail on Sunday?

Are You Hooked? #5

TITLE: The Secret of Mount Pella
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction

Her mother’s words, laden with impending death, seared Satara’s heart but ignited her soul.
   “This is a very important necklace, Satara.” With a shaky hand, Lucia placed it in her hand. “The key on this necklace opens the way to Mount Pella. There you will find the Secret Place.”
    “What do you mean, Mother?”
    “One day, you will have your own adventure, your own quest,” her raspy voice crackled. “You must make your way to Athenica, through the back gates of the palace, and up to the first summit.”
    “The palace? How will I ever get there?”
    “You will know when the time comes, my dear. It is your destiny.” Lucia clenched her eyes shut. Whether in pain or in recollection of something, Satara couldn’t tell.  
     Satara’s forehead tightened with concern. “Mother, you must rest.” Perhaps the fever was affecting her mother’s mind.
    “Not yet. You must promise me to keep this necklace safe. You are special, my child. You will do great things, but you must promise me.”
    “I promise, Mother.” She kissed her mother’s forehead and Lucia closed her eyes for the last time.

Are You Hooked? #4

TITLE: Room Full of Killers
GENRE: Adult Fiction

A million and one fresh and exciting ideas were flooding his skull as he drove back to Willoby. This 2 day experience made Gianni recall his conscious awakening in life. His father used to tell him about strong men of the past and bare knuckle fighters when he was an adolescent and bed ridden in an oxygen tent with asthma. Those stories were an epiphany that created a desire within him. The seed was firmly planted. He started slowly, worked out religiously and eventually got rid of his illness with weight training and the deep breathing that it involved.. 

He regarded seeing Clay and Liston training as providential. He analyzed both their styles. He also thought a lot about the money they were getting for the fight, which was more than a million dollars each. In fact, he couldn’t stop thinking about the money. Cash incentives will make people do strange things. He always wanted his own health spa and, also, wanted to open an Italian restaurant called, “Gianni’s.” That’s his first name. His full name is Gianni Valentino Romasco.

After vacillating on the pros and cons of getting involved with boxing, he finally committed to giving it a shot. His best shot, of course. When he got back to Willowby he called his best friend, Tony DelVecchio, to share his decision with him as Tony would likely want to get involved too. They’re both 21 years old. Tony also has more balls than the Boston Red Sox.

Are You Hooked? #3

TITLE: Island Shell Game
GENRE: Adult Literary Fiction

James couldn’t remember the last time he’d read a newspaper. Even now he wasn’t actually reading the Providence Journal—he was hiding behind it. Hiding from the sun’s glare off the harbor. Hiding from that empty dock where the ferry should be. And hiding from the chatter at the tables around him—the place sounded like a seagull feeding frenzy.

James should’ve delivered the island’s morning commuters to the Newport docks more than two hours ago. And right now, he shouldn’t be sitting here on the crowded outside deck of the Bean; he should be steaming south out of Narragansett Bay, carrying a few hardy spring tourists back to Brenton again. On a clear morning like this one, he’d cover the three and a half miles in sixteen minutes, aiming at the tall lighthouse until it was time to round tiny Piglet Island to starboard. Once he cleared the harbor breakwater, he’d idle across to the town pier and spin the forty-eight foot Homer S. Morgan in her own length to come in port side to. At exactly ten minutes past eleven, dock lines and a metal gangway would land on the Homer’s side deck.

When his passengers—two or twenty-two, it didn’t matter to James—smiled their goodbyes and headed up the wooden dock, their first stop was usually right here at the Bean. This shingled bungalow just beyond the ferry landing served as the island’s unofficial welcome center.
James would follow a few minutes later, barely nodding to the regulars at the big table before heading inside.

Are You Hooked? #2

TITLE: Unbecoming Bea
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Six months ago, when Momma turned her kitchen into a no-fry zone, a little piece of me died. But then I asked myself, WWED, what would Emeril do? And BAM! I found a job as a fry cook thirty miles away in Macon. One thing led to another and soon enough I worked my way up to head chef, even though it’s only on the weekends. But Momma wouldn’t approve, so for now, cooking is my secret love affair. Except if I get this big catering job, all that will change. Taking one last peek inside my backpack, I reassure myself for the umpteenth time I packed my knife-roll. Satisfied, I open the kitchen window.


The tops of a row of yellow rose bushes bend down and back up like performers taking a bow. Not something the wind could do so I know she’s in the garden.

“Momma!” I yell louder.

“Sugar.” Her boiled-peanut-cotton-candy hair appears above the top of the roses as she stands up.
“I’m going over to Zander’s. To study. We have a calc test.”

She tugs on the ends of her hair, a sign something’s bothering her. Probably one of her roses sprouted a weed or attracted the wrong insect. She worries over those roses more than Daddy and me combined. “Again? You’ve been spendin’ every weekend there for goodness knows how many months now.”

When she’s quiet for much longer than normal, a familiar flutter bubbles inside me. Don’t ask me more questions.

Are You Hooked? #1

TITLE: Defender of the Kingdom
GENRE: MG Fantasy/Adventure

She was the ugliest woman I had ever seen. Until her daughters followed her out of the coach. She was swathed in green velvet, brocade, and satin and underarm rings stained the tight bodice. About eighty ells of bobbin lace, which caught on the coach door handle as she strode forward, engulfed her gown. If the coachman had not caught her, she would have sprawled on the cobblestones of the lane surrounding our village green. I noted that the grass was the exact color of her gown as I tried to hide a smirk. The largest peacock feather ever adorned her velvet cap and it dipped over her face, ending at the large wart on her chin. Her eyes were daggers as they glanced my way. I tried not to tremble as I turned toward the daughters.

The girls were near my own age of fourteen – one maybe a bit younger, the other a year or two older. They both wore satin. The shorter one was in pink and the tall one in blue. The pink gown was covered in almost as much lace as the mother’s, but the blue gown was simple. Compared to the other two. The girls both fanned themselves furiously with lace covered fans, but the eyes that glanced over the fans looked friendlier. Slightly. Well, that was something.

I looked down at my own linen kirtle that matched the embroidered coif on my head and at my father’s simple doublet and breeches.

Monday, July 24, 2017

FINALLY: Some Critique For you!

Hello, all!

I'm so sorry for the long absence.  I was in a seriously deep revision hole, and just emerged a few days ago.  That, and other things in life, have kept me from blogging regularly.

So, I conducted a little poll last week on Twitter, to see which in-house critique you'd like to do--and ARE YOU HOOKED? was the clear winner!

THIS THURSDAY, I will open submissions for a long-overdue ARE YOU HOOKED? round.

What is Are You Hooked?

It's a critique round for your opening pages!  Writers are invited to submit their first 250 words for public review on the blog, and will be asked to critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

So, here are the details:
  • Submissions will open at NOON EDT on Thursday, July 27.
  • Please submit your first 250 words HERE.
  • All categories and genres will be accepted EXCEPT erotica and erotic romance.
  • This will be a LOTTERY.  When submissions close, the bot will choose 15 entries at random.
  • Submissions will close at NOON EDT on Friday, July 28.
  • The entries will post on the blog on Tuesday, August 1.
Please ask your questions below!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What My Ninth Grade English Teacher Had to Say (About Me)

It was one of those out-of-nowhere, unexpected moments of affirmation from a source that didn't even dwell in my consciousness.

I don't often check my "message requests" (a.k.a. messages-from-people-you're-not-friends-with-and-whom-you-might-not-even-know).  A few weeks ago, I noticed a message sitting in there, so I clicked over.  It was from someone we'll call Brian Schumann, and it said the following:
I still remember the wonderful fairy tale you wrote in my English class! You still "hold the record"!
I tossed the name around in my head for a few seconds and realized it was my ninth grade English teacher.  I read his words again, amazed that he remembered me after too many years to disclose.  His class wasn't one that stuck out in my memory (let's blame my aging brain).  I remember him as a mild, kind-hearted teacher, and I remember that he was also the German teacher (I took Spanish).  And aside from remembering that I sat in the back of the classroom and once had a stomachache during class, there isn't a whole lot that floats to the top.

I wrote back:
Oh my goodness -- Mr. Schumann!! How kind of you to reach out. I don't even remember the "wonderful fairy tale" -- not even remotely! But do, please, refresh my memory. I'm actually a writer now, so your message has really warmed my heart.

His response:
Ha! I knew you would be! I asked the class to write a fairy tale that they would read to the class afterward. Most of them were cute and kind of clumsy, typical high school stuff. You were the shy, quiet girl at the back of the classroom. You meekly addressed the podium, two periods later, you were finally done. We were all mesmerized by your skill and imagination. It was Tolkienesque with poetry interspersed into it. This still holds the record for skill in high school writing in my entire career!
At this point, my heart was lodged in my throat.  These words:  "Ha! I knew you would be!"

He knew I would be?  He knew I would be! My ninth grade English teacher KNEW I'D BE A WRITER.  I'm fairly certain he never told me that (not that I'd remember), and it's not a teacher's job to tell his students what they're going to be, anyway.  But OH MY GOODNESS.  This man SAW THE WRITER IN ME when I was only 14.

His words could not possibly be more affirming.


Funny, because I didn't know.  Creative writing was always my favorite schoolish thing (school in general wasn't exciting), but I was primarily a musician and an actress, ultimately choosing to major in music education.  In short, I lost my path.

Don't get me wrong--I'm supremely grateful for my music degree, and am happily singing with a symphony chorus and still playing my piano, so it's all good.  But MR. SCHUMANN KNEW I'D BE A WRITER.

Imagine that.

"We were all mesmerized by your skill and imagination."

Mesmerized?  I MESMERIZED you?

"It was Tolkienesque with poetry interspersed into it."

Well, the poetry part doesn't surprise me--I wrote my first poem when I was six.  But TOLKIENESQUE?  I can't even.

And here's the thing.  Had I known who Tolkien was when I was 14 (I did not, but the story of the literary cesspool in which I grew up is one for another time), my head would have become rather inflated at this sort of praise.  I'm profoundly grateful that he saved these words for NOW, all these years later, WHEN THEY HAVE TOUCHED ME SO DEEPLY THAT I DON'T HAVE THE RIGHT WORDS.

NOW is when I needed them.  NOW, when I am in the midst of what is truly the most labor-intensive and verge-of-despair revision I've ever undertaken.  (It's even harder than the infamous we-want-you-to-change-the-sex-of-this-main-character revision from a few years ago.)  NOW, because I'm doing work that an editor wants to see, and I am feeling the WEIGHT of this work, and I needed Mr. Schumann's memory of a socially awkward ninth-grader who blew him away with her fumbling fantasy.

Of course I thanked him for the memory and went on to share a bit about my writing journey.  Then I said:
Thanks so much for reminding me that the writer in me has been there for such a long time, and that it really is what I'm supposed to be doing. And thank you for being such an engaged, thoughtful teacher. I'm so honored to remain in your memory after so many years!
His reply:
Wow! Very cool! Hang in there, it'll happen. Thanks so much for getting back!
All these years later, he is speaking into my life the encouragement of a teacher who cares.  "Hang in there, it'll happen."

I'm hanging in there, Mr. Schumann.  Your words of affirmation have fueled me beyond what I thought my tank could hold.  You found me on Facebook and remembered a ninth-grader who loved to tell stories--and apparently told them well.  And then you reminded me that I AM STILL A GIRL WHO LOVES TO TELL STORIES.

No matter how hard it gets, no matter the heartbreaks along the way--I AM AND ALWAYS WILL BE A GIRL WHO LOVES TO TELL STORIES.

This is what it's about, my friends--remembering that, in the end, we all love to tell stories.  For whatever reason, the telling ignites us, sustains us, infuses us with a deep sense of purpose and joy.  We were all of us meant to be storytellers, in one way or another.  May you find YOUR PATH and YOUR PURPOSE for the stories in your heart.

And may your very own Mr. Schumann appear when you need him the most!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

First Kiss: Critique Guidelines


Full critique guidelines are below, but here's the focus of this week's critique:  DOES THE KISS WORK FOR YOU?  Does it leave you feeling a little breathless, or is it awkward?  Are there too many details, or not enough?  Do you feel the chemistry, even though you've been dropped into the middle of a novel you know nothing about?  (If you do, then I guess that's one successful kiss!)

(Note: Quite a few participants neglected to include a lead-in.  Folks...please follow directions! The lead-in makes a big difference in helping your readers feel settled in the scene, so they can do a better job critiquing with context.)

Guidelines for Critique on 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 5 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.

First Kiss #13

TITLE: Warmaker
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

Jennica (an assassin) isn't entirely sure she can trust Wesley (a king), but she's not above leading him on if it means getting what she wants. Wesley, on the other hand is sincere in both his attempt to help her and in his attraction to her.  

Her attention shifted back to Wesley. He watched her patiently, waiting for her to direct the course of their conversation. Slowly, his final words solidified. She had pushed them aside, intent on finding malice where there was none. Shaking off the lingering tendrils of the past, Jennica allowed the possibility that had been haunting her to take root.

His quiet fortitude was what she needed. He was willing to help her. Dropping her hand to her side, Jennica slowly advanced toward him. Halting close to Wesley, her heart reverberated in her chest. She reached forward, her fingertips grazing his cheek, mirroring what he had attempted to do the other day. His eyes widened but he remained still.

Edging closer, Jennica leaned forward. “Thank you,” she whispered, brushing a kiss against his cheek. Blocking out the pounding of her heart, she’d barely started to turn when Wesley caught her hand and pulled her back to him, his fingers gently clasping hers. Only a hand's breadth apart, she found herself staring into his hazel eyes.

“You’re welcome.” He smiled. Lifting her hand, he pressed a chaste kiss to her fingers,  his eyes never leaving hers.

Her breath hitched at the courtly gesture and heat burned across her skin, settling in her stomach. Straightening her shoulders, she pulled her fingers from his and took a step backward, fear and longing coursing through her. This was her game to play, not his, and she wasn’t ready to relinquish control.

First Kiss #12

TITLE: Accidentally Cursed
GENRE: YA Fairytale retelling

The MC is wearing cursed shoes that will not come off and her love interest is attempting to "distract" her to see if that will help:

“We have to get your mind focused elsewhere.” He glanced around the rooftop. “While you’re distracted, I’ll slip off the shoes.”

“Okay,” I agreed, willing to try anything.

He scooted off the crate onto to the rooftop and had me sit facing him. “Now close your eyes.”

I did. “What do I focus on?”

“This.” His voice was close. So close. I felt him cup my cheek, and my stomach went fuzzy, a ribbon of warmth unspooling slowly inside me. His breath warmed my mouth a moment before his lips followed. Every part of me glowed. He pulled back slightly, and my eyes fluttered open.

“Is this okay?” He asked, his mouth still hovering near mine.

“Better than okay,” I grinned, tilting my head for more.

He smiled. “Close your eyes.” He pressed his smile to my lips. He tasted sweet, like licorice. With his arms wrapped around me, the closeness of his body stirred every fiber of my being to life. My fingers tangling in his hair felt like it was our hearts tangled up together. And when his hands traveled my spine to the small of my back and inched me closer, his heart was right there, pressed flat against mine, pulsing and strong and eclipsing everything but the sparkling connection between us.

His hand gliding down to my ankle was barely a blip on my awareness. He eased off first one shoe then the other.

First Kiss #11

TITLE: The Shoemaker's Daughter
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Connor and Princess Gianna are friends. When Gianna smashes a magic mirror to break the spell it holds on her mother, she falls into an enchanted endless slumber.  The queen believes Connor is Gianna’s true love because she saw magic when Gianna danced with Connor to save his life.

“I’m not Gianna’s true love.”  Connor protested.

“I’ve seen you dance with her.”  Cassiopeia insisted.   “You are the one who must kiss her.”

Connor followed like a cat being drug toward water, moving forward but with the entire body in reverse.  He sat on the edge of the bed, putting his hands on either side of Gianna.  Maybe first kisses didn’t count if the girl wasn’t paying attention.

Cassiopeia cleared her throat.

He had to do this if it would help Gianna.  He couldn’t think of Lyra now.  He took a large breath, held it and leaned over putting his lips on Gianna’s.  Then he sat up and looked at her face.

“That was completely insufficient.”  Groused the queen.

Connor stared in dismay.  He hadn’t expected a critique. “This is something I don’t have much experience with.”

“Nonsense.”  She responded testily.  “It’s natural.  Quit fooling around.  I’m desperately worried.”

He licked his lips again.  He felt queasy and wondered if he was going to throw up.  Maybe barfing on Gianna would get him out of kissing her.  Maybe it would wake her up.

“Just relax.  Lean in and close your eyes.”  Coached the queen who had sidled up next to him.

The door was flung open.  Prince Denis walked in.  “What are you doing to that boy?”  He stormed.  “You and your wicked fairy godmother rubbish.  Gianna is probably loaded with contagious germs and you’ve got him smearing his lips on her.  He’ll be sick.”

I already am, thought Connor.

First Kiss #10

TITLE: The Serenity File
GENRE: Adult Urban fantasy

Note: Michael is an empath who just rescued Serenity from a bad date

Michael stepped farther into the apartment, pulling Serenity with him, his arm around her waist, clearing a path to the door. Her emotions were a mixture of annoyance, amusement, a bit of relief, and something she was actively suppressing. Michael absently ran his finger down her arm and felt a wave of desire wash over him, through him. He kept his face neutral as the guy--Roy--walked past them and out the door. Serenity pushed the door closed behind him and sighed. Michael turned to face her, lifted her up, pressed her against the wall and kissed her long and slow. She kissed him back, brushing her tongue against his lips demanding more. He held nothing back from the kiss, giving her everything she asked for. Her emotions mixed with his, encouraging him to go on, denying him nothing. One arm wrapped around her, he ran his other hand down her arm, along her hip and across her thigh. Silk. The dress is silk. He broke the kiss, breathless. Oh God help me.

First Kiss #9

TITLE: That Which Confines Us
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Devin stares at me intensely, with an expression I can’t read. He shifts beside me on the bench and his thigh brushes against mine, sending a tingling sensation coursing through me.
Jill (who’s an expert with this stuff) told me you can tell a guy is going to make a move when he looks at you for a long time and lifts his eyebrows, like he has a question.
There it is. A slight raise of his eyebrows.
 “Nomi,” he says, in a raspy voice. “You know I’m into you, don’t you?”
I tug at a thread hanging from my cut-off shorts. “Then why do you always seem so mad?”
He grabs my hand and pulls it into his lap. His jeans are damp with sweat. “It’s hard to see you with Tim.” He turns toward me and grips my chin. “Because I like you.”
He arches forward until our faces are inches apart, daring me to give in. I want to say, “What about Lydia?” but the words won’t come out. My body won’t let them. I don’t know if it’s the vodka or the fact that I’ve always been itching for this to happen—my mouth feels like it’s being pulled towards his. I kiss him. He moans and presses his lips hard against mine. I lean into him and my entire body relaxes. Shock waves shoot through me and everything inside of me feels like it’s waking up.  

It’s going to kill me when he pulls away.

First Kiss #8

TITLE: Seeking Sara Sterling
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Sara's long time boyfriend just broke up for her (a week before high school graduation) and now she's reckless and on the rebound, going after her hot co-worker, Alex.

Almost as if in slow motion, he turned, and his dark eyes seared into hers.

   Her arm tingled as she reached out to him. To her surprise, he took her hand and let her pull him into the women’s restroom. She locked the door again, her heart racing a million miles an hour.

    His face read mixture of seduction and surprise. “What?” he simply asked, one side of his mouth twisting up every so slightly.

    Sara wasn’t in the mood to talk though. It was now or never. She pressed her palms against his chest, pushing him up against the door. His eyes widened and then he smiled. That beautiful, maddening smile. God, she hated him for making her do this. But she was like a train running full steam down a mountain. There was no way to stop now.

    “Shut up,” she said, and smashed her lips against his. He must have known it was coming because he kissed her back, like this had been his idea instead of hers.

    Surprisingly, Sara’s heart rate slowed, but now her brain was going haywire. Colors and lights flashed behind her closed eyelids. She willed herself to focus and found one thing stood out above everything else. The taste of his lips. God, he tasted good. Like warm cinnamon and honey. The flavor seeped into her own mouth and spread throughout her body, making her tingle in places she never knew she could. She pressed harder against him, letting her hands slide around the back of his neck.

First Kiss #7

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction

Lead-in: Basketball court; North Carolina; August, 1970's. It's the night before 15 year-old Beryl goes back home to Boston. Perry is a 16 year-old boy she's known most of her life and sees each summer. Maureen is her best friend in Boston.

Perry isn’t my type. He’s more like a brother. Or am I just nervous? I don’t know what my type is. If I’m not attracted to him, there must be some reason. He’s tall, good-looking, super sweet and eyelashes that last a mile. He doesn’t smell. So what’s my problem? I don’t know any black and white couples. Is that it? Sweat drips down the back of my knees. I try to scoot back an inch.
“Beryl?” he asks and rolls back toward me. He fixes his dark brown eyes on mine. The tree frogs are starting their evening chirping. The sky is almost dark. Behind his head I see that a few stars have popped up in the sky. He lets go of the basketball and leans in and kisses me softly. His lips are dry and taste salty.

“Do you want to go…somewhere?” He licks his lips.

I wipe the backs of my knees and dry my hands on my shorts. My first kiss that wasn’t during Spin the Bottle--wasn’t I supposed to feel something? Could I learn to like him? Maureen’s older sister once asked what I thought about being a nun. Maybe she could see something I didn’t.
Perry reaches for my hand. The veins snake between the muscles in his arms. But instead of wanting those arms wrapped around me, I think how jealous I am that he gets to have those muscles for basketball. I shake my head. What’s wrong with me?

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” I remind him.

First Kiss #6

TITLE: Enchanter's Dawn
GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy

[William is heir to an English earldom, Eleanor is a French noble in exile. She has been learning English from him in secret. They first met at a Twelfth Night party. Story takes place in 1459.]

The gentle roar of the rain outside the barn made him feel as if he and she were alone in the world. Slowly, he leaned toward her. She turned her dark eyes up to his. In the gray, rain-filtered light, he noted every detail of her face, from her rosy lips to her fine eyebrows.

She said softly, “What did you say on Epiphany when you stood as king? You looked at me when you spoke, yet I could not understand you.”

William remembered how she looked that night, wearing a paper crown and a cloak decked with juniper and mistletoe. How he had longed for her then, and now he sat beside her, hand in hand. “I said, I hope that all of our wishes for this year come true.”

“And has your wish come true yet?” she asked.

“It is about to,” he whispered as he leaned in and kissed her. He had only meant to steal a brief kiss, but when her hand slid across his cheek and ran through his hair, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against him. Hungry as they were for each other, their lips parted as a desperate longing deepened their kiss.

“William!” Gregory’s booming voice seemed to shake the world. William jumped, his dream suddenly plunging into nightmare. His father seized him by the collar and yanked him to his feet.

First Kiss #5

TITLE: Hunting Legends
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Midnight-ish in the forest: Raid and Azrielle have just escaped a pack of arachne (pony-sized spiders) that attacked the school. Raid has no idea he is falling for the enemy sent undercover to sabotage his team of monster hunters. Azrielle's under orders to use his affections against him, except she's struggling to let him get close because her feelings for him aren't pretend anymore.

“Are you okay?” I ask, voice hushed. The rush of adrenaline pumps through my veins, my pulse racing. She nods, still holding onto the AR-15. I lift the gun out of her grasp, and switch the safety on before leaning it against the motorcycle.

Her braid is messy, chunks of hair pulling loose. The urge to tunnel my fingers through her hair overwhelms me. Her legs straddle me overtop my own, my hands resting on her bare thighs near the edge of her skirt. The smooth skin is hot beneath my palms. I should remove my hands, but they’re locked in place, holding onto her with a vice grip.

Her lips part and all I can think about is pressing my mouth to hers. Want and need meld into a consuming desire. She shrugs out of the jacket and says something but I don’t hear a word.

“May I kiss you?” My voice is low and husky, though I don’t intend it. I don’t know why I asked.

The answer I expect is no and I need to respect that for whatever reason, she won’t give into the magnetic pull between us.

“Yes,” she says breathless.

A shock wave rolls through me, rendering me useless for several seconds. Then my arm locks around her back, pulling her into me.

I tilt my head and lower my lips to hers.

She’s warm like sunlight and kissing her is like tasting the first day of summer. Her lithe body leans into me harder and my blood ignites, veins laced with fire, heat coiling in my stomach. I release her leg to cup her face, fingertips stroking her soft hair. She sighs into me, scattering a buzz of euphoria through every nerve in my body.

I could soak in this moment with her forever.

First Kiss #4

GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

I remove his cap, and he lets me. I run my fingers through his hair–silky, threatening. I'm not thinking, I'm reacting. I've lost control.

“Are you like your siblings?” I ask him, staring at his parted lips. “Dangerous?”

Sebastian makes a humming noise, and he finally says, “I wish I could say no.”

“Could you hurt me?”

“I could.”

“The same way that Lucas could? Or any human being?”

He shakes his head, and I cringe, but ask the one question I fear most: “But would you?”

His lips find mine. With fervor, with longing, they ripple along my mouth like undulating waves, the kinds I used to crave.

My breath catches.

He's melting into me, marking me with remnants of lemons and pine needles, and I'm trying to absorb him. His tongue snakes around mine. Like a snare, it entraps me in all his pieces, and I wrap my arms around his waist, squeezing. As his arms glide up my neck, I'm losing myself, losing control–when a flash of glowing eyes takes me hostage.

I yelp away from him, freezing. The image jolts me like lightening, electrifying my senses.

“What is it?” Bass breathes, his hair tousled and ragged.

I look into his ashen eyes, searching, searching–but finding nothing. There's no glow that scorches my skin like coals, no savagery to cut me like barren teeth. I’m imprisoned in a web of dismay and desire.

First Kiss #3

TITLE: Christmastime in the City
GENRE: Adult Romance

“That looks and smells amazing, but I can’t try it or do anything until I can say something.”

“Okay." Lena put the plate down and turned away from her computer to face Ryan fully. Her beautiful dark eyes looked directly at him, and the cut of her dress hinted at what he’d noticed this morning. But he couldn’t let himself be distracted.

“The past few days have been the most incredible of my life, and it’s all because of you. You have been – no, you are so amazing. I’ve never met anyone like you, and I’d be kicking myself the whole way home if I left without doing this.” He moved closer, wrapped a hand in her streaked hair, and kissed her.

Lena gasped, but the sound quickly fell away in the overwhelming rushes of touch and taste. Her hair felt silken underneath his fingers, and that floral scent was all around him now, nearly intoxicating him. Her lips were as soft as they looked, but didn’t taste like the berries they resembled. Instead he got a hint of coffee, honey and something creamy. And for one shining moment, her lips moved under his and she seemed to move closer, pressing her full chest into the top of his flat adbomen. His heart leaped, and the flutters below his stomach turned to jolts. Heat exploded through his body, and he could practically see a bright light behind his closed eyes.

First Kiss #2

TITLE: The Woodsman's Rose
GENRE: Adult Historical Romance

1882, Arizona Territory. The setting is the wedding supper for Adam Donovan and Jesse Travers. Annie has just realized that the man she's loved all her life, Adam's twin brother Brian, is deeply in love with his twin's wife. The Donovans' younger brother Daniel attempts to comfort her.

He led her down the slope into the orchard, where benches were arranged among the trees. He sat beside her and did not let go of her hand.


“It's hopeless. I know. I guess I've known all along.” Annie's voice trailed off in a whisper. She knew now that Brian wouldn't love her, and there was nothing that would change his heart.

Suppressing a sigh, she stood to go, but Daniel stepped in front of her. “Annie, there is a man who loves you.”


“Yes. Daniel.”

She listened in growing confusion as he told her of his love. Listened to the voice a childhood accident made sound like emery on slate, listened for the first time to the Irish lilt twining around the southern drawl. And heard a music she'd never heard before.

Aroon, I love you.” He raised her face to his and kissed her with a tender passion she'd never dreamed him capable of. “Please give me a chance.”

Her tears fell, splashing on his hands. She heard him groan as he pulled her into his arms. The muscles rippled under his soft buckskin shirt. One part of her marveled at the way her head fit into the hollow between his shoulder and throat; another wondered at the tenderness of the hand that cradled her head, of the strong fingers that lost themselves in her long fine hair. A third part of her protested her fickleness―she'd always wanted Brian. What was she doing now in his brother's arms?

First Kiss #1

TITLE: In This Fateful Hour
GENRE: YA Supernatural

17 yr. old Marielle is mentally and emotionally exhausted after the recent death of her parents and the disappearance of two of her classmates. She has been having strangely realistic dreams about the missing girls, her parents' deaths, and her love interest, Lucca. Gretchen, one of the missing girls and Marielle's best friend, suggested that Marielle has a guardian angel. Marielle thinks it might be Lucca.

   “Stay,” I whispered.

    The bed sank under his weight. I pillowed my head on his chest and let his warmth soak into me as I fell into a deeper sleep.

    I lay in the snow in Lucca’s arms, under a great white sycamore. He brushed his lips against my hair, my forehead, my eyes. He moved to my jawline, then my neck, sending warm shivers through me that rested in the pit of my stomach.

    My lips found his. They moved together, then apart. His warm breath filled me. My body trembled under his hands as they traced lines down my back.

    “Is this real?” I asked between kisses.

    “It’s your dream. It can be as real as you want it to be.”

    Lucca pressed himself against me, his lips hard and urgent as they moved down my neck and back to my lips. My fingers found his hair, followed the contours of his face. Where our bodies touched, his pulse throbbed against me. I pushed away, my breath heavy.

    “I want this, but not in a dream.”

    His eyes were intense and sad before he looked away. He wrapped his arms around me, enfolding me in his warmth.

    “If you ever doubt my feelings for you, remember this night.”