Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Our First ON THE BLOCK 2016 Success Story!!

This may just be our FASTEST SUCCESS STORY EVER!  Within days of the auction, Rena Rossner let me know that she had offered representation to the author of the first full she'd read from her auction winnings.  Shortly after that, the author accepted.  I'm happy to share her story, in her own words: 

So I have this little book, a lighthearted romantic mystery about a struggling actress and above-average dog walker who has inherited a police dog with a nose for crime. She's kind of ridiculous, and she has a major luck problem—which is how I could describe myself. No surprise then that I felt daunted at the prospect of looking for a literary agent.

Before I began my search, I belonged to a Facebook group of authors who were in the midst of querying, and the tales of spreadsheets, rejections, R&Rs, or the dreaded silence made the prospect seem bleak at best, muse-killing at worst. But the fact is, there are a lot of manuscripts out there and a finite number of agents. And each of those agents represents perhaps a few genres, and then, within those genres, he or she has preferences, wish lists, and an existing stable of authors with work that shouldn't be cannibalized by something similar. I'm sure many agents dread their inboxes full of queries that miss the mark. As writers, it's our responsibility to get to know as much about each agent we query as possible to increase our chances of a good fit.

Luckily, the Internet and social media now offer some fun and efficient ways for agents and writers to match up. At Miss Snark’s First Victim, the hardworking Authoress provides a super-supportive critique forum and runs a number of very successful competitions where writers and agents can meet. The one I took part in was On the Block 2016, which was an agent auction. I entered it on a whim, not having entered anything like it before, and then as the selection date approached, I readied myself to hear nothing. But then I got an email! I was number thirteen. Lucky number thirteen.

During the week that my excerpt was posted, I was bowled over by the generous and encouraging comments and helpful feedback that I received from Authoress’s writing community. I started to get my hopes up. My husband noticed that I had started to vibrate (kidding!).

When my auction time arrived, I was touched to learn that my sister and my friend Lynne were watching with me. Rena Rossner from The Deborah Harris Agency and Danielle Burby from Hannigan Salky Getzler—both amazing agents who I’d be lucky to have represent me—bid with so much enthusiasm that it was all over in four minutes! I was in shock. I think I shrieked. Rena Rossner had won a one-week exclusive with my full manuscript.

And then I waited. It was an exciting time. I lost a few pounds because my body was whirring as if I had a hamster wheel inside me. My husband started to speculate about whether I might explode if I was offered representation. The final day of the exclusive, I woke up to an email from Rena saying she’d finished my book in two sittings. She was offering me representation! Then my husband had to inform me that I was slapping his arm and he was now awake and I could stop.

Later that day, Rena and I talked on the phone for about an hour. I was impressed with her experience and industry knowledge. And she was so friendly and easy to speak to that I was immediately put at ease, which I feel is important when you’re working with someone on a creative endeavor. We were already batting around ideas for my character’s arc across my planned series. I could tell we were a good fit. And I was very encouraged by her thoughts on the different ways my book might fit in the marketplace. Rena also represents sectors and genres I have an interest in writing in at a later date (middle grade and speculative fiction), so in that respect, she was also a great fit for me.  I’m still pinching myself! I couldn’t be happier to be represented by Rena Rossner and The Deborah Harris Agency. And I haven’t exploded—yet!

Thank you, Authoress, for all you do to help aspiring writers to improve, find community, and match with agents. Your hard work is very much appreciated.

—Maggie Findlay

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

An MSFV Success Story UPDATE

Author Susan Mann boasted a win during the 2014 BAKER'S DOZEN Auction, signing with Rena Rossner and finding her "happily ever after".  (The original post is HERE.)

I'm happy to share this update from her.  Enjoy!

I was fortunate to be chosen as one of the entries for Authoress’s Baker’s Dozen contest in November of 2014. Two agents bid on my contemporary romance about a librarian who gets mixed up with a spy. The fabulous Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency won the full manuscript. Within a week of sending it to her, she e-mailed me to say she loved it and wanted to represent me. I was thrilled and dumbfounded.

I accepted Rena’s offer and after several rounds of editing, she submitted the manuscript to editors in April of 2015. Over the course of the next few months, we received some very nice rejections.

Fast forward to October 2015. I flew to California to visit my parents for a few days. During the two-hour flight, I was incommunicado for the first time in six months.

The plane landed, I switched my phone off of airplane mode, and it was immediately under assault. I had an e-mail, texts, DM’s, missed calls, and a voicemail, all from Rena. I nearly dropped my phone as I tried to deplane, listen to the voicemail, and read the DMs all at the same time. I found a place to sit in the terminal and was about to call Rena when my phone rang. She’d decided to give it one more try before she went to bed. (She lives in Jerusalem, so time difference.)

We’d gotten an offer. And it was for print and e-book! I was floored and ecstatic and stunned. The next step was to let the editors she hadn’t heard back from yet know we’d received an offer. She gave them a deadline to get back to us if they were interested.

I did the only thing I could do. I celebrated with a Double-Double and fries at the In-N-Out ten minutes from the airport.

I had a lovely visit with my parents and drove the 90 minutes back to the airport a few days later. In the time I couldn’t look at my phone—yup, you guess it—we received a second offer. (I will always have warm feelings toward that particular airport.)

Over the course of the next week, Rena worked her magic and negotiated a marvelous three-book deal with Kensington Publishing under their Zebra Shout imprint. It’s a privilege to work with my wonderful editor, Esi Sogah. The first book, The Librarian and the Spy, will release on April 25, 2017. Books 2 and 3 of The Librarian and the Spy series will follow.

It has been an incredible journey so far and I look forward to when my novels are out in the world. I’m forever grateful for the time, energy, expertise, and passion Authoress invests in the contests she runs. We, as a community of aspiring writers, are blessed to have her championing us.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Fricassee

So we've wrapped up another ON THE BLOCK auction, and it was fabulous to see so much enthusiasm from the bidding agents.  Hooray EVERYONE!

I promised to give out a free 10-page critique, to be chosen from among the commenters on our 20 ON THE BLOCK entries.  I'll be scheduling time to do that this weekend (counting/numbering comments while excluding those of editors and published authors is a bit...daunting), and I'll announce the winner next week.

For those of you who are new around these here parts:  I run a small editorial business called AUTHORESS EDITS (see the link on my side bar).  I offer:
  • 30-page critiques for $95
  • 3-page critiques for $18 (to see if your opening is working)
  • Premiere Critiques (guaranteed 1-week turnaround) for $260 (I only offer these once a month or so, as I find time, so keep your eye out for these announcements.)
  • Occasionally, I will agree to a full manuscript critique, but this is on a per-project basis, and I am fairly selective.  These are priced per page.
If have any questions about any of the above, or would like to hire me to edit your work, please email me at authoress.edit(at)

We're heading into Thanksgiving week (and my sister and her family made a last-minute decision to come join us -- yay!), but I'm planning on squeezing in another in-house critique round before Christmas, so stay tuned.

Thanks for being the wonderful, supportive community you are.  I can't tell you how often in my life I mention to folks-on-the-outside (literary muggles) how incredible the writing community is.  Support, solidarity, empathy, and good will--these are the hallmarks, and it's like a big safety net that catches us when we need it to.

Write on!  Keep sharing that which is uniquely YOU with the world.  I'm honored to be part of the wonderful melting pot that makes us US.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Our ON THE BLOCK 2016 Winners

Thank you, agents, authors, editors, and EVERYONE who participated in this year's ON THE BLOCK.  Here is the list of final, winning bids:

#1 BUGSY’S MOLL: Josh Getzler, 25 p
#3 BREATHING IN DARKNESS: Nicole Payne, 20 p
#4 NOW AND WHEN: Nicole Payne, FULL
#5 THE FIX IS IN: Josh Getzler, 25 p
#6 KYTE’S REVENGE: Hannah Ferguson, FULL
#7 HERITAGE OF HATE: Lauren Spieller, FULL
#11 EVEN: Pam Howell, FULL
#12 SIGNAL VOID: Nicole Payne, 20 p
#13 STICKS AND BONES: Rena Rossner, FULL
#15 THIRD TIME’S A CURSE: Danielle Burby, FULL
#16 THE ANTIDOTE: Rena Rossner, 50 p
#17 DANGEROUS PLAY: Nicole Payne, FULL
#18 UNDERCURRENTS: Caryn Wiseman, 5 p
#19 THE ZEAL: Susan Hawk, 5 p


Please email me at facelesswords(at) to request specific submission instructions.  Please include your NAME, POST NUMBER, TITLE, and WHAT YOU WON in the body of the email (which will save me vast amounts of time).

ALSO IMPORTANT:  The agent who won your material will have a 1-week exclusive.  After that, ANY OTHER AGENT may request your material.  So if you saw agents fighting over your work, PLEASE DON'T CONTACT THE LOSING AGENTS.  If they are interested (and they probably are), you will hear from me next week!

Hooray, all!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


GENRE: YA Fantasy

In WEBS OF GHOST MAGIC, a princess of Glenwys reaches across two kingdoms to save a prince of Emlyn from a Cadmarian assassin, but saving him reveals her as the dreamer Emperor Cadmar sent his ghost mage to find. And the prince can’t let a dreamer live.

Prince Lael caught his first whiff of murder three weeks before his seventeenth birthday. No one committed murder in the Kingdom of Emlyn.

Lael and his champion were on their way back from the Southern Markets when Lael smelled the corpse. Lael swung down from his horse to investigate—not from any real sense of concern or urgency but because his backside needed a break. They’d spent a lot of time in the saddle over the last few days, setting a much needed renovation in motion. Kellen protested the detour at first, but then he dismounted to follow.

Deep snow grabbed at Lael’s boots, nearly yanking them off with each step he took. Sun shining on the vast expanse of white made him squint to protect his eyes.

Which direction had the wind blown that smell from?

There. A patch of brown splotched the white to his left, not far from a tall pine tree. Lael veered toward it. Wavy brown hair covered most of the bloated face. A girl. She lay stretched out on her side, arms flung wide. Up close, the stench made him hold his breath. It was difficult to tell her age, but she looked younger than he was. Horrified, he reached for the knife handle protruding from her shoulder.

“Don’t touch that,” Kellen said, investigating the surrounding area. “It isn’t safe this close to the border, my prince. We should go.”

“But we aren’t that close to the border, Kel, and this little knife shouldn’t have killed her.”

OTB #19: THE ZEAL (MG Historical)

TITLE: The Zeal
GENRE: MG Historical Fiction

12-year-old Beryl O’Brien moves from North Carolina to South Boston during the busing desegregation crisis of 1974. She gets involved in the violence, but when the family secret of her being biracial is revealed, Beryl must negotiate being loyal to friends, her school, and an entire community or being true to herself.

September 12, 1974
Boston, Massachusetts

I step in front of the line of shouting protestors and hurl the rock as hard as I can at the yellow school bus. Because I don’t have a dad to teach me to throw, and the only thing Mom and I have thrown are insults at the church ladies back in North Carolina, I expect the rock to miss my target and bounce on the street, the pavement chipping its sharp edges. But the rock has white stripes that go all the way around it, and Mom says that makes a rock as lucky as a four-leaf clover.

Bam! My lucky rock shatters a window on the bus. Police officers in the street look toward the crowd, but I’ve already slipped back between the rows of demonstrators.

A girl inside the bus puts her hands to her face. Fragments of sparkling glass in her puff of black hair catch the morning sun like a tiara of small diamonds. She opens her mouth in the shape of a scream and holds her hands to her face, then turns and looks down and disappears below the window.

The yelling drowns out any sounds from inside the bus. I didn’t hurt her. There’s an ambulance, nearby with its siren blaring, but it’s for someone else. Maybe I wouldn’t have cared if I did hurt her. They should all go back to their own junior high school, in their own neighborhood.


TITLE: Undercurrents
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

In a world when water is more precious than oil, fifteen year-old Marin Holbert takes a summer job to earn more water rations for her family; there she inadvertently uncovers a plot to take over water resources across the country and must find a way stop it.            

The water level in the cistern was low. Too low. And no amount of checking the gauge ever changed that, or the fact that I hadn't had a real shower or done a proper load of laundry in months. Despite myself, I stared at the gauge anyway.

Grandma caught me. "A watched cistern never fills, Marin" she warned.

It never seemed to fill, watched or not, I thought.

“Did you know that when I was a girl it rained every afternoon at this time of year?” Grandma asked. I wasn’t meant to answer. Grandma herself was like a fountain that just kept spouting stories and recycling them. She continued, “Not that it mattered – we washed our clothes or took a shower any time we wanted.”

I glanced over at her on the couch. I loved my grandma. I really did. But if she hadn’t moved in with us last spring, I might have had a better chance at more than just clean underwear. I sometimes wished she would’ve just stayed put in Tucson, even though no one was staying put in Tucson. Or anywhere in Arizona. Or Nevada. Or Texas. Yet that was beside the point. I didn’t need Grandma’s fountain of stories. I needed real water.

“Sounds nice, Grandma,” I answered.

She put her ancient book, one actually made of paper, on her lap. “It was,” she said, her eyes not looking at me anymore, but inside her memory to a time when water just flowed and nobody thought much about it. Her dreams were probably decadent.

OTB #17: DANGEROUS PLAY (YA Contemporary)

GENRE: YA Contemporary

Best friends and soccer all-stars Ashton, Jesse, and Z are on opposite sides of a prank text that spirals into a vicious social war and escalates to serious injury. When a common rival pits them against each other, threatening to destroy their friendship and futures, they must take him down—together.

I’ve been pantsed. Again.

And I wouldn’t be so annoyed if this wasn’t the third time today. Or if I wasn’t standing in the middle of Hollister. With Hot Register Girl. In Batman boxers.

I hate my friends.

Hot Register Girl blushes as I pull up my shorts. “Sorry about that.” I scratch my nose with my middle finger at my friends. Z’s holding up a turquoise shirt that reads If you’re hot, I’m single. “This goes great with Ashton’s boxers, yeah?” he asks.

Yep. I hate them.

“You play for Penn Ridge, right?” Hot Register Girl points a pen at Z. He waggles his eyebrows, charm oozing off of him like cologne off a Hollister model. “Your friend scored a hat trick on my ex three weeks ago. He was totally pissed.”

“So is he,” I say. Her brow scrunches. “Tonight’s the midnight release of Urgent Fury Five. We’re hitting up GameStop and heading to my buddy’s for a shoot-em-up Zombie fest. He’s ticked I asked you out. Bros before hos, and all.”

Z’s words, but did I seriously say that aloud? I want to sucker punch my own nuts. No wonder I’ve never had a girlfriend.

I’m ready to bail when she tuts. “Movie’s out by then. I’m done at nine. Meet me here?”

“Sure.” I fumble for my phone. My next question’s bound to be a date-killer. “What’s your name again? I was too mesmerized by your beauty to concentrate.”

would be proud of that one.

OTB #16: THE ANTIDOTE (MG Fantasy)

TITLE: The Antidote
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Lonely 12 year old Adam Revelstoke can see disease, and comes to accept, even revel in, this family “gift” while he reluctantly battles ILL, the ancient evil behind most maladies.

England, 1348

No one in this village was safe.

A woman sat weeping, a still man laid out on the bed beside her.  His fingertips were black, rotted away.  Blood crusted at the side of his mouth.  An hour before he’d been coughing, hacking, rust-tinged sputum filled his soiled handkerchief.  Now he was quiet.  An hour before, his breath had come heavy and harsh.  Now there was none.

Outside the cottage, in the churchyard at the end of the lane, a pit waited.  Shrouded bodies lined its bottom.  Soon the man would join them.

A hooded figure stood beside the pit, looking over the scene with satisfaction.  One of his greatest creations.  Oh, he didn’t invent the plague, the rats, the fleas.  Yersinia pestis had been around for centuries.  But he improved upon it.  More deadly, easier to catch.  In a year, a third of this village would be dead.  In the pit.

*   *   * 

The Hot Dog Kid

Everyone loved pizza day.  Except for Adam.   

Kids crammed the middle school lunchroom, sitting ten or twelve to a table, jostling, laughing, joking.  All so easy, all so casual.
Someone bumped his elbow and his tray lurched.  Jack and another guy.  Adam caught his apple just before it rolled off.  He put it in his mouth to hold while he maneuvered his pizza back onto the paper plate.

“Nobody eats the apples, Revelstoke,” Jack said as he tossed his in the compost bin.

 “He likes eating wax,” the friend said, jabbing Jack in the arm and sniggering.

 Adam put his apple back on his tray and slunk to his usual table, uncrowded even today.

OTB #15: THIRD TIME'S A CURSE (YA Supernatural)

TITLE: Third Time's A Curse
GENRE: YA Supernatural

When fifteen-year-old competitive softball pitcher Tish Reilly and her friends investigate a haunted road, they uncover two bitter ghosts and a long buried secret. Tish must find a way to help the ghosts move on or they’ll all end up on the losing team of a deadly game; a game her mother started.

The old convertible swept out of town with a throaty purr. I sat next to Tony and tried to act nonchalant, like it was perfectly natural to be up front with him, while Sophia and Ethan were in the back seat, going out on a Friday night.

Not that this was a date or anything.

It had been Tony’s idea to skip the first football game of the season and drive down creepy Weary Lane, something different to do on the last Friday night of summer.

An orange moon rose above the trees and cast eerie shapes on the dark pavement. Tony shifted and the GTO lurched as it ground into gear. “Sorry, Tish,” he said, wincing. “Still getting used to this old shifter.”

Sophia never missed a chance to tweak her brother. “If they gave you a driver’s license, I shouldn’t have any trouble getting mine next year.”

I thought he was doing pretty well considering he’d only had the car for a week. He shifted into the next gear, a little more smoothly this time. One strong hand rested on the steering wheel, the other on the shifter.

Shadows partially hid his face, but there was enough light to see his square jaw, dark hair long enough to curl at the neck of his t-shirt, full lips, and . . .

He definitely wasn’t the scrawny kid who’d chased me with dead frogs when we were little.

OTB #14: THE PUSH (Upmarket)

TITLE: The Push
GENRE: Adult Upmarket

Cuckolded and laid off, a thirty-year-old guy with "dad body" transforms into an Olympic skeleton athlete, and may become the first competitor representing Mexico to win a medal at the Winter Games – never mind that he doesn’t speak Spanish, and grew up near the Canadian border.

Nobody believes this story I tell.  It’s not like there’s a Wikipedia entry for Eddie Martin.  I remain his only authorized biographer, though I’ve goddamn earned that right.

I think it’s best to start with Eddie’s eleven-year-old self.  The fall of 1983, two days before he made headlines in the U.S. and in Canada.  That moment found him sitting on the floor outside his bedroom, his knees to his chest.  Holding his breath.

It was that time in American history when tin vents could shepherd a conversation through a household, and the late-hour words of his foster mother reached him through a grate in the baseboard.  “But what am I supposed to do?” she said, her voice haunted from travel through the ductwork. “Drop them off at a fire station?”

To his knowledge, Mrs. Martin had no friends but she was talking with someone she knew.
“Yes, that’s a better idea.”  There’d been a pause for the inhalation of cigarette smoke.  “Yes, tomorrow, like we agreed. It will just be us.”

Thoughts of banishment twisted for Eddie’s attention, poking at his belly.  He was perfectly aware the Martins hadn’t made the short list for a parenting award, but he was fed and he was clothed.  There was one other foster kid at school, a boy with middle-aged eyes they called McPickle, who never deviated from long-sleeved outfits, even on hotter days.  One day the other boys held him down and sheared him of his shirt.  Later, much later in life, Eddie would place what he saw as cigarette burns.


TITLE: Sticks and Bones
GENRE: Mystery

Lucky Blackstock, struggling actress but above-average dog walker, inherits a police dog with a nose for crime. When Brock digs up a human bone, Lucky can’t seem to stop being a suspect. Unfortunately, her cool name did not come with luck included. Can Lucky’s acting skills unearth the real killer and clear her name?

I’m not lucky. My name is Lucky. Lucky Blackstock. It does have a cool ring to it, I’ll admit, but it’s not so cool when your life is an entertaining series of disasters. Entertaining for other people, that is. And who wants to be the poster child for irony?

I’ve been living in the guesthouse behind my famous friend’s starter mansion the past couple of years, trying to kick-start my acting career. I could wax philosophical about how I’m literally living in her shadow, but that would be self-indulgent, and I try not to go there more than once a day. I’m more of a get-on-with-it kind of girl.

You’re wondering about my friend. Yes, you’ve heard of her: the famous Winter White. Not her real name. When I met her in acting school, she was Wendy Butz. I was the one with the cool name.

Last night, Winter’s HBO series picked up Emmies for writing and directing, and this morning I found her lying on a well-shaded chaise lounge by the pool, clearly nursing a hangover as big as Alaska. I tiptoed across the terrace so I could let myself in to walk her dogs. Yep, that’s what I do. Four years at Juilliard, and I currently walk dogs and blow auditions for a living. I’m having an extended dry spell. Things’ll pick up.

Winter groaned, peeling a wet washcloth off her eyes. “Lucky. I think I’m dying.”

“Don’t die. Where will I live?”


TITLE: Signal Void
GENRE: YA Light Science Fiction

Kate Hirst falls off Grid hours before her parents are murdered. With every citizen Bio-chipped, The EYE suspects Kate. In an attempt to prove her innocence, Kate’s thrust into a seedy world of Junkers and Tag Dealers. Ironically, her only hope lies with Defiance, the rebellious group she fears responsible.

Fifteen missed calls.

Knowing my mother she’s been glued to her bit-map since I left, only breaking to call my holophone or pee. Guilt knots in my gut. I press my foot against the accelerator and speed through the quiet intersection where the bright advertisements and holoscreens of Metro City fade behind me.

An announcement bleeds through the radio prompting citizens to get their annual Biochip scans. Brushing my fingers against the back of my neck, I push the tag beneath my skin. At any time, my parents could have tracked my location but they didn’t. An uneasy sensation swells in the pit of my stomach. Why didn’t they?

A shiny billboard catches my attention. With the upcoming 25th anniversary of The EYE my father’s face is everywhere.  His illuminated image next to his partner, Dr. Vandegard, glares back at me from beneath the caption:

America-the safest place on earth! 

Who am I kidding? I’m so busted.

If my father had shown up to drag me home tonight, the media would annihilate him.  I can see the headlines now, Co-founder of our nation’s security provider and mastermind behind Biochip technology, traces daughter Kate Hirst via his own invention to an illegal underground bar. 

I pick up my speed, relieved the Police don’t patrol this side of town at night. Wasteside seems to keep them busy enough.

Besides, nothing bad ever happens in Hampton Heights.

The holographic image of my phone-log hovers above the dash. I should call home.

Instead, I swipe Sidney’s number.

OTB #11: UNEVEN (YA Contemporary)

GENRE: YA Contemporary

An elite gymnast turns her back on the sport after a trusted coach crosses the line. But when Hollie has the opportunity to join the decidedly un-elite team at her new high school, she might just fall in love with gymnastics all over again – and with a boy who has overcome struggles of his own.

What I’m feeling is perfectly normal.

Anxiety, excitement, apprehension, curiosity. According to Incoming: A Heads-Up Guide to Your First Day of High School, these are all natural emotions for a high school noob to experience. But it didn’t specify I would experience them all at once – which I am, though anxiety is the clear ringleader. I drag my palms across my stomach to dry them, not for the first time that morning.

Apart from that, things start to veer off-script. Like the fact that my introduction to public high school is about to kick off in the middle of my junior year.

I glance over at my mother, white-knuckling the steering wheel as she pulls into the drop-off line at North Puget High. It’s the only detail that gives her away. Her face is a brick wall – an expression she’s carried since I made the decision to quit my gymnastics career.

Career. A bizarre word, really, to use for an activity that most girls drop out of before they hit college. We’ve got eighteen years, maybe a few more, for those that are lucky enough to stave off career-ending injuries. Not to mention the cellulite and saddlebags, which spell impending doom in equal measure. Until that happens, every hour, every minute of training is precious. A gift. And a decision to leave the sport is not something that’s taken lightly.

So while my mom’s face might not show it, I know that her overriding emotion is disappointment.

OTB #10: TWO WOMEN AND A MAN (Women's Fiction)

GENRE: Adult Women's Fiction

When Robin’s adoring husband succumbs to drinking after his student’s death, he verbally attacks her, but doesn't remember the abuse. While Robin pieces together what the insults meant, she befriends a troubled 20-year-old, only to discover her husband and the woman have a history that may destroy her marriage.
Robin checked her phone again. 1:00 AM.

David should have been back by now. He hasn’t called. Hasn’t texted. She’d tried calling him but only got his voice mail. No response.

Winter’s twilight had been closing in when he’d driven off to deliver one of her homemade pizzas. Sienna, a freshman in his high school art class, was very sick.

“The chemo drip has stabilized her leukemia,” he’d told her, “but she’s wiped out, and they don’t know if she’ll recover. Her family is stricken.”

She wasn’t supposed to take a turn for the worse, Robin thought. Doesn’t chemo fix fifteen-year-olds nowadays?

Though none of this explained why her husband wasn’t home.

“Too invasive,” she’d told him when he suggested downloading the Find My Friends app to their iPhones. “Why would we ever need to track each other’s movements?”

Damn it. He was right, as usual.

She walked to the window and looked down the snow-covered street. Another six inches were expected in Fettle, a suburb of Pittsburgh, before morning.

David’s last text had come when the kids were still awake—Leo, coloring a paper mask he had brought home from preschool that morning and Pearl, having finished a drawing, looking up from her Percy Jackson book.

“When is Daddy going to be home?”

Robin read his text again: Going to miss kids’ bedtime. Group of students visiting Sienna. She’s unresponsive. Trying to comfort them. She clicked the phone’s home button and dropped her arm to her side.


TITLE: One Night with the Devil
GENRE: Adult Thriller

Intelligence Agent Sean York’s commitment to the protection of his country is unparalleled. But his world is turned upside down when he realizes the current threat his homeland faces hinges on the centuries-old fine print of his family’s will—and the true parentage of an elusive, innocent child.

Agent Sean York’s objective was clear. But the plan was thin.

He ordered his team to move out—exuding plenty of commando bravado. Usually it wasn’t an act. This time it was. Inwardly he was simply praying for a miracle. Kicking down doors was one thing, this would require more finesse—finesse he wasn’t sure he had.

He was to enter the west entrance of The Historic Grande Aston Theater at exactly eight thirty-two and take the back stairwell to the balcony-level private boxes. She would be in box seventeen, seat two. One minute before intermission he was to enter box seventeen, sit next to the girl, and in sixty seconds, convince her to leave with him—convince a nine year old girl to abandon everything she's ever known and leave the theater with a perfect stranger. And do it very quickly and quietly. Perfectly clear, not simple.
If she screamed or resisted, the scene would attract more attention than he and his team wanted to deal with. In and out. Quick and quiet. That was what they needed.
Given they’d confirmed her location only three hours ago, they’d devised a good plan. Good, not great.
Her handlers were from the Geshek government, but they had brought the child across the border into Candaria for reasons he still wasn’t sure of. He had reason to believe her life was in danger. And he was certain she knew things. A lot of things. Things he needed to know.

OTB #8: THE NETTLE SPINNER (YA Fairytale Retelling)

TITLE: The Nettle Spinner
GENRE: YA Fairytale Retelling

After the death of her mother, all Renelde wants is to provide for herself and her great-grandmother. But the Count Burchard's jealous attentions spur a rash oath, requiring Renelde to complete what seems an impossible task: spin cloth from nettles—or risk losing the man she truly loves.

“Ay, lamb, it’s time.”

I took the flaxen burial shroud from the wooden chest at the foot of my bed and clutched it to my chest. The spongy layer of crushed, fresh rushes lent a sweet fragrance from beneath my thin-soled shoes.

There were eight gathered in our little cottage, including great-grandmother Adela and me. Too many.
“Joan must have longed for death, even before she became ill,” said Mrs. Molke.

She hadn’t even tried to lower her voice.

“Hush.” Mrs. Bette chided softly and darted a glance in my direction. “Speak well of the dead or not at all.”

Mrs. Molke pursed her thin lips and turned away.

“Joan?” Great-grandmother Adela called from her bed in the adjoining room. “Joan! Come here!”

I handed the burial shroud to Mrs. Bette and hurried to Grandmama's side. “Mama can’t come right now,” I said in a hushed tone, fairly at wit’s end. I’d already told her three times that morning Mama had passed.

“You tell her to come, Renelde.” Grandma Adela insisted, her lips trembling.

I nodded and brought a wooden cup of mead to her lips. “After you take a nap—“

“And what are all these people doing here?” She pushed the cup aside. “You know I dislike visitors!”

“Shhh.” I hushed softly, and drew the blankets up around her. “Mama’s sleeping.” I felt terrible to say it again, but didn't know what else to do.

“With all these people here? Unlikely!”

“You’ll wake her,” I warned in a whisper, and my heart broke again.

OTB #7: HERITAGE OF HATE (YA Contemporary)

TITLE: Heritage of Hate
GENRE: YA Contemporary

When fourteen year old Zoe discovers her birth father is alive, her search for the truth carries her towards a world her biracial family has hidden from her. From the shadows of a white supremacist group, her father hopes to destroy everything Zoe holds dear, in his own quest to leave behind a heritage of hate.

I’ve never seen a photograph of my first dad. Not ever in all my fourteen years on this planet. We married young. We married stupid. And then he died. That’s all my mom ever says about their life together. An entire marriage summed up in ten words.

“You must have some pictures,” I would say. “You didn’t take a wedding picture? Pictures when you were dating?”

“They got lost when we moved up here from California,” she’d remind me, as if I could remember a trip that took place twelve years ago.

“All of them? Every last one? Nanna and Poppa don’t have any?” I was relentless. It seemed completely impossible that there would be no evidence of my father anywhere. It was bad enough he’d never even met me.

“Cliff died when you were still in my tummy,” Mom told me a long time ago. “He never met you. Never knew you.” And her eyes would go blank and I could tell she wasn’t with me anymore but was somewhere in the past. With Cliff, maybe?  I didn’t like that look on her face but it never stopped me from badgering her about photos.

I run my fingers over the snapshots in the shoebox sitting on my lap as I stare at the photograph I just found. Two adults. One baby.The woman’s dark curly hair surrounds her face.Her big brown eyes stare straight into the camera.Younger, but definitely Mom.


TITLE: Kyte's Revenge
GENRE: YA Contemporary Speculative Fiction

When Kyte escapes from a boy who tries to rape her, he dies in a freak accident that suggests she put a bilongo on him. But Kyte asked Mama Jo for revenge, not a killing spell. Now Kyte must use the powerful Santeria she’s learning from her grandfather to prove herself innocent.

A dozen people file into the cabin, each carrying an ebbó. They hand their offerings to me as they enter. Fruit. Polished pebbles. A bottle of rum. I place their ebbós on a cloth-draped table. Painted statues of saints crowd its surface. Candles nest on plates, and a stone face with eyes and mouth made of shells sits in the place of honor at the center.

One by one, the men and women make their way across the oaken floor through patches of sunlight. Some nod or speak my name as they pass. We all wear white to show respect. Strings of colored beads hang around our necks.

The people wait patiently for their spiritual leader, their high priest. These followers of Santeria call him Babalawo.

I call him grandfather.

Pride fills my heart as I watch. Baba is kind and wise. He helps so many people. He sits in a chair in the middle of the room and Señor Ortega stands behind him.

A woman named Aleta approaches Baba with timid steps and swollen eyes. She dips into a deep bow.
“Stand, Daughter,” Baba says. “How can I help?”

“My man don’t love me no more, Babalawo.” Tears glisten on her face, trail down her cheeks. “What can I do? I can’t bear to lose him.” She sways on her feet.

I rush forward to steady Aleta. She looks so lost my heart melts.

She grabs my hand and blinks. “Gracias, Kyte.” She turns to Baba and bows again.

OTB #5: THE FIX IS IN (Legal Thriller)

GENRE: Adult Legal Thriller

Jimmy Sullivan, a young lawyer appointed executor of a deceased fixer’s estate, must find the fixer’s hidden blackmail book and turn the tables on a Grand Rapids crime syndicate and a Detroit gangster that are willing to kill to get it.

I found out about the death of Harry Miles by text.

My ex-wife and I were squared off across a table at a diner on the east side of Grand Rapids off the Beltline.  It wasn’t one of those hidden gem greasy spoons, but it was convenient, and we had never frequented it during our time together.  Neutral ground.  I was winning our regular weekly argument when I received the text.  It threw me off my game.

“What is it?” she asked with a dose of actual concern when I didn’t respond to one of her barbs about my not being able to take care of some bills I had promised to cover.  She was right, of course, about the money being a problem, but that wasn’t really what she wanted to argue about.  She just couldn’t bring herself to argue about the other thing, and I didn’t want that, either.

I stared at the text.  It was from a blocked private number.  I had only picked up the phone out of habit.  That, and I knew that it would drive Michelle crazy.  The message from the unknown texter simply said, Harry Miles died today.  And then, as I watched, it buzzed again, and a new message popped up.  Just thought you should know…

I kept staring at the phone, but no more texts appeared.  I looked back to Michelle who had the little crinkles appearing above her nose that I knew so well, and I felt a swell of affection from the simple pleasure of being with her again.

OTB #4: NOW AND WHEN (YA Magical Realism)

TITLE: Now and When
GENRE: YA Magical Realism

You can’t get letters from your future self. At least that’s what 17-year-old Haley McKinley thought until she receives one four weeks before graduation. The letter contains seven pieces of advice, but it’s the final one that sends Haley’s life into a tailspin.

The trick is not to panic. Which is kind of hard when the water’s been holding me captive for what seems like minutes. I let my body relax and wait for the undertow to retreat. Finally, just before I think my lungs might burst, the wave spits me out.

I grab the leash attached to my ankle and pull it back, hard. My board bounces against me, and I slide myself onto it, panting. I feel my right temple, pull my hand back. No blood. I gaze at the shoreline. Aside from a couple walking and a few kids playing soccer, it’s pretty empty.

It was my dad’s rule to never surf alone. But since he’s halfway across the country at some sales presentation, I’m not sure his rules really matter. My head’s pounding now. I point my board toward the beach and let the waves carry me in. I don’t like to end a ride on a low note, but this wipeout was bad. The ocean’s way of reminding me it’s still in control.

I’ll let it win this one.

I resist the urge to flop down on the sand the minute I reach land and instead drag my board across the street to the building that will always be Randy’s Surf Shop, even if the sign says otherwise. I run my fingers over the trinkets that line the aisles where I used to wax surfboards while I waited for my dad to close up for the day.

OTB #3: BREATHING IN DARKNESS (Romantic Thriller)

TITLE: Breathing in Darkness
GENRE: Adult Romantic thriller

Respected veterinarian Kane Raithby kidnaps Amy Hutchinson in a bid to force her scientist father to stop his horrific research. It was supposed to be a simple kidnapping, but Kane hadn’t counted on falling for Amy, the daughter of a monster. In his mission to destroy the father she loves, he risks destroying her as well.

He had plenty of practice invading other people’s lives. Five years of practice, to be precise, uncovering the shameful secrets people kept tucked away and learning to read beyond the lie of their online lives. Kane had been invading Amy Hutchinson’s life for three weeks. It was his job to understand as much about Amy as he could: what she liked, hoped for, dreamed of. What she feared. After three weeks of surveillance, this was his one overriding thought: he couldn’t stand this woman.

Kane Raithby stretched his long legs as far as he could in the confines of his Land Rover, a sweat trail working its way down his spine. Tired of the smell of cheap coffee, stale air and even staler recriminations, he opened a window. It didn’t help. Dry African air, heavy with dust and exhaust fumes, snuck into the car. And on a blistering Friday afternoon in December, a typical summer’s day in Johannesburg, hot air was the last thing he needed. He had enough of that just looking at Amy Hutchinson.

Shifting in his seat, he scratched at the beard he’d forced himself to grow. The security guard tasked with patrolling the car park outside the glass-fronted restaurant Amy was in made another slow, suspicious pass in front of his vehicle. Kane felt his pulse speed up as he realized that his hulking figure in a battered Land Rover Defender, hedged in by late-model BMWs and Mercs, was proving to be an unfortunate standout.


TITLE: Simple Acts of Grace
GENRE: Adult Historical Fiction

When a nurse uncovers horrific abuse at a Nazi baby factory, she saves the children by joining forces with an unlikely ally — an SS officer working covertly for the resistance.

~ Katherine ~

I’ve always lived in the shadow of my mother’s secrets.

Those secrets brought me here, to her bedroom closet. They’re why I’m standing, alone and shaking, with an old wood box pressed to my chest.

The call from Englewood Hospital came yesterday afternoon. We think your mother’s had a heart attack. She’s stable now. We’re running tests. The nurse’s voice — its calm, measured cadence — was more terrifying than her words. I made the fifty-minute drive to the hospital in a reckless thirty and spent last night in the ICU, grappling with my greatest fear: I’m neither old nor wise enough to make peace with the idea of losing my mother. She’s the only person in the world who knows all of me, who remembers me from my beginning.

When Mother woke at dawn and ordered the nurse to fetch her a decent cup of coffee, my shoulders shook with laughter and sweet relief. “I’m not at death’s door quite yet, Katchen,” she scolded in her commanding German accent, using a pet name I haven’t heard since I was twelve. My eyes filled, and she took my hand, clutching it with a bony strength that belied the dark smudges under her eyes. “Ach, you’re always so emotional.”

Struggling to sit up in her hospital bed, Mother gave me a thin smile. “No one lives forever.” She rooted around in her purse, found the gold locket that usually dangles from her neck. “Go to the house, to my bedroom closet, and find my keepsake chest,” she said, pressing the key she extracted from the locket into my hand. “It’s time to remember who we are, ja?”

OTB #1: BUGSY'S MOLL (Women's Historical)

TITLE: Bugsy's Moll
GENRE: Adult Women's Historical Fiction

When Mob bosses off Bugsy Siegel for skimming cash, his mistress Virginia Hill assumes her journal saved her from the same fate. Hush money proves it, but then Bugsy’s wife requests a meeting. And it becomes clear the payoff wasn’t meant to keep Virginia quiet, but to silence her. Permanently.

August 1933 – December 1936, Chicago

 Even before the Chicago Outfit accepted me into its folds, the rackets were part of me. Always would be. Just like the loneliness that refused to budge from its perch on my shoulder. But my path didn’t become clear to me until I was seventeen, the day I served cannelloni to Greasy Thumb’s wife at the San Carlo Italian Village.

She looked like the sun in a yellow linen, wide-shouldered bolero jacket; her blond, frizzy hair a ring of light. As she sipped a coffee cup of Chardonnay, I waited pad in hand for her to order. But rather than study the menu, she gave me the once-over. Being eyed gave me the jitters, but it wouldn’t help my tip to raise a squawk. Instead I smoothed the ruffles of my apron, tugged the pink scalloped collar of my uniform, chewed the end of my pen.

Finally, “I’m Alma Guzik,” she announced. “Married to Jake Guzik. ‘Greasy Thumb.’ You’re familiar with him, right?” It came out like an accusation, as though just knowing Jake Guzik was a lowdown thing in itself. Perhaps it was. He was a chubby, pinstriped tough guy with a handkerchief exploding out of his pocket and wisecracks out of his mouth. Word around the restaurant was he ran a string of cathouses throughout Chicago.

“Yes, I suppose I’ve seen him around.”

She kicked out the chair opposite her with a yellow empire sandal and motioned for me to sit.

Friday, November 11, 2016

ON THE BLOCK -- Here We Go!

Game time!  Here's how it works:

  • The subject line of each post contains a TIME.  This is the time that each particular entry will post during ON THE BLOCK on Tuesday, November 15.  Make note of your favorite entries and jot down their time slots, because then you will be able to WATCH EACH LIVE AUCTION as it happens!
  • The posts that are now on the board are FOR CRITIQUE ONLY.  During the actual auction, each entry will HAVE A NEW POST that will appear AT ITS DESIGNATED TIME.  
  • Each entry will be open for TEN MINUTES on Tuesday.  Bidding will then close, and the entry will go to the highest bidder.  NO BIDS will be taking place at any other time.  Again, the posts that have gone live today are FOR CRITIQUE ONLY.
  • LEAVING CRITIQUE:  As always, be honest and kind.  Cheerleading is not the same as critique -- and neither is criticism.  Be as helpful as you can.  (And remember--leaving critique is GOOD PRACTICE to develop your writing eyes.  Don't feel like you have nothing to offer if you don't have a lot of experience giving feedback to others.  JUMP RIGHT IN!)
  • SPECIAL BONUS:  I will be choosing, at random, a winner of a 10-page critique from Authoress Edits from among the comments.  Each critique you leave = one entry in the drawing.  My way of saying THANK YOU!
  • TO THE 20 ENTRANTS:  Please leave feedback for at least 5 of your colleagues, as your way of "giving back".
  • Keep your eye out for our LURKING EDITORS and AFFABLE AUTHORS!!  These can show up at any time over the next few days!
Please ask your questions below!  I'm excited to share these entries with you, and I'm looking forward to Tuesday's excitement.