Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday Fricassee

I probably don't come off this way to you, but I'm an introvert.

Not a really introverted introvert, like my beloved critique partner and friend Adam Heine, who writes amazing stories while hiding under a table.  (Okay, not really.)  But I'm definitely worn out by crowds and need alone time to recharge.  Depending on my mood, I may or may not initiate a conversation with a stranger.  (Though, more likely than not, I will be absolutely chatty, which makes it even harder to convince people that, yes, I am an introvert.)

And small talk?  Don't come near me with that.  Nothing will wear me out faster.

Seems to me I'm not the only member in the introverted writer's club.  While introversion isn't a prerequisite for writing, it does seem like there are an awful lot of us out there, quietly scribbling our stories and avoiding the parties we've been invited to.  Also, cats are frequently involved.

(Lucy, who is also an introvert)

So here's the thing.  I may not be down with the office party or the neighborhood get-together, but give me an opportunity to share written words of encouragement or a funny story or my thankfulness for someone's kindness, and I'm all over it.  Time and again throughout my life, people have thanked me for my words.  It's my modus operandi, and I've finally learned to embrace it.

In the past, I've been made to feel somehow inadequate because I choose to write instead of to talk.  I hate phones -- HATE THEM.  (Go ahead -- ask my agent.)  Years ago, when I worked as an administrative secretary, my boss used to purposely assign me lists of people to call for various reasons, because he knew I hated calling them.  (He wasn't being mean--he was stretching me.  Not that I remotely appreciated that at the time.)  Honestly, I have to force myself to call my own mother, whom I adore.

And, yeah, I was often made to feel like somehow something was wrong with me.  My main argument--that, for thousands of years, there was no such thing as a phone, and people somehow managed to maintain relationships anyway--fell on deaf ears.  I often felt like I needed to justify my anti-phone-ness.

Then, somewhere along the way, I snapped.  For one thing, I began to discover that there were other people in my life who ALSO HATED PHONES.  And these were nice people--friendly people.  People who were warm and caring and normal.  So, if others could be normal and still hate phones, so could I.

For another, though, I finally embraced my gift of expressing myself through writing.  Writing is a huge part of who I am.  Why in the world wouldn't a natural outgrowth of that be a desire to write to people instead of talking?  (Mind you, I can talk your ear off.  I LOVE TALKING.)  Why am I somehow lacking if I choose to write a letter or an email or, heaven forbid, send a text message to someone who's on my heart?

(May I just say that TEXTING IS THE BEST THING EVER INVENTED.)

So that's how I roll.  If I need you, I'll text you.  If you leave me a voicemail, I'll text you in return.  If you've invited me to a party via Evite, I will happily click on my RSVP, rejoicing that I don't have to call you to tell you I'm coming (or not).

(May I just say that EVITE IS THE SECOND BEST THING EVER INVENTED.)

I imagine this is why I've successfully reached out and encouraged so many of you over the years.  I'm in my SPACE when I'm writing things to people--it feels natural.  Now, if I were speaking at a conference and hundreds of you were sitting there listening to me, I WOULD BE FINE WITH THAT, TOO.

Because I love microphones as much as I love texting.

Funny dichotomy, isn't it?  So many performers are also introverts as well.  And I've spent a lot of time performing in my life--from band concerts to musical theatre to piano recitals to chamber groups to wedding solos to symphony chorus performances.  I've also been a teacher, so being in front of a classroom doesn't faze me, either.

It's the parties that do me in.  And phones.

But I really am fine with who I am--finally.  My words reach the people I care about regardless of how I deliver them.  There's nothing "wrong" with me.  Words are my thing, and writing them is my favorite way to express myself.

That's a good thing today, because I've lost my voice, so I'm on a self-imposed no-talk day (which is really the only way to allow your vocal cords to heal--in case you were wondering).  I'm not happy about this--I have an audition a week from tomorrow, and I've been singing every day in preparation.

Full stop.  So frustrating.

I'm thankful the scratchy-throat-and-gunked-up-vocal-cords is the only part of the respiratory crud that flew through here in the past week I've been hit with, though.  I'm drinking lots of tea with raw honey and staying as quiet as humanly possible.

Good thing I'm so proficient at texting, yes?  It comes in handy when it's the only way you can communicate.  :)

So, my friends.  If you're happier behind your keyboard or phone or quill pen, YOU'RE OKAY.  Don't let anyone tell you something's wrong with you because you tend to write more than you speak.  God gave you a particular voice, and that's the one you've got to use.  As long as you're not hiding behind the keyboard or phone or quill pen (which is a different story altogether), you're fine.  Share your heart in the best way you know how.  It's all we can do, really.

(And if you're a phone hater and feel the need to say OMG YES YES I HATE PHONES, TOO?  Please shout it out in the comment box.  Solidarity, folks!)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

ON THE BLOCK Concession Critiques

So, we don't have as many brave souls as I had anticipated, but KUDOS to the 13 who have posted their non-winning excerpts here for feedback.

This is the stuff that GREAT WRITING is born from!

Keep your eye out for feedback from the following published authors:

Sarah Ahiers
Nancy Bilyeau
Sara J. Henry
Alice Loweecey
Mandy Mikulencak
Gail Nall
Peter Salomon
Nicole Wolverton

Here are the guidelines for critique for everyone:

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

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

On The Block Concession Crit #13

TITLE: pale green light
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

When intruders sneak onto the paleo dig-site where her mother works, sixteen-year-old Maya follows them into underground chambers infested with dinosaurs and ruled by strange green light. Maya wants out, but her survival depends on a guy she just met—and he’s not interested in escape.

I hear my name, Maya, softly spoken.

“Beck?” I can’t see him. I can’t see the portals lining the chamber’s perimeter. I can’t see a hint of the hatchway or the slightest fizzle of electricity. My shoulder throbs where something hit me. I hold my fingers in front of my face. Nothing.

Beck and I ping our names like radar against the black. It’s a relief to find him, an amazing, unexpected comfort. He wraps his arms around my waist, pulling my back to his chest. “Until we know what’s going on,” he breathes into my ear, “don’t move.”

A girl yells, “My cell doesn’t work!” Others say, “Mine doesn’t either.” A guy bumps into me.

“Evvie?” he asks.

“I’m Maya,” I say. “Maya Norris.” Beck’s arms tighten around me.

Clicking noises pierce the dark. People whisper, “What happened? What is that? What should we do?” The clicking grows louder, the sound wheeling over us like gulls over water.

Someone shouts, “Hey Cam! Are you doing that?”

“I’m not a clicker,” Cam says into the void.

I hold my breath and feel Beck do the same. “Don’t move,” he says again. But we do move.

Everyone does. We crowd together tight as a fist.

The girl crushed against my right side shakes so violently that I start shaking too. “It followed us,” she whispers. “It’s here.”

“What’s here?” Cam asks.

Click-click-click-click-click.

Beck squeezes his arms around me until it hurts.

On The Block Concession Crit #12

TITLE: Isabel Slate Makes the News
GENRE: MG Contemporary fiction

Isabel Slate, an imaginative kid journalist with a tendency to embellish the facts, gets a chance to prove herself with a big story when she stumbles upon something strange and mysterious deep in the woods. But first she must stop an ambitious local journalist from stealing her story.

Dog Listens to Baseball Game

By Isabel Slate

Yesterday morning a black dog sat on the Trevor’s porch listening to a baseball game blaring from the house. With every ball, strike, and hit, it wiggled its little nose. When the announcer shouted that the Yankees had won, the dog rolled over and waved its paws in the air. This journalist believes the dog is a Yankee fan.

C.K. Spicer races toward me across the Francis Mott School hardtop, his shaggy hair flapping in the wind. Even sitting on his bike, he’s tall and skinny like a stretched-out rubber band. "Hey, Isabel, what kind of newspaper is Isabel’s Eyes?  I’ve never heard of animals listening to a baseball game.”

C.K. Spicer may be the cool new kid at school, but that doesn’t mean he decides what I write in my newspaper. I do. "That's why I wrote about it, C.K. I have to keep my readers up on the news."

C.K. stops his bike in front of me. I want to walk away, but I can’t give him the satisfaction of thinking he annoys me. C.K. came to our school one month ago and acts like he doesn’t care if anyone likes him. Of course, that makes everyone like him.

 “It’s time to write a real story, Isabel.”

“Tell me what C.K. stands for … that would make a good real story.”

“Nice try, but that secret is staying a secret.” C.K. smiles, and two little dimples press into his cheeks. All the girls love his dimples.

On The Block Concession Crit #11

TITLE: Tides of Magic
GENRE: Adult Epic Fantasy

The advent of magic allows former tyrants to lay siege to Fabius’ kingdom. The nobility-hating prince must choose whether to submit to their savage rule or destroy magic along with innocent lives and his empire.

Her auburn hair came undone as Elena pressed her face to the gem shop’s window. The raucous thirty-odd people outside had congregated in a matter of minutes. Her eyes widened as a flaming torch arched towards the roof.

Her mentor’s three year old squirmed in her grip as she held him down from scampering up to the window sill. “Dormu!” Elena admonished him as another flash of yellow streaked past the window, a black jet of smoke trailing behind.

The door to the shop burst open and a burly man armed with a staff barged in. “Get out, Elena. Dirma must pay for what he’s done.” Hogarth raised his left hand and waved her to move.

She was not surprised to see the spiteful farmer leading the mob. But any thoughts of standing her ground vanished as smoldering embers of straw floated in through the door. Elena picked up Dormu and burst out.

“You can’t burn down the shop!” Elena shouted to the riotous crowd. “Have you people lost your mind?”

Where is the town guard? She looked around for a sympathetic face in the throng but icy eyes stared back at her. “He didn’t do anything. None of us know how all of this is happening, least of all Dirma,” she pleaded.

“Tell that to Samuise Lothar.” Hogarth grabbed her free hand and pulled her away. “You didn’t have to look at the horror of his body turned to ice. You didn’t have to sit by and watch him melt away into a puddle.”

On The Block Concession Crit #10

TITLE: Ben Seeker
GENRE: YA suspense

Freakishly big for his fifteen-years and unable to recall his origin, a man-sized boy enters a sleepy farm town in search of his mother, but instead finds trouble. His quest for normalcy pits him against gangsters, sets dark operatives upon him, and awakens his capacity to care for others.
   
Ben stepped down from the road weary bus and stood at a dusty crossroads in a flat farm valley, alone amongst endless rows of tomato bushes drooping in the sun. As the bus rumbled off he set his jaw firmly, but when he reached into his pocket and touched the picture hidden there, he smiled.
The distant mountains were barely visible in the dirty air, just as his past was obscured by hazy memories. Up ahead, Ben hoped, was the light to uncloak his origin.

He chose the smaller road, and in the fifty minutes it took him to walk to town, only one pickup truck passed by. While it approached Ben averted his eyes. He didn’t want the driver stopping to ask questions such as: Why was a stranger walking on this road in the heat? Ben had his reasons, but saying them out loud . . . that would sound crazy. 

Lone country roads could be trouble, so Ben was glad when the driver did not slow. Ben was man-sized big and didn’t look like a lost kid in need of help; but actually, he was beginning to see double because of the heat. 

At last Cabrillo Diablo came into view like a wispy mirage and a blur of treetops. Cabrillo Diablo meant devil’s goat cheese, and while Ben pinched his nostrils he thought the name made sense. The musty air was a cow-manure cocktail; but hopefully, the burning stench was the smelling salts he needed.

On The Block Concession Crit #9

TITLE: Below Rock Bottom
GENRE: YA Mature Young Adult

Regina’s future at Yale is threatened by a family history project when she has no family and by getting raped by a man who has ties to her past. If she can’t find the strength to face her rapist, she will lose her scholarship, Thomas and possibly her life.

Mrs. Crandall’s mustache twitched. I couldn’t concentrate on her lecture, thinking instead about the different kinds of home wax kits I could secretly leave in her desk drawer. It was only first period, and already my attention span needed a Snicker’s bar.

“Moving to the last business of the day,” Mrs. Crandall said while waddling to the front of the chalkboard. “Your term project is worth forty percent of your grade, so I would pay attention or you won’t be walking across the stage come graduation.”

She passed out pink instruction papers, her mustache flexing and stretching as she over-exaggerated her vowels. The more she talked, the more I felt like I was in one of those end of the world movies. The project was on family history and the paper was filled with questions about each side of our family and “important events that helped shape what your family is today.”

Ugh. What a bore-fest. I scanned the room while fiddling with the button on my Polo shirt. No one else seemed to be more than slightly annoyed or completely screwed over like I was. Was I really the only seventeen year-old with a dysfunctional family secret? Just how was I supposed to do research on a non-existent family? My father had disappeared right after the umbilical cord was cut. I didn’t know if he was the captain on a pirate ship off the coast of Africa, or a secret agent of some underground criminal gang.

On The Block Concession Crit #8

TITLE: Garrett Gordon vs. The Cyberians
GENRE: MG Contemporary

When technology genius and middle school dropout Garrett Gordon accidentally sells an unbeatable encryption program to the Russian mafia, he becomes ensnared in a dangerous game – one that he must win, or everyone he cares about will be lost.


Garrett plodded in from fourth grade, slammed the door behind him, and dropped his book bag on the floor with a thud before he spotted his dad, Phillip Gordon, typing at his desk across the room.

“Bad day, kiddo?”

The rickety old chair creaked as his dad stood up and started toward the foyer.

This close up, he was sure his father could see and smell the pudding matting his hair to his head. He squeezed his eyes shut, feeling more embarrassed even than the moment it first happened.

“Want to talk about it?”

 Garrett shook his head.

“Well, how ‘bout you go jump in the shower then.”

Garrett nodded.

They both headed down the hall, Garrett to his room and his dad straight to the bathroom to get the water to exactly the right temperature. From inside his room, Garrett could barely hear his dad’s voice over the crashing water. “Do you know some people in India believe that water can actually wash away bad stuff? Evil spirits and bad luck? They say you can start fresh again, without any of the old stuff on you.”

Garrett rounded the corner holding a handful of clean clothes and a towel he’d found wadded up on the floor of his room. “Really?” He buried his nose in the towel and sniffed. Not too gross.
“I kind of think that it could work that way. Don’t you?” His dad took the clothes from Garrett, folded and stacked them on the toilet and hung the towel on the rack in the shower.

On The Block Concession Crit #7

TITLE: June Plumay, Teenage Curse Inspector
GENRE: YA Science Fiction, Contemporary

June Plumay wants to be a licensed curse inspector like her Pop, then she can investigate his murder. That means playing by the council’s rules: no giving the stink-eye to school bullies, hiding her hex-smithing from her new family, and – most importantly -- No Investigating On Her Own.

June handed her father the wheat flour and the jar of frosted melancholy. He set them down on the counter next to the big copper bowl, and checked the splattered and much abused recipe. The words were beautiful calligraphy torn from an ancient manuscript written by a Welsh monk who liked cats, and whiskey, and cursing the Romans.

While her father whispered a powerful grace over the eggs, June closed her eyes, ran her hands over her head in a benediction, and pretended she was taking a shower in a waterfall. She needed to perform this ritual before she touched her phone, or it would get zapped by her tainted blood.
Her father considered almost anything electronic an abomination, and would not allow her to buy another phone if she destroyed this one. It had taken all of her money doing odd jobs for Sour Ann, babysitting, and fixing Cancer Jack’s skateboard just to replace her first phone.

“Cinnamon.” He wagged his fingers impatiently.

“Just a minute, boss. I need tunes.” It was not easy to select a playlist that fit the mood. It was a late Saturday morning in the Fall, her favorite time of year, when she felt most comfortable in her skin, and all her clothes fit right.

The aroma of bacon and lazy sunlight lingered in the kitchen, and she could still taste buttery pancakes from breakfast. So, comfortably full and pleased with the universe, June helped her father brew concoctions of dreadful potency.

On The Block Concession Crit #6

TITLE: Aubrey's Adventures - The Gift
GENRE: MG Fantasy Adventure

Young Aubrey is upset leaving his friends and moving to a new town, however he makes new ones as he discovers his ability to communicate with the forest creatures.  He must muster enough courage to warn his new town of an impending flood, without revealing his new friends informed him.

      In a distant forest, the morning sun breaks over the mountain peaks, its rays sweeping softly along the tops of the trees.  Suddenly a stiff spring breeze blows causing a wind gust to catch the woodland leaves and debris, swirling them in a circle around the trees.  In one particular tree among the oaks and pines, very far up, in an enormous sycamore, is a branch with a huge gnarly hole bored into the trunk.  As the wind settles, a large old plump owl waddles out onto the branch.  She is a magnificent Great Horned Owl, known as Miss Pearl, to all woodland creatures.  Standing there, ruffling her feathers, she taps her talons on the branch, then digs them in as the next warm breeze turns into a strong gust.

      Meanwhile in a city far away, a young Aubrey sits on the edge of his bed, wearing his red plaid PJ bottoms.  He clutches his father’s dog tags and gold cross dangling around his neck that were given to him only a year ago.  Shaking his head, he mutters, “Why, why, what is Mom thinking?  I don’t want to do this, it really stinks.  This is my home and all of my friends are here.”

      At the same time, Miss Pearl says, “Hmmm, there is something in the wind I haven’t felt for a very long time, long time.  I’m not sure, but I believe something wonderful is about to happen very soon.  I guess I will have to wait and see, wait and see.”

On The Block Concession Crit #5

TITLE: Designs of Euphoria
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

When seventeen-year-old Lottie discovers her first love is a genetically modified warrior loyal to an emerging AI, the only thing worse is the reason why.

I looked behind, barely able to see Dad buried between the sacks, hoping against hope that he’d stay there. Grains of sand whipped around us, scattering as we neared West Gate. A slow ache rippled through my shoulder blades as I turned back around. Everything hurt, everything always hurt, by the time we got to the gate. Even my hair hurt. I tugged at its knot, letting the tangled mess fall to my shoulders.

A ding on the transport’s front display called, igniting a faint orange glow. They’d identified us. Cursing myself for not moving sooner, I slammed the text closed and jumped from the makeshift perch. A hollow slip ran between the transport’s interior wall and flat deck. Two quick bangs and the rusty casing opened enough for me to hide the book inside. A good kick and it closed.

Upon sight, the warrior’s darkened silhouettes shifted, drawing electrified braided spears outward. Black synthetic leathers ran smoothly over their bodies, layered on top of the concealed source of their inhuman strength: exogear. More warriors watched from the top of the warded wall, hidden from view and lost in the depths of the sky.

Either the automatic alert or my frantic scurry woke Dad. He wrestled a bit as he made his way to the front of the transport, reeking from whatever he'd hidden under his dusty layers. “Charlotte, I’ve got this.” Barely more than a whisper, his voice sounded thick and raspy from drink and unsettled sleep.

On The Block Concession Crit #4

TITLE: BLOODSTONE
GENRE: Adult Urban Fantasy

A California woman wants to sell her newly inherited brownstone, but the building and its ghost have other plans.

Mottled yellow leaves drooped from tree limbs like tears waiting to fall. I watched them from the cab, willing them to drop, but they wouldn't budge. The car turned down a narrow cobblestone street. My stomach twisted. Everything happened too fast. I couldn't process what transpired. How do I mourn a family member I didn't know, one I never even knew existed? A heavy lump settled in my stomach when the car stopped.

I paid the fare, hoping I tipped correctly. "Thank you. Have a nice day."

"You too, Miss."

Standing on the sidewalk with luggage in hand, I tracked the taxi as it made a u-turn, drove back down the street, and disappeared around the corner. There was nothing left to do but get on with it. My hand tightened on the suitcase handle while I surveyed the homes on the street. Identical brownstones lined both sides, each three stories high with skinny black shutters. Wrought iron rails led up stairs to tall, wooden doors. A toy car sat on the steps across the street, a package leaned against a door, a rake stuck out of a pile of leaves the next building over. Signs of daily life and family were everywhere except on the brownstone in front of me. It not only looked different, it felt different—lonely, almost lost.

I double-checked the address before heading toward the stairs. My pace slowed the closer I came to the building. Was this mystery aunt evil?

On The Block Concession Crit #3

TITLE: The Nine Graves of Geraldine Grey
GENRE: MG Fantasy

A young girl tasked with helping souls from a Louisiana cemetery pass to the other side must fight a powerful witch for control over the gate to the underworld.

In the backwoods of Louisiana, where the trees are draped in Spanish moss and mist rises from the swamps, there is a grand old house called La Maison des Fantômes. It is a mysterious house, cobwebbed and covered in ivy. Its columns are French, its gardens English, and just beyond it, where the alligators rest in the oak grove, is the oldest graveyard in all of Louisiana. Its keeper is Geraldine Grey.

If you ever saw Geraldine, the first thing you would notice was that she was a Very Serious child. At twelve, she had already mastered the stern calmness of a professor, and was prone to carrying exactly three books in her satchel at all times. Her curly black hair fell just to her shoulders, and her elbows and knees were knobbier than the branches on an old elm tree. Her most important features, however, were her eyes, which were eerie white, except for the faint black ring separating her pupils.

Geraldine’s eyes were important, because they were what allowed her to see ghosts.

Bonsoir, Mister Thompson,” Geraldine greeted the groundskeeper when she arrived at the graveyard that evening – bonsoir, of course, meaning good evening in French.

The bad-tempered old ghost did not agree with this salutation. “I don’t see what’s so good about it,” he grouched as he rose from his grave and stretched. His bones rattled from the movement. Mister Thompson was as gaunt and bony in death as he had been in life.

On The Block Concession Crit #2

TITLE: THE LUCK EXCHANGE
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Twelve-year-old Madalece desperately wants to fix her broken Luck to regain Mother's love, but when Mother starts working on a mysterious cure, Madalece must accept herself as is to right Mother’s gruesome wrongs.

When elves die by sword or sorrow,
Owls make certain they see tomorrow.
Their souls are planted and reborn.
With pasts erased, they do not mourn.
But compassion fades and hearts harden
As rumors take root and poison the Garden. 


Earthworms of anxiety knotted in Madelece’s belly. She’d barely slept the night before, which meant sporadic Luck. And that wouldn’t go unnoticed by Mother.

Steadying her breath, Madelece climbed out of her canoe and pulled it onto the sand. She scanned the plain oak canoes anchored to the shore by Luck, until she spotted her mother’s.

She turned back to her canoe. “Madelece says, Stay.” Her voice was strong and sure. Reaching down, she gave the boat a small test push, and it scooted back into the water. Jinx! Thank the Owls no one was around to see her failure. She quickly grabbed the edge before it floated away.

Once she found the in-case-of-no-Luck rope she kept hidden under the seat, she tied it to a nearby tree, securing her canoe. She shivered and shook down her copper-colored hair over her shoulders—it was cooler in the Valley than where her papa lived on the fringe of the isle.

Madelece gathered her satchel and took a nervous sip of maple tea. The healers had to cure her sleeplessness. They just had to. Then she’d make Mother proud of her. But, it would mean staying with Papa during the Rite of Names ceremony, and Mother—the Mistress Gardener of the elven afterlife—would never agree to that.

On The Block Concession Crit #1

TITLE: Enthrall
GENRE: MG Horror

After Zac is kicked out of school for defending his moms, a renovation job leads their family to an old hospital. Zac encounters a ghost in the building who warns him of trapped spirits. When one of his moms grows extremely ill and his sister begins acting strangely, Zac realizes he’ll have to free the ghosts to keep his family safe.

Moving to an old hospital in the middle of nowhere isn’t how I wanted to spend my winter break.
“This place is falling down,” I say. Strips of white paint hang from the porch pillars. The building has three levels and most of the windows facing us are cracked and broken. For a minute, I think I see movement in one of the upstairs windows. Just a flash of something, there and then gone.

“Don’t even start, Zac,” my mom Bree says. “You made your bed. . .”

She’s telling me it’s my fault we’re here. Sure, I hit Jarred Petersen. And hit him. And hit him. Once I finally started hitting him, I couldn’t stop. I wanted to make sure he never said bad things about my moms or my sister again. “You took the job here,” I tell Bree. I don’t call her “Mom” like she wants. She’s never felt like much of a mom.

My other mom, Sofía, sighs. “Vamos, guys. Could we just get the door open?”

My twin sister Zadie fumbles with the keys. I carried her suitcase so she could open the door for us. “I’m trying,” Zadie says, fitting the key into the lock and turning the knob.

She pushes hard on the door. Hinges creak and it swings open. Bree steps past her and flicks the lights on. We follow Bree, walking into our new house. It smells dusty and old.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

An Authoress Interview

I've been honored with an interview at Unplag.com.  Please do stop by and take a peek!

GO HERE TO READ THE INTERVIEW.

Also?  I'm opening ONE SLOT for Premiere Critique this month -- first come, first served.

The Critique includes:

*detailed line edit of your first 75 pages
*editorial letter
*guaranteed 1-week turnaround

The cost is $260, payable via Paypal in 2 installments.

No first drafts.  (I mean it.)

Email me at authoress.edits(at)gmail.com if you're interested!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Writers: For You

So much wisdom in these words from The Fonz.  Soak them in today, dear ones:


I live by tenacity and gratitude. Tenacity gets you where you want to be, and gratitude allows you not to be angry or frustrated along the way. 

~ Henry Winkler



Watch the inspirational story of how he overcame dyslexia HERE.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Call For Submissions: Non-chosen Entries For ON THE BLOCK

I apologize for the delay!  January was ridiculously busy (performances, mostly), and here we are at the end of it.

At any rate, I'm opening submissions for up to 30 entries from people who entered ON THE BLOCK, but whose excerpts were not chosen for the auction.  If you'd like some feedback on your logline and first page, now's your chance!

Here's the skinny:

  • This critique round is for ON THE BLOCK entrants ONLY.
  • Please use THE SAME TITLE as you used when you entered, as I will be checking.  If your entry title doesn't match a legitimate entry from the contest, your submission will be disqualified.
  • Your entry should include your logline, followed by your first 250 words.  
  • Note:  There is no need to include things like "logline" or "first 250 words".  I just have to go through and delete all that stuff, and I'd rather not have to. Please simply include the requested material without labeling it.
  • It will be most beneficial to you if you submit your logline and first page exactly as you sent it to me.  That way, you can get a critique on the actual content that was rejected.
  • HOWEVER, if you have since revised and would prefer feedback on your newer version, that's okay, too.  Please keep the logline the same, though.
  • In addition to public critique, your entry will also receive feedback from at least one published author.  The list of authors will be posted later this week.
  • Submissions will open THIS THURSDAY at 8:00 AM EST.
  • To enter, GO HERE.
  • Submissions will remain open for 24 hours or until 30 entries are received, whichever comes first.
If you have any question, please leave them in the comment box below!  

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Onward Into 2017


Isn't that the best writerly Christmas present ever?  Someone who loves me--and who GETS this writing thing, even though she's not a writer--gave it to me this year.  It pretty much sums up the past 11 years of my life.

That's right.  Eleven.

My writing goes back farther than that, really.  I self-published a non-fiction book in 2002 for a niche market, and believed myself to be an essayist, not a novelist.  A couple years after doing the non-fic thing, though, I wrote my first (terrible terrible terrible) novel.  And I haven't stopped since.

To date, I have written eleven novels.  (There's that number again.)  I don't intend to stop.

It took me five years to land an agent.  I spent five years with him, and we parted agreeably when I expressed that I thought it would be a better fit for me to move to his assistant Danielle, if she would have me (fortunately this made her smile and dance a little).  And I've just spent an amazing first year with her.  I'm so excited about what we're currently working on that I can barely breathe.

Yes.  After eleven years, I'M THAT EXCITED.

In the past couple of weeks, both as "Authoress" and as "Real Me", I've had folks online express that it's because of my blog/facebook posts/words/life that they haven't given up on their writing.  

This means the world to me.

When I launched this blog in 2008, I never dreamed it would be a place people would come because THEY NEEDED TO HEAR MORE WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT FROM THAT GAL WHO IS STILL WAITING FOR HER SHIP TO COME IN.  In fact, had I known that, I may have thrown my computer out the third-story window and never written another word.

I mean, who wants to be THAT girl?  THAT story?  Who wants to be the one with the long, painful journey that others can derive hope/strength/encouragement from?

Yet that's my story.  And I'm thankful for it.

I'm thankful for every person who says, "You haven't given up, so I'm not going to give up, either."

I'm thankful for every person who thinks that, even if I never hear the words.

That's why I'm here.  I'm convinced.

BUT.  My journey isn't over.  And I think 2017 is going to be a Very Good Year!

So, why am I so excited?

First of all, I have an incredibly talented, incredibly enthusiastic, incredibly incredible agent who SHARES MY BRAIN SPACE.  I swear she does.  It's like she's inside my stories with me, and her insight and editorial suggestions are downright spiffing.  I adore working with her.  For my latest work, she actually offered to read my outline before I even began the first draft.  I took her up on it, of course, and her suggestions led me to write an EVEN BETTER STORY once I sat down to do it.  She's been 100% on board with both of my current projects EVEN BEFORE THEIR FIRST DRAFTS WERE COMPLETE.  And now that they're both finished works, she continues to be completely invested.  She's my champion, my advocate, my cheerleader.  I'm more thankful for her than I can express without sounding like a chattering ninny, so I'll stop here.

Secondly, the work that we've been subbing this year has come back with glowing words of praise and excellent insight that's helping me take a fresh look at it to see what needs to be done as we continue to move forward.  I'm VERY EXCITED to continue to explore this story's possibilities, because I love it and believe in it and WANT TO SEE IT FLY.  (Danielle believes it will, so on my doubtful days, I just remember the amazing gal to whom I've entrusted my work.)

Thirdly, my newest work is standing on the starting line, and my entire body is twitching as I wait for that gun to go off.  I'm so excited about this one that my stomach goes hollow every time I think about it.  Four of my beta readers -- four! -- told me that they were in tears.  Not that I like making people cry, but when it comes to writing stories, I LIKE MAKING PEOPLE CRY.  (Actually, the whole thing blows me away.  For my words to evoke that depth of emotion is almost beyond comprehension.  It's as humbling as it is exhilarating.)



Look at this wonderful, handcrafted mug--another beloved Christmas present, this one from a fellow writer.  She ordered it for me because the dragon is wingless, like the ones in my current story.  It's not easy to find wingless dragons depicted on much of anything (unless you're looking at Chinese New Year decorations), so she was thrilled when she found this for me.  I LOVE IT SO MUCH.  (On a side note, she's one of the beta readers who cried, apparently through the entire last 14 pages of my novel.)

This mug is the EMBODIMENT of my passion for writing.  It's handmade (like a story), it's a gift from a fellow writer/adoring fan reader, and it's A REFLECTION OF MY LATEST NOVEL.  How can I feel anything but satisfied, energized, and absolutely geeked out when I curl my hands around it?

All this--ALL ALL ALL THIS--to say that ELEVEN YEARS AND I'M STILL PRESSING ON.  I love what I do--the writing AND the encouraging.  I don't plan on stopping either.

I'd like to thank each one of you for being part of my journey (and I'd also like to invite you to continue along for the ride).

I'd also like to thank the following (because it really does take a village to raise an author):
  • Josh Getzler, for believing in me enough to take the plunge (with a novel we both still love)
  • Gabrielle Harbowy, for interviewing me on her blog even before I was agented, and for being a bigger source of encouragement than she may realize
  • Jodi Meadows, for taking me under her wing and pouring into me in ways no one else ever had
  • Alison Weiss, for being an undying support of my blog, the now-defunct teen writer blog, aspiring authors at large, and me personally
  • Peter Salomon, for being utterly solid and terribly supportive
  • Adam Heine, for teaching me more about worldbuilding than should be humanly possible, and for making me laugh (a lot)
  • Maggie Skye, for being my Biggest Supporter Ever, and an undying voice of encouragement
  • Rena Rossner, for GETTING IT, and for spurring me on...and, truth be told, for loving my stuff enough to say she'd offer representation if she'd been reading as an agent
  • Danielle Burby, whose praises I've already sung
  • Mr. A, who won't let me quit, and who loves me in the midst of both angst and euphoria
I'm ready for the year.  I'm ready to dig in, press on, inch forward.  I'm ready to fully embrace the joy of writing, in all its ugliness and grit and constipated moments.  I'm ready to fly.

Get ready to unfurl your wings and fly with me.  We're in this together!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

YA Are You Hooked? -- Critique Guidelines

As you critique, remember that today's offerings are all YA, so keep a keen eye to voice (is it an authentic teen voice?) as you read.

Enjoy!

General 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 4 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? Young Adult #30

TITLE: BLUE FIRE
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Common-born mages are forbidden. When the peasant Adara accidentally destroys a hut with blue flames, the Dragonmaster agrees to hide her on two conditions: she must pass as a noble, and she must fling enough fireballs at his enemies to make the risk of being caught worth it.

As I got off the hay-cart, I realized a major problem in my plan to hide in a city: I’d never been to a city before.
One street had more life crowded into it than all of Stoneyfield. Horses with carriages and horses with merchant wagons, horses carrying men who looked down their noses. Women in trousers hurrying with purchases, chattering women in skirts of endless orange and blue. Trinket-pushers shouted behind me, bracelets and combs and eggs for—First One above, for an entire copper apiece—and the buildings crowded together with two, three layers of windows. Already the hay-cart was lost in traffic, lost in noise, lost in horse shit and people churning.
I stood gaping at it all like a bewildered cow.
Snap out of it, Adara. The sooner you get used to this, the better. I picked a trousered woman and tried to copy her easy-yet-rushed way of moving. The hay-cart farmer had promised this was a street of cheaper inns. I ambled until I came to a door.
The noise didn’t dim, it just changed. Through an arch across the foyer, people laughed, talked, and cursed. Pipes and a drum tried to be heard over it all. The foyer itself was empty except for a man bent over a book at a counter. Keys dangled from hooks on the wall behind the man, and several uncomfortable-looking chairs lined the opposite wall.
The man glanced up with a smile. It vanished.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #29

TITLE: Harm Ye None
GENRE: YA Magical Realism

An introspective Invisible strives to escape her born-again mother and the Cretins who make school a living hell, but when the new girl at school gives her the power to fight back, she discovers that getting everything what you want can change you for the worse.

Good girls don’t let everyone see their underwear. My mother’s voice is clear and concise even though, realistically, I know she’s miles away in her shop, and not currently squeezed into the bathroom stall with me. Still, the words tickle my ears. Mom has always been very black and white. Good girls don’t let people see their panties; only naughty girls do.

It’s a lesson my five-year-old self learned after going down the slide in my new Minnie Mouse skirt. The only thing running through my tiny brain was that the slide was the best thing in the world and I wanted to slide again and again. When my mother snatched me up from the bottom of the slide, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I’d done something wrong. I just didn’t know what.

“Dude, so what?” My best friend’s voice calls out to me from the other side of the blue, metal door. “So people caught a peek at your a**. You wouldn’t be the first girl to show your goods around here.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“Well, at least you’re the only one of them that hasn’t whored yourself around school.”

My face is still firmly planted on my knees, my hands clasped on the back of my head. With the social suicide I had just committed, I’m assuming crash position. Put your head between your knees and kiss your a** goodbye. “It’s not even that everyone saw my panties.” Lie. “It’s which panties they saw.”

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #28

TITLE: Prime Vector
GENRE: YA YA Sci-Fi with Romantic Elements

In the new world, only immortals matter…
During a routine tour to Earth, first-year cadet Catita Johns witnesses the murder of her immortal twin, Ry Johns: something she believed to be impossible. When the incident is covered up, Catita agrees to take her sister’s post on the dreaded Forever Queen’s immortal army to unravel the mystery behind Ry’s death. She’s prepared to do whatever it takes, including living the rest of her life as someone else. 

Catita
I glance out the window. Again. Every time, I expected to catch a glimpse of the Old Planet, but everything out there was black, vast empty space. The Epoch1955, the fastest ship on the Martian fleet, had been my home for the last twelve universal weeks. And though I knew it’d be years before I could download to the surface, I’d hoped to see Earth from a distance. No such luck. I glared at my wristband for what had to be the hundredth time since I left my bunk.
Ry’s not coming.
The halogen glow that replicated daylight in the Epoch dimmed another notch, turning the stark white walls to a soft grey. I should call it a night. With a sigh, I spun around and almost ran into a worker from the south quadrant. He ducked his gaze and stopped to let me pass. As protocol dictated, I kept my eyes forward, and strode past him. It was all about the dark uniform. The Forever Queen’s coat of arms alone commanded respect — and in most cases, fear. He had no clue I wasn’t a commando from the immortal army, the QEC, Queen’s Elite Cadre. But I was military; he had to play it safe.
Before I reached the end of the corridor, the elevator slid open. A unit of QEC lieutenants pounded out of it, laughing and shoving each other. If I’d had time to react, I would’ve done what the worker did.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #27

TITLE: Running Toward Illumia
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Astrea must flee Mist, the land of fog that's always been her home, when an old secret her parents kept threatens her life.

Astrea stalked the pure white creature, wondering how she would live with herself if she caught it. Unicorns were a rare sight in the Mist. This was the first one she’d ever seen. Vapors swirled away from its glittering silver sword of a horn, as if it had the power to dispel the fog entirely.
A red curl tickled her forehead, sticking to the sheen of sweat. The mud caked on her pale skin was starting to dry and crack, and she longed to scratch it off, but she didn’t dare move a muscle and spook her prey.
Her lungs strained against the warm, wet fog. Taking another careful step forward, Astrea gripped the reed, already loaded with a poisoned dart. She was close enough now, the musty smell of sweaty hide ambling through the still air. Its flank twitched, silky white tail slapping away flies.
Silently, she lifted the reed to her lips, her cheeks filling with air. One shot. She wouldn’t have time for another. Her hand shook. Stay true. For the tribe.
“What was that?”
The voice echoed in Astrea’s ears in an odd sort of way. She tensed, willing herself to pick up on the approaching footsteps, but the forest yielded no unusual sounds. If one of the youngers spooked the unicorn, that would be the end of it. Her face grew hot, her lips and grip tightening, but no further sound came.

Are You Hooked? Young Adult #26

TITLE: Luli's Unibrow
GENRE: YA Magical Realism

When Luli, a Tajik gypsy girl, accepts an outrageous gift from a wicked customer, an entire village comes after her. Proving her innocence requires to grow a horrible unibrow and hide among a group of nomads in the Pamir mountains where dealing with vengeful spirits change her destiny.

The fragrance of freshly baked delicacies fill the market. Tajik samosa and manti, a dumpling filled with chopped lamb and squash, tempt me as I wander through the labyrinth of stalls. My stomach makes knots inside me. I tighten the scarf that holds my baby brother on my back. The pressure eases the hunger, enough to keep my hand from snatching a brown juicy grape the size of my baby brother’s fist.
I am a gypsy and covered in silver jewelry, wool ornaments, and layers upon layers of brightly colored skirts. The gaze of vendors follow me and housewives press their hands over their inner pockets where they hide their money. The fluttering of padded robes hiding a lining of silk robes cause my little brother hiccup in fright. I move the pan of my veil over his head. Maybe the brouhaha of the market will finally lull him to sleep.
The friendly vendors greet each other with soft salaams. “Peace upon you.”
Women with flopping scarves topping flat hats are dishing up cups of kymyz or mare’s milk. I don’t care very much for the beverage, but my stomach pinches me so hard, I would drink anything just to get the hurt out of my body.
I snake my way further between the piles of vegetables, jiggling a copper coin in my hand. Some people add few more coins in my hand after spying the baby. Not enough to eat. I thank them anyway.
“God bless you, my prince.”