Thursday, November 16, 2017

Drop the Needle: Critique Guidelines

Okay, folks, here we go!  Let's see how well we do with sexual tension.

(There are 11 entries instead of 10 because several people ran into technical difficulties while trying to enter.  I took their entries and put them in manually, and since there were fewer than 10 entries this time, I just took everyone's.  I mean, why leave out one person? :) )

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.*
  • 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.

Drop the Needle #11

Title: Rewriting History
Adult Contemporary Romance

Camilla and Ellis meet again after an errant kiss and a two-year separation.

Camilla reached for her wallet to pay for a much-needed cup of tea. Only her bag wasn't there.


“How about you add her order to mine? I’ll take a cappuccino, please.”

Ellis Jones materialized at her elbow pushing a crisp twenty across the counter. She swallowed hard while her stomach did a little flip.

“Thank you. Again. Seems you’re destined to come to my aid.”

Ellis nodded. “Was it sprained?” He peered at her sock-covered foot. Under his gaze, each of the Hello Kitties scattered across the toe seemed to shrivel up from embarrassment. She wanted to do the same.


They moved away from the counter. Ellis slowed to match her hobbled gait.

“I’m Ellis, by the way.” His eyes were even bluer than she remembered.

“Camilla Tanner.” She watched his face carefully but the expression never changed. Something in her sank a little. He didn’t remember.

“Where are you headed?”

“I have a Public Policy presentation in a half-hour.”

A tapping overhead drew their attention. A frantic Sunny leaned over the railing tapping his wrist. ‘Hurry up,’ he mouthed.

“Team member,” Camilla added in explanation. “If I don’t hurry, there’ll be fighting over the slide fonts again.”

“Never underestimate the power of a good font.”

“Ah, but which one? Arial or Calibri?”

“No contest. I’m an economist, we scoff at Calibri.”

She swore his lips quirked. Oh, two could play this game.

“Really?" She tilted her head. "I’m more of a Baskerville girl myself.”

“Baskerville? As in hounds?” Ellis laughed, and she nearly melted. “That’s not a real font. You’re joking.”

“It is!” She grinned and tucked her hair behind her ear. “But, I am.”

Wide-eyed and smiling, he looked so boyish. And adorable. Camilla stared at the floor to hide her s***-eating grin.

Drop the Needle #10

Young Adult Fantasy

Reina and Quinn’s group has just escaped a surprise attack as they traveled through a mountain pass. After hard riding, they have set up camp for the night. Quinn and another companion have suffered mild wounds and Reina, as Healer, is tending to Quinn. 

I continued to hold the cloth to Quinn’s face as my eyes fell upon the dark stains on his tunic.

Finally, I asked, “What happened? To what chaos did we leave you?”

Quinn did not immediately respond. Instead, he reached a warm hand up, closing it gently over mine as he pulled it down and cradled my palm in his.

“Do not ask to know the details of death, Reina,” he said, his eyes dark.

I opened my mouth to reply, but was unable to find a suitable response. Did he think me too weak to hear of death? Did he think I’d never seen it myself? It was true that most of my experiences with death were due to illness and old age, but I had seen blood, I had seen pain, and I knew what waited in the end.

“Ah, settle, Reina,” he said upon seeing the fight in my eyes. “’Twas not an insult against you.”

I did not hesitate this time. “What am I to think?”

He covered my hand with both of his, rubbing a calloused thumb lightly against my palm. “You’ve too much life within you to hear of death. I would sooner steal the song from the meadowlark than dampen your light with talk of darkness.”

Wide-eyed, I found my lungs reluctant to fill with air. “What talk is this?” I managed in a whisper.

Quinn dropped my hand.

“Antony,” he said loudly. “You’ve a wounded arm. Let Moreina tend to you.”

Drop the Needle #9

Title: Will Not Fade Away
Adult Women's Fiction

 A.J.(Audrey Jane) met Reid while on her journey cross-country to locate her missing son after a volcanic eruption. Reid is a mysterious man fighting his own past demons. A.J. is on the road of healing, while juggling widowhood and parenthood to an autistic child. They’re sharing a hotel room at this stop. Reid wakes from a nightmare. He lifted our locked hands and placed one on his chest.

Dear God.

Perhaps it was my need for soulful resuscitation and human intimacy. Perhaps it was my vulnerability. Or perhaps I liked him.

…a man who had proven himself enough to earn a ticket on our trip…a kindred spirit who had wiggled his way into my heart the slightest…an attractive man who stirred my once dusty desires off and brought them bursting to the surface…

He pulled me toward him, and I allowed it. His kiss was warm, heavy, and slow. It was g****** intoxicating and I drank it in like a parched desert cactus. The stubble on his chin brushed my face. Tender lips caressed mine in a simple, sexy, non-intrusive way. Our hands remained interlaced, one set on his cheek, one set on his heart. God, oh, how I had forgotten what desire was like. His mouth was inviting and stirred me.

He removed his hand from mine on his cheek and drew it to the base of my head, urging me closer for a deeper kiss. His touch tickled the fine hairs on the nape of my neck. He tasted like chocolate and sleep. Before it went too far, he pulled away and stared at me, only inches from my face, dark eyes swirling with sentiment, a slight smirk upon his lips. I exhaled. He held my gaze for a long could-hear-the-clock-ticking-in-my-head moment, and then he fell on his pillow, closed his eyes, and was asleep.

Drop the Needle #8

TITLE: One of the Lucky Ones
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Annie and Liz are teens getting ready for a night out, who don't quite realize theyre in a friends-to-lovers story, yet. Annie is going to wake up in the middle of the night tonight and figure it out, which will make everything a lot worse (for a while).

Liz was sitting in the living room when I came down. As I descended the stairs (slowly, because heels) she rose and just stood there, watching me. When I reached the bottom she came to meet me in the front hall, with a look in her eyes I couldn't read. Whatever it was, it affected my breathing.

She reached out a hand, but dropped it halfway. "You look amazing."

"Thank you." I couldn't tear my eyes away from her.

"Let's check us out." She opened the hall closet, exposing the full length mirror attached to the inside of the door, and we stood side by side. She shook her head. "The mirror's not wide enough." She took a step back and moved partway behind me, so her head was over my shoulder. She rested her hand on the small of my back.

I turned so I was angled in and we made a sort of "v." This meant that her next words, "You're beautiful," were breathed into my ear. I got chills all the way down my back and to my toes, and a growing warmth everywhere else. The contrast was startling and highly distracting, as was the hand gliding across my back and around my waist. I locked eyes with her reflection and felt myself lean back into her arms.

With what was left of my breath I whispered, "So are you." Whatever I might have said or thought next, if anything, was interrupted by Dad's voice.

Drop the Needle #7

TITLE: Sugar Bea
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Though my mouth gets the Sahara dry feeling again, I push past it and the fear of an Amy Shumacker moment. “Would you like to eat with me?”

She looks around the mostly empty restaurant. “Aren’t you closed?”

I stare down at my boots and then force myself to look back at her. “Yes. But I meant like on a date?”
Is that even a thing? Going on a date?

“When?” She taps the top of her cello case.

But she doesn’t seem to care one way or the other if I call it a date. “Now. How about now?”

“Where’re we going? It’s pretty late.”

“I could make you something…” I swallow. No. This isn’t really how I want our first date to go. “Wait. Can I start over? What are you doing next Sunday?”

She smiles.



“Good. I’d like to take you on a date.”

She slides one finger over the top of the case. “There’s nothing wrong with a Sunday date, but couldn’t we do something Saturday night?”

Ugh. “Yes and no. I kinda have to work, but maybe we could go somewhere after I get off?”

Holland pushes the cello back and forth. “Well I kind of thought maybe you’d cook some of those mac and cheese balls for me.”

It’d be so much better if I could cook for her at my house. But Momma prevents that from happening. I step closer to her, catching her scent when she leans against her case.

Drop the Needle #6

GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Only two days until the (flying) motorcycle race in Tokyo, a group of racers spend the evening doing karaoke. Hiroki doesn’t know that Aya is a thief and has stolen from him.

Cushioned seats lined the perimeter of the private room and a large screen displayed the song options. Minutes later Ji-ho was doing an amazing impression of a Korean singer. She handed the remote to me next, but I passed. I didn’t know any of the songs, nor did I need the added embarrassment of singing in public. Then Yumi Sasakawa sang a Disney song I vaguely knew, complete with hand motions.

Hiroki volunteered, as Waku was very occupied devouring a sushi roll. He grabbed the remote, a small smile played at the corner of his mouth. I forced myself to look away from him.

Hiroki started singing.

I tried not to look at him. I felt embarrassed for him, as if everyone would be looking at how I was taking his song choice, which was a romantic song about finding true love among the stars. His voice wasn’t great, but it was soothing and he belted out the song with an enthusiasm none of the previous singers had attempted. I kept my eyes glued on the food and tried to remember how much I looked at Li Min while she was singing so I could look at Hiroki the exact same number of times.

Finally, with a low warble he finished the song. Yumi, Li Min and Waku cheered and clapped as Hiroki took a dramatic bow. Then I glanced at him. As he stood back up our eyes met and I couldn’t breathe. He gave me a small smile before going to sit down and I realized with a start that I was in love with him.

 Wow, Aya, bad timing.

Drop the Needle #5

TITLE: Ravenseele
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Ashlynn has accepted a bounty to kill a monster. When the other mercenaries turn on her, Van, a stranger, steps in to fight at her side. Together they don’t just dispatch their attackers, but the monster as well.
Later, Ashlynn’s tutor, a talented mage shows up. Van conveniently disappears. When he reappears he questions Ashlynn about her magic and her tutor.

“The Thorn,” Ashlynn clarifies. “He’s a tutor. Nothing more.”
Van’s expression is too cheerful—disbelieving.
Ashlynn stretches her stiff arms. “The magic you saw were merely tricks. My real talent is with a blade.”
“In this particular instance, you’re being a tad modest. Those were not mere tricks.”
She smirks. “Is that a compliment?”
Van taps her steel arm. “And this?”
“Strong motivation to master those tricks.”
“A wizard did that to you.” Van crouches low to pull at something in the grass.
Ashlynn is grateful to be rid of his searching eyes. She swallows her dread. “…And a wizard prevented it from taking my life.”
When Van stands, there’s a pink flower between his fingertips. “This wizard who cursed your arm, was he by chance…known as the Alchemist? A mage obsessed with metals?”
Ashlynn’s world begins to tilt. “H-how did you guess?” How does he know a thing about mages? She wonders.
Van extends the flower. When Ashlynn reaches for it, he steps playfully backward, his smile as delicate as the breeze across Ashlynn’s skin.
She darts after it like a provoked child, but he has fooled her. It takes him just a half a step forward for them to converge like lovers joining a dance.
Ashlynn breathes in his honey-cypress scent as he tucks the flower behind her ear.
“I hate to tell you these things,” Van whispers.
Ashlynn can see nothing but rain-colored eyes and lashes made of gold.
“But the Alchemist and the Thorn were friends.”

Drop the Needle #4

TITLE: The Shoemaker's Daughter
GENRE: YA Retelling


Retelling of the twelve dancing princesses. The oldest princess has come to give the soldier a goblet of wine.



She pulled her fingers back to be certain his did not touch hers.

“You say you’re a Samson,” she challenged.

“You are the Delilah aren’t you?”

The abrasion of his words made her flinch.  He saw her as she had been in the library.  Yet in that moment the firmness returned.  Her eyes fixed upon the goblet.

Hesitation would cause suspicion.  Without thought, he took a gulp.   Immediately he was gagging in realization that he was killing himself.  He spit, wiping his sleeve across his mouth.  With horror, he looked at the princess.  He had spewed all over her.  Liquid dribbled down her face like tears.  He knew she was not crying although her chin trembled.  Ignoring his impulse, he stiffly offered a handkerchief.  She jerked away from him.

He couldn’t restrain himself, despite her fury.  He was beside her, grasping her shoulder and wiping her face as one would a messy toddler, gently pushing her hair back as he wiped it dry.  She didn’t struggle but stood rigid.  He traced the contours of her face with the handkerchief.  He had been intent on his task but now done, he looked at her.  He sensed her breath, the rise and fall of her shoulders, felt her warmth.  He released her.  She fell away from him, backing into the princesses who had gathered, drawn to the commotion.

Now he felt fresh humiliation.  He’d made a spectacle in front of so many.  This was not the place for emotion.  That was dangerous.

Drop the Needle #3

TITLE: The Guesser - Book One in the Hangman Series
GENRE: YA Dystopian, Romance, Adventure

Hangman hangings take place around the world. Jason is a Guesser. Maydah is a Hanger. They are old friends who have reunited after a tragedy, and now are fated for love and death. Jason attends his first high school party - for Maydah’s 17th birthday. Haley and Justin are Maydah’s friends. Can Jason handle the heat on the dance floor?

I’m standing still in a sea of moving bodies. Haley hip checks me into Maydah. It breaks her dancing reverie.

“Ow!” Maydah mocks fake pain.

Haley laughs and pulls Justin closer.

“I’m sorry, someone bumped into me,” I yell.

Thankfully the DJ mixes a change in the music.

“Of course - a slow song,” I turn to leave, but Maydah grabs my shoulder.

“Get over yourself, Jason. Just-” she takes my hands and puts them on her hips, then she wraps her arms around my neck. She smells like strawberries and beer. “There. See? Not so bad.”

She hiccups. Rests her head on my shoulder.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“Divine!” she slurs. Then she whips her head back. “Dip me!”

I barely catch her before she falls. Her body fits with mine. I like the feeling of her in my arms.
She swings her head back up and I dodge it by a hair. “You’re a dancer! A good one!” she claps her eyelashes together, and leans her head back on my shoulder.

I try to move my feet to the music but I’m basically carrying Maydah’s full weight as she leans into me, so it’s a bit of a challenge. For all of me.

“Jason?” Maydah lifts her head. Her eyes are watery. The fleck is small, but there.


“Jason…I don’t-” she parts her glistening lips, then covers them with her hands but her fingers don’t stop the puke that spews through. Onto my neck and shirt.

Drop the Needle #2

TITLE: A Terrible Thing
GENRE: Adult Horror

Walter finds his best friend Ellyn at the top of her homemade rock-climbing wall. He’s afraid of heights, but he’s more afraid of staying put.

He was sweating within the first ten feet. Like he’d hit the halfway point of a marathon in the dead of summer, his clothes were positively sticky. The wind blew harder twenty feet up than it had on solid ground, though he doubted that explained why his arms and legs shook the way they did. It would have been easier if he’d been able to put any weight on his right foot, but a lot of things would have been easier had he not had a reason to hop into bed with Oliver.

Ellyn hollered down encouragements, but at thirty feet, forty feet, Walter’s head swam too much, his heart crashed too hard to give her the attention she deserved. Then a hand grabbed his. Calloused and chalky, a rush of sweet warmth swept through him, and he pulled himself up and over the wall, flopped down onto the plywood floor. She rolled him over and pulled his head into her lap. She rubbed her hands through his hair, laughing.

“God, you are so gross!”

He smiled weakly. She returned it with a grin, only she was looking at him upside down.

“Still tough to believe people pay to do that.” His heart continued to va-boom, but he expected that when he was with Ellyn McAdams. But he did not expect her to kiss him. Soft at first, but then harder, more urgent, and now he was off his back and she was on hers. She tapped him on the arm. He stopped.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Lenny’s inside.”

Drop the Needle #1

TITLE: In This Fateful Hour
GENRE: YA Supernatural

If Marielle believes the rumors about Lucca, she should stay as far away from him as she can. If she believes the half-remembered tales her dad used to tell her of angels and demons, she should stay even further away. But she can't seem to stay away from him at all. And she doesn't want to.

   Suddenly the car was too small, the air too stuffy. I got out, sucking in the fresh air. The cold stung, freezing my lungs. It felt good.
   The front door opened, creaking in the cold, and Lucca emerged. He pulled the door closed behind him and stuffed his hands in his pockets as he shuffled toward me through the snow. He stopped a few feet away and considered me. He must have known better than to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ No sunglasses today. He trapped my eyes with his.
    I held my breath while my heart thumped against my ribs. His eyes softened, releasing me. He moved closer. My back pressed against the car.
    The truth my dad wanted me to take on faith might have stormed away angry yesterday, or he might be standing so close I could feel his breath on my skin.
    “Who are you?”
    Lucca rested his hands on the roof of the car on either side of me and bowed his head. All I could see of his eyes were their white lashes.
    “I don’t know anymore. I look in your eyes and see your soul and I am utterly undone.”
    “What does that mean?” My voice was a whisper. Utterly undone.
    “It means I should leave.”
    “What happens if you don’t leave?”
    “I’m more afraid of what happens if I do.” His warm breath melted the tears stinging my cheeks.
    Sunlight trickled into the clearing through high clouds. Lucca’s white hair shone, his pale eyes sparkled.