Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Jeanne Ryan


Read the original Success Story post on Miss Snark's First Victim.

For more on Jeanne Ryan:

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads


Her debut novel, NERVE, was published in 2012 by Dial. Her next novel, CHARISMA, will be released in 2014.

For more on NERVE:



Vahini Naidoo



Read the original Success Story post on Miss Snark's First Victim.

For more on Vahini Naidoo:

Twitter

Blog



Her book, FALL TO PIECES, was published in 2012 by Marshall Cavendish.

For more on FALL TO PIECES:

Goodreads

Amazon

Megan Shepherd


Read the original Success Story post on Miss Snark's First Victim.

For more on Megan Shepherd:

Website

Blog

Twitter

Goodreads

Facebook


Her book, THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER, was published by Balzer + Bray in 2013. The next two books in the series are scheduled for release in 2014 and 2015. A new trilogy will begin in 2014 with the scheduled publication of THE CAGE, also by Balzer + Bray.

For more on the books of Megan Shepherd:



Monday, April 28, 2008

Writing Game! Wanna Play??

Need a break from your WIP that will serve to sharpen your mind a bit? Join us for a round of GENRE SWITCH.

The rules:

1. Read the story as it appears so far.

2. Write EXACTLY 100 WORDS to continue the story not including the word "a". Even if that means stopping in the middle of a

3. When you write your 100 words, SWITCH THE GENRE of the story. Try to do this without being too abrupt.

4. Do not repeat a genre that's already been used unless three new genres have occurred since then.

5. Tongue-in-cheek is fine, if not preferred.

6. Keep the MC consistent, regardless of what's going on around him/her (or happening to him/her). Attempt to develop the MC in the ever-changing context of the story.

7. We'll just keep going until it fizzles out -- or until somebody writes a really good ending.

OK?

Here we go:

Krista slipped through the velvet draperies and approached the coffin as though this were something she did every day. Trying not to let her eyes fall on the corpse, she studied the surroundings, looking for a place to set her tripod.

"The lighting's too dim," she said to the quiet woman arranging flowers nearby. "Can I get some more light in here?"

"The family requested candlelight," the woman said.

"The family also requested photos of the deceased, and I assume that means they'd like to be able to see what's in them."

Not that this wasn't the strangest assignment of her

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Fricassee

So, another feedback blitz has come and gone. I think we've seen some good writing here, and I think we've gotten some good ideas on improvement as well.

Did the stories draw you in? Which one was your favorite? Why?

What variations on this theme would you like to see here?

On another note, I saw something disturbing this morning in the local Dollar Tree store -- namely, hardback books on sale for $1.00 a piece.

Can you say "remaindered?"

It broke my heart. It also annoyed me. There's such a glut of books on the market; it's book overkill. And let's face it -- some of them aren't exactly stellar.

For the record, these were mostly nonfiction. And they weren't all oddball-ish books with no discernible audience. They were "real" books with snazzy covers.

These were simply books -- big, fat, hardbound books -- that didn't sell, and ended up in the dollar store.

Does this make your heart sink, too? Or am I being a tad too sensitive?

Chat away! And thanks again for all the super entries and critiques on our first Drop The Needle.

David Kazzie


Read the original Success Story post on Miss Snark's First Victim.

For more on David Kazzie:

Website

Facebook

Goodreads

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YouTube


His novel, THE JACKPOT, was released in 2011.

For more on THE JACKPOT:










Thursday, April 24, 2008

Drop The Needle #9

SCENE: A 12-year-old plantation heiress sneaks out of
the Big House seeking adventure. She convinces one of
the slave boys to teach her how to throw a knife.

His hand holding the knife arched swiftly back
and to the right of his head, instantly followed by a
lightening fast forward thrust and release. The knife
flew from his hand and the “thwack” of the deadly
blade finding its target was unmistakable.

Sam’s words jolted her back to reality.

“I shoulda not be doin’ this, Miss Annie,”
stammered Young Sam.

“Nanny Ro says I should stay abed cause of my
fever and all.”

“Don’t worry about Nanny Ro.” Anne pulled Sam
gently by his shirt urging him toward the swamp.
“Besides, she’ll never know.”

“Nanny Ro knows everything,” said Sam sheepishly
as he followed Anne toward a lily choked pond
surrounded by willow trees and moss-covered oaks.

Abruptly turning Anne asked, “Does she know about
my father’s secret?”

“S’pose so,” said Sam shuffling his bare feet
through the grass.

“Can you help me find out what it is?” she asked.
“I don’t know. She won’t tell me if I asks her,”
he said. “She’s very loyal to your Mama and she won’t
even tell Big Sam things about her.

“Well, who else would know?” she asked. “Missy
says there’s a secret about those silver spoons my mum
obsesses over.”

Young Sam stopped. Anne noticed his effort to
concentrate. Finally he answered,

“Maybe Old Sam know.”

“Can you get him to tell you?”

“I’ll try, but it ain’t gonna be easy,” sighed
Young Sam, hands deep in his pockets. He traveled this
path everyday, sometimes dragging along his small
brother, Little Sam, but mostly he came by himself.
Today, Miss Annie insisted he show her the way, and
now she was asking him to find a secret, too.

“Why aren’t you keeping up?”

“Cause I be walkin’ behind you, wheres I supposa
be.”

“Nonsense, Sam.” Anne took a giant step back and
grabbed his wrist pulling him even with her. “How are
you going to teach me how to throw a knife from way
back there? Besides, if you’re so worried about anyone
seein’ us, they won’t even know it’s me. “Do I always
wear an old faded gray house shift?”

“No, Miss Annie,” said Sam looking at the clean
but shabby dress Anne wore.

“Hey, that be Missy’s dress.”

“Exactly,” smiled Anne. “So you see there’s
nothing to worry about. I’ve thought
of everything. If someone should see us they’ll think
you are with Missy.”

“Yeah, but the overseer will skin me alive if he
finds me alone with you,” exclaimed Young Sam pulling
away.

“He won’t,” said Anne, yanking him back. “I
promise.”



EMOTIONS
ANNE –ANTICIPATION, SELF-CENTEREDNESS
SAM - ANXIETY

Drop The Needle #8

Lexi and Nicco, bounty hunters, have just taken on a very interesting passanger. Fresh from the shower, and water induced disco concert in said shower, Tiki a Scarlet Macaw and Lexi go to raid her brother's closet only to get caught outside the galley.

Nicco sat at the table eating something from a bowl. Dag was next to him, and like me, he was fresh from the shower. Nicco had loaned him a pair of pants. But the thing that drew my attention, the thing that got me into trouble. He was shirtless.

A loud thud echoed into the galley as I walked into the doorjamb, followed by and equally loud whistle from Tiki. "Hottie!" she squawked. "Hottie, Lexi, hottie."

"Shut up," I snarled at Tiki, who was doing a rather enthusiastic dance on my shoulder. I rubbed my forehead. Yeah I had to agree with her, but this was neither the time nor the place to announce it. There I was, standing in a ratty t-shirt and frumpy shorts wearing the last thing I wanted to be caught dead in, looking like an idiot for walking into a solid metal beam.

Nicco's and Dag's eyes were locked onto us in an instant. Dag's mouth curled into a grin and he raised a brow. "Toot – toot."

Tiki ruffled her feathers and stretched her neck out, screeching at the top of her birdie-lungs, "bad girls, talking bout bad girls…" She wolf whistled and bounced up and down. "Beep – beep."

"Shut up, Tiki."

There was no stopping her. She was on a roll and I knew for certain, Nicco would never let me live this down. Worse yet, Dag looked amused. Way too amused.

"Hottie! Toot – toot, beep – beep."

"Zip it, Red." I lowered my voice and warned Tiki. "I'll stuff you like a banquet bird and serve your giblets in gravy."

"What a remarkable bird." Dag rose to his feet and my breath caught in my throat. Oh boy.

Feet glued to the floor and a brain that ceased to function about a beep-beep ago, I knew I was in trouble. Tiki had understated the hottie part a bit. He stole the breath from my lungs and my heart all at once. Oh yeah, what hot-blooded female wouldn't go into meltdown at the sight of him? Tiki certainly had.

"Loooove…" Tiki stopped dancing long enough to let loose with another whistle. Apparently, she didn't hate all males as I'd thought. "Grrrrrr." She growled like she did with Nicco, but slightly different. More of a throaty grrrrr. "Stuff him and serve his giblets in gravy," she screeched and flapped her wings. "Beep – beep."
EMBARRASSMENT

Drop The Needle #7

[Sabrina, 14, has just been told to set the table for three by her father on her first visit with him since the divorce. The doorbell rang before Sabrina could ask who was joining them and she speculates it must be a relative]


The door opened. Steam obscured Dad’s face as he carried in a rectangular platter heaped with sticky rice and spiced vegetables. Behind him came a petite, brunette girl in jeans and a black silk blouse that hugged her assets.

It sure as hell wasn’t Aunt Nicole.

My hands knotted under the table. This was a joke, right? I bet she still had to show ID when she went to the liquor store. This had to be something other than what I thought it was. It had to be!

“Sabrina, I want you to meet a friend of mine. This is Suzanne.”

My heart turned to stone. A friend. A girl. It didn’t take a genius.

"It’s great to finally meet you, Sabrina,” Suzanne said as dad held a chair out for her. “Mark’s told me so much about you.”

I sat there, frozen—the great Snow Girl. My first night with Dad and I get this thrown at me?

“How do you know Dad?” I asked at last.

Suzanne’s gaze flicked to Dad, who answered for her.

“At work.” He began dishing out rice.

Oh my God. What kind of happy crap was this? I schooled my face, keeping my white hot anger hidden inside. I was ice…ice with a molten core.

“Oh, an intern.” I smiled sweetly. “Work experience for college, I guess?”

Dad coughed, his voice carefully controlled. He shot me a warning look. “No, she isn’t a student. Suzanne is part of the firm’s administration staff.”

I wanted to laugh. Dad springs his new girlfriend on me and he expects me to play nice?

“Administration.” I held my plate up for Dad to fill. “So now that Mom and I have moved out, you’re starting to bring work home with you, Dad?”

Dad’s hand clenched and his silver serving tongs lost their load of vegetables onto the tablecloth. “Sabrina!”

Suzanne shifted in her seat, not knowing where to look. A part of me felt sorry for her, so the larger, angrier part of me stomped on the weak pang like it was a skittering cockroach.

I glared up at Dad. “Does she know that Mom and I left two weeks ago? TWO weeks.”

Dad’s eyelid began to twitch. “Now listen here, young lady—”

“Young lady?” I repeated, cutting him off. Then I leaned toward Suzanne and whispered, “I think he means you.”

The doorbell rang.

Jemmi, I love you. Seriously, your timing couldn’t be better. I stood up.

“I’ll get it. I wouldn’t want you to have to neglect your special company.”

I ran from the room before Dad could say anything. Angry tears blurred in my eyes. I yanked the door open and threw my arms around Jemmi.


[the emotions here are shock anger and betrayal]


Drop The Needle #6

Mateo drives the delivery truck, gets a flat tire, and runs into the last person he wants to see-the unsavory brother of the girl he's been secretly fooling around with...

Rahmed squinted when he noticed the Corner Gourmet truck and sauntered over. When he saw Mateo he broke into a chuckle and patted him on the back.

"Yo, Vegetable Boy from the store. Look's like it's your lucky day. Just so happens I work in that gas station over there, and I can fix you up for free. Hop in."

Rahmed climbed behind the driver's side and Mateo the passenger side. Mateo's chest tightened. He considered calling Ray to bail him out but that would only earn him a beating later at Tío's hands.

In the truck, Rahmed's smile vanished. He spoke in a low whisper, his dark eyes boring into Mateo. "You don't tell my sister you saw me today- - I don't tell your uncle you screwed up his truck. I'll even help you with the delivery."

Rahmed paused. Mateo stared.

"You speak ingles, dude, don't you? You good with that?"

"Uh, yeah. I guess."

"Shake on it then."

Mateo offered his hand and Rahmed squeezed his fingers together in a too firm grip. A smile spread across his thin lips. He held onto Mateo's hand for an uncomfortably long moment.

"Maybe you and me could, ah, meet up sometime, huh?"

"Huh?"

"Have a drink down by the pier, you know?"

"Sure, uh, maybe." Mateo felt suddenly itchy, as if his whole body had broken out in a sweaty rash. His stomach rolled. He stifled the urge to gag. Was this pendejo coming on to him?

Rahmed made good on his word. He plugged the leaky tire and rode with Mateo to the Smithsons', where he helped unload with considerable enthusiasm. On the ride back to the gas station Mateo drove. Before he got out, Rahmed turned to Mateo, his wide smile punctuated by nervous gusts of laughter.

"I hate this gas station, dude. How about you tell your uncle to hire me, too. It'll be cool, you know? All of us working together?"

Mateo nodded, stared at the road ahead, and gripped the wheel.



MENACE

Drop The Needle #5

After learning about a new king, George heads to the Ram's Head Inn to see if he can talk to anyone about the developments in the kingdom. He's surprised to find the door locked.


George knocked and after a few moments, a small slot about midway up the door opened, and a pair of large, blue eyes peered out above George’s head.

“Yes? Who is it?” asked a muffled voice.

“My name is George.”

“Are you invisible? Some sort of magician?” asked the voice.

“No, I’m just down here.”

“Where?”

“Here!” George said. He reached up and waved his hands in front of the slot. The voice shrieked and the slot closed. “Hello?” George asked. The slot opened again.

“Who is it? If you’re just a pair of hands with no body, I’m not going to speak to you. Such creatures are scary.”

George sighed. “I’m not just a pair of hands. I’m a boy, but I’m too short to see through the door. If you open it, you’ll see—”

“I told you, I don’t open the door for invisible men with floating hands. What’s your business here at the Ram’s Head today?”

“I just wanted some information about—”

George was interrupted by a second voice. “Ask the password!” the voice said.

“Good idea!” the owner of the blue eyes said. “What’s the password?”

“Password?” George asked.

“Well, he knows that the password is ‘password.’ I suppose we should let him in.” The slot closed again and a great amount of clicking, turning, and grunting sounded behind the door. Finally, it opened a crack to reveal a large man in a white chef’s coat with tousled blonde hair and a wild look to his blue eyes.

“Why, you’re just a child,” the man said.

“What’s going on? Why was the door locked?”

“A super-secret meeting, of course. Isn’t that why you’re here?”

“No, I was just looking to get some information.”

“Excuse me, one moment, please.” The door shut again and George heard the man say, “He says he’s not here about the super-secret meeting, but he knew the password. Maybe he’s a spy?” Then the blonde-haired man reappeared. “Are you a spy?” he asked.

“A spy? No, I was just looking for information. I thought maybe someone here--”

“Excuse me, please,” the man said to George and closed the door again and spoke to whomever else was in there with him. “He says he’s not a spy and that he just wants information.”

“Spies gather information, you fool!” said the other voice.

“You’re right,” said the man. The door opened again. “I’m sorry, no spies are allowed in today, on account of the super-secret meeting.”

“Don’t tell him about the meeting!” the other voice said.

“I’m sorry, I was mistaken. There is no meeting today and, if there was, it wouldn’t be super secret. In fact, everyone would be invited, even spies! Come back another day. Perhaps on a Wednesday; I think that’s when the spies usually meet. Goodbye!”

“I’m not a spy!” George said, but it was too late. The man had already slammed the door.




FRUSTRATION

Drop The Needle #4

Rose's mother is the spokes-model for the most successful cosmetics company in America. On Rose's sixteenth birthday, she's slated to inherit this responsibility - just as all the women in her family have done for one hundred years. But Rose is one hundred pounds overweight (a fact she's ashamed of), so her mother makes her wear a corset to hide her bulking middle and her father points out that she's not losing the weight. Today is Rose's sixteenth birthday, and her father is about to place the crown on her head.


“Ladies and gentlemen! I would like to direct your attention to Kendrick Royce, CEO of Flawless Cosmetics.”

The motorized sound of the velvet curtains being drawn back echoed through the room. Rose’s heart skipped a beat.

“Good evening!” said Dad. “Twenty-seven years ago, my lovely wife, Candace, became Flawless Cosmetic’s Queen, and she’s been marvelous! The best yet, in fact."

The crowd applauded.

"I couldn’t believe my luck when she agreed to marry me. But, now, I’m luckier still. Because sixteen years ago today, we were blessed with a beautiful little girl.”

Rose couldn’t breathe. The stupid corset was too tight.

“Rose brought joy and contentment to our hearts as we watched her grow.”

Her heart pounded in her chest. The spots were taking over her vision again.

“And now, she’s a young woman, ready to take on tradition and the world. I give you the new Queen of Flawless Cosmetics, Rose Connolly!”

The crowd cheered.

Rose stared at the door. She was supposed to walk through it and smile graciously as her father placed the crown on her head. She had to go. So why wouldn’t her feet move? Her hands trembled. Her skin itched. The crowd cheered on, deafening her, and somehow stealing all the oxygen in the room. Her chest heaved, but her lungs still seemed empty. She wanted to scream.

Rose stumbled backward, her hand bumping a doorknob. Another door! She had to get outside, away from the oxygen stealing monsters. She flung the door open and ran down a dark hall. A neon “exit” sign buzzed at the other end. She burst through that door and leaped down the stairs. Endless stairs. Turn after turn after turn. She was dizzy. She couldn’t breathe. She reached for the wall, then kept going. Would these stairs ever end? Yes, there. Rose pushed open the door and stumbled into the icy air.

The wind whipped through her dress, and the freezing air stabbed at her throat. She gagged, the wind stealing her breath away, then shivered and hugged her lace-covered shoulders. The bitter cold had chased away the dizziness, and her mind was clear. Crystal clear.

Rose had just run away from her crowning.

Her heart pounded, and a new wave of dizziness washed over her. What was wrong with her? She should be on the platform, accepting the Flawless crown from her father. Instead, she was in a dark, deserted street, in December, with no coat, no money, no phone, nothing. How was she going to get back upstairs?



The different stages of PANIC.

Drop The Needle #3

YA fantasy:

Mrs. Dodger, the house matron of the boys’ dormitory, has gone missing, and Kate and her 2 friends decide to search for clues in the attic where they knew she’d recently been sneaking around. Realizing that they will need a source of light, Kate’s friends ask her to wait for them while they get some flashlights.

Without a word of explanation, the boys made their way back downstairs while Kate waited nervously by the attic door. She had begun to feel uneasy, like someone was peering at her from a dark corner. It took a lot of willpower for Kate to stay where she was until Devin and Rufus came lumbering toward her a few minutes later, flashlights in hand.

“I keep flashlights hidden in the library for unplanned emergencies,” Devin said, looking pleased with himself. “It’s a good thing I changed the batteries at the beginning of the summer.”

Kate noticed that the boys hadn’t bothered to bring a flashlight for her, but she smiled her thanks and allowed Devin to lead the way up the attic stairway. The stale heat of the upper floor was already thick in Kate’s nostrils as she climbed. It smelled of ancient dust and forgotten things, and gave Kate a weird, out-of-time feeling. She hoped their search would be over quickly.

“Creepy,” Devin said as they reached the top. “It’s like no one’s been up here for centuries.”

“Except for these,” Rufus said, shining his flashlight on a well-worn footpath in the dust on the floor. “Looks like Mrs. Dodger has been a regular visitor.”

“Let’s follow them,” Kate said, trying to sound braver than she felt. Thoughts of Mrs. Dodger lying face down on the floor were starting to crowd more rational thoughts from her mind.

The swath of tracks led through a maze of canvas-draped objects and stacks of dusty boxes. In less than two minutes, Kate and the boys had followed them to their end, which appeared to be an ancient, tattered quilt hanging on the wall by several long, slightly bent nails.

“Right,” Kate said, attempting to rub the dust out of her nose with the back of her hand. “Someone walked back here to the wall and just stopped.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Rufus said, “unless there’s something interesting in this pile here.” He gestured toward what looked like an old writing desk piled with long-forgotten ledgers and notebooks.

“That stuff hasn’t been touched in years,” Devin said. “There’s got to be something behind this blanket.”

Devin lifted the corner of the blanket, peered behind it, and then pulled the blanket back as far as it would go. There in the wall was a narrow door, slightly ajar, a skeleton key hanging limply from its keyhole.



NERVOUS TENSION

Drop The Needle #2

Zoe has been shanghaied into the LOP army. She was captured during an attack on a planet where her father served as ambassador.
Zoë sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand and curled tighter into a fetal position. The trainers would come soon. There was little sleep around here, little time to wallow in misery. She shivered and rolled over.

A noise, the sound of shuffling near her, caused her to grab tightly to her boots under her pillow. They were hers, she wasn't giving them up. They'd have to kill her first. The footsteps drew closer, and the end of her mattress sank down, making the springs squeak.

"Leave me alone."

A scratchy wool blanket fell onto her. Its warmth, almost instantaneous. "I'm a friend."

The voice was deep, soft, barely a whisper, and male. Zoë clutched the blanket in her fists and drew her legs up tighter. "Go away."

"It's cold in here." The man moved closer now sitting by her hips.

"Yes, now leave." Now that she had the blanket, she feared its loss. "Please."

"You can't back down. Every time you do, they gain more ground."

Zoë, listened to his breath in the dark, unable to see him, but she could feel the heat of his body against her hip.

"We could keep each other warm." His hand reached out and stroked down her thigh through the blanket.

"No." She'd heard the sounds of mating at night, females who gave their bodies for favors. She was not one of them, nor did she intend to become one.

"We can just hold one another, share the heat. Please. I'm cold. You have my only blanket."

Zoë clutched it tighter. Could she take his blanket and leave him in the cold? She sighed and scooted over. "Okay. Share heat. No sex."

"No sex." He whispered and slid down on to the cot next to her, climbing under the covers. "My name is Malachi." He curled up behind her, cupping his body to hers.

"Zoë." She closed her eyes and savored the warmth. It was nice. She'd been so long without human contact. A hug, a touch. It almost felt foreign to her.

"What's that on your back?" His hand slid under her shirt and stroked up her spine.

Zoë shot away from him and the heavenly heat. "Don't touch me." His hand had burned into her.
He pulled her back into his arms, back to the warmth. "If you don't want to say, I will respect that. Only curious."
DESPAIR

Drop The Needle #1

Contemporary fantasy--the MC has just had to make the best of an impossible situation, resulting in someone she cared about getting hurt. She's already dealing with the recent death of a family member. (And yes, the water is sentient to some degree, hence the fantasy label.)

"Is it--so hard to let yourself feel things?" he asked. "It just seems that you keep yourself strung, all the time. This kind of stress isn't healthy."

"Healthy or not," I whispered, "it's the only way." I clenched the railing and stared into the dark, churning water, water that, for every time it helped, doubled back with an undercurrent to betray me. "I can't…handle it if one more piece of me is ripped away." The memory of Ransom's shocked face reflected in my mind. How could I have just let him…? I knew what would happen if I did. And I did it anyway, because it would be for the "best," because it would make for the least casualties.

Simon rested his fingers on my arm, sending shoots of warmth through my skin. No, I thought in alarm. No, no, no. I had to stay frozen, or I wouldn't be able to hold it all together.

"Besides," he said, "stress is bad for your singing. Remember what your uncle said? Relax." He touched my shoulders. "This should not feel like a rock. And this--" he put a finger under my chin, "well, you need to keep your head up."

I closed my eyes rather than look at him, but I could still feel him close. My skin, traitorous organ it was, melted at his touch and longed for more. But I couldn't let that happen. He wasn't mine, he never was, and knowing the goodbye I'd be making by the end of the summer was more than I could stand. Not on top of what had just happened with Ransom.

Salty water speckled my cheeks. I swiped my arm across my face. "Stupid surf," I mumbled.

And then his arms wrapped themselves completely around me and pulled me close so that my face was hidden in his chest. Don't let go, my skin said, just as my mind panicked.

"It's okay to let some of it out," Simon said into my hair. "I'll hold the pieces together while you do."


PRIMARY EMOTION: SUPPRESSED GRIEF

Dropping that needle...are you ready?

Yay! I love the enthusiasm with which these bravehearted writers submit their stuff.

Remember, if you've submitted something, please try to spend some time offering feedback to others as well. You scratch my back, I scratch yours, kind of thing.

I don't have to remind you all to be kind. I already know that you're amazing.

And so we begin. All excerpts will be posted anonymously. Please let the writer know whether or not the desired emotion was achieved, along with any other feedback you'd like to offer.

Writers: If the feedback is helpful, I would suggest you swipe it into Notepad or something similar, and save it. I will, of course, leave everything up on the site, but technology can be iffy, so make sure you save whatever you want to keep (hardcopy might not be a bad idea).

Drum roll, please..............................

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Some Good Readin' Here!

I'm loving receiving these snippets of stories in my inbox.

Almost makes me want to be an agent. Or not.

Anyway, keep 'em coming! You still have until 9:00 AM EDT tomorrow (Thursday) to submit.

Remember to include the emotion at the end of your excerpt.

Till tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Screamin' Meme

How could I resist a meme from one of my gentle readers and a fellow writer?

Here it is:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people and post a comment to Angela once you've posted your 3 sentences.

Now, this is really not a reflection of my personal reading taste, since this book just happened to be collecting dust in my office, but here you go:

The book: Million Dollar Consulting by Alan Weiss

The required sentences:

Ask what their favored models are to see if there are conflicts (for example, the candidate believes that "right brain thinkers" can't be organized in their work habits, a position that you find abhorrent). Spend extended time together, professionally and socially. Collaborate on several projects.

(OK, is this dry or what?)

Honestly, my personal reading list is far more exciting than that. I just don't happen to spend my leisure reading time in my office.

And since I'm anonymous and wouldn't dream of disclosing my personal blogging relationships online, I am officially tagging EVERYONE WHO ENTERED A SUBMISSION IN THE FIRST "ARE YOU HOOKED."

So there. You've ALL been tagged!

Call For Critique Submissions: Drop The Needle

Here we go!

"Drop the needle" was an insidious technique used by music professors prior to the emergence of non-analogue technology (so I am told), in which he would "drop the needle" of a phonograph somewhere in the middle of a piece of music, and the students then would have to identify the piece during an exam. If you hadn't spent weeks listening to the assigned music, you were sunk.

I mean, anyone could identify Beethoven's Fifth by the telltale opening "Da da da DAAAAAAAAA." But would they still recognize it if the needle were dropped in the middle of the third movement?

And so the sheep and the goats were separated.

So. We can't identify a story we've never read by opening the manuscript in the middle. We can, however, identify the weakness or strength of emotion conveyed in a particular scene.

Here is what you will need to submit:

1. Choose a scene that is no longer than 400 words in length (I'm not going to be anal retentive about that, but do use 400 as a guideline, for the sake of time and space). The more dialogue-rich the scene, the better. Make sure the scene is wrought with a specific emotion (e.g., fear, tension, exuberance).

2. Preface the scene with a brief, one- to two-sentence lead-in so we know what we're being dropped into the middle of. (For example: Rosemary and Daffy have been stranded on Huckleberry Mountain for three days. The water is running low, Rosemary is out of Paxil, and Daffy has just professed his undying love for Rosemary's sister.)

3. At the end of the scene, type in all CAPS (so I see it) what the prevalent emotion was supposed to be.

4. Email the whole shebang (NOT as an attachment, please) to authoressmail (at) gmail.com by 9:00 am EDT (3:00 pm in London) on Thursday, April 24.

I will post each entry separately, and the comment boxes will be open for critique. Your goal should be to have your readers WALLOWING in the emotion you're trying to convey, before they get to the end and read what the emotion was supposed to be (hopefully without going...."Huh?").

Questions? Post them right here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Fricassee

Authoress to Self: Hmmm. Where did all my chatty writer/readers go?

Self to Authoress: Well, they're probably busy. You know, writing.

Authoress: That's a good thing.

Self: Yes, that's a good thing.

Authoress: But I really wanted to hear from them.

Self: I know.

Authoress: I really, really, really wanted to hear from them.

Self: Don't whine.

Authoress: How am I supposed to figure out what to do next if they don't tell me what they want me to do next?

Self: This is your blog.

Authoress: So?

Self: So, it's your blog. Do what you want to do.

Authoress: *blink*

Self: It's not that difficult. Take one of the good suggestions they've already left you and run with it.

Authoress: Just like that?

Self: Just like that.

Authoress: Like, the dialogue thing or the emotion thing or...one of those things?

Self: Right.

Authoress: Right.

Self: And then they'll come back because they crave the feedback.

Authoress: And then they'll come back because they crave the feedback.

Self: Ur...right.

Authoress: And, after all, one of the things that Miss Snark's First Victim is all about is providing feedback for passionate writers.

Self: Now you're talking.

Authoress: Of course, if they want to leave a comment today to share their personal opinions, I'd be totally open to that.

Self: Of course you would.

Authoress: So I'll just open the floor, then, and invite them to chatter away for this week's Fricassee. Because I'm so totally open to suggestions and feedback. Because, after all, this blog is for them. I mean, it's my blog, but it's for them. They're the juice in my apricot; the battery in my flashlight; the --

Self: That pretty much says it.

Authoress: Right.

Self: I'm glad we had this little chat.

Authoress: Hey. If I can't talk to myself, who can I talk to?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Awesome! Truly awesome....

This, from the comment box, by Karen Duvall:

I've tightened up my first page, thanks to the feedback, so hopefully this will make a difference to how agents view the start of my book. I'll be using the new first page in the requested fulls I'll be sending out later this week. Thanks so much to those who commented on my page!


This is what it's all about. Please continue to leave comments here, telling me what will be most helpful to you as a writer. I want this to be YOUR place. And I want eventually to have a regular "Success!" post, in which readers share their good news. We need to read it, we need to be encouraged, we need to keep pressing on.

So! Warm up those fingers, because I need to hear from you.

And Karen -- BEST OF LUCK!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tell me what you think, Dear Writers...

Angela made the suggestion, in the comment box, that we might explore "dialogue segments, examples of emotions (showing an angry scene, a fearful one, etc.)" here on the blog.

Brainstorm with me on this one, will you? How might we set something like this up where it wouldn't be too difficult to manage, and would be as helpful to participants as our recent Are You Hooked? seems to have been?

I'm into exploring creative approaches to hone writing and "test the waters" for an enthusiastic audience.

I await your comments!

Profuse Apologies To All the Agents I've Ever E-Queried

Well, maybe not "profuse."

But my experience with Are You Hooked? last week was eye-opening. Sixteen entries was more than I had anticipated. (I was hoping for four or five!) And then, when the comments started rolling in -- well, let's just say my inbox felt a little overwhelmed.

And when I started to think about it -- started to think about what an agent's inbox must look like on a daily basis -- I had a moment of epiphany. So many emails! Having to go through each one with fresh eyes and an open mind is something beyond what I think I could personally do.

I mean -- holy bits and bytes, Batman!

(Okay, I don't mean that. That's really stupid and it dates me.)

I admit that I'm torn in my apology to all the agents I've e-queried, though. Because I've also learned something else about all those comments in my inbox, and this is it: When I didn't read them right away, they piled up on me. That's when it got scary. If I would have simply read each one as I discovered it, I would have kept up.

And agents like Nathan Bransford do just that. He keeps up. He answers each email and he answers in a timely manner. (I know this because he once rejected me. It was a prompt and fairly painless rejection, thank you very much.) He's very open about this policy on his blog, and I like that.

But other agents take forever and a day to send that form rejection. Naturally they're busy; naturally, clients come first (and possibly bathing and eating at least a meal a day). But if we would all be completely honest, there's also a bit of procrastination going on here. We all do it, whether it's our inboxes or some other less-than-savory task, like hosing out the garbage bin (which I've procrastinated to the point of never having done it at all) and filling out our tax forms (it's April 14 -- have you done yours?).

So please. Let's all be honest enough to admit that, most of the time, we don't answer our emails because we haven't prioritized an email-answering part of our days.

I can respect a person who admits to having put off a not-so-fun task. Really, I can. And believe me, after my not even half so overwhelming experience of last Thursday, I can understand how an agent might open his inbox, gaze with glazed eyes at the dozens of marked-as-unread subject lines, and close down the window with a nauseous shudder.

I can go there now. I may not like it, but I can go there.

So to all the agents I've sneered at and whined about and muttered over and rolled my eyes at, I'm sorry. I personally couldn't live with the email influx with which you are daily inundated.

And who knows. After this experience, I may just stop obsessing over checking my email every seven and a half minutes when I'm waiting to hear back from the Latest Hot Agent on my list.

Or I may not.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Fricassee

Wow.

I would like to express my profound amazement and appreciation for the awesome responses to our first Are You Hooked. I'm seriously blown away. That you would take so much time, give so much thought, express yourselves so professionally, so kindly, in so helpful a manner, is remarkable.

I wish I would have submitted a page!

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I sincerely hope that those of you who submitted your pages have been blessed, encouraged, spurred on, helped in any small way by these honest but gentle responses.

And so for our Friday Fricassee this week:

I count this first Are You Hooked a success. Do you? What would you like to see handled differently the next time?

What other "group efforts" would you like to see here? Queries? Blurbs? More first pages? Something I haven't thought of?

For those of you who submitted pages: Was this a good experience? Do you feel like your writing will be affected positively for your having participated here? Does the sting of a "no" or two feel too yucky right now to move past, or does it feel like a nudge toward more honing, more pruning, more hard work toward your heartfelt goals?

Share! I'm all ears (eyes).

And have a glorious weekend.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Are You Hooked? First Page #16

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Title: TIME IS HELL

Heckler threw a left hook into the punching bag, all hisnot-so-repressed anger behind it. He'd never had issues withsuppressed emotions. A couple of loaded Glocks and extra ammo werethe perfect therapy—especially if he had live targets. "I told younot to sneak up on me like that."

"Yes, you did," Baal said. The Hell lord lounged on the second handleather couch shoved up against the basement wall. "I chose to ignoreyour wishes."

Heckler hit the bag again, let it twist in a lazy circle, thenroundhouse kicked it with a cleated boot. Holes popped open in thevinyl. He dodged the crazed back swing and scowled. "Don't you haveto have a f***ing invitation to get in here?"

A hair thin smirk smudged Baal's face. "Not to your residence."

Heckler kept Baal in his peripheral vision and beat the crap out ofthe punching bag. "So what the hell do you want?"

"A favor," Baal said.

"I don't do favors."

"Fine." Baal tapped his fingers on the armrest. "Then I'll collectyour debts instead."

Crap. Heckler dodged the swinging bag too slow and it smacked him inthe side. He gritted his teeth and swung around to face the Helllord. This wasn't improving his day.

Baal sat with an arm draped over the back of the couch, a Bluetoothwireless earpiece visible under his slicked back gray hair.

Are You Hooked? First Page #15

Title: FIVE STEP CRIME

Step three, get close to the victim.

It was a good thing no-one could hear her thoughts. If any other guild member found out that she continued to use the advice given to novice assassins, she would become the laughing stock of the guild. Drent would never give her an advancement. However, mentally talking herself through the five steps of assassination helped her focus on the job in hand. And ignore the fact that she was ending a life.

She slipped her black gloved fingers into the pouch. Feeling the tops of two glass vials, she selected the one on the right. She slid it out of its leather cocoon in one smooth action. It wouldn’t do for her fingers to slip and the vial to chink against its mate’s lid. On her second assassination, she had made that mistake.

The victim had given her a black eye when he struggled to fend her off with his spindly arms. It was a good thing he was old, weak, and that the poison worked quickly. Better that she spend a week and a half out of action than a lifetime.

“Gwringmb,” Amigal smiled at the gibberish emitted from the sleeping woman’s mouth. From her observations, there was a broad spectrum of mumbles that ranged from one syllable grunts to actual intelligible sentences. Should she ever found herself in a remote house, waiting to kill someone who spoke in their sleep, she would take the time to see if she could get them to talk back.

Are You Hooked? First Page #14

Title: Dead Man Walking

Dead Man Walking. That’s what they call him. Stays out of town mostly, up in the hills where the wind whips your hair into barbs that score your cheeks. Folk says he’s not just mad...he’s deranged. There’s a difference, presumably. Mad’s mad as far as I’m concerned. I guess that’s why they dared me to do it. Go and get my fortune read by Dead Man Walking.

Stolen boots firmly laced to my feet, I started the long climb up Devil’s Hill. Rain threatened to burst from the pregnant clouds and a wintry chill cramped the air. Determined, I trudged up the barren path, lone trees pointing their scarred branches at me.

“Go home,” the rustling branches whispered. I chucked a stone at the boughs and told them to shut up.

I was panting and out of breath by the time I reached Dead Man Walking’s cave. The sun dipped further towards the horizon and a red stain bled over the rocky ledge.

“Hey, mister. Mister...err, Walking.”

Nothing stirred from within the eerie depths of the cave for a moment. Then I could hear him coming. Big heavy steps like a bear. A bear wearing a construction worker’s boots. He emerged in a flurry of cobwebs and trickling dust.

“What is it?” he snarled.

His bulbous nose burned a deep scarlet beneath dark eyes, and his grey hair fell in matted waves around his shoulders. He needed a wash too - and soon.

Me, being only fourteen and a girl at that, you’d assume I was scared stiff as a corpse. Bloody right I was!

Are You Hooked? First Page #13

“That stupid cow pie,” Carrie muttered.

Her cat, Felix, barreled after the culprit, hissing. The boy had stolen her sunglasses and was about to make her eat grass when the Siamese attacked him. Felix frequently chased away her taunting classmates. She had almost made it home this time. Then she had heard familiar shouts, calling her “Creepy Peepers” and “Rabbit.”

“I’m a vegetarian – not a rabbit,” she yelled after the retreating boy. Carrie loved vegetables and had been known to turn down cake in favor of Brussels sprouts. Not a popular choice. Dropping her backpack, she shielded her eyes from the sun and spotted her glasses, dangling from a tree branch. She wore sunglasses to hide her eyes – one green and the other blue. It usually didn’t help.

Afraid of heights, she looked around and found a long stick. Leaping and grunting, she poked at the glasses, but couldn’t quite reach them. A possum waddled out on the tree branch.
Carrie dropped the stick – another strange sighting! She grabbed her backpack, whipped out her notebook and pencil, and jotted:

*A possum out in the daytime?

If that critter would walk out another couple of feet, it might shake loose the glasses. She rummaged through her backpack.

“Hey! Mr. Possum. If you can get me those glasses, you can have this.” She held up an apple.
The possum nodded, scurried out on the branch, and knocked off the sunglasses with its paw.

Are You Hooked? First Page #12

Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: ASHA'S MASK

When I was born, a tiger tried to devour me. It would have been nosurprise if I had been offered on the stone claws of the alters toYasalara. But I was tucked away in the nursery of the women's sector,the doors watched by my father's royal guardsmen, and no windows inthe room. I recall very little—the impression of hot breath and alullaby whispered from the tiger's maw. Soft, crooning, peaceful.

It bit off my right foot before the guards heard my nursemaid'sscreams. There was never any pain—or perhaps I don't remember.

The tiger was snow-touched; a glorious white pelt painted with ebonystripes. After it has licked my face with a bloody tongue, it laydown and made no attempt to fight as the soldiers slaughtered it.

The story was scribed at my father's request, gleaned from the wordsof the maid and the guards before all were beheaded.

The tiger's pelt lines my bed and I continue to wonder why it onlytook my foot and not the face that curses me so.#

"What in the six underworlds possessed you?" Breath clicked in mythroat and my stomach fluttered. I hated the sick sensations fearbrought and the fury did little to smother them. "You are little goodto me dead."

Nechai spread his hands. He sat cross-legged on the floor, his expression infuriatingly unrepentant. "You would rather I not to myduty?"

"It doesn't include accusing my mother of trying to kill me, you fool."

Are You Hooked? First Page #11

Marcus's teeth rattled. He strangled the levers beside his seat, knuckles turning white, hanging on only because he needed an anchor to sanity.

The system's indicator lights began to die, one at a time.

Power cells –failing.

Pressure – failing.

The flipping hydraulics – failing.

All winked out, until the only thing left was a little orange light that glowed and pulsed. Laughter bubbled from his lips. What rocket scientist thought of that? Oxygen? Do I really need a light to know I'm still breathing?

Should have opted for the lethal injection.

An image flashed across the otherwise blank navigational screen in front of him. An outline of a man in a seat, alerting the pilot to assume the crash position. Must have been the same rocket scientist. No backup power, but they saved enough to tell you to bend over, tuck your head between your legs and kiss your a** goodbye. Clever.

Marcus's gaze jumped up to the object that filled the canopy's frame. Big and blue, a Goliath. "I'd say it's safe to assume, that's not Mars. Must have taken a wrong turn somewhere in that freaking worm hole." He should have known better than to get close to it.

He let go of the lever and tapped the control panel, then banged it with his fist. "Sh**." Dead and useless, except for the red sign of the seated-man, who took the opportunity to flash at him. Again. He slammed his fist down harder. The image hummed, popped and disappeared.

Are You Hooked? First Page #10

Cracker Jacks, sweet caramel coated popped corn, mingled with crunchy peanuts to create a flavor explosion in your mouth. A bounty hunter's ambrosia, my favorite all time snack and the only benefit to working a case on Earth, the Loony bin of the universe.

I fished the toy surprise from the bottom of the box. Some of my snack spilled onto the cold concrete floor of the abandoned sanatorium. The cellophane wrapper crackled as I tore the package open with my teeth. Please be a tattoo. I peeled the red and white cover open and revealed my prize.

Sweet! I licked the back of my hand and stuck the picture down, pressing hard.

"Lexi." My ear com crackled.

What now? I'd been standing here for half the night and the slime-sucker hadn't so much as jumped out to say boo. Did Nicco really think I needed another update to the dismal night? I was seriously beginning to doubt if the target was here.

"Coming your way in forty-five marks," Nicco said.

I dropped my Cracker Jacks and pulled my breech-loaded, gas-fired, neural neutralizer up to my shoulder. Great. That was a new box.

So many things make my job worth getting up in the morning. This wasn't one of them. I could think of a hundred things I'd rather be doing. Yeah, lying on a beach working my toes into some blue sand topped the list. I pressed my back against the damp plaster wall and counted slowly in my head. No ocean breezes here. Thirty marks…

Are You Hooked? First Page #9

Imagine you were born with eleven fingers instead of ten. Your mother and your grandmother both have eleven fingers, and your father, if you could remember him, also had eleven fingers. You would think having eleven fingers was perfectly natural, perfectly normal. Even if you read books and heard that most people had ten fingers, your eleven fingers wouldn’t bother you because you live on an island away from everyone who has ten fingers. You have a big, salt-colored house on an island off the coast of Maine where you could see not one, but two lighthouses, and one other island where only wrens and brambles live.

There are less than one hundred people living on the island year round, and no one ever thinks about you having eleven fingers. It would all be fine.

And it was. For a very long time.

Until the night Aunt Nordia arrived to collect her inheritance.

Except no one had died.

Most people would imagine an inheritance to be money or jewelry or land. In my family, an inheritance means a promise that you collect while you are still living. Only an inheritance is not anything you can touch in my family. Aunt Nordia’ s inheritance was not a thing: it was time.

My time.

She came on the eve of my twelfth birthday just after dusk. I opened the door, and before she said her name, she said, “You are to leave Spoon Island and come with me, but you must be returned on the eve of your…following birthday.” Then she shivered. “I will have nothing to do with that number.”

Are You Hooked? First Page #8

Title: KNIGHT'S CURSE

The wooden vegetable crate wobbled when I stepped up to reach the dust-cakedwindow. I studied the Jeep full of men, looking for someone I recognized,someone from the village. I didn't talk much to the people there, but Istill knew who most of them were. Not these, though. All were strangers, andthey wore uniforms. Military camouflage that hardly camouflaged them at all.The way they slouched off into the bushes, I could tell they believedthemselves unseen. Except that I had seen them quite well. I noted eachstitch on their clothing, every whisker on their unshaven faces, even thecolor of their bootlaces.

I blinked behind the thick sunglasses that shielded my sensitive eyes fromthe harsh midsummer sun. It was nearing dusk now, so my eyes didn't hurt asmuch. I normally stayed within the darkened rooms and hallways of themonastery. I was barely a teenager and my family of Maronite monks did agood job protecting me from outsiders, including the Lebanese villagers whostared and whispered about the way I looked. I heard them. But I could alsohear a bee leave its hive a mile away.

Maybe I should tell Brother Thomas about the soldiers, but it was so rare for us to have visitors other than the village doctor. This visit was anovelty and I couldn¹t pull myself from the window. I felt like a hookedfish, the bait my own insatiable curiosity.

Are You Hooked? First Page #7

This is a story about wanting more than what is provided growing up. Not that I was provided for unsatisfactorily, no. I merely suffered from an urge to escape anonymity, to rise above the prescribed formulas society set down for achieving success, to be different. I dreamt of moving to a big city, falling in love, and being a movie star.


Once I finished my theatre degree at FSU I went home to my parents in Daytona Beach and slept on a futon in their living room so I could save up some money to move to L.A. Nobody wanted to come with me, so ultimately I’d move on my own which wasn’t that big of a problem – I just remember thinking it couldn’t come soon enough. I was working at a library and starting to write short fiction but still living in a shell and claiming that the place I really belonged still awaited me. My whole life until then had been one long preparation, one big temporary state from which I needed to advance.

Are You Hooked? First Page #6

The color irritated Malcolm. Since when had the flashers on patrol cars changed from red to blue? He had no preference for one shade over the other, but interference with established patterns was never good.


He sighed. For the first time in eight years, he’d be late for work. He hit the button to lower the window, and noted he still smelled of lilacs. A second shower was in order, even if the officer changed the flat for him.


The latest darling to endure his idiosyncrasies had smiled with kindness when he’d requested to supervise her bathing before and after. She’d smelled quite pretty, been so anxious to please, understood his need to avoid her lips—he’d agreed to spend the night.


Of course he hadn’t planned on counting the minutes ticking from midnight to 2:46 AM as they shared the hotel room table, quizzing from Gray’s Anatomy. A second year med student, she hoped for a brighter future. Her step to hug her mentor when he attempted his exit, her smile encouraging him to drop a kiss on her forehead, remained a pattern he’d like to see broken.


Depressing. None of his well paid sweethearts allowed him to slink out like a john should. After one or two visits, attachments formed. Next month he’d request a different woman.


The police car crunched to a stop behind him, and he raised his eyes to the horizon of another dazzling day.


What a bizarre light—


His brain flat-lined and Malcolm collapsed.

Are You Hooked? First Page #5

There was a loud pounding on the door. Abigail sat straight up as she pushed the paper back from the letter she was writing. Her body was covered in a cold sweat. Now what had she done? She tried to search her brain to remember what travesty she had committed the day before. Ticking each off finger by finger she went through the list of rules, she hadn't spoken to anyone other than the servants, she hadn't ridden her horse without permission, and she hadn't gone anywhere near his library.



Abigail pulled the sheet up as far as she could as she watched the doorknob begin to turn. No, she couldn't stay under there for long he would pull her out and proceed to make her plead for release from his hands. Every day she said to herself she wouldn't plead. Not this time, this time she would allow him to kill her. But every day she would begin to plead when she heard the crunching of her wrist.


She uncovered and stood before he could enter. It was always easier if she didn't try to hide from it. As he walked toward her she could see his eyes angrier than usual. "Did you honestly believe you could get away with it?"


"What?" She knew it made him even angrier when she asked, but if he would just be able to tell her once what she had done to anger him maybe she could cope with his actions better.

Are You Hooked? First Page #4

Title: TWICE ENSLAVED



Layla was convinced he was following her. The chance of the same man appearing at five different points in her journey home by coincidence was slim.



There he was again.



The same, non-descript face with the recognisable dark blue jeans and vanilla t-shirt. What man would leave the university, linger outside a ladies room, hop on a bus to the nearest hair accessory store, grab an ice-cream at a family run ice-cream store then walk the exact same route to the small culdesac which only had six families within it? A stalker.



Great. She’d have another reason for her father to request that she stop attending university and get married.



As she rummaged in her handbag for her keys, identifiable by touch from the small, soft purple elephant keyring, Layla glanced around at the rest of the landscaped gardens.



Please be home, daddy, she pleaded, dropping her keys at the sight of the man loitering at the entrance to the road. Even if we disagree, please be home to protect me.

Are You Hooked? First Page #3

Genre: Middle Grade

Prologue




A small and unremarkable boy stood atop a snowy, rock strewn precipice of a rugged mountain. Tears streamed down his semi-frozen cheeks, and his head hung low. Only ten years had passed since he first came here as an infant with his father who had taken in his arms, and held him to the heavens.


The small boy now stood on the same spot, wearing buckskin leggings and moccasins. In his hand he held a well worn doll-a gift from his father that day so many years before-the day his entire family died.


The boy raised his face to the sky and shouted, his heart about to burst. The tiny doll crushed in his hand, he held it to the heavens, and shouted once more.


He dropped to his knees, and the tears flowed. He loosened his grip on the doll, and let it drop. It landed and slid, then plummeted over the edge into the great chasm beneath. He threw himself forward, but could only watch in horror as his most prize possession dropped toward the violent water of the river below.


"Atsah!", he cried. At this he heard a loud shriek behind him and a huge rush of wings and air as something swooped over his shoulder and dove over the cliff. What appeared to be a giant eagle propelled itself downward faster and faster, and snatched the little doll from the air just as it was about to be swallowed by the raging torrent.

The massive bird twisted gracefully, and shot into the air with such power and strength that it reached and passed the awestruck boy in a matter of seconds. It rose higher until with its beak pointed skyward, it ceased flapping its wings, let out an ear-splitting shriek, and with a swift twist, dematerialized into a wisp of smoke.

Astonished, the boy stared to the sky and the spot where the giant eagle vanished. A small thump at his feet drew his gaze. There, as though he had never let it out of his sight, lay his precious doll.

Are You Hooked? First Page #2

Genre: YA historical fiction.


Title: Valley of Green and Gold

Knee-high stalks rustled against Nora's skirts as she tore through the wheat field. Over her panting breath, she could hear the plants whispering you're late, you're late. Two years she'd been waiting for this, and now she was about to miss it.



The winter air burned her lungs, but she kept running. She cleared the field, passed the lone hemlock, and raced around the side of the house to find everyone waiting in the yard.



"I was about to leave without you," Papa called from the wagon seat.



"Sorry—" She stopped to catch her breath, about to say she'd been playing with Adsila. "Sorry I was late."



"No harm done," Mama said, pulling Nora's bonnet onto her head. As she tied the ribbon beneath her chin, she winked at Nora. Nora hid a smile; Mama knew what she was up to, and who she'd been with.



"Can I go, too?" Isaac asked, running to grab Nora's skirt.



"It's Nora's turn," Mama said. "You can go to town when you're older."



"But I am older," he said as Mama pulled him out of the wagon's way.



"Older than five," Papa said with a grin. When Nora had settled next to him, he flicked Cyclone's reins. "We'll be back before dark."



Nora squealed as the horse lurched forward. "I can't believe I'm going to Coloma! You always said it was no place for a girl." She grabbed at the seat as the wagon bounced over a stone.

Are You Hooked? First Page #1

Genre: YA



When I woke up this morning, I had no plans to skip class. Sure, I wasn’t exactly ecstatic about jumping to a new school in a new neighborhood weeks before the end of the year, or leaving my friends behind. But when your parents split, that’s how the cheese rolls.

It’s just too bad it rolled into a senior’s care facility.

Not that I can really blame Mom for that. Pickings were pretty slim for an elderly care specialist who’d taken 13 years off to be a mom. I’m not so self-absorbed to realize she had to take what she could to support the two of us. Palm Estates offered a live-in job, close to a school, with a condo price tag she could afford.

It’s just life isn’t all cake, living in a building full of seniors. Calls come in at all hours, complaining about all sorts of ailments. In the last week, I’d learned way more than I’d ever hoped to about what happens to the body when it reaches the down slope of Ol’ Faithful. Aches, pains, mysterious rashes….no way was I getting old. Nuh-uh.

Mom had tried to get me pumped up about this place by highlighting the outdoor pool. You know, the whole hang-with-your-friends deal. I pointed out that having a bunch of eighty-year-olds in saggy suits didn’t exactly incite my desire to have people over for a pool party.

But whatever.

Would I rather live somewhere else? Sure. But if ‘somewhere else’ was back at my old house with my control freak dad, then no way. In my mind, option B was way worse that having old people for neighbors.

Are You Hooked: RULES OF PLAY!

A warm, enthusiastic THANK YOU to all our brave, dedicated fellow writers who have opted to share their first pages with us.



Now, pretend you are in your favorite bookstore, double latte in one hand. You are perusing this and that bookshelf, picking up the titles that spark your interest.



You read the first page of each story you pick up, and wham! It's either grabbed you by the heartstrings and half your brain, or it leaves you flat.



It's that initial impression that you need to leave in the comment boxes of the first pages posted here today. Post a resounding YES if the page has left you panting for more. Post a tactful NO if it didn't -- and please share why.



I know I don't have to remind you to be kind. You never know when you might be next on the chopping block.



Okay! Without further ado...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Last Minute Reminder!

You still have time to submit your first page for our first Are You Hooked? I will accept pages until 9:00 AM EDT on Thursday (tomorrow), and will then post the pages on Thursday afternoon.

Remember that this is all about constructive feedback, so even if you haven't sent in a page for critique, please be sure to cast your "yes" and "no" votes on Thursday!

Query Querulousness

I've read it time and again on agent blogs hither and yon; most recently, Nathan Bransford has emoted upon the subject.

In short, there seems to be a continual influx of inappropriately, unprofessionally written queries from hopeful but short-on-savvy writers.

Ladies and gentlemen. I am sure that none of my esteemed readers are among the offenders!

I think what befuddles me the most is the fact that there is so much readily available information out there, right at our literal fingertips. Agents are blogging, whipping up web sites, and submitting their information to the snazzy folks at AgentQuery. Want to double check the spelling of an agent's name? Click. Want to make sure your Most Favorite Agent accepts your genre? Click. Want to find out exactly how to write a concise, professional, attention-grabbing query letter? Clickety click click click.

And amazingly enough, everybody (at least every reputable body) appears to be saying the same things.

Things like, don't write a vanilla "Dear Sir/Madam" query and send it en masse to five hundred hapless, overworked agents at once.

Would receiving a letter like that make you want to sit up and take notice?

And things like, don't try to impress an agent by the use of rampant name-dropping (check out this post by Kristin Nelson) in your query. And you might want to refrain from pompously proclaiming that your novel is Sure To Be The Next Best Seller, so Ms. Agent had better Scoop It Up Right Now before she Misses The Opportunity Forever!

This is not an Alex Mandossian teleseminar, folks.

But, truly. Truly none of you actually do these things.

What ever so slightly miffs me about all this is that there are those of us who really do take this query thing seriously. We read up on it. We carefully research agents. We write intelligently. And we wouldn't dream of sending a nasty email to an agent who sends us a form rejection email.

Perish the thought!

Seriously. I would like to think of myself as a professional. I am sure you would like to think of yourself that way, too. And it's frustrating to think of all the yuckity-yuck clogging the inboxes and mailboxes of agents -- yuckity-yuck that detracts from the carefully written, thoughtfully mailed letters from the rest of us.

Not that we're going to automatically float to the top. We're not. In the end, it's always about the writing. But wouldn't it be nice if every query was a quality one? No "junk mail" queries, no crayon-and-watercolor queries, no mass mail queries, no queries rife with typos and completely lacking in emotional intelligence.

*sigh*

So. The best we can do is to offer our best. Always. And the more of us who make this commitment, the nicer the "writing world" will be. It's not just about making agents' lives easier, either. That's a nice side effect, to be sure. But what I'm really talking about is self-respect. Honor. Integrity. Giving our all because it's important to do so. Aiming high. Checking our spelling.

You get my drift.

Will you make the pledge along with me? My queries will be a reflection of who I am: An intelligent, thoughtful, professional writer who has taken the time to write an excellent letter and send it to precisely the right person, one letter at a time.

Onward!

Monday, April 7, 2008

First Page Feedback: Are You Hooked?

So in order to just jump right in, here's the deal:

If you'd like some feedback in the comment box on whether or not the first page of your latest (or not so latest) manuscript "hooks" the reader, here's what you need to do:

Email me your first page (up to 250 words) at AuthoressMail (at) gmail.com between now and Thursday at 9:00 am EDT.

Beginning Thursday afternoon, I will post each entry as a separate blog post. Readers are invited to post "Yes, I'm hooked!" or "No, I'm not hooked" in the comment box beneath your entry. It would be most helpful if the "no" answers are accompanied by reasons why (kindly stated, of course).

All genres except erotica are okay by me.

And remember, nobody's giving a "professional opinion" here (unless, of course, you happen to be an agent or editor yourself). This is all about "testing the waters;" seeing if we can "hook" readers into wanting more of our stories.

Are you game? I hope so! Post any questions in the comment box here.

Organic or Outline?

I tend to be an organic writer.

In other words, I conceive an idea and begin writing. I don't spend weeks or months carefully plotting out what-happens-next. I simply write.

There's a downside. I sometimes write myself into a corner. I seem to be particularly adept at writing a knock-out, leave-you-breathless chapter ending, only to have no idea what's happening next.

What was that unusual sound? Why was Mr. Blankensnort standing by the lake without any clothes on? Who screamed? What's around the bend? How is this all related, anyway?

It can get messy.

Naturally, I've always got a notebook on hand. Notebooks are for working out plot points, scribbling down backstory, making sure everything works. In that sense, I suppose I'm not one hundred percent organic, in that I do need to stop from time to time and get back to my little notebook.

But there are those writers who plan down to the last quotation mark exactly what's going to happen, chapter by chapter. They've got a beginning, middle, and ending, all roughly outlined and ready to be developed into a well told tale. Once the grunt work is done, it's a matter of letting those words flow.

I admire writers like that.

But I also admire writers who can sit down and spin a tale without having to work so hard before they start. For some, the gift of storytelling comes easily. Complicated plots and subplots are a matter of course, like eating three meals a day and putting gas in your car. They're part of your day, and you don't have to think really hard each time you do one of them.


For me, the writing part comes more easily. It's the storytelling that makes me sweat. Even still, I'm at my best when I'm writing organically, trusting the details to work themselves out as I go. And when I do have some behind-the-scenes things to figure out, I actually enjoy crawling into bed early with my notebook and pen, in order to work out my latest story, develop my latest character, solve my latest problems. Dozing off notwithstanding, it can be a highly productive time.


So tell me -- are you organic or outlining? Or a synthesis? Or neither?

Friday, April 4, 2008

What are SECRET AGENT contests?

By far the most popular event on Miss Snark's First Victim, the Secret Agent: Are You Hooked? contests run monthly (more or less) and include a literary agent on the "critique panel" whose identity remains secret until the close of the contest.

Here's how it works:

There will be a call for submissions. When the call comes, follow the guidelines carefully and submit your excerpt before the deadline. All submissions will then be posted (anonymously) on the blog, and all readers are invited to leave critiques/feedback. Everyone who has entered the contest is expected to crit a minimum of five entries -- it's the mutual backscratch thing.

Our Secret Agent will join the panel of critters (that is, you) and will leave feedback for every entry. When the contest has ended, the Secret Agent will choose a winner or winners.

That's it in a nutshell!

Here are the basic guidelines for each Secret Agent contest:

  • All excerpts submitted to a Secret Agent: Are You Hooked? contest must be the first 250 words of your COMPLETED manuscript.
  • Your submission must include your screen name and the title and genre of your novel.
  • By emailing your submission to me, you are giving implicit permission to have your work posted and publicly critiqued.
  • No submissions will be accepted prior to the opening of the contest. The maximum number of entries per contest is 50 submissions.
  • Winners of previous contests may not submit the same manuscript in future contests.
  • All contest entrants are required to critique a minimum of five other entries.
  • No attachments are accepted. Your 250 submission must be pasted into the body of your email.

Questions about the Secret Agent contests can be emailed to Authoress at facelesswords(at)gmail.com.

Friday Fricassee

As I spend time developing this blog and dreaming up content (I've got some I-hope-they're-as-cool-as-I-think-they-are ideas cooking), I'm going to jump right in and test a few things.

"Friday Fricassee" is all about my readers. Of course, this is a brand new blog, so pickin's may be a bit slim for a while. Basically, I'm opening up the comments box for a fricassee of ideas, input, amazing insight, etc., from those of you who feel so inclined to share.

And since this is our first official Friday Fricassee, the conversation starter is:

So, what do you write? Why do you write? And what are your goals and dreams?

Chat away! Reading comments is by far the best part of blogging.

For the Newbie: How To Be a Writer

This isn't a Writing 101 post. It's a bare-bones, how-do-I-get-started post for folks who wonder how they're actually going to do this thing.

Actually, I'm about to impart Common Sense to you.

I can't tell you how many folks have written to me, "Do you think I should go back to school to be a writer?" Or, "Should I take some writing courses first?"

"School" and "Writing Courses" and "Sundry Investments of Time and Money Loosely Related to the Art of Writing" aren't going to guarantee anyone publication. Yes, there are times when a good brush-up course on English Grammar is a good idea. Especially if you don't know when to use "lie" and "lay," or if you can't tell me what a gerund is.

But really, the best advice is to write -- a lot. And to read -- a lot. Read good writers. Read a variety of writers.

Now for the Common Sense part:

1. Make writing a priority. Do you have an idea for a novel? An outline scribbled on a few sheets of notebook paper? If you don't act on it, it will never happen. Write.

2. Your "personal computer time" is probably limited. So don't sit there for an hour reading your favorite blogs, answering email, and dancing around on Myspace before cracking open your latest Word document. Sure, there's a lot of good stuff out there. I've linked to a bunch of it, and I'll be adding more. But don't let the "good stuff" take the place of actually writing. Write.

3. Don't even think about agents and publishers and the Best Seller list while you're writing your first draft. Or your second, or your third, or however many drafts you're going to end up with. You're going to need a polished, edited, re-edited, re-re-edited manuscript before you move on to the next big step. Focus. Write.

4. Don't hand your story to your parents, your spouse, your neighbors, your Bunko buddies, your mailman, your fifth grade English teacher, or your barber, and take their reactions as Gospel. If you think for a moment that anyone is going to say something like, "Well, this is a great start, but you have some work ahead of you," you are mistaken. Instead, you're going to hear praises unlike anything heard before. "You are so talented!" "This is fabulous! Simply fabulous!" "Oh my gosh, you mean this isn't published yet?" "Wow! This is Best Seller material!" Right. They'll say it, and you'll believe it. And it won't be true. Especially if it's your first novel. So keep friends and relatives away from your work. Just write.

5. The real input is going to come from like-minded writers who are willing to swap work with you, or from a critique group that you trust. (Disclaimer: Not all crit groups are created equal. A group of poor writers is going to give out poor advice. Choose wisely.) Be willing to rip your work to bits. Be willing to delete, delete, and delete some more. Don't fall in love with your words. Be fickle. Be flexible. And when someone tells you that something isn't working, and you know it isn't working, get rid of it. And then write it better.

So, the distillation of my Common Sense points is as follows:

1. Write.
2. Write.
3. Write.
4. Write.
5. Write.

And you know, this advice isn't just for "newbies." Those of us who are on our second or third or fifteenth novels need the same reminders. Life is short. WRITE.

Feel free to add your own "Common Sense" advice in the comments box!