Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Authoress's First "Wordle"

Courtesy of H.L. Dyer, faithful reader and rabid writer.

Click HERE to see it.

And if you get addicted, don't blame me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Next SECRET AGENT CONTEST in TWO WEEKS

Naturally, I want to give my devoted readers enough lead time to get ready for the next Secret Agent appearance, so here's everything you need to know:

1. The CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS will take place on Monday, October 13. Submissions will not be accepted until after the call has been posted (so keep your eye on the blog!).

2. This month's contest will include the following genres: Commercial fiction, literary fiction, thrillers/suspense, young adult, and sci-fi/fantasy. (Huzzah! Huzzah!)

3. Entries will be limited to a 24-hour submission window, or 75 submissions -- WHICHEVER COMES FIRST.

4. Submissions will consist of the first 250 words of your COMPLETED NOVEL. Yes, the novel must be completed.

5. Submissions must be received in the format laid out in the CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS on October 13, so please read the post carefully before sending your submission.

6. By entering this contest, you are agreeing to the public posting and critiquing of your work.

7. If you are chosen as a winner of this contest, you will agree to the terms of the prize as laid out by our Secret Agent, or your prize will be subject to forfeiture. (Yes, there's a story behind this. No, I'm not telling it. Suffice it to say that if you want to play, then follow the rules through to the end.)

8. Ask your questions in the comment box here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Fricassee

Another good crit session under our belts!

That, and Mr. Authoress is still speaking to me after my indiscreet disclosure of his amorous exclamations. Ya think maybe he loves me?

So, tell me. What are you dealing with this week as an author?

Rejection?

Writer's block?

Unbridled word flow?

Not enough time to dig into your WIP?

I'm dealing with deadly silence. As in, the Black Hole of Waiting To Hear Responses from requested material. Not that I'm not used to it. (You either get used to it, or you don't make it. It's that simple.) It's just that this week has been particularly annoying.

My progress has slowed a bit this week, too. I've had to write the first few pages of chapter 13 three times...and I'm still not sure about them. I like it better when words just fly from brain to fingertip, you know? Too bad it can't always be that way.

I'm also dealing with an incredible craving for homemade lemon bars. Feel free to leave some on my doorstep.

And while I'm getting in touch with my deepest thoughts, I might as well get schmoopy and say....I really like you guys! Thanks for making this blog something I want to spend time on.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Talkin' Heads #15

Title: Promise of a Stranger
Genre: Literary/Mainstream


Step-Up: Heather, the MC, is sitting in the sandbox with her four-year-old son. She's trying to get him to tell her what they were doing that morning.






I tried not to laugh, but I couldn’t help but find humor in my son owning a plastic cow with superpowers and anorexia. “Does Supercow have any other special tricks?”


Elias didn’t answer.


I wiggled my toes, and he whacked the collapsing sand around my feet with a plastic shovel. “Where’d you go with Nick this morning?”


“Shopping.”


Raising an eyebrow, I pressed him for more information on why I awoke in only the company of his nanny and the housekeeper. “Shopping? For what?”


“Can’t tell you,” he said. “It’s a secwet.”


Elias’ happy singsong told me he had a good time. As the only father my son had ever known, he and Nick had an inseparable bond cemented through a mutual love of baseball and fast cars.


“Nick’s your hero. Isn’t he?”


“He pwomised to take me to Bear Pawrk tomorrow aftew dinnew.”


Restraining a smile, I wiggled my toes again. "You mean Berra Park?"


“That’s what I said – Bear Pawrk,” Elias grumbled.


The movement of my feet caused a pint-sized avalanche that drew a low growl from him. He glared at my slowly building laughter. “Can you see my cwabby? It’s getting bumpy.”


The name he had given to his – or any other – forehead furrowed in irritation nourished my humor until my shaking body eked an apology, but Nick’s entrance through the iron gates of the garden diverted his attention.

Talkin' Heads #14

TITLE: In Times of Violence
GENRE: urban thriller

Two rival gangs face off to one another.


“We’re not here for a fight,” Marcus told him.

“So what you come ‘ere for?” Luke demanded.

“A word.” Marcus then walked over to Luke.

The two leaders spoke quietly.

The gangs glared at one another.

Rivals for many years; the Tyrants and Vipers fought each other every opportunity they could, but they still respected one another enough to stick to the rules.

The Tyrants thought Luke knew about the attack, but by the look on his face, I doubted it.

Luke turned and looked at my attackers. Their expressions gave them away. They looked nervous and scared. Even so, it didn’t make me feel better.

The Tyrants were ready. All Marcus had to do was give the word.

They finished talking and Marcus came back over to us.

“I want Jake, Chad, and Colin. This doesn’t concern you, Luke.”

Marcus was speaking so the rest of the Vipers could hear, but he was addressing Luke. Unless Luke gave the signal to walk away, there would be a fight.

Luke looked into my eyes; I saw pity in his face.

“I didn’t ‘ave ‘anyfing to do with what ‘appened to you. I don’t know ‘anyfing about it and I’m sorry. I want you to know I wouldn’t ‘ave let that ‘appen if I’d known.” He sounded genuine. I nodded my head.

The other Vipers didn’t have a clue what was happening and looked bewildered.

“This ‘ain’t got ‘nofing to do with me.”

Luke looked at Jake, Chad and Colin, who were standing together. “You’re on your own. You ‘free can stay ‘ere, you deserve this.” Then he turned and walked off.

Talkin' Heads #13

TITLE: Unknwon
Genre: Young Adult

CONTEXT: Jen is dating Alexander. She's meeting his father for the first time.


Alex’s father looked nothing like a mob boss. His cheeks were a rosy red, his hair thin and graying, his smile big and toothy—with a single gap in the front. Were it not for the nearest tables packed with eight burly bodyguards, she could be fooled into thinking he was any man meeting his son’s new girlfriend.


“Oh, look at this hair… You are punk rocker!” he announced, thrusting up his forefinger and pinky, pretending to bob his head to music.


“Dad!” Alex cried, bright red.


But Mr. Petrovich just giggled along to his joke. Jen – who’d never expected the menacing mob boss to giggle – started laughing, too.

“It’s her hair color, Dad,” Alex said, flustered.


Jen took pity on him, and grinned so he’d realize she hadn’t been offended. “A lot of people think it’s hair dye.”


“Ah…” Mr. Petrovich leered at her. “You know what they say of red-haired women? They are very passionate. And have very great tempers.”


“Dad…” Alex sputtered.


“Alex’s mother—there was a woman of great temper, too.”


“Dad, come on!”


“This son of mine,” Mr. Petrovich said indulgently, beaming proudly between his embarrassed son and Jen. “My Alex, he is talking of you all summer. Saying this girl is pretty and this girl is making me laugh…”


Jen felt herself flushing this time. Mr. Petrovich chuckled merrily at the discomfort of his companions and raised his drink in salute.

Talkin' Heads #12

TITLE: Samuel and the Imugi
GENRE: Children's Fantasy (7-10)

BRIEF EXPLANATION: Samuel is a Korean adoptee (in Australia). He has just met Dong Sun, an 'Imugi' (explained in the excerpt) from Korea in his garden.



“My Korean name is Hyun Jin,” Samuel said.

“Ah, that is good name!” said the snake, nodding its scaly head. Then it frowned. “Why you stand on that seat?”

Samuel looked down at his feet and realised how silly he must look.

“Well, because you’re a snake,” he said.

The snake hissed in surprise, making Samuel jump. “I am no snake. I am Imugi!”

Now it was Samuel’s turn to frown. “What’s an Imugi?”

Dong Sun sighed. “Imugi is serpent who can - if he finds dragon’s crystal - become dragon himself. I will find crystal!”

This time Samuel almost fell off the seat. “What! Around here?” He laughed. “There are no dragon’s crystals around here. Australia doesn’t have dragons.”

The Imugi raised an eyebrow and shook its head. “Even so, I sense that crystal I seek is very close. I sense it all way from my homeland, and I follow it over the sea. I know it is here somewhere.” He waved his head about as he spoke.

Samuel sat down on the bench, with his legs crossed out of the Imugi’s way.

“Why were you hiding in our fish pond?”

The Imugi looked away, its head down. “Ah, well...snakes around here are not welcoming. They say I look strange. There are no snakes in pond, so I stay there until I find crystal. But if that not acceptable, I move elsewhere.”

Suddenly Samuel felt sorry for the Imugi. He knew exactly how it felt.

Talkin' Heads #11

TITLE: SewerHaven
GENRE: Mid-grade Novel

Kaiawatha the racoon and Merlin the ferret have been attacked by a gang of possums and are now lost in the sewers underground. They have just caught a rat to help them.


"I ain't helping no possum gang," the rat protested. "Them's cunning fellows, but I's too smart to let 'em snag me." He glanced again from Kaiawatha to Merlin.

"Don't even thing about selling information on us," Kaiawatha growled. "I'll remember what you smell like, and I'll hunt you down."

"Yeah," the rat said. "What'cha wanna know?"

"What's your name?" Merlin asked, feeling introductions were important. He didn't quite feel comfortable with Kaiawatha bullying the rat around.

The rat flashed yellow teeth. "Marco, ferret. Who yah be?"

"We're headed to SewerHaven," Kaiawatha said before Merlin could tell him his name. "Only we seem to have taken a wrong turn. You will show us how to get there."

The rat's eyes widened. "SewerHaven, eh? And what be I getting if I take yah two, eh?" A greedy look crossed his face.

"Your life," muttered Kaiawatha, showing her teeth.

"Aww, yeh wouldn't eat a poor critter like meself," Marco protested, trying to look hurt. "I'm hardly a mouthful." He glanced at Merlin again. "Yeh a young 'un, ain't yah ferret. They be pleased ta see yah at SewerHaven."

"I'm Merlin."

Kaiawatha snorted. "Don't get too friendly with this piece of scum, Merlin. You can't trust a sewer rat." However, she lifted her paw off his back so he could sit up.

"Oh, yah wound me," the rat said, stretching. "Tell yah what, I'll take yah, if yah say a good word for me, ferret, when yah get in and mebbe they'll be nice and rewarding."

Talkin' Heads #10

Title: Bryson Anomaly
Genre: Humorous Sci-fi

Situation: Monday morning chem class opens with John Bryson, fresh from his grandmother's funeral, talking to his off-beat lab partner, Zeus Maddox. Class starts in the line after this with the teacher reminding John to get notes from Friday's missed class.



“Hey, John!” His lab partner Zeus Maddix sat down next to him. “Crazy weekend?”


“Just the reading of Grandma’s will.”


Zeus started picking at his afro with a wide-toothed comb. “Yeah, she leave you anything cool?”


“Some money in a trust for college, I can’t touch it for anything else, and a car.”


“For real? What kind of car?”


“No clue, the only description she gave was ‘hers’ and that’s not much to go on.”


“Maybe you’ll get lucky and it’ll be a classic.”


“I’ll be happy if it runs.”


Zeus tucked the comb away in his pack and grinned at John. “Wanna see something super cool?”


“Super cool?”


“Total contraband.”


“Really?”


Zeus pulled out his binder and a carefully wrapped magazine covered in brown paper wrapping. With dramatic flair Zeus looked around the room to make sure that no one was watching. He waggled his eyebrows and slowly drew back the cover. “The latest issue of… dun da da dun! Captain America! Isn’t it great?”


John laughed. “That came out last week.”


“Don’t tell me,” Zeus pouted, “you already read it.”


“My cousin had a copy at the funeral, I read it during the slow parts of the eulogies.”


“That’s just shameful. Why weren’t you paying attention?”


“Because they were all saying the same thing and none of it was worth hearing the first time. I was amazed Grandma didn’t start rolling in her coffin.”


“That would have been funny.”


“Yeah, it would’ve. What else you got?”

Talkin' Heads #9

ITLE: Rhino Rescue

GENRE: Middle Grade Adventure


BRIEF EXPLANATION: This is a conversation between a teenage boy and an old woman, not old like me but really old—around 80-90. I hope this idea of an “age distinction” fits the challenge.





“No,” Tyler tried to explain. “It’s not a hearing aid. It’s an iPod.”


“An eye frog? What in heaven’s name is that?”


Tyler frowned. “No--it’s an iPod.” Okay, this was going to be painful.


She put her hand to her ear and leaned towards him.


“An iPod,” he shouted. He felt his voice crack. Not cool.


“Oh, an iPod, not an eye frog,” she said. Relieved, Tyler managed to smile at her. She nodded a few times then raised an eyebrow.


“But what in the world is an iPod?”


“You can listen to music on it. See.” He held the earbud up to her ear. She listened for a moment, nodding her head and tapping her foot.


“So where are the records?”


“There aren’t any records,” he explained. “The music is all stored in here.” He took the pod out of his pocket and showed it to her.


“You’re a real card.” She poked him a couple times in the chest. “But I wasn’t born yesterday, you know.” Tyler rolled his eyes.. No kidding.


The old lady held the pod up to her face. “Just as I suspected. That thing is much too small to hold a record--even a 45. Besides, why are you walking around with music playing in your ear? You aren’t even dancing. Look here.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him towards her. “See her?” she whispered, pointing at Sierra. “Now she’s a pretty girl. Why don’t you ask her to dance with you?”

Talkin' Heads #8

Title: Call And Answer
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Stella, the heroine, meets her employer/love interest's grandmother, who is a stern and feisty old lady type.



At last Ian's grandmother spoke, breaking the oppressive silence. "I came down here, despite having tickets to a lovely play this evening, after hearing that Ian was rather taken with a young lady. Not only was this woman working for him, but he also had her living right here in his home. This, I said, I have to see for myself. Now either you are the young lady in question, or my grandson is a two-timer, and while he is many things, some of them not complimentary, he has never been that."

"No, I'm here. I'm mean that's me. Stella. Hi, I'm Stella."

Ian's grandmother sniffed.

"You look like you're about to jump out of your skin. Is it that I walked in on you two in flagranté, or are you one of those nervous types?"

Stella blushed bright red. How dare this old lady be so mean to her?

"I said, I'm Stella. The polite thing to do would be to introduce yourself. Maybe even say, 'Nice to meet you, Stella.'"

"HA!" Ian's grandmother laughed, if one could even call it that, the sound more closely resembled a shot from a rusty shotgun, than a noise meant to convey merriment. "I thought you had some spunk in you. Ian also has terrible taste in women, but he's never liked the mousy types. Now then, my given name is Thelma, but I prefer to go by Sally. And I'll let you know later whether it's been nice to meet you."

Talkin' Heads #7

Title: PRINCESS

Genre: Time-travel romance


Background: The setting is 1580 England. Lexy (Alexia) was raised in the twentieth century, Lukas is the youngest son of a duke. I’ve tried to make his speech more formal, while keeping hers more in line with present day.




Lukas’s hair had been neatly tied back and while he no longer wore the traveling clothes of the previous days, his outfit was still completely black. His knee-length pants, hose, doublet and cape were all black. Only a glimpse of white shirt could be seen under the layers of dark clothing.


He looked like evil incarnate.


“You look well this morning, Princess Alexia.”


But could evil incarnate cause her stomach to flip-flop by simply saying her name?


“Thank you,” Lexy whispered. He seemed to be in a better disposition, but she had no intention of staying in his presence long enough to find out.


“I feared for your health when you did not appear for dinner last night.”


He spoke with a straight face; he probably didn’t mean it as a joke. “I can’t believe you’d think I’d want to spend time with you after your outburst yesterday.”


“Outburst? You can hardly fault me for being forthright in my speech. I was merely giving you another opinion to think on as you made your decision.”


She detected no trace of sarcasm, but still didn’t believe him. “I don’t need your help.” She moved to pass him.


He blocked her path. “I am not certain you speak the entire truth. It would appear you need help dressing. Is not your outfit missing something?”


She put her hands on her hips. “No, it’s not missing something. I refuse to wear that ruff thing. Besides, I don’t think you’re one to give fashion advice, do you wear anything besides black?”

Talkin' Heads #6

TITLE: Dragonseeker
GENRE: YA Fantasy

BRIEF EXPLANATION: Eryn was caught stealing from Traston's merchant stall, then had a magical outburst in front of the townspeople of Terin. They tied her to a stake and Traston announces to the entire town that Eryn is a half-elf.




The Terins hissed. He grasped her chin and forced her to face the crowd. “I told you! Didn’t I say that she weren’t like us? A demon, she is!”

Cold sweat ran down Eryn's neck. Her heart raced, pounding against her chest. “I…I’m an elf, not a demon.”

“More lies!” He waved the torch in front of her face. The heat scorched her skin. “You look too human to be an elf. Whatever you are, we don’t tolerate your kind here, you unnatural beast.”

“Get on with it, Traston,” someone yelled.

“She’s too dangerous to keep ‘round here.”

“Kill her!”

“Burn her!”

“What is going on here?”

Eryn nearly cried in relief. Oten, face as red as his robes, ran across the plaza. The crowd grew quiet. “That child is a guest in my home,” Oten shouted. “Explain yourselves at once!”

Traston bowed his head at the Leader’s approach. “Oten, sir. Caught this one stealing from my stall yesterday, then again in my stockroom last night. Tried to blame your daughter, she did. ‘Course I didn’t believe her fer a second. Then she runs, and goes all funny and knocked us all down.” He took a breath. “But takes a look at what we found.” He pulled Eryn’s hair back, slamming her head into the wooden post behind her. Traston grabbed one of her ears and shook it. She winced. “Says she’s an elf. Ain’t never seen an elf look like her before.”

Talkin' Heads #5

TITLE: TREASURED LIES by Michelle (elknutswife)

GENRE: Historical Romantic Suspense

BRIEF EXPLANATION: Bryant Westley is a reformed thief that has been blackmailed into searching for a legendary necklace for a former associate, Lord Rellik. Rellik thinks it is taking too long and sends his henchman, Gage, to see what’s up. This scene is when Bryant discovers Gage spying on him and his love interest, the main character, Minuette.



“I’m workin’ in the kitchens, mostly. The old bat Courtland felt sorry for me and ’ired me to lug ‘round ‘eavy pots and such, and do a few other odds and ends. Name’s Jack Gage. Lord Rellik sent me to keep an eye on you. ’E wants to make sure yer doing what yer sent to do. Doesn’t want you gettin’ ideas ‘bout making off with anything don’t belong to you, see.”

Bryant glared, angry and more than a little alarmed, as the man continued.

“Got yerself a secret whore, hmmm? Lord Rellik ain’t a patient man, Westley. ’E won’t be none too ’appy when I tell ’im that you’ve been spending’ your nights dallyin’ with your little trollop instead o’ lookin’ for the necklace like yer supposed to. Quite a tasty little morsel, though, ain’t she? I’ve been watching you two, last couple o’ days,” he laughed, running his tongue over cracked lips.

Minuette Sinclair. Silly name. You’ve been spending a lot o’time playin’ around with the silly, little bitch when you should be searchin’ the ’ouse. Maybe I should take ’er to Lord Rellik until you’ve done yer job. She probably ’as a nice rich daddy that would pay a fortune to get ’er back, hmmm. Get the necklace and a nice ransom to boot. Not a bad plan, if I do say so meself. Lord Rellik, ee’s got a way with the ladies. E’d know what to do wi’ her.”

Bryant’s blood went from cold to boiling.

Talkin' Heads #4

TITLE: Sahmara's Sunset

GENRE: Fantasy


Background: Sahmara, a highborn girl turned slave in a foreign land, has escaped and after wandering for a couple days, comes across an old woman amongst some ramshackle shacks near the shore.



Ancient white hair hung in wispy tufts from a brown scalp. The body, covered in a thick bundling of worn clothing, made the exact shape impossible to discern. Her savior drew near, bringing the lamplight closer.


“Let’s have a look at ya then.” One white eye and one dark one raked her over as though she were for sale at market. A wrinkled and weathered face frowned as the inspection ended. “I wish ya came from the shore, I could claim ya a fell off a ship. But ya came down the wall, didn’t ya mite? A slave run off then is it?” A wracking cough interrupted the assessment. “I can give ya a day but by tomorrow morning, you’ll need to move on. They’ll be looking for ya, and I don’t need trouble. Here, have some water.”


Taking the offered chipped cup, Sahmara drank as though it were the finest wine. “Thank you.” She handed the cup back with care.


“I have some cheese. It’s a bit hard but by the looks of ya, I don’t think you’ll mind.” A thin wedge of yellow cheese tinged with grey at the edges was thrust toward her. “Soon as the water’s hot, you’ll have your tea. Then it’s to bed with ya. You’re keeping me up as it is.”


Sahmara nodded.


“They call me Reva, so I suppose ya can to. Yours don’t matter so just eat.”


The toothless smile held a ghost of motherliness, making Sahmara miss hers horribly.

Talkin' Heads #3

Title: Invitation

Genre: Mainstream


Background: Benji, the troublemaker, and Gretchen, the teacher's pet with a black eye, are studying algebra in the outdoor cafeteria.



"Spider!"


Gretchen leaped out of her seat. "Where?" She shook her skirt franticly. "Where? Where?"


Benji leaned back against the table, snickering.


"You!" Gretchen hit him on the shoulder with her book.


"Ow! Damn, girl!"


"Don't you swear in my presence!" She pointed her finger at him.


Benji rubbed his shoulder and got a good look at Gretchen's face as she glared at him. "What happened to your eye?"


Gretchen flicked an ant from her seat and then sat down. "None of your business."


"You got in a fight with one of the other girls?"


"Do I look like the type of girl who engages in wild, uncouth, uncivilized behavior?"


"Not so sure with that swing of yours."


"Shut up!" She reopened her book and set it down.


"Fine. Don't tell me. It ain't nothing, though. You wanna see a scar I got when I was a kid?" He gripped the bottom of his worn out gray t-shirt.


"I most certainly would not!" She kept her eyes on the pages of her book. "I have no interest in any part of your anatomy."


Benji pulled his shirt up anyway and pointed to a five-inch scar along his side. "Got that from my daddy."


Gretchen glanced up from her book and grimaced at the sight.


"Drunk as a skunk, he was," Benji said. "Must've mistook me for a 'coon. Tried to skin me alive, but I was faster than his slow, dumb ass. He passed out from the exercise."


Talkin' Heads #2

TITLE: In Hell as On Earth
GENRE: urban fantasy

SUMMARY: Heckler is looking for answers to all the crap that keeps
happening in the last two days (including multiple attempts on his
life, and the destruction of house, car, and property). He goes to see
an incubus who lives on the collage campus in hopes of finding some
answers.



"It works like this." Heckler shoved the demon up against the wall.
"You have two minutes to answer my questions or I start breaking
things."

"Yeah, I'm all scared, oooh." Set-fel folded his arms over his chest.
"Just talk, man. It's not like I've got all night to oblige."

"What the hell is going on?"

Set-fel smirked. "I have two sexy females downstairs waiting on me. I
though that was obvious even to you."

Heckler took a slow breath and didn't pull his Glock out. Yet. "Two
dead angels fall out of the sky and wreck my office. One of my
co-workers has vanished and I'm blaming Baal. I get skydiving runaway
demons crashing in my back yard. Is there something going on below I
should know about?"

Set-fel looked at him innocently. "Come again?"

Heckler slammed Set-fel against the wall, harder. "Stop screwing around."

The demon winced. "I'm not even naked yet, how could I?"

Heckler wasn't amused at the succubus. "You have two seconds. Give me
the names of who would know what the f*** is going on." He pulled his
Glock out and aimed it at Set-fel's groin. "One."

The demon paled. "Um, no call for that. Who says there's anything going on?"

Heckler flipped the safety off. "Two."

Set-fel cringed. "Okay, lighten up. I don't keep up with all the
goings on down there, you know? Waaaay too depressing sometimes." He
rolled his eyes. "But I know who would know."

Talkin' Heads #1

Title: Mystic Taxi
Genre: Steampunk Urban Fantasy

Set-up: POV Character is approached by a stranger in Central Park in the middle of the night. The part you don't see is right after, when she kicks his a**.


"How doin'?" It came from the foggy dark, the words sounding burned as if by coal dust. She knew that sound. The raspy voices of coal-digging spawnsters had filled the patch towns of her Kentucky home. She still heard them in her sleep. "Spare a dime for a man down on his luck?"

She turned around, her spine stiff and booted legs poised to kick what would hurt the most. The only threat he posed was the stink coming off him in waves strong enough to choke a skunk. "I'm poor as you, mister. You won't hear no coins clinkin' in my purse."

"I be a pig's uncle. You's a woman, ain't ya?"

"Last I looked."

He chuckled. "You dressed too masculine to be one of Hell's Bells. What you doin' out in Central Park all by your lonesome?"

"Waitin' for someone. How 'bout you?"

His brown-toothed smile spread his mouth wider than normal for a human. He was a spawnster, all right. "Makin' new friends." He took a swig from a bottle wrapped in a paper bag. He held it out for Wanda. "Wanna be my friend?"

She grimaced at the smell of rancid olive oil that intoxicated him. "No, thanks."

He frowned, his dark eyes starting to glow. Great. A drunk spawnster with a temper. "I'm sure you're a nice guy and all, but I ain't interested. Share your, uh, oil with a lady who can enjoy it, k?" She turned to face the street.

Submissions Are Now Closed

15 excerpts, soon to be posted for your critiquing pleasure! We've got some interesting characters, to be sure.

We'll begin shortly!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lettuce Lips

Mr. Authoress and I were enjoying wine and chocolate-coated biscuits by candlelight on the screened in porch. Stirred, no doubt, by the sheer romance of the moment, he leaned close and kissed me.

"MMMMM. You smell like salad."

I pulled back, eyed him. "What?"

"You smell like salad." He kissed me again. "Your lips taste like lettuce."

And there you have it. I'm not going to write YA Fantasy anymore. I'm going to write romance novels. Because how I could live with myself without transcribing this great, real-life material into a story?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Call For Submissions...And A Little Idea Brewing...

Let me throw out the idea first.

Obviously we can't have Secret Agent contests all the time. (We've got another one coming up in October, by the way!) Our in-house crit sessions are rewards in themselves -- we all value the input from our colleagues. More than one of you have shared that the feedback has led to improvements in your writing. Good, good, and very good!

But wouldn't it be fun to once in a while offer a prize to a colleague-chosen "best entry" in one of our crit sessions?

Of course, I don't have bags of cash lying around with which to purchase prizes. So I'm thinking...how can we do this?

If I were to install a "donate" button, would you be inclined to give a dollar every once in a while?

(Though I'm thinking...how could I have a "donate" button and remain anonymous? Suggestions?)

Or...might some of you, from time to time, have something to offer? A copy of one of your published books, for instance? Or an extra, perfect-condition copy of one of the "writing bibles" that should be on every writer's shelves?

Chat to me about this in the comments box, please.

In the meantime, here's this week's submission call:

Talkin' Heads:

Submit a 250-word excerpt highlighting DIALOGUE. Choose a section that includes a character or characters with a dialect, speech impediment, or some other distinction of speech that sets the character apart. (Note: this may be subtle!) Our goal? See if our readers can "stick with" the character and not be distracted by the speech quirks. (Think Mark Twain's black characters -- and then don't do that.)

IMPORTANT: Please preface your excerpt with ONE OR TWO BRIEF SENTENCES that set the scene and let us know who is speaking!

So your formatting should look like this:

TITLE
GENRE

BRIEF EXPLANATION (one or two sentences)

EXCERPT (250 words)

I will accept entries until 9:00 am EDT on Thursday, September 25. I'll be posting them the same day. (Obviously I'm not expecting a huge turn-out! *grin* But do give this some thought. I know it's a bit...esoteric.)

Now get ye to your documents and cull, cull, cull!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday Fricassee

Hey, I've got "followers!" Like, y'all are following me.

So maybe I'm a little slow. When I popped onto my dashboard the other day and saw that I had "followers," I didn't know what it meant. Then I clicked on it and saw familiar names.

Kinda makes a gal feel loved.

Anyway, I've had an "epiphany" this week and I'm hoping some of you will share your own epiphanies in the comment box.

I've been shopping my completed novel to agents for some time. The most interesting and frustrating thing (besides the constant rejection) has been the personal feedback about what was good and why the ultimate answer was "no." You see, it's never been the same reason. This was good, that was good, BUT.

But, but, but.

And if your "buts" match, you've got a clear red flag. As in, this is the fatal flaw and you need to fix it.

But my buts didn't match.

Aside from the fact that I harbor a seething hatred for the word "subjectivity," I've been wondering how, exactly, I can bring my novel up to snuff so that the "buts" go away.

And I've had a Eureka! moment.

In thinking hard about the feedback from three people in particular -- and in listening to the sage insight from Mr. Authoress, editor extraordinaire -- I've realized something about my main character. She's a bit too...gooey.

Mind you, it's subtle. She's really pretty feisty with lots of potential. But she goes "inside her own head" a little too much. Not long, drawn-out, obviously-purple prose. Heck, I'm not a neophyte. But it's just enough to weaken her. Make her come off...emotionally ponderous. Wishy-washy.

She sighs too much. And, yanno, I did a major get-rid-of-the-sighing sweep round about revision 2 or so. And she still sighs too much.

That sort of thing.

So I've gone through six chapters so far with the devoted Mr. Authoress by my side (my dialogue guru, at the very least). And the results are amazing.

Removing a handful of words here, changing a word there, modifying a tag or a beat or scratching out a complete sentence -- this has had an amazing effect on my MC. And since the entire story is from her POV, the novel's overall voice is affected.

Are you following me?

I'm beyond stoked. This is like manuscript CPR. A defibrillator for my story.

Guess what I'll be doing all weekend?

It's so simple, it's ridiculous. And now I'm finally -- finally! -- seeing the golden thread of continuity among the various "buts" I've received. Responses like "meandering" and "passive" and the flagrant "I don't like your MC's voice" suddenly seem to be cut from the same cloth after all.

Wow.

I haven't been this excited about my novel since the first request for a full rolled in.

So there you have it. My epiphany. I'd love to read about yours. We're all in this together!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Author Interview: KATE CONSTABLE

I am delighted to share with you my recent interview with Kate Constable.

Kate Constable is an Australian author whose YA fantasy trilogy, The Chanters of Tremaris (The Singer of All Songs, The Waterless Sea and The Tenth Power) has been published in Australia, the US, Denmark, Slovenia and Japan. A stand-alone Tremaris book, The Taste of Lightning, is available in Australia. She has recently branched into "straight" YA with two books in the Girlfriend series for teenage girls (Always Mackenzie was published this year, and Winter of Grace is due in 2009). And a (non-Tremaris) fantasy for younger readers, Cicada Summer, will also be published in Australia in 2009.

In Australia, her publisher is Allen & Unwin, where she has been edited by Jodie Webster, Rosalind Price and Eva Mills; in the US, the Chanters trilogy is published by Arthur A. Levine, and edited by Cheryl Klein.

Authoress: I'd like to start by saying that your writing is lyrical and beautiful, which I find refreshing in today's YA market. How did your writing journey begin? What did you need to "stumble through" before you ended up writing the Tremaris stories?

Kate: Thank you! Boringly, I was one of those kids who said from a very early age, "I want to be a writer." Having said that, I frittered away quite a few years trying to be a lawyer (or a philosopher!) before coming back to my first ambition in my mid-20s. For years I worked part-time and lived on lentils to support my writing habit! I had several short stories published in various literary magazines, which was really encouraging, and had an adult novel shopped around, which never quite made it to publication. At that point someone advised me to put that manuscript away and write something completely different, so I thought, "Why not try a fantasy?" The Singer of All Songs began life as a purely private amusement, a distraction almost, which meant I was relaxed while I was writing it and just had so much fun. It's quite ironic that it ended up doing so well, I never intended to be a fantasy writer!

Authoress: Anyone who lives on lentils just to keep writing certainly has my respect! It's interesting to note that you began the Tremaris tales as an "amusement," which certainly says a lot for approaching writing in a relaxed state. What I'd love to know is what inspired you to come up with the unique twist on magic in your world? As someone who never intended to write fantasy, how did you go about building such a believable world?

Kate: We-ell, when I said I never intended to become a fantasy writer, I didn't mean that I'd never written any fantasy, or thought about it. I spent a decent chunk of my school years dreaming and inventing alternative worlds and constructing elaborate narratives, usually with a fantasy or sci-fi bent. So by the time I came to sit down and write about Tremaris, my world-building muscles were fairly well-developed. Quite a few elements of my day-dreaming have ended up as part of Tremaris -- most of the place names, the town of Mithates, the younger girl with the slightly older love interest (ahem!), the gang of friends travelling together and righting wrongs. Which goes to show that nothing is ever wasted! I was also strongly influenced by Ursula Le Guin's brilliant Earthsea books, and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon in coming up with the "feel" of Tremaris, though I think the more I've written about Tremaris, the more it's developed its own identity.

Lots of people have asked how I came up with the idea of chantment. For once it honestly was a moment of inspiration! I loved the link between "chantment" and "enchantment", it seemed so obvious, and I'm truly surprised that more writers haven't exploited it. And the notion of a magic of song was a perfect fit with the kind of world I wanted to create, where individual voices were important, but voices blended together could be even more stronger and more beautiful. I've always loved mass singing, Christmas carols and hymns -- I even enjoy belting out the national anthem at my daughter's school assembly once a week (which is considered pretty daggy in this country!) I'm not particularly tuneful, I wish I were, I need lots of people singing along to help disguise my inadequacy. So perhaps that was where the appeal lay!

Authoress: I'll admit that, as a writer, I had a moment of "this is so simple, it's brilliant!" when reading about chantment and the use of song as magic. It's beautifully done. I have Cheryl Klein to thank for opening my eyes to your books, as she has simply gushed about them more than once on her blog. Cheryl's is a well-known name for obvious reasons; can you tell me what it's like working with her? How did your Australian-published novels get Arthur Levine's attention in the first place? And why is it taking so long (grumble grumble) for your other books to make their way to the States?

Kate: Ah, Cheryl. Cheryl is brilliant. When I grow up, I want to be as smart as Cheryl. Her attention to detail is extraordinary. Working with her was huge fun, because she "got" exactly what I was trying to do, which makes the whole process so much easier. I hope we actually get to meet one day! Because of course all our communication was via email, due to the fact that we're on different sides of the world.

I have the tireless International Rights Director at Allen & Unwin, Angela Namoi, to thank for bringing Singer to Arthur Levine's attention. As for the other books, the publishers sort that out amongst themselves, I'm the last to know what's going on! I would love to see The Taste of Lightning published in the US one day.

Authoress: You've already got an impressive array of published works, and I'm certain you're not finished gracing us with your talent. Can you give us a hint of what you're working on, or dreaming about, or planning on writing in the future? Do you sense a change of direction, or pretty much status quo?

Kate: Funny you should mention a change in direction...! In fact I have written two books recently which are a quite a departure from fantasy: a pair of realist teen novels, which form part of the Girlfriend Fiction series in Australia, dealing with friendships and romance and teenage girl stuff. Always Mackenzie came out earlier this year, and Winter of Grace will be published next year. They were tremendous fun to write. I seem to thrive on sudden shifts of genre!

I have also finished a book for slightly younger readers, called Cicada Summer, which will also be published in Australia next year. It's quite an old-fashioned story about a girl and a ghost and a garden. I was aiming for the style of my favourite books as a child, English classics like Tom's Midnight Garden and The Children of Green Knowe, which are still comfort reads for me, and I think it works!

AND (I've been busy, haven't I?) I'm currently halfway through a fantasy set in contemporary Australia, which doesn't have a title as yet. It touches on Aboriginal beliefs, because you can't really write about magic in Australia without acknowledging the magic of the people who were here first -- though it's obviously difficult for me, as a white Australian, to handle that material. It's been quite a fraught process, but an absolutely fascinating journey.

And after all that, I'm toying with the idea of writing another Tremaris book! I feel as if I'm ready to go back -- I'm not finished with those characters yet, and I feel there are plenty of Tremaris stories still to tell. But we'll see.

Authoress: Wow, that leaves one breathless! So on the non-writing front, what does a day in your life look like (assuming there's any time left!)? What are your interests, diversions, foibles?

Kate: Well, I have two young daughters and a husband who keep me fairly busy. Two days a week are writing days, and the rest of the time is taken up with making lunches, laundry, shopping, playing puppies, walking to school, cooking and so on. I manage to squeeze in a fair amount of reading in my spare moments! Otherwise the main diversion is hanging out with friends. There are a lot of young children living in our street and we have a big gap in our fence to the garden next door, so there are often gangs of children streaming from one house to another with footballs and fairy dresses, snatching food as they race through the kitchen. That's kind of fun.

Authoress: It's encouraging to know that a successful author can make it all happen with only two days a week set aside for writing. Before we wrap this up, do you have any words of wisdom/advice/encouragement for aspiring authors?

Kate: The only advice is can give is: read, read, read, and write, write, write. Reading is compost for the mind; notice what works and what doesn't (for you). And writing, like everything else, takes practice. Don't give up, but don't expect instant success either. And don't wait for inspiration to strike. If you're going to be serious about this writing business, you have to treat it like a job (which, hopefully, it may become). That means doing it regularly, every day if possible, not just when you're in the mood.
And on a more concrete note: I used to carry around a little notebook to jot down ideas and images, and I'd spend boring train rides mentally writing descriptions of what I saw -- people and scenes and conversations -- which was good practice for my writing muscles.

Authoress: Kate, this has been an incredible interview. Thank you so much for your time!

Kate: Thank you so much, Authoress! It's been fun!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Flex Your Writing Muscles: TROCHAIC QUADRAMETER

We're going to write a group poem. Let's see how far we get! (Come one, come all -- lots of talent here! Don't be shy.)

Quick refresher:

Trochaic = a 2-beat poetic foot with the first syllable accented (DA-dum)
Quadrameter = 4 poetic feet per line

So Trochaic Quadrameter sounds like this:

DA-dum DA-dum DA-dum DA-dum

or DA-dum DA-dum DA-dum DAA

Okay?

I will write the first 2 lines in the comment box.
Each participant must write the next two lines.

So that each stanza will have been written by 2 people.

Rhyme pattern will be ABCB.

Clear as hot cocoa? Let's play!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday!

I'm still getting through the critiques; some things came up yesterday and I never got back to it. As usual, you're all amazing. And there are already a few stories that have left me feeling like, "Hey! I absolutely need to know what happens next."

And if you haven't figured it out already, mine is Post 11. Taken from a WIP, mind you. In other words, it's a first draft -- something I wouldn't normally let anyone see (except the sainted Mr. Authoress). So I'm finding your comments extremely helpful, thank you.

So tell me what you'll be working on this weekend.

Want to know why I'm asking? Because the last time I asked, I was so inspired (seriously) that it had a lasting effect on me. As in, I needed more focus and I knew it -- and your responses drove it home.

And guess what? I've got more focus now. All thanks to you.

I've got two projects going right now, one fiction and one nonfiction, as well as continuing to do the agent dance with my completed novel. I'm planning some "go away and leave me alone unless I scream" writing time for this weekend. To be approved by Mr. Authoress, of course. (Wouldn't want him to feel neglected, would we?)

Wish I had a Macbook Air, though. Then my stories and I could travel anyway. I'm thinking....local coffeehouse, quiet woodland thicket, noisy pub, the Caribbean...

Well, anyway. I'm waiting to hear your plans. Best wishes to my favorite bunch of authors!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Drop The Needle #23

Title: Loyal to the Death
Genre: science fantasy


Ice turned away.


She snarled at his retreating back and looked at her reflection again with a more critical eye. He was right, even in the golden candlelit glow of the ballroom she was going to look plain. But she didn’t have the bright dresses with the ostentatious jewels that other families used to make their dowdy daughters appealing. I’m beautiful, but not stunning.


“Here.” Ice came in from the adjoining room holding something silver.


“What is that?” She went to her tippy-toes to peek into his cupped hands.


“A necklace. Turn around.”


She twisted, scowling at him in the mirror. “Weres don’t wear necklaces, Ice. It’s like putting a collar on.”


“You’ll be fine.” He reached around her shoulders, dropping the pendant at her neck and clasping the necklace behind her. The chain vanished against her skin.


Tempest leaned closer to the mirror. “It’s the symbol for Dragon Guarding.”


“With a circle around it, to signify that you are protected by the Dragon Guarding,” Ice said, he sounded tense.


“Why do you have this necklace?”


He pressed his lips together like he was debating how much to tell her. “I bought it for my wife. To give to her when I met her.”


She reached back to take the necklace off. “She is going to be furious! You don’t loan out your wife’s jewelry, Ice!”


He caught her hands. “She’ll understand.”


Tempest narrowed her eyes, not quite believing him.


“In time, she’ll understand.”





Emotion: He's in love, she's the clueless (and temperamental) woman he's supposed to keep alive. They have an old history, her brother has tried to kill him multiple times and she's tried once or twice too. So, complicated pain, desire, and disgust.... one of the worst marriage proposals ever.

Drop The Needle #22

Title: Sea Foam and Blood

Genre: Paranormal drama (short story)



Anchor grunted and tossed his head, flaxen mane spilling over his eyes and into Adelaide's lap. Adelaide tried to smile and realised that tears were streaming down her cheeks. She sheltered his head with her body. "I love you, boy. It'll all be okay." She broke off with a gasp. Unwittingly, her gaze ran down his body towards his leg. She sobbed again and gripped Anchor's head in a tight hug.


"No," she whispered. "Please no. Not you too."


Her father returned, followed by the vet.


Dr Cathson nodded to Adelaide and placed her bag on the ground. She knelt by Anchor's chest and ran her hands down his leg, going slowly over the break, examining it, probing it.


Adelaide held her breath and clutched Anchor's head. "There's a boy," she crooned. "Just lie still."


The vet finished her examination. Adelaide saw her shoulders tense as she nodded at Dad.


Adelaide glanced back and forth between them. "What, what is it?"


"Adelaide." Dad crouched beside her and took her under the arms. "It's time to go inside."


Adelaide's chest contracted. "No!"


He lifted her up and began to walk her away from her horse.


"No!" she screamed, desperately trying to break free. "No, let me stay! I want to stay with my horse!"


"Adelaide, come on. We have to go."


"No!" Tears streamed down her cheeks. Her body convulsed as she sobbed and the pain in her side merged with the pain she felt for her horse. "Please, please Daddy, no!"


Emotion: sadness, sorrow, despair

Drop The Needle #21

TITLE: Huntress
GENRE: urban thriller

Twenty minutes into the drive and my shoulder was beginning to hurt me. I gritted my teeth and shifted in my seat. The throb quickly turned into a blinding ache, which pulsated harder with each second.

“Medication wearing off?” Buzz asked, concerned.

I nodded and took an intake of breathe.

“Hold on,” he said, pulling the car over to the side of the road. Searching through the glove compartment, he pulled out a canister of pills, which Med had given him.

“Here,” he said, handing me one.

“Two,” I gasped.

I thought I was going to pass out. Buzz had the same idea, because he gave me another pill without argument, and then held a bottle of water to my lips.

“Do you want to lie down in the back?”

“No. I’ll be fine. I want to sit beside you.”

It took about ten minutes for the drugs to kick in. I felt drunk. My head was floating and everything moved in slow motion.

“Do you mind if I make a quick stop at the clubhouse?” he asked.

“”Nah, I don’t mind,” I slurred.

Buzz laughed.

I must have dozed off, because when I opened my eyes we were parked outside the club house. I shivered and my shoulder began to ache again as I recalled what happened there the other night.




Emotion: PAIN

Drop The Needle #20

Title: Loyalty or Duty
Genre: Fantasy


Sym sat at the edge of his pallet, wondering why he got up. Everything he had built up in over twenty years lay in ruins. All the usual tasks, the duties and disciplined regimen no longer existed. He did not know what to do without them.

The carefully folded woolen blanket on his lap itched through his sweat-drenched linens. Why make his bed? Why wear the silver and blue uniform, laid out on a wooden chest? His gaze rested on the empty scabbard, propped up against the whitewashed wall. A soldier without a sword is like a carriage without a horse.

Sym took a deep breath. You're still a soldier, and still have your uniform and rank, at least today. This fight isn't over! He stood, and made his bed with practiced efficiency. Then he dressed, giving his boots a quick polish. The simple, mindless task and the smell of leather and grease calmed him a bit.

He frowned at his baldric, wondering if he should wear it. With the lack of a sword, it would only draw attention and be seen as a provocation. He pulled the belt over his shoulder.

The door flew open. A young Guardsman he didn't know by name entered, hand on hilt. He cocked his head towards the door.

Sym swallowed his indignation. No knock on the door, no salute. Some had already condemned him. He squared his shoulders and walked into the corridor at a measured pace, head held high, looking straight ahead.





EMOTIONS: first bewilderment, then defiance

Drop The Needle #19

Title: Sweet Child of Mine
Genre: Mainstream


Kate watched her newborn daughter sleep in her arms. She’d heard of women doing this, but she never expected to be one of them. What’s so interesting about a sleeping baby? It had to be like watching grass grow, didn’t it?


Oh, but she had been so wrong. She found herself losing track of time. Not just a few minutes, but huge chunks of minutes. And if someone had asked her what the attraction was, she couldn’t have told them. She only knew that she never tired of watching the beautiful child sleep.


Tiny dark eyelashes lay against delicate pink skin. She caressed the skin on her daughter’s cheek. The baby’s lips pursed. Probably dreaming of nursing. It didn’t even bother Kate that her daughter primarily saw her as the ‘gravy train’. Far cry from the woman who wasn’t even sure she wanted children. I want more from life than just being a mother. She hadn’t anticipated the joy of being a ‘mommy’.


Kate lifted one dainty hand and marveled, as she had numerous times. Fingers so tiny yet perfect in every way. Those fingers wrapped themselves around Kate’s own finger. She smiled. You can’t describe this feeling to anyone.


It was this tiny perfection that also caused something bordering on panic. How do you protect something so precious in an imperfect, sometimes dangerous world? How will I ever let her get on a school bus and go off all alone? And going on a date? No, I don’t think so.




Emotion: love

Drop The Needle #18

TITLE: Book of the Baba Yaga
GENRE: Middle reader adventure/fantasy



"Samantha!" Sam nearly jumped out of her skin. She'd never heard her father sound like that. "Samantha!" She felt as though his voice might cut her to pieces. Heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs.

"Samantha - I know you have that pendant!" She heard the door rattle. "Open the door! Immediately!"

"Will! Where's my mother?" Sam demanded, reaching toward the doll with trembling hands.

"I don't know!" cried Will. "And I can't keep this window open much longer!"

"Who's in there with you?" Her father threw himself against the door. It creaked under his weight, but did not give. Bailey barked as Sam looked at the wall. Where is she?

"Samantha!" Teresa's voice joined her father's. "Open this door! Now!”

"Will, can I go through?"

"Yes - hurry - " the doll's voice cracked. Sam lifted him up. He touched the center of the spot. Ripples flowed outward from his hand. He shook from head to toe.

"Samantha!" Her father threw his weight against the door again. The doorknob squealed against the top of the chair and Bailey whined almost in unison. "Please, you don't know what you're getting into! Please open this door!"

"Touch the space, " the doll croaked.

Sam raised her arm.

"H-hurry." Will gasped.

Her father slammed into the door again. This time, it broke loose from its hinges. The chair fell to the ground and he, Teresa and Bailey all tumbled into the room.

"Sam!" Her father ran toward her, his face ashen...




Emotion: Panic

Drop The Needle #17

Title: Day
Genre: Historical Romance


She could see her father's carriage though she could not see him. His presence overwhelmed her and Abigail had the greatest urge to flee, but she restrained herself knowing it was safer in this house with the protection of both Mrs. Fisher and Jacob than she would be on the streets. Abigail heard, "Where is she? Where is my daughter? You cannot keep her from me."

"Sir, we really must not disturb the household. Lower your voice. I cannot and will not allow admittance at this time. Good day, sir." Abigail heard the words between her father and the butler, Thomas and the loud clang as the door shut presumably in her father's face.

Abigail allowed out a breath of relief that she didn't know she had been holding in an audible sigh. Her father turned his head in her direction and mouthed, "I will get you." She turned back into the room as waves of nausea hit her. Abigail raised her hand to rub the knot of tension in the back of her neck. The urge to flee grew even greater. She knew nothing else to do but to turn to Mrs. Fisher for help.

She went down to the sitting room where she found Mrs. Fisher working on a painting on a standing easel.

"Don't fret, child. We shall find a way." Mrs. Fisher said without ever turning her head in Abigail's direction. She was surely the most intuitive woman that Abigail had ever had the pleasure to meet.

"I cannot go back there. He will surely kill me."




Emotion: Fear