Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Coming Your Way In January

I'm in utter "wind down" mode (what, you noticed?) as December's last threads unravel. Rest assured, however, that January is going to be exciting 'round these here parts.

Coming up:

* Our very first SECRET AGENT: ARE YOU HOOKED? contest of 2009 (!!)
* Our very second First Chapter Crit Fest

Pay special attention early next week, which is when I'll be posting details and early information about the Secret Agent round.

I've gotten some helpful feedback from our past Secret Agents, too. My goal is to continue to improve and streamline our SA contests so they're the best they can be.

New around here? Click on the Secret Agent info in the left sidebar. Wondering who our past Secret Agents have been? Here's the star-spangled list from 2008:

August: Holly Root
September: Barbara Poelle
October: Michelle Brower
November: Colleen Lindsay

There you have it! Just so you know that things are going to jump right back into high gear around here as soon as the ball drops in Times Square.

Well, maybe not that quickly.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bookmark This!

For your writerly betterment: The new Query Tracker Blog is now up and running -- and running, no less, by the capable hands of several of our regulars here on MSFV! I'm delighted by the potential of this new blog.

Head on over and see who's on the team!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Stacey Lee

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

For more on Stacey Lee:



UNDER A PAINTED SKY was published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 2015. 

For more on her books:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

A blessed and joyful holiday to you and yours.

Put down your pens and enjoy some eggnog and special family time.

I am off to revel in the beauty of Christmas.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Fun #7

To the tune of "Oh Holy Night"

Sally Apokedak

Oh perfect night, the manuscript is shining,

It is the night that I've written "the end."

Long did I sweat, in woe and angst with whining,

I persevered, and the story was penned.

A thrill of fear, a worthy foe approacheth

To fight and die, the climax fills the page.

Call all your friends.

Oh pour a glass of bubbly.

The novel is done.

I may now write "fini."

The novel is done. The novel, the novel is done.

Christmas Fun #6


by Authoress


Here we come a'querying amongst the agents all,
Here we come a'wond'ring if we might get The Call.

Full requests come to you,
And to you, your query, too,
And God bless you, and send you an agent this year,
And God send you an agent this year.

We are not stupid neophytes who don't know what to do;
We've done a lot of research -- enough to see us through!

Full requests come to you,
And to you, your query, too,
And God bless you, and send you an agent this year,
And God send you an agent this year.

Bring us no rejections, and keep telling us we're great!
We'd like to see our books in print before we're eighty-eight...

Full requests come to you,
And to you, your query, too,
And God bless you, and send you an agent this year,
And God send you an agent this year.

God bless the agents one and all, and their assistants, too,
Except the ones whose non-response means "I'm rejecting you."

Full requests come to you,
And to you, your query, too,
And God bless you, and send you an agent this year,
And God send you an agent this year.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Fun #5

By Julie Fedynich

We Wish You A Merry Christmas
(Sung by Agents to Writers)

We wish you would learn to query

We wish you would learn to query

We wish you would learn to query and save us some tears

We wish you would use twelve-point font

We wish you would use twelve-point font

We wish you would use twelve-point font, our eyes must last years

We work and we slave, all you do is play

The least you could do is edit, for at least one day.

Christmas Fun #4

By H.L. Dyer

To Up on the Housetop

Up on the laptop all night long

Feels so "write," it can't be wrong

Pulling the story from all the noise

Without resorting to cliché ploys

So, So, So… How will it go?

No, No, No… That way would blow

Oh, up on the laptop click, click, click

Hoping to finish this draft up quick!

First comes my personal writing hell:

How will I make all these subplots gel?

Need to find out how these twists combine.

Once I do that, I will be just fine.

So, So, So… How will it go?

No, No, No… That way would blow

Oh, up on the laptop click, click, click

Hoping to finish this draft up quick!

Why can't I skip this and move ahead?

Or give up and go back to bed?

Guess this is just how I need to write

Even if I'd rather sleep at night.

So, So, So… How will it go?

No, No, No… That way would blow

Oh, up on the laptop click, click, click

Hoping to finish this draft up quick!

Christmas Fun #3

name: Emina Ademovic

original christmas song: My Grown Up Christmas List ~by Michael Buble

Does anyone remember me?
I sat in the library.
I wrote down all my writing fantasies.
Well I’m all writerly now,
Could my innocent heart survive?
I’m not as normal because my heart now pumps ink.

So here’s my lifelong wish,
My writerly Christmas list
Not for myself, but for a deprived economy.

No more papers on the streets
And pens would rule the world
And all books treated like VIPs.
Every publisher would want my work
That way my word will survive
And my fantasy will come true.
This is my writerly Christmas list.

What is this illusion called the innocence of my muse?
Maybe only in my deepest thoughts can I ever find escape.

No more papers on the streets
And pens would rule the world
And all books treated like VIPs.
Every publisher would want my work
That way my word will survive
And my fantasy will come true.

This is my writerly Christmas list.
This is my only lifelong wish.
This is my writerly Christmas list.

Christmas Fun #2

The Purrfect Man

By Melody Colleen (drpeugh)

It was just before Christmas and throughout the city

The only one stirring was one busy kitty.

She’d planned many days for a holiday treat.

One special and sweet for her children to eat.

When she knew beyond doubt that her babies were sleeping,

As midnight was striking, she softly went creeping.

Her kitchen was waiting with spicy supplies.

She got right to work on her tasty surprise.

With her apron tied ‘round her she reached for her cookbook.

But finding no recipe turned to her facebook.

She gathered ingredients fresh as new snow

And mixed them together into a stiff dough.

Soon the air came alive with the scents of her baking.

The gingerbread man in the oven was waking.

Bright cinnamon eyes and broad licorice smile

Were getting quite warm on that cooking stone tile.

At the chime of the timer the cat donned her mittens.

With visions of joyful sounds from her kittens

She opened the door to remove the small man

But squeaked in alarm when he jumped from the pan.

“It’s a tasty confection you are, nothing more, sir.

I’ll stop you before you are half to the door, sir.”

He laughed as he shouted, “You’ll never catch me!”

Then tripped on the rolling pin, snapping his knee.

But the cat needn’t worry, her children were ready.

They stalked the small morsel with steps slow and steady.

They gobbled him up from his feet to his head.

Then bathing their faces, returned to their bed.

Christmas Fun #1

By drpeugh:


It was practically Christmas and try as I might

I couldn’t come up with the right words to write.

My thoughts were too scattered, my mind was all jumbled.

I sat at my desk and I groaned and I grumbled.

The children were sleeping. I couldn’t blame them

For the fact I was functioning at the brain stem.

My wife in the kitchen with last minute wrapping.

My fingers were still but my toes were a tapping.

“Turn down that music!” I snapped from my study.

Then instantly felt like an old fuddie-duddie.

She turned down the sound without saying a word.

I typed four small words. They were “I am a turd.”

I backed up the cursor and stared at the screen.

It was white as the snow. It was blank. It was clean.

“Where’s the muse?” I demanded. “T’was here yesterday.”

“Take a break,” said my wife. “What you need is some play.”

To the kitchen I followed her, somewhat suspicious.

But the smells that I found there were simply delicious.

We made tons of cookies and gingerbread too.

We were covered in sweetness before we were through.

And the day after Christmas I could hardly believe

That my writing was sharper for that small reprieve.

I completed my novel, beginning to end.

It’s off to my agent. I just need to hit send.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Fricassee

Happy Last-Friday-Before-Christmas!

So tell me: How does the holiday season affect your writing? Does it energize you, lead you into vast pools of creativity? Or does it leave your muse sniffling at the curbside, waiting until after the New Year?

The first half of December was good for me on the writing front, but as Christmas rapidly approaches, I'm finding that I need my creative energy to be directed toward holiday preparation. I used to struggle with this -- yearly December Writer Guilt, if you will. But then a wise fellow author pointed out that it's a good idea to set it all aside during December, on purpose.

Works for me.

Share your writerly thoughts!

And here's a little invitation/challenge for you:

I'd like to post some of your Christmas Creativity next week. If you feel so inspired (and I hope that you do), please choose one of the following:

1. Re-write the words to a well-known Christmas carol or song, so that the piece expresses All Things Writerly (or, the life of a writer during the holidays).

Example: Stack the halls with reams of paper, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la (etc.)

2. Write your own version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, again so that the piece expresses a writerly viewpoint. Yes, make sure it rhymes.

Send me your sparkling composition at facelesswords(at)gmail.com any time from now through Tuesday, December 23. As I receive them, I'll post them. I will include your name or screen name in the post UNLESS YOU TELL ME NOT TO!

*rubbing hands in anticipatory glee*

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Humble Yourself: Gimme Your WORST SENTENCES

You know exactly what I'm talking about -- the purple prose that you swore was the most beautiful thing to hit the blank page. Until someone else read it and spat out his coffee. Or you approached an editing session with an unusually clear mind.

You all have them. And I'll bet a lot of them still exist in dusty first drafts tucked away somewhere.

Dig 'em out. Stick 'em in the comment box.

Because I've got Christmas Things to do and can't afford the time to do an in-house crit. So let's make each other laugh instead.

Or maybe we'll make each other FEEL BETTER instead. As in, wow -- you mean OTHER people write cloying, unintelligible schlock, too??

Of course, I have Mr. Authoress to thank. He is merciless when it comes to Authoress's Profoundly Bad Sentences. I have to listen to him recite them again and again. And again.

Have at it. Mine will be first. It's Mr. Authoress's all-time favorite.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Big THANK YOU From Our First Chapter Author

To all of you, from our brave and grateful Ali Katz:

Oh, my goodness. This, gentle friends, is real critiquing.

Give me a moment.

"This is too hard! I'll never be any good at it! I'm a hack, a poseur, a pitiful wannabe! What have I done to myself? No one understands me. Snivel."

Ok, I'm done.

I appreciate every mot. Especially the style issues. I've never been satisfied with my voice.

And, the sexual tension, which I didn't believe I could do but apparently create without trying and where I don't want it. Errg.

FYI, for those interested, Daniel might be considered bi, though he prefers men and his experience with women is limited to a period when he was drinking and drugging while trying to get over Josh. A time when, in his own words, "he'd f*** anything that walked upright". He's currently in a committed, gay relationship. Hence, there will be no hanky panky with Melanie. His interest is professional, he's impressed with her performance, and the fact they were both in love with the same man. The theme is reconciliation.

Thank you all so much. I thoroughly recognize and appreciate the thought and effort each of you put into your comments on my behalf.

I'll start putting what was discussed here into effect once I recover.

BTW, I tentatively called it Love Story actually to differentiate it from genre romance. In my mind, the two are not synonymous . No man, gay, bi or straight, willing to risk an already committed relationship (Ramon) to pursue a new one would make the grade as a romance hero. Sorry for the confusion the title created.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Fricassee

Ah, Friday.

So, now that the oh-the-woes-of-our-economy tumult in the publishing industry has died down a bit (or has it?), what are your thoughts?

Is the buying of books for Christmas gifts going to help "boost" things at all? I mean, seriously? (I'm not knocking it; I've already purchased four books-as-gifts. Just, yanno, wondering.)

Might the current climate help to weed out some books that we wish wouldn't have cluttered the shelves in the first place? As in, might this -- just maybe -- lead to quality over quantity?

And as aspiring authors, do we like this thought? Even if it makes it that much harder to get our own stuff out there? (As if it isn't hard enough already.)

Oh, and just for fun: If you could ask for only one book for Christmas, which would it be? And why?

And that's enough bookish rambling for this Friday. I'm going to go heat up my coffee and figure out where my current chapter is going.

Peace and joy to you all!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bravo! Bravo!

I'll keep repeating myself until someone slaps me: You are an AWESOME group of authors!

Kudos to Ali for her bravery (and humility -- because you all know how humbling it is to throw your work out there to the critical masses), and kudos to each one of you for taking the time to share thoughtful, kind, honest, helpful feedback.

If you haven't had a chance to critique Ali's chapter yet, feel free to do so.

And while we're in this state of fuzzy crit-bliss, here's some food for thought thrown out to me by Disorderly (who refuses to be the president of the Authoress Fan Club -- can you believe it?): What makes an effective crit group/partner?

Because, honestly, a weak crit group, or a crit group that's strong but doesn't collectively "get" your work, is worse than no crit group at all. (Kinda like the ever-true adage, "A bad agent is worse than no agent at all." And those of you who have read AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED know that that's true in my life.)

So...what makes a crit partner work for YOU? And why do you think we're having such phenomenal success here on MSFV?

Because it's not me. Sure, I've created this place, and I keep it running. But it's YOU who have created this wonderful atmosphere. YOU are what makes it "work" around here.

Share the secrets of your collective wonderfulness.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Beth Revis

Read the interview of Beth Revis by Authoress on Miss Snark's First Victim.

For more on Beth Revis:





The Across the Universe trilogy (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, 2011; A MILLION SUNS, 2012; and SHADES OF EARTH, 2013) was published by Razorbill.

For more on her books:

Steve Cordero

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

For more on Steve Cordero:

Kathleen Peacock

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

For more on Kathleen Peacock:




Her debut novel, HEMLOCK, was published in May 2012 by Katherine Tegen Books.

For more on her book:



Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

First Chapter Critique #1

Love Story (untitled), Chapter 1

by Ali Katz


Pain in her ears woke her. Then, everything hurt, every joint and muscle. Her very skin burned. When she tried to move, the cold hit her.

Groggy, Melanie opened her eyes half-mast against a mid-afternoon light while waiting for her limbs to respond and the fog to lift from her brain. What was she doing lying in bed, stiff and hurting—alone—in the middle of the afternoon? Where was Josh?

"I'm here, Baby." Light as air, his voice carried on a breeze from the open window. A third story window. Impossible. A ringing in her ears grew louder; she must have misheard.

Pushing herself up, she scrabbled for the comforter only to grow more confused by what she wore. A dress? Melanie never wore dresses except to perform. She hadn't performed in months. The thin fabric bunched around her hips. The hose sagged. She gathered the bedclothes, buried herself in layers and began to shiver.

"Josh?" The word croaked from her aching throat.

"I'm here." Barely audible, directionless, but definitely his voice. The man himself was nowhere to be seen.

She swung her legs off the bed, and as she stood, a wave of dizziness struck. Catching herself with one hand against the footboard, she avoided falling then stumbled to the window.

A thick crust of ice coated the shelf of snow on the sill. When did it snow?

Disturbed, she pulled the sash closed, turned away and froze. A wild glance around the room revealed dirty glasses, plates of uneaten food, a mess she would never consciously allow and had no memory making. Had Josh done this?

Then she caught her reflection in the mirror over the vanity and stared in horror. How long had she been lying in bed? Puffy eyes stared back from a face she barely recognized, red, chaffed, the lips, dry and flaking. Stringy, unwashed hair hung limp on her shoulders. The dress, ugly, black, unfamiliar, wilted on her frame. And she stank; she needed a shower. The prickling of a thousand insects crawled over her skin, growing unbearable as the blankets warmed her.

Her tongue felt like sandpaper and tasted like desert. Shivers turned to quaking as she reached for one of the half-empty glasses. The blankets fell to the floor. Melanie followed. How did this happen? She couldn't remember. What day is this? A breath caught in her throat and stuck.

Something had happened, but every time she tried to focus, her brain fogged. A deep pain erupted in her chest.

"Josh!" she called, but her voice barely squeaked past her tightened throat. "Josh where are you?"

"I'm here, Baby."

His arms came around to embrace her from behind. Her eyes fell closed. "Have I been sick?" Of course, the aches, the shivers, she was feverish. She'd been sick.

"Try to remember."

Her mind snatched at fleeting thoughts, but they evaporated so quickly. "I don't remember anything. How long was I asleep? Your voice is strange. Why do you sound so far away?"

"I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere until you say. What's the last thing you remember?"

Wincing, she took a deep, cleansing breath and tried to summon a memory. "I waited dinner. You were late." When did that happen? How much time had she lost?

"Yes. I stopped to get you flowers."

Flowers. Her lungs locked; a low, pitiful sound emerged. "You knew I'd be angry. I was. I was mad." She moaned and floated back into his arms.

And through them to the floor. Shaken, she stared at the ceiling. She remembered the bell ringing in the middle of the night, walking down the stairs, grumbling and rehearsing what to say, thinking Josh had forgotten his keys again. Instead…

"Mrs. Taylor?"

"Yes, what is it?"

"I'm Officer Nadine Madden. There's been a terrible accident."

Chapter 1

Five years later

"Daniel, get down here." Russell was using the damn speakerphone again. The voice sounded hollow, barely intelligible. His annoyance, however, came through loud and clear. "Will you stop by the booth? Tell the cellist to get her cute little butt in here? Dollar signs are floating out the window."

"Right." Daniel set the receiver in its cradle. Not willing to try his manager's patience when it came to money matters, he smiled at the receptionist (mental note: Diane) and the teenage daughter (Emily) she'd brought in to meet him.

"Sorry, ladies, gotta go make some music." The girl tittered when his lips brushed her cheek, but her nervousness was gone. "Great meeting you, Em." He had a gift for putting fans at ease, in spite of himself.

Rule number one: Always leave 'em thinking you're a nice guy.

The door to the isolation booth didn't budge when he tugged. Locked. Naturally. A few steps farther, the next one, leading to the control room, opened. Music from an open mic escaped into the hall.

He let the heavy, soundproof door swing closed behind him. The deep voice of the cello swelled until it filled his head and started his chest vibrating with its power. A little surprised, he had to admit he didn't recognize the piece she played.

A quick glance through the glass and his finger stalled above the mic's switch. Pretty, he thought: long, straight black hair, creamy complexion, black jeans, black silk blouse—very Goth. Goth always drew his eye, especially the long-legged, tight-bodied kind, though he couldn't see the face beneath the hair until she raised her head.

Daniel recognized the woman immediately.

Well, hello again, Mel-an-ie. He moved his hand a few inches to hit record, wishing for video. This he wanted to keep. Everyone always said she was good, but this private solo sent chills through him. Alone in the studio, she played with the uninhibited passion of someone who thought herself unobserved, making love to her instrument.

He stepped back from the glass to watch from the shadows.

Fingers flying over the strings, her whole body thrown into the playing, she breathed as though trying to inhale the sound. Little moans of pleasure escaped her throat now and then, adding their own voice to the music. A dewy sheen covered the exposed flesh of her face, neck and chest.

Beautiful. So, this is what had stolen Josh's heart—all that seductive passion. Strange, he'd missed this aspect of her. On the few occasions she'd accompanied Josh to one function or another where Daniel was present, he'd thought her mousy, too reserved for his old friend. He'd heard talk, though. When she came into the picture during their junior year at Julliard, their whirlwind romance became legend—brilliant young composer falls for stunning, amazingly talented unknown.

Maybe not so strange he'd missed it, since Daniel didn't stick around to watch.

And, apparently, his perception was tainted.

A twinge of guilt prodded him. Where has she been for the last five years? Josh's death must have been hard on her. A better man would have looked in on the wife of a friend.

He studied her through the rest of the unfamiliar Allegro. As the music burst into its final chords, she shuddered and threw back her head with an expression that might be pain or ecstasy—an intensity that sent a ripple of almost sexual arousal sweeping over him. My God, she's exquisite.

The music ended. She fell against the chair, flushed and breathless, exhausted. Her limbs trembled.

Setting the machine to burn the track onto a CD, he gave her a moment to recover then flipped the mic switch.

"Melanie." She jumped at the sound of his voice; her gaze locked on the glass. "They're waiting for you." He angled forward until the light from the booth illuminated his face. He waved, then gave her his sexiest grin, knowing she'd recognize him.

Melanie turned the prettiest shade of fuchsia and waved back.


Jeez, how long had Daniel been there?

Daniel Sanborn, Teen Idol. He remembered her? Surely, not. Their last award ceremony was more than six years ago. He wouldn't recall much about that night, drunk as he was. Someone must have reminded him.

Melanie lovingly replaced the cello in its case. Burdened under its weight while balancing her purse, bottle of water, music folders, she muscled open the door and narrowly missed colliding with Mr. Rock Icon himself.

"Wow, Melanie, are you always so hot? What were you playing? I didn't recognize the piece."

Heat blossomed on her face. So, she'd gotten a little carried away. "You startled me, Daniel." In spite of herself, she couldn't help smiling at those laughing, blue, Peter Pan eyes. The man just refused to grow up despite having seen the last of thirty-five. His body, proudly displayed behind an open shirt and low-slung jeans, drew her attention as intended, but the kohl-lined eyes hooked her. Their black frames turned the blue irises almost sapphire.

A knowing grin graced those full lips. This time, she refused to be embarrassed. "You might have said something sooner. It's one of Josh's."

"Uh uh, you would have stopped playing." He seemed genuinely happy to see her. "Here, let me carry that."

The studio was just down the hall, but she handed the heavy instrument over gratefully.

"Has it been published, Josh's piece? I usually recognize his work."

"No, he wrote this one for me." His claim surprised her. "I thought you were through with classical music. You're still interested in modern composers?"

His eyes narrowed. "Yes," he said, making the word a dare. "Josh was my friend. Of course, I followed his work—and others' as well, believe it or not. Do you think I whored my soul along with my talent? Is that what he thought?"

Whoa. "I'm sorry." She quickly tried to smooth things over. They had to work together for the next week. It was a careless assumption on her part; she didn't know him well, but she'd heard him play. "I didn't mean to imply anything. You know Josh was proud of you." Daniel and Josh were friends long before she showed up. Surely, he knew better than she how Josh felt.

In front of the studio, Daniel reached for the knob and paused. "Forgiven," he said with a grin. "Meet me for coffee after the session."

Coffee? Innocent enough, but his grin was hard to decipher. This move back into the world was a giant step for her, a chance to break from her shell, get accustomed to people again, but she'd rather avoid unwanted advances for a while. No, that wasn't fair. Nothing he'd done so far gave her reason to question his intentions. Anyway, could he be any gayer?

He probably wanted to talk about Josh, which scared her more than the idea of fighting him off. Icy fingers gripped the back of her neck.

"What should I do, Josh?" she murmured then glanced up quickly, realizing Daniel must have heard.

His brow rose to his shaggy hairline.

Like a breath without substance, her ghost said, "Talk to him."


A blast of cold air greeted them as they left the sweltering, ninety-degree New York afternoon to enter the coffee shop next door to the recording studio. Daniel took Melanie's elbow. With a nod to the kid behind the counter, he guided her to a private booth in the back.

"Move over." He slid into the booth next to her and, slinging his knee onto the bench, turned his back to the room to face her.

"Trust me," he said to her guarded expression. "This is best. Angel will come to take our order as soon as he can get away." He didn't often venture out without security. He loved the fans, but for the most part, they scared the p*** out of him. "How've you been? You kinda fell off the face of the earth. I didn't get a chance to talk to you at the funeral."

"You were there?" Surprise flashed across her face but dulled quickly.

Why should his presence at the funeral surprise her? If nothing else, the business relationship the band had with Josh warranted the group's attendance. Josh, though, was more than a business relationship. Was it possible she didn't know about his and her late husband's more personal affairs?

"Of course. We all went," he said. They'd flown in from the coast just for the day. No one ever discovered how word got out. "A crowd of fans swarmed us as we left the church. We couldn't ask you to deal with them, so we didn't go to the cemetery."

"I don't remember the funeral, Daniel."

"Nothing?" Recalling her state at the church, the fact didn't surprise him. That creepy mother-in-law of hers must have propped her up.

"I didn't know until… No one stayed to… We probably should talk about something else."

"No one stayed with you? Do they call at all?" She wouldn't meet his eyes. He reached for her hand where it lay on the table. "Okay, we'll talk about something else."

They f*****g left her alone. He might have known if he'd given her any thought at all. Josh told him she had no family—Daniel always considered the fact part of the attraction, since Josh's parents were such cold-hearted p****s. Still, his mother should have taken to her. She was, after-all, the instrument which got rid of Daniel. It seems the senior Mrs. Taylor didn't like her daughter-in-law any better. He should have guessed, but at the time, was too busy hiding his own grief to think too long about his rival's problems.

His rival? This woman was not a rival. Even if she knew about him, Daniel couldn't blame Melanie for his own decision to leave. He couldn't even blame Josh. Josh didn't want him to go. In fact, he'd asked him to stay. Asked, begged, demanded…but Daniel's anger wouldn't allow him to listen. He made a preemptive move, knowing who the loser would be in the end.

Rehashing all this did neither of them any good. Josh had an approach to dealing with the kind of stress that kept him from getting things done. Daniel repeated the old mantra aloud. "Pretend you're all right." Good advice, for the most part. Pretend long enough and you can't tell the difference.

She heard. She offered him a weak smile then pulled her feet onto the bench to hug her knees. The move gave her a bit more space and put an effective barrier between them.

The teenaged barista chose that moment to show up for their order. In the few moments it took for Daniel to ask for coffee and Melanie a latte, the tension left her body. "Pretend you're all right" apparently worked for her. No doubt she had practice.

Her gaze wandered the room beyond his shoulder. "Someone over there recognizes you. Or thinks she does."

Now that she'd brought it to his attention, he could feel the eyes boring into his back. Without turning, he asked, "Do you see a big, bald guy in a gray suit at one of the tables? Probably wearing shades." He'd be surprised if Sandy was around. No one knew he'd slipped over here for a few minutes alone with her.

She made a quick sweep of the room and shook her head.

Okay, he could handle this. "One girl, right?"


Resting his arm along the back of the bench, he forced himself to relax. Just a fan and Melanie here to witness what happened—nothing was going to happen.

These irrational fears grew worse every year. Okay, he was a coward, but too many unpleasant incidents made him cautious. Caution was a good thing in this business—or so he continued to tell himself. He needed to get a grip. For a while, he'd tried toning down his appearance, hoping to blend in better, but fans were going to recognize him. He had to get a handle on these panic attacks or he'd be back to drinking, or worse, before his well-earned ulcer had a chance to heal.

Stop drinking. Blend in. What next? Go straight?

He'd been zoning. A quick glance in her direction found his fingers toying with a lock of her hair—more nerves. She didn't seem to mind, but gently lifted the hand aside when she caught him watching.

"You're hands are beautiful," she said.

Josh had thought so, too. Long, strong pianist's hands, he'd called them. Enough!

"So, how are you?" He repeated his original question. Sitting here, across from the woman he'd spent so much time anguishing over, put him in a constant state of deja vu—perhaps too much blast from the past.

"I'm okay. I've been teaching, but won't be going back in the fall. If I don't get back in the circuit soon, no one will remember me."

Footsteps approached from behind. He turned his head slightly to find a young woman standing politely off to the side, waiting for his attention.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," she said. "I know how rude this must be, but I'd kick myself a thousand times if I passed up the chance to get your autograph. Would you?"

"It's all right, darlin'." It wasn't in him to brush the girl off. He reached for her paper and pen with what he hoped was a sincere enough smile. "What's your name?" They chatted while he composed a message. As she walked away, her excitement showed in the way she scooped her things from the table and practically danced out the door. He laughed to himself over all the fuss. Maybe he should try a little harder to make "pretend you're all right" work for him as well.

When he turned his attention back to Melanie, she said, "That was nice of you."

"Thanks. My craziness is pretty transparent, isn't it? We've had some bad experiences." Then steering the conversation back to where they'd left off, he asked, "Why are you taking gigs like this? Talk to Zankel. You should be playing at Lincoln Center."

She shrugged. "No, this is what I need—work, no pressure. The house costs so much to keep up. Josh loved our house. I don't want to lose it."

She needs to make a living, he thought. Josh's royalties must be thinning out. Everyone's were. Five years is a long time to go with no new sources of income. How'd she get by for so long?

Angel brought their order. Melanie wrapped the paper cup in her hands and breathed deeply of the coffee's aroma. "Thanks for introducing me around today."

"No problem. Tomorrow, warm up in the studio where the producer can hear you. Give him something to remember besides your name. Bring a demo; he'll ask for one."

A rough sigh parted her lips. "Of course. I should have thought… I'm so rusty."

"You'll manage. Don't miss a chance to make an impression. Are you thinking of stretching yourself? There's work in Hollywood." He lowered his head to catch her eye and grinned. "I understand you're outrageously versatile."

She glanced up from her coffee wearing a wry smile. "Anything with strings. They need me for two more tracks this week. That's the plan to date. It never occurred to me to branch out permanently. I like the song we recorded today, though."

"Yeah? I agree. Sam wrote a sweet ballad this time. Not award material—not this one anyway. Those are hard to come by since Josh." The five songs Josh wrote for The Wanton Boys had rocketed to the top of the charts; three won awards for the group—and the writer.

"I seem to remember one or two in the last few years—not so bad."

"Aha, you're paying attention." He'd wondered how far her interest went. Whenever he'd approached her in the past, she'd seemed so aloof. The one time he'd tried to shake her out of it, he hadn't gotten the reaction he planned from her—or her husband. "The guys recognized you from the Grammys. Remember the party after we won for Sweet Silent Thoughts when I tried to kiss you."

She blushed. "I'm surprised you remember. You were drinking."

"True enough. Not drunk though. Besides, even drunk, total rejection is hard to forget. You weren't even tempted—scarred me for life."

Laughter bubbled from her chest. "For about five minutes, maybe. You left with some redhead."

Cute. So different from what he expected. Women mystified him. "Melanie, you noticed," he teased. But had Josh noticed? "How flattering. I needed consoling. Besides…" He grinned. "I'd been drinking."

"You surprised me. Aren't you gay?"

"Oh, what makes you think so? Are you listening to rumors?" He gave her hair a playful tug. "Make it up to me. Have dinner with me tonight."

"No, Daniel."

"And, why not?" More rejection—again, without a second's hesitation—and he was being so charming.

"Do you mean apart from the fact you abuse alcohol and drugs? Aren't you seeing someone?"

"Yeah, apart from that." Heat rose in his own cheeks. The first two didn't apply anymore, but he wasn't about to try to convince her. The last? "What does Ramón have to do with it? I said dinner, Melanie, not dessert. So, why not?"

"I don't date."

"When a gay man asks you to dinner, it's strictly platonic, sugar."

Her only response was to stare at her knees, making him wonder if she, in fact, disagreed with the truth in that statement.

"Are you saying you haven't gone out to dinner with a friend since Josh died? Not healthy."

"Probably not, but I'm happy this way, Daniel."

He wondered if 'happy' was the word she intended. It occurred to him Melanie might not be recovered from her grief. He could see it happening. Josh had a way of reaching into your soul and making it his. What chance did either of them have?

The silence stretched between them. After a few moments, she raised her head, jaw set. "You and the others can come to dinner at the house some night before you leave," she said.

He got the impression the offer had not come easy.