Monday, June 28, 2010

In Case It's Quiet...

Tomorrow begins a week of in-lawness. That is, they're coming, and I've got to be a good hostess.

All that to say, if posts are sparse this week, that's why. I fully intend to maintain my writing schedule, and I actually trust them to honor it. It's just that I want to strike a careful balance, setting the writing aside as the need arises. There's dedication, and there's obsession. And then there's downright rudeness.

I don't want to be accused of the latter.

Know what's awesome, though? Mr. A is completely supportive. He's already told me he's going to explain things to his parents. As in, "This is when my wife writes." So I really, really can't complain.

Really.

So, yes. I'm going to attempt to be a human being this week. My nose has been buried in Beatrice for so many months, I imagine I could stand the practice. What makes it easier is that I completed my revisions over the weekend (my MG fantasy). This week is all about editing so that I can get it out to my readers in a reasonable amount of time. Which makes for a less stressful week. I can't imagine dealing with the intensity of a 1000-word-per-day first draft while my in-laws were about.

Though that may be on my horizon. I've got the smallest, sizzliest seeds of a story idea. I'm rewarding myself at the end-of-edits with a nice planning-plotting-dreaming session. And hoping something superb comes of it.

No guarantees, of course. But I'm excited nonetheless.

So what does your week look like?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Fricassee

It's not often I sit staring at a blank screen when it's time to blog. While writing, yes. Constantly. But blogging never takes long.

Well, almost never. Because I've been staring for ever so long this morning, and this is all I've come up with.

Which leads to an excellent topic (I hope). What do you do when the Blank Screen looms? When thoughts have congealed, immobile, and inspiration seems to have died?

And what do you do when this sad state of affairs happens when you're writing to a deadline?

I used to fear just that -- writerly constipation with a looming deadline. I'm all over my self-imposed deadlines and, as yet, haven't missed a single one. But they are, in the end, SELF-imposed. The world will not cease to revolve if I don't meet them.

So today, share your methods for breaking through the blankness. Or a fuzzy-warm story of how you successfully overcame a particular bit of stuckage. Or a list of appropriate foods to consume while one is summarily stuck.

As always, I'm all ears!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Naked and Vulnerable

I'm sure I'll regret the title of today's post once I start getting clicks from odd google searches. No matter. The title is apropos.

You see, I (almost) never enter online writing contests. Sometimes it's because the prize isn't something I really need, such as a query critique by an agent who has already asked for my full. Sometimes it's because the prize isn't something I really want, like a goody bag filled with romance novels (not my cup of tea). And sometimes it's because I don't want to throw my work into that particular public venue.

And then Christine Nguyen hogtied and dragged me into a wee contest that has had me in knots ever since.

(It's okay. She knows I love her anyway.)

Honestly? It's not a big deal sort of contest. It's clever and fun, but not earthshattering. So I didn't think I was putting a whole lot on the line when I succumbed to Christine's (mild) pressure.

And then the waiting began. And I started to experience regular stomach droppage. So silly.

I mean, really.

So here is what I've realized about online contests vs. actual querying: The latter is a business decision, couched in professional terms and not open to public viewing. The former is, well, a contest, couched in lottery terms and open for the hungry eyes of everyone who participates.

Querying makes me a serious writer who has taken the scary-at-first step of throwing my work out there. Contesting makes me nauseous.

So says the woman who runs regular contests on her blog! And since the Secret Agent contests began in 2008, I have entered twice. Both times, it was simply a matter of things working out that way, since I made the decision early on to not "steal" a spot in the contest from my readers. Most recently, I entered because I messed up and ended up with an empty slot. The contest was closed, the alternates used up, and there sat the glaring blank spot. That would have meant certain mutiny, so I filled it at the last minute with my own work. And was duly uptight along with the other 49 entrants.

All that to say--I'm feeling naked and vulnerable. All because of THIS CONTEST.

Christine and I both made the first cut. Well, ONE of my entries made it. And since this particular opening isn't a flash-bang-rip-your-heart-out kind of scene, I don't expect to make it much further. Honestly? It's fun and not too threatening. My Dream Agent isn't sitting at the other end dangling a full manuscript critique. (I'd be catatonic by now if that were the case.)

I find, however, that I am now questioning my own definition of "fun." This is like an online reality show, with 25 fewer people left to play each week. Absolute torture. At least the Secret Agent contests are over in a week. Slightly less torturous. Yes?

Anyway. Contests can be great fun and they can help us develop nerves of kryptonite. But in the end? I'm going to focus my energy and time (and nerves) into querying agents. And NOT refreshing contest pages in between revisions. A million times.

Oy.

What about contests and you? Love 'em? Hate 'em? Run 'em?? Share!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

25 Words #45

TITLE: Crossing the Dark Waters
GENRE: YA contemporary fantasy

My twin sister,Sierra, sat in the lotus position on the teacher's desk, with a dozen prom committee members standing around her.

25 Words #44

TITLE: Charmed
GENRE: YA

The garbanzo beans wouldn't scan. I tried holding the can at different angles. Even cleaned the glass pane using the vinegar solution we'd been told to use sparingly.

25 Words #43

TITLE: Dandelion Lawn
GENRE: YA

They say start your story at the beginning. But this story starts at the end. May 18th 2009, onstage at the Wood City Civic Center.

25 Words #42

TITLE: When Shayna Started School
GENRE: Picture Book

When Shayna started school, everyone thought she was the most
beautiful thing to enter Ms. Kelly's third grade classroom. Shayna
wore fabulous clothes from the most expensive stores.

25 Words #41

TITLE: untitled
GENRE: YA

Christian Lewis took his final steps off German soil with immense trepidation. Despite the necessity of the move, he left against his very will.

25 Words #40

TITLE: Bleed Well
GENRE: Fantasy

Running through the evergreen forest, Fredrick's heart pounded. He ducked under low branches, jumped over fallen tree trunks, and crashed through any underbrush that got in his way.

25 Words #39

TITLE: Mallet
GENRE: Mystery

In the short time I knew John Rouge, I never heard him call anyone by name. Sweetheart, Dude, Buddy. When Vicky introduced us, he called me Honey.

25 Words #38

TITLE: Graceful Death
GENRE: Paranormal YA

One night without sleep is fine. Two? Not so bad. Eight? Hell on Earth. Twelve sleepless nights in a row and something comes for me.

25 Words #37

TITLE: Ink Wash
GENRE: Ya Urban Fantasy

The first time I saw Yuu Tomohiro was when Saeda Myu slapped him across the face.

He deserved it.

25 Words #36

TITLE: The Dark Inside
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

When you hunt the dark long enough, it gets in you eventually. Gets so you need it, need the chase, the thrill, the kill.

25 Words #35

TITLE: Shadow Dance
GENRE: Series Romance

Quivering in anticipation Ricki opened the letter box. It was empty. Again.

For nine years the letter arrived, regular as clockwork. What was different now?

25 Words #34

TITLE: Vestige
GENRE: Paranormal romance

Tess wished she believed in miracles, because she sure as s*** needed one now. With sight obscured by indigo mist, she pushed further into the musty cave.

25 Words #33

TITLE: A CAKE I WILL BAKE
GENRE: picture book

A cake I will bake and you will see,
It will be tall and lovely, just like me.

25 Words #32

TITLE: Book of the Baba Yaga
GENRE: Late middle reader/fantasy

Samantha Liffey peered down the shaft of her arrow at the gold bull's
eye in the center of the target thirty feet away.

25 Words #31

TITLE: Ivy
GENRE: Young Adult

The clump of mud in my apron felt as heavy as a knight in full armor, but I just had to run the last few steps.

25 Words #30

TITLE: Gothic
GENRE: Horror

The snow along the trail was black as a raven. The burros' manes froze as they lugged ore carts up the hill.

25 Words #29

TITLE: Nikko's Bond
GENRE: YA, Sci-fi

Marni left us during the night.

Constant tremors rippled through her body as she accepted our condolences. She came to me last.

25 Words #28

TITLE: Into Faeryland
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The unmistakable scent hit my nostrils as soon as I stepped into my room. I closed my eyes, willing my senses to be deceiving me.

25 Words #27

TITLE: The Lion Awakens
GENRE: YA

Annie opened the luscious lavender polish and propped her foot on Mary Beth. She hated painting her toes about as much as she hated shaving.

25 Words #26

TITLE: Thought Convictions
GENRE: Thriller

Freshly roughed up by three agents of the New York Neural Extraction
Unit, Nelson Deavers released a throaty, pathetic moan.

25 Words #25

TITLE: Audrey's Dreams
GENRE: Literary

The day after the divorce, Teddy began dreaming about his ex-wife. Within days, she climbed mountains, flew jets, and was sworn in as President.

25 Words #24

TITLE: FUNdraiser
GENRE: women's fiction

It was never supposed to get this out of hand, Sophie Whitman thought.

She peeked at the forty-something vice detective assigned to interrogate her.

25 Words #23

TITLE: BOUNDARY STREET
GENRE: Memoir

I tried the doorknob but it only jiggled. Crap. My roommate Na Wei must have returned and locked it from the inside.

25 Words #22

TITLE: The Measure of Angels
GENRE: Urban Fantasy Thriller

To a selective mute, talk therapy was a personal hell.

If Kate Hayden wanted early admission to the forensic science PhD at John Jay, she'd
have to endure.

25 Words #21

TITLE: BITTER CHERRIES
GENRE: YA Fantasy

He wasn't the first to stand on that precipice. Situated right where
the stream of glacial runoff plunged from the mountain's edge, it was
popular with the jumpers.

25 Words #20

TITLE: Sir Johnny, Knight of Mommy's Kitchen Table
GENRE: Picture Book

"Mommy, are you a princess?" Johnny asks coming into the kitchen.

"Yes. I suppose I am," Mommy replies.

"Then I am your knight,"

25 Words #19

TITLE: Trust Me
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

Elaine heard raised voices and the unmistakable sound of fist meeting flesh, followed by a muted grunt, through the door. She was paralyzed with fear.

25 Words #18

TITLE: JANE EYRE, BEWARE
GENRE: YA

I have to get into Columbia University or else, but my psychologist says my sticky brain could keep me out.

25 Words #17

TITLE: Waiting For Faith
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

I open my eyes and flinch as a blaze of light strikes me, frying my
retinas. Damn! Now all I see is random white blobs.

25 Words #16

TITLE: Confessions of a Random
GENRE: Memoir

We were all decked out. My best friend, Jill, was wearing her one-piece satin blue jumpsuit with the killer white belt; the one with the big buckle.

25 Words #15

TITLE: Epona
GENRE: Paranormal

"Down the canyon," Joe barked. His galloping Appaloosa had gained distance ahead of me. The horse thief we had been tracking disappeared into the shadows.

25 Words #14

TITLE: Subaqueous
GENRE: YA Fantasy

I could hear water trickling beneath my bed. It was chilly and the dampness clung to me like a second skin.

25 Words #13

TITLE: Hunting Cat
GENRE: paranormal/sci fi romance

"Give me back my bra, you little tube rat, or I will rip out your spine and steal your soul."

25 Words #12

TITLE: Blackwatch
GENRE: YA Sci-Fi

The first time I accidentally paused the world, I managed to sleep through the whole thing.

25 Words #11

TITLE: Home Slayer
GENRE: Surburban Fantasy

At midnight, brother and sister stabbed each other to death atop a glass dome while vampires and hunters gasped in disbelief on the streets below.

25 Words #10

TITLE: Montana Groom
GENRE: Historical Western Romance

There was nothing left to sell. Everything that remained in the house and on the land was necessary for Noreen to live from day to day.

25 Words #9

TITLE: The Buried Realm
GENRE: Fantasy

Astak slammed his back into the trunk of a wide oak, breathing hard.

How did he get himself into these situations?

25 Words #8

TITLE: Normal
GENRE: urban fantasy

Three sure signs that my evening would not go as planned: a big black
plume of smoke, six lanes of gridlocked interstate, and a complete
lack of sirens.

25 Words #7

TITLE: Soul Catcher
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

In the last eight hours, I had totaled a company car and lost the soul of a serial killer.

25 Words #6

TITLE: Vitros
GENRE: Science Fiction

It was impossible to get lost in the City. The streets were laid out in a tidy grid, meticulously numbered and labeled.

25 Words #5

TITLE: LOST CARGO
GENRE: Science Fiction/Fantasy

"Stay there, you little bastard," Jane Fogg whispered. She adjusted
her Nikon and trained the lens on the red-shouldered hawk across the
creek.

25 Words #4

TITLE: The Emerald Key
GENRE: Fantasy

I am the keeper of the key--an emerald key which is important for Lataria. For it secures the deciding powers of good and evil.

25 Words #3

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Charlotte Parker Johnston slid into her pink slip dress and matching pumps. She tugged the edges of her new hat, trying to hide the bad dye job.

25 Words #2

TITLE: The Blessed Crow
GENRE: Dark Fantasy

She knew nothing of the man before her. Only that death awaited him.
And she was to deliver it.

25 Words #1

TITLE: Tunnels
GENRE: Middle Grade Science Fiction

Struggling to suppress her grunts, Prin pushed the wardrobe aside, revealing a gaping hole in the wall. She gasped in surprise.

Monday, June 21, 2010

25-Word Critique Round

It's been a while, so let's do another one!

At 5:00 PM EASTERN TODAY, submissions will open for the following:

*The first 25 words of your manuscript, completed or in progress*

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES:
  • Send your submission to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com. YOUR SUBMISSION WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED AT ANY OTHER ADDRESS.
  • Format your submission as follows (EXACTLY):
SCREEN NAME: type it here
TITLE: type it here
GENRE: type it here

Type your 25 words here
  • Submissions will remain open until midnight or 50 entries have been reached, whichever comes first.
  • There will be 2 alternates assigned; if you receive an alternate number, please understand that your entry will only be included if one of the 50 is redacted or disqualified.
  • ALL GENRES EXCEPT EROTICA are invited. PICTURE BOOKS ARE INCLUDED!
  • And please -- PLEASE -- don't stop in the middle of a sentence. I admit I'm baffled at how often this happens. NEVER do this, and especially when you're submitting to an agent!
If I've forgotten something, please let me know! The entries will post on Tuesday morning beginning at 10:00 Eastern.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Well, I'm set. I've just returned from Whole Foods with three pounds of $1.99/lb cherries. If it weren't for Twitter, I'd have forgotten about the one day cherry sale.

Yet another reason to twitterize. Cherry sales.

At any rate, thanks for a week of thoughtful comments. I appreciate knowing that my writing-as-career post has inspired/booty-kicked so many of you! I also appreciate the dissenting opinions on my not-so-rosy book review. Such a subjective business, this. I'm sticking by my overall label of "clunky," though. Just because it's a fairy tale doesn't mean it needs to be clunky.

One of my all-time favorite picture books is The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski (Walker Books, 1997). The artwork beautifully supports the story, the writing is luscious, and I always cry. Always. (Needless to say, I don't read it often. I leave it on my shelf and stroke its binding as I walk by.)

Here is the opening page:

The village children called him Mr. Gloomy.

But, in fact, his name was Mr. Toomey. Mr. Jonathan Toomey. And though it's not kind to call people names, this one fit quite well. For Jonathan Toomey seldom smiled and never laughed. He went about mumbling and grumbling, muttering and sputtering, grumping and griping. He complained that the church bells rang too often, that the birds sang too shrilly, that the children played too loudly.

And when you find out why Mr. Toomey seldom smiles and never laughs, you will know why I cry when I read it.

Ahh, book love! It's something we all share, regardless of the genres we write. Because if we didn't love books, we wouldn't write them.

What are some of your favorites from childhood? And why? And...how have they shaped you as a writer?

(OOOO, this comment box is going to be AWESOME!)

I credit a delightful librarian with planting a deep love for fantasy in my heart. Her name was Mary Beth and my mom worked with her in our town's tiny public library. When Mary Beth discovered I liked "magical-type" stories, she began putting aside the new YA fantasy offerings for me, presenting me regularly, over the course of one sparkly summer, with books that have stayed with me ever since. I was reading urban fantasy before anyone decided to call it that.

The bright yellow "YA" stickers on the spines made me feel oh-so-special, too. A young "adult" was almost grown up, surely.

Mary Beth is probably the one who got me started on Katherine Kurtz's novels, too (which are decidedly NOT YA). Which led me to Terry Brooks. And Patricia A. McKillip. And Tolkien. (Yes, I grew up without Tolkien. Didn't read Lord of the Rings until college. Clearly my town had a tiny library because it was a literary cesspool.)

Books that have stuck with me from tiny to twenty? And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. What the Witch Left. The Incredible Shrinking House. Stoneflight. The Sword of Shannara. The Riddlemaster of Hed. The first Deryni trilogy. And the second. And the third. And of course Lord of the Rings.

Then there was a book I LOVED and cannot remember. Not the title, not the author, not even the names of the protagonists. All I know is...it was awesome.

Brother and sister. A foal that turns out to be a baby Pegasus. Something evil in the night, circling the barn where the baby Pegasus is hidden. Flight on the young Pegasus whose wings are barely born. Oh, I groan to know what this book was!

Then again, I may have totally romanticized it. It might...well, suck. Though I doubt it. Mary Beth only chose the best for me.

Thank you, Mary Beth, wherever you are.

Okay, writerly folks: your turn!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Quick Note For My Email Subscribers

I want to publicly acknowledge the email responses I regularly receive on various blog posts.

Thank you! They are read and appreciated.

You may or may not realize that your comments are coming directly to my (other) email address. When you receive the blog post in your inbox and click on "reply", you are not posting to the blog. I'm the only one who sees it.

If you WANT to post to the blog, you must click on the link in the email. That will take you directly to the site, where you will be able to leave public comments along with everyone else.

Of course, you may MEAN to send these emails, which is fine. I just want to let you know that I do read them, as I read every comment on the blog.

I'd hate to see you miss out on the wonderful community that happens here simply because you *think* you are leaving a comment when you actually aren't.

So thanks for reading and thanks for your comments.

Back to your regularly scheduled surfing and blog reading. I mean writing. Yes. Back to your WRITING.

*grin*

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When Language and Art Collide

You may or may not know that I also pen the odd rhyming children's book. Yes, I'm geeked about kidlit from wee to teen. So naturally I read at both ends of the spectrum.

And one thing I ADORE in a picture book is luscious artwork. I'm not all over the cutesy stuff--bright colors, simple shapes. I'm not even excited about Eric Carle's illustrations, though I'll admit his are some of the most delightful picture books out there. But give me a masterpiece on each page, and I'm a goner.

Unless the writing doesn't measure up.

I give you the following:




King Midas and the Golden Touch, as told by Charlotte Craft, illustrated by K.Y. Craft. Harper Collins, 1999.

One look at that gorgeous cover lets you know what to expect on every page: SUMPTUOUS paintings. EXQUISITE detail. This retelling of a classic fable is a feast for the eyes--the kind of artwork you want to stroke with your fingertips. Brilliant.

And then you start reading.

Mind you, it's not awful. And there's a certain "fairy tale" language inherent in this type of tale that has a cadence all its own, different from the modern tales to which our ears may be accustomed.

It's adequate for the genre. But it's not excellent. And compared to the gorgeous artwork, it's sadly lacking.

(I know, I know. I'm an absolute language snob. But I'm also a hardworking writer who is continually striving to strip her own work of the kind of writerly slip-ups I've found in King Midas.)

Example 1:

"That is your wish?"

"Yes, for then it would always be at my fingertips," Midas assured him.

"Think carefully, my friend," cautioned the visitor.

"Yes," replied Midas. "The golden touch would bring me all the happiness I need."

Assured? Cautioned? Replied? Read the passage out loud (the only way to truly determine the merit of a picture book, in my opinion). Does it feel as clunky to you as it does to me?

Example 2:

With a gift as great as this, he thought, no inconvenience could be too great.

Two "greats" in the same sentence? Really?

Example 3:

But Midas began to wring his hands. If he was hungry now, he imagined how much more hungry he would be by dinner.

MORE HUNGRY is completely incorrect. The correct comparative degree of "hungry" is "hungrier." Always.

Example 4:

As the water washed the gold from his clothes, he noticed a pretty little violet growing wild along the banks and gently brushed his finger against it. When he saw that the delicate purple flower continued to bend with the breeze, he was overjoyed.

The above passage is about as purple as they come (no pun intended). It's a wonderful moment for King Midas, realizing that the cursed touch has been washed away. But all those adjectives! Read it out loud a couple times. It's exhausting.

Now, I'm not picking on this book simply to be snarky. There is a lot that is beautiful about it (mostly the artwork). I really do have a non-snarky point to make: Regardless of genre or age level, writing should be clean and beautiful. And grammatically correct. If tiny ears grow up hearing gorgeous prose and NOT overwritten fable re-tellings, they will not settle for less when they are older.

And let's give the parents a break, too. Who wants to read an exhausting fairy tale twelve times a day? The text should slip golden from the tongue, melting in the mouth like fine chocolate. If it makes mama tired, the pleasure is gone.

Of course we, as writers, tend to be overly sensitive to the weaknesses of published works. And I don't think there is any such thing as a PERFECT book. (Well, unless Jane Austen wrote it. But she DOES use the oddest spellings!) We've got to extend grace as well as give ourselves some.

But when less-than-stellar writing is paired with illustrations that take my breath away, I am compelled to say something. And so I have. At any rate, I'm always open to your opinions. The book is available with "search inside" on Amazon. If you want to read a few pages and give me your thoughts, I'd love to hear them. If I'm totally off, I know you'll tell me.

After all, this could be nothing more than my perfectionist tendencies rearing their ugly head.

I do love a good fairy tale, at any rate. And I'm thankful that Harper Collins has published this (and others in the same collection) along with more contemporary offerings. Now if everyone would work together to make something GOOD into something WONDERFUL, what a world it would be!

Monday, June 14, 2010

On Writing As Career

If you write without a burning desire to be published, this article is not for you.

Mind you, there's nothing wrong with the I-write-because-I-love-it-and-getting-published-doesn't-matter mindset. If that describes you, then be true to yourself and write to indulge the deepest passions of your heart. It's all good.

But if you, like me, aspire to be published--not just hope to, but intend to--read on.

By now, you've got the basics down: Keep writing. Edit your work. Send intelligent queries. Repeat. It's possible to do all this while living the rest of your life--whatever it is you do to make money, foster relationships, run a household, save the world. Time management skills are as essential as your determination to Never Give Up.

(I've gotten pretty darn good at the Never Give Up part.)

Something might be missing, though, and I encourage you to think hard about this:

Do you view your writing as a career?

Be careful. I didn't say "future" or "possible" career. I said CAREER. As in, now.

I know. When we think "career" we think "full time" and "salary" and "three weeks' paid vacation" (if we're lucky). And scribbling away at a novel every day doesn't fit the description. Not even remotely.

But here's the challenge: As aspiring authors, we should view our writing as a career BEFORE IT BEGINS TO GENERATE INCOME. Before the world looks at us and says, "Oh! You have a career as a writer!"

And here is why. Aside from the obvious creative outpouring, "being" an author is a business decision. Yes, it is! We must learn the industry, hone our professional skills, communicate effectively, brand ourselves, meet deadlines, produce consistently sale-able products.

(Yes. A novel is a product.)

If we go about our writerly business with the "someday" attitude, it will keep us from the kind of forward motion we need to truly prevail, truly forge ahead toward our goal of publication and ultimate success as an author, whether on a large or modest scale. It will affect our productivity, our drive, our long-range vision.

And it will make it easier for our I-have-no-idea-what-it-means-to-write-novels friends and family members to chuckle up their sleeves at our "little hobby."

Hobby indeed.

I have no idea what your daily life looks like. You may work sixty-hour weeks in the corporate world and have to relegate your writing to a fifteen-minute slot before bed each night. You may be at home raising five children under the age of nine and getting up at four each morning just to write in peace and quiet for a little while. You might travel extensively, you might be running your own business from home, you might be unemployed. I do not presume to know you; I do not pretend to walk in your proverbial moccasins.

It doesn't matter. No matter what the rest of your life looks like, writing is your career. NO MATTER WHAT.

And I firmly believe that making this mind-switch will change everything for the better. Because I've seen it in my own life. Want to know how?
  • I meet deadlines. Yes, they are self-imposed. But they're firm. And everyone knows authors must write to deadlines.
  • My productivity has increased. Writing to deadlines helps, of course. But so does prioritizing my writing time, which I treat like a job. No appointments, no meetings, no errands, NOTHING else during my writing time. I'm "on the clock."
  • Emotional responses to rejections have greatly diminished. Because it's my career. Not my lifeblood.
  • I can talk intelligently about publishing--the process, the industry. There's no Gray Veil of Mystery anymore. (Yes. There used to be. You know this.)
  • I take myself seriously as a writer. I don't "apologize" when I need to write. I don't blush or squirm or sigh wistfully if someone asks me about my writing. This is my career. It's what I wake up ready to do. Ups and downs and all of it.
  • My confidence has increased. Not in an aren't-I-fabulous way (good grief, no). But in a This Is What I Am Good At way. And an I'm Getting Better Every Day way.
  • My writing has improved. Not only because I've worked hard and paid attention to the critique of people I highly esteem, but because I am focused on my writing as a career. Not something I love to do whenever I find time.
So. Whether you have to carve out your writing time during your lunch hour or you enjoy the luxury of one full, eight-hour day of uninterrupted writing each week, make it your CAREER. Don't make excuses. Don't let your day job suck the life out of your writing. Don't procrastinate. Don't keep your current project on the back burner because "life has been too busy."

Have you watched a one-hour TV episode lately? Played a video game? Spent forty minutes picking out just the right ringtone for your iPhone?

Yeah. I thought so.

WRITE. Make it your career today. Now. Even if your current employment demands a lot. Even if you're nursing a five-month-old. Even if you're in the middle of planning a wedding or a graduation or a trip to Guatemala. Careers don't simply happen. We make them.

Writing is my career. Is it yours?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Except for those of you who live farther north than was ever intended for human habitation, I think we can safely say that summer is here.

Summer makes me happy. Not the humidity, not the electric bill attached to ever-running AC units. And certainly not the bugs. But just about everything else? Perfect.

Laundry loads are smaller because we're wearing less clothing. Garbage-bin-duty is hassle-free because, well, I don't have to bundle up first (a process that takes as long as the actual chore). There is MUSIC outside--birdsong and neurotic chipmunks in the mornings, crickets and katydids and chorus frogs in the evenings.

And, oh. The food. Sun-warmed peaches from the farmer's market. Grilled grass-fed burgers and barbecued chicken and marinated lamb and--well, grilled anything. (The other day I grilled Brussels sprouts. Divinity on a fork.) Ice cream and homemade pickles and potato salad and luscious salads.

The only thing that's missing is the ocean. I long for it. I should live by it, really. In a hut. Other than sweeping sand from my floor and remembering to eat, I could write all day.

*pause while ridiculous daydream runs its course*

At any rate, the season brings a measure of happiness to me. Helpful, when frustration sets in. Helpful, when I feel like I'm grinding my gears and going nowhere. There's something about being rejected in the summer versus being rejected in the winter.

This winter was rough.

Yesterday, I discovered an almost-magical Spot. You know what I'm talking about--it's a Spot meant for Writing. I felt it with every breath.

Picture this: A simple wooden bench. Trees. The remains of a bonfire in a stone-lined pit. A stream. A small deck over the water. Birds.

Mosquitoes.

Yeah. It's always the bugs that stop me. Anything that bites or stings. Or looks remotely like an ant. Yet I found myself planning an anti-bug strategy so I could return to the Spot and spend an entire morning writing.

Long, lightweight pants. Socks and sneakers. All-natural bug spray from Whole Foods. A hat.

And Beatrice.

I don't know if I'll do it. Bugs are the bane of my summer.

What about you? Do the changing seasons affect your writing? Do you have Spots that call to you in warmer months?

Share! And talk me into actually writing at my new-found Spot. Bugs be damned.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Drop the Needle: Death #32

TITLE: April O'Neal (as yet untitled
GENRE: Young Adult

After her father has been in an accident, April sees a news report of her dad performing a rescue while sitting in the hospital waiting room.


A doctor enters the room at that moment. I listen in silence as he tells me my father sustained fatal injuries as the result of a car accident this afternoon. "We did what we could, but he'd lost too much blood. He never regained consciousness." I slide from the couch to the floor. I look up at the doctor, thinking I didn't hear him correctly. I just saw my dad on the news. Saving a boy. Saving a boy. He was fine. Well, except for the whole rushing water thing. But there he was, calmly doing his job as if putting himself in danger for other people is a sane thing to do. His shift wasn't even supposed to be over yet. What was he doing in his car?

"No. NO." I point at the TV. "He was on the news." The doctor looks away, uncomfortable. He has a look on his face a lot like the policeman who brought me here in his cruiser. It makes me wonder. You'd think a doctor would be better at delivering bad news. He probably has to do it a lot. Or maybe that's why he looks like he's holding something sour in his mouth. Maybe you just never get good at telling a girl her father is dead.

Drop the Needle: Death #31

TITLE: The Passage
GENRE: Dark Fantasy

Two police detectives have entered the basement of an old mansion looking for clues about missing people.

Cumberland listened; it was too quiet. There should have been sounds of mice or other nocturnal animals, but there was nothing. He played the flashlight beam along the wall and the floor, revealing layers of undisturbed dirt and bones.

He felt certain that something was there beyond the darkness. There it was again: a faint slap on stone that stopped as abruptly as it had begun. Cumberland took a firm grasp of Morrison's forearm to restrain her from walking ahead.

His grip tightened as intuitively he sensed danger.

A heavy breath exhaled close by. Someone was there, hidden in the dark.

Cumberland released her arm to reach for his revolver.

Enormous hands reached out from the darkness and lifted Morrison completely off the ground, and she screamed when a fanged mouth tore fabric and flesh from her shoulder. The beast tossed her effortlessly across the corridor, against the wall, where she crumpled and fell.

The smell of gunpowder followed the flashes of light as Cumberland shot point-blank into the creature, emptying the chamber.

Stunned from her abrupt contact with the wall, Morrison watched the furry creature take a firm grip on Cumberland's shoulder bending him backward over its raised thigh. Her partner shrieked in agony when the beast ripped him open with a quick swipe of its forepaw.

The hideous shrieks from Cumberland continued. For some unknown reason, he still gripped the flashlight in his hand, and its beam jerked back and forth, illuminating the scene for her.

Drop the Needle: Death #30

TITLE: Dead Ringer
GENRE: YA Suspense/Thriller

Sixteen-year-old Kae returns from an evening run to find her house on fire and foster mother dead. Nate is her foster brother.

Dizzy with smoke inhalation, Kae ran back to the kitchen, covering her mouth. Her mind and eyes raced, until the sight of a large, dripping stain on the kitchen counter brought the situation back into focus. What the hell was that? Heart pounding from the run and fear, she fell to her knees and began to crawl forward. The substance had spread to the floor and was smeared by a large shoe imprint. Her hand reached out, quivering. It was dark red and sticky.

Inner voices battled:

What happened here? What's happening?
Dammit, get out you stupid idiot! Get out!
Shut up. Get Nate.

She grabbed the sharpest knife in the kitchen, the one Claire used for hacking at chicken carcasses to make soup stock, and turned the corner. One hand gripping the blade's handle, she crept up the stairs like a twitching cat. Every muscle tensed at the sickly-sweet stench filling the second floor hallway. Panic and smoke started to threaten her consciousness, and she pinched her left thigh hard and deep.

Get Nate.

Claire's room was first. The bedsheets were rumpled, but the room was empty... wait. Feet. The mauve toenails were unmistakable. Trembling, Kae forced herself to the other side of the bed. The knife dropped silently to the ground at the grisly scene. She leaned down to get it, unable to tear her eyes away from the murdered woman she'd come to love like a mother.

Kae backed away from the body, shaking her head back and forth. Warm urine ran down her leg.

Drop the Needle: Death #29

TITLE: Children of the Powder Keg War
GENRE: Science Fiction

(A group of inner-city teenagers. Rashid can literally sense emotions. His girlfriend, Latisha, has gone missing.)

As the night wore on, they patrolled the neighborhoods tirelessly. Rashid and Luke kept their eyes peeled toward their surroundings, and every time a female figure appeared spikes of hope ricocheted in the atmosphere sending tremors through Rashid's being until, eventually, they died.

They came to an intersection they'd been at three times before already. Rashid sensed Luke's restless urgency wane into dismay.

"Any vibes?" Luke asked.

Rashid shook his head. They'd made a left turn at the intersection before and a right turn, but they never went straight ahead.

"Let's go out to Jericho Hills," Rashid said.

Luke's gaze shot to Rashid. His blue eyes filled with as much confusion and dread as Rashid felt wafting from him. "Jericho? Why?" he asked.

"That's where her dad lives."

"What? Hold up. First, how the hell do you know that? Second, you think her dad might've--"

Rashid's cell phone rang and he yanked it out of his pocket to answer. "Hello? Hello?"

In the silence that followed, dizzying tidal waves of anguish and horror flooded Rashid, drowning out any sense of time or place.

"Rashid..." Nina cried; her voice was a mere whisper amidst the crashes of grief hitting Rashid. "Rashid, they found her body."

That was all Nina could say before she broke down over the phone.

Rashid dropped his cell phone. Luke grabbed his shoulder and shook
him. He was shouting something, but Rashid couldn't hear it. He
couldn't even feel the panic and frenzy of his friend. He couldn't
feel anything. He went completely numb.

Drop the Needle: Death #28

TITLE: A hell like any other
GENRE: Scifi

Ends a patrol plot arc, starts a survival one.

Topping the rise Gideon lurched to a stop, taken aback by the scene before him. Supply buildings sat torn and melted, their broken contents littering the area. The barracks nothing but a blackened shell. Flames still rolled through great gashes in the sides of the command center. Broken vehicles littered the landscape.

Then there were the bodies.

Dozens of torn insectile bodies formed ragged lines from the shattered ring of bunkers that had once encircled the base all the way back to the ruins of the burning command center. Scattered here and there amongst them armored figures of his comrades in arms lay forever motionless, weapons still close at hand.

His eyes grew sharp as his mind took in what remained of the base. With a trained eye he followed the flow of the battle that had been fought here. There had been no rout, but a series of retreats until there was nowhere left to fall back to.

Picking his way through the carnage he slowly made his way to the burned out husks of a pair of ore transports. To the place where the marines had made their final stand. The bodies of nine marines lay intertwined with over a dozen of their killers.

Amongst them was one he had dreaded the most, Lieutenant Kerrik, twin blue arm stripes standing out. There's a reason family shouldn't serve together. Telling his sister her husband was gone was not going to be easy.

"Corporal! Get me an uplink!" Gideon called, a single tear rolling unnoticed down his cheek.

Drop the Needle: Death #27

TITLE: Beautiful Imperfection
GENRE: Romantic Suspense



"I don't know what I'll do if he doesn't make it." Linda fidgeted with a tissue.

"Let's not think about that now. We'll take it one day at a time. One moment at a time."Teddy took hold of Linda's hand.

A slight smile came over her face. "That's what I told you when we found out about the cancer. It's a lot easier said than done, isn't it?"

"But I made it and so will you, no matter what."

"I thought we could all use some coffee." Claire held three Styrofoam cups in a cup holder. Her face was pale. It didn't take much to tell it was from be accosted in the hallway.

The coffee had a rich aroma and good flavor considering it was from the hospital cafeteria. All three women sat in silence, the only sounds were Phillip's deep breathing and the blip from the monitor. Teddy's eyes slowly closed. The buzzer startled her awake. Linda was up, pressing the nurse's button. Hospital personnel rushed into the room, shooing the women to the outer corridor. Teddy and Claire each took hold of one of Linda's hands, wrapping a spare arm around her. After what seemed like hours, but were in fact only minutes, a doctor walked from the room, his face drawn. The sympathy in his eyes told Teddy the results. The doctor didn't say a word, just shook his head as Linda collapsed in hysterics on the hospital floor.

Drop the Needle: Death #26

TITLE: An Obscure Homicide
GENRE: Thriller

Lead-in: Jimmy stumbles across a couple of mobsters loading a body into a trunk. He ends up slamming one mobster into the trunk and has to fight the other, named Gary.

Jimmy swung the shovel into Gary's face. The tip sliced Gary's cheek and
struck teeth. Gary spit bloody, broken teeth as he spun away, freeing
his other hand--which held a gun. Jimmy swung again. The gun flew through
the air and banged against a garage door across the alley.
Gary grabbed the shaft of the shovel just above the blade. "Fun's over."
Without replying, Jimmy yanked on the shovel's handle, but Gary tucked
it firmly under his armpit. He was incredibly strong, and his eyes were
on fire.

"You can't escape," he said. "It's you or me."

Without thinking, Jimmy kicked Gary in the neck, burying his foot in the
soft part under the chin. Gary's head jerked backward but Jimmy lost
balance and fell to the pavement. Jimmy scrambled up and stared at Gary,
who was gasping for air.

He wanted to flee, but where does a seventeen-year-old kid hide from the
mob? He had to finish this. He tore the shovel free, raised it high, and
plunged it into Gary's head, burying it between the orbital socket and
the upper jaw.

Horrified, Jimmy jumped back. He stared at the blood slithering down the
sloped asphalt toward the drain. It glistened in the street light, but
he didn't see it. He didn't see Gary. He didn't see the shovel.
What he saw was his own future ebbing away. His peace of mind.
His own sanity, dripping down that rusty drain with each drop of Gary's
blood.

Drop the Needle: Death #25

TITLE: Deadly Promises
GENRE: Middle school historical fiction

Southern WV coal fields in 1921. Buddy's cousin and best friend is buried in a roof fall.

“Don't just stand there with your mouth hangin' open, boy! Dig!”

It took Buddy a few seconds to realize they were yelling at him. He grabbed a chunk of rock from the pile and threw it to the side. He grabbed another, then another. Faster and faster they slung chunks of rock, coal, and slate away from the man buried beneath. Little by little the crushed body appeared. One of the miners tilted his head downward until the light on his cap lighted the distorted face.

“This ain't no man,” he said. “This here's a boy.”

Delbert's mangled body lay silent in the dust.

Buddy's knees buckled. His body sank to the earth and he could do nothing to stop it. After what seemed an eternity of falling, his knees touched the ground. His head spun; his world surreal. He couldn't breathe even though the dust had settled.

“You know this boy?” a voice asked. Then someone was hoisting him up by one arm.

Buddy tried to pull his eyes away from Delbert's flattened skull. One empty eye socket stretched down his cheek and blended with his nose. Brain matter and blood seeped into the earth.

“You know this boy?” the miner asked again.

Buddy opened his mouth, but no words formed. He nodded.

“Go git his folks. We'll gather him up and bring him out.”

Buddy nodded again, but his feet did not move.

Drop the Needle: Death #24

TITLE: Hidden From Sight
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

"Oh, God," Maya gasped. "Is that him? The man who stole my baby?" Horrified, she looked at the crumpled man at Jonah's feet. She crouched down, determined to be the last voice the man heard before he died. She gathered his head in her hands. The man's eye's fluttered open. Maya drew back shocked. She looked at Jonah.

"No. It is't him," Jonah said.

"Eli." She sucked in a ragged breath. Seeing him again was a jolt to Maya's heart. She shook her head in disbelief. "But you're dead. I buried you months ago." As the disbelief wore off, anger set in. "I've been to hell and back because of you." Maya slapped Eli's face.

Eli groaned in pain. Blood seeped from the wound in his stomach. "Maya, I didn't want you to ever find out."

His voice was barely audible, his breath shaky. "I should have died in that accident."

Maya wiped away the tears. "No."

"You're better off with me dead. Dying was the best thing I could do for you and for Lily."

"Don't say that. Lily needs you. You're her father." Maya pulled Eli into her arms. The tears fell freely. Death was inevitable.

"No. Lily needs someone who can be her hero. I'm not that man but Jonah is."

Eli closed his eyes and drew in a final ragged breath.

Maya began to sing, "I love you, dear. Fear not for I am always near. Angels dance around your door . . . ."

Drop the Needle: Death #23

TITLE: Black Diamonds
GENRE: Women's Literary Fiction

Tragically, Zoe is crushed to death by a continuous mining machine operated by Allen in an accident that could have been meant for Jamie, although it can never be proven.

In the confused kind of silence that follows tragedy, Zoe's death hadn't registered at first. Not then, at the moment of the accident when she had plowed her way through the bodies of men, screaming all the while. They wanted to lead her away. She didn't want to be led away; she didn't want to leave Zoe alone. She'd gotten disoriented and violent - maybe it was all these men who kept running around shouting at each other. Maybe it was the intonation of their voices, the rhythm all wrong.

Then she understood the loss.

She understood even better, as she lay alone in the dark after she came home from the hospital, the deep loneliness she wouldn't be able to shake for a long time. What she realized, even in the hospital, as she wandered aimlessly through the corridors, as she finally passed the revolving door and into the parking lot, was that life would never be the same, and that one day she would have to forgive herself for Zoe's death. And she started walking fast, then faster. Then she ran. Gulps of breath came in harder and harder to swallow. She would have run indefinitely, if she hadn't lost her footing. She fell. Warm liquid oozed from her flesh, she wished the soreness from her hands and knees would last forever, diverting the pain from her heart to total forgetfulness.
Vomit ejected from her mouth. It kept pouring out, splattered on the ground, landed on her hands.

Drop the Needle: Death #22

TITLE: The Buried Realm
GENRE: Fantasy

While following Venture on a quest, Yonder has resisted premonitions from a goddess calling him to be her champion.

Yonder didn't pause to think. He leaped between the Soldier and Astak, and felt the freezing bite of the green metal smash his left collarbone into splinters. Through the blur of the pain, he watched as the Soldier tried to free his weapon. Yonder smiled and reached up to touch the black armor. It was instantly flooded with light and spasmed as though it had been struck by lightning, then collapsed to the grey sand.

Yonder lay on his back, feeling the terrible pain in his neck, head and chest and grinned openly.
“Just hold on, Yonder!” a far away voice was calling. He opened his eyes and saw Venture's pale green face hovering above him. Tears streaked his cheeks. Spelldor and Astak hovered not far behind, looking equally stricken. “He's near cut in half, lad,” Astak's voice echoed. “Let him have his glory.”

Yonder didn't know what he meant by that, and was rapidly losing interest anyway. It was with Venture that he most wanted to connect. Just once, before it was over. He tried to say something to comfort him, to thank him, but the words wouldn't come any longer. The faces became indistinct, and then faded away. The voices around him merged into one steady hum. And then sank. Quieted. Ended.

Far off in the distance, a grey and silent road met a crossroads. And there, at the horizon of perception, a tall figure of surpassing beauty and loveliness. And laughter like the tinkling of bells.

Drop the Needle: Death #21

TITLE: Neither Here Nor There
GENRE: Commercial Fiction

Opening scene of my first novel where in the MC receives a letter that will turn his world upside down and inside out.

I checked the mailbox with a sense of dread. There was always a chance that among the stacks of junk mail, bills and unwanted invitations there would be one with a stamp that read: Royal Mail. I hated those letters. They could mean only one thing.

Dad.

The metal box contained the following; a couple of bills, junk mail, an invitation to a second cousin's weeding and a letter with the dreaded red stamp on it.

Might as well get it over with.

I ripped the white envelope open. No, I destroyed the thing trying to get it open. Never figured out how open one in a clean way. Inside I found a stack of official looking documents, some airline tickets, and last but least a single page letter with following:

McIntyre & Co.
Solicitor,

Woodstock, Oxfordshire, UK

To Mr. Mendoza

We regret to inform you of your father passing...
.

What the f***!

Drop the Needle: Death #20

TITLE: EVERNOW
GENRE: Dystopian YA

Balicia is a Shuuen-uae, a vaguely elf like creature who's giving birth. Sil is the term for a female Shuuen'uae. Puma is a twelve year old boy. The MC is Evernow, a nineteen year old girl.

Balicia mutters instructions now and then but she's waning.

The Shuuen'uae births are similar to humans but not so difficult.

The child is small and delicate, encased in a pearlescent membrane that seems impermeable.

I don't give it a chance to falter, pulling it from Balicia as soon as I can safely grip it.
Immediately I crawl to her side to show her the baby, to ask what I should do next.

But Balicia is dead.

Her silver eyes are dim, the star-shaped pupils open and round.

I keen just as Elliaer did when he thought me lost, and clutch the unmoving child to my breast.

It's in stasis yet, until I place it in the earth so that its magic can settle.

In the place of a newborns cry is my own sobbing. My hysteria doesn't last long though.

I still have work to do.

My wound burns painfully but it helps to clear my head.

I can't move Balicia.

I stroke her hair, tracing the shape of her long ear and gently kiss her mouth.

When her child wakes, I will kiss her on her mother's behalf.

I murmur my love for the sil and then gain my feet clumsily.

When I stagger from the body I find Puma standing dumbly, watching me.

His gun has drooped to the ground.

His expression turns with disgust at the sight of Balicia's static child.

Drop the Needle: Death #19

TITLE: MESSAGE FROM PANAMA
GENRE: SUSPENSE-THRILLER

Felipe and the narrator are in a Panamanian jungle village tracking Marcel,
an embezzler who is also part of the Colombian narco-terrorist organization
known as F.A.R.C.

Felipe smiled, stood up languorously, then looked around like a man
satisfied with his meal but needing a place for part of it to exit. The
Caribbean lilt issued from under his breath: "Yellow skin, white shirt.
You sure, mon?"

I nodded.

"Any idea who dat odur guy be?"

"No," I said. Marcel's companion was squat with pocked skin and Tonton
Macoute sunglasses. He bore an unnerving resemblance to Noriega and moved
with the finesse of a cement truck.

Felipe walked toward Marcel, every loose-jointed bone in action. His long
fingers probed his pockets for a cigarette. He began whistling a reggae
tune.

"Ey mon --" Felipe called to the Tonton Macoute man, putting on the full
Creole. "Weh di batruum deh?"

Rematerializing as quickly as they had faded into the jungle, the rest of
our group broke from their hiding spots at a dead run. Marcel instinctively
swiveled to look behind and I watched the Tonton reach in his pocket and
bring out a huge black object. As Marcel turned back, his mouth wide in
unuttered speech, I saw the deadly gun come up, registered the man's finger
contracting on the trigger--and then, as I opened my mouth to shout a
warning, Marcel's head blew apart before me into a gruesome shower of brain,
blood, and bone.

For a moment, the last of the sentient man littered the air. Then in slow
motion, the pieces submitted to gravity and settled down to earth around his
collapsed and headless body.

Drop the Needle: Death #18

TITLE: BATTLE AXE
GENRE: OFFBEAT SUSPENSE

Black Forest, Germany: a longtime (but not always) lesbian has been harboring a secret from her only heterosexual lover for forty years. Her partner has always regarded it as a wedge between them.

"Mitzi," Johanna slurred. "Can I see the book?"

Silently, Mitzi pulled a green, cracked leather album from a shelf and laid it on Johanna's lap. Johanna spread her hands across the cover.

"Promise me," she began, then faltered.

"Anything," said Mitzi, leaning closer.

"Promise me you won't find him."

"It was a long time ago, Johanna. What's past is past," she lied. If it weren't for him, thought Mitzi, I would still have you.

"Promise me, then."

"I promise."

A trace of a smile remained on Johanna's face as her hands slipped off the book.

Brock elbowed the door open, balancing three cups of tea on a cutting board.

Mitzi sighed, a single tear trapped in one of her crow's feet. "As usual, Brock, your timing leaves something to be desired."

His face screwed inward and he dropped the tea. "No!"

If she weren't already dead, Brock would likely have crushed Johanna as he lay across her sobbing and stroking her cheek. His weight yanked her IV tube loose and it twirled impotently, dripping morphine onto the pine floor.

Mitzi grabbed the corner of the book and tugged it from between Brock and Johanna. She ran her finger up and down its spine and walked slowly toward the door. She hoped Brock interpreted it as respect for his privacy. In truth, she couldn't stomach any more of his bawling.

I've shared her whole life with him, thought Mitzi.

At least I had her death to myself.

###

Drop the Needle: Death #17

TITLE: The Black Sword
GENRE: Fantasy

Pausing in their underground search for Demons, The old Kunitsu, Iro finishes telling a traditional story, and the young Kunitsu, Akinobu has a terrible revelation.

“…They met in the dark. Kareke's mouth bit with sharp fangs, and his flesh was hot. He had grown claws, and they tore at Ryushi, who had been his fosterling. The fight lasted a long time. But Ryushi killed the second Demon, the Demon who had grown in the wounded body of his friend. He lived to drag himself out of the cave and tell his story. And then he went back down, into the dark, and was not seen again.”

Iro finished, and was silent. Akinobu felt his heart pounding under his ribs. His stomach clenched. At last he got up, went down to the black pool, and drank.
He felt Master Oburo behind him. They sat for a while, in the shadows, far from the lamp. At last Akinobu said, “You never told me the second Demon was a changed Kunitsu. You never told me they were friends.”

Oburo sighed. “When boys are little, they are told the simpler story. You loved it so much…. I did not want to take the joy of it away from you.”

“You treat me like a child. It was all lies. You told me lies.”

“No. It was not lies. We don't know the truth. It was a thousand years ago. We tell the stories as we have heard them. The Kunitsu in the old stories are all dead. They can not tell us the truth.”
Akinobu stared off into the dark. “Perhaps,” he said, “We will find out for ourselves.”

Drop the Needle: Death #16

TITLE: PERFECT MATCH
GENRE: ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

Cali's gallery employee, Stephen, had confiscated priceless paintings, and kept whereabouts of her estranged father secret. Stephen's had a fatal accident and has asked for her.

Cali moved inside Stephen's ICU room, his body covered by a single sheet. Despite the oxygen tube, labored breathing racked his body.

"Stephen, it's Cali. Can you hear me?"

One palm lay open, and a finger crooked for her to come closer.

His glazed eyes stared up at nothing. "Will you?"

She leaned down. "Will I what, Stephen?"

"Please...not much time. I need your forgiveness."

What could be harder? He was dying. She wanted to bolt from the room. In these last moments, no matter what he'd done, she was all he had.

"You still here?" Fear shook his raspy voice. "Can't see you."

Cali's throat tightened.

"Did you turn out the lights? Where are you?"

Even the one who'd wronged her didn't deserve a solitary death.

"I'm here for you, Stephen."

A weakened cough passed his dry lips. "Please."

Hope. He had hope she'd offer a final kindness. All contempt for Stephen disappeared. Without hesitation, she laid a hand over his, its chill pressed inside her soul.

"Yes," she whispered. "I forgive you."

"Thank...you," he managed. "I have no right. Please, pray...
with me?"

"'The Lord is my Shepard; I shall not want'..."

When his hand relaxed, she thought he'd gone to sleep until an unnatural stillness fell upon him. Stephen had taken his last breath while she prayed.

His last breath.

Drop the Needle: Death #15

TITLE: spirit called
GENRE: urban fantasy

The MC has a vision of his preternatural sword from its past. The language is archaic. The antag is a 'daemon' and the Master has the rapier in his hand.

Ah, but.an innocent had been killed by the rapier, in a far away land, in a distant time. I saw the picture of a face, a female, her grief worn on her like a ragged veil, terrible and marring and her hand, her own hand, taking a long dagger, holding it thus, jerking it to her and piercing her own beating heart. Then, the angry Daemon, cursing, maddened with frustration, reaching for her, too late, fury crossing its face. A throat-lacerating scream, a pain too great to hold in a human body, a Master's thunderous, all encompassing rage and horror. A growl, the whistle of displaced air from the rapier, a brilliant light, a booming roar great enough to burst the eardrums of all surrounding creatures. The Daemon destroyed by the bonded Master.

Then, Lo! In the great silence that ensued, a sound so remote but distinct, a slow drop of tears. Then a resolute sigh, the ring of steel, and a soft groan.

And the unmistakable sound of steel sheathed, not in leather or metal but passing through clothing, passing through skin, passing through ribs. A lingering, endless sigh and a Master's last words to his Beloved, "I will be with you now, my Love."

I jerked up from this nightmare, this dream that was not an illusion.

Because now I believed, and I knew I had a part to play in this nightmare.
But whether as hero, sidekick, or goat, I could not guess.

Drop the Needle: Death #14

TITLE: Lily of the Lamplight
GENRE: YA noir

Oliver, an 18 yo video game tester, realizes the girl he's been in love with is a murderer and holding his friend who's bleeding out from a gunshot wound. But now he's got the gun.

It's just a game, I told myself. What would you do if this were a game?

I'd shoot her.

In a game you don't think that you loved this girl and now she's crazy and get all wobbly. You just save your friend. You level the gun. You see the Blastercon right there in your sites.

"Lily wanted the money. Lily would've fought me for it. I needed a suspect."

"All that blood..." I said.

"Lily's. This would have been over a long time ago, if you hadn't been late that day."

"The girl, in front of my window..."

"It's pretty easy to impersonate a girl you've only ever seen from twenty feet away through a pane of glass. Especially when she always wore her hair the same way."

You level the gun. You see her, right there in your sites.

"You're going to kill us, too."

"You're the one letting Max bleed to death." She said.

You just shoot. I'd always been a really good shot with a toy gun.

Lily fell. Delia fell. Whoever it was. She fell over. On top of Max. I threw up on the way to the phone, but I managed to call 911. I heard sirens in moments. Police and medical techs swarmed around me. Someone took the gun out of my hands. My head still hurt, but now it buzzed too, so loud, louder, and the room got fuzzy, and I think I fell down, too.

Drop the Needle: Death #13

TITLE: The White Phoenix
GENRE: Dark Fantasy

Silas has been stabbed and is reassuring Cassandra.

Cassandra said in a fragile voice, "Dear gods...I don't know what I'll do without you."

Silas grinned. "Easy...
You'll find someone who loves you...
maybe not as
much as me...
but loves you nonetheless...
You'll...
have children...
and you'll
name one of them after me...
maybe two of them."

She smiled, and the tears kept falling.

"There..." he uttered softly. It all felt dreamlike. The pain drilling through his abdomen was perhaps the only thing keeping him grounded to reality. "That's all... I ever wanted to see."

She pressed her face into the side of his. He felt her wet lashes, her warm breaths, as they brushed against his cheek. "I love you, Silas," she whispered. "I love you so much."

"You...
have to go," he murmured. "You have to...
For me, Cassandra...
please live."

Moments passed, her eyes gazing deep into his. She then seized fistfuls of his hair in her trembling hands and pulled his lips to hers. He squeezed shut his eyes. Hot tears ran down his cheeks.

He was truly dying inside.

She broke their kiss, breathing heavily. "You can't do that." She drew her bottom lip between her teeth. "You can't ask me to leave you here to die, and then ask me to live."

He held either side of her face. "I love...you, Cassandra." His mouth covered hers in a heated kiss. He held her tight, and he held her close. He wished he never had to let go of her.

If only death were not so lonely.

Drop the Needle: Death #12

TITLE: The Second Life
GENRE: Women's Fiction

This scene comes after a car crash where Maggie, the protagonist, is confronted with death in a very personal way.

A sharp, stinging pain in my legs brings me to the surface. Gasping, I smell blood in the air, almost feel it there like humidity. I can move my shoulders, arms, and neck. The rest of my body feels as though it's caught tight in a crushing vise. I lift my chin and concentrate all my effort on breathing without screaming. Whimpering softly, I turn to the side.

The pain is forgotten as I catch sight of my father's body hanging halfway out the window. A slight noise to the right makes me drag my gaze away. On the other side of the car, Myles is quietly watching me, looking strangely resolute. His mouth is moving, as though he's whispering to me, but he isn't saying anything I can understand. A bubbling, pink foam forms on my brother's lip and he coughs. Myles keeps trying to talk, until his whole body shudders and relaxes. There's nothing behind his eyes anymore. No life. No pain. Nothing.

I try to touch him and shake his shoulder, but I can't move more than a few inches. "Myles?"
I cover my head with my arms to block out a shrill, keening sound. Several minutes pass before I realize the scream is coming from my own throat.

Drop the Needle: Death #11

TITLE: Teen Ecoforce: Rhino Rescue
GENRE: Middle grade

Tyler Lucas has the magical ability to get into animal's heads and see the world from their point of view. In this scene he is in the head of a rhino that has just been shot by poachers.

The mud covering his body felt moist again, running over his hide in all directions. He lifted his head. It wasn't mud. He was covered with holes that were leaking a dark sticky liquid. He didn't have the strength to keep his head up so he let it flop back onto the ground.

He heard a rumbling and felt the thumping of feet on the ground. Human voices surrounded him. One of them reminded him of his father. His mind reeled back to another scene, equally painful though not in a physical sense.

"Look, I don't owe you or your mother an explanation. This is the last chance for me and my band to make it big. And I'm not about to drag you along with me. You'll just hold me back and ruin it for me."

The roar of an engine drowned out the voice. Something vibrated over his head. It had a long blade with lots of sharp teeth.

A searing heat penetrated his nose, cutting jaggedly into his horn. The pain felt like it would go on forever but finally the horn fell off and thumped onto the ground in front of him. His head felt light and it kept getting lighter. As the sound of the chainsaw faded into the distance, the world around him shrank to a pinprick. Then he was floating in darkness.

Drop the Needle: Death #10

TITLE: Intersections
GENRE: Literary

A woman has just died in a car accident (her husband, Win, was the driver), and is getting help figuring it out:

There's always a moment in downloading high-rez graphics when the last few bytes finally arrive and the blurry photo you've been staring at is, all at once, sharp and detailed. That's what it's like right now--the day's events downloaded in crisp detail: the flood of menstrual blood, of my tears, Win holding me, soft while I cry ... then arguing, driving to see the doctor ...
then flying above the car, watching rescue workers wrench apart a pile of crushed metal and load a sheet-covered body into an ambulance.

"Oh my God! We crashed, didn't we? And Win...he...he died. Didn't he?" Suddenly I'm grateful for this odd little man in gray who puts his arms around me.

"No, my dear. Win was not the one who died."

"Don't lie to me," I mumble into his suit coat. I'm sobbing harder, wonder for a fleeting second if my tears are ruining his jacket.

He leans back, but keeps his fingertips on my shoulders. "See? No tear stains."

I'm startled out of my sobs--it's like he read my mind. I look at his suit. It's as rumpled as ever, but not a wet spot anywhere. His words echo back to me: Win was not the one who died. Meaning someone else died.

He touches the brim of his fedora and makes an old-fashioned bow, then sweeps his hand out to me.

I don't take his hand. "Are you trying to say it's me who died?"

He smiles and nods.

Drop the Needle: Death #9

TITLE: Sad Girl
GENRE: YA

Kat's mom was 6 months pregnant, and the baby died.

My mother was sleeping, but the baby was dead.

I was in an unused patient room with two nurses. I might have been in shock, and they were hanging around to make sure that I wasn't going to freak out.

Then they started talking about my mom.

"Your mother is going to be very sad for a while. It might be a long time."

"Your mother will have a difficult recovery."

"Your mother will need a lot of support."

The two nurses surrounded me, talking at me. Words, just words. Didn't they know that our baby was dead? My new baby brother was dead, before he even had a chance. I didn't even get to see him, and they were talking to me about how I needed to be strong and to support my mother and Steve. Couldn't they see that I was a teenager? What could I do?

I couldn't wait to get them out of my face.

I nodded and agreed.

Finally they left me alone.

My baby brother was dead.

It must have been about dinner time.

The sun was weak. It was trying to shine in through the window, but its rays were weak. The sun was giving up. It couldn't figure out why it should keep on shining when babies died without even having a chance.

The room started closing in on me.

I had to find Danny.

Drop the Needle: Death #8

TITLE: FATE
GENRE: YA Paranormal

Helen's shrieks shook every bookshelf and every body until the burst of power hit her and a void opened up just as black as the power was white, consuming both ghost and power... until, finally, she was gone.

A feeling of quiet filled the cavern. Everything stopped. Frozen. All was at an end.

The sudden stillness accentuated the shock Christian felt. Helen was gone. All worry, doubt...every horrible feeling she had caused was erased. He could act freely now. Christian never realized how concentrated the evil was in the cavern until it was gone.

The feeling of relief left. Christian looked over at a lifeless body just a few feet away. A swelling began to tighten Christian's throat as he drifted over to where Angel lay. He knelt down beside her, reaching, pulling her to him. Wrist in his hand, he felt for a pulse and her thoughts at once, but found neither. His breathing became more rapid. Sobs formed in his chest. He yelled up at the empty vast ceiling over his head; the first, loud noise since the sudden silence of Helen's downfall.

He wouldn't believe Angel was gone; he wouldn't. But the feeling of abandonment and emptiness crept in, making a hole in his heart. Christian shook his head; his lips a hard, tight line. In his desperation, he gathered all of his energy together and tried to focus it on Angel's lifeless heart. He tried to move it, pumping his mind, but it refused to work. Angel was gone.

Drop the Needle: Death #7

TITLE: Miranda's Fire
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

This scene is near the beginning of my novel. Miranda and her friend scope out The Coliseum after receiving a strange message from her mother. They find many Mages dead, including the Mage Council Minister, and even more are missing.

Tammy stood on the outer viewing balcony, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. Tears streamed down her face. Miranda wiped her own tears away and put on as brave a face as she could manage before walking out to stand beside her friend. Her eyes swept The Coliseum, looking for clues as to what could have caused this.

Burn marks like those in The Council's room marred every surface of the great Coliseum. The great stone statues of legendary Mages lay toppled and broken. Gaping mouths of concrete and steel soundlessly cried out in horror. Miranda wanted to give them a voice, to cry or scream. But she held it all in, forced it down. This was a place where Mages were supposed to simulate battle. No more pretending.

Mage's bodies littered the field. But not enough of them. Every living
adult Mage would have been here tonight. The bodies amounted to maybe
a fifth of that number. Where were the rest? Where was her mother? Her
fire magic spiraled inside of her and she fought to keep it below the
surface. Even her infamous temper couldn't drown out the anguish and
fear. Another tear escaped down her face.

Drop the Needle: Death #6

TITLE: FATED
GENRE: YA Historical Paranormal

MC has been searching for her brother. She finally finds him in a prison camp with a gun to his head.

I ripped myself free of Vukasin and charged. I know I screamed, my throat burned with the force of it, but I couldn't hear anything but the beat of my own heart.

The officer turned to me, his black eyes smiled. Despite my fleeting speed everything around me slowed. Vuk's muffled shouting came from behind. My heart raced, trying to break free from the constricting cage that held it. Pain shot up my legs, but I kept running down the side of the building. "Semka!"

The crack that came before the puff of gray smoke and the taste of spent gunpowder, socked me in the stomach. It stopped me in my tracks and my brother fell to the ground. The blood drained from my face, leaving me nauseous.

"No!" The fire in my chest kick-started. It burned my face and poured from my eyes. I barreled toward him. The officer turned his pistol on me.

A black shadow darted passed—a giant wolf leaping into the air, his teeth sinking into the arm of the gun-toting monster. I ran to Simon, lifting his head onto my lap.

"Semka?" He coughed, blood spattering his face and mine. "Don't die on me, Simon." His eyes rolled back in his head. My tears fell onto his lips, mixing with the blood. "Simon!" I shook his shoulders. "No! Wake up!" I slapped his cheeks.

Nothing.

Drop the Needle: Death #5

TITLE: Uncle Mountain
GENRE: Midgrade

Country teenagers Mark and Pete take their younger city cousin on a snipe hunt deep in the woods. The unthinkable happens, and Colin dies in an accident.

Pete lost it. "Oh man, Mark, this is my fault. I killed him. I killed Colin!" I couldn't half understand him through the sobbing.

I wrapped my arms around Pete, because it seemed like the thing to do. "This isn't your fault," I said. "We did it together, and it was an accident. Jesus, it was just a little rock." My own tears got going pretty good then. I don't know how long we stayed like that--me holding Pete and rocking back and forth, Pete hugging Colin's limp body. When I finally let go and stood up, I was stiff and cold.

"Come on, Pete," I said. "It's time to go home." Pete got to his feet and looked around like he didn't know where he was. "We have to get Colin home. Grab his legs." He just stood there. "Pete! Come on!" My voice sounded unnaturally loud in the deep quiet of the woods, but it did the trick. Pete shook his head like he'd been sleeping.

"Alright, Mark," he said, his voice all slurry. "Let's go."

It took us hours to carry Colin's body home. I was crying so hard I
could barely see, and Pete was just as bad. We kept stumbling, losing
our grip. Now I know where the term "dead weight" comes from. Colin
hung between us like all his bones were gone. Every time his body
bumped into a tree trunk or got snagged up in the undergrowth, my
stomach lurched.

Drop the Needle: Death #4

TITLE: The Hacker of Guantanamo Bay
GENRE: Cyberpunk

Feather is the hacker handle of a Lakota woman who finds herself in the Window on the World restaurant for a breakfast job interview on September 11, 2001. This scene shows the end of her phone call to a former lover, another hacker who is known as Metro, who is a pre-op transsexual who longs to be a man.

"Hang on a moment." Metro sat up and grabbed the remote from where it basked in
the glow of the alarm clock. Point, click, the reassuring vip of the CRT
powering up. "I'm turning on the T.V. CNN should be covering it. S***! An
airplane hit the tower!"

"Airplane? Cough. Are they trying to put out the fires?"

"Yes. Don't worry. They've got firemen coming up. They'll get you out. Why
the hell are you there?"

"Thanks cough. I was trying cough cough to get Sorcerer a job."

"Is he there too?" Damn that fire looked nasty. Thank goodness she's above the
impact, there's still a chance of getting her down.

"No. Cough. I got here cough early. Bastard never got cough cough cough here."

"Feather, I'm sorry I was such a prick."

"Cough me too Metro. If I get cough out of this lets get cough cough together
for some..."

"Feather?"

Silence. He had lost the connection. Try as often as he would, each returned
call went straight to Feather's voice mail. Metro sat up and pulled the CRT lit
blanket up to himself, hugging it like he used to hug Feather. It would soon
become wet with tears as he watched the towers fall.

Drop the Needle: Death #3

TITLE: The Measure of Angels
GENRE: Urban Fantasy Thriller

Seth identifies his brother's body at the morgue.

Kate tensed when the attendant pulled back the draping to reveal Zeke's pale face. The two brothers were identical except for Seth's scar and long hair. While Seth's blond waves fell below his collar, Zeke's hair was shorn Marine-short, just as Kate had seen in her dreams. Everything else was the same: high forehead, strong jaw, shapely lips.

"He was older by four minutes," Seth said, tears choking him. "The first to do everything - to walk, to speak, to kiss a girl..."

The first to die.

Kate's throat constricted when Seth turned to her, grimacing. "He survived the g******ed war and dies like this? Mugged by some vagrant in a park?"

He covered his mouth with a hand and then leaned down, pressing his forehead against his brother's. Kate had seen corpses before but the contrast between their skin shocked her. Seth was so alive, his face flushed red while Zeke was pale, his lips blue.

Kate bit her cheek to ward off tears and thought instead about the bond between identical twins. Only a paranormal explanation could account for everything, but Kate was a scientist and clung to the belief that everything had a material basis. Someone less skeptical would say that Seth's unease last night been a premonition of the murder and that the two were connected in some way not yet detectable to science. Kate wasn't ready yet to believe it, despite the strangeness of the case.

When Detective Bertelli cleared his throat, Seth straightened and wiped his eyes.

Drop the Needle: Death #2

TITLE: Job Hunted
GENRE: Suspense

Toni is an investigator for a company specializing in bringing corporate criminals to "justice." She's staking out a suspected a suspected embezzler when an unidentified man appears on the scene.

A beam of light glinted off the oblong object in the man's right hand. With the speed and power of a cheetah bringing down a gazelle, he grabbed Miriam's head, yanked it back against his abdomen, and plunged the syringe into her chest. Her arms flew out--slender fingers fluttering--then went limp.

Toni froze. Her heart threatened to burst through her ribs. Oh, my God--

She grabbed her phone and let a reassuring trickle of anger focus her thoughts. Mike was an ass, but she never considered he'd be so petty.

"You should have reported in fifteen minutes ago," Mike said, not even bothering with hello.

"What the hell is going on?" Toni replied, equally brusque.

"You're late."

"About the target, Mike. Who do you think--"

"I expect you to do your job, no matter how boring. You better have a good reason for--"

"She's dead."

"Excuse me?"

"Drop the act, Mike. Of all the low, tactless behaviours--" Toni cut herself off, biting back words she would regret.

"We knew her age presented risks."

If he was going to play games he could take her job and shove it up his fat ass. "You kept me here, sweltering in a urine-soaked sauna while you had her marked for the cleaners."

"Toni--"

"What happened? When did you get the evidence? How long--"

"Toni--"

"How many days have you been stringing me along? One? Three? You s***-faced bastard."

Drop the Needle: Death #1

TITLE: Sacrifice
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

The tragedy below leads a college president to lock himself away from his magic community with his wife's ghost soul, but when his community faces genocide their love will be forever broken. Her soul ripped apart by the only ones that can--the lovers themselves.

From darkness, voices cried out in agony and denial. Bodies were laid out on central campus in rough rows, while the explosion's fires still burned behind them. Temporary floodlights came on in sudden bright flashes, the carnage clearly revealed in their harsh glare. Shrouded with sheets, towels, coats--anything to cover their faces, their forms, anything that offered a modicum of respect and privacy.

A body covered by a firefighter's coat was carried by and the workers placed it on the ground. A hand fell out lifeless from beneath the coat. I crossed to the body, knelt beside it. The hand stained with bright fluorescent pink, the hand of my most brilliant student, the hand I had denied magically to wash clean this afternoon. The hand I left as a physical reminder for caution against over reaching his young abilities, having foolishly put my lab and his peers in danger.

I forced my lungs to move in and out, as I sat back on my heels. A generation of excellence was gone. My jaws clinched tight in anger. I leaned down, stroked the hand with tender care, and then muttered a Latin phrase, and the pink changed to white. It was all I could do for him now.

Our world had changed forever and soon the parents would arrive. I could not imagine what I would say to them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Call for Submissions: DEATH

Uplifting blog title, yes?

We're going to do a full-blown Drop the Needle crit round. Focus? DEATH SCENE. The death can occur on- or offstage (as in, news of the death can be brought by someone). Mainly, it's the EMOTIONAL IMPACT of the death that counts. The sense of loss (or perhaps relief) by those left behind (particularly your MC).

So if you've got a death scene in a completed work or WIP, now's your chance to get some solid critique.

GUIDELINES:

  • Submissions will open at 5 PM EDT today.
  • Submissions will be open for 5 hours or until 50 entries have been received, whichever comes first.
  • Send a 250-word excerpt of your novel, including a small lead-in sentence or two. This excerpt should encompass THE DEATH OF A CHARACTER.
  • This excerpt can be from ANYWHERE IN YOUR NOVEL
  • All genres except erotica are welcomed (children and adult)
  • Email your submission to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com
  • ALL entries will receive an automated response. If you don't get one, check your spam box.
  • Format as follows:
SCREEN NAME: (type it here)
TITLE: (type it here)
GENRE: (type it here)

(type your brief lead-in here)

(type your excerpt here)

Please note: I am setting the word count at 280 to accommodate the lead-ins. You'll still have to choose your words carefully, though.

IMPORTANT: If you receive a rejection and you can't figure out why, your best bet is to RE-SEND AS PLAIN TEXT. Cutting-and-pasting from a Word document is often fatal, because Word adds all sorts of invisible junk to the text. You may not see it, but my bot does. And it throws everything off.

So. When in doubt, plain plain plain.

Entries will post early Wednesday , ready for critique.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Submission Tidbits

You may or may not know that I take the month of June off from Secret Agent contests. So it's a good time to point out a couple things.

  • Make sure your word count is appropriate for your genre. Honestly, this is something I've never thought about. I assumed it wouldn't be a problem. However, sometimes it CAN be. Like, if you win a contest, submit your material to the Secret Agent, and your word count is wonky. (You can't call a 23,ooo-word manuscript a "YA novel," for instance. Because it's not.)
  • If you win a contest, PLEASE FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS YOU RECEIVE IN MY EMAIL. These instructions may or may not be the same as the agent's normal submission procedure (and most likely they're different). Also? If I tell you to put "SECRET AGENT WINNER" in the subject line and you don't do it, your submission will get submerged in the slush. Most of the time, the Secret Agents WANT to give your manuscript speedier attention. So don't blow your chance by not following directions.
  • And as always, if your manuscript is not finished, PLEASE DO NOT ENTER A SECRET AGENT CONTEST. We have plenty of in-house crits for works-in-progress. Enter those. The Secret Agent contests are meant for completed, query-ready manuscripts.
  • Oh. And please (PLEASE! PLEASE!) pay attention to each month's genres. This is one thing my super-bot can't do without my intervention--namely, weed out the wrong genres. Trying to "slip in" a manuscript that doesn't match what I've called for will only, ultimately, make you look...um, less than brilliant. Because even if I miss it, the Secret Agent won't. (I mean, if you were an agent who only repped children's literature, would you want to waste your time critiquing the opening of an adult novel? And do you think you WOULDN'T NOTICE that it wasn't a genre in which you were interested?)
Anyway. I felt like a non-SA month was a good time for some house business. None of the above are directed at anyone particular. They are simply a result of Secret Agent behind-the-scenes comments and my own experiences with managing the contests.

Throw me your comments and questions! It's a great time for me to answer them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Today I want to hear your stories.

Namely, your stories about trying-to-explain-the-whole-querying-agenting-editoring-publishing process to non-writing friends who have absolutely no clue what you're going through.

You're nodding vigorously. Or is that a seizure?

I've got absolutely wonderful people in my life who are consistently supportive, encouraging, and genuinely interested in what I do. They applaud when I finish a draft, even though they don't understand, really, how much effort went into it, and how much work remains (as in, months' worth). They tell me they'll buy signed copies of my book, that their son is my biggest fan (even though he's never read anything I've written), that they're amazed I find the time to actually complete entire novels (don't they know it's the MAIN thing I accomplish in my life?).

And yes, my mom is a delightful and irreplaceable part of this special group.

But if they pause and ask a question ("So, is this going to be published?" "Is this the one you sent to that agent who said she wanted you to rewrite it or something?" "Now what?"), I don't have the time, energy, or even the ABILITY to distill this long, convoluted, emotionally exhausting process into a brief explanation.

And, honestly? I don't think my well-meaning friends really WANT to know.

I want them to know, though. At least to know enough that they can appreciate my sometimes-angst and sometimes-hopefulness. And I simply don't know how to enlighten them without boring or confusing them.

So tell me. What do YOU say to Those On The Outside? I'll be taking notes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tiny Drop the Needle #10

TITLE: Working
GENRE: Middle grade

[This is an encounter with Molly (the MC) and her crush Alex. It takes place in the elementary school lunch room, as she and her friend, Sarah, clear their lunch trays.]

Just as I was using my fork to scrape the corn off my tray, Alex came up on the other side of the trash can and threw in his brown cold lunch bag. I wondered if maybe I should start bringing cold lunch. I kept my head down like it took a great deal of concentration to get every last bit of lasagna. And then I realized he was looking at me. I felt the blood rush from my toes up to my cheeks and I summoned up the courage to meet his beautiful brown eyes.

Alex leaned over the trash can and used one finger to turn his nose up like a pig. "Look into the future, girls!" he yelled. And then burst out the door to the playground.

I didn't know what to think. He had said girls, plural, but had looked directly at me, not Sarah. It didn't surprise me a whole lot, I guess. Sarah was round like a bowling ball, and always wore Winnie the Pooh sweatshirts. She had long pretty blonde hair, but she always wore it pulled back into a tight bun at the nape of her neck. It only made sense he was talking to me.

Look into the future. He must have seen me in his future. He must have meant our future together!

Tiny Drop the Needle #9

TITLE: A Scorpion's Nature
GENRE: Middle Grade

This is the opening of my novel.

Ryan pressed back against the headrest when he saw the crazed grin on the counselor stationed beneath the summer camp's entrance sign. Neon streamers cascaded from her glittery tiara. Ryan considered asking his mom to throw the car into reverse instead of stopping beside her. Clearing his criminal record might not be worth a week with nut jobs like this.

"Welcome home." The bubbly counselor zipped up to his window. "I'm Button. What's your name?"

"Ryan."

"Nice to meet you." The colorful ribbons swished as she bobbed in place. "It's gonna be an awesome week. Are you excited?"

I'd rather chop wood with my spleen. He said, "I guess."

"You guess?" Button scrunched down to Ryan's eye level and whispered. "Do you have any clue how excited I am to be at camp?"

Ryan gazed across at his mom for an answer to Button's question, and whether she suspected the chick was insane.

She tilted her head to the side.

He took the gesture as uncertainty on both counts. Ryan turned to Button. "No."

Button squealed and leapt into the air. She twirled in circles, limbs and streamers flailing, until her feet tangled and she crashed to the ground.

Ryan peered over the windowsill. Peals of laughter erupted below him.

Button got up and dusted herself off. "You can't tell anyone I wiped out. Swear you won't."

"I promise."

"Good. Keep going and the next counselor will show you where to park." Button waved as they pulled away.

Tiny Drop the Needle #8

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: Young Adult

Talis, the MC, is waiting in the darkness with her best friend Duncan to surprise Duncan's older brother.

Talis felt the storm move in beneath the heavy darkness.

The air, thick and sticky, settled around her legs as she sat curled, compact beneath the thornbush. The wind shuttered through the leaves, like whispers, and brushed her hair across her eyes. She gathered the long dark strands in her hand and tucked them over her shoulder, tight against her chin and neck.

She sighed.

Her thighs burned and Talis could feel tiny prickles move down her calves and numbing her toes, the circulation cut off by her bent frame. She shifted, rocked back on her heels to see if her legs would straighten when she needed them to. Behind her, a twig snapped and Talis felt the sound against her back. A rough hand gripped her shoulder.

"Talis!" Duncan's voice came from her right, hushed. "Do you want to get caught?"

His fingers hurt and Talis shrugged him off.

"Of course not." she hissed back and repositioned herself until her legs stopped aching. "Are you sure he's even coming?"

"Yes, it's tonight." Duncan replied and Talis could make out his outline next to her, hunched as she was, his eyes tight and focused on the house across the road from where they hid.

They had been buried under these bushes for at least a half hour and Talis had to admit she was losing it. In fact, she hadn't been sold on coming in the first place, but Duncan was...
well, Duncan.

Tiny Drop the Needle #7

TITLE: Tell Me Something About Yourself I Don't
GENRE: Mainstream/Crime

93K finished and polished - this is the opening:

"I don't remember when I met Becky."

My job brings me in contact with journalists from all over the state. Sometimes a new one, usually from down south, realizes that I'm not just Vic Anderson, I'm that Vic Anderson. I was a big deal two decades ago.

"With all due respect, that's hard to believe," he said.

I wanted to hang up on him, but I need to be nice to these people.

"My mother claimed that we played in the same park as preschoolers, but I don't remember that. It was a small city. She wasn't in my high school, or my church, but I knew her from around."

That was true. At interfaith basketball games I would occasionally glance up from the court and see her perched on the outskirts of the pretty girls. She was also quick on the buzzer at the academic bowl. I used to sit in my school's alternates' row and cheer against her squad. She was always a smart girl.

"And you never had any sort of adolescent relationship with her?" Jesus, I thought. This is what passes for journalism nowadays? Sometimes I saw her at parties; is that a relationship? I remember her as the voice of reason:

"Let's not do that." "It's too late to go way out there." "I'll drive. You've had enough." She was brainy, flat-chested, and short.