Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Utter Silence

Perhaps if I talk about this, it will work itself out.  And perhaps, if you're dealing with the same thing, things will work out for you, too.

It's the I-can't-write-this-plot-for-the-life-of-me syndrome.  And it's VERY. BAD.

Here's the thing.  We have to keep writing, keep going.  Right?  In those in between places, it's especially important--at least for me--to have something warm on my plate.  ("Between" as in "between the other things that are going on".  Anything from waiting to hear from crit partners on a recent revision, to waiting for the next sub round with editors, to waiting for anything you can possibly think of. Because at least fifty percent of a writer's life consists of waiting.)

So, in my "between place", I've been working on a YA SF.  I've got characters I already like, a setting I'm happy with, and a premise that makes me think, Yeah. This is cool. This could really work.  Good stuff, yes?

Alas. I can't plot it to save my life.  I've worked it from every angle you can imagine -- raw beat-sheeting, logline, backstory scenes, scenes from the novel, trying to come up with an ending, planning a single chapter--I HAVE DONE IT ALL.

And I still don't have a story.

This has thrust me into a sort of writerly crisis.  When I wake up and the day snaps into focus, I remember that I am unable to plot my story, and a sinkhole opens.  As in, here we go again.  I'll waste my writing time staring, checking Twitter, and typing admonishments to myself.

No, really.  Want to see something straight out of my Scrivener notes?

(Okay. I'm bracing myself for a moment of raw transparency.)

Authoress's Notes to Self:

Know what? I don’t know. I don’t have the foggiest idea.  I thought this war was about disputed space.  Fine.  Then what in the world would be so valuable that ISN’T space, that both sides would destroy the other for it?  And why would EVELYN have it?

Did Evelyn steal it from someone?  If so, who?  Kyung-Soon’s friend-who-remains-nameless?  The Quantum Corporal?  Him?

If so, why did HE have it?

What IS the blasted thing?

In the end, I have no idea. In the end, I suck at plotting. SUCK.  I’m great at developing characters and apparently I’ve got great pacing.  But plots?  No.  This is so hard; so incredibly counter-intuitive for me.  I don’t know why I ever started writing novels in the first place.

You're allowed to laugh.  Or shake your head.  Or cluck your tongue at me.  But, yeah.  This is real; it's where I am.

Well, at least it's where I am with this story.  It's just...well, sucking the life from me.  All the tried-and-true taking a walk or staying completely away from the story to give it space...haven't worked.

Sometimes it's hard not to despair.  Sometimes it's not hard to rethink everything.  Like, why am I doing this to myself?  I can do other things.  There are actually other things in my life that I do.  That I'm good at.  That bring me pleasure.

But this writing thing?  It won't go away.  I need to write. I am never so bereft as when I am not in the midst of breathing life into a story.

What's a gal to do?

I don't know.  What do you do?  Pull out another story?  I don't have those; I'm the one-idea-at-a-time type.  Quit?  I refuse.  Take a break?  Well, yeah....except when you haven't actually written anything, it's hard to justify a break.  What, exactly, is a break from nothing?

So.  There is it.  Authoress's Science Fiction Crisis.  Not even chocolate is helping.

Pouring time and energy into my clients' partials has been a godsend.  It's invigorating to inject creative input into someone else's work--hopefully to his benefit.  And it keeps my brain from atrophying. 

But it's not writing.  So the writing part of my brain is weeping.

Do you have an answer?  Or are you hanging onto the flotsam along with me?  I'm sure we can stay afloat--but I'm not sure when we'll find fresh water.

Please.  Fresh water, someone?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Welcome to Talkin' Heads!

A few things:
  • If your excerpt is up, PLEASE CRITIQUE A MINIMUM OF 5 OTHER ENTRIES.  It's the mutual back scratch concept in motion.
  • ALL readers are welcomed to critique.  Ask yourself: Is the dialogue working?  Is it propelling the scene forward?  If not, why not?
  • Honesty with tact. Always.
  • Please do not post under "anonymous".
That's it! Have fun!  I'll admit -- some of these scenes really sucked me in.  (And some did not.)

Talkin' Heads #50

TITLE: War of the Worlds Mashup
GENRE: Fantasy

In this mashup of The War of the Worlds, Ashley narrates after her pixie friend Violet just met a pixie artilleryman.

“He gave quite an impression.” I pressed my advantage as we sat in the drawing room. “How do you make him?”

Violet put on the most impassive demeanor, as if we were discussing a neighbor’s fern collection. “Strong. Dutiful.”

“So’s his horse.” I leaned my elbow on the arm of the sofa, familiar. “You can say it, Violet: He’s a pixie, you’re a pixie. He’s unmarried, you’re unmarried.”

“You wish me to form some deep impression of him, though I barely know the man.” She fanned herself.

“Feeling a bit heated, are we?”

“It’s this jacket, is all.”

“Yes, you had us wear this ‘practical’ manner of clothing again, though it still smells of perspiration. But don’t get me off topic! Don’t even try. You had us dress this way, after bathing! In case we have to traipse out again to see what’s left of the Martians after your precious Cutter is done with them.”

“He’s not my precious anything. We just talked for a bit.”

I brought my legs up onto the sofa so I could shift into a more aggressive lean. “Yes, and you said all that gush about Jake, when we had barely talked, so let me torture you for a turn.”

“There’s no point. Yes, I enjoyed talking to him, and ‘course I ran up and brushed him off after they sent him alone into the dangerous Common. But he’s in the military. After they’re done here, he’ll go off to wherever they station him next.”

Talkin' Heads #49

TITLE: Big Cat Country
GENRE: Mystery

A week after discovering the body of a co-worker at the big cat sanctuary where she volunteers, Madeline answers a knock at her door.

“I’m Artie Tremble, North State Insurance,” he said, handing me a card and grinning like a giddy possum.

“I have insurance,” I said, returning the card.

“I’m not selling, I’m investigating Wyatt Drinkwater’s death. We have to tie up loose ends before paying his life insurance benefit—may I come in?”

I poured lemonade as Artie settled into the sofa, still grinning. “This is exciting, my first claims investigation,” he said. “I’ve been stuck in a cubicle for months, doing database searches and ordering death certificates.” He opened a binder. “Now, did the body have any unusual marks? Scars or tattoos?”

“His throat was torn open, if that counts,” I said.

“Sure does. Attacked by an escaped tiger? Bingo, accidental death.”

“That cat didn’t escape. The pen’s fence was cut. We can’t figure out what Wyatt was doing, whether he was drunk, or trying to steal …”

Artie’s glass stopped half-way to his mouth. “Steal? As in, theft?”

“No. I mean, I don’t think so. Shouldn’t you talk to the police? I’m just throwing out wild ideas.”

Artie started writing that particular wild idea in his notebook.

“Does it matter? Wyatt’s still dead.”

“Accidental death pays double. Dying while committing a crime? Pays nothing. It’s the difference between a million bucks and zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” He stopped writing and looked up. “Um, the million dollars? That’s theoretical, of course. Not saying it’s what his policy is worth.”

Talkin' Heads #48

TITLE: Dear Oprah
GENRE: Upmarket fiction

Jessi has sent her mother a letter recounting abuse from her childhood. Her sister calls to confront her about it and her mother's claims that she will sue Jessi for visitation with the grandkids.

“Hi Jasmine, wassup!” I said beaming

“Hey,” she responded sounding kind of dry.

“Okay, what’s wrong? Is there something wrong with your car, did something happen at your apartment?” I asked with a little panic in my voice.

“Why did you send mom that letter?” Jasmine asked.

“I thought it was time for me to stop being scared and to realize how I was feeling,” I said trying to add strength to my wavering voice.

“Well, she is barely talking to anybody and she missed church today - and she never misses anything at church!” Jasmine said. “Was it really necessary after all these years to write that?”

“She was threatening to take me to court for visitation,” I nearly shouted. “Am I supposed to continually let her bully me and get her way, for the sake of keeping the peace? I'm sorry if that's what you do but I refuse to keep quiet any longer - especially when I'm being threatened.”

“Dang, Jessi you know she wasn't gonna sue you!” Jasmine shouted back.

“Um yes she was, her lawyer called me!” I said. “Look, we had it bad and many would argue that I got it a heck of a lot worse than you. I am not cowering in a corner anymore. I'm tired of being afraid. I'm tired of being bullied. Maybe you need to feel some of the sadness she inflicted.”

Jasmine was silent before sighing and hanging up.

Talkin' Heads #47

TITLE: The Amaterasu Project
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Jaewon meets his best friend, Young, outside his school. They’re both standing in front of a newspaper kiosk. Note to readers: “Hyung” and “Oppa” mean “older brother” in Korean.

“Hyung,” Young says as I reach him, “This magazine says modern women are going to fortune tellers to predict their loves lives and that they really believe in this crap. It says fortune tellers advise women never to marry the fourth man they date, saying it will only bring bad luck, while marrying the eighth man is ideal.”

“Just be the eighth then.”

“No. You don’t understand. If you were Sunhee’s third boyfriend and she’s dated two guys after you, then that means she still has to date two more guys before I’m the eighth.”

“Your middle school education has really done wonders for you.”


“Young, it’s a magazine. It’s not even a women’s magazine. It’s a MEN’S STYLE magazine. Calm down.”

I feel a whoosh of air and then someone grabs me from behind, her arms circling around my waist. “Oppa!” Sunhee squeals. “I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“Sunhee- ah,” I say, twisting around so I’m facing her. “Do you believe in the fortunes of fortune-tellers?”

She blinks and then smiles broadly. “Oh for sure.”

Talkin' Heads #46

TITLE: Where There Is Dark
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Devastated by her father's murder, Jazzlyn hunts down the rebels she holds responsible for his death, but when the same group takes her boyfriend hostage, she must serve those she planned to destroy or risk letting another person she loves die.

I raise an eyebrow and point at Tristan—gaged, restrained, and lying in the dirt. "Really? Then how do you explain that?"

"I said we’re not here to hurt you. His fate rests on your shoulders, not mine."

The threat twists my stomach into knots. She wants something from me. The question is what, and how far will she go to get it?

“Do you know who we are, Jazzlyn?” She draws out each syllable of my name in a breathy hiss as she snakes her way behind me.

“Of course I do.”

From over my shoulder, so close I feel her breath on my neck, she says," And what do you think you know?"

I turn on my heel and stare straight into her eyes, which are a deceivingly warm shade of brown. “That you’re cowards. You steal our food and supplies, and you…” kill anyone who gets in your way.

“And we need your help,” she says, as if finishing my sentence.

I suck in a deep breath, trying to control the impulse to clamp my hands around her throat and squeeze until her eyes glaze over. "I’ll die before helping you."

Anger flares in her eyes and they darken to black. "If death is what it takes to convince you, so be it.” She turns to Rrok . "Maybe you can convince Jazzlyn that I don’t make empty threats."

Talkin' Heads #45

TITLE: 1000 Sleepless Nights
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Sawyer is a female Navy corpsman in Afghanistan. A Marine from her unit developed a rash while on a recon mission but can’t tell anyone where he’s been so lies that he was with a woman and may have caught something.

Tahk cupped his hands around his essential parts. “Something’s wrong.”

“You bet there’s something wrong. You’re standing in front of me without pants on. There are doctors here. Male doctors.” I found a spot on the ceiling that suddenly become very interesting.

“I don’t want anyone to know. This is so bad. I got a girl back home.” His voice sounded desperate.

“I don’t want to know!” I leveled my stare at Tahk, realizing what he was implying. “What exactly do you think your problem is?”

“I don’t know, Doogs.” Despite his dark complexion a touch of red had crept into his cheeks.

“But what do you think?” I insisted.

“It was only one time. You know it’s been so long and that’s what she’s here for. It’s her job.” Tahk emphasized the word job as if it would erase his infidelity.

“Dammit Tahk! You think you caught something from a prostitute?”

“Jesus Doogs when you say it like that it sounds really bad.”

“It is really bad you idiot! You could get sent home for this. I can’t treat you for a venereal disease, we’re in the middle of nowhere fricken Afghanistan. There isn’t a Rite Aid on the corner. Seriously Tahk, how many times have you been deployed? And now. Now is the time to be unfaithful. With a lady every Marine within ten miles of this COP has slept with. Aren’t you suppose to live by a higher creed?”

Talkin' Heads #44

TITLE: The Chef's Apprentice
GENRE: Fantasy, late MG

Ottili is approaching Polycure Castle, where she's supposed to get her unruly magic under control. She's just met Arnit, who works at the castle. (He scans her face for physical signs of magic.)

“Are you an apprentice?” Ottili asked the boy.

“Not yet,” he said, reddening a little.

“Don’t have your magic yet?”

He frowned and said nothing.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. What’s your name?”


“Nice to meet you Arnit. I’m Ottili.”

“I know. Nice to meet you Ottili.”

“Are there other apprentices?”

“A few.”


Ottili looked out the window.

“I’m not one of them, you know.”

Arnit looked at her sharply.

“What are you then?”

“I’ve dunno. My mother sent me here because my magic makes her embarrassed.” She could feel Arnit looking at her forehead.

“It’s on my neck,” she said helpfully.

He nodded.

“Actually, there’s only one other apprentice. She’s Gala.”

“Oh.” Ottili wondered if this was a bad sign. She hoped they weren’t expecting much of her.

“Is it true that you use magic to help the harvest?”

“I told you, I don’t have me magic.”

“Well, I meant you as in, you know, you people.”

“You people.” Arnit shook his head and looked out the window. “Yes, that’s right,” he said a little curtly. “We’re the bread basket, aren’t we. Not sure we’d manage it without magic.”

The coach rounded a corner and pulled through two tall stone gates.

Arnit flicked his head toward the window.

“We’re here. Better be ready to show your stuff, then.”


“Wolf. He’d be expecting you to get to work right away.”

“That’s not what I was told,” Ottili said, although in truth Vesna hadn’t actually told her anything.

Talkin' Heads #43

TITLE: Chestnut Maiden
GENRE: YA Fantasy Adventure

The hero, escorting a disguised princess, doubles back to make sure they weren't followed. He nearly stumbles upon a couple of villains hunched over a small campfire and eavesdrops.

“’Tis none of our business, lad. Just do as ye’re told and follow the donkey tracks.”

“A wild goose chase, it is. Nothin’ up here but scrawny sheep and scrawnier shepherds,” the younger man whined.

“Sheep’s what’s fillin’ your belly, so’s ye better shut yer gob.”

“Hey, I’m just sayin’. It’s stupid to waste ourselves up here. The other men who’s got the lowlands are the ones who’ll be getting’ the reward.”

“That ferryman thought our girl had come up here.”

“Aye, because she had fine boots and didn’t say nothin’? More like she didn’t notice his fine mustache. Soothes his pride to send us after her.”

“I’m gettin’ weary of your chat, Ricco. The master wants that girl.”

Scorch it. They were hunting for Anna. He’d known it, in his gut.

“… We keep goin’ ‘til we get to Montargento. We look high. We look low. We cross the mountain a dozen times if need be. If that girl is anywhere between here and the city, we bag her and deliver the wench. Ye want out? Leave right now. Go back, ye softy. Join those fat merchants and doughy lowlanders.”

“Hey, no need to wave that knife around. I’s just sayin’. No harm in talk, ye know.”

“I’m tired of hearing it. Zitto, else we’ll take your third and split it between the two of us.”

Third? Zino hadn’t heard a third man’s voice.

Talkin' Heads #42

TITLE: The Complete Guide to Being Evil
GENRE: Fantasy

Kalara answers the door with a cleaver in one hand due to it being the middle of the night, and she wasn't expecting company. It had slipped her mind that earlier that day, she'd called for a devil.

“What happened? Are you okay?” Kalara asked.

“Oh, I'm not here because of my leg. You called for a devil?”

She grabbed his shirt and yanked him inside, slamming the door shut. “Why would you say that out there? What do you think my neighbors would think of me?”

“Sorry. Didn't mean to let them know you were a mage.”

“What makes you think they would get 'mage' from that? They'd probably assume I asked for a stripper in a devil costume! Do you know how embarrassing that is?”


“You don't look like a devil. Why is your leg bleeding?”

“Could you, you know, put that...” He cleared his throat.

“Knife away. Speaking really isn't that hard.” She gestured with her free hand for him to follow her into the kitchen, where she slid the cleaver in its place. “My name is Kalara.”

“I'm Evander. I'm not really a devil yet. I'm a devil's son.” Kalara groaned. “I was just taking a test, judging my aptitude for devilry. My task was to sneak into an old man's apartment a few floors up from here and influence his dreams. His canine gave evidence he was superior at home protection as opposed to my sneaking prowess.”

Kalara couldn't help but laugh.

Talkin' Heads #41

TITLE: Letter to Elizabeth
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction

It’s Gallipoli, 1915, and Lloyd owes Johnny for saving his life. All Johnny wanted in return was for Lloyd to write a letter to his girlfriend Elizabeth...but that wasn’t going too well.

“Since when did you become a writer?”

I looked him straight in the face. “Since I was five.”

He seemed surprised for a second. “Which was... what? Three minutes ago?”

My glare was icy.

“Forgive me for exaggerating.”

“What are you going to say after ‘Dear Lizzie?’”

“'Dear Lizzie. It’s like I’ve been shot in the head every time I think about home, and you, and—'”

“You’re joking, right? Shot in the head? You want to give the girl a heart attack?”

“I said it’s like.”

I choked. “And she’s really going to notice ‘It’s like’ if she can see ‘I’ve been shot in the head.’”

He returned my glare. “Alright, smarty.”

Talkin' Heads #40

TITLE: The Guardian Lineage
GENRE: YA / Urban Fantasy

Magus Stockton has just reinstated Mike Prior into Magical Sparring class, a day after Mike injured a fellow classmate.

“Two things happened yesterday," Stockton said. "First, you deliberately disobeyed my instructions to attack when the bell rang, instead waiting for your opponent to produce a shield. Second, you nearly decapitated a fellow student. Which of those reasons was the basis for your suspension?”

"Because... I hurt her?"

Stockton shook his head. “If you think that I care whether or not Ms. Frost sprains a wrist, you are quite mistaken. Much worse has happened to Guardians in the past. A little toughening would do you people some good.”

Stockton blew out a frustrated breath. “You don’t understand, do you.”

Mike wavered, then decided to take the high road.


The Magus eyed Mike, seemingly deciding whether he wanted to share this piece of information with him. Finally he said, “I want my students to get hurt.”

“Excuse me?” Mike blurted out.

“You heard right. I want my students to get hurt. I want my students to feel like they’re on the battlefield.

“The whole reason we have a Sparring class is so that if you’re confronted with a fight – and I don’t mean four kids in the dining room trying to steal your lunch money, I mean a fight like you were in last night, in the forest – so if you’re in a fight, you don’t wet yourself. If you’ve seen combat already, if you’ve learned what it means to procure spells on a dime, if you’ve felt what it means to get hit with a magical weapon, then you may survive.

"Without that, you might as well be a gargoyle at high noon.”

Talkin' Heads #39

TITLE: November
GENRE: Literary

Amelia, a widow, recently returned from a solo trip through Europe, is struggling to reconnect with her college-age son and to sort out her feelings for Henry, an old flame who wants a second chance.

She jiggled the hook, dialed “0” and gave the operator a Minnesota number.

“How’s the weather?” she said, when Henry picked up.

“Partly cloudy and sixty degrees, believe it or not.” He chuckled. “How is it there?”

Amelia peered at the thermometer on the garage. “Sunny and seventy-two.”

“Just another day in paradise.” The hiss on the line sounded like a slow breath. She felt him waiting for her to state her business.

“It doesn’t look like Thanksgiving will work.”

“No?” He didn’t sound surprised.

“It’s a bad time for Josh, with school.”

“What about Christmas?”

“I don’t know.” Suddenly every cell in her body screamed for a whiskey and soda. “I’ll have to talk to Josh,” she said, pulling a ginger ale from the refrigerator. “He might want to come home and see his friends.”

“Joshua is a grown man.” Henry’s voice had a sharp edge. “You don’t have to plan your life around him.”

“I know, but I’ve been away so long. I missed his birthday.”

The line crackled. “Look, Amelia,” Henry said. “If the answer is no, maybe you’d better come out and say it. Neither of us is getting any younger.”

“It’s not.” She leaned her forehead against the cupboard. “It’s just… how would you feel if I asked you to leave your job and your home and your family?”

“I'm not asking you to do that. All I want is a few days. If it’s like I think, we’ll figure the rest out.”

Talkin' Heads #38

TITLE: Waiting for Paint to Dry
GENRE: Upmarket Women's Fiction

Then Greg opens his mouth.

“So, Matty,” he starts. “Claire says you’re onboard and we couldn’t be happier.”

“Onboard about what?” I say with a mouthful.

Claire readjusts herself in her seat. “The move. To Germany. Remember?”

“Ha!” I laugh and chase what I’ve got in my mouth with the rest of my beer. “I’ll miss you guys.. But I don’t know if I really want to be moving half way around the world with you.”

“Matty,” Greg says, pure confidence. “Claire and I have discussed this a great deal and we believe this would be the perfect opportunity for you, since you don’t have anywhere to live and don’t have a job.”

“True,” I say. “But what would I do there? Be the kid’s Nanny while Claire gallivants around with your co-workers’ wives?” I look at Claire. “No offense meant.”

“None taken,” Claire says back, but I can tell I’ve hit a nerve.

“Look. I really appreciate it. I do. This is a really special opportunity you’re giving me. But, that’s more a job for a college student, not a woman. I love you guys. I do. But… I have a few things I need to tend to,” I say, thinking of the family I’ve pushed away and ignored for too long. Then an old idea jumps to the forefront of my mind. An idea I’ve had for years, yet have never given voice to. Even to myself. “That and...I want a family of my own.”

Talkin' Heads #37

TITLE: Beyond The River
GENRE: Literary Fiction

Brad and Dean are on a fly-fishing trip in the wilds of Northern California. Dean has just caught up with Brad at the river's edge.

“So, where are all the fish? You have them on a stringer somewhere?” Dean asked.

“Stringers have no place in this sport.” The thought of shoving a metal rod into a trout’s mouth, running it out the gill, and pulling a nylon rope through disgusted him. Slow and terrible death.

“Really? Whenever my old man and his buddies went for perch on Lake Erie, they’d return with stringers full of fish. Mostly they’d pull up with a buzz from whatever they’d been drinking and smoking, but they always brought fish home.”

Brad looked over his shoulder and said, “A stringer with trout in a place like this will get you chewed out. It might even get your ass kicked.”

“I thought this was a genteel sport.”

“Trout fishermen don’t use them.” Brad advanced further out into the river.

“What are you supposed to do? Smash the fish’s head against a rock? Wrap it in a fern, like Hemingway? That seemed to be his preferred method. Is that acceptable?”

“No. You don’t kill the fish. You let it go.”

“And why would anyone do such a thing?”

“It’s called catch and release.”

“What’s the point of standing for hours in nut-numbing water if you aren’t going to keep what you catch?”

“You don’t even eat fish,” Brad said.

“It has nothing to do with eating them. It’s the principle of the thing. When you win, you do what you want. You get to kill it.”

Talkin' Heads #36

TITLE: Queen of Hearts
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Marion, a sixteen year old magician hired by a reporter, has returned to the theater she worked at to help him get subjects to interview. A friend questions her about her new job.

Miriam came up behind her. "Answer me."

"Answer what?"

"What're you doing for him? Is it--" she nodded meaningfully and raised her eyebrows.


"Then why didn't you tell him." She nodded at Franklin's back. "Who knows what he thinks now?"

"Because! It's embarrassing. Anyway, Miriam, I need your help."

She looked wary. "What?"

"I need to visit my family; I've got something for them."


"Well, I can't go in this!" She pointed to her dress.

"They don't know about this either?"

"Of course not, do you think my mother'd let me work for a man?"

"Not if she's smart. Well, I can't help you, you're too thin."

"Not that, I'll take my black dress I wore for my act. I just need you to keep my clothes in our dressing room and cover for me."

"Fine," Miriam said, "I'll do it. Be back soon, things are going to go absolutely bonkers if they know you're gone."

Talkin' Heads #35

TITLE: Kasmir
GENRE: MG Fantasy

When 12 year old Liz was telling a story to her little sister, Anna, she was sucked into her own fantasy world, bringing Anna and her older brother, Kyle, with her.

“Wait,” Kyle interrupted. “You’re telling me that you based characters in your little fantasy story on real people?”

I nodded, afraid he was making the connection.

“And you thought that I had become one of your characters?”

I shrugged noncommittally.

Realization struck. A look of fury came over Kyle’s face.

“You made me the bad guy!” he shouted.

“Not necessarily the bad guy,” I tried to sound reassuring. “There are...other bad guys too.”

Kyle was not placated. “I can’t believe this! You made up this whole fantasy world and made me your villain. And told it to Anna!”

“Well, I never actually told Anna you were the bad guy, that’s just kind of how I pictured it in my head.”

“Oh thanks, that makes me feel a lot better.” He seethed for a minute then took another look at my outfit. His eyes narrowed. “And who, exactly, are you supposed to be?”

“I’m the, uh—I’m the guard. I was the princess’s guard.”

Not quite accurate, but I had an angry teenager on my hands. Now was not the time for absolute truths. Kyle wasn’t fooled.

“You’re the hero,” he said flatly. “Great, so I’m the freakin’ bad guy and you’re the hero. What do you do, read the enemies to death?”

“No,” I huffed, “in this world I have many skills, I’m a great warrior, I -”

“Let Anna get kidnapped.”

“Well, I...I was...” tears welled up in my eyes.

“Take out your sword,” Kyle said abruptly.

Talkin' Heads #34

GENRE: Alternate History Fantasy

Wanda stole something from Henry the night before, and though he planned to track her down and get it back, she surprised him by coming to him first. He can't help wondering why.

"Your neighbors don't seem like the chatty type." She hadn't stopped smiling.

The word "neighbors" sounded like "naybahs." A southern girl. Henry sighed and backed his way through the door, sweeping out his hand to welcome her in.

"Thank you," she said as she stepped inside.

The woman had guts, he gave her that, but he questioned her intelligence. He outweighed her by a good hundred pounds, though that hadn't stopped her last night. The bruise on the back of his head was gone, but not the memory of how it got there. She obviously wanted something from him and he was curious to know what it was.

"I'd offer you coffee, but I'm fresh out," he lied, inhaling the luscious scent of his morning brew.

"I prefer chicory." She gazed around her, not bothering to take off her coat, meaning she didn't intend to stay. Good. But she did unbutton it and flapped the lapels to fan herself. "You keep it mighty hot in here."

"My kind like the heat."

She nodded as if she understood. "Nice kitchen, though that's the oddest refrigerator I've ever seen."

The robotic arm on the fridge unfurled from its side, two eggs clutched in its steel-clawed hand. It angled as if to throw them like a baseball straight at the woman's head.

Henry stepped in the way and scowled at the fridge. It seemed to know more about her than he did. "What is it you want, uh…"

"Wanda. Wanda Snow."

Talkin' Heads #33

TITLE: My Sister's Dating a Serial Killer
GENRE: YA Thriller

Cammie is sure her older sister is dating a serial killer and she must stop her, although she has no hard evidence yet. They're in their bedroom discussing Cammie's theory.

I hold myself back and say, "You shouldn't let some creep back you. It gives him way too much control over you, and he's power-hungry."

"He's no such thing and don't say he is. Where is my slipper? Find my slipper."

"Very well, madam, I will find your slipper and put it on your foot and make you into a princess." I bow to her, mocking, but she's too busy putting blush on her cheeks to notice.

When my attempts at drama and humor are ignored, I open the bathroom door to wet towels and the smell of toothpaste. One pink strap glimmers up at me, half-hidden under the crumpled white throw rug by the sink. I whisk the shoe into my hand, go back into the bedroom, and plop it into her hand.

Before I let go of her footwear, I make one last effort to convince her. "You've got to reconsider dating that guy."

"Why?" She yanks the shoe out of my hand.

I plop down onto my bed and stare at her, but not before I wrinkle my nose and scrunch my eyes. "Oh, I don't know, maybe because he loves to torment and hunt small animals and then stuff them. Then there's the fact he almost killed me yesterday."

Talkin' Heads #32

TITLE: Staggerwing
GENRE: Adult Fiction

After a heartbreaking trip to Japan, WIll returns home to his mentally unstable wife Isabelle. In Japan he learned that Mariko, the young woman he believed his soulmate, with whom he envisioned a new future, considers him merely a friend.

“Three days early! You couldn’t bear to be gone from us,” Isabelle joked. “Me and my crazies.”
Will smoothed a loose curl behind her ear.

“Eleanor wasn’t too bad this time. You’ll be glad to know she got me to do a bit of yoga. I think it might be good for me, all that spiritual mumbo-jumbo.”

He nodded.

“It’s good to be back where you belong, isn’t it?”

He nodded again.

“Lovey, you’re so quiet. Are you feeling okay?” Isabelle reached high to place a dry cracked palm on his forehead. “You are a tad warm.”

“It’s just jet-lag. Such a quick back and forth. Hard on this old man’s system.”

“Go lay down then. I’ll make us some supper and get you up in an hour or so.” Isabelle’s full function mode might last a week, a month, two months.

Will pulled himself up the creaky old farmhouse steps. Walked down the drafty hallway to the bedroom. He lay atop the comforter fully clothed and stared at the ceiling.

Talkin' Heads #31

TITLE: Summer Lake
GENRE: YA Historical

Cass is spending the summer up at the lake with her grandmother and her boyfriend, Derek, doesn't understand why she had to go away. He doesn't trust her and is questioning her in a phone conversation ...

"I'm sure, Derek. There's no one else here to talk to. I've only been here a day, and it's all tourists up here." Aggravation seeps into my tone.

"I just don't want you doing anything I wouldn't approve of while you're up there. I don't even know why you had to go. You could have stayed with me at my place this summer." His words are clipped.

"I wanted to spend some time with my grandmother. You know that. That's all this this summer is about. Spending time with my grandmother. And trying to relax and enjoy myself a little. Is that such a crime?" I speak slowly, hoping he'll understand, even though I've said the exact words to him several times already.

"I just don't know why you had to go so far away. I need you." Great. now he's whining.

"I'll be home this weekend. I need to talk to my mom. I found a photo of my dad."

"Your dad? I thought you didn't know him."

"I don't. But I found this photograph and now I can't stop thinking about him. So, anyway, I'll be in town this weekend. I'll see you then." I need to be finished with this conversation.

A garbled voice echos in the background as someone yells "Derek!"

"I gotta go. The boys are waiting for me in the van. I'll talk to you later."

"Ok." I hold back the tears that threaten to spill.

"I love you," he whispers.

Talkin' Heads #30

TITLE: Missing Cat
GENRE: YA fiction

“I, for one, need coffee,” David said. “Before I fall over, I must have a good cup of coffee. No gas station coffee or fast food coffee... a good local coffee shop.”

“Tall order, there, fella,” I said. “But I think our most excellent driver deserves a little coffee. So fire up your phones. The first one to find a local coffee shop doesn’t have to pitch in to pay for it.”

“David, we’re going to a latte trouble for you,” I quipped.

“There are grounds for that,” he retorted. “I am robust and flavorful.”

“I might say you’re automatic drip,” Paige came back.

“Oooh,” Em said.

“Good to the last drop,” Hadley added.

“Now you’re perking me up,” David said. “Can I have a little sugar with that?”

“I can’t keep up with you guys,” Max said. “You just espresso yourselves so well.”

“We can’t seem to filter out the bad jokes,” I admitted.

“Yep, this round’s definitely gone to pot,” Paige muttered.

“Got one!” Em said. “Coffee, Coffee 2.8 miles away.”

Talkin' Heads #29

TITLE: The Summer of Miracle Maude
GENRE: MG Historical

It's 1935. Showman Stanley Pitts have arrived at Unk's farm to exploit 11 year old Emma's headless chicken.

“Now that’s one fine chicken,” Stan said. “I saw one like this before, maybe ten, fifteen years ago, but she wasn’t half as pretty as this girl. Folks that owned her made a killing.”

“Well, we have no intentions of making a killing, Mr. Pitts.” Aunty said. “We have decided the chicken will live.” She took Maude back.

Stan grinned. “Glad to hear it, Ma’am, but I think you’ve misunderstood. When I say folks made a killing, I meant they made a lot of money, not that they actually killed the chicken.”

Aunty stiffened and glared over her bifocals. “Well, if that’s what you meant, Mr. Pitts, perhaps that’s what you should have said.”

“Nonsense,” Stan said. “If folks only said what they meant, how boring would that be? As boring as tap water, I’ll bet. No, Ma’am. A good conversationalist will always add some seltzer, a twist of lime, a bit of fizz. Why, it’s the first rule of good conversation—always say something interesting. For instance, did you know that alligators eat their own babies? Just gobble them down as if they were candy. And it’s Stan, Ma’am. Stan ‘the man’ Pitts.”

“Yes,” Aunty said coldly. “You’ve said that already.”

“I certainly did, Ma’am, and you are as sharp as cheddar cheese to have noticed. The truth is most folks have to hear a thing two or three times before they remember it. Now, hold this please.”

He removed his hat, handed it to Aunty and took Maude from her.

Talkin' Heads #28

TITLE: Kitsune
GENRE: Science Fiction

So quiet I wasn't even sure if he heard me, I asked, "What was the real reason you even came here?"

"You." His chocolate brown eyes embraced me.

"What?" Of course I couldn't keep my heart from racing.

"Actually," Natsuke said, "I was wondering if you wanted to come to Elea with me."

He came all this way for that? "Get out."

"Aren't you going to ask why? Or how I knew where to find you?" He quirked his sexy lips at me.

I only stared at him. He knew me too well. "How?"

Instead, he said, "I've been working on something big. Something so big, it has the potential to change the entire way we think about religion. It'll change our understanding of science."

Nothing could have that great of an impact on the galaxy.

"Look," he said, like I didn't believe him--because I didn't--"I've been working on a theory that proves humans evolved from a single Human Homeworld.”

Except that.

I didn't know what to say, so I said the first thing that popped into my mind--the truth. "That's heresy."

You could tell the exact moment when his hope faltered. How could he face an auditorium full of scholars and academic types, possibly even religious types, and hope they believe him when I didn't?

He stared at his teacup. "I know."

Ah, jeez. I couldn't leave him like this. If he stopped believing in himself, then nobody else would believe him either.

"Are you sure?"

He looked up at me.

"Are you one hundred percent positive that you have done everything you can to disprove your own theory?"

Talkin' Heads #27

TITLE: Bernie and Charlie talking
GENRE: Murder mystery

Bernie Robertson, the main character in the murder mystery is visited by her estranged husband Charlie who is asking for money. Charlie and Bernie married when Bernie got pregnant. Their baby, Jimmy died, but they have a two year old Miranda.

He shuffled around, not willing to look me in the eye. “A man needs a son, Bernie, someone to carry on the family name.”

“Carry on what family name? It’s not like we’re royalty or anything. And what noble attributes would you have your son carry on? You haven’t held a job for more than two weeks in all the years we were married. You want a son that will be as shiftless as you are?”

He stiffened and I could see anger in his face. “I didn’t come here to argue, Bernie. I just wanted to talk a little bit.”

“The only thing I want to talk about, Charlie, is money. We have a daughter that I’m raising on my own. It would be nice to have some help with that.”

We were standing in front of the open door to the apartment. He pushed past me and I followed him inside. “Charlie,” I said. “In less than two months we will be divorced. I don’t want you here. I can call the police and have you thrown out.”

“Don’t do that Bern. Please. I just want to talk. I was a sh**** husband and a bad father I know, but will you give me five minutes?”

Talkin' Heads #26

TITLE: L is Lost
GENRE: YA Romance

The teenage narrator, L, has spent the afternoon planting a rose bush at her grandfather's grave with her mother and grandmother (Pi). Her grandmother has pulled her aside for a little heart to heart.

Pi sits next to me and rubs her swollen knuckles. “Sarah was a beautiful, bride, don’t you think? Reminded me so much of Rosemary.”

“Uncle Bobby said the same thing.”

“Yes, I expect he did.”

Hasn’t Mom finished loading the car? No. She’s talking to another visitor. She can’t go anywhere without bumping into someone she knows.

“There’s that look again.” Pi reaches to tuck a stray hair behind my ear.

I turn toward her. “What look?”

“I watched you yesterday, one solitary rain cloud during the ceremony. When you weren’t making faces at Sam, that is.”


“Don’t be. It was a pleasant change from the sadness that lurks about you.”

My heart had nearly made it back to my chest from my stomach. “Pi, I don–”

“It wasn’t your fault, L.”

How many times have I heard that phrase over the last two months?

“And yes, I know that doesn’t bring him back.” Pi rarely beats around the bush. “L, dear, look at me.”

I can’t move.

She reaches for my chin and gently turns my head. Tears threaten as she releases my face and squeezes my hand. I have a death grip on the bench. “I know it was outside of your control.”

Clearly. One grandfather pausing to kiss his wife good-bye. One wet highway. One raging alcoholic driving on bald tires. One grief-free teen-age driver? Afraid not.

I close my eyes and whisper, “I wish…”

Talkin' Heads #25

GENRE: YA Dystopian

Evva, a Healer-in-training who has just moved to a new section of the Healing Center, is caught stitching a patient’s leg. Leader Grantt, her supervisor, is prejudiced against her and other lower caste society members.

“What was that?” he demands.

I blink in surprise. “The man’s leg was crushed,” I finally answer. “No one else was available and the bleeding would have killed him before—“

Leader Grantt’s words cut mine off. “We have procedures.” He draws the last word out as his eyes flash. “Where is his paperwork?” he asks.

“Paperwork?” The question catches me off guard.

“Did they fill out the entrance paperwork? Does he have a form of release?”

My mouth opens silently as I try to think of something to say.

“You are not even a full Healer,” he says.

“No, but I helped with many procedures—“

His words slice through mine again. “That was before.”

There is my life. Summed up in three words.

Anger spikes through my blood and I draw myself up. “So I was supposed to just let a man die?” Now my eyes are on fire.

“He’s not a man; he’s a Null.” Leader Grantt’s ready response knocks the wind from my lungs. There are no words to reject the unfairness of what he has just said.

My voice is soft. “I am a Healer. And I do not let men die when I can Heal them.”

“You are not a Healer,” he responds, stepping closer so I have to look up to see his face. His breath is hot on my cheeks. “You are a Solo and you are under my authority. Pull something like this again, and I will have you Changed.”

Talkin' Heads #24

TITLE: Warder
GENRE: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Mona's casual comment she has a boyfriend causes a bit of an uproar in the bar she works at; seems theres a running bet on it. When he walks in with a couple of other people, Mona doesn't let on to Jackie, her lesbian BF, he's there.

"If he's half as hot as that guy, you've done well."

"Are you sure you're not on my team?" Mona joked with her.

The three edged their way to the bar.

"Hey Babe, we too late for three lagers?" Cart asked. Silence spread out around him.

"You know Mona?" Mickey asked as he pulled the beers.

Cart tensed for a moment then looked around at the happy, grinning faces.

"I assume that's not a problem?" he asked as he picked up his beer stein.

"Depends on just how well you know her," Val said. Jackie done well with that one.

Cart looked at Mona. She grinned but did not move, didn't want any accusations of throwing the bet.

"Ah, how about fairly well, but not as well as I'm going to?"

His innuendo was not missed by anyone and Mona found herself blushing.

"Then I'll buy your beers," Jackie said, slapping a twenty on the bar. "You just made me a thousand bucks!"

Cart choked on the sip he'd taken.

"I made you a thousand bucks by saying I was Mona's boyfriend? Hell, what kind of bets do you guys make up here?"

Several people launched into explanations, only to be shouted down by those chanting 'Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!'

Talkin' Heads #23

TITLE: The Duel
GENRE: Historical Thriller / Romantic Suspense

1733. Cambridge, England. Our hero Tom (POV) has just had his headwound patched by his friend, Dr. Battie, after an unfortunate encounter with a young woman.

“What’s this?” Battie fingered the bullet hole’s singed threads. “I thought you said the lass beat you with a candlestick. Did she duel with you, too?”

God, how embarrassing. “Perchance I omitted that extremely humbling detail.”

“A duel, then–truly?”

His shoulders slumped. “No, no. But she did shoot at me.”

“The brazen chit!”

“I was an intruder, in her bed chamber. What would you have had her do?”

“Why, scream, of course, like any sensible woman. Bring on the servants. Call for the magistrate. Seek remonstrance, man.” Battie shook his head. “Resist you, of course. But I suppose I have underestimated your not inconsiderable charms. As do you, I might add. You are more like Alexander than you know.”

“For God’s sake, don’t wish that on me.”

“Then they must beget Amazons in Scotland, as my father always said.”

“She is not that. But she is mightily stubborn. She’ll never forgive me for filching her book.”

“Fie, you had to best her in some way.”

Tom thought on that a moment.

“Still, you might proffer some gift by way of apology.”

“You think she will want to hear my apology.”

“Do aspire to be polite, my lad. Such is the grease of the world. Her family could become your patrons yet.”

“You forget, they despise me.”

“…If you don’t find a way to do in their patriarch before they can aid your ambitions.”

“I tell you, I seek no advancement. Just due acknowledgement–”

“Achh! No more of that to me.”

Talkin' Heads #22

TITLE: Doomsday's Wake
GENRE: Science Fiction

Dylan and Kat go way back, and now she's been shot in an alien wilderness. She's fallen, he has to get her to safety before more bad guys show up, and it's definitely that kind of day.

He knelt and cradled her face between his filthy, gritty hands, pushing her eyelids up with his thumbs.

“I didn't know you loved me,” she sassed.

He would always love her, but it wouldn't do answering sarcasm. As he turned her head back and to the side, first one way, then the other, her pupils reacted to the sunlight. That didn't mean much, though, and with her implants fried, there was no telling what condition her insides were in. He released her and started looking over her injuries.

“Name?” he asked.

“Katerina Duncan,” she said, rolling the “r” in proper Russian form, “but those who want to live call me—”


“Civilian you dumb-ass. What's wrong with you?”

“You may not remember this, but you just fell off a mountain. Head trauma's a common complication.”

“I feel fine. Well no, I feel like s***. What do you mean, I fell off a mountain?”

“Technically, I dropped you. Are you going to throw up?”

“Not if you don't tell any jokes. Are you—you dropped me?”

“You fell and hit your head. A sniper was shooting at you. I dropped you so you'd be safe. What's pi?”

“You dropped me so I'd…what?”

“What is pi?”

“Apple or—”


She looked at him for a moment. “3.14159…265. The mean gravitation on this planet is 9.76 meters per second squared. I measured it on my way down. Avogadro’s number is 6.022 times ten—”

“That'll do.”

Talkin' Heads #21

TITLE: Chrysalis

William wants Ivy to like him and he's trying to talk to her as she loads the dishwasher after dinner:

“Yes. I know.” I waved a dismissive hand as I opened the dishwasher and began stacking plates.

“Why do you do that?” He grumbled.

“Do what?” I tossed silverware into the basket. They clanked over my words.

“Dismiss me.”

I bit my lower lip, squashing a tight smile of triumph.

“Do I?” I said, squirting dishwashing liquid into the compartment on the door, before closing it with a firm shove, and setting the timer.

He didn’t answer me. I twisted around to face him. He was resting against the refrigerator with his arms folded across his chest, his usual stance.

“I’d like us to be friends.” He said quietly.

“I don’t know if we’re capable of that.” I wiped my hands on a dish towel.

He glared at me. Those cool lime orbs sparked with ire. He was still intimidating, but I was getting used to him.

“I’m quite capable of many things.” He bit out.

“Are you saying I’m not?”

“I think you implied it.” His smile was frosty.

“You always twist everything I say!” I threw the towel on the counter, stalking toward him.

He tossed his head back, smacking it into the refrigerator. “You are so frustrating to talk to!”

We were standing nose to chest. I had to lean my head back to look him in the eye as I poked a finger in his rock hard pectoral. It was like stabbing stone.

“And you are impossible!”

Talkin' Heads #20

TITLE: Return of the Mirage
GENRE: Y/A Contemporary Mystery/romance

Race car drivers Jessica and Taylor are discussing the race track they'll be competing on this coming weekend on the night before practice begins. Jess is fighting a case of nerves as well as her growing attraction to Taylor:

“Look, I’ve driven the Speedway a couple-three times.” Taylor leans closer, his face inches from mine. “I think I still remember the groove. I could walk it with you tomorrow, after the drivers’ meeting. Show you what to watch out for.”

I am so not hearing this. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why offer to help me? Aren’t you afraid…”

“That I’ll be giving you an edge? That you’ll be faster than me on Sunday? Not gonna happen, Briggs.”

“It’s not that impossible.” I duck my head, my cheeks burning. He makes it sound like I don't even have a prayer of even qualifying for the 300. “I beat you at Nationals, remember?”

“This is a different track, a different race. I know how you drive now, Briggs. You won’t catch me off guard this time.”

I stir my soda with the straw. “So why are you offering to help me? If you’re so sure you’re gonna win…why give me an edge?”

“Walking you round the track won’t give you that big an edge. You still have to learn the groove from behind the wheel, at speed. Besides…” His chair creaks as he scoots closer. “I don’t mind a challenge. If you drive like you did at Nationals…” He rests a hand on my arm. “It’s gonna be an interesting race.”

Talkin' Heads #19

TITLE: Shadowcatchers
GENRE: Upper MG Fantasy

Meescha (aka the girl) has just caught up to Zane after scaring him by warning an angry mob that a soul repo man was in their midst.

“I think you owe me a thank you.”

Zane looked down at her in disbelief. “A thank you? For what? You could've got me killed. And you ruined my chance my rich master's errands,” Zane finished lamely. That was close. Why did this girl get him so messed up?

“Yeah, but I could've told them just who to go after, but I didn't. Do you think you'd have gotten away so easily if I'd given your description to the mob?”

“So why didn't you, then? What, did you just want to see me run scared because I told you to flit off?”

She made a face. “Please. I didn't want you to get hurt, I just wanted to make sure that Councilor Waterbane kept her shadow.”

“I told you, I'm not a Shadowcatcher!” Zane lied, his eyes straying toward the Councilor's office.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I know what you are. In fact, I'd bet I know more about what you are than you do.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah, that's so. But I'd be happy to show you. All you have to do is follow me.”

Talkin' Heads #18

TITLE: Where There Were Deserts, I Saw Fountains
GENRE: (YA) Science Fiction

Joni and Kelly have just run away from a monster in the woods and have been found by Sierra, who they believe is a spy, but do not yet know that he is not of their world.


He shushed them and nervously pulled them away from the mob. He then spoke quickly.

“What are you doing here? What happened?”

“It was some kinda mammoth jaguar thing! It just tore through the forest!”

That was Kelly, relieved to find a familiar face.

“What are you doing here? What’s going on?”

That was Joni, suspicious at Sierra’s sudden appearance.

Sierra answered awkwardly, “We must leave this locale. The police may ask questions and I do not know what you will be able to tell them.”

“What was that thing?” Kelly whispered at Sierra.

“What did it look like?”

“Like a mess of trouble! Thirty feet tall, and shaggy with a flat tail. It took off sprinting through the trees!”

Sierra thought for a moment

“It might have been a pismire.”

“A pismire???” said Kelly.

“Yes, a high body with long legs? Herbivores, but very territorial, I believe.”

“What are you doing here, Sierra?” asked Joni, steering the conversation back to him.

“I was in the area when I detected the disturbance, but I could not determine its nature.”

“Why were you here?” Joni asked, red with anger. “What’s so special about this area? What’s your part in all this? Where’s Redpoll?”

“Redpoll? The woman you left with? I do not know. All I know is that there was an illicit operation of the AGA, and then you suddenly leave, and then a pismire shows up. Why did you use the machine?”

Talkin' Heads #17


As they wait for the Big Guy’s decision about their fate, Annalise and Richard are tempted by an offer to party. Will they break another rule and follow Stan, the janitor?

Stan’s sweeping speed increases, and within an instant, he’s standing next to us. “You guys look awful. Stressing isn't going to help your case with the Big Guy. Let’s ditch this place and go have some fun,” he says.

A smile spreads across Richard’s face, making his cheeks look even chubbier.

“No, we are not going.” I say.

“Come on, Annalise—just for a bit, ” Richard begs.

Stan leans against his broom handle, and his housekeeping shirt casts a red glow around him. I cross my arms in front of my chest. “No.”

“Maybe,” Richard says, “if we do something fun together, we’ll learn to like each other. Then, if he sends us back, fusing will be easy.”

Richard has a point. Never, during all of our lives, or deaths have we ever had fun together. “Stan, where is this place?”

“Forget directions, “ he says. "It’s the most amazing club. A band plays non-stop, and food covers every table. But, like I said before, you have to know someone to get inside.

“Please, Stan, take us. Please…” Richard screeches.

We could hang out with Stan for a hundred years, and return before anyone notices we're missing. But, if we get caught… “No,” I repeat. “We’re going to sit right here.”

Richard looks at Stan. Stan beckons him with his eyes. “Annalise, you can sit here and wait. I’m going with Stan. I’ll see you in a hundred years.” Richard says and trots over to Stan. “Let’s party!”

Talkin' Heads #16

TITLE: Drummer Boys
GENRE: YA -recent historical

After the events of 9-11, a father calms his teenage son who wants nothing more than to fight. Only Mike speaks but his two younger brothers are present. Mike wanted to run to NY to help with the search for survivors.

Dad spoke to all three of us. “What’s happening in New York, what happened in New York, is completely different than anything we’ve ever faced as a country. I know you’re angry. I don’t know if it’s going to get worse or get better. But what I do know is that you are all, each and every one of you, too young to be caught up in this.”

“I’m almost eighteen.”

“But you’re not eighteen yet.”

“If I was I’d be joining up already.”

“I know you would, Michael. So, all I can do is be thankful that you’re still a minor.”

“I don’t know how you can say that, dad. Our whole lives you’ve done nothing but teach us how proud we should be, how important sacrifice is. How can you now say different?”

“There’s a big difference between fighting for what you believe in and just fighting.”

“What do you mean?”

“Listen, in our history, in the battles we celebrate, there was always a reason. We fought for independence, we fought for the union, we fought against the evil of the Nazis.There was a moral reason for what we did. What makes what you're feeling different, Mike, is that what you're feeling right now is a very human reaction. You want revenge.”

“Damn right I do.”

“But we’re better than that.”

No one said anything. Mike flicked the flashlight on and off and on again.

“I’m not,” he finally whispered.

Talkin' Heads #15

TITLE: Texas True
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

Bad boy / former white trash Texan with a “Justified” vibe returns to a small river town in Illinois. He’s out to even an old score and intends on leveling the town via shale drilling. His teenage love and former obsession will do her best to block him. Cooper = dark male lead, Mace = crusty clueless sidekick.

“I need you to be my eyes and ears. My periscope.”

“Why?” The hula girl wiggled a bit as Mace sipped his water.

Sensing his friend’s curious eyes, he stayed remote, flipping his lucky Kennedy half dollar between his thumb and his finger. “Let’s say the town hasn’t exactly forgiven me.”

“I’d say that’s in reverse,” Mace said.

The half dollar rolled to the center of the table.

“You think destroying Saint Delaney will make them love you?”

“Why don’t you say that a little louder?” Coop asked dryly, reclaiming the coin. “People in the next county couldn’t hear.”

“Well, you’re not aiming for stealth, are you? We arrive here in a limo, you and them pretty-boy looks. That G-D watch of yours cost more than homes around here. Them pricey alligator boots you’re wearing probably still have their teeth.”

“My teeth are bigger.”

Mace hooted. “Might as well put a search light up like Batman, except it’d be in the shape of a Stetson. That buzzard over there keeps peeping back here, too.”

He tracked with Mace’s nod toward the counter, taking in a silver-haired man in ratty overalls and a trucker cap wolfing down a plate of scrambled eggs.

Talkin' Heads #14

TITLE: After The Rain
GENRE: Women's Fiction

After a rich winery heir shows interest in her at a party where Nicole Palmer felt distinctly out of place, he seeks her out at the campground where she's staying with her father.

“I was hoping I’d see you,” Joel said. “I knew it was a long shot—there’s only about a zillion campgrounds along here.” He dipped his oars and swooshed up onto the embankment beside her. He laid the oar across his knees and leaned forward on them, looking sideways at her.

“I can hardly believe you’re out here at all. You must’ve been up half the night.”

“I was up all night,” he said seriously. “Thinking about you.” He shrugged. “About what you said.”

“You came out here looking for me?” she said blankly.


Flirtation was one thing, but Nicole was beginning to feel way out of her depth. “Why?”

He shrugged, studying the waterline. “I couldn’t sleep. I kept trying to figure what would it take to get a girl like you.”

Clearly, the time for clever witticisms was past. “Well,” she said slowly, “sincerity’s a good start.”

He looked up eagerly.

“And…staying power. Because if I get into something, it’ll be for the long-term. I don’t want to mess around with anything less.”

He stared at her for a long moment, then shook his head once, slowly. “You’re not like other girls, are you, Nicole Palmer?”

She raised her eyebrows. “Not nearly as put-together, that’s for sure.”

“That’s what I like about you,” he said. “You keep it real.” He leaned toward her.

“Uh, whoa.” She put a hand up. “Speaking of ‘real.’ This is not how it works. I haven’t brushed my teeth this morning.”

Talkin' Heads #13

TITLE: Girls in Their Rooms
GENRE: YA realistic fiction

Shy, insecure, and rebounding sixteen-year-old Evie chats for the first time with Kevin Kaplan, the handsome father of the girls she babysits.

“How did everything go?”

“Your girls are tough to win over,” I say. It seems only appropriate to tell it to him straight.

“I know. It isn’t easy when we’re both here, catering to their every whim. I can only imagine. Any blood shed? Tears? Broken bones? Broken spirits?”

“None of the above, actually,” I start to feel almost confident.

“I think we’ll have to hire you forever, then. And give you a raise. I can throw in a car, too, if you want.”

“I think it will be fine. Next time may not go as well.”

“I think you underestimate yourself.”

“I do in most things, so that is probably accurate.”

“You are a beautiful, and obviously talented young woman with great skills in diplomacy and conflict resolution, considering you got my daughters to bed before midnight,” he says. “You should give yourself more credit.”

I blush, smile and look at the floor. My instincts tell me to insult myself again but I keep from saying anything out loud.

“So, did you drive or is your boyfriend going to pick you up?”

“Uh, I don’t have a boyfriend,” I wonder if the drool of stupidity drips from my mouth. “My mom picks me up after her shift. You know her, Phoebe Patterson?”

“Of course I know Phoebe. Your mom is great.”

“Thanks, I think so too.” Sometimes. Maybe.

Talkin' Heads #12

TITLE: Jericho Falls
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

Logan Rutledge has recently returned to the small town where she spent childhood summers. She is photographing a town event when she is confronted by town Queen Bee, Evelyn Johnson.

“Mrs. Johnson, it’s good to see you again. You may not remember me, but I’m. . .”

“I know who you are, young lady. Your grandmother was a member of the Baptist Church.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“But you aren’t. In fact, I haven’t seen you in church once since you showed up here.”

“Ah, no ma’am, I’m not.”

“Why not?”

“Mainly because I’m not a Baptist, ma’am.”

“Perhaps you should explore the grace of the church. You don’t seem to be doing so well on your own.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. You’ve disgraced your family with your behavior. Some time in God’s house might do you some good.” She sniffed and turned to leave.

“Don’t you walk away. Don’t you dare say something like that and walk away. You don’t know me or my family.”

“I’ve got relatives in Charleston. I know plenty.”

“Then you know rumors and gossip. Where was it I heard something about gossip? Was it in the Bible? Near the front? Help me out. Bearing false witness? I admit my Bible studies could be more diligent.”

“I know what I know. You can twist my words all you want.”

“Which words did I twist? You made an accusation based on gossip. I pointed out that behavior was wrong.”

“I can see why your father disowned you. You are a belligerent child.”

“Gossip. And you tell me to spend time in God’s house? Doesn’t seem to have done much for you, Mrs. Johnson.”

Talkin' Heads #11

TITLE: Dear Katherine
GENRE: Science Fiction

Katherine met Derek and Rick on the colonized planet Millanos. At the beach, Katherine wants to swim to the island she can see in the distance. She's trying to get away from Rick.

“Why don’t you ask the lifeguard on duty?” Derek pointed to the high chair further down the beach.

I jumped to my feet. “Great idea.”

Derek stood too. “I’ll go with you.”

“We’ll all go hear what he has to say,” Rick said as he packed up our camp.

We walked over and discussed the island with the lifeguard, who spoke the local sing-song tongue. "It's a long but doable swim and the tide should hold until you guys got there."

“Not all of us,” Rick said. “I for sure couldn’t swim the distance. She’s the only one going.”

The lifeguard looked me over a tad too long. “I wouldn’t advise going by yourself. Just in case something happens. If you wait until tomorrow, I’ll swim with you.”

My plan was to be falling off the planet in a spaceship tomorrow. “I try not to wait for tomorrows. I’m sure I'll be fine.”

“Well... I can keep an eye on you with my spyglass and you don’t need to swim all the way back if you wait for the ferry at the end of the day. The captain will give you a ride if you swim to meet the boat.”

“I’ll wave when I get there.”

“We both will,” Derek said.

“Dear Derek!” Rick exclaimed in his mother tongue.

Derek didn’t switch languages. “He told Katherine she shouldn’t swim by herself and both of you said you couldn’t go with her. That leaves me.”

Talkin' Heads #10

TITLE: Threeland
GENRE: Upper MG Adventure/Fantasy

Jonah is a cursling (a youth with a gift, different), exiled and presumed dead. Scouting for food, he's tripped up and pinned by someone's foot.

A nasal voice says, “Little cursling! You’re supposed to be dead.”

“Oh, I am. You’re just imagining this. So you might as well let me up.”

“What, and forego the bounty?”

“If I’m dead, they’re not offering a bounty.”

He thinks about it. “Okay, you’ve got me there. By My Sire’s fingernails, how are you, Jonah?”

The foot lifts. Slowly, I roll over until I’m looking into the narrow, olive-skinned face of Lennard Shepherd.


“I am.” His dark brown eyes bore in on me. “How…. Everyone thinks you’re dead. And they can’t even mourn you, cursling. Boryn would send them into the night after you.”

“Then maybe I should start a rescue service.” I sit up, trying to make sense of his meaning. “Are you going to let them know?”

“What’s it worth to you?”

“You can have half of what I own,” I say, smiling.

“What’s half of nothing? I must have missed that lesson. No, I won’t tell anyone. Not even your parents.” He shakes his head. “They’ve lost both their children. They’re… I think they’re dying, slowly.”

I grab Lennard’s hand. “Tell them…. I don’t know. Something. You had a dream that I’m okay. Something.” He looks skeptical. “Promise. Please…?”

Finally, he agrees. “Where are you living?” he asks.

“In The… the woods.” I don’t want to tell him, just in case all is not what it seems. “There are… ways.”

“You’re getting by? You look okay, actually. A bit thinner, but you were always scrawny.”

“Wiry, not scrawny.”

“Nah.” He laughs. “Scrawny.

Talkin' Heads #9

GENRE: YA Pop Space Opera

On the first stop of their 12-planet tour, IdoLL and the Intergalactics don't get the reception IdoLL had hoped for...

“Why didn’t you warn me?” says IdoLL.

“About what?” Monkey settles into a pillow on the floor with his AIP juice and pops one open by poking a finger through the top. He holds his finger there, like a thick metal straw, while he drains it. “I never have any idea what will amuse or annoy you.”

“Okay, let’s make a list.” IdoLL paces the room and counts on her fingers. “Being denied my one and only personal guard equals annoying. Having an alien queen maul my face to take my temperature, annoying. And when the snaky bitch locks me in an underground waiting room without my repair kit? Uber, uber annoying.”

“Complaining will not change our circumstances.”

“And philosophical Monkeybots, add that to the list!”

Monkey’s face contorts, but he says nothing. He finishes his juice, withdraws his finger and crushes the can against the side of his head.

“Debop!” Debop says with a frown, folding three tentacles under his round face.

“I’m not going to apologize,” IdoLL falls back into a pillow. A surprisingly comfortable pillow. She prods at it with a finger. “It’s his job, you know, to be our ambassador.”

“Cultural liaison.” Monkey pokes a finger into the next can.

“Whatever.” IdoLL punches the pillow, hard, and a seam bursts, sending shiny miniscule particles into the air like fairy dust. “I wish Garrison was here.”

“Why? So that diplomatic genius could fix everything?”

“No, so I could strangle him.”

Talkin' Heads #8

TITLE: Buddy
GENRE: fiction

Juliette’s newly adopted dog keeps running off, and she thinks it may be her fault. Miracle is an elderly uncle of the foster family she’s living with.

“Why does he keep running away?” My voice sounding pathetic even to my own ears.

Miracle didn’t look up from whatever he was doing. “Who says he ran away?”

What a crazy question. “Well, he isn’t here, is he? Of course he ran away.”

Miracle glanced up at me for a second. Then he picked up one of the red sticks and began cutting it into small sections with a wicked looking knife. I backed to the far side of the deck. The red sticks looked an awful lot like dynamite. “What are you doing, Miracle?”

He cackled and waved the remainder of the stick around. “Just getting ready for some fishing. But let’s get back to your dog.” He looked at me then, and his face became serious. “Dog’s aren’t like folks. Just cause they like to go off on their own every once in awhile, without telling anyone their plans, don’t mean they’re running away. Shoot, dogs love to explore. And they don’t always understand limits such as yards or property lines, or time. They pick up on a scent, and they just gotta follow their nose.”

“Tabitha doesn’t run off.” I flinched when he cut off another chunk of dynamite. “Is that safe?”

Miracle smiled when he looked up. “Safe as a mother’s arms, for now.” He held it up and pointed to one end. “Haven’t put the fuses in yet.”

Talkin' Heads #7

TITLE: The Story of Bean
GENRE: Fantasy/steam punk

Bean, after catching Fredrick, is quite eager to find out who and what he is.

“What is it that you do?” Bean inquired.

“What do you mean,” Fredrick replied.

“Are you a gentleman of trade or a gentleman of fortune?”

“Both I suppose.”

“You suppose? Are you unsure?” Bean asked.

Fredrick laughed, “I suppose I am both, but I am more a gentleman of fortune.”

“I suppose spies cannot be considered gentleman as they deal in secrets,” Bean replied with a smile.

“Spy, who said I was a spy?!”

“Fredrick, you are invisible. What trade other than secrets would an invisible man be in?”

“Quite right,” Fredrick admitted. “Yes, my trade would be in secrets, but I promise I only use my ability for the good of the empire.”

“The good of empire requires you to spy on young ladies?” Bean mocked.

“No,” Fredrick chuckled ackwardly. “It does not. It was an unfortunate accident that brought me here.”

“I see.” Bean thought for a moment. “Well I am glad I met you.”

“Are you?”

“Yes, you have been one of the few interesting happenings of the past three years. I am usually getting into trouble for being unnaturally un-lady-like.”

“Un-naturally-un-lady-like?” Fredrick questioned. “Did your mother teach you nothing?”

“I have no mother,” Bean replied, attempting not to feel the emptiness that ached in her stomach.

“I am sorry.”

“Why are you sorry? You could not have known.”

“I am sorry you are without a mother. You must miss her.”

“How do you miss something you never had?”

Talkin' Heads #6

TITLE: Conversation Redux
GENRE: Fiction

Preface: The length of my showers depend on how good the idea is.

Sometime later or earlier: The waitress, came up to me, asked me how things were.

I said: “Just fine!”

She said: “Good! Grab me if you need anything.”

I replied: “How about dinner?” I startled her. Amongst all the propositions, this one threw her for a loop.

She said: Nothing.

Persistence: “Did I scare you?”

Counter Persistence: “No, no not all.” People cheered for Oregon on the television Screens. “I just, I um, I don’t do smokers.”

Defense: “Occasionally, that’s all.

Her belief: She didn’t.

Justification: “Even if I were a legitimate smoker, we all got our demons.”

Her belief: Questionable.

Persistence: “Some are bigger for others.”

Counter Persistence: “Yours are not?”

Wit: “On contrary, quite small.”

Counter Wit: “Doubt it.”

Bartender/Manager called out for ‘Yesmin’

I responded: “I swear to it. Demons can take over somebody. You haven’t been taken over?”

She responded: “No.”

Reflex: “Lucky!” Counter-Reflex: “Self-Control.” I said: Nothing.

Her intrigue: “You haven’t been taken over?”

Revitalized: “I told you already, my demons are small.”

Wisdom: “Small in large numbers is dangerous.

Counter Wisdom: “My demons are not that smart.”

Talkin' Heads #5

TITLE: Destiny's Trial
GENRE: Fantasy Romance

“I won’t allow you to ruin this opportunity for me. You’ve already had your Cinuint journey. You’re being completely selfish by trying to ruin mine. If Myrna found out you were here…” She let her words trail off, took a deep, calming breath. “You know I have to do this alone.”

The owl shrugged out its feathers, obviously dissatisfied with its Mistresses unhappiness.

Renark thumbed toward Domnu. “What about him? You can’t expect me to just leave you with this dog.”

“Don’t be absurd. I’m not in his hands anymore than I’m in yours.” Her silver orbs shifted in Domnu’s direction. “He can be on his merry way as well.” She formed her perfect pink lips into a placating smile. “While I appreciate your attempted chivalry, Sir.”

“Domnu,” he offered. “Name’s Domnu.”

Red showed no sign she’d heard him. “I assure you I’m no damsel, and do not require any rescuing from you today.”

Domnu lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “Suit yourself, Red.” He cast a glance toward Renark. “Just as soon as I’m assured this gentleman does as you’ve asked him.”

Red’s eyes flashed silver fire. “Enough of this nonsense! I’ve no time for male machismo and posturing. If the two of you aren’t gone from my sight in the next sixty seconds, I’ll summon a snow tornado to take you both from it by force.”

Talkin' Heads #4

TITLE: Going, Going, Gone
GENRE: Mystery/Crime Fiction

[Ex-second-baseman M.E. Sequoyah has gotten caught up in trying to solve a murder. One of his suspects is Holly Schmitt "Holy S***" Ericson, a nurse at the hospital. He confronts her as her shift ends.]

“Always got an angle?” she asked, lighting a cigarette.

“Like you,” I replied.

“What’s my angle, smarta**? Think you got me figured out?”

“Actually, I don’t,” I admitted.

She undid the top two buttons on her nurse’s uniform. “Like the view?”

I was noncommittal. “Beats looking at the Arlington Hospital and Car Wash.”

“You a faggot?” she asked. I shook my head. “Married? Nope, no ring.”

“Not everyone wears a ring, but no, not married.”

“So you want something from me other than cooze.”

“Is that so unusual?”

“Actually, yes.” She smiled, a genuine smile, not a provocation. “You know my nickname?”

“I’ve heard. And I’ll bet your middle name’s not Schmitt.”

“How you figure that?”

“Too convenient,” I said. “Like you took lemons and turned them into lemonade.”

“Honey, these ain’t lemons,” she said.

“Yeah, but there’s no such thing as melonade.”

She broke out laughing, then started coughing. She tossed her cigarette on the ground and stomped on it.

“Want coffee?” I asked. “Breakfast?”

“Yeah. But not with you.”

Talkin' Heads #3

TITLE: The Guardian of Sudner
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

Jaden's dialogue with a talking owl he met after his father was captured.

“Where exactly do you think you are going, Jaden?” Joseph asked as he flew in front of him.

“To rescue my father,” he said. “If you are right and my father does not have what they want, they won’t need him anymore. They’ll murder him! They probably would do that even if he did have what they wanted, from what I’ve heard about Wargals. We have to help him.”

“You are probably correct, young warrior, but what exactly do you think a boy and an owl, even if he is a Garde, can do against their kind? The only thing that would serve is to give the Wargals additional captives. If you want to help your father, you will need more assistance than my tail feathers can give. We must return to Sudner and gather more suitable warriors. Then you can rescue your father. The quicker we get there, the quicker you can return to him. So I recommend not arguing and just doing as you’re told.”

Jaden knew he was right. He would not be able to rescue his father on his own.

“Oh ,” Joseph added, “When we do return, I recommend you do not speak of me,” Joseph added.

“Why not?” Jaden asked angrily as he ran to catch up with him.

“You could, of course,” Joseph shouted to him from a distance. “But do you really think they will take you the least bit seriously if you tell them a talking owl told you to get help?”

Talkin' Heads #2

GENRE: YA fantasy

A teenaged girl whose birth was delegitimized by corrupt powers-that-be has just forcibly been given fake sterilization scars. She argues with one of the other rebels. Ursing is a city. An "alloyint" is a noble bastard.

Rusty sounded like he was speaking to a child. “We’ll go tomorrow. You should be feeling better by then.”

“That is very kind of you.” If I could have hung icicles on my words, I would have.

“Veldt, you know I didn't have any real choice. I had to bring you here.”

I snorted. “You lied to me.”

“This is the only way you can ever go into Ursing. A brown-eyed girl without the protection of her family is either a renegade noble or a bastard.”

I snapped back, “Yes, now I can wear a harmon-kish.” I bit my lip to keep the tears from welling up in my eyes. The garment was designed to display the scars on an alloyint woman’s belly so all would know she would never bear children.

Rusty’s voice roughened. “Don’t be a fool. It’s not like you can go back to your old life.”

“You could have warned me.”

“And would you have come willingly? Or would you have fought and drawn attention to yourself?”

“I don’t care. It’s just wrong. You shouldn’t have done this to me!”

Rusty beat his knee with a fist. “What do you think would have happened if Borgi hadn’t rescued you? You would have ended up in a house like this. Here, men have dreams of ravishing girls such as you – so they can feel, for one moment, that they are getting back at the tyrants who oppress them.”

Talkin' Heads #1

TITLE: Sins of the Father
GENRE: Contemporary YA

Fallon’s dad, a teacher at her school, was caught sleeping with a student. Someone stuffed a note in her backpack accusing him of rape. Fallon (Rocky) is being consoled by her best friend, Mazzy.

“Lean over, Rocky.”

“Do I need to ask?”

I shook my head and pulled the note from my back pack. She jerked it from my hand and tore into a string of curses as she paced in front of me.

“I know something happened, but I know it wasn’t this.”

“I thought I was going to be okay. They wanted me to transfer and I said no, but it’s only my second class and I don’t know if I can take this. What kind of crap is that? They used to love my dad. Yesterday! Yesterday they loved him. I got sick of hearing how freaking cool he was as a teacher and now I’m getting this.”

“Dude, breathe!” Mazzy shook me by the shoulders.

“I’m trying!”

“Try harder.” I nodded and she let go.

“What am I gonna do, Mazz?”

“You’re gonna walk back in there with your head up and if anyone talks s***, they’re gonna find out why we call you Rocky.” A couple potheads rounded the corner and she shouted, “Hey, Stoner, let me see your lighter.”

One of them narrowed his eyes but handed it over. She lit the tip of the note then handed back the lighter. She held the edge of the page until there was only a one inch strip with a crusted edge.

I couldn’t help but smile. “Mr. Dickhead Dickerson said he’ll expel me if I even breathe on anyone.”

“Hit ‘em hard enough and they won’t say a d*** word.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Many of you are in the middle of the Grand Agent Quest; others of you are making furious plans to enter the fray soon.  And I want to remind you of something important:

It's a relationship.  It may also be a Stepping Stone, an Accomplishment, a Victory, or a Goal Met, but mostly and maybe-forever, the agent thing is a relationship.

As such, it's two-sided.  Once you sign that contract, it's not about you sitting there trembling and twitching and wondering if it is-or-isn't-okay to ask your agent this or that question.  Communication is at the foundation of any healthy relationship, and it's going to be equally your responsibility to keep that communication going.

No, that doesn't mean be a pest.  Or an emotionally draining burden.  Or a needy, care-for-me-or-I'll-die client whom your agent will rue daily.

It does mean ask questions.  It does mean being clear about your expectations and professional goals.  And, yes, it does mean being a good listener and remembering that your agent is human, too.  (Well, usually.)

For nearly two years, I counseled a friend to leave her agent.  Communication was abysmal--the agent wasn't even letting her know which editors had her stuff, and my friend was too intimidated (and sometimes too downright angry) to ask.  I watched her shrivel up creatively, so unsure of what to write and if it even mattered any more that, toward the end, I hardly knew her (as a writer, that is).  This gal is a strong writer with a vibrant mind and more ideas in a week than I would have in a decade!  I wanted to see her thriving, and she wasn't. 

Yes, she finally left (it was amicable).  The final insult was discovering that the editors her agent had led her to believe had been subbed to, never had been.  For months, my friend had been biting her nails FOR NOTHING.

This is an extreme case.  I'm delighted that my friend can now begin fresh, and I believe she will be successful.  It was merely a case of BEING IN THE WRONG RELATIONSHIP. 

It doesn't mean my friend was a dud client.  And it doesn't mean that the agent was a dud agent.  It was a COMPLETE MISMATCH. 

It happens.  And the better the communication, the more quickly this sort of thing can be uncovered and dealt with.

A word to the wise.  Because I want you all to find the RIGHT FIT.

If you don't?  Divorce papers aren't necessary.  Contracts have exit clauses (unless, of course, you're my first agent-from-hell, who never provided me with one); use when necessary.  It might be terrifying to jump into the sea after all the fishing you've done, but the old adage is true:  The wrong agent is worse than no agent at all.

Now, go get 'em!  And have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Talkin' Heads -- Call for Submissions

It's been a while since we've had a Talkin' Heads round.  That, and I feel like dialogue is something we all need to be continually tweaking.  It's too easy to write dorky or unbelievable or not-true-to-character dialogue -- easier, perhaps, than we'd care to admit.

So here are the rules:
  • This critique round is for DIALOGUE-RICH PASSES ONLY.  As in, there should be ONLY A VERY LITTLE EXPOSITION, IF ANY.  (Beats and tags don't count as exposition.)
  • Submit a brief (1 to 2 sentences) lead-in, followed by your up-to-250-word excerpt.
  • PLEASE NOTE:  If your bit of dialogue is made up of fewer than 250 words, DON'T SEND MORE.  This exercise is about focusing on the believability and effectiveness of dialogue.  
  • All genres except erotica and erotic romance are welcomed.
  • Agented and unagented authors may submit.  (Just, if you're agented, make sure your agent doesn't mind.  Most won't.)
  • Please submit using THE WEB FORM.
  • The submission window will be open from 1 pm EST TODAY until 1pm EST TOMORROW, or until 50 entries have been received, whichever comes first. 
  • Entries will post on Monday, January 28, for public critique.
  • Please format as below (including italics):
Drake has just proposed to Philemonia, not realizing that his words would unleash the ancient curse upon her--the uncontrollable urge to scalp any man who dares suggest marriage.

Drake backed away, wide-eyed.  "All I said was--"

"Your hair.  I need it."

"My--is this a joke?"

Philemonia reached for her dagger.  "I have to do this."

"Do what?" Drake hit the wall behind him and realized he was trapped.

"It's...not personal."  Philemonia's eyes glazed.  "It's...I need your hair."

"Look, if you don't like the ring, I'll take it back."

"I love the ring."

She'd snapped.  Clearly.  "Keep it, then. Just...put the dagger down."

"Don't fight this."  Philemonia raised the dagger.  "You want it as much as I do."


Questions below.  :-)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Secret Agent Winners Galore

Here's the post you've been waiting for:  Ms. Wiseman's impressive list of winners!


#3 - Locating the Lost Butt of Literal Land
#10 - Pink Fortune
#17 - Grey
#19 - K. Stoker
#33 - Defender of the Kingdom
#36 - Waking the Sleeping Giant
#46 - The Phoenix


Ms. Wiseman would like to see your query and the first 30 pages of your manuscript.


#1 - Portal
#16 - The Lovely Invisible
#48 - Becoming Jinn


Ms. Wiseman would like to see your query and full manuscript.

Congratulations, all!  Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific submission instructions.

To all 50 participants and everyone who took the time to leave critique: 

"I was impressed with the quality of the entries, and with the quality of the comments." -- Caryn Wiseman

Applause!  Applause!

Thanks, all, for a wonderful kick-off to 2013's Secret Agent line-up.

Secret Agent Unveiled: Caryn Wiseman

Applause and huzzahs for this month's Secret Agent, the exquisite Caryn Wiseman of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Caryn's Bio:

Caryn has been an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency for almost 10 years, and she has sold over 200 books. She handles children's books only: young adult and middle-grade fiction and non-fiction, chapter books, and picture books (fiction and non-fiction). She represents NYT bestselling authors, award-winning authors, debut authors, and authors at every stage in between. Her clients include New York Times bestselling authors Tom Angleberger and Nate Evans, and bestselling and award-winning authors R.A. Nelson, Ben Mikaelsen, Randi Reisfeld, Cheryl Bardoe, Jennifer Berne, Debbie Levy, Brenda Ferber, Cece Bell, Amjed Qamar, Toyomi Igus and illustrator Michele Wood.

No matter the genre, Caryn is looking for books with emotional depth and a strong voice; excellent writing in a tightly-plotted, commercial story; and characters that stick with her long after she has closed the book. In YA, she gravitates toward books that make her think and toward books that make her cry; in middle-grade and chapter books, laughter tends to be the common thread. She loves books that are intellectually challenging and take risks, but in a very logical way. She wants to be surprised by interesting plot twists, but she never wants to question the motivation of characters.

Caryn holds an MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA, and a BS from the University of Virginia. She is a member of SCBWI and a frequent speaker at writer's conferences.

What she's currently looking for: 

I'd love to see a great contemporary YA - either completely realistic, or with a very smart science fiction or light fantasy element. No zombies, horror, or high fantasy. I adore a swoon-worthy romance with an intelligent heroine who isn't simply swept off her feet by a hunky hero. Voice is paramount, but the writing and story need to be amazing, too. Specifically, I'd love to see a YA thriller with the pacing and twists of HOMELAND a YA Downton Abbey, a Southern gothic romance, and a YA Glee or Pitch Perfect or Big Bang Theory. I'd also be happy with a non-dystopian science fiction or light fantasy, in which the world-building just carries me off.

For middle-grade, I'd love to see something hysterically funny that isn't a one-trick pony, or a voice-driven, poignant story like WONDER, or a sweeping, epic adventure. I also love literary middle-grade like WHEN YOU REACH ME, as long as it has a great hook or twist. 

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Happiest of Fridays to all!

(So maybe I'm extra chipper because there's SUNSHINE outside my window. I'd forgotten what it looked like.)

Here's a question for you:  Do professional reviews affect your decision to read or not to read a certain book?

I'm looking askance at the Kirkus reviews.  Not that I pay a lot of attention; personally, I get excited about books my friends and colleagues are gushing about, and I read first pages to see whether they draw me in.  I don't give a chicken's turd what Kirkus and the others are saying.

Kirkus has given its well-known "star" to books I've liked -- and to books I haven't.  And it hasn't "starred" books I've liked.  I think it must feel Very Good to receive a starred Kirkus review prior to the release of one's novel.  But I'm wondering why it feels good.  Is it a sort of scholarly affirmation?  An extra pat on the back?

I'm not being facetious.  My main Love Language (really, you should read the book!) is "Words of Affirmation".  So give me a gold star, a compliment, a word of encouragement, and I'm GOOD TO GO.  I don't merely feel affirmed or encouraged; I feel loved.

The downside is, of course, that the lack of a gold star or a kind word can lead to my feeling unloved.  (Fortunately, I've worked hard to toughen that "love skin" over the years, because there is SO MUCH REJECTION involved in the journey toward publication -- and beyond.  And yes, I've conquered it.  I no longer attach emotions to rejection.)  And I'm sure that there are many authors who have similar responses when they read negative reviews, or don't get stars, or whatever the Powers That Be on the review side neglect to dole out.

(I'm not talking about Amazon and Good Reads reviews.  That's a whole 'nuther ball of wax.)

So how do you feel about professional reviews, both as a reader and as a writer?  Do they matter?  Do they affect you?  Do the reviewers actually know what they're talking about, or are they just expressing their opinions, same as the rest of us?

Share your thoughts!  This is something I haven't given a whole lot of thought to until recently, and I'd like to take your pulse on this one.

See you Monday!