Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday!

First of all if you missed yesterday's post about this WONDERFUL WRITER'S RETREAT WITH BETH REVIS, read it now!  She's offering a special discount to MSFV readers (because, yanno, she's one of us -- and she loves us).

So I want to talk to you about deadlines.  It's a fact of life that, once you've signed with a publisher, you're going to have deadlines.  As in, you're going to be expected to hand in your work by a certain date.  And I'm sure you don't want to be that author--the one who never makes deadline.  The one who emails and calls with a hundred reasons why she needs an extra week.  Or whatever.

Thing is, I read so many tweets and statuses and posts from published authors lamenting that they've got 24 or 48 hours to go, and they're burning the midnight oil--literally.  Pulling all-nighters.  Neglecting to shower.  Doing whatever it takes to get that manuscript in on time.

First of all, GOOD FOR THEM for getting it done.  Deadlines aren't arbitrary, and your editor really does need you to turn in your stuff when she says you do.

BUT.  For me personally, I couldn't do that.  Pulling an all-nighter or writing to the wee hours for the last few nights before a deadline would probably kill me.  I really -- and I mean really -- don't do well on a lack of sleep.

This is one aspect of pursuing publishing that has actually worried me from time to time.  How will I handle deadlines?  Will it utterly disrupt my life?  What am I even thinking?

So for the past several years, I've trained myself to write to deadline.  Mind you, it's not quite the same as someone else's deadline for you!  But, in some respects, a deadline is a deadline.  I wanted to have all the practice I needed.  And it has really helped keep me on track with finishing what I set out to do in a given time period.

Still.  It kind of scares me.

Most recently, I received from my agent what turned out to be a more labor-intensive revision than I had originally expected.  At first (and call me deluded), I thought that, once I figured out what I needed to do (a process that took two or three days), I would be able to crank out the work in a week.  As soon as I dived in, though, I knew a week wouldn't cut it.

Actually, a month would have felt nice.

I didn't have a month, though.  Danielle wanted a quick turnaround so that she could then get back with me quickly with what we both hoped would be the final round of edits.  So I told her "two weeks".

I pretty much rearranged my life to get it done.  Not in a dramatic sense, but in a practical one.  I skipped ballet to write in the evenings (no small thing, since ballet is a big priority for me).  I sacrificed time with Mr. A for time with my revisions.  I put off taking on an editing project for January until after I was finished with the revisions.  In short, in whatever way I could put writing first each day, I did.  And I did it without sacrificing sleep. (Because, seriously.  I'm just not of the I've-been-awake-for-30-hours ilk.)

And I finished the job three days short of my two week deadline.  I sent it to Danielle on a Friday afternoon, and was rewarded with a writing-free weekend.

Honestly?  It's the hardest I've ever worked.  Sometimes I would creep from my writing hole, encounter my husband, and say, "Ugh.  This is HARD."  Because it was.  I loved it, but it was hard work.  Intense.  The I-can't-let-up-until-it's-finished kind of pressure that keeps you focused, and rewards you with a job completed on time.

But, hey!  I did it without pulling an all-nighter.  Without missing my daily shower or forgetting to eat.  So I think I've just proved to myself that one can write to a deadline without insanity.

I don't know.  Maybe some people like the thrill of pushing the limit of a deadline.  Maybe, for them, it's energizing or invigorating or fulfilling.  But I know myself, and I can't work that way.

And, too, there's the whole procrastination thing (why are writers so good at this?).  I am awfully good at procrastinating all the annoying Life Things, like making a dentist appointment or scrubbing the tub or cleaning off my desk or writing a thank you note.  But for whatever reason, I have chosen not to procrastinate on my writing.

Well, except for that bit of procrastination that happens every day when I sit down.  You know it well--the sitting-there-doing-everything-but-writing until you finally start to write.  (What is that, anyway?)  If I could kill that boogieman, I'd be golden.

Why am I sharing all this?  Because you're all aspiring to be published, and writing to deadlines is part of that.  I want you to think about it ahead of time, as I have been.  I want you to have a plan; I want you to be the author who delivers things on time without killing himself (or making his editor want to kill him).  It's part of the big picture, so we need to consider it along with everything else.

And there you have it.  And when I'm finally writing to my first editorial deadline, and I claw my way in here gasping, "No one...told would be...this bad...", you can pat me on the head and say, "Tut, tut, Authoress.  We know you meant well."


Thursday, January 28, 2016

From Beth Revis: Awesome Writing Workshop Retreat

Dear ones!  This is a fabulous opportunity (and I adore Beth Revis).  I can tell you from personal experience that Beth is FABULOUS and really knows her stuff.  Read on!  Read on!


Hi guys! Beth Revis here. I'm a long time MSFV reader--in fact, I was a reader far before I was published, and entering one of the critique contests here helped me to revise the book that became Across the Universe, my debut novel and the story that changed everything. I'm now the author of five published novels and three nonfiction books on writing, publishing, and marketing. Today, I'm talking with Cristin Terrill, author of All Our Yesterdays and the founder of the Wordsmith Writers Workshops, to tell you about the program. Make sure you read all the way to the bottom, because we have a special discount code just for MSFV readers!


BETH: Before I was published, I attended every workshop, conference, and critique session I could. I tackled them with the same rigor as an MFA student, filling up notebooks with scribbles, digesting every critique with cold analysis, studying pamphlets and books with much more dedication than I did with textbooks when I got my degree. About a week or so after my first book was published, I attended a writer's retreat. Initially I was shaking. I was such a newbie, and the ladies on the retreat all seemed to be more knowledgable, more experienced, more everything. Despite my intimidation, what I found was that the writing community is a close-knit group that cares about each other's success. There was solid writing time, but what was even more important was the discussion. I remember, very distinctly, wishing that I had had something like this before I was published--a writing retreat with people who'd been there and done it before--along with all those conferences and workshops I'd done.

CRISTIN: Luckily, that’s exactly what I had. About four months before I got my agent, I attended a workshop/retreat for aspiring young adult authors in Yorkshire, and it was a major turning point for me. Along with twelve other writers who I grew immensely close with over the course of the week, I got to spend time learning from famed historical YA author Celia Rees and one of my personal favorites Patrick Ness (who has continued to be supportive of me and my career to this day despite how I accidentally stalked him on that train that one time). Giving myself that time to focus on my writing and to surround myself with other people who had the same aspirations and struggles I did was one of the best things I ever did for myself or for my career. With Wordsmith I wanted to recreate the best aspects of that experience by mixing the social and productive benefits of a retreat with the learning, networking, and critique you get from a conference or workshop. Beth was an ideal partner, because she’s extraordinarily savvy about storytelling and the industry and can diagnose the problem hanging up a manuscript almost instantly AND she’s a ton of fun to hang out with and makes everyone around her feel at ease. Together I think we’ve created a long weekend that’s a finely-calibrated mixture of critique time with published authors and each other, lessons and insider secrets from authors and agents, and plenty of quiet time for writing, brainstorming, talking through a problem, or just blowing off some steam. With killer comfort food served all day!

Read more about the workshop program here

BETH: OH MY GOSH THE FOOD. That was such a huge thing for me. I've been on retreats where the attendees take different chores and do the cooking, cleaning, etc. And that can be fun, but it also takes away from the focus. I find myself this way at home...four o'clock rolls around and I start thinking, "What's for dinner? Do I have all the ingredients? When should I put the dinosaur chicken nuggets in the oven to time them perfectly with the tater tots?" But with the Wordsmith retreats, that's just not a concern. Four o'clock rolls around and I start smelling delicious things, but I keep working and then when I'm done, there's delicious food put in front of me. WIN WIN WIN.

See a sample menu here 

But aside from the food, haha, I think my favorite part of the Wordsmith Workshops is the critique sessions. I've done paid critiques before, usually at conferences. And they're helpful, but they're also short. Typically, paid critique sessions at conventions are for 5-10 pages of a manuscript, which is obviously a small amount. And the ones you pay for online tend to be longer--but lack the in-person back and forth. Our critiques are a longer sample; we really get an idea of what the book actually is and can be. We read prior to the workshop, and then make notes for the attendees to take home. But the really great part is the private sessions where we individually discuss the work with the author. That back-and-forth discussion was invaluable. In some cases, we replotted the whole novel, right there at the table. In others, we helped refine the rough edges and got it query-ready. I'm just so inspired by how those sessions went!

CRISTIN: I loved the critique sessions, too, and the fact that we were all together for five days meant that we had the chance to follow up on the critiques and keep working with writers on the issues we’d identified. A couple of writers made major changes to their books after their critiques and we were able to work with them throughout the long weekend coming up with and refining new ideas so that they left with a solid plan for how to rewrite. It was so much more satisfying and useful to the writers than the usual kind of professional critique, which is basically a hit-and-run where they tell you what’s wrong and then leave you to figure out how to fix it on your own. Likewise, we dedicated the teaching portion of one of our days to writing and workshopping queries, which is a skill that pays endless dividends when you master it, even after you have an agent. I love knowing that when writers leave us, they each take with them a killer query letter that will catch agents’ eyes in addition to the more intangible rewards of the retreat. At our spring retreat, we’re making a new addition to our offerings that I’m really excited about, which is a visit by NYT-bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout. She’s going to come hang out and write with us one day, which will give all of us (Beth and myself included!) the chance to pick her brain about how she manages to write so many books and what she’s learned from being a successful hybrid author. In addition to being incredibly knowledgable, Jennifer is also one of the friendliest, most generous, and fun authors I know, and I'm looking forward to kicking her ass at ping-pong!

Read more about the authors here

BETH: Hah! While you're ping-pong-ing (best word ever), I'll be in the corner, working on my new manuscript. Because while we have such a packed program--critique sessions, one-on-ones, workshops, tasty meals--we also built in plenty of time to just quietly write (or sneak off for games)...which is good for me, because it looks like I'll be facing another deadline there! I hope I channel some of our past participants, who got 5k words in a single day! Talking about the Wordsmith Workshop Retreats really fills me with such eagerness--I can't wait for spring to get here! Writing can be such a solitary endeavor, but it's programs like this that remind me how great the writing community can be.

Sign up for this spring's workshop retreat here  

We'd both like to thank MSFV for hosting us today, and we hope to see some of you at a Wordsmith Workshop Writing Retreat!  The next program is March 30 - April 3, and will be located in Warrenton, VA. Fees are all inclusive--one programming fee covers all food and lodging, all workshops, and two critique sessions by both Cristin and Beth, as well as some extra goodies that we have planned just for you guys. To thank MSFV for hosting us, we have two discount codes to offer to you, her readers! You can choose between using code snowday to get a 20% off discount on a double room, or you can use code msfv-rocks! to get a 10% off discount on a bunk room. Both codes are valid while supplies last. Space is very limited, so sign up today!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday-in-the-middle-of-bleak-January!

(Gadzooks, I hate January, though.  We should be allowed to skip from Christmas to mid-March.)

Thank you to all TALKIN' HEADS entrants.  Please remember to leave a minimum of 3 critiques for your colleagues!  It's so important to give as well as receive (and I love how good the writing community is about this).

Thank you to all critters.  Some REALLY THOUGHTFUL CRITIQUES going on, as always!  Admittedly, I wish the critting-to-reading ratio were higher.  The number of clicks on each entry is substantially higher than the number of comments.

If you're hesitating because you don't have a lot of experience critiquing, JUMP IN ANYWAY.  You won't learn if you don't try!

As for me, I'm armpit-deep in revisions, and that's what my weekend will consist of.  (Which makes me happy in a determined, glazey-eyed, mildly psychotic sort of way.)

One more thing before I go:  Our beloved Holly Bodger (logline guru and writer extraordinaire) is offering THIS FREE GIFT TO HER READERS:

Set in the same world as 5 TO 1, The Other One gives Surina’s perspective on the first day of her sister’s Tests, showing that Koyanagar’s perfect Poster Girl may not be so perfect after all.

5 to 1 is one of my favorite YA reads.  If you haven't read it yet, DON'T MISS IT!  (And, yanno, the novella won't make quite as much sense unless you've read the novel.)

Thank you, Holly, for this lovely gift!  (Just what I need to distract me from the writing I'm supposed to be doing...)
Happy weekend, all!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Talkin' Heads: Critique Guidelines

Let's look at some DIALOGUE!

Things to think about:

  • Is it natural (i.e., to people actually TALK this way)?
  • It is well-paced?
  • Do we have a sense of the plot moving forward?
  • Do the tags and beats work?
  • Are the speakers distinguishable from one another (character voice)?

General guidelines for critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 3 other entries.

*I can't possibly read every comment.  If you ever see a comment that is truly snarky, please email me.  I count on your help.

Talkin' Heads #30

TITLE: Emily's Guide to Owning a Castle
GENRE: MG - Light Fantasy

12-year-old Emily has followed strange sounds down to a well beneath her a castle. There, she finds a mysterious boy trapped in a well who seems to know her and doesn't want her to call for help.

“Your face is strange. You do not resemble Anne Elizabeth,” he said.

“I’m not strange. I’m American,” she retorted.

“American? I have never been there. Is it far from here? Tell me about your people and your land.”

“I didn’t know there was anyone in the world who didn’t know about the United States,” Emily said, laughing. “I live in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s a city with all the usual stuff. The parks are nice. My friends and I play soccer together outside a lot. It doesn’t rain as much in Phoenix as it does here. It’s a desert so it’s sunny and hot all the time.”

“Do you wish to be in Phoenix?” the boy asked.

“Sometimes, I guess. I mean, I miss it a lot, but I like it here too.”

“You are sad to be so far from your friends and your home,” he said.

“A little. Where are you from? You can’t have lived down there all your life.”

His eyes looked beyond her. “I too am from a place far away. A place with sunlight, starry starlight, and moonlight filling the sky. Even when clouds gathered, lightning lit my path so I was never in darkness. I was happy there.”

“Can’t you get back? Can I help you get back?”

“You would help me?”

Emily grasped the iron grate and pulled with all her might, but it did not budge. Exerting herself so much made her yawn. Between her tiredness and growing uneasiness, she was ready to leave. “I can’t get this off myself. I’ll go and get help.”

Talkin' Heads #29

TITLE: Hooked
GENRE: NA - Fairytale Retelling

Willow returns home from her first semester of college to find that things around her house have changed in her absence.


“I’m going to go upstairs to change,” I said as I grabbed my waterlogged suitcase.

Mom and Brad shared a look that didn’t escape my attention. “What?” I asked.

“Well, honey….” Mom’s voice trailed off and she looked to Brad for help.

“Willow, with you going off to college this year, your mom and I made some changes with the house.”

A rock of apprehension began forming in my stomach. “What kind of changes?” I asked, looking from Brad to Mom. Mom refused to meet my gaze. The rock in my stomach grew. “What kind of changes?” I repeated, looking back to Brad for an answer.

“We, uh, turned your bedroom into a home office,” Brad said, also averting his eyes from mine.

I tossed my suitcase back onto the floor. “So, where am I supposed to sleep then?” I folded my arms over my chest and glared at them.

“We set up an air mattress in the boys’ room,” Mom began, but I cut her off.

“You what? How in the hell am I supposed to get any privacy in there?”

“It’s just temporary, honey. You’re only home for a couple of months, and then you go back to school.”

“Right. Just a couple of months. Great.”

“I thought it would give you and your brothers a chance to catch up with each other. They miss you.”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I rolled my eyes and snorted, “Whatever. I’m going to take a shower.”

Talkin' Heads #28

GENRE: YA - Fantasy

Alorna finds refuge with the Sacred, an organization of magickind, and discovers her mother, whom she thought dead, is alive but chose not to return home. 

“Gruffen sealed your power into Ivan’s soul stone after I was taken. We had the fairies change your appearance for the same reason—it was all to protect you, Alorna. There are many who would hurt you.”

“The Sacred?” Her feet, her body, and especially her heart ached. She couldn’t run anymore. If this wasn’t the place for her to live, it was the place for her to die.

“No.” Maryn patted her hand. “Not them.”

“Then I don’t understand why you sacrificed my rightful life and our family to keep me hidden. Couldn’t the Sacred keep me safe? Couldn’t they have taught me how to use this power?” She held up a hand to stop the protest already forming on Maryn’s lips. “I’ve heard their decisions are not always the best, and I believe it. But if I have as much power as this prophecy claims, they couldn’t force me to do anything, right?”

“You don’t understand. Let me explain.”

“No. Because you still haven’t answered my question as to why you didn’t return.”

“The Sacred didn’t want to let me go, and if they did, they would never let me go completely. They’d check on me. What if that brought danger to you?”

“They’d see an ugly girl with nothing remarkable about her. You and Gruffen ensured that, so how would it be dangerous?” Maryn sputtered and tried to speak again, but Alorna silenced her. “You hesitated too long. You don’t have a reason.”

Talkin' Heads #27

TITLE: Silver
GENRE: Adult - Science Fiction

Alinda, Senior Peacekeep, is dealing with the aftermath of a riot that occured right outside the Peacekeep station.

"All right. Do you lot have a spokesperson who can tell me what happened?”

An older man stood from the table. His left cheek had an ugly smear of purple. “That’ll be me, Inspector. Crom Hesswell, Head Agitator of the Halbrechts for Change and Reform.”

She eyed him, fierce and defiant in his wounded state. “Sire Hesswell, you have my apologies for the attack you suffered, both at the hands of your opponents and from some of our own careless Cadets. It is our duty to protect all peaceful citizens, and today we failed in that duty. We do not intend to let it happen again.”

Hesswell blinked. He had clearly expected antagonism. “Ah, thank you."

She prepared her logbook to start recording. “Now, could you please describe the exact circumstances of your attack?”

“Yes, Inspector. We were starting a peaceful demonstration along the riverbank, when a couple of youngish boys started jeering at us. We ignored them, of course, until one of them shoved Silda to the ground.” He nodded toward a stern woman sitting stiff-backed in the chair next to them. “We didn’t retaliate, not physically, but some - uh - harsh words were exchanged, and other attackers joined them.”

“Would you mind repeating those ‘harsh words’?”

Flushing, he answered, “I called the kid the sludge-dredged spawn of a brine fly. Inspector, you have to understand, Silda is my wife, and -”

Alinda held back a smile. “Understood. But perhaps it’s best if you practice greater tact in the future. Now, amid the insults and invectives hurled at you, did you hear any mention of the Venerables?" 

“Yes.” Hesswell frowned. “Some of them were accusing us of killing someone. Is one of the Venerables actually dead?”

Talkin' Heads #26

TITLE: Civil Wars
GENRE: YA - Dystopia

Alice, a soldier in the US Army, was bleeding out when she was rescued by a rebel. She has just woken up, and doesn't understand why she's still alive.

“I’m saying that I know that we’re in a war, but I can’t look at someone bleeding out and not help them—not help you.”

“I’m an enemy soldier,” she said.


She didn’t see how there needed to be anything after that. They were in a war, and they were on opposite sides. They were supposed to fight each other, to kill each other. “And I was already dying,” she said. “You didn’t even have to kill me, if that’s what you were concerned about. You could have just left.”

“I could have,” he agreed. “It would have been easier.”

“But you didn’t,” she said. “Why?”

His gaze met hers, and his voice was fierce and very low. “If I hadn’t saved you, I would have killed you just as surely as if I had taken my knife to your neck. To walk away would have been a coward’s way out.”

Alice did not know what to make of him, this enemy soldier that had refused to kill her. “Then thank you,” she said, without even meaning to, without even realizing what she was doing, “for being brave.”

He broke eye contact first, his gaze flickering away from hers with something like surprise. “Alice, you are very unlike the girl I imagined,” he murmured.

“How so?” she asked, wondering what he had expected of her, when she was lying there delirious and half-dead.

He shook his head, a faint smile on his lips. “I thought for sure you would have tried to kill me by now, good Army soldier that you are."

Talkin' Heads #25

TITLE: Alpha Shift
GENRE: Adult - Science Fiction

Captain Akajima is the captain of engineering, and he’s suspicious of a shuttle that’s docked with their ship. Captain Dana is captain of the Marines on board.

Captain Akajima loosened his collar to stay relaxed for—

A watch stander turned to him. “Captain, a part of the shuttle is opaque to our scans.”

“You’ve double-checked it?” Akajima rose from his chair without haste and stepped down to that station.

“Yes sir. No matter what wavelength we use at what angle, it stays dark.”

Akajima stared at the cylindrical shape on the monitor as if he were staring down a bull about to charge. “That’s a life pod.”

“Yes sir.”

He signaled Captain Dana to join him. In the time it took her to stride over, a pulse started beating in his neck. “Any reason for a life pod to be opaque to our scans like that?”

She bent over like a hawk spying a rabbit. “No. A life pod needs to be open to scans, so anyone inside can be rescued.”

“Does it seem modified at that end?”

“I can’t say.”

Sweat formed on the watch stander’s brow. “Sir, it is consistent with the end of a boarding ram.”

Talkin' Heads #24

TITLE: Shekinah
GENRE: Adult - Fiction

Marcus Abernathy has gone to visit Jessup McTiernan, a farmer who will lose his land within a week under an eminent domain claim. Abernathy was supposed to arrange a settlement between McTiernan and the state, but McTiernan and his wife refused to sell.

     No greeting seemed appropriate so he finally settled for “Hey.”

     McTiernan grunted and offered the whiskey bottle. Abernathy accepted, settling down on edge of the porch and taking a deep pull. “Look,” he said finally, handing the bottle back. “I am truly sorry for how this all turned out. It’s not what I wanted.”

      “I know,” McTiernan said. “Thank you for trying.”

      They sat in silence for a few minutes, staring off across the gently swaying corn. Cicadas whirred, filling the evening with their hum.

      “I wouldn’t want to leave here either,” Abernathy said after a bit, feeling utterly wretched.

      “I’m not leaving.”

      “Jessup, you don’t have a choice. Think of Amelia and the baby if you won’t think of yourself.”

      “You don’t understand,” McTiernan said. “The land is our blood. Without it, we don’t have anything. No family, no home.” He took a long drink from the bottle. “I was born here, did you know that?”

      Abernathy shook his head, miserable.

      “It’s true. I was born right up there, in the front bedroom. And I buried my dad here after he died. I’m supposed to die here and be buried here and hand this all down to my son. I’m not supposed to end up raising my boy in a rental house in the middle of town and working under a roof all day.”
      “I know. It’s horrible.”

      “I don’t think you know. I think you want to understand, but I don’t think you do.”

Talkin' Heads #23

TITLE: Crap Out
GENRE: Adult - Crime/Mystery

        Rule is a PI interviewing Ike Clark, a pimp. Ike was recently released from prison. He claims to have shed his old persona, been reeducated, and become Ike Clark, the pure man God first brought into the world.
           Rule really didn’t expect Clark to call. He figured he would have to get to him indirectly,
through Norton, or maybe even Sam. So, he was surprised when Clark called the following day.

          “You looking for Ike?” His voice was thick, with a heavy accent and a lisp.

            “I am,” Rule said. “Would like to talk to you.”

            “What you want to talk to Ike about?”

            “A client of yours.”

            “Ike doesn’t have clients. You think Ike’s a lawyer?”

            “I know better than that. Whatever you tell me will be confidential. And you could make
some nice money, if you tell the truth.”

            “How much?”

            “Five grand.”

            “You the one have someone following Ike?”

            “You think you’re being followed?”

            “You the one?”


            “Ike doesn’t have anything to say.”

            “You might remember me,” Rule said. “We met one time during the VanRaalte
and Robert Flowers deal?”

            “Ike’s never forgotten that animal killer. Where you think we met?”

            “Burton Street Gym. I took some photographs of you for the newspaper.”

            There was a silence, and then, “You the white guy, big, made square?”

            “Never thought of myself as square,” Rule said.

            “Your head square,” Clark said, as if thinking. “Your delts square. You got white hair
and them gray eyes, and white hair like some kind of ghost. And your eyes so far away from
your nose, it be like you can see behind you, like some damn insect.”

Talkin' Heads #22

TITLE: Dear Indiana: Letters to my Future Child from Chance Best, Age Sixteen
GENRE: YA - Contemporary

“I can tell there’s something wrong,” Lucy Jo said, taking my hand in hers. I wondered then why my mother wasn’t more like her and that made me start to cry.

“Oh, no,” Lucy Jo said. “That won’t do. Now, come here.” She pulled me into a hug, and we sat like that while I sobbed, letting it all pour out of me in an uncontrollable wave of sorrow.

After I was done, Dottie brought me some tissues. I wiped my eyes though my face must have been red enough to give away what had just happened.

Lucy Jo started talking again once I’d stopped sniffling. “You can’t give up, Chance. You’ve got to fight back.”

“I tried,” I explained. “It didn’t work.”

“Oh, that,” Lucy Jo said, and when I looked in her eyes, I understood she knew I was the one who’d framed Guillermo.

“You didn’t tell, did you?” I asked her.

“Of course not, but if you try something like that again I won’t have much choice. You don’t have to lower yourself to their level. You have to fight for yourself, not against them.”

I looked into Lucy Jo’s eyes just then. There were tiny red lines sprouting from her hazel-colored irises. I wondered if she, too, got tired of all the bullshit. “I don’t know how to do that.”

“That’s what you’ve got to figure out,” she said. “How do you make you work here?”

“Can’t you just tell me?”

“It's not a magic bullet, Chance. I can’t just go down to the Wal-Mart and buy the answer on the shelf. You’re the only one who knows what’s right for you.”

“Oh my God,” I said. “Why are you so smart?”

“I just am, Chance,” she said. “And for people like us, that’s a curse.”

Talkin' Heads #21

TITLE: The Dark Side
GENRE: YA - Thriller

Lukas is visiting his friend Jimmy whose working at an old Resort in cottage country. They've just entered Jimmy's room soon after Jimmy joked about robbing his boss.

“You're not serious, Jimmy, are you?”

“Why not?”

Lukas turned to find Jimmy making a line across the floor with his dirty clothes. He had blue and black clothes on his side, and white T-shirts on Lukas’s side.

“Come to the dark side, Lukas,” Jimmy moaned.

Lukas shook his head. “Not funny. You want to break the law.”

Jimmy held up two fingers half an inch apart. “A little bit.”

“You can’t break the law just a little bit.”

“Of course you can, but I meant it was a little bit funny. C’mon lighten up.” Jimmy shoved Lukas’s shoulder with his elbow.

Lukas shoved back harder. “You’re a jerk.”

“And yet your best friend. What poor choices you make. C’mon. What’s one more?”

Jimmy grinned, but Lukas didn’t share it this time.

“Cuz nothing else risked jail time.”

Jimmy flopped down on the couch. “I just want to steal what I’m owed. Mr. Peters has four weeks of my pay.” He linked his hands behind his head and crossed his feet on the coffee table.

“So when he finally pays you, what are you going to say? ‘That’s alright, Mr. Peters, sir, I already got it?’ Are you an idiot?”

Jimmy laughed. “Okay, I’ll just grab a dollar, or a paperclip or something.”


“Just to see if I can do it. You don’t even have to come in. Just stand watch.”

Lukas rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’ll just aid and abet. I’m sure that’s not illegal.”

Talkin' Heads #20

TITLE: The Relic Heir
GENRE: MG - Fantasy adventure

Four 8th graders are on a flight to Europe to find the lair of Baba Yaga. Kyle, the MC, has been staring at Grace and just got caught.

My ears burst into flame. “You’ve got to stop doing that."

“Doing what?”

The burning sensation shot to my chest. “Nothing.”

She smiled. “You’re the one who was staring.”

“I wasn’t staring. I was just . . .”


What was I supposed to say? Just downloading a mental screen saver? Just giving my heart a good workout? Both were true, but I couldn’t tell her that.

“I was just wondering what convinced you to let me drag you into this disaster.”

The green and gold waves in her eyes stirred. “A few things,” she finally said. “Your memorable introduction at the library, for starters.”

I groaned. “Don’t remind me.”

“Hey, it caught my attention. And when you called me up out of the blue to talk about something as ridiculous as a horseshoe with unique abilities? I was intrigued. But I wouldn’t recommend that as a future pickup line.”

Grace faced the window again. “I didn’t know what to think of you at first, but I had a feeling you were okay. And," she raised her voice and peered across the aisle, “I didn’t like how a couple of bullies were picking on you.”

Lud didn’t hear her. She was busy elbowing Tony in the stomach, but she might as well have hit me.
Grace felt sorry for me.

“I was wrong to help you at the library, though,” she said. “I should have just watched and become a fan.”

“Who isn’t a fan of magical metal,” I muttered.

“I’m not!” She reacted like I’d just offered her a cockroach candy bar. "I was talking about you."

Talkin' Heads #19

TITLE: Sustenance
GENRE: YA - Speculative Fiction

Quinn has escaped from an enclosed society in which all food is synthetic.  Kalan's family is helping her to detox, and she has just eaten her first taste of real chicken.  Kalan offers her a cup of herbal tea to calm her upset intestines.

“I don’t think I can drink that,” I say.  Another wave of cramping hits me, and I groan.

“Sip it,” Kalan says.  “It’ll make you feel better.”

I take the mug from his hands and hold it to my lips.  “What’s in it?”

“Just drink it.”

I sip the tea; it’s minty and flowery and things I can’t describe.

“Your body doesn’t have enough of the natural enzyme needed to digest the meat,” Kalan says.

“But I’ve—”  I stop myself.  I haven’t been eating meat my whole life.  It wasn’t meat.  “Why don’t I have the enzymes?”

“You’ve been taking synthetic enzymes as part of your daily meds,” Kalan says.  “And you haven’t eaten real meat.  The only chance your body has had to manufacture the enzyme is the bits of cheek you swallow every day.”

I stop mid-sip.  “Bits of cheek?”

Kalan smiles.  “Cheek cells.  We all swallow them daily.”

“You enjoy torturing me.” I swallow more tea; it’s already soothing the pains in my intestines.

“Actually—” He looks away, suddenly interested in a collection of socks and shirts Lydia has left on the table for me.  “I wanted to say I was sorry.”

“For torturing me?”

“For bugging you about Troy.”

“Oh.”  I bury my face as deeply in the mug as I can, pretending to drink longer than I need to.

“I guess I really don’t know much about your life, anyway.”

“Well, you wouldn’t.”

“Yeah.”  Kalan finally looks at me.  “But I’d like to.”

Talkin' Heads #18

GENRE: YA - Fantasy
The militia Sean belongs to has imposed martial rule over a city in the midst of their war against someone else. Sean is bringing Joen and another soldier up to speed on the actions he's taken against their militia in order to propose a plan that would help the enemy, because he believes the militia's actions were wrong.

“The girl that was captured when we returned the children—”

“The one you saw in Esper, described for the posters?” Joen’s eyebrow rose.

Sean didn’t fidget as he met Joen’s gaze. “Yes. I let her go.”

The room was completely, utterly silent. Joen wasn’t even blinking. Sean didn’t dare glance at the other soldier. “We were friends as children, before my father died. I know her, Joen, and she’s not the sort of person the Enlightenment is against.”

Joen was still, so still. Sean felt his muscles bunching even as he sat. Joen had been sympathetic… but maybe he’d still judged wrong.

“Tem told me your mind control theory.” He couldn’t get a read on Joen’s voice.

Sean sucked in a breath. “No. I don’t think that’s what its doing. She and the alchemist were adamant. I don’t think its inherently dangerous, inherently evil.”

“You want to protect it now?” Then, “you spoke to the alchemist?”

“Yes, before they killed him.”

The room fell silent again. Finally Joen slumped in his chair, his legs sliding out in front of him. “Gods, Sean,” he said, voice haggard, and drew his hand over his face.

“So you’re sympathetic now? You’re against the Enlightenment because you watched some old girlfriend tortured?”

Sean had forgotten the other man in the room. Sean turned to face him directly, desperate to pick the right line of explanation. If he couldn’t get them both on board… and this was the easy part.

Talkin' Heads #17

TITLE: Return To Spender
GENRE: MG - Magical Realism

A memory of William's and Emma waiting for the bus on her first day of school. Now, they are no longer friends.

“William, since you're an old hand at school, being in first grade and all, I'd like you to show Emma the ropes,” Uncle Drew said, patting William on the shoulder. “This being her first day of kindergarten, she's afraid.”

“No, I'm not, Daddy,” Emma said before she pushed William toward his father. “I’m not a bit afraid. I can take care of myself. I can even take care of him, if he needs it.” She pointed to William.

“I can take care of myself,” William said, pushing her back as the time the big yellow bus with its fume-like tail rolled to a stop.

“William. That’s enough, already.” His father pulled the two kids apart and aimed them at the open bus door. “Get in there, before Shirley leaves without you.”

“You wouldn't leave us, would you Shirley?” William asked.

Shirley smiled. Her hair was longer then, and it seemed her smiles came a lot easier. “Probably not, but you never know. I had a few close calls with your mother.”

“See, I told you.” William's father winked at Shirley, and then gave his son a gentle pat on the back. “Have fun on your first day of first grade.”

“Okay, Dad.” William climbed up the steep stairs into the bus. He turned and waited for his friend, Emma. “Hey, Em, let me show you where to sit.”

“The bestest seat?” Emma asked.

William smiled. “Yep. The bestest seat for my bestest friend.”

Talkin' Heads #16

TITLE: Buddy
GENRE: MG - Contemporary

Julia is talking with her young foster brother, Charlie, who has Asperger’s Syndrome and recently tore all the heads off her new Barbie dolls. He’s come to her to explain his behavior.

 “It’s cause their heads come off easier than their clothes do,” said Charlie. He picked up two of the dolls and stuck them near my face. “I wanted this doll to wear that dress, but I couldn’t get their clothes off. So I took their heads off, and now they have on different clothes. It’s neat, right?”

I picked up one of the dolls and pointed it toward Charlie. “Here’s the problem. The way you put this doll back together has left her with a dark body and a light head. Don’t you think that makes her look kind of weird?”

Charlie reached out and took the doll from my hand. He ran his hands down the long, pale hair.

“Nope, I like her like this. It makes her more interesting. Besides, if Mom and Dad were my first parents, I could look like this.”

I sighed. “It doesn’t work like that. You would probably just be a nice creamy brown all over. Sort of like coffee with a lot of milk poured in.” I took the doll from him and twirled her around in my hands. “You wouldn’t be like this.”

He shoved the dolls toward me. “Well, you don’t know that for sure.” Then his gaze shifted to the right. “Victoria’s back.”

Talkin' Heads #15

GENRE: Adult - Historical novel

Lisbet, mother figure for her younger sister Hedda, is caught between her Father’s outspoken hatred of the new Fuhrer and wanting to protect her sister who has a school assignment (1937 Germany) to write a letter of praise to the Fuhrer. Lisbet rushes into the kitchen from an early morning hunt, a rabbit to skin.

“Hedda, are you ready for school?”

“Father figured out how I could do that stupid letter.”

“Oh? Something both he and Fraulein Krueger will be happy with?”

Eating a burnt sausage, Hedda grinned. “We copied a page from All Quiet on the Western Front.”

Lisbet’s knife slipped. “Father let you copy from that book!” The rabbit guts fell into the pail.
“The Fuhrer will think it refers to him. It’s like I am thumbing my nose.” She touched her nose and thrust her arm out straight in the Heil salute.

“You’d better hope Fraulein doesn’t recognize your ‘letter’--!”

“How could she admit it? I’ll say I was testing her!”

Lisbet pushed back her hair with her wrist.“Hedda. Father says no mind is too young to yearn for freedom, but you read Fraulein’s note. There could be harsh measures waiting for you!”

“’Father says . . .’ ‘Fraulein says . . .’ Hedda mocked. “Don’t you have any words of your own, Lisbet?” She threw her sausage into the pail, making a splash.

Talkin' Heads #14

GENRE: YA - Fantasy

At her family’s Italian deli, Gemma is upset by a visit from a strange boy who disappears before she can find out what he wants. She joins her friend, Tess, in the kitchen where her father and long-time employee, Annalisa, are preparing food.

“Hey, Gemmie, tell Tess about that lady who came in the other night.” Dad’s elbow-deep in a big bowl of dough, making a batch of fresh bread for the dinner rush. “You know, the one with the straw hat and the purple hair. Tess, you’ll get a kick out of this.”

Annalisa is bent over the table beside Dad chopping vegetables for the antipasto salad. “Oh, jeez, leave the poor girl alone.  She doesn’t have time for a silly story.”

I force a smile.  “I’ll tell her later, Dad.  We have to go now.”

He peers at me.  “You okay?  You look tired.”

“I’m fine,” I say.   “You know me, any excuse to get out of work.”

 “What did that boy want?” Annalisa asks.

I shrug.  “He left before I could find out.  He was weird.”

That turns on Dad’s Concerned-Father radar. “Wait a second, what boy?”

“Kid in the front, asking for Gemma,” Annalisa says.

“He was nobody.  Probably some joker from school who knows my family owns this place.”  I turn away before Dad can grill me anymore, and sidle up to Tess who sits on a stool, eating something out of a bowl, sighing contentedly.  “Which one?”

“Lavender chocolate chip.  It’s so good.”  She licks the Easter egg-colored gelato off the spoon, cat-like.

I dip a finger into the bowl.  “I like it too.  Annalisa thinks it tastes like bath soap.”

“God made lavender to smell.  Not to eat,” Annalisa says, wrinkling her nose.

Talkin' Heads #13

GENRE: YA - Science fiction (light)

Olivia finishes up a phone conversation with her best friend while the boy she just met, Chaz, waits outside her hotel door.

     “Be awesome. Kisses.”

     “Kisses.” I hung up.

     “Was that the bestie?” he asked, still from behind the door. I opened it only enough to see out with one eye.

     “Is that okay with you?” I asked.

     “What’s her name?”

     I started to answer but worried about delving too deep into specifics with him.

     “Her name is Tillie.”

     “You should have let me speak to her.”

     I laughed, and he took advantage of me being off-guard to push the door open a little further. I caught it with my foot. “Excuse me, maybe I’m not decent!”

     “Then why, luv, did you answer the door?”

     “Because you knocked!” I tried pushing it shut a little further, but he now had his weight on the other side. “Why do you want to speak to my best friend?”

     “Get her approval.”

     “Approval for what?”

     “I don’t know, whatever it is you girls need each other’s approval for.” And then, a little off-handedly, “I’m just glad it wasn’t the boyfriend.”

     “I don’t have a boyfriend!” I stepped right into his trap. Right into it.

     He smiled at me, moved his foot, and I lost my balance and fell face first into the door, slamming it shut with my weight. “In that case,” he said from the other side, “I would like to invite you and your monkey pajamas to a movie in the living room, please. I’ll bring the popcorn. You bring the quick wit and good looks.”

Talkin' Heads #12

GENRE: YA - Contemporary Thriller

Best friends Sonja and Kai have just ditched school and stopped at Sonja’s house so she can get her fake ID before they go play poker at a casino.

“Make sure it isn’t one of the bottles on the top shelf. Kai . . . Kai! I know you can hear me.”


“Nope. Gotta keep my mind in the game.” The idea of getting wasted before I’ve even played my first hand makes me wrinkle my nose. “Besides, day drinking’s lame. Who wants to sport a hangover by two in the afternoon?”

“See, you’re doing it wrong. The trick to avoiding a hangover is to keep drinking. Daddy always said he wasn’t raising a quitter. If he only knew how well I listened. Maybe he’d have stuck around longer.” Holding up the bottle, Kai swallows with vigor. “Probably should’ve followed his own advice.”

“You know he loves you. It’s not your fault. Sometimes people can’t make it work. Ya know?”

“But, if I’d been more manly . . . Maybe-”

I stop him before he can say another word. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re quarterback of our fucking football team. You’ve known how to change a tire on a car since you were thirteen, and you could probably handyman my entire house if it started falling apart. You’ve got to be one of the manliest boys I know. And if you think for one second the reason your dad left is because you happen to like guys, well . . . I don’t know what to say. Except, you’re wrong.”

“Okay, enough of that. You’ll ruin my mascara.”

“You aren’t wearing any mascara, dummy.”

Talkin' Heads #11

TITLE: The Great Blandings Scavenger Hunt
GENRE: MG - Adventure/Humor

Bertie, Humph, and Berties' dog Jeeves are contestants in a challenging scavenger hunt. When two classmates help them by throwing s bully off their trail, they decide to ask the girls to join their team.

“What was that all about?” said Humph. “Why’d you have to get all ‘I’m-the-boss-here’ to the girls?”

           “Humphrey, I don’t expect you to fathom my methods yet. Someday, probably in a year or two, you’ll understand how to talk to girls. You can't allow them to get the upper hand. Oh, it might start innocently enough, but before you know it, they’ll have you doing their homework and selling their Girl Scout cookies. Believe me, Humphrey, girls like to have the boys make the plans.”

            “Are you off your rocker?” said Humph. “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard come out of your mouth, and let me tell you, there’s a lot of competition for that honor. And you do realize, don’t you, that we are doing exactly what Valentina said we should do?”

            “It’s called diplomacy, my dear Humphrey. I only let Valentina think this was her idea,” I said.

            “You pumpkin head,” said Humph. “It was her idea! Let’s get this straight right now. You asked the girls to join our team as equals. I didn’t tell you to do that, even though I think it’s a good idea. And now you’re going to treat them like equal partners. They have as much input in this contest as we have. We’ll share everything with them: the clues, the objects, the plans, and the prize.”
            “All right! All right!” I said. “You don’t have to get all huffy about it. But don’t come crying to me when Abigayle has you doing her summer book reports.”

Talkin' Heads #10

GENRE: YA - Thriller

Jewel thief Sasha stole a necklace from the grandmother of Luca D’Agnelli. Since then, Sasha has become friend with Luca on Facebook, under a fake name, and Sasha decides to return the necklace, whatever the consequences.

“I know who you are, Sasha Sarah Laurent Blake,” Luca said.

I nearly fell off the barstool.

“My grandmother and I followed your story with interest.” He took his hand back. My skin tingled where he’d touched me. “Aren’t you on probation?”

I nodded, heart pounding. “You’ll be calling the police?”

His eyes sparkled. “Let’s see what’s in the bag first.”

I lay the necklace on the granite. “Beautiful as ever.”

“Where’s it been?”

“On a European tour.”

He laughed so hard I thought he might choke. “Grandmother will be thrilled it was you all along.”

“I’m expecting her to be rather angry.”

“Don’t you know the story of this necklace?”

I shook my head. I only knew it had been on the list of heists my father wanted to pull off.
“The necklace was made for my great-grandmother by Giovanni Trabocchi. You’ve heard the name?”

“I’d be quite the third-rate jewel thief if I’d never heard of Signor Trabocchi.”

Luca smiled. “Quite. My great-grandmother had three daughters. She left the necklace to the middle daughter. The older one got this villa, but she thought she should’ve inherited the necklace. They never spoke again, and then they both died tragically and young, leaving no heirs.”

“That’s so sad.”

“My grandmother inherited the necklace and the villa, though she never felt right about either.” He put the necklace back into the velvet bag. “Keep it.”

“What? You can’t give away seven million euros worth of diamonds. I don’t want it!”

Talkin' Heads #9

TITLE: The Mysterious Clearing
GENRE: YA - Fantasy

Kay goes for a hike in the forest and finds her friend, Damon in a mysterious clearing they had discovered the previous day. Damon's friend Andrea is with him.

“Damon said you guys found this place yesterday. It sounded cool.”

“I’m actually surprised you came here,” Damon interjected, “Yesterday, it sort of seemed like you wanted to avoid this place for some reason.”

Kay nodded, “I did a little. It just seems...I don't know, unnatural.”

Andrea nodded her agreement, “She’s right you know. There should be trees here. With all the trees surrounding this clearing, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t have grown here. Unless there’s something different about the ground - fewer nutrients or something. But then the grass and weeds wouldn’t be growing." Andrea had started talking faster and faster. She paused now, puzzling, "It’s really interesting.”

“She finds everything interesting,” Damon explained, walking over to the edge of the clearing.

“Not everything,” Andrea argued, following him, “Just the things that don’t seem to have a logical explanation.”

“Right,” Damon laughed, “because everything has to be perfectly logical with you.”

“Isn’t that just... how the world works?” Kay interjected.

Damon and Andrea both stopped at the edge of the clearing. Then, Andrea smiled, “I like her!”

Talkin' Heads #8

TITLE: The Rain Crow
GENRE: Adult - Historical

Lorena is returning with her teacher Imogene, who has fallen and sprained her ankle, to Virginia from her visit to Baltimore. A unit of Union Zouaves have stopped the carriage to search it for contraband.

            "Is all this really necessary?" the captain asked when the third row of drawers was opened.

            "Not if you prefer women who care nothing of their appearance. There's a reason southern men don't stray."

            "Because they fear for their damned lives mostly."

            "Language." I continued to fan myself, watching the soldiers grow more agitated the deeper they dug.

            "Miss?" I turned to see Lieutenant Cormac. "We can't get Miss Boudreaux's boot off. Our button hooks are too large. She has seventeen buttons and refuses to let the doctor cut the boot off!"

            "Of course she does! It's a Vermache boot known for their delicate buttons. If the captain would allow me, I could fetch it for you. If it's still where it was though heaven knows I seem to have a summer storm blowing through everything from caplet to corset."

            "I ain't touched no corsets, ma'am," said one of the poor conscripted soldiers.

            "The day is young." I pulled a button hook from the top vanity drawer of Imogene's trunk. "There you go, sir. Is there anything else she requires?"

            "Well, she is quite upset and in pain. Perhaps you can come comfort her?"

            "Tell her I will come as soon as we've been thoroughly searched. Do not tell her your comrades are rifling her unmentionables."

            "Oh dear God, no, ma'am. I would never in life tell her that. Trust me."

            "Ma'am! I'm not rifling no unmentionables! I ain't even got a gun near 'em."

Talkin' Heads #7

TITLE: The Traveler's Truth
GENRE: YA - Science Fiction

In this scene, my main character, Jaden, is in an uncomfortable situation with her new boyfriend's best friend, Trevor. Neither one of them seem to care much for the other.

He drums his fingers on the dash. “So did he tell you about his brother, Chris?”

   I nod, still looking out the window. “Yes, he told me.”

    “Just between you and me, I think Chance gets a little depressed sometimes. You can’t really blame him—poor guy. He and his dad aren’t exactly close, either. I think he just tries to stay busy. You know, to keep his mind off all the bad stuff that’s happened.”

    “Yeah,” I’ll give Trevor one thing—what he’s saying makes sense.
    “Most people kind of harden after dealing with something like what he’s gone through. . . but I think Chance has kinda gone the other way.”

    I peer over at him. “What do you mean?”

    “He’s kinda gone all soft on me. Like he’s started feeling sorry for people and stuff. He used to be in the popular crowd at school—played baseball and all— but he quit the team last year and now I sometimes see him hanging out with kids who don’t have any other friends. The losers, you know.”

    Funny how school in this time sounds a lot like school in my own time. We have the popular cliques and the so-called losers, too. But I narrow my eyes. “Why are you telling me this?”

    The corners of his mouth turn up ever so slightly. “I don’t know. Just to give you a heads up I guess.”

Talkin' Heads #6

TITLE: A Complex Solution
GENRE: YA - Contemporary suspense/romance

Walking down his driveway, Joe has just indicated to Amanda he'd like for them to be more than friends. Their relationship had clearly moved past the friendship stage and he proposed the obvious.  

“Joe, I−”

“Don’t say anything. Think about it. When you’re ready, let me know.” He squeezed her hand tighter.
“Thank you, Joe. I don’t know what to say. I mean, I know what I want to say, but−” She dropped her eyes to the ground. “You’ve been such a good friend to me, especially with everything that’s happened to me.  It’s been tough, ever since my parents died. But I need to tell you, I wasn’t a whole lot 'different' before the accident.”

Joe furrowed his brow. “What do you mean, Mand?”

“I mean, I was…depressed. A lot. For a whole bunch of reasons, I guess. And after mom and dad died, I completely broke down. There was a time I tri−” She inhaled sharply and bit her bottom lip, averting his eyes. No, I can’t do it.

“Hey, c’mon.” A shadow crossed his face. “Please Mand, you can tell me.”

“It’s nothing.”  She immediately drew her hand behind her back, the scar burning bone-deep.  She still wasn’t ready. But, when?

“Mand, something’s bothering you. If you need to tell me something, don’t keep it inside. I can handle a lot…trust me.” He tilted her chin up with his finger, and looked her in the eye.

“No, what I wanted to say is, time would be good.”

“Whatever you need, I’m here.”

Talkin' Heads #5

TITLE: Team Loser
GENRE: MG - Contemporary Adventure

It's the first day of school for Corbin, who lives with his grandfather. He's trying to make sure Gramps is taken care of before he leaves.

“Mrs. Sanchez is coming over later and bringing food,” I said, put my jacket back on and straightened the tie. “You be nice to her.”

“We don’t need charity.” Gramps frowned.

“I mowed her yard and fixed the drain in her kitchen sink so it’s totally not charity and anyway, she’s lonely since her husband died.” I gave him a firm look. “If you get your back up, she won’t let me help her anymore. She has her pride, too.”

He breathed hard through his nose to fake that he wasn’t as pleased as punch to have a hot lunch and female company in the middle of the day. “I guess I could eat something,” he said.

“And she’s a good cook.” I added.

“There is that,” he said.

I shook my head, picked up my briefcase, and dropped a kiss on the top of his white hair. “I’ll see you after school.” I said. “I might be a little late, but I’ll be back in time to make dinner.” After I went job hunting that is.

“Do you have your lunch money?” he asked.

I patted my back pocket for my wallet. “Got it,” I said.

“I love you boy,” Gramps said, “Even if you are a pain in the rear.”

“I love you, too.” I said. “Behave yourself.”

“I might,” he said. “And then again, I might not.” He laughed in a way that made me nervous, which was his intention all along.

Talkin' Heads #4

TITLE: The Portal
GENRE: YA - Fantasy

Quinn, Jack, and Cam are on a journey to save their Realm from the Coven. Roybn, a sprite from the Athens Woodlands, says they have no hope of succeeding  if they don't stop a theif who carries one of the ultimate powers of the land. 

“Jack,” Quinn whispered, clutching at his arm. “They’re looking for a new Portal zone. Another place to drop the girls that the Rebellion doesn’t know about.”

       Jack covered her hand and squeezed reassuringly. “It won’t happen Princess.”

      Robyn continued, “No it won’t. Not if we can get the Mermaid Opal back. They are sending it to the Piper. Apparently there is another power to the stone, a power that could be the downfall of us all.

      “The Piper?” Quinn inquired. “Not the Pied Piper?”

      Robyn nodded. “The very one.”

      “Bastard,” Jack swore. “I hate that son of a—"


      “Sorry, he’s not one I would mess with again. Him and that stupid magical pipe. I can’t get within a mile of him.”

      “Precisely,” Robyn chimed. “It’s his flute we should be afraid of. Oberon said the Mermaid Opal, contains the power of the sirens. When the sirens disappeared, the magic left over in the water was pulled into the opal like a magnet. The person who can unlock the siren’s song is master of a song so powerful no one can resist its pull.”

      “But the Piper already has that power doesn’t he?” asked Cam, now steadily pulling the last body to the grave. “What would he need with the Opal?”

      “The opal would intensify his own magic. No one would be immune him. The Coven will rise to power more quickly if the Piper draws all the rebels to him and dispose of them.”

Talkin' Heads #3

TITLE: Divided

17-year-old Fiona has known Elam for a few months, and they're finally having their first date at a restaurant, where he announces that he's leaving town.  

Elam’s sharply angled bangs hid his left eye.  He tossed the hair back so she could see his face clearly before the heavily dyed hair fell forward again.  “I wasn’t sure if it would matter or not.”

Fiona frowned.  “If what would matter?”

“Me.  Leaving.  I mean, we spend a lot of time together online and in the bookstore, but I didn’t know if you…if we…” He sighed.

Fiona’s frozen innards melted into an ecstatic, quivering pool.  “If we…?”

“Could be something.  You and me.”  Elam looked relieved now that the words were out.  “I’ve got to get out of here for a while, Fiona.  Things are just…messed up.  Family stuff, and me, and…I didn’t know if you’d want to wait around for me.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”  Fiona couldn’t muster more than a hoarse whisper.  She cleared her throat.  “I mean, I have that chance for an internship with a literary agency in New York, but that’s not until September, and...”

His hand slipped quietly over hers, cupping it like a turtle shell and sending sparks all the way up her arm.  “Think about it, okay?  Maybe we can have lunch tomorrow.”

Fiona’s world shrank to the warmth of Elam’s skin on hers.  “Sure.  Okay.”

“I should’ve told you sooner.”  He stroked the side of her hand with his thumb.  “I wouldn’t have left without saying something.”

“I know.”  His touch left her breathless.

Talkin' Heads #2

TITLE: Crosses of Silver
GENRE: Adult - Historical Fantasy

Maeve, a respected Seer and Elder in her village has been spending a lot of time with Alcinder a newcomer who's presence in her village was forewarned as part of a Roman invasion to her clan's land. 

“If you don’t know how to celebrate Yule, yet you are to join us, someone has to teach you.” Maeve mused aloud, a quiver in her voice. Turning to me, “unless you know which man part you want to play?”

“There is more than one part for a man to play -- What do you mean, go hunting in the middle of winter?” I shook my head, violently to clear the cobwebs. “There can't be anything worth eating out there.”

“Real men, men who are hunters go out, and usually find something.”

“You mean boys with something to prove.”

 “At least they have pride enough to prove something, merchant.”

“Merchant now? I am a patriot of the Roman empire.”

“This isn’t Rome. We do things as a proper people of the land.”

“People? Where are they? Rome is coming to claim you.”

“Then we will fight you Roman.”

“Then you and your yuletide will die.”

“Why can you not talk like a real man? I brought you here to talk about you being with me for yule.”

“Why would I want to be with some backwards barbarian woman?”

“No wonder the village elders will not help you, stubborn Roman!”

“Do you really want to die instead of join us?” Maeve sounded incredulous.

“You really want me to be part of this Yule?”



Talkin' Heads #1

TITLE: A Rather Unusual Shoe
GENRE: YA - Fairy Tale

Prince Gareth and Lily are riding in a carriage. He’s mad because she just tried to sabotage his marriage plans, and she responded to the accusation by throwing a tray of cakes at him.

“I’m so sorry,” she gasped.

Gareth licked whipped cream from the back of his hand. “For telling me to pick Theodora or for giving me a lesson in cake decorating?”

She swallowed. “Both.”

“Tell me why you did it.”

Lily lifted her chin. “She would’ve been perfect for you. She’d have fawned over you and told you everything you wanted hear. She would’ve curtsied and smiled when it was appropriate and never made you angry.”

“And you would be free of this mission. Is that what you wanted?”

She crossed her arms and looked out the window. “I never wanted to come, you knew that.”

“And yet you did.”

Her lips tightened, but she said nothing.

“Why did you come, Lily?”

“You ordered me to.”

“Why else?”

Her chin quivered. “The kingdom needs a queen.”

“You’re lying. You came because you wanted to go south.”

She flinched, and he knew he was right.

“What’s in the south, Lily? Your shoemaker?”

“My- what?” She blinked at him.

The idea tore him from the inside. “Your shoemaker. He left to work for another shop in the south, and you’re following him, aren’t you? You said you kissed him.”

A white smear of frosting looked brilliant on her scarlet face. “I kissed him goodbye, Highness. On the cheek. As a friend.”


She smiled wickedly. “It was the glassmaker’s apprentice I kissed.”

“Oh, well.” Gareth waved a hand to hide his flush. “He kisses everyone.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Call For Submissions: Talkin' Heads

It's been a long while since we've had a Talkin' Heads round.  Honestly, one of the weak spots I frequently notice in my editing work is dialogue.  It's important to write our characters' words in such a way that they sound natural--the way people really talk.  No paragraph-long chunks of text.  No overly-formal language (like forgetting to use contractions, which is how most of us speak).  And, for the love of everything chocolate, no coming up with seventy-eight different substitutions for the word said.

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 30 entries have been received, whichever comes first. 
  • Entries will post on Thursday, January 14, 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.  :-)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Happy New Year, dear ones!

I have been admittedly absent.  Rest assured that I have every intention of continuing to bring you the in-house critique you're used to (and that I'm confident is helpful, as the peer feedback here is always so thoughtful and thorough).

Here are some thoughts/details/comments/whatnots as we begin the year:

  • I'd like to focus on small, intense in-house critique this year rather than trying to keep up with a Secret Agent schedule.  FEAR NOT -- we will still have Secret Agent contests!  But here's the truth:  There are so many contests out there.  Some of them require that, once your entry has been accepted, you do not enter any other contests.  This makes sense, and I support it.  But I don't have time to research all the things and make sure my contests aren't bumping into others.  I also always allow our Secret Agents to choose the weeks that work best for them in their designated month, so, really, I can't play the squeeze-the-contest-into-the-blank space game, anyway.  My goal is to give you a longer heads-up time whenever there's a Secret Agent contest, so you can plan accordingly.
  • In light of a higher focus on in-house critique, I am ASKING FOR YOUR INPUT IN THE COMMENTS BELOW concerning the following:
    • Would you prefer crit sessions to be separated by category (adult/YA/MG)?
    • Would you prefer crit sessions to be separated by genre?
    • Would you prefer fewer entries in favor of slightly longer excerpts (300 words)?
    • Would you prefer more entries with shorter excerpts (under 200 words)?
  • On a personal level:  My year has started out super-busy.  It's performance week for the symphony chorus I sing in, which means I've been rehearsing or performing every night since Monday, with two performances yet to go.  I'm also diving into another round of revisions on my latest novel (and having an absolute blast working out ideas with Danielle, who shares my vision for this story as if she is an extension of my own brain).  Needless to say, the convergence of these two things has been a bit frustrating!  I'm looking forward to next week, when I can hyperfocus on the revisions and hopefully crank them out quickly.  For now, I'm sipping tea with honey and trying to keep my voice in shape for another forty-eight hours.  
  • All this to say that I will continue to not be around much.  As soon as I'm back on a workable schedule, though, I will jump in with our first critique round of the year.  I will also open another slot for a Premiere Critique, so keep your eyes open for that if you've been waiting.  (Again, I just don't have the time right now to commit to a 1-week-turnaround line edit.)  Thanks for hanging with me!
  • Reminder:  If you have a success story that you attribute either directly or indirectly to your participation in this blog, please do email me so that I can share your story!
Hugs to all!  And happy writing.  (I mean that.  Writing should bring you joy, even when it's hard.  Not that it's ever not hard.  I know what I mean. <3 div="">