Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Noble Princess, by Molly Boehme




It's probably no surprise that I have some offspring who write. Many of you already know that my oldest daughter Maggie recently signed with Danielle Burby (we share an agent!). But it's my youngest's work I want to showcase today.

I'm not sharing this because of any special level of talent--there isn't one. Yes, she's bright and well read, but what I love about the story is the fact that she quite unwittingly wrote a badass YA heroine.  See for yourself:


The Noble Princess 
Once upon a time, there lived a charming princess whose name was Autumn. She lived in the most beautiful castle with splendid rooms and a lovely garden.
Autumn was learning all the proper things a princess should know, like dancing and curtseying and many more graceful things. Autumn did not enjoy it, though, for secretly she wanted to fight with soldiers and lead battles--very surprising behavior for a princess. 
One day she had a talk with her best friend--and brother, too--Forest. Forest was two years older than Autumn (who was sixteen). They both had raven black hair, and while Autumn had brown eyes, Forest had forest green eyes. Autumn pleaded with her brother to teach her to fight and defend herself, and reluctantly, after many tears from Autumn, he agreed. So every night they crept to the training chamber and practiced.
A year later, Autumn was doing her princess things when the alarm bell sounded. The castle was under attack! Her mother tried to usher her into the safe hiding spot, but Autumn pulled away and started running to her room. She pressed a hidden panel in the wall where she had been keeping her training armor and hurried to put it on.
The soldiers tried to stop her as she went running past them to the front doors, but she would not stop. With a battle cry, she launched herself at the leader of a giant army--the greatest and most feared leader of the seven seas. She stopped suddenly as she realized who she was facing, then charged. The soldiers, encouraged by her bravery, yelled and fought. What seemed like hours later the war was over. Autumn's kingdom had survived.

What I mostly want to point out is that I have never sat down and taught Molly how to write a strong female character.  She knows the premise of my upcoming novel, but I haven't allowed her to read it yet (she's not quite 11, so I'm making her wait; mom's prerogative). I'm sure my storyline of girl-dresses-as-boy-and-runs-away-to-the-army inspired Molly's story in some way (and she did steal one of my character names!).

I'd also like to think, though, that she unconsciously drew from her own life. She has two brothers, so in addition to growing up with dress-up and Barbies and ballet, she has also climbed trees, played "war" with her (mostly male) neighborhood friends, and learned to shoot an arrow with the miniature bow her hunter brother gave her one Christmas.

My favorite part of Molly's story? This: The soldiers, encouraged by her bravery, yelled and fought. Not only is our heroine strong and brave, but she ENCOURAGES OTHERS TO RISE TO THE MOMENT. A true leader!

In her little-girl way, Molly has touched on the beauty of a strong leading lady who isn't harsh or angry or trying to be something she isn't--she just knows what she wants, works hard, and then leads others to victory, going against everyone else's expectations of her.

I'm a proud mama. And yes, I did ask Molly's permission to post this today. She says she is honored. Good thing, because I'm honored to be her mom.

Thanks for indulging me. Here's to raising up the next generation of writers, one pink-inked, scribbly story at a time!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Talkin' Heads Critique Guidelines

Here you go -- 15 dialogue-rich excerpts for your sharp eyes!

Is the dialogue natural-sounding (do people really talk this way)? Is there distinction between character voices? Does the dialogue move the scene forward?

Have at it!

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 5 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 #15

TITLE: Invisible Me
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

(no lead-in provided)

“I wonder who that is.” Mom washed her hands and dried them on her apron as she headed to the door. “Oh.” She sounded confused. “Hello, officer.”
Officer? My stomach tightened and I slid off the barstool.
“Are you Mrs. Roberts?” a male voice said.
My eyes widened. Didn’t I know that voice?
“Yes.”
“And is that your Volvo?”
I definitely knew that voice. What was he doing here?
“Yes, it’s the one my daughter uses for school. Why?”
“Was she driving it recently?”
“She only got home a few minutes ago. What’s this all about?”
“Well, Mrs. Roberts.” He drew in a breath. “The station received several complaints of that car in town, apparently driverless.”
What? But the raincoat. I was so careful.
I felt the top of my head. It was hot. Of course. I was sweating during that intense drive.
The sweat from my head must’ve gotten to the hood. What a fool I was. I pressed my hand against my throbbing chest.
Mom snorted. “You’re joking, right?”
“I’m afraid not, ma’am.”
“There must be some mistake. That’s impossible.”
“Whatever the case, I’d like to speak with your daughter.”
“Okay.” She sounded skeptical. “Let me get her for you. Ana.”
What do I do? He can’t see me. I tried to flatten my messy hair. But he literally can’t see me. I bolted up the back staircase just before Mom reached the kitchen.
“Ana?”
I crept along the upstairs hallway and struggled to slow my breathing. I was about to press my sweaty palms against the wall behind me but stopped myself. It wouldn’t help matters if I made part of the house disappear.

Talkin' Heads #14

TITLE: Elvish Has Left the Building
GENRE: Adult Hard-boiled supernatural mystery

(no lead-in provided)

I stood when she walked into my office. Regardless of how I felt about Eleanor Steele, she was a lady.  I’m too much the Southern gentleman to disregard my upbringing.
   “What can I do for you, Mrs. Steele?” I managed to ask without snarling at her.
   “I’d like to hire you, Mr. Drago. Again.”
   We sat. “You have a tribe of government spooks, and I do mean spooks, already on the payroll. What do you need with me?”
   “We often use outside contractors. It helps us keep our hands clean.”
   “Aside from me and a few vampires, nobody has a clue the Supernatural Investigations Bureau even exists, much less has hands to worry about keeping clean. Not even whichever department it is that your funding is hidden in. Who is it this year? Agriculture?”
   “Housing and Urban Development,” she answered. “Would you be willing to come out to the house and discuss this opportunity with the Colonel?”
   I snortled. “At least this time you did ask beforehand.”
   “That was very considerate of us, I’m sure you’ll admit.”
   “If forced to, yes.” I checked my chin for stubble and decided I could go one more day before changing out my razor blades. “My rates have increased.”
   “That shouldn’t pose any impediments. Chances are good that we’ll be sub-contracting you out to a third party at some point.” She twitched a brief smile at me. “That will save the tax-payers some money.”
   “As if that was ever a consideration,” I said. “For you, anyhow. Don’t tell me you’ve misplaced that mummy I helped you reanimate last fall.”
   “As far as I know, Kha-Set-Mespha is safely hidden away, exactly where we put him.”

Talkin' Heads #13

TITLE: The Third Gift
GENRE: MG Fantasy

(no lead-in provided)

Ducking her head, and fending off the sun with a hand, she didn’t see the youngest member of the crew, Caleb, as he walked past her carrying a load of finished lumber. She tripped, and then raised her head just in time to hit the underside of a board. “Ahhh,” she said crossly.
The firm bonk tipped the long piece of lumber. Caleb lost his balance, caught himself, and looked back with a frown. When he saw Marisi the frown disappeared. “Oh, Miss. I, uh, I’m…”
“It’s okay.” Miss. Not Missy. She liked the way that sounded.
“Real, okay?” asked Mogul as he directed deck traffic.
“Yes.” She rubbed her head. “And, really, it was my fault.”
“Then both say, sorreee.” said Mogul.
Caleb ducked his head until he was staring straight at the teak decking, “Sorreee.”
But Mogul only shook his head. “Do again. Look at Missy Marisi when you say.” He pointed to his eyes. “Eyes window of the soul. How she see your soul, see your sorreee, if you don’t look at her?”
A red blush bloomed from his neck to the top of his ears. Caleb took a deep breath, raised his head, looked directly at Marisi and said, “Sorreeeee.”
She blinked in surprise. His eyes were so dark she always they thought they were brown. But they weren’t. They were as deep blue as the ocean’s depths. “S-s-s-sorreee,” she stammered back.
“All good. Now, done.” Mogul clapped his hands.

Talkin' Heads #12

TITLE: The Flame Dancers
GENRE: MG dystopian future

The 12 year old school-leavers are waiting to take part in the Trials, hoping to be accepted to train as one of the privileged Flame-Dancers. Among the trialists are members of the subclass Toilers.

Extract:  Imogen squeezed Josie’s arm. “Remember … Zip it,” she warned.
“Don’t worry. I won’t utter a single word,” said Josie.
“You just have,” pointed out Emmalina.
“You know what I mean,” Josie said. “I’m only going to say nice, positive things that nobody could object to.”
“Like don’t the Toilers look nice and tidy?” said Deeba. “But oh look - their plaits are tied with string, poor things.”
“There’s one with a sash!” said Emmalina, goggling. “How would he get hold of that? Oh wow! He’s got a brown armband! Guys - brown armband - you know what that means don’t you?”
“Shuddup, don’t look, they’ll see you,” hissed Josie.
But the tall, pale-faced Toiler wearing a yellow sash had spotted them. He flushed scarlet and covered the armband with his hand. Josie turned away quickly. She’d have like to look a bit longer, to see if the girl from the Burning was there but then the boy would think she was staring, like Emmalina.
 “I’d love to know why he’s a Toiler,” Emmalina said, still staring. “He must have done something terrible.”
“It might not have been him, it could be someone in his family,” said Josie. “Anyway, we’ll never know.”
“I bet that Brother by the door knows,” said Emmalina.
“Emmalina! You can’t just ask,” said Deeba.
“Why not? We should ask. He could be a murderer for all we know.”
“Of course he couldn’t,” said Josie. “Emmalina no…!”
“Yes,” said Emmalina, setting off towards the door.

Talkin' Heads #11

TITLE: Let the Canyons Weep
GENRE: Adult Historical

Jesse was abused by her now-dead brother & is having violent nightmares about him, endangering her pregnancy. Old Katie, using the Celtic power of insight, tries to relieve her fears.

The spell grew deeper as the old woman caressed the girl's temple. A memory encroached upon the empty spaces the poppies had left behind, making its way into Katie's consciousness as their spirits joined together.
“Mama,” the girl whispered. “Mama.”
The old voice soothed her, the gentle fingers continued their circular journey. The girl moaned softly and, turning to the old woman, wrapped an arm around her waist, held on to her as a baby would.
“Mama.” The stress was gone from her voice.
“Yes, my dear. I am here.” Katie resumed her caress, circling the girl's temple with light fingers. Time passed, and still her hand did not stop, did not tire. The girl twitched.
“What is it, my dear?” This is the moment. She has found the flaw in her happiness. “What has frightened you?”
“Oh, Mama, it was Russell.”
“Hush, macushlah. He cannot harm you. I am with you.” The tense little body relaxed and Katie ventured a new question, “What has he done?”
“He hurt me. Mama, don't let him hurt me.”
“No, macushlah. Tears stung the old lady's eyes. “None shall harm you. You are safe. I am here.”
“But Evelyn...”
“Has Evelyn harmed you?” Katie did not believe this could be so.
“Oh, no, Mama. Only Russell... oh, don't let him, Mama. Don't let him hurt Evelyn.”
“Evelyn is safe,” crooned the old woman. “You are safe, also. I will protect you. There is none who shall harm you. None who shall harm Evelyn.”

Talkin' Heads #10

TITLE: Dust after Slaying
GENRE: NA Urban Fantasy

Dee, a homeschooling mother, slays the occasional vampire that comes her way. She and her friend Hope follow a map that may lead to the source of the vampires.

Dee was grateful they were walking on grass that didn’t crackle too much, since it was still soft from September rains. “I suppose now I should start waving my flashlight around for no reason as we walk, the way all those stupid people do on TV shows where they’re hunting vampires or werewolves.”
Hope brought the smartphone closer to her face. It was finally lit enough to show she was frowning. “You really watch the werewolf stuff?”
“I guess there’s not as much on TV about werewolves as there is about vampires. But those novels in bookstores with threatening covers—eyes filled with contempt, strange tattoos, edged weapons—and those are just the women!”
“Doesn’t it bother you that they portray werewolves and other such things as sexy nowadays?”
“Sex sells, sister.”
Hope came to a dead stop. “This makes no sense. The path we’ve been following from this map keeps going straight. But you can see where the trail we’re walking on goes.” She gestured to the left, where the trail curved.
“Isn’t that just some tiny blip your map doesn’t show?”
“No, this trail we’re on doesn’t curve back to match the online path. You can see why.” She pointed to the steep hillside ahead of them. “Are we supposed to climb up and hike cross-country?”
“The answer is in front of your face.” Dee pointed with her flashlight.

Talkin' Heads #9

TITLE: Curse Of Climate Change
GENRE: MG Contemporary Fantasy

(no lead-in provided)

Natalia continued kicking stones, feeling the warmth of the sun on her back. Miguel joined her kicking small stones. They both love playing soccer at school.
“You are quiet today,” Miguel said.
“I’m thinking about helping my mother today and doing homework,” she said. “And Diaro de Chiapas rejected my short story.”
“But last time the newspaper published your story about the coffee plantations in Chiapas,” Miguel said. “Just keep writing new stories.”
“I want to write a story about a special woman, but which one?”
“Maybe you can write about La Llorona,” Miguel suggested.
Natalia loved meeting ghosts, except one. She didn’t want to meet La Llorona. No way. That would bring nightmares and make Natalia crawl under bed.
 “Hmm,” Natalia said. “It’s scary to write about her. I want to write about someone brown and chubby like me. But, I’ll send my story about seeing ghosts to the newspaper.”
“Good luck. It’s amazing that you’ve seen ghosts. I didn’t see any. Do you still see them?”
“All. The. Time,” she replied. “But …”
“But what?” he asked.
“The ghosts talk to me but I don’t hear their voices. Their lips move and their mouths open, but no sound.”
“Do they hear you?”
“I think that they do,” Natalia replied. “When I talk to them, they talk back. Last time when my grandmother came, I put a paper and a pen on the table and asked her to write what she said. She tried and tried to pick up the pen, but could not.
“Ghosts are like clouds,” he said.
“My parents believe that I see ghosts. Papa said that it’s part of our Mexican culture.”

Talkin' Heads #8

TITLE: The Academy (working title)
GENRE: MG Middle Grade

A politically precocious 11-year-old presents her case before her new principal hoping it will make her popular with her classmates.


Principal Gardner waved the three stapled sheets of paper. “What is this, Isabella?”
 “It's a petition from two-thirds of the sixth grade for tacos,” Isabella said.
“Okay,” Mr. Gardner said, stretching out the word like a lazy cat. “Requesting what exactly?"
“According to the State Department of Education, Ronald Darby is a C-rated school with overcrowded classrooms, below average math scores, and suspiciously smelly water fountains. That last one's my opinion, not the reports.” Mr. Gardner crossed his arms, and Isabella rushed on. “None of that takes away from Darby’s sense of community, though. Today, that community rallied around what some would say is Darby’s finest asset.”
She paused for effect like the old YouTube videos she’d studied of Senator Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor.
“And that would be our tacos."
“Our award-winning tacos according to the Florida State Legislature.”
Principal Gardner leaned back in his desk chair. "While I appreciate a newly matriculated sixth-grader being so well-informed, it still doesn’t explain your petition.”
“Right.” Isabella launched her argument. “Logically, since the first day of school fell on a Tuesday, we expected tacos, sir. We got Sloppy Joes instead. During my investigation—”
“Your investigation?”
“Yes. I visited with the Food Services Manager. She said since school began on a Tuesday this year, the Food Service department still considers it the first day of the school week. A culinary Monday, so to speak. So..."
"No tacos.”
“Correct. The petition requests regardless what day school begins, the time-honored tradition of Taco Tuesday be upheld. For student morale, of course.”

Talkin' Heads #7

TITLE: Dream Keeper
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Jade has been tasked with keeping an eye on Ash, the new student in the College. They cross paths on the stairwell.

I studied him carefully. “I’m perfectly aware there are Renegades out there who flout the rules and create an imbalance in the dreamworld.”
Ash’s face froze into an incredulous expression that lasted for several seconds. “That’s what they’ve told you?”
“It’s common knowledge.”
“Common inside these walls, maybe.”
I pressed my mouth together, dislike for this boy weaving through my stomach. “Well, as long as you’re here, you might want to make an effort to fit in.”
Ash raised an eyebrow. “All I need is to find the Master tower.”
“Why?”
“Because my brother’s a Master, and I want to see him.”
His brother?
“You can’t see him.” I laced my words with as much patience as I could muster. “The Master students are cloistered. We only see them in passing.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“You should know this,” I said. “If he’s been here all this time, surely you’ve visited him each year.”
“No, I haven’t.” Ash blew out a stream of air. “I’ll have to see for myself.”
I bristled. “You think I’m lying?”
“No.” His voice was strangely gentle. “I think you’re convinced that everything’s normal here, but it’s not.”
Who did this boy think he was? “What’s your brother’s name?”
“Darion.”
I stared. “You’re Darion’s brother?”
“You know him?”
“Yes. But you won’t be able to see him; he’s already moved to Masters.”
Ash smiled. “I’m sure I’ll find a way.”  He started down the stairs.
“You can’t make your own rules,” I called after him.
Then I set my teeth and followed him.

Talkin' Heads #6

TITLE: The Bug Collector's Bucket List
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Cousins, K.J. and Becka, barely know each other thanks to a long-time disupte between their mothers. They're on a road trip, doing their late Grandpa's unfulfilled bucket list.

“So, uh . . . were you and your brother close?” K.J. asks.
   I freeze, goosebumps arising on my arms. It’s like she knew I’d been thinking about him. “Not especially,” I say because it’s the truth.
    “Oh. . .” Obviously my answer wasn’t what she was expecting.
    “But if you mean, do I miss him, the answer is yes. I do. He annoyed the crap out of me sometimes, but I loved him.” More than I ever let on.
    K.J. frowns. “I always wished I had a brother. I think we’d be close. You know, if I had one.”
    “Yeah, well if I’d known my brother was gonna die, I would have made an effort to get to know him better. But that’s the problem, you don’t know these things.” My stomach clenches with this admission, and I swallow back the lump trying to form in my throat. I should have been a better sister.
    K.J. nods thoughtfully. “True.” Another beat of silence. “So do you ever talk to your dad?” she asks.
    What is this? A game of twenty personal questions? “Not much,” I admit. “I see him a few times a year—usually around holidays and stuff.”
    “Does your mom talk to him?”
    “Nope.”
    I tolerate my father, but I still think he’s a gigantic jerk for what he did to my mom. It’s funny because Mom seems to blame her sister more than him for the affair. My dad and I just never bring the topic up. It would be way too awkward with him.

      

Talkin' Heads #5

TITLE: Run Or Be Dragged
GENRE: Adult Romantic Suspense

Nick and Elena are sitting at the table in a moving RV, and have just discovered the driver implicated them in armed robbery at their last stop. The driver is Nick's cousin, Elena suspects they're part of the mob.

“I’m sorry,” Nick said softly. “I had no idea he was going to do that.”
I shrugged. It didn’t really affect me after all. “I won’t tell anyone what happened when I get home. You don’t have to worry about me turning him in.”
Nick shifted in his seat. “You know you’re coming with us, right?”
“What?” I spluttered. “Why? The cops don’t even have my name!”
“They’ve got your face and that’s all they need to find your name,” Nick said gently.
“But you said your Dad could work it out!”
“That’ll take time. At least a week, maybe more.”
“But—but,” I stammered, unable to mount a good argument.
“I don’t like it either,” he grumbled. “If you’ve got a better idea I’d like to hear it.”
Using my arms as a cushion, I laid my head on the table and tried to reason my way out of this. I was dead broke, there was no way the cops would believe I wasn’t in on a robbery scheme. Telling them I’d been abducted might help if Nick backed me up, but would he? What was my other option? Would ‘lying low’ even work?
Nick patted my back absently. “It’ll be alright. You won’t go to jail, I’ll make sure of it.”
I was not reassured.
“Well, you’re taking it a lot better than I expected,” he said, after a minute. “I thought you were gonna try to bail out the side door again.”

Talkin' Heads #4

TITLE: SMOKE SIGNALS
GENRE: Adult Mystery

Hotshot arson expert Draymond “Dino” Bernadino helps an old friend (Chief Sinclair) investigate a baffling series of devastating fires plaguing her city. They have just met with the Mayor.

Dino shook his head and fired off an action list for the Chief’s assistant. “Execute every mutual aid agreement to ensure you have full coverage for your crews at all hours. Secure non-essential utilities. Keep your lines charged.” He ticked off a number of other items before eyeing Chief Sinclair. “You trust the guy? Need me to call the Governor?”
“The Tips scene isn’t secure yet, but I’ll take the Mayor over there so he can get his picture on TV. Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky.” She winked. “One last thing. You still a hard ass? Do everything by the book?”
“Of course,” Dino said. “Rules save lives.”
“Except?”
“No exceptions.”
“Good, because we have to stop the idiot behind these fires. I’m putting you in charge of my fire investigation teams. And I want you to lead the Arson Task Force. Start here at Kinkaid, then check in with Tips Command.”
Dino scratched his head. “I think ATF would rather I serve in more of an advisory capacity. This is still your investigation. I’ll work with your Fire Marshal.”
“That’ll be tricky, since I fired him two weeks ago.”
“What about—”
Chief Sinclair waved her hand. “I’ve already cleared it with your boss. He was delighted you’d accepted a leadership role. I can scrape together five investigation teams today. North Charleston and Summerville Fire Departments will kick in more later, if needed. Keep me in the loop.”
“Glad to see you haven’t lost your ability to persuade people.”

Talkin' Heads #3

TITLE: The Blue Jay
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Liz and her brother Kyle have been pulled into her imaginary world. In this scene they're talking to a mysterious stranger who is explaining how they got there.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Kyle said, “parallel worlds, as in plural?”
The old man chuckled. “Yes, Kyle. Your sister wasn’t the first person to have her stories come to life, and I dare say she won’t be the last. There are many worlds existing side by side. They, and the people in them, are as real as you are, but they were born from fairy tales.”
I sat back, my mind reeling. Other worlds? For the second time in the last couple of days everything I knew came crashing down. First, my imaginary world had risen into existence around me, cutting me off from everything familiar, and melding my brain with a character I had made up. Now, apparently, that was somehow normal.
“You mean—” my voice squeaked out of existence. I cleared my throat. “You mean other people have...done this? Who?”
The old man looked thoughtful. “That is not for me to say,” he said finally, “I think I must respect their privacy in this instance.”
He saw the look of devastation on my face and smiled. “But I will say this. Some of them are famous, while other are largely unknown, and some even younger than you. Some entertain the world with their stories, and for others the stories have never left their own private thoughts. There are a few who have entered and explored their worlds, as you have, but most live out their whole lives, never knowing that an entire universe owes them its existence.”

Talkin' Heads #2

TITLE: RIGHTFUL (FRIENDS vs THE WORLD)
GENRE: Adult Mystery and Thriller

UN Sec-Gen asked a favor from his assistant to have a try and befriend his teenager son to catch up with his mind after reading a suspicious status hailing ISIS on his social media. The assisstant got carried away by associating the boy to Turkish Cyprus after his imposing will.

          Gothic style mosque! Give me a break! 
         Gritting his teeth, Adrian muttered, “St. Nicholas Cathedral”
          “What! Really! Was that its previous identity?” Niandhra exclaimed as she got the answer to her conundrum.
          “Muslims" Adrian exhibited crazily angry eyes, "are the masters in obliterating existing sacred identities and replacing them with theirs”
          “And what about Selimiye mosque?”
          “You mean St. Sophia cathedral? Just another house of worship they simply hijacked and rose up their signature minarets onto.”
          Silence fell as Niandhra struggled with the truth about Adrian’s claimed feelings. “You know, Muslims are not that bad” she tested him.
          “And how do you know that?”
          She hesitated before saying in a low tone of embarrasement , “My husband is a muslim”
          Adrian turned to examine her intently.
          She felt his cruel judgmental eyes all over her reassessing from a scratch every bond they have shortly developed.
          “Just after taking the city from the Venetian, he gave their commander, Marcantonio Bragadin, the pledge of amnesty. And you know what he did after that?” Adrian's fists balled into angry rocks again “He flayed him alive”
          “Who?!" Niandhra choked, "Mustafa Pasha this ex-Nicholas Cathedral is now named after?!"
          “Who else but Muslims dare doing so with cold blood.. going afterwards and disfiguring the artistic edifice it had been into the mongrel it looks like now”
          “My husband is a Shiite” She snapped without much thinking before incoherently adding, "They call it civilisational pairing sometimes!"
          Adrian giggled.

Talkin' Heads #1

TITLE: Saving Time
GENRE: Adult Science Fiction

A time travel cop meets a beautiful thief on the Titanic, but his mission fails. To his surprise, he meets up with the woman on his next mission at a tavern.

Carl took a sip. “That’s why I’m here. It’s what I trying to stop.” He grimaced and put the cup down. “Horrible.”
“It tastes just fine to me.”
“That’s because you’re used to this stuff. I’m not.”
“Coffee is better in the future?” Julia asked.
“Yes, and speaking of the future, what the hell is going on? How did you end up here?”
Julia put her cup down. “I didn’t go topside when you told me to. I followed you but tried to stay far behind. I almost lost sight of you at one point but caught up by the time you went through the slit and disappeared. I ran up to it, stuck my hand inside, and … found myself here.”
“Here? In Philadelphia?”                  
“Yes. Why, is that unusual? ”           
Carl rubbed his chin. “If you followed me in, you should have arrived in the future with me, except you were sent here. I would say that’s very unusual. How long have you been here?”
“About five months.”
“Five months,” Carl repeated to himself. “How have you survived this long on your own?”
Julia took another sip. “I had a few dollars, which covered me for about a week. And then … I … you know… .”
“Yeah, you employed your special pickpocket skills.”
“Hey, I needed to eat, and there are a lot of people around here with money. Then I met a doctor who told me about needing help at the hospital and I volunteered. Now I stay there."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Call For Submissions: Talking Heads

Hello, everyone!

Ready for some in-house critique? Let's have another round of Talking Heads, where we focus on dialogue.

Let's face it--dialogue can be tricky. It needs to sound natural while still moving the plot forward or revealing important things about our characters.

The best check for natural-sounding dialogue, in my opinion, is reading it out loud (I highly recommend this!). But another check is to let other eyeballs read the ramblings of our characters.

So here you go!  The details:

  • Submissions will be open from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM on Thursday, August 16 (tomorrow!).
  • Submit an up-to-30-word lead-in plus 250 words of dialogue-rich story. (Look for a passage that is more than 50 percent dialogue.)
  • Submit HERE.
  • This will be a lottery; the bot will choose 20 entries at random after the submission window has closed.
  • Entries will post on Monday, August 20 for public critique.
PLEASE NOTE: The lead-in is important because it will help us to understand what's going on in your scene. If you want the most helpful feedback possible, please don't neglect to include this!


Thursday, July 26, 2018

BRAINSTORM

I've been having a tough time plotting these past couple of weeks, and it brings to mind how helpful it is to sometimes simply have someone sit down with us and ask all the "what ifs". Even if the particular question doesn't quite fit our story, it's amazing how this sometimes jars our imagination to the point where we have our A-HAH! moment and can continue on.

Sometimes it feels like no one's about when we need them, though. So I thought I'd offer a brainstorm session in the comment box below this post.  (We've done Public Brainstorms a couple of times in the past, where I accepted entries and posted each one separately. I thought I'd try a simpler approach this time to see how it goes.)

Are you plotting/story planning/drafting? Are you feeling stuck/confused/discouraged? Ask your question in the comment box below! I will copy it here (in the body of this post) so people can see it easily, and then they'll be able to comment beneath your comment to perhaps offer the question you most needed.

Want to try?

It might look like this:

My protagonist and her boyfriend have arrived at her house late at night, and this is a turning point where something awful has happened and it looks like her boyfriend is responsible, but I can't think of what that awful thing should be.

Or...

My hero needs to go to the Plains of Despair, because there is a magical item there that is important for his quest. However, I can't come up with a believable motivation for him to go there, other than I just need him to. Can you throw me some motivation questions?

Now, those may seem sort of vague, but trust me (and I'm sure you already know this)--you never know what will spark you. It's like a bottle of Drano poured down a hair-clogged pipe!

THIS IS IMPORTANT: As folks leave their ideas, don't come back and tell them why their ideas won't work--unless it is posed as a question! For instance, if someone says, "What if she finds the bloody razor after the donkey relay? Would that throw off your time line?" In this instance, it's fine to answer yes or no, and engage in dialogue. But please don't be a Negative Nellie and punch down other people's brainstorms. Read, absorb, let your brain start quietly ticking.

Post your stuck-place in the comments below. Then share the link to this post and wait for help to arrive!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Friday Fricassee (aka Vacation and Beyond)

There's so much emotion involved in the unfolding of a debut novel. The work--the nitty-gritty, teeth-grinding, hand-wringing work--is largely behind me, and now there's this huge, invisible machine that cranks behind the scenes.

Crank, crank, blurbs from authors.

Crank, crank, fabulous cover artist.

Crank, crank, release date moved.

On it goes, and whenever I really think about any part of it, my stomach shoots down to my toes and the sheer THIS-IS-ACTUALLY-HAPPENING overwhelms me all over again.


These are my legs and toes from 2016, when I was plotting GATHERING STORM. Not even writing yet--just planning. Which, by the way, is my least favorite part of writing, with first-drafting a very close second. (Revisions make my spirit sing.) I'm so glad I took this silly little selfie back then, because it reminds me of what lies ahead of the hard parts. (And, yes, I'm in the middle of one of those right now, planning and plotting and all sorts of blank-faced staring.)

This is the picture-with-a-moral, of course, which is, as always, KEEP WRITING.

So June was vacation month, and we were gone for 16 days, which is a lot of days to be not-home. We spent the first week at my parents' home, which happens to be the house I grew up in. One of my goals for the trip was to do this:


The first picture was taken in March, 1974, by a photographer from The Morning Call (the newspaper for the Allentown area of Pennsylvania). They did a lovely article on my writing, including an interview and several of my poems and drawings on a full-page spread. It was, for a not-quite-nine-year-old, a heady experience.

And, of course, the picture on the right was taken just a few weeks ago. I mean, THE WALLPAPER. It's the same! So are the table and chair. I couldn't not take advantage of such a perfect time capsule. Mind you, I didn't quite fit in the same little nook I'd squooshed myself into when I was 8. But I'm still pretty pleased with the results, thanks to the patience of my dear husband.

Other than spending Father's Day with my almost-85-year-old dad, who is and always will be my original Prince Charming, another highlight of that first week was a trip to New York, where I spent time with both my editor and my agent!

I met Elayne in the foyer of the Flatiron building, where the Tor offices are located, and we walked up the street to have lunch. This was our first face-to-face, and I absolutely enjoyed every moment! One can only hope--and not be guaranteed--that there will be a "click" between author and editor, and I was not disappointed. Elayne exuded a loveliness and down-to-earthness that made talking with her sheer pleasure. (The fact that she's in love with Mr. Thornton is an added bonus.) I wish I'd asked our waiter to take a picture, but he was a bit off-putting and the opportunity didn't present itself. At any rate, I was thankful for the gift of meeting Elayne in person, and I remain oh, so thankful to have her as my editor.

After way too much walking (husband Eric was born in Yonkers and isn't the least bit intimidated by the city--and he clearly didn't anticipate my level of wimpdom), I met Danielle at an amazing wine and chocolate bar for dinner.


Ever since Gathering Storm sold last September, Danielle and I have been talking about sharing chocolate martinis to celebrate. She picked the absolutely best place to do so, and it was seriously the best chocolate martini I've ever had. 


No, really. I'm wrecked for life. 


And they were served with this amazing dark chocolate, filled with a ganache that made me question the necessity for any other food, ever.

I could've sat there until the moon rose and the city streets emptied. Truly, words fail me for how much I love and appreciate this woman. She has stuck by me through hard revisions, difficult plotting, and repeated disappointment. She's empathetic, insightful, brilliant, and funny, and, why, yes, I am gushing.


On an incredibly exciting, not-so-side note, Danielle recently signed my daughter, Maggie Boehme, who has written an incredible YA survival story that's going to knock the socks off any editor who reads it. I'm as over the moon about this as Maggie is!






I've watched Maggie grow from her sweet, fumbling attempts when she was 11 or 12 (yes, she jumped right in and started writing novels!), through her teen years when she got really serious about her writing but didn't have the maturity to go back and revise, past the college years when writing had to take a back seat to course reading and term papers, to recently when she jumped back in and blew me away with how far she'd come. She has a natural knack for creating multi-faceted, believable characters--the kind that stick with you for days after you finish reading the book. The kind that make you cry.

I'm so proud of her. But you knew that.

Anyway. Our second week of vacation was spent at the shore. Yes, I wrote almost every day, but writing near the ocean is something I wish I could always do, so it didn't exactly feel like work. Not exactly.


This was probably the best part--working through story notes for what has turned out to be Elayne's choice for my next novel. But that's a tale for another day. (I'm so excited about this story that sometimes I just close my eyes and grin like an idiot, thinking about it. That doesn't happen when I'm actually plotting, of course. Because...plotting.)

And now we're home, and July, my wonderfully, beautifully open month of almost no commitments, is flying by at an alarming rate.


Also it's hot. My cat is drooping.

And there you have it! So much to be thankful for. The latest news is an amended release date for Gathering Storm, so take note: September, 2019. For some strange reason, that doesn't feel so far away!  The only stinky part is that, since my book has been shifted from a summer to a fall release, I'll have to wait until November to let you all know what the new title is.

Still. You can add it to your to-read list on Goodreads, regardless. (And, oh, that would make me happy!) 

I think that's about it! Oh, and if you haven't yet subscribed to my newsletter, take a minute to sign up now. The next issue will be out on August 9.

Happy weekend! Happy writing! And thanks, as always, for sharing my journey.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Here are the WINNERS who GRABBED MY HEART

Congratulations to the following 3 authors, who have each won a 5-page critique from me!

They are:

1. #4 FERAL PRIME, YA Science Fiction

2. #27 THE SORCEROR'S WARNING, MG Fantasy

3. #29 TIME PASSAGES, YA Contemporary Fantasy

Winners: Please email me at authoress.edits@gmail.com for submission instructions.

A huge thanks to everyone who entered--and keep those critiques coming!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Grab My Heart Critique Guidelines

The entries are up, so have at it! I couldn't help but notice the hefty amount of fantasy included here. (That's not a complaint! I mean, I write fantasy. Just an interesting observation!)

I won't be leaving critique, but I WILL be choosing my 3 favorites, each of which will receive a 5-page critique (privately). Look for that announcement tomorrow!


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 5 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.

Grab My Heart #36

TITLE: Hunting Legends
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Raid has no idea he’s falling for the girl of his nightmares when Azrielle, a human-cockatrice hybrid with a lethal gaze, infiltrates his elite squad of teenage monster hunters. Her objective is to stop the rising body count—not flirt with the enemy. If her identity is exposed, she’s dead.

Fastest way to a guy’s heart is a bullet between the third and fourth rib. Knife works too, but it’s slower, messier, and requires close range. I don’t need either. I’ve got something better.

Static crackles over the comm in my ear as I tail a group of humans creeping through the French Quarter ruins. If they see me, they’re dead. Dressed in black gear, the Venators think they blend with the dark as if night vision goggles aren’t a thing, glowing green in the middle of the road through my NVGs. They should know better than to hunt us in our territory. No way they’re reclaiming this city. It belongs to Legends, ‘monsters’ like me. More than eighty miles from the nearest functioning civilization, light pollution can’t touch us out in the Dead Zone.

Clouds cloak the sky, hiding the moon and stars, threatening luke-cold January rain. Won’t be enough to drop the temperature. Sweat collects at the nape of my neck, humidity weighing down the air in my lungs. I miss snow and ice.

These humans are all that stand between me and freedom. Seven bodies left. I already eliminated the other two units. Kills still fresh in my system, phantoms of their dying heartbeats echo in my chest. Finish this one last mission and my service debt—or rather my father’s—will be fulfilled. Do this and I’m done. No more Shade and their self-righteous crusade of noble intentions that lead straight to the graveyard.

Grab My Heart #35

TITLE: How to Save a Friend
GENRE: MG Contemporary

Sixth grade was supposed to give Felicity bravery. It gives her a mess. The new president of the Northern States wants to deport the ‘Southies’, immigrants from the Southern States.

Then Felicity gets in the middle of it. She makes friends with a wisecracking Southie named Madrid. Staying friends requires bravery—or foolhardiness, with the imminent deportation.

But she can’t just walk away.

HOW TO SAVE A FRIEND is middle-grade contemporary fiction with a twist. It is 40,000 words.

            Some people say it began when the election did—when every person in the country heard and saw who was going for the top. Others say it started when the final candidates were picked, and the promises started to happen.

            For me, it started when I came to breakfast one morning, following the smell of scrambled eggs. My parents were smiling, and I knew what had happened. I knew before I looked at the newspaper dangling from Dad’s grip. I knew before I read the blaring headline.

COREY BARDATOKEN WINS IN LANDSLIDE!
In presidential election, the country chooses The Honest Way.

            It was my first real election, since I was seven during the last one. I was eleven then, my twelfth birthday drawing nearer as fifth grade drew to a close. But though I watched the men debate on television, I had no clue what was really going on. I barely knew who the candidates were, much less their campaigns.

            My parents had voted for him. They thought he was the best option, and fooled themselves into thinking that meant good.

            At my school, if the election came up at all, everyone would just say what their parents had said. Almost all the kids said their parents were voting for the Bard.

            The Bard was his nickname.

Grab My Heart #34

TITLE: Next To Me
GENRE: YA Gothic Ghost

What if you made a promise to someone but 170 years later, you broke it?

A small blackboard sign outside O’Neill’s Irish Pub, on the opposite side of the road, caught my eye. It read: Trouble sleeping?

“Ah! Yer man? He’s proving right popular there today. Straight on and down the stairs,” he said pointing straight ahead. “Now, would ye care for a pint or a bit of carvery?”

“No, thank you,” we replied in unison.

Cautiously we made our way down a set of narrow wooden stairs and noticed the door at the bottom. The lighting was poor, and the bulb emanated a reddish glow that reminded me of an Indian restaurant we used to frequent regularly on Lexington Avenue that had since shut down. God, how I missed that butter chicken dish.

I put my hand to my nose; the stench of urine was overpowering. Mom made a sick face and pointed to a sign saying ‘toilets.’ Ugh.

Softly, Mom pushed down the handle of the door and stepped inside the room, I followed her and spied a massive man with his back to us. Empty cans from a party the night before littered the floor and the room stank of stale beer.

His black hair was shaved to the scalp and his head was shaped like a full moon. He rocked gently back and forth in a trance-like motion as he talked to someone behind a pillar; hidden from view. I could hear her soft sobs and I watched as he comforted her. I felt awkward. We stood there for a few minutes until Mom decided the stench was too awful to bear and stomped over to a chair not far from where the others sat.

The man instantly swung around to face us.

Grab My Heart #33

TITLE: The Quicksilver Conspiracy
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

When 16-year-old Kira’s best friend dies, Kira - convinced she is still alive - goes to the castle where she disappeared to rescue her. But to save her friend, Kira must kill an undead spirit, a choice that will destroy the magic protecting their city and Kira’s one chance to erase a memory she is desperate to forget.

“Come on, G. No one is going to die tonight.” Jerril Menkaure made another swipe for the ring of cast-iron keys, her electric blue nail polish leaving a trail of iridescent sparks in the dim sitting room.
Her goyle’s ears flattened against his head, and he hopped backwards, barring the way to the locked door her brother had strictly ordered her to stay away from. In his hard, dark eyes, the reflection of candle flames flickered.

“Nothing terrible happened when you broke me out of my room, did it? No monsters showed up then.”

Talons clutched the key ring tighter to the goyle’s chest. A string of harsh, staccato chirps burst from his mouth.

“But nothing’s here now. It’ll just take us a couple minutes in the library. In and out. I promise. If you can’t smell it -”

A fierce hiss startled her to silence.

 “Yes, I know everything here stinks to you. But trust me, if it’s in there, it’ll smell worse than anything else. You can find it before she shows up.”

G’s eyes bulged, and with a snap, his leathery wings spread to their full span.

“So now you’re just going to leave me to do this alone? You know if Jord said to stay out, that’s a good sign this is where he’s hiding it.”

With an explosive pop, G shifted into a foot-high woman with long black hair, bloodshot eyes, and fangs curling over her lips.

Grab My Heart #32

TITLE: Strange Occurrences
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Spooky just wants to lay low and get through a program for delinquents. But boot camp exceeds her worst expectations when an ancient god emerges from the wilderness and kidnaps her for entertainment. She strikes a deal for her freedom that either kill her or deliver everything she’s ever wanted.

Something brushed Spooky’s elbow. Luke slipped a piece of paper into the palm of her hand.
A note. A passed note, like the ones she’d shuttered back and forth between two friends in her freshman year English class.

It was old school, but she couldn’t help but smile. The camp confiscated personal devices and restricted the use of pens, so this was the first message she’d received all summer. Luke would have had to think ahead about giving her this. She wanted to read his face as much as the words he had put on paper, but she kept her eyes trained on the front of the cafeteria.

“And that’s our inspirational quote for this evening!" Izeah Dodgson said into the mic. His bald head was as shiny as the lacquered wood floors that Spooky herself polished twice a week. "Now, I have one more announcement, and I don’t want anyone to be alarmed: last night's patrol came across an animal inside the fence. It was not definitively identified, but it was large enough to cause some concern. Now, now.” He raised his hands as if to quiet the room of campers, none of whom had made a sound. “This is exactly why we have the fence in the first place.”

The fence wasn’t really designed to keep things out. Spooky had seen the exposed bars and chain-link before her parents brought her through the gates. The plastic sheeting that made it impossible to climb only ran along the inside.

Grab My Heart #31

TITLE: CANDLE IN THE WIND
GENRE: YA thriller, diverse

For most of her life, seventeen-year-old Espie Hernandez’s life has revolved around El Padre and the cult-like compound he rules. She prides herself on being loyal, and truly believes, as El Padre preaches, that those outside the compound, The Others, want to destroy them. But then she sees things that make her question El Padre. Soon she finds herself in the unthinkable situation of being banished from the compound forever unless she can bring proof of the weapons The Others are stockpiling to use against them. When she finds The Others she also finds that nothing is quite how it had been portrayed. Who is it that wants to use the weapons? The Others, or El Padre? Espie has to decide who to trust, her leader, or Phoenix, the Other boy who offers her kindness. Time is running out. As everything she’s been taught is torn apart, she still needs to find the strength to look inside for what really matters.

Why did I come again?

The old building creeped me out, but I had no idea that what was about to happen there would change my life, my whole world, forever. Weather-beaten, the wood sagged as if resigned to its fate. Shadows flirted through cracks in the boarded up windows.  The house slumped in defeat.  I shivered, pulling my hoodie closer but warmth eluded me. The desert nights were brutal even within El Compuesto, the compound where we were confined.  My sister Xochil had snuck out earlier, which only increased the anxiety growing inside me.

No longer did it feel right to sneak out after curfew.  Doubts resurfaced.  Doubts I didn’t want to address.  I only wanted to save my sister from doing something stupid.

Why did the leaders insist we had to share a vidcom?

Grab My Heart #30

TITLE: The Salem Witch Detectives
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

Merilyn Bookwright would prefer to hang the witch hunters plaguing Salem, but witches rarely get what they want in colonial New England. Yet the sheriffs searching for witches have forgotten the oldest wives' tale. Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.

Merilyn Bookwright has never wanted to kill anyone, much less in front of her daughter, but the shout, "Be careful! There's a witch on the loose!" reminds her that neither God nor fate has ever shown much concern for her wishes. Taking them into her own hands, Merilyn pulls Gwenifer close, while the Puritans skitter away from the sheriffs, each person staring at their neighbors with expressions that all ask: "Who?"

For those few seconds, everyone is a suspect. Anyone could be next on the judges' list.

To lessen the chance she's put on it, Merilyn shrieks, "Please save us from the witch, Sheriff Corwin!" and faints alongside Gwenifer, who mimics her mother without instruction. It's what every witch learns before they can be trusted with magic. Although her daughter's heart beats hard enough for Merilyn to feel through her hug, Gwenifer wiggles forward to spy from beneath her bonnet as well.
The ever-smiling Sheriff Corwin and his team of witch hunters sweep past, checking the other women in the marketplace. The plain wool dress so many wear hides the wolf among the sheep until the accused reveals herself by running toward the docks.

"Don't let her reach a boat!" Sheriff Corwin says, charging after his prey, but even the largest sailors scatter before her, no more willing to fight a witch than a mouse would a serpent.

Grab My Heart #29

TITLE: TIME PASSAGES
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fantasy

ABOUT TIME + THE GOOD PLACE. With her guardian angel’s help, 16-year-old Gemma changes the past and saves her murdered boyfriend—but doesn’t anticipate bringing his killer back too. Now, she must thwart the murderer and reclaim her lost love before her old memories fade, along with her happy ending.

Exiting the BART station, I book it three blocks to the deli, late for work again. A breeze too cold for August blows in my face, making me hunch into my jacket, and low-hanging clouds, floating overhead like clumps of dirty cotton balls, do nothing to lighten my mood.

This early, the taquerias and fruit markets along Mission Street are still dark, but light glows from Poulsen’s Bakery. The delicious aroma drifting into the street reminds my stomach I skipped breakfast this morning. Baking bread and spices. Cinnamon.

A memory hits me. Ben and me and a bag of cinnamon rolls. “Still warm, Gemma.” Buttery and sweet, we cut first period to eat them in the park. A cop car drives by and we duck behind the picnic table, fingers entwined, choking back the laughter. It’s so vivid, I’m back there, feeling Ben’s cinnamon-scented breath on my cheek, tasting the sugar on his lips. Remembering feels like a stab to the gut now, raw and fresh, because Ben is gone.

“Good morning,”

The voice comes out of nowhere, jarring me back to the present. A boy pads along beside me. Tall and dark, a ring of keys jingles on his belt loop.

We’re alone on the street, with the deli still several doors down. I have zero interest in talking, so I smile, nod and walk faster. Take the hint, dude.

Nope. He quickens his pace to keep up. Why do boys think they can invade a girl’s space anytime they feel like it?

Grab My Heart #28

TITLE: The Forgotten Name
GENRE: YA Fantasy

When Quinn Garner was ten years old, he traveled to another world and stole an evil king’s magic. Seven years later, Quinn is forced to return to face the king when he rises again. Only, Quinn has no memory of this other world or the strange magic he once controlled.

The King of Nightmares stared out at a crumbling world from the highest point of a castle in the sky, awaiting news from his spies that even then were scouring the world for signs of the thief. Savior they called him. Hero. As if he was anything more than a common thief, as if he’d done anything short of stealing their world, tossing them aside as if they were nothing.

The thief had come like any other, in the dark of the night. His legend spread fast and the world bent to his whims. The magic that the king had spread through the world – millions of dark threads that let him see and feel and hear everything, keeping the world and its people under his control – had slipped away. Not one by one. Not slowly, over time, as the king worked to keep them. But overnight. All at once. One day, he was ruler, king, god. The next… he was nothing.

The king’s fists tightened as he turned to pace. He would be nothing no longer. He was still weak, still without power, but he was so much more than a simple thief. He knew better now. Years had passed and he was stronger, smarter. He understood his enemy. He knew what he had to do. It’d all be so simple, in the end.

It was time for the king to rise again, and the thief — the hero — would lose this time.

Grab My Heart #27

TITLE: THE SORCERER'S WARNING
GENRE: MG Fantasy

After his mother’s death, 12-year-old Prince Agmund thinks life can't get any worse. He's wrong. When a sorcerer makes a blood-magic pact with a dead tyrant, Agmund endures racial slurs, his human father’s rejection, and his kingdom’s hatred. And if he helps others like him fight an enemy they can’t see? He could lose his life.

Prince Agmund waited while the fire’s warmth cloaked him in sweat, and an idea simmered inside his head:  he hated his father. He took a shaky breath. “What do you mean I can’t see her?”

King Ulrich sat slumped against his throne, watching the glow fade from the only windows in the room. “We don’t know much about the ellyll. There are no guarantees her…illness…is not contagious.”

 “Your healer hasn’t gotten sick.”

“He’s human, and I’m sure he is taking every precaution, as should you. You’re twelve, not a baby anymore. Think about what’s at stake.”

“It’s only a matter of time!”

King Ulrich closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. A low crackle in the fireplace broke the silence, but the king never moved. He sat that way for a long time before opening his eyes again.

“No.”

“Father, didn’t you hear me?” Agmund’s voice was a muffled squeak.

“There’s no need for you to visit. All she does is sleep.”

The king kept talking, but so much heat flooded Agmund’s body, he thought his head would explode. He bit his lip. That healer might do something for her, but he'd have to figure out why she was sick in the first place. Her people drew power from nature itself. They lived for centuries unless they died in battle or were grieving. She hadn’t been sad, had she? Agmund wiped his slick palms on his tunic, hoping it stained the fabric.

Grab My Heart #26

TITLE: Mirror Breaker
GENRE: YA Fantasy/Science Fiction

Emery Glass is a Mirror Maker. She can create a mirror and walk through the reflection into an alternate reality. To return, she simply breaks the mirror, and the reflection world ceases to exist. When Emery’s sister disappears in the Mirror World, Emery will do anything to find her: break the rules, design illegal mirrors, even face being exiled from the Ward.

My little brother, Gates, lied about me dying. Of course, it’s best everyone thinks I’m dead, and he’s smart enough to know that. Every week, they air my story on WatchBank. Sometimes it flashes twice a week on the com-screens distributed around The Shadows. Many of the sector’s worst criminals live there. I suppose they think I’m famous amongst the villains.

In the nicer areas of the ward, such as Glass Hill, it’s broadcast at least once a month on the cyber kiosks. It looks out of place mixed in with the stories that spotlight first-class citizens. Or the celebrity webcasts. That’s probably why they keep it minimal in these areas.

Other than high society gossip, the kiosks run government propaganda. Hype pieces about magic and the evil it brings. Abolition. Revolution. Segregation. Anti-succession. With elections coming soon, the political ads can drive even the kindest people over the edge.

Now that I’m a fugitive, I have to work on a new disguise. I hope I can come out of hiding soon and live life again. Being the most hated girl in the world isn’t easy. Well, maybe not the world, but it might as well as been the entire universe. That’s how I feel.

The sun glistens off the river. Early morning is my favorite time of day. Gates will be here with whatever food he’d scavenged from the table without notice. I somehow make every crumb count.

Grab My Heart #25

TITLE: DEREK HYDE KNOWS SPOOKY WHEN HE SEES IT
GENRE: MG Paranormal

ADDAMS FAMILY meets GHOSTBUSTERS when twelve-year-old Derek confronts headless ghosts at Hyde’s Funeral Home & Used Coffin Outlet run by his mortician parents, Jack and Formalda. The ghosts' young son wants revenge for losing his haunted home, while Derek desperately tries to keep out of the embalming room—as a client.

There are far worse things in life than being raised in a funeral home. For example… um…

Okay, here’s one. You could have your brains eaten alive and slurped down by cranky, overworked zombies who haven’t had their morning coffee.

Or how about this? You could be stuffed into a spin dryer at Leo’s Laundromat & Hideous Stain Removal Service and set to Extra Dry/Huge Load.

But Derek Hyde wasn’t eaten and he definitely wasn’t spin dried, either. Just driven to the narcoleptic town of Littleburp in the family car (actually, an old yellow school bus), and then to a really unfortunate and grossly undesirable address: 1313 Slimeytoes Lane.

As the bus splashed its way through a beautifully timed thunderstorm on the worst day of Derek’s life (so far), his mom and dad worked at keeping his spirits up by singing their favorite, most embarrassing song: Poopy Head, Poopy Head, Don’t You Be a Poopy Head.

It didn’t help.

It was bad enough his parents dragged Derek out of his seventh grade class and away from all his friends to limp across the country in a broken-down bus on this Journey to Nowhere. Much worse was the notion of moving him into a spooky old manor house they planned to convert into a funeral home.

Because his parents were funeral directors. Morticians. Undertakers.

On this blustery autumn day, Derek watched through rain-streaked windows as they screeched to a halt in front of the scariest mansion he’d ever seen.

It had towers. With turrets.

Grab My Heart #24

TITLE: Seeking Stanley Derringer
GENRE: YA Romance

After Tab’s crush crushes her, she dreams of a boy who’s desperate to find her, discovers he’s alive, and sets off to find him. SEEKING STANLEY DERRINGER is Jane The Virgin meets the Holy Grail quest, a YA romance set in a Berkeley alternative school and a Detroit garage.

It was the end of a Sunday lunch shift at Tia’s Tacos. I watched two women linger over a shared enchilada. I tried not to stare at the one with her back to me, tattooed up to her sleeveless tee, who tenderly fed the last forkful to a woman holding a baby.

            What was wrong with me? I didn’t want a baby. What did they have that I didn’t have?
            Oh, yeah. Each other. Someone to love. A soul mate. In other words, everything.

            “May I?” I asked the couple as I reached for their empty plate. I laid the check in the middle of the table. The woman holding the baby tucked her into a fabric sling.

            “Your baby’s so cute,” I said. “What’s her name? Or his?”

            “Harmony,” the baby woman said. She eyed my thumb as my hand passed in front of her face. I could always tell when somebody noticed. My thumbs were shaped like little square paddles because of brachydactyly, an inherited trait. Mom thought I got it from my bio dad but I’d never met him so I never really knew.

           Tia watched from the door to the kitchen. Her arms strained with the weight of a full bin of mole sauce. She groaned as she plonked it on the prep counter.

           “I can do that! Sit down!” I hurried to fill bins like I was supposed to between customers. Instead, I’d been reading Parzival, about a naive knight on a quest.

Grab My Heart #23 - DELETED


(Seriously, guys. No duplicate entries, please.)

Grab My Heart #22

TITLE: BOUND BY EARTH
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Seventeen-year-old Zaina has no desire to leave her tribal home. Staying means she can spend more time with an afrit named Tasdemir, the elemental earth spirit who protects the valley where she lives. But then Tasdemir disappears, throwing the valley’s natural balance into chaos. If Zaina can recover the afrit, she may be able to save her tribe and the valley.

           The tree was full of goats.

           Zaina locked eyes with the closest, a male who was perched several feet above her head on a thorny branch, chewing his cud and glaring at her balefully.

            Zaina matched the heat and disgust in his gaze with her own. “Get down.”

            The goat considered her command, pausing in his methodical chewing. It was all the warning she received. Moments later, he spat haughtily in her direction.

            Zaina ducked, missing being pelted by a whistling kali seed by inches, but she was not quick enough to evade the rest of the cud. The slobbery, oozing mess landed on her shoulder, coating the ends of the scarf she had wrapped around her hair. Zaina wrinkled her nose as the glob slid lower, onto her sleeve. It was pungent, the odor made stronger by the heat of the sun overhead.

            Planting her feet in the dusty ground, Zaina threw her head back and met the goat’s eye again. A giggle at her elbow drew her attention away from her quarry, and she turned her hard glare on a new victim.

            Her younger sister lifted her chin in response and didn’t wilt like Zaina was hoping. “Were you expecting something different to happen?”

            Zaina bit her tongue and stomped over to the lowest branches, brushing her stained shoulder and scarf as she did so. “Let’s try something else.”

Grab My Heart #21

TITLE: Violet Ray and The Magnetic Pole Reversal
GENRE: MG Science Fiction

When a cosmic event crashes the Earth’s power grid, a young scientist and humanoid cat must stop invaders from destroying their island to control the world’s energy.


Violet woke with a snort. She sat up and looked at her hands. The same. She pulled up her sleeves. Her arms had the same orange freckles and dark brown skin.  Maybe…she took a quick peek under her shirt. Not yet.

Jumping out of the large clamshell bed, she ran into her dressing room. She threw off a dirty lab coat hung on the mirror and looked intently. She bared her teeth and stared with big, green eyes at her freckled face and unruly purple hair. Tying her hair on top of her head, she turned away. Nothing has changed!

Disappointed, she grabbed the closest lab coat on the floor and slipped into sneakers. Putting her pants over the shoes proved cumbersome. When she stopped to take off the shoes first, she thought, There’s still the whole day! Maybe something will happen when her mother was there. She liked to observe everything “to experience the science.” Violet was used to being examined every minute of the day.

Bounding down the DNA spiral stairs, she spotted her mother’s black-haired topknot in the lab and ran over to her.

“Good morning!” Violet said cheerfully, scanning the dozens of beakers on the silver lab table. She picked up a beaker with shimmery ooze moving slowly around inside. “This is almost ready.”
Her mother, wearing a crisp, white lab coat looked over Violet’s crumpled lab coat with a wild print of amoebas before she took the beaker. “No working today. I have a surprise.”




Grab My Heart #20

TITLE: Forgotten Love
GENRE: Adult Romance

Summer Hamilton wants to start over, but her panic attacks and flashbacks from an accident haunt her. When Rafe Bryant strolls into her life, she knows the hot biker is trouble. But at every turn, he’s there, and the sparks between them are irresistible, until she remembers her forgotten love.

Laughter filled the Italian bistro La Rosa’s in the North End of Boston along with the mouthwatering odors of garlic and tomatoes making Summer Hamilton’s stomach rumble. Sipping her iced water, she eyed the menu for the hundredth time. She knew exactly what she wanted because she was a creature of habit and loved chicken parmesan, but she held off giving her order waiting for her husband to arrive. Replacing her glass on the small white linen covered table, she twisted her wrist to study her Rolex—he was late, very late.

Surveying the various tables, she passed the time playing a game imagining the stories behind each group or couple near her at the popular restaurant where glasses clinked in celebration. She idly picked out a shy couple on a romantic date looking nervous, a couple celebrating their first wedding anniversary eyes glued on each other oblivious to their surroundings, and large families celebrating a birthday—all making memories. Rolling her wedding band around her finger, she wondered if tonight would be a good memory, a year from now.

 Organizing this evening was her last attempt to salvage her marriage, and yet again, she sat alone uncertain as to whether he would even bother to arrive. Pulling her phone from her purse, she clicked to check if there were any messages—nothing. Outside the rain splattered on the steamy glass window and people charged down the sidewalk carrying umbrella’s trying to avoid getting soaked.

Grab My Heart #19

TITLE: V.O.L.T.
GENRE: YA FANTASY

Throttled with grief from her boyfriend’s death, Seventeen-year-old Sam is given an opportunity to see him in an eccentric city called VOLT but as she sets out, with two other teens grieving lost ones, the lies that hold her life together sabotage her efforts to find him.

My fingers caress the nearest cloud to me. The wisps of cottony fluff are the gentlest texture imaginable. Beauty this resplendent is reserved for those who see the world in its true form - through shards of distorted glass, through shrieks of light and darkness, through chaos, and madness.

This is my existence. My reality is wrapped in white, soft all over, and a cacophony of sounds assault me. Yet, it’s silent at the same time.

A pink fleshed baby piglet wiggles its twisted tail to where I sit. My lips part in a strain to smile. Except the task is too great. My mouth collapses back to nothing as I sit perched on the billowy cloud.

A consuming pain shatters the peace around me. It’s a razor slicing through delicate skin, drawing crimson droplets so bright it aches to look away.

My cloud dissipates into a fine mist. I contemplate what’s before me.

I stand, nearly nose-dive to the wood floor in my living room, but straighten before I collide. With my long legs, I pace from the black sofa to the bay window overlooking the front of our house.
I peer out for the tenth time in the span of a few minutes. The lawn is bare and in need of watering. Dying from lack of nutrients and care. Weeds suffocate the delicate fuchsia flowers that once blossomed like proud exhibitions of beauty that once lay inside the house.

I’m hopeful Ryan’s beaten-up car will come spluttering to a stop in our circular driveway.

Grab My Heart #18

TITLE: The Case of the Cat Crazy Lady
GENRE: Adult Cozy Mystery

The Case of the Cat Crazy Lady, the first of a proposed series, is a completed 73,000-word cozy mystery featuring cat lover and animal shelter/Pet cemetery owner Cathy Carter.

After Buttercup Bend's "Cat Crazy Lady," Maggie Broom, is smothered to death in her home, Cathy is stunned to learn that the animal shelter and pet cemetery she co-owns with her brother Doug is the recipient of the bulk of Maggie's sizable estate. Cathy and her reporter friend, Nancy Meyers, set out to solve the murder.

Cathy stood before the tiny tombstone, a bouquet of spring flowers clutched in her hands. She bent down, tears in her eyes, to read the inscription: “Here lies Floppy, beloved cat of Catherine Carter. Until we meet again on Rainbow Bridge. 2003-2015.”

Placing the flowers on the ground in front of the stone, she wiped her eyes with a tissue she took from the pocket of her blue cardigan. Growing up with cats and dogs and now being part owner of a pet cemetery, Cathy was familiar with the deep pain of losing a special animal friend. The handsome gray and white cat she’d had since the age of twelve left special pawprints on her heart. She would never forget Floppy.

She turned as she heard a low rustle. Glancing behind, she saw it was Oliver, the elderly Siamese she adopted two years ago after his ninety-year old owner died.

Oliver approached on his cocoa paws. He let out a loud meow. It echoed through the quiet cemetery. She patted his head as he rubbed against her calf. She felt his touch through the legs of her jeans.

“What are you doing out here, Oliver?” She was sure she’d closed the door behind her of the small house she shared with her grandmother.

Grab My Heart #17

TITLE: KING BLUEBEARD
GENRE: YA Fantasy

A young seamstress works for pennies in an impoverished town bordering the Forgotten Forest. When the infamous Monk within the forest, discovers her magic, he strikes a deal with her to train with him. Arwei studies with two other students and realizes the Mage isn't who he appears to be. 

Arwei narrowed her eyes and widened them, trying to discern why there were so many various colored auras in the marketplace that afternoon. The light was blinding from the yellow orb in the sky and the scent of burning bread wafted through the air.

What was it that her stepmother had wanted her to pick up so desperately for that evening? Surely not Papa’s medicine. Arwei winced as she remembered how her stepmother had forgotten that her Father had run out of his herbs for his ailments. The doctors were not sure what Kinton had but they said he was not faring well and absolutely needed it. She remembered the stern voice of the doctor who peered down at them with raven eyes.  “If he does not get his medicine he will die within the month.”

           Arwei peered down the street, her thoughts elsewhere. The market of Shaolin was bustling that afternoon. Red-faced delivery boys raced through the throngs of people, their packages held high above their little heads.

Strange accents wrapped around her ears, slipping past her in silken robes the color of emerald. The neighboring town's inhabitants were there. Great. There would be plenty of street fights later.

"Scuse me Madam!"

 She peered to her left where a toothy old man winked at her. "What do you say you help an old man with a trick?" In his hands were dusty painted cards with symbols of the moon, sun, and dove.
"Not another mage's trick," Arwei waved her hand in the air between them, frowning.

Grab My Heart #16

TITLE: WINGFINGER
GENRE: MG Fantasy

To save Dragon Valley from human invasion, Wingfinger, a misfit dragon must find the strength to believe in himself or lose his beloved homeland.

     All summer, Wingfinger dreaded this day. It was the first session of his Level II training, and he’d be tested on his flying and fire-spewing skills. He’d rather stay home and read myth scrolls; actually, he’d even prefer to clean out the latrine, but training was mandatory.

     As soon as he arrived, his stomach in knots, he noticed an unsettling smell. The foul odor grabbed the scent glands on the roof of his mouth, and he covered his nostrils with his myth scroll. His long snout puckered. EW! Smells like rotten gryphon eggs.

      Branches crackled. A red and bronze figure moved in the forest surrounding the north end of the village green. He squinted and lifted his golden wing, straining to identify the oddity amid the dense trees surrounding Dragon Valley.

     Nothing.

     Wingfinger shrugged and stuffed the scroll back into his side-pouch. He straightened out his wings, puny even for a Wyvern dragon, and turned away from the thick patch of tangled trees. He inhaled deeply; the odor assaulted his nose and made his eyes water.

     Flap-flap. Flap-flap. Flap-flap. Three dragons looped and twirled above Wingfinger’s head. A long-snouted Dreki with backward curling hopper horns, dropped down and shot flames at the other dragons. Fireballs blazed through the air. A Colchian retaliated, his three tongues sputtering whirlwind flashes of fire as he bobbed his crested head.

     Wingfinger perked-up his ear flaps. “Hey!” He shook his longer wing to get their attention, but none of the dragons waved back.
  

Grab My Heart #15

TITLE: Lifelines
GENRE: MG Magic realism

Mel, living in a preternatural community hidden within the ordinary world, believes she’s an unskilled Middling until an encounter with a menacing Time Winder reveals she shares a weakened version of his gift. Can she rewind time to rescue her Middling mother who died when Mel was a small child?

The plaque on the door of the brownstone announced the office of Psychologist, Jerry K. Hutchins, PhD. Mel ran her finger across the raised raven below the doctor’s name. The Council trademark stared back at her as if to ask, Are you one of us?

“Dr. Hutchins runs a psychology practice for ordinary people when he isn’t busy testing Preets,” her stepmother assured Mel, for the third time that day.

When adults used the word Preet—a slang term invented by kids who wanted to shorten the tongue-twisting Preternatural—it sounded ridiculous. But Mel was too nervous to laugh right now. She glanced at her sneakers, dirty and beat-up next to Susanna’s shiny blue heels.

Her stepmother lifted the brass knocker, careful to protect her nails. Three taps echoed inside the house.

“No matter how this turns out, you’ll be fine,” Susanna said, as if Mel would be the one to melt like cotton candy in a rainstorm if she was deemed an ordinary middling. Almost all Preets discovered their gifts by the age of five. Mel was almost thirteen. No, this day was for her stepmother, not herself. Time for Susanna to face reality.

The door opened a crack, revealing a single bespectacled eye. Susanna gave the Preternatural wave—five splayed fingers that closed into a fist. Dr. Hutchins flung the door the rest of the way open. “Welcome to my humble office, Randall family!” He pumped Mel’s hand. “You, my dear, must be Melanie.”

“Mel,” she said.

Grab My Heart #14

TITLE: ORIGIN OF THE OTHERS
GENRE: Adult Science Fiction

After her sister is taken by a covert group of humans, a celestial named Essence avenges her by taking one of them, only to find that the human she captured may be the key to getting her kind off this wayward planet—a Beauty and the Beast meets Arrival retelling.

In two hundred thirteen years, Essence had never killed a human. The thought of ending such a delicate life brought on a crippling nausea. The back of her jaw clenched, rot gripped her throat. But now, shivering against the metal plank, weaponized vapors burning her lungs, she knew one thing—death came for all.

Down the concrete corridor outside her cell, a heavy door scratched at its hinges and rattled open. Soldiers dragged a woman along. The scrappy push and pull of resistance clanged in a lopsided rhythm. Someone limped. Maybe it was the captive, maybe it was one of the soldiers.

The unit stopped at an empty cell and aluminum batons shoved the woman in. A stifled sob escaped before the block door sealed with a hiss. Essence searched the vocals, isolating the rich timbre of the young voice. No. The new captive wasn't the one she searched for, the one that led her to this place, the one that got her caught.

Trudging past Essence’s two-way mirror, the soldiers headed out the opposite way. As she watched the grey figures leave, she couldn’t help the smile that tugged at her lips. They thought they were safe on that side of the mirror, hidden under the darkness of the barren hall. They didn’t know she could see them all. And after today, she never planned on seeing any of them ever again.

Grab My Heart #13

TITLE: Tides of Magic
GENRE: Adult Epic Fantasy

When the advent of magic allows former tyrants to lay siege to his kingdom, the wayward Prince Fabius is forced to choose between submitting to their savage rule or destroying magic itself. Of course, destroying magic means the loss of the lives of thousands of innocent subjects and the love of his life turned megalomaniac, Elena, who has delcared herself Empress.

Elena handed the child back his jeweled yoyo as a flash of yellow streaked past the window outside, a black jet of smoke trailing behind. Acrid fumes seeped in through the door.

Her auburn hair came undone as Elena pressed her face to the glass. At twenty-six winters past, she had handled many unpleasant people. But her heart pounded at the sight of the raucous mob gathered in front of the jewellery shop.

The flames crackled as smoldering embers of straw floated down. Elena picked up the two-year old and burst out of the shop. Fire shot though the thatched roof as two more torches landed. She clasped her mentor’s child closer.

“You can’t burn down the shop!” Elena shouted to the rambunctious crowd. “Have you people lost your mind?”

“Stay out of it, Elena. Dirma must pay for what he’s done.” Hogarth raised his left hand and waved her to move away.

Elena was not surprised to see the burly farmer among the mob. She looked around for a sympathetic face in the throng but icy eyes stared back at her. “He didn’t do anything. None of us know how all of this is happening,” she pleaded, wrapping her arms around the child tight.

“Tell that to Samuise Lothar.” Hogarth grabbed her free hand and pulled her away from the shop. “You didn’t have to look at the horror of his body turned to ice.”

Grab My Heart #12

TITLE: Invisible Me
GENRE: YA light SF

When Ana turns invisible and her genius best friend, Isaac, is kidnapped, she has seven days to find him or be invisible forever. They're after her next, wanting to extract the formula from her veins. She must free Isaac and get the antidote without falling into their hands.

Sneakered feet shuffled along the white tile floor as students lobbied for sinks to wash scorched test tubes and dripping pipets. Bunsen burners and beakers clattered to their places on supply shelves. The fluorescent light in the back of the room buzzed like a swarm of mosquitoes, and Isaac, my lab partner and best friend, scribbled conclusions on our lab sheet. His forehead creased with concentration.

That was my first clue something was wrong.

“Isaac? You okay? You look like you actually need to think about that.”

“I screwed up, Ana.”

I snort laughed. “How? Wouldn’t that be like Michelangelo messing up painting his house?”

“Not the lab. My experiments at home.” He lowered his voice. “I’m in trouble.”

I stared at him for a moment. “What do you mean you’re in—”

“Not now.” He slid the completed sheet to me and slung his backpack onto his shoulder. “I’m leaving early. Can you come over after school?”

I nodded, surprised he had to ask.

“I need to get ready. Come as soon as you can, okay?”

“Get ready?”

But the bell rang, and he was out the door before I was off my chair.

Thirteen minutes after school ended I pulled up across the street from Isaac’s house. He’d given me a spare key four years ago when we were freshman so he wouldn’t have to stop working to let me in. As soon as I pushed the door open, he called up from his lab.

“Is that you?"