Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Fricassee

Another tip of my feathered hat to you for your thoughtful critique.  Good stuff all around!

So I want to respond to several of your comments that suggested more in-depth query critique would be helpful; that hinted at the desire to offer more than one sentence--to go into more detail.

Some of you prefaced your comments with the equivalent of, "I know you're opposed to query critique, but..."

I'd like to clarify.  I'm not "opposed to query critique."  I would venture to say that I am a critique junkie, addicted to the solid fact that nobody's writing goes ANYWHERE without critique.  And that includes queries.

What I am opposed to is what I call the OVER-SHOPPED QUERY LETTER.  And I've already blogged about it here.

In short, opening a query letter to in-depth critique by a pool of critters, and then responding to as many of the suggestions as possible, runs the risk of producing a query that isn't really yours.  In the end, my view of the query letter is that it's a business communique (as I outline in Agent: Demystified), plain and simple.  Of course, unlike a business letter, it needs a HOOK, which is unique to the worlds of writing and film.  But other than that, it's a professional letter that hopes to initiate a professional relationship.  End of story.

Yes, we DO need feedback on whether or not we're hooking. But I'd prefer to err on the side of caution and not subject posted queries to the grist mill.

So please take a minute to read the almost-3-years-old blog post so that you understand where I'm coming from.

And have a MARVELOUS weekend!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A "Lurking Agent" Success Story!

It's been a few weeks, but I've got another success story for you!  Here it is, in author Sarah Brand's own words:

Hi Authoress,

I entered the Secret Agent contest in January 2011, with the first 250 words of the YA science fiction novel I had been working on for three years. While my excerpt didn't snag the attention of that month's Secret Agent, another agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, was unofficially reading the entries and asked to see my first three chapters. That partial request turned into a full request, which then led to two revise-and-resubmit requests... yes, two! The second round of revisions, in particular, involved some of the most intense manuscript surgery I've ever done. And, as any writer who's ever queried a manuscript can imagine, waiting to hear back after the "resubmit" parts got a bit agonizing at times. But all the revisions, and all the waiting, were completely worth it. My novel is so much stronger than it was, and last month, Joan offered me representation.

Given that Joan doesn't accept unsolicited queries, I would never have gotten in touch with her without you and your wonderful blog. Thank you so much for all you do to help new writers! You've created a wonderful community on your blog, and I am glad to be a (small, mostly lurking) part of it.


P.S. If anyone's interested, I'm posting about How It All Happened in a bit more detail on my blog... the first part is here, and the second part, about the revise-and-resubmit process, will go up soon-ish.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Public Slushpile Winner #5

GENRE: YA thriller

One of the first things I’d learned at Catholic school was that God had a purpose for everything. Sometimes, we’d been told, you couldn’t make sense of that purpose until you’d been around long enough and really thought about what it might be. Now, as I sat in the principal’s office looking at my hands (versus meeting the disappointed gaze of Mr. Mickford, or Father Mickford as he liked to be called) I wondered if I’d found my purpose in life-to really piss people off. Even the people who wanted to help me.

Father Mickford glanced at the book on his desk. My dog-eared, frayed copy of Jane Eyre, the one I’d marked up with an aggressive combination of yellow highlighter and ball point pen. He hadn’t opened the book to see the damage, which was good--how many detentions could I take? I watched from beneath my lashes as the light shafting through the stained glass windows turned his balding head into a veritable Easter-egg of green and rose and yellow, and waited for the fall.

“Mrs. Cole says you were very dismissive of the book.”

I shrugged. “ Didn’t like it.”

“Okay, well…there’s nothing saying you have to like everything you read. But she said…”

I knew what she’d said. But it felt like good form to ask. “What?”

He cleared his throat. “You said that the book was…um…masturbatory wish fulfillment for ugly girls.”

The words fell between us. I propped my chin on my hand, as if considering. “Yeah, well…”

“So you did say it?”

Of course I had. It was far too creative to have come out of the mouths of any of the other kids in the class…which was exactly the attitude, my mother liked to tell me, that got me into trouble time and time again. You think you’re smarter than everyone else.

And as for what was going on right now, there was no point in not confessing. “Yeah. I did.”

“Okay.” He nodded, the light playing on his head. “You do know that…you know what masturbation is?”

I didn’t roll my eyes, even though it was a struggle. “Of course. I went to public school, you know. Before I came here.” And I’d bet he was regretting his decision to take me in right about now. But wasn’t that what Catholics did? Faith, hope, charity, sacrifice, all that crap?

“Right. But…you know that Mrs. Cole runs a…a tight ship…and she doesn’t like hearing that…that kind of thing.”

I was sure she didn’t. Mrs. Cole looked like the stereotypical nun, even though she didn’t wear a habit-tall, whip-thin, with gray hair always pulled back in a bun. As far as teachers went, she was okay, but a lot of these ex-nun types looked like they’d faint at the sight of any exposed skin. “I’m sorry.”

“Okay. I’m glad.” He rested his hand protectively on the paperback, covering Jane’s pale oval face, her brown eyes.

Public Slushpile Winner #4

TITLE: Home Base
GENRE: Contemporary YA

As soon as the plane touches down at Awa Dance Airport, I feel my shoulders relax. Up until now, I hadn’t even realized that they were tense. Twenty-four hours ago, I was all bummed out about leaving my teammates – my “homies” – in Atlanta, disappointed that I wouldn’t be hanging out with Rico and Jamal anymore, and that I wouldn’t be third batter in the season opener.

But now, after three years in America, I’m back in Tokushima. I’m home. And even though I’ve never been to this brand-new airport before, everything looks familiar – the islands off in the distance, the palm trees waving “hello,” the flight attendants bowing as Okaasan, my sister, and I gather up our stuff and get off the plane.

I stride down the gangway, my duffel bag bouncing against my hip. I should be tired, what with the fourteen hour time difference and not sleeping on the plane, but I’m not. I could sprint to Baggage Claim, if I wanted to. I could hit a ball clear across the runway.

Momoko stumbles along behind me. She made a lot of friends in America, so she was really sad about leaving – maybe the saddest of all of us. Nobody ever tried to beat her up over there. She cried during half the flight. During the other half, she was writing in her polka dot-covered diary, or flipping through photos in this little album she had, no doubt reliving her glory days as Elementary School Science Fair Winner.

Just ahead, there’s a guy in a navy suit, chattering into his cell phone. To my left, a young mother talks to her little girl. And then there’s some sort of high school sports team, everyone in matching jackets, coming back to Tokushima from a tournament in Tokyo, I guess, and they’re all jabbering away in the local dialect. The weird thing is that I understand what they’re saying. Every single word.

I learned to speak English pretty well in America – better than Okaasan, almost as well as my brainiac sister and Otosan – but I still missed a lot of words. Even when people spoke loudly, as if I was deaf, or super slow, I only understood about seventy percent. I kinda got used to not understanding, so this is nice, for a change.

We go down the escalator to get our suitcases, and then through sliding glass doors, into the Arrivals lobby, where there’s a huge mural of festival dancers in pink summer kimono on the wall.

“Okaerinasai!” Welcome home! Otosan is right there to greet us. He doesn’t hug us or anything. Nobody hugs in Japan. But he smiles, and reaches out for Okaasan’s bags.

He came back a couple weeks ahead of us. Momoko and I wanted to stay in American school until spring break. That means we’ve already missed the entrance ceremonies at our new schools here in Japan. But it’s no big deal. Everybody’s Japanese here, so we’ll fit right in.

“Where’s Ojiisan?” I ask, looking around for my grandfather. I figured he’d be all anxious to see us. We live in the same house, so it’s not like my dad would have had to go out of his way to pick him up.

Public Slushpile Winner #3

TITLE: The Victorious Dead
GENRE: SF/Space Opera

“Where the hell is my ship, Skrankle?” Captain Vaslisha Tor Dain slammed the salvage dealer against the peeling office wall and pressed hard on his neck. She swore and stepped sideways as the putrid orange slime he oozed in self-defense crept towards her feet. If he ruined her second favorite pair of boots, she was going to do more than choke him—providing the smell that came along with the slime didn’t suffocate her first.

Vas was a simple sort of mercenary. All she wanted in life was her ship, her crew, and a good fight. Now this whimpering scum bag destroyed that. Her gut knotted up as worry and anger fought inside her. Anger was an old friend. Worry was far closer to a stranger and she liked it that way. Skrankle was getting to share all of her feelings first hand and wasn’t faring well from it. The dark blue patches covering his red fleshy cheeks couldn’t bode well for his continued survival.

Vas squeezed his neck tighter.

More orange slime dripped down the wall behind Skrankle. His left arm twitched out and tugged futilely at her hand. He got enough air to choke out a few words, “I said to you, Captain, Victorious Dead is in slip five. There she’s been all month.”

Vas increased pressure on his throat until he darkened at least two more shades, then let him collapse. She wiped her hands on her heavy brown duster. While not traditional starship mercenary garb, it suited her just fine. “Slip five is empty, Skrankle. You were supposed to fix her. Not lose her.”

The Ilerian gathered himself and slithered to his desk. He slurped into his chair with a heavy sigh and nasty sucking sound. The rustle of bureaucratic skill he demonstrated in calling up his vid-screen indicated he’d recover from her stranglehold. Unfortunately.

“Records of mine say the Victorious Dead docked here twenty-nine days ago. Scheduled decommission ten days ago…”

Vas pulled her heavy blaster free of its hip holster the instant “decommissioned” left his thin purple lips. “You ripped my ship apart?” The polished tip of her weapon found a home against his temple. The urge to pull the trigger made her mouth go dry, but the need to find her beloved ship forced her finger to stay still. An odd feeling slammed into her, starting in the pit of her stomach and clawing its way up to her throat. It took almost a full minute to recognize it as fear. She forced it back down.

Skrankle whimpered, and frantically pushed a few more buttons. “No, I’m sure there’s mistake— a mistake. Yes, yes. Mistake, I’m sure.”

She kept the blaster to his head and leaned over to look out into the space station shipyard through the slimy window of his office. Vas tried not to think what he’d done to the window to leave that light green ichors on it.

Public Slushpile Winner #2


“Hey kid! You, with the red hair. Yeah, you! We’ve got a creamed corn emergency on our hands! Get down to the storeroom and fetch me a big can, quick now!”

I’m Josh Brannon, the kid with the red hair. I had cafeteria duty, on account of an incident involving a wad of chewing gum and Patty Anne McGinty’s chair, which I had almost nothing to do with, no matter what that tattletale Patty Anne says. Mrs. Kuchen, the lunch lady, was waving a big, gloppy spoon in my direction.

The truth is, Mrs. Kuchen freaks me out. She’s as big as an offensive lineman and her face is always bright red and sweaty. Her uniform has these weird stains on it that are never the same color as what we’re eating that day. Plus, her hair net makes her look like an alien. I don’t think she likes kids much.
Mrs. Kuchen snarled, “Stop daydreaming, kid!” and I headed for the storeroom at the back of the kitchen.

The door opened with a creak, like you hear in horror movies. Serling Heights Intermediate School was built way back in the thirties. They keep adding on to it, so it looks like a bunch of different buildings stuck together. Kind of like Frankenstein’s monster. The cafeteria is in the oldest part of the school. The storeroom is about what you’d expect—cobwebs, damp stone walls, a sour, barfy smell. Yuck city.
I flicked on the lights and it didn’t seem so bad, not that I was scared or anything. A long flight of metal stairs led to a dark basement. Lunch Lady Kuchen yelled, “Move it!” and I took the steps two at a time.
It was cold down there, like I had descended a lot farther than twelve steps. Rickety shelves lined the walls. Cans as big around as hubcaps filled the shelves. There were boxes of instant potatoes the size of tombstones. I found the corn on a bottom shelf at the far end of the storeroom, where the ceiling got lower and a big, greasy stain covered the floor. Time for the Health Department to pay a visit, I thought.
Something else caught my eye. In one corner, half-hidden behind a cabinet that had sagged sideways, was a little wooden door. It looked way older than the school, which I knew was impossible. A sign on it read KEEP OUT. Underneath the sign someone had scratched a skull and crossbones into the wood, and beneath that THIS MEANS YOU! Now I had to see what was behind that door.

I dropped the canned corn and reached for the rusty handle. It turned, just barely, with a scraping metal sound. I pulled hard but nothing happened. I gritted my teeth, grabbed it with both hands and really yanked. Nothing. I was about to give up when I leaned against the door to catch my breath. It flew open, pulling me after it!

I tumbled through the air and landed with a plop in something soft and sticky.

Public Slushpile Winner #1

TITLE: Lifeweaver
GENRE: Fantasy

King Arlan had shown impeccable timing in getting himself murdered tonight. Talyn could think of no better excuse to leave one of his mother's insufferable dinner parties than, 'My apologies, someone assassinated the king, and I must go bring His Majesty back to life.'

But now, as Talyn and his bodyguard strode through the palace halls, anxiety prickled the air. Guards watched him with uneasy stares. Servants lingered in doorways, only to scatter like roaches when he glanced their way. He didn’t blame them for their uncertainty. He had become lifeweaver only a year ago, and self-doubt still churned in his gut. Especially now, before what would likely be the most important weave of his life. To fail would be akin to treason.

The tense atmosphere also spawned an unnerving thought: if someone truly wanted the king dead – permanently – then within the next few minutes, they would have to kill Talyn too.

And unlike every other person in Aronia, Talyn had no one to save him from death.

He shivered as he stepped through the dining hall's entry doors, enduring a sudden draft that carried the odors of citrus and blood. In every corner, shadows lingered. But so did royal guards – at least twenty, spaced evenly, like armored pillars wielding sword and spear.

Talyn murmured to his bodyguard, "How could an assassin slip past this many guards?"

Gariss, ever-vigilant, did not even spare him a glance. "Maybe some turned traitor."

The floor shook as the doors slammed shut behind them. Talyn jumped, and eyed the nearest guards. Their stern gazes judged him in return.

Shrinking closer to Gariss, Talyn fumbled with the pockets of his robe for the silver coin he always carried. When he withdrew it, the blessed trinket showed a pair of waning crescent moons. Again. The past few days, every time he checked his lucksign, the unlucky side came up. In the night sky, both moons waned as well. Ill omen atop ill omen.

"Siela protect me," he murmured, tucking the lucksign away. Continuing down the marble walkway, he faked a confident stride, but ended up feeling – and probably looking – as rigid as a boy on stilts. His lanky limbs and babyish face likely didn't invoke authority, either.

No traitorous guards or shadowy killers came for him. Yet.

He and Gariss marched between long, empty tables. The hall’s grandiosity would’ve appalled any commoners; they could have built themselves an oaken palace out of the hundreds of high-backed chairs. Talyn had dined here only once, during his official appointment as lifeweaver. The din of drunken nobles celebrating had made his ears ring. But tonight, the grand hall was a mausoleum. Only two sounds broke the silence: the subtle creaking of dozens of chandeliers, and Talyn's footsteps, thudding a chilling heartbeat.

On the far end, a wide dais lifted the royal table to prominence. This table, in turn, held up the remains of a small feast, a decanter of spilled wine, and a still, lifeless body: King Arlan.

Talyn made it halfway there before something invisible jabbed into his mind like steel raindrops.

Monday, March 26, 2012

On the Upcoming Critique (Public Slushpile)

The first 500 words from our top 5 queriers will post tomorrow morning.  I'd like to encourage as many of you as possible to jump in and critique at least 2 or 3 of them!

Here's why:

  1. Blog hits are OFF THE CHARTS during critiques sessions like this, but this isn't reflected in the actual number of critiques that appear.
  2. Which means that MANY are reading without critiquing.  
  3. Which is partly okay, because part of this exercise is to read and to learn from what others are saying.
  4. But it's also partly NOT okay, because I think maybe some of you don't feel like your critique will be "good enough" or that you "don't have enough experience" to offer words of wisdom.
  5. Folks.  This is the place to GET THAT EXPERIENCE. it.
  6. The ground rules are easy:  Be KIND and be HONEST.  In that order.
So...I hope to see many new names tomorrow in the comment boxes!  It's a diverse collection of 5 different genres:  YA Thriller, Space Opera, YA Contemporary, Fantasy, and Chapter Book.  Pick one or two--or all five--and have at it!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Fricassee

Another Friday, another request for your feedback on our latest contest.  (I think I'm finished coming up with new things for a while.  Yes, I think I am.)

Many of you proved it was difficult--nay, impossible--to limit your comments to one sentence! Some of you remedied this by coming up with gravity-defying run-ons the likes of which I've never seen.

Joking aside, you all did a WONDERFUL job, and I'm hopeful that our participants have a take-away that will bear good things as they continue to revise their queries.

So...shall we do it again?  What did you like/dislike?  Please share!

For my part, I'd like to share a little snippet I discovered on a message board, in regard to this contest and my ongoing mission to quell cheerleading and encourage honest, strong feedback. Disclaimer: This is not with an intent to embarrass, and it's being kept anonymous.  To understand the context:  PERSON #1 is asking PERSON #2 about her entry.

PERSON #1: Which title/name should we look for to vote YES?

PERSON #2: You should look for queries that hook you and vote YES for them.

I applaud you, Person #2!  Clearly you understand the value of honest feedback, and you didn't want to settle for anything less.  I suspect that Person #1 meant to encourage and support, which is something writers tend to be very good at.  But I'll say it again--critique is not for encouragement.  It's for GROWTH.

If I run another Public Slushpile, it will be with the understanding that it's not for going out there and canvassing for YES votes.  And really, I don't get the sense that that's what went on here at all.  The vast majority of you are here because you DO get it.

Have I told you lately that I love you?

So there you have it.  Thank you all for making my job here so easy!

May your weekend be filled with THE HUNGER GAMES, as mine will be.  (I mean, how could it not be?)  See you Monday!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Public Slushpile Winners!

Wow!  It was breathtaking to watch your comments flooding in.

Here are the results of your toil--the top 5 entries:

#5 -- Home Base
#13 -- Trapped in Lunch Lady Land
#16 -- Lifeweaver
#18 -- The Victorious Dead
#20 -- Guide Dog

Congratulations!  Winners, please email your first 500 words to me at facelesswords(at) (do NOT use the web form, as I will be doing these by hand).  Please include your TITLE and GENRE as per normal formatting.

I need your entries by Monday the 26th, as they will post first thing Tuesday morning.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Public Slushpile #25

GENRE: YA Near-Future Science Fiction

Dear Agent,

Untamable curiosity tugs at seventeen-year-old Ten’s ribs, driving her to be something, anything more than what BioLife Technologies created her to be. Such desires are absurd, of course. After all, Ten is a clone: biologically human, but deemed soulless because scientists conceived her in a Petri dish. Her only value is to fulfill her purpose as a subject in BioLife’s experiment to transform clones into living weapons. She exists to cause death.

Regardless, she risks severe beatings to sneak remarkable items from wardens’ purses, eavesdrop on doctors' conversations, and steal forbidden glimpses of the outside world. Her mischief pays off when a series of sudden explosions destroys her lab, providing her with the courage and wit to escape.

Rather than rainbows and giggles, freedom brings frostbite and an empty belly. With BioLife’s watchful eye everywhere, her survival appears grim. That is, until she meets science prodigy, Seth Adams. Seth offers her a new home, a new identity, a new life, possibly even love.

She also befriends Blaze, a free-spirited, fellow escapee. When she discovers that BioLife turned him into a human bomb, she risks her safe, comfortable life with Seth to help Blaze find the neutralizer that will prevent his impending detonation.

In their search, Ten and Blaze, discover that BioLife has thousands of victims. Without immediate action, the still-captive clones face certain annihilation. Blaze insists they mount a rescue. Ten is unsure. She’s nearly died twice. Secrets are unraveling her relationship with Seth. And despite their best efforts, finding Blaze’s neutralizer seems impossible. She’s soulless, an abomination—a task as grand as freeing all the clones feels unfathomable. Nevertheless, she’s their only hope.

Public Slushpile #24

TITLE: Brake Fluid, Blood and Body Bags
GENRE: YA Contemporary

No one who rides with Triss is ever in control, but calling shotgun means I get the best view of whatever chaos she’s driving straight into. When you sit up front, you share responsibility when things go wrong, but I don’t mind. I’d do anything for Triss.

Like today I’m helping her dump a body. Jackson’s body, her betting partner in their twisted game of manipulation. The only thing better than an unsupervised party where you can dance, drink and screw, is betting on who’s gonna get wasted and do something stupid. We just didn’t figure on anyone getting dead. Now, between Triss’ broken-down car, her crazy divorced parents, and the fact that we’re just a couple of dumb, broke kids who know nothing about corpse disposal, getting rid of Jackson keeps getting more complicated. Especially since I don’t know how much of it is my fault.

Sure, it wasn’t me who swung the Louisville Slugger that split his head open, but I was one of the main players at the game six months back when this whole thing started. By the end of the night, Triss won five-hundred bucks, Jackson cracked her jaw with his fist, and she stabbed him in the gut with a butter knife. It was a party. Things happen. But people aren’t like cards or poker chips. They have baggage. They get angry. They want revenge.

And now Triss and I have to clean up the mess before his parents get home.

Brake Fluid, Blood and Body Bags is a 60,000 words Contemporary YA which hops between three timelines: the present, the night Jackson died, and the party six months earlier.

Public Slushpile #23

GENRE: YA High Fantasy

Dear Brilliant Agent,

Since you are seeking YA high fantasy with a gothic twist, I hope you'll consider my novel SUNCHILD, which contains quite a lot of ensorcelled darkness, some mullioned windows and sweeping moors, and of course, a romance.

Sixteen year-old Siria Nightingale has never seen the sun.

In the gothic kingdom of Terra Volat, the queen’s enchanted Darkness has reigned supreme for over fifteen years, covering the land in clouds and shadow every day and night. But never having known anything different, Siria has had no reason to question it... until now.

When her ordinary physical appearance changes to reflect the vivid characteristics of the sun she has never seen--freckles, hair like fire, eyes that burn with gemstone brightness--Siria is forced to accept an impossible truth: that she is a sunchild, a creature whose power comes through sunlight, and whose existence is irrevocably tied to the sun. But Queen Iyzabel has made it clear that the sun is unwelcome in Terra-Volat, and that anyone linked to it is a threat to the kingdom that must be removed at all costs.

And so Siria flees.

Pursued by soldiers with a price on her head, Siria journeys into the wilderness with her best friend Linden and a group of renegade companions. As they make for the safety of the rebel camp in the north, she must cobble together the tenuous fragments of her identity to make something that will endure. Because there is more now at stake than just her own life, and if she cannot summon the strength to defy the force that has shut the world in the dark and claim her powers as a sunchild, she may lose the people she loves most, and condemn an entire kingdom to a darkness without hope of redemption.

SUNCHILD is complete at a few dollops under 93,000 words.

Public Slushpile #22

TITLE: Vis Decor: Alphi
GENRE: Epic Fantasy

In an underwater village, the only thing missing is justice. No one supports the dark-skinned Greys except seventeen-year-old Pure, Alphi McClure—and her call of equality is about to set tempers ablaze.

Once the villagers attack Alphi for her beliefs, she flees to her uncles’ city in the hope for refuge. The place is teeming with life, and Alphi’s heart soars --a big city means big ideas, there can’t be any age-old racism here. But when her uncle brutally tortures a Grey, he pushes Alphi aside, and she can do nothing but watch --until the Grey rebels attack her own family. And when they do, she joins them.

Her uncles’ enemies become her true family, and the rebels’ base her true home. This should be her dream. Yet when war is declared, Alphi’s rash decision to join the rebels comes back to haunt her. The two sides hunger for blood, and deciding which family to kill will leave Alphi torn apart. The war with the rebels is nothing compared to the war with herself, and unless she picks a side, both will only end in death.

Public Slushpile #21

TITLE: The Story of Laurel Blue Stone
GENRE: Contemporary YA

Laurel Blue Stone rarely leaves the Zuni reservation except to go to school. Seventeen and she hasn't even kissed a boy. She hasn't wanted to until today, when she meets Cal Trillig, a Park Ranger, on a New Mexican mesa. The only hitch is Cal is white.

Besides, her parents have already promised her to Navajo Reddington Cornudas. Laurel senses his bad medicine but her parents, unaware of his criminal record, meth habit, girlfriend and baby, insist on the match. Laurel is unaware that Cornudas has convinced her parents that his father saved her father's life years ago, and now they owe him Laurel. She dutifully obeys and dates him. Her best friend, Dinah Blackbear, who is in love with Laurel, acts as go-between for Laurel and Cal, and unwilling chaperon for Laurel and Cornudas.

Soon, Cornudas shows definite signs of being unhinged and abusive, just as Laurel feared. Restraining orders and a 300 mile move fail to stop this guy from ruthlessly pursuing, abducting, shooting, and dragging her across the desert. If Laurel cannot outsmart this sadistic mad man, she fears she will not make it out of the desert and her teens alive.

Public Slushpile #20

GENRE: YA thriller

Fifteen year old Irene’s got problems. Being skinny, homely and acne-prone is just a small part of what’s making her miserable, but thanks to the girls in high school it’s the biggest thing in her life. Sometimes it seems like the world (including her mother, sister and former and current schools) have rendered their verdict-she’s a mess with a capital M.

But when her mother insists she take a summer job, she finds herself working for Cyrus Wozniack, a scientist who spends his hours running DNA samples and using them to create serums, pills and creams for the purpose of transforming the recipient. And he’ll let Irene sample his wares. The only caveat is that she has to be his collector, which means traveling with Cyrus’s creepy son to collect DNA samples. Okay, it’s a little weird, but it seems harmless. At first.

But when two of her targets turn up dead, she begins to realize just where her usefulness lies. Not so much as a collector, but as a guide dog. And with that realization comes another-she can use her newfound role to get back at her tormentors. But will the price prove too high?

Public Slushpile #19

TITLE: A Light in the Window
GENRE: YA historical

Seventeen-year-old Catherine McBride has a head full of modern ideas and a heart full of love for the mysterious new farmhand Patrick, neither of which gives her strict family any pleasure. Rumors about Patrick’s past as a drifter swirl and she is forbidden from socializing with him. But Catherine’s instincts compel her to go against all warnings, and even her own responsible nature, to meet with him secretly.

When a gang of criminal vagrants and three mysterious messages endanger not just Catherine and Patrick’s secret love, but also his reputation and her safety, Catherine realizes the worst thing she can do is let fear keep her silent. It falls to her to bring everything she knows about Patrick to light before an innocent man goes to prison, the true criminal gets away, and another victim is found dead.

A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW is set during the Depression era and is complete at 66,000 words.

Public Slushpile #18

TITLE: The Victorious Dead
GENRE: Space Opera

Vaslisha Tor Dain is a mercenary starship captain with a few simple rules: A good ship is better than a great man; in case of confusion always err on the side of blowing someone's head off; and never fall for a telepath or a member of her crew. And All of those are about to bite her in the ass.

Vas’s life takes a turn for the worse when she comes back to her crew after what should have been a two week pleasure trip to find out she’s actually been gone a month and has no memory of missing time. Her beloved ship, The Victorious Dead, has been sold for scrap and its pieces scattered throughout the galaxy. Plus, there are mysterious, unmarked ships blowing apart entire planets and the Commonwealth government can’t, or won’t, stop them.

And even worse, she may be falling in love with her telepathic second-in-command.

Public Slushpile #17

TITLE: Savage Light
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Dear Agent,

Fifteen-year-old Gwen has never traveled away from her rural, border town. She has never seen a city or magic, never known love or even friendship. She is an orphan, isolated by cruel guardians and a stutter that leaves her silent or ashamed. She is beat down, laughed at and tormented.

Someone even tries to murder her. For fun.

But all this changes when a savage voice only she can hear incites her to fight back, unleashing wildly destructive magic she didn’t know she possessed and turning her into a murderess on the run. She's thrust out into the world, barely able to speak and haunted by her freakish ability to slaughter people--and worse, the savage voice inside that enjoys it.

When her first and only friend, Ehrlich, is captured by her pursuers, Gwen is determined to rescue him. Unfortunately she is attacked by footpads and her only key to Ehrlich’s rescue is stolen. Gwen convinces a lighthearted young thief named Kit to help her steal the items back--the first time she’s ever talked anyone into anything.

It’s a good thing Kit likes dancing with danger because around Gwen, the music never stops. She's still wanted for murder, hunted by angry thieves, and planning on invading a gang’s hideout.

Oh, and if she loses her temper, she just might blow up the whole city.

My young adult novel SAVAGE LIGHT is complete at 92,000 words.

Public Slushpile #16

TITLE: Lifeweaver
GENRE: Fantasy

Dear [agent],

A year ago, Talyn inherited the gift of lifeweaving: the ability to transfer any affliction, even death, from one person to another. By healing the nobility and punishing the wicked, he believes he lives a righteous life – until one assassination hones his gift into a political weapon.

When the king dies to a foreign ambassador’s blade, Talyn saves his liege's life by weaving the death back onto the supposed murderer. In the process, he discovers the twisted truth: the king plotted his own death, exploiting Talyn’s abilities to incite a war.

Overwhelmed with guilt, Talyn cannot bear to stay silent. But when he seeks allies in ousting the king's plot, he only finds more conspirators. Worse, he has drawn the attention of a desperate outcast who needs Talyn's power to save his family – and is willing to kill to get it. Talyn's only salvation hinges on the one person who will listen to him, and who might protect him from the schemers tearing him in all directions: a young, stubborn zealot named Serra.

Unfortunately, her name is next on the list of murderers slated for execution by his hand.

Public Slushpile #15

TITLE: The Hidden
GENRE: Upper MG Fantasy

Dear Mr. Agent:

Dagny’s life as a social outcast is cemented when her mom’s bloody vision of the most popular girl at school comes true. But its her mom’s next vision – the death of her dad – that changes everything.

With her dad presumed dead, Dagny and her mom leave spiteful neighbors and vengeful classmates behind and return to her mom’s childhood home. But Alyria is not just a normal city on the other side of the island. It’s a hidden city that the elves created to teach humans to become like them. Soon Dagny finds something she’s never had before – a group of friends who prove to be valuable allies when she starts having visions of her own.

Following an attack on Steinn, one of the city’s leaders, the people of Alyria blame the elves and demand their exile. Amid the chaos, Steinn accuses Dagny of being an elf sympathizer and threatens to have her sent back to the human world with her memories of Alyria erased. Desperate to stay in a place she has grown to love and with people she cares about, she tries to expose Steinn as a traitor, but instead unleashes a creature who could cost her more than just her memories.

I am pleased to submit for your consideration my upper middle grade fantasy, THE HIDDEN, complete at 66,000 words. THE HIDDEN is inspired by legends passed from one generation to the next by my Icelandic ancestors about a group called ‘the hidden people’.

Public Slushpile #14

TITLE: Dead Like Me
GENRE: Mystery

Dear Ms. Snark:

In my mystery novel, Dead Like Me, Homicide Detective Kate Springer discovers she has something in common with the thirteen-year-old female victim in her latest case—the man the teenage girl cleaned house for is the same man who molested Detective Springer as a child.

Kimberly Callahan, the teenage victim, cleaned house for a neighbor to earn some extra cash. During the course of the investigation, Detective Springer’s partner brings this man into the precinct during a routine interview. Watching from behind the two-way mirror, Detective Springer is stunned when she realizes this is the same man who abused her for six years of her childhood. Too fragile from the experience, she never publically accused Roger White of the abuse she’d suffered. Now he’s in Tampa living under an assumed name. But at age seventy-five, Roger’s in poor health, and Detective Springer doesn’t know if he’s even capable of murder. She finds herself at a crossroads—keep Roger’s true identity a secret, thus ensuring her own secrets stay buried, or reveal everything hoping it will bring her closer to catching the Callahan killer.

Public Slushpile #13

TITLE: Trapped In Lunch Lady Land
GENRE: Fantasy

A creamed corn emergency in the Serling Heights Intermediate School lunch room sends Josh and Patty Anne to a strange, exceedingly messy secret world. They soon realize that survival in a land made completely from cafeteria food is not a piece of cake.

These former adversaries grudgingly form a team as they battle the whirling blades of the skybeater, brave the molten cheese geysers of Nacho Valley and scale the frigid heights of Neapolitan Mountain on their quest to learn the secrets of Lunch Lady Land and make it back home, gravy-splattered but alive.

Where do lunch ladies come from, and do they really have wings? Can you swim through Jello if your life depends on it? Just why does cafeteria food taste so bad? TRAPPED IN LUNCH LADY LAND. a chapter book complete at 14,500 words, answers these questions and many more.

Public Slushpile #12

TITLE: Right Under Their Noses
GENRE: Historical

RIGHT UNDER THEIR NOSES is an offbeat historical novel (72,000 words) set during the creation of Mount Rushmore, through the Great Depression and on into America's post-World War II euphoria.

At nineteen, Pêche and Ernie marry under George Washington's chin at a time when his face is the only one carved on Mount Rushmore. Pêche prefers a hardhat to the pillbox hat of the day and loves a good fight. She tangles with the Rushmore bosses over working conditions that force Ernie to suck granite dust into his asthmatic lungs. She battles doctors over their treatment of his illness and, as the years pass, questions why she can't get pregnant. To pay these doctors, Pêche fights to sell her own presidential artwork—some find it offensive—at the foot of Rushmore.

When Pêche hightails it for the top of Abe Lincoln's head to greet the aliens during Orson Welles' 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast, the townsfolk blame her for the hysteria that follows when Ernie jokes that she's been abducted by Martians. When Ernie dies and Pêche is finally pregnant, Ernie's parents use her spirited and sometimes misguided forays as leverage in a legal battle for custody of her baby. This is one fight Pêche is not about to lose.

Public Slushpile #11

GENRE: Contemporary YA

Seventeen-year-old Audrey thinks having a hooker for a mother means her life can’t get any worse. Audrey saw how men treated her mom. Like shit. So, she doesn’t really think they’ll treat her any better.

When Audrey’s mother is murdered, she’s sent to foster care. She is separated from her sisters, and has to go to a new school. And for sure her new foster family won’t let her go out with Zach. Eh. That’s probably better though. She was only going to go out with the creep to piss her mom off anyway.

Then Audrey meets her foster brother Caleb. He makes her feel different—weightless, free—like she’s worthy of love. Somehow, all of her problems melt away when he’s around.

Zach shows up at Audrey’s new school, pissed that she won’t go out with him. When he sees her with Caleb, Zach corners Audrey. A thick vein pulses in his forehead as he makes sure all of her new classmates hear him call her a whore. “Like mother, like daughter,” he yells. Then, in a much lower voice, he adds, “And you know what happened to her.”

Public Slushpile #10

GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Seventeen-year-old Selina Kane always knew she was different, but never imagined she was last-living-necromancer different. Not until she starts speaking the language of the Underworld and visiting Acherusian Lake in her dreams. And then Blake storms into her life, claiming to be her bonded protector and making her blush and stumble over her words. Blake warns Selina about Ciara, queen of the undead. Ciara has gained ground in the world of the living, and it isn’t a secret that she feels threatened by Selina’s return.

Before long, the undead attack and Selina watches helplessly through the only spell she can conjure – a protective shield – as Blake is dragged away in her place. Selina assumes the undead have murdered him and she turns to the necromantic powers she hardly knows how to use, risking her life to search for Blake in the Underworld. But Selina doesn’t find his soul resting peacefully in Acherusian Lake. Blake’s been transformed into one of the undead, and the guards of the Underworld expect her to find and destroy him.

Selina doesn’t care what the guards’ idea of her duty as a necromancer is; she’s determined to get Blake back in one piece. There is one spell, one that would save Blake’s soul, but she’d have to kill him to use it, and worse, transform him into a ferryman for the Underworld. There may be other ways to save him though, if she's willing to make dark alliances with the undead. Selina knows she shouldn’t, but with Blake’s life in jeopardy, the line between good and evil starts to blur.

Public Slushpile #9

TITLE: Dark Sight
GENRE: YA Paranormal

16-year-old Seraphine knows what death's like. In fact, she experiences it every time she touches anyone. If only she had listened to her brother about ignoring the visions, then maybe a Berserker (think Mr Hyde) wouldn't have crashed the party resulting in more than one casualty and they wouldn't be on the run - again.

Trying to stay hidden from every oogie boogie isn't easy, especially when Seraphine starts seeing the deaths of students at her new school. This time she’s not going to interfere with her visions, she swears. But that's impossible. Apart from the incredible guilt she's feeling knowing they're going to die, they don't die. Now she has to find out what is bringing the students back without letting her brother find out or he'll probably lock her away for life.

Together with cute and protective J.C. and rebellious Toby, who may or may not be dead, she has to discover why the dead are walking. Along the way she will uncover the truth about her curse and find out why the three Fates are stalking her.

If Seraphine doesn't find out what is happening at school and dodge the Fates her vision of her own death might just become a reality.

Public Slushpile #8

TITLE: White Lies and Friendship Ties
GENRE: Middle Grade Contemporary

Dear Ms. Agent:

Twelve year-old Connor discovers a good-bye note from his mom. He panics at the thought of living in a foster home, and so begins an adventure drummed up by his two friends, Caitlin and Juliana. They hide him out in an old carriage house, so no one will know that she left. Connor’s life in hiding creates challenges way harder than running a 10K race though, like figuring out if his dad, who died last month, is really talking to him, or if Caitlin thinks about him like that, too. Connor’s mom may never come back and for the first time, the finish line is nowhere in sight.

When Connor is tempted with an offer that may help him make the JV track team, he must decide if it’s worth lying to the girls, the only real family he has left—or worse being found. His decision forces him to see what’s really important, but it may be too late. A nosy classmate lurks, and if the girls can’t keep her from figuring out where Connor is, then he may be taken away from his mom anyway, and the trio’s pact may break for good.

Public Slushpile #7

GENRE: Mystery

Former embedded war reporter, Quindley Dempsy, has raised a mountain of cash to build a high-tech rehab clinic for treating injured combat veterans. When a body drops from the rafters during the clinic’s dedication, she sets out to nail the bastard who killed her friend, the chief finance officer of her mega-bucks foundation—and score a monster story to salvage her career.

But Quindley’s news director assigns someone else to cover the murder investigation. She ignores the lard-ass, who wouldn’t know a solid lead if one bit him in the sporting goods section, and discovers a gang of computer hackers who are hijacking injured vets’ identities to loot her fund. Things get stickier when Quindley receives a microchip gizmo from one of the hackers before he is killed.

Plunging into a murky sea of high-stakes computer hacking, Quindley uncovers proof that the Hack Pack has unleashed a toxic computer worm designed to punch holes in government firewalls and embezzle from its largest coffers, a move that will rock the national treasury. Armed with crazy interviewing skills, a penchant for interfering in police investigations, and a six pack of Diet Mountain Dew, Quindley risks everything—her career, her reputation, even her perfect manicure—to expose the bigger scheme and show her boss she still has the goods.

Public Slushpile #6

GENRE: YA Paranomal

Dear Agent,

There’s a thin line between love and hate – even when it comes to guardian angels.

In the five years since her dad died, LeeAnne has learned to stick with what she knows: school, piano and afternoon runs with her best friend, Glen. That way she doesn’t have to deal with the harder stuff, like what happened to her dad after he died or why she should forgive the drunk driver that killed him.

Then Kellan shows up.

Of course he’s gorgeous—what angel wouldn’t be?—and he answers all her plaguing questions. That’s an irresistible combination, and maybe it’s crazy, but she can’t help falling for him. Too soon, though, the dream she’s living becomes a nightmare when she learns the reason Kellan is assigned as her guardian: before his life as an angel, he was the drunk driver.

Life gets even more complicated when LeeAnne turns to Glen for help in picking up the pieces of her broken heart and life. As she clings to his stability, she suddenly sees him as more than just the friend she's grown up with. Leaning on his strength, she must choose whether to rebuild the fortress around her heart, this time strong enough never to be hurt again, or to somehow find the courage to let go of the past and embrace the freedom forgiveness can bring.

Public Slushpile #5

TITLE: Home Base

Fifteen-year-old Satoshi Matsumoto spent the last three years living in Atlanta where he was the star of his middle-school baseball team - a slugger with pro potential, according to his American coach. Now that his father's overseas assignment has finished, he's moved back to his hometown in rural Japan but he no longer fits in. Living abroad has changed him, and his old friends are suspicious of his newly acquired foreign ways. They also don't get why he's suddenly hanging around with the mysterious Misa, who is rumored to be earning money through dating older men. As if that's not bad enough, his grandfather, who's suddenly obsessed with his pet seal robot, doesn't seem to remember him.

He joins the baseball team at his new high school in Japan, confident that he can help them get to the National Tournament at Koshien, an event on par with the Super Bowl in the U.S. His new coach, however, is more concerned with his poor bunting than his superior batting skills. He perseveres, but just when he begins to bond with his teammates, his frustration comes to a boil. He punches the pitcher, whose father happens to have underworld connections, for insulting Misa, and gets kicked off the team.

Satoshi must find a way to make amends (and avoid getting pounded to a pulp), or go back to America to live with his former coach, abandoning the friends and family who need him the most.

Public Slushpile #4

GENRE: Paranormal Fantasy

Dear Authoress,

When God goes AWOL, the race to take over the throne causes the righteous demon Liam to become more than an amused bystander. The lead contender is Liam's sworn enemy, the archangel Gabriel, whose tactics are far from angelic.

Liam was satisfied to travel the Midwest on his motorcycle, secretly saving more souls than he condemned, while Gabriel threw rejected-child tantrums. He was beginning to suspect the archangel was the outcast of his heavenly family less because he wore Liam's demonic mark across his chest, a gift from their last battle, and more a result of Gabriel's annoying personality. Holding a grudge against Liam for over a century was proof of that.

If Gabriel makes a real grab for power, everything Liam holds dear is at risk: his position, his life, but most importantly, his centuries-old, hidden relationship with the angel Mikael. The positive influence Mikael's had upon Liam's morals will mean nothing if they're found out.

Determined to use Liam's dead body as a stepping stone to the throne, Gabriel's chosen soldier for the task will be trained by the best teacher in Heaven—Mikael. As Liam watches Mikael struggle to decide how far he can go to protect his lover while also serving Heaven, Liam must save him from having to make the choice. Their relationship has weathered many threats, but this one might destroy them from the inside out.

Public Slushpile #3


Being a runaway was never part of his plan. Neither was breaking up his family. As eighteen year old Mateo works to build a safe existence for himself and his mother in Austin, Texas, he wonders if he did the right thing. It had seemed cut and dry when he fled his Mexican drug cartel family even as gunshots were being fired on their estate. But now, as he hires security he is not sure is up to the task and listens to his mom cry herself to sleep, he is not certain. And when beautiful and fragile Blake begins to steal his heart, he finds himself in a race to protect the two women he loves most in the world from both real and suspected threats. He can’t delete his past. He must conquer it.

Flee is a YA suspense/romance novel complete at 94,000 words. It is part of a planned trilogy with the working titles Flee, Find and Fulfill. Flee is told from the alternating first person perspectives of main characters Mateo and seventeen year old Blake. Combining murder, mystery, suspense and romance, as well as a glance into the tragedy of the drug wars ravaging beautiful Mexico, Flee is a fast paced and engaging read in the style of current popular YA fiction such as Beth Revis’ Across the Universe.

Public Slushpile #2

TITLE: Blame It on Vegas
GENRE: Category Romance

Dear Miss Snark’s First Victim,

To fulfill her grandmother’s only — and possibly last — wish, an aimless screw-up blackmails a driven-to-succeed veteran into obeying their long-ago (and nearly forgotten) Vegas wedding vows. Neither is prepared for what happens when acting married turns into the real deal in "Blame It on Vegas," my 60,000-word Harlequin American contemporary romance.

Gwen Duvall is a constant disappointment to her family, except her grandmother. Now, she has a chance to make her grandmother proud, if Gwen can just convince her “husband” to help out. Former Air Force pilot Ross Collins is struggling to save Lyons Industries when Gwen shows up and insists that their divorce (after a quickie Vegas wedding) wasn’t legal. She says she’ll take half of his company unless he pretends to be her husband to please her grandmother and to earn the respect of her family. Ross can’t risk the company he started to honor the man who died saving his life. The agreement the couple come to is immediately challenged by sharing the “honeymoon” RV at a family reunion. Then his company gets swallowed by another, while her grandmother nearly dies. To make it through each crisis, Gwen and Ross turn to each other until they realize that their quickie wedding has become a lifetime of love.

Public Slushpile #1

TITLE: Calista
GENRE: Historical Fiction


I’m writing to you seeking representation for my novel, Calista.

Calista Hall wakes one morning to find her servants gone, her bank accounts empty, and a debt collector knocking on her door, demanding whatever she can give as compensation. Against all social expectations of a once-wealthy woman of the times, Calista takes a job as a seamstress with a family friend. When she finds this isn’t as profitable as she thought, Calista posts an ad in the local newspaper for boarders to fill the empty rooms in her large manor by the sea. Days later, Nathan Ridley shows up on her doorstep, a man with a mysterious past and a mute boy brother by his side.

As a love that neither of them expected blossoms, Calista must maintain the home she loves, the ailing father she was left to care for five years before, and her status as a wealthy woman.

Taking place over six months in early 1870s New England, Calista is a 90,000-word historical novel of a wealthy woman turned poor, who all at once is trying to keep her family together, battle the expectations of her station, and finding herself falling in love at the worst possible time.

Here Comes the Public Slushpile!

A quick recap of the query evaluation rules:

  • Each comment needs to begin with YES or NO, followed by one sentence (one!) explaining why.
  • One comment per reader.
  • Comments that do not begin with YES or NO will not be included in the final tally.
  • The 5 queries with the most YES responses will be invited to submit their first 500 words for critique.
  • Because this contest includes public voting, entrants are NOT encouraged to participate in the commenting.

As for your "yes" and "no" reasons:  Try to encapsulate the main strong or weak point of the query into your sentence so that it is as helpful as possible to the author.


NO.  I could not determine what the main conflict of your protagonist is.

YES.  You've taken a tried-and-true premise and given it a unique twist that makes me want to read more.


NO.  Your main character's name reminds me of my ex-husband.

YES.  Wow! Awesome! I read this before and I've also line-edited your manuscript twice, as you know (hee hee!), so of COURSE you also already know that THIS QUERY ROCKS and you're the BESTEST!

Have fun! Voting will be open until 9:00 am EDT on Thursday.  Winners will be announced later that morning.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Winners for Public Slushpile

Winning numbers have been drawn for Public Slushpile and the owners have all been emailed their entry numbers.

If you didn't get an email, I'm sorry- that means your ticket number wasn't selected.

Here is the complete list, so you may double check:
  • EGQ421OZ as ENTRY #1
  • JGKQO3V9 as ENTRY #2
  • H83SILJI as ENTRY #3
  • 79WFMU6Z as ENTRY #4
  • DB61Q9CK as ENTRY #5
  • V4MAHJSY as ENTRY #6
  • C2HU75E5 as ENTRY #7
  • 2V46RD7D as ENTRY #8
  • Y0OXFX2F as ENTRY #9
  • QSGT70OT as ENTRY #10
  • FLR2K4A5 as ENTRY #11
  • ZJ0UB10T as ENTRY #12
  • 2F4T2XOL as ENTRY #13
  • 488810JX as ENTRY #14
  • JV983X8P as ENTRY #15
  • NM4X2AVT as ENTRY #16
  • 9MPMEWPQ as ENTRY #17
  • PZPFM05I as ENTRY #18
  • WX5Z4UHY as ENTRY #19
  • 2RYYMBHJ as ENTRY #20
  • S5H58HOE as ENTRY #21
  • 8P72PUX8 as ENTRY #22
  • 47NIO3ZJ as ENTRY #23
  • MGJ2HNSZ as ENTRY #24
  • V52GDN3S as ENTRY #25
The alternates are:
  • 9FW4P9UK as ENTRY #ALT-1


Okay, I'm on a roll here -- must be the collective effect of springtime and gelato.  At any rate, I've come up with a new idea that will hopefully lead to some more, in-depth critique here on the blog.

It's called PUBLIC SLUSHPILE!  And that's exactly what we're going to create.

Get ready to faint:  I want you to submit your QUERY LETTER.

*pauses while people faint*

But wait!  This is NOT a query critique.  You know I don't like those.  Here are all the details:

  • Submit your query letter, MINUS PERSONAL DETAILS, to the web form at MSFV.THOUGHBIN.ORG
  • All genres except erotica are invited.
  • Since this is a brand new contest type, everyone except the 5 winners from our FIRST LINE GRABBER may enter, for obvious reasons.
  • The submission window will be open from 1:00 to 9:00 pm EDT today.
  • This is a LOTTERY.  At 9:00, the Authoress Bot will choose 25 entries at random.
  • These 25 entries will be posted to the blog on Wednesday morning.  (Please note: I will delete any personal information that may have slipped through. Stick to the meat of the query!)
  • Queries will be read and evaluated by our readership according to the rules below.
  • The top 5 queries will be invited to submit their first 500 for public critique.
That's the gist of it!  If you're ready to embark upon the query path--or if you're already in the midst of all that--and you would like the opportunity to see whether your query can hook us enough to secure some critique on your first two pages, this contest is for you!

  • Each comment needs to begin with YES or NO, followed by one sentence (one!) explaining why.
  • One comment per reader.
  • Comments that do not begin with YES or NO will not be included in the final tally.  (Because I value my eyeballs.  I need to be able to skim through the comment boxes and make quick counts.)
  • The 5 queries with the most YES responses will be invited to submit their first 500 words.
My hope is that the YES and NO explanations on these queries will help the authors to determine the efficacy of their queries and, if improvement is needed, to lead to effective tweaking.

Sound good?  Questions below!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Fricassee

You know, the comments on yesterday's blog post are worthy of a post of their own. If you haven't read them, you're missing out!

Thanks for sharing your hearts and your journeys, folks.

Aside from that example of your wonderfulness, will you give me some final thoughts on our first-ever First Line Grabber?  Did the guest agents' feedback line up with your own opinion on the excerpts?  In general, did the 500 words of our winning entries live up to your expectations of their first lines?

We'll definitely do this again--but when we do, is there anything you'd do differently?

And here's my chance to publicly thank Jodi Meadows and All the Gracious Agents who offered their time and expertise.  On behalf of everyone here--you are appreciated!

Next week we'll have a nice in-house crit--it's been a while.  In the meantime, happy weekend!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

On Writerly Camaraderie

I've gushed countless times about the community here at MSFV.  Today I'd like to broaden that gushing to include All of Writerkind.

Well, perhaps not all.  But it remains true, to a large extent, that writers as a group--as a community--are kind to and supportive of each other in a way you don't see in other industries, or even in other branches of the fine arts.

True, there's something about the geekiness of "all musicians/thespians/ballerinas/artists together" that creates a special kind of community for each of these.  As a music major at a small, liberal arts college, I experienced the "small family-ness" that came with being a part of the music community there.  We all KNEW each other.  Those of us who were serious about our instruments were ALWAYS IN THE MUSIC HALL.

The doors to the practice rooms had tiny windows in them so you could peek in to see who was practicing (though, you usually knew, anyway, by the instrument and repetoire; the school was that small).  When I wanted to have a serious, non-interrupted practice session on the piano, I would tape a piece of notebook paper over the window so nobody would bother me.

Of course, those who loved me most would barge in, anyway--they knew it was my Mozart or my Brahms or my Beethoven coming from behind that door.  Once, a friend brought me a sandwich from the snack bar because he knew I wasn't going to stop practicing to eat supper (he was right).

It was my favorite kind of sandwich, too.

That kind of community, I think, dissolves when you move to higher levels.  At a top-notch music school crammed with Very Talented People, the level of competition is going to be a lot higher.  Cut-throat, even.  The biggest competition at my school was getting the best piano in the practice wing (And boy, did I get angry when another piano major stole my room!)

The same goes for dance and theatre.  At lower levels, there's more camaraderie than competition, except for those occasions when, for instance, two or more divas are vying for a coveted lead role in the high school musical. At a professional level, though, this competition becomes so fierce that, honestly, I don't know how people survive it.  (Have you ever watched a documentary on professional ballet dancing? It's almost frightening.)

In the non-arts world, competitiveness often outweighs camaraderie, too.  While there certainly exist those groups of people who are truly supportive and in it for the "us" instead of the "me", in the end it's an each-man-for-himself world.  We all know this; many of us strive to swim upstream and not live life this way.

Yet you have this wonderful cross-segment called "Writers", who seem to instinctively and collectively live life this way. And it doesn't change as the writers morph from "newbie" to "on my way" to "agented" to "published". The support and encouragement and cheerleading and book-buying and back-patting continues.

And I believe it's sincere.

If we thought about it, we could create a you-against-me atmosphere pretty quickly.  Both querying the same agent?  She's mine!  Both published by the same house? My book will sell more!

But it doesn't happen.  It really doesn't.

Perhaps the journey itself creates this phenomenon.  Aside from the occasional, overnight super-success story, we all slump our way through the valleys and over the hurdles together, and those who go before us help lead the way, even though our personal twists and turns will differ.  Then, as we turn to look over our shoulders, we see those who are coming up behind us, so we offer our own brand of wisdom and help and you-can-do-it-ness.

It transcends everything, too.  Gender, age, race, socioeconomics, religion.  When we are together, we are, simply, writers.

What's your take on this?  Why is it, do you think, that writers are so universally supportive of each other?  Why does this community feel so much safer than a lot of what's out there?

If only we could bottle this and apply it to every other portion of our lives!  I'm so thankful to simply be a writer.  To simply be a part of all this.

Something tells me that you feel the same way.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

FLG: #5 500-words

TITLE: The Center of Gravity (WIP)

I believed in the healing power of parking garages. Every time my Camaro and I came to this particular one, I liked to take a minute to let it all seep into me: the darkness, the subtle rocking of the floor, the scoffing retreats of a couple hundred cars. It was the perfect place to have a secret.

Today, though, I didn’t have the time to do anything more than suck in my breath a few times. With my lock kit and Conspiracy File #157 in hand, I left my car at the street level and descended two floors to what someone had inexplicably named the Yellow Level. I went straight to a familiar red Toyota Corolla (not actual red, but the muted, brown-corrupted red that parents see as being an attractive color for a car) without stopping to indulge in my usual game of peeking around pillars and corners for the presence of a secret informant. It was only a good game to play when I wasn’t burdened with any other guilt or worry and could clear my mind long enough to imagine that I was taller and older and about to solve the mystery of Watergate. For now, my mission was clear – I needed to break into this Toyota to look for a few documents that I hoped had not been lost to the ages. My chances weren’t so good, because I’d known for years how messy my mom kept her car. Hands shaking, I started in on the front door lock.

Click, click, click, and go.

The usual piles of notes and receipts and checklists were stuffed into various cup holders and pockets. An appointment card from her grief therapist’s office trembled on the dashboard – her next visit was a week from now. No reason she’d be there today. I had been to see the same guy a couple of times, and there was no way a sane person, grieving or not, could stand to see him more than twice a month.

Three lunch receipts. She ate a lot of tuna fish sandwiches.

Dad had often talked about the tedium involved in research. It was true. He had spent at least ten years of his life delving into the far corners of the universe of President John F. Kennedy assassination theories, with me at his side as his research assistant for the last five years of this endeavor. Between the annual trips to the convention near the assassination site in Dallas, there were long weeks of reading books on ballistics and Communism. If JFK’s lunch receipts had been preserved for public scrutiny, we would have gone through those, too.

The glove compartment produced one thing that could have meaning: an envelope with Dad’s handwriting on it. For the FACT, September 1, it read. I picked this up by the corners and slipped it into the file folder as gingerly as I could. Maybe no one else had touched in since last September.

FLG: #4 500-words

TITLE: Aligned
GENRE: Literary

I almost married Christopher Bailey. I loved him: his inability to whistle yet refusal to stop trying, his propensity to hiccup when inebriated, and the relative ease he could rattle off every statistic about Cal Ripken, Jr. It should have been no surprise that he proposed at a baseball game, in front of thousands of people with the two of us imposters of ourselves on the big screen, but I never saw it coming.

It was the last Sunday in August with an unrelenting sun overhead. Chris and I held hands despite the sticky sweat coating our palms. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the shortstop's bat connected with the ball. Home run. I missed the play entirely, I was too busy pondering how baseball diamond was a misnomer since the baseline angles created a perfect square. “Great hit,” I mumbled to Chris. The next batter struck out, thundering music signaled the end of the inning. Chris flagged down the beer vendor. We toasted our plastic cups together, I was in the middle of my first sip when he grabbed my arm. Beer spilled onto my lap, drizzled down my leg and puddled into my flip-flop. “Look!” He pointed to the string of bright blue words scrolling across the giant television screen–

Amelia, will you marry me?

He was on his way down to one knee, never mind the peanut shells and beer. I could feel the crawling sensation of so many eyes on me. Us. There we were on the screen. My shoulders were redder than I thought, sunburned, but the rest of me was too pale. Who was that girl? His hands shook as he opened the box to reveal a diamond perched on a yellow gold band. I hated yellow gold. How could he not know that? He grabbed my still wet hand and I suppressed the urge to pull it out of his grasp. My head felt like a balloon, detached and threatening to float away. He wanted an answer, needed me to say something but when I opened my mouth it refused to cooperate. I had no idea what to say. Yes? A hard, sharp knot in my stomach told me different.

He leaned in, so close I could feel his warm breath on my ear. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” I whispered. When he sprang up from his knee and wrapped me in a hug I realized, he thought I meant yes to everything. He pushed the ring on my finger. People around us clapped. The mascot, a large oriole with vacant eyes, wandered over to dance. The diamond glittered in the late afternoon sunlight, staring at it made my whole body ache. Two weeks later in my hospital bed, this is the moment I would replay over and over in my mind. By then I couldn't stop calculating the various permutations of what if, obsessing over how every small choice and one “almost” had changed everything.

FLG: #3 500-words

TITLE: Le Petite Mort and the Heart Table (WIP)
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

As Death’s apprentice, Dede was fairly certain she never should’ve been short listed for the next Goddess of Love opening, let alone selected for the position. She shuddered at the thought of having to tell Death the news.

“Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”

Aphrodite reclined on her throne, her hard gaze never wavering from Dede’s. “The Council of the Heart Table has spoken. You will be Astarte’s replacement.”

Dede drew in a deep breath and uncurled her fists. “I’m not Semitic. I can’t replace her.”

One blood-red brow arched up. “Oh, do you now know who your mother is?”

She held back a wince. “No. But I’ve never felt an affinity when their rituals are performed.”

Aphrodite’s fingers tapped against the golden apple crowning the armrest of her throne. “Our understanding is you have never shown affinity for any of the pantheons in particular. Besides that of your father’s line, you have shown reactions to the rituals performed for members of the Council. You are our only option.”

Dede closed her eyes for a moment, gathering together the chaos stirring in her center. She forced it into the tiny space she reserved for things she had to deal with at a later time. The space was getting a wee bit crowded of late. With Death’s latest contract, even the illusion of sleep had been taken away from her.

She played her trump card. “Death will never let you take me.”

“In matters of Council appointment, Death has no say. We recognize you have a duty to perform for him, but you will be a member of the Council. The next meeting is in two days.”

“Why are you even bothering with bringing me on board? The Semitic Pantheon is nearly extinct. No one will notice if Astarte’s not replaced.”

Aphrodite’s gaze turned icy and she sat up straight. Dede remembered too late the Council Chair’s reputation for viciousness when people crossed her.

Dede smiled. Her face may have cracked a bit, but she smiled. “Two days. I’ll be here. May I please be excused?”

The hourglass sands in her head streamed off a minute before Aphrodite gave her response. It was a wave of the hand, but Dede turned tail and scooted out of the Council’s chamber. She would have ran, but that would have been undignified. If there was one thing Death had taught her, it was to always be dignified.

The crowd at the elevators had her switching track to the stairs. The pitch black stone lining the walls of the United Councils Building made the stairwells almost everyone’s least favorite place in the world. The only light that survived in them was from Hellmouth torches. She took the stairs in measured strides, wishing her power for teleporting wasn’t blocked along with natural light. Three floors down, through an archway into the light and she was back in the lobby. She hurried over to the far corner only waving as people called her name.

FLG: #2 500-words

TITLE: The Alterae
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Emma hadn’t slept in three days. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw the river again. Saw her again.

She shuddered and forced herself to watch the mourners gathering around the grave at the base of the hill. The black-clad figures clung to one another, finding comfort in knowing they didn’t mourn alone. Comfort Emma couldn’t share. Even from where she stood at the crest of the cemetery, their shock and grief and anger pounded against her.

The wind shaped Emma’s dark hair into softly waving tendrils and she brushed them away from her face with the back of her hand. She shifted and the frozen dewdrops clinging to the grass crackled under her feet.

Emma knew she should join the other mourners. She knew they expected her to share in their public display of sorrow.

But she couldn’t.

The slightest touch, the slightest betrayal of emotion and she would lose everything. Even a hug, meant to console, could send her spiraling out of control.

She remained frozen, a silent witness to their grief. She saw everything in stunning clarity, the delirium of her sleepless nights drawing details into sharp focus. The lurid green carpet covering the hole in the ground and the cold, dead coffin that held her best friend. The dull, grey sky burned in her mind. Overwhelming sorrow surrounded her, but she refused to absorb any of it.

Her silence, more than tears or anger, terrified her parents. Not that she blamed them. She’d never handled loss well. When Alex left, she’d nearly self-destructed. And he’d only moved away.

Lily was dead.

Unbidden, an image rose before her. She squeezed her eyes shut to block out the vision, but the nightmare remained. Lily under the river, a modern Ophelia caught in the current. Her black, empty eyes stared at nothing. The golden strands of her hair spread around her like the rays of a halo in a Renaissance painting.

Lily screamed, shattering the serenity of her watery grave.

Emma fought against the panic radiating through her chest. It was just a memory, a confused, broken memory. The scream wasn’t real. It couldn’t hurt her. She repeated the words drilled into her brain. It’s not real. It can’t hurt me.

She’d almost learned to believe them.


But this time it was real. Lily had drowned.

If only Emma had said something. If only she’d reached the river a minute earlier. If only –

A muffled sob broke through Emma’s guilt and drew her back to the cemetery. Lily’s mother leaned against her ex-husband as they mourned together, united in something stronger than whatever drove them apart. This was real. Their grief was real. She refused to let the nightmares win again.


Alex eased his body into the kitchen and closed the door behind him. He held his breath until the deadbolt slid into place. His eyes darted around the darkened room, illuminated only by the pale green of the florescent lights under the cabinets.

FLG: #1 500-words

TITLE: Gallop
GENRE: YA paranormal

When I was a little girl Dad insisted monsters couldn’t get me so long as one person in the house loved me. Mom was always more matter-of-fact: she said she’d shoot them before they could make a move. I never believed Dad—Mom packed more credibility since she had a gun tucked against her hip most days.

That was when Mom being a cop was a good thing. These days I worried more about her ticketing me for reckless driving. Believing in monsters was something I’d outgrown, like Santa Claus.

My scooter, a seventeenth birthday present from my parents, buzzed closer to the restaurant where I was due to pick up my best friend Noah. The speed limit was thirty, but I was pushing fifty. The Tern, in all its tourist-attracting crap, popped into view when I turned the corner. Surfboards, old nets, and plastic crabs swayed in the frigid, salt-scented wind. With the first fingers of winter creeping over Long Beach Island, it felt like I’d never get the chill out of my bones.

When I pulled into the parking lot, Noah waved from his favorite position: slumped against the front wall. His twin brother Rick was digging in the trunk of the ancient car they shared.

“Mac! How’s the convent? Feel like home yet?” Noah asked after I’d powered down the engine. Rick slammed the trunk closed at the same time. The sound crumpled over the blacktop. It was a quiet morning other than the squawk of seagulls and rush of waves a block away.

I slid off the helmet. “It’s not a convent anymore.”

“Doesn’t matter. That place is creepy as hell. I can’t believe your parents insisted on moving into it. It’s like living a horror movie or something.”

“Try staying there. I thought I was going to get frostbite. We slept in the living room last night because the place is so dirty. Doni and Kara are helping Mom clean right now.”

“How’d you get out of that?” Rick asked. He pulled on a jacket and leaned next to Noah.

“Dad needs help putting the fishing boat to bed for the winter, so yeah. I’m sure I’ll pay for it, though. I’ll bet Doni and Kara get the good bedrooms.”

Noah laughed. “There are good bedrooms in a convent?”


“I know, I know,” Noah said. He pulled a stocking cap over his close-cropped, dark hair. “It’s not a convent anymore.”

“Well, it’s not.” Even as I said it, I could hear my defensiveness. It was a convent—it looked like one, and it even had a weird, musty smell that reminded me of nuns. Or what I imagined nuns smelled like, since I didn’t know any. And a heavy, awful feeling lurked in the corners. “I guess if you’re going to be a nun, it was a good place to live—right on the bay.”

Noah eyeballed me. “Yeah, in a freaking fortress.”

First Line Grabber: Final Critique Round

Here we go!

Please feel free to leave your critique at any time during the remainder of this week.  And keep your eyes out for critique from author Jodi Meadows and participating agents, who will be using their real names in the comments.

As always, please avoid snark while staying honest.

And?  A round of applause to our 5 winners, who are probably feeling a little naked right now.  May this critique round produce WONDERFUL things for you!

Monday, March 12, 2012


This month's winners are:

#2 -- sWITCH
#10 -- Must Love Breeches

The prize:

Ms. Webber is offering a 30-page critique!  Winners, please email me for specific submission instructions.


Secret Agent Unveiled: Carlie Webber

Warm thanks to the helpful, shoot-from-the-hip Carlie Webber of the Jane Rotrosen Agency for being our Secret Agent this month!

Carlie's Bio:

Carlie Webber refused to major in English in college because no one would let her read Stephen King or R.L. Stine for class. She took her love of young adult and genre fiction to the University of Pittsburgh, where she obtained a Master of Library and Information Science, and worked as a YA librarian and reviewer for publications including Kirkus Reviews. Wishing to explore her interest in the business side of books, she decided to switch from librarianship to publishing and enrolled in the Columbia Publishing Course. Now she works for the Jane Rotrosen Agency, which has represented authors of general-interest fiction and nonfiction since 1974.

What Carlie's looking for right now:

· Any and all YA, whether it’s sweet and charming or terrifying and edgy.

· Horror for all ages

· Mysteries with a twist, such as paranormal elements (like Charlaine Harris) or humor (like Janet Evanovich)

· Character-driven thrillers with franchise potential, like those from Jo Nesbo, Michael Connelly, and Tess Gerritsen

Thanks, Carlie!  Winners forthcoming.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Fricassee

So it's probably a good idea to talk about next week a little bit.

On Monday, we'll have our Secret Agent Unveiling and announced winners, as usual.

On Tuesday, I will post the five winning entries from our First Line Grabber.  Each entry will be the first 500 words, and will be open to public critique.

Did I mention there will be Eyeballs?

Because, yes.  Agents will be dropping by to critique.  They'll be signing their comments with their real names, so you'll know who they are.  Their critiques may pop up at any time over the course of several days, so keep checking.

You know how wonderful it is to compare your own thoughts on a piece with those of an agent, yes?  So there you have it.

Also?  The imitable Jodi Meadows will be critiquing, too.  And aside from knitting beautiful mitts and writing incredible stories, critiquing is one of the things she does best.

(Ruthless and beautiful.  That's Jodi.)

I think I've just made our five winners very nervous. *grin*

And that's where we're headed!  As for me?  I've decided to rip into my recently completed draft and start revising.  Because I can't STAND the in-between times.  (As in, "in between" projects, "in between" steps, "in between" what's happening now and what's going to happen next.)

I may turn grumpy over the next few days as I tear apart what I've just lovingly created, and get stuck in the staring-until-my-eyes-dry-out zone.  But I promise to take it out on Mr. A instead of you.

Okay, not really.  I'll eat extra chocolate instead.

See you Monday!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

March Secret Agent #50

TITLE: Roots and Treetops
GENRE: Women's Fiction/True Life Novel

Margo’s stomach dropped when she saw the green sign ahead - Tulsa International Airport - exit one mile. Gulp. No turning back now. Her husband had one hand on the steering wheel and the other on her knee. “You ok?” he asked.

“What if I forget something?” she asked. Margo riffled through her backpack and pulled out the ticket. “I can’t find my driver’s license.” She threw up her arms. “I can’t find it. I can’t go.”

Casey parked in front of the airport entrance and unbuckled his seat belt. “Calm down. It’s in there...somewhere.” He pulled it from Margo’s hand. “It’s right here.” “Where?” she exclaimed. “In you wallet - where else?” Margo grabbed her chest. “Thank God!” She took his hand and squeezed it. He smiled. “It’s going to be great. She’s not a stranger.”

“I know - but this time it’s different.” She wrung her hands. “We’ll be face to face.”

"Hey, look at me. You’re going to be fine.” He told me the same thing ten years ago when we stood at the altar. He hasn’t let me down yet. “Besides, you can always hide in your hotel room if things go to hell.” Margo held her breath. He grabbed the door handle and grinned, “But trust me - they won’t.”

"Right.” She opened her door. “It’s going to be fine.” She chanted. “Everything is going to be fine.” Still scared to death. This isn’t just anyone. It's her - the woman who gave her life and the woman who gave her away.

March Secret Agent #49

GENRE: YA Historical Thriller

I never thought of myself as a criminal. Just a girl trying to stay one step ahead. That wasn’t easy in a business dominated by men, most of them bullies, scoundrels, or thieves. I met plenty who were all three in my racket, which was bootleg whiskey. Not your ordinary summer job for a teenage girl, I suppose, but the last thing I wanted to be was ordinary.

“Tiny! Delivery!” Aunt Marie shouted. I’d come out to the alley behind her neighborhood grocery store to sneak a smoke, but I had one foot wedged in the door to the stock room, where I was supposed to be unpacking boxes of Kellogg’s Shredded Krumbles and Toasted Corn Flakes. After one last drag on my cigarette, I threw it down into the dust and ground it out with the heel of my scuffed black oxford. I hated to waste half a Chesterfield, but deliveries meant tips—and tips meant tuition money. After a quick glance in each direction to make sure nobody had seen me, I slipped back inside.

At the counter, Aunt Marie was filling two brown paper sacks with groceries. “How many boxes did you unpack?”

“Um, two.” I slipped off the white Gianetti’s Market apron and hung it up behind the counter.

“That’s it?” As I got closer to her, she picked her head up and sniffed the air. Her brown eyes went beady. “Have you been smoking again?”

“No,” I lied. “One of Daddy’s customers was, and I was helping to load his car."

March Secret Agent #48

GENRE: YA Sci-fi Thriller

My uncle was only 152 when he died, but five hundred people showed up for his funeral anyway. The throng around the grave seemed much more interested in what designer outfit everyone was wearing than honoring his memory, though. When anyone did remember Uncle Devin's corpse, rotting away in its fine mahogany box at the front, it was only to cast a scornful look in his direction.

I knew exactly what they were thinking.

What a loser.

Hey, it made sense. I was his only nephew, and I thought he was a loser too.

I picked at a loose thread on my suit pants as the funeral reader started in on the list of accomplishments.

Sorry, Uncle Devin. No matter how much Dad paid this guy, I'm not buying it.

His only accomplishment was being born into the same family as my dad, and everyone knew it.

"Then, when he was only eighty-three," the reader intoned, "Devin left home to make his way in the world."

Beside me, my mom snorted. I had to hide my own smile. When his parents kicked him out, Uncle Devin had gone straight to my parents. He spent the next seventy years living in their house, sponging off them and chasing one get-rich-quick scheme after another.

Dad gave us both a stern look. I forced my face into a solemn expression. He knew everything coming out of the reader's mouth was bull****. After all, he was the one who threw Uncle Devin out six months ago.

March Secret Agent #47

TITLE: The Meaning of Orchids
GENRE: Women's Fiction

I was born healthy–technically. The doctor told my mother he had never seen such a well-developed baby girl. Ten fingers. Ten toes. And, as we later discovered, something else. My mother wanted a girl; my father, a boy. They both got their wish.

These thoughts bang around my mind as I step out of the shower and peek at my naked body in the partially fogged mirror, my 36 DD breasts and hairless vagina—the body parts that suggest I’m a woman. But as I run a towel in tight circular motions across the surgical scar on my stomach, I feel less like my adapted gender.

I slip on a sleeveless black dress, apply a stroke of mascara, and dab on a lick of lip gloss. With every move toward preparation, I second-guess my decision to attend tonight’s event. It’s not any place I want to be–not in the mood I’m in. Feelings of dejection, confusion, and loneliness are unwelcome guests to a party.

Not that I’m not grateful for a night of superficial happiness. To the colleagues and clients who’ll be at the party, I’m normal–an average woman who can grow pubic hair, menstruate, birth babies, and pass gender tests. In some ways, I’m better than normal: I move with a ballerina’s grace and my statuesque body is the perfect accessory to any kind of clothing. I stand eye to eye with most men while my breasts compete with those of Playboy centerfolds-only mine are real enough, and close enough, for men to touch.

March Secret Agent #46

TITLE:  Fiáin
GENRE: YA Fantasy/Romance

The sharp intake of breath burned like icy razors scraping down my throat. I shot up in bed gasping for air and fought the scream dying to break free. It vibrated under the surface like an itch I couldn’t reach. The blankets hugged my body claustrophobically and my surroundings were unfamiliar in the dim light. I fought with legs flailing before my brain clicked to ‘rational mode.’ The old green wingback housing a multitude of sock monkeys greeted me. I was in my room, I was safe.

My heart pummeled my chest as if trying to break loose. The frantic thump-thump pulsed in my ears and forehead. My sweat-damp sleep tank clung to me and goose flesh tingled along my skin.

I untangled G-ma’s colorful quilt from my legs and wrapped it around my shoulders. Shaking from head to toe, I pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes, squeezing out remnants of the horrible dream. The same dream that had begun six months ago. Get a grip, girl.

The digital clock on my nightstand read 6:12am. I reached into the nightstand drawer and pulled out my composition book while trying to slow my breathing. After the third occurrence I started documenting. Without opening the book, I knew I would be logging entry number forty-two.

The first time had been just after Christmas break. It had scared the crap out of me. Still did. Nightmares were not my thing. This dream was different.

March Secret Agent #45

TITLE: The Brothers and Sisters of Interesting People
GENRE: Literary Fiction

Abby knew it was a bad idea. But despite that, or maybe because of it, she sat down with Jan de Graaf and let him talk at her. Jan came to the café perhaps once a week, but more often he invited her to do interesting things, explore parts of Amsterdam she’d never visited, and most importantly he always paid. She assumed that he was probably working up to sleeping with her; she’d constructed a narrative in her head already, an indie film with hints of intrigue. She wasn’t averse to it – he was certainly attractive, and interesting to be with, and that alone justified a night together – but there was something about him that gave her pause, something unsettling enough that she might have refused an invitation up to his room. She could have talked herself into a casual thing with little effort, but he seemed to be building a relationship first, and that was what Abby emphatically did not want. Anyone who went around impersonating his twin brother was not emotionally stable enough for a fulfilling relationship.

It was when he introduced her to his friends before trying anything that Abby decided with some relief that they wouldn’t end up dating. They went to a bar with a dance floor, a narrow space connected to a single square room full of hammering music. Abby sat with Jan and drank two vodka tonics before any of his friends arrived.

March Secret Agent #44

TITLE: Voice
GENRE: YA Magical Realism

If you could speak to your stepsister, what would you say?

I reread the reply to my post on the Selective Mutism support message board for a third time. Across from me, Jessica flipped a page in her Cosmo magazine. My fingers hovered over the keyboard, waiting for my brain to come up with a response to Ursula89’s question.

My original post had been buried under eleven months worth of parents bragging about their children’s single word responses to teachers’ questions. Ursula89 must have had a lot of time on her tentacles to scroll through them all and comment on my plea for help. If she could do that, I could come up with an answer.

The train conductor came up the aisle before I figured one out. He stopped at the table Jessica and I had taken over on the way out of Hartford. “Getting close to Penn Station, girls. Better start packing up.” Jessica nodded without glancing up, so I got his intrigued smile. That wouldn’t have mattered, if he hadn’t followed it up with words. Always words. “You know, you two’ve sure got a lot of luggage for a day’s shopping. Whatcha heading into the city for?”

We’re spending the summer, I thought. Of course, the words didn’t come. I tried to part my lips. Blowing air through them would be step one, the way my therapist had tried to teach me a hundred times. My mouth stayed shut, like I’d applied a layer of Gorilla Glue instead of lipgloss.

March Secret Agent #43

TITLE: Diamond Tears
GENRE: YA Fantasy

When my left temple slammed against the handle of the refrigerator door, I was surprised by how much it hurt. It had never occurred to me that such an ordinary thing could cause so much pain. My vision blurred to a whitish haze for a couple of seconds, and I took that opportunity to go limp, dropping to the floor. Not because I needed to—no, I could take much more than that without going down. But because he lost interest when he thought I was out for the count.

“Emma?” my father muttered, shoving the toe of his three hundred dollar shoe into my side. I didn’t react in any way. He cursed under his breath, and I heard the sounds of his footsteps reverberating through the floor as he walked away. “Grace!” he shouted as he moved toward the back of the house. “Emma fell again and hit her head! She’s in the kitchen!”

I could hear the murmur of my mother’s voice, but couldn’t distinguish any words. Not that I needed to. Oh, poor, clumsy Emma, always hurting herself. Of course I’ll go help her. Why don’t you relax and have another glass of wine, dear? Even if that wasn’t what she said, it was close enough.

Thanks mom.

I heard the door to my father’s office slam, shortly followed by my mother’s hurried steps. I waited long enough to make sure he didn’t change his mind and come back, and then picked myself up off the floor.

March Secret Agent #42

GENRE: YA - Supernatural

Josh ran hard down the alley until the stitch in his side forced him to stop. He bent over and tried to will away the pain. Deep breaths.

He listened for the sound of approaching footsteps. It was hard to hear anything over his gasping. He dared not rest long. The sharp prickling in his abdomen continued. His gym teacher had always said to 'run through the pain.' But, he wasn’t here right now.

No one was.

Never before had Josh been happy to be alone when he was down a dark alleyway in the middle of the night. In fact, he was praying that he was alone.


He whirled and raised his fists. "Who's there? Leave me alone!" His heart beat lifted the T-shirt away from his body in drumming twitches.

There was no one in the alley but him. Josh turned and stumbled in a circle - arms flailing at nothing but the night air.

“Josh.” The voice spoke again – this time in a sweet sing-song mimicking a child’s rhythm. “Jaaw-osh.”

The voice was anything but childish.

"Where are you?" Josh screamed. He couldn't locate the voice. He twisted so violently that he over-balanced and fell to the pavement - scraping his knee right through the jeans.

“Why do you run? Come wih us?”

"Leave me alone!”

Josh realized – too late – that he had made a terrible mistake. He had chosen an alley with no way out except the way he had come.

A dead-end.