Thursday, May 31, 2012

Market or Heart

Yesterday, off the cuff, I posed a question on Twitter for writers:  Do you write from your heart, or do you write for the market?

Not a single person said, unequivocally, "For the market."

Not.  One.

There were some responses that blended heart with market in the way only a seasoned or well-informed writer could express.  But everyone else said, without apology, "MY HEART!"

Truly, that's what we're told when we're starting out.  "Write what you know.  Write what you love.  Don't try to be a trend-chaser.  Don't write for the market, because by the time your story is ready, the market will have changed."

There is wisdom in that.  If we want others to be passionate about our work, then we must be passionate about it.  And how can we be passionate about something we don't love?

And yet...

The market is a very real monster.  It might not want anything to do with what we love.  Even if we write what we love really well.  Even if our critique partners and teen readers and spouses and next-door neighbors and hostile family members and agents all LOVE what we've written.

We might still get chewed up and spat out by a market that isn't friendly to our genre.  Or, more common these days, that is saturated by our genre.

It's called GENRE FATIGUE.  And it stinks.

So, what's a writer to do?  I suppose it depends on what a writer wants.  And that still doesn't make for an easy answer, because if a writer wants to be published, but everything that writer loves and breathes and bleeds for isn't what the market wants...then what?

Should the die-hard adult fantasy writer force himself to crank out a middle grade adventure?

Does a love for paranormal romance need to give way to contemporary YA?

Do those of us who adore dystopian above all things (alas!) turn away from the stories that make our hearts soar?

Must we redefine our hearts in order to become truly publishable?

Or do we press on, following our hearts, writing what resonates with our souls, willing to ride out the market for as long as it takes for our turn in the sun?

Where does art separate from business?  And how?

No, I don't have an answer for you.  Because this is an intensely personal decision each aspiring author must make on his own.

Where do you stand?  What is your dream, and what will you do if your dream's trajectory isn't lining up with your heart?  Will you morph, or will you doggedly cling to what you've always loved best?

As always, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Success! Success! It Keeps Happening!

Here's another wonderful success story for you, from the author herself:

I was terrified to enter my first Secret Agent contest, submitting the intro to my Ancient Egypt historical fiction in February 2010. I thought it was good, but looking back... not so good. Around the same time, I started querying. 

But the feedback from the agents was all the same.

The writing is good, but it didn't grab me.

I was ready to throw my computer out the window when a writer friend and another agent gave me some stellar (albeit painful) feedback. I revised again and finished just in time to enter the first ever Baker's Dozen contest.

I got a partial bid! Then, a couple months later, another agent made an offer of representation!

A dream come true, right?

Not so much.

Before anyone skewers me, let me tell you I did jump up and down for joy and might have squealed in my classroom a few times. (Fortunately not when there were students around. That would have been awkward.) The offering agent wasn't one I'd actually queried, but instead someone another agent had passed my manuscript to. And while he had a number of sales, they weren't in historical fiction, and his client approach was the opposite of what I was looking for.

But after a year of querying, I so wanted an agent. Fortunately, my amazing writer friend gave me the smack upside the head I needed. (He was very nice about it).  I declined the agent's offer of representation and started a new book, even though I felt like banging my head against the nearest wall.

Fast forward to December 2011. I told myself Book #2 had to be finished for the 2nd Baker's Dozen Auction. I barely got it finished in time, and was accepted to the auction. Yay! Then I started querying, happily surprised at the number of requests coming in.

Then there was a bidding war for my book the day of the auction! Shortly after, I received an amazing email from Marlene Stringer asking for the full, and then came her amazing offer of representation.

And now the best news, hot off the press (or, er... Publisher's Marketplace)!

Stephanie Thornton's THE SECRET HISTORY, in which a theater tart-turned-Constantinople's premier courtesan must decide what's more important: pleasing the emperor who claims to love her or keeping the son he can never know about, to Ellen Edwards of NAL, at auction, in a three-book deal, for publication beginning in 2013, by Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Literary Agency (World English).

4 years. 2 books. Countless bowls of peanut butter chocolate ice cream.

I learned two things along this roller-coaster ride. First, be brave. You've got to put your work out there, even when the very thought makes you want to move to some distant mountaintop where you'll never have to see another human again. This is a great blog to do just that--Authoress runs the absolute best critique contests I've ever seen. And second, never, evergive up, even when you want to curl up and die. Rejection isn't permanent (and I'm pretty sure dying is).

~ Stephanie Thornton

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Fricassee

A week of great critiques and happy-ever-after news leaves one smiling, yes?

My smiles have a little more behind them, though.  I'm getting ready to take a Nice Long Break, and ever since I decided to do this, a blanket of peace has settled over my shoulders like an angora shawl.  Warm, soft, nearly weightless.

How I've needed this.

My June vacation is coming up, and, as always, the blog will go dark for a while.  But my personal hiatus is beginning NOW.  Last year I blogged about the Between Times, and asked you how you filled that nebulous time between projects or tasks.  Through your comments and some self-examination, I came to realize that I needed to revel in the lower-stress time of planning a new story or simply waiting to see what's going to appear next on my to-do list.

This year, I need more than that.  I need to simply take a complete break.  Honestly?  Since I've begun writing seriously, I've never allowed myself to do this.  To just...stop.  For a little while.

I can't tell you how many people have said, "Authoress!  You need a break!  Go take one!"  I sort of smiled and ignored them.  Because...MOI? Take a BREAK??


Well, yes.  Except I do have a bright yellow notebook at hand, in case a new story idea starts niggling at the back of my brain.  But that's a lot different than trying to come up with a new story.  Or slogging through revisions.  Or whatever it is I've felt so compelled to do over the past six weeks or so.

So the blog will run as usual next week, and then my vacation will start.  My revisions-free vacation (yes, I'd actually planned to work on revisions at the shore).  And I will appreciate every warm and sparkly bit of fuzz you choose to send my way.

"Authoress" is depleted and needs to fill herself up again.

That's me.  What about you?  Do you give yourself permission to recharge as needed?  And if you don't...are you thinking really hard about that?  I'm learning a huge lesson right now, and I'm hoping a few of you might learn it along with me.

So you don't have to, yanno, hit rock bottom like I just did.

Share your recharging strategies!  I'll be reading very carefully.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #25

TITLE: Liora
GENRE: YA contemporary

Liora is the only Jewish kid in her small town middle school. Earlier today, Evan, her love interest, has shown interest in her for the first time. In this scene, the Creature, her arch nemesis torments her on the bus ride home.

Don’t pay him any attention and he’ll go away. He’ll go away. He’ll go away.

He isn’t going away. He’s sweeping down the aisle towards me, licking his bristly lips.

He slams my backpack on the ground and slides in close. Too close. I huddle closer to the window and stare at it hard. I can’t see Evan any more. I can’t see anything. The Creature’s smoky mouth breathing has steamed it up.

He lifts one arm over my head and rests it on my shoulder. I feel the weight hammering me down down down until I am frozen into the seat.

I open my mouth to protest and swallow a lump of something cold and sour.

His arm is curling around my neck now, twisting my face towards him. There are little rips on the seam under his arm. I stare at them, trying to light them on fire with my eyes.

“How’s my favorite little Jew girl today?” His voice is wet. I want to wipe my ear with my sleeve, but I’m afraid to move.

“Thanks for saving me a seat. You know I can’t go a day without a big whiff of farm air.” He pushes his nose against my ear and sniffs deeply. The bristles on his face scratch my cheek. I want to scream but the lump in my throat is choking me.

“Mmmmmm… bacon!” His body shakes with coarse laughter. The chunky Adam’s apple on his neck strains so hard, I’m afraid it will explode, covering me in his juices.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #24

TITLE: Who's the Money's Daddy?
GENRE: Mystery

Sophie has been harassed several times by three punks when she walks her black Lab mix, Boris. The last time, the largest one hit Boris with a stick. Since she lives in a lousy part of town, she knows the cops won't help. She has to handle this herself.

Some things are just meant to happen. Hidden in the night by the black color of my car, I paused at the corner by the taco stand and watched the three punks unloaded good-sized boxes from a rented truck. The largest one, the one who hit Boris, carried them across the road and into the old store.

I turned the corner and started down the street slowly. The big one watched me come as he crossed, figuring he could make it to the other side before I got close. When he was a third of the way, I hit the gas and caught the front edge of his box with my left fender, sending it into orbit and knocking him backwards. I whipped around the next corner and down the side street to idle again by the taco stand. Panicked, two of the punks were picking up brick-sized packages as fast as they could and throwing them into the back of the truck.

Finally the big one was ready to try again. After looking carefully in both directions, he picked up a box and quickly walked across the street. I gave him three trips. Fourth trip, whap! I nailed him again. This time I could hear the yells of anger and, looking back, saw he was sprawled against the truck’s back tire. I pounded on the steering wheel and laughed as I dialed 911 to report a hit-and-run. The cops would come if a pedestrian was down.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #23

TITLE: You'd Better Run
GENRE: action adventure

Rick and Renée are held at gunpoint in their hotel suite. When the assailant realizes Rick is a threat, the crook attempts to kill him.

He starts to raise the gun, Renée throws the bottle of vodka across the room. It bounces off his head, knocking him sideways.

My body reacts instinctively. I smash my fist into the guy’s jaw with everything I have. The gunman staggers but stays on his feet. He tightens his grip on the weapon. Even though he can’t see a thing, he’s about to shoot. Renée slams her foot into the back of the guy’s leg, then wraps an electrical cord around his neck and pulls it taut.

I dive to the ground. Two muffled shots rip over my head.

The intruder drops his gun and tries to pull the cord away from his windpipe. Renée’s having her own difficulties. The wire is tangled with a floor lamp and the shade keeps bopping her in the head every time she tries to get a better grip on the cord. She pushes the lamp aside, but it stubbornly returns and knocks her in the head again and again.

Finally she releases her grip on the cord and angrily shoves the lamp onto its side. The assailant takes that moment to regain his balance. He whirls around to face her and makes a colossal lunge at her. Unfortunately the far end of the cord is wrapped around the built-in mahogany desk. The wire snaps tight and the assailant’s windpipe is crushed. A sharp snap comes from the man’s neck. He falls backwards onto the carpet, twitches several times and then stops moving.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #22

TITLE: Hole, Inc.
GENRE: Thriller

Young man finds himself entrapped in a secretive organization, knowing just enough to be a danger to them. He confronts one of the leaders.

And just like that I no longer felt cold, or wet, or curious. A quick, suffocating fury stoppered my ears, clamped my jaw shut with such force that a hot zigzag of pain shot straight up my face. I spun and was on him with all my weight, four years of high-school wrestling nowhere near forgotten, knocking him off his feet, onto his back, his head cracking against the doorframe.

Whether my hands were still numb and wet, or my anger skewed my aim, he managed to twist away, though not until I gave him a few heavy pummels to the kidneys and one to his ear.

He rolled to the side and shut the door, and as I bolted to my feet, ready to lunge again, he landed a solid punch to my temple. I crashed obediently to my knees, and only anger kept me from lying down on the rug and letting the black rush claim me. But I waited it out, waited for the booming in my ears to quieten, the darkness before my eyes to brighten, for reason to coalesce again. And he waited with me, as indifferent as a stone carving.

“I want to go home,” I said, fighting down nausea.

“Out of the question,” he said.

“I don’t even know what you are, I don’t know what you do. Let me go now before I find out more.”

“Out of the question.”

@!?* if I was going to continue this on my knees. I reached toward the wall and pressed my palm against it. Using that as support, I rose to my full height, swallowed down more bile.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #21

TITLE: Froth
GENRE: YA horror

Ayako has stumbled upon what is killing the other passengers on her train.

​"Rarr," said the walking corpse.

​Whack went the big, fat biology textbook as it collided with icky, slimy corpse flesh, smacking it right in the chest.

​I needed something better than a book.


​Book. These creatures weren't mentioned in any books, were they?


​Zombies. Hmm. That held possibilities. But would I really need to let it bite me to see if it wanted to eat my flesh or drink my blood? Blood?


​Blood? Where did that come from? What drank blood? Zombies didn't.




​Vampires! Vampires drank blood. Were these vampires? I stopped and looked at them. How would I tell if they were vampires and not zombies?


​Thwack. Thwack. Yeah, double whammy. I didn't know how much longer I'd be able to keep this up.

​That's it! Vampires had bite marks. Or, well, left bite marks. Did these things have bite marks? Hmm. I thought I remembered seeing them. I just needed to look a little closer.

​I looked at the walking corpse closest to me. Okay, Mr. Corpse, I thought, trying to use telepathy, my hopefully newly discovered ability, on the walking corpse, just lean in a little closer to me. Let me see your bite marks. The first corpse leaned in closer to me. There's a good little corpse. Oh, he even had bite marks. You know what that makes you? I thought to him, That makes you a vampire. Yup, that's right. A vampire.

​I smiled, proud of my deductive reasoning skills.


​"Ah! Eep!" The vampire was a little closer than I had expected and I quickly ran away from him. This time careful not to run into a walking corpse, I mean vampire, that had snuck up behind me.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #20

GENRE: Adult Dystopian

My heroine encounters a delusional super villain wannabe whose DNA was altered by a radioactive solar storm. The villain is telekinetic.

Okay, I was done with this whacko. It wasn't like he'd kill me for trespassing. He wanted to show off, and I was dutifully impressed, but it was high time he got over himself. I waved him off and resumed walking toward the tent.

He didn't hit me this time. He choked me instead, hands free. Standing on the branch of his mighty cottonwood, he glared down at me while leaning against the trunk and holding out both his hands clenched into fists. I gasped for hair, his invisible fingers crushing my windpipe. I'd been wrong. He would kill me for trespassing.

I dropped to my knees, my eyes swelling in their sockets and my hands desperately grappling at what wasn't there. My fingernails dug into my neck in a desperate attempt to free myself from the stranglehold. The light around me dimmed and I knew I was about to pass out.

The sound of squealing tires sounded distant, and then the patter of running feet. Someone grabbed me around the waist to lower me gently to the ground. Whoever it was yelled something I couldn't make out, but I managed to catch a few words: die, kill, crazy bastard. A sudden wind whistled in my ears and tossled my short hair. I blinked, my vision clearing as the choking sensation faded and I could finally breathe again.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #19

TITLE: The Milk Carton Murders
GENRE: Murder Mystery

When three coffins slide out from the bank of Wiscoy Creek, it brings back repressed images for reporter, Robertson. He recognizes a milk carton photo pinned to a child’s dress. Viewed through his four-year-old memory, Dave realizes the voice in his head protected him the night his mother was murdered.

He froze. His mommy grabbed him.

“Davy, you need to hide, quickly now! Fast as the gingerbread man! Don’t come out until I come for you! Kiss me ... now go!”

He ran as fast as he could. Where to hide … where to hide? He didn’t know.

Hide in the attic.

In the attic?

Yes Davy, the attic.

He ran up the stairs past his bedroom. Someone’s screaming. Mommy’s screaming. “No, no, no! Leave mommy alone,” he shouted inside himself. No sound came out.

He covered his ears so he wouldn’t hear his mommy … screaming ... screaming.

“Stop! No … no don’t!”

Get up Davy! Get up and run! Mommy said to go hide ... go hide now, Davy! Hide in the attic.

Could he reach the chain? Could he pull down the stairs? He was too small … too small. “I can’t reach!” he yelled, but he had no voice.

Be brave Davy! Be brave!

I can climb on the chair … then on the table. I could jump. But it’s too far. “I’ll fall! I can’t reach … too far … too Far!” No sound.

Jump Davy. You can make it. Be brave. Jump. Now!

He jumped. He got the chain. He pulled down the stairs. He ran up them.

Get the chain Davy! The chain!

He grabbed the chain and pulled it inside.

“Where are you, you little s***! I’m going to beat your a** when I get my hands on you!”

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #18


Manci, Oklahoma, 1957. Caddo Indians and police thugs clash at a 50 year statehood celebration. Police Chief Trigger’s dogs were trained in Korea to think a kerchief, like Police Chief Parker’s wearing, is a signal to attack. As a foreshadowing, the restrained dogs had earlier lurched at the policeman.

"We can€™t see past your filthy signs,"€ screeched a silver-haired woman poking her umbrella into a Caddo’s back.

The Indian whirled and grabbed the umbrella. "I should run this through your throat."€ He snapped the umbrella over his knee like a spear.

The crowd around Bucky pushed and shoved in uneven waves. Something sharp slammed into his back. He hit the ground. A boot scraped across his entire forehead. Ignoring the burning pain, he scrambled to his feet, blood flooding his eyes. A muffled gunshot. Hissing. He couldn'€™t see, swiped them with a sleeve. White smoke. Everyone scattered. His eyes burned from sputtering tear gas. Squeezed them shut. A loud growl, then snarls pierced the screeching crowd. Bucky's world was spinning. A gunshot rang out--€”then another. His eyes flung open.

 Smoke began to lift, and through a blur Bucky saw Chief Trigger'€™s broad back. Red suspenders crossed in an X, legs apart, a gun held loosely at his side. Bucky staggered the few yards to him. At Chief Trigger'€™s feet lay one of his dogs, dead. The other, also dead, lay spread-eagled atop Chief Parker’s chest. His kerchief, and a hunk of red flesh, hung from the dog'€™s mouth. Blood gurgled from where the chief'€™s throat had been.

Menci officers rushed over. Harman kicked the dog off the chief'€™s body.

Thunderclaps crashed. They ripped and banged. Lightning blazed in sheets. Heavy raindrops the size of quarters spattered everywhere.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #17

TITLE: Gifted (WIP)

Devlin has been tasked with tracking down, and capturing, the last known female Gaian, a powerful Elemental. While traversing through mountains, Devlin is cornered by a less-than-friendly Patrol Squad.

The hair on my head lifts with the electric charge in the air. The Patrollers on either side of me fire on each other as I hit the dirt. They are powerless victims to the current from the opposite side of the circle. The four men look like grotesque marionettes, arched backs and contorted limbs. They shake with the deadly current, foamy spittle forming on their lips. Smoke seeps from their eye sockets as they burn.

Four down, nine to go.

I cock my head to the side. Another pair slump in the bushes behind me with bullet holes in their foreheads. Damn. The Patrollers also have conventional weapons.


The smell of singed hair burns my nose. Other Patrol members slam their weapons into the hands of the still standing briquettes. The electric current illuminates the forest like a bonfire.


Another flare of light and three more men are thrown back by the explosion. They smash into tall pines with a sickening crunch.

Four. Three Patrol members and Chubs.

With the contact from the Air weapons broken, the forest falls dark. But I’d planned on it. My eyes are closed. The cap is back in place, low over my eyes.

It’s show time.

The remaining four are stunned by the change in light. They never see me coming.

The business end of my scimitar slices across the midsection of a guard. I spin and split open another guard before the first man’s innards mix with the pine needles and dirt.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #16

TITLE: Cracked
GENRE: YA urban fantasy

In this scene, the MC (Meda) and her two friends, Chi and Jo, are being attacked by demons.  Chi and Jo love each other, but they won’t admit it.  Jo’s been pushing Chi away for years to protect him, while he never thought she cared, since she’s been so awful to him. But now, they’re pretty sure they’re about to die.  

Chi’s not done with his declarations. “So, Jo, you know I love you, right?” He grunts as he ducks a demon’s swing.

Jo kicks out with her bad leg, catching another demon on the knee. The demon loses his balance and, with some help from me, his head.

I can’t see Jo’s face as she answers, but I recognize her “back-off” tone.  “Chi, I...” she starts. The only thing more ridiculous than Chi choosing now to tell Jo he loves her, is her bothering to pretend she doesn’t love him.

“Jo, we’ve got like a minute to live,” I say, exasperated. I duck under a swinging arm and relieve its owner of his intestines. “I think you should tell him.” Yes, I did just give love-advice with a fist full of demon guts.

“Fine,” Jo says, even though we’re anything but fine. She dodges a demon’s grab and hip-throws him in my direction. I give him a stay-down stomp. She pauses briefly to look at Chi, and I cover her back. She starts to respond when a demon dodges in on her left-side. She ducks and rolls him across her back, and ends up shouting, “I love you too, Chi!”

Romantic, very romantic. Just like the movies. But it works for him—Chi grins, then ducks an attack, spins, and kicks some guy’s head off. You know, had I imagined a Chi-Jo love-declaration, I would have pictured it amid demon decapitations.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #15

TITLE: Keepers of the Flame
GENRE: YA Political Thriller

When corrupt government leaders murder their friend, Ethan, Essie, and Shawn seek out the Constitutionalists rebellion, a movement set on restoring the fundamental values of freedom and liberty in the United States. The hideout lies deep within the slums of D.C., and the trio is unprepared for what they find.

Ethan spat a mouthful of red, bloodied spittle. It splashed across Scarface, clinging to eyelashes, percolating over scar grooves. Scarface raised hooded eyes, and backhanded Ethan. His head flopped to the side, jostling the knife at his throat.

Essie screamed.

“Who are you?” Scarface yelled.

“Ethan,” Ethan said, a thin line of blood sweeping from under the knife blade. “Ethan Hall.”

The petite girl gasped. Her grip loosened around the knife handle, swiveling to face Scarface. His eyes widened, then narrowed.

“Oh, so you know us, huh?” Ethan asked.

“Shut up,” the girl growled, pushing on the blade. Blood trickled from the cut.

“What are you doing here, Ethan Hall?” Scarface asked.

“I . . .” Ethan hesitated. Essie understood why. What could he say? That they were looking for the Constitutionalists? No. But with a knife at his throat, Ethan didn’t have much choice.

The girl released the knife and Scarface slammed his fist into Ethan’s stomach. He doubled over, gasping.

“I asked, what are you doing here?” Scarface roared. Flecks of spit flew from his mouth.

Essie cried. She felt the punch inside her. Ethan’s pain was her own. Tears poured from her eyes. “Please . . .” she sobbed. “Please don’t hurt my brother.”

“I . . . we were just . . .” Ethan sputtered for breath. “We were just . . .” he coughed, “out walking and this old building looked cool, so we . . .”

“Liar,” Scarface grunted, slamming another fist into Ethan’s stomach.

Pain pummeled into Essie. She couldn’t breath. The room spun.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #14

TITLE: Yellow-bellied Wussy Loser
GENRE: MG Humorous Adventure

Danny has been swept up in a plot to kidnap Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog. In this scene, Danny intends to slyly replace the sleeping groundhog with a stuffed animal while his partner runs interference.

I held my breath and inched my hands closer and closer and eased my fingers up against his fur. He wasn’t as soft as I had expected. His hairs were a little pokey, as if petting a soft warm broom. I smiled. He felt nice.

Then blip, Phil’s angry head popped up. He bared his sharp rabid teeth, whistled some sort of sacred rodent attack signal, and galloped up my arms. Paralyzed with fear, I watched the eyes roll back in his head, like Jaws does before he bites a surfer’s face off. But Phil flew past my head, across my back, launching onto the tree trunk behind me.

I finally broke through the frozen terror and stood up. Then I was stuck again trying to figure out if I should scream like a four-year-old or just ball up in the fetal position and suck my thumb.

Before I could decide, Phillip Zezinka screeched, “ARRRGGHH! He’s awake, run for your life!” He dropped the squeegee and zipped across the aquarium, diving through the open hatch and clanging it shut.

I stood there completely shocked out of my own fear by two thoughts. First, Phillip Zezinka turned out to be quite the wuss himself. Second, why wasn't I following his lead?

The spectators on the outside of the glass caught my attention as they slapped each other with laughter and pointed up at the tree trunk. I looked up to see Punxsutawney Phil plunge into a flying squirrel, kamikaze jump.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #13

TITLE: Evolution: Threads of Control
GENRE: YA High Fantasy

Jimmy Ranfaz, a teenager from Earth, supposedly imbued with incredible psionic abilities is called upon by tree-descendant humans from Ulfitron to save their race from an old nemesis. His training progresses very poorly when an unexpected attack on their enclave catches him off-guard and nearly kills him.

His mind went blank as his body was launched several feet in the air, hair flailing wildly in the strong wind which blew around the mounds. He felt his limbs go limp as he twisted in the air and his vision blurred from the greying sky to a smudge of cyan and brown as he spiralled back towards the ground.

Blood rushed in torrents into his brain as he accelerated downwards alarmingly. His heartbeat reached a crescendo and fear gripped him as he saw the ground, only a couple of feet away. Almost as suddenly as the first blast, he felt another shockwave crash against his body as he was buffeted away from the ground, swirling head over heels but simultaneously propelled upwards again.

The air had been knocked out of his lungs with the first blow but this one felt as if his entire body had been crushed. Every bone and joint was stretched to a painful limit till he started feeling nauseous from the simple realization of number of muscles and bones he had. He barely had time to comprehend the distance he was being flung, when his eyes flew wide open due to the increasing acceleration. Tears started forming involuntarily with the evening breeze cutting through him like cold sharp ice, when he crashed against a hard surface.

His back gave an audible crack and pointed timber pierced through his entire mid-section. A long disembodied shout echoed dully in the background, as his thoughts winked out.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #12

TITLE: The Adventures of Bic and Bill
GENRE: MG Boys Adventure

If Bill doesn’t re-capture that ornery goat Del Ray before he’s wreaked havoc on the farm again Daddy’s promised Bill he’s going to take that goat to the butchers. We find ourselves in Daddies bedroom with Bill desperately attempting to prevent Del Ray from busting up a jug of Daddy drink.

Bill twists off his back. Del Ray churns forward, eyes blazing, filled with fiendish glory and destruction. Seizing the Daddy Drink Bill rolls to his back as Del Ray fury-charges. Bill punches up with both his feet, kick-flipping that goat straight into the ceiling.

Like a soaring pitch fork Del Ray’s horns stick into the plaster all the way up to his devious skull. Leaping up, Bill carefully returns Daddy’s jug back to where it’s always kept. Then Bill and me dash through the room, setting everything straight so Daddy will suspect nothing of the events that have transpired. Del Ray just dangles from the ceiling, snickering proudly to his self at all the mischief he’s accomplished. That’s when we hear it, creaking on the stairs. Bill and me freeze like dead cows in a snowstorm, staring at each other. There comes another creek followed by a shuffling step and the sound of Daddy stopping to hack out a cough.

Bill looks at me, then Del Ray, back to me, at his feet, then back to Del Ray. Del Ray looks back at Bill, and for the first time he looks as if he’s sorry for all the commotion he’s raised. Then he drops the most diabolical cluster of goat nuggets he can manage, and giggling like mad starts striking goat poses as he dangles in the air delighted with his self.

Daddy’s reached the top stair now. We hear him rounding the banister muttering and grumbling about something, if not nothing.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #11

GENRE: YA urban fantasy adventure

Alison, a movie stunt double, is sitting by helplessly as her love Corben and the the evil Captain's right hand man Alexander are swordfighting. The Captain is securely stuck to the throne and cannot get up. 
Archie's father has just died, and the group needs to get underground very quickly to avoid disaster. 

 My heart beat wildly and I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t believe that any of this was real, that the General had just died, that we were running out of time.

I watched in horror as Corben fought with Alexander. Corben was swift and agile, but Alexander hit hard and true. They scuffled up the few steps toward the throne where the Captain sat smiling, like all of this was for his own enjoyment.

Alexander drove hard against Corben and pushed him against the wall behind the throne, his sword at Corben’s neck.

I didn’t even think as I grabbed a small dagger by my feet and ran towards them. I let the dagger fly as the Captain called out, “You meddling witch!” and watched as the dagger sank into Alexanders back.
Alexander slumped against Corben and collapsed onto the floor, his sword clattering across the tilted room until it came to rest at the back of the throne. My heart had never thudded so loud. I wanted to blow up and shrink into nothingness at the same time. What had I done?

Corben rushed to Archie, who was beside himself with grief, and helped him to stand and then ran toward me. Together we made our way below ground.

Not long after we descended, we could hear the Captain start begging for his life. “You can’t leave me here! Wait!”

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #10

TITLE: Threads
GENRE: YA Fantasy

As the temporary Royal Advisor to the princess, Adalmund Pratt’s first job—get Princess Calumina to a peace treaty signing and back without any problems—goes horribly wrong.

A hand gripped her shoulder. Adalmund spun, thrusting her palm into their nose. The cut on her side tore, and she stumbled.

“Adalmund!” Tristram shook the blood from his broken nose. “Take her and go!” he shouted.

Adalmund whistled. Stones shot from beneath the feet of soldiers and toppled them. Tristram tossed a wire from one hand and snapped a sword from a soldier’s grip. Adalmund swung her sword across the soldier’s neck, and he fell, choking and clawing at his throat. She barely noticed the delicate, white flower stitched over the heart of his uniform.

“Carnations,” Tristram said, trying to parry and failing horribly.

Adalmund kicked him out of way, cursed, and cut down another soldier. Spinning in the blood and sand, she saw Princess Calumina beckon her and splay out her fan. An arrow cracked against its metal ribs. Flicking her fingers, Adalmund knotted a thread of magic and snapped it. The stones beneath the soldiers’ feet shattered and a wall rose up from the dust.

Tristram shouted, “look for flowers,” and Adalmund paused to pray he’d live.

Adalmund tossed a bead to each of her guards and wrapped her right arm around Calumina. She whistled. They flickered in and out of existence, and the wall crumbled. Adalmund spun them around, her back to the oncoming army and trembling Calumina pressed against her chest. Metal shattered bone and wood splintered into skin as her transport spell pulled them all into blissful, painless nonexistence.

Until Adalmund reappeared screaming.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #9

TITLE: The Plumber
GENRE: Young Adult

Tyler knew of the Plumber, Curly, but the burglar had threatened Tyler’s family, therefore, he didn’t warn his new friend, Will, of the danger. Trying to make amends, Tyler aims to locate the Plumber’s stash; they’re spotted after witnessing a murder.

Curly buried his long knife between Frank’s shoulder blades. “Right, no one will ever know,” the big man sneered and withdrew the knife.

Frank’s body thudded to the ground.

“Noooo.” Luke’s scream rang out of the gully, across the clearing and crashed into the murderer’s ears.
Curly whirled around. His savage black eyes raked their position.

Tyler locked eyes with his nightmare.

Recognition flashed across Curly’s face. The Plumber’s lips turned down until his bottom teeth showed like a cornered dog.

Silence blanketed the scene. He beat down the horror creeping up and down the walls of his mind and his thoughts dropped into slow, crystal clear motion. Run. They must run. He took a step even as he glanced at his companions.

They stood rooted to the ground, their faces frozen in horror.

Digging his heel into the gravel, he ground to a stop. Grabbing Will and Luke’s arms, he shook them roughly. “Run!”

As though suddenly awakened, the three boys started and lurched back. Wildly, they ran down the gully towards the trail, Dylan darting into the lead.

Tyler glanced back.

The big man hadn’t moved. He stooped and wiped his blade on the grass, then stood and grinned—a hideous grin. “Run, little rabbits.” His deep voice boomed across the clearing. “Run.”

A chill swept up his spine and he bolted. Vaulting over and dodging the rocks, he sped down the gully and caught up to Luke. “Hurry. He’s after us.”

Luke scrambled faster.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #8

TITLE: Catcher's Keeper
GENRE: Adult commercial fiction

Nearly 25 years after it was written, Alden Gallagher’s teenage memoir is stolen and published by his own brother. When an obsessed fan interprets the book as his personal terrorist-mission, Alden and his brother must thwart a deadly attack on a beloved rock-music icon.

MD’s eyes narrow on the limo as it comes to a stop. I’m not sure how much time we have. No more than a minute I bet. What should I do? A diversion: I wave my arms and whoop like an animal. But MD’s face is set in evil. Alden’s right hook lands with a flat thump against MD’s temple. MD shoves him away, his Ace-bandaged hand slapping Alden’s chest with surprising force. As he tries to take aim, Alden wrestles him from behind and the gun flashes in their entangled arms. My pulse is racing. I turn back to the limo. Lennon and Yoko are out now, sauntering toward the entrance. They nod to Larry the doorman, who flutters a frantic hand in warning – but it’s lost on them. Lennon drapes an arm around his wife’s hips, and they share a few words in an ironic pocket of privacy. They smile at each other. Not a care. My heart is beating out of my ears. Across the street, Alden is scrambling off the ground. MD towers over him, his arms outstretched, gun steady. He cocks it and crouches for better aim.

“Mr. Lennon!” he calls.

“Get down!” I scream, “Gun!” I run toward them with my hands in the air, waving the damn book around. Their backs are to me, but Lennon turns his gaze. I see his signature round glasses, the straight line of his nose. His expression is curious, a little perturbed. No, I want to yell –

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #7

TITLE: Pop Travel
GENRE: Thriller

In 2080 Cooper, a mild mannered detective, is investigating a possible glitch with pop travel laser teleportation, which he despises. When the supervisor bringing him a backup video of the glitch is late for their meeting, Cooper and his buddy go racing through the travelport looking for her.

Cooper pushed passed travelers, keeping an eye out for Audrey’s face. He stopped when he reached Concourse A. Through the glass doors on his left he spied a small door on the wall across the tracks. Gordy opened the door and peeked out.

“Nothing at Concourse A track,” Gordy radioed to him.

“Here either,” Cooper answered.

Cooper took off running again, slaloming through travelers, his sense of urgency increasing. He slowed as he approached Concourse B, still hoping to identify Audrey in the crowd. When he arrived, the trains had just pulled in. Passengers exited and more got on. The ones that left clogged the escalators going up. Cooper desperately searched the masses on tip toes. He checked in with Joel and Gordy. “Anything at Concourse B? or on the trains?”

“No,” said Joel.

“Nothing. And the train on my side is headed for Concourse A,” Gordy reported.

Cooper continued his watchful dash to the next stop at Concourse C.

As he closed in on the waiting area he heard a piercing scream and his heart dropped.

He fought his way through a distraught crowd, gathered at the glass doors that protected the public from the high voltage train tracks. As Cooper pushed his way to the front, he saw Gordy on the opposite ledge staring down, his jaw dangling in shock. Cooper followed his gaze and saw the mangled body of Audrey Baumer sprawled on the tracks.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #6

GENRE: YA paranormal

Delilah, one of the main characters in the story has just taken a moonlight swim at the mansion where she's staying.

I dried myself off, ready to go back inside, when I heard a deep-throated animal growl.
Heart pounding, I turned around and stared.
In the dark behind me, two huge eyes glistened.
I squinted to make out what it was, while slowly backing up.
The creature closed half the gap between us in one lunge.
The ten-foot-tall bear stood on its back legs and flapped its front paws in the air at me, ready to attack. Mouth open, head thrown back, the animal made another deep throaty sound.
I tried to scream for help, but only “H-h-h-” came out.
The bear shook its huge head and clacked its teeth, then gave an explosive blow of air.
Hands on the top of my head, I cowered before the gigantic creature.
The animal slapped the ground and let out another explosive blow in the direction of the sky.
I cringed.
The bear put its ears back and rushed me, pouncing across the ground, slamming its feet down on the tile surrounding the pool.
Fear scurried around inside my chest. Hands shaking, I picked up a pool chair, held it over my head, and shook it at the bear.
It rose up on its back feet, popped its jaws, and made another horrifying throaty sound. More terrifying clacking and huffing sounds followed, filling the dark with deadly tension.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #5

TITLE: White Phoenix
GENRE: YA Dark Fantasy

Silas and Cassandra are being hunted by ghouls, the undead spawn of the Underworld. Because they find themselves outnumbered, they decide not to test their luck in a fight in favor of losing their pursuers in the storm.

The rain licked at his face, cold and sharp tongues. The wind was erratic but powerful, pulling him and pushing him and pulling him again. The ground trembled as thunder boomed and roared in the darkness, as the rain hissed its violent hymn. Lightning struck the forest, and trees parted in the brief light with the sound of cracking bones.

After hours of jumping and ducking, prying his feet from the clutches of the mud and fallen branches, jerking his body away from jutting limbs, his legs went numb beneath him. His lungs hurt with every labored breath he took, the fear within his chest hot one moment then deathly cold the next. The air was abrasive against his eyes and cheeks. Through the dark sheet of rain, he could hardly see the path ahead. Only when the lightning flickered was the entire forest illuminated, and when the light went out, he couldn't trust the ground beneath him.

All Silas could believe was the sound of the ghouls thrashing through the slush behind him, and Cassandra, whose white cloak led him through even the darkness. He didn't know how close the ghouls were, just that it was impossible not to imagine the heat of their breath creeping across the nape of his neck.

And then Cassandra's white cloak vanished.

Her scream made his body go cold.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #4

TITLE: The Penny Project
GENRE: middle grade

At ten, Penney Rewer’s so shy it’s cringe-worthy. She’s counting on wishes, like the ones she makes on good-luck pennies, to save her, but it turns out lawmakers have different plans for those pennies and they may need saving themselves. In this scene, she’s risked her wallflower status to invent THE PENNY PROJECT and is coerced into presenting it at high school assembly.

Just before Penney reached the bottom step to the stage, her mother slipped a shiny penny into her hand. Was her mom finally coming around to the power of the penny?

“It’s a very good deed to face your fears for a bigger cause,” her mom whispered, “Now go get ‘em!”

Penney glanced at the penny in her hand and remembered what started all this. It was cool and smooth and for a moment she felt just the tinniest bit braver. With a deep breath she crept onto the stage between Meredith and Elizabeth.

The hundreds of faces turned towards her halted her progress. But by then Meredith was introducing her and there was no turning back. Penney rubbed the coin between two fingers.

The students were restless from being forced to sit through a long and mostly boring assembly, but a rumble of polite applause filled the room. It sounded like hoofbeats coming for her.

Penney’s feet moved like someone had poured cement in them and her belly felt like she’d swallowed a car as she shuffled over to the microphone. When she leaned in to speak, it gave a high-pitched squeak that sounded like aliens attacking. No such luck. The principal adjusted the microphone to Penney’s height.

“Hello” she managed in a croaky voice. From the back, several teenage boys unhelpfully called out, “We can’t hear you!”

She cleared the frog out of her throat and tried again.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #3

TITLE: Supernova
GENRE: YA Suspense

Eighteen-year-old Alexa, has just been thrown out of a boat by the bad guy who wants her dead.

She pulled upwards through the water and eventually emerged, crying out and gulping in large chunks of air. She gripped the side of the dinghy, then hauled herself up and rested her aching body. The boat rocked gently in the glassy water, not a sound for miles except her own heartbeat hammering away in her chest. A glint of metal inside the boat caught her eye. She raised herself higher and saw Shahram’s knife, hidden beneath the bench. She exhaled deeply, then reached in, stretching to grasp it. But just as her fingers grazed the knife’s handle, a pair of hands grabbed her ankles and wrenched her back down into the depths of the murky water. She yelled out, but her voice was smothered as she plunged once again beneath the surface.

She sunk quickly, her manacled legs unable to kick. She pummeled his head with her fists and he finally let go of her legs, but then he hit her once in the face and again on the side of her head before moving to the rest of her body. His last blow struck her stomach, knocking the air from her lungs. She kicked out wildly, thrust her legs through the water and finally made contact with his groin, his arms released her as he writhed in pain. She swam to the surface and gasped for air, her throat burning as water gushed from her mouth.

But she didn’t have time to recover, to deal with the pain, or the blood that ran from her split lip, or the ringing in her ear that blocked out all other noise. He would be back.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #2

TITLE: The Sorter's Mistake
GENRE: YA Techno-Fantasy

Twelve-year-old Jenna realizes halfway through her police escort to her new school that the men in the SUV with her are not real police officers. To escape her abduction, she channels her newly-discovered electromagnetic powers to throw one abductor out of the car. Two more remain in the front seats.

Jenna whipped her head around in time to see Officer Makrov and both backseat doors rolling down the road behind them.

“Damn it!” Officer Thompson yelled. “Accelerate!”

He grabbed at Jenna, who scrambled over to the now-missing side door and reached up for the ski rack. Officer Makrov hobbled after the SUV, waving his weapon and shouting something Jenna could not make out. She pulled herself on top of the roof of the car and hung on, watching the road zoom underneath her. Ahead of her lone street lamps lit up a final patch of road before plunging into darkness beyond.

The SUV zoomed towards the spotlight just as a boy materialized in the center of the bright light. The SUV swerved, jerking Jenna’s small body back and forth. She recognized the boy. He was the boy from the Beanery with the wide, toothy smile. He ran towards the swerving on-coming vehicle and dropped to his knees. Jenna thought she saw a flash of red crackle around him. The behemoth black car headed straight for him and they collided. As if the SUV had hit a boulder, its front end smashed in and the back end flipped up, over itself. Jenna screamed as she realized she was about to be crushed. She released the energy she had left, pushing the tons of pressure off of her but still hanging on. The SUV flipped completely over itself and landed, on the other side of the boy, on its wheels, stopped.

Drop the Needle: Action Scenes (Round 2) #1

GENRE: Fantasy

Kathryn and Sergeant Summers arrived in a fantasy world where they encountered winged, demon-like creatures who wanted to eat them. They fled from the creatures and some type of entity possessed Kathryn, forcing her to destroy the creatures via fire that engulfed her hands. The following scene is just after she destroyed the creatures:

Smoke filled the sky and the occasional popping of the fires replaced the screams and thrashing of the creatures. Sergeant Summers, blood streaming from his forehead and arms, approached her with wild eyes constantly moving from the blackened forms to her. She held her burning hands before her in a plea for help. He startled backward, pointed his gun at her with a shaking hand and pulled the trigger.

Fire stabbed through Kathryn’s chest and she fell backward. She cried out and her now-extinguished hands clutched the wound just below her right shoulder. It felt like a bomb went off inside her chest and she felt her right lung begin to squeeze. Her agonizing and short breaths didn’t mask Sergeant Summers’ panicked words.

“Oh my God, Kathryn, I didn’t realize it was you. All I saw was the fire…”

He leaned over her, the whites of his eyes a stark contrast to the soot on his face. Looking past him, she saw the swirling smoke clear and the dark forms flying above them. They reminded her of vultures circling their next meal, except these vultures had wingspans the size of a small plane. Sergeant Summers followed her gaze. She heard his gun drop from his hands and thud onto the ground.

“I’m sorry.” He left her field of vision and the sand crunched with the sound of his fleeing steps.

Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes into her ears.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Baker's Dozen Success: From Auction to Sale!

Here's a breathtakingly exciting success story for you (our third success from the 2011 Baker's Dozen!), told in the author's own words:

In 2010, I wrote and revised a story about a feisty time travel student who finds out that her future self has been into some serious space-time shenanigans in the distant past. With a boy. A cute boy.

I queried a few agents at the beginning of 2011 and was promptly form-rejected by all of them. For good reason. The query was terrible, and the story needed help as well. One of the agents that rejected me was Victoria Marini. Which made me very sad. But we'll get back to that later. 

I went to a wonderful workshop in the spring and received some amazing editorial feedback that got me on the right track. It meant a total rewrite--not revisions, a rewrite--but I knew it was necessary. By November, I was ready to query again, and this time? Requests. And an encouraging number of them, at that.

When the Baker's Dozen announcement went up, my crit partners sent me the link and told me to enter. I hemmed. I hawed. I caved and entered in the last entry window.

I am so thankful I did.

It opened at 20 pages, and in the amount of time it took me to e-mail my friends that I'd gotten a bid, it had gone up to a full. I eventually ended up having four agents request the full from the Auction. Victoria Marini was one of them.

Eventually, four agents tossed their hats in the ring, and again Victoria was one of them. After chatting with her on the phone, I loved her ideas for revision. And, oh my goodness, I wish I could bottle and sell her energy and enthusiasm. I thought we'd work really well together, and I signed with her. My instincts were right.

From Publisher's Marketplace:

Karen Akins's LOOP, in which a time traveler accidentally brings a boy from the past into the 23rd century, only to discover he's already in love with her future self and is keeping his own set of secrets, pitched as HEIST SOCIETY meets BACK TO THE FUTURE, to Terra Layton at St. Martin's, in a two-book deal, by Victoria Marini at Gelfman Schneider (world).


The extra fun part? Terra actually did a little spying during the Baker's Dozen Auction, and she wrote down LOOP as one that she thought sounded great. She found the post-it note the other day. Sigh. It was meant to be. 

Karen Akins

Monday, May 21, 2012

Drop the Needle: ACTION SCENES, ROUND 2

I promised you a second round, and here it is!

For those of you who are newer readers: "Drop the Needle" is an in-house critique session during which I call for excerpts from anywhere in your novel. (That's where the name of the crit round comes from -- those nefarious music professors who, in ages past, would "drop the needle" into the middle of a recording and expect the students to identify the piece of music by name and composer.)

The Guidelines:

  • Send a 25- to 50-word lead-in and a 250-word excerpt that you would describe as an ACTION SCENE. (i.e., a high-stakes, fast-paced scene in which there isn't necessarily a lot of dialogue) 
  • Use the WEB FORM to submit. 
  • Submissions will open at 5:00 PM EDT TODAY (May 21), and will remain open until 25 entries are received. 
  • The 25 excerpts will post on WEDNESDAY at noon, EDT, for critique.
  • All genres except erotica are welcome. 
  • This excerpt can be from either a WIP or a finished manuscript. Either way, please make sure your work is proofread and clean. 

And PLEASE don't neglect the lead-in. It's difficult to be dropped into a middle-of-the-story scene, and we will need the (brief!) lead-ins to set up the scenes for us. I believe this extra bit of information leads to better critiques.

Also, please remember that if yours is one of the entries, you are requested to critique a minimum of 5 entries.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Fricassee

And so it's Friday.  Though, for at least five solid minutes after awakening this morning, I was convinced it was Thursday.

So talk to me about procrastination.

I'm not sure why it seems so prevalent among writers.  I think that, sometimes, we don't even realize we're procrastinating.

We call it "distraction."  And yes, there's that.  But it's all sort of under the same umbrella, right?  If we're distracted by something (often online), and we then choose to become involved with that "something" for a minute or a half an hour, we've consciously made the choice to do that instead of to write.

And that's procrastination.

It's not like we don't like writing.  It isn't that we don't want to write.  But somehow, Other Things clog our path, and the writing happens in between them.

Not always.  But often enough for it to be a pattern.

My husband doesn't understand how I get anything done, the way I jump off the page every fifteen minutes.  And yet I complete my first drafts in three months and I meet all my self-imposed deadlines.

Still.  I'm self-aware enough to know I'd be more productive without the distraction factor.  And I'm also painfully aware that, in my own case, it's the fear of Not Getting It Right that makes me hesitate and stutter and look the other way twenty times before starting.

Sometimes things feel So Big, don't they?  Plotting from scratch.  Starting that first draft.  Diving into a major revision.  Writing a (ghastly, unnecessary, physically painful) synopsis.

It's a lot easier to Tweet something first.  Or check my email.  Or eat a piece of chocolate.  ANYTHING but expose myself to the Big Something waiting for me.

Then there's today.  I finished all my preliminary preparation for these revisions, and today's the day for Real Words to happen.  And just thinking about it comes close to paralyzing me.

This is my seventh novel.  And the more I know about novel-writing and the stronger my writing becomes, the MORE PARALYZED I am.

Yeah.  It's the perfectionism thing, too.  Second cousin to procrastination.

So, what about you?  Are you one of the shining examples of non-procrastinating writer?  If so, how do you stay so focused?  If not, how do you daily overcome the Shiny Things to get your writing done?

Let's commiserate!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Facing Revisions

I know, I know.  About half of you just went weak in the knees.  It's an irrefutable fact that most writers fall into one of two distinct camps--you either love revisions and look forward to digging in, or you hate them with every strand of DNA in your being.

I belong to the former camp.  And it's also an irrefutable fact that most writers in the "I hate revisions" camp cannot fathom how anyone could love revisions.

I mean, where's the art?  Where's the naked flow of words, rushing from an unadulterated muse, breathing life into a story that is growing, raw and wild, from my fingertips?  Where's the ecstasy?

Well, it may not be a "naked flow of words", but for the revision-lover, revising a manuscript is art at its finest.  It's taking the raw material and sculpting it.  Bending and redirecting and sometimes completely overhauling the plot, to make it stronger.  All this, and not a single BLANK SCREEN to stare at.  Because there are already lots of WORDS to stare at, which is a lot less lonely.

Of course, I do a lot of staring-at-nothing while I'm reworking plot.  It's the kind of thinking that makes the inside of my brain ache.  Literally.  (I'm not the only one who experiences this, right?  Right??)  But within the framework of a story that already exists, the thinking doesn't overwhelm me.  Because I've already done the drafting, and I already know and love my characters.

I love this re-crafting process.  Even though I hate the brain-ache that sometimes accompanies it.

I've evolved as a drafter, too, as many of you already know.  Not so very long ago, I was a hardcore pantser.  I wrote myself into more corners than should be allowed to exist.  And yet I stood firm on my "genetic propensity" to pants my way through novels.

Until I read Save the Cat and learned how a simple "beat sheet" could change everything.

So now I plot.  No ridiculously detailed outlines; no scene-by-scene planning.  I don't think I could ever do that sort of thing.  Something about the innate pantser in me.  (I accidentally typed "innane pantser", and am now wondering what my subconscious was trying to tell me.)

But having experienced drafting a completely beat-sheeted novel for the first time, I can honestly say that I WILL NEVER PANTS ANOTHER NOVEL.  No, really.  I'm delighted with this process, and have never had such an easy time drafting a novel.  (Remembering, of course, that "easy" is relative.)

So.  My lovingly beat-sheeted Newest Novel has come back from the threshing floor of my first round critique partners.  I've spent some time despairing, and some time extrapolating all the notes that resonated with me and writing them into my printed-out outline (one of my favorite Scrivener features). And now I'm ready to begin.

I think.

And this is the part, I believe, that revision-haters dread.  The Facing It All and Figuring Out What the Heck To Do First.  And yeah, it's daunting at first.  But it's usually not the sort of thing where you start with Page One and just start fixing everything as you go.

Sometimes you have to scribble out extra backstory, and as you do, new ideas and direction begin to grow, and you may have one or more eureka moments.  (Which are exhilarating!)

Sometimes you have to write a scene or two that will never appear in your novel.  This is usually to help establish a more solid relationship between characters, to help you better develop that in the actual story.

Sometimes you have to ramp up or repair or completely revise a single character's arc.

Sometimes you have to spend A LOT OF TIME THINKING THROUGH A PLOT PROBLEM until the light goes on.

Those of you who know my Josh Story know that, prior to offering representation, Josh requested revisions.  There was a particular plot point that had me completely stuck, and I remember sitting on my  front staircase in a patch of sunlight one afternoon, my head against the wall, eyes closed.  (Oh, the tortured artiste!)  And out of NOWHERE came the answer I hadn't been able to come up with.  I wasn't even actively thinking of a way to solve it.  It just came to me, right there in the patch of sunlight.

I love moments like that.

So here I am, ready for more of those moments.  I already love this New Novel, despite the work it needs.  And I think I have enough of a game plan now to get the ball rolling.  What's really cool--and what has Mr. A feeling pretty darn good about himself--is that it was his critique notes that ultimately gave me the courage to move forward.  Don't get me wrong--he's hard on me!  I'm not sure what it was about his notes that produced this effect, but I'm not questioning it.

(Well, it might have a tiny something to do with all the references to inside jokes.  Or the way he wrote "DD" for "Dorky Dialogue" whenever my characters said something cliche or purple.  Or the way he made up names for things in my story as he referenced them, and gave them little trademarks.)

At any rate, this has been a difficult few weeks for me.  Discouragement set in last month, and I didn't know if I was going to recover.  (Seriously.  We all have our ups and downs in this journey, but I wasn't finding my way back up! I was starting to get worried.)

Guess what?  I'm on my way back up.  And I'm ready to shape this novel into what it's meant to be.

I really do love revising.  It's what makes stories sparkle.  And while I'm certain I'm going to be facing some I-hate-this-and-I-have-no-idea-what-to-do-next moments in the upcoming weeks, I'm also certain that I'm going to end up with a better story.

My wish for all First Draft Lovers is this:  I hope you learn to find equal joy in the revision process.  It is no less of an outpouring of your passions than the drafting process, and it is, in fact, where the real magic happens.  In my turn, I hope I can some day find joy in writing the first draft (because I hate it).  Then I will feel all sorts of balanced.  Which will be a good thing.

So happy drafting, happy revising, happy WRITING!  We'll all get where we're going if we keep on keeping on.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Random Act of Kindness BLITZ

This, from the lovely Angela Ackerman:

A smile. An encouraging word. A thoughtful gesture. Each day people interact with us, help, and make our day a bit brighter and full. This is especially true in the Writing Community

Take a second to think about writers you know, like the critique partner who works with you to improve your manuscript. The writing friend who listens, supports and keeps you strong when times are tough. The author who generously offers council, advice and inspiration when asked.

So many people take the time to make us feel special, don't they? They comment on our blogs, re-tweet our posts, chat with us on forums and wish us Happy Birthday on Facebook.

Kindness ROCKS!

To commemorate the release of their book The Emotion Thesaurus, Becca and Angela at The Bookshelf Muse are hosting a TITANIC Random Act Of Kindness BLITZ. And because I think KINDNESS is contagious, I'm participating too!

I've decided to blitz MAGGIE, who does an amazing job running WRITE ON!, our sister community for teen writers.

Maggie, I'm offering you a FULL MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE and SOMETHING CHOCOLATE! Please email me at facelesswords(at) ASAP.

Do you know someone special that you'd like to randomly acknowledge? Don't be shy--come join us and celebrate! Send them an email, give them a shout out, or show your appreciation in another way. Kindness makes the world go round. :)

Becca and Angela have a special RAOK gift waiting for you as well, so hop on over to The Bookshelf Muse to pick it up.

May Winners

Here are Ms. Motter's winners:

Runners Up:

#2 -- Jumping Off Bridges
#6 -- Olivia Twisted
#24 -- A Love to Kill For
#33 -- Lifeweaver

The prize:  

Ms. Motter would like to see your first 100 pages.


#16 -- Black Widow Witch

The prize:

Ms. Motter would like to see your full manuscript.


Ms. Motter welcomes queries from any entry on which she said, "I'd read more" or any variation of "I'm hooked," after editorial suggestions from her and the commenters are taken into account.

(Especially #5, Soul Cutter -- hint-hint)

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

Secret Agent Unveiled: Vickie Motter

Cupcakes and champagne for this month's Secret Agent, Vickie Motter of the Andrea Hurst Agency!

Vickie's bio:

Vickie Motter has been an agent with Andrea Hurst Literary Management since 2011, coming from an editorial background. She works with all genres of YA as well as Adult Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy. She maintains a blog aimed at helping writers of all levels of experience, Navigating the Slush Pile, where you can find more information about her, how to query her, current clients, and her favorite reads. Every Wednesday, join her for Wednesday Reads, a new kind of book review and insight into how an agent reads.

 What Vickie's looking for right now:

 I'm especially hungry for YA historical, historical fantasy, scifi, steampunk, and contemporary romance. In Adult, I'm always looking for Paranormal Romance with strong characters and world building to die for; Urban Fantasy with a strong female lead, either humorous or dark; and Epic Fantasy.

Hooray for Vickie!  Winners forthcoming.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Fricassee

What better thing for a writer to win than a BOOK, right?

Yes, I actually won a book via a little Twitter contest that Harper Collins ran the week before last.  (What? You're still not on Twitter? Look at the things you're missing out on!)  It arrived yesterday:

This sweet little volume is a collection of poems accompanied by whimsical drawings.  And it's...warped.  Think Shel Silverstein meets Tim Burton.

Of course, I grew up LOVING Shel Silverstein, and I can still recite several of my favorite poems from   Where the Sidewalk Ends.  So I can't deny that some of the poems in Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It made me smile.

They're not of Silverstein's ilk, to be sure.  But they're amusing, and it was just plain FUN to receive this in the mail yesterday and sit down to read it.

The age listing on this book is "8 and up", and I have to admit I don't agree with this.  Some of these poems are just...well, too "wrong" for an impressionable young mind.  Wrong, as in Snow White turns ugly, leaves the dwarves, and goes off with the witch.  And the Beast sort Beauty.

Wickedly funny on a certain level.  But for an 8-year-old?  Not so much.  I wouldn't run out and buy this for my favorite lil' niece or nephew if I were you.  (I have an 8-year-old niece.  I would not let her have this book, and I'm pretty sure my sister wouldn't either.)

Still.  A free book in the mail is enough to make me smile on any day.

How do you feel about age listings on books?  What makes a book "okay" for an 8-year-old or a 12-year-old or "14 and up"?  If you write MG or YA, do you think about the age range of the children for which you're writing stories?  

Discuss!  And I'll see you all on Monday.

*Edited to add:  Please see Josh Getzler's comment in the comment box to further this discussion!*

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May Secret Agent #50

TITLE: Elven Soul
GENRE: YA Epic Fantasy

Her booted steps made a lonely echo through the polished hallways of the imperial palace. Colette was dwarfed by the marble columns, and shame hurried her pace when she passed a large window stained with the image of a triumphant battle. Where others were awed, Colette saw pretension. Her simple raiment of black trousers and blouse were a protest to the hollow beauty surrounding her.

The influence of the imperial family and the legions under their command originated here in Asadia and then fanned out. Her father's reign had set the empire to straining further into untamed lands. His five heirs served as spearheads in this campaign, including her. Yet failure was all she could lay claim to after willfully surrendering a victory.

Her face settled into a disgruntled frown, and she flipped her strawberry-blond braid over her shoulder. If she was given the opportunity to do it all over again, she would still make the same decision to withdraw. She had done the right thing. That much she knew in her heart.

Passing into the open-sided hallway lining the training courtyard, the clash of wooden sword on wooden sword greeted her as Jean, her second-in-command, led young legionnaires in practice. All of them were stripped down to the waist, but Jean was the only one whose body was decorated with scars. They crisscrossed his deeply tanned chest, yet none marred his face.

May Secret Agent #49

TITLE: An Uncommon Blue
GENRE: YA Dystopian

Madame Axelle dropped an exam on my desk. “Good luck, Bruno,” she said with a wink.

I tried to smile, but only managed a grimace. The final was thick this year. I fingered the edge of the packet, waiting for permission to turn it over.

Why was I so nervous? Yeah, it was the last test before classification, but I had remembered to study. What I’d forgotten was the protein bars. Only two hours past lunch and I was already getting hungry again.

The room went dark.


I picked at my eraser and waited for my eyes to adjust. I knew the school just wanted to make it harder for us to see our neighbor’s answers, but trying to write while using my palm as a lamp was not one of my strengths.

I flipped the test over and read the first question by the bluish light of my fire:

1. According to Télesphorian legend, how did the first man and woman populate the world?

a. one at a time through natural reproductive means

b. teaching wolves to walk upright and speak

c. bringing stones to life by touching them

d. planting their severed fingers in the soil to grow children

I grinned. Every kid in Télesphore knew the story of the couple that wandered the planet touching rocks and turning them into people. Maybe this test would be easier than I thought.

I was already through two more questions when I noticed a folded piece of paper at the corner of my desk.

May Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Black Rose
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Inside the crowded club, the smell of humans hung heavy in the air. Behind the counter, I stood with my back to the customers waiting for service, bit my finger and held it over my coffee cup. Three round red drops of blood plopped into the dark liquid below. I licked my finger, sealing over the two puncture marks and turned around to watch the room. As I sipped the coffee, the scalding liquid hit my stomach with the force of a cyclone. The infusion of blood would make sure it stayed there.

People swung and gyrated on the dance floor to the hypnotic sound of salsa music. Sweaty and panting, they came and stood at the counter demanding water, beer, munchies and just a bit too much attention. Their scent permeated everything. My clothes, my hair, even the gleaming mahogany of the bar. The monster inside me threatened to uncurl, wanting to luxuriate in the smell. Inhaling deeply from my coffee, I shut my eyes, concentrating on the slightly acrid odor. You don’t feed from humans, I told myself, the ever-deriding voice inside my head stern and edged with anger. The voice—sounding way to much like my master—taunted me, telling me I was a fool to think I could run a club catering to humans.

When I opened my eyes, Nikolai reclined on a barstool across from me—a trick only he could pull off and make it look comfortable.

May Secret Agent #47

GENRE: YA contemporary

My mother’s mission in life is to change me. She’ll deny it, but it’s gotten so obvious since Daddy’s accident. For instance she’s been buying me clothes, which she has to know I’ll never wear, and just yesterday she made a hair appointment for me. With her hair dresser.

“Jenna and I are going back to school shopping today.” I take the paring knife on the kitchen counter and instead of dipping it in the butter I drag it across the cutting board, carving a deep, short line. It feels so good, and I bend over to smell the wood, but there’s no fragrance. Mama doesn’t notice. She taps her paint can with a teaspoon and pops the lid off. She’s so wrapped up in her latest paint adventure for the kitchen.

“You agreed to visit Daddy today, Stoney, remember? We’ve already talked about this.” Tap, tap. “It’s been three months. This is ridiculous.” TAP! She waves the spoon at me. “You’ve never liked change and now it’s worse than ever. But things change, Stoney. They have to.”

“Don’t analyze me. And, it hasn’t been three months. That’s an exaggeration.” Her glare burns into me. “I’m almost sixteen. You can’t make me go.”

“I don’t want to make you visit your father. Don’t you want to see him? He misses you.”

“Jenna can’t go shopping any other time.” Mama makes that face. The one that says, You Are Impossible.

“We’ll visit after you’re done shopping.”

May Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Here Comes the Sun
GENRE: YA-Contemporary

I should have known from the amount of diet coke I drank that I would have to pee as soon as I stepped on board the plane. And of course I can't use the bathroom while the plane is still sitting on the tarmac, because that would look asinine. I can just imagine what my classmates would think. “Oh look, there goes Tooty Fruity. She has to pee already. Didn't she know about the bathrooms in the airport?” And I do. I used them. But my bladder is the size of a walnut, unable to bear the strain of sixty four ounces of sweetened, zero calorie pop consumed in approximately fifteen minutes.

So here I am, my legs tingling because I'm crossing them so tight, staring obsessively at the giant red X above the bathroom door, willing it to turn green. I fight back my tears as I shoot my head into the aisle every three seconds to check on the status of the bathroom. I don't see my classmates. Don't notice if they're staring and leering or ignoring me as usual. I just see the small aisle connecting two bathrooms, and giant X's above them both.

“Here Tooty Fruity,” Meredith whispers as she bumps my arm. My lower half screams at her as I whip my head back in my seat.

My nickname. It's short. Sweet. And totally humiliating. And as I size up Meredith, I realize in her flat eyes that to her it's just a name.

May Secret Agent #45

TITLE: Crystal Children
GENRE: YA Dystopian

If she had to be confined anyway, Raine preferred sleep or at least rest. But pain with every breath wouldn’t allow her to do either. So when someone ripped away her blanket there was no reprieve or gradual return to awareness, she immediately felt the pang of the sun. There was no method to the foraging of her person that followed. The sun-proof socks she’d bartered at one of the roadside towns were removed and presumably claimed. The pockets of her threadbare shorts rummaged.

Being robbed was inconsequential. Most of her valuables had been taken days ago. However, the thief’s disregard bothered Raine. He never even checked to see if she was alive or dead. How could he not feel the heat of her fever?

The disregard made it impossible for Raine to keep her eyes closed any longer. When the thief kneaded along her stomach as if he suspected that someone may have used her body as storage space, the pain became too much. She opened her eyes.

“She’s alive,” the thief yelled as he fell away from her.

And when Raine saw him— all blonde hair, clear eyes and skin that had somehow averted the odd orange tint— she matched his yelp. Why had she opened her eyes? She should have played along, pretended to be dead.

“How’d you guess?” asked a voice that Raine didn’t have the strength to sit up and put a face to. “The breathing or the fact that she’s looking at you like you’re a monster?”

May Secret Agent #44

GENRE: YA Paranormal

I've lived next door to Frankie my entire life. We played together when we were little. He pulled my pigtails. I tattled, he teased.

He's the best friend I've ever had.

I've been in love with him as long as I can remember. That’s my secret.

He's been dead for two years.

Today is the second anniversary of his death. It's been exactly seven hundred and thirty days since the car accident that took his life, and didn't take mine. Seven hundred and thirty days since the only guy I've ever loved died in my arms, followed me home from the hospital, and never left my house again.

I'm in love with a ghost who has absolutely no idea I feel this way, and worse - probably still sees me like an annoying kid sister. No. Big. Deal.
I mean, sure, it took some getting used to, but eventually I had to accept the fact that he's here for good. There's no mourning him, and there's no moving on with my life.

Two years. Two years since my life as a normal teenager went right out the window. Two years since Frankie became nearly invisible.
Looking at him now, leaning up against the antique roll top desk my mom insists is proper living-room décor, he’s beautiful, even in death.
I watched him die, you know. I held onto him as the last breath left his body. I cried and screamed, but no one came in time. No one heard me.

May Secret Agent #43

TITLE: Cloven
GENRE: Paranormal

I am a creature.

Not a vampire, a werewolf or a ghoul but something long forgotten.

I am a faun, that woodland sprite out of Roman lore.

I first made the change eleven years ago, when Mother roused me from sleep with a whisper.

“Wake up, Dolcunus. It’s time.”

“Time for what?”

“Father will explain. Come.”

Mother took my hand and led me down the stairs, and with each step, Father’s presence on the landing loomed larger, a black chasm I thought would surely swallow me whole.

Soon thereafter I was bundled into the car and brought to a clearing in the woods, where the trees towered over me like ancient sentinels. They formed a circle, these trees—oak and ash and hoary willows, their twisting branches creaking in the slight wind.

Father quickly built up a fire, and in mere moments, the hungry flames licked at the knotted wood. “Come, Dolcunus,” he said. “Kneel.” His outstretched hand gestured to a small stone altar covered in ivy.

I stood up. Fallen branches snapped under my bare feet. The short robe I wore flapped around my skinny knees. I knelt as Father began to play a curious instrument. They were panpipes I would learn later, and the melody that rose in rhythm with my heartbeat was odd and wondrous at the same time.

That’s when they came out of the forest.

May Secret Agent #42

TITLE: My Bad Reputation
GENRE: Contemporary YA

If punctuality is a virtue, the members of Houndstooth are bad to the bone.

What with my sleeping habits, Tommy’s job, and Gretchen’s general disregard for time, our weekend practices usually get off to a slow start. Even Steve, whose bedroom is just two floors above the basement where we jam, occasionally rolls in a half hour behind schedule. But this Saturday afternoon, Gretchen and Steve are already tuning up their guitars as I bound down the cellar stairs. Tommy follows not two minutes later, smelling like fried food from work at the Chicken Shack.

“I’ll have a bucket of extra crispy!” Gretchen yells at him as he takes off his jacket.

I grab a can of Red Bull from Steve’s mini-fridge and sit down behind the drum set.

“A whole bucket?” Tommy says. “Someone call the beach patrol, cause it must be shark week!”

Bah-dum CHING! I punctuate his crack at our leading lady with a quick sting on the drums. Steve smirks underneath the protection of his old beat-up Phillies cap.

“Whatever,” Gretchen says. “You’ll all be thanking me in about 30 seconds.”

“For..?” I wonder.

She looks at us smugly. “So you know how this band has been together for almost a year without playing a single show?”

We know. It’s not so easy to get a gig when you live in the suburbs, are under 21, and can only play a few steps above not sucking.

May Secret Agent #41

TITLE: The Exiled God
GENRE: Fantasy

“War.” The word sunk like a stone on her tongue, cold and suffocating.

The war horn blew again and fish fell from the beaks of herons as the birds took flight from the rocks. The ships came in to dock, salt crusted on their hulls and their golden banners flapping. Pelagia ran, her bare feet slipping over the grooves of worn crags. She clambered up over the wall surrounding the temple, her hands sliding nimbly into the crevices between stones.

“Grandmother!” she called, running past the fields of bleating goats and beneath the shade of olive trees. Beyond the shadows of the archway, the marble gods watched her from the triptychs on the walls. The sound of her footsteps echoed down the hall, empty in her wake.

Pelagia took the steps two at a time and vaulted the last three. A hand caught her by the elbow and reeled her in. Her heart leapt into her throat. Hieron pulled her into his chambers, a smile teasing the corners of his lips when he looked at her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her in, her red hair curling about the fine golden hair of his bare chest. She stilled and, for a moment, relaxed.

“Pelagia, what are you—“

“Hieron.” She touched his face and traced the lines of his jaw; she looked into his eyes, the deep green of a troubled sea. “The ships have returned from across the far sea! We must tell the others.”

May Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Dragon
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

Maay hummed as she worked at the old loom, the dull clack of wood like a lullaby to her ears. Sunlight blazed into the small solarium, its normally stifling heat cooled by the wind blowing through the open windows. Tall, potted plants screened the bulk of the sunlight from those first entering, their green leaves bright and inviting as they bobbed in the breeze.

She cocked her head to the sound of footsteps echoing through from the open door on the other side of the living barrier. Men. It had to be for their boots to hit the stone with such a racket. One pair punctuated by the clink of metal.

Maay frowned at the woven threads before her, idly looping another through the strands. Not many men came into this quarter of the castle, mostly servants with their soft shoes and irritating tendencies to blend into the background.

She glanced over her shoulder, gaze perusing the room before settling on the wide leaves overhanging the tiny foliage-crafted doorway. You’re imagining things again. Why earlier, she could’ve sworn she’d heard the flap of massive wings. Like a dragon.

Holding her breath, she strained to hear anything other than the tramp of boots. Birdsong drifted in on the breeze, the flit of tiny wings filled the void. No dragons. Maay exhaled gustily. Foolish to think there would be. Such mighty beasts hadn’t flown over Byron’s Peak since before her birth. Too busy guarding the kingdom’s borders to travel this far inland.

May Secret Agent #39

GENRE: YA Contemp

My parents are ashamed of me.

And I'm not just another angst riddled teen, wallowing in self-pity, trying to vilify my mother and father. No, this is about the way I look – the lack of hair. And the fact I don’t care that I’m completely bare.

Honestly, I wish this was about my phone privileges being taken away or bring forced to eat vegetables. I’d rather be ostracized because I pierced my nose or got a tattoo instead of something completely out of my control, a genetic disorder. Okay, ostracized might be a bit dramatic, but they hide me away when they have their dinner parties, practically locking me in my room! I’m a ghost in my own home.

And please don’t feel bad about all this. I’m rather sick of people feeling bad for me. There is only so much pity one person can take, only so many sympathetic glances.

Besides, my parents can’t be faulted for being extremely superficial people. After all, Mother inherited it from her mother, which is something called ‘learned behaviour’. Apparently it’s very common, but it seems ridiculous to me. Aren’t we supposed to avoid making the same mistakes our parents made?

Okay, I’ll admit I used to be identical to them, back when I was their ‘little princess’. But things change, eyebrows are lost, arm hair is shed. Nothing really stays the same forever.

And, judging by the conversation I’m eavesdropping on, more change is on route.

May Secret Agent #38

GENRE: Steampunk YA

Monday 11th January 1836
St Matthews Boarding School, York, ENGLAND

Allie glared out the thick glass window at the giant elm, its skeletal form draped in gossamer ribbons made from snow and ice. She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead to the cold glass. In her mind, she saw lush green palm fronds reaching out to a breeze, heat shimmering off parched sand.

“Cairo,” she whispered, willing the image outside the window to change. Opening her eyes, she sighed and banged her head gently against the pane. ‘Nope, still stuck in York. I hate snow. Nothing good ever happens when it snows.’

She spun away from the window and ran straight into three boys. One shouldered her roughly, scattering her books all over the corridor.

She automatically muttered “sorry” and bent to retrieve the fallen items. Three pairs of booted feet gathered around her in silence. No one spoke a word or offered to help and she felt an icy prickle of warning run down her spine. A flash of burnished steel caught her eye. The roving cleaning bot shared her instinct, it turned tail and scurried for its docking station bolthole.

Allie slowly piled the books on top of each other, discretely sliding a hand up the side of her right boot. She drew her dagger from its hidden sheath and palmed it amongst the stack. As she stood, she slung the books on her left hip while eyeing the situation.