Monday, December 30, 2013

What the New Year Will Bring

Hello, all!  I promised you I'd let you know what to expect in the coming year, so here it is.  But first, you absolutely have to see this:

My wonderful sister gave me these necklaces for Christmas.  Can there be a gift that says BOOK GEEK more loudly?  I love these necklaces more than I should.  No, really.  My sister knows me SO WELL.  And Pride and Prejudice is one of those "sister things" that stretches back to our teen years.  So not only do the necklaces reflect my bookish self to the Nth degree, but also they represent my relationship with my sister.

She is an incredible gift-giver.

You may or may not have read my mini-story on Twitter on Christmas Eve.  The planned-forever visit from my sister and her family almost didn't happen, you see.  Their cat, who recently had a leg amputated, became suddenly ill on the 23rd--he couldn't move at all.  That night, while Mr. A and I were out on a Very Christmasy Date, my sister called me in tears.

"We're not coming."

It was a moment of stunning denial.  I couldn't accept that all the planning, all the special touches, all the anticipation would come to nothing.  I hadn't seen her on Christmas since 1999, and now a cat was going to usurp our plans?  

But I kept my voice calm and asked her to call me in the morning after they'd seen the vet.  

Mr. A asked me if I'd rather cut our date short and go home, but what would have been the point of that?  To go home and sulk?  So we stayed out and had a lovely evening.  Every time I remembered my sister, though, an emptiness yawned inside me like a bottomless hole.  I wanted to be with my sister for Christmas--such a simple thing, really--and I couldn't bear the thought of Christmas without her.

My sister, of course, had lamented on Facebook about the plight of the cat and the ruined plans.  When I checked Facebook on the morning of the 24th, I noticed a comment from one of my sister's local friends:  "We will take care of the cat."

My heart leaped--but my sister hadn't seen the comment yet.  So I gave it a "like" and went along with my Christmas Eve Morning (which consists of making gingerbread people).  A couple hours later, my sister texted me:  "Pray!  Got an offer."  Then, minutes later, "Never mind.  It won't work."  The reason?  They had to get the cat back to the vet the day after Christmas, early in the morning.

And yet this Selfless Person wasn't daunted.  She had no problem taking the cat to the vet at 8:00 am the morning after Christmas.  No problem caring for a paralyzed cat around the clock during a major holiday.

My sister texted, "Who the heck would offer to squeeze someone else's cat's bladder?"

And I laughed--the first laughter since her teary call from the night before.  So it was settled, and this amazing person I've never met saved our Christmas celebration.  When I messaged her to express my thanks, this was her reply:

It is our pleasure to do this.  It is not a sacrifice for us at all. (M) and I do not have family, so we stay home.  To enable another family to spend Christmas together is a joy.  It's going to end up being our blessing!


To her, it was nothing.  A trifle.  No sweat.  To us, it was everything.  It was this Christmas's greatest gift.

The NOISE, NOISE, NOISE, NOISE in my house (who knew a not-quite-2-year-old could be THAT loud?) was so worth it.  And the ringing silence in the aftermath simply reminds me of the joy of their presence over the last few days.  

That, and I have these amazing necklaces.  :)

So.  That's my story.  And now, as the year draws to a close, here is what you can expect from MSFV during 2014:


I have decided to cut back.  The Secret Agent Contests will take place during the following months:



This will follow its regular schedule, with logline critiques beginning in October, submissions in November, and the actual auction in December.


Someone recently commented on the blog that the original intention of this blog--the critique to better our writing--continues to be met.  And I want this original spirit to continue to shine throughout this coming year.  We don't need contests and hooplah to grow as writers; we need hard work and the honest critique of our colleagues.  And we need a safe venue for this critique, which is what I've always wanted this place to be.  So during the off-months, we're going to be having plenty of opportunities for feedback on our writing.  The thing that's REALLY GREAT about this is that, since there aren't agents or editors involved in our in-house critique sessions, we can include WIPs as well as completed manuscripts.  So those of you who aren't quite ready to query yet can still receive valuable critique on your work.  And I feel like this is really important.

Right now, I'm thinking MORE critique rounds with FEWER entries per round, to tone down the overwhelm factor.  And I want to hear your feedback on this, so please do leave your thoughts below!


Yes, I'm going to do another one this year, TBA.  But the last one I held (several months ago) was way down on numbers, so I'm going to keep this to once a year.  If you're looking for critique partners and you're not subscribed to the blog, please subscribe so that you don't miss this (it will occur during a non-Secret Agent month).  


Because the 3-page edits I offered to entrants in the Baker's Dozen turned out to be a wonderful (and time effective) way to offer feedback to story openings, I have decided to extend this offer to everyone.  Here are the details:

I am offering a 3-page line edit and editorial letter for $18, payable through paypal.  I'll take a look at all genres except erotica.  If you're interested in hiring me, please email me at authoress.edits(at)  (Please DO NOT email me at my facelesswords account!)

And that's that!  I feel like this schedule gives me a better handle on running the blog (which admittedly feels like a heavier burden when I'm in the midst of revisions), and I hope it works for you, too.  Thank you again for reading, and for being a part of this community.  I remain honored to be one of the voices in your writerly journeys.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Holiday Thank You

To My Faithful Blog Readers:

Thank you for another year of your eyeballs on my words here.

Thank you for bravely putting forth your work for critique.

Thank you for offering your own critique to others here, who, like you, are striving to better their work.

Thank you for giving feedback when I've asked for it, and even when I haven't.

Thank you for your support and encouragement during my this-isn't-fun times.

Thank you for sending your friends and colleagues here, that they might benefit from our community.

Thank you for sometimes making me laugh out loud.  Or Chesire-grin.  Or tear up with gratefulness.

Thank you for sharing your journeys, your struggles, your victories, your hearts.

Thank you for being teachable.  And for teaching.

Thank you for being one important voice in the Writing Community.  Every time you reach out, you leave your mark.  Every time you pay it forward, a new blessing will come your way.

I'm honored to be here with you.  I love (love! love!) the beauty of writerdom.  And I'm truly thankful for what each of you has given here.

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas!

Happy New Year!

Naturally, the blog will be dark while I'm feasting on the joy of being with those I love best.  May your holidays be equally rich!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Fricassee

I unabashedly love Christmastime.  Not the commercialism, not the traffic, not the intellectual-coma-inducing horribleness of the holiday not-really-music they blast in stores, gas stations, and anywhere else your unsuspecting ears happen to show up.

But I love the sparkle.  I love holding secrets inside me--gifts and surprises for the people I love best.  (Right now, I'm tracking the it-cost-27-bucks-to-mail-this-box-to-Pennsylvania package that's on its way to my parents' house.  It's supposed to arrive on Monday.  Place your bets!)  And in addition to the importance of my faith and the reason for the celebration, I simply adore the beauty and simplicity of what Christmas is to me.  I don't spend thousands of dollars.  I don't get caught up in the "have-tos" and "musts" and "obligatory garbage".

I do bake cookies.  And eat them.  (And eat them.  And...)  And I'm especially excited this year because my sister and her family are traveling ON CHRISTMAS DAY so that we can be together ON CHRISTMAS NIGHT.  My sister and I haven't been together for Christmas since 1999.  That's a lot of years to not be together on our favorite holiday.  So naturally I'm doing all sorts of Happy Things (like putting a tiny Christmas tree in the guest room) to celebrate being with my sister this year.

So that's where my heart and my mind and my focus have been this past week.  But I do want to offer a bit of a writerly "gift", so to speak, to you--specifically to those of you who are either currently revising or getting ready to revise a novel.  And here it is:

In my editing this past year, and in the Baker's Dozen slush, there is a recurring problem that, if addressed, will breathe life into so many stories that want to be told, but need to be told BETTER.  The problem is TOO MUCH TELLING.  I know you've heard it dozens of times, but it's absolutely true.  Let me show you what I mean:


Lacy shivered in the icy bathwater.  It wasn't her choice to be married to the Dragon King, but what could she do?  Ever since her father, King Fingerling, had died, Lacy had tried hard to keep the kingdom running smoothly.  There were balls to organize, peasants to appease, and, oh, yes, there were all those political things to attend to.  When the Dragon Kingdom started to become a problem, Lacy knew she had to do something to keep the peace.  She never dreamed that "keeping the peace" would mean soaking in a frigid bath to lower her body temperature so that she would be acceptable in the presence of the Dragon King.  Everyone knew that Dragons were coldblooded, and the warmbloodedness of humans was one thing that would raise their ire--and, unfortunately, their appetites.  Two young maidens had gone missing just this month, and Lacy could tell that people were feeling pretty annoyed by this.    She sighed and drew up her knees, wrapping her arms around them in an attempt to get warm.

Now, Lacy might have an interesting story to lead us into, but there's absolutely nothing happening in the above paragraph but BLAH BLAH BLAH.  And to be perfectly honest, if not slightly tactless, that is what I have seen a fair amount of, both in openings and in the body of manuscripts:  BLAH BLAH BLAH.

It is certainly important to give us backstory and world details -- we do need to know about the Dragon Kingom, and about the need to lower Lacy's body temperature (wow, am I good at coming up with story lines off the cuff or what? I should try to write a novel some time...).  But, even though the above paragraph contains some important story information, it's too much all at once, and it doesn't do ANYTHING to draw us into Lacy's world.

Seriously.  I see this a lot.  And if you're revising or getting ready to revise your novel, I want you to keep this in mind.

Here's a better version of my soon-to-be bestseller's opening:

Lacy shivered in the icy bathwater.  Five minutes had felt like fifty, and it would take at least half an hour to lower her body temperature to the proper level for meeting the Dragon King.

"Just a little w-warmer?" she asked Marta, who had just arrived bearing a copper bucket.

"No, Majesty, " Marta said.  "I've brought some more ice."

Lacy groaned.  "I think I'd rather die."  She drew up her knees and wrapped her arms around them.

"Now, then," Marta said, dumping the ice into the water.  "You know the Dragon King won't let you near him if you're even a degree too warm."

It was true--the Dragons were ridiculously inflexible about the body temperature thing.  As if being warmblooded were somehow beneath them.  

"L-let's just come up with another plan to save the kingdom," Lacy said.  "I don't w-want to marry the Dragon King." 

(You're dying to read the story now.  I can tell.)

But seriously--aside from the silliness, you can see that, in the second example above, we jump right into the scene.  We see Lacy drawing up her legs to get warm; we hear the chill in her words as she stutters through her shivering.  We see Marta bringing a bucket of ice, and we first learn about the Dragon King in the context of dialogue.  There's a smattering of information in the sixth paragraph, but it's just enough to give us what we need to keep reading the scene.  It's not a big chunk of BLAH BLAH BLAH that kills the pacing or makes our eyes glaze over.

Anyway.  My gift to you, small though it may be.  If this was something you needed to read, I hope it will allow you to look at your own work with fresh eyes.

Happy writing, happy weekend, and I'll see you Monday!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Drop the Needle: Critique Guidelines

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

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

Drop the Needle #25

TITLE: Exile

The two characters, age 15, are exiles in an low-tech society. He has been practicing for two days with her spearthrower (atlatl), proving as incompetent at it as he is expert at bringing down rabbits with stones.

She bites her lip, turns away, and says in a voice I strain to hear, “I made you something.”

Dinner? I don’t say it aloud, and then I’m glad I've kept my mouth shut when she reaches into the smaller cave and pulls out her spearthrower.

It’s different, somehow. It takes me a dozen heartbeats to realize it’s more than changed. It’s new.

“For you,” she mumbles.

“A….” I can manage no more. I thought the world had barred all presents to an exile, allowing no rewards beyond the bare price of survival we eke out each day. My eyes hurt. I turn away so that she doesn’t see me rub surreptitiously at them.

“Do you like it?”

A weight falls across my heart. I have nothing for her, nothing to offer in return except – at best – yet another rabbit.

“But that’s what a present is,” she says. “Otherwise it’s just trading.”

“Well, then…. Thank you.”

“See,” she says, laughing, “You did give me something. A thank-you is gift enough.” I don’t believe her, but she points to the cave. “You’ve given me a lot. You saved my life.” She whispers the last part.

We’ve saved each other’s lives. No bartercounter keeps track, but I suspect there’s not much owing either way.

The next day I hurl spears at two more deer. I might have hit the second one if a tree hadn’t gotten in the way.

("Bartercounter": accountant, sort of. )

Drop the Needle #24

GENRE: Adult Steampunk Fantasy

Bess has fled her abusive smuggler employer, choosing a barely-better life as courtesan to a manipulative nobleman. She’s unexpectedly encountered a former delivery client with cause to report discovering her to her former employer.

“Madam, a word,” The Alchemist set his pipe beside the till. “There are some instructions for your medicine.” He began scratching on a pad of paper.

Regenzi nudged Bess back with a reassuring smile and stayed just outside the threshold, searching about the pockets of his frock coat for his cigarette case. The bell rang as the door closed between them.

Bess stepped up to the high counter. The Alchemist pushed the pad and pen aside. The pipe smoldering by his elbow smelled of marjoram and fennel.

“The philter is nothing more than distilled water and some ginger tonic,” he said. “And you’re not a hysteric, in any case.”

Bess tried to look at him squarely. “I know.”

He snorted and looked toward the front window. Regenzi stood under the awning, wreathed by fog and cigarette smoke.

“Stay with that one and we’ll see how long your nerves last,” The old man folded the note and offered it between two fingers. “I have a customer in Oldtemple Down who keeps a ladies’ garment shop. She complains how hard it is to find a good clerk.”

Bess turned the paper over in her hands. Through its ecru fiber, she saw the digits of an address written in a tight, precise hand.

“Thank you,” she murmured. She slipped the note into her bodice.

“Your lover has need of rather dangerous things. Be mindful what that might mean for you.”

And then he turned, shrugging past the heavy curtain behind the till, quite as if she were already gone.

Drop the Needle #23

TITLE: Wilderness
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fiction

The day after Mia finds out that the only way she can get off academic probation is to sign up for the Wilderness trip, she goes out to a birthday dinner with her parents and her best friends, Val and Blade.

After dessert, Blade slides a shoebox-sized present in front of me. “Happy Birthday.”

I slide the top off. Inside are four pairs of wool socks and a flashlight.

“That’s the kind of flashlight I used last year,” Blade says. “It gets dark early in the mountains.”

I gasp. “I haven’t even signed up yet!”

Blade smiles. “I have a feeling you will.”

Mom sets down her wineglass. “Honestly, girls. Traipsing around with snakes and bears and sleeping in dirt?”

“Wilderness is a life-changing experience,” Blade says. “It gets you in touch with who you really are inside…your best moral self.”

“By living like an outdoor savage?” Mom bursts out in drunken laughter like it’s the funniest thing.

"I think most people are better than they think they are,” Blade says. “More honorable.”

“That’s very inspiring.” Mom says. “I like you, Blade. I hope you can be Mia’s co-leader so you can look out for her. And while we’re on the subject of Mia, why don’t you ask her out sometime? On a real date?”

“Mom!” My ears are on fire. Blade’s face flames red.

“What?” Mom says innocently. “You are seventeen, you should go on a date. With a young, responsible gentleman. Prom is just around the corner.”

Dad tries to hush her up. “Cherie, stop. You’re embarrassing Mia…”

“Alright, alright, it’s just when I was her age…” Mom says.

Blade gives me a shy smile.

I want to die.

Drop the Needle #22

TITLE: House of the Adepts
GENRE: Mystery

After spending her birthday picnicking with friends, Chara comes home to her embittered kinswoman.

When Aimer saw Chara home it was late, and she was tired but happy. Chynane was still up. She sat by a candle plaiting reeds.

“Greetings, Chynane! Did you enjoy the festival?”

Chynane smiled sourly, “Festivals can make no difference to me. While you were gadding about with your fine friends I was working. Some one has to keep this place up. As you won’t help, it falls to me.”

Chara knew better than to argue.

Chynane saw Chara’s pouch with the presents in it, and her eyes gleamed. “What’s in the sack?”

“Just some odds and ends,” said Chara. She’d have to keep her treasures up at the House so Chynane wouldn’t take them. “Are you making hats?” When warmer weather came Chynane added reed-woven hats to her stock.

“I am. The least you can do is cut those reeds for me.”

Chara was not at practiced at weaving as Chynane, but she sometimes she helped gather and dry reeds, and she knew how to trim and split them so they could be woven. She settled herself on the other side of the candle and began. “Did you find the gifts?” she asked.

Chynane snorted. “What good are those things to me? What I need is coin, girl.” Chynane went on, “You make such a fool of yourself. ‘Did you find the gifts?’ Talking like quality or trying to when you are nothing more than a servant. How stupid is that? Do you really think you fool anyone?”

Drop the Needle #21

TITLE: Music = Love
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Hayley had a mental breakdown after colliding with a student soaked from the rain - she has a phobia being wet. To stave off panic attack, she hid out in the girls bathroom and SOS messaged music obssessed cutie Lewis for music help.

The next morning, I woke up with sounds in my ears. They were different than the music I usually fell asleep to. I jolted up, sitting straight in bed. My mp3 player is low on battery, I usually manage to wake up just before dozing off to shut it down. I don’t immediately recognize the music on this playlist, wondering why this isn’t II, until I see the title of the playlist and everything comes rushing back.


I smile a little. Okay, definitely a lot more than usual when I first wake up. Lewis.

I grab my phone, the bright screen tells me its nine-thirty. Guess Mom let me have my day off, which was really nice of her. We’ve been down this road before with my anxiety, so I guess she learned from last time.

I padded around the quiet house, making breakfast and staying in my pajamas since I couldn’t leave the house until after school. Mom left me a note on the kitchen table.

Thought I’d give you the day off. We can deal with it on Monday. I’m going out tonight, so here’s some cash if you want to go out with Lindsay or get something nice for dinner. We need to talk tomorrow about what happened, though.

I took the cash and left it by my keys. Pizza and movie night is so happening tonight. Anything to pretend like yesterday didn't happen.

Drop the Needle #20

TITLE: Mirror Reader
GENRE: Fantasy Romance

Alice's daughter has been kidnapped by a god. Keoki is her ex-fiance. The ghost of Keoki's grandfather has told her a pocket watch that once belonged to her ancestor can help her get her child back.

Alice glanced up to see Keoki dangling the pocket watch by its chain.

Hopping to her feet and eager to accept her prize, she brushed sand off her knees and rushed toward him.

Keoki narrowed his eyes at the timepiece, its tarnished surface beaded with rain that dripped down his hand. "It won't open."

"Let me try." She reached for it, but he held it away from her.

"I've lost people I cared about," he said, his tone more wistful than sad. She had no doubt he included her on his list of losses, just as she did him.

"Me, too." They had both lost their parents in very different ways. Death wasn't the only means to the end of someone. "I'm sorry for your loss."

"And I'm sorry for yours. I won't let you lose more than you already have. It's time for us to go find your daughter."

He placed the watch in the palm of her hand and let the chain pool in a loose coil beside it. When she glanced up, the trace of a smile on Keoki's handsome face warmed her heart.

She clutched the object that could be all she'd need to ensure Olina's safe return home. Gazing at Keoki, she saw the strength of conviction inside the man he'd become. She couldn't help but wonder how he would react once he found out Olina was his. She wanted so badly to trust him enough to tell him and in time, perhaps she could.

Drop the Needle #19

TITLE: Silver
GENRE: Science Fiction

Alinda is the head of the Peacekeep force, but she has just been forced out of her position by the city's corrupt governing body.

She stood there beside Oddo, gripping the crate she had filled with her belongings while she scanned her emptied office. He put a hand on her shoulder. “Maybe you’ll get back here. Once you’ve cleared up this mess with the Venerables. You could rescind the position and take this job back.”

“I could…” It was theoretically possible. And highly, highly unlikely. “I’d better hurry if I want to say goodbye to all the Cadets.” She glanced at the timepiece on her logbook. “Don’t you have to teach a class?”

“Garin’s going to cover for me,” he said. “I’m taking the rest of the day off.”

“Thank you.”

His hand tightened on her shoulder. “I could hardly leave you alone to all this.”

Turning her back on the office took tremendous effort, but once it was done Alinda walked briskly down the station hallway, Oddo at her side. All the Cadets were waiting for her just inside the entrance.

She knew a quick farewell would be easier. “Well,” she said. Her voice came out hoarse. “Keep up the good work. Don’t get lazy while I’m gone.”

Gerica stepped forward, her mouth drawn in a tight, determined line. She handed something to Alinda. “Just our little way of saying thanks. For reminding us what our job really is.”

Alinda looked down at the smooth little circle of stone, then flipped it over. It was a carving of the ancient symbol for three. The emblem of the Third, of justice and fair judgment.

“Thank you,” she said, wrapping her hand tightly around the stone. She couldn’t say anything more.

Drop the Needle #18

TITLE: Alien Desires
GENRE: Paranormal romance

Calix is an alien (on a mission) who comes from a planet without love or closeness. Annie’s fallen for him, but doesn’t think he’ll ever understand what love is. In this scene, Annie has re-injured her ankle and Calix has rushed her home to her brother, Mac.

If Calix could make Annie’s pain his own, he would.

Mac came in with a blue item, placed a glass of water on the bedside table and handed her a small container. “Here ya go.”

She took the pills and sat up. When he slipped her sock off, she cried out.

“What are you doing to her?” Calix demanded.

“It’s okay,” she said. “He’s putting ice on it.”

“That will make it better?”

She nodded.

“Dang, Annie,” Mac said. “It’s really swollen. Shouldn’t you go to the doctor?”

“With this storm coming? No way. Just wrap it.”

He wrapped the blue item around her ankle. “You got something I can tie around this?”

“T-shirt. Middle drawer.” She opened the container and poured out a pill. “I have to take this with food.”

“I can get it.” Calix knew just what to bring her, too. He grabbed the keys Mac had placed on the counter and rushed outside. After searching through several bags, he found the box he was looking for. He returned to her bedroom, holding a donut.

Tears formed in her eyes and she bit her bottom lip. “You’re giving up one of your donuts for me?”

“I’ll leave you two alone.” Mac closed the door behind him.

Calix was confused. Did she or did she not like the donut? “If you do not like this, I can get you something else.”

“No, don’t. I love it. Thank you.”

Drop the Needle #17

GENRE: Science Fiction (Literary Crossover)

Jem has been secretly using his elderly guardian’s bow. On the previous day, the old man broke the weapon to keep Jem from using it again.

When Jem noticed that the bowstring the old man had been winding around his fingers yesterday was still on the platform beside him, he cleared his throat softly and pointed at it. “Could I have that--the bowstring?”

Avakab smiled faintly. He picked up the small coil of string and held it out toward Jem. “Of course. I don’t imagine I have any use for it.” He coughed and added, “I haven’t much use for anything now, have I?” The smile grew wider, as if he’d made a private joke.

Jem thanked him quietly and took the string.

After a silent moment, the old rebel’s expression grew thoughtful--perhaps even wistful--and he murmured, “I am sorry about the bow, young man. And I’m glad to think that someone else enjoyed it for a time.” He paused, then said very softly, “It gave me pleasure once, a long time ago. I wasn’t too bad of a shot with it. Though the knife was always my favorite. My special talent, I suppose.” His gaze went to the pale string Jem held almost tenderly in his fingers, the color of the little skein contrasting with the brown skin. “That would work well for string figures; I imagine you could cut a couple of lengths out of it.”

Cutting it hadn’t even occurred to Jem--right then the sentimental value of the bowstring seemed more important than any practical use for a length of string. But he was as touched as he was surprised when Avakab said, “I know you’re good at those.”

Drop the Needle #16

TITLE: Kitsune
GENRE: Romantic Science Fiction

Cho kicked Natsuke out before he was able to give her the birthday present he had for her. Now that she's on his planet, he's hoping to make amends.

He smiled right back at me, his eyes darkening a bit. "I have something for you." He handed me a black gift bag.

Buried in the red tissue paper was a small black box with a gold lid. Inside was a pair of white porcelain fox statues. They were almost mirrors of each other with their heads turned towards me. The stocky male was on the left with his right foot held over a flaming bowl. While the slender female was on the right. They were beautiful, in a demonic sort of way, with the gold streaks on their foreheads giving their eyes a wicked glint.

I looked up at Natsuke, not sure what to say.

He shrugged. "They reminded me of you, that's all." Then he looked away. "I'll understand if you don't like them."

"No, they're beautiful," I said, trying to reaffirm him. "It's just . . . What are they?"

"They're called Inari-Kitsune. As the myth goes, they were messengers for the god Inari. Though, some were evil tricksters who did more harm than good."

I couldn't help but stare at their mocking faces. One more thing to show he was a Prince and I was a nobody. "Where did you get them?"

"At my last dig. We found quite a collection of them, but these two looked the best." Natsuke focused on his teacup. "If you don't like them, I can always turn them over to Libraria Leonis."

I couldn't help but smile at the thought of having something the Leo Library didn't.

"I knew you'd like them."

"Thank you."

Drop the Needle #15

TITLE: Dreamwalking Under the Bloodmoon Sky
GENRE: YA Fantasy

After fleeing from her unwanted wedding, Rose takes refuge from a storm in a crumbling, abandoned castle. She’s just woken from a hallucinogenic mushroom-fueled nightmare. She’s looking through dusty trunks in the castle to find something to replace her ruined clothing:

Rose picked through the dresses she’d discarded earlier. They were incredible. And definitely a consolation for not keeping the cup. If she survived long enough to get these home to her father, they might make up for the fact that he hadn’t gotten anything for marrying her off.

Rose stripped off her own dress, and was ready to pull on the deep blue silk gown embroidered in bronze when a deep voice came from the open doorway.

“Well it’s about time you took me up on my offer. I told you you’d look fetching in my sister’s dress. I am glad you chose the blue. It nearly matches the shade of your eyes.”

Rose’s head shot up and the dress fell to the floor. She stood there in nothing but her chemise and corset as a young man in absurd trousers and a short, fur-lined robe leaned in the doorway watching her. She was definitely still hallucinating.

She narrowed her eyes at him, but he was very insistent on not dissolving into a pool of colors or turning into a frog. Her eyes were drawn to his absurdly purple pants. There was no way any young man would wear those pants. Not on purpose. But there he was standing there, grinning at her. While she stood in her underwear.

There was only one approach to verify his existence. She strode over to where he stood and gave him a shove.

“Sweet merciful sky gods! What was that for?”

Drop the Needle #14

TITLE: The Story of the Story of the Egg
GENRE: MG Adventure

The Story of the Story of the Egg takes place in Story City, where all stories meet their authors. Fin and his friends Oriel and Ingot are about to watch Fin’s older sister, an Epic, run an obstacle course.

Fresh fruit! Oranges, apples, grapefruit! Nickelodeon, zoetrope, kinetoscope!” The vocabulary fruit vendors called out their selections, naming the words along with the food. When the old seller saw Fin emerge from the crowd, he declared, “My favorite Bildungsroman! Tongue twister?”

“Roop roop!” called the Egg from her harness.

“Not for you, I’m afraid. Once you’re hatched, you come and see me,” he answered, and he patted Fin’s little sister’s shell with one hand. He was not tall as adult stories went, somehow catlike although he had the body of a thin and grizzled wolf with wings he always kept folded against his back. “Your friends are watching over there.”

“Okay, thanks,” said Fin. The fruit vendor called him a different kind of story every time they met, but he never once called him an Epic.

“Remember to eat it with the peel!” the short story chuckled. The twister was a star-shaped fruit, bright green. Its tartness screwed up Fin’s face, which made the contortions of speaking slightly easier.
“What’d you get?” Ingot appeared in front of him.

“The sixth sheik’s sixth sheep’s shick,” said Fin, stumbling with the last word.

Ingot frowned. “How come I only got ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers’? Mine wasn’t hardly sour at all.”

Oriel poked him in the side. “Duh!” She and Fin were always reminding Ingot to eat the peel, but he never would and he always wondered why his tongue twisters were the easy ones.

Drop the Needle #13

TITLE: The Dear Jane Letters
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

Fifteen-year-old Kate hasn't had many positive moments to write about in her journal lately. Not since losing her prime role in the school musical. The ones she does have, though, all seem to involve Henry.

We stood looking awkwardly at each other for a minute, and then he said, “here,” and handed me a small package. It was wrapped in silver paper with a blue bow on top.

I couldn’t believe it. I wished I had thought of bringing something for him.

Now, thinking back on it, I probably should have waited until after the show to open it. At the time, though, I didn't hesitate. I slid my fingernail carefully through the tape, wanting to save that shiny paper as if I could use it to wrap up the moment and slip it in my pocket.

I touched the cover of the box that was inside. It came off easily, as if it had been removed before – maybe a lot – to examine the contents.

There, gleaming softly against a deep blue velvet cushion, was a delicate silver bracelet. A small rectangular plate that read “Kate” was suspended on each side by a chain.

“Turn it over,” Henry urged.

On the back, engraved in script so small I could barely see it in the dim backstage light, was: “#1 Mrs. Paroo, The Music Man, Oliver King High School, 1985.”

It was Henry’s turn to seem flustered. “It’s because I really do think you're the best. The best Mrs. Paroo. I would have totally picked you if I'd been Horowitz and Jasper. And I think I can say that objectively, even though it’s kind of hard to know for sure, because I think I would pick you for just about anything.”

Drop the Needle #12

TITLE: Redwing
GENRE: Dieselpunk

Claire wants to be a fighter pilot and just showed them her stuff in tryouts, but was laughed off for being a woman.

“Message for C. Genaille,” said the boy at the door. In his hands was a freshly pressed uniform, with a folded paper on top. Genevieve handed it to her.

What was this? Was someone in the air corps adding insult to injury, she wondered, unfolding the paper. She read it.

C. Genaille is hereby reprimanded on the grounds of being late for combat flight training. Please report in uniform to the lecture hall B immediately.

Claire stared at it for a moment thinking it had to be a joke, or if she was just seeing things. Had Thomas changed his mind? She read it three times, trying to figure out how she’d read it wrong. She could have cried.

But there was no time for that now. She had to get to training.

“Here,” said the messenger, “There’s this too.” He handed her a small black velvet bag.

Claire thanked him and closed the door.

The uniform; they must have found the smallest size they could, but it fit fine—a little bit tight across the chest. The turtleneck stretched, so it was all right. The uniform had trousers instead of a skirt, but she didn’t mind—it made sense for a pilot, and she couldn’t expect special treatment. Under that was a fleece lined leather flight jacket with wolverine fur around the collar, like all the other pilots wore. The wolverine fur didn’t ice up in the cold up in the sky.

In the velvet bag were a set of collar devices with brass wings enameled red, denoting the rank of cadet.

Drop the Needle #11

GENRE: YA Science Fiction

To avoid an arranged marriage based on genetics and required participation in an experiment to explain why humanity’s birthrate came to a sudden, screeching halt, 16-year-old Cadi escapes and is forced to rely on family she barely knows to evade recapture.

“I can’t take your car,” I whisper as I stare at him. “You love it. Dad said it’s your prized possession.”

“Possessions don’t mean anything compared to family,” Grandpa says firmly. “Just think of it as 16 years of missed birthdays and Christmas’s. It’s yours now.”

He nods at Jack and I feel tears sting the corner of my eyes. “Teach her to drive it,” he orders. “Safely,” he cautions. “I’d teach Cadi myself, but we don’t have time. So it’s up to you.”

“Yes sir,” Jack says solemnly.

“It’s old enough that it’s not registered, so it should be discreet,” Grandpa continues, but I can barely hear him. I just stare at this person I hardly know, that I’d never even thought of before yesterday, but who has clearly thought of me for years. I imagine him on holidays with my parents; considering the fact that I was missed, without knowing I was even thought of.

Still unable to speak, instead I close the distance between myself and my grandfather and throw my arms around him. He hugs me back tightly. He smells like wood and some kind of spice. I bury my face in his soft, worn shirt.

“Thank you,” I finally choke out as tears streak down my cheeks.

“Hey now,” Grandpa replies, patting my back. “None of that. You’re my granddaughter, I’d help you build a bridge to the moon if you wanted one. Don’t thank me. I should have broken you out years ago.”

Drop the Needle #10

TITLE: Strife in Heliconia
GENRE: NA Fantasy

In the middle of the novel, the romantic leads give each other freedom to pursue what they think will make them happy. This choice means living in different worlds and probably never seeing each other again.

...“I’m trying to memorize what you look like,” Brooke said.

“You look the same right now as when I first saw you,” Taego said, “with the sun behind you… you’re beautiful.”

His words almost threatened her resolve. The air was beginning to warm up, and Taego would have to start his trip before it got too hot.

“I’m glad I met you,” Taego said. Emotion choked his words.

Brooke’s throat felt dry. “You should go, if you’re going,” she said, disentangling herself from Taego’s grasp before climbing out of the hole they had made. Taego followed her. Brooke watched the dirt fill back into the hole instead of looking at him.

“I’m not going to not say goodbye to you,” Taego said, taking Brooke’s hand.

“Figure out how to send messages back. Let me know how you’re doing.”

“Brooke. Will you look at me?” Taego asked. She did. “I promise I’ll keep in contact with you.” He brought both her hands up to his mouth and kissed them. Then he leaned toward her, hesitating. Brooke closed her eyes, and Taego kissed her forehead.

“Swear you’ll take care of yourself?” Brooke asked.

Taego nodded. Moving his lips to Brooke’s ear, he said, “You’ll always be my mate.”

Brooke opened her eyes and watched Taego pick up his sack and begin to walk away.

“Taego,” Brooke said, and he turned. “I’m glad. I mean…thank you for being my mate.”

Taego lifted his hand in goodbye before ascending into a barren, blue sky.

Drop the Needle #9

TITLE: Kasmir
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Liz is an 11 year old girl who accidently trapped herself, her brother, and her little sister in her imaginary world. Her sister was kidnapped and now she is on a quest to save her.

He unrolled the crisp parchment to reveal a colorful map. I quickly found the castle on one side, drawn in great detail. The flags shimmered, as if moving in a breeze. There was the main road leading to the village where small figures moved between buildings. Beyond that was the forest. A tiny lamp post glowed on the edge of the trees, and wolves roamed near a great tree. The tree I was now in.

I looked up with a gasp.

The old man laughed. “Yes, it is enchanted. But this map doesn’t just show movement, it shows change.”

As he spoke a large piece of the forest moved, pushing into a meadow. A river formed, snaking its way between the trees.

“This world is still new, still forming, and still very dependent on your imagination.”

“But I can’t control it,” I protested. “I’ve tried.”

“Maybe not consciously,” the old man said, chuckling, “but it still responds to your inner thoughts, fears, and desires. Currently the bandit’s hideout is here,” he pointed to a clearing in the heart of the forest where tiny figures were moving around.

“Then that is where we need to go,” I stated, confidence welling in me for the first time since the start of this crazy adventure.

“Yes,” the old man agreed. He rolled up the map and handed it to me. “The map will lead you there. Once you rescue your sister you must return to where you first arrived. That is where the door was torn between worlds."

Drop the Needle #8

TITLE: Patient Zero
GENRE: NA Speculative

Quinn likes Luke, but is unsure of him because he is a townie and she is a wealthy, art major college student. They aren't officially together...yet...

I sift through the delicate pink wrapping. “Where did you get this, the Girls’ Shop for Women and All Things Feminine and Ladylike?”

He emits another hearty laugh. “Pretty much. I don’t know, I just saw it and thought, what the hell.”

Nestled inside the paper is a small chain with a little, metal palette. It isn’t just silver either, it has colors for each of the bulbous paints. It’s basically hideous. Though mercifully small.

I don’t lie. Not even a tad. I look at him warmly. He shifts his eyes back and forth from the road to me via the rearview mirror. He’s holding his breath.

“That was really sweet of you,” I say. See, no lies. “I’m going to wear it right now.” Also not a lie. I unclasp it, moving my hair aside, and clasp it again, removing my other necklace that my mom got me from Tiffany’s. Tiffany will have to wait. She will understand. And I guess if Luke and I ever have breakfast, it would be outside of the Girls’ Shop for Women and All Things Feminine and Ladylike.

I pull the palette away from my chest and rub my thumb along it. He breathes out and smiles.

Drop the Needle #7

TITLE: Boat Against the Current
GENRE: Fiction

Sailing toward the Mississippi, 11-year-old Gwyn and her friends suddenly find themselves fighting for their lives. Gwyn was thrown off and is now trapped under the water.

I saw a bright light. I knew it was coming for me.

God? Santa Claus?

I realized – I wasn't ready to go yet.

A shadow passed over the light. A hand came through the water.

It was a very large hand. Different from Wilbur's. It reached for me with authority. It was strong, calloused, a farmer's hand.

I could hear the voice even under the water. It was not a request.

"Take my hand," the voice said. "Guinevere St. Clair, take my hand!"

My eyes focused in on the hand. There was a missing finger.

I took the hand. It yanked me up hard, the hood of my coat tearing as I was hauled out of the water. The hand dragged me across the rocks, my sopping socks and heels hitting the jagged and smooth stones.

I was cradled like a baby, hair and water wiped from my eyes. A large mouth opened and closed above me. Veins bulged on a forehead, cracking open a long red and purple scar. I was stiff, unresponsive, catatonic. My brain, face, and body felt numb and tight. But when Bitty threw herself on me, a warm relief came. She was safe. Micah grabbed my hand, sobbing, hot tears falling like sizzling embers on my cheeks.

The light shifted toward the river.

I turned my head. It was Jimmy I last remember seeing. Floating dead on the water, on the other side of the protective rocks, as the current carried him away from us. Micah clutched my hand and sobbed harder.

Drop the Needle #6

TITLE: Darcy Towers
GENRE: MG Mystery

Lauren, age eleven, discovers that her older brother is her real father. Having already lost her mother, really her grandmother, she feels her family is out of control. She runs away, but later is found in a burning building. While being treated for smoke inhalation her friend, a cattle veterinarian, visits her.

“You’re not excited?” Dr. Hunter asked. “I thought you always wanted a dad.”

“Not this one.” I wrote on my white board.

“Why not?” She didn’t understand. No one did. “I bet Lorry will be a great Dad, even better than a big brother.”

I shook my head ‘no.’ He was the last one I wanted. I tried writing that out to her, but she stopped me.

“You know, what Lorry did for you so long ago was huge.”

I didn’t want to hear it. I’d heard it over and over from nearly every social worker and nurse who came through my room and listened to my tears. No one was on my side and I blurted that out in my rough, croaky voice.

She patted my leg, like that would make the years of lies better. “Lauren, I’m not on anyone’s side. If anything, I just think this is an amazing thing.”

I scribbled a question mark on my white board.

“Lorry loves you so much he was willing to give you the gift of a mother eleven years ago.” She explained. “He was young and in school and knew he couldn’t provide for you. He was willing to give up his spot in order for you to have the mother he knew you’d need. Did he tell you that she tried offering you back a few times over the years?”

I shook my head no.

Drop the Needle #5

TITLE: Windswept
GENRE: Adult Commercial Historical Fiction

Hari, a sweeper at a pesticide factory in India, spots an unusual leak in the giant tank room. Worried, he looks for a supervisor, finally finding one on tea break in a nearby building. The supervisor dismisses Haris complaint as trivial, and Hari returns to the factory floor, taking his fears to his favorite god.

Hari pulled a garland of marigolds from his sack, placing it on the altar alongside other workers' offerings to Ganesh: a package of biscuits, a box of Indian sweets, three oranges, and a rubber condom in its familiar Drake Chemical plastic wrapper.

"You think flowers will help?" a man said in Urdu-accented Hindi, his voice as cutting as an industrial knife. "Because you give a gift, you think this god of yours will keep you from getting fired?"

Hari jumped up and looked at the man. He wore white coveralls, company-issued work boots, and an embroidered skullcap. Nobody wore helmets any longer. First the Sikhs with their large orange turbans were granted relief, now all workers could do as they pleased. When the American bosses left the factory six months ago, the rules went with them. Even Hari had grown lax; not only had he given up his helmet, but he wore sandals on this feet.

"This place has gone to shit," the Muslim said as he lit his bidi and flicked the match on the floor. Without giving Hari a chance to respond, the man stomped away, the sound of his heavy boots disrupting the quiet that had returned after the boom ten minutes ago. The man was right; everything had changed since the factory stopped manufacturing the white powder. Medicine for plants; medicine that did nothing if the rain refused to fall.

Drop the Needle #4

GENRE: Upmarket

Tanya has been dating Cassia, a performance artist, who has hidden everything about herself, including her real name. The two women have a wonderful date, but all day Cassia surprises Tanya with small insights into herself.

“Where to?” she asked.

“I always leave the best for last,” I said with a wink and then led her to the book store.

She focused on the cheaper hardbacks that were accessible to the public, like Capote and a recent edition of a Tom Wolfe novel. But I slipped away to the books locked behind a glass door. One book in particular caught my attention.

“What edition is that ‘Anna Karenina’?” I asked.

The saleswoman pulled it out to look. “Translated by Nathan Haskell Dole, 1886.”

The first English translation. I wanted to feel the clothbound hard cover over crisp pages that crackled when opened. I wanted to put my nose close to its musty scent.

“Would you like for me to wrap that up?” she asked.

I didn’t have to look at the price. Buying that leather skirt was foolish. I still couldn’t have afforded it if I didn’t buy the skirt, but maybe if I had started saving ... Sighing, I shook my head.

Cassia came over, picked up the book, and laid it on the counter. She set her purse beside it and pulled out a few large bills. “Happy birthday,” she said.

I stared at the book and willed myself to not hyperventilate. “It’s not my birthday.”

“Then merry early Christmas,” she said with a smile in her voice.

She paid for the gift while I remained fixed on this perfect book to start my dream collection.

Drop the Needle #3

TITLE: Queen of the Night
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Sarah, a contemporary 18yo, has been transported to the magical land of Zyris, where Prince Liam, unaware of her father’s connection to the rebel forces of the Night, has agreed to help her return home. He gifted her with some material for a head covering to help her fit in better with the customs of Zyris.

“Did your soldier tell you that Carl and I stopped by this morning? I wanted to thank you for your generous gift of the material. You didn't have to do that.”

The corners of his mouth curved up just slightly. Were his lips as soft as they looked? “It was a mere trifle. I thought it a happy coincidence your dress happened to be the same shade as the material I bought at Shelby to take home to my mother. She doesn't often travel as she's been more or less an invalid since I was a small child.”

“I feel even worse now, taking a gift you meant for your mother!”

“No, don't worry,” he insisted, placing a hand on my elbow. “There is more than enough for your hennepin and for her. She would be happy to see you properly attired.”

“Well, women don't usually wear anything on their heads where I come from.” I tugged at the end of my bonnet string. “I am grateful that you gave the job to Tabitha. She seemed very excited to make something fancy again.”

“I thought she might.” He smiled, confident but not cocky. What a gift the Prince had for knowing how to give people a sense of their own value, while making good use of their talents. He would be an excellent leader for Zyris when the time came.

Drop the Needle #2

TITLE: Beyond Fair Street
GENRE: Contemporary Young Adult

Kandee competed in the fair queen contest hoping to win and earn money for a trip to Paris. She tripped, didn’t win and on the stage afterwards sees Mama (Crystal), Laralie (sister), Winona (neighbor), Zeke (coworker) but not her boyfriend.

There are so many people hugging contestants, exclaiming about how wonderful they were. They’re thrusting bouquets of flowers into manicured hands all around me while I stand empty and alone. I reach down and pulled off one shoe then the other. At least I don’t have to bother with them ever again. It feels so good to put my soles flat on the stage floor.

Arms encircle my waist. It’s Laralie. “You should have won. You were the prettiest one,” she says.

Sometimes she does come through for me.

Mama stands in front of me with Winona behind her. “Maybe if you hadn’t tripped up you might have been the queen,” Crystal says.

It’s hard to believe she has to criticize me here, now.

Winona steps around Crystal and puts a friendly arm around me, gently guiding me toward the stage exit. “I don’t think you should have done a thing differently. I’ve never been so proud.”

I appreciate the sentiment but if I had won, of course Winona would be more proud.

Looking past the women, I search for Troy. Maybe he’ll congratulate me, bring me flowers like Marissa’s boyfriend did. There are still a few people entering the stage but not him. There’s no one else for me, not even Dad.

Then I hear someone clearing his throat. I turn and see Zeke. He hands me one yellow rose with a pink ribbon tied to it. What’s just as surprising is that he also has a black eye.

Drop the Needle #1

TITLE: Arcanum
GENRE: YA Paranormal Thriller

This Scene is at the end of Chapter Thirteen, half-way through the novel. A catastrophic event occurred, where Shawn, the protagonist was center stage. Benji, Shawn's best friend is trying to show Shawn that not everything is his fault:

"I know you're not sleeping Shawn. Wakie wakie."

Shawn, too overwhelmed, decided to play possum instead and pretended to be asleep which only lasted fifteen seconds before he felt Benji blowing in his ear.

"WHAT THE HELL BENJI" Shawn yelled opening his eyes, almost jumping off the bed, trying to figure out what Benji was up to.

"See. I knew you were faking it. Good thing you opened your eyes. You wouldn't have liked my next trick."

Annoyed, and still lost inside his turbulent thoughts, Shawn said, "Leave me alone Benji. I'm tired."

Benji got in a better position on the hospital bed, now eye level with Shawn. "No you listen up. I'm only gonna say this once. Get out of your head. I know you're blaming yourself. Thinking 'Woe is me, I've got special powers and I couldn't even save my little cousin.' Well, welcome to the real world where us lowly humans live. You are NOT God. Stop thinking you can save everyone. And, stop thinking of leaving. I know you Shawn. And right now you are thinking it's not safe for everyone around you. Well you know what. Tough Shit! If they don't like the risks they can leave. Not you. Because I want to enjoy Senior year next year and I can't do that if I'm on the run with you in some God forsaken shit hole. Now can I? Because like it or not, you and me are a team. Where you go, I go."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Drop the Needle: A Gift

Here it is -- the promised critique round (last one of 2013!).  Since it's Christmastime, I thought it would be fun to focus on GIFTS in novels.

Not necessarily a tangible gift, though those are obviously included.  But it might be a gift of trust...a gift of time...a gift of sacrifice (like, dying for someone).

Now, don't fudge this!  It will be easy enough to look through some scenes and say, "Ah! This is when Fluke and Daisybelle have a fight while they're walking the dog.  I LOVE this scene, and it's a gift for the dog, who's enjoying the walk, so I think I'll submit it!"

Um, no.  Please make an honest attempt to stick with the intended spirit of this critique round.

What's cool about this is that it has the potential to uncover motivations or character traits in our characters that we might not have seen--might not have done on purpose.  As in, "Wow, that was very sacrificial of Ebony! I didn't know she had it in her!" Or, "Rudolph really reveals his love for Noodle way before the actual declaration, through this particular gift."

So.  Have fun finding the moment. :)

The Stuff:

*  This is a Drop the Needle round, which means your excerpt can come from ANYWHERE IN YOUR NOVEL.
*  Choose a scene in which one character is gifting another, whether with an actual present, or some other gift (time, sacrifice, life, mercy, information, etc.).
*  Your entry should include a ONE- or TWO-SENTENCE lead-in, to let us know where we are in the story, followed by your 250-word excerpt.  The word count for this submission is set at 290.  PLEASE DON'T LEAVE OUT THE LEAD-IN!  We need to know what's going on before we read your scene, so that we're at least somewhat grounded in your story.
*  Go HERE to enter.
*  This round is for completed novels and WIPs.  Please make sure your entry is proofread!
*  I will accept 30 entries and 2 alternates (which will only be used if there are entries that, for whatever reason, need to be disqualified).
*  Submissions will be open tomorrow (Tuesday, December 17) from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm EST.  This will be a LOTTERY; once the window closes, the bot will choose 30 winners to be posted.
*  The 30 entries will post on WEDNESDAY MORNING.  Critique may begin immediately.

Post your questions below!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Fricassee

So I'm going to share something vulnerable--something that I couldn't effectively share outside the World of Writers.  (Because, let's face it: nobody else understands!)

(Disclaimer: I am eating a Christmas cupcake whilst typing this, which may or may not have an effect on my writing.)

I'm pretty sure we've all experienced that moment when, while reading a novel we're really enjoying, it hits us that we could never write something quite so brilliant.  We couldn't plot it, couldn't execute it, couldn't even think it up in the first place.  And when we begin that self-deprecating comparison game, we spiral downward.

Most of the time, we spring back again and continue along our merry way.  But it still doesn't feel very good while it's happening.

(If you tell me that this has never happened to you, I will not believe you. No, I will not.)

So, yes, I've had these moments over the years.  "Moment" may not even be the right word, because it's often a lingering sense of "I can't write worth a chunk of deer dung" that lasts for days.  It doesn't diminish my enjoyment of the novels that are sparking the response, but it does diminish my enjoyment of being a writer, if only for a little while.

Not good, right?  Normal, for sure.  But not good.

Well, something amazing happened a few days ago.  I was re-reading one of my favorite author's novels, and I found myself thinking, I WRITE AS WELL AS THIS.

And when I realized I'd had the thought, I fell over.

Okay, not really.  But ARE YOU WITH ME HERE?  I have NEVER had a thought like this.  Admittedly, I have sometimes read something that was so awful I had the opposite thought--as in, good-grief-how-did-this-crapling-slip-through-the-net--but mostly the books I am fortunate enough to crack open aren't craplings.  And the treasured few are, well, really good.

So for me to have this moment of I CAN DO THE SAME THING was huge.  Five years ago, I wouldn't even have been able to conceive this thought.  Heck, even a year ago I wasn't anywhere near having this sort of experience.  So, naturally, I didn't trust myself.  I'd only read three chapters when the thought came, so I told myself I'd keep reading to see if my opinion changed.


I'm not sure if this means that I've "arrived" emotionally (wouldn't that be nice?), or if it's actually an honest assessment of my writing.  Of course we're always evolving, always growing as we write.  Of course I'm insanely excited about my current project (aren't we always?).  But something feels different, and it's a good sort of different.

Probably I should stop trying to analyze this and simply enjoy it.  It isn't every day that I am so far above self-deprecation.  It isn't every day that I give myself real credit for doing something well.

I'm not saying my story is "better than so-and-so's".  I'm not preening and gloating.  I'm...well, sanguine.  And that's an unusual place for me.

I think I'll stay here for a while.

I wanted to share this with you because I trust that you'll understand.  You'll get it.  And maybe you'll have your own moments of self-confidence to share in the comment box (which, of course, is what I really want).

I know that my journey will continue to experience the ups and downs that are an inherent part of this writer thing.  But this up is a huge one, and it's definitely some sort of turning point.  What it's turning toward, I have yet to know.

Thanks for listening.  And maybe smiling and nodding a bit.  Writing is hard!  But being a writer is one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened to me.

I hope you feel the same way!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Exclusive Ends Today!

The Baker's Dozen agents are given one week to read the partials and fulls they won in the auction.  After that, they're allowed to ask for anything they'd like.  In other words, they get to sample the tasty morsels that slipped through their fingers the first time.

Today's the day I send out those requests!  (Well, and tomorrow.  Because I'm not sure I can get to them all today.)  Also?  There were some non-bidding, lurking agents hanging about who have also sent requests.  And even an editor.

So I'll be busy sending out sparkly emails today.  (Which, though time consuming, is actually quite fun.  It's the whole Fairy Godmother thing--I never get tired of it!)

We're going to have a good, old-fashioned, in-house critique session next week.  WON'T THAT BE NICE?  And it'll include both completed projects and WIPs.  So now that the hoopla has died down, let's roll up our sleeves for some pre-Christmas critiquing, yes?


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

And Now A Word From Our Agents...

As always, here are some post-auction thoughts from a few of our Baker's Dozen agents.  Enjoy!

From Sarah Negovetich:

Contests are super exciting and watching agents fight tooth and nail for the chance to read your words is crazy, stupid exciting. And that makes it really easy to get caught up in it all and forget that this is all about finding the right business partner for you and your work. An agent plays the complicated role of being your friend/supporter/confidant/business manager. That means you need to like them AND trust them. As agents, we love getting exclusives, but we also understand that it isn't usually in the best interest of the writer. I'd like to encourage all the 60, wow 60, winners to send out their submissions and then take a deep breath. If you get an offer, do a happy dance or pop a bottle or whatever else you do to celebrate. Then ask for time. You need to make sure this decision, which will greatly impact your career as a writer, is the right one for you. Maybe you know that this is your perfect agent. Great! But never be afraid to tell an agent that you need more time or that you want to hear from the other agents who are interested in your work. A good agent will respect that you are making an important decision and will give you the time you need. But know that we are all secretly hoping you pick us. :)

From Josh Getzler:

It's always such a treat to be involved in the Baker's Dozen auction. It lets writers see agents let down our guard and be what we are: not just negative, bitter, jaded wretches, but giddy fanboys and -girls who love books and writers and are in business because we really want to find the next big book (and not because we're sadists who merely want to crush people's dreams) :) 

(Read Josh's in-depth thoughts about the Baker's Dozen HERE.)

From Pam van Hylckama Vlieg:

Any day that Brooks loses bloody on the manuscript battlefield is a good day and a battle well won. Thank you to all of the writers that risked sending in your MS (to possibly be won by Brooks) and letting us fight over your hard work.

From Lauren MacLeod:

Baker's Dozen is one of my absolute favorite events of the year. I love just about everything about it: the friendly trash talking I am completely not above instigating weeks in advance, the public display of my incredibly competitive side, the chance to give unagented writers both a sense of my taste and show my enthusiasm for good concepts, and (newly) the sweet, sweet thrill of taking a manuscript out from under Brooks* [the trouncing of whom completely makes up for my own stunning losses to Joan Paquette and Michelle Wolfson]. Thanks to Authoress for hosting again, my own Jodi Meadows for helping her dig through the slush and, most of all, thanks to all you guys who submitted-- putting your work out there to be judged so publicly is incredibly brave and I hope you all found the exercise useful.

*I know it seems like we all picked on Brooks this year and you may even want to feel sorry for him. Let me clarify something: we all did pick on Brooks. We basically got together, took a vote and decided to take him down. But don't worry, he totally deserves it! Followers of this blog may ask: does this have anything to do with getting him back for winning The Cutest Tiny Agent contest in April when he so obviously didn't deserve to? Of course not! Completely unrelated!  

From Michelle Wolfson:

I once wrote a blog post about why I enjoy going to writers' conferences, and while I don't remember the details, the gist of it was that I love the enthusiasm and the chance to be optimistic about writing. That so many times I am in a position of having to say no, but that for two days, I get to encourage writers without worrying about all of the negative sides of the business. If that's not what I wrote, then that's what I think about writers' conferences today.

But who really cares when this is about my thoughts on the Bakers Dozen Auction.

But as you may have guessed, I have a similar attitude towards the Auction. I love the spirit of it--encouraging writers to be better, and giving agents a chance to show our enthusiasm for writers.

The positive feedback is so often a private thing between agents and authors (though perhaps less so if you follow me on twitter), but even more so for all of the writers whose work I don't go on to represent. I really enjoy the opportunity to publicly express how much I love a work in progress, whatever may ultimately happen.

As for the trash talking that goes on between the agents, well, that just gets my competitive juices flowing and really adds to the fun. Thank you to Authoress and Jodi for all of their hard work curating. Thank you to all of the writers for putting themselves out there. And thanks to the commenters for their critiques. I think that you help each other be better writers and that's a wonderful thing to see in the community. Wow, mushy thoughts. Good thing I already killed it in the actual auction. Go forth and write. See you next year!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Fricassee

And so another Baker's Dozen draws to a close.

The one-week exclusive for winning agents began yesterday.  Next Thursday, I will begin sending out agent requests for the Things They Didn't Win.  I will also send out requests from Skulking Agents.  (That is, agents who poked around the contest, saw things they liked, and asked me to send requests.)

So even though it SEEMS like it's over, the Baker's Dozen keeps zipping along behind the scenes.

I can't thank everyone enough--truly.  Everyone who entered, everyone who critiqued, everyone who cheered.  And, of course, I appreciate the bravery of the 60 winners.  (Yes, bravery.  It's like standing in the grocery store naked.  Or something.)

Agents...editors...published authors.  Thank you all.

Yes, I'm planning on doing this again next year.  Absolutely.  Beyond that, though, I can't say.  For the last two years, blog hits on the day of the auction have DECREASED.  This means that, although I'm getting the same amount of interest in actually entering the contest, the auction itself is losing its audience.

It might be this:  "Well, I didn't enter, and I'm not really interested."

It might be this:  "Well, I entered, but I didn't get chosen, so I'm outta here.  This is too painful."

It might be this:  "Well, I entered, but I didn't get chosen, so I'm on to the next exciting online event."

Here's the thing.  When I started this blog, there was almost nothing like it out there.  Now, five years later, there are all sorts of author contests.  So many, in fact, that agents have complained about it.  Overkill.  Same-entries-everywhere-on-the-web.

I hear that.  And I lament it.

I don't lament that there are lots of exciting choices for writers out there.  WRITERS NEED THINGS TO HELP THEM CONNECT TO THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY.  But I do lament that there's so much hoopla that it's wearying the agents and spreading the writers thin.

There's a certain "high" about being in an online contest (you know it's true).  And my concern is that some aspiring authors are jumping from high to high instead of buckling down to the important-but-hated task of querying.  YES, people win contests and go on to receive representation--and even book deals.  But QUERYING IS STILL THE NUMBER ONE WAY TO GET AN AGENT.

My initial vision for this blog was to create a place where authors could critique each other's work.  A place to work on quality of writing.  In short order, I conceived the Secret Agent concept, and it took off with great gusto.  I kept it simple, though, and still do--one agent, 50 entries, focus on critique.  Many of the contests out there are so convoluted that I can't even understand how they work.  (Yeah, okay--that might just be me.  If I have to read too many instructions, I lose interest.  It's the whole divergent brain thing.)

For most writers, though, the "high" remains.  And regardless of how great the contests are and how many success stories they ultimately lead to, I fear that, for some writers, it's like eating too much candy.

Not so good for you.

(And think about it:  If you're jumping from contest to contest with your novel, then when, exactly, are you sitting down and seriously revising it?)

So, yes, I'm cutting down on the number of Secret Agent contests I do next year.  I will publish the schedule at the end of this month, so you will know what to expect.  I want to continue to offer high quality contests and critique on this blog, and I'm confident that we will continue to have success stories here.  But I don't want to be a part of the too-much-noise problem online.

As for the Baker's Dozen?  Like I said, I'm planning to do it again next year.  But it's disheartening, to say the least, to work so hard on something and then lose the audience to the next promise of candy out there.  (And, hey.  You can eat as much candy as you want--I'm not your mama!  But someone's got to do something about the overkill, right?)

Choose your contests carefully.  You don't need to hit them all.  Give yourself time to JUST SIT THERE AND WORK YOUR BUTT OFF ON YOUR NOVEL.  Because that's what's going to sell it.  Not feeling all the sparkles from the every-other-month contests you're entering.  Not throwing it out there over and over again without making it better first.

Be SMART about how you get your work out there.

(And, for what it's worth, I didn't land my agent through a contest.  I, yanno, queried him.  And he is one of the best things that's ever happened to my career.  Without a single contest sparkle.)

Love you all!  May your weekend be refreshing, and may words tumble effortlessly from your fingers.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pam van Hylckama Vlieg and "No Pitch Left Behind"

Some--probably many--of you have already picked up on the fact that every single entry in this year's Baker's Dozen received at least one bid.  This was not an accident.

Later in the day on Tuesday, I received the following email from Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, one of our Baker's Dozen all-stars:

Everything has at least a 10 page request and I plan to critique them.

Being a bit fuzz-headed from the auction, I wasn't quite sure what she meant.  So she clarified:

I usually critique as I read through! So I bid 10 pages on the ones that had no bids and I'll leave notes when I email them about it :).

At this point, I realized I was actually talking to an AUCTION FAIRY, and not a real agent at all.  I thanked her profusely and told her how much I hate it when entries don't get any bids.  Here is her response:

I hate it, too! It shouldn't be that way. The book I sold for the biggest money was a pitch contest and no one bid on it. I knew it was either going to suck or be amazing. You have to check the writing!

So there you have it.  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg is going to read and critique each of those 10-page requests.  With an eye to the you-never-know-where-a-hidden-gem-lies.

And she has dubbed it the "No Pitch Left Behind Act".  (Hee.)

Pam -- here is your VERY PUBLIC THANK YOU!  Thank you for the gift of your time.  Thank you for joining me in supporting serious aspiring authors on their journeys.  Thank you for allowing me to post a winner list that included all 60 of our brave entrants.

Let the celebrating commence!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The 2013 Baker's Dozen Agent Auction WINNERS

Another exciting auction, folks!  I'm especially grateful to our illustrious agents, who kept things rolling while I had to be away from my desk for an hour during prime bidding time.  (Not only is Michelle Wolfson a fine agent, but also she's very bossy and knows how to set things straight.  She's a keeper!)

We've got 23 FULL REQUESTS!  And some disgruntled agents, too.  (Yanno.  The ones who lost the fulls they really wanted.)  And TONS of behind-the-scenes and in-the-comment-boxes fun.  (Some of these agents could easily moonshine as stand-up comics.  Seriously.  Scroll through if you haven't had the pleasure yet.)

ANYWAY -- Here's the final list:

 1. A TEMPORARY CONVENIENCE: Josh Getzler -- 20 pages
 2. THE NINE:  Josh Getzler -- 20 pages
 3.  FORM AND VOID: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- FULL
 4.  BREEDING GROUNDS -- Michelle Wolfson -- FULL
 5.  STARBREAK: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
 6.  DEMIGOD: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 100 pages
 7.  TALASSIO: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 50 pages
 9.  RETURN TO ME: Tamar Rydzinski -- 15 pages
10.  SECOND SUN: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
11.  THE LAST RESORT: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
12.  PENNY CANDLE:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
13.  CLOUDLAND, AND OTHER STORIES: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
14.  WITCH WAY DOWN:  Victoria Marini -- FULL
15.  A BREATH OF SILVER:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 50 pages
16.  TO THE SEA: Carlie Webber -- 30 pages
17.  PRIME:  Michelle Wolfson -- 12 pages
18.  WOE TO THE TYRO:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
19.  DAY OF THE NIGHTWRAITH: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 5 pages
20.  WHITE SKY: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
21.  THE BIG UGLY:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
22. THE OBITUIST -- Michelle Wolfson -- FULL
23.  MAN MAID -- Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- FULL
24.  SPIRIT WEAVER:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
25.  CROSS DRESSED TO KILL: Josh Getzler -- 20 pages
26.  WHERE DEVILS BREED -- Sarah Negovatich -- FULL
27.  RED DIRT, WHITE NOISE:  Joan Paquette -- 25 pages
28.  THIS IS NOT A LOVE STORY:  Carlie Webber -- 100 pages
29.  SLAM -- Michelle Wolfson -- FULL
30.  THIS ISN'T SHAKESPEARE:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
31.  STARTRIPPED:  Tamar Rydzinski -- FULL
32. BECOMING HERO -- Michelle Wolfson -- FULL
33. FORTUNATA -- Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- FULL
34.  THROUGH THE WALLED CITY:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
35.  JAWAHAR:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
36.  STREAMWALKERS:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
37.  WHERE THERE IS DARK:  Victoria Marini -- FULL
38.  LYNCHPIN:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
39.  MAGICK 7.0 -- Joan Paquette -- FULL
40.  THE CRIMSON CROWN -- Caryn Wiseman -- FULL
41.  LIMITLESS:  Tricia Lawrence -- FULL
42.  THE DRAGON'S PEARL:  Joan Paquette -- 10 pages
43.  CHICK MAGNET:  Michelle Wolfson -- 34 pages
44.  APPRENTICE:  Joan Paquette -- FULL
45.  SHADOWCATCHERS:  Danielle Chiotti  -- FULL
46.  THE FIDDLER KING:  Danielle Chiotti -- FULL
47.  SAVAGE JUNGLE:  Tricia Lawrence -- 5 pages
48.  BLANK CANVAS -- Michelle Wolfson -- FULL
49.  THUNDERSTRUCK:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
50.  ALL THAT REMAINS -- Victoria Marini -- FULL
51.  HEART OF SPARKS:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 50 pages
52.  ENERGY BENDER:  Sarah Negovatich -- 75 pages
53.  CLEMENTINE: Caryn Wiseman -- FULL
54.  SAY MY NAME: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- FULL
56. THE MILLINER'S SON -- Josh Getzler -- FULL
57.  THE DYSLEXIC SPELL READER:  Michelle Wolfson -- 12 pages
58.  CROWDED:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages
59.  TREE ROPER:  Josh Getzler -- 20 pages
60.  THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY:  Pam van Hylckama Vlieg -- 10 pages

Winners:  Please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific submission instructions.  In order to streamline this process, PLEASE INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING:  Your post number, title, and the agent's name and request.  Your material will be granted to the winning agents on a ONE WEEK EXCLUSIVE.

Once the week has expired, other agents who placed bids--but didn't win--will have the opportunity to email me to request material from the auction.  SO SIT TIGHT.  I'll be contacting you if you've got more requests.

(And, yes.  There MIGHT be an agent or editor here and there who have been snooping around and drooling into my email box in addition to the winning bids.  I will be busy for a few days!)

CONGRATULATIONS, EVERYONE!  And to the agents--your participation is, as always, deeply appreciated.  May GOOD THINGS HAPPEN!

Bidding is now closed

You may resume your critique!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Baker's Dozen Agent Auction -- BIDDING IS LIVE!

Welcome to the 4th Annual Baker's Dozen Agent Auction!

Please STOP CRITIQUING at this time.  Bidding is now LIVE.

*slams gavel*


* Agents will open bidding with a minimum bid of 5 pages.
* A total of 5 bids must be made on an item before agents are allowed to bid the full.
* The full bid trumps all. Once an item receives a full bid, bidding for that item is closed, and the agent who bid the full wins it.
*At the close of the auction tomorrow (at 11:00 am), all high bids win the items.


Dear Ones:

Not everyone will receive bids.  I know you know this, but I wanted to point it out again.  Because IT DOESN'T MEAN YOUR WORK STINKS.  These are 14 agents out of hundreds.  Literally.  Keep querying widely.