Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Fricassee


Who, me?  Eagerly waving the month good bye?  I'm sure I'm not the only one.  It's been COLD.  And it's going to STILL BE COLD in February.  So at least I can say that I'm halfway through the coldest months.

First, some thanks:

THANK YOU for your comments last week on why your characters are real.  It's always so intriguing to read these lovely peeks inside other writers' brains.

THANK YOU for your critiques this week.  There are certain names that appear over and over again in my inbox, evidence of faithful critique (Barbara! Stephsco! And others!).  On behalf of the writers whom you're blessing with your time and talent, many thanks.

Next, some more chatter:

I have been struggling these weeks with the creative process of starting a new story.  As in, I feel unproductive if I don't have a word count.  And you know there's an awful lot of UN-writing that goes on during the planning stage; lots of research and staring and thinking and staring and scribbling notes and staring and--have I mentioned the staring?

So what does your creative process look like when you've got a fresh idea?  How do you worldbuild?  Do you struggle with feeling like you're doing nothing, when actually your brain is in overdrive?  Are you satisfied to be in the thinking/planning/doodling stage, or do you long to dive in and actually WRITE?

And do you drive your loved ones crazy?  (Just saying...)

I'm thinking it might help if those of us in these early stages know that there are others in the same part of the process.  That we're not, yanno, staring alone into space.  So please do share!


I have one slot in February for a Premiere Critique (75 pages).  I'll announce this next week UNLESS someone grabs it now.  Details HERE.

Happy First Weekend of February!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"First Two" (YA Round) 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 3 other entries.

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

First Two (YA Fiction) #15

GENRE: YA Paranormal

I never should have left the house.

So stupid. So incredibly stupid. I scolded myself for the thousandth time and looked at the clock. The minutes pressed forward. I squeezed the railing beneath me until my knuckles smarted and took a deep, calming breath. One more, just to make sure my voice would stay steady when I spoke.

“Do you think it’ll happen here?” My voice sounded almost completely normal. Not scared.

Jai glanced in my direction. He let out a soft puff of air and then, “Jesus, Callie. It’s not going to be you. Stop looking like you’re going to puke.” So much for trying to act normal. I should know by now he’d be able to see through any act of bravery I attempted to wear. This whole dumb night had been my idea. I don’t even know why now. I wanted to show him, and myself, that I wasn’t going to hide like a scared little baby waiting for the big bad to pick me off.

Yep, super brave. That’s me. Sitting out in the open, scared enough to pee myself, but I was still doing it. Facing it. Whatever it was.

One more hour. Anyone could do that. Then the city-mandated curfew would kick in and we’d all be shuffled to the exits and sent on our way. It wasn’t late, but the sky had already faded into pitch-black and the crowds grew thin. I sat on a metal railing, hidden from view behind a food truck with my best friend and eight-year-old cousin beside me. I haven’t been outside on this night in five months. Not since they put together the connection between the new moon and the girls who had died. Eleven of them so far. Each and every one matched a simple description: brown hair, pale skin, and sixteen years old.

Hell, it could be me. What was I doing out here?

I fiddled with the ring around my thumb.

Neon colored flyers plastered the walls and scattered the ground promising rewards, begging for information. At least once a day, I found a poster containing a black and white picture slapped on a wall throughout Ojai, California. The girls always looked sad. Every one of them. Almost like they knew what was to become of them.

I really should go home. Lay in bed with the blankets pulled over my head. Maybe a book, or a movie, or anything that took my mind off of tonight. I stiffened and lifted my chin. No. I was out and I was going to enjoy myself damn it.

The Peddler’s Fair weekend used to be the busiest weekend in Ojai, but now only a few of the brave straggle between the tents lining the street. Strung light’s flicker in the street’s puddles. Food wrappers littered the ground, and some of the tent’s owners began to disassemble. I used to love the fair. I loved the food and the games and the people.

First Two (YA Fiction) #14

TITLE: The Yes Girl
GENRE: YA Romance

January. Boston, Massachusetts.

Marin stood at the center of the ice, facing the judge’s table. She took in a deep breath and let the crisp, optimistic atmosphere fill her lungs. She smiled.

Her music began. Her favorite piece Coach Wiggins had played for her. She knew it so well it was a part of her blood.


On the third note, she pushed off and skated down the center of the ice alternating feet and edges into the required footwork, then she made a deep knee bend and lifted herself up into her first combination jump, a Double Axel-Double Toe Loop.

High and fast and fluid she catapulted herself across the ice, turning two and a half revolutions before a quick touch down on the ice before heaving herself back up with ready arms and legs for two more revolutions, until finally her right outside edge touches down slicing into the ice, as if part of the music.

She nailed the landing, showing the world how jumping had become her superpower. The crowd applauded—of course they did—but Marin paid no attention, with the music under her skin, the lift and stretch of her muscles, the sharp balance of her skates, she was nowhere near finished.

Every spin with grace and ability.

Every jump strong and clean.

And the footwork fast and methodical.

Only one move left. Her pulse started to pull away from the beat of the music, and she tried to push away the sliver of doubt, to feel nothing but the ice. Had she given her all or had she held back and played it too safe for fear of repeating the last two years with no medal? That was her last chance to make the Olympic team. Pyeongchang, South Korea, or bust.

Should she slide in another Double Axel? Such a fine line between playing it safe and playing to win.

But winning superseded everything. Skating ended here if she didn’t deliver. She was going for it, adding another Double Axel to seal the deal.

Twenty seconds left.

Marin shortened the last footwork sequence and lifted up right into the Double Axel, turning two rotations in the air. She went high and far as she always did.

Everything felt right at first. Until it didn’t.

The wall.

Too high.

Too far.

Her hip slammed against the hard plastic barrier and she fell to the ice.

The crowd gasped. The music played on. Get up! She popped up like only champions could, listening to where the music told her she should be. Stay focused, fall apart later. She skated across the rink and raised her back leg to finish the routine with a long, beautiful Camel—her leg extended behind her, coming to a stop only when her music did.

She forged a winning smile for the TV cameras. For the world. As if nothing had gone wrong. Only true champions could do that; erase time and make you forget their mistakes. As if they alone controlled fate.

First Two (YA Fiction) #13

TITLE: Love Is Fake, You Know
GENRE: LGBT Coming-of-Age

6-24-02, Monday, 5:03 AM

I have a weird secret ambition that this journal will be discovered and I’ll end up like Anne Frank or something. Except nothing I write flows quite like Anne’s stuff did. And with any luck I won’t be dying any time soon.

Benjamin probably thought he was doing me a favor when he said that writing down your thoughts can help relieve stress. I told him I’m not all that stressed but he bought me this book and said I should consider writing anyway. Aside from my irrational hopes for future journal fame, what pushed me over the edge toward writing tonight was my fight with Jacob. It seems easier to write about it in here than to bother telling Benjamin. Benjamin would just pretend to listen for five seconds and then change the subject to himself. He can’t stop himself from giving advice—but only when I don’t want it.

Jacob said something that made me want to reach through the phone and punch him. He seemed to think I’d be willing to completely give myself over to him without a second thought. I was so mad and hurt! I mean, we’ve only been going out for 55 days. But then he told me what he really meant, and I was so glad it wasn't what I thought. What he actually meant was that our relationship feels so easy—NOT that I’m…well, you get it. He apologized a million times and said he was sooooo sorry and that he would never ever treat me like that. It’s not that I don't believe him... I really do trust him. It was just a misunderstanding, right?

I hope Mom doesn’t wake up again. She’s yelled at me a couple of times tonight/this morning for not going to sleep. Oh well. I’m not tired. Not really.

My hand just fell asleep... Ow…

6-26-02, Wednesday, 12:40 AM

Jacob said he’d call after 8 tonight, but he never did. There’s still time. I haven’t gotten online all night just in case.

I’ve only seen Jacob once since we were officially together, and only once before that. He’s always so busy that he can never go anywhere with me. Just last night he got back from Florida with his friends; today he’s going to his parents’ lake house “for a week or two.” At least I can talk to him on the phone and online once he gets there. And at least I’ll see him throughout the end of the summer at band camp and band practices.

This year I’m going to be in high school. Finally! And Jacob will be there with me!

You might be thinking I shouldn’t be excited about seeing him at school since I’m mad at him. But we always make up after our fights. I know everything will be fine by the time school starts, even if it is two whole months away (that literally feels like an eternity!).

First Two (YA Fiction) #12

TITLE: Wrapped in Darkness
GENRE: YA, Urban Fantasy

Of all the places in the world I would have liked to wake up, sprawled out in a puddle of water was not one of them. The rain was pouring down from the sky, splattering against my face and all I could do was lie there and wonder how in the world I’d managed to stoop so low. Two weeks ago I’d been in college, working towards my dream of becoming a veterinarian for wildlife in Africa, and now I was soaked to the bone with a hangover from hell.

Death sucked.

If anyone had ever asked me if I was afraid of dying, I honestly could have told them, no. Death was always something that would happen after I’d graduated from college, had a successful career, found the one, and had kids. Then maybe after I’d travelled the world and witnessed the birth of my fifth grandchild, I could die peacefully in my sleep. Or that was how I’d always thought my life would pan out… dying in a car crash the week before my twenty-first birthday hadn’t exactly been on the agenda, but s*** happens, right?

“Do I sense motion down there?” a voice called.

I opened my eyes to see Sam leaning halfway out the third story window of the Fifth Circle clubhouse. She looked fresh and well rested, as though she hadn’t just spent the entire night partying with me. I pushed myself slowly into a seated position; my head felt like it was about to roll off my shoulders and join my arse in the puddle. If I’d known a hangover in death would be just as bad as a hangover in life, then I might have reconsidered that last round of shots.

“Are you all right down there, Abbie?”

“I can’t believe you left me out here in the rain.”

“You wanted to stay out there,” Sam said, pulling the hood of her coat up over her blonde hair. “You kept going on and on about how being ‘one with the city’ was the only way you’d come to accept your own death. So I was like, all right then, see-ya.”

“Worst. Friend. Ever.”

“Hey, I’ve only known you a week. I wouldn’t start calling us friends yet,” Sam teased. “Now are you coming inside, or what?”

Going inside the clubhouse, or The Abyss as its residents liked to call it, didn’t sound like a good idea. Jason would undoubtedly jump all over my hung-over state and send me on a run to collect supplies. Battling the crowds of the marketplace was the last thing I wanted to be doing, I wasn’t lucid enough to be on constant guard.

The afterlife was interesting, to say the least. It manifested as a dark and derelict city that probably could have been tolerable if the crime wasn’t so high. There was no overruling law or governmental body and the only real dominance came from The Fallen, the largest gang in the city.

First Two (YA Fiction) #11


From my hiding place, at the back of the church, I watched as people dressed in their Sunday best, filtered in. Soon the only seats left were those reserved for immediate family. There were so many flowers that someone had cleared a path to the altar.

Two hundred people speaking in hushed tones filled the air with a steady hum. When it suddenly got quiet, I looked to my left and found Father Andrew standing only a few feet away. It was time. I got in line next to my mom. She took my hand and squeezed. I tried to smile but it came out like a grimace. With my free hand, I brushed at my new dress for imaginary lint so no one could see my hands tremble. On cue we walked down the center aisle, me with my head slightly bent so as not to make eye contact with anyone.

At the front of the church, we slid into the pew and waited. Despite, my best efforts I could not avoid looking at the rectangular box that held what was left of my dad. Over the next hour, I tried to take comfort from the many kind words and prayers but it was no use.

My mom, sat to my left. Her eyes glued to the coffin while her hands destroyed one tissue after another. I looked to my right and pretended not to see the tears in my cousin, Justin’s eyes. Next to him, his sister, Jenna, cried openly. I had no idea how to console them. Three months ago, we had sat inside this same church and said our goodbyes to their parents, killed in a plane crash. I hadn’t known what to say to them then either.

* * *

At the cemetery, we stood listening to Father Andrew and watched as the coffin was lowered into the ground. All I wanted to do was scream “Liar!” My dad had promised me he’d come home. This was supposed to be his last tour in Afghanistan and then he was out of the military. Well, he sure as hell was out now, wasn’t he?

Back at the house, everyone kept telling us how sorry they were and what a great man, a hero, he was. I hated myself but a small part of me wished my dad hadn’t chosen to save those women with their children and his fellow soldiers. He should be at home with us not in a box in the ground. I hated that those other soldiers would be returning to their families soon. I didn’t care if that made me a bad person.

I had to get away from all the people, stuffing their faces with food, as if that would shield them from the pain. I snuck out the back door and hid behind the old shed, in the back of the yard. No one would think to look for me back there.

"Thought I'd find you here."

Well, s***.

First Two (YA Fiction) #10

TITLE: The Elder Race
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

I’ll never forget the first time I died.

A dense fog rolled in off the Virginia coast, camouflaging two deer that darted into the road. I cut the wheel and my foot slammed the brake, but my Jetta figure skated across the pavement. A metallic screech pierced the night as the guardrail etched a complaint into the passenger side door, threatening to break, and send Ana and me over the edge. Below, the icy black water of the Atlantic waited.

I overcorrected and the car sailed into the woods. Tree branches clawed at the doors until it stopped with a shattering crunch, plowing into a large evergreen. My seatbelt locked my body in place, but my head jerked to the side, leaving behind a bloody spider web of cracked glass.

“Ana, are you okay?”

“I peed my pants,” she said with a shaky laugh. That made two of us.

Fractured tree limbs rained down. The windshield cracked under the weight of ice and wood. Hundreds of tiny fissures shot out from one another. The roof wailed in protest. It caved in under the branch’s weight. The steering wheel shoved into my chest. Pain spread like an infection throughout my body. The metallic reek of blood saturated the air. Black spots consumed my vision. Goose bumps bejeweled my skin.

Fear breathed down my neck and I gasped.

The gentle drumming of my slowing heartbeat lulled me to sleep. As the darkness consumed me, my body fell limp. So much for making curfew.


The pungent smell of gasoline burned my nose, forcing my heavy eyelids open. The searing pain in my leg and my head I felt moments ago had diminished. A man stood in front of me, less than a car length away. Instead of the night’s shadows hiding his approach, he glowed like the moon. But the light didn’t surround him, it radiated from within him.

He lifted the handle, and with a loud stannic snap, wrenched the door off its hinges. “I’m here to help,” he said in a hushed voice.

The stranger’s muscles flexed and his body tensed as he tore the steering wheel from the dashboard. His warm hands lifted me from the driver’s seat, ripping my seatbelt like a paper towel. My body trembled in his arms, clattering my teeth together as shock turned into tears.

“Don’t cry. Everything’s going to be all right.”

I raised my head toward his velvety voice, hoping to get a good look at him. But my gaze never left his electrifying, silvery-blue eyes. He cradled me against his chest where his heartbeat played me a simple melody. It calmed me like a child’s lullaby. The earthy scent of sandalwood and vanilla hung off his clothes and dulled the stench of gas.

“Where are you taking me?”

“Some place safe.”

He mumbled something under his breath as we passed through a low-lying fog. “Who are you?” I asked as he sat me on the ground.

First Two (YA Fiction) #9

TITLE: The Last Timemaker and the Stolen Sun
GENRE: YA Fantasy

On the night Thomas Wright became a murderer, his grandpa tucked him into bed at 8:15 and then told him a story. When he was finished he began to tell it again.

“Er, Grandpa?” Thomas said when he started the tale for a third time.


“You already told me that one.”

“Did I?” His grandpa frowned and then said, “Oh, yes. Of course I did. I read it last Monday. Not to worry. I’ll read you a different one instead.”

While his grandpa shuffled over to the bookcase, Thomas played with the sheets on his bed. He didn’t like watching him walk. It made him sad and scared to see how slow he moved. But tonight, something made him look up.

“Grandpa?” he said. Every time his grandpa took a step, a strange crunching sound filled the room. “What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“That thing in your shoe.”

“It’s, a, um …” Unable to remember the answer himself, he peered down for a clue. “Oh! It’s a chocolate for dessert.”

“You put chocolate in your shoe?” Thomas was used to his grandpa doing odd things, like putting the eggs in the oven instead of the fridge and eating breakfast for dinner and lunch for dessert, but he’d never done this.

“Well, I had to put it somewhere.” Now that he knew where it was, Thomas’s grandpa tried to get the chocolate out. But his back refused to bend.

“Don’t worry. I’ll get it, Grandpa.” Thomas climbed out of bed and hurried over to help. He was used to helping by now. His grandpa had all sorts of problems: a bad back, a bad hip, bad blood sugar too. It hadn’t always been like this. When his grandma was still alive he’d been pretty healthy, but now every part of him was failing, and no matter how much Thomas tried to help things kept getting worse.

He knew he should tell someone what was happening, like a doctor or a teacher, but what if they said Grandpa was too old to look after him? What would happen then? Would they put his grandpa in a hospital and him in some stranger’s home? He didn’t have anywhere else to go. It had always been just the three of them: him, Grandma and Grandpa. Well, just the two of them now.

“That’s my boy,” Grandpa said when Thomas pulled the squashed chocolate from his shoe. With shaking hands he tore off the wrapper and held the treat towards Thomas. “Here you go. I bought it just for you. It’s your favourite. I remembered, see?” he said proudly.

“Um …” Thomas stared at the chocolate. A piece of the wrapper had torn inside his grandpa’s shoe and now green fluff stuck to the sweet. “Thanks, Grandpa, but I’ve already brushed my teeth.”

“Well, that’s even better. Now it will taste like a Peppermint Crisp.”

Thomas didn’t want to eat the chocolate, but he didn’t want to let his grandpa down. So he took the offered sweet and ate it all up.

First Two (YA Fiction) #8

TITLE: Dreamwalking Under the Bloodmoon Sky
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Chains chinked as Rose shifted her weight. A low snore was cut short by a snuffling noise, and her warden, Sander, glared in her direction. Rose rolled her eyes at him, trying to run some feeling back into her swollen, manacled hands. As if she could go anywhere. He’d been snoring soundly through the clinking and rattling of chains all night as the other girls giggled and gossiped, their light voices eager for the ceremony that would arrive with the dawn tomorrow, the day of the Fertile Moon. But now, with the noisy girls sleeping peacefully, every time Rose adjusted an inch he was instantly wide awake.

Rose was torn between laughter and tears. Hers were the only bands locked. The other girls’ bonds were just for show—part of the tradition. She wasn’t going anywhere, whether Sander slept on the job or not.

Repositioning herself was more difficult than she’d expected. She ended up halfway on her side with a rock digging into her ribs. A shame the view wasn’t much better. Beside’s Sander’s pointy face drifting back to sleep out of the corner of one eye, the only thing visible was a slice of halfnight sky and the thatch roof of her own home. This crisp smell of smoke was not coming from her chimney. And the half dozen copper pipes that sprouted out in bunches around the chimney were also missing their usual steam and colored vapors. It all served as a harsh reminder for what Rose already knew—her home was empty.

Father was in the pub, drinking to celebrate the handsome deal he’d made trading her away. Or perhaps he drank to forget how she very nearly ruined it all. Rose’s mother, Merelinda, was locked in the public dungeon for matrimonial disloyalty. Utter cocfa. Merelinda hadn’t done a single thing to help Rose. Father only locked her away because he was afraid she’d use her magic against him. Not that she ever would. Coward. They were both cowards.

If only Rose had her mother’s talents.

Rose tore her eyes away from her house, and blinked through her tears at the glittering sky. Tomorrow the moon, which now resembled an overlarge, slightly squashed dumpling clinging to the edges of a blackened pot, would swell into the Fertile Moon. She and all the other girls would be ripe for their new husbands.

She closed her eyes and prayed to whatever gods would listen. She was not ready. Not ready to be a wife. To be a mother. Regardless of what the Fertility Mark on her neck implied. A small, lovely rose, with three sharp petals, corresponding to the days of her monthly bleeding, had been inked onto her neck on the day of her first Bloodmoon to indicate her fertility and eligibility for marriage.

It had been relined with fresh woad ink earlier this evening, along with the other brides’ tattoos. It was a small discomfort, and none of the other girls had complained.

First Two (YA Fiction) #7

TITLE: Essence
GENRE: Fantasy

I open my eyes.

There’s a man hovering above me.

A stranger.

My legs are tangled in sweat and blankets as I scramble back against a headboard.

He’s ridiculously tall, his unnaturally, bright red hair contrasting sharp black eyes set above high cheekbones. “Well, good to see you’re finally awake.” He gives a wide grin. All his teeth are long, curved, pointed.

A scream chokes up my throat and I throw myself out of the bed. The sheets fall with me, binding my legs. They don’t give no matter how much I worm around or rip at them.

“Whoa, whoa.” The man jumps over the bed, squatting in front of me with his arms raised. “I won’t touch you. Calm down, please, you could hurt yourself.”

My fingers hesitate. If he wanted to hurt me, he could have. For God’s sake, he was hovering over me while I slept. A shiver spikes up my spine. “What are you?”

“What am I?” He blinks. “I’m Bob. And you are?”

Bob’s a name, not a thing. Is he hiding it from me, whatever he is?

And I…

“I don’t know.”

“What don’t you know?” An odd accent lilts across his words.

What do I say? Hey monster, thanks for hovering over me and all, but I have no idea who I am. I don’t even know my name.

“Come on now, I won’t bite.”

Hysterical laughter bubbles in my stomach, and I clamp my teeth shut against it. He sure as hell has the teeth for biting. But could he have answers? “M-my name. I don’t know my name.”

He nods, like that’s the most normal thing in the world. Maybe it is. “Then it’s a miracle you’re already up, much less speaking. “

“What happened?” Panic nips at my throat, and I curl tighter, further away from him. “Where am I? What are you doing with me?” This isn’t where I’m supposed to be. There’s no way to explain it, I can’t remember anything, but I need to run. I need to get back…where?

“Hey, I didn’t do anything you, honestly. And I won’t do anything to you.” He searches my eyes for a second. For what, I’ve no idea. “We’re not sure what exactly what happened to you. Or, at least, I don’t. It’s Morgan that rescued you. This is his house, in a little town called Wyndham. None of this happens to sound familiar, does it?”

Should I lie? Every time I see those teeth flash between his words I want to leap over him, out the door, find someone normal to help me. “What did Morgan rescue me from?” You?

His lips get thinner. “Well —”

A bang vibrates from another room.

I jump violently, and Bob sighs.

“One moment.” He jogs from the room, and as he leaves, he yells, “I know that wasn’t burning, there’s no reason to act out! Damned dramatic oven!”

First Two (YA Fiction) #6

TITLE: Children of Annwn:The Promise
GENRE: YA romantic fantasy

Mist rolled off the grassy slopes on the hillside, and the purple and pink slashes in the sky stained the sandstone on the castle that abutted the cliff, a beautiful rose color. Mia stared at the majestic fortress as it stood guard over the sea, a foreboding sight should anyone dare to enter Annwn from the water, and shivered. The milky white sun peeped from behind the curtains of clouds that rolled passed, and she turned towards the sea. Her heart beat slowly, and Mia took a deep breath in, capturing all that lay before her, soaking in the very essence and smells of her home Annwn, should it all be forgotten. It was dawn and the start of a new day.

A new beginning.

Annwn the Otherworld was a realm on earth, shielded from human eyes by magic. Its exact location a highly guarded secret, but legend suggests that it lay somewhere along the Welsh coast. Wales was a land steeped in magic and folklore. Mia smiled recalling the tales of King Arthur and the Druids and sighed, because that was the time when everything changed. Her people visited the human world often, but after the fall of the great king, Annwn closed its doors. She stared across the endless glossy water, and her hair danced wildly as the wind picked up speed.

“Are you ready?” Mia turned, and gazed at Ryder her betrothed. She accepted his outstretched hand and smiled. He was her heart, and the reason they both stood on the shores of their home ready to cast everything they knew aside. Her toes curled into the silky grains of white sand like an anchor, but she knew she must let go and set sail.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” A rough, calloused hand smoothed across her cheek and her eyes closed. In Annwn, it was the law that once a couple became promised to one another, they must complete a challenge that would test the power of their love, and magic. This law was created when humans entered the world of Annwn, diluting the magic as the Elders said. Only strong matches were allowed, strong in love and magic to ensure that magic always continued, at least that was what the Elders preached.

After great debate, it was decided that Mia and Ryder would enter the human world where promises were broken every day and live as mortals. Their memories of their lives in Annwn would be locked away. If their love did not survive the challenge, then their memories would be stripped away, and they would remain human. Mia shivered as coldness settled in her bones and icy tentacles locked inside her throat rendering her speechless. Her visions predicting the end of mankind further underlined the reason for them to venture into the unknown, because the two realms were linked by a history, by blood and what was predicted for the humans was eerily repeated in the visions of the future for their enchanted world of Annwn.

First Two (YA Fiction) #5

TITLE: Melanie + Kalith

Fourth of July in DC felt like being in an actual war zone. Thick plumes of smoke christened the air. The constant sound of things exploding was inescapable and getting around was a nightmare. The entire city was outside wondering around like zombies. Some frantic looking to feed on the next bit of excitement they could find. Others in a daze lost in the madness and beauty of the night. Every route alternated between blocks of empty streets, eerily dead like no one had ever lived there, and neighborhoods erupting with activity. The closer you got to downtown the more people there were. Tourist were frisked, checked and herded behind metal barriers for safe keeping. Downtown it was an orderly well run war. But in Petworth where we were it was chaos.

A bottle rocket flipped back Melanie’s hair barely missing her face.

“That’s it! I’m about to go fight a 10 year old.”

She took two steps towards the edge of the porch eyeballing a group of boys on their own porch across the street. Annoyed was the emotion that Melanie expressed most vividly. Her eyes caught fire and she pressed her lips together in a way that just made them look fuller and more attractive. I’d better talk her down.

“They’re just having fun.” I got up from the rickety lawn chair I was sitting in and stared out with her.

“Not to sound like an old person but those kids are out of control. Where are their parents?”

“Where are your parents?” I flicked her American flag paper cup.

“We’re in high school, they just fell out of their mothers’ wombs, they need supervision.”

“Come on.” I grabbed her hand. “Leave them alone.” I sat back down in the lawn chair and she plopped down in my lap. I took her cup and drank the rest in one gulp.

“Hey,” she protested.

I didn't know what burned worst the overpour of liquor or all that sugar.

“I’m just making sure no one’s trying to rufie you. It’s my civic duty as your boyfriend.” The taste lingered in my mouth. I tried to scrape it off my tongue with my teeth. “What is this?” I asked, “it’s terrible.”

She was already preoccupied.

“Marquis!” she called out to a group of even younger boys on the sidewalk, “come here.”

He saw her and a big goofy smile spread across his face. Melanie was a good looking girl, any guy would love attention from her, even a little guy like this.

“You know that kid?” I asked.

“That’s my little cousin”

She knew the whole city. Marquis shuffled up onto the porch. He gave me a dirty look.

“Marquis you know those kids?” Melanie pointed across the street. She wasn’t going to let this go.

“Yeah, that’s Matthew, Dominick and Chris. They go to my school. They’re jerks.”

“They keep shooting things over here. They’ve been trying to kill me all night.”

“You want me to get em Mel.” His little face lit up.

First Two (YA Fiction) #4

TITLE: Crown of Bones
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The stables reeked of death, but I marched toward them anyway. The tip of my nose froze as I walked, and I pulled the hood of my cloak lower in a vain effort to keep my face from freezing. The ends of my old emerald cloak dragged in the mud behind me, but there was nothing to be done about that. Instead I focused on my steps, avoiding icy patches. My toes were numb in the old riding boots, and I quickened my pace, grateful the sun had begun to rise and cast brilliant streaks of pink and orange across the sky.

When I reached the back door of the barracks I yanked the door open, fully expecting Alec to be in the small kitchen, waiting.

A new face greeted me instead. A boy no older than twelve, with a mope of curly brown hair, sat in Alec's spot at the old wooden table. He jumped out of his seat while I closed the door, his spoon clattering to the floor as he bowed down low.

"Good morning, Princess Anya," he said. "I'm instructed to assist you today."

No one else occupied the kitchen. My lips pressed together while I stared at the boy. "A little young, aren't you?"

"Alec thinks I have potential."

"Of course he does," I scowled. Though I wanted to yell at the kid to go home to his mother, I held my tongue. Something clearly required the assistance of the other grooms, and unless I wanted to do everything myself, I was stuck with the boy.

But I would be having words with Alec later.

"What's your name?" I asked the kid when he blinked at me.

"Jim, my Lady."

"Well, Jim, stick close. Don't stray too far from me, and pray the Da'ath Ras don't eat you."

His eyes widened as he rushed over, standing so close I could have hugged him. Smart boy.

"They say you keep them from eating anyone," he said. We left the barracks and headed to the stables. "That you can control a whole army of them."

They say a lot of things, I thought, but kept that opinion to myself. "I have the ability to keep them from eating people. But that doesn't mean you should be stupid around them."

He trotted beside me, still sticking close. We went inside, and I stopped at the edge of the first stall. "This is Alastir. He's big, mean, and likely to give us the most trouble. Muck out the stall while I walk him to the fields, and don't make eye contact."

Though he paled a little, Jim nodded. I peered into Alastir's stall and sent a quick message to him.

This is Jim. Don't attack him, or no breakfast for you.

Alastir whinnied in reply, and then swung his large head over the stall door.

Jim sucked in a breath. I studied Alastir, trying to see the Da'ath Ras through Jim's eyes.

First Two (YA Fiction) #3

TITLE: Beautiful Medusa
GENRE: YA Fantasy

I never knew what it felt like to be hunted. Not until today.

I swept my gaze around the supposedly safe confines of the Temple of Athena. As far as I could tell, I stood alone in the inner sanctuary, and yet I knew I wasn’t. A predator watched my every move, far enough away never to be seen, but close enough to always be felt.

I picked up a lily resting on a stone bench, the bloom as pale as the marble it sat upon, and studied it with a scowl. The temple’s garden didn’t have lilies like this. I had no idea where it had come from.

This had started in the morning. Half asleep, my senses still dulled, I had felt a presence by my bedside. I woke up screaming, the senior priestesses rushing to my room.

I begged them to search my quarters. They had found nothing, assured me it was merely a nightmare. But you couldn’t hear the inhale and exhale of a nightmare’s breath, nor could a nightmare run its fingers through your hair.

Suppressing a shudder, I tossed the lily to the ground, as if it were made of poison.

Wherever I went, whatever I did, my predator followed, leaving small tokens for me to find. I could almost catch the broad-shouldered figure of a man out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned around, he was gone.

And none of the other priestesses believed me.

I peered up at the statue of my Lady. Athena towered over me, three stories tall, a spear gripped in one marble hand, her golden helm glittering in the afternoon light.

My Lady would keep me safe.

My gaze lingered on her perfectly-chiseled face, never changing, forever vigilant. “Blessed Athena, wise and serene. Protectress of us all.” Today, more than ever, I took comfort in the truth of those words.

“Alessia, come on.”

I jumped at Naima’s voice. My fellow priestess stepped into the sanctuary, tugging at my sleeve and shooing me toward the courtyard. Then she took a closer look at me and her face fell.

“You’re still upset about this morning, aren’t you?” I considered every priestess here to be family, and I had two older sisters back home, but Naima was the little sister I had always wanted. A year younger than me, her family originally hailed from the far away city of Thebes, on the river Nile.

I kicked at the lily with the toe of my sandal. “The problem is my intruder never left. Don’t you feel it? He’s still here. He’s been leaving me these…things all day.” I swallowed a lump in my throat, overcome by emotion.

“By the Gods, you should hear yourself talk.” Helene swept in with Korinna in tow. Though Helene was dressed in the same white robes we all wore, she carried herself with an elegance that even I found impressive.

First Two (YA Fiction) #2

TITLE: Girl at the Wall
GENRE: YA fantasy

It’d been three days since she ran away, and the only street kids she’d seen were mutilation boys who cut their flesh to beg for alms. Even upper-zone girls like her had heard about Wall boys. They were supposed to be skillful pickpockets, so stealthy they moved like shadows, impossible to spot, and no one knew how they survived. Oh well. It didn’t matter. Street kids were probably all the same anyway, living on the tips of their toes, doing what they could to stay alive. Ayla was one herself now, and even dressed as a boy, she’d be in trouble soon enough. It helped that she was reedy and could hide in baggy clothes, but her luck couldn’t last forever. There were soldiers on every street, craven and hungry things that lurking in each dark corner.

Sweat dripped down her back. It was already noon and the air was so hot it coated her teeth. She’d been out here for hours now, on the lookout for a man in a beige suit. Her orders were to steal a black box from his pocket, but she didn’t know the first thing about picking pockets. Was she supposed to sidle up to her target, or distract him while she stole the box? She wiped a drop of sweat out of her eyes. There was a boy standing at the edges of the crowd. A Wall boy? No. He was too easy to spot, shifting from foot to foot with a goofy grin on his face. Maybe fifteen like her, he had curly black hair and a stocky build. He was so pigeon toed that if he tried to pick a pocket he’d be caught for sure. But no, wait a second. Now he was slipping a hand into the pocket of a man in a purple robe. The boy might be shambling and tentative, but he hadn’t gotten caught. So how hard could it be?

That’s what she told herself anyhow, as she dug into the bag of nuts she bought for a leeri from a vendor. There was only one left. When had she eaten them all? Suddenly, she was hit by a wave of sadness so big she couldn’t see to its outer edges. Her adopted father never let her buy food from the vendors. He had so many rules, so much fear in his voice. Vendors’ nuts were picked from the pollution swamps, he’d boom, and she’d die a slow and painful death if she ate one. Pthh. She popped the last one into her mouth and savored it. The nut was salty and good enough to hint of paradise the cults chanted about. She ran a finger along the bottom of the bag and licked it, wishing she had more.

No, more than anything, Ayla wished she could have her old life back.

First Two (YA Fiction) #1

TITLE: Ash to Ashes
GENRE: YA Supernatural

My father sold his soul at three o’clock this afternoon.

It disappeared in the half hour that elapsed since he’d left the room to gather more pre-made appetizers from where they lay thawing atop the small freezer in our kitchen and returning with a dancing mound of purple jello.

I couldn't explain how I knew he’d sold his soul. Or why I thought sold and not lost. But the warning shouted in my mind. I needed to put some space between us until I figured out what to do.

The tiny, cramped living room that was packed full of black-clad strangers had been uncomfortably stuffy. Then my father – Jim –walked in holding a tray with rolling hills of purple before him and I expected my breath to puff before my face in a tiny, white cloud. A chill wriggled down my spine. I knew what he’d done. The person who came back was less than what had left. More a stranger than he’d been an hour ago in the cemetery when he’d awkwardly tried to hold my hand.

I hadn’t let him.

Why bother selling it now, I silently raged. She’s gone! You left us and never looked back. No word or card or phone calls for years. Not until all the doctors and needles and antiseptic were ready to be laid to rest in the cold November ground. My hands tightened, fisted into the damp cloth of my stupid black dress. I slunk into the back corner of the room, avoiding eye contact with everyone I passed. Between the bookshelf and the wall was a shadowed gap I could just squeeze into, so I aimed for that.

Mom had hated black. The awful shade rendered us nothing more than a bunch of crows, pecking at crackers and pretending things were going to be okay. Nothing was okay. Especially now that the only parent I had left was soulless.

My lip trembled, so I bit it – hard.

I’d always known odd things at odd times. How the most popular girl in school was secretly unhappy, even though she’d never wanted to talk to me about it. Or that the young, earnest doctor was wrong when he said the latest treatment was working. Mom and I both knew that wasn’t true.

I stared at Jim from the shelter of the bookcase.

The knowing was nothing new. Mom had been the only one who’d ever understood, who’d listened and explained how other people couldn’t. I shouldn’t have bothered trying to explain it to kindly Dr. Bartlett, then I wouldn’t have to worry about the pills buried in my backpack. Still, I’d never known someone who’d sold their soul before. Never really thought about souls. Souls were stuff for people who went to churches and prayed to gods who didn’t listen.

But Jim had just sold his.

Breath hitched in my chest and I fought to stay quiet. Maybe I was imagining things. Maybe I should have taken one of my stupid pink pills.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Winners for First Two (YA Fiction)

Winning numbers have been drawn for First Two (YA Fiction) and the owners have all been emailed their entry numbers.

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

Here is the complete list, so you may double check:
  • MTO2EBSL as ENTRY #1

  • 5P43IE11 as ENTRY #2

  • 9JMEBTYF as ENTRY #3

  • CF0UNM4Z as ENTRY #4


  • QX0SQ5WD as ENTRY #6

  • 89LV6IFV as ENTRY #7

  • UBIZYVQ9 as ENTRY #8

  • BTR8N65P as ENTRY #9

  • 4PZJTQO9 as ENTRY #10

  • GGL78EP5 as ENTRY #11

  • 8E741OAY as ENTRY #12

  • 41DN982G as ENTRY #13

  • L6YD2F11 as ENTRY #14

  • H4FZFW5I as ENTRY #15
The alternates are:

  • ELD9I3C6 as ENTRY #ALT-1

Monday, January 27, 2014

First Two Critique Round: Young Adult

Okay, YA authors -- this week's First Two is for you!

The details:
  • This round is for YA FICTION, all genres.
  • Submission window:  5:00 to 7:00 PM EST tomorrow (Tuesday)
  • This will be a lottery. The bot will choose 15 entries from the pool.
  • Please submit the first 500 words of your manuscript, completed or in progress.
  • Please proofread before submitting!
  • The 15 entries will post Wednesday for critique.
Post your questions below! 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Fricassee

I am hunched--literally--on the hearth, a crackling fire at my back.  To say "I hate winter" is to state the obvious.  Is to become a living cliché.  But, oh.  I have to say it, anyway.

Seriously.  Humans weren't meant for weather like this.  I don't know how people survive in Minnesota and North Dakota and and and Canada.  I bow to you all.

I'm too cold to think.  Which is making it rather difficult to produce this blog post!

(Yes, Winter Princes and Princesses--sneer at me if you will.  I readily admit to being a wimp.  You already know that I wear jodimitts* all day as soon as the temperatures dip below 55 or so.  Today I need an entire bodymitt.)

At any rate, I do want to mention how much I enjoyed your comments last week.  When you share your hearts, your passions, your this-makes-me-ticks, I feel like I'm being given a sacred glimpse into each of your lives.  This isn't something to take lightly.  There is a rich tapestry of life callings and talents and joys here!  We are all so much more than "writers".

I'm thinking that, if we were all stranded on one very large island, we would not only survive--we would thrive.  (As long as the daily temperatures hovered in the 70s.)

I think we would sit around lovely campfires at night and talk about our stories.  And our characters.  Especially our characters.  Because we love them, right?  They're pretty darn real.

So I'm wondering--why do you think that is?  Why are the make-believe people we've created so very ALIVE to us?  Why do we smile when we think about them?  Cry when we kill them off?  Squeal with delight when someone else loves them?

(You know you love your characters.  Don't even pretend you don't.)

Since we're all cozy around our fires, now's the time to share your most intimate writer-love: your characters.  Go on.  I'm listening!

* Or an unreasonable facsimile thereof.  Because THIS:

I know.  I must have acid skin.  And Jodi is in a dither because, in my panic to stay warm, I bought myself a pair of acrylic fingerless mitts.  But they are pretty.  Even if they are imposters.

(See?  Pretty.  And they match my coat-of-many-colors.  My pinkies sort of get stuck when I type--clearly these were not fashioned by a writer.  Nevertheless.  My hands are warm.  And Jodi still loves me.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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 3 other entries.

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

First Two (Adult Fiction) #15

GENRE: Women's fiction

Do you always have to be right? Do you love puzzles and trivia? Are you outgoing, vivacious, and engaging? Do you usually find yourself surrounded by less intelligent people? Do you want to win $250,000? We're looking for smart, spunky 21 to 25-year-olds, for an exciting new reality competition! Email Stephanie your name, age, a photo, and a little about yourself for more information.

"I’ve got something to do 2night, but u can spend the night if u want to hang."

Hours later, this was the text I got in response to asking my boyfriend if he wanted to go out to dinner? He’d taken so long to reply that I’d not only eaten a sandwich, I’d also bought an umbrella, tried on half a dozen pairs of shoes, and walked 10 blocks to get home.

Plus, I could sleep there if I wanted to “hang”? Gee, how romantic!

But, still, I hadn’t seen him in a week or so…

You shouldn’t let yourself be at his beck and call, I told myself.

I’m not! I insisted. I am a strong, liberated woman who would like to spend time with her boyfriend this evening. I was the one who suggested getting together at the last minute.

It didn’t take long to pack a bag. A short walk and three Metro stops later, I knocked on Dominic’s front door.

I strained to hear if he was coming, but couldn’t make out anything over the rain and the wind. Shivering, I rubbed my hands on my arms as I waited. What’s taking so long? Maybe I should ask if he ever found that key he made me. Oh, well. At least my new umbrella kept me dry.

Finally, the door swung open. “Hey, Jen!” Dominic greeted me with a smile and a kiss. His stubbly chin scratched my face. He knew I didn't like that. His dark hair was tousled, as if I’d gotten him out of bed. I wondered if he wasn’t feeling well.

“Is everything OK?,” I asked.

“Sure thing, babe. Come in, come in.” He wore tattered gray sweatpants and a dirty white tank top. He must be sick. Or he needed to do laundry.

I hung my coat in the hall, then followed him into the living room. I plopped into my spot on one end of the sofa. Dominic usually sat in the middle.

“Thanks for coming to keep me company. I need to finish this level.”

What? Then I noticed the video game controller lying overturned on the other end of the couch. He set it aside to let me in. That’s what took him so long to get to the door. He’d played to a good spot to save his game. This was what he “had to do?”

Pizza boxes, beer bottles, and sandwich wrappers littered the room. “Dom? Did you leave the house today?”

“I gotta beat this level!”

Seriously? “What about your job?”

“You know we get personal days to use whenever.”

First Two (Adult Fiction) #14

TITLE: Captain
GENRE: Adult Fiction

James Lamport was going to sea.

He had made the decision long ago, when his Uncle Argo first came home with a story about a yogi in Bombay. The man slept on a bed of nails, he had said. He could put his legs behind his head and could stand himself up on the palm of one hand. James was overwhelmed with curiosity.

Then Argo told a story of snake charmers who controlled serpents with music. The young boy shivered with excitement.

Then there was the story of people riding painted elephants through the streets. He shuddered with glee.

James, as a boy, could hardly breathe as he had thought about all these strange and wonderful things that actually existed somewhere out in the world. All he had ever known was England, and the boring grey place that it was.

That was when he decided – he was going to see it. The world. All of it.

Now, twenty years later, as he strode toward the London Docks, his ears burned to hear all the details from his uncle’s latest trip. Tales of fantastic sea creatures, of cannibal tribes in exotic lands, and of waters teeming with bloodthirsty pirates were always in order when the old sailor came home. Stroking his full brown beard, with the smoke from his pipe disappearing above head, his uncle’s eyes would light up like flames as he related the storybook adventures in which he took part. He was everything James wanted to be; all he had ever dreamt of was a life on the open ocean.

He passed the bustling stevedores, the mountains of barrels of pickled herring from the North Sea, the merchants selling tobacco and pearl necklaces and shrunken heads, and he imagined the Saint Angela moving up the Thames right at that moment. He smelled the filth of the docks and his heart quickened. This was the day, he knew. This was the day for which he had waited for years. He was finally going to make his life happen. He was going to ask to go along the next time Argo went out.

He reached the edge of the docks and asked a carriage driver for the time. Three thirty-four. Right on time. Every day for the past week James had stood at the edge of the docks, in the same spot, at the same time, the wind whipping through his dark hair, waiting for the Saint Angela to emerge. Every day for the past week, however, he had gone home alone. Not today, he knew. He had a good feeling about today.

As if on cue, James saw the prow of a ship slice through the curtain of London fog. The wooden mermaid on the front appeared to pull back the curtain, peer out and, deciding all was clear, continue through the hole in the fog toward the dock. It was the Saint Angela. His uncle was home.

First Two (Adult Fiction) #13

TITLE: Capturing the Last Welsh Witch
GENRE: Adult Romance

Ella blinked awake as a blast of frigid air caressed her skin, and in the distance, she could hear trickling water. Icy-fear snaked its way into her mind as she jerked her chin off the mushy grass and peered at the world from the ground. She was lying semi-prone on the cold, damp earth with grass stuck to her lips. The day usually began in a warm bed, and Aidan was there. Instead frosty kisses from the early-morning breeze touched her, mostly naked body, and she shivered. She lifted a shaky hand to her head, and groaned as an image of a hysterical and angry Aidan, flashed through her head.

“What the hell happened?” She whispered to the wind as if it may answer.

Ella pushed herself off the grass, but her limbs buckled, and a wave of dizziness

took over threatening to send her crashing to the ground. Searching around, she grabbed onto the nearest tree for support as she vomited. Some of the dizziness lifted, and she wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. The gurgle of water caught her attention, and she turned her head. A couple of feet away was a small sliver of a stream.

Have I changed?

She staggered towards the water on shaky legs. None of this made sense. Ella was usually prepared, but she was in the middle of a forest with no recollection as to how or why? Each step made her curse, as a pain shot through her chest and limbs. Breathing increased the agony. It was as if she had fought in a great battle and lost. Her head throbbed and white stars danced before her.

Just get to the water and drink.

Ella pushed herself forward to the edge of the stream, but her legs gave way and she sank to her knees. Leaning over, she stared at her reflection in the water.

“What a mess,” she gasped. She moved her jaw, and lifted her hand to examine her face.


Her fingers traced the outline of a large, black bruise on her cheek. Dried blood had congealed by her nose, and her hair was a wild mass. One eye was so swollen it was barely open, and although unrecognizable from the bruises and swelling, familiar blue eyes stared at her. She was still Ella Masters.

Despite looking battered, and like she’d been raised by wolves, she wasn’t dead. At least not yet. Sitting back of her haunches, she glanced down, and followed a succession of bruises on her arm that resembled finger prints. Running her hand over them an ugly memory roared to life.

His face loomed into view. Sharp blue irises, like the deepest ocean glinted silver as they gazed at her. There was no warmth in his expression, his lips were pulled into a narrow line, and he gripped her wrists so tightly they stung. Ella twisted and pulled at them, but he wasn’t letting her go. A cry escaped her lips. “Aidan.

First Two (Adult Fiction) #12

TITLE: Pretty Saro
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

In a dark room, a woman crouches over the body of a sleeping man. The dim light reflects off a knife she holds hovered over the man’s heart. The tip grazes his bare skin. As he inhales, his chest rises towards the knife’s point. When he breathes out, the distance opens up again. The woman watches this rise and fall and waits.

She raises the knife above her head and the white of her knuckles glow against the dark surface of the handle. She stops there, frozen, then sighs and lowers the knife. She holds it again just above his heart. One deep breath pushes the tip more deeply into his skin, and she watches for it to break the surface. It does not.

The man breathes out and his left eye opens like a slow curtain rise.

“Don’t you think you should just get on with it?” he asks.

The woman shifts her gaze from the man’s heart to his eye. In the dark, she can make out what might be a smile on his face. Perhaps a smirk.

“Not that I mind you wiggling around up there, at all, but it seems if you’re going to stab me, you should probably get on with it.”

He opens the other eye and looks up into her face. She watches him closely and adjusts her grip on the knife. Her breathing stops.

Lying on the bed, the man watches an emotion flash across the woman’s face so quickly that he has no time to name it. Hope? Or disappointment? Then anger. The anger is unmistakable.

She raises the knife to its full height above her head once again and with one swift motion brings it plunging down towards his chest.


It wasn’t the first time Syd woke to find a strange woman in his bed. It might have been the first time she was holding a knife over his chest.

Sleep was different in the After. No one was sure why, but Syd suspected it wasn’t something your body needed anymore. One of the fancy scientists Gabe was always talking to could probably spend years coming up with an explanation, and then everyone would know it was true, but Syd didn’t have much use for scientists. He didn’t particularly like the look of white lab coats. No one looked good in white.

Some Splits liked to pretend they didn’t notice it–the difference in how they slept After. Gabriel, for example. Syd bet if you asked him if he slept differently now compared to Before he would purse his lips so that the dimples on his face became even deeper and pretend he had no idea what Syd was talking about. That was Gabe.

But sleep was different, and the good part was that it made it much harder for people to sneak up on you. Syd heard each sound the woman made as she picked the lock on his apartment door. He heard her creep down the hall and open his bedroom door.

First Two (Adult Fiction) #11

TITLE: Hunted
GENRE: Epic Fantasy

On the basketball court, Jim Thompson expected trash talk. Here in his parents' beach-side condo, not so much.

The jet-setting owner of the place next door crossed his arms over his puffed-out chest. "It's better you got cut, Jim. Now you can settle down and get a real job. Only exceptional athletes make it big in the NBA."

The verbal jab landed just north of Jim’s own uncertainties about his future, but there was no way he'd let this pompous know-it-all realize the cheap shot stung. Jim waggled his head back and forth the way his favorite wide receiver used to do after taking a ferocious hit. The burble of conversation from the other guests swirled around them, peaking with an explosion of laughter from a bunch of college kids nearby. His sister's friends, no doubt—oblivious to the real world of "produce or get cut loose."

When their voices died down, Jim parroted what he’d been telling his fans since his surgery. "I appreciate your concern, but this is only a temporary setback. I'm not done with basketball yet."

"Trust me on this, kiddo, you don't want to be one of those players bouncing around the D league, earning next to nothing. There's no future in it."

"I’ll keep that in mind." Jim flashed his photo-op smile, the best way to slam the door on the discussion. He couldn't listen to any more dreary predictions about his career. No matter what this jerk or anybody else said, Jim wasn't washed up. All he needed was a chance to prove it.

As the guy moved off, Jim checked the entryway for new arrivals. Thankfully no media, at least not yet. If the local sports reporters overheard talk about him leaving basketball, they would drop-kick him into the has-been pile before the eleven o'clock news. No telling if his career could survive that kind of bad press.

Jim stretched his tender knee. His best hope would be to give the reporters something positive to write, and for that he needed his brother's help. Eddie might be pigheaded about most things, but he was still family. Maybe Jim could corral him and wrangle a commitment about the golf tournament in time to make an announcement before the reception ended.

His older brother stood beside the food table dishing hors d'oeuvres onto a paper plate. Sidestepping through the afternoon crowd to minimize his limp, Jim made his way into the dining area. One guest after another patted him on the back and told him to hang in there. He thanked each, assuring them he'd be back on the basketball court in no time.

Confidence. That's what fans needed to see. That's what Eddie needed to see.

When he reached his brother, Jim bent toward him to keep from raising his voice. "Hey, Eddie, you have a minute?"

"It's your reception, bro. Here, have some food." Eddie pushed his plate into Jim's hand and gave him a paper cup.

First Two (Adult Fiction) #10

TITLE: She Eagles
GENRE: Adult Fiction


Cate was eight weeks pregnant and four weeks terrified. Even though she hadn’t gained any weight, only fears, her body had changed and her clothes felt snug. Simply unhooking her bra had it leaping off her body like a frog, and the only sure-fire way to fill her lungs with air was to unbutton her jeans. “Phew,” she whispered, rubbing the patch of skin-dents left around her waist after sliding, no pushing, the jeans downward and leaving them, accordion-like, on the floor.

The circle of sweat beads left from her watch made her skin itch and so did the spaghetti-strap nightgown that she wished was a size large and not a medium. For the second time that night she looked up at the ceiling fan; the thick air was being stubborn, refusing to mingle with the swirling blades.

Definitely hot enough for the air conditioner, but Cate was being stubborn too. The idea of closing all the windows in her three-story townhouse made the muggy air a bit more bearable. If Frank were home, though, the windows would be closed and the fan would be on low. Cooler air always seemed more cooperative. But her husband, the Executive Chef at the White House, wasn’t home. Instead, he was at work, planning the following weeks’ meals for Barbara and President Bush and their children.

Normally Cate would be thrilled that the DC weathermen were calling September of 1990 the hottest one on record because normally she loved the ease of wearing sundresses, sleeveless blouses, tank tops and cotton jersey pull-overs. But her normal-self was gone so enjoying or even caring about the weather seemed ridiculous.

Her new-normal was trapped in a web of fear spun by two different spiders, and both were hunting her. She had foolishly forgotten the spider from her past so when it roared its ugly head, it was too late to escape. The other spider, the more menacing one, had just been discovered and it had the slyness to destroy her and her unborn baby.

After brushing and flossing her teeth and moisturizing her skin, Cate was finally in bed, sitting up and trying to put together a to-do list. The opening of her Georgetown Bakery, Back to the Bakery, next year, and her weekend getaway with Renee and Julie in six days should have been enough to make her list a mile-long; yet Cate no longer cared about either of them.

“Forget it.” She said, slapping the blank pad on the night stand and pulling the lamp’s chain. Then after punching, her pillows more than necessary, she rolled onto her side and grabbed Frank’s down-filled substitute.

Her body wanted sleep but her mind was in control, harboring thoughts from a time when she believed growing up motherless was her burden to bear and worrying about her mother’s killer seemed pointless. Then, without warning, her thoughts jumped two decades to the discovery of a breast cancer gene mutation. Her mother’s killer was alive and stalking.

First Two (Adult Fiction) #9

GENRE: Literary Fantasy

“Hey, Rat Girl,” Minos sneered, pointing his chin in Crea’s direction. “Think you can scamper up there?”

Crea shook her head in annoyance. No one else spoke. As the foursome stared across the expanse below them to the stony eminence, Crea was sure they looked like dazed fools, gaping with open mouths. But tearing her eyes from the grim structure would have been as easy as keeping moths from being drawn to a lamp. Though she hadn’t intended her gesture to be an answer, there was only one coherent thought in her mind: surely their task was impossible.

The fortress was more mountain or mesa than man-made edifice. Only a few shades grayer and darker than the landscape around it, it could have passed for a rocky plateau. Yet the lofty summit had a nearly flawless rectangular geometry, etched against the cerulean blue of the midsummer sky. Numerous small but clearly visible features confirmed it was built by human hands: windows and ledges, grids of perfectly aligned brick work, and squat square towers jutting cautiously out into space as if clinging to the vertical wall in fear of the great height.

The man-made part was built on top of an escarpment formed by no lesser beings than the gods. Even after taking that into consideration, it was staggering to imagine humans constructing such a towering, unwholesome place; Crea wondered what sort of people would be compelled to do such a thing. From where she and the three men had paused, hunkering down amid a cluster of boulders on the steep hillside, the top appeared well above their current altitude, and they still had some distance to descend before reaching the level ground that stretched between them and the base of the fortress.

“Oh, ye gods!” Crea muttered. “There’s no way we’ll ever get in there. They were crazy to send us.” She glanced at her companions to see them all shaking their heads.

“First off,” Lamad said, “How do we even get near the place? They must have lookouts or guards in all those little windows up there, those turrets. They’ve probably seen us already.” He gestured down at the open expanse sparsely carpeted with scrawny tufts of yellow grass and dotted with occasional gray-green shrubs no more than a foot high. “There’s no way to get within a mile of that hill without being seen . . . No doubt that was the point.”

“Of course,” Jafsa growled.

The four of them fell back into silence. In spite of the bright sky above it, the vision looming in front of them made Crea think of a wall in a nightmare that extends infinitely up into dark space, blocking the only escape. The prospect of approaching it and trying to get inside—if it were even physically possible—filled her with a dreamlike chill of horror.

After a moment Minos said, “Perhaps they just wanted to be rid of us and knew we had no chance of getting in there alive.”

First Two (Adult Fiction) #8

TITLE: Frozen Hell
GENRE: Historical Women's Fiction

Helsinki, Finland—December 1939

Leila stood on the train station platform, holding tight to three-year-old Taneli’s hand as she hugged Aunt Sisko. “We’ll be fine,” Leila insisted, whispering so her son wouldn’t hear. “The invasion won’t last—the Allies won’t allow it.”

Aunt Sisko sniffed, her eyes searching Leila’s as they pulled back. “But the air raids . . .” Even though her aunt spoke softly, Leila glanced down to be sure Taneli hadn’t heard. No sense in scaring him more than he already had been two days ago when they’d run to a shelter as Soviet bombers rained their cargo over Helsinki. Aunt Sisko shook her head, pleading. “He’d be safer in Sweden.”

Leila gaze strayed across the platform. Beside another train ready to depart many mothers said goodbye to their children bound for the safety of Sweden. They had cards pinned to their coats with their names, addresses, and parents’ names. Would that be enough to reunite families? Would the foster parents treat them well? Would they love the children so dearly they refused to part with them? These questions and more swirled in Leila’s mind for likely the thousandth time, like a dark mist. Heat burned behind her eyes.

“I will not send—” Leila’s voice cut off. Yet Taneli didn’t appear to be listening, intent instead on stomping patterns into a snowbank. He was the only part of her dear Jaakob she had left. A tear trickled down one cheek, followed by a second, but Leila didn’t wipe them away, unwilling to draw attention to her tears. Crying could worry her boy, and it would certainly provide Sisko more fuel for her argument: If you love him, protect him.

Yet Leila, a nurse, hadn’t been able to protect Jaakob; he’d died of pneumonia only weeks after Taneli had learned to walk. She should have been able to save her husband. Leila would not send their son away with no promise of finding him after the war. She stroked Taneli’s shoulder. “He stays with me.”


“We’ll be fine,” Leila insisted. She watched her words, careful not to say Stalin or Russians or soldiers. “They want Viipuri. They wouldn’t bomb what they want to capture, would they? We’ll be safer there than here.”

Would Taneli be safer yet in Sweden?

The thought was a mere whisper, a wisp. Leila ordered it away. God had taken her Jaakob. Surely He wouldn’t be so cruel as to take her only child, too.

Leila leaned down and adjusted Taneli’s hand-knitted scarf and fur hat. The icy temperature felt more like January than early December. Leila straightened, standing tall to show her determination. “The Lotta Svard contacted me about training other nurses. I’m sure we’ll return to Helsinki for some of the training. We’ll visit; I promise.” She hesitated, choosing her words carefully. “ That will be my contribution to the war. It’s all I can give.”

Aunt Sisko nodded. “I know.” Both women understood without another word.

First Two (Adult Fiction) #7

TITLE: Thingbreaker
GENRE: Magicpunk

Standing on the tram platform where the newer bulk of Silberung meets the denser sprawl of Old Tun, I taste the crackle of magic in the air. The original city thrums with it, every street and crooked alley forming the structure of a massive ward to keep the old gods at bay. The magic is quiet, the days of the Tiefen Kalten nearly forgotten, but it is not gone.

“You gon’ ta stand there all day, girl?” An old woman balancing a basket of dry and pungent fish on her head, nudges me none too soft with her elbow as she edges down the steps. “Staring like a dem Welk.”

She’s not the only one giving me the hairy eye and I shrug an apology and hurry down the copper staircase to the street.

In the days of the Kalten, the city was magnificent. Now the winding streets and maze-like buildings are shabby and the old Weise families have moved into Silberung proper, leaving Old Tun to the gypsies and mechanics, the washerwomen and cobblers.

There’s a handful of soldiers standing near the corner, eying the passers-by, casual-like. The courier’s crest strapped to my left wrist says I can go anywhere in Silberung I damn well please, but it takes a lot of effort not to turn up my collar and shove my hands deep in my pockets so they can’t see the ink on my knuckles. Or the brand on my palm.

I take a deep breath and move through the crush and ebb of the streets. One of the soldiers whistles as I stride past, but no one makes a move to stop me as I push through the crowded market.

I’ve been here a few times already, but always on business. Today I’m here for my own reasons and headed into a part of the city I’ve seen only from the tram and briefly too.

Despite the abstract quality to the streets, the glyphs at every intersection give me clear direction in toward the heart of the sector. The streets are less crowded here. The noise of vendors begging for attention and promising the best price slowly fades in the distance.

I glance up at the street corner. Left.

Finding artists who do true, charmed ink is difficult. The practice of tattoo is legal, but still considered taboo by the elite. The good ones have learned to be discreet to the point of being nearly unknown. There are rumored to be five artists in Silberung who are the quality I seek. I’ve found four of them and none were familiar with the ruined Hand of Anwa on the back of my neck. But the fourth, a tiny little man with ink that covered his face and hands like lace, told me to look in Old Tun. A man named Reyneaux works there. He may recognize it.

Another glyph on the corner and a right turn. This street is narrower, the buildings on either side dull with age.

First Two (Adult Fiction) #6

TITLE: Reply All
GENRE: Upmarket Women's Fiction

Luke’s disembodied voice shot through Vivi’s headset like a hammer. “Take it again from the second bridge, Vivi. It’s a ballad, darlin’, and I ain’t cryin’.”

For the fifth time, Luke counted down—three, two, one—and they were off from the beginning of the second bridge. Vivi held the third under Lacey Morris’s high C. With the steel slide, she bent the note on the dobro, made it quaver like a country singer's vibrato, and then took off on her solo. But Luke wasn’t satisfied. Four more times they tried it until Vivi saw Luke throw his hands up in the air.

“That’s enough. It’ll have to do unless you want to come in and lay down a …."

Lacey cut him off. “This is acoustic, Luke. You know I hate that overproduced shit.”

“Okay, okay. Then that'll have to do,” Luke said.

The musicians shifted; their arms sagged toward the floor. They took deep breaths, rolled their shoulders and began putting up their instruments. No one spoke. Lacey stalked out, trying to slam the door behind her, but it was soundproofed and braced, and politely refused to make a sound.

Vivi laid her dobro in its case. No one looked at her, which she appreciated. She was hot, and her skin felt like an itchy, fat balloon. Her hands shook.

She took a long time packing up, hoping everyone would be gone, but when she walked out of the studio, Lacey was waiting on the sidewalk, her bleached hair in her eyes, hoodie pulled tight around her skinny chest. Lacey was burning it up in Nashville at the moment, and everything about her was scary--her smoky, growly voice that could sail to crystalline heights, her fierce blue eyes, her honky-tonk swagger.

“You know what’s wrong with you?”

Vivi tried to meet Lacey's eyes, succeeded. “What?”

Something other than fury was there, so Vivi held still and let Lacey unleash.

“You are technically brilliant, maybe the best dobro player in Nashville, except for—"

“Jerry Douglas.”

“Yeah, Jerry f****** Douglas, Vivi. You’ll always just be the one I get when we can’t get Jerry, until you make me feel something when you play.”

Lacey spun around and charged up the sidewalk toward Broadway, her boots banging on the concrete.

Vivi watched her go, vibrating with self-loathing and near panic.

“Don’t let her get to you.”

Vivi spun around. Herbie looked down on her from the porch of the yellow house that housed Polyphonic. Banjo case resting on its narrow end, he leaned against a column. Vivi shook her head, unable to speak.

“She’s like that. You haven’t played with her much. Takes some getting used to.”

“Damned right.”

“Yep, she may be the next big thing, but she’s a bitch. Also really good.”

“I’m pathetic.”

“Oh, all right then. Douglas will always be the big dog, and you’ll be the puppy. Go wallow in it, Viv-ee-ann.”

First Two (Adult Fiction) #5

GENRE: Sci-Fi Fantasy

The torrential downpour I’d created by blowing up my ship in the atmosphere turns my father, and the legion of demons writhing below our feet, to ash.

I spread my arms and tilt my face to Jupiter, the gas giant forever painting Callisto’s sky, like I’d done countless times as a child during a mid-summer rainstorm, and wait my turn to die. Nothing happens.

Well, not nothing. The water against my newly formed demon skin burns like a son of a bitch. More like, granddaughter of Lucifer. But I’m more than just a demon. I’m also human. Or, I was. Apparently, a soul is a hard thing to kill.

As the mound below me dissolves, absorbed by the massive size of the lake underneath, I realize that my plan to save what’s left of my father’s tarnished human-turned-demon soul isn’t going to be as easy as I think.

I wade to the shore as smoke and sulfur billow up my nose from the frothy mess and stink of demon death. If I thought standing in the rain sucked, taking an early evening swim sucked more. A lot more.

At least it’s summer when the water is warm, even at night. Thank God for small miracles, if God even listens to me anymore. Maybe He never did.

I finally reach the water’s edge and dig clawed feet into sandstone the color of coagulated blood flecked green with shards of shale. But the relief is fleeting. Though I’m free from the excruciating caress of water, I’m now touching land. My body tenses as I wait for wave after wave of more demons to descend on the valley from whatever circle of Hell Ashmedai claims. Or claimed, before my mother killed him.

I wait…and wait. Again, nothing. This time, I’m grateful for the lack. It seems that ending my human life—the one thing preventing me from turning demon—shut the gateway created when I was born, linking Hell to the Valhalla River Basin here on Callisto. That, or there aren’t any demons left in the Prince of Hell’s army.

The rain relents its brutal assault on my skin. I wet my lips and search the surrounding hills for signs of movement. If by some miracle a demon survived, I’m ready to whistle the enchanting tune my father taught me as a child. The song leads demons to their death. But I’m exhausted by the strain of killing an army. I’d rather lie in the grass and sleep forever. Or die.

That would be better. That’s what I had intended. The rain was supposed to be my one-way ticket into Gehenna, the place where demons with souls go when they die. It’s a realm controlled by the Fallen One himself, my grandfather, Lucifer. Maybe he’ll let me in if I ask nicely. We’re family after all.

First Two (Adult Fiction) #4

GENRE: Romance / Women's Fiction

Eight in the morning wasn’t what Lettie Gold considered the ideal hour for a sexy Skype call with her fiancé, not even close. But it would raise more than a few perfectly-tweezed eyebrows if she wasn’t behind her desk at Last Word by 9:30. There was nothing celebrity publicists did better than spread gossip—about their clients and each other. Anyway, it wasn’t like she and David had a better option. By the time she got home from work it would be the middle of the night in Berlin.

Lettie turned her profile to the bathroom mirror and marveled at her half-clothed reflection one last time. Victoria’s Secret was either run by engineering geniuses or practitioners of dark Wiccan magic, there was simply no other plausible explanation for the gravity-defying effects of this bra. The pale pink wisp of fabric performed not just a push up on her minimal cleavage, but a whole Presidential Fitness Award’s worth of athletic achievements.

Actually, Lettie didn’t really think her body really needed a lift, pagan ritual-induced or otherwise. She’d always liked her smaller size chest, or at least the lifelong freedom from underwire it had afforded her. But she could take a hint. And, as far as hints went, the pale pink demi-cup with the built-in padding David had given for her birthday may as well have been skywriting.

She brushed her dark hair forward so its ends curled softly just below her sternum.

There, perfect.

Lettie hurried into the bedroom where she’d already drawn the curtains closed and positioned the laptop on the bed for the most flattering lighting. Arranging herself in front of it in a slightly uncomfortable—but, she hoped, smolderingly alluring—position resting on her left hip, she clicked the icon MusicMan86. The inelegant buzz-buzz of the Skype ringtone droned loudly.

MusicMan86 did not pick up.

Again? Adrenaline clamped its angry fingers tight around Lettie’s chest. She felt a fresh wave of loathing for the stupid Volkswagen execs who had hired him on this job. It was just a dumb advertising jingle, for crying out loud. They kept him chained to his keyboard like he was cracking the code on world peace.

She killed time for a few minutes on social media, then tried Skype again. On the fourth ring, the black rectangle on her laptop screen finally lit up with David’s scruff-covered face.

Relief flushed away the last trace of her annoyance. God, he was gorgeous. Even after three years together (four, if you counted that year of friends with benefits back when they were just undergrads at NYU…) David’s slightly disheveled good looks still took her breath away. The faint shadow of stubble on his jaw, the shaggy blonde-brown that looked like he’d hacked into it with a pair of scissors, himself. He’d had that same rough-around-the-edges appeal ever since she’d known him. As if he’d stepped off the pages of Rolling Stone just so he could slide into the empty seat beside her in Music Theory III.

First Two (Adult Fiction) #3

TITLE: Redwing
GENRE: Fantasy

Claire wanted to fly.

It was an overcast day but the clouds were high in the sky and the air was calm when she walked out onto the River City Base tarmac for pilot tryouts.

Claire had joined the Ladies Division of the Avaline Air Guard to work on the hangar deck refueling and towing aeroplanes. Now, working alongside men who flew the machines that sailed among the clouds was the closest she might ever come to flying them herself.

But even that wasn't enough for her any more.

The concrete airstrip stretched out to her left, bright white in the diffused sunlight. The dreadnaught Omnipotent hung in the sky to the west, black and angular. The hangar deck crew were there in their canvas coveralls, but the fly-boys wore their leather flight jackets like badges of pride. None of them knew that the C. Genaille who'd signed up today was a woman, but they would in a moment.

Someone called out names. "Sebastien Sine, Quentin Chevalier, Rene Dufont, C. Genaille."

Three young men stepped out towards the training planes taxiing onto the ramp. Claire steeled herself, held her head high and followed them, flight goggles in hand.

Across the ramp, the first to notice her was the Admiral's bastard son, Michel Prideaux. Ace pilot, call sign Redwing. He liked to play with people like a cat plays with a mouse, for no other reason that he was bored. Claire's stomach turned to ice at his gaze.

But others had spotted her now, and the whispers started. "Hey, that's Thomas's girl," someone said over the beating of props approaching. "Did he teach her?"

She'd cajoled Thomas, a young instructor at the flying club to teach her to fly before he and every aeroplane in the country got drafted into the army last summer.

"Yeah, like he taught his dog to fetch his slippers."

They laughed. But she'd known they would. It didn't matter--she'd make them let her prove herself in the air.

She ignored them and walked on to where Martin stood with the list to direct them to the four training aeroplanes. The others stood a little apart from her, and Martin raised his eyebrows.

"You can't be serious."

"I sure am," said Claire.

Another laugh from the crowd that had gathered closer. Thomas pushed through them and grabbed her wrist. "Come on Claire, honest to Pete, you're embarrassing me," he said, yanking her toward the hangar.

Claire twisted her wrist out of his hand. He made her skin crawl every time he laid his hands on her. He bragged to the other pilots that she liked to do it in the sky, with no end of uncreative puns applied to the word cockpit. The only reason she'd let him take her to bed was for the few hours at a time he let her fly his aeroplane.

"What's the matter," she replied, "are you worried I'm going to show you up?"

First Two (Adult Fiction) #2

GENRE: Women's Fiction

The Monday following her fourth birthday, Molly stood on the steps of Great Aunt Sophia's cement stoop in St. Louis, her hair still jumbled from sleep, her too-short jeans ending near her ankles. Her mother pressed a ten dollar bill into her hand, hastily planted a pink lipsticked kiss on her cheek, and skedaddled down the steps in her high heeled shoes.

"Only until I can get on my feet, baby," she called to Molly.

By the time Molly reached seven years, she had figured out that "on her feet" more likely meant "on her back," a sad and precocious realization for one so young.

Despite her mother's haphazard care, Molly loved her with a wounded passion, dazzled by her glamour and her frantic energy, compared to Aunt Sophia's tightly curled perm and tightly pursed lips.

And the men. Molly liked the men, too. They made her laugh. They brought her gifts.

By her twenty-seventh birthday, Molly worked as a waitress at Dawn's Early Light. She visualized life as a giant jigsaw puzzle waiting to be solved, the colorful pieces spead in front of her like the jumble once scattered on Aunt Sophia's card table. Someday she'd find her perfect fit, but it definitely wouldn't involve Dawn's Early Light--or Vinnie.

With no high school diploma, Molly had bounced from meaningless job to no job at all, quitting, or being fired from at least thirty-one different attempts to earn a living. She was only sporadically in contact with her mother, long over the grief of Aunt Sophia's death, but she had inherited her mother's energy and ebullient spirit, and it seemed quite normal to her, except for the brief disruptions of homelessness.

Dawn's Early Light was just a little restaurant squeezed into the first floor of a tall St. Louis office building, a hopelesly hokey place, its walls plastered with off-kilter signs like Come In and Get Fed Up, and Customers Who Find Our Waitresses Rude Ought to See the Manager. Fake diner interior, noisy, tainted by the smell of fried eggs and hashed brown potatoes. But regulars came for the carbo-laden food from six in the morning until three in the afternoon when Dawn flipped the Open sign to Closed.

That February morning, Molly greeted the breakfast customers, the winter air still trapped in their coats. Most of the six o'clock crowd worked at St. Louis' Barnes Hospital complex--interns, nurses, aides. They wore uniforms, some as unbecoming as Molly's starchy dress, but she felt certain their jobs must be far more interesting. They dealt with crises, matters of life and death, bad news, good news. All she dealt with was the choice between ham, sausage or bacon.Day after day.

Molly didn't actually see Vinnie enter the restaurant. She was taking an order from two nurses when he came behind her, spun her around and forced her into a dance, maneuvering her between the tables, singing a snatch of Alice Cooper's lyrics, "I can't do right when all I want to do is wrong."

First Two (Adult Fiction) #1

TITLE: Diablo de Polvo
GENRE: Crime Fiction

I drove through town, past the empty storefronts, past the industrial complex decaying quietly behind broken chain link fences to the only store open this time of night. I hadn’t decided if it was to be a bourbon coma or a book reading, soda sipping night but Ernie’s could accommodate either. I walked past the two guys out front, greasy from mechanic work, leaning on an old chevy pick-up that was more bondo than anything else. Sweet pot scented smoke hung in the air between them and I was tempted to linger.

There were two men standing at the counter, drinking beer, the television on behind them. Ernie was a tall, lighted skinned man, fairly nondescript except for the handlebar moustache that dominated his face and his personality. His friend I had seen around before. He was stocky, but well muscled, his darker skin covered in tattoos. I gave him an imperceptible nod of approval. Grabbing a couple of sodas from the cooler I asked ‘You have any ice?’

‘Afuera’ Ernie said nodding his head at the door.

‘Okay, just these and a bag of ice then.’ Ernie’s friend gave me the smile of a slightly drunk man. ‘Where’s your boyfriend?’ he asked.

‘We broke up’

‘I’ve been waiting for that’ he said, sidling up to me.
I looked directly at him for the first time. From one angle he reminded me of a frog, but straight on he was more handsome than I had thought. ‘Oh really?’


‘Okay, well night’ I turned and hurried from the store. The ice cooler was locked. I started to go back inside, when he came out of the store, dangling the key at me. He smiled again. This time I returned the gesture with a half one of my own.



‘For bringing out the key.’

‘No problem.’ He handed me an ice bag.

I walked back to my car, telling myself to try not to sway my hips as I went. I didn’t try very hard. The two pot smokers seemed even greasier than before. This time I didn’t think to linger in the smoke cloud. I threw the soda in the back and sped off home. I was wrong not to get the bourbon.

I pulled into what once had been the driveway of my house. It was now covered with sand and dirt. It hadn’t seen asphalt since the the ‘70’s. I showered, ate and tried to read. I was too restless to focus on the page. The television was not good either. I wished again I had bought bourbon. After twenty more minutes of fidgeting, I put on a short red dress, combed my hair, and drove back through town. As I turned onto the highway just past Ernie’s I could see the two men still at the counter. I drove through two more dying towns. They weren’t as far gone as my own, but in a year no one would be able to tell the difference.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Winners for First Two (Adult Fiction)

Winning numbers have been drawn for First Two (Adult Fiction) and the owners have all been emailed their entry numbers.

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

Here is the complete list, so you may double check:
  • O3GUD1BQ as ENTRY #1

  • QE66PNH6 as ENTRY #2

  • R63S9H5M as ENTRY #3

  • 6A7XWX20 as ENTRY #4

  • PL4UB7LT as ENTRY #5

  • 0FZFCLDV as ENTRY #6

  • 84WPDLPJ as ENTRY #7

  • EGVL8J96 as ENTRY #8

  • RPX0BBUT as ENTRY #9

  • B0S9B1YX as ENTRY #10

  • I07C8XN4 as ENTRY #11


  • P3TUICQC as ENTRY #13

  • 8BYOQQG0 as ENTRY #14

  • WVJN9I3S as ENTRY #15
The alternates are:

  • 14HD8RRX as ENTRY #ALT-1

New Critique Round: The First Two (Adult Fiction)

So let's jump into some group critique!  Having done quite a number of 3-page edits for clients, I'm starting to see patterns of what makes a opening work--or not.  At some point, I'm going to address some of these issues in a blog post--or perhaps separate blog posts.  But I would like to also offer some in-house critique rounds to focus on openings.

750 words is a bit dense for a blog entry, so I'm setting these at 2 pages instead of 3.  Here are the details:

  • This round is for ADULT FICTION, all genres except erotica and erotic romance.
  • Submission window:  5:00 to 7:00 PM EST today (Tuesday)
  • This will be a lottery. The bot will choose 15 entries from the pool.
  • Please submit the first 500 words of your manuscript, completed or in progress.
  • Please proofread before submitting!
  • The 15 entries will post tomorrow for critique.
Post your questions below!  We will do YA and MG rounds in the near future.