Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Fricassee

A good couple of days of critiquing!  Thanks to all of you who shared your time and insight.  Considering the fact that this First Five round filled up in one minute, I am going to use a lottery next time.  That way, you'll have a chance to get in regardless of whether or not others were quicker on the draw.

It's not too late to leave feedback, so if you meant to but never got around to it, jump right in!

Thanks also for your astounding responses to Tuesday's PILE OF WEARY.  It's hard to express how safe and supportive it feels to be able to be so very transparent here (despite the anonymity) and receive, not censure or disappointment, but heartfelt support and words of wisdom.

Anyway.  This was my day yesterday:

I spread out my snipped-and-taped scenes on the bedroom floor and dug in.  (I actually moved my day around a little bit so that I could do this.)  You know how, when you've got your soundtrack blasting and you're super-focused, you transport yourself to your story world?  (Yeah, you know what I mean.  Don't pretend this never happens to you!)  So, that.  The gelato was a bonus (there is no gelato in my heroine's world, poor thing).

And I WAS PRODUCTIVE!  Things that needed to be done got done.  Things that I'm embarrassed WEREN'T done while I was muscling through this draft.  (Like, yanno, fully developing my antagonists.  And finishing a character thread instead of dropping him like a rotten potato.)  In fact, when it came time to get ready for ballet class, I didn't want to go.  Seriously, this doesn't happen.  You all know how much I love my ballet classes.

Yes, I went.  Funny how WELL the class went for me.  I'm certain that had something to do with the fact that my creative energy was WAY UP by the time I sauntered to the barre.  We really do need to feed the creative beasties inside us!

Anyway.  Thank you all for allowing me to BE MYSELF.  To tell it like it is.  And then to allow me the pleasure of seeing my own struggles HELP YOU IN YOURS.  Awesome stuff.

In closing, here is Petre Pan's comment from the PILE OF WEARY post.  It's so beautiful and well thought-out that I wanted to make sure a lot more of you saw it:

Oh man. It almost makes me cry to read this. Take that back, I held back some tears.

It is a wild and sad and beautiful journey, and so tiring, no?

You said once somewhere on this blog that you refuse to make writing be who you are. Like it's not allowed to be a controlling factor in your life. You control it. And reading this post, it's like you're fighting to say it's not necessary, not a need, not right that it makes you irritated to skip it, even. To find where it fits and why it makes you feel like this. Like you're afraid of being addicted to it?

But what if writing is what you are? What if birds sing, not so anyone can hear them, but because they have to sing and that is what they do and that is what they're meant to do and that is what they are, little songs wrapped up in feathers and wings?

Male parakeets in love--the little guys mate for life--will often wait to sing their prettiest songs until their mate is away, or asleep, and they are alone. It's funny because we associate birdsongs with a purpose. But the song is the purpose.

Someone told me the other day, about the Puerto Rican rainforest near where I live, "isn't it funny to think about all those animal sounds--the pretty singing frogs and the birds and everything--it's all just about sex? They're all just doing it to breed?" And my reply was, "how do you know they're not just breeding to make sure those sounds carry on?"

Maybe writing isn't a career choice. Maybe it's not something you start or quit or do professionally or unprofessionally or use to express your creative outlet like ballet or any of that. Maybe it's your birdsong.

I don't know if that means anything to you. Something weird happened to me a few weeks ago. I was wrestling some tangled-woods revisions with no idea what direction to take, and at the same time very kind SFWA pro was wrangling me through what was essentially brain bootcamp and mental revision to redefine my entire writing process forever, and at some point in the middle of one long night something clicked, or broke, or something. I suddenly let go? I stopped fighting something. I no longer care if there's balance in my life. I don't mind if writing ends up taking over. I don't mind if I don't sleep, or if it becomes who I am, and I also don't care if I get published or not. I'm going to make something beautiful. It's going to be so beautiful and perfect, well-revised and honed and tight and gorgeous, and then I'm going to read it and put it away and do it again. And again. And that's going to be the rest of my life forever. A happy Sisyphus who loves the stone.

Outside, I think nothing's changed. I'm still working on the same professional goals, with publishing in my future and med school on the side. I haven't suddenly devolved into a furry space-ape clinging to the ceiling and bleeding runes onto the tile floor screaming "art art I'm making art stop judging me." But inside I feel better. This is my birdsong. I do it because that is what little birds do when they are alone and in love. That is where it fits in. Maybe I've snapped and gone crazy. But it sure is nice.

I dunno that's a lot of blablabla. I thought I'd share because some of the things you've said about your journey have resonated with some of that in tiny ways. I hope you feel better soon, and whatever you decide to do--whether you keep writing, or put it away, or put it in a boxed part of your life, or decide to suddenly start putting paint on your ballerina shoes and writing stories across the wooden floor in cursive as avant-garde flash fiction--whatever you do, here, here is a hug for you.

>!< (It is there between the little paws, under the exclamation point. I am bad at writing internet hugs.)

'Nuff said.  Happy weekend, my lovelies!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Critique Guidelines: First Five Sentences

Guidelines for Critique:
  • 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.*
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

Questions?  Leave them below!  Happy critting, everyone!

*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 Five Sentences #ALT-1

TITLE: Eden Island

I must have been around two years old when mom began telling me the fairytale of Eden Island. She painted a picture of a magical place that only a few are privileged to go. She told me about my rare gift. How I will bring prosperity to the general population. I didn't fully understand this until much later. Over the years it has become a bond between my mother and me. Now in my sixteenth year, that hopes comes to fruition.

First Five Sentences #25

TITLE: Joanna Love's Stories
GENRE: literary fiction

“The window was my favourite place to sit on a Saturday morning. The glass swirled, a gentle vortex, with bubbles suspended like jewels. Big and small. Winding patterns, like anaesthetic.”

“Tell me again,” said Grace.

First Five Sentences #24

TITLE: The War of the Worlds and Fairies
GENRE: Fantasy

On midsummer’s eve I stood on the central toadstool, gripping the bumpy surface with my toes. The moist air from the humus below clung to my bare skin, the warm mugginess attacking the elaborate curls I had styled for the occasion. One ringlet after another went flat and slid down my neck or cheek, breaking my concentration.

Fairies can cross over at other seasons, but because of the crucial nature of the crossing the most reliable time is chosen—when the boundaries between the two realms are thinnest. And so in Faerie, for the last time, I stood in the midst of a fairy ring.

First Five Sentences #23

TITLE: True North
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Wren Noonkester balanced on the edge of her open window and tried not to think what Gramma might say.

Wren was supposed to be asleep, resting up to vie for an apprenticeship tomorrow on the New Year like every other youth born outside the Bower. She was not supposed to be sneaking out into the night to go to the wall races.

Perhaps exiting via the window wasn’t the smartest way out. She could have lied instead, told Gramma she wanted to join the festivities in the square, but Wren had never been much of a liar, and Gramma had a knack for seeing straight through any deception.

First Five Sentences #22

GENRE: YA Fantasy

The teahouse was loud with alcohol-enhanced laughter and the roll of dice. Three men came in and adjusted their dirty robes as they took a table. I hurried over, keeping my tea tray steady and my eyes carefully lowered. Usually I didn’t even give patrons such deference--our types of customers didn’t expect it. But I feared if I raised my gaze, I’d find the man in the corner watching me again.

First Five Sentences #21

TITLE: Cherry
GENRE: Middle Grade Historical

I’d been expecting the blow, but the force of it still surprised me. I didn’t dare glance up for a look see, but I reckoned the imprint of my head now decorated the dining room wallpaper. It was ugly paper, anyways, so I didn’t care. Dizziness made my ears ring and the patterns on the rug fuzzy as I gathered my bare feet under me and slowly unfolded myself from the floor. A salty taste filled my mouth, and it took all my resolve to hide a bloody smile as I thought on the stupidity of a man who would risk damaging valuable property in a temper tantrum over a bit of whistling.

First Five Sentences #20

TITLE: Lies We've Told
GENRE: Literary Fiction

After Cody broke up with her, Katie drove him to a bar by the county line to smoke and make-out. He’d bought some pot off a guy in Waco, and they parked by the dumpster, rolled the windows, lit up. The remains of a twelve-pack lolled in the space behind her seat – seven already downed.

The bar, Dirty Dogs, sat just outside the boundaries of Collier Springs, one of the few dry towns left in Texas. Most people looking for a buzz took the main road into Harker Heights, where a string of dives and drive-through liquor barns and 24-hour pawn shops lit up the strip like Vegas.

First Five Sentences #19

GENRE: Young Adult Paranormal

Before I knew the truth, I’d ask myself, what kind of mother tattoos her own face on her baby? And why images of her looking so angry, or asleep? I imagined she wanted me to remember she was always mad at me. Or bored with me. But that didn’t explain why she made them so tiny and put them where I can only see them if I contort myself in front of a mirror.

First Five Sentences #18

TITLE: Savages
GENRE: Historical

No, I am not the same Adrienne du Mont, come to the Court of Louis XIV wide-eyed and ambitious. I am now the boy Petit Jean in a country far from my own. Now I hunt a man I’ve loved the whole of my life who has betrayed me.

The night breeze tossed the ship as ‘Petit Jean’ adjusted her breast bindings, which were hot, but necessary. In her tiny corner of Sieur Robert’s cabin, she pondered her situation.

First Five Sentences #17

TITLE: Shaman Moon
GENRE: Science Fiction Romance

A high-pitched scream echoed down the dim hallway a second before Shiloh Blackfeather kicked in the battered wood door. Metal screeched as hinges were ripped from the old pine. Her narrowed gaze took in the scene with one look. The prostitute, her naked body pressed up halfway against the smoke-stained wall, hung as if she'd been mounted like a trophy animal. Instead, her dangling body was held in place by the power of the demon in the guise of a human glaring at Shiloh with crimson eyes.

First Five Sentences #16

TITLE: Jukai
GENRE: Young Adult Horror

I’m not a killer.

I click the gun’s safety off, and then I click the safety on. I’m about as threatening as a Pokémon, but even a Magikarp has me beat. I think about everything I want to do, everything I want to be―but it’s not worth thinking about.

Because I won’t live to see tomorrow.

First Five Sentences #15

TITLE: Spinning Notes
GENRE: MG Steampunk Fantasy

Wil inserted the brass key and turned it until the door lock clicked. He hesitated. Uncle Homer had never allowed him in the attic. But his uncle was gone and Aunt Edie barely stirred from her bed these days. He pocketed the key in his loose cotton trousers, pushed open the door and reached for the lantern.

First Five Sentences #14

TITLE: Project S. E. E.
GENRE: Young Adult SciFi Thriller

I’d just turned 17 the first time I died. It was another beautiful day in the Florida Keys, and I was surf fishing thigh-deep in gently rolling water. Just as I hooked a big one, I heard distant thunder and saw lightning flicker in darkening clouds on the horizon, but the fish had my attention. I pulled back hard on my granddad’s steel rod to set the hook.

“Hey you, s***-for-brains, get your dumb a** outta the water!” screamed the lifeguard trotting along the shore.

First Five Sentences #13

TITLE: Status
GENRE: Psychological Thriller

Gwen MacLean hit the snooze button with more force than was strictly necessary then opened one eye as she reached for her cell phone; she squinted at the screen and tried to focus on the updates that had accumulated overnight.

Apparently Gina turned forty today, and her husband surprised her with breakfast in bed. Well that was all well and good, but maybe if Gina would lay off the waffles she wouldn't be pushing three hundred pounds.

And Sarah's daughter made the Dean's Honor Roll again but, of course, if she kept sleeping her way through the university's defensive end she'd end up reading parenting books instead of prose--but really, what can someone do with an English degree anyway?

First Five Sentences #12

TITLE: The Last Adagio
GENRE: YA Dark Fantasy

When I closed my eyes, I could almost forget everything around me.

Music has a way of grabbing you by the shoulders, of playing your heartstrings and ripple shivers throughout your whole body. Of slowly levitating you away from where you are, a mere suggestion of transcendence. The notes that echoed in the room were like fading promises of impossible things, and you believed them and let them take you wherever they wished.

But then the music ended.

First Five Sentences #11

TITLE: The Fool's Daughter
GENRE: YA Fantasy

“Sing us a song, Fool!”
“Aye! That one about the pig--”
“No...the horse!"
“The one about your other daughter!”

Raucous laughter followed, and I kept my head down and my steps quick as my father and I hurried through the center square towards the village keep.

First Five Sentences #10

TITLE: A Certain Presence
GENRE: YA Horror

Screaming at zombies around every corner in the haunted house made my throat raw. All I wanted was a big Coke and a cinnamon covered elephant ear. Instead, I stood next to Bree behind a tat covered couple waiting for our turn in the fortune teller’s tent .

“This is going to be fun,” Bree’s eyes sparkled with excitement.

My fist squeezed the five dollar bill tighter and my heart told me to run.

First Five Sentences #9

TITLE: The Relic Heir (Book 2)
GENRE: MG Fantasy Adventure

Today I learned my dad is alive.

Everyone who said he committed suicide was wrong. Even Mom, who swore he’d never do such a thing, that his death was just a freak accident when his plane crashed in the desert, was way off. Dad didn’t die.

He was taken.

First Five Sentences #8

GENRE: YA Contemporary

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” her grandmother asked, for what seemed like the hundredth time.

“Yes, I’ll be fine,” Amanda replied.

But she wasn’t. True, that blasted, evil migraine had returned, but it was the nagging, taunting voices beneath the searing physical pain which were more troubling…and they wouldn’t be dismissed with medication.

“I’m sure my medicine will kick in soon.”

First Five Sentences #7

TITLE: Goner
GENRE: Women's Fiction

The house I grew up in had a sealed picture window instead of a front porch and wall-to-wall carpeting that always made me itch. When I arrived home to the suburbs for break, I couldn’t stand going inside so I headed to the backyard and pitched my little blue tent. It hadn’t been unfolded since last summer on the organic farm where I’d worked upstate. Kicking off my sneakers, I crawled inside to see if it still held any trace of mountain air and meadow grass. But no, the tent just reeked of wool sweaters from being jammed into my closet at Hampshire all year.

First Five Sentences #6

TITLE: The Sky Will Fall

The winds shifted, carrying the funk of burning corpses upwind to me. I winced from the onslaught with a cough. I’d been hopeful with this last bunch of soldiers, but they, too, failed in resisting infection. And incinerating the bodies ensured the bastards wouldn’t come back.

I sucked in a breath grabbing two more infected by their mottled ankles and chucked them onto the smoldering, ten-foot high pile with a sickening thud.

First Five Sentences #5

TITLE: The Runaway Pony
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

I probably shouldn’t pick that funny looking pony, the one with its ears cocked sideways. But I know I will. Maybe it’s because she turns her head and stares right at me like she needs my help.

When the ticket taker lets us kids into the fenced-in area for the pony rides, I race right to her. She stands taller than the other ponies with a mussed-up reddish coat and stained white mane and tail.

First Five Sentences #4

TITLE: Arrival
GENRE: Fiction

Shortly before midnight one frosty October evening, something strange started to happen near Edinburgh Castle. It began with a slight breeze; just a whisper on the wind, a gentle soughing among the leaves of Princes Street Gardens. Then it changed, becoming a rustling in the bushes, a flattening of the sparse grass. Despite the chill, a sort of shimmer, like a heat haze, appeared in the dark, still air above Princes Street.

Waiting in the shop doorway, homeless Kate nodded in approval.

First Five Sentences #3

TITLE: The Case of the Missing Hand
GENRE: MG-Mystery-Fiction

Sherlock Holmes said there’s no such thing as coincidence. I used to disagree. But not any more.

“Why won’t Mom and Dad tell us what’s really going on?” Becca asked, for the fiftieth time since we left San Diego.

I stared out the window as our plane bumped onto the runway.

First Five Sentences #2

TITLE: Savior
GENRE: Science Fiction

Atop the water tower standing vigil over Cedar Valley stood Jacob Dean, a man of few words but many thoughts, staring into the darkness. Nothing caught his fancy tonight like every visit but inside he still hoped to find something; to see something.

As a child his father brought him to the tower constantly to show him the constellations and the city below. To watch the planes soar on by; to feel the powerful shake and vibrations through the structure beneath as the behemoths of the sky descended to the strip which now sits dark. The city too was dark and the stars shone bright as daylight above and for an instant, in the dark tower on the airfield, something flickered in the broken windows.

First Five Sentences #1

GENRE: NA Multicultural Contemporary

I greet my parents on the curb outside my MIT dorm, same as every Saturday. I’m probably the only college senior who still sees her parents every weekend, but it’s easier to just do than protest. If you don’t have traditional Taiwanese parents, you don’t get to judge.

“Mei!” my mom greets me as she frowns and pinches my sides. “Did you gain weight?”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pile of Weary

Here it sits.  My current "life on paper".

I looked at this little pile today, and the weariness hit me again.  The whole someone-please-tell-me-again-why-I-do-this-thing.

You know I must be desperate if I've resorted to scissors and tape.  I needed something tactile, I think.  Something to give this mess of a first draft a tangible nature that might--just might--help me to sort it all out.

But, oh.  I'm tired.

This isn't a whine.  This isn't an oh-please-feel-as-sorry-for-me-as-you-possibly-can crowdsourcing effort.  

This is reality.

And the reality is, I'm weary.  I look at my pile of scenes-in-strips-on-colored-paper and spiral notebook and nifty purple pen (I love my purple pen), and I think-- WHY?

I mean, seriously.  Why?

And it's a hard one to answer, isn't it?  Because we can't lump writing up there with the basics.  You know--air, water, shelter, food.  Those are the things you NEED to survive.

I don't NEED to write to survive.

Then, too, there are the emotional needs -- to be loved, to be needed, to be valued, to be honored, to be a part of something greater than ourselves.

I've got all that, too.  

So, where does the writing fit in?

It's that whole I WAS BORN TO CREATE thing.  You have it, too, or you wouldn't be here.  If you're born to create, then you've got to express yourself creatively on a regular basis, or it really does feel like something inside you dies a slow death.

Forgets to breath.

Loses its joy.

I've got that.  But writing isn't my only creative outlet.  I'm a musician.  I take ballet classes.  I have a background in theatre (and even today, the world is my stage).  Heck, I even scrapbook.

So it's not like I'm going to stab myself with my purple pen if I never write again.  


But it remains true that, if I don't write on a given day, I feel irritated.  Like the day is somehow unfinished.  And I have to ask myself--is this because of my undying need to create?  Or is it because of my long-held, firmly-entrenched career goals as a writer?

I think it's the latter.

And, guys, I've been doing this for a long time.  I watch saplings sprout and grow into orchards around me while I still wait for my first blooms to ripen into fruit.  I keep tabs on all the lovely authors who have made their way into the ranks of the published via their involvement with this blog.  I cheer them and I support them and I'm ever so grateful to have been part of their journeys.

But I'm weary.

Just the other day, I was expressing my frustration to someone very dear to me.  And he said, very matter-of-factly, "Maybe it isn't meant to be."

Huh.  That's not what I wanted to hear.  Because that's not what I've believed for the past decade of my life.

I have been all HOPE (in between the despair) and CONFIDENCE (in between the abject insecurities) and DETERMINATION (in between the planning-to-quit) and BIG, BIG DREAMS.  How can this be "not meant to be"?  How can I have been so wrong about the goals I've set for myself?  About my absolute certainty that I am finally on the right path?

But then, this very-dear-person-in-my-life tends to see things black and white.  Tends to be a bit of an Eeyore.  So I know I need to take his response with a healthy grain of salt (possibly from the rim of a Margarita glass).

Still.  His words sort of burrowed inside my soul, and now they keep nudging me.

What if it isn't meant to be?

Meant to be?

Meant to be?

But I can't let that be my mantra.  I've got a story begging to be told well, and I'm determined to do it.  And I've got an already-told story with which I'm deeply in love, and for which I am still hopeful that the T will become an S.

So, this weariness?  I'm going to have to ignore it.  Shove it aside.  Not give it the attention it's crying for.

That doesn't mean it's going to go away.  It is what it is.  And I am what I am--a weary author who really doesn't know why she keeps pressing on.

Yet here I go, diving into THIS:

Sometimes we've just got to be honest, yes?  And in this honesty, we are able to support and encourage each other on a deeper level.

I'm weary, but I still support you.  I'm weary, but I'm not quitting.  I'm weary, but I promise to tell you when (if) the day comes on which I finally have to say good-bye to all this.

And you?  Allow yourself to feel everything you need to feel.  Then keep writing.  Keep writing and keep believing and keep learning and keep on keeping on until you know BEYOND A DOUBT that your weariness will consume you if you take one more step.

Onward, dear ones.

Monday, February 23, 2015

First Five Sentences: Call For Submissions

Last month's First Five round was fairly popular, so I'm offering another round this week.

Here are the submission guidelines:
  • Submissions will open at NOON EST on Tuesday, February 24.
  • The first 25 entries will be accepted.  Then the contest will close. (This is NOT a lottery!  It's first come, first served.)
  • Agented and unagented authors are welcomed to submit.
  • WIPs and finished manuscripts are both welcomed.
  • Please use the web form HERE to enter.
  • Submit your title, genre, and the first 5 sentences of your manuscript. Word limit is 125.
  • Don't try to squeeze in more than 5 sentences by creating run-on sentences.  I WILL KNOW.  And I will disqualify your entry. (No, really. I will.  NO RUN-ON SENTENCES!)
  • This critique is open to all genres except erotica and erotic romance. 
  • Entries will post on Wednesday for public critique.
Critique will focus on whether your first 5 sentences "feel like" your genre, and whether they draw the reader into the story by providing an appropriate, clear setting.

If you have any questions, please post them below.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Fricassee

It is six days past Valentine's Day, and I'd just like to point out that I still have THREE PIECES OF CHOCOLATE LEFT in the 24-chocolate box that Mr. A gave me.  Which means that I've eaten 20 pieces and shared one.  (What?  You expected me to share MORE than one?  This is MY CHOCOLATE.)  Considering the fact that it would have been ridiculously easy for me to hork down the whole box in one sitting, I'm feeling rather pleased with myself.

Aside from my carefully controlled chocolate consumption, I've been lamenting the cold and pretty much hibernating (except for venturing out twice to get some work done in a nearby coffee shop, icy parking lots notwithstanding).  Of course, hibernation and writing go well together, yes?  So I've gotten some more words accomplished in my NEVER-ENDING WIP, as well as having gone back to work on creating the outline for already-written chapters.

I hate grunt-work like that, but it's a necessary evil.  (Also?  Scrivener is amazing.)  And doing it helped me to recapture the magic of this story.  Honestly, I've been so slogged in the mire with this NEVER-ENDING WIP that, for a while there, I'd lost the vision completely.  I'm glad to report that I've recaptured the sparkle, and I'm hopeful that this HUGE, UNWIELDY THING will some day be amazing.

I credit author J.M. Frey with setting me back on the right path.  She's going through something similar right now (a never-ending WIP), and she pointed out that we are writing laterally right now instead of writing UP.  And that makes sense to me, because OH, THE SPREAD.  It's blah blah blah and blah blah blah, and BY THE WAY, ARE WE HEADING TOWARD ANY SORT OF CLIMAX YET?  It's exhausting.

Here are her tweets of wisdom:

So, yes.  There's a place for writing all the STUFF, even though you've already plotted the story ahead of time.  But then you've got to find your ladder.  And that's what I'm trying to do.

Reading back through my earlier chapters in order to create the outline has been so helpful (thanks again to J.M. for the inspiration to do so).  Because amidst all the "Oh my gosh, this scene needs to be vaporized!" and "Why did I just reveal something that was already revealed three chapters ago??", there are also, "Wow! I love this scene!" and "Oh, cool! I'd forgotten about this!"

So much work ahead.  But I'm up for the challenge.

Thanks for your thoughtful-as-always comments on Tuesday's YA: ALL THE SEXY post.  If you're a YA writer and you sometimes have KISSES in your stories, PROBABLY YOU SHOULD READ THE BLOG POST.

And now I'm off and running with whatever this Friday brings.  (It definitely won't be warm air.  That seems to be a thing of the distant past.)

Have a joyful weekend!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

YA: All The Sexy

I want to tackle something that might be a bit awkward one-on-one, and I'll come right to it:  If you write YA and you want your main character to kiss someone, then you'd better not infuse any adult sexuality into the scene.  Especially if it's your character's first kiss ever.  Or even second kiss ever.

Nobody does this on purpose.  The truth is, though, that if you've ever had sex, then you've got an entire personal arsenal of sexual habits and responses that are alive and well in your unconscious mind.  So when you sit down to write that sizzly smooch scene between two sixteen-year-olds, it comes out infused with Stuff-Sixteen-Year-Olds-Wouldn't-Think-Or-Do.

Hear me on this one.  I get that some sixteen-year-olds (and even younger) are sexually active.  I get that, yes, sometimes the sexual experience of a teenager would make a married thirty-five-year-old blush.  But that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about INAPPROPRIATELY ADULT SEXUAL RESPONSES in teen kiss scenes.  And I've read quite a bit of it--not only here, but in my editing work as well as in published novels.  And it frustrates me, because it is so incredibly inauthentic.  It screams I-am-a-grow-up-writer-trying-to-sound-like-a-smoochified-teen.

But it's easily fixed.  How?  By becoming aware of the fact that you, as a grown-up sexual being, have experienced things that your fifteen- or sixteen- or seventeen-year-old protagonist hasn't.  (Unless you've written her that way.  And again, that's not what I'm talking about here.)  By reminding yourself that TEENS ARE NOT EMOTIONALLY MATURE, so they therefore cannot be sexually mature, either (experience and maturity are not the same thing).  And by stepping back and asking yourself, "Would my character say/think/do this?  Or is this something that I would say/think/do?"

I've broken it down into some typical behaviors in order to make this a bit easier:


Yes, groaning is generally an involuntary response to arousal.  But folks.  A young girl (or guy) who is having a first kiss IS NOT GOING TO GROAN INTO THE OTHER PERSON'S MOUTH.  None of this "I groaned without realizing it."  Groaning may be involuntary, but it's also a conditioned response.  Even if a teen is feeling aroused (and a first kiss for the never-before-kissed? THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR AROUSAL), she is likely not going to be confident/experienced enough to groan.

Now, if your never-before-kissed heroine is passionately kissed by a boy who has sexual experience, then it would be believable if he might groan as he deepens the kiss.  Or something.  But if this happens, you've got to put yourself in the shoes of the never-before-kissed heroine.  As in, Oh my gosh, he just groaned.  What does this mean? Am I doing something wrong?  Because, folks, SHE JUST DOESN'T KNOW.  Seriously.


Yes, some people do this.  Some people like this.  But again, we're talking about teens here.  And unless your main character is ALREADY SEXUALLY EXPERIENCED, or is growing in this experience as part of your story, then bites do not belong in first- (or second- or third-) kiss scenes.  Again, it screams This is a kiss written by a sexually mature person.  A girl kissing her first boyfriend isn't going to fantasize about biting him, and she isn't going to gnaw seductively on his bottom lip.  SHE DOESN'T KNOW THESE THINGS.  And she isn't trying to arouse him -- she is LOST IN THE KISS and HOPING THAT HER KISSING IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR HIM.


Honestly, I don't want to know much about what tongues are doing in a kiss scene.  There are ways to write about French kissing that aren't graphic enough to make me feel like I'm gagging on my own saliva (or on someone else's).  But that's a personal preference thing.  One thing about French kissing, though, is that it's not exactly a skill you're born with.  So if Jane and Johnny are having their first kiss, probably the tongues need to keep to themselves.

Here's the thing (cue dramatic, Authoress-is-about-to-get-personal music):  My first kiss was a French one.  As in, MY FIRST KISS EVER.  I was 15.  I knew nothing about kisses, and I was MADLY IN LOVE WITH THIS BOY.  (He was 17, experienced with girls, and a druggie.  Do I sound like a contemporary YA heroine, or what?)  And when he did that THING with his tongue, my first thought was Omigawd he's French kissing me! and my second thought was Omigawd I don't know how to do this!

Yes, I remember it like it was (almost) yesterday.  I did not "deepen the kiss" or "explore his mouth with my tongue" or "groan".  I freaked out on the inside.  And afterward, all I could think was, "I hope he kisses me again so that I have a chance to do it right."


So, yeah.  If you want your heroine's first French kiss to be believable, let her experience it on her own level.  Not on yours.


A girl who may have a few kisses under her belt, but who has never had sex, is not going to press her thighs into her guy while he kisses her, or wrap her legs around him if he lays her down somewhere.  Again, these are learned behaviors.  Even if you're writing your characters toward an inevitable sex scene, you've got to be realistic about how your protagonist is responding in situations she's never found herself in before.  And the younger she is, the more this is true.

You've got to step back.  You've got to say, "Okay.  If this were twenty-thirty-forty-fifty-something me, I would wrap my legs around him and groan while he kissed me.  But my protagonist is sixteen and this is their second kiss.  So what will SHE do?"

Mind you, I'm talking about KISS SCENES.  Sex scenes are a whole 'nuther topic, and one that I'm not going to broach, simply because I personally don't write them.  They don't belong in the stories I write, and that's just the way I roll.  Kisses are something else altogether, though--I LOVE writing kiss scenes.  In fact, if I get a scene just the way I want it, it's not unusual for me to sit there and reread it half a dozen times, just to relive the moment over and over.  (Is there such a thing as a kiss dork?)

So there's my I'm-saying-this-as-tenderly-as-I-can advice for you today.  Give your teen kiss scenes all the romance and sparkle and sizzle and breathlessness and angst and urgency that you can--but keep your grown-up sexual self out of them.  Then, and only then, your teen kisses will be truly authentic and believable.

And by the way, I love you.  Always wanting better things for you; always hoping to give you food for thought that will improve your writing.

Now go rewrite that kiss. :)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday Fricassee

Well, we've done our smooches, and once again I thank all of you who took the time to critique!  I'll admit that I was a bit surprised that we didn't get our 30 entries.  Which means, of course, that everyone who submitted an entry was chosen by the bot.  A win for the entrants!  

And, if you haven't read my confession on Twitter or Facebook yet, I'll come clean here as well--#28 was mine.  It bothered me, you see, that our spots weren't all filled.  And then I started thinking about the poor kiss scenes in some of my older works, and I was all...hmmm.  Maybe I could just share a kiss for the fun of it.  Not because I have a pressing need for critique (the manuscript is temporarily retired), but because it's been ages since I've had a chance to "play along" in one of our critique sessions.

So I did it.  :)

This story is near and dear to me, because it's set in my favorite beach town.  Which is actually my favorite place on earth.  (Who actually admits that their favorite place on earth is in New Jersey?)  It's near and dear to Mr. A's heart, too, for the same reason.  We honeymooned here, and have been back many times since.  Mr. A was an early reader and story-advice-giver, and even today he will sometimes say, out of the blue, "I really want Divided to get out there.  I love that story."  (This from a man who does not eat books for breakfast.)

Anyway.  Josh tried.  And it just wasn't meant to be.  Sometimes it was a timing thing ("I have something similar on my list already").  Sometimes it was a complete disconnect ("I just didn't love it").  But there were, as there always are, some positive responses from editors who ultimately said no.  And those are the words that keep authors-on-sub going.

Here are my favorites:
  • I thought this story had one of the most different concepts that I have come across in a while, and I enjoyed the sci-fi aspect of the mystery surrounding Corrin and Fiona's identities. [Authoress] did a great job of fostering the reader's sympathy for Fiona, in how lost she felt about Elam's fate, and how torn she was over her relationship with Corrin/Elam. 
  • [Authoress] is a wonderful writer, with a rich imagination, and the world she has created is fascinating and original.
  • What I really like about this one is the really unique atmosphere and the sense of figuring out oneself and one’s world as a metaphor for the uncertainty of first love. There’s also this great thru-line that really spoke to me about how when you grow up, you begin to meet people who appear to be totally dissimilar from yourself but who you actually have a lot in common with. ...But as innovative as this project is—it really is so deliciously weird and different—it still struck me as very much in the paranormal camp.  (Which, of course, they weren't looking for.)
I love SO DELICIOUSLY WEIRD AND DIFFERENT best of all.  Because WHO WOULDN'T WANT THEIR WRITING DESCRIBED LIKE THIS?  Okay, maybe some people wouldn't.  But I took this particular phrase as a high compliment.

Of course, there were plenty of not-so-glowing rejections, too.  But that's all part of the process.  It's important to read the negatives to try to determine if there are any common themes, which could signify a significant problem in the manuscript.  My takeaway from this round was that there were aspects of my "other-world world" that were not clearly enough defined.  And even the tiniest bit of "Huh?" factor is always a negative when it comes to worldbuilding.

Mind you, sometimes people won't "get" your world simply because they don't get it.  Yes, that does happen.  But I think that's the exception, and not the rule.  So when I pull out this beloved story to rewrite it (yes, I'm going to do that), it's going to be with a keen eye to the worldbuilding.

It's all good, though.  Josh was amazing and supportive throughout the submission process.  He talked about my characters as though they were real people.  (Okay, he always does that.  I think all the best agents and editors probably do that.)  He never did pronounce Elam's name correctly (it's EE-lahm), but I chalked that up to his endearing New York-ness.  In short, even though it didn't pan out the way we both wanted it to, for me, at least, it was a positive part of my journey.  I'm thankful for having walked through it.

Rejection is always hard, my dear ones.  But we can't let ourselves drown in it.  Hanging onto the positives, while still maintaining a realistic viewpoint about possible weaknesses in our writing, is going to keep us moving forward.  The timing wasn't right for Divided, and it may not be right for the novel you've got on sub right now.  Or that you'll have on sub later this year.  Or next year.  But you just have to keep pressing forward.  

Best part?  The novel we've got on sub right now is so much stronger.  And if Divided had sold, I would never have written this one.  (Because Divided is a planned trilogy.)  It's really true that "all things happen for a reason".  Grab onto that, okay?  Grab, and keep writing.

See you next week!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

First Kiss Critique Guidelines


Full critique guidelines are below, but here's the focus of this week's critique:  DOES THE KISS WORK FOR YOU?  Does it leave you feeling a little breathless, or is it awkward?  Are there too many details, or not enough?  Do you feel the chemistry, even though you've been dropped into the middle of a novel you know nothing about?  (If you do, then I guess that's one successful kiss!)

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

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

First Kiss #28

GENRE: YA Paranormal

Elam and Corrin share the body that used to belong to Elam alone, and they take turns manifesting. Elam thinks he's going crazy, and Fiona has finally told him the truth.

“So I’m dead.”

She couldn’t call him that.  Not with the flush on his cheeks from the fire’s warmth, the soft curve of his mouth, the scent of his skin and his breath and the dried blood from the cut on his arm.  He was as fully there as Corrin was.

Elam took Fiona’s face in his hands.  “I’m dead, Fiona.  Dead, but I can’t die.”


“How long do Elusu live?  How long until I can really die?”

Fiona’s words were less than a whisper. “I don’t want you to die.”

“Say it again.”

“I don’t want you to die.”  She closed her eyes.  “I don’t want you to die.”

He kissed her.  Hungry like he’d waited for a long time and desperate like it would never happen again.  It stole her breath.  She wove her fingers into his hair and lost herself in his aliveness. 

“I love you.”  His nose brushed hers, his fingers still warm around her cheeks.  “It’s all I know, all I live for every time I come back.”


“You don’t have to answer.  You don’t have to tell me you don’t love me back.”

She kissed him again, feather-soft.  Tears stung her eyes, tightened her throat so that she couldn’t speak.  How could she love him when she’d already lost him?  When every reappearance was a painful reminder that he could never be fully there?

When his body belonged to a boy who made the universe sing when he said her name?

First Kiss #27

GENRE: Contemporary YA

Sophie has synesthesia, crossed senses—she feels colors, tastes textures. She tutors Theo in math; they've just watched a movie at his house.

There was a hiccup when our noses bumped—we both leaned to the right. And then we did. Kiss, I mean. Just like that my mouth connected with his. My eyes were open, his were closed, so I shut mine, quick. His lips weren’t completely shut, so I parted mine, too. His mouth tasted sweet and salty, from the pop and popcorn. Then, maybe for the first time ever, all thought ceased.

Time must have passed. He pulled away. I opened my eyes.

“Well,” he said, voice deep. “That was…nice. Can we do it again?”

We did. For a while, I think. In all my getting-dressed shenanigans I’d forgotten to wear my watch. Behind my closed lids colors rose and fell, swirls of rich blue tinged with indigo.

I jumped when his tongue touched my lip. My eyes flew open but his were still shut. Had he done this before? Of course he had done this before. It was just me, weird little loner girl with the psycho senses, who was seventeen and never been kissed. French kissing was like the nose thing, I thought before sinking into the delicious feel of those colors. Our hands started out at our sides, in our laps, then Theo was touching my face, which felt so good I moved my hands to his chest, which felt solid and steady, unlike the room and couch. His hands on my shoulders squeezed with increasing pressure. I squeaked.

“Too much?” His eyebrows wrinkled.

I nodded.

“Wanna keeping going?” Eyebrows raised now, hopeful.

First Kiss #26 --removed


First Kiss #25

TITLE: Beyond the Tangle Trees
GENRE: Upper Middle Grade Sci-Fi

Kenton's hurtling through space with his sister and several female friends. His feelings for one of his friends intensify and he has no guys to talk to. Ultimately, they kiss:

“I wondered what to get you for your birthday.”

Kenton had completely forgotten he was having a birthday. Too many things had happened since he ate his cake. Didn’t someone say the cake was baked with a chemical reaction? Was that what was wrong with his stomach?

“I was trying so hard to be okay with you kissing Spryte.”

Did she say she was jealous? Kenton’s full attention was on her. The thing in his stomach and throat even stopped moving to listen to her next words. He was afraid to blink for missing anything, but his eyes were so dry he couldn’t keep them open. The second they closed, she moved over to him.

He smelled her, so like home, yet more exotic. Her arms were around him. Her warm body pressed against his. He still held Andy with both hands. Kenton couldn’t move for her closeness. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, but was paralyzed by her nearness.

“Happy birthday.” Her breath tickled his lips. And then their lips met and he tasted the cake on her as if he’d eaten another bite. This last bite was made all the sweeter because it was delivered by her and everything he’d imagined was happening.

Kenton opened his eyes. “That’s the best present I’ve ever had.” He wished he could bite off his own tongue for saying something so sappy.

She giggled. “Don’t get used to that. I don’t go around kissing boys who kiss my friends.”

First Kiss #24

GENRE: Fantasy

A running joke in the book is that whenever Crea and Lamad start to kiss they're interrupted. In this scene that long-awaited kiss finally happens. :)

When the wagon came from around the back of the stable and Dracob stopped Goli at the edge of the yard, Crea carried the mug, carefully rewrapped in the gray cloth, and Lamad walked beside her with his arm around her waist.

“Hop in,” Dracob called cheerfully.

“Hold on just a moment,” Lamad answered. “There’s something I need to do.” He took the wrapped mug from Crea and placed it into the wagon with exaggerated care, then turned back with almost fierce suddenness and grabbed her in a big embrace, swinging her off her feet and making her give a small shriek of surprise.

When he set her down, he pulled her against him, his strong arms firm against the small of her back, and kissed her full on the mouth. She felt the solid warmth of his muscular chest and arms, smelled the spicy musk of his sweat, and felt the contrasting sensations of moist softness, roughness and strength—his soft, slightly chapped lips, the prickle of his beard, the firmness of his tongue in her mouth.

“Sorry, Yeoman,” Lamad said when he released her, glancing up at the front of the wagon with a sheepish grin. “But that’s been a long time coming.”

“It certainly has!” Crea added, breathless and tingling; she had to press her face against Lamad’s shoulder for a moment, overcome by giggles.

First Kiss #23


13-year-old Katie, the reluctant star of a teen reality tv show, has been spending time with her cute production assistant, Peter.

Peter hurried on. “I’ve been thinking. I’d really like you to meet my grandfather. I think you’ll like each other a lot. And he’s probably the most important person in my life. Maybe you can have lunch with us in the city next Saturday? We can make a day of it. Museum maybe? Central Park? Macaroons?”

Now I was sure he really liked me. I knew how much he loved and respected his grandfather.

“I’d love to. I’d be honored! I mean, assuming my parents will let me, that is. But I bet they will. One great thing that has come out of this for me is that they see that I can be responsible and mature about stuff.”

“That’s true, for sure.” He took a deep breath. “ Which brings me to my next question.” He stopped, took another deep breath and then looked me straight in the eye. He picked up my hand and held it. Then, he put his other hand on my cheek and leaned forward.

A thousand thoughts and feelings flashed through my brain in a second.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. I didn’t say a word. I just stood there and looked back into his eyes.

And then, slowly and gently, he kissed me.

My first kiss.

A real kiss.

I closed my eyes, and hoped it would go on forever.

I could not wait to tell Susie!

First Kiss #22

TITLE: The Progress of Pleasure
GENRE: historical romance

A Scottish spy is interrupted by a woman who knocks him out with a candlestick. She discovers letters in his pockets, but he awakens and slips his bonds; they converse.

“I am no highwayman.”

“A lowly scholar, then, Mr. C.?”

He gave a start. “Why’d you call me that?”

“Perchance you talk in your sleep.”

The bed sheets were in disarray, coins under his leg, his knife nowhere to be seen.

“Or else you’ve stolen my letters…”

“Nay, you’re the sharp here.” She gave him a daring look and arched her shoulders, most becomingly. “Tell me your ploy.”

Parchment peaked from her bodice.

“Ahh!” He reached for it.

Blushing, she pulled out the letters and set them aside.

But he kept her close. “You best tell me who you are.”

She stilled in his arms. “I am no servant.”

What did her exact household position matter for a brief tryst?

“Who, then?” He whispered against her ear.

She wore a touch of perfume. He dipped his head to her neck. Soft as spring, like snowdrops. Scots or French?

When she made no answer, he ran his fingers along the lacy handkerchief around her throat.

“Dites-moi. La nurse? Le tuteur?”

“Lord Roxburgh’s cousin.”

An icy shiver ran down Tom’s back, but he refused to let that name weigh upon him. Not at this moment. No place for anger in the midst of making love to a young woman’s collarbone.

He swallowed a curse. “The earl must have many cousins.” His chilled hands swooned into thick curls. “Surely,” he said, tilting her head back, “this one could spare a kiss for her unwitting victim.”

She answered– well!–by leaning towards him.

First Kiss #21

TITLE: How to Date Dead Guys
GENRE: New Adult, Urban Fantasy

How they met: Emma tried to raise Mike Carlson from the dead after he drowned. Jake came back instead, and changed all her plans.

"You're gonna to leave me…" I whisper.

Jake sighs. "Emma, we've both known this all along. I've been living on borrowed time, in a way."

My stomach sinks. "Please don't leave. I think I've been asleep my whole life, and I'm finally just waking up."

Jake cocks his head and crinkles his eyes. He has no idea what I'm saying, and I've no idea why I'm saying it.

"It's just…" Tears fall down my cheeks, and I swipe at them. "If you leave, I'll go back to being who I was before, and I'm so tired of being me. I'm boring."

"I never thought you were boring. Annoying, of course, yes, but not boring."

"Shut up!" I swing at him and lose my balance.

Jake catches me and wraps me in a tight hug, patting my back much too vigorously.

"Jake, you're squishing me," I squeak.

He relaxes his hold. I gaze at his face.

Our eyes lock. Everything else turns fuzzy. The Christmas lights dim and the music fades.

We just stand there breathing for a moment, and then I kiss him.

Jake breaks my hold. "Emma, I don't know about this."

"Shhhh, it's all right," I say and I kiss him again.

First Kiss #20

TITLE: This World In Gray
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fiction

This part takes place in the middle of a rain storm near a dirt bike track, during a mud fight between the characters

I’d almost made it to a standing position when a pair of arms snaked around my waist, pulling me back down. “Oh, no you don’t,” Mason said, laughing as he pushed me back into the mud. “You started this, you know?” I looked up to see him above me, his eyes shining as he grinned. He laid on his side next to me, both of us covered from head to toe in mud, that was even seeping down my boots, squishing through my toes.

I grinned at him, his hair was coated in the stuff, no color showing through, it was smeared on his upper left cheek though the rest of his face was surprisingly clear. We were staring at each other, but for once I didn’t feel awkward about it. He slowly stopped smiling, leaning closer to me just the littlest bit. My heart started pounding, and I couldn’t tell if it was because I wanted to run away, or lean closer.

Oz’s whooping laughter made the decision for me as we both jerked back, looking over to where Oz appeared to have snuck up on Dakota, pulling him down to the ground and trying to roll him in mud. The sight made me laugh, but it came out nervously as Mason reached down to help me up. I didn’t look at him as we made our way back down to the track.

First Kiss #19

GENRE: Literary

Tanya and Cassia are drinking in Tanya's living room while discussing plans for an art studio.

I didn’t have the strength to fight through the misfiring synapses in order to argue with Cassia over it. “Where did all that come from? You’ve had as much to drink as I have.”

She ran her fingernails through my hair. “I can drink most American men under the table, plus drinking arouses my passions.”

A nervous fluttering shivered through me, but I didn’t back away from her hand. “Let’s get back to your ideas for the loft slash art gallery slash hippie commune.”

She reached over to the wine, which sat on the coffee table. “No, let’s get back to drinking. I wonder how you taste. I bet you would taste like strawberries soaked in Shiraz.”

I looked into her hungry eyes and started giggling. “Strawberries?”

“You have red hair. I bet it’s red down there, too.”

“You,” I pointed my finger at her, “are too much.”

She sucked on my finger and said, “Too much of what?”

The buzz in my head from the alcohol started moving to other parts of my body, enveloping me into a luxurious blanket of silk and velvet. Everything felt surreal. I wasn’t sure if I was in my apartment anymore or if I had slipped into a bizarre dream. I didn’t know if it was the wine or feeling vulnerable from my earlier visit to see Jenny’s baby or perhaps both. All I knew was that Cassia’s lips were pressed against mine, and automatically, my tongue found hers.

First Kiss #18

TITLE: Sisters of the Beyond
GENRE: YA paranormal

“Janna, are you all right?” Ross asks, brushing a tear away from my cheek with his lips.

My heart leaps for joy as I grab for his shoulders and hug him, my arms coiled around him, so tightly, my breathing becomes shallow.

He kisses my hair softly and becomes sassy with my hips.



I push him back. “Because it’s all wrong.”

He pulls me back to his chest. “It’s not wrong when you love someone.”

“But Moira.”

“Moira broke up with me, remember?”

As his green eyes magnetize me, I remember my sister and how much she cares about him. Who choses to ruin a perfectly good moment to be loyal to her sister? Maybe sisters beyond this world.

I look down. “I’m sorry.”

His hand circles my face and he brings his face close to mine, forcing me to stare at him. “Why?”

The word yes skirts my lips, but can’t break through.

“It’s… it’s complicated.”

“Why, Janna?”

‘Because you are going to destroy her friendship,’ the jinni says impatiently in my ear.

A tinge of anger grows into the pit of my stomach. Anger grows inside me like wild fire. I wish I could poke this jinni’s heart and put it on a stake. If he has one.

“What do you know? You’re not even alive,” I whisper between my teeth, pissed by the jinni’s lack of respect for my privacy.

Ross laughs softly. His minty breath warms my face in the chilly evening. “I am very much alive.”

“Yes, you’re so much alive, Ross. So right for me!” I say, applying my lips to his where I breath in his musk and warm body elixir.

First Kiss #17

TITLE: Enemies & Allies
GENRE: Contemporary YA

Fifteen-year-old Morgan finds herself scheming with her former middle school enemy, Zach, to break up the relationship between her mother and his father.

As Zach guided me onto the seat, he almost fell on top of me. His face mere inches from mine as he breathed heavily. I couldn’t tell if it was from supporting my weight or something else.

Before I could stop myself, I slid my hand behind his neck and pulled him toward me. The moment his lips brushed mine I forgot all about the pain. There was just the heat rising up in me to meet his mouth.

Zach pulled back for a second to look at me before he leaned toward me again. This time when we connected, his mouth parted and his tongue flicked against mine. I heard a moan, but didn’t know if it came from me or him. Never could I have imagined how good this felt, somewhere between pleasure and pain. All my worries floated away and there was just the here and now.

Zach gently pushed me down on my back as he propped his hands on either side of me. My legs naturally squeezed around his hips as he pressed my body against him. I’d never been this close to anyone before and yet craved to be even closer.

Wind blew in the open door, but I could no longer feel the cold. In all the places our bodies touched, my skin burned like I had a fever. The ridiculousness of me kissing Zach circled through my mind, but it couldn’t compete with what my lips were doing. Or how my body reacted to him.

First Kiss #16

GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction

"Hey, you okay?"

She was staring blankly into the night. "Just thinking, trying to understand all of this."

"Don't think right now, okay?"

"Right. I'll jus..."

But before she could finish his lips were on hers, dewy and soft, drowning her in a blissful kiss, thrilling her from head to toe. Thoughts of Annie were swiftly extinguished, replaced by the fantastic tornado of adrenaline spiralling through her body. Passionate and fiery, she drank it all in, while Joe's intxoicating scent swarmed her like a tropical avalanche, sating all of her senses.

She was dizzy and delirious...and wanting more. She pulled him closer, rapacious in her suddenly insatiable desire, responding to his movements with an inexplicable urgency.

His lips became more urgent and intense. His hands, loosely knotted at the small of her back, moved forward and rested gently on her hips, rocking her against him. She could feel his heart thrumming in her chest, matching beat for beat, her own, which was hammering out of control.

Ooh, should I be feeling like this? No, yes,....

She realized at once they needed to apply the brakes, cool the inferno. She reluctantly pulled away and caught her breath. "Umm, we should probably go now," she stuttered, violently crimson-faced.

"Mm..." he stammered, his breathing ragged. "Amanda?" He gazed down at her, a guilty look on his burnished face.

"Don't. Say. A. Word." She grasped both of his hands in hers and looked him squarely in the eye. She didn't want to spoil this moment with regrets and misgivings. Because she didn't have any. And she didn't want him to wonder if she did.

"Okay." He smiled tenderly and pulled her into his embrace.

First Kiss #15

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Adelie and Rowan are both hotheads. After ticking Rowan off for disregarding the rules of the dream world, Adelie is expecting a major fight.

Someone needs to keep our hot tempers in check. This could be bad.

The setting doesn’t change. It should, but it doesn’t. It’s a desert –nothing but open planes in one direction and a fathomless drop-off in the other. Our campfire is barely visible from this distance.

I stay a few steps behind him, too ashamed to walk side by side. The threat of the ravine on our immediate left doesn’t help my apprehension either.

The silence is getting too loud. I have to say something.

I raise my head to call after him, but he has stopped walking and turned around. I crash into his chest. There is an intensity in his eyes that takes me by surprise. I open my mouth to speak, but his lips move on mine in an instant, keeping the words inside. I don’t fight back.

I’m not thinking about the abyss anymore.

My fingers pass along the muscles of Rowan’s shoulders and up into his mess of brown hair –something I’ve wanted to do since the day I met him.

The kiss is nothing if not unexpected. I don’t mind his forwardness, though –crave it, even. He combs his fingers through my own hair, brushing it back away from my face. His hands transition to my back with ease. I catch myself smiling against his mouth and grab the collar of his shirt to pull him even tighter against me.

We are lifted out of time and space. If it even still exists. I don’t care either way.

First Kiss #14

GENRE: Epic Fantasy

The pirate captain Boots Trelaine gives Kaelyn a dueling lesson with a kiss as the price if she loses. She lost.

He extended his hand to me and helped me to my feet. "And now my prize." One arm went around my waist and drew me close.

I pulled back in panic. He didn't need to touch me.

"Now, now, paladin. Your word is your bond, and your kiss is mine."

"A kiss. Nothing more."

He looked wounded. "Would I take more? I bargained for a kiss."

He held me there, just looking. I felt as if he were devouring me one slow bite at a time. Then he pulled me closer and raised a hand to the back of my head. His fingers wove through my hair and cradled my head in a firm, yet somehow caressing grip that sent a shiver between my shoulders. He tilted my head, never breaking the look. The look of what? It was lust, but something more, a confident declaration that both excited and frightened me. His chest pressed against me and his leg slid across mine. I felt the hardened muscles in his arm tighten across my back, drawing me tightly to him. His lips were warm and moist, gentle at first and then insistent and longing. His tongue gently traced across my teeth and then teased my mouth open. Somewhere far away, I heard ribald hoots and cheering, but the rapid beating of my heart drowned it out. It took a moment to catch my breath when he released me. It took a moment longer for my toes to uncurl.

First Kiss #13

TITLE: Going Gridless
GENRE: Fiction

His eyes narrowed and I could tell he didn't believe me.

I sighed, "The truth?" he nodded. "I thought you were going to kiss me. And then when you, didn't I got disappointed. That's all. Just stupid teenage girl hormones." I explained, looking down at my bare feet. There was a moment of silence and then I felt his finger hook underneath my chin gently lifting it up. My eyes met his reluctant and calm washed over me.

"You wanted me to kiss you?"

I nodded slightly, taking my lip between my teeth, I didn't trust my voice not to falter.

"What if I said I was going to, but didn't want to make you uncomfortable?" his voice was low and hesitant.

"I believe you're simply attempting to make me feel better." I quietly replied.

He shook his head no. "Well, I'm not. But I'd like to."

He closed his eyes and leaned in, the smell of lake water fresh on his skin. His lips inched closer slowly and my heart sped up. His other hand came to the side of my face and tilted it up.

I shut my eyes and felt his lips, soft and hot from the sun, close in around mine.

It was a chaste, but powerful kiss, his lips slowly moving in sync with mine. My hand automatically came up and held onto his wrist.

We stood like that for a minute, for eternity, for forever. My concept of time was completely misplaced as I went on to kiss Hunter.

City girl meets Gridless boy.

First Kiss #12

TITLE: The Blind World
GENRE: Urban Fantasy (NA)

Caleb drops by when Miranda is waiting for Cole to arrive for Story Time, where he usually talks about Caleb raising Hell. Literally.

“Sorry to drop by with no notice,” he says, leaning back against the car casually.

I wave off his apology. “It’s fine. How was your day?” I ask.

He shrugs, a smirk appearing on his face. “It was fine,” he says. Then, he lifts up his hand and beckons me toward him with the crook of his index finger.

A shy smile spreads across my lips and I move closer to him, stopping about three steps away. Caleb shakes his head, biting his lower lip, and motions for me to move even closer. I do so, stepping right up to him.

Before I can say anything, he slips his arms around my waist and leans down to kiss me solidly on the lips.

I know I said I wanted to wait, but damn! I can’t help but kiss him back, heat coiling in my belly. Soon, his tongue begs for entrance, swiping along my lower lip. The moment I allow the kiss to deepen, he turns us around, gently pinning me back against his car.

Man, he can kiss!

When he pulls away, I sneak in a breath and shake my head. “Come back here,” I mumble, winding my hands around his neck. This time, he presses against me even harder, reaching down to grip my thigh in his hand.

Not even ten seconds later, someone clears their throat behind Caleb.

“Uh, excuse me.” The newcomer’s voice is gruff with barely-concealed annoyance. I know that voice… Cole! It completely slipped my mind that we have plans.

First Kiss #11

GENRE: Fantasy Romance

Captured while on a mission to infiltrate enemy headquarters, Tristan and Aspen are breaking out, along with a young slave girl who helped them plan the escape.

At long last, a knife glinted in the moonlight as it slid along the back of her tent. She crept out, heart leaping as she took Tristan's hand that was offered to help her up. He drew her up to her full height, much smaller than his.

He's so handsome. The way he stares at me is so amorous. Look away, Tristan. I'm blushing.

Aspen keenly felt her hand still in his. He held it so gently. She wished she could tell him she loved him; that he was the most perfect man of her acquaintance; that his face called her home to him. Gazing into his intoxicating blue eyes took her breath away.

They could not speak for fear of discovery, so Tristan could only do one thing when he saw his beloved. A smile played about his lips as he looked straight at her. He leaned down slightly until his lips touched hers. Aspen's heart fluttered as she returned the gesture, their faces locked for a moment in immortal love, his arms around her in a sweet embrace. Her hand had found its way to his chest, which pounded, strong and safe.

Oh, I never want this moment to end.

Reluctantly, they pulled away from each other to find little Ava gawking with eyes as big as planets. Aspen tried not to laugh at the look of astonishment on the girl's face. Aspen was feeling a little astonished herself. But at the same time, not really.

First Kiss #10

GENRE: YA Mystery/Adventure

When we reached the hill's crest, I rested my hands on my hips and stared. Green treetops stretched to the horizon.

Todd pointed at the land below. "See that brown squiggle weaving through the woods?"

I followed where his finger pointed, only half-listening as his arm brushed against my shoulder. "Yeah."

"That's the road to the highway."

"Looks so small from here."

Todd took my left hand and held it. "That's why I like coming here. Being up above everything, it kind of puts things in perspective." He squeezed my hand and led me to a downed tree.

Queenie looked at me. "It's OK, girl." The dog bolted into the bushes, scattering several small birds. I sat beside Todd, my hearbeat speeding up again. He leaned down toward me. The heat of his lips surprised me. After a few minutes we broke apart, my heart drumming like a woodpecker on pine. I stared at his now-flushed face and smiled. "I'm liking my summer in Punishment more and more each day." When he raised my hand to his lips and kissed my palm, a shiver ran through me.

"Me, too," he said. "But, I keep thinking about what you told me the other day. About your friends. Thinking how lucky I am you're here. How happy I am that your friends are bad news." He ran his hand along the side of my face. "Your gramps warned you off me, so I gotta ask -- is that why you're hanging out with me? You always drawn to the bad crowd?"

First Kiss #9

TITLE: No One Named Tim
GENRE: Contemporary Fantasy

Joan divulges her boyfriend problems to her classmate Tim, so he writes the following story about Princess Joan’s developing friendship with Tim, the King’s librarian.

The next day Tim gave Joan a gift, a newly bound book.

“What’s this?” she asked, pleased.

“It’s for you. I’m hoping it will make you feel better.”

Joan opened the book to find it filled with stories.

“Are these…” she began uncertainly, but paused.

“They’re my stories.”

Joan was speechless. Before she knew what she was doing, she wrapped a hug around Tim.

“Thank you,” she said.

Tim surprised her when he kissed her lightly on the ear. Joan stepped back, shocked, with her hand cupped over her the side of her face.

“I know I’m not a prince,” Tim said awkwardly. “But my father is a Lord,” he added hopefully.

“I’m…” started Joan. “I mean…”

Unable to think clearly, she turned and walked away. The closer she got to the door the faster her steps whisked across the stone floor. She was almost running as she left the library.

Joan felt tortured for the rest of the day.

“How could he?” she asked herself. “He’s just a friend.”

“So his father is a lord,” she reasoned. “He doesn’t look like a prince should.”

The next day Joan arrived in the library with Tim’s book of stories. Tim was carrying a stack of loosely bound pages to his room to catalogue when Joan interrupted him.

“We need to talk,” she said. Tim put down his pile of paper.

“We can’t be together,” said Joan.

Tim nodded silently.

“I have to give this back.” Joan handed the book to Tim. “I shouldn’t read them.”

First Kiss #8

TITLE: Beyond the River
GENRE: Literary Fiction

Brad, the protagonist, is a college freshman. Kelly, his friend since childhood, has come to visit. He has a crush on her. This scene takes place in Brad's dorm room.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Kelly said. “I’m just really confused right now.”

She leaned over and her hair fell forward, covering her face. Her head shook so that he thought she might be crying. Sweeping her hair back, she let out a snickering laugh, and asked, “You still a virgin?”

Brad looked away and slugged his beer.

“Come on, you can tell me . . . .”

He nodded tentatively.

She came over and sat down next to him.

“What’s going on?” he said eyeing her.

“I’ve made up my mind; this is something I want to do for you.” She peered at him in mock seriousness. “Plus, I’ll probably never have the opportunity to be with a virgin again.”

He forced an uneasy laugh. She put her arm around him and pulled him close. He kept his arms straight at his sides. She nuzzled her cheek to his. Then she kissed him. He had imagined this so many times and now it didn’t seem real. Was he just imagining again? He’d kissed another girl like this after a party once. He knew her from computer lab. But that time, the same effect hadn’t been achieved: like the rest of the world didn’t exist.

First Kiss #7

TITLE: The Spar
GENRE: Adventure, Romance

Naturally, because he was larger, he was stronger than her. But she was quicker. So when he lunged at her and she dodged him with teasing laughter, she knew she was getting the better of him.

Why had this moment taken so long?

Why did they need to have a fake spurring match to unmask their true feelings for each other?

Fighting, she realized was their only form of communication and therapy. So of course, when finally managed to grip her arm and pull her close, she knew she had to figure out some sort of way to free herself from his grasp.

With a frown, she gave him a rough shove and he simply laughed. He laughed that haughty laugh that always drove her insane. Those beautiful white teeth leaped at her, dramatically contrasting with his rust colored skin.

She hated him.

Soon, the laughter stopped and he was looking at her with a straight expression, as if having never seen her before. She bit her bottom lip and his eyes followed an invisible trail to them.

The silence was stifling and she decided that if he didn’t do something soon, she’d just have to take matters into her own hands. Finally, he caught on and just as he leaned in, the grip on her arm loosened and just like that she was out of his grasp and she was gone again. She was, after all, quicker than him.

First Kiss #6

TITLE: Break
GENRE: contemporary romance

After Declan allows Anna to see a vulnerable side to his life, Anna considers that she hasn’t completely understood him.

Anna studied Declan’s half-lit profile in the firelight, amber glow fading to shadow. One of his hands rested casually against his stomach, the other sat in the space between them, fingers gently curled. His hand was broad and strong, and she reached out, running the tip of her finger along the top of his hand, lightly tracing the length of it to his wrist.

If he was startled by the touch, he didn’t show it, and Anna took her time tracing each of his fingers. As she finished, his hand closed over hers, his head tilting her way. And when she looked up, into his dark sapphire eyes, she finally saw him. She saw his desire and his reluctance; his pain and his optimism; his loyalty and his uncertainty. And she saw his love.

She couldn’t help the ragged intake of breath, and hearing it, Declan pulled her towards him, her hair falling around them. His hands cradled her face and when she bent her forehead to his, he ran his fingers through her hair, pulling her closer.

“Anna.” She felt the tremble of his breath on her face, the rumble in his chest beneath her hands. Her mouth reached for his, just barely brushing his lips, then back again. With his hand still tangled in her hair, he pulled her in. She felt him hesitate, then his lips covered hers with warm tenderness, over and over, soft with emotion so deep tears swelled behind her closed eyes.

First Kiss #5

GENRE: Mystery

Okay. Is there anything else I could do?”

“Yes, there is.” Marty leaned over before I realized what he was going to do and kissed me lightly on the mouth. “But it may be a bit early in our relationship.”

He got up holding the bag of fish remains he was going to have tested for poison.

I took a deep breath and followed him to the door. “I have another idea,” I said.

He turned, his eyebrows raised.

I pretended to be in deep thought to cover a rushing tide of feeling. “I’ll call on each funeral director in town and ask him to check his records for the names and causes of death for men ages eighteen to twenty-five who died in the year I was born.”

“There you go, Detective…uh…what did the bartender call you tonight?”

“Brenda Starr. He said it’s some cartoon character from the fifties, a glamorous newspaper reporter.” I tossed my head and flicked my hair in what I hoped was a parody of glamour.

“Goodnight, Detective Brenda Starr.” He put the arm not holding the fish around me and gave me another light kiss. He held me close to him for a few seconds, keeping his face near mine as he looked in my eyes. Then he let go and was out the door. I could feel Othello and Rigoletto bump against my legs as I stared out the door.

“Boys,” I whispered to the dog and cat. “Did you catch that?”

First Kiss #4

TITLE: Kiva's Curse
GENRE: Fiction

Kiva gets really drunk and makes a clumsy first move.

“It’s,” sob, “just,” sob,”so beautiful.” More sobs. “They love each other so much. You don’t find love like that anywhere other than TV and movies.” I sigh, wiping at my tear-streaked cheeks.

“Sure you can,” Justin argues. “It’s just not as easy as Hollywood makes it look.”

“No,” I shake my head, causing the room to tilt. “It doesn’t exist. Hollywood has filled the heads and heart of young girls with this fairy tale ending crap, and it hurts so much when you realize it can’t be real. You want it so badly, you know?” Fresh tears fall down my cheeks. Justin leans over and brushes them away. His hand lingers, gently pressing the side of my face.

“Hey, who says it’s a fairy tale? Maybe you just haven’t looked in the right place yet.”

I lean into his touch, his palm warm against my cheek. Before I have time to talk myself out of it, I press my lips into his. The kiss is firm, dry, and slightly off center. I pull back quickly, my brain having caught up to my traitorous lips. Bad Kiva. He’s Charlie’s, remember?

Justin retreats to his bedroom without another word. The end credits of Full House come on, and I let myself cry until my eyes feel raw. Justin doesn’t come back. I watch another episode of Full House before slinking into my room.

First Kiss #3

TITLE: Back to Breaux Bridge
GENRE: Romantic Mystery

Marc is stranded in a parking lot with Sierra, who gave him his first kiss right before moving away fifteen years ago.

“So are you,” he teased, bumping his arm playfully against hers.

She bumped him back. Her eyes narrowed and her mouth slid into a sly half-smile. Before he could stop himself—before he could worry about what people would think or if he would change his mind or if it would hurt—Marc leaned in and inched toward her face. She didn’t move, didn’t say anything, so he kept inching until his mouth reached hers.

Her lips were as soft as they looked. He moved his hand up to her face and pressed harder against her mouth. He’d kissed her once before, but that—that goodbye peck that left his heart lurching and swirling with confusion—was nothing like this. This kiss was something entirely new. Confusing, yes, but exciting and overwhelming and a rush of fifty other emotions overpowering him. Her lips parted slightly, when he took her bottom lip in his mouth. She pulled back, and he followed her with another soft kiss before braving to open his eyes and meet hers. He couldn’t read her face at all. Sierra, her every feature typically a megaphone of raw emotion, was blank.

“They’re here.”


She nodded her head to point behind him. When he turned, Marc spotted an old, green sedan driving toward them from the next entrance gate.

Worst timing ever.

Or maybe the best.

First Kiss #2

TITLE: Vision
GENRE: YA Paranormal Suspence

Teenage friends falling in love. Shelby must keep her mother from marrying a reincarnated psychopath.

"Just go talk to her and get it over with.”

“I know, I’m going.” I forced myself off the couch and away from Ben’s strong warm body.

“I’m gonna walk you home,” Ben said plucking his jacket from the coat tree when we reached the door.

“That’s okay. I need a minute alone to decide what to say.”

He faced me and I realized his eyes were the same color as the pendant the Maharishi gave me. “I don’t want anything to happen to you. Whoever tried to break into your house last night’s still out there,” he said standing so close I could feel his sweet breath. Seriously, how could I be expected to concentrate like this?

“I’ll text you as soon as I’m inside, don’t worry.” He brought his hand to my face and slowly stroked my cheek causing a buzz of electricity to course through me. I took a step closer and put my hand on his chest.

His hand slid around my waist, gently pulling me to him. I’d never been so close to Ben but it felt totally right, and I moved my hand from his chest to his back, erasing the last inches of space between us. Ben leaned down, his lips slightly parting and…the refrigerator opened around the corner in the kitchen, ruining our moment and wrenching me from Ben’s spell. I stepped back from him breathless and walked out the door.

I felt like I was walking on air, and as I floated down the driveway I imagined what it would be like to kiss Ben.

First Kiss #1

TITLE: Prime Vector
GENRE: Science Fiction Adult

After a long trip to return home, Catita and Tek get stuck in a storm. They find refuge in a cave, an old communications center.

“Come on. Am I so bad?” Tek whispers, as he approaches, taking his time. He holds her gaze. She’s not going anywhere.

Something inside tells him it’d be best to stay away. The storm blazing outside will soon be gone, taking Catita with it. Regardless of what Tek can see in her, she’s still QEC, and she belongs in Phoenicis. She belongs to the Queen. Yes, the smart thing to do would be to keep his distance.

Tek’s eyes survey Catita’s face, cheeks flushed from the run, amber eyes melting under the dimmed lights, and those heart-shaped lips slightly parted. Waiting. Damn it. Who’s he kidding? He’s never been known for making good choices. Tek leans in, and covers her mouth with his.

Catita takes a calming breath and pulls away, but Tek’s not ready to let her go. Not yet. He presses his forehead against hers, breathing the same air. His hands hold her in place, while his heart pounds in his chest with a force that matches the raging storm outside.

She sighs, and the delicious pain from his racing heart spreads through his arms and down his back. “You’re killing me, honey. I swear you’re killing me slowly,” Tek murmurs against her temple.

As if trying to fill the void between her feelings and logic, Catita shakes her head, hands kneading the muscles on his stomach. Her nose and lips brush against his cheek, and Tek reciprocates. He hesitates for a moment, then releases her. Eyes closed as he recovers.

Monday, February 9, 2015

First Kiss Submissions TODAY!

Submissions for the First Kiss Critique Round will open at noon EST today.

Guidelines are HERE.

Good luck, all!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Friday Fricassee

If you're reading this blog, that means you have a dream.  It entails the bringing of your beloved story (or stories) to the masses, and it looks a little bit like the next person's, and a little bit not.

Because it's your dream.  You want to be published.  Right?

We all look at the "being published" differently. For some, it's traditional all the way.  For others, it's do-it-yourself indie.  Some do a mixture of both.

Then there's the actual product.  Some of us dream of gorgeous hardcover debuts.  Others would be pleased as pie to have a trade paperback hit the shelves.  And some dream of raking in the royalties on a digital release, without any paper fuss at all.

So today's question is:  What does your dream product look like?  How much does it matter to you HOW your book hits the world?  Does it even matter at all?

Yes, of course I'll get all vulnerable and share my dream first.

I love books.  Beautiful, hardcover, smells-so-good-I-want-to-lick-the-pages books, fresh from the store, are one of life's dearest treasures.  I love the weight of them in my hands, the satisfying way my bookmark creeps slowly through their depth.  I love the ink against the creamy pages.  I love--LOVE--books.

And I want my debut to be like that.  A real, honest-to-goodness hardcover with my name on it.  Something to display on my bookshelves along with all my other hardcover treasures, so that I can look at it and think, "That ones's mine!"  Something I can hand out to family members, their names lovingly scrawled on the cover pages.

When I think about it hard enough, my stomach does funny drop-things.  For me, this is visceral.


I look at my latest sub list and see things that DON'T EXACTLY MATCH MY DREAM.  This publisher does digital-only.  That publisher starts with digital and moves to paperback.  And this other publisher?  I'm not even sure.

Yes, there are Big Five names on there, too, and of course they do gorgeous, real-as-can-be hardcovers.  But they're moving with the times, too (or at least, they'd better be), so probably the real-as-can-be isn't a given there, either.

Where does this leave my dream?

Well, hmm.  It leaves me asking myself this question:  "How badly do you want people to READ YOUR STORIES?"  Because, whether they're reading my debut novel on a Kindle or in paperback or as a gorgeoushardcover, the point is that they're READING MY NOVEL.


I know this is true.  So why does it still bother me to think about letting go of my hardcover dream?

I don't have an answer.  I want to hear from you.  Because I know I'm not the only one who's in love with hardcovers (I buy them almost exclusively).

Share your dreams!  And if you're completely unfettered by real-book-love, share your wisdom and insight.

So glad we're such a diverse and passionate bunch!  I look forward to your comments.