Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Confession time!

I'm the author of TALKIN' HEADS #30.

I almost never put my own stuff in the crits here, and I didn't intend to do it this time.  But the numbering system is a little off on my end of the bot--it thinks it has more entries than it really does, so I have to do a little math and add extra slots so that, when I say there are 30 slots, there really ARE 30.

So I did the math and added the extra slots.  And forgot to bear in mind that I had manually rejected one of the entries because it was a duplicate.  (People, please don't enter the same thing from two separate email accounts.  All you're doing is stealing a spot from someone else.)

Needless to say, I ended up with 29 entries queued to post yesterday, and I was all, POOP.  Because when you promise 30 slots and submissions close, and then you post 29...well, it doesn't look good.

So I scrambled to find an excerpt of my own work to fill the empty slot.  I chose a scene from a draft that hasn't yet seen its first revision, so it was pretty risky to throw it out there.  I felt like it was at least clean enough for some public critique, though, and I am very appreciative of the feedback I've received.

And because I love you, I'm going to call you out by name.  :)

THANK YOU Rachel Menard, mad-hat-ink, Jen Schafer, ikmar, and H.R. Sinclair, Southpaw.  Your comments are so helpful.  (Pointing out small things like removing extraneous prepositional phrases is always helpful as we dig into revisions, yes?  Like your suggestion, mad-hat, to change "What if I refuse to write?" to "What if I refuse?"  And, Jen, your suggestion to change "You're not going to hurt me" to "You won't hurt me" is equally spot-on.)

And, mad-hat-ink?  I feel like you really "get" my writing.  And we all know how good that feels.  The lines you quoted are actually characteristic of my writing style, and I used them to convey exactly what you got from them.  That was a lovely moment for me.

You were divided over the food-chewing, which amused me.  I'll have to see what I can do there to make sure it's not a hiccup.

Anyway, thank you all.  Truly.  This particular draft is a hot mess, and when I finally dig in, I'm going to need lots of chocolate.  Thank you all for offering such helpful feedback, and for helping me to see that, even in the midst of a mess, there's always some good.

Whew!  My conscience is now clean.  But I'm also grateful for having had the opportunity to call out some of you who have been faithful to critique not only during this particular round, but in many rounds.  I always see a pattern of familiar screen names in my inbox, to the point where I feel like I'm walking into a coffee shop and seeing the faces of friends.  YOUR TIME AND EFFORT ARE SO VERY APPRECIATED.

And now I'm off to have a low-key, get-some-rest-and-some-writing done sort of day.  It's a performance weekend for the symphony chorus I'm a part of, so I've given myself permission to live like an artiste for a couple of days.  Heh!

May your own weekends be joyful as well.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Talkin' Heads: Critique Guidelines

For this critique round, we are focusing on DIALOGUE.  Namely:

  • Does it sound natural?  Do people really talk this way?
  • Is there a good balance among dialogue, tags, and beats?
  • Is the pacing good?
  • Does the excerpt feel like it's propelling the story forward, or does it feel more like static banter?

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.

Talkin' Heads #30

TITLE:  From the Ashes
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Zila, a young queen, has been kidnapped by Denas, who means to put her on the throne of a fallen kingdom he wishes to resurrect.  He has told her she needs to write to her husband, the king, to demand supplies and manpower.

“He will never agree.”

“Oh, I think he will,” Denas said.  “Your safety is going to mean everything to him.”

I tightened my hands around the goblet.  “If you want me to be your queen,” I said slowly, “you’re not going to hurt me.”

“He doesn’t know that.  And, frankly, neither do you.”

My breaths were coming faster, my layer of perceived safety dissipating like mist.  “What if I refuse to write?”

Denas took a long time to chew and swallow a mouthful.  Then he stared at me, using his tongue to work a piece of food from his teeth.  “For every day that you refuse,” he finally said, “one member of your expedition dies.”

He said it so matter-of-factly that, at first, I felt nothing.  Then his words sank in, and I stared back.

“You would kill someone in order to force my cooperation?”

“I would.”

He continued to study me, watching my reaction.  I didn’t give him one.  Inside, my heart was a storm—despair, fear, indecision.  Outside, I was glass, smooth and cool.

“You’re a terrifying man,” I said.

“I’m a passionate man.”

“There is little difference.”  I poked at my food.  “And you already know I won’t let you hurt anyone on my account.”

He smiled.  “You’re everything I’d hoped you’d be, Your Majesty.”

Talkin' Heads #29

TITLE: The Doppelganges
GENRE: MG Fantasy Contemporary

“Don’t talk to me,” he whispered, his voice urgent. “Didn’t I tell you not to talk to me unless you saw the bracelet?  I could have been him!”

“What? You could have been who?  Now you are totally nuts. I always knew that brilliant brain of yours would snap someday.”

“I told you to only talk if I was wearing this bracelet,” he said and stuck his arm up in her face.

“Well, you’re wearing it. So talk,” she said. “You know, I got a strike at school today for ditching lunch without a pass to find you in the library.”

“We can’t talk here.  He’s in there. Come with me.”

     He grabbed Wren by the arm and pulled her a little too roughly around the house and behind a gardening shed.

“Ouch. Cut it out,” she cried and pulled her arm away.

“Sorry.  I guess I am losing it.”

“Who’s in there?” she demanded.

“You’re not going to believe me, but here goes.”

     He told her a shortened version of the story, leaving out the fact that he didn’t exactly feel like he was himself. It sounded ridiculous and she wasn’t buying it.

“Reed, I am not saying that you are lying, but think about it.”

“Wren, go in the house and you will see a kid who looks just like me, but he won’t be wearing the strap. Then look out the window and you will see me standing here.  Then you will know why I am freaking out.”

Talkin' Heads #28

TITLE: Bits & Pieces
GENRE: YA Contemporary

The narrator, 17 year-old Chase, wakes the morning after a fight to find his 14-year old sister Brooke hovering over him. Both are still grieving the loss of their older brother to alcohol poisoning nine months prior.

Consciousness creeps behind my eyelids, and I find a blurry Brooke curled in my desk chair next to the bed. She remains still as I struggle to sit. Nothing doing. I sink to the mattress in pain.

“Don’t ever do that again.”

“I have to get up sometime, Pixie.” I squint at her through the eye not swollen shut.

She frowns, her eyes the saddest I’ve seen since …

“Don’t be so sad. I’m okay.” I grit my teeth and force myself upright. “See?”

Brooke stalks from the room.

Damn. My room starts to spin and I drop to my pillow. “Ow.”

“Look.” Brooke forces a handheld mirror in my face.

The guy in the mirror is a mess. Swollen, bruised, stitched. A real Frankenstein.

“Okay. You made your point.” I lift an arm to swipe at the mirror, but my hand weighs a ton.

“You promised.” She places the mirror on my desk. “You promised not to … be like him.”

“I’ve kept my promise. I wasn’t dr —”

“Do you think I’m stupid?”

“C’mon, Brooke.” God, my chest hurts.

“Trevor could have killed you.”

“But he didn’t. Sit down. Please. Let me explain.”

She perches on the edge of the chair, arms crossed.

“Trevor went after Kelsey. She's barely bigger than you, and he’s bigger than me.”

“I can take you down.” The lines in Brooke’s forehead harden.

The muscles in my face protest a smile. “I know. You’ve had practice, and you’re fearless.”

Talkin' Heads #27

TITLE: Prelude to a Shift
GENRE: YA paranormal

Fil's first lunch with a trio of people she just met at her new high school. She's just eaten some disgusting lasagne in the lunchroom and spit it into an empty milk carton.


Jess offers half a sandwich. “My dad made the bread. Peanut butter’s organic.”

            My teeth sink into whole wheat bread with different kinds of seeds in it, glued to ripe bananas by impossibly peanutty peanut butter. Lasagna fades from mouth-memory.

            Drex digs in her pack and donates a couple of squished miniature Milky Ways.

            Indy rips her cheese bread in two and hands me half. “Good thing we don’t all subsist on Milky Ways and Coke.”

            “At least I don’t chow down like a garbage truck.” Drex turns her shoulder to Indy and focuses on Jess. “So, we on for Friday?”

            “What do you think?”

            “I think you cancelled last week. And the week before.”

            “What can I say? I must suffer for my art.”

            Indy snorts but cuts it short when Drex glares at her.

Drex zeroes back in on Jess. “Look, smart ass, there are 24 hours in a day, and only one a week for that stupid paranormal show you hooked us on. You,” she pokes his chest, “better get your priorities in order. Us first. Art second.”

            “Oh, right. As ravishing as you two are,” he gives each a pained look, “I had a painting to finish. A pain-ting? Face facts. Art first. You guys second. And Paranormal Phenomenon a very, very close third.”

            Indy holds her tray up like a shield and beckons me closer. “Now the shit’s really going to hit the fan,” she says with satisfaction. “Just watch.”

Talkin' Heads #26

TITLE: Knackered
GENRE: MG Fantasy

<This is near the start. Mom just called twelve-year-old Avi downstairs to the kitchen>

<Mom> motioned for me to sit on the chair facing her, took a deep breath and released a long sigh.

“It’s time for you to go, Avi.”


“To your grandmother’s house. To live.”

For most people, that sentence might not have been strange.

“Grandmother? You mean one of the two you told me were dead?”

Her cheeks flushed light pink. “Well she’s dead now, so I wasn’t exactly wrong. I just told you too early.”

A thousand questions popped into my brain. I’d never met any of my grandparents. Never met my dad either. Actually, other than one uncle who didn’t look like my mom at all, I’d never met any family. But figuring out my family tree wasn’t my main concern.

“Why am I going to Grandma’s house if she’s dead?”

“Well, you can’t stay here. I’m leaving. My job is done.”

“Your job? You’re my mother.”

Mom slid a piece of paper into my hand. “Here’s the address. Grab what you need. You have to be out of this house by midnight. Anything left will be destroyed.”

She stood and lifted her suitcase. She leaned in for an awkward hug. “Good luck. Knowing you has been...interesting.”

Without a glance back, she was out the door. She didn’t even stop for Cain, her slobbering pug.

Talkin' Heads #25

TITLE: The Poacher
GENRE: YA Speculative

Lead in: An unwelcome human has been detained by a pack of wolves. The visitor is presently pinned to the ground by the animals. Oh - the wolves possess an unusual faculty: they can talk.


Bosc yelped. “Please.”

There was a pause while the big wolf stared at him. “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to put my mouth around your neck, and you’re going to roll over and we’re going to sniff you to make sure you’re not carrying a gun tucked away somewhere. Then you can get up.”

Bosc breathed in relief. “All right.”

“As a favor, we’re not going to cripple your hands.”

“Thank you.” Bosc paled.

“After that, any time I wonder what you’re up to, I’m going go ‘Hmmm?’ and you’re going to stop what you’re doing and show me your hands. Do you understand?”


“You don’t get any second chances, all right? I say ‘Hmmm?’ and you show me.”

“I understand.”

“I really hope you do. You know, we admire your smartness. You’re smarter than all of us put together.”

Bosc smiled weakly. “Right now that’s debatable.”

“It’s true, though. I bet you’re already thinking of ways to beat us, and given time you will. Your kind always beats us in the end. Always.”

Bosc swallowed. He looked into the pale, bleak eyes of the wolf. He had no answer for the animal. His mind was blank.

“Our only advantage is speed,” the wolf continued. “So if you make me nervous, if you make any of us even the teensiest bit nervous, we won’t hesitate to break your arms.”

Talkin' Heads #24

TITLE: The Evolution of Evie
GENRE: MG contemporary

    “You know the school dance is next Friday,” Marcus says at lunch the following week. “I think we should all go.”

    Danielle rolls her eyes. “School dances are lame.”

    “How do you know?” Marcus asks. “Have you ever actually been to one?” 

    “No.” Danielle takes a bite of her meatloaf, makes a face of disgust, and promptly spits it into her napkin. I have to agree. It’s not the school’s best meal.

    Marcus was smart and opted for taco salad bar instead today. His plate is already clean.

    “Exactly,” he says. “How do you know unless you go to one.”

    Danielle shrugs. “I just know.”

    Marcus turns to Chelsea. “Come on, please. Will you go with me?”

    Chelsea smirks. “Like a date?”

    “Oh please.” Marcus wads up his napkin and tosses it at her. “You know what I mean.”

    “Ooh,” Chelsea says, her smile growing wider. “I bet you were the one to send me that candy gram.” 

    Now it’s Marcus’s turn to roll his eyes.

    “Please, girl. You know I love you, but it wasn’t me.” He looks at me, his last hope. “Evie?”

    I shrug. “Um, I guess I could go. I mean, I have no idea how to dance, but it might be fun.” His face lights up and I realize that I should have put more emphasis on might. 

    “See, Danielle,” Marcus says. “Evie wants to go. She thinks it will be fun, too.”

    I hadn’t exactly said that, but oh well. If it would make Marcus happy, I’d go. 

    “Fine,” Danielle says with a sigh. “I’ll go.” 

    Marcus claps his hands together. “Yay!”

    “And you’re coming, too, Chels,” Danielle adds.

    Chelsea doesn’t argue. I think we’re all secretly a little afraid of Danielle.


Talkin' Heads #23

TITLE: August and September
GENRE: YA Contemporary

September just met Wyatt on her first day of school.

The bell rang, and he stood up and put his backpack on.

“AC/DC, huh?” I said, pointing to his shirt.

He lifted up his eyebrows, surprised that I was talking to him. “Yeah, you like them?”

“Do you?”

“Yeah, they’re one of my favorite bands.” He walked towards the door and I followed.

“Oh, really.”

“Yes, really. Why do you say it like that: ‘Oh, really?’”

“Name one of their songs,” I said.

“Back in Black.”

“That just proved to me that you have no idea who they are.” I walked ahead of him.

“What are you talking about?” He jogged to catch up with me. “Back in Black. Probably their most famous song.”

“Exactly. That’s the song that everyone would say if I asked them to name an AC/DC song. Your mom would say that. Heck, your grandma would say that.”

“Ok, then, Thunderstruck.”

“Once again, you prove my point.” I chuckled.

“Fine then, what do you want me to say?”

“I don’t want you to say anything. You’ve said it all.” I stopped at my locker, holding back a smile. I watched him from the corner of my eye while I turned the lock.

Talkin' Heads #22

TITLE: Chinchilla Dreams and Beauty Queens
GENRE: MG Contemporary

Frankie Lee Parker has long list of worries. Money for the beauty pageant, disappointing Mom and Dad, Fiona and her purple van, and Uncle Donny in a jail cell. And now Kate... 


The bedsprings squeaked and the shadow of my sister tiptoed across the room, shoes in hand.

“Where are you going?” I whispered.

She froze. “None of your business.”

“You’re going to meet Eddie, aren’t you?”

“No. I’m going outside to get some fresh air.”

“The window’s open. The air’s fresh in here. You going to make out?”

“Frankie! ‘Course not. We’re going to talk about our future.”

Yeah. Right. I wasn’t dumb. I knew what boyfriends and girlfriends did when they snuck out at night.

“Kate, don’t get…like Hannah Watson.” Hannah dropped out of school right after Christmas, before she started showing too much.

“Frankie! You mind your own business. And don’t you dare tell Mom or Dad.”

“I’m not a tattletale.” And I wasn’t. But as I lay awake I added my sister to my list of worries. 

My eyes didn’t close until she slipped back into our room a couple hours later.


Talkin' Heads #21

TITLE: The Keeper
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

After witnessing the cruel yet necessary beating of one of their captive visitors, Era confronts her parents, Nyx and Savin, about the use of such violence. In order to preserve the fragile core of their world and the one below, Savin uses the moment to remind his daughter about her previously learned lessons.

“There’s no need for such actions,” Era said.

“Era, he isn’t one of the puppies you’re so used to. He isn’t an heir from one of the other houses. He is a Brody, and a stubborn one at that. He has been brought to the truth, and his core is a little brighter. As should be your own,” I said patiently.

“Because he seeks the truth? You deny it to him and beat him instead. I’ve no idea how it serves the core.” At this Savin set down his bread and stared at her.

“Tell me the core, Era.” She laughed bitterly.

“I’m no child, Dad. I passed my lessons long ago.”

“To preserve the core means to reflect and revisit it constantly. To have the deepest experiences possible and to come to recognize those pieces in a different light based on our constantly changing experiences. So tell me the core.”

“Love. Truth. Loyalty. Innocence. Pain.” She said the last word with disdain.

“What is my path?” He was unbuttoning his shirt. I cringed, for I knew his intentions.

“Savin, don’t,” I whispered.

“Pain, but…” Era answered.

“Do you know how I learned it? How I was forced to see the full truth? Part of it was separation from those who truly mattered to me. From those I loved, and love still. That pain was tremendous, and it pushed me on. But much of it was like Jamie Brody in that moss-lined cell.”  

Talkin' Heads #20

TITLE: Dust after Slaying
GENRE: Adult Urban Fantasy

Dee and her friend Hope are following a mysterious online map with their names on it. They actually fight vampires; werewolves are fictional in their universe.


Hope brought the smartphone closer to her face. It was finally lit enough to show she was frowning. “You really watch the werewolf stuff?”

“I guess there’s not as much on TV about werewolves as there is about vampires. But those novels in bookstores with threatening covers—eyes filled with contempt, strange tattoos, edged weapons.”

“And those are just the women.”

Dee laughed. “Doesn’t it bother you they portray werewolves and other such things as sexy nowadays?”

“Sex sells, sister.”

“Though it seems to me, if they describe a woman getting intimate with a guy who then has to turn into a werewolf to protect them, isn’t that like . . .”

“Bestiality? I’m not sure. Anyway, I look at those books for research purposes only.” Hope came to a dead stop. “This makes no sense. The path we’ve been following from this map keeps going straight. But you can see where the trail we’re walking on goes.” She gestured to the left, where the trail curved.

“Isn’t that just some tiny blip your map doesn’t show? Like how my GPS device shows the road ahead with geometrically straight lines, but in reality it’s crooked and full of potholes?”

“No, this trail we’re on doesn’t curve back to match the online path. You can see why.” She pointed to the steep hillside ahead of them. “Are we supposed to climb up and hike cross-country?”


Talkin' Heads #19

TITLE: Getting to Candyland
GENRE: Adult Women's

"I've decided I can't continue this way," I say, my voice strong, confident, rational. Not a whine or sob in earshot. Inside, however, my stomach clutches and my intestines buck back in protest. I’ve been working up my nerve to confront Frank for weeks. "I need to know if we're a couple, if we mean something more to each other than a casual friend and a convenient lay as required."

           Frank groans, rolls his head against the back of the booth. "Don't, Claire. This behavior is past the point of charming eccentricity. When you snuck up to my bedroom window to make faces through the glass--that was kind of cute. Talking your girlfriend into acting like a hooker to offer me her services, more extreme. You already have a reputation as a border-line freak. An ugly confrontation in the middle of a cheap restaurant won't improve our relationship."

            "What ugly confrontation?" I'm astounded to hear my voice rise in volume and tone. "I want a simple, calm discussion. And what do you mean by 'border-line freak?' Who called me that?"

            He sits bolt upright and snaps his fingers toward the waitress. When she looks in his direction, he points an index finger toward the surface in front of him. "Some of my friends. After you stood on a table one night and declaimed poetry. You weren't even drunk.” Now he watches me. “What's next, pierced nipples?"

            "Don’t you wish? Frank, you are becoming a tight-ass. If a little unusual behavior blows you away, you're in for a boring, narrow life. Let loose. Don't always do and think what's expected of you." Why am I pushing? Do I want to lose my only lover?

            "And you are a pain in the ass. Three in the morning, for God's sake. Can't this wait?"

Talkin' Heads #18

TITLE: My Deal With Elvis
GENRE: MG Contemporary

I had to find a way to talk Elvis into looking for George Edwards’s plot. If my hunch was right the gold and money were there. It made perfect sense.

“I sure do hate how Charlotte and her brother go around acting like they’re better than everybody, don’t you?” I asked.


“What makes them think they can do whatever they want?” I asked.

Elvis shrugged.

I couldn’t read his face, so I said, “and kicking Luther out of the house he’s lived in his whole life.”

Still nothing.

“That’s why I agreed to help you win the talent show," I said. "Show Charlotte she’s not queen of Milledgeville.”

“Yup,” he said.

“And I will help, it’s just, it might be smart to have a plan B. I mean, in the unlikely event you don’t win.”

"What do you mean, unlikely event?” That got his attention. He stared a hole through me.

“It’s just if we were to make a monumental discovery—say, the last known outlaw’s hidden booty—we’d be somebodies. Right?”

Elvis narrowed his eyes.

“I wouldn’t be some convict’s kid who had to repeat the third grade and you wouldn’t be the weirdo kid who dresses like some dead singer.”

He sat on the bench beside me and reached around the back of his neck. He pulled up his shirt collar. “I like dressing like Elvis Presley.”

Talkin' Heads #17

GENRE: MG Conemporary

Mr. Rayburn, the vice-principal meets the kids in the hall. The Mathalon team needs to have three female members to compete. “And we don’t at this time have any.”


Viola raised her hand.

“Oh, yes,” Mr. Rayburn corrected himself. “We have only one.”

“Does this mean I only got picked because I am a girl?”

“Let’s just say it was in your favor.”

“That’s not fair. I answered more questions right than anyone.”

“Yes, you also got picked because of that. May we continue? You there, tall girl. You’re on the team.”

Candy sputtered but got the word out in a panic. “No.”

“Yes. You are the tallest, so you are on the team.” Mr. Rayburn looked at sore-loser. “See how that works. Everyone on the team is best at something, even if it’s not math. We’ve got the richest and the best shoes, and now we’ve got the tallest girl.”

Candy wanted to jump out of her shoes and sink. What a day to have worn her high-heels. “I don’t want to be on the team.”

“You’re needed.” He pointed to Leslie. “And lastly, you. The sassy one.”

“Sassy? Excuse me?”

“Yes, just like that. You will be our third female. And why didn’t you go out for the team. You’re obviously good at math.”

“Read the shirt.”

“Yeah, right. You’re on the team, Ms. Lu. And I expect you to be our closer.”

“Can’t,” Leslie said in a hurry. “I have previous commitments.”

“Oh, you do not,” Viola challenged “You just think you’re too good for the team.”

“No, I do. I’ve already committed to being a cheerleader.”

Candy’s jaw dropped.

Talkin' Heads #16

TITLE: Trembling Truth
GENRE: Adult Thriller


 I grow alarmed the best thing to do is to flee I take my coat from the chair and put it ‘I saw your friend yesterday.’

‘Which friend?’ Mike asks, narrowing his eyes at me.

‘Sam, it was weird I saw him in my street looking at my window.’ I say

‘Are sure it was him?’

‘Of course I am sure, what makes you think I am not?’

‘Did you drink?’ 

‘I had a couple of drinks,’ I say.

‘So you might have mistaken my friend to someone else.’

 ‘I know what I saw please tell your friend not creep in my neighbourhood.’

‘Why don’t tell him yourself when you see him!’

‘What happened that night?’

 ‘I already told you what happened.’

‘I find it strange that I danced with your friend then he’s creeping at my neighbourhood staring at my window the same day you left me that bloody note’

‘What do you want me to say?’ He barks.

‘How about the truth!’ I snap.

‘You’re thirty-six, you are responsible for your life and of your actions if you didn’t drink senseless you wouldn’t be in this position now, would you? Where is your self-respect?’

‘Why don’t go ahead and say it!’

‘Say what?’

‘Since I had been here all you did was making remarks about my lifestyle, I want to hear it come out from your mouth come on, sweetheart, hit me with it I’m a big girl I can take it’

‘You said so yourself, you are an alcoholic, you are weak, and pathetic it’s disgraceful the way you behave.’

‘Boy, you are good looking but does your mouth make up for it.’

‘For what? For saying the truth? You told me to say it now you’re pissed off because I did, what’s wrong with you?’




Talkin' Heads #15

TITLE: Getting to Know You
GENRE: MG Contemporary

Toby and Melissa have just recently met and are getting to know one another.

            “Where are you from?” He’d asked her this question at least five times now, but she had refused to tell him.


            “Ah, come on,” he insisted.

            “It’s not important.”

            “I want to know.”

            “What is that irritating sound?” She looked around. “Oh, right, it’s you.” She rolled her eyes and slapped her bare feet onto the dashboard.

            “So?” he prodded.

            “Oh, my God, do you ever quit?”     

            “Tell me.”

            She stared at him. “A town you’ve never heard of.”

            “I might surprise you,” Toby said.

            She ignored him by leaning her head back and closing her eyes.

            “Well?” he said.         

            “I’m from a place called Waukegan,” she said with a huff.

            “In Illinois?”

            Mel smirked. “What do you have? A GPS chip in your head?”

            “Nah. I just like geography.” He looked over at her. “So . . . how did you get all the way out here?”


            “That’s really dangerous!”

            She snorted. “Ya think?”

            “Did you run away from home?”

            “No.” She sighed. Then said, “Yes.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “My mom wanted me to leave, and I was happy to go.”


            “She has a new boyfriend.”

            “Where’s your dad?”

            “My parents were never married.”

            “Do you miss him?” he asked.

            “My father? I don’t even remember him.”

            “But still, you must miss him.”

            “What are you talking about?  How can I miss someone I never even knew?”

            “Well, the feeling of having a dad, then,” Toby explained.

            “Not hardly!” She gave him a nasty look before turning away.


Talkin' Heads #14

TITLE: The Quicksilver Conspiracy
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

Cerelian's 5-year-old daughter Tassali disappeared while she was in the middle of fixing her lunch. Cerelian has been searching for Tassali in a panic when the little girl suddenly reappears.

     "Mam, mam! Did you see it?"

   Cerelian let out shuddery breath. "Why are you running around?" she said. "Go sit at the table. It's lunch time."

   The little girl threw her arms around her mother's waist and gazed upwards with desperate eyes. "Can I keep it? Please oh please oh please!"

   Cerelian pried her daughter's arms from her waist and crouched down so she was eye level with the little girl. "Tassali, I told you. No going invisible in the castle."

   "I didn't." The little girl's blonde curls quivered with excitement. "Can I keep it?"

   "Why didn't I see you, then?"


   "Tassali Arianna, I asked you a question."

   "I wasn't invisible," the little girl said, her eyes gleaming. "I was playing with the baby wolf." She tipped her head to the side and smiled charmingly. "I want to keep it."

   "Wolves don't make good pets."

   "What if he was a baby?"

   "Little wolves grow up to be big wolves."

   "He'd be very nice. I know he would. He wouldn't even bite."

   She wouldn't count on that. Cerelian glanced back at the shadowy corner of the kitchen where Tassali had appeared. A wolf? In the kitchen? Maybe she should ring for the steward after all. "It looks like your pup has disappeared," she said, hoping that was really the case. "He probably went to find his mam." She took Tassali's hand and led her back to the counter and her waiting lunch.

Talkin' Heads #13

TITLE: Graffiti Dome
GENRE: YA Dystopian

In Graffiti Dome, My YA Dystopian novel, Silver fights to free artists kept in captivity. Gabe, her best friend, tries to keep her and her gang from putting their lives in danger. A heated conversation ensues.

I pushed a cracked nail on his chest. “You’re asking me to stop the fight.”
“No. I’m not telling you to do anything, I’m just watching your back.” He looked around the room nervously. “And it’s a good idea to tell them to go home too.”
“You want me to tell them to go home?” I repeated. “You do know everyone here follows their own convictions. Right. Not mine.”
“It’s an emergency.”
“No way! They know the stakes. They’ve decided.”
“They will die tonight.”
“No, but people like us will be sealed off the main barge if we stay home. We can’t let that happen.”
Gabe grabbed both of my arms and gently shook me. “This is not the time to be stubborn, Silv. I only came here to warn you. You save them. You’re good at it.”
The tone of his voice put the jiffies inside me. If they died, it was on me. Not fair.
I screamed at the top of my voice, forgetting where I was, “So what. We piss off some people in the government and you ask us to lay low. Since when?”
People turned around to look at us.
He whispered, his voice croaking, “You think I don’t care?”
I pushed his hands gently away. “I don’t know you anymore.”
His fingers closed up on me. “Yes, you do. I… um…”
He tried to articulate something, hacking up deep feelings he kept bottled up inside.
I shrugged him off. “Stop, you’re acting weird.”

Talkin' Heads #12

TITLE: Banished
GENRE: YA Fantacy

 Surprise crosses his bold features as I pop into visibility.

“Hey, aren’t you going to untie me?”

I turn back and consider him. I don’t hear any sounds of pursuit but I am well aware that I need to get my butt moving.

“Why should I involve myself? I’ve got enough trouble as it is.”

“Untie me and I’ll give you anything you ask for.”

“Why didn’t they put a rag in your mouth?”

“What? I assume because we are too far away for anyone to hear me. What kind of question is that anyway?”

I shrug and turn away.

“I don’t have time for this. I’m sure you did something that justifies getting tied up and tossed back here.” The alley isn’t a dead end but connects to another alley through a narrow passageway. There is a short wall about waist high so I almost didn’t notice. I grasp the wall and draw myself up. Perfect. I can see an alley I recognize from here…..

“You can’t leave me here!” The man yells at my back. “I’m Rugor! I really can get you anything.”

That stops me. I’d just killed Rugor. I turn back and glare at him.

“Prove it.” I demand.


“Prove you are the leader of the rebels. I’ve hear some of the stories. Prove to me you are who you say and I’ll untie you.” What is going on? If this is Rugor as he claims, then who did I kill?

“Not all of the stories are true, you know.”

“I don’t care. Pick one.”

“You are incredibly difficult, you know that? Fine, but get ready with whatever stunt you pulled earlier. We’ll have company in about twenty beats. Now, stab me in the heart.”

“What?!” Now it is my turn to gape.


Talkin' Heads #11

TITLE: The Bone Cypher
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Soren has climed in through Nicola's bedroom window in the middle of the night as if to rescue her from an unwanted fate, asking her to run away with him. She suspects impure motives and moved for a shard of glass inside her satchel to protect herself.


“Where is it exactly that we’re going?” My eyes darted to the satchel on the top of my vanity.

“Alsace. North. Whatever happens, I can’t let you enlist.”

In in a fairy story the Prince of Wolves doesn’t whisk a girl away without a reason. It was too sweet to be true. Soren Evert didn’t care about me, and if he did, now, when yesterday he was Radha’s? …Then his heart was too changeable to be trusted.

“You can’t let me enlist,” I repeated, edging over to the vanity as casually as I could.

“No, I can’t.”

“What about Radha? Can you let her enlist?” I cocked my head.

“Nicola, this has nothing to do with Radha.” His features turned stern.

“But aren’t you with her? Weren’t you two practically…engaged?”

Soren’s throat flickered. “I would have married, Radha, yes.”

“But not now,” I said.

“No. No one’s getting married now.” He took a step closer to me.

I grabbed my satchel and fumbled with it behind my back. “And why have your attentions turned to me?” I asked.

“Is that what you think?”

“It was when you saw my hair, wasn’t it?” It was a stupid thing to say. Only a fool would parrot Radha. But it also made sense.

“Yes!” Soren shrilled.

It bit into me the way steel bit into my blistered palms in the dungeons. I nearly flinched. Instead I drew the sharp piece of glass and pointed it at Soren’s throat.

“Get out of my bedroom!”

Talkin' Heads #10

GENRE: YA Fantasy


Holly collected her thoughts and looked into Grace’s eyes before speaking. “A family has to have a mother,” she began, “because a mother is what makes it a family. She makes bad things bearable. A mother always has a smile for you, even when she’s sad, and she tells you everything is going to be all right, even when she isn’t certain it will be.”

Holly could feel her throat closing up, and her voice sounded weak as she continued. “Your mother bandages your knees and takes care of you when you’re sick, even when she’s sicker than you are.” Tears trickled down Holly’s cheeks as she finished. “She would give her own life to save yours because she loves you more than anyone else in the world.”

Holly was sobbing now and her voice was barely coming out. “And because your mother loves you, no matter what you do — and she never stops loving you, because a mother’s love is forever!”

When she finished, Holly dropped her head into her hands and sobbed. “Please grant this wish, Grace.”

Grace wiped a tear from the corner of her own eye as she looked down at the young girl sitting in front of her. She folded The Official Rules for Wishes back up and placed it on top of the golden box. Holly’s hands trembled as she placed the paper back inside.

“I hope you realize what you’re wishing for, Holly” Grace said. 

 “Please grant my last wish, Grace. Please."

Talkin' Heads #9

TITLE: The Rift in the Rock
GENRE: MG Fantasy-Adventure

Grandma Summer drives Tristan and his friend Janie through Yellowstone National Park.  While traffic is stopped by a herd of bison crossing the road, Summer tells the kids the story of Tristan’s father’s birth.


“Now, the creek was hidden down in a ravine, and Wayne couldn’t hear me call.  I tried to push myself up off the rocks.  But I couldn’t move.  A branch cracked above me.”

“Uh-oh,” Janie said.

“I found myself face to face with a fat, glossy-black mother bear.”

Tristan clenched the edge of the window.  “As close as these bison?” he squeaked.

“Inches away.  The bear snorted.  I still couldn’t move, so I said, ‘I won’t bother your cubs if you don’t bother mine.’”

Ahead of the truck, the line of vehicles began to roll forward.  Summer restarted the engine.

“Then that baby shot out like he knew the bear might eat us both for lunch if he stuck around too long.”  She laughed.  “We always figured your father got his common sense from having to figure out how to survive in a chilly creek.  He woke up pretty quickly, bouncing along in the waves like a perfect little skipping stone.”

Tristan felt a sudden, irrational fear that the creature had eaten his dad.  “What about the bear?”

“I tried to grab the baby to keep him from floating away.  But I sank low in the water, and I couldn’t see anything other than the waves splashing over my hands.  Next thing I realized, Wayne had crashed into the stream and hauled me out with one arm around my waist.  In his other arm, he held a screaming, purple infant.”

“What did the bear do?” Tristan asked again.

Talkin' Heads #8

TITLE: Dragon Dilemma
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Adeline has just failed. She lost her dragon and her big brother to the big bad, Master Bozzlewig. She has met up with her Gran in what she fears is a witch's bakery.

“Hello dear, I am so glad to see you.” I was safe and warm in a squishy Grandma hug.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “You never leave the farm anymore.”
Her chest rumbled as she answered, “Hilda is who your parents called this morning.”
I pulled away from her. “Mom and Pop called her? But that doesn’t make sense. Why would Mom call someone she thinks is a witch?”
“Because they thought I could help,” the baker said.
“And can you?”
“We will see. It would have been easier if you would have come to me straight away, but I suppose events will unfold how they must.”
“I did not expect for you to be alone,” Gran said.
Tears turned her blurry and I sobbed. “I … I lost them.”
Gran pulled me into her arms again.
“Everything is upside down and topsy turvy. Malinda breathed ice. They… I … the guardians… Master Bozzlewig.” I pushed away from her suddenly remembering. “Master Bozzlewig said I should run to you. You are his mom.”
“Huey,” Gran whispered and her face turned white.
“He is my uncle, isn’t he?” I asked, and she nodded. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
“I … I couldn’t.”
“He’s like me, isn’t he? Or I’m like him.” I plopped in a chair. “I don’t want to be like him. He’s awful, and he has Reggie and my, uh, the baby dragon.”
Gran grabbed my cold hands and looked at me with shiny eyes. “I’m sorry, child, I know you feel angry and betrayed. You have the right to. I’m sorry we didn’t tell you.”

Talkin' Heads #7

TITLE: The Switcher Chronicles
GENRE: Adult Urban Fantasy

Cade, a body switcher has been hired to serve a jail term in place of his client, Harlan Ambrose, and no one can know who he really is. His sister, Daphne, arrives to visit him after he gets hurt.


"Would you please stop saying you're my sister? Harlan Ambrose doesn’t have a sister.”

“You’re referring to yourself in the third person now?”

The twinkle in Daphne's eyes made me want to shake her until her ears rang.

I waved my hand in front of my chest, gesturing broadly to the body I was wearing. “I don’t have a sister.”

“I know you don’t have a sister. You know you don’t have a sister. And believe me, your friend the guard knows you don’t have a sister.” She smiled at Sanford, and, I swear, she fluttered her eyelashes. I had never seen anyone do that. “I think he assumes I’m a Scarlett-visiting-Rhett-in-jail kind of sister.”

“And that’s funny to you?” I was blushing like Ambrose had never blushed in his life. She could fake-flirt; she was looking at a stranger’s face. All I saw was my sister, and I thought I might throw up.

Her eyes stopped twinkling, and her smile disappeared. “Something has to be funny.” She leaned closer and glared. “Your nose is broken.”

“You came here to tell me my nose is broken? I know my nose is broken. I was there when it happened. How do you know my nose is broken?”


Talkin' Heads #6

TITLE: Girl (Dot) Com
GENRE: Adult Women's Fiction (Romantic Comedy)

Barrie has just seen the guy of her dreams – her genius colleague Josh – hooking up with Cherry, a company receptionist at an after-work happy hour. Her drunk administrative assistant and confidant Auggie just told her she knew this was bound to happen, much to Barrie’s surprise.

“She has? And hey, how do you know this?”

“Oh, c’mon now, all us Admins gossip, too – you think it’s that interesting doing the shit work? No offense, there, Bar, ‘cause you give me interesting stuff to do – but some of the admins are hokey little idiots who think this is the big time. And Cherry’s one of them.”

“So what does that have to do with anything?”

“Cherry’s been after Josh for a while now, and I think he might be shitfaced enough to go for it.” She wiped her hand across her damp forehead.

“How come I didn’t know any of this? When the hell did all this happen?” Annoyance bloomed into anger.

“She tried once at the Christmas party last year, but he didn’t go near her. I think he was nursing a broken heart. But she keeps trying, and he might be just wasted enough to let it happen.”

“But why?”

“Damn, Barrie, you sound like my three-year-old nephew. Why, why why!

“Oh, you know what I mean,” I said. And I calmed down, as I didn’t need to kill the messenger.

“I know. Anyways, he’s been ignoring her for a while. She’s cute and nice and all, but s***, what the hell do they have in common?”

 “Yes! Exactly! And shouldn’t he be more of a decent guy and just tell her to go away?” And with that, the boss/underling line has been crossed.

 “Barrie, even decent guys need to get laid sometimes.” Wisdom from drunks.

Talkin' Heads #5

TITLE: Tinsel in a Tangle
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Christmas elf, Tinsel, was woken by a reindeer tapping at her bedroom window, who’s told her he’s going to help her out of a mess she’s made:

Chip nudges the air with his muzzle. “So git dressed. Time’s a’wastin’.”

I rub my eyes, certain I’m still dreaming. “Dressed for what?”

“We’ve got somethin’ ta show ye in the stables.”

“Can’t it wait ’till morning?”


“Am I going to get into trouble?”

“No’ if we do this right.”

“Do what right?”

“Quit the yakkin’, git dressed, and ye’ll find out.”

“Fine.” I snap the curtains closed and rummage through my dresser.

“Wear the warmest stuff ye got,” Chip adds after a moment.

I frown, pulling a thermal turtleneck over my head. “The stables aren’t that cold.”

“We’re no’ stayin’ in the stables.”

After adjusting the apron ties of my warmest dirndl, I shove open the curtains to glare at Chip. “I should tell my folks where I’m going, shouldn’t I?”

He makes a reindeer-grimace. “Grown-ups will put the kibosh on the whole thing. D’ye want ta change the truth behind these rumors or no’?”

Hope blooms inside my chest. “You’re taking me to the ravine?”

Chip tosses his head. “’Twas yer idea.”

“My idea involved me flying in on a SnoMo.”

“We reindeer want ta help.”


“Ye said ’twas fer the sake o’ Christmas. Reindeer are duty-bound ta protect and uphold Christmas.”

“They are?”

Chip rolls his eyes. “I dinna ken, but it has a noble ring to it.”

Talkin' Heads #4

TITLE: Unforgettable
GENRE: Adult Womens Fiction

From chapter one: Grace’s mother just passed away and Grace is talking to her mail carrier, who’s also an old friend from high school.

I flick my hand in a casual wave. “Isn't it kind of early for the mail? I didn't expect you until noon.”

“I had a special delivery for your new neighbor.” Andy holds up a handful of mail. “And this is for you. I'm killing two birds with one stone.”

“Neighbor?” I glance around as if expecting to see a stranger standing on the empty beach. “Where?”

He juts his stubbled chin toward a low hill that hides the old Milborne place. That house has stood empty for as long as I can remember. “She said she arrived early this morning. Drove all the way from…” He blinked behind coke-bottle lenses. “I don’t remember.”

Occasional short-term memory loss is another handicap he acquired after his accident. “That’s okay, Andy. It’s none of my business anyway.” But I'm curious about this new neighbor. I hope she doesn't have kids. Or dogs.

He flashes a sheepish smile that vanishes when he ducks his head to peer down at his feet. “I just heard about your mom. I’m real sorry for your loss, Gracie.”

I want to say my mother’s death isn’t a loss, that it's a blessing for her as well as for me, but I keep it to myself. His kind words mean something to him and it would be rude to take that away. “Thank you.”

Talkin' Heads #3

TITLE: Cuckoo's Cradlesong
GENRE: Adult Memoir

“You think if we have a kid now, you’ll resent it?” he asked.

I nodded.


I groped for a way to convey what I felt. “Because it’s going to use me up,” I said. “It’s going to suck me dry and there will be nothing left.”

“Suck you dry?” he repeated, trying to smother a smile. “You make it sound like we’d be raising a vampire, not a baby.”

“What I mean is, if taking care of you and the dog and my students already pushed me to a breakdown, what’s adding a baby going to do?” I looked at him with anguish, and then dropped my eyes to the floor, ashamed of my fear and selfishness.

“I’m afraid parenthood might drive me to a point I can’t come back from.” I thought of the knife and how close I’d come to an extremely final decision. I sighed. “Maybe if I could give up teaching, it would be better but…” My voice trailed off.

“But we can’t afford food, much less doctors and medicine on just my salary,” finished Ruymán. “I know. I’m sorry about that. I wish it was different.”

“I could always get a different job,” I suggested. “Maybe something that didn’t require sixty-hour work weeks?” Between the time in the classroom and the late nights grading papers, teaching ate up all the time I threw at it and it was still never enough.

Ruymán nodded. “A new job could be good. Let’s give it a try.”

Talkin' Heads #2

TITLE: Temptress Fug-It
GENRE: Adult Science Fiction/Alternate History

Jack Watt has unexpectedly been transported back in time, to 1947.  He is encountering Scarlett, a woman with whom he shares a destiny.


“Okay Captain.  Shall I call you Captain?” I ventured.

“No, I’ve been demobilized for a while now.  I guess Scarlett will have to do,” she replied a little sadly.  And you’re…Jack, right?  Jack what?”

“Yes,” I answered, deadpan.

“Yes what?” she asked, not yet getting it, getting a little pissed.

“Yes. Watt.”  I knew I was pushing my luck, but the ice between us desperately needed breaking.

“What is your last name?” she asked again, two lines appearing between those phenomenal eyes.

“Yes. Watt is my last name,” I said deciding it would work now or not ever.

“Just how hard did you hit your fucking head you…oh, oh, oh, you motherfucker!” This was followed by a laugh that I would remember and treasure the rest of my days.

“And I guess Who is still on first, you’re on second, and I Don’t Know’s on third?” she managed while laughing. “Do you run that routine on every girl you meet?”

“Only the drop-dead beautiful ones.”

“And how’s that working out for you?”

“Results aren’t all in yet, still waiting for a few out-lying counties.  And for your information, Doll, Mr. How?  He’s our fucking manager.”

“Let me tell you something Mr. Watt, that was fun, but you’ll have to work a hell of a lot harder than that to get anywhere near second base with this, uh, Doll

Talkin' Heads #1

TITLE: Rise of Fae
GENRE: NA Fantasy Romance

The enemy queen to the kingdom of Alysies has summoned her son to assign him a brutal task.


Queen Vatrice eyed Prince Samual, frowning at his sloppy attire. “You’ve been invited to a coming out ball.”

Samual narrowed his eyes. “You summoned me from my bed to tell me this? Mother, you must be joking.” Anger and disbelief dripped from his words.

“In Alysies.”

Samual threw out his arms. “Okay. And?”

Vatrice smiled, seeming to enjoy drawing it out. “It’s for Lady Faelyn.”

Samual dropped his arms and studied his mother. “Princess Faelyn? She can’t be almost eighteen.”

“She’s no princess. She has some wealth, to be sure, but aside from, she’s simply an oddity. A fae freak.”

“Then why go?” Samual’s expression turned bored again.

“You’re close in age. She’s only one year your junior. I want you to make friends with her.” Samual grimaced. “Don't make that face. Aside from those freak ears, she's rumored to be very beautiful." Vatrice rubbed her hand down her arm and touched her face. "With flawless skin, smooth golden hair, and eyes as green as emeralds. Plus all those other features you tend to favor with your… diversions." Samual's grimace remained and Vatrice frowned. Her voice turned flat. "Discover what you can about her. Find out if there’s any chance she may inherit the throne.” She stood. “Then I want you to kill her father.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Value of Quiet Encouragement

 So, yesterday I tweeted this:

See the little heart with "22" beside it?  That's 22 "favorite" clicks, which is sort of like Twitter's version of a "like" button.

22 isn't a huge number, right?  But it's not just a number--it's people.  Twenty-two people offered their silent support when I shared my writing progress.  22 thumbs-up.  22 smiles.  22 cheers.  22 however-I-interpret-its.

It means a lot to me that there are 22 people out there who would pay attention to my little tweet-among-millions.  Writers, all--each one of them understanding exactly what it feels like to be this close to finishing, and exactly how important it is to encourage each other.

And I actually keep going back to my Twitter page and looking at that little heart-with-the-22-behind-it, because it keeps encouraging me.

Amazing, isn't it?  The tiniest gesture--the twitch of a finger and, boom, on to the next thing.  But it means something to me.  It makes me feel like I have this huge, invisible support net out there, waiting to catch me if I need it.

And, oh, yes, it catches me.  I can always count on that.

This is one of the things I love about the Internet (and, let's face it--there's much not to love) -- the quiet connections we make with folks whose lives we would otherwise never have brushed against.  I love the silent network of like-minded, like-hearted people who somehow find each other, and are somehow there beneath and amid the buzz of everything else.

No, it's not intimacy.  No, it doesn't (and shouldn't) take the place of face-to-face, real-life relationships.  But it's powerful.  And it's real.

And I'm so grateful for it.

What adds to the beauty, of course, is the fact that some of these people do become real friends.  The Twitter-heart then becomes a reminder of that friendship--a zippy little "Hey, I'm here, I see you" as the day goes by.  A connection point.



It's truly wonderful.  It adds a layer of richness to my life that otherwise wouldn't be there.  There is much to be said for turning off the power switch and de-technologizing ourselves on a regular basis.  (Our spirits need that.  Our brains need that.  Our connectedness to life on this planet needs that.)  But the silent, slightly-beneath-the-radar network of friends and colleagues and kindred spirits who consistently touch my life with the press of a key or the swipe of a pad is, to me, invaluable.

Thank you.

And yes, I really am almost finished with this draft, right on schedule.  Of course, there's this:

But I'm glad to report that, after all the flailing and schlepping and faking yesterday, I worked my way forward without getting stuck. I'm now on the penultimate chapter, which is a bit surreal after all this intense drafting.

Oh, yes.  Revisions will be messy.  But aren't they always?  Wonderfully, incredibly, all-encompassingly messy.  And I love them.

Onward, writers!  Stay connected.  Stay present.  Know that you are part of a vibrant network.  You never know when your "like" or "heart" or grinning emoticon is going to give someone just the boost he needs.

Keep being you!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Submissions Are Now Open

Submissions for our TALKIN' HEADS round are now open.  They will remain open until 1 pm tomorrow, or until 30 entries are received--whichever comes first.  This is not a lottery.

The submission form is HERE.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Call For Submissions: Talkin' Heads

Our last Talkin' Heads round was in January--so let's have another one!

As I've said before, one of the weak spots I frequently notice in my editing work is dialogue.  It's important to write our characters' words in such a way that they sound natural--the way people really talk.  No paragraph-long chunks of text.  No overly-formal language (like forgetting to use contractions, which is how most of us speak).  And, for the love of everything chocolate, no coming up with seventy-eight different substitutions for the word said.

So here are the rules:
  • This critique round is for DIALOGUE-RICH PASSES ONLY.  As in, there should be ONLY A VERY LITTLE EXPOSITION, IF ANY.  (Beats and tags don't count as exposition.)
  • Submit a brief (1 to 2 sentences) lead-in, followed by your up-to-250-word excerpt.
  • PLEASE NOTE:  If your bit of dialogue is made up of fewer than 250 words, DON'T SEND MORE.  This exercise is about focusing on the believability and effectiveness of dialogue.  
  • All genres except erotica and erotic romance are welcomed.
  • Agented and unagented authors may submit.  (Just, if you're agented, make sure your agent doesn't mind.  Most won't.)
  • Please submit using THE WEB FORM.
  • The submission window will be open from 1 pm EDT on MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 19 until 1pm EDT TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, or until 30 entries have been received, whichever comes first. 
  • Entries will post on Thursday, SEPTEMBER 22, for public critique.
  • Please format as below (including italics):
Drake has just proposed to Philemonia, not realizing that his words would unleash the ancient curse upon her--the uncontrollable urge to scalp any man who dares suggest marriage.

Drake backed away, wide-eyed.  "All I said was--"

"Your hair.  I need it."

"My--is this a joke?"

Philemonia reached for her dagger.  "I have to do this."

"Do what?" Drake hit the wall behind him and realized he was trapped.

"It's...not personal."  Philemonia's eyes glazed.  "It's...I need your hair."

"Look, if you don't like the ring, I'll take it back."

"I love the ring."

She'd snapped.  Clearly.  "Keep it, then. Just...put the dagger down."

"Don't fight this."  Philemonia raised the dagger.  "You want it as much as I do."


Questions below.  :-)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday, mis amigos!

Well, the submissions are in, and now it's just a matter of, well, reading them.  There's a great variety of genres sitting in the pile, and it's going to be fun picking out the gems.

If you sent a submission yesterday, sit tight.  (This will take some time, as you know.)  WINNERS will be notified by email on Monday, November 7.

The 20 winning entries will post on Friday, November 11.  At this time, the agents (and lurking editors and authors) will start reading.  Also at this time, all readers may begin to leave feedback.  The actual auction is on Tuesday, November 15.

I'll post detailed information on everything when it's closer to the auction, so you'll know exactly how everything's going to work.  (And if you're super curious, just look at last year's ON THE BLOCK posts.  I'm pretty much running things exactly the same way this year.)

A big THANK YOU to everyone who submitted their work yesterday.  BRAVO for believing in yourself--and in your writing--enough to enter this contest.  And, yes, it does take bravery.  It's daunting enough to send out queries, which are read privately.  This contest gives each entrant the potential to have your excerpt read by hundreds of people.  That's no small thing!

(And, wow, just think how awesome it would be if hundreds of people actually LEFT CRITIQUE instead of just reading!  Yes, this is my first plug for drawing out the cautious lurkers.  Don't be afraid to leave a critique or two!  What you have to share is as valuable as the next person's.  IT REALLY IS.)

Anyway.  Thanks for entering.  All told, things ran very smoothly yesterday, due to the genius, hard work, and altruism of Michael Kato, who wrote, and continues to improve and trouble-shoot, our submission bot.  I'm not sure I would have had the fortitude to keep all the critiques and contests going over the past several years, if not for his hard work.  If you entered ON THE BLOCK yesterday (or, really, anything on the blog), why not take a moment to TWEET HIM A WORD OF THANKS? Trust me--the guy has worked really hard.

And there you have it.

As for me?  I'm at the toe-tingling starting edge of the climax of my WIP.  As in, ALMOST THERE.  Which is hard to believe, and not so hard to believe.  Making the 1000-words-a-day commitment ensures a steadily rising word count, and even though there are MESSES in there, I'll be ready to start my first round of revisions in October.


You know how long my journey has been.  You know that I, like you, have slogged through the ups and downs, wondering, at times, if I should simply walk away.  I've got to say that, for this entire year, the support and enthusiasm and incredible passion for my work that my agent, Danielle Burby, has offered has given me a new level of energy and determination.  Not only has she been working harder than humanly possible on behalf of my currently-on-submission project (for which she regularly expresses undying love), but also she has been an enduring cheerleader as I've written this new novel.  Even before I'd written a single word, she was swooning over the idea (and even chatting it up to an editor or two).

Seriously, who does that?  Danielle does!  And her enthusiasm and regular squeeing has kept me on track, because I know she's waiting to read it, and we're already a team on this new project, though it's still an unfinished WIP.  I also know that, once she reads it, she'll offer her incredible editorial eye and uncannily sharp ability to see the direction a story needs to take, and then the magic will truly begin.  I'm beyond grateful for her.  She's a rising star in the publishing world, for sure, and if you write what she loves, don't hesitate to query her.  I'm honored to be her client.

And I'm actually in tears now, which probably means I should wrap this up.  Whew!

All right, then.  I'm ready for a weekend of writing and Shakespeare and hopefully sushi.  See you all next week!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

ON THE BLOCK: Submissions This Thursday!


Are you ready?

I'm looking for ALL GENRES (except erotica and erotic romance).

I'm looking for MG, YA, and Adult* fiction.  (7 of our 14 participating agents represent adult fiction.)

I'm looking for GOOD WRITING.  It trumps everything.  It even trumps a really lame logline.

I can't stress enough how important the writing is.  There seems to be a perception out there that I somehow "favor" YA or science fiction or fantasy, because it's what I write.  Um, no.  I favor STRONG WRITING.  I don't care what genre I'm reading--if the voice sings, I'm hooked.

(Also?  Why would I choose a mediocre YA Fantasy submission over a breathtaking Adult Historical?  I've got 14 agents to impress, right? :) )

The submission form is HERE.

Submissions will open at 8 am EDT on Thursday, September 8, and will remain open until 10 pm EDT.  This should make it convenient for folks in any time zone to find a time to submit that isn't the middle of the night.

(It also ensures that I'm awake during the submission window, in case there are any issues.)


I've set the word count at 305 (to allow for sentence endings -- PLEASE DON'T END YOUR SUBMISSION IN THE MIDDLE OF A SENTENCE.)

50 words are allotted for the logline.  SHORTER IS BETTER.

The bot has no way to determine which part of your submission is the logline.  So, yanno, if you enter a 150-word logline and a 150-word excerpt, it'll go through.  But I won't be impressed.  So please keep your logline and excerpt within their respective word count parameters.

Still have questions?

READ THIS ON THE BLOCK PRIMER, which also contains links to other helpful blog posts.

Need to know something that doesn't seem to be covered anywhere else?  Ask your question here in the comment box!  I'll be checking regularly.

Yay!  Looking forward to seeing what you've got for me this year.

On your mark...get set...

*NA counts as Adult.  There is an "NA" choice on the web form, so your entry will be displayed as such.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Name That Genre -- WINNERS

Yes, there are 2.  Reason?  The number of votes on our winning entry was substantially higher than everyone else's, which might (or might not be) correlated to the fact that this post was at the top of the list of posts, visible first.

So in order to create a fairer playing field, I decided to also offer a prize to the person with the second highest number of correct votes.

Here are our winners:

#40 THE FALL OF TROY, YA Fantasy
#39 SWIM, YA Contemporary

Congratulations to you both!  To claim your free 5-page critique, please send the first 5 pages of your manuscript, double-spaced, to authoress.edits(at) as an attached .doc file.  Please put NAME THAT GENRE WINNER in the subject line.

To everyone:  Thanks again for making this a HUGE success!  We will definitely do this again.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback on what you learned, what was helpful, what was interesting, etc.  Please share below!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday Fricassee


Participation in our NAME THAT GENRE contest has been astounding.  Blogger logged over 4000 page views yesterday, and the comments are still pouring in this morning.  (So, okay.  I may need to clear a LOT of schedule to count up these guesses and determine the winner!)

Thanks for jumping in and contributing to the high energy around here.  And if yours is one of the entries, GOOD FOR YOU for being brave.  (I really mean that.  It takes courage to put our stuff out there.)

So I promised to announce the WINNER of the 30-page critique from Adam Heine, so here you go:


Congratulations, Michele!  I'll be sending you an email with submission instructions.

Next week:  SUBMISSION DAY for ON THE BLOCK 2016!  Which is sort of hard to believe.  The big question is: are you ready? :)  The submission window will be open on Thursday, September 8, from 8 am to 10 pm EDT.

Need more info?  FIND IT HERE.

As for me?  Bit of a rough week on my first-drafting.  I hit 60K words a couple days ago, which felt fabulous, but I'm in the midst of a messy section that I know is going to take a ton of work.  It was hard to push through, and I had to take a day last weekend to regroup and rework some things so that I could move forward.  I'm moving, but I'm not happy.

But then, you all know I love revising.  So if I can just get this slop finished, I can set my mind on the task of really making the story work.  My deadline is October 1, and, despite the setback, I'm still tracking to finish on time.

What "finished" will look like remains to be seen.  Because, ugh.  Seriously.

There you have it! I hope your own work is bringing you more satisfaction than angst.  (And if it's not, feel free to vent!  We all need to do that, for sure.)

Thanks again for being a part of this community.  (Whether you are silent or not-so-silence, you're part of this.  You count!)  Have a glorious week end.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Name That Genre: Guidelines

Welcome to our third-ever round of NAME THAT GENRE!


  1. First, GUESS THE GENRE.  Please be sure to write this FIRST in the comment box.
  2. Then, briefly mention why you feel the excerpt is this particular genre.
  3. There is no need to do a full critique on the entries!
  4. Did I mention that you need to WRITE YOUR GENRE GUESS FIRST? This will make it much easier for me to scroll down and count the votes.



It's obvious in the 2nd sentence that her husband is a cyborg, since she's reattaching his left leg.  Also she mentions she'll miss the transplanetary shuttle if she doesn't hurry.

Note:  If you can't guess, say so!


There is nothing in your opening paragraphs that gives me a sense of genre.  At first I thought it was historical, but then you mentioned a skateboard and something about a dragon, so...


1.  Yes, you may post guesses, too!
3.  ALSO IMPORTANT: You must leave a comment ON YOUR OWN POST telling us what the genre is.  DO NOT DO THIS UNTIL THE GUESSING PERIOD HAS ENDED.  You will then have 24 hours to return to the blog and give us your answer.

IF YOU DON'T LET ME KNOW WHAT THE GENRE IS, YOUR ENTRY WILL BE DISQUALIFIED.  I can't count winning guesses if I don't know what you've written!


The guessing window will close at 11:59 PM EDT ON FRIDAY.  Any guesses received after that time will not be counted toward the total.

Entrants, you will have until NOON EDT ON SUNDAY to post your genre in the comments of your entry.  I will post the winner next Monday.

Have fun!

Name That Genre #40


The flowers were as insubstantial as we were. They were gray, too, as gray as the rest of the landscape, and they whispered among themselves, the petals fluttering without wind, as if sharing secrets. But there were no secrets in the Asphodel Meadows, just as there was no color.
Only, sometimes—there was.

Time had little meaning here, but I marked it by his arrival. I saw the distant glow of him, the light of the living as he moved through the throngs of the dead. Other shades clamored around him, drawn like I was to the way he shone, the gold of his hair and the sword by his side. It was better and worse when he came, for my mind was clearer at the sight of him but the sharpness of it cut me in a way the numbness could not.

Name That Genre #39


The fall of my senior year in high school, my mother brought a kitchen knife into the bathtub with her.

She didn’t cut deep enough, not nearly, they said. But she’d been drinking, and she lost enough blood to pass out. Her head slipped under the water, and if her neighbor hadn’t found her, she would have drowned.

I wasn’t with her. No one was. My parents divorced when I was in seventh grade, and I moved away with my dad.

We sat in the hospital waiting room, my dad and I, soaking in our guilt.

They said that after Mom was released from the psychiatric ward, it might be a good idea for her not to be alone. My aunt Laura moved in with her for a while. But Aunt Laura couldn’t stay through the summer, on account of the fact that my cousins would be home from college.

Name That Genre #38


   Welsan was out of souls to sell. This was a problem, for two reasons. One: It meant he had no money. Two: It meant he had to stay in this hell-hole a little longer.

    The hell-hole in question was a resurrection hall, so well concealed that those who needed it most were hard pressed to find it. A dark barrow ribbed with subterranean vaults, it lay deep in the cleft of a sunken valley, far from disapproving eyes. Hoary trees hemmed it in, and choked its tunneling length with their roots. Unlike the reputable charnel houses governed by the Mortuary, the resurrection hall was a butchery. A purveyor of all things forbidden by Charnel Law, it was a desperate choice for those too poor to afford the last rites, and a coveted vendor for those willing to pay for dark desires in gold.

Name That Genre #37

TITLE: Secret
GENRE: YA Secret

            I’ve got my eye on a girl. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t even go there. It’s complicated. And oh yeah, in case you’re wondering—her name is Sophie.

           Sophie lives on a tree-lined street of mini-mansions, and hers is the least mini of them all. I’m not saying it’s a castle but really all that’s missing is the dragon. From my hiding place at the Buddhist temple across the street, it looks like I could drive my mom’s Rav4 right through their front door. When it finally opens, I half expect to see knights riding out, armored up and ready for battle.

            Sophie and her aunt and uncle step out onto the front porch. I lean forward in surprise. What the….? A dog’s standing with them. And not just any dog. It’s a Golden Retriever on steroids. Sophie’s holding a leash attached to a harness that encircles the beast’s massive body.

Name That Genre #36

TITLE: Secret
GENRE: YA Secret

As I climb Mount Halex, I look out at my beautiful village and wish I could save it.

I’ve explored nearly every part as a gatherer. The seaside shrubs that produce fruit, glowing with brilliant, sacred light. The same light that illuminates the forest at night. I’ve felt the thick presence of the gods’ magic, the looming fear of this gods-forsaken mountain. But I’ve never climbed it, gripping ropes for my life. I’ve never searched for the sacred zyca fruits.

Until now.

And all I can do is try to breathe through the suffocating cold, cursing as my best friend climbs next to me, her curly blond hair contained under a thick fur hat. Larah yelps with every pull upward. “I hate this.” Her breath is ragged, her voice even airier than normal. She seems so delicate here. Her small frame, small arms, small hands. Not many know her true power. Her true ferocity.

Name That Genre #35

TITLE: secret
GENRE: YA secret

I can’t be sure there is something hiding out here in the backyard, lying silently in wait for my sister and me. But I’m also not sure there isn’t. This terrible feeling of uncertainty burns inside me, striking my bones like flint and sparking dread.

I unclip my pajama bottoms from the line and shake out any squatting spiders, but I freeze mid-shake. The atmosphere closes in around me. A storm. There’s no denying the hum that prickles over my skin, hisses through the trees, and brews the air to a snapping point.

The urge to run inside to the pantry and hide out with the pickle jars overwhelms me, but no, not this time. Enough. The laundry isn’t going to collect itself. Besides, I'm too old to indulge these fears, to run and hide from thunder and rain, imaginary creatures, and faded but potent memories from thirteen years ago.

Name That Genre #34

TITLE: Secret
GENRE: MG Secret

"Emily is hitting me with that stupid shin bone, again." Oliver glared at his younger sister when she popped back up into her chair on the other side of the long dining table.

"Young lady!" Mother's stern disapproval swiveled from Emily to the skeleton drowning Mother’s flapjacks in syrup, and she pressed a fingertip beneath the pitcher to lift its edge. The Bones moved toward Emily's plate and Mother's stare followed, fixing on its original target. "Eat your breakfast."
Through the Bone's bare ribcage, Oliver saw Emily's head disappear once more below the table. With no one to stop the skeleton, syrup crawled over Emily’s eggs and sausages, encasing them in amber, like the resin-coated tarantulas in Father's study. Something cracked hard against Oliver's knee.

Emily scrambled back into her seat. Her tongue poked through the hole in her front teeth and her nose scrunched up at the bridge, "It's just a tiblia."

Name That Genre #33


A well-mannered Southern lady doesn’t eavesdrop—especially at her sister’s wedding reception—but I had no choice once I heard my name.

“It’s certainly not the best silhouette for Teresa, but we wanted the maid of honor’s dress to match the rest of the wedding party,” my mother said, oblivious to my presence behind her. “Of course, they hang better on the bridesmaids since they’re all slim. There’s only so much you can do with Teresa’s figure. That bustline is about the only thing she has going for her.”

I looked down at my chest where the sweetheart neckline revealed a hint of cleavage.

“I’m just glad her sleeves didn’t pop in the middle of the ceremony. Can you imagine? You must’ve noticed how snug they are.” She laughed, shaking her head, and her friends with their nipped-in waists and stiff bouffant hairstyles laughed right along with her.

Name That Genre #32

TITLE: Secret
GENRE: YA Secret

     The last sounds died away as the doors thudded shut. I glanced down the unfamiliar school hallway, my pulse racing. Loser, the voices whispered. My head spun as I shuffled along the tiled floor, my legs wobbling with each step. I needed to do this. Quickly. I slipped a hand inside my jeans pocket and pushed open the girls’ bathroom door with the other. My heart stopped.

   Two girls leaned over the sinks. “Shouldn’t you be in class?” asked one of the girls, touching up her mascara. Petite, with long white-blonde hair, and dressed in a tank top and micro-mini, she turned, looking me up and down. “You must be new here.” She screwed up her face. “Geesh, how tall are you, like, six feet?”

    I froze, clutching the penknife in my pocket, and glanced away. Just leave me alone.
    “C’mon, Jess, let’s go,” said the girl’s friend, smacking her freshly glossed lips together.

Name That Genre #31

TITLE: Secret
GENRE: MG Secret

I saw Death during the half-time show.

While I blasted the same series of half notes on my trombone over and over, I got my first real view of the thing that's been haunting me since I turned six.

It was as tall as my dad, but too skinny to be human. Solid black fog in constant motion. A glossy black oval face with no features was tucked within a heavily hooded swirling cloak, but I swear, it stared straight at me.

Nobody else noticed.

The monster hovered on the stairs next to Ms. Schmidt and an older gentleman wearing a black bowler hat. Odd, I’d never seen her at a football game before. As far as I knew, Ms. Schmidt didn't have any children or grandchildren.

The band exited the field and Mr. Washington released us for our Third Quarter break. I dashed to where Death had been, but it had vanished.

Name That Genre #30

TITLE: Secret
GENRE: Adult Secret

Jerril Menkaure crouched outside the locked door her brother had strictly ordered her to stay away from. Her goyle stood in front of her, ears flattened against his head and a ring of cast-iron keys clutched to his chest. In his hard, dark eyes, the reflection of candle flames flickered.

"Come on, G. Hand them over." Jerril's electric blue nail polish gave off little sparks as she reached for the keys.

The goyle spread his leathery wings and hopped backwards, letting out a string of harsh, staccato chirps.

"No, it's not a bad idea."

G's wings unfurled a little further. Careful, Jerril thought. She didn't want to upset him so much he flew off to some distant corner of the castle. "Nothing terrible happened when you used the keys to break me out of my bedroom, did it?"

Name That Genre #29


Nora’s heart lifted at the sight of the Abbey Church of Fontevraud. The thick arches and black, scaly roof squatted like a mushroom on the bright lawn of the medieval abbey. Its plain, whitewashed beauty reached into her imagination and turned up the corners of her mouth. Five years ago on this day, her mother had visited this church — back when her mother still lived and breathed and kissed Nora’s forehead before leaving the house. Even if the church wasn’t already beautiful, Nora would have loved it just for that reason.

She closed her eyes against the afternoon sun. Releasing the clip that held her thick hair eased some of her tension, and she sighed as the tangled waves fell to her shoulders. The migraine had started when her class arrived in the Loire Valley and had intensified over the days leading to Fontevraud, or maybe the pressure finally got to her.

Name That Genre #28

TITLE: secret
GENRE: YA secret

I hear my name, Maya, softly spoken.

"Beck?" I can't see him. I can't see the portals lining the chamber's perimeter. I can't see a hint of the hatchway or the slightest fizzle of electricity. I hold my hands in front of my face. Nothing. It's coffin dark.

We ping our names like radar against the black. It's a relief to find him, an amazing, unexpected comfort. He wraps his arms around my waist, pulling my back to his chest. "Until we know what's going on," he breathes into my ear, "don't move."

A girl yells, "My cell doesn't work!" Others say, "Mine doesn't either." A guy bumps against my shoulder. "Evvie?" he asks.

"I'm Maya," I say. Beck's arms tighten around me.

Clicking noises pierce the dark. We freeze, whispering, "What should we do?" The clicking continues, the sound of it wheeling over us like gulls over water.