Wednesday, November 29, 2017

WHAT ARE THEY UP TO NOW? Featuring Piper J. Drake

Today's author: PIPER J. DRAKE

Here is Piper's ORIGINAL ENTRY ON THE BLOG (entered as PJ Schnyder) from an August, 2009 Secret Agent Contest featuring Emmanuelle Alspaugh Morgen. And here is the WINNERS POST from that contest.



1. What role did your participation in a Miss Snark's First Victim contest or critique round play in your ultimate success as an author?

Ms. Alspaugh provided valuable constructive feedback in follow-up to my 1st runner up win and 30 page request. The novel, Heart's Sentinel, was written as PJ Schnyder and became my first sale to Decadent Publishing. It went on to publish in both digital and print formats.

Participation in the Miss Snark's First Victim community helped me to receive constructive feedback. It helped me learn to pick out recommendations or critiques that resonated with my intent for my book and incorporate them. This skill has served me well for every book I've written since.

Now, I still participate in contests and critique rounds when I can because I strongly believe in paying it forward and I also believe the more we provide good critiques, the better we are at self editing our own work.

2. Tell us what your journey has looked like from your MSFV Success Story until now.

As PJ Schnyder, I went on to sell more paranormal romance and science fiction romance to Decadent Publishing and Carina Press, a Harlequin digital-first publishing company. I also co-wrote The Ministry Initiative steampunk role playing game and short stories for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. My books went on to win the Golden Leaf and the PRISM awards and my podcast of A Swan in Siam won the Parsec Award as part of the Tales from the Archive Vol 2.

In 2014, I was asked to reboot as Piper J. Drake, writing romantic suspense. It took a lot of courage and careful planning, which paid off in the form of a 3-book digital deal with Carina Press and then a 3-book print deal with Hachette Group, Grand Central Publishing's Forever imprint.

My True Heroes series made the Nielson Book Scan bestselling lists and has been featured two years in a row as a success in my genre by Nielson at their book summit. In 2016, I signed another 3-book print deal to continue the True Heroes series.

My digital format Safeguard series with Carina Press has been chosen for Harlequin's Direct To Consumer program and will be available in print from online retailers starting in January 2018.

While I plan to continue to write bestselling romantic suspense, I am also working on science fiction and fantasy while I plan for the right time to bring those stories back into my brand.

3. What has been the best part of your experience as an author? What has been most difficult/challenging?

Best Part: Seeing my books out there for readers to enjoy never gets old. It is my joy.

Most Difficult/Challenging: Balancing my writing schedule with my very demanding day job has been incredibly difficult. The biggest challenge is maintaining the balance because I love both my writing career and my day job career. I could not do either one nearly as well without the other.

4. What's your latest offering, and where can we find it?

From my True Heroes series, Absolute Trust is available online and in bookstores.

From my Safeguard series, Contracted Defense is available online at e-retailers everywhere.

5. Please leave us with some words of wisdom for all aspiring authors.

I've given this advice consistently for years and I still believe in it wholeheartedly: Surround yourself with nifty people who continually inspire you and challenge you to continue to do the next nifty thing.

Monday, November 27, 2017

One Young Writer

My niece will be 14 next month.  She lives and breathes ballet, and I'm thrilled that she is now studying at the School of Nashville Ballet.  She's also a gifted baker, a dependable childcare giver, a decent photographer (photo cred for the pointe shoe shot) and a lovely young woman.

And she writes.

Writing is one of her more recent pursuits, but like everything in her life, she isn't going at it halfway.  I knew she'd begun writing, but even her mom wasn't allowed to see anything she'd written.  When my grown daughters both shared with me that their cousin had let them read some of her stuff, I was determined to dig my little claws loving fingers in.

Fortunately, she bent, and shared with me the first chapter of her WIP.  To say that I felt honored is an understatement; garnering the trust of a 13-year-old is no small thing.  We all feel a bit "undressed" the first time someone reads our work, yes?  And these emotions are especially heightened in the young teen years.

You can tell my niece has what it takes.  And you can tell that she has read a lot of books.  Truth:  reading lots of books really does affect the depth and quality of your writing.  If you aspire to be an author but you never take the time to read novels, then you will never truly become the writer you want to be.  So, yes, my niece's reading habits are reflected nicely in her writing.

Her setting is historical--the "prairie" years of the United States--and she already has a great sense of how to create tension.  Is she ready to query agents?  Of course not.  Her work is raw, young, undeveloped. But SHE IS WRITING.  Her characters have emotion and believability.  She instinctually knew that she needed to create an inciting event that would propel her protagonist into the story arc.  With an instinct like that, this girl will go places.

Here's what struck me most of all:


What 13-year-old does this?  As soon as I saw this photo on her Instagram, I knew I wanted to write a blog post about my niece.  When I was 13, I had lots of story ideas that I started to write, but never finished.  I didn't even know what it meant to "plot a story".  Thanks to the Internet and the wealth of resources out there for writers, my niece is already way ahead of the game.

This is very much her personality as well, so I'm not completely surprised to find that she works out her stories so meticulously.  But still.  SHE'S 13.

I don't know.  Maybe I was just a slacker, but I find this attention to detail extraordinary at this age.

(Yeah, I'm doting a bit.  But I never gush about things that don't truly inspire me, so it's not blind dotage, I assure you!)

She's even got the find-a-pleasant-spot-to-write thing down.  This is a "work station" on the back deck of her home.  I'm pretty sure I'll be having coffee/writing dates with this gal at some point!

I love--I absolutely love--to fan the flames of passion in young people who write (or who do anything else that I also do, like music).  If anything reaffirms my own undying devotion to the art of writing, it's finding and affirming that same flame in someone less one third my age.  I'm so delighted to see my niece wholeheartedly pursuing this!

Need a pick-me-up?  Find a young writer and pour yourself into them.  You'll both benefit!  And you may just find yourself squealing and doting over someone with a fresh mind and an eager pen who wants, perhaps, to be just a little bit like you.

You have much to give, dear writers.  Go forth and give it!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Drop the Needle: Critique Guidelines

Okay, folks, here we go!  Let's see how well we do with sexual tension.

(There are 11 entries instead of 10 because several people ran into technical difficulties while trying to enter.  I took their entries and put them in manually, and since there were fewer than 10 entries this time, I just took everyone's.  I mean, why leave out one person? :) )

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.*
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 3 other entries.

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

Drop the Needle #11

Title: Rewriting History
Adult Contemporary Romance

Camilla and Ellis meet again after an errant kiss and a two-year separation.

Camilla reached for her wallet to pay for a much-needed cup of tea. Only her bag wasn't there.


“How about you add her order to mine? I’ll take a cappuccino, please.”

Ellis Jones materialized at her elbow pushing a crisp twenty across the counter. She swallowed hard while her stomach did a little flip.

“Thank you. Again. Seems you’re destined to come to my aid.”

Ellis nodded. “Was it sprained?” He peered at her sock-covered foot. Under his gaze, each of the Hello Kitties scattered across the toe seemed to shrivel up from embarrassment. She wanted to do the same.


They moved away from the counter. Ellis slowed to match her hobbled gait.

“I’m Ellis, by the way.” His eyes were even bluer than she remembered.

“Camilla Tanner.” She watched his face carefully but the expression never changed. Something in her sank a little. He didn’t remember.

“Where are you headed?”

“I have a Public Policy presentation in a half-hour.”

A tapping overhead drew their attention. A frantic Sunny leaned over the railing tapping his wrist. ‘Hurry up,’ he mouthed.

“Team member,” Camilla added in explanation. “If I don’t hurry, there’ll be fighting over the slide fonts again.”

“Never underestimate the power of a good font.”

“Ah, but which one? Arial or Calibri?”

“No contest. I’m an economist, we scoff at Calibri.”

She swore his lips quirked. Oh, two could play this game.

“Really?" She tilted her head. "I’m more of a Baskerville girl myself.”

“Baskerville? As in hounds?” Ellis laughed, and she nearly melted. “That’s not a real font. You’re joking.”

“It is!” She grinned and tucked her hair behind her ear. “But, I am.”

Wide-eyed and smiling, he looked so boyish. And adorable. Camilla stared at the floor to hide her s***-eating grin.

Drop the Needle #10

Young Adult Fantasy

Reina and Quinn’s group has just escaped a surprise attack as they traveled through a mountain pass. After hard riding, they have set up camp for the night. Quinn and another companion have suffered mild wounds and Reina, as Healer, is tending to Quinn. 

I continued to hold the cloth to Quinn’s face as my eyes fell upon the dark stains on his tunic.

Finally, I asked, “What happened? To what chaos did we leave you?”

Quinn did not immediately respond. Instead, he reached a warm hand up, closing it gently over mine as he pulled it down and cradled my palm in his.

“Do not ask to know the details of death, Reina,” he said, his eyes dark.

I opened my mouth to reply, but was unable to find a suitable response. Did he think me too weak to hear of death? Did he think I’d never seen it myself? It was true that most of my experiences with death were due to illness and old age, but I had seen blood, I had seen pain, and I knew what waited in the end.

“Ah, settle, Reina,” he said upon seeing the fight in my eyes. “’Twas not an insult against you.”

I did not hesitate this time. “What am I to think?”

He covered my hand with both of his, rubbing a calloused thumb lightly against my palm. “You’ve too much life within you to hear of death. I would sooner steal the song from the meadowlark than dampen your light with talk of darkness.”

Wide-eyed, I found my lungs reluctant to fill with air. “What talk is this?” I managed in a whisper.

Quinn dropped my hand.

“Antony,” he said loudly. “You’ve a wounded arm. Let Moreina tend to you.”

Drop the Needle #9

Title: Will Not Fade Away
Adult Women's Fiction

 A.J.(Audrey Jane) met Reid while on her journey cross-country to locate her missing son after a volcanic eruption. Reid is a mysterious man fighting his own past demons. A.J. is on the road of healing, while juggling widowhood and parenthood to an autistic child. They’re sharing a hotel room at this stop. Reid wakes from a nightmare. He lifted our locked hands and placed one on his chest.

Dear God.

Perhaps it was my need for soulful resuscitation and human intimacy. Perhaps it was my vulnerability. Or perhaps I liked him.

…a man who had proven himself enough to earn a ticket on our trip…a kindred spirit who had wiggled his way into my heart the slightest…an attractive man who stirred my once dusty desires off and brought them bursting to the surface…

He pulled me toward him, and I allowed it. His kiss was warm, heavy, and slow. It was g****** intoxicating and I drank it in like a parched desert cactus. The stubble on his chin brushed my face. Tender lips caressed mine in a simple, sexy, non-intrusive way. Our hands remained interlaced, one set on his cheek, one set on his heart. God, oh, how I had forgotten what desire was like. His mouth was inviting and stirred me.

He removed his hand from mine on his cheek and drew it to the base of my head, urging me closer for a deeper kiss. His touch tickled the fine hairs on the nape of my neck. He tasted like chocolate and sleep. Before it went too far, he pulled away and stared at me, only inches from my face, dark eyes swirling with sentiment, a slight smirk upon his lips. I exhaled. He held my gaze for a long could-hear-the-clock-ticking-in-my-head moment, and then he fell on his pillow, closed his eyes, and was asleep.

Drop the Needle #8

TITLE: One of the Lucky Ones
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Annie and Liz are teens getting ready for a night out, who don't quite realize theyre in a friends-to-lovers story, yet. Annie is going to wake up in the middle of the night tonight and figure it out, which will make everything a lot worse (for a while).

Liz was sitting in the living room when I came down. As I descended the stairs (slowly, because heels) she rose and just stood there, watching me. When I reached the bottom she came to meet me in the front hall, with a look in her eyes I couldn't read. Whatever it was, it affected my breathing.

She reached out a hand, but dropped it halfway. "You look amazing."

"Thank you." I couldn't tear my eyes away from her.

"Let's check us out." She opened the hall closet, exposing the full length mirror attached to the inside of the door, and we stood side by side. She shook her head. "The mirror's not wide enough." She took a step back and moved partway behind me, so her head was over my shoulder. She rested her hand on the small of my back.

I turned so I was angled in and we made a sort of "v." This meant that her next words, "You're beautiful," were breathed into my ear. I got chills all the way down my back and to my toes, and a growing warmth everywhere else. The contrast was startling and highly distracting, as was the hand gliding across my back and around my waist. I locked eyes with her reflection and felt myself lean back into her arms.

With what was left of my breath I whispered, "So are you." Whatever I might have said or thought next, if anything, was interrupted by Dad's voice.

Drop the Needle #7

TITLE: Sugar Bea
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Though my mouth gets the Sahara dry feeling again, I push past it and the fear of an Amy Shumacker moment. “Would you like to eat with me?”

She looks around the mostly empty restaurant. “Aren’t you closed?”

I stare down at my boots and then force myself to look back at her. “Yes. But I meant like on a date?”
Is that even a thing? Going on a date?

“When?” She taps the top of her cello case.

But she doesn’t seem to care one way or the other if I call it a date. “Now. How about now?”

“Where’re we going? It’s pretty late.”

“I could make you something…” I swallow. No. This isn’t really how I want our first date to go. “Wait. Can I start over? What are you doing next Sunday?”

She smiles.



“Good. I’d like to take you on a date.”

She slides one finger over the top of the case. “There’s nothing wrong with a Sunday date, but couldn’t we do something Saturday night?”

Ugh. “Yes and no. I kinda have to work, but maybe we could go somewhere after I get off?”

Holland pushes the cello back and forth. “Well I kind of thought maybe you’d cook some of those mac and cheese balls for me.”

It’d be so much better if I could cook for her at my house. But Momma prevents that from happening. I step closer to her, catching her scent when she leans against her case.

Drop the Needle #6

GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Only two days until the (flying) motorcycle race in Tokyo, a group of racers spend the evening doing karaoke. Hiroki doesn’t know that Aya is a thief and has stolen from him.

Cushioned seats lined the perimeter of the private room and a large screen displayed the song options. Minutes later Ji-ho was doing an amazing impression of a Korean singer. She handed the remote to me next, but I passed. I didn’t know any of the songs, nor did I need the added embarrassment of singing in public. Then Yumi Sasakawa sang a Disney song I vaguely knew, complete with hand motions.

Hiroki volunteered, as Waku was very occupied devouring a sushi roll. He grabbed the remote, a small smile played at the corner of his mouth. I forced myself to look away from him.

Hiroki started singing.

I tried not to look at him. I felt embarrassed for him, as if everyone would be looking at how I was taking his song choice, which was a romantic song about finding true love among the stars. His voice wasn’t great, but it was soothing and he belted out the song with an enthusiasm none of the previous singers had attempted. I kept my eyes glued on the food and tried to remember how much I looked at Li Min while she was singing so I could look at Hiroki the exact same number of times.

Finally, with a low warble he finished the song. Yumi, Li Min and Waku cheered and clapped as Hiroki took a dramatic bow. Then I glanced at him. As he stood back up our eyes met and I couldn’t breathe. He gave me a small smile before going to sit down and I realized with a start that I was in love with him.

 Wow, Aya, bad timing.

Drop the Needle #5

TITLE: Ravenseele
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Ashlynn has accepted a bounty to kill a monster. When the other mercenaries turn on her, Van, a stranger, steps in to fight at her side. Together they don’t just dispatch their attackers, but the monster as well.
Later, Ashlynn’s tutor, a talented mage shows up. Van conveniently disappears. When he reappears he questions Ashlynn about her magic and her tutor.

“The Thorn,” Ashlynn clarifies. “He’s a tutor. Nothing more.”
Van’s expression is too cheerful—disbelieving.
Ashlynn stretches her stiff arms. “The magic you saw were merely tricks. My real talent is with a blade.”
“In this particular instance, you’re being a tad modest. Those were not mere tricks.”
She smirks. “Is that a compliment?”
Van taps her steel arm. “And this?”
“Strong motivation to master those tricks.”
“A wizard did that to you.” Van crouches low to pull at something in the grass.
Ashlynn is grateful to be rid of his searching eyes. She swallows her dread. “…And a wizard prevented it from taking my life.”
When Van stands, there’s a pink flower between his fingertips. “This wizard who cursed your arm, was he by chance…known as the Alchemist? A mage obsessed with metals?”
Ashlynn’s world begins to tilt. “H-how did you guess?” How does he know a thing about mages? She wonders.
Van extends the flower. When Ashlynn reaches for it, he steps playfully backward, his smile as delicate as the breeze across Ashlynn’s skin.
She darts after it like a provoked child, but he has fooled her. It takes him just a half a step forward for them to converge like lovers joining a dance.
Ashlynn breathes in his honey-cypress scent as he tucks the flower behind her ear.
“I hate to tell you these things,” Van whispers.
Ashlynn can see nothing but rain-colored eyes and lashes made of gold.
“But the Alchemist and the Thorn were friends.”

Drop the Needle #4

TITLE: The Shoemaker's Daughter
GENRE: YA Retelling


Retelling of the twelve dancing princesses. The oldest princess has come to give the soldier a goblet of wine.



She pulled her fingers back to be certain his did not touch hers.

“You say you’re a Samson,” she challenged.

“You are the Delilah aren’t you?”

The abrasion of his words made her flinch.  He saw her as she had been in the library.  Yet in that moment the firmness returned.  Her eyes fixed upon the goblet.

Hesitation would cause suspicion.  Without thought, he took a gulp.   Immediately he was gagging in realization that he was killing himself.  He spit, wiping his sleeve across his mouth.  With horror, he looked at the princess.  He had spewed all over her.  Liquid dribbled down her face like tears.  He knew she was not crying although her chin trembled.  Ignoring his impulse, he stiffly offered a handkerchief.  She jerked away from him.

He couldn’t restrain himself, despite her fury.  He was beside her, grasping her shoulder and wiping her face as one would a messy toddler, gently pushing her hair back as he wiped it dry.  She didn’t struggle but stood rigid.  He traced the contours of her face with the handkerchief.  He had been intent on his task but now done, he looked at her.  He sensed her breath, the rise and fall of her shoulders, felt her warmth.  He released her.  She fell away from him, backing into the princesses who had gathered, drawn to the commotion.

Now he felt fresh humiliation.  He’d made a spectacle in front of so many.  This was not the place for emotion.  That was dangerous.

Drop the Needle #3

TITLE: The Guesser - Book One in the Hangman Series
GENRE: YA Dystopian, Romance, Adventure

Hangman hangings take place around the world. Jason is a Guesser. Maydah is a Hanger. They are old friends who have reunited after a tragedy, and now are fated for love and death. Jason attends his first high school party - for Maydah’s 17th birthday. Haley and Justin are Maydah’s friends. Can Jason handle the heat on the dance floor?

I’m standing still in a sea of moving bodies. Haley hip checks me into Maydah. It breaks her dancing reverie.

“Ow!” Maydah mocks fake pain.

Haley laughs and pulls Justin closer.

“I’m sorry, someone bumped into me,” I yell.

Thankfully the DJ mixes a change in the music.

“Of course - a slow song,” I turn to leave, but Maydah grabs my shoulder.

“Get over yourself, Jason. Just-” she takes my hands and puts them on her hips, then she wraps her arms around my neck. She smells like strawberries and beer. “There. See? Not so bad.”

She hiccups. Rests her head on my shoulder.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“Divine!” she slurs. Then she whips her head back. “Dip me!”

I barely catch her before she falls. Her body fits with mine. I like the feeling of her in my arms.
She swings her head back up and I dodge it by a hair. “You’re a dancer! A good one!” she claps her eyelashes together, and leans her head back on my shoulder.

I try to move my feet to the music but I’m basically carrying Maydah’s full weight as she leans into me, so it’s a bit of a challenge. For all of me.

“Jason?” Maydah lifts her head. Her eyes are watery. The fleck is small, but there.


“Jason…I don’t-” she parts her glistening lips, then covers them with her hands but her fingers don’t stop the puke that spews through. Onto my neck and shirt.

Drop the Needle #2

TITLE: A Terrible Thing
GENRE: Adult Horror

Walter finds his best friend Ellyn at the top of her homemade rock-climbing wall. He’s afraid of heights, but he’s more afraid of staying put.

He was sweating within the first ten feet. Like he’d hit the halfway point of a marathon in the dead of summer, his clothes were positively sticky. The wind blew harder twenty feet up than it had on solid ground, though he doubted that explained why his arms and legs shook the way they did. It would have been easier if he’d been able to put any weight on his right foot, but a lot of things would have been easier had he not had a reason to hop into bed with Oliver.

Ellyn hollered down encouragements, but at thirty feet, forty feet, Walter’s head swam too much, his heart crashed too hard to give her the attention she deserved. Then a hand grabbed his. Calloused and chalky, a rush of sweet warmth swept through him, and he pulled himself up and over the wall, flopped down onto the plywood floor. She rolled him over and pulled his head into her lap. She rubbed her hands through his hair, laughing.

“God, you are so gross!”

He smiled weakly. She returned it with a grin, only she was looking at him upside down.

“Still tough to believe people pay to do that.” His heart continued to va-boom, but he expected that when he was with Ellyn McAdams. But he did not expect her to kiss him. Soft at first, but then harder, more urgent, and now he was off his back and she was on hers. She tapped him on the arm. He stopped.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Lenny’s inside.”

Drop the Needle #1

TITLE: In This Fateful Hour
GENRE: YA Supernatural

If Marielle believes the rumors about Lucca, she should stay as far away from him as she can. If she believes the half-remembered tales her dad used to tell her of angels and demons, she should stay even further away. But she can't seem to stay away from him at all. And she doesn't want to.

   Suddenly the car was too small, the air too stuffy. I got out, sucking in the fresh air. The cold stung, freezing my lungs. It felt good.
   The front door opened, creaking in the cold, and Lucca emerged. He pulled the door closed behind him and stuffed his hands in his pockets as he shuffled toward me through the snow. He stopped a few feet away and considered me. He must have known better than to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ No sunglasses today. He trapped my eyes with his.
    I held my breath while my heart thumped against my ribs. His eyes softened, releasing me. He moved closer. My back pressed against the car.
    The truth my dad wanted me to take on faith might have stormed away angry yesterday, or he might be standing so close I could feel his breath on my skin.
    “Who are you?”
    Lucca rested his hands on the roof of the car on either side of me and bowed his head. All I could see of his eyes were their white lashes.
    “I don’t know anymore. I look in your eyes and see your soul and I am utterly undone.”
    “What does that mean?” My voice was a whisper. Utterly undone.
    “It means I should leave.”
    “What happens if you don’t leave?”
    “I’m more afraid of what happens if I do.” His warm breath melted the tears stinging my cheeks.
    Sunlight trickled into the clearing through high clouds. Lucca’s white hair shone, his pale eyes sparkled.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

WHAT ARE THEY UP TO NOW? Featuring Helene Dunbar

Today's author: HELENE DUNBAR


Here is Helene's SUCCESS STORY PAGE.


1. What role did your participation in a Miss Snark's First Victim contest or critique round play in your ultimate success as an author?

Since I began writing fiction in such a tentative way, I’m not sure that, at the time, I really believed in my dream enough to keep plugging away without some sort of validation. Looking back, this was a short-sighted attitude ☺

In effect, participating in this content and receiving such wonderful feedback and THEN hooking an agent, was just the kick in the butt I needed to take this writing thing seriously.

2. Tell us what your journey has looked like from your MSFV Success Story until now.

I’m not sure there is enough server space on Authoress’s site, but….I’m now on agent #4. My “perfect” agent. The agent I will cling to as long as she’ll let me. ☺

Although we subbed Ghostlight (which became What Remains) to start, Melissa and I sold These Gentle Wounds first. Flux actually bought both books and pubbed them out of the order in which I’d written them.

The next manuscript I wrote, BOOMERANG, is pubbing in March 2018 by Sky Pony. I was able to pour years of writing experience into that book in a way I wasn’t able to with my first two. It is truly the book of my heart.

PRELUDE FOR LOST SOULS, a kind of contemporary-reading paranormal about kids living in a town of mediums, was recently bought by SourceBooks and is scheduled to release in August 2019 with a sequel to follow in 2020.

3. What has been the best part of your experience as an author? What has been most difficult/challenging?

BY FAR, readers are the best part of the experience. Hearing that a reader connected with, and were even helped by, these stories and characters makes all the blood, sweat, and tears worth it.

For me, the most challenging part has been the isolation. Writing can be very solitary and although my writing friends are all located elsewhere, they have been my lifelines. My CP, Beth Hull, and I actually met because we were both Authoress winners so thank you for that as well.

4. What's your latest offering, and where can we find it?

BOOMERANG is the story of a boy who returns to his home town after having gone missing for five years. Everyone thinks he was kidnapped, but that isn’t the true story, so he has to wrestle with the weight of everyone’s assumptions.

More, he has actually spent his time away in a place he felt was near to perfect and in a massively complicated relationship with the boy who is living next door and is in a precarious situation himself.

It’s a story about love and self-acceptance and the grey areas of life.

Here is the Goodreads link and it’s up for presale in all the usual places as well.

5. Please leave us with some words of wisdom for all aspiring authors.

The one thing I always tell aspiring authors is this: Don’t let anyone tell you what your writing process should look like. I assumed I couldn’t write fiction because I am incapable of outlining and don’t always have time to write every day and all of the other stuff the internet tells you that you MUST do. My own process breaks so many of the expected rules, but it works for me and at the end of the day, that’s all the matters. Listen to your gut.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Call For Submissions--Drop the Needle

It's been a while, and also we've got new fellow writers (hey, there!) who may need to know what "drop the needle" means.

So.  Basically, it's a term from my days as a music major.  "Drop the needle" refers to a professor's literally dropping the needle of a record player anywhere on the album, so that it would start playing in the middle of piece.  The goal, of course, is for the student to recognize the piece (and only mean professors actually did this; decent ones started the pieces at the beginning of a movement).

Our version of Drop the Needle is to share an excerpt from the middle of your novel.  It's hard to drop folks into a story without any idea of what's going on, though, so an important part of this is to include a sentence or two that lets us know where we are and who your characters are.

For example:

Casey and Benevolence have just escaped from a refrigerated boxcar and are lying on the top of a moving train.  If they don't find some way to get off before the train arrives at its destination, they will be in big trouble.

And after your delightful lead-in, you'll share 250 words for public critique.


This week's Drop the Needle round will focus on SEXUAL TENSION.


Now -- LISTEN VERY CAREFULLY, PLEASE!  Sexual tension DOES NOT EQUAL "sex scene".  It doesn't even necessarily involve kissing or anything overtly romantic.  The best sort of sexual tension is that which makes our readers long for these two characters to get together.  And a long, slow burn will keep our readers engaged until it finally happens.

Fingers accidentally brushing.

A glance held a second too long.

A heartbeat that hitches when someone enters the room.

You get the idea.

So send me a scene in which you're trying to build sexual tension between characters who are destined to be together.

  • Submissions will open TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 14 (tomorrow) at NOON EST, and will end at 8:00 PM EST.
  • THIS WILL BE A LOTTERY.  The bot will randomly choose 10 entries after submissions have closed.  These 10 entries will post to the blog on THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 16 for public critique.
  • Your entry must include a brief lead-in and your 250-word excerpt (total max word count 310).
  • Submit your entry HERE.
  • All genres except erotica and erotic romance will be accepted.
Post your questions below!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Fricassee

This post is about you.

It's not that I didn't expect you to be happy for me when I announced my book deal.  Some of you have been around for a long time (a few of you date all the way back to the birth of this blog over 9 years ago!).  Many of you have been consistently supportive and encouraging, and so loyal. 

So, yes, I figured my news would make you happy.

But, wow.

The outpouring on Wednesday was beyond what I imagined.  I've never--truly never--received that level of good will, congratulations, and heartfelt sharing of my own happiness.  Some of you said you had tears in your eyes.  One person said "I got chills". 

Really?  Tears and chills over someone you've never met?  I AM BLOWN AWAY.

I spent most of the day reading everything and making an effort to thank each of you individually for your kind words.  Other than one load of laundry, driving my daughter to ballet, and getting through 8 chapters of a final manuscript read, I got nothing done.  Didn't even cook supper!  It was just me and my littlest that night, so I picked up a sub sandwich for us to split. 

And then I spent the evening reading more wonderful words of congratulations and affirmation.

The comments left here on the blog are the only ones I didn't respond individually to, so let me take this moment to thank each of you for your kind words.  Each comment means so much to me.

For those of you familiar with the five Love Languages, mine is Words of Affirmation.  So you can imagine how much deeper and more meaningful this sort of outpouring is for someone like me.  I spent a large percentage of my day with my hand pressed against my mouth, and I also caught myself saying, "Oh, my" and "Oh, my goodness" throughout the day, whether or not I was reading something at that particular moment.

I guess I really want you all to know how PROFOUNDLY moved I am by your sincere kindness and celebratory spirit.

Want to see the icing on my cupcake?

Shortly before I went to bed, this appeared on my Facebook timeline:

To...Jillian Boehme--agents past and present salute you! We are so proud of you. #BookDeal

(In case you're not sure, that's my agent Danielle Burby and my ex-agent Josh Getzler.  Josh posted this.)

I may have had tears in my eyes.  And I might even have put this photo on my desktop.  I don't even have enough words to express how much this means to me.

How could a gal possibly be more blessed?

So, once more, to all of you--thank you.  You've enriched my life and brought me to my knees with your outpouring of kindness and love.

And let me just say that I am beyond excited to work with Elayne Becker at Tor Teen!  I'll gush about all that another day.  For now, I'll take a few deeps breaths and stop saying thank you.  I just wanted you all to know how deeply your words have affected me.

I'm grateful, as always, that we are on this journey together!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

My Biggest Announcement Ever

You've walked with me through a large chunk of my 12-year writing journey.  Some of you have followed this blog from its inception, and some of you came along a bit later, but you've all BEEN HERE in one way or another.  That's why I'm certain you'll share my joy at the following:

I have nothing to add.  I am utterly OVER THE MOON.

That smile?  Completely genuine.  I asked my lovely daughter for an Author Photo Shoot, and smiles have never come so easily.  (A lot of it had to do with the fact that she's a fabulous photographer and makes you feel like a model during the shoot!  But I may also have had an inordinately large store of inner glee.  Because BOOK SALE!)

I can't even call this a Cinderella story, because she didn't have to wait TWELVE YEARS for her dreams to come true.

Thank you for sharing this moment with me!  And oh, my dearest writerly comrades--KEEP PURSUING YOUR DREAMS!  Because if after 12 years I can finally say I've made it, then ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Absolutely anything!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Real Story, Part 3

(Read Part 2 HERE.)

It took me three days to get my head around the edit suggestion.  Then I dug in and made the change, and it was the hardest edit I'd ever had to do.  Turns out, though, that Danielle and Josh were right--the story ended up so much stronger once I made the sex change.  (And Danielle and I still joke about it.)

In February, 2014, we went on submission with the YA science fiction.  This was our fourth attempt to sell a book, and by now my cynicism was fairly high.  Countless aspiring authors I'd met online had long since published their debuts, while I sat on the bench.  Sometimes it got really hard.  Sometimes I had to dig deep inside myself to find the words to continue to encourage other writers.

But God always gave me the grace to keep going.  And since the opposite of that is quitting, there was no other option for me.

I'm not a quitter.

On my birthday with Lucy, fairest kitty of all

The long writerly journey was taking a toll, though, and in August I decided to take an honest-to-goodness writing break, something I'd never done before.  By this time, my Authoress Edits business was thriving, so I had a ton of work from clients to wade through.  Between that and the upcoming Baker's Dozen, I was definitely busy.  But I did not write.  

Which gave me time to do other things.  Like prepare a Hobbit Dinner with my beloved daughter.

By September, I was already well into planning my next story, so the break obviously did me a lot of good. I had also done, by now, a complete reboot of my original YA dystopian (that Josh signed me on) as a straight-up sci/fi, at Danielle's suggestion.  (The dystopian market was still maxed out, so this was worth a shot.)  Honestly, I wasn't thoroughly in love with what I was doing, but it was one of those keep-on-keeping-on situations, so I did it.

The new story, though, had me fully engaged--and challenged.  I'd made the shift to YA fantasy, and by the time I started drafting, it was soon clear that, for whatever reason, this was my hardest undertaking yet.

Still, I was back in my sweet spot, writing daily.

Writing at The Factory in Franklin, November 2014

Fantasy has always been my first love.  I was reading Katherine Kurtz, Patricia McKillip,  and Terry Brooks when I was in seventh grade, and my love affair never stopped.  Interestingly, of all the novels I'd written to date, only 2 were fantasy.  The rest were all in the realms of science fiction (which is undoubtedly my second love).  This new project took me to a place I'd always been comfortable reading, but not necessarily writing.

And, like stories are wont to do, it tangled me to the point at which I had to begin again.  It was some of the most difficult plotting I've ever done, and I suspect this was evidence of my "notching it up" as a writer.  By February of 2015, this is what things looked like:

I do the majority of my work on my laptop, but this plot snarl called for a tactile approach.  (I cut out the outline of each scene and taped it to the correct chapter--and moved them around as necessary.) I'm happy to say it worked!  But ugh, it was painstaking.  I did a lot of staring.

That summer, I trekked to NYC once more to have lunch with Josh.  Over sushi and spring water, I threw out the suggestion that, perhaps, when my WIP was finished, I might give that project to Danielle.  I knew Josh didn't represent fantasy, and Danielle, on the other hand, not only loved it, but seemed to click with my work.  Josh was amenable, as I'd expected him to be.

Back at the office, it was a huge treat to meet Danielle.  It was her idea for me to hold up the face-over-my-face for the first picture, so I could share it on my blog.  The real picture was saved, of course, for such a time as this.

I'm so thankful for these two.

By December, I'd finished the manuscript, and Danielle and I made it official.  We were genuinely excited to work together, and Josh sent us off with his blessing.  Several months later, Danielle made the move to Nelson Literary, and I happily followed her (because I would probably follow her anywhere).  

We went on submission and I worked on a new YA fantasy.  Meanwhile, I continued to take ballet classes and pursue other interests.  Honestly, by this point of my writing journey, I had let go of my dreams and simply continued to press forward because it was the right thing to do.  And it was such a complete joy working with Danielle that she made it easy.

I knew I'd be able to keep on keeping on indefinitely.  So that's what I decided to do.

In August, Eric and I auditioned for, and were accepted into, the Nashville Symphony Chorus.  This was a huge turning point for me--I have a degree in music, and it is one of my first and deepest loves.  Life took different turns for me, with much joy along the way, but rediscovering my passion for music was soul-nourishing and life-giving.

View from the entrance to the choir loft at Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, TN

Smooching at the Schermerhorn after a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

We celebrated Thanksgiving that year at the farm where our oldest son lives.  Dinner for 14 on the dock by the pond--wonderful family time!

In February, 2016, my Authoress Facebook page exploded when a certain photo went viral.  This must have gotten Facebook's attention, because they contacted me and told me that my name didn't seem real (oh, really?), and that I'd have to prove this was a name I actually went by, or they would shut down my account.  Thanks to the wise advice of one of my colleagues, I created an Authoress I.D. and sent a picture to Facebook.  They stopped bothering me after that.  

I'm not a traveller at heart, and 2016 was a "travel-heavy" year for me.  (If you travel regularly, you'll laugh at my lameness.)  In addition to two trips to Cape May (one with the entire family and one for just the two of us), Eric and I flew to Chicago to see Peter Gabriel and Sting.  It was my first time in Chicago, and, yes, the wind was a thing.  (Also the concert was fabulous.)

We started our second year with the Nashville Symphony Chorus that August, opening the season with Mahler's Second Symphony.

Because you can dress me in serious clothes, but that's not going to make me serious.

And sometimes we could be spotted listening to the Nashville Symphony instead of singing with them.

Yes, that's a glass of Chardonnay in my hand.

In January, 2017, I had one of the most fun musical experiences I've ever had--I was privileged to be one of twenty-four singers in the Nashville Symphony's screening of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone.  The music was hard, the score was delicious, and I now know this movie so well that I could probably write the screenplay by heart.  (Not really.  But close.)

In March, something even better happened: my beloved sister and her family moved to Nashville.  Jamie and I hadn't lived in the same state since 1987, and though it was a difficult transition for her (she was plugged in to a large and loving community in Roanoke), we are both thrilled to be living life together now.  Instead of a seven-and-a-half hour drive away, she's just 17 minutes up the road!

Goodie bags for my niece and nephews

The Nashville Symphony opted for a synthesizer over live voices for their screening of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in May.  At first I was crushed, but then I rallied, bought myself a ticket, and attended a performance as Professor McGonagall.  And I won a prize (as did my little Hermione).

among the Muggles in downtown Nashville

And that pretty much brings us to to the present.  I'm still dancing, still writing, still singing.

And a couple months ago, I had the delight of meeting my longtime colleague, critique partner, and friend, Holly Bodger.  It was lovely to finally have her sign my copy of 5 to 1.  (And lovely to spend time with her in downtown Franklin, chatting our heads off.)

There you have it--my life for the past decade.  In truth, I've been very much myself on this blog, minus the details of my private life.  (Mostly my children.  It was admittedly most difficult to leave them out of my online narrative over the years; they're such a huge part of my life.)

Thank you for walking alongside me on this journey-toward-our-dreams.  Thank you for giving me a safe, kind, and supportive atmosphere for my big reveal.  I'll keep running this blog as "Authoress" for the sake of continuity--but you can call me Jill.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Real Story, Part 2

(Read Part 1 HERE.)

In the wee hours of Christmas morning, I lost the baby.

More than anything, this experience showed me how amazing my children were.  When Eric and I got home from the ER around 10:00 (which is a good three hours later than our usual start to Christmas morning), the hot chocolate was made, the fireplace was crackling, the Christmas music was playing, and my oldest daughter had washed my (bloodied) Christmas jammy pants so I could put them back on.

It was a strange juxtaposition of sorrow and joy.

I grieved for a full month, and then I began to heal.  One of the happier moments of that winter was receiving a revise and resubmit request from an agent I adored.  My dear husband booked us a "writing weekend" at a nearby Marriott Courtyard so that I could focus on the revisions without distraction (well, except for him--but that was part of the package).

I can't tell you how many times I looked at this prototype selfie (taken on Photobooth) and imagined it was my author photo.  The revise and resubmit ultimately resulted in (yet another) rejection, but the weekend with Eric remains a treasured memory.

2010 was a busy year on the blog, with lots of in-house critique sessions and almost-monthly Secret Agent contests.  The biggest development was, of course, our very first Baker's Dozen Agent Auction, which I announced in October.  This was destined to be the blog's most popular and results-producing contest, running for 5 years before I finally hung up the gavel.

In the midst of reading all the entries and doing all the behind-the-scenes work that was required, I enjoyed a visit from my parents, who came for Thanksgiving that year.  Because life is far too dull unless you're doing something creative, I wrote a little screenplay for a short film, starring my dad (who isn't shy), called The Poet's Lost Words.  It was a collaborate family effort, with my then-11-year-old son taking the supporting lead and my teenaged daughter filming.  My mom played a cameo (and pretended to complain about it.)


I really love my family.  Really, really, really love them. 

Among the agents who participated in the Baker's Dozen that year (and every subsequent year) was Josh Getzler.  It was a bit...strange, because earlier in the year he had requested a revise and resubmit on my YA dystopian, and while the Baker's Dozen was in the works, I was waiting to hear from him.

Imagine me, sending out emails to the agents as "Authoress" while waiting to hear from Josh as myself.  And keeping that line in place.

And twitching.  A lot.

On December 18, we made it official.  And here's a sort of goofy picture of me having that "I want to be your agent" phone call with Josh.

Now happily agented, I worked hard on my next novel while hoping, of course, for an amazing sale of the first one.  In June of 2011, our trip north to visit my parents included a week in Cape May (our favorite place on the planet and the setting of my then-WIP), and a day trip to NYC to schmooze with Josh.

Making plot notes at the very setting of the novel.

Doesn't he wear the hat well?

In August, I was in for yet another treat--Beth Revis, author extradordinare and of one of this blog's Success Story Authors, came to a book event at our local Borders.  Once again, I had to hide this exciting event from my blogging world, in the interest of keeping my identity a secret.  Now, at last, I can show you the photos that still make me smile!

So excited to see Beth!

With my writerly daughter Maggie -- it was standing room only!

This moment! 

Thankful for this gal's encouragement over the years!

Lest you think I spend all of my time at wineries and bookstores, here is a photo of my first spelunking experience, thanks to my eldest son, who is the most amazing outdoorsman/hunter/fisherman/naturalist I know.  Also, I didn't hurt myself.

In 2012, my second novel with Josh went on submission.  It was a blow, of course, to not have that first novel sell.  Nobody wants to believe they're going to be that author whose first agented book does a belly flop, right?  Yet there I was, having to let go of that "quick success" dream and push through.  

While accruing a collection of rejections on this second novel (alas), I was hard at work on my next story--but it was a dystopian, like my first had been, and the market was clearly already saturated.  (Thank you, Hunger Games!)  Josh and I had to have the "I'm not sure we can go out with this one" conversation.  Which, of course, I didn't want to hear.  I was in love with my WIP (aren't we all?), and I didn't like having to swallow this proverbial bitter pill.

I'm sure that's what must have inspired THIS BLOG POST, in which I bring up the question, "Do we follow the market? Or follow our hearts?"

I decided to finish my latest round of revisions on the new dystopian, while throwing out the idea to Josh that perhaps we could go out with a middle grade fantasy I'd written a few years earlier.   He agreed to take a look at it, and I was glad to have something else in the pipeline, since my book-on-submission wasn't looking too hopeful.

In September, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  They are a constant reminder to me of what it means to stay committed.  Also, they are the reason I love to laugh.

Shortly after, Gabrielle Harbowy invited me to submit a short story for consideration in Dragon Moon Press's upcoming anthology, When the Hero Comes Home 2.  So the end of 2012 was a mixture of working on the short, presenting our third Baker's Dozen, and hoping that my middle grade fantasy would find a home in the coming year.

In February, 2013, I received the news from Gabrielle that my short story, Beginning, would be published in the anthology.  A huge pick-me-up, since my second on-submission novel was now dead in the water.  In early spring, we went on submission with the middle grade fantasy, while I was busy working on a mission suggested by my agent--to write a straight-up YA science fiction.  I rolled up my sleeves and dug in.

I was also devoted to my ballet classes, which I loved despite the fact that dancing is one thing I seem completely incapable of doing well.  If anything, it kept me moving, and gave me a happy place outside of my writing.

Life at home, though, took an unexpectedly dark turn.  My fourth child, then 14, began to exhibit increasingly disturbing behavior that turned out to be OCD.

He's doing well now--a freshman in college, majoring in communications (he wants to be a sports broadcaster, and trust me, he's got the voice for it!).  But then?  It was scary.

Truly scary.

Our lives were consumed by his inability to function.  He was unable to do anything, frozen by obsessions the OCD was hammering into his brain. 

Life as we knew it stopped. It was truly the most difficult season of parenting we'd ever walked through.

And because of it, I no longer throw around the term "OCD" lightly.  I don't find OCD jokes funny any more.  It is what it is, and I'm so grateful that my son is living a full, happy life.  But this experience has left an indelible mark on me.  On all of us.

So through the Secret Agent contests and Baker's Dozen for the rest of 2013, that's what my life looked like.  The release of When the Hero Comes Home 2 in November was the brightest spot of a very dark season.

Despite the hardship, I was able to complete a decent draft of my YA science fiction novel.  By this time, Josh had brought Danielle Burby on board as his assistant, and she was actively involved in reading and critiquing this project.

Imagine my horror when I learned that she felt--and Josh agreed--that one of my main characters should actually be a girl instead of a boy.

If I'd ever hit a point at which I felt, utterly and completely, that there was NO WAY I could do what was asked of me, this was it. be continued