Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Sorry this is so late!

(Well, I assume everyone notices, just because I'm anal about getting the Friday blog post out very early.)

Anyway, I'm back from an overnight writing getaway.  It was fabulous, and much-needed.  I wrote 4000 words in a 24-hour period, which, for me, is unheard of.

I mean, that's 4 days' worth of writing!  So, yeah, I'm feeling really good about that.

There were horses and a bullfrog and a dog that insisted on licking my elbows and thighs.  (If you don't know how much I hate dogs, then YOU DON'T KNOW ME.)  In the dog's favor, she was truly the BEST BEHAVED CANINE I've ever met.  She was a farm dog with free reign of the land, yet SHE NEVER BARKED.  Not once.  When we arrived, she escorted us up the steps to the loft where we were staying.  When we said, "Sit!", she sat immediately.

Kudos to the owner, right?

There were two other dogs, too, who ALSO NEVER BARKED.  But they were lazy and disinclined to visit us.

So I'm refreshed and happy.  (Not because of the dogs.) And that's a good way to start off the weekend.



(No.  It's not a sale.  I would never stick that in the middle of a Fricassee.)

The Really Good News is:  MY CAT HAS COME HOME!

My dearest Lucy showed up in our neighbor's yard on Monday evening.  Apparently, my neighbor called out to Mr. A, "Hey, that cat of yours is here."  So my dear husband (who is allergic to cats), spent at least ten minutes trying to coax Lucy onto our property.  I was in the bedroom doing ballet stretches, when I heard my husband calling, "Lucy!  Luuuuucy!"

I ran to the window and said, "WHY ARE YOU CALLING LUCY?"

And Mr. A, with characteristic nonchalance, said, "She's out here."

Needless to say, when I finally made it out the front door (in my jammies) and called to her, and she came slinking through the bushes to me, I LOST IT A LITTLE BIT.

She was so thin--bones draped with fur.  Light as fluff.  But otherwise unscathed, and as affectionate as ever.

Stupid cat.

And, of course, she's been acting like nothing happened.  As though it's perfectly normal to disappear for more than a month, and then show up again without warning.

No matter.  I love her so much, and I'm so thankful she's back.  (The picture above was taken the morning after her return.)

Huge thanks to so many of you who offered words of support and encouragement when she went missing.  It helped me stay in a hope place.  

And that's enough rambling for today.  I've got to unpack and figure out what to do for dinner (a restaurant sounds good).

See you Monday!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Critiquing Guidelines: Drop the Needle EXPLOSIONS!

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.
*In most cases, it's impossible for me to keep up with every comment left on the blog.  Therefore, I rely on my readers to email me if something really ugly turns up.  Please know that this almost never happens.  But when it does, my itchy delete finger gets a work-out. 

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #30

TITLE: The Con of War
GENRE: YA Science Fantasy

Domino is prisoner aboard Anturo's airship. The explosion is from his sister Yula, who was trying to protect their city from Anturo's army. Meka = mecha.

The second explosion was much bigger than the first. When the shockwave struck the airship, the gondola pitched backward, sending table and papers flying. The crew either grabbed hold of what they could or else fell to the floor.

When the gondola leveled out, every man rushed to the windows to see what had happened. They shared a suffocating silence of disbelief. Where once there'd been an army, there was now a wedge of scorched earth a kilo long on either side. Outlines of fallen horses and men dotted the outer edge. A few still moved farther from the blast, but inside the wedge there was nothing. Not bodies, not ash.


At the source of the explosion were a small round crater and the husks of two mekas. Even from here, Domino could see the meka that had fired the blast was different from the ones Anturo had brought with him.


He watched a long time, hoping the machine would move, or someone would emerge from it, but it was as dead as the army it had destroyed.

"You knew . . ." Anturo's words sounded a long way off.

Ko was supposed to help Yula. She was supposed to be okay.

From the same distance as Anturo's words came the metal scrape of a sword pulled from its sheath. Domino turned, but everything was blurred by tears. He recognized the sword over Anturo's head too late.

"You knew!" The sword swiped through the air. Domino shut his eyes, feeling a wind brush his cheek, hearing the sword strike his bones.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #29

GENRE: YA Magical Realism

Sami recently learned she has power to neutralize Aquamarine—the magic extracted from the gemstone that had given her athleticism yet destroyed her musical skills and threatened her life. She strips magic from the rock/gemstone while playing her piano.

Tiny blue sparks appear when my fingertips touch the keys, as if I’m trapping a lightning bug with each note. Tiny blue sparks—just like those which appeared whenever I set or spiked a volleyball fueled by Aquamarine. Although I’m startled enough to stop playing, I keep going, reveling in the electrifying burn that zings my artistic talent back to my hands, my soul. A laugh escapes me as chords ripple up and down the scales, as if I have four hands. It’s nothing like what it used to be. That natural high I remember from our apartment in Manhattan is nothing compared to this.

It’s almost magical.

It’s the cracking sound that stops me, as if a ceramic pot has dropped from the second story onto a tile floor. My hands fly from the keyboard on reflex, and I scramble off the bench—fearing irrationally the piano might topple on top me. My white hot fingertips graze my neck as my heart pounds in my chest. I know what’s happened. My eyes go to where I rested the rock atop the piano, and although I knew something would happen, the sight in itself stops my breath.

The rock is cracked open, spilling brilliant blue crystals in a messy pile. The crystals reflect the fluorescent piano light, sending laser-like arcs across the room. All kinds of blues: pale, rich, turquoise, azure, periwinkle, sapphire, indigo.


I breathe it in, this glorious light, energized by it.

But, how do I know it worked? The only test I could think of is too dangerous, and yet...

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #28

TITLE: Kasmir
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Liz, a young girl who was trained as a warrior for this purpose, prepares to fight the Great Dragon. She is standing at the entrance to its cave and must draw it out.

As quickly and silently as she could she lowered her sword to the ground and took a small, lumpy package from her belt. This was the most nerve-racking part of her plan. When face to face with the dragon she would be prepared to fight, but now she felt her vulnerability keenly. Her hands trembled as she pulled two stones and a small leather pouch out of the bag. The pouch had a piece of cloth poking out. It was wet with a concoction of her own making. Holding the stones next to the cloth she struck. Nothing. Glancing nervously at the cave entrance she struck again. A small spark flew from the stones, hit the fabric, and grew into a flame. Liz held her breath. It was working. She grabbed the pouch and flung it into the dragon’s home.

For a moment nothing happened. The mountain itself seemed to hold its breath. Then there was the sound of a small explosion and smoke billowed from the cavern’s mouth. Moments later an inhuman screech ripped through the air. The warrior snatched up her sword and ran across the clearing. She had only moments. Halfway across she stopped, turned, and raised her blade. Blinding streaks of fire tore through the thick cloud of smoke. That wasn’t her fire. In one great burst of fury the beast emerged. Its reptilian body writhing with rage, it flung its head into the sky and let out a roar that made the whole mountain tremble.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #27

TITLE: Overland
GENRE: YA International Thriller

Teenagers Tana and Obax live at a secret research institute in the Andes, but today have ventured to a nearby mountain village on an errand. The institute usually gets a monthly supply drop by plane, which Tana believes she is witnessing from the village.

I glance up in time to see the plane bank in an arc overhead and double back toward the Institute. Strange; it must have missed its drop target the first time. As it cuts around the promontory and disappears, I try to recall whether I’ve ever seen a supply plane fly over twice before. I’ve watched a fair few of them do their drops from the Obs window, and I can’t remember ever seeing one circle back like this.

Also, I realize with a jolt, I’ve never seen a silver one before. Our supply planes have always been black.

Something isn’t right.

I break into a sprint toward the boulders, shouting for Obax. I try to listen for the sound of her calling back, but all I can hear now is the plane’s drone and the whistle of the wind—and then, moments later, a different kind of whistle.

The ground shudders underneath me as the bomb hits, the boom of the explosion echoing over and over through the mountains. My feet stumble and I find myself on my knees in the damp pasture, looking up at the too-blue sky as a thick plume of fire and smoke rises over the crests of the hills. The hills that, until today, have kept our home so well hidden from outsiders.

“NO!” I feel the scream burst from my throat, but I can’t hear it.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #26

TITLE: Buddy
GENRE: MG Contemporary

The narrator is a foster child living with a quirky farm family. The old uncle, Miracle, has decided to eliminate a troublesome catfish he’s dubbed Ol’ Bugeye from the pond. Ralph and Susan are the parents, and Vicky is a young female member of the family.

We arrived at the pond as a geyser of water shot high into the air around a lone figure. My mouth went dry as the water rained down on him and the boat rocked violently. He was going to blow himself to bits!

“Miracle!” called Ralph. His calm voice was raised to be heard across the water. “Cut that out and get back here. It’s time for supper.”

“Then eat,” yelled Miracle. He threw something out into the water. The explosion was followed by another huge geyser.

Susan called, “You’re going to get hurt, Miracle, and you’re killing all the fish.”

“They’re not dead,” he replied. “Just stunned. I’ll stop as soon as I find Ol’ Bugeye.”

Vicky nudged my arm. “Look,” she whispered.

I pulled my gaze from Miracle and followed her pointing finger. Small waves lapped at the edge of the bank from the dynamite blasts further out. They made happy little sucking sounds. Then I saw what was happening in the water, and the sound changed to something sinister and gross.

Miracle was wrong. Fish were floating up everywhere. They were all different sizes and colors. But they all had one thing in common. They all looked dead as they slowly circled around in the water, their blank eyes and ghostly white bellies reflecting the sun’s rays like gruesome jewels. It was like watching some bizarre dance ritual of the dead.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #25

TITLE: Darkdust
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Adelaide has been kidnapped and is trapped on a broken spaceship. She's hiding inside the shuttle bay when she finds an explosive device ready to detonate. Just as the countdown finishes, she leaps off a catwalk to the main floor. Boom.

Pain knifes up my hip, my elbow, my shoulder.

The world above me is on fire, and everything is dead silent except for the shrill ringing that seems to come from within me.

I'm on my back, head throbbing as a ball of flame expands and disintegrates the ramp I was just on. If I hadn't jumped, I'd be a pile of charred bones.

Hot air dries my eyes and sears my lungs. I gasp for breath, cough, and gasp again. I can't get enough air.


Fire burns oxygen.

I roll onto my hands and knees, dizzy with every motion, and scan the walls for the bay door and freedom. Protocol on any ship is to seal the room, remove the atmosphere, and let the fire smother. The rest of the ship's life support won't be affected.

If I don't escape, I'll smother, too.

The LEDs bleed into warning-red and the bay door begins to slide closed. Coughing, I struggle to my feet and stumble as quickly as I can.

The ringing in my head is distracting, and everything is blurry. My vision tunnels and I can't be sure if I'm putting my feet on the ground or flying somehow.

Every breath tastes like smoke, and heat dries the back of my throat. I'll never again be able to breathe right.

As the door thuds closed, I slip out. Just in time.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #24

TITLE: Angel in the City
GENRE: NA Urban Fantasy

Twenty-two-year-old Jamie Price is a Knight-in-Training covering all of Manhattan for Sigrun, a honest to god, or maybe gods, Valkyrie from Asgard. In a constant battle against the darkness, their latest venture has led them to the sewers in hopes of rescuing a little girl who has been dragged down there by the ghouls who have nested below New York.

“Crap!” My optimism fell and sunk quickly, disappearing into the mire that surrounded me. Turning around, which may I say is freakin' hard when you are standing thigh deep in sludge, I drew my specially-designed, automatic crossbow with exploding bolts, and opened fire at the dark silhouette that had just rounded the corner.

The bolt exploded on impact and as the flash of light dissipated, the body fell with a muted splash only to be replaced by ten times the number of dark forms, their eyes and teeth glinting in the remnants of light left from the blast. I fired a few more rounds, felling the ones who had recently appeared, and taking out a wide expanse of the nearly ancient brick wall that lined the sewer.

Using the light and smoke as a screen, I turned around and began running, fairly sure there weren’t enough bolts in the chamber, or possibly even the city, to incapacitate all of them.

The noise grew louder and louder as more of the creatures gave chase, alerted by both the sound and the scent of their fallen comrades. Of course, I highly doubted any of them were dead. A few explosions, flashes of light and a ton of mortar and brick were barely enough to subdue a ghoul, much less kill it. Nonetheless, it was in my best interest to get the hell out of there as fast as I could.

Luckily, I didn’t have far to travel.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #23

TITLE: Ari's Traveling Rat Spa
GENRE: YA Fiction

Seventeen-year-old Ari has just painstakingly set up a room and all her research to prepare for an important meeting which may decide whether or not she can resume operating her traveling rat spa. She’s in her van, waiting for the meeting to start, at the beginning of this scene.

There’s a loud BOOM and my van rocks sideways. I grip the steering wheel, worried about an earthquake, although those are uncommon in the Central Valley. But after the initial boom and rocking, the world is still again. A fire alarm blares, quickly followed by sirens from the nearby fire department.

What happened? Whatever it is, it can’t be good.

I clamber from the van, hugging the folder to my chest. After wading through a mass of onlookers, I reach the front steps of Town Hall, where many of the workers have gathered.

Frankie is standing on the steps, wringing his hands. I bound up to him. “What happened? Are you okay?”

“No, I mean, I’m fine. The building was firebombed.

“What about my hearing? Can I still do it?”

He keeps wringing his hands.

“Frankie, snap out of it!” I wave my folder in his face. “My hearing!”

“The meeting room was the focus of the bombing,” he says.

“You mean…all the stuff I set up in there, all the research I did…”

“Whatever didn’t burn is soaked.”

I walk back toward the parking lot in a daze.

Jameson was right. It isn’t always about winning and losing. Sometimes it’s about not even getting the chance to compete.

A couple of firefighters are talking when I walk past.

“A Molotov cocktail,” one says. “Right through that window— pyeeeeew.” She makes the kind of sound effect I’d expect to hear on a primary school playground.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #22

TITLE: Evenwood

Opener for a SciFi YA story. The location is the "Safe Zone," where people reside after they pledge non-involvement from a centuries old revolutionary war.

The entire house shook from a forceful blast. The bed upended, throwing Jerymy across the room to find himself face-flat on the floor.

What’s going on? That’s not supposed to happen not here. We’re in the Safe Zone!

“Dad!” He reached out to grab the beeping game toy laying near him and clutched his father’s gift tightly to his chest. A blinding burnt-orange glare consumed his room from a second explosion that blew out his bedroom windows. He drew himself into a ball to cover his head against flying glass.


Unworldly sirens wailed in the near distance; remorseful banshees awakened from a long, fitful slumber.

What’s happening? Has someone broken their vow? His father had promised that no one would ever do that. Ever.

That thought brought an icy fear to his heart. He stared at the forbidden toy in his hand his father brought from the mainworlds. Could it be because of his father?  Did this mean the end to everything his family believed in because of a toy? He scrambled to his feet and raced toward the bedroom door. “Dad!”


Jerymy’s head jerked to one side as if someone had banged him with a hot iron skillet and his small world went dark.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #21

TITLE: Sustenance
GENRE: YA Speculative

Quinn, who has sneaked out of Centrix, is staying with Kalan's family. Earlier, she and Kalan argued. Now she has come to apologize--but she stops just outside his bedroom when she overhears a conversation with his brother Tanner.

“There’s no other way,” Tanner says. “And if you try to stop her, she’ll go running straight to Lem. He’ll be happy to send her back.”

Kalan makes a disgusted sound in his throat. “I wish he’d never stopped by.”

“You can’t just keep her hidden.”

“Well, I’m going to have to do something,” Kalan says. “Because there’s no way she’s going back to Centrix.”

My heart is pounding and my jaw aches from clenching my teeth. I am about to blow into the room and tell Kalan exactly what I think of his plan when I hear a loud crash from the other end of the hallway.

My room.

As I turn to look through my doorway, an explosion rocks the house and sends me stumbling against the wall. My bedroom is engulfed in flames.


Kalan and Tanner burst from their room as I find my balance, Kalan’s expression bathed in horror. Then he sees me, and his arms go round me as naturally as if we’ve always known each other.

“Are you okay?”

I nod, unable to speak. Dillon and Lydia come running; I hear Rose calling to the younger children, herding them out of the house.

“Quinn, get outside,” Dillon says. “Boys, let’s go.”

In a daze, I back out of the hallway, watching as Dillon hands Kalan a large, black cylinder and yells for Tanner to grab the cylinder out back and work from the outside. Tanner almost runs me over on his way.

“Get out of the house!” he yells, pulling me by the arm until I follow him.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #20


Space pirates escaping with contraband on board are being fired on by a warship from the planet below.

“Hang on, we’re going to crash,” Tobias said bracing himself and cutting power.

Mac grabbed the sides of the seat as the horizon loomed in front of them. She shut her eyes waiting for the crash. A careening whine made her open her eyes again.

“Incoming,” Zav shouted as the Demiatrix shuttle gained on them. A blast of gunfire shot past them.

“If they hit us, we’re goners,” Donel put in. Mac stared at him. Thanks for pointing out the obvious.

A large expanse of sand loomed ahead of them. To the right, Mac spotted a small grove of trees, or what looked like trees. “There, to the right,” she indicated. “Make for the grove, at least we won’t be out in the open.” Tobias turned the shuttle and flew toward the trees.

Unfortunately the Demiatrix shuttle fired on them at the same time and they began to careen out of control directly toward the trees at full speed.

Tobias was no longer in the pilot's seat and she heard a sickening sound of metal being twisted in ways it wasn’t supposed to be twisted in. She smelled something burning and felt the front of the shuttle collapse like a day-old pastry as it smacked against a tree. Intense brief pain caused Mac to scream before everything went black.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #19

TITLE: Denali in Hiding
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Denali must use her telekinesis to stop or deflect a pipe bomb.

I sensed it first, the bomb, or rather, a sack full of materials. It was outside, hurtling toward the window. I sensed the shards of glass in the window split and crackle and scatter. Pieces pierced my arms. The blood splattered and spilled. The pain was pleasantly distracting. I tried to think about the parts in the bomb. I tried to separate them and defuse it. But I wasn’t fast enough.

It exploded, pieces longing to be free, shrapnel from the pipe bursting forth. It was so powerful, I had trouble stopping it, but just like when I practiced, it was like I was able to slow time, I was able to feel the pieces. But it was weird, because it felt like there was an additional tug on them. It felt like when I practiced with Declan. It was as though the pieces had plans of their own, independent of me, independent of gravity. In the slow motion I realized what was happening. Tom was controlling the fragments. And he was making them miss almost everyone. The bits of glass from the window splayed everywhere. But the larger pieces from the bomb were controlled. They missed people, or glided along forearms and thighs. Minor injuries.

Except for one piece: a sharp nail. I felt the extra power behind it. But I was able to overcome Tom’s force. I was able to stop it from slicing into Dr. Larsson’s neck.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #18

TITLE: The GAP Project
GENRE: Sci-Fi Suspense

Ginny Carrera discovers she’s genetically engineered, and she’s been sold to the highest bidder. In this scene, Toby another GAP, has gone after the man who sold her. She knows the senator is blowing the compound and wants to get there and get Toby out before it blows.

She was only a block away when the ground buckled and a wall of propulsion threw her back. Lying on the sidewalk, her brain scrambled. Waves of energy forced debris past where she huddled, and the sky – darkening from the encroaching storm before – took on a gray cast. Clouds of ash, particle, and cinder formed above the space where the warehouse used to be. The heat was a fever that took over everything in the surrounding area, melting trees, plants, parking meters, benches. The acrid smell burned her sinuses.

After another small explosion, the area grew still. She tried to sit but pain, fire-hot and unrelenting, pushed her back. Sounds began to invade, but they were distant as if she were underwater. Voices, screams and chatter, sirens, all signs that something horrific had gone down. Tiny slivers covered her, glistening in the remaining light. Glass. And blood. How long before her system healed? There was no tingling yet. No stretching of the skin. Perhaps, this time the damage was too extensive.

Her cheeks felt wet. She looked up expecting to see rain, but the clouds were still holding onto their moisture, reluctant to share. It was coming from her. Swiping her face with her hand, it came away wet. She was crying.

A man knelt beside her. His lips moved but the sound was so muted she had no idea what he said. She tried to read his lips; but he suddenly pulled back, staring at her, stunned.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #17


Cassie and Luka, a member of an alien species known as megobari, have just ejected from the megobarian ship Pilgrimage, crash landing on an uninhabitable moon. The Pilgrimage is being attacked by a rival alien species, the vrag. Luka's entire family is on board.

Then I saw it: the megobarian ship, racing across the sky like a white comet, trailing fire and debris.

It wasn't alone. A massive shadow dwarfed the Pilgrimage like something out of a nightmare.

The Pilgrimage couldn't possibly get away. It descended low into the atmosphere, growing larger and circling back towards us.

The vrag ship didn't change course. They knew the megobari had nowhere to go.

"No, no, no," Luka whispered. "What are you doing?"

"They're headed straight for it." I couldn't breathe. "Oh, my God, they're doing it on purpose. They’re going to ram the vrag ship."

He sprang forward, as if he could reach out and physically stop it with his bare hands. "No. Don't you dare. Don't you dare!"

The vrag ship opened fire.

Bursts of fire lit the sky like daylight, shrapnel dripping from hunks of molten metal. The little white ship shattered into pieces.

The vrag ship hovered momentarily, making sure its quarry was dead. Then it disappeared again into the black.

The shockwave rippled over us a few seconds later, blowing chunks of rock against my helmet and knocking on my back.

The broken pieces of the Pilgrimage seemed to hover in the sky, falling too slowly into the weak gravity well of Aran.

"Escape pods," I whispered. "Do you see any?"

Luka acted like he hadn't heard me. But then his hand reached up, activating his comm. Listened.

I waited, shaking, as burning debris fell over Luka's head like a halo of hell.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #16

TITLE: The War of the Worlds and Fairies
GENRE: Science Fiction

In this mashup of The War of the Worlds, ASHLEY is a fairy who has grown to human size. She and her friend VIOLET are fleeing to the Thames, accompanied by an artilleryman named CUTTER. They passed some artillery guns on the way.

The ground heaved under my feet.

My wings stirred beneath my blouse, an instinctive reaction to keep my balance. I grabbed someone I thought was Cutter, and that’s how I’m sure of my memory—the vibration through solid ground arrived before the huge explosion that boomed through the air a heartbeat later.

Violet had latched onto Cutter with both hands, fingernails digging in. I looked at the man I had mistakenly grabbed and hoped he hadn’t noticed any stirring beneath my clothes. “I beg your pardon.”

“There they are!” The man pointed. He wore a nice knitted vest, otherwise I could have thought of him as a whaler in Moby Dick spotting a pod of whales, his voice carried so. “Yonder! D’you see? Yonder, yonder!”

Ascending above the treetops, a great cloud of black smoke stained the blue sky—not from normal cannon fire, more like what happened to Cutter when all the powder went off at once and destroyed his gun. Now Cutter himself looked back, his face frozen in anxiety—except for a nervous tic that passed over his left eye.

“Oh heavens!” My hands clawed the air. “All those men—their guns!”

Below the black cloud, through flat meadows and trees that now looked small, a cowled figure strode in a rolling motion. Glittering in the sun, it was a Martian war machine approaching the river. Approaching us.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #15

TITLE: The Skylark's Song
GENRE: YA Steampunk Action/Adventure

Robin is a steampunk vigilante named The Skylark. She is attempting her first bit of terrorist espionage in an enemy ammunitions factory. When she is caught, she creates an explosion to cover her escape. WINGS is her rocket pack – Weaponized Individual NaviGation System.

Robin slammed her hand down on the ignition and shot into the air. She ducked around the catwalk and burst out of the roof hatch just as the first warning rumble echoed through the factory. It was followed seconds later by a resounding boom that shook the sky, and Robin.

She tumbled through the air, swung around for counterbalance, and managed to find her equilibrium in time to pull up and keep from smashing into the ledge of somebody's roof. What she didn't manage to avoid was their laundry line.

WINGS caught on the thick cord and Robin whipped around. She swiped at the control box, cutting thrust, and came to rest a foot off the roof.

The ragged hem of the end of her braid tickled her nose. The rest was trapped in the line, tugging painfully at her scalp, cords coiled around her knees and elbows. She felt, all told, utterly ridiculous.

She tried wriggling, but it only seemed to make the tangle squeeze tighter, pinning her arms to her sides at the elbows. In the distance, the factory was belching great fireballs into the air, lighting up the night like a holiday celebration and spewing great clouds of black smoke and ash. Robin hoped all the men had gotten out. Her worry was muted by a surge of fierce joy a second later.

I did it!

Her first mission was, all told, a complete and perfect success. Except for the part where she was stuck upside down like a pheasant in a snare.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #14

TITLE: Heart of Gears
GENRE: Alternate History

Liliven and Altea are at a ball celebrating the Queen’s return. Altea is a rebel and Liliven the princess, but the two girls have joined forces to prove to the royalty that although a nearby land has just been conquered, the rebels are not giving up the fight for freedom.

“How are you, Altea?” Liliven spoke softly but she needn’t have worried about being overheard, as despite the fact the Queen was addressing the crowd, those around the princess continued to whisper to one another. Briefly, she wondered if they did the same every time she was forced to address them, then decided she didn’t care.

Altea smiled. “I’m well. And you, Liliven?”

The princess grinned. “I believe tonight will be stupendous.”

Not a heartbeat after the words left her mouth, an explosion knocked everyone off their feet. Liliven covered her head with her arms, but she and Altea had dropped a second before the others and thus gone unharmed. Now, they grinned at each other from under the forts their arms made, as the dust and rock settled, and the smoke wafted through the hole that had been blasted through the wall. Mist from the cloudfalls drifted into the room, coating everyone inside with its chilled droplets.

As the heads of the guests lifted, their eyes locked onto the snapping banner draped across the hole to the outside. The three rebels who had hung it were long gone. It was midnight blue, with white letters that spelled out a clear message:

Down With The Tyranny…But We’ll Give Them A Head Start.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #13

TITLE: Fractured Skies
GENRE: YA/NA Science Fiction

Jenna and her team are trying to make a quick escape through an air battlefield without getting caught in the crossfire.

To my right, a cluster of dark wisps disappeared through the center of a large, OA carrier ship. A red beam of light shot through its hull, stretching outward until fire exploded from inside. Jack cursed as I dropped the jet into a nose-dive and vertigo rushed through me. I banked a hard left, and we were back in sky.

Jack gripped the edge of his seat, sitting back as far as he could. “Ahead!”

A red beam split through the largest of the COE command vessels.


Fire erupted from the windows, smoke billowing. A dark object spun our way--

One of the airship’s rotors had dislodged from the wing. I thrust the lever as far as it would go, heart pounding. We careened through a pillar of flame. Metal chunks crashed against the front window and wings. Warnings beeped on the console, and the jet wavered, nearly impossible to control as flames crackled around us.

We plummeted into a smokey haze and the sky merged with the trees. Frantic, I searched out the lever. The ground raced toward me, red lines of the jet wavering.

Up! We needed to go up!

The jet lurched, crashing through the upper layer of branches, and then we were back in the air. I guided us under an OA helicopter, soaring past mechs.

Free sky. Bright with dawn’s light, clear of smoke and debris. The helicopters, dozens of them with red dragonfly symbols, flocked against the clouds. I gasped for breath, dizzy, but the worst was over. Behind us, smoke and fire marred the dark, western sky. Lightning crackled in the distance, mixed with flashes from the battle’s explosions.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #12

TITLE: Lord Randolph and the Witch
GENRE: Fantasy/Romance

Valentina Roselli’s off-the-grid summer hideaway in Nova Scotia has, unknown to her, been transported to an alternate earth where magic works. A group of locals think she is a witch and show up with a knight and his sergeant to burn her out. The house is entirely powered by a 500-gallon propane tank. It’s on fire.

Valentina had no idea if one hundred yards would be enough if the tank exploded. Kneeing Brownie she got him trotting, then galloping away from the burning shriek behind her. The heat penetrated even through the heavy denim shirt.

A patch of brown homespun caught her attention as she galloped toward safety. Lying in the dirt was the man Brownie had kicked. Damn. She pulled the horse to a reluctant halt and turned. She couldn't leave the man, even if he had tried to kill her; it was far too close to the fire.

He lay sprawled, not much more than a kid, really, eyes staring blindly at the blue sky. A trickle of blood, already dry, leaked from the corner of his mouth. He was obviously dead. She shook her head and turned the horse back toward safety, kneed him…

A savage slam drove the air from her lungs, bugged her eyes open. A thunderclap of sound deafened her. The shockwave passed, flicking a line of dirt and vegetation along the ground as it traveled toward the group ahead of her. She saw it hit, jerking them like puppets, bowling some over.

She screamed along with the horse as the fireball overtook them, yellow tendrils curled around, engulfing them. She burned. Her back was on fire. Brownie reared and took off running. Valentina felt herself start to slip and she kicked her feet from the stirrups.

The ground came up to meet her and the world went black.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #11

TITLE: The Legend of Dan
GENRE: Paranormal Thriller

Daniel, the One Who Sees the Unseen, can see the supernatural world—a world where the first salvo of the war of good versus evil is aimed at him. In this scene, he isn’t yet fully aware of his gift and its power or the danger it brings.

The giant being spoke to me, “Do not be afraid. I am Ratel. I have come with your guardian.”

A guardian. Just hours ago that enforcer asked where my guardian was.

“The Great One is starting the battle sooner than we planned,” Ratel said. “Gather the things that are important to you, and I’ll explain—”

A brilliant red flash followed by a chest-vibrating blast turned bricks and mortar into pellet-sized missiles that peppered my face and body and drove me backwards into the wall. Stunned and with ears ringing, I staggered forward. My foot grazed the edge of the circular stairs to the floor below, and I tumbled around the first curve. I lost consciousness, my body’s life blood stopped flowing, and everything went, if it had a color, a flat, dull gray. Color returned as I popped back into consciousness on the landing above. Ratel released my arm and disappeared with a muffled snap.

A second muffled snap heralded the appearance of another giant being who said, “I’m Paz—your guardian. You have to come with me now.”

“Where’s Ratel?”

“He’s leading the fight.”

“What fight?”

Paz turned to face away from me toward the… holy s***, where’s my wall?

Ionized night air wafted through the floor-to-ceiling hole framed by warped re-bar, and sparks crackled at the ends of dangling wires. The churning grit of an enforcer pulsated in the opening.

I inched backwards. Thankfully, my Sarquettes was stymied by my inability to form words.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #10

GENRE: Upper MG Fantasy

In the final battle between a young peacekeeping Dragoneer and the dark rider who was hired to kill the good dragons Princess Reyna faces her enemy. She loses her temper and almost loses control of her magical powers.

Again and again she shot her power at him and his dragon, backing them towards the castle walls. Wild bolts of light blazed like the sun. Her eyes and even her mouth appeared to glow as she yelled. “You will never again kill for money. You will never again kill for sport. You will never again prey on those weaker than yourself.”

With one final heave she balled her fists and slammed them to the ground the power so great it ripped through the earth splitting it open in a path that lead directly to her enemy. With an explosion or light and fire the wall of the castle behind them lost its foundation and came crashing down.

As the smoke and dust cleared she saw that the blood red dragon was half buried in the rubble, one leg bent at an odd angle. Reyna lay on the ground completely spent after her display of power. A burning sensation still resonated through her whole body and she choked on dust from the crash.

Her friends, running to her aid, stopped in their tracks when they spotted the dark rider. He was cradling the blood red dragon’s head in his hands and crooning.

“My good dragon Bubbie, my loyal friend.” He stroked the beast’s face talking in a soft almost singing voice, “My Bubbie. You were all I had in the world. I’m sorry my friend.”

Lowering the dragon’s head gently he stood. Fury burned in his eyes hotter than a dragon’s fire and he now had only one purpose. He was going to kill princess Reyna.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #9

TITLE: Becoming Hero
GENRE: High-concept YA

Lightning-powered teen superhero Skye and his teammate Thunder--whose sonic powers match her personality--find themselves the only humans left in their city, fighting an invasion of slimy, slurpy, plant-ooze reptiles. They're losing.

At last Natasha (Thunder) has a desperate idea: "Let's explode!"--trigger a deadly feedback loop between her suit and Skye's that may clean the city once-and-for-all.

Skye struggled to his feet. In the time it took for him to stand the horde advanced ten feet. He saw their tiny teeth, their glowing eyes, their scaly branches reaching for Natasha. He stood behind her and gripped her wrists.



He threw out more lightning than he had ever mastered before. He didn't try to master. He just let it take control of him. His whole form trembled. His eyes burned with the blinding light, even though he had them squeezed shut. He felt her shivering in front of him, and his ears pulsed with burning waves of her pounding, booming, roaring sound. His body was too overwhelmed to even protest--too damaged to even feel pain.

They both collapsed, spent, to a pavement splattered with green and red blood. Skye couldn't ask if the Grimlings had died. He couldn't ask if she was okay. He only had enough strength for one more movement, one last dying action.

Skye rolled over, his face inches from Natasha's. They breathed together, just looking at each other's bloody, burnt faces for a moment. Broken. She coughed, and he felt her hand against his face, pushing his hair out of his eyes.

Skye leaned down, and his lips pressed against Thunder's. He took all of what he thought was his last strength and gave it to her, firmly, gently, his last breath brushing against her face. Then he fell back and disappeared from himself, into darkness.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #8

TITLE: Bright City, Grey City
GENRE: YA Dystopian

16-year-old Nonni lives in future LA, in a sector of the city policed by the FEC Corporation. On her way home, she witnesses an altercation between corporate security and a young man named Santos, who fires gunshots from the window of his three-story apartment building, resisting arrest.

The sleek, dark belly of the helo glides over my head. Engines silent, I hear only the wop-wop-wop of its blades. It stops above Santos’s building, hovering like a giant black bumble bee. The lurid colors of the FEC Corp logo gleam on its side. Three more people run out and are taken into custody by the trappers. Not Santos. Please come out, I think to myself.

A column of bright light flashes down on the building from the helo, encircling it in a nimbus of white. Gawkers closest to the scene rush backwards, panicking. Though I’m a good distance away, I involuntarily step back. I want to scream for Santos to run. But Santos knows what’s coming. If he surrenders, he’ll go to corp prison. I guess he’d rather die.

A concussion rents the air and I feel the suction in my eardrums. I duck down and cover my ears. The building erupts in a burst of light, so bright it dazzles me through my eyelids. A deep-throated boom vibrates in my chest and an expulsion of air, carrying specs of dust and debris, rams me hard. I hear breaking glass, cracking concrete, splintering wood. When I dare to look, the building where Santos and his family lived is now a tall column of livid red flame. Black smoke billows into the air. No other structure is damaged, because the nimbus of light contained the explosion, but Santos and anyone else inside his building are nothing but charred bones.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #7

TITLE: 13 Charlie
GENRE: UMG Fiction

Winning the Jack O’Doodle Doo Winter Freestyle stunt competition is Charlie Sands' ticket out of Maple Falls, Maine (Population: 89.7% geezer, 9.3% adult, 2 teenagers). The scene finds her filming her contest video entry: riding a motorcycle through an abandoned school.

Charlie glanced up at camera five, tethered to a mechanical pulley. It zipped along next to her at an equal speed. She ran over the first trip cord and braced herself.

The force of the explosion rocked Charlie forward in the seat. It wouldn’t sink in until later that had the Jackal not been involved in finalizing the stunt, the amount of C4 she and Wendell had planned to use would have blasted her through the ceiling.

Gahh!” she shouted, after the next trip cord blew five locker doors off their hinges. She glanced in the rearview mirror. A ghoul-faced black smoke cloud was fast approaching. She’d be swallowed whole if she didn’t gun it. She revved the engine full throttle and zipped over the last trip cord, a second before the deformed jaws of the smoke-face ghoul snapped behind the rear tire.

The propped-up locker doors fell off their hinges. Two wrapped packages with sizzling cords protruding from their sides tumbled into the hall. Charlie glanced back to see flames hissing down the cords and into the fireworks packages.

Cameraman six stood just outside the school’s front entrance that Quigley had filled with swirling white frost from fire extinguishers. Both jumped back as Charlie zipped through the extinguisher’s fog. Whirring, whipping bands of light, crackling bursts of oranges, reds, blues, yellows and silver funneled out behind her and filled the doorway. Whirlybird rockets flew into the frigid blue and exploded into dazzling gold sparkles, while crackling bands of fiery explosives sputtered out in the snow behind the motorcycle’s wheels.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #6

TITLE: Suns Set Breach
GENRE: Suspense

Until now, the absolute worst moment of my life was the night that ended both my marriage to Colt Banning and my partnership at Wallace, Aikens, Shaw and Pernod. But today I’ve encountered a gorilla goon with an ankle pistol, a strange white van parked outside my home and now, well, now someone’s broken into my car. This officially qualifies as my worst ever moment.

The car key weighs heavily in my hand. “Why not, probably just my imagination on overload,” I whisper. I press down on the unlock button. There’s a click.

An instant later, a massive, thundering explosion rocks the garage. I crouch down, my hands fly up to cover my face and head. The garage fills with smoke, glass shards, tire scraps and itsy bits of Fit. My eyes burn. Tears cut through the dust coating my face as windshields crack and craze around me. Despite the heat, I break out in a cold sweat. I count until things stop falling – twelve seconds that seem like twelve hours. My hands drop to my side, twitching. I didn’t know my heart could beat this fast. I rise slowly to my full height of five foot four and it feels like too much.


Sharp flakes of blue car snow down upon me. The air is full of the scent of scorched fabric and burning fibers. My keys shake so loudly the jingling sounds like church bells. Or maybe that’s just the ringing in my ears.

“Got to get out of here,” I tell myself, instincts kicking in. I walk as fast as I can while trying not to attract attention. Maybe no one will notice the metallic powder and dirt covering every inch of me. I can’t stop coughing up big gobs of car crud.

Damn. I think I ingested an automobile.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #5

TITLE: The New Eden Chronicles
GENRE: YA Futuristic Thriller

16 yo citizen Eve wants to see how slave laborers in New Eden really live, so Sister Mary disguises her as a fellow healer and slips her into the Non-native Precinct illegally. When soldiers discover her, rebel slaves Mana and Yusef rush to the rescue. Told in Mana’s POV.

“Stop, or we’ll shoot,” Reinhardt shouts. But Eve and Sister Mary keep moving. Yusef and I sink blow darts into the necks of the two Defenders flanking Reinhardt while four or five more pour onto the path from different directions, their guns drawn and shooting.

Sizzling blue energy balls rip through the air as Yusef and I sprint toward Eve and the sister. Several shots graze my legs and back, but I barely feel the flesh burning to blackness. We’ve got some fire grenades we’ve been hoarding for months. I stall the soldiers by lobbing two then motion for Yusef to get the girls out. He catches both of them by the arm and runs toward the back of the Precinct and our hidden tunnel.

I turn in the opposite direction, hurling more grenades to create a thick wall of fire, smoke, and thunder. Suddenly, Eve darts past me through the haze toward the Defenders, weaving between narrow rows of shacks. What the hell is she doing? She'll never make it out alive.

I look around frantcially for a way to slip after her in the chaos, then have to stop. Doors in every row of shacks fling open and Non-natives step out despite the gunfire. It’s like someone’s thrown a switch. I’m suddenly lost in a crowd of bodies. Women, men, teenagers, and grandparents advance steadily, their faces set in grim lines. They’re protecting us, helping the women who've come to heal them.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #4

TITLE: Untitled WIP
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

Carole is in danger because her name was sold to the drug cartel enemies of a man who'd once been obsessed with/stalked her. Arriving home she discovers her garage door is inexplicably open and she calls the cops. One comes to her (gay) neighbor Oliver's to talk to her.

“Mrs. Higgins? I—“

Boom! A flash of light and the windows rattled. Carole screamed as the cop flung himself forward and knocked her down.

Her head hit the floor, pain swarmed around her skull. The officer rolled off of her, pushing her away. Her pulse raced and her lungs couldn’t seem to hold enough air.

“Move! Get to the back of the house! Stay low and away from the windows."

Oliver crawled over and she gazed up at his unfocused face. Dizziness and nausea warred with panic as he helped her roll over on her knees. Quico. Quico was here threatening her again. The drumming of her blood pounded in her ears. Oliver leaned over, his mouth moved but the words didn’t register. Not the first time, or the second. Finally her brain caught up with what he said.

“We need to move.” Oliver's voice was laced with panic. “Come on Carole. Breathe. In two, out two. Good, again. Breathe. In two, out two.”

She mimicked him, her heart still raced but the drumming in her ears diminished.

“You got it? Let’s go.” Oliver draped his arm across her shoulders. They awkwardly crawled toward the kitchen, Oliver half dragging her. Behind them a loud speaker blared from the street telling people to stay inside.

Carole lay on the floor of the kitchen her head pounding and fuzzy, her heart racing. Mendes had been right, Quico could reach out to her here. She wasn't sure she could survive his attention a second time.

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #3

TITLE: Growing Up Mortenson (WIP)
GENRE: Commercial Fiction-LGBT

Jimmy and Jacoby Mortenson are paramedics with Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. In this scene, they coming upon an accident scene on their day off and respond. With the help of bystanders, their boss, and another nurse, they take care of the scene, which quickly turns dangerous.

I smelled smoke and realized, a bit belatedly, that the car was on fire. “Jacoby! We need to get these people out of here now!”

“You and you! Get over here!” he shouted. Two bystanders hurried over and knelt on the sidewalk. “Hold her head and don’t let go. You’re her neck brace!”

The terrified strangers nodded, as we got the driver out. We moved her as far as we could from the burning vehicle.

“I’m a paramedic!” I looked up and I waved my boss over.

“This car is on fire, and we need to assess—the others in the vehicle there,” I said, panting a bit. Damn asthma. Together, we ran for a blue car wrapped around the stoplight. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”

“You and you!” I helped get the driver out. “Over here now! Hold her head still and don’t let her move it. You are her neck brace!”

Neither protested as I gave them stern instructions, moving the driver to the sidewalk; I heard sirens in the distance. Just as I started my assessment, my boss saved our lives.

“Get down!” he shouted. I dived partially under the car and felt the ground shake. When it seemed safe, I looked up, realizing that the yellow car had exploded.

I stood on shaking legs and spotted Jacoby waving at me; he was okay. “Are the victims okay?”

Our volunteers gave thumbs up and I relaxed. “Okay, ambulance--is here, guys. Get--ready to--transport.”

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #2

TITLE: Nightshroud
GENRE: Speculative

Wounded soldiers return at night to the fortified keep, Wates. But as they approach, all does not seem well. A "wind tower" is a lookout run by gifted children, used for communication and guarding against attacks. Willim and Curt are brothers.

They rode at a brisk pace. Pol whispered constantly in Kara’s ear. She was getting worse again.

Wates took shape against the horizon. Curt kept his eyes on the wind tower, a growing column above the wall. There was no glint from the lens. No whisper from Willim. Get out of there. Get out.

Kara moaned, writhed against Pol so frightfully hard that he finally let go the reins and held her in both arms. She twisted and fought. Words slurred out of her mouth, most were inarticulate syllables.

Pol put an ear to her mouth and listened. “Wind tower,” he repeated. “She said wind tower.” He looked at Curt. “Is there any threat that could harm the tower?”

Cold pricked at Curt’s skin. What could harm the tower?

His eyes widened. “Nothing from outside the walls. But someone inside the city could—”

The wind tower exploded. A gout of flame mushroomed into the night, lighting the rocky slope. The tower tumbled sideways, crushing the wall as it fell. Fire spilled out like a great arterial wound. Curt fell off his mount. He stood, fell again, and got back up, eyes locked on the fiery void where tower and wall had stood.


Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS! #1

TITLE: Beyond The River
GENRE: Literary Fiction

Dean is the novel's antagonist. Here, the summer before college, he is working on a crew that fixes gas leaks. Clyde, his supervisor, used to work with Dean’s father, Ralph "Sas" Romanuski. Clyde tells Dean stories about his father. A T-bar is used to locate gas lines.

“So, what about him getting fried?” Dean asked.

“Your Pa couldn’t find the shut off for the mall. After trying, too, I said, ‘Piss on it, they ain’t gonna dig here anyway.’ But he blind-probed a short bar and when he couldn’t find nothing, he pulled out the six-footer. Down deep, he came up against something. He pulled up and pushed down. ‘Tree root,’ he said. Didn’t sound right to me, but I kept my mouth shut. No use arguing with him about his predictions.

“Next thing I know, he jumps and all his weight come down on that bar. Then came a loud-a** boom.” Clyde waved Dean off the cooler. He squatted and sat. “First I see the t-bar swaying back and forth like it’s alive. Then I see Sas, fifteen feet away, flat on his back. Next thing I know I’m radioing dispatch, screaming, ‘Send an ambulance; Romanuski done hit electric!’”

“Holy s***,” Dean said. His father, the enigma. Tragedy, the kind that might bond a family, the kind that might produce compassion and elicit understanding, hadn’t been shared or examined. His father never said a word about any of this.

“When the ambulance finally pulled up, the medic asked, ‘Where’s the body?’ figuring all the voltage had done him in. I pointed to the back of the truck. Sas sat there on the bumper, calm as could be, sucking a cigarette. His eyes were bloodshot and I couldn’t tell whether the smoke around his head was from the cigarette or his hair.”

Monday, May 27, 2013

Drop the Needle: EXPLOSIONS!

I completely forgot that today was a holiday when I scheduled the critique round.  If entries are super low, I will extend the window beyond the 8 pm cut-off.

At any rate, here are the submission guidelines for the EXPLOSIONS! round:

  • The submissions window runs from noon to 8 pm EDT (NYC) today.
  • Submit a scene that includes an ACTUAL EXPLOSION.
  • Your scene may come from a finished (query-able) manuscript or a WIP (carefully proofread, please).
  • This critique round is open to both agented and unagented authors.
  • Please include a 50-word lead-in, followed by a 250-word excerpt.
  • The word count is set at 305.
  • Enter HERE or via email to authoress.submissions(at)
  • Format:
SCREEN NAME: (type it here)
TITLE: (type it here)
GENRE: (type it here)

Type your up-to-50-words lead-in here. (Italics would be nice, because then I don't have to reformat.) Please do not neglect this step. I'm still not sure why people neglect this step. If you're dropping us into the middle of a story, WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON.

Type your 250-word explosion scene here.

(Note: The online form is much easier than emailing.  Seriously.)

This should be a fun round!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Sometimes I'm bursting with words to share for my Friday Fricassee.  And sometimes words are elusive.

Welcome to my elusive Friday!

Here's the thing.  I'm often talking about the ebb and flow of this journey, right?  Reminding you to tough it through the hard times, exhorting you to keep writing despite what your emotions are doing, and attempting to be a "glue" of sorts that sticks us all together.

Well, I'm toughing it through "I want to walk away forever" this week.  I'm not emotional, I'm not depressed, I'm not ranting and throwing things.  (Believe it or not, I think I've grown past all that.)  I am, simply, done.

You know what I mean, right?  That "done" feeling.

As in, I'm done.

(Wow.  Keep using the same word and it loses meaning.  Maybe that's my answer. Done done done done done done...)

It's the "I can't do this anymore" syndrome.  (I know you're nodding your head! I just know it!)

"I can't write another novel."

"I can't go through any more rejection."

"I can't deal with this tunnel-with-no-light-at-the-end."

"I quit."

Yes.  That.

But I'm doing something pretty interesting in order to combat it.  (What, you thought I would take this lying down?)

In the wake of having finished what turned out to be a difficult first draft (it's been two weeks since I finished and I still can't stand the thought of starting revisions), I have pulled out--wait for it--my very first novel.

Yes, that novel. The one that is SO BAD that I will have to leave instructions in my will for someone to destroy it.  The one that marked the beginning of my journey as a serious writer; the one that lit my fire.

That one.

Know what's special about that horrible-awful-no-good tome?  (All 127,000 words of it??)  It's infused with the passion of writing from a purely creative place.  I had no idea about point of view, pacing, or purple prose.  I'd never heard of an inciting incident; didn't know what "character arc" meant.

Complete neophyte.

But.  I knew what I loved:  fantasy.  I knew how to lose myself in another world; I knew the sort of journeys and adventures were inherent to this genre.

I even chose "writing music" for the process--a CD of Italian Renaissance music that, for years after I'd pitched the novel into the abyss, brought me immediately back to the world and its characters.

So I've pulled out the music.  And I've pulled out the novel.  And I am going to completely rewrite it.

From scratch.

(Because there's no other way to approach this.  It's that bad.)

You know what?  The absolute joy of losing myself in this world is immeasurable.  I turn on the music and my stomach drops.  I close my eyes and my characters are there, waiting to be transformed.

I haven't begun the actual writing yet, because I'm having to re-plot so much.  Rethink so much.  Throw away so much.

This is what I need right now--to write something completely for myself.  It's so healing.

Next week, I'm going on an overnight writing getaway with a fellow writer.  My goal is to have the plot stuff worked out so that I can spend that precious time writing the novel that is healing me.

So, that's me, really.

I want to walk away forever.  Instead, I'm rewriting something that reminds me why I love to write stories.

I'll let you know how it goes.

(And thanks for being a safety net.  Because you are.  And I need that, just like you do.)


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Success Story: Self-Published and Selling!

Here's a different sort of success story from what we usually see--enjoy!

Hi, Authoress:

I don't know if you consider this a success story since I wasn't successful in acquiring an agent through your contests. However, I credit a lot of my success as a self-published author to having been a regular participant in your blog contests for several years, although I was ultimately unsuccessful in snagging an agent.

I first entered a Secret Agent contest in April 2009, and have entered several others, including Baker's Dozen contests and crit rounds over the years. I was successful in getting my entry past the gatekeepers in the 2010 Baker's Dozen contest and got several bids on my entry, but an ultimate pass by the agents who requested it. I am still revising it based on their comments and will consider self-publication one day if no agent is interested.

Undaunted by the lack of an offer of representation through all the contests I entered and won or placed, and bolstered by the great feedback by participants, I kept submitting my novels, hoping for a breakthrough. I did get several requests for fulls and partials over the four years I participated (2009 - 2012) and wonderful critique from everyone, so I credit that with improving my writing and story-telling skills.

I decided on self-publication based on the feedback from agents that my genre was a hard sell (paranormal romance - aka vampires). I took Nathan Bransford's advice to try self-publishing if I thought I had a novel that had an audience but that literary agents weren't quite comfortable trying to sell because of market saturation. When I read a rumor that Sylvia Day had a finished vampire romance novel that her agent didn't want to even try to sell, I figured if she couldn't get her agent interested, who would ever consider a trilogy from an unpublished writer like me?

Hence, in 2012, I embarked on the self-publishing route, thinking I had nothing to lose. If agents really did hate vampires and if the market was saturated, I would have no luck finding an agent or publisher for my books. After reviewing my options, I decided to self-publish through Amazon's Kindle Direct program and published the first three novels in my trilogy, Dominion, Ascension and Retribution in June, July and December 2012. So far, they have been received pretty well by the several thousands of purchasers, and I have some pretty good reviews and fans of the series. Book 4 is scheduled to be published some time in 2013 -- probably December, depending on how the writing goes.

Late last year, I was approached by a publisher to consider my series for their house, but alas, the acquisitions editor left the house and my books remained in Amazon's Kindle Direct program where they are selling at a slow but steady pace, earning me a nice royalty to supplement my income. I haven't become rich off the royalties, but it has been quite nice to receive them and of course, the reader feedback is so rewarding.

So that is the tale of my unwanted vampire romance trilogy! It hasn't cracked the bestseller's list but it has an audience of loyal and loving readers waiting for my next novel, and that makes me very happy.

I also tried my hand at self-publishing a contemporary romance novel, and released The Agreement on March 28, 2013. It has done very well - far better than I ever anticipated -- and was as high as #62 in the Kindle eBook Contemporary Romance bestsellers list a couple of weeks after it was released. I have sold over 7,300 eBooks since then and made more money in a month and a half than I do in almost 6 months of my full-time professional job! This would be a "nice deal" (five figures) if announced through Publisher's Marketplace deals page.

Readers have asked for a sequel so I am busy writing Book 2 in the same world, although both books will be stand-alone. The Agreement is currently ranked #162 -- just above Gabriel's Inferno, Rock Me, and On Dublin Street in Amazon's Kindle Contemporary Romance store, for those of you who read Contemporary Romance. You can imagine how pleased I am!

So while I didn't find an agent through MSFV SA contests or the Baker's Dozen contests, I consider the work I put into entering and polishing my manuscripts to have helped me prepare my novels for eventual self-publishing. I am hoping if my sales hold up, I will be able to "give up my day job" as the saying goes and write full-time this year, which has been a dream of mine all my life.

If I was to find an agent at this point who could represent me and sell my novels to traditional publishing houses, I would be quite pleased as promotion, PR, editing and formatting novels and all the business aspects of self-publishing take a lot of time and I am already strapped for time as a full-time professional, mother and homeowner. However, if I must continue on as a self-published author, I will be pleased.

Ultimately, I owe so much of the success I have achieved because I learned so much about writing from MSFV and extend my sincere thanks to Authoress for hosting this wonderful blog and contests.

S. E. (Elizabeth) Lund

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Heads Up: A Fun, New Crit Round

In the spirit of better communicating what's coming up on MSFV, I give you this Advanced Warning of an upcoming critique round.

(Note:  The following idea was Adam Heine's.  I loved it immediately.  I think you will, too.)

Submissions:  Monday, May 27, noon to 8:00 pm EDT.  Lottery.
Number of entries:  50
Entries will post:  Wednesday, May 29

Sometimes, a good explosion is just what a story needs, right?  So if you've got an explosion in your novel and you want to make sure it's working, this crit round is for you!  The explosion can be large- or small-scale; your scene can lead up to and end with the explosion, or it can detail the aftermath.  At any rate, you'll have 250 words plus a 50-word lead-in to show us the action.

Detailed submission guidelines will post on Monday.

(This is the moment when you pop this event into iCalendar or tattoo the date on the back of your hand or something.)

And, yes, this critique round is for agented and unagented authors, and is open to WIPs as well as completed manuscripts.  My only requirement is that you please send A CLEAN, CAREFULLY EDITED PAGE.  Because being in the middle of writing a novel is no excuse for submitting a sloppy excerpt, right?

Questions below!  This has the potential to be a fun round.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

And We've Got Winners!


Here we go:


#19 -- The Truth About Leaving
#28 -- Bookfinders

THE PRIZE:  Mr. Sherman requests that you send your query and the first 50 pages of your manuscript.


#32 -- Freedom Boys
#46 -- How to Lose a Fortune and Save a Useless Family

THE PRIZE:  Mr. Sherman requests that you send your query, full manuscript, and a synopsis.

Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific submission instructions.

Congratulations, all!  And thanks for another great round.

Secret Agent Unveiled -- Brooks Sherman

Warm thanks to the helpful and adorable Brooks Sherman of FinePrint Literary for being our Secret Agent this month!

Brooks's Bio:

Brooks Sherman is a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management, a full-service literary agency based in New York City. He is on the lookout for adult fiction that runs the gamut from literary and upmarket to speculative (particularly urban/contemporary fantasy rooted in realistic settings, horror/dark fantasy, and magical realism), as well as historical and crime fiction. On the children’s side, he is seeking middle grade novels of all genres (but particularly fantasy adventure and contemporary), and is open to YA fiction of all types except paranormal romance. He would especially love to get his hands on a dark and/or funny contemporary YA project.

Recent sales include Emma Trevayne’s CHORUS (Running Press Kids, Spring 2014) and GEARWING (S&S Books for Young Readers, Summer 2014), and author/illustrator Sam Garton’s picture book I AM OTTER (Balzer + Bray, May 2014), and novelist Sean Ferrell’s debut picture book I DON’T LIKE KOALA (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, TBA).

You can find Brooks on Twitter at @byobrooks.

Winners forthcoming.

Monday, May 20, 2013

In Response to Your Response

I never expected to receive over a hundred responses to last week's Friday Fricassee.  Honestly, I was simply trying to assess whether or not I needed to reduce the number of Secret Agent contests I hold each year.

Anyway, thank you all for your comments!  In culling through them, I've come up with a bunch of Stuff To Address, so allow me to do so now (in no particular order):


Many of you begged, "Please don't stop!"  I wasn't planning on it; I just wanted to determine whether interest was high enough to continue doing 9 a year.  I'm sorry if you got the wrong impression!


Mea culpa!  In times past, I was definitely in the habit of announcing submissions on the blog.  After a while, it started to feel unnecessary, so I stopped.  Clearly this was not a good move.  It's a simple fix, though.  From now on, I will announce submissions early on the morning of the day they open.


Again, this is something I clearly should have been doing, and is an easy fix.  I've mentioned in the past that I sometimes forget that we have a constant influx of new readers.  From now on, I will post the critique guidelines immediately after the excerpts go live.  This way, the guidelines will be at the top of the page during the contest, and highly visible.

(There is also a "CONTEST" tab at the top of the blog that you can read any time to brush up on Secret Agent etiquette.)


This is apparently true for many people.  May 2010, though, had 60 entries (and I'm not even sure why).  It may truly have been a combination of real-life busyness and extra online opportunities this year.

One comment I found particularly offensive, though, was one that inferred that our readership is all "stay-at-home moms writing YA".  Not only is that a slam to those among us who actually ARE stay-at-home moms writing YA (or anything else, for that matter), but it blatantly ignores the fact that May is also busy for teachers, professors, performers (dance and music recitals), students, and extended family members, as well as for parents.  It also ignores the fact that May is busy not only for women, but for men as well.  (I am heartily tired of the male vs. female argument, so let's let that one die, please.)

I haven't been experiencing "May busyness", so I'm thankful that so many of you took the time to point that out to me.


I'm thrilled that so many of you take this seriously!  Grateful, too.  And honestly?  Agents have mentioned this to me--that it's nice to not see constant repeats on my site.  (It's not just good for the readers, though.  It's good for YOU.  A few minor tweaks does not a revision make, and that's what I'm trying to foster here: serious edits/revision.  For your sake.)

I am considering shortening this to four months.  I want to give this a lot of thought, since parameters like this are, I believe, one of the things that keeps the quality higher during our contests.  I will let you know when I figure out what the wisest course of action is!


I addressed this issue very pointedly in THIS POST FROM FEBRUARY, 2012.  (Seriously--if cheerleading concerns you, please read this post, which details my reasons for not supporting it.)

Ultimately, I am not responsible for the way people critique.  I will certainly delete anything nasty--but cheerleading is not nasty, so I have no reason to delete it.

Cheerleading is, however, useless in a forum that exists for CRITIQUE.  Receiving "Yay, you're awesome!" comments on a contest entry is no better than letting your mom and dad read your manuscripts and tell you how fabulous they are.

I understand that there are other contests online that encourage cheerleading.  THIS IS THEIR PREROGATIVE.  I support their right to run contests as they choose, and I support your right to choose which contests you wish to enter/support.  In short--go for it!

But I choose NOT to pit writers against each other.  I choose NOT to encourage my readers to "Cheer for your favorite entry!"  I never have; I never will.

Because I don't want the atmosphere here to be "me against them" for anyone who chooses to participate.  NOT EVER.  For five years, I have attempted to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and support among aspiring authors, coupled with effective critique.  This is largely what we have here, and it's been wonderful.

So, please.  Keep your pompoms at home.  Making positive comments is an important part of critiquing the work of your peers (because, hey--if something is good, then we should say so!), but if all you're doing is "Rah! Rah!", then this isn't the place for it.

Nobody grows as a writer with nothing but "Rah! Rah!" in their comment boxes.


I wanted to address this particular comment because it doesn't take into account that we are constantly picking up new community members here.  It's true that many of our long-time readers have gone on to become agented, but the assumption that nobody is stepping up to take their places among the searching-for-an-agent ranks is erroneous.


Um.  Of our more-than-50 success stories, 24 are published (so far).  Really, this is no secret; they are listed alphabetically under "PUBLISHED AUTHORS" on the "SUCCESS STORY" tab at the top of the blog.

Also?  There is nothing "feel-good" (in the bitter sense) about posting a success story that shares how an author nabbed his agent.  If you are not encouraged by these stories, don't read them.  If you are so jaded that you cannot appreciate another person's success, then I am sorry for your sake.

I know what it feels like to sometimes burst into tears when I read someone else's good news.  Sometimes, somewhere along the journey, we all bottom out.  It's okay.

But we've got to move past it.  And if you can't seem to move past feeling negative about a colleague's rejoicing, then perhaps you need to seriously consider your own journey, and whether it's right for you.


This one admittedly disturbs me.  That an agent would agree to a contest, choose winners, and then never respond to the winners once they sent their requested submissions is, in my opinion, less than professional.

However.  This is the norm in the world of agents, whether or not your request from an agent came from a contest or through regular querying channels.  For a number of agents, no response equals no thank you.

I don't agree with this approach.  If you've requested material, I think you should respond to that material, whether it's a "yes" or a "no".  But my opinion on this matter doesn't change things.  The truth is, SOME AGENTS WILL NEVER RESPOND.  I hate it as much as you do, but you can't let it jade you.  YOU'VE GOT TO KEEP ON KEEPING ON.

So if you've had this experience via a Secret Agent contest?  I apologize.  And I encourage you to let go of the bitterness, because it's not doing you any favors.

Recalcitrant agents are not a reflection of this blog any more than cheerleaders or trolls are.  For your own sake, move past the disappointment.

(Also?  If this happens to you, don't suffer in silence.  Email me.  If it's an agent I have a good relationship with, I might be able to find out what's gone amiss.  Or, at the very least, I can talk you off the ledge.)


I can't push the entire window later in the day, because folks across the Atlantic will fall asleep.  But I can extend the window past its normal 5:00 pm Eastern closing time, for the sake of the still-sleeping Pacific Time-zoners and to the west beyond.  This won't help when it's not a lottery, but most of the SA contests have been lotteries lately.  So this is definitely an easy change.


Normally I ignore snarky remarks, but this one was such a huge dig at the folks who give their time to these critiques that I had to address it.

I'd like to publicly proclaim my gratitude for everyone who leaves critique on this blog.  It is my firm belief that those of you who have been cheerleading are doing so out of a sincere desire to cheer on your crit partners, colleagues, and friends.  If there's any hidden motive in the cheering, I've been oblivious.  And, frankly, I'd rather stay that way.  (At any rate, I've already said that I don't like the cheerleading.  So if the cheerleaders wish to stick around, I trust that they will start leaving valid critiques instead of cheering.)

Also?  There are times when critiquers say positive things that aren't cheerleading; they are simply pointing out strengths in an excerpt, which is valid.  To accuse these folks of trying to pimp their own blogs via positive critiques is absurd.

These are the kinds of comments that need to be deleted before you hit "send".  Seriously.


  • Thank you for deigning to leave your thoughts.  Insight from industry professionals, particularly those with years of experience, is always appreciated.
  • I absolutely agree that it is important to pay close attention to what the dissenters say.  This is wise counsel.
  • I disagree that most of the comments were "vacuous".  I asked a simple question about the Secret Agent contests in order to ascertain its level of relevance, and most commenters answered that question.  Letting me know the reasons why they didn't enter this month's round was actually quite helpful.
  • As one of my readers recently pointed out to me, there is a huge difference between a** kissing and gratitude.  Expressing enjoyment of the contest and/or a desire to see it continue is not a** kissing.  I have certainly waded through my share of sycophantic comments and tweets over the years; I realize that's part of the territory and I usually roll my eyes a little bit.  But Friday's comment thread?  I read gratitude, plain and simple.  My hope is that I will not become so jaded that I one day cannot tell the difference.
  • You wrote: "You might find it leads to a very bright future if you really focused on being a serious writer's site." Actually, that's been my focus all along.  Recently, I let my hair down a little bit to celebrate the blog's 5th birthday--definitely not the norm around here.  But overall?  My focus has always been on the craft of writing, and learning to give and to receive effective critique.  I've also been a huge proponent of Take The Scary Out Of Querying, which is why I wrote my e-book.  And, as the craze for writer contests has exploded around me, I have not jumped onto the bandwagon of All The Bells And Whistles.  I have, in fact, stuck to my tried-and-true Secret Agent format, which is straightforward and easy to understand.  My distaste for cheerleading speaks for itself, and my continued effort to encourage aspiring authors not to give up is, I hope, a hallmark of this blog.  I do not for a moment claim that I've done a flawless job, and I am always open to suggestions (which is why I pose questions on the blog).  But since its inception, MSFV has never been anything less than a serious writer's site.  I would have no interest in its being anything else.


I'll admit that it's frustrating when contest entrants fail to give critique.  But you know what?  Life is like this.  There are those who give and those who take, and there's nothing we can do about it.  For the most part, there are a lot of people who give around here.  If that weren't true, this blog would be nothing.  Seriously nothing.

So while I can understand that "turned off" feeling, I do think it's a poor excuse for throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  If you are giving and receiving and having an overall positive experience, why should it bother you if others are not as engaged?  Why are you even keeping track?

This doesn't only apply to MSFV, but to life.  All we can really do is to be sure we are giving what we can, and graciously receiving what is given to us.  Beyond that, it's out of our control.  It would behoove all of us to focus on the positive here.  If that's too much to ask?  Then, yes, it's time to move on.


When MSFV was a downy fledgling, there weren't many contests and critique opportunities for writers online.  Now?  They're everywhere.  Literally everywhere!  And there's a lot of hoopla and excitement and brouhaha and what-have-you, and it's easy to start "contest hopping."  I mean, it's heady!  It's an adrenaline rush!  PEOPLE CHEER FOR YOU!

My advice?  Choose carefully which contests you enter.  Ask yourself if it's a good point in your manuscript journey and in your career plans to enter each contest you're considering.  Contests may be a lot more exciting than plain old querying, but in the end, it's the plain old querying that leads most writers to their agents.

I landed my agent through a query letter, not a contest.  So there you have it.

Of course there are success stories!  Of course good things can happen through contests!  And there are some really neat people running some of these contests.  So on one level, it's all good!

But it's also easy to get swept up in it all.  And I'm advising you not to let that happen.  Carefully research the agents in these contests to see if they're right for you.  If the agents' identities are hidden, then carefully analyze the contest itself, to see if it has the potential to actually help you.  Don't participate because you somehow believe that contests are the new query.  They are not.

Any contest that includes valid critique is, in my opinion, most valuable.  The focus in our journey-toward-an-agent should not be, "Can I win a contest?", but rather, "Do I have a strong premise and strong writing?" and "What do I need to do to make this opening the best it can possibly be?"

So, by all means, get out there where the action is!  But do so with prudence and wisdom.  Remember that, in the end, fifty comments telling you how awesome you are is not going to get you a publishing contract.  (It'll feel awesome for a little while, but that's about all it will do for you.)


For taking the time to answer my questions, for pointing out areas in which you felt I could improve the contests, for offering words of sincere support--thank you for all of it.  If this blog isn't the best that it can be, then I'm selling you short, and I don't want to do that.  50+ success stories and countless writers who feel like they're moving forward is no small thing, and I want us to continue on this trajectory together.

Thank you for coming, thank you for staying.  And thank you, as always, for sharing your journeys with me.  In the end, we will, all of us, say, "I was never alone."

That, right there, says it all.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Secret Agent: Slight Delay

Our Secret Agent has respectfully requested one extra day to finish.  I knew you'd all survive if you had to wait until Tuesday, so I cheerfully agreed.

Thanks for understanding.  (Because, as you all know, life sometimes simply happens.)


Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Dear hearts!

Since Monday's submissions for the Secret Agent contest, I've been thinking.  Because, though both YA and MG were included this month, there were only 48 entries.

Now, the whole reason Michael developed the lottery system for me was to make it more equitable during the popular runs--and we all know that, in a normal universe, the inclusion of YA and MG spikes the entry numbers pretty quickly.

But not this time.  There wasn't even a need for the lottery, since everyone who entered got in.

That makes 48 people very happy!  But it makes me go...hmm.

So I'm trying to analyze this.  Because, yeah, these contests take time on my end.  Not the submission part, since that's blissfully automated.  But I do have to go through each entry to fix formatting and check for words-that-need-asterisks.  Which is a bit on the tedious side.

Could it be that the MSFV audience no longer supports monthly Secret Agent contests?

Could it be that, with the relatively recent influx of writerly-contests-everywhere-you-look, the pool for Secret Agent contests has become diluted?  (I've heard agents complaining that they're getting burned out with all the contests.  This is a phenomenon that did not exist when MSFV was first created.)

Or could it be that this was just an off month?

I need to hear from you today.  Because I want this blog to be vibrant and relevant and useful to all who come here.  And right now, all I can think is, if only 48 people entered a Secret Agent contest that included MG and YA, what's going to happen the next time we have an "adult only" round?

(You may be thinking, Authoress?  What's the problem here?  48 people are 48 people!  But I'm thinking, if no one was turned away this month, where's our reserve of I'll-try-again for next month?)

(Well, okay.  We don't have a Secret Agent contest in June.  Which might be good timing, yes?)

Please share your thoughts.  These contests are for you.  I want them to remain relevant and effective.  And I want to see the ranks of our 50+ success stories continue to grow.

Waiting to hear from you!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

An Indirect 2012 Baker's Dozen Success Story

In the author's own words:

Dear Authoress,

I started following your blog 1.5 years ago--just as I began writing my first book. I entered a Secret Agent contest in early 2012 and took all the constructive comments to heart. Then came the 2012 Baker's Dozen. I was excited to participate (Lucky #13 "Stormheart") and elated to receive bids. I soaked up all the suggestions and revised my opening (yet again). In late January, something crazy happened. The stars aligned, unicorns danced cheek to cheek...I got a call from an agent. This mind-blowing event was followed by three more offers within the same week (including a fantastic agent who bid on my work during in the Baker's Dozen).

Gobsmacked, I faced one of the toughest choices of my life (agents are a pretty dang personable bunch of people...unlike certain tongue-tied writers who stumble when having to speak mouth words). I felt like India Jones at the end of The Last Crusade being told to "choose wisely." In the end, I relied on advice from trusted writer friends and my own intuition. I am thrilled to say I signed with Emily Sylvan Kim from The Prospect Agency and am about to go on submission.

Thank you generous MSFV readers--your invaluable feedback matters. Authoress--your generosity, honesty, integrity and commitment to craft improvement helps change lives. Bless you and your red hat!

Best Wishes,
Lila Gillard 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Secrets Awakened

Ten min past dimming time, Kyle and Cimber froze as someone pounded on the entrance to their family quarters. Cimber seized one of her brother’s hands and stared wide-eyed into his hazel eyes as her fingers stuttered, “Who is that?”

Kyle pulled his sister next to him on the floor in their chair created retreat and signed, “I don’t know but, nothing good comes from a visit after dimming time. Only officials on business, mostly the unpopular kind, are permitted to travel the domes during the dim.”

The twins trembled as they stared at the door and then startled at their father’s voice behind them.

“I don’t know,” Father said, pulling a thin grey robe over his naked torso and pajama pants, as he emerged into the common room.

Mother tried to awkwardly follow, but winced as she stepped forward on her unsecured walking boot and clung to the door way of their sleeping room.


“Arla stop. Wait there.” Father held his hand out. As he turned toward the main door, he collided with a chair, yanked it back into place and stopped, staring down at his fourteen-year-old twins. A moment later, he pointed to them with two fingers, flicked his hand over his shoulder and drew his thumb down his jaw line as he spoke, “Go to your mother.”

Hand in hand the twins scrambled away as their father repositioned the other chairs.

The visitor pounded again.

Father hurried to the keypad by the door.

May Secret Agent #47

TITLE: Floopocalypse
GENRE: MG - Sci-Fi Adventure

On the day we left for Alaska, a librarian tried to eat my brains for lunch.

Her name was Ms. Pendergrass. She worked at the Santa Monica Public Library every day after school. I know this because I was at the Santa Monica Public Library every day after school. Usually waiting for dad to come pick me up.

“He’ll be here soon, sweetheart,” Ms. Pendergrass said as she sat down next to me. “Hey, you hungry?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Here,” said Ms. Pendergrass, “you can have my bag of chips. My stomach doesn’t feel so good.”

“Are they low-sodium, all-natural, non-fat chips?” I asked.

“Would I give you junk food?” she said. “Here, I’ll be right back.”

Ms. Pendergrass tossed the bag of low-sodium, all-natural, non-fat chips onto the table and scurried off towards the bathroom.

“K, thanks,” I said, opening the chips.

A half hour later the chips were gone and Ms. Pendergrass was still in the bathroom. I grew a little concerned.

“Uh...Ms. Pendergrass, you ok in there?” I said, knocking on the bathroom door with the end of my field hockey stick. I play field hockey. Left Inner. Co-Captain. My stick is an extension of my arm. It goes everywhere I go.

“Helloooo,” I said, knocking again with my stick.

“ROOLLLRRRRFFFFFFF!”, something roared back.

“...Ms. Pendergrass?”

Then, bam, the bathroom door burst open. And there stood Ms. Pendergrass. Except, she was no longer the Ms. Pendergrass I knew. She was a monster. She was a Floo.

May Secret Agent #46

TITLE: How to Lose a Fortune and Save a Useless Family
GENRE: Middle Grade

The good news was I’d bribed my mother to take me to the Ducksbridge Open Day. The bribe was a Fruit and Nut chocolate bar from the local In’N Out. I got it cheap because it was expired. It was expired because only crazy old people ate Fruit and Nut. Which is why it was perfect for my mother.

The bad news was we were stuck in a parking line snaking down the school driveway and my mother’s 1982 Ford Fiesta, Pretty Girl, was smoking out a herd of grazing deer. And a bunch of parents in fancy cars.

I ran a finger round my collar and de-fogged my sunglasses but unfortunately the scene before me was clear as day. The woman in the Range Rover up ahead was coughing and hacking and pretty much overdoing it. A black limousine out our rear window was flashing its lights and sounding its horn like this was a state of emergency. Incredible. All for a bit of muffler smoke, miniscule amounts of carbon monoxide and a few engine rattles.

I risked a glance at my mother. She was swiping on lipstick like she wanted to snap it off. Not good. I definitely needed to move on to Plan B.

“You know, it’s getting kind of stuffy in here,” I said. “I can walk if you want.”

“I’ll stuffy you and that maniac with the horn, “ she said. “You dragged me here Anthony, you will not put a foot outside this car without me.”