Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Fricassee

These are rejection letters.

When I first started querying agents (8 years ago!), the idea of e-queries was new.  Agent Kristin Nelson, on her blog, offered a list of agents who accepted queries via email.  It was a pretty small list--but I was excited about it, because, well, email!  What's the point of wasting paper and buying a stamp when you can email?  It was hard to understand why the publishing industry was so slow to jump on board.

(No one had told me yet that "slow" was the publishing industry's middle name.)

Fairly soon, though, email became the submission-of-choice.  But during the first year or so of my querying journey, there were lots of unhappy trips back to the house from my mailbox.  After a while, you can tell what a rejection feels like in your hands.  I swear.

I saved each one, though.  I keep this red-ribboned pile in the top drawer of my bedside table, and sometimes I actually sit down and read through.  It reminds me how far I've come, and that there's something to be said for persistence.

The rest of my (vast) collection of rejections is in my email box, in folders by title name.

That's a lot of "no."  But it only takes one "yes".

Only one yes.

Are you hearing me?  Let your rejections be stepping stones to your success.  Pay attention to them, because they are markers of where you are on your journey.  Are you getting NO requests for material?  Take a hard look at your query--it might be lacking.  Are you getting requests for partials that NEVER turn into requests for fulls?  Take a hard look at your writing.  Voice is an elusive thing, and it's when we find our VOICE that our stories begin to truly soar.  Are your requests for fulls ending in rejections that are all saying similar things?  LISTEN to those similar things.  They might be pointing to exactly what is broken, so that you can fix it.

My pile of rejections is a tangible reminder that "no" doesn't mean "you're doomed to failure".  I can hold it in my hands, feel the weight of it, and SMILE.

I have an agent.  I WILL be published.  It's all about walking across the rapids on top of the stepping stones, instead of letting them hit us on the head or push us under.

Are your stepping stones in a drawer?  On your laptop?  Or do you discard them to remain unfettered by the reminder of the nos?  How do YOU deal with rejection letters?

Share!  As we all press on toward our personal yeses.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

An Indirect Baker's Dozen Success!

These are the best emails.  And sharing them is even better!  With the author's permission:

I was entry #50 in Baker's Dozen 2013, a goal I had been trying to achieve for a few years (getting into the Baker's Dozen auction, not being #50) (though being #50 was nice and easy to remember).

I walked away with a full request, which was great! And after the exclusive week was up, I got another request from a lurking agent, which was also great!

Shortly after that, though, I got an offer of rep on my manuscript. And then another. When it was all said and done, I got 7 offers of rep on my YA fantasy ALL THAT REMAINS, including ones from both of my Baker's Dozen requests.

In the end, though, after a lot of consideration (and stress and worry and excitement) I signed with Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media!

Thanks so much for all the help and support you give the bogging writing community. More than one of the offers were from agents who'd requested stuff from me in the past because of one of your contests, and many agents I found and queried because of the Secret Agent contests.

Sarah Ahiers

Monday, February 24, 2014

March Secret Agent Early Info

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open next Monday, March 3.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

*There are TWO WAYS to enter: a) via email to authoress.submissions(at) OR via web form at
*THIS WILL BE A LOTTERY: The submission window will be open from NOON to 6:00 PM EDT, after which the bot will randomly select 50 entries.
* 2 alternates will also be accepted, for a total of 52 entries.
* PLEASE NOTE: You are responsible for figuring out your own time zone. "Time Zone differences" are NOT a reason for not getting your entry in.
* Submissions received before the contest opens will be rejected.
* Submissions are for COMPLETED MANUSCRIPTS ONLY. If you wouldn't want an agent to read the entire thing, DON'T SEND IT. If an "entire thing" doesn't exist, you shouldn't even be reading these rules.
* Manuscripts THAT HAVE BEEN IN EITHER OF THE LAST 2 SECRET AGENT CONTESTS (October or January) will not be accepted.
* You may submit A DIFFERENT MANUSCRIPT if you've participated in any previous Secret Agent contests.
* Only ONE ENTRY per person per contest. If you send more than one, your subsequent entry(ies) will be rejected.
* If you WON A CONTEST WITHIN THE PAST 12 MONTHS (i.e., offered any kind of prize from a Secret Agent), please DO NOT ENTER THIS CONTEST. (Unless it's a different manuscript.)
* Submissions are for THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. Please do not stop in the middle of a

GO HERE to submit via our web form.

If you choose to submit via email, your submission for this contest should be formatted EXACTLY as follows:

SCREEN NAME: Your Screen Name Here
TITLE: Your Title Here
GENRE: Your Genre Here

(Followed by the excerpt here.)

* No "chapter one," chapter titles, etc.
* You will receive a confirmation email with your lottery number.
* Submissions go to authoress.submissions(at) They DO NOT GO to my facelesswords address. Or any other address.
*It doesn't matter what you put in the subject line. The only thing you MUST NOT do is to use "RE:" The bot will think you are attempting to respond to an email, and will reject you.

As always, there is no fee to enter the Secret Agent contest.

This month's contest will include the following genres:

  • Middle Grade (all genres)
  • Young Adult:  Fantasy, Romance, Dystopian, Fairy Tale, Mystery
  • Adult:  Christian Fantasy, Christian Romantic Suspense, Romance, Romantic Suspense

Highlighting Reader Responses

There is much kindness and wisdom and insight in the comment boxes of this blog (the lifeblood of who we are, really).  It occurred to me this morning as I was (once again!) perusing your responses to my post on FEELING BLANK that the conversation was one-sided--partly because Blogger doesn't let me respond to individual comments (am I missing something?), and partly because there were so many responses.

I still can't respond to them all, but I wanted to highlight a few so that you can all read them, and receive whatever gold nuggets they may offer.

From Krista Van Dolzer:

I really do believe that luck favors perseverance (and once you reach a certain level of technical proficiency, it all comes down to luck).

Krista, thank you for sharing your own story of perseverance.  I think that, somewhere deep inside us, we know that we must persevere--but when we actually hit that wall of I FEEL NOTHING, it surprises us somehow.  And that's the point at which many turn away.  Give up the dream.

Thank you for the clear reminder that our enthusiasm and sparkle dreams aren't what push us forward to the finish line.  It's raw perseverance.

From Kate Larkindale:

I think it's like falling in love. To begin with the whole writing/querying/publishing journey is new and exciting and you can't wait to get to the next step. But over time, the process becomes like a job and one you're comfortable with. The highs don't feel so high, and the lows don't feel so low. It's just something you keep doing because it's your life.

Kate, this is a perfect analogy.  I'll take it further and say that some writers bail out when the headiness of new romance fades.  When the journey starts to feel like a 40-year marriage, then probably we're in the right place.  (Assuming, of course, that, like a very long marriage, there's still a little passion in there somewhere!)

From Tom Alan Brosz:

Most difficult tasks will reach a point where the "dream" or enthusiasm isn't really there. That's when persistence and will take over, and you keep plugging even though it isn't all that much fun any more. 

Being an adult means that even when the last thing you feel like doing is your job, you buckle down and do it anyway. The goals haven't changed just because the mood has. That goes for writing, and many, many other things in life.

Tom, thanks for the reminder that this keep-going attitude applies to so much more than our writing.  Living a life of persistence and perseverance pays off in every area.

From Rick Rowe:

Write the stories that come from your heart.

Oh, yes.  Despite the level of angst or sorrow or complete blankness we might be slogging through, the actual writing is all about what's in our hearts.  The process and the publishing business and life in general may suck the life from us, but there is life in our stories--if only we remain true to them.  Thanks for this, Rick.

From June:

Blank is a defense mechanism. Like a child who grows up around screaming and can attend boot camp with a bored expression even as a 300lb drill sergant threatens to whip his @$$. Blank is your way of not allowing feelings through because you've been dissapointed by those feelings and hopes in the past. 

This is a valley, there will be more hills and moutains, but when in the valley, lower your expectations. You knew this was a long journey. You knew the risks involved. We've all heard the stories of people who didn't sell until their seventh book or the college student who sold her first book within months.

Now is the time to acknowledge the pity party, take a deep breath, and keep on trudging through. You have talent. Your writing, whether published or not, has an affect on your fans. Us. Those that read your words, learn from you, and take comfort that you're on this journey with us. I pray you are published some day soon so you can reach that initial dream. But keep dreaming. New dreams. New goals. New purpose. You make a difference, even when you feel like you've only left a blank.

June, your comment about the defense mechanism struck home.  I agree that "blank" is our brain's way of protecting us from too much pain.  It's amazing how dissecting the psychology of an emotional response helps us to feel more in control.  And less crazy.  Thanks for that, and for your words of encouragement.

(And I fixed your "your" typo.  Your comment about this being your first draft made me smile.)

From Becky:

I don't know if I'm resigned to the dream not happening or realistic that the dream is not a reflection of reality... But I'm not writing for the giddy high. I'm writing because I write.

This right here, Becky:  I'M WRITING BECAUSE I WRITE.  That's perfect.

From MargotG:

Feeling blank for a time allows the well to refill. Not just with energy, but with creativity, enthusiasm and joy. Give it some time.

Thank you, Margot, for the positive spin on blankness!  It does give the well a chance to refill.  Mine is already refilling!

From Kelsey Beach:

It may be that you're encountering the dream in a new way. It's like visiting a new place. You picture yourself there and plan all the things you'll do and see, but it's different when you're there. It becomes less fantasy and more practicality. "How do I get to the Eiffel Tower?" is a question of bus schedules, not scrimping pennies. 

 As you said, you're still writing and working; you're still riding the bus. And the Eiffel Tower is still there. It just might take a special sunset or a glass of Burgundy to kindle a slightly different dream.

Kelsey, I love this.  Such a beautiful, practical analogy of this whole dream thing.  This is genius.

And, finally, to "Anonymous", who gave me the pep talk about self-publishing--I hear you.  I really do.  While self-publishing is not something I'm pursuing right now (as I've stated before), it is definitely on my radar.  I like the whole "hybrid" concept, and I haven't written it off.  I appreciate your gentle and encouraging words.

There are so many others of you to whom I would like to respond, but this post is already quite long!  To all of you who offered words of encouragement and affirmation--thank you.  You know how it is when someone else says, "I know you'll make it!"  It's like you hang on those words for a while, because you can't believe them for yourself.  That's why it's so important for us to stay connected with each other, right?  We can all say, "I believe in you!" to each other as needed.

Right.  I feel better now, having properly responded to your outpouring of wisdom, experience, empathy, and kindness.

Let's go out there and rock this Monday, writers!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Fricassee

You probably know, because I've mentioned it before, that I take ballet.  Last Friday, while walking down the hallway with one of my dancemates toward the studio, a woman standing in the hallway said to her little girl, "Look! They're dancers!"

The words went deep inside me.  I turned to my dancemate and said, "Did you just own that?"

It was an amazing moment.  Someone from the "outside" who saw me in my leotard and ballet shoes with my hair pulled back saw A DANCER.  She had no idea if dancing was my life, or if I was a not-eighteen-anymore, wish-I-were-a-ballerina woman taking a weekly class with other not-quite dancers.

I love my ballet classes SO MUCH--but I've never called myself a dancer.  Truth be told, it's not really what I am.  (Actually, it's almost laughable.)  But when I'm in that classroom, I'm dancing.  So that makes me a DANCER.

I tend to make apologies instead of just saying, YES I DANCE.  It's more like, "Oh, I take classes every week," or, "Yeah, it's a beginner class for adults."

But I probably need to change that.  I probably need to say I DANCE ON FRIDAYS.

So.  Do you own your writing-ness?  Do you say YES I WRITE?  Or do you say, "Oh, I'm working on a story at night," or, "I'm hoping to publish a novel some day" instead?

Because we can be beginners at something and still OWN THE THING.  Secretly, I aspire to advance to the intermediate level of ballet, and maybe even go en pointe.  Maybe I won't get there, but I still need to call myself a DANCER while I'm aspiring.


Something to chew on.  Because I love you.  (And I know you won't laugh at my fluffy little ballerina dreams.)

And now something to (hopefully) make you laugh.  Talented author and valuable critique partner Peter Salomon decided that my writing examples from yesterday's post on car crash openings were worthy of his attention.

And so I give you Peter's MASH-UP OF AUTHORESS'S WRITING EXAMPLES.  (If you haven't read the original post, read it now.  Or you won't see Peter's cleverness at work here!)

I raise my head from the dust, the metallic zing of blood in my mouth. Even this small motion brings sharp pain, and I groan as I try to rise. I fail. Cheek pressed against the cold earth, I close my eyes and try to remember why I'm here. Vague memories of acrid smoke and sharp metal assault my brain, but nothing makes sense.

I reach for my iPhone as the car skids to the right. Gasping, I brace my arms on the dashboard. In the next instant, the world blurs. Dana screams as she frantically tries to regain control of the car, and I go numb. With sickening suddenness, the motion stops, and there is nothing but glass, thousands of tiny shards, everywhere. Glass, and the scent of gas. Glass, and sharp pain whenever I try to breathe.

Dana touches the molten glass with one tentative finger. The c'vku in the air glows, hissing more loudly the longer she stays in contact. She closes her eyes, trying to remember what step twelve was, when the floors and wall begin to vibrate, the pitch growing higher as the vibrations increase.

Too late! She began the Weaning Declaration too late!

The pain in my legs is unbearable. I try to move first one, then the other. But each movement, no matter how small, wracks me with pain. Slowly, I lie back and force myself to breath slowly, deeply. Then, as the pain subsides a little, I try again to move myself into a sitting position. Pressing my hands against the floor, I throw my weight into my shoulders and try to pull myself backward.

Dead crows--thousands of them--fall from the ceiling as Dana screams, clawing her way toward the holy portal, the molten glass stuck to her finger. The universe tips, spilling her north, then south, then in directions she can't keep track of. When the scent of lava pushes its way up her nostrils, she knows that her failure is complete.

That's when I see the bone protruding from my left shin.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Critique Observations: Car Crash Openings

Here's the second installment of Critique Observations, thoughts gathered while editing and shared to help you improve your writing.  The first installment, on rambling dialogue, is HERE.

It's an ongoing misconception, the idea that tension equals action.  While it's certainly true that a good action scene is tense, and that tension moves a story forward, it does not logically follow that the opening pages of a novel need to throw us into the middle of an action scene.  Here is why.

1.  We don't know the main character yet.  As such, we cannot invest in this character's life.  If this life is in danger from page one, we don't have a reason to care.  While a near-death scene at the opening of a novel might seem intriguing, it only serves to slap us upside the head with something we're not ready for, and can't possibly care about (yet).

Example A--The Wounded Hero opening:

I raise my head from the dust, the metallic zing of blood in my mouth.  Even this small motion brings sharp pain, and I groan as I try to rise.  I fail.

Cheek pressed against the cold earth, I close my eyes and try to remember why I'm here.  Vague memories of acrid smoke and sharp metal assault my brain, but nothing makes sense.

So your first response might be, "Oh, this is tense!  He's hurt!  Wonder what happened!"  But in the long run, this is a risky way to start a novel (particularly if you are inexperienced; I'm sure the masters-who've-been-writing-for-decades might pull something like this off).  For all we know, this guy-with-a-bleeding-head might be a jerk.  A loser.  Someone we aren't going to care about at all.  Do I want to commit to reading 400 pages about him?  Probably not.

This doesn't mean we have to begin with Once upon a time, there was a man named Blake who wore his head in a long, red braid and worked as a spy for the Intergalactic Government.  But we do need to get to know Blake a little better before we blast him with shrapnel.

The answer is, simply, to back up the story a bit.  Sometimes just a tiny bit.  Give us the tension that's building before the explosion or the accident, and offer us a few pages to get acquainted with your main character.  If the Bad Thing is your inciting incident, it doesn't need to show up until the end of chapter 1 or chapter 2, anyway.  So let things build for a while.

The suns were at their zenith as I made my way to the landing dock.  This month's shipment was already days late, and operations would slam to a halt if something didn't show up soon.

Not to mention the part about starving to death.  Dead soil didn't do much in the way of growing food.  

Okay, nothing bad has happened yet, but you can feel the possibility that something might.  The shipment's late.  It sounds like our protagonist doesn't know why it's late.  And he's clearly worried.  A few pages from now, we can slam him with whatever lands him on the ground with blood in his mouth.  And by that time, we'll know--and hopefully like--him.

Example B--The OMG-I'm-Going-To-Die Hero opening

Janet is just reaching for her iPhone when the car skids to the right.  Gasping, she braces her arms on the dashboard.

In the next instant, the world blurs.  Dana screams as she frantically tries to regain control of the car, and Janet goes numb.  With sickening suddenness, the motion stops, and there is nothing but glass, thousands of tiny shards, everywhere.  Glass, and the scent of gas.  Glass, and sharp pain whenever Janet tries to breathe.

In all seriousness, this type of opening was so common during the Baker's Dozen slush reading this past year that Jodi and I dubbed it "car crash", regardless of whether or not the accident took place in a car.  And I continue to see this type of opening in the projects that come across my desk.

This opening scene has the same inherent problems as Blake's scene above--we don't know the main character, so we can't care that she might be dying.  (And of course, she's not dying, since the story is just starting.  Or she is dying, because the story is paranormal.  But that's so overdone that we can smell it a league away.)  The answer is the same, too--back up the story so that we get to know Janet and her life a little bit before we catapult her into a 3-car collision.

2.  We need to understand the world/setting before we're plunged into action.  It's bad enough not knowing who our main character is before we yank his arm off or wake him up in the E.R.  But if the world we're dropped into makes no sense, it's not going to do anything but confuse us.  And we won't want to read more.

Example C--The World Is Chaos opening

Mira touched the molten glass with one tentative finger.  The c'vku in the air glowed, hissing more loudly the longer she stayed in contact.  She closed her eyes, trying to remember what step twelve was, when the floors and wall began to vibrate, the pitch growing higher as the vibrations increased.

Too late!  She had begun the Weaning Declaration too late!

Dead crows--thousands of them--fell from the ceiling as Mira screamed, clawing her way toward the holy portal, the molten glass stuck to her finger.  The universe tipped, spilling her north, then south, then in directions she couldn't keep track of.  When the scent of lava pushed its way up her nostrils, she knew that her failure had been complete.

(Okay, that was fun.)

But seriously, I have encountered openings with this level of confusion.  I'm certain that, in the mind of the author, everything is crystal clear.  But foisting a world upon a reader in the midst of chaos is not going to draw him into your world, or into your story.  We need a setting that we can understand, regardless of how fantastical your world may be.  We need to feel grounded before you pull the rug out from under us.

Example D--The There Is No World opening

The pain in my legs is unbearable.  I try to move first one, then the other.  But each movement, no matter how small, wracks me with pain.

Slowly, I lie back and force myself to breath slowly, deeply.  Then, as the pain subsides a little, I try again to move myself into a sitting position.  Pressing my hands against the floor, I throw my weight into my shoulders and try to pull myself backward.

That's when I see the bone protruding from my left shin.

Not only are we given an injured main character whom we don't know, but we have no setting at all.  No light or dark, no inside or outside, no sights or smells or sounds or anything else to give us a clue where--or when--we are.  This character exists in a vacuum, which probably makes him the least likely to grab our attention.

In conclusion, I offer a plea: Don't mistake tension for action!  Don't succumb to the well-meant but faulty advice to "start with action".  You need to start with TENSION.  You need to hint at CONFLICT.  But you don't need to blow things up and shoot things and gouge eyes out and kill people.  Not on page one.

I love the opening of Divergent by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books, 2011).  It draws us into the world and offers a deliciously subtle hint of tension:

There is one mirror in my house.  It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs.  Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.

I sit on the stool and my mother stand behind me with the scissors, trimming.  The strands fall on the floor in a dull, blond ring.

When she finishes, she pulls my hair away from my face and twists it into a knot.  I note how calm she looks and how focused she is.  She is well-practiced in the art of losing herself.  I can't say the same of myself.

There you have it.  Nothing is exploding.  Nobody is dying.  The writing is clean and spare, and in only three short paragraphs, the characters are coming to life.  So is the world.

Craft your openings carefully, dear writers.  War and mayhem can come later, when we care whether or not your main characters survives.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Success Story!

Feels like it's been a while!  I'm always happy to bring you another success story.  This is our first DIRECT SUCCESS STORY of 2014 -- a Secret Agent winner who signed with the Secret Agent!  Enjoy.


For the full post complete with many more details, GIFs and some caps lock excitement, check out the original post on my blog, Writability.

On October 7th, I submitted to Miss Authoresss Secret Agent Contest. Id entered a Secret Agent contest with a different manuscript earlier in the year, so I knew how it worked and I crossed my fingers and hoped for the e-mail notifying me that Id made it in.

Except the notification day came and went without an e-mail. My entry wasnt chosen for the contest.

I was disappointed, but I distracted myself with NaNoWriMo plans and continued to send out queries. I reminded myself there were loads more contests coming up, so I always had another chance in the future.

Then, on October 14th, the Secret Agent was revealedexcept it was a surprise of two secret agents, Emily Keyes and Louise Fury. To this day, Im not sure why I clicked to see who the winners wereI dont usually, especially if Im still kinda disappointed, which I was. But I clicked and read the names of the winners.

And I nearly had a heart attack. Because listed under Runners up was #41 Slave and Sira.

I stared at the winner entry. It couldnt be a coincidence, could it? Had someone else named their novel Slave and Sira? That seemed really unlikely, considering Sira is a word in a language I made up for the novel.

I raced over to entry #41 and read, with shaking fingers, my entry. The first 250 words of my novel. The entry that I was sure hadnt made it into the contest was posted, and had comments, and the secret agents said it was a strong opening. What. What?!

I ran back to the winner post and checked again to make sure I wasnt dreaming, but it was there! Louise Fury wanted to see my query and the first three chapters of my manuscript. After receiving instructions from Miss Authoress, I sent off the mini-partial that very same day. And I danced. Around Twitter, anyway.

On Halloween, I received a request from Team Fury for the first fifty pages. I danced for joy and sent the pages, announcing to myself that Id received the best Halloween treat ever. Then on November 3rd, I received a request for the full and just a couple hours after I sent it, I got a notification that Ms. Fury was following me on Twitter. I may have freaked out a bit to someone Id been taking to at the time. Just a little.

Many weeks and anxious nights later, on December 6th, just twenty minutes before Id been planning to go to bed, I got the e-mail Id been dreaming of for years: Louise Fury had read my manuscript more than once, spoken with her team members, and they wanted to talk to me.

The call itself is a blur. Team Fury shared my vision for the book, and I agreed with the edit suggestions, and Louise was totally supportive of my wanting to write in multiple categories and genres, and when I hung up the phone, I was having a major David After Dentist episode.

Now, many weeks later, I am so incredibly honored to say Im represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency! And I could not be happier to be joining Team Fury. :D

Thank you, Miss Authoress! That Secret Agent contest really facilitated a dream come true!

Ava Jae

Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Fricassee

No, this is NOT an "I'm giving up" post.  Absolutely not.

But I want to share an odd phenomenon, in the hope that perhaps it strikes a chord with you. Which will then offer me one of those okay-I'm-not-alone moments.  (This is for those of you who have been pursuing publication for years.  Not months--years.)

There seems to be a point--and I'm not quite sure when I reached it, exactly--at which the Dream doesn't feel real anymore.  It's this sense of having wanting something for so long, having worked toward it and believed in it and imagined what it would be like when I finally got there for so many years, that it no longer feels like something tangible.

As though I've lost my ability to dream.

It doesn't mean I've stopped working--I haven't.  It doesn't mean my goals have changed, or my tenacity has withered, or my emotional state has disintegrated.  None of the above (thank goodness).  But it does mean that I feel blank.

There's no other way to put it.  I am as passionate as ever about my stories and my work and my desire to be published.  I am as serious as ever in my pursuit of writing as a professional career.  In that sense, nothing has changed.

But something inside my heart has died (or perhaps has merely passed out).  And I'm not sure how to resurrect (or revive) it.

I think the key, of course, is to push through seasons like this.  Otherwise, success will never come.  So, yes, I'm pushing through.  But the blankness is disconcerting, to say the least.

On the positive side, it helps me to stay in a low-angst place with submissions.  Honestly, I am thrilled to be on sub with my newest project, and as thankful as I've always been for my agent (and his delightful assistant).  But the stomach-dropping excitement, the lip-biting, the scribbled list of editors on my bulletin board so I can look at the names at a glance--it isn't happening.  It's just business as usual.  And that's not all bad.

Still, it bothers me that I can't visualize my dream any more.  I used to imagine what my release party would look like (I even spoke to a jazz-singing friend a couple years ago and asked her if she'd sing); I used to plan which bookstores I could hit in the Northeast, where my parents live; I used to dream of having lunch with Josh and my Sparkly New Editor.  Sometimes these thoughts still filter through my head, but it isn't the same as it used to be.  It's as though a fog rises up in my brain, obscuring the visions of Published Me.  What once felt like a real possibility now feels like...well, nothing.


There you have it.  I think I've maxed out on transparency and vulnerability this week.  So please join me!  Do any of you long-timers feel this way?  Does your dream feel more like an illusion?  Maybe if we remind each other that all things are possible, we can dispel the fog and move onward.

Hoping to hear from you today!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First Two (MG Round) Critique Guidelines

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
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First Two (MG Fiction) #15

TITLE: To Fill My Pot With Gold
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Mortimer sat down in his easy chair for the last time. His life was like the smoke from the flames that disappeared up the chimney. His eyes ran across the fireplace mantle. He followed the curves of grain in the oak and the details in the intricate carvings. The fireplace and easy chair were two of the things about the cottage that he first fell in love with. Never again would he be able to curl up in this chair in front of the fire with his poetry while the rain fell outside.

Despite the flames, he felt cold when he looked down into small bag to see the few possessions that Sebastian would allow him to take. The bag was small, but there wasn’t much in there. His notebook was there, as well as a few quills and a small pot of ink. He wanted to make sure he could write his poetry when the mood struck, even though he didn't expect it would strike any time soon.

His empty pot was in the bag as well. No one would object to him taking that, Sebastian had taken the gold from it decades ago. He shook his head as he looked at it. A leprechaun with an empty pot was an embarrassment. There was still plenty of empty space.

He stood and walked out of the parlor and put his hand on the maple molding that went around the entry frame to the parlor and felt its warmth. In the kitchen he caressed his pots and pans. He saw the breakfast dishes sitting and the sink and shrugged.

“Sebastian can take care of those. He’s taking everything, he may as well get those too, I swept the porch for him last night.”

Mortimer walked out of the kitchen. A wavy ghost looked back at him as he looked at the highly polished cherry floor in the hallway.

“Mortimer Purcell Brennan, you are a total and complete failure. You had all this, and couldn’t even keep it. Maybe Sebastian is—”

Pounding at the door interrupted his monologue. “Come on, Brennan.” A voice shouted from outside. “It's time to be out. I've a sale to be on with.”

Sebastian. He was like a parasite feeding on others’ misery. Mortimer had planned on being out before he arrived, but he overslept, and then the fiasco with his shoes. He spent an hour the last night polishing his black shoes. This morning, the right shoe was missing. Mortimer had torn the bedroom apart looking for it, but it was nowhere to be found. To make it worse, the left shoe of his brown pair was missing. What a sight he must look. Surely Sebastian was trying to make him look that much worse.

Mortimer attempted to straighten his old red jacket and rumpled dusty blue trousers, but they wouldn't straighten.

With his faded yellow shirt and decades out of style green cap he did his best to look dignified, but suspected that it came off as more silly.

First Two (MG Fiction) #14

GENRE: MG Historical Fiction

Hot or not hot, I’m not budging from this spot until I talk to Olivia, thought Patsy. The metal rungs of the two-seater swing, almost too hot to sit on this August afternoon, printed red bars on the backs of eleven-year-old Patsy’s legs. The outline of her house shaded the swing as the sun arced across the Carolina-blue sky. But Patsy had a lot of catching up to do with her best friend of forever and a day—and she wanted answers.

Geez Louise! Patsy nudged the swing back and forth. I’ve waited all morning for Olivia to fill me in about her trip and her dad’s decision. Patsy gnawed a fingernail. Especially since I heard Mom crying after her phone conversation with Mrs. Nelson.

Patsy squinted towards Olivia’s house and pushed up her glasses.

Finally! Olivia sashayed across the double driveways with a lips-pressed-thin smile on her face. Her shorts’ pockets bulged with something. She plopped onto the swing beside Patsy like the sinker on Daddy’s fishing line into the Catawba.

“Hey,” Olivia exhaled in staccato breaths.

“Hey, yourself,” Patsy said. “So, tell me. Say it fast, and it’ll be easier.”

Olivia’s bottom lip quivered, and a single line of clear snot ran out of one nostril. “We’re mo-ov-ing.” Olivia reached into her shorts’ pocket between sobs, removed a crumpled wad of Kleenex, and blew her nose.

Patsy’s face wanted to scrunch into a million wrinkles. “When?” she croaked.

“In t-t-two weeks.” Olivia’s shoulders shook up and down with her wails.

Patsy shot up straight in the swing. Her eyes bulged at Olivia. “TWO WEEKS? Holy Moly, that’s awful!”

“I kn-kno-know.” Fresh tears washed over Olivia’s face like rain water over the dam at Sugar Creek. “We’re moving in with Grandmother Nelson until we find a place to live and sell this house. Mom wants us to be all set to start school after Labor Day.”

Patsy felt the color drain from her face like bathwater out of the tub. “You won’t be here to start school?” she whispered.

Patsy’s throat ached, and her gut felt like it did the time Wayne punched her in third grade.

Olivia shook her head. She handed a lump of Kleenex to Patsy.

Now Patsy turned on the faucets. “How will I make it through sixth grade without you?” Patsy tooted into the Kleenex and sniffed.

“You-ou? I’ll be living with Grandmother “No-Touch” Nelson and starting sixth grade in a school full of strangers in Vir-gi-gin-i-ya.” The swing jiggled in time to Olivia’s sobs. “At least you’ll have Linda and Susan he-ere.”

Patsy threw her arm around Olivia’s shoulders. They both snubbed in triplet breaths and swung on in silence.

First Two (MG Fiction) #13

GENRE: MG Contemporary

Baxter was pretty sure he was the first kid to be grounded in a truck—especially a moving one. Yet here he was, imprisoned in an old U-Haul hurtling down the freeway. He was restrained not only by the seatbelt tight across his waist, but by his dad's cousins—Lizard’s burly arm pressing into his right side and Mange’s hairy arm tickling his left. Baxter hunched his shoulders forward for two reasons; one, to try to put even a millimeter of distance from the two big men, and two, in order to play the small GameBoy Advanced he held in his hands. An urge came over him to pause the game and check for a text on his new phone, but then he remembered he didn’t have his new phone. Unbelievable. His only connection to his recently graduated sixth-grade friends was tucked away somewhere in his parents’ room very well hidden.

The Gameboy was old, but at least a form of entertainment. He had discovered it at the bottom of his closet before hurrying from his house back in Seattle. Baxter shifted back and forth into each man on either side as he waged battle with his thumbs. He beat the level causing a series of beeps to go off.

“Turn that thing off,” Lizard said from the driver’s seat. "Look at the mountains.”

Baxter glanced up to see sunlight flash off Lizard’s numerous earrings. He took in the man’s carefully combed and gelled purple mohawk. The look was a little much for an old guy.

“Okay,“ Baxter said. He found that being agreeable worked well with adults. “Just gonna finish this game.” Like he was going to turn off the only entertainment he had one hour into this seven-billion-hour drive.

“Wow,” Lizard said. Whether he was disappointed in Baxter continuing to play or going on about the wondrous mountain scenery again, Baxter wasn’t sure.

“Off,” Lizard said, drawing the word out with a more threatening tone.

The blinker made a loud Teek-tuk, Teek-tuk that echoed through the cab, and the big vehicle bounced as Lizard changed lanes. Every impression in the asphalt tossed the truck up and down as if they were a boat out at sea. Baxter recalled the words printed on the side of the truck in their driveway. The U-Haul decal still visible underneath the words, “Keys to Happiness—Own a Piano.”

Baxter, still looking down, heard a window open and felt wind on his short, thick hair. WIth his left hand he did a quick check that the cowlick at the crest of his forehead was down. Wind tended to wreak havoc with his hair. As he did so a giant hand yanked the Gameboy from his other hand. He looked up just in time to watch Lizard’s arm flinging the game in front of him past Mange’s head out the passenger window to the shoulder of Interstate-90.

First Two (MG Fiction) #12

GENRE: MG Sci-fi/Adventure

According to The List of Chumps to be Pounded After School, today was hang-Mike-like-a-piñata-Thursday. Mike glanced from his math book to the soccer field. Still no sign of the owner of The List. Brutus wouldn’t drag him away in front of everyone else. Right?


Just Little League batting practice. Mike gritted his teeth and hoped no one saw his panic. He was not going to hide in his house like a friendless dork. His plan to escape both Brutus’ fists and Dad’s goals for him becoming a lawyer had to work.

Mike pulled his teacher’s recommendation letter for Space Camp from his book. Step one: attend the Academy section two years early. Step two: become the first teenage astronaut—

“C’mon Mike, we need another player.” Carlos stood with his hands spread wide and his usual grin smeared across his face.

Demonstrating his sorry soccer skills was not Mike’s favorite after-school activity, but he could never turn down his best—and only—friend. Besides, doing homework on the bleachers just encouraged the dork title.

Pretending he couldn’t run fast enough to get to the ball never worked because everyone knew he was quick even if he was shorter than half the fifth-grade girls. No, the whole kicking-the-ball thing proved his lack of eye-to-foot coordination.

Maybe soccer balls warped space. Yeah, that was it. A tiny gravity field curved his leg sideways, not his own Bambi-on-ice legs. As usual, groans and laughter followed his latest failure.

“Good job, hermano, you almost walloped the ball into next week!”

Mike raised an eyebrow. Even Carlos shouldn’t be happy with that dismal performance.

“Oh look, it’s Mini-Mike.” Brutus’ screech drowned out laughter from both teams. “If you’re afraid of the ball, there’s a pee-wee league on the other side of the park—in the sandbox. Ha-ha.”

The other players turned away or made sure their shoes were tied. In the classroom, even teachers called Brutus by his self-chosen nickname rather than risk flying, juicy spit wads plastered to the whiteboard.

Mike dragged his feet downfield to make sure he wouldn’t be anywhere near the ball’s space warp—or Brutus and his buddies, Trevor and Cole.

Brutus kept up the jeers. “Mikey’s running away!”

“Don’t let him get to you,” Carlos called softly as he jogged across the field. “You ever see him play soccer? Two left feet! Seriously. Here’s the plan: stick with me, I’ll get the ball to you and move downfield. You don’t have to score, just angle it back to me, easy-peasy!”

“Easy-peasy?” Mike shook his head. The phrases Carlos picked up from his grandmother’s diner were even more confusing than the random Spanish he learned from his dad. It would take a fifty-foot force field generated by the starship Enterprise to give Mike the time and space he needed to connect with the ball. And he’d still miss the target.

“Mikey’s afraid of a little ball. Mikey’s a chicken, Mikey’s a chicken.” A couple fourth-graders picked up Trevor’s tune.

First Two (MG Fiction) #11

TITLE: Rules for Running Away
GENRE: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction

My whole life, Mom told me that my dad was dead.

But all this changed the day I found that letter in the recycling bin. There was my name, Annie Berger, below Mom’s and stained in oil. Care of Ellen Berger. Apparently, she hadn’t cared enough.

I tugged the envelope out from under a bottle in the trash. The left-hand corner, where the return address should’ve been, was torn off. Wasn’t it illegal to throw away someone’s mail? I dug deeper.

“Hey!” someone said.

I jumped back. My chest was throbbing. “You can’t just walk up on people like that--”

“Sorry, Big A,” Mom’s fiancé said.

It was the most annoying nickname. Every time he said Big A, I heard, You’re fat. Which I wasn’t.

“What’re you up to?” His grape-colored yoga shorts matched his sweatshirt.

“Recycling! Gotta take care of the earth, you know?” I swallowed and told myself to act normal.

“Right on,” he said. “I didn’t hear you come home. I was meditating. I must’ve gone into another world.”

Craig was always in another world. Thanks to him, our East Village walk-up was a yoga shrine. He’d dragged our TV to Goodwill and lit incense in its place. He’d purged everything in our kitchen, including my unopened box of Lucky Charms.

Dairy gave him gas.

MSG made him break out in hives.

Pecans gave him headaches or heartaches or something.

Our home, where I’d lived all my life with Mom, was now sugar-free, dairy-free, pesticide-free, and smoke-free. I’d give that to Craig: thanks to his herbal remedies and woo woo, Mom had quit smoking, although the other day, I swore she smelled like tobacco. Behind Craig’s back – I mean, behind his butt – I called him Health-butt.

I’d never get to the bottom of anything with him around. “Mom told me you held a headstand for two minutes the other day,” I said.

Almost two minutes!” He laughed. I could see where one of his front teeth was chipped.

“I bet you can beat that record.” I reached up and gave him a high five.

What a relief when Health-butt unfolded his sticky matt in the living room with a slap. I dove back into the recycling and as my two minutes ticked by, I pushed little scraps of paper under my shirt. Then I raced into my room.

Every girl knows the best hiding place is in the back of her closet. Crouched on the floor, I taped together the bits of paper.

I’ve written to you tantas veces... Tantas veces?

Even though I looked like the kind of kid who spoke Spanish, with my jet-black hair and big brown eyes, the only word I knew was hola. Taping that letter together was like doing a garage sale puzzle. A few pieces were missing, but even with the holes, I had an address:

P.O. Box 3939, Philadelphia, PA

R.J. Blanco, it said in black jellybean letters. That was my father’s name and one of the few things I knew about him.

First Two (MG Fiction) #10


As their hot air balloon ascended, the air became thin and frigid, and the fabric of the balloon flapped in the wind. Above them the night sky glowed with waves of undulating green and pinks. Everywhere the horizon was streaked with colors as if an artist had taken a brush to the sky.

Orion shivered and zipped his jacket to his chin making him look like a turtle. He rested his gloved fingers on the edge of the wicker basket and looked down. The island of Tromso and its tiny lights disappeared as the balloon rose. The colorful wooden houses turned into shrinking specks and the fjords, narrow strips of sea sandwiched by icy cliffs, reflected the misty colors of the aurora dancing across the sky.

Mr. Christensen, the elderly pilot of the balloon, gazed up at the green and magenta waves. “In all my life, I’ve never seen the lights so big.”

Orion pulled his gaze away from the fjords. “Really?”

“Portent of bad things, it is,” Mr. Christensen grumbled under his breath, shaking his head.

“Rubbish,” Orion’s Dad said. Orion watched his Dad extend a long bronze telescope and press the eye piece below his brow. “There’s a scientific explanation for everything old man.” Wind gusts ruffled his dark curly hair as he pointed to a patch of sky where the Aurora Borealis seemed especially bright.

“Whatever you say, Ackerman,” Mr. Christensen growled and his gnarled hands pulled on the valve that ignited the burner. As a blast of flames shot into the bottom of the balloon, Mr. Christensen’s face broke into a wrinkly grin. Flames roared again from the burner and Orion wondered if this was what a fire breathing dragon would be like.

“Get her as high as she’ll go,” Dr. Ackerman yelled.

The wicker basket swayed and vibrated as the balloon lifted higher into the sky. The smell of kerosene burned Orion’s nose. He gripped the edge of the basket to steady himself. “Dad, aren’t we high enough?”

“Almost,” he answered, and reached to open a large nylon bag propped in the corner of the basket.

“What’s in the—” Orion’s question stuck in his throat. Dr. Ackerman pulled a miniature torpedo launcher out of the bag.


Mr. Christensen narrowed his eyes and gave Dr. Ackerman a skeptical frown. “That better not blow up my balloon!”

Dad buckled under the weight, staggering a bit, before he hoisted it atop his right shoulder. “Nonsense, old man.” He patted the side of the launcher like it was a pet dog. “This is how we’re going to talk to the lights.”

Orion swallowed hard as cold air stung his face. Shivers wracked his body and he wasn’t sure if it was from the cold or freaking out that they were going to die. “Why do we need to talk to the lights?”

“The Aurora Borealis is bigger and brighter this year than it’s ever been in recorded history,” Dr. Ackerman explained, then turned to Mr. Christensen.

First Two (MG Fiction) #9

TITLE: The Story of the Story of the Egg
GENRE: MG Adventure

“You’re a waddler,” Fin said. He bit into a punctuation biscuit and comma-shaped crumbs fell on top of his little sister. “I only waddle I’m carrying you. Mom only waddles when she carries you. So does Dad. And Grandma. You make people waddle.” He didn’t name Torus, because their older sister never had to carry the youngest around. “Baby waddler coming through.”

“Not a baby!” his baby sister scolded.

The paper bag crinkled in Fin’s paw and he looked in to see what was left of his lunch, as though looking would make what was left better. He’d already eaten the vocabulary fruit, a bunch of scarlet grape-like two- and three-letter words. He wanted melon, but Grandma Curtal said melons were too big for a little story like Fin, so he was stuck with grapes. Again. “Word-problem sweets or sentence sandwich?”

“Bub bub,” she answered.

They were a curious sight, even for the Stacks, the neighborhood where Fin’s family lived. At nearly three feet tall, Fin looked like an otter walking on his back legs. Except nearly all thirteen-year-olds he knew still looked like only one kind of creature, and he already had pale tiger stripes. His four-and-a-half-year-old sister, meanwhile, still hadn’t hatched from her pineapple-sized shell. She sat in a yolk-yellow harness over Fin’s brown belly, her egg a vivid cobalt blue, and Fin waddled as he carried her. It was humiliating. It was, in fact, the fourth most embarrassing thing about being him.

“I’m eating the sandwich,” he said with a sigh. It would be dry. Grandma Curtal always forgot to use the mustard Fin liked, and the word problems would get stuck in his teeth. They were never as good as they looked. Just gooey.

“I think it’s because she’s not done. Grandma Curtal. That’s why she forgets. Loose ends.” More crumbs fell on the Egg, periods and a question mark this time. Fin’s parents didn’t like their children talking about Grandma Curtal, so naturally Fin did, and they punished him for it even if it wasn’t his fault, which was completely unfair.

Grandma Curtal had a lynx’s head and a ferret body with cream-colored fur dotted with dark spots. Her teeth were white and her eyes were wild and pale. She always wore a poofy housedress and her hair was messy. Fin had once wondered out loud if she had a tail under her dress or if there were nothing but loose ends, maybe not even feet. Torus had slapped her paw to her forehead and their Mom had washed his mouth out with soap. It wasn’t polite to talk about stories with loose ends, especially not ones that weren’t even done yet. Even more especially when they were his grandmother’s age. She was like a grown-up Egg, which was a weird thought.

Fin and his whole family were stories, the same as everyone else in Story City. His father was a boring old Biography, his dull gray raccoon head perched atop his stocky, tan pine marten body.

First Two (MG Fiction) #8

TITLE: Dream-Seer
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Samantha Greer dug her fingernails into her wrist, anything to keep from falling asleep on the school bus. Not here. Not now. Every time she closed her eyes the dream came and John died. Every time she awoke in a cold sweat calling his name.

Jasmin leaned across the aisle. "Do you think they'll have tapestries and surcoats at the exhibit?" She fingered the hand-woven shawl wrapped around her neck, the one she'd designed herself.

Sam nodded. "The website showed lots of cool stuff. Some embroidery, too."

Amy smiled as she peered around Jasmin. "You should be our tour guide. I bet you know everything medieval, don't you?"

Sam bit her lip. She knew everything you could read in books, plus a bunch of stuff she couldn't share. She knew the chalky feel of a battlement crumbling beneath her fingers, the heat of an arrow slicing her shoulder, the stench of a dungeon after a cold rain.

"Yeah, everything," she mumbled as she turned toward the window.

Outside the bus, stubbly fields and billboards whizzed past. Her head nodded and her eyes closed, the hum of tires against the highway lulling her asleep like a softly strummed harp.


Sam peered over the crumbling stone wall, her fingers clutching wet moss. Above her, the dark castle loomed. The Silver Knight paced its battlements, moonlight glinting off his armor as the silver orb broke from behind black clouds. Men with crossbows stood watch by the tower, while skeleton trees creaked in the wind.

John slipped from one shadow to the next as he crept toward the castle’s secret back gate.

You can make it! You have to make it . . . Sam held her breath. She cringed as a twig snapped beneath John’s foot. She froze when the Silver Knight turned dark eyes toward her. An eerie howl pierced the night, and shouts erupted from the tower.

“Run!” John sprinted down the hill as arrows rained from the castle walls.

Sam leapt over a rotten log and bolted into the forest. Thorny brambles clutched at her pants as terror clutched at her heart. If the Silver Knight caught her, she would never save Galwyn, never get home, never see her family again.

A horn sounded, and waves of armored men swept out of the castle gates.

No! We can’t . . . She tripped over a tree root, the ground knocking the breath out of her.

Strong hands pulled her to her feet. “Hurry, Samantha!” John cried. “We must gain the river before they let loose the dogs.”

A mournful baying jarred Sam to her senses. White, shining hounds with blood red ears and fiery eyes raced across the midnight sky. They weren’t the castle’s dogs, but the ghost-like hounds John couldn’t see or hear, the ones that always foretold death and doom.

She stumbled toward the creek bed, an arrow whizzing past her shoulder. John pitched forward, the arrow lodged in his back.

“John!” Sam screamed, waking with a jolt.

First Two (MG Fiction) #7

TITLE: sweet adversity
GENRE: historical

The Emu Swamp Children’s Home – 1930

Today was a good day to break a bad rule. Addie McAlpine straightened her tiara, grinning at the bold idea. And with a bit of craftiness and good luck, she’d get away with it.

Tucking her pinafore into the legs of her bloomers, she climbed the paddock gate and gazed over the wide-eyed audience.

Addie wriggled her toes in the short, leather boots from the hand-me-down box – a size too big, and scuffed. Their row of shiny buttons on the side of each boot made up for that though.

Breezes from the distant Blue Gum Ridges carried the tang of eucalyptus; and a hint of autumn. Surely only good things happen on such a day.

Addie flung back her velvet cloak in a dramatic gesture. The gate wobbled. Her audience watched, jostling each other. She ignored their unease, and from the back of her memory came her grandfather’s voice.

Relax those neck muscles, Adversity. Breathe through your nose, right down into your middle. That’s right; fill that belly full of air. Now your chest. Hold it. And release, through your mouth. Slowly.

Addie breathed in again, then her voice rang through the crisp air – clear, powerful and filled with longing.



The Jersey cow in the front row rolled her eyes in fright. She bellowed again, shoving her backside into the herd. They jostled and panicked. All seven cows bolted across the paddock to safety, their full udders swinging.

‘Come back, girls,’ Addie yelled. ‘I haven’t finished.’

When the cows returned to chomping grass, Addie grinned and jumped from the gate. Did William Shakespeare ever face a stampeding audience? Perhaps the cows would’ve preferred a song instead of Romeo and Juliet; she knew plenty of songs. Something bouncy? Like young Jack’s favourite, A Bicycle Built for Two. Addie hummed the catchy melody – a perfect song to teach the orphans. And Matron Maddock’s stupid rules could go jump in Tin-pot Creek, including the one about NO FRIVOLITY ALLOWED.

Through the trees came the strident clang of the kitchen bell. Breakfast time!

‘Oh, bloody hell!’ For a fleeting instant, Addie cringed, imagining her mother’s horror at the number of rude words she’d learned. She raced across the field, her boots slipping and her cloak flapping. It didn’t pay to miss a meal at the Emu Swamp Children’s Home.

Blast and damn!’ Addie cursed again. She’d forgotten the basket of washed sheets waiting to be hung on the clothesline. If Matron Maddock discovered she’d been acting Juliet for the Jersey herd instead of finishing chores, she’d cop an earful. Performing Shakespeare from the paddock gate would definitely come under the No Frivolity rule.

Addie raced towards the laundry building, choosing a shortcut past Matron’s office in the Home's main building. Risky, but worth it.

The sandstone structure squatted under the gum trees, solid, squalid, cold. Like a giant toad. Mould streaked the blocks, leaves choked the gutters and

First Two (MG Fiction) #6

TITLE: The Snow Lion

Lena and her parents had left behind the vast fields of wheat, the rice paddies and endless citrus groves, where Grid-deaf Bhodi toiled with bent backs. They had passed the outer islands, dotted with villages and crowned with snow. Now at last, after six months away, their sail boat Florinal tacked across the wide bay that led into the heart of the City, closer with every puff of wind. Lena leaned out over the bow, her hair flying.

Houses and gardens, temples and shops gripped the rocky mountainsides, a brilliant tapestry in the late afternoon sunlight. Even at this distance she heard bells ringing and the rumble of wheels on the stone roads. Voices drifted across the water. On a dock, Grid workers unloaded bales of crimson silk from a barge and floated them effortlessly onto the back of a truck. Lena inhaled the aroma of spices and smoke and the rich, musky scent of human and animal life.

Lena looked back over her shoulder at her parents, but they weren’t looking at her. They were watching a black boat speeding toward them, slapping every wave, their faces expressionless. Lena studied the oncoming boat. Three men in orange tunics and black pants stood on the deck—King’s guards. It wasn’t a big secret that her parents hated the City guards. Lena did, too. Everyone did.

Now her parents were looking around casually as if they hadn’t even noticed the black ship and the guards. It cut close across their path, and her father flicked the rudder to put Florinal’s bow into its wake. As the King’s ship sped away, and Florinal rocked, his shoulders relaxed. Her mother allowed herself a quick grin. Left out of their silent exchange, Lena turned back to the front of the boat, annoyed, but she loved coming back to the City too much to stay mad.

The wind was now behind them. Lena let out the jib, and it billowed as if Florinal was pleased with herself for bringing them back. The white cliffs of Kushnay rose above her, laced with airy shops and tea gardens. Hot springs sent plumes of steam into the air. Lena watched bubbles rise from the sandy bottom until Florinal caught the current of the Blue Horn and turned south.

Minutes later they docked in their usual slip at Lindahl marina. Bags slung over their backs, they took the elevator to the top of the Netherine Cliffs. At the top, her parents pushed into the crowd, in a hurry, but Lena paused at a shop where little animal guardian charms were hanging–wind horses for luck, snow lions for joy, dragons for abundance, tigers for protection. She was stroking a little crystal snow lion, when an old woman in yellow robes grabbed her arm.

“The Dragon is coming again,” the old woman screamed into Lena's face. “He has been seen in the western skies. He is almost here.”

Her teeth were cracked and brown. Her breath stank. Lena tried to pull away but couldn’t break her grip.

First Two (MG Fiction) #5

TITLE: The Key in the Castle
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Malory’s Guide to Britain, page 364

Overton Keep Inn: If you’re looking for lodging that’s fit for a duke or duchess, make sure to visit the palatial bed & breakfast at Overton Keep. It might be a little off the beaten track, but this privately owned castle on a lake is worth a visit. Guests can tour the ruins of the surviving 11th century structures, which are some of the finest preserved pre-conquest ruins in the country and rumored to be haunted. Book early because the well-appointed rooms are often reserved quickly in the summer months.

Chapter 1: The Clause in the Will

Emily hadn’t meant to wear a party dress to her great-grandmother’s funeral. As the only girl in four generations of the Keold family, she stood out even more against a sea of somber black suits in her flouncy dress with pink polka dots. She tried to stand very still so that her tap shoes wouldn’t clack (her only black shoes), but they were two sizes too small and were pinching her toes terribly.

There hadn’t been time for Emily’s mother to take her shopping for funeral clothes before they had to board the plane from Baltimore to London, so her sixth-grade graduation dress and dusty tap shoes had to do. No one had expected Great-Grandma Anne to die at 100. She had been so insistent that she would live to be 101 that everyone in the family believed it. Even the lawyer who had come to read Great-Grandma Anne’s will seemed surprised. He was staring so intensely at the papers in front of him that he had gone cross-eyed.

Great-Grandma Anne’s five sons, and their sons, and their sons (and Emily) had crammed into the library of the Overton Keep Inn after the funeral. Inheriting an Inn that was also a thousand-year-old castle on a lake was a pretty big deal. The younger men and boys shifted their weight or bounced on their heels, while the older men sat in straight-backed chairs reading the newspaper or napping. Great-Uncle Richard eyed the sparkly Faberge eggs on the mantel. Occasionally a cough echoed up into the cobwebbed ceiling rafters.

Emily scratched her nose and did her best to look solemn and sad. Honestly, she was more depressed about missing her soccer game this weekend. It was hard to be sad about the death of a woman she had never met and who had lived a long life.

Finally, the solicitor looked up from the yellowed sheets of paper. (Emily’s father whispered that lawyers were called solicitors in England. Sometimes they were called barristers too. It was rather confusing.)

“This is most unusual,” the solicitor said. “Most unusual indeed.”

Uncle Philip grabbed the papers from the frazzled solicitor’s hands. “It all seems in order to me,” Philip said. “The estate passes to the oldest son and her personal possessions are split amongst the rest. Quite standard.”

“Yes, but look here,” the solicitor said, pointing to the bottom of the page.

First Two (MG Fiction) #4

TITLE: Olivia Boogieman
GENRE: MG Fantasy

My family is a bunch of monsters. I don’t mean to be mean but facts are facts and when I say my family is a bunch of monsters I don’t mean they do horrible things, they are literally monsters. My mommy is a mummy; her family comes from ancient Egypt. My dad is a werewolf and when I say werewolf I mean a hairy, scary, howl at the moon werewolf. I also have an older brother and younger sister. My brother is a shape shifter, meaning he can take the form of anything or anyone he wants to be. My sister is a scrawny little skeleton, all bones and nothing else. So you are probably wondering what I am, I am a girl, an ordinary, everyday normal girl. If you haven’t guessed it by now, my parents adopted me when I was a baby. My name is Olivia Boogieman.

To say the Boogieman family is a normal family would be a lie. Sure, we have a dog like every other family on the block but we also have a pet dragon living in our backyard. We didn’t start out wanting a dragon, he just followed my brother home from school one day and we kept him.

“Olivia come down for breakfast or you are going to be late for school again,” My mom shouts from the bottom of the stairs.

I just want to stay in bed, I hate school, and especially today, which is family day. Every year the family of students visit the school at Middlebury Middle School in Midtown Middleton, Wisconsin, (I know the name of my school is a tongue twister).

“Did you feed your dog?” My dad asks me.

“Yes,” I lie. I hate feeding the dog.

“Are you sure,” he asks me.

“Yeah, why?” I ask.

My dad points down at the dog gnawing on my sister’s shinbone. I will admit now that it was a mistake to get a dog when your sister is a skeleton but I really wanted one and after a month of begging and pleading my parents let me get Godzilla, a Chihuahua that is small in stature but giant in attitude.

“Feed your dog,” my dad growls at me.

I grumble as I get up, taking a can out of the refrigerator. I scoop a portion of wet food into Godzilla’s dish and fill his water bowl. I gag at the smell of the food.

“Come on Godzilla,” I call out. The dog continues to nibble on my sister. “Godzilla, now!” I shout.

My sister shakes her leg to get the dog off her but it is no use. The dog prefers bones to food.

“Godzilla, go,” my dad roars. His voice echoes throughout the house.

The dog’s tail slinks between his hind legs and he cowers off into the corner where he eats his food.

“If you can’t take care of your dog we will have to take him to the pound,” My dad says in a low growl.

First Two (MG Fiction) #3


Penny always knew she’d be young when her mama died, but that didn’t take the pain away. Even when your mama’s been sick for your whole life, it still hurts to be ten years old and throwing a shovel full of dirt on top of the box that holds your best friend.

Because when you are ten years old, and have spent your whole life with a sick mom, she is your best friend. In Penny’s case, pretty much her only friend.

Penny didn’t stay to watch them fill the hole. Her papa took her home, but she couldn’t stay. Mercifully, Papa didn’t make her. After all, she never went far.

Today, she sat on a boulder at the edge of the forest behind her house, letting the damp moss soak through to her skin as she watched the people of her town of Hopeton mill around her house, eat potatoes and Jell-O, hug her father, pick up photographs and look pityingly out the back window at her.

Penny had gotten used to those pitying looks in her short ten years. Her mama had gotten ill soon after she was born, spending time in and out of hospitals, stumping doctors from all over the country with her mysterious illness. Over the last year, that illness had progressed to the point that her mama couldn’t even make it to the hospitals. Then, she couldn’t even take another breath.

Penny had found it hard to breathe herself over the last week. The house wasn’t the same without her mama. It wasn’t in the absence of things; the beeping machines or bustling nurses. It was in the things that lingered. The smell of lilacs from her mama’s lotion. The piles of cut paper that her and her mama had used to build cities with the extra hospital tape the nurses would sneak for them. Her mama’s favorite blanket, folded neatly on her father’s favorite chair, next to the five pairs of reading glasses her mama couldn’t seem to place and so her father kept buying more for her.

Penny clung to a pair of those reading glasses now, as she huddled under the canopy of trees on the outskirts of their yard, letting the tears stream down and puddle in the folds of her dress. She didn’t even bother with a tissue, just sniffed and wiped her face with the sleeve of the black, velvet dress a neighbor had brought over with a pan of cinnamon rolls.

The breeze that drifted through the pink blossomed trees carried a sad whistle in its wake and the setting sun seemed dimmer than it usually was. Penny pulled her knees into her chest and tucked her scuffed, red Mary Jane’s under her skirt. She couldn’t understand how she could hurt so bad and feel so numb at the same time.

As the sun fell behind the trees and the sky turned from blue, to orange, to gray, Penny laid her head on her arms, and let her eyelids flutter and close.

First Two (MG Fiction) #2

TITLE: Stars, Cats and Candycorn
GENRE: MG Realistic Contemporary Fiction

I know change is supposed to be good for me. At least that’s what everyone says. But moving to a new house and a new school and a whole new time zone in one weekend seems like a lot of change for a kid—especially after everything we went through nine months ago.

“Hurry up, Claud, or I’m gonna take this stupid costume off!” my younger sister Lucy hollered from downstairs. Her voice echoed through the hallway.

“Be right there!”

I stuffed my blonde hair into one of Dad’s old hats, tucked a silk scarf into my collar, and picked up a magnifying glass in my gloved hand. So it wasn’t my best costume ever, but Dad wasn’t much help with stuff like this, or anything these days. Sherlock Holmes was going to have to do.

Lucy waited for me in the dining room with her arms crossed. She wore Dad’s old coat and derby hat and she had drawn a fake mustache above her lip with a black marker. “I can’t believe you’re making me wear this thing. I look like a complete dork,” she said.

“No you don’t,” I lied. But she didn’t look at all like Dr. Watson. She hadn’t tried to cover up her red curly hair or her freckles. Still, it didn’t matter. At least we were trying to pretend that this was just like any other Halloween.

“What took you so long? All the good candy’s going to be gone,” Lucy complained.

“I couldn’t get my stupid hair to stay in my hat,” I said.

Dad was in his robe and his face looked thin and pale behind his glasses as he scanned the newspaper. I wasn’t even sure if he had bought any candy to give out to the neighborhood kids. He looked up. “Creative costumes, girls. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would approve.”

“We did what we could,” I said, knowing that Dad was talking about the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I had read them all and some of them more than once.

“You want me to come with you?” he asked. “I don’t think you should be walking around by yourselves in the dark.”

“It’s Halloween, Dad,” Lucy pointed out. “That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

“Besides, we’d get laughed at if you came with us. We’re not little kids anymore,” I said.

He looked through me, as if his gaze reached far beyond where I stood. “Alright, but stick together, and take Bruce. He needs a walk.”

Within seconds Bruce, our golden retriever, had grabbed his leash and was perched in front of me, panting enthusiastically. He had brown eyes and soft, floppy ears, and he was named after Bruce Springsteen, Dad’s favorite singer. Now that Bruce was 11, like me, he had slowed down, since that’s 77 in dog years, but he still had the spirit of a puppy. Sometimes, though, he’d sit quietly and stare out the window. I wondered if he missed Mom as much as I did.

First Two (MG Fiction) #1

TITLE: Side Out
GENRE: Fiction


I look to make sure it’s not Mom and breathe a sigh of relief when I realize it’s just my twin brother, T.J., heading to the bathroom. Mom doesn’t want me checking the video stats. She thinks the fact that I’m transferring schools will make this whole video mess go away. For someone who’s a college professor, Mom really doesn’t get it. Things on the internet aren’t like socks in the dryer. They don’t just disappear when you’re not paying attention.

T.J. closes the door. He then breaks out into his signature chorus of catch phrases. “ Richard Simmons!” He draws the name out like a sportscaster. “Go Richard! Go Richard! Sweat….Richard Simmons shaves his legs!”

I rock my head back and groan. I so don’t care about Richard Simmons’ hygiene right now, or ever, but especially not now.

Reta—my finger hovers over the “r” key, but I don’t need to press it. The browser has made its suggestions. The first is “Retard Fire Drill.” 2,921 views in three months. A wave of hurt rushes over me, making my heart squeeze inside my chest. I click.

In the video, T.J. runs down the dimly lit hallway, hands pressed tightly against his ears, wading his way through the sea of students that finally parts to let him swim upstream. His terrified screams punctuate the silences between the blaring EEERRR, EEERRR, EEERRR, EEERRR wails of the fire alarm. His special ed. aide can’t get to him. That’s when Video Me shouts his name and bolts out of my single-file class line to help. A speech bubble appears over video T.J.’s head, “Save me, Sasquatch!” Video Me doesn’t know it, but the hours that follow turn out to be the Worst. Day. Ever.

The curved arrow on the laptop screen asks me if I want to play the video again. Now it’s at 2,922 hits. The most recent comments jump out at me.

Zach226: How tall is that girl? Like 6’2”?????

CarlyB808: That poor boy.

CeezyT2T04: This vid made my day. <3 Retard Fire Drill

RachIsAmazing: I’d so hate to be them. Like for real hate it.

JDogg32: Glad someone got this on vid.

CeezyT2T04: Me too. Heard Sasquatch isn’t comin back this year. 2 bad. She was actually pretty good at basketball.

Kevster808: Bet she’s too scared to show her fat face!

Those are the tame comments. Feeling faint, I curl my fingers around my laptop to resist the urge to throw it out the window. No, CeezyT2T04, I’m not going back to that stupid school. And Kevster808, what about your face? I seem to remember you getting an overhand serve rocketed at your nose after you did your impersonation of T.J. That was the one blip of good during the Worst. Day. Ever. Until that moment, sinking a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer was the coolest thing I’d ever done, but giving Kevin Ziegler a nosebleed was totally better.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Winners for First Two (MG Fiction)

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

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

Here is the complete list, so you may double check:
  • 7OCRZKZX as ENTRY #1

  • 36ILS3SA as ENTRY #2

  • G1KW2MW7 as ENTRY #3

  • NFEYYL2T as ENTRY #4

  • 89PWKMCY as ENTRY #5

  • 4CK82FJG as ENTRY #6

  • LY4VOHEG as ENTRY #7

  • G0TNSCDH as ENTRY #8

  • K0Z9ZHS8 as ENTRY #9

  • ZWRIR3CJ as ENTRY #10

  • 5TQSZCIM as ENTRY #11

  • BWCQN3OT as ENTRY #12

  • JTLIT9A2 as ENTRY #13

  • 64ZXN6LM as ENTRY #14

  • WA01QAYT as ENTRY #15
The alternates are:


First Two for MG -- Submissions

Let's dig into some middle grade!

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

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gift Card Winner

Thanks to all 111 who left comments on Friday's post.  I feel like I KNOW YOU ALL SO MUCH BETTER NOW!  That, and the demographics are fascinating to me.  (For instance, I was surprised to discover that the 30-somethings are the biggest group around here.  Who knew?)

At any rate, I've chosen a winner (by random) from among the comments:


Yay!  And so, dear Petre Pan, please email me at facelesswords(at) so that we can discuss the delivery of your $10 Barnes and Noble gift card.

Thanks again to everyone!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Friday Fricassee

Hello, writers!

A few things, and then a small request:

1.  We're going to have a "First Two" for MG next week.  Details will post on Tuesday.

2.  If you haven't read my first Critique Observations post on writing dialogue, YOU CAN READ IT NOW.

3.  I'm all caught up on my 3-page critiques (they're short and sweet and I sprinkle them in between my larger projects).  If you would like a line edit of your first 3 pages, please contact me at authoressedits(at)  The cost is $18 and the turnaround is quick.

And now for the request:

I'd like to take the pulse of my regular readership.  Friday's a good day to do it, because I've heard over and over from many of you who say that Friday Fricassee is your favorite post of the week.  So hopefully you're, yanno, reading this.

If you would, please leave a little comment below containing as much of the following info as you're comfortable sharing:

  • age
  • sex
  • where you live (state/province/region -- please no cities or addresses!)
  • what you write
  • whether you are aspiring, agented, or published (or an agent or editor)
  • one sentence about what you find most helpful on the blog (or the main reason you come here)
  • one sentence about your dream...or your heart...or whatever reflects your passion

This will help me to continue in the right direction as I continue through this year on the blog.  It will also offer me an extra bit of connection to each of you.  And, yeah, I love that.

Tomorrow morning, I will randomly choose one commenter to receive a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card.  A small way to say "thank you" for your participation in my little survey.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Critique Observations: When Dialogue Rambles

I've been meaning for quite a while to begin a series on trends I've discovered while editing opening chapters.  Today's is the first installment of Critique Observations.


Dialogue is hard.

In my earlier novel-writing days, my husband was very involved in the first-pass editing process.  One of the things he was best at was calling out dorky dialogue (his term) and making me see that what I'd made my character say was, in fact, nothing like what a real person would say.  Mr. A's presentation was especially effective because of the way he read the excerpts--in dorky voices.

Belly laughter does a world of good when someone's pointing out your writing faults.

One of his all-time favorite VERY BAD lines of dialogue is from the first draft of an MG fantasy.  And here it is:

“Strange, for silence so long unbroken to be disturbed twice in succession.”  

Go ahead.  Read it out loud.  TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THIS MER-GUY WAS SAYING.  I dare you.

Mr. A. keeps this little gem scribbled on a piece of paper amidst his collection of bills and junk-that-needs-sorting.  Whenever he decides to clean out his cubby, he comes across the paper, finds me, and reads it out loud in his best mer-dude voice.

And I laugh all over again.

Dialogue is about more than making your characters' speech understandable, though.  And I've found that, by and large, many of my clients get tripped up on dialogue for several reasons:

1.  The dialogue is unnatural.

Like my example above, lines of dialogue can come off stilted, clunky, overly-formal, and just plain wrong.  As writers, we often have the tendency to infuse our dialogue with a flowery, writerly type of writing that ends up sounding like--well, like a writer writing words.  This is especially evident in fantasy, when we think our characters need to Speak A Certain Way in order to fit the world we've created.  It can happen anywhere, though, in any genre.

One of the best ways to fix this problem is to READ OUR DIALOGUE OUT LOUD.  If it doesn't feel and sound natural coming out of your mouth, then you've got some work to do.

Here are some examples of BAD DIALOGUE.  Read them out loud.  

"I absolutely do not know what you are talking about," Glenn said.  "I would never do anything like that--not ever.  I can't imagine myself stooping so low, becoming that desperate."

Griselda held up the glowing orb.  "It is not yet time for me to reveal the depths of this orb.  Indeed, it is not in my power to choose, nor to reveal, this time.  Look upon this with eyes wide open, small ones.  Look upon it and shudder."  She smiled.  "The end of everything is upon us."

In the first example, Glenn is being too formal ("do not" instead of "don't") and redundant.  Here's a better version:

"I don't know what you're talking about," Glenn said.  "I would never stoop that low."

In the second example, the magical Griselda sounds like she's reading cue cards for a B-movie.  It's a fine line, indeed, between making our fantasy characters sound intriguing--and making them sound ridiculous.  Perhaps this version reads better:

Griselda held up the glowing orb.  "I cannot tell you what I see.  I hardly understand it myself."  She smiled.  "But let's not fear the end of everything.  Not yet."

2.  The dialogue is too much at once.

This is closely related to #1.  Writing entire paragraphs of dialogue spoken by one person isn't going to read naturally.  People don't speak in one-minute soliloquies!  Natural, back-and-forth dialogue gives speakers equal time, with responses on the shorter, not the longer side.  Sure, sometimes a character will have a big explanation to give.  But it's still better to break up that explanation with some interjections from other characters, and certainly with a beat or two.


"Mother wasn't always this way," Eva said.  "Years ago, when I was small, she smiled all the time.  Laughed a lot.  But the depression started setting in while I was in high school.  Sometimes I would come home and find her curled up on the sofa, weeping softly.  That's not an easy thing for a sixteen-year-old, you know?  And there have been so many doctors over the last few years, so many failed attempts at drugs with side effects I can't begin to describe to you, that I've lost count.  It's no wonder Dad gave up and left.  He was never strong enough to deal with anything that rocked his boat too hard.  So that leaves me.  I'm the only one here who gives a damn about her.  And I'm not about to abandon her."

It's simply not believable that Eva would stand there and spout that entire chunk of text while her listener(s) stand listening raptly.  At the least, the text needs to be broken up with some beats.  What is Eva doing?  Pacing?  Opening and closing her fists?  Passing gas?  And what about her listeners--are they responding?

Nobody talks in huge chunks of text.  (Well, I'm sure there's the odd exception--the talkative person in your life who doesn't seem to need oxygen to keep going.  But even if you're writing a loquacious character, the chattiness needs to be believable!)

"Mother wasn't always this way," Eva said.  "When I was small, she smiled all the time, laughed a lot.  But the depression set in while I was in high school."  She bit her lip.  "Sometimes I would come home and find her curled up on the sofa, weeping softly.  That's not an easy thing for a sixteen-year-old, you know?"

Raymond brushed her arm with his fingertips.  "Yeah.  I know."

"There have been so many doctors over the years--so many failed attempts at drugs with side effects I can't begin to describe.  It's no wonder Dad gave up and left."  She was on a roll now.  "He was never strong enough to deal with anything.  So that leaves me.  I'm the only one who gives a damn about her."

3.  Dialogue that rambles without purpose or direction.

This is also a common problem.  We must never forget that dialogue isn't just about making our characters talk to each other.  It needs to serve a purpose and move the story forward.  If your dialogue isn't doing those things, then it needs to go.

The purpose might be two characters getting to know each other, or the revealing of important information, or even an argument.  But if you continue on with banter that isn't focused on moving the plot forward, your pace will utterly stall.  It's all "blah blah blah" with no reason for existing.

Rambly dialogue:

Flippy poured the tea into Noonie's cup.  "I hope you like oolong."

"I love it!"

"So do I," Flippy said.  "Though it's hard to find my favorite blends locally."

Noonie reached for the honey.  "I know.  This is such a po-dunk town.  I want to leave."

"I've been wanting to leave for a long time."  Flippy waited her turn for the honey.  "It reminds me of when we were in high school."

"Oh, my!"  Noonie stirred slowly.  "Those were the days."

"Yes.  Those were certainly the days."

"Would you like some milk?" Flippy asked.

"No, thank you," Noonie said.  "Honey is all I need."

Flippy sighed.  "It would be so lovely to be able to buy local honey."

"I was just thinking the same thing!"

"Maybe..." Flippy tapped her fingers on the sides of her teacup.  "Maybe we do need to go back to our high school dreams.  Just pack up and leave, like we said we would."

"You haven't changed much, have you?"

"I suppose not," Flippy said.  "Well, except for these extra inches around my middle."

Noonie laughed.  "I guess that's part of growing older."

"Certainly not my favorite part."

"No," Noonie said.  "Mine, neither."

Clearly, Flippy and Noonie have some plans to make.  But all the banter about tea and honey and fat middles isn't doing anything to forward the conversation--or hold our interest.

Don't get me wrong--characters do have to interject little personal thoughts and funny asides and whatnot.  The trick is to do that without losing the thrust of the scene.  In short, AVOID BUNNY TRAILS.  We don't need to be privy to every, tiny detail of Noonie and Flippy's conversation.  It's a given that we're only being shown a portion of it, anyway--the portion that is vital to our story.  Their tea party will likely continue off-page.  We need to see only the part that will move the plot forward.

Flippy poured the tea into Noonie's cup.  "I hope you like oolong."

"I love it!"  She reached for the honey.

"I've been thinking about our high school days," Flippy said.  "All our big dreams."

Noonie smiled.  "You're going to try to talk me into leaving this po-dunk town, aren't you?"

"We always said we'd pack up and go.  But all we did was grow old."

"I did more than that," Noonie said.  "And I think you did, too."

"I grew thicker around the middle, is all.  Cream?"

"No, honey's enough for me."

"None of this is enough for me."  Flippy tapped her fingers on her teacup.  "Let's do it.  Let's get out of here."

And there you have it.  With a disclaimer:  I'm not claiming that my above examples of good writing would win any awards.  But they are definitely better than the bad examples the precede them.  It's the CONCEPT I want you to walk away with, and not the burning desire to write a Flippy and Noonie scene just like mine.

As you continue to edit and revise, turn a sharp eye toward your dialogue.  Is it natural?  Is it necessary?  Does it read like a real person saying real words in a real situation?  It may not come easily at first, but after a while you will get your groove, and the words of your characters will spring to life.

Just remember:  DIALOGUE NEEDS A PURPOSE.  Once you give it one, it will zing!  And your story will unfold as naturally during your characters' speech as it does during exposition.  A worthy goal, yes?