Monday, March 31, 2014

First Kiss--Call for Submissions

It's been almost a year since we've had a First Kiss critique round, so let's have some fun!

  • Send your First Kiss scene (up to 300 words) with a brief (25-word) lead-in to give us some grounding.
  • Please remember that this is a PG-13 blog. Nothing beyond a kiss will be accepted.
  • The scene can be an almost-kiss, if you have one of those.
  • Enter HERE.
  • The submission window happens TOMORROW, April 1 (not, I'm not fooling you), noon to 5:00 PM EDT. This will be a LOTTERY.
  • The bot will choose 20 entries, plus 1 alternate.
  • Entries will post for critique on Wednesday, April 2.
  • This critique round is open to finished and unfinished novels, and to agented and unagented authors.
Note: PLEASE DON'T NEGLECT TO INCLUDE YOUR 25-word lead-in to the scene.  It makes a big difference, knowing where we're being dropped into a story.

Please also take the time to CHECK YOUR ENTRY before hitting "enter".  


Please type your 25-word lead-in in italics.  Then double space before beginning your excerpt.

The excerpt will begin here.  There will be lots of kissing.

Post your questions below!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Fricassee

Probably I don't need to tell you how THRILLED I was to read all your comments yesterday.  So many fascinating tidbits about YOU!

(If you missed it yesterday, read SO TIRED OF BEING ANONYMOUS now, and add your own comments to the collection.)

My biggest disappointment this morning is that I can't find the poem my dad wrote for my twelfth birthday.  I thought I knew exactly where it was (I'm pretty organized with memorabilia), and I was planning on sharing it with you this morning.  Now I'm at a complete loss, because I have no idea where it is.

I'll keep looking.  (This poem is intensely precious to me, so I will likely obsess until I find it!)

Some of you asked about my choice to be anonymous.  When I started this blog in 2008, I was fairly active on the wonderful Blue Boards (I'm still over there, but hardly ever, sadly).  I was in the midst of my agent search, and enjoyed the camaraderie of others who, like myself, were playing the check-my-email-forty-times-day thing.  The Blue Boards have an "agents" section in which there are threads on individual agents, where writer share how long it took them to hear back, whether it was a request or a rejection, etc.  It was my favorite section, and there's a lot of "me" there.

I was already anonymous on the Blue Boards, because I didn't want to attach my real name to all those agent rejection/request comments.  So I decided to keep the same approach for my blog, which would give me the ability to discuss my querying process in general terms.  I also stopped posting my agent responses on the Blue Boards, because I didn't want there to be a connection between Authoress and actual agent names.

(Honestly?  That's a good policy for all writers to follow online.  No one needs to know which agents said yes, no, or maybe.  Keep it general.)

The idea for this blog came up suddenly--literally, I just had the thought, "Hey, I should start an anonymous blog for writers!" and that was that.  It wasn't any sort of nefarious, scheming, or even remotely clever thing.  Rather, it was an outgrowth of my already-anonymous presence, coupled with a desire to create a critique-based forum for aspiring authors.

And now, almost six years later, I'm still anonymous.

Yes, I have a circle of people who know the real me.  (No, you're not allowed to torture my critique partners for information.  They are all fiercely loyal.  And if they turn out not to be, they know it's at their own MORTAL RISK.)

(Well, okay.  Not really.)

I appreciate your allowing me to be me without really being me.  (Wow, what a great sentence.)  And I also appreciate your not needling me about the anonymous thing.  That may be because I really am as real as I can be here...and it may also be because you're just decent folk altogether.

And that's that!

Next week, I think I'll talk about why I'm doing something writers aren't really supposed to do.  Encouraged not to do.  Yet I am deliriously happy doing it, and really don't want to do anything else right now (including, yanno, talking to people and actually looking away from my monitor).

On that note, I will see you all next week.  Hugs to all!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

So Tired of Being Anonymous

Yes, it's true.  I feel like I'm missing out on something by having to hide behind my red hat.

Okay, I don't have to.  I've chosen to.  And the plan has always been, and still is, to take off the hat and face the world once my debut novel is announced.

So, yes.  It'll happen.  (You know I believe that, or I wouldn't still be here.)

But may I just say how frustrating it is to see WRITERS I KNOW on various social media, and I can't connect?


Anyway.  It's okay.  This is my persona, my platform, my gift to the writing community.  I'm fine with it, and, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what name I sign here.  Because, truly, I am about as ME as I can possibly be.  The words you read here are from my heart.  The life experiences I share aren't fictional--they're real.  My struggles, my triumphs, my insecurities--you've seen them all.  So it's not like I'm hiding.  Truly, I'm about as "out" and transparent as one can get without actually revealing the rest of my life details.

Like who I am.  And where I live.  And what else I do besides write.

The absence of that personal information doesn't affect what I do here, or how I connect.  It gives me a sense of loss, is all.

In the beginning, it was terrifying.  I was constantly worried that's I'd slip up.  To this day, I keep my "real me" email separate from my authoress accounts (my Me-mail isn't gmail).  I used to stop and think VERY HARD before signing an email, to make sure I was using AUTHORESS.

It worked the other way, too.  Once I left a comment on my sister's blog as Authoress instead of myself.  It wasn't a big deal -- there was no audience crossover.  But it made my heart beat out of my chest when I realized what I'd done.

It's safe to say that I am now a split personality pro.  I'm not sure if that's something to be proud of, but there you have it.

At any rate, will you indulge me today by allowing me to share some THINGS about me that, in some way, will make me feel less faceless?  In return, I only ask that you share ONE THING about yourself in the comment box.  The ONE THING does NOT have to be about writing!  Just something about you that makes you...well, you.  The quirkier, the better!


  1. I am terrified of ants.  This probably dates back to when I was 2 years old.  You know how ants sometimes come out in huge, terrifying clusters, and spread over the sidewalk?  I was sitting on my little "bike" and rolling over a cluster of ants.  My mom warned me to stop--explained that the ants would crawl on me if I didn't stop.  I kept rolling.  And the ants started crawling up my legs.  It totally served me right.  But to this day, I absolutely freak out if I find an ant anywhere on my body.  Or anywhere else, really.
  2. My teen years (and beyond) were devastated by acne.  It's gone now, but the scars remain, both physical and emotional.  As a result, I never feel beautiful.  (And that's about as naked as truth gets.)
  3. My feet are 2 different sizes.  They are also quite small (5 and 5.5).  And I can never remember which foot is which size.  (I wear 5.5 shoes; you'd think I'd be able to tell which shoe is slightly looser.)
  4. Once, I had a pet mouse named Oscar.  He got some sort of skin thing where he kept scratching, spattering blood on the glass walls of his cage.  I got tired of that, and, being a self-absorbed teen, decided to stop giving him food and water so that he would die.  Which he did.  (This experience probably helps me write troubled teen characters.  Maybe.)
  5. My college boyfriend is gay now.  (Well, he was apparently gay then, too.  But he wasn't owning it.)  This is the guy who once checked the time on his watch in the middle of kissing me.  I should have known something was up.
  6. My other college boyfriend is now my husband.
  7. My piano teacher in college gave me the key to his office so that I could practice on his magnificent piano when he wasn't there.  One day, I fell asleep with my face on the keys.  When I woke up, I discovered I had drooled on his Mason and Hamlin.  Thankfully, he didn't catch me.
  8. When I was an administrative assistant, however, my boss did catch me sleeping at my desk.  He assumed I was ill and sent me home.  (I wasn't ill.  I was just...sleeping.)
  9. I love sleeping.
  10. I have tinnitus.  I don't know what true silence sounds like.  It's not debilitating, like it is for some people.  But I hate it, and wish it would go away.  Constant, clashing overtones in my head does not do much for maintaining inner peace!
  11. When I was in first grade, my music teacher was so impressed that I could sing Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful in Latin that she had me come to her fourth grade class and sing it for them.  That was the beginning of my love for audiences.
  12. My big lead role was Lili in Carnival.  I was not-quite-17.  And I can still sing all the words to all the songs.  (You can imagine how much Mr. A loves that...)
  13. Several months after getting my license, I drove my dad's VW Super Beetle into a tree.
  14. He gave me the car a few years later.  It was already old then, and by now it would be vintage. I miss that car dreadfully.  It was the most "me" car I've ever driven.  (Trees notwithstanding.)
  15. I love foot massages.  And I almost never get them.
  16. My favorite flower is the lilac.  We had 2 gorgeous lilac trees in our back yard, and my dad always cut some and put them in vases.  For my 12th birthday, he cut 12, put them in a vase, and wrote me a poem about them, called "The Things They Don't Say".   It's pretty much the most amazing poem a daddy could write for his daughter.  I still have it.
  17. I'm not athletic at all.  But I adore baseball, because my dad used to take me on bus trips to see the Phillies play.  One of my favorite things to do when I visit my parents is to hit some balls with my dad.  I suck at it, but last summer I hit several singles.  (Yeah, that's probably because my dad is older now, so I was able to make it to first.)
  18. I am 25% Ukrainian, on my mom's side.  She called her paternal grandparents "Baba" and "Gigi".
  19. Once, I jumped off a swing with an umbrella and tried to be Mary Poppins.  It didn't work.
  20. I read Alive in seventh grade, and still have visions of human hands hanging on the wall of a make-shift shelter for midnight snacking.  (What seventh-grade teacher puts a book like that on her shelves?!)
  21. I can't stand puke.  I close my eyes when I throw up so I don't have to look at it.
  22. A number of years ago, I passed out on the toilet and my husband thought I was dead.  He called 911, and they carted me away in an ambulance.  Turns out I was seriously dehydrated (the EMT tried 3 times to get an IV line started on our way to the hospital, but he couldn't find my veins at all).  It took 2 bags of fluid to get me right again.
  23. Ambulances are seriously lacking in shock absorbers.  Worst ride of my life.
  24. Mr. A tried to teach me to drive a stick shift.  Once.
  25. In eighth grade, we were learning about prejudice in Civics class.  Our teacher told us to write down, anonymously, any prejudices we had against any people groups/race/whatever, and to pass them in.  She said it was confidential.  I thought and thought (because, really, I didn't have any seething hatred inside me or anything), and finally I wrote, "The Jews, because of what they did to Jesus."

    The next day, this teacher, who had promised confidentiality, railed in front of the whole class about how one of us had written, "The Jews, because of what they did to Jesus", and how she felt SO SORRY for that person, and how it was horrible, and yada yada yada.  And there I sat, WANTING TO DIE A THOUSAND TIMES.  And there, in the class near me, sat A JEWISH BOY.

    No, she didn't say my name.  But I felt the sting of her words, and the shame stayed with me for a long, long time.

    Yes, my comment was made out of ignorance.  I had never even spoken to a Jewish person.  I knew next to nothing about it.  Honestly, I had to think really hard to even come up with that to pass in something on my anonymous sheet of paper.

    What's beautiful is that, today, I have a profound love for Jews.  As a Christian, I share a common faith heritage with them.  I have learned so much about their beliefs and traditions (even attended my first Seder last year!), and I am a fierce supporter of Israel.  And the cream on the cupcake?  God has given me an amazing Jewish man for my agent!  Josh has taught me things without even realizing he has (including obscure Yiddish words that I can't believe I didn't know).

    I love the "full circle" of this story in my life.  I love the way I grew from ignorance to appreciation.  I could have done without the intense shaming, for sure.  But at least this story has a happy ending.
On that note, I hand the pen to you.  Share one thing about YOU, and the time I've spent on this post will be well worth it!

(And thank you for letting be ME in 25 bits.  I feel like I can put the red hat back on now, and still breathe.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Critique Observations: Nothing Is Happening

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

The opposite of too much happening (Car Crash) in the opening pages of a story is, naturally, nothing happening at all.  Sometimes it's just a matter of a "slow start"; other times, I will read 30--or even 75--pages, and nothing really ever happens.

Let me explain.

Of course things "happen" in a story.  Otherwise, there would be no words on the page, right?  But I'm talking about "happen" in the sense of plot.  And if nothing is happening, then nobody is ultimately going to want to keep reading your story.


Sometimes nothing is happening because the author is spending too much time describing things--the setting, the characters.  And sometimes nothing is happening because the author is constantly interrupting the narrative with "what happened before".

I'm not going to offer one of my Authoresseque examples here, simply because it would be too LONG.  Instead, here are the things to caution against:

  • We don't need to know the color of every character's eyes, the shade and texture of their hair, and what they're wearing.  Choose details carefully, and only offer what is needed to help the reader form a picture in his mind while he reads.  Trust your readers to "visualize" your characters in their own way, with a little (not a lot) of guidance from you.
  • We don't need to know every single item on the mantlepiece.  The color of every flower in the garden.  The exact weather pattern.  Give us only what we need to place your scene somewhere we can feel grounded.  Don't belabor the things that are AROUND your characters.  
  • Use backstory SPARINGLY.  Use it JUDICIOUSLY.  I can't tell you how many times I've encountered manuscripts that give bits of story, then insert fat chunks of this-is-what-happened-a-year-ago, then back to the story, then another fat chunk of this-is-how-they-became-friends, and so on.  Backstory needs to be carefully--and sparingly--woven into your narrative.  It should feel natural, unassuming.  If it feels like it INTERRUPTS the story, then it's either misplaced, too much, or both.  Your pacing will die a quick death, and your readers will get bored or frustrated (or both).


I'm just going to say it:  We don't need to be told about every time your main character wakes up, goes to sleep, showers, shaves, eats, or poops.  WE JUST DON'T.  I think this is probably an easy problem to fall into if you're less experienced as a novelist.  In one of my earlier manuscripts, my main character apparently took an inordinate amount of showers, which one of my astute critique partners pointed out.  It happens, right?  And then we learn that it's not necessary to bring the reader through EVERY ASPECT of a character's day.  This is a novel--it is not a journal.

To wit:

Amanda woke the next morning with a vestige of last night's headache still throbbing in her temples.  She stretched one arm, then the other.  Then, sighing, she swung her legs out from under the covers, slid from the bed, and shuffled to the bathroom.

Frowning, she wondered why she'd left the bathroom light on.  Perhaps she'd peed in the middle of the night without remembering?  She hated when she couldn't remember things like that.

While her shower water heated up, Amanda swallowed two Ibuprofens and used the toilet.  When steam finally curled its way from behind the shower curtain, Amanda wriggled out of her sleep tee and slipped into the shower.

I wish this hot water would wash away my memories of last night.

Amanda stood for a long time with her head under the spray of the shower.  The sound of the water on her skull was soothing, repetitive.  It made her feel like she'd disappeared into another world.

Finally, she shampooed her hair and slathered it with conditioner.  The soothing scent of lilac enveloped her while she bathed, then carefully shaved her legs.  Just in case Petronius would be there this afternoon.  Because, after all, that's why she bought the minidress in the first place.

No.  She wasn't going to think about Petronius.

She was starting to run out of hot water when she finally turned off the shower and swathed herself in her favorite, dove gray bath towel.  Probably she was running late, but it was hard to care.  The Ibuprofen hadn't kick in yet, and moving quickly would only worsen the headache.

(You get the idea.)

In short, we don't need MOST of the above.  We've got to stop loving our words, and snip things ruthlessly in order to get to the clean heart of our story.

Snipped, snappier version:

In the morning, Amanda's head was still throbbing lightly.  She swallowed a couple of Ibuprofen and stood with her head under the shower until the water started to run cold.  Shivering, she wrapped herself in a towel and grabbed the minidress from her closet.  And groaned.

Petronius would see right through her.  The dress was his favorite color, and hugged Amanda in all the right places.  Who was she kidding?

(And there's me, writing women's fiction.  Probably I should stick to YA science fiction.)


And this is the most insidious reason of all.  A novel needs to move from plot point to plot point.  If your novel is rambling on, the reader is going to get the vague (or not-so-vague) sense that the story isn't going anywhere.  And maybe it isn't.  Because a well crafted plot has specific "arrival points", and the narrative and dialogue in between should be moving toward each of those points.  Otherwise, you just have a lot of "blah blah blah" that doesn't more forward.

I've noticed in some manuscripts that there is no true INCITING INCIDENT.  This is the THING that happens to your main character that produces the CHANGE that propels the story into...well, a story.  If this THING had never happened, the story wouldn't have happened.  Often, the inciting incident is placed at the end of the first or second chapter.  (Hunger Games is my favorite example--Primose Everdeen's name is called at the end of chapter one.  It's the THING that makes the story truly begin.  If Prim's name hadn't been called, then Katniss would never stepped forward and said, "I volunteer as tribute!".  Peeta would have gone to the Hunger Games with a different female tribute, and Katniss would have gone back to the fields with Gale.)

If there is no inciting incident in your novel, then there's no CHANGE to propel your main character into the story.  It really does start to read more like a journal of sorts ("and then he did this, and then he did that"), with no apparent reason why we're being told any of this.

There are different methods to plotting, and I'm not going to discuss that here.  I encourage you to do your research to see what works best for you.  (I prefer Blake Snyder's beat sheet, and I won't write a novel without it!)  The main thing is that you DO plot.  Even if you're a tried-and-true pantser, you STILL have to, at some point, work out your plot points so that your story has structure.  Whether you do that before or after your first draft is up to you.

And there you have it.  Your story will be engaging only if THINGS ARE HAPPENING.  Not random things, but well-crafted things that move logically toward each plot point, drawing the reader forward with purpose.

You can do this!  But you're going to have to stop having a love affair with your words.  They're only words--delete them, and there will still be billions of other words to choose from.  I promise that you will never run out of words.

If your story is suffering from Nothing Is Happening Syndrome, it's time to roll up your sleeves.  Writing words is easy; writing well is hard.  Strive for the latter, and your stories will shine!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Fricassee

Finally I get to say this:   HAPPY SPRING!

Has it been a long haul, or what? And it's still not really spring.  Not warm enough to make my toes happy (though I've broken out my Birkies, anyway--because BIRKIES).

And, alas, speaking of toes--I've been ignoring my unhappy left big toe for too many months, and this morning I'm sitting here with ice on it.  Whatever's wrong with it is exacerbated by dancing, so I've got morning-after toe joint pain (again).

I'm thinking it's really good that writing isn't physically dangerous.  If dancing were my career instead of my hobby, I'd be in a scary place.  I mean, can you imagine pulling a muscle in your hand, or breaking your thumb, or falling off your desk chair?  (Well, okay, all those things could happen. But it's not like we're in imminent danger.)

The closest thing to a real problem is carpal tunnel syndrome (which I've struggled with in the past).  But, truly, if you're sitting right/using your arms correctly AND you have proper spine alignment, you're going to be a lot safer in this area.

Anyway.  No boo-hooing from this slightly maimed ballerina.  Just a bit of a downer.  (Because I don't want to go to the doctor.  And I just want to dance and have happy feet.)

So here's a question for you:  What does cripple you in your writing?  What do you have to emotionally ice in order to get the swelling down?

Do you stumble when you receive a rejection?  Or too many rejections?

Do you lose heart when a critique partner rips your latest baby to shreds?

Do you cry internally when a friend or family member tells you it's time to give up your dream, because writing isn't a "real career"?

Do you want to give up forever when you can't figure out how to fix a plot point?

Do you stop writing when things get really, really hard?

There's a place for "resting" our wounded bits as we go along this journey.  Putting aside a critique for a few days (or weeks) until we're ready to stomach it.  Taking some time off to not be a writer (for a while).  Whatever we need to do to get better.

Like dancers (and runners and gymnasts and football players and...), we sometimes get injured.  There might not be physical pain...we might not have a visible limp.  But the injuries hurt.  And if we don't take care of them, they're going to continue to cripple us.

You know how those old sports injuries come back to haunt you years later, right?  And how a dancer, once injured, has to be careful not to re-injure, or it could mean the end of dancing.  Likewise, writers need to tend to their "writing wounds" so they can continue to grow.  Continue to write.

So.  There's your analogy-from-Authoress's-life for the week.  How does it apply to you?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Talking Heads: 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.
  • 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 3 other entries.

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

Talking Heads #16

TITLE: "Burning for You"
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

Set up: Carly is consoled by her gay friend, Brandon, who calls her from Los Angeles, while she's stuck in her former hometown in central Illinois. Carly is falling for Adam, the sheriff. But Adam has an ex-wife and children. (Complications). Kramer is her pooch.

Stop. Stop thinking about him. She discarded her plastic cup in a garbage can and observed the park grounds. Everything was still, not a breeze stirred the leaves or flowers. No one strolled along the cobblestone path. It was just she and Kramer.

A hot day, a strangely idyllic one. She brushed a fast-food napkin over her upper lip, wondering if she'd ever get used to the humidity.

Or looking over her shoulder.

Her cell rang. Grinning, she answered immediately. "Fred!"

"Ethel," Brandon said, his voice loud with energy. "When do I pick you up at the airport?"


"Have you booked the return flight? I'll send an armed escort for Kramer, so those airline idiots won't lose him again."

"Haven't booked the flight yet."

"What? You are so not blowing off that audition."

"I won't."

"You'd better tell me what's wrong, or I'll fly out there myself and horrify those crones with my pink feather boa."

When she laughed, she choked on a sob. She sank to the bench with its chipped green paint and told Brandon everything, about the tarantula, the mangled marionette, the mill saw, the drippy threat painted inside the barn. He listened quietly until she told him she slept with Adam.

"OMG, girl, at least you got a bonus round, putting up with all that stress. Did Studley live up to his name?"

"And then some." She bunched the leash around her left hand and told her friend about the ex-wife. Panting heavily, Kramer rested on his paws like a Sphinx. "Listen. I've got to get going." She rose to her feet. "Kramer needs air conditioning."

"Oh, Carly girl. I hear loooovve in your voice."

"Lust, Fred. Not love."

"Oh, it's love and you know it. Carly-kins, are you just going to lie there and take it? I'd double up the lip gloss and fight for my man."

"She's supposedly a looker."

"And what are you? Yesterday's leftovers? Don't you let that ex-wife re-claim that package. That Festival's coming up tomorrow, right? Don't you dare hide your hotness. You show that hunk and his junk what you're packing. Make him forget that ex-wife."

"What do you mean?"

"That white dress of yours."

Talking Heads #15

TITLE: A Million Tiny Shards (WIP)
GENRE: Commercial Fiction

WIP: Jimmy is waiting for his daughter to tell him something that's making her uncomfortable.

The front door banged open and Jimmy frowned. "Tate! How many times do I have to tell you to quit slamming that damn door open? You've already paid to have the wall fixed once."

"Sorry, Mr. Hanson. Did you tell 'em yet, Glads?"

"No. I was waiting for you."

Jimmy waited, wondering what in the world was going on. His daughter wasn't the nervous type, so it must be especially bad. Listening to the rustle of clothing, he figured his daughter and her boyfriend were sitting on the couch across from his recliner.

"Okay. Well, this is the hard part then," Tate said. Jimmy barely resisted the urge to strangle the young man so he'd get to the point faster. "Well, uhm, Gladys and I got a surprise at the doctor the other day. She went for her annual appointment and I offered to take her." Tate cleared his throat as Jimmy started to sweat. "Uhm, well, it appears that all of our carefulness didn't have quite the intended result. Uhm, Mr. Hanson—"

"Dad, I'm pregnant!" Gladys blurted out.

Jimmy stared in the direction of his daughter's voice, mouth hanging open. His chest heaved with every breath, his hands balled into fists. He stood up, starting to pace, no clue how to handle the current situation. On the one hand, he'd be a hypocrite to be angry: he'd been a dad at fifteen. But he'd also taught her better and hoped she'd had more sense.

"Gladys, I—I don't even know what to say," he muttered, sinking into his chair. He rubbed his hands over his face. "Oh f***."

"It wasn't planned, dad. It was a surprise to me, too. I only found out because I was super late with my period. The doctor said that was normal. But then Tate told her we were, you know, doing…it, and she did a test right away. I'm sorry, dad."

"Oh f***, Gladys. F***, f***, f***. I raised you better than this." He pulled in a deep breath, counting to ten. His heart threatened to leap from his chest, it was beating so hard. "I know I was a dad at fifteen, Gladys, but I thought we'd talked about this. I mean, kids your age have sex all the time, but I didn't want to be a grandpa at thirty!"

Talking Heads #14

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Tied to a chair, Taela is being held prisoner by the renegades because she tried to kill their leader, Hawke. One of her captors, Kalen, has brought her something to eat.

Kalen strolled over to the table where Egan had set up his arrows. He picked up an unfinished shaft and started to wind string around the fletching.

“So what are you and your friends planning to do with me?” Taela asked around the bite of snarerabbit.

He turned his eyes to meet hers, then let his gaze slide away. “Hasn’t been decided yet. We don’t want to harm you, but we will to protect Hawke.”

A pulse drummed at Taela’s temples. “What else could I expect from a gang of ruffians?” she murmured.

He smoothed one of the feathers between his fingers. “If you promise to leave Hawke alone, we might let you live.” He glanced over at her, as if to gauge her reaction.

She spooned another bite of meat into her mouth. So that was his plan. He was trying to frighten her. He didn’t understand how determined she was. She raised her chin, covering her trepidation with bravado. “I’ll never give up.”

Kalen tossed the arrow back onto the table and shifted his feet. “You’ll get yourself killed for nothing.”

“Justice for my sister isn’t nothing.”

A brisk wind blew outside, rattling the walls of the tent. The midday sun shining through the tree branches made moving shadow patterns on the canvas. He hooked his thumbs into his trouser pockets, walked over and leaned on the edge of Egan’s stool. “Don’t you know there’s no honor in revenge?”

“As if you knew anything about honor. Should I be like you? Follow a traitor and betray my king?” She knew she shouldn’t antagonize him, but she couldn’t help herself. He had no right to lecture her.

He crossed his arms, drawing back his sleeves, revealing tanned forearms beneath. “If you had any sense, you’d realize Hawke is fighting for the good of the kingdom.”

“Maybe If I believed that. But I know that Hawke only cares about himself.”

“He’s risking his life.”

“Too bad he didn’t do the same for my sister.”

Kalen looked down and dug a boot heal into the dirt. “He wanted to.”

She dropped the spoon into the bowl, spattering gravy on her jacket. “Well, he had the chance. Why didn’t he?”

“Because he—. He couldn’t.”

“Because he’s a coward.”

“No. Because —” Kalen closed his mouth. He ran a hand through his hair, looking as if he wanted to say more.

Talking Heads #13

TITLE: My Favorite Mistake
GENRE: NA Romance

Will is helping his new tenant Katie move, and is about to meet her roommate for the first time.

"I thought you said you had a dog," he says, dubiously eyeing the door.

“I do. I also said she was small.”

“That doesn’t sound like a dog. It sounds like a chipmunk on crack.”

I can’t really argue. She does. The door is barely open before she bursts outside, looping around my ankles and barking at Will, hopping on all fours with every outburst.

“That’s a dog?”

“So I’m told.”

“That is not a dog,” he tells me. “It’s a wind-up toy.” He looks into the apartment’s depths, then back down at the frantic pup. “Where’s the rest of it?”

Phoebe pauses her hopping to snort. Then she prances over to his feet and promptly squats.

Will jumps backwards. “Hey!”

I snort, choking on a laugh. “I don’t think she likes you.”

“All girls like me.”

He frowns, so disconcerted by the idea, I have to fight not to laugh again. “Questionable, but I suppose none of them have expressed their opinions by peeing on you before.” A wicked grin crosses his features, and he opens his mouth. I hold up both hands. “Don’t. I truly don’t ever want to know.”

I go inside and deposit my phone and keys on the kitchen counter. Phoebe charges ahead, stopping on the landing to turn around and bark frantically at Will, who is right behind me.

“So I don’t have—” I start, but the words die when I see what he is doing. Will wipes away the glower he was directing at my dog and blinks innocently at me. “Right. Picking fights with animals one fiftieth your size is very macho.”

“And yet you keep insisting on calling that thing a dog. I had an Irish Wolfhound growing up. This—” He gestures to Phoebe, still barking. “—would have been a snack to King. Oophf.”

He catches the box I sling at him. “I really appreciate your help, Will.” Hands still on the box, I lean forward, adding my weight. His biceps strain against the fabric of his shirt and there is a smile in his eyes. “But if you keep making fun of my dog, you will be late for work.”

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Recognizing the quote, I burst out laughing, backing up and covering my mouth. He grins. “Get a move on, Kitten. You’re cutting into my dinner time.”

Talking Heads #12

GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy

Fortunee's father has been arrested for using magic. Meanwhile, the King's dog has attacked the King on a hunt near her house. When Fortunee returns home, she finds her brother with the King's dog.

I froze on the threshold. "That--that's the King's dog!"

Bertrand did not move from his spot near the fire, but his knife grazed the wood he was carving as I'd asked him about the weather. "His life was in danger. Do you think I would take him for anything less?"

I've tried to reason with him," Maman said, grabbing a handful of dried lavender. "It's no use."

"The dog's life was in danger?" I said. "What about our lives? Did you know that one of the King's dogs tried to kill him?"

Maman glanced at Bertrand. "You did not tell me this."

"I was there," he said, cutting hard into his whittling with his knife. "The dog was cursed."

"How do you know that?" I said.

"He was thinking, 'Kill the Dauphin.'" He blew on his carving, scattering chips everywhere.

"The dog attacked the Dauphin?" Maman said.

"It got the King. It missed the Dauphin. The King was injured." I crossed myself. "I took your herbs."

I hung up my shawl and slipped out of my pattens, which I wore outside. The straw we strew over our floor scratched my bare feet.

"You gave herbs to the King?" She put down her herbs. "And the King, how does he fare?"

I had done nothing. I couldn't tell her the truth. I had promised the Dauphin. "The King is well."

Bertrand smiled as his knife scraped against the wood. "See, Maman," he said. "I saved the Dauphin, and Fortunee saved the King. Perhaps they will pardon Papa."

"Papa needs no pardon." Maman smashed herbs into her jar with more strength than was needed. "He did nothing wrong."

My mind turned on what Bertrand said earlier on why the dog was calm now. I stepped closer to the crackle of the fire. "What do you mean you saved the Dauphin?"

"There was a man who came and talked to the dog," he said. "He could talk to the dog's mind, like I can, but he was not pleasant."

Talking Heads #11

GENRE: Fantasy

Because of her climbing skills, Crea was one of four thieves chosen for a mission. Things aren't going well at this point, as they've been captured and locked in a tower with one small, very high window. Lamad has just suggested that maybe they can make a rope.

“How?” Jafsa scoffed incredulously. “With strips off our clothing?”

“Yeah,” Lamad said smugly. “Exactly.”

Jafsa snorted and shook his head. “It wouldn’t be long enough. Or strong enough.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Lamad said, undaunted. “I think it might be worth a try.”

“Lamad!” Jafsa exclaimed, glowering at him. “Even if we did have a rope—the best rope in the world—how would it help us? How would we get it up to that window? Even if we could throw it up there, we don’t have a hook or anything; we couldn’t secure it up there anyway!”

“Oh, I think we have a way to get it up there,” Lamad answered.

“How?” Jafsa stormed, glowering even more.

Minos muttered and sat up, clearly annoyed at having been woken.

“Crea,” Lamad said simply.

“Crea?” Jafsa echoed. “How is Crea going to get up there?” He reached out and stroked the surface of the wall. “Even she can’t climb this—it’s like polished tile!”

Lamad gestured upward with his chin, his eyes leading the way up the wall. “Yeah, but she can climb up there—above that line where it sticks out.”

“And just how do we get her up there?” Jafsa growled. “She may not weigh much, but I don’t think we can throw her up there!”

Crea stayed out of the fray, waiting to see what Lamad had dreamed up.

“What are you people going on about?” Minos protested in a sleep-fogged voice. “I thought we were going to try to get some sleep.”

“We did,” Lamad said off-handedly. “And now we’re trying to get out of here.”

Minos groaned and lay down again. “We can’t get out of here—it’s impossible.”

“Maybe not,” Lamad said. He turned back to Jafsa and ordered, “Stand up. I want to see something.”

Jafsa groaned loudly as he stood, then began muttering under his breath about how sore he was.

Lamad ignored his complaints and said jauntily, “Have you ever see acrobats build a human tower?”

“Yeah, I have, but . . . Oh, no, Lamad! What crazy scheme have you got now? We’re not acrobats! We’d kill ourselves if we tried anything like that.”

“Aw, come on! Think positive. Are we just going to sit here until we rot, or are we going to try to save ourselves?”

Talking Heads #10

TITLE: The wraith
GENRE: fantasy

Lady Adelajda’s men broke up a quarrel at the edge of her land. They brought the culprits before her.

The two men sized each other up. One turned to his captors:

“I was in my right” he articulated, painfully, since the guards still held a rope around his neck.

“Let him speak” Adelajda ordered and the guards loosened their grip:

“In your right to defile my land? Who are you?”

“I meant no disrespect milady. I am Gianfrancesco Alfieri, a Genovese merchant. I trade furs, precious hair cloths and adorned habiliment.” He bowed, then turned towards the other:

“And this man, this filth, he stole from me!”

The other prisoner twisted in his bonds: “I did no such thing!” He muttered behind his halter. “This man is a liar!” He added, and spat in the merchant’s direction. The guard had to yank at his ropes to tame him.

“Let the merchant finish” lady Adelajda ordered. “You will get your turn.”

“What did this man steal from you, sir Alfieri?”

“His scales were a sham. I ordered five marks of silver buttons and paid in solid gold. But when I returned to my ship, I measured only three marks.”

The prisoner accused of theft laughed bitterly.

“Is this true?” Lady Adelajda asked him;

“Speak stranger. Is the accusation true?”

They loosened his halter.

“He lies! He asked for five marks and that is what I gave him. Exactly forty ounces! I am Jawahir Akbar milady, I sell precious metals and stones brought from the Levant and this man tried to murder me and steal my merchandise.”

It was the Genovese’s turn to protest in his bounds:

“I only wanted to take what’s mine. The Levantines are thieves – all of you! Thieves!”

“Silence!” Lady Adelajda stood up:

“In my house, I decide if the man before me is, or isn’t, a thief! Tell me, sir Jawahir, the wound on your arm, is it sir Alfieri’s men that inflicted it?”

Jawahir pushed aback his bleeding forearm, ashamed:

“It is one of them. The one your guards hold outside. They caught him as he attacked me. I trust he will be judged for his crimes.”

“I didn’t mean it that way” Alfieri protested. “I sent you a messenger. My messenger was returned with a black eye. What was I to do?”


Talking Heads #9

TITLE: Canadian Summer
GENRE: NA Contemporary

Roy and Summer are eating Ice cream and getting to know each other. Summer dares Roy to tell her something he wouldn't normally tell someone he just met.

“Okay, I’ve got one,” Roy said, then hesitated.

“Let’s hear it. It took you long enough.”

“Hey, I have to go first. Take it easy.” He took a deep breath. “Okay, here it is: sometimes, I, uh, well, I like graphic novels.” He waited for her to laugh. She didn’t.

“That’s it?” She hit the table. “All that hemming and hawing, and it’s just that you like to read comic books?”

“Not comic books, graphic novels.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” She made air quotes. “Graphic novels.”

“Well, what did you expect? You thought I would admit to killing someone or something?”

She smiled. “No, it’s just that I can’t believe you found that little tidbit hard to share. You made it such a big deal. Lots of guys read graphic novels.”

“I guess.” He felt kind of dumb now.

“You know, guys who live in basements.” She smiled. “You don’t have, like, costumes or anything, right?” She pushed her cup to the middle of the table.

He laughed. “No, nothing like that. Now you tell me something.”

“Are you sure you’re ready?” Summer stacked her cup inside his.

“It can’t be any worse than mine.”

“Yes, yours sucked.”

“So tell me something then.” He grinned. “What’s your deep dark secret?”

“I knit.” Her face reddened. He just looked at her.

“You what?”

“I knit. You know.” She pantomimed knitting.

“You mean like knitting? Like, grandma, old-lady knitting?” Roy’s eyes widened. “Like sweaters and stuff?” Roy sat back in his chair. She nodded.

“I used spend summers in Texas with my dad. When he went to work, he left me at my grandma’s house. That’s all she did.”

“Damn.” Roy scratched his chin. “So you could make me a sweater with a reindeer on it right now?”

“I’m not that good. I usually just do scarfs. It helps with stress. It’s weird, huh?” She looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“I don’t think it’s that weird. If you’re eighty.”

“Shut up, comic boy.” She threw her spoon at him. He laughed.

“It’s not that weird. You just don’t look like the type.”

“What—because I’m young?”

“Young and pretty.” Roy stuffed a napkin in the empty cups. “So, did you bring your knitting machine, or whatever, with you.”

“They’re needles, and yes, I brought them.” She smiled. “Would you wear a scarf if I made it?”

“It’s too hot for scarves.”

Talking Heads #8

TITLE: Twist of Fate
GENRE: Adult Historical Romance

Pandia and a prostitute, Flavia, wait in in the atrium of Pompeii’s gladiator school for the head gladiator to give them their assignment. A gladiator in a short leather skirt and tunic just passed through the room.

“Now I know I will swoon,” Flavia stuttered. She whirled, clutched my forearms, and leaned into me like a schoolgirl sharing a new crush. “That was Caladus, in the flesh. He is most famous. Over twenty bouts won in the arena. I heard he no longer fights. Yet here he is, within my sight. I would love to know that man better.” She straightened her toga and smoothed it over her narrow hips.

I smirked. “Flavia, you want to know every man better. Besides, I’m not sure the guy would have to pay for it.”

“Gladiators are sexual and eager to indulge whenever the opportunity presents itself. These men face death often, and sexuality is how one proves one still lives. Given the chance, I shall help that gladiator come alive.”

I rolled my eyes. “What about the other, shorter gladiator who went by a few minutes ago? Or your goatherd? I thought you wanted to marry him someday?”

“Who cares about a goatherd?” She leaned away from me and squinted toward the hallway, her brow furrowed. “Do you think if I ask nicely, he will give me some sweat?”


“Yes. Gladiator sweat. For my skin. To make me beautiful.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“You think I kid about such a thing?” Her lips thinned. “Why do you assume I tease when I tell the truth?”

I shrugged. It was beyond me.

“Gladiator sweat is expensive. Yet here I am, at the source. I must find a jar and beg each man I meet for a few drops. In no time, I will have enough to appear a goddess. Or, if I have great need, I will sell it for a high price.”

Talking Heads #7

TITLE: Treasures of Thomas Cove
GENRE: Middle Grade contemporary fiction

Shayne has a rare moment with the cantankerous lobster boat captain she secretly calls "Cranky."

Cranky and I lean against the lobster tank he keeps on-deck, already halfway full with caught crustaceans.

“Have you been a lobsterman your whole life?” I ask.

He scratches the black and gray stubble on his chin. “Pretty much. I tried landscaping for a little while, and one summer I drove a cement truck. But my father was a fisherman, and his father before that. So eventually, I settled in to the family trade.” He cocks an ear to listen to the marine radio, full of chatter. “Coast Guard’s busy today.”

“Why? What’s happening?” Sea breezes fill my nostrils with a fresh, clean smell.

“Sounds like someone ran his boat aground into a sandbar.”

I snort. “What an amateur.”

He doesn’t laugh along with me. “Boating’s not easy out here, that’s for sure. You’ve got to navigate around hundreds of buoys; you have to remember to check the tides, and then there’s the weather. Fog can appear and disappear quicker than a magic act.”

Just hearing the word fog makes my insides churn.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s easy to get into trouble,” he says.

“My grandpa had an accident in the fog,” I say softly. “A fatal one.”

Cranky looks at me sideways.

“I don’t know all the details,” I continue, “but I do know another boat collided with his, and it knocked him over the stern. He fell into the water and hit his head on a rock. It was just a freak accident. Could have happened to anybody. At least, that’s what everyone tells me.”

“I know about accidents, believe me.” He grips the handrail and gazes out to the horizon.

“The fire?” I ask in a small voice.

Cranky turns to me and frowns, “Is that your business?”

“No, sir,” I say, bowing my head.

My Way rises and dips over gentle swells. I widen my stance to keep my balance.

“The investigators ruled it as accidental, said the fire started from faulty wiring on a porch light,” he says without warning. “I was out at the time it started, and when I came home the whole thing was up in flames. When I ran in to see what I could salvage – ”

With wide eyes I ask, “You ran into a burning house?”

He shrugs. “Maybe not my smartest move, but there was this thing I had to try to save. Something that belonged to my late wife that she cherished.”

Talking Heads #6

GENRE: Upmarket

Tanya has been ordered by her boss to write an article to attract investors to an underground arts community, and she’s discussing it with two of the community’s founders.

“You’re right,” I said. “You’ll read about it soon enough. You know the old cotton gin?”

“Yeah, down there on Indiana,” Rodney said. “What about it?”

“Cassia wants to turn it into an art studio with upstairs lofts.”

“That’s f****** cool,” Nick said. “How’s she going to do it?”

“She’s not. She wants me to write an article to gain interest from investors, and since Darren jacks off to her pictures, he’ll make me do anything she wants.”

Rodney looked off and hid his mouth behind his fist. While he sat there poised in thought, Nick lit up a joint.

“I told you, man. Not in here.” Rodney rose from his seat, pointing a finger at Nick.

Nick crushed the fire and then slipped the joint into his shirt pocket.

Rodney sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know. I mean it sounds like a good idea. Hell, I’d buy it if I could because I don’t want those investors coming in here messing with what we’ve built here. I get it. Artists need their space. You know I’ll do anything I can. But what if the wrong person sees your article? What then?”

“Didn’t you say that the people who need to read my articles will?” I asked.

“Yeah, but you know. Investors are already coming in and buying up these old buildings, turning them into expensive lofts and yuppie bars. They call this Deep Ellum, but it ain’t deep. This is Shallow Ellum. Once they turn this into a f*****’ carnival, the artists will leave, and then what? Once the fad’s over, the carnival will fold up. It’ll be a ghost town again, just like it was after the Jazz and Blues days.” He shook his head. “Man, it’s over. It’s Shallow Ellum.”

“Deep Ellum always comes back. It’s like a phoenix. It will rise from the ashes.” As Nick said this, he rose from his seat and waved his hands in the air.

“What are you two talking about?” I said. “This neighborhood’s not dead, and it’s not dying. Maybe Cassia’s right. Maybe we need that commune and studio.”

“I don’t know,” Rodney said. “I’m not a prophet, but I can tell you that if the bankers and investors buy up Shallow Ellum, it’s going to die. But go ahead and write that article. I don’t know. Maybe you’ll save it. Maybe you’ll kill it. Maybe nothing.”

Talking Heads #5

TITLE: Castle Danger
GENRE: Suspense/Thriller

Bad guy Vossler introduces himself to MC Matt, in order to get some help connecting with Vossler's ex-wife, who is also Matt's boss, although Matt doesn't know they're exes.

Matt looked for a packet of white powder in Vossler's palm. There was none. But he didn't extend his hand. "Matt."

"Just Matt?"

"For now."

"No offense, Matt, but you ain't the most sociable guy I ever met."

"None taken. I'm not much of a talker. I mind my own business, don't get involved in other people's."

During his previous two, brief encounters with Vossler, Matt had felt nothing but suspicion. He looked like a glad hander, or a scumbag, someone who told lies for a living, or operated in the gray areas of business, if not the downright illegal areas. He would have tried to put as much space between the two of them as Allyson obviously had.

"Can you tell me when I can connect with Allyson? I'd sure like to say hi before I go home."

"Where's home?"

Vossler looked annoyed. "L.A. Where you from, Matt?"

Oh great. The worst big city for every kind of hustler. Matt had played dozens of gigs in L.A. back in the day, and even recorded a few albums as a sideman. He couldn't wait to escape all the phony, backstabbing, social-climbing sycophants who haunted the entertainment business. People looking to hit it rich one way or the other without doing any real work.

"Nowhere special like L.A."

"No offense again, Matt, but you're starting to sound like someone who ain't too eager for people to know much about you."

"Just people I don't know well enough to trust."

Vossler leaned back a bit and spread his arms in a pleading manner. "Hey, I'm a friend of Allyson's. Ain't that enough trust?"

"I hardly know Allyson. I just work for her."

"How long?"

"Not long enough to trust her."

"Right, right. Mister closed book."

They stared each other for a moment, then Matt took slow, deliberate bites of his burger and fries.

Vossler's expression darkened and he sat down across from Matt. "Okay, look, pal, I don't have a lot of time, but I figure you can help me connect with Allyson. I'm gonna level with you so you know I'm legit."

Matt raised his eyebrows in a mock-impressed attitude. "I'm listening."

Vossler reached into his leather jacket and pulled out an envelope. He removed the document inside and unfolded it. "Her name ain't Allyson Clifford."

"Is that so?"

Vossler slid the document across the table. "Her real name is Susan Vossler."

Talking Heads #4

TITLE: Collapse
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Easy-going Jared and awkward, superstar swimmer Melanie have lived next door to each other since they were kids. Last week, an earthquake hit their home town, throwing their lives back together.

“What’s on your mind when you’re quiet like that?” Jared asks.

“What do you mean? You’re quiet too.”

“Yeah, but you go a million miles away. And not just now. A lot. At school, actually, most of the time.”

It’s weird to think that he’s looked at me at school. “I know, everyone thinks I’m a freak. I’ve heard girls from my team talking about me. I don’t know, usually I’m thinking about swimming, you know?”

“Is that what you were thinking about now?” he asks.

“No,” I answer, but I don’t want explain, not yet anyway.

Jared laughs. “You weren’t like that when we were little kids. You were so obnoxious. You always wanted to play princess.”

“Whatever. You always wanted to play superhero,” I remember. “Before you got cool.”

Jared snorts. “Oh yeah, I’m really cool,” he says.

I raise my eyebrows. “No? You don’t think you’re cool hanging out with your cool boy posse in front of the locker room everyday?”

“I didn’t think you cared about that stuff.”

“I don’t care. I’m a hundred miles from cool. When I have to talk to people, I always say dumb things.”

“Like what dumb things have you said today?” Jared says.

“You just don’t notice, because you’ve known me so long,” I say. “I don’t have time to be cool and to swim fast too, you know? So being faster is always going to be more important to me.”

“That is cool, Melanie. I wish the guys on our team were focused like you.”

“Well, swim is all that matters to me. It’s different for the guys you hang out with,” I say, thinking about the gossip that I float through in the locker room.

“Different how?” he asks.

“Like life beyond football. Angie and the other girls talk about your friends and all the girls you’re with. Lots of girls.” As soon as I say it, I wish I could take it back.

“You can’t believe everything you hear in the locker room, Mel,” he says, sounding strange.

“I know, but I don’t get it. Everything about boys confuses me.” Jared looks at me for a long time. “What? I already told you I’m a freak. I just don’t get boys and dating and stuff like that.”

“Well, I’m not like those guys. I have a girlfriend.” And he adds, under his breath, “I guess.”

Talking Heads #3

TITLE: The Minotaur Staff
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Akua was mid-fight in an arena when a flash of light transported her to a strange room, to someone other than her opponent.

Akua pressed her sword into the man's neck. "What magic is this? Are you an illusionist? Am I drugged?"

The man groaned.

She pressed harder, until blood came. "Who are you?"

He took a breath and coughed, pointing at her foot on his chest. She stepped back, but kept her sword ready. "Speak!"

He sat up and cried out. "S***. What did you do, break my leg? And how did you get in here?" He winced as he pulled himself up on the bed. An object fell out of his hand as he supported himself.

"The Oracle's Eye! Forgive me, I did not realize."

He frowned and rubbed his head. Then spoke nonsense. She picked the Eye off the floor. "Where is your staff, Oracle?"

He shook his head. "That I understand. What did you say before that?"

"I am sorry for injuring you, Lord. I asked your forgiveness. Then you spoke gibberish. I am glad it was only temporary." She frowned. "Or was it one of your spells?"

"No, you're the one who spoke gibberish. Whatever. Give me that artifact. I need it."

"The Eye? Of course." His hand was white as death against her dark skin. She had never seen any so pale.

"What are you doing here?"

"I know not. I was fighting in the arena, triumphing over my opponent. Then the light came, and I was here. You summoned me, Oracle. What have I done to displease thee?"

"Oracle? That's the second time you've called me that. What arena? You look like you came out of a history book."

"You are no Oracle?" She lifted her sword. "Then you have no right to that. Are you even an Atlantean?"

His eyes widened. "Atlantean? Like Atlantis?"

"I meant not the Atlantis. The city of Atalanta. Are you from either?"

"I didn't even know they existed. Atalanta lived thousands of years ago."

"Do not lie about Queen Atalanta! Rise and I shall take you to her and the Oracle. You will be punished for your theft and blasphemy. Give me back the Eye."

"No! This is my way to get debt-free."

"You took me from battle, my chance to win freedom for my family! Give. It. Back." She raised her sword and pressed it to his throat.

"Whoa, that's sharp. I ask for protection and end with a death threat. Did Belkar send you?"

Talking Heads #2

TITLE: Broken Parts
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Caitlin is introduced to Ted for the first time by her friend, James. Ted's the seminar leader for a course she's signed up for and she thinks he's hot.

“Hi, Ted. Nice to meet you.”

“Caitlin. That sounds familiar. Didn't I get an email from you about the seminar next quarter?”

“Yeah. I’m hoping that there’s still room on the sign-up list. It would be a great elective for my major.”

“There’s room,” he confirmed. “I’ve got you on the list.”

“Great. I guess I’ll see a lot more of you starting in January.” Caitlin gave him the classic hair toss, head tilt she’d practiced in the mirror and on many guys before. Subtle, not obvious flirting. Just enough to make a guy look twice.

Surprisingly, she saw a flicker of recognition in Ted’s eyes.


“Nothing - you looked like someone I knew a long time ago. Just now, seeing you at that certain angle made me think of them. Memory's a funny thing sometimes.”

“I know that feeling. I see people here on campus that I think I know and turns out I’m thinking of someone from my hometown.”

Saying he needed to head to his office, Ted said goodbye. James and Caitlin waited until he was out of earshot to start talking about him.

“OMG, girl - could you be more obvious?”

“What are you talking about? He loved it.”

“You might as well have asked him for the key to his place. You’re a total slut.” James gave her a playful push and she danced away.

“Watch and learn," said Caitlin. “This is just the beginning of a beautiful relationship. You’re just jealous because he isn’t your type.”

“I’m not jealous. You know I’m a one-man guy. I’ve got my hands full with Ramon.”

“I’ll make a note to check back in a week and see if it’s still Ramon your hands are full of.”

Caitlin gave another toss of her hair as they entered the student center laughing. Her mind was already working on her plan of attack for Professor Ted. She smelled garlic and butter in the air.

“I’m hitting the pasta bar today,” she said. “You headed upstairs?”

“Yeah, let's meet back here in ten minutes,” said James.

“Great. I want the back story on how you know him and what details you've got. He’s my new project.”

“Caitlin, you’re whacked. A guy like that has to be involved already. You better be ready for disappointment.”

“I'm not worried,” she said. “Just give me the dirt you’ve got, and I’ll do all the hard work.”

Talking Heads #1

TITLE: Mortal Failings
GENRE: YA Paranormal

Cami has been secretly dating a half-Immortal, but she's starting to realize he is abusive.

"You’ll be free to do whatever you want. With me.”

“Whatever I want,” I said quietly. “What if I want to go to college?”

“College,” he repeated, full of scorn. “You’ll be far better educated in the Eternal realm.”

“And what if I want to see my mother again?”

“I’m afraid it’s not that easy. The longer a human lingers in the Eternal realm, the more painful it is to leave.”

I looked at him, horrified. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?”

He let out a noise of frustration. “You were the one who wanted to go there.”

“Only because I didn’t know what the price would be! But you knew – and you kept that from me.” I reeled. “You’ve been keeping the truth from me.”

“I did nothing of the sort. I gave you fair warning. But I couldn’t deny you anything you wanted. And you didn’t complain about the pain.”

“I screamed.”

“But you never said a word of complaint. And I saw your face once we’d entered the realm. Filled with wonder and joy.”

“It was nice to visit. But I’m not sure it’s worth the price.” My eyes stung. “I don’t belong there. How could you ever think I’d be happy there? Never to see my mom again? Or any of my friends, or any humans at all?”

His face trembled. “Cami…I thought I would be enough for you.”

Automatically I opened my mouth to apologize. Before the words could form, I bit down on my tongue. “No. That’s not how it should work. It’s not right, forcing me to choose between you and everything else in my life. I won’t do it.”

“This isn’t you,” he said, jabbing the air with an accusing finger. “This is my mother talking. She got to you somehow. She’s twisted your mind.” He seized my shoulders and pulled me into his embrace. “I forgive you. I know this isn’t you. Not gentle, adoring Cami. Not the only girl who’s ever really understood me. The one person who has seen my dual natures, and embraced them.”

“Erik,” I choked. “Don’t do this. Please. I can’t choose.”

“You’ve already made your choice. We belong to each other. There’s no going back.”

“Don’t say it that way.” I shivered. “It sounds like a death sentence.”

“It’s worse than death, Cami. If you turned your back on me, you would rend me in two. I would be shadowed. Forever mired in darkness."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Call For Submissions: Talking Heads

We've talked about dorky dialogue and rambly dialogue and the importance of using dialogue to move a story forward.  Now let's put it into practice!

It's been a while since we've had a Talking Heads critique round.  Here's the deal:

* Submit up to 400 words of MOSTLY DIALOGUE.
* Include a one- or two-sentence lead-in (no more than 40 words) to help ground the reader.
* WIPs and completed manuscripts are both welcomed.  (Please proofread.)
* The submission window will be open TODAY from noon to 4:00 pm EDT.
* All genres except erotica will be accepted.
* Submit HERE.
* This will be a lottery.  The bot will choose 15 entries, which will post tomorrow.

Here's what your submission should look like:

Gavin has just discovered that Loo isn't a runaway squire after all, but is actually a girl.  And he's furious.

"What are you playing at?"  Gavin couldn't take his eyes off the curve of breasts rounding out the strip of fabric Loo had grabbed to cover himself.  Herself.

Loo's cheeks were scarlet.  "I can explain."

"Even your voice is different.  You've been faking that, too?"

"Sort of."

"And I fell for this?"  He aimed the question at himself.  "I actually thought...and..."

"Would you mind if I got dressed?"

Gavin's pulse slammed against his temples.  "Would I mind?  Did you mind every time I took a piss by a tree while you ate your dinner?  Did you mind when I came out of the lake buck naked after a good bath?"  He ran his fingers through his hair.  "My gods.  And I wondered why you never wanted to bathe with me.  Where was my head?"

(Okay.  You get the idea.)

Questions below!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Fricassee

Oh, dear ones!  Sometimes I think I've shared everything--absolutely everything--that I could possibly share with you.  And I come to Friday and think, "What do I have to offer?  What can I say that will encourage/edify/inform/amuse/butt-kick?"

And words are dried bits at the bottom of the oatmeal pot.

So let's talk about dreams.  Yes, we all have the "normal" dreams of aspiring authors (the dream agent, the dream editor, world dominion).  But what about all the nuances that are hard to put into words?

What about Things that no non-writer would ever understand?

Things like, "I wish I had two hours straight every morning to talk to my dog in a loud voice with various foreign accents, because that's how I get my best plotting done."

In short, aside from the obvious I-wanna-be-published, what does your Dream Life look like?

What does your Dream Day look like?

How many more hours would you devote to your craft, if only you could?

What are your thoughts on the Amtrak Writing Residency?

My dream day:
  • Wake up early to freshly brewed organic coffee with local cream.
  • Walk along the beach (because of course I will live by the ocean).
  • Quiet time with coffee and cat.
  • Write.  Until, like, lunch.
  • Which will then be served by my personal, organic chef. And cleaned up, too.
  • Practice my piano.  Go to dance classes.  Work on various other creative pursuits.  
  • Eat dinner, which will be served by my personal, organic chef.  And cleaned up, too.
  • Read until bedtime.  Or watch a good movie.   Or read.  Or maybe read.
I left out the boring stuff like "put in a load of laundry" and "go to Walmart", because, really that's not the language of dreams.  Having a personal chef is one of my Ultimate Luxury dreams, because I hate cooking (but I love food).  Probably I'll want someone to clean my bathrooms, too.  But I'm okay with, yanno, throwing the dirty clothes into the washer and whizzing around with my beautiful ostrich feather duster once a week (yes, it really is beautiful, and rather romantic in a housecleaning sort of way).  In all other ways, though, I would like to live the life of an artiste.

Okay--your turn!  Our dreams keep us fully alive, so don't hold them back.  Looking forward to reading yours!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Editing Options

Okay, writers--here is some info for those of you who wish to go a step beyond critique partners:


1.  I've once again got openings for 3-page edits, so bring 'em on!  It's a great, relatively quick (1 to 4 weeks, depending on load and schedule) to get feedback on your 3 opening pages.  An in-depth line edit plus editorial letter will cost you $18.  Email me at authoress.edits(at) if you are interested.  (Projects will go into the queue in the order in which they are received.)

2.  I still have ONE opening this month for a Premiere Critique (75-page line edit plus editorial letter).  Availability changes as my schedule changes, so grab it while I'm free!

3.  And I continue to accept 30-page critiques in my queue on a regular basis.


If you're looking for a content edit (and NOT a line edit!), my irreplaceable critique partner, Julie Butcher, is your gal.  Her editing window is opening again on MONDAY, MARCH 25.  If you want an edit, you need to in the queue, because she only has 2 weeks available in her schedule.  Prices and contact information are HERE.


For full-blown editorial services, I'd like to introduce you to Jamie.  Her entire menu of services can be found ON HER WEB SITE.  She comes highly recommended by editor Gabriel Harbowy, who has been a friend of this blog for years (and who has scooped up authors here!).

As an introductory special, Jamie is offering a 10% discount to the first 3 people who mention me. (You know, something artless like, "Authoress sent me".)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Winners Winners Winners

Here's the announcement of our winners -- completely written by our Secret Agent (thank you, Sally!):

Thanks so much for allowing me to take part in this! I was thrilled with the level of quality in these entries. It wasn't easy for me to pick winners.

Before I get to that, a couple of notes:

Please forgive me for my many typos in my comments. I hate to critique other people, only to go back and see all kinds of errors in my own writing, but the busier I get, the more typos and left-out words I find in my emails and blog posts and comments. I am constantly thinking faster than I can type and leaving words out--important words! Sorry about that. I hope you were able to figure out what I meant when I left words out.

Also, one of you has a complete manuscript in my "requested" folder right now. I give you my word, I will look at your manuscript next.

And now the winners . . .

Honorable mentions:

17, 24, 29, 47

You are welcome to send me a synopsis and the first 30 pages.

Third place:


I'd like to see a synopsis and the first 50 pages.

Second place:


A synopsis and the first 100 pages would be great.

And first place:


Please send a synopsis and the complete manuscript.


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

Congratulations, all!

Secret Agent Unveiled: Sally Apokedak

Tremendous thanks to this month's kind and helpful Secret Agent, Sally Apokedak of the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency!

Sally's Bio:

Sally Apokedak is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency.

She’s been studying, reviewing, and marketing children’s books, as well as giving writing instruction for a dozen years. As the manager of the Kidz Book Buzz blog tour she was privileged to work with best-selling and award-winning authors such as Jeanne DuPrau, Ingrid Law, and Shannon Hale. She teaches at general market and Christian Writers’ conferences across the country.

Sally is looking for books for both the Christian and general market. MG and YA novels are Sally's first love, and fantasy is her favorite genre. She also likes adventure, mystery, and romance. In adult novels she's looking for romance and romantic suspense--but no erotica, please.

What she would mostly love to see right now, is an MG or YA sci-fi with lovable, active characters doing exciting things, told with a great voice.

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday Fricassee

Folks! This has been a SPECTACULAR showing of dedicated critters.  The number of crits for this Secret Agent round is higher than it's been in quite some time.  When I checked my email this morning, there were 51 new messages that came in overnight, and all but 2 were blog comments.  That's not even indicative of the actual number of critiques, because you know how gmail stacks messages, right?  Numbers like this are unheard of on the second night after the excerpts have posted.

Thank you!  What an outpouring of support for your fellow writers.  I LOVE THIS.

So I'd like to share with you how I'm STAYING SANGUINE DURING SUBMISSIONS.  (Seriously.  I hardly know myself.)

Josh started the submission process a couple weeks ago, and we're in full swing now.  Which means, aside from checking his handy-dandy spreadsheet far too often, I've had to redirect my energies so that I don't implode.  And I'm amazed at the ease with which I've been able to do this.  There is something to be said for being a "veteran" of the process, and I'm grateful.

Here's what this looks like for me:

  • I've immersed myself in a rewrite of the novel that lured snagged bamboozled hooked Josh in the first place.  The plot remains untouched, the characters are the same as they ever were.  But in the past 3 years, my writing has grown and changed, and I want this (beloved) story to reflect who I am today as a writer.  So I'm rewriting it with a fresh voice, in a new tense.  Josh is on board and seems excited to see the new version.  We're both still devoted to this novel, so this is a labor of love for me.
  • I've been working on a video presentation to share as a part of my high school theatre and music directors' retirements this year.  I'm unable to attend the tribute that some alumni have organized, so I'll be uploading my offering to the private youtube channel they've created.  This has been labor intensive, and I'm thankful for the time that Mr. A has devoted to it (he's my recording engineer, producer, editor, etc.).  Last night, WE THOUGHT WE'D LOST THE ENTIRE PROJECT.  All the files seemed to have disappeared from Premiere Pro.  As in, GONE.  It made no sense, since the project had been saved.  My husband started to fall apart a little bit.  (Okay.  A lot.)  Turns out the files were on a separate hard drive.  He hadn't realized the project files had been pointing to the hard drive instead of to the iMac.  So, yeah.  With this kind of creative crisis, who has time to think about submissions?
  • I'm planning for a visit from my parents a couple months from now.  There's nothing like focusing on family to take your mind off of "other stuff".  Because, in the end, "other stuff" is never as important as the people you love.
  • In the deep recesses of my brain, I'm planning a new story.  Right now, I'm using the word "planning" lightly, because I'm focusing on the rewrite.  But I've got a world (that I'm still developing) and a main character (who still needs a goal) and a play list (because, play lists).  And it's all sitting there in a not-so-tidy Scrivener file for whenever I want to spend more time on it.  For now, I'm happy to let it dance around inside my head.
When you add "regular life" to the above, you can see how effectively I can keep myself from obsessing about Editors Looking At My Thing.  It's a glorious editor list (with a few names I'm particularly excited about!), and I like looking at it.  But it doesn't have me in a chokehold.  And this feels magnificent.

I feel!

If there truly is a placing of "having arrived", then in this area, at least, I think I may have.  Not to say I don't have any emotions at all...and not to say that the rejections won't feel as poopy as they always do.  But the point is that I'm NOT OBSESSING.  I'm not CONSISTENTLY DISTRACTED.  And it's wonderful.

There's hope, fellow authors!  We really can lift ourselves from the constant, angst-filled tug of submissions, whether to agents or to editors.  And, truly, if I can do it, so can you.

So, hooray!  And happy weekend.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March Secret Agent #50

GENRE: Adult Contemporary Romance

Kat Chandler glanced down at her dark grey skirt and pink chiffon blouse as she walked up the sidewalk to the school’s entrance, and released a breath.

It didn’t matter that she was no longer that scrawny little girl with hand-me-down clothes and a hungry belly. Or that she was the principal of this school now. Nope. The first day of school still turned her into a bundle of twisted, knotted nerves, and after last year, she had good reason.

She scrambled for the keys in her briefcase and unlocked the school’s doors, her heart lifting a little at the sight of her home away from home. Then a loud metallic crash echoed down the empty hall. She jumped.

There it was again.

Setting her briefcase down, she strode toward the west wing, walking faster as the sound combined with children’s laughter. Oh, no. Over the summer, she’d arrived twice to find that vandals had spray painted lovely messages on the side of the building—messages she didn’t want Seaside’s parents to see.

She stopped before pushing the door open and reminded herself that whoever the culprit, they were just kids. There was no such thing as a bad kid, just a kid who needed something: time, love, attention.

With a hard push, she ran outside, seeing a blur of color vanish into the woods. “No! Wait!” She started to run, then stopped, grumbling a few choice words under her breath. She’d never catch them in these ridiculous heels.

March Secret Agent #49

TITLE: A Murder of Angels
GENRE: YA fantasy

I should have known Bethlehem was nothing but bad news.

Dark, decrepit Rust Belt cities are never good places for Watchers. Three days of hard flight must have fried my brain for me to think this place would be my refuge. When the Hunters behind me tucked their wings and dropped out of the starry sky, that fatal optimism was too tempting to ignore. Less than a hundred miles from Watcher territory, Bethlehem was close enough I could run the rest of the way to New York. I was too exhausted to fly any further. Surely the Hunters’ disappearance meant the city was safe, and I’d finally caught a damned break.

Footsteps drum behind me, loud as the blood pulsing in my ears.

Yeah, well. Now I’ve got six Hunters behind me again. There’s a pretty likely chance they’re going to catch my ass and string me up like Christmas lights. So much for that.

I glance over my shoulder. Fresh adrenaline scalds my veins. The band is fanning out, only a few hundred feet away. Clothed in sleek black, they spill more than run, graceful as beasts. Their smiles are vicious and hungry as they drive me into Bethlehem’s rusting heart: an abandoned steel mill.

Gravel and broken glass crunch under my boots as I sprint, searching the shadowy buildings for an escape. The Hunters are too close. I need cover and some margin of height if I’m going to fly the hell out of here.

March Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Sister of the Beyond
GENRE: YA Paranormal Mystery

August 22. It was our sixteenth birthday, my twin sister Moira’s and mine and I already wished I could murder her.

Our final week at our summer camp was the culprit. Moira and her boyfriend had been at each other’s throat for days now and I was right in the middle of it. Moira didn’t feel like doing anything. She didn’t want to spend time on the streets where traffic was bumper to bumper, s o walking there or rollerblading was out. Summer was almost over in Cape Cod and the tourists were on the move. I didn’t want to go to Eastham; the quaint little town had pulled us deep into the crowd of artists and the punk predominant subculture this season. I was too twitchy about them. And since they were ready to leave, it was party after party. Let’s say I am not that adventurous.

Our summer camp was called Camp Wellfleet, an abandoned military training facility, full of ghosts and teenaged girls. The group here was creative and saying this was an understatement. So why couldn’t any of our friends think of something unusual to do, like scuba diving or something, for our sixteenth birthday? Today was a free day and most of the girls were wandering their own way, having fun.

Instead, the three of us, Caden, me and Moira, strolled on the beach like castaways, gathering materials for our junk art class, barely talking to each other.

“Check this out, Janna!” yelled Moira.

March Secret Agent #47

TITLE: Oliver and the Underlings
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Oliver Bradshaw stared wide-eyed at the blood-red colonial house hunched over the parking lot. The top floor overshot the bottom floor in the front, making the building look like it had an overbite. A sign reading "Fred's Variety" dangled like a broken tooth from the overhang. The entire house looked ready to gobble them up as they sat in their little rental car.

"Why are we here?" Oliver asked.

"To see about an apartment."

Oliver looked at the second floor again. "I was afraid you were going to say that. Mom, don't you find this house creepy?"

"It's not the greatest looking building, but fully furnished apartments are hard to come by."

His mother had a point. They didn't have any furniture. How could they when they'd moved three times in the last five years?

"Besides," his mother continued, "it's just a house. Houses can't hurt people. Only people hurt people."

Oliver wasn't sure this particular house shared her point of view.

As much as his mother claimed the house didn't bother her, she still looked plenty nervous as she exited the car and walked toward the front door of Fred's Variety. She looked back over her shoulder at least ten times between the car and the store's front door, probably assuring herself Oliver was still walking behind her and hadn't suddenly disappeared.

The landlord, a tall, wiry man with silver hair growing in a half circle around the back of his head, met them under the sign.

March Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Freak
GENRE: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

Nails stuck out of the walls with no pictures to hold up. Indents in the carpet had no furniture to cover them. My house was all bare walls and open floor. Not very homey, much more housey. It was like we’d been visited by—

“The Grinch strikes again,” Leah said.

I liked to think she’d picked up on my thoughts because we were twins, but I couldn’t be sure. It was possible I’d said some or all of that out loud.

“Lucy!” Mom called from the other room.

I replied with a, “ What?”

“Come here!”


She was just one room over. I had no idea why we were shouting.

“Because I said so!”

Oh, darn. Got me there, Mom.

“Don’t do it, Luce,” Leah whispered. She clutched a cardboard box marked Leah’s Necessities and spoke with crazed paranoia. “She feeds on hopes and dreams. If you have but an ounce of happiness left, she’ll suck it out!”

She could be melodramatic sometimes. Always.

“I am not melodramatic!”

I guess I really did say it out loud that time.

Lucy!” Mom snapped.

“Okay, okay! Coming!” I heaved my own box (Lucy’s Necessities) on top of my head and tried to balance it there like Cinderella. I was unsuccessful.

“I need you to put this in the car for me,” Mom said, bustling around the kitchen with a box of silverware in her hands. She stopped when she saw the wobbling box on my head. “Why haven’t you put that box in the car yet?”

March Secret Agent #45

TITLE: Once and Forever Magic
GENRE: MG contemporary fantasy

The hint of a whisper.

At first, Elena thought it might be trees sighing or a faucet turned on somewhere else in the house. But there was an eeriness about it that made her look up and listen. The sound grew louder, as if coming through a long tunnel. Then it burst out, filling the room.


Elena almost dropped the empty pickle jar she was preparing for a science experiment. Her knees wobbled, and she leaned against the kitchen counter.

El-e-naaaaaa…” The whisper swirled around her.

Then it was gone.

She ran to the window and nudged aside the white lace curtains. On the lawn, her ten-year-old brother Connor was tossing a plastic bag in the air and attacking it with a stick.

“For the king!” Connor cried, slashing at his flimsy opponent. “Victory is ours!”

“Did you call me?” Elena shouted.

“No.” Connor impaled the bag.

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

Elena glanced at the woods beyond Gram’s yard. Not even a squirrel stirred. She turned toward the long, dirt drive that wound up from the road. Gram’s car was still gone. They were alone.

She crossed the kitchen and peeked out the swinging door to the living room. The solid stuffed chairs and mahogany tables sat undisturbed. Only the familiar tick-tick-tick of the grandfather clock broke the stillness. Elena breathed in the smell of old books and fireplace ashes, forcing her shoulders to relax. See? It’s nothing.

Unclenching her fists, she returned to her experiment.

March Secret Agent #44

TITLE: Paloma and the Bow Wow Bar Mitzvah
GENRE: Contemporary early middle grade chapter book

Summer Vacation Rule Number One: if you’re trying to save the planet, don’t use left-over Easter egg dye as hair color.

I, Paloma Perez, have a lot of hiccups. Not the mini-heart-attack, can’t-breathe-for-a-second kind of hiccups. The Paloma-what-have-you-done-now kind of hiccups. But those are my mom’s words. She calls my oops-I-made-a-mistake hiccups, disasters.

Hiccups aren’t disasters unless you’re Charles Osborne. He’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for hiccuping for sixty-eight years. Can you believe he hiccuped every ten seconds, even when he was sleeping? I used a calculator. That’s over two hundred million hiccups.

I’m only nine. I bet I don’t have a thousand hiccups. Even if I add the regular kind and the mistakey kind together. But it’s only the first day of my summer vacation.

Anything could happen.

I could drink too fast and laugh too hard and ka-powie! Hiccups.

Or my planet-saving hair color could stink like pickles. Which it does. But I told my mom, that’s not a disaster.

I didn’t convince her. She banished me from the back of Lucia’s Divas Hair Salon to the front. My mom’s Lucia. She’s the owner, and we live above the salon with my grandmother.

So I’m sitting at the scratched wooden table called the reception desk, when Nina, my best friend, flies into the salon like she packed her Tori Skori backpack with jet fuel.

March Secret Agent #43

TITLE: The Troll Diaries
GENRE: Upper Middle Grade Fantasy/Adventure

I know what you’re thinking. Trolls. Nasty, ugly creatures that live in caves and under bridges. And you’d be right, for the most part.

I come from a long line of proud, ugly bridge trolls. It’s what we do. We guard bridges, take tolls, and occasionally grind bones to make our bread.

I’m kidding.

Well, sort of.

See, I’m not really a normal troll. I guess you could call me the black sheep of the family. Maybe not a sheep though, since my family eats those. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to eat me. I’m a vegetarian, which doesn’t sit well with them at all.

My mother is considered to be the best bone-bread maker in the whole forest of Mystwood, or at least here in the Hob, our home. It’s really the truth. Of course, the last troll who challenged her sort of disappeared. Permanently. I tried to eat it once. Not by choice, mind you. My brothers Bog and Mud held me down and forced me to eat a whole loaf. It was kind of dry… and crumbly, like you would expect bone-bread to taste, I guess.

I prefer to eat things that didn’t scream in fear when they died. Like berries, and mushrooms, and whatever I can poach from the farmer’s crops at the edge of the forest. I’m not proud of stealing the food, but at least I’m not trying to eat the farmer. One night I took my baby sister, Ivy, with me, and things got a little ugly.

March Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Riverborn
GENRE: YA Fantasy

There is a god at the bottom of the river.

Some folks will tell you that’s not real magic. But us wherrymen know different. When the reeds along the banks whisper that a squall is rushing across the marshland, we listen. When the tide flows up from the sea and floods the river with muddy brown water, we know enough to watch.

The god in the river speaks to us in the language of small things.

That’s how Dad knew something was wrong even before we rounded the bend into Venkirk and smelled the smoke on the late afternoon air.

“Caro, take the tiller.” Dad leaned over the stern.

He dipped his hand in the river. The Cormorant was loaded up with timber for the lumberyard in Siscema, so we rode low in the water. He had no trouble reaching. A tiny wake curled after his fingers, forming a wobbly line of bubbles on the surface. The sun had disappeared below the moss-draped trees, and the river grew stiller by the minute.

He pulled his hand back as if it had been burnt.

“What?” I sat up straight. “What was that?”

“I don’t rightly know.” He looked as if he wanted to say more. But all he said was, “He’s unsettled tonight.”

He meant the god in the river, but everyone knows it is bad luck, even dangerous, to speak of a god by name.

“Fire,” whispered Fee. The frogmen aren’t a people of many words.

March Secret Agent #41

TITLE: Mission to the Sky
GENRE: MG Fantasy


Eleven-year-old Morgaina England turned over in her lumpy bed in the older girls' dorm and cringed. Mrs. Whitecuffs better not have heard that.

Morgaina pulled the patched blanket over her skinny body and shivered. Oh, how she wished she'd never been shipped to number three, Industrial Way four years ago, as if she were a side of beef or a dining room table.

Ever since then, her residence had been the Pleasant Valley Orphanage or PVO as Morgaina called it. She sighed. To her great dismay, the orphanage turned out to be neither pleasant nor anywhere near a valley.

Full of enthusiasm and excitement, a woman's voice resounded in her ear. "Pay attention, I have a secret for you. Something you can't tell anyone."

Nobody ever told Morgaina secrets, so that, coupled with the fact she saw no one by her bedside whispering to her, made it easy for her to discount the message. Even so, the words left her with a lot of questions. The greatest of them was: The voice couldn't have come from nowhere—or could it? Besides, it sounded so familiar, as if it was—no, it couldn't be!

The invisible woman speaking to her must have paid no attention to what Morgaina thought because she kept talking and became even more insistent. "Come on, we don't have much time."

"Don't have much time for what?" Morgaina whispered, because she didn't want to wake up anyone. If she did, for sure, she'd be in real trouble.