Tuesday, May 30, 2017

First Kiss: Critique Guidelines


Full critique guidelines are below, but here's the focus of this week's critique:  DOES THE KISS WORK FOR YOU?  Does it leave you feeling a little breathless, or is it awkward?  Are there too many details, or not enough?  Do you feel the chemistry, even though you've been dropped into the middle of a novel you know nothing about?  (If you do, then I guess that's one successful kiss!)

(Note: Quite a few participants neglected to include a lead-in.  Folks...please follow directions! The lead-in makes a big difference in helping your readers feel settled in the scene, so they can do a better job critiquing with context.)

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

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

First Kiss #13

TITLE: Warmaker
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

Jennica (an assassin) isn't entirely sure she can trust Wesley (a king), but she's not above leading him on if it means getting what she wants. Wesley, on the other hand is sincere in both his attempt to help her and in his attraction to her.  

Her attention shifted back to Wesley. He watched her patiently, waiting for her to direct the course of their conversation. Slowly, his final words solidified. She had pushed them aside, intent on finding malice where there was none. Shaking off the lingering tendrils of the past, Jennica allowed the possibility that had been haunting her to take root.

His quiet fortitude was what she needed. He was willing to help her. Dropping her hand to her side, Jennica slowly advanced toward him. Halting close to Wesley, her heart reverberated in her chest. She reached forward, her fingertips grazing his cheek, mirroring what he had attempted to do the other day. His eyes widened but he remained still.

Edging closer, Jennica leaned forward. “Thank you,” she whispered, brushing a kiss against his cheek. Blocking out the pounding of her heart, she’d barely started to turn when Wesley caught her hand and pulled her back to him, his fingers gently clasping hers. Only a hand's breadth apart, she found herself staring into his hazel eyes.

“You’re welcome.” He smiled. Lifting her hand, he pressed a chaste kiss to her fingers,  his eyes never leaving hers.

Her breath hitched at the courtly gesture and heat burned across her skin, settling in her stomach. Straightening her shoulders, she pulled her fingers from his and took a step backward, fear and longing coursing through her. This was her game to play, not his, and she wasn’t ready to relinquish control.

First Kiss #12

TITLE: Accidentally Cursed
GENRE: YA Fairytale retelling

The MC is wearing cursed shoes that will not come off and her love interest is attempting to "distract" her to see if that will help:

“We have to get your mind focused elsewhere.” He glanced around the rooftop. “While you’re distracted, I’ll slip off the shoes.”

“Okay,” I agreed, willing to try anything.

He scooted off the crate onto to the rooftop and had me sit facing him. “Now close your eyes.”

I did. “What do I focus on?”

“This.” His voice was close. So close. I felt him cup my cheek, and my stomach went fuzzy, a ribbon of warmth unspooling slowly inside me. His breath warmed my mouth a moment before his lips followed. Every part of me glowed. He pulled back slightly, and my eyes fluttered open.

“Is this okay?” He asked, his mouth still hovering near mine.

“Better than okay,” I grinned, tilting my head for more.

He smiled. “Close your eyes.” He pressed his smile to my lips. He tasted sweet, like licorice. With his arms wrapped around me, the closeness of his body stirred every fiber of my being to life. My fingers tangling in his hair felt like it was our hearts tangled up together. And when his hands traveled my spine to the small of my back and inched me closer, his heart was right there, pressed flat against mine, pulsing and strong and eclipsing everything but the sparkling connection between us.

His hand gliding down to my ankle was barely a blip on my awareness. He eased off first one shoe then the other.

First Kiss #11

TITLE: The Shoemaker's Daughter
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Connor and Princess Gianna are friends. When Gianna smashes a magic mirror to break the spell it holds on her mother, she falls into an enchanted endless slumber.  The queen believes Connor is Gianna’s true love because she saw magic when Gianna danced with Connor to save his life.

“I’m not Gianna’s true love.”  Connor protested.

“I’ve seen you dance with her.”  Cassiopeia insisted.   “You are the one who must kiss her.”

Connor followed like a cat being drug toward water, moving forward but with the entire body in reverse.  He sat on the edge of the bed, putting his hands on either side of Gianna.  Maybe first kisses didn’t count if the girl wasn’t paying attention.

Cassiopeia cleared her throat.

He had to do this if it would help Gianna.  He couldn’t think of Lyra now.  He took a large breath, held it and leaned over putting his lips on Gianna’s.  Then he sat up and looked at her face.

“That was completely insufficient.”  Groused the queen.

Connor stared in dismay.  He hadn’t expected a critique. “This is something I don’t have much experience with.”

“Nonsense.”  She responded testily.  “It’s natural.  Quit fooling around.  I’m desperately worried.”

He licked his lips again.  He felt queasy and wondered if he was going to throw up.  Maybe barfing on Gianna would get him out of kissing her.  Maybe it would wake her up.

“Just relax.  Lean in and close your eyes.”  Coached the queen who had sidled up next to him.

The door was flung open.  Prince Denis walked in.  “What are you doing to that boy?”  He stormed.  “You and your wicked fairy godmother rubbish.  Gianna is probably loaded with contagious germs and you’ve got him smearing his lips on her.  He’ll be sick.”

I already am, thought Connor.

First Kiss #10

TITLE: The Serenity File
GENRE: Adult Urban fantasy

Note: Michael is an empath who just rescued Serenity from a bad date

Michael stepped farther into the apartment, pulling Serenity with him, his arm around her waist, clearing a path to the door. Her emotions were a mixture of annoyance, amusement, a bit of relief, and something she was actively suppressing. Michael absently ran his finger down her arm and felt a wave of desire wash over him, through him. He kept his face neutral as the guy--Roy--walked past them and out the door. Serenity pushed the door closed behind him and sighed. Michael turned to face her, lifted her up, pressed her against the wall and kissed her long and slow. She kissed him back, brushing her tongue against his lips demanding more. He held nothing back from the kiss, giving her everything she asked for. Her emotions mixed with his, encouraging him to go on, denying him nothing. One arm wrapped around her, he ran his other hand down her arm, along her hip and across her thigh. Silk. The dress is silk. He broke the kiss, breathless. Oh God help me.

First Kiss #9

TITLE: That Which Confines Us
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Devin stares at me intensely, with an expression I can’t read. He shifts beside me on the bench and his thigh brushes against mine, sending a tingling sensation coursing through me.
Jill (who’s an expert with this stuff) told me you can tell a guy is going to make a move when he looks at you for a long time and lifts his eyebrows, like he has a question.
There it is. A slight raise of his eyebrows.
 “Nomi,” he says, in a raspy voice. “You know I’m into you, don’t you?”
I tug at a thread hanging from my cut-off shorts. “Then why do you always seem so mad?”
He grabs my hand and pulls it into his lap. His jeans are damp with sweat. “It’s hard to see you with Tim.” He turns toward me and grips my chin. “Because I like you.”
He arches forward until our faces are inches apart, daring me to give in. I want to say, “What about Lydia?” but the words won’t come out. My body won’t let them. I don’t know if it’s the vodka or the fact that I’ve always been itching for this to happen—my mouth feels like it’s being pulled towards his. I kiss him. He moans and presses his lips hard against mine. I lean into him and my entire body relaxes. Shock waves shoot through me and everything inside of me feels like it’s waking up.  

It’s going to kill me when he pulls away.

First Kiss #8

TITLE: Seeking Sara Sterling
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Sara's long time boyfriend just broke up for her (a week before high school graduation) and now she's reckless and on the rebound, going after her hot co-worker, Alex.

Almost as if in slow motion, he turned, and his dark eyes seared into hers.

   Her arm tingled as she reached out to him. To her surprise, he took her hand and let her pull him into the women’s restroom. She locked the door again, her heart racing a million miles an hour.

    His face read mixture of seduction and surprise. “What?” he simply asked, one side of his mouth twisting up every so slightly.

    Sara wasn’t in the mood to talk though. It was now or never. She pressed her palms against his chest, pushing him up against the door. His eyes widened and then he smiled. That beautiful, maddening smile. God, she hated him for making her do this. But she was like a train running full steam down a mountain. There was no way to stop now.

    “Shut up,” she said, and smashed her lips against his. He must have known it was coming because he kissed her back, like this had been his idea instead of hers.

    Surprisingly, Sara’s heart rate slowed, but now her brain was going haywire. Colors and lights flashed behind her closed eyelids. She willed herself to focus and found one thing stood out above everything else. The taste of his lips. God, he tasted good. Like warm cinnamon and honey. The flavor seeped into her own mouth and spread throughout her body, making her tingle in places she never knew she could. She pressed harder against him, letting her hands slide around the back of his neck.

First Kiss #7

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction

Lead-in: Basketball court; North Carolina; August, 1970's. It's the night before 15 year-old Beryl goes back home to Boston. Perry is a 16 year-old boy she's known most of her life and sees each summer. Maureen is her best friend in Boston.

Perry isn’t my type. He’s more like a brother. Or am I just nervous? I don’t know what my type is. If I’m not attracted to him, there must be some reason. He’s tall, good-looking, super sweet and eyelashes that last a mile. He doesn’t smell. So what’s my problem? I don’t know any black and white couples. Is that it? Sweat drips down the back of my knees. I try to scoot back an inch.
“Beryl?” he asks and rolls back toward me. He fixes his dark brown eyes on mine. The tree frogs are starting their evening chirping. The sky is almost dark. Behind his head I see that a few stars have popped up in the sky. He lets go of the basketball and leans in and kisses me softly. His lips are dry and taste salty.

“Do you want to go…somewhere?” He licks his lips.

I wipe the backs of my knees and dry my hands on my shorts. My first kiss that wasn’t during Spin the Bottle--wasn’t I supposed to feel something? Could I learn to like him? Maureen’s older sister once asked what I thought about being a nun. Maybe she could see something I didn’t.
Perry reaches for my hand. The veins snake between the muscles in his arms. But instead of wanting those arms wrapped around me, I think how jealous I am that he gets to have those muscles for basketball. I shake my head. What’s wrong with me?

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” I remind him.

First Kiss #6

TITLE: Enchanter's Dawn
GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy

[William is heir to an English earldom, Eleanor is a French noble in exile. She has been learning English from him in secret. They first met at a Twelfth Night party. Story takes place in 1459.]

The gentle roar of the rain outside the barn made him feel as if he and she were alone in the world. Slowly, he leaned toward her. She turned her dark eyes up to his. In the gray, rain-filtered light, he noted every detail of her face, from her rosy lips to her fine eyebrows.

She said softly, “What did you say on Epiphany when you stood as king? You looked at me when you spoke, yet I could not understand you.”

William remembered how she looked that night, wearing a paper crown and a cloak decked with juniper and mistletoe. How he had longed for her then, and now he sat beside her, hand in hand. “I said, I hope that all of our wishes for this year come true.”

“And has your wish come true yet?” she asked.

“It is about to,” he whispered as he leaned in and kissed her. He had only meant to steal a brief kiss, but when her hand slid across his cheek and ran through his hair, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against him. Hungry as they were for each other, their lips parted as a desperate longing deepened their kiss.

“William!” Gregory’s booming voice seemed to shake the world. William jumped, his dream suddenly plunging into nightmare. His father seized him by the collar and yanked him to his feet.

First Kiss #5

TITLE: Hunting Legends
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Midnight-ish in the forest: Raid and Azrielle have just escaped a pack of arachne (pony-sized spiders) that attacked the school. Raid has no idea he is falling for the enemy sent undercover to sabotage his team of monster hunters. Azrielle's under orders to use his affections against him, except she's struggling to let him get close because her feelings for him aren't pretend anymore.

“Are you okay?” I ask, voice hushed. The rush of adrenaline pumps through my veins, my pulse racing. She nods, still holding onto the AR-15. I lift the gun out of her grasp, and switch the safety on before leaning it against the motorcycle.

Her braid is messy, chunks of hair pulling loose. The urge to tunnel my fingers through her hair overwhelms me. Her legs straddle me overtop my own, my hands resting on her bare thighs near the edge of her skirt. The smooth skin is hot beneath my palms. I should remove my hands, but they’re locked in place, holding onto her with a vice grip.

Her lips part and all I can think about is pressing my mouth to hers. Want and need meld into a consuming desire. She shrugs out of the jacket and says something but I don’t hear a word.

“May I kiss you?” My voice is low and husky, though I don’t intend it. I don’t know why I asked.

The answer I expect is no and I need to respect that for whatever reason, she won’t give into the magnetic pull between us.

“Yes,” she says breathless.

A shock wave rolls through me, rendering me useless for several seconds. Then my arm locks around her back, pulling her into me.

I tilt my head and lower my lips to hers.

She’s warm like sunlight and kissing her is like tasting the first day of summer. Her lithe body leans into me harder and my blood ignites, veins laced with fire, heat coiling in my stomach. I release her leg to cup her face, fingertips stroking her soft hair. She sighs into me, scattering a buzz of euphoria through every nerve in my body.

I could soak in this moment with her forever.

First Kiss #4

GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

I remove his cap, and he lets me. I run my fingers through his hair–silky, threatening. I'm not thinking, I'm reacting. I've lost control.

“Are you like your siblings?” I ask him, staring at his parted lips. “Dangerous?”

Sebastian makes a humming noise, and he finally says, “I wish I could say no.”

“Could you hurt me?”

“I could.”

“The same way that Lucas could? Or any human being?”

He shakes his head, and I cringe, but ask the one question I fear most: “But would you?”

His lips find mine. With fervor, with longing, they ripple along my mouth like undulating waves, the kinds I used to crave.

My breath catches.

He's melting into me, marking me with remnants of lemons and pine needles, and I'm trying to absorb him. His tongue snakes around mine. Like a snare, it entraps me in all his pieces, and I wrap my arms around his waist, squeezing. As his arms glide up my neck, I'm losing myself, losing control–when a flash of glowing eyes takes me hostage.

I yelp away from him, freezing. The image jolts me like lightening, electrifying my senses.

“What is it?” Bass breathes, his hair tousled and ragged.

I look into his ashen eyes, searching, searching–but finding nothing. There's no glow that scorches my skin like coals, no savagery to cut me like barren teeth. I’m imprisoned in a web of dismay and desire.

First Kiss #3

TITLE: Christmastime in the City
GENRE: Adult Romance

“That looks and smells amazing, but I can’t try it or do anything until I can say something.”

“Okay." Lena put the plate down and turned away from her computer to face Ryan fully. Her beautiful dark eyes looked directly at him, and the cut of her dress hinted at what he’d noticed this morning. But he couldn’t let himself be distracted.

“The past few days have been the most incredible of my life, and it’s all because of you. You have been – no, you are so amazing. I’ve never met anyone like you, and I’d be kicking myself the whole way home if I left without doing this.” He moved closer, wrapped a hand in her streaked hair, and kissed her.

Lena gasped, but the sound quickly fell away in the overwhelming rushes of touch and taste. Her hair felt silken underneath his fingers, and that floral scent was all around him now, nearly intoxicating him. Her lips were as soft as they looked, but didn’t taste like the berries they resembled. Instead he got a hint of coffee, honey and something creamy. And for one shining moment, her lips moved under his and she seemed to move closer, pressing her full chest into the top of his flat adbomen. His heart leaped, and the flutters below his stomach turned to jolts. Heat exploded through his body, and he could practically see a bright light behind his closed eyes.

First Kiss #2

TITLE: The Woodsman's Rose
GENRE: Adult Historical Romance

1882, Arizona Territory. The setting is the wedding supper for Adam Donovan and Jesse Travers. Annie has just realized that the man she's loved all her life, Adam's twin brother Brian, is deeply in love with his twin's wife. The Donovans' younger brother Daniel attempts to comfort her.

He led her down the slope into the orchard, where benches were arranged among the trees. He sat beside her and did not let go of her hand.


“It's hopeless. I know. I guess I've known all along.” Annie's voice trailed off in a whisper. She knew now that Brian wouldn't love her, and there was nothing that would change his heart.

Suppressing a sigh, she stood to go, but Daniel stepped in front of her. “Annie, there is a man who loves you.”


“Yes. Daniel.”

She listened in growing confusion as he told her of his love. Listened to the voice a childhood accident made sound like emery on slate, listened for the first time to the Irish lilt twining around the southern drawl. And heard a music she'd never heard before.

Aroon, I love you.” He raised her face to his and kissed her with a tender passion she'd never dreamed him capable of. “Please give me a chance.”

Her tears fell, splashing on his hands. She heard him groan as he pulled her into his arms. The muscles rippled under his soft buckskin shirt. One part of her marveled at the way her head fit into the hollow between his shoulder and throat; another wondered at the tenderness of the hand that cradled her head, of the strong fingers that lost themselves in her long fine hair. A third part of her protested her fickleness―she'd always wanted Brian. What was she doing now in his brother's arms?

First Kiss #1

TITLE: In This Fateful Hour
GENRE: YA Supernatural

17 yr. old Marielle is mentally and emotionally exhausted after the recent death of her parents and the disappearance of two of her classmates. She has been having strangely realistic dreams about the missing girls, her parents' deaths, and her love interest, Lucca. Gretchen, one of the missing girls and Marielle's best friend, suggested that Marielle has a guardian angel. Marielle thinks it might be Lucca.

   “Stay,” I whispered.

    The bed sank under his weight. I pillowed my head on his chest and let his warmth soak into me as I fell into a deeper sleep.

    I lay in the snow in Lucca’s arms, under a great white sycamore. He brushed his lips against my hair, my forehead, my eyes. He moved to my jawline, then my neck, sending warm shivers through me that rested in the pit of my stomach.

    My lips found his. They moved together, then apart. His warm breath filled me. My body trembled under his hands as they traced lines down my back.

    “Is this real?” I asked between kisses.

    “It’s your dream. It can be as real as you want it to be.”

    Lucca pressed himself against me, his lips hard and urgent as they moved down my neck and back to my lips. My fingers found his hair, followed the contours of his face. Where our bodies touched, his pulse throbbed against me. I pushed away, my breath heavy.

    “I want this, but not in a dream.”

    His eyes were intense and sad before he looked away. He wrapped his arms around me, enfolding me in his warmth.

    “If you ever doubt my feelings for you, remember this night.”

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Call For Submissions: FIRST KISS

We haven't done smoochies in a long time, so let's have at it!

A first kiss scene needs a delicate balance all its own.  Have you accomplished it?  Let your peers help you find out!

On FRIDAY, MAY 26 (tomorrow), submissions will open for a First Kiss critique round.

*Submissions will open at NOON EDT and will close at midnight.
*Your submission should consist of a BRIEF LEAD-IN (give us a setting for the scene) and an up-to 250-word excerpt that includes your characters' FIRST KISS.
*All categories (MG, YA, NA, Adult) will be accepted.
*NO EROTICA.  My intention is always to keep this site PG-13, in honor of my younger readers.
*Submit your entry HERE.
*The bot will choose 25 entries after the submission window closes.  The entries will post on the blog on TUESDAY, MAY 30 for public critique.

Questions?  Ask below!  Looking forward to reading your kisses. :)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Whispering Into the Void


It finally happened.  So much life was unfolding in my lap that something had to seriously give.  And "something" apparently equals "blog".

All is well.  I was simply...doing life.

I'm fresh off a glorious 2-week visit with my parents, who hadn't traveled to see us in almost 2 years. To say that our time together was blessed is an understatement.  They timed their visit to coincide with a ridiculous amount of family gatherings and celebrations, as well as a performance by our city's symphony orchestra in which Mr. A and I sang with the chorus.

(I won't even go into how incredible it was to look across the hall and into the balcony, and to see my parents sitting there.  Yes, my dad really did stand up and wave his arms.  He has always been my biggest fan.)

At any rate, their visit also happened just as I was set to dig into a round of post-submission revisions on my current manuscript.  And despite my initial intention to get some writing in whenever I could, it proved impossible.

Which is fine.  I dug in again yesterday, and this afternoon is slated for all things writerly.

But I've got to admit something.

After so many years of writing--so many years of being agented without a sale--I found that I didn't miss it at all during the past couple of weeks.  And now that I'm jumping in again (as always!), I find I'm simply doing it because IT'S WHAT I DO.

I'm not particularly excited.

I'm not particularly optimistic.

I'm not particularly feeling my groove.

Honestly?  Doing this because "it's what I do" is okay.  I really believe this.  No emotions, no dreams, no effort to stay connected to the YA writing world the way I used to.  Just doing my work, and doing it to the best of my ability.  Working hard.  Carefully considering editorial notes.  Making my story into the best possible thing it can be.

So many of you have stayed with me throughout my journey, from wherever your point of entry may have been.  I could list dozens of names (mostly nicknames!) that really mean something to me when I see them in a comment box or on Twitter or Facebook or in my inbox.  If I tried to create that list, I'd fall short, because I'd inadvertently leave people out.  So I'm not going to try.

But to all of you -- THANK YOU!

I'm here.  I'm writing.  I've got THE MOST AMAZING AND TALENTED AGENT A GAL COULD HOPE FOR.  I've also got a husband who's behind me 100 percent, a gaggle of beta readers and critique partners who are truly life-givers, and a brain that just doesn't want to stop telling stories.  (I sprouted a brand new story idea just yesterday--at the worst possible time, naturally.)

I've also got this blog thing, and I'm working on some summer offerings for you.  So start polishing your first pages!  I promise to get things rolling again soon.

Also?  I'd love for you to say hello today.  Maybe even let me know where you are in your own journey, so I can come up alongside you the way you've come up alongside me.

Muchos abrazos!  And more to come.