Monday, July 24, 2017

FINALLY: Some Critique For you!

Hello, all!

I'm so sorry for the long absence.  I was in a seriously deep revision hole, and just emerged a few days ago.  That, and other things in life, have kept me from blogging regularly.

So, I conducted a little poll last week on Twitter, to see which in-house critique you'd like to do--and ARE YOU HOOKED? was the clear winner!

THIS THURSDAY, I will open submissions for a long-overdue ARE YOU HOOKED? round.

What is Are You Hooked?

It's a critique round for your opening pages!  Writers are invited to submit their first 250 words for public review on the blog, and will be asked to critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

So, here are the details:
  • Submissions will open at NOON EDT on Thursday, July 27.
  • Please submit your first 250 words HERE.
  • All categories and genres will be accepted EXCEPT erotica and erotic romance.
  • This will be a LOTTERY.  When submissions close, the bot will choose 15 entries at random.
  • Submissions will close at NOON EDT on Friday, July 28.
  • The entries will post on the blog on Tuesday, August 1.
Please ask your questions below!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What My Ninth Grade English Teacher Had to Say (About Me)



It was one of those out-of-nowhere, unexpected moments of affirmation from a source that didn't even dwell in my consciousness.

I don't often check my "message requests" (a.k.a. messages-from-people-you're-not-friends-with-and-whom-you-might-not-even-know).  A few weeks ago, I noticed a message sitting in there, so I clicked over.  It was from someone we'll call Brian Schumann, and it said the following:
I still remember the wonderful fairy tale you wrote in my English class! You still "hold the record"!
I tossed the name around in my head for a few seconds and realized it was my ninth grade English teacher.  I read his words again, amazed that he remembered me after too many years to disclose.  His class wasn't one that stuck out in my memory (let's blame my aging brain).  I remember him as a mild, kind-hearted teacher, and I remember that he was also the German teacher (I took Spanish).  And aside from remembering that I sat in the back of the classroom and once had a stomachache during class, there isn't a whole lot that floats to the top.

I wrote back:
Oh my goodness -- Mr. Schumann!! How kind of you to reach out. I don't even remember the "wonderful fairy tale" -- not even remotely! But do, please, refresh my memory. I'm actually a writer now, so your message has really warmed my heart.

His response:
Ha! I knew you would be! I asked the class to write a fairy tale that they would read to the class afterward. Most of them were cute and kind of clumsy, typical high school stuff. You were the shy, quiet girl at the back of the classroom. You meekly addressed the podium, two periods later, you were finally done. We were all mesmerized by your skill and imagination. It was Tolkienesque with poetry interspersed into it. This still holds the record for skill in high school writing in my entire career!
At this point, my heart was lodged in my throat.  These words:  "Ha! I knew you would be!"

He knew I would be?  He knew I would be! My ninth grade English teacher KNEW I'D BE A WRITER.  I'm fairly certain he never told me that (not that I'd remember), and it's not a teacher's job to tell his students what they're going to be, anyway.  But OH MY GOODNESS.  This man SAW THE WRITER IN ME when I was only 14.

His words could not possibly be more affirming.

"HA! I KNEW YOU WOULD BE!"

Funny, because I didn't know.  Creative writing was always my favorite schoolish thing (school in general wasn't exciting), but I was primarily a musician and an actress, ultimately choosing to major in music education.  In short, I lost my path.

Don't get me wrong--I'm supremely grateful for my music degree, and am happily singing with a symphony chorus and still playing my piano, so it's all good.  But MR. SCHUMANN KNEW I'D BE A WRITER.

Imagine that.

"We were all mesmerized by your skill and imagination."

Mesmerized?  I MESMERIZED you?

"It was Tolkienesque with poetry interspersed into it."

Well, the poetry part doesn't surprise me--I wrote my first poem when I was six.  But TOLKIENESQUE?  I can't even.

And here's the thing.  Had I known who Tolkien was when I was 14 (I did not, but the story of the literary cesspool in which I grew up is one for another time), my head would have become rather inflated at this sort of praise.  I'm profoundly grateful that he saved these words for NOW, all these years later, WHEN THEY HAVE TOUCHED ME SO DEEPLY THAT I DON'T HAVE THE RIGHT WORDS.

NOW is when I needed them.  NOW, when I am in the midst of what is truly the most labor-intensive and verge-of-despair revision I've ever undertaken.  (It's even harder than the infamous we-want-you-to-change-the-sex-of-this-main-character revision from a few years ago.)  NOW, because I'm doing work that an editor wants to see, and I am feeling the WEIGHT of this work, and I needed Mr. Schumann's memory of a socially awkward ninth-grader who blew him away with her fumbling fantasy.

Of course I thanked him for the memory and went on to share a bit about my writing journey.  Then I said:
Thanks so much for reminding me that the writer in me has been there for such a long time, and that it really is what I'm supposed to be doing. And thank you for being such an engaged, thoughtful teacher. I'm so honored to remain in your memory after so many years!
His reply:
Wow! Very cool! Hang in there, it'll happen. Thanks so much for getting back!
All these years later, he is speaking into my life the encouragement of a teacher who cares.  "Hang in there, it'll happen."

I'm hanging in there, Mr. Schumann.  Your words of affirmation have fueled me beyond what I thought my tank could hold.  You found me on Facebook and remembered a ninth-grader who loved to tell stories--and apparently told them well.  And then you reminded me that I AM STILL A GIRL WHO LOVES TO TELL STORIES.

No matter how hard it gets, no matter the heartbreaks along the way--I AM AND ALWAYS WILL BE A GIRL WHO LOVES TO TELL STORIES.

This is what it's about, my friends--remembering that, in the end, we all love to tell stories.  For whatever reason, the telling ignites us, sustains us, infuses us with a deep sense of purpose and joy.  We were all of us meant to be storytellers, in one way or another.  May you find YOUR PATH and YOUR PURPOSE for the stories in your heart.

And may your very own Mr. Schumann appear when you need him the most!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

First Kiss: Critique Guidelines

Smooches!!

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.