Monday, March 2, 2015

March Secret Agent Early Info

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open next Monday, March 9.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

*There are TWO WAYS to enter: a) via email to authoress.submissions(at) OR via web form at
*THIS WILL BE A LOTTERY: The submission window will be open from NOON to 6:00 PM EDT, after which the bot will randomly select 50 entries.
* 2 alternates will also be accepted, for a total of 52 entries.
* PLEASE NOTE: You are responsible for figuring out your own time zone. "Time Zone differences" are NOT a reason for not getting your entry in.
* Submissions received before the contest opens will be rejected.
* Submissions are for COMPLETED MANUSCRIPTS ONLY. If you wouldn't want an agent to read the entire thing, DON'T SEND IT. If an "entire thing" doesn't exist, you shouldn't even be reading these rules.
* Manuscripts THAT HAVE BEEN IN EITHER OF THE LAST 2 SECRET AGENT CONTESTS (September or January) will not be accepted.
* You may submit A DIFFERENT MANUSCRIPT if you've participated in any previous Secret Agent contests.
* Only ONE ENTRY per person per contest. If you send more than one, your subsequent entry(ies) will be rejected.
* If you WON A CONTEST WITHIN THE PAST 12 MONTHS (i.e., offered any kind of prize from a Secret Agent or were one of the 60 entries in the Baker's Dozen Agent Auction), please DO NOT ENTER THIS CONTEST. (Unless it's a different manuscript.)
* Submissions are for THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. Please do not stop in the middle of a

GO HERE to submit via our web form.

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

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

(Followed by the excerpt here.)

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

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

This month's contest will include the following genres:

Women's Fiction (upmarket)
YA (all genres, but especially contemporary)

Good luck!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Fricassee

A good couple of days of critiquing!  Thanks to all of you who shared your time and insight.  Considering the fact that this First Five round filled up in one minute, I am going to use a lottery next time.  That way, you'll have a chance to get in regardless of whether or not others were quicker on the draw.

It's not too late to leave feedback, so if you meant to but never got around to it, jump right in!

Thanks also for your astounding responses to Tuesday's PILE OF WEARY.  It's hard to express how safe and supportive it feels to be able to be so very transparent here (despite the anonymity) and receive, not censure or disappointment, but heartfelt support and words of wisdom.

Anyway.  This was my day yesterday:

I spread out my snipped-and-taped scenes on the bedroom floor and dug in.  (I actually moved my day around a little bit so that I could do this.)  You know how, when you've got your soundtrack blasting and you're super-focused, you transport yourself to your story world?  (Yeah, you know what I mean.  Don't pretend this never happens to you!)  So, that.  The gelato was a bonus (there is no gelato in my heroine's world, poor thing).

And I WAS PRODUCTIVE!  Things that needed to be done got done.  Things that I'm embarrassed WEREN'T done while I was muscling through this draft.  (Like, yanno, fully developing my antagonists.  And finishing a character thread instead of dropping him like a rotten potato.)  In fact, when it came time to get ready for ballet class, I didn't want to go.  Seriously, this doesn't happen.  You all know how much I love my ballet classes.

Yes, I went.  Funny how WELL the class went for me.  I'm certain that had something to do with the fact that my creative energy was WAY UP by the time I sauntered to the barre.  We really do need to feed the creative beasties inside us!

Anyway.  Thank you all for allowing me to BE MYSELF.  To tell it like it is.  And then to allow me the pleasure of seeing my own struggles HELP YOU IN YOURS.  Awesome stuff.

In closing, here is Petre Pan's comment from the PILE OF WEARY post.  It's so beautiful and well thought-out that I wanted to make sure a lot more of you saw it:

Oh man. It almost makes me cry to read this. Take that back, I held back some tears.

It is a wild and sad and beautiful journey, and so tiring, no?

You said once somewhere on this blog that you refuse to make writing be who you are. Like it's not allowed to be a controlling factor in your life. You control it. And reading this post, it's like you're fighting to say it's not necessary, not a need, not right that it makes you irritated to skip it, even. To find where it fits and why it makes you feel like this. Like you're afraid of being addicted to it?

But what if writing is what you are? What if birds sing, not so anyone can hear them, but because they have to sing and that is what they do and that is what they're meant to do and that is what they are, little songs wrapped up in feathers and wings?

Male parakeets in love--the little guys mate for life--will often wait to sing their prettiest songs until their mate is away, or asleep, and they are alone. It's funny because we associate birdsongs with a purpose. But the song is the purpose.

Someone told me the other day, about the Puerto Rican rainforest near where I live, "isn't it funny to think about all those animal sounds--the pretty singing frogs and the birds and everything--it's all just about sex? They're all just doing it to breed?" And my reply was, "how do you know they're not just breeding to make sure those sounds carry on?"

Maybe writing isn't a career choice. Maybe it's not something you start or quit or do professionally or unprofessionally or use to express your creative outlet like ballet or any of that. Maybe it's your birdsong.

I don't know if that means anything to you. Something weird happened to me a few weeks ago. I was wrestling some tangled-woods revisions with no idea what direction to take, and at the same time very kind SFWA pro was wrangling me through what was essentially brain bootcamp and mental revision to redefine my entire writing process forever, and at some point in the middle of one long night something clicked, or broke, or something. I suddenly let go? I stopped fighting something. I no longer care if there's balance in my life. I don't mind if writing ends up taking over. I don't mind if I don't sleep, or if it becomes who I am, and I also don't care if I get published or not. I'm going to make something beautiful. It's going to be so beautiful and perfect, well-revised and honed and tight and gorgeous, and then I'm going to read it and put it away and do it again. And again. And that's going to be the rest of my life forever. A happy Sisyphus who loves the stone.

Outside, I think nothing's changed. I'm still working on the same professional goals, with publishing in my future and med school on the side. I haven't suddenly devolved into a furry space-ape clinging to the ceiling and bleeding runes onto the tile floor screaming "art art I'm making art stop judging me." But inside I feel better. This is my birdsong. I do it because that is what little birds do when they are alone and in love. That is where it fits in. Maybe I've snapped and gone crazy. But it sure is nice.

I dunno that's a lot of blablabla. I thought I'd share because some of the things you've said about your journey have resonated with some of that in tiny ways. I hope you feel better soon, and whatever you decide to do--whether you keep writing, or put it away, or put it in a boxed part of your life, or decide to suddenly start putting paint on your ballerina shoes and writing stories across the wooden floor in cursive as avant-garde flash fiction--whatever you do, here, here is a hug for you.

>!< (It is there between the little paws, under the exclamation point. I am bad at writing internet hugs.)

'Nuff said.  Happy weekend, my lovelies!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Critique Guidelines: First Five Sentences

Guidelines for Critique:
  • 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.*
  • 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.

Questions?  Leave them below!  Happy critting, everyone!

*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 Five Sentences #ALT-1

TITLE: Eden Island

I must have been around two years old when mom began telling me the fairytale of Eden Island. She painted a picture of a magical place that only a few are privileged to go. She told me about my rare gift. How I will bring prosperity to the general population. I didn't fully understand this until much later. Over the years it has become a bond between my mother and me. Now in my sixteenth year, that hopes comes to fruition.

First Five Sentences #25

TITLE: Joanna Love's Stories
GENRE: literary fiction

“The window was my favourite place to sit on a Saturday morning. The glass swirled, a gentle vortex, with bubbles suspended like jewels. Big and small. Winding patterns, like anaesthetic.”

“Tell me again,” said Grace.

First Five Sentences #24

TITLE: The War of the Worlds and Fairies
GENRE: Fantasy

On midsummer’s eve I stood on the central toadstool, gripping the bumpy surface with my toes. The moist air from the humus below clung to my bare skin, the warm mugginess attacking the elaborate curls I had styled for the occasion. One ringlet after another went flat and slid down my neck or cheek, breaking my concentration.

Fairies can cross over at other seasons, but because of the crucial nature of the crossing the most reliable time is chosen—when the boundaries between the two realms are thinnest. And so in Faerie, for the last time, I stood in the midst of a fairy ring.

First Five Sentences #23

TITLE: True North
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Wren Noonkester balanced on the edge of her open window and tried not to think what Gramma might say.

Wren was supposed to be asleep, resting up to vie for an apprenticeship tomorrow on the New Year like every other youth born outside the Bower. She was not supposed to be sneaking out into the night to go to the wall races.

Perhaps exiting via the window wasn’t the smartest way out. She could have lied instead, told Gramma she wanted to join the festivities in the square, but Wren had never been much of a liar, and Gramma had a knack for seeing straight through any deception.

First Five Sentences #22

GENRE: YA Fantasy

The teahouse was loud with alcohol-enhanced laughter and the roll of dice. Three men came in and adjusted their dirty robes as they took a table. I hurried over, keeping my tea tray steady and my eyes carefully lowered. Usually I didn’t even give patrons such deference--our types of customers didn’t expect it. But I feared if I raised my gaze, I’d find the man in the corner watching me again.

First Five Sentences #21

TITLE: Cherry
GENRE: Middle Grade Historical

I’d been expecting the blow, but the force of it still surprised me. I didn’t dare glance up for a look see, but I reckoned the imprint of my head now decorated the dining room wallpaper. It was ugly paper, anyways, so I didn’t care. Dizziness made my ears ring and the patterns on the rug fuzzy as I gathered my bare feet under me and slowly unfolded myself from the floor. A salty taste filled my mouth, and it took all my resolve to hide a bloody smile as I thought on the stupidity of a man who would risk damaging valuable property in a temper tantrum over a bit of whistling.

First Five Sentences #20

TITLE: Lies We've Told
GENRE: Literary Fiction

After Cody broke up with her, Katie drove him to a bar by the county line to smoke and make-out. He’d bought some pot off a guy in Waco, and they parked by the dumpster, rolled the windows, lit up. The remains of a twelve-pack lolled in the space behind her seat – seven already downed.

The bar, Dirty Dogs, sat just outside the boundaries of Collier Springs, one of the few dry towns left in Texas. Most people looking for a buzz took the main road into Harker Heights, where a string of dives and drive-through liquor barns and 24-hour pawn shops lit up the strip like Vegas.

First Five Sentences #19

GENRE: Young Adult Paranormal

Before I knew the truth, I’d ask myself, what kind of mother tattoos her own face on her baby? And why images of her looking so angry, or asleep? I imagined she wanted me to remember she was always mad at me. Or bored with me. But that didn’t explain why she made them so tiny and put them where I can only see them if I contort myself in front of a mirror.

First Five Sentences #18

TITLE: Savages
GENRE: Historical

No, I am not the same Adrienne du Mont, come to the Court of Louis XIV wide-eyed and ambitious. I am now the boy Petit Jean in a country far from my own. Now I hunt a man I’ve loved the whole of my life who has betrayed me.

The night breeze tossed the ship as ‘Petit Jean’ adjusted her breast bindings, which were hot, but necessary. In her tiny corner of Sieur Robert’s cabin, she pondered her situation.

First Five Sentences #17

TITLE: Shaman Moon
GENRE: Science Fiction Romance

A high-pitched scream echoed down the dim hallway a second before Shiloh Blackfeather kicked in the battered wood door. Metal screeched as hinges were ripped from the old pine. Her narrowed gaze took in the scene with one look. The prostitute, her naked body pressed up halfway against the smoke-stained wall, hung as if she'd been mounted like a trophy animal. Instead, her dangling body was held in place by the power of the demon in the guise of a human glaring at Shiloh with crimson eyes.

First Five Sentences #16

TITLE: Jukai
GENRE: Young Adult Horror

I’m not a killer.

I click the gun’s safety off, and then I click the safety on. I’m about as threatening as a Pok√©mon, but even a Magikarp has me beat. I think about everything I want to do, everything I want to be―but it’s not worth thinking about.

Because I won’t live to see tomorrow.

First Five Sentences #15

TITLE: Spinning Notes
GENRE: MG Steampunk Fantasy

Wil inserted the brass key and turned it until the door lock clicked. He hesitated. Uncle Homer had never allowed him in the attic. But his uncle was gone and Aunt Edie barely stirred from her bed these days. He pocketed the key in his loose cotton trousers, pushed open the door and reached for the lantern.

First Five Sentences #14

TITLE: Project S. E. E.
GENRE: Young Adult SciFi Thriller

I’d just turned 17 the first time I died. It was another beautiful day in the Florida Keys, and I was surf fishing thigh-deep in gently rolling water. Just as I hooked a big one, I heard distant thunder and saw lightning flicker in darkening clouds on the horizon, but the fish had my attention. I pulled back hard on my granddad’s steel rod to set the hook.

“Hey you, s***-for-brains, get your dumb a** outta the water!” screamed the lifeguard trotting along the shore.

First Five Sentences #13

TITLE: Status
GENRE: Psychological Thriller

Gwen MacLean hit the snooze button with more force than was strictly necessary then opened one eye as she reached for her cell phone; she squinted at the screen and tried to focus on the updates that had accumulated overnight.

Apparently Gina turned forty today, and her husband surprised her with breakfast in bed. Well that was all well and good, but maybe if Gina would lay off the waffles she wouldn't be pushing three hundred pounds.

And Sarah's daughter made the Dean's Honor Roll again but, of course, if she kept sleeping her way through the university's defensive end she'd end up reading parenting books instead of prose--but really, what can someone do with an English degree anyway?

First Five Sentences #12

TITLE: The Last Adagio
GENRE: YA Dark Fantasy

When I closed my eyes, I could almost forget everything around me.

Music has a way of grabbing you by the shoulders, of playing your heartstrings and ripple shivers throughout your whole body. Of slowly levitating you away from where you are, a mere suggestion of transcendence. The notes that echoed in the room were like fading promises of impossible things, and you believed them and let them take you wherever they wished.

But then the music ended.

First Five Sentences #11

TITLE: The Fool's Daughter
GENRE: YA Fantasy

“Sing us a song, Fool!”
“Aye! That one about the pig--”
“No...the horse!"
“The one about your other daughter!”

Raucous laughter followed, and I kept my head down and my steps quick as my father and I hurried through the center square towards the village keep.

First Five Sentences #10

TITLE: A Certain Presence
GENRE: YA Horror

Screaming at zombies around every corner in the haunted house made my throat raw. All I wanted was a big Coke and a cinnamon covered elephant ear. Instead, I stood next to Bree behind a tat covered couple waiting for our turn in the fortune teller’s tent .

“This is going to be fun,” Bree’s eyes sparkled with excitement.

My fist squeezed the five dollar bill tighter and my heart told me to run.

First Five Sentences #9

TITLE: The Relic Heir (Book 2)
GENRE: MG Fantasy Adventure

Today I learned my dad is alive.

Everyone who said he committed suicide was wrong. Even Mom, who swore he’d never do such a thing, that his death was just a freak accident when his plane crashed in the desert, was way off. Dad didn’t die.

He was taken.

First Five Sentences #8

GENRE: YA Contemporary

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” her grandmother asked, for what seemed like the hundredth time.

“Yes, I’ll be fine,” Amanda replied.

But she wasn’t. True, that blasted, evil migraine had returned, but it was the nagging, taunting voices beneath the searing physical pain which were more troubling…and they wouldn’t be dismissed with medication.

“I’m sure my medicine will kick in soon.”

First Five Sentences #7

TITLE: Goner
GENRE: Women's Fiction

The house I grew up in had a sealed picture window instead of a front porch and wall-to-wall carpeting that always made me itch. When I arrived home to the suburbs for break, I couldn’t stand going inside so I headed to the backyard and pitched my little blue tent. It hadn’t been unfolded since last summer on the organic farm where I’d worked upstate. Kicking off my sneakers, I crawled inside to see if it still held any trace of mountain air and meadow grass. But no, the tent just reeked of wool sweaters from being jammed into my closet at Hampshire all year.

First Five Sentences #6

TITLE: The Sky Will Fall

The winds shifted, carrying the funk of burning corpses upwind to me. I winced from the onslaught with a cough. I’d been hopeful with this last bunch of soldiers, but they, too, failed in resisting infection. And incinerating the bodies ensured the bastards wouldn’t come back.

I sucked in a breath grabbing two more infected by their mottled ankles and chucked them onto the smoldering, ten-foot high pile with a sickening thud.

First Five Sentences #5

TITLE: The Runaway Pony
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

I probably shouldn’t pick that funny looking pony, the one with its ears cocked sideways. But I know I will. Maybe it’s because she turns her head and stares right at me like she needs my help.

When the ticket taker lets us kids into the fenced-in area for the pony rides, I race right to her. She stands taller than the other ponies with a mussed-up reddish coat and stained white mane and tail.

First Five Sentences #4

TITLE: Arrival
GENRE: Fiction

Shortly before midnight one frosty October evening, something strange started to happen near Edinburgh Castle. It began with a slight breeze; just a whisper on the wind, a gentle soughing among the leaves of Princes Street Gardens. Then it changed, becoming a rustling in the bushes, a flattening of the sparse grass. Despite the chill, a sort of shimmer, like a heat haze, appeared in the dark, still air above Princes Street.

Waiting in the shop doorway, homeless Kate nodded in approval.

First Five Sentences #3

TITLE: The Case of the Missing Hand
GENRE: MG-Mystery-Fiction

Sherlock Holmes said there’s no such thing as coincidence. I used to disagree. But not any more.

“Why won’t Mom and Dad tell us what’s really going on?” Becca asked, for the fiftieth time since we left San Diego.

I stared out the window as our plane bumped onto the runway.

First Five Sentences #2

TITLE: Savior
GENRE: Science Fiction

Atop the water tower standing vigil over Cedar Valley stood Jacob Dean, a man of few words but many thoughts, staring into the darkness. Nothing caught his fancy tonight like every visit but inside he still hoped to find something; to see something.

As a child his father brought him to the tower constantly to show him the constellations and the city below. To watch the planes soar on by; to feel the powerful shake and vibrations through the structure beneath as the behemoths of the sky descended to the strip which now sits dark. The city too was dark and the stars shone bright as daylight above and for an instant, in the dark tower on the airfield, something flickered in the broken windows.