Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Wish From Kate Testerman




This isn't a official AGENT WISH LIST -- that's coming soon!  But to kick off the idea of wishes, I'm honoring Ms. Testerman's request to post the following, in the hope that, if your manuscript fits the bill, you will query her according to THESE SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS.

Kate Testerman's Wish:

I'm especially interested in finding diverse stories by diverse creators, in all genres and age ranges. I am also definitely looking for high concept, hooky YA, and would love to find a great fantasy that sweeps me off my feet. And I would love to find a proper YA mystery, like classic Agatha Christie or Gretchen McNeil's GONE. I'm pretty full with great middle grade now, but am always hoping to find something to blow my socks off!

Monday, February 8, 2016

I've Got a New THING For You!

It's called AGENT WISH LIST.

Here's how it works:

Every once in a while, I will post something that a particular agent is wishing for.

Like, maybe...

"A YA version of the Betsy-Tacy series, with zombies"

or...

"A time travel thriller set in the shadow of Vesuvius"

or...whatever shows up in my inbox.

Once I post the agent's wish, you will have a couple days to submit your query and first 250 words to me.  If I feel that your entry is strong enough to pass the agent's desk, I will post it here on the blog, where it will be open for public critique, INCLUDING THE AGENT.

If the agent likes it, he/she can ask to see more.  If the agent doesn't like it, he/she will be able to tell you WHY.  Which is a rare and beautiful thing, indeed.

And, yes, you will know who the agent is when I post the wish.

Sound good?  Post your questions below!

(And, yes, I've already got a couple of wishes waiting...)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Fricassee

So I've got a bit of a dilemma.

Several days ago, I posted THIS on Facebook.  Just a funny little thing I'd found, adding the circle around "novel reading" because of its pertinence to all-things-bookish.  Not a big deal.

It's sort of gone viral.  At this writing, it has 535 likes and 199 shares.  And they keep coming in.  Seriously, I've never had this kind of response on ANY Facebook post, on either of my accounts (Authoress or Real Life).  Fun, yes?

Except, it must have flagged me somehow, because a couple days after this thing blew up, I got a wee notification from Facebook, asking for proof that my name is really my name.

Okay, game's up.  My real name is not Authoress.

So I chose a link that said "special circumstances", which led me to several choices, including "are you gay/lebsian/bisexual/transgender" and "are you being abused".  I chose "other", and then typed out a brief explanation of why I go by "Authoress", including links to my blog and Twitter account.

The next day, I received a stock response from Facebook, thanking me for working with them and asking me to scan a photo ID.

Um.  I really don't own any photo IDs that say "Authoress".  Yanno?  Thing is, I had already explained myself, but apparently nobody was really paying attention.  So I calmly explained myself again.

Here's the thing.  I've had this Facebook account since 2009.  I've never abused it, never posted anything inappropriate or worthy of account termination.  But if this not-your-real-name issue isn't resolved, they are going to lock me out of my account.

I'm still waiting to hear back.

I get that they don't want to host creepy people hiding behind fake names.  I get that they want to protect users from abuse.  I GET IT.  But I am not a creepy creeper.  And I'VE HAD THIS ACCOUNT FOR ALMOST 7 YEARS.  Suddenly I'm on the radar, which makes me...a threat?

Over the past few days, I've also been receiving a steady stream of friend requests, as people see this post and figure they ought to friend me (I guess?).  This morning when I checked my FB, I had 29 friend requests waiting.  And that was before 8 am.  I'm also getting all sorts of notifications of people liking and sharing other posts--some from a year or two ago.

I'm sure it'll die down.  But whether it does or doesn't, I've still got this issue with FB, and I'm not sure what's going to happen.

Maybe they'll want me to turn it into a page.  But can you imagine starting from scratch after building a friend list for almost seven years?  I can't even.

And, too, we've got a private MSFV Success Story Author page, headed by the illustrious Peter Salomon.  Losing my Authoress account would mean losing access to that community as well.

So there you have it.  This is certainly a first world problem, and I'm not overly stressed.  I'm just...annoyed.  Facebook is a great platform for authors, and now I'm facing having my account shut down.  I'm not going to reveal my name just to keep my Facebook account open.

But.

Probably the time is nigh.  Probably there is no reason to continue hiding behind the Authoress moniker.

I've been tired of the anonymity.  It's interesting, though, because I've always been so transparent here.  I'm as "real" as I can be, and what's in a name, anyway--right?

Still.  I'm pretty sure I'm ready to create a beautiful author site (I've had the domain parked for years) and transition over.

What do you think?

Is it time?

Do you want to hear the real story?

Should I put some real time into the "reveal" story I started working on over a year ago?

Maybe this FB situation is really a nudge for me to move forward, dropping the red hat and joining the ranks-with-faces.  And names.

Yes?

No?

I'm listening!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Success Story!

I'm delighted to share the success story of the author of one of our most popular entries from December's ON THE BLOCK auction!  In the author's words:

I wanted to let you know that after a month of requests and rejections and offers - I am now officially agented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger!

Of course, this is just the first step. There's work to be done, revisions and submissions and waiting and nail-biting - and maybe more revisions and submissions and waiting after that - but I am so excited to finally have an agent!

And I absolutely feel that you had a huge hand in it. Had I not set the goal of entering On the Block, my manuscript might still be unfinished. Had I not seen the positive response my entry got at the auction, I might not have found the courage to send out additional queries (after the winning agent declined). It was really a series of connected events that started with you.

So thank you so much for all that you do, for helping so many hone their craft, for giving the gift of possibility and community. I appreciate it so much!

All the best,
Jessica Redman
Reverie West and the Oneironauts

Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday!

First of all if you missed yesterday's post about this WONDERFUL WRITER'S RETREAT WITH BETH REVIS, read it now!  She's offering a special discount to MSFV readers (because, yanno, she's one of us -- and she loves us).

So I want to talk to you about deadlines.  It's a fact of life that, once you've signed with a publisher, you're going to have deadlines.  As in, you're going to be expected to hand in your work by a certain date.  And I'm sure you don't want to be that author--the one who never makes deadline.  The one who emails and calls with a hundred reasons why she needs an extra week.  Or whatever.

Thing is, I read so many tweets and statuses and posts from published authors lamenting that they've got 24 or 48 hours to go, and they're burning the midnight oil--literally.  Pulling all-nighters.  Neglecting to shower.  Doing whatever it takes to get that manuscript in on time.

First of all, GOOD FOR THEM for getting it done.  Deadlines aren't arbitrary, and your editor really does need you to turn in your stuff when she says you do.

BUT.  For me personally, I couldn't do that.  Pulling an all-nighter or writing to the wee hours for the last few nights before a deadline would probably kill me.  I really -- and I mean really -- don't do well on a lack of sleep.

This is one aspect of pursuing publishing that has actually worried me from time to time.  How will I handle deadlines?  Will it utterly disrupt my life?  What am I even thinking?

So for the past several years, I've trained myself to write to deadline.  Mind you, it's not quite the same as someone else's deadline for you!  But, in some respects, a deadline is a deadline.  I wanted to have all the practice I needed.  And it has really helped keep me on track with finishing what I set out to do in a given time period.

Still.  It kind of scares me.

Most recently, I received from my agent what turned out to be a more labor-intensive revision than I had originally expected.  At first (and call me deluded), I thought that, once I figured out what I needed to do (a process that took two or three days), I would be able to crank out the work in a week.  As soon as I dived in, though, I knew a week wouldn't cut it.

Actually, a month would have felt nice.

I didn't have a month, though.  Danielle wanted a quick turnaround so that she could then get back with me quickly with what we both hoped would be the final round of edits.  So I told her "two weeks".

I pretty much rearranged my life to get it done.  Not in a dramatic sense, but in a practical one.  I skipped ballet to write in the evenings (no small thing, since ballet is a big priority for me).  I sacrificed time with Mr. A for time with my revisions.  I put off taking on an editing project for January until after I was finished with the revisions.  In short, in whatever way I could put writing first each day, I did.  And I did it without sacrificing sleep. (Because, seriously.  I'm just not of the I've-been-awake-for-30-hours ilk.)

And I finished the job three days short of my two week deadline.  I sent it to Danielle on a Friday afternoon, and was rewarded with a writing-free weekend.

Honestly?  It's the hardest I've ever worked.  Sometimes I would creep from my writing hole, encounter my husband, and say, "Ugh.  This is HARD."  Because it was.  I loved it, but it was hard work.  Intense.  The I-can't-let-up-until-it's-finished kind of pressure that keeps you focused, and rewards you with a job completed on time.

But, hey!  I did it without pulling an all-nighter.  Without missing my daily shower or forgetting to eat.  So I think I've just proved to myself that one can write to a deadline without insanity.

I don't know.  Maybe some people like the thrill of pushing the limit of a deadline.  Maybe, for them, it's energizing or invigorating or fulfilling.  But I know myself, and I can't work that way.

And, too, there's the whole procrastination thing (why are writers so good at this?).  I am awfully good at procrastinating all the annoying Life Things, like making a dentist appointment or scrubbing the tub or cleaning off my desk or writing a thank you note.  But for whatever reason, I have chosen not to procrastinate on my writing.

Well, except for that bit of procrastination that happens every day when I sit down.  You know it well--the sitting-there-doing-everything-but-writing until you finally start to write.  (What is that, anyway?)  If I could kill that boogieman, I'd be golden.

Why am I sharing all this?  Because you're all aspiring to be published, and writing to deadlines is part of that.  I want you to think about it ahead of time, as I have been.  I want you to have a plan; I want you to be the author who delivers things on time without killing himself (or making his editor want to kill him).  It's part of the big picture, so we need to consider it along with everything else.

And there you have it.  And when I'm finally writing to my first editorial deadline, and I claw my way in here gasping, "No one...told me..it would be...this bad...", you can pat me on the head and say, "Tut, tut, Authoress.  We know you meant well."

*hugs*

Thursday, January 28, 2016

From Beth Revis: Awesome Writing Workshop Retreat

Dear ones!  This is a fabulous opportunity (and I adore Beth Revis).  I can tell you from personal experience that Beth is FABULOUS and really knows her stuff.  Read on!  Read on!

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Hi guys! Beth Revis here. I'm a long time MSFV reader--in fact, I was a reader far before I was published, and entering one of the critique contests here helped me to revise the book that became Across the Universe, my debut novel and the story that changed everything. I'm now the author of five published novels and three nonfiction books on writing, publishing, and marketing. Today, I'm talking with Cristin Terrill, author of All Our Yesterdays and the founder of the Wordsmith Writers Workshops, to tell you about the program. Make sure you read all the way to the bottom, because we have a special discount code just for MSFV readers!

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BETH: Before I was published, I attended every workshop, conference, and critique session I could. I tackled them with the same rigor as an MFA student, filling up notebooks with scribbles, digesting every critique with cold analysis, studying pamphlets and books with much more dedication than I did with textbooks when I got my degree. About a week or so after my first book was published, I attended a writer's retreat. Initially I was shaking. I was such a newbie, and the ladies on the retreat all seemed to be more knowledgable, more experienced, more everything. Despite my intimidation, what I found was that the writing community is a close-knit group that cares about each other's success. There was solid writing time, but what was even more important was the discussion. I remember, very distinctly, wishing that I had had something like this before I was published--a writing retreat with people who'd been there and done it before--along with all those conferences and workshops I'd done.

CRISTIN: Luckily, that’s exactly what I had. About four months before I got my agent, I attended a workshop/retreat for aspiring young adult authors in Yorkshire, and it was a major turning point for me. Along with twelve other writers who I grew immensely close with over the course of the week, I got to spend time learning from famed historical YA author Celia Rees and one of my personal favorites Patrick Ness (who has continued to be supportive of me and my career to this day despite how I accidentally stalked him on that train that one time). Giving myself that time to focus on my writing and to surround myself with other people who had the same aspirations and struggles I did was one of the best things I ever did for myself or for my career. With Wordsmith I wanted to recreate the best aspects of that experience by mixing the social and productive benefits of a retreat with the learning, networking, and critique you get from a conference or workshop. Beth was an ideal partner, because she’s extraordinarily savvy about storytelling and the industry and can diagnose the problem hanging up a manuscript almost instantly AND she’s a ton of fun to hang out with and makes everyone around her feel at ease. Together I think we’ve created a long weekend that’s a finely-calibrated mixture of critique time with published authors and each other, lessons and insider secrets from authors and agents, and plenty of quiet time for writing, brainstorming, talking through a problem, or just blowing off some steam. With killer comfort food served all day!

Read more about the workshop program here


BETH: OH MY GOSH THE FOOD. That was such a huge thing for me. I've been on retreats where the attendees take different chores and do the cooking, cleaning, etc. And that can be fun, but it also takes away from the focus. I find myself this way at home...four o'clock rolls around and I start thinking, "What's for dinner? Do I have all the ingredients? When should I put the dinosaur chicken nuggets in the oven to time them perfectly with the tater tots?" But with the Wordsmith retreats, that's just not a concern. Four o'clock rolls around and I start smelling delicious things, but I keep working and then when I'm done, there's delicious food put in front of me. WIN WIN WIN.

See a sample menu here 

But aside from the food, haha, I think my favorite part of the Wordsmith Workshops is the critique sessions. I've done paid critiques before, usually at conferences. And they're helpful, but they're also short. Typically, paid critique sessions at conventions are for 5-10 pages of a manuscript, which is obviously a small amount. And the ones you pay for online tend to be longer--but lack the in-person back and forth. Our critiques are a longer sample; we really get an idea of what the book actually is and can be. We read prior to the workshop, and then make notes for the attendees to take home. But the really great part is the private sessions where we individually discuss the work with the author. That back-and-forth discussion was invaluable. In some cases, we replotted the whole novel, right there at the table. In others, we helped refine the rough edges and got it query-ready. I'm just so inspired by how those sessions went!

CRISTIN: I loved the critique sessions, too, and the fact that we were all together for five days meant that we had the chance to follow up on the critiques and keep working with writers on the issues we’d identified. A couple of writers made major changes to their books after their critiques and we were able to work with them throughout the long weekend coming up with and refining new ideas so that they left with a solid plan for how to rewrite. It was so much more satisfying and useful to the writers than the usual kind of professional critique, which is basically a hit-and-run where they tell you what’s wrong and then leave you to figure out how to fix it on your own. Likewise, we dedicated the teaching portion of one of our days to writing and workshopping queries, which is a skill that pays endless dividends when you master it, even after you have an agent. I love knowing that when writers leave us, they each take with them a killer query letter that will catch agents’ eyes in addition to the more intangible rewards of the retreat. At our spring retreat, we’re making a new addition to our offerings that I’m really excited about, which is a visit by NYT-bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout. She’s going to come hang out and write with us one day, which will give all of us (Beth and myself included!) the chance to pick her brain about how she manages to write so many books and what she’s learned from being a successful hybrid author. In addition to being incredibly knowledgable, Jennifer is also one of the friendliest, most generous, and fun authors I know, and I'm looking forward to kicking her ass at ping-pong!

Read more about the authors here


BETH: Hah! While you're ping-pong-ing (best word ever), I'll be in the corner, working on my new manuscript. Because while we have such a packed program--critique sessions, one-on-ones, workshops, tasty meals--we also built in plenty of time to just quietly write (or sneak off for games)...which is good for me, because it looks like I'll be facing another deadline there! I hope I channel some of our past participants, who got 5k words in a single day! Talking about the Wordsmith Workshop Retreats really fills me with such eagerness--I can't wait for spring to get here! Writing can be such a solitary endeavor, but it's programs like this that remind me how great the writing community can be.

Sign up for this spring's workshop retreat here  

We'd both like to thank MSFV for hosting us today, and we hope to see some of you at a Wordsmith Workshop Writing Retreat!  The next program is March 30 - April 3, and will be located in Warrenton, VA. Fees are all inclusive--one programming fee covers all food and lodging, all workshops, and two critique sessions by both Cristin and Beth, as well as some extra goodies that we have planned just for you guys. To thank MSFV for hosting us, we have two discount codes to offer to you, her readers! You can choose between using code snowday to get a 20% off discount on a double room, or you can use code msfv-rocks! to get a 10% off discount on a bunk room. Both codes are valid while supplies last. Space is very limited, so sign up today!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday-in-the-middle-of-bleak-January!

(Gadzooks, I hate January, though.  We should be allowed to skip from Christmas to mid-March.)

Thank you to all TALKIN' HEADS entrants.  Please remember to leave a minimum of 3 critiques for your colleagues!  It's so important to give as well as receive (and I love how good the writing community is about this).

Thank you to all critters.  Some REALLY THOUGHTFUL CRITIQUES going on, as always!  Admittedly, I wish the critting-to-reading ratio were higher.  The number of clicks on each entry is substantially higher than the number of comments.

If you're hesitating because you don't have a lot of experience critiquing, JUMP IN ANYWAY.  You won't learn if you don't try!

As for me, I'm armpit-deep in revisions, and that's what my weekend will consist of.  (Which makes me happy in a determined, glazey-eyed, mildly psychotic sort of way.)

One more thing before I go:  Our beloved Holly Bodger (logline guru and writer extraordinaire) is offering THIS FREE GIFT TO HER READERS:



Set in the same world as 5 TO 1, The Other One gives Surina’s perspective on the first day of her sister’s Tests, showing that Koyanagar’s perfect Poster Girl may not be so perfect after all.


5 to 1 is one of my favorite YA reads.  If you haven't read it yet, DON'T MISS IT!  (And, yanno, the novella won't make quite as much sense unless you've read the novel.)

Thank you, Holly, for this lovely gift!  (Just what I need to distract me from the writing I'm supposed to be doing...)
Happy weekend, all!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Talkin' Heads: Critique Guidelines

Let's look at some DIALOGUE!

Things to think about:

  • Is it natural (i.e., to people actually TALK this way)?
  • It is well-paced?
  • Do we have a sense of the plot moving forward?
  • Do the tags and beats work?
  • Are the speakers distinguishable from one another (character voice)?

General 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.

Talkin' Heads #30

TITLE: Emily's Guide to Owning a Castle
GENRE: MG - Light Fantasy

12-year-old Emily has followed strange sounds down to a well beneath her a castle. There, she finds a mysterious boy trapped in a well who seems to know her and doesn't want her to call for help.

“Your face is strange. You do not resemble Anne Elizabeth,” he said.

“I’m not strange. I’m American,” she retorted.

“American? I have never been there. Is it far from here? Tell me about your people and your land.”

“I didn’t know there was anyone in the world who didn’t know about the United States,” Emily said, laughing. “I live in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s a city with all the usual stuff. The parks are nice. My friends and I play soccer together outside a lot. It doesn’t rain as much in Phoenix as it does here. It’s a desert so it’s sunny and hot all the time.”

“Do you wish to be in Phoenix?” the boy asked.

“Sometimes, I guess. I mean, I miss it a lot, but I like it here too.”

“You are sad to be so far from your friends and your home,” he said.

“A little. Where are you from? You can’t have lived down there all your life.”

His eyes looked beyond her. “I too am from a place far away. A place with sunlight, starry starlight, and moonlight filling the sky. Even when clouds gathered, lightning lit my path so I was never in darkness. I was happy there.”

“Can’t you get back? Can I help you get back?”

“You would help me?”

Emily grasped the iron grate and pulled with all her might, but it did not budge. Exerting herself so much made her yawn. Between her tiredness and growing uneasiness, she was ready to leave. “I can’t get this off myself. I’ll go and get help.”

Talkin' Heads #29

TITLE: Hooked
GENRE: NA - Fairytale Retelling

Willow returns home from her first semester of college to find that things around her house have changed in her absence.

 

“I’m going to go upstairs to change,” I said as I grabbed my waterlogged suitcase.

Mom and Brad shared a look that didn’t escape my attention. “What?” I asked.

“Well, honey….” Mom’s voice trailed off and she looked to Brad for help.

“Willow, with you going off to college this year, your mom and I made some changes with the house.”

A rock of apprehension began forming in my stomach. “What kind of changes?” I asked, looking from Brad to Mom. Mom refused to meet my gaze. The rock in my stomach grew. “What kind of changes?” I repeated, looking back to Brad for an answer.

“We, uh, turned your bedroom into a home office,” Brad said, also averting his eyes from mine.

I tossed my suitcase back onto the floor. “So, where am I supposed to sleep then?” I folded my arms over my chest and glared at them.

“We set up an air mattress in the boys’ room,” Mom began, but I cut her off.

“You what? How in the hell am I supposed to get any privacy in there?”

“It’s just temporary, honey. You’re only home for a couple of months, and then you go back to school.”

“Right. Just a couple of months. Great.”

“I thought it would give you and your brothers a chance to catch up with each other. They miss you.”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I rolled my eyes and snorted, “Whatever. I’m going to take a shower.”

Talkin' Heads #28

TITLE: A DESTINY DARK AND GLORIOUS
GENRE: YA - Fantasy

Alorna finds refuge with the Sacred, an organization of magickind, and discovers her mother, whom she thought dead, is alive but chose not to return home. 

“Gruffen sealed your power into Ivan’s soul stone after I was taken. We had the fairies change your appearance for the same reason—it was all to protect you, Alorna. There are many who would hurt you.”

“The Sacred?” Her feet, her body, and especially her heart ached. She couldn’t run anymore. If this wasn’t the place for her to live, it was the place for her to die.

“No.” Maryn patted her hand. “Not them.”

“Then I don’t understand why you sacrificed my rightful life and our family to keep me hidden. Couldn’t the Sacred keep me safe? Couldn’t they have taught me how to use this power?” She held up a hand to stop the protest already forming on Maryn’s lips. “I’ve heard their decisions are not always the best, and I believe it. But if I have as much power as this prophecy claims, they couldn’t force me to do anything, right?”

“You don’t understand. Let me explain.”

“No. Because you still haven’t answered my question as to why you didn’t return.”

“The Sacred didn’t want to let me go, and if they did, they would never let me go completely. They’d check on me. What if that brought danger to you?”

“They’d see an ugly girl with nothing remarkable about her. You and Gruffen ensured that, so how would it be dangerous?” Maryn sputtered and tried to speak again, but Alorna silenced her. “You hesitated too long. You don’t have a reason.”

Talkin' Heads #27

TITLE: Silver
GENRE: Adult - Science Fiction

Alinda, Senior Peacekeep, is dealing with the aftermath of a riot that occured right outside the Peacekeep station.

"All right. Do you lot have a spokesperson who can tell me what happened?”

An older man stood from the table. His left cheek had an ugly smear of purple. “That’ll be me, Inspector. Crom Hesswell, Head Agitator of the Halbrechts for Change and Reform.”

She eyed him, fierce and defiant in his wounded state. “Sire Hesswell, you have my apologies for the attack you suffered, both at the hands of your opponents and from some of our own careless Cadets. It is our duty to protect all peaceful citizens, and today we failed in that duty. We do not intend to let it happen again.”

Hesswell blinked. He had clearly expected antagonism. “Ah, thank you."

She prepared her logbook to start recording. “Now, could you please describe the exact circumstances of your attack?”

“Yes, Inspector. We were starting a peaceful demonstration along the riverbank, when a couple of youngish boys started jeering at us. We ignored them, of course, until one of them shoved Silda to the ground.” He nodded toward a stern woman sitting stiff-backed in the chair next to them. “We didn’t retaliate, not physically, but some - uh - harsh words were exchanged, and other attackers joined them.”

“Would you mind repeating those ‘harsh words’?”

Flushing, he answered, “I called the kid the sludge-dredged spawn of a brine fly. Inspector, you have to understand, Silda is my wife, and -”

Alinda held back a smile. “Understood. But perhaps it’s best if you practice greater tact in the future. Now, amid the insults and invectives hurled at you, did you hear any mention of the Venerables?" 

“Yes.” Hesswell frowned. “Some of them were accusing us of killing someone. Is one of the Venerables actually dead?”

Talkin' Heads #26

TITLE: Civil Wars
GENRE: YA - Dystopia

Alice, a soldier in the US Army, was bleeding out when she was rescued by a rebel. She has just woken up, and doesn't understand why she's still alive.

“I’m saying that I know that we’re in a war, but I can’t look at someone bleeding out and not help them—not help you.”

“I’m an enemy soldier,” she said.

“And?”

She didn’t see how there needed to be anything after that. They were in a war, and they were on opposite sides. They were supposed to fight each other, to kill each other. “And I was already dying,” she said. “You didn’t even have to kill me, if that’s what you were concerned about. You could have just left.”

“I could have,” he agreed. “It would have been easier.”

“But you didn’t,” she said. “Why?”

His gaze met hers, and his voice was fierce and very low. “If I hadn’t saved you, I would have killed you just as surely as if I had taken my knife to your neck. To walk away would have been a coward’s way out.”

Alice did not know what to make of him, this enemy soldier that had refused to kill her. “Then thank you,” she said, without even meaning to, without even realizing what she was doing, “for being brave.”

He broke eye contact first, his gaze flickering away from hers with something like surprise. “Alice, you are very unlike the girl I imagined,” he murmured.

“How so?” she asked, wondering what he had expected of her, when she was lying there delirious and half-dead.

He shook his head, a faint smile on his lips. “I thought for sure you would have tried to kill me by now, good Army soldier that you are."

Talkin' Heads #25

TITLE: Alpha Shift
GENRE: Adult - Science Fiction

Captain Akajima is the captain of engineering, and he’s suspicious of a shuttle that’s docked with their ship. Captain Dana is captain of the Marines on board.

Captain Akajima loosened his collar to stay relaxed for—

A watch stander turned to him. “Captain, a part of the shuttle is opaque to our scans.”

“You’ve double-checked it?” Akajima rose from his chair without haste and stepped down to that station.

“Yes sir. No matter what wavelength we use at what angle, it stays dark.”

Akajima stared at the cylindrical shape on the monitor as if he were staring down a bull about to charge. “That’s a life pod.”

“Yes sir.”

He signaled Captain Dana to join him. In the time it took her to stride over, a pulse started beating in his neck. “Any reason for a life pod to be opaque to our scans like that?”

She bent over like a hawk spying a rabbit. “No. A life pod needs to be open to scans, so anyone inside can be rescued.”

“Does it seem modified at that end?”

“I can’t say.”

Sweat formed on the watch stander’s brow. “Sir, it is consistent with the end of a boarding ram.”

Talkin' Heads #24

TITLE: Shekinah
GENRE: Adult - Fiction

Marcus Abernathy has gone to visit Jessup McTiernan, a farmer who will lose his land within a week under an eminent domain claim. Abernathy was supposed to arrange a settlement between McTiernan and the state, but McTiernan and his wife refused to sell.

     No greeting seemed appropriate so he finally settled for “Hey.”

     McTiernan grunted and offered the whiskey bottle. Abernathy accepted, settling down on edge of the porch and taking a deep pull. “Look,” he said finally, handing the bottle back. “I am truly sorry for how this all turned out. It’s not what I wanted.”

      “I know,” McTiernan said. “Thank you for trying.”

      They sat in silence for a few minutes, staring off across the gently swaying corn. Cicadas whirred, filling the evening with their hum.

      “I wouldn’t want to leave here either,” Abernathy said after a bit, feeling utterly wretched.

      “I’m not leaving.”

      “Jessup, you don’t have a choice. Think of Amelia and the baby if you won’t think of yourself.”

      “You don’t understand,” McTiernan said. “The land is our blood. Without it, we don’t have anything. No family, no home.” He took a long drink from the bottle. “I was born here, did you know that?”

      Abernathy shook his head, miserable.

      “It’s true. I was born right up there, in the front bedroom. And I buried my dad here after he died. I’m supposed to die here and be buried here and hand this all down to my son. I’m not supposed to end up raising my boy in a rental house in the middle of town and working under a roof all day.”
      “I know. It’s horrible.”

      “I don’t think you know. I think you want to understand, but I don’t think you do.”

Talkin' Heads #23

TITLE: Crap Out
GENRE: Adult - Crime/Mystery

        Rule is a PI interviewing Ike Clark, a pimp. Ike was recently released from prison. He claims to have shed his old persona, been reeducated, and become Ike Clark, the pure man God first brought into the world.
         
           Rule really didn’t expect Clark to call. He figured he would have to get to him indirectly,
through Norton, or maybe even Sam. So, he was surprised when Clark called the following day.

          “You looking for Ike?” His voice was thick, with a heavy accent and a lisp.

            “I am,” Rule said. “Would like to talk to you.”

            “What you want to talk to Ike about?”

            “A client of yours.”

            “Ike doesn’t have clients. You think Ike’s a lawyer?”

            “I know better than that. Whatever you tell me will be confidential. And you could make
some nice money, if you tell the truth.”

            “How much?”

            “Five grand.”

            “You the one have someone following Ike?”

            “You think you’re being followed?”

            “You the one?”

            “No.”

            “Ike doesn’t have anything to say.”

            “You might remember me,” Rule said. “We met one time during the VanRaalte
and Robert Flowers deal?”

            “Ike’s never forgotten that animal killer. Where you think we met?”

            “Burton Street Gym. I took some photographs of you for the newspaper.”

            There was a silence, and then, “You the white guy, big, made square?”

            “Never thought of myself as square,” Rule said.

            “Your head square,” Clark said, as if thinking. “Your delts square. You got white hair
and them gray eyes, and white hair like some kind of ghost. And your eyes so far away from
your nose, it be like you can see behind you, like some damn insect.”

Talkin' Heads #22

TITLE: Dear Indiana: Letters to my Future Child from Chance Best, Age Sixteen
GENRE: YA - Contemporary

“I can tell there’s something wrong,” Lucy Jo said, taking my hand in hers. I wondered then why my mother wasn’t more like her and that made me start to cry.

“Oh, no,” Lucy Jo said. “That won’t do. Now, come here.” She pulled me into a hug, and we sat like that while I sobbed, letting it all pour out of me in an uncontrollable wave of sorrow.

After I was done, Dottie brought me some tissues. I wiped my eyes though my face must have been red enough to give away what had just happened.

Lucy Jo started talking again once I’d stopped sniffling. “You can’t give up, Chance. You’ve got to fight back.”

“I tried,” I explained. “It didn’t work.”

“Oh, that,” Lucy Jo said, and when I looked in her eyes, I understood she knew I was the one who’d framed Guillermo.

“You didn’t tell, did you?” I asked her.

“Of course not, but if you try something like that again I won’t have much choice. You don’t have to lower yourself to their level. You have to fight for yourself, not against them.”

I looked into Lucy Jo’s eyes just then. There were tiny red lines sprouting from her hazel-colored irises. I wondered if she, too, got tired of all the bullshit. “I don’t know how to do that.”

“That’s what you’ve got to figure out,” she said. “How do you make you work here?”

“Can’t you just tell me?”

“It's not a magic bullet, Chance. I can’t just go down to the Wal-Mart and buy the answer on the shelf. You’re the only one who knows what’s right for you.”

“Oh my God,” I said. “Why are you so smart?”

“I just am, Chance,” she said. “And for people like us, that’s a curse.”

Talkin' Heads #21

TITLE: The Dark Side
GENRE: YA - Thriller

Lukas is visiting his friend Jimmy whose working at an old Resort in cottage country. They've just entered Jimmy's room soon after Jimmy joked about robbing his boss.

“You're not serious, Jimmy, are you?”

“Why not?”

Lukas turned to find Jimmy making a line across the floor with his dirty clothes. He had blue and black clothes on his side, and white T-shirts on Lukas’s side.

“Come to the dark side, Lukas,” Jimmy moaned.

Lukas shook his head. “Not funny. You want to break the law.”

Jimmy held up two fingers half an inch apart. “A little bit.”

“You can’t break the law just a little bit.”

“Of course you can, but I meant it was a little bit funny. C’mon lighten up.” Jimmy shoved Lukas’s shoulder with his elbow.

Lukas shoved back harder. “You’re a jerk.”

“And yet your best friend. What poor choices you make. C’mon. What’s one more?”

Jimmy grinned, but Lukas didn’t share it this time.

“Cuz nothing else risked jail time.”

Jimmy flopped down on the couch. “I just want to steal what I’m owed. Mr. Peters has four weeks of my pay.” He linked his hands behind his head and crossed his feet on the coffee table.

“So when he finally pays you, what are you going to say? ‘That’s alright, Mr. Peters, sir, I already got it?’ Are you an idiot?”

Jimmy laughed. “Okay, I’ll just grab a dollar, or a paperclip or something.”

“Why?”

“Just to see if I can do it. You don’t even have to come in. Just stand watch.”

Lukas rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’ll just aid and abet. I’m sure that’s not illegal.”

Talkin' Heads #20

TITLE: The Relic Heir
GENRE: MG - Fantasy adventure

Four 8th graders are on a flight to Europe to find the lair of Baba Yaga. Kyle, the MC, has been staring at Grace and just got caught.

My ears burst into flame. “You’ve got to stop doing that."

“Doing what?”

The burning sensation shot to my chest. “Nothing.”

She smiled. “You’re the one who was staring.”

“I wasn’t staring. I was just . . .”

“Juuuust?”

What was I supposed to say? Just downloading a mental screen saver? Just giving my heart a good workout? Both were true, but I couldn’t tell her that.

“I was just wondering what convinced you to let me drag you into this disaster.”

The green and gold waves in her eyes stirred. “A few things,” she finally said. “Your memorable introduction at the library, for starters.”

I groaned. “Don’t remind me.”

“Hey, it caught my attention. And when you called me up out of the blue to talk about something as ridiculous as a horseshoe with unique abilities? I was intrigued. But I wouldn’t recommend that as a future pickup line.”

Grace faced the window again. “I didn’t know what to think of you at first, but I had a feeling you were okay. And," she raised her voice and peered across the aisle, “I didn’t like how a couple of bullies were picking on you.”

Lud didn’t hear her. She was busy elbowing Tony in the stomach, but she might as well have hit me.
Grace felt sorry for me.

“I was wrong to help you at the library, though,” she said. “I should have just watched and become a fan.”

“Who isn’t a fan of magical metal,” I muttered.

“I’m not!” She reacted like I’d just offered her a cockroach candy bar. "I was talking about you."

Talkin' Heads #19

TITLE: Sustenance
GENRE: YA - Speculative Fiction

Quinn has escaped from an enclosed society in which all food is synthetic.  Kalan's family is helping her to detox, and she has just eaten her first taste of real chicken.  Kalan offers her a cup of herbal tea to calm her upset intestines.

“I don’t think I can drink that,” I say.  Another wave of cramping hits me, and I groan.

“Sip it,” Kalan says.  “It’ll make you feel better.”

I take the mug from his hands and hold it to my lips.  “What’s in it?”

“Just drink it.”

I sip the tea; it’s minty and flowery and things I can’t describe.

“Your body doesn’t have enough of the natural enzyme needed to digest the meat,” Kalan says.

“But I’ve—”  I stop myself.  I haven’t been eating meat my whole life.  It wasn’t meat.  “Why don’t I have the enzymes?”

“You’ve been taking synthetic enzymes as part of your daily meds,” Kalan says.  “And you haven’t eaten real meat.  The only chance your body has had to manufacture the enzyme is the bits of cheek you swallow every day.”

I stop mid-sip.  “Bits of cheek?”

Kalan smiles.  “Cheek cells.  We all swallow them daily.”

“You enjoy torturing me.” I swallow more tea; it’s already soothing the pains in my intestines.

“Actually—” He looks away, suddenly interested in a collection of socks and shirts Lydia has left on the table for me.  “I wanted to say I was sorry.”

“For torturing me?”

“For bugging you about Troy.”

“Oh.”  I bury my face as deeply in the mug as I can, pretending to drink longer than I need to.

“I guess I really don’t know much about your life, anyway.”

“Well, you wouldn’t.”

“Yeah.”  Kalan finally looks at me.  “But I’d like to.”

Talkin' Heads #18

TITLE: CUSTODIAN
GENRE: YA - Fantasy
The militia Sean belongs to has imposed martial rule over a city in the midst of their war against someone else. Sean is bringing Joen and another soldier up to speed on the actions he's taken against their militia in order to propose a plan that would help the enemy, because he believes the militia's actions were wrong.

“The girl that was captured when we returned the children—”

“The one you saw in Esper, described for the posters?” Joen’s eyebrow rose.

Sean didn’t fidget as he met Joen’s gaze. “Yes. I let her go.”

The room was completely, utterly silent. Joen wasn’t even blinking. Sean didn’t dare glance at the other soldier. “We were friends as children, before my father died. I know her, Joen, and she’s not the sort of person the Enlightenment is against.”

Joen was still, so still. Sean felt his muscles bunching even as he sat. Joen had been sympathetic… but maybe he’d still judged wrong.

“Tem told me your mind control theory.” He couldn’t get a read on Joen’s voice.

Sean sucked in a breath. “No. I don’t think that’s what its doing. She and the alchemist were adamant. I don’t think its inherently dangerous, inherently evil.”

“You want to protect it now?” Then, “you spoke to the alchemist?”

“Yes, before they killed him.”

The room fell silent again. Finally Joen slumped in his chair, his legs sliding out in front of him. “Gods, Sean,” he said, voice haggard, and drew his hand over his face.

“So you’re sympathetic now? You’re against the Enlightenment because you watched some old girlfriend tortured?”

Sean had forgotten the other man in the room. Sean turned to face him directly, desperate to pick the right line of explanation. If he couldn’t get them both on board… and this was the easy part.

Talkin' Heads #17

TITLE: Return To Spender
GENRE: MG - Magical Realism

A memory of William's and Emma waiting for the bus on her first day of school. Now, they are no longer friends.

“William, since you're an old hand at school, being in first grade and all, I'd like you to show Emma the ropes,” Uncle Drew said, patting William on the shoulder. “This being her first day of kindergarten, she's afraid.”

“No, I'm not, Daddy,” Emma said before she pushed William toward his father. “I’m not a bit afraid. I can take care of myself. I can even take care of him, if he needs it.” She pointed to William.

“I can take care of myself,” William said, pushing her back as the time the big yellow bus with its fume-like tail rolled to a stop.

“William. That’s enough, already.” His father pulled the two kids apart and aimed them at the open bus door. “Get in there, before Shirley leaves without you.”

“You wouldn't leave us, would you Shirley?” William asked.

Shirley smiled. Her hair was longer then, and it seemed her smiles came a lot easier. “Probably not, but you never know. I had a few close calls with your mother.”

“See, I told you.” William's father winked at Shirley, and then gave his son a gentle pat on the back. “Have fun on your first day of first grade.”

“Okay, Dad.” William climbed up the steep stairs into the bus. He turned and waited for his friend, Emma. “Hey, Em, let me show you where to sit.”

“The bestest seat?” Emma asked.

William smiled. “Yep. The bestest seat for my bestest friend.”

Talkin' Heads #16

TITLE: Buddy
GENRE: MG - Contemporary

Julia is talking with her young foster brother, Charlie, who has Asperger’s Syndrome and recently tore all the heads off her new Barbie dolls. He’s come to her to explain his behavior.

 “It’s cause their heads come off easier than their clothes do,” said Charlie. He picked up two of the dolls and stuck them near my face. “I wanted this doll to wear that dress, but I couldn’t get their clothes off. So I took their heads off, and now they have on different clothes. It’s neat, right?”

I picked up one of the dolls and pointed it toward Charlie. “Here’s the problem. The way you put this doll back together has left her with a dark body and a light head. Don’t you think that makes her look kind of weird?”

Charlie reached out and took the doll from my hand. He ran his hands down the long, pale hair.

“Nope, I like her like this. It makes her more interesting. Besides, if Mom and Dad were my first parents, I could look like this.”

I sighed. “It doesn’t work like that. You would probably just be a nice creamy brown all over. Sort of like coffee with a lot of milk poured in.” I took the doll from him and twirled her around in my hands. “You wouldn’t be like this.”

He shoved the dolls toward me. “Well, you don’t know that for sure.” Then his gaze shifted to the right. “Victoria’s back.”

Talkin' Heads #15

TITLE: GHOSTS OF WINTER
GENRE: Adult - Historical novel

Lisbet, mother figure for her younger sister Hedda, is caught between her Father’s outspoken hatred of the new Fuhrer and wanting to protect her sister who has a school assignment (1937 Germany) to write a letter of praise to the Fuhrer. Lisbet rushes into the kitchen from an early morning hunt, a rabbit to skin.

“Hedda, are you ready for school?”

“Father figured out how I could do that stupid letter.”

“Oh? Something both he and Fraulein Krueger will be happy with?”

Eating a burnt sausage, Hedda grinned. “We copied a page from All Quiet on the Western Front.”

Lisbet’s knife slipped. “Father let you copy from that book!” The rabbit guts fell into the pail.
“The Fuhrer will think it refers to him. It’s like I am thumbing my nose.” She touched her nose and thrust her arm out straight in the Heil salute.

“You’d better hope Fraulein doesn’t recognize your ‘letter’--!”

“How could she admit it? I’ll say I was testing her!”

Lisbet pushed back her hair with her wrist.“Hedda. Father says no mind is too young to yearn for freedom, but you read Fraulein’s note. There could be harsh measures waiting for you!”

“’Father says . . .’ ‘Fraulein says . . .’ Hedda mocked. “Don’t you have any words of your own, Lisbet?” She threw her sausage into the pail, making a splash.

Talkin' Heads #14

TITLE: TIME PASSAGES
GENRE: YA - Fantasy

At her family’s Italian deli, Gemma is upset by a visit from a strange boy who disappears before she can find out what he wants. She joins her friend, Tess, in the kitchen where her father and long-time employee, Annalisa, are preparing food.

“Hey, Gemmie, tell Tess about that lady who came in the other night.” Dad’s elbow-deep in a big bowl of dough, making a batch of fresh bread for the dinner rush. “You know, the one with the straw hat and the purple hair. Tess, you’ll get a kick out of this.”

Annalisa is bent over the table beside Dad chopping vegetables for the antipasto salad. “Oh, jeez, leave the poor girl alone.  She doesn’t have time for a silly story.”

I force a smile.  “I’ll tell her later, Dad.  We have to go now.”

He peers at me.  “You okay?  You look tired.”

“I’m fine,” I say.   “You know me, any excuse to get out of work.”

 “What did that boy want?” Annalisa asks.

I shrug.  “He left before I could find out.  He was weird.”

That turns on Dad’s Concerned-Father radar. “Wait a second, what boy?”

“Kid in the front, asking for Gemma,” Annalisa says.

“He was nobody.  Probably some joker from school who knows my family owns this place.”  I turn away before Dad can grill me anymore, and sidle up to Tess who sits on a stool, eating something out of a bowl, sighing contentedly.  “Which one?”

“Lavender chocolate chip.  It’s so good.”  She licks the Easter egg-colored gelato off the spoon, cat-like.

I dip a finger into the bowl.  “I like it too.  Annalisa thinks it tastes like bath soap.”

“God made lavender to smell.  Not to eat,” Annalisa says, wrinkling her nose.

Talkin' Heads #13

TITLE: SCARS WE BARE
GENRE: YA - Science fiction (light)

Olivia finishes up a phone conversation with her best friend while the boy she just met, Chaz, waits outside her hotel door.

     “Be awesome. Kisses.”

     “Kisses.” I hung up.

     “Was that the bestie?” he asked, still from behind the door. I opened it only enough to see out with one eye.

     “Is that okay with you?” I asked.

     “What’s her name?”

     I started to answer but worried about delving too deep into specifics with him.

     “Her name is Tillie.”

     “You should have let me speak to her.”

     I laughed, and he took advantage of me being off-guard to push the door open a little further. I caught it with my foot. “Excuse me, maybe I’m not decent!”

     “Then why, luv, did you answer the door?”

     “Because you knocked!” I tried pushing it shut a little further, but he now had his weight on the other side. “Why do you want to speak to my best friend?”

     “Get her approval.”

     “Approval for what?”

     “I don’t know, whatever it is you girls need each other’s approval for.” And then, a little off-handedly, “I’m just glad it wasn’t the boyfriend.”

     “I don’t have a boyfriend!” I stepped right into his trap. Right into it.

     He smiled at me, moved his foot, and I lost my balance and fell face first into the door, slamming it shut with my weight. “In that case,” he said from the other side, “I would like to invite you and your monkey pajamas to a movie in the living room, please. I’ll bring the popcorn. You bring the quick wit and good looks.”