Friday, July 29, 2016

July Pass Or Pages Entry #5

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.
Final note: with 4 agents on the panel, we have trimmed down some of their comments to keep the posts from being overwhelming.



I’m currently seeking representation for my Contemporary Women’s Fiction novel, ALL THAT REMAINS. With your interests, I believe it may be a perfect fit for your list.

When Hope West’s predictable life comes to a crashing halt, the anxiety-ridden woman must take a journey into a past she’s tried to escape. Returning to her hometown is something she’s sworn never to do, but when she gets the phone call informing her of her estranged mother’s grave illness, she realizes she has no choice.[MJ1] Still reeling from a recent miscarriage and imploding marriage, Hope returns to the war zone of her mother’s home. Unexpected new neighbors, a box of surprising letters revealing the identity of her mysterious father, and a shocking face-to-face experience with her first love is nearly more than the fragile Hope can handle[AS1][MJ2]. In the end[MJ3], Hope must decide if she can forgive those who have wounded her, and accept herself and her reality.[PN1] 

The completed manuscript of 58,251 words[MJ4][DB1][PN2] is available upon request. Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] The description of Hope as "fragile" worries me a bit, as readers (and editors) tend to prefer protagonists who are resilient. I think that the query letter is well written, however, from the summary, I'm worried that not enough happens in the novel. 

Melissa's Notes:
[MJ1] This reads very over the top. Give me more facts than feelings.
[MJ2] Maybe take a little more time to develop these avenues. Feels like you’re throwing too much at the reader.
[MJ3] Not very compelling. IN THE END is overused by others. 
[MJ4] At least 20,000 words too short for the genre. 80 to 90K is more suitable. 

Danielle's Notes:
[DB1]  I was really vibing with this query until I got to the word count. This is on the short side for women’s fiction. Generally, I’d want to see between 70,000 and 90,000 words. Still, this is a good query.

Patricia's Notes:
[PN1] This query is a little short – and also has the over-packed long paragraph issue. But my bigger concern is that I’m not sure from this description what sets this story apart from others with similar premises. What’s the “hook”? What are the stakes?
[PN2] This word count is low for women’s fiction – I’m generally looking for 70,000 – 95,000 words in this genre. With a WF word count under 60K, I assume the story here is going to be under-developed. I might glance very quickly at the sample pages, but I would likely stop reading here.

First 250:

Looking out the window of the airplane, I tried to ignore the knots in my stomach.[MJ1] Dark, dismal skies and swirling grey clouds peered back at me; they were a reflection of my mood. I shifted restlessly in my seat, tapping my fingernails nervously on the tray table in front of me. I was certain that the walls were closing in on me, and my breathing came fast and short. All I could think about was getting off of the plane. The flight attendant, who seemed to sense my agitation, quietly informed me that we would begin our descent into Seattle soon.

I nodded slowly at her without making eye contact. It was embarrassing that my turmoil was so obvious. “You can do this, Hope,” I said to myself, taking several deep breaths and trying in vain to settle my nerves. Every muscle in my body was tight, making me a giant, clenched ball of stress that refused to uncoil. I rotated my neck and tried to relax my shoulders. A dull, throbbing ache radiated across my forehead.

The events of my shattered life paraded relentlessly through my head, invading my peace of mind while I tried in vain to block it all out. I would not think about any of it right now; I couldn’t. But try as I might, I couldn’t fight off the memories; they clawed at my brain like a vulture decimating a carcass.[AS1][MJ2]


Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] This might come off as a bit overly dramatic.
This is a pass for me. There's some solid prose in these pages, but I think that I'm going to have a tough time warming up to Hope.

Melissa's Notes:
[MJ1] So, she’s going to a place. That’s the most trite of openings for any book. Have her in the midst of the situation.
[MJ2] There isn’t much here to compell me to read on. A woman having an issue dealing with her flight. I know nothing about her conflict.

Danielle's Notes:
I like your writing! It is very clean and I am curious to know what happens next. I’d love to take a look at the first fifty pages of this! (OA's note: send to Danielle's query address and include Operation Awesome or Pass Or Pages in the subject line)

Andrea Somberg: PASS
Melissa Jeglinski: PASS
Danielle Burby: PAGES!
Patricia Nelson: PASS

Thursday, July 28, 2016

July Pass Or Pages Entry #4

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.
Final note: with 4 agents on the panel, we have trimmed down some of their comments to keep the posts from being overwhelming.

Entry #4: GIRL (DOT) COM


It's 1996[MJ1][DB1], the dawn of the internet gold rush, and Barrie Isaacs can't catch a break.[PN1]

A neurotic workaholic web producer at SugarSugarMountain(Dot)Com, Barrie can't crack the upper echelons of management (AKA the boys’ club.)[MJ2] Though her top-notch efforts speak for themselves, she trembles at the thought of asking for a promotion. Worse, she panics each time she contemplates asking out long-time crush Josh, her brilliant-yet-clueless work counterpart.[PN2] And when management brings in a couple of Hollywood heavies to shake up the start-up, no Yahoo search results can teach Barrie how to navigate the shark-infested hallways. In GIRL (DOT)COM, Barrie must click her Doc Marten’d heels together and re-discover her confidence by creating an out-of-the-box idea to wow everyone -- before the company goes public and she loses her stock option payday, her burgeoning career, and her chance with Josh.[MJ3]

GIRL(DOT)COM combines the popular romantic comedy of BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY with the colorful internet universe of THE UNDERWRITING. GIRL(DOT)COM, my first women’s commercial[MJ4] fiction novel, is complete at just over 88,000 words.[DB2]


Andrea's Notes:
I think this is an effective description of the novel in that it estalishes the protagonist, the conflict and the stakes in an engaging way.

Melissa's Notes:
[MJ1] Are you aiming for nostalgia with the time period? I’m wondering about the market?
[MJ2] You don’t need the parenthesis, the AKA sets it apart.
[MJ3] The plot is very chick lit.
[MJ4] Call it either commercial fiction or women's fiction, not both.

Danielle's Notes:
[DB1] This is a personal taste thing, but I’m not really looking for projects set in the near past. I prefer either contemporary fiction or historical that is a bit more removed.
[DB2] My earlier comment aside, you’ve written a great query letter! It is crafted really nicely and makes me wonder whether I might enjoy a novel set in the 1990’s more than I initially thought I would.

Patricia's Notes:
[PN1] Great opening sentence!
[PN2] Based on this description, Barrie is reading as a fairly frustrating protagonist – she seems like such a wimp! It’s okay if your protagonist starts off in a place she has to grow from, but I still have to understand why I would want to spend a whole novel with her. What about Barrie makes me want to root for her? Show that in your query.

First 250:

The Nerf guns fired pop-pop-pop[MJ1], but I was not deterred. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of tech boys aiming at my head, this Nice Jewish Girl® fears nothing. I'd practiced my spiel at home so many times that even my surly cat Chairman Miao could've parrotted[PN1] it. My shag hair swung over my shoulders, behaving for once. My makeup was touched-up perfection. I'd earned this promotion. And it was time I claimed it.

I'd asked for a five o’clock meeting, banking on Sammy consuming at least one cocktail by then to take the edge off. (We work all the time in the land where the Internet never slept.) Wiggling my toes in my too-tight Nine West pumps, I stalled at his shut office door. Don't be afraid, Barrie. Remember your mantra: I am worth it. I am worth it.

I hadn't eaten all day in order to fit into my favorite Jones NY[MJ2] suit—professional and fashionably black. My stomach growled furiously, but I needed quiet to advocate to become the first woman in upper management at SugarSugarMountain.Com. Eh, I could eat later. I knocked purposefully, knuckles rapping on the door. Sammy called me in. Showtime!

I am worth it, I am worth it, I thought with each high-heeled step.

“Hey Barrie!” said Josh. Languidly, he pushed one of his long, blond surferboy curls behind his ear. “Wow, look at you! Going somewhere special?”

What the hell was Josh doing in my meeting?[MJ3][PN2]

Andrea's Notes:
There's some strong prose throughout both the query letter and the sample pages, but I'm worried that the plot feels a bit too quiet and overly familiar. I'm afraid this is a pass for me. 

Melissa's Notes:
[MJ1] Sounds usually get italicized.
[MJ2] Nice callback to a brand big in the day. But I believe the logo was always spelled out and so should the name.
[MJ3] You start your manuscript as I warn so many not to: getting somewhere. Yes, it’s just down the hall to an offic. But why not start THERE instead of chatting to people and slowing up the plot. Too much lead up to get to the headline. Which is: what the hell was he doing in my meeting?

Danielle's Notes:
This is fun! It is a little too stream-of-consciousness for me. It would benefit from more showing instead of telling. Because I can already see several editorial comments I would give, I feel as though this needs another edit before it would be ready for an agent, which makes it a PASS for me. I think you’d benefit from slowing down a teeny bit and grounding the reader more. That said, I see potential here! It seems entertaining.

Patricia's Notes:
[PN1] This should be “parroted” – typos on page 1 raise an eyebrow, so make sure you’ve run spell-check.
[PN2] This also opens with quite a bit of telling voice, but the character voice is engaging, so it carried me through a bit longer. I would read to here, but probably not past this – I’m not quite engaged enough by the action that’s been set up on this first page to read on.
Andrea Somberg: PASS
Melissa Jeglinski: PASS
Danielle Burby: PASS
Patricia Nelson: PASS

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

July Pass Or Pages Entry #3

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.
Final note: with 4 agents on the panel, we have trimmed down some of their comments to keep the posts from being overwhelming.

Entry #3: BUGSY'S MOLL


When gangster Bugsy Siegel is offed by the bosses for skimming cash from the Flamingo Casino, his partner—and mistress—Virginia Hill is shielded[PN1]. But it ain’t[AS1] because she’s clean-handed.[AS2][MJ1]

She, in fact, isn’t quite sure why her life is spared[PN2]. Though she guesses it’s because she’s threatened to make public her journal[MJ2], should anything ugly befall her. For in her journal, are the secrets of her associates—secrets that could be used to put the shake on fellows, secrets that could land guys in the clink, or send them to sizzle, secrets that could turn others into packages on the ocean floor.

When anonymous boxes of cash mysteriously begin showing up on Virginia’s front step, it can only be “hush money” she reasons—the Mob’s attempt to keep her from releasing her journal. She’s agreeable. After all, free money would allow her to abandon the rackets, and truth be told, she’s been pining for the prosaic: ironing boards, diaper changes, meatloaf dinners. Bankrolled and retired, there’s no looking back for two decades. But then out of the blue, Virginia’s former foe, Meyer Lansky, the mobster known to be loyal to Bugsy’s wife, appears. And quickly it becomes clear the hush money was never meant to keep Virginia quiet, but to silence her. Permanently.[DB1][PN3]

From the Mafia backrooms of the Chicago World Fair, and the grit of Depression-era New York City, to the flag-waving patriotism of wartime Hollywood, and on to budding Las Vegas[MJ3][PN4], Virginia evolves from a wounded teen into the Syndicate’s Cinderella, and ultimately into their pawn.[AS3]

Written in the wisecracking voice of Virginia[AS4], BUGSY’S MOLL is the true story imagined[MJ4] of an historic anti-hero from society’s edge. With scandal and vice as a backdrop similar to Karen Abbott’s SIN IN THE SECOND CITY, it reveals the inner-most fears, doubts, and emotions of the protagonist as candidly as Paula McLain’s THE PARIS WIFE[PN5]. Complete at 95,000 words, BUGSY’S MOLL is my first novel.[DB2]Thank you so much for your consideration.


Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] I suggest using "isn't " instead (I find "ain't" to be distracting, and I don't think it adds enough to put it in), but this could simply be a matter of preference.
[AS2] Great--I'm intrigued.
[AS3] Great. Gives us a good sense of the scope of the novel without bogging us down with too much detail.
[AS4] I suggest leaving this out--let readers come to the decision about the tone of the manuscript for themselves.

Melissa's Notes:
[MJ1] Shielded reads odd. And the “ain't” is an immedate turn off. Don’t write in the tone of a character.
[MJ2] A little dull. Is it because of the journal—just use that if it’s the case. And keep synopsis to two paragraphs. It’s a little much.
[MJ3] Way too wordy.
[MJ4] It’s a TRUE STORY of an imagined character? Well that’s not even possible. I’d stop reading here because I would feel you didn’t know what you’re writing about.

Danielle's Notes:
[DB1] Don’t bury the lede! This is the important part because it gets to the central conflict. You want to get to this point quickly.
[DB2] In query letters, I often think that less is more. I just want the quick and dirty description so you really don’t want more than two paragraphs of plot. Who is the main character? What is the central conflict? When/where does the story take place? Etc. I think you’re trying to cover too much ground here. Your final paragraph (the one that starts with “Written in…”) is the strongest, I think. It gives me exactly the information I need in an efficient way.

Patricia's Notes:
[PN1] Note the use of passive voice in this opening: “is offed,” “is shielded.” When possible, use active verbs – it will make your query more dynamic!
[PN2] Instead: “She isn’t sure why he spares her life.” In general, eliminate passive voice, streamline sentences and cut extra words. Wordiness in a query makes me assume the book will have similar issues, which makes me wary.
[PN3] There’s a lot packed into this paragraph, and I don’t think you need all of it. As in previous notes, cut unnecessary filler words (“truth be told”), see if there are any details you don’t need and cut them (do you need all the ways she’s pining for the prosaic?), and break up long paragraphs into shorter ones.
[PN4] Not sure you need to name all these cities – consider limiting to 2-3.
[PN5] Great comps!

First 250:

SECTION I: August 1933, Chicago


Even before the Chicago Outfit accepted me into its folds, the rackets were a part of me. Always would be. Just like the loneliness that refused to budge from its perch on my shoulder. But my path didn’t become clear to me until I was seventeen, the day I served cannelloni to Greasy Thumb’s wife at the San Carlo Italian Village.[AS1][PN1]

She looked like the sun in a yellow linen, wide-shouldered bolero jacket, her blond, frizzy hair, a ring of light.[MJ1] As she sipped a coffee cup of Chardonnay, I waited, pad in hand, for her to order. But rather than study the menu, she gave me the once-over. Being eyed gave me the jitters, but it wouldn’t help my tip to raise a squawk. Instead I smoothed the ruffles of my apron, tugged the pink scalloped collar of my uniform, chewed the end of my pen.

Finally, “I’m Alma Guzik,” she spat.[MJ2] “Married to Jake Guzik. ‘Greasy Thumb.’ You’re familiar with him, right?” She said it like an accusation, as though just knowing Jake Guzik was a low-down thing in itself. Perhaps it was. A chubby-faced, pin-striped tough guy with a handkerchief exploding out of his pocket and wise-cracks out of his slack-jawed mouth, word around the restaurant was he ran a string of cathouses throughout Chicago.[AS2]

“Yes, I suppose I’ve seen him around.”

She kicked out the chair opposite her with a yellow empire sandal, and motioned for me to sit.[AS3]


Andrea's Notes:
Great opening. It establishes the Victoria as a sympathetic protagonist and creates a great sense of tension.
[AS2] The word-choice feels highly authentic to the era.
[AS3] I would love to take a look at the manuscript. Please feel free to send it as a word document to with "OperationAwesome" in the subject line.

Melissa's Notes:
[MJ1] Pay attention to punctuation. The comma after "jacket" should be a semi-colon, and there shouldn't be a comma between "hair" and "a".
[MJ2] Spat is not a great dialogue tag. Also, you describe her tone in next sentence. We get it.

Danielle's Notes:
You have a nice voice and I like the sense I’m already getting of your character. There’s a lot here to like! Make sure you don’t sacrifice clean writing for personality, though. I am intrigued by this one, but it needs a copy edit, which would have to happen before the agent stage. Sadly, that makes this a PASS.   

Patricia's Notes:
[PN1] As with the last entry, a telling voice opening – I would stop here.


Andrea Somberg: PAGES!
Melissa Jeglinski: PASS
Danielle Burby: PASS
Patricia Nelson: PASS

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

July Pass Or Pages Entry #2

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.
Final note: with 4 agents on the panel, we have trimmed down some of their comments to keep the posts from being overwhelming.



I am seeking representation for my romantic comedy[DB1], To Love and Dig Holes, which is complete at 90,000 words.

Grace Tepper wants to call off her wedding.[AS1]  She’s not sure how she’ll explain it to the groom, Bob Pelton. Is a gut feeling a good excuse?[MJ1]  She better come up with something quick, because she’s already walking down the aisle. As she spends part of her wedding day saving a life and attending a stranger’s funeral (surely these good deeds should offset her shoddy performance during the ceremony)[AS2], she can’t ignore the fact that she’s loved him almost since the day they first met, when their respective dates ran away with each other.[MJ2][DB2][PN1]  

Hopefully, the week she spends by herself on a Caribbean cruise (formerly known as the honeymoon), will offer the opportunity to decide if she made the right choice or the biggest mistake of her life. Unfortunately, Bob shows up at the airport and insists on joining her, so she may not have time for reflection after all. If they can’t get along on the flight to Miami, how are they going to manage spending seven nights together in a cramped stateroom?[PN2]

As the week progresses, Grace can’t understand why Bob, for the most part, is kind to her when he has every reason to throw her overboard. She doesn’t know how she’s supposed to sort through her feelings with the added distractions of a pirate, a robber, and a monkey.[PN3]  Chaos becomes Grace’s constant companion. [AS3]

To Love and Dig Holes is a humorous tale of love’s resilience, and the ability to move beyond our fears.[DB3]

Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] Good opening line--I'm intrigued.
[AS2] I suggest leaving this part out--I think it distracts from the primary storyline and conflict. 
[AS3] Perhaps it's possible to further clarify what Grace has at stake? I'm worried from this description that the manuscript might be too meandering.  

Melissa's Notes:
 First line is compelling. Second line not as crisp. Third line loses me. Then she’s already down the aisle and I can’t keep track of what’s going on.
[MJ2] So did she call off the wedding? The details in the parenthesis --which you should NOT use in a query letter—are funny but still somewhat confusing. And WHO is the guys she loves and really, why doesn’t she want to marry him. You’ve written this to be cute but I have no idea what’s going on. I’d stop now. 

Danielle's Notes:
[DB1]  Rom com is more of a movie categorization than a book categorization. I would probably go with commercial women’s fiction.
[DB2] This paragraph is jumping around a lot, which is making it hard for me to follow exactly what is happening. The idea of a bride getting cold feet is compelling, but, because you jump from walking down the aisle to a funeral to her having messed up the ceremony, I’m confused about logistics and timeline. I’d rather see a more direct description. Share enough to intrigue, but you don’t need to share everything. Pretend you’re marketing the book to readers and try making your query sound like the description on a book jacket. There’s a certain type of language that is used in those descriptions and it really does help!
[DB3]  Based on the description provided in the query, this is a PASS for me. It feels very chaotic and I’m left with a lot of questions. Why did Grace call off the wedding? Why did she wait so long to do so? Why do she and Bob still go on their honeymoon? The description makes the narrative sound very slapstick-y and unrealistic where I would be looking for a certain level of emotional authenticity.

Patricia's Notes:
[PN1] There’s a LOT of info packed in this sentence, and I got a little lost. Again, assume agents are skimming queries – short, straightforward sentences are better.
[PN2] Why doesn’t she just tell him no? Or not go herself? Right now the set-up is reading a bit contrived – why does she NEED to get on that boat, even if he does too?
[PN3] This is another one of those case of: leave out details that confuse the reader. These elements may very well work in the story, but in the query it just makes me puzzled.

First 250:

I know, I know, I should have said something a little earlier. [MJ1]

I’m walking down the aisle, my freshly manicured, ruby red fingernails digging into Uncle Ray’s arm.[AS1]

I survived a year’s worth of planning, agonizing, and decision making, to reach this long anticipated, glorious moment. Bob, my handsome groom, is waiting for me at the front with a wide smile.

Only one small snag has come up today. I have no intention of getting married. Okay, it’s not a small snag.[AS2]  Unfortunately, I don't remember reading any wedding tips on the proper etiquette to cancel your wedding after the ceremony has started. [MJ2]

I’m not sure how to get myself out of this. I thought I would be saying I do, because I did, but now I don’t.[AS3]  My mouth is so dry; I'd give anything for a glass of sweet tea right now. Sweet tea, vodka, whatever.[PN1]

The guests are standing, having popped up from the pews at the first notes of “Here Comes The Bride” and appear captivated as I pass by. I feel like royalty, with everyone's attention focused on me. I do look like a princess in my ball gown wedding dress. I'm even wearing a tiara encrusted with Swarovski crystals which match the ones drizzled on my dress.

I contemplate handing my bouquet to Uncle Ray and doing the Queen Wave. Instead, I glance at certain people as I walk by them, baring my teeth, hoping it comes off as a smile.


Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] I like the narrative voice, however I think that there's some lines that you don't need--they don't necessarily add to our understanding of the character or move the story forward. With that in mind, I've indicated some sentences that you might think about striking.
[AS2] Cut
[AS3] Cut
Pass: I think there is some solid prose in these pages but the opening pages felt a bit too familiar to me.

Melissa's Notes:
[MJ1] For me, personally, I don’t enjoy first person present.
[MJ2] Your MC is chatting with the reader. I want to be in her head, not be spoken to like we’re friends. I think it’s just the tone and that’s keeping me separated from her as a character.
OA Note: Like Andrea, Melissa suggested cutting out several sentences.

Patricia's Notes:
[PN1] I see a lot of these “talking to the reader” openings, especially in women’s fiction, and I find them much less compelling than actually being in the moment with the character -- think of the old adage “show don’t tell.” If you must talk to the reader on the first page, best in my view to resist doing it for more than a sentence or two. (There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but in my experience they are rare.) I would stop reading here.

Andrea Somberg: PASS
Melissa Jeglinski: PASS
Danielle Burby: PASS
Patricia Nelson: PASS

Monday, July 25, 2016

July Pass Or Pages Entry #1

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.
Final note: with 4 agents on the panel, we have trimmed down some of their comments to keep the posts from being overwhelming.


Query: [AS1] [DB1]

When Maggie invites her twin Josie over for salads in the middle of a work day, Josie suspects there’s a favor looming.[DB2][PN1]  When Maggie says the favor is “teensy weensy,” Josie knows it’s big. When [MJ1] Maggie asks asexual Josie to be her surrogate, Josie is tempted to brush aside the clump of hair that’s hidden her eyes since high school to see if she’s serious. [PN2]But when Maggie insists that Josie get pregnant the old-fashioned way, by sleeping with her husband, Josie’s heard enough. She packs up her salad and heads for the door. That’s when Maggie says if Josie doesn’t do it, she’ll use a former classmate who just ducked embezzlement charges and wants to have sex with her husband.[MJ2][PN3]  What choice does Josie have? She’s spent her life protecting Maggie, saving her soul at the expense of her own. She’s never said no to Maggie. After all, they’re practically one person.[AS2]

But there’s a lot about Maggie that Josie doesn’t know — the reason for her infertility, that she’s having an affair . . . her compulsion to claim for herself everyone who has ever wanted Josie.[AS3]  Flirty and adorable, Maggie doesn’t expect resistance.[PN4]  She certainly doesn’t expect the shift in her husband’s affection. It never occurred to her that he could fall for sexless Josie. Or Josie for him.[MJ3][DB3]

In the aftermath of the “act,” it turns out Maggie’s not the only one with something to hide. Their marriages seemingly over, and the twins at odds, they wait to learn whether Josie is pregnant. For the first time, they must face themselves as individuals, not just see themselves through each other’s eyes. The choices they make are surprising.[PN5]

THE MARRIAGE ACT is women's fiction centered on devastating secrets like in Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret, in the context of a sisterly bond like in Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters.[AS4] [MJ4][PN6]  It is complete at 90,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.

Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] Particularly for this query, I suggest opening with a sentence that states the title and the genre.
[AS2] I like the premise, but I think that there are too many details in this paragraph that are unnecessary for the reader to know, and, as a result, the primary conflict gets lost. I suggest reworking the first three sentences, severely cutting them down to just the essentials.
[AS3] Intriguing!
[AS4] Good comp titles.

Melissa's Notes:
[MJ1] Massive overuse of the word “when”--the first three sentences start with the word. I’d say no after the second sentence becaue you’re not getting to the point.
[MJ2] This is a very strange request and you should let the reader know WHY she’s asking such a thing. So her husband doesn’t know? THAT would be a cool twist.
[MJ3] Tremendously confusing paragraph. Is the book told from both pov’s? Because I’m not sure who is who anymore.
[MJ4] I know some agents like comparisons but I advise avoiding “like and in context of.” Just: THE MARRIAGE ACT is a 90,000 word Women’s Fiction novel in the vein of THE HUSBAND’S SECRET and THE WEIRD SISTERS.

Danielle's Notes:
[DB1] There are different opinions out there about this, but my strong personal preference is for this paragraph (the paragraph containing title, word count, genre, etc.) to serve as the opening to the query letter.
[DB2] The wording here makes it sound as though Maggie is going to do a favor for Josie when what you really mean is that that Maggie is going to ask Josie for a favor. And by starting the query letter with Maggie, you set us up to think that she (and not Josie) is the protagonist.
[DB3] It feels to me as though Maggie is the center of the first two paragraphs, which makes me feel a bit removed from Josie. i.e. Maggie asks Josie for this and then that and then another thing. In paragraph two we learn what Josie doesn’t know about Maggie, but we don’t learn about Josie. It may be worth experimenting with placing Josie and her perspective at the center of the query letter. I want to get a better sense of who our protagonist is and why she is the person to carry a novel.

Patricia's Notes:
[PN1] From this first sentence, I’m a bit confused – who are Maggie and Josie and why do I care about their lunch date? Instead, you might start with 1-2 sentences about who Maggie is, succinctly establishing her character to ground the reader before moving on.
[PN2] I generally encourage shorter paragraphs in queries – agents get so many queries that we tend to skim on a first read. I would put a new paragraph here.
[PN3] I’m having a tough time understanding Maggie’s motivation for this – it’s often best to cut plot points that raise too many questions and will confused the reader. Do we need this info?
[PN4] Not sure we need all this background info. Instead, I think all you need here is: “What she doesn’t expect is the shift…”

[PN5] As the last sentence of the main part of your query, this should be something that makes me NEED to read, but what you have here is a filler sentence – it doesn’t really tell me anything. Punch this up – surprising how, and what are the stakes? 
[PN6] Nice comps!

First 250:

“PIPING hot, Til.” Gerald opened the oven for a split-second peek. “Is the gravy ready? This bird’s not coming out till everything’s dang ready. I’m eating a hot meal this year. Dang it.”

Two dangs. Aaron Wainwright rolled his eyes and turned his back to the island. He took a quick swig from the flask secreted in his jacket’s inner pocket. Swallowing, he caught his brother-in-law’s conspiratorial wink and too-white grin on his smarmy, too-tanned face. Curtis edged over to him.

“Every year, the same rant. Every year, cold turkey,” Aaron said.

Curtis snorted.

Aaron took another belt. His thumb swept over the Harvard crest embossed on the flask’s leather cover. The flask had been a graduation gift from Maggie eleven years ago when, flush with the thrill of graduating and landing a job at a top Boston architectural firm, and figuring he couldn’t take life by the balls unless a flashy, blonde wife had a hold of his, Aaron had popped the question on bended knee on the steps of Gund Hall on graduation day.[MJ1]  Whereupon he had presented Maggie with a two-carat solitaire, and she had presented him with the flask. He hadn’t realized then what a prescient exchange it had been.[PN1]

“Veritas.” Curtis extended his hand for the flask.

Aaron slipped it into his palm with the furtiveness of a drug deal. “Happy Turkey Day, Cue Ball.”

Curtis’s jaw clenched as he raised the flask in a salute.


Andrea's Notes: 
With women's fiction, you really want the narrative to be based in either Josie or Maggie's close third person point-of-view. I'm going to pass as the sample pages don't have the feel of the type of women's fiction that I'm able to place these days.

Melissa's Notes:
[MJ1] Run on sentence. The next sentence isn’t gramatically correct either.
So right away I am confused about whose pov we are in. You have to attribute Aaron hearing his b-i-l speak in the first paragraph. AND if the book is about the sisters, why isn’t the book starting with them? What you are putting in your query should flow with your pages. Honestly, this is a dull opening. Guys passing flasks, cooking a turkey. I wouldn’t read on because it does not tie in to your query’s plot. What am I learning here?

Danielle's Notes:

I’m wondering why the novel opens with Maggie’s husband’s perspective. Where is Josie? I really like a very strong sense of my protagonist right off the bat. From what I do know about Josie, it sounds as though she has the potential to be a wonderful character, but, after reading both the query letter and first 250 words, I still haven’t met her yet! Because of that, this is a PASS for me.

Patricia's Notes:
[PN1] Your first page is valuable real estate – there almost never needs to be backstory taking up that space. I would stop reading here.

Andrea Somberg: PASS
Melissa Jeglinski: PASS
Danielle Burby: PASS
Patricia Nelson: PASS

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #17 Winner

Some very nice entries this week. Thank you to those who entered!

Flash Fiction Contest #17 Prompt: Birthday!

Entry by Cassidy Taylor

35 days. 

If my etchings on the wall are accurate, today is her birthday. It's hard to tell how much time has passed in space, when days can't be measured by a rising sun and time isn't told by the cycles of a moon. 

My world has shrunken to this tin box, while out there somewhere, in one of the millions of known galaxies, the Mariner floats on. She floats on. Does she think of me still? When she gets out of the shower and rubs a circle in the condensation on the mirror, does she look at herself and remember when I told her that her eyes were the color of the stars? When she sees someone walking away from her in the corridor with my black hair, does she think, for just a minute, that it's me? 

“He'll kill you,” she warned me, her arms around my waist, her head against my chest. We had broken into the observation tower. I want to see the stars, she had said. I want to know we're not alone. I was nothing if not obliging. Her birthday party raged on in the bowels of the ship. It seemed like the whole population had come to celebrate her, though that was impossible. The Mariner was the size of an old Earth city. The population was dense, packed into every corner. There was one ruler, and he had one princess - this girl standing in the arms of a lowly mechanic. 

“I'm not afraid,” I said. I should have been. Just not of her father. 

For 325 days, I was happier than I had ever been. I had learned to cherish the feeling of her hand in mine, the stolen glances across crowded halls, the embraces in hidden alcoves. Then one morning, in my small bunk, she sat with her back to me on the cot, yelling into her Comm: You can't do this! You can't take everything away from me!

“My father,” she had said. “Empty threats.” I kissed away the tears in her eyes.

Five days later, I was repairing a Scouter and looked up to find her standing in the bay. I smiled to see her there, raven-haired and red-lipped, but then the door slid into place between us, and I noticed her hand on the external controls, the hardness in her eyes. I put my hand to the glass separating us and she raised hers. 

“He's going to take it all,” she said, “if I don't give him you.” 

And then the Scouter had engaged, the airlock opened, and I was gone, flung into space, her hand sweating against the porthole the last piece of another human being I would ever see. 

35 days drifting in space in a broken Scouter, still stocked from its last mission. 35 days for her to make it up to her father. She had proven herself to him, and today, on her eighteenth birthday, the galaxy would become hers.


Space and hope and a little bit of a Romeo and Juliet thing going on. Daw.

Our next contest is in three weeks--the second Friday of the month. But come back next week for #PassOrPages!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #17

Happy day after my birthday! Oh, you didn't hear? Well, it's the day after my birthday. This was one of those that ended in a 5, so sort of significant but not really. Let's just not talk about it. Birthdays aren't as fun the older you get.

Rules for our flash contest can be found here.

Flash Fiction Prompt For Friday, July 22, 2016

When posting, remember to include your name and your Twitter handle.

Have fun and come back Sunday night to find out the winner!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Collaborative Project: Rough Draft is Complete, So Now What?

Over the past few months, I've been working on a collaborative project with fellow author, Christine Steendam. We come from very different backgrounds in terms of our writing and styles--she writes western romances and historical novels, while I write speculative teen fiction.

We've now completed a rough draft of our top-secret project, a novella different from anything either of us has ever written. We did a little happy dance last week when the final chapter was completed on our rough draft.

But, now what? Do we go in and start editing each other's work? Both of us edit for others professionally, so we're on equal footing in that regards. But, as I stated, this is a rough draft. I really hate anyone seeing my rough drafts, which was probably the hardest part of this whole endeavor--knowing that she'll be reading that primordial ooze that passes for my rough draft.

After some discussion, we decided on our process:

  1. We will go through the document and work on a second draft of our own passages. 
  2. Once both of our passages are brought up to second draft status, we'll edit each other's work. 
  3. After revisions, we'll send it off to an outside editor.
  4. Once the editor's changes are employed, we will each take a turn doing a copy edit.
  5. When we feel it's ready, it'll go into format and from there each of us will do a proofread.

Because of the novella's genre and target audience, we plan to independently publish it, which will be a new venture for me as well.

So far, working collaboratively with another author has been a ton of fun and a great experience. Once the project is complete, I'll share what I've learned.

Have you ever co-written a novel? What sorts of challenges did you face? Do you have any great advice for me? I'd love to hear it.


Melinda Friesen writes novels for teens and is the marketing director at Rebelight Publishing Inc. Her YA dystopian novel, Enslavement has been shortlisted for a Willow Award. Enslavement's sequel, Subversion, is slated for a September launch.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Meet Sara Saedi in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

1- Your Twitter profile mentions that you write for iZombie. I love that show! How did you get into that and do you have any intriguing stories related to that?

I do write for iZombie! I’m so glad you love it. I got the gig with the help of my TV agents, who submitted my writing samples to the show’s creators. They were starting the second season of the series and there were openings on the writing staff. In all sincerity, it is a dream job and I’m very grateful to be a part of the show. We just started season three a few weeks ago, and it’s going to be a game changer. One of the best parts of breaking an episode is picking what brain Liv will be on that week. I’m ashamed to admit that I probably had the most expertise when we broke Real Housewife of Seattle Brain, because I’m kind of a Bravo TV junkie.

2- The image of this tweet caught my eye. What made you most want to move the Peter Pan story from London to NYC's Upper East Side?

I LOVE that image. For anyone who’s launching a book or designing a website, I highly recommend getting in touch with Kari Luna at For the Curious Ones. They designed my website ( ) and all the promo materials for the book. When I first started writing the book, I did think of it as Peter Pan meets Gossip Girl, so New York seemed like the perfect setting. Sadly, I’ve never been to London, so New York was a more familiar city to write about.

3- Why set (part of) the book in NYC instead of your hometown of LA?

I lived in New York for three years right after college and the city holds a special place in my heart. Plus, I wanted to write about teenagers who did have a certain degree of independence and freedom in their lives, and I think that’s truer of teens that live in New York. Los Angeles is much more sprawling and suburban, and I wanted more of a metropolis feel. It also felt like the claustrophobia and close quarters of New York would be a sharper contrast to life on Minor Island.

4- What's your favorite tourist spot in NYC?

There are so many! And it feels like the city changes so much every time I go back to visit. I lived in the east village, so I love roaming around that neighborhood and strolling through Tompkins Square Park and Alphabet City. All of my old haunts. But I never go to New York without taking the train into Williamsburg for juicy pork buns at M Shanghai Bistro.

5- Pizza: floppy foldable, deep-dish, thin-crust, non-bread crust... Which is your favorite?

Anyone who can resist pizza crust is a much stronger person than I am. I’ll go with floppy foldable when you buy a slice out, but thin crust when I’m ordering at home.

6- Is there any diversity we can look forward to in your book?

Yes! I wanted Minor Island to be a diverse setting. I’m Middle Eastern, and when I was a teenager I had close friends of all races. That hasn’t changed in adulthood. It doesn’t seem realistic anymore to read a book or watch a TV show with all white characters or actors. I find it jarring. The book and the sequel both have African-American characters, gay characters, Middle Eastern characters, Asian characters, and those who are native to Minor Island. If I were lucky enough to adapt the book into a TV show or movie, I would hope all races would be considered for all the roles.

7- Being from Iran, might you one day set a book there or have a character from there?

Yup! There’s a character named Maz in Never Ever who’s named after my nephew and is half-Iranian. I also have a YA memoir coming out in the fall of 2017 from Knopf about growing up in the United States as an illegal immigrant from Iran. A lot of the words in the book that are native to Minor Island (like parvaz which is the flower that can make you fly) are actually Farsi words.

8- What most contributed to your choice of publication method?

I would have considered every method, but my book agent and I wanted to go the traditional route, and then explore other possibilities if it didn’t sell to the first round of buyers. It’s really inspiring that we live in a time that you can publish a book on your own, and that writers don’t need to rely on publishers to get their work out there. But since this is my debut novel, and I’m still learning about the world of publishing, I was excited at the prospect of a wider reach and learning the ins and outs of the industry from a place like Viking Children’s Books. I absolutely loved working with my editor and everyone else there. It can be a much more supportive and encouraging space than TV and film.

9- Which is your favorite statement necklace?

Ha! Probably the one I’m wearing in the photo on my website, because it was a gift from my sister. I also had this favorite chunky orange necklace I got for super cheap at Forever 21, but it sadly fell apart after a few years. I’m also a big fan of statement scarves.

10- What's the biggest deciding factor when selecting what book you'll buy next?

I’m in a book club, and every month we take turns picking a book. Usually the group is given a few options and we all vote. So I’m usually reading the current book club selection. Like most people, I prefer a compelling story with root for characters. A little humor also goes a long way. This month, I got to choose the book. We’d read a couple very long and dense titles, so we wanted something that was more of a beach read. We went with The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.

11- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Yes, I would love it if readers followed me on Twitter @saaaranotsarah and dropped me a line at
I will share that one of my favorite characters to write for in the book was Tinka. It was a lot of fun to come up with an edgier, volatile, more bad*$$ version of Tinkerbell. Also, Tinka was the name of my best friend’s mom in high school!

Thank you, Sara. It was exciting to interview you.
Give my fandom-love to Rahul Kohli!wink #TeamRavioli

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Using Punctuation Correctly

This spring, I went to Massachusetts for my sister's graduation (yes, the one featured in Tuesday Museday who got credit-carded). On the short drive from her house to the AirBnB rental where my family stayed, I saw this advertisement for ice cream:

Still... a FULL half-gallon!

The company was advertising that even though their ice cream containers were now shaped differently, consumers would get the same amount of ice cream as before.

Why they thought an ellipsis after the word "still'' was the way to go, I do not know.

A lot of people think that correct punctuation is unnecessary, insisting that the point of their message is still clear, regardless of grammar or punctuation or verb tense or whatever. And they are not necessarily wrong. I understood what the ice cream people were getting at with their message.

But as a writer, it still made me laugh. Because of the ellipsis, I read the word "still" with a wistful tone. I dragged the word out in my head. And then there was an exclamation point at the end! So my inner voice had to be slow, then excited! I wish you guys could hear what I "hear" inside my head when I read that sentence.

And maybe you can. That's the beauty of punctuation. When used correctly, it can convey to a reader exactly how a character is saying a sentence. Punctuation is a great tool to convey voice and tone. Know how to use it to your advantage, whether you've got a comma, ellipsis, or em dash. 

And for the love of everything, use them correctly.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Interview with the SIRENS anthology authors!

Hello, dear readers! Please give a warm welcome to the authors of Rhonda Parrish's fourth installment in the Magical Menageries anthology series, Sirens. This is a book--and a series--that you don't want to miss. Rhonda has an eye for selecting haunting, enchanting stories. If you haven't read anything she's edited, you're definitely missing out.

Why do you enjoy writing short stories?

Randall Arnold: Mainly the challenge of creating a world, populating it with compelling characters, and making readers care in as few words as possible.

Cat McDonald: I prefer writing long-form stuff, but short stories give me license to be more off-the-wall and intense. They're more concentrated, I guess?

Simon Kewin: I like the immediacy. I like that I can start and finish a story in a day or two, which can be refreshing six months into a novel. I like the idea of a small, perfectly formed, complete story in a few thousand words.

Eliza Chan: I wrote my first novel between the ages of 17-21. It was terrible! Characters literally disappeared off the page when I got bored of them. At the time my crit group recommended I hone my skill by writing short stories, so that's what I did. It wasn't until I started writing them that I really realised what a difficult art form it is! Scene setting, characterisation and an interesting plot in about 5000 words? Madness. But I love it now. Short stories allow you to be experimental and innovative. And some of the best writers out there today are writing in the short form. 

KT Ivanrest: For a long time I disliked short stories, largely due to some misconceptions left over from college writing courses. However, I’ve always enjoyed writing one-off scenes—a quick glimpse into a character’s life, the beginning of larger problems without the commitment required to actually solve them. Basically, setting myself up for novels I’ll probably never write. I’ve found the challenge, but also the satisfaction, of writing short stories has been taking those scenes and whittling the conflict down to short-story size and scope.

Adam L. Bealby: For me, writing fiction in general is a form of catharsis. If I’m not doing it, on some deep and reasonably subtle level, I’m not quite well with all things. I tend to throw myself into other people’s fictional universes as a surrogate release; which is no bad thing, of course, but it’s not quite the same. Plus, all those story ideas in my head, all those, ‘hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…’ moments, either dry up, because they can’t access a creative nozzle, or they stubbornly refuse to budge until they’ve been given an outlet. I’m a perennial dreamer and really who wants to have the same dream over and over again? Get it out, get it written down, and on to the next story kernel. That makes me happy the same way a big bag of those black and red berry sweets does.

If we’re talking short stories, I just love the form. You can take risks and play around with structure and tone in ways you can’t with a novel, because it wouldn’t be sustainable in longform. Also, I only have two speeds – flat out and stop! I’m either hard at it like a bench-press or slobbing out with that big bag of sweets I was talking about watching 80s horror films. A couple of weeks intense writing in the evening suits me very well thank you. If I’m writing a novel I basically have to lock myself away and not see my wife and kids for three months; or streeeeeetch it out over a year or so, writing in fits and starts, and trying to get the feel of the characters and style again after a few weeks’ hiatus say, which can be incredibly frustrating.

Tabitha Lord: Short stories are satisfying to write for a few reasons. For me, a full-length novel can take a year or more to draft, and then another several months to work through edits. It’s a long, pain-staking process! In the meantime, other ideas surface and start whispering in my ear. With some, I know they require a “big” book, so I make them an outline and a file, and tell them to wait their turn. But others can be explored, in part or in their entirety, as short stories. There’s still a sense of completion, of an idea fully expressed, but it may only take a month to get that idea down on paper.

Another reason I enjoy writing shorts is that I can play around with different voices. If I’m working on a longer draft in the third person, I can write a short in the first person and really tighten up the point of view.

Similar to working with different voices, I can try out different styles in my short fiction. “Homecoming”, for example, is written in a much more literary style than my science fiction series. I’m not sure I’d be able to sustain that for an entire full-length novel, but it really made me stretch as a writer.

Amanda Kespohl: In some ways, writing a short story is more challenging than writing a novel. A novel has room to sprawl and stretch and add subplots and develop characters. A short story has to be short, sharp, and to the point, with no scene added that doesn't carry its weight. It's an excellent way to work on becoming more concise, a skill I am constantly trying to develop. I'm hoping that the tighter plotting skills I'm developing with my short stories will carry over to my novels. Besides, sometimes it's nice to just dabble in a world for a while--no big commitment, no grand scheme, just a good time in an interesting place before I pop away to somewhere new. 

Michael Leonberger: Writing a novel is long and calculated -- when you finish one, you feel like a master hunter who has laid down an elaborate trap to catch his prey. Writing short stories is more similar to spotting an effervescent dream, made of clumps of colorful gas -- and then trying to capture it. Instantly. With both hands. So there's kind of a gleeful anarchy to it. It can be impulsive and liberating and wonderful, especially when you feel as though you captured the heart of the thing. That isn't to say it isn't hard, and it isn't thoughtful-- only to say that, when it works, it feels like the truest way you have of communicating your soul, without losing yourself to the complexities of a longer plot.

Why a story about sirens?

Randall Arnold: As I wrote on my blog, there were a few contributing factors to "The Dolphin Riders," but strangely enough the main one was an infamous fake mermaids documentary on Animal Planet. It made me wonder.

Cat McDonald: Well, it was the prompt! But, that aside, I like to write about sound, about how it feels physically and how it impacts people, so I found writing about sirens fits comfortably with the aesthetic I'd been chasing for the last couple years.

Simon Kewin:  It's fun to mess with familiar tropes and themes, and I was drawn to writing a story that turns the notion of the siren on its head. I have a mermaid in my story but I also used a sci-fi setting, which seemed to me an entertaining combination. Sirens lure you to the rocks, and while that can be dangerous it can also be liberating. You never know what you'll find there...

Eliza Chan: I loved Rhonda's previous anthology on scarecrows. I've never contemplating writing a story about scarecrows but reading the different takes each writer had gone with made me regret that I missed the call for submissions. When the call went out for sirens, again it was a mythological creature I would not have normally written about. But I have written about selkies and love water mythology so I was up for the challenge.

KT Ivanrest: I wrote Threshold with the Sirens anthology in mind, so they weren’t something I’d given a lot of thought to previously. What I ultimately like most about them, though, is the way they fuel conflict (huh, conflict again!), convincing people to do things that are not in their best interests. For my protagonist, their song increased his problems but also made him believe he had a solution…which of course just caused more problems.

Adam L. Bealby: I love fairy tales. I love weird folklore. I love black humour. So a darkly comic tale about a northern English pensioner who reels in some sort of blubberish elder god during a fishing trip and falls instantly in love with it, kinda appeals. Quite a few of my stories concern magical glamours and deception (especially self-deception).

At the moment I’m writing a series of self-contained short stories about a modern day Russian volkyv (wizard) called Dim. Dim lives in England now and has set up Little Divinities Inc., a sort of paranormal detective agency with a sideline in ancient medicines and pagan benedictions. Mostly his services are called on by Ukrainian and Russian migrants of a certain age. He blesses a lot of houses, a lot of dogs. And ‘bony tsar’ his zagovor remedy for impotence, is very popular. But sometimes Dim gets into decidedly darker scrapes, usually involving the dii minores, the impish minor deities that exist all around us but hidden from prying eyes. (Shameless plug 1: You can read Dim’s first tale in Pagan by Zimbell House Publishing.)

Tabitha Lord: One of my above-mentioned “wait your turn” files contains the idea for a book about Penelope, Odysseus’s wife. Having read the Odyssey several times as a Classics major in college, I was always intrigued by Penelope, and imagined the possibilities for her story beyond what we’re offered in the poem.

When World Weaver Press announced the continuation of their magical menageries series with an anthology titled Sirens, I was intrigued. After all, it was the famous Siren, Kalypso, who lured Odysseus away from Penelope for over seven years. Maybe there was a story here about both women? 

Amanda Kespohl: This particular story was inspired by a portion of Patricia McKillip's Riddle-Master trilogy, wherein a character was shipwrecked and temporarily deprived of both speech and memory. Part of me thought, "What is he without these things? He's only a shell, empty and mute." But he was still himself, able to learn new things, develop relationships, and show his personality. I liked the idea of that human-shaped blank slate presenting itself to the world, and the notion that someone might seek to learn what lurks behind it. Combine that with the love of the sea that pervades all of McKillip's books and you get the seeds of "The Fisherman and the Golem."

That's sort of my approach with all my stories. I hear a line in a song, read a sentence in a book, and something about it sticks in my brain. I worry on it and wrap new context around it and obsess over it until it becomes an idea in much the same that an oyster makes a pearl from a grain of sand. 

Michael Leonberger: I love monsters and sirens are a particularly fascinating breed -- a very transparent metaphor for the dangers of following one's lust. The metaphor is potent for anyone with a pulse, and monsters are the most freeing metaphors there are. They allow you passage to a place and mindset you might otherwise feel reluctant to travel to -- and then they also provide you with an outlet for an explosive cocktail of blood and guts. Which is to say that writing about sirens allows you to be thoughtful about the frailty of man's fortitude in the face of desire -- but it also allows you to rip all of that apart with talons and teeth.

What's one story/novel idea you LOVE but can't get going?

Randall Arnold: A horror story about a man whose eyes have a "sphere of influence" that bends reality around them. I want to write it as an homage to The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe, but I can't get more than two sentences in...

Cat McDonald: I've been querying a dark fantasy western around but getting no biters, which is pretty normal, I think. It's rare that I run into people as into westerns as I am in real life, so it's to be expected in publishing too! It's still a massive bummer, though.

Simon Kewin:  I'm at the very early stages of a ghostly/time travelly/mysterious house novel called Brokenclock Hall that is going to be very tricky to write with multiple time lines and characters from multiple eras. I've written about three thousand words of set up and I'm at the stage where I need to draw diagrams and create spreadsheets. It feels daunting, but I think it could be good!

Eliza Chan: I've been working on a spirit story on and off for over 6 months now and can't seem to land the ending. It's a bit Philip Pullman's Northern Lights trilogy daemons and a bit Ken Liu's "State Change" but based on zodiac creatures come to life. It also heavily features a Chinese family living in the UK, which is the closest to home that I've ever gone before. I think it's trying to be a novella but I am resisting it at the moment. Normally if a story isn't finished within a few months, I struggle to go back to it, but this one haunts me and I am constantly tweaking and waiting for the inspiration for it all to come together.

KT Ivanrest: I wrote a fantasy/crime novel for NaNo 2013 that I really enjoyed working on—sort of Miss Congeniality meets Gladiator-with-magic. The characters and story both had a lot of promise, but every time I tried to work on it, the characters from my multi-book-fantasy-with-no-discernable-plot screamed for attention (or sang seductively?). Now that I’ve got a plot sketched out I’ll probably be sticking with the latter, but I definitely want to come back to the NaNo novel eventually.

Adam L. Bealby: It’s the story of Gregory Sears, who goes to bed aged 40, having just kissed his wife and kids goodnight, and wakes up aged 16, with his mom banging on about him being late for school. It’s been done before of course, that sort of ‘what if..?’ scenario, but the idea refuses to lie down and die. What would you do if you had your whole life to live again? Would you do things differently? Or would you try to careful steer your life down the track it followed the first time? The thing is, that’s impossible; your life would never be quite the same as it was before. Even with the finest timing in the world your son, say, would be conceived a second too late, or too early. He’d still be your son, maybe he’d look like you remember, but he wouldn’t be the same. That first son, all your children in fact, are dead to you, no matter how hard you try to reproduce them. You’d end up with changeling children instead. (Shameless plug 2: See "The Other Daughter," my story in Once Upon A Scream by

You can never go home again. Gregory can never go home again. It’s a typical male fantasy, I suppose, and I find it equally exhilarating and terrifying.

Tabitha Lord: My problem really isn’t getting a story going, it’s staying focused on only one story at a time! Right now I’m over halfway through the draft of the second book in my Horizon series. I love writing these characters and their story, but smack in the middle of the work, I had the idea for an urban fantasy novel. I really, really want to write this book! I only gave it a little brain space, but I already have a complete plotline and a well-developed main character. I’m so excited to get started on it, but I know I have something to finish first. Sigh. If only there were a few more hours in the day…

Amanda Kespohl:  I was thinking about fairy tales one day, about how crazy I would feel if animals actually started talking to me, and how I would wonder if I was hallucinating if I saw a fairy. It's not really human nature to easily accept things that are out of the ordinary, and in some fairy tales, it's not suggested that anybody but the hero in this world is out there chatting up mice or rubbing elbows with the fae. The fact that these are rare occurrences is usually what makes the character doing these things special enough to warrant a story. But in a more realistic world, it would also make that character look like a lunatic, and possibly feel like one, too.

I also thought about Cinderella's cruel stepmother, and how anyone who was that beastly probably wouldn't confine her torments to mental ones. And under those circumstances, would Cinderella really wish to go to a ball when the fairy appeared, or would she wish for revenge against the people who mistreated her?

And so my fantasy novel, Ash, was born, springing from fairy tale notions, but twisting and sprawling into completely original epic fantasy territory. It follows a young abuse survivor who flees into a demon-filled wasteland after her impulsive wish for revenge leaves her branded a murderess. Only, she won't get rid of the twisted fairy godmother who pushed her to make the wish so easily. They have a history that goes back much farther than Ash realizes, and a future the fairy will do anything to prevent.

At the moment, I'm currently still querying this one. I've gotten some nice feedback, but so far, no takers. I think the word count--162,000 words--is giving people pause, even when they otherwise enjoy the plot and the characters. Still, I remain hopeful.

Michael Leonberger: I've been trying to finish a young adult book about middle school students coming together to catch a ghost for a long time now. I work with children, so working on a project for young people is appealing to me. Plus, I've always wanted to tell a good ghost yarn -- it's the kind of thing I would have gobbled up as a child, so I feel like I really owe it to a past self to work on it now. Chalk up the slow progress to a mountain of writer's block -- I could say I'm too tired after work, or the project is just too special to me to make a lot of headway, but that's just procrastination by another name. But some day it will be finished!


Sirens is out now from World Weaver Press.

Sirens are beautiful, dangerous, and musical, whether they come from the sea or the sky. Greek sirens were described as part-bird, part-woman, and Roman sirens more like mermaids, but both had a voice that could captivate and destroy the strongest man. The pages of this book contain the stories of the Sirens of old, but also allow for modern re-imaginings, plucking the sirens out of their natural elements and placing them at a high school football game, or in wartime London, or even into outer space.

Featuring stories by Kelly Sandoval, Amanda Kespohl, L.S. Johnson, Pat Flewwelling, Gabriel F. Cuellar, Randall G. Arnold, Michael Leonberger, V. F. LeSann, Tamsin Showbrook, Simon Kewin, Cat McDonald, Sandra Wickham, K.T. Ivanrest, Adam L. Bealby, Eliza Chan, and Tabitha Lord, these siren songs will both exemplify and defy your expectations.

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