Monday, June 05, 2023

But what if I piss off the agent?


I've heard variations of "I want to follow directions so I don't piss off the agent" for most of my career.


I heard it recently again, as a writer wondered about nudging agents who hadn't responded to her query.


My answer to her was "so what if you do?"


It's not like the Query Police will rip your pen from your hand, purloin your furred writing companion, and throw you into the fiery pit of burning fiction novels forevermore.


If the agent is annoyed (and they should NOT be) all they'll do is kvetch and move on. Querying writers aren't anywhere near as annoying as publisher's royalty statements.


And the honest to Garamond truth is you won't piss the agent off.


The reason agents hammer on "follow the directions" is NOT "so you don't make me mad."

It's follow the directions so I get the info I need to assess your work, without a lot of other stuff to wade through.


When you send a query and start with a synopsis instead of the query, yes it's annoying. It's annoying cause you didn't follow the directions of "send the query; I don't want a synopsis."


It means I have to dig around in your email to find the actual query.


But I don't even remember your name or title past that.


There is no blacklist.

There is no fecal roster.


About the only way to get blocked on my email is to scare me or insult me.


Scare me: Let me know when I can come to your office to discuss my sure-to-be-a-bestseller book with you.

Scare me: I know a lot of people will be very unhappy if this book isn't published.


Insult me: I've queried hundreds of agents and you're all clueless gatekeepers who would have passed on Jane Austen too.


Insult me: I really don't want an agent but I’m told I have to have one.


All human interaction involves friction of some sort.

The trick is to be polite.


If you're following up on a query, just say that.

No need to apologize or explain, or beg leave.


All that Uriah Heep crap just takes up words, and the best follow up emails are SHORT.


Any questions?





Monday, April 03, 2023

Blog Reader Kristin Who Saved the Day! (part two)



 Do you all remember Blog Reader Kristin who Saved the Day?

She was instrumental in keeping the blog alive back in 2019. (I've failed miserably on keeping it up, but that's probably because I haven't been to Malice in three years...right?)


But I digress.


I heard from Kristin recently (ok, October) with this wonderful news:



Hope you are doing well. I'm just wading through your QueryShark cove to share some giddy news. I signed a publishing contract with Lake Union Publishing for my debut novel.



It would've taken me eons longer to arrive at this writerly-milestone had you not helped me with my query -> that got me my agent -> who sold my second (technically, third) novel. And it all started with me fangirling your blog. Thank you. T.H.A.N.K. Y.O.U.






That's some very awesome news, so I immediately swam over to Amazon and pre-ordered her book The Hint of Light.



Now you can too!


Monday, March 13, 2023

Reviving previously published books



My question is about submitting a previously self-published novel to agents. It was 8 years ago and had zero promotion. After almost no sales, it was unpublished 4 years later.


Today, it has been thoroughly rewritten and has a new title and might as well be a new novel. You see my question coming—does this history need to be revealed to agents if I submit it?



That it might as well be a new novel doesn't mean it is a new novel.  And this is the worst kind of thing to try to skate around.




Readers are clever beasts and sure as shit isn't shinola, someone will figure it out and write a scathing review on Amazon or Goodreads, or worse, accuse you of plagiarizing yourself. (That this can happen is hilariously true.)


And then there's the matter of a publishing contract that has a little clause in the Warranties section that looks something like this:


the Work is original, previously unpublished and neither the Work nor any material portion thereof is in the public domain.


This is entirely negotiable of course, but your agent has to know to do so.


Just ignoring it is asking for problems and you do NOT want to f/around with the warranties clause in your contract. It will burn bridges you need.


So yes, you have to tell them.

Now, the question of course is when.


I can only speak for myself but even setting aside the fact that I do not take on previously published novels, if you queried me, I requested the full, read it and loved it and then you let me know this was a refurbished novel, I'd be VERY hesitant to sign you up.


If you're concealing this uncomfy fact, what else aren't you telling me?


And honestly in this day and age of morality clauses in publishing contracts, I am VERY hesitant to sign anyone who has skates on. 



So, if you intend to requery this novel here's the ONE thing you can say that will make it more likely an agent will want to read it.


"I published it eight years ago. In the intervening years I have built a robust mailing list of eager subscribers and have a thriving social media presence."



If your novel didn't sell it's probably not because it was terrible. It didn't sell cause no one had heard of it.  So, refurbish the novel all you want, but without a compelling change in your public outreach, it won't mean much.



The other strategy is simply wait until you have a publisher and a track record with them. It's MUCH easier to present something problematic when they know your books can sell.



Any questions?








Sunday, January 22, 2023

Land of Lost Borders flash fiction contest results-PRELIM

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post entries.

Reading them is always the best part of my weekend.

Here are the ones that stood out.

Who did I overlook? Let me know in the comments!

Final results to come (hopefully Monday afternoon!)



Tim Lowe


On the road to Vegas, we were beset by bikers.


Demon’s ilk. Hell’s bane. They swerved and veered. Grinning, guffawing.


“Hold on, Doctor,” I said grimly, snorting a line off the creamy leather interior of my red Chevy convertible. “Time we taught these bastards a lesson!”


“You sure, Raoul?” said Gonzo. “As your attorney, I must advise you . . .”


“No time!” I yelled as I pulled hard on the wheel. Yawing across the road, we scattered them like marsupials.


“You see, Doctor?” I trumpeted unapologetically. “Those Hell’s Angels are no match for the Red Shark!”


“But, Mr. Duke. . .? Those were triathletes.”


Lovely shout out to Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

If you've only seen the movie, you haven't had the full experience!



Mallory Love


The marsh held many things. Its secrets spread out across its broad expanse. It held Lucy’s tears and the letter with another’s lipstick stains and Lucy’s husband’s name. It held a silk purse the same shade as the stains. It held Timmy’s bike that he lost control of when he found Lucy floating face down. It held a block of concrete from the construction of the nearby road. And attached to the concrete, it held the remains of a woman who once wrote a letter and carried a silk purse. The one thing the marsh didn’t hold was apologies.


I really love that last line.



Steve Forti


“Kyrgyzs Tan? HGTV’s trying too hard with this ‘World of Color’ line. There also a Pakis Tan?”


“No, but Noble Uzbek is tan. Gobi Kefir looks more cream.”


“So does Rugged Montenegro. A darker shade would better cover the stains.”


“You’d still notice outlines. I’d go with Myanmar Scarlet. It makes sense.”


“Nah, it’s the opposite color that cancels out.”

“Smart. So Tuscan Basil? Kazakh Oasis?”


“What about that stain blocking primer – Kilz? Too on the nose?”


“Let’s just replace the drywall. And while we’re here, I apologize. I’ll get plastic sheets this time. I ain’t painting again next week.”


I thought I had finally found a way to foil Mr. Forti.


Just Jan


Earth was about to become history, courtesy of a humongous, hurtling meteor.


Nobody cared that Xander used Alexa to study quantum physics. Or that I scavenged enough second-hand Legos to build a functioning spacecraft. While the adults around us freaked out, we were on the road to Mars.


All we needed was heavy metal.


We rode Xander’s bike into the heart of the deserted reactor. I sang “Uranium Decays into Polonium” in my best Schoolhouse Rock voice while Xander smashed the containment unit. Using a silk scarf, he grabbed the fuel pellets.


What happened next? Reader, we left this planet.



John Davis Frain


He had the cutest walk. I’ve watched him around the neighborhood.


He’s from Venus, Dad said. You’re from Mars. Backward but with good intention. Dad never liked him. Or his kind.


He lived across the road, and I don’t apologize for trespassing. Once I tried to sneak in the basement. I heard him encouraging me. I failed.


Yesterday, he was alone out back. He couldn’t leave his yard. But with my = silky moves, I pranced atop his fence, batted my eyes. “Meow.”


He charged. “Woofwoofwoofwoofwoof.” Lunged for me. Knocked the fence into his owner’s bike.


Turned out Dad was right.





eastern rose


Bikes flung, metallic explosions bashing the road.


Running inside for safety. Pool nearby, she dives.


Voices. Too loud.


She kicks down. Water presses her eardrums, dampening all sound.


Shooting toward the depths, silken hair swirling, the rough bottom mars her trailing fingertips as she endeavors to evade.


Traversing the length of the pool, lungs soon begging to surface.


She slows. Legs fluttering, conserving oxygen, she buys a minute. Maybe two.


Needing to surface, she slithers up the far wall. Inhales.






Voices. Too loud.


No money for sensory deprivation chamber, the community pool is the best she can do.


I get noise-induced migraines sometimes, so this really resonated with me.






Michael Seese


Nothing mars a seven-year-old's birthday party quite like a dead pony. As the phalanx of nonplussed parents pulled out of my driveway, I mulled the paths I'd pondered but the roads not taken.


I could have gotten her that shiny new bike. Or that silky Cinderella dress. Heck, an Xbox with Call Of Duty preloaded probably would have resulted in far fewer years of future psychotherapy.


But I wanted something more, something memorable.


I sure got it.


In my defense, though, I would challenge anyone to say they actually knew that water polo was supposed to be played without horses.






Stanley spent ten minutes turning a stick at Fall Fun Night, offered me the perfect marshmallow. Chad swaggered up, offered me a ride home in his sixteenth birthday present.


I went.


Stanley stood alone at the prom. Chad wore silk and Polo, stuck a promise ring on my finger as he promised adventure and travel.


I kept mine.


Stanley stuck nearby, cut Mom’s grass since Dad died. We biked the French Alps, lived Khaosan Road. “Children will hold us back.”


I conceded.


Stanley died today. Chad chose thirty-something Julie.


France, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan. I should have stuck with my Stan.


Friday, January 20, 2023

Lands of Lost Borders flash fiction contest

 One of the ways I deal with the isolation of these past few years is to travel by book. I've been reveling in Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris of late.



 Here's the description from the publisher:


As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she most craved--that of a generalist explorer, equal parts swashbuckler and philosopher--had gone extinct. From her small-town home in Ontario, it seemed as if Marco Polo, Magellan and their like had long ago mapped the whole earth. So she vowed to become a scientist and go to Mars.


To pass the time before she could launch into outer space, Kate set off by bicycle down a short section of the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel Yule, then settled down to study at Oxford and MIT. Eventually the truth dawned on her: an explorer, in any day and age, is by definition the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. And Harris had soared most fully out of bounds right here on Earth, travelling a bygone trading route on her bicycle. So she quit the laboratory and hit the Silk Road again with Mel, this time determined to bike it from the beginning to end.


 Like Rebecca Solnit and Pico Iyer before her, Kate Harris offers a travel narrative at once exuberant and meditative, wry and rapturous. Weaving adventure and deep reflection with the history of science and exploration, Lands of Lost Borders explores the nature of limits and the wildness of a world that, like the self and like the stars, can never be fully mapped.


 So let's have a flash fiction contest celebrating this wonderful book!


 The usual rules apply:

 1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.


2. Use these words in the story:









If you are Steve Forti, you must incorporate the words: Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan


3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.


4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.


5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.


6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.


7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title.)


8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.


9.  There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE.


10.  It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.

Example: "Boy oh boy is Steve Forti in for this week!"


11. Please do not post anything (For example: "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!"). but contest entries. Save that for the contest results post.


12. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.


13. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.



Contest opens: Saturday January 21 at 6:37am


Contest closes: Sunday January 22 at 9am

Be VERY careful of the times. Sometimes comments are still open even after the contest has closed.


If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock .




If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here


(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)


Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid.

Ready? SET?

Not yet!


Sorry, contest has closed.



Wednesday, January 18, 2023

El Splatto

This cracked me up completely.

From the incoming mail bag:
Your article "Ghosting" (linked here) inspired me and my team to create an article called "How Do You Cope with Being Ghosted?". Ghosting is becoming increasingly popular nowadays although this dating term is relatively new. Our team of experts created this article because ghosting may cause serious mental health problems and people need to know how to cope with it. Our guide contains 11 useful tips for those who faced ghosting as well as its reasons and consequences

If you read the blog post, it's about ghost writers.

Why should you do anything but laugh about this?

Because more than once writers mentioned some sort of connection between me and a well-known author. They assume the author is my client. Well, no. I just mentioned them in a blog post.

Telling me you're querying because I represent Thomas Harris or Clive Cussler is an INSTANT pass because it signals sloppy work. I'm not looking for sloppy work in prospective clients. Not now, not ever.

Any questions?

Monday, January 16, 2023

Passersthrough by Pete Rock


Years ago, when I was in junior high, my English teacher said we could have extra credit if we went to a play being offered at the local college.   I wrote down the location, day and time; my folks dropped me off at the theatre and said they'd be back when it was over. (this is not the start of a suspense novel, they did come back!)


I went in to find no one in the lobby. I opened one of the doors to the auditorium expecting it would be empty as well. But, no, there was a play in progress on the stage.


I found an empty seat in the last row and settled in.


It was utterly surreal. I had NO idea what was going on. The actors were speaking English, I recognized words, but what they were saying eluded me entirely.


An hour later I crept back out of the theatre, waited for my folks and said "I'm not sure what that was."


Turns out it was Hamlet. I'd gotten the day and time very wrong.


I mention this only because I read the description of Passersthrough, and then I read the book, and realized I'd travelled back in time to that auditorium.


Passersthrough isn't at all what I was expecting. But this time I recognized Hamlet.

Have you read a book that wasn't what you thought it would be?

Friday, January 13, 2023

New and improved ways of foot-shooting

1. Starting your query with reference to someone else's book.

I don't mean just comps, but using someone else's book to frame your own.
Don't do this. Tell me what I don't know: your story.

2. Querying from a mailing list.
I instantly un-subscribe, and I'm not keen on working with someone who thinks this is a good idea.

Mailing lists are very powerful tools, and you should have one: it should be comprised of people who've ASKED to hear from you. Queries are welcome, but I didn't ask you to send one. It's a subtle difference.

3. Asking to meet for coffee and a chat about what you propose to write.
Not now. Not ever.
Even my own clients don't ask for this.
We consult by phone mostly.

4. Asking for advice
Nope. Nope. Nope.

5. Including an image of your resume.
Just don't.

6. Sending me anything that requires a password to access.

7. Starting with "my name is Felix Buttonweezer.'"
Unless you're in the fourth grade, never start a business letter in this way.
And probably shouldn't even if you are in the fourth grade.


8. Absurd flattery. 

It doesn't work.

It makes you sound like a low-rent lounge lizard.

And the old stand bys

1. Attaching anything

2. Not including a salutation of any kind

3. Absurd word count

4. Hostility about any aspect of publishing.

"You're awful but I want to come to your party" isn't as charming as you think.

Does all this sound nit picky?

It probably is.

But great writers pick nits competitively.

And that's just the way I like it.

I want to work with people who sweat over proper punctuation, homonyms, pacing and character arcs.

Any questions?

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Prioritizing your query list



I wonder about those agents on Publisher's Marketplace at smaller or moderately reputable agencies but with limited or no sales: Do I or don't I give them a go? I understand junior/new agents inside big houses are (hopefully) mentored and therefore under the umbrella of the agency at large. I'm referring more to the "boutique" agencies. 


Because signing on with an agent is meant to be a business partnership, long term, and fantastically successful for both parties; one does not want to hitch one's wagon to a three-legged mule half-way through Oklahoma with their patched up petticoats and grand illusions on reaching Oregon. But one is also desperate to get out of the dust-bowl they're in. (Too far into the metaphor? Possibly. Ought to start writing the next novel. My emails are getting entirely out of hand.)


For starters if you're going to Oregon in a covered wagon, and you find yourself in Oklahoma, you took a wrong turn out of Missouri.




But, you raise a very good question, and one that merits a fresh look since the pandemic. Quite a few agents ditched their overhead and set up solo practices in the last thee years. I'm one of them.


So my agency is new but I'm still old and grumpy, with 20+ years of experience to draw on.


Thus first thing to ascertain is whether this is a new agent or just a new agency.


The second is to look at their job history. Limited or no sales means one thing if the agent has been in publishing for a while. Editors who took the leap to the dark side know a lot of people in publishing, and know how publishing works. They may not have posted any sales yet (for a variety of reasons) or maybe they're just building a client list.


The third category is agents who don't have much (or any) experience in publishing but have set up shop. Those folks don't have contacts, and they're going to find it damn hard to make them now that publishing has decentralized so much and the social scene has largely dried up.


So, I advise querying widely but being careful who you sign with.


Here are some things to watch for:

1. The term of the author agency agreement is anything other than "at will."

If you are unhappy or dissatisfied, you should be able to terminate your representation with written notice. Often there's an interim period (30-90 days) specified, but that's for the agent to withdraw all submissions and tidy up.  It's NOT time for a last ditch hurrah trying to sell the book.


2. The agency website has weird stuff on it like posted cease-and-desist orders. That' a sign of crazy, and that's not the kind of crazy you want.


3. The agent presses you too hard to sign. That sounds like exactly what you want but it isn't. High pressure tactics are ineffective sales techniques which bodes poorly for submissions.


4. Make sure you understand the terms of representation. Is it just for one book? Is it just for one year?  As we saw recently, this can create some problems down the road.


But, to the overall picture: Query widely and prioritize when the offers roll in.

The idea of limiting your submissions at the outset means you might miss out on the agent who is best suited for your work.


You don't know who you want to work with until you talk to the agent.



Monday, January 09, 2023

"I really hate Jack Reacher"

All of us have preferences.  I'm not keen on medical mysteries. I'm not all that keen on atmospheric, gothic novels. And I'm just not the right person for serial killer novels.


But there are a LOT of people who love those kinds of books.

And buy them.


And the authors of those books enjoy a lovely career.


Which means even if you don't like a certain kind of book, you absolutely positively do NOT want to include that in a query letter.


No Matter What.


And particularly if you aren't keen on books that sit at the top of the bestseller lists and sell zillions of copies.


You don't have to like those books, but keep your lip zipped.




Cause the agent you're writing to may well love those books.


But more important, a query letter is NOT about you. It's about your book.  Focus on persuading me that your book is exactly what I want to read right this very minute.


And, you're missing the bigger picture. You might not like Jack Reacher but you're better off analyzing why a lot of people do, than you are grumping around your lair complaining.  Understanding reader taste is smart. (Which is exactly what Lee Child did when he set out to write Reacher.)


And honestly, publishing is a small, clubby world. The last think you want to do as you join this world is give off hostile vibes.


Nice, friendly sharkly vibes!




Friday, January 06, 2023

Not quite a flash fiction contest results

 Here are the entries that stood out for me.


Tim Lowe


Iggy had grown so much in the past few years. On the day his brother was murdered, she had a round little face and a Campbell’s kid smile, a tight shock of wiry curls crowning her head like a halo. Now, her face had lengthened and fleshed out. The chubbiness was gone, replaced by the soft supple curves of adulthood. She had Frankie’s light brown eyes, but everything else about her belonged to her mother. Her squat, athletic frame, her cocoa-tinted skin. Even her dimples were her mother’s.


“I swear, Uncle Donnie,” she said, flashing the dimples as she skittered a nearly empty gallon of milk across the counter. “You’re worse than a kid. How come you’re always putting stuff back in the fridge empty?”


I'd cut the first sentence cause you really don't need it. You have "now her face had lengthened and fleshed out" which conveys the same info.


And I'm perplexed by his brother when Iggy is given female pronouns.







Twelve-year-old Calvin Jones speaks with birds. The doctors think what Calvin hears is caused by his brain tumor. His parents believe his imaginary friends are simply vivid childhood fantasies.


Maybe they are.


But Calvin has a secret. Not only does he converse with them, but he soars wing tip to wing tip.


To ascend into the sky means no school, no bedtimes, no responsibilities, and no chemo.


The birds say, “To fly is to live.” And to soar forever as a bird is Calvin’s dream, but returning to humanity may be impossible once committed.


Which is either bird-brained or a bonus. Calvin’s not sure, but life with cancer—stinks.


I'd cut the fourth sentence: maybe they are.

That's implied already. No need to put it on the page.


And I'd cut the last phrase: but life with cancer—stinks.


That gives the reader something to wonder about.




Lennon Faris


Someone comes to stand beside me. I look up and do a double-take.


He looks like Sebastian. Same cheekbones and deep brown eyes, hair just a little more sun-blanched on the edges. This must be the brother. He’s tall and lean like my human, but he’s got an artistic musculature to his torso, arms folded as he watches Sebastian on stage. He’s dressed like he fought with a bear but changed shirts on the way: his plain white T is clean but his jeans and boots are scuffed, and I think I catch a waft of pine needles and sweet grass. If a tree trunk rammed into this brother, I bet the tree would stop.


Excellent character description here!







Mallory Love


Hollis was tall, but gravity and anxiety stole a few inches, knocking his stature from six foot one to five eleven. He smiled halfway, only his right cheek ticking up, when he saw me wave him over. He skulked towards me, like a ghost in a room full of mediums. He hadn’t yet grasped that billionaires at a gala were hard to hide.


He looked so much better than the last time I’d seen him. The black suit he wore was impressive, so I didn’t have the heart to point out the ink stain on his collar. I was, however, curious as to how it got there. With Hollis, there was always a story.


Nice description!




Cecilia Ortiz Luna


I’ve concluded that my parents’ DNAs caromed against each other haphazardly during my conception. I possess none of Dad’s German propensity for precision engineering, none of my Filipino mother’s talent for singing. I’m not sure where I got the stomach for malt whiskey, super spicy food, and Sacha Baron Cohen.


Appearance-wise, though, people who’ll find me wandering in the woods will know which set of parents to return me to. I inherited Dad’s Aryan facial bone structure, six feet height, his halblaut speaking voice. The rest of me? All-Mom. Dark brown eyes, black hair, fair skin. Even that chin mole.


Luckily, my genetic mashup apparently worked for the only segment of society whose opinion mattered to nineteen-year-old me — them lovely girls of Anne Arundel County, Baltimore.


Very nice description here!



Steve Forti


There was something in the way that Violet carried herself as she crossed the bar, and the confidence she had in every interaction. The wave and waggle of her fingers to someone she knew, the flirtatious eyebrow raise to someone she did not. How she froze a whole table of conversation by leaning in to whisper in one person’s ear for just a heartbeat. Travis had been around many cocky frat boys and finance jerks, but Violet was genuine in her self-assuredness. It was magnetic. But even more than that, it was the effortlessness with which she swiped two people’s wallets, extracting the money and returning to original pockets without breaking her stride or getting noticed by anyone else that captivated Travis’ attention.


Nice character twist here.





Michael Seese


In the midst of this maelstrom stood she, a prisoner of the inevitable, the window for her escape quickly slamming shut, precious seconds ticking away. Standing in her way… her target, who had turned the tables, and now led their dance. Upside-down and firmly in his clutches, she fought off the combined effects of the blood rush and the punch.


I am screwed, Zola thought. Royally screwed.


On the bright side, a premature death would excuse her from yet another interminable debriefing session.


Of all the perilous scenarios she had envisioned, and the attendant escape techniques she'd devised, “Mid-Waltz Extrication” never had come to mind.


"I shouldn’t have had that last drink," she mumbled.

“The last drink wasn’t the problem. It was the six before that,” said The Voice rudely invading her head.


I'd cut or move that first paragraph and start with I am screwed, Zola thought.





Just Jan


Mitch thrives on the graveyard shift in a world most living people avoid—the morgue. He’s rail-thin, with white-blond hair and a pasty complexion. Honestly, there are corpses with more color than Mitch. Rumor has it he moonlights at a local funeral home when he’s not in the morgue, so it’s possible he never sees the sun. A lack of Vitamin D won’t be the ultimate cause of his demise, though. He’s a decade younger than me, but I’ll outlive him unless he gives up his pack-a-day habit.


“You’re the boss, Doc,” he says easily whenever I ask him about a case. “I just do what I’m told.”


It’s a game we play almost every time we work together. We both know who’s really in charge.


I'd cut those first two lines, or move them, so that you open with the real grabber:

Honestly, there are corpses with more color than Mitch.



KL Sullivan


Maggie put down her book and rubbed her eyes. A pale beam of streetlight leaked around the blanket that partially covered her lone window, which was frosted by an icy ooze of January air off the East River. In the yellowish light it looked like frozen urine, and being a basement window, it could have been. She pulled the bedcovers further up and glanced at her growing library of 193 books, every one of them stolen. On top of everything else, she thought, I’m starting to look and feel like a mole.


I suggest starting with that last sentence: I'm starting to look and feel like a mole.  It's much grabbier than all the exposition.




There were two entries that really stood out to me:






By the summer when I was seventeen, my hormones were on a collision course with my common sense. I had been looking for someone whose primed animal instincts were all wrapped up in a fine pair of faded Levi’s, someone with a sweet talkin’ smile, someone whom mothers feared and sweet young thangs dream about, at a time when the local high school boys seemed gawky and crude. The moment I saw him I knew, in that heart-thudding second, he was the one. He had a casual perfection about him. His lean body moved with the fluid, hypnotic grace of a jungle cat, which fueled my nightly aerobic dreams.


oh yes yes yes






The young woman was on the wrong side of the road, hitch-hiking, wiggling her thumb as though unsure this thing worked. He couldn't tell her age, but maybe 20.

As he slowed, she dropped her hand, eyeing the truck without expression. She was wearing a little white sweater, skinny jeans and clunky high-heeled boots, all soaked. Everything about her shouted 'I don't belong here―I don't want to be here.' So what the hell was she doing here, trying to hitchhike on a rainy November evening?

“Should we offer a ride, Betty?” he asked. The old dog offered no opinion. “But why would she get in a truck with the likes of me?” He stopped, rolled down the window, and leaned out. She did not move. “Hey, there,” he said, smiling.


oh sweet mother of god, yes I want to know more.




Rather than dawdle any longer trying to choose just one, how about we have two winners this time!


Kitty and BobW, drop me an email and let me know what kind of book you'd like to get as a prize.



I'm now crawling back (sloooowly) from vacation.


It was a luxurious couple weeks without deadlines or To Do lists but holy hell, the incoming query mailbox: