Thursday, May 27, 2010


Here are the finalists for the May 2010 Strong Scene Contest.  The theme was opening scenes.  I know I always say I'll post the 3 finalists, yet somehow I can't resist adding more.  There's such great talent out there who deserve recognition.  So these are the 4 finalists.  A big thank you to Robert Brown, literary agent with Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency.  I'll be announcing the winner within the next couple of days. Congrats to all the participants. 

1- Daryl Sedore:

Sarah Roberts wondered if today would be the day someone would die. Would she be able to save whoever it is she’s supposed to save? She looked at her watch again.


It was almost time for the premonition to come true.

This was the fifth premonition she had acted on. She’d had seven in the last six months. The first two were neglected because she wasn’t aware of what was happening to her. But now, she was reassured with the knowledge that if she followed her notebook details, everything had the best chance to work out.

She reached back and found a few stray hairs above the nape of her neck. She massaged them until they were firmly in the grip of her fingers. Then she tugged them out. She closed her eyes and leaned back on the dirty cement. The slight pain that oozed over her skin soothed her, calmed the nerves.

Vehicles crossing the bridge above came to her. She made a mental note that the next time she had to hover under a bridge waiting for whatever was supposed to happen she would bring a pillow to sit on. The ground she inhabited angled toward a small river at forty-five degrees. It was hard cement. The grass on either side looked more comfortable, but the message was specific. If there was anything Sarah knew, it was to follow the messages with absolute precision.

Thinking of the message, she recited it in her head; Sit directly in the middle, under the St. Elizabeth Bridge, at 10:18am. Bring hammer.

Bring hammer. She had no idea why, but she’d brought it. The hammer sat beside her on the cement. She lifted her wrist and checked the time.


She felt her senses go on alert. This is it, something’s about to happen. She lowered her right hand and picked up the hammer.

The anticipation of the unknown got her heart going. It pounded in her chest as if it wanted out. She looked down at her feet where a pile of cigarette butts were scattered. Her focus was on her breathing. Keep it regular.

Wait and see.

A dead fish smell wafted up from the river. A soft curling, whooshing sound came to her from the water. Any other time it would have been soothing.

Cars cruised by above her. Something louder came and went. Must be a truck of some kind, she thought.


A tire screeched overhead. A horn blared. The sound of metal hitting metal was surreal. It made her jump. Tires squealed again.

A vehicle came into view at an impossible angle. It fell towards the river, along with pieces of the guardrail. The cars’ roof took the impact in the water, crashing down hard on the passenger side.

2- Kate Mayfield:

One of the opening shots of my family’s 8-millimeter home movies was that of massive funerary flower arrangements. Flowers so plentiful and so perfectly arranged that they did not look real. The camera slowly panned a casket in which a young woman laid in perfect stillness. I’ll never forget what she looked like. Her coal black hair lay on a white satin pillow; her lips, painted a bright cherry red, contrasted brazenly against her gypsum-like skin. The thick black glasses she wore revealed the era of her death to be the 1950’s. The glasses looked out of place - why would she need them now? The first time I saw her projected onto our screen she looked so alive and vibrant that I asked, ”Is she really dead, or were you all just fooling around?”

I have tried to remember the first time I saw a dead body. There have been many firsts in my life, like the first time I touched a dead person. I was too short to reach into the casket, so my father picked me up and I leaned in for that first empty, cold touch. It was thrilling because it was an unthinkable act. But there was no first viewing that I recall, because from the time I first entered the world there were dead bodies.

When I was old enough to understand what they meant, people told me they felt decidedly creepy about funeral homes. I knew a woman who always ran to the other side of the street whenever she happened upon ours. She gave a little shudder when she saw me seated in the swing on the veranda. I faithfully nodded to her and remained silent; there was no need to defend my position, and anyway, sooner or later she too… well, I won’t hover. But I could understand how one would think that it might be a bit unnatural to spend day after day, year after year, entertaining the grieving and caring for their dead.

I suppose it could have been a gloomy existence if it were not for my father. Whenever I mentioned “undertaker” or “mortician” to people who’d never met him, I saw in their eyes what they thought. They pictured a dour man. Their undertaker was a Uriah Heap who wore black scratchy suits with dull white shirts that would soon turn yellow. Nowadays, people raise their brows when they think of the modern undertaker who burrows down in courses such as General Psychology and Dynamics of Grief, Mortuary Law, and Death and Human Development. These men are thought of as squeezers, nothing more than ruthless businessmen. My father would squirm at the idea of being compared to them. He never had to work too hard at being different, he just was.

I wondered why he chose to dress up like Beau Brummel every day and take care of dead people. I never asked, for as the years passed, I could imagine him doing nothing else.

3- Michael McShane:

GQ offered no rebuttal. Rather, he fell in behind me as I started up the cracked and buckled walkway toward my porch. I stopped abruptly and turned to him.

“Entrance is by invitation only,” I said. “Get behind the gate.”

“I can’t, dude,” GQ said. “My friend is inside your house. I was supposed to warn him when you were coming.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“You must be blind, dude. Didn’t you see that blond across the street? She was so hot she was smoking. I must have got distracted.”

“You’re a freaking idiot.”

“Whoa, dude, what’s with all the hostility?”

Having absorbed one too many “dudes,” I grabbed GQ by the collar of his two hundred-dollar shirt.

“This,” I said through clenched teeth, “is hostility—dude.”

I jerked my hands apart popping his shirt buttons all the way down to his waist.

“You’re assaulting me!” he cried as he stared wide-eyed at his chest laid bare by the ripping.

I gazed agog at his silky smooth torso.

“Do you shave your chest?” I asked in amazement. “You do,” I said. “You shave your damn chest. I bet you shave your balls, too. You do, don’t you? You shave your balls. Say it!” I screamed. “Say you shave your balls!”

“I do, I do!” QQ said, shaking. “Now please, let me go.”

“Say it out loud!” I shouted from an angry place I seldom visit. “Say the words! Say I shave my balls. Say it or I’ll beat you to a bloody stump, you little poser!”

“I shave my balls!” GQ screamed. His energy quickly faded, and he whimpered, “I do, I shave my balls. I shave my—”

“Did you hear that?” I shouted to the hottie blond across the street. “This pervert shaves his sack.”

Blondie lowered her head and paced briskly down the sidewalk.

“Let the kid go,” said a voice from a distance behind me. “He was only doing what I asked.”

With my hands still gripping GQ’s shirt, I spun him in a half-circle positioning him between me and whoever had been my house.

“Your buddy is standing behind you,” I said to GQ as I looked over his shoulder at the mountain of a man framed between the stone pillars of my tidy front porch, “and he’s aiming that gun you said he didn’t have. Go ahead,” I said to the giant standing on my porch, “Fire!”

GQ’s eyes rolled in his head like he was going to pass out.

“No! “Don’t shoot!” he cried into my face, addressing his buddy behind him. “I wasn’t doing anything. I was just . . . Please . . .”

I turned him around so he could face the giant in the baggy brown suit, who carried no gun at all.

“Get the hell off my porch!” I yelled at the giant.

“You’re mighty volatile,” replied the giant in a voice as soft as mine was loud. At the same time he floated down my porch steps with the agility of a tap dancer.

GQ screamed, “That’s what I told him, Moog! He’s flipped. He’s totally mental.”

I let go of GQ and he dashed away his shirt flapping like a cape.

“The dude has no filter, Moog!” GQ cried upon reaching the man at the base of my porch steps. “What did you get me into?”

“Yeah, Mooooooog,” I said. “What did you get this waste of skin in to? More importantly, what were you doing in my house?”

Moog said, “Settle down, Balls. Maybe you should have a drink. Let’s talk about this.”

There it was again, somebody I didn’t know calling me “Balls.”

“I don’t drink,” I said, knowing full well there were several bottles of Molson Ale chilling in my refrigerator approximately 30 feet behind Moog and slightly to his left.

“Maybe you should start,” GQ said his bare-chested heaving as he stood engulfed by Moog’s shadow. “You have some real issues, dude.”

I said, “Did it ever occur to you that you were aiding a break-in, maybe even a burglary? If you’re really a lawyer you had to know you were committing a felony.”

GQ looked blank-faced at Moog. “You mean you don’t know this guy?”

Moog shook his head.

GQ said, “I swear, Balls, he told me—”

“Don’t call me Balls!” I screamed. “I’ll snap your neck for fun, you little prick!”

4- Gabrielle Taylor:

Jordan Finegold cut through the dark alley, trying to lose whoever was trailing him. Even in early June, the heat hung in the Phoenix air long after midnight. His hair clung to the sheen of sweat covering his neck. Out of breath, he stopped, pressing his back against a concrete wall. Only his eyes moved from side to side, searching for any movement in the shadows. Nothing stirred except a piece of trash rolling along the ground, carried by the warm breeze. Normal city sounds seemed to be on temporary mute, the night much too quiet.

He knew it was happening again.

“Stop running.” An unfamiliar male voice broke through the silence.

Jordan’s pulse pounded in his veins, the swish of each beat racing in his ears. He pushed his body closer to the wall and attempted to force strength into his voice. “Why are you following me?”

“Let me help you.” The voice came closer, the stranger had moved without making a sound. “I mean you no harm.”

“Ya,” Jordan laughed under his breath, “that’s what they all say.” Nervous, he reached into his pocket, searching for the knife he carried for protection.

“Ah…you wish to test your limited knife skills on me?”

The voice was right next to his ear now, but Jordan couldn’t see the man. He felt trapped by an invisible force and desperate to regain his footing. “Try me,” he said, pulling the knife and flipping it open.

A second later, a painful blow to the head knocked Jordan flat on his back. His hands instinctively covered his head as his body curled into the fetal position. The soft rousing of amused laughter circled him. There had been no warning, no sound of a coming strike. Nothing.

“Would you like to contemplate your next request with a bit more forethought?” The man’s voice seemed to come from everywhere…and nowhere. “Here, let’s fix that headache.”

Gentle pressure surrounded Jordan’s head. He tried to see who was touching him, but no one was there. Moments later, the pain vanished leaving a pleasant tingling sensation behind. He had no idea what was happening and wished he hadn’t run from home. “How’d you do that? Who are you?” He pushed himself to his knees, then to standing.

“Those are questions, not requests. Such mundane questions, too. You can do so much better.” There was a long pause. “Let’s try another approach, perhaps this will help.”

A glowing sphere about the size of a large marble emerged from the shadows, rolling along the ground. The silver ball stopped a few feet in front of Jordan. It pulsed with light, almost as if it had its own heartbeat.

He couldn’t take his eyes off it. It reminded him of the mercury he had studied in Chemistry. Nervous about the danger, he backed away from the object. “Is it mercury?”

“Your fear is controlling you. You must learn to trust yourself.” The man’s voice sounded with authority.

“I trust no one.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Honorable Mention for May's Contest

May was just second month of the Strong Scene contest and as with April I found an enormous amount of talent out there  As a writer I always try to see the good qualities in a piece of work, especially when I'm only reading a small excerpt.  So it's with this in mind I decided to post some of the highlights of this months contest.  The scenes below didn't make the finalists list for May, but these are some fine writers whose work deserves to be seen:

Daniel Simpson:

June got up, switched the television off. She walked through the dining room and into the kitchen. Yates was lying on the floor, eyes open and crinkled at the edges. His grin was lopsided like a six year old with a bag of lollies.

The dishes were very clean.

Bob Moats:

The paint hadn't even dried yet on the door lettering, when she opened the door and stood admiring the name, "Jim Richards, Private Investigations". She looked to me and gave me a million dollar smile and slinked to the chair at my desk, seating herself, slowly crossing a pair of legs that screamed, lick me. She flipped back a shock of blonde hair from her gorgeous face and looked at me with eyes so deep, I was lost in them, then she called my name.

"Mr. Richards," she said in a sultry voice, then paused. Then said again, "Mr. Richards. I want my husband killed."

I suddenly came out of my daydream, staring at a frumpily dressed, middle-aged, mousy, brown-haired woman, staring at me through glasses thick as bottle bottoms. I said, "Excuse me, you want your husband killed?"

"What? Oh, my goodness, no! I said I want him tailed, or followed, whatever you P.I.'s call it," she exclaimed.

"Ah, I'm sorry, I'm a bit jet lagged from a flight back from Las Vegas," I lied.

John Tinnes:

"You here for the IT job?", Ed asked as he slid on to the chair.

"Yeah, you?", the man responded quickly, keeping his eyes straight ahead, focused on the receptionist.

"Yup. Sounds like a tough job though. My friend works here. He says they make the IT folks do Navy Seal combat training first just to get them ready for the harsh demands of the job.", Ed said nonchalantly, as he brushed a piece of lint off his old grey sweater.

"What?" The young man turned suddenly and looked at him. "Really?"

"Yeah, didn't you know? This company has a big deal with the government. So, in good faith they agree to send out employees once in a while to help with special OP missions. Its all top secret. In fact, my friend is over in Zanzadeababway right now. He should have been back about a month ago but his Mobile IT unit hit some land mines and he's still in bad shape. Its a damn shame ..."

"James Goodwin?", the receptionist called out.

The man next to Ed stood up and left out the exit.

"Pffft ... what a rookie", Ed muttered, "I guess that puts me next."

Devin O’Branagan:

My dad was dying and I didn’t know what to do.

As I stood at the kitchen sink, filling a pan with cold water, I looked out the window at the flurries of white fluff dancing in the wind. Cottonwood trees were shedding seeds of new life on our farm, while seeds of death swirled around the planet taking root and growing in every human host they could claim. And now the black seeds of the pandemic-plague had found fertile ground in Dad.

Donna J.P. Riley:

There wasn’t enough pain in the world for men like this. I wasn’t worried about how long this would take, I had all night, and there’d be plenty of time for cleanup when he was dead. “Have you ever heard about the butterfly effect? At least that’s what they used to call it. Now they call it the chaos effect, but both work don’t they? They say that a tiny little butterfly on one side of the world, beating their wings, can, under the right circumstances cause catastrophic weather conditions on the other side of the world? It’s true, I didn’t believe it at first either, but I guess stranger things could happen.” He was looking at me and I smiled and flashed my trademark wink. Right eye. A weakness yes, but so worth it.

“Call this the butterfly effect, there are always consequences, and I’m yours.”

Phil van Wulven:

The front edge of the wing looked wrong. I squinted against the reflected tropical sunlight and focused on the area where I’d seen something move. I hoped it wasn’t real. Maybe a hallucination, a flashback, like they said happened sometimes when you’d dropped acid. I looked away, squeezed my eyes tight shut, and then looked again. No such luck. One of the aluminium plates vibrated up and down. Another rivet popped out, and a bigger section of the wing worked itself loose. If I hadn’t seen that rivet fly, it wouldn’t have been worth a second glance. The wings always flapped and bent around, and nothing ever happened, on these journeys from home in Zambia to school in England and back.

Dawn Hullender:

She quickly dropped her backpack and began sifting through it for the bottle of muriatic acid. She’d packed her chemical kit just in case and now she was glad to have had the foresight. With steady hands and trembling knees she carefully squirted minute streams along the top of the smooth stone. Once the solution began to boil and disperse the buildup of mossy growth, she took a sharp breath when two sets of words began to glow beneath the steam.

Geoff Nelder:

He muttered to himself. “Come on, man, what was in today’s newspaper?” Damn, he was losing his memory… or his mind.

Then he caught a whiff of gardenia. His grandma used to reek of it. Something was messing with his brain.
Through wet eyes he noticed Greta looking back down the aisle at him. “Jack, your stop, buddy.”
He hadn’t noticed the usual lurched halt. He staggered up and patted Greta’s arm. Then he looked back at her as she rubbed her head. Other passengers rubbed theirs.
As he dismounted, he spotted a newspaper billboard announcing ‘Wednesday lottery results’. Hey, he thought it was Tuesday. Did he have amnesia?
The sidewalk baked his shoes as the bus grumbled away. He thought of the bus driver.
Greta’s face had looked sallow, green. Had he infected her? Nah. Who’d ever heard of infectious amnesia? If she’d caught it, then maybe all her passengers, and new passengers and their kinfolk. That’s one hell of a messed up world.

Mellisa Webb:

I walk alone. My feet padding silently along the floor of the empty hallway as it stretches out in front of me. I am once again in my mother's dream.

I slip through as softly as a cloud caught in a peaceful breeze. I am here to help her but she will never know that. No one ever remembers when I'm in their dreams.
I guide people through their nocturnal escapades. I show them the way when their problems become too much for even their dreams to handle. This is what I was born to do.
I am Cassie O'Bryan and I am a Dream Walker.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Tess Gerritsen really requires no introduction.  Her novels have been loitering on the N.Y. Times bestseller list for over a decade now.  This summer TNT is producing a new drama based on Gerritsen's Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles medical thrillers.  She was kind enough to spend a few moments to participate in our 5 questions segment.  She has always been supportive of the writing community and this is just another example of that support. Thanks Tess.

1 - How do you feel when a character you’ve created in your mind becomes a visual entity as with Angie Harmon becoming Jane Rizzoli in the upcoming TNT series Rizzoli and Isles?

--It's a little bit disorienting, because all these years I've carried specific images of Jane and Maura in my head. Even though both Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander do great jobs embodying the characters, I still have some mental readjustments to make because they don't look like the Jane and Maura I've imagined. But I completely understand why they were cast in the parts.

2 - Will the story lines in the show come from any of Rizzoli-Isles novels you’ve written, or will they all be new material?

-- The pilot episode is based on my novel THE APPRENTICE. The other episodes will be created by the "Rizzoli & Isles" team of writers, but they've been drawing quite a few details from the books, such as Jane's relationship with her mom.

3 - Your upcoming novel, “Ice Cold,” is being released over the summer. How do you feel about going on the road to promote your work?

-- I always enjoy book tours, because it gives me a chance to meet my readers. I love talking about the story, about where ideas come from, and hearing what my readers think of the characters.

4 - Virtually all of your novels become New York Times bestsellers. Are you competitive with any of your famous author friends (in a playful way) about the success of a particular novel?

-- My author friends and I celebrate each others' successes, and I'm always delighted when someone I know and like hits high on the list. We all know how hard it is just to write a book, much less have it sell well enough to make the list, and for most of us, the real competition is with our own past work, not with each other.

5 - How do you see digital e-readers changing the landscape of publishing in the years to come?

-- It's going to force a huge change. In the future, an author won't necessarily have to go through a publisher to have his books available. He can e-publish his work, sell it directly to the reader, and take a larger percentage of the profits. The author who already has a following may actually earn more money this way, than through traditional publishing. However, the unknown author will still find it advantageous to build his name recognition the old-fashioned way. The real challenge for all of us is cultivating new readers, in any format.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Cure for Writers Block---Music

If you're like me the juices don't always flow at the precise moment you need them. No we're not talking Viagra. (I saw you going there) I'm speaking of course about the mental juices we bring to the keyboard to create the greatest novel ever written.  Which by the way we're all trying to accomplish. Let's face it, no one's missing an episode of "30 Rock," to write a mediocre book.  So I'm here to tell you that music is the answer.  Whenever I get in that rut, I slip on the iPod and go for a run and listen to the words of the artist flowing over me. I can receive the same benefit while driving alone in the car. 

A great example of this was when I was searching for the ending to a touching scene in my novel, "A Touch of Deceit," where FBI agent Nick Bracco's wife has been shot by a terrorist and is recovering in her hospital bed. Bracco knows she'll never be the same again, especially if the assassin isn't found and arrested. Her eyes glisten as she implores her husband to track down the terrorist and put him away.  It sounds silly, but I struggled with his response.  "Bet on it," he sneered.  "It's done, Sweetie," he said with tight lips. You get the idea.  Everything sounded so canned.  Then, later that day, I'm listening to Coldplay in my car, the song, "Shiver," and I hear the lyrics, "Just you try and stop me."  Bingo. No it's not Walt Whitman, but it was precisely the emotion I was looking for--confident and cocky, giving his wife peace of mind.  Yes, I swiped an innocuous and common phrase from Chris Martin, but it served its purpose.

Believe it or not this can even work for instrumentals.  It's the rhythm and the emotion of the piece which can jump start that right side of your brain. Try it the next time you're juices need lubricating.

PS- There's an old Jules Shear song about a bitter breakup with the lyrics, "I've never seen the weapon, but I know the prints are mine."  Is that great or what? Feeling anything yet?