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Critique: Your Best Beginning

By Leah Hultenschmidt, Senior Editor

We all know the importance of a great hook expressed in the query letter--that's what's going to get me psyched (or not) about reading the manuscript. But for every single submission, even if I'm not entirely jazzed by query, I always want to to give the writing a look. And those first couple of paragraphs can make all the difference in the world. I want to see something compelling enough to keep reading. Depending on the story, that interest can come in all kinds of ways. Is there a character doing something interesting? Is there humorous dialogue? Is there some kind of tease that makes me want to know more? Or is the hero just so hot and delicious I can't tear my eyes away?

As Tamara was discussing earlier, a lot of authors use prologues to jump immediately into an action scene and then start chapter one a number of years later. That only works if chapter one stays just as interesting--and I'll gladly skip ahead a little to find out.

Overdone openings to avoid:
  1. waking up--unless there's something supremely unusual about the process
  2. a deathbed confession
  3. a birth
  4. the classic combo of 2 &3 with a mother dying in childbirth
  5. a killer's POV--this is done a lot in romantic suspense and some paranormal, so much so that it often loses its chilling effect for me
Here's a sample of a great a opening with Shona Husk's THE GOBLIN KING, an October release.

Category: Paranormal romance
Pitch: A woman in desperate needs makes a wish to the goblin king she read about in fairy tales, but will she be willing to pay the price of summoning him and become his queen?

The summons pulled at every cell in his body, tearing the bonds that held his body together and dragging him from the Shadowlands. He fought the compulsion to answer, as he did every time. And lost. As he did every time. The urge to obey his summoner’s orders he’d tamped down long ago. Yet he attended, as he did every time.

The beads in his hair jangled and chimed, lifted on the breeze created as he moved from one world to the next, like golden music in his ears. He moved into the Fixed Realm wrapped in shadows to hide from the eyes of his would-be-commander. Then he paused and looked around.

A bedroom. Not the first he’d been summoned to. The only light spilled from the nearby bathroom. His nose wrinkled at the smell of wet dog and wine. He frowned. No summoner stood before him, demanding an audience with the Goblin King. The human who’d called him from the Shadowlands and sought to control him lay on the floor at the foot of the bed. Immobile. Wounded. Female.

The goblin kept his hand on his sword and stepped forward. As he did the shadows sloughed off him and slid away to the corners of the bedroom. The tension in his skin eased as the compulsion to obey faded. He’d attended; he could leave. Yet he couldn’t look away.

What I love: Great sensory description. And I immediately felt the hero's frustration and agony at being summoned. The world-building teases without becoming over-explanatory--what is the Shadowlands? Hm, sounds interesting. Why does the room smell like wet wool and wine? How did the woman become hurt? And I love that we see his protective instinct coming to the fore when he doesn't want to leave her. And most importantly: I want to know what happens next.

So now it's your turn. Using the format above--category, 1-2 sentence pitch, first four paragraphs--so me what you've got. Through today and the weekend, I'll take a look at everything posted by midnight EST tonight and give feedback.

I can't wait to see your great beginning!


  1. Category: YA
    Pitch: As the first born of her family, eighteen year old Ellisyn Brooks has been forced to dedicate her life to serving The Society – the oppressive underground government ruling all gypsies. She's a purebred, one of their best fighters and her talent as an empath has yet to be rivaled. And someone is trying to kill her.

    It’s not like I wanted to kill him, but when someone has a knife pressed to your neck, you don’t really have a choice. It’s either you, or him.
    So I stabbed him in the heart.
    I closed my eyes. Squeezed them together. Maybe, when I open them, he would be gone. My knife would not be in this man’s chest. This would all be one of Geckle’s sick illusions planted in my head to torture me. The weight of the dying body never left mine.
    I knew I would forever look at this moment as a crossing point. A line that would forever divide my life into two parts- before I killed and after. This would change me, my life. Again.

  2. Kimberly--definitely a grabber. I feel Ellisyn's agony and wonder who Geckle is and what he has against her. Please do send me more. I'll take a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  3. Pitch: Elly Blair's new at this magic stuff and when she serves a handsome customer the wrong magic-laced burger, women across the small town develop an uncontrollable lust for him. Elly has forty-eight hours to reverse the spell, or lose her cafe and the guy forever.

    “This town would fall apart without magic.” Grandma Imelda plopped the big leather-bound book onto the café’s kitchen counter. “The people of Mystic Hollow needed me…and now they need you.”
    Unbeknownst to me, my grandmother was the magical Dear Abby, helping solve people’s problems one delicious meal at a time, only they didn’t know it. And neither did I, until now. She’d owned Mystic Café for thirty years, and not once in all my twenty-eight years had she mentioned adding magic to the food. Customers used words like delightful, enchanting, and captivating to describe her dishes, but I thought they meant my grandmother’s exceptional cooking skills, never did I imagine it was real magic.
    “So you want me to use magic? In the food?” I took in a deep breath, catching a whiff of fresh baked biscuits and blueberry muffins. The knot in my stomach remained.
    She nodded. The mass of white hair whirled high on top of her head like a giant ice cream cone didn’t budge an inch as she pushed the massive aged book toward me—the thing took up half the counter space. Across the front of the book the words Mystic Magic stared back at me, revealing the gravity of the situation. I traced the gold embossed letters with my index finger.

  4. Category: Contemporary Romance
    Pitch: What happens when you lose your best friend, the love of your life? Except she's still right in front of you? She's aching with longing. It's tangible, but her mind doesn't remember the years, the glorious love, the life, the child we lost; It's agony, beautiful. brilliant...a love so transcending, that even if the mind doesn't remember, the heart and sould, simply can't forget.

    Harvard Medical School.
    The acceptance letter fell from my shaking hands as I sank down on the sofa in the apartment I shared with my best friend, Aaron. I’d dreamed about it since I was twelve, my parents had dreamed about it since I was born, and now it was a reality.
    He and I had been best friends since we were kids and he moved in with us after his mom and dad were killed in a car accident. He spent so much time with us; it seemed natural for my parents to adopt him.
    Now, Julia was my best friend. She was …everything.
    I spent the last three and half years convincing myself otherwise, but the prospect of leaving her now to go to Boston was sucking the air from my lungs. I literally couldn’t breathe, as my chest constricted and heat infused beneath my skin in a flush. My heart was pounding so fast, I thought it would fly from my body.
    What was I going to do? This was what I wanted, wasn’t it?

  5. Thanks, Leah, for offering a pitch session! I loved your comments about what is becoming trite for openings!

    I did love a historical romance where the heroine woke up to find a man in her bed, or, actually, it was his bed when she finally realized she wasn't in her own and she had no clue as to who he was, but he knew her way too well. :) I had to keep reading. :)

  6. Rose--I love the tone of the writing, but you've got a lot of backstory here and I feel I know exactly what's going on because of it. There's nothing to tease me through. What if you started with an odd result of Grandma's cooking?

  7. Olivia--Work on tightening that pitch so it's a clear one or two sentences. Deb's post this month had some good tips for that. I'm also confused: Is her best friend Julia or Aaron? Because I don't know any of these characters well yet, it's hard to feel the emotion your heroine is going through. If we *see* them being best friends, rather than being told the backstory, it might help.

  8. Terry--now *that* is a great, unusual wake-up scene, which makes all the difference in the world. I know Jennifer Ashley did something in a contemporary romance called Confessions of a Lingerie Addict. It definitely went beyond the "the alarm went off, she stretched and dragged herself out of bed, went to the bathroom and then down the kitchen to get coffee" kind of opening.

  9. Thanks, Leah. I can definitely do that!

    Thanks again for reading the pitch and first few paragraphs.

  10. Category: Historical Romance

    PITCH: Alexander Macpherson has sworn to never love again after the death of his wife and child. Plagued by a recurring dream of a woman he doesn't know, he is stunned when she shows up in his cottage, claiming to be from the future. They say time heals all wounds. They never said it takes three hundred years.

    Glancing up at the blackening sky, Alexander sighed. The rain would come soon, but he would not let that deter him from what he had set out to do. He had promised to see her today and it was a promise he was not going to break; rain or no rain. Somewhere in the distance he heard the thunder voicing its anger while the wind picked up speed.
    Alexander ran his hand through his hair as a tear slid down his cheek. Memories flashed through his mind darkening his mood further. His heart clenched with the pain and he tried with all of his might to push back the grief that had imbedded on his soul like a red-hot brand.
    Rain came down as quick as the memories that flooded his mind. Fat droplets mixed with his salty tears and he didn’t wipe them away as he walked his horse closer to the intended site. Rounding a small copse of trees, he stopped. He could see it now. He had visited less in the last few months and now the head stone was intertwined with wildflowers and bramble. A pang of guilt etched across his heart. Clenching his teeth, he pulled Gideon to a stop near a rowan tree.
    “Mairi…,” he whispered on a shaky breath. He closed his eyes and let the memory take him.

  11. Category: Paranormal

    Pitch: A Southern belle with a family history that reads like a bad tabloid story wants a normal life where she’ll teach little kids and marry a nice accountant. What she gets is paparazzi tracking her down when it's clear she's the only person who can help a film mega-star whose soul is looking as black as his horns.

    I stood at the counter of Dacula’s only computer shop and tried to smile as Nardel shook his head over my fried hard drive. I was trying to figure out what to tell him. This was the third computer that had imploded, working out to a rate of one computer per month biting the big one.
    “Nellie, I told you to get a surge protector,” Nardel said.
    “I did have a surge protector," I argued politely, "and I shut down the computer every night. I shut it down when I went to the bathroom. I also bought one of those external thingees your told me to,” I said and produced magician-style, a little silver box. It, like the dead computer, held the a paper that was due in less than a week. The paper and the class were part of my grand plan to get out of Dacula and into a normal life -- mom jeans optional.
    “You cooked that, too?” Nardel’s brown eyes widened. “I’m sorry. Rhonda told me that I was just to give you your money back. We’re goin’ broke honoring the warranty. Sorry."

  12. Pitch: When a fiercely independent screenwriter and a hardass ex-FBI agent tumble off a cruise ship, they have to work together when they find themselves stranded on an island inhabited by a dangerous drug cartel.

    All she wanted was a normal man.

    Instead, a John Wayne look-a-like walked past her, boots clicking on the deck, his eyes meeting hers. He tipped his imaginary hat, and beautiful, sad brown eyes drew her right in. No. Kennedy Rikes put her head down, averted her face. She didn’t need a man with basset hound eyes. Polished black loafers stepped into her vision, and she peeked up through her lashes. Sigh. Computer Geek, complete with Gameboy. No, thank you.

    And no thank you as well to Chains with a Hairy Chest, Smiles too Widely and Built Like a Gorilla.

    Why couldn’t she find a normal man? Not overbearing, not overloaded with testosterone, not wearing look-at-my-butt Wranglers (even though yes, it was a nice butt). Someone just . . . nice. Average man, that’s what she wanted.

    Thanks Leah! =)

  13. Category: Paranormal Romance
    Pitch: Robert MacLachlan sails the Atlantic, seeking to reverse the botched Voodoo curse that turned him into a shape-shifting vampire torn between the dual natures of a Florida panther and an immortal blood-lusting man. Kimberly Scot flees a sabotaged career and joins his crew to escape a hit man. Neither pirates, a Voodoo priestess, nor an ancient vampire can defeat the love that will save them—a love that transcends time.

    Robert MacLachlan licked the corner of his mouth, where a tiny droplet of blood lingered. A precious taste. He clamped white-knuckled fingers on the wheel of Sea Panther, his ninety-foot, black-hulled sloop, allowing self-hatred to course through his veins along with the woman's blood.

    "Cursed fool." He pushed away from the wheel, away from the night view of the shore—the New Jersey clamming town with its twin lighthouse. Coming on deck hadn’t eased his torment. Not even the briny tang of the sea breeze soothed him. Dawn neared. He retreated below to the sanctuary of his cabin.

    Only on this sunrise, a lass remained sprawled across his bed.

    His stomach clenched as he slid his gaze over the woman lying so still on his bunk. He curled his hands into fists, disgusted by his gluttony. Having gone too long without feeding, he'd taken too much blood. Her ashen skin, a stark contrast against the deep green velvet coverlet, provided a painful reminder of the monster he'd become.

  14. Good Morning, Leah. Thanks for the great post and compelling opening... now I have to wait until October to read Shona's upcoming release The Goblin King!!

    My Sourcebooks TBR pile is growing by leaps and bounds. ;)

  15. Thanks, Leah.
    Yes, there is a prologue, that I didn't post from. Aaron is the male protagonist's adopted brother, but Julia is her best friend.

    The pitch I used here, is not my query pitch, but I was trying to make it short. If you had the query, it would be more clear. I'd be happy to send if you're open to it.


  16. Leah,
    That teaser and pitch is a hard act to follow even for a seasoned writer like me! Great way to teach new authors what you are looking for.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. Okay, well there went my italics. Sorry! Lemme try that again.

    Category: Paranormal Thriller
    Pitch: When an exorcist’s infant daughter is kidnapped, she turns her efforts over to darkness in hopes of finding her baby – knowing she may lose them both.

    They sent the boy away before I arrived. There are only three of us in the house. We are following the father into the bedroom when the phone rings again.
    This time I understand. It materializes inside me sounding like any of my own thoughts. I know that it isn’t, by my surprise.
    It isn’t no one, there’s someone there.
    The mother’s scoff mingles exasperation with frustration and in a deceptive moment, she sounds like a confident woman. Still, she begins back into the hall as though a slave to the shrill repetition.
    There’s someone on the line, there always was.
    I catch her arm before she’s gone.
    “There’s nothing wrong with the line but you still won’t hear her.”

  19. Sarah--I definitely feel the pain of Alexander's loss. The weather helps reflect that mood, but we might be getting a bit bogged down in the weather details here. Right now I don't have anything here to tease me to move forward--just his memories of the past. If you can throw in a piece of the unexpected, I think it will help raise curiosity. Given that this seems to have such an usual story, you'll want to drive that curiosity as much as possible.

  20. Good mornin' Leah. Great post and I'm in the boat with Amelia. That pitch is excellent! I love the days when y'all take pitches and comment on them. It's a great lesson to me!
    Also, loved seeing your picture ... you have a beautiful smile, lady. Oh, wow! That's a good first liner: You have a beautiful smile, lady. But how did he know that when he was totally blind?
    Not pitching, just rambling. I'm hushing. Back to work on my cowboy series!

  21. Heidi--good dialogue, a clever town name, and a situation I think everyone can relate to. I'm curious to know why this woman has such bad luck with electronics. Please do send more. I'll take a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  22. Carrie--Love the guy descriptions, but I have no idea where we are. If you can ground the reader a little bit first in the setting and with the heroine, the humor will come off even better.

  23. Dawn Marie--with vampires being so prevalent in the market for the last few years, readers will need some kind of immediate differentiation in your story. I like that your pitch talks about him also changing into a panther, which is reflected in the name of the boat. But from just the paragraphs, I see a self-loathing vampire who really isn't any different. If he's your starting point, you're definitely going to need some kind of contradiction in his character right away. What's something we don't expect of vampires?

  24. Olivia--I'd recommend taking a look through previous blog posts about marketing hooks and pitches to see how to better refine the concept of your story. Editors find the query useful for sorting purposes, but like any reader, we need the story to stand on its own as well.

  25. Hi Leah~ This is great! I just love reading the pitches and I always end up learning so much. Thanks for doing this.

  26. Thank you for your time and consideration.

  27. Thanks, Leah, for taking a look at my pitch for "Sea Panther" and providing feedback. I thought the sailing vampire who turns into a Florida Panther and the botched Voodoo curse was the twist. The hero was also a Scottish Jacobite in 1715 and throughout the story he strives to maintain his honor. I'll have to see what else I can up with.

  28. Bethany--I'm not sure I'm entirely clear on what's happening here. I like that short sentences imply immediacy and an unsettled feeling. If you can work in a little more clarity on where we are and what happens with the voices the main character is hearing, I would definitely be interested in seeing more, should this fall in the romance category.

  29. Carolyn Brown--love it! (And thank you.) That's a great opening.

  30. Dawn Marie--those are great twists for the story. Can more of the Scottish/shapeshifting angle come out earlier? Maybe start there and have the vampire part be the twist? Now that would be something I haven't seen!

  31. Category: Paranormal
    Pitch: In matters of the heart, would you trust a mystical matchmaker to decide your fate?

    “She’ll be dead within a couple of minutes. There’s nothing we can do for her, except burn the body.”

    “Who did this, Markus?” Xavier crouched to examine the shredded wolf. He inhaled a long, deep breath, filtering the air for scented threads.

    “We don’t know. There was no scent. Period.”

    Xavier confirmed Markus’s assessment. The lack of a single scent puzzled him. There were always threads permeating from a body and the surrounding air.

    “Find the coward.” A menacing growl vibrated against his chest.
    Red hot fury boiled inside his veins. Active negotiations to merge their bloodlines motivated her murder. The murderer chose to kill Xavier’s potential mate rather than face him directly.

    Melissa Stark

  32. Category: YA Historical

    Pitch: Young Victoria meets Project Runway.
    Anna, a lonely ladies maid in training with dreams of owning her own dress shop and falling in love, befriends the equally lonely young princess Victoria. They share confidences and a love of fashion as they secretly design gowns for the future Queen and plan for their futures outside the boundaries of the Kensington system.

    “You’re wearing my dress.”
    I had to answer. I had no choice. The question was how.
    I was not to talk directly to the Her Royal Highness the Princess Victoria.
    Governess Lichen had stepped out of the room leaving me alone with the princess. I don’t think the governess realized I'm not on the list of servants who can directly attend the princess.
    What do I do? Can I look at her? No one is to look at the king…does the rule apply to the Princess Victoria?
    Should I curtsy, keep my eyes down and say yes your majesty or do I actually answer her. As a second ladies’ maid and according to the servant’s rules of hierarchy I was nobody. I did not exist. I had been told so everyday for the past two weeks.
    This was not good.
    The first time I venture above stairs and I’m already at risk of being sacked. But the princess had addressed me directly and it was proper etiquette and protocol to answer.
    Could I curtsy, speak, and keep my eyes averted? I hope for my father’s sake that I get it right.
    “It looks nothing like my old dress.” The princess smiled. My morning oatmeal stopped churning in my stomach. I swallowed hard, relieved that I could now open my mouth without the fear of my breakfast spewing forth.
    “If I didn’t recognize the fabric, I would never have known.” The princess examined the restyling of her cast off dress with a critical eye. “You’re very talented.”

  33. Category: Historical
    Pitch: News that she was adopted forces Lady Madeline Wetherby to lower her expectations and marry an upstart Manchester merchant. When she discovers her birth father is one of the weavers her husband is putting out of work—and a radical leader—she must decide whether the family she longs for can be made of the people of her blood or the man of her heart.

    Maddie had gone, and Nash breathed a sigh of relief.

    He pushed the door shut, its gentle click a far cry from the wrenching he'd given it to open. He leaned his back against it, savoring the peace of an entryway empty of people and their baggage. The magistrates and committee men could hang, the radicals could hang, they could hang one another. So long as Maddie was gone to the country, safe.

    A rustle from the second story set his heart racing again. He bounded up the stair and checked each room. No, her trunks were truly gone, and most of the pegs and presses for her clothes stood empty. The scent of her lingered, a trace of cinnabar from the soap he’d given her amid her own sweet fragrance. He lifted a cloak she’d left behind, pulling a deeper draft of her. She had been wanton last night, so changed from a scant three months ago. For a moment, he considered riding out to join her tonight. But he must be here at dawn, must make sure those tarted-up shopkeepers kept their swords sheathed.

    That idiot Trefford bragged about going to the blacksmith to have blades sharpened. Even if they were forced to disperse the crowd, the man wouldn’t be using his weapon to do it, or heaven help them all.

  34. Category: Contemporary Romance
    Pitch:Kate Kingston and Brett Montgomery have two things in common. Their raging lust for each other and Kate’s brother Darren, who is also Brett’s best friend. Thanks to Darren they’re going to be forced to admit the way they feel about each other, or lose what he sees as their best chance at happiness.

    “Would you pleeeease stop looking at my brother like you would like to eat him alive.” Kate forced herself not to laugh at her best friend, who was practically drooling now that her oldest brother Darren had stripped off his sweat soaked T-shirt.
    “I would if I could but I really, really can’t. You could sell tickets for this and become a very rich woman.” Lucy smiled as she waved her hand in front of her face.
    She followed Lucy’s stare across the yard to the small fenced in cement court where her two older brothers, Darren and Craig, were playing basketball with Darren’s best friend Brett Montgomery. She could definitely see Lucy’s point, even if she was a bit biased. With three gorgeous half-naked men dripping with sweat, running, and jumping around less than a hundred feet away, how could any healthy heterosexual woman not stare? And since this was a common Saturday afternoon occurrence she could have made a fortune by now. But deep down she was greedy. She watched Brett scramble after the ball, knowing she didn’t want to share this with anybody except Lucy.
    Blocking out her brothers, she zoned in on Brett’s hard tanned body. Now there was a body made for nibbling on. She felt a hot flush spread across her cheeks. At six foot four he stood a good two and a half inches over her brothers and a good seven inches over her own, above average, five feet nine inch frame.

  35. Category: Paranormal Romance
    Pitch:Marlee Piece is a witch finally called to her powers when the binding her ancestral coven weaved breaks down, threatening to unleash an evil the world had forgotten. Then Ryder Lockwood comes to town, a man of mystery, cunning and brutal sexuality. Has he come to help her through her ordeal, or damn her eternal soul for all time?

    The moon winked through the trees before her, hanging low in the sky, close to the horizon. She was moving, gliding forward though her legs didn’t move. No wind, no sounds of nature, of the night time creatures that usually inhabited the glen she knew so well. Everything was fuzzy, softened, with a faerie tale feel to it.

    It was a dream and she knew it. Marlee steadied herself, taking control of the dream and her astral body. She ceased to move forward, and felt the cool dewy grass of the glen underfoot. Dreams could feel so real, which was always a problem. She had always known how to manipulate the dream realm, and knew that where as it could be beautiful and inviting, it could also be scary and malevolent in the blink of an eye. The trick was to be ready for it. Thankfully she had been trained since childhood to do that. Inherited powers were so easy to plan for.

    The forest beyond held shadows, thick and cloying, but they thankfully stayed in the trees, though ever moving. She turned and her vision was changed to the Well of the World, the ritual pond, and the ancient willows that ringed it. She moved forward through the cool wet grass, approaching the edge of the water, drawn there.

    Beyond, on the small island, just large enough to house the monstrous willow was a ring of pillar candles in white, the color of hope. What it was surrounding though, that was the question. She sighed and closed her eyes, willing a small bridge to cross the expanse, knowing full well the fetid water was not the way to cross. The bridge was modest, a wooden affair designed for functionality, not for style and she supposed that spoke to her soul as well. The bridge was the way to her destiny, and she wouldn’t be doing it flashy or over the top. She had resigned herself to it long before, and was accepting. She didn’t need the fanfare.

  36. Category: Paranormal Romance
    Pitch: The fairies need a tough man with a tender heart.
    The tough man needs to find a way back to the real world.

    “Wizard.” A melodious voice chimed at his side. Maxx looked down at her and his co*k lurched. Oh yeah, he could do her. Though she wasn’t classically beautiful, something about her reached out and hooked him with an appeal that was almost drug-like in its intensity. Her soft brown eyes were shaded by a glitter so subtle he could only see the sparkle.

    “I’m your fairy,” she said, touching his arm with her pale hand.

    “How did you know to dress as a fairy?” The roles they were supposed to play were assigned randomly by the cards they drew. But she looked exactly like the sprites drawn in a child's book. Her fluttering pink dress was confined by a moss green suede jacket. Her calf-length boots also looked suede, though they clung to her shapely legs as closely as stockings.

    “I come here every night looking for the right wizard,” she said.


  37. Thanks, Leah! So awesome of you to give us a professional's opinion on our opening paragraphs. I'm so glad I saw this today!

  38. Melissa Stark--The last paragraph starts to get a little explanatory, but I do like what comes before. Your pitch sounds very light in tone, which differs drastically from the opening. But I'm interested in reading more. Please send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  39. Waving hi to you, Leah! I did my own waking scene in Catch of a Lifetime - but it was from his POV, watching her wake up. Opening line:

    There was a naked woman on his boat.

    :) Good luck to everyone!

  40. Jane Kelly--Great pitch. Slightly more than the allotted four grafs, but even with just the top, I'd love to read more. You can send the query/cover letter in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  41. Category: Faith-based Romantic Suspense

    When three of Wes Darino’s four dogs are found dead and his home vandalized, he takes the fourth dog and moves north to spend the winter as caretaker of a remote fishing lodge, incorrectly assuming it will be a safe refuge. A series of accidents throw him into conflict with a neighbouring rancher and introduce him to a petite redhead who soon has him rethinking an impulsive teenage declaration of homosexuality, and God’s plans for his life.

    The back gate hung open. In the snow between it and the side door of the garage where the dogs slept there were fresh tracks – footprints alongside a strip of tire treads.
    “What the–?“
    Darcy followed me to the gate, hesitating at the garage door where the three others waited to be let out for their early morning romp. As the geriatric member of my Doberman Pinscher clan, Darcy was privileged to sleep in my bedroom but the garage doubled as a makeshift kennel for the others. I detoured to close the gate and discovered the discarded padlock, its dull brass barely visible beneath grey ridges of snow.
    I wondered why the dogs hadn’t barked at an intruder, why they were so quiet now. Then the realization hit me and my breathing stuttered to shallow gasps. That barking last night – I had ignored it because I figured the dogs were complaining about a prowling coyote.
    No morning greeting welcomed me as I shoved open the garage door, just a dreadful silence. When I jabbed at the light switch the glare illuminated the chain-link pens and the three dogs splayed out on the concrete, their gaping jaws frozen in death.

  42. Nicky--Great job in giving us enough detail to set the stage but not completely explaning the situation so I'm intrigued enough to read more. Please send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  43. Category: Paranormal romance

    Pitch: Archeologist Sabrina Jefferson joins the team invited to Chichen Itza to search for clues about the Mayan doomsday prediction, but her secret goal is to prove that a beloved, ancient Mayan myth was reality. What she doesn’t expect is help from the spirits of the two lovers sacrificed for their affair a millennium ago and interference from a former Navy SEAL seeking revenge for the death of his fiancée at the hands of a black-market artifact collector.


    925 A.D.
    In an ancient Maya city

    As Itzel had grown from a young girl into a young woman, the priests and her parents had always regaled her with tales of how she would die with honor as a virgin sacrifice in the Sacred Cenote. Now, she stood on the rocky edge of a huge limestone sinkhole, staring into the murky water far below.

    But nothing matched what had been foretold to her.

    The smelly cenote that would be her watery grave was not the Sacred Cenote, but instead, the place of shame where the priests executed those who broke the strict Maya laws. And Itzel was also definitely not a virgin for she cradled her infant son in her arms. Her choices and actions had changed her fate. She’d confessed her transgressions and accepted responsibility for breaking the sacred trust, but tiny Pacal was innocent. He didn’t deserve this fate. Tears dripped from her chin. Not for herself, but for him.

    “Name the father of your bastard child so he may be punished with you,” Kaak, the high priest, commanded again in a voice loud enough for all to hear.

  44. Category: Sexy Contemporary
    Pitch: A videographer desperate to secure a career saving interview, finds the target isn’t quite what he’s been selling to the world. But with his family always in the spotlight, can she risk her past scandal coming to light by getting involved with him?

    It was a darn shame someone with that much raw sex appeal was a politician.

    Vega Zaragoza rolled her eyes. Like she’d want someone as publicly visible as him even if he wasn’t a politician. But looking never hurt anybody.

    Hiding behind the eyepiece, she readjusted the camera on her shoulder and zoomed in tight. Jackson Parker Davenport Jr., the definition of success. Money, power, and a stomp-them-until-they-give attitude. Not to mention the interchangeable eye candy he had to choose from on a daily basis.

    The governor’s rumored choice to fill the vacant congressional seat, JP stood one-hundred feet away, mixed among his expansive family and the elite of Atlanta, but Vega’s body tingled as if he were standing right next to her.

  45. Hi,

    Thanks for offering such a great opportunity -- definitely makes this cold, snowy Thursday tolerable!


  46. Category: Contemporary YA

    Pitch: Sixteen-year-old Alina Chernov wants to escape her family of petty criminals and remake herself into the quintessential law-abiding citizen--starting by winning the election for student council vice president. But when her brother Dima bribes his way into her new boarding school and announces he's running against her, Lina must decide if winning is important enough to return to her criminal ways.

    According to Google maps, Laguna High School is located in Southern California, 0.76 miles from the ocean. And yet, as I speed-walk through the administration building, I'd swear I'm trapped in hell.

    Broken AC, leading to crematorium-high temperature? Check. Crusty, day-old bowl of cafeteria chili in the trash can, letting off the stench of a rotting cadaver? Check. Anonymous burnout, awaiting news of his eternal fate from the Principal?

    "Hey!" My twin brother Dima waves at me from the burnout bench in the annex outside Principal Morris's office. "Lina. I thought that was you."

    My heart rate spikes, even though he sounds perfectly relaxed. I can't be here. I should never have volunteered to pick up Mr. Ruiz's mail. It's not like fetching and carrying for a few teachers is going to make up for everything else.

  47. Category: Urban Fantasy

    Pitch: A human lie detector is hired to unearth a mole but discovers her powers can’t protect her when even the bad guys are as special as she is.

    When they found me, they weren’t ninjas, just garden-variety men in black. Excuse me, people in black. The frustrating part wasn’t that they invaded my home but that I should have been expecting it. After all, I’m the only person I’ve ever met who can do what I can do. Besides write advertising copy. Anybody can do that.

    No, as far as I know, I’m the only freak like me in existence. I should have been forewarned. Forearmed. I should have had a bag packed, with stylish travel wear and airline-friendly cosmetics.

    But I didn’t. They caught me completely unaware. I’m stupid that way, even if I can discover any truth by asking the right questions.

    I got home from another late night, after a normal week at work, after a normal year being me, if there is such a thing. I unlocked the door, cursed it when it stuck, and had almost kicked it shut when I noticed them. A man and woman I’d never seen before were in my living room watching my newest indulgent purchase. Wait, that would be a Kate Spade purse. While it’s sparkly, it doesn’t do any tricks. They were watching my widescreen TV.

    --Jody Wallace

  48. Category: Women's Fiction

    Pitch: After a series of devastating losses, a southern girl returns to her home state of Georgia to take a job in the wine business, and discovers that a bottle of wine, paired with her best girlfriends, can solve almost any problem.

    I close the heavy pine door behind me, groaning as I kick off the uncomfortable shoes I’m wearing. You would think you’d be used to pain by now, I think to myself. Granted, most of my pain has been of the emotional variety, but the line between emotional and physical can sometimes be a bit blurry.

    I should’ve known better than to buy the damn shoes in the first place. They were sitting in the window of a store that I normally refuse to shop in – a store whose clothes are made for women who wish to be stuck forever in their early twenties. The reason that I am not a regular patron of this particular store is twofold: 1) I don’t need another reminder that I am no longer in my early twenties (my butt does that for me every morning, thank you very much) and 2) I tried on a pair of their jeans once, and was nearly stuck in them forever.

  49. Category: Contemporary Romance

    Pitch: "Just My Luck" (1933 version) with a "Proposal" twist. Esmerelda Quinn has lost to Santiago Cruz before. When he is named co-owner of her aunt's vacation villa, she vows not to let him win - the villa or her heart - this time around.


    Two phrases, la custodia compartida, and descanso y la relajacion circled in Esmerelda Quinn's mind, raising more questions than she knew how to utter. Joint ownership. Rest and relaxation. The wet heat of the Puerto Vallarta summer day prevented her brain from firing on all cylinders, but she'd gotten the gist of those two phrases, if not the full sentiment.
    Joint ownership. Rest and relaxation. Senor Velazquez may as well have told her to go back to being a desk clerk at the California B&B.
    The lawyer, sweat beading on his forehead and above his lip, sat across the desk looking decidedly uncomfortable in the un-air-conditioned upper room of his office building. Pale despite a lifetime lived on the Mexican Riviera and balding, he squashed her dreams as quickly as he squashed the tiny bee buzzing around his tea cup looking for the last bit of honey. There would be no grand return, no showing Puerto Vallarta society that she could turn her aunt's villa into a successful vacation destination.
    Above her, the ceiling fan turned too slowly to brush even a breath of cooler air onto her over-heated skin. Or maybe it was just her over-heated temper, rising even as she watched the lawyer's smug expression. This stranger would not take her dreams from her. Esme stiffened her spine and inched forward on the hard wooden chair.

  50. Category: Regency historical

    Pitch: A debutante fast heading for spinsterhood and determined to guard her heart, Julia St. Claire seeks a civilized, sensible union if she must marry at all. When such an arrangement is offered--by the man of her sister's dreams--Julia must choose: betray her sister or take the risk of opening her heart in turning to her childhood friend, former cavalry captain Benedict Revelstoke. Benedict, who has quietly loved Julia for years, fears he has lost their longtime friendship when he betrays his feelings--until she turns up at his townhouse with a scandalous proposal.

    April 1816, London
    William Battencliffe wagers five thousand pounds that Miss Julia St. Claire will become the next Countess of Clivesden.
    Benedict Revelstoke reread the lines in White's infamous betting book. What the devil? His fingers constricted about the quill, just shy of crushing it. Right. He'd been about to lay a wager. Some idiocy, no doubt. Hardly worth the bother now.
    The book's most recent inscription, scrawled in such a casual hand for all the world to see, had quite driven the notion from his mind. In gold ink, no less. How fitting. Gold ink for Battencliffe, the ton's golden boy.
    Upperton, his oldest friend, nudged him. "What's the matter? Your feet coming over icy all the sudden?"
    Lead blocks would be more accurate, but Benedict was not about to admit to that. He laid the quill aside and jabbed a finger at the heavy vellum page. "Have you seen this?"

  51. Category: Single title with light paranormal.

    Blurb: It ain’t easy being the most sought after bachelor in Possum Hollow, but Jimmie Joe Johnson accepts his fate like a man. A man can't fight G-netics. Or so he thinks. But all it takes is one female - the right female - to tame this hound dog's heart.

    “Jimmie Joe Johnson, you whore dog, you!”

    My head shot up from between Sally Norton’s naked, jiggling breasts and I turned to look behind me. Lynnette Randall stood in the open doorway of the Dirty Duds & Suds Laundromat, her eyes big and round like slices of summer ripe watermelon, and just as red. The only thing missing were the seeds. Though I reckon them beady little black centers in her eyes could be considered seeds.

    “It ain’t how it looks,” I attempted to explain as the over-sized washer we were leaning against kicked into spin cycle.

    Her gaze dropped down to the floor, narrowing as it went. “And I reckon you always do your laundry with your jeans bunched up around your ankles. You piece of shit! You shithead! You no good shit─−”

    “Can we talk about this later?” I asked with a growl. I mean, hell, I was one thrust away from being dick deep inside of Sally Norton at that moment. That meant I wasn’t exactly in the mood to discuss how many kinds of shit I was in Lynnette’s book.

  52. Category: Romantic Suspense
    Pitch: When the mob kills her cop boyfriend and ruins her chances for a new life, a determined Mafia daughter vows to bring them down—even if it means destroying her family.

    Naples, Italy
    Hurry! Dai, andiamo!
    Marisa Peruzzo slammed on the Audi’s horn, the blaring sound having little effect in the din and congestion. The tangled morning traffic crawled, and the cobblestone streets crammed with cars and lined with historic buildings, were too narrow for her to pass. Trapped.
    No! Her brother had too much of a head start for her to be trapped.
    “Merda.” She hit the redial button on her cell phone. She had called the number ten times in as many minutes.

    Thanks, Leah, this is fun and I'm enjoying reading the entries and your comments!

  53. Pitch: Melisande James's life-long bad luck and the source of her nickname, ‘Jinx’ is right on track when an enchanted stone gargoyle falls off a building and lands on her head, resulting in all manner of magical mayhem. Now Jinx has just one thing to say to you: You say don’t believe in witches, demons, vampires, immortal warriors and enchanted gargoyles? Welcome to my world!

    They tell me I was in a coma for three months. I wouldn’t know. Contrary to popular belief, I couldn’t hear people talking to me, and I wasn’t issuing silent screams for help in my mind. I was just out. Sort of like a five margarita night at Café Mexico. Everything was just a blank.
    I guess they thought I was a goner, because when I woke up everyone went ape shit. As a reward for not dying, I was then subjected to more tests than an alien abductee, and all they knew in the end was, yes, I was alive. Brain function was A.O.K. I knew who the president of the U.S. was, what year it was, my name - sadly, Melisande James, but please, call me Jinx - and where I lived: A piece of crap walkup in Hell’s Kitchen, in the Big Apple, that’s so small the roaches have a waiting list.
    The nurses were extra nice because they’d shaved off half my hair, though later they’d evened it out with a nice crew cut. Fortunately, after three months there was enough growth that instead of looking like a busty marine, I looked like a nice, curly carrot top. Sweet.

  54. Rita--I can see why Lucy and Kate want to keep watching these guys, for sure. Very hot. But what's drawing me forward? Where is the real hook in your story? From the pitch, I couldn't get a good sense of the conflict. I need a little something else here that gives anticipation of what's to come--maybe an unexpected reaction from one of the guys to give an indication of a relationship?

  55. Thanks Leah! This has been really informative. I'm loving the comments!!! Here's mine.

    Category: Contemporary Women's Fiction

    Pitch: A Naval Officer returns to Annapolis to heal after a terror-bombing and encounters the professional golfer who left her at the altar eight years before.

    May 2002

    “Anderson! Travis! You’re up!”

    The Chaplain’s Assistant consults her clipboard as the third wedding party in half an hour marches up the aisle and everyone takes his or her place for the rehearsal. Once they’re all situated, I check my watch and shoot another glance at the back of the church. With a sigh, I realize that unless Andrew steps on the gas and breaks a thousand different traffic laws, he’ll never be able to get here in time.

    Not that he’s the only one who’s missing, of course. In fact, it’s painfully obvious to everyone at our group wedding rehearsal that I’ve got a major problem on my hands. Every other pew is filled with chattering brides and grooms, fathers beaming as they think of walking their little girls down the aisle, mothers trying hard not to cry, and small children sitting in awe as they take in the view of the magnificent Chapel at the United States Naval Academy.

    But me? Yep, I’m alone. One long pew and I’m the only occupant. With my family at the hospital with my prematurely-delivering sister-in-law and Andrew, well, I’m not sure where Andrew is at the moment, I’m starting to feel like Jimmy Stewart in Harvey. I swear, the next person to ask me where everyone is, is going to get this: “Oh, no, my groom is here. See him? He’s the six foot rabbit right next to me.”

    Thanks again!

  56. Stella Price--There's lots of great description here, but I wish we *felt* the fairy-tale atmosphere more instead of just saying it. I think eliminating some of the repetition will give you room to heighten the mood and give us more a sense of what the character is feeling. Is there dread? Fear? Glee? If so, I'll want to keep reading to find out why. But as it's written right now, I'm not sure.

  57. Carly Carson--I'm hoping this is an erotic paranormal romance. For a more mainstream audience, I think you're going to have to ground the readers a little more as to where the characters are and what the situation is. But I do like the word play and the setup is intriguing.

  58. Diane Garner--I'd skip the prologue and start with your first chapter. We can get this in flashback or remembrances/visions of your heroine later if need be. Just make sure that first chapter is equally as compelling. You'll also need to be a little careful overall in timing--the Mayan prophecy is for 2012, if it's the one I'm thinking of. Most publisher 2012 schedules are filling fast, so this could quickly become dated. Or maybe you've already taken care of that later in the book. ;-)

  59. Carol J--This is very compelling, but it's also a pretty harsh way to start a romance. Personally, I'm one of those bleeding-heart animal lovers who always worries more about the horses, dogs, etc. than the people when it comes to violent stories. That said, though, if we published in this category, I would be interested in reading more to find out what happened to the dogs and how the main character would get through his grief.

  60. Pitch: When her brother, sheriff and cocaine addict, kills her sister-in-law, Laramie Porter goes on the run. With the help of sexy cowboy, Derrick Garrison, Laramie brings her brother to justice.

    A car door slammed and Laramie Porter’s pulse jumped up to mach speed, but she forced a reassuring smile for her sister-in-law. “Try to stay calm.”
    Julie made a noise in her throat like a frightened fawn. “Oh, no,” she moaned. “Lawrence found me already. How did he figure it out so fast?”
    Laramie motioned toward the kitchen. “Go in there.”
    Julie froze as Lawrence pounded on the front door.
    Behind her back, Laramie waved frantically. “Get out of here. Call 911 from the kitchen while I stall him.”

  61. Category: Contemporary Romance.
    Pitch: At last Cade West is back on Isola dei Fiori, and this time, Melo Bellucci is determined to catch his eye! But when her father's secret threatens her family's survival, what will Melo sacrifice to keep her family safe?

    The last thing Cade West felt like was mingling with a bunch of bright, young party guests. His eyes stung at the unaccustomed Tuscan sunlight, and his body ached from contorting his long frame into a plane seat. The irony of hating long distance flights wasn’t lost on him. After all, he spent most of his life jetting between hotels. But he wasn’t made for an airline seat. Even a first class seat.
    This week was going to be all about love and happy ever afters. A forced break from his regular routine which, if he were honest, he could well do with. He paid his managers way over the odds, let them handle things for a couple of weeks. For the first time in over a year he was on holiday.
    “They’re sending a car.”
    Cade cracked open a sleep-weighted eyelid.“Great.”
    His best friend Adam was getting married. Moving to Isola dei Fiori, working for his father-in-law, and putting his life and hope of happiness in Rosa Bellucci’s hands. There wasn’t a woman alive that Cade would give up his life for. Getting married meant staying in one place, settling down, putting down roots. He’d had roots once, roots that snaked through the earth of his native Texas, holding firm to the land that had been in his family for generations. Cade rubbed the side of his face with the back of his knuckles. No point going there.

  62. Just here to visit and say thanks for a great blog. It's really helped me see what works and doesn't for pitches.

  63. Kim--Great opening line. I'd cut the second paragraph, though, since it doesn't really tell us anything, and skip to the third. Use that extra room to give us something just a little more, something unexpected that draws us forward into wanting to see these two interact.

  64. Shoshana--The opening line made me smile. I loved that I thought I knew where it was going but then was wrong. Nice job! I also like the conflict that's immediately apparent, and I wonder what exactly she's done. Please do send more. I'll take the query/cover letter in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  65. Category:YA
    Pitch: Yesterday Simon was a 17-year-old towhead and about to begin his senior year. Last night his mother's boyfriend was blown up. Today he is 16-year-old Bixby and embarking on a new life in witness protection where learning your absentee father is just another hour in the life.

    From the blog, Simon Says:
    I’m pretty sure my mom is dating a terrorist. His name is Omar and he talks in low, unintelligible tones. He’s a sharp dresser whose heels click when he walks, even across the carpet. He claims to be a florist—Omar’s Oasis—but I’m pretty sure that’s just a cover. Snappy dresser, clicky heels, don’t you see? It all adds up to being a terrorist. Or gay. Oh my god. My mom is dating a gay terrorist.
    “Simon, you have to take down that blog.” Mom peers over my shoulder. “What if Omar
    sees it?”
    “Mom, you’re assuming he can read more English than plutonium rich.”
    “Simon, he’s not a terrorist.” She stifles a laugh. “Now get ready, we have to leave soon.”
    Notice she didn’t say he could read English.

  66. This comment has been removed by the author.

  67. Jody Wallace--Hi, Jody! I like that you're trying to infuse voice straight from the beginning, but I'm afraid it's getting a bit in the way of telling the story. I felt there was a lot of stopping, going back and correcting. And in the opening, it's essential to have a smooth path going forward. All the elements--the non-ninjas, the special ability, the ad copywriter--are interesting. The transitions just need to be smoothed out some.

  68. Category: Paranormal Thriller
    Pitch: A love spell turns lethal when a young witch falls for a professional wrestling superstar.

    “Goddess of the riverway
    Oh come to me I pray
    Goddess of love and beauty
    Come into the light
    Join me on this full moon night”

    Rowan twirled five times around an altar of flaming yellow and orange candles surrounded by seashells and shards of brightly colored mirrored glass. Her uninhibited nakedness made the dance an erotic offering.

    “Light my path, show me the way
    Of this my Goddess I pray.”

  69. Leah, thanks so much for this opportunity and your evaluation. I'm a dog lover, too (breeder and dog show professional), so I hesitated to begin with that scene. But it's the catalyst for what follows and I decided it was necessary to show it, albeit briefly. I appreciate your feedback. Thanks again.

  70. Leah,
    Thank you for the advice and for doing this.
    Thanks also for the warning about the timing. Yes, the Mayan prophecy is for Dec 2012, and I'm hoping to get this out there in time to use the hype in marketing the book.
    Is it okay to post a second pitch?
    Thanks again for your time.

  71. Leah, thanks so much for the opportunity!Appreciate it.

    Category: YA
    Pitch: Seventeen-year-old Lucienne Arcos must save her mother before it's too late—unfortunately her unknown abilities are yet to be discovered.

    Being a freak sucks. Really sucks.

    I pressed my forehead against the bars on my cell window. The cool rods sent a trail of goose bumps down my neck. Working my hands through the gaps, I pushed my arms out as far as they could go, longing to feel the warm Mediterranean sun against my skin.

    How long had it been since I felt the sun? Two years? Three? Could I still walk amid the sunlight like my father’s kin? Or would I flame to a cinder like the Night Walkers?

    In the courtyard below a band of ragged teenagers, Day Walkers, kicked a leather ball—their tennis shoes flashing white across the bright green grass. Shouts and shrieks of laughter scaled the 900 year old cobblestone walls of my prison. I pictured myself down there with them, and I could feel that bright green grass soft and fragrant beneath my feet, the sun warming my face and wind teasing my hair. I imagined myself one of them. Accepted. Welcomed.

    Until one glanced up, her eyes falling on my window. She stopped in mid play and made the sign of the cross. The others soon joined her, heads pressed together—fingers pointing. And I could almost hear their whispers. Feel their fear.

    Freak. Cross-breed. Forbidden blood.

    I turned away, my gaze locking onto the faint bruise in the shape of fingers marring my forearm. The deep purple marking had faded, but the pain lingered beneath the surface

  72. Beth Mann--Be careful that the pitch doesn't make it sound as though your heroine is going to turn into an alcoholic. ;-) I also need to see something about her that sets her apart right away from all the other characters in women's fiction. It's great that readers will be able to relate to the pain of high heels and squeezing into jeans, but what makes her different and interesting enough to make me want to spend another 300 pages with her?

  73. Thank you for the feedback, Leah! I'll go smack my voice around some and see if she'll cooperate more smoothly.

  74. Kristina--I like the first lines and I definitely see the conflict here. I think the first two paragraphs could use a little tightening though to really help them shine and get us more quickly to the crux of the problem.

  75. Thanks for this, Leah!

    Category: Contemporary romance

    Pitch: When a young doctor returns to the small Sierra Nevada town where she grew up to open a women’s clinic, she finds herself battling a town’s suspicions and her blossoming feelings for the brother of the boy who attacked her in high school. No one ever said rebuilding a life - or falling in love - would be easy.


    Blue lights swirled in Johanna Watterman’s rearview mirror. Heaving a deep sigh, she pulled to the side of the dusty highway and stared at the snow-capped mountain range ahead. She didn’t need to look in the mirror to know who it was.

    As the crunch of his heavy boots on the gravel shoulder grew closer, she cranked open her window. Even when he drew level with her door, she kept her eyes trained on the horizon. “Afternoon, Deputy George.”

    Her voice didn’t reveal much—neither her fear nor her loathing—and she chalked up a point for herself on her mental scoreboard. She’d need every point she could get.

    A sun-spotted hand invaded the corner of her vision, hesitating just enough to make her eyelids twinge before it perched on her Fiesta’s battered door. She’d watch that hand—a lesson this man’s son had taught her.

  76. Category:Romantic Suspense/Mystery

    Pitch: A body is found on the Pine Ridge Reservation of a young woman who had been missing for months. Will the tangle web find her caught up in something illegal or was she had the wrong place at the wrong time?

    Archaeologist DeShay Bagola (Bear Claw) studied her reflection in the mirror. Today, she would try to locate a site of artifacts near Eagle Nest Butte were relics of the Lakota had been found. She wondered what new adventure would come her way.

    As she gathered her belongings for the day, her mind trailed off to the relics she had found last year. She smiled as the thought of how important they had turned out to be. They were items of her ancestors, possibly dating back to the time of Crazy Horse.

    She turned the doorknob, stepped out into the heat of the day. It was quite warm for the area. After all, it was the month of August, Moon of Black Cherries or Thunder Moon.

    She climbed into her jeep, packed with all the tools of her trade. The sacred medicine wheel hung from the rearview mirror. The power it held was strong. Her grandfather taught her as a young girl to hold her Lakota ways. Therefore, being Lakota, she knew the Lakota Way, which meant everything is sacred, connected, and sent to us from the Great Mystery.

    The wheels turned onto the dusty road. She wondered if today would bring more questions then answers. Dirt floated up into the air as the wheels of the jeep sped faster and faster, waiting for the moment when they touched the pavement.

    Suddenly, she mashed the brakes, which sent her jeep sideways. Gazing out the window, her eyes caught the array of the sun’s rays sparkling down upon the butte, releasing a glimpse into the world of the past.

    She opened the door, and stepped out. She stretched her legs as she grabbed her gear. Today would reveal a part of her heritage from long ago.

    She headed down a dusty path, through a rusty gate, and up a gravel path. The beauty revealed the presence of her ancestors. Finally, she found the sight. In the distance, Eagle Nest Butte stood erected, while Bear in the Lodge Creek faintly made its presence known.

    As she sat her gear down, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. She stood, straight footed, and covered her brow with her hand, to block the glare of the sun’s rays while sweeping away the sweat on her forehead. A few feet away from where she stood, lay a niyaha, feather, attached to a dreamcatcher keychain.

    As she picked it up, she thought of the legend, her grandfather told her so many moons ago.

    “Long ago, an old Lakota spirited leader was on a mountain. He had a vision. The great trickster spirit, Iktomi, appeared in a form of a spider. Iktomi, spoke to the spiritual leader in a sacred language only he understood.

  77. Category: light paranormal romance

    Pitch: Made in Heaven matchmaking service falls on hard times after the boss's wife leaves him for someone else, and things only get worse when the employees decide to help the god of love find himself a new girlfriend.

    Thunder boomed and lightning crackled across the sky. There was a moment of breathless silence, as if creation was gathering itself, and then the deluge started. Fat drops of rain hit the pavement like tiny bombs and exploded, and in a matter of seconds, the gutters ran high with water. The humans on their way home from work huddled under umbrellas and folded-up newspapers as they scurried past the windows of Made in Heaven matchmaking service, while Eros watched, grimly amused.

    The god of love rather enjoyed seeing the mortals in his charge struggle with life’s little inconveniences.

    He hadn’t always. Once upon a time he’d been full of the milk of human kindness, and had wanted nothing but good for everyone. Especially the mortals, poor, pitiful creatures, with their weak bodies and finite lives. They deserved what little happiness they could grasp in the short time allotted to them. But that was before the love of his life, beautiful Psyche, had called him a workaholic and run off with some overdeveloped Viking warrior with braids and more brawn than brains. Some Norse godling without a thought in his head except fighting all day and fucking all night and then getting up to do it all over again the next morning.

    Ungrateful wench. And after everything Eros had done for her, too.

  78. What a great idea for a post!

    Pitch: After a patient dies from a severe asthma attack, only the nursing supervisor suspects murder. No one seems to care, so LeeAnn Vaughn becomes an amateur detective to prove it herself.

    Lenore Longfield waited until her husband got up to use the restroom before she flagged down the flight attendant. She was terrified of flying and hadn’t been on a plane in years. One more drink would make her feel better, but she knew her husband would never approve. He hated weakness.
    “Could I have another Rum and Coke… quickly?” Smiling sheepishly, she hoped to down the drink before her husband returned, so he wouldn’t have to know.
    Lenore wasn’t that lucky, and Arnold caught her gulping from the tiny bottle. In her haste, she hadn’t bothered to mix it with the can of cola.
    * * * *
    Arnold Longfield gritted his teeth. “You had a drink as soon as we sat down, Lenore, and you took an extra Xanax before we got to the airport. How numb do you have to be?”
    He plopped down beside her and adjusted his seat belt. He removed a catalog from the pouch in front of him and rifled through the pages. He wasn’t really interested in any of the items on sale, but it was better than being drawn into a dull and meaningless conversation with his wife.
    “I’m sorry, Arnold,” she whispered. “I’m so nervous, and I know how much you hate it when I have a panic attack.”
    That was true. The best thing about being a traveling nurse was that he got to spend weeks at a time away from his family. He loathed Lenore’s numerous phobias, anxieties and insecurities. His two teenage children were no better. He felt they were lazy and irresponsible, and Lenore always made excuses for them.

  79. Catergory: Romantic Suspense
    Pitch: A frantic phone call from her estranged sister sends Jesse Peña rushing home to Brownsville, Texas, only to find that Alicia –seven months pregnant– has vanished. Jesse believes her brother-in-law, Marcus Vega, is a killer but getting the police to believe her isn’t easy, especially when Marcus announces that Jesse and her sister are borderline schizophrenic. Determined to find the evidence she needs Jesse seeks help from an investigative reporter. Their search for answers will uncover a chilling plot where a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse will risk Jesse's life and test her sanity.

    The car was going sixty-five miles per hour when it flipped. Metal crunched against metal, igniting sparks across the highway. Jesse squeezed her eyes shut and braced for the impact. Her body bucked against the backseat, the seatbelt strap pinning her in place and cutting into her neck. The rear-window’s glass shattered against her skull as the car rolled to a stop in a shallow ravine. Jesse struggled with her seatbelt, fighting to unclasp the latch. The burning odor of gasoline stung her eyes.
    Outside a shadowed figure stepped forward and crouched beside her door.
    “You should have left it alone,” the voice said.
    Even through her petrified fear she heard the unmistakable scrape of a match. The figure took a step back and tossed the tiny stick into the car.
    The scream woke her.

  80. Thanks for the feedback, Leah! :)

  81. Category: Paranormal Romance Mystery - “Designing Women meets Charmed”

    Pitch: Betrayed by those she trusted, stubborn contractor, Storm Morgeaux falls through the floor, landing on top of a corpse while renovating the old New Orleans courthouse. Even worse, the skeleton’s ghost demands justice for her murder, but when the dead girl’s abandoned dog plays matchmaker, Storm’s heart’s armor and project deadlines crumble around her, her latent abilities awaken, and to add to her troubles, she falls for the old fashioned-overprotective sexy client who helps her find the killer.

    “Tomorrow should change everything.” Storm glanced at her three sisters who were seated around the oval plan room table. “This renovation project has to be perfect. Not a single Change Order, and no magic either.” If they weren’t careful they could lose the job and maybe the company. She’d never forgive herself if that happened.

    “What?” Raine chimed in. “That’s impossible. You tell me of a job without any C.O.’s, and I’ll give you my brand new Louie purse.”

    Storm bit her lip. At least Raine hadn’t disagreed about not using their magic. Maybe she hadn’t heard her, or maybe she’d finally gotten through to them. She couldn't handle another disaster right now.

    Storm ran her callused hands down her Cameron Construction polo shirt and dirt stained khaki pants. “Now what would I do with your Louie?”

    Thanks, Leah.

  82. Thanks, Leah.

    It's really helpful to see what interests you in a manuscript.

  83. Category: Historical Romance

    Esme Blanchard steals from the rich...but doesn't give to the poor because she is the poor. Ian Kirkbridge, self-righteous Duke of Bellingham, leads his boring life of luxury mostly in solitude. Their opposite worlds collide when Esme targets Ian as her next victim.

    Esme peered around the corner toward the carriage with a crest emblazoned on the side, its colors barely discernible in the dim lamplight. She moved forward, drawn to the grandeur--but then everyone in Grosvenor Square was worth stealing from.

    The carriage door opened, and as expected, a smartly dressed gent with broad shoulders and mussed hair stepped down from the carriage, swaying slightly as he started up the street.

    Esme's palms sweated inside her grubby gloves. She'd planned for this moment for weeks--her first job in the wealthy side of London. One job would last her for a month if it were lucrative enough. She could avoid another job for at least that long. Her rumbling stomach reminded her why she was here in the first place.

    She gritted her teeth. With one mistake, she'd end up in Newgate instead of enjoying cheese and bread for supper. A glance at her surroundings reminded her there were virtually no hiding spots nearby, and the street had emptied. Witnesses would be sparse.

  84. Thanks! This is a great learning experience.

  85. Category: Regency Romance

    Pitch: Charlotte Underwood is one of London’s most eligible heiresses, but nonetheless she is determined never to marry. Her brother has other plans. He’s already arranged a meeting with the Earl of Atherton, and now the beautiful and intelligent Georgiana must create a scandal that will ruin her precious reputation and set her free…

    _ _ _

    If Miss Charlotte Underwood was looking for scandal, she need only look as far as Mr. Aston Melbourne. From a distance, she watched as he moved about the room, lithe and graceful, like a cat on the prowl—searching for his next victim.

    Gossip circulated anew at his presence in town this season. His reputation was in tatters after his last, scandalous liaison with Marianne Gray and the myriad affairs he’d had both before his marriage and after his wife’s death.

    One thing was for certain—the man was a magnet for salacious gossip. A woman alone in his company for half a breath was certain to bring her virtue into question.

    “Mr. Melbourne will suit perfectly,” Charlotte whispered to her friend, Julia Randall.


  86. Category: Contemporary Romance
    Pitch: Caught in a web of lies—her mother’s, her daughter’s, her own—and the machinations of small-town politics, Cathy and Ryan dare to dream of a life ABOVE SCANDAL.

    Cathy Rossetti gripped the steering wheel hard enough to imbed her fingerprints. She jammed her foot against the brake pedal vibrating with the running engine. She stared at the big white clapboard house.
    “Mom, is this Nonna’s house?” asked Cathy’s ten-year old daughter.
    “Yes.” Memories of screaming matches, slamming doors, and bitter tears rose on a sour wave of bile. Home.
    “Mo-om, are you okay?”
    Maybe. If they let us in.
    “Just nervous, Hayley sweetie. It’s been a while.” Eleven years since life had driven Cathy away. Now death drew her back.
    Through the rear-view mirror she glimpsed Ryan’s old home across the street. Did he still live there?
    Low pewter clouds bustled overhead. If only her memory could be cleansed as easily as the rain washed the dusty roads and sidewalks of Clarence Bay.
    Sighing hard and deep, Cathy put her Lexus in park and turned off the engine. She climbed out, smoothed her sleeveless pink blouse over her black jeans, and pushed her glasses up her nose. A chilly raindrop splat on her cheek and trickled down her face. She shivered. Madre di Dio. Was this an omen of tears to come?

  87. I'm going to keep going with these, but I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who's submitted so far. I like to think that we're all friends here, but I recognize that it still takes a lot of guts. I salute you big time!

  88. Category: Paranormal Romance
    Pitch: A world-weary Phoenix, working off two millenniums of penance is fed up with saving souls, but will her salvation be death or one sexy Texan?

    Heat waves licked along the wing of the plane, flickering like tiny fingers telling Ice good-bye. Ironically, the thought of dying didn’t hurt as much as the idea of rising again.

    “Excuse me.”

    The raspy voice drew her attention from the window and the musings eating at her conscience. His scent spoke to her, spicy and exotic, like a piece of home where the hot desert sand met the Nile.

    It had been so long since she’d been home.

  89. Hi Leah :) What a cool opportunity to offer authors. I've got my fingers crossed for everyone. It takes courage to submit your work privately but it takes stone-cold-guts to put it out there in a public forum. Kudos!

  90. Aislinn--Love the conflict here, and interesting opening. I'll be taking a hard look at dialogue here, but I'd like to see more. Please send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  91. Thanks, Leah, for explaining so clearly what you see in each pitch. I'm glad you were intrigued by mine; I've sent the ms now. Much appreciated.

  92. Lindsey--I know I have this one in my reading queue already--it's hard to forget an opening like that! I like the Southern flavor with the watermelon analogy, but I'm not sure it entirely fits. I had to read it a couple of times to check the fit, and I'm not sure it's adding anything to the opening. As I'm sure you know, it's very unusual for a romance to be first-person from a guy's POV. You're going to want to make very sure he's likeable enough (even if he has to be redeemed) to want to spend 300 pages with.

  93. Diana Layne--Nice job setting the scene here. And I know four paragraphs in this case doesn't give you a lot of space to work with. ;-) I had a little trouble distinguishing the tone here. Is she mad (mild interesting) or afraid (more compelling)? Either way, though I'm happy to read more. Hit me up with the query in the body of an email that has the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  94. lisakimhorton--Love the immediate humor and situation. It's clear what's going on here without a lot of detail, and I get a good sense of your character's personality through her voice. Please do send the query in the body of an email that has the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  95. Category: Contemporary Romance
    Pitch:Put together a woman who prizes honesty and the truth more than anything and a man who makes his living being devious and the odds aren’t in their favor. But when the cards are down maybe professional poker player Charles ‘Black Ash’ Ashton and quiet math teacher Emily Worthing might have an ace in the hand called love.


    The warmth emanating from too many people crowded into a small space didn’t stop Emily’s involuntary shiver. The darkest eyes she’d ever seen shot right through her from across the room. Nobody should stare that obviously. It wasn’t polite. Usually all of Doctor Wilson’s guests were familiar because he always invited the same people on the first Saturday of the New Year. Emily knew she wasn’t perhaps the most observant person but… a tall, ebony haired, dressed-all-in black man with killer eyes – that she’d have noticed.
    For a count of exactly thirty five seconds their gaze locked in place and much as she wanted to Emily couldn’t break away. But at the precise moment when she considered breaking her self-imposed moratorium on men the exact same thing happened as always. Elegant, funny, sexy Claire her distinctly non-identical twin sister. moved in and tapped him on the arm. Instantly the stranger turned away.
    “What’s up Em? Don’t tell me it’s Claire Envy time again?”
    “Wasn’t she taking any notice of you either?” Emily was frequently dubbed the ‘Nice Twin’ but bitterness seeped into the un-nice words.

  96. Thanks Leah. Jimmie Joe is a female loving redneck, but he does have redeeming qualities as well as reasons for acting the way he does in the beginning of the story. I hope you'll enjoy watching this hound dog get tamed by the right woman when you get to it.


  97. Genre: YA Fantasy

    Pitch: Alexia’s new pen is both special (everything it writes comes true) and cursed (each time Alexia uses its power, someone turns into a demon). When the leader of the demons kidnaps her family, Alexia has no choice but to travel to the fantasy land that the pen came from. Alexia will do anything, even if it means giving up her power, to save them.


    Little light filtered through the trees, and I closed my book. Time to go home before Mom freaked out. I looked down at my watch — well past time, I had lost track while reading. I stood and stretched, my hand resting against the rough bark of a giant oak tree. The forest was my favorite place to read, but twilight had quickly turned into night and now the letters were no longer legible.

    Long shadows covered the forest floor, and several branches rustled above me. A cool wind picked up, and I shivered. Should’ve worn a jacket. I walked forward, picking my way through the trees. Something sounded behind me. A small creature, I tried to tell myself, but the hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I glanced behind me. Nothing was there.

    Stupid overactive imagination. That’s what you get for reading a horror story in a forest. I hurried forward when I heard a more sinister sound — the low rumbling of a growl.

    Whirling around, I half-expected to see a wolf even though few, if any, roamed freely in Pennsylvania. Instead I saw a face with dark eyes and red skin. The being was massive, with broad shoulders and muscles on top of muscles, and so tall, it blocked the waxing moon, covering us in darkness. Its large mouth opened and revealed rows of gnarled teeth. The stench of rotting flesh surrounded me, and I gagged, my fear preventing rooting me in the spot. A demon.

  98. Uh-oh, I have 2 no-nos: prologue from the killer's perspective.

    Category: Romantic Suspense
    Pitch:All a rebel-turned-Construction-Empire-CEO wants is to live an uncomplicated life. But when his mentor’s daughter vanishes and a series of brutal murders rock the community, he suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of the law, depending on a sexy boutique entrepreneur who’s vehemently rejecting her psychic connection to the missing woman.

    Beginning: 24 years ago
    His body was now a temple. Every sculpted inch a testament to his discipline. He gazed down at his naked form and smiled to himself in the cramped shithole his roommates referred to as the john. Idiots. They went to parties, drank gallons of beer, then brought their scanks home to screw like animals on the beds next to his.

    He'd be out of here soon. Soon, she would notice him. Everything was going to change.

    He flexed his biceps in the mirror, twisting his wrists to watch the muscles slither under his skin.

    Patience. It was coming together. Now, the girls who used to look right through him, not seeing him at all, were throwing themselves at him. He used them in quiet hallways, dark closets, and deserted staircases, and they still came back for more. Whores. Afterwards, he'd stumble to the nearest bathroom and throw up. How he hated them for that.

    Thanks, Leah!

  99. Category: YA
    Pitch: In a modern-day retelling of the Wizard of Oz, 15 year-old Eliza unknowingly travels through a portal from her hometown of New Orleans to the Land of the Crescent, a place where residents receive super powers around age 18 in a very visible way. Eliza & her friends must stop a villain trying to overthrow the Crescent before all future Wishes are lost.

    “Before we adjourn, there is one final request,” said the Chief Council member.

    The chamber doors burst open and a short gentleman approached the table, feet tapping on the marble floor.

    “Mr. Mayor, please address your statement to the Council.”

    The Mayor pushed his jacket aside. A piece of paper slid itself out from the pocket of his purple vest and unfolded slowly, hanging in midair. His voice carried to the four corners of the large room. “There is a request for the Portal to be opened for one human girl, age fifteen years, name Eliza Dewberry. Expected stay in the Crescent will be fourteen days of the calendar.”

    A man at the end of the Council table asked, “Mr. Mayor, what is the purpose of this girl’s visit?”

    “There is a Wish to be granted.”

    Excited murmurs started among the Council members. “In the Crescent? Who could it be?”

    The Chief Council member silenced them with a wave of her hand. “What is the Wish?”

    “It will be revealed in time,” said the Mayor.

  100. Worth the Weight
    Category--Contemp. Fiction

    Pitch--What happens when you take control of your life, only to have to make everything around you fall apart? Megan only wanted to be happy, healthy, and successful, but turns out that change has a price. When she's started her journey, she has to wonder if the chaos is really worth the weight.

    Ever end up in a stall in the men’s carwash bathroom wearing your wedding dress on your wedding day?
    “Are you okay in there?” A low voice echoed off the white tiles that decorated the room from floor to ceiling.
    I could taste the salt from my tears as I tried to answer without sobbing…again. “Si.” I followed it with a quick “yes, I’m okay. Why would I not be?”
    “Uhm, because you’re in the men’s room.” He cleared his throat. “Unless you’re in drag and that’s cool, Dude.”
    “Nope, just a bad day.” I lied as I sobbed. My hands were covered in the sticky residue of Vaseline. When I’d grabbed my steering wheel in my escape, I discovered it to be covered with the petroleum jelly. After a few moments, gripping the wheel became too difficult. With nothing to wipe it or my hands down on, I turned into the first carwash I found. Once I handed my keys to the attendant, I made a bee-line to the bathroom, but didn’t bother looking at the sign. The urinals registered after I’d locked myself in the stall and before I could leave, I heard the door open.
    I tried to clean my palms with toilet paper, but the one-ply shredded in my hands. “Dammit! I’m fine! Just peachy.”


  101. Category: Paranormal Romance

    Pitch: She dies in a lightning strike, only to be brought back to life and learn that she’s sharing her body with an alien.... The same alien who rode the lightning bolt which killed her.

    Karylon called the lightning to her. She wrestled with the wild, volatile energy. And when she had reined it in she immersed herself, bathing in its heat, feasting on its power. Energy seared through her particles, renewing her, and enticing her. It took all her considerable will to defy its siren-call, to hold a tiny part of herself separate from its embrace. Anticipation hummed through her as the immense power at her command swelled, approaching flash-point. It fought and bucked, striving to ignite and explode and—

    She unleashed it. She rode the lightning. She slashed across the sky, painting the roiling blackness with flashes of light and heat and pure, unadulterated energy. This was what her kind had been created to do. And as she danced with the thunder and communed with the forces of Nature, she embraced the possibility that this time the lightning might prove too powerful to control. This time, it might consume her, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. There was only light and heat, energy and power, the thrill of the ride.

    The bud of knowledge the Keeper had inserted in her brain burst, informing her that the potential Host’s death was imminent. She should have exulted in that knowledge. For Karylon, and all her kind, a Host’s death was an opportunity, and the Host itself an otherwise useless husk to be used and eventually discarded. She should not feel guilt or remorse that she was about to use a sentient being’s death to prolong her own life. She should not feel anything at all.

    But Karylon had evolved. She was not like the rest of her kind. And as she waited for her lightning to strike, she knew she could never be worthy of such a sacrifice.

  102. This comment has been removed by the author.

  103. Linds--I didn't really start to get captured by this until the final paragraph. Is she panicking? Is she embarrassed? Can we get more of her emotion in there? I'm sure a lot of readers would relate to being mortified in the same type of situation. But how she's reacting will tell us a lot about her character. Also consider whether it's necessary to start with this scene.

  104. D'Ann--Great drama and tension. We know right away these women are in trouble. I'd be happy to see more. Please send the query in the body of an email that has the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  105. Category: Romantic science fiction/paranormal

    Pitch: Kitsu's a fox shapeshifter whose new assignment is her chance to prove she isn't a failure as a galactic spy. But can she go through with the assassination when she learns her target is the Imperial Prince of the galaxy?

    As I stepped out of the bathroom, the cool breeze rustled my damp hair. Whoever else was in my hotel room with me had to be good; I hadn't even heard him come in.

    Instinctively, I reached for the silkwire bands that should've been around my fingers, but I had taken them off before my shower. Of course I wasn't defenseless; I was Scorpio. I listened to the intruder's steady breathing and pinpointed his location.

    Hiding amongst the shadows, I slipped into the darkened bedroom, and came up behind him. As I reached around for his chin, he elbowed me in the gut. Recovering, I round-kicked him in the side.

    He turned to face me. As our eyes met, his breath caught, as did mine. For someone sneaking about in other people's rooms, he was not what I expected. He wore black cargo pants, a black t-shirt, and a button up white shirt with the top two buttons undone and the sleeves rolled up. But still, he had to be hot. I was, and I was wearing shorts and a camisole.

  106. CATEGORY: Contemporary YA with a supernatural element.

    PITCH: 17-year-old Simone is a gifted empath. When her gift becomes a curse, Simone must choose between saving herself and risking everything to save another.

    My father is frozen solid. His legs jut out over the back of the Ski-Doo trailer, and a length of yellow nylon rope around his torso binds him in place. I stare at him and forget to breathe. I want to run to him, to grab his shoulders and shake him from sleep, but I can’t. It’s as if the cold has claimed me as well, slowing my mind and stiffening my limbs.

    January air claws its way into my lungs. Beside me in the open doorway of our house, my mother sways. I expect her to crumple, to break as I’m about to break, but her hand darts out and latches onto my forearm, steadying us both.

    That really is him. Dead.

    Earlier today, as a light snow threatened to bury any remaining clues to Dad’s whereabouts, a dozen men headed out on snowmobiles to renew their search for him. I knew then I’d already given up hope of ever seeing him alive again. After all, a man can’t wander about in the Yukon wilderness without his parka for four days and have any chance of a happy ending. Still, I’m nowhere near ready for the scene in my front yard.

  107. Sally Clements--Love this description of Cade. He's a man I could easily see spending more time with. ;-) But I'd rather know more about what he's doing right now. This might not be the most interesting place to start.

    I probably should have mentioned this in my numbered list above, but I also tend to be wary of characters who swear off the opposite sex in any way. We know we're reading a romance novel, so whatever they've vowed or however they feel isn't bound to last long. At least, we hope not.

  108. Caridad--thanks for stopping by! It's always great to see you.

  109. Margie--I like the tone and the format here. I'm not sure I quite believe it's coming from a 17-year-old boy, though. Authenticity is probably the most important and toughest part of any YA novel.

  110. Category: Historical Romance
    Pitch: Sara Johnson would do anything to protect her son including enduring her abusive marriage. But when her husband steals her son she discovers she can't find them by herself. She must accept help from Austin Reed. They find her son and love along the way.

    June 1867 – Camden, Missouri
    Taylor’s blond hair felt like silk to Sara Johnson’s lingering fingers. Her lips gently caressed his forehead with a kiss. “Sleep my darling,” she whispered. Prickles crept over her skin as she pulled the cover over her son’s chest. With extra care not to wake him, she picked up the lamp and closed the bedroom door quietly as she left his room. Since he was born five years ago, he was her life. She was glad he was asleep. Her husband Willis would be home soon and she wanted Taylor to be sleeping soundly when he arrived.
    She sat the lamp on the kitchen table. The small kitchen; with a table, three chairs, the cook stove, a dry sink and a four shelf cabinet that held their food, served as the main room to their three room house. At the last house they rented she had an indoor pump for water, a luxury Willis didn’t think she needed. What a pleasure it was not to have to carry buckets of water, but there was no such luxury here. She had to draw water from a well outside.
    What was left of the stew from supper was on the stove and the table set for Willis when he came home. Sara sat down with her knitting. The needles clicked in rhythm as she worked on a new sock for Taylor. Yarn slipped through her fingers with urgency adding row upon row. She hated stopping in the middle of turning a heel. She was never sure where she’d left off. “. . . three, four, five, knit two together, knit one. . . . There that heel’s done.” She laid the sock down and stretched the muscles in her neck, rolling her shoulders. Muscles in her back and shoulders felt like they had been tightly knit into knots. The ball of yarn fell from her lap, landing softly on the worn wooden floor and rolled across the room. As she hurried to retrieve it horses stopping out front caught her attention. Sara quickly hid the yarn and sock behind the flour and salt in the cabinet that held their food.
    Willis burst through the door. The stink of liquor and cigar smoke from the saloon reeked on him. He laughed with his two friends who strolled in behind him. She didn’t mind him staying at the saloon, it meant he spent less time around her, but she dreaded his coming home drunk with his friends to show off. Worse she hated him coming home alone and mean like he did more often lately.

  111. Jezebel--I know the space restrictions aren't helping you here, but this opening doesn't give me much to distinguish the book. Instead of the spell, you might want to consider starting with something that tells about the character. Is she desperate for love? Scared of performing the spell? Excited? If we ramp up the anticipation, the reader will want to know more and see how it all comes out.

  112. Diane Garner--Given the time commitment involved here, I'd really prefer to keep it to one pitch per person today. However, I'm always open to regular submissions, guidelines for which can be found at:

  113. Thank you so much for the request! There are so many great openings here!

  114. Martha--Not sure what this says about me, but as soon as I heard she was in a cell, I was hooked. I could immediately feel her despondency and isolation. And I like that you've introduced some world-building terms that are accessible and don't require a whole lot of explanation to pick up. I would certainly like to read more. Please send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  115. Katrina--Beautifully done. We get a clear sense of place, a history between these two without an explanation of what it is, and uneasy tension. Give me more! Please. You can send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  116. Melinda--I like that you immediately give us a sense of how being Lakota impacts this character's everyday life. But the first four paragraphs here are steeped in her past. What is moving us forward through the story? Something unexpected needs to happen to her that piques the reader's curiosity. Perhaps something modern jarring with the traditional?

  117. Category: Sweet contemporary.
    Pitch: Outbid!
    For two long years Katie had labored over the lighthouse property lovingly restoring it as a home for her and her beloved 'Pop'. But now that irritating Max Sawyer had snatched it from her! However, Katie doesn't know that Max is her mystery lighthouse sailor, the one man who captured her heart five years earlier and the one man who has since been the plum line for every other male that has crossed her path. Unfortunately for Max, he doesn't measure up either!

    With hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his dress uniform, the young naval officer walked across the lawn to the lighthouse. The faint light of the moon lent guide to his steps and accentuated his tall frame and broad shoulders. The lapping sound from the bay was soothing to his frayed emotions for the loss of his friend weighed heavily on his heart. He knew he was not to blame, but he had detained Davy those few extra minutes. Had those minutes been the difference between life and death?
    When he entered the tower, he thought he'd find solace there but instead he was met with the sound of someone weeping. 'Great!' He hesitated wondering if he should leave the lady to her solitude. The last thing he wanted was to have to deal with an emotional female.
    Slowly he climbed the spiraling steps and spotted her on the small landing. A pair of anguished eyes flew up to lock onto the tall masculine figure standing in the shadowy darkness. In startled fawn-like beauty, her weeping came to an abrupt halt, her delicate body held in tense anticipation.

  118. Jenny--Very clever and interesting idea. Sometimes a matchmaker or fairy godmother concept can be tricky, but I am curious to see where this is going because Eros already makes me smile. Please send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  119. Category: Paranormal Romance
    Pitch: Karen James is running from her aquakinesis, the ability to control water, until she meets Dalton Moore, a pyrokinetic determined to teach her control. Neither expected to be caught in the middle of a scientist's underground genetic research on paranormals or fall in love while hunting for the truth.

    Karen lay happily on the white sandy beach of the Bahamas sipping a raspberry margarita and soaking up the warm rays of the sun when she was rudely interrupted by screams and the cloying fingers of smoke that were making it nearly impossible to breath. She sat up on the bed and realized that between the dark of night and the haze of smoke she couldn't see anything. Where was she? What city? A moment of disorientation and panic swamped her. Her heart raced. Muffled voices carried through the chaos to tickle her awareness.
    "Aw shit Vinnie! We gotta get outta here," a guy said in as much a panic as Karen felt.
    "I know Mikey, I know."
    "I can't get popped again. I can't go back Vin."
    "Don't worry, I got..." Karen lost the voices as they passed her room and headed off into the night. But thanks to the mysterious Mikey and Vinnie with their thick New York-Italian accents she remembered where she was. New York City. Brooklyn to be precise. Relief swept through her as she realized she had gotten out of Myrtle Beach unscathed and had made it to New York. That was part of the plan. She drew a deep breath-- and choked.
    Smoke. And it was getting worse.
    Shit! The motel was on fire and those two numb skulls were probably the reason. Karen looked around trying to find her bearings so she could get out before the smoke got any worse. She realized she still couldn't see anything and needed to get lower to some cooler and fresher air. Dropping to her knees, she thought she could see the door. As she started crawling toward it she felt the first surge of power.

    Thank you for offering this!

  120. Lisa Anne V.--I'm having a hard time connecting with either of these characters right away, though I do sympathize a bit with Lenore. You've done a great job showing Arnold's controlling attitude. But there isn't a clear tease drawing me forward. I can't quite yet root for Lenore to break free because I'm not seeing enough spark in her.

  121. Thank you so much, Leah! Have a lovely weekend.

  122. Category: Contemporary Romance

    Pitch: After being dumped by her fiance, a mortuary worker has to hunt down her missing backbone, team up with her terrifying godmother, and overcome her prejudice against gnomes to find out, once and for all, if the only safe men are dead ones.

    When a plate shatters, it makes a loud crashing noise, but when a heart breaks, there is only silence. Oh, and sometimes there’s piteous wailing, hysterical sobbing, and a series of embarrassing phone messages left on your ex’s answering machine, too. But when my heart broke (and I’m pretty sure I saw one fragment of it bounce across the floor and lodge itself beneath the fridge, so that’s gone forever), it was so silent you could hear the sound of my dog’s drool landing softly on the linoleum.

    All the noisy stuff - the piteous wailing and so on - came later. And as for the plate? I’d like to say I smashed it over the bastard’s head, but in truth I accidentally knocked it off the sink as I was making my grand exit.

    An entire month after my fiancé, Carl, left me for another woman, his pretty, boyish face was still looming before me. The single point of difference being, that where I’d once found its golden tones and soft contours angelic, it now put me in mind of an evil pixie. Well, that and this time my view of his face was speckled by leaves. Probably because I was hiding in a hedge that overlooked Café De Ramez, instead of sitting beside him, staring into his eyes like a love-struck moron.

    Ants and twigs were brazenly exploring my body as no man ever had, but my attention was devoted entirely to glaring at Carl. He didn’t glare back. I made my own glare more intense. He still didn’t notice me. Ignoring the tightness in my chest, I reminded myself that going unnoticed was all part of my plan - hence my budding relationship with the hedge. Yet I couldn’t shake the niggling suspicion that I could have danced with a dead man on the nearest table and Carl still wouldn’t have looked. I had more access to dead men than any girl should too, but that wasn’t part of the plan.

    Thank you!

  123. Terri M.--Great action and instant chills, which is exactly what a romantic suspense should provide. But I'm not sure yet what differentiates *this* romantic suspense. Is there any little detail you can give to make me think "Aha, this is something new!"?

  124. Hi Leah -

    Thanks for the great blog post! :)

    My beginning is below...

    Category: Paranormal Romance

    Pitch: When the Alpha's heir finds his mate, she's a jaguar, mortal enemy of the wolves. She's also the lost key to a top secret breeding experiment to combine psychic humans with jaguars to create the ultimate assassin, and they will do anything to get her back.

    Chapter 1


    “I’ll have an Intimidator with extra bacon and two baskets of Cajun fries.” I closed my menu and looked up as the waitress raised a judgmental brow.

    “That’s an awful lot of food for a little thing like you.”

    I pressed my lips together to keep from saying something I might regret. I’m only 5’ 3” tall, and even though I’m twenty-three, without my driver’s license to prove it, a truant officer would haul me right back to high school.

    “Yeah, I’ve got a big appetite so...” I watched the waitress glance over to the ladies room and back again. I rolled my eyes. “Look, I’m not binging and purging. Can I just have the burger and fries? Please?”

    “Of course.” She snatched the menu from my hand and hustled away before I could give her my drink order.

    Great. Oh well, I wasn’t thirsty anyway.

    After fidgeting with the silverware, unfolding the paper napkin, and placing it in my lap, I glanced around the restaurant.

    I was running out of things to keep myself busy. Sighing, I peered out the window up at the dark night sky. All the stars sparkled reminding me of the absence of the moon. I shivered.

    New moon tonight.

  125. Dawn C--I think your tag line is really fitting and interesting, but there's an awful lot going on in that pitch. Maybe pick out the most important elements and refine. I like that we get right away these women aren't ordinary contractors, and it's easy to see where the "Charmed" aspect comes in. But there wasn't a major curiosity factor for me in this conversation. Maybe ramp up the consequences? Or the tension? I know we still want to keep it lighthearted. Perhaps use some of the humor that sounds so evident in the pitch.

  126. Category: Romantic Thriller

    Pitch: A captive CIA agent is resigned to die until a gutsy forensic anthropologist challenges him to redefine his broken existence when she is placed in the next cell. To save her he must dig deep to find what’s left of his humanity, but will it be enough to convince her he’s ready to live instead of just survive?

    Death was a whore, cheating Oliver Shaw out of more and more blood and still leaving him unsatisfied.

    A sudden burst of white-hot truth shot up his spine and into his fingers. His heart kicked out a stuttered beat.

    You’re still alive.

    The taunt hissed across his foggy brain, bringing with it an unwanted sense of awareness.
    Cold concrete pressed against his cheek. A bead of moisture leaked out from under his eyelids, loosening the dried blood that had crusted there. His stomach heaved. He sucked in a breath and choked on the bile that filled his throat along with the stench of excrement and putrid food.

    Open your eyes, you gutless coward.

    He gritted his teeth and dragged his eyelids open. A sliver of light speared into his retina, blinding him with a sharp ache to the back of his skull. The light bulb. That single fucking bulb. Always on. Always grounding him in its glaring reality.

  127. Jen--there's certainly a lot of tension here, and it's easy to relate to Esme's nervousness at what she's about to do. But I have seen this setup in a number of different ways, so I need something really fresh about her character to show me what's different here and entice me to read more. Perhaps it's making the hero completely irresistible from the get-go or maybe a spark of humor/sarcasm in her personality.

  128. Thank you, Leah for the request! I am really enjoying reading all of your comments. Thanks for taking the time out for us. Appreciate it!And thanks again for the fabulous opportunity.

  129. Thanks so much for the opportunity!

  130. Category: YA Paranormal Romance

    Pitch: After discovering that she'd been murdered by a romantic rival in a previous life, a seventeen-year-old girl finds herself caught up in the same fatal love triangle.

    First Four Paragraphs:

    The entrance to the cemetery reminded me of a Tim Burton film. Even with the early fall sun filtering through the trees, darkness crept into every corner of the place. I parked my old, blue Corsica under a giant oak tree and walked over to the heart-shaped gravestone that now represented my cousin. It was covered in flowers, stuffed animals, and candy. I straightened a wilted rose, brushed the leaves off a giant stuffed panda, and sat on the ground in front of it.

    “Today's the day, Amanda. We waited our whole lives to be seniors,” I sighed. “I'm not sure I can do this without you.” I pulled a small teddy bear out of my pocket. Amanda had won it for me at the boardwalk last summer. “Here. Kirby will keep you company.” I kissed the bear and placed it in the panda's arms. “See ya, cuz.” I got up before my heart exploded into a million pieces.

    I swiped away a tear as I climbed back into my car and drove to school.

    Her absence truly hit home when I entered the building without her. Despite a promise to myself that I wouldn't cry on the first day, tears welled as I zeroed in on the desk she had used in homeroom. Starting senior year without Amanda was like eating popcorn without butter. Pointless.

  131. Thank you for the opportunity, Leah!

    Category: MG Fantasy

    Pitch:Eleven-year-old Stella scales cliffs, swings through the trees, and scuba dives to fight crimes against animals and the environment. It's all in a day's work, when your boss is Mother Nature.

    Her teacher was wrong! Not all bats were nocturnal. Stella LaPlant flipped through the notebook on her desk. She pushed her sunglasses further up her nose and read the entries under “Strange Sightings.” Stella kept a nature journal and lately she had noticed some peculiar animal behavior. She’d made a special list.

    Stella raised her hand. “Yesterday, I saw bats–large bats–flying in broad daylight.” Checking her notes, she added, “We have small-footed bats and big-eared bats in North Carolina, but these were some sort of giant mutant species. And they had a ‘Z’ on their bellies!”

    The teacher dropped her eraser. “What?”

    The entire Possum Trot Elementary fifth grade class looked at Stella as if she’d just blown peas out of her nose.

  132. Pitch: When Kaity Batten's husband disappears she and her daughter are devastated, but they slowly pick up the pieces of her life and move on. When he returns to them a changed man, they are almost destroyed.
    The rain fell down in a torrent. A staccato drip and splash were indicative of the overflowing gutter right above the window. Kaity watched as the water made a hole in the dirt of the window box, and splashed mud up on the glass. She gripped her coffee mug tighter, trying to make its warmth penetrate her cold fingers. She was always cold these days. And always watching out the window–looking for someone who would never come.
    “Mommy? Please don’t cry anymore.” Small arms wound around one of her legs, holding tight.
    Kaity hadn’t even realised she was crying. She swiped at her eyes with one hand and looked down at the small figure attached to her. Putting her mug on the counter, she bent down to pick up the the little girl. “Hey Princess. You’re supposed to be in bed.”
    “The rain scared me. I don’t like it.” Charli’s lips trembled as she spoke. She ducked her head into the crook of Kaity’s neck.

  133. Uhmmm....without giving it away? hah
    Query blurbs aren't my strong suit. :-/

    With a rise in violence along the Mexico borders, Alicia's investigation soons turns toward her being killed by narcosanticos (drug runners). The detective in charge wants to believe Jesse, but his job is put into question when rumors of a relationship with Jesse start to surface.
    With Marcus ready to leave town for good, Jesse steps up her investigation and discovers that Marcus has been gas-lighting Alicia, and he's been planning his "perfect crime" for years.

    This is a multicultural (Latina) suspense (and my third novel).

    Thamk you for taking the time to read. =)

  134. Thanks for providing this opportunity, Leah.

    Category: Single Title Romance

    Pitch: When his wife leaves him for another man, Mack Hanlon works to balance being an elite soldier with his determination to be a good father, while a romantic relationship develops with widowed Black Hawk pilot, Kristie Donovan. But when his ex-wife, Rochelle, wants him back, their daughters, wartime deployments, lies and hidden truths, all determine who gets a second chance at love.

    Balancing on one knee behind the leaves of a giant philodendron, Sergeant First Class Mack Hanlon peered over the lush, green fauna of the jungle. The cries of Howler monkeys hidden overhead in the trees assaulted his ears. He blinked hard, perspiration stinging his eyes. Waiting for his team’s point man, Walter Schuler, to signal him, the hair on the back of Mack’s neck stood up. What’s taking so long?


    That was not the signal he wanted to get. He growled and shifted his automatic rifle to his back. Why had he thought even for even for a minute that this might be easy? Mack went prone, propelling himself forward on his elbows. Keeping low to the spongy ground, the tang of damp, decomposing leaves filled his nostrils. Crawling several dozen yards to the right of Schuler, it took under a minute to concur. What he observed hidden in the rainforest before them was—nothing. No coca fields. No armed guards. No drug labs. Just tropical trees, plants and a colorful parrot cocking its head, watching them.

  135. That pitch should read...pick up the pieces of "their" life and move on. And I see that my paragraphs didn't stick. Sorry about that! :-)

    Thanks for this opportunity.

  136. Hey, Leah!! Very cool that you’re doing this!

    Category: Contemporary Romance

    Pitch: Four wedding dresses, four strangers with four excuses. One bond created over drinks in Vegas.


    Today Madalyn Trent was supposed to be getting married. Supposed to.

    Instead she was fleeing the altar in full-out runaway bride style. Jumpy stomach? Check. Pounding heart? Check. Guilt? Better double check that one. And ouch, yes, she had even left a note behind.

    Sorry. –M

    That’s all she’d been able to scratch out before hiking her dress to her knees and getting out of her suite. Not even enough nerves to put her full name. Just M. What else could she have said? She’d never been able to tell her daddy no, not even in a letter on the day she was crumbling his dreams.

  137. Category: ST
    Pitch: A radio star swears off men for a year, but when her station hires a sexy bodyguard to protect her from a stalker she’s tempted to break her vow because he embodies blog’s ultimate fantasy man.

    Radio host Lauren Renfro adjusted her headset and braced herself. “This is Lady Lauren’s final countdown of machine made happiness. I’ve got to tell you, celibacy’s not for sissies, but who says you can’t have a little fun with toys?” Her new book Smart Girl’s Guide to Gadgets and Guys advocated self-gratification for women, regardless of their age or marital status. “My mission is to help all ladies maintain their power and independence. To expect men to treat their women with dignity and respect.” Unlike her ex-fiancé, but she left out that tidbit.

    Eleven months of a man-free diet hadn’t brought her any support from her judgmental mother, but Lauren no longer craved her mom’s approval. Now Lauren’s fans, her growing career, and keeping her southern Alabama radio station in the black drove her ambitions.

    She loaded the hard drive’s music bed and spoke over the first riffs of Beyonce’s All the Single Ladies, “Check our website for my tour dates.”

    Swaying in time to the song’s dance beat, she checked her traffic manager’s commercial log and pulled the next live promo page. Only thirty-one days remained till she completed her celibacy vow. No problem there. After her last disastrous breakup, fending off the entire male species had become second nature. Using sex toys and her creative imagination guaranteed her commitment to chastity.

  138. Category: Urban Fantasy
    Elemental, Mikhail Petrov will stop at nothing to gain freedom from the oppressive rule of the Mages, even using his family and the untried Fire Elemental, Laurie. Falling in love with the Fire Elemental was not in his plans and the cost of freedom may be higher than they both realize.

    Mikhail Petrov was in no mood to kill anyone today, but he might not have a choice.

    “You can’t do this.” Alexei sputtered, a lean and lanky teen wearing the latest in overpriced grunge. His Tri-elemental eyes changed color rapidly, going from bright blue to green, then to gray, revealing his unsettled emotional state.

    “It’s already done.” Mikhail suppressed a sigh. This younger generation had no sense of honor -- of paying debts owed. That his nineteen year old cousin would be so shameless and irresponsible shouldn’t surprise him. He lifted the lid of the carved mahogany humidor on his desk and took out a thin cigar. He spent a small moment relishing the feel of the moist paper-thin Madero wrapper as he rolled it between his finger tips and inhaled the spicy tobacco.

    Alexei continued his tantrum.

  139. Category: Paranormal romance
    Pitch: Free-spirited vampire Christine and Marcelo, an insatiable incubus, join forces to stop a non-human war and in turn discover that even centuries-old creatures of darkness can find love.

    December – Tampa, FL

    “Not the face, you stupid shifter-sh*t!” Chris snarled as she stopped a clawed hand from ripping across her cheek. Dee would kill her if she showed up with a black eye, bright red gashes, or any other sign of a recent fight. As the standing ‘mother’ of the bride, all eyes would be aimed in her direction for a least a couple of minutes. She aimed a swift kick at the half-shifted werewolf’s knee. It might drop him and get one of the creatures off her. “I’ve got a wedding to get to!”

    A second werewolf raked claws down her back and she shrieked while tumbling to the side to see both men at once. Any were-creature in their half animal/half-human form looked hideous. At least the two weren’t were-hyenas. Chris remembered fighting one of those and they were nasty. Drool dripped from Stooge Two’s curled-back lips as he glided to her left. “Don’t think you’re gonna make it, vamp b*tch.”

    Two more slunk out of the shadows in the trees that lined the clearing. She refused to consider the possibility of failure. Both the bride and groom would both want her hide if she missed the wedding. Granted, irritation wouldn’t matter to her if she died.

    Retreat wasn't an option. If she shifted forms, the creatures would know instantly what she was since she’d leave all her clothes behind. God only knew whom they’d blab to. Even if she risked that and shifted to her tiger form to run, the oozing gashes to her thighs and back from the fight thus far would slow her down. They’d be on top of her in seconds. Dissolving to mist was no better because it still exposed her secret, even she survived the fight. They might talk. Her heritage meant a death sentence if the authorities ever found out. Being a mage-born vampire sucked dehydrated blood.

  140. Thanks, Leah, for reading my pitch and opening paragaphs.

    Category: Inspirational historical

    Pitch: With the sudden death of her sister, Sen Goami faces the responsibility of finding a Christian husband who will take her family’s name, a difficult task given the regent’s ban on her faith. So why is her heart fixed on a son of the samurai who’s enforcing the ban.

    Haibara, Japan - August, 1587
    “By order of the regent, Christianity has been banned from the nation.”
    Sen Goami shivered in the light silk kimono she wore despite the late August heat. Her arms and legs closed against her body as her muscles tightened. The mounted samurai’s pronouncement had been intended for her master, castle lord Fuwa Akamitsu, the regional governor. Still, she glanced down as the samurai, flanked by two more men on horseback, swept his icy stare over her and the rest of the servants assembled outside Sagawa castle. The pronouncement applied to them as well.
    Behind the three horsemen, hundreds of additional samurai advanced on foot in the early sunlight, their long shadows as menacing as their number. A token show of a much larger force likely nearby. And an indication of the fate that awaited the servants if they didn’t obey.
    Sen trembled as the leaders dismounted and strode toward Master. All three wore gray hakamas, the samurai seven-pleat skirt. A palawnia flower, the crest of Regent Toyotomi, decorated their flowing blue robes. Sen, standing with her mistress, bowed low as the men passed and struggled to maintain a passive face. Her body quivered as if enduring an earthquake. The samurai stopped in front of Master, exchanged perfunctory bows, and the tallest one pulled out a scroll.
    “Akamitsu-san, you and your assemblage must renounce your faith.”

  141. Pitch:After burying her lying, cheating husband, Lily Prentiss must now rely on, Tyrone Dixon, a soft spoken cowboy to help her solve his murder, save the ranch from the town's crooked gambler in league with the sheriff. However, Lily is unaware that Tyrone Dixon is an undercover Texas Ranger sent to arrest her or her husband for their part in a land grab scheme.

    Lily Prentiss had pressing matters to deal with such as the body that lay on her kitchen table. Her hands picked up the cloth to complete her task. Swiping the rag along the cold white skin, Lily Prentiss tried to come to grips with the fact Frank Prentiss lay dead and at twenty-seven years of age, she had become a widow. She closed her eyes and sighed. Lifting the lifeless arm, Lily continued the last wifely duty she would perform for her husband.
    A nice, fine young woman, too young to be left, too innocent to know how to protect herself against the world the term grass widow suddenly sprang to mind. Lily cringed at her thoughts then brought the rag back down his arm. Let the people in Cold Creek think what they will. She waited for this chance. The chance to begin again, out from under her husband's tyrannical thumb. Gently, Lily placed the arm down. She paused to brush the damp tendrils from her face and expelled the clinched breath she held.
    Rain beat hard against the windows, punctuated by the brilliance of the lightning that illuminated the room. Thunder shook the tiny clapboard house. The splendor of the show seemed lost upon Lily Prentiss. Perhaps it was God's way of chastising her thoughts. Lily looked up and bitterly wondered where God had been on those nights she needed him. Pushing away her rancorous thoughts, she plunged the rag into the water and wrung out the dirt and blood from the cloth. She sniffed then ran her fingers beneath her nose to brush away the moisture pooling there. How foolish she had been to marry a fraud. What were the vows she had spoken less than six years ago—love, honor, and cherish? Her hands smoothed down his brown hair, brushing it away from his brow. If only she’d known, what she understood now.
    The corner of Lily's mouth drooped as she thought about the last few years of her life. What strange twists her life had taken. Instead of the giddy hopes, dreams, and longings of an innocent woman, Frank dashed each by his lies, the conniving twist of his words, and the selfishness of his actions. How wrong she had been. Lily gazed at him wondering if somehow, he had been right, and it was her fault?

  142. Catagory: Contemporary-Multi-Cultural -Paranormal elements

    Pitch: Going from rags to riches overnight, getting to know a grandmother she'd never met and discovering the love of her life isn't who he claimed to be. How does a woman cope?

    It was the best of sex, it was the worst of relationships. At least the strangest in her life. Julia Holden glanced a her boyfriend, Brent Clover. There was no doubt in her mind how much she loved him. What he could evoke from her was miles off the Richter scale, yet there was something about him she couldn't quite put her finger on. Again, she dismissed it as a stress to their new situation.
    Brent clutched the steering wheel, his long fingers tightly wound. Like everything else he did, his attention to the job at hand was concentrated and earnest. "You look like an Indy 500driver ready for take-off." She tried to keep a straight face. "Relax. We've only been in Los Angeles a couple of hours and believe it or not, you're not yet responsible to secure the adoration of every cinematic fan in the area."
    "Just the most important person, my best"

  143. Leah, thanks so much for spending a day with us! Your comments have been great, I've learned a lot from reading the different entries (as well as my own!) that I can apply to my writing. Thanks, again for the opportunity!!

  144. Category: Contemporary Romance
    Pitch: After Annie gives up her job, her apartment and her boyfriend, she moves back home to help care for her ailing mother, and the only way she can hang onto her sanity is to close off her emotions. The gorgeous stranger who wants to be part of her life refuses to let her shut down completely.

    A truck door slamming shut yanked me out of my daydream. Standing in front of a gorgeous floor-to-ceiling stacked stone fireplace in a house under construction, I'd been envisioning myself sitting in front of a crackling fire, surrounded by a loving husband and adorable children. And I was just getting to the good part—the children were tucked into bed and my fantasy husband was leading me into our bedroom.


    Scrambling back, I looked around for the source of the noise. When I'd arrived, the construction site had been deserted. I'd been happily wandering through the half-finished house, trying to figure out what all the different rooms would be.

    I spotted an old pickup through a framed doorway opening. A man was walking toward the house, holding a fast-food bag in one hand and a drink in the other. He was whistling, oblivious to my presence. I was tempted to try to slip away undetected, but I honestly didn't think I'd make it. We were out in the country in the middle of nowhere, with no place to hide. And the man was already clambering up the wide plank that spanned the rise from the ground to the house in lieu of steps that hadn't yet been built. I was definitely busted.

    And to be truthful, by this time I didn't want to leave. I'd seen good-looking men before, but this guy made my teeth sweat.

  145. Thanks for doing this!

    Category: Romantic Suspense

    Pitch: To prevent history from repeating itself, strong-willed historian Sara Munro must convince ex-Green Beret Nate Walker to help her solve an unbreakable Revolutionary War cipher while avoiding the wrath of a determined arms dealer. Since the cipher's key is buried in the tragic story of two seventeenth-century lovers, Sara and Nate will have to relive the doomed love affair in order to stop a massive drugs-for-weapons conspiracy.

    Sara Munro fought a silent battle with the headless angel. Her shoulders ached from handling the unfamiliar box camera, her fingers cramped in position, and her heart beat louder than the water pinging the surrounding limestone crypts. But she didn't care. After two long weeks and nine lost cemeteries, she'd finally found Thomas Toban's tomb.

    With one hand, she adjusted the hood of her field jacket to keep her warmth in and the damp chill out. Then she circled the naked, seven-foot statue mounted on a four-foot plinth carved with the initials TT. The angel faced an invisible enemy with a shield in one hand, a raised sword in the other. In defiance of the wet weather--not to mention Heaven and Hell--his muscled body and marble wings sliced through the mist.

    She exhaled and pushed a rogue strand of hair behind her ear. The aggressive warrior protected sixty acres of defenseless headstones with a confidence she envied. If she'd had half his courage she might not have ended up working in an abandoned cemetery, at five a.m., in the rain.

    Then again, her angel had lost his head. While she, at least, still had a job.

  146. Leah, thank you for doing this!

    Category: Single Title
    Pitch: A rebellious florist participates in a marital rodeo with a modern-day cowboy as the unwilling prize.

    “You want me to do what?” Ainsley Fairfax asked, nearly choking on her tea. She knew her parents’ invitation to visit was not for a pleasant chat, but she had no idea they would stoop to this.

    “It’s simple, Ainsley.” Her mother, Sophia, tapped her Montblanc pen against her leather planner as if emphasizing a point. “Time alone with Edward will help you realize that the two of you are perfect for each other. The cruise won’t have distractions to take your attention away from him. There’ll be dancing, romantic dinners, beautiful scenery. You’ll love it.”

    Sophia tossed her a small white envelope addressed with a swirling script to Ainsley at the Fairfax home. Ainsley narrowed her eyes at her mother's pointed stare, catching the envelope before she thumbed it open. She removed tickets and colorful brochures, and held back a groan. Pictures of burning sunsets reflecting on water and happy people in bathing suits mocked her predicament.

    She fought the familiar paired emotions of fury and resignation as she clutched the pamphlets. “How can you send me on a honeymoon cruise when you know I have no intention of ever marrying him?”

  147. Thanks for doing this.

    Category: Women's Fiction

    Pitch: The Girls of Tonsil Lake is the story of four best friends who grew up together in a trailer park on a muddy little lake in Indiana. They retain their connection to each other through the gamut of things that happen to us by the time we’re 51, which is what The Girls are when this story begins. It is a story of love, illness, loss, and peculiarly enough, a certain coming of age.

    When I was in the hospital, my friends Jean and Suzanne were visiting and Jean told me I should write everything down. If it’s on paper, she said, it wouldn’t be on my mind so much. Right away, Suzanne, who’s never had an original thought in her life, ran out and bought me this fancy-dancey journal to write in along with a package of gel pens in all different ink colors. When I tried to get her to take them back, saying I’d do fine with a coil-bound notebook and a few black stick pens with a narrow point, she got this hurt look on her face and I had to hurry up and smooth her ruffled blond feathers. There, that sounded literary, didn’t it? “Ruffled blond feathers.” Hmm, I like that.
    Anyway, my first entry read, “This hurts like a sonofabitch.” When Jean read it the next day, she complimented my succinctness but suggested I try a little description, so the next entry was, “It hurts like a goddamn sonofabitch,” written in putrid purple ink. She said I was catching on.
    Jean knows these things because she writes romance novels. When I said maybe she should send my journal to her publishers, she told me that wouldn’t work because they wouldn’t let a writer say things like “goddamn sonofabitch” even if she was lying in a hospital bed with her one real boob sunk into her armpit while her new, fake one stood up proud on her chest like the left half of her was seventeen years old instead of fifty-goddamn-one.
    That made Suzanne start staring at my chest with something like horror in her eyes and I reminded her that she was going to be fifty-one on her next birthday and her tits were going to fall into her armpits, too. Jean told me I was being a bitch, because we all knew Suzanne was going to have hers stitched into place permanently. We got to laughing so hard one of the nurses came in and said I was giving mastectomies a bad name.

  148. Leah, AH-mazing blog!!!!!! Thank you so much for sharing your time with us here. :)

  149. Category: YA Paranormal Romance
    Pitch: After joining a school for teens with special powers, a seventeen-year-old girl finds trouble with a hot instructor, a sexy classmate, and a crooked headmaster.

    “Next time, warn a girl before you show her a dead body.” I covered my nose with the sleeve of my hospital gown, but it did little to mask the stench.
    Dr. Ramsey pressed the silver bed railing down. A loud clank echoed throughout the room, and I jumped.
    “He isn’t dead, Hadley.”
    “Really?” I stared at the unmoving sheet. Blood seeped through the cloth at one end. Ten toes poked out at the other. “I’m pretty sure that noise woke up the entire ward except for him.”
    Dr. Ramsey chuckled and shook his head like I’d told him a joke.
    I walked closer to the bed, curiosity getting the best of me—as usual. “Why is a sheet over his face if he isn’t dead?”

  150. Leah,

    Thank you for your advice I am already redoing it. I hope that you might be willing to look at it closer

    Thank you

  151. Category:Romance Suspense
    Pitch:Can you go home again?Denise A'Hearne is a burnt out hospice nurse and determined to do just that after she inherits a fortune.
    She returns to her hometown and buys back her family farm from the billionaire neighbor across the river,Ran McKnight.
    She gets more than she bargained for. Ran as a husband and an unknown killer who wants both of them dead.

  152. Pitch: In 1814, a disguised English heiress escapes a madman at a Caribbean festival, then wakes aboard a cloaked American smuggler's ship. With the Royal Navy in pursuit, the captain won't risk his true identity. And with a killer stalking her, neither will she.

    A dutiful daughter would have turned tail and scampered back to her room. But the music called to Emmaline Talbot, and tonight she was anything but dutiful.

    Liquid rhythm pulsed through the narrow streets, wrapping around salt-scrubbed wood and limestone structures. Surging. Enveloping. Receding. Like the waves that lapped at the sand. And the shadows that menaced Emmaline.

    She squeezed her eyes shut and filled her lungs with rain-kissed air. The familiar, fruity scent of poinciana drifted on the breeze from the road behind her. Ahead, the high notes of a flute and the soft strum of strings beckoned. The prickle along her neck faded, leaving in its wake a mere whisper of worry. Opening her eyes, she drew another breath.

    Tonight was her last chance to enjoy the annual festival. Her last chance ever.

  153. Category: Urban Fantasy (with strong romantic elements)

    Pitch: After a panic-induced blackout, skeptical marine biologist Zoe Morgan returns to reality with the ability to speak to whales and joins failed Sentinel Gavin Cassidy on a quest for a watery weapon that will restore balance in the land of sleep. Yeah, right. In her dreams.

    She would not let go.

    Forty tons of pissed off humpback whale thrashed under Dr. Zoe Morgan’s bloodied fingers as she tugged at the inch-thick fishing line flaying its skin. Leaning out of the bucking Zodiac, she braced her left knee against the inside of the boat’s bumper. A wave crashed the bow, spraying her eyes with saltwater. She squeezed her lids shut and spit out a mouthful of brine.

    Her right shoe’s rubber sole squealed when it lost traction, and she lurched forward. Fancy footwork helped her avoid an unscheduled meet-and-greet with the Atlantic Ocean, but she wouldn’t last much longer. Teeth clenched, she pulled the rope with every ounce of strength and prayed her shaking legs would keep her balanced amidst the tug-of-war between the waves and the whale.

    The fishing line proved to be just as stubborn as she was.

  154. Thanks for offering to do this, Leah!

    Category: SF romance
    Pitch: When the deadliest assassin in the empire gets too close to her target, two hearts become caught in a tangled web of lies, lust, and politics.

    You’ll never find a knot you can’t unravel.

    The soothsayer’s words mocked Azurha more loudly than usual tonight. She strained against the hemp ropes that bound her wrists and ankles to the thick wooden posts, reviving new trickles of blood down her copper brown arms.

    For three days, she’d been forced to stand in the center of the room like this, a naked plaything for her master and his friends. For three days, she’d endured whatever sick fetishes they wanted to satisfy using her body.

    Now, she fought hard to keep her spirit from breaking.

  155. Category: Historical
    Pitch: A woman desperate to survive the chaotic aftermath of the War Between the States stumbles across an enigmatic man. Will he be her savior or her murderer?

    “Hang him!” a voice screamed above the din of the crowd.

    Ethan McRae sat astride his black stallion, Thor. A noose of coarse rope tore at the skin around his neck. The other end looped over the massive oak tree’s gnarled branch in his front yard. Desperate to escape, he struggled against his bonds, even knowing there was nowhere to run. Blood ran from his bound wrists, soaking the knotted rope.

    Thor nickered and shied away from the pummeling rocks the angry crowd threw. Each time his horse moved the noose yank tighter. A war trained horse, Thor stood his ground, never moving far but waiting for a command from Ethan to attack the people throwing rocks at both of them.

    Fear mingled with rage, tensing his spine. He squared his shoulders as he stared at the jeering mob gathered on his front lawn to watch him die. People he’d called friends from the moment of his birth, twenty-nine years ago, now screamed for his death. Yet, one of the miserable bastards had killed his wife and left him to hang for it.

  156. Category: YA Paranormal Romance
    Pitch: Gabriel DeSantos is driven to die, and newcomer Sage Andersen is equally determined to save him. But it’s Gabe’s destiny to sacrifice himself to save Sage so she can fulfill the promise of her own life. For Sage, Gabe is willing to surrender to his fate, but she won’t let him go without a fight.

    Gabriel DeSantos slit his wrists in the boys' bathroom the day I enrolled at Mountain View High School. It wasn't the first time he'd tried to kill himself and it wouldn't be the last. I'd never heard of him, never met anyone in the school before that day, but I caught a glimpse of his face as they carried him out, a sculpture in porcelain and ink, dark lashes curled against his skin, lips full and pale.
    Something inside me stopped when I saw him and at the time, I didn't even know he'd done it because of me.
    The narrow hallway was slammed. Hot bodies crushed against me as I edged to the side, struggling to make way for the stretcher. I hated it, hated being closed in by a bunch of strangers, but the boy on the gurney needed to get out worse than I did.
    As the medics hurried past a girl’s voice came from behind me. “Oh my God—not again. He is such a loser.”
    The muscles in my stomach clinched.

  157. Thanks so much for doing this, Leah! I've enjoyed reading the entries and your comments, and appreciate you taking the time to offer us this opportunity. It's been helpful and a lot of fun!

  158. Thanks so much for your feedback, Leah! I appreciate your taking the time to look at all of these! :)

  159. Ran stood beside the sleeping woman.He wanted her as he had never wanted another woman.Not for one night,forever. How in the hell was he going to convince her to marry him?She didn't care about his wealth and wasn't impressed by who was.
    Her eyes fluttered,her tempting lips curved in a soft smile as a soft sigh escaped.
    Jealousy,quick and hot flashed through him. Was she dreaming about a past love?Damn he was acting like a kid with his first crush on a girl.
    Leaning down,soft as the touch of butterfly wings he brushed his lips over hers.Denny opened her eyes and gazed into the cobalt eyes of Ran McKnight.
    "Morning Denny.Do you always let strange men kiss you awake this early in the morning?" She grinned up at him."Only on Sundays,Mr McKnight".
    Ran chuckled."Well MissA'Hearne,I guess I'll have to make a point to be here early every Sunday."
    Her heart skipped a beat as liquid heat flashed through her and pooled low in her belly.
    God help her,she was in love with the worlds most eligible, drop dead gorgeous,bachelor and all she could seem to do whenever she was around him was argue with him.
    What the hell was the matter with her? She dreamed about him,and couldn't stop thinking about him and imagining what it would be like to have him as her own.
    Shifting her in her chair she,pulled her eyes away from his and cleared her throat.Well,In for a penny,in for a pound as her Irish granny used to tell her.
    Keeping her eyes locked on his,she reached out and took his hand."I would like that Mr.McKnight. I'd like that very much."

  160. Kate McK--I feel as though I've read this before...maybe in a contest, maybe as a submission? But I'm not entirely sure. Which means it's lacking that spark to be a real standout. I love the description of the hero. But given how many Regencies are on the shelves these days, you'll want to make sure your opening has something new and different to draw in readers.

  161. Thank you for the feedback, Leah! I believe I subbed this to Dorchester about a year ago, but it was Jane Austen inspired fiction then. The story has since been re-written as a single title.


  162. Joan L.--Great job in conveying the character's nerves and the setting. I seem to be sensing a theme throughout the openings of rain and storms used to reflect emotion, which you might want to be wary of, given that it seems so popular. I like the anticipation you're building here, but I didn't see any definite spark in the character that really pulled me in to make me see, "Yes--this is how it's going to be different."

  163. Rachel F--Love the use of language. It immediately felt exotic and intriguing. And I'm wondering what this character is. Please do send more! I'll take a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  164. AngelaB--I love that we get a connection between the h/h right away, and it's easy for the reader to see why he's so attractive. It's also easy to relate to that stab of jealousy when her sister swoops in. But I do feel as though we lack a little zing! here to *really* ramp up the tension and heighten curiosity. Maybe he can do something? Maybe she's talking to someone else and showing a little more flair?

  165. Thanks for the feedback Leah. I'll get out my sparklers and light up my character.

  166. Nicole Z--A very atmospheric beginning and definitely dramatic. But it's striking me as perhaps a bit overwritten. Look at how many times there's a reference to forest. The YA category--especially in paranormal and fantasy--is so overwhelmingly crowded right now that writing has to be absolutely stellar. I'd recommend taking a really hard look at what description is most necessary and what more can be brought out in the character to create a more instant connection.

  167. Misty D--The description and the writing here is good. But I would recommend chucking the prologue if possible. We're not going to connect with the killer--after all, he *is* evil. And at the same time, he's not incredibly menacing here.

  168. Rae Ann--I love the idea of a modern retelling of the Wizard of Oz. Can I see more of it in the beginning? Maybe some direct reference to a scene in the movie? It could be a great wink to the audience and it would immediately make me want to read more to see what else is in store. If you can do that, I'd definitely be interested in seeing more.

  169. PatriciaWF--The first sentence could use a little untangling. It's not a men's car wash but a men's bathroom. Consider: Ever end up in the men’s bathroom of a carwash wearing your wedding dress? You've got a great, offbeat angle with the Vaseline. I'm intrigued to know what's going on with that. But tighten throughout to make that stand out even more.

  170. Yttar--You've totally hit one of my sweet spots. I definitely have a thing for kickbutt women. I like that there are immediate sparks here between the h/h without resorting to cliche. I like that we get a sense of this character through her actions and don't necessarily need a lot of description. I'd love to read more. Please send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  171. Shari G.--Wow. Nicely done. This is certainly unexpected and leaves me wondering what happened to her father and how is she going to deal with this tragedy. Please do send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  172. Marleen G--We've got a lot of detail here, but I feel it works to set the scene of domestic harmony to have such a sharp contrast when it all goes bad. Even without high action or any obvious sparks, I think you've created a lot of interest and I'd be happy to take a look at more. Please send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  173. Leah,

    What a wonderful opportunity, but I just learned about it. Will you be hosting another critique session soon?


    Catherine Phelan

  174. Joy Latrelle--I'd work on getting that pitch down to one or two sentences. I think refining throughout will help you focus and concentrate on the most important details. I like that this opening has a great sentimental feel. Some polish will really help this sparkle.

  175. Leah, thank you so much for your critique here and asking for more. I greatly appreciate it. I am also in the middle of a rewrite on it, but you will have it by February 5th.

  176. Thanks Leah. That does sound better.
    I'll untangle per your recommendation.
    I appreciate your time with this. Be glad to send you more pages if you want to know what's up the Vaseline!

  177. Worth the Weight: Feedback

    Thank you Leah. That does sounds better. I'll change it as recommended and yes, there is an interesting story about the Vaseline.
    Be glad to send you the rest of the chapter to give you the whole story on it.
    This is a tremendous amount of time you've spent on all of us. I greatly appreciate it.

  178. Dara Young--We have a lot of words here for what should be a tight, concise action scene. The Brooklyn guys distract from the panic because they feel almost like a comical stereotype, and I don't think that's the mood you're working to achieve. Are they absolutely necessary? Is there another way she can figure out where she is? I'd recommend figuring out exactly what needs to be conveyed in this opening and make everything fit that. I do like the little hints that something is going on and she's not normal.

  179. Sea--I'm hoping something actually happens soon to move us forward, but I do like the voice you've developed. It tells me a lot about the character straight off the bat and differentiates her from so many other women who are heartbroken after a breakup. You can send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  180. Lisa K--Wonderful to see you! The first line is fantastic and tells us so much about your character. I don't think we need the snarky waitress, though. Or maybe she just raises an eyebrow. If you tighten that, we can get more of a sense of her being restless for something and then teasing that the something might have to do with the moon. The sooner you can draw people into that story, the better.

  181. Cynthia J--Start with "You're still alive," work in his name somewhere else and send me the rest. The first couple of sentences aren't as dramatic as the third, which makes it immediately clear what's going on. You never want to sacrifice clarity for drama. ;-) But I love "Bones" so I'm looking forward to reading this one. Please send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  182. Kimysworld--I really like the description in the opening paragraph. You give us just enough to set the scene without going overboard. But some of what the character is saying sounds as though we're explaining the story through dialogue. I also thought the analogy at the end of the selection was great. But there's just not quite enough here to make me really want to know what comes next.

  183. LMT--The pitch for this sounds really cute. I'm a little confused as to why she's wearing sunglasses in the classroom. And I'm not sure that the exact names of the bats in NC are necessary so close to the beginning, but the tone is on and the interest is there. I'm not acquiring middle-grade fiction myself, but do check out the submission guidelines at

  184. Michelle Braden--I'm not sure what category this is--romance? women's fiction? We've got some interesting tidbits to draw us forward: What happened so that now she's always cold? Who is she looking for? And I do like the relationship we see with her daughter. If this is a romance--the husband comes back and they have to fall in love again--I'd like to see more. You can send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  185. Tracy--I'm digging the action and I definitely have a soft spot for military men. I would indeed like to read more. You can send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  186. Hello, Leah, and thank you for this wonderful opportunity. Here is my entry:

    Category: Paranormal Romance
    Pitch: Lorelei Angel has the talent for sniffing out demons and sending them back to hell, and the power to redeem them and send them on to heaven, qualities that make her the most sought after person on earth; demons either want to use her to escape their hellish prison – or kill her. But Lorelei has always been able to protect herself against all attacks, until she meets Azazel, who mounts an attack on her of a very different kind – seduction. Will her passion be her downfall?

    When I was born, all of the demons in hell cashed in their chips to vie for me. Not for want of me, precisely, but for what I represent. I am cursed – or blessed – with the ability to sniff them out. Kind of like a psychic bloodhound. And unearth them. Literally. But in a crazy twist of irony, I am also the conduit for them to buy their way back into heaven. For one month out of the year, it is my duty to help the truly repentant on their journey back onto a nobler path. Unfortunately, during this time, my senses are somewhat blighted, so I can’t smell them coming. Or send them packing, back into the fiery pit from which they arose. Who makes up these rules? Well, at least they can’t harm me during that time, either. That’s the condition of the truce, anyway. Welcome to hell –

    Lorelei’s fingers crashed against the keyboard as the scent of sulfur wafted beneath her nose. As if someone had just lit a match. Only stronger. More pungent. More…sinister. Damn. She knew that smell – and it always brought trouble. Not now, she thought. My one free moment before the big exam and I have to contend with a wayward –

    “I’m not here to harm you,” a deep, almost guttural voice sounded from behind the tree against which she was propped.

    Careful not to make any sudden movements, Lorelei eased the netbook off her lap onto the grass at her side, reached under her bulky sweater for the amulet that was ever strapped to her person. As she did so, she scanned the campus grounds for possible avenues of escape – and potential witnesses for what she was about to do. Of all the places they could possibly attack her, they had to come to her school. How was she supposed to explain this one to the dean? “Sorry for the disruption, sir. I was just trying to keep the college safe from demons.” Yeah, like that would work.

  187. I apologize for the two separate posts for Home Again.Blame it on my fingers going faster than my brain.I hope you still have time to read and give feedback on my pitch and four paragraphs.Thank you so much for spending your time doing this for hopeful published and unpublished writers.

  188. Leah -

    Thanks so much for this opportunity and your valuable feedback. I will check out the Sourcebook Submission Guidelines.

  189. Keri F--thanks for stopping by! As you might be able to see from some of the other posts, a wedding no-show isn't going to be a grabber of an opening in itself. I need to see something unexpected or feel some instant connection with the character. I'm wondering what will propel me *forward* in this story.

  190. Christine--the details here make me believe right away that you know what you're talking about when it comes to being at a radio station. Nicely done. But there's also a lot of history that lays out the story right here instead of spinning it out a bit. Given that this is a romance, I'm already figuring she's going to break her vow somehow, so that doesn't necessarily bring the tension needed to drive the story forward. I'm not sure this is the best place for you to start off.

  191. M.V. Freeman--I like the detail of the changing eyes. It makes me wonder what's going on with these people. But the rest of the selection doesn't tell me much. Is the first sentence making reference that he's annoyed enough with Alexei he wants to kill him? Or that honor demands he's going to have to kill an enemy? (Also watch the tense there.) Can you pump up the detail to make Mikhail more ultra attractive? If we can think "Now, there's a man I want to know more about," it can be a great hook to make me keep reading.

  192. Tori M--The first paragraph alone had me smiling and wanting to read more. I love that the juxtaposition of the wedding in the middle of her fight. And then the fact that she's the mother! Keep the writing tight throughout. You can send a query in the body of an email with the full ms and synopsis attached as Word doc to leah.hultenschmidt[at]

  193. Walt M--The setting here immediately piques my interest because it's so different. I also get a little weak-kneed at the mention of a samurai. But we've got Sen shivering, trembling and quivering, which isn't as endearing. Take a hard look and what's really needed here and what you want the reader to feel and tighten accordingly.

  194. Obe--Great opening line. But to really relate to this character, we're going to need to see more of why it's such a relief that her husband is dead. We need to sympathize right away so we don't think she's a heartless killer. Maybe use a quick memory of him almost killing her and then move on so we're not spending too much time in the past.

    I'd also caution you to be wary of any kind of "big secret" driving the plot forward. I'm guessing the Ranger is looking for her husband and she can't tell him the man is dead? That can be tough to sustain for 300 pages.

  195. Thanks Leah,
    Actually the Ranger comes up shortly after that and finds the husband. Its an unraveling of the land scam mystery and the awakening of Lily as a woman.
    Thanks for the input though. I appreciate it.


  196. Leah, thank you for your kind comments, both on my Japanese setting as well as pointing out exactly what in my writing is not endearing you to my heroine. (I’m trying to show that my heroine is scared out of her wits.) I’ll look at that. I hope to have the opportunity to pitch it to you again after I fix it.

  197. Thank you so much, ma'am! Have a great weekend!

  198. Leah,
    Thank you for taking the time to do this. I've enjoyed the comments and learned from them. Your observation about my opening was spot on.

    I will revise the scene as per your suggestion. I look forward to communicating with you again in the future!

    Have a great day,


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