Monday, August 31, 2020

Our Winners

 CONGRATULATIONS to the following entries:


THE PRIZE: Ms. Wessbecher would like to see the first 50 pages of your manuscript.

Winners--please email me at for specific submission instructions.

To everyone who entered: THANK YOU and WELL DONE! I hope you have found the feedback helpful and the experience positive.

Yay to all!

Secret Agent Unveiled!

Huge thanks to Katherine Wessbecher of Bradford Literary Agency for her excellent secret-agenting!

Katherine's bio:

Katherine Wessbecher joined the Bradford Literary Agency in 2020. Katherine began her publishing career at Penguin, where she edited children’s and YA books at Putnam Books for Young Readers. She then served as the science and technology editor of an academic book review journal before joining the agency world. Katherine holds a B.A. in English from the College of William & Mary and lives with her husband in San Diego.

What Katherine is currently looking for:

Katherine is currently looking for children's, MG, YA, and upmarket adult fiction. She's drawn to grounded stories that transport her somewhere new (the past, an imagined world, or a different perspective on her own). A few things she'd love to see more of in her submissions inbox include stories the history books left out, unexpected narrative techniques (bring on the epistolary novels!), and more bone-dry humor.

Winners forthcoming!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Secret Agent Critique Guidelines

For those of you who are new to the blog (hi!!), you are warmly welcomed to offer your critique on as many of the entries as you would like.

Here's the way it works:
  • All readers may leave critique in the comment box of each entry.  
  • While the critiquing is going on, our Secret Agent will appear and also leave feedback--for ALL ENTRIES!  This is great not only for the folks who entered, but for everyone who takes the time to read through to see how a literary agent responds to various opening pages.
  • Next Monday, I will post the identity of our Secret Agent AND the winning entries

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

*I can't possibly read every comment.  If you ever see a comment that is truly snarky, please email me.  I count on your help.

Secret Agent #27

Title: The Blue Jay
Genre: MG Fantasy

The bus rolled across the pavement like a living thing, its bright yellow sides warning of danger. I stood on the sidewalk, watching the beastly vehicle inch closer, ready to swallow me whole. There was no avoiding my fate. I was doomed.

Images whirled through my mind, escaping through the cracks of my willpower as I tried to get a grip on them, predicting a disastrous chain of events. The bus crashing into a truck, rolling down a hill, landing on its back, underbelly exposed, until an explosion engulfs it in flames. The sensible part of my brain knew the chances of that happening were almost zero, but the part that insisted on imagining the worst wouldn’t see reason.

In the real world, a squeal of brakes signaled the bus’s arrival. The doors hissed open. The long line of kids in front of me began filing up the steps, laughing and joking as if our very lives weren’t hanging in the balance.

My heart rate accelerated from race car to jet plane.

Mom would say I was being dramatic.

Kyle would call me a wimp.

Anna would offer to let me borrow her stuffed lion to give me courage. Like I was a baby.

There were only two kids in front of me now. One.

I stopped just shy of the door, staring at the black rubber stripes lining the steps. My mind went through its usual routine of trying to find a way out.

Secret Agent #26

Genre: MG Fantasy

Monsters under the bed never scared Jake, but the ones doctors claimed lurked inside his head did. He scratched a phantom itch on his artificial foot, waiting for Miss Hardgrade’s verdict.

“Jake,” Hardgrade said, “you’ve been excused from the ‘How I spent my summer vacation’ assignment.”

“I need to tell what happened.”

She twirled a pencil between her fingers. “All you have is a title page.”

“It’s an oral presentation.”

“But this never really—”

“I know . . . doctors think my brain created an imaginary world to deal with the trauma of almost drowning. But I know I spent my summer with pirates.”

She glanced at his paper again. “Blackbeard’s Academy of Piracy and Culinary Arts.”

“What do they teach—food fighting?” Tommy Fathead shouted.

The class laughed. Fathead usually sucked at quick one-liners. His talent since grade school had been scraping the feet of chairs to mimic the toot of a butt tuba.

Hardgrade’s pencil snapped. “That’s enough.” The class transformed into statues minus the pigeon icing. “Jake, maybe you should wait until you can present something real?”

He stood and lifted his shirt. “Like this giant tattoo of Blackbeard’s flag on my chest?”

Everyone gasped at the white horned skeleton on a black background covering Jake's entire upper body. The dead devil held an hourglass in one hand while pointing a spear at a red heart dripping blood with the other.

“Doctors know I hate needles,” Jake said, “but they can’t explain how I have a tattoo, which required a million needles, when tourists found me washed up on a north end beach.”

Secret Agent #25

Title: The Good Fight
Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Not a soul surrounding the pallet-made fighter’s ring would ever believe Ofelia was starving. There was enough meat on her to make her dangerously ‘thick’, and strong enough to inflict damage with weary fists. Spectators leaning over the crude ring splashed the concrete floor with the contents of their brown-bagged bottles. They cheered and taunted. Her feet were bare, and she felt every puddle of spilled beer. Everything felt wet. Her skin was drenched in sweat and crimson tendrils streamed down one side of her face. It all added to the seeping damp.

She looked more boy than girl before entering the ring. Short black hair, T-shirt nearly down to her knees and large enough to fit two of her in it. Her baggy, black jeans hung from her waist, and she had cuffed them around her ankles. Ofelia pulled her shirt over her head and flung it into a corner of the ring. The air thundered with a commentary of lewd suggestions and propositions. They called for Eights. She was Eights. They loved and hated her all at once.

“Damn, Eights. Why you hidin’ all that?!”

“You want a banging, nena?! I got one for you.”

“Break my heart, Eights. Dykes can look like that?”

“Kill ‘em, Eights. I got my rent money on you.”

The jeers continued, two fights in. Eights was sure of it. But their words were no longer decipherable, stretching and blending into one pounding mass of sound.

Secret Agent #24

Title: Big Bright Thing
Genre: Women's Fiction

The children were crying again. I shoved the pizza bagels in the toaster and rushed to the living room, afraid of what I’d find-a limb tangled in a chair leg, a head bleeding from an impact with the corner of a table.

But Judith and Pomona were just tugging on either side of a tablet, crying over who got to choose which app to play.

I took the tablet away. The crying intensified.

“When we fight, we lose screen privileges,” I said.

“That’s not fair!” said Pomona. “I was playing with it, and she took it from me!”

As wrong as it was to punish Pomona for something her sister allegedly did, I couldn’t reward her for having a tug-of-war with a two-year-old. “She’s only two,” I said. “She doesn’t know better.”

“She knows better! She’s smiling!”

I turned around to see Judith’s face switch from an amused smile to raging tears. “Judith, I see you’re upset, but you can’t take things from your sister.” Her crying increased in volume, drowned out only by the fire alarm that started blaring in the kitchen.

I pushed past the girls and ran to the kitchen expecting to find a wall combusting from some sort of internal electrical fire, but it was only the toaster oven, emitting black smoke from where the cheese had melted off the bagels and hit the heating coils.

I pulled out the bagels. They had a grey tinge on top.

Secret Agent #23

Title: Shadow of the Stars
Genre: YA Fantasy

Levi exited the wooded path leading toward Oliver’s home and a ribbon of golden light drew a band across his eyes. As he breached the final fallen tree, the carcass of which succumbed to the curse of time, he was forced to cover his face with his sleeve. He paid the price of doing so by stepping through a rotted piece of the trunk. Levi staggered, quickly recovered, and shook free the nasty critters that lived inside the decrepit tree husk whose only crime was growing in a climate that received little to no rainfall.

As he spun around to face the Williams’s house again, the sky blossomed in a vibrant swatch of pinks and oranges as the clouds spread here and there. The last of the dying rays tried to blind Levi a second time, but he found his friend. Just like the sky, Levi’s face went pink. Not so pink where it was noticeable at his distance from Oliver, but pink enough that he could feel the very tingle in his toes that forced him to wiggle the sensation out. But it was so common a feeling, the nerves and aches of being close to Oliver grew wise to Levi’s efforts, and instead they worked up and around his legs, to the small of his back, and ended right at his heart which always began to beat faster.

Levi tugged his ball cap lower to shield his eyes. Oliver came back into view.

Secret Agent #22

Title: Halo and the Boomerang Effect
Genre: MG Fantasy

A small starburst appeared near the top of a decorated Christmas tree and began to spin, picking up speed on each rotation. Then it fizzled, like someone had opened a soda can. The starburst brightened, and a girl the size of a snowflake jumped out of the light, onto a pine needle.

“Great, golly, goodness!” Halo yelled. “It’s good to be back!”

She glanced through the white pine, hoping to see or hear someone. When no one called out, she ignored the fear growing in her chest. This was her twelfth appearance, so Halo knew she might be the first arrival. No need to worry.

But she might be alone. Stranded in a foreign tree.

Her heart beat sped up. That couldn’t be true. Surely, she was back inside the house at 1414 Winslow Drive with the rest of the miniature tree people, the Treeples. She crossed her fingers and raced along the branch, ducking under a tin soldier ornament. At the end of the limb, she stopped to catch her breath beside a ceramic gingerbread boy with blue icing buttons.

Outside the tree, tall windows framed the front wall of a familiar living room. Halo grinned as she studied the brick fireplace. Right smack in the middle of the mantel stood a photo of Charles and Eloise Johnson, the magical humans who created the Treeples. One, or both, had decorated the tree, unknowingly launching the appearances of Halo and the little people.

“Yes!” Halo punched the air.

Secret Agent #21

Title: Destroying Enemies with Love
Genre: YA Fantasy

The heroes had left a dreadful mess. Blood, scorch marks, and goo stained the black stone walls. Villain King Loady’s head rested on his throne of bones while the rest of him spread in bits all the way to the door. In death like in life, Snot’s master had left her with a huge mess to clean up. And she didn’t mean his bloodstains seeping into the carpet.

Snot poked her head out of a crate. Her finned ears rang from all the explosions. The sight of Loady roused nothing but contempt. On the bright side, she wouldn’t have to explain to a corpse why she’d hidden while the heroes had slaughtered his skeletons, disemboweled him, and run off. On the other claw, she now had until sunset to live.

A blue wyvern as long as her forearm fluttered over to Snot. He resembled a miniature dragon save for having two legs instead of four. Giant, tearful eyes, one horn broken off, and flaky scales further reminded her this was no member of the proud and noble draconic race. “We’re all going to die!” he wailed.

“We’ll find a new master, Annoyance,” Snot said, glaring at the wyvern named for his piercing, high-pitched voice. Villain King Loady, may he rest in pieces, had cursed his experimental creations such that if he died, they died with him. It had enforced her loyalty and been typical of the spiteful old bastard.

Annoyance waved at the window. “The sun is setting right now.”

Secret Agent #20

Title: Space Shapes
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

Lucy hesitated, her heart thumping. She took a deep breath and continued into the classroom, her eyes glued to the floor. All these people she didn’t know. That blond-haired boy in front of her was nudging his friend, the two of them laughing in her direction. Lucy cringed. If only she could disappear. Unbidden, a flash of darkness filled her mind; for a split second, only nothingness existed. What was that? She shook her head to get rid of it.

The rows of individual desks in the classroom were almost full. Chatter crescendoed in the room; some students were catching up with friends, others silently organised their papers and books. Where could she sit? Near the back would be best, where she wouldn't stick out.

The chair screeched as Lucy pulled it out. She squeezed her legs under the desk, her knees thumping against it as she positioned herself. The pixie-like girl next to her stared. Grrr, Lucy, enough! Focus on something else.

At the front, “Advanced Level Biology” was scrawled on the whiteboard; at least she’d found the right place.

The room was kind of cosy. No windows, but that made it homely. A tattered old poster of the human anatomy on the left suggested a history of debates, hinting at years of students passing through these walls.

“Good morning, everyone!” Mr Thompson’s voice from the raised wooden platform at the front cut through the noise. Everybody hushed.

Secret Agent #19

Title: Shadows of The City
Genre: NA Paranormal Suspense “Lexi’s gone.”

“Hello to you too,” I greet my younger sister, Stormie, without looking up from my client’s notes I am almost finished editing. “How was school?”

“I said,” Stormie’s voice edges in annoyance. “Lexi is gone.”

Puzzled, I look up to meet my sister’s turbulent hazel eyes. “Lexi?”

“My friend, Lexi. Gone.”

“Can you give me a few more details? At least some context?” I sigh, closing my laptop with a snap. “Where’d she go? Why? Should I be worried?”

Stormie shrugs her slender shoulders noncommittally. “I haven’t deciphered her last message.”

“Because?” I ask, rapidly losing my patience. Breathe through the nose. Inhaling slowly.

“I just got home!” Stormie yells impatiently, throwing down her backpack. “Did you expect me to decode in front of everybody on God’s green earth - in school?” she rolls angry eyes to the ceiling. “You must think I’m stupid! Geez!”

“I thought you might decipher it in the bathroom stall,” I suggest, ignoring the desperate desire to smack my thirteen-year-old sister upside the head. “How long will it take?”

“Will what take?”

“To decipher-”

“That depends on the length of the message!”

“Could you tell me why you interrupted me?” I demand, swallowing the anger boiling up my stomach. “I was working.”

Stormie rolls her eyes at the word working. “I thought you might want to know that there’s a real-life mystery at Lakeview High School.”

I slip my computer to the floor, my attention fully on my sister. “No way!”

Way!” Johnny says...

Secret Agent #18

Title: Treachery on the High Seas
Genre: MG Narrative Nonfiction

On December 10, 1844, the U.S. Navy sloop Yorktown encountered heavy squalls. Thunder roared. Waves crashed against the warship cruising east towards West Africa. For brief moments, lightning flashed through the sky illuminating the Atlantic Ocean.

Captain Charles Heyer Bell gazed across the horizon—no land in sight. During his command a few years before, the sick list included half his crew suffering from a mysterious illness now known as malaria. The disease killed more Navy sailors than storms or pirates.

At 10:30 p.m., Captain Bell spotted a large vessel astern. Too far away to see a flag flying from her mast, he took no chances. “Beat to quarters and cast loose the guns!”

In response, William Kidwell grabbed two wooden sticks and beat the drum. John Smith played the fife loud enough to wake the crew and call them to action.

Startled awake, men jumped from canvas hammocks and pulled on their uniforms of blue cloth trousers and jackets. One hundred sailors and sixteen marines, including several musicians, had crossed the Atlantic Ocean from New York only a few weeks before. Many were inexperienced “Boys” as young as thirteen.

Throughout each deck and cabin of the USS Yorktown, officers and sailors fumbled in the dark for weapons and ammunition.

Captain Bell had warned them about the ruthless captains and sailors who flagrantly broke international laws and treaties.

Pirates, they were.

But these pirates were involved in the transatlantic slave trade from Africa to Brazil, Cuba, and the Americas.

Secret Agent #17

Title: Soul of the Sea
Genre: YA Fantasy

A wingtip brushed my hair as the gull soared past my head and swooped down over the cove. My eyes tracked his movements, every tilt of his head, each flap of his black-tipped wings as he searched the shallow waters. The bird flexed his feathers, caught the wind and turned sharply. My body twitched in response, eager to fly with him. To leave the island behind, if only for a moment.

I set to work.

My soul lay tucked deep inside my ribs beside my heart, a ball of gauzy, shimmering white in my mind’s eyes. I gathered a piece of it in my grasp then pushed that piece out, casting it into the gull on an invisible line, hooking us together.

The gull continued his search, unaware of my sudden presence in his consciousness, but now I saw what he saw, felt what he felt. With a piece of my soul inside him, I, too, was flying.

From the gull’s eyes, I saw myself standing on the beach, barefoot, the summer breeze whipping the tangled waves of my brown hair around my face. I was still aware of the strands tickling my cheeks, the limpet shells woven throughout gently tapping my collarbone, but my mind was far above me now.

The bird caught another updraft. The movement tugged on the link between us—a flare of bright pain in my chest—but I held tight.

Our island always felt too small. Viewing it from the bird’s vantage only emphasized the feeling.

Secret Agent #16

Title: Fix Your Life!
Genre: MG Contemporary Fantasy

April 17

Tonight was the W O R S T. I was sure we were going to win first prize with our Earth Day project but Taylor had a meltdown while Mom was holding her and kicked apart the windmill and Mom yelled at ME for being mad. “She didn’t do it on purpose. Blah, blah, blah.”

It’s so unfair. We worked super hard and now Grace and Zeke probably hate me because there’s no way we’ll win. If we did, our picture would be on the school website and it could go on the refrigerator instead of Matthew’s, which has been there for 1,000,000 years.

Dad didn’t even see what happened because he was busy admiring the competition. How come other people’s kids get more attention than me?

Honestly, they are the W O R S T family ever. I wish they would all disappear.

Chapter 1

,April vacation starts the second the bell rings. The whole sixth grade streams out the door whooping and laughing and high-fiving. Groups of kids peel off in different directions. At my corner, I wave goodbye to my friends and head down my street alone. I stop to tie a flapping shoelace and when I straighten up, there’s a strange little man right in front of my face.

Yikes! I jump back. Where did he come from? I look up. Did he fall out of a tree?

“Greetings!” he says. “I’m Dexter, the host of Fix Your Life!, the reality TV show.”

Secret Agent #15

Title: Edge of Never Been Before
Genre: Women's Fiction The mere possibility that the cougar was in Amelie’s vicinity gave her a shiver of exhilaration; it wasn’t clear who was stalking whom. Everyone is someone’s son or daughter, and the spirit-cat had inherited its otherworldly ways from its mother, just as Amelie was born with the earth medicine secrets of her mother and grandmothers.

Following the trail through the Slender Forest, she breathed deeply, savoring the aroma of pine needles blanketing the ground. The trees formed a canopy that all but blocked the breaking light of day. Only hardy mosses and earthy mushrooms survived in the darkness. But this place of serenity was not her destination.

On the porch the previous evening, she’d had a long-overdue conversation with her mother.

“Why don’t you go for me tomorrow morning?” her mother said, as if she invited her daughter to participate in a secret practice every day. Celia Waters walked the path each morning before the sun crested. On the outcrop in the middle of nowhere, she met her spirit-cat and the unseen energies that guided her.

“What? Why?” asked Amelie, remaining still but wanting to pace. “That’s what you do.”

“I thought you might want to.” Celia shrugged in a way that was not as nonchalant as she tried to seem.

Since Amelie had turned eighteen the previous spring, the invitation had been offered a few times. She always found an excuse to put it off, afraid meeting the spirit-cat would tie her to the life of a healer.

Secret Agent #14

Title: Dragon Scales
Genre: MG Contemporary Fantasy

The first time I saw my violin, she winked at me from the top shelf of Sorić's Violin Shop. Opened her bright yellow eye, flashed a smile full of needle-sharp teeth and squinched shut her eyelid.

Violins don't wink, you say. It's impossible. They're made of wood and varnish. They have four metal strings, stretched over a wood bridge and wound around pegs in a box by the scroll.

The scroll doesn't morph into a dragon's snout when adults aren't looking. Their mouths aren't full of tiny, razor sharp teeth and they don't nip at you when you miss a note playing scales to warm up.

Enormous bat-ears don't pop up and swivel to listen to you play.

They don't have long, thin tails that whip out of the tailpiece button and curl around your neck when they tuck into your chin. And they don't help you keep time in the music by thumping their tails against your back.

You can't count on their back paws gripping your shoulder and pushing to the perfect height on your chest.

They don't speak in Italian musical terms.

They most certainly don't have paper-thin wings that fold into their C-bouts, the C-shaped curves on both sides.

And they never, ever fly.

You're 100-percent right.

That's what I thought a violin was, too.

Until I met Zora.

Secret Agent #13

Genre: YA Fantasy

I should’ve been used to it by now, but as the needle pricked my skin for the millionth time, sharp like a bee sting, it still took me by surprise. Cursing under my breath, I sucked the small spot on my finger where a drop of blood welled to the surface before it could stain the fabric in my lap. Mother and some of the other women in the seamstress shop paused their gossiping and looked over with distaste at my language, which only deepened my scowl.

Sweat trickled down my armpits as irritation clawed at me. The workshop was oppressively stuffy in the late summer heat. The chipping gray paint on the walls and the worn tables and workbenches certainly didn’t help matters. The only color was the sumptuous fabric between my fingers, the dusty pink silk a welcome distraction from my drab surroundings. Until my thoughts had wandered, as usual, and the needle met my finger with an unforgiving jab. A reminder that I hated this work. I had no patience for sewing or the monotony. And a reminder I would not be receiving a letter today. I sighed loudly.

“Is something disturbing you, Saphira?” Mother’s brown eyes narrowed on me as she pursed her lips.

My sister, Brynlee, gave a sympathetic look from the table to my left as she continued to patiently sew thread through the fabric in front of her with luxurious, swift strokes.

Secret Agent #12

Title: Becca's War
Genre: YA Historical

Another train sped into Kensington Station, spewing smoke and soot everywhere. Horses shrieked as the huge iron engine squealed to a stop. Papa said these trains could go as fast as thirty miles an hour. My head spun at the thought of going that fast. A cold wind propelled soot our direction as we moved out onto the platform. Shivering, I brushed soot off my cloak then stuck my hands into the fur muff Mama and Papa had given me for my thirteenth birthday last month. I glanced around at dozens of people dashing to or from the train that had just stopped. They all seemed to be in as much of a hurry as the train. Where were they all going in such a rush? For a moment, I was jealous that I wasn’t going someplace with them. Even if it meant going that fast on one of the trains nearby.

The mass of rushing people jostled me as they hastened past and I realized I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should. I almost lost my balance, but I felt a hand on my elbow to steady me.

“Sorry, Miss.” I looked up at a tall young man, several years older than I was, who grinned and doffed his hat.

I frowned at him, but stopped myself. I nodded and straightened my own hat, which he had knocked askew by his carelessness. At least he’d apologized, I thought as he joined the crowd whirling around the station.

Secret Agent #11

Title: Mattie and the Machine
Genre: YA Historical The Bag Division's six bag-making machines are, as Old Jake used to say, pernickety as a moody racehorse. When everything is perfect, they run like a dream, whisking out paper bags by the thousands. But one thing goes off kilter, and they chew the paper feed to bits. And with these machines, a hundred things can go wrong.

Fortunately, I've gotten quick at figuring what's wrong.

Ida's gray-streaked head shakes with amazement as I wriggle out from beneath Machine 3 with a cracked bevel gear in hand. "Mattie," she says, raising her voice over the factory clatter. "I swear you got a sixth sense with mechanical things."

"It's just practice. If you took them apart as much as I do, you'd get good, too," I say, easing my legs out. While my height comes in handy working with the factory's overhead line shaft, it makes crawling under things difficult.

"No, you have a gift," Ida insists. "Old Jake never fixed things this quickly."

That's because Old Jake liked beer for breakfast and rum in his noon coffee.

I don't say that out loud, of course. It's disrespectful to speak ill of the dead. Not to mention, Jake's the reason I'm no longer an ordinary hand like the other women at Columbia Paper. Most mechanics would laugh at the thought of training a young girl, but Jake taught me his trade and taught me well.

For that, I'm grateful.

Secret Agent #10

Title: Life Set Sail
Genre: YA Fantasy

I know three things about séances: (1) if done right, (supposedly) you can talk to the dead, (2) you need candles, lots and lots of candles, and (3) witches perform them.

No, scratch that. Wiccans perform them. My friend Abigail was quick to point that out the first time I called her a witch. “Wicca is a spiritual practice; a peaceful polytheistic religion. We don’t ride brooms, Mae.”

If there was a contest to see who’s weirder, me or Abby, she’d win. Hands down, 100%, no questions asked, win. And tonight I’m supposed to help her conduct her first séance, because, like always, she managed to coerce me into her weird little world. I should get a gold medal for this crap.

I can only hope “talking to dead people” isn't as scary as it sounds. Abby knows I can’t even sit through half a horror movie before I go running out of the theater with my tail between my legs. So this better not be scary. And it’s not like she's trying to contact a long lost relative or someone cool like Eleanor Roosevelt. No, that would make too much sense. Abby’s trying to find a boyfriend, a new dead boyfriend. She’s been scanning the school’s microfilm for weeks, looking at old newspaper obituaries, trying to find “the one.”

My best friend, the freak.

Secret Agent #9

Title: THE WAY IT IS, 1959
Genre: MG Historical

“Patsy, stop that infernal daydreaming!” The words whooshed out of Mother like air from a punctured bicycle tire. Then after a sharp inhale, “Don’t you drop that sheet in the dirt!”

“Yes, ma’am.” I grabbed the wet sheet corner and sniffed the unmistakable scent of Clorox. Mother would have a hissy-fit for sure if I let go of that sheet. Dang it, Mother always interrupted my daydreams.

I swiped away a sweat mustache with the back of my free hand, then licked the salt from my lips. Boy Howdy, Mother thinks August and chores go together like bread and mayonnaise.

Perspiration dripped onto the lenses of my glasses. Do they make glasses with windshield wipers? I pushed the mother-of-pearl frames up for the umpteenth time. I wish I’d pulled my hair into a ponytail this morning. It hung thick around my neck and shoulders like the Cowardly Lion’s mane in The Wizard of Oz.

The sweet scent of honeysuckle drifted towards me from branches draped over the fence behind the clothesline. Daddy’ll be home in a few hours, I thought, and pressed my lips together. That uneasy-butterfly-feeling began in the pit of my stomach as it did every day around 5:30.

Everything changed when Daddy came home in the evenings. Then I felt as if I was waiting in the chair at the dentist office where the sound of drilling cavities always gave me the heebie jeebies.

Secret Agent #8

Title: Laughter Magic
Genre: YA Fantasy

It's not every day you meet a boy who can read your mind.

The boy in front of me had floppy corkscrew curls and a slightly twisted smile to match. We sat facing each other, cross-legged in a circle in the middle of a clearing. The sun was bright and warm on my back and I looked deep into his eyes.

"Okay," Nauraa the master anchor called out, "take each other's hands."

A burst of embarrassed giggles came from several of the couples in our group. The boy in front of me gave an awkward grin and reached for my hands. His hands were warm and clammy and quite unremarkable

"Do you feel anything?" he whispered.

"No," I whispered back, "maybe we need to concentrate."

We both closed our eyes but after a moment I peeked and noticed he was peeking too. The sun on my neck was cooking me and i felt more awkward the longer we continued. I avoided his eyes, looking over his shoulder into the trees, then down at my lap. Doubly nervous because the next boy in line was our village leader's son Zach, who I'd been watching from afar since forever.

"I don't think this is working," we said almost together and then laughed as we made eye contact again.

From somewhere behind me I heard a gasp and somebody uttered a surprised, "Oh," as though they had just learned something remarkable.

Was that it? Was that what we were trying for?

Secret Agent #7

Title: Half a World Away

Genre: Psychological Thriller
February 13, 1991

And just like that, the bus started to pull away.

Maggie Reyes was motionless among the assorted family and girlfriends, all waving and cheering and crying and calling out encouraging words. She kept her eyes locked on the back of the bus, ignoring the billowing cloud of Syracuse’s endless exhaust blowing her way. A few people tried to start a “U-S-A!” chant, which made her stomach flip. She wanted to turn on them and shout, Seriously? The f*** do you think this is? A pep rally? But she wouldn’t, unable to look away from the bus or unlock her jaw. Mercifully, the chant gave way to a messy chorus of goodbyes aimed at the rapidly shrinking bus, as if it was a turn-of-the-century ocean liner and not an Army Reserve unit being sent off for mop-up duty in the Gulf War.

The recurring thought came back to Maggie: They say the fighting is over, but they’re leaving just the same. The day before Valentine’s Day, for Christ’s sake.

She stood dumbly among the crowd of boisterous well-wishers, her eyes off the back of the bus as it grew smaller and smaller. As the bus slipped into downtown traffic, the only words just barely making it to Maggie’s lips were, “Don’t go, Nick. Don’t go.” But there was no stopping the inevitable. A light turned green, the bus made a careful turn towards the highway, and it was gone.

Secret Agent #6

Title: The Imprint of Desire
Genre: Historical Fiction

Edinburgh, 1733.

Jack drew his hands into his sleeves. The wind whistled along the high stone wall, rippled the gentlemen’s coats, and puffed the water-splotched capes of the fine ladies who’d braved the dreary clouds to join them.

A small part of him wished he weren’t here. The part of his left arm that ached from carrying Lady Roxbury's casket upon his shoulder, along High Street, down Cowgate, and into Greyfriars’ Churchyard. The part of his foot, sore in his stiff-ankled shoe coverings, the mark of mourning. The part of his heart that beat too fast when cordoned on all sides, as he was now, by the press of strangers and the town’s most notable Protestants, judges, and titled men and women. None like him. No Irish Catholics, no nearly abducted children, and no other young black men.

His breath ratcheted. The breeze blew on his white-wigged curls and he tried to time the rise and fall of his chest to the wind’s pulsing rhythms. Slid to the edge of the crowd and pressed his back against the blessedly solid stone wall. His hands crunched together. No sight he could see but the widowed earl’s bent head, and Admiral Lord Dunmore's beside it, fixed firm in his vision. The rest of the assembly blurred in a jumble of cloaks and canes and tartan scarves. His chest pattered, bum da dum, like a soldier drummer boy’s, as once he’d hopped to be.

Secret Agent #5

Title: A Tale of Two Kingdoms
Genre: YA Fantasy

If I faint Sasha will never let me live it down. Like everyone else gathered there, the two kings and the two queens were watching their every move. Jarron couldn’t see Sasha, there were too many people seated between them, but they were headed for the same place -- the massive, majestic dais at the head of the room, where their parents were waiting.

I have lost my mind, and I am not even betrothed yet... The heavy weight of his court clothes were not helping the trapped feeling. At fourteen, it wasn’t exactly his first time in full ceremonial dress, as crown prince he’d been wearing it practically since he was born, but it never got easier.

The fitted white jacket, draped with royal orders, medals of rank, and large golden epaulets, made it an actual chore to stand straight. But, as Sergei, his valet, mentor, and right hadn had told him; at least he looked good doing it. Put all together, the doublet, the tight white trousers with the Korbaumi green stripe running up the sides, and the gleaming black knee-high boots made a really princely picture, but all Jarron cared about was that it made him look even taller than he was. As his betrothal vows drew nearer, he knew he needed all the help he could get.

I can do this. And hopefully no one will notice that my chest is heaving so hard, my medals are practically jingling.

Secret Agent #4

Title: Garden of Impossible Things
Genre: Adult Upmarket

When we were born, my sister and I, we were impossible. Our mother had been told repeatedly—and in no uncertain terms—that she would never bear her own children. Yet there we were, red, screaming and very much alive, though not without complication. We would spend the first eight weeks of our lives in the NICU, jaundiced and premature, impossibly small.

It’s how our father would refer to us: his impossible girls. It was a moniker we embraced. After all, there was a certain freedom that came with living when you weren’t meant to exist. And we had been just that—impossible. Two wild girls, with wild sun-stained curls, practically raising themselves while their widower father worked to keep food in their bellies and a roof over their heads. We were eleven before he gave up practicing law and moved us from the city. Our new home a small town in northern Pennsylvania along the Susquehanna River. Our father had bought a ramshackle Victorian on one corner of Main Street that had a failing bookshop on the ground floor and a three-bedroom apartment spread over the two stories above.

There was a garden out back, surrounded by eight-foot high brick walls with no gate and a curved glass roof, inaccessible except through a window in the back room of the shop. It was there that we played during endless summer days. And it was there, six years later, that I discovered my sister’s body, tangled in weeds, pale and naked, impossibly cold.

Secret Agent #3

Genre: MG Fantasy

Everyone knows bulldogs don’t speak. I mean, they hardly even bark. So why’d that hefty old Zelda say “car” just as I was about to get in it? Our neighbor liked to brag that his dog once lived with a circus, but all she’d ever learned to do was balance a ball on her nose. Or so I thought.

Before the sun could fry my skin, I jumped into the back of our Cadillac Escalade MegaXXX—a wimp of a car compared to all the self-driving land yachts cruising around the oxygen-sucking town of Sparkplug. Still, it had saved me from my fears a million times before. I slammed the door and squashed my nose against the window to see if Zelda looked like she was actually forming words. Kinda hard to tell on a creature with such a horrible underbite that her incisors didn’t fit in her mouth. But yeah. Her droopy jowls tightened and her lower jaw thrust forward every time she finished her disturbing howl. The “r” in “car.”

Don’t be a wuss, Leo. You’re imagining it. That’s what Omar would say. Best buds forever, despite my frequent freakouts. I could probably crack him up—and definitely everyone else in seventh grade—blathering on about a talking dog. Of course Zelda couldn’t really speak. Maybe this was the first stage of cynophobia. Fear of dogs. One of the few things I’d thought was totally harmless. Had a lifetime spent battling phobias made me totally lose it?

Secret Agent #2

Genre: MG Contemporary Fantasy

It was Saturday, and there were three things I absolutely, positively knew were true. One: There was no such thing as magic. Two: Everything had a scientific explanation. And three: I was NOT losing the Bradford Middle School science fair again this year.

Blissfully ignorant that all three of those things were about to go flying out the window, I watched Mr. Johnson with narrowed eyes as he wandered the other end of the science classroom. He stopped to talk to Michelle Mowry. Based on her tray of plant cuttings, Michelle was gunning for the botany vote this year. She clearly had no idea that a botany-based project hadn't won first place at a Bradford science fair in eight years. Amateur.

I looked down at my proof-of-concept device, which fit completely into a shoebox. I slipped my finger into the tube, wiggled it around, and grinned with pride as my harvesting circuitry did its thing and converted the movement into energy that lit up the small bulb attached to it. Converting the body’s energy into usable electricity was a high school, maybe even college-level project. They might as well just skip the fair entirely and hand me the prize right now.

It was ridiculous that I had to go to those lengths, of course. At any other school, I was good enough to win with a baking soda and vinegar volcano tied behind my back. But nooo, I had to live in the same school district as Isaac Lyman.

Secret Agent #1

Title: The Beneficiary Genre: Women's Fiction Rena Harding slapped the invoice stamped “Past Due” on the table and peered out the window to the sign someone had staked into the mud flats. The next item on her list would be to march down and yank it out. She’d do that as soon as she figured out how to deal with the electric bill.

It was June. Plenty of kerosene in the shed. She and Will could fire up the old hurricane lamps. She’d use the electric stove as little as possible. Instead, make it fun. Cook using driftwood on an outdoor fire. Cold-water washes in the set-tub, sheets flapping on the line. They’d be okay here on the island. They knew how to toss a hook—Will had been fishing since he learned to walk. Besides, a few jabs in the mud with a clam fork or a trip to a populated rock and they’d have all the shellfish they’d need. Sautéed mussels. Mussel stew. Clam chowder, cakes, stuffed. She’d mix it up. Flavor things with onion, dill, a potato or two. A few extra shifts at the diner and they’d make it—through the summer, anyway.

Lord, the sign out there annoyed her. It was one thing during election season. But now? Why would anyone bother to put one out here? Rena tossed the bill aside. Letting the screen door slam behind her, she weaved through the reeds, skirting the patch of eel-grass flowing down to the harbor. There, she discovered real trouble.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Tuesday, August 4, 2020


Hello, writing friends!

Submissions for our next Secret Agent Contest are 3 weeks from yesterday (where has the summer gone?). Here's everything you need to know:

(Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open on Monday, August 24.)

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

*To enter, please use THE SUBMISSION FORM HERE.
*THIS WILL BE A LOTTERY: The submission window will be open from NOON to 6:00 PM EDT, after which the bot will randomly select 50 entries.
* PLEASE NOTE: You are responsible for figuring out your own time zone. "Time Zone differences" are NOT a reason for not getting your entry in.
* Submissions are for COMPLETED MANUSCRIPTS ONLY. If you wouldn't want an agent to read the entire thing, DON'T SEND IT. If an "entire thing" doesn't exist, you shouldn't even be reading these rules.
* You may submit A DIFFERENT MANUSCRIPT if you've participated in any previous Secret Agent contests in the past year.
* Only ONE ENTRY per person per contest. If you send more than one, your subsequent entry(ies) will be rejected.
* Submissions are for THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. Please do not stop in the middle of a

GO HERE to submit via our web form.

As always, there is no fee to enter the Secret Agent contest.

This month's contest will include the following genres:

MG and YA Historical Fiction
MG  and YA Fantasy
MG and YA Narrative Nonfiction
MG and YA Epistolary
Adult Upmarket (NO genre fiction--high fantasy, romance, etc.)

Please ask your questions below!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Friday Fricassee: Cover Reveal!

I'm beyond thrilled to share with you the cover of THE STOLEN KINGDOM, which releases on March 2, 2021.



A secret bloodline. A stolen magic. A fight for the throne.

For a hundred years, the once-prosperous kingdom of Perin Faye has suffered under the rule of the greedy and power-hungry Thungrave kings. Maralyth Graylaern, a cacao farmer's daughter, has no idea her hidden magic power is proof of a secret bloodline and claim to the throne. Alac Thungrave, the king's second son, has always been uncomfortable with his position as the spare heir--and the dark, stolen magic that comes with ruling.

When Maralyth becomes embroiled in a plot to murder the royal family and seize the throne, a cat-and-mouse chase ensues in an adventure of dark magic, court intrigue, and forbidden love.

You guys! This book means more to me than I have time to express--we'll save that story for another day. THE STOLEN KINGDOM is available for preorder wherever books are sold.

Please be sure to add THE STOLEN KINGDOM to your Goodreads to-read list!

 The Stolen Kingdom

Thanks, as always, for all your support. I know the blog's been quiet since April, but things'll stir up again soon. We've got another Secret Agent Contest slated for August! More on that soon.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! (Also? Please know how much it means to me to hear from you. Leave a comment, drop me an email, give me a shout on Instagram or Twitter. Let me know what you're writing, what you're reading, how you're doing.)


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

April the Twenty-fourth

My 12-year-old bookworm

This Friday is my birthday. It's also the 7-month anniversary of the release of STORMRISE.

I suppose it's more usual to note a 6-month anniversary, but March passed by in a bit of a blur (as I'm sure it did for most of you). So here I am, a month late but no less grateful.

September 24 wasn't supposed to be my release date. Originally, STORMRISE was slated to drop on September 10, which was when I'd planned to have my big release party. To say that I was upset is an understatement; all I could think about was the party and all the people who said they'd be there and how many months in advance I'd booked the venue. Not to mention the fact that I wanted to have physical copies to sign for people.

Everything worked out just fine. Tor Teen made sure early copies were there, and they even crafted me a gorgeous poster, to make up for the fact that my release party was no longer my actual release day.

(The poster lives in my office, propped against the wall. I still haven't figured out a way to hang it up without damaging it.)

It's been an interesting seven months--I've swung from the heights of elation to the depths of disappointment and back again. I've watched STORMRISE wend its way into the storm of books-clamoring-for-attention, holding my breath and reminding myself not to read any review less than 3 stars. (Seriously, it's not worth it. Some people are going to hate your book no matter what, and there's no reason to go all imposter-syndrome every time someone rips into your writing.)

These are the sort of comments that have kept me afloat:

  • Loved this book! It sucks you in and before you know it you've read the last page.

  • It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel. This is a fantastic story in a style reminiscent of Tamora Pierce, which is high praise!

  • The best Mulan style story I have read.

  • A fantasy retelling of Mulan WITH DRAGONS... need I say more? I loved this.

  • Alanna meets Mulan. How can you lose?

  • STORMRISE offers a lesson to young readers, especially in this age of hate crimes and violence, that you can make a difference, and you can make your voice heard, and even though you are not “the mainstream normal”, you are powerful, and valid. You matter. All you have to do is do the thing.

Thank you, reviewers. It might be that you don't realize how your words fuel confidence when it lags and creativity when it dwindles. You may not know how much it means to an author that her words moved you. It's a privilege to speak into people's hearts and imaginations, and it's a gift every time they let you know.

So, what have I learned in seven months?

I've learned that writing the next book after your debut is hard. And that writing the one after that is even harder.

I've learned that people may buy your book in October and not read it until March. And still love it.

I've learned that libraries are more wonderful than I'd even known.

I've learned that the fan art of eighth-graders feeds my soul.

I've learned that I absolutely love book signings.

I've learned that the release date of a debut novel comes and goes--a blip on the timeline of my life. And that I've got to continue looking ahead.

I've learned that it's really (really really) hard sometimes to feel like a tiny fish in a boundless sea.

I've learned that following my dream was absolutely the right thing to do.

Huge thanks to each of you who has purchase a copy of STORMRISE. For those of you who are audibook fans, I'd like to gush once more about the amazing Renee Chambliss's incredible narration and encourage you to borrow the audio edition of STORMRISE from your library or purchase a copy for your own collection.

What's next? THE STOLEN KINGDOM (which has shown up on Goodreads and Amazon over the past couple of days -- super early, but whatever!) has an official release date and a stunning cover, and I'll be sharing both of those when the time is right. (Or, yanno, when my publisher says, "You may share the cover now.")

Keep dreaming, writers! And more importantly, keep writing. Talent is nothing without practice, and a dream is nothing without work. 

Hugs and chocolate to all!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Secret Agent Winners!

And here are the winners:



Ms. Hunter would like to see the first 50 pages of your manuscript! Winners, PLEASE EMAIL ME AT FACELESSWORDS@GMAIL.COM FOR SPECIFIC SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS.

Congratulations, winners! And a huge thank you to EVERYONE who participated.

Secret Agent Unveiled: Kristy Hunter

Heaps of thanks to our lovely and helpful Secret Agent, Kristy Hunter of The Knight Agency!

Kristy's bio:

As a graduate of Vanderbilt University and The Columbia Publishing Course, Kristy Hunter began her publishing career in New York City—first as an editorial intern at Bloomsbury Children’s Books and then as a book publicist at Grove/Atlantic and Random House Children’s Books. When she moved to the agenting side of the industry, she was closely mentored by Deidre Knight, president and founder of The Knight Agency, and her first co-agented project sold at auction soon after. As an associate agent, Kristy enjoys being able to bring a unique perspective to her clients thanks to her diverse publishing background. When she’s not curled up with a fantastic book or manuscript, she can be found kickboxing or hiking with her dog.

What Kristy is looking for:

Right now, I’m looking for that perfect escape read—something that pulls me in and doesn’t let go. This can be a fun-filled mystery, a deeply atmospheric story with hints of magic, an upbeat rom-com, a family saga with deep-rooted secrets—anything. Just transport me to that world (and make sure it’s middle grade, young adult or adult!).

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Friday Fricassee

There's been enough banter about the current situation and how challenging/frustrating it is to be stuck at home trying to sort out fact from fiction and to adjust to our new (temporary) normal. So I won't engage.

I will say this, though: Terrible situations always end up producing good things--even if they are small things, or things that are only important to you. (You matter, so it counts.)

Examples from my own life:

1. TERRIBLE THING: Life shut down and everyone is stuck at home.
2. GOOD THING: We are having sit-down family dinners like we haven't had in years.

1. TERRIBLE THING: My editor at Tor Teen was laid off.
2. GOOD THING: My new editor and I have "clicked" -- and she loves my book!

1. TERRIBLE THING: The School of Nashville Ballet closed its doors weeks ago, directly affecting my ballerina daughter, who normally has class 4 days a week.
2. GOOD THING: They've just added adult ballet to their online offerings, and I took a class on Wednesday morning.

And on it goes. I would encourage you to take note of the good things that have come your way amid the fear and frustration and utter strangeness of our collectives worlds.

As for the Secret Agent Contest:

I'm happy to see thoughtful critiques showing up! KEEP IT COMING! The Secret Agent (who has already shown up--have you seen?) will continue to leave feedback over the weekend, and you may do so also. The Secret Agent will be unveiled--and winners announced--on Monday.

Thank you to all who have participated!

And finally, some book news, since I haven't talked much here about it of late:

1. Parnassus Books in Nashville, while closed to the public, is taking and shipping orders. They still have a few signed copies of STORMRISE (though I will not be able to personalize, due to the current situation), so if you'd like one, PLEASE GO HERE NOW TO ORDER.

2. THE STOLEN KINGDOM now has a gorgeous cover and an official release date! Please be sure to SUBCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER and follow me on social media so you don't miss all the reveals as they happen. (INSTAGRAM , TWITTER)

Thank you all for continuing to hang out here at Miss Snark's First Victim. I'll see you on Monday!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Secret Agent Contest Critique Guidelines

It's actually been quite a while since we've had a Secret Agent Contest!  For those of you who are new to the blog (hi!!), you are warmly welcomed to offer your critique on as many of the 50 entries as you would like.

Here's the way it works:
  • Once the 50 entries have posted, all readers may leave critique in the comment box of each entry.  
  • While the critiquing is going on, our Secret Agent will appear and also leave feedback--for ALL 50 ENTRIES!  This is great not only for the folks who entered, but for everyone who takes the time to read through to see how a literary agent responds to various opening pages.
  • Next Monday, I will post the identity of our Secret Agent AND the winning entries

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

*I can't possibly read every comment.  If you ever see a comment that is truly snarky, please email me.  I count on your help.

Secret Agent #50

TITLE: From the Dirt Sea
GENRE: Adult Mainstream w/hint of magic

For years nothing had grown in the neglected dirt lot Leia called a backyard, and she had no idea why anything had sprouted now. A little green bud surfaced dead center in the brown expanse, standing out like a marble in riverbed. Leia leaned over it, careful not to topple on top of it as her hangover clouded her sense of equilibrium. Probably a weed. It’d been a rainier winter than her valley desert town was used to, but even then, her yard had been exceptionally resistant to life through every other heavy soak. This weed must possess fortitude far beyond her negligence.

Instinctively, she went to sip at her coffee and remembered that she’d yet to make any having been so distracted by this new, planty development.

Po, her bad-mouthed chihuahua, yelped at her from the back door, unwilling to step foot on the cold patio yet desperate for breakfast all the same.

“Coming, you little shit,” she said, though this did little to soothe him. It wasn’t until the food cascaded into his plastic bowl that he quieted long enough to scarf it down, as if he hadn’t eaten in days. It hadn’t even been a full twelve hours since his last meal, to which the vet would complain again about his weight, but the vet wasn’t the one living with the mouthy little beast.

Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Big Bright Thing
GENRE: Adult Women's Fiction

I was standing by my car, waiting for my shift to start, when this lady came up and said, “People are allergic, you know. You should be more careful.”

It took me a second to figure out what she was getting at. But then I stuffed my bag of peanuts in my backpack, rubbed my greasy hands on my shirt and said, “Maybe I’ve got a death wish.”

“What I meant,” said this lady, who was probably some mom of one of my high school classmates, “was that you’re about to go into that restaurant,” (ha! Imagine calling Freezer King a restaurant), “and touch people’s food. What if they’re allergic? They could die.”

“Maybe I’m an assassin.”

“I should talk to your manager.”

“I am the manager.” This wasn’t totally true. Kevin was the manager of the dinner shift. I was only the manager after seven, when he went home to put his kid to bed, and I was stuck working the register and the fro-yo machine.

“I hope you don’t work too late. I assume you’ve got school tomorrow.”

“Assassin training school.”

The lady shook her head and walked off. She pulled a keychain from her pocket, and it held so many keys, like she was a jail warden. A lot of people must have trusted her with their stuff. I only had three keys- my house, my car, and the Freezer King.

I didn't know what that woman was getting at asking me about school.

Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Evernight
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The fae believe the ability to lie is a curse. I disagree. In my line of work, there is a certain benefit that comes from everyone believing me when I say I am not going to kill them.

My name is Raegan and I am an assassin by trade, not by choice. Sometimes, we must resort to doing that which we are good at. Sometimes, we have no choice.

In the throes of the restless crowd, I move lightly, my hands pressed into my pockets lest I brush against another. The brand on the inside of my elbow burns like ice. I clench my fists, eyes tracing the hordes of fae surrounding me like a sea. Most are Unseelie, their bodies swathed in cloaks like mine, bright eyes shrouded by hoods and tattered scarves. Many carry goods, armfuls of spells, some with carts, some with cages. Others are residents of the Autumn Court. I bow my head, passing sylphs with ochre-russet skin and hair of deep green, burnt umber.

A flash of a golden blade makes my head whip around.

He might as well send up a flare for all the difference it would make in this crowd.

Missile to target, my eyes fix on a figure a dozen paces ahead. He lurches forward then flinches back, cringing out of the path of an errant arrow some idiot has fired through the crowd. For a Seelie spy, he is not so subtle.

Secret Agent #47

GENRE: MG Upper LGBTQ+ Contemporary

The spotlights warm my skin before racing across the faces of fifteen girls standing center stage. They grab each others’ hands. Their ballgowns sparkle, sending rainbows dancing over the audience. Girls from all over Elmore Township competed at other pageant optionals to get here. Now is the moment when one girl wins and the rest pretend they don’t want to strangle her. I hold my breath. It’s so quiet, a fly buzzing behind me sounds like a lawnmower.

Then someone in the audience giggles. And another. Within seconds, laugher echoes off the walls. The girls’ eyes dart back and forth, smiles frozen. My grin grows wider as I squeeze the velvet curtain before rushing down the stairs and back to my front row seat.

So, okay. I might have the teensiest bit to do with what’s happening. Competition in the twelve to fifteen age group is fierce this year. Someone has to take matters into her own hands. I can’t count on my best friend to do everything on her own.

A girl wobbles as one shoe falls apart, and I pat myself on the back. That right heel was super hard to saw through. Another sniffs at the smoke drifting above her head. Oops! Note to self: Don’t mess with curling irons, Caz. We want to win, not catch the competition on fire.

I study my best friend, Britt. Her frizz-free hair rests on her shoulders as she balances on even-heeled hot pink dress shoes.