Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Submissions Are Now Closed

We're over the 50 mark (that's what I get for grabbing a quick lunch!).

I've sent confirmations to 30 so far.

The First Sentences will be posted tomorrow morning!

First Sentence Submissions Now Open



Your first sentence.

Easy as that!

Please email your submission to facelesswords(at)gmail.com.

No attachments.

And please keep an eye on the blog for the close of submissions.


Monday, March 30, 2009

My Turn To Ask a Small Favor

The exciting news is that filming starts this weekend for the uber-cool book trailer for AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED. I'm just an itty-bitty excited about the prospect.

(Will Authoress appear in her own book trailer? Her spokespeople aren't saying!)

Until our mini-masterpiece is released, I want to make sure word about the e-book continues to travel far and wide to the array of aspiring authors on the Web.

If you've read the e-book and gotten something positive out of it, would you take a moment to post a link to the e-book page (to your left, on the sidebar) on your blog or in your favorite writers' group?

No spamming, please. I will be forced to remove your phalanges at the second joint if you spam anyone.

But seriously. Tell the world how the e-book has impacted or inspired you, and share the link. Then come back here and tell me where you posted it (leave the link in the comment box below).

I will be most grateful.

We return you now to your regularly scheduled program.


HOORAY For De-Lurking Writers...and Tomorrow's Funnity

Like fresh chicks cracking through the shell, a gaggle of readers has come forth to shout "hello."

(Dorky spring metaphor? Perhaps. But give me a break; it's delightfully sunny today with that whiff of spring in the air. Makes me go all pastel gooey.)

I'm seriously delighted to meet so many of you who have been silently reading. It's always an encouragement, too, to read, over and and over again, how this blog has positively impacted your writing--craft and attitude alike.

A huge HELLO to all of you!

And, culled from the comment boxes, another ABNA Quarterfinalist! Click HERE to read GoldensRule's entry and leave your feedback. Thanks, GoldensRule, for letting us know!

Having thus used up my quota of exclamation points for the day, I'll tone it down a bit while I tell you that we're going to have another in-house critique session, opening tomorrow for submissions. And yes, I'll be limiting this to 50 submissions, for everyone's sanity.

Don't worry, though--it's a easy one to get through. We're going to have another First Sentence round, since our last one was several months back, before the surge in readership. The call for submissions will be posted at 9:00 am EDT (1:00 pm London). And the format is easy:


This is the first sentence of my fabulous novel.

Now, of COURSE this isn't enough of an excerpt to garner thought-provoking critique. Of COURSE you're not going to be able to convey a heck of a lot about your story.

That's not the point of this. First of all, this is a bit of lighthearted fun. And second of all, it's an interesting way to see how many first sentences really do "stand out."

Take the first sentence from Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (this year's Newbery Award winner, for those of you who have been living in the cellar):

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

Honestly, the above sentence is all it took to literally drag me into reading more. It's not a particularly creative or stand-out-ish sentence in the grand scheme of things. But there's something about the simplicity of the language and the hugeness of what the sentence implies.



I want to know who's in danger. And if anybody's died. Or will die.

See what I mean? A first sentence can really make a difference.

So, have fun with this. And please don't email your entry until submissions open at 9:00 am EDT.

A reminder to those of you relying on your email notifications: The email for this blog is only sent out once a day. It will include all posts made to the blog prior to the delivery time (which occurs between 11 am and 1 pm EDT). You will have to watch your own clock or click on the blog live to be sure you hit the submission window. The email will arrive two to four hours after submissions have opened.

Just a word to the wise.

And now I think I'll go enjoy this ever-so-early-springlike day. Tra la!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Regardless of my penchant for sunshine, I will always love the sound of rain on the eaves. I'm not sure what it is about rain, exactly, that makes me feel "writerly."

It could be my natural introversion; my melancholic bent; the resurfacing of my eighth-grade dream of becoming a monk. (It was a bad year.)

But the truth remains that I am utterly content in this morning's surroundings--hot coffee, warm computer, tiny window-view of steady rain.

That, and the satisfaction of knowing that my 1000-words-a-day promise to myself is holding fast. Weekends excluded, of course. At this rate, I will have a completed first draft by the middle of June. Not too shabby, that.

I've also been encouraged by the recent good news from blog readers. I am absolutely certain that this trend will continue. After all, this blog isn't just for the fun of it, right? Sure, we have fun. But in the end, we are investing time here to better ourselves as writers. This blog is a career-booster of sorts.

Yes, I like that. Career booster.

I think that, as aspiring authors, we need to get used to the word "career". We need to use it in conjunction with the word "writer" and "author" and "novel". It's a mindset that's going to keep us on track as we seek representation and, ultimately, the sale of our work.

It doesn't matter what else we do in life--teacher, doctor, IT guru, mechanic, firefighter, Sumo wrestler, pink-Cadillac-touting-Mary-Kaye-consultant, librarian, stay-at-home mom, corporate drone. We've got to think about and talk about our writing as a career.

Because, yanno, we all hate it when someone on the "outside" thinks it's our cute little hobby.

Painting naked ladies on seashells is a hobby. Collecting wooden cigar boxes is a hobby. Penning inspirational limericks in Egyptian hieroglyphs is a hobby.

Writing novels is not a hobby. At least, not for us.

And that, I'm sure, is the main reason most of you are here. You are career-minded novelists with good stories to tell. And you want to get better.

Lo and behold, you are getting better. And so am I.

Thank you! For your willingness to grow and for your willingness to help others grow, I thank you.

And to the continual influx of new readers: Welcome! So glad you're here.

The comment box is open--feel free to continue these thoughts and expand on them. I love the way our Friday comment boxes have been bursting with energy and inspiration lately!

And if you're one of the Silent Types who's been around for a while without saying much--de-lurk! Join the throng of career-minded novelists in the comment box. We'll all be glad to get to know you.

Cheers and hot coffee in the rain!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

#10 1000 Words -- Redacted by author

Content redacted. You get a critting break this time. =)

#9 1000 Words

TITLE: Frosty
GENRE: YA (Fantasy)

I’d give anything on earth to be twelve again. Or thirteen. Even fourteen. But fifteen?


“Why not?” she asked, elbows pressing into the table. A bulb swayed above us, casting her face in shadows as the weak light reflected off her badge. A second Officer stood against the wall with his arms crossed, watching in silence.

I had no answer. Never did, never would. What use were words when no one believed anything I said?

In the darkened mirror across from me, darker shadows passed. My reflection was warped, the glass not quite right. Dark hair, cut close along the sides and back, hanging loose over blue eyes still wet with tears. The more I stared at my face, the less familiar I seemed. Was there something wrong with the mirror or with me? If I closed my eyes, would I remember what I looked like?

I took a deep breath and started at the beginning again.

Summer vacation began seven hours, thirty-one minutes ago. It took twenty-seven minutes to walk home.

Seven hours, four minutes until now; until this singular, terrible moment.

My mother left to run errands, leaving me to watch my sister, Holly.

“Did that bother you?” Long fingers drummed; metallic echoes filled the room as her fingernails struck the table.

Six hours, fourteen minutes ago. After a snack, I sat down at my computer, Holly playing on the floor next to me as always. Five hours, fifty-six minutes.

Holly went to the bathroom. Five hours, fifty-three minutes. I went to the bathroom. Five hours, fifty-one minutes.

“You left her alone?”

Is there any way to stop time? Is it possible to regret something so deeply that time reverses? I never should have left her. Never taken my eyes off her. She was on the living room floor, playing with our dog, Autumn, in front of the unused fireplace. Khaki shorts and a blue polo shirt, her school uniform she loved so much she even wore it on weekends. Dark hair, darker even than mine, tied up with the pink bow my mother always forced on her. Brown eyes. Three feet, eight inches tall. Forty-one pounds. Six and a half years old today, June 25th. Our Christmas miracle, the baby sister I’d never wanted.


Old pipes sometimes scream, high-pitched, when tight handles are first turned, the water pressure releasing. Our bathroom always did, the metal knobs coated with white enamel. I reached to turn the water on, anticipating the scream, but I hadn’t touched the handle yet.

Five hours, fifty-one minutes. High-pitched scream, louder, longer, scarier than plumbing.

Frantic, I pushed the door open, rushing into the living room. Autumn was barking to wake the dead, deep guttural growls as she tried to protect my sister. Holly’s screams ran around the room, echoing off the wood floor and paneled walls.

I jumped over the couch to reach her in time. Flames licked out, almost touching Holly and the three men dragging her by her feet towards the fire. Autumn tried to bite the man closest to her but the heat drove her back, singeing her fur. Smoke poured into the room, stinging my eyes. Still, I fought against the flames, trying to save her.

Five hours, fifty minutes.

“Chris!” Holly screamed my name as I reached for her. For a moment, our hands touched before she was pulled out of my grasp.

I coughed from the smoke, blindly fighting my way to her. I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe.

Five-hours, fifty minutes.

I had her in my hands and let her slip away.

The police released me to my parents after the doctors examined me, searching for signs of smoke inhalation, or burns, or, perhaps, insanity. No one believed me. I could only imagine what they thought. There were no fingerprints, no clues, no ransom note and no trace of a fire.

There was only me.

One beautiful summer day, the sister I’d never wanted disappeared, stolen out of my grasp by three men; none over four feet tall, with long dark hair and eyes the color of deep woods, brown and ancient.

And very pointed ears.


The days that followed passed in a blur, constant motion and movement, accomplishing nothing. My parents didn’t speak. Not to me, not to the police, not to each other. They sat, staring at the phone, attached to recording equipment, waiting for it to ring. Friends and family came from far and wide, plastering the town in posters and flyers. Police at all hours, searching the house for clues, repeating the same questions over and over, leading search dogs through the woods.

There never was a dog that Christmas. I had told Santa, and anyone else who would listen, what I wanted, my list consisting of one word. I tore open every present until only one remained but there were no pet supplies, no puppy.

“Did you fight a lot?” Even standing in the doorway to my room, her eyes taking in every detail as her shadow fell across me where I sat at my desk, her finger nails drummed, striking against the door. Still, the questions never ended.

I was almost ten years old the year without a puppy. In the snow, falling Christmas day, my best friend Jack walked up to our house with his sister Mary. Younger, by a minute or so, she followed him everywhere. They rang the doorbell as my father placed the last present in front of me. I peeled off the first piece of wrapping paper as they unwrapped themselves, shaking off the snow.

“A dog?” she asked, the words soft, friendly. The eyes, hard, flicking from place to place in my room, taking in the papers on my desk, the posters on my walls, the clothes on my floor. Missing nothing.

#8 1000 Words

TITLE: The Locked Door
GENRE: Scifi/women's fiction


I have tried to imagine the day I died in that other world almost ten
years ago. Certain details stand out because it was an especially
aggravating day. The rest is easy to fill in with all the mundane
details of college dorm life. I was never one to place any stock in
the chaos theory or the butterfly effect. You know, the nonsense that
a butterfly flapping its wings in Argentina is going to cause a
tornado in Texas. I always figured if that were true, the jiggling of
my thighs would be causing tsunamis in Southeast Asia.

It turns out that there are ripple effects that derive from
our very existence, even from a life as pathetic as mine.
And there are worse things than a tsunami.

Even though this story is about me, I can’t look at her death in
first person. I lived. I didn’t die that day. So I am evoking third
person, just for this. Just so I can tolerate the gruesome nature of
my own murder.

Hannah Dean was nineteen years old that day in October 1999. She was
a skinny, geeky thing with flat mousey hair and granny glasses. It
was her sophomore year at the University of Washington and she was
engaged to a wonderful, handsome man who had graduated months before.
Nathan was commissioned in the United States Navy. He had already
gone through Officer Candidate School during the summer and had just
started Naval Nuclear Power School in Goose Creek, South Carolina.
She lived for his phone calls, when they got through. Which was rare
because her psycho-bitch roommate, Daphne Davidson, was always on the

Daphne was the roommate from hell. She was gorgeous to behold, and
she knew it. That was the problem. When Daphne walked into a room
with that certain saunter to her hips, you could feel everyone’s gaze
turn to her. However, her beauty was the exact opposite of her
corrosive character. She was a user, and proud of it. Her parents
were sweet and moneyed, but it was easy to see their weariness. I’m
sure it was a relief to have her away at college, where someone else
had to suffer her machinations. Boys were the usual victims. She
changed boyfriends like underwear – very nasty underwear. One
desperate boy crawled across asphalt naked, just to gain her favor.
She mocked him and shared pictures of the stunt with all her friends,
who passed them on to his friends and so on, like a wicked game of
Telephone. Her friends weren’t treated much better, but they still
remained her satellites, circling her in endless awe and devotion.
They were little blonde clones, dressing the same, eating the same
(which meant not eating), and listening to the same music. They even
spoke in the same chatty tone, all with the same cadence and gestures.
The Stepford Skanks.

Most any other year, Hannah could have applied in writing and been
able to switch roommates after the initial waiting lists were filled.
No, that wasn’t possible that 1999 school year. The campus was
slammed with new residents. The rooms that should have been doubles
were forced to triple capacity. Hannah ended up getting an additional
roommate, Kendall, a blonde with a frizzy poof of hair like an
electrocuted poodle. Kendall wasn’t one of the blondes like Daphne;
no, she was the real thing, the one all the blonde jokes are about.
Sweet, innocent, and a total airhead. It was nice not to suffer
Daphne alone, but they suffered enough by being pressed together as
tight as a Friday night laundry bag.

Despite the distracting presence of Daphne, Hannah insisted that her
dorm room was her sanctuary and study zone. Hannah was the sort who
received an assignment in class and returned to her room to start it
immediately. Procrastination was a dirty word that only referred to
the actions of other people. That October brought an endless stream
of literature assignments – the peril of any English major. Hannah
loved reading, she loved writing, but sometimes it just seemed like
too much. Regardless, there was no point in putting it off.

Nathan had left her an old laptop and printer. It was a clunky
thing, slow, but it was perfect for typing, even if she couldn’t go
on-line. Since there wasn’t space for three desks in the room, she
had the laptop set up on a stretch of counter underneath the room’s
singular window. Her laptop and implements took up half the space on
the counter; Daphne’s make-up and beauty supplies occupied the rest.
The keyboard, screen, and printer paper all bore a lacquered-layer of
hair spray. Ahead of her, the window offered a spectacular view south
of the campus where Mount Rainer loomed like an omnipresent god. The
volcano looked down upon Seattle, upon the campus, upon Hannah, its
gaze cool, aloof, yet always majestic. A single glance reminded
Hannah of childhood hikes and the crunch of snow, even on a baking
summer day. Rainier was a friend beyond her window, and not even
Daphne’s whining could take that vista away.

Besides the computer and a stack of books, Hannah’s most
important accessory was a pair of good headphones.

Daphne would not shut up.

“Oh my God!” Daphne cackled. “You so did not! You did? Seriously?
What did he do then? Oh my God, you mean it actually worked out just
like it said in the magazine? Serious?”

Hannah gnashed her teeth, fingers curling in rage as she tried to
type. The volume was so high that she couldn’t even hear the
obnoxious clunking of the keys, yet Daphne’s babbling on the phone
rang through with the clarity of a car horn. It had already dragged
on for over an hour, ever since Daphne returned from class. When one
call ended, another began, and all of it was about sex, gossip, and
parties. It was never ending.

#7 1000 Words

GENRE: Women's Fiction

I scanned the piles and piles of graduation presents covering my imported silk comforter. They were fabulously wrapped in thick paper—big golden boxes with giant bows, tiny bags stuffed full of sparkling tissue, Indian print blankets held together with thin string, every type of covering imaginable. I peered at the tags from all around the world: Middle Eastern diplomats, debutants, royalty, you name it.

I should probably get this over with. Pulling my hair up in a sloppy ponytail, I walked over next to the bed and sat on the floor. I picked an oversized vellum card at random and ripped it open.

Hmm, this one’s super fancy, and addressed to Ms. Amy See. That’s not it. I tossed a bag aside and pulled the boxes out one after another, searching. But for what?

When, I came across a small brown envelope with scribbled handwriting, my pulse quickened. I ran my fingers over the dark script on the front and took a deep breath. Glancing at the return address, I saw his name. My heart did a somersault and my face warmed.

I thought back to high school—skipping first period to make out in the bed of his old baby blue pickup down by the football field. Man oh man could he kiss. I bit my upper lip just thinking about it. “Adam Makin,” I sighed his name out loud, remembering just how much I had loved that nerdy boy.

I could feel his caramel curls tickling my nose as I lay next to him on those humid August afternoons. He bought old shirts from the local thrift store that clung to his body in all the right places. Adam didn’t look like a football player or anything, but he had a faint six pack and a butt firm enough to hold up those baggy jeans he always wore.

I often got lost in the sparkle of his emerald green eyes behind his trendy glasses. We spent most of our time in the back of his old Ford, staring up at the sky. Each of us with an earbud stuck in one ear, listening to the latest and greatest indie funk band. Naïve, I’d imagined us together forever.

But then high school ended and so did we. He headed up the East Coast to live the punk rocker lifestyle, and I stayed in the land of big hair and even bigger purses.

I pretended my parents had made me stay in Texas for college, but truthfully it was more for myself. Why anyone would ever want to leave the Lone Star State was beyond me.

We kept in touch at first. Email and text messages made that pretty easy, but they sort of died out after a while. I was busy with parties and friends, and he had his causes and whatever else he did up there. I really didn’t even know.

I stretched against the edge of my bed and turned over the letter. Slowly, I tore off the back, taking extra care to keep from ripping his handwriting on the front of the envelope. Why did this note matter so much to me? It didn’t mean anything. My relationship with Adam ended years ago. Ugh, just open it Amy.

“I see you found your presents?” My mom walked into the room, carrying a peanut butter sandwich, and sat on the bed. I slipped the card in my pocket to open later in private, and took the plate.

“I guess you were right about all those graduation announcements.” I nudged her leg with a shoulder and took a big bite of food.

“I’m always right, Ames, and please don’t talk with your mouth full.” She smiled and combed her fingers through my hair.

Looking up at her, I rolled my eyes. “Sorry.” I took a big swig of milk. “There, better?” I opened and stuck out my tongue.

She waved her hand motioning for me to shut my mouth. “Babe, you aren’t seven. You’re about to graduate from college. Stop being so tacky.”

I kind of wished I was still a kid. Growing up here was pretty much the pinnacle of coolness.

Her fingers twirled the loose end of my ponytail. “Have you thought any more about that party?”

“Just about how I’m so glad I talked you out of it.” I laughed.

“There’s still time to make it happen, ya know. I could make a few calls. It’s a little late to reserve a space, but we could always have it here, and then there’s the catering—”

There she went again, not listening to a word I’d said, making her own plans. “Mom. I said no party. Please don’t.” I turned to show her my you-better-not face.

She straightened up and frowned. I could see the lines in her face trying to break through the Botox. “Ames, I won’t throw a party for you if that’s really what you want.”

“Promise?” I smiled, pleading one last time.

“I promise.” She sounded sincere as she stuck out her bottom lip in a little pout.

“Oh good. Thanks Mom.” When I remembered to look past the ridiculously large jewelry and fancy shoes, I really loved her.

Mom glanced out the window. “Derek brought a new girl home with him this weekend. They’re out by the lake now.”

Nodding, I rolled my eyes. “I saw his truck in the driveway.” Why did my brother need a monster truck with giant wheels on it, anyway? “Did you meet her? I wonder which Delta Tri I-need-to-find-a husband sorority she belongs to.” I smirked.

Mom shook her head. “This one’s different.”

“Sure she is.” That was all I could say, really. Most of the time Derek couldn’t resist a tight pair of jeans and a low cut shirt, she was probably just another version of the same.

“Well…” She scratched the side of her mouth and ran her finger under her eye to check her mascara. “I think maybe I like her so far. As long as I don’t catch her sticking the good silver in her bag the way that last one—”

I interrupted her before she got started. Man, she really hated that girl. “Yeah, I have no defense for him there. Glad he didn’t decide to go all happily-ever-after with the klepto for sure. Remember that girl with the fake blonde wig ponytail thing?” Mimicking the bimbo I flipped my pony tail up and stuck it out to the side.

#6 1000 Words

TITLE: Wife of Heracles
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The gleam in his eyes was unnatural, I knew. We’d had fights before, but this was different.
He approached us with his right hand clenched tight around his raised club. He was breathing heavily, his mouth twisted in an ugly scowl. It did not look like he was coming home to kiss his sons good night. He looked plenty mad, and I knew better than to provoke him. Although, it didn’t appear as though he needed any provocation to beat us to a pulp.

I knew Heracles. I was married to him since I was thirteen years old. I’d lived with him for seven whole years, given him three beautiful boys. Through that time, I’d seen his temper before. Heracles was a man easily roused to anger, passionate, but quickly moved to remorse. It was probably bad that he had married me, someone who had similar personality traits, but without the enormous strength. Bad for me, not necessarily for him.

Sometimes, when we argued, I got mad to the point of pushing him, knowing it wouldn’t do any good, but he would then push me back unthinkingly. Once, it sent me flying into the wall. That left a bruise. He was stricken afterwards, walked with his shoulders hunched over and apologized for days. That was my Heracles. That’s just what I got when I married the son of Zeus.

Luckily for me, our boys were feisty, but not freakishly strong to where I wouldn’t be able to force them to bed at nights.

He kept coming forward at us. I picked up Creontiades nervously. He was the youngest, only two years old, but still heavy. He whimpered a little bit and buried his curly golden head into my shoulder. I told the other two to get behind me, not knowing exactly what the threat was or what I could do against a man like Heracles, but sensing that my husband did not exude good will at the moment. I scanned my mind furiously for any past disagreements we’d had recently and came up empty. At any rate, marital problems generally never amounted to him attacking me with a boar-killing club.

“Heracles?” I said tentatively. “What are you doing?”

Instead of responding, he growled. Like a wild animal. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I looked deep into his crazed eyes and saw that bizarrely, he did not recognize us at all. “It’s me! It’s Megara, your wife! Stop it. Wake up!” I said desperately, hoping to rouse him from his unexplained trance.

The fear in my gut bubbled up, traveling up my insides to my throat, almost choking me. I wanted to scream for help, but my voice caught. He was only a few feet away.

Scanning the room, I saw a butcher’s knife on the cutting board and thanked the gods I hadn’t washed the dishes and put away the knife before Heracles stormed in. I didn’t have time to contemplate an alternative. I tried not to look in that direction and tip him off, but it looked like he wouldn’t have processed it anyway. He was far beyond his senses. My free hand shot out and grabbed the handle of the knife.

“Don’t make me use this,” I warned. He made no sign that he heard what I said, but his ears got redder.

“Mommy, what are you doing? What’s wrong with Daddy?” said Therimachus, the eldest, his voice muffled behind my dress. My heart ached. This was not right. My three sons, just five, three, and two were watching their parents have a showdown with a club and a cleaver. And it terrified me that if I didn’t win, Daddy might. But how could I win against a man who was half-god?

“Everything is fine. Just close your eyes and be very quiet, okay?” I said softly, afraid of making loud noises and sudden movements. Even now, I hoped Heracles might awaken from his madness and save us.
I backed into a wall. I thought to myself, “This is the end. He is going to kill us all in cold blood. Why is this happening?” I sent a prayer up to Hera to protect our short marriage and Artemis to protect my sons. Surely, I hadn’t done anything to offend the gods. Surely, they couldn’t want us to die like this. The gods were merciful.

There weren’t many options. I decided I was going to fight. I was going to hurt Heracles to get him distracted long enough that we could get past him and run for help. I didn’t know if I could injure anybody, much less the father of my children, but there was no other choice. I couldn’t let him kill my babies. He was almost close enough for me to reach if I stuck my arms out.

It would have been more logical if I let go of Creontiades, but I couldn’t bear to set him down. He trembled, and I could feel the shoulder of my chiton soak with silent warm tears. I wouldn’t let him go for anything.
My heart shuddered and stopped when Heracles let out a maddened shriek and lifted his club to strike us.

“Now!” I screamed in my head, and I darted forward and brought the cleaver down as hard as I could on his thigh. I felt it cut through flesh and hit bone, and bright red blood bloomed from the wound and traveled in rivulets down his leg. I thought I was going to be sick.

His club still met its mark and hit me in the small of my back. I fell to the ground on my chin, but managed to keep Creontiades from coming down with me. I heard the other two cry out. My chin felt dysfunctional. I tasted salty, metallic blood. Unfortunately, there was no time for me to lie there and get my bearings. I scrambled up, dizzy.

Our Second 1000 Word Critique Session

Coming up shortly: The next few 1000-word excerpts, ready for your critique.

For those of you who are new to the blog, go HERE for information on how to submit your material to the queue.

Okay, everyone--have fun!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Critique Etiquette 101: Sit On Your Hands

In a spirit of always striving for the higher ground, and birthed from a sincere desire to educate, enlighten, and encourage, I am going to offer some Critique Etiquette Advice for those who may need it.

Many, if not most, of you probably don't. But it bears reading, since we all are cut from the writer's cloth, and could stand the occasional reminder.


Etiquette Rule Number One: Always sit on your hands while reading critiques of your work.

Think about it. You fearlessly (or fearfully, as the case may be) post your 250 words and await the critical words of your peers. The critiques start to roll in, and--horrors! Someone has misunderstood your main character. Or someone doesn't understand how you got from Point A to Point B. Or how you could possibly get to Point C. Or how an armless man was able to untie a triple square knot just in time to save your heroine from death by poisonous snake, a scenario which another critter had trouble understanding because the snake seemed to be speaking telepathically to the armless man, but there weren't any italics.

What happens next?

Your pointer finger gets twitchy, and before you know it, you are in the comment box, feverishly explaining yourself, lamenting the 250 word cut-off, trying to help the critters understand that your work makes perfect sense, and that they only need to understand this, that, and the other thing about your characters, setting, and overall story arc, not to mention your degree in Hoplocephalus Telepathy.

My dear, fellow authors: Don't. Do. It.

Resist the urge to explain yourself in the comment box. Restrain yourself from the "But...but...but..." that is sputtering from your lips as you read the critiques of your excerpt. Remember the following:

  • Not every story resonates with every reader.
  • Not every critter is going to "get" your genre.
  • Not everything you write is as clear as you think it may be.
  • Critique sessions of this nature are not meant to be debate sessions. Take what you receive in the spirit in which it was intended. Read with a grain of salt. Read with a heart open to learn, a mind willing to receive correction. Look for patterns in the critiques. Have seven different people expressed the same point of confusion? Seven people? They might be on to something. Listen carefully. Examine your work. Take the advice that best resonates with you. Leave the rest quietly behind.
What might also happen next:

You are so kafluffled by a certain critique that you email the critter in an effort to express your offense, chagrin, frustration, or whatever it is you feel you need to express.

Um. This is something you should absolutely never do.

I don't care if your email is couched in the friendliest terms possible. I don't care if you don't have a mean bone in your body and aren't capable of writing something "mean." This isn't about "mean;" it's about "inappropriate."

Friends, critiques are a gift. They are a gift of time, a gift of thought, a gift of generous spirit. Receive them as such, and do not take things further. The only personal communique that would be appropriate is a thank you. Plain and simple.

It is always okay to thank a critter for his time and critique. And I don't mean "thank you for loving my story!" I mean, "Thank you for your helpful critique." As in, the critter may have ripped your work to shreds, but you're still saying "thank you" because you know how valuable that rippage is.

If a certain critique has your hair standing on edge, go take a brisk walk. Get over it. Move on. Keep writing.

Remember this, too: It's all about the writing. In the end, an agent, an editor, or the reading public isn't going to care that you have a degree in ornithology or that you spent three years researching the effect of lava flow on the mating habits of brush-dwelling mustelids or that everyone in the East Weloria Public Library Critique Club loved your novel right from the first draft. They are going to care about the story. Or not care about it.

In short, this is a highly subjective business. Don't make it more complicated, more uncomfortable, than it needs to be.

And don't take advantage of the kindness and generosity of your critters by questioning them or responding defensively to their critiques. You may end up stabbing yourself in the foot with your quill, and ending up with fewer folks willing to critique for you.

Final word of wisdom: Never love your manuscript more than you appreciate your critters.

That about says it. And for the record, I deeply appreciate each of you who have given so much of your time and talent to this blog. Thank you.

*shuffles note cards into tidy pile, steps away from podium, exits stage, devours waiting chocolate*

(Tomorrow: The next 5 "First 1000 words". Critters, get ready for the fun!)

Monday, March 23, 2009

And Our Winners Are:

This type of post has got to come under the heading of Best Ever Benevolent Fairy Godmother Type. Perhaps it's akin to what an agent feels when he calls to offer representation. Or better yet--what an agent feels when he calls his author to say, "We sold it!"

At any rate, here are Mr. Getzler's winning choices:

Honorable mentions:

1. #3 Derecho by Putney 1968

2. #21 With a Name Like Love by Tess

3. #7 Trust Network by Rick

The prize:

Mr. Getzler invites you to query him directly with the first ten pages or the first chapter of your novel, whichever is shorter--"with the promise of a non-generic response, even if negative."

Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for specific submission instructions.

The place-holders:

Third place: #30 Ghosts of Ivy House by Nikki Hootman

Second place: #6 Bad Habit by Dragonfly

The prize:

Mr. Getzler invites his third and second-place winners to submit the first 50 pages of your manuscript.

First place: #11 The Crime Sketcher Case Files by elissadcruz

The prize:

Mr. Getzler invites you to submit your full manuscript.

Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for specific submission instructions.

Congratulations, everyone! And as I say each time, everyone is a winner here. Thank you all for participating!

Secret Agent Unveiled: JOSH GETZLER

My warmest thanks to the enthusiastic and helpful Josh Getzler of Writers House.

Josh's bio:

I Left Harcourt in 1993 to get my MBA. After Business School I spent 11 years owning and operating a minor league baseball team. I got out of baseball in late 2006 and rejoined the book world on the agent side. I am at Writers House, where I am now seeking submissions for myself.

What Josh is currently looking for:

I'm particularly into foreign and historical thrillers and mysteries, so send me your ruthless doges and impious cardinals...and your farmhouse cozies! Give me atmosphere, let me learn something about another time or another place (or both), and kill off nasty Uncle Mortimer in the process--I'll be yours! I take middle grade and YA mystery or adventure series, but not so much fantasy, and definitely not picture books. (There are many others who specialize in these books.) And please don't send religious fiction--I don't have contacts in the Christian book market.

It's been a distinct pleasure working with Josh behind the scenes, and I'm confident that his critiques will bear good fruit for our brave submitters.

Thank you, Mr. Getzler, on behalf of everyone!

Stay tuned! The announcement of winners is forthcoming.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Well, the Secret Agent contest is humming along and we're swimming in good news from our fellow writers. What a great week for the blog!

To add to the fun, here's the winner of the Write A Bio For Authoress contest:

H. L. Dyer!

(When you're on a roll, you're on a roll...)

So Heather, pop me an email to let me know where you'd like me to send your free copy of AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED. And a big HOORAY to our two other finalists, as well.

What? You haven't picked up your copy of AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED yet?


Here's what readers are saying:

  • After downloading your ebook, I have a new perspective on what an agent can and can't do, and I'll certainly be approaching one for help in moving my current 'beastie in progress' to the market.
  • If you guys haven't gotten your copy yet, what are you waiting for? Whether you are querying yet, or just starting your first novel, this is easy to understand, entertaining (as Authoress always is), and should clear up so many misconceptions about agents and the whole process.
  • Authoress has given you the tools, the lists (I so love lists), and the places to go so that you can too can find an agent, and then how to go about getting an agent that is right for you.
  • If you have written, are writing, or even thinking about writing something, this is a tool that you NEED.
  • Thanks for the awesome read. Hope it will help out in my search for an agent, heh.
  • I'm a fan of Authoress' Agent: Demystified. I bought it hot off the virtual press, and I've never regretted the purchase. It's chock-full of helpful tips, and it's blessed with her sense of humor.
Pick up your copy...or be really, really nice to Heather and maybe she'll send you hers (because I happen to know she already owns a copy...*wink*)

Finally, to drum up some more awesome discussion in our Friday Fricassee comment box: I've arrived! Well, not in the broadest sense. But I've learned, this week, how to sit down and write toward a goal until I've reached it. No waiting for the elusive muse, no wringing my hands at a blank monitor.

Just writing. Every day, until I've reached 1000 words.

For the last three days, I've done it. Whew! It's very hard for me to turn off my indomitable internal editor, but I've done it. And, ur, yesterday's session produced a lot of...um...


Well, maybe it's not that bad. But it does make me squirm a bit.

Still. My greatest joy is in the editing process, which is where the real magic happens. And, like a potter with an empty wheel, I need a lump of clay so I can get my hands messy. So I'm working on my lump of clay, in 1000 word increments.

At this rate, I'll complete an 80,000 word novel in 72 more days. Of course, that doesn't allow for weekends off. So let's say three months.

Think I can do it?

Think you can do it?

Talk to me! How do you write? What's your most productive approach? How hard is it for you to turn off your internal editor?

(I've been known to sit there in the middle of a first draft and click on Word's "synonym" option to find just the right word. Oh, yes.)

And...hold me accountable, will you? I'm writing to a self-imposed deadline for the first time, and I could use a little help.

Yes, it's the YA dystopian.

Share your thoughts, your goals, the methods to your collective madness! And I'll see you bright and early on Monday when our Secret Agent is unveiled.

(Afterthought: Blogger's spellchecker thinks "dystopian" should be "dustpan".)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Secret Agent Contests Lead To SUCCESS!

We're on a roll. I've got two wonderful stories to share with you:

From Lisa and Laura:

I'm sure you get e-mails like this all the time, but we just wanted to write and thank you for investing so much time and energy in your Secret Agent contests. We participated in the last contest with uber agent, Kristin Nelson. Based on all of the amazing constructive criticism from Ms. Nelson and your talented readers, we ended up rewriting our first 250 words. 16 queries and 3 weeks later we had 3 different agents offer to represent us! We are now represented by our dream agent, Catherine Drayton at InkWell Management.

I'm not sure these agents would have continued to read if we had used our original version of the first 250 words, so we wanted to thank you, your readers and of course our Secret Agent for taking the time to read our work and provide us with so much encouragement and feedback.

From Denise Jaden:

Just wanted to let you know (and thank you again), my agent made a deal today for my first YA novel, LOSING FAITH, which I had originally entered in your October Secret Agent contest. (It didn't win, but I received some excellent feedback!)

Feel free to let people on your blog know that people DO go on from the SA contests to be published! The details of the sale are on my blog if you are interested.

Thanks again! I just love what you do for the writing community!

There you have it--the critiques on this blog REALLY DO positively affect people's writing, and REALLY DO lead to good things.

I'm not sure I can adequately express how exciting this is for me. The blog is still less than a year old, and we're already hearing success stories like those above.

Everyone who participates shares in this. If you weren't brave enough to enter your work and giving enough to spend time giving thoughtful critiques, the blog as we know and love it would not exist. This is EVERYONE'S party!

Spread the word, folks--Miss Snark's First Victim is the place to be for aspiring authors!

Warm and enthusiastic congratulations to Lisa and Laura and Denise Jaden. Warm and enthusiastic thanks to ALL OF YOU for being a part of this experience--for making the time I spend here so worthwhile.

Warm, sniffly fuzzies and happy, glowing things all around.

Two Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Finalists in the House!

I'm proud to announce that two of our beloved "regulars" here at MSFV have had their novels chosen as finalists in the Amazon Breatkthrough Novel Awards.

All "final quarter" novel excerpts are now available on Amazon.com to read and review. So I'm sending you over to read and, if you've been HOOKED, leave those shiny gold stars for these aspiring authors:

The Edge of Memory by H. L. Dyer (under General Fiction)

Control Issues by Elana J. (under SciFi)

Congratulations, Heather and Elana! (Weeeeeeeeee!)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

36 Secret Agent

TITLE: Colour To Die For
GENRE: Funny Mystery/Crime

I’m no stranger to murder. Dead bodies, long hours and skipped meals are the cornerstones of a Private Investigator’s calling. Right now, I’m off-duty and in the mood to murder a donut. Ample is the way you would describe my body shape, particularly the thighs. Ampleness and me – we’re an item. Funny, you can mow down a meadow of celery and the scales won’t even murmur. But run your finger lightly over a sugar-frosted donut, put said finger to tongue and they scream, ‘Two pounds up – hope you’re proud of yourself, Fatty.’

The palm reader coughs. I switch from the perverseness of weighing machines to my date with destiny.

‘Question time, my dear.’ A tight smile interrupts the dark lines of his round face. He’s wearing a red vest over a navy blue shirt; the vest’s hand-knitted pattern stretched to the limit across his potbelly. Of a certain age, probably sixty, his brown eyes look blue.

‘Tell me what you see,’ I say. ‘I’m not interested in how many times I’ll get married, or if I’ll win lotto.’

Like hell. Truth to tell, the blogs I write lately are about the lifestyle of a lonely only. Previews of upcoming partnerships, anything past a one-nighter is worth a look. Although, if Cedric Parakrama is the goods, who needs questions?

Peering intently at my right palm, he says, ‘There’s certainly a second marriage here.’

‘When?’ I scream.

‘It’s a way off yet.’

‘A target date would be good. And, if you can manage it, a mug shot of my intended. Large mole on left buttock, that sort of thing.’

35 Secret Agent

GENRE: MG Adventure-Historical


I tried to warm her, but by daybreak, Mam was still and cold. I let my little brother think she was sleeping until I figured out what to do. English soldiers looked for orphans to sell and I couldn’t let them find us.

When night swallowed every ray of daylight, I told Mikey about Mam. I let him cry and then told him my plan. “Put on your coat and cap. We’re going to find our way to Aunt Bridget’s in the next village. It’s dark enough now so the soldiers won’t see us.”

“I don’t want to go, Ceara.” He poked his spoon into the mashed turnips I’d cooked. “Why can’t we stay here? You know how to take care of me.”

He was so dumb, but he was only eight. I couldn’t be angry. “Do you want to work in the colonies for years and years? That’s where we’ll go if they catch us.”

“Like Danny’s big sisters? And Uncle Paddy?”

“Yes. Now, hurry. We have a long way to walk before morning.”

“You won’t let them get us, will you?”

“By the time anyone finds out we’re orphans, we’ll be safe with Aunt Bridget —if we stay out of sight and hurry."

I stepped through the door into a drizzly fog, but the stone fence beside the path showed the way. A wolf howled and I shivered. They attacked people. Watch over us, Mam. Help me take care of Mikey like you asked me to.

34 Secret Agent

TITLE: Spirit Squad
GENRE: YA Mystery/Paranormal

The bright yellow, half-sheet of paper stapled to the back of Gretchen's class schedule had one sentence typed precisely in the middle. It read:



"Gretchen Grimalkin" was scrawled above it in red Sharpie. Large and accusatory.

On the first day of tenth grade — before first period, even — Gretchen had gotten herself in trouble. Somehow… somehow, They had found out.

Except, that was ridiculous. Principal Curlew didn't know, and even if he did know, he wouldn't care. Only two people knew or cared what Gretchen had done to her best friend Natalie last year. Those two people were Gretchen and Natalie.

But, why else would Gretchen be called to the Main Office? She couldn't possibly be in trouble. She wasn't a trouble maker. She never did anything. She kept her head down. At Horace Walpole High School, you had to.

Gretchen flipped the yellow paper over. Blank. No help there.

Lifting her head, Gretchen looked around, hoping she'd see Natalie before Natalie saw her. But Natalie was small, and the main hall was crowded. That was an understatement. Pandemonium was more like it. Hundreds of voices, slamming lockers, thumping books, squeaking sneakers, teachers threading through the crush and straightening gossipy knots of students into lines that disintegrated as soon as the adults turned their backs. Three shell-shocked freshmen huddled next to the glass trophy case. Poor things. Gretchen knew exactly how they felt.

33 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Mystery

In one moment, Brooke celebrated how the warm sun on her skin was lifting her mood. In the next, she lay sprawled on the sidewalk, deciding that her most memorable summer was shaping up to be one that she’d rather forget. As she stared at the massive black Lab sitting on top of her, she wondered, how would Heidi Klum handle this?

Of course, the supermodel would be safely inside the spa enjoying her facial, because her aunt would never bump her from the schedule in the first place. So, Brooke concluded, she’d better figure things out for herself.

“Get off me,” she gasped. Brooke shoved against the animal’s chest but the dog had the upper paw, so to speak. She craned her head toward the resort’s lodge, and a younger, blonder version of Heidi Klum glided into view.

Although Brooke’s cousin wasn’t remotely related to the celebrity, Shelby’s burgeoning modeling portfolio proved she had potential. And their resemblance also explained why Brooke was suffering from Heidi Klum on the brain.

“Bad girl, Mindy!” Shelby scolded, pushing the canine away.

“Thanks,” said Brooke. “I didn’t know you guys had a dog.”

“Dad brought her home after he watched a Minnesota Bound marathon, saying a dog would be perfect for our resort. Mom thinks it’s the worst idea he’s ever had.”

Mindy blended into the resort’s ambience as well as a rampaging Peewee hockey player in a figure skating competition. Which, Brooke realized, was something she could also say about herself.

32 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Red Crab Treasure
GENRE: MG adventure

A man stood on the deck of a Spanish galleon, flanked by pirates. Behind him, the plank extended out over the angry water, twenty feet below. Blood flowed from above his right eye, down to the collar of his shirt. Dirt and grime stained his three piece suit. Thick ropes bound his ankles and wrists, biting into his flesh

Despite his obvious predicament, the man smiled.

The autumn wind picked up, and he turned from his captors to shield his eyes. The dark grey sky and darker blue water stretched out before him with no land in sight. Movement on the deck drew his attention. The pirates split in two groups, making a wide aisle. A hulking man with a flowing blonde beard, dressed in tattered clothes, filled the space.

“They call me Blondebeard,” the pirate bellowed as he stepped toward him. A gust of wind blew off his hat, exposing a long mane of red hair. “This is my ship and these are my men. We have sailed across oceans looking for you, and now it is finally time for you to tell us where your treasure is.”

The man did not answer, but the smile remained on his face.

“Of course, if you don’t tell me where it is, you walk the plank, and no one will be able to find it before I can,” Blondebeard growled.

The prisoner chuckled with the slightest shake of his head.

31 Secret Agent

GENRE: Middle Grade Adventure

Once again Tyler Lucas locked his eyes on his intended target. Normally he’d be satisfied with three direct hits, but today he felt like pushing himself. He’d waited a good ten minutes for his prey to assume he was safe and lower his defenses. Now was the time to attack.

Tyler steeled himself against the gentle rocking of the school bus which rolled down the smooth surface of the suburban street. In one fluid motion, he brought his weapon to his face, taking careful aim before he fired. Unfortunately, as soon as he did, the bus driver cursed and stomped on the brakes, making the bus swish from side to side, like it was caught in a raging current.

Swaying with the bus, Tyler kept his eyes glued on the spitwad. But he didn’t get the chance to see it hit its mark because a moment later, the bus screeched to a stop and Tyler, who had neglected to brace himself like the other students, flew forward, crashing into the seatback in front of him. His body slithered to the floor, face pressed so tightly against the rough seat cover, it felt like someone was sanding his cheek.

Squashed between the two seats, Tyler rotated his eyes towards the ceiling. A wispy, grayish smoke seeped through the open windows and drizzled down on him. He gagged as the sharp smell of burning rubber singed his throat. Locating one of his hands, crushed against his chest like a broken wing, he cupped it around his mouth, trying to get a fresh breath of air.

Suddenly the bus driver’s voice staggered down the aisle. “I think I hit her. No . . . I’m sure of it. She . . . there’s no way . . . no way she could have survived.”

30 Secret Agent

TITLE: Ghosts of Ivy House
GENRE: Suspense

Eighteen Years Ago

The man under the porch was bleeding. He was bleeding so much he
didn’t even notice Timothy at first. But Timothy could see him, the
shape of him, from the little slats of light filtering through the
cracks in the boards above.

Timothy was hiding. “Are you hiding too?” he asked the bleeding man.

The man jerked in surprise. He pulled his gun up but he didn’t shoot.
The gun was red. Not from the blood, just... red. Then he put it down
and breathed out. “Get out of here, kid,” he hissed.

Timothy squeezed tighter into his corner. “I’m going to be a doctor
when I grow up,” he said. “Maybe I can fix you.”

The man groaned. A shiver ran through his body.

“Are you cold? You need a blanket.” Timothy slid his back along the
wall of the house, toward the little hole behind the bush he had used
to get under the porch. The man didn’t say anything, so Timothy
crawled out.

There were lots of men running around the house with guns. One grabbed
Timothy and carried him to the living room and told him to stay. But
he left and nobody was watching, so Timothy went upstairs and got a
blanket from his room. Then he went into the kitchen and asked the
cook for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The cook made him a
sandwich, but his hands were shaking so it was messy.

29 Secret Agent

TITLE: Monarch
GENRE: Suspense

The blood pooling under the dead man's back reminded Nick of butterfly wings. It spread from the twin wounds, sweeping to each side in graceful arcs that sparkled in the sunlight from a kitchen window.

Nick turned away and stopped his hands from trembling. Strange, they rarely trembled. Self-defense and high adrenaline—that’s all it was. He had fought for his life before, but this was the first time anybody had tried to kill him in his own house.

Watching the two pools of crimson ooze across the linoleum, he recalled the musky scents of decaying wood and pine needles in a cool West Virginia forest. A thousand butterflies swarmed around him. He thought of butterflies every time he saw wings. And the bloody wings on his floor were the strongest reminder of a butterfly he had ever seen. It was more unnerving than the fight.

It was quick. Breaking glass. A smashed coffee table. The Brazilian was strong, but not smart. He had sent a fierce blow to Nick’s chest, heaving him into a set of kitchen drawers that rattled. Nick looked up to see a block of knives next to the sink. Just what he wanted.

The assassin aimed his pistol and walked calmly toward him, grinning with yellow teeth. The smile didn’t last long. It crumpled when Nick straightened his shoulders and knocked the pistol out of the man’s hand with a high kick. When the blow whipped the assailant’s body around, exposing his back, Nick snatched two cold steel knives and launched them with perfect aim.

28 Secret Agent

TITLE: Design Flaw
GENRE: Suspense

Damn them. Damn them all!

Bingham had been such a pain in the a** when he’d been alive. Always getting the accolades. Always getting the recognition that should have been his. Now they were following in his footsteps. Look at the colors, the combinations! Just like the ones he was going to draw up. His ideas. Not theirs. His! The flow. The simplicity. Like the designs he’d been planning. Thieves. Just like their father.

He’d taken it for season after blasted season. This time it would be different. It was time for him to take center stage. The world would soon know his name. And Bingham’s would be dead.

Hands trembling, he ripped through the stylish letters on the pamphlet. Take a Sneak Peek. Sneak Peek be damned! He didn’t need a sneak peek to see his own ideas. He ripped strip after strip after strip off the pamphlet, but the rage didn’t abate.

He stalked to the fireplace, took out a burning brand, returned to the table, and lit each little pile. Six flames shot up from the table. Six. A good number. A chuckle escaped as he closed his hand over the first flame, smothering it. "One down."

Oblivious to the pain and the smell, he repeated the motion with the second pyre. "Two." A rolling laugh burst from him. "Four to go. Who will be next?"

27 Secret Agent

TITLE: Stop the Presses
GENRE: YA mystery/suspense

Lottie Griffin didn’t look like a goal post.

At least, she’d never thought she looked like a goal post, but a cute guy cradling a football was barreling toward her anyway. Unfortunately, the cute guy was still looking over his shoulder and Lottie wasn't fast enough.

The goal post image was her last thought before he slammed into her. She landed in the grass with a heavy, unladylike grunt.

When she opened her eyes, she was staring into a pair of the most beautiful baby blues she’d ever seen.

“Touchdown?” she asked weakly. The boy attached to the blue eyes grinned.

“You OK?” he said. He picked himself off the ground and extended her a hand.

He had a delicious Southern accent. Lottie couldn’t help smiling at him as he pulled her up.

Then she remembered why she’d cut across the front lawn in the first place. “I have to go,” she said, grabbed her bag from the ground and took off without a backward glance. She thought she heard one of the guys call something after her, but she didn’t have time to stop.

The Sentinel office looked so much closer on the campus map.

Her dress clung to her back in the sweltering Georgia morning. She glanced at herself in a window as she half-ran past the library, then immediately wished she hadn’t. Her hair, dark and curly anyway, was rapidly reaching Diana Ross-like proportions in the sticky heat. She was sure there was a grass stain on her butt.

26 Secret Agent

TITLE: Opposite Day
GENRE: YA Adventure

I had braced myself for another boring Monday.

What I got was just the opposite.

I had finished my paper route and was heading home for breakfast with my dad. I was a morning person, and it drove my parents crazy. Dad was a heavy sleeper who hit the snooze button at least three times before he even thought about getting up. And mom--when she was still with us--waited for dad to get her up, which explains why I started making my own lunches in fourth grade.

The paper route was my dad’s idea. Since you’re up anyway, why not make a buck, he said. It was pretty cool watching the sun rise on the job, and I had to admit, it was a better use of my time than watching cartoons, especially the kind of cartoons that came on at 6 a.m.

I delivered the Rockville Sentinel, one of the last local newspapers in the D.C. area. I would have made more money carrying The Washington Post, since it had a ton more subscribers, but I preferred the Sentinel, since it only came out on weekdays. One Sunday Post weighed more than my whole backpack.

It was the end of January, which meant collection time. Most other papers collected their subscribers’ money online, or at least in the mail, but the publisher of the Sentinel was in his eighties and liked things the old-fashioned way. His method definitely boosted my tips--it's much harder to stiff a kid face-to-face.

25 Secret Agent

TITLE: Fat Chance's Magical Map
GENRE: Middle Grade fiction

Tony made a bet with the entire fifth grade class. If he didn’t nab Mr. Chance’s magical map by his eleventh birthday, he was going to scrub the kindergarten toilets every day for the rest of the school year.

Some kids said that was crazy. Zany. Cockamamie!

But Tony was a risk taker.

Nevertheless, he couldn’t ignore the Legend of Mr. Chance. This top-secret notebook lay hidden on the back shelf of the Watson Elementary School library. The Legend of Mr. Chance filled every page. Except the last one. Tony planned on writing the ending himself.

He stood in the library, skipping his dreaded math class, and quietly re-read the infamous legend:

The Legend of Mr. Chance

Mr. Chance had only one purpose in life-to make miserable little kids even more miserable.

Kids who laughed at his shiny bald head and big bulging belly.

Kids who hid his glass eye under his wig collection.

Kids who barged into his magic shop and messed up the fake vomit display.

In short, kids who farted and burped and sneezed and coughed and did all sorts of gross things. Kids who wanted a little more freedom from their parents and a little more sugar in their lunchboxes.

24 Secret Agent

TITLE: Digging Up Bones
GENRE: Series Mystery

Sometimes a vision of your own mortality doesn't come the way you expect it. At least, mine didn’t. Sometimes it comes with broken high heels and a torn letter. Death wears a lot of unexpected disguises.

The day that I decided to move to Birdwell, Texas (population five-hundred-and-sixty-two) wasn’t the day I thought, “now I’m going to jump on the death train.” It was the day I woke up to police storming my apartment. The one where I began to suspect that my fourth, and believe me final engagement might not work out after all.

My first clue (that I chose to acknowledge) was those pesky officers who banged on the door, destroyed my new Prada sling backs and arrested my fiancé, Lenny De Carlo. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure which of the two losses I resented more-the fiancé or the brand new shoes.

Lenny, who taught math at a private school, had been having the raunchy sex that he wasn’t having with me with his nubile, blonde students. So Lenny was going to the lock-up and I was going to Texas.

As it happened I would regret the choice but that’s the story of my life-a lot of impulsively made choices that I lived to regret at leisure. But luck, the bad variety, would have it that two days before the arrival of the cops was the arrival of The Letter, (as it shall hereafter be known.)

23 Secret Agent

Title: Senior Editor or Bust
Genre: YA

“To be cool you either need to be pregnant or smoke.”

Student Life, Fact or Fiction –Adams Speaks

-By: Francine Louise Randall

“Frankie! Frankie!”

I put down my copy of Adams Speaks, the school newspaper, and looked up to see Abby weaving her way through the cafeteria.

“Frankie, you are not going to believe this.” Abby dropped her books on the table. “They’re suspending Jake for a week. I just saw him leaving the principal’s office. Frankie, he didn’t do it, I know it.”

Ignoring her frantic state, which is also her constant state when it comes to Jake Wagner, the guy of her dreams who is, “the most magnificent specimen God created”. (Her words not mine.) Abby has been secretly crushing on Jake for going on three years, ever since she saw him in Freshman Algebra the first day of high school.

“What didn’t he supposedly do now?” I asked forcing myself to not roll my eyes.

Abby sighed, “I know what you’re thinking and you’re wrong. This time I’m sure he didn’t do it.”

“So fine, tell me, what didn’t he do this time?”

“Graffiti. They said he spray painted a bunch of stuff at that construction site across from the strip mall. Mostly it was on the trailer and equipment.”

I’m not sure who the ‘they’ were she was referring to, but it didn't matter.

“Why do they think he did it?” except for the usual reasons, you know, that he looks and acts like a delinquent.

22 Secret Agent

GENRE: Thriller

Dr. Julia Sinclair snapped on latex gloves, and peeled away the pus-soaked dressing to reveal one of the nastiest wound infections she’d seen all year. A shocker. The Infectious Diseases equivalent of graffiti on Michelangelo’s David. “Bet that hurts like a bitch.”

“Too bloody right.” The patient’s flushed cheeks contrasted with the white bed linen, and made him look younger than twenty-four. He glanced at his stomach, and jerked his head away. Pain shadowed his eyes. “I came in for so-called minor surgery and end up impersonating a shark attack victim. What is this place? An abattoir?”

“Your appendix burst during the operation, leaking all sorts of bugs. They had to open you up and wash you out. Standard antibiotics aren’t working, so your surgeon asked for my advice.” Julia kept her voice light and unworried, but a tingle of adrenaline crept up the back of her neck. No wonder the surgeon screamed for help. Maybe getting goose-bumps from the challenge of someone else’s life-threatening infection meant she was heartless, but hell, she needed a distraction. Was it wrong to use a patient’s suffering to hide from personal tragedy?

She palpated the reddened skin. Heat burned through her gloves.

“I’ll be gentle, but I have to collect some pus. We’ll analyze it to make sure you’re on the right antibiotics.”

She wiped the area with a saline-moistened gauze pad, then loosened a staple. The stench of decay caught in the back of her throat, making her glad she’d missed lunch.

21 Secret Agent

TITLE: With A Name Like Love
GENRE: MG Mystery

It was the seventeenth of July, 1962 when Reverend Love stopped his rusted out pick up truck full of daughters at the junction of Highway 29 and Roberts Road. Ollie sat on the back of her daddy’s truck bed, legs dangling and bored already. Her little sister Ellen sat at her side, clutching baby doll Sue and singing Mama’s Little Baby. Ollie noticed Ellen was getting all the words twisted up and wrong – again.

It may have only been nine o’clock in the morning, but the summer sun was already high in the sky and sweating up the land. Fields of soft green barley laid themselves out across the earth in perfect rows, like God had reached down and combed them just so. Ollie noticed a carved up plank of wood that someone long ago had shoved into the dark, southern soil. It read:

Binder, Arkansas

Population 63

Typical little town, she thought.

Ollie closed her eyes and imagined what it might be like if her daddy – just once – drove past this small town and took his family right into the heart of a city. Maybe they’d be able to make a decent living and buy a real, fixed-to-the-ground house with a mailbox, telephone and refrigerator. Ollie thought it might be a place where a girl could get an invitation to a birthday party or even a phone call. It had to be worlds better than cramming into a 1941 teardrop trailer with the same four sisters every night. And, oh – so much better than hitching up that trailer and disappearing down the road every three days. A city, Ollie imagined, was a place of possibilities.

20 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Saving Race
GENRE: Mystery

He wasn’t certain how it had happened. The car he was driving was an
ordinary unmarked Ford in the basic white, yet somehow it had
transformed into a time machine. He was reliving 1979.

When Nick had left the FBI Resident Agency in Coeur D’Alene,
everything had seemed commonplace. But somewhere along Idaho’s Highway
95, he had crossed through a time continuum. The three stops he had
made when he reached Sprague—the town that registered only as a
minuscule dot on the Idaho state map—had reaffirmed the probability of
time travel.

The first stop was at his motel, or rather at the motel, as it was the
only one within a thirty-mile proximity. Made of rough, cracked logs,
the building was stained dark brown and contrasted with white trim.
Nick knew what the room looked like before he ever stepped foot across
the threshold; he pictured gold shaggy carpet, a gold marbled sink,
and hideous floral bedspreads. He was nearly right in his appraisal,
only that the carpet was shaggy brown instead of gold. He should have
known: brown hides the dirt better than gold.

Next, he stopped at a convenience store to grab a power bar and an
energy drink: the lunch of champions. Or rather, the lunch of a
frenzied FBI field agent. While this building itself wasn’t as dated
as the motel, it was the two cashiers that reminded Nick of his
departure from the modern world.

19 Secret Agent

GNERE: Suspense

2009 Bushfire season, Far East Victoria, Australia.

Wildlife Protection Officer, Kelly Williams realized why she had no trouble entering the property of suspected wildlife trafficker, Lance Caulfield. Ten minutes of calling out and tooting her car horn failed to attract even his guard dogs. Smiling, she considered her options.

Kelly couldn’t.

She shouldn’t.

And, at any other time, she simply wouldn’t. Only, there may never be another opportunity for an uncensored search for evidence. Caulfield probably evacuated when the fire alert went to high for the weekend, she decided. This was a lucky break. Kelly reviewed data on local suspects. Caulfield, with this overkill security and habit of taking potshots at uninvited guests, was always going to be a challenge. Her predecessor held little hope of following up on this because access to his property was non-existent.

“Police need a Search warrant and judges need proof before issuing one,” he had told Kelly.

“Caulfield discourages visitors in order to keep his operations safe from prying eyes. Proof is impossible.”

This statement had made Kelly determined to break the stalemate. To get the proof needed. She had another reason, for checking things out. The house next door felt like home and she intended to buy it, making him her nearest neighbor. Maybe Caulfield wasn’t trafficking wildlife, but sure had something to hide. No other reason for privacy extremes seemed obvious.

Despite the stillness, an uneasy, persistent feeling of being watched made her skin itch as she set off, running.

18 Secret Agent

TITLE: Mendelve's Daughter
GENRE: Mystery/Suspense

Rivulets ran down my sagging breasts, formed into spouts of water at the nipples, and splashed into the crook of my toes. Steam rose in the air, and grew thick. I closed my eyes, ducking my face under the hot shower, and opened my mouth to breathe. Water gushed across my tongue, the metallic taste pleasant. My body sweated while a touch of nausea floated within a comfort zone. I opened my eyes, and turned to let hot water pour over my back until it burned; pleasure tingled my skin. I rotated until the heat became too much, then clasped the knob, and cranked the faucet off. The aged pipes rattled, grumbling resistance with a final contemptuous clunk. I breathed, afraid the noise might wake Daniel and touched my cheek where a three day bruise was turning brown.

“Don’t wake him,” I whispered to the pipes. “Ouch.”

The scab on my busted lip felt enormous to my tongue but barely showed in the mirror.

“Visible like a red nose,” a voice in my head vied for my attention.

I ignored myself, sniffing the air, my sense of smell renewed by soap and water. These scents milled with the odor of roach spray. The pealing linoleum underfoot made my skin crawl. I hurried out of the bathroom and stopped. My wet feet dried on 1960’s shag, once yellow, now a special crappy brown. I hated walking bare foot in it. Daniel knew that, so he had locked my slippers in his office with the car keys and my purse.

17 Secret Agent

TITLE: Reunion in Narrow Ridge
GENRE: YA Mystery Romance


“You got to be freakin’ kidding me!” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “I don’t have a grandmother.” I slouched back in Mr. Dempsey’s couch, crossed my arms over my chest, and stared at a small hole in his wall. I blinked hard to keep from crying.

“I’m sorry Emma, but that’s what it says.” Mr. Dempsey paged through my mother’s will again, like this time he might find something different. “Everything gets sold and put into a trust that you will receive when you turn twenty-one. You’ll get a small living allowance, of course. But, in order to inherit you must do two things: live with your grandmother until you turn eighteen and complete your education.”

“My whole life, she’s always told me I don’t have any relatives. It’s just been me and her. Why would she lie? I’m telling you, I DON’T HAVE A GRANDMOTHER.” I couldn’t help it. I cried this time.

Mr. Dempsey fidgeted behind his desk. I guess he wasn’t used to soothing crying girls. “Look.” He slid an old photo across his desk. “Her name is Gemma Bentley and she lives in Narrow Ridge, North Carolina.”

I didn’t move towards the photo. Instead, I sat kicking my crossed leg up and down.

“Do you want me to make the arrangements?”

No reaction.

16 Secret Agent

TITLE: Death by Cannoli
GENRE: Mystery

Jennifer strode across the cobblestone Piazza Navona. She glanced at her watch. Swore beneath her breath.

Too late to cancel. Too early to make excuses. Praying she wouldn’t catch her heel in an ancient Roman groove she broke into a jog, dodging tourists while precious seconds slipped by.

If she were lucky, he would wait. If she wasn’t…well, in this laid-back country with its domani attitude she might get away with missing him. The papers didn’t have to be on his desk by this afternoon but it would look better if they were.

She reached the far side of the piazza. Down a narrow alley, around a corner and…there. Il Dolci.

Soon the shop would be part of Fairlane Enterprises. Then no one would ever again dare insinuate she hadn’t worked for what was hers. No one would cast sly gazes her way at parties, twitter behind raised hands that the only reason she was wealthy was that she’d been born into an empire.

No, this acquisition had been all her work. Hers and hers alone. She hadn’t coasted on her family’s fortune or hung onto any coattails.

The satisfaction she would experience for being the one to pull off this coup was going to be worth every hour she’d spent pretending to be an ill-treated assistant instead of who she really was, Jennifer Fairlane Turner—one of the wealthiest women in the world.

15 Secret Agent

TITLE: Façade
GENRE: Suspense

Threats meant nothing to Mike Streckler until Geoffrey Norkum acted on his.

Thoughts of yesterday’s discovery of James Kent’s murder fired through Detective Streckler’s brain. High school teacher; no sign of struggle; irregular stab wound to neck; bloody thumbprint centered inverted on the mirror in the master bedroom...

A Chevrolet Z71 diverted his thoughts when it veered off the pavement. The truck impacted the embankment with a bang and rotated to the left. Light shimmered and a cloud of dust enveloped the pickup as it rolled over and rammed a tree off the south side of the highway.

Streckler jerked the navy Crown Victoria to the side of the road and stopped as it nosed toward the ditch. He adjusted the black Stetson on his head with one hand and opened the door with the other. He twisted on a Maglite, hopped the ditch and scrambled up the slope toward the truck.
Rocky soil slowed his progress. Leather soles on his black cowboy boots slipped every other step. He strove forward and reached the tree line where he used trees as leverage to pull up the last seven or eight yards to the rear of the sage-colored pickup. Sweat dampened his forehead and temples.

Scents of antifreeze and brake fluid leached from the wreckage, mixed with the stench of Death.

14 Secret Agent

TITLE: Ghost Boys Give Cold Kisses
GENRE: YA mystery, also, a ghost...

I would never be happy here. Never, never, never.

I ripped open the door, but that was just the screen door, so then I had to
rip open the actual front door. Once I'd made it into the hallway I had to
slam the screen door first, which didn't slam well because it had one of
those poxy self-closing hinges that closes at about zero miles an hour.
Slamming the real door rocked the house, though, as did my backpack crashing
on to the wooden floorboards.

The look on Mom's face as I flashed past the kitchen on my way to the garden
made it worth the effort. Steve's voice wafted out of the kitchen window:
'Give her a minute. A first day at a new school is always hard.'

He had no idea.

My insides writhed with resentment, as if a scabby beast were swelling up
inside me; yearning to throw itself down on the grass and scream like a
thwarted toddler. But Australian grass is so dried out and spiky it's liable
to poke your eye out, so instead, I peeled the sticker that said 'I'm India
and I'm new!' off my sack of a school dress, flung it on the grass and
ground it into the dirt with my foot. Grind, grind, grind. Slowly,
deliberately, mercilessly. From the branches of the tree above me a fat grey
bird with a long beak screeched in mockery.

13 Secret Agent

GENRE: Tween adventure/mystery

Victims of cursed gold—buried alive, beheaded—vanished. Paul shivered in the Arizona heat and turned the page. Did he believe in curses? Of course not. But he did believe in the Lost Dutchman Mine and that fifty miles away treasure waited:

…near Apache Junction a gold vein wide as a river runs beneath Superstition Mountain. For two centuries, all who tried to stake a claim died. And the last prospector, the infamous Lost Dutchman, disappeared without even a body part to identify…

Under the shadow of a jacaranda tree he turned his book sideways, intent on a map until a voice interrupted.

“The Lost Dutchman’s Secret? Another crazed gold hunter!”

Paul squinted against the afternoon glare as a slender girl in a red T-shirt stepped into his shade. “I—I. . .”

“You must be Paul. Your cousin David said you and Abby would be on the ranch today.” The girl pulled a bandana from her riding pants and mopped her neck. Damp curls clung to her brown skin. “I’m Felipa. I help in the stables.”

“I am. He did? You met my sister?” Paul searched Felipa’s eyes for reactions to Abby.

“Not yet. I thought I’d see her at the stables. David says she loves horses.”

“Yeah, um. . . ” Paul had never seen eyes like Felipa’s. Golden green? He automatically reached for his camera, but didn’t take her picture. That’d be lame and would blow any chance he had to impress her. “Abby’s wild—about horses.”

12 Secret Agent

GENRE: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

“This is not a date!” Her stilettos paced a tempo on the hardwood floor, echoing throughout his sparsely furnished apartment.

“Well, it kinda is.” He flashed a grin. “I look forward to Tuesdays now that you’re part of them.”

She gazed at him with a detached air, no sign of emotion, like a scientist observing a lab rat. “This is strictly a business arrangement.”

“We could make it a date.” He patted the sofa beside him. “Sit down and relax.” He flashed his boyish grin.

“That’s against the rules. You better get this right or I’m outta here.” She turned to leave.

The rules again. “Wait! I worship you. You drive me wild with desire.”

“And?” A smile played at the corners of her mouth.

“And-—” He loosened his tie. “You turn me into carbon steel and warm butter at the same time.”

“And?” She took three steps toward him, stopping so close the scent of her perfume hit him like a fist. She tapped one of her four-inch sandals.

He stared at her pedicured toes. “And because I’m your worthless slave. Do with me as you please, just do me.”

“Not an option,” she said. “You must please me and you must obey my every command.”

He reached to touch her but she drew back.

She made a little purr of amusement in the back of her throat. “You didn’t say, may I.” Her glossy red lips curved up into a smile. “Bad boy. You must be punished.”

11 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Crime Sketcher Case Files
GENRE: MG Mystery

It didn’t take long for Matthew Howell to turn his teacher into a witch. It was easy for him since she already looked like one, with her pointed nose and stringy black hair. His pencil scraped the paper as squiggles turned into hands and legs. The clothes came next, then he added a broom and a pet spider. A few extra shadows made her nose even longer.

Matt shivered as he looked at it. It was only a cartoon but it was his teacher, Mrs. Riley, staring up at him from under a witch’s hat.

Then a hand snatched his paper. It was Mrs. Riley's hand. The real Mrs. Riley.

"What is this?” she said.

“I…uh…well....” Matt watched his teacher look at the cartoon version of herself. If she noticed it was her face on the paper, he was in big trouble.

Mrs. Riley studied the paper and put it back down on his desk. “Matthew, you are supposed to be writing words, not drawing pictures.”

“Oh, well…,” he began, but the words caught in his throat as his teacher bent toward his desk. A few knotted strands of her hair touched his desktop. They reminded him of a black web, though this one was attached to the side of her head. He wondered if she really did have a pet spider at home.

She took a quick glance around the room and then spoke in a low voice. “Try to get the nose right next time. Now get to work writing, Matthew.”

10 Secret Agent

TITLE: Chimera
GENRE: Paranormal Suspense

Deputy U.S. Marshal Rocky Lakewood shifted in the chair across from the District Attorney’s office and crossed her left leg over her right, reassured by the weight of the Sig Sauer P238 strapped to her ankle. The back of her neck tingled and her head whipped around.

A tall slender woman stood next to the elevator, one booted foot braced against the wall, hands stuffed into the pockets of her short leather jacket. Short, almost white hair spiked above brilliant blue eyes that were trained on Rocky.

“Lex. What are you doing here?” Rocky stood, not wanting to hear the answer, knowing she would anyway.

“We need you.” Lex moved away from the elevator with an effortless grace.

“I told you I’m done. No more assignments.”

“And I told you that’s it’s not really your choice.” Lex took a seat next to Rocky. “I see you’ve stopped wearing the contact lenses,” Lex said. “And I like what you’ve done with your hair.”

“The contact lenses were a hassle.” Rocky had one green eye and one blue and a streak of dark hair at the temple of her otherwise blonde head. “The streaks are easier to keep up.”

“It looks good. An indication that you’re more accepting of being special?.”

“Special. Is that what we’re calling freaks now?”

“You aren’t a freak,” Lex said. “You’re a chimera.”

Rocky held her hand out. A small flame danced in the center of her palm.

“Being a chimera isn’t the freaky part.”

9 Secret Agent

GENRE: Mystery

But will I get away with it?

Twenty years that body had been simmering in a toxic soup, peeled down to bones stained brown by shit and piss and waste water that had gone down the drain into the farm’s septic tank. Homicide dubbed him “Septic Tank Sam” and the M.E.’s office had hired a forensic anthropologist, Henry Snell, and sunk dozens of man-hours into building a model of Sam’s face, into pulling DNA out of a molar -- somebody’d gone to a lot of trouble to smash his teeth, but you couldn’t get all the roots unless you yanked them out with pliers -- and sending the information to every city police and RCMP station and every newspaper, big or small, all across the province. Trying to make a big deal of it, whip the public into a frenzy. Mystery body found! Who is Septic Tank Sam? Someone had to have missed him, maybe his wife, his teenage son. Someone must have waited up for him the night he never came home, and wondered, and wanted him back.

That’s what they thought, anyway. They were wrong. I’d waited up for him, all right -- crouched in the cold porch, crowbar ready, blood from my broken nose clotted like snot, the ache in my ribs and making me wheeze. I’d waited, but I sure as hell never wanted him back. After twenty years, I’d let myself believe he was gone for good.

I was wrong too.

8 Secret Agent

TITLE: The River Man
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

Her first day on the project and Ana Middleton was beginning to question her choice of post-doc.

The reason for her abrupt change of heart leaned against the wall in the corner office, his hands behind his back. Dressed in a worn leather trench coat, dirty blond hair beneath his collar, he looked more like an enforcer in the Russian Mafia than a criminalist.

She flipped through his personnel file. The name was blacked out and Doe, John scrawled in its place. A resume with large sections of redacted text listed his past jobs: Army Ranger, Proactive Engagement Team Leader for TransSecurity Corp under contract to – that was blacked out as well.

“John Doe?” She examined the man once more. A sidearm peeked out from beneath his jacket. “Who is this guy? A spook?”

Dr. Bertelli cracked a smile. “You worry about that computer model of yours and I’ll worry about the competence of the hired help. Rumor has it he worked for the NCS,” he said, wagging his eyebrows.

"The NCS?"

"National Clandestine Service. Those guys have no identities. You know, to provide plausible deniability when the government wants bad things to happen, or some other BS.”

“You hired him as a criminalist?”

“He’s a confidential advisor. Who better to find an assassin than another assassin?”

“And you expect me to work with him?” She swallowed. “I think I should be more afraid of him than the perp.”

“Baptism of fire, Ana.” Bertelli gestured to the office. “Baptism of fire.”

7 Secret Agent

TITLE: Trust Network
GENRE: Thriller, Techno-

Xochitl sighed and dropped eye contact with the young woman in front of her.

"Xochitl. So-chee. X-O-C-, oh, never mind." The food runner will butcher it anyway. "Just use Fontaine, okay? I can answer to that."

"Sure, Miss Fontaine. That's one naked chicken burrito, wet, with cilantro and fresh jalapeños, a side of chips and queso, and a large unsweetened tea. Can we get you anything else? Chocolate chimi for dessert?"

Xochitl, still looking down at the register, barely registered the question but recognized the Upsell Voice enough to shake her head and grunt dismissively. When she realized that she was staring at her own reflection in the polished stainless steel of the cash register, she shook her head again to clear it and made a motion to hand the cashier her debit card.

"Okay, that'll be $8.27." The cashier took the card, not bothering to flip it over to look at the signature on the back, nor to compare the embedded photo to that of the cardholder standing in front of her. "Debit or credit?" The cashier swiped the card without waiting for an answer.

Xochitl sighed again and pointed at the debit keypad on her side of the register. A quick left-to-right glance didn't reveal anyone too interested, so she jabbed her PIN into the device. Her receipt printed almost immediately, and she had grabbed it and was on her way toward the drink fountain within a few seconds after that.

Ahh, technology -- Enabler of the antisocial.

6 Secret Agent

Title: Bad Habit
Genre: Mystery/Suspense

St. Pius School, San Antonio, Texas

“Sister Bernadette, there’s a detective waiting to see you in the conference room. He’s come all the way from New York City” Mother Immaculata smiled encouragingly, drawing her into the corridor. “I’ll watch your class.”

Teri Slaughter’s stomach knotted up in fear. It’s over. They found me. The moment she’d dreaded had arrived.

A deep breath released some of the tension in her shoulders. As she forced her leaden feet toward the conference room, the thought flickered through her mind of running out the main door and disappearing in the busy streets.

Get hold of yourself. She expelled a long breath. Maybe he doesn’t suspect me.

Pausing with her hand on the knob, she weighed whether or not to continue her masquerade.

A muscle tightened in her jaw. Teri Slaughter wasn’t a coward. If this cop takes me back to New York, they’ll kill me. I have to pull this off.

She dusted chalk from her hands before running her fingers through her cropped hair. There was nothing to distinguish her from the others. Her plain white shirt and navy skirt were inconspicuous among the nuns.

Her heart racing, she stepped into the conference room.

The detective turned around. His large dark eyes assessed her, pierced her veneer, saw right through her.

Fighting down a sense of panic, her breath caught in her throat.

“Sister Bernadette?” He extended his hand. “I’m Detective Angel Garcia, from Manhattan Homicide Division. I’ve been looking for you.”

5 Secret Agent

TITLE: Sandstone
GENRE: Suspense

Cemetery Avenue begins at a large stone archway and runs perpendicular to the main connector between Saratoga Springs and Schuylerville. The first fifty yards lined with tall pine trees before the road disappears after climbing over a small hill. Wrought iron gates attached to the archway fold inward during the day, leaving a path just wide enough to allow two opposing cars to pass each other. A small sign posted on the right gate displays the visiting rules. The bold words at the bottom of the sign simply state: CLOSED AT DUSK.

Past the small hill stands the cemetery office, adorned with curved arches, tall thin windows and a Saratoga porch. The original homestead of a farmer and bootlegger murdered and buried on this land after an argument with a neighbor over property rights.

The avenue rolls beyond the old office and splits into individual loops. Each named after towns surrounding Saratoga Springs: Corinth, Glens Falls, Schuylerville, and Ballston Spa. A hawk’s view of the property reveals the symmetrical labyrinth of circular pathways. Hence the name: Cloverleaf Gardens. Embedded in the center of the cloverleaf is a small chapel and crematorium.

Jonathan Harrison, a confirmed bachelor and recluse, bought the property in 1994 during the depressed real estate market and used the rear section of the office as his home. Tall and thin with dark brown hair and a tepid smile; he greeted his clients with a sweaty, boney hand that they only shook once.