Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Today, the weather has me smiling. A good thing, since the weekend is supposed to be miserable.

While I'm still smiling, I want to talk about Never Giving Up. I've walked through a valley of discouragement recently and have emerged with my weapon still drawn, so this is a near-and-dear, still tender-when-touched place for me.

Rejection is always unpleasant. Somehow, though, it becomes more poignant as you draw CLOSER to your goal. When I was querying my first novel (shudder), rejection felt different than it does now. Sure, it stung. And yes, I hated it. But I wasn't ripe, wasn't ready. I'm a different writer now, and the rejections I receive are different, too.

In short, they contain compliments. And invitations to submit revised versions and future work. And blah blah blah.

Good stuff, yes? But when things continue to Not Happen, despair feels bigger, more insurmountable. As in, if I write well, WHY AM I STILL SITTING HERE? If I write well, WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH MY NOVEL?

Not that I don't appreciate the positive feedback. Agents don't throw around words like "talented" lightly. I know this. I appreciate the affirmation.


It makes rejection harder. It really does.

So agent Jill Corcoran's BLOG POST was timely. Excellent quotes. Important message for writers who feel on the verge of giving up.

My favorite link? THIS ONE from the Verla Kay archives. Jay, the forlorn author of the post, is now a NYT bestselling author.

Yes, indeed. And if you pay attention to the dates, his success came LATER THE SAME YEAR. That is, less than a twelvemonth after his I'm-so-ready-to-quit soliloquy, his first book sold.

All that to say, I'm not giving up. All that to say, you mustn't give up, either.

Put that in your bubble pipe and blow it. And keep your proverbial chin up. It may come off as cloying sometimes, but it's the best advice anyone can give you.

There. I feel better!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pink Toes!

The results of a full pedicure spa, including exfoliating rub, hot whirlpool, massage, and pink toes. Color's name? ITALIAN LOVE AFFAIR. I bought a bottle totally on account of the name.

Because I never paint my toenails.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Author Interview: BETH REVIS


Welcome, Beth! As you know, you've been claimed as one of Miss Snark's First Victim's success stories. Can you share your timeline so readers can see why?

Beth: I started writing the book during Christmas break 2008, and finished it at the end of the spring semester in 2009. I edited and revised over summer break, but kept dithering on whether it was truly done or not. I usually query very fast, but I felt like this work was special, and worried about rejections for the first time. Fortunately, that's about the same time that you had your query contest! I ended up entering, and Jodi requested a partial (the contest is HERE). Jodi gave me some great suggestions, particularly about the first chapter. Critique partners had been telling me for ages that I should start with a different chapter, but it was Jodi's suggestion on it that really put me over the edge. I changed that first chapter and started querying agents in September!

Authoress: This interview is exciting for me, because I've had the privilege to watch your novel move from "Query Contest" entry to agented to sold. So let me start by saying that when I read your excerpt in the contest, I was HOOKED! How did you come up with such a cool story idea? And how long did it take you from concept to completed novel?

Beth: The premise for the novel came from reading a lot of other books in my genre. I read Jeanne du Prau's THE CITY OF EMBER, and it really reminded me a lot of what I loved about Agatha Christie's MOUSETRAP: a contained mystery, where all the suspects and all the victims are trapped together. I wanted to do something similar with a new setting. My original idea was a cruise ship, but that wasn't weird enough for me. I read Mary Pearson's THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX and realized that science fiction can be done without much science--which perfectly appealed to me. So my setting became a space ship. But I still lacked a real plot. I had an idea for a murder mystery, but felt like it lacked oomph. Then I read THE THIEF by Megan Whalen Turner--I won't ruin the plot, but the way she developed the twist through an unreliable narrator was cool, and sparked the idea for my own twist.

And that's a LOT of explanation for what happened in a relatively short amount of time--a few months of germinating those ideas around in my head. From there, I started writing a rough draft over Christmas break 2008, and wrote throughout the spring semester following. I sent to crit partners and revised over the summer, then subbed to your Query Contest in August. I changed the beginning based on Jodi's and the commenter's comments, and queried in September.

Authoress: It's especially interesting to hear how the inspiration for your story came from a variety of other novels (I loved THE CITY OF EMBER!).

I remember LOVING your premise when I read your excerpt in Jodi's Query Contest last year. I also remember that your story was written in first person present tense. What led to that decision? Do you feel that writing in present tense is more challenging?

Beth: It was a complete accident to write in first person present. Not only had I never done it before, but I tended to hate books written in first person present tense (this was before THE HUNGER GAMES, mind). As a matter of fact, if you look at some of my old reviews of books, you'll see me disparaging the use of first person present tense.

But when I started writing the story, it came out as first person present. Although conscious of it being first person, I actually didn't realize I was writing in present tense until I was a good fifty or so pages into the writing. It didn't occur to me that it was present tense until I accidentally typed in "said" instead of "say" and realized that the whole time I was writing in first person present.

Authoress: Sounds like your story made up its own mind about the tense. :)

So in thinking about your time line, it wasn't a particularly long journey from Query Contest to revisions to queries to representation. What was the "take-away" from your feedback on the contest that most strongly impacted your work? How intense was your "season of editing" prior to querying?

Beth: I had already done MAJOR revisions to the work before the Query Contest--I didn't want to waste an entry in one of your awesome contests with a work that wasn't ready. When I entered the Query Contest, I thought it was done, but had reservations about the all-to-crucial beginning. I knew it was OK...but it was just OK, not stellar. Fortunately, because of the contest and the feedback from both Jodi and the other people kind enough to comment, I got the idea needed to completely change my first chapter, and with that final bit, was ready to submit to agents!

Authoress: So, can you talk a little about what it was like to get that coveted "magic phone call"? What made this the "perfect fit" for you?

Beth: It was excruciating! I don't like to tell people "no," or be the bearer of bad news, but I had more than one offer, so I did interviews. And each agent was wonderful, and charming, everything I'd dreamt of. I ended up choosing Merrilee because 1) she reps my literary heroes, 2) she disagreed with me on a point and had no qualms about disagreeing with me (I don't like "yes-men"), and 3) during the interview, she led me into a brainstorm where I came up with a way to write the sequels. Those were the tipping points, and I have to say that I could not possibly be happier with her!

Authoress: I think you've just encapsulated every aspiring author's dream--to have to CHOOSE among several agents slathering at your doorstep! So, you got an agent, sold your book, and now you're on the road to publication. How is your life-as-a-writer different now than it was prior to this whirlwind success?

Beth: The biggest change has been within myself. This is an incredible sense of validation, you know? But other than that, in daily life, no change!

Authoress: So...can you give us a little teaser about your story?

Beth: It's a murder mystery...IN SPACE!!!! (you have to say that last bit in a dramatic voice)

Basically, it's Agatha Christie meets Orson Scott Card. A space ship is the perfect setting for a contained mystery--so I stuck my murderer on the space ship, and all the characters have to figure out whodunnit.

Authoress: I remember reading AND THEN THERE WERE NONE in high school and loving it; ten people on an island and one of them was the murderer. Awesome stuff! :)

So, now that you've entered the realm of Writing To Deadline, what does your daily schedule look like? Are you working on book 2? And I simply must know: are you a plotter or a pantser? :)

Beth: My daily writing work is still hectic--I haven't quit my day job yet! I do plan on becoming a full time writer at the end of this semester, so that's pretty exciting.

I write whenever I have time, usually in snatches on weekends and teacher work days. Right now I'm working on a combo of editing book 1 and writing book 2.

I am totally a pantser. I *hate* outlining with a burning passion. I have a general idea of the end, but getting to that end is a bit of a mystery to me!

Authoress: I join you in your unabashed hatred for outlining. :)

Writing for youngsters is near and dear to my heart. What made you decide to write YA? What do you find inherently satisfying about writing for the under-18 crowd?

Beth: I write YA because it's not boring. Seriously. I love fantasy and sci fi, but adult fantasy and sci fi is waaaaay too long and boring. Do I really need fifty pages of description? No! Blow something up!

Authoress: You're a gal after my own heart!

So tell us about the non-writing part of you (however small). What makes Beth who she is? What else brings you joy in life? And where did you get your wonderful decorating taste? (Oh, yes. I still think you have an awesome house!)

Beth: LOL! My decorating taste comes from leftovers--whatever other people in my family didn't want any more, I bummed! There's not much to me outside of writing. I've got a husband and a dog (the dog's a black Lab named Sirius, so books permeate even my pet's life!) and I love traveling. I really enjoy my job as a teacher, and it's something I'm going to miss when I quit to write full time, but I definitely want to chase this dream.

Authoress: And I say...go for it!

Of course I'm going to ask you to close this interview by imparting your words of wisdom, advice, encouragement, or whatever else you'd like to share with aspiring authors in light of your recent--and breathtaking--success.

Beth: Aw, jeez. You expect words of wisdom! I'm no where near wise!!

But--and I'm not the first to say it, so I can't claim any wisdom here--experience life before you write. Given the choice to experiencing something new and writing, go for the experience. That will make writing better. But there also comes a time when you need to just put your butt in the chair and do the work of writing.

And also: practice. PRACTICE. Don't expect your first novel to get published. I didn't find any success at all until after writing ten practice novels!

Authoress: There is more wisdom in your words than you may know.

THANK YOU, Beth, for a delightful interview. I wish you EVERY SUCCESS with your debut, and a LONG AND PROSPEROUS writing career!

Beth: /blushes

Aw, shucks! Thank YOU! :) And same to you!

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE will be published by Razorbill/Penguin in Spring 2011. Feel free to stalk Beth on her blog at

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Very Quick Hello

1. Yes, I had an amazing pedicure spa on my birthday. Unending thanks to Holly Bodger (who organized it), Beth Revis, Sara J Henry, Jamie Harrington, and Tami Moore.

My new heroes. (Heroines?)

2. And my toenails are a decidedly pink shade of pink.

3. Be sure to stop by tomorrow! I've got a super interview with author BETH REVIS for you.

And now, off to Monday Life!


Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Fricassee

So the billion dollar question is: Did you like the 50-word excerpts better than the 25-word? Honestly, I'll probably continue to do both. But popular opinion will certainly sway me. *grin*

Confession: Our system needed more testing to work out some newly emerged kinks, so I had to do the contest by hand. (One automated contest and I'm completely spoiled already!) Kudos to Michael the Magnificent for continuing to dig in and make this system as nearly perfect as possible.

Thanks, as always, for your upbeatness and wonderfulness-to-work-withness. I hated the too-large number of people who received auto-rejects (thanks to gmail's vacation mode and Michael's brilliant suggestion that I, yanno, use it). I really do hate turning people away.

On the dance-with-me front: I hit 50,000 words yesterday! That's two-thirds of this brand-new, boy-is-this-ever-going-to-need-a-blood-inducing-edit novel. Feels awesome!

And yes, tomorrow is my birthday. I have promised myself that I WILL NOT WRITE TOMORROW. Hold me to it, will you? The longer I've written, the more driven I've become. I normally write on Saturdays, but, dad-gummit, I need to walk away and breathe for a while.

That, and enjoy the WONDERFUL PEDICURE SPA that 5 delightful women bestowed upon me. (Oh, yes. They all write and they all read this blog.) I'll tell you all about it on Monday.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

50 Words #50

TITLE: The Night
GENRE: Epic YA Fantasy

Reaching for a half-used cake of lye, Aerael dragged her sleeves in the wash water. With a frustrated groan, she pushed them back up and tried again. The small, black stone that hung around her neck came free of its hiding place, casting its unearthly light over the basin.

50 Words #49

TITLE: Breaking the Bonds
GENRE: Science Fiction Romance

“Run,” Serena hissed at Michal as the guards started towards the crowd standing on the cobbles around them.

She had watched the guards as they had walked into the southeastern corner of the square, just as Michal had finished juggling and tucked the final spinning knife back into its sheath.

50 Words #48

TITLE: The Clown House
GENRE: Thriller

The first three bullets stung. He’d been shot before—you didn’t get into this business without taking one or two for the company—but your body can’t plug three holes at once. Blood trickled down his back, seeping into the crack...

Or maybe that was loose bowels.

Forget it.


50 Words #47

TITLE: The Mistake
GENRE: Thriller

Against the advice of my mentor, I keep a gun in my drawer. Harvey says a lawyer with a gun in his desk will eventually use it either on a client or on himself. Harvey's almost sixty and thinks he knows everything.

I open the drawer and reach for it.

50 Words #46

TITLE: First Man
GENRE: Mainstream/Literary

RULE NUMBER ONE: If you're the first man through the door and you spot a chucklehead with a weapon: take 'em out. Shoot first, ask questions later. Literally. You may not like it, but that's the rule.

50 Words #45

GENRE: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Jane Fogg swore under her breath as a shadow passed overhead. She adjusted her Nikon and trained the camera on the red-shouldered hawk across the creek.

“Stay there, you little bastard," she whispered. “Just stay put.”

The sharp crack of branches breaking came out of the woods across the water.

50 Words #44

TITLE: Call Me Mara
GENRE: Contemporary Women's fiction

What was in this old box they’d carted from home to home over the years? The faded label said keepsakes, but Mara doubted she’d find anything she wanted to hang on to. After all, sixteen years of traipsing around the world had provided plenty more recent treasures.

Mara sat cross-legged

50 Words #43

TITLE: A Mad, Wicked Folly
GENRE: YA Historical

The pottery jug shatters against the wall, porridge oozes down the cement walls of my prison cell and splatters onto the floor. With that one defiant act I seal my fate. But it matters not. I’m willing to take my place among the other women who have come before me.

50 Words #42

TITLE: The Final Lie
GENRE: Suspense

Of all the places to get lost. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Nathan banged his head with the palm of his hand and glared at the worthless piece of junk called a GPS. A dead-end in the section of town known for its murders. Ya, not the smartest place to drive into.

50 Words #41

TITLE: My Piece of the Universe

The kid woke up outside around three in the morning, lying on mossy shingles that were cold and wet. He was sideways, his hands and feet dangling in the air, his body suspended from his waist. He was puzzled by the rope looped through his pants like a belt.

50 Words #40

TITLE: Earthbound
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

I opened the window and the hot, sticky heat of the summer sun washed over me in waves. My bedroom window overlooked the old, forgotten graveyard that must have been there for hundreds of years, once open to grieving friends and family now bound under lock and key.

50 Words #39

TITLE: Back in His Arms
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

Megan Moore wanted to blame the apparition on the restaurant’s muted lighting. On the two lemon drops and one pomegranate cosmopolitan she had imbibed. On anything except the fact that the man leaning against the wall before her, eyes imprisoning hers, was flesh and bone, blood and desire.

50 Words #38

TITLE: The High Bridge
GENRE: Contemporary Romance, paranormal subplot

Engineer Edgar 'Gar' Hodgkins sorely missed his wife.

His yearning for her was always intense while climbing down from the controls of the monstrous, puffing, black locomotive. Operating the nearly two-hundred ton metal beast of an engine took all his concentration, and he dared not look away from the gauges

50 Words #37

TITLE: Claimed

I don't really know why you think hearing about Him from me will help you. If you want me to write everything I remember about my time at The Home, I can, but don't expect any big revelations. In some ways, you probably know more about Him than I do.

50 Words #36

TITLE: The Best Part of Me Is You
GENRE: Young Adult Romance

Everything might have been much better had my father remained in my mind - an accidentally discovered photo - a college kid leaning against the door of a beat up dark blue MG Triumph. The Polaroid is dated September 1989. He wears a black Ramones T-shirt with sun bleached spiked hair, a tiny hoop earring in one ear, and he has what looks like green eyes.

50 Words #35


“Will you sign my yearbook, Alec?” I held it out with one hand and crossed my fingers behind me on the other. This would be my last chance to ask. Graduation was tonight.

“Sure, Sweet Thing,” Alec said as he took my yearbook.

“I saved the back cover for you.”

50 Words #34

TITLE: “I'll have a Manhattan on the rocks, extra sweet, two cherries.”
GENRE: Chick Lit

When I was born, if any grandparent referred to me as the “favorite,” it would have to be my mother’s mother. My sister, the first-born grandchild, had already been claimed by my mother’s father. That was probably my sister’s only claim to fame, but that is a different story altogether.

50 Words #33

TITLE: Waiting for Paint to Dry
GENRE: Women's Literary Fiction

Growing up, my mother never allowed us to move around like other military families. When our father received new orders, my sister and I stayed home with her in sunny southern California. Endless beaches, perfect weather, there wasn't much a girl could complain about. Except for missing her father.

50 Words #32

TITLE: Thanksgiving
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Rita was at a complete loss. Thanksgiving had always been her favorite day of the year and with three short syllables her daughter had driven a stake through its heart and killed the holiday forever. It was raining sideways in New York and the wind whipped between the buildings.

50 Words #31

TITLE: Sonnet to Saint Payne
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

No matter how Calan looked at the situation, he would take her queen in the next three moves. A sigh of frustration escaped her. Her opponent's answering chuckle brought a smile to her lips. Behind him, twilight was dying in the windows, turning him into shadows behind his desk.

50 Words #30

TITLE: Untitled

Roasting marshmallows over a Bunsen burner was harder than it sounded. Garrett Thomas tossed his backpack to the floor and slid a bag of marshmallows across the table to his four closest friends.

“I’ll fire up the burner." Garrett placed one hand on the gas. "Wyatt, you close the shades."

50 Words #29

TITLE: Courting Trouble
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

Ella McGrath wrapped her hand around the butt end of the antique Winchester 1897, and a sense of calm rushed through her. When you were raised a McGrath there wasn’t much room for in-betweens. You were right or wrong. No room for grey. And aside from being certain that

50 Words #28

GENRE: Middle Grade Historical


Someone’s coming up the ladder! Grandpa Lum will skin me alive if he finds me here writing to my mama.

Shoving aside her worn notebook, Cleo Holmes swung her brown,

mosquito-bitten legs over the side of the bed, narrowly missing the jagged metal springs

poking through the thin mattress.

50 Words #27

TITLE: Selarial's Song
GENRE: Science Fiction

Selarial stepped out of the shower and looked over her closet, debating about what to wear. She looked wistfully at the comfort of traditional attire; the soft silks of her Singer calling beckoned. Selarial’s eye touched on the uniform she probably should wear to the party at the base.

50 Words #26

GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

The knife sliced through, coming out clean on the other side, but it always did when Aunt Eliza did the cutting. Viktor pushed off the kitchen wall and backed into the sunroom as pieces of cake were passed around; his smirk never wavered from his face.

50 Words #25

GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

I heard the demon before I saw him. It was the familiar sound of his heavy feet stumbling over tree roots, followed by low growls of frustration. What Margrad lacked in grace, he made up for in sheer brute strength. It still didn’t make him competent at kidnapping anyone, especially me.

50 Words #24


Avery Smith Gibbons knew two things were true at 12:00 noon on Sunday, June 14th.
1.) She wanted to make her mark on the world.
2.) Her grandma was dying.


The attic was Avery’s favorite place. The large room ran the length of the house,

50 Words #23

TITLE: Going Home
GENRE: Suspense

The fire burned itself out by dawn. A few men picked through the remains of the house, kicking over the rubble. On the prairie, a fire like this could easily sweep through town, blanketing the buildings. The men worked in tandem, flushing and extinguishing the last embers.

50 Words #22

TITLE: Dragon Lancer
GENRE: Young Adult

Paul thrust the sword in deeper, straining to reach the center, most vulnerable point before the fumes knocked him out. The dragon roared and shook his huge head. Steam hissed between his massive teeth. Paul shoved the sword to the right and thrust again.

“Nope. That’s not it either, man.”

50 Words #21

TITLE: The Voice of Asheva
GENRE: Fantasy

The judge attempted to continue proceedings and found himself unable. It wasn’t that the room was stifling, despite this cold spring, nor was it that the sunlight streaming in from the windows made his head pound. No, it was the sheer absurdity of the thing; the prince was on trial.

50 Words #20

TITLE: Undecided

His music is too loud. Not exactly a problem, except that it’s louder than mine. I jack up my iPod, but my tiny portable speakers can’t drown out the noise.

Especially since they aren’t just competing with music, but laughter, splashing, screams. Fun. That’s what’s on the other side of the fence.

50 Words #19

TITLE: The Peanut Butter and Jelly Friendship
GENRE: MG Contemporary

Annie waited until her mom buried herself in the bills before sneaking the phone into the hall closet. She pushed aside her sister's faux fur parka and speed-dialed "7." She let it ring once then hung up and called again. Their secret code. It rang twice before Jason answered.

50 Words #18

TITLE: Justice
GENRE: Sci-fi

The girl's death was obviously a suicide, so no one really wanted to investigate further. Not until she told us she was murdered.

Kelly Crockett's parents had come home late after having dinner with friends and gone straight to bed. They found Kelly the next morning.

She'd hung herself.

50 Words #17

TITLE: Azrael's Curse
GENRE: Science Fantasy

"You've been here everyday for a week, mate," the shopkeep said.

"Good stew." Sam kept his face carefully shadowed. He had thought he could say it with a straight face.

"You waiting for someone?"

Sam said nothing, just slurped his stew.

50 Words #16

TITLE: River Blood
GENRE: Fantasy

Tem slipped down the bridge embankment, quiet as mud. Never knew who was lurking, yeah? He eyed the drainpipe's yawning mouth. Not a lot of places to hide, upriver street like this. If she'd gotten his message, she'd be holed up inside.

If she'd gotten his message and Chayne hadn't found her meantime.

50 Words #15

TITLE: Going Sane
GENRE: Women's Lit

Devil’s Canyon did its level best to live up to its name, which it did without even trying. The townsfolk joked that there were only two seasons . . . hot and cold. As far as Sophia was concerned, the seasons might as well be called misery and despair.

50 Words #14

TITLE: Holy a Witch
GENRE: Paranormal Fantasy

So, I broke his nose.

Well, to be honest, it was a lucky blow; I was aiming for the jaw. No regrets, he deserved it. Groping is part of being a waitress, I know. Greet, smile pleasantly, bring menus, get groped, serve the meal, bring the bill, get a tip. But he went too far.

50 Words #13

TITLE: Twice a Rake
GENRE: Historical Romance

It is a truth universally acknowledged that fathers in possession of unwed daughters must be in search of suitors for them. Aurora Hyatt must acknowledge that she was still an unwed daughter, drawing near the rather long-in-the-tooth age of four-and-twenty, despite Father's efforts to both obtain and retain said suitor.

50 Words #12


Lindy Wilson had come to the horrible conclusion she was likely going to hell. She wondered if there was such a thing as SPF one billion. Should one negative wipe away a lifetime, 28 years, of being a good person? That didn’t seem very fair.

50 Words #11

TITLE: Freaky Frank
GENRE: Middle grade (humorous)

I have a secret. I know things. Lots of things. About people. Like I know that my math teacher, Mr. Bugg, is going to pick his nose and wipe a boogie on the back of his yellow smiley face tie when he turns around to write on the board.

50 Words #10

TITLE: The Obsidian Throne
GENRE: Medieval Fantasy

On the occasion of his eighteenth birthday, Prince Cato, heir to the Obsidian Throne, realized that being King no longer interested him. Following tradition, he received petitioners in the throne room and resolved their issues. He was bored beyond belief. Bored, until a wizened, black-haired man named Drake appeared.

50 Words #9

TITLE: Lost in the Shadows
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Outside, the night that changed my life was cold. Inside, the raw taste of sweat, alcohol, and whatever drugs clouded the air invaded my senses.

I pushed my way through the sea of hot bodies as the bass pumped at a deafening rate, rattling the windows and controlling the crowd.

50 Words #8

TITLE: The Quality of Light
GENRE: Suspense

I knew the moment she put it in my hands everything had changed. Subtle. A slight shift, minuscule maybe but a shift none the less. Once she placed the manuscript in my hands there was no turning back - such a casual moment capable of changing everything

50 Words #7

TITLE: Life After Send
GENRE: Contemporary/Edgy YA

My finger stumbled over the rubbery cell phone button for the
hundredth time. I whistled out a breath and weighed the plastic device
in my hand like I was jiggling change or something. This shouldn’t be
so hard. Why was this so hard?

Nibbling my lower lip, I squeezed the phone until my nails turned white.

50 Words #6

GENRE: YA Paranormal

Christian Lewis was violently wishing he could switch lives with any other sixteen year old alive. Excluding military brats, of course. His insides were pulling at him, daring him to go back into his family’s cramped little military-housing kitchen, and posting his thoughts on the bulletin board for his father to see.

50 Words #5

TITLE: Magic Withheld
GENRE: Urban fantasy

The earthquake wasn’t his fault. Not this time, at least.

But the mugger's face-plant into the concrete barrier, well now, howdy…

Justus Daide figured he would take the responsibility for that. But maybe in light of past events, he shouldn’t have laughed when the creep stood up, spitting his teeth

50 Words #4

GENRE: Psychological Thriller

It was those tiny moments in the beginning that made the greatest difference in the end.

There should have been a hint, a whisper. Something. A primeval alarm from the forest around us – a warning that the sins of the winter were about to expose themselves.

50 Words #3

TITLE: Purple Rain
GENRE: YA Paranormal

There’s a dead girl in the trunk and all I can think about, is how white the trees are. There are no street lamps all the way out here, but still they glow.

“Not much farther,” Jack says from the seat beside me.

50 Words #2

TITLE: The Corporation
GENRE: Young Adult Science Fiction

“I hope your studying went well,” Darla said, standing beside the kitchen table in full pixilated form. She looked exactly like a real middle-aged woman – long, flowing black hair, delicate facial features, piercing green eyes – except she wasn’t projected at full intensity.

50 Words #1

TITLE: Not A Hero
GENRE: YA Fantasy

There once was a wizard named Benevic who was so powerful that he held back the forces of evil single-handedly. Therefore, he had to die.

That’s not the only reason. He was also good. Very good. Helping old ladies cross the street while rescuing puppies and protecting orphans from certain

Our First 50-Word Round

Okay, here we go!

The entries will post in two chunks: Numbers 1-25 beginning at 9:00 Eastern, and Numbers 26-50 beginning at noon Eastern.

All entrants, please be sure to critique a minimum of five other entries.

All critters, please remember to focus on whether the open hooks you or not, and, if not, to explain why.

Have fun! Some real gems in here, as usual.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Submissions Are Now Closed

We've got our 50 entries and 2 alternates.

50-Word Critique Round

So let's give this new, automated system another whirl, shall we?

At 1:00 PM EASTERN TODAY, submissions will open for the following:

*The first 50 words of your manuscript, completed or in progress*


  • Send your submission to authoress.submissions(at) YOUR SUBMISSION WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED AT ANY OTHER ADDRESS. (Yes, some were sent to the wrong place last week.)
  • Format your submission as follows (EXACTLY):
SCREEN NAME: type it here
TITLE: type it here
GENRE: type it here

Type your 50 words here

  • Most of the hotmail issues have been dealt with. However, if you run into trouble when submitting from a hotmail account, TRY AGAIN FROM A DIFFERENT EMAIL ADDRESS. (Remember: We. Hate. Hotmail.) If hotmail is your sole account, please be sure NOT to send your submission in plain text, as this seems to create the most problems.
  • No picture books this time. 50 words is too high a percentage of the total book length. We'll save PBs for our 25 word rounds.
  • Submissions will remain open until midnight or 50 entries have been reached, whichever comes first.
  • There will be 2 alternates assigned; if you receive an alternate number, please understand that your entry will only be included if one of the 50 is redacted or disqualified.
If I've forgotten something, please let me know! The entries will post on Thursday morning beginning at 9:00 Eastern.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Slew of Winners!

And now, our winners--in Ms. Laughran's own words:

I'd love to say first of all congratulations to everyone who participated. It really does take nerve to put yourselves out there in public like that, and I know that critique like this can sting.

I hope that everyone realizes that if I said something mean, or something you disagree with, this was my hastily formed opinion after a 20-second read, knowing virtually nothing about the story, your work, and with no context whatsoever. This is absolutely not a value judgment about you as a writer or the merit of your story.

In fact, I think that this crop of first pages in particular was of exceedingly high quality overall... MUCH better than the average query that hits my in-box. So bravissimo to all of you and to Authoress for attracting such talented minions!

I absolutely could not decide on one "winner." I have TEN that I want to read more of. And I am going to let you choose your own prize between one of these three:

1) Fast-tracked query - I will read your query & first 10 pages as soon as I get it & give you either a request for full or a decline WITH details, rather than the customary 6-8 week waiting period for a form letter. Please do NOT pick this if you are already under consideration by someone at my agency.

2) Query critique - If you don't want me to consider this for representation but you just want advice on how to make your query letter stronger.

3) A book! - If you don't want me to consider this for representation AND you don't want advice on how to make your query letter stronger, I will send you one of my clients awesome books! :-)

So without further ado, here are the Superior Hookers:

#4 Saving Danger
#6 Imaginary Heart
#12 Squeaky Clean
#15 Emma Undone
#26 Bursting the Bubble
#35 Watch Your Step
#37 Drain
#44 Skullhaven
#46 The Disappearances
#47 Wildflower Eyes

Email me with "Authoress Contest Winner" in the subject line and let me know which prize you desire.


To the winners: If you do not know the agency email address for Andrea Brown, please email me at facelesswords(at) and I will send it. (I don't like posting agent emails on the blog.)

And PLEASE REMEMBER to put AUTHORESS CONTEST WINNER in the subject line, or your email will drown among the slush.

[On a side note: I once received a query critique from Ms. Laughran and it was EXCELLENT. Very helpful (and brutally honest, the way you'd want it to be). So if you're already under consideration by another agent at Andrea Brown, don't hesitate to choose the query critique as your prize!]


Secret Agent Unveiled: JENNIFER LAUGHRAN

Applause and thanks to the unstoppable Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency for her insightful and kindly worded critiques!

Jennifer's Bio:

Jennifer began her career as a long-time children's bookseller and buyer, and is the founder of the extremely popular YA event series "Not Your Mother's Book Club". She joined Andrea Brown Literary Agency in 2007 and represents a bevy of supremely talented children's book authors.

Jennifer is always on the lookout for fresh stories with unusual and unforgettable voice. In particular, she is looking for sparkling YA and middle grade fiction. Jennifer loves funny books, thrilling books, romantic books, books that make her cry, and all-around un-put-downable books... and her favorites are all of the above.

More about what she's looking for:

At the moment I have a yen for upbeat and fun books that remind me of Glee... not that it has to be set in show choir per se, but I'd love a fun MG or YA book set in a theatre, band camp, dance competition environment or similar.

I'd also love an epic romance, along the lines of Jennifer Donnelly's TEA ROSE or GONE WITH THE WIND -- the kind of book that you get lost in and feel that you really know the characters, root for them, cry over them... I was thinking recently that an epic romance/alt historical set in South America might be really cool. Like, imagine EVITA as a YA book. This might be something that only lives in my own imagination, but, worth putting it out there. :-)

Also I'd like a cool YA thriller, particularly one that is super-fast-paced and has a unique setting.

But I am constantly surprised by the things that I fall in love with that I never expected to. So... you know, try me!

And there you have it--another awesome round! Winners coming up.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Fricassee

And we have another agent signing!

January Secret Agent Contest winner Vahini Naidoo has just signed with the lovely Ammi-Joan Paquette, who had chosen Vahini's excerpt as one of her winners! (Entry #14, if you want to take a peek in the archives.)

CONGRATULATIONS, Vahini and Joan! Best wishes on a long and successful pairing.

This is Ms. Paquette's second signing from our blog, so I probably ought to start charging her commission. Or something. (I'm totally kidding. She knows I adore that she adores this blog.)

Isn't this a FANTASTIC kick-off to the weekend? Hooray!

That, and our first automated contest has run smoothly all week. If you haven't critiqued yet, you've got all weekend! You may have noticed that #43 has been disqualified. Having been slightly overwhelmed during the submission and fix-the-formatting process, I failed to notice that the genre for this entry was neither MG nor YA. Rest assured that the author was understanding and gracious, and there are no snarly feelings. Except, of course, for the fact that I hate having to do things like that.

So, please. Don't make me do mean things. Follow directions carefully.

And have a wonderful Friday-Saturday-Sunday!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April Secret Agent Contest #ALT-2

GENRE: YA paranormal romance

The purple crystal on the table only made my palms sting at first. I made fists and tucked them under my arms, swearing not to touch it.

"Looking for something particulah, dawlin?"

Ripping my gaze from its reflective surface, I smiled at the little white-haired man operating the booth. Ever tried smiling when it feels like youre clamping hot coals in your hands? Harder than it looks. Ignoring the flaring pain, I faked my best dazed-tourist stare and glanced around the crowded open-air French Market instead. No. I just moved here.

The old man looked me over. Even wearing polyester trousers, barely a drop of sweat beaded on his wrinkled brown forehead. "You a Yankee, gal?"

"Is it that obvious?" The sheen that covered my body as soon as I stepped out the door this morning had grown to a dripping sludge, and I freed my fiery fists. My fingers strayed toward the stone. I snatched them back empty-handed. "My mom's from here, though."

The man gave a low, raspy laugh. "Oh? So you only half-Yankee."

"Only half-Yankee, huh?" Well, that didn't make this sweltering inferno home, with its crowds of sticky tourists and tacky stores selling cheap plastic crap. I was melting in my jeans,
too stubborn to put shorts on today when Mom told me how hot it would get. I hadn't uttered more than a monosyllable at a time since we got into town last night.

April Secret Agent Contest #ALT-1

TITLE: Red Dirt Girl

You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip. You can't squeeze a drop of anything; not juice, not pulp, not even a slimy residue. Trust me, I tried. I know, it was a pretty immature thing to do, but I bought a bloated, redish turnip the size of a small apple and squeezed the bejeezus out of it. When it wouldn't give an ounce of juice, I shoved the hard vegetable under my foot and tried to stomp on it but it just rolled around under my flip-flop, collecting gravel.

I rubbed it against the pavement. Even more pissed off, I let go and the color returned to my fingers. I tossed it into the weeds. I had no use for it. I couldn't get it to sweat despite the unseasonable ninety degree heat. With a meager sense of satisfaction, I noted it didn't get me to sweat either...or sweat more then I already had. Due to the bizarre early spring heat wave and the fact that Decatur High School doesn't have air conditioning, (that's the South for you) I'd already soaked my shirt through before second period. So, maybe I did sweat a little bit in my fight to prove this idiom wrong, but it didn't make a difference. If I hadn't picked up the other end of the phone the night before, the night before everything changed, if I'd just continued reading my English Lit assignment, I wouldn't have heard them.

April Secret Agent Contest #50

TITLE: Boomerang
GENRE: MG (early)

Joseph was seven the day his parents ruined his life.

They came into his room together. Mom kissed the top of his head, and Dad said, "Son, we have something important to tell you."

Joseph nodded without looking up. His ninja armies were fighting their biggest battle yet, and he couldn't just stop in the middle of it. Whoosh! A giant pointed star swung down from the ceiling of the castle and skewered a black-clad warrior. With a horrible screech, he fell backwards, soaking the wooden floor with his blood.

Dad's big hand closed around the plastic action figure. "Joe. Let's put the toys away for now, okay? Come and sit up here with us."

Joseph groaned but did as he was told. Mom moved over a little so he could fit between them on the edge of the bed. She took Joseph's hand in hers and squeezed it while Dad went on talking.
"I'm sure you remember when your little sister was born." Squeeze. "Well, it's going to happen again. Your mother is going to have another baby!" Squeeze. Squeeze.

Joseph squinted at his mother's stomach. He remembered how fat she'd gotten before Riley came along. She wasn't anywhere near that big now. Maybe there was still time to stop this But Dad wasn't finished. "Actually," he continued, "I didn't say that right. Mom is going to have two babies. Twins!"

Joseph blinked. "I don't think that's such a good idea," he said.

April Secret Agent Contest #49

TITLE: Menagerie
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Ooof. Thud. Victory landed hard on her tailbone as her teeth clacked together and her wooden sword went skipping off over the sandy practice courtyard. She lay on her back for a moment, staring up into the deep blue, late afternoon sky. At this rate, she'd be a warrior sometime
around her eightieth birthday.

"Get up. That's enough for today. Put away your gear," Haran, the gruff training master, said.

"Yeah, come on lazy bug. Get your sword." Leo had left off doing drills with Kalrin and now sneered down at her. He had a smudge of dirt going all the way down from his right cheek and onto his lips.

Tory hoped he'd eat it. She got slowly to her feet and looked around for her stupid sword.

"I think it went into the next kingdom," Kalrin teased.

"Stuff it," Tory muttered. She stomped over to the edge of the courtyard and snatched her sword up. It wasn't fair, she told herself as she stripped off her banda and put her blade away. At thirteen she was two or three years younger than the other three trainees and much smaller. But
her mother was Captain of the Royal Guard and expectations ran high for Victory Samadi to follow in her mother's footsteps.

She slipped around the backside of the west wing of the palace and through a side door into the kitchens. The delicious smells from the preparations for the Princess's birthday feast made her tummy gurgle...

April Secret Agent Contest #48

TITLE: Cosmic Cousins and the City at the Center of the Moon
GENRE: Middle Grade

Michelle walked with her litter sister, Mady, one block to the little yellow house at the end of Rose Street, where their cousins lived. Both girls moved briskly through the hot summer sun and over the crack-laden sidewalk, skipping and singing. The smiles on their faces were surpassed only by the magical thoughts that filled their heads.

Michelle and Mady were ready to go to the moon.

The Cousinhood - Michelle, Mady, Cody, and Catherine - had planned their trip to the moon for over a month. They'd worked hard to build the ship, gather supplies, and map the journey. They were cousins by birth, but cosmic by choice. If all went according to plan, today would finally be the day.

As Michelle and Mady walked, Mady sang a song. It sounded like the tune from I'm a Little Teapot but the words were different.

I'm a little girl
here to meet
moon people and eat some cheese.
If you're on the moon
you'll have no doubt
there's lots of cheese to go around.

"Whatcha singing?" Michelle asked.

"A song I made up for the moon people," said Mady. Michelle listened to her sister's song and before long was humming along.It was very catchy.

"Michelle?" Mady asked when her song was finished.


"Are we really going to the moon?"

"Of course. Why?"

"Cause last night I told mommy and she said only astronauts go to the moon."

April Secret Agent Contest #47

TITLE: Wildflower Eyes
GENRE: Young Adult

My cell phone rang loud and shrill in the quiet classroom.

I froze.

All eyes turned to me.

He found us.

He was coming.

The teacher scowled and held out her hand to confiscate my phone.

I flipped it open. I had to answer before the second ring- that was the rule.

My mother's panicked voice said one word: Run.

Eyes tearing, heart pounding, I grabbed my textbook and notes, then stuffed them into my bag.

Shaking, I stumbled to the door.

Every second, he was getting closer.

"Where are you going, Maddie?" the teacher demanded. Then, seeing my tears, she spoke with concern. "Is something wrong?"

I rushed past the teacher, out of the classroom.

"Maddie!" I heard her shout. She stepped into the hallway after me.

I walked faster. Please don't stop me, I begged silently.

I tried not to succumb to the panic. My breath came in short little gasps and a sob escaped my lips, echoing in the empty halls.

How did he find us again?

I stopped at my locker. With fumbling fingers, I shoved my books and jacket into my bag. I could leave nothing personal behind- that was another rule.

I raced down the hall. Flew down the stairs.

Dennis Connelly had found us again.

I rushed through the cafeteria, almost bumping into a girl carrying a tray. I swiped my tears away so I could see.

I ran to the lobby.

My lungs burned for air.

April Secret Agent Contest #46

TITLE: The Disappearances
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Walmart was the first to disappear. It started off as an ordinary night, but the chain of events that began with one local Walmart was something I could never have made up - I'm not that good of a writer.

I sat with my knees folded on rickety olive recliner, with Adam sprawled at the foot of it. We were supposed to be finishing a boring book by reading alternating chapters and sharing them.

Adam stared out the window, when I snapped; "It's not fair if I'm the only one reading. The report's due tomorrow, remember?"

"Relax, Eve. We only have a few more pages to go and I'm sure whatever we turn in will be as good anyone else's in the class." He turned back to the window.

"You're not even trying to finish!" I complained.

Adam got up and peered through the glass. "It's so weird out there. Take a look."

"What's weird?" I asked as I joined him, but he didn't have to answer. The fog crept in, wrapping itself around everything outside -houses, trees, cars, mailboxes. It was so thick; you'd believe that it would have substance if you touched it.

"Look up," Adam said and I did. The sky was sprinkled with stars and a moon that shone like the sun. That wasn't the sky you'd normally get on a foggy night.

"What is it?" I felt my skin prick in the warm room.

"Let's find out."

April Secret Agent Contest #45

TITLE: Death by High Heals
GENRE: Mystery

"What the hell did you hit him with?"

"My shoe."

"Your shoe? Damn it Lindsay, you can't kill someone with a shoe."

"Hello, they're Via Spiga pumps."

"Ugh." I rolled my eyes.

A man sat, unmoving in a chair, with his back towards us.

"Stay put." I walked across the room and stopped in front of the chair. I wasn't sure which was worse, the smell or view of his organs spilled out onto his lap.

"Tell me again what happened?"

"I told you, he was sitting in that chair when I got home. I took off my shoe and hit him in the back of the head and then I ran over to your place."

"Then you don't know how he got this big hole in his chest?"

"What? No, I swear. I hit him and ran."

"Come over here and see if you recognize him."

"Gross, no way."

"Quit being a coward and get your a** over here."

"A coward? Did you just call me a coward because I don't want to look at some dead guy?"

"Just get over here."

"Freeze, Aurora Falls Police."

"Ah hell." I muttered. "Hey Duncan."

"Kim Murphy, is that you? Oh man the Chief's not gonna like this."

"Yeah well, I'm not too thrilled myself."

"The chief?" Lindsay asked.

"The chief of police, he's my dad."

"I take it you're Miss Pembrook?"


"And that's the dead guy over there? You sure he's dead?"

"Yeah that's him and he's definitely dead."

April Secret Agent Contest #44

TITLE: Skullhaven
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Lilly was five years old when her mother kissed her goodbye and told her she would be right back.

"Right back," she said.

But her mother didn't come right back.

She didn't come back the next day. Or the next. And, even though Lilly kept asking where her mother was, no one could tell her, because no one knew what had become of her.

And Lilly wondered what she had done wrong.

Shortly after that, Lilly was sent to Skullhaven orphanage. Not to visit. To live there, with Sister Rosemary and Sister Carmen. It was scary and unfamiliar. The other children played and laughed, but Lilly mostly sat by herself, wondering. And crying. As time passed, the other
children moved away to start new lives with their new families. Eventually there were no children left in the orphanage. Except Lilly.

She had been at Skullhaven for five years now. When she had first arrived, she spent her time looking out the big living room window. Waiting. She would part the delicate lace curtains and watch the cars drive past on the highway. Hoping. And wishing one of them would turn into the
gravel drive and her mother would be inside it. But she never was. Never.

April Secret Agent Contest #43 (disqualified)


April Secret Agent Contest #42

GENRE: Contemporary YA

Five months ago I got the flu, right smack in the middle of summer - bikini season, not flu season - and back then, I actually believed that was the worst possible thing that could ever happen to me. I had reached the point where I could smell food without puking, but I was still too weak to sit up straight. Clearly, I was better off on the couch for one more day than
sliding out of my chair while I failed another one of Mr. Cromwell's biology quizzes.

So there I was, lying on the couch, trying to decide if I should play it safe with more toast or risk it all on a frozen pizza, when this woman with spiky, fake-blonde hair and over-inflated lips appeared on my TV. She told me I needed to think about anything that might be missing from my life. She said I should make a list of all the things I desired the universe to send me. I sat up long enough to make my list. It was short because my life wasn't all that bad.


1. A Bigger Bedroom
2. An Awesome Boyfriend


Looking at me now, you might think I got just what I wanted. I have a bedroom that's almost twice as big as the one I had then. And I even ended up with a pretty amazing guy. But I lost everything that mattered up to then. Blondie Big Lips didn't mention that possibility.

April Secret Agent Contest #41

TITLE: Shaking the Bones
GENRE: Contemporary YA

Maryann's normal life ended on an October weekend, but it wasn't until December that she couldn't ignore her pee any longer. It smelled--well, it just smelled weird. She tried not to notice, but every time she went to the bathroom, it was there. The smell. She leaned over her swollen, sore breasts and with a delicate wrinkling of her nose, sniffed. There. There it is, she thought, trying to figure out what could make pee smell so different?

Asparagus? She hadn't eaten any. Garlic? Nada. Pregnancy?


According to the Easy Pregnancy Detector 1-2-3 Step directions, it was a matter of taking the cap off the tip of the plastic stick, soaking the end and waiting three minutes for the results. What Maryann failed to see on the directions, was how to do this without peeing all over herself.

She positioned the stick, and held her breath as she (ahem) went. By the time Maryann set the stick on the sink and rinsed her hands off, the results were clear. The blazing pink + = one pregnant teenager. Her mouth hung open as she stared at the stick. Where were the three minutes? It'd only been thirty seconds, max.

April Secret Agent Contest #40 (redacted)


April Secret Agent Contest #39

TITLE: Frog Burgers
GENRE: MG fiction

He's on me like stink on two-week old garbage. His hot breath prickles the back of my neck. I block with my right, dribble with my left. My eyes dart toward the hoop. I guard the ball and calculate my next move. My best option: keep his lanky body in my sight. With every move I make, his body twitches. He expects me to try for a jump shot. I can fake him out. Sweat rolls down the side of my face. The smell of hot blacktop stings my nostrils. With the back of my arm, I wipe wet brown curls out of my eyes. Easy Zach. Take slow, deep breaths. I bounce the ball in front of me with a controlled motion.

Can't stall any longer. I know I can make the shot, even from this far off to the left. I'm that confident. A fake right drive and then I dodge left. Not expecting my speed, he lunges in the wrong direction. I slip from under his guard and sprint toward the net. His team mates charge. I release the ball before the four of them collide.

My friend, Junior sucks in a breath and holds it. We all watch as the ball glides through the air. Thud! It hits the backboard, drops to the hoop and rolls around the rim three times. Plunk! It falls in. Junior exhales and the rest of my team exchanges a series of high-fives and chest-bumps. Only two more baskets and we win.

April Secret Agent Contest #38

TITLE: The Devil You Know
GENRE: Upper YA Urban Fantasy

The doctors were going to kill me if I didn't get out of here. They wouldn't mean to, but their intentions wouldn't change the result one bit. The machine monitoring my vitals screamed to life, and large, rough hands pinned me down as someone rammed needles into my arms. Fingers flew past my vision, blurs against the stark white ceiling. An icy chill raced through my arm as the medication pumped into my system. My struggles ceased; I no longer had the energy to fight anyway.

Two months. Two more months and I would have been close enough to touch the research that could save my life. With the way this group was acting, I'd never make it.

"We're losing her." The nurse with the brilliant red hair kept her tone even and her hands steady, but panic rolled off her in waves, crashing over me and pulling me under.

Shivers wracked my body, and my eyes started to roll back into my head. I blinked hard, trying to fight against the force sucking the life from me.

A man leaned over my body, pressed something cold against my chest then started barking orders. "Call the surgical team, were sending her up now. And someone cut the damn alarms!" He was young.

April Secret Agent Contest #37


The suitcase with the broken buckle rests between my legs on the bottom step of the brownstone. My whole life is held together by that one loose buckle I flick it back and forth, between my fingers, looking out over the rooftops on the other side of Twenty-First.
"Kat Atkins?" the social worker will ask me. But she'll already know, because right on the seat next to her is my file, and paper-clipped to the top of it is my school picture from Portland High. Sophomore year. Last fall.

My hair is different now. It's longer, and darker. All those highlights I got from walking around the city in summertime are gone.

Eleven. That's how many times I've moved in the last sixteen years.

Two. More years before I turn eighteen. Before I run out of time to find a family.

While I wait, I watch a gray cat with no collar bob along the cracked sidewalk. "Here, kitty," I tell him. He lifts his head. I hold out my hand, steady. The cat rests his warm, whiskery chin in my palm. But before I can scratch his back or pick him up, a wind stirs the budding maple trees across Twenty-First, and the cat rushes away.

April Secret Agent Contest #36

GENRE: Paranormal

The cold affected no one but me. With the changes I'd become a beacon for sub-zero temperature, drawing it to me and away from the rest of the world. Or at least the parking lot. The pleasant breeze that teased at the loose tresses of the girls, and ruffled the short strands of the boys, turned the light sheen of sweat on the nape of my neck to ice.

Spur of the moment makeovers can have dire consequences. My confidence had been bolstered when Tammy's attack on my hair transformed the thick, unmanageable mess into a sleek, flattering style. There was bound to be a price. This was it. Rather than pain for beauty, I'd surrendered warmth for just this side of pretty. Maybe anted up a soul for sexy. Safer not to think about whether I'd consider it.

My house was only five blocks from Pomona High School, not a distance for discomfort until winter spat out blizzards. It was late November and mild for Colorado fall. The manicured lawns of the neighborhood and the school were still crisp green. Most of the students donned sweatshirts and moved about the grounds of the block shaped school in a way that meant the weather was not only tolerable, it was comfortable.

And here I was, freezing in my black plaid pea coat after a sweat inducing run. The change hadn't been drastic enough to suffer this much. If I was going to bargain away heat retention, it needed to be for something substantial.

April Secret Agent Contest #35

GENRE: Middle Grade

The night my life changed I was eating leftovers and finishing my homework, just like any other night. Scratch that. The night my life changed sounds too dramatic, like something from one of the soap operas Grandma always watches. And come to think of it, that very night Grandma
was watching soap operas. But her eyes kept darting to the door, like she knew what was about to happen.

You always knew when someone was about to enter our house because they had to undo about five locks. I didn't understand why we put so many locks on our door. What was anyone going to steal from us? Mom said it was because the neighborhood was bad, which was true, but c'mon. Was someone really going to steal Grandma and make her their grandma? I sure didn't think so.

This particular night, I didn't hear Mom fumbling to find her keys, and then the locks being opened, one by one. Instead, I heard the sound of a loud engine. On my street, you sometimes heard the spluttering of an engine and you usually heard honking and cussing, but you never heard a healthy engine. Healthy engines didn't live on Walnut Street.

I turned my head to peer out the window, but Grandma smacked me on the leg. "Don't be nosy, boy!" Her eyes scanned the room, and she quickly muttered, "How's the homework?"

"I already told you. I finished everything." I craned my neck, trying to sneak a peek.

April Secret Agent Contest #34 (redacted)


April Secret Agent Contest #33

GENRE: YA urban fantasy

Maya stared at the ceiling and counted. The affects of the dream were still too strong to move or think clearly. It wasn't the first night she had the dream--it was the seventh. She was shaking despite going to bed with an extra blanket and couldn't close her eyes because the flames still blazed in her mind taunting her.

Before a few months ago, Maya wouldn't have thought it was possible for a dream to be taunting, but now she knew better. When she reached fifty, her heart rate returned to a normal level and the chills stopped.

Her room was dark with the exception of the green glow from her alarm clock. She rolled over and looked at it--3:00. Maya deliberated--follow her careful plan and sneak out or go back to bed. When she closed her eyes, the dream replayed in her mind.

Standing in front of the library, Maya watched as the fire raged inside. The windows shattered--shards of glass pelted Maya like sleet. Clouds of dark smoke billowed out of the building and swallowed the stars in the sky. She lifted her hands to the sky and the fire stopped.

It was the same, but maybe she miscounted. If that was the case, she could go back to bed and worry about it tomorrow night. Maya counted on her fingers each night she had the dream--tonight made seven. She groaned and forced herself out of bed.

April Secret Agent Contest #32

TITLE: Snow, Blood, and Envy
GENRE: Young Adult Paranormal

Evil eyes stare at me. Ugh. Where does he find these women? I blow on my freshly painted teal nails.His lips keep moving. She keeps staring. I nod, pretending to pay attention. Come on. The last bimbo's introduction took less than two minutes.

Then his mouth forms an unbelievable word.

I rip my earbuds out."Did you say married?"

My father actually grins."Yes, married." He lifts the woman's hand to show me a ridiculously large diamond.

Whoosh. My stomach tightens.The pulse of drums echoes in the silence. Boom, boom, boom--the fast tempo matches the accelerated beat of my heart. With each thump, the diamond grows, expands, and fills the distance between us. I tear my eyes from its bright twinkle and demand, "When?"

"We leave for Fiji in a week."

My jaw drops."How long have you been dating?"

"Almost a month," he says, gazing down at her.

I gawk at her, at them staring at each other.Though younger than my father, she isn't young. Lean with long hair and sharp features she's the perfect match for his tall sophistication. Standing amid the suede furniture, modern art, and bronze sculptures, they look like a magazine ad. The glossy print in my head pictures expensive, unattainable perfection.

I fiddle with the buttons before turning my iPod off. " that's great," I manage to reply even though distress rushes under my skin, through my heart, and threatens to erupt out of my mouth in the form of four letter words.

April Secret Agent Contest #31

TITLE: Shakespeare on the Lam

I pounded on the bathroom door and yelled at my slug of a sister: "Athena, how much longer you gonna be?" I mean, the 'fairy queen' had barricaded herself in there for over half a century and I needed to get ready for school. Talk about a 'Midsummer's Night's Nightmare.'

No reply. Instead, she continued practicing her lines: "'If you will patiently dance in our round, and see our moonlight revels...'"

"Excuse me," I shouted. "My mistake. I meant to say, 'Queen Titanic, wilt thou quit being the world's biggest bathroom hog and hasten out of there...'"

"The name's Titania, you dolt," came the muffled response. "Go use the other bathroom." Was she trying an Australian accent? Why was I cursed with such a raving actress for an older sister?

"All my stuff's in this bathroom. So get your majestic fairy..."

That was when Mom yodeled from the kitchen: "Jared, can you keep it down, please?"

More droning from the bathroom: "'Fairies, away; we shall chide downright if I longer stay.'"

No kidding. I decided to light a fire under the Queen. "The bus is coming."

I heard a scramble and a squawk. The door flew open. I blinked. In the glimpse I had of her before she slammed the door in my face, she looked five inches taller. Was she wearing heels? And what the heck had she done to her hair? She was in big trouble now.

"Red hair? You dyed your hair red? Mom's gonna kill you..."

April Secret Agent Contest #30

TITLE: Ashfall

I was home alone that Friday evening. Since you're reading this, you survived and already know exactly which day I'm writing about. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing, in the way my parents remembered 9/11, but more so. Together, we lost the old world, slipping from that cocoon of mechanized comfort into the hellish land we inhabit now. The pre-Friday world of school, cell phones and refrigerators dissolved into this post-Friday world of ash, darkness and bloody knives.

But that Friday was pretty normal at first. I fought with Mom again after school. That was normal too; we fought constantly. The topics were legion: my poor study habits, my video games, my underwear on the bathroom floor--whatever. I remember a lot of those arguments. That Friday, they only fueled my rage. Now they're little jewels of memory I hoard, hard and sharp under my skin. Now, I'd sell my right arm to a cannibal to argue with Mom again.

Our last argument was about Warren, Illinois. My uncle and his family lived there, on a tiny farm near Apple River Canyon State Park. Mom decided we'd visit their farm that weekend. She announced this malodorous plan over dinner on Wednesday. My bratty little sister, Rebecca, almost bounced out of her chair in delight. Dad responded with his usual benign lack of interest,
mumbling something like, Sounds nice, honey. I said I would not be going, sparking an argument that continued right up until the three of them left.

April Secret Agent Contest #29

TITLE: Superstition Summer

Something red slithered beneath a tumbleweed. Dylan froze. A snake, two feet long, with a black head and red-and-yellow-banded body rustled the brittle bush. He lifted his camera, focused, and captured the creature before it disappeared.

His first Arizona picture and a whole summer to explore--gila monsters, tarantulas, sidewinders, and whatever else he found. Dylan left his camera bag and tripod under a cottonwood tree near the corral and slid down the bank into a dry streambed.

Wait. Scan. Focus. Shoot.

He wandered on, fascinated by the desertscape so alien from the trees and lakes of home. Afternoon heat rose from the ground and fell from the sky to cook everything in between, but Dylan hardly noticed how his bare arms or back of his neck baked.

In the middle of shooting a red-tailed hawk diving for a meal, his battery died. No! He'd left the extra one in his camera bag. Time to head back anyway. He shaded his eyes. Where was the winding streambed to his uncle's ranch? Or the corral and stable near the cottonwood?

Although the land was flat he couldn't see clearly through the sweltering air. The desert horizon warped in shimmering heat waves. He'd also left his water bottle behind. Always have water with you his aunt had warned. Sweat stung his eyes and the sun seared through his T-shirt. How long had he wandered? An hour? Two?

No problem, he'd use the GPS on his smartphone.

Big problem. No signal.

April Secret Agent Contest #28

TITLE: Smart Chick
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I am behind the McDonald's dumpster on Fourth Street inhaling my second Big Mac of the day. I'm wondering if I'll need a third before the day is over. Every time I think about it, all I want to do is eat another Big Mac.

"We can't pay for college, Libby." Six little words. I've had my life perfectly planned out since the summer before sixth grade.

1. Straight A's

2. Valedictorian

3. Yale

So the economy takes a dump, my dad loses his job, my college savings goes towards paying for the mortgage and avoiding foreclosure.

Boom. World, disrupted.

Libby, we can't pay for college.

In other words, if I want to reach goal number 3, I'm on my own. At first I thought, meh, I'm going to be the valedictorian. Of course I can get into Yale. I've got a 4.0! But then I read the admission guidelines.

Well rounded students. Volunteer work. A plethora of afterschool activities.

Well wasn't that just the kiss of death. I'm not well-rounded. I do one thing and I do it really well.

School. That's it.

I wipe the secret sauce from my chin, hop back on my Schwinn and pedal towards home. I keep my head down and try not to think about it anymore. Even though my gut is already aching for another Big Mac.

April Secret Agent Contest #27

TITLE: Nadia's Treasure
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction

It seemed as though she had only just landed into the feather tick, when her mind became cloudy. The air in her room was too hot to be comfortable, but not so much as to make her move off the bed to open the window. Thoughts swirled through her mind like autumn leaves in a whirlwind, all around the mystery of the note. Papa had written it, no doubts there, but the meaning behind his words was what bothered her.

"Be careful. Watch Nadia."

Those two phrases would not leave her alone. Careful of what? And why did she need any extra watching? Nacogdoches was not what anyone would consider a dangerous territory. It was hardly a settlement, and Texas wasn't at war anymore--at least, not the last she'd heard. Watching was for nursery children and mischievous boys, not an almost sixteen-year-old girl who could take care of herself. Did he think she might get lost in the trees, or run off and get married behind his back? The local boys were not that impressive.

The other words on the note reference to a captain, and a place that she had never heard of (Campeche, or some such) made no sense. She'd read it at least a dozen times and nowhere did the note explain why he had left. Her governess might know, but old Mrs. Greens queer behavior was a mite dodgier than usual. Truth out of her would be too much to ask at this point.

April Secret Agent Contest #26

TITLE: Bursting the Bubble

Beetle studied her face in the brown glass bottle, curved and distorted, her dark eyes stretched wide. The bottle caught the light from a fluorescent above and glinted in the reflection of one eye. She hesitated. She didn't like herself when she was in this sort of mood, but to pull out now after days of preparation? She tipped the bottle and smiled at the satisfying wuff sound of chemical igniting chemical. Heat rippled as the invisible flames raced down the purple road. A
small dog burst into flames, danced and collapsed, as the flames cavorted over square yellow lawns and up to perfect white houses. Beetle replaced the lid on the bottle of acetone and slipped it back under the lab bench.

It had taken days to make the model town. It wasn't easy to make a model of something shed only ever seen on screen or in books. That had been her excuse to make the roads from potassium permanganate and lawns from potassium dichromate. Purple and yellow, a psychedelic town. The crystals contrasted brightly but were equally flammable. Would Dr Rice would believe shed been trying to make a pond with the acetone? Probably not, given Beetles track record for sabotaging lessons.

The invisible flames engulfed a paper pedestrian. Beetle imitated its tiny screams as it writhed and twisted before it turned black and drifted away to the floor. Little cardboard houses popped into bright orange flames, one after the other down the street.

April Secret Agent Contest #25

TITLE: The Other Prince
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Prince Bob skidded around the corner with Friederick's gang in hot pursuit. His belly jiggled. His side ached. His lungs burned. But stopping meant a head-dunk in another chamber pot. Two more halls and he'd be at the library. Safe.

"There he is! Get him!"

With a yank, Bob sent a suit of armor clanging across the floor. Bob's father would be mad, but this was self-preservation. He glanced over his shoulder as he rounded the next corner. One of the gang tripped, but the others leapt over the mess.

"You're dead!" Friederick yelled.

Head down, Bob pushed harder and plowed right into someone. It felt like he'd hit a wall.

"Whoa, there!" Hands reached out to steady Bob before he fell.

"I've got you now, you little . . ." Friederick turned the corner and stopped short. He turned pale just as his gang smashed into him. Shoving his friends off, Friederick extracted himself from the pile of bodies. "P--Prince Charming."

Bob had never been so glad to see his brother.

"Friederick." Charming folded his arms. Bob copied him.

"I--I didn't know you were back." Friederick glanced from Bob to Charming. He and his friends edged backwards.

"We arrived this morning." Charming strode forward and Friederick's gang scrambled to get away.

"Oh, that's . . . great," Friederick simpered. "We were just on our way t--to cavalry drills, so we'd better go."

Bob hurried to keep pace with Charming who didn't slow down.

April Secret Agent Contest #24

TITLE: The Ghost Writer
GENRE: YA Paranormal

Tessa James clutched the thin sheet of paper, confused. The handwriting strongly resembled hers, but the words were not. She had no memory of scribbling anything last night before she fell asleep on the old couch in the greenroom beneath the stage.

Two words were written on the paper: Help me.

Simple enough, but perplexing.

Tessa was sure she was alone in the theatre. When she offered to lock up for the house manager after the gala, everyone else left too. Unless someone lingered behind to play a prank, the note couldn't be written by anyone other than her.

And she must've done it in her sleep to boot.


Tessa glanced at her watch--it was four in the morning--and groaned. She yawned and stretched her arms wide, working the kinks out of her back. She'd been asleep for three hours, but she ached all over. Playing waitress at the event that evening wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
Mike, the house manager, had it worse though. He was due back at the theatre in just a few hours, which was what spurred Tessa to close up shop for him. Shed only put her throbbing feet up for a moment. . . .

Tap, tap, shuffle, tap.

Tessa stopped breathing.

Tap, tap, shuffle, tap.

Not possible, she thought, but the noise stuttered over her head again. It sounded as though someone was tap dancing. On the empty stage. At four in the morning.

April Secret Agent Contest #23

GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy

Noises where there should've been silence. I sucked in a breath, fear closing my throat, holding it there. I listened until the sounds faded away outside, but I didn't breathe until Papa did.

"Papa?" I whispered. I was answered by stillness. I slumped down against the wall, the splintered fibers of the wood tugging at my cardigan. The fire in the woodstove popped like the static on a phonograph and I wished that we had one. I hadn't brought my records, though. I hadn't brought anything.

Papa dropped his gaze from the door and stared down at his hands. "We'll head out again as soon as Simon is well," he said. "The Germans won't make it to Siberia. I feel it."

"Josef," Mama whispered. Papa twisted to face her. They shared a quiet moment, a conversation held without words. Mama rested her cheek on Simon's shoulder. Simon's too bright eyes held mine, a knowing smile on his lips.

Papa's feelings were something we didn't talk about. My grandmother said that he was gifted, special like her. Even if he was right, and he usually was, if the German army couldn't make it to Siberia, neither could our exhausted little family.

Papa twisted the gold medallion hanging from his neck, something he did when his nerves were stretched too thin. He slipped the chain over his head. Between his fingers he flipped the pendant, rolling it across his knuckles like a coin, the chain trailing behind.

April Secret Agent Contest #22

TITLE: Haunted Cowboy Robots

My dad was driving us through the desert at night when we passed a hitchhiker. Lynda, my step-mother, said, "Wait."

Dad ignored her. He was listening to some kook on the radio talking about UFOs.

Lynda grabbed his arm. "Stop!"

He pulled over and slammed the brakes. "What's wrong?"

"Back up. I think she's in trouble."


"Just back up."

Bina and I looked outside. Dad didn't need to back up. Lit by the red glare of our taillights, a figure was running toward us, hair and loose clothes streaming behind. It was a banshee.

Lynda opened her door. Dad tried to restrain her but she slipped out and stood next to our Suburban with her arms crossed. The figure slowed. I hoped it would dissolve into smoke, but it kept coming. Dad opened his door and ran around. I think he grabbed the gun under the seat.

I rolled down my window. Bina crowded next to me.

"Thank you," the phantom said.

It was a girl.

"What are you--" my dad started.

"Let me handle this," Lynda told him. "What's your name?"

"Rosie. Please, I need to get south."

Bina whispered in my ear. "You think they're going to..."

I nodded. Then I looked closer. "Oh, fudge. I don't believe this."


"I know her."

Dad looked back at us. I shook my head, but he told Lynda it was okay.

And that's how Rosie Sanchez ended up in our car a few hours before we

April Secret Agent Contest #21

TITLE: In Times of Violence
GENRE: YA Motorcycle fiction

"Yeah, let's finish the b****," she said getting up.

I stood up and faced them, bracing myself for what I thought would be the finale. Blood was dripping down my face, and the headache I was suffering from, had to be the worst I'd ever experienced. My vision was clouded and fuzzy, and I felt sick.

The three of them were in front of me, waiting to finish the onslaught. I wasn't going to make it. Nevertheless, I was going down fighting.

I tried to hit at them only my fist didn't connect to the target, and I punched the air. I roughly made out their shapes and shadows, but couldn't focus on them properly, not that it mattered then. They shoved me against the wall and pinned up my arms. I struggled, but my movements made no difference. Monica's shadow descended upon me. I only felt her first few punches.

Reaching my pain barrier, my body became numb; too weak to register any more pain. I knew I was going to lose consciousness. I hoped it was sooner rather than later.

Eventually, she stopped. They let go of my arms, and I collapsed to the ground, only the battering continued. The three of them kicked me; every strike hit its mark. I lay helpless, sensing what was happening to me. However, physically, I was unable to feel anything.

April Secret Agent Contest #20

TITLE: 2020
GENRE: Young adult, futuristic fantasy

The last thing I want to do is get into a fight with the security patrol and be taken down by a stun gun. So, why am I standing in the hallway of District Thirteen High School, the second week of my junior year, watching the forbidden?

They built this huge stone fortress surrounded by a high chain-link fence and topped off with barbed wire last year in 2019. It's supposed to keep us safe from domestic terrorist attacks involving murder and explosives. The riots of 2015 destroyed most schools in my district. For four years, we met in churches and juvenile detention centers.

Daily power brownouts dim the lights in the hall here in Virgo, the last remaining city on the Northern Peninsula after the tsunami. I have excellent eyesight and make out four armed security guards in black full body armor with silver badges on their chests. They wear black helmets with plastic face covers. They remind me of giant killer insects.

The guards stand by the metal turnstiles, scanning students in. Boys and girls in school uniform of baggy blue pants and long-sleeved blue shirts plod along. By decree, we all wear blue sneakers, carry blue backpacks, and keep our hair cut no longer than one inch below our ears.
Students present their right arm and show the guard the spot where implanted ID numbers and personal information resides under the skin. Some kids rip the microchips out. Those poor creatures get sent off to be reconditioned and reprogrammed.

April Secret Agent Contest #19

TITLE: The Keeper
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

He watched me the entire time I was moving out of my house. Of course, I had no way of knowing he was there. Or that he existed, for that matter.

No one ever does.

I assumed that the noises I heard were the inconsolable echoes of an emptied house. They could have been anything: a mover making sure a closet was emptied; my uncle double checking that everything was locked up; even my imagination after a sleepless night. After all, I looked and there was nothing there.

Uncle Mike and my brother John were already waiting by the car. I went back inside to find my phone charger. Or so I lied. It would be my last time ever in these rooms; they deserved a proper goodbye. And me? I needed closure for sixteen years of living.

I navigated each room deliberately, running my fingers across the walls and woodwork in a desperate attempt to remember every detail. It was pointless. My home already felt unfamiliar. The rugs and furniture were gone now and the mahogany floors overtook the rooms like an eclipse. Eerie shadows from the light fixtures bounced from wall to wall searching for the family that hung there before the For Sale sign. The rooms even smelled different- woodsy and fresh, like soap and rain-kissed leaves.

Each time I entered a room, it echoed as if someone was following me, stopping just outside the door to wait for me.

April Secret Agent Contest #18

TITLE: Sketches from the Ash

I locked my car door. "I'm not going in," I said.

"Sorry, sweetie. Let's go." Mom spoke through a mouthful of bobby pins as she wound her curly dark hair into its knot and pulled a navy blue cloche hat over her forehead.

"Please? Dad said it was authentic."

Mom smiled as she checked her reflection in the rear view mirror. She started taming the curls around her face into ringlets. "Authentic doesn't always mean terrible, Eva."

"It does with Dad. And what's with the hat?"

"Isn't it cute?"

"No. It's weird. It looks too British. From World War II or something."

"Perfect! I picked it up in London on the house-hunting trip."

"Do you really have to wear it to my new school?" My mom was fussy about her looks, but she couldn't settle for jeans and sweaters like normal moms. It was hard enough moving to a new country every couple of years without my mom looking like she was playing dress up.

"I'll let you borrow it tomorrow," Mom said, closing her car door.

"Are you sure this is it?" I hollered through my shut window. I wasn't anxious to go inside with that hat. "It doesn't look like a school!"

"Yes. Come on now, honey. The grounds are lovely, aren't they!"

Mom was crazy. The place looked more like a poor retirement home than an expensive private school.

April Secret Agent Contest #17

TITLE: Other
GENRE: YA Romance/Fantasy

Robert Ferrald of Eschenburg had a good heart and very poor business sense. He also had three sons, children of the wife who was buried amid many a tear after the birth of the youngest. He had not remarried, a choice that was criticized almost as much as his business dealings, and for better or worse the sons had grown up motherless.

The oldest, who had been managing most of the details of his father's trade for years, was now poised to become a partner in his business. The middle son spent much of his time
courting several women at once, and the youngest, hopeless at most everything and prone to waste his days in reading, would be sent off that autumn to the university, where he could at least acquire the title of scholar, whatever good it may do him.

Alain, the youngest, had no strong objections to this plan. He was reluctant to live so far from his family, at least a hundred miles west of Eschenburg, but he looked forward to discovering what knowledge the professors could offer him that he hadn't already taught himself. When less than a month remained before he would depart for Delafontaine, he began counting down the days, so he'd know when he needed to start packing.

All of his plans meant nothing after the knock on the door.

On the morning of the seventeenth day before his departure, Alain left his bedroom and came downstairs to discover that he was nearly alone in the house.

April Secret Agent Contest #16

TITLE: Ice Blue, Poison Green
GENRE: YA paranormal

It ends today, I tell myself, gazing over the carpet of trees stretching to the horizon. My fingers brush the crimson pendant at my throat in promise. No more killing. No more hiding. No more running.

Today's the day--the day the war with the Ferraras ends.

Isn't it?

"Zola, are you ready?" The speaker bows, his new tuxedo crackling through the starch. After gently folding my cloak, I accept his proffered forearm.

"Are you?"

He squeezes my hand. "You don't have to do this, Zee. We'll fight them. I'll help you fight them. You're going to be a great leader."

"Great leaders don't lead their men into battle for nothing."

He stops and twirls me around, gently wrapping his hands around my waist. "Great leaders don't do things just because they've never been tried before."

"He's our only chance, Connor! If I don't accept this...We're weaker than
we've ever been."

"So are they."

With a gloved hand, I brush his cheek. "Are you with me?"

He covers my hand with his, completely obscuring any hint of yellow silk. "Whatever you choose."

April Secret Agent Contest #15

TITLE: Emma Undone

If the funeral were taking place in one of my Mom's novels, then it would be winter and it would be raining. The sky would be overcast, and there would be the distant rumble of thunder as the casket was lowered into the ground. The weather can't always match the occasion, though. Today the sky was a blinding blue, and in the manicured graveyard there was no escape from the Maryland sun.

My black dress grew damp, and my feet, enclosed in unaccustomed heels, were expanding by the second. I glanced at Mom, standing ramrod straight beside me, dressed in defiant yellow and movie star sunglasses. Despite makeup, her face was pale. Her bloodless lips were clamped together in the expression she had worn for the last two days, ever since she had walked into our newly rented apartment and announced, "Pack everything up, we're going home, your Grandfather died."

Beyond her stood my Uncle Greg. He was dressed in a sober black suit, his left arm around his daughter, Lilly. She was the only family member crying. Tears gently trickled down her face, in no way spoiling the loveliness of her features. If I had cried it would have been ugly, and my tears would have taken half my makeup with them, leaving me red eyed and puffy faced. I felt no urge to cry, though. A strange detachment had settled on me.

April Secret Agent Contest #14

TITLE: The Fast and The FAERIEous

Day two of the new school year and nothing had changed since the end of school last year. Oh, I had grown taller this summer and I had a new friend, Mike Chase, but Lisa Morris was still the queen bee and Bubba McGee was still the bully.

It didn't help that Bubba had been held back by his parents this last year. He was a huge thirteen-year-old in a class of eleven-year-olds--troll-sized, outweighing everyone by a couple of tons. I swear that when he walked by my desk his knuckles dragged the floor. And . . . he had facial hair.

There was just something totally wrong with a sixth grader growing a beard.

"Kermit Wilkie?"

I didn't know why Mrs. Dillard insisted on roll call. All she would have had to do was look over her glasses and check everyone's name off until she got to the newbies. It wasn't like she didn't already know the kids in the sixth grade, considering she taught all of us in the fifth grade last year. But no, she had to call roll. It must be a teacher thing.

We had a grand total of two new kids in class-besides Bubba, so he didn't really count. One was Mike, and the other newbie was a red-headed kid with a stupid name like Kermit. Sorry, dude, Kermit will always be a Muppet to me, not a kid.

April Secret Agent Contest #13

TITLE: Brothers Bears and Bad Guys
GENRE: Young Adult

Thomas crawled behind the rose bush. He pushed deep into the thorns, ignoring the painful scratches and leaching blood. Spiders dropped onto his head and caressed his hair. He let them, more terrified by what lay ahead. He froze.

Michael and his gang circled in front.

Thomas hated Michael and feared him more. At twelve years old, Michael's Hulk-like frame supported almost fifty five kilograms of rippling muscle. Shaggy, blond hair played against his tanned skin and green eyes. Coupled with a dimple in his chin and a splattering of freckles on his cheeks, he conveyed a comical and carefree look. Michael suckered people with his face. Not me,
Thomas thought.

"Where is that runt?" Michael growled.

"Ran to his mommy," Carson replied.

"Pipsqueak," Thomas whispered. Carson annoyed him.

Michael kicked a rock. It popped into the curb and leapt at the rose brush.

Please don't see me, Thomas prayed.

"Let's go," Michael ordered. "This is boring."

Michael broke away, leading his gang towards the arcade. Thomas stared into the alley across the street. His heart pounded. A spider crawled down his left ear lobe. He brushed it away.
He reached into his pocket and grabbed his house keys. He squeezed them like a child would grip a teddy bear upon waking from a nightmare.

"Just get to the alley Thomas," he whispered while practicing the next steps in
his mind's eye.

He plunged through the bushes, sprinted, and skittered across a patch of gravel. He gasped as his feet flipped from under him.

April Secret Agent Contest #12

TITLE: Squeaky Clean
GENRE: Young Adult

I want to make something clear from the beginning--I am not a burnout, druggie, or smoker. Despite what you may have heard about my family, I have never stolen a car or discharged a firearm, and I pay all the required taxes on the tips I get bussing tables after school at Clarke's. In short, just because I'm sitting on the hard wooden bench outside the principal's office,
next to Laguna High's all-time detention record holder (also known as my twin brother Dima), doesn't mean I did anything wrong.

Dima kicks his black motorcycle boots onto the principal's secretary's desk. He leans back like he's about to watch the Lakers kick the Celtics' a** on the flat-panel TV in our screening room.

"Get your feet down," I hiss. All we need is for Ms. Shirley to come back from the bathroom and catch Dima defiling the attendance records.

Dima drops his feet to the ground, but from the faint smile playing at his lips, I can tell he's just humoring me. Does he not realize he could be in serious trouble?

My heart is pounding at the near-heart-attack speed that has become routine since The Gregori Incident. "And take off your jacket."

"What's wrong with my jacket?"

The battered leather bomber jacket looks like something a mercenary might throw on just after assassinating a South American dictator. "Just take it off, okay?"