Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday!

Those of you who follow me on Twitter most likely saw my angst-ridden tweets yesterday afternoon. In the midst of writing my final chapter (almost done! almost done!), something happened that I didn't intend.

Someone died.

I didn't plan this, didn't want this, tried to talk myself out of this. I tweeted my struggle and was met with almost universal encouragement to go ahead and kill off the character.

And so.

*moment of bereaved silence*

The advice that rang truest? This tweet from Devon Ellington: If you don't want him to die, you care enough so the impact of the character's death will hit the audience even harder.

Devon's tweet clinched it for me.

So talk to me about death in your stories. Has it ever crept up on you like that, and you KNEW it was right? Or do you always carefully plan your character snuffs?

Oh. And in lieu of flowers, please send chocolate. If I decide to un-kill my character in the second draft, I'll send the chocolate back.

Unless I've eaten it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mini Are You Hooked #15

TITLE: The Man Who Did Too Much
GENRE: Mystery

Doctor Cannon was running late. She dashed in through the waiting room, but it empty.

"Is Gwen here yet?" she asked the receptionist.

"Not yet."

Gwen Littleton was always exactly on time for her therapy appointments, in spite of an apparent reluctance to come at all. Dr. Cannon frowned and went into her private office.

She almost didn't see the man in the perfectly pressed trench coat sitting quietly in the chair in the corner. She glanced back at the receptionist, who showed no sign that she knew he was there. But there he was, sitting where he would see her before she saw him. Neat, quiet, exuding
control like a goddamn spy. Exactly what you'd expect from Gwen's description, except Dr. Cannon had pictured him carrying a lance.

"You're George," she said.

"George Starling. Yes." Slight accent, vaguely British to go with the trench coat and the cool, lurking presence.

"Gwen sent you, didn't she?"

"Yes."

"Dammit!"

She slammed the door and threw her papers on the desk, then calmed herself and went to sit behind it. He sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and watched her.

"I can't talk to you about her," she told him.

"I'm aware of that."

"Then why are you here?"

"I believe Gwen was under the impression that I could talk to you instead.

"You can't take her therapy for her."

"It was that or cancel."

Mini Are You Hooked #14

TITLE: Estranged
GENRE: Fantasy

Jeremy slouched in the passenger seat, face pressed against the window, his breath steaming the cool glass. Outside, people in black drifted downhill, passing like a procession of shades under the dark, leafy oaks of the cemetery. Too few for one who had lived so long, but such numbers mattered little to the living, and even less to the dead.

He watched them go, scurrying from the moody clouds on the horizon, anxious umbrellas popping open as they fled the coming storm. Most were already moving on: masks of grief slipping smoothly from tear stricken faces, smiles returning, thoughts drifting once more from the eternal to the mundane. Jeremy didn’t blame them – couldn’t blame them – he’d moved on long before.

They pulled away, Jeremy’s gaze sliding lazily over the scene, everything mixing and blurring gray as they picked up speed. The rain started, a rough drizzle that pattered the hood of the black Mercedes and turned the dull gray of the sky into a wet haze. The wind kicked up and the rain slanted, pelting his window. Behind them, dark clouds gave chase.

“Would you like to talk?” Mary asked.

“About what?”

Jeremy didn’t move, but his eyes flicked to his sister. She looked elegant in her black skirt suit – if elegant was even appropriate for such a day – and her short brown hair hung neatly at
her shoulders. The mascara smeared lightly under her eyes evidence she still cared. At least more than he did.

Mini Are You Hooked #13

TITLE: HALFWAY TO ANYWHERE
GENRE: Literary Fiction

ARI

Tonight was meatloaf. It was quiet and just our forks.

Then Mom said, "I'm going to give her a call later."

Dad said, "Didn't you just talk to her?"

Mom said, "That was two days ago."

Dad didn't answer.

Mom said, "What's your point, Lev?"

Dad said, "These challenges...
well, they're par for the course to adulthood, aren't they? Maybe a little space would help her find her way."

That was about Steffi. I looked at her chair that no one is in it. It is an empty place and just three people now.

Mom said, "I hardly think I'm being overbearing."

Dad said, "I know, hon. I didn't say you were."

Mom said, "I'll just say hello and check in. It's not like I'm demanding to know what color her socks are, or, or, what she had for lunch."

Dad said, "Okay."

Mom said, "There's nothing wrong with being supportive."

Dad said, "Okay, Celie."

I said, "Is Steffi an adult?"

Mom said, "What?"

I said, "Dad said adulthood. Is she an adult?"

Mom said, "In my opinion, eighteen years old is still very much a part of adolescence."

Dad said, "Some would argue adolescence is an art fact."

I said, "What is that?"

Dad said, "It's something people make. Like tools, or-"

Mom made her voice loud and said, "Until Stephanie graduates from college and gets a job, she is not an adult."

I used to be the one in the higher grade, before my extra years.

Mini Are You Hooked #12

TITLE: Paramour
GENRE: Paranormal Romance


I break everything I touch.

That’s what my mother always told me. She thought the whole, ‘This is why we can’t have nice things,’ bit was invented with me in mind. I don’t think I was a particularly destructive kid – I was just a boy. I couldn’t help it.

I guess I still can’t help it.

“Mom?” I whisper, stepping into the room.

She doesn’t answer. She just sits on the edge of my old bed. Her hands are folded in her lap, her legs crossed at the ankles. Her long, graceful fingers coil into her palm, and I open my mouth to speak.

I want to tell her I’m okay, by some miracle I’m alive, but no words come out. They gurgle, trapped in my chest. Looking down, I see the shirt I wore earlier had been cut away. I blink to clear my vision, and find only the faintest smears of dried blood on my skin. And the
hole. A hole no bigger than a dime.

I raise my hand. The metal studs on my leather wrist band flash in the light from the sconce on the wall. I press my fingers to the hole. I need to muffle the odd sucking sound that should have been my breath.

It doesn’t work.

The hole is empty, dark, and fathomless, burrowing straight through me. I grope at my back, choking on my own blood when I feel the ragged edges of the much larger void in my back.

Mini Are You Hooked #11

TITLE: The Quest
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

Luke leaned back in his chair and gazed around the office in the back of the store, crowded with books. As usual, the store was empty. The store carried a handful of the current best-sellers to sell to the few tourists who somehow got lost on their way to somewhere bigger and more important and who happened to see a bookstore and think, "Maybe I should stop and find something to read," and he had a few regular customers who he found for and sold to rare and collectible books. However, the store was really a front for his other job. His real job. The job that kept him up at night pacing the floors in his lonely house.

He looked out the window of the office that faced the houses of those who lived in Kinston. The front of the store faced Main Street, although Luke never really understood why it was called that when it was the only public street in town. The street didn't even have a traffic light.

The phone rang and broke his waking reverie. "Matthews and Sons Books," he answered receiving a chuckle for the other end.

"Do you ever think that you'll change the name?" his sister, Emma, said. Luke smiled and closed his eyes as he thought about his vibrant sister. She was the only light in his life, and he missed her so much his heart ached.

Mini Are You Hooked #10

TITLE: Fie Eoin
GENRE: Fie Eoin

Fwap!

Tears sprung into the young woman's eyes as the ends of the whip sliced through her back.

Fwap!

The whip came from the other side this time. Small, sharp stones tipped the deer hide thongs and dragged along her tanned skin; up to six thongs were tied into the handle of each whip.

Fwap!

The broken nails of her dirty fingers pressed into the boulder in an effort to keep her from rocking forward. Flecks of new and old blood spotted the pocked rock - flesh sacrifices to the war god, Eoin, for over a century.

Don't cry out, Kindra Odion, don't you dare make a sound, she lectured herself as she braced for the next blow. She tried to remember how many strokes the man before her had taken before being allowed to come away from the boulder to stand at the base of the cliff. Six? Nine? Before she could grasp a number the whips came down again and she gritted her teeth to keep silent.

Fwap!

The final whip had only one thick thong, tipped with a large arrowhead. The men whipping her had the advancements of metal at their disposal, and Kindra thanked Eoin that ceremony dictated the use of traditional stone tips for the whippings.

Fwap!

The chant eased into silent anticipation as the crowd waited for her response. Had it been too much for her? Would she collapse from the pain or turn to face them as the others had, ready to fight?

Mini Are You Hooked #9

TITLE: The Customer is Always Right
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Sarah wiped the perspiration from her brow with the back of her hand while she rifled through a list of bookings for the evening. The air-conditioning inside the restaurant had blown again and now Bella's Place was not only cooking food, but its Saturday evening customers as well.

'I called yesterday. I spoke to you,' the woman with the big blonde hair said, ice in her voice, her long acrylic nails drumming the counter. 'I asked you to book a table for ten, for tonight. It's my mother's birthday.'

Sarah scanned the chaos on the restaurant floor. Customers sat waiting to be served drinks let alone their food and she didn't even want to look at the long queue of people waiting to be seated. Yet she couldn't help but notice Nina, the boss's daughter, slouched up against the coffee bar chatting up the hot young barista, completely ignoring the disaster surrounding her. Although Sarah had only been working at Bella's for a week, it was long enough time to learn that Nina 'the head waitress' did little waitressing. She was certain that Nina was the one who botched up the bookings the night before because the girl had spent the entire evening at the counter answering phones and taking tips. When Sarah's eyes returned to the blonde woman in front of her, she mustered up as sweet a smile as she could manage over gritted teeth.

'I am extremely sorry, Mrs Lacey.'

Mini Are You Hooked #8

TITLE: Steam Palace
GENRE: Steampunk

Lady Victoria Stratton cradled the dead baby in her arms. She huddled on her magnificent brass bed in the center of the master bedchamber of Stratton Manor. The beautiful girl was blue and still. For a heart-wrenching hour, the newborn had gasped and gurgled, then her motions ceased. Another child dead--gone before she could even meet her father. Curse that wretched King and his demands.

"I'm so sorry," said Beatrice. Her husband's sister approached, a youthful widow with no business at this manor. The oil lamps flickered against the night. "Please, let us lay her to rest. She's in God's hands now." She held out her arms to receive the corpse.

"No!" How could a mother not hold her child? "Everyone, leave me! Now!" The attendants gathered up the bloodstained birthing towels and shuffled off. Victoria motioned to Beatrice who followed. "You. Stay. I wish not to be alone."

She reclined in her bed, pressed the baby to her breast, and stroked her back in forlorn hope. Beatrice sat at her side and caressed Victoria's head and shoulders. Victoria slumped, unable to maintain her vigil. A newborn's cries awoke her.

"My baby! My baby is not dead!"

The tiny body had rolled away in the night, her eyes unblinking, her body cool and stiff. "NO!"

Beatrice stumbled out of a chair. "What?"

"Shh! Listen." The cries echoed from elsewhere in the manor. Victoria wrapped the body and rushed from the room, dizzy from her ordeal, and traced the sound.

Mini Are You Hooked #7

TITLE: The Reckoning
GENRE: Horror/Apocalypse

Jessica Newton was midway through her first toke of the night when she saw it high over the treetops. It was moving fast, on a northwest to southeast course. At first, she thought it was an airplane, a 747 streaking across the night sky on its way east, but the color -- a strange and unusually bright tinge of purple -- seemed wrong. More troubling, the object was losing altitude, and quickly. Although the night was warm, thick with humidity, she felt the hair on her arms stand at attention. She coughed into her hand, sending a puff of thick white smoke swirling around her face like she was the wicked witch of the West. Her eyes watered and burned, and she felt a little bit queasy.

"What's that?" she asked her boyfriend of six weeks, Lonnie Gaston, as she handed the roach back to him. "What's what?" Lonnie asked, not really paying attention to her. He took a long drag, expertly capturing the smoke and then holding his breath.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, careful not to lose her cool with Mr. Lonnie Gaston, who was proving to be a bit of a hothead and not as charming as advertised, notwithstanding his bitchin' hair, and a bit of a hothead. She had no desire to take another right cross to the cheek.

"That," she said, gently turning his stubbly chin in the direction of the as-yet-unidentified object. "There."

Mini Are You Hooked #6

TITLE: Kingmaker
GENRE: Contemporary Fantasy

Alex stared at his misshapen shadow. It was too big, broad out to the sides, confirmation of the things that had just burst from his body. As if responding to his fear, his brand-new wings wrapped around him in a soft, flexibly-feathery hug.

He startled backwards with a gasp and was suddenly airborne.

The ground shrank away. He screamed, aching where the wings had torn through like new teeth, and they reacted to his panic by disappearing. He fell like a rock.

He landed badly, crashing through the bushes and down the hill, completely out of control until he slammed into a tree. Pain throbbed in his leg, in his ribs, pounded behind his eyes. He managed one hysterical laugh. Had that just happened? With wings? Really?

There were no wings now.

But he could feel them. Furled inside somehow, quivering and ready. He laughed again, and this time it turned into a sob.

At least the leg would heal, probably in less than an hour. He'd always been a freak - but this was the first time it meant something he couldn't hide.

#

An hour later, he limped toward the hotel with plans to sneak through the kitchen. He'd healed, but he was still filthy. His shirt was in so many pieces he didn't know what to do with it besides ball it up and carry it in his fist.

He'd be in so much trouble if they caught him.

Mini Are You Hooked #5

TITLE: The Bearers of Life
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

"Watch him." Jordan grumbled under her breath as she sipped her coffee. For three days she had been pretending to enjoy a leisurely day off outside this stupid coffee bar all so she could keep an eye on the nameless pretty-boy in front of her. She'd had enough. There were other things she needed to focus on.

Flipping open her phone, she typed out a text message. "I want an explanation." Then pushing the button with a little too much force, she hit send and put it back down to wait. If she was going to waste her time with this pointless task, she was damn well going to know why.

"Can I get you a refill?" The deep voice of her intended target came from right behind her, taking Jordan off guard. The jolt of surprise shot straight through her and into her coffee: her phone and her lap we now completely soaked.

Oh crap!" she gasped, jumping up at the shock of being covered in her own drink.

"Are you alright, Miss?" he stammered, grabbing the towel he had in his apron to try and sop up the mess.

Oh very smooth, Jordan, she cursed herself. Way to blend in.

"It's fine. Don't worry about it." She tried to play it off like any normal person would. Taking the towel out of his hands, she cleaned up whatever was left. "I guess I just wasn't paying attention to what I was doing."

Mini Are You Hooked #4

TITLE: Remembrance
GENRE: Contemporary Fantasy

Shame, guilt; she carried both. It was her fault, if anyone learned of her dishonor--shudder came over Arianwen as she continued her brisk pace through the forest. To leave was her only option. It was imperative that she pass the clover field and ley lines before the sun came over the horizon. Sulien and Tarrant would be furious if she were to be found out here. They'd have her head if they knew of her plans. A shiver of fear rippled through her body. With a tug she gripped her cloak tighter to her breast and hurried along. As she circumvented their energy circle her nerves jangled with worry. Should she step within it, they would know she was out here; they would wonder why and come. The plan had to work; there was just no other way. An errant tree root made her stumble and she fell to her knees on the ground. Her long robe caught on a jut of an uprooted tree branch, as she undid it she noticed it was torn. Just like her, she thought as she held the frayed cloth in her hands.

It was her circle robe, forest green with embroidered runic symbols on it for protection, guidance and wisdom. There were also a sun and moon, a hawk, flowers and a tree, all her personal talismans. Sulien and Tarrant had similar robes, but in different colors and symbols. Except for one, the unity circle.

Mini Are You Hooked #3

TITLE: Knightfall
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

The guy's aura betrayed him. Whatever he was up to was bad. Like tearing wings off butterflies bad.

"Yeah, I got him," she said to the terrier pawing at her leg.

A shiver crawled up her spine as she stood frozen in place under the shade of the wing, watching him continue toward her. The plane was the only thing that stood between her and the man no more than twenty feet away.

She grabbed her logbook and pretended to read it in one hand as she clicked off the safety on the gun she held in her other hand, never letting the guy out of her sight.

As long as she could remember, she could see the energy of living things. On more than one occasion, her gift had been helpful since it was like having a built-in lie detector on steroids.

Like today.

Because everything about this guy's aura screamed foul. And that big ball of ugly intently focused on Kerra was now only ten feet away and closing the distance.

"Yo! Can I help you?" she yelled out, waving the logbook in the air.

He didn't respond. Instead, he just kept walking toward her, unfazed.

I can't believe the hairy berries on this guy. The fool was an idiot to try to steal a plane with its pilot standing right next to it. Unless...

Oh. S***.

Mini Are You Hooked #2

TITLE: Always Read the Fae Print
GENRE: urban fantasy

Someone should have cut me off after the fourth Bacardi & Coke.

I sat on the side of the bed, whimpering at each bang on the canal-side window. So far, my first morning as a twenty-six-year-old kind of sucked: my head pounded like crazy, my throat felt parched, and more importantly, I definitely recognized the blurry room around me as Arjan's. Which meant houseboat. Which meant spinny room. Which meant, succinctly, ugh.

For the next semi-random one-night-stand, would a speck of foresight be too much to ask for?

And what caused that banging on the window, anyway? Hangover or not, it sounded way too loud to be a bird pecking at the glass.

I forced myself upright--holy crap, the wooden floor was cold--and hoped the room would stop moving soon. This hangover-houseboat combination was definitely not up for repeats. Never ever.

The alarm clock caught my eye: ten past ten. Oh, frick. Willem would kill me if I showed up late for work again.

I shuffled closer. Thick curtains obscured the morning light. Scrounging up courage, I pulled them aside a fraction of an inch. Still enough to make me flinch at the sunlight reflected on the Schinkel canal.

Yanking the curtains shut and diving back under the covers to snuggle up with Arjan sounded like an excellent plan. I resisted--less out of misplaced toughness than the urge to stare dumbly at the thing hitting the window. For all the weird things in my life, I hadn't expected this.

Mini Are You Hooked #1

TITLE: Hunting Delilah
GENRE: Thriller/Crime

The pointer scraped over the whiteboard and Delilah sighed. She glanced around the hotel suite and noted that all three of the others were nodding, eyes focused hungrily on the plans being laid out before them. Amateurs. Sure, she needed the cash this job could bring just as much as anyone. Guaranteed to be a chunk of bills paid out, maybe ten thousand a man. It was an inspired hit on an illegal gambling operation.

Inspired by the movies. Delilah sighed again, mostly for effect this time, and rose to her feet.

"You can stop there, Charlie. I'm out," she said.

The rangy, middle aged man turned toward her, his pointer stick thwacking to a halt.

"There a problem?" he asked.

"Nah, no problem," she said. She had to be careful here, be nice but firm about it. She'd been referred to this job by Cardiff, a mutual acquaintance. "I'm a driver. What you need for this," and she motioned to the parking garage plans and the ramp he wanted her to magically get a car over, "this needs a movie stunt team. Not worth the risk for me. Sorry guys."

One of the guys, a lock man, she guessed from his pinched look and small build, jumped up too.
"This is what we get for lettin' a woman on a job. You just gonna let her walk?" His voice grated, making Delilah happier about her decision. She wanted out now, out of this room full of wishful thinkers...

Submissions Are Now Closed

Our 15 entries will post at 2 pm EDT!

Submissions Are Now Open

On your mark, get set, go!

Call For Submissions: A Mini "Are You Hooked"

Okay! We've just wrapped up another awesome Secret Agent contest that focused solely on children's fiction. And I don't want all you writers of adult fiction to pine away during the month of June, which is (purposefully) free of Secret Agents.

So. Beginning THIRTY MINUTES FROM NOW, I'm opening submissions for an in-house critique session for ADULT FICTION ONLY!

Submission guidelines:

  • Submit the first 250 words of your manuscript, COMPLETED OR NOT (but at the very least carefully proofread!).
  • Submissions will be open from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm EDT or until 15 entries have been received, whichever comes first.
  • All genres of adult fiction EXCEPT EROTICA will be accepted.
  • As always, please use the following format:
SCREEN NAME: Your Screen Name Here
TITLE: Your Title Here
GENRE: Your Genre Here

(Followed by the excerpt here.)

* No "chapter one," chapter titles, etc.
* Submissions go to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com. They DO NOT GO to my facelesswords address. Or any other address.

The 15 excerpts will begin posting at 2:00 pm EDT today!

Post your questions below.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Another Success Story!

This letter, which I am sharing with permission, speaks for itself.


Dear Authoress,

Thank you so much for your dedication and hard work in the writing community. Perhaps people don't say it enough, but I want you to know that your work is very appreciated and admired by myself and much of the Toronto literary scene. We discuss your blog often, and relay the good news, tidbits, tips and anecdotes to one another in our communal "Office" (i.e. the local Pub) often.

I'm very pleased to be able to inform you that there is some more good news for you to share with your readers.

In April 2009 I pitched my novel "Triptych" to Dragon Moon Press, the full was requested, and the manuscript eventually turned down due to some style and plot issues that the editor wanted me to address.

Heartbroken and determined to do better, I turned to Miss Snark to help improve my opening (I wrote a whole new prologue based on the advice of some of your commentors), to attack my hook (they were right, it WAS too confusing, and I added another three paragraphs to start the action just as the bullet left the barrell, rather than when the body hit the floor) and to even make sure that my character's first kiss was as sensual and strange as I hoped (lots of fantastic feedback there, including catching where I spelt my MC's name wrong. Woe!).

I worked very hard (adding about 30,000 more words and deleting about 10,000 in the process), racking up what I would assume were over a hundred hours worth of editing, and learned in the process the differences between the act of writing and the act of editing, both of which are rewarding crafts when one is will to be honest and ruthless and loving with their text. And all the while, I continued to reread my Miss Snark comments to make certain was wasn't continually comitting the same crimes.

With those changes under my belt, I resubmitted to DMP and... was offered a book deal!

So, I wanted to offer a massive thank you to both you, Authoress, and the Miss Snark community. You people are truly selfless, encouraging, and dedicated to your crafts.

I wish everyone the same luck I had, and I hope that when "Triptych" comes out in April 2011, that each of you will enjoy it! You - Authoress and the Miss Snark Family - all helped to make it what it is.

Thank you,
J.M. Frey

Monday, May 24, 2010

And A Super WINNER LIST!

Here's the Big Announcement, in Ms. Ortiz's own words:


Thanks so much to all who participated, and thanks to Authoress for taking the time to host this contest every month!

Please note that while there were several posts where I commented that I would, indeed, read more, I've chosen to limit the prizes to those who really did stand out the most. Of course if you'd like to query me in the future, please feel free by visiting our web site. That being said, there are a few of you who already have either been rejected by me OR who have partials/fulls with me - note that my comments were strictly about the 250 words you posted and NOT in reference to what I have read in the past / have yet to read.

Also please note that this is a very subjective industry. It's quite clear by the wide variety of opinions after each post that not everyone shares the same tastes. Same with agents. So note that if I said it wasn't for me, I'm sure it may appeal to someone else.

As for prizes....

Honorable mentions: I'd love to read the first thirty pages, along with a synopsis and query.
  • #3: GREYSKIN
  • #18: DEATH IN THE BAYOU
  • #24: Undecided
  • #29 REVENGE OF THE PINK GRANNY PANTIES
  • #42: SOUTHERN HOSTILITY
  • #46: GILDED
  • #53: PRETTY GIRLS MAKE GRAVES

Winner: I'd love to read the first 100 pages, along with a synopsis and query.

  • #50: DEVOLUTION
  • #Alt-3: DAUGHTERS OF BRIGIT
----
Congratulations, all! Please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for specific submission instructions.

Secret Agent Unveiled: KATHLEEN ORTIZ

A huge amount of thanks to the delightful and dedicated Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates.

Kathleen's Bio:

Kathleen Ortiz began her career in publishing at Ballinger Publishing as an editorial assistant and interactive media designer for the young adult section, working to boost the magazine’s online presence through social networking. She then moved on to uwirepr.com as online editor for the features, art & entertainment sections. She has also taught high school classes as a visual media instructor.

Kathleen is currently Associate Agent and Foreign Rights Manager at Lowenstein Associates. She is seeking children's books (chapter, middle grade, and young adult) and young adult non-fiction. While Kathleen enjoys everything from light-hearted and humorous to dark and edgy, she'd love to find an amazing romance from a male point of view or a steampunk with fantastic world building.

Lowenstein Associates believes with the continued demand for online marketing in publishing, a strong online platform is essential for today's authors. Kathleen uses her background in interactive media design to assist Lowenstein Associates’ clients with branding themselves. She maintains a blog on tips for querying and publishing at Neverending Page Turner and may also be found on Twitter.

What she's looking for right now:

For MG I'm big on coming of age stories, funny or adventure. For YA I tend to lean toward dark or edgy or topics that push the limits of everyday YA. I'd really love a good steampunk, YA or MG. Most of all, I'd REALLY love a good YA romance from a male POV. I also kind of have a thing for tragic love stories (think Othello, Tristan and Isolde, and Romeo and Juliet). I don't really want remakes of those stories but something along that vein would be great. I have a variety of tastes, but if I were to sit here and list them all, I wouldn't be able to get to my list of fabulous partials that need to be read :) In a nutshell, if it's YA, MG or a chapter book and it's polished and a plot that's unique and not overdone, shoot me a query. I'll be happy to let you know if it's something I'd be interested in reading.

Yay, Kathleen!

I was particularly excited for the opportunity to work with this month's Secret Agent. She's passionate, big-hearted, and awfully funny. If you're not following her on Twitter, you should be!

Winners coming up.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Fricassee

There's nothing quite like the energy poured forth during a Secret Agent contest. The blog froths and bubbles on its own while I watch.

Yay!

I've got to say a few things about How To Receive Feedback, though. Because, yeah, I saw some stuff out there I didn't like. (Not here. Elsewhere.)

Throwing our stuff out there for critique can make us feel naked. In a cold room. With people staring. And it helps to be able to vent that angst so we can walk through it and keep going, hopefully to receive the feedback in a constructive manner. So vent away.

But if you're going to boo-hoo to your friends about the "snark" in your comment box, I'm not impressed. For two reasons:

1. If it's really snark, YOU NEED TO TELL ME ABOUT IT. I don't have time to read each of the hundreds of comments that pour into my inbox. And if something truly snarky comes through, I WILL delete it. Boo-hooing about it somewhere else doesn't help me police the blog.

2. Often, a comment labeled "snark" by a sensitive author isn't snark at all. It's bluntness. And yes, there's a difference. If you can't tell the difference yet, you aren't ready for the harsh environment that is the publishing industry. GROW YOUR THICK SKIN NOW.

I've blogged about this before, sharing the actual email I sent to a distraught writer who was struggling with negative feedback. No, he didn't label the feedback "snark." He took it much more personally. But he prevailed. And made bigger strides in his journey as a writer than he probably realizes.

Honestly? I expect you to be ready (emotionally, mentally) to receive the feedback you'll get if you enter a Secret Agent contest. If you're not there yet, do your fellow authors the service of NOT TAKING A PLACE in the contest. There are others who are ready, who are willing to take the negative with the positive and make good things happen with their manuscripts.

And actually? That's the vast majority of you.

This blog is NOT a snark-o-rama. The regulars know this. The seasoned writers know this. And the folks offering critique? They are sacrificing a lot of time. A LOT. I watch some of them go through a dozen or more at a pop. Some read and comment on EVERY ENTRY. If you're going to then complain about their comments, you are doing them a disservice. All of them. Because you have no idea how much personal time each of them has sacrificed in an effort to give something back to the writing community of which they are part.

Also? If the result of your boo-hooing is a gaggle of well-meaning friends popping onto your entry and singing the praises of your excerpt as though you are the next King or Rowling, then your friends are doing YOU a disservice as well. If all you want is a pat on the back and undying admiration, share your book with your mom, your fourth grade reading teacher, and your dog. None of them will have anything bad to say about it. They will also have absolutely nothing constructive to offer, but at least you'll have warm fuzzies.

And hey. YOU KNOW HOW PASSIONATELY I CARE ABOUT THIS COMMUNITY. If I didn't care, I wouldn't do this. And if you're seriously hurt or confused by a comment on your excerpt, I'm the one who needs to know about it. TELL ME.

But here's the caveat: If I don't think it's snark, I'll tell you. And I won't delete it.

As in, this is snark:

I fell asleep after the second sentence. This has got to be the most boring, poorly written opening I've ever read in my life. Someone needs to hide all the computers and typewriters at your house.

And this is not:

I lost interest after the second sentence. While the setting is intriguing, there wasn't anything here to make me care about the main character. There was a lot of telling, too much backstory. This might not be the best place to start your story.

If you think the second example is "snark" then you're not ready for an honest assessment of your work. Sure, a critique like that is going to sting. No one has promised us a pain-free ride, yes? But we've got to buck up. Comments pointing out potentially serious flaws in our work are meant to SAVE US.

Okay, that sounded more dramatic than I meant it to. But I think you understand me.

This blog is one of the "safer" places to throw your work. I'll do my best to keep it that way for you. But you're going to have to direct your "boo-hoos" to me, or I can't do my job.

REAL boo-hoos. Snark. Personal attacks. That sort of thing. I'll get rid of it in a heartbeat.

I promise.

So. Onward. With big hugs, as always.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Editing/Formatting Requests

I've had several requests for fixes and they've all been easy.

If you see an error in your submission, please don't hesitate to email me. I'm just sitting here, yanno, writing. And keeping one eyeball on the contest.

Some good stuff, yes?

And now, back to my WIP...

May Secret Agent #ALT-4

TITLE: THE KEEPER
GENRE: Middle Grade



The last day of school arrived on what should have been the perfect summer day. You remember that kind of day, don’t you? When the sun rises in a spectacle of hot pink and day-glow orange and floats in a pale blue sky, with wispy, ribbon-candy clouds; the sweet tanginess of dew-covered grass tickles your nose, and you have the whole, perfect day to explore the world.

Well, today is not that day. Nope. Not even close. Not if you’re Jack Wilkes.

It was bad enough having History as the last class of day, on the last day of school, at the beginning of summer, but to make matters even worse, this was a summer Jack had been dreaming of, and now, dreading it at the same time.

Doc Walsh was late for class – again –so Jack, Tyler and Matt, in their usual back-of-the-room huddle, had time to discuss Jack’s dilemma – the Fresh Air Kid.

“Mom says he’s twelve, same as me, and that he needs to stay with us,” Jack explained. “Says he’s from a broken family and could really use a friend – whatever that means. Oh yeah – his name is Calvin.”

“Wow! That sucks! You have to share your room with a complete stranger . . . all summer?” Tyler snorted. “Sticking a city kid in Vermont for the summer is like throwing a river trout into Archer’s Pond! HA!” Tyler roared, winking at a small pod of girls in the front. They blushed and giggled.

May Secret Agent #ALT-3

TITLE: Daughters of Brigit
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy

The town square was empty when Owen returned for his mother’s body. She was still hanging from the gallows, a black mass against the dark night. He’d heard people describe loss as a hollowed out feeling but all he felt was waves of white-hot anger ever since she was taken away three days ago. He clenched his fists and pushed the feelings into a corner of his heart so that he could focus on cutting her down. Pulling a knife from his belt, he ascended the wooden stepstool. He held his mother’s body close to release the tension on the rope, and then he sawed through until she fell into his arms.

Unprepared for the momentum of their two bodies, he stumbled from the stool. Owen had thought of his mother as petite; he hadn’t realized how heavy she would be in death. He struggled to regain his footing finally laying her down with care. With the burlap sack covering her head and dressed in the simple muslin shift of prisoners, she could be any townswoman. Not his mother, wife to a Clansman. The thought of his father filled Owen with rage and as he cut the twine closing the burlap sack against his mother’s neck, it felt like a rebuke to his father. Proof of what Father had allowed. Owen pulled off the sack and his mother’s dark hair tumbled out over his hands. It was the same hair, unchanged by death, and it allowed Owen a moment’s denial.

May Secret Agent #ALT-2

TITLE: COUNTING CHANGE
GENRE: MG

Two hundred and forty five days ago, after my father left, I started counting all the changes in my life. The list is long.

Sixty days since Mama quit smoking. Two days till my first day of middle school. Fifty-eight days till my little sister Katie, turns six, and thirteen years till she can move out. One and eighty days since I cut my hair so short, anyone who doesn't know me, thinks I'm a boy.

Now Mama wants me to visit my father. And that's just not going to happen. I don't think she can make me.

Sixty-eight days after the accident, Mama found the first cross, planted upright in the very spot on our parking strip where Jack Donner slammed on the gas pedal instead of the brake. It's been sixty-nine days since Mama took the rough wood cross out of the ground and threw it in the woodpile to burn. Today, two hundred and sixty nine days later, there's a new cross on our lawn. It's the ninth one.

Mama takes a paint chip, Pink Boa, and sets it down beside our red kitchen cupboard. "I want that cross off the lawn."

"It's not on the lawn, Mama." I slide the red kitchen curtain back and catch sight of the new cross someone jammed into the same spot. This one is painted white. "It's on the parking strip."

May Secret Agent #ALT-1

TITLE: The Scion
GENRE: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

Behzad woke to darkness. The fire had been reduced to glowing embers and the sun had set long ago. Moonlight peaked in through the openings in her curtains, silver against dark colors of her rugs.

Her throat was dry and her head pounded. The dream was still fresh in her mind, making her hands shake. She forced her body to relax, loosening the muscles in her shoulders and legs.

But no amount of relaxation would wipe the sound of a cracking whip from her mind. And it wouldn't wipe the smell of her cell or the sounds of her kidnappers goading.

She turned over, her fingers blindly reaching for the bottle of vodka. They closed around the bottle neck and brought it to her lips, but nothing came out. Even when she lay back and tipped it as far it could go.

She swore and threw it across the room.

It was eerily quiet. If she had stayed at the castle, no matter the time, she would have heard servants and their footsteps. She would have heard papers being rustled on the second floor and generals pacing. But her father's apartment was empty.

Just thinking of why she had fled the castle made her heart pound in trepidation. It was home รข€�" had been for the past four months. But she refused to be there the day of her mother's arrival. The covers were heavy and their heat made the nausea resting in her stomach rise up.

May Secret Agent #60 (redacted)

*redacted*

May Secret Agent #59

TITLE: Charm Bracelet
GENRE: women's fiction

North Kensington Library
Notting Hill, London
March 1992 Midnight
The girl sat in the shadows weeping, her fingers edged with white as they clutched a copy of Jane Eyre. Stop crying, only babies do that. You're safe until tomorrow. She opened the hardbound volume, tilted it toward the light from the window, and began reading aloud. The sound of the familiar words calmed her, as did the precise, black letters and evenly balanced columns. Reading was better than the vodka her mother loved so much. Books never failed to soothe and comfort. Grateful, the girl took a pen out of her bag, turned to the very last page, and wrote in big, loopy cursive. Careful, future reader,
This is more than a simple story. For me, it's a portal to a better world, and if you love to read like I do, then we have a bond that lasts forever.

Or for as long as libraries exist.

Daisy xoxo

A half-smile lighting her face, she studied the signature for a moment. If Jane were real, Daisy thought, she wouldn't like my scribbling in this book. Concentrating until her brain hurt, she pictured the governess on the other couch, and a few moments later, there the lady was. A figment of Daisy's active imagination, completely unreal, and yet, having any sort of companion was better than being alone.

May Secret Agent #58

TITLE: "They Call Me Roxie
GENRE: Middle Grade Fiction

Mama says I'm not supposed to lie. To anyone. Ever. For any reason. The end. But, she doesn't know Harlow. If she did, she'd understand a lot about lying. I'd bet she'd think it's okay to lie, if it might keep my face from running into Harlow's fist.

As soon as my best friend Shannon heard what happened, she had to rub it in. "Meggy, if Harlow hit you hard enough, your nose could end up looking like an evil-bad-guys' with a big bump in the middle. No more cute little pixie nose. You might even grow a wart on it."

She might've been right even though her saying it got on my nerves. And she was smiling, which made me want to spit at her. But since I wasn't sure how good a bumpy villain nose would look with green eyes and stringy brown hair, and since someone who looked like that needed to keep their friends, I thought I'd better figure a way out of my mess.

A mess I never intended to get into, of course. I had a way of sliding into these things. Like Ziploc pants on an icy driveway-the coolest trick I ever invented-I could get myself into interesting situations with the most normal, unexpected things. Like, in this case, a piece of paper.

My first-ever-almost-fight started when I walked down the
hallway brushing my hand against the blue and red lockers that only the
fifth and sixth graders got to use.

May Secret Agent #57

TITLE: Dear Anna
GENRE: Middle Grade

Dear Anna,

You'll never believe what I just did! Remember when you went to Sassy Salon and cut off all your hair for Locks of Love? And I was too scared to do it too? Well, meet The New and Improved Pansy.

Actually, I didn't go somewhere fancy like Sassy Salon. I put my hair in a ponytail and then... .I chopped it all off. Taa-daa! It sure feels weird not to have all that thick hair against my neck.

This year, I'm going to be different. When you get better, you'll be shocked to meet The Extraordinary (Incredible Too) Pansy Smith!

Love, your best friend 4ever, Pansy (with short hair)

Here's the thing about feeling brave. It's easy to do when you're sitting on your canopy bed, surrounded by stuffed animals, writing a letter to your very best friend in the world. It's something totally different when you're walking down the hall on the first day of fifth grade with a lopsided haircut without your best friend by your side.

My heart thumped. I tucked a strand of hair behind one ear and stared down at my shoes. One pink... .and one blue!

Uh-oh.

I drew in my breath and clamped a hand over my mouth.
Turning into an extraordinary person meant getting noticed for all the right reasons: Cutting off your hair to give to Locks of Love. Becoming a straight-A student. Winning contests and being good at stuff, just like Anna.

May Secret Agent #56

TITLE: Fab & Faery
GENRE: Humorous YA fantasy

Do you know what my secret dream is? I'd love to bathe in beads. I'd
fill a tub with rose quartz, citrine, and peridot, and then I'd slip
in with tiny Opaltone crystals in my hair. There'd be lots of candles
and I'd wear glittery makeup. How fab would that be? It could be a
music video! Dorian would probably go for it. He's the lead singer of
Phaeri Wings, my favorite band ever. He's got raven black hair and
green eyes, and he's totally dreamy. Maybe he'd be in the video... I
could pretend to drown in the beads, and he'd come in, his hair all
messy and his chest glistening with sweat, and he'd lift me up, and
then we'd -

"Miss Ravenstar?"

Drat. Why is it that someone has to bother you smack-dab in the middle
of the most delicious and meaningful daydream?

"Aren't these beads a bit too girly for a forty-three-year-old?" Mrs.
Honeytree asked, her watery eyes glittering behind her bottle-bottom
glasses.

I closed my eyes and counted silently to ten. Mrs. Honeytree wanted to
buy her unmarried daughter something that would dazzle the town's
bachelors, and nothing was spicy enough for her. It was obviously time
for my 'desperate mothers of singles' talk, which I had adapted from
an article in Fab'n Faery (that mag is a necessity of life, like lip
gloss).

"Mrs. Honeytree," I said, lowering my voice so that it sounded all
meaningful and mysterious. "Your daughter deserves these beads."

May Secret Agent #55

TITLE: Welcome to Coventry
GENRE: YA

Avery Desjardins and her mother watched as the flames and smoke poured out of the small country store. A white crucifix was painted across what was left of the front door and underneath it was the message: 'May God Save Your Soles.'

Avery sighed. They could have at least spelt 'souls' right. She doubted this was done because they had made some kind of fashion faux pas.

She knew it hadn't been a good idea to open up a neo-pagan book shop right smack in the midst of the most radical Baptist region in the country. She had tried to tell her mother, but Natalie wouldn't listen.

Avery turned and put an arm around the slender woman by her side. Tears made clean trails through the ash and soot on the woman's cheeks and Avery squeezed her shoulders protectively. The sound of sirens came from somewhere in the distance.

* * *

"I'm sorry Avery." Her mother said for the fifteenth time as they continued to pack their belongings.

"Mom, stop saying that! It's not your fault."

Natalie continued to fold clothes but was tight lipped. "I should have listened to you. And the cards. All the signs were there but I was just soready to settle, you know?"

Avery rolled her eyes. "I know mom." "Me too."

May Secret Agent #54

TITLE: The Faster Shoes
GENRE: Middle Grade

"Give them back," shouted Topher Morgen racing down the aisle toward the locker room door. He lowered his shoulder and barreled through it. Once outside, he plowed into the crowd of kids pouring out of Fox Ridge Middle School. Topher craned his neck and scanned the sea of heads looking for the blond culprit. Gotcha, he spotted the tall eighth grader pushing through the crowd. Topher took off--his eyes fixed on the back of Brady Cooper.

"Watch it," said an eighth grader, shoving Topher out of his way.

Topher stumbled, putting a hand down to keep from falling. Back on his feet, he wove through the students and cut through a pack of girls. One of them shrieked. Others hurled insults but Topher wasn't listening. He had to catch Brady.

Out of the herd, Topher picked up speed. His eyes narrowed. Rounding the gym and heading toward the tennis courts, his socks ripped against the asphalt. The loose rocks from the blacktop cut into the balls of his feet. Not my socks too, he thought. How was he going to explain this to Mom?

Topher saw Brady stop on a tennis court. This was his chance. Topher's lungs burned as he sprinted toward his enemy. Hunched over momentarily, Brady spun around. Topher could tell from Brady's narrow pointy face--game over. Brady held Topher's shoes, tied together by the laces, and shouted, "Gopher, you want them? Come and get them." He chucked the shoes high into the air.

May Secret Agent #53

TITLE: Pretty Girls Make Graves
GENRE: YA Paranormal

Strange things go through your head when you're having an MRI. And I'm not just talking about the electromagnetic currents, although that certainly does cause a flicker of scientific curiosity. I mean things like if my hair will grow out right, or if my mother would let me get my favorite band's new CD, or who it might be that cleans the insides of these machines, or if Adam and Eve had belly buttons.

That I'm thinking so clearly at all is a miracle, they tell me. The number of patients who can function as well as I can after the type of brain surgery I underwent is not an impressive figure. According to them anyway. Maybe it's just my amateur opinion, but when someone goes poking metal objects into an organ as complicated as a brain, prodding around in there as if dipping pieces of fruit into a chocolate fondue pot, I'd be impressed if the person who'd been operated on didn't come out of surgery having attained the glorious functioning level of drooling all over their fecal-stained hospital gown.

Of course, it's not as if I came out of the operation scot-free. My recovery has been only partially successful so far. Sometimes I forget what I'm doing in the middle of doing it. Sometimes I forget names. But worst of all, I can't remember ever coming to the hospital to have brain surgery.

"Try to keep still, Faith," says the doctor hidden behind the protective glass.

May Secret Agent #52

TITLE: The Gulf of New Mexico
GENRE: Middle Grades


Addison spit blood on the rocks. He struggled to his feet and then swayed backward before he righted the weight of his top-heavy, red backpack. All around Addison were boulders the size of small cars, and the lake water lapped against them. He squinted and looked up to the rock ledge, the one that he was pushed off. Addison couldn't hear any voices, and the silence crawled over him like spiders.

For the past ten days this small Canadian island on Lake Horntide was alive with the laughter and shouts of 36 middle school boys. Now nothing.

Addison Willows knew about islands in a way that most boys know how to retrieve a stray ball from behind a locked gate. He lived with his grandparents on a small island in a vast Kentucky lake. Living on a private island didn't mean he was wealthy. There was nothing envious about Sleek Tartan Island. It was more of an accidental island with no trees and lousy soil that was good for two things: growing cacti and making concrete. About sixty years ago someone said that to his grandfather as a saw-toothed joke, but Addison's grandfather was not a humorist. He accepted it as the practical advice that it was. So that's what he did for a living: grew cacti and made concrete statues.

On all fours, Addison climbed a steep rock and reached a scraggly dirt trail that snaked across the island and back toward the campsite.

May Secret Agent #51

TITLE: Netherpoint
GENRE: Upper MG Fantasy

People who are afraid of water should never live on an island.

Of course, Evelyn Madden had never told anyone about her fear of the ocean. No one seemed to notice when she hung back on the beach, never allowing anything past her knees to get wet. During the school year, when McFaegen-Doughty was crammed with students and schedules and little free time, it was easier. In the summertime, though, when nobody was supposed to be there, it was hard to hide from the ocean’s call. And during the past two months, Evelyn had used every excuse she could think of to avoid joining Wade and Darrin on their watery excursions, most of which were expressly forbidden.

Today, she had run out of excuses.

“You can sit in the middle,” Darrin said as he and Wade lowered the small boat onto the sand. “On the bottom, if you want.”

Evelyn looked inside the boat at the narrow seat in the middle. “I wouldn’t mind watching from the shore.”

“Come on, Evelyn,” Wade said. “Give us a hand.”

They pushed the boat into the lagoon until it stopped scraping the sand and began to bob in the shallows. Evelyn looked at Wade—tall, confident, thick hair tied back in a red bandanna—and reminded herself that she wanted to be there, not left alone in the girls’ dorm with nobody but the doting Miss Lila for company.

Get in the boat before they give up on you.

The lagoon, silently foreboding despite its beauty, curled around the boat as they made their way toward the center. Evelyn grasped the edges, bracing her arms in order to stay balanced.

May Secret Agent #50

TITLE: Devolution
GENRE: YA Dystopian

For a species that had been predicting its own destruction as long as
humanity had, we were decidedly unprepared when it actually happened.
You'd think Hollywood's fascination with various forms of apocalypse
would have been like Survival 101 for the modern man: what to do in
the case of a zombie outbreak (have good cardio), an outbreak of Ebola
(avoid monkeys), takeover by machines (follow the white rabbit), or a
tidal wave washing over the Alps (build an ark). But when The End
marched in with the familiar face of war and the lights went out,
everyone just stood around wondering how our lives had turned into a
late night viewing of The Road Warrior. Except instead of sand and
the Feral Kid, we got snowdrifts and mozzies the size of sparrows. The
world might not be over yet, but it sure the hell ain't what it used
to be.

#

I walked out of the bathroom and tossed the package of condoms I found to Mikey.
He examined the faded box and waggled his eyebrows at me. "Extra
pleasure!" As if I could care less - it wasn't like I was the one
who'd be using them.

"Spare me the details." I resumed rooting through the contents of the
long-abandoned kitchen on the offside chance of finding something
useful to take back with us. This place looked like it had been
relatively untouched, and the tool shed had yielded a few gems, if
nothing else.

"They're expired." His tone caught my attention more than his words.

May Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Mega Girl
GENRE: Middle Grade Contemporary Fantasy

I've known forever that I'm different.

And I don't mean different like Flower Filpot whose parents are vegans and
pack her bag lunches full of stuff like soyloaf sandwiches on spelt bread
and flax seed cookies.

No, I'm different in a different way.

Which is why I'm standing at the foot of the Pittmans' hundred-year-old oak
tree again when I've got only sixteen minutes to get to school.

I push my glasses up my nose. On a normal day I'd be staring at the Pittmans'
cat Stan. According to Mrs. Pittman, their other cat Ollie talks Stan into
climbing up the tree when he knows that Stan is too much of a scaredy cat to
get himself down.

But today, I'm looking up at Mr. Pittman, who sits on a high branch, hugging
the tree trunk and looking pretty embarrassed.

This morning my keen sense of smell led me to the Pittman's house. Dad calls
it my "super sniffer" because I can smell just about anything from a mile
away.

Especially cinnamon.

I can't resist it. I love the Ooey Gooey store at the mall, and every time
me and Dad are there, he has to buy me a big, fat cinnamon bun, dripping
with icing. He says my mom was the same way.

The screen door slams as Mrs. Pittman stomps out, her blond, curly helmet
not budging a bit, and she shakes her finger at her husband. "I told you not
to go up there, didn't I?"

May Secret Agent #48

TITLE: OUT OF ORDER
GENRE: Contemporary YA

I remember when my dad and I used to communicate. I'd hear the
front door open and squeal, "Daddyyyyy's home!" then run directly into his
waiting arms. That doesn't happen anymore. I'm lucky if I mumble, "Hey,"
when he gets home these days. Lately I've tried to figure out when our
whole deal started sucking.

First thing I came up with was when my parents split almost a year
ago. They sat my older brother Mike and me down at the kitchen table on a
Tuesday night for dinner. Mike and I knew something was up. We never ate
at the kitchen table during the week. I will never forget the look on my
brother's face as my parents fumbled through their announcement that ended
our family.

"This is hard to say, I --" my mom choked.

"Come on, Liz, don't be so dramatic. It is what it is," my dad said
to her. Mr. No-Feeling turned, looked at us, and said, "Look, mom and I are
getting a divorce. It has nothing to do with you two. We just don't love
each other anymore."

My mom immediately swooped in to add some heart to the situation;
it's what she always did. "My God, Mike, you act like this is a damn
business transaction. And it does have to do with them; they're part of
this family." I remember she let her head fall forward, and we all watched
her cry. None of us comforted her.

It haunts me.

May Secret Agent #47

TITLE: Young Radicals: Lion
GENRE: Lower YA

Bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe at the tip of South Africa's north east, Kruger National Park is a wildlife reserve bigger than Wales. Thousands of animals roam the plains – eating grass, plants and each other like they've done for millions of years. Rangers patrol the park on bicycles with guns slung over their backs – not to fight off lions or elephants, but to fight off lion and elephant hunters. Fetching a small fortune, lion claws are said to bring power and luck; and elephant tusks, known as ivory, are used for expensive art, piano keys and billiard balls. It's not legal, of course, the ivory trade was banned in 1989. But where there's money to be made there are crooks, and on the western fence of Kruger stood a gang of them, smoking and planning and up to no good.

Most were young black men in T-shirts and bare feet, succumbing to the knowledge they could earn more in a few days of poaching than they could in a few months of farming or laboring. Some held wire clippers while others held spears. Two white men leaned against an ex-army truck, clad in long cotton pants and shirts, presumably for protection against the most dangerous of all African animals – malaria-infested mosquitoes. Both men had guns – one filled with bullets that kill, the other with a dart that stuns. The man with the real gun barked orders at the young men while the owner of the tranquilizer gun watched silently.

May Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Gilded
GENRE: YA Asian Paranormal



I don't get nervous. Maybe it's from the archery competitions or maybe it's like my mom says--I've the spirit of a tiger. But tonight my heart pounds like never before.

I'd like to say the hanbok is the culprit. The dress is so puffy and itchy and disgustingly long that I wish it had ripped to shreds when it got stuck in the taxi door. Unfortunately it only got a teeny tear. Not to mention its puke-worthy Pepto-Bismol color. (My mission is to ban that color from the planet.)

Or it could be that when I forgot my bow and arrows, Mom forced me to taxi it all the way back through the jam-packed streets of Seoul to get them. I tried to reason with her that the museum had plenty of entertainment. She wouldn't hear of it. The worst part was we didn't even arrive late!

But really it all boils down to the fact that when I manage to extricate myself from the taxi and gaze up at the museum steps, I'm ready to head back home.

Problem. Home is half a world away.

Last month, Dad's company transferred him from Los Angeles to Seoul. It was supposed to be the best thing ever for our family (yeah, right). Dad would climb the business ladder, Mom would visit distant relatives, and I'd reconnect with my Korean heritage and go to a prestigious international school.

No one thought to ask what I wanted.

May Secret Agent #45

TITLE: Goodbye to Grandma
GENRE: Middle Grade Literary

For the fourth time that night, I heard the creak of my bedroom door being opened and the tiny footsteps of someone entering my room.

"Haiwey?" It was my little brother Barry. Again. "Haiwey? Are you awake?" Barry is only five and he has a way of mispronouncing my name that would be adorable if he wasn't so annoying.

I was lying on my side with my back to Barry, so he couldn't see that my eyes were open. I stayed very quiet and still, hoping Barry would think I was asleep and go away.

"Haiwey?" Barry poked in me the back with his finger.

"Haiwey?" He poked me again, harder.

"What?" I groaned and rolled over to face him. I had to squint to see because bright light from the hallway was flooding into my dark bedroom through the open door. Barry was wearing his Batman pajamas complete with the stupid cape and the dorky little footies made to look like boots. As usual, Ralph was clutched tightly to his side. Ralph is a stuffed-animal lizard that Barry carries everywhere he goes.

"What?" I repeated.

Barry frowned and clutched Ralph to his chest. "Haiwey?"

"What do you want, Barry?"

"Haiwey, are you awake?"

"No," I said, burying my face in my pillow to block out the light from the hall.

May Secret Agent #44

TITLE: The Practice of Wearing Skin
GENRE: YA

I feel like a criminal.

Glancing behind me as I pull out of the parking lot, I see a huge pair of caked-on red lips and caterpillar eyelashes in my side mirror. Eden said it would make me look older, but dang, I never expected this. She's somehow added wrinkles to my otherwise smooth face, and huge muddy-blue bags under my eyes.

I guess it worked; I have two pony kegs in my backseat and I'm only sixteen.

I should be well on my way back to Cedar Falls, but with the sky darkening, I swear I've passed this gas station three times. Where the heck is the freeway?

"It's all right, Sofia, you can do this," I say to myself. "You just have to find I-95, get on it, and head east. And stop talking to yourself."

I turn the radio on to some pop station they get here in Naperville and the bass heartbeat calms me down.

"GPS, of course, stupid," I say as I pull my iPhone back out of the caddy beside me, punch in 'Current Location,' and steal glances at the road while I wait for the map to load. The little blue dot that is me zooms in on a tiny road just two streets over from the freeway.

"Ah-ha!" I mumble and look up. Then I scream.

There's a man in the middle of the road.

I slam on the brakes and veer to the left, but it's too late. I'm going to hit him.

May Secret Agent #43

TITLE: The Keyhole in the Maple
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Jenna should never have opened the box.

She shouldn't have entered Matthew's room at all. If she'd slipped past to the bathroom like she'd said, none of it would have happened. But the door had been ajar, and the mystery inside had glowed at her, beckoning her to unravel the truth about him.

A secret she was never meant to know.

She lifted the lid of the box and saw a key, resting on the velvet cradle of the lining. It was worn, antique even, made of black iron with a single tooth and a round handle--sturdy, but plain. Threaded through the tiny loop was a thick coil of silver-and-gold ribbon, an extravagant band for a simple key that only stretched across her palm.

"What's it for?" Jenna whispered, her eyes scanning the clutter of porcelain dragons in Matthew's room. The key was too large for a diary, and she doubted Matthew kept one; boys didn't do that, did they? The key looked too small for a door.

"Jenna?" Matthew's voice called out from the bottom of the stairs. Jenna gasped, fumbling with the key and trying to replace it in the box with shaking hands. She heard his socked feet padding up the stairs. The box wouldn't close, silver-and-gold coils of ribbon snaking out the sides. Desperately she shoved the key into her back pocket, folding the ribbon over itself in a jumble and tugging the back of her sweater down.

The doorknob creaked open.

May Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Southern Hostility
GENRE: YA Dark Comedy

Salt. He tasted like salt.

He cupped his hand around my thigh, hiking my dress further up my leg. A bead of sweat rolled the length of my stomach. My hair fell in my face as I leaned over him. I pushed it back. Back. The way he kissed my neck was desperate.

Want.

This was supposed to be when all that sensory s*** kicked in. Smell, touch, taste, sound. I forced myself to think about it. His fingers slid down my back. All I could feel were his nails sinking into the fabric of my dress like cold pressure. I smelled sweat, my skin sliding against his. It mixed together; I wasn't sure I wanted that happening. My sweat, my pain. Mine.

I did things to try and make this work. He'd liked it before when I'd reached down, pulled the Duchuvony University baseball t-shirt over his head. Something about that was exciting, to know that this was going somewhere. Knowing that he would get something out of it. But why should it matter what he liked? It was supposed to be about what I liked, about my moment. I tried to concentrate on things I wanted—things that were all mine. His shoulders were perfect. Dark skin, tight muscles. It was like staring at a portrait in a museum. Beautiful, faraway, no real purpose.

He had a soft mouth, just enough touch. When he licked his lips, it was subtle. His whole process was subtle but felt so controlling.

May Secret Agent #41

TITLE: The Wheeler Chronicles
GENRE: MG Adventure/Fantasy

Standing in the clearing, I looked past the stream and stared in the direction of the waterfall. It was too far away to see, but I thought I heard its howling rapids. Haunting me. Then I heard Mikey's voice.

But that couldn't be. He was gone. Had been for more than a month. I could still see scraps of the yellow police tape that had once stretched from one end of the woods to the other like a steroid-induced boa constrictor.

When the buzzer sounded, Mikey's voice fell silent and so did the raging waterfall. Rambo collapsed and sprawled out on the ground. I shook my dark thoughts and moved close to my four-legged point man. Focus was needed.

"Let's go to work, Lancelot. You ready to prove you're a retriever?"

Rambo raised his right paw, a trick I'd taught him to indicate a yes.

My golden soldier crawled on his belly. Then he pointed his nose to the left and froze.

I positioned myself behind a tree, grabbed a gooseberry from the jar that was belted around my waist, and loaded it in my crossbow. When I made a clicking sound with my mouth, Rambo broke into a canine seizure. His yellow fur served as camouflage on the ground, but his wriggling body lured my enemy closer. Might as well have been a worm on a hook.

I pulled the trigger and the green bullet found a home between rolls of back fat. "Ah, man! Who got me?"

May Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Rainbow Kiss
GENRE: YA

Oh God. I'm so nervous. I can't eat and I haven't slept for the past two nights. Back to school tomorrow. I should be excited, and I am, sort of. But still, this is my first year without Tess who has been my lifeblood, my other half, my best friend since we were three! How could she leave me for the city? How will I survive? To think that we spent the past three years in the bliss of our own secret world, laughing at our own jokes, oblivious to all the other groups at school. I mean it's not like I don't know anybody else, I do, and some of the other kids are okay, but for the past three years Tess and I just stuck together and orbited our own planet. We've always been drifters really, hovering around the fringes of groups, throwing in the occasional conversation here and the required laugh there, but basically, we get our buzz from each other.

Come to think of it, I reckon our friendship pisses a few people off because they don't have what we have.

Crap but the tide has turned, right?

Where will I fit in?

S***. S***. S***.The one bonus is that I get to spend six or so hours away from the house and, namely, Derek. Urgh. Just writing his name in this new diary gives me the creeps and kind of makes me feel like I'm defiling the diary or tainting it with his name.

May Secret Agent #39

TITLE: The Tooth Fairy's Assistant
GENRE: Middle Grade

"How much further Dad?"

"Twenty five miles. Please Owen, stop pestering me. I need to concentrate on my driving."

Dad always has to concentrate extra hard on everything. Owen, be quiet, I'm thinking. Owen, settle down, I'm trying to focus. Owen, Owen, Owen. He does look a little more white-knuckled than normal though. Probably all the accidents on the road.

It's raining pretty hard, about as hard as it ever does in Washington. Usually it just mists here, like you're all wrapped up in a cloud, but today it's pouring. That must be the reason for all the problems they keep reporting on the radio. It's really weird though, because it seems like we're just barely ahead of the trouble every time.

….Watch for a jackknifed semi northbound on Route 3 at Finn Hill Road …if you can even get there folks, that twelve car pileup still blocks all traffic west of Silverdale…

We were turning onto a floating bridge now. From up here I saw that down in the middle of the water the bridge split in two.

"Hey Dad, why would they build the bridge like that?"

"Huh?"

My dad was so focused on the road ten feet in front of him that he hadn't noticed what was coming. He looked up and gasped. "Oh no you don't! I see exactly what you're up to and I won't have it! Do you hear me? I will not have it!"

"What?"

"Not you Owen! Hang on!"

May Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Ciara's Tale
GENRE: YA Historical

Ciara didn't want to be a druidess.

She dragged the comb through the tangled masses of her hair and sighed, knowing she could never speak of it to anyone. Certain death waited if that fatal secret escaped.

Her maid gasped behind her and Ciara flinched. Had she spoken the dreaded words aloud? But Eabha had only uncovered a field mouse cowering in a dusty corner. She whisked the intruder out with her broom and bustled about the sleeping chamber, humming while she straightened the fur blankets.

Ciara finished plaiting her hair and repressed another sigh. She had hidden the secret for as long as she could remember. No one knew, not even her beloved father, and she had never kept anything else from him. And now in a shrouded corner of her mind another seed of doubt had swollen like the plump green buds of spring's primroses -- what if the gods weren't as all-powerful as she had been taught from her childhood?

Ciara shivered. She could never let the secrets escape. But winter's seed had rooted as the feast of Beltane approached to celebrate the returning sun. Its tiny head pushed toward the surface of her mind like the shoots that sprouted from the awakening earth outside. At any time it could burst out of her, like bodies in the great bog suddenly surfaced after years hidden below its treacherous skin.

May Secret Agent #37

TITLE: Kingdom of the Orbs: City of Mountains
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

Thirteen-year-old, Olivia was well-known at school for her weird tales and visions. Though her stories seemed unbelievable, the creatures were weirder than anyone dared imagine. Olivia couldn't stop the Uglies . . . no mortal could. So most days she dressed in plain clothes and hid behind sunglasses.

In the bottom drawer of her night stand. Buried beneath a notebook and an ordinary- looking shoe box filled with personal treasures, she snatched out her diary. Her hand quivered as she unlocked it with a golden key.

Dear Diary,

Misery. I should be used to the teasing but, hello . . . I'm not! I hate it. My face turns red and highlights my spaghetti hair. And I just want to run away and hide. Why do they laugh at me? It's not funny. It hurts. Having no boyfriend hurts. All I can do is run home and lock myself in here. I can think here. I have a lot to think about. Sheesh. My life's a disaster. Why can't I be like other girls? Have pajama parties . . . dates . . . and a father. What's worst of all -- is the monsters. They won't leave me alone. They appear in my room every night! It's not fair. Or normal. This isn't, MONSTER CENTRAL!

Olivia

May Secret Agent #36

TITLE: A Prince for Denniwig County
GENRE: MG Fantasy

A brown, gooey substance sat on the plate in front of Timothy. He poked it with his spoon. The entire pile quivered. He scooped the tiniest of bites onto his spoon and inched it towards his mouth. His stomach knotted as the disgusting stuff got closer.

A bug wriggled out of the goo and a fit of nausea shook Timothy. He dropped his spoon. It clanged against his plate, an enormous racket in the otherwise silent dining hall. The collision sent his dinner spraying across the table.

Everyone in the room stopped eating and waited for disaster to unfold.

The click-clack of shoes smacking against the rickety wood floor let Timothy know the noise had been noticed by the worst of the worst, the awful headmistress, Ms. Pritchard. She stopped right behind his chair and Timothy felt her hot breath on his neck.

"Apparently, Timothy thinks he's too good to eat his turnip stew like everyone else. He'd rather sling it all over the table like a messy little baby," Ms. Pritchard said. Her voice sent shivers up Timothy's spine.

A smattering of nervous laughter flittered through the dining hall. Everyone laughed when Ms. Pritchard ridiculed one of the orphans. That was one of the rules for surviving at The Reformatory Home for Unwanted Boys.

"There was..." Timothy started to defend himself. Ms. Pritchard flicked his ear to silence him.

"I don't want to hear your excuses," she snapped.

May Secret Agent #35

TITLE: CRESCENDO
GENRE: YA

I always thought I was a good judge of character. Fakes were easy to spot. They smiled with blank looks behind the eyes, incessantly nodding in agreement, like a plastic doll mounted on the dash of an eighteen wheeler barreling down Interstate-5. Jerks were another group to discount quickly. Their M.O. was to move in like a pack of wild dogs following their alpha male. They isolated the weakest and began the ritual of circling. It didn't take long before they devoured their victim, which in high school meant embarrassing them relentlessly.

I had my concerns when Chris unloaded from the car with his buddies. His saunter with hands buried in his pockets taking in his options with a sweeping scan of all the girls huddled in cliques. When Josh introduced his friends, Chris' polite “nice to meet you” was not what I expected. A grunt, a nod, or looks at my blond friend with her cleavage bursting out of her low cut shirt were normal responses.

Paired up while our friends followed their agendas, Chris and I made the best of our situation. Sitting on the dried grass we compared concerts attended in our lifetime. Although enchanted by his music history, my attention strayed to a problem growing behind him. I couldn't take my eyes off of a lanky boy trapped in a triangle of jerks, bouncing him around while their girlfriends giggled.

May Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Before I Wake
GENRE: YA

"Did you know that the average cremated adult female becomes about 4 pounds of ashes?"

How the hell would I know that? And why would I even care? I wondered as I turned to see a lanky kid with thick-rimmed glasses slumped on the church pew. I shook my head.

"It's Anna, right?" he asked. I nodded. "Well, Anna, did you know that the average male becomes six pounds? Of ashes?" He sniffled and dragged the back of his hand against his nose. "But they aren't really ashes you know."

"No, I didn't," I said. I spun on my heel, hoping to go back out to the narthex where my grandma Mimi was talking with a couple of guys in dark suits. They kept their voices lowered and she shot me a look. I knew immediately what it meant so I stayed in the sanctuary.

"The ashes actually come from bone fragments which are the only things left after the cremation process. We grind them up and that's actually the ashes, you know, that people sprinkle."

"Fascinating," I said. I lied. Ashes and bone fragments were the furthest thing from my mind.

"Oh, but your mom isn't being cremated, huh?" he asked. He got up from the bench and walked toward where I stood leaning against the door frame. "Worm food. That's cool, too."

"Who the hell are you?" I asked though I instantly regretted saying 'hell' in a church.

May Secret Agent #33

TITLE: Jewel Angels
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The dazzling golden sunlight faded away and the dense gloom of the underground cave closed in around them. The faint mephitic smell of sulfur wafted in the air and heat consumed the atmosphere. The footsteps of the three sisters echoed as they made their way into the narrow ovate shaft of Stonesthrow Mine.

A flashlight flickered on and sliced through the darkness. The wires that ran along the ceiling were no longer running with electricity, so the hanging bulbs provided no illumination.

"We'll have to go further in this time," Rubi, the eldest, announced as she shone the flashlight around. Her black hair that was cropped at her neck stuck out from under her white hardhat.

Saphyr clicked on her flashlight too, its beam brighter than Rubi's. "Yeah, last time there were hardly any gems to find." Her naturally curly brown hair was in a low ponytail, and her hardhat was so low it fell over her eyebrows. She reached up to adjust it, but it would soon fall back down again.

Imerald stared at her sisters, disbelief widening the features of her caramel-skinned face. "You mean we're going beyond the sign that says 'Prohibited'?" A shudder ran down her spine at the thought.

Saphyr rolled her eyes. "What did you think we were going to do, Ime?" Imerald's sisters frequently called her by the first syllable of her name.

"I don't know...
pick through the rock wall till we found something?"

"That's too much hard work," Rubi said.

May Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Five Minutes
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

Delilah watched the beach light up with glowing embers from her cigarette ash. The wind carried her ashes through the ruckus of drunken football players and flirting cheerleaders. In Urbanna, Virginia the coolest parties always happened after a football game and they always involved quarterback, Chase Mitchell.

This was Delilah's world, full of music, excitement, and curiosity. A gust of wind caused a mist of salt water to spray her body. It left her skin glistening in the firelight. The cops would arrive soon. They couldn't let teenagers get too drunk next to the dark ocean. Small towns kept secrets, but an accidental death was too much to hush up from the outside world.

Hot breath suppressed the coolness of the water on her neck. The warmth of the strong body standing behind her made her wonder when she'd ever take that final step - the last edge to her sexual curiosity.

"Babe, pass me a beer."

Delilah bent down and grasped the cool glass from the ice chest. She popped off the bottle cap like an expert, but secretly she never had the guts to try even a sip of the golden liquid. Over the summer, she watched her friend Brittany strip after getting drunk. Now Brittany avoided all social gatherings. Delilah had no fear of her own body; all those years of cheerleading toned her up, but the idea of stripping in front of half the town's population was not appealing.

May Secret Agent #31

TITLE: Threads of Light
GENRE: YA

The rusty hinges creak when the Sheriff closes the door of my cell. He has to push hard--these doors haven't moved in a hundred years. He twists the big iron skeleton key and the lock slides into place. Then he flips the key into the air. It veers toward his neck and snaps in place, sticking like a refrigerator magnet. Weird.

"Don't be thinking about escape," he says in his metallic voice. "Don't" comes out as "doan" and "thinking" as if he never pronounced a "g" in his life. Or, I should say, in the life of the dead cowboy that lives in his mind.

He touches the brim of his hat in a sort of salute. "I'll be back for y'all tonight." The six-pointed badge on his leather vest glimmers in the dim light.

The Sheriff glances across the hall, seems satisfied, and walks away.

My step-mom, Lynda, lies prone on the cot in the cell across from mine. Her tears have dried, leaving streaks in the dust on her cheeks. She looks asleep, but I can tell from the big knot on her head that she's unconscious. There's a fist-sized hole in the wall behind her. I recognize the telltale burn marks on the rim of the perfect circle and thank God they only knocked her out.

The Sheriff promised two nooses at the midnight hanging. I hope Lynda
regains consciousness before then so I can tell her, one last time,
that I love her.

May Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Star Crossed Rascals
GENRE: Chapter Book

I knew I was in big trouble when Aunty Mabel's eye twitched. My tummy churned as I shuffled towards the door, ready to bolt. Why did I go and tell her what I did? I must be the dumbest seven-year-old in the whole world.

Aunty shook a knobbly finger at me. "Polly, you'd better be joking."

"No," I said, twisting my hands together. "I really did scrape bubblegum off the footpath."

Aunty Mabel screwed her face up like she'd eaten a rotten egg. "Eww," she said. "Why would you do such a dirty thing?"

"Umm, well," I said. "It was like this. I wanted to make a giant gumball. So I collected lots of bubblegum from the pavement. Some bits were stuck to the ground like tiny pancakes. I had to dig them up with my fingernails. But some pieces were like big raisins just sitting on the curb saying, 'Pick me, pick me!'"

"What?" Auntie Mabel's eyes bulged. "Polly, don't tell me you put them in your mouth."

I giggled and said, "Well, I had to mould them together, didn't I?"

"What do you mean, mould them together?" she barked.

I shrugged. "With my teeth, silly. I chewed them up good, but it took me
ages 'cause some bits were full of grit and my jaw started aching." I smiled
at Aunty. "But guess what? I had a much bigger gumball than Gertie. Mine was
so big - I couldn't even close my mouth. And, I won the prize."

May Secret Agent #29

TITLE: REVENGE OF THE PINK GRANNY PANTIES
GENRE: MG Contemporary

I walked into math class and scoped out the sub.

Easy prey. What little life this guy had was about to get a whole lot worse.

Mrs. Billet, our math teacher, had finally had her kid and was home changing diapers for a month. We were on our second sub of the week, and Foster F. Finkman made it his job to upset subs. I was his partner in crime.

Mr. Thompson was the victim of a bad brown toupee. It reminded me of Grunt, my guinea pig. This teacher wannabe was somewhere between thirty and fifty, wore braces and smelled like he had roadkill in his grill. I'd had him as a sub since kindergarten, and he hadn't changed a bit. Except for the braces.

Toupee Thompson knew all of us at Harly Middle School by name. It isn't a big school, since Harly, Oklahoma isn't a big town. Okies say you can stand at one end of it and spit to the other. So when he noticed Finkman was new, the sub flashed a silvery smile and squeaked, "What's your name, young man?"

Finkman stood and squeaked back, "Foster Florentine Finkman. And I hope you don't mind me asking, but is that your real hair?"

The class went crazy. Thompson turned pink and started to stutter. He had this foamy spit at the corners of his mouth. "F-F-Finkman? What kind of s-s-stupid m-m-made up name is that?"

May Secret Agent #28

TITLE: The Wind Walker
GENRE: Young Adult

Disasters should come with a warning-a bell ringing, a hint of brimstone-but nothing triggered my internal alarm while I cut across the dying lawns to the house. There was only the faint scent of burning leaves and our front door left wide open on a blustery, October day. That wasn't even unusual because Jemma often forgot things like doors and groceries. Self-preservation was not among my mother's gifts.

I climbed the wide porch steps singing with my iPod, the wind catching my hair, and the leather purse full of books bouncing against my hip. A stray leaf blew against the wicker chairs where Jemma and I sat with my stepfather on warm summer nights. For that moment, the illusion of a normal family she and I had woven was still intact, and then the smack of a fist and her broken cry unraveled it for good. The open doorway framed her as she fell.

Violence raised the hair on my arms, its dissonant hum as wrong as the black-edged anger in my stepfather's aura when he stepped toward her. I'd spent my life trying to be something sane and human, locking the power away inside myself for Jemma's sake. But it was always there, coiled and eager to be used.

My hand shot up. Power exploded along my nerves, and all six-feet-something
of ex-linebacker flew backwards across the room. I didn't touch him,
although I barely noticed that.

May Secret Agent #27

TITLE: GOLDEN BLUES
GENRE: Middle Grade Verse Novel

The stars don't shine too bright in Moody,
which is why I always assumed Charlene Dean was no more real than Bigfoot or the Swamp Monster.

But she stormed into town today,
and the rolling hills straightened their backs
and the sky tipped its hat so the sun shone
brighter.
Everyone knows why she’s here, but
me.

I sit in Barber Jim's shop, asking him to give me a movie star haircut.

I hold out my sweaty palm, and show him a wrinkled magazine clipping, "Just like this," I point at the actress's stylish crop, "smooth and
perfect."

Barber Jim runs his comb through my tangled, noisy curls,
"Dixie Dawes, your hair don't look nothin' like this."
And then in a brassy voice like a tuba Barber Jim says, "if you so interested in being a star, why ain't you out there with the rest of 'dem?"

I peer out the window and sure enough,
everyone is crowdedcrowdedcrowed in front of Miss Madge's sweet shop
and Madge's pralines are mighty good, the creamiest pralines you've ever tasted--
but even her pralines never draw this type of crowd.

I look up at Barber Jim,
sprinkles of confusion and excitement in my muddy eyes.
A smile carves itself in Barber Jim's serious, stone face,
"Charlene Dean is back in town
and she's promisin' a big pot of money to anyone who will help her get back her
voice."

May Secret Agent #26 (redacted)

o_O

May Secret Agent #25

TITLE: Delicate Cutters
GENRE: Young

"If you hold still, I won't have to punch you," you say.

"God. The abuse I go through for you," Danny says.

You smile. You know and appreciate what Danny is doing for you. Just two months before at the beginning of the summer you covered his head in a molding material called alginate. He wore a bald cap and went through that scary moment of having his air holes covered so you can get a flawless cast of his head. Danny said he wasn't scared. You knew he was lying. For that one moment he grabbed his thighs and squeezed them, his breathing increased, and his legs swayed. You moved fast, just as nervous since it was your first time doing a head cast. But you finished it, and no one got hurt. You never felt so relieved in your life.

After you filled the mold with plaster and made a positive imprint of his face, you sculpted the facial wound. You started over five frustrating times before you got it right. You then made a mold of the wound and created the latex prosthetic.

Now you try applying the prosthetic to Danny's face, but he keeps looking down at last year's yearbook, Owel High School Class of 1991, that rests on his lap. He points to your picture; one of the candid shots that show off your fat butt and flat chest in a side profile while your ugly face appears annoyed at the photographer

May Secret Agent #24

TITLE: Undecided
GENRE: YA

His music is too loud. Not exactly a problem, except that it's louder than mine. I jack up my iPod. My tiny 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.

My phone buzzes and skitters across the swing's seat. Amber's name flashes on the Caller ID.

I catch it at the edge and flip it open. "Hey."

"What's all that noise?"

"A party."

"You're having a party and you didn't invite your best friend?"

"Not me, the neighbors. For Ryan's graduation."

"I thought you went to his party the other day."

"I did. That was the family one, the adult one, the boring one. This is the one for his friends."

"Two parties. Sounds like a scam for extra presents."

"Pretty sure that was the point."

"Tell Ryan congrats, and that I'm stealing his idea when we graduate next year."

"Can't. I'm not there."

"Why not?"

"Wasn't invited. Guess cause I got lumped into the invite with my parents for the other one, they left me out of this one."

"You got the crappy end of that deal."

I pick at a loose string in the swing's seat. "Whatever. I probably know more of his parents' friends than his, since they're my parents' friends, too. So what's the plan? Am I going there, or you coming here?"

"Um, actually, neither. Max's parents took his brother camping, so . . ."

May Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Oreo's Kingdom
GENRE: chapter book

It's the first clear night after three days of continuous rain, so I stay out all night. I have to patrol my kingdom for any mice, moles, chipmunks, rabbits and of course d-o-g-s, which may have snuck onto my territory.

The most important thing you need to know is I'm a cat. Feline and proud of it. Cats are superior beings. We hear all, we see all, and know all. Cats are the royalty of the animal kingdom, and I am King Oreo. You may have guessed by my name I'm black and white. I am the ruler of all, especially those inferior beings, d-o-g-s, that are lower than peasants, lower than chipmunks, lower than mice.

I prowl my moonlit land. I stalk without a sound ignoring the wet grass on my paws. I search the bushes and check behind the trees. I sniff near the garden. No scents of my prey. The fragrance of cat grass and catnip seeps into my nose. Mmm.

Pounce! Just a leaf tumbling by in the breeze. When you are a king you can't be too careful.

My mighty realm is under my control. All is well.

Well, except for one thing. A big, blonde beast. Just beyond the big rock sleeps a Labrador retriever. Marcy!

Right now, she's probably d-o-g snoring in her ridiculous d-o-g house. She's not allowed to sleep on beds. What kind of an animal lets humans control its life?

May Secret Agent #22

TITLE: Guzzy Goofball and the Homeschool Play from Outer Space
GENRE: MG Contemporary Humor

I don't know what my parents were thinking. Who in their right minds names an innocent little baby boy, Guzman Reginald Guferntible IV? Or rather, what was great-great grandpa Guferntible thinking?

I know from family stories that Great-Grandpa Guzman didn't mind. In the early 20th century, a lot of people had strange names. My grandpa goes by his middle name, Reg, and avoids the whole Guzman issue. Dad, though he's technically the third, tried to go by Junior. Somewhere along the way that morphed into J.R. and Mom changed it into Jer (rhymes with air). Me? Around three or four, I decided I would try the sophisticated approach and called myself Guzman. (It was better than being called Little Manny by my mom.) But after the third trip to the emergency room, my friends decided Guzzy fit me better. And when Shriek's little sister couldn't pronounce Guferntible and introduced me as Guzzy Goofball, it stuck. Much like the once-pink gum permanently attached to the bottom of my favorite sneaker.

Shriek, my best friend and fellow homeschooler, lives down the block with her six assorted siblings. She's third in the stacking and the same age as me. As the only homeschoolers in our neighborhood and on the same street, no less, we've been friends since we didn't head off to kindergarten. It's easy to tell a homeschool kid once school is in session.

May Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Multiple Choice
GENRE: Contemporary YA

It's just a little pink box, Maddy thought, trying to calm the twist of her stomach as she opened the front door to her house. Covered by a Walgreens circular, triple-wrapped in plastic bags, and shoved in the very bottom of her gigantic purse, the pregnancy test box made her feel like a terrorist sneaking a bomb through an airport. She glanced at her reflection in the entranceway mirror. Was her face flushed? Did she breathe too quickly? Everything about her said one thing: guilty.

She motioned behind her, encouraging her best friends, Nina and June, to follow. The clinking of glasses told her that her mom was in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher.

"Is that you, Maddy?"

"No mom, it's your other daughter," Maddy said, like she did every time her mother asked that question. Except her voice wavered and cracked like a boy going through puberty. Hello, obvious.

"Hey Ms. Ferguson," Nina said, loud and clear. Maddy shot her a grateful look.

"Thank you for having us over tonight," June added.

"Oh, no problem." Maddy's mom peeked her head around the kitchen doorway.

Maddy clutched her purse, and her heart skipped. When she was little, her mom told her that all mothers have x-ray vision, in addition to the extra pair of eyes hidden beneath their hair. A part of Maddy still believed her.