Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Can it really be the last weekend of July? (No, really. I don't have any sort of psychological dependence on summertime. Or anything.)

So I'm eager to hear your responses on this week's 750-word critique. Success? Call for repeat performance? Critters: How was the length as far as reading/critting time was involved? Entrants: Was the feedback useful as ever?

Suggestions for changes?

And if the feedback is overall positive, we'll definitely do an adult version soon.

As for me, I'm still in the midst of my new WIP honeymoon. What is it about the giddiness of a new story, new characters? And I've got to admit that this is the MOST excited I've ever been to start a new novel. Despite the fact that I in no way planned to write something new at this point. This was supposed to be my Year of Nabbing An Agent via Other Completed Works. Admittedly, the year isn't over yet. Just slightly halfway over. And I still have a decent amount of requested material out there. But I'm so involved with my WIP that it almost doesn't matter.

Wow! That's new ground for me. Pressing on with my work REGARDLESS of who's sitting out there with my "other stuff." Which is what we all need to do, all of the time. Which I HAVE done, but there's something decidedly different about this go-around. And it feels good.

So. Still haven't "arrived" (do we ever?). But growing. Evolving. And feeling ever more confident about my journey, both personally and professionally.

Even if I do shed a few tears at the occasional, unexpected form rejection. It's therapeutic. Private venting goes a long way toward emotional intelligence.

That, and I ate fairly large amounts of white chocolate this week.

So thanks for dancing with me, as always. We are, none of us, alone. Unless we choose to be. And I choose not to be. I need this wonderful community. So many of you give so much.

If only you knew.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Drink It Up

You've no doubt heard many versions of "never give up" along the way.

Well, I've got another one for you. A really good one.

Read THIS BLOG POST by author Jodi Meadows. You may even want to print it out and hang it somewhere.

First 750 #10

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 Mr. Thompson had was about to get a whole lot worse.

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 looked like Grunt, my guinea pig. This teacher wannabe was somewhere between thirty and fifty, had braces and smelled like there was 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 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, sir. And I hope you don't mind my asking, but has your hairpiece had its rabies shot?"

The class cracked up. Thompson turned pink and had this foamy spit at the corners of his mouth. "Finkman? What kind of stupid made up name is that? Is that the best you could do?"

Triple F had only lived in Harly a couple of months, but there's one thing everybody knew about him-you didn't make fun of his name. Someone had called him Farter Stinkman once, and had got a black eye. He was taller than the rest of us, and tough as jerky. With a name like that, I guess he had to be.

The room went quiet. Finkman stared at the sub, then smiled.

"Take out your books and turn to page fourteen." Thompson went to the board and wrote the assignment. His hand shook. "Do these problems."

Finkman turned and winked at me. My stomach tightened. Yesterday Coach Ames had subbed. To welcome him we'd tied pull poppers to the desk drawers and poured itching powder down his shirt. Any other sub would've snapped, but "Attaboy" Ames was a retired Harly High football Coach. He was pretty crusty. Ames cussed for a minute and then laughed it off. We didn't even end up in detention.

De-ten was one place I couldn't wind up again. Mom was a stress muffin already, and she'd had a complete conniption when I got detained for programming Haylee Kincaid's cell during science last week. Mom was scared I'd wreck my chances of getting into a decent college, even though I was only in the eighth grade. Haylee'd called me that night to thank me, and had been nice to me ever since, so it'd been worth it. She was a cheerleader with long, black curly hair. One hot habanero.

Finkman's folks, on the other hand, didn't seem to care about him getting into trouble. We had a deal: I set up the subs and he took the heat. It was a fine line between having fun and getting in trouble.

But this was risky. Thompson knew Mom, and he'd rat on me in a heartbeat. Besides, basketball started next week, and I couldn't be late for practices. I had to be careful.

After a few minutes, I raised my hand. "Mr. Thompson, can I ask you a question?"

Thompson headed toward me. He had no reason to expect trouble, since I'd never given him any before.

"How's your mom, Charles?" Thompson whispered as he leaned over my desk. I didn't like the look in his eyes. "I heard about the divorce. Sorry."

That was it. If there's one thing that makes me mad, it's guys stalking Mom.

"She's fine," I growled. "And it's Chuck, not Charles. I need help with number six." He bent way over to look at my book and I mouthed to Finkman, "Get him!"

It happened in a flash: Finkman snatched the toupee, then hopped on the teacher's desk. He slapped Thompson's rug on his head and started busting moves.

Everyone went ballistic. Thompson straightened up, felt his bald scalp, then shook, squeaked and spit.

Finkman shook, squeaked and spit. The decibel level rose like a rock concert.

Thompson charged down the aisle and lunged at Finkman, who ran around the room, waving the toupee.

First 750 #9

TITLE: Resin
GENRE: Young Adult Epic Fantasy

Rowl always wondered what it was like to be outside, inhaling fresh air and feeling the wind on his face. Finally those sensations were just a few days away. At least, that's what he thought. The topic was on his mind as he poured water from a golden goblet into another glass. He heard a slight gush as the goblet refilled itself with water.

"Thanks, honey," his mom said as he handed her the glass.

"Sure, Mom." He poured himself a glass of water from the goblet, which again refilled itself. He then looked at his mother, a tiny woman hunched over the table, her hands and arms stiff boards, her bony fingers steel rods clutching her glass.

"How are your joints today?" he said.

"Worse than usual."

Rowl sighed as he stored the goblet in the cupboard. "Mom, I think I'm gonna have to get you help," he said.

"Absolutely not. And never another mention of it!"

"But, Mom, your joints are getting worse by the day - you say so yourself! Soon you won't even be able to move. You may even... "

"I'll be fine. Everything will be fine. The most imperative thing is that you never, ever... "

"I know, I know...
leave the house," Rowl grumbled. He opened the cupboard's lower drawers, revealing a bare chicken on a gold platter. He carried the platter to the simmering cauldron over the fire, and gently laid the chicken inside.

As he did so, he gazed through the kitchen window that overlooked the garden outside. Nothing but a plot of dirt spotted with claws of thorn bushes stared back. It was difficult for anything to grow given the black blanket of smog that perpetually hung about Wharvul. The Black Veil, his mother called it. The blanket obscured the sunlight necessary for most of the world's plants to grow, leaving primarily thorn bushes, mushrooms, and other vegetation that flourished in dimness and even pitch-darkness. The only indication that evening was presently falling upon Wharvul was that it was dimmer outside than it had been during the day, as Wharvul was a land that essentially toggled between dusk and night, due to the all-encompassing Black Veil.

"But what if it gets really bad?" Rowl said at last. "What if it really does get to the point where you can hardly move and are in constant pain? You won't be able to bear it, Mom. And I won't be able to bear it, because you're my mom and I couldn't stand seeing you in that condition!"

"There are worse things, Rowl. One woman dying of arthritis in the world... it has seen worse."

"I couldn't allow it," Rowl said. "I would have to go in search of medical treatment."

"You know very well there is no longer any medical treatment available in Wharvul, let alone on Fogurra. Don't tell me you've forgotten your teachings already!" Nna sighed. "Why do you keep bringing this up? Need I remind you yet again that we live in a very dangerous world, Rowl? There is much more danger out there than in here, than in my own body. And you and I are among the most fortunate of all Fogurra. Just look around you - look at this magnificent house! Most people have nothing to call their own and live in cramped quarters, not to mention are constantly ravaged by thieves. If you were to leave the house... "

"I know, I know...
" His mother never stopped stressing just how lucky they had it. She always made it sound like their home - a large three-wing, two-story manor - was constantly surrounded on all sides by thief gangs, each gang hiding behind a nearby copse of trees, just waiting for Rowl or Nna to open a door so they could pounce and steal all of the house's magifacts, or enchanted objects. And who knows? Maybe she was right.

"Mother, why are we so lucky?" Rowl said bluntly. He was being daring again, as usual. "Why can't you just tell me? Don't you think I'm old enough now?" He asked these particular questions at least once a week.

"Rowl, you know I've told you all there is to know," Nna said in almost a whisper.

"No, you haven't! What about Father? You still haven't told me everything about Father."

"That will come when the time is right," she said, again in a deathly whisper, as though her arthritis had begun to freeze even her vocal chords.

First 750 #8

TITLE: LURE
GENRE: Upper MG Paranormal

I always thought books were boring and a waste of time, but not dangerous. I was wrong. Anything that caused Melissa to approach me was far from harmless.

"Have you read this, Mitch?" Melissa shoved a book in my face.

The paperback filled my vision, so close it blurred. Fantastic. An encounter with Melis-snob was the first item on my To-Don't list.

"Uh, no. I'm not really into books, Melissa." I tried to keep the annoyance out of my voice, hoping to avoid a confrontation. I just wanted to throw my stuff in my locker and head home. Instead, I was surrounded by Melissa and her snob-clan, about to pass out from the perfume-overload every time Melissa tossed her hair.

"Oh, but it's so amazing!" she exclaimed. "You really have to read it. Here." She thrust a paper at me. "I'm starting a book club. You should join." Melissa had a smile plastered across her face, but her eyes were hard--predatory.

Did she just ask me to join her club? I looked down at the book. Lure. The combination of the title and the way Melissa was acting creeped me out.

Kelly pushed forward out of the circle of Melissa-groupies surrounding me. "Yeah. I read the back, and it sounds awesome. I can't wait to go home and read it! I even got an extra one for Dane."

My mouth dropped open. She's delusional if she thinks Dane's gonna read that book.

"No thanks. It's really not my thing," I said.

Melissa's smile dropped, replaced by the more familiar lip twist. "You probably wouldn't understand it anyway, butthead." Her groupies laughed.

Knowing a comeback would only encourage worse insults (and really, butthead is pathetic), I pushed past the circle of weirdos, and headed to my locker.

What the heck was that all about? The last time Melissa had been nice to me -- well, I couldn't remember her ever being nice to me. And why was she inviting me to join her book club? She wouldn't even give me a piece of paper when I forgot my notebook in English, and now she wanted to hang out? Weird.

I finally reached my locker. I'd been lucky to get the same one as last year, so I didn't have to memorize a new combination. I stared at the familiar scratches as I twirled the lock. At least the weekend was here. Two weeks down, thirty-eight to go.

I looked across the hall and watched as Kelly handed Dane a copy of the book. He shook his head and tried to hand it back to her, but Kelly refused to take it. Shrugging, Dane stuck it in his backpack. As Kelly threw her arms around him, he looked over at me and rolled his eyes. I turned back to my locker, stifling a laugh. Dane was about as interested in reading that book as I was.

After shoving everything except my geometry book into my locker, I slammed the door with a satisfying clang. Yeah, I had other homework besides geometry, but I wasn't going to lug all of it home. I had a new system for all that other homework, and it didn't involve breaking my back. Besides being a waste of time, those other assignments involved oodles of reading, and I was not going to do it this year. If it couldn't be read -- translation: skimmed -- during study hall, it wasn't getting read.

"Hey, Mitch." Jen strolled up. "Two down, thirty-eight to go." She tossed her hair over her shoulder, hitching her backpack higher. My gaze followed the straight brown strands as they fell back across her hand.

"You took the words right out of my mouth," I said. "Let's get out of here."

"Let's," she said, falling in step next to me.

"You coming over? I'm gonna work on your bookshelf. I think I might actually finish it over the weekend."

"As usual."

We walked the first few blocks in easy silence, enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze.

First 750 #7

TITLE: The Curse
GENRE: YA fantasy

"Witches, Witchcraft, history of-"

Cynthia felt a tingling of anticipation that brought her spine into alignment and cleared the hovering daze from her eyes. Twenty-seven volumes through Merna's Encyclopedia of Forgotten Lore made her ripe for sleep, but hope kept her away from bed and home. She angled the book toward the light--a flickering candle tree that kept the gloom of the library at bay, but did little for eyestrain.

The first couple of lines, something about alchemy, earned only a passing glance. The next several paragraphs looked too much like a history lesson to be of use. She skipped them. Wars and blood and... ugh, a lot of sacrificial details. Skipped.

Where was the magic? The curses? A fleeting image of a dark-robed woman waving a magic wand passed through her mind, complete with gnarled hands and warts. The room seemed to grow colder. With a shake of her head, she resumed reading, glimpsing a pair of names that drained her enthusiasm. Bartholomew the Wise and the Hexus demon. Only nursery children believed in Hexus, the ultimate ghost story.

The entry ended with some magical sickness and a treaty and a reference to "See also Plagues and Mass Death." Useless.

Cynthia rubbed her eyes and tried to summon the same hope over the next entry: "Witchcraft, modern uses and ailments-" though her eyelids felt like lead. Skimming along, she turned the page and jumped up, screaming, as a huge cockroach skittered across the page toward her hand. Book and bug went flying across the room as Cynthia beat wildly at an all-over crawling sensation on her skin.

"Go eat someone else's books!"

Unharmed, the bug disappeared through a crack in the wall and Cynthia stared at the crumpled volume, waiting. When no other creepy crawlers appeared, she poked at it with the tip of her toe, then picked it up and gave the book a good shake. Flakes of glue and dirt fell from the binding, and half the pages dropped, disintegrating further with every attempt Cynthia made to put them back in order. What little she found labeled "Witchcraft" was riddled with holes and chewed into lace.

"Figures." She dropped the remains of the book to the floor and returned to her chair, clenching her fists to stop their shaking. "Cursed forever because of hungry bugs." Tears pricked at her eyes, the back of her throat grew tight, but she refused to cry. Not now. Don't you dare think it, she told herself, which was almost as good as indulgence. The more she tried to fight her feelings, the more powerful her doubts and fears became.

Is there a cure? Will I ever be free? Will he return? Should I give up?

No. As always, she found strength in her determination. But that broken book, that heap of pages crumbling to dust, seemed to shake her. Who knew what information was now and forever lost in that pile--information that might have set her free. As if spoken by someone else, Cynthia heard her darkest fears whispered in her head. You will never succeed. He gave up, and so should you. Nobody ever loved you, or ever will. Give up. Give up. Give up. Give up. Give up.

"No!" The force behind her voice made her jump, which made her glad no one else was around to see. "Scaring myself." She shook her head. "And now, talking to myself, what next?" Next, she would go mad and forget who she was. That, or accept failure and go home, which she could never do.

Her eyes hurt and her head ached--even more than usual. The piles of books waiting wherever she looked made optimism a slippery thing. "I will find it," she said softly. Logic dictated that anything made could be unmade, including curses, and she intended to prove it, if not through talent, then through diligence in research. Somewhere, there had to be an answer. Perhaps in the very next book.

Her fingers brushed another book when a loud, croaking call made her freeze. "Not now," she groaned, muscles going stiff as she looked, first to the stairs, then to the destroyed encyclopedia. The call repeated, echoing louder down the stairwell and Cynthia knew it was too late to try and hide what she'd done. She covered her ears and ducked behind her chair, thinking invisible thoughts. Once, she had read that the power of thought during stressful situations was magnified by up to fifty percent.

First 750 #6

TITLE: Colors Like Memories
GENRE: YA

I greeted his tombstone the way I always did--with a swift kick. The release of frustration was more than worth the sharp pain in my toes. The polished marble tilted to the left because of all my visits; a crooked tooth in the rows of pearly white graves.

I sat on the damp grass, folding my legs under me. "I keep hoping one of these days you'll be here waiting for me." The words were tradition. I couldn't keep myself from hoping I'd come over the hill to find him leaning over his grave, wearing a sly smile. He died so very long ago, but I couldn't stop wishing.

I leaned my head against my knees, wishing I could sleep. If I slept, though, I would dream of him, and that made things so much harder. I tried to explain this to him, but tonight I didn't have the will to pretend it was more than starlight that listened.

It wasn't so much a sound that made me jerk upright and glance over my shoulder. Something made me certain I wasn't alone; a tension in the air, or the rush of someone's breath, I wasn't sure which. For one heartbreaking second I almost saw him step out of the shadows, but the illusion scattered with a breath of wind. Scanning the darkness, I couldn't see anyone lurking in the expanse of headstones. Could a stray groundskeeper be working late? Another visitor to someone's grave? If anyone saw me, it would lead to problems I didn't want to deal with.

I kissed my fingertips and touched the top of the smooth white stone as I hurried to leave, alert to any movement in the cemetery. "I'll be seeing you," I whispered, wishing it were true. I wound through the sea of identical marble markers, making for the swell of ground at the far end of the cemetery where it was easiest to catch an updraft.

The small knoll overlooked the freeway below, which was a little too close for comfort, but at this hour there were no headlights streaking past. I stretched out my wings, their emerald green inky black in the moonlight. Each feather ached to catch a hint of breeze. I leapt from the ground, thrust down hard, and was airborne. I circled up, straining, until I reached an altitude where no one would see me from below.

Tilting my wings to swing north, my thoughts wandered to my destination. I said a silent prayer to whoever might be listening, hoping the lonely girl I was supposed to be guarding was safe in her bed. Visiting Frederick was the only thing that kept me sane some nights, but it did nothing to dispel the churning worry over Marcy. She deserved to have someone who wasn't struggling with their own grief, but she was stuck with me. Somehow, I had to help her.

As a Sary, saving Marcy was the only way I'd get to save myself.

Sary are the souls of children who die before they are born, before they take their first breath and are tied to the mortal world through flesh and blood. I was unable to take that breath of life, and the only reason I have a body is because I chose to join the Sary and serve humans in need. The alternative was eternity without a body--never being able to touch, see, taste, or feel. Most days I know I made the right choice, but sometimes I wonder what it might have been like to never know what a broken heart felt like. Those days, I'd take back my choice without a second thought.

The rest of the time, there was a good reason why I was here. I was allowed to help people. I showed them what it meant to live, and why committing suicide was not an option they wanted. When the time came, we were assured our work would be worth the price. The Sary would be rewarded--given the highest honors at the End of Days. Whatever that meant. For now it was reward enough to see the softest pink that rimmed the distant hills, reminding me I needed to get out of the sky and onto solid ground before the dawn. Even if I had to enjoy the sunrise alone.

First 750 #5

TITLE: The Life and Adventures of Miss Gretchen Grey
GENRE: YA Historical Paranormal

'How do you punish someone who's already dead?' Gretchen Grey tightened her grip around an umbrella handle while she waited for her parents to arrive. Her eyes flickered absently over the London townhouse where she had grown up. Thick green ivy cast shadow around the entrance and spread towards the outer corners, almost reaching the top floor panes. Looking at it from afar, it seemed her home rested in the palm of a giant murky green claw.

Mira appeared in the doorway and opened her umbrella against the pelting rain. "Gretchen child! There's no reason to wait outside."

Gretchen tore her gaze away from the townhouse and looked up at the chambermaid.

"You know that's not true," she answered softly.

Mira gave her shoulder a gentle pat. The sound of heavy steps and subdued voices drifted towards them from the interior of the London townhouse before her parents emerged.

They carried her mother's casket out first. It was a rich mahogany, etched with gold. Gretchen imagined her mother would have approved. She'd had an eye for detail that many admired.

The group of men was followed out by a second assembly. Her father's coffin was almost identical to her mother's, though a bit longer. Her father had been a tall man, after all. Gretchen's breath caught in her throat and her hand flew up to clutch Mira's as it rested on her shoulder.

'This is all my fault.'

The heavy wooden coffins were lifted higher and carried out into the street where the funeral carriages waited to transport them to their final resting place. It only took them a moment to load their cargo, and then they were off.

Her father's lawyer appeared in the entranceway. He closed and locked the front doors behind him and Mira had already begun towards their awaiting carriage. Gretchen followed. It suddenly hit her that she would never again see her home or her family within it. A dull ache lingered where her heart should be. Heat beat from it, up towards her cheeks, her throat, and her eyes.

She found the courage to turn and look upon the old townhouse one last time. Her chest rose in a painful sigh. It looked nothing like it did when she was a child. There were no flowers, no sun, no happy memories that filled the place with cheer and light. HE had taken those. HE had taken everything. HE had won. The house was his. Gretchen imagined for a moment the poor families that might be tempted to buy the townhouse and find themselves victims of his evil in turn.

She shuddered at the thought.

A movement caught her eye from the upstairs window; the window that once sheltered her childhood bedchamber. He was there. The one who had killed her parents. She could feel him watching her.

She imagined her porcelain dolls, stuffed bears, picture frames, and embroidered bed covers; all of her family heirlooms, being tainted and stained by his very presence. She looked up through the window and found the familiar black eyes glaring at her from the depths of the darkness.

Hate and fury overwhelmed her but she kept her head steady as she stared back at him, betraying no emotion. Under her breath she uttered her final farewell to her birthplace.

"One day, when I am grown, I shall come back and put an end to you."

She sent this final threat through the gloom, feeling it with all of her being. She didn't know if he had heard or understood but she thought she saw a dual flash of red behind the window panes. Then all was dark as she turned on her heels and followed Mira into the carriage.

Gretchen knew that her parents' deaths were anything but an accident. She had known ever since recieving Mira's letter at her boarding school in Winchester four days ago. She had begun to dream that night. And whenever Gretchen Grey dreamt, one could be certain that reality was not far behind.

First 750 #4

TITLE: The Ledger Domain
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy/Spy

Fifteen years ago…

The Keaton Motel was a rat-infested hellhole of a place, but it was home. Besides, the owners gave Anna free room and board in exchange for maid service and they didn't check her papers, so she really shouldn't complain. Not that she was an illegal. Or even Hispanic, despite what the owners thought. Her real name was Anna Cate Milano, and she was third-generation Italian American. She was also 17 and on the run from her overbearing Catholic parents, so, her dark complexion--combined with the prejudices of the ignorant-damned hicks that ran the place--was pretty freaking convenient.

Still, she hated Thursdays. Thursdays were the days that she cleaned the chronically abandoned rooms at the end of building, and those empty rooms gave her the creeps. Even though the Keaton Motel was the cheapest place in all of Nacogdoches, people still broke in rather than paying the small hourly rate. The worst hoodlums the tiny East Texas town could scrounge up flocked to the place, and all sorts of crap happened in those rooms, she'd heard. Bodies had been found in there before. That's bodies plural. And this has happened more than once. Not to mention other things... the other maid refused to go over there, and said Anna shouldn't either. "No woman should go there," she insisted.

If only it were that easy. Given Anna's arrangement with the boss, she didn't have a lot of room to be saying no. She suppressed the temptation to run as she headed down the row to room 112. Despite the fondness for beer, short skirts, and sex that caused her to leave her parents and their ridiculous religious rules, she crossed herself before she reached for the door.

Scratch, scratch.

Anna's head snapped to the room next door. She knew that sound. Rats. Anna hated rats. Absolutely hated them. It was the worst thing about this place, especially Thursdays. The rats congregated in the abandoned rooms, chewing on the mattresses. On two different occasions, she'd opened a drawer to find one of the scrawny critters glaring up at her. Anna contemplated the room, then decided she'd save it for last.

So, it was two and a half hours later before she finally made it back to 113. Anna's hand hovered over the doorknob as she listened.

Scratch, scratch. Scratch, scratch.

She could still hear a scuffling from inside. With a suppressed shudder, she went to put the key in the lock. Then, she noticed it. There were scrapings on the keyhole.

Old. Surely, they were old.

She pressed the door and it swung wide, revealing the absolute worst messy room she'd ever seen. Pillows were strewn everywhere. Lamps on the floor, broken. TV shattered. Kicked in? The curtains were hanging half-off the rod, torn at the fasteners. What had happened in here?

She began searching the floor for blood, hoping not to find any. Her heart started racing when she saw a brown stain on the carpet. Then, she realized the bloodstain was an old one that had stubbornly refused to come out. She let out a breath. It was ok. Someone had broken in and partied a little hard in here. It sucked for her, but it was ok. Just another mess to clean. No big deal.

Scratch, scratch.

Anna wheeled around, her head full of the sound of her grandmother screaming in Italian. She sort of felt like screaming herself. Gran would tell her to leave this place right now, that it was cursed, that there were demons in here to get her. She listened, on the edge of running.

Scratch, scratch. Scratch, scratch. Scratch.

It was coming from the tiny thing the motel called a waiting closet. She inched closer to it, grabbing the fallen lamp on her way. Every inch of her body shaking, she opened the crappy sliding door with a snap.

There was nothing there but a pile of woman's clothes. Where had these come from? Somewhere between nervousness and relief, Anna started to reach down and pick up what was actually a very cute top when the pile moved. Anna froze, hand almost touching the shirt. Then, the pile moved again.

Anna flew back against the wall, terrified. Whatever the animal was, it was bigger than a rat. The pile began moving more violently, and the animal began making an odd noise, almost like a child's cry.

Then, she realized it was a child's cry.

First 750 #3

TITLE: The Collected
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy


Through the glass of Emma's bottle, the tiny basement room appeared curved and distorted. The door crashed open and the Collector limped over the threshold. He dragged his left leg behind him, smearing blood across the floor with his foot. Emma's heart sank. He needed her talent again.

The Collector staggered toward her. Glass bottles of various shapes and sizes occupied the shelves of the curio cabinet where she waited. Spotlights illuminated the carefully placed bottles, casting colorful shadows. Emma prayed he'd pass her by, but it was a wasted prayer. She knew what he needed, and none of the others could give it. His eyes scanned over them all, but stopped on her.

His fingers trembled as he grasped Emma's bottle and loosened the lid. He left the cap on until he brought it to his lips, and in one fluid motion he removed the lid and inhaled, drawing Emma into his body.

A wave of his pain smacked into her and she gasped. She could feel the heat from his left leg as it throbbed with each beat of his heart. He squeezed his eyes closed blocking Emma's vision of the small room. When he opened them again the room tilted and he plopped down on the only chair.

Fix it Emma heard his thoughts as if he were speaking out loud. And no funny business. If I have to force you this time, I'll make you remember George for me. Do you want that?

He placed one image in her mind, but it was enough: George. Beautiful George frozen with his hand pulled back and balled in a fist. A snarl of fury mixed with fear distorted his features.

Emma's stomach flipped and the Collector chuckled. George's haunting image faded from her thoughts as the Collector struggled to control his nausea.

No, she didn't want to remember George for him. It was bad enough when he made her watch his memories of that day, but far worse when he forced her to relive her own. She would do what he needed, without a fight.

She scanned his body. A silver-dollar sized bruise marred his right palm and a clean gash extended from below his left knee, down and across to inches above his ankle. Blood oozed from the wound and saturated his left pant leg, sock and shoe.

Emma focused on the crescent bruise on his hand. It was easy to fix. It itched as the few broken capillaries healed and the small amount of blood was absorbed. Task completed, she moved onto the more difficult leg. She braced herself for the pain she would feel when she repaired this more serious wound.

A pulsating ache radiated from his bone as she mended it and tears welled in his eyes. The pain was as sharp and hot as a flame sterilized knife. The skin surrounding the wound prickled as it melded together and smoothed.

She examined the finished product through his eyes and smiled to herself. She still had it. The calf looked perfect. Not even scar tissue remained. It was as if there had never been a wide slash across his calf at all.

The Collector stood. The room spun around and he collapsed back into the chair, nauseated. He had lost too much blood.

Do you want me to fix this, or not? Emma said.

"Fix it," he growled.

Then sit still and let me.

Every bone in his body throbbed as she stimulated the marrow to make more red blood cells. This was the worst part. The Collector gasped and hissed in pain. Emma smirked.

Her chore complete, his shoulders slouched with her exhaustion. She longed for him to release his hold on her, exhale and return her to her glass cell.

He had other things in mind. He always did.

Just let me go. I've done what you've asked.

"Don't you want to see how I got her?" he said.

No.

"You're no fun."

Her vision hazed around the edges, as if she were gazing through the bottom of a glass. The kaleidoscope of blurred color blinked away and was replaced by the image of a city street at sunset. Her head turned and she realized she was sitting on a bench looking out of the Collector's eyes. A newspaper sat on the bench beside her and she noted the date with sadness.

First 750 #2

TITLE: THE PRACTICE OF WEARING SKIN
GENRE: YA

I am so going to Hell for this.

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.

My iPhone beeps. It's a text from Eden.

Half of Jared's soccer team is here, where R U?

It went well, Eden, thanks for asking, I type back.

Did you doubt that it would work?

I kinda look like a hooker.

LOL

Ten minutes later 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, 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.

Freaking A, there's a guy in the road!

I slam on the brakes and veer to the left, but it's too late. I'm going to hit him. I see a blur of what must be his blue shirt as I swerve, and one of the kegs hits from behind, knocking the wind out of me. The car screeches to a halt and I see stars. The radio turns off and there is a hand on my forehead. Did I crash? Oh God, I've killed someone. I might as well die now. My life is over. I'm going to be arrested for murder, for underage drinking and then for using a fake ID and I'm going to be raped in prison by some woman named Big Mama.

"Sofia, open your eyes," a man's voice says from the passenger seat.

I turn my head and look at him. He's got great big grey eyes and black hair that curls just at the ends. He's smiling at me, not in a Creepy McCreeperson way, but in that lopsided amused way. Is he an angel? Did I die? I can't die yet, I'm still a virgin! And I was about to throw my first party!

"Sofia, you're not dead. You've still got thirty days." He brushes my dark brown hair from my face.

"Who are you?" I ask, voice faltering.

"I'm Theo. Please, get out of the car." He turns and climbs out of the passenger seat. I'm not going to lie; I like the view as he climbs out and ti startles me for a second. His dark jeans look very worn in, those comfy ones every girlfriend tries to steal from their boyfriends. If he still has his pair, he must be single.

Is he a plain-clothes cop? I wipe my lips with the back of my hand and watch as he walks over to my side of the car.

I don't want to be arrested looking like this, so I quickly rub my eyes and when I glance in the mirror, I see streaks of black and brown smudged sideways. Shit, it's even worse than before.

When he arrives at my door, he opens it, staring at me with grey eyes completely devoid of color and it's like I'm watching a black and white TV in them. The blue shirt he's wearing matches perfectly with those eyes.

Oh God, he's the man I've hit! Here I come, Big Mama!

"You didn't hit me, Sofia, get out of the car. You need to walk around."

He grabs my arm and lifts me out.

"How do you know my name?"

He ignores my question and pulls a square of fabric from his back pocket. "You look terrible."

"What's that for?" I ask, pulling back from him and bumping into the car. "Is that chloroform? Are you going to harvest my organs or something?"

First 750 #1

TITLE: Other
GENRE: YA Fantasy/Romance

Agony shooting through every limb. Noiseless screams in her throat. She fainted to escape a pain that would otherwise drive her mad. She woke, still stiff with pain, and realized with rising horror what she had become. And wished that she had gone mad rather than face this.

She fled the world of humans, no longer one of them. After a year of blind and hopeless wandering, she came upon the forest, a secluded place where the Other World was very close. She ended her journey there.

For the first few years she searched and struggled for a way to restore her former self. Fruitless. Sometimes disastrous, wracking her with worse pain and endangering her life. Eventually she gave up on that as well.

She gave up on everything but bitterness.

--------

Everything changed on the seventeenth day.

The day began like any other, when Alain came downstairs to discover he was nearly alone in the house. There was only Gustav, polishing the silver in the kitchen, and Maria, on her way out to the market to purchase the roast for tonight's dinner.

"Master Nicolaus has gone to call on Sir Charles," Gustave informed Alain as he examined a piece of cutlery. From his tone he might as well have added, And his daughter.

"And Father and Henri?" Alain asked. They would have gone somewhere together; they always did. Henri didn't trust their father to make business decisions without him, believing him an over-lenient creditor and the most gullible of bargainers.

"They have gone to the riverport." Gustav looked up from the silver. "Would you like something for breakfast, sir? I might remind you that you neglected to eat yesterday morning."

"Oh." Alain glanced about the kitchen. He hadn't meant to miss breakfast; he never did, but sometimes a book drew him in so fully that when he finally sighed and shut the cover, he found that the morning had passed. Today he had been puzzling out a passage on the qualities of courage in Hutton's "On Virtue."

His brothers teased him mercilessly that he could be so absent-minded, so removed from the real world. Maybe when he left and began his studies at the university, he would finally find others who didn't think this was odd. Seventeen more days.

Gustav cleared his throat. "Oh," Alain said again, apologetic. Speaking of absent-minded. "I'll just have bread and jam."

"Hm." Gustav could express his disapproval very eloquently in brief noises. Nevertheless, he prepared a plate of sliced bread with a square of butter and a bowl of jam, as carefully arranged as if it were a seven course meal. Alain thanked him and ate at the small wooden table in the kitchen, something else Gustav disapproved of. Silly, when he could see it was the most convenient place. Alain had started on a second slice when there came a knock from the front door.

Gustave put down his polishing rag with a sigh. Alain stopped him. "Don't worry about it. I'll answer it."

"Hm. If it pleases you, sir."

Alain pushed back his chair and left the kitchen. On his way down the corridor the knock sounded again, an insistent rap.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," Alain murmured. What could be so urgent at this time of day? He came to the door and pulled it open.

He was greeted with the sight of de Montmercy, one of Father's clerks, in a state of high agitation. His clothing was in disarray as if he had dressed in a hurry, his wispy graying hair strayed about everywhere, and his eyes appeared ready to pop from his head.

"Is your father here?" he asked breathlessly, and hurried inside without waiting for an answer.

"Wh- no, not at the moment," Alain said. "He and Henri are at the riverport; I expect they'll be back before noontime."

De Montmercy paced the front hall, his shoes clacking furiously against the tile. "I must speak with him as soon as he returns. It is a matter...most urgent...quite unexpected...a serious matter indeed..."

Alain shut the front door, thoroughly alarmed now. "What in the world has happened?"

A headshake sent the wispy hair flying. "No, no, this is a matter for your father to hear first. Might I wait here for his return?"

"Yes, of course." Alain swallowed the dread that was rising in his throat and directed de Montmercy toward the study. "Please, make yourself comfortable. I'll send my father in as soon as he returns."

Our First 750-word Crit

This will be fun!

These are longer entries with potential for more in-depth critique, so I'm asking the entrants to please take the time to crit a minimum of 3 other entries (instead of the normal 5). As always, I believe we mustn't take without giving.

A reminder to the critters: Be honest but kind.

A reminder to the entrants: Thick skins. If there are weaknesses in your writing, you WANT your peers to tell you, right? It's all about growing and improving.

Entries will begin posting at 9:00 Eastern!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Submissions Are Now Closed

We've got our 10 entries! This is going to be fun.

Submissions Are Now Open!

Go, go, go!

A Special Call For Submissions!

Think of it as a way to spice up Monday.

At noon EDT, submissions will open for THE FIRST 750 WORDS OF YOUR COMPLETED MG/YA MANUSCRIPT.

But hold on. I'm only accepting 10 entries.

So please don't hit "send" unless your manuscript meets the following criteria:
  • Your manuscript is FINISHED and POLISHED. If you know you're not ready to send queries, please don't enter.
  • Your novel is MG or YA, any genre.
  • Your manuscript WAS NOT ONE OF THE 50 ENTRANTS IN THE JULY SECRET AGENT CONTEST.
  • You are not currently represented by a literary agent.
Submission format is the same as always:
  • Send your first 750 words to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com
  • Send plain text (for best results)
  • As such:
SCREEN NAME: (type it here)
TITLE: (type it here)
GENRE: (type it here)

(type your 750 words here)


I'll post the 10 entries on Wednesday for a nice, in-depth critique session. If this is successful, we'll have another one for adult fiction.

Sound good? Ask questions below!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Here's my advice for today: Surround yourself with good writers who are TOUGH when they critique your work. Really tough. Because when they give you a compliment, you'll know they really mean it.

That's my experience this week, and it's given me the final nudge out of my funk. I'd venture to say, at the risk of sounding ridiculously theatrical, that my heart is singing again. And I'm ready to dive into my new WIP.

Amazing how a few WOWs from trusted readers can imbue the confidence that, for a while, was all but lost. And the WOW from someone who hasn't read me yet felt good, too. Just because she's artless and sincere and slightly adorable.

I don't like fluffy words meant to soothe. We all crave affirmation, but we won't grow without responding well to critique. So when I've been through the wringer with folks who've cared enough to pick my work apart, and then they "OOO!" and "AHH!" over something new, it's...well, amazing.

You know who you are. Thank you.

Next step? Setting aside perfectionism and the intense pressure of living up to the WOWs in order to simply WRITE this thing. I swear, this journey is more about self-discovery and emotional growth than anything.

It's all good.

Also? Another Amazing Person has pinpointed what's wrong with my dystopian. For the first time since the endless parade of wow-you-write-well-but-I-don't-want-to-represent-you's, I feel like I can FIX this thing. So thank you, Amazing Person.

That's going to wait a while, though. The WIP beckons, and I'm incredibly excited about it. (It's YA urban fantasy, in case you were insatiably curious.)

There you have it. I hope you have Tough Critters and Amazing People in your life, too. I wouldn't be where I am today without mine.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Twitter: On Being Misunderstood

So it's happened again. A harmless tweet was misconstrued and someone's panties got knotted.

Mind you, it was a worthy panty-knot. The gal thought I was complaining about agents. And that's certainly something that should be called out. Public belly-aching about agents is on the NO-NO list for aspiring and published authors alike.

So, yes. By all means.

Except, I wasn't complaining about agents. I was expressing my preference for a short, blunt rejection over a flowery, trying-not-to-hurt-the-writer's-feelings form rejection that doesn't really say anything, anyway.

My tweets:

1. My favorite form rejection format: "This isn't for me, but thanks for the look." Really, it's all I need! Not "While your writing has merit"

2. or "I'm sure another agent will feel differently" (you can't be sure of that!). Just "no, but thanks." Absolutely. (k, I'm done now :D)

That's it. That's me, appreciating the "This isn't for me, but thanks for the look" rejection I'd received moments earlier. It struck me that I almost always skim the long, well-thought-out form rejections, despite their well-meant intentions. No is no. Don't tell me how full your list is or that my work was "intriguing" (you obviously weren't intrigued enough to read more) or that you're sure another agent will snap me up. Just acknowledge the receipt of my query and--wow--thank me.

I love that part. For a busy agent with LOTS more to do than to read slush, a "thanks for the look" is a humble and respectful way to acknowledge the time and, well, human-ness, of the author who queried. I don't expect it and I don't feel slighted without it. But when it's there, outside the context of a long-ish form rejection, I notice. And I appreciate it.

So really, that's all I was saying, in my usual, let's-be-lighthearted-whenever-we-can approach. And someone took it wrong.

It happens. Especially online! But I'm so transparent and consistent in what I say and how I say it, both here and on Twitter, that it always catches me off guard when someone misunderstands me to such a large degree. I may have my real name well concealed, but I'm as "me" as I could possibly be under the circumstances. And--correct me if I'm wrong--anyone who has read me for some time should know that I'm not in favor of griping about agents.

Griping about non-response to queries, yes. But that's a pet peeve I have no trouble being vocal about. (What, you noticed?)

In the end, I don't really care what the rejection says, so long as I RECEIVE a rejection. And since that's becoming less common, each one that arrives is appreciated even more. But short and sweet with a little thank you? Definitely my favorite.

Even better? When the agent takes the time to address me by name. Something else I certainly don't expect or demand, but appreciate all the same.

It's nice to feel human. Particularly in the midst of being rejected. *grin*

That's it, really. Though as a result I think I'll keep my in-the-moment responses to agent-related communiques to a minimum on Twitter. Not that I do it a lot, anyway. I'm not in favor of aspiring authors' walking the internets-at-large through their entire query process. Not professional. Not remotely interesting, either. Sharing the journey in general is great, but a play-by-play? No. That's never been my style and I don't like reading others who have that style.

So, to debunk any myth that may creep in: I appreciate ALL responses from agents. And I'm allowed to prefer one method over others because, well, we're all allowed to have our preferences.

I'll just keep my mouth shut about them from now on.

Maybe.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Our Olympic-Style Winners!

Straight from the fingers of Ms. Chiotti herself:

What a fun week this has been! Thanks so much to Authoress, and to the dedicated fans of this site, for allowing me the opportunity to hang out here and do some really fun reading.

There were plenty of entries that I thought showed tremendous promise here, so when it came down to choosing and ranking my favorites, it was tough (which is why I ended up with two silver medalists!). I’ve listed the winners below, along with the prizes.

Also, if I mentioned in my comments that I would be interested in reading more of the project, those authors are very welcome to submit to me, per our submissions guidelines, which are available at Upstart Crow. Please put “Authoress” in your subject line.

Finally, I’d like to wish the best of luck to all of the creative, energetic writers who are working so hard to get published—keep writing, keep working at your craft,and it will happen for you!

Gold Medal

LIFE ILLUMINATED #2

This is my standout favorite. I was immediately drawn in by the voice, and the character’s obviously dark past. It was immediately vivid and engaging.

Prize: Request full manuscript for consideration, and will give 10 pp critique.

Silver Medal

HYBRID #6

I was really intrigued by this piece. It has the makings of a really interesting story, and I’m dying to find out what happens next. Nicely done!

Prize: Request full manuscript for consideration, and will give 5 pp critique.

SINGING THE WIRES #40

This was really beautifully written, the action was fantastic, and the details were very clearly conveyed. Looking forward to reading more of this.

Prize: Request full ms for consideration, and will give 5 pp critique.

Bronze

MAGIC SHOES #15

I love the boy voice here, and the detailing is quite nicely done.

Prize; Request first 100 pp of manuscript

Runner Up

URBAN MYTHOS #27

This one had a lot of personality, and I’d love to see where it goes.

Prize: Request first 50 pp of manuscript

-----

CONGRATULATIONS, everyone! Please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for specific submission instructions.

Secret Agent Unveiled: DANIELLE CHIOTTI

Huge hurrahs for the lovely and enthusiastic Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary Agency for being our amazing Secret Agent this month!

Danielle's bio:

Danielle Chiotti has been working in publishing for nearly a decade. Formerly a Senior Editor at both Kensington Publishing and Adams Media, she has worked on a wide variety of books ranging from contemporary women’s fiction to narrative nonfiction, from romance to relationship stories, humorous tales and young adult fiction. Thanks to her extensive editorial background, she enjoys working closely with authors to develop projects. She welcomes first-time authors with a unique voice and point of view.

What she's looking for right now:

Danielle is looking for projects with gorgeous writing and strong, flawed characters who aren't afraid to take chances or show a bit of a dark side. She is actively seeking fresh, quirky YA and middle grade projects, as well as upmarket commercial fiction including contemporary women's fiction, multicultural women's fiction, and historical fiction.

Winners to be announced shortly!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday!

You may have noticed that I redacted the contents of entry #28 in this month's contest. That's because the author emailed me last night and announced that she'd just signed with an agent! And asked that I please remove her entry so as not to take away a "chance" from someone else.

What class. What awesomeness. I LOVE getting emails like this!

Know what's even more fun? The Secret Agent is disappointed!

When I started this blog (over 2 years ago!), I never dreamed I'd have all these behind-the-scenes, explosively exciting experiences with authors and agents alike. It's incredibly gratifying!

So please join me in congratulating "JP" on nabbing an excellent agent.

As for me, I've moved out of my funk--the worst I've ever had, methinks--and have spent my week querying and working on a new story idea (YA urban fantasy). And sending out requested material. Which is, yanno, heady.

For a while. Until the cynicism kicks back in. (Yeah, you all know what I'm talking about!)

Anyway, I hope JP's good news has inspired you! I think the lesson here is YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN IT'S GOING TO HAPPEN. Yes?? So keep plugging.

I'm glad to be your, erm, plug partner.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July Secret Agent #50

TITLE: BUBBLE, BUBBLE
GENRE: Young adult fantasy

Something big and slimy made its way along the riverbank. It heaved and slithered, and rolled itself inwards and outwards. It was enormous, vile, and dripping with something so grotesque that the foliage that it did not crush on its clambering path wilted and shrank by force of proximity.

Water sloshed, attempting to run and drip away from the putrid creature, even as the muddy beast sucked droplets into itself, only to heave them out again in a relentless cycle of water and mud. Trees groaned and swayed in futile attempts to move away as the creature's gray shadow slid across the earth and touched their roots with the guile of a clever snake.

As the monster trudged along at no great speed, all sorts of other creatures, substantial and ethereal, hurried to get away.

Except for one.

The River Queen watched from a safe distance, her gleaming eyes boring holes into the invader.
The shawl of water she wore about her person shimmered with indignation as she observed the growing chaos and inhaled the smell the creature left in its wake. She flipped her glossy hair backwards, shaking droplets of water around like little stars as her blue eyes turned to icy glaciers.

No great blob of putrescence was going to beat her. No stinking beast of mud was going to claim her river for its own.

With growing rage, she watched the destruction the beast left behind.

July Secret Agent #49

TITLE: The Egyptian Playbook of the Dead
GENRE: YA urban fantasy

Running away, even to the mortal world, was harder than I'd expected.

Voices bleated around me as I entered the Detroit International airport from the jetway. I could have deciphered the jumble of Arabic and English and French, but that would remind me what I was running from. It was easier to follow the crowd. The sheep.

Baa, I muttered as a particularly large couple jostled around me.

I gripped my carry-on--considerably lightened, since they'd confiscated the shampoo and toothpaste in Cairo--and waited as the other passengers claimed their luggage. I knew where mine was. I could just catch its faint odor of leather and dust as it circled the far side of the belt. I edged closer, and an airport worker shot me a suspicious look and pulled out a radio. With a prickle of sweat I focused on the inner circuits of the radio, and a moment later, the guard tapped the device in frustration and hurried away for a replacement. My suitcases popped through the flaps from the other side. I snatched them off the belt and headed for the customs line marked "non-U.S. residents."

Like the security guard, the eyes of the customs agents lingered on me, the smell of mistrust reeking from their skin. I didn't need English to understand that. I shifted under their gaze and straightened the suit I'd swiped off a student passed out drunk in an alley. I felt unclean.

July Secret Agent #48

TITLE: SHADOW FALLS
GENRE: commercial YA fiction

The hydrangea bush at the corner of Main and Spring was bursting with bluish-lavender blossoms. I sat in the car, waiting for the light to change and realized the huge fists of flowers were the same exact shade as Trent Jackson's eyes. I know, it's an impossible color for eyes. I'd never seen anything like it before he started at our school last year. Last year Trent arrived and stopped all the girls at Creekside High School dead in their tracks.

See, we've all gone to school together since our moms sent us off to kindergarten crying. They were crying; we were wondering what bad thing was about to happen to us that had them so upset. We still haven't found out.

Then we got to high school and Trent showed up. He was the first new male student our age in years, and we were all trying to figure out how to get him to ask us out. I was in no position to make a play for somebody like Trent last year. I still had braces on my teeth. But over the summer the braces came off, and I finally got my figure.

And Stephanie Miller got Trent.

Stephanie's a senior, and she's never had an awkward phase as long as I've known her. She sailed straight from being the cutest little elementary-school kid to being the first girl in middle school to get her boobs to being the head of the cheerleader squad without even breaking a sweat.

July Secret Agent #47

TITLE: Miranda's Fire
GENRE: YA

Miranda launched the second fireball a fraction of a second after the first, urging it to fly faster. She knew how improbable this trick was. She knew it because she had already attempted it--and failed--273 times today. And as many the day before.

As usual, her earphones blasted a hard rhythm. The music drowned out andom sounds from the estate and helped her focus. The magic inside her pulsed in time with the heavy bass.

Her mother said what she aimed to do was impossible, but Miranda had seen the explosions from two Fire Mage's flames colliding. If she could create that kind of force? No Mage would be able to defeat her in The Tournament. Fire Mages couldn't release two flames at once; that was impossible. But if anyone could accomplish this, Miranda knew it would be her. Her mother, the Psychic Mage, taught her about power, but her dad had taught her the real secret to winning --control.

The two flames raced to the stone wall. Based on her studies of The Tournament film archives, the pin-point centers needed to perfectly overlap a hair's breath from the target.

Not impossible, but near enough.

She squinted her eyes, trying to see how close she had come this time. In answer, a bone-jarring explosion blew her backwards, knocking out the breath she had been holding. She tucked into a ball and rode the shock-wave the forty feet to the far wall of the practice room, laughing as she tumbled.

July Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Escape # 59
GENRE: YA paranormal

The werewolves did not like games. Never played them. So, of course, to trick them into one was an undying aspiration of every human under sixteen at our school. On my hands and knees, I followed Jaq along the wall of the dining room, making sure to stay hidden behind the tables. The kids snickered into their plates, but played along by not looking at the werewolf perched on the table in the center. It was Dina today, the head of our werewolf personnel, the iciest of them all.

As I was copying Jaq's war crawl, I wished Fox were here. He would know how to trick anyone. He didn't feel like children's games lately, but I knew he would play if I asked. I should have waited for him.

I scuttled into the sunny patch under a window and had to squint. Sunbeams were ricocheting off the glossy purple feathers that covered the floor. They were reflecting off the white tablecloth, hanging down the nearest table. One naughty ray was even bouncing off some silverware I couldn't see from the floor. All in all, the sun light hung in front of me like a golden veil with purplish undertones. Which was the exact color combination of pancakes with grape jelly. The air smelled of them too, because that's what we were having for breakfast. My mouth watered.

I must have made a sound, because Jaq looked over her shoulder and rounded her eyes in a silent warning.

July Secret Agent #45

TITLE: At the End of Silence
GENRE: Women's Fiction

September 1938

Eleven people gather around the shortwave radio sitting on the coffee table in the Loewes' front room. They crowd together--adults clustered on the sofa and chairs, children standing--to listen to the broadcast from President BeneŇ° on Radio Prague. The squat wooden box commands the attention of the room. A hush descends as the broadcast begins, and they listen with rapt concentration. Ruth Loewe stands behind the sofa. Before the guests arrived she spent a few extra minutes coaxing her wavy brunette hair into a pretty ponytail. She likes how it shows off her striking brown eyes, probably the only feature she wants drawing attention. She leans forward, straining to hear the crackling broadcast:

“I am talking to you at a moment of international difficulties, the most serious since the World War, which have entangled not only Europe but also the greater part of the world.

…We wish to contribute to a settlement of European problems in general and to the establishment of good relations with all our neighbors, especially with Great Germany--”

Ruth's father, Aron, interrupts the broadcast.

“That's ridiculous! What settlement? Handing over part of our country? The Sudeten Germans support a Nazi leader and are preparing to secede from the state at this very moment. Is that the establishment of good relations?”

With his serious expression and the small spectacles perched on his nose, he looks like a professor. His dark hair, close-cropped and combed back neatly, completes the image.

July Secret Agent #44

TITLE: Chauncey's Assignment
GENRE: MG fantasy

As the first rays of sunlight took over from the darkness of night, Chauncey moved out of the folds of the shadows towards the sleeping boy. His movement created small ripples in the air and he shifted his coloring to match the yellows and reds of the dawn. He slowed. Watching Tobiatoma, the other presence who held vigil by the bed, for any sign that he had been detected, Chauncey crept closer.

The boy twisted in the nightmare, fighting the bed sheets. Chauncey guessed he was being chased again. He knew that Tobiatoma had tried to reassure the boy but nothing had worked. I know he called because he thinks he's failed, thought Chauncey. If Tobiatoma failed, the boy could lose his imagination. Just as the boy needed to learn; so did Tobiatoma.

Chauncey watched Tobiatoma glance around the room. He knows someone is coming Chauncey realized. He waited. If he could not help without being discovered, then Tobiatoma would always be looking for someone to bail him out. He'd never gain the confidence he needed to help this child grow.

Chauncey forced himself to stay still. He hated inaction. His spikes bristled as he thought, I'm fourteen and too old for this. Swishing in frustration, his tail created a breeze that stirred in the room. He cursed silently. He knew better. He stilled the movement and watched Tobiatoma's bright eyes searching.

July Secret Agent #43

TITLE: The Silver Heir
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Of two things Lila-Phoenix Silver was absolutely certain; people thought her grandmother was crazy and she was beginning to side with the general public.

"Why is she here?" The dark haired girl behind Silver asked, her disgust matching Silver's mortification.

"God only knows," Silver replied, trying to hide behind one of the Roman pillars that propped up the school's entrance. Not that that would stop her grandmother from finding her. The thing was, Silver knew exactly why her grandmother was standing beside her car, hands flapping at the passing students to see if they knew where Silver was- she just wished it wasn't the reason.

Silver peered around the column, checking to see if Alice was still there. She was. Most of the students were giving her grandmother a wide berth, ignoring her calls in fear, while the bolder stood and laughed, waving their hands back in exaggerated mocking.

Alice Silver was known as the town loon who thought magical beings lived among the people of Port Grave. She held seances and read tea leaves for tourists during the summer and would deal tarot cards for anyone who wanted their future told in the winter- not that anyone ever did. Mocking Alice was such a favourite pastime of the people of the Port that it was practically a sport. They said she thought she was a witch because she could shuffle a deck of cards. If only they knew how wrong they were.

July Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Fictional Alterheroes
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

Bane Hollow was the world's most notorious mass murderer. Perhaps you've heard of his work? He was responsible for the death of Dracula in the late 1800s, he single-handedly took down Godzilla without a scene, and let's not forget the Boogeyman--yes, he killed that, too. At two hundred and six years old, one can assume he was far from youthful, yet you'd never know such things if you saw him. He was a tall man with a boyish face and a glittering smile. He always wore a black trench coat, gloves, alligator boots and a top hat with a feather.

He has lived all around the world, but London was his true love. At night, when he's not working, you can often find him at a ritzy cafe at the heart of Westminster. There, he would have the usual tea and crumpets, sit at a table by the window and read the Daily Express. Quite simple for a man who was very much the opposite; but there's one thing you should know about Bane Hollow: nothing took him by surprise. Did he run when Godzilla was about to stomp him? Oh, no--he yawned. Or how about when a giant spider had him in her web, do you think he squirmed? I'm afraid even she was stunned when he whistled a tune. Ah yes, good ol' Bane was a tough cookie, but all that changed one cold and windy June, when he looked out the cafe's window and dropped his teacup with a crash.

July Secret Agent #41

TITLE: TRAVELER
GENRE: YA PARANORMAL

Someone was watching. Again. LeeAnne looked away from the table where she sat eating lunch with her girlfriends and squinted against the bright, northern California sunshine as she scanned the campus. No one obvious was looking her way -- no one at the other tables, or sitting on the grass, or in the amphitheater. She glanced around at the other girls with her. None of them seemed to share her feeling. A look of mild irritation passed over her face. The same thing happened twice last week, just not at school. No one else noticed anything then either. Weird. She shook her head once and turned her attention back to Grace.

"We call ourselves 'Rocks in Your Head.'" Grace told the new girl, Kylie. "You know, 'Rocks in Your Head' like because we're rocking out in our heads all the time, but then, 'Rocks in Your Head' like because people think we have rocks in our head for thinking our band might go anywhere."

LeeAnne still couldn't decide if the name was clever or just kind of dumb. Who would want to point out the fact that people might think you had rocks in your head?

The feeling crept up the back of her neck. She turned toward it. Not seeing anyone looking back, she attempted to focus on Grace's story. The feeling wouldn't leave. Okay, time to distract herself. Just think about Grace.

July Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Singing the Wires
GENRE: Middle Grade

'Go on, make her fly, Gossamer,' Orchid Indigo said. Her green eyes glittered with mischief.

'Yes, do it!' Bopplenut said.

Gossamer turned back to Decibelle and the indecision in her eyes cleared. She swept her body around in a half-circle and slammed her wing against Decibelle's shoulder.

Decibelle grabbed a branch, but it was too late. She screamed as she toppled. Instantly, her wings flickered into life. They beat out of time, struggling to balance her body, turning and spinning her in space as she dropped through the leaves.

In the last moments before she hit the ground, the wings found their beat, slowing her descent. Decibelle curled her body on impact and rolled into the thick layer of leaves. The air punched from her lungs.

As she lay there gasping, the three tintookie younglings landed and stood watching.

'You didn't fly up here, did you? You climbed.' Bopplenut Snout shook his spiky blond head in mock disbelief. 'I'll tell on you! Imagine what the clan will say.'

Gossamer's mouth gaped, as though in horror at what she had done.

Decibelle sat up. One grazed knee dribbled blood and her palms throbbed from the rough slide along the track. Much worse than that though, the others had witnessed the embarrassing, clumsy landing. She brushed away tears as her voice tore from her throat.

'LEAVE ME ALONE!'

The tintookies fell back and held their hands over their ears. Pain leached the colour from their faces.

July Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Unlives of the Undead
GENRE: YA

"Can someone get rid of the flies? They're ruining the shots," a cameraman said.

"It's Brain-Breath's fault. They follow him like pets," Annabelle said. She flashed a spiteful smile at me.

"Don't call me that," I said, frowning.

"What would you prefer? Rotting Flesh? The Walking Corpse?" Annabelle's smile widened to reveal her fangs.

"You're one to talk, Blood Sucker," I said.

"Oh, how clever! I've never heard that before. How many days did it take for you to come up with it?"

Annabelle's hand shot out, quick as lightning, and closed around one of the flies. She squeezed and then opened her hand. The lifeless bug dropped to the ground.

"Was that your best friend? I'm so sorry you didn't get a chance to say goodbye." She only needed a few seconds to dispose of the rest of the flies circling me.

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. I couldn't come up with a decent response.

Wicked delight flashed in Annabelle's eyes. She knew she'd won this round, not that she ever came close to losing a verbal spat with me. She was quick-witted, even for a vampire. A zombie like me had no chance of matching her repartee for repartee.

"Tell me you're getting all this," Scott, the shoot director, whispered to one of the cameramen.

July Secret Agent #38

TITLE: SS-5
GENRE: Young Adult Historical

Jan woke to the dim blue light before dawn. He lay, gazing at the just-visible ceiling, remembering the day before.

It was when he turned over and pulled the covers tight that he sensed it; the sense of something wrong. He could smell it, feel it; heavy and prickling like a rough wool blanket.

But not warm.

Fumbling back the covers, he scrambled out of bed and grabbed for his slippers, scared without knowing why.

Soft footsteps tapped outside the door. The knob turned, and his mother entered, her face hidden in the shadows. He smelled the faint scent of coffee as she came toward him, put her arms around him, kissed his cheek. "Happy birthday, Jan."

She hadn't held him like that since he was eight years old. Then her touch had been all he needed to drive away the nightmare.

Now it only made him more afraid.

He pushed her away. "Mum. What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry." Her voice wobbled. "I don't think we can have your party."

"What is it? What happened?"

Her whisper shivered through the air. "The Germans have invaded. Crossed the border at Maastricht and are coming into the country. Our army is fighting them..." He heard her swallow. "Come on, sweetheart. We can't do anything. We...let's eat breakfast. I made pancakes..."

Only half-hearing her words, he yanked open his wardrobe, wriggled into trousers, pulled a
shirt over his head.

July Secret Agent #37

TITLE: Unraveled
GENRE: YA mystery

My legs were as stiff as a corpse's. If anyone drove by they'd probably think teen Frankenstein was terrorizing the neighborhood. The Tylenol Papi gave me this morning had worn off so even breathing hurt. Or maybe it was because my ab and lat muscles were so tight they'd formed a corset around my ribcage.

It was worth it though. Yesterday's class had been a blast until it'd been my turn to spar Black Belt Barbie. Obviously, she didn't believe in taking it easy on beginners. I'd joined Soo's Tiger Claw dojo to learn defense moves in case a Ted Bundy or a Hannibal Lecter ever attacked me, not to be Barbie's b****.

After class, I calculated the torque of the back spinning kick that had me counting ceiling tiles. Estimating Barbie weighed about 140 pounds, of which fifty-six were all leg, and knowing she was six feet tall, I'd come up with 84lbs/ft of torque. That was equivalent to the average four cylinder car. Sounded reasonable, considering I felt like I'd been hit by a car.

No wonder I'd forgotten the practice questions this morning. I looked at my watch and walked as fast as the soreness would let me. Math club was in twenty minutes so I needed to grab them and head back.

Finally home, I dug into my jeans pocket and grabbed my keys aimed them at the lock but the door squeaked open.

July Secret Agent #36

TITLE: A Heat Of The Moment Thing
GENRE: Contemporary Women's Fiction

'This. Is. Masochism.' What on earth had possessed us to come here on a Saturday?

'Oh God.' Jo held her forehead as if it might fall off.. 'Too loud.'

Hangovers are never fun, but in this noise and this heat? I shot her a pitying look. 'You won't hear it once you're swimming,' I offered.

She didn't dignify it with a response.

We cut across to the lockers.

'Hey,' I tried for distraction. 'Like my new highlights?' I held out a couple of coppery locks.

She gave them the barest of glances. 'Great,' she monotoned, and slumped against the wall.

Lucky I had a thick skin.

I removed my contact lenses, then we stashed our bags and headed to the lane pool.

'Maybe this isn't such a good idea,' she muttered.

'Coffee, then?' I asked, ever-hopeful.

'No. Swim.'

Blast.

We reached the shallow end and stood surveying the lanes. Think M25, eight a.m.

'This is the pits,' I said.

'Yeah. Never again.' I couldn't tell if she was referring to the crowds or the hangover.

A shrieking kid raced past. Jo flinched and brought a hand up to her dark, close-cropped spikes.

Was it just the lights or did her face look green? 'Hun, if this is too much for you, don't swim. I'll still respect you in the morning,' I quipped.

'I'm okay.' She took a deep breath. Released it slowly through tight lips. 'I think.'

July Secret Agent #35

TITLE: The Weave
GENRE: YA

Water surrounds me.

It goes on for miles, on all sides, in every direction. Sometimes I
feel as though I'm being smothered by it--when it's been days without seeing
more than a sliver of a ridge. Other times it feels like a prison. Instead
of metal bars it's the icy water that keeps me captive on this hell boat.
I've been on the Delilah for less than a week and I'm ready to flee.
But I'll have to wait until we get to the outpost. It's not like I can just
up and bolt at an uneasy glare from the captain or the brutal mistreatment
of the first mate. Even if they find out I'm a girl I can't run.
My fishing pole slips through my fingers and clanks to the deck.
I snatch my pole and glance around, hoping no one has seen my
carelessness. I don't need another screech-fest from Johnson today. For the
moment I shake any thoughts of escape from my head. They'll be time to think
about it later, when I need something to distract me from the horror that
goes on in the Captain's quarters each night. Right now I need to catch
food. And there's not much time left before the first mate comes to gather
what little I've caught.

I reel in my line a bit and say a small prayer to the fish gods. Then I pray
there is a fish god.

July Secret Agent #34

TITLE: The Right Mother
GENRE: Contemporary Women's Fiction

Only three days on the run and already our clothes reek like overripe goat cheese. I slide a cigarette between my lips and grab my lighter, then glance at Jimmy and Sharon sleeping on the other bed. I may be an inept mother sitting on the edge of a saggy bed in the cheapest motel in Dayton, Ohio, but I love my kids.

So I close the lighter.

When my first marriage failed before it started--my fiance broke it off because, he said, I was too perky--Mother consoled me by saying my cheerful disposition was a blessing. An inheritance from both my lines.

"Your lucky lines," she said.

So, so lucky.

I step outside and wave a path through gnats swarming the light above the door. I sit on the hood and rest my feet on the Ford's bumper. I raise the cigarette but hear a deep buzz--a hellacious beetle dive-bombing me. I duck but it flies into my hair. Stifling a scream, I drop the cigarette and reach for the bug. It escapes my fingers, crawling around in there until I trap it. I pinch its body and pull it out.

Then I crush it flat and wipe the guts on my pants.

Back inside. Back on the bed. Thinking. Spinning the tiny corrugated wheel. Lighting up. Inhaling deeply.

I blow the smoke toward the door, away from the kids, but the tobacco cloud curves toward them.

If we survive the night, maybe I'll call Mother.

July Secret Agent #33

TITLE: The Aspen Experiments
GENRE: Young Adult

I meant to focus on the admissions counselor, but the funky paperweight on her desk kept squirming into my shoe. Shapes get under my skin, in my mouth even. Sometimes when I see a tasty shape, the empty space of a lamp shade, for instance, I roll it around in my mouth imagining the way the curves would feel on my tongue. Sometimes shapes push their way between my toes, like the paperweight. It's a little distracting.

The counselor pushed a thick booklet at me. "Please sign the back of the handbook, now that you know the rules."

I scribbled my name on the back. Who reads those anyway? My sister Carly signed in the Parent/Guardian space, even though she's neither. She checked her watch again as she handed it back.

"Alrighty," the counselor said, "We're set. Come back at three for your class schedule."

While Carly grabbed her purse I allowed myself a moment to hold the paperweight. It was a glass pyramid, full of tiny metal balls. Ball bearings, maybe. They swirled in slow motion as I turned it over, like astronauts drifting in the vacuum of space. It was a really cool paperweight.

Carly and I headed outside to unload my stuff, shivering in the icy wind. Connecticut in January was ridiculously cold. I would need a new word here, like gouge-out-my-eyeballs-with-an-icicle cold. The school buildings were simple red brick. Their shapes slid down my throat like jello squares.

July Secret Agent #32

TITLE: 40 THIEVES
GENRE: YOUNG ADULT (STEAMPUNK/HISTORICAL FANTASY)

Amara ran her hand along the rose-colored stone until she found the entrance. Pressing her back against the wall, she shoved open the door, revealing a narrow den.

"I've got it," she said, dangling the necklace in front of his nose. "I could have taken whatever you wanted from the safe. You know as well as I do that the necklace works as the key."

Harun's eyes did not acknowledge Amara's presence. Instead, he continued chopping a mango into thick, precise slices.

"I wanted to know that you could be discreet." His fat lips curled into a grin while he powdered the mango with chili pepper. "A quality which you are sorely lacking."

Amara's fists tightened, clutching the necklace. "You say that only because I'm a woman. I'm tired of these petty missions. I can steal from even the most alert vendors with my right hand tied behind my back, I--"

Before she could complete her sentence, Harun leapt from the tattered stool and pushed her back against the wall. His dirty fingernails dug into her shoulders, and she inhaled his sour breath.

"I have a special mission for you. One if completed successfully would earn you your marks. Watch your tongue before I change my mind," he growled, grabbing her chin.

"Is this the girl?" a gravelly voice asked.

Harun's eyes darted to the corner and he dropped to his knees, forcing Amara to grovel beside him. "Sir, forgive me. I was not expecting you this early."

July Secret Agent #31

TITLE: Blink
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

A hum of excitement buzzed through the school, and Sydnee knew why. A new ship had just pulled in, and the student body was about to double overnight.

She glanced around her first period chemistry class, noting the heavy makeup and skimpy clothes most of the girls wore today. She wondered idly how many of these girls would be pregnant within the month.

The chair to her right sat empty. This had been the one class where she hadn't been surrounded by a ring of vacant seats, but it looked like Kristen, her lab partner, wasn't going to show today. She'd seemed nice enough. There'd been no overt bitchiness.

Sydnee sighed. If only she'd waited an extra week to move in with her aunt, she could have blended in with the rest of the military brats who followed their parents from port to port. It would have been so much easier.

A dozen new students queued up by the teacher's podium. Bored, Sydnee laid her head on her desk and closed her eyes.

The she heard it, and gasped. Mandarin. She straightened up and peered curiously at the front of the classroom. A few of the new arrivals were speaking Mandarin to one another. And these weren't Asian kids; they looked as white bread American as she did. Based on the snippets of conversation she caught over the hum of the other students, they weren't any more jazzed about Bremerton High than she was.

July Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Enchanted Goddesses: The Genesis
GENRE: YA urban fantasy

When I first discovered what I was and what I could do, it freaked me out. I could do something nobody else on Earth could do (and of course, I'm not from this planet, but I didn't find that out till later.) So there I was with some bizarre ability that only superheroes in movies and comic books were supposed to be capable of. Talk about scary.

What got me through it was knowing I wasn't alone. I only had my best friend at first, and then I met the other three girls who also have freakish abilities. I'm not sure you could call what the five of us have friendship, but if so, there aren't any others like ours. I say this mostly because we're not normal, and then there's the fact that we argue and disagree a lot. Despite that, we have a pretty strong bond; one we've had since we were born. Maybe even before that.

Because of the secret we share, we are forever connected and nothing can ever sever that bond (well, maybe if one of us was killed, and these days that's a definite possibility. I panic at the thought of losing one of my friends.) We are inseparable. We are one.

We are the Enchanted Goddesses.

- Aries Peterson, the Air Goddess

July Secret Agent #29

TITLE: TAKEN
GENRE: YA

He must have watched me from a safe distance, like a crocodile observing its prey, his eyes hovering just above the dark, silver tinted water.

I was the perfect victim, oblivious and distracted by the promise of an awesome summer. It was January, the first night of our two week, annual, family holiday at Bob's Bay; a secluded spot on the southwest coast of Australia that is so remote there is no electricity or running water.

My sister, Lauren, and I had snuck out for a midnight swim, our first-night ritual. We were messing around in the water like a pair of hyper dolphins, laughing and splashing, anticipating the next day where we'd planned on visiting a couple of kids our age from the other shacks further up the coast.

I can still remember the last words my sister and I shared.

'Can't believe you're seventeen next week,' said Lauren. She flicked her long, wet hair in my direction and it landed over her shoulder like a golden rope. 'One more year and you're legal like me. We can go clubbing and stuff.'

'I know,' I said, hesitantly, and she laughed so I tacked on a 'Yay!' and pumped a feeble fist into the air.

'Ha! You're such a grandma, Randy,' she said, splashing me. 'You must be the only teenager alive who'd rather stick their nose in a book than go out.'

I shrugged and averted my eyes.

July Secret Agent #28 (redacted)

*entry withdraw at request of author*

July Secret Agent #27

TITLE: Urban Mythos
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

"My name is Zydeco, and I am a recovering mythological creature." I stood at the makeshift podium and looked out over the musty, high ceilinged room, my fingers clutching the stone hanging on the black rope around my neck.

For the first time in three months, tonight was my turn to kick off the meeting. Moments ago, the regulars had finished up their conversations and hunkered down into the rows of folding chairs with stale donuts in hand. Some newbies continued to mill about the cramped YMCA gymnasium, their eyes darting around nervously. This was the most popular group of its kind in the city, and as a result everyone sat in rows instead of a circle.

As one out of tune voice, they answered, "Hello, Zydeco."

The canned response didn't always make me crack up, but after hearing it about eight hundred times, I couldn't help but chuckle a little. I swear, sometimes I thought they were sheep -- the weird, legendary kind that flies and craps rubies. Don't get me wrong, these guys were great and everything. They had done the human thing for a heck of a lot longer than I had.

Octavio bustled to the front row, shushing everyone and motioning the stragglers to their seats. As usual, when he parked himself, coffee slopped over the edge of the styrofoam cup and onto his yellow tie. He jerked his head down, which made the bad smelling stuff spill onto the ample belly of his white shirt.

July Secret Agent #26

TITLE: Forever in Your Heart
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary

After tying my hair into a ponytail, I worked on my fake rip dribble then made a behind the back move, when a gray car pulled up and parked in front of the house next door. A fiery red-haired girl got out. I stopped dribbling, held the ball and craned my neck to get a better view over the dogwood branches.

Okay, so this was the new neighbor Mom had mentioned. The girl looked about my age, seventeen. She wore all black from her eyeliner to the half gloves. Scary and gothic.

I backed away from the branch and sighed. As far as I knew, hardly anyone in this town looked like her. And there was nothing special here, not even a mall to hang out.

I peeked again and two adults with a small boy stood in the yard. I guess they were her parents and brother. A minute later, all three of them, except the man who was probably the father, disappeared inside the house. I resumed dribbling just as a rental van arrived, backed up and parked in the driveway. The unloading scene turned busy with two guys helping the father carry furniture and boxes inside.

Mom told me about their impending arrival. "It's time for you to widen your circle of friends, Manda," Mom had said. I shrugged at her suggestion. I just wasn't interested. For twelve years, it was just me and Mom. So why change now?

A high pitched voice shot through my ears.

July Secret Agent #25

TITLE: Out of My Body
GENRE: YA paranormal


Prickling. In my fingers, like ants gnawing my skin from the inside. Not here, please. Not now. But the tingling spreads like fire through my arms, chest, legs.

Maybe, if I really hurry, I can make it.

I scramble to rise from the chair and bump my hip against my desk. I know it's hard because of the loud way the desk screeches on the classroom tiles. But I don't feel pain. I'm already numb, horribly numb. I only feel my head and my unblinking eyes. I've got just a few seconds left to make it to the bathroom.

Ack, everybody's looking. I'm so the center of attention right now--even Mr. Doherty has stopped doodling numbers on the whiteboard to stare at me. "Ms. Reinhart, are you okay?" he asks, holding his blue marker in midair.

I don't answer, just reel forward. Pass Aaron Carter's desk. Stumble over Lindsay Narayan's backpack. Reach the door--kudos to me.

My hand flies to grasp the handle.

Too late.

My fingers pass straight through the handle. Through the closed door. And at the same time, the thud of a limp body crashing against the floor shocks me.

Oh, God.

I'm already out of my body.

Un-kudos to me.

Slowly, I look down. My own self lies on the tiles, eyes rolling back, hands pulled against chest like a begging puppy. "No, no, no!" I yell, but of course no one hears me.

July Secret Agent #24

TITLE: Theft of the Star Tracker
GENRE: Middle Grade

Drew Richfield slouched lower in the worn bus seat and cranked up the volume on his iPod. A steady drumbeat throbbed in his ears as he shifted in the seat, trying to find a comfortable position for his long legs. Traffic surged past them on the busy highway as the Greyhound lumbered slowly toward school. Oakville. Drew read the green sign right before a truck blocked his view. Ugh, he thought, another hour and I'll have to show the parasite around.

As if on cue, his younger brother was standing in front of him, mouth moving. All summer he had been forced to listen to Alex prattle on and on about global positioning systems and programming mechanics. But now, away from their father's watchful eye, he could finally ignore Alex and concentrate on his own thoughts.

He nodded in his brother's direction, and Alex disappeared. Drew closed his eyes and relaxed into the seat. Maybe after the science fair he could ditch Alex and focus on football.

Suddenly, a hand gripped his shoulder. Drew jerked upright. Alex was standing over him, motioning wildly with his spindly arms, his face transitioning from red to purple.

Drew's pulse quickened. He pulled his earbuds out and grabbed his brother by the shoulders. "Alex, take a breath and tell me what's going on."

"My bag." Alex pointed to an empty seat.

"What bag?" Drew asked. "I don't see any bag."

"Exactly." Alex whined, "I told you to watch it, and now it's gone."

July Secret Agent #23

TITLE: The Paper Crane
GENRE: Women's Fiction


The trip to work was one hell of a ride. Not only did the cabbie claim he used to be a stunt driver for Jackie Chan, he insisted on demonstrating his demented expertise. He made a hairpin swerve right before the light turned red, slammed the brakes until the tires squealed, and snaked his way through dense traffic on the Cross Harbour Highway. Clutching my seat, I mulled over the eulogy my sister would give at my funeral when we jolted to a halt. My heart pounded, hair ruined. I scrambled out of the cab.

"This is not Hollywood!" I paid the fare, adding a lousy tip for keeping me alive.

A whiff of stinky tofu--sold by a vendor across the street--made my stomach rumble, but no time to stop for a snack. I strode past the sliding glass door into Wah Hing Building and found a maintenance sign blocking the elevators. They've got to be kidding! Z Entertainment Talent Agency, my office, stood on the tenth floor.

I eyed the security officer slouched at his desk. "The elevator's not working again?"

"Don't know." He yawned, mouth wide open to reveal a nasty abyss. "Ask Jimmy."

A gust of garlic-laden breath raided my nostrils. I grimaced. "Where's Jimmy?"

"Don't know." He sniggered and flattened his enormous belly against the security station, resuming his daily reading of Master Wong's Sure Win Horse Racing Manual.

I checked my watch. Ten minutes to my appointment with the diva queen. Locating Jimmy, the maintenance guy, would be futile.

July Secret Agent #22

TITLE: Elixir Bound
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Snowflakes swept across the southern tip of the Great Peninsula and covered Faway Forest. The snow weighed the branches down on their trunks, like the limbs of a predator closing in around a victim. Unlike the more northern Blanchardwood, which was always blanketed in white, Faway hadn't seen snow in hundreds of years. Snow like this usually bore a message, but not one that was easy to discern.

The wind whipped a snowdrift off the trees and into the small town of Tussar. It blew into the outskirts of town and settled for a moment on the roof of the wooden house that belonged to the Kase family. A gust grabbed the snow off the roof and deposited it on a young woman who stood among the vines that grew in neat lines in the field behind the house.

Katora Kase shook the flakes off her thin cloak. Like all the other Tussarians--even the elderyears--she had never seen snow before. She liked the way the flakes tickled her face as they melted. Down the aisle, Katora's younger sister, Kylene, twirled with the swirling snow, her arms straight out and her face to the sky. This weather suited Kylene; Katora was more like the rain, deliberate and relentless when she needed to be. The white flakes made Katora feel like she was in her youngeryears and almost allowed her to forget she was a young woman in her primeyears who was about to take over her family's farm.