Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Submissions Are Now Closed

The 10 entries will be posted tomorrow morning at 9:00 Eastern Daylight.

And now I think I'll get a little more writing in before bed!

Submissions Are Now Open

Agented authors, have at it!

Crit Session for Agented Authors

So I've gotten the message that maybe--just maybe--a few of our faithful critters have felt a bit left out of the fun now that they're agented. The need for good feedback doesn't go away once you sign on the dotted line, so agented authors, this one's for you!

Submissions will open at NOON EASTERN TODAY. Here are the guidelines:

  • This crit session is for AGENTED AUTHORS ONLY
  • Please submit the FIRST 500 WORDS of ANY MANUSCRIPT, complete or incomplete
  • Ten entries will be accepted.
  • Please do not enter material that is currently on submission.
  • Please do not enter if it will make your agent break out in hives.
  • Submissions will open at NOON EASTERN and remain open until we have 10.
  • Please follow the regular formatting (same as Secret Agent contests):

(type entry here)

And of course, PLEASE send your submissions to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com. Believe it or not, I'm still getting entries at my other address.

Questions below!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Authoress Interviewed by Editor Gabrielle Harbowy

I'm so excited about this!

Gabrielle Harbowy, freelance editor and an Associate Publisher at Dragon Moon Press, graciously requested an interview. It's freshly posted, and you can read it RIGHT HERE.

And if you think it feels weird being interviewed anonymously, you're absolutely right. This is the third time I've done it and it still makes me feel like I should be on medication.

Well, not really. But it's odd all the same.

Anyway, enjoy!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Okay, writer-comrades. Let's chew on this one together, shall we?

Recently, someone tried to tell me how I "should" be writing my WIP. Not the actual plot, but the method. Plotter-vs.-pantser sort of thing.

You all know I'm a pantser. Or perhaps a pantser-in-recovery, as I make decided attempts at better organization along the way. Still, in the end, I do my best writing organically, and that's just the way it is. The way I am.

Now, I'm all about the journey toward improvement. Being open to critique is essential, reading good books is essential, sorting through advice and suggestions is essential. Notice I said "sorting through." Because it's not all going to be prime pickin'.

When it comes right down to it, though, the actual WAY that I write--my essential creative process--isn't going to drastically change. It may take me longer, or it may take me shorter. But it's like the set of lungs I've been given for breathing. I might breathe deeply or shallowly. I might cough or hiccup or hold my breath while I'm swimming. I might learn to use my diaphragm correctly to improve my singing, or I might smoke six packs a day and turn my lungs an attractive shade of black. But my lungs are my lungs. They will not essentially change.

Yeah, I know. That was one weird analogy.

So. This well-meaning person thinks my stories would work better if I constructed complete outlines first. And while I do see value in outlining, I have learned over and over again that it doesn't work for me. Really, truly, absolutely doesn't work.

It's like a physical pain, staring at that blank screen while trying to come up with the outline of a story that doesn't exist yet.

Joy-sucking. And if my joy is sucked dry, I won't want to write at all.

Jotting the story arc for a "book 2" is different. I've already got my world and my characters, and the screen doesn't feel quite so blank. But I'm still not going to write the story from a strict, worked-out-the-details-ahead-of-time outline. Even if I HAD that kind of outline, I imagine I'd veer pretty far from it as the story unfolded. It's how I work.

The main thing is to have a strong story AT THE END OF THE PROCESS. Strong plot. Strong story arc. Strong character arc. Strong worldbuilding. All the components in place regardless of how the author got there.

We're all different. And while I CRAVE honest critique and LOVE to hear about new plotting and worldbuilding techniques, I can't change the essence of my creative process. I've become more organized and less willing to jump into a new story without any direction at all. And I'm thankful for having learned the value of that.

But please. Don't tell me HOW to write! Tell me my latest story sucks; tell me you couldn't relate to my protag; tell me to start my story earlier or to up the tension or to create a longer, more satisfying denouement. Tell me to DO it, by all means. But don't tell me HOW.

I've watched Beth Revis flying by the seat of her pants on her latest WIP, and her debut novel is going to be amazing (yes, I do believe it is!). I've seen a picture of Holly Bodger's uber-organized plotting cork board and I stand in awe. (No, really. She knows this.) Holly has a novel out on submission right now and I'm sure it will sell (yes, I am!).

Two writers I admire. Two ways of writing. Should I tell one of them she's right and the other she's wrong? I don't think so.

So while I do appreciate the good intentions of my "you should write THIS way" advisor, I can't ultimately go there. I've changed many things about my writing over the last couple of years and I will (hopefully) continue to change, improve, grow. But to change my PROCESS? That's like changing my eye color. Yes, I'd like to be a better plotter, a better worldbuilder. And I can learn to do both! But my process is my process. It's separate from the actual writing.

Okay, your turn. Assess the way you work--the root-level, basic process that propels you. Do you feel like you could change that? If so, how?

And hey. If I'm whistling to myself way outside the ballpark, just tell me. (Especially you, Jodi Meadows.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Be Encouraged!!

I'm sure you saw this in Monday's "winners" post, but it bears singling out:

Overall I was very pleased with the quality of these submissions, which was much better than what I generally find in my query pile.

A direct quote from our Secret Agent, Cameron McClure. Who works with, yanno, Donald Maass.

(I'd say The Donald Maass, but then you might think I was a fangirl or something.)

Folks! Ms. McClure's praise of this month's submissions is not to be taken lightly. Nor is it the first of its kind. Other Secret Agents have made similar comments. I've got agents (and, increasingly, editors) lurking about the blog. They wouldn't lurk if they didn't think it was worth their time.


Actually, I believe you are doing more than one thing right. The first thing you're doing is PUTTING YOUR WORK OUT HERE FOR CRITIQUE and then TAKING THE ADVICE YOU'RE GIVEN AND MAKING YOUR WORK STRONGER.

That's probably number one.

But you're also doing important things like following contest directions. Making sure your work is polished before you submit. Not submitting the wrong genre (okay, some of you have tried that once or twice). Graciously thanking the Secret Agents even when they've critiqued your submission to bits.


Keep on doing what you're doing! People notice. AGENTS notice. (Those terms are not mutually exclusive. I swear.)

I'm proud of you. I'm excited for you.

I'll stop gushing now before I sound ridiculous.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Lotsa Winners!!

Drum roll, please!

THIRD PLACE: a tie between #15: Watcher, and #44: Bowe's Major

THE PRIZE: Ms. McClure would like to read your first 50 pages or the closest break.

SECOND PLACE: #4: The Mistake

THE PRIZE: Ms. McClure would like to read your first 50 pages or the closest break.

FIRST PLACE: #36, Jake, Son of Zeus

THE PRIZE: Ms. McClure would like to read your first 100 pages or the closest break.

Wait, there's more!!

In Ms. McClure's own words (emphasis mine):

Overall I was very pleased with the quality of these submissions, which was much better than what I generally find in my query pile. In addition to the four winners I've chosen, I would also be open to reading material from the following entrants: #6, #10, #17, #18, #20, #31, #37, #41, and #43. I'd love to see 20ish pages from these writers.

Just to be clear, I won't be giving detailed editorial feedback on these submissions, but I will be quite seriously considering them for representation.

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

Secret Agent Unveiled: CAMERON MCCLURE

Thanks and hurrahs to our delightful Secret Agent Cameron McClure of the Maass Agency.

Cameron's Bio:

Cameron McClure joined the Donald Maass Literary Agency in 2004, and handles the agency's foreign and film rights as well as her own growing client list. Prior to this she worked as an assistant agent for Curtis Brown. She represents mostly fiction, and is especially looking for projects that combine genre style plotting with literary quality writing. She's also interested in seeing literary fiction, mystery and suspense, urban fantasy (fantasy and SF set on earth), and projects with multi-cultural, international, environmental, and GBLT themes. She's drawn to non-fiction that reads like fiction, and that explores subcultures or topics that haven't quite broken into the mainstream.

What Cameron's looking for right now:

In terms of what I'm specifically looking for now, my bio is pretty accurate, but I would emphasize genre fiction such as fantasy and urban fantasy, mystery and suspense, and any literary or commercial fiction with speculative elements. The recession has made publishers very risk averse, and so anything experimental or too far out of the box is difficult right now. And I don't think it's just publishers, readers in this environment seem to want to know what to expect from the stories they chose. All this to say that while I am still drawn to projects that blur category lines, I am very careful about those I take on.

Stay tuned for our winners!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Fricassee

I'll confess. I've been rabidly re-reading Hunger Games and Catching Fire in preparation for Mockingjay's release next week. Yes, I've preordered. No, I've never been a fangirl quite like this before.

Mind you, I am reading more critically this time. Not in a let's-find-out-what's-wrong sense. On the contrary, I'm trying to determine what makes these books WORK SO WELL. Despite the jarring-at-first first person present tense. Despite the fact that--well, let's face it--Katniss isn't exactly lovable. She's fiercely protective of those she loves, which is her redeeming quality. But I'm not sure I'd like to spend an afternoon with her.

Even so, I care about what happens to her. A lot.

So, that's me. What about you? Forget "Team Peeta" and "Team Gale" (or, in the case of certain-people-I-know, "Team Cinna"). What do you think makes these books WORK? Why do so many of us care What Happens Next?

Then again, you might be from the what's-the-big-deal-about-hunger-games crowd. In which case, please share why these books DON'T float your boat.

We learn by analyzing the work of others, yes? So have at it!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Public Service Announcement

A quick note to everyone who has entered a Secret Agent contest prior to the advent of the automated system, and to everyone who has ever sent me an email to which I've responded:

Over the past month, I've received an usual number of spam emails from various reader addresses. I know it's someone phishing, and I know none of you are at fault. I'm just wondering at the connection here, and thinking that maybe you ought to change your passwords for safety's sake.

No harm done on this end. But so many of you seem to have been hacked lately that I felt a kind of motherly (?) concern for all of you.

So consider changing your passwords. And if your account gets phished, make sure you report it right away.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

August Secret Agent #44

TITLE: Bowe's Major
GENRE: Contemporary Women's Fiction

Once she cleared the Ft. Collins city limits going north, Callie eased the gas pedal closer to the floor. The car practically leapt. It didn't handle like a European sedan, but it was tight and eager and it floated over the four-lane like a Cadillac. If she'd said that in front of Serrano, he'd gloat. "She's cherry, all rebuilt. A Cadillac could only wish to be a '57 Chevy." But she couldn't say it and he couldn't answer, because Serrano was dead. The whole team. Dead. All except for her.

Serrano had laughed when he'd told the team about this car. When his college graduation proved imminent, his dad had told him to pick a car. "Pick a car, any car." The way he'd said it reminded her of a carnival hawker. Serrano had said he'd considered the performance sedans, and had it down to either a 7-series Beemer or an Audi sportster when the classic '57 Chevrolet Bel Air in the Lexus showroom caught his eye. "It was love at first sight," he'd said, with a same hungry look in his eye a boy wore when he'd seen his first naked woman. "She's sweet, and hey, I saved him fifty grand."

The traffic thinned to nearly none as Callie chased the dashed white line to Cheyenne. She'd been driving his car, his baby, for more than an hour. She still hadn't cried.

August Secret Agent #43

TITLE: Stolen Dreams
GENRE: Urban Fantasy Romance

"Wake up."

"No," I grumbled into my pillow, pulling the blanket up to protect my warm skin from the chilly air.

"Wake up."

"Go away," I said with more force this time. Why I bothered was beyond me, ghosts never took the hint. Not if they were bold enough to come into my bedroom to disturb my nights rest. Still, I gave my best effort to ignore the voice presently chattering in my ear.

A silent moment passed.

Only to be disrupted a second later, the young girl's voice came again, high with annoyance. "Would you just wake up?"

With no way out, I hesitantly opened my eyes. A girl no older than thirteen of Latino decent sat on the bed next to me. Long dark curls rested against her Taylor Lautner t-shirt and bright excited black eyes peered innocently while a smile of pure teenage spirit beamed I know it all.

If this was anyone else, my only words to her would be, go suck a duck, but she's a kid―I couldn't turn a blind eye. "I'm awake," I said groggily, hoping my tone was softer than the irritation raging inside of me.

"Hi. I'm Clara," the young girl said as she gave a bounce on the bed. "Who are you?"

My gaze followed her excited movement, waiting for the confirmation I needed. Within one breath, my questions were answered. The bed stayed completely still regardless of the fact she was bouncing on it.

August Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Welcome to My Mother 'Hood
GENRE: Humor

I barely got out of the way of the dog, Snarl, and the cat, Psycho, as they tore past me deep in the throes of "catch me of you can," both heading up the stairs, fur and drool flying.

Our oldest son, Sullen, loped into the house, deposited his guitar on the dining room table and his sneakers on the living room rug I'djust vacuumed. Soon I was being treated to ear-splitting levels of Guitar Hero. As I was trying to grab the tufts of fur floating through the air, the phone rang.

"Hey there, Donna Reed! You coming down with something?"

Jane knows I hate that nickname since it conjures up the image of a perfectly put together housewife, which, since I'm usually in desperate need of a dye job and my make-up disappears within an hour of application, I am decidely not.

After disloging and errant tuft of fur from my mouth, I said "Just dodging the third installment of "If I catch you, you're toast!"

"Ah, Snarl and Psycho at it again?" Jane chuckled.

"Oh yeah," I answered, moving quickly out of the way as they tore past me coming back down the stairs, followed by our youngest, Surly, who was egging them on. Hearing the crash of the food and water bowls in the kitchen, along with Surly's resounding "Cool!," I tiredly sat on the bottom step of the staircase and sighed.

"What's up with you?" I asked Jane, while trying to remember where I'd stashed the Motrin.

August Secret Agent #41

TITLE: Fortune Foretold
GENRE: Commercial Fiction

The fortune-teller studied the dark leaves at the bottom of the teacup as Eva squirmed in her creaky chair.

"Okay, I see that you had a baby."

Eva stiffened, her face paled.

Her best friend Pam looked at her in surprise. "You had a baby?"

"No." She wrung her hands as they lay in her lap.

"I'm sorry." Alma's voice dropped. "You had an abortion, didn't you?"

Eva sat speechless. Pam looked dumbstruck. She stared at Eva, eyes wide with disbelief.

"I know you were very young," Alma finished. "Okay, to your future." She turned the cup around.

"You will have more children," she told her. "Two boys. You work with children though, do you not?"

"Yes. Yes I do."

Alma was not much older than Eva and Pam. Her long blonde hair was pulled back in a pony tail and she wore a plain white blouse and jeans. Her fingernails and lips were painted a frosty pink. She didn't look like a fortune-teller. Eva had been expecting an older woman wearing a flowing caftan, strings of pearls, dangling earrings, a ring on every finger, sporting a bandana on her head and a gold tooth.

Eva's skepticism had compelled Pam to sit in on the reading when they arrived twenty minutes earlier.

At that time Alma had ushered the two women through a set of curtained French doors into what appeared to be the original dining room.

August Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Neither Here nor There
GENRE: Commercial Fiction

I checked the mailbox with a sense of dread. There was always a chance that among the stacks of junk mail, bills and unwanted invitations there would be one with a stamp that read: Royal Mail. I hated those letters. They meant only one thing.


The metal box contained the following; a couple of bills, junk mail, an invitation to a second cousin's wedding and a letter with the dreaded red stamp on it.

Might as well get it over with.

I ripped the white envelope open. No, I destroyed the thing trying to get it open. Never figured out how open one in a clean way. Inside I found a stack of official looking documents, some airline tickets, and last a single page letter with following:

McIntyre & Co.

Woodstock, Oxfordshire, UK

To Mr. Mendoza

We regret to inform you of your father passing...

What the f***!

One day I will make a list of all the things I hate, broken down in the following order; things that I loved and now hate, things I never really liked in the first place, and things that I despise. Flying falls into the first category. I loved to fly, but after that fateful date in September, well not so much. It doesn't help that I am an aviation aficionado and know enough about aircraft to know everything that can go wrong with them.

August Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Boobs Over Hollywood
GENRE: Humor/Satire

As the timer buzzed, Lena's fingers fell of the cello's B-Flat, resulting in painful howl from the instrument. She set it down carefully, then glanced down at her flannel Garfield-inspired PJ's and frog-shaped slippers and considered -- for about the buzzillionth time -- that this was not what she imagined the life of an aspiring cellist to be. She looked at the wall clock. 8:53. Running late. As usual. Time to forget Bach. Time to forget Beethoven. Time to forget Barber. Time to scurry off to work. Time to deal with boobs.

Winded and sweaty from her long trek from the peon parking lot, Lena flew into Building Three, the home of Tony Brewer's production company, Pilfered Projects Productions. The reception area was starkly modern. Black and glass and chrome with all the warmth and charm of a bus station urinal. She grimaced, as she always did, when she spotted the posters of Tony's many successful TV reality shows lining the walls: American Icon, Prancing with the Stars, The Incredible Marathon and Endurer: Topeka. Geez, she thought, if you're going to rip off other shows, couldn't the titles at least be original?

In her usual uncoordinated style, Lena skidded across the shiny, slippery marble floor toward the reception desk, her long arms and legs flailing in all directions. Bitsy, the gothic receptionist, was at her desk watching Lena's acrobatics through disapproving, uncharitable eyes.

August Secret Agent #38

TITLE: I'll Love You Until
GENRE: Women's fiction

It's almost impossible to explain the way impact feels. I can say the sound of metal crunching as another car's fender molds around your own is insanely loud, because it is. And I can say your eardrums and the rest of your body ache long after impact, because they do. But it's difficult to fully understand how your body feels, to comprehend the way your heart pounds in your chest with such force you think it's going to tear right through your skin, unless it has actually happened to you.

Unfortunately, it did happen to me.

And as I stood there on the corner in my pajamas, watching tire after tire crush the sparking shards of glass into the pavement while waiting for the police, only one thing kept going through my mind. This would only happen to me.

Until a particular car drove by, that is. The driver resembled an ex I hadn't seen in years, which was when my thoughts shifted from to a much more important thought to consider - could it be?
An hour after impact, the police finally arrived, and minutes later I climbed into my glass-littered car. There was even glass in what had been a full cup of coffee. Needless to say, the controls on my radio were fried.

Naturally, I did what anyone would do when driving from the scene of an accident. I picked up my phone and made a call.

August Secret Agent #37

GENRE: Fantasy

The interview was a catastrophe. It started out fine-better than fine. Kyle, the sales manager for the bumper sticker company, Illumination Studios, met me in the warm confines of a nearby Starbucks, purchased me a grande green tea, and selected a table in the corner, away from the door and the cold blast of November air every customer brought in with them. Soft music, cappuccino-machine clacks and whirs, and the murmur of conversation created a cocoon of privacy.

I handed Kyle a copy of my resume, though his company already had one on file, and settled in, determined to prove myself the mandatory employee for the boring junior sales associate position. I wasn't particularly qualified and I would normally have rather peeled hangnails than perform cold calls-which is what I strongly suspected the position was, despite the trumped-up ad in The Sacramento Bee-but four weeks, seven failed interviews, and bills that were copulating like bunnies with each successive day of unemployment proved very strong motivators.

Strong enough for me to ignore the desperate reason I'd applied for the job in the first place.

Kyle set my resume to the side of the table without glancing at it. He scrutinized me over the top of his grande dry cappuccino. Kyle exuded salesman, from his maroon button-up shirt and khaki trousers to his thinning brown hair with its frosted tips.

August Secret Agent #36

TITLE: Jake, Son of Zeus
GENRE: Fantasy

When the idea of giving up his immortality first came to the front of Jake's mind, it seemed to have been waiting there his whole life, just behind M.A.S.H. reruns and the words to The Brady Bunch theme song.

It meant that he could have romantic nights uninterrupted by self-important jinn.

He could go home knowing he would never again find pixies in his daughter's swing set or trickets in his shoes.

He could be mortal, free.

But not yet.

Now, Jake was standing stiffly between two tall rows of bookcases, breathing bubble-gum scented air. He looked down the empty aisle.

He was probably about to die, but he shifted his stack of books to his other arm and walked to the end of the shelves anyway.

He tried to hum a Christmas carol, hoping that the sound would keep him calm. He used to drive Rachel crazy with Christmas carols, and he'd stamped out that habit so long ago that he couldn't bring a single tune to mind.

No one was there.

Jake turned back, knowing what would be waiting with dark eyes and perfect peach skin between the two walls of books. He could feel the thrumming anxiety in his chest that meant the other world was near.

Thirty years of running and hiding from them had taught him that running and hiding worked only half the time. The other half, you were possessed or electrocuted or shoeless until help came.

August Secret Agent #35

TITLE: The Wild Bird's Wings
GENRE: commercial fiction

They gathered at Jodie's parents' house after Grandpa Frank's funeral for a celebration of his life, but it turned into a celebration of his death. The people who actually liked him, his drinking buddies, weren't welcome and went on a pub crawl in his memory instead. The others, mostly bitter, cold women, offered their condolences to Grandmother Hester for the too many years she'd wasted on the wrong man. Hester was in her glory, the star of the show. She'd outlasted Frank, inherited his fortune and had the last laugh. A couple neighbours popped by as well, along with a handful of distant relatives Jodie had never heard of. Of course, perfect Aunt Anne was also there, along with perfect Uncle Barry and their three perfect children. Only Graham, Jodie's brother, was missing.

"How could he miss his own grandfather's funeral?" Hester asked repeatedly. "Honestly, Louise. What will people think?"

Louise had rehashed those same questions with both Jodie and Graham over the past few days. "He couldn't leave town, Mother. He had a work emergency." The pitch of her voice edged into dangerous territory. "And he was never close to Dad."

"Anne's children made it all the way from Washington." Hester's tone implied that Washington was at the end of the earth, rather than a quick hop across the border. Her gaze fell on Jodie. "And they are all helping. Even Douglas."

"Why aren't you circulating, Jodie?" Louise snapped. "For heaven's sake, do something."

August Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Love Should End With Hope
GENRE: women's fiction

I met Aaron when was barely a freshman at The University of Texas. I was meandering through the stacks of the massive campus library -- at least that's what I hoped it looked like. I was actually lost. Again. He was sitting at one of the tables against the wall and reading from a thick text book. I bumped into his chair. My arms were full of books and folders and notes and a few
loose papers fell into his lap.

“Sorry,” I whispered, embarrassed.

He handed me my notes without looking up. “You're lost.”

I shifted the books in my arms and took the papers. “No I'm not,” I lied. “I'm just… on my way… out.”

“You shouldn't walk outside like that.” His voice was too loud for the library.

“Excuse me?”

“You should never walk out onto a dark street with your hands full, especially if you're alone. That's dangerous. They look for things like that.”

I stood there and gawked at him. “I just live across the street. Besides, how do you know what they are looking for unless you are one of them?”

Our short exchange did nothing to take his focus off the book. “Well, if I were one of them, then I wouldn't be telling you any of our secrets. Would I?”

I waited for a few seconds and listened to the jackass-o-meter that was going off in my head.

August Secret Agent #33

TITLE: The Big Life
GENRE: Mystery

A day and a half of travel was long enough for me to make friends with all the porters, mend a hole in my left stocking, and reread Uncle Owen's letter about a hundred times.

Dear Kate, he had written, surely you won't remember me.

How could he think I'd forget?

Uncle Owen had once been the magic man in my life, the unpredictable genie whose rare visits made an escape from my farmbound life seem possible. I hadn't seen him in ten years. Now that he'd invited me to visit, I hoped I'd find that magic intact.

The train pulled into Chicago's Grand Central Station. I stepped down onto the platform and did what I could to look like I belonged there. I shook out the skirt of my gray traveling suit, hoping it was long enough to hide the darn in my stocking. I patted my red hair into place. Then I took a moment to look around me.

People surrounded me on all sides: tall and short, light and dark, fat and skinny. There were more of them than I had ever seen before in one place, even in my old county parish that brought in Catholics from over fifteen miles of heavily Irish farmland in the heart of Iowa.

I had always wanted to step into a bigger world, and it seemed I finally had.

One man in the terminal caught my eye. He was tall and rail-thin, with skin the color of walnuts.

August Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Beautiful Imperfection
GENRE: Inspirational Romantic Suspense

She'd cried too much these past few months. Time had come to "get over it." At least that's what Claire would say. Tonight had been Claire's idea. She claimed it would be nice to have a girl's night out since they hadn't done it in a while. Unsure why, Teddy agreed. Her days of fun were over.

How do you get over something so devastating? Teddy clutched the steering wheel and closed her eyes against the tears threatening. She should have stayed home. She was nowhere ready for this.

Beautiful women walked in and out of Club Jetty, one of downtown Jacksonville's most popular night spots. She used to be one of them, but not anymore.

Fog settled in over her vehicle as she sat inside it.

She turned her attention to the ladies who sauntered into the club. They came in every shape and size. Most of the bigger chests were fake. How often had she and her friends pointed and laughed at the visibly phony ones, so big and perfectly round, like balloons filled with helium. The joke was no longer funny now that she was unbalanced one.

The phone jolted her from her thoughts. "Hello." She forced down a quiver.

"Where are you? You're late." The clinking of glasses sounded behind Claire Hoover's voice.

Teddy slumped forward. "I just got here. I'll be right in."

August Secret Agent #31

TITLE: The Color of Gothic
GENRE: Dark Fantasy

The snow along the trail was black as a raven. The burros' manes froze as they lugged ore carts up the hill. Gusts swirled through the valley building snowdrifts taller than most men. But the wind did not sting inside the earth. It was trepidation that pierced the heart of Dell Collins.

Even the seasoned miners feared the black tunnels of Gothic's Jollytime Mine. Dell watched them whisper and cower as if darkness crept from the coal through their bones and into their souls. Death and mining were no strangers. But the corpse found yesterday had no blood. Not a single drop splattered the rocks, tainted the body or even lingered on the wound. That's what Doc Parker called it, a wound.

In the heart of Colorado's Elk Mountains, sixty-five frightened miners toiled for coal with pickaxes, pry bars and shovels. Most of them were as jumpy as jack rabbits, especially those deep within the earth. Dell felt the anxiety, but managed to control his emotions. Though he wasn't taking any chances, keeping his sloppy cousin, Quinn, close. Two men in a fight were better than one. He also needed to focus Quinn's mind on the coal. Scared miners make mistakes, deadly mistakes.

"Rabid cougars have been known to act in strange ways," Dell said as he worked the rock.

"But no one saw a cougar or bear or even a mangy raccoon yesterday." Quinn's tone exposed his nervousness. "Those Hungarians are talking all kinds of crazy things."

August Secret Agent #30


A siren's wail pierced the air. James Rollins tightened his grip on the steering wheel as blue lights strobed. Not the welcome he'd expected in a town named Perfect.

"What's up?" Michael jerked toward the front seat, bumping his head on the ceiling.

"He's getting pulled over by a cop. That's what." Sarah squealed. "Way to go, Dad-o."

Maneuvering onto the gravel shoulder, James shoved the gearshift into park. His heart shifted into overdrive. "Was I speeding?" Pointing toward the dashboard, He glimpsed his wife covering her eyes with a hand. "Libby, grab our registration and insurance while I find my license." He twisted around to reach his back pocket.

A tall deputy approached their vehicle. The kid barely looked old enough to shave. Fresh out of high school like Michael.

James rolled down the window, his pulse accelerating into turbo-supercharge. "Hello, Officer. Anything wrong?" He drew in a deep breath and held it.

"Yes, sir. Your left rear tire is pretty low. Thought you'd better get it fixed before it blows."

James's relief whooshed out. "Thank you, Officer--?"

"Delaney. Officer Ben Delaney."

"We're new in town." James's thumb hitchhiked upward toward the luggage rack. "Today's our moving in day, so I don't know any garages around here. Where would you recommend?"

"Dan's Motors straight ahead on your left. That's where we get all the county vehicles serviced. I'd be happy to show you. Follow me."


"No problem, sir. Welcome to Perfect."

James liked the sound of that.

August Secret Agent #29

TITLE: Circling
GENRE: Thriller (set in England)

As he expected, nothing had happened since they started their watch; this was, after all, an exercise in futility.

Nevertheless, Lance-Corporal Nick Brady continued scanning the fields below, watching the wheat stalks bob and jostle in the occasional breeze as if a giant, invisible hand absently caressed them. Brady craned his neck from side to side to relieve the stiffness and looked down at Private Pete Miller, who was both a soldier under his command and his childhood friend.

Tonight, the full moon illuminated their hilltop position, reflecting on the silvery grass where Pete was lying. They would break camp before morning, once again leaving no sign of their nighttime presence.

Although he cradled binoculars in his lap, Pete gazed unaided at the valley below. His wedding ring glinted in the moonlight as he lifted a freckled hand to cover a wide yawn. "I'm shattered. What d'ya reckon?"

"Me? I'm wide awake." Brady turned his back to Pete. "Because surely any minute now, creatures from outer space are going to land, give us a wave, and say, "Oi lads, wanna come have a look-see?"

"Sod it, Brady! I've said I'm sorry. I didn't know we would both get stuck doing nutter duty."

Brady exhaled in a gusty sigh. Although it was Pete's fault they were out here, it had been three days now, and it was probably time to forgive him. "Fine, mate. But, fair warning, I'll not get in trouble for you ag-"

A distant squeal of tires interrupted him.

August Secret Agent #28


He hid among a cleft in the desolate shoreline, a restive shadow in the darkness. An outsider often made an outcast, this night he exacted retribution.

Three partially sunken ships blocked the narrow channel opposite, the funnels and decks eerily illuminated by faint colored streaks of an intermittent aurora. The closest ship, angled by countless storms, left a gap just wide and deep enough at high water for a u-boat to enter, a u-boat he would guide. Past the block ships the channel opened into the broad depths of Scapa Flow, the hallowed anchorage of the Royal Navy and heart of Britain's naval dominance.

An ethnic German and veteran of the Kaiser's navy, he cared nothing about the new conflict with Hitler, lived quietly in Orkney eighteen years and did not think himself an enemy. Only when the government forfeited his English wife's modest inheritance simply because of her marriage to him did his mind change. Forced from a family cottage despite poor health, her long held hopes and dreams vanquished, she died despondent and destitute and left him angry and alone. He did not understand why a country so proud of law and fairness scorned its own.

The disembodied low churn of diesels wafted on the breeze, the mechanized sound of his fury and wrath, and two flickers of light signaled across the water. He responded with a shielded lantern.

August Secret Agent #27

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Ethan walked in through the front entrance and headed to the second floor. He wanted to look down from above onto the small crowd surrounding her.

He pulled his baseball cap low on his head, hunching his shoulders forward as he made his way up the stairway. He walked from one end of the balcony to the other, randomly picking up books set on tables along his path.

He knew where to find her. The evening before, he watched her walk into his favorite hole-in-the-wall pub and sit down alone at the bar. The people surrounding him claimed to be his friends, but they weren't paying enough attention to realize a stranger across the room had captivated him.

For the next sixty minutes, he smiled, made witty comments, and sipped his drink on cue. His companions remained unaware that his keen interest in what was happening at their cozy table of five did not exist.

Ethan West was watching the woman at the bar.

Fifteen hours later, as he observed from the top of the stairs, the situation struck him as an ironic contrast to his usual circumstances. People typically watched him. He'd become accustomed to having hundreds of eyes on him at any given time, even when he wished more than anything to be alone. Somehow, he had made it past all of those disturbingly curious eyes without anyone's knowledge, and now, Ethan was the one who could not stop staring.

August Secret Agent #26

TITLE: Unlocked
GENRE: Thriller/Fantasy

Light no longer reflected around them, for they'd entered a large room, the ceiling at least twenty feet high. A musky smell filled the air, and a rhythmic drip, drip, drip dampened the ground. Tate Pittman slid off the coffin's cover, and the crack of wood echoed off unseen walls.

Hollow eye sockets stared at Tate and his employers from a corroded skull. Barker rubbed dirt off his face, while the Quiet One--Marcs--remained as still as the bones. Could this truly be what they'd searched weeks, months, years for?

Could this be ... Demus, the estranged priest?

Tate leaned closer, his light illuminating the decay. The Ephod covered the skeleton, magnificent, and just as Scripture described. Fine linen woven with gold, cerulean, violet and scarlet thread. At the front of the vest's shoulders: two pockets holding the bone tablets. Urim. Thummim.

For a moment he felt like the Tate Pittman in his first archaeology class all those years ago, listening to a lecture--no, an inspiration--of history rich with culture, tradition, legends.

Demus wore this vest, yes these very tablets, to communicate . . . with God.

Tate constructed a mental image of every detail, from the shades of walnut leather to the embedded Hoshen: four rows of three grooves stretching across the vest. But not one stone shined from the twelve grooves. Where are the Unblessed Stones?

As if in answer, the Quiet One pulled on a rounded container lodged in the ribcage.

August Secret Agent #25

TITLE: Meany
GENRE: Horror

Do you ever wonder where the angels go when babies cry alone in the dead of night? Or worse, by the bright light of the first days of summer, when the air is heavy with the smell of fresh cut grass and promise... Where were they when we needed them? Not here, Friend.

This is the real story of what happened to Charles Henry Barnes, who 'disappeared' one night during the summer of 1964. Disappeared? That's what people said. People love to talk, don't they? But I was there and I saw what she done!

Charles was a stern master. The townsfolk sometimes said that Charles tortured his children with electric shocks. Later on they joked that the reason Charles used electricity instead of burning them kids with cigarettes like in the movies, was because he didn't smoke.

On July 30th, 1949, at around noon, Annette Hoyt married Charles Barnes in that little, white church uptown. It was a simple ceremony on a day with nothing but sunshine and birds singing.

At precisely four p.m., on the same day, he had her in the barn helping with the milking. By a quarter after five, he had already slammed her up against a concrete wall for knocking over a five gallon bucket of milk. She rationalized that it was her fault really; she should have been more careful. She was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. By six thirty, I was already falling in love with her.

August Secret Agent #24

TITLE: The Psychic Evolution of a Girl Named Debby
GENRE: Commercial Fiction

The baby nurses and nurses and my breasts are swollen and leaking with warm, stinging milk. She cries and cries--it never stops--not with pacing, rocking, singing, nothing. I want to scream, "Shut the f*** up!" but that would make me a bad mother.

The wails are endless and without reason--she's a damn howler monkey. I download the lyrics to a bunch of vintage lullabies, like "Hush Little Baby," (Please, dear God, hush already!) and "Lullaby and Goodnight" and I threaten to send her to the orphanage, which disgusts my husband. He's lucky I'm not threatening to throw her out the window.

And my two-year-old tugs at my skirt--a mini while I still can--and whines for "snackies." I hate that f****** word.

I pray to God, Buddha, Jesus and Barney to save me.

I haven't slept in three days, and I feel like I've had a traumatic brain injury. I'm in a walking coma and can barely make sense of my surroundings, most of which are pink and covered with curtseying princesses.

My eyes stick together when I blink and my hands shake when I try to smear lipstick on my brittle lips. I look at my husband and wonder what happened to my Prince Charming. I

August Secret Agent #23

TITLE: The Beginning and the End
GENRE: Dark Fantasy

"And now a word from our sponsors," the staccato voice of the announcer clipped out over the spires of buildings that shimmered in the humid heat of afternoon.

Next a soft, sexless voice issued from the speakers strategically placed on rooftops around the city, from tabletop radios across the land.

"Mankind is weak; let us give you strength. Mankind is divided from within; let us mend you. Mankind is devoid of spirit; let us fill you.

"There are those wish to lead you away from the path of righteousness with temptations of pleasure and excess. Do not pay them notice for they will crumble to dust and fade away. Come to the Universal Truth. We will show you the way."

The announcer explained, "The previous announcement was paid for by the Friends of the Church of Universal Truth."

Dead air reigned for a moment before becoming host to a voice once more. This was a feminine voice, the voice of promise, a sultry invitation to awakening.

"Are you lonely, unhappy, terminally ill? Do you pass through life only a spectator to your own automatic actions? Within the walls of Adara Vega you will find serenity. Let us heal you, empower you, nurture you. Let us show you the path of transcendence, of desire, of love. Come to Adara Vega. We will show you the way." As mindless music returned in all cities across the land, within people's minds sprouted the seeds of desire.

August Secret Agent #22

TITLE: Demon Connection
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

"Ticket, Ma'am?" The bored, nasally question came from the acne-ridden youth behind the kiosk.

I squinted, as if trying to focus, as I swayed gently in the hot summer breeze. Now what kind of idiot would think I was sober enough to drive? "Nope. Din't drive."

"Call you a taxi?"

"No, thanksh. I live that-a-way." Vaguely fluttering my hand toward the right, I walked unsteadily down the curve of the hotel drive away from the bright lights and human intervention. Night had settled in, along with an eerie darkness. The city had been saving money by turning off the unnecessary street lights. I knew I was a walking target, whether it was a mugger, gangbanger or demon, now that was the question.

A block away from the hotel, I stopped at the first intersection and pressed the button to change the signal. If I'd lost the demon, I'd be royally pissed off. Screwing up and having someone else paid the price was not acceptable. I couldn't let it happen again.

Don't play the blame game yet, Danica. Focus

As I waited for the light to change—not like I needed to wait, since there was almost no traffic—a warm dank breeze washed past my face, bearing a hint of evil—decay and death.

The demon had flown ahead of me to set up an ambush.

A smirk quirked my lips.

Ah, but who would ambush whom?

August Secret Agent #21

GENRE: Humor (romance novel parody, or fauxmance novel)

She was beautiful, except for the hemorrhoids. The morning sun dawned, glorious and bright, upon the silken, porcelain visage of Princess Zelizabeth. Resplendent, the lithesome lady perched upon a velveteen chaise in the Royal Waiting Room, at the top of the tallest tower, beside the petting zoo, adjacent to the Corridor of Gruesome Tapestries, inside Zwindsor Palace, its turrets sparkling in a golden shower of, well, golden, of course, and vermilion splendor. One particularly playful ray reflected in her sapphirine eyes, whose color had been described as the most splendorous in Zengland, yea, even all the known world!

"F*****g A, Clumpetta! Shut the f*****g curtains," spake Zelizabeth. Her dulcet tones roused her faithful maidservant. With a sigh, Clumpetta rearranged the window-dressing. She should stop staring at the gleaming towers anyhow, for they always brought to mind giant, turgid, erect --

"Holy c***s, I'm hung over," the princess groaned. "And itchy. Fetch my ass cream."

"Miss, let us hurry." The servant girl clumped to get medicinal salve (her manner of walking due to an unfortunate mismatchedness in lower-limb length), and discussed the plot, er, their present predicament. "The Prince's Bruncheon Ball will start soon. You must a-marry him, or you'll end up... " she heaved a steadying breath, "poor."

Zelizabeth crossed herself. "A fate worse than death. Urgh, I'm gonna spew." Whereupon she did. Clumpetta managed a spectacular catch in her handy porta-puke bucket, and considered that "quick at hustling vomit" would look excellent on her resume, if unworthy peasants were allowed to change jobs.

August Secret Agent #20

TITLE: Mystery Meat
GENRE: Mystery

BANG! Then another. I'd like to say this was the first time people had thrown canned hams at me, but my heart wouldn't be in it. PING! I recognized one of the shiny cubes as it bounced off my windshield. The protesters had splurged this time and upgraded to the Consolidated Meat Company's "Premium Label" hams. I didn't mind their choice of ammo. Hey, in my business, a sale is a sale, even if they don't bother to eat it.

The local cops were doing what they did best: crowd control. That sounds unkind. That's because it is. It was apparently too much to ask for the group of men and women in matching blue uniforms to arrest the hooligans throwing canned hams at me, even with the number of cameras pointed their way. I steered the Ham-ster to the right, away from the angry mob and their projectiles, and over toward the cluster of reporters who'd taken refuge near the entrance to the Jumbo Fred-Mart.

The parking lot was big enough to stage a rock concert, with ample room left over for the concessionaires. It was mostly empty, save for the few brave souls who'd chosen to go shopping early on a Wednesday morning. I let off the gas and tapped the brakes. Speed bumps were not the Ham-ster's cup of tea. Any sudden change in direction was likely to result in something falling off. Like a door.

August Secret Agent #19

GENRE: Mystery

Normally I am one who takes responsibility for my actions. When I screw up, I know
I don't have to look any further than in the bathroom mirror to find the guilty party. But this detour in my life was entirely different. I didn't get a choice, not a single one. Nope, this time my hands were clean. Well, then who dunnit, you ask? Personally, I blame Mercury.

See, I was cruising along in life just fine. Not perfect, but fine. Good career, company car, nice condo, free lipstick, and a comfortable but not exciting long-term relationship. Then I saw it, that damn horoscope in the magazine: "Aries: Mercury is in retrograde, changes are inevitable. Watch where you step."

I thought it meant I'd finally get my promotion and buy that cute pair of boots with my fantastic raise. But Mercury had other plans. Instead of being promoted, I got laid off. Instead of buying boots, I lost my condo. And instead of my boyfriend being there to help me when I was down, I discovered he was playing doctor with a student nurse.

What a month. And Mercury wasn't done with me yet.

So here I was. I stood next to my car and looked around. There were all these big green things surrounding the parking lot, what were they called? Oh yeah, trees. Didn't have a lot of them at my condominium in the wilds of Seattle Suburbia. We had lots of cement, though.

August Secret Agent #18

TITLE: Kunitsu Eyes
GENRE: Fantasy

The moon was calling him again. Akinobu opened his eyes in the ink black of the little room, and lay for a moment, listening to his mother's breathing. She showed no sign of being disturbed, and the building around them was as nearly-silent as an old bamboo inn could be. Very well. It was the moon.

Akinobu rolled off the futon and stood, careful to make no noise. It took only a moment to slide the door open, only another moment to step through, shut it noiselessly and pace down the hall, careful of the creaking board, careful of the sleeping patrons in the rooms around them.

The Inn always smelled like wet bamboo and sake. Akinobu paced, silent, finding his way by the slivers of moonlight from the shuttered windows. No one in the common area. Two samurai slept in the warm rooms that backed against the hot spring. He wondered if he could find some excuse to sneak in and see their swords, but if the Innkeeper caught him, he would be beaten, and if the samurai caught him they would probably cut off his head.

Just outside the Inn's back door, he stepped into his wooden geta, eyes already on the sky. A high mist hid the stars, but the moon shown bright. The light prickled along his skin and made the hair on the back of his neck bristle. He shivered once, as the cold night air seeped through the seams of his thin shirt.

August Secret Agent #17

TITLE: A Bloody Mess
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Anthony's shaking hand froze halfway to the door. He'd screwed up, there was no question of that. The only good part, if there could be a good part to a mistake, was that the punishment was up to his brother. Max would cut him some slack, he always did.

His knuckles stung with each rap on the heavy oak. It only took a second for it to open revealing Aimee, her slender, naked body glistening with sweat, teeth bared, cocking her head as if bored. "What?"

"He wanted to see me."

She glanced over her shoulder into the room and Anthony followed her gaze to the bed. The sheets were in constant motion, moans and squeals easily floating to the door.

"Feedin' or F***in'?"

She rolled her eyes and slammed the door shut. He knew she'd tell Max that he was there. Anthony still seethed at the thought of Aimee as a go-between. He never needed a messenger to speak to Max until his brother got his teeth into her. She must have tasted awfully good because she'd been by his side ever since. A f***in' nuisance as far as he was concerned.

An image of his hand wrapped tightly around her tiny neck was broken when the door opened. "He'll meet you in the stables in a half hour."

The door slammed and Anthony walked away until he heard the door creak open, a sliver of light escaping into the hall. "And Tony. Don't be late," Aimee said then the light disappeared.

August Secret Agent #16

TITLE: Courting Greta
GENRE: Commercial Fiction

Samuel regained consciousness just as they one-two-three _jerked_ him from the stretcher to the table. He was in the hospital again, damn it.

"Sir, can you hear me? Do you know where you are?"

"ER." Even if he never set foot in here again (which, admittedly, seemed a tad optimistic) he'd never forget the telltale stench of ammonia, latex, and blood. Hopefully not his.

"What's your name?"

They were sticking needles in his arms. Light blinded him, first one eye and then the other. "Sam--Samuel Cooke."

"Do you know what happened?" The woman's firm interrogative was accompanied by a flurry of other voices, rattling off stats and commands. Beeping filled in the syncopated silences.

"Not a clue. Gimme a minute." It would come back. It always did. How else was he supposed to relive every humiliating detail? Whatever it was, he prayed it hadn't happened in the office. Odds of him collapsing in front of total strangers were pretty low, but a guy could hope.

"Sir, you've been in a collision."

"What, a car accident?" That sounded awfully daring. And totally out of character. He blinked, trying to bring the nurse or doctor or whatever into focus. "You sure?" He was the most cautious driver he knew. Always looked both ways, never went more than five miles over the limit. Perpetually in the slow lane.

"Yes, sir."

Then he reached the end of his adrenaline and he hurt everywhere and
oh God he wanted to vomit.

August Secret Agent #15

TITLE: Watcher
GENRE: Fantasy

I watch my daughter cradle her swollen belly as she kneels to place the flowers on my empty grave. Pink carnations this time... last year was red roses, the year before, golden mums.

Her lips move as she whispers to the flower-strewn ground, but I'm too far away to hear her precious words. Her shoulders quake with her sobs and, swallowing, I fight to stifle my own. She caresses my name etched into the grey granite, tracing the letters one by one before wiping the tears from her cheeks. Her fingers touch her lips, then the top of the cold hard stone.

My own fingers clamp against my mouth, smothering the impulse to cry out to her.

As she turns to walk back to her car, a breath of summer wind lifts her hair. It floats for a moment, waving goodbye. Her scent reaches out to me and triggers memories of our brief life together. Seventeen years was not enough--not enough time to share with her, to hold her and teach her and tell her how much I love her. In a flash of anger, I curse the evil creature that stole me away, leaving my daughter to finish growing up alone, and leaving me... leaving me no longer human.

My chest heaving, I watch her drive away, then step between the markers and cross the lawn to my grave. I rest my trembling fingers where hers last touched, press them softly against my lips, and whisper, "I love you, Andrea."

August Secret Agent #14

TITLE: Power Talk
GENRE: Humor/Satire

Who else but Stella Sinatra would travel with a snake inside her suitcase?

Charlie, the reptile in question was literally, 'something the cat dragged in'. Frank, the Siamese had hauled the squirming serpent through the cat door and dumped it on the end of Stella's bed. He had stalked over, nudged her hand for a pat, and sprawled down next to her awaiting lavish words of praise. After the first stunned seconds, Stella had grabbed the cat, leapt out of bed and fled screaming to the telephone.

"Tom, get here fast! I've got a snake in my bed,"

Her brother had just laughed when he saw the miscreant. This prompted the offended reptile to retreat under Stella's 'Hundred Acre Wood' doona, making it hard to tell where Tigger's tail began and the snake's ended.

"It's only a Children's Python. It's harmless," said Tom.

Stella stomped to the kitchen and came back with a perforated lettuce container that she tossed at her brother. Her livid eyes were as green as the Tupperware lid.

"If the snake's so harmless, you won't mind catching it for me."

"You can't put it in that!"

"Well it's not staying where it is. I've had enough reptiles in my bed to last me a lifetime."

Tom handed her back the Tupperware. "This is barely big enough for an earthworm."

While Stella searched for a bigger container, Tom tried to coax the snake out with promises of fresh white mice and a possible slice of Frank's tail.

August Secret Agent #13

TITLE: Straight and Narrow
GENRE: Thriller

Robert Benning answered the door nearly the moment she knocked. This was fate, unadulterated, and she hated it. She said, "Rebecca's alive," as soon as she saw him. She took in his eyes and the soft wrinkles around them; she had missed so much. Benning dropped his glass of wine at the words, the goblet sending shards across the entryway, to which he was oblivious. Any inkling of inebriation evaporated. Track marks showed on his exposed forearms.

"Is she okay?"

"Yes, sir, she's fine." She shifted on his porch steps, knuckles white against her windbreaker.

"Where is she now?" Robert was enthralled by this angel of mercy who'd saved him. He pictured his daughter now as a gorgeous woman, her strawberry blond curls still putting her speckled blue eyes on a pedestal.

"Hell." It certainly wasn't heaven.

Before he could answer, she plunged a blade into him, and felt herself drowning in the raw fear in his eyes, the impotable waters of his life gurgling loud in her ears. Tears exploded across the topography of her face as she watched the fear spill over into his irises, spiked blood slipping through the spaces his fingers left unguarded as the grip he'd had on his chest was lost.

"Daddy, I'm sorry."

Her father's blood was now on her hands, and it was eternal.

August Secret Agent #12

GENRE: Contemporary Christian

Tanner's watch beeped a quiet but insistent warning. With the many countdown clocks gracing the walls of the Genetics Research Institute his own watch was unnecessary, but Tanner liked the certainty of the weight on his wrist. With less than ten minutes to go he felt the pressure settling on his shoulders like a heavy woollen coat and enjoyed the familiar sensation. Tanner was glad to be out of the harsh light of television cameras and back in the shadows of his laboratory on the one hundred and eighty-third floor of The Tower. The large PR department of the Institute had created a media monster leading up to the commencement of the project that Tanner would have been happier without. He may as well get used to the attention, however. After today his name was going to be unforgettable. Checking his watch again out of habit, Tanner surveyed his laboratory ticking off each piece of equipment in his mind. Everything was perfect. The eggs had been harvested from the donor surrogate and were being washed by his assistant, Maggie. The genetically modified sperm were already in the incubator, happily resting in a Petri dish, just waiting for his attention. Tanner was confident nothing would go wrong. The entire process had been rehearsed and rehearsed again over the months leading up to the final countdown. The adjoining specimen room housed shelves of successful embryos at various stages of development, clear evidence the technique of genome substitution worked.


August Secret Agent #11

TITLE: The Cell
GENRE: Thriller with Romantic Elements

I stopped caring 368 scratch marks ago, but something compels me to keep track of the days. The little hashes on the wall give me false purpose and I pursue the routine task with vigor. But it doesn’t stop my mind from wandering into forbidden territory. How many more scratches will these walls hold? And, worse, what if I run out of space before death frees me.

- from the journal of Oliver Shaw

Death was a whore, cheating Oliver Shaw out of more and more blood and still leaving him unsatisfied.

A sudden burst of white-hot truth shot up his spine and into his fingers. His heart kicked out a stuttered beat. You’re still alive. The taunt hissed across his foggy brain, bringing with it an unwanted sense of awareness.

Cold concrete pressed against his cheek. A bead of moisture leaked out from under his eyelids, loosening the dried blood that had crusted there. His stomach heaved. He sucked in a breath and choked on the bile that filled his throat along with the stench of excrement and putrid food.

Open your eyes, you gutless coward.

He gritted his teeth and dragged his eyelids open. A sliver of light speared into his retina, blinding him with a sharp ache to the back of his skull.

The light bulb.

That single f****** bulb. Always on. Always grounding him in its glaring reality.

He couldn't take another day in this hellhole.

August Secret Agent #10

GENRE: Literary Fiction / short story collection


"Groot Constantia's best cabernet," Charles said, pouring us each a glass. When had he bought the wine? We couldn't afford it, especially not Groot Constantia's best, but at least we had something to celebrate Rosalyn's visit. She held my hand, squeezed it. I squeezed back.

"Cheers," Ros said. "To us."

"To happy days," Charles said.

"May they finally come," I said, refusing to raise my glass.

Charles fiddled with his napkin. "Jo, don't," he said.

Ros said nothing. She nudged the side of my ankle with hers. "The place looks good," she said brightly. "You've moved things about."

I hadn't done a thing. The kitchen was still the colour of a dead sunflower. The house was still the same sparsely furnished, tin-roofed, two-bedroomed Blairgowrie bungalow we'd lived in since before we got married. I hoped one day we'd move somewhere less suburban, someplace where the neighbours didn't give us the eye because we had no servants and our garden sprouted stinkweed instead of floribunda roses. God knows what they thought of me driving a taxi. Ros raised her glass expectantly.

"To old times," I said. I was embarrassed she'd seen what a shrew I had become, but she winked at me as if we were still at uni, at the back of the lecture hall, whispering gory details about our
latest boyfriends. It was a relief, really, that all that was over.

August Secret Agent #9

TITLE: Love Elopes (and Other Ways to Avoid My Mother
GENRE: Women's fiction

Where are the people who are always running those theoretical medical experiments, diagnosing strange conditions with even stranger methods? Because I need to know. Can one actually develop an ulcer from mother-anxiety?

Today my stomach says yes.

"I'm going to throw up," I say, turning back. "Let's just go."

But Job stops me and knocks on the door. "Remember last night, what you said. You're thirty, you're happy, you're done with the mind games."

"I changed my mind."

He spins me around, leaning down to mutter something in my ear, but the door swings wide and there stands my mother, grinning stupidly from ear to ear. She pulls me in and kisses both of my cheeks. Has she gone blind? This is me we're talking about--right? Not any of the daughters you're proud of, and certainly not the one who's just returned from a sensational Hawaiian honeymoon.

But that's what you get, I suppose, when you name your kid after the patron saint of both chastity and gardeners. She should've known what she was getting into.

"Agnes, dear," Mom says as she propels me to the living room.


I'm seized by a roomful of relatives who pull me in with hugs, kisses, and applause. Actual clapping. I stand there like an idiot, stupefied, certain I've stepped into someone else's home.

Though knowing my family, this could just be an elaborate stunt to punctuate the fact that I haven't shown my face for an unacceptably long time. In this case, about two weeks.

August Secret Agent #8

TITLE: The White Phoenix
GENRE: Dark Fantasy

Silas Wolfe was used to women staring at him. He supposed they had a reason to, though. His reputation as the town heartthrob no doubt warranted such behavior.

Except, he didn't think that was any excuse for a woman who was blind.

He stared back. He *never* stared back, but it was just such an odd prospect that he couldn't help himself.

She stood on the other side of one of the bazaar's few crowded avenues. There were merchants selling goods from every corner of the land. Mysterious wanderers came and went without so much as a sound. And then there were the everyday townspeople who, as soon as they left, would return to their quiet village lives.

This woman didn't fall into any of those categories.

Could it be that she wasn't blind? That the sun, as it was awfully bright today, made it seem so, or that her eyes were the lightest shade of blue? Who's to say it was even him she was looking at? With so many people, so many sights, surely this woman was looking at something behind him.

He threw a glance over his shoulder. All he found was an old, rickety wagon and the bare wall of the side of the tavern. Nothing of any interest.

He turned to her again.

If she was indeed blind, perhaps it was just coincidental that she was looking in his direction. But Silas knew when someone was staring at him.

And she was definitely staring.

August Secret Agent #7

TITLE: The Untamed Court
GENRE: Fantasy

Sarah couldn't believe what was happening. Mother was dead. And they were accusing her of doing it. "I know you couldn't do this," her cousin said. "I know it. But the evidence we have... " He stopped, words hanging.

Sarah hugged her body with her arms, staring out her window across the rocky point of land to the seashore and the rising morning. "You need to leave the castle before I'm forced to arrest you as a murderer. Please." "You should protect me," Sarah said in a snarl, fighting tears. "I am," he said. "I can't give you another warning. This is your only chance. Please go before the other guards come. I'll tell them you'd escaped." Sarah shoved past him and left her chambers.

We have your wife. Anger shook through me and I crumpled the note in my hand. It started to curl and smoke and I dropped it with a shout as it burst into quick flames. Chars fell to the kitchen floor of my small Boston apartment. The hard smell of blood filled the room and I took a step back as a sharp wind quickly rose, raging through the room, papers flying everywhere. I raised my arms in a futile gesture against the shrieking wind. Heartbeats later the storm vanished. I brought my arms down, wincing from a cut across the back of my hand. Someone coughed. I looked up and saw a man three feet tall standing on my kitchen counter, staring down at me.

August Secret Agent #6

TITLE: The Voice of Asheva
GENRE: Fantasy

The prince was on trial.

It was impossible, and yet there he stood in front of High Judge Vate, his hands bound in front of him, defiant in his lack of fear. Pausing the proceedings, the High Judge rubbed his temples and wished that the garish sunbeams streaming in from the windows were covered by clouds. Perhaps then he could think.

It wasn't just that the atmosphere was stifling, despite the cold spring, nor that spectators filled the court with muttering. No, it was the sheer absurdity of the thing. Prince Theyrin on trial? Especially such a trial as this, where his conviction seemed inevitable? Looking down again at the prince, Vate balked at the idea that the young man in front of him would never be king; even in a peasant shirt and pants, Theyrin stood as if his father's crown were upon his head.

Captain Artaine had produced his condemning testimony and several witnesses; all that now remained was the prince's defense. Vate's arms were moist under the thick velvet of his robes, but he stared down at the young man in front of him and continued the trial.

"Theyrin Fortan Jeldi Regalis, Prince of Stoyria, you have been accused of treason. Specifically, you are charged with hiding and protecting Souran spies, aiding them, and publicly supporting the Soura traders. According to these accusations, you have, in front of assembly, spoken treason about the king and the laws of this land."

August Secret Agent #5

TITLE: Athena: Claiming the Throne
GENRE: Fantasy


Odysseus used the last of his strength to cling to the black crags that bit into his hands, the horrible surge of water that had torn at his body finally passing by. Bobbing like a loose bit of cork in the bitter sea, he used this brief respite from the pull of the tide to contemplate these last moments of his life. Then the crash of the surf against the rocky shore let him know the backwash was headed his way, and his muscles told him he was too weak to keep his hold. Young crabs were swept back out to sea with more dignity than this.

But it had been such a welcome prospect. Swimming in this merciless sea for two days and nights after his makeshift ship had splintered to pieces, the smell of land had finally reached his waterlogged nostrils. Dawn of the third day had brought the sweet sight of this place -- whether island or mainland, he did not know -- rising from the choppy waters. But as the tide brought him close, that same dawn revealed the rough, black rocks of the treacherous coast. A calculated lunge had caught him this miserable crag, the muscles of his arms weary beyond all reason, and so he had saved himself from being dashed against that hard shore. Now he saw the tide turn, felt the first tug that would dislodge him from this last, desperate battle against the elements. Athena has abandoned me.

August Secret Agent #4

TITLE: The Mistake
GENRE: Thriller

Against the advice of my mentor, I keep a gun in my drawer.

Harvey says a lawyer with a gun in his desk will eventually use it either on a client or on himself. Harvey's over 60 and thinks he knows everything. He wouldn't think a female lawyer—let alone his own daughter—would need advice about guns.

Yet here I am.

I open the drawer and stare.

Ten minutes.

That's how much time I asked Kate to give me before my next appointment. Although I've spoken with Agent Schmidt twice on the phone, this will be our first face-to-face. He thinks I'm going to cooperate with him just because he's FBI, but things are complicated.

The gun beckons. I reach in, hesitate, and then pick it up. I aim it at the antique clock, the flower vase, the Mayan calendar. The diplomas. The vanity photo-ops.

I gaze into the Ruger's barrel and caress the trigger.

Nine minutes.

Last year a grateful client nick-named me "quick-draw" and gave me the Ruger after I blew holes in our opponent's case. That's how a trial should go: surprise your opponent with something she never thought about, watch the blood drain from her face, and gracefully accept victory.


I'd fool no one if I claimed winning didn't matter, but this thing with the FBI is different. No one wins. It's all about avoiding defeat.

Suddenly, I gasp and drop the gun on the table. My baby kicks hard—caught me by surprise.

August Secret Agent #3


I should have heard a deadly whisper or felt a chill on the back of my neck when I drove down Placida Road that clear Florida morning. Maybe the beauty of Lemon Bay, spread out like a shimmering oasis, blotted out all thoughts about the case I'd come to investigate. Such things happen when the water gleams under a slab of blue sky and a whiff of pungent sea air feels like heaven. For every air-conditioned, stucco palace with tile roof, swimming pool and two-acre plot I passed, dozens of trailer parks and cracker box houses sprouted like yard mushrooms after the summer rains. East of here, miles of saw palmetto and slash pine fill the open spaces where nobody lives. Only the ant hills grow, sandy soil burns your feet, and the shade scalds you. The scrub jays fly onto your hand in search of a peanut or berry to retard their march toward extinction.

Flamingo Mist stretched out on the edge of this sweltering wasteland like a sleeping beauty. From a distance, this typical Florida subdivision appears thrown down in perfectly-manicured lawns, garnished with golf courses and creeks born of retention ditches. Flamingo Boulevard loomed ahead, clean and well-maintained. The drive down it provided me with signs of too much wealth and too little charity.

I stopped at the Elk's Lodge for information. When the leather-faced man behind the desk finished giving me his lecture on why I should join, I asked him the way to Howard Bellinger's home.

August Secret Agent #2

TITLE: The Seeker's Charm
GENRE: Fantasy

Rose Woodman loved storms. Whether they blew in from the sea or down from the mountains rumored to rise beyond the forest, the result was the same: even the mightiest oaks bowed down. Not that Rose disliked the trees. She loved them too, but a power that could bend those ancient trunks, that could tear the sky apart revealing beautiful flashes of silver, who wouldn't admire that?

Everyone but me. She dragged her hand off the rattling shudders though her fingers itched to throw them wide and let the howling wind blow away the memory of her mother. It had hovered all day beside Aunt Mary's bed, growing stronger with each of her labored breathes until no one in the little farmhouse could breath easily.

Mary gasped again. A wrenching, suffocated sound.

Rose turned from the front window and ran to the bedroom door. She would get in. She'd take that thin hand and somehow pour her own strength into her aunt.

But as she reached the door, the midwife walked out wiping her gory hands with her splattered apron while muttering, "Ain't this a fitting night for the birth of a two-headed monst--"

Her pale eyes narrowed as she spotted Rose. "What are you doing? Shouldn't one such as you be out enjoyin' a night such as this? Or is it even more fun for you to lurk beside a childbed smelling the blood of the mess you've made?"

August Secret Agent #1

TITLE: the magic withheld
GENRE: urban fantasy

The earthquake wasn't his fault, not this time.

But Justus Aubre was guilty of laughing. To see the humor in any situation is a human failing. And he was mostly human.

Under the streetlights, in the darkened parking lot, several people from the concert had cell phones in their hands. He hoped they were calling the cops and he could melt into the crowd without attracting attention. But with the mugger looking at him with murder in his eye, fighting seemed the only option.

His grin widened. It had been a long time since his last fight. But in the next instant, Justus sobered.

Laughing at the wrong time kept getting him into the biggest messes. But in this case, the guy seemed unduly pissed about it. As far as the thug knew, Justus had only laughed after watching him do the concrete face plant.

Since the man was human, he couldn't have known about the wrap of magic that had tangled his feet as if someone tied his shoestrings together. When Justus heard the feeble cry, he turned and saw a shadowy figure pull a wristwatch from an old man and then shove him to the ground. Without thinking, Justus gathered the surrounding energy and flicked the invisible magic with his fingers. Air twisted around the mugger's legs and another gust blew him off balance. The man's wheeling arms clutched for something to grab but there was nothing except conjured air and it was slippery in the best way.


Okay, folks! Have fun critting the diverse collection of excerpts that will post shortly.

Entrants, please remember to critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

Have fun!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sorry for being lax....

I normally post when submissions open and close, but I've been lax this month.

For the record--and for posterity--the submission windows will always open and close exactly when I say they will, regardless of whether I post about it.

So, yeah, this contest is closed. Entries will post tomorrow morning at 9 am EDT.

And yes, I have an excuse. Uber-busy day yesterday. And a WIP writing frenzy on top of all that.

I know you understand!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Today is my wedding anniversary.

I know it's rare to have a spouse or significant other or best friend who TRULY supports an aspiring author's work. And dreams.

Well, I've got one. Mr. A may not have writing in his blood, but he's a source of support I couldn't do without. Over the years, he's read through the lousiest first drafts you could imagine. Made me belly laugh at my horribly written dialogue. Pointed out plot elements I wouldn't have thought of myself.

He's released me to write in increasing measure, supported my business decisions, applauded my milestones, cuddled me during my infuriatingly close "near-misses." He's whisked me off to the vineyards for countless afternoons of editing and provided me with a "weekend away" to work on revisions.

Oh. And he bought Beatrice for me one year ago. The best anniversary gift ever. It was money he could have sunk into his own passions--music writing, film producing. But he chose to sink it into me instead.

He has called it "an excellent business investment." Says his ROI has been very high in the past year.

Wow. Talk about affirmation. I haven't made a dime on my writing yet, but my husband sees value in how I've grown and developed in the past twelve months.

I wouldn't be the writer I am today without him.

Yep. I love the guy! Thanks for allowing me this safe haven to share my heart. You have all been a part of my journey, too.

Hope your Friday sparkles, too!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The 25% Test

I'm determined to crank out a WIP that is NOT rife with errors that need to be fixed during the second draft. So I'm reading and studying along with my writing. (Soon I'll stop sleeping and eating, too.)

Here's what I'd like to throw out to you today: How many of you pay attention to the one-quarter rule? That is, your novel is completely set up and the first plot point smacked down by the time you are 25 percent in.

For a 60K novel, that's at around 15K. And for my projected 75K novel, it's 18.5K, give or take.

And I'm almost there.

So in attempting to make this story arc WORK THE FIRST TIME, I am making a concerted effort to place my first plot point right where it belongs. It'll be either the end of chapter 7 or chapter 8, depending on everything else that needs to line up before then.

I'm in the middle of chapter 6. So you can imagine how I'm pressuring myself right now.

Last night I propped myself in bed with Beatrice and a glass of (cheap) Chardonnay, and made a bullet list of things-that-need-to-happen. I can move these around, delete the ones that aren't necessary, and hopefully come up with a clear road map to the End of Act One.

Then I'll feel all happy and professional.

It's boiling down to craft for me. The actual writing feels more like breathing every day. So, yeah. Craft.

What about you? Do you give thought to things like this while you draft? Have you applied the one-quarter rule to your own writing with any success?

And if you have a minute, will you please mail me some chocolate? Preferably packed in dry ice. I'm sure that'll make this whole process much easier.

Monday, August 9, 2010

August Secret Agent Contest Early Info

Is it me, or is the summer zooming on by? Our August Secret Agent contest is next week!

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open NEXT Monday, August 16.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

* There will be TWO SEPARATE SUBMISSION WINDOWS. Each window will be open for 2 hours and will receive a maximum of 25 entries. This is to accommodate my other-side-of-the-globe readers.
* SUBMISSION WINDOW #1: Monday, August 16, NOON to 2:00 PM EDT or 25 entries, WHICHEVER COMES FIRST.
*SUBMISSION WINDOW #2: Monday, August 16, 7:00 to 9:00 PM EDT or 25 entries, WHICHEVER COMES FIRST.
*2 alternates will be chosen from the second submission window.
*PLEASE NOTE: You are responsible for figuring out your own time zone. "Time Zone differences" are NOT a reason for not getting your entry in.
* Submissions received before the contest opens will be rejected.
* Submissions are for COMPLETED MANUSCRIPTS ONLY. If you wouldn't want an agent to read the entire thing, DON'T SEND IT. If an "entire thing" doesn't exist, you shouldn't even be reading these rules.
* Manuscripts THAT HAVE BEEN IN A SECRET AGENT CONTEST DURING THE PAST SIX MONTHS (February-July) will not be accepted.
* You may submit A DIFFERENT MANUSCRIPT if you've participated in any previous Secret Agent contests.
* Only ONE ENTRY per person per contest. If you send more than one, your subsequent entry(ies) will be rejected.
* If you are a PAST WINNER, please DO NOT ENTER THIS CONTEST. (Unless it's a different manuscript.)
* Submissions are for THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. Please do not stop in the middle of a

Your submission for this contest should be formatted as follows:

SCREEN NAME: Your Screen Name Here
TITLE: Your Title Here
GENRE: Your Genre Here

(Followed by the excerpt here.)

* No "chapter one," chapter titles, etc.
* You will receive a confirmation email with your post number. I don't always get through quickly. Don't resend.
* Submissions go to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com. (And, um, you replace the word (at) with an @ sign. Yeah, sometimes people don't realize that.) They DO NOT GO to my facelesswords address. Or any other address.
*PLAIN TEXT is your best bet! And if you receive a rejection notice that claims you didn't include TITLE, etc., please TYPE THE SCREEN NAME, TITLE, AND GENRE BY HAND and resubmit. (In other words, don't copy and paste that part.)

This month's contest will include the following genres:
  • Commercial Fiction (including Women's)
  • Literary Fiction
  • Fantasy
  • True Crime
  • Mystery
  • Thrillers/Suspense
  • Humor/Satire
(Please note that this month's contest is for the adult market.)

Questions below!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Okay, I'm ready to listen to your experiences, ideas, and advice. The topic? Multitasking.

I threw out the question yesterday in Twitter and got some helpful responses. I'm hungry for more, though, so I hope you're feeling chatty today!

Here's the scoop: I've decided to be brave (foolish? delusional?) and tackle two projects at once. They're equally important and I need to complete them both well both this year ends. Professional goals and all that.

One is a WIP. The other is a major revision of an existing work.

I can't afford to lose my momentum on the WIP. Especially in light of all the over-the-top squeeing that's been going on in my private "circle of readers" concerning the premise. And I can't afford to put off the major revision, either.

So. How do I do this without self-destructing?

My daily writing schedule is already written in stone. I can't exactly quit the rest of my life and write. And the daily writing is what propels my WIP. Revisions? Not so much. But I have to keep them going at a constant rate, too.

So I'll have to come up with extra hours and creative ways to get it all done without sacrificing essentials. Like sleep. And I'm confident I can do that.

What I'm not confident about is the actual mental switching required when you go back and forth between two projects. Let's face it--we sort of "live" in our stories while we're working on them. Each story has a different feel, a different place inside our skulls. And for me, it's easier to have one such place active at a time.

I need to learn how to effectively work on two incredibly different projects simultaneously. Other than the fact that they are both YA, there is nothing they have in common.

One's got a male protag, the other female. One's a dystopian, the other urban fantasy. One's set in a made-up landscape, the other in a very real location.

One's in the process of being born. The other is getting prepped for major surgery.

Can you help me?

*prepares to take notes*

Thursday, August 5, 2010


The winner of a copy of Heart's Sentinel by PJ Schnyder is:

Danielle La Paglia!

Congratulations, Danielle! Please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com and I'll let you know how to claim your prize.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Author Interview: P. J. Schnyder

I'm pleased to present this interview with PJ Schnyder, debut author and faithful MSFV contributor!

AUTHORESS: Prior to entering Heart's Sentinel in the Secret Agent contest, what did your journey look like? How long had you worked on it, and how many other projects preceded it?

PJ: I've been writing for a long time. :P I'd received minor achievements for essays and poetry in school but my parents felt I should focus on a "real career" and things that would get me into college with a "real major". Still, reading was a huge factor in keeping my sanity. It gave me a way to escape and unwind, to dream a little. I continued to write for the same reasons.

I read voraciously and wrote even after college because I loved it, all while I was building a career - the "day job". There was a time there when it never occurred to me to seek out publication. My stories were more like diaries, infused with fits and figments of my imagination, rather than publish quality works to be shared with everyone.

But I started to research the craft of writing more, online. I figured, since I loved it so much, I should work to improve. I wrote Mischief's Daughter for NaNoWriMo in 2008 and spent months revising it. Finally, I decided to take the plunge and send it out for query to agents. While I was waiting, I wrote a short story titled Full Disclosure for a call to submissions by Samhain. While I was waiting for That response, I began outlining Heart's Sentinel.

It's extremely constructive to work on the next project while waiting for responses. Keeps me from eating my hair out of anxiety. ;)

The initial draft took me about 3 months to write. I still work the "day job" full time and travel for business a lot, so writing happens wherever I can squeeze in the time even if it means tucked into economy class a mile high. Draft and first round revision timed well with the Secret Agent Contest and I thought my manuscript was ready to roll, so I entered. I placed first runner up, and while Ms. Alspaugh did ultimately pass, she provided me with very constructive feedback.

AUTHORESS: So let's talk a little more about that "squeezing in" of writing time. Many writers are in a similar position--full time jobs, busy days as stay-at-home moms, life in general. With your already-demanding schedule, what is your approach to "writing time" that ensures you're productive? Especially now that you're writing to deadlines.

PJ: Before I sit down to write, I tend to go about a few other tasks that don't take 100% focus. I take a shower or do the dishes or exercise and I mull over my next writing session. When I sit down to write, I know where I'm going and I try to complete the scene so that it's a coherent thought from start to finish.

Also, I take a notes wherever I go. Plane, train or waiting room, if I see something that inspires me or have an epiphany I always jot down a few notes or store them in my blackberry. It helps me gather my thoughts for when I'm ready to write and triggers my memory.

The idea is to be ready and focused when I do have my writing time, taking the best advantage of the time I can grab to write after the day job is wrapped up for the evening or weekend.

AUTHORESS: Well, it obviously works, and it's excellent advice for all writers who feel the time crunch!

So how did you conceive Heart's Sentinal? What was your inspiration? And you're obviously not a pantser, since you've already used the "o" word. Do you have a certain method of outlining/plotting? And once you've written that first draft, do you love or hate the editing?

PJ: The opening scene of Heart's Sentinel was inspired by a real life experience. I wanted to take classes in Mixed Martial Arts and even though I was 28, I asked my father to come with me to check out the school. When we entered, an instructor greeted us and asked my father to sign a parental permission slip for me to take the trial class, having mistaken me for under 18. LOL. I was pretty intimidated that day, but the instructor made me laugh. It's a fabulous feeling being mistaken for over a decade younger than your real age.

Honestly, I'm sort of a hybrid between planner and pantser. I brain storm for a while to outline the major story events, but as I write each scene, my characters sometimes hijack the story and deviate from the plan in a major way - then I go back to my outline and re-plot. I color code my scenes for POV and also color the love and 'almost' love scenes red so I can take a high level view of when things start getting frisky and can decide if I want to add more sexual tension to the overall story.

Once the first draft is complete, I go through it for the main issues - I have a check list to help me remember my usual suspects. I wouldn't say I love or hate editing so much as require a fantastic playlist and lots of little breaks to get me through without liquefying my brain and having it ooze out the side of my head.

AUTHORESS: So when we see your author photo, we should mentally add ten years to however old we think you are. =)

You seem incredibly organized and I'm sure many readers will glean some wisdom and apply it to their own writing system. So what I want to know next is: Can you give us a teaser for Heart's Sentinel? Make us drool!


CHAPTER 1 (excerpt)

Adam knew every jaguar in River Gap Pride, and the woman who walked through the door wasn't one of them. He'd have remembered her sweet face framed in shoulder length hair, so dark a brown it shone black indoors. She must be new in town, come to stay in pride territory.

Pausing in the entryway to the dojo, her dark chocolate eyes scanned the foyer. When he approached, she tensed as if poised to bolt, but squared her shoulders and faced him anyway. Used to taming wild things, her response didn't bother him.

He gave her his friendliest smile. “Hi there, here for classes?”

People didn't get wilder than shapeshifters, and a fellow shifter stood before him. His inner beast growled, her scent exciting things deep inside his core. And yet, she had a newness about her, an awkwardness he associated with teens growing into their maturing bodies, even though she moved with more grace than any human.

“Yes.” Her answer came in a quiet, wary voice. “I was interested in beginner martial arts classes.” The melodic timbre sent shivers down his spine. “I spoke to Jacob. He told me my father and I would be expected.”

With those words, Adam knew her. His beast surged inside his skin, drowning him in the need to protect.

And, she needed protection. It was why she’d come to River Gap Pride.

An older man stepped in behind her, bearing a strong family resemblance, his dark skin weathered brown as opposed to her golden tan. His hand, worn with honest work and slightly wrinkled with age, came to rest on her shoulder. He looked around the school, nodding to himself in response to some inner dialogue. The girl remained motionless under the man's touch, watching Adam, and it seemed her dark gaze saw right through to the violence just under his surface.

Adam struggled to control it, knowing she had every right to caution. “Is this your father?”

She gave a slow nod. Adam focused on the way the silken ends of her hair brushed against the corner of her mouth. His beast, redirected, wondered if her hair felt as soft as it looked. He clamped down on his reactions, wondering why meeting one girl could throw his control off so badly. He didn't have time for it. She needed his protection from the bastard who had put the bruised look in her eyes, the reason she’d come here in the first place.

AUTHORESS: Thanks so much for that! Do you have any other fun "tidbits" to share?

PJ: Heart's Sentinel won the Novel category of Decadent's Submission Contest. As a result, the cover features Charles Paz. He's a free agent model and photographer working with Decadent Publishing on several covers for their authors for this kick off of the company in August. In fact, he's also on the cover of my second story, a novella titled Red's Wolf, to be released at the end of August. ;)

Additionally, as part of the contest, Heart's Sentinel will be spotlighted in September in Decadent's monthly "Read for a Cure" program. (Part of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life) For the month of September (my birthday!), Decadent will contribute 100% of its publisher earnings on Heart's Sentinel to the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.

AUTHORESS: So when you're not winning contests and being spotlighted, how do you spend your time? When the computer is shut down and life is quiet, where might we find you?

PJ: *blush* Outside of the day job and writing, I try to keep in shape by working out. I take Mixed Martial Arts classes that include Muay Thai, Jun fan/Jeet kune do and Kali Silat. To keep light on my feet, I attend dance classes in Philly. Moving around and getting active helps me keep the blood flowing and releases stress.

But I do take quiet moments too. You might find me curled up in my comfy arm chair reading a novel with dogs parked around me on the floor and super stealthy ninja kitty balancing on the arm rest. Or you might find me out in my backyard, napping in the grass with the dogs enjoying a little shade and a nice breeze. Either way, my notebook is never far from hand in case I get an epiphany and want to jot down a few notes before the plot bunnies over run my mind. ;)

AUTHORESS: So we don't want to meet you in a dark alley!

Will you share some words of wisdom for aspiring authors? What has your journey toward publication taught you that you can pass along?

PJ: Everything is a learning experience and the craft of writing is a continual work in progress.

Keep track of the constructive feedback you receive so you can identify repeated issues. It will be invaluable as you revise your manuscript and polish it.

Never give up, always move forward. Learn and become better for it. ;)

AUTHORESS: Words to live by! Thank you so much this fun interview. :)

PJ: Thank you so much for interviewing me! And also for your patience! It's been great to answer your very interesting questions and I'd love to answer more questions any of your blog readers might have in comments.

Heart's Sentinel will be released by Decadent Publishing on August 6th.

Also, look for the second title in the Terra's Guardians series, Red's Wolf, on August 30th.

READERS!! Leave a comment under this post to be entered in a drawing for a FREE COPY of Heart's Sentinel. Winner to be announced Thursday.