Monday, January 31, 2011

February Secret Agent Early Info

Right on the tail of our last one!  Jumping right in:

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open NEXT Monday, February 7.

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, February 7, NOON to 2:00 PM EST or 25 entries, WHICHEVER COMES FIRST.
* SUBMISSION WINDOW #2: Monday, February 7, 7:00 to 9:00 PM EST 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 (August-January) 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 EXACTLY 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.
* Submissions go to authoress.submissions(at) 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.)

As always, there is no fee to enter the Secret Agent contest.

This month's contest will include the following genres:
  • Romance (no SFF or subgenres thereof)
  • YA (no SFF or subgenres thereof)
  • MG (no SFF or subgenres thereof)
Post your questions below!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Fricassee

Happy last-Friday-of-January!  Not that I'm excited to get the heck to the end of winter or anything.

I've spent the last several days thinking out backstory for my WIP, and my brain has pretty much liquefied.  As such, I don't have a lot to say.

Well, I always have a lot to say.  It just wouldn't be coherent this time.

So it's a good thing I have a fun link to share!

Katrina Lantz honored me with an awesome, out-of-the-box interview on Operation Awesome:


Go read it and leave her your happy comments.  They run a great blog over there!

And have a joyful weekend.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Brief Public Service Announcement

Two recipients of my requests-from-lurking-agents discovered my email in their spam boxes.


I would hate for someone to miss out on a request because of an overactive spam gland!  And there were more than a dozen requests this time.  So please do 2 things:

1.  Check your spam box.

2.  Add my facelesswords email to your address book.  This is the email from which I always send agent requests.

That should cover it! 


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Our Second BAKER'S DOZEN Agent Signing!

It's true!  I'm thrilled to announce the second signing as a direct result of our Baker's Dozen Agent Auction in December.

Author Beth Hautala has signed with Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary Agency. You can read the Baker's Dozen entry that grabbed Danielle's heart HERE.


And here's the agent love story, in Beth's own words:

I spent two years writing, editing, entrusting to beta readers, and rewriting my middle-grade novel, Waiting For Unicorns.

I loved it-which is unusual, because I am my own worst critic. I generally end up hating my work. But now, despite a successful career in commercial writing, months of rejection were leading me to believe I had no business writing fiction.

Writing stories makes me tick and I wept at the thought of giving it up.

I decided to give things one final shot before I shelved the manuscript. I submitted Unicorns to Authoress' Baker's Dozen Agent Auction, never expecting to make the cut.

But I did! And Waiting For Unicorns eventually earned six requests for fulls.

I almost died.

Five weeks later I received an email from Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary. She had read my book and thought it was "REALLY WONDERFUL."

"I'd love to set up a time to speak with you over the phone so we can get to know each other a little better," she emailed.

I screamed. Literally. Out loud.

And then I started crying. And shaking.

Then I did a happy dance in my chair.

And then I ran to tell my husband.

Ultimately, Danielle offered representation, and today, I have an agent!

Where would I be without Authoress?!

So, for anyone who has ever tried to do something beautiful and meaningful with words, be encouraged! As a dear friend and author recently said to me, "You are closer than you think." Keep writing.

(Read the full story HERE.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

And the button's back...

The donate button, that is.  For all of you who have been, yanno, yankin' at the bit to click on it.  (No, seriously.  There aren't words adequate enough to express my appreciation for your support of this blog effort.  And of me.)

So may I have your thoughts, please?  I started removing the button during contests because an agent expressed concern that the button might be construed as having to "pay for agents to read," which is expressly against the tenets of the AAR.  I disagree with this, since I'm not an agent and a donate button is not a "fee."

Not to mention the fact that a lot of you WANTED me to add the button.  Or at least provide you with a way to send me chocolate and cashews.

But in the interest of avoiding confusion, I started removing it.  And it's just one more Thing I have to remember to do during and after the contests.

What are your thoughts?  Should I continue to remove it?  Or is it okay to just leave it up there?  I'll keep removing and replacing it if that's the best thing to do.  But I thought I'd take your pulse on the matter, since you all are the ones who are donating.  I'm just sitting here blushing.  And trying to do the right thing.

Looking forward to your thoughts...

And the Winners!

The winners for this Secret Agent round are as follow:

RUNNER-UP:  #37, Alli's Playground

The prize:  Ms. Kole will provide a 5-page critique.  Please email me for submission instructions.

WINNER:  #42, The Reaping of Norah Bentley

The prize:  Ms. Kole will provide a 10-page critique.  Please email me for submission instructions.

Congratulations, winners!  Private requests from lurking agents will go out later today.

Secret Agent Unveiled: MARY KOLE

Thanks and applause to the helpful and straight-shooting Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency!

Mary's Bio:

Mary came to children's literature from a writer's perspective and started reading at Andrea Brown Literary Agency to see what it was like "on the other side of the desk." She quickly found her passion there and, after a year of working behind the scenes, officially joined the agency in August 2009. In her quest to learn all sides of publishing, she has also worked in the children's editorial department at Chronicle Books and earned her MFA in creative writing at the University of San Francisco. At this time, Mary is only considering young adult and middle grade fiction and truly exceptional picture books from authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators. She prefers upmarket premises with literary spark and commercial appeal. Her favorite genres are character-driven fantasy, paranormal, dystopian, thriller, horror, humor, contemporary, romance and mystery. She operates the Andrea Brown East office from Brooklyn, NY.

What Mary's currently looking for:

I'm looking for YA and MG primarily. I have a strong PB list but can always look at PB projects, especially from professionally trained author/illustrators. I'd also love to find a graphic novel. In terms of genres, I'm looking for dystopian, thriller, contemporary realistic, character-driven fantasy and sci-fi (think GRACELING, not Tolkien), unique paranormal (no vampires, werewolves or fallen angels, please), horror, adventure, and mystery. I never want to shut myself out of a great project, so do know that I've been surprised by the things that have sparked with me. If your project has a great commercial hook and fantastic voice and writing, I would love to see it!

And there you have it! Winners forthcoming.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Fricassee

So the general consensus seems to be that this is a strong Secret Agent round!  Our Premium Slush Pile continues to sparkle.

Good thing, too, because we've got Lurking Agents.

You knew that, right?  They slide silently through the entries during contests, fingers brushing the ripest fruits in the basket.  And then they email me.

And ask for things.

Yep.  You have no idea how much fun I have behind the scenes.

I guess this makes me a talent scout of sorts.  Except, I don't have to go looking for the talent.  It comes to me!  All I do it format and post it.  Which places all the kudos into the laps of the participating writers.

A lot of you are working REALLY HARD and doing a lot of things RIGHT.  And though there is most likely a lot of rejection in your immediate path, if you keep doing what you're doing IT WON'T STRANGLE YOU.  And you will reach your goals.

There you go.  A weekend pep-talk.  Ain't writing grand??

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#50 January Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Paranormal

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

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

The paperback filled my vision, so close it blurred. Fantastic. An encounter with Melissa was the first item on my To-Don't list. I leaned away from both her and the book, and bumped into the wall.

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

"It's so amazing!" she said, either not hearing me or not caring. "You really have to read it. Here." She thrust a paper at me, the black stone on her bracelet falling over her wrist. "I'm starting a book club. You should join." Melissa had a smile plastered across her face, but her eyes were hard--predatory.

Did she just ask me to join her club? I looked down at the book. Lure. The combination of the title and the way Melissa was acting creeped me out. Plus, I couldn't figure out why all these girls were with her.

#49 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Nothing Left To Lose
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I toss my phone on the coffee table and sigh. Dad cancelled his weekend with me again. I hug my knees to my chest and lean back against the couch.

"The @#!*% bailed again, didn't he?" Mom pauses to light her cigarette. "I swear I never should have hooked up with him."

"Which means I would've never been born and messed up my parents' lives. But I know Mom doesn't mean it that way. "Just stop, okay? He said I could come over on Sunday instead."

"God forbid he missed out on partying with his friends." She leans down and kisses the top of my head. Her boobs almost explode out of her shirt, so I squirm out of their reach. "You gonna be okay here alone, Boo? you can always come to work with me and hang out."

"Nah, I'll stay here." Since I got my own boobs a few years ago when I turned twelve, I don't like handing out at the Lucky Lady, where Mom bartends. It's creepy the way the old guys check me out.

Some guy I've never seen before walks out of Mom's bedroom. "Tina, you ready?"

"Yeah. Oh, Amber this is Steve."

Steve and I nod at each other, and his gaze lingers a the front of my t-shirt.

"Hey," I motion with my hands. "I'm up here."

Mom laughs.

Steve looks from my face to my mom's. "Wow, you two look alike. Are you sisters?"

"She's my kid."

#48 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Moral Compass
GENRE: YA dystopian

I wake up without my memory and a pile of sand in my mouth. I'm in a desert, and everything is beige. Sand dunes stretch out in the horizon and all I can see is barren land. I have no idea how I got here or what I am doing in a desert.

My mind is empty of memories, and all I get, as I strain to think of my life before this, is a headache. I can't even remember what I look like. The bones in my body feel foreign and my skin feels like a leech attaching itself to my skeleton.

As I struggle to sit up, a headache pounds through my head like a flash of lightening. I squish my eyelids tighter and bring my hands over my head like I can block out the pain even though it's internal.

And then a noise comes. A sound so quiet. A sound I realize is happening in my head.

"Tobin," a soft voice echoes through my skull. "I love you, Tobin." It's a woman's soothing voice, but I don't recognize it. I get the strange feeling that I should know this woman. That somehow she knows me intimately. But still... I can't remember.

After the head pounding stops, I hurry and stand up before the grains of sand become more stifling against my body, as though if I stay there on the ground any longer, I'll turn into a sandman, my bones giving away to dust.

#47 January Secret Agent

GENRE: Middle Grade Dark Fiction

A warm breeze blew drifts of sand across the stone floor. Maahes flicked his tail, anticipating his attack. He pounced. Sand washed under his paw, puffing into the morning air. Bounding and leaping, the cat followed the sand motes down the long corridor.

"Not much longer...
" The words wound through the pillared hall like
the whisper of a ghost.

Maahes' ears twitched, the swish of skirts and slap of bare feet filling the silence left by the priest's words made the cat's ears ache. Abandoning the sand motes, he padded down the hall, searching for sound to fill the uncomfortable silence in his heart.

"Have the servants prepare themselves for burial," young Thutmose ordered.

"Of course, " the priest assured the prince.

Maahes sat back on his haunches, just outside the pharaoh's bedchamber. Licking sand from his paw he watched young Thutmose and the priest file out of his master's room.

"You shall be crossing to the afterlife with my father as well," the prince told the priest. Maahes cocked his head, studying the young man. The sorrow that tugged at the prince's voice did not show on his face.

"I am to be buried with the pharaoh?" the priest asked.

The prince nodded. "My father desires your counsel when he takes his place as a god among the dead."

The priest's face lit with joy. "Thank you, I shall go prepare myself for death at once!" Gripping his skirts in his hands, the priest hurried away.

#46 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Kumquat Code
GENRE: Middle Grade Contemporary

Camp is ruined.

I've waited 341 days to be with Z, my best friend, soul mate, twin separated at birth, only to discover we're not roommates. How will I survive the next three weeks?

The woman at the registration table glares at me under her emerald eye shadow. "Tak boleh, cannot change. Go to orientation, Edith Tan, you're late."

I drag my luggage out to the hallway, my jeans heavy and soggy from sploshing through the monsoon storm on my way to the Universiti Malaya campus; my insides equally heavy and soggy. Excitement, my fuel for the past weeks, has abandoned me and all I can do is sit and cradle my head in my hands. Maybe I'll just stay here till I fossilize so millions of years from now, archaeologists can have some fun studying a human shaped like a shrimp.


My heart leaps. Only one person in the universe calls me that. I look up to see Z, all flailing limbs and flying braids, dash toward me. I rush to hug her, but somehow manage to knock her violin case and shoulder bag off.

"I'm so sorry, Z!"

Z brings her violin out in a flash. She runs her fingers gently over the instrument to check for damage and plucks each string. To my relief, she smiles. "The violin's fine. Don't worry, Edie, you were just keeping up our Clum-Klutz tradition."

I snort. Clumsiness is the third trait we share besides our love for music and silliness.

#45 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Madman's Daughter
GENRE: YA historical thriller

I spent eight years trying to run from the past. I changed my name. Traded in the luxurious life of my childhood for a two-shilling salary at a dress shop and a shared room upstairs--though that was hardly my choice. Still, the past haunted me. Lucy, the one friend who stayed by me through the scandal, told me I'd sooner outrun a steam engine than my past. She said I had to face what happened. One night, quite on accident, she gave me that opportunity.

It was a late November evening. Mrs. Bell had kept me long beyond closing to search for a missing wooden button not worth its weight in sand. At last she found the damn thing in her own pocket and I was free to dash out into the cold night. I was late, and Lucy would be waiting.

The bitter wind slipped up my skirts and bit at the bare skin of my calves. I shivered, but it was not only the chill in the air that gave me goose flesh. I turned down a side street and made my way past the closed doorways. These tight alleys made me nervous, and I was relieved to reach the open expanse of Covent Garden. The wind whipped at my skirts as I waited for a carriage to pass and then hurried across the street to the big wooden bandstand, where a figure waited in the lee of the staircase.

#44 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Parallel
GENRE: YA urban fantasy

Feng Huang stood on the bronze shoulder of The Angel of the Waters statue and peered down at Bethesda Fountain. The ornate lamps circling Bethesda Terrace thrust a soft, yellow glow against the dark sky, illuminating the water like a mirror. The face looking back at her wore a frustrated expression. Her brow was creased, and the edges of her mouth drooped.

Tsk, Tsk.

A faint rustling noise off in the distance suddenly shifted Feng Huang's attention away from her reflection. The sound came from the direction of some massive oak trees on the outskirts of the terrace, but it was impossible to see what made the sound. Thanks to the night sky, the trees were now just a black silhouette against the city's dim street lamps. She rested her hand on the sword attached to her hip and crouched down, hidden by the angel's wings. Central Park wasn't a safe place to be out in the open, especially at night.

"Inhuman" was just a fancy umbrella term for the word monster, and the city was crawling with them: demons... the undead. You name it; Manhattan had it. Central park was the only thing dividing each group of Inhumans and was fair game for turf wars and murder.

Feng Huang, and her mentor's warriors, was a sort of police amongst the Inhumans. They kept the normal humans blissfully unaware that they were living in a world filled with creatures that would make their horror movies look like they were rated PG.

#43 January Secret Agent

GENRE: MG Fantasy

Hannah stood in the driveway, her face hot as tears dripped down her cheeks. It was four in the morning, dark except for the flickering orange light of a few streetlamps. The suburban lane was empty and still, and the only sounds were the chirping of distant crickets and Hannah's own broken sobs.

"I don't want you to go," Hannah said.

Mom crouched down in front of her so that their faces were level. She pushed back Hannah's messy hair and smoothed the purple pajamas that covered her small, six-year-old frame.

"I know, sweetie," she said. "But we'll still talk to each other on the phone. And you'll visit me every summer."

"Can't I--" Hannah hiccuped. "Can't I go with you?"

Mom's eyes darted to where Dad waited a respectful distance away. "When you're older, maybe you can come live with me. Okay?"

Hannah sniffed and wiped her eyes in response.

The airport taxi pulled up in the driveway, its bright headlights making Hannah flinch away. Her gaze fell on the garage door, where the light cast an elongated shadow of her own body. Next to it, Mom's
shadow looked weird. It was shorter than Hannah's, and her legs were doubled so that there seemed to be four of them. Her head had two points, like cat ears, and there was a strange, flickering second
shadow behind the first, almost like a tail flicking back and forth.

#42 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Reaping of Norah Bentley
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

I should have died that night.

The rip current was too strong. I could feel it--a rush of smooth water at my ankles, weaving through them like a snake and pulling me off balance, pulling me out to sea. And the shore was already so far away now. A small crowd of people had gathered on it, and from this distance through my salt-stung eyes they all blurred together into one giant, shadowy figure, pointing and yelling things I couldn't hear over the roar of the waves.

The pressure on my ankles increased, swept my feet out from under me.

I'd meant to get away. I wanted to hide, because I was tired of all the fighting, disgusted with my parents for not being able to get along for even a single weekend so we could have a normal, enjoyable family vacation. I didn't mean to get this far away, though.

The current pulled me under again. I found the gritty ocean floor under my feet and pushed, managed to resurface long enough to gulp down a few breaths of air tainted with salt. The rip current gave one final, powerful tug and then seemed to dissipate, and for a moment there was an eerie sort of calm. Then I saw it: a dark wall of water, edged with white foam and glittering in the moonlight as it grew taller and taller, pushing forward, the center pulling into itself until it collapsed, breaking over me and slamming me down into the ocean floor.

#41 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Kitt Wilde's Wyoming
GENRE: Historical YA

"Kitt, come alive," Pa called in a low voice meant to wake only me. But I was already awake and halfway into yesterday's jeans. Not even the thick log walls of our ranch house could block the ruckus going on outside. To hear the horses and dogs tell it, another grizzly had found its way to the Bar G.

My sisters stirred. "Stay in bed," I whispered. "I'll go." It felt much earlier than get-up-for-chores early.

With my unruly curls knotted high on the back of my head, I stepped into the kitchen to tug on my boots and coat. Pa had coaxed the lantern to a soft glow. He handed me a lever gun and a handful of cartridges, then took the same for himself. The door gave a mournful whine as it closed behind us.

"Stay on the porch now. If you get a shot, take it." He took a long look in the direction the dogs were pointed. "I'll be out by the barn."

"Jake, Clipper," I commanded. Both dogs came to me, even if unwillingly, growling and chuffing, hackles up. "Shush." Cow dogs are fearless and protective, and these two thought they could boss anything wearing hair. It was for their own good that I shut ‘em in the house.

I hung the lantern high on the north end of the long covered porch and walked quietly past the door to the other end, boot heels striking dull thuds on the wood planks.

#40 January Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

Ugh! The last thing I ever meant to do was wake up late on Field Trip Day. As I walked down the narrow walkway of the already disgusting smelling school bus I knew there was only one seat left. And everyone else on the bus already knew it too.

Cindy gave me that pathetic look she gives everyone who ends up sitting next to Jordan. I even heard Matt and his crew whispering and chuckling about my dire situation, but then that's what jocks were for.

Could this aisle grow any longer? I thought as I sauntered down the runway preparing for a landing next to Jordan. Of course the bus driver didn't have any patience for a late kid. Chubby Checkers, as we lovingly referred to the bus driver, was already in motion before I had a chance to sit. I jolted back and forth as the bus wheels started rolling.

"It's either here or on the floor," Jordan said, patting the seat next to him, half grin on his face.

"If I were you I'd take the floor." I don't know who said it but as soon as it was out everyone chimed in chanting, "Floor, floor, floor." I have to admit, I was considering it.

Everyone knew my beef with Jordan. It dated way back to elementary. You know how the teacher would sit four desks together facing each other? Well, that's how it was in third grade and Jordan's desk sat in front of mine.

#39 January Secret Agent

TITLE: 1790 - On the Edge
GENRE: MG Historical

Brattleboro, Vermont

I stand on tiptoes to peer through the crowd. He doesn't look familiar, but that seems impossible in our small town. A man's first day here, and he starts off dead?

My neighbors shift in front of me, and I'm left staring at bits of hay stuck to someone's coat. The coat smells like cow dung and wood smoke.

No one says a word. Above us two crows call to each other, their hoarse shrieks piercing the air. It's never been like this. No trial. No explanation. Just the ringing of the meetinghouse bell and a man hanging by his neck from a tree.

I nudge my younger brother Nathaniel over. There's Silas. Just seeing his back makes my head all fuzzy. Maybe this time he'll notice me. My fingers reach to straighten my bonnet.

Abruptly, Silas' father, Mr. Crawford, puts on his hat and barks, "Good riddance." Taking their cue from him, people begin murmuring and leaving to start the day's work. I glimpse Silas walking away with another girl. My jaw tightens against the disappointment, but I shouldn't be surprised - she is far prettier than I.

Nathaniel heads straight for Jonah. Jonah is fourteen like me, but he doesn't seem to mind Nathaniel tagging along with him. He's even eaten quite a few suppers in our tiny cabin.

I join them, and Jonah nods to me. "Good morning, Hannah."

Nathaniel whispers, "Who was he?"

#38 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Curse of Elizabeth Brewster
GENRE: YA Thriller

Eli rubbed her finger along the sliver of rough skin, no longer visible on the base of her palm. Her wound was almost gone. The once burned flesh a distant memory. In its place sleek new skin, smooth in its rebirth.

Ms. Manning was lecturing in Sophomore World History. As she droned on, Eli bit at her lip. Oh my god, she thought, they all look alike in their same uptight uniforms and perfect hair. She looked down at herself. "Even me," she said softly, knowing that she blended in perfectly with her pleated grey skirt and white button down top. The only thing that made her stand out in Pemberton Academy was her short boy haircut that she'd done herself after finding out she had to leave Kingston for Pemberton Academy. Even when she was cutting her long brown hair she knew she was only hurting herself. But, it did make a statement to her stepmother, a strong one. Mary Chilton Brewster hated "unladylike" short hair, just like she hated the name Eli, her childhood nickname for Elizabeth. Every time her father called her Eli, pronounced long "E" and long "I", Mary Chilton would shudder and say, "She's not a boy, why do you call her that ridiculous boy name?" Her father would just say, "Let's have a boy then." But they never did. Ms. Mannings' voice boomed across the room. "Joan of Arc said, 'I am not afraid.... I was born to do this.'

#37 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Alli's playground
GENRE: YA dystopian

You were dead to us the moment they touched you. My mother's final words to me echo in my brain despite the years since they were so calmly spoken and it takes everything I have to push them aside. I can't afford to wallow.


I look up. Straight into Peter's eyes. They're more hazel than green today, the brown reflecting off his brand new school sweater. It's the same as mine. Almost. His sleeves are pushed up at the elbows. He grins. A confident curve of his mouth that flashes his dimples. "Good luck."

My stomach, already teetering on the edge, flips into a full roll. "You too," I mumble, and drag my gaze away. I could get lost in those eyes and I need my wits about me today.

We are not in this together.

It's me who Verity, Peter's mother and the woman I owe everything to, is so worried about. Alli needs to fit in. She didn't know I'd overheard her whispered conversation but fitting in is the least I can do for her. All I have to do is enter the classroom, get through the introductions and keep my head down.


At least I hope it will be as soon as my escorts move along. Every second I wait makes the ball of nerves in my stomach expand, filling my chest until it's hard to breathe.

#36 January Secret Agent

GENRE: YA urban fantasy

A thirteen year old kid shouldn't be taking this many bus trips alone I told myself. I snorted. Who was I kidding? "Alone" was the story of my life.

Then, I went very still, very cold, very fast.

The bus seat next to me had been empty this whole trip. Now, there was an old woman sitting in it way too close for comfort. I hadn't shut my eyes or anything. One second the seat had been empty.

The next, the old woman, smelling of lavender and death, sat in it.

How did I know what death smelled like? Live on the streets alone and hungry for years like me, and you become an expert on a lot of things kids with homes know nothing about.

The smell of death got stronger. I looked up. Green cat-eyes studied me out of a face that seemed to have found a sale on wrinkles. She must have found her musty Victorian dress in the attic of the Bates Motel. She frowned at me as if she could read my thoughts. I hoped she didn't mind light reading.

She thrust a note at me. I sat there. She shook it.

I didn't want an old lady smacking me. A guy couldn't hit an old woman. I took it with all the thrill of eating road-kill.

I looked down. It was smoking. I looked back up to the old woman. She was gone. My shivers got goose bumps.

"Cue the spooky music," I whispered.

#35 January Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Ghost Story

Two words were written on the paper: Help me.

Tessa James clutched the thin sheet. The handwriting was hers. The words were definitely not. She didn't remember jotting down anything last night before she fell asleep on the old couch in the greenroom.

Tessa knew she was alone in the theatre. When she offered to lock up for the house manager after the gala, everyone else had left, too. Unless someone had lingered behind to play a prank, the note couldn't
have been written by anyone other than her. And she must've done it in her sleep.


Tessa glanced at her watch--it read four in the morning--and groaned with the effort. She'd slept for three hours, but she ached all over. Playing waitress at the event that evening was a lot less fun than she'd expected. Mike, the house manager, had it worse though. He was due back at the theatre in just a few hours. His short night had inspired her to close up for him. She'd only put her throbbing feet up
for a moment. . . .

Tap, tap, shuffle, tap.

Tessa stopped breathing.

Tap, tap, shuffle, tap.

Not possible, she thought, but the noise stuttered over her head again. It sounded as though someone was tap dancing. On the empty stage. At four in the morning. Ice slid over Tessa's back, freezing her to the bone.

#34 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Edge of the Falls
GENRE: YA Dystopian

I saw it once--from the opposing hillside. And I remember that moment, the house gleaming in the mist and the soft light from the City, a fire burning in one of the bedroom windows. I remember how afraid of it I was, even having grown up within it.

The Manor perches on the edge of the Falls, and is forever covered in the dew and ice they threw. I stand on the precipice of earth and air and water, and let the wildness of it wrap around me, claim me. This, the fierce cold and sting of snow in my face, the taste of wild wind and ash on my lips, is why I love the Falls--why I love Outside.

A sneeze makes me jerk, and I look over my shoulder.

Lilith is trudging through the snow, the tip of her red nose poking out of her hood. She bends, inspecting something near the ground and I hold my breath, hoping. If she has found them, we can go back to the warmth and relative safety of the Manor.

She straightens and her eyes dart to me, questioning. I sigh, and shake my head. We have been harvesting the starrbriars for three weeks now--the supply on the cliff face has been exhausted. I've been dreading this day. Tugging my woolen cloak closer and wishing it were somehow a stronger protection from the spray, I motion Lilith to follow me back to the Manor.

#33 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Dream Thief
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy

Cassandra’s heart is a bird inside her chest. Its wings beat in time with her running feet on the concrete path. She knows what’s going on – just as surely as you don’t, not yet – and she’s trying to run away from that knowledge.

But she can’t run away from it. She turns around the corner of a dorm and takes a breath but she can still feel it behind her, a presence like a thickening in the air. Cassandra is in the shadows cast by gatherings of trees, but she doesn’t want to be in the darkness. There is no hiding in the dark, not from this thing, this whatever it is, this appearance of a man.

She walks quickly to stand beneath a lamppost. The light ruins her night vision so that she can barely see beyond where the light stops and the way she came is an inhabited darkness. Still, she feels better, and her breathing deepens, her thoughts calm.

This is not how Cassandra acts, she tells herself. This is not how a girl raised in New York behaves, and this is not how a city girl is going to die. In fact, she assures herself, she is not going to die at all. She’s taken years of aikido and has thrown down men many times her own weight. Once, walking home from a friend’s house on her own, strictly against her mother’s orders, she had been assaulted by a man.

#32 January Secret Agent


(I just left it up because everyone seems to be enjoying it so much. *grin*)

TITLE: Always Read the Fae Print
GENRE: YA urban fantasy

Making out with my hot Dutch boyfriend at work? Awesome.

Spotting a fae sliding across the kitchen counter behind said hot Dutch boyfriend's back? Less awesome.

I tensed up like a steel girder as the fae's too-thin body crept past, but tried to keep Arjan from noticing. Mom always said the best way to deal with fae was to pretend you couldn't see them. An easy task in theory--Arjan's lips on mine made the best distraction ever--but even though the fae probably wasn't harmful, Mom's homeschooling had fed me enough horror stories about those bug-eyed jerks that I wanted to be prepared.

Also? I didn't want fae staring at my epic make-out sessions. Talk about awkward.

Reluctantly, I put one hand on Arjan's chest and disentangled myself. "I'm thirsty," I whispered.

"Oh. Right." Arjan's normally pale face was flushed. He licked his lips. "Could we talk about something?"

Uh-oh. Did my kissing need work? Could be: I'd never made out with a real, live, non-magical human being before Arjan. As far as smooching went, vampires usually settled for 'warm and bloody', and I'd never gotten far with that necromancer dude Aunt Ellen had tried to set me up with. Arjan had also brushed past my scars earlier--not difficult, given how friggin' huge they were--and that never failed to give me the jitters and--

Another movement from the corner of my eye. I tried valiantly to keep my attention on Arjan instead of five gazillion disaster scenarios.

#31 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Political Princess
GENRE: Young Adult

Sydney Fischer stunned her best friend when she boldly stated that she was giving up on boys. No, girls weren't an option either, but boys were downright irritating.

Mainly Conner Samuels.

She loathed Conner Samuels. Just enough that she was probably in love, which was the worst feeling of all. Sometimes the line between love and loathing was very thin, if not non-existent.

Either way, she was pretty sure she loathed Conner. Which was a surprise since for years he was her main crush, the boy she would change her entire schedule around just to pass by him in the hall between second and third periods. And let's be honest, between fourth and fifth, fifth and sixth and so on. She had always gone out of her way to see him flash his pearly white smile as he said hello to her, even if it was for a brief second. It was his smile and his hello saturated with sexiness that sent her heart rate into a tizzy and made life worth living.

Until this morning. When she showed up at his locker.


Thelma Mitchel.

And she kissed him. With tongue.

And he kissed her back.

That's why she loathed Conner Samuels.

#30 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Background Vocals

My music wove a web between the commuters and me. For the second they paused to take in my voice, we were connected. The string didn't break when they boarded a train to their destination. It unraveled gradually, snapping when the tune left their head. By then I would have moved on to New York. It was safe, without consequences. The mangled lock hanging from my guitar case stood as a reminder of where deeper connections led. I was through fighting in a place where only one person listened.

The sky above Boston's South Station was the blue of the Parsian afternoons I'd been forced to leave behind. Mon dieu, I'd forgotten how freeing playing could be. Power surged through me and into the strings. The chords drowned out Uncle Rob's threats, and the taunting of my former classmates. I didn't have to worry about now. No one would try to take my music away again.

"Kid, do you have a permit?" I misfingered a chord, and my E string let out a low moan, like it knew we were in trouble. Merde. Shit. Merde. The police officer's hands were in his pockets like he was trying to be casual, but I'd been chased off of street corners before. Cops meant business. I knelt. The concrete bit my knees through the holes in my jeans. I ignored the pain; clearing out my guitar case before he chased me off was essential.

#29 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Chronicles of a Demonsbane
GENRE: YA Fantasy

My boy Val,

By now it should be obvious that I'm dead, seeing as the only copy of this letter is attached to my will. I was too old to keep living, so rest assured I died happily. When I was deciding what your share of my possessions would be, I thought long and hard. I've never had money or shirts with popped collars (or whatever it is people think is hip these days), but I had the glory of Achilles (with the lifespan of Odysseus) and, Baby Boy, that is the highest honor a man can have. And so, since you've always been my favorite son (don't tell your brothers!) I have left you my prized possession: my title as Protector of the Flatland clan, my mother's clan (and you thought you were all city boy!) I know you'll make me proud.

Currently in the flesh (though hopefully not for long--my bones hurt!)

Your Dad

Simon Valgona read the letter over again and again, just as he did the day he first received it in its crisp, white envelope; that day the sun stood still and his mother no longer had the desire to bake deliciously adorned cakes and his brothers finally had nothing sarcastic or philosophical to say.

Val chuckled briefly. At only seventeen-years-old he was in charge of the entire clan, from the Forbidden Sea that wrapped around the land, all the way west, a sixteen day journey leading to the Corsica desert. The Flatlands, formally known as Siberia II.

#28 January Secret Agent


As she grew older, it became obvious to Princess Evelyn Kingston that she wasn't going to be the perfect princess her parents hoped for.

1. She couldn't sew a decent stitch.

2. Her handwriting's been compared to chicken scratches.

3. Animals hated her. A lot. (They used to like her once upon a time, but after having to clean her room for thirteen years, they went on strike.)

4. She wasn't pretty.

Okay, maybe the last one wasn't entirely true. Evie was sort of pretty with her blond hair and bright blue eyes. But in the land of fairy tales, sort of pretty was equivalent to ordinary. Like her mother said, she was no Cinderella.

Besides, blue eyed blond princesses were a dime a dozen around here. Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty took care of that.

Thankfully, Evie didn't care.

She didn't care that she wasn't the fairest of the land. Not even of her land which consisted of ten acres and twenty families. She'd rather be out slaying dragons and rescuing villagers than sit around waiting for a prince to come marry her.

"Princess Evelyn! Princess Evelyn!" Mrs. Chester, the housekeeper, burst into the alcove where Evie was sewing with her cousin, Alanna. "It finally came!"

"What came?" Evie asked, yanking on the tangled threads.

"Your storybook! The queen had it specially designed and delivered by CPS," she said brightly, shoving a large leather tome forward.

"CP--Oh, right. Crane Parcel Service."

#27 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Dear Diary,

I've done some things I'm not particularly proud of, but you can be sure a lady doesn't pound a person with a golf club for no particular reason either. Don't act so shocked, diary. You know the way I can get with my pins and voodoo dolls. People should learn not to provoke me, or they might just end up with pins inside them or golf clubs attacking them, whether they be doll or flesh. They are lucky I controlled myself, or I might have really damaged what they consider their pretty faces. If I achieved anything today, it was scaring the arrogance out of them. I suppose you can call it a day well spent.

Today marked my second week in Canada and Mom took Fanny and me to the local golf course. Mind you, diary, I haven't swung a club in three years so "rusty" would be an understatement. I had to remember all those specific details like bending my knees, gripping the club, and straightening my left arm, which isn't an easy combination to execute. I was about to swing my pitching wedge when, from the edges of my vision, I beheld the most cutest (bad grammar intended) boys I might have ever encountered in my whole seventeen years wandering this planet. I pulled down my visor so they wouldn't catch me staring, straightened my posture, and slightly leaned on my golf club, looking off to the distance with a "you don't intimidate me" mystique.

#26 January Secret Agent

TITLE: All's Fair
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The princess dug her boot into the snow as she pushed against the force of the man's blade. Their hilts clashed, the tip of his sword dangerously close to her throat. Pain shot through her arm. She grunted as she thrust forward and shoved the metal away. There was a flash, and she ducked. His blade whizzed over her head, and she swept his feet out from under him. A plume of steamy air erupted from his mouth as he landed on his back, and the princess touched the tip of her sword to the flesh just below his ear.

"The match goes to Princess Fawn!" shouted Duke Ellroy, Savara's training master. He clapped her on the shoulder, and Hunter of Sapphire Lake whistled from the circle of trainees behind the practice ring. "Fawn's experience makes her an ideal assistant, but you're all capable of what she just demonstrated. Next pair, let's go!"

Fawn pulled her opponent, Kyle of Beryl Moor, to his feet. The princess insisted on sparring at least once per lesson; it kept her limber, and the trainees loved to watch their future queen fight.

She walked back to the circle of trainees and sheathed her broadsword. It had been made for her by the finest Metal Crafter in Savara, and its length and balance were perfect. She hadn't gone anywhere without the weathered scabbard at her waist for two years--since she returned from the last battle in Darkrest.

#25 January Secret Agent

TITLE: It's Coming Down
GENRE: MG historical

My hand hovered over the latch, my stomach churning. What I did today, I'd never done before, and boy was I gonna get it!

Pa's work clothes lay in a pile outside the door. Yep, he was home all right. Inside was silent as if everyone were holding their breath, waiting for me to walk through the door.

"The longer he waits, the madder he'll get," Sarah said. My youngest sister looked up at me with earnest eyes. Lamplight spilled from the open window, casting her face in shadow.

"You worry too much, especially for an eight year old," I teased, trying to sound unconcerned.

She poked her bottom lip out. "Eight and a half, and I don't so worry too much. I worry the right amount, and now it'll be more 'cause you'll be in that horrible mine too, so there."

I frowned at her and she frowned back. Then taking a deep breath, I pushed open the door and stepped inside.

Ma and Alice stood frozen in the kitchen. Alice looked at me with a you-stepped-in-it-this-time look. Ma's eyes didn't meet mine.

Pa sat in the overstuffed chair. Someone who didn't know better might have mistook his pose as relaxed, but I knew better. Leaning back in his faded long underwear, an ankle resting on his knee, he clenched his coal-stained hands. One fist held a yellow piece of paper--the note I got from Mr. Graves today after I got a job at the mine.

#24 January Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Verse Novel

Silent all these years
from the amplifier
of the stereo,
into a soundproof
(shhh shhh shhh)
There’s a thin
I wash the 14th slice
of bread
with the remaining diet coke.
My swollen stomach,
a cement mixer,
turns around and around.
I smear the cement of soda-soaked bread
over the crack,
not a sound
or a sigh
is allowed
to get in
go out.
Out of the white lines
of the basketball court
I stand,
legs crossed,
in PE shorts,
stretchy navy blue,
shaped like a lantern
for Mid-autumn.
Above the shorts
hangs a PE shirt,
yellowed around armpits,
tree rings of family:
2 years of sister 1,
1 year of sister 2.
Over the shirt
wraps a sweater,
90 degrees Fahrenheit summer,
so much to hide:
the passage
of family,
of my body,
 and of my life.
Arms crossed,
I stand
by the teacher.
By the teacher
I stare
at the players inside the court,
I, the not-chosen-one,
outside the court.
weight( crossed)
 height (crossed)
 shape (crossed)
 agility (crossed)
every part of me (crossed)
including the to-be-growing parts (crossed)
Take that sweater off.
Don’t you have a brain?
 One more cross
from the teacher.
Between the shadows
of moving players,
I slide the sweater off
in sweltering heat.
The heat
my way
to No. 48 bus,
reek of subtropical perspiration.
I can hardly breathe
in my sweater.

#23 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Treasured Vision
GENRE: Young Adult

Visions are a messy business, child; troublesome doorways better left locked.

The memory of Papa's caution echoed through Nadia's mind as she sat alone in her room, crumpled note in one hand, unlit match in the other. Fear warred against her curiosity to know where he had gone, when he would return. The fear of drowning.

"If death were on the line," she reasoned, and left the thought unfinished. Speaking such things aloud made them too real. Too possible. The feelings she'd been having made her believe her father's life was at stake. Yet she hesitated. There was nothing she would not brave to save her father, but seeing things in a vision did not always mean she would understand them. The pictures that came to her were as often confusing as not, which brought back the question of taking a chance. She might learn something vital or see nothing at all.

And she was afraid.

Papa had explained Shawnee Sight to Nadia, how it ran through Mama's bloodline and might come to her. It had sounded like danger and excitement, like Aladdin's cave of wonders or a jackalope with magic beans. Magical. With all the fervor of a seven-year-old's heart, Nadia had wanted that gift. And until the wish was granted, years later, she had no idea of the fool-brained thing she'd coveted. Her first vision was a terror beyond imagining, all blood and smoke and losing her breath under a sheet of ice--like drowning. She had shivered with fright for days.

#22 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Lenny of Nowhere
GENRE: Middle Grade

Lenny Weedon logged in to his preferred world. His Blood Battle avatar, Inviso, was a muscular, decisive hero who had lost dozens of lives saving the planet Earth from humanivorous aliens.

In the next bedroom, Lenny's parents slept. His neighborhood made no noise. Even the dogs were asleep.

Play time.

Just one other player was on - Kronos. Lenny wondered about him. He was always in the game - even now, when it was past midnight. Where were his parents? Lenny would never ask. They didn't talk about things like parents.

Kronos: hey

Inviso: hey

Kronos: wanna go X67

Inviso: k

He charged his flamethrower and selected X67 - an abandoned school. It would take a moment for the level to load.

Kronos was probably Lenny's best friend, he thought. At least, he talked to Kronos more than any other boy his age. And he never talked to girls, unless he couldn't get out of it, at school. Then he stuck to nods and grunts. It wasn't that he didn't like girls. He did. He really did. It was just that he was more comfortable dealing with flesh-eating aliens.

"Hey, beautiful," he winked at his own reflection in the wardrobe mirror. Yeah, that would really work. Better stick to the people-eaters.

He looked at himself. Longish, light hair curled around his collar. He hated it. But at least it covered his ears. His nose, unfortunately, was harder to hide.

#21 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Nettle Spinner
GENRE: YA Fantasy

"Ay, lamb, it's time."

I stood away from the wooden chest and gave the burial shroud to one of the attending women. The spongy layer of rushes, crushed underfoot, lent a sweet fragrance from beneath my thin-soled shoes.

There were eight gathered in the room, including great-grandmother Adela and me.

Too many for our small cottage.

Grandmama had dozed off--a blessing as she was not asking me over and over where Mama had gone, or why she was not answering.

"Surely Joan must have longed for death even before she fell ill," said Mrs. Molke, who kept an inn at the north edge of Fenside, near the crossroads.

She hadn't even tried to lower her voice.

"Hush." Mrs. Bette chided her softly and darted a glance in my direction.

"Speak well of the dead or not at all," she cautioned, and Mrs. Molke pursed her thin lips and turned away.

I longed to speak in my mother's defense, for they had not known her as I had. Mama had been blessed--or some would say cursed--with determination. She was a proud woman who refused to accept that God had punished her with her illness.

"Richard Rupp is as healthy a man as ever there was," she once told me, "and he's never said a prayer in all his life."

Mama had said few prayers, herself.

And while her pride and independence kept the villagers' opinions from our doorstep, the price I paid was solitude.

#20 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Infected
GENRE: YA Literary Fantasy

I walked slowly, trying to be quiet but my footsteps echoed out. The hallway was dark so I relied completely on the flickering beam from my dying flashlight, which left plenty of shadows for monsters to hide in.

I hated it when we split up like this, but we needed to search the hospital quickly and we all knew this would be the fastest way.

There was an unfamiliar bend in the hallway and I froze when I heard scratching from around the corner.

Davis would have ordered me to turn off my light, but I couldn't. The sound came closer and an empty can rolled into view.

My hand was shaking as I pulled out my knife. I wasn't going to fight, but it was better to be ready. I froze when I saw two little beady eyes come into view.

The rat scurried over to the can and continued to chew on whatever was inside.

I let out the breath I had been holding and allowed myself to lean against the wall. At one point in my life, I had been terrified of rodents. But now, they were the least of my worries.

"You scared me..." I whispered when I saw the pale hand reach out to him. Before he could even react, the deformed fingers wrapped themselves around him and pulled him back into the darkness. He screeched before I heard the sickening sound of bones crunching.

No longer caring how loud I was, I fled back down the hall.

#19 January Secret Agent

TITLE: On Kingery Skyland
GENRE: YA Fantasy

I stared at the stream of water as it trickled from the faucet. Dad was in the shower, so the pressure wasn't great. It was weak and cold, not exactly ideal for washing your face.

His shout echoed through the wet chamber. "Jemma, are you running water again?"

I opened my bathroom door a crack and glared down the hall. I hate the mornings when he has showings. His showers are always way too long, like Mom and I don't have to get ready too. Well, I guess Mom doesn't. But I've got school and I already don't feel like going.

"Are you almost done?"

He didn't hear me over his whistling.

With a sigh, I slammed the door and punched the water off. The sink was filled enough, anyway. I took a deep breath and forced my mind to go blank. I relaxed my jaw and my eyebrows drifted upward.

I felt that familiar tickle at the back of my mind as I stared at the water in the sink. I blinked. It wasn't that my vision ever changed, really. Everything just seemed clearer, brighter maybe. The world was just so much more present, so much more alive. And I felt it acutely.

Casting out my senses, I even felt the invisible droplets of water hiding in the air. Even the moisture in my skin, the blood flowing through my veins. It hummed, calling to me. I looked back down at the sink where the pull was so much stronger than anywhere else.

#18 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Saving Miner's Gulch
GENRE: Middle Grade

November 1848, Boston, Massachusetts

"Look alive there, boy!" Stumpy Henderson barked at me from the loading dock. He leaned against a wood carton, cleaning his only thumbnail with the tip of his knife. "I don't pay ya to daydream."

He'd caught me. I was sitting on the edge of the docks, my legs dangling in the breeze, dreaming about gold nuggets as big as Stumpy Henderson's fat head. I jumped to my feet. "Sorry boss. Thought we were done."

"Would be if I hadn't lost three men this week." His gaze drifted over my head to a spot way out to sea. "Stupid McGee brothers. Not a brain between them, running off to find gold like that."

I scratched an itch on my left shoulder and drew his bloodshot eyes to me again. "There's one more crate aboard the boat, Jack. Unload her quick, or I'll dock your pay!"

Since my wages were on the line, I didn't bother with the gangplank. In one great leap, I jumped from the dock to the fishing boat. I realized my mistake the moment the soles of my boots hit the slimy fish muck on the deck.


My arms and legs flailing, I slid like a locomotive out of control. I was about to sail overboard. If I landed in that freezing Boston Bay, I'd drown, but I couldn't stop myself anymore than I could fly. My boots hit the side of the boat with a bang and suddenly I was flying.

#17 January Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Contemporary

Without any warning, my mother rushed into our room at Monarch Boarding School for Girls and dropped a bomb. "I'm going to California, Jenna, and if you don't come, you're on your own."

Well, okay, not totally without warning.

She and Siegfried, her boyfriend-of-the-month, caught me sitting at my desk, sipping a diet soda, pretending to write my history essay.

Really, I was staring at my world history book and dreaming about going to Africa to feed refugees with my awesome teacher, Mr. Abrams. He'd been so kind to me, and I liked to pretend he was my father. Maybe because I'd never met my real one.

The only cool thing about our musty room was the window looking out over the circular drive. That ceiling-high glass gave me a view of everything that went on around the entrance to our dorm. If I'd checked, I could've prepared myself for disaster. I mean, nobody's mother drove 350 miles from her estate on Lake Superior to visit you during the school term except to give you bad news.

No one could have looked more out of place than my mother as she glanced around the room at my cluttered bookcase and closet stuffed to over-flowing. She brushed away invisible dust from my bedspread and perched on the edge as if she didn't want to catch something.

#16 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Potion of Doom
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Stella LaPlant pushed her sunglasses further up her nose and flipped through her notebook to an entry under the "Strange Sightings." Her teacher was wrong--all wrong! Not all bats were nocturnal. She raised her hand. "Yesterday, I saw bats-large bats-flying in broad daylight." Checking her notes, she added, "We have small-footed bats and big-eared bats in North Carolina, but these were some sort of giant species. And they had a 'Z' on their bellies!"

The teacher dropped her chalk. "What?"

The entire Possum Trot Elementary fifth grade class looked at Stella as if she'd just blown peas out of her nose. Then they erupted into laughter.

Stella's shoulders drooped. What was she thinking? Now she'd have to put up with a fresh round of teasing.

"Woof, woof, dog eyes," someone behind her snickered. Stella always wore sunglasses, even inside, to hide her eyes. Her classmates said she must be part animal, because only dogs and cats could have one blue eye and one green eye.

The bell rang.

"You're all a bunch of stupid cow pies!" Stella grabbed her backpack and darted out of the classroom. Jeers followed her as she bolted around the corner. Simon would be waiting for her outside, and no one messed with him.

Stella's backpack bounced against her as she dashed down the hall and flung open the door. Whew! There he was at the bottom of the steps.


Some kids had a guard dog, but Stella had a guard cat.

#15 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Space Between Voice and Persuasion
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary

I hunch over, flipping through the vinyl albums in front of me. The room is crowded and small and a burnt vanilla scent permeates the air. I hear footsteps behind me, which shouldn't startle me since the floor seems to creak at the slightest movement, but fingers of heat still climb down my spine. I pretend to focus on the album cover in front of me, holding my breath, hoping the stranger behind me isn't an employee eager to offer assistance.

"Uh," someone mumbles behind me. "I think you dropped this."

I suck in the smoky air and turn around to see a tall, wiry boy, dressed in skinny cords and a tattered t-shirt. His loose auburn curls shade his face, obscuring his eyes. My cheeks flush as I notice he's holding the wrinkled flyer I had pulled from my mother's trunk--the only possession of hers I was able to find in Grandma's house.

He laughs as he inspects the flyer. "Wow. This is a bit retro isn't it? You should show this to the owner, Mike. I think he'd get a kick out of it. This ad was probably made before you were born."

I gulp and snatch the flyer from his hands. "Before you were born too," I say in a more snarky tone than intended.

Holding his hands over his head, he leans against the crowded bookshelf. "Didn't mean to upset you."

He extends his large hand towards me, "I'm William, by the way. First time in here?"

#14 January Secret Agent

TITLE: To Disturb the Universe
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Oak Ridge, Earth
December 2178

Her world was a sea of light and time. The data underlying the universe surged toward her in waves of patterns and chaos, pounding against the shore of her mind.

Somewhere far from her protospatial prison, her body was screaming. Yulie hoped she broke their eardrums, the bastards--

"Your mind is creating a schema. Do not--"


"--be alarmed."


"We can't do that. This is your job. Please do not interfere with the creation of the schema."

The barrage of nonsense assailing Yulie's mind resolved into input she could understand. All around her, a pale blue grid overlaying a vast darkness. Everywhere, bright points of light--the information-based particles called indicites--and quite close, the cluster of tiny stars that was the Renascent Andron.

"Simple, yet effective... well done. Schema complete. Begin transmission to the Aperture."

More raw data, then, clicking through her neurons like some kind of demented mathematical slideshow. She pushed back--NO STOP IT I WON'T DO IT--and the data started going a little slower, maybe...

Thirty-two volts of electricity, and she lost it.


The data turned binary. Mere petabytes--she could have held them in her hand--but when they crashed in, white flames at high tide, she was nothing but their conduit. She told her body to scream again. It didn't answer.

Deep within the Andron, she could feel a wormhole opening.

#13 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Soul Sifter
GENRE: YA urban fantasy

London Howell wanted to start his summer right. If he could persuade his uncle to teach him to drive, the positive vibes might trigger other improvements in his life--like being able to sleep instead of sprinting through his neighborhood at midnight.

He stopped to gather his breath beneath a lamppost, his hand braced against the cool iron. The heavy air stank of a mixture of grass and drying paint from a neighbor's fence, but beneath it sat the bitter scent of the city. It smelled of distant summer evenings beside the docks, scraping mold off rotting wood with the sharp edges of stones, of oil and brine and Dad's arm against his side as they watched shadowy barges pass like ghost ferries.

Amun, ever helpful, yawned into the receiver and said, "You sound like a goat on the rack."

"How," London asked between breaths, "do you know what a tortured goat sounds like?" He shook out his legs, but it didn't help. Even running for two miles hadn't burned off the excess energy.

"Animal Sacrifices Hour. Wednesday nights at eight. Bring your own blood bucket."

"Now that I've got that brilliant mental image, I'm hanging up."

"Did running work?"

"No." London was getting used to the restlessness. True, he'd begun naming his counting sheep (he liked Phil, number one hundred and seventy-two) and his days passed in a blur, but after weeks caught in a twilight of exhaustion and energy, he'd learned to endure it through sheer perseverance.

#12 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Annie Steel and the Ghost of Willowbrook School
GENRE: Middle grade, realistic fiction


Annie Steel clapped her hand over her mouth. Ms. Caldwell gave Annie the Look. Annie shriveled in her seat. She hadn't just burped. She couldn't have. Impossible.

Someone started to laugh. Annie slid down even further so her nose was level with the top of the table. A second person laughed. A third. A fourth. Ms. Caldwell's mouth twitched up into a smile. Annie saw her bite her lip just before the entire class burst into laughter.

Steven Ash, who sat next to Annie, was shaking. She gave him the Look. At least, she hoped it was the Look. He didn't shrivel in his seat, but he finally stopped laughing and wiped his eyes.

"It wasn't me," she said. "I didn't burp."

"Yes, you did!" said Steven. "Everyone heard you."

"Nuh-huh. It wasn't me," said Annie.

"Was too." Steven snickered and flapped his hand in the air. "It smells."

Annie liked slimy anchovies more than she liked Steven Ash. He should move to Mars. Annie had a sudden inspiration. Steven was the biggest 'fraidy cat in the third grade. He'd even gotten scared at the Halloween party last October.

"I really didn't burp," she said. "It was the ghost. It made me do it. It floated into my body and made the biggest, loudest burp ever. I bet you're next."

#11 January Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Supernatural Thriller

It'd been four years since I'd really slept and I suspected it was killing me. I could just imagine my obituary: Parker Daniel Chipp, a 16-year-old junior at Oakville High School, died of sleep deprivation. Or would it be listed as something lame like 'natural causes?' Either option was weak, but it wasn't like I had a choice.

While most people got to rest, enjoying their own dreams, fantasies--even nightmares--I had to stand on the sideline. Being a watcher sucked, especially when everyone else was a dreamer.

The worst part was, once you caught my eye, I couldn't get free. No matter how much I wanted to escape, I was stuck with you for the night.

Like last month when I left the Oakville City Library and made one of my biggest mistakes--meeting the eyes of the library's janitor, James Albert Flint. It only took a week for the police to arrest him. I would've helped them, but they'd never believe some punk kid had witnessed Mr. Flint murder his wife in a dream. He might be behind bars, but I couldn't escape the images he left me with.

Watching the dreams of strangers was always a risk. But it was so late, and I was so tired--finding someone else to make eye contact with before going to sleep seemed like more work than it was worth. Besides, the old geezer probably had nice, boring dreams.

The instant his dream began I knew I'd been dead wrong.

#10 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Hercules Project
GENRE: Young Adult Sci-Fi/Superhero

It was still very dark when I jolted out of sleep. Dim light filtered into my room from the hall through the open door. I could just make out the blurry outline of my father, his face inches from mine. He was in the process of shaking me for the third or fourth time when I managed to croak that I was awake.

The surface of his glasses flashed in the low light as he leaned back. The more alert I became, the more detail I could make out and the more concerned I got.

"Dad." I used my crippled fingers to push at my covers and struggled to pull myself upright. "What's wrong?"

Instead of telling me anything, which was typical of my father, he got up and headed for my door.

"Get dressed, Wyatt," he said over his shoulder. "We don't have much time."

I glanced at the small digital affair on the dresser next to me. 2:12 AM. He wasn't serious. I considered snuggling back down under the warmth of my comforter. But, I knew if I did he would take me wherever we were going in my pajamas. I wasn't ready for that level of embarrassment, thanks.

I could hear him moving around downstairs and swore under my breath at him for not staying to help. Like he would ever think about anyone but himself.

#9 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Words of Adriel
GENRE: MG Urban Fantasy

Go to your room. Close the door. Lock it. Light a candle. Turn out the lights. Before you read further, recite aloud the following words.

I cast aside the shadows that follow me. I shed myself of all which is unholy. Cloak me from the ones who seek to do me harm. Protect me. Guard me. Keep me.

Good. They won't be able to watch you now. Under no circumstances read beyond this point unless you've followed my directions. Otherwise they'll know I've told you. You'll start to hear them. At first you'll think they're just voices in your head, but they'll grow louder, whispering in your ears all sorts of horrifying things that will keep you awake at night. Then you'll see them. Everywhere. In the eyes of your friends, down dark alleys, when you're alone. They're always there when you're alone. Keep the candle burning. Keep the door locked. And whatever you do, do not turn on the lights.

It began with a book. Bound in leather and stuffed with worn, yellowing pages, the book found me. It sat just out of reach on the top shelf of the school library, surrounded by other books, but alone nonetheless. Its torn spine caught my attention as I searched the fiction section for the next crime novel to help me fall asleep at night.

My psychiatrist had recommended reading to put an end to my insomnia. I know, right? What thirteen-year-old suffers from insomnia? Give me a break.

#8 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Haven
GENRE: YA Suspense/Romance

It was the look on my Father's face, ironically, that strengthened my wavering resolve. That he was furious was obvious. I had become accustomed lately to seeing that expression, but it had never before been directed at me. I should have reacted in fear and intimidation, and probably would have if I hadn't seen a glimpse of relief in his eyes as well. Despite his ranting to the contrary, he wanted us to go. That tiny glimpse gave me courage at the same time that it broke my heart. Why would he want us to
go? Hurt but determined, I took a protective step in front of my crying mother. Behind her I could see my brothers. Juan Carlos' fury echoed Dad's. Anger in his narrowed eyes, fists clenched at his sides. And Thomas, my best friend, my brother--how could I leave him--looked confused and horrified. He moved to place himself between Dad and me, turning his head to look at each of us as he tried to assess what to do.

"Family is everything!" my father shouted, "Especially now! You would abandon us when we need you the most?" His voice caught slightly at the end, a small almost unnoticeable sound that told me that behind his anger, his heart was breaking as well.

"Johnny," my mother said, struggling to speak through her tears and using the nickname that before now had always made him smile, "We're not abandoning you. Please come with us."

#7 January Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Paranormal

Headmaster Looper sucks.

If I was a different kind of girl I'd spray paint that on his car, on the front of the school, and on his face. But since I didn't aspire to spend my junior year in juvenile detention, I'd have to make do with laughing my head off at 11:49 when he'd slip on a glop of mashed potatoes and bust his butt in the cafeteria today. Remembering my dream made me momentarily forget how hot and sticky I was from riding my bike two miles to school.

11:49. I loved when my dreams gave me an exact time. Mostly, I could only pin-point time of day--morning, afternoon, evening. For whatever reason, I'd looked at the clock while I was in the dream. So, I planned to be front and center for the show.

My dreams always come true. It was the one awesome thing about me. And I don't mean like if it was my one and only dream to be a pop star, I'd practice, cultivate an image, and before I knew it, I'd be the next tabloid princess with mediocre talent. No. If I dreamed that Headmaster Looper would slip on mashed potatoes and fall in the middle of the cafeteria, then he would slip on mashed potatoes, bringing embarrassment to himself and joy to everyone else. A giggle bubbled up into my throat--and I do not giggle--but I couldn't help it whenever I thought about what was to come.

#6 January Secret Agent

TITLE: White Lies and Friendship Ties
GENRE: Middle Grade Contemporary

Dirty clothes invaded Connor's bedroom. Tee shirts hung from his desk chair and gym socks covered the floor. One last pair of shorts peeked out from his dresser drawer. Yes, and we have a winner! He put them on, along with his Red Sox jersey and raced down the hall to his mom's bedroom. The floor boards creaked as he skidded to a stop at her door.

"Hey, Mom," he whispered. "Aren't you going to get up? I have to leave in twenty minutes."

Her eyes barely opened. "What? No. I'm so tired, Connor. I didn't sleep at all last night."

But, it's my first day of school.

She rolled over and Connor trudged back to his room. She always made French toast for him on his first day. His dad took embarrassing pictures of him in the front yard. Today was nothing like then. It wasn't even close. I guess starting eighth grade isn't a big deal anyway. So much had changed since his dad's funeral. The bathroom smelled like a port-a-potty and the old food in the refrigerator crawled away. It wasn't his mom's fault. She was sad. Someday she would clean and do the grocery
shopping like she used to. Soon she would get dressed into real clothes, not just her bathrobe. She'd notice that Connor was still around-that he didn't die when his dad did. Until then, he would fix everything. If he didn't, the foster care people would come, because that's what they did.