Monday, February 28, 2011

Thanks and a Vote!

Two things!

1. I want to thank those of you who took the time to critique the teen work on Write On! over the weekend. What a wonderful gift to give these young, aspiring authors! I'm proud of all nine of them.

2. We're going to do another in-house critique right here on MSFV. I'm feeling ambivalent this morning, though, so I thought it would be fun to open it to a house vote!  Which of the following would you like to do:


  • Talking Heads (focus on dialogue-rich excerpts)
  • Drop the Needle (excerpts that are NOT opening pages)
  • Are You Hooked? including loglines
Leave your vote (only one, please) in the comment box below.  Whichever one gets the most votes by 7:00 AM EST tomorrow is what we'll do!  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Fricasee

Happy Last Friday Of February!

I've absolutely decided to believe the groundhog this year.  Enough of this winter thing already.

So, a fun round, yes?  And some good feedback; as always, thank you for giving your time to this community.

I did notice this time that the HUGE amount of page views didn't line up with the number of crits tumbling into my inbox.  I'm wondering--and hoping I'm wrong--if some people felt intimidated by the "agented" or "published" status of the entrants.

All writers have first drafts, full of warts and bumps, that need a critical eye. All writers have second and third drafts that STILL need a critical eye.

Please don't hesitate to offer your critique to any author based on a sense of "well, he/she's agented, so what can I possibly offer?".

You can offer A WHOLE LOT.

Just sayin'.  I love (love! love!) this community, and I want you feel free to offer whatever you have here.

And I'm not saying this because I've "arrived" somehow.  Yeah, I fall into the "agented" category now, but I still struggle with feeling woefully inadequate when critiquing manuscripts for my crit buddies.

I mean, some of them are published already.  Some of them have been writing longer than I have.  Some of them are supernatural beings.

Okay, not really.  But you know what I'm saying.

So please.  Words are words, regardless of who wrote them.  Never hesitate to offer thoughtful critique.

Speaking of which: Write On!, our new blog for teens, is having its very first Are You Hooked? round this weekend.  You are WARMLY INVITED to pop by and offer your critique to these brave teen writers!  There will be a maximum of 10 entries, so it's not a truckload of reading.

And I know these aspiring authors would greatly appreciate your feedback.

Anyway, the posts will be up Saturday morning.  Thanks ahead of time for anything you can offer!

And HUGE thanks to A Writer Gone Mad, affectionately known as "Mad," for running the crit round.  She and Lizzy (forum manager) daily remind me how awesome teens are, and why it is I write for them.

Have an awesome weekend!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Are You Hooked? #20

TITLE: ACROBASTE
GENRE: Young adult speculative

Bastard children of Stiverian nobility are unwittingly punished for their fathers' crimes-of-passion by being forced to perform high wire acts five hundred feet above the circus floor.


Without a net.


Legion is an 'Acrobaste', naive to the origins of his station until one day when he uncovers the sordid truth. But, the Acrobaste Ringmasters have a far wider reach than Legion ever bargained for. Ultimately, he must decide whether to expose the underbelly of the Stiverian upper class and help the circus fall; an act which would free his fellow Acrobastes but could also plunge his country into civil war.


The girl placed one arched foot ahead of the other along the taut wire, five hundred feet above the circus floor.

Her brother, Legion, watched from the ring below. He pulled at tethers, one held in each hand, adjusting and readjusting the high wire as his sister, Chance, took each step. A fine mist collected inside the glass of his bigoggles from the effort and strain of keeping his sister's high wire path steady. But even with his clouded sightlines, he could still make out the tension in her legs, the gracefulness of her outstretched hands, the mixture of concentration and terror in her face.

The audience shifted and groaned with each of Chance's movements, yearning for the thrill which came with each fall. They filled the stands with whistles and jeers in the massive, towering circus tent, row upon row of rabid nobility, roaring at each misstep.

Excitement pulsed through the tent like the beat of a drum and with it came a snappish tone in the crowd's manner as they strained to listen and shoved to see. Tonight, the Wagery had posted the highest stakes since the spring before and while its floor was littered with stubs of paper from the earlier cockfight, that was only a mere distraction. The Wire was the thing to see.

A gentleman could go home quite rich tonight, should luck be in his favour.

Are You Hooked? #19

TITLE: Aether
GENRE: YA Paranormal

All Cassia Clarke has ever wanted is to be normal, to go to a normal school, maybe kiss a normal guy. Of course, when your mom's a witch, normalcy is hard to come by. She's never met her dad, but she soon discovers that her uncle--and her two cute foster brothers--need her help if they want to find him. They belong to an ancient order of sorcerers, who have never been on good terms with the witches. It's up to Cass to unite the two groups, and rescue her missing father, or risk being captured herself.

"You sure you want to stay here all by your lonesome, Cass?" A spit of chaw punctuated Jody's sentence.

I wrinkled my nose and avoided the nasty brown glob as I dragged Ma's suitcase toward his truck. "Got college applications to finish, so, yeah."

Not to mention that spending two weeks in those mildewed old cabins in the woods with Jody and my mom's kooky sisters was pretty high on my list of things I'd suffer excruciating pain to get out of doing.

"Shee-it." Jody spat again. "And I guess Ole Miss ain't good enough for ya?"

No school in the entire state of Mississippi was good enough, but not for educational reasons. I just wanted as far away from home as I could get. Right now even Louisiana was looking good.

"I'm applying there, too." Because Ma and everyone else expected me to. "But the engineering program is so much better at MIT. They'll have to give me a full scholarship if I want to go there, though."

"They'd be stupid not to," he said, one of those rare sweet sentiments I never knew whether to believe or not. His dimples flashed as he took the bag from me.

Why did the good lord have to waste such a hot body on such a thick head? An Adonis in a trucker cap and wife beater, ring of Cope worn through the back pocket of his jeans, Jody was about as persistent as he was crude.

Are You Hooked? #18

TITLE: A Presidential Bash
GENRE: Comedy, Political Intrigue

The two main candidates for President of the United States, Governor Ayita Starblanket and Governor Arturo Arnez are forced to work together when one disaster after another threatens them and the democracy they both hold dear. They settle on a message to their unknown assassins. They'll join each other's ticket so no matter what happens, the American public will get the man and woman they want to run the country, but will they kill each other first?

Governor Mary Ayita Starblanket's head swam with confusion, her vision focused like a bad camera, yet she knew from the smell, and the tubes irritating her arm, she was in a hospital bed. A doctor whispered she'd be okay. A man matching the blurry description of Governor Arturo Arnez, her unworthy presidential opponent, held her hand, for a reason beyond her muddled mind.

Her eyes fluttered. She slurred. "It's you."

"Thank God you're alive, Ayita."

He seemed sincere.

"What happened?" Some memories trickled back to her, a roast. She shook Arturo's hand for a photo op and then got squashed against the back wall.

"They tried to kill us." Her vision repaired, mostly, she noticed Arturo's blotchy red eyes. She tried to reach up to touch his cheek.

"Don't move yet Ayita," a doctor said.

"Can't move."

"Let the drugs wear off."

"Somebody, Jason here?"

"Yes ma'am, we lost both vice-presidential candidates and others," Jason was her secret service team leader.

"How could this happen?"

"We'll need to give her some peace and quiet for a while. Evac the room, everybody," the Navy Captain and doctor said.

She summoned her God given strength and said. "Belay that order." As a former NSA chief engineer, then CIA director, she knew how to command counter-terrorist activities and shut-up doctors.

"But Governor."

"I'll take fifteen minutes," she said. "I need a quick debrief from the secret service and get me the President. My dear Arturo, I know you're distraught, but could you please let go of my hand."

Are You Hooked? #17

TITLE: Wonderland
GENRE: YA Dystopian

Sixteen-year-old Ana must beat a psycho angel's funhouse or the earth dies; but the only way to win is to become part of the game.

Ma keeps telling me not to complain about spring. It means warm weather, she says, and sunlight instead of the Glow, and lettuce. She's right, especially about the Glow, but she's not the one on her knees every April, yanking out clumps of purple loosestrife.

"Yanno, Pars, you'd think this crud would give up the fight after ten years."

Pars, my sort-of boyfriend, grinned at me from his pile of uprooted seedlings.

"It's like a cockroach, Ana. You can't kill it, and it's no good to eat."

"If only dandelions were as fertile. I have two jars of snap beans waiting to become dandelion green soup." I yanked two handfuls of weeds and threw them on my pile.

We weren't the only indentured servants—that is, everyone out of diapers—doing time in the Delaware Farm that Wednesday. It hadn't rained for a week, and that meant weeding. My twin sister and brother were on the broccoli quarter-acre. Arguing again. What a shock.

"Hey, brats! Less whine, more weed."

They gave me the raspberry in unison. Why ma says fourteen is so mature is beyond me.

Something tickled the back of my neck. I swatted at it.

"Ow!" Pars caught my hand. "It's me, not a black fly." His arms circled me. "You look so sexy when you're sweaty. Makes me want to—"

He kissed my neck. I leaned against him as pleasant shivers traveled down my back. And then he copped a feel.

Are You Hooked? #16

TITLE: Summer Camp Diaries
GENRE: Humorous Chicklit YA

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single girl working at a summer camp must be in search of a boyfriend.


- Jane Austen (sort of)

Girls who have very large boobs should not try to swim to the bottom of a lake for any reason. We have to work ten times as hard as the walking toothpick girls with boy boobs, and when that whole anti-gravity thing takes over, we might as well be treading water upside-down.

So why was I doing it? Good question. The fact that it was only about sixty-five degrees in the water should have given me a legitimate reason for taking my "girls" (or should I say, my "buoys?") and heading for dry land. Still, the fifteen or so yummy-looking guys diving around me were a pretty good reason for staying put. They were busy demonstrating their manliness as they flipped their sleek-abbed torsos in the water like over-animated seals. (Assuming seals can be over-animated. They are, after all, seals.)

Unfortunately, I couldn't use the hot sealboys as my excuse... or not directly, anyway. You see, the sad truth of the matter is, I was submerged in the freezing waters of Deer Lake in June because I didn't want to show everyone my very chilly nipples standing at attention. Yes, that's right. Having perky nipples is rarely a good thing when you're sixteen and more than a little stacked. Parading them in front of a dozen newly introduced, hot male acquaintances is even more horrifying.

Are You Hooked? #15

TITLE: Wednesdays At The Half-Day Cafe
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Divorced mom, Nina Baum, lies about having a wonderful boyfriend and then must cover her deception when she's hired to write about relationships for a popular website.

Mac arrived in the middle of a Wednesday night dinner three months ago. It was unintentional, but I'm stuck with him at least through tonight's dessert.

Hunger with a side of nerves rumbles in my stomach. It tweaks me from the inside out, and I can feel the gurgles with my hand, which is not as endearing as when I felt pregnancy flutters or even bladder-stabbing pirouettes. I stack four, intentionally mismatched dinner plates and set out the silverware. My friends will set the table, pop the cork, pour the wine, peek into the oven and then plop into my vintage kitchen booth. The routine hasn't wavered in three years of Wednesday dinners. I revel in the food and the laughter that binds us tighter than our tears. But I won't revel in telling my friends my boyfriend, Mac, and I, aren't celebrating with them on New Year's Eve because he doesn't exist.

The calendar in my head begins in September, so the hullaballoo surrounding New Year's Eve escapes me. In my teens, twenties, thirties and at forty, it's just another night of the week I'm asleep by eleven. There's nothing new for me on January first except the number I write on checks, but I don't write checks anymore. I could celebrate January first if it tempted spring, but it does not. And this year it tempts fate, which really messes with my cooking karma.

Are You Hooked? #14

TITLE: Made in Japan
GENRE: Memoir

For most participants, the Japanese Exchange Teachers Programme is a chance to see Japan, pay off student debt, find romance, and party like university never ended. But for J.M. Frey, bitter at a disappointing end to what was supposed to be the launch of her academic career, it was a chance to escape to a place she had only ever seen in anime. It was a place to reaffirm her love of prose, grapple with a crippling accident, and discover the person she wanted to be now that the so-called "best years of her life" were over.

I moved to Japan because I hated my thesis advisor.

As ridiculous as it might sound – and in retrospect, how immature – she never knew how close she came to getting a fist in the nose.

If you think I'm employing an excess of hyperbole, I happily invite you to take a stroll into any local Grad lounge and start loudly decrying each of the pet topics of the students present. Ten bucks says that it's the professors that reach you first.

Thing is, people who choose to do an academic thesis do it because there is a topic that they are passionate about; sleep becomes irrelevant in the face of deadlines, coffee replaces blood in the veins when there is a pile of edits to do, and a daunting stack of dusty textbooks that smell like rancid socks becomes a pleasure. Passionate enough to pop you one if you start attacking them without the relevant research to back you up.

Now imagine that you've come to your last year of university with a topic you are passionate about. A topic that you've researched for the whole summer before fourth year, because you wanted a head start on the reading. A topic that you know is right up the alley of the professor that you have requested to be paired with.

Then imagine that the great plodding mess that is usually the administration side of any major educational facility steps in and informs you that no, you can't have that professor.

Are You Hooked? #13

TITLE: A GAME OF SAILS
GENRE: Romantic Adventure

The goal is a medal at the next Olympic Games, but can two complete opposites even earn the right to represent the USA? Sailors' Gold is a 70,000 word romantic adventure novel that offers an insider's view of Olympic sailing.

Small triangles of boats already covered up the sun-baked Miami grass by the time I got back to the dock. I pulled my own Solo up onto its two-wheeled dolly and onto the lawn, completing the hardest transition of the day: from svelte sea creature back to land-bound clunky human. On the water I felt so graceful, as if I had been born to sail. On land I felt like a caged tiger who'd been told not to roar.
I dropped the dolly handle, parking my boat in its spot right between Rachel and Alex. She was already pulling a protective cover over her boat, careful not to lean her dark pink miniskirt against the wet fiberglass. Even by her standards (way higher than mine), pearls were too much for the post-race boat park. The three or four other sailors who were still hanging around their boats hadn't yet changed out of their dripping wetsuits.

"What happened to you, Case?" her brow furrowed. "I thought you'd win that last race."

"I thought I would too." Heaving an enormous sigh, I took a swig from my water bottle. It tasted almost sweet after all the salt spray. "I didn't factor in Spencer Harding."

"Spencer?--but he's in the men's fleet."

"He capsized right on top of me. What an idiot."

"It's his first regatta."

"Well he should've learned to sail a Solo before he showed up at a national team qualifier!" I shook my head, sending water arcing off my matted braid.

Are You Hooked? #12

TITLE: The Cure
GENRE: YA Dystopian

Sixteen-year-old Darcie McKenna lives in a society where life is sustained through pharmaceuticals and death is usually early and controlled. When her grandfather dies of "natural causes," he leaves behind clues to a healthy, technology-free community, the discovery of which could offer life to Darcie's dying sister--and death to her entire family if the government finds her first.

I have never seen anyone die outside a hospital. It is always controlled, sterile, painless. For the person dying and for anyone who might be watching.

Great-Daddy Matthias has been alarmingly free of tubes and injections, considering he's past ninety. Even so, I am stunned when the nurse repeats for the third time that Matthias DeFarge has been released. Dad's message was clear as it could be--Great-Daddy was dying and would I please come directly from school to be the second witness.

Death isn't something people get wrong. There is no way to miss the signs, to know when a bodily system, held together for years by advanced medical technology, is finally breaking down. So I can't figure out what's gone wrong.

After glaring at the nurse's blandness, I turn from the sleek receiving station and walk down the scrubbed-white hall the way I'd come. Past quiet rooms of expected death, every patient over sixty and ready to depart. Into the elevator that smells of antiseptic and body odor. Down past fourth floor cardiac, third floor infant extractions, second floor outpatient disease maintenance. When the bacteria-resistant doors slide open onto the first floor, I am reaching for my mobile. No use trying to contact Dad from inside the hospital, where all signals are blocked. I wait until I've reached the courtyard before holding the device to my lips.

"Race McKenna."

Two rings and he answers. "Where are you, Darcie?"

Are You Hooked? #11

TITLE: KNIGHT'S PROMISE
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Chalice's curse ended because her murderous gargoyle Shui is dead, but it was Aydin, the man she loves, who saved her life. He became a gargoyle himself just to do it. Now Chalice promises she will do whatever it takes to make him human again.

"You're coming with me, right?" I asked Rafe when he opened the silver veil.

He towered over me and scowled. "No."

A man of very few words. Well, not actually a man. Rafael was my guardian angel and a very grumpy one.

I leaned forward to peer through the filmy curtain that separated the physical world from the realm of angels. "I'm not ready to go there alone. It's too soon."

"Chalice, it's been over a month." Rafe closed his eyes and sighed so deeply I thought he'd collapse a lung if he had one. "But if that's what you want..." He held his palm flat against the transparent veil and the sigil on his hand glowed with his will. The surface began to solidify.

I grabbed his arm. "Wait."

His sigh came even louder this time. "Make up your mind."

I narrowed my eyes at him. "You have no idea how hard this is for me."

The deep creases in his forehead smoothed as his eyes crinkled with the start of a smile. It made him appear almost human. "I can imagine."

"No, you can't." I sucked in a breath. "I can't face another monster."

"Then don't face it. Just kill it." Rafe's hand stayed in place against the veil, but he didn't reopen it. He waited for my okay. Rafe may not have much of a personality, but at least he was obedient. And extremely protective.

Are You Hooked? #10 (redacted)

Are You Hooked? #9

TITLE: AURUM
GENRE: Y/A

Goop pulled the spike from his tool belt, his eye on a boulder that looked like a rotten pumpkin in a patch of grey limestone scree. The boulder was streaked with fissures, its face mottled with black, orange and green lichen. It seemed unnatural and out of place. It was perfect, in other words.

He grinned. If he was right, the treasure was hidden here and his family would never be poor again. He waved at his father who was standing near a tree a hundred feet below, keeping lookout. All day Goop had been knocking rocks loose, sending them careening down the mountainside. His father had to dance a jig to avoid them. Goop wedged the spike into a tiny gap. He wiped sweat from his forehead with his dirty sleeve, picked up the sledgehammer with both hands, reached back and swung with all his might.

He was shocked when the spike pierced the rock as easy as a pitchfork into hay, leaving nothing but a two-inch hole behind. Bits of rock crumbled around the edges. Goop heard a dull clang in the darkness--metal bouncing off rock. There was an echo.

"Dad!" he shouted. "I've got something."

Disbelieving his luck, he peered into the black hole. Cool air blew against his eye, drying it.

He reset his stance, grinding his shoes into the scree. Secured now, he raised the sledge and struck the pumpkin face dead on. It imploded, collapsing inward. Falling rocks grabbed the sledge.

Are You Hooked? #8

TITLE: UNTITLED
GENRE: Young Adult Suspense

A young boy, raised by his widowed mother to live up to his late father's dreams of being a hero, uncovers a plot to kill the President.

The snow wasn't helping. Thick and heavy, it cut visibility almost to the whiteout point and some of the less-experienced mushers had already withdrawn. But at sixteen, I'd been raised on this sled and there was no way in hell I was going to let the weather beat me.

The spruce trees lining each side of the trail were pale ghosts through the thick flakes, swaying in the wind. Sounds carried differently in the heart of the forest, even the calls of the other racers faded until it almost seemed as though there was no one else on earth but my team and me.

"Haw!" I said, leaning my sled into the left turn as the dogs kicked up snow from the well-used race trail. The scent of the pack was warm and welcome despite the snowflakes landing on my face.

Ahead of me, the ghost image of another team appeared and the dogs surged in response, flying over the snow.

"Trail!" I said, calling to the musher, pushing my dogs to pass as the other rider pulled over and secured his team. I cast a glance over my shoulder, waving, as the calls of a third team caught the wind and carried to me, far behind and not likely to catch up, not now.

Are You Hooked? #7

TITLE: This Violent Beauty
GENRE: Young Adult

Life should be simple for Anna Morrow. Black and white, right and wrong, real and imaginary. She shouldn't be seeing winged children in the woods. She shouldn't be haunted by her dead brother. She shouldn't wonder about the outside world. But she is, and nothing is simple anymore.

They were only stories. Tales to meant to thrill on a howling winter night. That's all. No more than that. At least, that's what I keep telling myself as I hurry down the road. I despise the dark, always have. The trees aren't as kind under the moon, and the world I thought I knew reaches for me with menacing fingers. The breath catches in my throat when a leaf blows across the gravel, and I falter. The heel of my boot balances precariously on a stone jutting out of the ground. I stumble. "Stories, only stories," I whisper with a tremble in my voice.

But are they only stories?

I grab the edges of my coat and bring them together, shivering there in the middle of the road. I can't bring myself to move, even though I know I need to. There's only a slight breeze tonight. Wisps of my wild hair blow into my eyes. I huddle with trembling lips and a cowering heart. Just stories. Only stories.

Isn't there a grain of truth to every story?

I drag the hair away from my face and look around. The shadows stare back and the trees stand in wait, silent, ancient predators. My breath comes faster now, creating white clouds in the air, and I lift my eyes to the moon. The glowing rock is almost full, peering down at me from its soft, safe blanket of black sky. I wish it could speak to me, tell me that there is no danger in being alone in these woods at this moment, that the tales my brother used to tell me are only fabricated.

Are You Hooked? #6

TITLE: Choosing Imperfect
GENRE: YA DYSTOPIA


For twin sisters, Lyron and Eryl, perfection is unattainable. And in Elysium, imperfection is punishable by death. Genetic anomalies—one mute, one blind—the sisters face a hopeless verdict. But Eryl is redeemed by her ability to see the intentions of others. Lyron, however, is cast from Elysium as her inability to communicate overshadows her ability to hear unspoken thoughts. Rescued by those assigned to kill her, Lyron learns incriminating secrets about Elysium. She is forced to choose between rescuing her sister, or facing death to reveal the truth to a nation living and dying under a lie.


 I lay quietly in the semi-darkness of the room I shared with my sister. My breathing was finally beginning to slow, though the nightmare still clung to the edges of my consciousness. I bit my lip, forcing myself to focus on a more present pain—one outside my mind. My throat was raw from the sounds I'd been making, but Eryl was used to my wordless screams. I pulled myself up on one elbow, watching her sleep. She hadn't stirred and her arm was thrown carelessly over her head, her hand half-open as if she were holding something invisible in her palm.   

Gathering the blankets around me, I pulled myself up against the wall. It was no use trying to go back to sleep. I'd only dream it all over again—their clasped hands, fingers entwined, and their blood. There was always so much blood.   The light of the moon fell through the window and I examined the rectangle patch of light that fell across the floor, tracing its shape with my mind. Each edge was perfect—straight, clean, well-defined. I itched to throw my hand into the light, casting a five-fingered shadow and screwing up that perfect pool of moonlight.   

I hated perfect things.    

No. 

I hated the illusion of perfect things. Because there is no such thing as perfect, though I would never say as much aloud. A person could be shot for that, or worse, released.

Are You Hooked? #5

TITLE: WHALE
GENRE: Contemporary YA

Sixteen year old Adele has the singing voice of an angel and the broken heart of a girl who hates herself.

I stare into my closet full of clothes. I reach up, ruffle the tags and wince. So many clothes and I've never worn 99% of them.

My mom calls from the kitchen, "Dell, let's go! You're breakfast is sitting here!"

"Crap," I say and just grab my usual jeans and t-shirt. I sprawl across my bed and suck it in so my zipper goes up. The motion is memorized, as in my hands could do it if the rest of me was sound asleep. But even sleeping can't stop my pain. Some mornings I just lie in bed and let the dark pain sit on me. Holding me down. It's bottomless, heavy pain. So deep I swear it's in my skin.

I hate myself.

I'm a big girl. You know the kind of fat girl when people say, "But she has such a pretty face."

Yeah, that's not me.

I'm fat and what you might call man'ish looking. Well, that's what Taryn Anderson said to me in sixth grade. She said I was man'ish looking. She said this while looking right at me; she didn't even have the decency to say it about me. No, she said it right to me.

My eyes are close together and my hair - which is brown - is in between curly and frizzy which equals the worst hair possible. My nose is wide in the wrong places and my lips, well, my lips don't exist. At all.

Are You Hooked? #4

TITLE: Punch
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Naya knows how to throw a punch. After years of fighting, she has developed a pretty thick skin. Too bad she's about to learn that it doesn't protect her heart.

I know the feel of blood. The way it drips down your face—thick and slow—reaching your mouth long after you realize it's coming. Long after you see it on your best friend's face. If you're stupid enough to look at him, that is.

I know the way it tastes. Like salt. Like satisfaction. Blood means it was a good hit. Maybe even a break. Blood means my opponent is relaxed. Sure of herself. Convinced I'm going to back down.

Back off.

But she's wrong. Blood never means I'm going to back down. Back off. Blood means I'm coming back for more. For more blood. But not mine. I've already seen mine. Many times. Dripping down my face. Pouring on the floor. Soaked into Taye's clothes as he pulls me away, lecturing me about whatever fight I've started this time. That's what he says. This time. Because there's always a last time. And there's always a next one. He knows this. We both do.

But for now—for now, there's just this one. There's just me standing here with a bloody nose. And there's her. Her standing there not knowing she's about to get one.

I step back. Retreat. Wipe my sleeve across my mouth. Glance at Taye. He's shaking his head. Telling me to walk away. Yeah, right. I'll walk away when she's flat on the floor. Or maybe—

Maybe...when I am.

Are You Hooked? #3

TITLE: The Girl Who Turned To Stone
GENRE: Contemporary YA written in verse

To cope with her rare terminal illness, seventeen-year-old Jenna Harrison imagines herself to be supernatural.

I'm a gargoyle,

born with toes that curve inward,

good for gripping ledges and rooftops.

I turned this way slowly,

over time.

A long,

long,

painful time.

I wish I knew the view from the top of Notre Dame.

Last summer,

in Paris with French Club,

Nick and I stood at the base of Notre Dame.

Out on the street,

where the gargoyles looked like ants,

we threw our heads back and gazed up,

up,

up.

"I'm home," I said.

"You're not." He squeezed my hand.

"I'm one of them. I belong up there."

"You're crazy."

"I'm not."

Nick tugged my arm,

pulled me to him.

"You're one beautiful gargoyle, Jenna Harrison."

That night,

we walked along the Seine,

our fingers laced together.

Notre Dame shined.

The Eiffel Tower stood tall and erect,

glowing like a skeleton on Halloween.

I felt them,

the gargoyles,

staring down,

down,

down on us.

I wasn't welcome there,

in their world,

on top of their church.

I was born with evil inside.

God would turn me into a pillar of salt,

if I were up atop Notre Dame.

Nobody was happier with my condition than my Dad.

He stood me on our roof.

I keep the geese from messing on our patio.

Here I stand.

Stiff,

erect,

skeletal.

Like the Eiffel Tower.

But I don't glow.

I glower.

Are You Hooked? #2

TITLE: Peering Into Darkness
GENRE: YA

"Dreams are for people who are too chicken-s*** to go after their desires."


Seventeen-year-old Jenna Sullivan has her future completely mapped out, and nothing--not even her parents' attempts to force her to become the 'perfect' daughter--will prevent her from following her own path. But when, just weeks before graduation, her best friend overdoses on a sleep aid in order to remain in a dream, Jenna must use every last ounce of determination she possesses to keep her friend, and both their futures, alive.

"Oh no, where are they shipping you off to now?" Ami said as she slid into the seat across from me. She pulled a fry from her tray and waved it at the brochure pinned under my forearm.

"Stanford," I mumbled, hoping my scrutiny of the wadded up napkins under the table across the aisle would signal Ami to let the subject drop.

"That's not so bad." She smiled, offering her box of fries. "Not like JHU. At least Stanford's in the right state."

I sighed.

"I don't know why you don't just tell your parents the truth," Ami said around bites of cheeseburger. "Lying's bad for your chi."

Ever since she'd picked up that stupid book, she'd been all "chi" this and "chi" that. She'd even got me to move my bed so the head was against my closet door, swearing it would bring me good fortune. Yeah, I'd be rolling in dough because I wouldn't be buying any clothes now that I had nowhere to put them.

"Oh, like you tell your parents everything." I snorted as she gave me her most wide-eyed look. "Please. The day you tell your parents about Donny Montecito will be the day I skip rehearsal."

"My parents already know about Donny."

"They think he's your math tutor."

"He is!"

"Whatever." Somehow not telling her parents about her make-out sessions with her 'Italian stallion' wasn't lying, but my plan to switch majors after my first semester was. "I think a piece of your chi just shrivelled up and died."

Are You Hooked? #1

TITLE: Making Other Plans
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Grad student Jessica Van Horne temporarily returns home, where she attempts to win parental validation by fixing whatever is wrong with her little sister while her mother resists in a desperate effort to keep, well, everything under control. As the resultant conflict unfolds, they both discover the truth of the old saw that life is what happens while you're making other plans.

"It's nothing personal, Ms. Van Horne."

Jess looked up at her immediate supervisor, the ever-annoying Sour-Puss Pickler. "It... isn't?" The two words were all she could get out. Because her brain was running around screaming, 'Summer furlough? No pay for three months? What the flush--?!'

"Not at all," Pickler said. Was he smirking?

"Then why me?"

"Because--" Oh yeah, that was his smug tone. "--Dr. Baird's niece thinks she might enjoy being a receptionist."

Enjoy? OMG "B-but...
I've been here three years. My performance reviews are excellent. And I have bills to pay!" Oh, shut up, Van Horne. Don't beg--especially not Pickler.

"Don't we all." Sour-Puss made a dismissive hand gesture. "But Dr. Baird is a partner and his niece wants to work here this summer."

Oh. Well. When you put it that way...

"And besides, you've made it clear you'll be moving on soon."

"Huh?" Jess's conversational skill hit a new low as thoughts of showing up at Roxy's graduation without a job--and Mom's reaction to that--ricocheted around in her cranium along with the 'No money!' screams.

"You applied for an internship here, didn't you?"

The Nowlin Clinic was one of the country's top adolescent counseling centers so yes, Jess wanted to do her state-required internship here. Duh.

"But that's not until December," she protested. "January actually. That's... that's...
" Six damned months away!

Pickler again waved off her concerns.

"W-what about Records?" Jess suggested desperately.

Are You Hooked?

Okay, folks--the entries will post shortly.

Critique as usual.  And may I just say--don't approach this any differently than you would approach any of our in-house critiques (or contests, for that matter).  When it comes right down to it, every writer on the planet, whether aspiring, agented, published, or mega-super-published, needs honest, thoughtful feedback.  It's what keeps us all growing.

Just wanted to say that.  Because (and you know this) there isn't an "us and them" in here.  Just an "us."

Writers.  Growing.

And have fun!  There's an incredible smattering of genres included, so you're in for a treat.

Entrants, please critique a minimum of five entries. 

Away we go!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Submissions Are Now Open

*This is an automated post.  Authoress is currently away from her desk.  Should the system crash or something explode, there is nothing she can do about it.  Enter at your own risk.*

*grin*

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Heads Up: Agented and/or Published Authors

Let's face it.  Many of you have been a part of this blog community since its inception, or shortly thereafter.  And while the focus of the blog remains on the aspiring among us, the fact is that writers never stop needing feedback.

Right?

So guess what!  I'm going to open submissions for an Are You Hooked? round tomorrow to AGENTED AND/OR PUBLISHED AUTHORS ONLY.  Here's your chance to get the opening page of your WIP critiqued.  You know, the special something your agent hasn't seen yet.  The project you woke up frothing over and started writing in the middle of the night.  The Thing that keeps you busy while you wait to hear from your editor.

I want to see it!

So here's the scoop:
  • Submissions will open at NOON EST on WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23.
  • This critique round is for agented and/or published authors only.
  • The excerpt may be from a WIP or a completed manuscript.
  • The excerpt MUST NOT BE from anything under consideration by a publishing house, or anything that your agent doesn't want you to share publicly.
  • Your submission must include a brief logline and the first 250 words of your novel, in the following format (as always):
SCREEN NAME: (type it here)
TITLE: (type it here)
GENRE: (type it here)

(type your <100-word logline here)

(type your 250-word opening page here)

  • Send your submission to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com.
  • I will take up to 25 entries.
  • Entries will post on Thursday morning.
Questions below!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Eulogy for Borders

Well, not really.  More like a brief boo-hoo about the closing of my local Borders.

As in, my Favorite Bookstore Since I've Moved Here.

I know, I know.  I should be spending my book money at the local indie.  I should be thankful there IS a local indie, as well as a Barnes and Noble just a mile or two from the soon-to-be-closed-forever Borders.

Well, I'm not.  Thankful, that is.

Not at present, anyway.  I'm too darn sad about losing my Borders.  And I need a few days to wallow.

They have (had) an amazing children's section, you see.  Which is, of course, where I spend (spent) most of my time.  They've recently expanded their YA shelves, rearranging them in such a way that you could SEE the books as you approached the children's section (as opposed to seeing the end of of a bookcase). 

They are (were) a really short drive from home.  Easily the closest bookstore.

And just last month I bought Beth Revis's Across the Universe there.  Of course, it figures I had to get a socially challenged (or perhaps simply unfriendly) check-out guy.  (Maybe he already knew the store was going to close.)  My attempts at starting a chat about the book so I could, yanno, brag that the author was a buddy of mine, were summarily ignored.

But I digress.

This morning I went to my beloved Borders and saw 1 final copy of Across the Universe on the endcap.  And I sighed.

Mr. A and I had gone on Saturday to check out the hubbub (when there were still three copies of Beth's book left).  It was honestly ridiculous; people were standing in a long-long-long line for a piddling twenty percent off of retail.

Twenty percent is not worth a long wait.  Even when it's your favorite bookstore's swan song.

So we left.  And this morning I went back and bought the book I'd chosen (not Beth's, since I already have it).  Got my twenty percent and didn't have to wait in any line at all.

I said, "Good-bye, bookstore," on my way out the door.  I hopped into my car, pulled out--and cried.

Yeah.  I did.

It's just a building.  Just a bookstore.  The book sellers and baristas and cashiers (the good ones, anyway), will find new jobs.  This is far from a depressed area.  And yes, there are other places to buy books.

I guess it was the dream-of-seeing-my-own-books-on-the-shelves that is most painful to let go of.  When you have a favorite bookstore and you're an author, it's kind of hard not to go there.

Yanno?

Especially now, when I'm on submission.  Especially now, when, regardless of how long it may take to sell my debut novel, I have an agent in whom I have full confidence, and whom I adore.

And to whom I want to bring success as much as I want it for myself.

So forgive my weepy eyes.  This isn't a tragedy or even a Horrible Thing.  It's just sad. 

And disappointing.

Good-bye, Borders.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Fricassee

Writing is sedentary.  And I don't want to spread out until I'm shaped like my office chair.

So this week, I've started burst training.  For the uninitiated:  burst training consists of a series of short bursts of intense exercise followed by short periods of rest.  I've chosen the 30-30-30 approach, which is 30 seconds of something, 30 seconds of something, and 30 seconds of catching your breath.

Doesn't sound like much, does it?

Um.

I knew I'd have to start slowly, since the last regular exercise I've had was ballet and conditioning classes too many years ago.  So I opted for 15-second bursts.

Oh. My. Freaking. Gosh.

I thought I was dying.  Not during the exercise--afterward.  My lungs felt like they were sticking together every time I exhaled.  My legs didn't want to work.  And I wasn't hungry for 45 minutes afterward (I'd been starving before I started).

Seriously?  I'm THIS out of shape?

Apparently.

Fortunately, you're not supposed to do burst training every day.  So Tuesday was my off day, and Wednesday I was ready to go.  You're supposed to work up to 4 repetitions of 3 sets.  On the-day-I-almost-died, I had done 2 repetitions.  My husband begged me to cut back (he's not ready to be a widower), so on Wednesday I did 1 full set and a third of the next.  That seemed to be the magic number, because I only felt a LITTLE dead afterward.  It took me fifteen minutes to be ready for lunch instead of 45.

We'll see what happens today.

I'm most excited by the fact that I can crank out 8 push-ups in 15 seconds.  Of course, they're GIRLIE push-ups, but I AM a girl.  So I'm okay with that.

It figures I'd be better with upper-body strength.  All that typing and laptop-toting should count for something, yes?

My leg strength, on the other hand, is deplorable.  Too many hours sitting in coffee shops.

So there you have it.  Authoress is burning fat!  The amazing thing is the way my energy level stays up the rest of the day (once I can breathe again).  I found that, yesterday, my body wanted to exercise. 

Totally weird. 

But talk about a productivity boost!  I wrote well over 1000 words yesterday.  And it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that my Internet connection went down for a little while.

Absolutely nothing.

Twitch.

So now, along with my writing goals, I've got inches-off goals.  Ability-to-run-away-from-zombies-in-dark-alleys goals.  Wearing-my-new-bathing-suit-at-the-shore-in-June goals.

That sort of thing.

How do you stay in shape?  I'm all ears! Unless, of course, you're going to gloat about your 4-full-set burst training and rippling abs.  I might just hate you.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Interview with Helene Boudreau

Have you read it?  She's one of "our own," you know.  As in, hers is one of our indirect success stories (which I still haven't posted...because it's, yanno, time-consuming).

Read it on the WRITE ON! blog now!  ON MERMAIDS, VOICE, AND THE WRITING LIFE: HÉLÈNE BOUDREAU

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

So, What Does An Author On Submission DO?

Truth be told, I'd never thought this far ahead.  When your goal is Get An Agent, that's as far as you think.

Know what I mean?  In a nebulous sort of way, you know there's way more beyond that.  It's just that there's really no point in thinking about it until you've actually arrived.  Become agented.

Then it hits you:  HOLYHULAHOOPSMYMANUSCRIPTISONTHEDESKOFEDITORS

And, yeah.  For the first week after going "live," it's pretty much an obsession point.  Obsessed, as in, checking blog stats for editor snoopage.  Obsessed, as in, staring at my WIP as if words will appear of their own accord--because I can't seem to concentrate.  Obsessed, as in, living for the next email ding.

Oh, yes.  Josh has his very own, Authoress-assigned email ding.  Thanks to the wisdom of Jodi Meadows, I turned off my universal Mac Mail ding, because it was turning me into a frenetic spazoid.

(Wait. I think I probably already WAS a frenetic spazoid.)

At any rate, my email is now silent, with two notable exceptions:  Family members get a sweet little chirp (hi, Mom!), and Josh gets the classic ding.

It works for me.  When I hear a ding, I KNOW it's Josh.  And I've stopped jumping out of my epidermis.

Of course, he's enjoying it a little too much.  Know what the subject line of my last email from Josh said?

"DING!"

At least he knows I love him, yes?

So now that I've calmed down, what is it, exactly, that I'm doing?

Why, I'm writing.  I'm as excited as ever about my WIP (the is-it-urban-fantasy-or-is-it-paranormal debate continues to rage inside my brain).  Admittedly, the going is a little slower.  I haven't done my 1000-words-a-day for a while.  But that has more to do with the fact that I am revising right now than it does my distractedness.  Deleting chunks of text doesn't lend itself to large word counts at the end of the day.  So for now, 500 new words make me happy.

So, yeah.  Life as usual.  The occasional "So-and-so is excited to read your manuscript!" from Josh is laid gently aside as I continue to focus on my work-at-hand.  I've already made the mental switch of life-goes-on-as-the-silent-waiting-begins.  And it's okay!

In fact, it's awesome.  I've been writing for years, and this time I'm writing while one of my finished works is out there making the rounds. 

So that's me, really.  And the new blog has me busy, too (check it out later today to read an awesome interview with Hélène Boudreau!).

Now, if winter would just go away forever, I'd be PERFECTLY content.

Okay.  Maybe just a little twitch once in a while.  Like when my email dings.

Monday, February 14, 2011

This Month's Winners

Melissa Jeglinski has chosen two winners for this month's Secret Agent Contest:

#6 -  One Last Time
#7 -  Martin Dark's Seriously Awesome Guide to Ghost Hunting

Ms. Jeglinski requests that you each send her the first 50 pages of your manuscript.  Please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for specific submission instructions.

Congratulations!

Secret Agent Unveiled: MELISSA JEGLINSKI


A round of applause for the helpful and super-speedy Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency!

Melissa's Bio:

Melissa Jeglinski joined The Knight Agency in September of 2008 as Associate Agent/Submissions Coordinator. A graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in English with a concentration in writing, Melissa began her career as an editorial assistant at Harlequin Enterprises.
During her 17-year tenure, she discovered more than a dozen authors who have become National bestsellers. Melissa is a member of RWA and AAR.


Melissa is looking for romance (no paranormal or SFF) and MG/YA (no SFF).

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Fricassee

It's been another good Secret Agent round!  Our Secret Agent has actually gotten through the entire list, so I am in the fun position of knowing who the winners are several days early.

Yay!

Also:  I'd like to thank you all for helping to make the launch of WRITE ON! a smashing success.  Please do continue to spread the word to your favorite teens and teachers.

And if you're on Twitter, please take a moment to follow Lizzy, our illustrious forums manager.  She's done an awesome job getting the community off the ground this week and I'm really proud of her!

My other team member, A Writer Gone Mad, has also invested time this week.  And once I start in on contests and critiques over there, she is going to be worth her weight in gold! Follow her on Twitter, too.

I LOVE when teens passionately pursue their talents and strengths.  And I'm honored to have these two giving so much of their time and energy to our new online community.

This is further confirmation of WHY I WRITE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE!

It has nothing to do with the fact that my inner teen is longing for release.  For a chance to live out a non-dorky, non-painfully-self-conscious existence.

Not at all.  Don't even think it.

'Til Monday!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February Secret Agent #41

TITLE: Pieces of Forever
GENRE: Young Adult

The black hearse was sitting in my driveway the day the old St. Scholastica school bus dropped me home from school. I can remember that day as clearly as if it happened last week, even though it was years ago, the events burned into my brain forever.

Our cranky old bus driver eyed me suspiciously in the rearview mirror as he stretched one arm across the dash to open the bus doors. "Mare!" His voice cracked when he finally hollered my name. He could have been miles away for all I knew. By the time I stood from the last row of seats, the blood had left my face and hands. Cold. I had the weirdest feeling in my stomach, like I should be afraid--but of what, I had no idea.

I had never seen a hearse before--had never even been to a funeral. But there it was in front of me: long, sleek, and shiny black, the sunlight gleaming off of its tinted windows. If a hearse could speak, this one would have whispered one word, one syllable, choking all the oxygen out of the air around me: death.

Somehow I managed to stumble down the center aisle, past the other kids' stares, their eyes burning holes into my skin. And when I finally stood on the curb, the school bus doors quickly shut behind me, nearly sucking me backwards. I caught myself and leaned forward.

February Secret Agent #40 (redacted)

Redacted -- Genre not valid for this contest

February Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Fear Itself
GENRE: YA/Urban Fantasy

I lean against the bumper of the moving truck, shirt sticking to my back with sweat as I stare at the old Victorian house that just became my new home. The thing's rotting off its support beams, the windows are thick with grime and the paintjob looks like Godzilla used it as his scratching post during Tokyo-destroying offseason. My aunt - a tall, bony woman with a dozen rainbow scarves wrapped around her head - is staring at the house too and muttering to herself about killing every realtor she's ever known.

Welcome to my life.

"This has got to be the wrong address." Aunt Miranda shakes her head.

"We used the truck's GPS." I squint at the unrelenting sun, a headache beginning to drum against my skull. "You'd be surprised how often technology is right."

"I don't trust that truck or its VPS." She looks at the brass numbers beside the door. "Aha! See? It says 369. We're 399."

The numbers shift with a puff of wind into their proper places on the nails; 399. Miranda's face falls.

"Technology." I stress the word. "Do you have a key to get in? I need to piss."

"Urinate, Noa." Miranda corrects, striding towards me with a ring of keys in her hand. "It doesn't sound half as coarse."

My eyes take a few moments to adjust to the darkness inside. The place must have been empty for years; thick banks of dust lie on the floor.

February Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Marula Ridge
GENRE: Middle Grade

The bus struggled uphill, belching black smoke with every grinding gear change, carrying Simon on a journey to the top of the escarpment. Never before had he ventured this far from Marula Ridge, the farm where he'd been born.

He'd climbed aboard at dawn, excited to be leaving his old life behind, but already he missed his home, his mother and his little brother, Gideon. He hadn't listened when they begged him not to go. He'd been so eager to follow Nelson Mandela's call to arms; so determined to join the guerrilla movement fighting to free his people.

Now twinges of uncertainty began gnawing at his belly. How could he, a fifteen-year-old farm boy, help overthrow the mighty Apartheid regime? He must have been crazy to believe such a dream.

The old black man sitting next to Simon fished a paper bag from the inside pocket of his jacket. Carefully, he folded back the edges, revealing the neck of a bottle. With shaking hands, he unscrewed the cap and raised the bottle to his lips. The sharp smell of alcohol assaulted Simon's nostrils, overpowering the stench of sweaty bodies and diesel fuel that filled the bus.

Smacking his lips, the man offered the bottle to Simon, but he smiled and shook his head. He must stay alert. When they reached Igoli, he would have to find his way to the address that his friend, Moses, had given him. He tried to imagine what the city would be like - Johannesburg, Igoli, City of Gold.

February Secret Agent #37

TITLE: No Use for a Name
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Now serving…ticket number…one…five…two…at window number…nine.

I looked at the scrap of paper in my hand for about the thousandth time, but my heart still leapt when I saw the 152 in bold black font. I jumped up and hurried over to the last stall on the right. I grinned when I saw who it was.

My next door neighbor refused to even look at me, just tapped away with her long green fingernails on her keyboard, chewing her gum about as fast as her fingers flew.

Finally she swiveled her head to face me, and her look of mild annoyance melted away into a smile.

"Baby Anderson! I wondered when I'd see you here."

"Hi Mrs. Dutton."

She blinked her eyes rapidly. So much mascara coated her lashes I was surprised they didn't make a clicking noise when they beat together. "Any other member of the Anderson clan walks in here, I'm taking out extra insurance, but you behind the wheel? Now that doesn't scare me at all. You have your social security card?"

"Right here," I said, digging around in my bag. Mom and dad have, I'm not kidding, like fifty storage tubs full of unopened mail in a shed behind our trailer. I found the one from the year I was born, and I found my card – fifteen and a half years old – and brand-spanking-new.

I handed it to Mrs. Dutton and her brow wrinkled.

"Is something wrong?" I asked.

"It says your name is Baby Girl Anderson."

February Secret Agent #36

TITLE: All Cuffed Up and Nowhere To Go
GENRE: Single title contemporary romance

Jackie Davis looked up as the bell over the door of the salon chimed and struggled to keep the welcoming smile on her lips. If there was a more unwelcome sight than the man walking through the doorway, she couldn't think of one. A real live Sasquatch would be preferable and probably easier to communicate with. "Sheriff Talbert, what a surprise," she said, not letting any of her thoughts seep into her voice.

The sheriff paused in the act of closing the door behind him, a disbelieving brow rising until it disappeared under the brim of his hat.

And here she thought she sounded so sincere. Unfortunately, that had been the problem since meeting the entirely too-handsome-for-his-own-good sheriff. Somehow he seemed to hear past her words, past her tone and know what she was thinking.

Gaze locked on her, he stepped around the small wicker chairs set up in front that would no doubt buckle under his tall frame, looking completely at home in this feminine sanctuary. Ironic, since everything about him seemed out of place in the salon from the hard angle of his jaw to the tips of his shiny black boots.

Locking her knees, she watched him approach with slow, even steps, a cool confidence radiating from him. When a mere foot separated them and thankfully the reception counter she stood behind, he tipped his hat back revealing the face she had heard one client describe as "eye candy".

She hadn't been exaggerating.

February Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Loving Adeline
GENRE: Literary YA

Whoever wrote 'the world is my playground' obviously lives in a different universe. The world I live in is chaos at the best of times, incomprehensible at the worst.

These are the worst of times.

I push myself against a locker and try to fold the walls around me. It feels as though I stepped into hell, not high school, and hell is a constant myriad of impressions. I am only eight steps from the door, but I can't see it. I know Ms. Newark hovers around me because I can feel the warmth of her skin, but I can't see her.

Everything around me blurs. Faces, colors, sounds. Only the eyes are clear and they're all staring at me. Telling me I don't belong here. Strange. Abnormal.

Freak.

I move my hands so my palms are flat against the smooth steel surface pressed against my back. It calms me a little.

Looking up was a mistake. Life is easier when you're staring at the floor. When you don't have to meet the eyes burning holes in your soul.

I can feel Ms. Newark draw closer, but I'm not prepared for the lightning bolt when she touches my shoulder. I jump. Out of her reach, away from her hands. Eight steps to the door feels like an obstacle course. Try to dodge the people walking towards me, try to keep them from touching me. I have nowhere to go, but I need to get out.

February Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Starsong
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I will flat out die of embarrassment if Tanner Westin sees my notebook.

Victor is carrying it under his arm. He's twice my size with a face like a puppy dog, and as Finlay High's star defensive lineman, he has no trouble blocking my lunges. He chuckles like it's a sick game, stopping in his tracks and flipping my notebook out in front of me. My fingertips brush past the cover as he lifts it out of my reach again.

If Victor wasn't so big I'd kick his shins in. Instead, I wrap both my hands around his mega bicep and pull down as hard as I can. Victor just grins and heads right for Tanner, my body dangling like a flimsy paperdoll.

We reach him huddled beside his Jeep with his buddies, looking oh-so-cool in his black skater tee. They gawk at us as we approach.

I let go of Victor's arm and drop to the ground.

"Hey, Tanner, what's up, my man?" Victor holds up a hand, waiting for contact.

Tanner slaps Victor's hand in his friendly guy way and flips his chin-length sandy hair to the side. "What's up, bro?"

"Just stumbled across some interesting info, thought you'd like to know. It's about Pinks here ... "

Trying to be sly, I reach for the notebook again.

Victor blocks me with ease, flipping the notebook from under his arm and handing it to Tanner. Tanner glances at me, his face baffled.

February Secret Agent #33

TITLE: A Heat Of The Moment Thing
GENRE: Romance

Feathers of anxiety fluttered in my gut as I took in the busy swimming lanes. Oh God. Why did I keep putting myself through this? "Jo, I don't think--"

"No thinking allowed. Forty laps, then coffee. Right?"

Her smile sweetened her words, but I knew she meant business. The feathers moved up, nasty tickles of nerves making straight for my throat. "Um..." I gulped, stepped back.

Jo frowned, placing a hand on my arm. "What's up, Becs? We've been doing this for ages. You'll be fine."

"I--it's too busy. You know what I'm like with crowded pools."

She looked at my lane. "Six swimmers. That's not bad."

Only six? I squinted down at the blurry blobs, doing my own head-count. Six. I took a rallying breath. Three passes per lap. Okay, it could be worse. Why, oh why, hadn't I worn my contacts? I always wore contacts to the pool! Why not today? Without them I felt so weak. I reluctantly drew my sleek new Nicole Kidman locks into a ponytail, searching for a different excuse.

"I didn't bring a swimming cap. What if my hair turns green? Or goes back to halo-frizz?'

"It won't."

"If I start my new job looking like a freak I'll blame you."

"Yeah, yeah. Come on." Jo made for the fast lane as usual and dived in.

I sighed. Faced my blurry, congested lane. It wasn't like I really needed to see. We all knew the routine.

February Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Sacred Songs
GENRE: Romance/Women's fiction

Prophet:

Inspired teacher, revealer or interpreter of God's will.

I felt as if I were in the presence of Christ himself.

The roar of the helicopter's engine abated only enough for the sound of the screaming thousands of fans who were packed like small sheep into a medieval holding paddock to reach my ears. The 14th Century castle looking once again as if its multitude of subjects had flocked to be with their king. In a way, they had and I felt a surge of privilege and pride to be walking beside the focus of their adoration and frenzy.

"It's amazing, have you ever seen anything like it?"

Frederick scampered ahead, like a puppy dog anxious to be out walking with its owner.

"All right for him," Julian cast a morose look in my direction, "he doesn't have to get up there and perform in front of the f*****s."

We all knew he was scared, this was the worst time, those testing hours before the show.

'Make-him-or-break-him' time it had been dubbed by the tight disciple-like group who travelled together.

The time when, if he ate, he usually threw up, or he would fuel himself on a concoction of chocolate and caffeine, only to bring that back up seconds before stepping on stage.

I alone witnessed the regurgitation ritual.

A strange place to find myself, metaphorically holding the hand of a rock demi-god while he unravelled, show after show, after show.

February Secret Agent #31

TITLE: BOYFRIENDS, SPIES, and LIES
GENRE: Contemporary YA

Absolute freedom.

That's what stood in front of me while I lingered at the bottom steps of the school. I rocked back on my heels, nervous about starting fresh and experiencing life without someone watching over my shoulder.

"So, are you ready to do this?" Alec, my best friend, took my hand to guide me up the steps. Orientation started in less than five minutes and I stood frozen unable to move forward.

I took a deep breath and nodded.

New Orleans School of Creative Arts, NOSCA as I soon found out it was called, was antiquated on the outside, but when we walked in we were transported into a state-of-the-art building.

Our steps echoed through the hallways, the heels of my boots click-clacking against the immaculate slate floors. Other students rushed past us. I caught glimpses of guitars slung over shoulders, drumsticks being used to play air drums, and dancers with bags tossed across their bodies. This was a haven for anyone and everyone that loved art.

"Where do we have to go for orientation?" I asked Alec; he was my guide. Between the two of us he was more organized and prepared.

"Down this hall and make a left." He nodded down the hall.

The auditorium was breathtaking.

It reminded me of the theatres in New York. He wasn't on Broadway, but for him just being able to perform in New York was enough. I admired that about his uncle. Alec had the same passion for theatre.

February Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Desire Under the Elms, Oaks, and Maples
GENRE: Contemporary Romantic Suspense

"If I wasn't an artist I'd be a fortune teller like great great granny Elvira, the witch of Salem, if I didn't ignore the signs. Like the woman at the airport. Was it just a coincidence or a bad omen? She recognized me. Many people look alike, I said. Did she believe me?" All that crossed Dorian's mind that wintry day she flew two thousand miles across the ocean to a place she'd been warned not to go.

On a steamy Wednesday morning in June a battered and bloody body is found in the pool at the exclusive New Jersey community of Hidden Valley. There hasn't been anything that eventful since a gaggle of geese attacked Mrs. Havermore on the golf course. The victim, an itinerant gardener from south of the border was known as a peeping-tom privy to all sorts of goings-on beyond the elms, oaks, and maples of the lush estates.

When news of the ghastly discovery spread throughout the community some folks sighed in relief, others jaded by the Havermore incident said, "who cares...he wasn't a rock star or the president."

Someone did care, the architect of the crime who obviously had the most to gain and no doubt the most to lose as his or her secrets were carried with the peeping-tom to his watery grave.

The coroner, a staunch advocate of gun control, pleased the assault weapon wasn't a firearm pinpointed the time of death to around eight or nine o'clock the previous night.

February Secret Agent #29

TITLE: Little Miss Perfect and Me
GENRE: MG

Lucy was ready. Dark blue T-shirt, dark blue jeans-she'd blend right into the shadows.

She eased open her bedroom door and listened. No sound from Charlotte's room. Her new stepsister was probably studying. Being the perfect daughter as usual.

Lucy picked up her barn boots and tiptoed to the stairs. She listened again.

"M! Pick an M!" she heard her stepfather say.

"No, Mike," Lucy's mother said. "He needs a D."

Lucy smiled as she inched her way down the stairs. Mike really loved those TV game shows. He and Mom probably wouldn't even notice she was gone.

One step, two steps, three! Duck into the dining room. Dash into the kitchen and...

"Charlotte!" Lucy skidded to a stop inches from Charlotte's backside.

"Watch out, Lucy." Charlotte straightened from the refrigerator, her long brown braid swinging across her back. The violet bow on the end of her braid matched her violet blouse perfectly. "You almost made me drop the pickles."

"Shh!"

"Why should I shush?" Charlotte saw the boots in Lucy's hands. "You're sneaking out to see that horse!"

Lucy decided to not dump the pickles on Charlotte's head and make a dash for the door. No, instead she'd explain-again-how important this was. "My horse was supposed to arrive at Miss Mary Jo's barn an hour ago. I have to see him, Charlotte! My very own horse!"

"He's not your horse." Charlotte pulled out a pickle and screwed the lid back on. "Dad and Susan will never let you keep him."

February Secret Agent #28

TITLE: The Blinded Gardener
GENRE: Y/A Contemporary

Meeting Danny altered the only life I knew: a living punching bag.

Once again, I found myself at a new school. My third in the past two years. It sucked having a dad in the military.The final bell rang. As I wandered in the hall, I saw only one other guy besides me. Maybe he can tell me how to get to my classroom? He seemed unaware of me. Long bangs fell over his eyes as he loped passed me with a kind of natural ease.

"Hey, dude. Could you tell me how to get to room 305?"

A sneer formed on his lips as he faced me. He tossed his head. Platinum fringe shifted to the side and revealed bright blue eyes that stared at me unfocused.

Is he blind? How could he be? Weird though.

"I'm heading that way." His deep voice held a trace of a southern accent. He turned and continued his long strides.

I envied his height: well over six feet and me a few inches under. I rushed to catch up to him.

"What's your name?" He climbed the stairs before I could answer.

"Aidan." I took the first few steps at once.

"You better move, Aidan. Mr. Conners loses it when you're late."

At the top of the stairs he hung a right. He coasted down the hall and stopped midway. "Here you are. Room 305." He Faced me and lowered his head. "By the way, I'm Danny."

He turned and walked away.

February Secret Agent #27 (redacted)

Redacted: Genre not valid for this contest

February Secret Agent #26

TITLE: UNDER THE COVERS
GENRE: Contemporary Romantic Suspense


"You want me to call the police? Have you lost your mind?" David Shelton couldn't believe the woman spoke those words through his phone. His sweaty palm gripped the phone to his ear and his pulse pounded in his ears as his heart thudded against his chest. "Well, how bad is it?"

David never expected this turn of problems an hour ago, sitting in his office absentmindedly looking over paperwork. Time moved at a snail's pace as he glanced at the clock on the adjacent wall. He had paced his office, anxious for the call he expected all night, burying the horrible feeling in his gut. He occupied his foreboding time by perusing the items on his cluttered desk. Nothing held a particular meaning. A cherry-wood penholder, a wire-folder organizer, and calculator- all simple items for his job, except a cubed-glass paperweight. He picked it up, tilted it around in his hands as it captured the light and the reflections twinkled across the empty wall. He smiled. His wife gave him the trinket last year when he started this job. But his smile quickly faded, the gift now a painful reminder of the way things used to be.

"Sophie, you asked me to clear area tonight, which I've done, so your team could pick up the loot. You need to tighten the leash on your pit bulls, because this is not what I signed on for!"

February Secret Agent #25 (redacted)

Redacted: Genre not valid for this contest

February Secret Agent #24

TITLE: Sad Girl
GENRE: YA

"Kat, we're going to have a baby."

When he said it, I felt something crack deep in my brain. That might have been the moment I lost my mind.

"We have something to tell you." Steve said it. Like what they were about to say was so terrible that he didn't want the filthy words to cross my mother's tongue. His stinking pink shirt, and his arm clamped around her shoulder, and that look on his face. Urgh that look. Hopeful and frightened.

Mom had it too. Like I was some kind of monster about to feed and they hoped the small lamb they were about to offer up would be enough to satisfy me. She sat there on that matted brown chair--the one that Steve insisted on keeping when we moved in two years agoâ--hands resting on her lap, looking at me. I can't remember the last time she looked at me. In my eyes anyway. And her brown cow eyes were wet. "Honey," she was shaking.

Come on. What could you possibly have to tell me that would shock me? You were there when Dad died seven years ago. You eloped with Steve when I was on an overnight camping trip. You didn't tell me we were moving to Steve's house until the truck showed up. Seriously, I was ready for anything.

"Just tell me." I tried to say it gently.

February Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Fait Accompli
GENRE: YA

I'd been stalking Dev for about two months before I slipped up and let anybody find out. Belle Fourche High School's motto, emblazoned on the library shelf, received my full fake attention. Incipit Vita Nova (here begins new life).

Pretty appropriate actually. I ran my finger along the row of Biology books, pushing my other hand into the back pocket of my jeans. Sarah tilted forward, craning her head to see down the long row of shelves to Dev. He stood with an open book in his hand, engrossed.

‘What's the deal with him?' As soon as it slipped out, I mentally slapped myself. Gossip? Not high on my list of priorities. Talking to Sarah, the biggest gossip in the place? Even lower.

‘Dev?' She leaned towards me and lowered her voice. ‘He arrived not long before you. Sent to live with family out on Home Farm.' She glanced back in his direction, satisfying herself that he hadn't moved. ‘They have their own church up there, you know. I've never seen him at the mall, or the movies, or anywhere we go. He's cute Ana, don't you think?' Oh God. ‘But my dad says it's some kind of cult they've got going up there and we should all stay clear.' She paused, and for a second Dev stared right at the back of Sarah's head.

February Secret Agent #22

TITLE: In Limbo
GENRE: Historical YA

This has to be what hell feels like.

Okay, so that might be a slight exaggeration.

Unless, of course, hell is a small one-story schoolhouse that's about five blocks from my apartment. And, man does it feel like I spend all of my time in this little schoolhouse. With its red paint peeling off the walls outside and the tacky sign that reads “Abraham Lincoln High School-- in big block white letters over the double doors. The classroom is cramped, like it was a bedroom at one point, the wooden desk chair hurts my butt and the rough, cherry wood desk scrapes my knees.

"Sylvester Houston. Eyes up front!" Mr. Killjoy slaps his ruler on the chalkboard. It points at an equation. I blink.

I pretend to count something on my fingers as I feel my ears grow hot. This is bad. But I would rather be here avoiding the eyes and sneers of my classmates than listening to Aunt Pam cough, sneeze, and blow snot into her flowery handkerchief at home. I barely got any sleep last night because I had to hear
her hacking. It wouldn't be that bad if she would just move out. But Mom says she can't afford it and Dad does whatever she says in order to avoid a fight, so--that's that. And this is this. Math. My eyes cross at the sight of the numbers on the chalkboard. I think my parents expect me to be an accountant.

February Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Transmigration
GENRE: Young Adult Mystery

I saw him in my nightmare, the faceless boy that reached out for me just as my legs gave up, my arms stopped thrashing, and my last breath consisted of pure water. For just one moment, while putting my pain aside, I felt exhilarated. I was going to be saved. This nameless boy promised me he would save me. But it was too late. He was too late. I let the water pool over my head as I began my descent towards the bottom, the boy's hands pulling at his hair, his anguish reflecting through the ripples in the water.

I awoke with a scream. A bloodcurdling, agonizing scream. Looking around the dark expanse of my room, I wasn't floating lifeless on the placid surface of a pool, but rather in my bed, a layer of sweat drenching my sheets. Shivering more from fear than temperature, I pulled the sheet tight across my chest, looking longingly at my purple comforter twisted in a heap at the foot of my bed. With the glow of my nightlight, I could see sweat glistening on my forearm as I stretched out my arm and begged it to stop shaking. It was just a nightmare, I wanted to tell myself. A nightmare that never went away.

As the shakes spread throughout my body, paralyzing me with fear, I grasped my chest for relief. Breathe, I demanded of myself. Breathe. I. Couldn't. Breathe.

February Secret Agent #20

TITLE: The Worst Novel Ever Written
GENRE: YA

(A shiny, dotted, wet piece of sandpaper-coated muscle soars through the air. It soars with urgency. It soars with passion. With intent. With haste. Horniness. Pride. Confidence. Ambition.

Like a spear, it soars. Like an arrow, it soars. Like (any projectile soaring straight that you can think of), it soars.

And it soars so fast. Like nascars. Like that spear. Like that arrow. But all fast-forwarded. 32X speed.

It collides with another muscle. Like two towels, they collide. Like two balloons, they collide. But not totally like them. These two muscles, they smush together. Their shiny dots of wetness eject, and project, and soar until they collide. This collision splashes. It creates bigger globs of wetness. And that wetness rains down on two muscles. Two muscles that are now locked in the ultimate wrestling match.

One muscle twists and turns and wraps and crawls and drags across the other, as the other does the same thing, but delayed by one second, so they form a twisty thing.

Like they both got an A+ in gymnastics, these muscles unwind and perform the ultimate moves. Aerial. Check. Front hip pullover. Check. Front pike somersault. Check. Somi-and-a-half. Check. Sticking. Check. Straddle. Check. Straddle split. Check. Swedish fall. Check. Check. Yurchenko. Now they've gone too far. One muscle pulls back. It's panting. It's dripping saliva. Right down to a row of teeth. The teeth are white. They were just brushed. They were just flossed. )

February Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Love? Please! (A Tale of the Holy Water Warriors
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Great. Just fan-friggen-tabulous. Not even halfway through her shift and Teagan had an a**-grabber.
Another one.

Of course, this moron's lack of respect for personal boundaries was why she'd gotten this table of five. The girls had named her 'The Enforcer' for a reason.

She'd let him play for a moment...he wasn't hurting her, after all. But soon he'd pay, and she'd make certain it did hurt him.

"Can I get you boys anything else?" she asked, setting a Corona in front of each of them.

The Friday night band sang their standard classic, "Friends in Low Places," and several patrons whooped or sang along. Lively crowd tonight. At least a couple hundred cowboys, college kids, tourists, and locals. Good tips. Everyone was lookin' for love.

Blondie, the man sitting across the table from where she stood, smiled and tossed down a hundred dollar bill. "Tequila shots?"

Mr. Hands, on her left, inched his grope further up the backside of her inner thigh. If he went any higher, he'd be fondling parts of her only seen by her doctor and her vibrator. She snapped her teeth into a grin, ignoring Mr. Hands, as she pulled the Jose Gold from one holster on her costume gun-slinger's belt and six shot glasses from the cartridge loops on the other hip. Between the rowdy saloon atmosphere and the waitress costumes-- leather vest, gunfighter's belt over short-shorts, Stetson hat and boots--it was no surprise Tommie's Knockers drew the largest crowd in the Canyon.

February Secret Agent #18

TITLE: For Her Own Good
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

Eva Pierce was lost. She'd planned each route, each possible turn, then she'd gotten to Amsterdam and all of her careful plans had gone out the window. Or possibly fallen into a canal along with her hat.

In the evening light the street bustled around her, flowing along the sidewalks in a steady stream. Even for the off season, it was crowded with people who knew where they were going. Eva stood, map in hand, and tried to ignore the growing panic as disinterested people surged around her.

The hotel had to be here somewhere.

Luckily she'd sent her luggage on so she wasn't carrying around any extra weight. But the hotel, and the prospect of comfortable pajamas, was nowhere in sight.

She could always ask for directions. But so far she hadn't plucked up the courage to stop someone. They all seemed so determined to get to where they were going. She didn't want to interrupt them though she knew she'd have to. It was either that or freeze on the street. Eva hated that she'd turned out to be just one more idiot tourist.

“You can')t stand here forever,” Eva said aloud. A man hunched in his winter coat glanced at her as he passed. “Excuse me?” she said hopefully. But he mumbled something in Dutch and kept walking, shoulders rolled under dark fabric.

February Secret Agent #17

TITLE: Piercing the Darkness
GENRE: Futuristic Romance

Jupiter's sun, Section 10 had gotten something right. Considering their score was zero for five on good intel, accuracy on this particular mission was all the more impressive. From behind a battered wooden crate that smelled like moldy bread, Sidra eyed the reason for her current assignment. A rusty metal cage packed with children, boys and girls, of various ages on their way to new owners.

Not parents.

Owners.

As in slavery, which, despite the practice being outlawed for centuries, continued to be too lucrative to stop. Her stomach knotted. She hated everything to do with slavery. The parents who sold their children, the Slavers and the buyers.

The Government that lined its own pockets so refused to halt the traffic.

Sidra shifted her weight to her toes, wincing when the muscles in her calves tightened and locked. Gritting her teeth against the cramping pain, she eased her way upward until she could see over the crate's top edge.

For the last hour, she'd seen only three drones. No echoing voices, footsteps or other noise hinted of more, but silence didn't mean the building was empty. Slavers had been known to leave quiescent drones behind, ready for activation with a keystroke.

Lucky for her, the warehouse wasn't full of crates or boxes. This meant there weren't many places a drone could hide. Unlucky for her, there weren't many places she could hide either.

February Secret Agent #16

TITLE: HOW I BECAME A WIMBLEDON BALL GIRL, MET THE QUEEN, AND FOUND
THE BOY OF MY DREAMS
GENRE: YA

We're lying on my heart-shaped canopy bed, doing lopsided leg lifts, eating our way through a plate of gooey fudge, and arguing over what to do with our summer.

"Omigod, I got it! Let's get jobs on a cruise ship to Hawaii. We can learn the hula and see firsthand where Elvis made all those sexy movies," I say to Mitsy, my best friend.

Even though her name's Madge, I call her Mitsy, because she reminds me of my Great Aunt Mitsy who died years ago, but left me her opera gloves, satin cape, and a risqué diary about her escapades in Rome with a duke.

Mitsy lets her leg flop onto the bed, grabs my elbow, and flutters her eyelashes at me. "And just how in freakin' heck do you think that's going to fly with our parents, my dear?" she says in a fake English accent, tossing her blonde hair out of her face.

She sounds a bit like my great aunt, but looks nothing like her. This Mitsy reminds me more of a cucumber slice in her pale green jeans and top--a very slim slice--whereas everything I put into my mouth sticks right to my hips. She may be a cucumber, but in my red Capri pants and top, I look more like a stuffed pepper. A long stuffed pepper with curly brown hair. It’s depressing, but whenever I get
upset, I eat.

February Secret Agent #15

TITLE: A TALE OF TWO SISTERS
GENRE: Regency romance

April 1816, London

William Battencliffe wagers five thousand pounds that Miss Julia St. Claire will become the next Countess of Clivesden.

Benedict Revelstoke reread the lines in White's infamous betting book. What the devil? His fingers constricted about the quill, just shy of crushing it. Right. He'd been about to lay a wager. Some idiocy, no doubt--hardly worth the bother now.

The book's most recent inscription, scrawled in such a casual hand for all the world to see, had quite driven the notion from his mind. In gold ink, no less. How fitting. Gold ink for Battencliffe, the ton's golden boy.

Upperton, his oldest friend, nudged him. "What's the matter? Your feet coming over icy all the sudden?"

Lead blocks would be more accurate, but Benedict was not about to admit to that. He laid the quill aside and jabbed a finger at the heavy vellum page. "Have you seen this?"

The page darkened as Upperton peered over his shoulder. "Clivesden? Thought he was married. And what's Miss Julia got to do with any of this?"

"I've no idea, but I intend to find out." He released a breath between clenched teeth. "Appalling how so-called gentlemen will lay bets on young ladies of good reputation."

"Young ladies in general or Miss Julia in particular?"

February Secret Agent #14

TITLE: THE CHOSEN
GENRE: Young Adult

The honour of your presence is highly requested this evening. 6:00PM.

Those were the only words in scrolling jet black calligraphy that crossed the formal white parchment of the invitation.

I rubbed my thumb across the ink and felt the fine linen texture of the paper between my fingers, then flipped the envelope back over and re-read the front. Miss Blakely G. Sullivan was printed in the same elaborate lettering - leaving no doubt this was for me and not my roommate, Amie.

I set the invitation and envelope down and turned towards the black garment bag that now hung from the door of my closet. It was one thing to see the white letter from the corner of my eye as it skirted across the floor from under my front door. But the fact it was followed by a quick knock - and when I opened the door and found only the black garment bag and not a soul in my hallway - well...

Head cocked sideways with my hands on my hips, I drummed my fingers as I stared at the long, black bag that looked as if it could contain a body - but weighed almost nothing - so I already knew that couldn't be true.

I slowly unzipped the bag - not at all expecting the mass of white feathers that spilled out around me.

Crap. It could've been the dead remains of a million geese, for all I knew.

February Secret Agent #13

TITLE: In an Instant
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

Beth Rhinehardt was smiling when the white SUV came out of nowhere and clipped her back bumper on the passenger side, spinning her around and depositing her in the path of oncoming traffic. She cursed as the old Honda skidded on unseen ice. But a split second later, she caught some traction, enough to regain a measure of control. "Whoa," she said, clenching the wheel with shaking fingers. "That could have been ugly."

Adrenaline coursed through her veins. She glanced in her rearview mirror, but the SUV had vanished. Great, she thought. That's just great.

And then, something warm tickled her right ear. She uttered a startled shriek; her head jerked around, the steering wheel dragging to the right. Rubber hissed on black ice, and suddenly the world was going by sideways--ground, buildings and sky blurring like numbers on a roulette wheel.

The car straightened out just in time for her to see a tree rushing toward her, filling up the windshield with impending destruction--a fitting bookend to the wreck she'd made of her life. I'm going to die, she thought, and two faces flashed before her eyes, one doe-eyed, one crinkling hazel. And I never even got to tell them I'm sorry.

She threw out both arms as metal collided with century-old wood. The reek of smoke filled her nostrils; something smacked her in the face, and as safety glass rained down, her left arm exploded in agony.

February Secret Agent #12

TITLE: Hannah's Half
GENRE: YA

The boy sitting on my bedroom floor couldn't have been more than four or five years old. The cowlick in the back of his corn-husk blond hair needed taming. He sat cross-legged and with dirty bare feet, holding a half-deflated red balloon.

"You got a name, kid?"

I rarely asked questions anymore because the Visitors never speak. I mean never. I've been seeing dead people for as long as I can remember and it's always the same routine. Stare with haunted eyes, linger in the room, then disappear.

"Come on. Give me a break." I sighed and pushed back my comforter. I had on a tee shirt and panties but I'd gotten over being shy in front of the dead a long time ago. If they were going to invade my space, then they'd have to deal, too.

The sweet, burned smell of kettle corn filled my nose and carnival music played in my head. In strobe-like flashes, I saw the little boy walking hand in hand with an older man in dusty overalls and a crooked John Deere cap. The man handed the boy a cardboard cone wrapped with mounds of pink cotton candy.

"I don't have time for this. I'm going to be late for school," I said.

The boy continued to stare. I didn't want to be shown how he died or if the older man had something to do it. The whole routine was getting super old and I'd give anything to have a dead-free day.

February Secret Agent #11

TITLE: A Mad, Wicked Folly
GENRE: YA Historical

The pottery jug shattered against the wall, porridge oozed down the cement walls of my prison cell and splattered onto the floor. The wardress yelped in alarm and rushed out, slamming the door behind her. With that defiant act I sealed my fate. But I was willing to take my place among the other women who had volunteered for this torture: the ones who wore Sylvia's Holloway brooch so proudly---a badge of honor that marked them out as martyrs, something that I never had the courage to be.

I closed my eyes and let the events of the last months flick past, as if I were at a bioscope, watching a moving picture show starring me, Victoria Darling: Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentleman and watch our heroine make a shambles of her life.

Because of my folly, my beloved was lost to me forever. I tried to recall the touch of his hands upon my skin and the feel of his lips upon mine, the scent of the crushed grass as we sat together on the hillside that day in Rye. But I saw instead that dreadful night when I broke his heart, and how he walked away from me, steps heavy and slow as the London fog swirled round him until his outline blurred and faded and was gone.

I had lost him, but I would become the woman he saw in me all along. If only I could make it through the next few minutes

February Secret Agent #10 (redacted)

Redacted: Genre not valid for this contest

February Secret Agent #9

TITLE: Finding Sarah
GENRE: MG Fiction

Looking down into my lap, I didn't recognize my own hands, scrubbed clean, trimmed fingernails, and smelling of flowery soap. But a hint of the real me remained, the blisters. My fingertips stung, along with the memory of using my thin, dirty nightgown as a hot pad to lift the scorching window for escape. Had it really only been a few nights ago? I bet those firemen wouldn't recognize me now.

Shaking the memory away, I turned my attention to the long white sedan, for sure the nicest car I'd ever sat in. From the backseat, I could see two ladies talking outside. Each wore dark pants with creases running all the way down to their high-heeled shoes. The older lady twirled necklace-style glasses while talking to the younger lady, Miss Marilee. I'd first met her a few days ago, the night everything happened. She'd given me a juice box, some strawberries, and a peanut butter sandwich. I didn't say thank you. She probably thinks I'm rude.

Clicking shoes on the pavement pulled my thoughts back to the present. The driver's door opened. "Marilyn, we're all set. Do you have on your seatbelt?" Miss Marilee situated herself in the driver's seat.

"Yes, ma'am," I nodded.

February Secret Agent #8

TITLE: A JEWEL OF SIRRA
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy

B14. B14. B14

I have to remember... Now where are the lockers?

As Helen stood inside the terminal of the Honolulu International Airport, her eyes quickly scanned for the location of the locker. The terminal was bustling with groups of tourists being led in different directions by their guides and the greeters handing out leis to passersby.

The array of vibrant tropical flowers caught her eyes and the intoxicating scent nearly broke her concentration. Finally, she found a man in uniform, someone who can answer her question.

"Excuse me. Where are the lockers?"

"Oh, the lockers. Walk up that way and it's on your first right." said the man in a uniform.

"Thank you," said Helen softly as she turned to that direction.

Mumbling voices and loud announcements coming from various speakers echoed through her ears. The sights and sounds bombarded her heightened senses making it difficult for her to concentrate. She struggled to regain focus, redirecting her eyes toward the lockers.

Filled with apprehension, she weaved through the mayhem with only one thing on her mind. As she reached the rows of lockers, her eyes moved rapidly. Soon, her search came to a halt at one particular number: Locker Number B14. She cautiously entered the secret code that was given to her the day before. The metal door popped open to reveal its only content, an ordinary luggage bag.

This is it? My new life is in this tiny, little bag? You gotta be kidding me.

February Secret Agent #7

TITLE: Martin Dark's Seriously Awesome Guide to Ghost Hunting
GENRE: MG

If you are reading this, I am dead. Well, probably. Either that or I lost it somewhere, but that isn't very likely since I always keep it in my backpack and I hardly ever lose my backpack. I did lose it once last week, on the bus, but that was because I was sure the bus driver was going to miss my stop out of spite. It isn't my fault that her skin has the same texture as the outside of a grapefruit. And I seriously doubt I'm the only person to ever let her know that. Really, besides that time, I haven't lost my backpack in at least a month. So, if you are reading this, I am probably dead. If I'm not dead, I want this back, so you could mail it to me or leave it at my house.

This is my ghost hunting handbook. It's a dangerous job - if you want to be a ghost hunter, you have to be prepared to stare fear right in the face. You also have to be prepared to explain your hobby to your mom, your teacher, and the other kids in your class. They will all probably be jealous of you. They wish they could be as brave as you. So, if they start ignoring you or asking you to focus during silent reading instead of trying to trap the spirit that lives in the hamster's cage, just go with it. You know how they truly feel.

February Secret Agent #6

TITLE: ONE LAST TIME
GENRE: YA

Three pairs of hands fumble at the cords and tubes connecting me to the machines around my bed. The first one they remove is the tube down my throat, the one helping me breathe. If this one goes badly, the whole plan gets scrapped. The hands pause while I take a shallow, ragged breath. It's not pretty, the first time my lungs work on their own in two weeks, but I'm okay.

"Hurry," I say, but my voice is so raspy the word is impossible to make out.

They understand what I'm trying to say, though. The hands go to work again, disconnecting more of the imprisoning machines. The equipment beeps and complains as it separates from me.

"Hurry," I say again and this time the word comes out stronger.

The last thing they remove is the heart rate monitor. As soon I'm free from it, an ear-pounding blare erupts, announcing it can no longer detect my heartbeat. Outside my room, a matching blast sounds
from the nurses' station. Any second now, they'll pour into my room and wreck my plans.

A pair of hands lifts me and tosses me over a shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

"Be gentle," Chelsea, my best friend, admonishes her boyfriend.

I shake my head. Gentle can wait. Right now, I need to escape. I'm tired of the hospital, tired of the doctors and their tests, and tired of being sick. So I'm leaving, even though I know what that means.

Today I'm going to die.