Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Fricassee

Have you every diagrammed a sentence? I can still remember my eighth grade English teacher filling the entire blackboard with complicated diagrams of compound-complex sentences.  I can still hear the sound of the chalk hitting the board, can still see the chalk dust flying.

Very cool, sentence diagramming.  In fact, if you can correctly diagram a complicated sentence, you've got a COMPLETE grasp on sentence structure.  It's an excellent skill (and one that I don't claim to have mastered).

Yes, there's an analogy in all this.

Each of us has our own "diagram", as it were, of the people who have influenced us along the way.  From the first person who said, "You write well!" to the first-prize win in the seventh grade writing contest, to the first request for a partial manuscript.  Everyone has a role, and our journey would look vastly different if even ONE name were removed.

I can't make a diagram here.  But I can list some highlights from my own journey:

1.  My third grade English teacher, who helped me compile a collection of poems and short stories to present to the school library at the end of the year.

2.  My sister, who listened to me read pages of my diary-of-a-nineteenth-century-girl-who-sounded-alarmingly-like-Laura-Ingalls, and whose pages I listened to as well. (Hundreds of handwritten pages!)

3.  DAVE, who read several chapters of my very first novel and taught me, patiently, that I had no idea what "point of view" meant.

4.  MY AGENT FROM HELL, whose nightmare of a role led to the kick-in-the-butt I needed to really LEARN the industry--and ultimately land an agent who was right for me.

5.  ELIZABETH, a then-assistant at an agency whom I randomly emailed for advice about extricating myself from the AGENT FROM HELL, simply because I liked the sound of her bio.  (And she gave me gracious, helpful advice.)

6.  JODI, whose first critique of my work was, as you already know, the catalyst of my moving from "consciously incompetent" to "consciously competent".

7.  LAUREN, who understood my story, requested revisions, and ultimately passed on offering representation.  She has been an integral, irreplaceable part of my journey.

8.  BETH, who showed me what was broken.

9.  JOSH.  Well, yeah.

If I sat down with a twelve-by-eighteen sheet of paper and some colored pencils, my diagram would be more complex than the simple list above.  So many voices of encouragement (and discouragement, too); so many pieces to fit together!  I should really sit down and do it some day.

Your turn!  Who has influenced your journey?  There are probably dozens of names.  But if you could choose the top three, who would they be?

Loving this journey! I know you are, too.

Well, most days. *grin*

Thursday, April 28, 2011

For Our New Gang Members

Well, "gang" might not be the right word.  But I thought I'd honor Mr. A's hard work and share the trailer for my e-book for the viewing pleasure of those who might never have seen it.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Authoress Interview on Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire

Take a wee break from the critting and pop over to author Mindy McGinnis's blog, WRITER, WRITER, PANTS ON FIRE, to read

THIS INTERVIEW.

You may just find out something about me YOU'VE NEVER KNOWN BEFORE.

Or not.

And be sure to say hello in Mindy's comment box!

First 50 Words #25

TITLE: Nanoplague
GENRE: Thriller

Dr. Catherine Thomas trudged towards her Roadster, shoulders drooping and feet dragging. Halfway there, she heard steps crunching across the sandy concrete. She lifted her head and spotted him: the young man in the suit from the charcoal Audi. He was striding

First 50 Words #24

TITLE: Synthesis
GENRE: Young Adult

Intuition is a funny thing. You can't explain it, you hardly notice it, yet there it is - tickling at the back of your brain like the world's softest feather. So subtle, you're not sure if it's really there or you're just imagining things. And if you ignore it?

First 50 Words #23

TITLE: Shot in the Dark
GENRE: YA contemporary

For some people, time rushes by, never allowing them a chance to breathe. For others, like me, it can creep forward, forcing you to see all your screw ups in slow motion. Giving you the chance to regret them, but never allowing you the time to grab them back before it's too late.

First 50 Words #22

TITLE: Hunted Humans
GENRE: MG SF/F

A marble sizzled with blue sparks under Wyatt Parker's desk. Then the color vanished. The strange object wasn't there before recess. He crawled beneath the gum-covered desk and hoped none one would notice him. When he touched the smooth glass, the marble buzzed and glowing clouds swirled inside.

First 50 Words #21

TITLE: Stoned
GENRE: Paranormal

Who knew that going for Chinese take out would nearly cost her her life? One minute Jameson was admiring the familiar aromas of The Paper Lantern's famous General Tso's chicken, the next a splintering pain in the back of her head stole her breath before it was lights out.

First 50 Words #20

TITLE: GEAS
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Brina's only warning was a light brush on her upper left wing. A second later, an elaborately folded magazine cover landed in her lap: a pterodactyl this time. Original. The complex folds obscured the picture, but Brina already knew that her face was lost somewhere inside.

First 50 Words #19

TITLE: House of Cards
GENRE: Creative Nonfiction (Memoir)

My wife, Holly, who has just entered the third trimester of her pregnancy with our daughter, Aurora, needs help climbing the steep stairs leading from the sidewalk to the courthouse in this small Massachusetts town where you live. Three men stand on the steps of the courthouse, smoking. One man

First 50 Words #18

TITLE: Infernal Combustion
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

"C*****, Karen, please. St--"

John gasped. His hand shot to his mouth, clasping it shut. He bit his tongue, puncturing the fibrous lump, feeling nothing. His eyes were wide, fearful. Empty, flat echoes licked his eardrums. The dark remained silent.

She waited until he released her knee before continuing.

First 50 Words #17

TITLE: Unwritten
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

She woke with a gasp, drawing a ragged breath as she wrenched her eyes open.

Her heart beat like a steel drum inside her chest, pounding so hard she could see the blue silk of her pajama top shake to its rhythm.

The room still echoed from her screams.

First 50 Words #16

TITLE: GHOST
GENRE: PARANORMAL MYSTERY

On the Suck-O-Meter Scale of 1 to 10, my life this month has rated a 9.2, and it's about to get worse.

I was okay about losing my boyfriend, because let's face it, as nice as he was, there was never any "zing" with Ben. Nice guy, no zing.

First 50 Words #15

TITLE: Stars in the Texas Sky
GENRE: YA

The car ran past the STOP sign like it wasn't there, a streak of red dust in the early Texas sun. Henry stepped back, dropping the sign in his hand, and nearly swore. "Danged people in such a hurry." One day someone was going to either kill or get killed.

First 50 Words #14

TITLE: Searching
GENRE: Historical Fantasy

Living every day as someone else made it possible for me to forget me, Crystal Miller, the girl who let her mother drown while she swam to the riverbank and saved herself. It was easier to pretend to be someone else when we lived in Pennsylvania.

First 50 Words #13

TITLE: Goodbye Tree
GENRE: YA contempory fiction

I was 15 when my dad walked out of our life and my mom walked in to the looney bin.

Talk about bad timing. I mean, it's hard enough to be the socially backwards, red-haired freak who's just trying to make it through the day without your parent's losing their minds.

First 50 Words #12

TITLE: The Skyrock Diversion
GENRE: Thriller

There was no restrained deliberation or halt for humanity; the Skyrock fires did not care which lives it extinguished today. Friday morning, December 23rd, all throughout the cities and towns of the Prairie State, the air was charged with excitement and anticipation for the assured gift of holiday snow.

First 50 Words #11

TITLE: Beautiful Disaster
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

I immediately recognize the white pillared house outside the passenger window. After all, I've been avoiding it my whole life.

The porch is crowded with costume clad teens smoking cigarettes, someone's throwing up in the bushes, and I can hear music and yelling from our parking spot across the street.

First 50 Words #10

TITLE: The Taste of Ginger
GENRE: Multicultural Fiction

My parents' small living room was filled with a gaggle of women, all speaking over each other in loud, animated voices. It was like watching a National Geographic special about social dominance, where pitch and decibel level would determine the leader. They wandered around the room, grazing on homemade samosas.

First 50 Words #9

TITLE: Control Freaks
GENRE: Contemporary Fantasy

"Your stance is wrong."

Patrick's tone was patient, but I knew him; the way not one, but two fingers tapped against his arm could only be described as 'bad'. Or 'get your form right or I will and you won't like it.'

I readjusted my stance and attacked him again.

First 50 Words #8

TITLE: In Her Blood
GENRE: YA fantasy

Liliana laid her hand across her newborn daughter's bare chest. "She's calientita, but not as warm as her father. Does that mean--she's human?â"

"No se, mi nina. Maybe yes. I would watch her temper to be safe."

********

Brisana knew her mother was dying.

First 50 Words #7

TITLE: Alien Academy
GENRE: YA SF

Sam began his first press conference with three handicaps. The tattoo on his face looked vicious on screen, a twenty foot poster of him hung in the lobby, and worst of all, he hadn't gotten to eat since hitting Earth and the jump sickness grew every minute.

First 50 Words #6

TITLE: Million Dollar Lunch
GENRE: MG Adventure

Chapter 1: Camp French Fry

Rome twisted his body, firmly grasping his section of a huge, juice-filled tarp, and scanned the flat, open field. Ten teams of campers including his own lugged tarps toward a yellow tickertape finish line nearly half a football field away. Only one team was ahead of his.

First 50 Words #5

TITLE: A Scorpion's Nature
GENRE: Upper MG

The counselor dancing under the rickety welcome sign was packed full of crazy.

Neon streamers from her glittery tiara rippled as she thrashed around to the concert in her head and belted a song Ryan didn't recognize. Bashing the drums turned into karate chops for some reason.

First 50 Words #4

TITLE: SKYBORNE
GENRE: Literary YA Sci-Fi

They came during a storm. Broke into Samson's when none of us heard their pounds through the roar of pelting water and the creaks of rotten wood. Snuck through the house like hounds chased by ghosts. Handcuffed Toqe at the back, so that his hunched spine would ache ever more.

First 50 Words #3

 TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: Paranormal romance

The smell hit me first. I started coughing and jerked awake as the acrid smoke burned my nostrils. I held my breath and shook Rafe. He came to, his dark eyes cloudy with confusion, and when he smelled it he wrapped his arm around my naked shoulders and dragged me from the bed.

First 50 Words #2

TITLE: Nark
GENRE: YA Mystery

Chad Hunter wasn't a stupid guy. Never was and hopefully never would be. So what the hell came over him and made him determined to install a camera forty feet above the ground? Why, when everyone was safe from the forces of gravity, was he putting his life in jeopardy for a shot?

First 50 Words #1

TITLE: GHOST IN THE MACHINE
GENRE: Steampunk meets Cyberpunk Fantasy

Minnow chose the table for its view. She watched everyone, trying to find him. The color was fading from the late autumn streets yet the working drones and mindless shoppers still rushed by. Dashing and blurring, their movements were broken down into a simple series of form, color, and data.

Monday, April 25, 2011

IMPORTANT CORRECTION RE: 50-WORDS

I posted the wrong email address!  (Ugh, Mondays!!)

Please RE-SEND your entry to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com RIGHT NOW.

So sorry!

(Two of you did it correctly despite my error, so no worries if you actually got a response from the bot.)

A Small First Fifty Crit Round

So it's going to be more manageable for me, I think, if I strive to have MORE crit rounds with FEWER entries per round.  So at noon Eastern, submissions will open for the first twenty entries of the opening 50 words of your manuscript.

To make this more fair:

PLEASE DO NOT ENTER IF YOU HAVE BEEN A PARTICIPANT IN ANY CRIT ROUND OR CONTEST SO FAR THIS YEAR.

Let's spread the love around.

Guidelines:

  • Submissions will open at noon EDT TODAY.
  • The first 20 entries will be accepted.
  • All genres except erotica.
  • Enter the FIRST 50 words of your manuscript, completed or in progress.
  • Format as usual:
SCREEN NAME: type it here
TITLE: type it here
GENRE: type it here

Type your 50 words here.

All entries to crits and contests ALWAYS go to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com.  Plain text is best. DON'T FORGET THE COLONS IN YOUR SCREEN NAME, etc., HEADERS.  

Also?  The use of MSN, Yahoo, and Hotmail is strongly discouraged.  I think they may have blacklisted us, as it seems no one gets responses when they enter from those accounts...which means, probably, that I've never received the entries.

Best bet?  Gmail.

Questions?  Below!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Fricassee

So I've got a very specific writing-craft question for you today.  (Good way for me to get out of having to write a detailed blog post, eh?)  Seriously, though, I want to hear from you.

Have you ever decided to add a character to an already-finished draft?  If so, how did you approach it?  What did it take for you to weave the new character's arc (even if it's not very significant) into the existing plot?

I'm adding a minor character to my WIP, and while I've already got a good general idea of her role, I don't want to create havoc with my story arc.  I don't expect this to be easy, but I don't want to give myself a fit over it, either.

So I'm appealing to your collection wisdom.  I'll be combing the comment box all day for your answers!

In other news, my birthday is on Sunday.  (Any Easter basket jokes and I just may throw something.)  Hubby is planning a Day for me, and I'm not sure what's on the agenda other than his homemade pizza, which DEFIES DESCRIPTION.  It's made-from-scratch pizza perfection.  Best birthday dinner ever!

But...what if I want to WRITE on my birthday?  Would it be terribly bratty to say so?  I mean, not ALL DAY or anything.  Just writing because it makes me happy.

Of course you're all going to say, "OH OF COURSE IT'S OKAY TO WRITE ON YOUR BIRTHDAY!"  Because you're all, yanno, writers.  You probably all write on your own birthdays.

I want to hear you tell me it's okay, anyway.  Then I won't feel guilty while I'm eating the perfect pizza.

*hugs*

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thank You...Again

This is a brief love note to you, my readers and fellow writerly types.  My blog family.

Last Friday, I asked for your input on the in-between times of your lives-as-writers.  And true to form, you came forth with amazing comments that went deep into my author-self.

YOUR WORDS WERE SO AFFIRMING!

I came away certain that I'm not outside the box, that this is a necessary part of the writing process, that it's possible, even, to ENJOY the in-between time instead of feeling interrupted or discombobulated by it.

What a thought!  I tend to be so driven that I lose sight of the fact that quiet times--in-between times--can actually be a good thing.

You've helped me to get my thinking straight on this one.  And that's just what I needed.

So thank you.  I was able to relax and make the transition.  I even read the next book on my nightstand! And now I've begun working on the next draft of my WIP.

You're amazing.  You were there right when I needed you.

Okay.  Mush fest over!  Thanks for indulging me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Agent In 25 Words Or Less: aka ANOTHER SUCCESS STORY

It's true!  Another agent-client pairing has happened as a direct result of MSFV; this time, with a 25-word crit and a lurking agent.

Read Joshua McCune's story:

Back in March 2010, Authoress ran a first 25 words contest... I'd already looped through a couple of openings for my manuscript, but finally settled on one I liked and submitted. Posted the first couple of paragraphs on my blog, then a couple hours later saw this email in my inbox from agent Ammi-Joan Paquette. From what I knew of her, she seemed awesome. Unfortunately, she didn't accept unsolicited submissions. She really liked my opening and wondered where I was in the manuscript. Um, that would be cloud 9 and about 60,000 words to go. Query me when ready. My lucky day :)

By October, I'd finally wrapped up the story and tentatively sent it to her. Joan responded a couple of days later with something along the lines of 'gripping stuff. Can we chat?' Up to cloud 10. When we spoke, she mentioned what she liked... and what she didn't. What she didn't happened to be in line w/ my worry zones, so I was more than happy to do a requested revision.

So, over the next few months, I went into the outer orbits of blogdom, rewrote the last half of the book in a far different direction... somewhat out of my comfort zone, but more streamlined (though darker, and it was already darkish to begin with). Joan let me know she was backed up, so it might be a while. Okay, I can handle waiting (not necessarily calmly, of course). Almost two months pass; I get an email Apr 1 along the lines of 'halfway through. Loving this. Will be in touch soon.' Okay...yeah. Joan, for anybody who knows her, is a sweetheart, and not someone prone to such jokes, yet it was Apr. 1...

But I was comforted. I'd made a few changes to first half of book, but it was still in similar form. It was the second half where I'd done most of the rework--and the worrying.

Three days later (me doing mental gymnastics in my head about time ramifications), she emails me: 'This is absolutely terrific. Can we talk?' Whoa! (Joey Lawrence style) A few days after, we talked (well, she did, I kind of blabbered), she offered, I accepted (my b-day was a week later...best present ever). And then she told me that her agency was having its annual retreat (how cool is that?) in a few days. Just happened to be in Austin, TX this year, which happens to be about an hour north of where I live in San Antonio... Could I come up and meet her?

Joan was a spark of enthusiasm from the get go who pushed me to be better. IRL, she was even more awesome.

Ultimately, it's nice when one of your friends, family members, etc. tells you, 'it's good,' but what do they know besides love and support? Having someone who started off a stranger showing such enthusiasm... someone who's a professional (both an author and an agent). It's like mainlining sunshine.

Yeah, it's the first step past the gate or up the stairwell, but I couldn't imagine having someone better than Joan to guide me.

Thanks, Authoress, for allowing me twenty-five words, for giving me the opportunity. Can't be said enough how awesome you are for what you do for the writing community.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Winners!

In Ms. Marini's own words:

This was SUCH a tough decision. There were so many entries I’d read more of, and I want to thank everyone for all the work they put into this:

1st place:  Hack (#40)
Prize: Please send full

2nd place:  The Blues (#7)
Prize: Please send first half

3rd place: it’s a tie - Burned (#33) & Toxic (#22)
Prize: Please send first 30 pages

All the winners will, at the very least, receive in depth feedback.

Runner Up: Here Lies the Bride (#15). If anyone cannot submit for whatever reason, this should take their place.

----

And my favorite quote of all?

It’s been a while since I’ve had so many queries in a row with such quality. -- Victoria Marini

Winners:  Please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for specific submission instructions.  Runner Up: I will email you if any of the winners are unable to submit.

Also:  Miss Marini says that, if you feel good about the feedback you've received (this pertains to all 50 entrants), feel free to query her according to the submission instructions on her agency's web site.

WELL DONE, EVERYONE!

Secret Agent Unveiled: VICTORIA MARINI



Hefty handclapping and sincere thanks to Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider for being our Secret Agent this month.

Victoria's bio:

I began my career in publishing as an agent’s assistant at Sterling Lord Literistic where I worked with Middle Grade and Young Adult authors. I joined Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents Inc. as an agent assistant in late 2008, and I’m currently an Associate Agent and Audio Rights Manager.

I began taking on clients in 2010 and I am actively building my list. I’m looking for any and all kinds of YA (especially thriller, noir, horror, and sci S fi/fantasy) some memoir, pop-culture non-fiction, and women’s commercial fiction (edgy contemporary or urban fantasy, with a romantic element).

I believe in the future of publishing. I believe that authors’ should have an online presence, a strong brand, and a positive attitude. I assist Gelfman Schneider clients in exploiting digital rights, transmedia opportunities, and branding initiatives. As such, I’m active online. Authors can find me on twitter, at the Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents Inc. website and on my blog, Rapid-Progressive, where I write about the life of a neo-agent on a (semi) regular basis.

Outside of the office, I am a love of music, baked goods, animals, travel shows, exercise, food and beer. I’m a positive thinker and a dogged optimist, by choice.

Victoria's Wish List:

In YA I tend to go for the darker/edgier stuff. I love fast-paced, high-tension contemporary YA and I’m always on the lookout for Contemporary YA with a great commercial hook. I’d love a tale spooky enough to have me digging out that old night light. I want a great southern gothic YA. I’d love high school noir, and I’m desperately seeking a gritty contemporary YA mystery. I want a tricky game of cat and mouse, a dystopian with an interesting hook, tension (of all varieties), a re-imagined fairy tale, and another world so real I could live there. I also enjoy a bit of magic every now and then.

Please note, that while I have my wish list, some of my favorite books (both published and unpublished) were ones that came by surprise. What you really need to remember is this: I just want to read something so compelling it has me from the first moment and never lets go.

ON THE FLIP SIDE, I am a lover of music, baked goods, animals, travel shows, exercise, food and beer. I’m a positive thinker and a dogged optimist, by choice.

----
Winners to be announced!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Fricassee

Oh, the GREEN outside my window! The Winter Ogre who's inhabited my body for the last few months has finally melted away.

(Yeah, it's that bad. I should really live in the Caribbean or something.)

So I'm officially "between."  In other words, I've finished my WIP, am waiting for my crits, and won't send it to Josh until I've fixed 'n polished it.  Since I'm on submission with a different novel, I'm not going to sink a lot of time into the rest of the WIP's story arc (it's a planned trilogy), but I do want to at least know where I'm going.

Because, yanno, just because you're on submission doesn't mean you stop writing until the book sells. Gotta. Keep. Going.

So I'm in the nebulous, thinking-about-storyline stage.  And it makes me feel scattered and unproductive.

I mean, I want WORDS.  I want to COUNT THEM.  I want to gloat at the end of the day.

Something like that.

So, let me ask you:  What does your fuzzy, between-books, story-planning stage look like?  Do you feel productive when you're NOT DOING MUCH MORE THAN SITTING AND STARING?  Or walking and staring?  Or showering and staring?  Or whatever you do while you're staring?

(Then again, maybe I shouldn't assume that everyone does the Inane Stare thing along with me.)

I love knowing I'm in good company through all the stages of Life As Writer.  So share your "betweens" with me.  I'm all ears.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happy Little Side Trips

I'm feeling much too loquacious to sit back silently while you critique. So here are a few fun clicks for those of you who thrive on distraction.  Or just like to read things.

1. My adorable agent is now blogging at Hey, There's a Dead Guy In The Living Room. For those of you who are inclined to stalk agents whenever possible (you know I encourage this, in a non-creepy context), have at it. Josh's first post is a wonderful slice-of-life piece that displays his ability to share his early morning hours equally with work and fatherhood.

2. My adorable friend, crit partner, and fabulous author Jodi Meadows blogged about me yesterday. Just because I asked her to. (Okay. I was totally kidding. But she was desperate for blog content.) Almost everything she says is true. And she will love you for forever (or at least for a while) if you leave a comment.

3. Installment 4 of The Basics is up on the teen blog: Too Many Modifiers. Gettin' my grammar geek on. (What a great excuse to run a teen blog, yes?)

Enjoy! And keep those great crits coming.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April Secret Agent #ALT-1

TITLE: ASYLUM
GENRE: YA HORROR

"The Devil's best trick is to convince you that he doesn't exist! Do you hear me brothers and sisters? Do you hear-"

Chloe snapped the radio off. If there was a devil, he wasn't gaining any ground in Birch Harbor. There was only one station that came in without fuzz. Call letters KPRY- the best brimstone and hellfire for your morning commute. If she stayed, her first purchase was going to be one of those satellite radios. But first, she had to get out of the car.

Movies always made college look exciting. Sitting in her car in front of Kirkbride Hall, she didn't feel excited. She felt...

Scared?

No.

Intimidated?

Maybe.

The dorm was a behemoth. It looked out of place in such a small town, and on such a small campus. It towered, or maybe it loomed.

"Loooooooom," Chloe growled, in her best scary movie voice. Loom rhymed with gloom, and that's probably what made it seem like a dark word.

The building itself wasn't so bad. Not really. A great deal of beauty lay in the details that fell out of fashion with poodle skirts-- arched windows, turrets, slate tiles and rain-worn gray stone that had sheltered students for more than a hundred years. There was also... a bell tower? Or maybe a look-out tower, for when the dormitory came under siege from random packs of marauding Vikings.

Fortifications aside, most of its threat came from the fact that she was outside and everyone else was inside. She was late.

April Secret Agent #50

TITLE: A HUMAN ELEMENT
GENRE: COMMERCIAL SUSPENSE-WOMEN'S

The girl screamed in delirium as she lay on the white bed twisting the stiff, starched sheets under her. A stain of sweat and blood spread below her raised and shaking legs. A musky smell hung in the air as the girl struggled. Outside the rain streamed down in a torrential rush beating in a tinny rhythm on the windows of the back room of the one-floor medical office.

Doctor Britton's right hand slid inside the girl up to his wrist as he pushed down on her bloated stomach. She screamed again as he touched her monstrous belly. Then her lungs and strength gave up and she trailed off into ragged whimpers.

“The head is turned. Get me the forceps,” he yelled to the nurse with cropped, gray hair. Nurse Reed identified the instrument from the table near her and placed it in Doctor Britton's outstretched hand. In her 40 years as a nurse she had never seen a pregnant woman scream so much during the birth process. Something had to be wrong, terribly wrong. She wished another nurse came here for this birth besides herself, the doctor and the unseen man outside who waited to finish this night for them and take this baby. She glanced at the back door where he waited. She wondered what kind of man would wait in the rain for such a job.

But she didn't care to know about this nameless man who waited.

April Secret Agent #49 (redacted)

Redacted.

April Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Peace Warriors
GENRE: Commercial Women's Fiction, Paranormal

A blast of frigid cold swept over her leaving shivers of apprehension traveling through her body. Dove had a strange feeling, as though someone watched them as they walked down the steep stairs that led to the castle. She stopped to look around. She didn't see anyone, so she continued down the stairs, looking for the gentleman who would show them the castle and the many hiking trails that snaked through the forest.

"What's his name again? I always forget. I have a mental block against him," Dove said. Dove never had difficulty remembering names, but for some reason, her brain wanted to forget him.

"Albert Klein. You need to remember. We'll be spending a lot of time with him the next few days," Ali said, trying to figure out why Dove was out of sorts.

"Excuse me Fräulein. I don't want to appear forward, but would you be Ms. Dove Gray?"

Dove turned around and stared up at the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. Surfer blond hair fell into fabulous blue eyes that pierced right through her. Adonis didn't look this good.

"Yes, I am," Dove said licking her lips. She hated meeting new people; growing up sheltered had made her shy, especially with tall, gorgeous men. A searing heat replaced the gentle breeze, taking her breath away. He made her knees weak and her pulse quicken. No one had ever made her feel like this before. She couldn't decide if the feeling was good or bad.

April Secret Agent #47

TITLE: LIGHTNING STRIKES
GENRE: YA Fantasy

With difficulty I'd remember the last day of my former life; no hint or clue warned me it was about to change. One small thing set off a chain reaction causing my ordinary life to wobble. A bolt of lightning streaked towards me, forcing me forward, in a brilliance of pain.

***

Middle of the room, sitting up pin straight, in a wooden desk I attempted to pay attention to the mathematics lesson, a daunting task.

"Kyra, would you accompany me to the corridor?" said Miss Sharrow.

I jumped at the sound of my name. "Why was I being asked to the corridor?" I'd done nothing to deserve a reprimand. With dread, I stood, smoothing my plain high-necked blue long-sleeved dress. My worn shoes echoed across the stone floors, drawing eyes that bored into my back. Self-conscious, I tried to walk quieter. Without glancing back, I followed her in silence.

"I need you to deliver a message to Professor Wicksome's office," said Miss Sharrow.

My eyes widen at the request. "But isn't that in the forbidden sections, Miss?"

"Yes, it is, but it can't be helped," she said, staring down at me sternly. I scarcely reached Miss Sharrow's shoulder, even though I was almost seventeen. Everyone always told me I'd hit a growth spurt, but at barely five feet, I never did.

Miss Sharrow thrust a parchment map and a heavy letter with the ornate letters "N" and "H" stamped in a red wax seal. "I'll be waiting, expecting your return."

April Secret Agent #46

TITLE: The Breaking Darkness
GENRE: Fantasty

After an absentminded man of learning and a naive follower shattered civilization, all the lands the world over fell into chaos and darkness. In his grief and his hope, Professor Jameson gathered the knowledge and history of the world at the fortress that would become the Na'Sety. It was his dream that the sun would again shine on mankind on day. -From the recitation of the Legend

The unkempt, skeletal old man known as The Prophet threw open the doors of the Akothan royal council chamber with a bang. His stained, ash-colored linen robes flowed ominously in the air as he briskly strode over the handwoven ivory carpets that ran down the center of the throne room. The Prophets' steely gaze did not waver from the man seated on the throne; he knew the other councilors and attendants in the room were inconsequential.

The Prophet wore a braided golden circlet with a spherical blood-red stone on his brow marking him as the leader of the Soldiers of Purity. The ominously colored stone was obviously a recent addition judging from the crude welds around its mounting. The Soldiers of Purity were a fanatical sect dedicated to the bringing of all people to the Light, no matter the means. 'Better the cleansing purity of the grave than to suffer the evil of life' was their maxim. He was followed closely by the Captain of the Akothan Guard and two score troops who immediately fanned out around the perimeter of the room.

April Secret Agent #45

TITLE: High-Heels And Slippers
GENRE: Commercial Women's Fiction

To the team at Forster's Medical Center:

Thank you so much for everything you did for me after my hammock fall while holidaying in Mexico. As you could probably tell from my hysterical sobbing, I was convinced I had broken my neck and permanently damaged my spine. (I do hope the poor man whose saline drip I knocked over, has recovered.)

Your calm and professional reassurance helped me to relax, along with that shot of whatever you gave me - I think it could have been Valium. Well, whatever it was, it certainly did the trick, because after that I was much happier!

The MRI scan, so quickly administered, was extremely useful at eradicating my fears of permanent damage. It also helpfully revealed that I did not, in fact, have a terminal brain tumor lurking somewhere, which has always been a fear of mine ever since I was twelve and Mrs. Fibbets, my geography teacher at school, unexpectedly collapsed and died of an aneurism in the middle of Marks & Spencer's.

As a Brit living in America, I must admit to finding the health insurance system a little complicated, not to mention a bit expensive. However, even though my insurance company did not agree to cover all the costs, I think that the $746.98 you are demanding is well worth it -although I am disputing the charge for the use and laundering of four hospital gowns, as I only remember wearing one.

Thanks again - so much.

Sincerely,

Josie Jenkins

April Secret Agent #44

TITLE: Gaia's Secret
GENRE: YA Fantasy

I never knew my mom. The day I came into the world, she went out of it. At least, that's what Dad always said. Asking him about it never did any good. Even after all these years his forehead would do that crinkly thing, his lips would fold into themselves and his eyes would glaze over. And then he wouldn't say another word to me. For about a day.

Dad was private about, well, a lot of things. I assumed that was why he moved us to the middle of nowhere, otherwise known as Fresno, California. Living in the middle of nowhere meant having more conversations with cows than people. And staining your skin forever with the stench of manure and hay. And not needing an alarm clock because your neighbors had roosters so loud you could swear they woke up all of China. But I learned to deal with it because I thought it would end. Right now, actually. I thought I'd get my freedom right when I finished high school. But Dad wasn't going to let that happen. In fact, he turned more secretive than ever.

Cadence jerked beneath me, yanking my mind back to the fields. Cadence wasn't my horse. She belonged to the neighbors with the obnoxious rooster, but I'd forgiven them for the rooster because they let me ride Cadence whenever I wanted. She was my one source of adventure in life.

April Secret Agent #43

TITLE: Driving in Taipei
GENRE: Commercial Women's Fiction

The 747 banked a turn to aim for Chang Kai Shek International Airport as my own turn initiated to hope the right decision had been made. The smoggy, blue-lit dawn backlit my view to a city that defined urban sprawl. Through the small double paned window, development stretched as far as the eye could see, revealing the second most densely populated city in the world. Taipei. Hopefully it would be kind to me.

Fourteen hours from Los Angeles had me all but fused to the seat and when the sign finally darkened, I stood to reacquaint my backside with the novelty of circulation, feeling my injuries stiffen. I'd been on board so long I'd eaten three meals, watched two movies and nodded in and out for three hours of what couldn't be called napping. I'd walked the aisles at least seven times in an effort to avoid death from a freakish blood clot in my legs and the potential irony amused me - to have endured this horrendous year, only to die with my hide-out in sight. At this point I still hoped to avoid what I would only later realize didn't need a visa to visit a foreign country or a two thousand dollar plane ticket to follow me to the other side of the world. Panic and surrender.

My physicality was unique in this group, unusually tall, light blond, even my designer clothes couldn't blend in with people who had nothing to lose by appearing ordinary.

April Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Froth
GENRE: YA paranormal mystery

​As I stepped outside the Red Wing depot, a gust of wind chose that moment to blow my skirt up. Good thing my coat was there to hold it down so no one saw my underwear. But man was my butt cold. Not to mention my thighs. At least I looked cute.

​"Are you sure you're warm enough?" my mom asked as she followed me to the train.

​"Yes, Mom." I pulled my suitcase behind me, my ticket in hand.

​"Do you have mittens? A hat? Do you have enough to eat? What about money?"

I didn't have time to answer as I looked up and saw the ticket guy smiling at me. See, he thought I was cute. Or incredibly cold. Which I was. Well, my legs were burning. That was a good thing, right? At least they felt warm, which was more than I could say for my fingers as I handed the guy my ticket.

​My mom pulled me into one last hug as she stuffed some goodies into my coat pockets. Probably chocolate. Hopefully some money too. Then she gave me a quick kiss on the cheek--right in front of everyone--and said goodbye.

​I struggled to get my suitcase up the train steps when the woman in front of me turned and lifted the whole thing up with one hand. I didn't even think my dad was that strong. Our eyes met and I felt a chill that had nothing to do with the weather.

April Secret Agent #41

TITLE: BLOOD BOND
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

"There's no flipping way I'm going in there!" Cassie planted her feet and locked her arms against the doorframe. "Do you hear what I'm saying, Zoey?"

She stiffened as her friend pushed her from behind.

"Why do you have to make this so difficult?" An exasperated Zoey gave her another shove, this time crouching and digging a shoulder into her back.

Gritting her teeth, Cassie bent her knees and sunk her weight further into the floor. She might not have the height or weight advantage, but she knew how to make her petite size count. With a smile she said, "I think all that blond on top your head has finally sunk into your brain." Her hand released the door for a split second to sweep around the room. "Don't you see this place? This is NOT the answer."

Zoey jumped on the opportunity, grabbing Cassie's free hand and dragging her into the cramped room. Crystal skulls, long tapered candles, and navy colored drapes with sequence and stars filled the space. Sickly sweet incense wafted through the air. Two desperate looking elderly women dressed in black waited their turn on a red velvet couch. The sight had Cassie spinning one hundred and eighty degrees, pulling free of Zoey's grip and bee lining to the exit. She'd made it to the hallway, before Zoey tackled her in a bear hug and pleaded with her to stay.

April Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Hack
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Hacking is part art, part science. Take the Trojan horse I wrote to take over Mason High's computers. At precisely 9:32 on a boring Thursday morning, the school mascot, Gander Gus, waddled across every computer screen in the school singing "Let's Get This Party Started." The whole network had to be shut down until the techies from district removed my code from the server. It was an act of kindness, really, a public service. Snoozing students woke up and smiled. Everyone talked about it for weeks. Which was how long it took them to trace the code to me. The principal was not amused. That's why I'm here. Banned from computer classes for life. On the bus to Central Alternative Learning Center, the high school for freaks, head cases, and now, computer dorks.

It's November, and typical Houston, the humidity is off the charts. By the time I get to school, my hair has frizzed to epic proportions. Hi, I'm Beth. No, I didn't stick my finger in a light socket.

The bus pulls up to a dumpy brick building that could fit inside the freshman wing of Mason High. I shift my backpack on my shoulders and follow a handful of students drifting toward the entrance. The guy in front of me, a massive dude in a black hoodie, stops suddenly and I slam into him. He reeks of cigarettes, and I feel the remnants of his smoky dregs drift over me and settle in my clothes and hair.

April Secret Agent #39

TITLE: JANE EYRE, BEWARE
GENRE: YA CONTEMPORARY

Senior Class Motto: Knowledge is the locker, but I forgot the combination

If I hadn't opened my big mouth the first week of senior year and asked what I could do to get a better grade, I wouldn't be trapped behind closed doors with Mr. Tandish, my psychology teacher.

I hope he can't read my mind and discover I think he's sexy. I start to worry that he may not like five-foot-four girls with brown hair and hazel eyes. Not that I can change the color of my eyes…unless I get brown or blue contact lenses. And I could dye my hair blonde or red, but I'm not sure which he prefers…

Mr. Tandish adjusts his red power tie and leans back against his chair to give me a closer look at his long eyelashes and dimples. Just when I'm picturing the two of us together in the back of his white convertible with my hair half-blonde and half-red, he says, "You're very bright, Jane, but you may have psychological issues that could be hampering your grades."

His woodsy aftershave, which a minute ago smelled sexy, now makes me dizzy. I squirm in my chair and wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. "Me? Psychological issues? It's not schizophrenia, is it? Still, if I start hearing voices, I'll have somebody to talk to because my only friend moved all the way across the country from Wisconsin."

April Secret Agent #38

TITLE: The Cacao Conspiracy
GENRE: Suspense

Peta Blackman lugged a blue icebox across the jungle clearing. She placed it on the ground before a small boy and removed the lid.

The boy leant forward and peered inside. His eyes widened. Nestled on top of an array of drinks and ice was a single bar of chocolate. Peta grinned. At eight years old, little Wilfried was about to get his first taste of the sweet treat.

"Surely this kid has had chocolate before," an English voice said next to Peta. She looked up and saw Nathan, an actor and documentary narrator. "I mean, he lives on a cacao farm. This is where it comes from!"

"The beans may be grown here, but they're processed in developed countries," Peta said. "By the time they're turned into chocolate, they're too expensive for the growers to buy."

"Oh spare me the bleeding heart story," Nathan said, rolling his eyes.

Peta turned away and surveyed the clearing. Wilfried's father hovered nearby while a gaggle of older brothers lolled against trees. The documentary crew was bent over equipment, readying for the first take. Cacao trees surrounded them, with colourful pods ripe on the trunks. Banana and mango trees grew in a riotous tangle - apparently cacao trees flourished among other crops. As a location scout, it offended Peta's sense of what a plantation should look like, but she had been ordered to find a typical cacao farm in Ivory Coast and she had delivered.

A movement caught Peta's eye. Gunshots rang out.

April Secret Agent #37

TITLE: Trust Me
GENRE: Women's fiction

Even though my brain registers recognition of his voice, I'm startled all the same. The ring of keys I'm twirling flies off my index finger, clattering in a jumble of metal on concrete at his feet, and he bends to retrieve them. When he straightens and lifts his gaze to mine, I get my third surprise of the morning.

It's Gabe Armstrong, and he's wearing a red handyman apron.

"Do you need some help?" he asks.

I recognize him, of course, from all the clips and news reports I've devoured this past week, but especially from his highly televised appearance at his brother's funeral. It's been almost a year, but the image of a drunken Gabe, clutching a bottle of Budweiser and glowering as uniformed Honor Guards fired a series of shots over his brother's grave, has been seared into the collective American memory courtesy of a media who cannot get enough of his family's story, and a public all too eager to consume it.

But I wasn't expecting to run into him here, in the pest-control aisle at Handyman Market. Not before I've figured out my story's angle, and certainly not looking like I do, hot and sweaty and smelling like the Potomac.

As I pluck my keys from his outstretched palm, Gabe repeats his question, this time a little louder. Like he thinks I might be deaf.

April Secret Agent #36

TITLE: Day 10K
GENRE: Science Fiction

The huge emergency generator belched out a cloud of black smoke -- the last test-run, in case the banks did collapse tomorrow. Offended, Shushan jumped onto the metal ladder of the eight-foot tall mass of cinder blocks that housed the smelly thing.

Not fair. She could feel her world turning -- turning into something new with endless horizons and scintillating challenges that beckoned her onward. She was ready to climb out of everything known and comfortable, just as her own body had practically burst out of her old clothing in the past year and demanded things like a larger denim jacket and rougher roads to ride on. The future shone in every patch of blue sky the oily smoke was staining, and if climbing each rung of the ladder felt like she was making the world turn faster, she was ready to grasp every rung again and pull harder.

Her backpack couldn't stop her from reaching the top -- it was made of lightweight webbing from synthetic Earth materials, not their own old-fashioned cloth types. Shushan slung it down as she grasped the rounded top of the ladder and watched for any angry gestures from the bank across the parking lot where she worked as an assistant. No one said that climbing this generator housing was against the rules, and this was going to be her last act of defiance before she left.

She strode across the tar paper roof and kicked the steel pipe that served as a smokestack.

April Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Winning the War at Home
GENRE: Commercial Women's

Angie Porter hadn't had a good night's sleep since Iraq invaded Kuwait twelve days earlier. She lay awake each night with the fear that her business partner would be sent to the Gulf, counting her way through a rosary of worries. Ten "how will I run the bookstore without Peter?" followed by twenty "what if something happens to him?" When she finally drifted off in the deep night, she dreamed that Peter came into the store to tell her he had been called to active duty. Other nights, she searched for him on a nightmare battlefield of torn limbs, exposed guts, rotting flesh. Both dreams were equally terrifying.

Lack of sleep had caught up with her this morning. She sat behind the cash register of Night Owl's and stared with bleary eyes at the back of the sign lettered on the front window: "Books, coffee, conversation, 24 hours a day." Normally she loved the morning shift. She enjoyed the early birds, insomniacs, students and occasional maniacs who wandered into the store at seven. This morning she just wanted everyone to leave her alone.

Angie forced herself to concentrate. Get a grip, Porter. The current events table won't change itself.

April Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Knightspelle
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Deor emerged from the Underground station and followed the path past the Tower down to the Thames Riverwalk into the breeze. The air, pungent with diesel fuel and rotten fish, tickled her nose. She sneezed hard. Silver sparkles erupted in a cloud around her head, and she waved them away, braced herself for someone to say something, to notice. But beyond a murmured "bless you" from a passing tourist, no one showed any reaction. The sparks, the only sign she'd ever had that her father had been a faerie, went unnoticed here in London as they always had back in Bakersfield.

Tower Bridge loomed, blue and steely, across the river. According to the directions from her Department chair, the ferryman's slip should be in the bridge's western shadow.

She scanned the thin crowd of passersby hoping someone might give some signal that they too had Fae blood, but they all seemed hopelessly mundane. Tourists in ugly shirts snapped pictures of the bridge. A couple of plaid-wearing punks necked on one of the wrought iron benches that lined the river promenade. Business men with cell phones clamped to their ears trudged past her toward the tube station from which she'd come.

The sight jogged Deor's memory, and she took out her own cell phone. She'd already called three times since her plane landed at Heathrow.

"Come on, Mom," she said as the phone rang a few times and went to voice mail again. "You can't be that angry at me."

April Secret Agent #33

TITLE: BURNED
GENRE: YA Apocalyptic Sci-Fi

Whoever said breathing was effortless must have had oxygen, because I found it crazy hard. My breath came in short gasps, my lungs straining. I staggered to the front room in search of my helmet, using what little air I had left to curse a blue streak. Most people didn't have to deal with this crap.

Most people were dead.

A steady hum surrounded me, the generators providing my only break from the silence. Solar-powered lights flooded the room, making it easy to see the oxygen saturation meter flashing red at me. The level had dropped another five percent. Damn. Though the oxygen level in the shelter had been erratic for the last twenty-four hours, it hadn't dipped below ninety percent before today.

My father had placed all the important meters here, which was convenient in a twisted way--I could get all my bad news at once. I peered over at the water machine, noting the low water level, and more flashing red lights. God, I hated those lights. Lavender lights would have softened the blow a bit, but maybe that was just the girl in me talking.

I studied the air line inside the shelter. It was intact, meaning the problem lay above ground. Perfect. My choice involved braving Earth's scorching surface or breathing. Breathing won. I twisted my dark hair into a knot and tucked it inside the helmet. It wasn't like I could do much repair work if my hair burst into flames.

April Secret Agent #32

TITLE: The White Phoenix
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Silas Wolfe was used to women staring at him. He did, after all, have a reputation as the town skirt-chaser.

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

He stared back. He never stared back, but how could he possibly help himself?

Her eyes white and gleaming, she stood frozen mere feet away from him, whereas the market was very much alive around them. He heard the shouts of gold-toothed merchants as they beckoned customers to their stalls, the laughter of the children winding down the crowded avenues, and the festive music that tied it all together. The air was warm with the scent of freshly-baked bread, an aroma rivaled only by that of the tavern nearby. Patterned cloths and the finest of furs dangled from the awnings, while more practical wares like fruits and herbs lined the streets in woven baskets.

Silas ducked his head and swiftly moved to the next stall, embarrassed to have been openly gawking at her like that. Still, he couldn't shake the feeling of her colorless eyes upon him.

He snuck a peek at her again

She was still staring.

His skin chilled all too suddenly. She couldn't be blind. The sun had caught her eyes at an odd angle. That was all.

The countless scars across her eyelids told him it was just wishful thinking on his part.

April Secret Agent #31

TITLE: DEEP WITHIN
GENRE: YA Paranormal

I'm not supposed to be here. The smell of fresh cut trees lures me like a sap beetle to pitch. If I'm caught, I'll be scolded and sent home. Unless I'm caught after I steal, then I'll lose my hand.

I listen. No crackling underbrush. No breaking branches. No voices. I dart from behind a boulder and reach a large cluster of bushes several feet away. I peer through the leaves and branches. No one is in sight. Clutching my herb basket to my chest, I head toward a large redwood. Something grabs my hair. I stifle a scream and reach behind me, feeling, praying I don't touch skin. It's only a branch.

I untangle myself. A few strands of my long auburn hair are left behind. I slip the hood of my red cloak over my head and wish I'd done it sooner. Peering around the redwood, I see chopped logs and branches littering the forest floor. Wagon tracks scar the earth. I might not have long before the gatherers return. A small cut of wood seems to call to me from a pile of discarded twigs and branches. My practiced whittler's eye sees the figure of a rabbit lurking within, begging to be released.

I lift my skirt and step into the open. Autumn leaves crunch underfoot. I stop. A quick glance proves I'm alone. I tiptoe to the pile and kneel. My heart flutters behind my ribcage; anticipation and fear. I snatch the wood and dodge back behind the tree.

April Secret Agent #30

TITLE: ECHO CITY
GENRE: YA Sci Fi

Luka Maxwell had every intention of leaving home the day he turned seventeen, but he thought it would be in the back of a police shuttle, not a luxury transport. United America had other ideas, however.

He flicked at his IO, engaging the silvery imprint on the side of his temple. After selecting the last of his mother's personal journal files, he hit upload and flipped the load transfer to run in the background while he grabbed the black recyclon duffle bag from his closet. It still carried the stench of his last visit to the gym, a dank combination of month-old sweat and mentholated rub.

"Luka!"

After glancing at the door to make sure he'd remembered the lock, he shook out the duffle, trying to waft the stench into the room so he wouldn't smell like the inside of his socks for the next week. It didn't help much.

"Luka! Did you hear me, boy?"

He checked the upload: four minutes, twenty-three seconds. Maybe a little too long, but he couldn't rush. It was all he had left of her.

He wrangled an armful of underwear and t-shirts inside the bag, pushing at the corners as though he might be able to find an extra foot or two of space. The jeans he had on and one other pair would have to be enough until he got where he was going. If he had to run, he didn't want anything weighing him down.

April Secret Agent #29

TITLE: WRAITH
GENRE: YA Paranormal

Yank.

I felt the sharp tug on my ponytail. Evan. What constituted as fun for him was really just obnoxious. I expected nothing less from my best friend who was fifteen and stunted.

YANK.

I winced this time. He wanted me to react. I wouldn't, though. He knew I couldn't risk turning to stare at his empty seat. I was at his mercy. To everyone else, the desk behind me was unoccupied. None of my classmates wanted to sit next to Jane Watts and risk social suicide.

Cool air stirred behind my neck and I braced myself. For a brief second, I longed for the days when Evan's touch didn't affect me. Usually, I liked it. It made things more real.

YA-- I shifted forward, slouching over my desk. "Ha!" I said, too loud and inappropriate for AP English. Half the class, including Ms. Bates, looked my direction and I clamped a hand over my mouth before coughing. "Excuse me," I said to the girl closest to me. She sneered in reply.

Thanks Evan, you're the best, I thought, wishing he could read my mind.

"I'm sorry," he said in my ear, as though he actually could hear my thoughts. "I'll behave. Did you see the new guy?"

I shifted and for the first time I saw the kid everyone was talking about. From my seat, I could see his profile. He had an angular face and brownish skin--possibly a leftover tan from the summer.

April Secret Agent #28

TITLE: Drego's Sword
GENRE: fantasy

Drego felt his legs being swept out from underneath him and he fell hard to the sand, the grains collecting in his clothes and blond hair. He saw a flash of cloudless blue sky before the sun blinded him and he closed his eyes. He heard his uncle's laughter and the crash of the ocean waves, the salty smell mixed with the earthy scent of the nearby forest.

Drego let out a defeated moan, staying on his back. The sunlight warmed him, but the sand he'd accumulated in his clothes scratched his tan skin. He felt irritation flare through his veins. How many times would he fall victim to the same attack?

"Oh, get up," he heard his uncle's raspy voice say.

Drego opened his brown eyes, squinting. He stood, scooping up a wooden training sword from where he'd dropped it. "Tell me how to dodge that."

The old man was darker skinned and small boned, with many wiry muscles. He had gray hair and a stubble along his narrow jaw. His black eyes were alight with amusement. "Why? Because that's how I've taken you down all morning?" He smiled widely. "No. Figure it out yourself."

The beach they were on curved eloquently alongside the ocean, gentle waves lapping at the sand. The beach sloped up into a forest, the trees tall and thick with leaves that fluttered in a warm breeze. Further down the beach a young couple was walking in the waves and a family was sitting just outside the forest.

April Secret Agent #27

TITLE: KARMA
GENRE: Horror

The fire erupts quickly due to the abundance of varnished wood and combustible dry goods that comprise the bulk of the wagon's furnishings. Those inside are surrounded by smoke and flames and can do nothing to stop its pervasive attack. All avenues of escape are blocked and it takes only a moment or two for the blaze to make efficient use of everything in its path. The oil-based pigment used to paint the garish wood facade makes for an ideal accelerant and within minutes the first wagon is completely engulfed; the searing heat prohibits any attempts at rescue of those unfortunate souls now burning alive. Mercifully the screams die away shortly after they begin. If only the rains had come before the fire, souls might have been saved.

Just hours before, the area teamed with carnival life; now the sodden field lay deserted with the exception of the defunct midway debris swirling within the currents of the storm. Pitch cards tumble haphazardly across the empty grounds, some continue on into the night while others become mired in the oily surfaces of the watery parade of footprints crowding the muddy thoroughfares. The bold images of carnival freaks depicted on these strange souvenirs are prudently scoured away by the discerning torrent; ghostly traces of their bizarre existence are all that will ever remain.

Occasional light from the crescent moon shimmers through the turbid atmosphere; its soft glow flickering across the residual human imprints creates the illusion of movement as the waterlogged clouds pull apart then reform.

April Secret Agent #26

TITLE: Tomorrow's Shadow
GENRE: YA/Light-weight SF

Cold dread coiled in the pit of my stomach as I answered the summons to exam room three. What Dr. Rivers often referred to as last minute lessons, I categorized in the vicinity of torture. Clinical exhaustion, however, didn't stop the rest of my classmates from rushing down the hall, hurrying to be first, or to get it all over with--so eager in their ignorance. The gasps of exclamation made my skin prickle prematurely.

I measured my pace, dragging out the inevitable one small step at a time. Because I didn't want to see behind the curtain. Not again.

A hand at my back propelled me the last few feet, through the door and into the room. And there she was, laid out like death's forgotten plaything, bruised and battered and left for us--a bunch of wannabe doctors--to poke and prod and try to make sense of what, ultimately, had become the greatest mystery of the century.

In the back of my mind I knew of the festering odor, heard the shuffling feet, the gagging; someone ran for the trash can. I felt sick, deep in my heart. But I kept looking, staring. We would take her blood, put it under glass, run a thousand tests, but it wouldn't matter. I couldn't save her.

If I could, I would forget the scene, just wipe it from my mind and pretend it never happened. But her face was already carved into my dreams: the first living case of Shadow sickness I'd ever seen.

April Secret Agent #25

TITLE: The Fairy Godmother Files
GENRE: YA Fantasy

“Oh. My. God. Maggie. There he is,” Taylor squealed, jerking on my arm.

The prince rode up on his white steed like he'd fallen out of the pages of a fairytale. Golden hair, tanned skin, and a smile that made me want to recite Shakespeare. Sigh.

Okay, so it was Connor Prince, not “real” royalty, and so what if his horse was a white Ford Mustang? I had two words for him. So. Hot.

“I swear, I'm going to talk to him this year,” I said, shielding my eyes from the sun.

Taylor handed me her cappuccino, while she adjusted her out of control curls. “Yeah, right. You say that every year. And every year you walk up to him, open your mouth to say something, blush, and then turn right back the way you came.”

I deflated like a balloon. God, she was right. It was hopeless. I would be the only junior without a prom date come spring, not to mention the only girl in the entire school who hadn't been kissed. I groaned.
No. I'm not going to do this again. Junior year would be my year. I'd be more assertive, aggressive, a go-getter. Connor Prince and I were going to exchange words this year--hell, we'd exchange more than words. He'd be my first kiss.

The sound of splashing water interrupted my Connor-laced fantasies, and I glanced at the nearby fountain.

April Secret Agent #24

TITLE: Winter
GENRE: YA Fantasy

When I determined I had nothing else to live for, I felt a great weight fall off my shoulders. I no longer had to worry about the hotel, my father's family or even myself. I imagined after the choking pain of drowning was over, I would find peace, fading into nothingness. All my cares, my very existence, would melt away as surely as the slush piled under the bridge's inner railing.

The wind pulled at my skirt, scarf and hair. Still I clung to the wooden banister, unable to do all I had intended. I used to think those that chose this fate for themselves were cowards. Was I the worst coward of them all then, too fearful to jump?

Weighed images from my past, I watched ice chunks float downstream. My skate blades hung off my right shoulder. Lack of interest and the melting ice had prevented me from using them in over a month. I brought them as a reminder of happier times, but such memories were brief and soon overwhelmed by my current emptiness. I held the blades out by their straps and watched them dangle and fall. One small splash and they disappear beneath the current for good. I thought of joining them.

April Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Blood Butterfly
GENRE: YA Fantasy SFF

"Follow me," I say, harsh waves of music vibrating through my feet as the coloured lights shimmer across her face. The words are unconvincing, but the magic is not- as her eyes, green as sea glass, go blank, I take her wrist. On Earth, my towing her towards the door will surely appear to be some type of dance.

My hand stings, skin bubbling where it brushes her metal bracelet.

"Damn," I hiss under my breath, grabbing her elbow. My palms, already lacerated with burns, sting even more from the proximity of iron. She stares up at me, dazed, but silent. I take a deep breath, trying to clear away the distractions of lights and music and humanity, and keep walking.

No distractions, no Seelie- it's all going according to plan.

Of course, she then stops, suddenly clear eyes widening, and begins to babble. "Oh my God. You're another faerie, but you look... almost normal." She shakes her arm free and stares into my eyes. "Your face is all blurry. What's the point? Why are you here, anyway?"

I would have expected the look of an animal caught in a trap, but instead she is curious. Certain. Definitely not intimidated.

Why do I always get the problem ones?

I ignore the questions, turning her towards me as I smile, stare into her eyes, and lace my words with enough enchantment to stop an army. "You have no idea what you're talking about. Just take off your jewellery and follow me."

April Secret Agent #22

TITLE: Toxic
GENRE: YA Sci-fi Thriller

There's a boy in the cell next to mine.

It is dark, but I know this because after each cough, he pardons himself. I want to speak to him. I want to ask him where we are and why are we here. But my lips are like a dam, the river of words catching on the cracked, tender flesh.

I pace the length of my cell again. My prison is small--about three bodies in length, two in width--but I'm tall, and I'm certain it was built for a smaller person. There's a cot in one corner, with a flattened mattress, no sheets. It smells more of stale urine than the relief facility, a steel bowl directly across the room.

A light in the hallway comes to life, flickers uncertainly a few times, then decides to remain on. I rush to my door and squish my face to the glass. There are two slots in the glass, just big enough for me to stuff my fingers through. I don't realize that a layer of finely ground shards is fashioned to the inside until blood flows from my fingertips and knuckles, trickling down the other side of the glass. I jerk my hands to my chest. Hurt myself even more. The fresh, warm blood intermingles with the dried on my wrists and forearms.

The cell next door creaks open, a momentary distraction from my stinging hands. Someone is speaking to the boy. Every few seconds, he answers with an "uh huh" or a snort.

April Secret Agent #21

TITLE: By the Book
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Susan Finkel attributed her sex education to Lady Chatterley's Lover, not that she'd read beyond page twenty-seven. Two copies purchased in 1964, two copies snatched by her mother and ripped to shreds. Allowance money saved for the forbidden. Assets more successfully squandered on McDonald's French
fries frizzled in lard and devoured away from Leah's watchful eye. And so it was, at age thirteen, Holly had no choice but to turn to the Talmud to learn the ins and outs of intercourse, and how to handle such marital calamities as halitosis and overwhelmingly large breasts. Not that either of these maladies could be ascribed to her.

She read voraciously, constantly studying the legitimacy of sexual pleasure, perusing this material again and again over the years, working her way from apprentice to master as her appreciation ripened. Always eager to display her knowledge, she talked nonstop to almost anyone who would listen, and when she entered her senior year at Boston University, she was ready for her first paid gig. At least that's how she felt one sleepless night after seeing a flyer announcing an upcoming symposium, Contemporary Applications of Biblical and Talmudic Wisdom. Twenty-five bucks for each of three abstracts accepted; how could she resist?

Now, two days away from her debut, she worried about fainting on stage or, worse yet, speaking before an empty auditorium. What if people preferred smoking dope at an anti-war rally over an event promising sponge cake and rugelach? Even her lover had turned her down.

April Secret Agent #20

TITLE: Be Careful What You Wish For
GENRE: Paranormal

Four hundred years ago . . .

Dark waves crashed over Robert as he fought to keep the ship headed into the waves. The storm's ferocity was daunting, but he wasn't worried. The storm couldn't hurt him.

His mind wandered briefly to the silver flask secured in his vest pocket. The genie in the flask - the reason he was captain of this fine ship, the reason for his success - was his guarantee everything would be fine.

When he first found the genie, he wasted a wish to get his useless wife. She was rich and beautiful, and he wanted her the first time he saw her. Robert wanted her to love him as deeply as he thought he loved her. He knew now love wasn't everything. A petite beauty and prize beyond any other as a wife of stature, but worthless in providing an heir. She couldn't give him the son he wanted, and spent all her time with their daughters, The Ladies Society, and giving away his money to some charity or another.

Taking this merchant fleet from the fat, lazy Duke who didn't deserve it was the wish he should have made first. It didn't matter, he had it all now. Almost. He had wealth and power, he just needed to replace his wife.

April Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Coveted
GENRE: YA Paranormal Urban Fantasy


I’m going to kill him.
Caleb found comfort in that thought. And he meant it this time. It would be quick, clean. He could leave the body in a construction pit on the side of I-70 West to be paved over this weekend. If anyone caught on, he figured he’d make a pretty sympathetic defendant. At seventeen he was still a minor, and had the ‘public servant’ thing going for him. He could imagine the news lineup: Caleb Azriel Dunnelly, local lifeguard, was acquitted of a second-degree murder charge. Jury says they ‘would have done it too’.
“Lighten up, Azzy-baby, it’s a party!” Martin sat there oblivious of any plots to end his life. He was too busy being the ham in a babe sandwich. That meant Caleb was stuck here when he should be at home waiting for Connie, like a good big brother. Funny how a guy’s best friend could bring out the murderer in him.
“Don’t call me Azzy-baby.” He leveled a dark look at Martin. “You know I hate these places.” They sat in a sectional at the back of Confessions, the newest club in downtown Kansas City. Two hundred people ground against one another on the other side of one-inch thick glass to the dreadful techno oong-tss, oong-tss, oong-tss.
“Not as much as you love me.” Martin’s grin split his face like lightning. The way the black lights overhead made his teeth glow was creepy.

April Secret Agent #18

TITLE: Insight
GENRE: YA paranormal

"You tired, Micah?" Mom asks as she steps out of the bathroom.

She navigates slowly through the dim light to sit on my bed. Even her strawberry shampoo can't mask the smell of stale cigarettes in our room.

"Yeah." Sorting and cleaning our apartment has numbed my brain and body. Staying in a cheap hotel while we do it hasn't helped.

She leans forward to give me a hug like she does every night. She's the only person I don't flinch away from. The only one that feels safe for me to touch. I never know what I'll see when I brush against someone or shake their hand. But from Mom I see and feel the same thing. Every time. I see me. She's my one constant in the mass of images and emotions I'm hit with every day.

"At least it's over, right?" She chuckles, leans forward and put her arms around my shoulders.

I suck in a breath, and I swear my heart stops. I see through her eyes, as always, but the picture's all wrong. A man, short cut hair, a non-descript brown with grey at the temples. Warm, kind eyes, a friendly smile on the corners of his mouth. She likes him. A lot.

It's not me.

This can't be happening. Mom's my safe place. Home's my safe place. And now, with one picture, it's gone. It takes every ounce of willpower not to jerk away. My heart is frantic, beating desperately against my ribs.

April Secret Agent #17

TITLE: Unvisible
GENRE: YA paranormal

I hated this part.

The bell rang exactly four minutes and forty-eight seconds ago. Which meant I had twelve seconds to get through the next door. I was a hundred yards away, the hall was too crowded for me to run like a normal person, and with AP calculus, I had little hope someone would show up later than me to slip in behind.

Perfect attendance record, gone. Not that they'd give the boy they couldn't see a certificate.

I skidded toward the door. Closed, of course. Mrs. Harper always closed the door, like she worried someone would want to spy on her lesson. Not likely. Except, well, for me.

Eighteen days without a missed class. Not bad, but nowhere near last spring's forty-seven-day stretch--lots of art classes and two P.E.s. That's what I got for challenging myself this semester ... and drinking
two cokes at lunch. I knew better than that.

I couldn't pick up Mrs. Harper's monotone through the thick walls, but stuck around anyway, hoping for a straggler. No luck.

Of course it was this hour I got stuck. The worst hour. The last hour before the seventeen I had to spend alone. Maybe I'd go out tonight. I peeked out the nearest window. It didn't look like rain. Probably safe.

Probably wasn't good enough. Getting caught in the rain meant bigger problems than my discomfort level. Like the body-shaped hole I created when I stood in it.

I checked my watch. Still time to make it to the library.

April Secret Agent #16

TITLE: Killing Kessler
GENRE: YA paranormal

Our hiding spot is less than ten feet from the boy. An overhead floodlight blazes against the predawn sky, so bright I see the sweat falling from his wavy blond hair and the clumps of dirt on his shovel. He has stubble on his jaw and a muscular chest and arms, but he looks young, maybe about sixteen - the same age as me.

I glance at Leila. My sister's over-glossed lips are stretched into a wide smile, her ebony eyes even larger than normal. I reach out to her with my mind. Forget it, Leila, I think. He's locked in the Village.

We're watching him through the witch hazel bushes outside the Village fence. The electric fence, twenty feet of razor wire crowned with another five feet of spiked coils, surrounds Pitman Air Force Base. The base was once the heart of Wexler Falls, until Alexander Zika's henchmen transformed it into the concentration camp we know as the Village.

Leila's expression doesn't change, but I know she heard me. We can shut off our thoughts as easily as closing our eyes, but if she was blocking me out, I would feel it.

Seriously, it's not like he's going to break out of there and take you on a date, I add.

I don't need a date, she thinks. I just want to talk to him. She adjusts her bubble gum pink halter top and smoothes her silky black hair. Her arm grazes a bush, stirring its branches.

April Secret Agent #15

TITLE: Here Lies The Bride
GENRE: Paranormal Mystery

I could think of lots of things I would rather be doing on a late spring afternoon in Moonstone Beach than putting the final touches on the wedding of socialite Lora Leigh Avery. As if to spite me, a pin pierced through my finger when I fixed a rogue piece of tule on the end of a pew of the First Presbyterian Church. A drop of blood formed a tiny bead, and I pulled out a handkerchief and wiped it away.

"Everything is beautiful, Sarah." Naomi set down a bouquet of gardenias. "You gonna be okay?"

I knew she wasn't just referring to my finger, and I loved that about her. "It's been two years Mimi. I'm fine."

She took a step closer, and I admired the way her newly styled short brown hair brushed the collar of her white button-up shirt. Snug dark jeans finished off the outfit and flattered her curvy figure. A bright purple pashmina, a favor from the recent Jansen-Hancock wedding, set her apart.

"Did you see Samantha Jane?" She whispered.

She was referring to the Samantha Jane, star of televisions hair salon drama Cutting Edge and it girl of the moment. She was also the maid of honor du jour.

"I did," I whispered back. "But today is about Lora. Let's just get this done, and you can get an autograph later, I promise."

Naomi rolled her eyes at me. "She's probably a witch anyway."

April Secret Agent #14

TITLE: The Miscreants of Creation
GENRE: Women's Fiction

If all deaths were to actually happen for a reason this would be a very meaningful world. Not to say that this world is without meaning, just that the search for justification that most mourners endure is undoubtedly for their own acceptance and has no true bearing on reality. We die when we die. There is nothing more simple and certain than this fact.

In my life, her death was without meaning and so were all of those that followed. The only reason I can go on is that I must. I have no reason to leave; I have not yet left an impression.

And though I have no guilt driven need for repentance, I realize now that this stagnant pool I have been safely wading in is breeding just as much disease as the inconsequent mistakes I feared a life of passion would create in its wake. The disease seems unavoidable, but the device does not.

Safety has its place, but if I am to overcome this nothingness I find that I can no longer remain torn; passion must pursue.

April Secret Agent #13

TITLE: Riona's Pen
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Mr. McMichaels hated me ever since he confiscated a story I wrote during class last week. A story about an evil goblin warlord. Named McMichaels.

I guess I can't blame him, but wouldn't most English teachers love students who wanted to be authors? But no. I was lucky he only threatened me with detention.

I took my time walking to English class, seeing no need to rush. The crowded hallway slowly thinned out as kids ducked into their classrooms. The scent of mold and putrid gym clothes wafted toward me when a junior slammed his puke-green locker shut, and I gagged.

"Riona?" someone called.

I turned and spotted Artex, the new guy. He smiled and waved a piece of paper in his hand. Wow, were his teeth white! "Hi." I smiled back, unsure why he was talking to me. After all, I was decidedly unpopular. I refrained from shuffling my feet. Good-looking boys always made me nervous.

He jogged down the hall, and a lock of dark hair fell across his forehead, giving him a messy but dreamy look. "I think this is yours." He handed me the story I had started in Spanish class.

"Thanks." I shoved it into a notebook. "I guess I accidentally left it behind."

"You really wrote poor Roderick into a tight spot. Those bloody pirates are more than he can handle." He fell into step beside me.

My cheeks grew hot. "You read it?"

April Secret Agent #12

TITLE: Breaking Glamour
GENRE: YA SFF

Darkness envelops me like a blanket as I run through the halls, breathless and blind. The penetrating cold of dank air ignites chills in my bones, the stuffy scent of dust lingering with moisture in the still air. There are noises in the back of my head; the soft trickle of water drops somewhere in the obscurity. I'm searching for something, a light in this impenetrable black.

Then, I see it; a slight glow emanating from the shadows. Sudden calm brushes my conscious, a newfound purpose emitting from my being, and I'm so sure this will lead to something; that it's not just another false hope. As I make my way toward it, I begin to see the distinct outline of a door. Strange patterns--so intricate that for a moment I find myself lost in them--mark the wall that bears it. The door itself lays unscathed, no touch of abuse etched upon its features but a vibrant energy pouring through it like the stream to an endless ocean of life. Promises of something great yet terrible whisper in my ear, taunting me, beckoning me to see what lies on the other side of the door.

Raising my head, I gaze at the entrance in its full glory. Thick vines, thorns sharp as needle points, crawl around its columns, blood red flowers stemming from its roots. I look down to my hands, so frail and unimportant next to an object of such power.

Carefully, I reach out.

April Secret Agent #11

TITLE: LILY'S HEART OF GLASS
GENRE: ROMANCE

Sweat poured off her body and onto the floor. Her arms and back ached from all of the physical exertion. Lily Cavanaugh was in heaven. The blowpipe rolled back and forth forming the shape that she wanted. The vibrant blues and greens swirled together to form a circular pattern. Lily had spent the past hour shaping the piece until finally deciding it was finished. She transferred it to the punty and detached it from the blowpipe. She slipped on her gloves before placing the delicate glass into the annealer to safely cool over the next several hours.

Lily stood up and stretched sore muscles. A smile spread across her flushed face. She poured all she had into each piece of glass. Which left her both euphoric and depressed after a piece was completed. She walked out of the studio and into her kitchen, grabbing a bottle of water from the refrigerator. She gulped half the bottle down and was making her way back to the studio when there was a loud banging on the door. Irritated at the interruption, she considered ignoring the sound and returning to work. Unfortunately the banging had shattered her concentration. Eager to get rid of whoever had been dumb enough to interrupt her, Lily stomped over to the door.

"Alright already, hang on a second!"

It took several tugs to open the old metal door but when it finally opened, Lily found two men, dressed in fancy suits, looking down at her.

"Who died?"

April Secret Agent #10

TITLE: THE KYRATHIM
GENRE: YA/SFF

Shamed by her hypocrisy and wary of the Lord's wrath, Ava Spenta struggled to sing for Runda's South Community Church after a sermon she absolutely loathed--starting with the Reverend's chastisement of her friend. This was hardly an unfamiliar battle, singing with composure while her spirit writhed. She couldn't ever have anticipated that within the hour, she'd lose the privilege of keeping it a private one.
The Rev. Griggs stepped up to the podium and raised his arms, his purple robes flapping like wings.

"Let the church say amen."

"Amen."

"I said, let the church say AMEN."

The vibrations of their reply echoed from the rafters, and a few stray calls burst from edified souls as the Reverend projected his voice--thick with his black ancestors' heritage--over the endorsements.

"And Hallelujah. Thank you, Ava Spenta, for your always beautiful, always healing rendition of the Lord's hymn, Amazing Grace. You have even managed to bring our afflicted sister, Tori Adams, some peace."

Judas Iscariot probably felt less shame than Ava did then. She nodded and took her place with the rest of the choir sitting behind the podium. No matter what, she wouldn't change her attitude towards the Reverend's much too regular threats against the evils of associating with members of The Verita.
Trent was Verita, and the last thing Ava would do was turn her back on a friend...again.
She masked a cringe when shrill howls and thumping started up again from the room beside the chapel's platform.

April Secret Agent #9

TITLE: Through Closed Eyes
GENRE: YA Paranormal

I listened to the kids laugh as they told jokes they thought only their friends could hear, but I couldn't let their noises distract me. At least not now.

I felt air brush my cheek, and I slowly closed my eyes. He moved silently in the room, in a way no normal person would ever be capable of.

"What do you think?" I whispered, smiling as I turned my head to look at him. I gestured to the little kids playing outside the window, "Don't they look happy to you?"

"No, they look like they wish they were," he said, sitting beside me. He looked around slowly, like he always does when he finds me up here. His eyes were full of confusion, as if he couldn't understand the appeal. I followed his gaze around, looking at the dust covering the piles of crates that crowded the room. They served an important purpose to me because they masked scents, and hid my presence, at least from people who didn't know me well.

Since this room was one of the restricted zones, it was a peaceful place away from the other students.

"I think they're lucky," I said bringing my eyes back to the window, a window so dirty that most people wouldn't be able to see through. I watched a young girl riding a bike zoom by, her laughter echoing
through the air.

April Secret Agent #8

TITLE: Nothing Stays in Vegas
GENRE: Contep. Women's Fiction

The music was too loud. Maybe it was me. Was twenty-seven too old to sip an overpriced cocktail, wearing a too-short skirt and a too-tight top? Judging by what some of the other ladies were wearing, no.

I tugged at my skirt in a vain attempt to pull it closer to my knees. Preferably over them. Nicole was late, as usual; it would take at least twenty minutes to go back to the room and change. There was no time. One thing's for sure, I'd never again buy anything an eighteen year old sales girl declared, "Totally perfect for Vegas."

The fluorescent blue liquid swirled around my glass as I fiddled with my straw.

"A Knock Out", the bartender had called it. It was going to knock me out. Every time I took a sip, the sweetness sent bites of pain through my teeth. Yet, I couldn't seem to stop drinking it.

"Excuse me," a voice from behind said.

I swivelled in my seat to see a very blond, very clean cut, very preppy guy. Good looking if you liked the college boy look.

I didn't.

He was standing over me, not even trying to conceal the fact that he was looking down my top.

"Yes?"

"Can I get you another?" College Boy gestured to my drink which I was surprised to see almost empty.

That would explain the dizzy feeling every time I moved my head.

Knock Out, indeed.

April Secret Agent #7

TITLE: The Blues
GENRE: YA Contemporary Mystery

Thursday Morning 6:45 AM

Henry Knight was found bludgeoned to death early this morning.

I'm pretty sure I was w******* *** to one of those p**** s** commercials at the same moment that someone bashed his head in. I don't know if anyone is going to miss him. Hell, I don't know if anyone even remembers who he is. Maybe David Warren does. Especially since he's our friendly neighborhood drug dealer. I know I remember Henry. He's my best friend's number one customer at school. Henry's the main reason Kyle was able to buy me that badass skateboard for my birthday.

"Who is this kid?" Ma points to the TV.

I slurp up another spoonful of my Cocoa Krispies and shrug.

"You know him, Blake. You know everyone at that school. There's only like twelve of you in a classroom."

"He's just some druggie, Ma. I don't talk to him or anything."

"But you know him?"

I nod.

"Oh my God. Blake." Ma watches me for a moment and I shift my eyes back to the TV.

"Do you want to stay at home today?"

I shake my head.

Ma sighs as she buckles her belt around her waist. It barely makes it to the very last hole but she manages to get it around her. She really needs to lay off the late night snacks. Of course I would never
tell her this. I mean, she's allowed to gain weight right now.

April Secret Agent #6

TITLE: Shadow's Turn
GENRE: YA

There was a girl in Oregon who combed her long black hair over her face so you couldn't tell if she was coming or going. She wore loose black sweaters and pants. Over her mother's objection, she adopted the name Shadow the day her father disappeared.

She was sitting in the Principal's office working on a list of who was going to live and who was going to die. She'd written her own name on both lists; her intuition was vague when it came to her own fate.

Shadow was waiting for the Principal because her English teacher, Mrs. Valium (real name: Valmore), had pressed the discipline button again. One of the guards escorted her down the hall but he waited outside the door, so Shadow was alone with her folded paper and the Principal's wall decorations:

1) Two WANTED posters for known Rogue Citizens who had been seen walking on the beach to avoid the patrols.

2) Official school photos of the kids the Principal had sent to Joycamp since he took command of the school.

3) A life-size, cut-out photo of The Equal standing at a podium, arm raised to make a point.

Shadow recognized one of the Rogue Citizens. The poster identified him as David Atkins, but he went by Moose. He lived a mile deeper into the forest than Shadow did, and his friendship was worth far more than the reward.

She knew the Joycamp kids and feared she'd never see them again.

The Principal entered.

April Secret Agent #5

TITLE: THE DARKENING
GENRE: YA Fairy Tale Fantasy

Dawn should have dyed the sky a half-hour ago. Should have transfigured the hills of Ailldn and flushed coral the remnant of night. Should have dissolved the haunting, the thing she ran to forget, well before she came within sight of the orchard. By now, by the near turn of spring, she should sprint through haze so golden it would ignite that craving to be released. Rise. Soar. For Da had always said that she moved over the Uplands as a flame of wind. But this morn, in the eerie blue dark, there was only the shackle of
earth.

She wondered if she had come out too early. Or if the dream that pinned her hot to the sheets had itself left her mad. But when she cleared the irrigation ditch, her doubts flew to the sky. For shooting up from the oiltrees on wings as black as shadows were the only birds said to shun darkness. Corbies. Again.

Between the rows, the feathered invaders ravished virgin growth. Stripped prized ols. Tossed fruit half-consumed to the gravel. But worse, some carried off whole branches in their lust for more. They couldn't know that Uncle had arrived last night. That she hadn't falsified the accounts in weeks. That their previous attacks had so jeopardized the oil supply that it would be hard enough to conceal the loss from him without this.

But they should know their own preference for flesh. They should know that corbies only eat death.

April Secret Agent #4

TITLE: Fatal Threads
GENRE: YA paranormal, modern myth

Staring down a maelstrom of packing supplies wasn't how Onyx wanted to spend her last few hours in Greece. But dealing with the mess scattered across the living room seemed like a triviality compared to the tempest about to hit in the form of her aunt Laia. She closed her eyes, drawing a curtain against negative thoughts, and released a long breath. Be careful what you wish for. Her mother's favorite saying broke through the barrier despite resistance. Not surprising. It was one of several pestering phrases her mother threw around when hoping to make Onyx think, as she once put it. Only this time, it rang truer than she wanted to admit.

She stepped over a stack of mailing labels, tape, and flattened boxes and walked into the kitchen, the room where her mother had spent most of her time, breathing life into their home, often while Onyx studied or otherwise reported on her day. But today she was met only by silence, as cold and unsettling as a memory seen through glass. Onyx closed her eyes again and discredited the juncture where her mother's last words collided with her own decision to stay in bed. I should have gone with her, she thought.

A raven cawed outside the kitchen window, obliterating the silence, and Onyx snapped back from the memory. She glared at the relics of sympathy cluttering the countertops, disturbed by the inescapable chaos overtaking every room of the small two-bedroom house.

April Secret Agent #3

TITLE: Emissary
GENRE: YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Audrey Grey stared down the cold beady eyes challenging her. She narrowed her eyes and reached out to flick the Dungeness crab out of her way.

Scram, dungy.

The crab reared up on its hind legs, stretched out a meaty claw, and clamped down on her finger.

You bastard!

She waved her neoprene-gloved hand, whipping the crab's free claw to and fro, its pinchers snapping wildly, like a drunken cowboy riding a mechanical bull. The beady-eyed crab gave up and pin-wheeled off into the colorless void.

Favoring her throbbing finger, she pulled a neon-pink Zip Tie from a band wrapped around her wrist. It took several stabs to loop the plastic tip through the net and around a cable at the bottom of the makeshift aquarium. The thick rubbery gloves protecting her hands from the freezing cold water made the simple task cumbersome. And she was behind schedule.

Her frustration mounted when a Zip Tie slipped from her fingers for the umpteenth time. She clenched her teeth.

Chill. Can't. It's Friday.

In the distance, the sudden churn of giant propellers from the 7:35 ferry pulling away from its dock
invaded her underwater world. On the surface, the ferry hummed quietly along, but underwater, it sounded like whipping samurai swords in the heat of battle. She envisioned the drawn faces of early morning commuters peeking out from its brightly lit windows, oblivious to the noisy commotion.

Soon she'd be one of those sad faces, heading home to Seattle.