Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Fricassee

So you've all been watching my slow metamorphosis from pantser to not-exactly-pantser.  (I will never be a hard-core plotter. That would be like trying to change my DNA.)

(No, Holly Bodger. Don't even go there.)

Anyway.  I've spent this week thinking my way through what's going to be a mammoth revision of my YA paranormal.  It's all good (though it didn't feel good when I first realized what I was in for).  But WOW--what a hard week!

Really, really hard.

For one thing, I miss writing.  MISS!  I haven't done anything but plot and plan, on two separate stories, for almost two months.

And if there isn't some sort of amazing payoff?  As in, when I finally start TYPING WORDS next week, it flows at a relentlessly effortless pace that leaves me breathless with wonder and self-worth?

Someone will die.

(Well, probably a character.  But still.  It will feel good.)

But! Last night I shared my shiny new worldbuilding and backstory with dear Mr. A, who is by far (way way way far) my hardest critic.  And guess what! His face lit up.

No, it did.  Despite the cliche.

The veil of confusion melted away--he UNDERSTOOD what I was telling him.  It was non-convoluted.  MADE SENSE.  And--he LIKED it!  He was smiling.

Understand me.  The man doesn't usually smile when I'm telling him about my worlds.  He usually--well, hmm.  It's more of a constipated, screwed-up-forehead kind of look.  As though he's trying really hard to make sense of the nonsensical.

Or something.

So I'm stoked.  Can't WAIT to get back to my outlining today. Am TOTALLY going to set aside time this weekend to work.

Many of you plotter types have shared your wisdom and experience over the months. I'm certain it's had an effect on me.  Thank you!

So tell me, oh plotters: Once you've got your outline, are you good to go? Or do you find you veer way farther from your plan than you had anticipated?

Share your SUCCESS stories today! And have a brilliant weekend.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #25

TITLE: Air Pirates
GENRE: YA sci-fi/fantasy

Hagai (not a pirate) has been flying with Sam (pirate) to find his missing mother. Sam recently rescued him from Savage (really mean pirate), where Hagai learned that Sam's been lying to him this whole time. Sam's mad because Hagai stole the stone from him.

Hagai said, "You trusted me? I left my job, my home, my friends. I've been nearly killed,"--he tried to count--"like a hundred times because of you and that stone."

"How is that my fault?"

"Because I trusted you! Fitch trusted you too, and you killed him." Sam started to correct him, but Hagai stopped him. "Or let him die, or whatever, I don't care! You act all good and nice, but that's all it is--a piking act. All you care about is the stone. As far as I've seen, you and Savage are the same."

It was the first time Hagai had seen Sam speechless. He looked as if he might kill Hagai, which he undoubtedly could with little trouble.

Hagai didn't really care. "Would you even have bothered rescuing me if I hadn't shouted back in that cell?"

Sam gritted his teeth. "Nay. I came for the stone, not piking mercs."

"Fine. Give me my bag, and I'll go."

"I ain't your wet nurse, shaver. You want your nappy? Get it yourself."

"You . . . you left it?" Hagai clenched his fists. It was enough that Sam mocked him, lied to him. Now he'd left Hagai with nothing. His money, his clothes, even the book Dorsey had given him--gone.

"What, you gonna wet now, Maggie? It's a blessing your mammy can't see you."

"Shut up!"

Hagai leapt forward, his good hand flying towards Sam's chin. Sam knocked his fist aside easily, then mashed Hagai's face and shoved him into the mud. By the time Hagai pulled himself up, Sam was aboard the ship, the rope pulled up behind him.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #24

GENRE: Fantasy mystery

Dr. Jamie Grey is a coroner for the Mythological Victims Unit, and she works with two detectives: Angel Armatrudo and Michael Spain. Spain gets jealous when he finds Dr. Grey and Angel discussing a case, and he reveals that he knows a secret she has kept hidden by calling her by her late husband's real name.

"Michael." I held up my hands and spoke softly. "The three of us are colleagues. You've helped me on this case, and I appreciate it. All three of us have helped each other on numerous cases in the past few years that we've worked together. It's just work."

Spain slammed his hand on the desk. "It's just work. It's just work, Dr. Glaisne. Just work. And I'm nothing but a joke to you." He knocked some of the papers off my desk and spun out of my office.

Armatrudo stared at the back of the other detective before turning to me. "Bones, about what he said, I'm sorry. I-"

"Which one of you investigated my past?"

He dropped his head. "I did three years ago when you first joined. I never told Michael."

"How did he find out?"

"I didn't know he had until just now." At least Armatrudo had the decency to look ashamed.

I ran out of my office and blocked Michael's path. "I admit. I kept a dangerous secret from you, but that doesn't explain you going crazy."

"I knew about your secret. You were clever with changing the date of your husband's death, and I understand why you did it. I was hoping..." Michael trailed off, and I waited for him to continue. "I hoped you would eventually see that I'm good for you."

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #23

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: MG Contemporary

Cassidy's talking to her father while he's on his deathbed. Cassidy's mother, who died years ago, claimed the end of life was like the end of a book--your line just runs out--but her father claims the line continues, but perhaps, in another book.

Cassidy moved in the direction of the call button, but her father's eyes built an immediate wall in front of her. Cassidy knew this look--this wall. And she respected it.

"Come to me," he weakly demanded.

The girl moved slowly, lip quivering with each step.

"Don't think this is the end for me. Don't focus on the line. I'll be with you always. Tell me you believe that."

Cassidy didn't believe that, but her father's eyes begged her to tell him otherwise.

"I believe you."

The man smiled. His knuckles gained color and his fist opened. He ran his palm over the back of her hand. "Always believe that. I love you more than you can possibly imagine."

"Love you too, Daddy." Though her mouth was an empty well, Cassidy swallowed hard. Moments later, her dry lips welcomed the tiny drops that gravity brought their way.

The man grunted and his hand left hers. He strangled the blanket again. "Water."

Cassidy rushed to the table behind her. She reached for the water and hastily poured, more water falling to the table than in the glass.

A flat and droning hum pierced the silence.

"Daddy," she meekly whispered as she turned her head.

A peaceful smile covered the man's pale face. His grip loosened and the white blanket was set free. Cassidy's grip loosened as well, and the shattering of glass mixed with the droning hum that filled the room.

Her gaze moved to the bedside where a monitor displayed a flat line.

Cassidy stood motionless, trying desperately not focus on the line.

"Impossible," she whispered.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #22

TITLE: Deadline
GENRE: Women's Fiction

A 20-something journalist, Danica, has just been told by a CIA operative that she could rescue her brother who is being held by pirates.

"Why are you willing to help me?" Danica asked.

He looked away, then back. "There's something else I haven't told you."

"Uh-oh. I don't like the sound of this."

He smiled. "Nothing dastardly. Just that I've done a lot of reading the last few days, and I feel like I know you from your articles."

"They're about other people," she pointed out.

"Oh, your voice shines through, alright. Your thoughts. Your personality. Your sense of humor." He paused. "And then there's your essays. You wrote one your senior year in college about your brother and the personal sacrifices he made to get top honors at the military academy. After I read that, I don't know, I just felt like I had to help you find him. Rescue the rescuer, if you will."

Silence descended between them. The lunch crowd had thinned out. Only five other tables had patrons. Danica became aware of the sound of a faucet being turned on in the recesses of the kitchen, laughter from one of the tables, the painful pounding of her troubled heart. The high school students had long since gone, leaving a mess of napkins on the floor. A distant memory came to her: in high school, her brother used to sneak cheese fries into the house late at night. He always saved some of it for her if she'd already gone to bed.

Her finger traced a heart someone had carved on the battered table top. "I miss him," she said.

"I can imagine."

She raised anguished eyes to his. "You said something preposterous earlier. You said I could rescue my brother."

He nodded. "Yes. You can. And it's not as preposterous as you think."

"Okay then. How?"

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #21

TITLE: The Incredible Journey of Freddy J
GENRE: Middle-grade Historical Fiction

Two boys hop a freight train and find they are not alone.

He was small, but had a big head, bugging eyes, and little twisted hands. A broad, evil grin showed crooked teeth with wide gaps. His red and yellow striped shirt had ruffles and his short legs sprawled before him were encased in tight yellow pants. He hung onto the end of a thick chain with one hand and clutched a pistol in the other. Whatever was on the end of that chain lurked in the dark.

"Door's right there, sonny, waitin' for you to go through it." The man pointed with his pistol and continued to grin at them. "Need some help from Charley to find your way?"

"No, sir. Please don't," Freddy said. "We'd sure like to share our breakfast with you."

"Whatcha got?"

"Got beans we can share."

"What else?"

"Got a little piece of fatback and some hardtack."

"Too bad, 'cause Charley likes fish better'n anything."

"Fish!" Freddy said. "I got some sardines."

"Ha, ha, ha!" the man cackled. "Might be enough to make him like you. Better hope so."

Freddy dug into his rucksack. He pulled out two tins. There were a couple left if he needed them.He dumped the little fish and tasty oil into a shortening can.

The little man said, "Throw them tins out the door. Charley got'em he might get cut"

Stepping back in to the sun, Freddy wondered what to do with the bowl. He didn't like walking into the dark to give it to something, whatever that thing was. The train started around another curve and light moved slowly across the car. Link by link, the big chain was revealed. It climbed up, higher than Freddy was tall, and the train straightened out leaving the curiosity in the dark.

"Oh, Charley," the man crooned. "Why you hidin' in the dark? Come out and meet these nice boys."

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #20

TITLE: Land of Ghosts
GENRE: Paranormal Young Adult

Sixteen year old Emily stands at the open graveside of her family.

The crowd begins to disperse. They are going back to my parent's house... my house, for a funeral tea. I look again at the lonely copse of trees. This is me now. Alone.

Alone except for Doctor Dyl, who stands watching me. My sentinel, dressed in black, his icy blue eyes taut with grief.

"What do you want to do Emily? Would you like to go back to the house or stay a little longer?" His voice is rough with unshed tears.

I swallow.

"Stay," I whisper, the solitary word squeezing through the numbness and the uncomfortable knot in my throat.

He nods. "I'll wait by the car. Take as long as you need." He turns and stalks towards the dark Mercedes that brought us to the city graveyard.

I stare down at the three coffins. My father's, the largest, at the bottom, then my mother's, then Billy's. It is small, and white. He was seven. My scalp prickles and dizziness sweeps over me as I realise this is my last goodbye. Sinking clumsily onto the soft dry grass I pick three roses from the nearest floral tribute and throw them one by one into the grave, whispering,

"Goodbye Daddy, Goodbye Mum, Goodbye Billy."

The protective numbness disintegrates, revealing the gaping hole of loss. It's devastating. The pain that rips through my chest is excruciating and it has nothing to do with my broken ribs. Nothing could have prepared me for this feeling, this awful, awful hollow emptiness. I gasp, struggling to breathe, as it sweeps through me and sucks me down into the soft mown grass where I lie and finally weep. Loud, gut-wrenching sobs seize me, possessing me, taking control as the dam to my grief bursts.

I should be with them. I should be with them. I should be with them.

I want to die.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #19

TITLE: Damselfish
GENRE: Suspenseful Women's Fiction

The protagonist is jumped by skinheads who followed her into the wildflower preserve.

Within seconds three men in black ski masks sprang from the woods and herded me toward an SUV. Someone pushed my face into the back seat and climbed in after me, jamming me between himself and another man who smelled like body odor, who wore mud-spattered Doc Martens with steel toes. The one on my left, apparently the leader, uprighted me and yanked me head toward his. "I'm taking my hand away now, and if you scream or try to get away, my friend here will gut you with his hunting knife."

All of sudden, there was no air in the truck. I was smothering. Then my heart began pounding like it would burst through my chest. I was in the throes of a anxiety attack, which would become full-blown in seconds.

"Go, Junk Man!" the leader yelled.

Junk Man revved the engine, backed out of the parking area, and tore down the gravel lot, turning onto a country lane heading toward the abandoned quarry.

"What do you want?" I asked, barely able to voice my question.

"I know what I want," the goon to my right spewed and reached for my crotch.

"Keep it in your pants, a******," the leader said, knocking the other guy's hand away. Then he grabbed my chin and wrenched my face until it was inches from his. "Look at me."

Was he going to hurt me, rape me, kill me? Shoot me in the kneecaps? Cut off a finger? Scalp me? I locked eyes with the leader and held my breath and my bladder. If I wet myself, they'd know the extent of my fear and become ravenous for violence like all those who preyed on those weaker than themselves.

"I . . . can't breathe." I sucked in air, clutching my chest and wheezing, like I had croup.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #18

TITLE: Blackberry Summer

Shelby has recently met her cousins for the first time, and Carrie is having adjustment problems. The girls have borrowed some of Shelby's clothes.

Shelby stared in disbelief at what encircled Carrie's left ankle. "Take it off," she said evenly, her hand held out toward her cousin.

Carrie's eyes went wide and her cat smile grew. "Take what off?"

Shelby's blood boiled. "I said you could borrow my clothes, but I never said anything about my jewelry. That's my ankle chain you're wearing, and I want it back - now."

Carrie's laugh was wicked. "This old thing? You're mistaken. I got it for Christmas . . ."

"No you . . ." Sarah didn't finish her sentence.

Carrie jumped up from the swing. "Shut your face, Sarah." Her head snapped toward Jessie. "And if you don't want to wake up in the morning as bald as Papaw, you'll keep your trap shut, too." Then she turned back to Shelby. "The twins forget things sometimes. But I swear, this is my ankle bracelet."

The twins were crying softly, and Shelby knew where the truth lay. That was her bracelet. A shirt was one thing, but this was going too far. "I say it's mine, and I want it back." She held out her hand.

"I can't believe you're going to stand right here and call me a liar to my face." Carrie looked like she was squaring off for a fight. Shelby hoped not. She knew Carrie would whip her good. But she wasn't going to back down, even if it meant getting beat up.

"I'm not only calling you a liar, I'm also calling you a thief. Now you either take off that bracelet, or I'm going to take it off for you."

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #17

GENRE: Science Fiction

Scene: Hawk has escaped from a research facility with the help of a security guard named Ed. They are hiding out in a mountain cabin. They have been found.

Rapid footsteps pounded heavy across the wooden cabin porch. Ed burst in with a wild expression on his face.

"Ed, what's going on?"

Ed turned to grab him by the arm, jerking him to his feet.

"Hey! Oww. What are you doing? You're squeezing too har--"

"I've got to hide you. They're coming."


Ed grabbed Hawk's bag in his other hand and dragged him toward the hearth.

"Ed," Hawk pulled back. "This is a one-room cabin. There's no place to hide."

Ed halted him at one side of the fireplace, dropped the bag and pressed a small stone. There was a muffled grinding of metal and stone against stone. A section of the stonework suddenly popped ajar. Ed tugged, revealing a cramped storage space hidden within the stonework of the hearth. Ed shoved Hawk toward it. "Get in!"

Hawk tore away, freeing from the grip on his arm. "In there? I won't fit!

"You'll fit. You'll have to. Now get in! There's no time to argue." Ed seized him by his shirt shoulder and tugged him toward the small space.

"All right! All right! Let go."

Ed released him and helped him slip into the tiny space, tucking his feet in as Hawk balled up inside. He then stuffed his bag in on top of him.

"Ed, what is this? Why do you have this compartment?"

"See that iron bar in front of you?" Ed said as if he hadn't heard him. "That's a release lever. Use it to open this hatch if I can't get back."

"Can't get back? Ed! You aren't going to leave me in here, are you?"

Ed closed the stone hatch, sealing Hawk in.

Hawk gasped a desperate whimper. "Ed?"

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #16

TITLE: Pro Bono
GENRE: Mystery

The protagonist, Quindley, is short-listed for a major network promotion. She has flown to Atlanta for her big interview, but not with this guy.

“You look better than your mug shot,” the guy said, holding back a burp.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Eight-by-ten glossies. You know, head shots. Promo pics.” He waved his arm around the room pointing at poster-sized photos of the network's top journalists and their cavalcade of synthetic talent--the entertainment celebrities. The guy looked exactly like his picture--a genuine low life man-about-town.

“I call them glamour shots.”

“Chick-speak.” He chugged the last gulp of Gatorade. “You've got to know you're hot. Am I right? I'm always right.”

“How nice for you. Why are you here, exactly? Did you escape the tour group?”

“Mind if I touch your hair. I'm a hair guy.” He made a mock pucker.


“This is part of your call-back interview, baby.”

“Then I'm out of here.” I scooped my purse.

“Oh, you're sh*****' me. Sit down. Oops, excuse my French. You don't mind a little swearing do you?”

He couldn't know I prided myself on an extensive and versatile curse word vocabulary. But this knot-head was exhausting my patience. If he was KNE's idea of a call-back, I'd made a huge mistake bugging out on my work at Eagle 7.

I said, “In my experience, men with a limited vocabulary have other short-comings, as well.”

“Don't go getting all pageant queen on me. Come over and give daddy a little--”

I slammed both hands on the table. “Okay, Jack--"”

“Wynn. As in winner.”

“Look, Winnie. I don't know what your game is. Tell your boss I failed the test.”

“That was just the practical. You still have to pass an oral exam.”

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #15

GENRE: Literary Fiction

A rancher and his wife awaken to their boarding stable burning. As firefighters arrive, their attention turns to locating a foster boy who's been teaching himself to smoke.

The crisp air slaps him awake to the world away from the fire. He ducks under the electrified perimeter wire, counting head where his pastured horses circle or nose nervously into the loafing sheds. From here, the glow might be a bonfire.

Inetta finds him there, back against a shed, sitting position, elbows on knees, sighting toward the flickering light.

"He got out Brisket," she says. "He won't come up. He's scared."

"He got a reason to be?"

"Who wouldn't?"

The yellow slickers move so slow. The truck lights flash white haloes across their backs.

"I'll go down then."

He gathers himself and walks stiff legged through the hoof-pocked grass. He can see Junior now, shivering and blowing on his hands beyond the bunkhouse, the gelding tethered and skittish, vapors rising from the both of them.

The boy collapses a little when he sees him coming and reaches for Brisket's flank, as if steadying the horse would give him strength.

"You okay?"

Junior nods, black circles under his eyes. Shakes his head.

He turns toward the blaze.

"Just the one?"

"I…" Or is it khai? Nothing else comes out from the boy.

Inetta makes it a circle.

"Tell him," she says.

"They wouldn't come," says Junior. "I unlatched the stalls but they wouldn't. It was too smoky."

"That's their safe place," he says. "What about the fire?"

Junior drops to his knees, plants his palms in the frozen dirt and lowers his head to await an invisible sword.

The smoke ushers upward the ghosts of three horses. A radio blats a faraway voice, flat and official. Men shuffle after sparks as the kiln of the stable settles into itself.

"So," he says finally and stomps toward the ruin.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #14

TITLE: The Blessed Crow
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Ignorant about magic, the townspeople wrongly accuse Cassandra, a despised and feared Charon, for luring in the ghouls that have been ravaging their city. As head of the tribunal, Roland must exile her from the city until the boundary is mended, and the ghouls are once again contained.

Roland led Cassandra through the foyer, down the small flight of steps, and to the towering doors of the entrance. He gazed at her, an unmistakably deterrent gesture, and proceeded to thrust open the doors.

The heated uproar of the people deafened her.

Angry torches blazed in the night. There were too many voices. Too many scents. Too many faces. Her surroundings, her emotions, smothered her. She was suffocating. She had to escape.

Of all the people around Cassandra, only a little girl was brave enough to approach her, a Charon. She beat her tiny fists into Cassandra's abdomen. "You killed my mama!" she screamed. "You killed her!"

Cassandra raised her hands to catch the girl's wrists, but they merely hung there, useless. "I... I didn't-" She was trembling. Her heart was pounding wildly. The crowd only seemed to grow louder, more furious.

Cassandra dashed into the Citadel, slamming the doors behind her entry. She pressed her back to the wall, her chest racked with stifled sobs and ragged breaths.

Roland's plump, red face did not echo his people's wishes. All to be seen was sympathy and regret. "You will leave before daybreak."

Cassandra shut her eyes and nodded. He left her to her thoughts.

She sank the floor, knees drawn to her chin and her white cloak pooled around her. She held her head in her hands. Their shouts still pounded on the walls of her mind and the little girl's fists against her stomach.

She had only known one home her entire life, only one place she ever truly belonged. And she would leave it tomorrow.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #13

TITLE: The Dragon's Pearl
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Fifteen-year-old Misha has the ability to see memories. In this scene, a girl named Haerim confronts her after Misha spitefully exposed her for stealing a bracelet because Haerim used to bully her best friend.

"That bracelet was mine."

Misha turned around. "What?"

Haerim crushed the packet in her fist and stood up. "That Tiffany bracelet was mine in the first place."

"But Jena said her--"

Haerim shoved her. "My dad! My dad gave it to me on my birthday!"

The empty cookie packet flittered to the ground. Misha watched it fall and crumple, feeling her chest do the same. The bracelet belonged to Haerim? How did that work? No, she'd only made sure that Haerim had stolen the bracelet; she'd never checked to see whose bracelet it was.

"Jena stole it?" said Misha, faintly.

Haerim shrunk away. "No, she didn't. I let her borrow it, but then she acted like I'd given it to her. I thought I could take it back when she got sick of it and she wouldn't notice."

Misha wanted to wring Jena's neck. She could feel it already, thumbs pressing into the softest pressure point. She wanted to wring her own neck, to smash her head against the wall and obliterate this stupid mistake. Her mother had warned her before, had reminded her countless times.

"But Jena said her father gave it to her." She sounded like a little girl, wavering and unsure. "She said it was important."

Haerim's face collapsed. Misha had never seen that expression on her, not even in Haerim's most swollen memories that vibrated with her parents screaming across the dinner table or the repeated retching into a toilet bowl, memories she'd always dismissed.

"It was," said Haerim. "It was important to me. Why couldn't you see that?"

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #12

GENRE: YA Fantasy

The characters are discussing a relatively unknown enemy called the Shadows that only Lacey (the MC) has faced. Lacey claims that the others wouldn't be able fight the Shadows, and the following is Keaton's reaction.

“Did you ever think that maybe it's only you who's so crippled by fear? I mean, you're convinced we'd be decimated by these Shadows, but we've been training here at Cloudbourne, the most prestigious military academy in the country, for years. We know how to fight.”  Keaton stood as he spoke, straightening his breeches and shirt with jerky movements. His indignant rage was a nearly physical presence. In three quick steps, he strode to the door and tugged it open. “But you barely passed your entrance exams. In everything but weapons training, you're in classes with students three or four years younger than you. Being good at a single aspect of war does not a good warrior make. Keep that in mind.” He stormed away. The door slammed in his wake.

Tory leapt to her feet, wringing her hands and rocking anxiously on the balls of her feet. Her eyes darted from Lacey to the door. “He didn't mean any of that, Lacey. I swear, he didn't. I'll go calm him down. Just give him time, okay?” The avi backed toward the door but paused on the threshold, waiting for Lacey's response.

“Just go,” Fin said. Keaton's blowup was ridiculous. Completely unnecessary. There had been no need to remind Lacey of her own shortcomings. Fin was sure she already knew them. “Remind Keaton that he, too, is less than proficient in many of his classes.”

Tory swallowed hard, muttered a goodbye, and disappeared. The door clicked shut behind her.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #11

GENRE: MG (Realistic, Contemporary)

Melody dreams of trying out for the synchronized ice skating team. But her mom is forcing her to take piano lessons, instead.

I fake my way to the merciful final chord- E, C, G, which somehow dredges from the depths of my frozen brain. My skirt sticks to the back of my knees as I stand up and fly off the stage, ignoring the ripple of polite applause and completely forgetting to curtsy as I bolt down the steps past the cookie and punch table. A whoosh of warm air greets me as I lunge toward the bathroom.

"Melody!" Mom's voice punctures the air as I tug at the heavy restroom door.

"Leave me alone!"

But she's already inside, leaning against the sink, one hand planted against her hip. "What happened out there? You totally forgot the whole forte section."

I swallow the throw up taste that's worked its way to the back of my throat. "I was doing okay until you started tapping your pen."

Mom's eyes drop to the floor, like maybe she gets it's not totally my fault. "Piano lessons at Eastridge cost a pretty penny," she says after a minute. "I don't appreciate you taking them lightly. When I was your age."

"I'm not you. Why don't you just save your money and let me do something I want for a change?"

Mom's face splotches like she has measles. "Melody Christine. Enough with the back talk. You just need to start concentrating more. Maybe up the practice sessions ten minutes or so. I know you can do it, if you would just learn some good old fashioned discipline. Any wonder things turned out the way they did today, with you gallivanting off to the ice rink and to Sophie's house the other night."

"That was for school!"

Mom shakes her pointer finger. "You know what I mean. And stop yelling, for heaven's sake. Somebody might hear."

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #10

TITLE: Stormland
GENRE: YA Science

Lena offers her foster mother money:

"Your parents would be spinning in their grave seeing you walking about like a princess. They worked for every penny they had."

Lena flushed with so much anger she wouldn't have been surprised if her body temperature raised a few degrees. "That's it. I can't wait another sixteen days to be eighteen. I'm leaving tonight."
"Lena, sugar---" Maggie's voice softened but it was too late. Lena could no longer contain all the things she had wanted to say for the last three years of living there.

"Your life really didn't turn out the way you had hoped, did it?" Lena said. "You think the only way for a woman to be successful is to sleep around? I earned my money. I worked hard to get a spot on Pop Star and to record my album. And if you must know, I'm a virgin."

"Watch your tone, child."
"What do I have to lose now? I')m on my own today or in sixteen days. Kick me out. I don't care." Lena fumbled with the clasp of her necklace.

Maggie took the necklace from Lena's hands and gently swept the hair off her neck. "Let me, sugar." She fastened the clasp. "No, my life did not turn out the way I had hoped," she said in a hushed tone. "I lived with my new husband and baby girl in the house my great grandpapa built with his own hands. I would have hoped to stay there until my Cassie was grown and me and Gregory were old and gray doing nothing but sitting on the porch swing watching the grass grow. God spared me so I could care for the little babies who didn't die. But I wish he hadn't."

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #9

TITLE: Underwater Lynx
GENRE: Young Adult

When Danielle's cousin Greg attempts to pull her out of an old cellar, someone pushes him inside and slams the trap door. They hear logs dragged onto the door and realize they're trapped.

Danielle's eyes darted wildly in their sockets, taking in the suffocating blackness surrounding the minuscule beam of light. Already stretched to the breaking point, her courage finally shattered and fingers of panic rushed to take hold. She grasped for any other emotion to take its place.

"This is all your fault!" The accusation hissed through her teeth.

Greg stopped pounding the door with his fist. He flicked the light in her direction. "My fault?" She could see his eyes narrow. "I followed you here - trying to protect you! You promised if I didn't tell your parents what's been going on that you wouldn't go ghost hunting."

"I'm not ghost hunting. I...I thought the statue would be here."

"What? The statue!" His face crumpled in disbelief. "Your statue has already caused more trouble than it's worth."

"Exactly. And I never would've bought it if you hadn't badgered me into going for a drive with you!" As much as Danielle wished it was true, words spoken earlier echoed in denial: Destiny finds you. Things happen for a reason.

Greg certainly wasn't buying her rationale. "That's a bunch of crap." He'd given up banging on the door and searched the confines of the small space for another way out.

Danielle sank to the ground, knowing her cousin's search was futile. She wrapped her arms around her legs, chin resting on her knees.

Greg grabbed her by the shoulder and she winced under his glowering stare. "What the hell is going on?" he demanded.

"I don't know," Danielle choked out, the anger draining away as her eyes filled with tears "I had this dream..." she began and swiped at a tear with the back of her finger.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #8

TITLE: Steam Palace
GENRE: Steampunk

Viola has come to kill Sophia, her twin, in her hotel room, for stealing Viola's man.

Viola shivered. Sophia's lips lay just parted, her white upper teeth visible. Viola pressed her lips to her sister's, a loose lock of her blackened hair brushing Sophia's face. Viola held the knife close to the slender throat. "Sophia," she said in a whisper.

Sophia stirred. Small sounds escaped her throat, and her tongue licked her lips. Her eyes fluttered open, unfocused. Her gaze stopped on Viola's face.

"Viola." A breathless whisper.

Wide eyes with green irises and sloping brows contorted into grief, blinking. Her lungs gasped. "Viola!" Her arms reached up but stopped when Viola pushed sharp metal against her throat. She glanced down at the knife, then back up to Viola, her eyes quizzing, questioning.

Viola gazed at her victim, waiting for the perfect moment to spill Sophia's life blood. Sophia glanced at the knife again, then met Viola's gaze.

Viola wanted Sophia to beg for forgiveness, to plead for her miserable life. Perhaps a quick slice of the throat was not sufficient for such a crime. Sophia should suffer, beg for Viola to end her life.

Sophia tilted her head upwards, exposing her throat. "Please," she breathed. "If you are here, with a knife, you must have learned everything. My life is yours. Take it. You shall have your place at Dunstan's side. He has fixed all untoward appearances, he had papers, everything. You may have the life you have always desired with him, as his legal wife. Quickly!" Sophia closed her eyes, denying Viola the window into Sophia's soul.

Viola's knife hand trembled.

That bitch. How dare she deny Viola her moment!

Sophia knew exactly why Viola was here and what she intended to do, yet offered no resistance. A tear streamed down Viola's face. Her throat clenched. Why did Sophia not resist, not beg for her life?

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #7

TITLE: Fellowship of the Fireflies
GENRE: YA Fiction

Stephen discovers his grandmother's advanced dementia.

“You found me,” she said. He attempted to hug her but she withdrew, studying him carefully. “My daughter!” the old lady exclaimed, touching the boy's face.

“No grandmother, your daughter's son.”

“Who?” Her eyes darted as if following a fly. “Jesus?” On the ground beside her were willow leaves arranged in the shape of a cross. “Yes of course I recognize you. You saved me! Oh dear Jesus, have you seen my Anna Beth?” she asked.

A lump welled in the boy's throat. “Don't you know me?”

She looked back at the ground. “Are you my new nurse?” she asked, rustling the grass.

“I'm your grandson.”

“Why can't they keep a good nurse around here for more than a week?” she asked. “Must not pay well. I never even got to tell Keisha goodbye.” The old lady's eyes widened as a monarch butterfly fluttered near the willow's branches. “The puzzles on this crossword tree are connected, you know?”

“Yes grandmother,” he said, remembering stories his grandfather told about a great tree of life in heaven where God worked his master plan like a crossword puzzle. “Do you remember Grandpappy's sermon about monarch butterflies?” the boy asked. The old lady's eyes narrowed. “He said they could fly three-thousand miles roundtrip and come back to the same tree, remember? Grandpappy said their great-great-grandparents made the exact same trek from the exact same tree a year before. Remember?”

The old lady shook her head. “I'm praying the fireflies take me this year.” She held her hand out. “Well,” she said, “Help me up. I have to pee.” The boy hesitated. “That's what you're paid to do, maybe not enough, but still, it's your job.”

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #6

TITLE: The Machenwood Chronicles
GENRE: Fantasy

Lead in: Anabelle McShay, a widow in 1840's Ireland, receives a visitor.

Ana slipped Michael from her lap and crawled from the bed. Careful to tuck the blankets tightly around him, she crossed the room, opened the door a crack and peeked out.

The overseer stood in the doorway wringing his hands.

She stepped outside and closed the door quietly behind her. “What can I do fer yeh, Jarrett?” Ana already had a pretty good idea why he stopped by, but prayed she was wrong.

“Well, Missus McShay.” Jarrett scratched his bald head and shuffled his feet. “I'm afraid I got some bad news for yeh. Mr. Reardon charged me with clearin' out the blighted plots. I'm here ta give yeh notice.”

Ana's stomach churned, her hands balled to tight fists. Just what I need. She knew it wasn't Jarrett's fault she'd have to leave, but that didn't make her any less destitute. The desire to rail, scream at the unfairness, and plead for her sick son engulfed her, but she knew the man who stood at her door had no power to help. He just worked for the landowner, Mr. Reardon.

“How long do I got?” Ana was surprised her voice sounded so calm considering the emotions raging within her.

“A few days. ‘Ave to get it all clear by week's end. I'm real sorry, lass.”

“I understand. I'll get packed up right away, then.” His face swam before her eyes. She gripped the doorway, nails digging into the wood.

Jarrett nodded, mumbled more apologies, then turned and headed across the empty dirt field toward his next unlucky target.

Ana watched his retreating form before her attention turned to the barren land surrounding her hovel.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #5

TITLE: The New Breed
GENRE: YA Horror

Azure Lane (MC) is speaking to her best friend, Sloane. Earlier at school, Azure murdered Fallon (Sloane's boyfriend) in a desperate attempt to reconcile her family, and save them from the murderous plots of Master Jeager.

"Did you expect Fallon to-" she can't say it.

But I can.

"What? Did I expect Fallon to die? Well, not exactly. But I made sure of it."

"Look at you. Look at what you've become!"

"Look at yourself, Prissy. You're so wrapped up with your own selfish delusions. What? Did you think Fallon loved you? Well, news flash, he works for Jeager. Nothing's changed."

"Everything's changed."

"No, it's all the same. You're just too stupid to see it. Fallon never loved you, you idiot. Jeager's after us. You and me. He took Kieran. He took Talia. He tried to take you and Roe. But I fought back. While you just sat by like some trophy wife happy to send her children off to slaughter. You're lucky you have me."

"Fallon loved me!"

"No, I love you."

"No! No! You're crazy!" She stands up. "Roe, we're leaving. We're going home."

I stand to block her. "You are home. Roe stay put."

"You can't make us stay."

"What are you going to do? Fend for yourself? You've never done that for a single day of your pathetic life. I've always taken care of you. And the minute I disappeared you set up shop with some other idiot willing to put up with you. You're helpless. You need me."

"I don't need you. You're a murderer!"

"I'm protecting my family."

"No! You're crazy! We're leaving. Roe!"

I stand between them. There is no way in hell she is taking Roe from me.

"What are you going to do, Azure? You gonna kill me too?"

I grab her by the shoulders and press my lips to hers. She struggles to get away.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #4

TITLE: Girl Under Glass
GENRE: Romantic Sci-fi

BACKGROUND: The opening of this book, Rachel Pryne encounters an injured, alien soldier in her yard.

I glanced down at his right leg. Mud and blood caked his fatigues from the knee down. The storm had thundered and blustered all night, and I didn’t envy this man being caught in it.

“"You'’re not trusting,"” he said.

“"You can'’t say that."” I hated how he assessed me, correctly, within minutes of walking into my yard. “"You don'’t know me.”"

“"Your gun and dogs say it loud and clear."” His voice held no emotion.

His reserve irritated me. My eyes narrowed. "“I have reason enough.”"

"“Oh?"” His brow furrowed, but he steadied his demeanor again. “"You don'’t know me. I request help, and you threaten my life. I'’ve done nothing to warrant this uncivil behavior.”" His aloof manner marked him
an Ohnenran more surely than did his appearance.

“"You'’re Ohnenrai."” The label twisted from my lips like a curse.

Jack and Audie rumbled their agreement.

He drew a slow breath. "“You'’d shoot me because I'’m not Terran? Because I was born on another planet?"”

Put that way it sounded unreasonable, even to my ears, but I didn'’t move. I wouldn'’t concede the point, not to one of Earth’'s conquerors.

"“I can'’t undo my birth, can I?”"

I raised the gun to point at his head. "“I can."”

Now his chin lifted. He folded his arms and gazed down at me.

The dogs, baring and gnashing their teeth, advanced on him.

The man eyed my protectors. “"Varet!"” The word boomed from him even as his expression remained unchanged.

I started at his power and the dogs ceased their threats. I looked at the outsider with newfound respect. I didn'’t know Strangers raised their voices. I'’d heard that even in battle, with death snapping their
souls from their bodies, they remained ice cold. Maybe that'’s not true.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #3

TITLE: The Chosen
GENRE: YA Fantasy

A teenage boy, James, is being interrogated as the primary suspect of an elementary school massacre.

"You don't realize the evidence against you, boy. Whose blood's on your clothes? Which child's?"

McGrug's nostrils flared as he flipped the table upright and picked up the projector, turning it on. The miniature replica of the reporter phased into existence on the table. A lump rose in James's throat and he turned away. His gaze fell on the plastic cup of water in front of him where something fizzed at the bottom. Truth serum?

"What did you gain from murder?" McGrug's rough voice faded into the background, replaced by the reporter's.

"--and behind me is the location of the brutal massacre. An unidentified man jumped from the second story and fled as police stormed the scene. Minutes later, they vacated the primary school with a teenage boy. No survivors. The village's Watcher, Gordon McGrug, is currently interrogating the suspect. The boy's identity has not been released, and he has yet to be convicted, but many wonder what could have possessed the killer to commit such a sin in the quaint, peaceful village--"

"Turn it off!" James knocked the cup of water across the hologram, but it was useless. The vivid scene played out unaffected before him, stretched across the table in full view. James's stomach churned. He tried to turn away, but McGrug seized him by the hair and shoved his face into the hologram.

"You can wear their blood but you can't even look at the hologram?" McGrug said. "Fourteen little children. Dead."

"No...." James's heart swelled in his throat as he met McGrug's coal black eyes.



James lost himself. He vaguely felt the tingling sensation of McGrug pulling forward memories of the massacre as he flung his body against the classroom door. But the door wouldn't budge. A chilling scream filtered through. Crying--running--pleading. A thump.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #2

TITLE: Lost in the Bayou
GENRE: Young Adult Thriller

Robin is riding her horse, Star, across the field in the driving rain, trying to get away from her Uncle Conrad before he can kill her.

Even above the thundering rhythm of Star's hooves, the report of the rifle splits the night air. Star stumbles. Falls. Water explodes around me when I hit the wet ground, and I slide some distance before coming to a stop.

My ankle won't support me when I try to stand, instead sending a stabbing pain up my leg. I drop to my knees with a whimper. Star doesn't get up as I crawl toward her. Her nostrils are flared, and she's breathing rapidly when I reach her. My hands explore her neck and side. Wet but normal. Her legs seem fine, too, but hope fades when my fingers cross her hip and I feel the sticky warmth oozing from the ragged hole in her flesh.

Oh, no! Not Star!

A moment later, the wind is knocked out of me when the large boot kicks me in the back. I land on my chest next to Star, and I know who it is before I turn my head and see Conrad standing there.

"Get up!" he growls.

"No!" I scream up at him. "Go ahead and shoot me, too!" I open my soaked robe and point toward my chest. "Just do it, and get it over with."

His cold, metal claw hand snaps around my wrist as I flail my other arm and kick my bare feet. He's lifting me from the muddy ground and dragging me away from Star. I try to fight, but it's no use. I don't have any fight left in me now. He's won.

I hobble along behind as he leads me toward the house for the end of the game. Star's pitiful whinny fills my ears, and my heart breaks as I leave her behind in the rain.

Drop the Needle: HIGH EMOTION #1

TITLE: Like a Frothing Rabid Dog is Adorable
GENRE: YA horror

Two agents are questioning Ayako about the dead body she found in her train's lounge car.

I said, rather unintelligently, I might add, "Something happened to the body?"

Agent Micheals got in real close to me, his eyes squinting at mine. "Unless of course you're lying about where you found the body. To cover up your involvement."

"My what?"

"Miss"--the older agent looked to the younger one who whispered something to him --"Futsurado," he said, sounding rather impatient and exasperated all at the same time. "According to your statement, you found the body in the"--he referred back to his notes--"lounge car."

I nodded. How many times did we need to go over this?

"When forensics went to the lounge car, they did not find any body."

Maybe you got the wrong car. It was hard not to want to yell at the agent but I didn't think yelling would bring him any closer to my favor. Not that he could really get much further away. I kept my mouth shut anyway.

"Tell me, Miss"--another pause--"Futsurado, where is that body? If one even exists."

I looked to the younger agent, if only to not have the weight of the older agent's full stare on me, but he wasn't offering any help now.

"If we can't produce a body, Miss, then we're going to have to press charges for prank calls. So let me ask you one more time. Where is the body?"

"Look, I don't know where the body is." So much for not yelling. "Last I checked, it was sprawled out over one of the couches in the lounge car. If it's not there now, maybe one of your people moved it."

Ooh, he was not looking too pleased with me, but I wasn't in the mood to care anymore.

"If you can't find your body, that's not my fault. It's yours."

Dropping the Needle!

Let the fun begin!

Just a word about Drop the Needle, particular for the newish type.  There's a special challenge involved in critiquing a scene from the thick of a novel, when we don't have a true sense of characters, setting, or story.  The short lead-ins will help, but sometimes we still feel a bit--well, lost.

So I think it's important to set that aside when you critique.  You might have unanswered questions, but that's part of Drop the Needle mystique.  Today's focus is HIGH EMOTION, so try to center your comments on whether the emotion is coming across, whether the dialogue is sharp and believable.

Okay? Good!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This Week's Success Story

My request to hear from published authors who weren't on my Published Author Success Story list led to the following email. Enjoy!

I credit a SA contest for helping me clarify my thinking big time, which ultimately helped me find my agent. Here's my story:

I was in the early stages of querying when I entered the SA contest judged by Kate Schafer Testerman. I was entry #6, and I received a lot of positive feedback that helped me feel a huge confidence boost (even the "negative" comments actually boosted my confidence, because it drew reactions I could live with). But the SA said, "Strong voice, certainly, but not for me. Whether it's the profanity, or the sense that this is yet another book about a boy trying to prove himself as a man, this didn't work for me personally."

So, when it was revealed that the SA was Kate, I was totally floored and flumoxed. Here's why: I had, before the contest, decided Kate was my "dream agent." She was next on my query list and I was sure she was "the one." In retrospect, I thought that for some good reasons (her mad skills and reputation) and some silly reasons (some OZMG "it's fate" kind of reasons that had nothing to do with her skils, tastes and preferences or what I write).

So, after her response to my first page, I was really thrown for a loop - how could I query when I could be so wrong about my "dream agent?" And so I did what I do when faced with something like this - I started researching, and quickly realized that I was an idiot.

If I'd bothered to look beyond what a fantastic agent Kate is, I'd have realized that there was no way she would be the best agent for my book - in fact, she might not even like my book. (Now, admittedly, this was easier to realize considering she'd just pretty much said she would not like my book). And I realized a few of the other agents I'd queried also were very unlikely to connect with my book, if I'd bothered to really look at their lists and preferences. BUT, these revelations made me change my focus - look at not just how skilled and good an agent was (because Kate surely is that), but to look at, of those skilled and good agents, who would get and connect with and be best to sell MY writing. I might not have queried the agent I signed with if I wasn't so focused on the agent's reading preferences and passions, on those less measurable bits of information that mean the agent might get the book/my writing, beyond their skills and reputations.

So, in a way, Kate's comments really did help me on the path to finding the right agent for me - and it was an important lesson to learn, one I might not have learned without the SA contest. I now do breakout sessions at SCBWI conferences on researching agents, with a focus on how to look for the information that would help you make a good connection with the right agent - ie, those factors beyond the agent's reputation and mad skills - because the lesson I learned from the SA contest really made an impression.


E.M. Kokie
PERSONAL EFFECTS, Candlewick Press, Fall 2012

Monday, July 25, 2011

In-House Crit: Drop the Needle

Let's have some fun!

Drop us into a scene with HIGH EMOTION.  It can be anywhere in your story, and should be dialogue-rich (the best way to convey emotion, yes?). Make sure you give us a 1- to 2-sentence lead-in so we understand what's happening.  (Sometimes people skip this part. Please don't do that. It's hard to land head-first in a scene without having any idea of the setting or characters.)

Submissions will open at 5:00 pm EDT today (Monday). I will accept the first 25 entries.  All genres except erotica, as always.

The word count is set at 320.  This gives you extra words for your lead-in.

Your submission for this contest should be formatted EXACTLY as follows:

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

(Type a brief lead-in to your scene here. Please do not skip this step.)

(Followed by the excerpt here.)

* No "chapter one," chapter titles, etc.
* You will receive a confirmation email with your post number.
* Submissions go to authoress.submissions(at) They DO NOT GO to my facelesswords address. Or any other address.
*PLAIN TEXT is your best bet! And if you receive a rejection notice that claims you didn't include TITLE, etc., please TYPE THE SCREEN NAME, TITLE, AND GENRE BY HAND and resubmit. (In other words, don't copy and paste that part.)
*It doesn't matter what you put in the subject line. The only thing you MUST NOT do is to use "RE:" The bot will think you are attempting to respond to an email, and will reject you.

Please post your questions below.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday!

It's probably time to share a little writerly thankfulness.  There are things in a writer's life for which our gratefulness might seem out of proportion to those on the "outside."

(You know what I mean.  To those who DON'T WRITE.  Or worse--who don't READ.)

So here's my list.  Please share yours!

  • I'm thankful for the awesome teens who took the time to read and to leave thoughtful comments on my latest WIP:  Taryn, Lizzy, Constance, Sarah.  Feedback and gut reactions from my target audience are SO valuable.  And these gals? They went above and beyond. Truly.
  • I'm thankful for the neck-deep level of editorial input my agent (and his lovely assistant) provide. I know there are 2 distinct agent camps--editorial and non.  It's a personal preference for each author, as far as which is a better fit for you. And, yeah. I prefer the hands-on, rip-into-every-weak-spot approach. Because it tells me that Josh believes my work is worth his investment of time. And I don't take that lightly.
  • I'm thankful for my husband. Who just planned his entire weekend around brainstorming and manuscript-wading with me. Because he believes in me, too. Even when I don't believe in myself.
  • I'm thankful for Talenti sea salt caramel gelato. Which is definitely going to be a part of my weekend, too.
No sobby schmoop.  Just gratefulness, plain and simple.

Your turn!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

No Turning Back...Or, It's a Good Thing I Love my Agent

No, really.  This post isn't actually about the effervescent Josh Getzler.  (Who, by the way, is dying for you to follow him on Twitter. RIGHT HERE.)

This is about another subtle shift-in-the-writer-psyche that happens after you're agented.  It seems ultra-obvious, but for some reason it hasn't really hit me until now.

Namely, I'm not in charge anymore.

Think about the freedom you have, pre-agent.  (Or, for that matter, pre-editor.) You decide what to write, when to write it.  You come up with your own timeline, your own goals. I started giving myself deadlines a couple years ago, for instance. I knew I would NEED to be able to write to deadline eventually.  In fact, I feared I wouldn't be able to do it.  (Truly. I thought it might be a show-stopper.)

So, yeah. I trained myself to write to deadlines.  But nobody told me to do it.  I was, yanno, in charge of myself.

Well, okay.  I'm still in charge.  Kind of.  Josh isn't making unreasonable demands, isn't sending me to-do lists, isn't threatening me to do things His Way Or Else.  But the truth is that, when I signed with him, I was saying, in a sense, "You are managing my career."

Do you hear that?  It's more than just "You are going to sell my book."  And it's certainly more than "Oh my freaking gosh, you actually LIKE MY STUFF and I get to tell everyone about it!"

No.  It's "You are managing my career."

Not manipulating.  Not "taking over."  Not make-or-breaking.  Just...managing.

And that involves a level of conceding things.  Things like, "What should I be doing while *X* is going on?" And "Where's my place in this week's client queue?" And "Let's go over the game plan one more time to make sure I understand."

And so on.

Sometimes it means getting wrapped up in "Project F" and suddenly having to refocus on something different.  Sometimes it means waiting without knowing what, exactly, you should be doing--if anything. Sometimes it means forcing yourself to concentrate on your work while you're on pins and needles. Or while you're discouraged.  Or while you're Just Not Sure about anything.

You can't go off in a corner and start writing a new story just to make yourself feel better.  Well, I mean, you could.  But it would be awfully counterproductive if your career demands something different.  Or if your agent is waiting on revisions. Or if you're going to have to stop what you're doing, anyway, as soon as you get a certain phone call. (Hypothetically speaking.)

Yeah.  Not "in charge" anymore.

All that to say, it's a good thing! It's what I've wanted.  Needed.  It's incredibly freeing to be able to focus on SIMPLY WRITING.  (Well, I'm highly distractible. But you know what I mean.)  And in the end, this is where I want to be.  Even if it means waiting when I don't want to wait, or revising when I'd rather not revise, or explaining to my husband for the hundredth time that agents sign CLIENTS, not BOOKS, and that Josh and I are going to be a team for time untold.

It's just the control freak in me, rearing her twisted little head.  I've got her well under control most of the time.  In fact, I've come a long way!  (You wouldn't want to know the Old Me. No, you would not.) Acknowledging the change in my "freedom status" and reminding myself that this is exactly where I need to be helps keep me centered.

So.  There's your dose of Authoress brain goo for the month.  Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go stalk my agent.

(Kidding. I'm just kidding!)

(Well, sort of.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Ultimate in Fan Art

I simply had to take a moment to post this.

Our own Lizzy, who runs the forums at WRITE ON! (including a monthly chat with agents), has made the main character of Jodi Meadows's novel into a DOLL.

Feast your eyes on ANA from INCARNATE HERE!

(And, um, Lizzy? Can we talk? I have this really cool character named Eric, and...)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Success Stories Abound...

You know, at this rate, I may have to institute a weekly share-the-success-story-email post!

Feast your eyes:

Hey Authoress!

I'm going to be a published author. I won a MSFV contest way back and a first chapter critique, which was incredibly encouraging when I was aspiring. Then, after getting my agent, I was really grappling with the first chapter of my story, 'INSIGNIA', so I did the agented author critique. That motivated me to come up with the current beginning-- the right beginning.

A little bit later, I got my first book deal with that story.

INSIGNIA, the story of a teenage video gamer who becomes a government weapon in a futuristic world at war. (Summer of 2012, Katherine Tegen Books)

S.J. Kincaid

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lots and Lots and LOTS of Winners!

Clearly this round was golden for our Secret Agent.  Here are Ms. Rydzinski's winners:

PRIZE: First 50 pages with editorial letter

PRIZE: Full manuscript with editorial letter

PRIZE: Full manuscript with line edits and an editorial letter.

(I know. Kind of jaw-dropping prizes, right?)

Wait, there's more!



PRIZE: First 50 pages

Whew!  Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific submission instructions.  (Looks like I'll be sending a lot of emails today!)

Congratulations, all!

Secret Agent Unveiled: Tamar Rydzinski

Applause and huzzahs to the helpful and super-speedy Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency for being our Secret Agent this month!

Tamar's Bio:

Tamar Rydzinski is an agent with the Laura Dail Literary Agency. She represents pretty much everything but prescriptive nonfiction and picture books. She's looking for characters she can really connect to and an amazing story. One of her favorite parts of the job is editing, so she does a lot of that to get her clients' manuscripts in amazing shape for submission.

And that's that!  Winners forthcoming.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Fricassee

I've just watched one of the FASTEST Secret Agents in MSFV history.  She sent me her list of winners yesterday afternoon already!  And what a list it is.

(Who, me? Enjoy teasing you?)

So I've had a lousy week (the writerly me, not the *real* me).  (Wait, are they different?) As in, I haven't been this unproductive while working on a story since--well, I haven't exactly approached working on a story this way before.

You know how I've always said once a pantser, always a pantser?  Yeah, that.  I'm all for more organization and getting main plot points in order.  In fact, it's safe to say that I will NEVER begin a novel cold again.  It's too much work on the back end.

But this planning-things-before-I-even-know-my-characters-well-enough?  IT'S REALLY HARD.

I've stared so much this week that I think my eyes have shrunk and will soon pop out and roll away.

Funny, how I never stared while I was at the shore.  Funny, how the beach lubricated my mind within minutes of settling into my early-morning beach  chair.  Too bad I wasn't working on this story that week.

Anyway.  I'm not whining about it.  Just being honest.

I do have one small bit of productivity to announce: I've finally begun the list of published authors with MSFV success stories.  Not much more than an alphabetical list at this point; I'll be adding links soon.  But it's a start, right?


If you are a published author who boasts an MSFV success story, and your name is not on this list, please email me ASAP!

That's all for now.  Winners on Monday--and the start of a fresh, new week as well!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Ghost Light
GENRE: YA Contemporary

No one ever calls in the middle of the night to tell you that you've won the lottery.

Or that you aced your chem final.

Or that your favorite team won the series.

If the phone rings in the middle of the night, it's a pretty sure bet that someone has died, or someone just broke up with his girlfriend or, in my case, that something awful has happened to Lizzie.

She doesn't always call me. Sometimes she calls Spencer. Sometimes, I suspect, she just deals with her mom's drinking and her loser stepfather's temper and doesn't tell either of us. I hate that even more than I hate the phone ringing in the middle of the night.

This time when it rings, I'm in the middle of a dream, kissing Ally Martin while standing on first base. Yeah, I'm getting to first base on first base. My subconscious obviously has a sense of humor.

I know it's a dream because that's the only way I'd be kissing Ally. You can't really kiss someone you haven't had the courage to speak to.

I should have talked to her right after she transferred to Jefferson High, but I didn't. After that it was too late to do it without some sort of explanation. Now, two years later, I'm too embarrassed to try to explain all the times that she's caught me staring at her. So the only conversations I have with her are in my head.

July Secret Agent #47

TITLE: The Rogue King
GENRE: Fantasy Science Fiction Cross

Koral looked up through the glass panel in the metal ceiling. The combined light of four moons made it difficult to see the stars. Only a scant few shone bright enough to punch through that pallid glow. Which one of those dots, out of the hundreds he knew were truly out there, belonged to the alien creatures raising him? They'd come from another world, somewhere beyond the moons and the twin suns. From a planet they called Earth.

He wished the same could be said about him. But then he'd wished for many things over the passing twelve years of his life. None of them had come true either.

"Excuse me."

He winced at the words. A weary sigh escaping through his nostrils as he turned to face his birth-mother.

Amelia stood in the doorway leading out of his tiny room aboard the spaceship, hands on hips. "Get your tail back to bed, mister." She was considered short by the men, who weren't much taller than she was. He had recently surpassed all of them height-wise and their latest bio scans promised he would grow further still.

Koral's gaze fell to her booted feet. How did she always manage to move so silently on the metal flooring? "Tell me another story," he said, giving her a smile that, usually, let him get his way.

"Very well," she said with a sigh, a tinge of humour tweaking her lips.

July Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Supernatural Freak
GENRE: urban fantasy

A rough area on the abandoned outskirts of London. It's a very dark, but unfortunately for me, not stormy night. My situation would be much better if it was. On my right, a massive grey building stares at me with its empty windows, like a monstrous, blind giant. All around there is rubbish of every kind: a broken armchair, a rusty bicycle, even an out of order washing machine still filled with yesterday's rain. A stench of putrid water fills the air from time to time, when the wind changes. A dog is barking madly in the distance. Definitely not the best place for a picnic, but I couldn't have found a better and safer location for what I am preparing to do.

My only problem is that it's nearly midnight, in less than half an hour the moon will rise, and the bloody shaman hasn't shown up yet. No shaman, no healing spell; which means no money and loads of trouble for me. I haven't even written my will! Considering the situation, I'm happy I've given uncle Terry a day off. By now he'll probably be in some sordid Soho strip club, watching a half-naked chick, young enough to be his daughter, dancing frantically around a pole. Well, good for him; better to be safe
than ethical, as I always say.

July Secret Agent #45

TITLE: Somniloquy
GENRE: YA Suspense

I eyed my pillow like an enemy. It beckoned, white and smooth, the promise of oblivion. And yet I dreaded sleep. The fear that it could happen again, that I might wake up wandering somewhere in the house, or even worse, outside on the grounds, kept me from closing my eyes.

From my perch on the window seat, I turned to stare out into the fading day. Though it was well past eleven, the last threads of light lingered on the gardens and the flat green lawn surrounding Heraldsgreen House. In Memphis, it would have been dark by this time, but June nights in Scotland were so short. A restless wind stirred the towering chestnuts and the leaves murmured with secrets, sending twitches of anxiety into the depths of my stomach.

Five nights of interrupted sleep. My head, heavy and leaden, dropped against the window and I rolled my forehead on the cool glass. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how many books I nodded into or songs I blasted through my headphones, I couldn't stay awake forever. I unfolded the massive wooden shutters across the window, struggling against hinges gummed up by centuries of paint.

The bed was cold, the sheets slightly clammy, when I crawled beneath the covers. The glow from my laptop screen lit my room, which still looked wrong and unfinished. I stretched out, lying rigid with my fists clenched, fighting. But exhaustion won in the end.

The sound of screaming woke me from a deep sleep.

July Secret Agent #44


Marcus sat up in bed. Once again, the memory of a sea dragon feasting on his brother Malork’s body filled Marcus’ mind and he had to squeeze his eyes shut, and shake himself to halt the scene. This explained why his test had included a sea dragon.

Wiping the sweat off his face, he lay back down on his pillow. That was when he noticed that the room had a strange blue-ish hue to it. He sat up again and felt something that was not fear, move within his heart. Hanging his head and focusing inward, he waited. It happened once more, but a strong overwhelming peace came also.

Before he knew it, the feeling took him over and he gave himself to that beautiful comforting serenity. As he allowed it to permeate deeper within him, the room lit up. It grew until the tranquil power of its brightness immersed everything.

After a moment of basking, wonder finally overwhelmed all his other feelings. Marcus looked around and saw that the light was coming from his naming stone. As he reached for it, the sapphire pebble rose on its own and moved across the air to land softly in his outstretched palm. As soon as the stone touched his skin, he heard a very clear, yet quiet voice say, “Manwel. You are Manwel, the chosen one of unity.”

July Secret Agent #43

TITLE: In Limbo
GENRE: Historical YA

I'm pretty sure this is what hell feels like. Sweat trickles off of the back of my neck as I pretend to pay
attention to my best friend, Sketch while he bumps his gums about some new art contest he wants to enter. It's fall but inside John Marshall High School, every season feels like summer. Especially in the

I catch the tail end of Sketch's sentence. "...wouldn't it be swell? I hear summers in California are nothing like the one's here--all sweltering and whatnot."

I nod and wipe the sweat from the back of my neck. I wish me and Sketch were talking about normal things, that would make me less agitated. We could be talking about how it's bunk that the baseball
season's been cut short thanks to "The Great War". Dad would say that's what boys our age talk about--not charcoal pens and canvases. Everything's uncomfortable. This conversation, the heat, the fact that
my knees always bump the top of the table. I think I grew out of this schoolhouse just as quick as Mom's victory garden died.

"You listening?" Sketch asks, not taking his beady eyes from this strange bear he's drawing.

"Sure." I scan the cafeteria. Jim Stervitz is supposed to bring me ten bucks today for the Panasonic two-way socket I lifted from the pawn shop.

"I mean, this is it, Syl. We're gonna graduate in one year, ya know? This is what we oughtta to be thinking about.

July Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Murder on Music Row
GENRE: Cozy mystery

Nan Macomb clutched the razor-sharp shears to her side as she made her way along the darkened hallway. She grimaced at the sight of Loralee Anderson sitting, back to her, like she was a complete innocent. When Nan moved into the adjoining room, sunlight glinted off the stainless steel blades and she edged them out of sight.

Loralee caught her eye in the over-sized mirror and swiveled the red stylist chair around to face Nan. "What the hell are you doin'? Looks like you want to stab me."

"The thought crossed my mind," Nan said as she slammed the newly sharpened shears on a nearby table. "One of these days I'm gonna stop fixing the messes you get yourself in when you go out of town and get a wild hair . . . literally." She studied the damage as she pulled her fingers through Loralee's auburn hair, her long curls tipped in rainbow hues.

"Nah, you've been playing with my hair since seventh grade. You won't ever stop. And I didn't let them do nothing but the tips. I saved my roots for you."

Okay, okay. We'll do your highlights before we cut out your folly. Now sit still."

Emma, the third member of their cadre, was hanging out in a corner chair, reading until they finished their shenanigans. She glanced up from her Kindle and winked at Nan.

By the time Nan put Loralee under the dryer, her head looked like a just-cooked pan of Jiffy-Pop popcorn.

July Secret Agent #41

TITLE: Degrees of Broken
GENRE: Contemporary YA

In second grade, I told the kids at my lunch table that the relish in my tuna-fish sandwich was really ground up fish eyes from the whole tuna my mom butchered once a month and forced me to eat. Back then, I didn't realize the kids I told didn't quite count, because they couldn't make my life any better, but it was the only thing I could come up with to try to make some part of them feel sorry for the way I was growing up.

The only thing that lie really accomplished was a sick-to-my-stomach, wasted lunch, and a
stay-away-from-the-weirdo-new-girl status, on top of everything else. No one believed me, but I tried, anyway.

Even with a better story, no one would have been swayed to my side, because from the outside looking in, my mom tied our lives up in a believable bow with her Martha Stewart housewife smile and apparent capableness; even the counselors with the job of stamping "ITINERANT/AT RISK" on my permanent folder through the years had trouble believing the words.

And if I squinted my mind's eye up hard enough, tilted my head far to the left, and got a temporary case of amnesia (and it happened once or twice, I'll admit), I could get caught up in the charade, too--mistake my mom and dad's temporary marriage make-believe for the real thing, believe my mom really was so
happy and honeymoon in the new kitchen, it might be the last one I had to get used to.

July Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Out of the Ashes
GENRE: YA Paranormal

I was used to being followed. That was the whole point of wearing the cape. The red seemed to draw them out; it was like a beacon in the night, a bull's eye screaming: Come and get me.

And that's exactly what I wanted.

Don't get the wrong idea. I'm no hero. The cape is just for show. Attracting trouble isn't hard when you know what trouble looks for. By now, I had my act down to a science: young girl walking the streets of DC at night, red short cape with the hood pulled up for visibility, add a dash of helplessness in the form of a limp, and there you go. Instant damsel in distress.

Not that I was expecting any princes to jump out of the shadows. No, night after night, I hoped for just the opposite, looking to have a run-in with something far more fearsome. And wouldn't you know it? Tonight the formula worked like a charm.

There were at least two maybe three. I could feel their eyes on me as I turned to walk down the alley. About midway, I pretended to trip, dropped my keys to the ground. As I bent to pick them up, I heard footsteps approaching.

"Hey there, Red," one called in a rough grizzly voice.

I smiled to myself. It was almost too easy.

Acting like I hadn't heard, I straightened, walked faster.

"Where you going in such a hurry?" A second voice, this one lower than the first.

July Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Silence
GENRE: YA Fiction: Paranormal

The soft pitter-patter of drops against the glass panes was the only sound in the quiet library, though Sage heard more.

Swallowing hard, she returned her attention to the sketchpad in her lap, pushing away the raspy whispers in her ears. She stared down at the half finished face of a Victorian woman, her stomach twisting. A small veil hung from the miniature hat on the portrait's head, obscuring one dark and piercing eye. A smirk played softly on her graphite lips as Sage glided her pencil across the page. She added a single stray hair floating in front of the figure's face, the rest pulled back into a tightly kept bun.

Maria. The name echoed around her throbbing head as Sage stared at the sheet. She dreaded finishing the drawing. But she had to if she wanted the pounding fists against the inside of her skull to disappear. She winced as Maria hit her again, sending a flash of white across her vision. Chills raced down her spine as Sage set her pencil back to the page. What story would Maria have to tell?

Setting her ebony pencil down, Sage stared at the sheet and waited. Fear coiled in her stomach as her eyes scanned the sketch again. Every inch of the portrait was smudged and shaded to a haunting perfection. Ice flowed through her as she watched, not daring to breathe until Maria appeared. The soul's voice hit before the portrait sprang to life before her.

July Secret Agent #38

TITLE: The Measure of Angels
GENRE: Paranormal Romantic Suspense

Night had always been a time of dread for me so dusk did nothing to improve Red Hook's ambience. The neighborhood looked as dirty and run down in the dark as it did in full sunlight. Those few moments between day and night, when the light failed and night suffocated the landscape of color, had always been a time that separated comfort and safety from fear and danger.

I shivered on the front step of the Foster Building, my gut telling me this wasn't a great place for a woman at this time of day but at least there was parking. A lone black sedan idled at the curb, a man inside reading a newspaper. In the alley across the street, a cook in a stained apron leaned against the wall and smoked a cigarette.

The building was even less impressive than the neighborhood. Located a few blocks from Gowanus Bay, the old brick office building huddled between an empty lot and an abandoned warehouse, its worn facade overlooking a street littered with trash and old newspapers.

My dissertation advisor warned me that the Special Cases Unit worked under completely different regulations than the main FBI.

"Things might seem strange to you at first," he said when encouraging me to accept the job offer. "Keep an open mind."

No doorbell, no intercom, no card reader. Any security cameras were well-hidden. The Special Cases Unit was either really clandestine or completely unimportant.

Given the neighborhood, I figured it was the latter rather than the former.

July Secret Agent #37

GENRE: YA Pre-Distopian Paranormal

The shadows hunt me.

The trees above me barely sway with their stealthy prowl. I know they're chasing me, stalking my every breath. Over my shoulder, from the corner of my eye, even the breeze at my back, I am surrounded. The Khayal are scum, filthy swine and want nothing more than to watch me die. I feel the same way about them. Their disease ridden infestation is a plague to humanity. I can destroy them all, if they don't catch me first.

The sodden ground splats beneath my boots with each painful vault, but I don't care how much noise I make anymore ...they know I'm here.

Run - Run, my mind screams. Sweat drips between my shoulder blades, pooling in my waistband.
I ignore the gash in my calf. I'm losing too much blood. I intensify the grip on my bow to stay alert.
I won't give up, I won't quit, no matter how much my body protests.

One more mile and I'll be clear of the trees. That will make it harder for the shadows to move. I slide five feet down the hill, leading out of the forest. I don't stop. I only push harder. My vision wanes. I shake it off and run from memory.

I've been part of this SEEK team for barely a month and already I've caught more lurking Khayal than my comrades combined. Search, Evade, Extract, Kill - SEEK. I burned through the first three.

July Secret Agent #36

TITLE: The Curse
GENRE: YA - Fantasy

There once were four simple sisters who were exceptionally ordinary. They were of average looks, modest status, appropriate cleverness and each with their fair share of suitors. It should have been enough.

But if the sisters were extraordinary in anything, it was their desire for more. They wanted power, beauty, wisdom and devotion. So they spoke to the moon and being the cold, cruel queen she was, the moon granted their wishes.

They were each given the gift they desired: a mirror for beauty, a dagger for strength, a crown for wisdom and a ring for devotion. But they accepted these gifts not knowing that there would be payment in return. Not knowing that wishes do not come free.

With each use of their magical gifts, the sisters began to change. When evening came and the moon’s gaze touched their faces, they were different. Their nails would lengthen, their blue eyes turned to yellow and their teeth sharpened as they arched their mouths towards the sky. The same throats that had once asked for what they did not deserve could now only howl.

Ruined by their own desires, the wretched sisters called to the moon again. It was not right that they should be cursed so cruelly, they said, for their wishes were no different then any other woman. Didn’t all women wish to be powerful, beautiful, wise and adored? Why should they be the only ones punished?

The moon, though wicked and cruel, also prided herself on being fair. So she considered the sisters’ plea.

July Secret Agent #35

GENRE: YA romantic suspense with supernatural elements

The books reeked of salt and rotting fish. I kind of liked it. The libraries back home only carried the scent of aged paper and dust. Not nearly as charming.

I continued to browse. I loved the search as much as the read. Cream cheese was my next stop. Running errands for Mom really bugged, but it gave me an excuse to get out. Alone.

New, shiny driver's license. Back pocket. Me? Stoked. But Mom? Not so much. The picture had turned out dreadful, but fortunately, a glamorous photo wasn't a requirement for the freedom it offered. Well, a little bit of freedom. Mom was still pretty stiff, but I would take anything to make my life less vanilla.

I turned toward the end of the aisle where a teenage boy sat by the window with a newspaper, bright colors parading over the comic section. He was watching me.

I froze.

He was dirty. Dirty and gross.

His eyes bore into mine, but I couldn't look away. An invisible darkness hung around him, so flawless I could almost taste its putrid flavor. But at the same time, I just wanted to gawk as my finger longed to slowly trace his sharp features.

Strings of black hair fell over his forehead, screening his sunken eyes, and the bones in his face poked beneath skin that could snap.

But there was more. Something ran deeper, radiated from within. Something I sensed more than saw. He was... different.

I could feel it.

July Secret Agent #34

GENRE: Paranormal YA

Carly knew something was off about the old man the moment she first spotted him. He peeked out from behind one of the towering flower arrangements dotting the funeral parlor, twitching his head back and forth, like a rat sniffing at a trash pail and hoping not to get caught.

She sized him up. Little bits of white lint covered his wrinkled black suit like thistles. He wasn't exactly well put-together. Maybe he was a priest. She quickly nixed that idea--no collar. Besides, what kind of priest hid behind flowers instead of shaking hands or praying? He was nothing like the other mourners at the funeral, either. He didn't kneel on the padded velvet footstool beside Nonna's casket to pay his respects. And he didn't offer the requisite sad, pitiful smile Carly had grown accustomed to seeing in the last three days.

She kept her eyes pinned on him as she stood behind her father, leaning against the wall, hoping not to be seen by her mother or Aunt Marjorie. Good grief, those two had been sobbing all day. Marj had bits of Kleenex stuck to the end of her nose. No way was Carly getting within a six-foot radius of that pity party. She didn't need to be reminded of the obvious, thank you very much.

Besides, watching the old dude was by far the best entertainment she'd had all day. She needed something to take her mind off the fact that her grandmother was in that wood box.

July Secret Agent #33

TITLE: Shadow Embraced
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

The pale girl knocks me back against the fleshy wall of the crowd with a couple of hard smacks. I scramble away from a woman in a purple dress, my eyes on my opponent. Over the pulsing music, the crowd still keeps up their tribal chant.

"Fight! Fight! Fight!"

This is my first time at The Basement--innovative name for a club set up on a second-storey. The dim lights and smoky atmosphere make the red and black clothing of the crowd and the graffiti on the walls blaze. Between the pinball machines, sagging lounges, and the close-pressed crowd, there isn't much room to manoeuvre.

"What are you waiting for?" the girl hisses. She could be Snow White with her porcelain skin and long, raven hair. "You started this. It was just between me and her." She extends one long finger towards my best friend, Alex.

Alex watches from the sideline. I don't know what she did to piss off this poisonous cow, but now I want blood.

"Come on, Scar," Alex calls, running her hand through her long, bleached hair, which is overdue for another dose of peroxide.

My opponent launches at me. I shield my face from her punches. It all comes down to waiting for an opening.

I duck under a right hook and seize my chance. I throw an uppercut and knock her pale ass to the ground. Before she has a chance to regain her footing, I pounce.

A single word roars through the room. "Scatter!"

July Secret Agent #32

GENRE: YA contemporary fantasy

Crazy Aunt Patti. Maggie loved her, but Patti was as superstitious as they came.

Patti set a saucer of milk out every night to appease the local pixie population, kept a pair of metal tongs above her daughter's cradle to ward off supernatural baby snatchers, and was forever on the hunt for a river rock with a natural hole in it, which she claimed, when looked through, would allow her to see the wee creatures for what they really were.

Maggie's mom said Patti did it to play up the 'quaint Irish folk' thing; that Patti gave the Irish a bad name and played into American stereotypes; that she reveled in the attention that came with being the wacky one in the family, always clinging to the old ways.

But Maggie liked Patti's stories. When she was really mad at her parents or her sister, she daydreamed about living with Aunt Patti and Uncle Finn, Maeve and Liam and Cillian and Aoife, in Ballyshee, County Mayo, Ireland.

The tiny village was romantic, gothic, fantastical--opposite in every possible way to Maggie's average, lawyer's-daughter life. She imagined it as a lush, picturesque place where it rained as often as it shined. Where life was simple. Where she might have a cheerful mother and a present father and siblings that adored her. Green grass on the other side of the pond.

Ballyshee, where Crazy Aunt Patti wasn't so crazy after all.

July Secret Agent #31

GENRE: YA mystery

Paris, France
The place I least wanted to be
Day one of my summer vacation

As I dragged my little sister out the Charles de Gaulle Airport, a lady on the sidewalk by the taxi stand screamed. “Thief! Stop him! He's got my purse.”

My sister tugged on my shirt. “What's happening, Dave?”

"Hold on, Ruthie, let me find out."

The screamer turned out to be a blonde lady in a purple suit on the sidewalk by the taxi stand. She pointed at a kid running through the drizzle, a s***-eating grin on his face. He stole something and
nobody caught him.

"Look out, Ruthie. Stay here and watch the bags."

The thief looked about my age, seventeen. He wore scruffy clothes that bagged around his skinny body. A lady's purse under his arm, he headed toward me, zigzagging, jumping over luggage, and holding his
other arm out to push bystanders away.

“Stop him somebody, please!” The lady pointed at the thief.

Nobody else made a move, so I decided it was up to me. I dashed across the cement, grabbed him around the shoulders and neck, and tackled him. Down we went, making a loud thud when we hit the

The crowd clapped and cheered as I yanked the purse out of his hands. In my head, I was defensive end, Osi Umenyiora, of the New York Giants, holding up a recovered fumble.

July Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Athena: Throne Race
GENRE: Historical Fantasy

Odysseus clung to the black crags that bit into his hands, screaming defiance at the surge of water that tore at his body and treated him like a loose cork in the bitter sea. The crash of surf against the rocky shore told him the backwash was headed his way, and he knew his muscles were too weak to keep hold. Athena has abandoned me.

He saw the fatal turn of the water, felt the first tug that would tear him loose. He cursed the tide that would sweep him back out to sea with no more dignity than the young crabs just beyond his fingers . . . . And at that moment, he reversed the odds and threw off despair. He let go of the rock.

Odysseus had no time to chuckle at his own craftiness when the surf dragged him to where the water was only choppy, not crashing against the hard shore -- just as crabs always had half a chance to scuttle back after the roiling waves savaged them. He swam while gazing at that fell coast, the strain of shipwreck no longer allowing his legs to kick like a stallion tromping through knee-high barley. He looked for any imperfection, any gap in those rocks. Something, even a spit of sand in the dawn light. Then he saw the river.

July Secret Agent #29

TITLE: Insulin Junkies
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Nothing feels worse than standing in a high school bathroom holding your jeans up to the hand-dryer. The door doesn't lock, so I haul the big metal trash can in front of it, hoping it'll keep some people from coming in, and stand there in nothing but my shirt, washing my underwear. It dries fast under the heat of the hand-dryer, so at least I can wear something as I put my jeans under the faucet and then wring them out. That trash can will only hold the door shut for so long, and the hand-dryer can't work fast enough.

Standing there with my jeans held to the air leaves me a lot of time to think. At first, I try to distract myself, thinking, God, if you just dry my pants, I will volunteer every single weekend for charity. I've already missed pre-calculus; if I stand here much longer, I'll be late for English too. All I want is to skulk out of the building and catch a bus home, but I don't have a jacket, thanks to the June sun, and I'm not risking anyone seeing that I've pissed my pants.

God isn't listening; my pants still have a huge damp patch. I wish I could call a friend, get her to bring me my P.E. clothes or something, but there's no one that I can let see me like this. Nine months at this school and my closest friend is my ex-boyfriend.

July Secret Agent #28

GENRE: Contemporary Women's Fiction

4 November 1983

"He's not moving," I push back the dark hair from Glen's sweating forehead. It's cold. "Floz, he's bleeding from the mouth!"

"They've already called an ambulance."


"Some guy." Floz wrings his fedora with both hands. "I don't know, some guy in the club. Iz knows."

"Glen!" I cradle him and watch as blood soaks through his shirt and onto my arms and legs. "Floz, he's not moving!"

"I know!"

It's strange, but I register the flash of the ambulance lights before the cry of the siren, the alternating strobes of blue and red splashed on the blank walls outside the club.

"Miss, I'm gonna have to ask you to step out of the way."

Floz touches my shoulder.

"He won't answer me," I try to tell the EMT. My lungs can't seem to take in enough air. "Why won't he answer me?"

"Libby," Floz tugs at my arm.

"I wanna go with him." I look from Floz to the EMT, watching as they strap Glen onto a board. "Do you see? He's bleeding from the mouth!"

"We've got it under control."

"I wanna go with him. Floz, I wanna go with him, dammit!"

They load Glen's body through the back of the ambulance doors and I try to climb in. At first, I think I'll get shoved back and I'm ready to claw my way up. But then another EMT grabs my arm and hoists me in.

"Sit here," she says gruffly.

I nod.

July Secret Agent #27

GENRE: YA fantasy

"My Anastasha, I've loved ya like the poppies love red since I was five an' three-quarters and, now that we're both fourteen, I think we oughta marry."

This was it. These were the words. The words that had eluded him so deviously this time last year. He had stood before Anastasha, grabbed her muddy, lovely hands with his freckled fingers and attempted to do what he would successfully accomplish today. Back then, the words he meant to say turned into "ums" and "ers" and stutters of similar intelligence. Foul, crafty words!

But not today. Words loved him today. As soon as the fluid string of poetry left his lips, they would infiltrate Anastasha's chest and strike her heart with all the heat of the summer sun.

It would be too much! She would swoon and he would rush forward to catch her in his arms. And then she, his darling Anastasha, would open her glorious green eyes to see his face above hers. Love blossoming like crimson poppies in her cheeks.

Oh yes. This was it. Aleksander's heart hammered in his throat as he snuck through a forest of oak and apple trees. He ducked under a low branch and skirted around the thorns of a hackberry so methodical and habitually as if he'd done this every day.

Alek slowed down. Looked at his feet. The grasses and clover beneath the soles of his loafers lay wilted and brown, packed into the dirt.