Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Brushing the Dust From Another Success Story

As those of you who have recently received very belated email responses know, I have been cleaning out my inbox.  ("Mess" does not begin to describe it.)  As luck (and embarrassment) would have it, I came upon a success story from February that somehow slipped through my fingers.

I'm always stunned when I find this sort of thing hiding in the murk of my inbox.  I love success story emails, and I usually respond immediately.

Anyway, here it is!  The fact that I temporarily lost track of it in no way diminishes its shininess.  My thanks to the author for his graciousness in giving permission to share this news six months late!

Hi Authoress,


I've got a success story for you - on Monday, I signed with Ann Rittenberg of the Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency. This came about in a way I never imagined. I wrote the "So You Want to Write a Novel" video that's been making the rounds (actually it was posted on Kristin Nelson's blog the same day she posted your "Snark the Haggard Agents Sing" song).


My video caught Ann's attention, which led her to my humor blog and my other videos that had gone viral, which she also liked. One thing led to another, and after a few e-mails and phone calls, she offered me representation last week. I accepted on Monday.


It's still very surreal to me -- I still find myself thinking like I don't have an agent (in fact, I started reading the February Secret Agent submission guidelines before I remembered I didn't need to
anymore!).


I will, of course, continue to read your blog, but I will do it happily without the stress of agent hunting (replaced with the new stress on working to get published!)


Sincerely,
David Kazzie

Monday, August 29, 2011

Have a Blog? Want to Help?

Okay, I'm throwing out a line and seeing what I can pull in.

I'm accepting up to 500 entries to the Baker's Dozen Auction this year.  Only 60 will actually make it into the auction.

I don't want everyone else to be sad.

So I've decided to offer public critique for everybody.  Problem is, there's no way I can accommodate this. I know I don't have to tell you how much time/work/chocolate consumption goes into the Baker's Dozen.  That, and there just isn't the space and time on my blog to do this.

Here's where you come in.  If you have a WRITING blog (not a crocheting blog or a pictures-of-my-dogs blog or a personal, sometimes-TMI blog) and would like to host a chunk of fellow writers' excerpts for public critique, PLEASE EMAIL ME at facelesswords(at)gmail.com.

I am looking for 4 to 5 blogs.  Preferably well established.  Doesn't matter if you have a small audience; I'll be sending folks your way to come and critique.

Please think about it before you jump at it; it will take a little of your time!  (I'll have to email you each entry individually so you can then post them.  If there are formatting errors, you will have to make them look pretty.)

And thank you in advance.

****UPDATE****

Wow!!!!  I'm blown away by the response.  I now have so many offers I'm not sure how to proceed!  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I will now figure out what to do next...   o_O

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Fricassee

Question:  How do you get lots of thought-provoking comments on your blog?

Answer:  Mention the S word in the context of YA.

*grin*

In all seriousness, thank you to EVERYONE for contributing to a sensitive and deep discussion.  Can you imagine how we'd rock at our very own convention?

Dream it with me.  The First Annual Miss Snark's First Victim Conference, aka MSFV-CON.

(Can't you hear it now?  "Hey, are y'all going to Emmesseffy-Con?")

We could hold it in December and have a LIVE Baker's Dozen Auction.  With a bona-fide auctioneer and everything.  Gavel, microphone, little signs on sticks for agents to wave when they want to place a bid.

I'd totally dig watching Michelle Wolfson and Josh Getzler go at it.

Of course there'd be lots of ORGANIC GOURMET food at the conference.  I think we would eat a lot. And all meals would be served by candlelight.

With live jazz.

Chocolate in all the swag bags, too.  And awesome door prizes like $1000 gift cards to bookstores and shopping sprees at The Gap.

(I have no idea who's going to fund this thing.)

Anyway.  Maybe I'm a little pumped because I've crossed the halfway mark on my revisions.  You all know what it feels like to have more-than-half done, whether it's a first draft or a final.  It feels like the downside of the hill, even though there's a potentially tricky climax to work out.

So, yeah.  I'm happy.

I had a short theatrical stint this week, too.  I tried out for a play, which is something I haven't done in years.  And I made callbacks.

My jaw experienced a proverbial drop.

No, I didn't ultimately get cast.  I did receive an affirming email from the director, though.  Know what it sounded like?  A QUERY REJECTION LETTER.

I had to laugh.

Here's a snippet:

I have cast the show and will be unable to use [you]. I certainly hope I have another chance to possibly work with you. You are [a] very good actor and seem to have [a] tremendous sense of humor.


I was entertained all weekend with the enourmous [sic] amount of talent I observed from all the people who came to audition. It was not an easy choice to make.


Thank you again for your time and interest in coming to auditions.


A rejection letter from a director--who knew?  An interesting parallel, and worth slightly embarrassing myself over.  (I mean, what actress wants to admit she was passed up?)

And there you have it.  I'm sure my agent will be relieved to know that I'll be spending my evenings at the computer instead of play rehearsals.  And I know my husband is relieved.

With that--a happy Friday to you all!  And again, thank you for being SO TRULY WONDERFUL.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On YA and Teen Sexuality

No, I'm not going to debate sex in teen novels.  It exists, and you either read it/write it/like it or you don't.

I don't write it, and I have no plans to.  That's just me.  That doesn't have to be you.  My novels do have teen sexuality in them, though, because it's impossible to be a teen and not experience your burgeoning sexual self.  I choose to be subtle instead of overt about this in my stories.  Again, that doesn't have to be you.

Just thought I'd clear up what my own approach is.  (As if this surprises you!)

So here's the thing.  I've been ramping up my YA reading lately, so naturally I'm reading things with sex in them.  Because, yeah.  There's a lot of it out there.  Also almost-sex, which is pretty much the same, so long as we're talking non-explicit.

And here's my observation:  I'm seeing teen protagonists having sexual responses and behaviors that are too adult.  This is particularly noticeable when the character in question has never had sex before--and, in some cases, hasn't had a boyfriend/girlfriend before.  Or even a first kiss.

So when it comes to Very Sexy Behavior on the part of the main character, I find that I'm thrown out of the story.  For instance (and no, I'm not going to be explicit on my decidedly PG-13 blog), if the protagonist-who-has-never-been-kissed is fantasizing about doing Something Very Provocative to the resident Cute Boy's lips, it makes me think--whoa.  That's an AWFULLY aggressive/sexual/intimate thing to think about in light of the fact that you've never been kissed/never had a boyfriend/never had almost-sex/etc.

Yes, I know there are movies and books and sexually active best friends and all sorts of ways teenagers get information.  But to extrapolate that information into a highly focused desire or fantasy is, for me, outside of realistic.  Maybe to wonder tentatively what it would be like to.... Or to blush while remembering what so-and-so told you about the time when... Or to be a little confused/blown away by the way you're feeling about...  That sort of stuff.

You may disagree.  And that's okay.

(Naturally, if you've written a sexually experienced character, the above doesn't apply.)

Here comes the Angst-ridden Tale From the Annals of Authoress's Teen History (brace yourself):

I was 15 when I got my First Kiss.  I was head-over-heels, and I'm not sure what he was, other than messing with my ditzy little head.  For me, it was probably a classic theatre romance.  We were in GODSPELL together; he was Jesus.

Yanno?  Who can resist a cute Jesus with brown, curly hair?

So we went to see a play.  Afterward, he kissed me in the front seat of his car.  It wasn't a tiny kiss, either.  It was way more than I could handle.

In fact, after the giddiness wore off, all I could do was to long for an opportunity to try again, so I could show him I could, yanno, kiss him back.  Or something.

I felt completely inept at kissing.  Because, well, I was.

Most people are, the first time.  Right?

I'm not saying that every teen protagonist needs to be all squirrelly and unsure and I-grew-up-in-a-closet backwards.  I mean, who would want to read about teens like THAT?  What I AM saying is that, as you infuse sexuality into your teen characters, make sure you step back and ask yourself, "Is this something my 15- or 16- or 17-year-old character would actually think/feel/do?  Or is this something I might think/feel/do?"

Know what I mean?

It's about authenticity.  And I don't feel like it's authentic for an inexperienced teen to have thoughts and behaviors that seem more appropriate (and believable) for someone who's been married for ten years.

I'm not picking on any particular book, by the way.  It's just an overall trend I'm seeing.

There you have it!  And now back to infusing-my-lame-teen-self-into-amazingly-self-assured-main-characters.  Erm, I mean, reading.

Monday, August 22, 2011

This Month's Winners

Okay, we've got three winners this month:

#1 This Side of Crazy
#39 Cracked
#41 The Taste of Ginger

The prize:

Ms. Svetcov would like to read the first 25 pages of your manuscript.  Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for submission instructions.

Congratulations all!

Secret Agent Unveiled: Danielle Svetcov


Applause and virtual flowers for the lovely Danielle Svetcov of Levine Greenberg for being our Secret Agent this month!

Danielle's Bio:

Danielle Svetcov joined Levine Greenberg in 2001 as a book doctor, and a few years later, began selling books from her “remote” outpost in San Francisco, California. She looks for titles that make her laugh (e.g. Skymaul—Happy Crap You Can Buy From a Plane) and, if nothing comes along, will write her own laugh track (The Un-Constipated Gourmet—Secrets to a Moveable Feast). She particularly likes to laugh while she’s crying (Half Baked), or eating (Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It), or parenting (Balance Is a Crock and Sleep Is for the Weak), or sweating (Yoga Bitch). Also, if you’re a mystery writer with snappy elocutionary style, if your book traffics in awkward heroes or charming family dysfunction, please do make contact. Prior to Levine Greenberg, Danielle worked as a freelance writer, an editor, a kitchen slave, and a pastry hawker. She has an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College.

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Fricassee

Okay.  I feel like I'm a pantser in recovery.

Here's what I'm learning as I press through this Very Massive Revision:  Having an outline allows me to PANTS WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE OUTLINE WITHOUT GETTING OFF TRACK.

What a revelation!

I've always said I believe that pantsing is genetic.  I still believe that.  But...wow.  Because I took the time to work out plot kinks (really, that word is much too small for what they actually were), I am now able to breathe life into new scenes that MAKE SENSE.  Because...gasp...I know where I'm going.

I mean...I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING!

So, yeah.  The organic writing that I love--and that I believe is part of the way I was designed--is very much alive and well in the context of a carefully conceived storyline.  That's not to say the storyline won't undergo some changes as I write (I'm on chapter 8).  Despite the hard (hard! hard!) work, it can't possibly be perfect.

Yet.

But it's so reassuring to have everything planned.  (Well, not EVERYTHING.  You know what I mean.)  Planned, yet with the delicious openness that allows me to write entire scenes that never crossed my mind during the plotting process.

So yay!  For those of you who tend to break into hives at the thought of outlining a plot, I'm here to tell you...it's not that bad after all!  Of course, I didn't plot from scratch.  This was a story already written, and I was deconstructing a storyline in an already-built world with already-developed characters.

That's a tad easier, in my opinion, than starting from scratch.

Though, I've done that, too.  An entire dystopian tale is waiting, in sloppy-outline form, to be written.  I'll let you know how that goes (some day!).

Who knew?

There's your encouragement for the weekend.  Writing is SUCH an ongoing process.  And it never ceases to be exhilarating!

Well.  Sometimes it's exhausting.  But still.

Anyway, my hubby's out of town for the weekend so I'm planning on burning through LOTS of this novel over the next 48 hours.  Hope your weekend is full of sparkle, too!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August Secret Agent Contest #45

TITLE: THE SUBSTITUTE AND THE SUBMISSIVE
GENRE: paranormal romance

The band's performance was raging to a crescendo as I felt around in my bag for the handcuffs.

I hummed with satisfaction when my fingers finally made contact, my mind soothed by the feel of cold metal. I knew the cuffs were in there, but sometimes my compulsions needed to be sated before I made my move.

My ears throbbed from the barrage of guitar solos, and I knew they would be ringing later, but I didn't care. Eighties-fest plays in Portsmouth every year to sell-out crowds, and this year's line-up was the best yet--only half of the rockers had been on reality TV shows or rehab, so the music was pure and unadulterated. I had been listening to my retro playlist for weeks in preparation for tonight's pleasure.

I felt a vibration in my back pocket, signaling an incoming text. I smirked wickedly as I slid out the phone, anticipating what was about to go down.

August Secret Agent Contest #44

TITLE: The Spark
GENRE: YA Fantasy

It all started with a dream or maybe it was a wish. I felt almost weightless but cushioned by something beneath me, like I was floating on water, but the space was not fluid, it had a vapor like quality. The glowing light was a soft amber and fuzzy at the edges. In my hand I held another but couldn't see whose. The hand was warm and I had a vague sense of dread when I would have to let it go. Hand in hand we glided, flashes of light catching my attention in the far off distance. I asked, "Why me?" There was no reply just the whoosh of wind in my ears. I asked again, "Why me?" The air moved feathery across my skin. I asked a final time, "Why me?" The words catching desperately as if I already knew no one would answer. As the scene slipped away and my awareness returned I heard a second question as if in response to the first, "Why not?"

My cat's tail brushed by me and I awakened to what was sure to be yet another idle day, not having awoken to the fairytales of my wishes and dreams. I closed my eyes and tried fruitlessly to linger in the floating place. It filled me with warmth and hope, yet longing for understanding. The words, "why not," replayed in my inner voice as if I held the answer to a question whose meaning I did not yet grasp.

August Secret Agent Contest #43

TITLE: Legends of Elavahn - The Dark Morning
GENRE: Fantasy

"You hear me, don't you?" Her eyes darted wildly in to the dark space searching for the voice. He is back. Yet again.

"Yes. How did you find me?"

"It does not matter. Only you do. You are our destiny". The eyes blazed with intensity. She had not observed the urgency in those eyes before. "What destiny?"

Silence.

"Say something. You have my brother, isn't it?" She fixed her dark brown eyes on his light brown ones. They were silent and this is usually when he would be close to fading away. Escaping from her questions. Today she was determined to get her answers. The silence grew heavy. "Answer me. Why don't you tell me who you are? Where is my brother?" She was frustrated with no answers. She was ready to do anything to get back her brother, her best friend. But what?

"Tell me what do I have to do, damn it?"

At last the eyes spoke. She could see a tiny change in them now. That of interest, to test if she was telling the truth. They fluttered as if in embarrassment of the words that are about to be uttered.

"Come to us and you will get all your answers". A single thought flickered through her mind. Was that a trick?

"Where? Would you give my brother back if I come?"

"I cannot give him back. It's not in my hand anymore". The hint of sadness in those eyes worried Aira. Why can't he give him back?

August Secret Agent Contest #42

TITLE: Unplugged
GENRE: ya thriller

I never thought my hacking could kill someone.

I know the dangers of high school. Drugs turn brains to mush, drinking makes the hottest guys act stupid, and bad grades only secures a future working in a McD's drive-through. However, I've never seen a PSA warning about how computers kill.

When I first hacked the system, I knew something was effed up. The program was screwy, the source code as murky as my local public pool, and there were signs of hack scripts.

Even with that, I had no clue someone would die over it.

My eyes skim the directory as my fingers glide the old keyboard. Except for the light blue glow spraying from the monitor, the room is dark. The only sounds I hear are the hum of the hard drive and the clicks of my fingers as they tap the keys.

It amazes me how people leave their computers so unprotected without even knowing. When I'm done, I sit back, smiling at my command string. I may not know the inverse trigonometric functions or whether Hamlet was totally insane or just faking. But, I do know computers. I'm multi-lingual. Guess you could say I speak computer-ese. My mother tongue is Java, but I'm fluent in most programming languages. Whether it's Linux, C++, or some crazy combo, I have the strange ability to understand it.

And if I can read it, I can hack it.

August Secret Agent Contest #41

TITLE: The Taste of Ginger
GENRE: Multi-cultural Fiction

A gaggle of women, all speaking over each other in loud, animated voices, filled my parents' small living room. It was like watching a National Geographic special about social dominance, where pitch and decibel level determined the leader. They wandered around the room, grazing on homemade samosas and pakoras, careful not to get oily crumbs on the delicate fabric of their brightly-colored Indian saris. I was sitting at the dining table near the front door so that I could fulfill my assigned duty of greeting the guests as they arrived for my sister-in-law's baby shower. From across the room I heard snippets of conversation from my mother's friends.

"Did you hear her son dropped out of medical school to be with that American girl?"

"I'm not surprised. I heard she walks like an elephant--stomping from place to place and pushing others around until she gets what she wants."

Without knowing whom they were talking about, I sympathized with the girl. My mother had often accused me of this great atrocity--walking like an elephant. I was around seven years old when I realized she wasn't calling me fat. Rather, she meant that I wasn't demure and obedient--qualities every good Indian daughter should have.

Near me, a pile of presents had amassed over the last hour. Boxes wrapped in pastel paper with cutesy cartoon monkeys, turtles, or bunnies.

August Secret Agent Contest #40

TITLE: Fixing Shelby
GENRE: YA Contemporary

"Seriously, Shelby Honey. You could put on a little bit more make-up. You look pale." Mom held the steering wheel with one hand and grabbed her purse with the other. She plopped the large leather bag on my lap. "I know I have several shades of blush in there. Help yourself."

I glared at the purse for a moment before setting it at my feet. Sucking in a breath, I held it while counting the houses that passed by my window. Two more streets and we'd be there.

I sighed. "You didn't have to drive me, Mom."

I'd rather be home cleaning the toilet bowl with my toothbrush or straightening her poodle's kinky fur. Or even pulling my toenails out with tweezers.

Okay, maybe not that.

"Oh, I know, Honey. How nice of Ashleigh to call and invite you so youâ're not sitting home bored."

I rolled my eyes. Yes, how nice of Ashleigh to call me at the last minute.

"You should be a little more grateful."

Whatever. Ashleigh knew I wouldn't want to go. She should have realized my mom would jump at the chance for me to be social. Of course, that required Ash to put more than one thought together at a time. A little too complicated for my "best" friend.

"I don't know why you gave her such a hard time about going."

August Secret Agent Contest #39

TITLE: Cracked
GENRE: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

There are some people you know you ought not make angry because it isn't right, like your mum--if she's the nice sort.

There are other people you know you ought not make angry because they have the authority to punish you. Police officers, politicians, insane asylum wardens, your mum--if she's the bad sort.

But there are some people you ought not make angry that you don't know about, because no one ever survived to warn you.

I'm the third kind.

I eat souls. The packaging can be tricky, but fortunately I am blessed with special skills to pry my meals from their pesky shells. My teeth rip skin, my jaws snap bones. I am fast, lightning-fast, snuff--oh-was-that-your-life?--fast. I try to stick to bad souls, in the memory of my own mom (the nice sort). There were other reasons, reasons I used to understand, but they are reasons for a good person. I am not that.

That might be why I feel so at home here.

Small rooms, thick walls. Hushed whispers and ear-grating wails. A symphony of misery set to the beat of beatings. An insane asylum, prison of the cracked and grey.

Cracked windows, cracked walls, cracked minds. Don't make them angry or there will be cracked skulls!

Grey stone walls, grey stone floors. Once-white nightgowns now grey. The skin of the inmates. Grey. The metal-framed bed. The bedding. Grey, grey, grey. The bars on the window... Black. Imagery ruined. Correction--Prison of the cracked, grey and black.

August Secret Agent Contest #38

TITLE: COUNTING CHANGE
GENRE: YA

My mother's mission in life is to change me. She'll deny it, but it's gotten so obvious since Daddy's accident. For instance she's been buying me clothes, which she has to know I'll never wear, and just yesterday she made a hair appointment for me. At her hair salon.

"Jenna and I are going back to school shopping today," I blurt the words so loudly, that Mama stops playing with the paint can labeled Tuna Gray. She takes the spoon she's using to try and pry the lid off the can, and taps it on our kitchen counter.

"You agreed to visit Daddy today, Stoney, remember? We've already talked about this." Tap, tap. "I've been patient with you, but no more." She throws the spoon in the sink and it clatters. "Jenna can't go shopping any other time." Mama makes that face. The one that says, You Are Impossible.

August Secret Agent Contest #37

TITLE: Nice Girls Don't Date Musicians
GENRE: Women's Fiction

I searched twenty-seven years for it, and in the end it lingered for only the briefest of moments. But I held on to that moment because when it arrived, it tasted like pure, liberating bliss.

It came to me in a smoky blue-lit club in February, those notes swimming in the stuffy air. They were like drops of manna falling about my head.

I listened from the back of the crowd, my heart dancing with the zealous belief that this was the culmination of my dreams. Matt Hartley introduced his next song and I leaned forward as if the music would reach my ears faster. Music that had been the ceaseless soundtrack from my turbulent teens to my zigzagging twenties. But this song - this song outshone them all.

A hushed audience drank in Matt's tale of a tenacious bond and how it had lifted him from the mire. The crowd may not have known the woman he sang about stood behind them, overjoyed, but it wasn't the spotlight I craved.

As the song took flight, Val whispered, "Bet five years ago you wouldn't have counted on being here right now." Five years to the week that Matt asked for my number after a quick meet-and-greet. The pensive stage persona had since melted away to the lovable, vulnerable man I knew.

This was the epitome of success: reciprocated love from someone who wasn't afraid to say it out loud. That was what proved it. Once shared with an audience, there was no taking it back.

August Secret Agent Contest #36

TITLE: Angel Sight
GENRE: YA Paranormal

Three months, twelve days, and fifteen hours. I was just starting to get used to freedom again. Doctor Graham said I was cured the day he signed my release papers, but there was nothing like spotting a big fat set of wings to pour on the doubt.

Men with white wings were occasional--or they had been before my release--but the young dark-haired guy across the room was something else. His were black with a rainbow-like sheen of an oil slick. But I was just imagining him, I had to be.

Hyperventilation threatened. Cold fingers of disbelief circled my heart, my lungs, coiling and choking. I slammed my eyes shut. He can't be real, he can't. They'll send me back for this. I won't go back. I won't.

"Darlin'?" The waitress called out, her voice grating with the ease of sandpaper.

I didn't listen, didn't falter, didn't stop wishing the strange angel sitting at the counter gone.

"Darlin'?" The waitress folded her fingers over my arm, jetting my attention toward her. "You still interested in the job?"

I opened my eyes but refused to check the counter. I couldn't handle if he was still there. "Job?" The fingers, both the phantom ones around my throat and the waitress' very real ones on my arm, slacked.

August Secret Agent Contest #35

TITLE: Fairest of the Faire
GENRE: Romance

Constance Meyer sighed, staring at the stack of bills in her hand.

A new one had found its way to her in today's mail, from a collection agency.

She wondered, once again, how many more of these would come. All were debts she never knew existed. They were addressed to Vincent Meyer, or sometimes to Vincent and Constance Meyer.

She had no idea how all these bills and collection notices had come to be in the first place, much less how to make them go away.

Vincent Meyer was dead, killed in a car accident just before Christmas, five months before.

He had been Connie's world.

But Vincent had ended up having some big secrets; secrets he should have never had.

When he'd been killed that cold day, Connie had no clue how her life would be turned upside down.

Within two weeks of his death, she had received a foreclosure sale notice for the house, and a visit from a darkly-coated man demanding money Vincent owed.

Worst of all, she discovered that Vincent had a beautiful and very pregnant girlfriend who claimed Vincent was the father of her child.

Vincent's death had devastated Connie; her whole world had been wrapped around him.

He'd been everything a woman could want.

He worked hard and lavished her with gifts and attention.

In five years of marriage, he'd never said a harsh word to her. She had not known anything of Vincent's double life, much less that there was a problem with money.

August Secret Agent Contest #34

TITLE: Hiding in the Spotlight
GENRE: Adult fiction/mainstream

I found it during one of our moves. My job was in photo albums, to unpack them, and while I was at it, view them too. I opened my baby album with its familiar pink cover, and instead of a sepia-toned eight-by-ten cherub baby, I saw a yellowed newspaper clipping. I laughed at the headline, which caught my brother Eddie's attention. He dropped the box labeled "fragile" by me and peered over my shoulder.

"That's you, stupid."

"Is not."

"Is too. Read it. It's all about the Great Gargantua Hatchling of 1964."

I snatched up one of the broken plates from his box and pointed it at him. "You're the monster."

He smiled. "Not in that story I'm not." Then he dashed before I could cut him. I considered throwing the plate at him but knew I would miss and hit a wall instead. We had rules, you know: respect the landlord, respect the house. We had a tendency to relax those rules after about a week. I had to wait.

I slumped down on the floor. I knew before I finished the article that it would be true. My vision tried to protect me by blurring in and out of focus. My ears started ringing. Both failed to shield me from the truth: That I was like this from the get-go. That the term "Some people are just born with it" can go the
other way and mean something negative, like when describing the otherwise unexplainable.

August Secret Agent Contest #33 (redacted)

Redacted.

August Secret Agent Contest #32

TITLE: Battery Brothers
GENRE: YA, Sports

"Give the ball a ride, Andy!" Daniel rested his tall, wiry frame against the brick schoolyard wall.

I assumed a batting stance--knees slightly bent, knuckles aligned, right elbow cocked, eyes glued on Jason Huckabee, the pitcher. Also my cousin.

Jason spit on the blacktop. He was about six foot, stocky. Me, I was just a regular-sized seventeen-year-old.

I twirled the stickball bat, my breath clouding in front of my face.

Jason planted his gorilla-sized sneakers on the chalk-drawn pitcher's line. "Two down. Nobody on. Seven to three--good guys."

"Bring it," I muttered. A gust of wind slapped the scarred side of my face, making my left eye twitch.

If Daniel had been pitching in today's two-on-two, brothers-versus-brothers stickball game, our cousins Jason and Nathan wouldn't have any runs. Daniel's 88 mile-per-hour heat would have done the job. But Daniel didn't pitch tennis balls. Not anymore. Not after being tagged a phenom and scouted by the pros. The risk of him throwing out his holier-than-holy arm at sixteen was too great.

Jason wound up, a herky-jerky motion. The pitch smoked in high and tight, forcing me to backpedal.

"In the box?" I asked, grinning at him.

"Just missed." He scooped up the rebounding ball. The pitcher, having the best view of the 32-by-24-inch box sprayed on the wall, got final say on balls and strikes.

"Don't pitch wild like that when I'm your catcher, Cuz."'

"Andy, you gotta make varsity first." Jason bounced the tennis ball to himself.

Final cuts were tomorrow.

August Secret Agent Contest #31

TITLE: A New Day
GENRE: YA contemporary romance

My mom was making us move back to Vespa, Wisconsin, whether I liked it or not. And I definitely did not. Yet here we stood, watching the moving van drive off and loading the last of our stuff into the trunk of Mom's car.

"Well, there's something to be said about working for a successful realty firm," she said while slamming the trunk shut. "They sure have an efficient moving crew. Time to move on, kiddo."

Resisting the urge to say something she'd make me regret later, I kept my mouth shut. As agreed, she took shotgun. My sense of direction was so inept that even the most expensive GPS systems had trouble keeping up with me, but I did know my way to the interstate. Sneaking one last look at the house I called home for six years, I bent down and picked a black-eyed Susan from alongside the garage and pressed it inside my book. We were on our way.

"It's a junk food extravaganza, Kenz," she said shortly after we left, pointing at the back seat. She was in full-on perky mode, the one she used while selling a house. "I don't want to stop right away, so I filled a cooler with our favorites. Doughnuts, potato chips, string cheese, iced coffee, diet soda, fruit juice, I don't even know what. Want anything?"

"I'd better wait. My stomach's not going to keep much down. Puking on my lap is not how I want to remember this day."

August Secret Agent Contest #30

TITLE: RACE CARD
GENRE: Suspenseful Women's Fiction

I eased my black Jetta, freshly washed and Quik-waxed, into a parking space half a block from the diner. I'd skip feeding the meter. My mission would take two minutes.

Who'd be writing tickets before six o'clock? Too early for parking enforcement officers. Or Green Tree cops. Any patrolman starting his shift would be planted at the counter of the town's oldest diner, the Dinner Belle, the same place I was headed.

I pushed through the front door, my high heels sinking into doughy linoleum as I strode toward the counter. No one met my glance, but I sensed people staring. A uniformed cop, pretending to read the sports section of the "Green Tree Standard," surveyed me from the corner of his eye. He rose from his stool, paid his bill, and grabbed a toothpick off the counter.

"Ma'am," he said, inserting it into his mouth, giving me a once-over.

I grinned a tight-lipped smirk as he plodded past me into the pre-dawn gloom to start his day.

A waitress with platinum-blond hair shellacked into a crisp helmet had rung him up. The venerable Dottie, mired in the same bygone era as the diner. Selectively friendly, she used your first name if she liked you.

"What'll it be, dearie?" she asked.

She'd just earned herself the Colonel's B-I-G hello. I beamed and said, "Nice to see you, too, Dottie," like we hadn't seen each other in ten years.

Dottie's eyes shot open, a deeper furrow creasing her cavernous forehead.

August Secret Agent Contest #29

TITLE: Shadows Over Love
GENRE: Alternative Historical Romance

Montague signaled. Crashes, screams, moans and a few shots rent the air of the quiet neighborhood caught in the boundary between residential London and the docks. He slid inside the doorway behind the last of his agents. One of the anarchists thought to slip around them and out into the street. Montague smirked and stuck his foot out. The man fell flat on his face. Dragging him back into the dying melee, Montague surveyed the scene.

Sparsely furnished, the back room of the chemist's shop was littered with the makings of explosives and automatons. He picked up one disarticulated arm and held it in front of the man in his grip. "Your work?"

The man spat at him and garbled something in some Eastern European dialect.

"I'll take that as a maybe." He threw the man at his closest agent. "Tie him up."

Scanning the room, he searched out the reputed leader of the cadre. Cuts and blooming contusions marred her skin. She sneered at him.

"Miss Yekaterina Krylova?"

For a moment, he thought she would imitate her compatriot and spit at him, but at the last moment, she sat back in the chair to which she'd been shackled.

"Who would like to know?" Contempt colored her voice. Accompanied by a sneer, he knew well what she thought of him.

"The man who could send you back to the work fields of Siberia."

August Secret Agent Contest #28

TITLE: Sky's The Limit
GENRE: Erotic Romance/Comedy

"Sky, please come in." Paul stood, gesturing to a comfortable chair in front of his desk.

Sky hesitated, still uncertain of the wisdom of agreeing to meet Paul in the first place. He crossed the room, barely glancing at the exquisite decor of Paul's office. He expected as much. The man had resources, it's how he won Teri. The thought left a bitter taste in Sky's mouth.

"Lim, will you. . ." Paul began.

"Tim's already on his way." Paul's secretary smiled and closed the door, leaving Paul and Sky alone. Instead of sitting behind his desk, Paul sat in the chair beside Sky.

He wants something, Sky decided. A magazine lay open on the desk with a picture of Teri on Paul's arm attending a charity banquet. Sky stared at it and didn't feel inclined to do Paul any favors.

"You got a divorce." Paul said.

"So? You've got Teri, I'm not a threat anymore." Sky snapped.

"Do you still want her?"

"What?" Sky couldn't believe what he was hearing. Paul worshiped Teri. He looked into it while he went through the divorce, determined to continue the pursuit. She made a decision, but women changed their minds. When he watched them though, it was clear she wouldn't change her mind this time. He didn't expect Paul to.

"Sky, I have to ask you not to repeat what I tell you here today. It won't be for long, but it's important."

Sky frowned, but finally nodded in agreement.

"I'm dying."

August Secret Agent Contest #27

TITLE: KARMA (Adult Fiction
GENRE: Psychological 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.

August Secret Agent Contest #26

TITLE: Swimming With Tchaikovsky
GENRE: YA Mystery/Suspense

That chair shouldn't be empty.

Sally kept her eyes on her bowl. He had to be coming back. It must be a mistake. Some sort of misunderstanding.

As she chased down the last bit of kashi, the scrape of her spoon against her bowl was deafening in the silent kitchen. Her host sister Irina had stopped eating breakfast long ago and now sat cross-legged in her chair, facing the window. Without a word, Mama ladled more kashi into Sally's bowl.

“Thank you,” Sally murmured in Russian. To admit she was full would require looking up into Mama's unblinking eyes.

Yesterday evening her host father, Mikhail Gregorovich, had been sitting in that chair, drinking tea. His mug was right where he'd left it. He'd only gone out to walk the dog.

The frantic barking still echoed in Sally's head. It had been loud enough to send them tearing down the apartment stairwell -- only to arrive too late.

But now Sally had to stay focused. She'd been preparing for this competition her whole life. It was the only reason she was here. Even if their explanation of what happened yesterday was true, what could she do to help? Nothing.

Anyway, it couldn't be true. What government would kidnap an innocent man in broad daylight?

Sally stood up. “I should get going.”

Her host mother froze with another ladleful of kashi poised halfway between the stove and the table.

August Secret Agent Contest #25

TITLE: TORN
GENRE: YA FICTION

He stepped out onto the icy sidewalk,noting how the chill rattled his tired bones. Tucking the box under his arm and pulling his coat tighter, he ventured into the shadows of the poorly lit street. He seemed to blend with the inky night sky but he knew that wouldn't be enough to camouflage him from those who were stalking him. Those who wanted what he had. Those who would kill to get it.

Those who had killed to get it.

Now, it was up to him. He devoted his life to protecting it and he needed to guard it as long as he could. Without someone to keep it from falling into their hands, everything would end. The balance would shift and it all would end. The thought shook him to his core and he hiked the box deeper into his grip and quickened his pace. A little farther and he would have time to think. He needed to think. And he couldn't do it out here. Exposed.

Suddenly, he stopped walking and cocked his ear into the night. He heard nothing but the whistling breeze and rustling leaves. But he could have sworn he heard something else. Something indistinguishable. Something dark. They found me. He began to run. The harsh flap of wings drew closer. Faster. His feet couldn't carry him fastenough. Not fast enough to get away from them. He knew he wouldn't make it.

August Secret Agent Contest #24

TITLE: In Darkness Reborn
GENRE: Futuristic Romance

The Anatta left her alone to watch Jaxon die. A suffocating sensation tightened her throat, making it difficult to swallow. Morena leaned against her ward's bedside, her legs shaking with the effort to stay upright. She stroked his hot cheek, sliding her fingertips through the damp, copper hair lying in limp strands on his moist skin. He moaned, his head moving from side to side. Agony etched deep lines into his skin, giving his young features the illusion of old age.

He wouldn't last much longer. His pain-filled wails, soft now, came farther and farther apart. Each ragged inhale and choked exhale drew him from her. Her own breath caught within her chest. When he died, she'd have failed to keep her promise. Failed to do her duty.

And you'll be alone.

She shuddered at the reminder she couldn't escape and pulled her hand back. Folding her arms about her waist, she held tight and rocked. Anguish squeezed her heart. Unable to watch his torture, she closed her eyes. He made a slight gasp and, for a brief moment, silence hung in the room.

A tiny noise, a whisper of silk brushing against stone, grabbed her attention. Her eyes snapped open and she pivoted. Her gaze swept around the room. Faint light from two luminas cast numerous shadows on the smooth, granite walls of the large chamber. Flickering darkness mocked her attempts to see the secrets hidden within.

August Secret Agent Contest #23

TITLE: We Happy Few
GENRE: Adult Fiction

It had been 243 days since the Di Lorenzano family arrived in New York. Though now they were the Dilore family. Giulietta acted as if the officials at Ellis Island had done them a favor. “Our old name was too difficult to pronounce in English. This way we'll fit right in.”

Filomena knew that wasn't possible. Even if they didn't say a word, they would be singled out as stranieri -- foreigners. It was more than just their ratty suitcases or kerchiefs that gave them away. The Americans seemed to have a bright, relaxed look about them borne from optimism and bravado. None of the people who'd traveled on the ship could even imitate it with any legitimacy, least of all Filomena's father, Giuseppe. His hooded eyes and down-turned mouth advertised him as a cynic, and therefore an outsider.

They slept on the floor in a Lower Manhattan tenement unit rented through Giuseppe's elaborate hand gestures and a peek at a sterling fork in his jacket pocket. When Filomena turned in her sleep, the floorboards protested loudly. On the nights she lay awake listening to roaches scurrying in and out of the gaps between the planks, she would open her suitcase ever so slightly and fill her lungs. She could still smell the salty-sweet air from Palmi embedded in the fibers of her dresses. She knew the scent wouldn't last much longer competing with rotting garbage from the alley just outside the window.

August Secret Agent Contest #22

TITLE: Undertow
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Bennet Callaghan Shepherd closed her eyes and breathed, pulling the heavy air into her lungs until her chest felt ready to burst. She'd been in the jungles of Belize for almost a month now, but she still wasn't used to the repressive heat, like a thick soup always swilling around her and clogging her nose and mouth.

Bea tried to blink away the heat, ignoring the bead of sweat trailing down the side of her face. She turned back to her notebook, determined to finish the entry:

August 15 -- Now one month into the dig, the children of the nearby village come less. Nim Li Punit is nothing new to them and the excitement of seeing us foreigners marvel at the Mayan ruin in their own backyard seems to have worn off, although Guillermo still comes by frequently to chat with Dad.

Like Isku, Guillermo has proven to be our best link to the locals, he even supplied Toby with materials to work on his language translations. Although he keeps turning down Mom when she tries to interview him for her next ethnography commissioned by Anthro Today, he's been invaluable to Dad in finding local help for the dig.

Bea tapped her pen on the page of her open notebook and rolled her shoulders. She knew there was more to record, she just didn't feel like it.

August Secret Agent Contest #21

TITLE: Unraveled
GENRE: YA Mystery

I grasped for the phone, but it slipped: my hands slick with my sister's blood.


"Damn it to hell," I cried.

I reached for it again. This time more slowly, but my wet hands were shaking and once again, it crashed to the floor. On the third try, I managed to punch in 911.

"9-1-1, what's your emergency?"


I couldn't take my eyes off my sister. "Please, oh my God, please you have to help me." I tried to slow down my breathing so I could talk but I couldn't catch my breath. My lungs were pumping but nothing was happening. "Alright Miss, but I need to know how I can help you. Can you tell me what's going on..um, what's your name?" "It's Autumn. Please you've got to send an ambulance immediately... my sister's been hurt. She's bleeding and I can't find a pulse. I live at 1698 Nolana Road. Please! Hurry!"

"Okay, Autumn, I've dispatched the paramedics but I'm going to ask you some..." she said.

I threw the phone on the carpet. I needed to do something, anything. There was so much blood; I couldn't see how to stop it. My mind was blank, refusing to process what it was seeing.

"C'mon Celeste, don't this. Help's on the way. Please, please, please. God! You have to help her." My heart jack-hammered against my chest making me cough.

August Secret Agent Contest #20

TITLE: Epicenter
GENRE: Adult Paranormal Romance

The drum beat pulsed through the single-room shack as strong and steady as a heart. Deolina, Vodun of Petro, felt the pounding in her veins as a call to war. A war she couldn't win. With the exception of the drummer, she and Grann were alone. No followers this night. No distractions. They'd come together as the greatest priestesses in Haiti—one of dark, the other light—to fight an evil that could kill them both.

Rolling her shoulders, Deolina tried to shake off long-legged spiders of fear that crept up her spine and skittered through her cornrows. Candlelight couldn't bar darkness from clawing at the shack, but she didn't need light to see what was coming for them. Deolina knew. We're too old to stop it.

"Hurry, Deolina!" Grann cried.

They'd been sworn enemies for fifty years and never once had she seen terror raging as a wild thing in Grann's eyes. It was like finding Satan frozen on a popsicle stick—she didn't know whether to cheer, or run. Remembering the horrors in her visions, she ran to sprinkle cast-off-evil powder inside the windowsills.

The drummer eased to a rhythm soft as blood drops on dirt.

"Can we save her?" Grann's voice could've come from a chicken being strangled.

Deolina sucked in a breath of smoky air. "Who's gonna stop us from gettin' our mojo on?"

"Fix the future?"

Hell could freeze. "Crank it up, bongo-boy. Me and my sista got us some evil a**-kickin' to do."

August Secret Agent Contest #19

TITLE: Melody Ghost
GENRE: YA urban fantasy/ sci-fi

"Anything but this," whispered Stella.

She stood in front of the dark wooden door. It looked as prohibiting as a sealed mouth, and she reached for her godfather's hand. Paris took it and squeezed.

"You all right?" His words dropped like pebbles in the silence. Stella nodded yes, but it wasn't true. Her heart flogged against her chest, as if a woodpecker banged inside her ribcage.

"Just seems so big," she said. How stupid that sounded. Why was she afraid of a simple Victorian house when she needed to worry about the reason she stood in front of it?

Paris only smiled and faced the door again. Bending over, he put down the suitcase and punched the doorbell. "Take a look around. This will be your home for a long time. This is a new change, Stella."

The door opened.

It was a young blond girl in kitchen service gear--blue skirt, white blouse, blue lace-up, white apron, white cap. She had an iPhone in her hand but when she saw them she stuffed it in her pocket.

"Yes, sir?" she asked, bug eyed and meek. "May I help you?" She looked at them closer, then said, "You must be Paris Osprey and Stella Phoebe?"

"That's it," said Paris with a grin. He held out his hand, and the girl smiled and shook it.

"Please," she opened the oak door wider, "come in."

They stepped inside the house. As the girl clicked the door shut Stella glanced around.

August Secret Agent Contest #18

TITLE: THE GIRL WITH BROWN EYES
GENRE: YA FANTASY

At twelve and not old enough for a title, the Boy kept his focus on himself, but he stopped his daily walk through the cemetery at a sight even he could not ignore.

"You shouldn't do that." He narrowed his eyes and glared with all the indignation called for in such a situation.

"Do what?" The target of his fury, a girl no older than he, swung her legs back and forth. She had brown eyes, but as for her other features, he had not taken the time to notice them. He found something else far more interesting.

"What you're doing, sitting on that headstone there."

"And why shouldn't I?" Her question seemed genuine, but the Boy could not fathom how she could not see the issue with her actions.

"Because. Someone died there."

The Brown-Eyed Girl brushed an orange leaf from the headstone. "No they didn't. Not one of these people died here. They all died at home in their beds, or abroad in the world, or wherever it suited the world best to have them die."

The Boy paused in surprise at her response, but could not deny she was right. "Well, I'm sure that person doesn't want you sitting on his headstone."

"Oh, I'm quite certain she doesn't mind."

The Boy jolted. Who did she think she was? He puffed up his chest. "And how can you be so certain?"

She ran her fingers through her hair and shook it loose. "Because," she said, "this headstone is mine."

August Secret Agent Contest #17

TITLE: ABSINTHE AND LEPRECHAUNS
GENRE: Mystery/ Fantasy

The lifeless body taunted me with its secrets. "Male. Three feet, two inches tall. Post-mortem weight ninety-six pounds. Ligature marks on the neck suggest strangulation." I turned off the voice recorder and leaned on the exam table.

A dead leprechaun. That's what I have to work with. A dead freakin' leprechaun. At least with a dead vampire I could start with DNA testing and find the family members of his most recent victims, but how was I to find the killer of a leprechaun? Investigate The Gold Exchange?

Searching both of his pouches, I learned two things. One: whoever it was must have known that the single gold coin was nothing more than a decoy because it remained in the leprechaun's pouch. Two: the silver shilling was gone. It was my first break in the case. Once the shilling returned, I could place a reverse trace on it to... to do what? No one uses shillings any more, not even the creatures I investigate in the Mythological Victims Unit.

The sound of the door swinging open interrupted my thoughts. "Alright, Cutter. Whatcha got?"

"S***, Frank. That's what I got. S***." I turned to face my supervisor. Normally, I didn't mind Frank's cocky swagger, but this time everything about him irritated me from his neatly combed hair to his shoes which seemed permanently shined.

He looked over my shoulder. "Good thing he's dead. He might be offended to hear someone call him s***. Respect the dead. He's a leprechaun."

August Secret Agent Contest #16

TITLE: The Capital Zoo
GENRE: Mystery

The first penguin disappeared on a Tuesday.

"I just came in and Kissinger was gone," Jenny told her boss, pacing in front of him, a bucket full of herring wobbling in her hand. Sy Dunlop looked across the ice-colored, glassed-in habitat at a flock of black and white penguins going about their business, like wealthy tuxedoed party guests conducting some last-minute business before the band started up.

"Kissinger is my favorite penguin! I always look for him," she explained.

Dunlop shifted around uncomfortably, trying to pretend he wasn't freezing. Outside, DC's August sun was roasting the zoo; inside, it was Antarctica.

Jenny was still talking: "But then he still didn't come out, even when I called for him, and I know calling a penguin doesn't really do any good, I know they're not dogs or whatever, but you know how it is, you sort of feel like you know them, right?"

Dunlop had no idea what she was talking about. He didn't feel like he knew any penguins, and he didn't want to, either.

As a middle manager -- well, upper-middle, he corrected himself -- his job never concerned animals, only personnel, and the zoo staff was more than enough to handle. He eyed the penguins skeptically. They seemed to be taking an interest in that food bucket Jenny was swinging around and had begun to waddle toward it.

August Secret Agent Contest #15

TITLE: Polaris
GENRE: YA fiction

I wake up to blue. Blue above me, blue around me, everything and everywhere is blue. I'm very warm, and I tilt my head back, the sun feels like an enormous heat lamp on my face. There is a schuss, a hiss, a fat slap of water against my chin, water in my eyes and nose and ears and mouth. Despite the wetness my throat is itchy and tight. My lips burn. I taste salt.

Only after the second lush slap of water do I realize I'm floating, drifting. Calm waves lift and lower me, and a rubber sleeve not much larger than I am surrounds me like a tube sock. My body is perpendicular in the water but my head is kept easily above the waves, and I bob along, a tiny human buoy, nothing in my line of sight but sea and sky.

I have no sense of myself, no sense of direction, nothing to explain what I'm doing here, floating out in the ocean. I know it's an ocean. Lakes don't taste and feel and smell like this.

A staccato of chirps, clicks and whistles pierces through the lull of waves. A dolphin, large and gray and slick as an inner tube, glides up next to me and slips through a harness next to my float, which seems to have been designed for the animal. It tugs the line and the bag rips open at the seams, rising, unfolding, and flattening itself onto the surface.

August Secret Agent Contest #14

TITLE: Whispers Under Covers
GENRE: Contemporary YA

Graham slithered through the hall. His usual victims scrambled out of his way, but he ignored them. His beady eyes stayed focused on his next target. Mary stuffed books into the locker next to me, not realizing the danger that approached.

"Where can I get something this fashionable?" Graham asked, grabbing the homemade dress Mary wore.

She tried to pull away, but her struggles didn't earn her freedom. Instead, seams ripped and everything fell apart. Mary's eyes widened and she clutched her clothes in a futile attempt to maintain her decency.

She failed. Her desperate grabs made the damage worse. Tears welled in her eyes and she slumped onto the hallway floor.

A throng of students gathered, drawn to disaster like moths to a flame. Graham's lips contorted into a twisted grin.

"Mary, Mary why are your panties so scary?" The crowd howled with laughter. Mary's face turned crimson. She shifted her hands to hide panties that looked home sewn too.

"Mary, Mary..." Graham began again. The crowd leaned forward.

Not me. I didn't want to hear it. He'd mouthed off at me all semester in Algebra like an annoying gnat I couldn't get rid of. But now I had the opportunity to squash him.

"...why are your legs so -"

Graham didn't get to finish. My fist slammed into his jaw. He dropped like a bag of Chemistry books and hit the floor with a thud.

He'd made Mary's day s*****. But now Graham was the guy who'd been knocked out by a girl.

August Secret Agent Contest #13

TITLE: The Red Cross Knight
GENRE: Literary Fiction

Seven minutes and thirty seconds before curtain-down, Patrick Winters committed his first murder of the night. He held a woman in his arms, and around them music flowed, a violin straining forward with vibrato and retreating to a quivering sigh, the accompaniment to a kiss of kisses. As the violin faded, finally out of breath, Patrick's hand made a quick movement. In the silence, the woman fell back without a cry, a red stain already spreading on the bosom of her gown.

There was no more music for a long time.

When Patrick lifted his face to the mezzanine, a thrill passed through the hypnotized Manhattan audience at the sight of the first tear that ran down his cheek, catching the silver gleam of the spotlight. Nobody noticed when the music started again, but then he was singing to it, his tenor quiet and low:

One blood, one flesh
One knife, one death-

A dagger glinted, and he stabbed himself to the heart and yielded up the spirit without a sigh. The hero was dead, but patrons in the more expensive seats could see that his body still trembled, for the performer was crying. He wept until the curtain fell over his body with the mournful note of a cello.

His tears were not less genuine for being an exact science. He knew to the second exactly how long he should weep; he could have counted the tears, night after night, and would not have been more consistent.

August Secret Agent Contest #12

TITLE: Necropolis
GENRE: YA Action/Adventure

Paris had been beautiful, once.

Henri was old enough to still remember, sort of, the way the city had been Before, with her grand buildings and her shining monuments and her streets bustling with life. He remembered how she would glow each night like a beacon, her million lamps drowning out even the moon. He remembered how her Notre Dame would begin each morning as the star performer of a church bell choir, whose tones heralded the sun beneath the planes and above the cars. He remembered how her streets had thronged with an endless stream of living men, women and children, who filled their city with a potpourri of ever-changing sights, smells and sounds.

Once, Paris had been alive, and he remembered her as she had been.

But then the war had come, and then the Germans, and then les revenants arrived and everything went straight to hell.

Now, Paris lay in ruins beneath an ash-choked sky. Her buildings, those which remained, fell to disrepair. Her monuments stood as empty tombs, their once-proud faces crumbling as they drowned in soot. With the exception of birds and the occasional rat, her streets were void of life. The best lay empty, like the broken cobblestone that Henri could see two stories below when he dared to look down. A single German propaganda poster clung to the blackened wall across the lane, its tattered ribbons of red, white, and black fluttering in the wind. Otherwise, the street was silent and still.

August Secret Agent Contest #11

TITLE: GHOST OF A CHANCE
GENRE: Adult Paranormal

I gripped the wheel and fought to keep control of my convertible, while it skidded along the dark beach road and smacked onto gritty sand. The car pitched and rolled over the dunes. My head snapped forward and back, and my hair flopped into my eyes. Panic surged through me when I ground the brakes to the floor, and my vehicle picked up speed.

A beach pine appeared in front of my headlights. "Eeeee," I screamed and tried to swerve, but the car slammed into the tree and my head smashed into the dashboard.

Bright light drifted down from above and blinded me. A terrifying silence filled the air.

I floated up and out of my seat. Gusts of cold wind blew across my face and body, but they didn't faze me. Neither did the fact that I could look down, pick out my house, see lights sparkling along Venice Avenue, and watch the surf pounding in from the Gulf of Mexico. Mangroves and slash pines shivered below me along the Florida intracoastal, and swimming pools gleamed like custard cups of shimmering water.

Up and up I went, into the clouds and beyond. I grabbed hold of a passing ladder and climbed to the top.

“Welcome to Halfway Central, Sydney,” a warm voice said.

August Secret Agent Contest #10

TITLE: Being Fat and Other High School Sins
GENRE: YA Contemporary

If Hell exists, and it's individualized, mine is going to be homeroom. Allegedly the classes are assigned at random, but somehow I ended up with twenty-nine people who I swear are not even from the same planet as me.

In a made-for-TV movie, I'd be cast as the shy loner who secretly longs to be part of their pom-pom mafia. From my glasses to the size of my jeans, I fit the stereotype amazingly well. But I'm not looking for some jock to make a bet and turn me into homecoming queen.

When I watch these bleached out morons prattling on about the same beach party they've been to every weekend since puberty, all I'm thinking is: Get off my lawn!

"Move your fat a**," Nick forces the words out, obviously annoyed at having to speak to me but even more annoyed that I'm taking up wall space that apparently belongs to him.

I look over at Principal Keating. He's a little ways off so he might not have heard. I think he's just really good at pretending not to, at least if the offender is wearing a letter-man jacket. Our football team hasn't missed the playoffs in twenty years and we've been State champs the last five years in a row. Somehow, that means they don't have to behave like human beings.

August Secret Agent Contest #9

TITLE: Censored
GENRE: YA Fiction

I twisted the yarn bracelet tied around my wrist. It was a birthday present from my best friend Amy, but I wasn't thinking about that or how I still hadn't gotten her a gift for her birthday that was coming up. I had plenty on my mind.

What was I doing here? I had never been called to the principal's office before. Never. I looked around. I had passed through this hall bunches of times before on my way to guidance. But those times I was in a hurry - frantic about getting back to class so I don't miss too many notes or, heaven forbid, a pop quiz. I never lingered in the hall; never even looked around me. Now there was no hurry.

I studied the framed poster opposite the bench. It was one of those "inspirational" quotes aimed at getting you to work harder to succeed in life. I already work crazy hard. And I can't imagine anyone reading that poster and thinking, "Wow, I never thought about that before. Now I'll start studying and volunteering and some day I'll be President of the United States. And I'll owe it all to that poster."

I shifted my weight on the hard bench. I'm pretty sure having a wooden bench with no padding is supposed to make the student feel even more uncomfortable with her visit. I didn't need any help with that. But apparently help was on the way.

August Secret Agent Contest #8

TITLE: The Interim Solution
GENRE: Adult fiction

They parked around the corner on Kimbark Avenue. Nobody parked on 55th since the city put in the meters, except lazy people who wouldn't walk a few steps. Side streets were clear, unless there was something going on in the park.

Karen usually enjoyed this street, but not today as they walked to the new church. She looked toward 53rd and sighed. Her favorite way to spend lunchtime was to walk to Ribs 'n' Bibs, eat at the window counter, and then stroll west to the Ace hardware store.

She loved to spend time there, learning how to fix the fading elements of the house. She had enough tools for basic repairs, but Tom reacted when she suggested they buy more. "Not ladylike, and a waste of money. Take golf lessons, for God's sake. What does it take to get you to follow simple suggestions?"

Karen wondered if she was starting to slip. That's the thing about being crazy. You don't know if you're sliding into hell again, or just having a bad day. Which this was shaping up to be. She'd accepted Tom's devotion to this church; it improved his behavior, but brought other challenges. Each day was more difficult. She hoped to hold on long enough for the prenuptial agreement to hit. Her father was adamant about the agreement, he was right. Tom was not what he seemed, but few people saw through the flawless manners, the natty attire, and the sweet good looks that still thrilled. Occasionally.

August Secret Agent Contest #7

TITLE: Blackbird
GENRE: YA Fantasy Thriller

I sat in first period Bio II, my guitar pick scratching out a tuneless riff against my pants leg. After the years of hiding, of keeping my head down, I was still going to die. They'd find me now, and soon…

I gripped the pick, digging it into my palm until my fingers turned the color of my chipping purple nail polish. I shoved the pick into my pocket. James Loeper could be stopped. I had a plan. I stood up, slipping a test tube and a couple petri dishes into my hoodie pocket as I did.

Getting out of class was the easy part. Mr. Mueller, like most guys, was scared to death of "girl stuff," so I just grabbed a not-quite-concealed tampon, went up to him, and said, "Umm... Mr. Mueller, can I go to the bathroom?"

Poor Mr. Mueller. Ears going pink, he mumbled to somewhere above my head, "Sure, Taylor. Fine. Take your time." I stuffed the tampon into my hoodie, trying to keep the glass silent, and walked out.

I should have been relieved, but the knot in my stomach just tied more kinks. Still, I walked down the grey and white hall as confidently as I could. The key to not getting caught was acting like you knew what you were doing. And though I had no freaking clue what I was doing, I couldn't get caught. My life depended on it.

Literally.

August Secret Agent Contest #6

TITLE: Edge of the Falls
GENRE: YA dystopian fairytale

I feel eyes on me, and I shiver.

The icy mist from the Falls soaks me and the ground beneath my feet. As I make my way across the cliff face, I wonder who is watching me--one of the children? Or the white shadow that I have seen peering from the darkness in the past few weeks?

I resist looking at the Manor. Even living most of my life within its shadowy halls and fire-lit rooms, seeing the Manor from a distance is eerie and forbidding. Somehow, it seems more dangerous than the Falls yawning darkness.

My foot slips on the damp rock, and I feel the pull of gravity. The Falls loom up before me, its black mouth pulling at me with a roar that drowns out my involuntary cry. In that heartbeat, I remember the first time I was forced over the. My feet skitter on the rocks like my pulse, looking for a hold.

What would it be like, to fall into the unknown depths below me, with nothing to hold me to safety? The thought flashes through me in that brief second before my feet find a slippery grip. I stumble back, edging slowly away until there is a safe distance between myself and the precipice

A sneeze behind me makes me jerk, sending my heart racing and my feet edging further from the falls. I look over my shoulder, and a deeper fear blooms inside me.

August Secret Agent Contest #5

TITLE: Fall for Grace
GENRE: Contemporary YA

I head down the walkway to the United Airlines plane, trading my new glasses for the ugly white, dirt cheap sunglasses (seriously -- my mom got them from The Dollar Store) stashed in my pocket. Wasn't planning on wearing shades on the plane, but it would suck big time if I blew my cover now.
I settle into the window seat in row 27 -- last time I sat back with the nobodies I actually was a nobody -- and flick my hair over my shoulder out of habit. Only my hand connects with air, not hair. My signature uber-long chocolate locks -- no, I don't think of my hair that way. That's how the media describes it -- got chopped off three days ago. I'm still having a hard time remembering it's only shoulder-length.
My flight neighbors soon arrive -- a couple my parents' age. They throw me vague smiles and the wife plunks her ample derriere down beside me. Don't seem the nosy sort but I feel anxious. Point at my sunglasses and say, "Just had eye surgery."

"Ohhh!" says the wife. "The light hurts your eyes, honey?"

"Um, no. But the doctor said it was best to keep these on for another week or so."

Both nod as if to say, Of course. They probably always do what the doctor says. Too bad they most likely live in some Podunk town with no plastic surgeon in sight or else the wife's rear end would surely have been liposuctioned by now.

August Secret Agent Contest #4

TITLE: A Single Feather
GENRE: YA fantasy

Kila stepped into the water, letting the blue of the Pacific dampen the hem of her kapa skirt. A wind from the south pinned the bark cloth to her legs and sent her long black hair into a frenzy about her face. She closed her eyes and raised her arms, willing the wind to carry her away from the island, and away from her father.

"Kila, hele mai!" His shout was closer now.

Kila turned to see him standing on shore. "Yes, I'm coming," she murmured. She left the sea behind and marched past him without another glance.

On the grassy bank beyond the sand, Kila traced her hand along the side of the family's wa'a. Her fingers danced around the canoe's intricate carvings. The wooden images weaved together the story of the ancient chief Akua. She stroked the weathered shapes of his many forms: a shark, a sea turtle and a goose tickled her fingertips. Kila longed for such a transformation. His tale was one of adventure and freedom. She withdrew her hand and brushed it against her hip, wiping away the temptation with a sigh.

"Aue," her father said, disgusted. He piled a stack of taro stems in her arms. "If you are going to daydream, at least do it in the fields where you can do something useful at the same time." He shook his head and walked away.

August Secret Agent Contest #3

TITLE: Upgrade
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Angel's parents were having "the discussion" again. She could tell because the decibel level inside the car had risen by 9.5 for the third time this week.

"I just don't understand why you think the public school is so wonderful," Angel's father said from the driver's seat.

"I don't think it's so wonderful," her mother replied. "I think Roxon Academy is so expensive."

"They're one of the top cyborg schools in the country. Of course they're expensive." He pulled the car down the driveway and onto the main road. Angel tried to calculate what factor might have increased the frequency of these arguments lately. Perhaps she had done something wrong again.

"And what do you get for that money?" her mother asked. "Bigger computers."

"You get experts on how cyborgs think, that's what." Angel's father slammed the brakes, almost missing a stop sign. The momentum pushed Angel forward. It must have been her. Although she had followed her etiquette protocol flawlessly, that did not always make people happy. With her parents, it often had the opposite effect.

"She doesn't need more experts," her mother said. "She needs to socialize with other teens. She can get that anywhere."

"Yeah? Well, maybe with less than a year left, I don't want to send her just anywhere." Angel's father fell silent as he checked for traffic and drove forward. Her mother did not wait for him to continue.

"Well, let's try to get Angel's opinion."

"Please don't ask her again. She'll just--"

"Hush."

August Secret Agent Contest #2

TITLE: The Road to Pieces
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

I once fell slowly--off a motorcycle. At the time, it didn't feel like it hurt, although I know it did because I still have the scars. I didn't remember what made me get on top of that black Harley in the first place, but once upon a time I took a quiz made by some idiot on the Internet that said I would survive a fight with God for 0.99 seconds. What sucked was that 0.99 seconds was exactly how long I managed to stay on the motorcycle.

I just remembered that falling was the most beautiful sensation in the world. The stars swelled out of the sky, and the whole world froze so that there was just me. Falling.

And when I hit the ground, I learned the hard way what happened when you decided to punch your destiny in the face. I was fourteen and too young to understand that running into the walls of your own prison gave you nothing--just a headache. So I lay on the sidewalk thinking about how nice it would be to have another sweatshirt, and how if anything, I would rather not lie on the sidewalk and bleed in the dark.

August Secret Agent Contest #1

TITLE: This Side of Crazy
GENRE: Women's Fiction

The day I decided to kill my daddy started out normal on most counts. Mama agreed to take me and my baby sisters to the Biloxi library to check out more books to read during summer break. The three of us had already consumed a large stack of them, reading long into the sticky June nights.

Jessie, already downstairs in the kitchen, screeched that we'd run out of her favorite cereal and Mama told her in the sternest voice that plain old Corn Flakes would have to do. Bess, our housekeeper, offered to make pancakes but Mama shushed her, too. In my room, I slipped into a plaid cotton sundress and a pair of pink plastic sandals that squeaked when I walked and rubbed blisters on my little toes. The sound irritated Mama just enough to make those blisters worthwhile. Some might call this childish behavior for a 16-year-old but I took fun wherever I could find it.

Even though I hadn't eaten breakfast, I was eager to get on with our plans. I rushed out of my room and down the hall toward the bathroom so I could brush my teeth. What I saw stopped me short, the plastic of my shoes sticking fast to the floor.

Daddy stood perfectly still, a statue staring into the bathroom. He didn't respond to the squawk of my shoes, but as soon as Lily shrieked for him to close the door while she peed, he jumped as if jostled from
a trance.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Another (Late) Success Story

You'd think I was, yanno, dropping the ball on these success stories or something.  At any rate, here's another (late) happy story for you (and proof that reading the blog without necessarily entering a contest can have a positive effect!).  The more we continue to celebrate each other, the more encouraged we'll be!

Kathleen Peacock's Story:

I've never actually entered the secret agent contests (I've always really wanted to, though) but I always drop in and check out what's happening. I especially like the reveals. When Emmanuelle Morgen was revealed as September's secret agent, I actually hadn't heard of her. I was just starting to work on my query list and hadn't had a chance to research too much. But based on the write up, I moved her to the top of my query list--especially since she said she was hankering for some werewolves (which I had).


I signed with her [in April] and I adore her. I can't imagine an agent being a better match for me.


So thank you so much! Secret Agent is of immense value even the armchair players who watch from the safety of the sidelines.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Fricassee

Hooray for Friday!

First happy thing:  I've finished my re-re-plot.  (Yeah. One of those. Thanks to the enthusiastic brainstorming of my agent and the effective brain-plunging of Jodi Meadows, I've made it through.)

Second happy thing:  Mr. A and I have a weekend get-away planned.  Because tomorrow is our anniversary.  And we're schmoopy like that.

First bad thing: Since I've worked out my plot, I totally want to write this weekend. Which doesn't exactly gel with a romantic get-away.

(Oh, dear.)

Maybe he'll let me write by candlelight while he rubs my feet?

Okay, that was pretty delusional.

Anyway, my goal today is high productivity, so I can leave in the morning without feeling like I'm slacking.  (Why is it so hard to let go and just relax?)

So that's that. I know you all understand the struggle to balance work and life.  Here's to a lovely, balanced weekend for all of us!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Need a Little Help, Please

So I've been working--slowly and intermittently--on my success story pages.

I'm almost finished with the PUBLISHED AUTHOR page, and am soon moving onto the SECRET AGENT CONTEST page.

Now, I'm actually fairly organized with all this.  Fairly.  As in, I've got success story emails sorted into folders and such.

But.  My inbox volume is fairly ginormous.  And the weeding-through process is overwhelming (hence my procrastination).

Here's where you come in.  If yours is a success story either DIRECTLY or INDIRECTLY related to your participation in a Secret Agent Contest, please send me a quick email with YOUR NAME and the word SUCCESS in the SUBJECT LINE.  Even if you're pretty sure I already have your info.

In the body of the email, let me know if you WERE already announced on the blog, or if this is a NEW story.  Or if you totally told me your story a year ago and are still waiting for me to post it.

Um.  Yeah.

Anyway, this will really help me make sure I don't miss anyone.  Which is, of course, never my intention.

It's just that I strive to be more organized than I actually am.

Emails go to facelesswords(at)gmail.com.

Many thanks!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Swallowed Alive: The Fear of Incompetence

A life of Artistic Pursuit is always a roller coaster.  Regardless of which branch of the arts it is -- writing, music, art, theatre -- it's hard to avoid the ups-and-downs of "Oh, fiddle-poo. I'm just not GOOD ENOUGH."

And then, for a little while, we might fear that's WE'LL NEVER BE.

Good enough, that is.

I majored in piano.  (Well, Music Education, but my piano was the apex of those studies.)  Worked my fingers raw.  Secured a Secret Key to the music building so I could practice after it had been locked for the night -- and before the security guy opened it in the early mornings.

I was good.  Won scholarships.  Performed recitals.  Was paid to accompany the local Chorale.  All that stuff.

But I wasn't phenomenal.  And I knew it.

I never aspired to be a concert pianist, though.  Knew, in the back of my college-twit brain, that I wouldn't live that life -- didn't want to live it.

So my bouts of WOE-IS-ME-I-REALLY-SUCK-COMPARED-TO-OTHER-PIANISTS weren't earth-rending.

Fast-forward to Authoress-as-writer.  Things are VERY DIFFERENT when you're pursuing something that really matters.  The downs can be debilitating.

They crop up at funny, unexpected moments.  Like, I read the blurb on the back of Myra McEntire's HOURGLASS, which includes the phrase "mind-bending plot". And immediately thought, "Wow. I COULD NEVER WRITE A MIND-BENDING PLOT."

Are you with me?

It's like we're wired to self-destruct.  And every time it happens, we HAVE to rebuke those self-defeating thoughts and JUST GET ON WITH IT.

The waters of Queryland are especially dangerous.  All those rejections from agents can start to whittle away at your self-confidence until you question EVERYTHING.  Like, why am I doing this to myself in the first place? If I can't even get an agent, how will I ever get published?

Followed by teeth-gnashing and potential chocolate over-consumption.

Here's the thing:  If you're reading this blog...if you're working HARD and writing A LOT and getting GOOD, CONSISTENT CRITIQUE and are LEARNING FROM THIS CRITIQUE, then you are not incompetent.

Even if, some days, you fear that you are.

Still with me?

Good.  I want you to go read this POST BY BETH REVIS.

Because it's excellent. And you need to hear it.

*hugs*

Monday, August 8, 2011

August Secret Agent Early Info

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open next Monday, August 15.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

* There will be TWO SEPARATE SUBMISSION WINDOWS. Each window will be open for 2 hours and will receive a maximum of 25 entries. This is to accommodate my other-side-of-the-globe readers.
* SUBMISSION WINDOW #1: Monday, August 15, NOON to 2:00 PM EDT or 25 entries, WHICHEVER COMES FIRST.
* SUBMISSION WINDOW #2: Monday, August 15, 7:00 to 9:00 PM EDT or 25 entries, WHICHEVER COMES FIRST.
* 2 alternates will be chosen from the second submission window.
* PLEASE NOTE: You are responsible for figuring out your own time zone. "Time Zone differences" are NOT a reason for not getting your entry in.
* Submissions received before the contest opens will be rejected.
* Submissions are for COMPLETED MANUSCRIPTS ONLY. If you wouldn't want an agent to read the entire thing, DON'T SEND IT. If an "entire thing" doesn't exist, you shouldn't even be reading these rules.
* Manuscripts THAT HAVE BEEN IN A SECRET AGENT CONTEST DURING THE PAST SIX MONTHS (February-July) will not be accepted.
* You may submit A DIFFERENT MANUSCRIPT if you've participated in any previous Secret Agent contests.
* Only ONE ENTRY per person per contest. If you send more than one, your subsequent entry(ies) will be rejected.
* If you are a PAST WINNER (i.e., offered any kind of prize from a Secret Agent), please DO NOT ENTER THIS CONTEST. (Unless it's a different manuscript.)
* Submissions are for THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. Please do not stop in the middle of a

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

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

(Followed by the excerpt here.)

* No "chapter one," chapter titles, etc.
* You will receive a confirmation email with your post number.
* Submissions go to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com. 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.

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

This month's contest will include the following genres:

Adult fiction
YA fiction

This includes all genres.  Note:  PLEASE CHECK BACK, as I am double checking the SF/F thing.

*UPDATE*  We're good to go.  SF/F is not excluded.

Questions below.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday Fricassee

Happy First Augustly Friday!

Today, two questions for comment box banter:

AGENTED AUTHORS:  Is your agent editorial or hands-off?  Why does your agent's style work well for you?

UNAGENTED AUTHORS:  As you travel the wearisome Road of Queries, have you thought about which kind of agent suits you?  Editorial or Not-so-much?

Share your thoughts!

Because it's struck me full-force how DEEPLY I appreciate my agent's editorial input.  It's clear from his approach to my work that he's invested in me.  That he sees value in slogging through the process of Getting Things Right.

His unflagging support and presence in my write-a-day world helps keep me afloat.  He is agent, advocate, sounding board, mentor.

I didn't realize, pre-agent, how important this kind of editorial support would be.  Honestly? I'm thriving. Even in the midst of occasional angst bouts and brain drain.

Thriving!

(Thanks, Josh!)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Touting a Teen Business

You already know I love teenagers.  (Well, most teenagers.)  And the gang at Write On! is top-notch!

Taryn, teen extraordinaire, is on staff over there; she helps run the chats.  She's also one of my beta readers.  So I was pleased to learn that she's launched her own editing business, and wanted to let you all know about it:

Teen Eyes is the editorial service for your YA manuscript. We bring a dual perspective that your critique partners and beta readers may not have: we are the age demographic of your future target audience--teens--as well as experienced writers ourselves. Kate Coursey is represented by Edward Necarsulmer, head of the children's department at MacIntosh and Otis, and her manuscript LIKE CLOCKWORK is undergoing revisions with Scholastic. Taryn Albright is a querying author with eleven manuscripts written and experience in the publishing world as a lit agency intern. Both are avid readers of every genre, and we pride ourselves on our quick turnaround on submitted manuscripts. To read more about our services, GO HERE.


Yay, Taryn!

And here's my personal blurb:  Taryn beta-read my manuscript in record time, and her notes were clear and helpful.  I was also impressed by the maturity of her editorial insight.  That, and she's simply a delight to "be around." I would love to have her read my work any time!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Grammar: It's Not Just For Kids Anymore

Okay, this is for everyone who feels a bit lame on the grammar end.  As in, words like "gerund" and "conjugate" and "nominative case" might as well be in an ancient Egyptian dialect.

Know what? A LOT OF US MISSED THE GRAMMAR BOAT IN SCHOOL.  Bad teachers, or bad study habits, or the age-old problem of having to cram things for a test instead of actually learning them has left a lot of adults fairly handicapped in the grammar area (not to mention other areas).

I want you to know that it's totally okay if that happened to you.  So long as you do something about it now that you're a writer.  Yanno?

I posted a new THE BASICS in Write On! yesterday.  This one's on possessive pronouns and gerunds.  And a tweet from one of my sweet followers on Twitter was filled with a measure of embarrassment at her own level of grammar knowledge.  I don't want her to feel that way, and I don't want any of you to feel that way.

Here's the truth:  I did not struggle with grammar in school.  But neither did I master it.  All those terms and rules and such?  I HAVE LEARNED MOST OF THEM AS AN ADULT.

And so can you.  And really?  If you can talk intelligently about why a sentence is correct, that's great. But as a writer, what's MORE important is that you are WRITING SENTENCES CORRECTLY.  Even if you're not able to pen a thesis on the reasons.

Okay?

There are lots of resources out there.  My teen posts are one small offering.  You don't have to take a college course (which might easily produce the same lame results you experienced in school) or spend time memorizing lists.  (Though, really, you should know your prepositions. And all cases of pronouns. And... *grin*)

Just troubleshoot.  Learn to fix each error as it comes up.  Find out what's wrong with what you've been doing, and make sure you understand how to do it correctly.  Then, apply it.  Forever.

And don't bash yourself.  Learning is lifelong.

That's that.  It's really -- REALLY -- all right for you to learn grammar that you feel you "should already know."  If you don't know something at 1:00, you can make sure you know it by 2:00.  Any day, every day.

I mean, you guys write STORIES.  And that's HARD! (No, really. Sometimes it actually sucks.)  So picking up a new grammar rule here and there is cake.

No shame. Just learn what you need to know.

And keep writing.

*love*

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Success Story With Happy Photo

Tuesday seems to be the day lately, yes? It's a good thing I've been slogging my way through my emails-marked-success-story, because I TOTALLY neglected to post this one a few months ago.

Losing track of success stories is a good problem to have, right?  At any rate, Alice's name is already included on the "published author" success page, but her story has yet to be told.  Here it is, in her own words:



Back in November 2008, I won the SA contest for Colleen Lindsay. She spent half an hour on the phone with me, enumerating the strengths and weaknesses of that manuscript. Great advice, which I applied as I continued the querying process. Fast-forward to April 2010, when in a 6-day flurry of emails and phone calls, I signed with Kent. D. Wolf of Global Literary Management. (With a different book.)


Fast-forward to January 26, 2011. This is me, in my hometown Barnes & Noble, pointing to my book on their shelf under the “New Mystery” sign. The journey took four years, three books, 185 agent rejections, one “yes” from an awesome agent, a handful of editor passes, and one offer from a terrific publisher (Midnight Ink).


Never give up! Never surrender!


Thanks,

Alice Loweecey

(Force of Habit in stores now from Midnight Ink)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Coming Up On MSFV

I'm feeling all sorts of organized, so I thought I'd run down the rest of the year on the blog for you. It helps if you know what's going on ahead of time, right?  So here you go:

  • Our Secret Agent contests will continue to run through August, September, and October.  The guidelines, as always, will be posted one week before the opening of submissions. (Not announcing the dates ahead of time allows me to give Secret Agents grace if something comes up and they have to shift by a week or something. It's never happened, but I don't want to paint myself into corners.)
  • I have decided to cancel November's Secret Agent contest in favor of allowing more time to prepare for the Baker's Dozen Agent Auction.  (This was a hard call. I hate change. Canceling November's SA = change. But I'm over it now.)
  • Submissions for the Baker's Dozen are going to happen earlier in November.  I'm planning on accepting more entries this year, so I'm going to need WAY more time for slush-reading.
  • Instead of normal in-house crits in October and early November, we're going to have some logline practice rounds, like we did last year.  (For the uninitiated: the Baker's Dozen entries include a log line followed by your opening page. A strong log line serves as a hook for hungry agents.)
  • If you have no idea what a Baker's Dozen Agent Auction is, look here. PLEASE NOTE: This is LAST YEAR'S ANNOUNCEMENT. The genres reflect LAST YEAR'S AGENTS. This year's genres will be announced in the official Baker's Dozen call for submissions.
  • There will be a nominal fee for entering this year's Baker's Dozen.  Nominal, as in, tiny. It was a wonderful experience, but it was also a huge time-sucker. Huge. That, and I want to ensure the Best Possible Quality of entries for the delightful agents who will place bids.
  • I will post EVERYTHING you need to know about the Baker's Dozen Auction in early September. So please don't ask questions yet. I want to make sure I have all my ducks in a silent row, and they're still quacking.

That's all for now! It's been a good year so far, with lots of success stories and opportunities for writerly growth.  And it's going to get even better as we move toward our second annual Baker's Dozen. I am SO excited about this!

Spread the word on Twitter, Facebook, your blog: The Baker's Dozen is something no aspiring author will want to miss--even if it's just to watch, read, and learn. Because we all know how valuable that is!  And if you're not already following me on Twitter, make sure you DO IT NOW. Because I'll be tweeting a lot about the agent auction, and it's often the fastest way to get information.

One more thing, for agented authors: If your agent was not a part of the auction last year and you think he/she might like an invitation, please send his/her name and email address to me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com. 

That's all for now.  Happy August!