Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday!

I've had another epiphany (if this keeps happening, I'm not going to be recognizable).  Are you ready for this one?

Worldbuilding is fun.

*dies*

Maybe it's because I've already got this novel outlined (a.k.a. beat sheeted).  Or maybe it's because I'm already so in love with the premise of this new story.

But here's what I really think it is:  It struck me how, when I was a wee lass, I spent hours and hours at the kitchen table with pen and paper.  You know those large, eleven-by-eighteen sheets of white drawing paper?  That's what my mom used to buy.  I'd pull a few sheets out of the kitchen cabinet, turn on the light that hung over the kitchen table, and hunker down.

I wasn't writing stories.  I was drawing them.  Sometimes it was just a fantabulous picture of a princess finding her true love.  Often it was comic strip style, the story taking shape in a series of boxes.  And sometimes I was simply creating a world.

Worldbuilding, and I didn't even know it.

The carefree creativeness of childhood is an awesome thing!  And I've just discovered that I can return to that VERY SAME PLACE--and call it work.

So yesterday, I sat at my kitchen table with a pen and a couple sheets of eleven-by-eighteen drawing paper.  (Yeah.  I have that in my closet.)  And started doodling my world.

All I can say is--could this be any more FUN?!

Of course, I love the research, too, which is what I spent time on first.  When I got to the point where I felt like I had a whole lot of good information and was ready to get more specific about my world, I pulled out the pen and paper.  And I'm going to do the same thing today, and probably all weekend.

Just like when I was ten.

It's funny how you can hear ten dozen other writers gush about how they adore worldbuilding--how it's their favorite part of creating a novel--and all you can do is to roll your eyes.  Or shake your head in mute disbelief.

Yeah.  That was me.  Rolling and shaking.  Because this is the sort of thing that has to happen on its own.  And for me, it's just happened.

Yay!

And as if the timing were planned or something, Jodi Meadows has just posted a magnificent series on worldbuilding on her blog.  YOU DEFINITELY WANT TO READ THIS!

Worldbuilding Series, Part 1

Worldbuilding Series, Part 2

Worldbuilding Series, Part 3

Worldbuilding Series, Part 4

Enjoy! Jodi is a master of worldbuilding; I've learned a lot from her over the last couple of years.

And now, I'm off to experience a weekend of Second Childhood.  May your weekend be equally magical!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Logline Critique, Round 1 #40

TITLE: BROKEN FOREST
GENRE: YA FANTASY

Avikar is on a mission to rescue his kidnapped sister, Jeslyn. He has no idea her shape-changing captor is planning an invasion, or that she’s fallen for him.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #39

TITLE: Cryptogram Chaos
GENRE: MG

When computer whiz and loner Cody Reynolds, needing cash for his brother, helps two classmates create a popular virtual reality game, he must bring down evil Eamon Wiley who takes control of the game.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #38

TITLE: Two Chocolates Short of Crazy
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Mother-of-three Claire paints chocolates. Career woman Malia persuades philanthropists to part with the big bucks. These twenty-nine-year-olds have nothing in common, except the apartment they shared back in college. But when fate (and a donation pledge) slams Claire and Malia together again, their prickly friendship ends up saving their families, jobs, and self-confidence during a year that drives them Two Chocolates Short of Crazy.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #37

TITLE: Unwritten
GENRE: Fiction with Strong Romantic Elements

Superstar Katherine Hayes has built her career on the love and approval of her fans, but when her estranged mother threatens to sell her darkest secrets to the highest bidder, she is forced to face her painful past to repair her reputation, or risk it all for an unexpected chance at love.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #36

TITLE: UNDERTOW
GENRE: YA fantasy

When 16-year-old Bea Shepherd's mom is murdered, the secrets about Bea's maternal family and the hidden, magical world in which they lived are exposed. And it's not all pixies and peace-campaigning trolls; if Bea doesn't dig up the buried truth about her peculiar family and stand up to the despot that rules this hidden world, she could suffer the same gruesome fate as her mom.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #35

TITLE: Unitus
GENRE: YA/Dystopian

Life in Unitus (formerly the United States) is so unbearable that 15-year-old Abby Byrd sees only one way out: alien abduction. She succeeds in attracting an alien, but instead of a friendly rescue, the alien warrior has murder in mind. Abby manages to steal his ship, but damages it in the process. She elicits help from the twin boys with whom she has a complicated relationship: she likes Lucas, but Logan likes her. Meanwhile, both the alien warrior and agents from Unitus are closing in on Abby and her spaceship--and the alien's teenage nephew, knowing his uncle's violent nature, shows up to prevent him from killing anyone. He and Abby are immediately attracted to each other, but the twins are jealous and Unitus is going all out to thwart any threat to its power--alien or human.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #34

TITLE: Feral
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

17-year-old Emma inherited a blood-curse--a fey curse that causes her to shapeshift--from her birth parents. When she crosses paths with a powerful and vindictive faerie who can twist her curse and steal her freewill, Emma's left with two choices: run for her life or fight for her freedom.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #33

TITLE: The Forces of Heaven and Hell Alike
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

The demon Liam has been on Earth for centuries, gathering souls when their contracts come due and marking others for future payment, but what neither Heaven nor Hell know is that he's also engaging in a secret relationship with the angel Mikael. Over time they've influenced each other to the point that their concepts of good and evil have become blurred, but when the archangel Gabriel changes his game plan and seeks to use Mikael against Liam in a battle for Heaven, the two must keep secret their connection while serving their roles. Will their devotion to each other be more powerful than their devotion to Heaven and Hell?

Logline Critique, Round 1 #32

TITLE: Incandescent
GENRE: Romantic suspense

Seely Davis is a thirty-five year old reclusive horse whisperer. She lost her husband in a San Francisco earthquake that buried her in their car with his dead body. She has an understandable fear of small, dark places.

Jack Ripley just crash landed a drug dealer's plane on the wintery slope of West Spanish Peak in an effort to survive his latest undercover op with the DEA.

Together, they face the retaliation of the drug lord, the scheming of a dirty agent, an avalanche that buries them in the plane wreckage and a bomb blast that leaves Seely burned and blinded. If they survive, they might just learn that love is too precious to give up on.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #31

TITLE: Golden Boys
GENRE: Young Adult Historical Fiction

After killing a Missouri bigwig who tries to assault her, a Chinese girl along with a runaway slave disguise themselves as boys and seek their freedom in the frontier with a band of cowboys.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #30

TITLE: Luminous Earth
GENRE: YA Sci-Fi

Alien/human hybrid Emory Stone discovers she is a powerful pawn in an ancient, interplanetary war, and now she must fight to protect not only herself, but all of Earth—in between falling in love with a potentially deadly alien soldier and facing the dark secrets of her family’s past.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #29

TITLE: Louder Than Words
GENRE: Contemporary YA

Withdrawn and troubled, Ellen must learn to trust again after rejecting the predatory advances of a popular teacher. Reporting his actions and hoping she's believed is a big step. Shifting from the friend zone to true romance with the new boy at school might be the largest leap of all.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #28

TITLE: Thunderbird Dreams
GENRE: Historical Fantasy

Christine, a 12-year-old tomboy, finds a magic stick in old Indian ruins and is pulled into an ancient quest to save the Thunderbird spirit trapped inside the coal mine. Problem one: girls are not allowed in the mine (egad, talk about bad luck); and two: the greedy mine owner wants the Thunderbird power for himself, and he’s willing to do anything to get it.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #27

TITLE: The Haunting of Elle Castle
GENRE: MG/paranormal

When eleven-year-old Elle Castle’s Grandmere is suddenly taken ill on the family’s French vineyard, CastleHomes, Elle learns the estate is in danger of being sold. With a little help from a curiously acquired
talent for drawing, Elle knows she’ll lose her wonderful summers in France if she can’t reveal the sinister man and his schemes for taking over the family business.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #26

TITLE: Break Free
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Self Proclaimed “bad boy” Kiel Reaux is one delivery away from buying his freedom from the Baron of Old Town when he is captured by slavers. Sold to a foreign priestess, she promises to set him free if he leads her througha deadly jungle of wild magic. But when the Baron comes to collect, earning freedom is the least of Kiel’s problems. Freedom means nothing if you’re dead.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #25

TITLE: Better Run!
GENRE: action adventure

Down on his luck, Rick Johnson figured he'd lost everything – his home, his wife, his confidence, his job, even his mojo.

When beautiful socialite Renée Simpson barged into his life Rick figured his luck was about to change. Unfortunately he was right.

At an exclusive California resort Rick is mistaken for someone with the same name. Not only does he become a marked man, he's given the design for a computer chip that will change the world's balance of power.

Now everyone is gunning for him - the Department of Defense, the FBI, a cadre of corporate goons, a deadly Chinese agent and one really pissed off, armed, Renée Simpson.

Not ready to confront his enemies or hang with his new foreign friends, Rick comes to the brilliant conclusion that he'd...

Better Run!

Logline Critique, Round 1 #24

TITLE: The Witch Hunter's Bible
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

After discovering she's a witch, a high school cheerleader sets out on a virtual suicide mission to a recover a book which, if allowed into the wrong hands, contains the power to kill every witch on the planet.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #23

TITLE: Ravishing Midnight
GENRE: Adult Urban Fantasy

When Demon Control officer Rieve discovers that her newly transplanted heart is a demon’s, she will unravel the witches’ sinister plot to destroy all demons, find her life irrevocably tied to the demon whose heart she was given, and realize that her resolve to resist sexy incubus lord Lucen, whose kiss would mean he would own her forever, is rapidly crumbling.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #22 (redacted)

TITLE: Bonded
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

(redacted)

Logline Critique, Round 1 #21

TITLE: She Cried Wolf
GENRE: YA Thriller

After witnessing a teacher’s indiscretion with another student, troublemaker Quincy Carter hatches a plan to expose the wolf in sheep’s clothing but her teacher has a scheme of his own and it starts with silencing Quincy for good.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #20

TITLE: The Children of Iris: Discovery
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Two Princess. One world. One Destiny?

Skye has spent her life on Earth, dreaming of a land where snow never melts, and a crystal castle. Now she's told it's real, part of a magical world called Iris.

And she's a Princess.

Cecelia has been kidnapped from her castle, forced to stay in an ice dungeon that could kill her.
She must come to terms with the fact that everything in Iris is changing. Her peaceful world is becoming darker.

Together they must find a way to save their world, otherwise a powerful and haunted King will change everything.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #19

TITLE: Transmigration
GENRE: YA-Paranormal/Mystery

A sixteen-year-old loner traces her chronic nightmares back to a brutal crime that took place seventeen years earlier. But when she learns that she was the victim, she scrambles to identify her killer before he can identify her.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #18

TITLE: Air Pirates
GENRE: YA Steampunk

For Hagai's birthday, he receives a stone from his mother that shows visions of the future. The thing is, Hagai thought his mother was killed ten years ago. The bravest thing Hagai's ever done is put peppers in his stew, but when the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he joins a crew of air pirates to find her.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #17

TITLE: Drifting in Darkness
GENRE: New adult, paranormal romance, suspense

Yearning for romance with a hot new neighbor, recent college graduate Darcia Daniels finds it close to impossible to keep the secret she has come to call drifting: fainting episodes during which she “drifts” from her body and becomes psychically connected to a stranger just as they are learning someone they love has died.
As a serial killer begins leaving his handy work lying around, Darcia discovers the guy of her dreams is keeping secrets of his own and she must embrace her psychic “disability” to decipher friend from foe.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #16

TITLE: Write Your Name
GENRE: YA Contemporary

When a delusional girl’s self-made world starts to crumble, she has to make a choice – return to an illusion where her brother still exists, or stay present in a guilt-riddled reality with the boy she loves.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #15

TITLE: Swimming With Tchaikovsky
GENRE: YA Suspense/Magical Realism

Consummate rule-follower Sally Hotchkiss arrives in Saint Petersburg prepared for the biggest cello competition of her life. But when her Russian host father is kidnapped by the government and music begins to conjure visions of Russia’s past (complete with clues to help rescue him), following the rules is no longer an option.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #14

TITLE: Rhamiel's Fall
GENRE: Fantasy

Ronnie’s job is to separate shadows from the humans they possess. It should be easy, except the shadows are whispering in their holding cell: her head. The gods know more than they’re telling her, and if she takes too long to figure out the truth her descent into madness will become a one-way trip.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #13

TITLE: The Killing Cure
GENRE: Thriller

Nanoparticles are all around us, in our clothes, our make-up and even our food. Researchers are using them in the fight against cancer – but what if something goes wrong?

Dr. Catherine Thomas, a spunky British scientist, is pulled from her groundbreaking research across the globe where she finds her soul mate and faces life-threatening dangers. She uses nanoparticles to fight cancer, but her work is stolen by the three most powerful men in the world, and soon people with twinkling eyes start dying from a new and frightening disease: Nanoplague.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #12

TITLE: SILENCE
GENRE: YA/Paranormal

SILENCE is about sixteen-year-old Sage, who is tortured by the souls of the dead that have haunted her mind and her sketchbook for four years. When she meets a strange boy at the local art store, the souls fall quiet and she catches a glimpse of the normal life she could hold again. When the boy offers her a deal – her soul for her sanity – Sage must figure out if she’s willing to pay the price for the silence she craves.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #11

TITLE: Cracked
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Charmingly wicked half-demon Meda is forced to hide from hell's army in a school for demon-hunters--who mistakenly believe she's a saint.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #10

TITLE: Day 10K
GENRE: Science Fiction

Ensign Nakajima knows the colony on the planet below may see their civilization collapse within hours. Their computers have only been using four digits to calculate the days, and when Day 10,000 rolls around, they may see it as the nonsensical Day 0000 and all go down at once.

Nakajima insists his ship should do more to help, and he gets booted down to the planet for his trouble. But when his landing craft gets shot down by the colonists, a teenage girl tells him the planetary government will use the crisis as an excuse to give itself tyrannical powers. His allies are few: A hard-luck fellow ensign who is more concerned about not getting caught for his gambling pool on how bad the collapse will be. A hard-bitten senior lieutenant who wonders if her judgment is slipping after all these years. And the teenage girl.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #9

TITLE: The Mage's Daughter
GENRE: YA urban fantasy

The all powerful Mage's daughter gets tangled up in a vampire werewolf love triangle until she summons her dead boyfriend from his grave and has to stop the impending zombie apocalypse all while going to high school.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #8

TITLE: Time Bender
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

When a stranger offers seventeen-year-old Birdie Orin the financial means to leave Atlanta's cruel streets behind, she jumps on it, despite the odd strings attached. Trapped Viking souls, a cursed amulet and an ancient battle seem more like the ramblings of a lunatic than any real threat, until Birdie’s dreams confirm the inescapable reality of the stranger's words. With new friend, Grey, by her side, Birdie must choose between fulfilling a sworn oath and protecting the one she loves.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #7

TITLE: RAVEN'S WING
GENRE: YA fantasy with SF elements

Caught in a web of political intrigue, a young woman sees her family members killed or enslaved. She joins the rebels as a spy and then pilot so she can save her sisters, the friend who betrayed her and the two men she loves.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #6

TITLE: ELECTRIFIED
GENRE: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

When seventeen-year-old Mira Cunningham's younger brother, her only remaining family, goes missing, she alone can save him before he's killed. While searching for her brother, she gets trapped in a New York Electric machine room and gets electrified. With her hands able to zap, knock out or even kill others, she goes on a mission to Kroy Wen, the ugly underbelly of New York City to find him. She must fight the bone-crushing aliens called Seducca, stop a two-headed demon and deceitful sorcerer as well as a local hero who's on her tail after she steals an ancient medallion used to find lost persons. If she fails, she will die along with the entire teen population of the city.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #5

TITLE: Sway
GENRE: YA contemporary fantasy

A twist on the English Green Man myth, SWAY is about a 17 year old American girl who learns the value of Free Will when she falls in love with a youth magically trapped in an ancient oak by the woodland god, Silvan. Struggling to balance her passion for nature and her desire for a long life, she fights to liberate the young man and stop Silvan from smothering the cities of Britain to grow a new Eden.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #4

TITLE: Hunter and Hunted
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

A young Huntress is forced to escape her violent family when she saves the mysterious Altair de la Rosa, an old enemy of her parents. On the run and hunted by Altair’s enemies and her own parents, Ciera must embrace who she is, or die trying.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #3

TITLE: Shield & Crocus
GENRE: Fantasy

Renegade superhero First Sentinel has been fighting for fifty years. Over the years, he has failed his loved ones, buried his friends, and watched his city turned into a playground for a group of cruel oligarchs. This city, built inside the skeleton of a long-dead titan, is wracked by magical storms that warp its streets, towers and inhabitants.

After decades of failure, First Sentinel and his team finally have a chance to overthrow the oligarchs…but it means making a bargain with his oldest enemy, a gangster who has bought, schemed, and betrayed her way to the top. If they survive the bargain, his team will have the momentum and resources they need for a full-scale revolution. But can First Sentinel tip the balance of power before the oligarchs hunt him down and crush his rebellion for good?

Logline Critique, Round 1 #2

TITLE: Other
GENRE: YA Romance

When Alain finds himself trapped in a magical estate where the normal laws of nature no longer apply, he strikes a bargain with the dour mistress of the estate. Grudgingly, she agrees to teach him the secrets of that Other World which governs magic. Neither of them bargains on falling in love with each other.

Logline Critique, Round 1 #1

TITLE: Lightstorm
GENRE: Paranormal romance

Humanity's survival lies in the hands of a misanthrope. Her elemental bodyguard could change her mind, but their attraction could cost her life.

Round One Logline Critique

Okay, here come the loglines!

IMPORTANT:  If yours is one of the 40 entries, please be kind enough to take the time to critique a minimum of 10 other entries.  (Yes, 10.  Loglines are short.)

Remember, loglines aren't the same as full-out pitches.  Some of today's entries fall outside the logline parameters and will need some guidance in cutting their words down to the snappy, just-the-basics information a logline needs.  Which is the whole point of this exercise.

Have fun!  Definitely some cool premises out there.

(Know what's cool?  I never have to remind you to be kind.  Because you always are.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Logline Critique, Round 1

The submission window will be open from 9 am to 5 pm EDT today.  This is a lottery, which means the bot will randomly choose 40 entries at the close of the window.  These entries will post tomorrow morning for critique.

EMAIL SUBMISSIONS:

As always, send your submission to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com.  Format as follows:

SCREEN NAME: (type it here)
TITLE: (type it here)
GENRE: (type it here)

(type your 150-word logline here)

WEB FORM SUBMISSIONS:

GO HERE. Follow the instructions on the web form.

That's it! Post your questions below.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Winners--Yellow, Red, and Blue!

Lots of winners to congratulate today!

In Jenny's words:

Thanks so much for letting me do this! It was lots of fun and the authors all did a tremendous job—I was very favorably impressed. And so much of this comes down to personal taste in the end—certainly everyone had a very high level of skill and talent.


And now, Jenny's winners:

YELLOW RIBBON WINNERS:

18--Peanut Butter and Jelly Friendship
22-- Jumper
44 -- Gallery of Important Things
47--Trajectory of Dreams


THE PRIZE:

Ms. Bent requests that you send your query and the first 25 pages of your manuscript.

RED RIBBON WINNERS:

20--Spellcaster's Kiss
28--Flora
ALT-1--The Error


THE PRIZE:

Ms. Bent requests that you send your query and the first 5 chapters of your manuscript.

BLUE RIBBON WINNERS:

5--Tripp Trapped
14--Simon's Oath
26--Speck Hawkins

THE PRIZE:  Ms. Bent requests that you send your full manuscript.

Congratulations to everyone!  Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for specific submission instructions.

Great round!

Secret Agent Unveiled: Jenny Bent


Applause and thanks to the lovely and helpful Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency for being our Secret Agent this month!

Jenny's bio:

Jenny Bent has worked in publishing for over 15 years, both as an editor and an agent, most recently as Vice President at Trident Media Group before founding The Bent Agency in 2009. There she has continued her tradition of representing bestsellers, with over 17 titles on the NYT List since she opened her doors.

The agency recently expanded to include an in-house foreign rights agent and a children's book agent, Susan Hawk, formerly the Marketing Director at Henry Holt Children's Books.

What Jenny's looking for right now:

She is looking for young adult, women's fiction, literary suspense, crime, romantic suspense, memoir and general fiction. Please see her website for submission guidelines.

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Fricassee

It's one of those mornings when my (decaf!) coffee won't stay warm.  Which is disconcerting, since I'm still in denial that summer is actually over.

Le sigh!


At any rate, I would like to send forth a GREAT CHEER for those of you who responded to my Twitter plea yesterday for the neglected SA entries.  Throughout the day, critiques came through specifically for the number range I'd specified (13-33).  On behalf of the entrants, THANK YOU!

I'm looking forward to a weekend of relaxed plotting.  Admittedly, I'm a tough nut to crack, but I've had yet another revelation about the way-things-should-be for me as a writer.  This time, it's the whole It's Okay To Stare At Nothing For Days thing.  I've fought it, I've hated it, I've berated myself for being unproductive.

And now?  I think I've finally come to terms with the fact that this intense brain time is necessary.  And that it's ALLOWED.  I'm just so goal-oriented and results-focused that when I'm staring and thinking and scribbling a few notes in my notebook, I invariably feel like I'm doing nothing.

I think I've finally learned that I'm actually doing a lot.  Hence the "relaxed plotting."

So bring on the weekend and the illegible plot notes! I'm ready.

Hope you have a delightful end-of-week, too!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Crafting Your Logline

Call it a "hook" or a "pitch" or whatever you'd like, but make sure you nail it in time for the Baker's Dozen Auction submissions!

First, READ THIS POST about writing loglines.

Next, read these helpful tidbits:

From Blake Snyder's Save the Cat:

"A logline is the one- or two-sentence description of your [novel] that tells us what it is. It must contain a type of hero (that means a type of person plus an adjective that describes him), the antagonist (ditto), and the hero's primal goal. It must have irony, and it must bloom in our brains with potential."

From author Holly Bodger, the logline queen:

"When [MAIN CHARACTER] [INCITING INCIDENT], he [CONFLICT]. And if he doesn't [GOAL] he will [CONSEQUENCES]."

Please remember that there is no perfect formula for a logline. There are components that a strong logline needs, and this will flesh out in whatever way best portrays your story and its inherent conflict.

We will be having three logline critique sessions on the blog.  Submissions for the first one will be this coming Tuesday, September 27.  It will be a lottery with a large submission window, so you won't have to hover over your mouse.  Forty loglines will be chosen at random and posted on the blog on Wednesday the 28th.

Questions below!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September Secret Agent #ALT-1

TITLE: The Error
GENRE: Adult Fiction


Against the advice of my mentor, I keep a gun in my drawer.

Harvey says a lawyer with a gun will eventually use it either on a client or on himself. Harvey is 62 and thinks he knows everything, but sometimes he’s clueless, living in the past. What lawyer nowadays doesn’t keep a gun in her desk?

I stare at the Ruger—a Super Blackhawk.

Ten minutes.

That’s how long Brandi, my assistant, thinks she can stall the FBI Special Agent who showed up unannounced. Then he’ll step through my door for our first face-to-face since I switched sides. He thinks I’ll cooperate with him, but things are complicated.

The gun beckons. I reach in, hesitate, and then pick it up. I aim it at my father’s face in our lovely family portrait. My attention shifts to my wonderful husband in the golden frame on my desk.
Then I gaze into the Ruger’s barrel and caress the trigger.

Nine minutes.


Last year a grateful client nick-named me “quick-draw” and gave me the revolver after I blew holes in the prosecution’s case. That’s how a trial should go: surprise your opponent with something she never thought about, watch the blood drain from her face, and accept victory with a touch of grace and a shitload of satisfaction.

The ancient Romans claimed poverty was the mother of crime, but no one’s poor any more. It’s “Scoreboard, Baby.” You win or you die.

But when the FBI comes knocking, no one wins.

September Secret Agent #50

TITLE: Christmas Joy
GENRE: Adult Fiction

Mom, there’s a strange man in the driveway!” The frightened young girl screams to her mother from the living room. Panic sets in as Joy Dutton pulls her children Skylar, 9, and Boone, 7, from their perch on the living room couch.

“Sit here until I come back inside.” Instinctively she pushes them to the floor. “Stay out of the windows.” Joy bolts out the side door without reaching first for a coat as protection against the bitter December cold. She nearly slips on the frozen slush, remnants of a recent snow storm that she hadn’t had time to clear yet. The brisk wind slaps her in the face as she races up to the burly intruder in her driveway that has backed his big black pick-up truck right up to the bumper of her two year old SUV. The glare from the noon high sun blinds her temporarily as it reflects from the shiny polished chrome that embellishes his eerie vehicle.

The stranger sees her approaching and hastens his task of attaching a tow cable to her rear bumper. “Please, Sir, I really need my car. I’m looking for work and I have two kids.” She glances over her shoulder to see both of her children’s scared faces in the living room window peering out at the spectacle in the driveway.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, I’m just following orders…"

September Secret Agent #49

TITLE: You Cannot Kill a Swan
GENRE: Historical fiction

This was not the response Iván Ivánovich Konev was expecting when he proposed to his sweetheart Lyubóv Leontiyevna Zhukova.

Lyuba has told Iván to pretend their month-long clandestine romance never happened. She expects him to carry on as though they’re just best friends of the opposite sex, after everything they shared. And to add insult to injury, she said she still loves him. Iván has never heard of such a confusing, heartbreaking response to a marriage proposal, particularly not when the boy and girl have secretly been in love for nine years, since they were children. At least his good friend Alekséy Vladímirovich Trótskiy didn’t make fun of him for being unmanly when he caught him crying in a closet.

“Not too long ago we skipped gymnasium and spent the day at the pond,” Iván says wistfully. “We were watching the swans and talking about how they mate for life. When a swan finds its soulmate, the two swans swim together and their beaks form a heart shape. Well, you can’t kill a swan’s pair bond, and my beautiful swan will be back where she belongs no matter how long it takes.”

“You’d have to be willfully blind to miss how she’s always looked at you,” Alekséy says. “I never bought her charade of preferring Borís over you. If I were a girl, I’d pick a tall, handsome, well-mannered guy over that short chubby Malenkov. I know you're best friends, but anyone who knows what’s what can see Lyuba only has romantic feelings for you.”

September Secret Agent #48

TITLE: CODE
GENRE: Thriller

The woman lay naked on the old barn door, arms tied out from her tiny body, crucifixion-style. Her head was taped, immobile, to the rough, splintered boards beneath her. Her long dark hair coiled underneath her head. A clear plastic tube snaked down her throat and into her lungs, and fogged with each breath. She struggled against her bonds. Spotlights had been hung in the corners, and the beams focused on the woman, pure light fighting back the darkness of the shadows.

Her scrubs were piled in the corner, white coat crumpled on top. The young man bent over the coat and plucked a pin from the lapel. The diamonds created the shape of a bone and sparkled in the bright light of the barn.

He pocketed the pin and sauntered over to a plain cardboard box in another corner of the structure. The box sat atop a small wooden table surrounded with surgical equipment. Lifting the lid, he pulled out a squat brown bottle and a scalpel. For a moment he let his eyes trace the length of the blade, holding it so the light caught the edge. Slipping a surgical mask over his mouth and nose, he walked across the dirty concrete floor to the woman. She screamed against the cylinder in her throat, which pushed aside her vocal cords. No sound emerged.

September Secret Agent #47

TITLE: The Trajectory of Dreams
GENRE: Psychological Suspense


Breaking into an astronaut’s house took finesse. A quiet twist of a wrist with a key in a lock, sure footfalls down the always-creaky hallways. It was an art, one I’d been perfecting for years.
Nothing could be perfect enough, although every molecule in my body yearned for the exacting fulfillment of my life’s work. And now, standing in Colonel Janet Markowitz’s bedroom, her sleeping form just feet away, there was nothing left to do but hope – hope she didn’t wake up, hope the sound of my pen scratching over the polysomnography observation report didn’t disturb her sleep or somehow interfere with her natural patterns. Hope I didn’t doom the next space shuttle mission.

She sighed, and I froze, the word “cycle” only half spelled out in my spiky handwriting.

The seconds ticked off, an audible metronome recounting my anxiety, from an old-fashioned clock hanging on her bedroom wall. Her breathing eased back into the usual for her: a deep intake expanding her slight ribcage, followed by a slow leak type of a hiss, all through her slightly-opened lips.
I released my own soft huff and finished writing the dangling word and redotting the “i” in my name – Lela White – penned carefully in the corner of the form. The imperfection of the shape of the mark had been bothering me for an hour. Satisfied, I turned to study the contents of her dresser top.

September Secret Agent #46

TITLE: In Limbo
GENRE: Historical YA

I’m pretty sure this is what hell feels like.

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

I catch the tail end of Sketch’s sentence. “…it might be neat. I hear summers in California are nothing like Virginia’s—all sweltering and whatnot.”

I nod and wipe the sweat from the back of my neck. I wish me and Sketch were talking about normal things, that would make me less agitated. We could be talking about how it’s bunk that the baseball season’s been cut short thanks to “The Great War”. Dad would say that’s what boys our age talk about—not charcoal pens and canvases.

“You listening?” Sketch asks, not taking his beady eyes from this strange bear he’s drawing.

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

“I mean, this is it, Syl. We’re gonna graduate in two years, ya know? This is what we oughtta to be thinking about. Did you hear what’s at stake? If I win this, I’d get a full scholarship to one of those art schools in California. Could you imagine? Us in California?”

September Secret Agent #45

TITLE: Splashback
GENRE: YA suspense

The Sour Patch Kids in the bottom of Heidi Maverick’s sparkly clutch probably bothered him the most.

The Sour Patch Kids, or the ticket stub from that new boy band’s concert.

The Sour Patch Kids, or the ticket stub, or the cotton candy flavored lip gloss.

As he dug deeper into the purse, those random bits of garbage tickled his hands with worry. He thought he’d picked the right girl this time. From afar, this Heidi had looked like a high school upperclassman, slutty and desperate—just the kind he usually took. He had even chatted her up to make sure her family wouldn’t come looking; sure enough, her parents were another dead-beat dad and overworked mom. Looked good and normal. Most importantly, she seemed profitable. So, he had signaled to his partner and spiked her drink.

Now she lay unconscious in front of him, half an hour away from that party. Each slow breath stripped away another week from her face, and that’s when he grabbed her purse, wondering if he could figure out her real age.

His fingers hit her fake ID first. Danielle Schmal, twenty-one.

No one would buy that. He could believe she was a young eighteen if he stretched, but the people at the party from which they’d come didn’t much care about things like the legal drinking age—or anything legal, for that matter. A pocket of the wallet hid her real ID, an ASB card from the local public high school.

September Secret Agent #44

TITLE: The Gallery of Important Things
GENRE: MG fantasy/adventure

When I was seven I built a machine to measure trouble. I made it out of a pirate ship’s barometer and a World War One field radio and set it up in my closet, where it crackled and spit like a grouchy bandicoot. It had a thin red needle that was supposed to jump when trouble got too close so I’d have time to take cover.

It didn’t work of course, but it would have been useful.

Don’t get me wrong, I know how lucky I am. Being born a Guardian of the Gallery of Important Things is like winning the lottery of life. My ancestors have been searching out important things and hiding them away for thousands of years and I have access to all of it: hundreds of rooms full of toys, armor, treasure, animals, mummies, books, and anything else you could possibly think of. All I have to do is step into my pantry, open the secret elevator, and take a quick ride down.

It’s amazing, but it comes at a price.

For one thing, I don’t officially exist. My twin sister Hillary and I don’t go to school, my passport’s fake, and even my birth certificate is a forgery. Parts of it are true: I was born in July eleven years ago and my name is Jonas X. Glick, but I’ve never been to the state listed in the Place of Birth column, and I’ll probably never go.

September Secret Agent #43

TITLE: SO YOU DON'T WANT TO BE AN EVIL SORCERESS
GENRE: YA fantasy

Mysty tied her damp hair into a ponytail as she ran down the stairs. The school bus would arrive in two minutes and she hadn’t had breakfast. She turned the corner and crashed into the black knight. The drawstring to her sweatpants caught on the mace, upsetting her balance and slamming her shoulder into the wall.

“Mysty, is that you?” her mother called from the kitchen.

“Who moved the stupid knight?”

Cindy came out of the kitchen, followed by the stench of burnt toast, hair perfect. She wiped her hands on her apron before helping Mysty shove the heavy armor back against the wall. “He’s wishing you a happy birthday.”

Mysty didn’t look in the reflective surface as she pushed the armor. She didn’t want to see the new zits pulsating on her face. “It’s an old pile of tin, Mom. It isn’t capable of wishing. It slid on the uneven floor.” She was tempted to kick it, but she didn’t. “We should move it.”

Cindy propped the mace next to the armor. “Where would we put it?”

“The basement, out of sight, Ebay . . .”

“Mysty Perilous,” Cindy put her hand on the dented shield, “The black knight has been in your father’s family for generations.”

“My friends don’t have knights in their house. They have potted plants. No one keeps crap like this unless they live in a castle.”

The corner of Cindy’s lip twitched. “The black knight didn’t come from royalty.”

“Not unless being a royal pain counts.”

September Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Supernova
GENRE: Young Adult Suspense


Alexa always thought she had a high tolerance for pain. Pain is your friend. Coach Lawry’s voice echoed in her head. How many times had he said that? Except there was nothing friendly about the feeling that coursed through her body. Her head felt like her mother looked after a hard night at The Office, the locals only bar in hometown Brilliant. She knew she couldn’t be dreaming because the throbbing was like nothing her subconscious could possibly imagine. She was flat on her back, that she knew – the bigger questions were why, how, and where. She wanted to open her eyes but that would require moving, and the pain spoke loud and clear on that point.

Then, she heard a low murmur, a voice…a man’s voice. That meant she wasn’t alone. Thank God. Someone was taking care of this situation – of her. Concentrating, the voice became clearer. She recognized it from somewhere; she’d heard that voice before. That meant someone she knew was taking care of her. Elation fluttered throughout her body, became an instant painkiller, like Vicodin with a splash of vodka – her mother’s preferred method of headache relief. And in that moment of retreating pain, a vision, possibly a memory, flickered in her head.

She wakes in a hospital bed to the sounds of constant noise, beeps from machines she can’t see, phones ringing, voices carrying on conversations…and crying, somewhere, someone is crying. Through a crack in the white curtain she sees people moving about, busy with their work, their lives.

September Secret Agent #41

TITLE:   Mirage
GENRE: MG/Tween

Paul Wilson deleted the memory of seventh grade like a blurred shot from his camera. The “Weird and Weirder Wilsons” taunts were history. He had a different picture in mind for eighth grade with his older sister Abby going to another school. And a summer in Arizona gave him weeks to perfect his new image. Paul knew all about images and the best light for everything. Everything, except himself. Starting today that would change.

“I’m off,” he told his aunt on his way out of the ranch house kitchen. He slung his camera strap over one shoulder and his backpack over the other.

“Take water,” Aunt Penny reminded him.

“Got it.” Paul held up the water bottle she had given him along with a lecture on D&D (dehydration and death). He stashed the water in his pack.

“Be back in two hours, Paul if you want a riding lesson before dinner.”

“Okay, sounds great.”

“Watch out for snakes!”

“Sure, no problem.” That’s exactly what he hoped to find along with tarantulas and a prehistoric-looking Gila monster. Inhaling bone-dry air, Paul headed toward the desert beyond the stables and grinned. Nothing like that in North Carolina.

Something red slithered beneath a tumbleweed. He froze. A snake, two feet long, with a black head and red-and-yellow-banded body rustled the brittle bush. Paul raised his camera, focused, and took three shots before it disappeared.

Perfect. He stashed his backpack under a towering cottonwood tree near the corral.

After a few experimental shots he’d come back for his pack.

September Secret Agent #40

TITLE: HARD NOX
GENRE: Young Adult

Red and blue lights flashed in the rearview mirror, setting Nox Somner's teeth on edge. She shot a glance at the blond boy in the driver's seat.

"So, you pulling over, or should I hop out the window and make a break for it?" Nox grabbed the window crank, tight fingers betraying the anxiety behind her joke.

"Very funny." Memphis sighed, slowly pulling to the side of the road. "I don't get it. I wasn't speeding. All my lights are working. I just want to get home and drown my math test blues in biscuits and gravy. Is that so much to ask?"

"Well, if it isn't my favorite officer." Nox watched in the side mirror as Sergeant Carris bumbled around inside the car, doing whatever cops do while people wait, hearts pounding to find out what they had done wrong. Flashing lights and police presence made Nox's heart pound for a different reason. She first met the Sergeant when he came to tell her and Haden their parents were dead.

Drumming her fingers in rhythm to the rain, her eyes sought out the River Styx flowing next to the road. The curving grey water soothed her. Don't freak out. Memphis got pulled over all the time; it probably had nothing to do with her. Dr. Tom said these panic moments were part of her PTSD. It made therapists feel better to name stuff, but as far as she could tell, having a name for painful emotions didn't make them easier to deal with.

September Secret Agent #39

TITLE: The Mark of Abel
GENRE: paranormal romance

From behind the tree in the center of Eden, Lucifer reached for Eve. Her warmth teased his fingers, and thunder rumbled. He yanked his hand back, and his shoulders sagged. God may not have specified Eve, but the spirit of his command was clear.

Despite the warning, his fascination with her continued unabated. It had done so since her unexpected arrival. Eve hadn’t been part of the original plan. Lilith had been there first, but Eve was unlike Lilith in practically every way. They had the same brown hair so dark it was like the night and the same olive skin that stood in stark contrast to the luminescent white of the angels. That’s where the similarities ended.

Lilith strode through the garden. Eve gently strolled. Lilith proclaimed her dominance with every action. Lucifer chuckled. That seemed to irritate Adam to no end. Eve, on the other hand, explored and was part of Eden.

The best part.

Eden. The Garden of Delight. The name fit. It should. God didn’t name many things, but when he did, the words were magical. They became power words humans couldn’t even comprehend. Eden.
Eve glanced towards Adam, and Lucifer’s gut knotted. If there was one thing in Eden that didn’t make sense, it was Adam. Lucifer had been there when God had created Adam, but couldn’t figure out why he was necessary. Lucifer could have named everything. He’d already named the angels.
Of course it wasn’t his place to question God’s actions, yet the thought lingered.

September Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Cloaked In Fur
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Today was the day. I would come clean and reveal my decision to choose humanity. I inhaled a deep breath, pushed open the front door and marched into the house.

A lone figure knelt in front of the old fireplace, his arm and torso wrapped in blood-soaked bandages. A metallic, nectar-like aroma wafted through the room. “What happened to you?”

Sandulf’s gaze swept over me. “Nothing.”

I raised an eyebrow and curbed my tongue despite the trillion questions tumbling inside my head. He was the alpha after all, but sensing we were alone, I bit my lower lip and huffed. A girl can only rev herself up for so long, and why I insisted on meeting the pack during my lunch break. The short window of time was my escape strategy if their guilt grew too unbearable, not to mention middays were notorious for making wulfkin grouchy. I had it all planned out, but minus a pack, everything fell to shreds.
Sandulf walked toward me, one shoulder sagging lower than the other. “Tell me Daciana, what have you decided?” The hardness of his voice surprised me.

My lips parted and no words formed. I changed my mind. I wasn’t ready to talk about the upcoming ceremony. My head tilted forward, and I waited. His brow lowered atop mine, and I tasted his scent of freshly dug soil beneath the blood. I lifted my gaze and met his eyes, which were the color of black coffee.

September Secret Agent #37

TITLE: Elena's Pen
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Mr. McMichaels hated me after confiscating a story I wrote during class last week. A story about a wicked goblin warlord. Named McMichaels.

I guess I can't blame him, but wouldn't most English teachers love a student who wanted to be an author? Not this one. I was lucky he only threatened me with detention.

I took my time walking to my eighth grade English class, not looking forward to Mr. McMichaels and his evil-eye glare.

The crowded hallway slowly thinned out as sixth, seventh and eighth-graders swapped classrooms. A kid slammed his puke green locker shut, wafting the scent of body odor and days-old sweaty gym clothes toward me. I gagged and hurried past.

"Elena?"

I turned and spotted Artex, the new guy, down the hall. He waved a piece of paper in his hand. His lopsided smile was so inviting that I smiled back. "Hi." Why was he talking to me? I forced myself to not shuffle my feet or play with my hair.

He jogged over. Dark hair fell across his forehead and made him look oh-so-cute. "I think this is yours." He handed me the story I had started during science.

"Thanks." I shoved it into a notebook. "I guess I forgot to grab it."

"Poor Roderick. Fighting without his armor and his horse against three bloody pirates. I'm not sure he can handle them." He fell into step beside me.

My cheeks grew hot. "You read it?"

September Secret Agent #36 (redacted)

(redacted)

September Secret Agent #35

TITLE: GLAMOURBOMB
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

On the day the National Gossiper made me a tabloid cover girl, I woke to find a fairy prying open my left eye. I admit I'm used to witnessing weirdness. I do live in Hollywood after all. But this was over the top, even for me. So, while I could clearly see a plump Oompa Loompa-sized creature with opalescent wings hovering above my bed, my brain was convinced I was hallucinating.

The fairy let go of my eyelid and grunted. "Hunh. I could have sworn you were faking," she said, the beating of her wings lifting a few strands of my hair into the air.

"Unh?" I groaned. A hair drifted down and stuck to the drool on my cheek. I opened my other eye and blinked a couple of times. The fairy looked at me over black rhinestone-studded cat-eye glasses. She had canary yellow hair done up in an enormous beehive that looked like she used it to store the contents of her purse—pens, lipstick tubes, and a pack of gum were sticking out in various places. She was wearing a lime green spandex jumpsuit with black racing stripes down the sides and she smelled like a mixture of bubble gum and Aqua Net hairspray.

"Are you Avery Alexandra Faye?" the fairy asked.

"Um, yeah," I said, staring at the black utility belt around her waist. It was loaded with an arsenal of complicated gizmos that looked pretty sinister for someone who was shedding glitter all over my bedspread.

September Secret Agent #34

TITLE: IN SYNCH
GENRE: MG
Mom’s voice cuts deep, like a razor-sharp skate blade. “Melody,” she says, her pencil tapping the edge of the piano bench. “You need to count the rhythm. It’s one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and.”

I drop my hands onto my lap. “I was counting.”

“Not carefully enough. Now let’s try again, beginning at measure three.”

“One-and-two-and,” I say between clenched teeth, my fingers banging the keys.

Mom sighs. “Might as well stop. Pachelbel Canon is legato. You have to connect the notes, make them smooth.”

Smooth, I think. Like ice.

I start over, my fingers plunking while my mind spins around Civic Arena. I can almost feel the cool air whipping my ponytail as my skates glide across the slick surface.

“That’s it,” Mom says. “Feel the music.”

As I play a G major chord, I imagine myself in spiral position, leg held high, arms outstretched, my silver skate blade cutting a crisp outside edge.

“Keep going, Melody. Now you’re getting it.”

I smile. In my head I’m pushing into back crossovers, moving into a one-foot glide…

“Wow.” Mom nods as I play the final chord. “The notes weren’t perfect, but you finally put your heart into it.”

I sit there, staring at the boring black and white keys. “Can I be done now?”

Mom purses her lips and takes a deep breath, like a swimmer getting ready to dive underwater. Finally, she closes my lesson book. “All right, but you need to practice an extra ten minutes tomorrow.”

Uggh.

September Secret Agent #33

TITLE: Gate Series: Stone of Orenda
GENRE: YA Fantasy


With a violent head toss, the single-minded equine locomotive beneath me yanked the reins through my hands and we surged forward. Windblown tears crept out of my eyes as we careened through the old apple orchard. I ducked another branch and tried again to slow the charging mare. My frantic tugging on the reins didn’t elicit the tiniest response. I gulped as my left foot bounced and lost its tenuous grip on the stirrup.

“Vienna, whoa! Whoa!” I screamed. It came out as a whisper, lost in the airstream.

I pulled desperately on one rein and succeeded in turning Vienna’s head enough to see the gleam of insanity in her left eye. Visions of flying through the air prevented stronger action.

We thundered toward an unused dirt road. Maybe she’ll slow down now. My throat closed involuntarily. What if she doesn’t?


She hesitated, just enough for me to get a good look at the irrigation ditch concealed in the weeds as we soared over it. “Whoa!” I screeched mid-leap.

I slammed onto the saddle, and Vienna dropped into a bone-jarring trot. My other foot reached for a stirrup and found only air, but I took advantage of her uncertainty to bring her nose around to her right side. If she didn’t stop, I was going to end up in a tree -- but then so would she. Sides heaving, she jolted into a walk and stopped, eying the tunnel of leafless trees as if she wanted to do it all over again.

September Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Arrow of the Mist
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Her hound's bark alerted Lia to the pair of horses charging up the path. Lia squinted in the dusky light and recognized Da’s friend, Kenneth, upon one horse. Then her insides went cold. Across the other horse’s back lay Da’s limp body.

Lia dropped the harvested mallow root and sped from her garden to the cottage, her hound darting ahead. Ma’s scream shot like a bolt through her, but Kenneth’s words, “He’s alive, Carin,” offered Lia a morsel of hope.

Kenneth carried him into the cottage, and Lia caught a glimpse of Da’s torn and bloodied clothing. “I’ll fetch Granda,” she cried, and hurried to her filly.

Clad in her usual boy’s breeches and high leather boots, Lia raced her horse down the path with her heart pounding in rhythm to the hoof beats. Stay strong, Da! Just a little longer, and Granda will be there to heal you.

Why hadn’t her dreams forewarned her? They showed her when the mares or ewes would give birth, or when visitors were coming from afar, but her fate-dreams had failed to give a timely warning for Da.

She blazed across waves of shamrock green hills dotted with the ancient quartz towers unique to Rockberg. She turned down the main road and rushed into the heart of the village. A few villagers lifted curious eyes, but many only cast contemptuous glances her way.

September Secret Agent #31

TITLE: Nanoplague
GENRE: thriller


Dr. Catherine Thomas’ eyes threatened to close, so she decided to leave her nanotechnology lab and go home, shower, and sleep a bit before picking Ryan up at the airport. She missed him and needed him now more than ever. If only he would stay this time.

She trudged towards her cherry Smart Roadster with shoulders drooping and feet dragging. Halfway there, she heard steps crunching across the sandy concrete. She lifted her head and spotted him: the young man in the suit from the charcoal Audi. He was striding in her direction. Their eyes met, and she knew he had come for her. Her pulse kick-started. She scanned the car park left and right. No one. Bollocks. She pivoted and sprinted for the lab, but her sleep-deprived body moved in slow motion.
His footsteps pounded faster and faster. No. She would not let him catch her. Still running, she crossed the street and transferred her car keys to her left hand. As soon as she reached the entrance, she began to enter the code.

He grabbed her around the waist from behind and slammed her into the building’s door. “Where do you think you’re going, moça?”

She kicked and scratched.

He laughed and shook his head, making a clicking sound with his tongue.

Querida.”

She twisted and raised her keys to slash his face, but he didn’t give her the chance.

September Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Solomon the Wise
GENRE: middle grade fiction

The day I bit into a hamburger without first checking for onions I thought I’d puke. If I even think about that hamburger now, my taste buds burn and my stomach revolts.

My first day at Mt. Pleasant Middle School gave me that same kind of feeling – a feeling of dread that made me want to start the day, the weekend, maybe even my whole life over.

Everyone else had started school two weeks earlier, not on Friday, September 16, like me. Although I’d tried to talk my parents into letting me start school Monday, they insisted I start the day after we moved into our house in the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania.

As I stood before the large glass doors at the entrance to the school office, the urge to flee began to build. I overcame the urge, set my right hand on the cold, slimy handle, and pulled, wondering if everyone who’d entered before me sweated as badly as I did right then.

Positive attitude posters hung on the office walls. A red haired boy sat on a hard maroon chair outside a door labeled “Principal” and stuck his orange colored tongue out at me.

“Good morning,” said the secretary, a heavyset woman with black hair, too much eye shadow and a voice a person standing in the school yard would hear. “You must be Kyle Henderson.”

I looked into her green eyes and swallowed hard. Through the taste of onions I managed to say, “Yes."

September Secret Agent #29

TITLE: "Minus Me and You
GENRE: Women's Fiction

June Parker saved everything: theater tickets from a first date with her husband of 30 years, shoes from her wedding tucked away in the original box, medical bracelets her children wore home from the hospital. All of it was special and had a place in her home. Grace Parker did not inherit her mother's
sentimentalism.

When June called to announce they were moving, Grace was shocked. She couldn't imagine her parents living anywhere other than her childhood home. She was even more shocked when June said that she should come for her things. Grace didn't even realize she had things at their house. She took everything she wanted when she moved out after high school. That was eight years ago.

Grace stood in her old, crowded bedroom. An empty bed frame. A dresser. Six hefty storage totes. She should have known her mother would have carefully preserved her childhood in plastic containers: baby clothes, toys, artwork, pictures, yearbooks, and trophies. Grace had been staring at it for fifteen minutes when June approached the bedroom, wiping her hands on her waist apron.

“Find anything interesting honey?”

“Mom, why did you save all this stuff?”

“I thought you might want it someday.”

“Can't you just take it with you?”

June sighed, “You should at least look through it. You never know what you might find.”

“That's what I'm afraid of.” Grace said quietly to herself as her mom walked out of the room.

September Secret Agent #28

TITLE: FLORA
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

I hadn't realized what day it was. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind until I was running down the porch and something shifted underneath my shoe on the last step. And then, within a second of looking down to see what is was, I remembered--not only the date, but everything associated with it: my sinking stomach, the unanswered questions, the fact that I'd promised myself I'd stop trying to understand it. And of course, the thing I remembered most--the flower. A dahlia, yellow and bright as the sun when spring first arrives in Shaver.

Always the same kind of flower, always the same color. Not once, in ten years, did it change. Nor did the method of delivery: sitting on the last porch step, in front of our house, on my birthday.
With my stomach now soured, the piece of bread I'd grabbed on my way out the door threatening its way up my esophagus, I bent down to pick up the dahlia. It should have made me smile, should have made me feel a little better after the chaotic morning, right? Well it didn't. Not that morning. Not ever.
Before I could wrap my fingers around the stem, my phone rang. A glance at the screen told me it was Eva, my best friend. We were both set to work together at the bookstore, so it wasn't hard to figure out why she was calling.

"Dahlia?" Eva shrieked.

September Secret Agent #27

TITLE: Falling In Between
GENRE: YA Romance


Not again. She does this every time. What was worse, I couldn’t stop my head from bobbing side to side as she hummed that stupid Jeopardy tune.

My wet skin shivered as I cowered atop the cliff, even though the wind was as still as my breath. I suddenly regretted wearing the lace underwear instead of the cotton.

All for Robert.

Not that I was actually gonna let him see it, but I still had to wear them anyway. I longed for the jeans and camisole I draped over the rock at the lagoon’s edge. Those warm, dry clothes.

The humming stopped. The sweet sound of her voice was smooth as it taunted me through song now. “Oh, Ja-hen-na!”

Crap, crap, crap…


I forced myself to peek over the edge and look down – way down. There she floated effortlessly in the midnight blue lagoon, playfully squirting water towards me with the squeeze of her fist. Sophie’s aim was dead on.

I had never been afraid of heights before. Of course, I had never tried to throw myself from one before either. And the lack of moonlight in combination with the creepy, placid water was freakin’ me out right now.

Not to mention, I’m pretty sure something squishy like The Blob was hanging out in the far corner waiting to jump out and devour me once I did my face-splat.

September Secret Agent #26

TITLE: Speck Hawkins
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Speck Hawkins fumbled in the weeds for his thick, black-rimmed glasses. He slid the heavy frames up his nose, as he'd done every day for years, only to discover he no longer needed them. Blurred through the lenses, sunny yellow splotches appeared all over the lake, bright spots against dark water. He yanked the glasses from his face.

Without them, he saw with perfect clarity: marigolds. Ten flowers floated on the water; ten more bobbed up from below the silver-gray surface. They lingered there, floating like dead fish in a stagnant pond, until suddenly they began to deteriorate. Every curve of the petals, each fuzzy green stem—one by one, they shriveled to ash and faded into the water, until every last flower was gone.

A chill turned his arm hair to frayed wires. No birds chirped, no leaves rustled, no wind howled under the heavy gray clouds; there was only silence, thick and deafening. Close to the bank where he stood, a single ripple disturbed the lake's still water, announcing the rock—it floated there, as if it were ping-pong ball hollow. His rock: the only gift he'd ever been given, from the only friend he'd ever had. "It's a good luck charm," Charlotte had said, when she'd handed it to him yesterday. Already, it felt like weeks had passed.

He had to get it back. Needed it—needed the luck. Needed Charlotte's reminder that there was at least one person who understood him.

But as he reached for it, the rock disintegrated to ash.

September Secret Agent #25

TITLE: ELECTRIFIED
GENRE: YOUNG ADULT Urban Fantasy

My heart pounded with hope that I'd find my little brother, Jake. From the table by the entrance, I grabbed a helmet and mask and pushed open the heavy metal door. The sign on the wall of New York Electric said Employees Only: Danger, High Voltage Area.

High voltage? Legs shaking, I slid the hardhat onto my head, continued along the safety railing, and wondered if this was a good idea.

Huge generators filled the center of the gargantuan room. They roared and squeaked. Their metal arms rotated and spun around. Sparks crackled and flew. My ears ached from the noise, and even with the mask on, the air reeked of smoldering iron and oil.

No Jake. Damn. I made a quick sketch of the room in my journalism notebook to give the police and headed for the exit.

My boots made scraping sounds as I moved along the grated floor. One of the giant machines kicked in with a loud screech, and the notebook flew out of my hand and down through the railing, sucked away.
Panic gurgled in my stomach. That notebook had Mira Cunningham, Eleanor Roosevelt High School written on the front. If they found it, they'd be after me, too.

The whole room vibrated. I held onto the rail and reached down to grab the incriminating evidence. Electricity poured into my hand. My fingers stuck, fused to the metal.

Another huge charge burst through me.

September Secret Agent #24

TITLE: The Underground Empire of Joseph Wunderkind
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fantasy

A few days after his fifteenth birthday, Joseph Wunderkind discovered a broom closet in the basement of his apartment building where no broom closet should be. It wasn’t that a broom closet shouldn’t be in the basement, it’s just that he hadn’t noticed this particular broom closet yesterday, or the day before that, or in all the long summers that Joseph had escaped boredom and chores through exploring the dark basement.

Oh, it wasn’t like the broom closet was obvious. Joseph had only noticed it after he tripped at the bottom of the stairwell and caught himself by leaning against the wall. When he stood, he took his hand from the wall and a thick layer of dirt and dust came with it. Beneath the grime was a door made of a highly-polished wood entirely different from the doors leading to the tenants’ storage rooms. Joseph used his jacket to wipe the rest of the door clean and found a brass plate reading BROOM CLOSET. Not the least in the strange features of the door was the fact that the hinges were on the outside. This meant that the door opened outward into the hall, as though it were designed to keep something inside from getting out rather than preventing unauthorized people from getting in. The door’s handle was inset into the wood, but didn’t open when he pulled on it. The door was locked.

Why would a broom closet be locked?

September Secret Agent #23

TITLE: ANNIKA BRITANIKA: AROUND THE WORLD IN 80:45:07
GENRE: Middle Grade Adventure

Maximillian Drayson didn't quite like girls, but he figured Annika Britanika was different. She could climb a tree faster than he, beat him in a chess game, and make gadgets that actually worked. He couldn't think of a boy better than Annika for his best friend. Even still, being a girl, her moods changed quicker than the patterns in a spinning kaleidoscope.

Such as, on the day before last, Max had simply asked her whether her father might've forgotten it was her birthday. It wasn't Max's fault that the ship Doctor Britanika was supposed to arrive on did not have the doctor on it. Nor was it his fault that she had told their school mates that her father would be at her birthday. Both he and she knew it was the only reason why their entire class agreed to attend the party in the first place. Doctor Britanika was a popular man in Springfield. People would crowd him wherever he went to hear his stories from the places around the world he'd been. Unfortunately, Annika didn't have the same popularity with her peers, and neither did Max. Annika had refused to continue their chess game, and had huffed off, saying that her father never forgot important things. Max decided to put up with Annika's shifting temper because the two of them were more alike than different.

Today was Annika's birthday, and he hoped her mood was better.

September Secret Agent #22

TITLE: Jumper
GENRE: Commercial Fiction

The ambulance screamed over the hill and plunged down the two-lane road into the valley below.

“Tell me when I’m close,” the driver ordered.

His partner pointed. “There.” Just ahead, a chapel bell tower stabbed through the veil of early morning fog.

“Hope you didn’t have a big breakfast,” the driver shouted. He braked hard and yanked the wheel to the right.

“I’m good,” his partner yelled back.

“I’m talking about the jumper, not the ride, rookie.” They hurtled past the entrance sign and toward the front gate. “Just so you know? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the front from the back. Hope it’s not a kid.”

The duty officer sprang out from the gatehouse and waved them through. The driver hit the gas. His partner yelled, “Watch it!” just as they smacked into a speed bump.

The driver cursed as the undercarriage scraped over the hump. “Could someone have warned us, maybe?”

They lurched up the main campus boulevard to the chapel and pulled onto the esplanade. A burly Filipino jogged over to the vehicle. “Hurry up, will you?” he shouted. “It looks bad.”

The paramedics raced to the back and pulled out the gurney. With a jerk of the handrails, its insect legs unfolded.

A groundskeeper leaned on his rake, watching. “Take your time,” he called out. “He’s not going nowhere.”

At this, the driver nodded to his partner, who clambered back into the rig, grabbed a folded rubber bag and tossed it on the gurney.

September Secret Agent #21

TITLE: A Special Someone
GENRE: YA Mystery

That morning at school, Kim Waverly was waiting for me by our locker. She was ready to gossip, I could tell because her energy level shot up and her volume went down. “So who are you going to homecoming with?”

“No one.” I shook my head.

“But you said…” She stood in the way, blocking me from getting my books.

“I know what I said, but I lied, okay. Now, move.” I pulled her away from the narrow opening.

“Hey, watch it,” Kim said, as she regained her footing. “Don’t worry, I’ll find you a date. It won’t be Kyle Baldwin, but I promise you he’ll be hot.”

I closed our locker, pretending I didn’t hear her, hoping she would stop. When I turned back around, she took off. More than anything I wanted Kyle to ask me to homecoming.

At least I was going to the football game. I would be the first freshman to sing the National Anthem, and I didn’t need a date for that.

* *

The sun was at its zenith, but the cold air felt like winter was right around the corner. The trees lined up on my block were gorgeous shades of red, brown, yellow and orange. I loaded up our van with blankets. Dad was traveling again, so Mom brought the boys to the football game to hear me sing.

By the time we reached the bleachers, Kim was in her cheerleading uniform, chanting back cheers.

September Secret Agent #20

TITLE: THE SPELLCASTER'S KISS
GENRE: YA FANTASY

The ducks on the wallpaper border quacked and shook their tail feathers at me.

“Susan! Hurry up!” My little sister Buffy pounded on the bathroom door and yelled again. The startled ducks fled into the corner.

“Coming!” I bent over the sink and splashed water on my face. I ignored the ducks, trying to forget that the last time they’d come alive was the day my father disappeared.

It’s not a portent. My eyes were playing tricks on me. That would teach me to stay up reading past midnight. I toweled my face dry and saw the painted ship’s sails billow as if the wind were rising.
I finished getting ready for school and hurried down the stairs.

“About time!” Buffy shoved my backpack at me. She grabbed her own and we ran to the car where Mom waited with the engine idling.

“She started right up this morning!” Mom announced.

“Good girl!” Buffy patted the car door like it was a dog.

Even if the ducks were a portent, which they weren’t, it probably just meant there was a storm on the way. Storms here on the North Carolina coast could be fierce, tearing at the beaches, snatching the sands away until the stilted beachfront houses crashed into the sea.

“What’s the forecast?” I asked.

“Sunny for the rest of the week.” Mom hit the brakes. Buffy screeched and I scanned the sandy road for animals or dead bodies or something.

Mom stared at me. “You’ve seen something, haven’t you?”

September Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Savage Light
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Gwen hummed along to the tune played by the make-shift band in the courtyard. She looked up at her partner and mouthed the traditional words one said before beginning a calale country dance.

May you be blessed.


Her partner said nothing, so Gwen pretended he had.

I am already blessed with you for a partner.


She then curtsied and began the two-step, forward and back, as she had watched the others do. Her partner merely stared at her with long-lashed eyes, refusing to participate. The music picked up its pace and Gwen did as well, adding in swirls and bows, raising her hands over her head. She didn’t know the next steps so she made them up, twisting with the music. Her partner didn’t mind, though he didn’t dance himself. Then the music slowed and with a big sweeping step, Gwen came within inches of him.
At which point he shoved her, hard, with his nose, and Gwen fell to the stable floor in a cloud of dust. She gave the horse a look to let him know what she thought of his ungentlemanly behavior and thought she detected a bit of horsey amusement in his enormous eyes.

“Gwen!” Her name, screeched from the courtyard, made her jump, then cringe. Her silk gown dissolved back to rags, her graceful steps reverted to the clumsy spinnings of a scrawny girl-child. At least her partner was still just as handsome. She pulled herself to her feet and buried her face in his silky neck.

September Secret Agent #18

TITLE: THE PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY FRIENDSHIP
GENRE: MG Contemporary

When Annie and Jason first started the cemetery, Annie always hoped for rain. She thought it was more dramatic. But common sense won out. Rain turned the holes into mud baths.
Fortunately, today was perfect, clear-sky burial weather. If she had to wait any longer, it would be too late.

Annie eavesdropped from the top of the stairs. Her brother Matt and a friend droned on about healing plants for Boy Scouts. That'd keep him out of her hair.

She tip-toed down the hall and peeked in her mom's room. Busy with bills. And Kate was out of the house. Perfect.

Still, to be safe, she sneaked the phone into the hall closet where her sister's faux fur parka would muffle the sound. She speed-dialed 7 and let it ring once, then hung up and called again. Their secret code. It rang twice before Jason answered.

"It's me." Annie was all business. "I've got a body count."

Jason hedged. "I don't know. My parents are talking to this lady, and . . ."

"Jason, you're ten. Find a way. This is important." Without waiting for a response, she hung up.
Jason wouldn't find a way. Annie knew. She'd just have to go to his house and get him, like usual.
After listening at the door for several seconds, she slipped out of the closet and replaced the phone. Silently, she extracted the pre-packed bag from under her bed then ran down the stairs.

September Secret Agent #17

TITLE: Here Comes the Sun
GENRE: YA-Contemporary

I don't know much about flying. The last flight I went on was back when I was ten and forced to go to my great grandmother's funeral in Ohio. I say forced, because number one, I'd never met the woman before. I mean, I had heard about her. My mom was the epitome of a disappointment in her family, so of course I heard non-stop about the grouchy old witch who thought her granddaughter was a slut. Not that having a child at a young age means you're a slut or anything, but my grandma and great-grandmother – apparently - were not too supportive of my mom's bulging belly before her nineteenth birthday.

So even though my mom shed a single tear to commemorate the few good times she could remember, she was still upset with me because the news of my great-grandmother's passing did little besides pull me away from a good book. Because really, how could I mourn a woman I had never met, especially at such a young age?

And number two, the funeral was scheduled during our first official trip to Disneyland as a family of two. We used to have this tin coffee can on top of our fridge with a little label with Disneyland Fund written in thick, black penmanship. And every day when my mom came home from work, she'd filter through her wallet and the bottom of her purse, and throw any loose change or dollars in there.

September Secret Agent #16

TITLE: GEAS
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy


Brina knew better than to go out in public looking less than her questionable best, and there, stuck to her locker, was the essence of why.

She’d figured hurrying home for her mother’s birthday party deserved a special endowment of luck. Dumb but true. She hadn’t even grown to human size first. Instead, she left her purse and car keys with her best friend Moira and launched herself out the palace window into the sweltering air of San Antonio, Texas.

The first flash came from her left and, like an idiot, she twisted toward it. Which is how the photographer’s zoom lens caught her: eyes opened wide, long braid slicked back from her face with her own sweat, and limbs sticking out at startled angles from her workout tank and short-shorts. All of it glowing softly brown in the dusk.

As a special bonus, the magazine’s cover photo captured the moment her four bright white wings froze in shock, sending her plummeting a few feet downward. The resulting portrait could have been entitled “Freak, Falling” but instead the headline proclaimed: “Human-Pixie Hybrids: The Last American Taboo.” That worked, too.

Naturally, the cover was taped to her locker first thing Tuesday morning.

It hadn’t been torn carefully, and a jagged gash ripped halfway through Brina’s right wing. As if she needed help looking ridiculous.

Brina stopped dead in the middle of the hallway and forced herself to breathe. Stretched her lips into a slight smile.

September Secret Agent #15

TITLE: The Last Superhero
GENRE: YA, Urban Fantasy

I’m doing something like a Waltz around his body trying to figure out what to do with him. His victim cowers in a corner of her bedroom. Her eyes flit from me to her attacker as she swipes a floor lamp in the air, marking her territory. The perfume and doily-like lingerie say she may have been waiting for someone, but it wasn’t this guy.

“Hey, girl,” I say, trying to sound casual, like I haven’t just jumped through her window and put a grown man’s head through a wall.

“H-Hey,” she says.

Too nice. Good thing I’m here. She’s going to live it up like she’s just been rescued from a serial rapist by an unlikely superhero, um, because she has.

“I’m watching you, Sweetie,” I say to the attacker. He’s staring at my feet, probably trying to figure out how he can swipe them from under me. “You will regret it if you try to get up. So just relax. You’re going to jail tonight.”

“When are you gonna call the police?” he yells at me with a voice that never matured. His sweat-dampened hair is plastered to his forehead and ears. The seams that had held his t-shirt together are pulled apart. “I don’t like you standing over me like that.”

“She didn’t like you lying on top of her with your dirty hand over her mouth, either. Didn’t stop you.” I raise an eyebrow at the woman.

“What should we do with him?”

September Secret Agent #14

TITLE: Simon's Oath
GENRE: YA Light Fantasy

In the city of glass, there was one stone tower in a garden grown wild. Abandoned and feral, long tongues of ivy and morning glory were devouring the walls, their hungry roots finding holds in stone that glass could not provide.


No one remembered who had built the tower, or why, or how, for the people only knew how to pour moulds of glass and iron upon which to raise their city. Very few went near the garden, and those that did hurried past it, their eyes averted from the erratic maze of roots and branches. They feared that the irregular leaves and flower petals that grew in oddly regular spirals would somehow invade and corrupt their short, easily measured lives.


#


In a glass house by the river, Simon slid open the door to Faith’s bedroom. She was in her usual spot on the window-seat, curled into an embroidered cushion as she stared out through the clear glass. Her thin limbs were almost lost in the whiteness of her nightgown and her black curls spilled over one shoulder, savage and tangled from sleep.

As his eyes settled on her hair, Simon touched his chest, his throat, his lips. A reflexive ward against drowning, though an incomplete one. He mastered his fear before spitting a wad of saliva on the tile floor. Instead, he cleared his throat, taking care to keep his voice low and steady. Appropriate, for a servant.

“Good morning, little princess.”

September Secret Agent #13

TITLE: Spirit Weaver
GENRE: Fantasy

The most unusual thing about the figure standing alone on Orac’s pass this late in winter wasn’t that she was a woman. It wasn’t even that she carried a curved saber sheathed at her back, mottled bronze hilt engraved with the swan of the king, reflecting the sun with a dull gleam. The most unusual thing about her wasn’t a thing that could be seen at all.

Lora thrust her ski poles into the knee-deep snow, raising a mittened hand to shade the bright sun that failed to warm the air. With ice-blue eyes she stared out past the wolverine ruff of her parka hood, down the snow-laden slopes to the evergreen forests rolling out like the gray-green garb of the king’s Honor Guard.

Now that she was here, she was afraid of what she might find in the valley below—even more afraid of what she almost certainly would not find. Yet she had to know what had become of Gaern. She could feel the empty place at her core where the fastbond had once burned with the steady warmth of a sheltered candle flame. Gaern was the only other person who even knew that place could be filled. But now…

That’s why I’m here, Lora thought.

She looked out, searching for the smoke-haze of Elendir rising up through the crowns of the distant conifers, though she knew all signs of her village would be hidden beyond the bend in the valley.

September Secret Agent #12

TITLE: Gwenyth and the Golden Spine
GENRE: MG Fantasy

“Gwenyth Shuster is a pig!” chanted the kids on the school bus. “A smelly, icky, poo-covered pig! Oink! Oink! Oink!” 

Before entering the open bus doors, Gwen rubbed her Star Trek Enterprise key-chain, hoping that Captain Kirk would save the day and beam her aboard his spaceship. But no such luck. Apparently, the transporter was broken, and Gwen remained earthbound. After chewing on her left braid and taking a deep breath, Gwen finally dragged heavy legs up the stairs amidst an increasingly loud chorus of “oinks.” When she got to the top, there sat Soda Pop Seth leering at her from the front seat bench. As usual, Sheila Oracell was by his side, smiling like a malevolent stepsister from some twisted fairytale.

After signaling the other kids to stop oinking, Seth downed the contents of a cola can in one gulp. He then burped so loudly, Gwen was certain the sound waves registered on the earthquake Richter scale. Wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, Seth winked at Sheila, who giggled like she was in the presence of Justin Bieber himself.

Lowering her head, Gwen clutched her key chain hard, resulting in an imprint of the Star Ship Enterprise on her palm. “Dad, if you can hear me in heaven, save me from Soda Pop Seth. I am so sorry for the terrible thing I did to you, daddy. Punish me any way you want. I’ll even eat mom’s asparagus and cow’s tongue casserole. Just help me. PLEEEZE!

September Secret Agent #11

TITLE: Phoenix
GENRE: Commercial Fiction

Amanda Martin didn’t believe in casual Fridays. She didn’t believe in anything casual. Why waste time with casual dating when, despite a cold and unfulfilling relationship, she and Josh made the perfect couple? Why bother with the empty calories of casual dining when the hottest restaurants in Chicago whisked her into a window-front table? Business casual was not an option when she could be summoned to meet with media or investors at a moment’s notice. She certainly didn’t appreciate the casual tone the banking industry took with the tellers all sporting chinos and matching golf shirts. The lackadaisical dress affected the workers’ efficiency, causing her to stand alongside those with less in their checking account than she spent on her favorite pair of heels.

With frustration radiating from every pore, she endured the long line for a teller. The lonely ATM lured her, but knowing a teller handled the hefty cash deposit won over the cold anonymity of the machine. Amanda shifted in her place, sighing as she unbuttoned her ivory coat.

“Ma’am, would you like some coffee while you wait?” a just-out-of-college branch manager approached her. Once upon a time, branch managers wore three-piece suits, but this kid was dressed identical to the tellers.

“Coffee? Am I really going to stand here long enough to drink a cup of coffee?”

“I’m sorry about that. The tellers are working as quickly as they can. Could you use the ATM to complete your transaction?”

September Secret Agent #10

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

Connor Monroe tore through the park with his lungs on fire. He could make it to the lake in twelve, maybe thirteen minutes tops-if he ignored the cramp in his side. It screamed for him to slow down. Instead, he picked up the pace. He had to find out if the envelope was still there, or if it was gone too-like his dad.

As sunlight broke through the cloudy, September morning, he crossed the rickety footbridge, and stopped at the second wooden bench on the left-the one with the missing seat. Underneath it, he found the clump of rocks and tipped back the biggest one. Potato bugs scurried for cover. He brushed the stragglers away and picked up the envelope, wrapped in plastic-lying right where his dad said it would be.

He ripped it open and pulled out a piece of paper. "Pence Whitmore" was written in block letters, with a phone number scribbled beside it. Who the heck is Pence Whitmore?


Connor clutched the envelope, and sprinted back up the trail. There wasn't much time to get home before Caitlin rang the doorbell, all anxious for junior high. He tried to roll the highlight film from summer vacation. There was no highlight for him-unless you consider going to the cemetery a highlight. That day, Connor went numb as the terrible, brown box was lowered to the ground-with his dad inside. His mom crumbled to pieces and he knew. Team Monroe was gone.

September Secret Agent #9

TITLE: Tom and the Ghosthunter
GENRE: Upper MG, Fantasy

It was a dark and stormy night.


Tom's handwriting wriggled along the top of the cream colored page like a family of worms on a picnic. Sally longed to hug Tom who chewed the end of his pen and stared at the nearly empty, sheet of paper.


She bent over his shoulder. "You shouldn't start like that."


"But it was dark. And stormy. Some summer nights are like that." Tom wiped his forehead leaving a smudge of ink on his bronze skin. Sally suppressed the urge to wipe it away.


"You should begin with my death. Or with the reason why we live in a tiny room in a stranger's house." She floated around, looking at the few belongings Tom had brought from home. Why was there so little? She turned and watched her brother.


He replaced the cartridge in his fountain pen and didn't look at her. "I'm not like you. I never put my shoes on before my jeans."


Sally laughed. Before her death, her laughter would have moved the wind chimes over the window. Now, it barely reached her own ears. She cocked her head when Tom blinked away a tear. Why was he so sad? She walked to the middle of his table and bent down. That way, he should be able to better see her freckled face with the wide grin. Worried she gazed at him as he squeezed his eyes shut. Why did he behave so strange?

September Secret Agent #8

TITLE: FROM THE OTHER SIDE
GENRE: YA Horror

The light of the television cast a sickly glow on Audrey’s face, and for a second I thought she’d died and nobody had bothered to tell me. Nobody being Dr. Marickson, of course. I let go of Luke’s hand and dashed toward the bed, trying to ignore the news coverage of yet another raid on a Dark Magick coven. If that a****** had kept her death from me, I’d—

Audrey lay in her usual position, arms by her sides, wrists so thin I could see her bones shining through. Her ventilator droned its hiss-suck-hiss that I’d always hated but today told me she was still alive. Thank God. I placed my hand on her bed to steady myself. I’d thought I was over this, the fear I felt whenever I visited that she would be dead.

I shoved away the last shreds of my panic and arranged my mouth into something like a smile. “Hey Auds. How’s things?”

No answer.

I let a whisper of a sigh escape my lips. Every time I looked at Audrey, I saw the twisted metal of the car, the red smeared across the glass. And I saw me. Her face and mine. Identical twins. But how were we supposed to be inseparable when one of us lay in a coma? When our connection had stopped shimmering?

One day, sometime, her eyes would open and she would smile and tell me one of her lame jokes.

She had to.

I couldn’t survive if she didn’t.

September Secret Agent #7

TITLE: Blood for Wolves
GENRE: Fantasy

For most people the idea of being surrounded by wolves is terrifying. I loved it.

Being a wolf biologist just outside of Yellowstone Park wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though. Sometimes it meant waking up before dawn even thought about cracking and sitting in a cramped blind for hours on end in the hopes of glimpsing something. In this case, the newest additions to the Blue Royal Pack.

The alpha female I’d dubbed Isabeau crawled out of her den and scanned the area, ears alert and nose twitching, before she stretched, claws digging into the dewy ground.No doubt she smelled me, but I’d set up the blind long ago to ensure my scent became commonplace.She shook herself, the radio collar jostling around her neck.I tried to shift without making too much noise. Please bring out the kids today, please bring out the kids today. I held my notebook and pen ready.Isabeau yawned. My, what big teeth you have.

After what seemed like hours, she finally turned to huff at the den opening.Christmas had just come early.One by one the pups padded out of the packed earthen den, gazing around in interest.Their fuzzy puppy fur practically glowed in the early morning light. It was all I could do not to squeal in delight. I scribbled down notes on identifying marks and emerging personality traits. One black pup stumbled over anything he could get his paws on, the spitting image of Navarre, the alpha male.

September Secret Agent #6

TITLE: Her Old Eyes
GENRE: YA mystery

My last day of summer vacation, and the best I could do was hang out in a car with a busted A/C while Mom ran errands. I sighed. Tomorrow would be worse. If only Mom hadn't lost her job, we'd still be in Detroit, and I'd be starting tenth grade with my friends.

I stepped out of the car, squinting against the blazing Arizona sun, and pushed my long hair off my sweaty neck.

A brown-skinned, elderly woman hurried across the pedestrian crossing. With her high cheekbones, pretty embroidered blouse and long blue skirt, she looked Native American. She reached the curb, and her wide, staring gaze fixed on me. She remained frozen for a second, fingers clutching at the beads around her neck. Then she moved. Right toward me.

I glanced over my shoulder to see if she might be aiming for someone else. Nope, no one stood close by. I turned back to find her almost on top of me. Shoot! How did she get here that fast?
I tried to step out of her way, but my sandals seemed glued to the hot pavement. I could only stare as she lifted a gnarled hand to my shoulder, gasping out, "I knew you'd come. I've been waiting."

September Secret Agent #5

TITLE: TRIPP-TRAPPED
GENRE: MG Adventure

Slumping deeper into The Forum Coffee Emporium’s squishiest armchair, I imagined a number of gruesome and excruciating deaths for myself. It wasn’t hard to do. I could almost smell hopelessness in the air, mingling with the scent of coffee beans, brownies, and baklava bars. Tomorrow I would leave behind four-hundred and fifty-three days of perfect attendance at Winston Prep, one undefeated debate club record, eight stuffed animals, and zero friends to possibly be torn apart by the most terrifying, murderous animal in the continent of Africa.

My eyes focused on a photograph of the savage beast. Raw gums glistened with saliva, and three ropes of drool tangled in the air while it charged. I’d torn it from a magazine in hopes of brainstorming possible defense techniques. None came to mind.

“Tripplehorn Parker, you sure drink a lot of coffee for an eleven-year-old girl,” said a warm voice. “That can’t be good for you. Aren’t you British genius types supposed to be tea drinkers?”

Oh wonderful, shaggy-haired Benjamin of the coffee shop, I thought, taking comfort in the perfect mole above his lips. How I’ll miss you, especially if I die.


“I’ve adapted to your American ways,” I told him. “And you know it’s decaf. And you know I’m twelve. And this,” I pointed to the photo, “is something you don’t know. This fellow is about to become my closest acquaintance.”

Benjamin bent and winced. “Ouch. Hippos, huh. How long will you be gone?”

“Too long.” Five years, to be exact.

September Secret Agent #4

TITLE: Rip It
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

The anxious fans filled the stands, all sitting on the edge of their seats with a few whispers echoing among the crowd. Competitors surrounded the Olympic-sized natatorium, breathless for the last diver. The soothing sound of the water-spray underneath the boards announced where air stopped and water began.

“You’ve got this, Stitch,” Dick reminded her, using the nickname she’d earned ten years ago as a rowdy kid. The balding, white-haired man had a pudgy physique, but his wide shoulders and strong arms were those of a former athlete. The wrinkles on his face weren’t from stress and age, but from thousands of laughs and constant sun damage that came with years of outdoor coaching.

“I know,” Stacey responded.

“Keep your shoulders back. Show me your pocket dive.”

Stacey smiled. He always knew exactly what she needed to hear: the mechanics of the dive. Nothing else.

The announcer read the results, “Awards for Jade Devins: eight, eight, eight-and-a-half...”
Stacey adjusted her suit, drowning out the exceptional scores of her fiercest competitor. It didn’t matter. This meet belonged to her. That third trophy would balance the symmetry on her wall. For ten years she’d worked too hard, living and breathing in the water, and had practically grown gills. The top podium was hers. No one deserved it more, particularly not Jade, who threw ugly looks and trash-talked other divers. Stacey learned several years before to turn off her ears whenever Jade spoke. Two championship titles later, it seemed to work.