Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Release Day Interview With Jodi Meadows


I couldn't be more pleased than to offer you this interview today.  Jodi Meadows is my writing soulmate. She's walked through my dark valleys and giddy mountains, and I've walked through hers.  She has made an indelible mark upon my writing and upon my life for which I will never be able to fully express my gratefulness.

And having watched INCARNATE's journey from idea to finished, beautiful book, I am as excited as can be for this very special release day.  So without further schmoopy blubbering, I give you INCARNATE -- and a delightful interview with author JODI MEADOWS.

NEWSOUL
Ana is new. For thousands of years in Range, a million souls have been reincarnated over and over, keeping their memories and experiences from previous lifetimes. When Ana was born, another soul vanished, and no one knows why.

NOSOUL
Even Ana's own mother thinks she's a nosoul, an omen of worse things to come, and has kept her away from society. To escape her seclusion and learn whether she'll be reincarnated, Ana travels to the city of Heart, but its citizens are suspicious and afraid of what her presence means. When dragons and sylph attack the city, is Ana to blame?

HEART
Sam believes Ana's new soul is good and worthwhile. When he stands up for her, their relationship blooms. But can he love someone who may live only once, and will Ana's enemies--human and creature alike--let them be together? Ana needs to uncover the mistake that gave her someone else's life, but will her quest threaten the peace of Heart and destroy the promise of reincarnation for all?

Jodi Meadows expertly weaves soul-deep romance, fantasy, and danger into an extraordinary tale of new life.


AUTHORESS: Of the myriad interviewers who have graced you with their questions, I have the unique perspective of having shared this journey with you from the very first sentence. Literally.

At what point of your writing journey were you when you wrote INCARNATE'S (then ERIN INCARNATE'S) Very First Sentence? Professionally, emotionally, mentally?

JODI: Just before I started working on INCARNATE, I was in a really rough place. I'd been writing full time for almost six years by then, and written more novel-length manuscripts than you can count on both your hands. The responses I consistently got back from agents were consistently complimentary, but still rejections, so over the course of 2009, I slid deeper and deeper into believing my dream was a bust.

In the Fall, I decided that I quit. I quit trying to be published, anyway, and whatever I wrote next would be for me. I wouldn't even try to get an agent with it. (Obviously I was lying to myself!) I started working on worldbuilding and characters for INCARNATE, and I was really enjoying the process. It was new to me; I'd never done so much pre-writing work before. By the time I let myself write the first line, I was in a different place than I'd started out. I felt hopeful.

AUTHORESS: In October, 2009, in the midst of your newfound hopefulness, you sent me the first few paragraphs of your fledgling story. I was hooked! And soon (very soon, really, because you work so fast), ERIN INCARNATE was born. Can you tell us a bit about the querying process? How was it different than the many that had gone before? And what was it like finally hooking up with the delightful Lauren MacLeod?

JODI: Well, I wasn't going to query. Not until I finished the book, realized I loved it above all other books, and . . . suddenly there were queries in my outgoing email. (Because I am Like That, I actually wrote what would be my query letter before the book was finished.)

I queried a handful of agents I liked and thought would like the book. I got lots of requests, a couple rejections, and -- I couldn't believe it -- two offers. I connected with Lauren instantly, and she seemed to get my book and see it in the same way I did. Signing with her was AMAZING.

AUTHORESS: Why, yes, I have your written-before-the-book-was-finished query letter, too!

Talk some more about how the amazing Lauren "got" your book, and what that first, early-morning phone call felt like. What process did the two of you go through in order to get INCARNATE ready for submission?

JODI: Well, let's start with what she did to me. She knew that, at that time, I had a weird sleeping schedule and it wasn't always safe to call me. So she stalked my Twitter feed, waited until I said something, and called. I'd been awake for about two and a half minutes.

I said, "Hello?" in that grumbly just-woke-up voice. She, of course, was adorable, peppy, and had been awake for several hours already. I almost fell out of my chair when she said she loved Erin Incarnate and wanted to represent it. We agreed to talk more the next day, after I'd raised my caffeine levels.

One of the things I loved about talking with Lauren was that she had the same vision for the story as I did. The themes and events that were important to me were also important to her. We saw the story in the same way. She had a few revision notes, so when I said yes (and she said, "WAHOO!"), I got to work. Most of that revision was clarifying sentences, making sure what I saw in my head was also on the paper. As far as revisions go, it was pretty light. We were confident that an editor would love the story, even if it ultimately needed more revisions. (And they always do.)

AUTHORESS: Naturally! And Sarah's revision request was admittedly a bit of a stretch for you at first. Can you talk a little about the changes she wanted you to make, and how you approached those changes?

JODI: Yep. Originally, the book had two points of view: Ana and Sam's. One of Editor Sarah's requests was to remove Sam's POV. Admittedly, this stung a little. I'd put so much work into it! He had taught me so much about the world, and offered a different view of Ana.

But like most writers, my first reaction is always "No no no, my precious book!" Once I get over that, I can think about the comments without sounding like Gollum in my head. And since Sam only had only a few scenes, I decided it wouldn't be hard to try taking out his POV. If I liked it, hurrah. If not, I didn't have to stick with that version of the book.

Ultimately, removing his POV made the book much stronger. When I reread the draft before sending it back to Editor Sarah, I was incredibly pleased with the result.

AUTHORESS: I agree that the book is much stronger from Ana's POV!

So, it's been a remarkable journey since then. Can you share with us what the past roughly-year-and-a-half has been like, as you've gone through the process of signing to edits to copyedits to ARC to release? Has it been the "fairy tale" it must seem to those on the outside looking in?

JODI: The last year and a half has been amazing! Seeing my cover art for the first time, the page design, ARCs and final copies -- it's been truly fantastic to work with such a thoughtful and enthusiastic group at KT Books. I couldn't be more pleased!

But the hard work doesn't stop once the contract is signed. I'm constantly amazed by how much other stuff there is, like taxes (ew), interviews, posting promotional materials. It's rewarding work (except for the taxes -- ew), and while I knew all this was coming, I don't think I really understood how much work it is. I imagined sitting in my PJs all day (okay, I totally do that), writing book after book. And . . . some days are like that. Those are weekends. Most days involve a lot of work email, too.

AUTHORESS: Now that you've embarked upon your Writerly Dream, what words of encouragement/wisdom/affirmation/warning/complete nonsense can you offer to aspiring authors who are hanging on your every word?

JODI: Yep!

Keep going. Keep reading, writing, and trying to improve your craft. There's always room to improve, and if you don't reach your goal with this manuscript, get started on the next one.

I know that's pretty standard advice, but it really is some of the most important to keep in mind. Because even when you've reached one stage of your dream, you'll discover there's more beyond that, whether it's an award, reaching a bestseller list, getting great reviews, or just plain staying published. All the hard work leading up to getting published prepares you for what lies beyond. (More hard work.)

AUTHORESS: Jodi, you are one of my favorite people in the whole world and I wish you the GREATEST SUCCESS, not only with INCARNATE but with everything you do for the remainder of your writing career (a.k.a. life).

I love you, Jodi Meadows!


You can order INCARNATE today at any of these locations:

IndieBound  Amazon  Barnes and Noble  Book Depository  Books-A-Million  Powell's

Monday, January 30, 2012

And our winners!

Mr. Barr has chosen the following 5 entries as most outstanding:

#4 Faker
#11 Molly Watkins--Soap Powder Chronicles
#12 Being the Queen
#31 Thelma Bee
#44 Tell the Truth


The prize:

Mr. Barr requests that you send your first three chapters.  Please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for specific submission instructions.

Congratulations, all!

Secret Agent Unveiled: Stephen Barr


A round of applause for the delightful Stephen Barr of Writer's House for being our first Secret Agent of the year!


BIO:

I spent the first 21 years of my life in Southern California, and the only thing I really knew about publishing before I moved to New York City was Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Terry Crabtree in Wonder Boys—he’s an editor, and he flies into Pittsburgh (wearing a big, comfy looking east coast coat) to coax a second novel out of his troubled but probably brilliant author, and then come the hijinks. That sounded pretty swell to me, so I read Wonder Boys on the flight over to New York, and over the course of six or seven months of interviews and internships, I realized that I still wanted the coat and the authors, but would be more comfortable playing the role (so to speak) of their agent (though editing is perhaps my favorite thing in the whole wide world, and I work very closely with my clients to polish and perfect their manuscripts before and after submission). I landed at Writers House in 2008, became its biggest fan about four seconds later, started taking on my own clients in 2010, and just got my coat back from the dry cleaner.

WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR:

At the moment, I’ve got a particular hankering for unexpected memoirs with itchy voices, narrative non-fiction that tackles hard-to-tackle issues, wry (but still sentimental) YA and middle grade, sweet and wacky (but still logical) picture books from innovative authors who illustrate their own work, and any fiction that rewards the reader line-by-line and gets to know at least one character really, really well (including literary page turners, mysteries that bend reality, ghost stories that blow reality to hell, and humor that's more than just an infinitely repeated gag in sheep's clothing).

~ ~
Thank you, Stephen!  Winners forthcoming.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Fricassee

It's awfully hard not to make jubilant comments about the fact that this is the final Friday in January.  Truly, it's my least favorite month!

I'm sure I'd feel differently if I lived in the Caribbean.

At any rate, it feels good to be back in the Secret Agent swing!  And I need to thank you again for your rabid voting.  As of this writing, MSFV is in the lead with 37% of the votes.  But voting goes on for another whole week, so please keep voting!  (There's a button on the sidebar.)

So let's talk about the changing voice of children's literature.  (My, that sounded lofty.)  I'm currently reading The Borrowers and not really enjoying it.  (Funny, because I remember reading it as a child and liking it, but this reread may as well be my first time, because I don't recognize any of it!)  It's a delightful premise--tiny people living under the floorboards and "borrowing" things? How fun!

But--ugh! It's incredibly blah-blah-blah, and I know that has a lot to do with the fact that it's, well, old.  Language has changed, and continues to change.  Today's children's books are zippier, faster-paced, tension-imbued.

Thing is, when I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I don't have an "ugh" response at all, despite the older language style. I adore this book and can forgive its cliches, because they weren't cliches yet when Lewis wrote them.

The Borrowers, which is written for the same audience, is a ponderous read with way too much "adult humor" written into the adult Borrower characters.  (I don't mean "adult" in a seedy sense.  I mean "adult" as in "over the heads of most children".) And the dialogue goes on and on.  And on.

So, does this say something about our modern attention span? Am I a product of the twenty-first century and its penchant for faster-paced everything?  Or can it be that, perhaps, even among the older books, there are some that simply aren't up to snuff.  Just because a book is "old and revered" doesn't mean it's automatically awesome.

Right?

The original Nancy Drew books aren't exactly literary masterpieces, but they do keep you turning the pages.  Mystery!  Fright!  A handkerchief laced with chloroform pressed against Nancy's nose and mouth!  Which proves that older books can certainly have good pacing and a refreshing lack of blah-blah-blah.

What do you think?  Am I too saturated with modern children's literature?  Or is it valid to call an older book "ponderous" and "wordy" simply because...it is?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Will You Vote for MSFV?

I received a nomination for inclusion on a list of Top Writing Blogs on eCollegeFinder.com.  If you will take a few moments to cast a vote or two, I will be ever so grateful.

There's no grand prize or anything.  It's just good blog exposure, which is always a good thing.

GO HERE to vote.

You may vote MORE THAN ONCE.  You may vote EVERY DAY.

The last day of voting is FEBRUARY 3.

There's a button in my sidebar for easy voting clickage.

Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Secret Agent #ALT-1

TITLE: Unraveled
GENRE: YA Mystery

I found it impossible to pick a favorite, until I saw the strapless taffeta dress hanging inside Mrs. Kline’s meticulous closet. Nancy, my mother’s best friend, insisted I wear one of her original designs to my first homecoming dance. As if I’d say no.

“This is it.” I couldn’t keep the grin off my face.

Nancy ran her fingers over the dress. “This material was imported from India.”

I stood in front of the mirror with the gown on, fidgeting and pretending to admire myself.

“Is everything all right, Taylor?” Nancy asked.

“I love the dress, but for sure I’ll be pulling it up all night.”

“No worries, I’ll add a little padding, make a few tucks, and no one will have to know.” Nancy maneuvered her wheelchair behind the sewing machine. Her career as a fashion designer ended after the automobile accident that killed her husband also left her paralyzed from the waist down.

“Taylor, I have some costume jewelry, exceptionally good imitation, that I know will interest you. There’s a tall dresser in my guest room. I think the second drawer.” She paused. “Maybe the third. Help yourself, while I finish up here.”

“No. Really?” Hello, sparkle.

I ran into the room, opened the first drawer and sitting right on top, I found an envelope marked adoption papers. My adrenaline started pumping fast, and this little voice in my head said, ‘Do not open.’ But, the rest of me said, ‘Heck yes, open and read.’

January Secret Agent #50

TITLE: Jacked
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

My stepdad steered his blue Ford pickup into the circular driveway at Molly Rainer’s home. “Now, that’s a nice outhouse,” he touted, with his usual country twang.

Before our excursion, he clocked several hours on a Los Angeles neighborhood-watch site researching the area. In addition, to get the true lay of the land, Richard pulled the satellite view, convinced that any neighborhood outside the Miracle Mile district might be infested with inner city gangs or hidden van rapists.

Therefore, being the ultimate stepdad--or red-neck zealot, whichever you prefer--he tried to make sure I would be safe from harm. “After all,” he’d told me earlier, “L.A. is nothin’ like Searcy, Arkansas”--his native town--or “Poverty Point, Louisiana”--where my brother and I were from.

I liked my mother’s choice of men this time. Richard trumped Dad in countless ways, and, although he could be a little overprotective at times, he proved to be a thoughtful man who loved his family.

We got out of the car and headed for the entrance of the manicured white stucco mansion that Molly simply called her “place.” Motif hedges, alongside pink and white rose beds, screamed “They’re rich!” while Richard gleamed with pride, extra pleased with himself, as if, just this once, someone at the drive-thru window filled his order with expert precision.

January Secret Agent #49 (redacted)

REDACTED

January Secret Agent #48

TITLE: FULCRUM
GENRE: Upper MG sci-fi

The screaming was so loud it crowded out all thought. It took a few moments before the boy realized the sound, more a moan than a scream, came from his own parched mouth.

He dragged in a whoop of air and sat up, his eyes bugging out of their sockets. A hot yellow sky stretched overhead, but the rest of the world swam around him in a blur. He grasped for simple information: where he was, how he’d gotten here. Why he could barely see.

Nothing.

A feeling of dread wormed its way into his confusion. Something was wrong. He couldn’t remember what.

Pain crashed down as he lurched to his feet. He staggered a few steps, stars exploding across his vision, before dropping to his hands and knees, and drew in a deep breath. He had to get back up. He had to stop…something.

In the background, a high-pitched noise rose and fell. His vision cleared enough to make out the grey shape of a nearby building, and something vast and green behind it.

A hand landed on his shoulder. Someone crouched beside him, shouting things he could not unscramble. He shook his head. There was something important he needed to say—what was it? His mouth worked silently, trying to find the words.

His ears began to ring, his vision darkened. Something of vital importance danced at the back of his brain, just out of reach…

“Guide the star!” he blurted out, just before the blackness closed in.

January Secret Agent #47

TITLE: Identity
GENRE: Young Adult

I can’t tell you my name, but I will try to tell you everything else. We don’t know each other. Think of this as a letter from one stranger to another. You’re here, reading this pile of paper. I’m not around. Imagine me as the creepy kid up in the tree, eavesdropping from a safe distance. Imagine me narrating my life in third person. Imagine me invisible. Imagine me in plain sight. Imagine me however you want. I don’t care.

It’s Monday afternoon, lunchtime at my high school. I sit at the usual picnic table. It’s a violent shade of orange. I nod to the three other people already sitting there. The benches wobble and squeak. One of them is broken. I shrug my backpack off my shoulders. I bend over and catch a glimpse of the table’s colorful underbelly. The chewing gum is disgusting, but it might be the only thing holding the table together.

I used to enjoy eating outside. Three or four kids play soccer. They used to just be scenery, but lately, the stupid soccer ball disrupts our table almost every day.

Someone should do something.

“What do you think, Abner?” says Ed.

Ed’s real name is “Edna,” but no one calls her that.

Pause.

“Hello?”

Lunch table conversations are a free-for-all. Everyone talks at once. It is easy to get lost. Abner blinks his way back and re-joins his friends. He’s like that. His mind wanders. Ed is usually the first person to notice and pull him back.

January Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Outside In
GENRE: Contemporary Young Adult


A bright red B. Oh my God. My lowest grade ever.

I rubbed my cheek as hard as I could and stuffed the paper into my binder before anyone could see it. I didn’t bother to check the comments—plenty of time to memorize those later.

My throat closed up and I couldn’t draw a full breath. One full grade less than an A. My G.P.A. would sink. Miranda would pass me in class rank.

One single B could ruin everything.

Dr. Shah wound her way through the rows of students. She handed a paper back to my friend Miranda, who grinned in triumph and scanned her comments. An A for sure.


How could I be such a fool? I clenched my teeth and my hands shook. I should have spent more time on the paper until it was flawless.

Dr. Shah passed out the last of the papers, but I barely noticed. Chairs scraped. Someone sneezed. There was a giggle from somewhere behind me. But all I could see was the afterimage of a—




Bright.

Red.
B.


The bell rang, and Miranda and I headed out the door together. Once we were in the hallway, she burst out, “I got an A! What about you?”


“Mmm,” I said, half-nodding.

She prattled on about her comments and each word stabbed at my stomach.

I couldn’t listen to her any longer. “I have to pee.”

I made it to the safety of a stall before the dam burst and the tears rushed down my cheeks.

January Secret Agent #45

TITLE: The One Called Coward
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

The strap that fastens over my shiny silver boot feels loose. I tighten it, making sure that no skin is visible.

Three years ago, when I was studying the enemy with Geros, he peeled off his jacket and pointed to the oozing black scar that started at his wrist and ran up to his shoulder. “This was the penalty for carelessness,” he said. “It happened twenty years ago, and it still pains me.”

A gasp ran around the class. He glared at each of the twenty-four of us. Only Merith met his flat, black eyes. Geros is a hero. He’s old, fierce, afraid of no one, and we were children, eleven years old.
He pointed to me. “You, boy. Will you cover every piece of flesh before you go outside?”

“Yes, sir.”

Geros mocks us when we make mistakes and makes us work until we can scarcely move. But he’s been out beyond the wall many times. He knows what it’s like, and he wants us to be prepared. We understand that and we forgive him. All except Merith, who hates him and never shows him any sign of weakness. I’ve seen Geros watching her sometimes, but I can’t tell what he’s thinking.

I’m ready to go. I bend down and pat Navid, my dog. He licks my hand as I pull his long, silky ears and kiss the top of his head. I wouldn’t like anyone to see me doing that.

January Secret Agent #44

TITLE: TELL THE TRUTH
GENRE: Middle Grade

Maggie Woodson peeked over the edge of her cinder block fence. Her best friend Samantha boosted her up from below. From the street, only Maggie’s sunglasses and a mushroom cap of brown curls were visible.

“My back is breaking,” Samantha complained. “Do you see her yet?”

Maggie shushed her. “Subject is approaching from the South.”

“Like you know which way is South,” Samantha grumbled.

Maggie raised her dad’s clunky binoculars to her eyes. She zoomed in on a wild-haired blob bouncing down the sidewalk. With a twist of the knobs, a clear image of her mother came into focus. Mrs. Woodson jogged towards their house, fists jabbing the air like a prizefighter.

“I have her in sight,” Maggie said. “Subject turned around and is now jogging backwards.”

“Why does she always jog backwards?” Samantha asked.

“Because she’s weird,” Maggie said. “It’s a known fact. School bus approaching from the North.”

“Why are you spying on her, anyway?”

“Something’s wrong with her. She’s taking all these pills and being sneaky about it...”

Bang! The rickety old school bus backfired. Black smoke belched from its tailpipe. Maggie watched Mrs. Woodson dart left and dive behind a spikey yucca plant in Samantha’s front yard, like an actor taking cover in some shoot-‘em-up movie.

Maggie’s mouth dropped open. “My mom just face planted in your lava rocks!”

Mrs. Woodson’s head popped up from behind the yucca. Maggie’s eyes narrowed. “Game on, Mom,” she whispered. You can run from me, but you can’t hide.

January Secret Agent #43

TITLE: SEASON OF THE SOULLESS
GENRE: YA Near-Future Science Fiction

Seeing so many smiles made the stale air easier to breathe. My eyes flitted over my eleven sisters huddled in small groups around the great room: chattering, squealing, fidgeting with their identical, blonde braids. All caught up in the excitement watching the BioLife staff enliven the sterile ward with a Thanksgiving feast. The first in our seventeen years.

Invisible strings tugged at my ribs, urging me to join them, to lose myself in the rare revelry. And I wanted to. Oh, how I wanted to! But a second string pulled even harder. One I seemed unable to resist.

Alone, I claimed my favorite stakeout spot, slouching against the ward’s library. The shallow, metal cabinet held exactly one hundred and fifty-three paperback books describing wonders from the outside world. All censored by the doctors, of course. Chosen to stimulate our growing minds. Despite my faultless memory, I’d read each twenty times.

I surveyed the room. Four black-clad, female soldiers, armed with Tasers on their hips and rifles across their backs, flanked the stark hallways leading to the classrooms and sleeping cells, keeping my sisters and me herded in the great room. Kitchen staff, again all women, donned in knee length aprons bustled around the dining table laying out rich-scented foods normally banned from our strict diets. Then, there was Gladys—the night warden who, as always, was wearing her eye-damagingly bright skirt-suit too tight and enough paint on her face to supply our art class for a month.

January Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Hannah Rides the Pony Express
GENRE: Middle Grade Paranormal

“Robbie stinks.”

Hannah’s mom looked back from her crocheting. She gently rubbed Robbie’s leg. “Honey, we need to stop at the next rest area and clean this guy up.”

Robert looked up catching Hannah’s gaze in the rearview mirror. “Hold on Pumpkin.” Robert always called her pumpkin, honey, or sweet cheeks. She wondered if he even remembered her name.

“The travel books say this was the Pony Express route to California. I bet they had a rough ride back then. Didn’t you study the Pony Express last year?” Hannah’s mom asked, raising her voice to be heard over the country music flowing from the stereo.

“That was fourth grade,” Hannah grumbled and set the book aside. She stared out the window, imagining a horse and rider following the stream by the road. The vision faded and Hannah found herself back in the Explorer, sitting next to a baby who really needed a diaper change. She pulled the book closer to her face, trying to keep the smell out of her nose.

Robert chimed in, “Besides the Pony Express was a haven for outlaws and drunks. The movies always glorify the history around the reality.”

“Whatever,” Hannah sighed. Robert was always right even when he was wrong, according to her mom.
Hannah touched her scarab necklace she gotten from her father on her fifth birthday. At first, she’d hated the ugly silver bug. Scarab’s were Egyptian dung beetles, or poop eaters. Too bad Robbie didn’t have a scarab diaper right now.

January Secret Agent #41

TITLE: BOWLING UPSTAIRS
GENRE: YA Contemporary

There are reasons why 15-year-old boys find great pleasure in long, steamy showers. I sat in boxer shorts on a sandpaper-rough towel spread flat over the ivory-colored tiles of the motel bathroom floor. With the door locked and the shower spraying a vacant tub, I treasured my handful of minutes without anyone lurking behind my shoulder.

On this particular Saturday morning, I had at least three good reasons for hiding out in the bathroom. Two of them involved my father and younger brother, Cole, who were lounging on the queen beds and monopolizing the room with a blaring movie about a mission to intercept an asteroid before it destroyed the Earth. Manufactured melodrama failed to interest me. If I wanted a pitiful story of suffering and tension, then I could flip through the past five months of pages in my sketchbook, which brings up the third reason. My sketchbook.

A cloud of steam obscured the upper half of the bathroom, and under it I struggled with another sketch. After four weeks of growth, my sideburns were finally thick enough to show up in the full-length mirror on the bathroom wall. My self-portrait was graphite, which was fortunate because I could draw the sideburns as wild and dark instead of blonde when the rest of my hair was brown. My artistic limitations portrayed me as a caricature of a frontman for an alternative British rock band, all cheekbones and crooked teeth and, of course, dashing, prominent sideburns.

January Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Gallop
GENRE: YA thriller (horror elements)

Long Beach Island was supposed to be a magical place. That’s what real estate and travel agents told tourists, anyway. Come to LBI for your vacation, and all your dreams will come true. Soak up the sun and let your cares float away.

Right.

Maybe it was just that I’d lived on the mainland for so long, or maybe it was that being on the island meant coming to work on my dad’s boat — it wasn’t anything special. And with the first fingers of winter creeping over, it felt like I’d never get the chill out of my bones. Nothing magical about that.
November winds whipped frigid salt—scented air into my face, pushing against my scooter and seeming to urge me away from The Tern. When I finally pulled into the parking lot, Rick Camarda waved from his favorite position: slumped against the front wall of the restaurant to wait for the owner to arrive and unlock the door.

“Hey, Mackenzie,” he said. He hadn’t smoothed down the cowlick that kicked up his short, dark hair, like he’d just woken up and rolled into work without a shower. “What’re you doing on the island in the off-season?”

“Noah didn’t tell you? We’re moving,” I said, flicking the key in the ignition and removing my helmet. The scooter engine sputtered off, leaving only the raspy—shrill call of seagulls and the occasional rumble of a car engine to block out the sound of the ocean a few blocks away.

January Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Lady Grace's Rendezvous
GENRE: Regency

The sky darkened and wind blew the carriage, rocking it. Hail joined the hard rain mixed with snow. Lady Grace Carpenter pounded on the roof of her carriage. “How close are we to the Crow and Hound?”

“Not far, my lady. I’m thinkin’ we should stop,” her coachman responded.

“Yes, indeed. Make it so.” She huddled deeper into her fur-lined cloak. When they’d started out this morning, the weather had been dry and sunny, with no indication a storm would come on. She was only an hour or so from Stanwood Hall, her home, but they’d not make it. Better to trust in, Mr. Brown, the Crow and Hound’s innkeeper’s, discretion than risk her servants to this weather. They turned off the road and her coachman shouted for an ostler. The coach door quickly opened and the steps let down. Thornton, her groom hustled her from the carriage through the open door of the inn.

Mr. Brown came forward to greet her. “My lady, we didn’t expect to see you this evenin’.”

“For good reason.” Grace took off her cloak and shook it. “I didn’t expect to be here. I was visiting an elderly cousin and the storm blew up.”

“It’s as they say, my lady. No good deed goes unpunished.”

Grace smiled thinly. “Well, it certainly seems like that at times. I’ll need rooms for my servants and a private parlor. I cannot abide eating in my chamber. It should go without saying, you have not seen me here.”

January Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Once Upon a Mosh Pit
GENRE: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

Slive’s fist swung and connected with my chin before I even noticed that he was in front of me. The hit snapped my neck back and knocked me to the beer-slicked floor, pain shooting through my jaw. I pushed myself up to my hands and knees and watched him dance away, following the flow of the circle pit until the crowd obscured him. Only a quick glance over his shoulder to check his handiwork gave away that the punch wasn't accidental.

A half-dozen sweaty, slippery hands grabbed at me to pull me upright and get me out of the way of the trampling stampede of the other dancers in the pit. I looked back, but didn't recognize any of the faces. They were strangers, helping me like they would have helped anyone who fell during the show. There was concern in their eyes, but no one saw the hit that took me down.

I shook my head to try to clear the ringing in my ears and managed to get my feet back underneath me just as Slive finished another lap around the circle. I saw him coming this time, a nasty grin distorting his face in the low light. He moved through the dancers, making a beeline for me, his eyes never leaving mine. I stiffened, resigned to the pain I knew was coming. His shoulder rammed into my chest as he passed, and I was sent reeling into the people at the edge of the pit.

January Secret Agent #37

TITLE: BREAKING FATE
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

If I had known I was going to die before my seventeenth birthday, I would have definitely been more reckless. Like ran off with some hot college guy to the city for the weekend or chopped off all my hair for once. Or simply just stopped wasting my time planning my future. But it was too late for a rebellious weekend or a new hairstyle. And it was too late to live for the moment. My moment was gone. He was hiding in my room waiting to kill me just like my most recent prophetic dream predicted and there was nothing I could do to change it. But I refused to make it easy for him. I wanted to guarantee the news report read ‘girl put up a fight’. I would not go out looking pathetic.

I scanned my nightstand for some type of weapon but a furry pillow, a Sixteen Candles DVD and eyelash curler weren’t going to cut it. Why was I so girly? I needed a baseball bat or one of those Taser thingies. I slid the eyelash curler in my palm and stepped closer to the hallway slipping on the trail of water my hair left on the wood floor. If my damn phone hadn’t been ringing I wouldn’t have stormed in my room pinning myself between my bed and him. An amateur move for someone who knew they were fated to be killed.

January Secret Agent #36

TITLE: Vesuvius: Re-loved
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

I looked down at my hands, and they were not my pale, freckled ones. These were the hands I had always wanted, stronger than mine with glorious olive skin. One held a copper knife, the other a loaf of bread, and they sliced the way I usually danced—like they were born to do it and then practiced, a lot.
The world lurched and stood still, like time and space disappeared. We met each other’s eyes—this woman with the capable hands and I—except I saw from inside her eyes, so it was more like we traded places. Or I was in two places at once.

Through the small, glassless window, we shared a view of a vegetable garden, a wall of mortared stone, and a green hump that would have been laughed out of Colorado if it dared call itself a mountain. The hump was a mountain to her, though, so it was a mountain to me. I experienced along with her as she perceived me in the same way, and certainty took hold from her toenails to her scalp.

Something terrible is about to happen.


The earth shook again, and the bread-knife sawed into my index finger. Pain yanked my attention back to my mother’s kitchen like falling from a history book into a Martha Stewart catalogue, and bleeding all over the pages. Crimson blossomed on my freshly sliced white bread.

“Rachel!” Leonardo’s deep voice shouted as a chair clattered to the floor in the dining room.

January Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Darkwood
GENRE: YA Historical

“Silas!” I call. “Silas wait for me!”

My feet are moving as fast as I can will them, and I hear my breath coming out in quick puffs. I am not as fast running in a dress as I am in breeches and Silas knows it. But he doesn’t wait for me. He never does. I can see the flash of his copper-colored hair when it catches the last bit of the day’s sun as he hops the wall that surrounds the Manor, using the hay cart near the barn to boost himself up and over. Chickens scatter.

The sun slides behind a cloud, and the darkening day makes our task seem all the more hopeless.
“Silas, wait!” I call again, but my voice trails away. I doubt he can hear me. There is distance and a thick stone wall between us now.

I, too, climb up into the hay wagon, hitching up my heavy woolen skirts and throw one long leg over the wall. I drop down on the other side in a heap, cursing myself for misjudging the distance. The extra fabric of my dress does nothing to break my fall. I brush my hair from my eyes in time to see Silas, still pounding away over the Dells, fade into the distance.

I know now I will never catch him, so I stand and brush out the brown serge fabric, checking it for tears.

January Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: MG Adventure

Dreading summer vacation isn't normal.

And Jack, like most normal twelve-year-olds, dreamed of summer arriving - especially this summer. But now that it was here, he just wanted it over. And, that wasn't normal either. The afternoon humidity hung thick and heavy, turning the pleasantries of the fresh summer day into stagnant, dead air. Jack's mood mimicked the changing afternoon sky; grey, sullen, and waiting for something unpleasant to arrive.

Nope. Definitely not normal.

Scuffing up pebbles on his way home from school, the conversation with his classmates after last period bubbled in his brain. He'd finally told them about his dilemma. At least the part he could tell them - Calvin, the Fresh Air Kid.

"Wow! That sucks! Sharing your room with a complete stranger . . . all summer?" Tyler said. "Sticking a kid like that in the country for the summer is like throwing a river trout into Archer's Pond!"

"What kind of kid?" Jack wondered.

"You know," Matt said, elbowing Jack's arm,"inner-city kids. Isn't that what Counselor Peters calls them? They're usually pretty messed up, aren't they?"

"It's all over TV - Gangs. Drive-bys. Junk like that," Tyler said. "Isn't there some reality show about people living in the city-New Jersey or LA or something? My sister watches all those stupid shows."

"Well," Jack said, "when I met him in February, he seemed okay . . . kinda quiet - more interested in my Wii than anything else."

"Just watch your back, that's all,"Tyler had warned.

January Secret Agent #33

TITLE: CLAVENDOR
GENRE: MG-Humorous fantasy


I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be a good day, but death really wasn’t on my radar screen.

Everything seemed normal until I saw a hobgoblin in the third row of the bleachers. Sitting between two girls and wearing an Indiana University sweatshirt was a little guy with gray skin and a long, pointy nose. No one else really seemed to notice him. Maybe it was because his hood was pulled up and they thought he was just an ugly seventh grader.

Or maybe it was because the girls he was sitting between were both hot and he would have to be on fire for anyone to be looking at him instead. He only caught my attention because I felt the weight of his stare.

But I had more important things going on. I was at first base waiting for Derek to hit me home with the tying run. Luckily, he got a hold of the next pitch, sending a line drive over the head of the second basemen. It bounced into center field right at the feet of Jay Vance, aka Mr. Missile.

Fabulous,” I grunted to myself. That’s exactly where I didn’t want the ball to go.

I was halfway to second base when I realized that something was wrong. I mean, besides just seeing a hobgoblin watching a baseball game.

My mom was yelling at me from behind the chain-linked fence. “Run, Ben, run!” But then the sounds became muffled and echoed in my ears.

January Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Game Changer
GENRE: Contemporary YA

“Hey, Emerson—you’n them boys are gonna take the championship this year, right?”

Milton’s oldest and everywhere, Harold Z. Barnes, spit on the ground and pointed a dripping pump nozzle at me from across the gas station.

“Or die trying—yes sir.” I smiled and squinted through the bead of sweat that squirmed from my eyebrow and dropped to the front of my t-shirt, while I waited for the gas pump to tick and squeal its way toward a twenty dollar bill.

“Atta boy! We’re countin’ on you.” Mr. Barnes never missed my games and always showed with his face painted in Grover’s colors—half maroon, half orange—and my number in white on each cheek.

“I know you are, sir. I’ll be throwing for you this season.”

He turned to the man at the next island, “That boy’s somethin’ else. Sure is. Best damn quarterback Grover’s ever seen. They call him ‘da Bomb’ because of that arm he’s got.” The man at the island
smiled and nodded, polite and pretending it was all new information, until Mr. Barnes twisted back toward me. “Hey, your brother still working at your daddy’s shop?”

“Yes, sir. We’re both there for the rest of the summer.”

“Good. Gotta stop in, have him look at my clutch.”

“I could take a look at it for you. Just bring it in. I’ll be there until six today.”

“No offense, Adam. You got the magic on the field, but that little brother-uh yours got it in the shop.”

January Secret Agent #31

TITLE: THELMA BEE
GENRE: MG Paranormal Adventure

Thelma Bee had short confident bangs, a heavy red backpack, and no idea that something dangerous was searching for her. When the final bell of the school day rang that Wednesday afternoon, she closed her eyes and the sound transformed into a celebration of mariachi trumpets. Just one more school day until the long-long weekend. She busted out of the front door with the excitement that only 2:30 p.m. can bring, and navigating a path through a weird-smelling ocean of middle-schoolers, Thelma set a course for her dad’s antique shop.

Mr. Henry Bee was the proud proprietor of Bee’s Very Unusual Antiques – which was, in Thelma’s opinion, a bit of false advertising. Sometimes they sold items that were quite ordinary, like an old chipped mug, and sometimes they sold things that were not antique at all, like Mrs. Edelstein’s homemade cookies. Maybe, she thought, the shop should be named something more like Bee’s Very Unusual Antiques and Also Some Very Normal Antiques and Also Cookies. Not very catchy, but honest.

“Hey Dad!” She threw down her backpack and plopped herself on an overstuffed chair from the 1970s.

“Hey kiddo!” hollered Henry.

He emerged from his workshop in a worn-out brown apron. Henry Bee sported the kind of thick eyeglasses that were fashionable in the 1950’s, as he had a passion for the old and unique. Once a journalist for the American Post, Henry traveled the globe reporting on strange occurrences from Albany to Antarctica.

January Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Soul Therapy
GENRE: YA Fiction w/Fantasy Twist

Jessica slumped in her seat. Her mother gripped the wheel like talons, eyes set dead ahead, unwavering. Jessica had grown to know that look so well. Her mother was lost in thoughts of her father and their world that shattered seemingly overnight. It felt like a lifetime when the divorce papers were filed, but really, he was just gone one day. Her mother never really could get over that.

“Okay, well, I’m going to go inside, alright?” Other students flooded into the high school off of busses. At least her mother worked so early in the morning that Jessica could get a ride. “Mom?” Jessica ran her fingertips over her mother’s knuckles.

Her mother gave her the sideways glance and that sweet smile, used to cover up any ill feelings. “Have fun.” Her eyes shifted back, out the windshield, unregistering.

“I’ll try.” Jessica snatched up her bag and got out of the car. She closed the door with a bit too much force. She looked over the high school, Westbury High. She only had one year left, but she was ready for it to be over. It felt long overdue, with as much drama that had been building. She couldn’t really stand to be home anymore, with her mother acting as a shell.

Jessica drifted through the hallways. She felt like a ghost, except for the small shadow she cast. But she was used to that feeling. She had a knack for making friends with all the wrong people.

January Secret Agent #29

TITLE: Firekeeper
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy

The firebird sat atop an old-fashioned mailbox at Dharma Downs Lane. Rather than retreat to the safety of nearby trees and rooftops as any sensible animal would have done, it drew itself up, as regal as any queen, and waited for the shades to attack.

The shades in question were already closing in, and assuming frightening, monstrous shapes. Some took human form, with long sharp claws in place of hands. Others took on semblances of wolves and bears and strange winged creatures; black eyeless silhouettes with teeth.

The firebird chirped a warning, but the shades paid little heed. So it sighed - a resigned, I-really-did-warn-you-about-this-you-know sigh - and glowed. Its feathers, a variety of yellows and reds and oranges tipped with a subtle silver shimmer, flared. Its majestic tail fanned out like a vestal train, whipping at slow, concentrated intervals. Despite its bravado, it had a wide-eyed curiosity about it suggesting it had not been a firebird for very long and, if the shades had their way, would not be one for much longer.
The nearest shade reached out for the bird, claws extended and sharp. It was promptly engulfed in an angry red blaze.

For one brief second the firebird reared; smoldering, ardent, angry. In the next it shifted and lengthened, beak and wings giving way to limbs and legs.

Now, a young girl crouched. Feathered crown had given way to a spirited mess of hair that lashed around her bare body like coiled firelight.

January Secret Agent #28

TITLE: The Desolate Road
GENRE: YA Dystopian

Soldiers would come for me. If I got caught.

Not that I planned on getting caught, especially in the middle of school. How base would that be?
I surveyed the computer screens that enclosed me like a shimmering, lidless box, hiding me from the others in my fitness class. The blank screens dulled my reflected image, but not my eyes. Brown and serious, just like my father’s.

His eyes used to crinkle when he smiled. I’d loved that about him. Crinkling eyes. No one else had a smile quite like his.

 “Connect to the Server,” I said. That would be my only verbal command. The floorcomp was here to provide whatever Sim I wanted to use for my fitness class. Verbal commands would alert the teacher I wasn’t doing my normal simulation.

I moved to one of the touchscreens and opened the secured Military database. What were they hiding this time?

Living in the capital entitled me to watch any Channel, so I’d noticed the signs that a secret was being kept. The twitch in the mayor’s ear when she sat at dinner with her family. The alert stance of the War Minister while watching the nightly Promo. Like they expected something to happen any second. Something the Global President wasn’t ready to tell us—probably something the people didn’t care enough to hear.

And it was more than just the recent earthquakes.


My fingers tingled in anticipation as I began to hack.

January Secret Agent #27

TITLE: CHOSEN
GENRE: YA Light Science Fiction/Thriller

I stare at cracks in an unfamiliar ceiling. This is not my bedroom. Four white walls. One steel door. No windows. I have no idea how I got here. Pushing myself up on one elbow--both wrists suddenly catch, yanking me into a flattened position. What the--


A glint of metal catches my attention, I blink back confusion and carefully lift my arms three inches above the bed. Shiny silver cuffs; they’re attached to the railing, clanking with each frantic tug. I pause before unleashing my frustration on the tethers. I wrench my arms back and forth--further digging the metal into my flesh--igniting a burning sensation that blazes past my elbows, then settles in my inflamed wrists.

One. Two. Three.


Counting isn’t calming, I’m wound too tightly. Glancing at my body, I see I’m in a gray hospital gown. My mind is blank, but my senses are sharp--antiseptic slices the air and I’m terrified about all that implies. I scream as loud as I can, no one comes.

A splitting ache cuts through my head. Thrashing back and forth, I am no closer to freeing myself, I must remain calm. Closing my eyes and focusing on breathing helps. It always helps. Inhale. Exhale. I blink both the anxiety and blackness away. I’m being too careless. Reckless. Foolish. Someone will notice and report my behavior. I can’t risk an infraction on my record.

Gradually my eyes adjust as I scan the darkened area trying to piece it together.

January Secret Agent #26

TITLE: Body and Soul
GENRE: YA Light Science Fiction


Jane is dead, but I don’t know that yet. I don’t remember how the night ended, so I wake up happy.
I don’t realize where I am. I don’t even realize I’m awake yet. Jane is lying dead, and precious time is passing, and my half-awake mind is playing scenes from last night, prom night, just like some cheesy date movie.

***

I ride my bike to Jane’s house wearing a rented tuxedo, pedaling fast so that I don’t have time to sweat in the heat that radiates from the Phoenix streets. Soon I’m standing in an air-conditioned entryway with Jane’s father and grandmother, and of course I’m sweating anyway as we watch Jane come down the stairs, all blond and pure-looking.

She actually says, “Wow, you look great!” when she reaches the bottom of the steps, and she leans forward, on tiptoes, to kiss my cheek. I inhale sweetness—vanilla and sugar—and feel a strange ache inside my chest, like a tender spot, which seems to appear whenever I’m close to Jane. And then I’m just standing there staring at her. I can never quite figure out why she’s so much more beautiful than any other pretty girl.

“Do you like my dress?” Jane asks, probably because I’m gawking at her like an idiot. “It was my mom’s,” she adds.

The dress is cream-colored lace, old-fashioned—different from the slinky prom dresses most girls wear—and it hugs her body.

“Yes,” I answer stupidly. I can’t think of what else to say.

January Secret Agent #25

TITLE: Shot in the Dark
GENRE: YA suspense

Large snowflakes stick to my windshield and paint the world in an eerie shade of calmness. I can do this. Tomorrow’s my first day back at school after two weeks of hiding. All I need to do is survive my morning meeting with the grief counselor then I’m good to go. And really, how hard can that be? I’m not talking about performing a series of acrobatics on the balance beam at the State Championships. I just have to nod and pretend I’m listening.

I turn onto my street. The flashing of blue and red lights, filling up the night sky, instantly haunts me. Even with the hot air blasting from the heater, icy fingers trace over my body, turning me cold. My false sense of confidence vanishes.

Oh, God! Not again.

A cop car sits in front of my house. The street is a mess of spectators wanting to know what happened this time. Even the cold weather isn’t enough to keep them at home, keep them from prying into my family’s secrets.

Willing the tears to stay away, I park my car. No sooner than the engine’s turned off, I jump out of the car and sprint past the whispering crowd to where Mom and Dad are standing on our lawn. I don’t see Nate. Oh, God. Where is he?

Mom catches me in her arms and hugs me tight against her trembling body.

“What’s going on?” My breath comes out as rapid white puffs. “Where’s Nate?”

January Secret Agent #24

TITLE: Tales from the War Table
GENRE: Humour

No one was quite sure how the War Table began, it was lost long ago in a miasma of half smoked cigarettes, early morning regret, and head crushing hangovers; although everyone remembered the exact moment it ended. 

Several housemates lay claim to naming the War Table and had accompanying stories of varying believability to back it up.  Some were apocryphal, one was an outright lie and one would only be possible with a Winston Churchill impersonator.

The end came crashing down on the housemates two months into my tenancy at Argyle Street.  The day started, as always, around the kitchen/War Table.  It ended with tears, incrimination and --- parked between the fridge with the dodgy door and the ironing board that no one could ever unfold --- a bulldozer. This came as a great surprise to everyone, except the bulldozer.  It seemed indifferent to the whole debacle.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before the ‘dozer, the War Table, the walks of shame, the drug binges, the stolen police car and before the infamous vomit punch, there was Claire.   Claire was everything I ever wanted in a woman, except for the cheating.  We shared eight years of what I thought was a happy, if not brilliant, relationship.  It’s a pity she slept with my dentist.  She didn’t even have the common decency to sleep with her dentist.  I had to move out, start over and find a new dentist.  As a protest I didn’t floss for a week.  F*** him.

January Secret Agent #23

TITLE: My Name is Fernanda; My Name is Yakimali
GENRE: YA Historical

Fernanda pressed her heels into the horse’s sides. “Faster, pretty one, faster. We want to feel the wind in our hair, no?”

The horse flicked its ears then galloped across the plain toward the river. Fernanda leaned closer to the horse’s neck, her long braid slipping over her shoulder. The animal’s smell of grassy manure and sweat filled her with the thrill of riding. It had been too long.

Her body rocked forward and back with the rhythm of the pounding hooves. Water streaked from her eyes as she raced across the desert, dodging barrel cactuses and mesquite bushes. Her rebozo loosened and slipped to her shoulders; then the shawl untied completely and was gone. Fernanda glanced over her shoulder and saw it flutter to the ground. A laugh burst from her chest, and watching a hawk glide, dive and then fly high into the sky, she thought, I feel as free as that bird!

The power of the horse flowed through her, charging her with the desire for adventure, her heart soaring beyond Tubac to worlds far away, worlds full of golden riches, handsome men and green hills that rolled on forever. Worlds where she would ride, explore, and each day discover something new.

Before realizing how far she’d gone, she saw her family’s adobe hut. She stopped the horse, and her soaring heart dropped like the hawk diving to the ground. There, in front of the hut with her hands on her hips, stood her mother.

January Secret Agent #22

TITLE: Irony
GENRE: Adult Literary

When I come to, there’s slobber all over my face and the window. On the other side of the glass is nothing but gray skies and clouds. And to top it off, my wrists and ankles are shackled to the seat. I shake to get loose, but there’s no give.

“What are you in for?” says this middle-aged guy next to me with a pageboy haircut. If it weren’t for his blue jumpsuit, and the matching shackles, and the fact that I’m on a plane, I’d be half-expecting him to blow a trumpet and announce some king’s arrival.

I don’t say a word, because it’s complicated.

“I killed a few people at work,” Pageboy says. “Like five or something.”

I give him a forced smile and say, “Cool,” before a flash draws my attention to the nearest cloud. It’s getting awfully black outside now.

“Scared of flying?” he says.

“Sort of.” My sweaty hands dig into the armrests. “A friend of mine, he took me up once to blow off some steam. It didn’t end too well.”

“It didn’t end well for my bosses, either.” When I look, Pageboy is nodding really fast. “I filed them into the men’s bathroom and drowned them one by one. ‘Swirlies of Doom’ is what the newspapers called ‘em.” He licks his cracked chops. “The two women were pissed to be in the men’s stall, but I said, ‘For some reason, women’s restrooms are always filthier, so you should be thanking me, no?’”

January Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Transmigration
GENRE: YA-Paranormal/Mystery

As I plodded into the sunny kitchen, my bare legs prickling from the winter cold that had set in overnight, I waved shyly to my dad. With his back to the bay window, he simply bent down the corner of his newspaper to peek at me. A raise of his eyebrows was the best I got, and I was content. I didn't hear my mom come up behind me, simply felt her cold hand on my hip as she maneuvered me out of the way. She forced a smile, but couldn't hide her exhaustion as she slipped her earrings through the tiny holes in her lobes. And all I could think about was the Ripple Effect, the fact that I did this to her.
Life was like a giant ripple, or so I heard. One decision, one action, could affect everything that came after it. What I did today could affect my life twenty years from now. People referred to it as the Butterfly Effect. For me, it was about water. Even though I lived in the landlocked state of Illinois, my life was surrounded by this liquid substance. I dreamed about water. Feared it. I even built my life's philosophies around it. And I didn't know why.

I could see my so-called Ripple Effect in my dad’s gruff demeanor. I could live with it. But the heaviest of ripples were etched across my mom's face. Her nightly visits to my room have caused permanent bags to form under her eyes.

January Secret Agent #20

TITLE: The Sky Throne
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The distance between darkness and light was a nano-moment, my mother once told me. A sliver of space. The breadth of a strand of hair. I hadn’t known what she’d meant until that day. And still wished I hadn’t.

I trudged up the darkened beach, digging my toes in the sand with each step. Visions of pearl-skinned sea nymphs still danced in my head. Their iridescent eyes and seductive charms made me smile.

“C’mon, Zeus,” Anytos called, throwing a stick at my feet.

I held a finger in the air.

"Zeus, seriously!" He clapped his hands once loudly.

"Wait. Hold on." I closed my eyes to enjoy the images of those sea nymphs. Just a bit of time more.

"Zeus!" His words sliced sideways through my memories of them. “Sun’s nearly up. We don’t have much time!” Tos stood at the top of a dune calling down.

I sighed. “I’m coming.”

I hated the pre-dawn runs we took every morning. The birds weren’t even up yet. I couldn’t wait to get back to the goats I tended with my mother. Against her wishes, I’d named each one. That’s why she never let me slaughter them for food. Or rather, why I never participated.

There was nothing too terribly stressful about goat herding. They were a self-sufficient lot. Sometimes watching them was like watching the sun crawl across the sky. In those moments, my mind wandered like a stray goat.

I’d always felt like I could do more. Something inside of me clawed for the extraordinary.

January Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Beyond The River Shadows
GENRE: Literary Fiction

Along the steep canyon walls trees swayed in unison like slow moving breakers. A wondrous expanse of green surrounded him, the sun anchored high above the tallest ponderosa pines, the air laden with heat and sweet fragrance of azaleas and Shasta lilies. At his feet the McCloud River, broad and shimmering with sunlight, coursed by. It had been ten years since Brad Lucas heard the sounds of a river; he had been away too long. Squatting down on his haunches, he removed his wire-framed glasses and placed them on a flat, dry stone. He could feel his heart pounding in his fingertips.

“How much farther?” Brad’s voice cut the white noise of river and wind.

Dean Romans paused in the middle of the trail. Stooping forward, he adjusted the lens of a bulky 35mm camera. The shutter clicked.

“It’s so damned pristine out here,” Dean said, “I half-expect a unicorn to come prancing down the trail.” His tight grin twitched then cracked wide open, exposing perfect white teeth that gleamed in contrast to his swollen black eye.

Brad forced a chuckle loud enough for Dean to hear. He knew it would be a long week if he didn’t humor Dean’s smart-ass observations from time to time. He has his moments, Brad thought, and this place must truly seem otherworldly to him.

Hands cupped, Brad splashed river water on his face and the nape of his neck. The cold snatched his breath away. For a moment, he felt reinvigorated. Only fleeting relief, he thought.

January Secret Agent #18

TITLE: Dominion
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Someone once said, “If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.” That could be the reason James Donald McDonough rarely spoke. He could not give up his secrets. Not to the wind. Not to the trees. Not to me.

James McDonough is my father.

Coming to live with him is what started me down this rabbit hole in the first place. We were estranged before my mother died. I like that word. Do you notice how the term resembles the word strangled?
People don’t talk when they’re being strangled. I know this first-hand.

Johnda threw herself on top of me, using her thighs to pin me against the grass. The blue of her wild eyes was barely visible, thanks to her over-dilated pupils. Was this what madness looked like? She meant to kill me. The bones of her hands were crushing the wind from my throat and I couldn’t breathe, let alone speak. This was my doing. I had interfered with a force I didn’t fully understand while Johnda’s mind was still connected to it.

If she killed me now, then who would fix this awful mess? Would all my father's secrets, the ones I was just beginning to uncover, be left unrevealed?

It was trying to discover those secrets that seemed to plunge me further and further into trouble.

It all began with the crow.

January Secret Agent #17

TITLE: GHOST STORY
GENRE: YA

In the elevator at the Georgia State Mental Hospital with a dead body, and the walls feel like they're closing in. I can't see what's in the shadows, and I imagine all kinds of horrible creatures with fangs and
claws, ready to attack.

"Samantha..."

Did the dead man just call out my name?

A cold chill takes over my body as the elevator descends. It smells like wet dog in here, and the elevator's so old, who knows if I’ll even make it to the basement? I clutch the railing and hold on. Mid-December and the night wind's howling up the elevator shaft like a pack of angry wolves. Somethin' bad's gonna happen. I can feel it in my bones. Just like the last time I worked after school.

I'm sweating like crazy under the armpits of my nurses' aide uniform, but my hands feel like ice cubes. Afraid to look under the sheet, I picture the dead guy sitting up, still alive, reaching out to strangle
me. I jump back and push the button to stop the elevator, but it keeps going.

Hand over my mouth to stifle a scream, I stare at the body on the gurney. I wonder how he died. Then I figure I'd rather not know, 'cause if I did, I'd care about him, and that wouldn't do any good. Why do patients only die when I'm on duty?

The elevator whines and jolts to a stop in the basement.

January Secret Agent #16

TITLE: Miyako
GENRE: Memoir

What must I do, I ask the monk, to stay?

This city was not always in my blood. There was a time when its wooden houses were not reefs in me, when its paper-covered windows did not slow down the sun I saw. In that time, I did not know the clouds that its cherry trees bloomed in spring, nor the wisteria hanging from its summer trellises. I did not know that if I reached for a scent, I would drown in lilac.

I had never tasted the green of the year’s first tea. I had not heard the city's monks teach that nothing lasted, nor its poets mourn because nothing had. I did not know that sleeves belonged to the grammar of the heart, nor that passing through a rock could bind your fate to another’s.

I had not seen a dyer’s indigo hands. I had not felt swordsmen brush past me as they ran, chasing revolution. And I had not gone to search for words written in fire in the mountains.

There was a time when I did not hold Kyoto inside.

But it stole in through my eyes, through my ears, it unfolded on my tongue. More than a year after I saw the city on holiday, its voices still would not leave. So I cut myself away from my life in Singapore – a life of safe work and safer ties – and moved to the heart of old Japan.

January Secret Agent #15

TITLE: Valley of Thracians
GENRE: Adult Literary

“Is this your first visit to Bulgaria?” asked the clerk at Sofia International Airport passport control.

“Yes,” he replied, staring at her through the smudged glass. The woman’s jet black hair was pulled back tightly behind a pale, gaunt face, secured with a thin red ribbon that failed to brighten her complexion. Her dark, somewhat slanted eyes, veterans of scrutinizing a thousand arrivals, regarded him impatiently and then returned to the document she was scanning. She stifled a yawn as she riffled through the pages, but whether it was out of exhaustion from long hours on the job or indifference to the arrivals passing by her booth he couldn’t tell.

“Yes,” he said again, making an effort to be polite.

He watched as she worked her way through the passport a second time, gazing up at him once more to compare the weary, gray-haired person standing in front of her with the much younger version that smiled reservedly from the faded photograph. Today he had little in common with that self-assured academic who had willingly traveled the world, giving lectures and attending international conferences. It was almost if they weren’t even related.

“Welcome,” she said, stamping his passport with Sofia Airport’s inky signature before handing it back under the glass.

He offered a weary grin in reply. He was exhausted, not only from the long, monotonous flight but also from preparing for the challenges that lay ahead. Dealing with his mission in a foreign country would not be easy.

January Secret Agent #14

TITLE: PLANTED (I CAN WATER MYSELF)
GENRE: YA SF


Thorns spiked from the tips of my twigs, as I scurried along the branch, prepared to drop onto humans to save my little ones, but I stopped, letting water fall to the earth instead of me. My palms flew to my eyes to silence the waste.

Mother said, have patience, watch, learn, and when it hurts, think about something else. “Stone had been known to move and trees to speak,” I whispered Macbeth. The oak, sensing my stress, released calming pheromones.

If he lived today, would William welcome us?

A human enveloped in white from head to roots, plodded from the dull colored cocoon covering my landing pod. He carried my rooting box. He carried my children. Children was their word. Think about something else. The first mutilation I deciphered to learn their language in the dead forest named library. Its words helped when a female worker had asked my name.

“Sam I am,” I said.

She laughed. “Where’s your Mother, Sam?”

I pointed upward.

She touched my limb. “You poor dear.”

I almost forgot. Never reveal Mother orbited Earth.

No, thinking of the genocide called books did not help. I imagined my tiny boxed buds, screaming words from Yertle the Turtle and Gertrude McFuzz. “I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”

Leaves crackled underneath. More humans, green like the forest, with turtle shells on their heads, prodded the bushes with stingers. They had my saplings now they wanted me.

January Secret Agent #13

TITLE: PURSUIT OF CRAZE
GENRE: URBAN FANTASY

The produce section was Allie’s favorite in any grocery store, but especially in this little market with its soft lighting and hardwood floors. The fruits and vegetables were organic here, therefore they weren’t the vivid reds, greens, and yellows with the shiny wax coating that seemed almost cartoonish under the glaring lights of the chain store down the road. They seemed earthier here, more like real food.

She scanned her shopping list: one garlic bulb- check, one white onion- check, bunch of carrots- check. Only one more item to go and she would have all of the ingredients for Daemon’s favorite dinner- baked spaghetti, made with her homemade sauce and fresh pasta (store bought fresh pasta, that is. She loved the man but let’s be reasonable). The tomatoes for the sauce were the last of her garden’s output for the season. The other vegetables had ceased growing weeks ago.

Too small, too soft, too wrinkled, Allie picked up and scrutinized one green pepper after another. The wooden bin was overflowing with the vegetable, she could afford to be selective.

“Aha.” She plucked a flawless specimen from the mound and held it up like a prize. Firm, smooth, vividly green, and extra large. She set it atop the package of fresh pasta in the basket hanging from her arm. The work day was done and now so were the errands. She could head home, start cooking, and wait for Daemon. Their evenings together were what she looked forward to all day

January Secret Agent #12

TITLE: Being the Queen
GENRE: Middle Grade

As a superpower, invisibility is overrated, I thought, dodging a pair of eighth-grade boys in the under-lit hallway. When you’re invisible, you could get stampeded to death and no one would notice.
Not that I had a superpower or anything. I was just trying to survive getting to my first assembly of the year. I squeezed past a group of girls chatting in the middle of the hallway and took a deep breath.
I felt a little like I was drowning, swallowed up in a wash of bodies and noise. My swim teacher told me that everyone thinks drowning is noisy, full of splashing and cries for help. But that’s just Hollywood’s version. In real life, drowning is silent, almost invisible. One minute you’re treading water and then you’re gone.

That’s what invisibility feels like. That’s what junior high feels like, some days.

I shook myself, a swimmer heaving out of water onto land. I wasn’t going to think like this, not this year. This year was going to be different.

I stepped out of the stream of students and closed my eyes, desperate for the tiny lift I got by imagining myself somewhere else—somewhen else. I pictured myself as a knight, all golden and glittering. In my mind, I saw the bright arc of my sword as I saluted my king before riding off to fight dragons. The tight feeling in my chest eased.

Someone giggled beside me. My eyes flew open. Two girls stood near me, whispering and pointing. At me.

January Secret Agent #11

TITLE: Molly Watkins - Soap Powder Chronicles
GENRE: Steampunk Fantasy

Only two things would bring a thinking man to Whiskey Falls in January; money and women- or the prospect of either. Since Molly Watkins didn’t have much in the way of the first, she supposed the filthy scoundrel in her front yard must have come for the latter.

“You best take your grubby paw off her bosom and get the hell out of here before I make a hole in you,” Molly Watkins aimed her modified Henry directly at him.

He held up a nickel that sparkled in the moonlight. “I got my money right here. Sign says five cents.”

“That’s for the laundry, you fool.”

One of Molly’s hired helpers stood motionless next to the scoundrel. “Why don’t you go inside, Mercy. This won’t take but a minute.”

She waited for the young girl to close the front door behind her before she continued with her tirade. “And you’re sadly mistaken if you think this is the kind of place where you can borrow a woman for your own satisfaction.” Molly shivered beneath her dress and two layers of thermals. “This is a Soap Parlor. That means we have a steam laundry and hot soapy baths for our paying customers.”

He turned his head to observe the white porcelain tub percolating behind him. Molly’s latest invention, a laundry machine she had constructed mostly from discarded machine parts, was silent now after a long day of repetitive use.

“What? That pile of junk? Your machine ain’t nothing but a bunch of nuts and bolts.”

January Secret Agent #10

TITLE: Imminent
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

It was homecoming, and I refused to let one scary vision ruin my night.

“Come with me, Alexa…”


As long as I didn’t go behind the bleachers tonight, I’d be fine—I hoped.

I pushed the sound of the stranger’s ominous voice away. The butterflies beating my insides calmed and my heart rate slowed. Homecoming was a big deal in West Palm Beach and to my horror, my parents wanted to take pictures of me and my friends while our neighbors watched. I had to be able to smile.

“Hey, Lexi.” Dell Landry said as I approached him on the lawn.

My pulse quickened at the sight of him, my palms suddenly clammy. Butterflies of a different kind fluttered in my stomach, making it impossible not to think about our kiss. I did a double take, noticing how hot he looked in his black suit and red tie. He stood as tall as a basketball player, lanky, but muscular, the suit showing off his athletic physique.

“Hey.” I tried to sound casual.

“You look…beautiful.” His crooked grin made my heart leap into my throat, my face probably the same shade of pink as the evening sky above.

“Thanks, I like your—”

Taryn Stabler accidentally bumped into me then as she tripped in her high heels. Dell caught me by my elbow as I stumbled. A shock ran up my arm and I gasped, meeting his light green eyes.

January Secret Agent #9

TITLE: Rebel
GENRE: YA dystopian

No one’s here to wish me goodbye. The train platform overflows with soldiers and their loved ones, it’s hard to watch strangers kiss, hug and cry through smiles. I’m fatherless, he didn't come. Clothed in mandatory black, the crowd thickens as the countdown to the Departure Ceremony begins. Ten minutes to go, ten minutes before we depart. I should get ready and be nervous, but instead, I swallow the hurt and vanish from these witnesses to his rejection. Why did he leave me alone, today of all days?

I enter the deserted girls’ barracks, the media screen at the ceiling corner a shallow buzz showing live images of our training camp. I seek the back of the aseptic room and sit on the bunk-bed that was mine until this morning. The rolled up mattress and blanket full of holes are ready to welcome the next girl who’ll cry into her pillow, blaming the harsh orders and hard training—like I did, every night. But truth be told, my tears spilled for the fear of where I’d be going, doubt that I’d ever be competent enough, the dread of my first kill and dying alone. And for Dad that I missed so, wishing he’d understand, that he’d come to see me off, today.

I wrote him letters, during the four hour train ride bringing me here, and then everyday at down time. They remain in my cargo pocket, I’ll never mail them, don’t want him to read something embarrassingly resembling journal entries.

January Secret Agent #8

TITLE: GUIDE DOG
GENRE: YA horror

Mr. Mickford (well, technically, Father Mickford-I mean, we were at a Catholic school and everything was Father this and Father that), glanced down at the book on his desk. My dog-eared, frayed copy of Jane Eyre, the one I’d marked up with an aggressive combination of yellow highlighter and ball point pen. He hadn’t opened the book to see the damage, which was good-how many detentions could I take? I watched as the light shafting through the stained glass windows turned his balding head into a veritable Easter-egg of green and rose and yellow, and waited for the fall.

“Mrs. Cole says you were very dismissive of the book.”

I shrugged. “ Didn’t like it.”

“Okay, well…there’s nothing saying you have to like everything you read. But she said…”

I knew what she’d said. But it felt like good form to ask. “What?”

He cleared his throat. “That the book was…um…masturbatory wish fulfillment for ugly girls.”

The words fell between us. I propped my chin on my hand, as if considering. “Yeah, well…”

“So you did say it?”

Of course I had. It was far too creative to have come out of the mouths of any of the other kids in the class…which was exactly the attitude, my mother liked to tell me, that got me into trouble time and time again. You think you’re smarter than anyone else.

And as for what was going on right now, there was no point in not confessing. “Yeah. I did.”

“Okay.”

January Secret Agent #7

TITLE: The Totally True Tales of Tansy Berry, Tooth Ferry
GENRE: Middle-Grade

In my line of work, being seen by a client is like being stranded on a desert island with no toothbrush - and I never leave home without my toothbrush. Sixteen hours later I still hadn’t lost that metallic tang of fear, even after three rounds with my Oral-B. Luckily, I kept a stick of gum on hand for just such an emergency. It’s the kind that four out of five dentists recommend, and every time I chew it I wonder about that fifth dentist.

This wasn’t the first incident on my record, but it was the first since Ruth Canal had taken over as Chief Extraction Officer and that woman made me nervous. Even a nice warm cup of peppermint tea hadn’t helped to calm the butterflies in my stomach. I probably shouldn’t have eaten so many for lunch.
Just kidding. Tooth Ferries don’t eat insects. At least most of us don’t.

Other Tooth Ferry Myths

1. Most important - We are not actually fairies. That particular myth got started because of our job description and has been almost impossible to shake. We ferry – that is, we carry - teeth from one location to another. We have no relation to the tiny creatures who live under mushrooms, drink the nectar of flowers, and flit about.

2. We do have wings, but they aren’t real - more like a badge. We earn them when we complete the rigorous training program. More on that later.

3. Our pay scale is not based on pain.

January Secret Agent #6

TITLE: Angelhood
GENRE: YA Supernatural

Finding the gun is easy. Mom’s never tried to hide it from me or Cecille. As soon as Dad moved out three years ago, she bought it for our “protection.”

In her bedroom, I slide open the top dresser drawer and pull out the pewter angel key ring that holds an old skeleton key. At the foot of Mom’s bed, I kneel in front of Grandma’s old cedar chest. I run my fingers over the rose design that disguises the keyhole. After slipping the skeleton key in, I turn it and listen for the click. It’s easy to hear in the empty house.

The heavy lid creaks as I open it, and a faint cedar scent greets me. Mom told me when I was little that cedar chests were supposed to hold a woman’s most treasured items before and after she married—lace tablecloths, fine linens, dresses, photos. We don’t have much of that. Instead, Mom has filled Grandma’s old cedar chest mostly with junk. Inside are Cecille’s and my old report cards and baby books, a lock of chestnut hair from my first haircut, the First Communion dress both Cecille and I wore, and our baptismal candles. I dig deeper. Somewhere in this chest is a shoebox. And in that shoebox is a .38 snub-nosed revolver wrapped in a kitchen towel.

January Secret Agent #5

TITLE: BABY DOE
GENRE: Adult Literary

Wayberry, Oklahoma, December 1956

    The girl tore through the dark woods to save her baby.

    Ignoring her bleeding feet, she raced until she slipped on loose leaves and crashed headlong into a shrub, dropping the newborn. Stunned, she lay still in the biting cold and heard her father yelling and crashing through the brush behind her. She snatched up the wailing baby and pressed leaves against its mouth.

    And she raced again, the undergrowth tearing at her bare legs. She broke through onto the road leading to the highway. Hesitated, turned, and threw herself across the open area and into the brush. She found herself in thick, thorny blackberry bushes. Came out onto a narrow path she knew would take her around to her hiding place in the burnt-out hollow of an oak tree.

    Weakening now, she sucked in air with a loud, rasping noise. Muscles aching, legs wobbling. She heard her father fighting through the blackberry bushes and flung herself forward with her remaining strength.

    She reached the oak and scrambled inside. Pulled up her T-shirt, pressed her baby’s mouth, encrusted with leaves and dirt, to her nipple, and tried to quiet her own breathing. Minutes later, her heart still pounding, she heard the crunching sound of footsteps approach, then stop.

    “Come on out, I know you’re in there.” His voice softened. “I’ve never harmed you.”

    “You’ll hurt my baby.” She peered through tangled branches into the starry sky. Then blackness crossed like a curtain.

January Secret Agent #4

TITLE: FAKER
GENRE: YA Comic Multicultural

Mr. Vaughn called my name. “Faiqa.” Because of his heavy New York accent, it sounded more like an accusation: Faker. My homonym.

In Arabic, the Q is a K, only from the back of the throat, like a bug flew into your mouth and got stuck there. The AI is really aieee, like Speedy Gonzales would say.

Of course, nobody goes to all that trouble. In Texas, they just called me Fifi, which is too poodley for my taste. Here, kids call me F***-ya. I respond: “I'm sure you'd love to but it is not going to happen.” Only they’ve usually snickered long past me by then, so I end up yelling it down the hall, my voice swallowed up by the crowd.

It’s funny: “Faiq,” the Arabic word my name comes from, means excellent, superior, outstanding. So all things considered, Faker’s close enough.

I was furiously faking it just then, as a matter of fact, when I walked to the front of my English class. I tried hard to keep my body loose, cool, calm. I'd give this stupid oral report, but I would not look the way I felt. I thought I was pulling it off until I glanced down and saw that my nipples were staging a demonstration. If nipples could talk, these would be screaming and carrying signs. And it wasn’t just that they were hard. They were living separate lives, they weren't lined up or even facing the same direction, like they didn't want to be seen together.

January Secret Agent #3

TITLE:   My Protector: The Calling
GENRE:   YA Post Apocalyptic

Going to the river alone is forbidden. Knowing this clear-cut rule of our people wasn’t enough to stop me from stepping off the gravel path and walking deep into the vacant field. I no longer controlled my body.

Adrenaline thrummed inside me as I drifted closer. White-hot anger burned in my belly, if it was even anger churning there. I had never felt something creep through my veins before. Whatever this was, it pulled me toward the unknown.

I didn’t belong out there. I knew better. I should’ve run in the opposite direction, back to our village. But I couldn’t turn away. With each step into the darkness, the foreign emotion intensified, guiding me forward. I surrendered to the aggression. I had no choice.

The warning bell struck, ringing through my insides. My people had fled for safety into the closest shelter possible when it sounded the first time.

Not me.

A few more steps and I would see the river through the trees if the waning light consented. The coursing water rushed along, mirroring my heightened flow of adrenaline. The sensory overload amplified, the calling grew louder and became hypnotic, driving me like a machine, steering me down a path I would not otherwise take.

I should not have been there.

The bell clanged again with faster frequency. I froze. The hammering in my chest felt as if my heart would burst through my rib cage and continue onward without me.

January Secret Agent #2

TITLE: Coveted
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy


Phoenix Arizona, 1971



By the time the body hit the ground, it had been reduced to dust. She held the robe it had been wearing in her fingers, her hands shaking.

“I-I’m sorry,” she gasped around a sob. “I didn’t mean—”

“Over here!” More robed figures filled the mouth of the alley.

She flung the cloth aside, and ran. The sound of footsteps rose behind her, followed by angry shouts. They’d found their fallen comrade, reduced to dirt by her hand. Blinking through a veil of tears, she ducked down an adjacent backstreet and banged into a dumpster. Pain blossomed along her hands and knees but she couldn’t stop to assess her injuries. Disoriented she spun around and stumbled on.
Keep going. She chanced a glance over her shoulder. The darkness at her back parted as the walls bled light. That light took the form of symbols in a language she didn’t know, but she understood what it meant for her.

The marks raced along the buildings the same as she raced down the lane. Fear weakened her legs and she nearly fell face first into a pile of garbage. She might be able to outrun her pursuers, but could she outrun the Runes?

Brick towered over her on either side. Neon signs flickered sluggishly, little more than bright blurs in her peripheral vision. Doors whipped by, along with barred windows. Music thumped beneath her feet, the chorus to Hey Jude light on the air.

January Secret Agent #1

TITLE: Kids Like Us
GENRE: Contemporary YA


Adelaine Cross lay perfectly still. Her mother’s old sheet rested beneath her on the sand. The sun spread like wild-fire against her skin. This is what it feels like to be gone, she thought. Certainly, if she couldn’t see anyone, they couldn’t see her. If she lay still enough, the spectacle around her would come to a grinding halt. And if she closed her ears and trapped her mind she could find a way to silence the world. But she heard Reagan’s voice cut across the brass band hum. “Addie!”

She flattened her palms.

“Addie!”

She wanted so badly to be still, to stay on that stretch of beach until she disappeared. She opened her eyes. All she saw was Rabbit Island’s bright blue canvas sky. “What?”

“What do you mean, what? You were supposed to meet me twenty minutes ago.”

She continued to stare up at the blue.

“They’re starting,” Reagan continued. “Are you coming or not?”

“Not,” Adelaine stated. And she sat up, exhausted from another sleepless night, her eyes stinging from the brightness, her back aching as she stretched up to the sky.

Reagan plopped down next to her, leaned her arms back into the sand. She flipped back a wild mane of hair, so black against her pale, freckled skin. Her graphic tee slipped to reveal one pink shoulder. Long feather earrings tickled the base of neck.

“Why won’t you go?” Reagan asked.

“It’s the same thing every year. It’s so…I don’t know…candy land.”

Secret Agent: The Critiquing

Another brief list-of-stuff for new readers:

  • The 50 Secret Agent entries will post this morning in 1-minute intervals until they're all live.
  • Critiquing takes place in the comment boxes.
  • Please USE A SCREEN NAME when leaving your critique. "Anonymous" is not a good choice (choose the NAME/URL option in the comment box).
  • Please refrain from snarkiness. Honesty is not the same as harshness.
  • All entrants are requested to critique a minimum of 5 other entries.
  • Critiques may continue throughout the next 5 days.
  • The Secret Agent will show up at any time and leave comments under the moniker "Secret Agent."
That's it!  Enjoy the ride.  Questions below.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Brimming With Success Stories!

Here's this week's success story, in the author's words:

In 2005, I got this idea for a novel for kids (“middle grade” was not a term I’d ever heard of at that point) about a girl who secretly becomes a restaurant critic for The New York Times. Over the next three years, I worked full time, produced two of my plays, got married…and managed to draft about 60% of the book.


In 2009, my husband and I quit our jobs, sold all of our stuff, and embarked on our dream trip: a two-year, round-the-world honeymoon. I packed the novel-so-far in my backpack and vowed that I would come home with a finished book. I wrote by hand whenever I had a chance, and during the week when my husband climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, I parked myself in a coffee shop in Moshi, Tanzania, and wrote until I reached The End. (Hooray! Then I put it back in my backpack for another eight months until the trip was over.)


Upon our return to the states in summer 2011, I typed it up, got feedback, revised, and started querying. My first round of queries was form-rejected across the board, and I started to suspect that the beginning of the book wasn’t working.


That’s when I discovered Miss Snark’s First Victim. Reading back over months of Secret Agent contests, I came to understand what drew agents in—and what drew me in as a reader. I did a major revision and polished the heck out of the book’s new opening, finishing just in time to enter the October Secret Agent contest.


A few days after the contest, I got an e-mail from Authoress saying that Ammi-Joan Paquette had “read my entry with interest” and requested that I query her with five pages. This was exciting, since Joan is usually closed to queries. I sent the query off at midnight on October 30 and woke up the next day to my first ever full request. Happy Halloween to me!


I started querying again, and in November got into the Baker’s Dozen auction (yay!). I didn’t sleep well the night before the auction (did anyone?), and an hour before it started, forced myself to go back to bed to pass the time. I ended up sleeping right through my auction (oops!), waking up this time to evidence that a fierce battle had taken place.


I had an offer of representation a week later, and four more by the first week of January. And I’m thrilled to announce that the contract is signed and Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA is now my agent!


I never would have connected with Joan without this blog. And the beginning of my book would never have gotten into the shape it did without this blog. Thank you, Authoress, for creating this resource that both makes us better writers and gets our work in front of the people who can help us take the next step in our careers.


~Tara Dairman, who blogs HERE.

Here's Tara's Baker's Dozen Entry!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Secret Agent Contest: Tidbits

Well, it's been 3 months since our last Secret Agent Contest, and we have lots of new readers, so I thought I'd do a mini "This is what goes on this week" post.

  • Submissions are TODAY!  Submission guidelines are HERE.  (Note: the online form is VERY COOL and easy to use.  If you choose not to use it, make sure you follow the email submission guidelines to the letter.)
  • Your SCREEN NAME is simply whatever name you use when you leave comments on this blog. It's not any kind of secret handshake thing, and you don't have to have a Blogger account or reveal your blood type or anything complicated.  I promise. 
  • Note that "2 alternates" will be chosen.  This means that, after the 50 entries are received, 2 more will be included and marked "alternate."  This is in case I have to redact any of the other entries prior to the opening of the contest on Wednesday.  (If we don't get 50 entries, no alternates are chosen.)
  • The entries will post on Wednesday morning.  Critiquing may begin immediately.
  • All entrants are requested to critique a minimum of 5 other entries. (Yes. My awesome database gives me lists of comments by screen name. It's very KGB. Or Santa Claus.)
  • The Secret Agent will show up at any time over the next 5 days to leave critique on each entry.
  • Winners--and the Secret Agent's identity--will be announced next Monday.
That's about it!  If you're new and you have any questions, today's your day to ask them in the comment box.