Wednesday, February 29, 2012

First Line Grabber, Round Two #15

TITLE: The Center of Gravity (WIP)
GENRE: YA

I believed in the healing power of parking garages. Even in the bellowing basement of the garage beneath my mom’s office building, the heavy air and the darkness interrupted only by muttering orange lights were something to hang onto. And usually, I would have stopped to indulge in my customary game of peeking around pillars and corners for the presence of a secret informant, but today, with my lock kit in one hand and Conspiracy File #357 in the other, there just wasn’t time.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #14

TITLE: Light Shifters (WIP)
GENRE: Tween paranormal

I was born mooning the world.

The last of triplets, I came out a** backwards, which explains my attitude so says Matti, who’s the oldest (seven minutes), the only girl, and never lets me forget my third-place position. What Matti didn’t comprehend was that my attitude might free the ghost haunting this old plantation AND save our butts from something deadlier than a mere earthbound spirit.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #13

TITLE: Heat Rising (WIP)
GENRE: Adult Paranormal Romance

Watching seagulls peck the gooey remnants of a dead man’s eyes wasn’t Jayda Swenson’s idea of a good way to start the day. She studied the body from the ambulance window, trying to gauge if his spirit was still hanging around. Jayda already felt drained from the mischievous little girl spirit that fed from her; taking on another newly departed was out of the question.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #12

TITLE: Aligned
GENRE: Literary Fiction

I almost married Christopher Bailey. I loved him: his inability to whistle yet refusal to stop trying, a propensity to hiccup while inebriated, and the ease with which he could rattle off everything there was to know about Cal Ripken, Jr. It should have been no surprise to me that he proposed at a baseball game, in front of thousands of people with the two of us looking like imposters of ourselves on the big screen, but I never saw it coming.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #11

TITLE: Le Petite Mort and the Heart Table (WIP)
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Dede was fairly certain that, as Death's apprentice, she never should have even been short listed for the next Goddess of Love opening. Let alone installed in the position. She shuddered at the thought of having to tell Death the news.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #10

TITLE: Into Darkness Peering
GENRE: YA Thiller (with Paranormal elements)

"Hush, we don't want her to wake wrong."

Warmth enveloped her like a quilt.

"Remember what happened last time."

First Line Grabber, Round Two #9

TITLE: Entropy (WIP)
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The water is warm and tastes of sulfur, but I drink it anyway. Silt and deposit that would normally be thinned by the rains lay instead undisturbed at the bottom of the riverbed. The banks of the Naehonus, where I kneel with one large clay jar by my side and another perched atop my knees precariously, are not their usual lush green but a paler, almost sickly yellow – like hide that has been bleached too long in sunlight.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #8

TITLE: HEAVEN AND HELL ALIKE
GENRE: Paranormal Fantasy

When Liam took over the body of a railroad worker fifty years ago, he hadn't realized he'd suffer from caffeine withdrawal every morning. But when he traded up, he wasn't being picky.

Back on his Harley after only five hours of sleep, Liam was heading through Davenport, Wyoming to track down the local diner.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #7

TITLE:   The Meter's Always Running (WIP)
GENRE:   Cozy mystery

I knew it was going to be a chart topping bad day when the kid barfed in the back seat of my taxicab. After dropping that fare off at the Savannah airport; I restored my cab to a nearly spotless state that even my ex-husband would've approved of. Or at least, my first ex.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #6

TITLE: Kissed (WIP)
GENRE: YA

The outside sink looked a bit odd next to our front door. Mother had it installed after Father tried to burn down my greenhouse -- all because I’d served him supper with dirty fingernails. A bruise I could handle, but if he took away my roses, I’d have nothing left.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #5

TITLE: 1000 Suns - (WIP
GENRE: YA

I knew when I opened the door everything I remembered would be gone.

Frustrated, I laid my head against the cool metal as my legs trembled, rooted to their spot in terror. Each time I grasped the handle, I remembered the giant mushroom cloud that drove me inside the walk-in cooler of my family's bakery and my hand dropped away, too afraid to confront what was waiting for me outside.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #4

TITLE: The Alterae
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Emma hadn’t slept in three days. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw the river again. Saw her again.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #3

TITLE: Project: Sinners Can Be Saints
GENRE: Contemporary Middle Grade

Twelve years ago I was born half-Jewish, half-Christian, and the wrong half for both. See, in the Jewish faith you’re a Jew if your mom’s Jewish, but mine's not—she’s Mennonite. Mennonites follow the father’s line, but my father isn't Mennonite—he’s a Jew, so that left me with too many religions, and yet not entirely enough.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #2

TITLE: Gallop
GENRE: YA paranormal

Dad used to insist monsters couldn’t get me so long as one person loved me. Mom was always more matter-of-fact: she said she’d shoot them before they could make a move. I never believed Dad—Mom packed more credibility since she had a gun tucked against her hip most days.

First Line Grabber, Round Two #1

TITLE: Bait (WIP)
GENRE: Contemporary YA in verse

My life is mirrors.

Mirrors on the walls.

Mirrors in the eyes of my classmates,

My teachers,

My parents.

First Line Grabber, Round Two

And away we go!

Please leave critique as normal.  The YES/NO format seemed quite effective, so I would encourage you to use it again, even though this technically isn't a voting round.

All I can say is -- it's amazing how the timbre of a first line completely changes when you add the next two sentences!  I've had fun reading these, and I think you will, too.

Have at it!  And keep your eyes peeled for CJ's critiques.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Round Two: What to Expect!

I'm DELIGHTED to announce that YA author CJ REDWINE will be critiquing the entries for Round Two of our First Line Grabber!


CJ Redwine is the author of DEFIANCE, out 8/28/12 from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins.  You can read all about her on her blog, and you can feast your eyes on her freshly-released book cover right here:


CJ will be reading and critiquing the entries, and will then let me know which she feels are the TOP FIVE.  These 5 winning entries will be invited to submit the FIRST 500 WORDS of their manuscripts for public critique.  A prize in and of itself!

The 500-word excerpts will post on March 13.  If you have any further questions, please post them in the comment box.

The fun begins tomorrow!

(Oh, and incidentally?  Mr. A read all 30 entries [which made me insanely happy] and chose his top five:   #2, #11, #16, #18, and his favorite was #25.  So there you have it.  Induction into the wee "Mr. A Hall of Fame".  Or something.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

March Secret Agent Early Info

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open next Monday, March 5.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

*There are TWO WAYS to enter: a) via email to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com OR via web form at msfv.thoughtbin.org
* This month's submissions will be A LOTTERY. This means that all entries will be assigned a "lottery number" and the bot will choose the winners. Submissions will open at 9 am EST and will close at 5 pm EST.
* 2 alternates will also be accepted, for a total of 52 entries.
* PLEASE NOTE: You are responsible for figuring out your own time zone. "Time Zone differences" are NOT a reason for not getting your entry in.
* Submissions received before the contest opens will be rejected.
* Submissions are for COMPLETED MANUSCRIPTS ONLY. If you wouldn't want an agent to read the entire thing, DON'T SEND IT. If an "entire thing" doesn't exist, you shouldn't even be reading these rules.
* Manuscripts THAT HAVE BEEN IN A SECRET AGENT CONTEST DURING THE PAST SIX MONTHS (September-February) will not be accepted.
* You may submit A DIFFERENT MANUSCRIPT if you've participated in any previous Secret Agent contests.
* Only ONE ENTRY per person per contest. If you send more than one, your subsequent entry(ies) will be rejected.
* If you are a PAST WINNER (i.e., offered any kind of prize from a Secret Agent), please DO NOT ENTER THIS CONTEST. (Unless it's a different manuscript.)
* Submissions are for THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. Please do not stop in the middle of a

GO HERE to submit via our web form.

If you choose to submit via email, your submission for this contest should be formatted EXACTLY as follows:

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

(Followed by the excerpt here.)

* No "chapter one," chapter titles, etc.
* You will receive a confirmation email with your lottery number.
* Submissions go to authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com. They DO NOT GO to my facelesswords address. Or any other address.
*It doesn't matter what you put in the subject line. The only thing you MUST NOT do is to use "RE:" The bot will think you are attempting to respond to an email, and will reject you.

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

This month's contest will include the following genres:

  • Young Adult (all genres)
  • Middle Grade (all genres)
  • Romance
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Suspense
  • Thriller
  • Literary Fiction
  • Contemporary Fantasy
  • Women's Fiction

First Line Grabber: Round One Winners

The following 15 entries garnered the most YES votes on their first lines:

1
2
6
8
11
13
15
16
17
18
22
23
25
28
29

Congratulations!  HERE IS WHAT YOU NEED TO DO IN ORDER TO PARTICIPATE IN ROUND TWO:

  • EMAIL your FIRST 3 SENTENCES to me at authoress.submissions(at)gmail.com.
  • Important: Follow the formatting EXACTLY as shown below!
  • Also important: Please submit THE SAME FIRST SENTENCE as you entered in Round One.  The YES votes you received were based on the sentence AS IS, and NOT an edited version!
  • You will have until Tuesday at 6 pm EST to send your sentences.  Because, yanno, I will need to time check formatting, etc.
The formatting:

SCREEN NAME: (type it here, and don't neglect the colon)
TITLE: (type it here, and don't neglect the colon) 
GENRE: (type it here, and don't neglect the colon)

(Type your first 3 sentences here. Please do not include more than 3 sentences)

ALSO VERY IMPORTANT:

If your novel is a WIP (work in progress) and is NOT a completed manuscript, PLEASE include "WIP" after your title!  Like this:

TITLE: Crawling Between Porcupine Toes (WIP)

Please post your questions below!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Fricassee

Well, all I can say is--wow!!

Yesterday's response to the First Line Grabber was astounding.  And while I haven't read the entire deluge of hundreds (thousands?) of comments, the ones I've read were remarkably honest and clear.  And the bipolar nature of some of the responses -- strong YESES and NOS for the same sentence -- are not only amusing, but indicative of the overall subjective nature of this business.

If you haven't critiqued any of the entries yet, there's still time!  I'm not going to close the contest until midnight on Saturday.  Which means, of course, I'll be spending Sunday evening counting YESES.

No worries, though.  Mr. A has expressed an interest in reading the first lines (and voicing his never-subtle opinions, no doubt), and has offered to read and count with me.  Sounds romantic in a geeky, literary sort of way, don't you think?

At any rate, here's what to expect next:

The fifteen winning entries will be announced on Monday, and will at that point be invited to submit their first 3 sentences for round 2.  The fifteen posts will be up on Wednesday morning for critique.  No voting this time, though!  A guest author will be critiquing this round and choosing her favorite 5.

Details next week.

(Isn't this fun?  Or is it me, fighting the winter blahs in any way possible?)

So again, thanks for being wonderful!  And have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

First Line Grabber #30

TITLE: The Girl in the Mirror
GENRE: YA fantasy

The two initiates gawked at me like I was a gutted animal agonizing in a corner — with equal parts revulsion and pity.

First Line Grabber #29

TITLE: The Meter's Always Running
GENRE: Cozy mystery

I knew it was going to be a chart topping bad day when the kid barfed in the back seat of my taxicab.

First Line Grabber #28

TITLE: Light Shifters
GENRE: Paranormal Tween

I was born mooning the world.

First Line Grabber #27

TITLE: Celebrewty
GENRE: YA Horror

"I don't want attention... I need attention... or else I'll die!"

First Line Grabber #26

TITLE: Anti-Theft
GENRE: YA

In the front of the store, a woman named Janice with permanent curler hair and long blue fingernails, bends over a crossword puzzle.

First Line Grabber #25

TITLE: Bait
GENRE: YA

My life is mirrors.

First Line Grabber #24

TITLE: All Things Sunny
GENRE: YA - Sci-Fi

I thought it couldn’t get much worse than living with seven kids under the age of ten, a tired mom, and a neglected husband, but tonight it did.

First Line Grabber #23

TITLE: Gallop
GENRE: YA paranormal

Dad used to insist monsters couldn’t get me so long as one person loved me.

First Line Grabber #22

TITLE: 1000 Suns
GENRE: YA (apocalyptic)

I knew when I opened the door everything I remembered would be gone.

First Line Grabber #21

TITLE: Digo Bait (working)
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Jaeron knew it was unwise to make his captor angry, especially with the constant threat of being served for supper, but the younger boy, terrified and half starved, looked so miserable, Jaeron had taken pity on him.

First Line Grabber #20

TITLE: Degrees of Broken
GENRE: Contemporary YA

Small talk and new girl status were never my strong suits in the talent portion of school; my sense of humor tended to weird out with the pressure.

First Line Grabber #19

TITLE: Circling
GENRE: Thriller

The full moon provided exceptional visibility, illuminating the silvery grass underfoot and, Lance-Corporal Nick Brady was sure, exposing their hilltop stakeout to any casual observer.

First Line Grabber #18

TITLE: Heat Rising
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Watching seagulls peck the gooey remnants of a dead man’s eyes wasn’t Jayda Swenson’s idea of a good way to start the day.

First Line Grabber #17

TITLE: Aligned
GENRE: Literary

I almost married Christopher Bailey.

First Line Grabber #16

TITLE: Entropy
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The water is warm and tastes of sulfur, but I drink it anyway.

First Line Grabber #15

TITLE: Heaven and Hell Alike
GENRE: Paranormal Fantasy

When Liam took over the body of a railroad worker fifty years ago, he hadn't realized he'd suffer from caffeine withdrawal every morning.

First Line Grabber #14

TITLE: Death of a Florida Purse
GENRE: Adult Cozy Mystery

Elsie stepped out of the airport shuttlebus and gazed around in horror.

First Line Grabber #13

TITLE: The Alterae
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Emma hadn't slept in three days.

First Line Grabber #12

TITLE: A Sister's Love
GENRE: Contemporary Category Romance

She pressed the receiver to her ear and heard crying—terrible soul wrenching sobs.

First Line Grabber #11

TITLE: PROJECT SINNERS CAN BE SAINTS
GENRE: Contemporary Middle Grade

Twelve years ago I was born half-Jewish, half-Christian, and the wrong half for both.

First Line Grabber #10

TITLE: What the Earth Gave (very working title)
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Edith Locke urged Bryn to reach her fingers inside the jar and feel his ashes, cool now after a day perched on the mantelpiece.

First Line Grabber #9

TITLE: Freddie and Bean
GENRE: MG

Dad had to be bailed out of jail for disorderly behavior at a sit-in.

First Line Grabber #8

TITLE: Kissed
GENRE: YA

The outside sink looked a bit odd next to our front door.

First Line Grabber #7

TITLE: SCIENCETASTIC SUPERGIRLS
GENRE: MG Light Sci-Fi

On the whiteboard, the large block letters spelling MR. TROLP slant toward the floor at what’s got to be a 40° angle.

First Line Grabber #6

TITLE: The Center of Gravity
GENRE: YA

I believed in the healing power of parking garages.

First Line Grabber #5

TITLE: RUIN
GENRE: YA

Mama decided to name me Ruin when she found out she was pregnant because she knew I'd ruin her life.

First Line Grabber #4

TITLE: Bare
GENRE: YA - Contemp

My parents are ashamed of me.

First Line Grabber #3

TITLE: Living in a Rubik's cube
GENRE: Commercial fiction

Her voice has the timbre of someone chewing on a balloon.

First Line Grabber #2

TITLE: Into Darkness Peering
GENRE: YA Thriller

"Hush, we don't want her to wake wrong."

First Line Grabber #1

TITLE: Le Petite Mort and the Heart Table
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Dede was fairly certain that, as Death's apprentice, she never should have even been short listed for the next Goddess of Love opening.

First Line Grabber: Round One

Here comes the fun!

A reminder of the critiquing rules:

  • Each comment must begin with YES or NO, followed by a brief explanation of WHY you were either hooked (YES) or not hooked (NO).
  • YES or NO comments without an explanation behind them WILL BE DISCOUNTED.
  • Only ONE comment per reader per entry! Multiple comments by the same person on the same entry will be ignored.
  • NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS! Please use your regular screen name or Blogger account (if you have one).

Critiquing will close at midnight this Saturday (any comments that trickle in after then will not be counted toward the totals).  The 15 entries with the most YES critiques will move on to Round Two.

Okay, let's do this thing!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Winners for First Line Grabber

Winning numbers have been drawn for First Line Grabber and the owners have all been emailed their entry numbers.

If you didn't get an email, I'm sorry; that means your ticket number wasn't selected.

Here is the complete list, so you may double check:
  • 3MXYFWU1 as ENTRY #1
  • ZQV76UUN as ENTRY #2
  • RJZY5VC8 as ENTRY #3
  • 73VM0KXM as ENTRY #4
  • 0X67680V as ENTRY #5
  • 7HPTVOF2 as ENTRY #6
  • G1GVIGFD as ENTRY #7
  • 9HFTO3EX as ENTRY #8
  • 2MZKRV53 as ENTRY #9
  • LA2KAJK3 as ENTRY #10
  • YOK68X97 as ENTRY #11
  • Z0EL0WCU as ENTRY #12
  • DI0Q4Z8D as ENTRY #13
  • 48OGEUFW as ENTRY #14
  • L0VHHFGH as ENTRY #15
  • SS06MO9Z as ENTRY #16
  • QMQ5UO33 as ENTRY #17
  • 6ZWH13D9 as ENTRY #18
  • TCJHZPZ2 as ENTRY #19
  • DQ477GAP as ENTRY #20
  • XL1DMQ0S as ENTRY #21
  • 0F51G7A9 as ENTRY #22
  • P3N5LU83 as ENTRY #23
  • 53ZXYAPE as ENTRY #24
  • T1NBRI3D as ENTRY #25
  • EWIJ5H9G as ENTRY #26
  • PC7PPUGG as ENTRY #27
  • V87FOHW3 as ENTRY #28
  • Y2RXNZ39 as ENTRY #29
  • 18B136W3 as ENTRY #30
The alternates are:
  • EZZ2UE4J as ENTRY #ALT-1

New Contest: FIRST LINE GRABBER

Ready for something a little different?

Admittedly, we've done first line crits before.  But this one has a little twist!  Here are the rules:

  1. Use the WEB FORM to submit ONLY THE FIRST SENTENCE of your novel.  The novel may be complete or a WIP, but do make sure your work is carefully proofread before submitting.
  2. All genres except erotica will be accepted.
  3. The submission window will be open from NOON to 1:00 PM EST.  This will be a lottery!  When the submission window closes, the bot will choose 30 winners.
  4. These 30 entries will be posted on THURSDAY MORNING.  
  5. As soon as the entries are posted, readers may vote YES (for hooked) or NO (for not hooked) and leave feedback ACCORDING TO THE SPECIFIC RULES BELOW.
  6. The 15 entries that received the most YES comments will be invited to submit their FIRST THREE SENTENCES for round two.  The rules of which will be announced on Monday.
How's that for shaking up the winter blahs?

HERE ARE THE RULES FOR CRITIQUE:
  • Each comment must begin with YES or NO, followed by a brief explanation of WHY you were either hooked (YES) or not hooked (NO).
  • YES or NO comments without an explanation behind them WILL BE DISCOUNTED.
  • Only ONE comment per reader per entry! Multiple comments by the same person on the same entry will be ignored.
  • NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS!  Please use your regular screen name or Blogger account (if you have one).
And, honestly?  I've got this blog set up to accept ALL comments from EVERYONE.  It should never be an issue for you to simply choose the NAME/URL choice on the comment form, and type in your screen name (the URL isn't necessary).  Please make sure you understand how the Blogger comment box works prior to the start of this critique contest.

Okay, let's give this a try!  Post your questions below.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On Comment Box Cheerleading

Sometimes chats ensue in the comments that beg to be addressed.  Because, yeah--I care about this community and your thoughts on what goes on here.

So I noticed the comments on the apparently larger-than-normal amount of cheerleading that went on during this month's Secret Agent contest.  Now, it's no secret that there's NO WAY I have to time read every single comment.  Yes, they all come into my inbox.  Yes, I randomly check them.  But I trust you all to a) be good critters and b) let me know (privately) if anyone is being snarky or troll-y.

Because I will kill a snarky critique faster than you can say Embittered Writer.

(Cheerleading, on the other hand, isn't nasty or ill-intentioned.  So it's not something I will ever delete.)

Let me say, first of all, if you have ANY concern about the critique that goes on here, to please email me.  Don't throw it into the comment box (especially a comment box that would be better used as a place to thank our Secret Agent) or grumble among yourselves.  TELL ME.

I may or may not agree.  But I will definitely take your concerns seriously.  Because I want as many people as possible to be happy and comfortable here.  (Yes, I mean that.)

Secondly, I want you to know that, while I believe cheerleading is kindly meant,  I DO agree that it's not the best use of comment box space during Secret Agent contests (or any other online critique session, here or anywhere else).  Here's why:

1.  Critique sessions exist for a specific purpose: To provide USEFUL FEEDBACK for the serious writer.  We all know how vital this is.  And, despite how it may stroke our egos, a string of "This-is-so-fabulous-wait-til-you-guys-read-the-whole-story-like-I-already-have" is not USEFUL FEEDBACK.

2.  Public encouragement does not carry greater weight than private encouragement.  You all know that I am ALL ABOUT ENCOURAGEMENT!  We all desperately need it, and I try to provide it here on a regular basis.  But if you want to encourage your crit partner or writing buddy or best friend whose excerpt happens to be in our latest contest, PLEASE DO IT PRIVATELY.  I can assure you that it will be equally appreciated.

3.  As writers, we should strive to present ourselves professionally at all times.  And constant cheerleading during a session that calls for USEFUL FEEDBACK does not come off professionally.  At all.

4.  Fluffy comments about how awesome you think something is, without a stitch of helpful critique added, provides NOTHING USEFUL for the hundreds of people who are reading these critiques to learn more about what works and doesn't work in their own writing.  Imagine the serious, neophyte writer, reading an excerpt and forming his own opinions about it, but wondering what other, more "experienced" writers might think.  Scrolling through the comments and seeing nothing but a bunch of "Yay, you!" and "Your story rocks, girlfriend!" isn't going to teach him anything.

Mind you, there is certainly a difference between cheerleading and commenting honestly that you think an excerpt was well-written.  Pointing out the positive is as helpful as pointing out the negative.  So please don't think I'm asking you to stop saying nice things.  Heaven forbid!

But I think you all know the difference there.  I love that so many of you are connected with writers whom you genuinely like, and whose work you believe in.  These are powerful, important connections!  But the comment boxes of an online critique session or contest isn't the place for pompoms.

So please bear this in mind when you show up to critique.  Thoughtful crits take time; I view them as a loving sacrifice from whoever offers them.  And that's what this place is about--giving to each other and receiving in our turn.  That's why there's been so much growth here...so many success stories!  This isn't a magical blog with special powers; it's a vibrant community of dedicated writers who are PAYING ATTENTION, WORKING HARD, and GROWING!

And I adore you.  Thanks for listening.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Winners!

Here are this month's Secret Agent winners (drum rollllllll....):


Ms. Hannigan would like to see the first 50 pages of:

#24 THE WITCH’S GARDEN
#8 TURN OF CRAZE
#26 HOW TO DATE A NERD

Ms. Hannigan would like to see the first 100 pages of:

#14 DRAGON HUNT
#11 SYMPTOMS OF OUR SHADOWS

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

Secret Agent Unveiled: Carrie Hannigan



Huzzahs for this month's Secret Agent, the lovely and helpful Carrie Hannigan of Hannigan Salky Getzler.

Carrie's Bio:

Carrie had the pleasure of working at Russell & Volkening literary agency for 14 years where she helped to manage the works of such luminary authors as Anne Tyler, Ntozake Shange, Eudora Welty, Barbara Tuchman and Bernard Malamud. In May 2011 she and her colleagues, Josh Getzler and Jesseca Salky, left Russell & Volkening to start their own agency, Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency. During her time at Russell & Volkening Carrie had her hands in almost every aspect of the business from selling audio and first serial rights to reprint and permission rights and finally settling in as a children’s book agent. Carrie also represents select adult books, both fiction (no thrillers please) and narrative non-fiction.

Things Carrie is looking for:

Adult fiction: Women's commercial fiction and literary fiction
Adult Non-fiction: Narrative non-fiction
Middle grade: Anything!
YA: Almost anything. But I'm not looking for dystopian YA right now. I also don't represent many paranormal or fantasy writers unless their manuscript really stands out in the crowd.

Thanks so much, Carrie!  Winners forthcoming.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Fricassee

So if you've followed my Twitterings at all, you already know I'm close to finishing my latest WIP.  (It's official: I write first drafts in 3 months. Not sure if that's good or bad, but it's consistent.)  My target date is February 29 (because, how cool is that?) and I'm fairly certain I'll hit it.

I'm eager to finish, but not because I'm ready to jump in and revise.  I'm not.  I want to finish because I hate drafting and I want to be able to take this novel and set it aside to age for a bit.  I have no immediate plans for it; it's a working-ahead sort of thing.

You know how it is.  You've got to keep writing, yes?

So here's my question for today:  Are you the type with lots of drafts in your drawer, or do you always go back one at a time to revise them and make them strong right away?  I've recently had a chat with one of my teen readers about how she can't choose which of her drafted-but-not-revised novels to pull out and rip apart.  I was having trouble relating, because I don't have anything like that lying around.

Well, that's not completely true.  I have two completed "book 2" drafts, but that's not the kind of thing you spend time fixing, right?  But other than that, I always focus on whichever novel is most recently written.

I work on it until it's "done."  (Yeah, right.  What does "done" mean?)

But others--like my teen reader--seem to pour out stories and let them sit in first (or maybe second) draft form while they move on to the next story.  And soon there are all these novels and...then what?  How do you choose which one you want to complete?

Do you work that way?  Or are you a slow-and-steady, one-story-at-a-time type, like me?

It's endlessly fascinating how differently we approach things, all for the same final effect--a finish novel. Share your methods!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

February Secret Agent #50

TITLE: A Wedgie With Words
GENRE: Middle-Grade

There was a rumor floating around Green Tree Elementary that Mr. Needleman made kids who were late to class copy pages from the dictionary for the entire school day. Tony Spumoni knew it probably wasn’t true, but that didn’t stop him from daydreaming about what it’d be like if it were.

As he walked the hallways of Green Tree, he imagined all of the new words he could learn if he showed up late. Tony couldn’t think of a better punishment than sitting with a good dictionary and drowning in words. He’d had a way with words ever since he was a toddler crawling around in his Pampers.
Unfortunately, Tony wanted to be a good student so he didn’t dare be tardy to class on only the second week of school. Still lost in his daydream, Tony felt a jarring thud.

“Watch where you’re going, Tony Rigatoni!” shouted Frank as he bumped Tony’s shoulder.

“Oh, sorry, Frank. I guess I was in my own little world,” answered Tony.

“Yeah, well maybe you should go to that little world of yours and leave Green Tree for good!” said Frank, and he bumped Tony one more time for good measure.

Tony thought of a clever comeback that would embarrass Frank, but kept it to himself because he happened to like the current arrangement of his facial features. Instead, he hung his head and walked past Frank, trying to ignore the snickering from a group of kids who had witnessed the ordeal.

February Secret Agent #49

TITLE: The Price of Fixation
GENRE: YA contemp

There are always those moments when you think back, the ones that stand out with astounding clarity and you're just like...duh.

I feel like the past few months of my life have been one big "duh" moment.

And now I'm sitting at the police station, waiting anxiously to give my statement - hopefully my final statement - about the events of the past few months.

Maybe if I'd just paid a bit more attention, one person wouldn't be dead. I've always been so proud of my skills of observation. I've always thought I could totally be one of those continuity checkers for movies and TV shows, the ones who make sure everything is exactly as it was before the film stopped rolling.
But clearly I would be terrible at that.

Now one person is dead and it could have been prevented. So many little actions could have altered everything, and I - we - did nothing.

“Hazel Williams? Follow me, please.”

Those stupid girls in the horror movies they never remember and they never learn, but I swear I'll never forget.

-------

Waking up on the first day of school after a long, lazy summer is always hard. I mean, at least my school is making an effort to start the year after labor day, like all the schools up north, but...August, September, it makes no difference.

Maybe it's because I stayed up too late last night with my best friend, Anna, marathoning Supernatural, trying to decide the cutest of the three (seriously - it's an impossible choice).

February Secret Agent #48

TITLE: FRACTION OF STONE
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The chains around her wrists jingled, echoing off the stone walls, a cheery sound out of place. If she closed her eyes and moved her arms again it would be as if she were listening to a wind chime, twittering in the breeze. But the cold metal was not a wind chime. It was a tether, a leash, holding her captive in the belly of her city.

She could have called it her room, for it was where she slept, where she ate. The situation would seem more bleak once the drugs wore off, sending her into a depression of why she even bothered to live.

She had no choice, that was why. They needed her and refused to let her die. They kept her down there in an almost comatose state until it was time for her to work her magic.

Literally.

The cell swayed and whirled, like a small boat in the ocean. A state she was so used to it felt more real than normal. She never smiled. That had been stolen long ago. But if she did it would be in this dreamlike existence.

Scraping of the heavy wooden door down the hall caused her head to float up, searching for the person among the sea of swirling colors. The large blur was who she expected and though she knew she should feel something, she was unable to summon emotion.

“It is time again, girl. Your people need you.”

February Secret Agent #47

TITLE: Sunside
GENRE: Middle Grade SciFi

Myri ran, the wet floor slippery beneath her feet. He was up ahead: she could hear his steps clanging against the metal platforms that ran along the sides of the tunnel, but she couldn't make him out in the darkness. The torches on the wall sputtered, barely illuminating anything at all.

There was a splash and the footsteps stopped. Myri stopped too, worried that he'd jumped into the transport river running down the middle of the tunnel. She squinted into the distance and blinked hard.
There! The light reflected briefly off his back. He was in the river and swimming fast. I'll never catch up to him in the water, she thought. And the walking platforms would end soon, replaced by docks for the… rafts! She surged forward, splashing through the puddles, and slid across the platform in front of the dock.

Myri skidded hard and gasped. The raft she expected to see had come unmoored and was floating away. It’s too wet to stop! she thought. Just as her toes reached the edge of the dock she shoved off, leaping into the air and scrabbling at the rafters, her feet dangling toward the water and her tool pouch weighing her down. The closest raft was drifting just a few feet away, its pole still resting in the oarlock, but her grip on the damp metal was slipping.

February Secret Agent #46

TITLE: DONUT, INTERRRUPTED
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary

There were a few givens in the formula, and my lenient, laissez-faire mother was one of them. This was supposed to be the easy part. But now, phase one of my plan is already a total disaster. Of course she would pick right now to decide to grow a backbone.

“Eighty dollars, Cori? Really?” She’s pushing the metal cart down the fiction aisle of the school library. My mom is our librarian, and sometimes, during my free period, she calls me down to help her out. “I just wrote a deposit check to the country club with a very big number on it.” She makes a face like she’s sucking on a lemon. It’s no secret that Mom’s not a huge fan of my sister’s fiancĂ©. And even less of a fan of the big fancy wedding April's insisting on.

“I know, Mom. But I wouldn’t need to order the costume for another three weeks.” I’m following behind her carrying a folding step ladder, feeling ridiculous.

“Cori, will you even still be interested in three weeks?” She holds out her hand.

“Of course I will,” I lie and hand her the ladder. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I know exactly what it means. I’ve quit every activity my parents ever signed me up for. Piano after a year. Horseback riding after four months. And, for the record, tennis after two hours.

February Secret Agent #45

TITLE: Graceful Death
GENRE: YA Paranormal

Not in the damn hallway. Anywhere but here.

A surge of dizziness claws its way over me. I sway on my feet, watching the Santa Cruz High School crowd thin.

“Whoa.” A chick I recognize from Geometry stops walking toward her next class. She comes one, two, three steps closer. In my warped vision the closer she comes, the more her body jerks and jumps. I blink in the hopes she’ll even out. Her lipstick wavers from orange to purple.

“Doing okay there, Grace?” The guy beside her clasping her fingers leans in. His eyes remind me of a toad’s, too far apart. But then again, the right side of his face is melting, so who am I to judge?

I whip up enough BS to shoo them away before things get worse, though I have no clue what I’ve said. Eventually they turn the corner. The hallway quiets in its empty state. I suck in air like a drowning person who’s just reached the surface. It doesn’t help. I can’t freaking breathe.

The instant my knees hit the ground I know. My insomnia is killing me from the inside out. I struggle to pick myself up, but the sweat on my palms turns cold, tacking my hand to the faded mauve linoleum.

The faint odor of disinfectant and dirty sneakers wafts up, stinging my nostrils.

My pulse thrums erratically in my ears. White film spots my vision.

I can’t control anything anymore. Sleep is such a cruel and distant idea by now.

February Secret Agent #44

TITLE: The Color of Cyan
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Someone should tell Mother Nature it’s June.

I shiver as cold from the metal bleachers seeps in like water and aggravates my fidgeting. Normally I love my little brother’s baseball games, but today anxiety bounces my thoughts like a pinball--the smallest distraction successful.

My gaze drifts from the field to the concession stand where three sophomore girls huddle like cattle, waiting for the guys’ game to start.

Stupid Baseball Hos.

I wince from the weight of their stares, wishing they’d stop, since this is the last of Gio’s games I’ll see this summer. But I know they won’t lay off. With my resident title of the Freak Show of the Incoming Senior Class I’m too tempting for them. I’m like crack-cocaine for gossips. Lucky me.

An aluminum bat pings, snapping my attention to the field. A second grader hurtles toward first base, feet shooting forward and somehow missing flailing shoestrings.

I glance at the Baseball Hos again. Because apparently I’m a glutton for punishment. Their number has grown—like bacteria in a Petri dish. One stretches her neck, peering around me. The others bunch their heads closer, their whispers more frantic. I look over my shoulder to find what entertains them. It’s Charlee and Jacob approaching from the parking lot.

I turn away from my best friends, back to the group of girls. So this is their big deal? The huge scandal they buzz about--a meeting of Charlee and Jacob and me, Tessa. AKA, the girl responsible for their mother’s death.

February Secret Agent #43

TITLE: THE SECOND SIGN
GENRE: YA Supernatural Thriller

The floorboards creaked under the Intruder as he walked up the aisle of the small church. Moving shadows crept along the walls, brought to life by the flickering candles that rimmed the nave. Looming carved pieces, depicting the last moments of the prophet vital to this particular religions history, hung between front windows. The deity's name didn't matter, known as many different names in the world. What mattered was that people believed.

Belief was power.

The Intruder sauntered towards the altar, a hint of incense in the air. A stone baptismal fountain lay on the floor to his left, large enough to bathe a child or drown one depending on your intent. His eyes settled on the iconic figure crucified and displayed for all to see. He found a moments peace gazing up at the idolized portrayal of death. Crucifixion was a martyr's death, instilling fear in those that witnessed it. Fear begets conformity in all creatures. The intruder looked down at his own palms, tracing his own scars with his thumb. There were many ways to kill a man. And only one way to kill a soul.
Genuflecting, he crossed himself as was the customary fashion, then slid into a pew and leaned forward, his head bowed in reverence. He no longer prayed, had forgotten how over the many centuries. Memories were blurred in his mind, unable to remember his true name. The reference of time held no meaning for him. Nothing mattered but peace of mind.

February Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Where Are Boys From, Uranus?
GENRE: YA Romantic Comedy

Maybe he’s just really shy. That’s why he won’t look at me.

“I like lots of different bands,” I say in response to my date’s fifty-billionth question. But I feel like I’m trying to get to know the steak knife instead of Tyson. All I’ve seen of him since we got to The Mango Grill is the top of his blonde, healthy hair.

He nods. Is it to let me know he’s listening? Or to make me think he’s listening?

Why did I say anything? If I keep quiet maybe he’ll actually look up at me. Maybe he spilled some sauce on his pants and the spot is shaped like a hula dancer.

I tap my fingers on my thigh. The Mango Grill is one of the few good restaurants in Cypress, so I’ve been here a million times. Decals of surfers and beaches cover the walls, and they use real cloth napkins and everything. They even serve sushi here.

“What’s your favorite book?” Tyson asks, bobbing his lowered head.

Sorry, are you asking me or your legs? I try to connect how this question has anything to do with what bands I listen to, or if I like sports, or what my religious beliefs are, or any of the other random questions he fired out before those. Up on the mini stage bordered by fake grass, a big Samoan guy starts singing.

February Secret Agent #41

TITLE: Tomorrow's Shadow
GENRE: YA

I knew what waited behind the curtain in exam room three. Dread coiled up inside me and made my feet heavy. Each step took a deliberate effort. Around me my classmates rushed down the hall, eager to be first or get it all over with. I envied their ignorance. They arrived one and two at a time, gasping exclamations, moaning disgust. My skin prickled. Dr. Rivers’ last minute lesson would be torture.
As if summoned by my thoughts, my teacher’s hand landed at the center of my back, propelling me those last few steps through the door and into the room. And there she was. The victim. Laid out like death’s forgotten plaything, all bruised and battered and barely alive. Left for us, a bunch of teen-aged wannabe doctors and scientists, to poke and prod and try to make sense of it all.

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

I wanted to forget the scene, just wipe it from my mind and pretend it never happened. Only I couldn’t. Her face was already carved into my dreams: my first living case of Shadow Disease.

“Miss Harbinger?”

The sharp sound of my name brought me back to the exam room.

February Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Double Star
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Where she was going didn’t matter. Where she was, she didn’t know. The pain in her chest protested each breath as her mind searched for options. Above, the limbs of the great pines held the stars hostage. The only light came from the two moons in the sky, both no more than an hour from disappearing beyond the horizon. Despite her silent pleas they continued to fall, barely visible through the thick cover of the forest. In this strange place, those few minutes of moonlight were not going to be enough. She knew the darkness concealed many secrets and, from that fact, there was no escape.

Snap. The sound from behind stopped her heart. She dared to turn around. Two glowing rubies, only feet away, rode up and down as the creature advanced on four legs.

Beware the red eyes. The boy’s whisper broke through. They are the eyes of death for you and the ones you love. His image played in her head for only a millisecond, but it filled her with courage. Her heart picked up pace and, with arms out at her sides, hands moving in frantic rhythm, she managed to stay on her feet.

She sensed each passing second could be her last when she heard the creature’s rhythmic breathing roll up from her heels. Just then, the red moon revealed an abrupt end to the forest a short distance ahead. Trust! That was her grappling hook as she threw herself over the edge and tumbled into the darkness below.

February Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: Literary Fiction

The screen blinked. A line of static throbbed across the middle of the television. Beneath the static was the same old footage, the same White Bronco, legendary by then, hurtling down the interstate. Dr. Phil narrated the abbreviated story of O.J. Simpson, the outcome of which, by the year 2007, was a foregone conclusion. His dull refresher was unnecessary, but he gave it anyway, gratified at how it sounded coming from his own mouth, and turned to the guest sitting next to him on the stage, the mustachioed Fred Goldman, who was looking grayer, looking hackneyed, still looking sad. He was as just as much of a cliché as the careening truck.

The fuzz bisected the screen obfuscating everything below Goldman’s worn eyes. It wouldn’t be long before the white noise overtook the image. Puck looked around him. Four people were sleeping in their seats, two were waiting for the restaurant to open. An older man read the discarded living section from yesterday’s newspaper. Only one person was watching the television — him. He stood up and hit the side of it. Dr. Phil snapped back from the whiteout holding up Simpson's book, his head shaking, almost certainly describing the infamous Night of the Murder of Nicole and Ron. It was three in the morning and the Greyhound sign was the only light at that hour in that part of town. Fred Goldman sighed on the screen above Puck's head and the few passengers waiting for their buses lowered their eyes and drifted off to sleep.

February Secret Agent #38

TITLE: The River of Gold
GENRE: Middle Grade Adventure

The small plane yawed toward the setting sun as we droned along above the jagged snow-capped peaks. Nothing had prepared me for the sheer size of the landscape below. Purple and white mountains stretched on either side of us as far as I could see. Huge glaciers like glass rivers wound down into the shadowy valleys. “It’s all so big,” I said.

“Yes,” Dirk said. “Alaska is a huge place. Easy for a man to get lost and never be seen again.”

Beside me, my dog Sparky stood on my lap with his front paws on the window. He whined and then licked my nose. “I think Sparky needs to go,” I said.

“Once we get to Fairbanks, we’ll just have time to get our things together and get to the boarding house before dark,” Dirk said, “but I’m sure we can let a small dog make a stop.”

Dirk Armstrong, my uncle, is a famous anthropologist. Besides teaching at New York University, he travels all over the world studying different peoples and cultures. Last week, Uncle Dirk called to let me know he was joining a huge expedition in Alaska. “We’ll be at the Yukon River,” he said. “I’ll be studying an Inuit village and some other men will be going along to study the wildlife and geology. I’d like you to come along, Brock. And of course you can bring Sparky.”

“I don’t know,” I said. Dodging polar bears and sleeping in igloos in the frozen north didn’t sound like much fun.

February Secret Agent #37

TITLE: Forgotten
GENRE: YA Spy

I knew from the first day of school that Mrs. Dane was insane, but I never realized quite how much until that day in November when she opened a class by emphatically stating, “Imagine all the wonderful things in our world that would not have been achieved without violence! What a magnificent way of solving conflicts! Don’t you agree?”

We, of course, replied with a hearty round of silence.

“Well, DON’T YOU???”

This was met with a smattering of, “Um. Of course, Mrs. Dane,” and, “Do I get an A if I say yes?”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, because, here we go again, Mrs. Dane was back into one of her fits – err, lectures. They had a pretty high entertainment value, actually, though I’m sure that wasn’t the effect she was going for with them. You know that saying “Make Peace, Not War”? Well, she was completely the opposite. Fighting and wars were totally her thing. She was obsessed.

She had started out her first day of school speech saying that her favorite sport was boxing. I mean, who does that? The next day, I arrived late to find that no one was in the front row, which meant that I was stuck sitting there by myself. Freaked the heck out of me when she punched the door closed behind me. I think she might have cackled, too, but that was probably (hopefully) just my imagination.

February Secret Agent #36

TITLE: POTION OF DOOM
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Her teacher was wrong. Not all bats were nocturnal. Stella flipped through the notebook on her school desk. She kept an animal journal and the bats she had seen were odd – maybe a new species. She pushed her sunglasses further up her nose and scoured her entries under “Strange Sightings.”

Her finger slid down the page. Yes! She raised her hand and blurted. “Yesterday, I saw bats flying in broad daylight. I know that we have bats in North Carolina, but these were some sort of giant mutant species.” Leaning forward, she tapped the page. “And they had a ‘Z’ on their bellies!”

The teacher dropped her eraser. “What?”

The entire Possum Trot Elementary fifth grade class looked at Stella as if she’d just blown peas out of her nose.

“Stella, that’s very … interesting.” The teacher turned to the board.

Stella’s shoulders fell as snickers surrounded her. She shouldn’t have said mutants. Now she’d have to put up with another round of teasing.

“Woof, woof, dog eyes,” Cody whispered behind her. Stella sighed. She always wore sunglasses to hide her eyes. Her classmates said she must be part animal, because only dogs and cats could have one blue eye and one brown eye.

“Wooooofffffaafaafaa.”

Stella smiled slyly. Dumb Cody didn’t realize it was really a compliment. Animals had special powers. Her grandmother, the town psychic, had taught Stella about Animal Medicine. If you paid attention to the animals that crossed your path, you would receive messages to help you.

February Secret Agent #35

TITLE: This Is Free Berlin
GENRE: YA

It was easy for him to listen in on his dad and Sgt. Stepanek that night. By August 12, 1961, Chet Hightower had been living in Berlin so long that his brain no longer distinguished between German, Russian, or English. Having wandered in for a glass of something cold from the fridge, he’d found them hunkered down, heads together across the tiny kitchen table, speaking low in a language they thought he couldn’t understand.

“It’s all I’ve been hearing about for weeks -- concrete and bricks. Work crews….” Stepanek shook his head. “The Reds are finally doing a little housekeeping. Good for them…but Christ Almighty! Can’t someone over there start shooting?”

“I had a talk with the analysts today. Tried to get us assigned something else, but no dice. They want us on this construction thing.” Chet’s dad swirled the last ounce of beer around the bottom of the bottle, then upended it.

“Hey Dad, Sgt. Stepanek.” Chet ambled in and began rummaging in the fridge. Even with his head halfway into the cold white box he heard the mood of the room change.

“Hey son,” his dad said in English. “Could you throw us a couple more pivos?”

Chet set two more beers on the table between his dad and Mr. Stepanek, then waited for the invitation to sit down and join the conversation. He hadn’t seen his father in days – Sgt. Hightower had been pulling the graveyard shift at the Field Station.

February Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Anomaly
GENRE: YA Paranormal

It sucks when you love someone and they don’t love you back. That’s all I can think about as I watch Michael park his dented blue Honda in my driveway.

Dropping my camera bag on the porch, I meet him halfway down the sidewalk lined with Mom’s pumpkin orange marigolds. When his lips part, I hook my thumbs in the back pockets of my jeans, and wonder if he’s finally going to say he likes me more than a friend, tell me that he doesn’t know how he’s going to make it through the summer without me.

“All packed up?” He gives me a quirky smile.

“Yup,” I rock back and forth on my heels, hiding my disappointment.

His eyes shift past me and he waves. “Hey! Rachel!”

I turn around and see my other best friend jogging up the sidewalk in her cheer leading uniform, her ponytail bobbing behind her.

The love-struck gleam in Michael’s eyes makes me want to shrivel up and die.

I swallow my feelings like gulping down nasty cough medicine and say, “You should ask her out.”

Michael’s face takes on a flustered shade of red. “What—wait. You think she’d say yes?”

I shrug, unable to bring myself to say more before Rachel joins us on the sidewalk.

“Sorry I’m late. Coach was being a butt and kept us too long.” She tackles me with a hug. “I’m going to miss you so much, Maya Beans.”

I hug her back because I’m going to miss her too.

February Secret Agent #33

TITLE: No Body to Love
GENRE: YA paranormal

I still don’t know exactly how it happened.

One minute, I was staring past Dr. Jackson’s face through the plate glass window wishing I could be anywhere, anywhere, but where I was. It wasn’t anything against Dr. Jackson. She’s pretty cool, for a dentist, but I hated being trapped in that chair with the mask strapped across my nose, the whine of the drill in my ear and that sick, metallic taste of ground tooth on my tongue. So I focused on the trees outside, the gently waving branches, the leaves fluttering in the fresh air. And somehow, I got my wish. I wasn’t in the dentist’s chair anymore, but my body was.

It was like the window had morphed into a wide screen and I was watching a movie of myself. I could see Dr. Jackson sitting on a stool and her assistant checking the dials on the laughing gas. In between them, in the chair was somebody wearing my black flip-flops, my faded denim shorts. What had to be my ponytail spilled over the side of the chair and pooled on the floor like black ink. Dr. Jackson actually wheeled over it, but I felt no tug on my head. I heard no buzz from the drill. I heard birds chirping. That's when I realized I didn’t see the tree anymore because I was in it. And I nearly fell out when a guy’s voice spoke from right behind me. “It’s your first time, isn’t it?”

February Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Exhiled to Fear
GENRE: YA

No one believes me when I say the Nationals hire kids to spy on us. You know your classmate, the one the teacher favors?

A spy.

Maybe a killer.

Just ask my best friend whose body is rotting in a grave back in Arizona.

Here’s what I know so far.

It started a month ago, when Dianne said, “I changed my mind about how I’m going to die.”

I looked up from my new Equalreader. My best friend was sitting on the bed opposite mine. She was sleeping over—her mother’s night to work at the hospital—and she was doodling on her homework screen. Dianne was the nice sister I never had. My real sister resented my very existence and kept insisting I was adopted, so Dianne’s friendship kept me alive.

“Again?” I asked.

Dianne started this last year by betting me a million dollars she’d die in a shootout when she was 26. Since then, she’s changed her bet a dozen times. Her most recent version was dying in a scuba accident at age 19, during her honeymoon.

She looked up and wiped a tear. “I think something horrible is going to happen.”

“All your choices are horrible,” I pointed out, trying to reassure her. "Just pick something quick like a heart attack so we can finish our homework.”

“You think I choose how I’ll die? These are dreams. And this time it's Alex who kills me. In Tucson.”

It turned out she was wrong about the Tucson part.

February Secret Agent #31

TITLE: The Golgothian Go-Go
GENRE: Urban Fantasy


The eight-foot penis was back for another beer and a shot. There were two other giant penises at my bar, one about seven feet tall who was drinking screwdrivers, and a discerning ten-foot-tall model wearing a cape and plastic fangs. Drajacula was sipping scotch and soda, disgruntled that his Johnny Walker Black was being served in a humble plastic tumbler—as if I cared how a giant vampire penis preferred his scotch—particularly an evil one from a rival Coven.

The Blackroods were slimy types, and no thanks to one of their skanky girlfriends, I was sporting a bruised eye under my pirate’s patch. Flipping the cape back over my shoulder, I slammed the scotch down on the bar and took Drajacula’s twenty with a look that said, “Try me.” Though Coven Blackrood wasn’t shopping for supernatural mates, I liked them even less than the Skinshifters who were.
Giving him a little growl, I tucked his change into my booty jar. He succumbed to premature evacuation, blending back into Freaks-Fest festering crowd. He was another fledgling warlock who wouldn’t return to my corner bar, despite the Coven’s fascination with my unique abilities. I was saving my angst for the immediate agenda—the real monsters who were loose in the full-moon Halloween crowd, and the hotel’s two missing employees.

The phone on my hip vibrated, flashing with a 911 from my best friend: “Harrys HERE!!!”

I texted Seejayne back with a: “WTF???” my last mug of burned coffee starting a squall in my belly.

February Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Remembered
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

“Why does it vex you so?”

The Chancellor’s smooth voice echoed against the stone, accentuating both the size and emptiness of the hall. Aleksandr rested against the wall, his gaze drifting over the courtyard below. He still wore the battered and beaten clothing from yesterday’s successful raid. In the early morning light, a slight haze coated the dusty ground, obscuring most of the cottages in the distance. The acrid stench of soot and ash wafted from the east where thick billows of smoke rose on the horizon. Word had come late yesterday about the revolt in Paris, but it had been dwarfed amongst the celebration here. A small crowd was already gathered around the gallows in the center of the courtyard. Aleksandr frowned when the Chancellor repeated his question.

“How could it not?”

The restrained anger made the French he spoke clumsy. Aleksandr struggled to control the disdain, knowing he shouldn’t direct it towards his superior. He wasn’t angry with him, not angry with anyone in particular…except maybe himself for being this weak.

The elder council leader approached with a measured pace, his age just beginning to show in the slightly stiffened movements. Even decades removed from the field, Aleksandr knew the Chancellor was still as deadly as the Sentinels his council oversaw, the same warriors Aleksandr led. The Chancellor’s wizened face held the emotional control of the politician he had become in order to lead, but his eyes betrayed his confusion. He genuinely didn’t understand Aleksandr.

That made two of them.

February Secret Agent #29

TITLE: THE REGENERATED MAN AND ME
GENRE: MG historical science fiction

Mama said it was plum foolishness to keep my cousin’s dog tags like that, with his blood still stuck between the ridges of his name. “Don’t know why Mildred won’t wash ’em,” Mama muttered one day while scrubbing dishes. “It’s like she thinks that blood will keep Robby alive somehow, like it’ll keep him with her. And we both know that’s plum foolishness.” She shook a soapy finger in my face. “That’s foolishness, Ella Mae, and don’t let anyone tell you any differently. Especially Auntie Mildred.”
But that was exactly what Mildred told me. “It’s not foolishness, Ella Mae,” she said one day while sweeping floors. “It’s science.” She gave the broom a flick. “And one of these days, those eggheads who invented the atomic bomb are going to figure out how to create life instead of just destroy it.”
I never told Auntie Mildred what Mama had said, and I never told Mama what Auntie Mildred had said, either. Those two already had enough to fight about, seeing as how they were sisters and all. In fact, when Mama answered the telephone that Saturday afternoon, I figured it was Auntie Mildred calling to resume their ongoing argument about Ajax.

But I was only half right.

“Settle down, Mildred,” Mama said, since she wasn’t the sort to stand for anyone’s shenanigans (least of all Auntie Mildred’s). “Now what’s this about Robby?”

I stopped chomping on my asparagus. Something told me I’d want to hear every word of this particular conversation.

February Secret Agent #28

TITLE: ONE
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Most Ones start with an ability everyone thinks will turn into a superpower. A really fast runner might have muscles that can’t take the strain after a few seconds. Or a kid who can stretch an arm out really far will wait days for it to pull back into place. They put up with getting teased at Superhero High, waiting for their Second – in those cases, enhanced muscle power or elasticity - to show up. While they do, that One power starts to fade. There are still shimmers of it, but after a while the kid quits trying and the One fizzles into nothingness.

Then their parents ship them off to Normal High, like mine did. Here’s my secret: I never quit trying.

Most nights at dusk and some mornings before sunrise, I practice. I push myself off the ground, telling my body to go weightless, and hover there, an inch, two, six, then a foot. I stay there for seconds, then minutes.

I can’t generate enough tension between my body and the air to take a step - can’t even make myself drift. I’d give anything to be able to float along like a freaking ghost. For a long time, I tried to move. Once I tried so hard my muscles strained, then burned, then ached, then trembled, and I hovered there behind the shed, weeping and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, until I heard Dad come out the back door to look for me. Then I collapsed on the grass.

February Secret Agent #27

TITLE: The Mourning Cloak
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Mommy, make him stop.”

Hanna jerked awake at the sound of the panicked whisper in her ear. She turned her head toward the voice and as usual, there was no one at her bedside. Her eyes flicked to her giant digital clock with its blue over-sized numbers. Just like every night for the last two months, it glowed 11:11 p.m. This was really starting to piss her off. She gleaned nothing from these experiences and blew it off to mounting stress.

It was only two months since she pulled her father off life support. That was one of the hardest things she ever had to do and she couldn’t seem to scrape the sounds and images of his death from her mind. He was all she had left.

She swung her legs off the bed, clicked on the lamp, and rubbed the sleep from her eyes with her palms. She stared askance at the red suitcase sitting in the corner with mixed feelings of trepidation and resolve. As exhausted as she was, she figured she might as well get going. It was a long drive to Destiny, WV.
As she pulled on her jeans she realized she had no one to call even if she wanted to cry for help. Her recent sorrow and guilty past had settled into her bones. She deserved to suffer for the things she’d done. The shame of it was a coiling serpent around her heart and she was past the point of amelioration.

February Secret Agent #26

TITLE: HOW TO DATE A NERD
GENRE: YA Contemporary Romance


Rules of keeping up your popular rep:

Number one, the shorter the skirt, the better.

Number two, natural hair color is a thing of the past.

Number three, high heels are an extension of your foot. To go without them would be like losing a toe.
Number four, guys are disposable, and should never be used more than once or for an extended period of time.

And number five, never ever reveal you collect Star Wars memorabilia, you know every line to Lord of the Rings, and you actually know the birthdates of all the Harry Potter cast members.

Yeah. I’m a total closeted nerd.

I'm not cool with pity glares in the hallways, painful jabs, and permanent scars. No thanks. It's much easier to keep my true nature hidden beneath layers of eyeliner, skimpy outfits, and even I must admit to myself, a rockin’ body. Though the push up bras tend to do most of the work.

Welcome to high school. Where everyone tries to be someone else.

Well… everyone except Zak.

Zakary Gibbons is my next door neighbor. I blame him for my extreme nerdy behavior. He was the one to introduce me to the awesomeness of the Elvish Language, the hidden mysteries of World of Warcraft, and the magical world that lies beyond Platform 9 ¾. And for some strange reason, when we reached the age of fifteen, he didn’t understand that being accepted into the right cliques in high school was the most important thing.

February Secret Agent #25

TITLE: Frosty
GENRE: Contemporary YA

My ears tingled from the biting wind and the swirling snow, but I stayed outside to smoke. The caseworker thought I was nuts, but I liked the cold. It numbed me… relaxed me. Besides, I couldn’t smoke inside—those were the rules.

After finishing a second cigarette, my nerves were calm. Jim pulled up in a dark Mercedes. Cool—none of my former foster families were wealthy. I met him and Lana a week ago, but not their daughter Brooke. This time the caseworker suggested placing me in a family with a teenage girl. As if me and Brooke would be close friends and my senior year would be the best ever. I was smart enough to know that would never happen. I just needed to get through these last six months with the Claytons and I’d be on my own.

The light spilled out of Jim’s car and he opened his mouth to say something. Instead, he shook his head and laid his hand on my shoulder, guiding me inside.

“Good evening, Sydney,” he said once we reached the door.

Um, not really, Jim. Kind of crappy outside. Didn’t you notice the blizzard?

We sat down to do some paperwork and Jim wrinkled up his nose. He must not be a smoker. I checked out the bare gray room while the caseworker shuffled through a stack of papers. Why did these meetings always take place in dark and dreary rooms?

February Secret Agent #24

TITLE: The Witch's Garden
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Magic was overrated. What Zellie really needed was a new way to braid her hair.

Letting it hang freely wasn’t an option. It got everywhere, snagging on furniture and doorknobs, a terrible nuisance. She didn’t spare a thought on the possibility of cutting it; it was the best way she could help protect the garden. So she would just have to keep trying new braiding techniques until she found something that held for more than a few hours and didn’t leave strands of hair sticking out all over.

Zellie eyed herself in the mirror, face framed by unruly cascades of yellow. Mother had taught her the basic braid form when she was six years old, sitting before this very mirror. She didn’t have much patience for it herself, grumbling about snarls and tangles, chiding Zellie to stop squirming and squealing. So Zellie started doing the braiding herself as soon as she learned how.

She could try braiding it in layers. One on top, two or three more beneath. She began dividing her hair into sections and weaving them together. The familiar motions were comforting. Whenever she was frustrated or annoyed, nothing could soothe her as well as a few minutes of braiding.

With a final flick of the last strands, Zellie examined the finished product. Still not quite what she was aiming for. She’d try again tomorrow. If she spent too much time staring in a mirror she started to imagine she was seeing things that weren't in the room behind her.

February Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Border Crossing
GENRE: Adult Literary

Two years of opening hospital-room doors hadn’t eased the dread of seeing her tiny son lying vulnerable as a soft-bellied fish on the starched white sheets of the bed, wires and tubes surrounding him like the tentacles of a giant squid. Knowing that those mechanical tentacles monitored his fragile heart and fed him the medicine that kept him alive didn’t stifle the anxiety: How will Koji be today? Is it a good day or a bad day? Yuki counted silently to three and pushed the door open.

Koji’s crooked, five-year-old grin beamed out from his moon face, and she could tell right away it was a good day. Even better: the mechanical tentacles were stored neatly away. Her little fish was free. Yuki scooped him up into her arms, pressing his small, bony chest to her. She nuzzled into his neck, searching for his smell underneath the hospital antiseptic.

“You’re squishing me, Mama,” Koji said, squirming from her embrace.

“Sorry, sweetheart. I’m just so happy to see you.”

“Why?”

“I’m always happy to see you, silly.”

“Oh,” said Koji and he looked nervously at Asana, the nurse, who was fussing around the room, rolling up a piece of plastic tubing and stowing it in the cabinet.

Yuki stood up and bowed in greeting, silently chastising herself for not acknowledging the woman sooner.

Asana handed Yuki Koji’s chart and said, “From a heart standpoint, it was a good day.”

Yuki nodded vigorously, her excitement building as she looked at his numbers.

February Secret Agent #22

TITLE: See You Soon
GENRE: Women's Fiction

As a child, Anne Donnelly feared the dark, the depths of the woods, and most of all, snakes. As an adult, the only thing that scared her was the dead of night. More specifically, being jolted awake by the ringing of her cell phone. In that split second, anything was possible. Was her brother in a car accident? Had something happened to her niece, Josie? A thousand horrible, gruesome images coursed through her sleep-delirious mind.

The night started off normally enough, even though she and Mickey, her boyfriend of five months, arrived home to Key West later than planned from a weekend of camping on the mainland. As had become habit, instead of going to her brother’s house where she lived for two years, she went to Mickey’s. After unloading their limited gear from his vintage Triumph motorcycle, they grabbed a quick bite. She kissed his cheek and crawled into his soft, king-sized bed alone, not happy about bidding farewell to the weekend. She liked her job enough, loved the people with whom she worked. But selling men’s sportswear on a Monday morning begged for more motivation than she could usually muster.
Mickey, in the basement painting and listening to music, wouldn’t have heard her cell, vibrating on the bedside table. He wouldn’t have witnessed her turn to the phone and, without checking the caller ID, answer it. Most importantly, he wouldn’t have experienced the stillness of her heart and lungs when the caller on the other end identified himself.

February Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Extraction
GENRE: YA Sci-fi

I stand in the dirt watching the moon slip away, clutching the fence that separates my shack from the street. At intervals, my grip tightens on the wood, and my knuckles whiten.

Today is the day I must prove I deserve to stay alive.

The sun rises. Children emerge from doorways and head down the road. I wonder if they stayed awake all night, like I did. I wonder where Logan is and what's taking him so long to meet me here.

In a puddle in the dirt, I glimpse a pale, anxious face. I bite my lip and stare at each minuscule shard of wood in the fence.

Speed up, I urge time. Then, slow down.

My fingers squeeze the fence so hard they burn.

“Hey, Clem!”

I snap my head up.

Logan hobbles toward me, holding something in his hand.

I start running to meet him, maybe to yell at him for taking so long, but I see what it is, what he's holding. And I stop moving.

In his fingers, he twirls a flower that could kill me.

I like to think I'm one of the braver kids. Sure, some days the whippings and beatings make me wanna curl up in a ball. When I dream of Logan getting carted off to quarantine, I wake drenched in sweat and trembling, but I master it pretty quick. I get over it. I have to be good at ignoring my fear, 'cause how else will I prove I deserve to escape it?

February Secret Agent #20

TITLE: Drego's Sword
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Drego didn’t look back as he headed down the dirt road, small pack slung over one shoulder and heavy sword strapped to his back. He knew if he looked, he’d lose his resolve. And he had too many questions to allow that to happen. He could feel his coastal home town of Karo dropping further and further behind him, pink dawn light blossoming across the sky. The thick forest ahead was waking up with the sounds of birds and insects.

He felt doubt prod at the edges of his mind, but he shoved it away. Too much had happened yesterday to be ignored. First he had been given his own sword, then he’d found a sapphire on the coast, and then that woman – Laurina – had visited him in the middle of the night and told him that he had to leave. That he had an important future.

He shook his head with a half-smile. He figured he was about as normal as a fifteen-year-old could get. Granted, he had just turned fifteen yesterday, but he already felt older. Which was odd in and of itself. It seemed no one ever felt older right after their birthday.

A warm breeze blew his thick blonde hair, his brown eyes adjusting to the increasing light. Drego was of average height and build, but perhaps more fit than others his age. He knew that was due to the hours spent sparring with his uncle, Tandem. He let a sigh escape his lips.

February Secret Agent #19

TITLE: CRY HAVOC
GENRE: YA Sci Fi

The launch ship tore through the upper cloud level and downwards, a silver line against the swirling purples and reds of Rem’s greatest storm. Ahead of them, the enemy was just a dot against the next layer of clouds, some thousand feet down. Through the slim strip of his windshield, Akita could catch only the barest glimpse of their exhaust plumes, but he knew he could catch them. He adjusted the thrust with one flick of the burn switch. Beneath him, the launch came alive from out of its sleeping dive. The vents roared. The burners rumbled. The cockpit jolted and jounced like it was ready to come apart, but like any Dog of War worth his contract price, he knew his ship. Noreaster fell like a comet from the sky. The enemy plunged into the next strip of cloud and Akita plunged with them.

“Shiba, what have we got?”

“They’re four lengths ahead of us,” said his Shepherd, priming the charge cannons with a flex of her hands. She sat in the rear Shepherd’s seat. In the mirror set up beside his console, Akita could see the distant look in her eyes and the gleam of her psychic dampeners as she gazed out past the walls of the cockpit and into the skies beyond. It was said that a well-bred Shepherd at their peak could see a stretch of sky ten miles out from their starting point. “Three and a half lengths. Akita, we’re not maxed. Put on some thrust. We can take them.”

February Secret Agent #18

TITLE: SCAVENGER HUNT
GENRE: Young Adult Mystery

I once tried to figure out how much I'd spent on comic books since I started collecting years ago and came up with a figure that would make Bill Gates freak.

I made sure my parents never saw the sheet of calculations.

It started innocently enough. I'd switched schools in fourth grade. Sitting alone at lunchtime with new-kid stink all over me, I'd noticed a few kids trading comics back and forth. Desperate for friends, I jumped in hip deep and went to the store right after school to blow my allowance on some.
Not knowing what I was looking for, it was hit or miss. I ended up with some vampire crap for girls, a few for kids in diapers, and some Japanese Manga that I didn't understand even though it was in English. I found out later you need to read it backwards. But I also got some superhero ones. A Spider-Man, an X-Men, and a Batman that I took home to read.

I didn't find any new friends, everyone having moved on to baseball cards by the next week, but I did find an exciting new obsession. I was hooked. What was not to like about superheroes who could lift a city bus and always got the girl? Who, by the way, wore costumes more revealing than a stripper's and had the bodies to match.

Fast forward to seven years later, I had boxes of them stored in acid free bags with cardboard backing to ensure their preservation.

February Secret Agent #17

TITLE: The Devourer
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Essentially, this is the story of how I died.

Melodramatic, I know, but it's the truth. And besides, I'm a teenager. I'm entitled to be at least a little melodramatic.

Don't panic. I'm not a ghost. I'm not a vampire. I'm not even a zombie. I'm still a plain, ordinary human being. Well, perhaps not quite as ordinary as I once thought, but human nevertheless!

I suppose my story really began when my best friend, Zoe, was found unconscious, sprawled in a stairwell at St. Guys hospital in central London. She was supposed to have been at my house in the suburbs, a good hour's tube journey away.

She was put in the ICU ward at St. Guys and I made the trip to visit her every day. I'd never been so thankful for the school summer holidays.

But it was about a week after she was found that the story began for me. It began with the first of the spelling mistakes…

I watched the London Underground signs flash by as the tube train pulled into the station.

London Bridge.

London Bridge.

London Brige.

I blinked and the sign was gone, another perfectly normal London Bridge sign sliding into sight as the train stopped.

I turned down the volume on my music player and all thoughts of the spelling mistake disappeared from my mind as I stepped out of the carriage and onto the platform.

February Secret Agent #16

TITLE: 'Til It Happens to You
GENRE: Young Adult

I breathe slow and deep, trying to catch my breath. The ceiling fan moves the air made warmer by our thrashing about, slowly cooling the sweat on my body. The room has a certain scent that I couldn’t have placed a short month ago but now is as familiar as my name. JP’s smoking fails to improve the air quality. I steal his cigarette, take a few quick drags and pull on my clothes. He smiles and lights another.
Completely at ease naked, sprawled across the blankets, he sighs and asks, “Where are you going?” The blue plastic ashtray on the end table looks like a whale. I grind the cigarette into its blowhole.

“Some of us work for a living.”

“You could try depending on the kindness of strangers.”

“That only works for pretty people like you and Blanche DuBois.”

“You’re beautiful and you know it.”

“You have to say that.”

“I don’t say things I don’t mean.” He looks up at me with heavy-lidded, dark brown eyes and gently kisses the back of my hand. My everything tingles. “So I’ll see you later?” I nod. The answer’s always yes. His arms wrap around me, fingers tickling my belly, pulling me to the bed. I jump up, fighting the urge to stay there. I give him a quick kiss goodbye, wishing for the thousandth time that his confidence was contagious. Being with him should be a dream come true but I’m scared crapless. How long before he completely sees through me?

February Secret Agent #15

TITLE: FORBIDDEN SECRETS
GENRE: YA Paranormal

I always failed at ordinary.

Ordinary wouldn’t have weird, freaky, come-true dreams or a scar that ached when something god-awful was about to happen. Ordinary wouldn’t have guilt hanging over my head like an anvil. And ordinary would’ve snuggled under the warmth of my down comforter, especially on a rain-soaked Sunday. Instead, I dashed down the hardwood stairs, runner-ready with iPod in hand, prepared to shave at least ten seconds off last week’s time.

Mom sat at the kitchen table, rubbing her forehead. Reddish-blonde curls pinged in all directions. Without looking away from the Asheville Citizen Times, she handed me my cell phone. “Sweetheart, do us both a favor. Don’t ignore your father this morning.”

Dad’s text read: Love the hills and they’ll love you back. Before I’d finished reading, the phone chirped again: Be one with the mud.


I twisted my hair into a ponytail, ignoring the pins and needles prickling the scar on my wrist. “What’s with his pre-flight jitters?”

Mom tapped the headline of the Sports section: WMSU Football: Coach Siefert Under Fire after 23-13 Loss.


I skimmed the article implying Dad’s contract wouldn’t be renewed. True or not, I’d tread lightly around Dad’s mood. I tapped out a quick reply: Got it Dad. Have a safe flight. Love your mud-loving, puddle-jumping machine.


I placed my phone on the table, then crouched to tie my running shoes. A sharp pain shot from my thumb to my wrist. I hid my grimace because Mom didn’t need another reason to worry.

February Secret Agent #14

TITLE: Dragon Hunt
GENRE: MG Fantasy

The dragon watched from his sunning rock as the girl made her way up the hill. He shuffled his legs under him, ready to pounce, and then forced his seven foot long, brick red body to remain curled and as still as possible, but the tip of his tail still twitched as he watched her approach. “Close your eyes,” he thought to himself. “Do not give yourself away too soon.” As the dragon’s golden eyes closed, his keen ears focused on each of the girl’s foot falls. His nostrils flared as the scent of lambs and golden lilybells drifted closer. Just a few more steps and she’d be clear of the rocks. He shifted his weight forward, waited a moment more and pounced, hovering on all fours over top of her, teeth bared and then, “Boo!”
The girl squealed with surprise and began to giggle. “Naga, you silly Dragon! Have you been hiding from me again?”

Naga chortled at the precociousness of the three and a half foot tall girl looking up at him with one hand on her hip and the other clutching a bunch of golden lilybells half hidden behind her back. Of all the human children who seemed so fascinated by Val Cairn’s Watch Dragon, she was the least annoying, the least afraid, the most engaging and truly special. “Lady Gillian, I always endeavor to offer you great sport.” He stepped back and crouched to be eye to eye with the girl.

February Secret Agent #13

TITLE: The Seakeeper
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

Greer listened to Mama’s uneven breathing until her own chest hurt from the noise. Mama had secrets. Not the kind of secrets like hiding a shopping bag in the closet the week before Christmas or like pouring store-bought pasta sauce into a saucepan and calling it homemade. Mama had bigger secrets than that. Greer just never realized how big, until Mama checked herself out of the hospital to move six states away. And all because of some fruit.

How can Dad go along with this? Greer watched Dad’s stiff posture as he pulled on the gear shift and wondered for the hundredth time how he could let Mama have her way. Greer’s bare legs stuck like duct tape to the station wagon’s rear vinyl seat as she scooted closer to the drippy window and wiped it with her palm. The car rattled up a gravel driveway and a sliver of moonlight leaked through the clouds, sending tree shadows stretching like witch fingers across the windows. Dark towering walls at the top of the hill loomed over the car.

“Are you sure Uncle Llewellyn won’t be here?” Greer shivered as the shadows of her great-uncle’s mansion seemed to rise out of the ground and swallow up the surrounding forest.

“I’m certain.” Mama’s hoarse whisper from the front seat no longer resembled her once honey-smooth voice. She rarely said more than one sentence at a time these days. She just didn’t have enough air.

February Secret Agent #12

TITLE:   Waterstone
GENRE: Adult Literary

He had been gone this time for two months when she found him by accident. She had been out ranging the woods and lowlands, checking her traps, when she spotted the Turkey Buzzards. Curious, she followed their spirals earthward till her eyes rested on a white shape where no white should be. Pa. For some reason he had cut through the bog—or maybe for no reason. Why would a water witch bother with marshland? Drunk, maybe.

From a distance, Mattie detached the feeling part of herself to study the scene. The winter drought had shrunk the beaver pond to half, leaving a shore of canes and tussocks and solid-looking muck. She shook her head to concentrate. This was her cue to act. But she couldn’t move. A chill ran down her spine to her feet, freezing them in place. While in life, Pa had looked eerie enough, almost a spectre—blond-white hair hanging limply down his back; skin almost albino, except below the hat brim where the sun had burned his jaw pink; eyes so pale a blue, you’d think they were white as well. Now, he had become a horror.

A breeze carried across his stench. Mattie felt the bile surging from her gut. She gagged and covered her mouth just in time. The idea of touching him…it wrenched her stomach again. This time the liquid rose with such force, she couldn’t stop it. Afterwards, her muscles contracted like bellows until her belly ached.

February Secret Agent #11

TITLE: THE SYMPTOMS OF OUR SHADOWS
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Before I could stop myself, I reached for my hair, my fingers smoothing over my naked scalp. Gone, it was all gone. Even now, almost a year later it still came as a shock. I did this several times a day, like clockwork. It felt like a phantom limb, my hair.

My oncologist for the last year or so, Dr. Meredith, bustled through his office door. Noise from the hallway bled through for just a moment, before the door shut behind him, sealing us in. My mom drummed her fingers on her leg, a nervous habit. Dad reached over and took her hand in his, absorbing her tension.

Dr. Meredith was a large, robust man, and jolly, too with rosy cheeks and this perpetual baby powder smell. I always thought he would be better suited as a Santa Claus at the Green Oaks Mall rather than a doctor charged with the duty of delivering earth-shattering news. Maybe his appearance was supposed to soften the blow. The bad news is you have cancer. The good news is Santa Claus is your doctor. Peppermint stick for your trouble?

I’d always had this strange affinity for fat doctors. I wondered if they got on their scales every morning, shook their fists at death, and said, “Ha! Still fat and still breathing, suckers!” But, seriously, they knew how very possible it was to just die. At any moment and for no reason. Death did not discriminate.

February Secret Agent #10

TITLE: Three Days of Rain
GENRE: Adult Upmarket Commercial

He pulled into the parking lot, turned off the ignition, dropped his head to the steering wheel and tried to will Madison out of his head. He wasn’t sure how much more remembering he could take. When she left him broken in the hospital two years ago, she’d taken every dream, every hope, every future Jake had planned.

He knew it had been too long for him to still be too shattered to mend but it was easier walking through life with ghosts than facing reality. He knew waiting two years for Madison to come back just so he could confront her was tragic and sad. But still, there he sat; trying to convince himself she’d come back, just as he had everyday since she left. And when he’d finally shook himself free for the time being, he climbed out of his pickup, threw his baseball hat on the seat and walked across the graveled lot, wet with early summer rain, and opened the door.

As he walked in, Jake searched the tables with tired eyes for her familiar face, just as he did every day. The same familiar face that haunted him for two years; a face that burned in his memory with a mix of emotion. Of course, she wasn’t there and she probably would never come back. Not that he knew what he’d say to her if she did. Even so, everyone around him feared Jake would wait for her with the forgiveness she didn’t deserve.

February Secret Agent #9

TITLE: Hamish's Heart
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

Hamish found his birth certificate in a crumpled envelope, in a creased and sagging box, in a cobwebbed corner of the attic. The box attracted his attention one day because it was crushed against the farthest wall — well beyond the yellow, dusty light pouring in from two dirty windows — and it was the darkest, dirtiest place in the attic to hide. He slid himself between the box and the spiders' nests on the wall to hide from his father who was thumping up the stairs to find him.

Hamish could hear his father breathe, deep and deliberate, as he reached the top step and scanned the attic with his sharp, blue glare. Hamish held his own breath, ignoring the prickling itch creeping up his back, stifling thoughts of a million baby spiders bursting out of their nests to invade his clothing.
“Hamish, just you wait!” his mother's shrill, angry voice called up the steps. Hamish did wait. He waited until his father retraced his steps down to his cooling dinner and out the door again to the pub, until his mother's calls subsided to inaudible grumbles and dissipated into the clattering noise of dishes being washed and dried; he waited until the house was quiet and the dust motes in the attic turned gray in the fading afternoon light.

*


When Hamish finally stood up, his legs had been asleep for some time. Giant-stepping over the box as quietly as he could, he wobbled, catching the edge on his toe as he stepped over.

February Secret Agent #8

TITLE: TURN OF CRAZE
GENRE: WOMEN'S FICTION

“Allison.” Her boss’s head appeared over the edge of her cubicle and startled the pen right out of her hand. She hated any kind of pop-in, but especially the work pop-in. Fucking cubicles, there was nowhere to hide. “Is everything ready for the meeting?”

“Yes Evan, we’re all set.”

“Okay, I’m counting on you. This could be big, you know.”

“I know, I know. No worries. You’re going to be great.”

“We’re going to be great. I swear I don’t know what I’d do without you, Allison.” Earnestness warmed his eyes and caused his handsome head to tilt at a ‘My life depends on whether or not you believe me’ angle and instantly all annoyances were forgotten. “Listen, the meeting is at four so swing by my office half an hour prior and we’ll go over everything.”

“Okay. I’ll see you at 3:30.”

Allison waited for Evan to walk away before retrieving her pen from under the desk. All of her notes and charts were in order, which left an hour to kill before she was needed, and she decided to spend it indulging in her favorite pastime of late- reminiscing about the good old days. Considering she wasn’t even thirty yet, using the term ‘good old days’ was admittedly a bit melodramatic, but it sure felt accurate. Good, because they were full of laughter and hope, and old, because it seemed like a lifetime ago. Laughter and Hope. Both used to fill her days and both of which were presently in short supply.

February Secret Agent #7

TITLE: SEXUAL POLITICS
GENRE: YA contemporary

Hands sweating, eyes closed, I stand on the threshold of the audition room for the senior play and feel family pushing against me, or maybe it's just their voices I hear.

Dad's on my left side, leaning in, whispering that it's all up to me now to get that law degree, and Mom's on my right, poking me with her elbow, urging me on.

My brother, Jake, who doesn't have a logical neuron in his brain, dribbles his basketball between my legs and tells me to take the spot because he can't.

Only my little sister, Ruthie, doesn't press. At eight, and the smartest one in the family, she's too busy meditating to comment.

My heart pounds when a couple of other girls come up behind and sweep me inside the door with them. Good thing, too, because I was just about to answer my family and then everybody would think I was crazy. Not that everybody doesn't talk to themselves constantly in their head. My psychology teacher said so. He even said it's not crazy if you answer yourself, but I'm not the one to test it out.

The room smells like nervous perspiration, mostly mine.

I've got the grades, and if I get the lead, it could be my ticket into Columbia University. ..One step closer to upholding the family tradition.

Nicola Crowe, Ariel Anderson, and Emma Olsen, three girls from my English class, give me that you're-an-outsider glance.

February Secret Agent #6

TITLE: Found in US
GENRE: Narrative non-fiction

I ran away once.

June. 2002. Though I lived on my own, had no significant other, no children, and no responsibilities to anyone other than myself, I still needed to run far, far away. What I was running from, I wasn’t quite sure. Perhaps it was reality, perhaps it was memory. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

I arrived in Indianapolis, Indiana. Night had fallen, and I was tired and hungry. The green and red neon sign of Applebee’s lured me in with its promise of comfort foods. I spoke into my microphone for the final time that evening. I want to talk to another human being because I’m weighted by my thoughts from this long day on the road. I feel confused about myself—who I am and who I want to be. I followed the routes detailed on my maps, and my car never veered off course, but I am completely lost. Somehow, I am feeling more like a stranger in my own skin than I am to the unfamiliar faces here. My original intention was to interview average Americans while driving across country because in the past several months my life had been consumed by an edginess I had never before experienced.

I hit stop and packed the Dictaphone and my feelings away in the glove compartment. I walked toward Applebee’s excited to find the courage to meet some new people. The crowd was the spitting image of the patrons that I might see at a Friday’s back in Massachusetts.

February Secret Agent #5

TITLE: Chasing Wilde
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Blonde tendrils circle her face giving the appearance she wrapped her hair around wine corks and left it to dry. She’s wearing the pink tweed suit she wore to my college graduation and the scent of must fills my nose. She’s stuck in front of the mirror in my foyer, mesmerized by her appearance.

“How do I look?”

I glance at my watch. “Beautiful, gorgeous. I’m sure they’ll get some good pictures.” She steps up to the mirror and her nose almost touches the glass. “I’m pretty sure they do your makeup there, you know,” I offer.

She pulls her skin, stretching her lips out like the Joker. A lifetime has passed when she finally backs away. “Are they experienced? You know, Hilda went to beauty school…” Her expression turns, like she’s remembering something unpleasant. “I miss having a personal assistant.”

“I miss that for you too, but we need to get going.”

Her sigh is deep and heavy. “You know how things are. I need a good photo for my business cards. No one is going to hire a sixty-year-old real estate agent with no experience and a bad headshot.”

I know Mom’s anxious about her venture into employment, but a photo shoot at Glamour Shots is only going to do so much. The fact she spent her inheritance from Dad, moved in with me, and has to find her first job when most people are retiring is the real problem. Mom’s now paying for a life of delusion.