Tuesday, July 30, 2013

And so I'm leaving in the morning...

Part of me gets all "I can't leave them! I can't let the blog chug silently along without me!".  But the bigger part of me does cartwheels and dances on furniture in sheer abandon.

So here's the deal.  I've never been away from the blog during a submission process.  Not that I'm all that necessary, mind you!  Michael's automated systems works beautifully on its own.  The reason I like to hang around is just to make sure there are no problems.  So on Monday the 5th, if you run into a problem, please email Michael at katowulf(at)gmail.com.

Note:  Please don't email to ask a silly question or to tell him how awesome he is (even though it's true) or to explain why the third line of your submission has to be in blue italics (no, it doesn't).  Save your emails for legitimate problems or concerns.  Other than that, let the bot do its work.

On Wednesday the 7th, I will check my email once or twice during the day.  If you notice a formatting error in your submission, please email me right away.  I will fix those for you.  (Mr. A and I will be back from our "second honeymoon" by then, so I will have a little time at my parents' house to check in here.)

If you are planning to enter the SA, please save the information in this post!  I want to make sure everyone knows the game plan.


If I am, please comment below.  Otherwise--SEE YOU A WEEK AND A HALF!  Keep writing, keep believing, keep delighting in the small moments.


Monday, July 29, 2013

August Secret Agent Early Info

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open next Monday, August 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.thoughbin.org
* THIS WILL BE A LOTTERY: The submission window will be open from NOON to 6:00 PM EDT.  Once the submission window is closed, the bot will randomly choose the winning entries.
* 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 (February-July) will not be accepted.
* You may submit A DIFFERENT MANUSCRIPT if you've participated in any previous Secret Agent contests.
* Only ONE ENTRY per person per contest. If you send more than one, your subsequent entry(ies) will be rejected.
* If you WON A CONTEST WITHIN THE PAST 12 MONTHS (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:

  • Middle Grade (all genres)
  • Young Adult (all genres)
  • Women's Fiction

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Yesterday I gently admonished you (because I love you! I do!), and today I'll ease up and just give you a run-down of the upcoming schedule on MSFV.  I'm leaving for vacation in five days (fivedaysfivedaysfivedaysfivedays!!!!!), but I will have things running on auto-pilot with an emergency back-up person in the wings.

So here we go:

MONDAY, JULY 29:  Submission guidelines for our August Secret Agent Contest
MONDAY, AUGUST 5:  The August Secret Agent Contest
MONDAY, AUGUST 12:  Secret Agent Unveiled



A reminder:  There will be Secret Agent contests in September and October, and none in November or December (because of the Baker's Dozen).  We will be having our logline critique rounds as usual, starting in September, to prepare for the Baker's Dozen submissions.

Also, please remember that the Baker's Dozen is the only contest for which I charge an entry fee.  This year's fee is $10, same as last year.  Please plan accordingly.

And I'm off to tackle Friday!  See you Monday, my sweet pickles.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Tweet By Any Other Name

I was scrolling through my new followers on Twitter this morning, and, naturally, a lot of them are writers.  Most of them, really.  But what's interesting is the way they choose to identify themselves on their profile pages.

So interesting, in fact, that I'd like to point some of them out.

I am the (aspiring) author of [insert title of novel].

Folks.  If you are in the middle of writing a novel, you are not aspiring to write it.  You are, in fact, writing it.  Unless, of course, all you're really doing is sitting on the sofa and dreaming about writing a novel.  In which case, you are not an author at all.

Author and writer

Really?  You're both?  How do you determine which of your works are authored and which are written?  Doesn't that get confusing?

Aspiring writer

Again, one does not aspire to write.  One writes.  The term "aspiring author" is often used to denote someone who is attempting to get published, but I wonder what the term "aspiring writer" is meant to denote.  "I'm going to write one day when I find some extra time"?

Wannabe writer

Perhaps another case of simply dreaming about writing some day.  Except that the bio goes on to say that this person is working on a first novel.  Which is more than just wannabeing a writer.  Right?

Writer. Aspiring author of [insert title of novel].

I see the distinction that's trying to be made here:  This person is comfortable with the term "writer", but wants to make it clear that the novel hasn't been published yet.  Is this really necessary?  Surely there's a way to say this without sounding like "writer" and "aspiring author" are two separate entities.

My point is not to poke fun (you know me better than that).  My point is: CALL YOURSELF WHAT YOU ARE.  Own it.

Well, figure it out first.  Get it in your head that you don't have to make a distinction between "writer" and "author" in your Twitter bio (or any bio).  Yes, there's the implied "author means you're published" thing.  (I have debated this in the past.)  If you're not comfortable with "author" because you're not yet published, then use writer.


That about covers it.  And it also makes you sound confident instead of wishy-washy or apologetic or confused.

You could try, I WRITE.  Or be more specific:  I WRITE MG AND YA FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION.

If you're just dipping your toes in the water, you might say, I'M WRITING MY FIRST NOVEL.  (Not "I'm aspiring to write my first novel".)

Regardless of where you are in your journey, though, you are a WRITER.  Because...you write.

(And on the author/writer thing:  When I contact agents regarding entries on the blog, I always refer to the authors of the entries.  Not the writers of the entries.  As in, "I will contact the author."  Not, "I will contact the writer."  There's that.)

So call yourself an "aspiring author" if you want to, but don't ever imply that you are only trying to write, when, actually, you are working your fingers to the bone late at night or early in the morning or on your lunch breaks or all weekend long.  Give yourself credit for what you do.

YOU WRITE.  Period.

Now go write.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Editors' Picks Critique Guidelines

Keep your eye out for the critiques coming in from our Adorable Editors over the next few days.

Advice:  Don't look to see what the editors are saying before you leave your own critique.  Just LEAVE YOUR CRITIQUE.  It'll be more helpful for the author, and it'll help to hone your own critique skills, too.

And...have fun!

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 3 other entries.

Adorable Editors Winners #9


She appeared in late afternoon, at the tree line where our mowed grass ended and the wild woods began. Gene and I couldn’t help but stare. With the leaves stuck in her hair, and the way she squinted at the sun just begging it to melt the slits of her eyes, and her naked-as-a-broken-jaybird body, we were left to conclude that the only possible explanation was that she’d been born in a hole and abandoned there.

But we knew the ranch woods better than our own skin; never once in our seventeen years had we seen a girl our own age out there. We’d never seen anyone out there at all.

When she managed to unglue her eyes from the sun, the sight of us seemed to stop her short: two slackjawed ranchers in cowboy hats, Wranglers, boots, plaid shirts with the sleeves rolled up. Pick-up trucks, hay bales. The usual. For people who’re from these parts.

We stared, in the kindest way possible, at her face.

She stared back. Blinked. Brought a hand to her temple, where a line of three little stones sparkled, embedded in her skin. “I found him,” she said, pressing into the diamond closest to her eye. And then, again—little more strength, little more awe, lot more desperation: “I found the—”


She fell in the grass like an arrow-pierced dove. But there was no arrow, no archer. Just a pale pile of limbs and an unfinished sentence.

Adorable Editors Winners #8

GENRE: YA literary thriller

I believed in the healing power of parking garages. There was kind of a compartmentalization about them that inspired the deep breaths that the folks here at Counseling Services were always asking me to take. If I were hanging out by the cool concrete pillar of a parking garage, I’d be the only one asking the questions. There’d be no questions in response to my questions, as was Dr. Roy’s modus operandi for the last few minutes of our sessions. No one in a parking garage would want to know how I was doing—everyone is either huddled in a car or hurrying toward a door.

Everyone but me. I liked to stand back by the pillars and watch. I liked to know I was the only one watching.

“When would you like to have your next appointment, Mitchell?” asked William at the front desk. They never said anyone’s last name out loud here. It was a privacy thing. I appreciated that.

“Oh, I don’t think I need to make one,” I said.

“Your mom was here earlier today.” William tapped his pen against the side of his keyboard, which was the sort of excessively loud “thinking” tic that a person who didn’t have to stop and think very often would make. “She asked me to make sure you scheduled one. You’ll have to take it up with her and Dr. Roy if you want to terminate your therapy.”

Adorable Editors Winners #7

TITLE: The Ups and Downs of Andrew Lane
GENRE: Middle Grade Contemporary

Andrew waited in the overwhelming silence, alert to any sound that would reveal an enemy attack. Quietly scaling the rope ladder he peered over the top of the fort. If the enemy was there, an attack would be swift and hard. He waited for the familiar battle cry. But it didn’t come.

Arrrrg. Why isn’t Danny home yet? He said he’d be home today. Andrew slid down the slide and plopped into the swing. Another whole day with nothing to do.

Arf, arf, arf!

“Fluffy!” If Fluffy was home, so was Danny.

Andrew climbed back up the slide and looked over the fence into Danny’s yard. Yes! Danny was tugging a duffle bag across his front lawn.

With two giant leaps across the top of the fort Andrew reached the slide that went right into Danny’s yard.

“Hi, Mr. Brown,” Andrew said as he ran past Danny’s dad.

“Hi, Andrew. How’s your dad? Is anything new?”

“No job yet, but he has some good possibilities.” Did Mom really think saying that was fooling anyone?

Andrew grabbed the strap of the bag and helped Danny lift it into the house.

“How was it?” he asked.

“It was great! Best vacation ever. Anything new here?”

A big smile crossed Andrew’s face. “Yeah, Mrs. Trenton isn’t coming back and they can’t find a new teacher. We could start third grade with a sub!”

“That’s great! Remember the sub last year? She couldn’t find the schedule or the art room or anything.”

Adorable Editors Winners #6

GENRE: YA Contemporary Romance

Removed at author's request. :)

Adorable Editors Winners #5

TITLE: A Hundred Frogs, Even
GENRE: MG Contemporary

I would have given Mom a good-bye hug, but StepThad’s arm rested across her shoulder. Like the two of them were glued together. Double hug or nothing.

My giant duffel bag and I stood, immobile, in the shadow of the camp check-in tent.

“Have fun this week.” Mom’s smile was directed at me, but I could tell. She was really focused on StepThad.

“We have to go. I can’t be late,” my sister said. “Remember the rules.”

“Don’t tell Grace what to do,” Mom said.

“I’m helping her.”

"She's helping me," I echoed.

Mom and StepThad turned as a unit and headed for the car. Zoe tossed me my backpack.

Too light. I checked. The only thing left inside was Zoe’s Teen Vogue magazine. My mouth fell open.

Zoe grinned. “Much more fun.”

“But I was in the middle--”

“That Laura Ingalls Wilder biography. I know.” She covered a fake yawn. “But--”

“Stop. If you really want people to treat you like you’re a star--”

I whispered the words. “You have to be the coolest all the time.”

“So do it. You’ll have fun.” She whirled and sprinted to catch up with Mom and StepThad, leaving me on my own. My superstar cheerleader sister made everything look easy.

If things had worked out, I would have been going to cheerleading camp in the valley with Zoe. Her junior varsity squad and my rising-sixth-grade squad. All of us together. Except things didn’t work out. Not for me.

Adorable Editors Winners #4

GENRE: YA Alternate History

Tacked to the wall in a wooden frame, a rustic little impostor amid much finer furnishings, our family portrait mocks us. It tells us homesick tales of warmth and togetherness, of unexplored backwoods, life-gorged cities, and infinite blacktop roads. When Clay and Cecelia look at the picture, I know a taste of before still sits on their tongues, sweet and raw. But before is a world I never knew.

Clay’s chili bowl hair, as Cecelia calls it, hangs black and stark above his river-water eyes. His toddler image boasts a valiantly forced grin. What has grown in of Cecelia’s dark hair is held fast with a red bow. I see a mother I never knew who looks like none of her children, because Dad’s brunette and straight-nosed genes vanquished any suggestion of her Irish softness in us: the fair, freckled skin, curved nose, and walnut hair. Clay and Cecilia got her churning sea eyes, but mine are brown like Dad’s. The sun agrees with our golden brown skin, and we look like every Debrosse in recent memory.

I wasn’t born yet when this portrait was taken. I find it strange. The clean-shaven goofball in a turtleneck looks nothing like my dad. He's neither careworn, rough, and ranting about lost freedoms nor glued to a glass of high proof whiskey.

Imagining the world I never knew is disconcerting, so I don’t look at the portrait often. Clay chuckles at it every few months, making fun of our mom’s hair.

"Gotta love the 90s," he says.

Adorable Editors Winners #3

TITLE: Million Dollar Lunch
GENRE: MG Contemporary

It was only the first day of food camp, and already Rome knew two things: one, there was such a thing as a mortal enemy, and two, it was going to be really tough to beat said enemy with a little sister at his side. To be fair, it wasn’t Livvie’s fault she had to tag along to camp while Dad recovered, but still, it made beating Frankie Hotdog all but impossible.

Rome tried to focus on getting to the finish line of their first challenge. He twisted his body as he grasped his section of a huge, juice-filled tarp and scanned the flat, open field. Ten teams of campers including his own lugged tarps toward a yellow, tickertape finish line nearly half a football field away. Only Frankie’s team was ahead of his, but the team directly behind them was slowly catching up.

“Livvie, you’ve got to keep your end up!” As if in punishment for yelling at his sister, Rome lost his footing on the slippery field and fell to his knees, just managing to hold tight to the edge of the plastic circle.

“I’m trying,” Livvie puffed, struggling against her dipping edge of tarp.

Jake, the third member of their team and Rome’s best friend, pulled up to compensate. The liquid in the center shifted. Rome saw a wave of red swirling toward him, but it was too late. The sweet flavors of strawberry and raspberry mixed with a tart lime aftertaste washed over him.

Adorable Editors Winners #2

TITLE: FutureShock
GENRE: YA Time Travel

"They can take our freedom, but they can never take our French fries!"

If there had been a desk in front of me, I would have smacked my head against it. Repeatedly.

The auditorium erupted into cheers, a decidedly uncommon occurrence for Dresden High's student council candidacy announcements. Usually, students simply said what position they were running for and why people should vote for them, to weak applause or the occasional overzealous "Yeah!" from the stoner kids in the back.

Apparently, all it took was a twinkly-eyed quarterback running on a French fries platform to get people enthusiastically engaged in student government.

I had to use all my strength to unclench my jaw. My fists, however, I kept balled at my sides, so that I wouldn't try and wring anyone's neck. I wasn't usually this tense, but there was something about pretty-boy jocks reducing student government to a popularity contest that seriously irked me.

Said jock extraordinaire, Jake Carlson, gesticulated wildly at the crowd to keep cheering. Then he ended his brilliantly puerile campaign speech with, "So if you vote for me, everything will be awesome, and you can have all the French fries you want!"

Head. Desk.

Before I could engage in any more imaginary stress relief, the student council adviser, Ms. Jefferson, nodded at me to go up to the podium despite the fact that the crowd was still whooping, catcalling and clapping. Jake, for his part, was encouraging them by way of a dramatic reenactment of last week's game-winning catch.

Adorable Editors Winners #1

GENRE: MG Fantasy

The second worst feeling in the world is realising you’ve just done something mammothly, brontosaurusly stupid. The absolute worst? Waiting to find out exactly how much trouble your stupid has landed you in.

And that Saturday I’d been waiting in my attic bedroom, with no one but the spikemoths huddled in the rafters for company, for six long, agonising hours. I’d done restless pacing and tortured gazing-out-of-the-window, and was onto desperately-wondering-how-to-mail-yourself-to-China, when finally I heard it.

A knock at the door.

Not just any knock, an important-sounding knock. Tat-ta-rat-ta-rat. My heart sank so far into my boots I could’ve used it as a pair of nice comfortable insoles. This was it, then. I took a deep breath and yanked the door open quickly to get the pain over with.

A wizened grey demon stood outside, spindly wings still fluttering like he’d arrived in a hurry. He fixed me with glowing red eyes. ‘Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, Enemy of Righteousness, Lord of the Flies, summons you. Follow me and I shall take you to my master. Refuse, and the consequences…’

‘Yes, yes, I get it,’ I interrupted, rolling my eyes. ‘You could just say my dad wants to see me.’

The messenger demon blinked at me. There was an awkward silence. ‘Do you refuse to follow me, Jinx D’Evil?’ he said finally.

I sighed. ‘Of course not. Who dares deny the Devil?’

I stuck my hands in my pockets and trudged off to meet my doom.

Monday, July 22, 2013





(Still cute, right??)

Claire will be offered an exclusive interview here on MSFV, so stay tuned.

Thanks, everyone, for voting!

(The winning ADORABLE EDITORS entries will post tomorrow.)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Fricassee

If I'm overflowing with happy goo, you'll have to forgive me.  In a moment of more spontaneity than we've been known for lately, Mr. A and I have decided to take a last-minute vacation.

That's right.  A REAL one.  And we're leaving soon!  As in, less than two weeks from today.  (I can't even begin to tell you how much I need to get done before then, both professionally and personally.)

But here's the thing.  The blog won't be going completely dark, because we've got another Secret Agent contest coming up, first week of August.  Thank goodness for automated systems, yes?  So no worries; all will run as planned, and I will have someone else on backup in case of glitches.

So I'll sort of be-here-but-not-be here.  Except for a CERTAIN FEW DAYS, when Mr. A and I will be AT THE SHORE, CELEBRATING OUR MULTIPLE-OF-FIVE WEDDING ANNIVERSARY.  (I'm not sure why the multiples of five make us feel like we have to celebrate MORE; isn't every year a cause to celebrate? Yet there you have it.)  For the rest of the time, we will be visiting my adored parents and probably belly laughing a lot.

I'm a bit teary at the prospect of seeing my beloved ocean so soon.  I'd given it up as lost for this year, and I had learned to be okay with that.  This is an amazing gift, and I don't take it for granted.

I'm a bit sparked this morning, too, because I finished my revisions last night (can I hear a resounding whoop??), and I'm eager to start my final-readthrough-before-dumping-on-crit-partners today.  You all know how good it feels to get to this point, right? And this was the novel I loathed after I'd finished it.  Couldn't look at it for over a month.  Not sure what the psychology of all that is, but I'm awfully glad the tide has turned.

I'm also encouraged because it seems that taking on larger editing projects is something I can manage, after all.  (Isn't it silly the way we doubt ourselves sometimes without having tried first?)  So while I'm going to have to get through the small queue that appeared for my first Premiere Critique offer, I'm certain that I will open this opportunity again in a few months.  Meanwhile, my regular editing (first 30 pages of your completed manuscript) continues as normal.  You can always email me at authoress.edits(at)gmail.com if you have questions.

I'm seriously overflowing with thankfulness and heart-of-a-five-year-old glee today.  My hope is that some of this will ooze through the internets into your heart.  So many of you have offered support when I've been discouraged or frustrated or downright tired.  Today, I'd like to offer you some of my joy.  Writing is hard, life is hard.  When the moments of delight come, it's so important to bask in them--and to spread the happy.

Much love and virtual hugs to you all!  (Except those of you who, yanno, don't want your personal space violated.  Consider yourself virtually air-fistbumped instead.  I mean, not everyone likes to be within touching distance of other people.  I happen to know, for instance, that Adam Heine lives under a table.)

'Til Monday!

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Here's what you've REALLY been waiting for:  the Adorable Editors' favorite opening sentences!  We've got 9 winners instead of 10, because 2 of the editors chose the same sentence (which was fine with me).  So that lucky person will get TWO editor critiques on the blog next week!

Without further ado:


TITLE: Little Devils
GENRE: MG Fantasy

The second worst feeling in the world is realising you've just done something mammothly, brontosaurusly stupid.

CHOSEN BY:  Peter Senftleben


SCREEN NAME: Hannah West
GENRE: YA Alternate History

Tacked to the wall in a wooden frame, a rustic little imposter amid much finer furnishings, our family portrait mocks us.

CHOSEN BY:  Alison Weiss


TITLE: FutureShock
GENRE: YA Time Travel

"They can take our freedom, but they can never take our French fries!"

CHOSEN BY:  Stacy Abrams


TITLE: Of Starshine and Ashes

She appeared in late afternoon, at the tree line where our mowed grass ended and the wild woods began.

CHOSEN BY:  Gabrielle Harbowy AND Sara Sargent


SCREEN NAME: Chris Bailey
TITLE: A Hundred Frogs, Even
GENRE: MG Contemporary

I would have given Mom a good-bye hug, but StepThad's arm rested across her shoulder, like the tow of them were glued together.

CHOSEN BY:  Brett Wright


SCREEN NAME:  Veronica Bartles
TITLE: Twelve Steps
GENRE: YA Contemporary

There should be a support group for kids with perfect siblings.

CHOSEN BY:  T.S. Ferguson


SCREEN NAME: therealtwinmom
TITLE: Million Dollar Lunch
Genre: MG Contemporary

It was only the first day of food camp, and already Rome knew two things:  one, there was such a thing as a mortal enemy, and two, it was going to be really tough to beat said enemy with a little sister at his side.

CHOSEN BY:  Kat Brzozowski


TITLE: The Ups and Downs of Andrew Lane
GENRE: MG Contemporary

Andrew waited in the overwhelming silence, alert to any sound that would reveal an enemy attack.

CHOSEN BY:  Greg Ferguson


TITLE: Crash Days
GENRE: YA Literary Thriller

I believed in the healing power of parking garages.

CHOSEN BY:  Claire Evans



Winners:  Please send me your first 250 words according to normal Secret Agent guidelines.  I will have a normal submission window open; you may use email or the web form.  The form will be open by this evening (at this writing, the site is down, so I can't set up a new contest), and will remain open until I have all 9 entries.


Time for giveaway number one!

Below, you'll find our adorable editors, their identities revealed.  Beneath their names, you'll find the prize each is giving away, and the WINNER of each prize (drawn by random selection).

IF YOU ARE A WINNER, please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com with the following information:  Your SCREEN NAME, your REAL NAME, the EDITOR, the PRIZE, and, unless your prize is digital, your PHYSICAL MAILING ADDRESS.

Congratulations, everyone!  Stay tuned for giveaway number two.



EDITOR: T.S. Ferguson, Harlequin
PRIZE: Hate List by Jennifer Brown and Ink by Amanda Sun (an MSFV success story author!)


EDITOR: Alison Weiss, Egmont USA
PRIZE: 3 books (winner's choice) and a tote
WINNER: Joan Stradling


EDITOR: Brett Wright, Bloomsbury
PRIZE: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, In Darkness by Nick Lake, and The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker
WINNER: Jessie Oliveros


EDITOR: Kat Brzozowski, Thomas Dunne Books
PRIZE: Blood Orange by Karen Keskinen and Nearer Home by Joy Castro
WINNER: Katie L. Carroll


EDITOR: Sara Sargent, Harper Collins
PRIZE: The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
WINNER: Liz Brown


EDITOR: Claire Evans, Dial Books for Young Readers and Kathy Dawson Books
PRIZE: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick


EDITOR: Gabrielle Harbowy, Dragon Moon Press
PRIZE:  2 eBooks:  The Hero Comes Home and The Villain Comes Home
WINNER: Violet Ingram


EDITOR: Peter Senftleben, Kensington
PRIZE: 2 ARCs: Bodies of Water by T. Greenwood and Equilibrium by Lorrie Thomson


EDITOR: Stacy Abrams, Entangled Publishing
PRIZE:  Choice of any 2 eBooks from their teen line
WINNER: Hannah West


EDITOR: Greg Ferguson, Egmont USA
PRIZE: The Ashes Trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick and The Dark Divine Trilogy by Bree Despain

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Authoress Edits -- Premiere Critique

As you (probably) already know, my editing businesss (Authoress Edits) focuses solely on the the first 3 chapters.  I am toying with the idea of accepting larger projects, so I'm offering the following.  (Note:  I will only accept one client for this offer.)

I am opening one PREMIERE CRITIQUE spot that will include:

* An in-depth critique of your first 75 pages
* A detailed editorial letter
* Comments on your query letter
* A 1-week turnaround from the day I receive your project

This offer is available to the FIRST PERSON who asks for it and makes the down payment.

This offer is most useful for serious writers who are ready to query, or who have already begun to query, a polished manuscript.


NOTE: This offer DOES NOT bump the others from my queue. Instead, I am experimenting with taking on slightly larger projects during the time I'd normally be reading for critique partners.

Cost: $250

($125 down payment due immediately; $125 due after I have finished the critique)

Interested? Email me at authoress.edits@gmail.com. Remember, I AM ONLY TAKING ONE OF THESE.

(If it's a success, I will do others as time allows.)

ETA:  THIS SLOT HAS BEEN FILLED.  I am currently working with a waiting list.  THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR INTEREST!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Adorable Editors--Here We Go!

Welcome to the fun!

This is 3 contests in one.  Here are the rules:


Do this by leaving a comment.  BUT WAIT!  It's more than just placing your guess.  YOU WILL ALSO LEAVE THE TITLE, GENRE, and FIRST SENTENCE of your POLISHED NOVEL along with your guess.

So, your comment will look something like this:

Alison Weiss

Ghosts Are Scary/YA Horror:  If it weren't for the bloody footprints, I'd have thought it was a dream.

You may leave a guess (along with your title/genre/sentence) under each of the 8 editor pictures.


At the end of the contest, each editor will read through the comments under his or her picture and choose his or her FAVORITE FIRST SENTENCE.  That author will be invited to submit the first 250 words to me.  I will post the 8 (or fewer, if some editors choose the same entries) first pages on the blog the following week, and the editors who chose them will CRITIQUE THEM ON THE BLOG.  (Each editor will critique the page that he or she chose.)  All blog readers will also be invited to critique the pages.


Yes, there's more!  If you don't want to enter your first sentence, YOU DON'T HAVE TO.  Simply leave your guess (an editor's name) in the comment box.  When the contest closes, ALL entries will be entered into a random drawing for PRIZES FROM THE EDITORS!  (You guessed it--BOOKS!)  You do not have to enter a first sentence to be entered into the drawing.  You may enter once under each of the 8 photos.


This will be done via email.  Once the photos are live, you may begin to email your votes to me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com.  DO NOT PUT ANYTHING INTO THE BODY OF THE EMAIL.  Simply put the post number in your subject line.  This will make tallying the votes much easier.

The MOST ADORABLE EDITOR will win an exclusive (and maybe even juicy) interview on the blog.  Nothing like picking the brain of an editor, yes?


Stacy Abrams, Entangled Publishing

Kat Brzozowski, Thomas Dunne Books

Claire Evans, Dial Books for Young Readers and Kathy Dawson Books

Greg Ferguson, Egmont USA

T.S. Ferguson, Harlequin

Gabrielle Harbowy, Dragon Moon Press

Sara Sargent, Harper Collins

Peter Senftleben, Kensington

Alison Weiss, Egmont USA

Brett Wright, Bloomsbury

Adorable Editor #10

Adorable Editor #10

Adorable Editor #9

Adorable Editor #9

Adorable Editor #8

Adorable Editor #8

Adorable Editor #7

Adorable Editor #7

Adorable Editor #6

Adorable Editor #6

Adorable Editor #5

Adorable Editor #5

Adorable Editor #4

Adorable Editor #4

Adorable Editor #3

Adorable Editor #3

Adorable Editor #2

Adorable Editor #2

Adorable Editor #1

Adorable Editor #1

Monday, July 15, 2013

And Winners

This month's winners:

#15 -- Ethaerea
#18 -- Dirty Secrets
#40 -- Embrol
#41 --  Arrows

The prize:

Ms. Verma would like to see the query, synopsis, and first 50 pages of your manuscript.

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

Congratulations, everyone!

Secret Agent Unveiled: Monika Verma

Warm thanks to the lovely and thorough Monika Verma of the Levine Greenberg Agency!

Monika's Bio:

Monika joined Levine Greenberg in 2006, and is now an agent specializing in humor, pop culture, memoir, young adult, narrative nonfiction and style titles. She loves to work with authors to develop their writing careers, whether that means helping them make the jump from blogger to published author, brainstorming the perfect funny gift book topic, or working with a debut author to showcase a strong narrative voice. Her clients include humorist and actor Nick Offerman, costume designer Janie Bryant (AMC's Mad Men), and writer and blogger Allie Brosh (Hyperbole and a Half.) She is currently expanding her list to work on young adult fiction across several genres, including paranormal, historical and contemporary.

When she isn’t reading submissions, she loves dipping into a good literary mystery (usually with a strong cup of tea by her side). Some of her favorite authors include Denise Mina, A.S. Byatt, Josephine Tey, Jasper Fforde, P.G. Wodehouse and Louisa May Alcott.

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Thought for today:  Joy is found when we live in the moment.

It's hard not to think/wonder/worry about future.  This is true for life in general, but it applies to writers in a particular way--namely, we're always looking ahead because our goals/dreams don't exist in the now.

We plot our stories.  Planning=dreaming about when we'll finally be finished=looking ahead.

We wait to hear from agents.  Stalking email=obsessing about the future=looking ahead.

We angst over the editors who have our stuff.  Fearing rejection=worrying whether we'll get published=looking ahead.

If we could just stop LOOKING AHEAD, we might be a little happier.  A little more content to take our next breath, our next sip of coffee, our next morning walk.

Writing is slow, publishing is slow.  If we live our lives craning our necks to see what tomorrow and next week and next month and next year will bring, WE WILL MISS TODAY.

I'm learning this lesson one heartbeat at a time.  In writing and in life.  And I'm finding that, even in the midst of things I can't control or don't understand or don't like, I can find joy in the moment.

May you find your joy today.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Secret Agent: Critiquing Guidelines

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

July Secret Agent #50

TITLE: Summer of Bugles and Bad TV
GENRE: Middle Grade Fiction

I promised my parents I wouldn’t eat too much junk food this summer, but it’s a wonder I can eat at all after yesterday’s twisty, ear-popping nightmare of a drive through the mountains. Luckily, Eggos and Mrs. Butterworth have a stomach-settling effect on me. I take a big, syrupy bite and leaf through the TV guide to plan my viewing for the day. I also promised I wouldn’t become a zombie, but I’m going to be stuck in Mineralville, WVa for two and a half months and Grandma Bren has 250 satellite channels.

“Well, Chloe,” Grandma Bren says, sitting at the table with a cup of coffee. “I have a nice surprise! Twyla Cray’s having a pool party this afternoon.”

“Hmm,” I answer, my mouth full of waffle.

“Won’t it be a fun way to start your summer? With girls your age?”

“Girls my age? You mean… I’m going to this pool party?”

I can’t even believe Twyla invited me. Her dad was the minister when Grandaddy Bill died and that was three years ago. We sat in the kid’s room at the funeral home and built a Legos pyramid. She told me a boy in her school died from getting bitten by a poisonous snake in the ball pit at McDonald’s and I said I didn’t believe her. Then her mother came in and Twyla said I’d called her a liar and they both gave me dirty looks and left and that was the last time I saw any of the Crays.

July Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Mysterious
GENRE: YA Gothic Mystery

Here began my journey to solve the mystery of my past. For sixteen years, I'd been content to live with my foster parents, but now, I wanted to know my real parents and nothing could stop me.

On a cold, gray day in June, 1967, overnight case in hand, I stepped off the train at Spearsport, Maine. While the fog rolled in, I waited in front of a deserted one-room Victorian station house and wondered why no one came to meet me. The brochure had been quite clear on that point, yet no one appeared.
The train pulled away, picked up steam, and headed up the rock-bound coastline. Its lonely whistle echoed in my ear. The stormy Atlantic matched the dark gray of the sky, and the surf pounded against the shore. When raindrops splattered against my face, I pulled the hood of my raincoat over my hair and headed toward the gloomy mansion high atop a nearby cliff.

Moaning like a dying woman, the wind rushed up the rocks from the sea and swirled around the mansion's gothic turrets and spires. I started up the cliff road, only to get my heel caught between two rocks. When I tried to yank it loose, I fell back onto the gritty ground.

"What have we here?" a deep, male voice said.

When I slid my foot out of the shoe and turned my head, I saw that danger lurked in the dark brooding eyes of the stranger who stood over me.

July Secret Agent #48

GENRE: MG fantasy

Breathe. Woops.

Jarron felt the black dizziness recede a bit as he made his way up the impossibly long emerald green carpet. He couldn’t see Sasha, there were too many people standing between them, but he knew they were both heading for the same place – the massive, majestic dais at the head of the room. His parents were there, waiting, and hers were too. And just like everyone else, they are watching our every move.

I really should breathe. Sergei told me I had to, when I was getting dressed. If I faint, Sasha will never let me live it down. She would torture me forever.

To be fair, I would do the same thing to her. The thought alone helped him draw in another deep breath, deeper than before, and Jarron was distantly surprised that it helped as much as it did.

I can do this. Piece of cake… as long as no one notices my chest working so hard that my medals are practically jingling. Jarron forced himself to stay calm and not laugh aloud at his wayward thought, which suddenly seemed funnier than it actually was. I have lost my mind, and I am not even betrothed yet.

Desperate for a distraction, Jarron focused on the four magnificent thrones at the head of the room, and the people in them. His father, King Vincent-Clement, and his mother, Queen Jessabell, sat to the right of the dais, resplendent in the emerald green of the Kingdom of Korbaum, his home.

July Secret Agent #47

TITLE: The Women
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

He’s coming.

I can’t stop pacing the living room. 5 minutes, maybe less, and he’ll be here.

“How much did you pay for him anyway?” Riker asks, stretching long-legged on the couch with her head thrown back.

“3,000 koyevs.”

“God that’s cheap. I bet he sucks. I heard Model 3 is the worst one.”

Someone told me the same thing but I deny it anyway. “He’s fine, no different than the rest of them. You’ll see.”

“Incoming message for Cola Sparks.” The Speaker’s voice tumbles out through the intercom. “Is Cola Sparks present?”

“Yes! Is my package here?”

“Is Cola Sparks present?” The speaker asks again.

“Yes, I’m Cola. Id Number 2478. Is he here?”

“Thank you Cola Sparks. We have a delivery for you. Incoming in 1 minute, 35 seconds. Please be prepared to sign.”

Riker darts up from the couch and runs to the delivery chute.

“The countdown is going!” she cries back to me.

I follow her quick. 59 seconds. 58. The numbers flash red and glaring in the wall above the chute. 10 seconds and the metal chute door starts vibrating, rattling so hard that the whole wall shakes. Clang! 0:00 flashes bright. Something heavy crashes into place.

“Delivery complete. A signature is required from Cola Sparks.” The Speaker intones.

Impatiently I roll up my sleeves. The flashing numbers sputter out. A small hole opens just above the chute. I shove my arm through it; I’m gobbled up to the elbow. Something hard clamps onto my fingers and bites into them.

July Secret Agent #46

TITLE:  Scandal City
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary

New York City—it’s where true social monarchy began, despite the shit they tell you in your history books. It's where the largest parties are held and only the prettiest girls are invited. Everybody knows these lean, mean girls; they walk around Manhattan with their glimmering, glamorous eyes—skinny wrists covered in glittering gold jewels. They are the new generation of degenerate, Manhattan society queens. No matter where they’re going—the marketplace, the Hamptons, the dive bars that they scheme their under aged ways into—they always don the newest, most chic lace-Armani dresses, and they always, always reek of top-shelf gin and Chanel #5.

New York City is where the biggest fights are started. It’s where street kids in Brooklyn beat each other up for skipping turns in Double Dutch, and where the mole people get into full on brawls over nickels and dimes that fall between them. It’s where class warfare dawned and where Manhattan’s elite families destroy anyone and everyone they feel the need, in order to excel to the top of the social chain.

New York City is where all of the rich kids are privileged enough to party and play whenever, however they please. It is home of such cultural phenomena, as: Andy Warhol and the pop art movement, Studio 54, The Godfather, the Yankees, and of course, Lady Gaga. It’s home of over eight million, known as the melting pot, spread strategically across a total of five boroughs. Can you guess which one is fairest?

July Secret Agent #45

GENRE: YA Science Fiction - Dystopian

From across the crowded mess hall, Neriya, my bunkmate, leaves a huddle of campers. She marches over. I avert my eyes to the untouched plate of slop on the table in front of me. She’s the only person I’ve spoken to since dawn- me saying good morning and her laughing in reply.

Neriya places both hands on either side of my tray and lowers her face to mine. With a sharp smile, she stares into my eyes and asks, "Wanna fight?"

It doesn’t look like I have a choice.

I study the plateful of grey mush, not daring to return her gaze. Replying to this question is almost as difficult as understanding how I arrived at this camp in the first place. Neriya’s strong arms brace the table not allowing me a way out of answering her question or trying to understand my own.

“Aran, there’s only one answer,” she hisses. Neriya pushes my face into the plate of food. “Eat. You’ll need your stamina.” With that, she saunters back to the tittering crowd.

The table fills, shielding me from their scorn. I use my t-shirt to wipe my face. Four words crack into my mind. I. Don’t. Belong. Here. I woke from a poetic dream of apple blossom nectar on the trees in my backyard, my mother’s soft humming in the background, and my father’s fresh pastries, into this violent nightmare of angry campers, some with bruises and scabs peppering their faces, and all with vicious attitudes to match.

July Secret Agent #44

TITLE: Chrysalis
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

"I think you qualify as the worst brother in the entire world."

"There have to be worst brothers." Brandon looked down at Aithley as he paused his locker digging. "I drive you all over the place and I let you beat me up all the time."

"I'm going to break Ethan's nose." Her green eyes were narrowed but she said it with a smile. Brandon sighed and ran his hand through his hair.

"Go for it."

"A better brother would do it for me."

"Well, I'm the only one you've got. You are more than capable of breaking his nose. I've told him you're not interested. I told him how seriously we take Rule Fifteen. He's met Dad."

"He's not listening! Brandon--" She cut herself off and huffed. "It's not that he's an unbearable moron."

"You spent the entire summer flirting with him. He can't be that unbearable." She glared but her anger had dissipated. She was about to get melancholy. He was pretty sure that was worse. "I thought you two had fun at theater camp."

"We did. I just want to be friends. But I'm not interested. I will never be interested." Yep. She was melancholy now. "Like you and Tiffany." Of course she had to bring up Tiffany.

"Me punching him in the face won't change that." He sighed again and turned back to his locker. He tried to find his biology book. Aithley lost patience and yanked it out for him.

"He doesn't respect me.

July Secret Agent #43

TITLE: Olive Green and the Water Gun Witch Hunters
GENRE: MG Fantasy

They wait in the tallest towers, in candy houses, and on the wrong sides of yellow brick roads. They lure you in with words, by telling you you’re pretty, by telling you no one else understands, and by telling you they are your only offer of help in a world that’s lonely, cold and dark.

Witches tell lies.

I do not.

My name is Olive Green, and I know about witches.

Last Tuesday, I left the school bus, holding firmly to the hand of my little brother, Frank. He’s five. Frank’s feet and his mind tend to wander.

“Would you ever get in a fight with an octopus, and if so, who would win?”

I said, “No. I wouldn’t fight an octopus.”

“Well, what if an octopus jumped right out of that tree right now, and –”

“They don’t live in trees.”

“I know, but what if one was living in someone’s swimming pool, and it escaped and…”

“Not gonna happen.”

Frank shifted gears and said, “Race you home.”

With surprising dexterity, he twisted his hand down and out of mine. He sped down the sidewalk, his backpack bouncing on his shoulders. I didn’t bother catching up. Honestly, I wanted him out of my sight.

When I reached the house, the door was wide open.


I slammed it closed.


I wasn’t worried. He rarely answered, but after stepping inside and shrugging off my backpack, I was immediately overwhelmed by an awful stench, worse than burnt popcorn.

July Secret Agent #42

TITLE: The Doppleganger Diaries
GENRE: YA Light SciFi

Lexi smacks her favorite strawberry milkshake lip gloss between her lips, “Tonight is going to rock.”

Her BFF Jake leans against the door frame and lets out an exaggerated breath, “Yeah, if we ever get there.”

“You can’t rush perfection,” she answers giving his taut abs a love pat. When the usual forgiving smile doesn’t appear, she opts for a different tactic. “There’s leftover meatloaf in the fridge.”

A huge grin spreads across Jake’s face. He’s halfway down the stairs before he shouts back, “Five minutes Lex and I’m leaving without you.”

“Like that will ever happen,” she mumbles with a smile. “Now, just one more accessory.”

Lexi pushes open the closet doors and sighs at the rows of Burberry blouses, Kate Spade skirts, and Valentino dresses. Every time she steps into the massive dressing room—as her mom calls it—she’s certain she hears a chorus of angels singing. She searches the racks of still-tagged designer names until she spots the bomber jacket hidden between some skinny jeans and her dad’s old suits Mom can’t seem to part with.

“Vintage,” she mumbles, smiling as she slips on the worn-to-perfection leather. She turns her hips and admires the way the jacket skims the top of her butt in the floor-to-ceiling mirror. “Thank you swim team.”

Lexi runs her fingers through her long wavy mane for one last pose when something in the mirror catches her eye. She takes a step closer and fans the back of her hair again.

“What the hell?”

July Secret Agent #41

GENRE: YA contemporary myth retelling

Karma didn’t see me the night I made her fall in love. She couldn’t. I was invisible then, not just to her, but to every human.

Chaz and I were on assignment in Lakefield, Wisconsin, population 676. Lakefield. Man, what a place. We were unseen in the parking lot, bows in hand, watching the school in the distance.

I always knew I’d come to a small town by the trees. There, the maples and oaks grew wild, not confined by metal grates stuck into sidewalks in a straight line. Lakefield High was on the corner of two dead streets, and in the background, a mix of crickets and bass from the DJ filled the typical small-town silence.

“Who are we supposed to be matching up?” I said.

“I don’t know. I thought you downloaded the jobs.”

The assignments filled with personal information? Yeah, we hadn’t uploaded them to The Hive, again. But that night, like every night, it was our job to decide who was going to fall in love forever.

“How’d we get stuck on a homecoming assignment?” I muttered.

Chaz blew air through his mouth, his gaze fixed on the school entrance, zoning off. He was shorter than me by a couple inches, but built like a bulldog – wide chest, stout legs, everything but his hair, which resembled the top of a Goldendoodle, hair all the goddesses described as adorable.

“I’m bored,” Chaz said, stating the obvious. He flexed his bow, a golden arrow aimed into the darkness behind the school.

July Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Embrol
GENRE: YA Soft SciFi

My art teacher says the eyes are the window to the soul. Apparently, I have no soul.

I studied the self-portrait lying on my worktable. Dull, lifeless eyes stared back. Yup, definitely soulless. Next thing I knew, I’d be wandering the streets in search of brains. The stiff paper crumpled beneath my fingers. Why can I draw anyone, anything else, but I can’t draw myself?

Mr. Unrealistic-Expectations—aka my art teacher—was two tables away, making his daily rounds to check everyone’s progress. So what if this was the fourth time I’d started over? This assignment was impossible to complete, and on Friday, when I’d told him as much, he’d said, Olivia, you’ll never survive Pratt with that attitude.

Yeah, well, maybe I didn’t care. Maybe I was tired of living up to my potential.

He reached my table as the bell rang. “You destroyed another one?”

“I’ll work on a new one tonight,” I lied. I shoved all my papers into my portfolio and hopped off my stool. Working on this stupid project was the last thing I intended to do today. Birthdays are supposed to be fun.

Before he could offer his assistance, I shouldered the door open and headed out to the crowded outdoor locker area. I smiled at the heavy clouds overhead, breathing in the damp smell that always accompanied a rainy day in Mesa, Arizona. At least something good was happening today.

July Secret Agent #39

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Of all the ways Ama wanted to spend her last day in New York, attending a party ranked just above cleaning out her ears with a screwdriver. But after days of Delilah begging and pleading, promising she wouldn’t regret it, Ama relented. She owed it to her friendship with Delilah to humor her friend’s idea of fun. Besides, Evan Barasch’s sixteenth birthday might provide a welcome distraction from the dreary mood hanging over her home, and from the life-changing announcement her parents made the previous week.

“Relax. It won’t be that bad.” Delilah punched the fourth-story button in the elevator of Evan’s apartment building. “It’s a bunch of tenth graders hanging out. It’s not gonna be too hardcore.”

“I guess.” The low hum of the elevator drummed against Ama’s ears. Trying to forget that hers and Delilah’s building lay twenty-seven long blocks away, she imagined having fun. There would be things to enjoy about it. There would likely be cake.

But when they knocked on the door and it swung open, unleashing an explosion of head-thumping music, Ama stiffened. Their greeter had a beard. The kind of beard that no hormonally average sixteen-year-old could possess. Beer sloshed around the cup he held in his free hand.

“Who’re you?” Delilah’s Asian eyes alighted with pleasure at the sound of the rollicking adolescents.

“Evan’s cousin! You some of his school friends?” he yelled over the blasting techno. Ama plugged her ears. Evan had promised chaperones on his fluorescently-colored invitations. Hopefully, the beard-bearer wasn’t one of them.

July Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Arrano
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy

It was on the table in front of me. The glass filled to the rim. I pulled out my chair and sat down, my stomach already nauseous. Its scent hit my nose, a mix between salt, raw meat, and river water.

My mother sat across from me, her sharp green eyes staring, making sure I didn’t try to sneak away without drinking the liquid.

“It’s somewhat of…an acquired taste,” she said. “But once you feel its effects, you’ll crave it. An addiction you’ll welcome, I promise you.” She sat at the head of the table, her blonde hair pulled into a tight bun at the back of her head. Light bounced from the chandelier and onto her diamond earrings, the room swimming with dots of iridescent rainbows. I wanted to throw the glass against the wall.

“Do I have to drink it all?” I asked, my voice coming out softer than I wanted it to.

She nodded, her eyes slightly closing as she bowed her head.

I lifted the glass, the concoction swishing as I brought it up to my lips. I hesitated. The liquid was a deep purple with swirls of red that seemed to be alive. I’d seen my mother drink this a thousand times. I’d been witness to its effects, her eyes brightening whenever she drank it.

“There’s no need to be nervous,” she said. “You were meant to drink it.”

She’d been telling me this my entire life. But I still didn’t know where the liquid came from.

July Secret Agent #37

TITLE: All Us Good Little Soldiers
GENRE: YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy

I was elbow-deep in sheep's milk and squeezing a mass of curd when the door slammed against the wall. Henryk loomed in the entryway, a cutout of shadow from the low, golden sun. As he stepped closer, I could see his eyes had swelled like overripe tomatoes. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and I curled away from him in case he was gonna toss up. He didn't, though; he had to go and do something worse.

He said, "Again, it happened again."

I didn't need to ask. The cheese slipped out of my fingers and plopped into the vat under my knees. Hot curd splashed up and clung to my cheek, but I followed Henryk out of the hut without cleaning it off. Henryk and I ran across the pasture, dogs clipping our heels and sheep bleating from all around.

"Oh, Nie, nie, nie," my mouth was going, and I couldn't stop it.

Henryk slowed. He ducked under the boughs of a gnarled, old spruce tree and flung aside the white capes we'd hung there that morning when the sun began to bake.

That's where I saw her. One of our ewes lay curled on dead spruce needles, her once-white fleece yellowed and bare in patches. Her open eyes saw somewhere I couldn't find, all filmed over and greyish blue. I covered my mouth.

Henryk didn't quit shaking. He was crying, but I didn't do anything to comfort him. I just stood there, my eyes fixed on that dead sheep.

July Secret Agent #36

GENRE: YA Contemporary

My first thought when I saw the wallet just sitting there between the Nightcrawlers and the frozen Charleston Chews was–who’s the bozo that dropped a wallet in the freezer? My second thought was–think there’s any money in there? My third thought was–I’m not great with the moral dilemma.

Don’t jump to conclusions. I didn’t immediately shove that wallet in my pocket. Honestly, my mother didn’t raise a rat like that. I just left it there chilling with the worms, like a normal guy would, and moseyed to the processed meat section of Volger's Variety looking for a little protein to get me through another day at the mountain bike track. Slim Jim selection is not something to take lightly. It can make or break a whole day. Just ask my best friend Crispy, he’ll tell you.

So there I was trying to decide between the classic or the Slim Jim Dare Habanero, when Shane Winters rounded the corner with enough Red Bulls to shoot me to Old Orchard Beach and back, and one frozen Charleston Chew. Just seeing him there with his football cleats leaving clumps of turf all over that same wooden floor we’d race over to get our Sour Patch worms as kids, kinda made me take pause.

See, we’ve got history, Shane and me. Unresolved history.

Mr. Volger cracked a roll of quarters like my mom cracked an egg and said,

“How’s varsity looking this year?”

Well, isn’t that the twenty million dollar question.

July Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Ragdoll
GENRE: YA Dark Contemporary w/ magical realism

My dolls haunt me. They jump inside me and make me write things I don’t want to write. Things I don’t need to remember. I try to ignore them, but it doesn't do any good. They’re haunted and haunted things like to scare you.


Mother safety pinned a butterfly bookmark to this journal. It’s her way of saying she speaks my language, that she’s on my level. I wear safety pins in everything. But I have a secret for you, Mother dear. You’ll never speak my language and I’ll never speak yours.

I remember the night you gave me to demons. I’ve been possessed by them, I have been their possession. They cast an invisible spell; they blind the eyes of people around you so people don’t see them in the same light as you. But I know their light well. It’s aged and filled with ancient screams. The minute it touched me, it shrouded me forever.

God. This blood’s getting everywhere.


i crinkle to life when her blood spills. i move in red and breath. she doesn’t see me and she doesn’t know that i see. i am her childhood doll. i’ve seen since we first found each other. she was four. that was twelve years ago. i’ve been around a lot longer. i don’t know how long. i only remember the smell of smoke and turpentine, the taste of oiled cinnamon, the feel of hard straw and needle pinch as it sewed on each stitch of mouth and coarse yarn hair.

July Secret Agent #34

TITLE: The Witch's Last Word
GENRE: Middle Grade Fiction

Nineteen more agonizing steps up the hill and it would finally be over. Her chest felt as if massive stones were pressing down upon her, squeezing every last breath of life from her frail body. But that was not the chosen fate for her today. Her large, blue eyes peered out from her delicate face, pale and gaunt after so much time in isolation. Her long blond hair, now hacked short, lay loose under a thin cap. She gazed up at the tall oak tree stretched before her on Gallows Hill, its branches spread wide open, inviting and comforting against the backdrop of the raging crowd. The tree stood before her, strong and resolute.

She could barely hear the tormented townspeople around her, stirring themselves into a frothing brew of fear and hate. They screamed and taunted her, “Be done with her!” “God save her soul!” “Rid us of this witch!” She frantically searched the crowd, her eyes darting from face to face. Where was he? She inhaled quickly, but her breath skipped, choking on the missing air. She could not fail. He had to be there. He had to be the man that she believed in.

The letter, moist with her sweat, molded against her bosom. Taking another step forward, she grasped hold of a deep breath, renewed her strength, and focused on the task at hand. She had one thing to accomplish before she arrived at the tree. Deliver the letter in the hopes of preserving her name, her blood, her legacy.

July Secret Agent #33

GENRE: YA Sci-Fi/Adventure

If not for the hot skin of Mom's hand, I would have thought she was dead. She was so still. I couldn't even see the rise and fall of her chest underneath the hospital sheet.

I clung to her hand. She was alive. Alive.

For now.

A soft whimper slipped through my lips as tears blurred her image. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the nurse glance at me. I sniffed and wiped my eyes on the back of my gloved hand.

The nurse’s protective gown scritch-scratched against her scrubs as she went to the other occupied bed. I didn't want to look; the sight forced all the air from my lungs. My little brother had never been that still his entire life. I felt a sob rising in me, but I swallowed it.

Maybe they were wrong. The test results weren't back yet. Maybe this just looked like the pyretos virus. Maybe something else had caused Chase and Mom to pass out, and in a few days we’d be laughing about how scared we’d been, and they’d be fine. They had to be fine. Please, God, let them be fine.

The white sliding door hissed open, and chaos burst into the room. Both the nurse and I jumped at the noise, and I spun around to face the door.

Three people wheeled in a shaking man on a stretcher. Everyone was shouting, but it was just noise. All my brain could process was the man on the stretcher.

July Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Better Than Imagined

Violet Betterton was missing the very last softball game of the season. Her straight brown hair was styled into a fancy up-do. She was wearing a shiny periwinkle dress and sticky pink lip gloss. Her legs were encased in the itchiest white tights on Earth.

Four bridesmaids had already gone down the aisle when the wave of ookiness came over Violet. The job was supposed to be simple—count carefully between steps, drop a pink rose petal at perfectly regular intervals, smile for the cameras, and keep the ring bearer in line—no matter what.

Violet choked on a cloud of perfume. She twitched all over, the way she does when she knows something terrible is going to happen. The last thing the hairdo lady said was “Don’t worry honey, even a three-year old can do this.”

That was the problem. Everyone knows that flower girls are never eleven and three quarters.

The edge of the white runner was bunched up under Violet’s feet. She stepped over it gingerly and dropped the first petal. Flashbulbs popped. The flower girl grinned against her will. Relatives that she had never met were oohing and awing. Violet dropped more petals.

What happened next kind of wasn’t her fault—at all.

July Secret Agent #31

GENRE: YA Thriller

"My parents will kill me if the bomb squad interrupts Christmas …again."

The bitter Boston wind tossed my words down the shop-lined street. Cole stood beside me, his back to the display, as I wiped my jacket sleeve against the frost-covered window outside Bettye's Bath Bubbles.

Behind the glass, colorful bars of soap were precariously stacked like a Jenga game. Hundreds of different scents like Blueberry Bliss and Mango Tango were piled high in a multi-colored pyramid until the very last bar, Pickled Pear, topped it off like a green-and-white speckled angel on top of a Christmas tree.

I sighed. Why couldn't my mom have requested anything other than Bettye's soaps? She knew the bomb scanner was crazy sensitive.

"Lora, I fixed the UltraSweep." Cole crossed his arms, looking bored. "After last year's incident with the bubble bath, I've made sure the scanner won't mistake ammonium sulfate for ammonium nitrate again."

"What?" I glared at him. "Are you trying to ruin Christmas?"

Cole ignored me as he eyed the crowd of shoppers hurrying through downtown Boston. At eighteen, he was only a year older than me, but Cole was … well …different. He was always perfectly presentable. From the dark suit that hugged his lean muscular frame to his carefully combed sandy hair, Cole gave off a World's-Greatest-Intern/Your-Daughter-Is-Safe-With-Me vibe.

That's because Cole Davis, with his hidden earpiece and ability to kill anyone with one swift jab to their trachea, was not normal. He was an agent. And, unfortunately, my bodyguard.

July Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Fly Away Home
GENRE: Upper MG (magical realism)

Mandy pulled a marigold out of the vase and snapped the stem short. “You look handsome, Grandpa,” she said, and stuck the golden-orange blossom in his button hole.

“Thank you, darlin’.” He grinned and bent at the waist in a courtly bow. “Got to make a good impression on the judges.”

Mandy rinsed her cereal bowl and left it in the sink, then followed Grandpa outside to the old white truck. She yanked hard to unstick the rusty passenger-side door. Grandpa was already revving the engine, the sound muffled in the fog that clung to the hills. They bumped down the gravel road, tires churning up a cloud of dust, then turned onto the blacktop that led to the highway.

The engine thrummed a steady, rumbling rhythm and the truck’s heater blasted stale warmth. The dewy fields and orchards sped by, row after row, mile after mile, the colors and patterns flowing together in a blur.

“How much longer, Grandpa?” The ride was taking forever.

Grandpa winked at her. “Almost there. Half an hour, tops.”

Mandy rolled down the window and squinted her eyes against the rushing wind. Her hair whipped around – it almost felt like she was flying. She’d whoosh right out the window and up into the air, soaring high into the blue sky, the cool wind under her wings. She smiled to herself. Arms. The cool wind under her arms.

Loose papers began blowing around inside the truck. Mandy rolled the window closed.

“You feelin’ sick? Want me to pull over?”

July Secret Agent #29

TITLE: The Collector
GENRE: YA - Southern Gothic

When I first arrived at Granny's, Crankston's Landing was in the middle of the driest summer on record. The white sedan that the social worker drove was covered in a thick red film from the Oklahoma dirt that seemed to cover everything that year. A white cat sat on the rail of the porch, and when it stretched out I could see the red-stained fur matted on its underbelly. No matter how much that cat licked and cleaned, the stain never came off.

No one answered the door when I knocked. I looked back at the social worker, sittin' in her air-conditioned car, and she motioned for me to try around back. I clutched the plastic grocery bag that held my spare socks and underwear and followed the path to a gate that was half rotten but might’ve been painted white once—now it shared the same reddish tint as the cat. The hinges squeaked when I shoved the gate open enough to slip through it.

I wish I could say that on the other side of the fence there was a lush green paradise, but there wasn't. Everything in that backyard was dead—the yellowed grass, the withered honeysuckle, the pile of rotting kitchen scraps, and the remains of a tiny kitten left near the trash cans. The smell made me throw up the apple cinnamon waffles that I ate at the Waffle Barn just off the interstate.

July Secret Agent #28

TITLE: Little Things
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantastical

She was on her bike but floating. Riding always cleared Ellie's head. Her foot slipped off the pedal and she knocked her shin on it—hard. She grimaced. Her dad was in a "mood" and it felt good to zip through the alley with a little extra speed. She veered between the telephone pole and gray corner bricks with an inch to spare on either side of her knuckles. She took a right turn onto Douglas Street. Then she heard the familiar, "Mornin', Ellie."

It was Junior. He and The Signing Man sat across the street sipping from their tall paper cups. Junior always brought Signing Man a coffee. The crisp fall morning air enhanced the swirl of steam rising from the top of Junior’s cup. Ellie waved as she rode past.

Ellie always sought the feeling of gravity tugging at her jaw at the end of each swerve back and forth through the middle of the street. But today she snapped out of a turn just shy of a curb. What was going on? She pulled on the brake for the upcoming intersection. There wasn't a car in sight so she prepared to roll through. But as she slowed to the stop sign (as her father had instructed her to do countless times), she noticed a toy amidst the gum wrappers and cigarette stubs at the base of the sign. It appeared to be a little animal. Normally she would chalk up a toy on the ground to a careless child. This was different.

July Secret Agent #27

TITLE: The Meddler
GENRE: YA fantasy

I had reluctantly taken inventory of my kidnappers’ weapons. Two were armed with daggers while the other two carried bows and fully stocked quivers.

Maybe they would cut me open like a sack of flour or snap my neck like a fattened, frantic chicken. Maybe they would leave me to freeze to death and I wouldn’t be found until spring thawed the snows. As we navigated the bleak fields, the thought of the first two fates sounded preferable to the last; my neck would crack like solid ice or my blood would spill like freezing water, and then it would be over. But the cold would seem to last forever.

Each icy gust bit me to the bone. A daydream of roasting next to a fire in the kitchens while eating fistfuls of my favorite foods made the cold feel even harsher, the wind wetter, and my stomach all the more empty. But the thought of death made me coldest of all.

“You’ll get no ransom, if that’s what you want,” I said to Hagan, the redheaded gardener. My arms were wrapped around his freckle-spotted neck, numb from taking the brunt of the snowy gusts. My teeth chattered so often I could barely prize them open to force out the words. “You ought to have kidnapped the lord and lady’s daughter. You could have asked a fine price for Hazel.”

Hagan snorted with laughter. “Aye, if I managed not to kill her in the meantime. I wouldn’t go to that trouble for a thousand aurions.”

July Secret Agent #26

TITLE: Lynchpin
GENRE: YA Contemporary Sci-Fi

The moment Noelle sits across from me at lunch, an excited gleam in her eye, I can predict how this conversation will go.

“Come with me to Patrick’s back-to-school party.”

I smile apologetically. “You know the answer.”

Squeezing a dollop of ketchup beside my fries, I can feel her roll her eyes at me.

“But you’re a senior. Your dad has to let you go out sometime.”

At the mention of Agent Stephens, my adoptive father, I instinctively touch my sleeve to confirm it’s covering the red, puckered scar from my last torture session in the White Room. Twenty-seven people died in the earthquake I caused — the most I’ve ever killed in one session. Nausea rolls through me, and I fight the urge to push my tray aside.

“Earth to Alanna?”

I shift my hand away from the scar, sliding my smile back into place. “Sorry, what did you say?”

“Can’t you ask your dad about giving you some freedom this year?”

For once, I tell her the truth. “He’s not really the negotiating type.” I avoid the D word — dad — whenever possible. “So what are you going to wear?”

Thankfully, she takes the bait.

Noelle is my favorite of Gina’s friends, and she’s the only one who still talks to me. When you don’t belong to any teams or clubs and say no to every non-school-mandated event, people don’t become more than acquaintances. Before Noelle, Gina was the one person who never gave up on me.

If she had, she’d be alive.

July Secret Agent #25

TITLE: FutureShock
GENRE: YA Time Travel

"They can take our freedom, but they can never take our French fries!"

If there had been a desk in front of me, I would have smacked my head against it. Repeatedly.

The auditorium erupted into cheers, a decidedly uncommon occurrence for Dresden High's student council candidacy announcements. Usually, students simply said what position they were running for and why people should vote for them, to weak applause or the occasional overzealous "Yeah!" from the stoner kids in the back.

Apparently, all it took was a twinkly-eyed quarterback running on a French fries platform to get people enthusiastically engaged in student government.

I had to use all my strength to unclench my jaw. My fists, however, I kept balled at my sides, so that I wouldn't try and wring anyone's neck. I wasn't usually this tense, but there was something about pretty-boy jocks reducing student government to a popularity contest that seriously irked me.

Said jock extraordinaire, Jake Carlson, gesticulated wildly at the crowd to keep cheering, and ended his brilliantly puerile campaign speech with, "So if you vote for me, everything will be awesome, and you can have all the French fries you want!"

Head. Desk.

Before I could engage in any more imaginary stress relief, the student council adviser, Ms. Jefferson, nodded at me to go up to the podium despite the fact that the crowd was still whooping, catcalling and clapping. Jake, for his part, was encouraging them by way of a dramatic reenactment of last week's game-winning catch.