Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Submissions are NOW OPEN

Submissions for NAME THAT GENRE are now open.

Please go HERE for submission guidelines and instructions.

ON THE BLOCK AGENTS: Up Close and Adorable

We're a little over a week away from submission day for this year's ON THE BLOCK.  Here are our Fabulous Fourteen, up close and adorable!

Danielle Burby (Hannigan Salky Getzler)

What I am completely dying to find right now is a book that thoroughly manipulates me so that I laugh and cry and feel compelled to harass my friends and family to read it. Specifically, I'm on the lookout for fantasy, contemporary YA, mystery, women's fiction, and select middle grade. I'm a literary girls girl so I love a book with wonderfully developed and complex ladies and, beyond that, complicated female friendships/sister relationships. (Though I'm also partial to swoon-worthy love stories!) I am prone to reading on the subway, in coffee shops, and on whatever park bench I can park myself on so if you can make me forget I'm sitting in the middle of a crowd, I'm all yours!

Hannah Fergesen (KT Literary)

I'm looking for YA and MG with speculative bents, with extra points for anything that reminds me of my geeky favorites (Buffy, Firefly, Teen Wolf, Doctor Who, etc). If you have diverse characters, cool ensembles, or a witty voice, be prepared for some hair pulling.

Moe Ferrara (Bookends Literary)

I want to find the next… [insert your book here]. That’s right. Beyond being on the lookout for MG and/or YA, I want to find the next book that makes me cry, that tugs at my heartstrings, that has me throwing my iPad across the room at 3AM because you just killed my favorite character. Creepy horror a la Christopher Pike to romance in the vein of Jennifer E. Smith to atmospheric middle grade like Coraline. I want it all.

Josh Getzler (Hannigan Salky Getzler)

This year, I'm largely looking for two kinds of books: Middle-grade novels (largely adventure-y; sometimes slightly paranormal--but NOT high fantasy--and funny if possible), and adult historical fiction. This can be in a Royal Court (those are evergreen) or with a VERY strong, brave protagonist of either sex (or both), preferably telling a story I haven't read before. Bonus points for art, music, or writing being a part of the story; extra bonus points for knights and clergy.

Susan Hawk (Bent)

I’m really looking for some marvelous YA right now. I'm open to genre, but I want stories that grab me and won't let me go, and I like to be surprised. I'm drawn most to literary writing, with strong characters and plotting. I love fantasy, mystery, stories that have a historical element, a strong friendship at their core, and humor is key. I’m actively looking for diversity as well.

Pam Howell (D4E0)

I love these contests that Authoress hosts. I know I'm always going to find quality over quantity. I'm hoping to find some middle grade contemporary, and fantasy in all genres.

Tricia Lawrence (Erin Murphy)

I’m looking for a novel that speaks truth, that takes me to a place I’ve never been before or to a familiar place with a whole new sense of wonder for me to marvel about.

Ammi-Joan Paquette (Erin Murphy)

I’d love to find some fresh, original, jaw-dropping, inventive, layered YA—that’s not too much to ask, is it? :)

Nicole Payne (Golden Wheat)

I’m looking for lava…no really…stop looking at me like that and let me finish. I want stories (YA and up in speculative fiction, romance, contemporary, mystery, thriller, etc) that is capable of scorching and leaving me as a pile of ashes in its wake. See it did make sense, right? Right?

Rena Rossner (Deborah Harris)

I look for plots that keep me up until 4am and then won’t let me turn the lights off, romances that have me swooning (or sobbing like a baby), sentences that give me chills and force me to read them out loud, historical novels that transport me to another world, or anything in Middle Grade, Young Adult, or Adult Fiction that grabs me and just won’t let me go.

Tamar Rydzinski (Laura Dail)

I am hoping to find something new, different, and wonderful. I found Danielle L. Jensen in this auction, so I know it can happen!

Lauren Spieller (Triada US)

I'm prepared to fight to the death for voicey, plot driven YA and MG. I'm particularly excited about fantasy and sci-fi, high concept contemporaries, and diverse voices. I'm also excited to find Adult Psychological Thrillers, Literary Fantasies, and funny Women's Fiction. Bottom line? Give me your manuscripts, and no one gets hurt.

Brent Taylor (Triada US)

I'm looking for something that will make me laugh, cry, and subtweet.

Caryn Wiseman (Andrea Brown)

I'm looking for middle-grade and YA that makes me laugh, makes me cry and keeps me up at night; that leaves me thinking about the characters long after I close the book.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Call For Submissions: Name That Genre

We haven't had a NAME THAT GENRE round for well over a year, so let's have some fun!

(Note: The instructions below are DIFFERENT FROM NORMAL. Please read carefully!)


Think about it.  Settings can be created with the most subtle touch.  A mention of 3 moons in the night sky screams science fiction.  A woman spilling coffee on her blouse while waiting to meet the handsome new lawyer in the firm strongly suggests women's fiction.  Pa coming in from the fields because it's begun to hail hints that we're probably in 19th-century America.

Do your first 150 words paint the picture?  Want to find out?


1.  Use the web form to submit your first 150 words.  IMPORTANT:  Under "TITLE", TYPE "SECRET".  Do not share your title.  Choose your CATEGORY from the drop-down menu as normal (MG, YA, NA, Adult). Under "GENRE", TYPE "SECRET".

2.  Got that?  TITLE = SECRET.  GENRE = SECRET.

3.  All genres are welcomed EXCEPT erotica or erotic romance.

4.  Submission will open at noon EDT TOMORROW (Wednesday) and will close at 8 PM EDT.

5.  THIS WILL BE A LOTTERY.  The Bot will choose 40 entries to post on the blog.

6.  Winning entries will post on Thursday, September 1.


1.  The first line of your feedback should be YOUR GENRE GUESS.  After you guess, you can leave any additional comments that you think may be helpful.  NOTE:  These comments should focus on THE WORLDBUILDING/SETTING OF EACH EXCERPT.   Full-blown critiques ARE NOT NECESSARY.

2.  Feedback/guessing may continue through the weekend.  THE ENTRY WITH THE MOST CORRECT GUESSES will receive a free 5-page critique from Authoress Edits (me).

Questions?  Post them below!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Author Interview: ADAM HEINE

This terrific guy is one of my favorite people.  Adam Heine is a talented writer and amazing dad whose debut, Izanami's Choice, is coming out THIS WEEK.  I am blessed beyond measure to have Adam for a critique partner (he is invaluable), and his sense of humor is the kind that makes me laugh out loud when I'm sitting in an empty room reading an email from him.

I'm delighted to offer you this exclusive interview!  And stick around until the end, because I've got a SPECIAL PRIZE FROM ADAM that's begging to be given away.

AUTHORESS: So, first things first. What was your inspiration for writing Izanami’s Choice?

ADAM: I had a lot of inspirations (as you might imagine from a story about artificial intelligence, retired samurai cops, and Meiji-Era Japan). The idea to mix genres in this particular way came from an occasional recurring series on the Penny Arcade webcomic called Automata, which combines sentient robots with 20's noir. Those comics were really the spark that catalyzed this whole thing. Other strong inspirations include Gibson and Sterling's classic steampunk novel The Difference Engine as well as James Clavell's fantastically detailed Asian Saga books. The first is a must-read for steampunk fans and the second for Japanese history nuts. Both are required reading if you want to combine the two.

AUTHORESS: Clearly you're both passionate and knowledgeable when it comes to Japanese history and the other elements of your story--steampunk, martial arts, etc. From where does this passion stem? Why write this particular story?

ADAM: Some of the elements you mention -- steampunk, martial arts, artificial intelligence, evolutionary programming, etc. -- are personal interests that get thrown into a melting pot of ideas until a story comes out. But the passion comes from the elements that are personal to me: fatherhood, fear of losing my own children (and how I might react if I did), exploring difficult concepts like prejudice, free will, what it takes to fix a screwed-up world, and whether that price is worth it. These elements make it into a lot of my stories.

As for why Japan? The easy answer is that Japan has always captured my imagination since I was a boy -- the culture, the history, the stories and worlds they think of that are so unlike the average Western tale. In particular for this story, Western and Japanese cultures have such different outlooks on machine intelligence. I thought it would be interesting to look at it from a new point of view (to Americans at least). I also chose Japan because I want to see more diverse books and as an author I have (a teeny, tiny amount of) control over that.

At the same time, I'm acutely aware that -- although my wife and kids lie along a spectrum from Asian to Asian American to Half-Asian American (long story) -- I am not on that spectrum at all. I love reading diverse books by diverse authors, and I love that we're seeing more of them, but I can only write books by me. So I choose to write diverse books, though only in areas where I feel like I have a chance of getting it right. And I will always strive very, very hard to get it right... and to learn from where I screw it up.

AUTHORESS: Well, I think you've gotten quite a bit right here! You know I've always marveled at your world-building skills, and Izanami’s Choice is no exception. Will you share an elevator pitch, and let us know why Itaru's story is so compelling?

ADAM: I'm flattered you think I got some of it right! So Izanami's Choice is a sci-fi story set in an alternate Meiji Era Japan. Instead of an industrial revolution, Japan has undergone a cybernetic revolution, importing advanced Western technology and adapting it as their own. Robotic automatons serve at every level, as laborers, soldiers, couriers, shopkeeps, personal servants, and more. Japan has embraced androids as part of life.

But Shimada Itaru frowns on Japan's reliance on androids, distrusting for rational -- but perhaps too personal -- reasons. A domestic droid called Gojusan shows up on Itaru's doorstep in the middle of the night asking for help. Before he can turn it away, though, they are attacked by military assassin droids, and Itaru finds himself on the run from assassins and the police. The only way to clear his name is to find out what really happened to Gojusan's dead master.

Of course, the truth is something neither of them expect.

AUTHORESS: I'm pretty sure the life you're currently living is something you never expected, either. Can you share some of this amazingness with us?

ADAM: Heh, the "long story" I mentioned, right? So my wife and I live in Thailand where we take care of "kids with nowhere to go." That means children with no relatives to take care of them, or in some cases the relatives that do exist would be genuinely dangerous for them to stay with. Right now, we have two biological children, one (recently!) adopted daughter, and seven foster children.

With all of our children, it's super important to us that they know they are loved and that they have a family. We are not an orphanage and do not consider ourselves a children's home (though legally that's what we are). We're a family. We strive every day to treat each of them as though they were our actual, natural-born children -- even supporting them after they've grown up and moved out. We'd like to adopt as many of them as we can, but this isn't as easy a process as one might hope (hence the single adoption so far out of eight).

AUTHORESS: And now my readers know why I have you on a very high pedestal.

So, no interview would be complete without letting us know a little bit about Torment: Tides of Numenera, which is yet another creative endeavor into which you pour pieces of your soul. Share a little about this exciting RPG and your involvement in it as a writer.

ADAM: Right! So Torment: Tides of Numenera is a single-player, story-focused RPG to be released early next year. It's a thematic successor to Planescape: Torment, which continues to be listed as one of the best RPGs of all time seventeen years after its release. T:ToN is a science-fantasy story set on Earth one billion years in the future, where people live among the ruins and detritus of inconceivably powerful civilizations that rose and fall before them. It's the embodiment of Arthur C. Clarke's famous quote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

I'm the game's Design Lead, which means I'm in charge of system design, game rules, player stats, and stuff like that. I also got to do content design for about a third of the game (designing scenes, quests, and characters) and write several of the games conversations (of which there are a lot -- the game clocks in at over 1,000,000 words!). Torment is the main reason I've written only novellas and short stories these last couple of years.

(By the way, T:ToN is available now as an Early Access game on Steam. If you like role-playing games where dialogue and player choice is more important than action and stats, set in a weird and awesome blend of sci-fi and fantasy, you should totally check it out.)

AUTHORESS: Adam, it's been a delight, as always. Will you please let our readers know when and where they can grab their copies of Izanami’s Choice?

ADAM: Absolutely! Izanami's Choice will be released on September 1st, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon or directly from Broken Eye Books. (You can also ask your local bookstore to order it for you, if that's the way you like it).

Thank you SO much for having me here, Authoress. It's always a pleasure!

AUTHORESS: Thank you, Adam! Truly wishing you all the best with this debut.

And now for the contest!

If you PRE-ORDER your copy of Izanami’s Choice prior to this Thursday, you will be eligible to enter a drawing to win a 30-page critique from Adam.  Trust me -- YOU WANT THIS CRITIQUE!

To enter:
  1. Pre-order Izanami's Choice from the online bookstore of your choice.
  2. Forward your sale confirmation email to me at facelesswords(at)  NOTE:  Please change the subject line to ADAM HEINE CRITIQUE.
  3. That's it!  On Thursday, I will enter all eligible email addresses into a random drawing and will announce the winner.
Good luck!  And thank you for supporting one of my favorite people/writers/superheroes. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Thank you for all your critiques this week.  I wish you could get a glimpse of my inbox on the days when critiques are pouring in--it's like this constant stream of tangible support and good will.  And when I see the same name over and over and over and over again, it blows me away.

I just want to take a moment to offer a special thank-you to those who critiqued ALL or MOST of the entries this week.  I'm blown away by your commitment to helping your fellow writers.

So awesome.

Next week?  Lots of things!  Namely:
  • An amazing interview with author ADAM HEINE (and a wonderful, writerly give-away)!
  • An in-house critique session.  The call for submissions will post on Tuesday.
  • The SHOWCASE of our fabulous ON THE BLOCK agents!
As for me?  Ugh.

Not an overall "ugh" -- it's just that I'm slogging through a murky, icky, this-isn't-working section of my WIP.  I'm pushing through with my 1000-a-day, but for the past several days, it's been painful.  I'm going to have a lot of work to do when I start my revisions, and it just feels...ugh.  I'm not complaining (much); I know this is part of it, and it's one of the reasons I hate drafting.  But I'm 55,000 words in and on target for my October 1 deadline.  

If you're in an icky spot, too, please feel free to join my ugh party.  I think that, if we throw all our ughs together, the resultant explosion might catapult us forward.  It's worth a try!

Then again, it could just be that misery loves company. :)

Hugs to you all!  Thanks for a great week; next week will be even better!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Logline Critique Round #32

TITLE: Year of the Letters
GENRE: Adult Upmarket

After his soul-searching son is killed in Afghanistan, a pragmatic father discovers a notebook of secret letters his son wrote, when 11 years old, to his dead grandmother during the traumatic year that changed everything. Reading them reveals a son he never knew.

Logline Critique Round #31

TITLE: The truth about Paris
GENRE: YA Contemporary, Romance

Hana comes to Paris to escape her overprotective mum and to study but learns a life lesson and finds love. When mum comes for her, Hana will have to say goodbye to her plans for the future and the gorgeous neighbour.

Logline Critique Round #30

TITLE: Two Sisters Woods
GENRE: MG Adventure

To save her magical family, Toby Harris, a 12-year-old girl, must prove that they didn't cast a spell on a pack of wolves suspected of killing a little boy, but it's kinda tough to argue gnawed human bones.

Logline Critique Round #29

GENRE: YA Contemporary

a sixteen-year-old girl suffering from OCD agrees to go to a movie shoot in hopes she'll get a part and show her classmates she's not as weird as they think.

Logline Critique Round #28

TITLE: Murder's Web
GENRE: Adult Crime/Mystery

When PI and retired cop Rule Carson agrees to help defend a war-damaged black veteran charged with the murder of a white police officer. he begins to suspect his surrogate son may be the real murderer, a suspicion that ensnares him in a web of dishonesty threatening his life, his newly discovered love, and even his adopted son.

Logline Critique Round #27

TITLE: The Rookery
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Twelve-year-old Kellen absolutely refuses to be turning into a bird, or really, a Freak. But when her younger sister becomes the next victim of Avian kidnappers, she realizes that the only way to save her is to accept her newfound powers.

Logline Critique Round #26

GENRE: YA Science Fiction

17 year-old Willow is like Schrodinger’s cat. She can be in 2 places at once but only keeps one set of memories, unless she can learn to navigate both realities. She risks losing her family, her first love, and possibly her life.

Logline Critique Round #25


When eleven-year-old Kimberley Adams’s plan to contact her grandfather after his death implodes, she is sucked into an UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY where she finds surprising answers to family mysteries but also ghosts and the uncertainty about whether she will be able to return to her real life.

Logline Critique Round #24

TITLE: Banished
GENRE: YA fantasy

In a world twisted by the dna wars a young warrior must learn to control her changing mutation while surviving the monsters of her nightmares as she tries to reach the free city.

Logline Critique Round #23

TITLE: June Plumay, Teenage Curse Inspector
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

June Plumay knows her way around a stink-eye, but wearing the badge of a Teenage Curse Inspector does not help her with zits, or boys, or trigonometry. Tragically, she has to hide her blessingways from her new family that she was plopped into after her pops got vivisected by a demented curse-worker. Then, she discovers her pops might not be all-the-way-dead. How far would June go to have her father back?

Logline Critique Round #22

TITLE: The Exquisiteness of Seeing
GENRE: Adult women's fiction-Magical realism

Willa Waters died aged 34 unless, through a link in time, Willa at age 33 together with herself at ages 8, and 103 can confront her father's lies about her abusive childhood and create a new future.

Logline Critique Round #21

TITLE: The Bone Cypher
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Nineteen-year-old War Messenger Nicola must bear the bone cypher, a dispatch which eludes detection burned into her bones.
Though seers foretell a silver-haired girl will end the war, Nicola seeks only to survive the navigation of reluctant allies, smiling foes, ghosts, mages and the heartbreak she finds along the way.

Logline Critique Round #20

TITLE: Enthrall
GENRE: MG Horror

After Zac is kicked out of school for defending his moms, a renovation job leads their family to an old hospital. Zac encounters a ghost in the building who warns him of trapped spirits. When one of his moms grows extremely ill and his sister begins acting strangely, Zac realizes he’ll have to free the ghosts to keep his family safe.

Logline Critique Round #19

TITLE: Breathing in Darkness
GENRE: Adult Romantic Suspense

Snatched from her home, a self-absorbed scientist’s daughter learns from a conflicted kidnapper what’s really going on behind the closed doors of her father’s research lab and is forced to make some hard heart choices. 

Logline Critique Round #18


John Delany, an Irish emigrant father, impoverished but devoted to his family, leaves them behind to search for gold in California. He fails, but returns home to learn his family's love is more important than adventure and golden riches.

Logline Critique Round #17

TITLE: Trans Liberty Riot Brigade
GENRE: Adult Science Fiction

In the future United Free States of Liberty, Andi, an intersex street junkie and resistance member must overcome h/er inner demons to save the Trans Liberty Riot Brigade from destruction and the lives of USF citizens from the corrupt government’s fake terrorist plot.

Logline Critique Round #16

GENRE: YA Thriller

When 17-year-old Greer Carson drops her insulin on the way to her own kidnapping her whole plan goes awry. How was she to know her partner in crime would turn out to be her captor?  Will boyfriend Kenny, find her in spite of the death of his brother, and the dark memories that imprison him?

Logline Critique Round #15

GENRE: YA Romance, Magical Realism

When losing control of your emotions could cost the life of anyone nearby, falling in love is a dangerous game.

Logline Critique Round #14

TITLE: Pale Green Light
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

When Maya Norris sneaks into a massive underground chamber only to be trapped with vicious dinosaurs, she must embrace the chamber's secret before the chamber becomes her grave.

Logline Critique Round #13

TITLE: Isabel Slate Makes the News
GENRE: MG Contemporary

A spunky kid journalist with a tendency to embellish the facts finally gets the chance to earn her byline. But first she must stop an ambitious local journalist—once her hero, now her foe—from stealing her biggest story yet.

Logline Critique Round #12

TITLE: Kyte's Revenge
GENRE: YA Contemporary speculative fiction

“When the boy who nearly rapes 16-year-old Kyte Cabrerra dies in a freak accident, his family blames her. Kyte must use the power of the Santeria she’s learning from her Afro-Cuban grandfather to prove herself innocent of murder.”

Logline Critique Round #11

TITLE: Signal Void
GENRE: YA Light Sci Fi

Sixteen year-old, Kate Hirst, vanishes from the Grid hours before her parents are murdered. With every citizen Bio-chipped, The EYE suspects Kate. In a world where you’re guilty until proven innocent, Kate’s thrust into a seedy world of Junkers and Tag Dealers. Ironically, her only hope lies in Defiance, the rebellious group she fears is responsible for everything.

Logline Critique Round #10

TITLE: The Paper Crane
GENRE: Adult Women's Fiction

Torn between a scandalous office romance and a relentlessly devoted ex, Kelly Tong has to juggle time for a frustrated teen daughter and a demanding career, while her sister makes a last-ditch effort to win over her childhood buddy, about to marry an emerging pop princess. As they embark on separate journeys to seek happiness and redemption in Hong Kong, they must mend their frayed familial ties before they lose the two things they seek.

Logline Critique Round #9

TITLE: Racing Eden
GENRE: YA Contemporary with fantasy elements

High school track star Anabelle Mason scrambles to maintain her life's careful order after the search for her missing grandmother leads her to a geographically impossible, probably magical garden -- and a sympathetic, if inconveniently distracting, boy.

Logline Critique Round #8

GENRE: YA Science Fiction, Fantasy

When a teenage scrap-hunter from the slums wakes up from her own murder with godlike abilities, she must test her metal against a real god's cursed army, the militant government set on using her as a weapon -- and one seriously bitchy ex best friend.

Logline Critique Round #7

TITLE: Angels in Play
GENRE: Adult Literary Fiction

When first grader Niklas Larkin’s best friend dies in an accidental shooting, he is afraid more kids will die, maybe himself. God influences the boy to unite opposing forces to storm social media. The movement inspires many, but not the minds of politicians or the NRA until unexpected help arrives.

Logline Critique Round #6

GENRE: YA Contemporary

All she ever wanted was to make up for her alcoholic mother and wild-child older sister. The valedictorian of her senior class, she’s failing at life. But not for long. When her bad-boy crush starts calling the teen hotline where she volunteers, he tempts her to cross a line—one that sets her pulse racing but may derail her dreams.

Logline Critique Round #5

TITLE: Middledom
GENRE: MG Fantasy

When Princess Violet, pushed out of the limelight by her more glamorous sisters, overhears a Fairy Godmother declaring middle princesses tend to fade out of the story, she sets about to do something famously heroic to keep from dwindling away.

Logline Critique Round #4

TITLE: Uneven
GENRE: YA Contemporary

A former elite gymnast struggles to adjust to life as a “normal” high school student after a traumatic and life-defining incident causes her to give up the sport.

Logline Critique Round #3

TITLE: Shadowed Angel
GENRE: NA Paranormal

Magnolia never wanted to be a vampyr. Now Vladimir, a powerful vampyr who just happens to be her boyfriend's dad, wants to use her coveted super predator skills to conquer the vampyr race. She must find the strength to defeat him before he enslaves vampyr and humans alike.

Logline Critique Round #1

TITLE: Club L.A.D.
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Breakfast Club set in an orthopedic hospital. Five teens of differing abilities meet in a hospital at a turning point in each of their lives and learn that control of their futures isn’t dictated by their disabilities but by their own perseverance.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Logline Practice Round

Great news!

Holly Bodger, our very own Logline Guru (and fantastic YA author), has agreed to critique a round of loglines for those of you who are planning to enter the ON THE BLOCK auction next month.

Yay, Holly!

Here are the details:

  • This critique round is specifically for ANYONE WHO IS PLANNING ON ENTERING ON THE BLOCK next month.
  • Submissions will open at noon EDT on Tuesday (tomorrow) and will close at 8 pm EDT.  
  • You will be allowed a maximum of 75 words for your logline.  HOWEVER: You are STRONGLY encouraged to whittle your logline down to 50 words or fewer.
  • Enter HERE.
  • The bot will randomly choose 50 of the entries, and will post them on Wednesday.
  • ALL readers are encouraged to read and critique as many loglines as you can.
  • Holly will critique all 50 loglines!
And there you have it!  

HERE IS ALL THE INFORMATION ABOUT ON THE BLOCK, including links to information on how to write a strong logline.

Leave your questions below!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Have you ever had the privilege of watching the metamorphosis of a human being from non-book-person to passionate reader?  There's nothing like it.

Especially when it's your spouse!

So, I married a bookless man.  Or perhaps a man with a bookless soul.  In his defense, I wasn't really actively reading when we started dating.  It was my senior year of college, and who has time to read fiction then?  More than that, though, I was a majoring in music, so all my non-dating time was taken up with practicing and student teaching and practicing and accompanying for the choir and practicing and bitching about my non-music courses and practicing.

When I finally reconnected with my love of literature, I found myself in a sort of husband-less black hole.  I also struggled with having to set aside things I really would have loved to do, like curl up in bed with a book and a cup of cocoa on a winter's evening, or bring a nice, fat novel with me on a picnic.  Reading was reserved for times when Mr. A was otherwise engaged, or perhaps out of town.  Certainly I was able to sneak it in on the toilet, but that doesn't get you through too many books in a year.

As I dived more deeply into my writing, I also ramped up my reading.  It continued to be that thing I did on my own, and I often found myself longing to have a nice, deep BOOK TALK with my beloved.  But the only talks we had were about my own stories, which Mr. A was so very kind to read and comment on, despite a lack of true love for the written word.

Mind you, this had its own hazards.  Not being well-versed in author-speak, he would absolutely go off his rocker about things like "he narrowed his eyes" ("What the heck is a narrow eye?") and "she opened her mouth and closed it again" (I suffered through more bastardized demonstrations of this than I care to count).

"If you read books," I would say, "you would know that these are normal ways of saying things in writing."

Ultimate eye-roll.  "There's nothing normal about that."

So there it was.  He was helpful and supportive and he read every novel I wrote.  But he wasn't a reader.

And then.

This past spring, I read the blurb of The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey, and I just knew that my husband would like it.  Just knew.  I didn't buy it right away, though, and in the meantime, Mr. A saw the trailer for the movie, and exclaimed, "Hey, I want to see this."  My response was, "Hey, I'm totally buying you the book, because you will love it and you know I will only respect you if you read it before seeing the movie."  Or something like that.

(Disclaimer: The movie absolutely sucked. But that's another story.)

So I bought the book right before we left for vacation, since he was clamoring for a "vacation read" (things were already looking promising).  I also bought myself Mary Pearson's Kiss of Deception, which I've gushed about more than once since having finished it.

Mr. A tore through The Fifth Wave like nothing I'd ever seen.  (Well, okay.  He read The Giver on a flight to San Francisco a few years ago, which was pretty impressive.  But since that event didn't lead to any sort of permanent change, it pales in comparison.)  Then...then!...he reached for Kiss of Deception.  And that's when the real magic began.

My husband--my non-book-reading, I-don't-like-fantasy husband, DEVOURED Mary's novel.  Gushed about it whenever he came up for air.  (Honestly, "gush" isn't a word I often use in the same sentence as my husband's name.)  He was, and is, absolutely in love with Mary's books.  And yes, he has since read all three.  In fact, I let him read the third one first (big-hearted wife that I am), and he is dying to discuss it with me.


Oh, the beautiful irony!

So the final 5th Wave book is on his table, and just last night he announced to me that he is buying a Kindle next month.

A freaking Kindle.

The first thing he's planning on downloading?  My novel-on-submission.  He's never read the final, polished, out-to-editors version, and he says he wants to read it with his new reading eyes, now that he's read Mary's books.

Which makes me sort of nauseated.  I've begged him to read something--anything--in between my book and Mary's.  I'm pretty sure I couldn't deal with the pressure!  It looks like Rick Yancey will be the perfect buffer (different genre, different writing style), so I think I'm covered.

I've also suggested that he should read at least the first three Harry Potter books, and he has agreed.  (This may be directly related to the fact that he recently overheard me having a conversation with someone about the names of different spells, which made him exclaim that it sounded like we were speaking some other language. Which we kind of were.)

I'm over the moon.  I'm not sure who this man is, but I really, really, really like him and hope he stays.  What's nice is that he gives me credit, as though I've somehow wrought this change.  I'd imagine it would be kind of hard to live long with a writer/book lover without something rubbing off, but I can't take all the credit.  Mr. A is a creative, imaginative, intelligent guy.  I have to believe that it was only a matter of time until he found his inner bookworm.

Oh, and he's told me he'd like to read some adult fiction, and that he's particularly interested in thrillers (but nothing to do with serial killers, which creep him out).  So PLEASE FILL MY COMMENT BOX WITH YOUR SUGGESTIONS!  I don't read thrillers, so I can't help him out here.
So, yay, me!  I have a TRANSFORMED HUSBAND!  If I suddenly start expressing a deep interest in the NFL, you'll know why.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Aaaaaand Here Are Our Bronze, Silver, and Gold Winners!

(In Rena's own words:)

I really enjoyed reading all of these entries! Many of them were strong and I would certainly have continued to read more of many of them. I look for strong voice and writing more than anything and I will often read on if I’m impressed by those – that’s the hardest thing to nail! I said “I’m intrigued” or “I’d keep reading” to many of you – so if you saw that and were surprised I didn’t ask for pages, it’s because it’s true – I would likely have read on, but there’s a difference between being willing to keep reading on and requesting to read a full or partial manuscript based on only 250 words. Thanks to everyone who entered! It was a great group of entries! In the spirit of the Olympic Games:


Bronze Medalists – Query and the first 25 pages:

#31 – Breaking the Chalice
#4 -- The Bone Tree

Silver Medalists - Query and first 50 pages:

#35 – Da Vinci’s Secret
#29 – Dolsa Bones and the Witch Who Stole Laughter

Gold Medalists – Query and full manuscript:

 #40 – How Ty and I Saved the World
 #17 – Basille
 #1 – The Third Gift

Congratulations, all!

Winners:  Please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific submission instructions!

Secret Agent Unveiled: Rena Rossner

Huge thanks and thunderous applause to the delightful and super helpful Rena Rossner of The Deborah Harris Agency!


Rena is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University’s Writing Seminars Program, where she double-majored in poetry and non-fiction writing. She studied at Trinity College, Dublin and holds an MA in History from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She worked at bookstores in four countries, has written extensively for The Jerusalem Report and The Jerusalem Post, and worked in PR, grant-writing, and website development at The Jerusalem Foundation. She is a writer of both fiction and poetry as well as the author of the cookbook EATING THE BIBLE, which has been translated into five languages.

Rena is interested in representing Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction in all genres, Adult Literary and Contemporary Fiction especially Upmarket Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction and Thrillers. She is also actively seeking Young Adult, Middle Grade and Picture Books.

Recent Sales:

Between Two Fires by Mark Noce (Historical Fiction, sold to Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press in a 2-book deal, comes out this month! August 23, 2016)
Not This Turkey by Jessica Steinberg (Picture Book, comes out October 1, 2016 from Albert Whitman)
Three Envelopes by Nir Hezroni (Thriller, sold to Thomas Dunne, St. Martin’s Press, sold in a 2-book deal, comes out April 2017)
Dear Martin by Nic Stone (Young Adult, sold to Crown in a 2-book deal, comes out October 2017)
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson (Middle Grade, sold to Christy Ottaviano Books in a 3-book deal, comes out in 2018)

Most recent deal: Leah Scheier’s third Young Adult novel, The Rules of Rain, was just sold to Annette Pollert at Sourcebooks Fire.


I definitely seem to specialize in YA books, but I am actively seeking great classic-feel middle grade, especially middle grade historical fiction, and I am always looking for classic-feel picture books and funny/quirky picture books. In terms of adult fiction I am also on the hunt for a great Thriller, for Upmarket Women’s Fiction and for great Historical Fiction, along with anything in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday Fricassee

I've just got to say how impressed and thrilled I am by your critiquing response during this Secret Agent Contest.  The normal pattern is lots-of-crit on the first day, and then just a smattering the next, with light trickles by Friday.  This time, Wednesday AND Thursday saw a continual onslaught of crits coming through.


There are so many new names here, as well, and I'm delighted that you've jumped headlong into our community.  WELCOME!  And thank you for sharing your time and writerly insight.

Honestly, it's just so encouraging to see this level of support for our fellow writers.  I LOVE THIS SO MUCH.  I tell people over and over how amazing the online writing community is--not just here on MSFV, but all over the place.

Eons and ages ago, Jodi Meadows sent me one of her manuscripts to read.  This was before she was published--in fact, she wasn't even agented yet.  But she was leaps and bounds ahead of me in the writing department, and I was TERRIBLY intimidated to read her novel and offer up my opinions.  And in all honesty, I didn't have a lot to say.  Not just because the story was good (of course it was!), but because I wasn't sure what, exactly, I ought to be pointing out.

(Grammar, for Jodi, was and is never an issue.  I think probably she was born knowing all the grammar rules.  So my one strength back then--grammar--wasn't really needed.)

Anyway, I did what I could, and Jodi and I continued to read each other's work for several years.  My point?  You just have to JUMP IN and start critiquing other people's work.  You won't know what your critique strengths are until you actually do it.  Also?  You're not responsible for whether or not the writer actually takes anything you say into consideration.  A smart writer knows what to hang onto and what to chuck.  Your role is to offer your best advice, and then to walk away.

I had to teach this to my dear husband, who gave me notes for one of my novels and then proceeded to hound me.

No, really.  I'm talking, "So, do you agree that ___?"  "But did you read what I said about ___?"  "But don't you think you should ___?"


He was lucky to be thoroughly loved.  Especially when he STARTED TO SULK after I told him to back off.

Poor Mr. A.  He's been through so much.  I give him all sorts of credit for sticking with me.  I do.  He's amazingly supportive.

And on that note, I'd best be off to pack my little bag for our anniversary weekend getaway.  Exciting in itself, but even more exciting when I ponder the fact that WE ARE BRINGING BOOKS TO READ.  Books!  This man, who for our entire married life has not been a book person, WANTS TO READ WITH ME.

My life is complete.  :)

Of course, I have to give Mary E. Pearson's Remnant Chronicles the credit.  I had a moment of weakness  kindness and handed my husband the third book so that he could read it first.  (What was I thinking?)  I will have to content myself with Harry Potter 4 while I wait for him to finish.

All right, then!  Have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

August Secret Agent: Critique 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.

*I can't possibly read every comment.  If you ever see a comment that is truly snarky, please email me.  I count on your help.

Secret Agent #40

TITLE: How Ty and I Saved the World
GENRE: MG Sci Fi caper

I set the colander on my head and adjusted it so that I could glare at Ty. This whole idea was his and it was just plain stupid.

“That’s good.” Ty stood back to admire the tin foil “antennas” he’d added to the colander’s legs.

“Define good.” I peered at myself in the mirror. I looked like you could plug me in and blow out half of Spokane.

“Quit being negative, Reggie,” Ty said. “This is going to work.”

Colander, green wig, matching face paint. Ty had mined the Halloween closet as well as the kitchen to come up with this getup. I’d lost the toss, of course, so I had to wear it. I looked weird. We were supposedly going for alien. I cocked an eyebrow at him. “Really?”

“Seriously, dude,” Ty said, “you look awesome.”

My cousin Ty is like that. He gets caught up with stuff. Then he keeps on until I get caught up, too. You want to know, most of the trouble I’ve gotten into in the past eleven-plus years has been thanks to him. So this dare wouldn’t even have made our Top Ten Crazy Dares list. Not then, anyway.

Like a lot of our stunts, it started with an argument.

“Wouldn’t it be awesome to meet a real alien?” Ty had asked. We were three weeks into summer vacation, and I was pretty sure he’d been watching way too much of the SyFy Channel. He has cable at his house.

Secret Agent #39

TITLE: 'I Wouldn't Have Kids If I Was You'
GENRE: Adult Women's Commercial

I wouldn’t have kids if I was you.

Firstly they all start as babies, and babies are arseholes. They show up, sometimes uninvited, cause a shitload of pain and distress on arrival and then spend most of their time screaming loudly in a manner scientifically designed to cause maximum irritation to the adult brain.

I can think of no other circumstance in life where I would allow a complete stranger to treat me this way.

They are undoubtedly the worst, most demanding and narcissistic house guest you will ever have.
And they are so needy. They literally want you to do everything for them. Everything. “I’m hungry! Feed me” they squeal at you with indignation. “I shat myself, wipe my arse!” They bellow at you. And all of this is said with screams. Screams to tell you what they want you to do for them. You are then forced to go through an intense process of elimination to determine what the flip they actually want. Even then they might not be happy. Some of them just cry for the hell of it, even after they’ve been changed and fed.

Babies – massive eyes and layers of fluffy swaddling wrapped around the dark heart of a tiny dictator.
After arriving in the most painful fashion imaginable they then deploy devious means of torture on their captives. Because, as a parent that is essentially what you are. A captive with a sentence of 18 to life.

Secret Agent #38

GENRE: YA Fantasy - Own Voices

Beta Universe, Hieros —Apraesis

Our two moons once foretold that I would become Queen of Hieros, Sun of the Four Kingdoms. But I had never been interested in standing in the sun. I lived in the shadows, and pretended to rule under the light.

As heir to the throne, or Hierisa, private training was my favorite moment of the day, the few hours when I got to let off some steam, when I was allowed to be myself. I excelled at it, and no one bested me when it came to the Mystic Arts, except for my mentor Raeki. Standing at the other end of the Stone Room, he stretched out his arms and got ready to attack.

"Create a fireball," he ordered. In the always cold training room, only ten feet separated us and the rock wall, circling the space like a prison cell.

 “Piros!” A flame sprung from my fingertips, a blazing raindrop of orange heat that crept up my hands. I released the fire, allowing it to spread across the chamber like an uncaged tiger.

Although I had been practicing The Mystic Arts for years, I still wondered how I didn’t get burned. I could not age. I could not die. The first time I generated fire with the power of my mind, I hadn’t said a word out of fear for three days. Now that my eighteenth Red Moon had passed, I was supposed to control my nature. Now I was supposed to become Queen.

Secret Agent #37

TITLE: Mr. Grumbles
GENRE: MG Fiction

One overcast, night in Miami, Florida, a small car stopped, for a moment, in front of a yellow house. A black cotton bag landed on the driveway, and big yellow eyes from inside watched the car as it drove away into the night.

“Wait! Come back!! Don’t leave me here!!!” a kitten cried.

The kitten, with shiny black fur, peered up the driveway. His fur was scattered: with white hairs.   A blaze of about twenty heaths under his neck. He had a black nose and big yellow eyes.

“Hello... Is anyone here?”

Clouds moved in, winds picked up, and rain started to fall.  However, the kitten looked for a dry place. He scurried up the driveway, and dashed under a tan car, just as the sky opened up with a gush of heavy rain. There, feeling safer, he curled up in a tiny ball, and watched the rain fall.

“Why did they leave me here?  What did I do? Mommy...

I want my mommy. Why did she let them take me away?  He wondered.  Mommy...”

Slowly the kitten’s eyes became heavy, and he fell asleep.

The next morning the kitten woke, to the sound of birds singing.  He came out from under the car, and looked around, and his stomach started to growl. Two brown, anole lizards were sunbathing. He hunched his stomach down low to the ground and pounced!  The kitten caught one of them by its tail under his paws.

Secret Agent #36

TITLE: Tides of Magic
GENRE: Adult Epic Fantasy

Elena handed the child back his jeweled yoyo as a flash of yellow streaked past the window, a black jet of smoke trailing behind. Acrid fumes seeped in through the door.

Her auburn hair came undone as Elena pressed her face to the window. At twenty-six winters past, she had handled many unpleasant people. But her heart pounded at the sight of the raucous mob gathered in front of the shop.

The flames crackled as smoldering embers of straw floated down. Elena picked up the two-year old and burst out of the shop. Fire shot though the thatched roof as two more torches landed. She clasped her master’s child closer, though he remained engrossed in the glittering blue and red toy.

“You can’t burn down the shop!” Elena shouted to the rambunctious crowd. “Have you people lost your mind?”

“Stay out of it, Elena. Dirma must pay for what he’s done.” Hogarth raised his left hand and waved her to move away.

Elena wasn’t surprised to see the burly spiteful farmer among the mob. She looked around for a sympathetic face in the throng but icy eyes fueled with rage stared back. “He didn’t do anything. None of us know how all of this is happening, least of all, Dirma,” she pleaded, wrapping her arms around the child tight.

“Tell that to Samuise Lothar.” Hogarth grabbed her free hand and pulled her away from the shop. “You didn’t have to look at the horror of his body turned to ice.”

Secret Agent #35

GENRE: MG Paranormal Mystery

Our house was rigged with 24/7 security, but not because of the ghost. I pressed the eight-digit code, jack0315—my name and birthday—into the keypad on the front door. After I slipped inside, I expected Rent-a-Cop’s usual frisking or a background check. I live here. It gets old. Seriously, who would steal a lock of some dead guy’s hair? Sick. I still had no idea who Kurt Cobain was.

            I searched the living room where the weird artifacts hid behind bulletproof glass. No sign of the security guard or my dad or the supernatural being haunting my house.

            I threw a bag of popcorn in the microwave. Without the annoying ghost around, this might be the best night ever. But as the seconds ticked down, yellow squares of paper popped onto every surface. They were a constant reminder he was present and to find his murderer. I’d never heard of the dead communicating with sticky notes. 

            You’re out of T.P.

            Did you locate the smoking gun?

            Try watching Law & Order or Matlock or CSI.

            My former neighbor had yet to convince me he was murdered. I wished he would leave me alone. Who was Matlock anyway? Franklin was such a drama ghost.

            As I ignored the notes and headed into the living room, the floor lurched beneath my bare feet. I stumbled, smacked my head into the stair railing, and dropped my bag of popcorn. A groan scraped the surface of the air.

Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Chasing Skyfire
GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy

Insects flitted among the dust motes in the soft glow of the lantern, dancing drunkenly with every rush of wind from the erratic sword swings in the narrow stables.

Isa preferred the company of the horses to what the Longhouse had to offer on a feast night. Horses were easier to please—a handful of oats bought their affection.

The air in the stables was warm and musty. Safe. Not like the prickly smells of roasting meat and spiced ale filling the Longhouse.

Taking a step back, she glared at her cedar opponent and adjusted her grip on her sword. Scrunching up her nose, she mocked the weary, faceless dummy with her mother's words: “Have you listened to nothing the swordmaster has taught you? Are you heir to this clan—or aren't you?

At the last, Isa swung hard at the practice dummy. The impact of her strike rattled up her arms and the blade stuck fast in the scarred wood. The pommel gems shone black in the lantern light. Muttering furious oaths under her breath, she tugged at her sword but it didn't give an inch.

If she left it there, she'd get lectured again on how proper Nords, especially daughters of jarls, were supposed to behave. Proper Nords did not leave their mark of status sticking out of a dummy in the stables.

Proper Nords did as they were told. Proper Nords would be honored to represent their clan at the annual ass-kissing festival in the Oslo court.

Secret Agent #33

GENRE: YA Contemporary

I live for Saturday nights.

            Saturday nights are designated for parties, letting loose, and pretending like my life isn’t a torturous combination of college applications and complicated relationships. They are the nights which afford me the opportunity to forget the last couple years ever happened.

            But on this Saturday night, I’m staring at a room full of middle aged men and women dressed in clothes that probably cost the same amount of money I’m trying to save for the Mustang I’ve had my eye on since I was thirteen years old. I’m standing next to my dad in a stupid bow tie and a fake smile because he considers a charity function for sick kids some bonding time between us that he clearly misses out on. I love the guy, but I’d rather be anywhere else. I’d even subject myself to Maddie’s incessant questions about the state of our relationship if it meant I didn’t have to be here instead of at my best friend’s house.

            I pray for a quick and painless death, which I guess is totally inappropriate at a function like this, when I see her.

            In a ballroom filled with nothing but black, she stands out like a single red rose petal. A drop of blood on velvet. Wine spilled on a granite countertop.

            As she crosses the shiny wood dance floor, the train of her dress ripples behind her in a wave of shiny red. I can’t see her face, but I don’t need to. 

Secret Agent #32 (removed)

Secret Agent #31

TITLE: Breaking the Chalice
GENRE: Adult Alternate World Fantasy

     I wasn’t thinking about my home in the clouds the day Renato saved my life. I was lost in the task of tending my front flowerbeds. The back gardens—all five of them—I left untouched and feral.
     The soil under my fingers was still cool as I bent on hands and knees, turning the mulch a handful at a time. A rake would have been faster, but I had nothing else to fill the day. Library day wasn’t until tomorrow, and soup day was still two days away.
     I wasn’t happy, but I was numb. The longer I stayed in exile, the more I saw that numbness as a gift. Grief doesn’t hurt when you can’t feel anything.
     Sweat collected on my forehead and slid into my eyes. I blinked it away. Tulips and daffodils were starting to bud. I worked around the dots of green sprung up in a sea of wood chips. Dirt dwellers had so much wood; they shredded it and let it turn to dirt. In Stratosphere, a tree and a plot of soil was a thing to be valued. Fruit trees, some taking years before they bore fruit, were passed down through generations.
     I toiled in my garden as I had seen my mother do for so many years. My mother, the Queen, was known for her flowers. She had a green thumb that enriched everything she touched.
     Almost everything she touched.
     I finished the left flowerbed and sat back on my heels.

Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Legion
GENRE: Adult Paranormal

In the cold silence of my room, I count the faded scars on the inside of my forearm – one for every lie I was told. Like when my father promised me that the faces in the shadows didn’t exist – that I was just crazy like my mother.

A few inches under my wrist is the last.

I rest my head against the wooden, cherry polished headboard. It has to be nearly four o’clock in the morning. Two more hours until sunrise. Five more hours until my second to last session with the hypnotherapist.

My eyes, the dark aqua made black by the lack of light, focus on the shadows in the corners of the room. Eight years ago today is when it happened.

All I see is their blood when I close my eyes – all over my hands and the oversized shirt I slept in.
Staining the carpet. Painted across the broken coffee table.

So. Much. Blood. Why was there so much? It didn’t make any sense.

She can’t make me remember.

The old row house groans around me.

Two more hours until sunrise. Twenty-six hours until I can sleep at night again.

I wrap my arms around my knees and squint at the empty space under my closet door. The overstuffed tabby at the foot of my bed opens one eye and stretches across the purple floral quilt. She slow blinks at me and curls back into a ball.

Secret Agent #29

TITLE: Dolsa Bones And The Witch Who Stole Laughter
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Welcome, welcome, Curious One, you are in for a serious delight. And the price – oh, yes, there is a price – it is not too high. No. The price is time. Just a bit of yours. Not too much to ask, is it?
This tale in which you’ve turned begins in the oddest of ways. It begins with blue boots. Magical blue boots and a quest. Oh, yes, there has to be a quest.

Dolsa Bones was the most extraordinary of ordinary little girls. She would have to be, wouldn’t she? An ordinary, ordinary girl would never do. Never do indeed. But Dolsa Bones, she had that special ‘zing’. Something no amount of dirt or rags or limp could hide. Not from me.

I can smell better than I see, and I see better than you. And my hearing, well let’s just say that if I told you how well I could hear, well then, you might stop reading, and that would be most unfortunate, so please, stay with me.

I did ask nicely.

Where was I?

Oh, yes, Dolsa Bones. What a slight thing she was. All of eleven but didn’t look it. She was short, all bones and skin, with long, black braids down to her knees. She was as white as her father’s ghost, that is when she was clean, which wasn’t very often. She’s poor, you see. Thin and dirty, and oh, so, so hungry.

Secret Agent #28

TITLE: Gray Mist Soldiers
GENRE: MG Historical Adventure

Waves crashed against the craggy cliffs of Torrey Pines State Beach, sending flecks of spray high into the air, like spit. Peter tugged at his tight shirt collar. The sun had begun to burn through the clouds, making the occasion seem happy, instead of what it was. He preferred the gloomy mist.

Mom called him over. They were starting. With his head bent to avoid everyone's sorrowful stares, Peter slowly shuffled along the cliff's edge to join his brothers around the phony urn.

The minister started blabbing. Peter stared at the ground, and listened instead to the restless waves. One by one, his brothers stepped forward to grasp a fist of sand from the 'urn'. Jeff cleared his throat, and spoke with a husky voice out of place with his seventeen-year-old face. His solemn words were appropriate, and heartfelt. Jeff turned away from the crowd and stepped to the edge of the bluff, releasing the sand over the side. It drifted peacefully out of sight. Stephen was next. He said something funny, but inappropriate. Mom smacked his arm in a warning. He flung his sand out to the ocean. A gust of wind tossed it back in his face. Stephen cursed, which got him another warning smack. It was Derek's turn. He uttered an almost inaudible goodbye, and let the sand sift through his fingers into a pile at his feet. Peter was the youngest, and always last. He stepped forward, the vast sea stretching out before him.

Secret Agent #27

TITLE: Marvelous Menace
GENRE: YA Thriller

“Brooke Wagner, get down here right now!”

It was the fifth time Mom yelled for me, but I still wasn’t ready. I grabbed a necklace and earrings—would have to put them on in the car—and rushed downstairs. “This acceptable?”

Mom eyed me critically, probably comparing my out-of-control locks with her flawlessly coiled hair.

Her gaze lingered on my eyes, and her mouth tightened. Guess the blue eyeshadow to match my dress wasn’t the right choice. Unlike her, I couldn’t apply my makeup so perfectly it looked like I wasn’t wearing any. Her gaze shifted lower, and she shook her head and sighed.

“What’s wrong now?” I asked. Yeah, okay, by her standards, my dress was way too tight and a little short, but it wasn’t that low cut, and I thought I looked good with my sweet boots.

“There’s no time for you to change.” Her pursed red lips relaxed into a smile. “I really am glad you changed your mind and decided to go with us.”

I stopped myself from rolling my eyes. In eight days, I’d turn sixteen, and the best way to get my parents to throw me the huge party I wanted was to be the obedient daughter and join them for some boring play.

The fact that hunky Sebastian Karr was rumored to be there didn’t twist my arm any. Nope.

Mom patted her strawberry blond hair before donning a feathered hat. “Shall we?”

Secret Agent #26

TITLE: The Peacemaker's War

T-minus 100 (days remaining in the treaty)

The Peacemaker dreamt in color, as all Peacemakers do, but there was one shade that outweighed the others, overshadowing anything good. The Peacemaker’s dreams were filled with blood. It dripped, it pooled, and it flowed into Axum’s lakes, so much so, the soil was drenched with it.

The Peacemaker approached her father’s desk, “Commander, I have a dream to report.”

The Commander looked up, dropping his papers in turn. “Don’t call me that. Not here.” He gestured to the walls of their home, littered with family photos of yesteryear.

“But it’s your role father. We each have a part to play, and you’re the only one who knows mine—so you have to listen to all my dreams.”

He ignored the comment, making his way across the room to where his alcoholic spirits took up residence. More and more, he’d found himself over at the little cart.

“Don’t you want to hear it?” The girl closed the distance between them. “My dream?”

“Not yet.” The Commander poured a measure of gold liquid in his glass and took a swig. He swallowed hard and gave a heavy sigh. “Okay,” he turned to face her, “go ahead.”

“You die.” The girl held still, her mouth unmoved, but as she spoke, her shoulders trembled, “Again. And again. And again.”

The Commander saw the conflict in her wavering posture and reached out to comfort her.

Secret Agent #25 (removed)

Secret Agent #24

TITLE: The Children of Chaos : Telos
GENRE: YA Paranormal Fantasy

I want my wish back. I need a redo. I’d gladly give up the chance for the perfect ending to the best day of my life if it meant unseeing what I just saw. Well, maybe not gladly, but I’d seriously consider it. Besides, the wish was wasted. He left before it could come true. And what’s done can’t be undone; what’s seen unseen.

“That settles it,” Cara says as the credits begin scrolling. “I’m never going in a cave. Ever. Not even if my life depends on it. And I’ll never be able to drive behind a car carrying pipes again either. Thanks, Lily.”

“Don’t blame me. You picked it out.”

“Well, I can’t go to sleep now,” Aria says with a shiver. “Let’s watch some cartoons or something.”

“Can’t.” I turn off the television. “My dad’s already freaking out about Carmichael. Once he sees what movie we watched…well, I better not add more to my list of sins tonight. I’d like to live to see my sixteenth birthday.”

"Party pooper,” Aria and Cara say together, dissolving into sleepy giggles.

“You guys go ahead.” I pick up the popcorn bags. “I’ll be right there.”

Aria yawns. “Mm’k, but hurry up. I want all the details of what your dad caught him giving you.”

I touch the locket of my new necklace and smile.

“Ugh,” Cara groans. “I said I was okay with this, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear about my little brother’s kissing abilities.”

Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Base Metals: The Collected Diaries of Mayon Nathraichian
GENRE: Adult Science Ficton with Fantasy elements

The first race he created
The race of man
Was strong, and elegant
He first created the father he destroyed
When he created the race of women
He showed he desire for a daughter
That he could raise as his own
-The Book of Ydon

Well, this is disconcerting. For the first time since I graduated from school, my father summoned me into his office. Being summoned into the office of Elpense Nathraichian isn’t necessarily a good thing; in fact, quite often it is the opposite of good, involving things like the Arnfryd Female Academy or the need to entertain the daughter of some sort of special guest. As of right now, I’m still not sure if this has been a good thing.

First, I must explain why I’m writing.

It started earlier, several othnis ago. I approached my father’s office with caution, because horrible crying or shrieking is usually a direct cause of contact with Elpense. “Sit,” he commanded me, seeing me lingering in the doorframe.

“You are the first,” he said pensively, looking at me harshly. I hoped he would explain what he meant and merely attempted to not fidget under his gaze. “I don’t doubt that your job will be hard, Mayon. I wish that I could advocate it, or that I could assure you some sort of supremacy, but you are a woman. Wives of Emperors have never even been referred to as Empresses. We have never had an Empress.”

Secret Agent #22

TITLE: My Love is Vengeance
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The point of Gene’s blade lunged towards me. I staggered backwards, out of his reach, barely able to keep my balance on my spindly legs.

“Defend yourself!” Gene threw the whole force of his body in my direction. “For heaven’s sake, Tara. You need to repel me.”

“I’m trying,” I replied, darting to the side and forcing my sword up to meet his, while my heart shook like a ship on a storm-tossed sea. My waist-length hair swept from side to side, slowing my movement and threatening to break out of the green ribbon that restrained it.

Gene’s sword collided with mine and the impact reverberated through my bones. I tensed my stomach, held my breath and pushed back with all the strength I possessed, but he stood his ground and forced me to the floor.

“We could always do this the easy way.” Gene’s mental voice echoed in my mind.

No mind-melding. No possession. I’ll try harder,” I snapped back through our connection.

The tip of his blade touched my throat. I threw my sword to the floor. “I surrender. Gods help me, Gene, I surrender. Can’t you go easy on me, just for once?” My voice shook in sync with my muscles.

Gene raised one dark eyebrow. He withdrew his weapon, took my arm and helped me to my feet.
“Go easy? Why? Because you’re a woman? Because you’re my twin sister? The examiners won’t go easy on you. Neither will the scions of the Great Advisor Families.

Secret Agent #21

TITLE: The York Encounter
GENRE: Adult Thriller

Yes, his objective was clear, but the plan was thin.

He ordered his team to move out—exuding plenty of commando bravado. Usually it wasn’t an act. This time it was. Inwardly he was simply praying for a miracle. Kicking down doors was one thing, this would require more finesse—finesse he wasn’t sure he had.

He was to enter the west entrance of The Historic Grande Aston Theater at exactly eight thirty-two and take the back stairwell to the balcony-level private boxes. She would be in box seventeen, seat two. One minute before intermission he would enter box seventeen, sit next to the girl and have sixty seconds to convince her to leave with him. Convince a nine year old girl to abandon everything she's ever known and leave the theater with a perfect stranger—and do it very quickly and quietly.

Perfectly clear, not simple.

If she screamed or resisted, the scene would attract more attention than he and his team wanted to deal with. In and out. Quick. That was what they needed.

Given they’d confirmed her location only three hours ago, they’d devised a good plan. Good, not great.

Her handlers were from the Geshek government, but they had brought the child across the border into Candaria for reasons he still wasn’t sure of. He had reason to believe her life was in danger. And he was certain she knew things. A lot of things. Things he needed to know.

Secret Agent #20

TITLE: Fated Born
GENRE: YA Romantic Fantasy

Fate, usually constant and reliable, intervened creating a rift between what was right, and what felt right. Never before had those two concepts separated for Adonis.

He stared in disbelief through the watch window, unease pooling in his stomach. For reasons yet unknown, the fates demanded he observe the young couple—the son of a simple farmer and the daughter of a powerful lord.

They stood amongst the trees holding hands as sun fell to dusk. Eyes locked, they shared a smile, lighting their faces with excitement, hope, and something Adonis had never dared witness. He knew it was time to stop watching before it was too late; to let go of the moment taking place on the mortal world of Thera. But he couldn't. Like an immovable compass needle pointing the way, his instincts insisted he remain. It was the fates’ design.

From a world apart, Adonis kept his gaze upon them. The farm boy, Damian, white tunic billowing in the evening breeze, placed his hand against Eva's smooth cheek. He lowered his face until their lips met in the sweetest kiss never seen by a watcher of Thera.

A stirring within his soul sent Adonis’s heart to doing strange things. It beat fast, as if he’d run a race. These two mortals loved each other, and he witnessed them together. Actual true, romantic love. The kind unknown and forbidden to him and anyone in premortal Acantha. The kind they were warned not to watch.

Secret Agent #19

GENRE: YA Fantasy


Torturous pain erupts in every part of me, but the ones who watch have only pity in their eyes. Even Sabrina.

“Father, please, stop this.” I am not above begging with my final words.

“This is your own doing, Rhianna. It had to be you. Save us…” The rest becomes unintelligible screeches to my now-human ears. These new lungs burn for air as I claw my way to the surface. The pitiful human limbs are unable to propel me fast enough. The waves created by my family lift, push, vomit me onto the shore of the river into a world I cannot understand and do not want to.

I cough up the water that now means certain death to my shivering body. That is the only thing I know: humans can’t breathe water. I wish I could go back in time and not know it, because it is the reason I am here. That and the human boy.


This is it. The last time I’ll see the waterfall. Of course, I said that last week and the week before. So many delays. Machinery breaking down, mud slides, mysterious illnesses of the crew that the healers have never seen before. I’m not sure whether I’m glad about the delays or not.

That’s not true. I never wanted the dam.

It’s my fault they’re building it. My obsession. I’ll be eighteen in four short moons and the title of Lord will be hung in front of my name like a noose.

Secret Agent #18

TITLE: Child of the Night Guild
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

Viola huddled in darkness, shivering, arms wrapped around her knees. The sobs and whimpers of the other children echoed in the close, stale air.

Her back ached from sitting on hard stone. How long had it been since Iltair threw her in here? It felt like an eternity. She wanted to leave, but what awaited her beyond the door? Her stomach twisted as horrifying images played in her mind.

Confusion drowned out her fear. How could Papa abandon me?

Viola hugged her knees tighter. "Bright Lady, hear me and protect me in my hour of need."  Rocking, she whispered the prayer over and over, clinging to the litany like a lifeline. She wouldn't succumb to her terror.

The door swung open, and she shielded her eyes from the harsh light.

"Up, little 'uns." The voice was gruff but not unkind. "Time to meet your master."

Viola tried to stand. Her legs refused to cooperate. She'd eaten nothing that morning, and Iltair hadn't given her food before leaving her here. She swallowed. Her tongue felt thick and coarse, her throat filled with grit.

"Up, I said!"

Viola lowered her hands and blinked back tears. A bearded man stared down, the fire in his eyes matching the torch in his hands. She shrank back.

The man snarled. "Are you deaf, child?"

Viola shook her head.

"Just stupid and useless, are you?"

Again, Viola shook her head. Her parched throat refused to form words.

Secret Agent #17

TITLE: Basille
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Simon Teller did not know how he had left his body.

One minute, he’d been hunched over his desk pretending to listen to Mr Barrista drone on and on about volcanoes, and the next minute … well, here he was, watching himself hunched over his desk, pretending to listen to Mr Barrista drone on and on about volcanoes.

“It’s strange watching yourself working,” he grumbled, looking around the room. “Anyone else out here? No?”

Simon crossed his arms and tried to think things through. Given not only the bizarre situation that he now found himself in, but the undeniable fact that no one else seemed to be able to see or hear him, there was only one logical conclusion that he could come to. Mr Barrista’s Geography class was especially dull today and, as a result, he had in fact died of boredom. Any minute now, his body would keel over, and then the screaming would start.

Any minute now.

OK, he clearly wasn’t dead. Unfortunately, that meant that he’d most likely fallen asleep, and was just having a particularly unimaginative dream about what the teacher was saying. Simon sighed. “I am so not gonna get away with this one.”

A sudden cold breeze swept over Simon, and he shivered. Looking to his right, he saw that it had come from the now open window at the end of the room. This was strange for two reasons.

Secret Agent #16

TITLE: A Silence Grave and Hollow
GENRE: YA Thriller

Clara Saudade is dead. I know this without a doubt. Three days ago I buried her body.

Now I sit surrounded by doctors and nurses. Faceless blobs of blue and green that tell me I’m lucky to be alive, that it’s a miracle I've even survived. Scratching at the IV needle protruding from the back of my hand, I resist the urge to rip it out, toss it to the floor, and scream until I'm hoarse. I don’t feel very lucky. I feel hollow, purposeless. More than that though, for the first time in my life I feel alone. 

In the distance a steel tray is dropped, a metal clang on tile floor, the squeak of a rubber sole as someone stops to clean up the mess. Bleach and decay pervade the air, like rotted meat that's been cleaned from the counter and tossed in the trash, where it festers further. In a corner of the room, the flat white paint is cracked and peeling, tumbling like unspooled ribbon towards the floor. On one side of my bed a monitor beeps steadily, like the ticking of a clock, the beating of my heart. On the other, a man stands awash in fluorescent lighting, his skin a sickly white. He’s the only one who doesn’t seem to think my survival is miraculous, this man in the pressed but faded suit and scuffed leather shoes. His hooded eyes droop at the edges, pulling down towards an unsmiling mouth, eyelids stained the reddish-purple of a fresh bruise or a rough kiss.

Secret Agent #15

TITLE: Beautiful Woods
GENRE: YA Dark Fantasy

It was her laugh that first caught Mecca’s attention. The opposite of the sharp, giggles normal teenage girls break into when they tell secrets. This girl’s scratched deeper, huskier, like she’d recently recovered from a cold. She’d coughed a little too, and Mecca couldn’t resist stepping from her hiding place to sneak a glance at the girl’s face.

Breath caught in her throat. The girl was perfect. Perfect. She had the same Mayan tan complexion, big brunette eyes, and pixie-shaped face. The hair was wrong, but that could be fixed. She was even the right age. Mecca bit her lip and blew air hard through her nostrils. She looked just like Laila. She could be her.

Mecca had been following the girl for almost an hour while she shopped with her friends, stared at jewelry and boys, laughed, held hands, and tried on clothes. They’d finally stopped to catch a film, bogged down with shopping bags and Icees, popcorn and candy. It was dark in the theater, but Mecca could make out every detail.

She’d already separated the girl’s scent from the three girls and memorized it, listening only for the tone of her voice above the others. She watched for her to move an arm, check her phone, flick her hair, anything. It was a game. When she moved, Mecca would inhale. If she leaned over to whisper to her friends, Mecca would exhale.

She had to have this girl. None other would do.

Secret Agent #14

TITLE: The Paper Crane
GENRE: Adult Upmarket women's fiction

When I said, “Go as fast as you can,” I didn’t expect the cabbie to drive like Jackie Chan. He raced along the highway and swerved past a red light while horns blasted behind us. Clutching my seat, I cursed myself for that foolhardy instruction. My appointment with the diva queen wasn’t worth dying for.

He slammed his foot on the brakes. The tires squealed and we juddered to a halt.

Barely ten in the morning, Yee Wo Street was packed with vendors hawking everything from clothing and accessories to handicraft. Bargain hunters – locals and tourists alike – thronged the pathway.
I braved through the crowd with practiced reflexes, yelling a well-known Cantonese phrase, “Hot water. Hot water.”

Inside the Wah Hing building – a structure as old as the colonial relics on the Shanghai Bund – the security guard immersed in Master Wong’s Sure Win Horse Racing Manual failed to notice my presence. Hah. If Master Wong had a sure win formula, wouldn’t he be frolicking with bikini-clad chicks on his yacht, sipping martinis and laughing at us mortals in the rat race?

I rode the elevator to the tenth floor.

The cleaning lady was polishing our office door so no one would miss the fading words: Z Entertainment Talent Agency.

I cleared my throat. “Morning, Joanne.”

“Ah, Kirsten, that hand cream you gave me worked like a charm. See, my hands are smoother now.”

“Great. I’ll get you another jar.” My sister had an endless supply of freebies from her firm.

Secret Agent #13

TITLE: Dreammare
GENRE: YA Fantasy

I wasn’t afraid of nightmares, because the real nightmares were people. Folks like Will’s father or my old neighbor or the person who cut Paige’s face. But this nightmare looked real, like they all do.
Every line of her body was solid, down to the unusually deep curve between her jutting ribcage and her scrawny hips. When she moved up my bed, her bones cracked, and when I moved back against my headboard, she crawled halfway up my torso. Nose-to-nose, she smelled like rain, and water dripped off her hair onto my sternum. This woman had horns. Three horns as black as night and as difficult to decipher from the shadows as her inky, stringy hair.

I told myself what I always told myself, what my mother told me, what my doctor promised me, what my father used to say.

She was not real.

But she grinned when our eyes met, and I couldn’t help it. I screamed.

My mother burst into my bedroom on cue, as if she’d been anticipating another one of my midnight episodes, and as much as I wanted to tell her that I was fine now—that I understood my diagnosis—I secretly loved what happened every time she came. The hypnopompic hallucination disappeared, a side effect of my narcolepsy. A reoccurring, paralyzing side effect. They happened between sleep and wakefulness, and lasted anywhere from a few seconds to a minute.

Secret Agent #12

TITLE: The Dealings of Benjamin Darkly
GENRE: Adult Speculative Fiction

Ben could say with pretty good certainty the cooking lessons he’d given his buddy the boogeyman weren’t so effective.

Merril was kneeling on a barstool across the kitchen island from Ben, humming an old Stones tune, grinding with his hands a pinkish-brown mixture in a glass bowl.  Every few churns he glanced up and bared his teeth -- a smile, for Merril anyway.  His eyes, a pair of cruelly unequal lumps of coal set close to his beaked nose, glittered with tremendous glee.  Granted, his approach to baking wouldn’t fly at the barbeque shack Ben owned outside of town, but hey.  They were home, and the thought was all that mattered.

“You know,” said Ben, “I’m not sure if you’re eating them, pocketing them for the lean times, or just dropping them on the floor, but there are a bit too many eggs missing from the carton.”  He counted three remaining in the Styrofoam jumbo pack by Merril’s workstation, and could have sworn there were eleven a couple of minutes ago.

“Well, I’m not sure what you’re trying to insinuate, but this recipe happens to be really, really eggy.  Good protein to balance out the butter.”

“Is that right?”  He leaned over the counter to get a look at the quiet chaos surrounding Merril, but he shifted on his chair to block Ben’s view of the floor.

“I believe you can quote Paula Deen on that.”  Merril’s cool, smoky voice brought rise to gooseflesh beneath Ben’s long-sleeves.