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- Alice Loweecey
- Beth Hull
Friday, January 30, 2009
How about a few huzzahs? Unless, of course, you're one of those odd Minnesota-types who thinks a 30 degree day is balmy. (I'm not making this up. I didn't even hear it from Garrison Keeler. It's, like, true.)
It's okay. I love my Minnesota readers, too. I'm just diametrically opposed to your climate.
Come, sweet Spring!
So. You're dying to know what I'm going to say next. Here it is: Next week I'll be posting early information for our February Secret Agent contest. And as usual, I'm mega excited!
Remember, if you're one of this month's winners, you mustn't enter in February. Also, unless you've done major revisions (I'm not talking commas and periods), I don't want to see your manuscript page from last month, either.
Which makes me think that, despite the wonderful critting opportunity it afforded many of you, we probably ought to refrain from doing revision crits after SA contests from now on. Because you're basically getting crits from the same audience, and it'll end up being redundant. Yanno? And I want everyone who does major revisions to have an opportunity to receive critique during a contest, if at all possible.
Remember, we're building the Premium Slush Pile here. (Maybe I should get that trademarked...) Several of our winners are getting Good Responses after sending off their winning material. And one of these days, I'm going to get an email from someone with a Good Response that says, "I have an agent! And it's all because of the Secret Agent Contest!!"
Oh, yes. I'll be breaking open a bottle of Amon-Ra Shiraz that day. (If I can afford it.)
Share your thoughts -- only here's today's challenge: Share them in the worst purple prose you can come up with. Get it out of your system so that it doesn't show up in your manuscript.
See you Monday!
Thursday, January 29, 2009
A Big THANK YOU From Our Second First Chapter Author
Her words to you:
Thank you so much for your uber-helpful, thoughtful, in-depth critiques of my 1st chapter (see, I can't stop using adjectives!). I feel like words cannot express my appreciation, but I am, after all, a writer (or trying to become one) and I must avoid defeatist thinking, so I hope that I am able to get across in these words my appreciation and gratitude for the time and effort you placed in helping me to make my story stronger and tighter.
I am wordy and effusive in real life, and you have definitely helped me to see where it is coming through too much in my writing. I LOVE the way that people took my overlong sentences, chopped a bit here and there, and sped up both the tempo and the message I was trying to get across. I also am going to do a rewrite where she sees the purple tent right away also, and then compare the two. I see the fake hook problem, and it makes me feel torn. Some SAs mentioned that they like to see some character building before the action. But I could probably find a way to marry both.
I'm very glad that Sam comes across like a 12 year old, with some glitches that I can fix. And I definitely need to clarify some things. Sandra, you're right, Sam does get possessed or taken over by some psychological magic in the tent, but I'm guessing that since many people thought it was just her stepping out of character that I need to bring something in that clarifies that. My vision for Sam is that she will be a complex heroine, very tempted by power as well as drawn toward goodness, and much of the series (for it is a series, oh my!) will deal with her struggle with self. So I was attempting to bring forth this pull toward domination, toward her end at any cost, but I can see that it needs more clarification. I also see that Sam needs to react to her name on the book, because, after all, with the exception of the doll that's probably the creepiest thing that happens to her in the tent.
Abby was able to sense Sam because, as it turns out, she has a pendant too - but I also need to clarify that. I laughed out loud here at work when I read the line about how stalker-ish the toy line seems. I will definitely fix that! I also chuckled about how they seem like the Keystone cops in the tent and will be editing out most of the falls. In terms of them not being talked to, it comes out later that the Liffeys are considered weird because of their father, who is also very distant toward them, which motivates them to go meet the Baba Yaga since that's where their mother is. Good calls on the cliched lines, and the places where they can be cut.
I also want to express appreciation to you all for pointing out what you liked about the story mixed in with what you think could be improved. It's good to know what works and what doesn't. I am grateful for both your positive comments and your constructive comments.
This has been extremely helpful and encouraging. With writing I feel like the ultimate goal is reachable. The only thing that would get in the way would be not wanting to spend the time to fix something, to work with the imagination to create something stronger than the previous until it is as good as possible. And I definitely want to spend the time to work with all of your suggestions. Writing is slow - and I think that once we accept that, we can accomplish what we want to accomplish. When I'm ready to agent this, it will be much better for the slowness.
Authoress, thank you again for this opportunity, and for your critique. I love the edits you made. The story reads so much smoother. I do indeed want my readers to breathlessly move to the next chapter. As of now, I'm giving them too much time to breathe!
I am humbled, and I appreciate it. Thank you. I look forward to reading more 1st chapters. I have learned so much from this blog, not only from my own feedback but from reading the feedback given to others and giving my own.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Revised First Chapters Now Up!
Head on over and leave your critiques!
"Why Do I Write?" by Luc2
Luc2's contribution is beautifully written and captures so much truth about what it means to write. Without further ado, here is his comment from last Friday:
Why do I write? I write because I can raise armies to fight my demons, build castles to guard my secrets, and dig holes to bury my fears. I create characters to travel to the exotic places I can’t go by myself, to gather riches I’ll never have and to encounter other people and beings which I’ll never meet by myself.
With writing I unleash the dragon from within, to tame him, to fly on his back over the world, and sometimes to slay him. Over and over again.
I write to distance myself from my everyday troubles, but also to help solve them. I create a certain distance, yet stay close to myself. When I write, I solve problems that I can’t seem to solve in real life, stand up to people who I normally follow slavishly, and prevail in situations which I’ve always avoided outside the written world.
I write so I can recapture wonderful moments of my life, as well as create moments I wished I had. I write about the good and bad in life, but in a different setting and with different consequences. Or not.
I write about a chaotic battle, and thus create order in my head. I create a scene where a character is tormented by storm and rain, enjoying the roof over my head. I let my MC put his feet up before a fire in the hearth, brandy in hand, and I relax myself.
Why do I write? Because these words on paper or computer screens are incantations which provide their own little moments of magic. The words are spells to give me pleasure and contentment, wards against whatever bad is out there.
I write despite the frustrations and pains of the process, and also because of them. Without them I would never truly appreciate the thrill of a well-crafted scene, the satisfaction of unearthing a nice little character trait or the pride in a perfect sentence (until the next revision).
Monday, January 26, 2009
Our Second First Chapter
Anyway, Blodwyn's chapter will be up all week, waiting for your thoughtful critiques. Questions? Post them here, to keep the other comment box filled with critiques only.
Thanks for your bravery, Blodwyn!
First Chapter Critique #2
GENRE: Middle reader fantasy/adventure
Samantha Liffey jumped back, barely avoiding the gaggle of elves, goblins, witches and sprites that tumbled out of the alehouse and into the crisp autumn evening.
“Toadspawn!” cursed a petite, rather plump witch. She steadied her tall, black pointed hat and aimed her wand at Sam. “Look out, young sorceress, lest danger befall you!”
Sam rolled her eyes and pushed past the witch. Oh, how she loathed the Salem Halloween Festival. Grown people dressed as warlocks, wizards, fairies…come on. Next year, her older sister was just going to have to find someone else to drag with her.
And of course Abby had vanished just after they’d gotten through the gates. She’d probably gone off to the fortune-teller’s hut to hear her love forecast, or to the apothecary for some beauty-enhancing potion. Lately her sister’s mind ran on one track: boys. Not that she ever had a date, though. No one talked to the Liffey girls if they could avoid it.
Sam jammed her hands into the pockets of her jacket and shook her coppery, corkscrew hair out of her eyes. Enough of that. And make the best of it. That’s what Mom would have said. Sam pulled a golden necklace hung with a ruby spider charm out from under her sweater - the last gift Mom had ever given her. It was kinda goth. Maybe it would help her get into the spirit.
“Hi there, little girl, want to look at some toys?” A teenager with purple-streaked black hair waved a doll at her. Sam shook her head and walked on. Little girl? Give me a break. I’m twelve years old. I don’t play with dolls. She stopped at a stall selling witchy clothes and pulled a white, lacy gown off the rack. Now, this was more like it. She twirled, the dress fanning out in front of her.
“How lovely,” said an old woman with a toothless grin. “That color really brings out your dark eyes. Get some cream for those freckles, dearie, and you could look almost pretty!”
Almost pretty? Sam gave the old woman the meanest glare she could muster and stuffed the dress back on the rack. She ducked around the stand as the buzz of voices swirled around her.
Turning the corner, she spotted a bright purple tent at the very back of the festival. Shimmering in the fading sunlight, it stood in sharp contrast to the busy, open stalls surrounding it.
Sam frowned, squinting. It looked abandoned. No one was going in or out. Interesting. Maybe it was some relic of last year's festival. She headed down the row, moving this way and that to avoid the jostling, talkative, mirthful crowd. Her feet kicked up clouds of dust and the scents of kettle corn and mulled mead washed over her in waves.
As she neared the tent, an abrupt stillness fell, just as if someone had hit “mute” on a TV remote. No one laughed, talked, shouted or cried, and no one walked near the tent. In fact, no one even looked at it. It was like the tent wasn’t even really there.
Sam stood in front of the entrance and studied it. Should she go in?
Suddenly, the ground seemed to jerk under her feet, and she stumbled forward, catching herself on the tent flap. An earthquake? In Massachusetts? The pendant around her neck felt warm. Looking down, she saw that it glowed scarlet.
Get out of here. The words came to Sam's mind as clearly as if someone had spoken. Her legs felt like rubber, but she forced them to move back toward the pathway. Turning, she tried to run, but the tent materialized like magic in front of her. Her head began to pound. She moved to the left and then to the right, but the tent moved with her. She twisted this way and that, but everywhere she turned, the tent blocked her path.
"Help! Someone help me!" she yelled around her heart, which seemed to have moved up through her neck and lodged into her throat. She waved her arms, but everyone just kept on walking by. Had she become invisible? "Help! I need help!" she shrieked.
The pendant on her neck grew warmer until it felt hot enough to be on fire, but it didn’t burn her skin. She felt it tug gently against her throat, pulling toward the tent’s entrance.
“Help!” Sam shouted again, twisting inside the chain as the necklace began to pull harder.
“Sam!” Abby called in the distance.
“Abby!” Sam screamed, her voice strangled by the necklace. “Hurry!” She saw her sister dart toward her through the crowd, her long, dark blonde hair streaming behind her. She reached Sam in large strides that were more like leaps. Grabbing Sam around the shoulders, she tried to pull her away from the tent.
“Help!” Sam and Abby screamed together, but the crowd didn’t take any notice of them. The necklace pulled harder and harder at Sam’s neck until the force broke Abby’s grip. Sam fell through the tent flap and into the darkness inside. The pendant dropped back against her chest with a small thud.
“Ouch!” Sam slammed into a table. A candle flickered to life, casting eerie shadows against the walls of the tent. The air felt cold and damp, like the inside of a cave.
“S-Sam?” Abby asked from outside. “A-are you okay?”
“I think so,” said Sam, rubbing her hip. Turning toward the entrance, she yanked at the tent flap but it didn’t budge. “It won’t open, Abby!” What was going on? She heard her sister shouting for help outside.
Sam pounded on the tent flap. “Get me out of here!”
“Sam - no one's answering me, and I can't seem to move away from this tent. It's like I hit a solid wall of air. I’m going to try to pull you out,” said Abby, her voice sounding breathless. “Take my hand, okay?” She reached in through the doorway and Sam grabbed her hand.
Instantly, the pendant came to life, tugging at Sam’s neck until she fell backward, wrenching Abby through the entrance and into the tent. Sam hit the table again and Abby landed on top of her. Pain shot up Sam’s back and the pendant fell, lifeless, against her chest.
“Oh, no,” Abby whispered, standing up and pulling Sam after her.
Sam squinted into the dim light. Now what?
“Hello?” she asked. No answer. She swallowed hard against the dryness of her throat. What was this place?
Abby squeezed her hand as the two girls looked around. Sam’s eyes found a glimmering crystal skull sitting on the table. She bent closer. Inside each of its deep eye sockets sat a brilliant red ruby. Pulling her hand from Abby’s, Sam tapped the skull between its eyes. It felt smooth and cold.
Her breathing slowed. This didn’t seem so scary. In fact it seemed…homelike, familiar. She shook her head from side to side. It felt like it had been stuffed with cotton balls. She hummed a little under her breath, feeling her shoulders relax. Nothing in this tent could hurt her. She was too powerful, too cunning, too brave…
“I think you’d better leave that alone,” said Abby. Her voice sounded as though it came from far away. Sam looked up. Her sister had her hands clasped in front of her stomach.
Abby has always been a little bit chicken, Sam thought as she ran her finger down the skull’s cheekbone. She’s always liked her magic best faked. But I like my magic to be real.
“I said, stop touching that,” hissed Abby.
Sam pulled her hand away from the skull. No need to make Abby pitch a fit and spoil the mood. She picked up a small blue book that lay next to the skull. Silver spirals covered its surface, and they appeared to be moving. The book began to vibrate. Sam tilted the book toward the candlelight.
“Stop it!” Abby begged. “Don’t be stupid. You don’t know what any of it is!”
Oh, bother. Abby had no spine.
Sam did, though. She opened the book.
"I just want to take a quick look," she said. A brilliant white glow emanated from the pages, causing the shadows on the wall to grow.
Sam’s mouth fell open as words began to form in golden letters on the first page. Book of the Baba Yaga, they read. She leaned closer - smaller letters were forming under the title. By Samantha Liffey.
"What does it say?" asked Abby, her voice sounding fearful. Sam looked up. Just then, a large, hairy red spider dropped from the ceiling onto Abby’s arm. She yelled and brushed it off as Sam dropped the book. The spider scuttled away in the darkness.
Sam heard a rushing sound, like that of a strong wave hitting the beach, and her mind cleared as though a fog had lifted. She pressed a hand to her forehead. What had come over her? Her heart, which had been beating a slow, steady rhythm, began to pick up its pace until it pounded in her ears.
“Let’s get out of this place, now!” Abby clutched Sam’s hand convulsively and pulled her toward the tent flap, but Sam’s foot caught the table leg; she fell and the table overturned. Abby leaped out of the way as the skull crashed to the floor and its eye sockets lit up, flooding the tent with light.
Pushing herself to her knees, Sam crammed her hand over her mouth to block the ferocious scream that threatened to fill the air. She had landed right on a yellowed doll with brown hair that fell to his waist. He had thin, black lines for eyes, a misshapen, crumbling nose and a flattened, crooked mouth. A leather shirt and pants decorated with beads and jewels covered his body. Sam almost stopped breathing as she studied the doll. She caught a faint moldy, musty smell like that of an attic. I know this doll, she thought. But how? With trembling hands she lifted him from the floor.
The doll’s eyes snapped open. He grinned at her.
“Hello, Samantha,” he said. “How good to see you. You’ve kept us waiting for a long, long time.”
Friday, January 23, 2009
Why do you write?
I mean, give it some thought. Most of us have a "quick answer" that flies out of our mouths without our having to think about it.
"I love telling stories."
"If I didn't write, I would drop dead."
But take a few minutes to really ponder the why. We all know that writing -- good writing, that is -- is work. As in, WORK! So it's not a day in the park, is it? Regardless of how exhilarated we may feel after we've accomplished something.
So what is it, for you? What is your why? (That sentence, taken out of context, is absolutely horrid. You'd think I couldn't write. Or something.)
Here's my answer:
If we're talking about the nonfiction writing -- blogging, e-books, etc. -- I do it because it is almost effortless, and I love it. I have a heart to teach, to encourage, to bring laughter. To be able to do these things through the gift of the written word is a delight.
If we're talking about fiction for children -- I do it because I derive intense pleasure (and have for as long as I can remember) from creating worlds and characters who exist outside of the everyday-ness of my life, and who do wonderful things. I also dearly love children (all ages, up to that difficult-to-pin-down "young adult" age), and I have a fond desire for children (lots of children) to fall in love with my worlds, my characters, my stories. Not only that, but I want my writing to inspire youngsters to read -- and to WRITE. And I want them to read and to write WELL. With passion, with zest, with a desire to learn and grow and improve and excel.
I don't want to be "famous." I want to be "beloved."
Okay. Your turn.
Oh, and in case you're not feeling like joining our therapy session? Let's play a little "make the worst sentence possible" game. It's easy: I will post a simple, two-word sentence. The next person will add ONE WORD or ONE SIMPLE PHRASE to it. The next person will do the same thing, without changing what's already there. When we're through, we'll have an incredibly nasty, run-on sentence that will make us all feel better about our writing.
1. Jennifer wept.
2. Jennifer wept uncontrollably.
3. Jennifer, shivering with cold, wept uncontrollably.
4. Jennifer, shivering with cold, wept uncontrollably in the garden.
5. Jennifer, shivering with cold, wept uncontrollably in the garden, while Bruce watched.
You get the idea.
So. Here is our starter sentence:
Don't let me down. I love your creativity. *grin*
(And a note to my email subscribers: If you want to play, please remember to click on the blog link. If you reply to this email, your comment will NOT show up on the blog!)
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Wonderful Opportunity For Our Secret Agent Subbers!!
Our own Sarah Jensen has graciously offered to host a REVISED PAGE FEST on her blog next week!
Here are Sarah's instructions:
All participants who have done revisions on their first pages since last week's contests are invited to send their revision 250 words to msfvrevisions(at)gmail.com by Tuesday, January 27 at 9 pm MST. Important: PLEASE INCLUDE THE POST NUMBER OF YOUR ORIGINAL ENTRY HERE ON MISS SNARK'S FIRST VICTIM. Please also include the title/genre at the top of your entry, the same way you did when you entered the contest. Sarah will provide a link back to the original page along with your revised page.
She will begin putting the pages up on Wednesday the 28th and they will be ready for comments on Thursday the 29th.
You will be able to view and critique the revised pages next week at Legend of the Protectors. (I'll post a reminder here.)
Leave your questions here in the comments box for Sarah to answer. And a huge THANK YOU to Sarah for doing this!
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
New Rule For Secret Agent Contests
Effective immediately: All critiques signed "Anonymous" will be deleted. If you do not want to use your real name (and, hey, who am I to argue?), please choose the third option in the comment box, which is "Name/URL." You are not required to enter a URL -- just a name will do. Any name. Something by which you can be identified and recognized on this blog.
Otherwise, your words will be zapped.
Are you dying to know why?
It seems one of our anonymous critters decided it was okay to make snarky comments in the Secret Agent's direction. Subtle, perhaps. Unnoticed by the masses, perhaps.
But noticed by Ms. Davies. And pointed out to me.
I was not amused.
While it's perfectly fine to disagree with the comments of our Secret Agent (agents are not, after all, demigods; you know this, of course, if you have read AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED), it is not perfectly fine to make disparaging, rude comments that dis our Secret Agent or agents in general.
Comments such as:
"For someone to say it's cliche is not overly smart." (Posted after our Secret Agent had pointed out a cliche.)
"I think the problem with literary agents they forget who the audiences are. Now as far as getting an agent to open their [sic] eyes and use some brain cells, I don't know what to tell you."
Frankly, I'm appalled.
It's bad enough to spout negative comments toward an agent who is graciously giving us her time and expertise. To do so anonymously is cowardly to boot.
So. No more "Anonymous" in the signature lines, please.
The publishing biz is a "small world." If you're going to give yourself a reputation for snarkiness, be kind enough to attach your name to it. That way, the agents and publishers can give each other fair warning when you're walking their way.
Can you tell I have no patience for this? None.
As for our Secret Agent? Her main concern was that the Anonymous poster wasn't the same person she had chosen for her first place winner (she wasn't). Why? Well, who wants to work with someone who has just left a trail of rude, inappropriate comments? It isn't just about the writing. It's about whether you are someone an agent wants to work with.
Ninety-nine percent of you would never dream of being rude to one of our Secret Agents. Ninety-nine percent of you need absolutely no reminders to be polite and helpful during your critiques. I have never felt the need to "police" you during our contests. This is truly one of the most amazing communities I've ever seen spring up online.
I mean that. And I hated having to write this.
So. Let's end on a positive note: I'm super excited about February's Secret Agent contest (okay, when am I not super excited about a Secret Agent contest?). And as for the remainder of January: We'll be having another First Chapter critique next week! So roll up your sleeves and get ready to dig into to another whole chapter.
Hugs and chocolate to you all.
Monday, January 19, 2009
And The Winners Are.....
Without further ado, here are this round's winners, hand-picked by Sarah Davies:
Honourable Mentions (spelled the British way, in honour of Ms. Davies) -- who, in the words of Ms. Davies, will receive "no prize other than the joy of having piqued my interest!":
#51 – THE ONLY WAY FORWARD by Siobhan
#48 – EDEN by English151
#39 – DAMAGE CONTROL by AmberJ
And here are the CONTEST WINNERS:
Third prize: #46 – THE MIRROR by ElanaJ
The prize: Ms. Davies will read the first chapter – or 10 pages, whichever is shorter.
Second prize: #11 – THE BIGGEST WEIRDO IN THE WHOLE EIGHTH GRADE by onetiredmama
The prize: Ms. Davies will read the first 3 chapters – or 50 pages, whichever is shorter.
First prize: #27 – FOREST FOR THE TREES by Ink Wench
The prize: Ms. Davies will read the full manuscript.
Place winners: Please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for submission instructions.
Also, Ms. Davies has asked that I let you all know that, while other entries were well written, she went for the ones that felt most commercial to her.
Secret Agent Unveiled: SARAH DAVIES
A round of applause for our feisty and ever so helpful Sarah Davies of the the Greenhouse!
Sarah Davies runs the Greenhouse, a full-service literary agency exclusively for authors of fiction (though not picture books) for children and young adults. Greenhouse launched in January 2008 and has already developed and sold a number of debut authors. With offices in Virginia (just outside Washington DC) and London, the agency represents both American and British authors and sells direct to both markets. Foreign rights are handled by sister-company Rights People – a specialist children’s rights-selling business with a fast-growing reputation for selling literary properties around the world.
Sarah has more than 25 years’ experience of children’s publishing, moving to the USA from London in 2007. She started her career at Collins (before it was HarperCollins), followed by a spell at Transworld/Random House. In 1994 she joined Macmillan Children’s Books in London as Fiction Editor, rising through the editorial ranks to Publishing Director and member of the management board, where she was involved in all aspects of business strategy and development for an award-winning list which published 200+ titles per year, from novelty/preschool books to sophisticated teen fiction. She held this position until 2007 when she left to start Greenhouse.
Sarah has worked with and published many leading authors on both sides of the Atlantic. Americans include Judy Blume, Meg Cabot, Sharon Creech, Carl Hiaasen, Karen Cushman, David Baldacci, Sarah Mlynowski, and Gary Paulsen. Brits include Philip Pullman, Peter Dickinson, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Eva Ibbotson, and Frances Hardinge. She also has considerable experience in contract negotiation, marketing and rights, as well as a strong understanding of digital developments. Excellent publishing contacts in both the USA and Britain - and homes in both countries - give her a uniquely transatlantic vision. She makes regular trips to New York and London, and in 2007 was a member of the judging panel for SCBWI UK’s first-ever writing competition, which resulted in the anthology ‘Undiscovered Voices’.
Married to an American, Sarah has twin sons who are more-or-less grown-up now, but who taught her much of what she knows about children and reading. She attends major international book fairs and trade events and loves meeting new authors and nurturing fresh talent. She says, ‘Everything I’d most like you to know about Greenhouse is embodied in its name. You’ll find my Ten Top Tips for writing children’s fiction, and lots more info, on the Greenhouse website.
What Sarah is currently looking for:
- Smart, high-concept tween fiction with a strong voice and lots of commercial appeal.
- Strong middle-grade fiction, with adventurous storylines – perhaps with supernatural/spooky plots, if really original. Boy protagonists, international settings, historical/magical threads are all interesting. Strong characters that leap off the page.
- Teen novels that are arresting, dark, superbly well written and linger in the mind and heart.
- Other fiction I would love to find: A great story set in the Middle East with authentic characters (a KITE RUNNER for young people). A big and important novel with themes that engage and challenge the intellect; this could be futuristic or perhaps have political or racial issues woven into the storyline. A ‘novel for our times’!
Stay tuned! I know you're all dying to know who the winners are. They'll be announced shortly.
Friday, January 16, 2009
I love it.
You may have noticed my attempt to get through the list and leave critiques this time. At this writing, I've only gotten through the first 15 or so and it's not looking promising...but I did try! So many of you have left excellent, helpful feedback, as always.
Since we're swimming happily in children's literature this week, tell me your thoughts on its future. Are you of the "Books Are Dying" camp, fearing that in another two decades no child will know what a real book looks like? Or are you of the "Books Will Never Die" camp? What about content/subject matter? Is today's YA taking it "too far" with adult themes? What, exactly, does MG mean, anyway? And what about picture books -- an extremely hard sell in today's market? (Perhaps if they stopped publishing all the mamby-pampy rot I've seen on the library shelves, it wouldn't be so difficult...?)
Let's talk kidlit -- a subject near and dear to my heart!
And of course I'll see you on Monday for our big unveiling and the announcing of winners!
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
51 SECRET AGENT
One minute before nine. And the feeling was getting worse.
"One more minute until my doom." I muttered. My fingers were gray and trembling. The room was frigid with over-zealous air-conditioning.
"No, one more minute until my doom." Sylvia whispered back. I glanced at her. She looked perfect as usual, her brown hair perfectly styled and gleaming under the fluorescent lights. She even had make-up on. Who wore make-up to take a final exam?
"Please put all your study materials away now." Mr. Johnson announced. The class made a collective groan and, for a moment, there was no sound except for the swish of paper as Mr. Jones passed out a thick sheaf of test booklets.
The exam slid in front of me and my eyes shot to the first question: 'We know from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity that time is relative to the speed at which one is traveling. What other forces affect the passage of time?'
My heart flubbed a beat, and then began to pound frantically. The pencil I was clutching fell from my fingers and clattered on the floor.
"No. Not now, not now." I whispered. But it was too late. The walls of the room darkened and seemed to move farther away, as though I were falling into a tunnel. And then there was pain.
The pain came so quickly it felt as though I had gotten stabbed in the chest. I collapsed onto the floor, my arms pressed against my heart.
50 SECRET AGENT
My fingernails dug into my palms as my eyelids tried to shut out every twitch and pain of the past twenty-four hours.
I had spent last night and today locked in the stocks in the town square, meant to be a spectacle, a reminder to the community of what happens to traitors. But I was NO traitor.
“You will not escape unscathed, young lady,” snarled Constable Duffield. “Washington’s words spared your life, nothing more. Make sure she does not forget what happens to those who even think of betrayal.”
Two jurymen held me while others cut my hair. I struggled vehemently, twisting beneath their grip, screaming for them to stop. My efforts only insured my hair was shorn in uneven tufts close to my head. I must have looked hideous.
Once released, the length of my rejection would be determined by the how long it took my hair to grow back. They couldn’t go against the word of General Washington, but they could make certain I’d be shunned by the entire city.
I struggled to stay awake. It would be easy to fall asleep and hope the cold would take me. But, I couldn’t die now. Abby needed me.
49 SECRET AGENT
GENRE: Middle Grade
Crevan Fox strutted away from the beach of Crescent Moon Bay, shaking the sand off his feet once he reached the sidewalk. He looked back at the red and white striped lighthouse at the other end of the beach, shook his head in disgust.
“It had better only be a rumor,” he said to himself. “Dad will know.”
A laughing toddler ran right into him, spilling her root beer float down Crevan's leg.
"What in the heck are you doing?" Crevan barked, stepping back as she dropped her cup on his foot. He scowled as the girls' bottom lip quivered. Great, here come tears.
“Stupid tourists," he mumbled as the parents ran over. “Making me late.”
"I'm so sorry," the mom said, frowning. She took napkins from her husband, shoving them at Crevan.
"This wouldn't happen if you'd watch your brat better," Crevan said, snatching the napkins.
The man picked up his weeping daughter and patted her back. "Settle down, son. Accidents happen. She’s just a baby,” he said, bouncing her around. He scowled at Crevan. “You weren't watching where you were going either. I saw you admiring the lighthouse."
"Admiring?" Crevan snapped. "I was not!" He bent to wipe at the sticky mess on his foot and flip flop. "I mean look at it. There’s no windows, no doors. It's never been used." He stood up, gestured at the lighthouse. "No one even knows who built it. It's just a big stupid eyesore."
48 SECRET AGENT
Silently pad by the kitchen where the dog sleeps near the stove and my father reads the paper with his back to the door. Careful up the carpeted stairs, avoiding the two creaky spots until I reach my room.
I ball up my clothes, put them beneath a pile of towels and pull on my nightgown. I take the long one with sleeves that skitter down to my knuckles. I have just pulled the quilt over my shoulders when someone knocks.
“Come in,” I call.
“Oh, you’re awake,” my mother says, “I knocked before, but you were still sleeping.” She is holding the roses. “I cut these for you. I thought they would look so nice on your bureau the way they match the smaller roses in your wall paper. Look here, Missy.” She taps at tiny roses on the wall. “At these.”
“Yeah.” I slide further down into the quilt.
“Well, you don’t seem excited, but I guess that’s to be expected at your age.” She comes nearer to me on the bed. “Why are you wearing a winter nightgown on such a warm morning, Missy?”
“Cold last night,” I murmur. I want to say, I’m wearing it to hide my arms, Mom. I cut them for you.
47 SECRET AGENT
Heinz Schultz’s word could send a man to prison. Though only fifteen, the Nazi party had empowered him. He was strong and tall, just a few years older then those of us he led. I esteemed him. I feared him. And I wanted to be just like him.
“We are leaders,” he told us, “not followers. One day the youth of Germany will rule the world!” His voice had recently lowered an octave making what he said sound more severe. “Give me examples of our superiority.”
Heinz’s brother, Rolf raised his hand, “We are white, Aryan and not Jewish.” He said this like the rest of us were too dull to know the answer. He may be Heinz’s brother but he still sounded like a girl.
“True,” Heinz agreed. “Others?
Friedrich thrust his long skinny arm in the air. “We are athletic and fit.”
Moritz shifted uneasily in his chair; he wasn’t exactly the most coordinated person I knew. I raised my hand.
“We are intelligent.” All eyes were on me. With the flick of an imaginary switch I flushed red. Should I present an example? A model glider hung above the table prompting me. “We built the Luftwaffe.”
“Indeed,” said Heinz. “The mightiest air force in the world!”
“One day I will be a pilot in the Luftwaffe!” I boasted.
“A noble goal, Emil,” Heinz said then nodded to Johann who picked up his guitar. We sang with heartfelt gusto: Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles.
46 SECRET AGENT
GENRE: YA dark fantasy
Dark shapes drifted in front of the car, blocking the lights from the freeway. I glanced at Dad, wondering if he saw them too. He didn't blink, didn't seem alarmed by anything in front of us.
My vision burned with the instantaneous flash of red lights. Dad slammed on his brakes. "Hold on, Annie."
After the deafening squeal of tires and the horrible roar of an engine, something slammed into the back of our car. Almost stopped, now we were thrust forward, colliding with the truck in front of us.
A tide of heat rose up, along with the smell of burnt rubber. More dark shadows fluttered outside my window. When I looked, I saw two coppery sparks, like eyes. They blinked out in the next moment, and I wondered if I was hallucinating.
"Stay in the car." He looked out his window, too. "Are you hurt?"
I looked down at my legs. My right knee was pinned under the glove box, but I couldn't feel it. "I—I don't know."
He wiped blood off his forehead and onto his pants. "I think—"
A dark cloud flew toward the car, blocking out the lights from the casinos along the Strip. The coppery eyes glittered in the center of the blackness. The shadow made contact with our car on my dad's side. With a screech of metal our car swung sideways. My door crunched into the tailgate of a semi. Something clear dripped onto my window.
45 SECRET AGENT
It was springtime, the busiest time of year on Buttermilk Farm. Spring is when the calves are born. Since Buttermilk Farm was a large dairy farm, calves were arriving day and night.
One balmy night, a tiny calf struggled to find her way into the world. Farmer Johnson and his hired hand, Verbal, stood by in the barn. Mrs. Johnson was there, too. She loved all of the cows. She even named them. Mrs. Johnson knew every cow by name, even though they all looked remarkably alike.
Mrs. Johnson decided this calf would be named Pandora if it were a girl. She wasn't sure why she picked that name. But something told her this calf would be full of surprises. As usual, Mrs. Johnson was right.
After many long hours, Pandora was born.
From the very beginning, Pandora knew she was different. She couldn't see the difference. It was the reactions of everyone around her that told her she was no ordinary cow.
The first thing Pandora heard Farmer Johnson say was, "Well, well, would you look at that?"
Mrs. Johnson said, "Oh, dearie me."
Verbal said, "What in tarnation?"
But it was her mother's reaction that told Pandora she was unusual. Pandora's mother, Buttercup, took one look at her new daughter and fell over in the straw in an earth-rattling faint. No doubt about it; there was something odd about Pandora.
44 SECRET AGENT
Lightning flashed — chasing shadows into the corners of the garage and illuminating the thing in front of us. Thunder shook the house as wind slapped rain against the garage window. April Logan scooted closer, grabbing my arm. The fear in her blue eyes was evident as she stared at the thing we had dug up earlier that morning.
Matt Bodine looked at me over the top of his black-framed glasses. The thick lenses couldn't hide his excitement.
"Well, Grant?" he said. "Are you going to cut it open?"
I offered Matt the hacksaw. "Do you want to do it?"
"No." Matt shook his head.
I shifted my glance to the thing. It sat in a puddle of water on the concrete floor — rain from the storm that had sprung up right after we unearthed it and soaked us as we ran carrying it from the field to Matt's garage.
It was black, about two feet square and half as tall, with a rusty hinge running along the back. Golden dragon's heads were bolted on each end, their nostrils pierced by gold rings. An ancient padlock guarded whatever secrets were hidden inside. I scanned the words engraved on the lid.
The Stone veils secrets, dark and cold.
The Crystal's Power sleeps within.
Beware the Mystic Force of old,
Before a Magic Spell you spin.
"Let's not open it," April said. "Let's just put it back where we found it."
"Are you nuts?" Matt said. "We have to open it."
43 SECRET AGENT
GENRE: MG Fantasy
It was the last sound that Kate Raddish uttered as she slipped beneath the water, pulled by an unseen current with a mind of its own. She had tried to tell them that she was afraid of the water, afraid of going out in the boat. Now it was too late, and in a flash it occurred to her that she was going to die at the incredibly unfair age of thirteen.
The salt burned Kate’s eyes as her gaze swept upward, seeking something – anything – to grab. Beating the unyielding water with her arms, she clenched her mouth against the painful heaving of her lungs. I want to breathe! I want to breathe! Her world grew smaller, focused only on her need to draw air, to live. Then her mouth opened and her body gave way to its desperate need to inhale. Kate felt herself fading, succumbing to the water’s victory.
In the last moments of awareness, Kate saw – she was absolutely certain that she saw – a woman reaching for her with a long, delicate arm. The woman’s hair swirled around her face, and her storm-colored dress billowed about as if in a violent wind. Her expression was intense and without malice, and something in her eyes seemed to plead with Kate to trust her, to come to her. Kate was not afraid. In the next instant, something grabbed Kate from behind, and she swooned into the blackness of nothing.
42 SECRET AGENT
GENRE: Young Adult Paranormal Romance
The water from the fountain splashed gleefully in its attempt to blind me with refracted sunlight. Despite its efforts, I could see the man clearly. He stood out from amongst the crowd, almost painfully out of place in his dark blue suit. The fountain, the entire city, teemed with tourists. With cameras in their hands and sneakers on their feet the tourists were easy to spot, yet they all blended with one another in the mass. That was exactly why I currently appeared to be a tourist in Rome.
Maybe next time I’m in Rome I can actually do some sightseeing.
My eyes tracked the man’s every movement. I catalogued every sneeze, scratch, and twitch. The man impatiently rubbed together the fingers on his right hand; I imagined the dry rasp of the repetitive motion. A petite woman moved up to the fountain next to him. As she tossed a coin into the water with her left hand, her right brushed against his.
I was actually rather impressed. A blink at the wrong moment and I would have missed the handoff completely. These people were professionals; these people were very good at what they did. Unfortunately for them, we were better.
“Be advised, subject has the package and is heading southeast out of the piazza.” I said and followed the man at a discreet distance.
“Copy that Chameleon. Continue as planned.”
The subject was justifiably cautious, checking for a tail at random intervals. Of course, he didn’t have a prayer to catch me following him. Spotting a tail is about recognizing familiar faces, unusual patterns, and suspicious behavior. All signs I do not leave when I am the tail.
41 SECRET AGENT
40 SECRET AGENT
GENRE: young adult urban fantasy
The bomb shone with symmetric beauty. Red, white, yellow, and blue wires entwined through the C-4, the shapes almost geometric. Arturo focused on the colored lines. There had to be a pattern. If he snipped the wrong wire, Kansas City would explode. So would he, along with two million other people.
Arturo wiped a trickle of sweat from his brow and took a deep breath. Breathe in with the calm air, out with the stress. He settled the controller more firmly in his real hands. The cyber hands on screen mimicked his movements. His mission was to save humanity, he couldn’t fail.
His fingers flew over the buttons on the game controller. They moved with smooth precision between the hundreds of colored wires on the explosive device.
“I own you, man,” Arturo crowed into the head mic. Excitement filled him. ExCIA had beaten him at Homeland Security everyday for almost a month. It had been one of the most frustration-filled months of his life. At last, he’d get his revenge.
“Heh, you think you do, Junior,” the hollow voice of ExCIA echoed through the headset. “You teenagers think you rule the world, but we old guys still have it going on.”
Arturo had been trying his best to defuse the cyber-bombs ExCIA had created. He had to admit his friend was amazing. He was a real-life ex-agent; one of the few adults he could tolerate for any length of time, even if ExCIA did call him Junior.
"Yeah, right, old--
39 SECRET AGENT
38 SECRET AGENT
TITLE: The Weaver
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy
Tucked in a lush valley between two snowcapped mountains was the village of The Tales. Mary heard stories of other villages in other places but in all of her eleven years, she’d never been to any. Yet she knew her village was special.
Those who lived in the village were known as Weavers. Each person in The Tales could tell stories about anything at anytime and they often did. Prose, poetry, limericks or yarns; they told stories of all types and styles. Parents of young weavers didn’t measure their children’s progress by their first step or first word, they bragged about their first story.
“My little Emma wove her first story today!”
“How exciting! What did the precious little weaver say?”
“She said, ‘Swirling snow settles over the shanty, sheltering the shivering squirrel.’”
“Oh my, alliteration at such a young age, she will be a fine weaver, indeed.”
The most respected weaver in The Tales was Mary’s mother, Abigail Wordsmith. Abigail’s lyrical fables entranced even those who told horror stories. When she wove a story everything around her stopped so that all could listen. During a recent trip to the grocers, shopping was abandoned as Abigail paid for her groceries. She said: A simple woman paid for her groceries with money her husband had gained by humble means.
A simple woman paid for her groceries with money her husband had gained by humble means.
“Yet, ‘tis all I have,” replied the simple woman. “Will you accept my scarf? It is special to me because it was knitted by my dear, departed mother.”
37 SECRET AGENT
GENRE: MG - CONTEMPORARY FICTION
"Neelie, we need to talk."
That was my dad, and I knew this was going to suck. I mean, I get home Friday afternoon after another fun-filled week of eighth grade to find not one but both parents waiting for me, all serious and frowny and intense? They were supposed to still be at work, not ushering me to a seat at the kitchen table, and I was supposed to be enjoying my precious alone time.
I had fought long and hard to get to stay home alone for that measly hour. I had been the totally perfect child for, like, forever, until they finally decided I was mature enough.
"Cornelia, honey... please, sit."
That was Mom, with her eyes all squinted up in a fretful I've-got-bad-news way.
I eased into my chair, my butt propped on the very edge of it.
They sat, too, and both of them rested their folded hands on the table and leaned forward. I wondered if they had rehearsed. I wondered if they were getting a divorce.
Dad cleared his throat. "Neelie, I know we promised."
Uh oh. Nobody ever said that about promises unless they were about to break one. I stared at his hands and felt my lips pressing together.
He kept going, in his special reasonable-adult voice. "I know we told you we wouldn't take in any foster children older than you."
Say what? I looked up at him then, and opened my mouth.
36 SECRET AGENT
TITLE: The Not-So-Beauty-Pageant Queen
“Don’t worry. Even if you don’t win, you still have a sister that’s a winner!” My big sister, Rachel, smiled sweetly at me, twirling her long, blond hair around her finger.
I rolled my eyes at her. “So what? You won the eighth grade spelling bee. It’s not like you won the Nobel Peace Prize, or something.” I shook my head, swinging my pony tail from side to side. “My life will be over after this, you know. The entire fifth grade will never speak to me again.”
“Do they speak to you now?” Rachel asked.
“Get out of my room!” I yelled, throwing a pillow at her.
Rachel stared across the room. “I can see you prissing across the stage now, with Mom right beside you.” She grabbed a hairbrush from my dresser for her microphone and cleared her throat, pretending to be an announcer, “Welcome to the first annual Red, White, Blue, and You Beauty Pageant. Here’s our first contestants, Gayle Higginbotham and her unlovely daughter, Paige. Paige attends Dunnston Elementary. Her hobbies include being a brat, acting like a retard, and sucking up to teachers.”
“Out! I mean it!” I screamed, pushing her toward the door.
The faster I shoved, the louder she got. “And what talent will she be performing for us tonight? Well, ladies and gentlemen, she has none!” Rachel died laughing.
“You’re the retard!” I grabbed my hairbrush and slammed the door in her face.I took a big breath, leaning against my door.
35 SECRET AGENT
GENRE: Middle Grade
Every day after sunrise Momma comes home from her all-night waitress job at the Cha Cha Resort, which is down the beach just a few miles from here. Usually, the first thing she does when she walks in the door is turn on the TV. She says it keeps her company. I think it’s a bad habit. If he were here, Dad would disapprove of the trash they have on all ninety-eight channels.
Today the TV is already on when she gets here, and I’m sitting half-asleep on the sofa, waiting for her. Something scary happened to me last night, and I need to tell her about it. Momma is in her uniform, her large-pocketed apron tied around her waist. She pulls open the curtains, letting in the daylight, and tucks a Styrofoam box into the mini-fridge.
“Hey, Hallie baby,” she says, flopping down next to me. She gives me a few dollars of her tip money from her pocket, which I really appreciate because I know how poor she is. The money is for my lunch which I’ll buy later when I’m alone out on the beach.
“Thanks, Momma.” I wrap my arms around her middle and lean against her chest. Her heart patters against my ear, and her warm smoky odor rises from her skin like perfume. She rests her chin on my head for a moment then swats me playfully on the bum.“Come on, baby,” she drawls, “let’s eat so’s I can get to bed.”
34 SECRET AGENT
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy
Karma’s hair bounced around her waist as she descended the dark staircase. Reaching the bottom, she crept over to the kitchen. The faint aroma of that evening’s dinner still lingered in the air. The moonlight, barely visible through the kitchen window, made it difficult to see anything apart from a couple of spiders, dripping silvery spikes from the ceiling.
“You have to leave now . . . !”
Karma froze. The unfamiliar voice echoed out from her stepfather’s office. Tiptoeing across the kitchen, she halted at the office, and pressed an ear against the door.
“Go to Oswald – stay in Carling . . . . You know the Gothic King will stop at nothing to destroy you! He hates traitors even worse than Oswald –!”
“B-But how could he have known? There’s no way he could’ve found out! I was so careful . . . .”
The mystery man growled. “Dammit, Devante, it doesn’t matter how he found out; what matters is he did! If you don’t leave, you and your entire family will be killed . . . or worse. He might figure out who she is. King Alrick threatened he’d kill anyone who gets in his way of finding her. Thirteen years he has searched for her! What do you think he’d do to you if he knew you were harboring her in your own hou –?”
“But what am I to do with her now?” The sound of Devante’s fist slamming on the top of the desk made Karma jerk her head back. “Oswald would see what she is the moment he lays eyes on her – and with those bloodthirsty werewolves lurking in the woods to Carling, we’d surely be killed even trying to leave!”
Karma’s eyebrows knitted together. Are they talking about me?
33 SECRET AGENT
GENRE: YA epic fantasy
The morning started wet and dark when the riders set out to the east. The sun was little more than a dull glint behind gray clouds while a blanket of fog covered the land surrounding the castle. It filled Ben Grange with the promise of mystery and excitement. But by mid-morning, the fog lifted and their party of fifty riders was galloping over the farmland that stretched as far as the eye could see. Ben stayed focused on the eastern horizon as he rode alongside his father, the Duke. A sharp, cold rain began to fall, stinging his face. Ben almost wished it were snow falling instead. Snow wouldn't hurt as much.
It was closer to midday when they entered the hills of the western woods. The road narrowed so they could only ride two or three abreast. Ben tried to position himself next to his father, but was pushed further back into the column. Eventually he found himself between two older soldiers with a distant view of his father's horse's rear. To make matters worse, the rain stared to come down harder. The column slowed as they entered the woods and Ben pulled his hood further over his head as they continued to ride. Ben began to lose track of time as the woods pushed in all around them.
Ben noticed they had slowed, the guards beside him pulling back the reins. Looking up from under his hood, Ben tried to see what was holding them up.
32 SECRET AGENT
“Hey, get OFF ME,” cried the thin man. Hands pushed him out the smoky doorway and he staggered into the humid night air.
A balding muscleman wiped his hands and reached into his pocket to retrieve a cell phone. “And don’t ya come back until ya got money, Charlie. Ya bum!” He flipped the phone open. “Hey, hun…”
“Great,” Charlie muttered. He fingered a fresh tear in his already threadbare, over-sized jacket. He glared over his shoulder at the yellow-lit entrance to Wimpy’s Tavern. “Calling me a bum? Why don’t you look in a mirror!”
“Whadya say?” The goon lowered the phone from his ear.
“Nothin’.” Charlie scurried down the road’s paved shoulder, muttering under his breath. That dive used to be respectable before it got rebuilt after the Big Hurricane. Now he figured it was too highbrow for the likes of him.
Charlie’s eyes narrowed and scanned the ground for loose change. A glint of silver from a corner up ahead looked promising. Once under the streetlight, he saw it was only flattened bottle cap stuck in mud.
“Dang!” He kicked at the cap and got a clump of crud on his shoe.
Dejected, shoulders hunched, he thought about his next move. Maybe I can scam a couple of bucks off one of the night-crawlers, he thought. He straightened his jacket and looked for cars before setting across the West Saint Bernard Highway.
He’d have to cut through the military cemetery to get to the night-crawler’s usual hang out.
31 SECRET AGENT
GENRE: MG Fantasy
Change had never done Belle Ravenna any favors. Moving from one coast to another last year had meant change: a new school, a new house, and no friends. But maybe the start of eighth grade would give Belle the chance to reinvent herself, finally become the person she wanted to be.
Someone knocked into Belle as she picked up a chocolate milk. Ashleigh. Belle's corndog slid off her fries. The stick end landed in the ketchup.
"I hate it when the nobodies just stand there," Ashleigh announced to the lunchroom in general. She paid for her salad, no dressing, and bottle of water.
"I hate it that you think you can just walk all over me," Belle told her corndog.
So much for reinventing herself. All that had changed since last year was her grade.
"$2.60." The lunch lady didn't look up as she held out her hand.
Belle handed her three dollars. "Have you ever wondered if maybe life should be different from how it is?"
"Change." The lunch lady handed the coins to Belle.
Belle stuffed them in her pocket, picked up the tray, and stepped into the lunchroom and its chaos. Students swirled around her, each one darting to a table filled with friends as Belle stood there. Alone. It was as if everyone else was flying while she slogged through water.
30 SECRET AGENT
GENRE: YA paranormal romance
I should have left. I should have gotten in my car and driven home. I
should not have started walking. Alone. At night. Toward a haunted
Though that last part wasn't intentional.
I should've called home and told my mom I couldn't find it. The truth.
Even if it did sound pathetic.
I should've gone into the stadium and waited for the game. By myself.
Even more pathetic.
I should've checked inside the school. Again.
But I didn't do any of that.
I took a walk. Walking never felt pathetic. It felt purposeful. Even
by myself. Even if I had no destination.
I turned away from the stadium's glaring lights and crossed the
street. At the corner, a bright orange sign tacked to a post caught my
attention: Haunted House, Free Today Only.
The horror movie scenario entered my head uninvited. Lonely girl goes
to mysterious haunted house and winds up dead, or worse. Eaten by a
zombie? Turned into a werewolf? The other way around? I didn't know
which was most likely. I avoided scary movies. Maybe zombie
I would not be going to any haunted houses. Not by myself. Not ever.
Even free ones. I'd never understood people who chose to scare
themselves for fun.
My stomach growled, reminding me I hadn't eaten dinner, reminding me
of the pre-game barbecue no one had told me was canceled or moved or
whatever had happened. I dug in my purse, hoping to find chocolate.
29 SECRET AGENT
Death by cursed gold. Paul shivered in the desert heat and turned the page. Did he believe in curses? Of course not. But he did believe in the Lost Dutchman Mine and that barely fifty miles away golden treasure waited for him:
"...near Superstition Mountain in Apache Junction, Arizona there is a tornado-shaped pit of pure gold--worth billions. Those who claimed to have found this 'mother lode' are dead--buried alive, beheaded, dismembered, and the most famous prospector, the Lost Dutchman, vanished without even a body part to identify in 1883..."
Under the shade of a jacaranda tree he turned his book sideways, intent on a map until his older sister interrupted his research.
"Paulie! Abby loves Rabies horses--"
"Arabians," he corrected automatically. "They are Arabians."
"A-Rabies. Yeah. That's what Abby said." She yanked Paul to his feet and pointed at the grey mare drinking from a metal tub. "Abby will ride Snow White--today. Aunt Penny says."
Paul squinted against the intense afternoon sun. The aluminum post and rail fence appeared to warp through the shimmering heat waves. "Listen to me," he said, turning Abby's face toward his. "She also warned us to stay away from Spitfire--over there. He kicked Uncle Mike today." Paul made sure he still had her full attention. "Do you understand?"
28 SECRET AGENT
Genre: Chapter Book
I had a story to write.
A deadline to meet.
I yawned and stretched my legs. Then I shook all over. This usually chases away that sleepy feeling. But all it did this time was splatter drool across my keyboard. It also made my dog tags jingle through the empty building.
At least, I thought it was empty.
“What story is the famous Typo The News Hound working on?” a familiar voice asked. It was Hoover, the station’s night janitor.
“Those mutts selling fake concert tickets.”
“Mind if I take a peek?” The Bearded Collie pulled his round, wire-rimmed glasses from the pocket of his striped shirt and leaned over my shoulder.
“Not until I’m finished.”
“If your story is about phony concert tickets, why are the words Beware! Pirated video games heading your way! flashing on your computer screen?”
“What are you…?” I saw the message before I could finish. My nose suddenly started to twitch.
“I saw that,” Hoover said as he put his paws on my desk and leaned closer to my computer.
“That famous nose-for-news of yours was twitching. You smell a story, don’t you?”
“If I could see, I’d have a better idea.” I moved his shaggy head out of my way and stared at the strange message.
“Come on, do something,” Hoover said. When he was a puppy, Hoover wanted to join the Canine Intelligence Agency (CIA). But poor vision kept him out. “Find out what that message means.”
27 SECRET AGENT
Genre: YA paranormal
The elf entered the coffee shop around nine that night. Tuesdays were usually dead, but it was warm for a May evening in New Hampshire. As a result, customers swarmed the tiny place, keeping me glued to the cappuccino machine. So I didn’t realize what she was right away.
She found a small table in the corner and wrote in a notebook. Given the way she kept glancing toward the counter, I suspected she wasn’t working on her novel like a couple other patrons. Her hair was close cropped in a—ugh—pixie style, and she wore tight bootcut jeans. To most people, she probably looked like a college student, but I knew better. There was something off about her face. Something a little too perfect. Something that smacked of a fae glamour.
Dear Goddess, I was so screwed. What did the fae want from me now?
“Never seen anything like that. Who gave it to ye?” An old guy sporting Willie Nelson-style braids plucked my bracelet.
I jumped at his touch and sloshed hazelnut decaf all over the counter. Crap. Focus, Krista, I lectured myself. But the problem was I had focused all too well—on how to avoid the elf. I mean, there was only one plausible reason why she’d be hanging out in Cuppa Joe’s, and it wasn’t the brew.
I jerked my wrist away and pushed Willie’s coffee across the counter. “My father.”
“Yeah, and your father is?”
Absent without leave? Bat-shit crazy? Crunchier than granola?
26 SECRET AGENT
“I think I’m gonna gag!”
I stared at my bowl of Nutri-Flakes. There was no way I could eat one more bite.
“Come on, Mason.” Joel set the cereal box in front of me. “Just focus.”
The message on the back of the box caught the light above the kitchen table. The silver writing sparkled.
_Win! Win! Win!_
_A Mega-naut Adventures video game!_
_Collect five Nutri-Flakes™ box tops and enter NOW!_
_Limited time offer_
“Paragliding, mountain climbing, cliff diving…” I read the list of game options. “I can’t wait to play this thing.”
Joel sighed. “Yeah, well, you won’t get a chance unless you finish this last box.”
“But the fibre gunk keeps getting stuck in my teeth.” I hunted around my mouth with the tip of my tongue.
“You know Mom won’t let you rip the top off until you’re done,” Joel said.
I could see Mom hovering in the rec room, folding laundry. She had caught me earlier, trying to dump the cereal in the garbage. There was no escape.
“Don’t remind me.” I took another gritty, gaggy bite. “Gross.”
It felt like rocks and grass in my mouth. Rocky grass. Grassy rocks. Whatever. I just wanted to spit it out.
“Mason! Just swallow it, already,” Joel said.
I made a face and gulped it down.
“Why couldn’t they put this prize on the back of a Chocobits box? Or Alphapuffs?” If that game didn’t look so cool, I would have given up four boxes ago.