Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Fricassee

I haven't been my chatty self this week. To continue this trend (Mr. A never complains when this happens; trust me), let's hear your thoughts in this Friday's comment box:

  • How long does it take you to complete a first draft?
  • How long do you let your first draft "rest" until you return to begin editing?
  • How many "still perfecting" works do you have on the table?
  • How many "query-able" (queriable?) novels do you have in shiny gold boxes?
  • What's your genre--and why??
That should make for some interesting reading!

As for me--I've just topped 60,000 words on my WIP, and I am dancing! I'm thinking another 20K should do it. Then, it's "rest during vacation" and dig in at the end of June.

On that note, I'm off to do some more writing!


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

#20 1000 Words

TITLE: A Moment To Breathe
GENRE: Inspirational Fiction (?)

The sirens woke her as the cars approached, and Rosalie peered through the icy windows quickly. They weren’t interested in her family tonight, she thought as they kept going. She looked around the interior of the frigid Chevy Metro and noticed Angelique shivering slightly under the green Army blanket. Rosalie took her own blanket off and spread it across the tiny girl, making sure it was tucked in all around. Then she glanced back at Jonathon lying across the back seat. His face was serene; no doubt he was dreaming about sand castles and the beach again. He wanted to see the ocean so much, but Rosalie didn’t figure she’d be able to make that happen anytime soon. Denver was a long ways away from any beaches, and they weren’t exactly overflowing with travel money.

She pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around and rocking back and forth. Reaching beneath the seat for a bottle, but she found only empty glass; she’d finished it off yesterday. Rosalie was the one shivering now, despite the thick sweater she’d gotten at the Open Arms a few weeks ago. Her long raven hair hung down around her face in dirty tatters as she bowed her head. Her breath misted in the cold air as if from a cigarette; thankfully she hadn’t picked up that habit. She didn’t know if they could make it through another month of cold, let alone the rest of the season. It was early November, and winter had struck with a vengeance. She dozed slightly, her conscious mind only half watching over her little family.

In a few hours, sunlight broke through the buildings across the street and woke her again. They needed to get moving, or there’d be no corner to take. She reached over and shook Angelique gently, and then she called back to Jonathan. Neither of them wanted to get up, but they were used to things by now. Rosalie had to kick the door from the inside to get it open, since ice and snow had piled up on her little car overnight. She looked around as she stepped out, not seeing anyone on the street. They’d have to get the car started today somehow, so they could move it to another spot for the night. Better that than risk getting a parking ticket or worse. They were all better off if the police knew as little about her as possible. They’d probably take her kids away from her in a heartbeat, and she couldn’t make it without them. She locked the doors, putting the key in her shoe for safekeeping; It was uncomfortable, but nobody looked in your shoes. Then they walked a few blocks away, Jonathan carrying the cardboard sign in his little hands. Angelique held her momma’s hand tightly, her little blue eyes peering this way and that. The child’s hair was more midnight than her mother’s, and it hung in dirty clumps around her shoulders. Jonathon had his father’s brown hair and blue eyes, and bits of it stuck up in the back like wild grass in a field.

The trio got to the corner, and thankfully nobody else had beaten them to it. Rosalie took the sign from Jonathan, who promptly got behind her and grabbed his sister’s hand. She looked imploringly at each car passing by, immune to the glances of disdain. After some time, she got her first dollar, which she tucked into a front pocket quickly. She thanked the person with a “God bless you”, regardless of the fact that she didn’t believe in God. Believing didn’t matter anyway, for her at least. As long as they believed, she’d get enough money for a meal. She kept at it until rush hour was over, not wanting to miss out on any opportunities. Angelique and Jonathan were really hungry, but they knew better than to ask. They’d all eat when it was time, and Mama had to work. With money safely tucked away, they walked a few blocks further to the McDonalds. Jonathan glanced at the play place, and Rosalie said, “After you eat, hito.” He nodded back, taking another quick glance as they walked to the counter. Rosalie ordered a few things off the dollar menu, a cup of coffee for herself and hot chocolate for the kids. Glancing around nervously, she counted out the bills and handed them over. Good, there was still enough for her to get a bottle later, she thought.

They sat in a booth next to the indoor playground, and Rosalie absently noticed a young woman nearby move to another table. She should be used to it by now, the looks and words of disgust hurled in her direction. But despite telling herself it didn’t matter, she still wished things could be different. “Is everything okay, Mama?” Jonathan interrupted her thoughts. “Yes baby”, she replied with a tired smile. “Are you still hungry?” she asked, seeing his food already gone. Angelique was still nibbling on the last of her hashbrown, eyeing them both quietly. Jonathan shook his head, obviously eager to go play. Angelique didn’t want to be left out, so she swallowed the rest quickly, taking a gulp of her hot chocolate to wash it down. With the back of her hand, she wiped off the chocolate mustache, mixing it with the dirt on her face. Rosalie had to swallow a giggle as she watched them scoot out of the booth with excitement. “Stay with your brother, baby Angel”, she called after her daughter. All she got was a quick nod as they disappeared into the glass enclosure.

Rosalie watched them clamber all over the indoor playground, Jonathan always careful to stay close to his little sister. Another parent chided her child sternly, because her kids had talked to him. Jonathan was getting big, she noticed. She’d have to take him down to the Goodwill today and look for some new pants. The ones he had on were getting way too small for him. Angelique needed a better coat as well, and so did she. She needed to figure out where they could park tonight too, since they’d been on that street for two days already. Glancing around nervously, she pulled out the bills she had left and counted them, hiding her hands under the table. There was enough money for maybe a quarter tank of gas and meals. She’d have to work the corner a bit longer to get enough for the new clothes. The kids played for a while longer while Rosalie sipped at her coffee, enjoying the warmth spreading through her frigid bones. She preferred her tequila, but that would have to wait until tonight.

#19 1000 Words

TITLE: In the Shadows of Darkness (working title)
GENRE: Science Fiction

The air was stale, carrying a taste of a day old smoke and metal. Smoke, in space. Outside the pinhole window, the stars and blackness laughed. The filters were old here, no doubt predating new regulations and dodging inspection for decades. A rusty hum cantering in the rafters begged the question if the outpost’s guts had ever been cleansed. It was one of the many things that made it an ideal locale. The grit in the air, the texture, was reality, unlike the tasteless vacuum of galactic politics.

Scrapes against the metal bar and chairs against the grated floor, even the hiss of the open and closing airlock door, drew barely a stir from any present. The bar was dim and eyes minded their own concerns.

“Debium flux. Did you hear me?”

Knuckles rapped on the table.

She looked up from across the way, arching a brow over the edge of dusty glass. Her companion rolled her velvet eyes, dancing them across the ceiling and all the walls before falling back to her face.

“Archon, really. I’ve been talking about this for ten minutes.” Her mouth frowned as it formed the impatient words, and she indignantly ruffled her blue hair. Her face, impish and stern, was flushed with excitement as much as irritation. “What the shit do you keep me around for?”

“You know, Colt. We all know.” This voice was gentle. The man at the other side of the table ran a finger along the edge of his plate as he spoke.

Colt spun on him and narrowed her eyes rapidly to slits.

“Do I, Jacob? ‘Cause sometimes I really wonder myself.” Colt sighed and slid the light pad across the table to rest in front of the silent Archon. “I need another.”

Still mumbling, Colt got to her feet and wove her way through crowded tables towards the center bar. A few men barked at her passage, receiving a flick from below Colt’s chin and a well placed middle finger in reply.

“Answering her would require so little effort.” Jacob Gradient leaned his chair back on two pegs, running a hand over the back of his skull. He needed a shave, again, and a bath. Places like this always made him desire nothing more than to scourge the top layer of skin from his body. He turned his dusky eyes on Archon. “So now you’re not even answering me?”

“We don’t need Debium flux. There are enough spare parts in the gut of the Helios for her to arm a damn legion.”

Archon tipped the glass back and poured the murky liquid down. It burned. Outwardly, none were the wiser. She could have been drinking water, not lexium. Lexium made most boys cry and most men used it to clean core drives. She tapped the glass against her bottom lip. To her, it was any other liquid.

“They say this new flux can enhance accuracy by over three percent,” he said, reaching out to take the flask of lexium off the table. He knew Archon saw him, but he slipped it into the inner pocket of his trench anyway and folded his arms over his chest. “So it does have some legitimacy.”

Archon turned to face him fully, setting the empty cup in the center of his plate.

“And when have you known me to miss?”

The two watched each other in a short silence until a grin finally tugged at the edge of Jacob’s lips. Her gaze didn’t break or flinch; it simply waited for the truth. Hazel eyes reading everything about him, seeking any tick or hint that might give away a lie or whatever else he might try to contrive. He knew better. Between them there were no secrets, no deceptions. His eyes traced the black line, a subtle imperfection, which marked the iris of her left eye. A few strays of her copper-blonde hair drifted across her cheek. And though he longed to brush them away, he dare not.

“Extremely infrequently, Captain.”

She shrugged her shoulders then, settling her back to the support of the chair.

“We don’t need Debium flux.”

Jacob nodded. The tone finished that conversation.

“At least answer her next time. She’s foaming at the mouth at the prospect of getting to paw Debium technology. I’m sure she’ll sulk for days.” Jacob picked up the light pad, running a finger along the screen. The page turned, sending Debium flux and Colt’s hope away to the ether of the database. The next item, however, paused his hand. He touched his chin instead, his brow creasing. “C-class impulse grenades are on the market now.”

“You seem surprised.” Archon’s eyes were tracing the walls over the room. They would be leaving soon.

“These are dangerous.”

“So is Debium flux.” Archon glanced back at him, her expression disinterested. “Why does it matter? Everything for trade in the ring is dangerous. Everyone who deals in the ring has questionable motives.”

“We should secure them. The price is still low. They’re fresh.” Jacob handed her the pad. “Look.”

Archon took it from him and gave the pad a quick glance over. He was, of course, correct. Any military technology, particularly explosives, fetched high prices out here. The grenades were indeed under marked. Someone needed to purge their goods, and quickly.

“Colt would be upset. I just told her no. She’d claim I was playing favorites among the crew.” Archon chuckled.

Jacob was not amused.

“If these get in the wrong hands…”

“You can’t save the universe.” Her voice was sharp and the moment of good humor gone. She tossed the light pad on the table, hard. The image fluttered, blue lines breaking across the screen before the static settled. “That’s not our job.”

“No, it’s not.” Jacob’s cheeks flushed and he ran a hand roughly over the shadow along his jaw. “Not anymore.”

Archon’s top lip twitched with annoyance, but before she could counter his remark, gunfire screamed from the airlock.

#18 1000 Words

TITLE: Apple of Discord

On the way to the funeral Mom said, “The strange thing is, although we were inseparable through school, I haven’t even thought much about her since graduation day. Here we were, living in the same town all this time.” Later, as Victoria watched her slowly approach the coffin—just like in the movies where the weeping widow clutches a hankie to cover her distorted crying mouth and dripping nose, except Mom’s wasn’t a hankie it was a wadded up cluster of toilet paper—she wondered if the tears were real. They were technically real, but were they tears of sadness or regret? Victoria would have laughed if her insides weren’t tied in knots.

Victoria had only been to a few funerals, but it shocked her to see people giggling. You never see a person laugh at a funeral on film—it just doesn’t fit the dramatic sensibility. In the movies, everyone had appropriately teary eyes and slightly red noses. Maybe they were trying to cheer up the bereaved, but it struck her as a little tacky. Maybe they just didn’t know the dead woman very well. Or maybe they just came to be seen. But right there, during the wake, only moments after she was bawling over her friend, her Mom was laughing with a small group of women. Victoria’s cheeks burned. Adjusting her velvet scarf to hide her face a bit, she tried to back away gracefully so as not to attract any attention, but she might as well have been waving a flag. Mrs. Manning called her over. All she could do was flee.

She just didn’t understand this woman who claimed to be her mother. How could she turn her back on her friends! How could she live for years—Years!—in the same town as an old friend and lose contact? How could she…

Suddenly, the reason her innards were twisted revealed itself to her like death dropping his awful cloak.

Could this happen to me? Pushing through the crowd of black mothball-smelling suits she thrust myself out the funeral parlor’s doors. She was blasted by the sudden cold and the realization.

Could this happen to me?

Is that what happens to friends in the end? They just go their separate ways and die off alone, one by one?

Images of her friends swirled through her head. Kira Williams, with her rough edges and uncanny insight; Rose Finan with her gushing sweetness; and Maggie Kavanagh the most brilliant girl at Bethany Middle School. These were her best friends—now and forever! They became friends in the beginning of this school year when some jerks pulled a bunch of pranks on them. They ruined Victoria’s hair, destroyed Maggie’s food drive, nearly got Kira kicked out of school, and kidnapped Rose—but that’s a story for another time. These pranks forged their friendship in fire. They would never stop being friends! Never!

Mom’s voice echoed in her head again—“…we just lost touch.” Could friendship really be this fragile? She couldn’t imagine anything coming between her and her friends. Not EPIC, not graduation, nothing!

EPIC was the ultra-exclusive group of popular girls. Ella, Payton, Ivy, and Chloe created the idiotic label by putting together the first initials of their names. Victoria gagged every time she thought of it. They were popular because they were perfect—perfect faces, perfect bodies, perfect families—and they used their popularity to get whatever they wanted. They weren’t afraid to crush others in the process. But they were friends. They were inseparable.

Would EPIC just drift away and stop talking to each other after school? She just couldn’t imagine it. They would probably all go to the same college—Harvard or something—and be stuck with each other. She couldn’t fathom EPIC not being EPIC anymore. Or even the Ambitious Girls—they had been friends for years already. How could people just stop being friends?

Kira called them the “Ambitious Girls” because they were in awe of EPIC. They swarmed around the popular girls like mosquitoes, showing them their new outfits for approval, buying them treats at lunch, which EPIC would never eat, lest they spoil their perfect figures. Everyone knew that EPIC secretly loved the attention, so while they would swat the Ambitious Girls down, they’d do it gently. The goal of every Ambitious Girl was to become a part of EPIC, and everyone knew that would never happen. Ever. No one would ever break into EPIC’s group. It was like one of those hidden beauty geek girl vs. popular girls movies, except without the makeover and the happy ending. In the past, a few girls here and there had been taken in by EPIC, and then chewed up and spit out like nasty old gum. But no one ever really became their true friend. The Ambitious Girls were forced to stick together. Would they just fall apart too?

Puffy eyelids threatened to swallow her green eyes, and her caramel skin somehow looked pale. She forced herself to stare into the swirling snow, refusing to let any more tears fall.

“We all went away to different colleges and the letters and calls between us just fizzled out,” Mom had said. But Mom never had a friendship like hers. They were bonded together by hardships.

Victoria pulled her fingers through her cropped chocolate colored hair. Last fall it had been long and crazy, until someone had put glue and dye into her hairspray, turning her hair an awful sticky green. It looked like a stalk of broccoli sticking out of her head. Devastated when she practically had to shave her head, the girls had helped her through it. Now that her hair was growing out, it actually looked better. The curls seemed much more cooperative than they used to be. The cold got to be too much, and she could only stand outside pouting for so long before Mom would get worried and cause a scene.

#17 1000 Words

TITLE: Hiding in the Spotlight
GENRE: Mainstream/family saga

All I ever wanted was to be ordinary, to blend in with the scenery. I got off to a bad start from the get-go with this headline: LARGEST NATURAL BORN BABY ON RECORD IN TULSA, OKLAHOMA. I topped the scales at thirteen pounds one ounce; the beginning of a long battle with the spotlight aimed in my direction.

Many newsworthy events happened in '64: Lyndon B. Johnson was president. The Nobel Peace prize was awarded to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Chinese detonated their first atomic bomb. The Beatles arrived in the United States. And my mom broke birthing records—her own. Starting with Rick at nine pounds, then Barbara at ten, Mike at eleven and then … me, Patty.

“That's one enormous baby you got there,” her doctor told her. “I think she’s a toddler already, smiling and looking alert. She’s one heck of a kid. You’re a lucky woman.”

Daddy's philosophy: "If less is more, then more is better." He was, therefore, ecstatic at my substantial dimensions. "That's one fine specimen of a baby," he told her with the enthusiasm of a farmer witnessing the birth of his prized pig.

Mama told me how the nurses gathered around me in awe that I behaved in ways considered too advanced for a newborn. I never cried and looked at each one of them in wonder, smiling. Strangers praised and revered me. I call that my popular period. A shame I have no recollection of it. There'd be no more of it later—when unordinary stretched its limits.


I leaned toward nervous, fretful people the way a sunflower follows the sun. I felt comfortable around people who were stitched from the same neurotic cloth as I. For this reason, my grandma Oma and I were inseparable from the day I first learned I could scratch myself until I bled.

A Cherokee Indian, Grandma Oma had none of the Indian pride she was supposed to have (she passed her pride to one of her four daughters, her blue-eyed redheaded wild child, my mother). What Grandma had were concerns, phobias, and disorders that she generously shared with me.

Grandma possessed unhealthy attachments to her chickens, along with a fear of dying. She was afraid of what might happen to her chickens if she passed away, she therefore lived a relatively risk-free life to avoid the possibility of an unscheduled fatality. She dreaded leaving her farm; afraid of riding in a car, she saw death at every turn. The last time she had left the property was to be driven four miles into Kellyville to have her chickens dyed at a beauty parlor; an annual Easter tradition. They came out in pastels.

My first unhealthy attachment was to an empty Aunt Jemima syrup bottle. She (the bottle) served as my water bottle, personal advisor, and imaginary friend. Aunt Jemima, AJ for short, answered any questions directed toward me. Except for my oldest brother Rick, the family became accustomed to this behavior, addressing her when talking to me.

"I don't wanna go to bed," sassed Jemima.

"You will or I'll bust you over my knee," Mama cut AJ a stare so fierce, she'd hide her cold, hard body in my pajamas.

"Don't encourage her," Rick said to anyone caught conversing with the syrup bottle. "It ain't right in the head."

When I was four we took a family vacation to California. I flatly refused to go without Grandma. And Grandma flatly refused to leave her chickens, causing quite a quandary amongst the family—and a stress rash for myself.

Outside, feeding the chickens for the third time inside an hour, Grandma Oma reached for another handful of chicken feed in one of the deep front pockets of her large housedress. The other pocket held her worry list and a water gun. The worry list she'd tell you was her prayer requests.

The water gun was to fend off her evil geese—and a disciplinary tool used on my mother.

Grandma's chaotic chickens ran every which way, plucking at the ground and pecking others within thieving range. With red-rimmed eyes, she muttered to herself while my aunt Melba, "Mouth", the youngest of her four daughters, encouraged Grandma to see us off at the airport. Visiting the airport was a big event for some of the relatives since many of whom didn't know the airplane had yet been invented.

“What about my chickens?” Grandma Oma asked. "You know I don't go nowhere without my chickens."

Now I knew where we stacked up against chickens.
“It's just an airport, Mama!" Mouth argued, hopping up onto a wooden fence. “Besides, dem chickens ain’t the ones you need worryin' about. Ain't you scared they'll die in a fiery plane crash?” "They" meaning my immediate family and myself.

Mouth earned her name because her big mouth contrasted with her small body, making said mouth more prominent. Grandma Oma said the name Melba was Indian for Little Big Mouth. My sister Barbara said because of her notorious failure to be quiet, someone slammed the door on it.

"What fiery plane crash?" Grandma asked as she drew her water pistol and fired away into a thatch of bushes at a combative goose.

What fiery plane crash? I mind-questioned my personal advisor, AJ. She said nothing.

I scooted next to Mouth on the wooden fence, watching as Rick rolled Mike around the pasture in a wheelbarrow, zigzagging through cows, laughing. I wanted to laugh and have Rick push me too, but I had serious end-of-life concerns to contemplate.

"Never mind the plane crash." Mouth winked at me. "They might die tragically when California sinks into the ocean." She was referring of course to the "Big One" the earthquake of catastrophe that would kill us violently. It had been the subject of many a hushed conversation amongst the relatives.

"California's gonna sink in the ocean?" Grandma said, clutching her heart. "Oh, Sweet Jesus, no!"

California's gonna sink in the ocean?

#16 1000 Words

TITLE: Robyn's Egg
GENRE: Science Fiction

Robyn Winfield watched through the store window of Baby Universe as a clerk stocked shelves. The clerk was young and pretty, too young to have a child of her own or know much about them. Another woman, a customer, walked among the displays. She was older, in her late forties, Robyn judged. She walked tall and proud, her face placid. It was her eyes that struck Robyn as profoundly sad. They displayed no spark, no life. The woman plucked a doll off the shelf. A small smile tickled the corners of her mouth. She pulled the doll tight to her chest, and then cradled it in her arms. The woman looked outside as if she sensed someone was watching and Robyn froze, feeling like a voyeur, sure she’d been caught. When the woman turned away, Robyn started for the entrance. On her way inside, the woman with the doll brushed by on her way out.

“Ma’am! Ma’am, you can’t leave with that,” the shop girl called.

Robyn watched the young clerk rush past in chase. The clerk caught up on the sidewalk and clutched the doll by the foot. The woman turned, eyes wild, nostrils flared, mouth puckered in determination. “It’s my baby,” she snarled at the girl. She tightened her grasp and jerked the doll away, but the clerk wouldn’t release her grip. After a few more tugs, rationality returned to the woman’s face, and with it, resignation. She released the doll, tried to blink back tears, and walked away.

The clerk carried the doll back inside by an arm, dangling it loosely like a sack of onions. With her other hand she flapped her blouse in and out rapidly to draw cool air against her skin. She started when she noticed Robyn. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were there.”

“Does that happen often?” Robyn asked as the clerk returned the doll to the shelf.

The girl’s face flushed pink. “Yes it does, and it’s scary every time. It’s the look in their eyes that gets me. For a second they seem like they are capable of anything. I swear they go a little insane. It’s the time before their sanity comes back that frightens me. You can never be sure if the reason they’re childless might be a psych problem.” She shook her head side to side. “Some people would do anything for a baby, even a plastic one.”

“She looked sad to me,” Robyn said.

The girl grinned sheepishly as if she realized she’d said too much. “Can I help you find something?”

“No, I’m just looking.”

The girl gave an understanding smile and returned to the counter. Robyn affected interest in baby accessories as she made her way to the infant mannequins. She picked a doll from a display and held it to her breast. The shape and weight were right, but the color was a bit off and it felt wrong – stiff and cold. She looked at the price, almost two-thousand credits. She returned the doll to the shelf.

“We have better models,” the clerk said. “That’s a low end decoy.”

“Two-thousand is the low end?”

The clerk smiled, but didn’t answer. She brought another doll from behind the counter, carried it in her arms as if it was alive, and placed it in Robyn’s arms. It was warm. Soft blond hair tickled Robyn’s arm. Eyes moved under closed lids. Its chest rose and dropped as if it was breathing, and it turned and snuggled against her. Robyn felt a tingle in her lungs and a stunned numbness inside her head. She was surprised at her reaction, and the emotions building within her. She had held a real baby only once before, her friend Kelsey’s daughter, Hope. She bent down, her face close to its hair and inhaled through her nose. It smelled chemical and sterile. The spell was broken. She realized she was holding nothing more than a piece of plastic – a clever trick filled with sensors and motors, but nothing more.

The clerk was watching expectantly. Robyn felt embarrassed. Then she understood the distinction between the two dolls and the implications. The inexpensive doll was a decoy meant to fool baby snatchers. They were intended for people who already had babies – real parents. The model in her arms was a baby substitute. It was as real as it could be, as real as it ever would be. It was meant for those who would never have children – pretenders. In the girl’s eyes, Robyn was a pretender, as unstable as any woman who had tried to flee the store with a doll. And for those few moments in which she’d succumbed to her emotions over an animated piece of plastic, the girl was right. She felt pathetic. Why had she come? She knew why. She had come to relive the moments she held her friend Kelsey’s baby in her arms pretending it was hers. She dropped the doll to the floor and rushed out of the store.


On the platform waiting for the tube home, Robyn spotted a mother clutching her baby. She moved in behind for a better look and to be on the same car. Once inside, she took a seat facing them. The woman was young, younger than Robyn by a few years. Money: that was the only explanation. No woman that young could afford a child if her family wasn’t wealthy. If her baby was taken, it could easily be replaced. What was the old saying, no pain for the privileged?
What if at the next stop the child was plucked from its mother’s arms? If timed properly, the doors would close before anyone could react and before an image of her face could be picked up on the net. An alert would go out immediately mobilizing Security Services. But Robyn knew the city well.

A Word About Our 1000-word Crits

Yes, I double-checked to make sure I typed WORD instead of PAGE. I've lost count how many times I've made that same, silly error!

We've got lots of newbies these days, so I thought I'd do a quick "this is what it's all about" before I post the 1000-word excerpts.

* Don't feel compelled to do a full, blown-out, detailed critique. If that's what you WANT to do, I know the authors will appreciate it. But this blog doesn't exist to eat away at your writing time (which needs to remain a priority, since you are, yanno, a writer). So it's up to you how much time you spend on the critiques.

* You can begin by making a statement as to whether the excerpt HOOKED you, and if you want to read more. A sentence or two explaining WHY you were or weren't hooked is helpful.

* Beyond being hooked, you might want to comment on the overall writing. Is it too purple? Are there too many adverbs, too many adjectives?

(One of my favorite lines from the movie Adameus is when the Emperor tells Mozart that the opera had "too many notes" and that he ought to just take out a few. But I digress.)

* If the piece, overall, isn't working for you, you might want to comment on why it doesn't "work." Not a good place to start the story, perhaps? Or the voice doesn't work for the age of the protag, or for the genre? These are often general comments (and highly subjective), so you won't have to go into a lot of detail here.

* And, of course, I don't have to tell you to refrain from saying things like, "This was a complete waste of my time," or "The word BORING doesn't begin to cover my initial reaction." That is not "critique," my peeps. That is criticism. Two different animals.

I suppose I've acquired a heightened sensitivity to the need for writers to WRITE THEIR OWN STUFF. (I smell a blog post coming...) So for as much as I want you to be generous with your time when we have public critiques here, I also want you to remember your WIP, which is tapping quietly from the other side of your monitor while you're in a different window.

Questions? Comment below! I will post the five excerpts shortly.

(Want to submit your 1000 words to the queue [which is currently over 50]? Send your SCREEN NAME, TITLE, GENRE, and first 1000 WORDS in the body of an email to facelesswords(at) with 1000 WORDS in the subject line. You will receive a post number, and that's your place in line, as it were.)

Monday, May 25, 2009


A big THANK YOU to all who took the time to post the book trailer for AGENT:DEMYSTIFIED on your blog or Facebook page.

The WINNER (via random drawing) is VRLEAVITT.

Congratulations, Vrleavitt! Please email me at facelesswords(at) and let me know where to email your free copy of the e-book.


I'll admit, I was a little disappointed at the relatively low turn-out for the contest. The slightly-more-than-a-dozen entries are hardly indicative of the way-more-than-that on my RSS and email subscription lists.

(In short: hellooooo out there....there...there...)

Still. I always enjoy announcing a winner. Makes me feel almost Christmas-y!

Coming up this week: Our next five 1000-word critiques! If yours belongs to the 16-20 group and you want to a) redact or b) submit revisions, please do so by the end of today, so that I can get the posts ready to go.

And that's all for now. Happy Monday!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Well, I've been having lots of fun building up my friend collection on Facebook this week. A big thank you to those of you who have "friended" me! (Funny, the verbs we've come up with in this age...)

For those of you who are interested, I'm Authoress McNonymous. Ya, the Celtic surname is kinda growing on me.

It's not just about gathering a huge friend following, either. I can't tell you how fascinating it is to be hooked up with so many WRITERS! So many status updates having to do with works-in-progress and editing sessions and word counts and dead muses and such. (Okay, I made up the dead muses. You can relate to that, though, I'll bet.)

Very cool. A strong sense of "we're all in this together."

My "real" Facebook account is loaded with real-life friends--98 percent of which are non-writers. So while I love them, and while many of them cheer me on when I post writerly updates, they don't offer the same sense of I Know Exactly What You're Feeling.

I mean, how could they?

So my Authoress McNonymous account is providing me with something I didn't expect. And of course, that "something" is the collective You.

I already know that you're an amazing group of aspiring authors. Now I can actually get to KNOW you a little better.

Just a little, mind you. I'm not going to be spending too much time on Facebook.

(She says with a straight face.)

And naturally I'll share as much of myself as I think I can, without giving away my anonymity. Or, mcnominity, as the case may be.

So tell me: How important is it for you to have a community of like-minded writers surrounding you? Do you have this in "real life" or does the Internet provide it for you?

I find that I really, really need it. New revelation, that. And I'm so grateful to have "found" all of you.

That sounded schmoopy, but there you have it.

Have a joyous weekend!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On The Over-shopped Query Letter and Why I Hate It

It's time to talk about queries.

This blog is all about the writing, to be sure--and, ultimately, so is the industry. But it's the query letter that gets the ball rolling, and it's the query letter that often makes aspiring authors break out in hives.

So. I'm not going to talk about my approach to queries. It's outlined in AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED, so if you've read it, you already know this. (Short version: It's a business letter.)

What I AM going to talk about is my aversion to the over-shopped, uber-critiqued query letter that seems to be gaining popularity as more as more online resources become available to authors.

An "over-shopped" query letter is one that's been through dozens--perhaps scores--of online critique rounds. Here's the basic scenario: The aspiring author writes a query and posts it on his favorite online community or critique group. The masses have at it, offering advice, ripping it to shreds, reconstructing sentences, honing in on hooks.

At first glance, this seems like a good thing, right? Getting feedback is always good. Always.

But. Often, as the process goes on and the author keeps posting the latest iteration of said query, the essence of the query and THE VOICE OF THE AUTHOR is lost. By the time the final product exists, it bears little resemblance to anything the author may have written on his own.

Sure, the hook might feel stronger, or the overall composition of the letter might be tighter. But who, exactly, wrote the letter?

And, too, there are certain "query formulas" out there to which many subscribe. Which means that most (if not all) over-shopped query letters are going to end up as "formula letters."

Do you really want a "formula letter" to represent your work? Yourself as a professional?

Now, it might be argued that any type of business letter is a type of "formula." I agree. The difference is that when you write a query--or any type of professional communique--without outside interference, the end result is a reflection of YOU. Not your critique group.

Things work differently when you have your WORK critiqued. Somehow, if you've learned how to take the good advice and make it work for you, you'll end up with stronger writing. But how much "work" can you do to a one-page query letter without ultimately sacrificing your individuality?

You can literally "work" your query letter into something it never would have been if you had simply written it yourself.

Think about the impression this will have on a literary agent. A query comes across the desk and reflects a certain "something" about the author and the story. It's actually a compelling hook and a genre the agent represents, so he asks for sample chapters and a synopsis.

When they arrive, they are completely at odds with the query letter.

And, too, I believe many agents have developed an eye for the "over-shopped" query, to the point where, unless the sample pages (you DO include sample pages in your queries, don't you?) blow him away, he's going to yawn his way through the "cookie cutter query" and move on to the next one.

Naturally I've got an anecdote to go along with all this.

When I thought (foolishly) that my first novel was ready to be queried, I posted my I-sweat-blood-over-this-thing query letter on a writer's community and asked for critique. Hoo, baby, I got it. Rip, tear, rip, tear, and I rolled with it and changed things around and editing my fingers off, until I had the perfectly over-shopped query letter.

And I began the querying process.

The good news is that I soon realized the novel wasn't good enough to publish (it was a mess, actually). But before I halted the querying process, I garnered two requests for partials. Two! Naturally, both of them turned quickly into rejections. But that over-shopped query had worked its magic, making me feel, for a little while, that I actually had something good to offer.

Of course, none of the critters had read my novel, or knew the least thing about it (except for what was in my original query). Had they read it, they would have deleted me from the community on grounds of ineptitude.

Now, I'm not telling you to go write your query letter in a dark hole somewhere. Getting an opinion or two is wise. But I strongly advise you against over-shopping it.

Know what else I advise against? Fretting over it. It's really not the big, scary monster it's been made out to be.

And all those "THIS is the way to write a super-fantabuloso query letter!" blog posts and articles and pages on agent web sites? Read them. BUT TAKE THEM WITH A GRAIN OF PROVERBIAL SALT.

Now you know why I don't want to do query critiques on the blog as part of our "crit venue." My personal query philosophy just doesn't line up with that.

Still wishing we'd do something with queries here on the blog? You're in luck! In July, we're going to have a Very Special Query Contest.

That's all I'm going to say.


Write your novel, edit your novel, edit your novel some more. When it's time to write your query letter, buy my e-book, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and write it. No sweating, no fretting.

It's just another stepping stone across the pond. If you slip once or twice, you're not going to drown.

Trust me.

Facebook Meets Authoress

Yes, I've done it. I'm now on Facebook.

To clarify: AUTHORESS is on Facebook. "I" have been on Facebook for some time now.

This could get tricky.

At any rate, feel free to friend me! You'll find me listed as Authoress McNonymous.

Ya. Silly, isn't it?

Facebook wouldn't let me sign up as "Authoress." I mustn't be a real person if I don't have a last name, right?

So I typed in "Authoress Anonymous," and Facebook didn't like that, either. Evidently, "Anonymous" doesn't cut the mustard as a surname.

So I took a Celtic twist, and voila! Authoress McNonymous was born.

I don't know how long I'll be able to keep this ball in the air, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Hope to see you on my friend list!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I've gotten so much positive--even glowing--feedback on the book trailer for AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED. Thank you!

Of course, more than your words of affirmation, what I really want (need) is for you to keep spreading the word for me.

My own Germ Army, as it were.

So here's a little contest to inspire you to hop on board! Embed the book trailer on your blog, along with a link to Or share the link to the book trailer on your favorite writerly community (of which I trust you are an active member in good standing--because, yanno, if you spam anybody on my behalf, I will hunt you down and saw off your fingers, one by one).

Then, post the URL in the comment box below, so that I can find your handiwork. Once you've left a comment, you will be officially entered in a drawing for a free copy of the e-book.

Already have the book trailer on your blog? Leave a comment with the URL, even if you know I've already seen it. You're still eligible for this contest.

Already have a copy of the e-book? Enter the contest anyway. Use your free copy as a prize give-away on your blog...or send it to a friend.

Win-win, every way you slice it.

Contest is open now, and will close on Saturday at 11:59 pm EDT. I'll announce the winner on Monday.

And now, back to my regularly scheduled morning coffee.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Winners! Winners!

Here are Jenny's winning picks from this round of Secret Agent: Are You Hooked?


#13 Grace Under Fire by Shelli
#15 Mourn Their Courage by ronempress

The prize:

Ms. Rappaport invites you to submit your partial to the agency UPON REVISION (based upon her comments on your work). Please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific instructions.


#22 Virgin Unknown by Mark in the Seattle Area
#30 Stealing Gold by Leanna Kay
#44 On the Beam by Jilliebeans

The prize:

Ms. Rappaport invites you to submit your partial to the agency. Please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific instructions.

Hooray to everyone!

Secret Agent Unveiled: JENNY RAPPAPORT

And a huge thank you to the uber-helpful and instructive Jenny Rappaport of The Rappaport Agency.

Jenny's Bio:

Jenny Rappaport is the owner of The Rappaport Agency, LLC, a boutique literary agency specializing in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, young adult, and romance. She has previously worked at Folio Literary Management and the L. Perkins Agency. Jenny attended Carnegie Mellon University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. She is a 2002 graduate of Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp. Her nonfiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, her poetry in Everyday Weirdness, and her microfiction in Thaumatrope. She is currently working on a novel in her free time.

What Jenny is currently looking for:

Jenny is looking for novels that put storytelling first, with believable characters and innovative plots. Although literary novels don't necessarily appeal to her, voice and style are important components that she looks at in every novel, particularly YA. If it sounds like an adult narrating as a teenager... then it's not for her. While she loves all forms of speculative fiction, she's particularly interested in someone who can "reinvent" epic fantasy, as well as finding a good steampunk novel for her list. She currently has a dire lack of romance authors (only one!), and would love to find the next Eloisa James or Jenny Crusie.

And there you have it! Hooray for another fun, informative, helpful round. Feel free to leave thanks and comments for Jenny in the box.

Stay tuned for the announcement of this round's winners!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Sunshine, low humidity, sparkling dew on the grass--couldn't be a better morning for lifting the spirits. If I weren't so bug-phobic, I'd be out there instead of in here.

Yes, it's warm weather's bane. Bugs. *shudder*

Anyway, it's been a full week of crits and writerly fun, yes? Our Secret Agent is still among us, working through the list. Keep your eyes open (as if I have to tell you that).

I received an amazing piece of advice yesterday that has energized me just when I needed it most. Not on the WIP, which is moving along swimmingly (close to 50K--how can it be?!). No, the advice has to do with my beloved, overly-queried, I-believe-so-strongly-in-this-I'm-not-giving-up manuscript.

It's on Draft 5, and of course it keeps improving as I go. But the original novel was completed, oh, three years ago, I think? And in those three years, my writing has grown and developed--which is, of course, what's supposed to happen. Right?

So here I sit, on the brink of a huge I've-got-to-make-these-characters-come-to-life-once-and-for-all breakthrough, and I'm...blanking out.

Sound familiar?

Enter the Best Advice of the Month (you know who you are, oh Advice Giver--shall I name you?): Your writing is stronger now than when you wrote the novel. Don't edit. Rewrite.

Oh, yes. There it is. Exactly what I needed to hear.

Not that I relish the thought. The specific approach calls for outlining each chapter, then sitting down and rewriting. Stronger voice, stronger sense of the story's cadence. Knowing where I'm going from the beginning, but getting there a better way.

Gives me goosebumps.

And, ya, it also gives me indigestion. Because...well, we're talking about a lot of work here.

Here's the thing. I'm not willing to give up my 1000-word-a-day progress on my WIP. And one of the areas in which I've been lacking is multitasking. I've always been a One Project sort of gal.

Silly. And ultimately not efficient.

So this I'm-so-not-a-night-person person is now training herself to work in the evening on her Beloved Middle Grade Novel. I have the plan, I have the passion. I just need...consciousness?

But, yanno, enough's enough. I am a writer. And I am going to be a published writer. And this is what I have to do. What I want to do.

And, no, I can't drink coffee at night. Because then I will subsequently be awake for the entire night.


And there you have it. I've shared this for two reasons:
  • I need to know that you're aware of what I'm doing, so when you coyly comment, "So, how's the ripping-apart-the-manuscript-during-late-hours going?" I will have to give an answer. Call it...anonymous accountability.
  • I want you to take my "Eureka!" moment and apply it to your own work. What's the "butt kick" that you need right now? Grab onto it and move forward.
There you have it. And I'm sure you've got something to share as well. Share away! More than any other time, this community comes to life on Fridays in the comment box. I'm sure I'm not the only one who looks forward to it.

Happy writing! And I'll see you all bright and early Monday morning for our Unveiling and Winners!


Here it is! The long-awaited trailer for Agent: Demystified.

Go forth and be viral. I promised Mr. A (director/producer) you'd spread the love for me.

And please be sure to include THE WEBSITE at There aren't any bells and whistles yet, but it's a start!

I can't tell you how excited I am about the trailer. I'm going to be nice to Mr. A for a very, very, very long time.

No, really. He deserves it, don't you think?


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

50 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Blessed Demon
GENRE: Fantasy

The statuesque woman prowled gracefully between the flower-laden tables at the Governor’s Ball. Despite the many guests moving around the tables, she wove without pause between the countless gilded chairs. An invisible marker guided her past the jazz band, to a table near the back. There, she found an old man quietly admiring an ornate centerpiece. A cold smile broke across her beautiful face as her hollow eyes forced a startled breath from the man. “Ah, Gustav Bellinger, how are you?” she queried slowly, in a gravelly but polished voice.

The old man shook his head in disbelief. “That is not my name, madam,” he insisted. The woman remained resolute, however, and as her smile disappeared, she retorted, “But Gustav, of course it is – I would know your face always and anywhere.” An old lady with grey hair piled atop her pallid visage, spoke adamantly in the man’s defense. “This is my husband, Georg Schmidt,” she explained proudly. The woman laughed with a mixture of malice and mirth. “No, my dear lady, this is Gustav Bellinger” she calmly insisted, “I never forget his sort of…person. You are my very favorite sort of person, dear Gustav.” With that, her voice dropped as she seethed, “How could I ever forget you, Gustav?” The old lady scowled while her husband shuddered and the bow around his sweat-soaked collar shook faintly. “Anything you want to tell me about a book before you go, Gustav?” the woman taunted.

49 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Guardians
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The bell rang, just as I put the finishing touches on my last painting. I moved my easel to the side of the art room, and left the painting to dry. I’d take it home to add to my portfolio tomorrow. I wasn’t planning on coming back to the art room after school, so I grabbed the rest of my portfolio, and took it with me to my last class.

The scholarship application was due soon, and I needed to photograph each of my art pieces and send in my best work. I had spent the last two weeks sorting through each of my drawings and consulting my art teacher about which ones to send. My portfolio held my most important work right now, so I carefully maneuvered through the crowded hallways.

Suddenly I felt someone push me and I went flying forward. I landed on my hands and knees. My portfolio fell open dumping the pictures all over the floor in the hall.

“Whoops, Isis. I didn’t see you there,” Mike said. I shuddered. I made it a point to avoid any area that had Mike in it and I was so focused on keeping my pictures safe that I had forgotten to keep an eye out for him.

Fighting back tears I scrambled to pick up the sketches and return them to my portfolio. Mike stood there laughing as I counted the sketches. I realized that I was still missing one. Frantically I looked through the drawings again.

48 Secret Agent

TITLE: Siblings
GENRE: Young Adult

The last place I wanted to be was the hospital but here I was. I resisted the temptation to glance into every open door as I made my way down the hall to Jim’s room. He’s my older brother and had been back in town for over a week but I hadn’t seen him yet.

I was mostly here to get Mom off my back. She’d kept insisting that I visit Jim. She didn’t come right out and say it but Jim probably wouldn’t be around much longer. Now I didn’t know what to think about that. I mean, Jim had never been around much anyway. I barely knew him.

I’m seventeen years old, and the only time I’d been in a hospital, besides when I was born, was to visit my Grandpa ten years ago. He’d had a stroke and couldn’t talk. My mom had held his hand and kissed him on the cheek, whispered into his ear.

Can Grandpa hear? I remembered asking my mom. Maybe, John, she’d replied. Maybe.

I’d decided to visit Jim alone. I’d had enough of my parents lately. I didn’t want them watching me watch my brother. Besides, I thought they were happy not to be here for one night—everyone needed a break, even them.

I stopped in front of room 212. I could still turn back but then what would I tell my parents. I took a deep breath, pushed through the door and covered the few steps to the bed.

47 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Search
GENRE: YA Romantic Sci/Fi

I opened my eyes, closed them quickly, counted to ten, and tried again. A view of gray stone assaulted my eyes. Nothing I saw made any sense. Where was my poster of Jordy Smith, my surfer hero? It was the first thing I saw each morning when I woke up. It was usually right above my head, stuck to the ceiling. I closed my eyes and reopened them. Again, only gray stone, no Jordy.

Lord, where am I. What is going on?

I slowly lifted my head to see the wall in front of me was rounded like the wall of a castle tower. It had a window high up where I could see a bright blue sky. There was no glass, just an opening in the wall. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair.” I said chuckling while rubbing my face, and was surprised to feel stubble. How long have I been here? All I remembered was going to bed, and then…nothing.

“I must still be asleep,” I said. Then a thought popped into my mind; “It will be okay. Take a deep breath and relax.” I closed my eyes, following the suggestion. When I opened them nothing in the room had changed! My heart rate had slowed a bit though, and I felt that I could think clearer. I looked down and recognized my jeans, my favorite button down shirt, and my sneakers. This could NOT be a dream. If I was in a dream, I would be naked!

46 Secret Agent

GENRE: Regency-set Historical

Veni tapped her slippered foot and checked her pin watch… again! If her mother said marriage one more time she was going to scream!

“I do not know what is to become of you, Venitia,” Lady Belmaren disparaged.

Veni stood like a penitent before the duchess. It took but a moment after hearing the duke’s carriage depart for her to be summoned to the Egyptian-style sitting room her mother claimed for her own.

“I am quite disappointed you chose to not be at home when the duke called,” the duchess bemoaned. “Whitecliffe is a fine figure of a man, and is quite interested in getting to know you better.”

“Mother, I am not interested in getting to know Whitecliffe any better. He is arrogant and distant and has the coldest eyes I have ever seen. I do not find him attractive in the least.”

“That is neither here nor there, Venitia. He is interested in you and that is what is important. After all,” the duchess huffed, “you are hardly in the first blush of youth, and even when you were, no one would ever confuse you with a diamond of the first water. Now Artemis, she is a different story. Your sister takes after my side of the family.”

Veni stared at the woman who had given her life, sitting like a queen on the green and gilt settee shaped for all the world like Cleopatra’s barge. It had always amazed her that she was this woman’s child.

45 Secret Agent

TITLE: Darkfall
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Hell on Earth was just a bit closer today than yesterday. Kate Hayden could almost feel it approaching in the hot air wavering in the distance, distorting the view of the Williamsburg Bridge.

Mr. A stood beside her. Unaffected by the heat, he wore a black leather trench coat, which made him look more like a Russian mobster than a forensics instructor. His shaggy brown hair obscured his face as he read text messages on a Blackberry.

She glanced around. The waterfront between the 59th Street Bridge and Hudson Avenue was a graveyard. The moss-covered ruins of the old Eastern District Rail Terminal rotted in the tides while abandoned float barges and crumbling piers decayed along the coast. They weren't the only corpses. Over the past eight months, a killer dumped five decapitated bodies along the shore, the hooded and gagged head in each corpse's shackled embrace.

She shaded her eyes. “It’s so hot.”

“Hot as Hell,” Mr. A said, his voice soft.

He should know.

She bit back a smile, searching the dumpsite like a psychic bloodhound, hoping the killer left some little trinket behind -- a cigarette butt or scrap of paper -- but nothing pulled her closer. Only pebbles and garbage littered the mud between the stumps of wood. Then, a bit of green beach glass glinted amidst the trash. When she picked it up, her perspective dissolved and she was him.

He sat there and stared at the old ConEd plant across the East River, contemplating murder.

44 Secret Agent

TITLE: On the Beam
GENRE: Young Adult

If people were colors, I’d be pastel pink. In a family of whites, I’d stand out. Unfortunately for me, my family glows in the dark. My mom sold her first software design to Microsoft when she was 22, and her sister Allie won an Olympic gold medal. Did I feel pressure to overachieve? Um. Do Crocs make your feet sweat?

Mom never cracked the whip on me because she identified. While she was acing SATs and shopping for Jessica McClintock prom dresses, Allie had already flipped her way into endorsements, home shopping appearances, movies, and an unfortunate reality television stint. Still, the obligation to invent, cure, or save something weighed on me. By 15, my only noteworthy accomplishment was that I could shove a pound of licorice in my mouth at once. Now, I do have two spleens, but Mom gets credit for that because my organs were her handiwork, after all.

For a few bloated days every month, I decided I was a mutant, destined for nothing special. But the rest of the time I believed in my genetic potential. So being me was either thrilling or depressing, depending on the time of the month.

My chance to overachieve hit when I was at my lowest point. Did I succeed? I’ll tell the story and let you decide. But I warn you, in places you may want to thump me on the head. Great genes don’t make people immune to bad decisions.

Seven No-Responses For Contest...

...and I'm not sure what to do about this!

At the time of this posting, I still have not heard from 7 of our winning entrants. None of my email notifications bounced, and there's nothing in my spam box.

So. Hello?

If you received a "you're a winner!" notification email from me, please email your 250 word submission to me at BY 10:45 am EDT (that gives you an hour).

If there are still open slots at that point, here's what we'll do:

ALL entrants who DID NOT WIN the lottery are invited to send me your submission for the contest. I will take them IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THEY ARE RECEIVED until the 50 slots have been filled.

When you send your submission, please include YOUR LOTTERY NUMBER in the subject line, so I can verify that you were, indeed, one of the original entrants.

Okay? That's the best I can do.

My profound apologies!

43 Secret Agent


I realized my mistake when I came through the door. My mother was pacing around our small hut, her hands clutched to her chest, her dark curls pulled back haphazardly from her face, and her brown eyes nearly frantic with worry.

I opened my mouth to greet her but the look she turned on me was such mix of anxiety and relief that the words died in my throat. She was the only one I knew with that could shut me up with just a look, and I didn’t comment as I quickly shut the door behind me. Not that I blamed her for being afraid – when people went missing around here, they went missing for good. I cursed myself for being selfish and making her worry; I could have found time to get clean on another day.

Taking the extra time to go through the ruins to bathe had been a bad idea but I’d been sick of being dirty. And there had been hovers in the skies; I hadn’t wanted to be caught in the ruins – it being forbidden and all – so I’d had to hide in nearly every doorway to avoid detection.

“Abigail –” she said shrilly.

I took her hands to stop her pacing and smiled. “Mama, I was just bathing. I got the laundry done and I thought I’d take the opportunity to get clean.” I thanked the gods that I hadn’t taken my time getting home.

42 Secret Agent

TITLE: "Vampire, The Unwilling"
GENRE Fiction

"Was it just the icy mist of the cold September air, breezing off of the nearby

graveyard, a stench enticing only to those of the Hemo-sapien type, as I call, what I

disdain to associate with, our kind?" Echo the words of a staunch, dark-haired man,

standing solitary, a shadow hovering over his face, his chilling stare piercing through

the walls of the old musty, decrepit house he stands in front of. Staring as if in a

trance, he doesn’t waver as the cold wind flaps the bottom of his black trench coat

violently against his shins, as if in an effort to rip the coat away from him. His skin,

apparently once bronzed, is now pale and streaked with veins which show through

the transparency. Chaz, more properly, Chazarus Montebarone III, a man hardened

outwardly, fights against a choice, or is it his fate he faces now. He’s now a man

pulled in many directions by love, tugged as if by wild horses, straining as he fights

against his own heart.

"Crazy though I may be to even call it love, or is it raw lust disguised?" He

reflects, envisioning a captivating young woman, slight of build, graceful, her lips

moist and supple, pink-red like the roses that still bloom in the yard as if some

mysterious caretaker has nurtured them for years. His eyes refocus, blinking as he

touches a rose next to him. Rose bushes array the entrance to the old house. He

continues to envision her

41 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Train
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Jack Amentia chugged the last ounces from his whiskey bottle and dropped it into the darkness. Thinking no last thoughts or prayers, he turned his back toward New York City and looked up at the starlit sky.

Tires screeched and a car door opened.

“Hey buddy! Don’t jump! Don’t jump!” The man yelled back at his wife. “Call 911. Now!”

More tires screeched and more car doors opened. The crowd gathered near the railing and reached out beyond the steelwork to stop the suicidal man.


“Give us your hand!”

Their pleas went unheeded. Jack leaned back and disappeared.

Crescent shaped, he saw the bridge fade away and heard nothing but the wind rushing past his body. The saddened face of his late wife Joanne appeared on the evening sky. She was as alive as just a few days before.

“Jack!” she cried. “Not this way!”

Her face vanished.

One of the stars flashed like a supernova and from it, a figure soared toward the falling man. His expression concerned, as he called out in a voice both powerful and deliberate. Jack recognized him. The apparition was his grandfather.

“Say you want to live!” He implored. “Say it!”

His grandfather extended his hand.

“Grab my hand and say it! Before it’s too late!”

Jack clasped his hand before plunging into the frigid water and screamed the phrase like a condemned man praying for one last wish.


40 Secret Agent

TITLE: Turtle Shell

My dream life would be living in a car. I’d be just like a turtle with a real protective shell. If I like what’s goin on in life, I’d keep my neck extended, the windows rolled down, and if I don’t like what’s goin on, I’d pull my head in, rev the engine, screech forward and leave my mark. Drive-through fast food, even drive-through school would work for me. I’d pull-up, turn in my homework, have a thirty-second chat with my teacher, and I’d drive off with the next day’s assignment. The only peer judgment would come from the car I drove and my car would be cool. Therefore I would be cool.

My dream car would be a Dodge Charger, but not the remake that dad calls a man’s flirtation with his youth. One day, dad and I are driving on the freeway in packed traffic. We’re snailing along at thirty when the front windshield turns into a movie screen and we’re in front row seats watching an action film—a 2009 Dodge Charger whizzes past us, whips around a line of cars, never slowing down. The Charger is black-hole dark and the license plate reads “Batman.” Dad moans, “You gotta be kidding.”

My Charger would be the original, a 1973 with a 440 big block engine and I’d paint it yellow and put a thick black pinstripe around the tail. I’d call it the Stinger. Potent. And I’d drive it fast.

Except I can’t drive. Yet.

39 Secret Agent

TITLE: Kunitsu Eyes
GENRE: Fantasy

Oburo lay panting in the dirty snow. The two remaining bandits circled, their swords ready, watching Oburo’s wounded leg pump scarlet. Oburo observed them both, looking inside himself at the same time, to slow the bleeding and push the pain away.

He was tempted to curse, but this was no more than he deserved. No one had asked him to meddle in the affairs of humans.

Five common bandits, ill armed and completely untrained. Killing them all should not have been difficult. Oburo had not even bothered stalking them before he attacked. Two were down in the snow clutching their spilled intestines before the fight had fairly begun. Oburo took the head of the third, the leg of the fourth .But he had used his nose to count them instead of his eyes, and he had made a mistake.

There had been six.

The two remaining bandits circled him warily. They were not brave; Oburo had shown too much skill to be attacked lightly, even now. Still, the dark blood spurted. In a few moments no bravery at all would be required to finish him off.

One of the remaining bandits came in from behind, poking clumsily with his blade. Oburo swatted him away without looking. He was watching the other man, perhaps a leader, certainly the better swordsman of these two. For a moment their gazes locked, and the expression in Oburo’s strange eyes drove the man back a pace.

Then, deliberately, Oburo looked away as if in fear.

38 Secret Agent

GENRE Historical Romance

“Goodness, I think I hit the carriage roof. Do you imagine we are close to London?” Constance asked as she regained her seat and braced herself for the next bump in the road.

“Nothing looks familiar, yet it can’t be much farther. Are you hurt?” Her maid, Selena, asked vaguely, but still kept her gaze on the world outside the carriage.

“Only my pride. I wish we were going to Hazelmere, instead of London. I don’t remember that road being nearly as bad as this one,” Constance remarked, and opened her cracking blind. Nothing outside the grimy window looked familiar, but she found the sights fascinating, and her sense of excitement grew.

“It’s not the road – it’s the carriage. Besides, London is much more interesting than the quiet of Hazelmere. You will have a great deal more enjoyment in Town, not to mention see a great many handsome men,” Selena admonished her employer in a haughty tone.

“I did not come to London to see pretty men. I came because Virginia was so adamant in her invitations. I could not refuse her again.”

The maid scoffed, and Constance thought she was muttering something unflattering under her breath.

“I could not disappoint Lady Orkney just because Lord Overton no longer cares for the acquaintance,” Constance explained.

Selena was silent for a surprisingly long time. “What did you do?” she asked.

37 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Fantasy

The icy rain stung his face as he ran. He could hear his own beating heart screaming at him to rest a moment, his legs shaking in dispute. But he couldn’t. The Forest of Nadine was near, his mission soon complete.

Turning, he panicked as he saw his cloaked pursuer sprinting through the trees, not fifteen feet behind. Nearly two full days he chased him, but was never this close.

Topping a hill he spotted the black trees, recognizing the forest; it was within a few yards. Just another moment and I’ll be rid of the orb forever.

“AHH!” His body seized in agony as he was hit by his pursuer’s spell. Crashing into the ground, pain ripped at his consciousness. The green glowing orb he had protected his whole life flew from his hands and rolled instinctively towards the forest. Before everything went dark, a glimmer of hope crossed his face. It made it.

Gathering the energy he could, the cloaked man that followed cried out, “CESOME!” A bolt of energy disappeared into the forest. His power was useless. The orb vanished into the darkness.

Stopping just outside the black trees, he stared, gasping for air. He quickly dismissed the impulse to enter the forest. He knew the consequences; the horrifying stories of those who entered, spoke loud and clear.

What words would suffice for his failure? Deep horror filled his gut. Thoughts of a life in the abyss weighed upon his mind.

“What have you done?”

36 Secret Agent


She tried to remember what had happened last night. Most of the town, including them, had been up at the castle for the annual summer ball. She remembered Gavin had been drunk and making a spectacle of himself. She’d been tasked by his mother to take him away. Then, like an idiot, she’d finished off the goblet of ale someone had handed her. She hadn’t known it was laced. That sip was the last thing she remembered. She had no idea how she’d gotten here. “Here” being in front of the popular icehouse, Chaucer’s, in the middle of the main street, the only real street in their small mountain town.

Aly peeked through the gaps in the bush. Luckily, it looked deserted. Maybe everyone else was still recovering from last night’s revelry. She could only hope, because if anyone caught them, they would only assume the worst. After all, Gavin was a known flirt and even though she’d been living here for as long as she could remember, she was considered an outsider. Not that she cared what the town gossips said of her… that much. She was supposed to be in training to be a Page. No knight would ever take someone with questionable morals. She couldn’t be caught like this.

35 Secret Agent

TITLE: La Belle Mort
GENRE: Alternate History / Paranormal Romance

October, 1943
Oradour-sur-Glane, France

"Simone," René shouted to his daughter. "It's time to go."

"Coming Papa," Simone answered from the barn. She was excited about going into the village. It had been months since she ventured off their little farm.

"We have a lot to do today, daughter," René yelled, a little impatiently.

Simone ran from the barn, gracefully clearing the fence with her long stride. René cringed. He could see his little girl wrapped up in the wire fence, tumbling headlong into the mud, arms and legs splayed in all directions. But she bounded over the low fence like a gazelle. She was no longer the clumsy little girl of last fall - or even a few months ago.

In the fall of 1943 Simone Saint-Claire was just beginning her life. She was seventeen, and in spite of her natural tendencies as a tomboy, had blossomed into a ravishingly beautiful young woman.

"Simone," René chided his daughter. "You can't go to market like that. Go put on a dress."

"None of my old dresses fit, Papa," she countered. Not that she wanted to wear them anyway. She was more comfortable in her brother's pants and shirt.

René indulged her, as in everything else. Over the summer he had let her do as she pleased, wear what she wanted. He didn't know anything of women's fashion, and at work on the farm the sturdy pants were, as his daughter argued, more functional.

34 Secret Agent

GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy

“I’m not gonna eat you!” Emma said as she chased after the surf scoter, who splashed away, pecking blindly at the gloves around him. Emma held up a hand to stop Jim, a nurse at her mom’s animal clinic, before he could make a grab for the bird.

“Not like that,” she whispered. She looked at the scoter, his little chest heaving as he tried to swim away – the oil clinging to him like a black straitjacket. “We’re gonna scare him to death before we can actually save him.” Emma took off her gloves and passed them over to Jim.

“You’re asking for a bloody finger.”

“How would you feel if some strange looking alien lunged at you with these huge rubber things? I’d freak out, too.”

“Taking off the gloves doesn’t make you look more like a bird,” Jim pointed out.

“I’m thinking bird thoughts,” Emma replied as she crouched down in the poisoned water.

“It must not be very comfortable," she said, wading toward the scoter. "Did you ever see Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds?’” She paused. “No, well, I didn’t think so. I just saw it in Lit class and in this movie, all these birds rage this war against humans. It’s pretty scary with eyeballs being pecked out and stuff.” The scoter ruffled whatever feathers he could and cocked his head at her.

“Now, I know we did this to you, but we’re trying to fix it. I hope you can, you know, tell the other birds. Please don’t peck our eyes out.”

33 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Devil Behind the Cross
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Roy woke up to screaming.

He winced, tried to rise, then floundered and collapsed back against the floor. The screaming continued. A garbled cutting cry of agony. Roy swore, pushed his hands against the carpet, tried again.

Screaming. Screaming. Hysterical screaming.

My leg! My LEG!!

Hoarse. Loud. Panicked. Over and over.

Roy breathed into the carpet and coughed.

Over and over.

Something wet dripped from his scalp down his temple. He tightened his hand around his CZ as he tried to get his vision to focus. Screams cut against his mind. Same voice. Same guy.

Nineteen. Just as old as him.

Mygodmygod―” A hiccup, desperate for breath. “Help!” Breathe. “God help me!!

He was coming, G** d**n it. He just needed a sec― Roy swore and fell back against the wall. He pressed his fist against his bruised side, and breathed.

Roy’s vision swayed from one end of the living room to the other, drunken, adjusting, hazy eyes searching. He spotted the brother behind an overturned chair. Donovan. S’was his name, right?

Roy squinted. Donovan was crying, holding his leg. Holding his thigh… only his…

Roy saw the white poking out of the end of Donovan’s blood soaked khaki shorts, the white and only that in the center of a mass of brown and red.

He gagged on air then clamped his mouth shut, falling forward, scrambling to his feet, stumbling back against the wall once again. His white coat fell and settled around him, the black hems of

32 Secret Agent

TITLE: Pelegra and the Son of Merek
GENRE: YA Fantasy

A Midnight Snack

The worn refrigerator clanged and started humming. Aiden threw a furtive glance toward the stairs; he’d be dead if his foster family caught him. He reached toward the handle and the noise grew louder, evolving to a ‘won won’ sound. He glanced around the shadow-filled room; maybe his foster brother was hiding. He was fourteen like Aiden, but loved to play cruel jokes that always ended with Aiden in trouble; it was just another reminder that he was not really part of the family.

The sound sped up to a constant whine, drawing his attention back to the refrigerator. His eyes widened as green light emanated from it, sneaking out the edges from around the door. The light got brighter and Aiden couldn’t tear his eyes away. He couldn’t help himself, he reached forward and opened the door.

Green light engulfed him. He lifted his other hand to shield his eyes. Where’s the food? This is not normal! Where’s the roast chicken left from dinner? This has to be a trick or a dream. That’s it, I’m dreaming! His feet slid, and his body shifted forward. The pull grew stronger and stronger, until his legs lifted and disappeared into the light. His fingers slipped, and he tumbled inward.

With a crash and clank of glass bottles, he fell onto a black and white tiled floor. Fruit pelted his head. Aiden sat stunned, before blinking several times and climbing to his feet.

31 Secret Agent

TITLE: Traitor's Plight
GENRE: Fantasy

“It isn’t right that you’re making your home in this cesspool,” Rhys grumbled as he followed the older man up the creaking staircase to the second level. Werdimor grunted sourly in response and increased his pace, his stride long and regular for a man of his age.

He led him down a dark, narrow hallway and through an open door into a small apartment, lit only by a glassless slit of a window and a few tallow candles. The rank smell of the fish shop below drifted up through the gaps in the floorboards, and indeed as Rhys looked down he could see a patron below him examining a rather sorry-looking salmon.

“Lord Calorian!”

Rhys looked up from his examination of the fish and smiled broadly at his old nurse as she made her way across the sparsely furnished room towards him.

“It has been too long, Marrie. I hope you’ve been well?”

“As well as can be expected.” She smiled gratefully at him as he handed her the sack he had been carrying. “Cup of tea?”

“That would be wonderful,” he responded, though he would have preferred something stronger. If nothing else, it would take the edge off the dull throb in the back of his head from the prior night’s excesses. Idly he fingered the lump of the flask in his coat pocket before dropping his hand to his sword hilt, gripping it tightly for a moment as his anger flared. These idle days were to his detriment.

30 Secret Agent

TITLE: Stealing Gold


Uh oh. My boss, Jack had probably yelled “Lily” a hundred times before he used my last name. When I was on the ice, I might as well have been in Timbuktu for all the attention I paid to anything but my skating.

“Coming.” I sped up for a triple toe jump. After finishing my shift in the rink’s concession stand, I’d hit the ice for some fun time. Until Jack walked over, I’d been alone. Now that I had an audience, I was gonna nail that triple toe jump and follow it up with a Y-spiral. I’d gotten hooked on showing off for an audience when I competed on the figure skating circuit.

“There’s a cop here to see you,” Jack yelled.

Cop? A hard rock settled into the pit of my stomach. My feet were covered by a pair of skates I’d lifted from Robinson’s Supercenter. I was mere moments from spending the rest of my entire life behind bars.

Okay, so they’d probably let me out when I turned eighteen. That was still the same as forever considering I planned to get my driver’s license, have my first kiss and graduate high school in the next two years. You couldn’t do any of those things in the slammer. Well, maybe you could. But the yearbook pictures would stink so much you’d have to burn them.

29 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Plains of Purgatory
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

My heart pounded in my chest as I raced through the quiet woods. Dawn was just breaking over the horizon, and the sunlight began filtering through the leaves. I could feel the adrenaline coursing in my veins, blood rushing through every part of my body as it tried to erase the harsh, unwanted feelings that had taken hold when I awoke. The warm breeze whipped over my skin, and a thrill ignited within me. Thank goodness it was finally working.

As the trees flew by, all I could think of was the hideous voice calling from the darkness, and it sent shivers down my spine. I could still hear it echoing in my mind. Every night for the last week, I had the same horrible nightmare, and each time it came it got progressively clearer and as a result increasingly worse.

The night always started off in the same way; a sound sleep punctuated with normal, everyday dreams. But then everything would shift, and I would be standing alone in the dark and the hauntingly evil voice would begin calling my name.

“Alexandra….” It repeated over and over, like it was searching for me; the sound coming from all around. I couldn’t fight it when the voice drew me towards the darkness. And peering into the emptiness that surrounded me only brought gruesome and bloody images; a flash of horror and then it would vanish as screams of pain echoed through the dark. Even though the fear was so strong it rendered me silent, I couldn’t stop walking towards that voice.

28 Secret Agent

TITLE: Eleventh Hour Understanding
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Wet. Ada Mailan shifted away from the dripping woman next to her. Inspection duty - underwater farms, Ada guessed. They'd all dropped whatever they were doing to respond to the summons. Except Emma. Lena. Terri. Sheila. Selene. Where's Emma? Ada's eyes flicked toward the sound of the door; but the newcomer wasn't an heir.

Grandmother, the head of the Mailan Family government, entered the room. "We're going to be breaking some bad news," she opened. "Emma collapsed shortly after her lap session this morning. She was dead by the time doctors arrived."

Ada stopped breathing. From the dead silence, she guessed that the rest of the heirs had done the same.

"We opened a standard investigation and things look pretty straight forward. They're leaning towards heart failure." She paused, but no one had anything to say.

Perfectly healthy 19 year olds don't just die.

"Perfectly healthy 19 year olds don't just die." The words followed the thought automatically.
Five pairs of eyes locked onto Ada. One pair, Grandmother's, narrowed slightly. The old woman pursed her lips and began a step forward.

"What exactly are you implying?" The voice came from behind her.

Ada seized on the distraction and turned halfway to face the speaker, Selene. Of course it was Selene. The heir seldom let a statement go uncontested. Ada paused, aware of Grandmother's dominating presence. In that moment, she became aware of something more important.

Oh crap, it wasn't me. Someone killed her and it wasn't me.

27 Secret Agent


The old stone house looked like a location for a low-budget
horror flick. Some crazy person had built it ages ago up on a
cliff. The locals on Arbmu Island liked to joke the house had a
killer view of the ocean. Over the years, people had a funny
habit of toppling over the cliff edge, either by accident or on
purpose. The islanders thought the place was an eyesore. They
nicknamed it Madman’s Mansion, but Alice Morien thought
Morien’s Mansion was a much better name.

She stood on the beach and scanned the cliffs with her binoculars.
Morien’s Mansion. Why not? After all, no one knew who built the
place. It could have been one of her ancestors. That would
explain the weird connection—how she and the crumbling house
managed to be the only two things on the island that were not
completely ordinary. In the least. Alice loved its
shattered-glass windows, its gothic grimness.

Sam snorted nearby. He was swordfighting the dune grasses with an
old stick. The same thing he did every time they came to the
beach. Sam was happy being mediocre. He thrived on it.

Another snort.

Alice ignored her brother. She trained her binoculars on the house.
Dead leaves swirled past the front door. Morien’s Mansion. A little
rough on the outside, but probably brilliant on the inside. Like her.
Alice blinked. A shadow was creeping along the front of the house like
a shred of fog blown in off the horizon.

26 Secret Agent

TITLE: The City of Fallen Flesh
GENRE: YA Post Apoc

This was my personal kind of Hell. I guess the town I was currently stuck in could probably be called beautiful. Or quaint. Or even cosy. To me it was suffocating. The overcrowded buildings, the lack of food, the fake pleasantries as people pretended to like one another and get along was something I’d despised for the past five years. I hated being stuck in this town, hated being trapped like some kind of wild animal. The walls around us were closing in on me, and if I didn’t die of suffocation – starvation might get me first.

I was twelve at the time of my entrapment. Old enough to understand what was happening was bad; worse than bad, awful. But young enough not to realise exactly how much life would change. Though, I wasn’t the only person forced here, the only person to wish for a different world. And it was all because of my father.

My fingers groped at the rough stone wall in front of me. The grooves weren’t all deep enough for me to dig my hands or feet into. I’d tried to climb this wall every day since I’d moved here. It was a futile gesture, a pointless dream. But I longed to reach the top of the fifty foot wall and see what actually lay behind it. That wasn’t to say I hadn’t been told.

“You stay away from that wall, Melody,” my father warned me whenever I’d been caught trying to climb it. Sometimes I managed to get a little way up, but then one wrong move and I’d land back on the muddy ground, surrounded by my father’s Guard.

25 Secret Agent

TITLE: Pretty Souls
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Something was dreadfully wrong. Staring at a sliver of moonlight, I couldn't repress the shudder that coursed through my body. It had little to do with the night air nipping at my skin like rambunctious puppies. Every inch of me that was human wanted nothing more than to seek comfort and seclusion snuggled under the covers of my bed. The other part? The beast? She thrilled at the idea of danger. I aimed for letting the first half win. "Do we have to go through with this?"

"Well, we can always talk about the topic you chose for your creative writing assignment." Cass sounded more like a mother-hen than my foster sister. My younger foster sister at that. "I mean, come on, a story about the hamster-thief vampire? Are you really that desperate for material?

Though grateful that her chatter pulled me from my worries, I still rolled my eyes. "No, Cass, I just don't have enough hours in the day to be creative with my English assignments. Mrs. Peddington won't care anyway; I swear she's just an empty shell of a human being. I could write the great American novel, and she wouldn't mark it higher than a 'C'." After a covert glance revealed an empty street, we resumed our course, hugging the buildings' shadows. "Besides, they always say to write what you know."

Cassidy grabbed my arm – a little more tightly than necessary – and jerked me to a stop. "I don't think this is what they meant by that, Elle."

24 Secret Agent

TITLE: Into the Dark
GENRE: Young Adult

I was four years old when I first saw a ghost.

I met him in the bathroom of my mother’s latest “gentleman friend’s” house, in my search for a clean towel to dry my hands.

Bottom drawer, an unfamiliar voice said. Tucked behind the razor blades.

I gasped and turned toward the sound, my soggy hands collapsing at my sides.

The stranger sat on the bathtub’s ledge, his arms crossed over his chest and one black combat boot kicked over his knee. Everything I’d ever been taught told me to run, but I was too entranced, too fascinated, to do the safe thing.

This stranger was unlike any other man I had ever seen, like a character from a Japanese cartoon or an image in a painting. He was dressed in all black—black boots, black pants, and long black trench. His skin was an unblemished pale, his eyes like stars against a dark canvas—stars so bright I could hardly stand to look at him, but so mesmerizing I couldn’t turn away.

You are making quite the mess, he said with a disapproving nod toward the puddled white tiles.

I could hear his words, clearer than glass. I knew that if I opened the bottom drawer a towel would be there, hiding behind the razorblades. I knew I should find it, clean up my mess, and run the heck away. But all I could do was stare, my eyes bulging from their sockets like marshmallows.

23 Secret Agent

TITLE: Sloane Wolf
GENRE: Romance (paranormal)

When fate arrived in Destiny Falls, Micah Sloane was elbow-deep in his brother’s Ford Tempo, trying to coax the geriatric engine back to life. With little luck. But still he tried, determined not to be brought low by four cylinders of sheer stubbornness. So intent was he on his task, he would have missed the arrival of fate if not for the low whistle of his brother.

“Would you look at that?”

Must be one hell of a car, Micah thought, if he were to judge by the reverent tone of his brother’s voice. Cam didn’t go all soft over just any car like some of their friends did; it had to be special. Definitely not a Ford, although he liked the classic Mustangs. Probably not a Chevy, either. A Firebird was a possibility; Cam was known to get all sweet on them in the past. But - would that elicit such a whistle from his brother? No, that was a different kind of whistle, an I-never-saw-that-here-before kind of whistle. Whatever it was, it was a newcomer to Destiny Falls.
When he didn’t react quick enough, his brother - who’d already turned away from their task - back-handed him on the shoulder. Hard. “Hey!” Micah yelled, returning the favor without looking up. “What’s with you, brother?”

“Look at that.”

But before Micah could do that, his senses pricked up - and not by the urgent undertone in his brother’s voice.

22 Secret Agent

TITLE: Virgin Unknown
GENRE: Historical fantasy

To be a priestess, the walk had to be flawless -- the smooth heel-to-toe motion beneath the woolen robe that would soon be spattered with blood. Iphi had practiced this walk for two years, knew it was perfect, knew the ceremonial dagger at her waist was not bouncing from the motion. Sheathed at my navel, the center of life. Her slippered feet continued their smooth whisper on the stone floor of the temple, taking her through the darkness to the sunlight that shone through the linteled doorway, where the victims waited outside.

At the doorway itself she paused, heavy stonework on either side, the scents of life and fresh air greeting her. She had no need to blink -- though the veil that hung in front of her eyes was thin and gauze-like, its deep-set purple shielded those same eyes from the sudden change in lighting. Iphi made the pause purposeful, foreboding. Her arms were outstretched, as if to receive the sacrifices lying on the altar before her. She knew the whiteness of her face would sharply contrast against the darkness of her eyes, dimly glimpsed through the veil. If any worshiper had been standing directly in front of her, that supplicant would have seen her framed by darkness. And further on, in the interior of the temple, hints of the image of Artemis herself showed -- a pale statue in the same posture, lit by hungry flames.

21 Secret Agent

TITLE: Star Child
GENRE: YA Fantasy

It began with a key, cold and heavy in Jenna’s hand. She knew she shouldn’t open the cherry wood box, placed neatly on Matthew’s desk amongst a clutter of porcelain dragons. The mobiles in Matthew’s room had fluttered around her when she entered, knights and creatures swirling around each other on white strings, weaving together and apart in a whispering dance of paper.

Jenna shouldn’t have entered Matthew’s room at all. She should have slipped past to the bathroom like she’d said. But the door had been ajar, and the mystery inside had simply glowed at her, beckoning her to unravel the truth about him.

When she lifted the key from the velvet cradle of the box, a thick coil of silver and gold ribbon sprang out like a serpent. The band was far too long for a key that only stretched across her palm. Jenna lifted it up to her neck and peered into a small mirror propped up by a dragon on the desk. The key was old, made of iron and blackened from the fires that shaped it. It was hardly extravagant with its plain design and single tooth, which only made Jenna more curious about the dazzling ribbon attached.

“What’s it for?” Jenna whispered, her eyes scanning the clutter of Matthew’s room. It was too large for a diary, and she was pretty sure Matthew didn’t keep one; boys didn’t do that, did they? The key looked too small for a door.

“Jenna?” Matthew’s voice called out from the bottom of the stairs.