Monday, August 31, 2009

Heads Up: Secret Agent Submission Guidelines

Submissions for our next Secret Agent contest will open at noon EDT on Monday, September 7.

This one encompasses some popular genres, so it's going to be a mad dash. I know the lottery system worked well, but, frankly, I can't put that kind of work into this right now. (I do, after all, have to finish the second draft of my WIP. Yanno.) And yes, I AM planning on automating these contests. I just haven't had (or perhaps taken) the time to get that set up with the wonderful person who has come up with a plan for me.

So. I've changed the submission entry time to 12:00 pm EDT. That's NOON EDT. And I've beefed up the rules list, as follows:

  • Submissions WILL NOT OPEN until NOON, EDT on Monday, September 7. Early submissions WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED.
  • Submissions are for COMPLETED MANUSCRIPTS ONLY. If you wouldn't want an agent to read the entire thing, DON'T SEND IT. If an "entire thing" doesn't exist, you shouldn't even be reading these rules.
  • Manuscripts THAT HAVE ALREADY BEEN IN ANY SECRET AGENT CONTEST THIS YEAR will not be accepted. Yes, I'll be checking. Yes, this is a pain. But when you read the genres below, you'll see why I have to open the playing field to those who haven't had a chance yet. Please note: By "this year" I mean 2009. If you had an entry in a 2008 contest, you may submit.
  • You may submit A DIFFERENT MANUSCRIPT if you've participated in any of the 2009 Secret Agent contests.
  • Submissions are for THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. And, folks? If you get to 243 words and you hit a period, stop there. Likewise if the last sentence takes you up to 254 words. Never, never, never send a submission that ends in the middle of a
  • 256 words is the maximum (for the sake of ending with a period). I'm annoyed that I have to be so anal retentive this time, but there you have it.
Your submission for this contest should be formatted as follows:


(Followed by the excerpt here.)

  • No "chapter one," chapter titles, etc.
  • You will receive a confirmation email with your post number. I don't always get through quickly. Don't resend.
  • Submissions go to facelesswords(at) They DO NOT GO to my authoressmail address. Those of you who are subscribed to this blog via email will note the latter address as the "from." If you use this address for the contest, I WILL NOT SEE YOUR SUBMISSION.
  • Erm, I think that's everything.
This month's contest will include the following genres:
  • Young adult fiction (all genres)
  • Middle grade fiction (all genres)
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy
  • Paranormal Romance (NO other romance; only paranormal)
Questions? Leave them in the comment box. Readers who know the answers should feel free to answer if you beat me to it.

Wow, I'm already tired! (Well, not really.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Fricassee

I'm going to save the comments from my last post into a document and print them out.

They're amazing. You're amazing.

And as a direct result of your group encouragement, I had a plot break-through yesterday. Oh, yes! Mind you, I'll still plodding through at a rate of about five lines per day. But WOW! The discouragement is gone.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Next week: Submission guidelines for our next SECRET AGENT: ARE YOU HOOKED? contest. I know, I know--it's coming close on the tail of our last one. I allow our Secret Agents to choose the dates that work best for them, and these two happened to fall a little closer together. That's okay, though, because they encompass some different genres.

That's it for now; stayed tuned and keep writing. And...thanks for coming here. This place is almost magical sometimes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Pains of Plotting

Today I find myself wondering if plotting is supposed to be this hard.

For me, writing comes easily. That's not to say that everything I write is flawless; it isn't. I need to edit my fingers off just like the next writer. But it's not something I sweat blood over. Stringing words and phrases is effortless, fluid. It's like singing.

Not so the plotting. It isn't sentence structure and word choices that cause me to stare blankly at my screen. It's plot. Always, always plot.

It's making my brain hurt.

No, really. You know that my-skull-is-aching-on-the-inside feeling that comes from thinking too hard, too long? That. When I can't stand the thought of thinking anymore. And still haven't worked out the plot detail that has me frozen in my tracks.

And then, working it through, feeling liberated and giddy and allowing the words to pour forth, only to stop short five paragraphs later on the next plot point.

There goes my head again. Imploding.

So I ask you. Am I plot-challenged? Or are there other writers out there for whom the process of plotting is akin to refinishing a hardwood floor with a Q-Tip?

I'm obviously thigh-deep in the process right now, in the middle of almost completely rewriting the last four chapters of my WIP. I am, in fact, hard at work on the next-to-last chapter. You know the one--everything pushing forward, tension high, leading toward the climax, everything leading logically to the next thing and keeping the page-turning rate high.

No pressure, right?

It's no wonder I woke up in the middle of the night with a headache. I'm facing the day with a high level of Ibuprofin in my bloodstream and a second-to-last chapter that needs a lot of attention. A lot of pain-inducing thought.

Scariest of all? I think I'm thriving on this. That is, when I'm not despairing that something must surely be wrong with me. Because it's just THAT much work.

Please. Tell me I'm not alone.

Monday, August 24, 2009

And The Winners Are:

Here comes the fun part! (Well, okay, it's all pretty fun...)

The winners of this month's Secret Agent contest are as follow:

2nd runner-up:

#47 Mary Mary by Eliza Dolittle

The prize: Ms. Alspaugh requests your query and the first 30 pages of your manuscript.

1st runner-up:

#6 Heart's Sentinel by pjschnyder

The prize: Ms. Alspaugh requests your query and the first 30 pages of your manuscript.

Third Place Winner:

#7 Sapphire Stars by Flighty Temptress

The prize: Ms. Alspaugh requests your query and the first 50 pages of your manuscript.

Second Place Winner:

#21 A Kestrel Rising by Firedrake

The prize: Ms. Alspaugh requests your query and the first 100 pages of your manuscript.

First Place Winner:

#28 Light Bringers by Rosepddle

The Prize: Ms. Alspaugh requests your query and full manuscript.

TO ALL WINNERS: Please email me at facelesswords(at) for submission instructions.

Congratulations, everyone!


Warm thanks to the friendly and helpful Emmanuelle Alspaugh Morgen of the Judith Ehrlich Literary Agency for being a super Secret Agent!

Emmanuelle's bio:

Emmanuelle Alspaugh joined Judith Ehrlich Literary in August 2008. Previously she was an agent at Wendy Sherman Associates and an editor at Fodor's, the travel division of Random House. She represents romance, women’s fiction, and historical fiction, as well as select nonfiction categories, including memoir, psychology, and relationships. Her clients include Alissa Johnson (McAlistair’s Fortune), Danielle Younge-Ullman (Falling Under), Jenny Brown (Lord Lightning), Adrienne Kane (Cooking and Screaming), and Andrea Richesin (Because I Love Her). Emmanuelle was born in France and grew up in Eugene, Oregon, before settling in New York City to work in publishing. She enjoys developing long-term relationships with her clients, helping them to build strong and lasting literary careers.

What Emmanuelle is currently looking for:
  • Paranormal romance, particularly the dark and edgy kind (I’m hankering for some shape-shifters and werewolves)
  • Historical romance, mainly sexy Regencies
  • Urban fantasy
  • General historical fiction set in Europe
  • Upmarket, high-concept women’s fiction with strong female protagonists (as opposed to those recovering from something)
  • Literary fiction with an international setting

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Wow. This month's Secret Agent is leaving AMAZING feedback. If you haven't started snooping around for the SA comments, start doing so!

I'd like to take a moment to say WELCOME to all the new readers (and new contest participants); the influx seems to have swelled lately. Remember to check the left sidebar for important links, like the Secret Agent contest rules, helpful writerly web sites, and, ur, the fact that I am not Miss Snark.

Yep. I know you're a noob if you call me Miss Snark. I don't love you any less, I promise. Just get it right next time. My blog is a tip of the hat to the famous (infamous?) Miss Snark, but I am not she.

I am her first victim. And that story's in the sidebar, too.

Now, will you huzzah with me? I have just sweat large droplets of blood over a chapter rewrite. Okay, not really. But the changes are huge; the whole direction, the whole THING is so different.

As in, it actually has tension now. Mr. A was bored, so I knew I had to do something.

Dead bodies are helpful in achieving this.

Anyway, I'm pressing forward today, and won't be a bit surprised if my entire ending turns out differently. It probably needs to.

I'll say it again. I LOVE EDITING. This is the meat of it. This is the MAGIC.

I'd like to share huzzahs for your accomplishments this week. Share them in the comment box and know that I'll be cheering along with you!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

51 Secret Agent

TITLE: Elysium
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Elysium had renovation down to an art. I'd seen construction projects
that took months or years to go nowhere, but Elysium could put a new
bedroom together in thirty seconds flat. I watched from the stairwell,
though after presiding over the asylum for sixteen years, I was no
longer impressed by such a show.

Floorboards shattered and reformed as the hall stretched longer, and
the wall burned red before a door appeared. I heard a muffled crashing
as the room took shape on the other side. Everything had just quieted
down when the doorbell rang. The bell had two tones: one for humans
who were stupid enough to stop by and another for prospective tenants.
The chord I heard now meant my newest unwanted guest was already here.
I growled obscenities under my breath and went downstairs to let him

The house operated on permissions, which meant the front door had no
locks. If Elysium didn't want someone to stay, not even the strongest
magic could get him inside. The house had standards, even if we
disagreed on most of them.

Today was a perfect example of that. It took me two seconds to
realize my newest guest was human and one more to smell the
formaldehyde. I slammed the door in his face.

The door disintegrated, and the corpse and I were left staring at
each other once more. I covered my nose.

"Hello," he said, politely averting his eyes from my nightgown. "May
I come in?"

50 Secret Agent

TITLE: Twice Dead
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

I open my eyes, and there he stands above me holding out a hand dripping with blood. I tug my arm up from the dirt and reach out to take it. He takes hold and hoists me up out of the ditch in a graceful motion.

For a moment, I’m airborne. My feet hover just above the ground until he wraps his other hand around my waist, gently placing me down. The damp earth chills my toes.

I look up at his face, and he smiles at me. He actually has the gall to smile at me. Quickly, I wrest my hand from his and push away from him.

“Rae, I. . .” he begins.

I shake my head at him. What do you say to the person who murdered you just weeks ago?

“F*** you, Mark!” I snap. “Put me back!”

“Rae, I’m sorry,” he says, moving toward me, but I cringe away. “Rae, please. Please! I’ll tell everyone the truth about what we did. I . . . I need you to—as a witness. I need you as a witness in—”

“I am not helping you. You and your brothers can live with your guilt, and I’ll revel in watching you suffer. Believe me. That’s all I need.”

His hands begin to shake as scores of tears fall from his eyes. His lower lip seizes. His nose runs, and he continually tries to wipe his face clean, only to smear swatches of blood on his cheeks.

“Cut the act,” I command dryly.

49 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Last Time
GENRE: High-End Women's Fiction


The house was spotless. Willow sat back on the couch, and inspected the perfection around her. The corners had been vacuumed, the tile scrubbed, everything dusted and the wood furniture oiled. Walls and cabinets had been wiped down, blankets and other materials washed. It had taken her three days of constant cleaning, but the house was done. Every room, every corner. Noah would enjoy the cleanliness.

It was the last time she was ever going to clean for a man.

Willow had packed up her clothes and the minimal belongings she’d brought into Noah’s home seven months prior. There wasn’t anything more than a few books and some hair accessories. She’d acquired more books when she moved, but not many. It was mostly clothes that he’d provided to her over the months. She’d been in need of clothes, and Noah generously purchased them. It was the first time that she’d worn clothes that fit her. Noah tried to get her to purchase clothes that were tighter or sexier in his opinion, but Willow couldn’t wear those types of clothes. She liked the soft cotton shirts and the jeans. Noah liked her to wear tight, silky shirts, or short skirts. The only time she would wear those things for him was when their bedroom door was closed at night. Then she did what he liked done.

Willow wasn’t going to wear those lacy items ever again for any man.

48 Secret Agent

GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Akasha bolted behind the fir tree at the sight of the approaching police cruiser. She held her breath as it drew near. Her slight form pressed against the rough bark. ‘Last thing I need is to be busted after curfew.

The car crawled by, resembling a predatory insect. She extracted her black curls from the tree branches and headed for the cemetery, relieved that she wasn’t caught. She hoped her friend had gotten out and was able to meet her. Akasha’s thoughts on the matter weren’t entirely unselfish. She didn’t want to be alone tonight.

Akasha sensed that she was being followed these last few weeks. A lot of people were looking for her. Neither of the possibilities boded well. There was only one question: Was it the uniformed men who murdered her parents, or did someone find out that she killed a man two years ago? Why now? I’ve been fine here for two years and now that I’m almost eighteen, this sh**’s gotta happen? She pulled her knife out, reassured by the feel of cold steel in her palm. Though it would be safer if she’d forego her nightly walks, Akasha couldn’t bear the thought of staying in that sh***y orphanage a second longer than she had to. If that meant facing whatever was stalking her, so be it. She’d killed to defend herself before, she could do it again. Or, at least make somebody hurt.

47 Secret Agent

TITLE: Mary Mary
GENRE: Historical/Women’s Fiction

Mary looked in the mirror and patted the blond curls piled on top of her head with satisfaction. “You look like a real fashion plate.” she whispered to her reflection. Three long weeks ago, she had walked from the Westland Row train terminus directly to this house and had remained cooped up within its four luxurious walls ever since with only one thing on her mind: her first afternoon off.

She had driven the other servants frantic asking questions about where she should go, what she should wear, where she might stop for a cup of tea. Imagine, she thought, me, sitting in a tea shop in Dublin? On my own! Not knowing a sinner or saint in the whole place. Not worrying about someone carrying tales back to Mammy about what the ‘upstart’ was up to this time because this was Dublin, and all the tattle-tales were a million miles away in County Longford drinking tea you could trample an elephant on and staring into the fire for signs of some new misfortune on its way. Well, it was 1913 whether they liked it or not, and there was nothing at all wrong with a girl out and about on her own as long as she wasn’t up to anything wrong. She turned this way and that, admiring the modern figure she cut. One of the other girls had shown her the new Lady’s Companion Journal she’d filched from Mrs. Fitzherbert’s drawing room and lucky thing too, otherwise she would have been wandering around the city like a red-necked twit up for the day.

46 Secret Agent

TITLE: Green As Envy
GENRE: Romance/ paranormal



No rain had fallen yet, but the clean, salty smell of it hung thick in the air as Cappy swayed in his old rocker and stroked the butt of the rifle laid out across his lap. A Winchester given to him by his father when he was a boy, it was a reliable and sturdy gun. He had planned to pass it down to his two boys when they came of age, but John Jr. had no interest in such a barbaric pursuit as hunting and Wade was too damn slow to be trusted with any type of weapon. So the gun was going to fight to its dying breath with him.

He scratched a match on the side of his chair. The flame hissed and flickered across a craggy face that had seen more sun and wind than not. Between his chapped lips, the cigar fired to life despite the last twenty years of abuse it had taken in his pocket. His sons had been afraid the cigars would be his end— but, oh, if only they knew how wrong they were.

He inhaled indulgently, sighed, and fell into the comfortable habit of smoking as if he had never quit. Ah, that hit the spot. Guilt nipped for breaking his promise to his sons but, hell, wasn’t a man allowed one final victory dance?

45 Secret Agent

GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Sidney looked down at the pleat on his pants and began to pick at a tiny piece of lint. "Is that the final offer?" he asked without looking up. He stretched his legs out in front of him, relaxing his six foot frame before assuming an attentive pose.

Grant hesitated a second before clearing his throat and continuing. "Yes. There weren't any problems." He pushed the portfolio across the desk and then leaned back in the chair. "I'd say that one more meeting should finalize it. Just give me the date you'd like it finished by." He took off his glasses and looked down at the portfolio. "Can I say something? Obtaining the controlling interest in a dance company, a financially stagnant dance company, isn't a smart investment."

Three secretaries came into the office and began to lay out materials for a meeting on the large conference table across the room. Sidney watched as each of the women deposited agendas, portfolios, and water glasses in front of the twelve seats. They finished their task and two of the women walked out. One stood at the door, waiting for Sidney to acknowledge her.

"Yes, Rebecca?" he asked.

"Is there anything else, Mr. Rutherford?" Her smile suggested more than a professional relationship with him.

"Conference call to Tokyo, please."

"It's already been arranged, sir."

"Thank you," he replied, returning her smile. He watched her walk out and close the door. The faint scent of her spicy perfume lingered in the air. It was faint enough that only he could smell it and appreciate the memory of the sweet taste of her blood that it triggered. He looked back at Grant and frowned. "Now, what was your problem? Oh yes, the dance company. This is more than a business venture, Grant." He glanced toward a neat stack of newspaper clippings and reached for one with a picture. The photo was of a young ballerina holding a bottle of champagne in one hand and a pair of toe shoes in the other. He turned it toward Grant "This is why I want the dance company. I want it for her."

44 Secret Agent

TITLE: Untouched
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

I had no idea who she was when she walked into my room. I had no idea she brought death in with her, either. Not at first. All I knew was that she interrupted my quiet escape from this life that held me captive. I was staring at the ceiling, cursing the life that had cursed me in return, when I heard an unusual sound. Footsteps.

Soft, clicking footsteps. The kind that clattered against the linoleum floor and echoed off the walls in an otherwise silent hallway. Not typically unusual, but amongst the hum of medical equipment I was so used to, it stood out. Someone was walking toward my isolated room in my nearly forgotten corner.

I tilted my head so I could see the display of the clock beside me. Straining my eyes against the darkness, the glaring red numbers bled through the night and revealed that it was just past three. I couldn't imagine why anyone would come to my room at this hour. There was no reason to. The doctors had made it perfectly clear that there was nothing more they could do for me.

For a moment I let my hopes get the best of me, and whispered into the darkness. “Momma?”

With my last bit of reason I knew it wouldn't be my mother. She left me two hours ago, retiring home to get five hours of sleep before coming back to the hospital at dawn. For nearly a decade she'd spent the majority of her time at my side, talking me through my sickness. Comforting me, despite the fact that my death was nearly killing her.

Before she left I promised her I would be okay without her. I promised her I would live through the night. I lied.

43 Secret Agent

TITLE: Few & Far Between
GENRE: Paranormal Historical

Carmen slammed her keycard on the counter. She was old enough to remember metal keys, much more satisfying when it came to slamming. Metal clanked; plastic only clunked.

Her head ached and she was filled with remorse at the slip of the tongue that had revealed her insomnia. Only sometimes, she'd added quickly, but the agent had already checked the box. Hell's bells. Mandatory end-of-life counseling, at age 52!

A noise from the old furnace vent startled her. Carmen tilted her head, listening, and heard nervous laughter followed by a series of thuds and muffled exclamations.

It was noon, and Shasta was downstairs instead of in school. Again. How long before a Social Enforcer buzzed? And what in God's name was going on down there? Carmen faced the basement door, wishing she had accepted the Aging Agent's offer of nerve pills after all. She took a deep breath then yanked the door open. Stealth be damned and it could take Anger Management with it; this time she would go down in a blaze of maternal wrath.

"It's her Mom!" cried a juvenile voice as Carmen's foot hit the last step with a deliberate thump.

"This way!" In the background Shasta's friend Mariah herded two or three kids toward the patio door, but Carmen's eyes were on the couch, where a bearded man sat holding her daughter's limp hand in both of his. Shasta's eyes were open but unfocused and she made gurgling noises in the back of her throat.

42 Secret Agent

GENRE: Contemporary Romance - humorous

Friday turned into a fire drill the moment Bill Perry, my boss, breezed into the office.

He stopped by my cubicle and chirped, "Good morning, Miranda. I think we've got him." Then he disappeared into his office rolling luggage behind him.

First off, Bill never chirps in the morning. So second, it could only mean Corbett Paine was one step closer to signing a golf club endorsement. Corbett is a hottie Australian golfer touted to be the next Tiger Woods. Bill has returned from several days at a golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, where he was courting Corbett with our new Professional Elite line and has a fresh tan to prove it.

Stuart Golf Enterprises manufactures golf clubs and has corporate offices in London and Chicago, which is where Bill and I work many floors up in the Sears Tower. He is Stuart's marketing director, and I'm his marketing coordinator.

We're both tall blue-eyed blonds and kind of cute. Then we part ways. At thirty-two, I'm ultra responsible. Bill is an immature twenty-eight.

Since he's usually an impeccable dresser, his outfit of jeans, yellow Stuart golf shirt and loafers with no socks has me curiously peeking around the corner of my cube to see what he's up to. Stuart is a conservative British company and doesn't observe casual Friday. Ever. I straightened up and took a sip of hot coffee when I saw him head my way.

"Here, let's stay on top of this." He dropped a martini bar napkin

41 Secret Agent

TITLE: We Have to Play!
GENRE: High-concept women's fiction

“What do you mean, b*** j**s don’t count?” Andrew’s voice was so loud that the entire New Year’s Eve party came to a screeching halt.

“I can’t believe it,” Barbie scolded as she made a beeline across the living room to where Sophie and Andrew were standing side by side. “Sophie, not only is this a twenty-year-old argument, but now you’re debating it with my son.” She knew she needed to explain to her other guests what all the shouting was about.

“Wait a minute,” Andrew said, laughing. “Who knew the subject was even up for discussion?” “I knew,” Barbie said, giving Sophie a dirty look. “And Sophie, you’re fifty-two years old, you should know better.”

“It all started one night,” Barbie began, “when Sophie, Brenda, Renee and I were playing canasta. I can’t believe I’m even telling this story.” She paused to give Sophie another nasty look. “Okay. Sophie and Renee decided to see which one of us was the most promiscuous. So, we decided that the only way to figure it out was to count the bodies. We each got pencil and paper and agreed on the rules. Anyone that we ever slept with in our whole life had to be written down. But, when we were all done, Sophie had a shorter list than Renee. Renee asked Sophie…what about this one, and what about that one? Renee claimed that when she and Sophie were in the Catskills, Sophie had been very active, if you get my drift.

40 Secret Agent

GENRE: Mystery/Suspense

KK McKnaught stepped out onto her third floor French Quarter balcony, her long thick ponytail slipping over her shoulder as she stood on her toes and leaned over the wrought iron railing, craning her neck down St. Peter Street toward the Mississippi River. She was standing here against her better judgment. She’d suffered through many clandestine meetings in her career as an investigative reporter, but this was a first -- she was waiting for a dead man to show up.

The obituary in the paper this morning clearly stated that Senator Richard Langley had died yesterday from an unexpected respiratory illness. She had distractedly answered a call on her cell phone while she was reading it. A man whispered into the phone, a voice so low and so barely audible that she had to press the phone hard against her ear to hear what he was saying. Meet me at the entrance to St. Louis Cathedral at eight tonight, I have something important to tell you, he had said, then he hung up without waiting for a reply.

KK’s jaw dropped when she saw the name staring back at her from her caller id -- R. Langley. She knew the number by heart. It was his number. KK picked at her lower lip nervously, the smoke from her cigarette stinging her eyes, making her blink rapidly.

39 Secret Agent

GENRE: Paranormal Romance

I blame the cat.

Yes, as a Witch and a psychic I might have been expected to foresee an impending disaster of this magnitude, but I challenge anyone to listen to her inner voice while simultaneously answering the phone and watching a three-month-old kitten systematically and adorably shred the last clean nightgown in the house.

Loki’s striped face peered through holes in what had been expensive Italian lace, a quizzical expression adorning his not-so-innocent face. That’s what I get for naming a cat after the Norse god of mischief. Although ignoring the laundry for weeks while rushing to meet a book deadline hadn’t helped either.

As I answered the insistent ringing I tried to grab what remained of the garment from the furry angel of destruction, but missed him as he sped down the hallway, trailing a foam of white cloth and lace in his wake. So you could say that I was probably not at my best when I answered the phone that night.

For everything that came afterward, I blame the cat.

As I reached for the phone, I noticed the time on the clock sitting next to it—midnight on the dot. Under my breath, I added whoever had chosen to call me at this benighted hour to the imprecations I’d aimed at the cat.

“Hello, this is Deirdre,” I said breathlessly, struggling to keep my voice as polite as I could. “Do you know what time it is?”

"Not exactly," answered an unfamiliar gruff voice.

38 Secret Agent

TITLE: Charming Tycho
GENRE: Paranormal

What’s worse? Dying or going crazy?

If you had asked me a year ago, I would’ve said death, right away. All
my life I’ve always been scared to death about dying. Bad pun, I know,
but it’s true!

As a kid I often had a hard time getting to sleep because I was so
worried that I would never wake up again. Every spider looked like a
poisonous, death-giving spider, every thunderstorm had a bolt of
lightning with my name on it. Unfortunately, my parents weren’t very
helpful. They were the type of people who thought lying to children
would damage them. So, besides telling me that Santa didn’t exist, my
mother had always been rather blunt about the fact she thought death
was the end of everything. Everything.

Okay, I know it sounds like I was a weird but, really, most of
the time I was happy. It’s just that certain things would set me off:
seeing a dead animal on the side of the road or hearing about a plane
full of people crashing into the ocean. In any case, it made me
appreciative from a very young age that this life was it. You had only
one chance to make what you could of it, because you weren’t going to
get a second try. I was determined to make my life as interesting as

That’s how I ended up Sandford Academy. It was supposed to be this
huge opportunity: a first-class ticket to becoming president or curing
cancer. Not that I really wanted to do those things. I had another
goal in mind.

37 Secret Agent

TITLE: Saving Satan
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Satan pouted.

Hordes of damned souls shuffled before him in a chained off queue.
Every four meters, a sign flashed the estimated time it would take to
reach the torture devices. Anticipation fed the terror. So did bats.
One swooped down to gouge a cheek. The Damned recoiled with yelps.
What did they expect? Hell was hell. He should tattoo that on all
their pathetic foreheads.

He flicked a talon at the next soul, whose freshly minted immortal
body still bore the curved form of a human female. She cowered, head
darting in search of escape. Typical newbie.

Satan inhaled her salty, warm aura. “If you can spell
‘Mephistopheles,’ I’ll give you a pass this round.”

Hope flashed in her eyes. She straightened up. “M E P H I S T O P H E L E S.”

Satan summoned an oily assistant demon. “Escort her to the elbow-wrencher.”

Her knees faltered. “But I spelled it correctly.”

Satan rolled his head, working out a neck kink. He pointed to a small
sign that hadn’t been there a moment earlier,


She shrieked as the demon dragged her away. Satan giggled. King of
Lies, baby, King of Lies.

36 Secret Agent (redacted)


35 Secret Agent

TITLE: Harpy
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

The trouble with wings is that they're hard to hide.

Surviving in a city involves long coats, creative wrestling of fabric over feathers, and serious muscle cramps by the end of the day. Molting season is particularly mortifying, all the sidelong looks as feathers drift out the back of my coat. Normally, though, it's just a few raised eyebrows when people spot what they assume are extraordinarily wide shoulders on an extraordinarily short woman.

Usually I can handle it. Usually people gape, I notice them, and they look away. Which is fine, really. I get it.

But sometimes they say something. And sometimes, in my lifelong war for calmness and control, my inner harpy wins a battle.

One summer evening, I was heading downstairs to one of Scarletsburg's underground bus stations when a guy on the platform whistled so shrilly it stung my ears and echoed through the fluorescent-lit tunnels.

"Hey, dwarf babe!" He and his friends laughed, drawing the attention of ten other commuters. Newspapers rattled, and cloth rasped against the iron benches where forest green paint peeled into curls and flecks, and stained the concrete where it landed.

My first instinct was to hit him, even though I'd never been in a fight. The harpy package included the urge to do random violence, but I wasn't all harpy, only one-quarter. I clenched my jaw and pulled my coat tight over my wings and shoulders and chest, searching the crowded benches for a place to sit.

34 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Long Road to Heaven
GENRE: High-concept women's fiction

APRIL 6, 1975

The car rolled to a stop just inches from the curb where I stood. I lowered my head and peered through the passenger window. The driver was young. He didn't look like a freak or a murderer. Maybe I didn't care.

Dark hair swept his shoulder as he leaned across the bench seat and opened the door. "You look like you need a ride. Hop in." His invitation barely carried over the idling engine and the cadence of wind-driven sleet.

Without hesitating, I ducked inside and collapsed against the upholstery, wincing at the pressure against my back. The door slammed shut, and heat rushed at me from the dashboard vents, drying my nostrils. The rapid strokes of the windshield wipers framed the city in arcs that somehow diminished its threat.

"I'm Nick." He stretched out his hand

Slowly, I laid my fingers against his palm, his warmth seeping beneath my skin. Through chattering teeth, I muttered, "Heather."

"Are you okay, Heather?"

My throat tightened, restricting the wail that begged release from somewhere deep inside me. I nodded, but the bruises on my face exposed the truth. I wouldn't tell him what happened. I couldn't; the words outweighed me by tons.

Shrouding myself in silence, I trembled as we drove, as we entered his apartment, even as he draped a blanket around me.

"There's a phone in the kitchen. You should call your mom. At least let her know you're safe."

33 Secret Agent

TITLE: Under a Full Moon
GENRE: Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy


Something wasn’t right, I could feel it. Stepping out onto the porch, the smell of smoldering leaves caught my attention, and I glanced up to see smoke billowing up from the trees. Curiosity getting the best of me, I made my way across the yard to the mouth of the woods. As I lifted my nose, checking my direction, a metallic odor joined the smell of burnt forest. It was the smell of blood. That didn’t make sense but only time would tell and as I moved closer, the sounds of grunts and fighting filled my ears. Confusion clogged my thoughts as I tried to figure out what was going on. Finally reaching a break in the trees, the field was in view and the scene of it was horrifying. Down the slope and at the heart of the clearing was an enormous bonfire, reaching so high it seemed the flames were licking at the full moon above. Just beyond the glow of red was a stone table or sacrificial alter, holding what appeared to be a baby. Stepping closer and straining to see more, something else in the ring caught my attention. A figure cloaked in a dark robe, standing there, just staring into the flames. Her face, void of any expression, was familiar, but I couldn’t see enough to tell. The woman moved and something in her hand shimmered with firelight, a knife. She slowly approached the table, the wind lifting her hair from her face; the woman was me, but something wasn’t right.

32 Secret Agent

TITLE: Maelstrom
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

It’s in the darkest hours of the night when I allow a little doubt to creep in, when I ponder my own immortal ‘what if’ questions. What if I had not been chosen as a Warder? What if this ‘honor’ had been bestowed upon someone else? What if, instead of remaining behind, I had gone with the others to the West Lands?

Even though I never fit in among my own kind – had, in fact, been considered odd by even the most generous among us – these thoughts still afflict me in my occasional weak moments.

What else is there to do this time of night, anyway? When I say that I don’t sleep, I’m not engaging in hyperbole, just stating pure fact. I do not sleep. Ever.

So to make the nights pass faster, I often complete the chores that don’t get done during the day. Or that don’t get done to my satisfaction by the assorted humans who have, inexplicably, attached themselves to me.

I own a horse ranch. It’s in Fundy, Texas, which I’d bet you’ve never heard of – a happy fact for the 1,408 humans and the one resident Fae – me. The ‘Welcome to Fundy’ sign at town limits shows our population as 1,409, of course, since the other residents have no idea I’m anything other than just one of many ranchers in this small town sixty miles outside of Dallas.

31 Secret Agent

TITLE: Seriously, Sadie
GENRE: High-concept women's fiction

Bethany is stalking me outside my cubicle. She’s sauntering back and forth like a slinky tiger. Her shoes, sleek and shiny and sharp-toed, are like silky claws. The pointy heels dig into the bland blue-gray carpet.

As soon as I hang up the phone, Bethany plops down on my desk. “What is Jack doing here?” I point to his closed office door a few feet down the hall.

We just hired Jack as Vice President of our Product Management department a month ago. His nameplate isn’t even outside his office yet and his family is still living in New Hampshire. They’re having a hard time selling their house since the economy is worth shit right about now. He works from home mostly and comes to Chicago here and there.

“Sadie, you can’t tell anyone,” Bethany says, her eyes wide as she leans into me. “I’ve been waiting for you to get off the phone forever.”

Bethany works in MarComm, which is short for Marketing Communications. She’s not super busy and has loads of time to hang around my cube. I’m a Product Manager, and I’m in charge of setting the vision for our online software tool. My job requires me to go to a lot of meetings where I make decisions on product updates and keep tabs on the development team. This requires giving direction, which I love, but not giving performance reviews, which I imagine I would hate. Who wants to say bad things about someone to their face?

30 Secret Agent

TITLE: Richard's War, Book 1: Upstart
GENRE: Historical fiction

William awoke to a twinge in his leg and rain outside the porthole. Rain. Bloody, blasted, grey, annoying, cold, wet rain. Welcome home, Will, he thought to himself, looking over the rail of the Queen’s Bounty as Southampton emerged from the gray curtain of the early morning profoundly English downpour. Five years away, and what did he arrive home to? Pissing rain. He understood then why so many of his countrymen took to India—for all its strangeness, at least the sun shone for more than five minutes.

Disembarking was a combination of madness and tedium; being horseless had one advantage: all he had to see to was his luggage, and so William managed to get ashore quickly and quietly. Despite how well his leg had healed, he was still considered a casualty, and therefore, not under orders. It didn’t take him long to hire porters and take lodgings in a decent inn. He left orders for a hot meal and hotter bath to be ready before sundown before he stepped out into the chilly September morning. The rain abated and the sun struggled to come out as William strolled around the town. Five years was a long time to be away, and he wanted to get a sense of the times before heading for the chaos of the capital. He’d heard rumors of arguments in the royal family, had had letters from his old companion Prince Edward Augustus about his enforced exile in Canada, and war on the Continent.

29 Secret Agent

GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Icy fear raced through King Solomon’s veins. Could he save his people with what he did this day? No, not just his people, he amended. If he failed, every man, woman and child in all the land would die.

Apprehension, prickling with the grains of doubt, seeded his mind. The meter-high bronze jar resting on its fan-shaped base mocked him with its shining presence. Sigils, protective symbols reflecting the Lord’s will, etched into the smooth surface flared as if they tasted his weakness. Tasted his sin.

A muscle twitched in his jaw as his teeth ground together. The scrape of sound shivered along his spine, and Solomon shuddered. How could he have let the situation deteriorate so far? When had the gift given to him by the Lord become a curse?

A teasing breeze played with the hem of his short-sleeved white tunic and shawl. Fringe danced against his bare legs. Rich earth-scents followed the wind before the piquant, musky odors faded in the brightening light. He lifted his face and took a deep breath. The appointed hour grew near.

Preparing for the ritual had taken most of the last day and night. The clothes covering his body, the bronze scepter in his hand, and even the sandals protecting his bare feet from the small stones that littered the dry riverbed, all created exactly as instructed.

Everything had to be perfect. For this moment. A single moment to free his soul or damn it, and his people, for eternity.

28 Secret Agent

TITLE: Light Bringers
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Ryan sagged against the brick wall outside of a dilapidated building in the old shipping yard. A headache pounded through his head, but he kept a sharp eye on his surroundings. He had already screwed up, and wasn’t planning to make it worse by getting himself jumped again. He touched his forehead, and his fingers came away slick with blood.

“Great,” he muttered, ignoring the queasiness squirming through his stomach. He listened to the black water slap against the pier, listened to his fellow soldiers closing off a perimeter, and listened to his heart practically beat through his chest.

Ryan straightened slowly as Lieutenant Charles Diesel stepped out of the abandoned warehouse.

Diesel approached, folding his python arms over his chest. “You alright, son?”

“Yes, sir.”

The superior officer studied Ryan with hard eyes, then he turned and shouted, “Gage!”

Corporal Heath Gage hurried out of the building.

“Check over your partner,” the lieutenant said. “Make sure he hasn’t broken his brain. Then call in the Cleaners, see if they can get anything useful from the scene.” Diesel strode away, barking orders into his Communicator.

The perimeter of Heath’s irises sparked like a blue flame as he gave Ryan’s head a once over. “You’ll live,” he said. “Well, you’ve got a slight concussion, but nothing Kalie can’t handle.” He shot a glance over his shoulder, then whispered, “Ch**** mate, what the bloody hell happened back there?”

“Dude, he cracked my head,” Ryan snapped. “That tends to slow me down a bit.”

27 Secret Agent

TITLE: A Man Of Few Words
GENRE: Romance-Contemporary

“Hot younger guys ahead. A night of passion could be in your near future.” Katy pulled Susan close as they navigated up the wooden stairs of the dance club. “It’s not the night to show your crazy. Just enjoy.” As if Katy knew what went through her friend’s head, she added, “And, your daughter is fine. Your parents are the best babysitters.”

"I know. But this?” Susan agreed to a night out as a celebration of her new position as a chemistry professor. She dressed for a dinner, curling her long blond hair and donning a black skirt and light blue knit blouse that her mother thought was too low cut. Instead, Katy convinced her that a sedate meal was not a real celebration of a big step forward. She insisted on the dance club that made up a string of bars along one side of Pensacola’s Seville Square.

Katy, dressed in tight jeans and snug-fitting black sweater, flipped her blond-streaked brown hair and pirouetted on the steps. “This is celebration! It’s Eric’s idea. He’s meeting us here with friends.”

“Friends?” A yell from the lead singer drowned out her groan. Colored lights pulsed to the beat of an 80’s cover band as people danced on the brick floor. “You promised, Katy. No set ups. I'll hit you if you try.”

"I didn't even discuss it with Eric.” Katy flinched at Susan’s pinch. “I swear. Meeting the guys was his idea. He says they’re lonely. Just like you.

26 Secret Agent

TITLE: Always Music
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

When Sarah saw the man with the sword, she stopped chewing her sandwich.

Then she saw him use it, and the bread fell from her hands.

“Sarah?” Kate’s fingers were snapping in her face. “Are you choking or something?”

Sarah realized she wasn’t breathing. She had to force air past her lips, then raised a hand to point. “He—that man—just killed somebody—”

Kate spun on the bench of the picnic table, blonde hair flying, her hand grabbing for her soda. “Shut up. Where?”

Sarah stood, knocking the rest of her sandwich to the sidewalk. “There! He—he’s right—”

He was gone.

She scrubbed at her eyes and edged around Kate. The block was still milling with workers on their lunch break, but not so crowded that she could miss a man in black with a sword—nor his fallen victim. This was Baltimore, not New York City.

She blinked. Squinted. She knew she’d seen sunlight flash on the blade.

“Sar?” Now Kate was frowning. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I…” She swallowed. “I guess my mind was playing tricks or something.”

25 Secret Agent

GENRE: Urban Fantasy

I always knew Ben was special. From the moment I first set eyes on
him, I could tell something about him was different and unique. He
was too sublimely formed to be a mere college student. He stood out
on the crowded subway trains even during rush hour.

I first noticed him at the end of summer term between my sophomore and
junior years. Final exams were scheduled for the next two days and
I’d come down with the flu. The fever raged high, but I had no
choice; I couldn't miss the last of my classes. When the first day of
tests ended, I boarded the train at Park Street in a haze of
exhaustion and medication. Sinking into the first empty seat, I shut
my eyes and drifted off to the steady thrumming of the rails. Not
long after, the row of seats shifted slightly as people sat around me.

I only slept for a few moments on the crowded Red Line, when my eyes
jolted open as the train rattled out of the tunnel into a burst of
sunshine streaming across the Charles River. The trolley flew along
the tracks to the next stop and I blinked, blinded by the evening’s
sunny display over the city of Boston. Nearby, a child whimpered.
Across the aisle sat a woman trying in vain to comfort the little girl
on her lap. She was dark-haired and fair-skinned, but her daughter
had pale hair and rosy cheeks. The little girl cried in her mother's
arms, alternately burying her face into the offered shoulder and
wailing openly for all to hear.

24 Secret Agent (redacted)


23 Secret Agent

TITLE: To Know Who You Are
GENRE: Time-Travel Romance

Pennsylvania, 1995

A sword wasn't the type of thing you expected to find in a kitchen at dawn. Cabinets, yes. Dirty dishes, maybe. But a massive broadsword?

Kyra rubbed her eyes and looked again. Yes, she was still in her best friend’s kitchen, and she was still facing a sword that was nearly as tall as she was.

She knew a little about swords, thanks to her father’s collection. This one looked a lot like the one over the fireplace in her father’s study, with the downswept arms and quatrefoils of the old Scottish broadsword. But her father’s had the bright, perfect edge of a sword recently forged. This one…didn’t.

She took a few steps closer, moving so as not to cast her shadow on it, and touched a scar on the cross guard. She traced the worn wood of the grip and allowed her fingers to curl around it.

Her breath caught, as the buttery walls faded and a strange scene unfolded.

In front of her stretched a forest, dimly lit and thick with shadows. Men sat on boulders and fallen logs--men dressed in the tunics and plaids that her Medieval Scot ancestors had worn. Some sharpened swords. Others waxed bowstrings. Still others merely watched her.

She froze, lightly holding the sword point down in what was now dirt, as several men rose and approached an unseen someone standing next to her.

22 Secret Agent

TITLE: Will work for food
GENRE: Romance, series

Inebriated speakers, inedible food, inoperable sound systems. Callie Johnson had planned for each of those disasters.

Mapping out the fastest route across the ballroom and the shortest distance to saving her career had not been on her spreadsheet of trouble. But here she was sprinting across the room, her sensible pumps tapping out a frantic rhythm, as she prayed breathlessly that she'd be in time to stop the waitress on the table top from shaking her money makers at elite of Phoenix's business community.

“Hey,” the would-be stripper squeaked as a tall man in a starched sky-blue shirt dragged her from the table and plunked her over his shoulder, in a good imitation of a fireman’s carry. His long-legged stride was unhurried, but Callie still had to jog to keep up with this savior from Wild Mustangs, the company catering her event. As director of communications, she had hired the caterer and organized the party for Derwent Corp., purveyor of everything from ball bearings to lip waxers. The evening was to introduce a new line of spa equipment and products to keep the wealthy looking hale, hearty, and young.

Matt McLeod easily made his way through the crowd that parted Red-Sea style. Callie followed in his wake to the kitchen. One second he was there. The next he was on the tiled floor, curved into a comma but too late to protect his obviously abused man parts. She heard him draw in a breath and wheeze out, “Dammit, AmberJoy.”

21 Secret Agent

TITLE: A Kestrel Rising
GENRE: Womens Fiction

“Is it the Germans, Ilke?”

The low thrumming of an engine broke the afternoon silence, growing louder until the plane burst from beyond the trees with a roar that had Ilona and her sister scrambling for cover. Aislinn clung to her arm as they ducked behind the low wall of the terrace

Ilona gripped the warm brick, her fingernails dug into the moss as the ground trembled. The noise reverberated through her bones. “I don’t think so. I think there’d be more than one plane.” She glanced up as the plane swept into a banking curve above the house. It was low enough that she could see the RAF roundels on the underside of its elliptical wings and she took a deep breath. “It’s all right. It’s one of ours.”

“Are you sure?” Aislinn’s voice quivered.

“Yes, I’m sure.” She stood up, her fear gone, and shielded her eyes against the glare of the afternoon sun. “How beautiful!” It seemed impossible to her that it came from a factory. The slender fuselage and upswept wings were something that nature would fashion. It echoed the shape of the kestrel that rose, screeching, out of the woods in pursuit of the intruder. Ilona watched the bird for a moment and wished she could fly with it, to follow the plane and chase off the enemy that waited in the east. She was twenty, old enough to volunteer.

“Bloody cheek,” Aislinn declared as the plane straightened and launched into a steep, fast climb.

20 Secret Agent

TITLE: Anointed
GENRE: Historical Fiction

February, 1904

Smoldering light from the sun cast orange and black shadows across Esther’s skin. She twisted her arm in front of the window, watching the shapes of tree branches fracture and stretch, growing more blurred as the seconds passed. Soon there would be only black. When the matron shuffled into the room, Esther kept her face turned toward the floor, even as the old woman stood beside her and touched her shoulder.

“Your brother will not be arriving this evening,” the matron said.

Esther’s stomach twisted in knots, but she stayed calm. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“He promised to catch the train from Corvallis first thing tomorrow.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Try to get some sleep.”

Esther kept her back straight, though her insides trembled. She did not know if she could spend another night in this room, with these girls. It’s for your own good, George told her when he first brought her to the Aid Society a few months before. Now this place wasn’t good enough and they wanted to send her to Illinois, to her father. She held back a shudder. Though she felt years older, she was still just sixteen, by law underage, and her protests went unheard. She knew for now it was best to obey or at least pretend.

As the matron turned to leave, Esther rose from the bed and took a step forward. “May I have my Bible?”

19 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Viscount's Dilemma
GENRE: Historical romance (Regency-set, single-title)

The clock on the drawing room mantel ticked away the seconds loudly, and James drummed his fingers on his knee in time with it. Had it really been only ten minutes since that elderly butler had shown him in?

He leaned against the back of the sofa, rolling his shoulders in a vain attempt to release the tension that pulled at them. Good lord, there was nothing to worry about. He may have acceded to his title only a year before, but he’d grown up in the world of the ton. If he could handle hundreds of wagging tongues and marriage-minded mothers, he ought to be able to handle meeting his fiancée’s family for the first time.

He sat upright again and sighed. This was ridiculous. Giving up on relaxation, he stood up and strolled to the window, but his eyes could hardly take in the well-tended grounds.

He drew a deep breath. Of course it would all work out. He still didn’t know Louisa well, true. But she was poised and intelligent, a logical choice for his future viscountess.

She was devoted to her family, too. She had hinted that her relatives were unconventional, though she’d said it with such affection that he didn’t think she was truly embarrassed. Lord and Lady Oliver’s estate itself, after all, appeared perfectly normal.

In fact, he’d encountered nothing out of the ordinary yet, and he’d been here all of ten – no, fourteen – minutes.

And then the door slammed open with a bang.

18 Secret Agent

GENRE: Romantic Suspense

The odor wafting through her office door nearly brought Ali Bingham-Smith to her knees. She looked up, way up, at Jimmy Yu who covered his nose and mouth with his hand.

"Eww. Cupcake, what are you keeping in here?"

Ali narrowed her eyes, "Yeah, this is the odor I aimed for when I left yesterday."

Although she couldn’t see his mouth, Jimmy’s eyes smiled as he shooed her inside, "So, go find out what it is."

"My hero." She didn’t recognize the smell, but it made her skin crawl. Stacked boxes crowded the normally neat room.

With a sigh, Jimmy crossed into the office behind her. "All this stuff’s been delivered since yesterday?"

"Guess so. I didn’t check on things after I set up at the Sneak Peek last night. Knew I’d pay for that."

"Slacker. You only worked, what, seventeen hours yesterday? And been down at the damn hotel since six this morning. I can’t believe you were too lazy to open these boxes. It’s amazing Bingham Fashions didn’t fire your a**."

"Helps being the baby sister, I guess. These look normal: fabric, leathers, catalogues, thread, samples, zippers. Nothing smelly." The odor intensified towards the back of the room. "It’s worse here, Jimmy." She swallowed hard and rounded her desk. "It’s gotta be one of these."

Jimmy moved closer to rest a hip on the edge of the desk. He leaned down, then nudged the box next to him. "Yuck, this is it. Glad it’s not addressed to me."

17 Secret Agent

TITLE: Angels, Demons, and Beauty Queens
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Linny stared with horror at the mangled bodies littering the street after the terrorist attack. Such a graphic television broadcast was hardly appropriate for an airport waiting room and exponentially increased her already considerable anxiety. To calm herself and erase the awful images from her mind, she continuously snapped her fingers, blinked her eyes, and repeated “blazda, gooptcha, blazda.

After fifteen minutes, she felt temporarily more relaxed. Still, she questioned the wisdom of attending her high school reunion in the first place, particularly since it involved a nerve-racking airplane trip. What was the point of such agony anyway? To show her pretentious peers that she looked half her age? To reclaim her title as homecoming queen? What a joke. In a million years, they would never guess the real truth about her secret existence. Oh, the strange looks around the fancy bar when she described the slime covered fangs of her hideous stalker demon! The frowns and head scratches when their blurred, martini-laden brains attempted to comprehend the nonphysical realm, a wondrous alternate reality where she tripped the light fantastic with a handsome immortal. But the coup de grace would be the shocking account of her time in a mental institution, instantly toppling her from their cracked pedestal of perfection to social outcast. Linny laughed at the sad irony. Her exterior appearance and behavior were carefully crafted illusions designed to make everyone believe she was normal when in fact, she was, as Blake insisted multiple times during their marriage, defective.

16 Secret Agent

TITLE: First Comes Murder
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

Erin Rockerbie loved her job. She loved her life. And although she’d be hard pressed to admit it, she had even grown to love the little girl in pink who greeted her with a broad smile as she crossed the concert stage floor.

Life was good, and then all hell broke lose.

At least it felt like the flames of hell, that searing pain that had come out of nowhere, piercing Erin’s thigh, and sending her crumbling down to the scarred pine wood floor. Suppressing any innate instinct for self-preservation, she pulled her blood-soaked hand away from her wounded leg, rolled to her feet, and drew her weapon, aiming it at the man who hid like a coward behind her stoic young charge. Sweat dripped from the bastard’s forehead and his hand shook as he held the cold, metal barrel of a Smith & Wesson .45 to the girl’s head.

The sharp smell of gun powder filled Erin’s nostrils as she breathed in. “It’s not too late,” she tried to assure him as she met the girl’s frantic eyes. “You haven’t done anything yet that can’t be undone.” Heaven help them all if he did.

A sudden shimmer of light flashed from the catwalk above, pulling Erin’s gaze away from her target.

“Don’t lie to him, Rockerbie,” a familiar voice scolded her from high above. Then, like a bolt of lightning cast from the heavens, another round struck her, knocking her back yet again. She groaned against the unbearable tightness

15 Secret Agent

TITLE: Once in a Coyote Moon
GENRE: Historical Romance with Paranormal Elements / Steampunk

New Orleans, 1872

How does he do it? Diah Reynolds asked himself as a sting of envy pierced his chest.

Across the polished cherry table, a woman with skin the rich color of café au lait giggled in Cager’s arms and whispered something in his ear. His reply brought more giggling. Then he began nibbling on the woman’s earlobe.

He couldn’t blame the woman for falling victim to Cager’s charms. His brother was a sweet-talking son of a b****, the kind most women found irresistible. No woman seemed immune to his charm. Unfortunately, Cager knew it. The octoroon he held tonight would be no different from the countless others before her.

“I think I’m going to hit the sack,” Diah said, having had just about enough of this. The overpowering scents of cigar smoke, bourbon, and sex that filled the room turned his stomach. He wondered why he’d even agreed to join him at this so-called Gentleman’s Club.

Cager’s eyes never left the woman in his lap. “It’s too early for sleep. But, if you want to go to bed, I’m sure Sophie has a friend who can keep you warm.” He kissed her hand. “Don’t you, chérie?”

“I’m sure I could find one if you made it worth my time,” she replied in a sultry voice.

He grinned. “This is why I love New Orleans. Everything you desire can be found here.”

“I appreciate the offer, but I think I’ll sleep better without a perfect stranger in my bed.”

14 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Promethius Immunity
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Kay slipped her mother-of-pearl magnifying glass from its case. Time to earn her keep

The specimen had been mounted nearly to a professional standard, with leaves mounted in various positions, full stems and start of root system. Maddeningly familiar. This wasn’t a test, was it? She shook her head and had to laugh. Geez, two weeks into her holiday and she’d either lost her edge or gone crazy with boredom.

“At least it’s something to do besides lounge by the pool finding plant equivalents for other passengers’ cellulite,” a voice whispered.

Kay looked up. Just because she’d okayed a favour for Ida didn’t give Ida the right to reproach her. “Pardon?”

But Ida had kneeled to dig in another backpack, body language serene. She glanced up. “What? You know what it is?”

“Never mind,” Kay muttered, turning back to the scrapbook. The next several pages held few surprises, even if no geraniums. She flipped back to the page in question.

A headache began to worm its roots deep behind her eyes. The gilt furnishings and over fertilised flowers on the wallpaper were not meant to be seen by sober people on rolling seas. She was never doing this again. Holidays were for tramping through jungles hunting new specimens, not for being boxed up in yet another classroom, even if it was on a cruise ship and resembled a bordello’s boardroom.

Funny you call it that, the whisper voice spoke again. After all, you did whore yourself for this holiday.

13 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Power That Binds
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

The intruder stared up at the turret tower and unlit windows of the great mock castle. He'd waited months for it to be empty, and tonight it was. Daniel Demaris was gone, and he could finally search unhindered for the talisman.

And if someone came? He smiled in anticipation.

His demon creature would kill the unfortunate fool, and he'd be free to search at his leisure.

Avoiding the moonlit patches, he crept across the lawn, pried open a window, then slipped inside. His flashlight's beam darted across the leather-bound books on the shelves, the antique desk, and the paintings on the paneled walls of the study. The desk first.

He began to search methodically and neatly through the desk's drawers. No one must know he'd been here in case he couldn't find the talisman.


Nelson Page's loud snore rattled in his throat. Jolting awake at the sound, the newspaper in his hands crunching and crackling, he sat up in his armchair and gazed around the living room.

Her eyes twinkling over the rims of her bifocals, Angie laughed with the full, high sweetness of wedding bells, the same laugh he'd fallen in love with forty-odd years before.

Her laughter and mischievous eyes drew his memory back to the innocent girl with mahogany skin, full sensuous lips, and wanton's rounded body he'd met and wed. "Well, you caught me at it."

"Only resting your eyes, huh? You're as big a liar as ever I did meet, Nelson Page."

12 Secret Agent

TITLE: Smarter Than the Average Werewolf
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Being asked at gunpoint why I'm following someone always puts me off my stride. Not because I fear for my life, but because it means I've messed up, and that's not something I want generally known. My business requires me to possess an aura of hyper-competence; my customers like thinking that I won't screw their lives up any more than they already are.

Roger Danforth thumbed the hammer back until it clicked. I've never understood why people holding perfectly functional modern pistols do that. The gun will fire regardless. He repeated his question.

"Does it matter?" I asked.

"Yeah," he replied. "You might be the West End Werewolf, for all I know."

"I might be your fairy godmother, if I were a fairy, or a godmother. I'm neither of those, nor the werewolf. Besides, it's still a week before the full moon. Relax."

He sucked a long stream of air in through his nose. He was either trying to calm down or working up the nerve to blow my head off. I hoped it was the former. Busting him for a second's worth of attempted murder might be as legally effective as for the six weeks worth of investigating I'd spent on his embezzlement scheme, but it would be less satisfying.

"This is some kind of exciting, ain't it?"

Danforth and I swiveled our head towards a B-western sidekick in a coonskin cap. "Don't mind me, boys," he said. "I just live here."

11 Secret Agent

TITLE: Always Kiss Me Goodnight

Her heart raced, the normal rhythm now erratic, pounded in fierce uneven beats. She sucked for air, and tried to get a breath. Beads of hot, sticky perspiration drenched her clothes. Clenched fists turned her knuckles white, she grasped her trembling knees, and tears streamed down her cheeks.

The intercom speaker crackled and vibrated, a voice told her to brace. Morgan Reynolds squeezed her eyelids tight, afraid to look. Her body throbbed and pulsated with fear. She tucked her head low on her lap.

The silver jumbo jet engines were silent. The wide wings baffled by turbulence, fought to find balance. The plane buffered from side to side, then descended; slow at first, then more rapidly. Morgan glanced out the window, and dropped her face low. Treetops snapped, swiftly extinguishing the emerald green forest below them.

Wind gushed, the sound deafening, her ears rang with the shrill whistling reverberation. Morgan braced and rocked in her seat. Her arms quivered trying to hold her legs tight. She anticipated the final collision. They were about to crash. Fear gripped her; beads of sweat covered her forehead. She froze in the moment. Seized by terror and fright she waited for impact.

The metal shrieked. The fuselage scraped and tore as they bounced up, then down. The plane swayed and pitched as it scuffled with the ground. The motion stopped. Lights went off. The plane was dark – swallowed in blackness.


Morgan stirred and reached for Ben. Her hand shook on his chest. She waited, trying to feel movement. Please breathe!

10 Secret Agent

TITLE: Finding Grace
GENRE: Women's Fiction

My childhood was carefully contained in hefty storage totes separated into categories of artwork, special clothing, report cards and school papers. I had my mother to blame for it. She was the kind of person who saved everything. I did not inherit my mother’s sentimentalism. I assumed all my preserved memories would stay at my parent’s home until they passed away. By then I would be so old I wouldn’t even remember my childhood, and so wouldn’t care about rescuing it from the trash. I was surprised by their sudden decision to sell the house I grew up in and annoyed when told to come for my things on Sunday. I wondered how eight boxes of memorabilia had suddenly become my things, when I had never saved, or even cared, about any of it.

I found a shoe box full of letters written to me in Jr. high and High school. Among them was the one. I instantly recognized it by the way it was folded and how my name was scribbled on the front, in his handwriting. It was innocently hidden under a pile of notes professing “best friends forever”, and “I like you, do you like me?” I imagined that the letter was hopeful when I opened the lid. It pushed the other letters over just enough so that when my hand reached into the pile I couldn't help but grab at its corner. It beckoned me, wanting to be let out to inflict one more jab of pain and make one more tear fall over lost love. It was the only thing I had ever received from him in writing.

9 Secret Agent

TITLE: My Shackled Marquis
GENRE: Historical Romance

London, 1817

Miracle Anderson weaved across the center of the ballroom and froze at the sight of three debutants slicing through the crush. Dear God in heaven. They looked like rambunctious poodles eager to gnaw on her bones. Biting back a scream, she ducked behind a plump giant who reeked of tobacco and searched for escape.

The dancers reeling in tune to the orchestra blocked her from the terrace. To her left, radiantly-gowned, bejeweled women and black-clad men with pristine-white cravats barricaded the majestic staircase. Blast and damn, she inwardly swore as she rocked on her tiptoes. Then she aimed for the opposite end of the glittering room with the skirt of her primrose satin gown swooshing about her feet.

“Miss Anderson, please wait. Is Lord Pirate…?”

The moniker suited Ashford Simon Cantrell, the Marquis of Blackstone. After all, Ash plundered her heart years ago and sailed away with her fortune. Self-disgust, anger, and resentments heated her flesh. Struggling to keep her calm mask in place, she continued to snake though a garden of perfumes, pomade, and body odor as if oblivious to the chatter and giggles trailing after her.

She glanced over her shoulder and groaned. Instead of eluding her pursuers, she garnered more followers, and within moments of breaking out of the dense crowd, they sprung on her like a rainbow of sails unfurling in the wind.

“Where is Lord Pirate? Why can you not tell us? Is he joining us tonight?”

8 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Many Stony and Wild Things
GENRE: Literary fiction

“So, um, is that all right? If I turn it in by Friday? I have my letter from the Dean here and everything.” Lora starts to fumble through a dark brown corduroy bag; I can see a lining of red and blue flowers, the tops of stuffed notebooks and folders, a few paperbacks wedged in between them. She bends her head, her thigh-length curly brown hair gathered and wrapped today under a deep red scarf.

“That’s fine, Lora,” I say, trying to offer a reassuring smile. “I trust you. I’m glad you’re feeling better. Get that flu shot next year.”

“Oh, God, I will. I felt like I got run over by a truck.”

“Well, I’m pleased to have you back in class. It’s a shame you missed so much of our discussion on Joyce, though. Maybe you can get the notes?”

“I’ve already gotten them from Sadiyah.”

“Oh, good. How are you getting caught up in your other classes?” I’m certain that Maria is on Lora’s case about this already, but I’m looking for any excuse to not go home, to linger a little while longer and think about unwrapping the long red scarf from around her hair and watching it uncoil and fall all the way down her back. I don’t know how I never noticed it before that Christmas party, hardly a month ago, when she was wearing a red dress, silky, wrong for the weather, and her hair a wild waterfall of dark brown curls.

7 Secret Agent

TITLE: Sapphire Stars
GENRE: Futuristic Romance

Anynka Sapir gave another wearied and pointless kick against the thick iron bars of her cell. Her feet and hands chafed from heavy binding. She kept her tongue curled back to keep from touching the oily rag stuffed in her mouth, but it was starting to cramp. Soon it might touch the fabric, and then she’d vomit. Not good.

“Pretty women shouldn’t make trouble,” the guard had said, his eyes beady despite the low light in the prison. His sweaty, fumbling hands had grabbed at her breasts and a** while tying her. The image of his greasy leer stuck in her mind, like the stink of rotten eggs.

She’d been thrown into Ornami two weeks past for “liberating” some military equipment right under the nose of the Anschluss, the military arm of the Hysgart. Anynka kicked the bars again, gritting her teeth. She should have known something was wrong as soon as she’d entered the cockpit of the B5-14 carrier . Sure, she was dressed as a corporal, but no one, not even the pilot, just strolled on in, easy-peasy.

The previous sixteen successful raids had clearly made her far too cocky.

Giving up on the bars, Anynka concentrated on the binds on her wrists and ankles. She picked at the fabric surrounding her wrists with her nails, wondering whether it would accomplish anything.

A hoarse voice carried into her cell. “Stop making such a racket, girl.”

6 Secret Agent

TITLE: Heart's Sentinel
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Adam thought she was a teenager when she walked through the door.

He watched the way she paused before entering the school, her dark chocolate eyes scanning the room. She tensed when he approached, but she squared her shoulders and faced him anyway.

He gave her his friendliest smile, “Hi there, here for classes?”

He was used to taming wild things.

People didn’t get wilder than shapeshifters, and he was sure she was a fellow shifter. His inner beast growled in his mind telling him so, her scent exciting things deep inside his core. Even though she had an awkwardness he associated with teens growing into their maturing bodies, she still moved with more grace than any human. Adam mentally growled back, because his beast’s interest in a youth was unacceptable.

“Yes.” Her answer came in a quiet, wary voice. The melodic timbre of it sent shivers down his spine.

He didn’t recognize her. He’d have remembered that sweet face framed in shoulder length hair, so dark a brown it was almost black. She must be new in town, come to stay in pride territory with one of the engineer families.

She continued in that quiet voice. “I spoke to Jacob. He told me my father and I would be expected.”

And just like that, Adam knew who she was. His beast surged inside his skin, drowning Adam in the need to protect.

And she needed protection. It was why she had come to River Gape Pride.

5 Secret Agent

TITLE: Sacrifice
GENRE: Romance-paranormal

The memory exploded from some hidden cache in my mind, triggered by the gentle laugh. I staggered in the crowd of Merlin Scholars and fell to my knees. My mind swirled with the last time I heard that laughter.

In that far away time, I turned to see my other half, my beloved. We were aloft. I was piloting a small prop plane and she was my copilot. Her tailored tight dress and an Ingrid Bergman fedora over a 1940’s hairstyle with a pencil stuck over her ear placed me in a fixed point in time. Maureen, my wife in that time, Maureen. She read aloud from her book, laughing at some passage. Then her expression changed; the laughter broke off. Her concern and compassion flashed in her eyes, reaching out to touch me with her left hand. My love’s own death in her precognition, she worried first about me.

Today rushed back as fellow scholars sought to help me, but time folded revealing both today and then. Sweat beaded on my forehead as I struggled to understand. I wasn’t a pilot; I hated planes—never knowing why until now. In this life, I had no beloved, no other half, but I undoubtedly loved that woman. I heard Maureen’s laughter from the plane again from far down the registration lines, in this world, this time. I scrambled from my knees, clawing at scholars’ helping arms, and then left them behind, seeking out the source of that laughter.

4 Secret Agent

TITLE: Intrusion
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

Cameron Scott hated the F word.

No, not that F word. Lately, he used that one with increasing frequency and never thought twice. It was the other that made him break into a cold sweat.


The word rippled through him with a shudder as he swung from the wrought iron fire escape and onto the roof of Nanodyne’s main laboratory. The thick tread of his shoes masked the echo of his footsteps. The only sound was the steady ticking of his Aviator watch—a gift from his XO on his medical discharge from the Special Forces.

Had the chief understood how it pained Cam to listen to the seconds pass by—the seconds he’d never again get back, the minutes of his life that seemed ever more pointless—the XO probably would have rethought the choice of going away present.

Still, Cam supposed he was the foolish one. He couldn’t bear to hide the small remaining connection to his A-team away in his sock drawer.

His days with the Special Forces were done. Kaput. Over. But once he successfully completed this job, the government would realize he was more than capable of handling large security contracts, like the last one they’d turned him down for solely based on his disability. His left knee popped with an audible crack, cramping in protest as he stuck the tension wrench between his teeth and bent to the deadbolt.

Disability, his a**.

His shattered knee did not define him.

3 Secret Agent

TITLE: Fatal Visions
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

He was being hunted.

Jaegar-Caleb Nikolaiev limped through tangled brush, fingers tightening around the gun as he quickened his pace, knowing full well that he could easily lose everything if he was captured. He glanced back in the direction he’d come from, back over the rocky ledges where thick smoke from the fire lifted in the air, snaking through the mountainside.

They were too damn close. Sometime around dawn the psionically enhanced agents had caught onto his trail. There had been no time to turn around and find another route of escape. They were already closing in. It was too late.

“Stop where you are going.”

J.C. slid through wet leaves, whipping around sharply at the sudden voice. His gaze searched through the shadows for movement, for the woman who’d spoken, but his suspicions were only confirmed when he saw that he was alone.

There was no one there.

“You don’t have time to ignore me.” The voice in his head reprimanded harshly. “I need you to listen. Go to the old mines.”

He’d officially lost it, he decided. It was the only explanation. Hearing voices was not exactly part of his mental arsenal of weapons. He’d finally gone off the edge and lost his sanity in this world where the monsters really did exist in the form of the men and women he served with... had served with. Monsters didn’t always hide in the closet and under the bed. Sometimes, they looked like regular people. Like him.

2 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Brewmaster and Her Barista
GENRE: Romantic Contemporary - humorous.

Today of all days to forget her debit card.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee teased Bonnie Brewster’s nose, and she wanted to cry at the thought of her tall, soy latte being frothed as she searched for her wallet. A panicky sweat prickled her scalp.

Rattling around in her purse, she could see her wallet wasn’t there, but maybe she missed it. She had no cash, she used it up on tips at yesterdays celebration. There was no way to get her morning jolt of blessed java. Crap. The warm shop with the muffin smell suddenly felt overwhelming, the air thick with humid baking, the quiet murmur of morning commerce grated on her nerves. She licked her lips, and glanced up at the Green Bean barista, Rocco.
The Hot Coffee Guy, as she and her assistant Christine referred to him.
Swell. The Hot One would see her humiliation. Why couldn’t it have been the Punky One, or the Nerdy One?

Rocco smiled at her, green eyes twinkling, as though they were in the middle of some sort of farce. The man had the ability to render her speechless with just a look, but today was not the day to try and flirt.

She frowned and ducked her head, feeling the blush rising on her cheeks. Some other woman would banter with him, make a witty comment make him laugh. She was not that woman.
She checked her bag again before she blubbered like an idiot for her coffee.

1 Secret Agent


Gentle Reader: She was the most fascinating and perplexing woman I’d ever known…she could look in a person’s eyes and know their secrets, but hers were hidden from the world…or look in their faces and see their past, though hers was hidden from herself…the heroine of my bare-all multi-character expose’ of romance, murder and sex in the suburbs. Think Agatha Christie meets Deep Throat.

Disclaimer: Names were changed to protect the not so innocent, and true or not it’s what I heard and what I saw.


Damn it, she thought, staring into the barrel of a gun and a face cloaked in undisguised loathing. She who could see all and know all had once again ignored the signs.

“Surprised?” the voice jeered. “What’d you expect? A singing telegram?”

“Killing me won’t change anything,” she said.

“On the contrary, I’ll sleep better seeing your name on a tombstone… Dorian…Dorothy…whatever name they’ll put on it.”

“You won’t get very far. After you poisoned my cat I called the police.”

“That a****** sergeant and p****-chasing cop? I’ll be far away before they zip up their pants.”

Keep talking, stall for time…“The night of the gardener’s murder, you spied on me while I swam in the pool…”

“Could have had you then but two killings in one night would arouse suspicion. You know I tried real hard to be friends with you…”

“Friends? You’re evil, I see it in your face…”

“So high and mighty, even with a gun ready to splatter your brains…”

And Away We Go!

The Secret Agent excerpts will post in groups of ten at the top of each hour beginning at 9:00 am EDT. It's my attempt to lessen the 2/5-4/5 phenomenon. (That is, folks in the second and fourth fifths of the list receiving the least amount of critiques. Capiche?)

Have fun!

And remember: NO SNARK. If you see snark and you think it's slipped by my notice, please let me know.

If yours is one of the entries, please remember to critique A MINIMUM OF FIVE other entries.

Here we go!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Submissions Are Now Open

Submissions for our August SECRET AGENT: ARE YOU HOOKED? contest are officially open.

The guidelines:
  • Submissions will remain open for 24 hours or until 50 entries are received, WHICHEVER COMES FIRST.
  • Send the first 250 words of your COMPLETED manuscript to me at facelesswords(at) in the following format:
(followed by the excerpt)
  • Please, no attachments. Send your submission in the body of the email.

The following genres are included in this month's contest:

  • Romance, including paranormal and historical
  • Urban fantasy
  • Historical fiction (general)
  • High-concept women's fiction
  • Literary fiction
If your manuscript does not fall under one of these genres, please do not submit to the contest.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Thank you all for welcoming Beatrice with such enthusiasm. I really do think my Writerly Life has been greatly enhanced by her adoption--ur, purchase. And I'll be sure to let you know how the Scrivener thing is going.

*gentle squee*

Today's get-the-writers-chatting question:

Is a Kindle or a Sony Reader on your Christmas wish list this year?

The prices are slowly dropping, the number of electronic-reader owners rising. From where I sit, it seems to me that the bulk of users are of bookish ilk: agents, editors, rabid librarians. I have yet to see an average joe-drinker curled up in a coffee shop with a Kindle.

Macs, yes. iPhones, yes. Everywhere. But no readers. Not yet.

Or maybe I live in an electronically illiterate area.

So, what about you? Do you have one? Want one? Will they ultimately replace all traditional books? Are trees across the planet rejoicing?

Do tell.

I'm going to go heat up my coffee. Good way to start the weekend, don't you think?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bye-Bye Microsoft

It's official. I'm a Mac User.

Granted, it's been a rough transition (just ask Jodi Meadows, my online emotional support system). But now that I'm feeling slightly more confident, I'd like to introduce you all to Beatrice, my very own MacBook Pro.

I've arrived. I mean, surely.

I'm a complete moron with the this-isn't-a-mouse thing. My eyes are rebelling against the smaller screen. And I don't like the sound effects my mail program makes (and haven't taken the time to figure out how to change them).

But ultimately? I'm in love.

The biggest struggle of all is learning Scrivener. Yesterday I finally imported my WIP and broke it into chapters. That's as far as I've gotten. Unless you include changing the name of the draft folder to the title of my novel. Scrivener's got amazing potential; those of you who have sung its praises weren't whistling proverbial Dixie! But it's going to take time. Scads of time.

For now, I've just got to edit the last four chapters to complete the second draft (yep, I'm actually that far along!). Then I'll figure out how to get fancy. But, yeah, this is exciting. Exciting!

How cool is sitting in the local sandwich shop with Beatrice (yep, did that on Tuesday)? How thrilled am I at the thought of hitting Starbucks, my favorite pub, and every other hang-out place in town with my MANUSCRIPT IN TOW? No more coveting the glowing apples at tables nearby. I've got my own now.

All thanks to Mr. A, who surprised me with it on Sunday evening. In the car. As we were leaving to see a play. He just kinda reached into the back seat and threw this box on my lap. I don't think I've ever had a present thrown at me before.

And there she was, all sleek and sexy inside her box. And as soon as I could breathe again, I named her Beatrice.

"I was going to wait for our anniversary," Mr. A said, "but I decided to give it to you right away." Good thing. I can't imagine being four days behind where I am right now in this transferring-from-Microcrap-to-Mac process.

That's right. It's our anniversary today. Guess I'll keep him another year. The guy is awfully good at timing the gift-giving, don't you think?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On Reader Rants and Breaking the Rules

There's a reason I haunt the pages of my stat counters. I find links to blog posts like THIS. With a tip of the hat to Screaming Guppy.

Aside from colorful language choices that wouldn't find their way to my blog, I nod my head in emphatic agreement with the author. In fact, I had to chew the inside of my cheeks for a day or so before typing this. I didn't want anything to come out, yanno, overly snarky.

Because I love my blog readers. I do.

But I have to say this, so bear with me.

The inboxes of agents and editors are littered -- LITTERED -- with inappropriate queries. By "inappropriate" I mean unprofessional, unresearched, neophytic pieces of poo that SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN SENT.

No, really.

And because of this poo overflow, the professional, carefully researched queries are buried in the muck of why-did-I-take-this-agenting-job-in-the-first-place. Imagine, if you can, the difference between reading a good query with FRESH, INVIGORATED eyes, and reading a good query with TIRED, I'VE-READ-A-BOATLOAD-OF-CRAP-ALREADY eyes.

You KNOW not to send your query to an agent who doesn't represent your genre.


And you KNOW that I trust you to follow the same rules on this blog. Not because I'm "special." Not because I want to be an agent when I grow up. (I don't.) But because IT'S THE WAY THINGS ARE DONE IN THE PUBLISHING WORLD.

If you think it's okay to bend (or ignore) the rules in a blog contest, might you be tempted to do the same when you start querying? Or have you (gasp!) already begun to do the same whilst querying?

If you think you're successfully sneaking in a snippet of your unfinished manuscript just because you're dying for some early feedback, might it have escaped you that YOUR FLOPPY WRITING WILL SHOW?

And if you somehow grab the attention of the Secret Agent with your UNFINISHED MANUSCRIPT, do you think the agent is going to break into an exuberant happy dance when you tell her you haven't actually finished the story yet?

My blog has an honor system attached to it. There is no way I can police you; no way I can determine whether your manuscript is actually finished when you decide to enter the contest. If you break that trust, make your own rules...well, I can't stop you.

But as a fellow writer, I've got to point out that this is So. Not. Cool.

Think about it. Most of my contests fill up within the first ten minutes or less. I have to turn people away -- people with POLISHED, FINISHED MANUSCRIPTS who deserve a chance to have their carefully edited, I've-followed-the-directions work seen by the Secret Agent. If you get in with your unfinished work or I've-fudged-the-genre-just-to-squeak-in excerpt, YOU HAVE TAKEN THE PLACE OF SOMEONE WHO QUALIFIED FOR IT.

And that's what happens in agent inboxes. Every time an aspiring author breaks a querying rule (if you don't know them, LEARN THEM), it takes valuable time and energy from the agent doing the reading. And the agents can't stop the behavior, either. They just keep wading through the poo.

My agent empathy level has risen exponentially. And I don't even have to send rejection letters.

Well, unless you count the horrid "I'm sorry, the contest is full" emails I need to send. HATE that. Really hate it.

So. Learn to follow the rules EVEN IN THE SMALL PLACES. Like here. If you can't do that, what's going to stop you from breaking the rules when you're ready for the big query leap?

Honor. Integrity. Professionalism. It's all a part of being someone WITH WHOM PEOPLE WANT TO WORK. And along with writing a great story, you need to be one of those people.

Feel free to purchase a copy of AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED right now, to assuage your guilt. And if you're not guilty, and haven't gotten your hands on a copy yet, grab it anyway. You'll be glad you did. It's agent-endorsed, reader-loved, and it's got my SECRET HISTORY in it. (No, not my name. Just my history.)

The collective potential here is ASTOUNDING. I mean that. And I want each of you to rise to your own. It's an honor to be a part of your daily blog reads and your journey toward publication. Step up, raise the bar, and be even better than your best.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Secret Agent Heads Up

Okay, it's time for submission guidelines once again! Our next Secret Agent: Are You Hooked? contest opens for submissions on Monday, August 17, at 9:00 am EDT. Submissions will close in 24 hours or as soon as I have received 50 entries, whichever comes first.

And, people. Please don't whine at me about time zones. I have to run these contests when I'm awake, yanno? I would love to accommodate everyone; really, I would. But I can't. So make friends with someone on the east coast of the States and have them submit for you.

Or come up with another plan. But don't whine about it. Okay? Whining doesn't lead to success in life. Solving problems does.

*short sermon over*

Also, I'm not doing a lottery this month for three reasons:

1. They're too much bloody work.
2. I don't expect as much of a deluge because children's fiction is not included.
3. They're too much bloody work.

So. Here's what you need to know:

  • Submissions will open at 9:00 am EDT on Monday, August 17. Early submissions will be disqualified.
  • Send the first 250 words of your completed manuscript to me at facelesswords(at) in the following format:
(followed by the excerpt)

The following genres are included in this month's contest:

  • Romance, including paranormal and historical
  • Urban fantasy
  • Historical fiction (general)
  • High-concept women's fiction
  • Literary fiction
If your manuscript does not fall under one of these genres, please do not submit to the contest.

Questions in the box, please.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Somehow, Friday has hit me unawares this week.

At any rate, lots coming up for the rest of this month! Our next Secret Agent contest will run the week of the 17th -- keep your eyes open for submission guidelines early next week. We'll also throw in a few 1000-word critiques (I know I haven't done any for a while; I wanted to carve a space for the Query Contest).

And before we know it, September will be here.

For today's chitchat: What is your "sekrit project"? You know, the thing you work on, or have completed, but it's tucked away somewhere, not part of your Grand Scheme.

For me, it's a rhyming children's book. I shopped it to three editors before tucking it onto a shelf in order to concentrate on my novels. But I'm going to resurrect it at some point. I love writing verse, and I can't stand BAD POETRY, so I'd like to help rid the world of it one children's book at a time.

Well, not really. I just love writing rhyme.

(If you haven't read the ODE TO MY BLOG READERS, take a peek!)

Your turn. Share your "only my cat knows about this" project. We could all use a little nudge to dust off the stuff that needs our attention, yes?

And have a magnificent weekend!