Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Answers to lots of itty-bitty questions

I think it's time for a quick overview of MSFV "stuff." Sometimes I tend to view my readership as static, when it's actually an ever-evolving, constantly-adding-newbies sort of process.

So. A few things, some of which have come up as questions in comment boxes recently:

  • The Secret Agent contests run monthly, except for June and December (summer and Christmas break, respectively). You may not enter two consecutive Secret Agent contests, and if you are a winner, you must wait six months before entering the same manuscript in a future contest. The full Secret Agent contest rules are clickized in the sidebar.
  • The 1000-word critiques run whenever I feel like it--or whenever there isn't a lot of other stuff happening (such as a Secret Agent contest). When you send your 1000-word excerpt, you will be assigned a post number. Your number will wait in the queue until your turn is up. If you have revisions, you can send them at any time (just put 1000 words and your post number in the subject line). If you want to redact, you may do so at any time. And if you want to enter a Secret Agent contest, you must redact, but you may re-submit after the contest, taking a later spot in the queue. Yes, there is a full post about all this, listed under "1000 Words." No, I don't feel like finding it right now. (Humor me. I'm flying through this so I can dig in to my writing today.)
  • No, I am not an agent. (Seriously.)
  • I am honored and blessed when you nominate me for blog awards--I really am. The reason I don't reciprocate is because I can't afford to take up my sidebar space with the cute little award piccies--and I also don't want to give the impression that I'm endorsing one author's blog over another simply because I've passed along a nomination to someone. I wouldn't dream of accepting the award without playing fairly, so I usually don't respond. But I wanted to let you all know that I sincerely appreciate the nominations and blog awards. I really do!
  • I'm still waiting for The Person Who Nominated Me For The Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites For Writers list to step forward and confess. That, and I want to ask you to nominate me for 2010. *grin*
  • We've got two more Secret Agent contests coming up this year, so stay tuned for October's submission info.
  • No, your title is not included in the word count of your submission. For anything. Ever.
  • Yes, I'm still working on my dystopic thing. Hello, Draft 3. But right now I'm focusing on a rewrite of my MG fantasy, which is coming along nicely.
  • Yes, I'd be MORE THAN HAPPY to receive online gift cards for fine chocolate, gourmet cashews, and books. No, really.
Feel free to use today's comment box to ask all the questions you've been meaning to ask. My goal is to have a brandnewshiny, revamped blog early next year, complete with automated contest submissions. Life has been busy and writing has been all-consuming, so it's been put on the back burner. But I think it's time I found something to wear other than the red hat. Don't you?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Fricassee

And it's Friday again!

Kudos to the brave souls who shared their work this week, and thanks, as always, to the fearless (fearsome?) critters.

We chat a lot about our writing; how we balance time, how we plot, how we meet goals. Today, let's talk about our reading.

What do you love? What makes a story work for you? Who is your favorite author? Favorite genre? What are your pet peeves about "stuff on the shelves" that doesn't flip your cookie?

And are you able, on any level, to read a book SIMPLY TO READ? Or do you find that it's difficult to turn off your internal editor?


Thursday, September 24, 2009

#29 1000-Word

TITLE: Loyalty or Duty
GENRE: Epic Fantasy

Sym was about to lose face and lose his head, and he didn’t know which prospect terrified him more. Dread had conquered the pit of his belly and was building heavy fortifications.

He sat at the edge of his pallet, wondering why he’d got up. Everything he had built in over twenty years lay in ruins. All the usual tasks, duties and disciplined regimen no longer existed. He did not know what to do without them.

The carefully folded woolen blanket on his lap itched through his sweat-drenched linens. Why make the bed? Why wear the silver and blue uniform, laid out on a wooden chest? His gaze rested on the empty scabbard, propped up against the whitewashed wall. A soldier without a sword is like a carriage without a horse.

Sym took a deep breath. You’re still a soldier, and still have your uniform and rank, at least today. So act like a soldier and face your faith with dignity! He offered a quick prayer to his ancestors and Jebozo, the Guardian Spirit, for courage. Then he made his bed with practiced efficiency. He dressed, then gave his boots a quick polish they didn’t need. The simple, mindless task and the smell of leather and grease calmed him a bit. He stood and frowned, wondering if he should wear the baldric. He decided against it. With the lack of a sword, it would only draw extra attention.

As he knelt to put the scabbard in his trunk, the door flew open. Sym jumped to his feet.

A young Guardsman he didn’t know by name entered, hand on hilt. He cocked his head towards the door.

Sym swallowed his indignation. No knock on the door, no salute. Some had already condemned him, and he couldn’t even blame them. He squared his shoulders and walked into the corridor, head held high, looking straight ahead. Three more Guardsmen fell in around him, armed with halberds. They marched through the palace in silence, their footsteps echoing through the corridor. Sym wondered where they took him, but resolved not to ask.

When they took a turn towards the Royal Quarters, his mouth went dry. Dread poisoned his body, cramping his muscles and constricting his chest. He struggled to maintain a calm façade. They reached the hall with the broad marble stairway he had walked up and down thousands of times in the last years. Four more Guardsmen waited there. Their commander, Cordelas, gave him a short, almost imperceptible nod. That small act of acknowledgement filled Sym with immense, absurd gratitude.

Just as he wondered why they stood there, the sound of marching feet echoed through the hall. Prince Darion, surrounded by an escort of six, walked towards them with slumped shoulders.

At once, Sym channeled all his fear and frustration into anger and hate. He scowled at the prince with a glare that used to scare the cockiest recruits, but Darion didn’t even notice him.

“Your Highness,” Cordelas said, “please follow me.” He hurried up the stairs without looking back, followed by Darion and his escort. Someone shoved Sym in the back. He took the steps two at a time, as he was used to do. His knees had never felt this weak doing it, though.

Upstairs, they were ushered through the massive double doors by a nervous page. His gaze fixed on the bedroom in front of them, Sym almost stumbled over one of the thick Umiocan rugs covering the parquet floor of the ornate sitting room.

An oppressive silence filled the high-ceilinged space, emphasized by the hushed whispers of two healers standing next to the gilded canopy bed. Sym stepped forward, straining to catch a glimpse of Prince Lucion. A hand on his shoulder and a dagger on his chest halted him.

“Release him. Bring them forward, Cordelas.”

Sym turned to the tall man emerging from a dark corner of the room. Straightening his back for a salute, he hesitated. Did he still have the Royal Guard’s privilege of not having to bow before the royal family? He didn’t dare speculate, so he bowed to his king. Next to him, Darion hadn’t moved. The cursed boy didn’t even acknowledge his own father.

King Denurion’s eyes flickered over Sym for a moment, and then fastened on Darion like grappling hooks on a palisade. Sym noted the hunched shoulders, the trembling hands. Never had his king shown any weakness, but now he seemed confused and brittle.

Denurion’s voice lacked its usual crispness. “I’ve summoned you to see the consequences of your actions, or lack of it.”

Sym shuddered at these last words, directed at him. His cheeks burned with shame. He transferred his attention to Lucion, unable to look at his king.

Lucion’s reddish strands of thick, curly hair covered part of the pillow. Huge swaths of bandage enveloped the rest of his head, leaving only slits around the eyes, the mouth and the nose. He didn’t move. Only the rise and fall of his chest betrayed that he was alive.

Darion cleared his throat. “Is he awake?”

“He drifts in and out of consciousness,” one of the healers said as he moved to stand near Lucion’s head. “He is in great pain.” Gently, the man lifted Lucion’s head to allow his colleague to remove the bandage. The other healer acted with swift, sure moves. Ribbons of cotton flew between his fingers. The contours of Lucion’s face became clearer with each removed layer.

“Stop,” said the healer supporting Lucion’s neck. He nodded at a small dark spot on the bandage, lowering the prince back into the pillow. He then took a small pair of scissors from his robes and cut carefully into the dressing. The other healer produced a vial with an ointment, and dabbed at the dark spot on Lucion’s cheek. Its fragrance reminded Sym of beeswax.

Progress went slow. The healer had cut a path halfway up Lucion’s chin and stopped to wipe perspiration from his brow. His colleague had spread ointment over certain areas of the face until the vial was empty. They bent over the prince, obscuring Sym’s view.

A sharp intake of breath from one of the healers made the king take a step forward.

#28 1000-Word

GENRE: Adventure

Atlas was jolted awake by a violent shuddering of his wooden house, and the screams of terror from his wife. Around him, the walls shook brutally, and sections of the roof were falling in. He looked around wildly, seeking an answer to the madness, and looked out the window, finding the trees being unearthed, as if by an invisible giant shaking them out of the ground. A terrible creaking sound was heard, and Atlas looked up at the roof, the source of the noise. It gave once last creak, and fell in on the hut.

Adrenaline pumping, Atlas rolled off the small hay bed, and onto the floor. His wife shrieked, and attempted to move out of the way, but to no prevail. The heavy timber ceiling slammed down on her distraught body, crushing her instantly. She gave one last scream, and fell silent.
Then it was over.

Atlas swallowed, terror and grief welling up inside him. Suddenly, the wall behind him groaned, and fell in. Atlas tried to leapt out of the way, but was too slow. The wall crushed down on Atlas’s tall and muscular body, slamming him to the ground.

Head throbbing from a wooden plank to the head, Atlas heaved the wall off of him. His once golden beard was stained red by a cut on his chin. A similar cut sat on his forehead. As he sat amidst the rubble, he heard a tiny sob. Immediately, his ears pricked up. “Minos! Minos, where are you?” He called into the night.

“Father! Father!” His teenage son called out. A faint glimmer of hope surged, and he dug furiously through the ruins. He found a foot belonging to his son, and he dug around it, uncovering his son, miraculously alive.

“Minos!” Atlas shouted in happiness, grabbing his son, and holding him tight. “Are you injured?”

“No, father.” Minos sobbed.

In the distance, Atlas could hear a crowd wailing in distress.

“Come, Minos. We must join the others. We must make sure we save who we can.”

“What of mother?” Minos asked, voice shaking.

“She is… I was… she is with the Gods.”

Atlas left the wreckage, his son trailing silently behind him. He glanced at the beach, which was nearby, and gasped. He sprinted towards the ocean, stopping at the beginning of the sand. Water licked his toes, where there should have been a large sandy beach.

Atlas stared at the sight, dumbfounded, when the wailing returned. The great warrior took one last look, and moved away, heading towards the wailing. He walked in silence with his shocked son, quickly arriving in what was left of the city centre. Of the original 10 000 inhabitants of the city, fewer than 300 were left alive. When he arrived, the crowd gathered around him, begging him to take charge and help. Standing on a pile of rubble, he bellowed:

“People of this city! The Gods have sent a curse to us, for failing the capture of Athens. Many of us have been killed, and our houses destroyed. I have seen the curse from Poseidon!”

A few people stared at him quizzically.

‘The sea is rising!’

At that, people screamed. Mentally, Atlas cursed himself for being so stupid and thoughtless. However, when the screaming had subsided, he continued.

‘It will not be long before Athens, and all our other captured cities realise what is happening, and send their navies to punish us. I propose a plan: We will leave this island, and seek safety and shelter someplace I know, where no one will find us. It is large enough for us all to live, until we become strong enough to rise up once again.’ This time, the large crowd cheered, and Atlas smiled.

‘Who will come with me? I shall wait for all those who wish to accompany me until daybreak before leaving.’

‘Aye!’ One man yelled. ‘I shall accompany you, brave Atlas!’

‘And I,’ yelled another.

‘As shall I!’ a third called. Quickly more voices followed, until everyone had called out.

‘Very well.’ Atlas said. ‘I shall wait for everyone to arrive with their families and belongings. Livestock must remain however. Now, be off, and collect what you hold dear. Meet at the docks!’


As the sun slowly rose in the sky, its rays of light shone through the streets of Athens, revealing the aftermath of the previous nights battle. It had been a bloody battle. The Sea-Folk had barged through the Athenian Navy, and unloaded hoplites into the city. Many were killed, and even more wounded. But then, just when the Sea-Folk seemed on the verge of gaining yet another victory, the Navy mounted a surprise attack, distracting the enemy long enough for the navy to regroup and slay them.

Through the streets, guards picked up the dead bodies silently. Everyone moved slowly, mourning the dead.

Only one man ran through the streets, his old and slightly frail body moving with great speed. In his haste, he nearly knocked a soldier down.

‘Hey!’ The soldier called out. ‘Slow down Balynthisus!’

‘I can’t!’ yelled back Balynthisus. ‘I have to attend a war council.’ He continued to run through the stone streets.

He rounded a corner, and sped down the street, to the large hall. He bounded up the stairs, taking two at a time, and barged into the room, where several people were waiting.
He made his excuses, and took a seat.

An elderly man named Euselust sat on a stool in the centre of the room. Behind him sat another man, in his 30’s, and wearing armour, which had been dented and blood stained in the battle. Euselust stood, and began.

‘Gentlemen, as you know, we have come here to meet at this hour to discuss our victory over the Sea-Folk. Their navy is crippled, and their army destroyed. It will take them some while to recover.’

‘Kill them now!’ One man called out, and several other men cheered. Dipeu.

The hoplite standing behind Euselust stepped forward.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

#27 1000-Word

GENRE: YA Magical Realism

Chapter One: Commander-in-Grief

Three hundred and sixty-five days are enough for a person to learn almost anything, even how the first day and last one can hurt so much worse than all the ones in between.

The year before I hadn’t known a plane could crash, taking out all the parts of myself I loved most, while I lay hundreds of miles away in a strange bed, covered in chicken pox and a bottle of Calamine lotion, both of which my then three-year-old cousin had generously shared with me.

Now I knew my body could breathe and pulse, walk and talk, even when my spirit struggled to comprehend such a huge loss. I would’ve sworn I’d broken apart so entirely that my pieces should have floated away all on their own.

And I knew today would hurt the most, though I’d pretend otherwise for the sake of familial peace.

I took to the stairs wearing my best “well-adjusted teenage girl” costume. Jeans, non-descript tee, and my favorite sneaks. My book-bag weighed a ton, pushing me toward the kitchen, but halfway there the hushed whispers of my aunt and uncle stopped me in my tracks.

“I’m worried about her, Timothy. With everything she’s been through, and today being what it is . . .”

“Yes it’s difficult, but she has to find her own way. We’re doing the best we can, giving her a safe, loving home.”

“It isn’t difficult. It’s impossible to imagine how devastating today must be for Jocelyn. Losing a sister doesn’t compare with losing a mother.”

Whoa! Enough of that!

I let my bag clunk against the wall the rest of the way down. The voices cut off at the first bang like someone flipping a switch. By the time I rounded the corner to see Gracie sitting in her booster seat contemplating the strawberry swirls in her oatmeal Aunt Catherine stood near Uncle Tim, innocently sliding bacon onto his plate while he wrote last-minute notes on a legal pad for his teaching assistant like every other morning.

Nothing odd here. Certainly no talk of your dead parents, no siree Bob!

“How’re you this morning, cutie?” I asked, bending over to kiss my four-year-old cousin’s beaming, oatmeal-streaked face. Mouth stuffed with breakfast, she giggled and pointed to her lips. “Oh, forgive me,” I grinned. “Miss Manners taught you well, I see.”

The coffee brewed on the far counter making a full-on advance necessary if I wanted my morning I.Q.-booster. I took a mug from the cabinet, catching a frantic glance from one adult to the other shooting over my head. “Aunt Catherine, I’m sixteen. I really don’t think you can blame coffee for stunting my growth at this point.”

Uncle Tim cleared his throat. “It’s not the coffee, Joss. We’re concerned about the date. You could stay home if you wanted, considering . . .”

Houston, we have a problem.

“No that’s fine, really. I’d much rather go--you know, lose myself in the routine and everything. Jules’ll be there and a little factoid like privacy rights won’t keep her from letting you know if I look like I’m in over my head. Besides, you know what they say, ‘School waits for no teenager’.”

He took the hint and changed the subject. “Okay. Well . . . give me a call if you’re coming by for lunch.”

“Will do.”

I gulped down a last swallow of liquid brain, looked guiltily at my aunt and downed the glass of orange juice next to my empty plate in atonement for the coffee, then grabbed my coat and scarf. It took me two seconds to say bye and then I escaped out the door to find sanctuary in the BMW idling in my driveway.

My best friend Jules sat behind the wheel, laughing at me. “I wonder if you’ll ever acclimate to Virginia weather, Jocelyn. Honestly, it’s been months. One might think you’re purposely fighting off adaptation.”

“I wasn’t running because it’s cold, dork. Today’s ‘Treat Joss Like a Psych Patient Day’ inside.” I raised a hand to ward off whatever comment might be coming. “And before you ask, no I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Then you’re obligated to love me for rescuing you from something as healthy as confronting your demons.”

“I will love you any time you have a toasty Beamer waiting for me.”

“Don’t forget it’ll be your turn to drive next Monday. And make sure you warm the Eos up beforehand,” she warned, mentioning my new wheels. Apparently, when your airline kills off a girl’s immediate family, forcing piles of money into her reluctant lap is the way to go. Thankfully, the only thing my aunt and uncle had suggested I use some of it on was a car when I turned sixteen.

“I’ll make a mental note. You guys leaving for Aspen right after school?” I asked.

“This evening, or I’d invite you to hide out at my house later.”

I sighed. “Yeah. It’s probably better if I go home, let the legals see I’m not on the verge of slitting my wrists.”

Jules’ face crinkled up in disapproval. “Catherine and Tim care more about you than you give them credit for.”

“I know, but family isn’t like a sports team. You can’t trade out teammates if one goes down. They aren’t my parents and—as much as I adore the urchin—Gracie isn’t Eric.”

As if saying his name summoned him, the image of my handsome older brother filled my mind. He’d inherited Dad’s dark good looks, whereas I mostly resembled Mom, with her porcelain skin and tiny frame, although Eric and I had shared Dad’s dark waves.

“Let’s just get me through today and I’ll work on appreciating them more during fall break. What else would I do while you’re off hitting the slopes?”
Navigating the clogged arteries of Lee High School’s halls required mastering an art form of limb-dodging and squeezing between spaces not normally reserved for the human body.

#26 1000-Word

TITLE: The Yankees--The Voyage Around Cape Horn
GENRE: Historical Fiction


April first through fifth, 1872

He was a sailor bold and true,
To my aye storm a-long!
A good old skipper to his crew;
Aye, aye, aye, Mister Storm a-long.

Traditional Halyard Chantey

Isaac Griffin

Captain Isaac Griffin, master of the ship, Providence, watched his shadow precede him in the mid afternoon sunlight. His mind instinctively knew the direction and strength of the wind upon his face and the direction his shadow stretched, east by east north east, on the pavement. As he approached the tetra style portico of the Christison home, he noted his shade stretched longer than the columns of the Christison home stood high. Griffin was born in Newport, Rhode Island and thus was a New Englander, a Yankee. Had Griffin been a visitor from anywhere in the country, had he been born anywhere but Newport, the Beacon Hill home, the street, and its neighborhood might have impressed him. Home for only a week, he had been summoned by messenger to meet his partner, employer, and friend William Christison Senior, Kicking Billy. It was their first meeting in nearly two years.

Perhaps it's the winters in New England, salt cod, or just the extreme difficulty of scratching out a living here that does it, but a Yankee's sense of vision tends toward seeing the truth in its naked glory and speaking about it in blunt words. Griffin knew the Christison home was a sarcophagus, the symbol of a family's pride. The foundation for this home was money obtained from the triangular trade, cursed money from traffic in human flesh. Griffin knew the foundation was crumbling. Griffin was not superstitious, he had no prophetic abilities beyond reading a sky for the weather to come, but sensed this visit would change his life.

Griffin saw how the trees lining the street had just started to bud, their leaves awaiting warmth and sunlight to bloom. He saw tiny snow birds, juncos, still flitting beneath them. Furnace smoke drifted past him and brought the smell of rotten eggs, sulfur, to his nose. This sent him back in time by four months to Providence bound for San Francisco, then two weeks at sea from loading coal in the rain in Newcastle, Australia.

The coal had been packed tightly in his ship's hold leaving her to ride low in the water with little freeboard. Griffin remembered an anxious ship's carpenter and boatswain reporting the smell of sulfur, of smoldering coal. These men took their captain near the foremast so he too could feel the heat beneath the deck. He did on hands in knees carefully tracing the heat's boundaries on the wooden deck. He nodded to Chips and said, "Thanks." He then spoke to the mate, "Mr. Martin, heave her to."

The news spread quickly throughout the ship. Men were afraid for their lives, afraid of an explosion and fire at sea in a wooden ship.

Griffin, the first mate, Joshua Martin, and the carpenter carefully entered the hold through the lazarette. They were careful to avoid provoking an explosion. Griffin had to find the smoldering coal and jettison it overboard. A fire enclosed in a cargo hold can not be fought with water. The burning coal had to be found and jettisoned overboard.

The three men crawled nearly seventy five feet forward on their stomachs over the top of the coal in the dark and feeling for hot spots with their hands. They had barely a foot clearance between the coal and the deck over their heads. The cargo hold was hot, filled with smoke and as dirty as any mine anywhere in the bowels of the earth. If there was one hot spot, could there be others? They were nearly gagging, struggling to breath. Lanterns were too dangerous to use. The carpenter found the smoldering coal. Griffin ordered the main cargo hatch opened and began to dig to the smoldering coal with a shovel. A line was formed to pass the coal overboard. The spark may have come from a shovel or simply from the heat of the coal feeding on fresh oxygen. There was a brief, intense explosion from the methane. Griffin's right hand was burned badly, its top scared, its fingers burned where they were not protected by the shovel's handle. He screamed from the intense pain and would forever claim he had seen a glimpse of hell. His body went into shock. The carpenter carried him out of the hold through the cargo hatch and to the after cabin. He writhed from pain. The carpenter and his steward immersed the burnt hand in Griffin's own washbasin and held it there to douse the fire burning in his hand.

Griffin fought off unconsciousness and directed he be given twenty drops of laudanum mixed with red wine. This was the treatment recommended in his shipmaster's medical guide. He directed a poultice of chamomile flower be applied to his hand. When the laudanum dulled the pain he returned on deck and oversaw the removal of the smoldering coal. His bandaged hand stood out in contrast to his coal covered clothes and face. He wanted the crew to see him and to know he had not deserted them. When the crisis was over Griffin said, "She'll float now."

The odor from the neighborhood furnace was harmless enough; a source of domesticated heat, but it had triggered the memory of the fire. It would be a permanent memory which would haunt him until death freed him from it.

Griffin still could not accept the damage to his hand. He reached for the brass knocker on the Christison door with his burned hand which was covered by a black leather glove. He saw his fingers touch the brass but felt nothing, no warmth, no cold, not even the smoothness of the polished brass. He attempted to close his fingers and saw them close around the brass clapper. The first sense of pain came from the scarred flesh on the top of the hands and covering his fingers. It was inelastic and stretched only so far. This pain was uncomfortable. When he pressed his fingers to close more, the pain shrieked from the damaged tendons and injured nerve endings causing him to strain to keep from wincing. The brass lion's head remain unmoved.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

#23 1000-Word

GENRE: Commercial

Jake was beyond furious. If rage had a color, his would be the most vibrant red tinged with just a hint of yellow for drama queen effect.

Rage, unfortunately, did not have a color. Rage – silent for so long, if he didn’t speak the words, they wouldn’t come true – only had an outlet now: his mother. She stood across from him in her newly updated – granite counters, stainless appliances, hardwood floors – kitchen. She had wiped away the kitchen of his childhood, just as she had wiped away the truth regarding his private adoption 32 years ago.

“Don’t you think this is something I should have been told about at some point in my life?” He reached up and ran his fingers through his curly dark hair.

Cordelia met his angry gaze. “Perhaps.”

He arched one brow slightly – an affectation learned from his mother and his Aunt Ophelia. “Perhaps? That’s your response?”

“What other response do you want, Jacob? For me to break down in tears and beg your forgiveness?” She laughed softly and looked past him, out the bay window behind him. “Ophelia and I did what we did, no turning back, but so many damn second thoughts.” She laughed again and shook her head, her shoulder length, silver tinged black hair, swaying from side to side. “Once the lie was told, there was no turning back. There was only the fear of discovery, year after year, decade after decade, until this moment.”

Jake turned and looked out the window, his empty wine glass held in his left hand. He could not look at his mother. Where was the woman who taught him the difference between right and wrong, honesty above all else? Who was this woman who seemed so calm and composed, so indifferent to the horrible lie she and her sister told once upon a time in the way of fairy tales and unhappy endings? He inhaled deeply, held the breath for the count of twenty, and slowly exhaled. Cardinals flocked throughout his mother’s backyard, pecking away at the multitude of bird feeders.

Jake turned back around to face his mother. The lie she told was inexcusable. “At what point, Mother, does a person decide to tell such a lie and toss away her soul?”

“Souls are so easy to toss aside.” She did not smile, though she did meet his gaze. She shrugged her shoulders slightly. “How long have you know?”

“Far too long.” He could use more wine right about now. For three years he had known the alleged truth of what Cordelia and Ophelia had done, and maintained a calm indifference. Life was much easier when he ignored the truth. He was a coward. He wanted the perfect life. He wanted to believe in happily ever after and that his mother and aunt were not callous people. He wanted to believe – at least once in his life – that good things happen to good people.

As with so much else in his life, his beliefs turned out to be worthless. His luck turned out to be bad. His mother – adoptive, loving, the joy of his life – turned out to be part of a horrendous lie that devastated and reshaped a family. His adoption was not private, arranged by a lawyer as he had been told over and over again. There was nothing legal about his adoption.

“How did you find out?” There was a slight tremble to her voice, the only outward sign of emotion. She held her glass of cabernet in her right hand; her left arm was wrapped across her stomach.

He did not answer her question. Three years earlier a woman died. She did not carry all her secrets to the grave. She – through the marvels of modern technology – left her secrets behind for him through various DVDs he had been receiving off and on for three years.

“Are you going to answer me?” She tapped her foot. “How long have you known?”

He swallowed hard and looked away from her – almost – emotionless gaze. How could she be so calm? At what point had his mother lost all sense of humanity? “Three years.” He watched her eyes narrow, just slightly, barely a movement at all, but one he knew so well from childhood.

“So you’ve kept this to yourself for three years.” She took a gulp of her wine. Her hand trembled slightly. “Three years and you confront me now? Why? Why bother at all?”

“I wanted happily ever after. I wanted the truth to be a lie.”

Cordelia laughed bitterly. “Happily ever after only happens in fairy tales, and not always the way you expect. Cinderella’s step-sisters wanted happily ever after, but all they got was birds pecking out their eyes.”

“Well, that’s a harsh visual.”

“Life is not perfect. Bad things happen to good people. People do things in moments of anger that they can never undo.”

“Please tell me you’re not defending what you two did.”

“I wanted a child.” She did not look away from him. “Ophelia wanted revenge. Things just worked out.”

He thought he might throw up.

“All I wanted was a child.” Cordelia spoke very softly. “Life can be so unfair at times. Ophelia was the golden child – beautiful, intelligent, popular, and fertile. I got so tired of her calling to tell me she was pregnant . . . again. Gods, how that woman could pop out babies! All I wanted was to hear my,” she stopped, swallowed hard, “doctor tell me I was pregnant. Instead,” she shook her head, her eyes narrowed in anger, “he told me I was barren. Infertile! I would never have a child of my own. It’s all I wanted. I wanted a child! I would have sold my soul for a child.”

“You did sell your soul, Mother. Both of you did.”

You are the son of Antonio and Ophelia DeMarrco - those were the words Esmeralda DeMarrco spoke from beyond the grave, courtesy of a DVD.

#21 1000-Word

TITLE: Shadowplay
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

When I shift out of the night onto a tidy front yard in Dallas, it takes a second to figure out what I’m seeing.

It’s like the gates of hell broke open and all the inmates have come out to play.

“Oh goodie, I’m not too late,” I mutter to myself and draw my sword, shaking dark light down its length and deciding which enemy to attack from the many, many choices.

A vampire charges me and I dance sideways, just evading his crushing grasp as he blows past.

“Good guy here!” I yell at him, then duck as he throws a snarling bodach at my head. “Dammit, I said I’m a good guy!”

He growls a reply but, with his fangs out and hunting instincts fully engaged, it’s hard to understand the words – his lethal intent is clear, however, as he spins and comes at me again. I don’t want to hurt him but, if he gets hold of me, I’m a goner.

The only space clear of combatants is up and I shift just in time, sensing the charging vampire’s swing fill the place I just vacated – if he’d made contact, the blow would have snapped my spine.

Of course, shifting with bodach around is asking for trouble and, sure enough, one of the nasty creatures surfs in behind me as my feet touch the cottage’s roof. I dodge the rows of vicious snapping teeth and block the forelimb as it strikes at my stomach, my ehrlindriel blade’s keen edge slicing through the shaggy black fur with ease.

Being three-legged barely slows the bear-like thing as it stands erect and swipes with its remaining forelimb – the two-inch, toxin-laced claws whistle past the tip of my nose, forcing me back a step on the canted roof. I’ve never figured out how bodach see, since they don’t have eyes and their faces are mostly muzzle with lots of wicked-sharp teeth. But the face unerringly tracks me, foam dripping from its lips as they skin back to reveal a mouth that shouldn’t exist.

“You’re beginning to piss me off,” I tell it and the answering snarl expresses its own feelings on the matter.

When it charges, I leap over it, and bury my sword to the hilt at the spot where neck meets spine. There’s a sickening, wet thunk as the point buries itself in the composite shingles, then the creature’s weight slides down the sword’s length. Death from such a blow is instantaneous but, still, the venom in those claws can melt flesh like hot candle wax and I’m not taking any chances. With care, I yank my sword free and wipe the viscous yellow blood on the bodach’s fur, then put the length of the roof between it and me.

Looking down on the melee in the front yard, I see that the battle has spilled out into the street. A shriek draws my attention to a knot of humans, vulnerable and pale in a wild assortment of boxers, bathrobes, and even a pair of bunny slippers, their terrified expressions lit by the bonfires of burning vehicles. There’s an explosion as an SUV goes up in flames and the mortals duck and scatter. My breath catches when several veer into the path of a group of bodach, then a red-haired vampire and the guy who took a swing at me get between the mortals and the attacking nasties.

Almost directly below me, a Light Fae woman stands back-to-back with a handsome, dark-haired vampire. They’re surrounded by a swarm of bodach and I’m interested to see that both carry ehrlindriel swords – made by Fae mastersmiths, there aren’t very many in existence and no swordsman would just give one away. The couple’s movements complement one another with such grace, it’s like they’re following complex, deadly dance steps. The woman seems impervious to the peril she’s in, but I sense the male’s tension from where I am on my perch – even if she’s okay with the danger surrounding her, he’s not and his concern for her well-being touches a cobwebbed corner of my heart.

Shaking off the unaccustomed feeling, I look away and see a male and a female vampire go down under a pile of black bodies, but I don’t spare any concern for their well-being. Bodach can’t hurt vampires – only ehrlindriel and vamp teeth can penetrate their skin. But I do worry about the panicked humans running around and, even as some make it in their front doors, more leave their houses to see what’s going on. And, great, a couple of them are talking on cell phones – I can hear their shrill and frantic voices from here.

Sure enough, off in the distance comes the wail of a siren and it’s only a question of who will get here first – the fire department or the police. Either way, it’s about to get very public, which is a bad thing for me and all the other supernaturals down below since we have to keep our existence secret.

“Time to end this,” I tell myself, knowing I’ve delayed doing what I felt sure all along would have to be done. “Crap.”

I time my leap from the roof to land in a clear spot and, mindful of the claws and teeth, sheathe my sword – having to free my hands with bodach all around is just one of the reasons I’ve put this off.

Extending my senses, how I perceive the surging battle around me changes and I see the energy signature, the life force, of each individual. As always, the dark spectral seething mass of the bodach are the most pronounced, and I shove away the familiar pang that I see darkness so much more easily than light. At least in this particular moment, it’s a useful thing since it reveals the three vampires concealing themselves in the shadow of a house across the street.

1000 Words: Here's how it'll work

I'm going to post one or two excerpts a day for the next 2 or 3 days. (How's that for an exact science?) Since these are longer excerpts, I think it will be more manageable for the critters if I do it this way.

So. Leave your tactful, helpful critiques in the comment boxes, as always.

Snark will not be tolerated. I was, frankly, appalled at a few of the comments I had to delete during our last Secret Agent round.

People. If you're having a bad day, please don't stop by. We still love you, but stay home.

If you can't tell the difference between CRITIQUE and CRITICISM, then please don't comment.

And, as always, the vast majority of you don't need these reminders. It's always the lunatic fringe, yanno?

So. Have at it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This week on the blog...

Hey fellow writers!

We're going to get back to some 1000-word critiques on the blog this week. Currently, I'm in the middle of getting in touch with the authors who have submitted and whose numbers have come up (so far we've done 20). I'm hoping to post the excerpts tomorrow.

To the newbies: If you are interested in adding your 1000-word excerpt to the queue (that's the FIRST 1000 words of your novel), please send your submission to me at facelesswords(at) with 1000 WORDS in the subject line. I will assign you a "queue number" (I think we're somewhere in the 50s right now).

And please remember: If, while waiting in the queue, you decide to enter a Secret Agent contest, please email me to REMOVE your entry from the queue. After the contest, you can resubmit your entry, taking a spot further down the queue. All, as always, for the sake of fairness.

Please post your 1000-word questions in the comment box and I will try to get to them today!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Arrrrrr! Tomorrow be Speak Like a Pirate Day.

Call me a dork if ye must, ye scurvy dogs, but I be in love with all things pirate!

(Okay, so maybe the Facebook pirate language setting is a bit beyond me. I mean, there are some hard core pirate speakers out there!)

So I'd like to thank those of you who came crawling from the woodwork yesterday to say, "Oh, yes! I know exactly what it feels like to want life to go away so that I can write."

I felt...vindicated. Affirmed. Less oddball-y.

Thanks for that.

The downside is that it's making me irritable. It's not remotely possible for me to forsake everything in order to satiate my need to write, to get this work DONE.

I do have a marriage to hold together, after all. And, sure, Mr. A is uber-supportive. Awesome, even. I couldn't succeed without him.

But I think he appreciates my undying attention every once in a while.

So, then. Here's what I'd like you to share today (in excellent pirate prose, if ye dare!): How do you find BALANCE during the times when your muse is in overdrive? How do you avoid killing relationships, forgetting to feed your family, getting fired from your job, or whatever it is you are longing to put on the back burner for the sake of your poised quill?

Do tell! Because if I don't snap out of this soon, Mr. A will be doomed to dirty underwear and an empty belly. And the girlfriend who has been trying to snag me for lunch? She's bound to give up at some point.

I'm all ears!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Life Schmife

New ground here, so naturally I want to be sure I'm not alone.


Okay, it's like this. I've hit my stride and I don't want to do anything but write. We're talking...nothing. Not food preparation, not putting make-up on, not having lunch with my girlfriend, not any other kind of work or life Stuff.

I want to write. I only want to write.

I've finished my second draft and it's sitting in reader queues, waiting to be ripped part (*sweats*). I've begun the starting-from-scratch rewrite of the MG fantasy that's been patiently waiting in the wings for major surgery.

I'm GOING PLACES. And I don't want to stop.

In fact, I don't even want to be blogging. Scrivener is screaming at me to begin, begin. So off I go.

Oh, but I must tell you. I am feasting on THREE MINUTE SINGLE SERVING CHOCOLATE CAKE as I write. Complete with white chocolate chips.

My, my. Life is SWEET!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Important Message From Ginger Clark

Here it is, folks:

If Ms. Clark mentioned in her comments about your entry in the Secret Agent contest that she would DEFINITELY KEEP READING, she invites you to email the link to your contest entry to her.

If you need her email address, please email me at facelesswords(at)

If you need help figuring out how to send the link to your specific entry, email on that count, too.

So there you go. Always something fun around the corner, yes?

Monday, September 14, 2009

And The Winner Is:

Ms. Clark has chosen the following entry as the WINNER of this month's SECRET AGENT contest:

#47 - The Paper Gods by Lianne

The prize:

Ms. Clark requests that you send the first 50 pages of your manuscripts. Please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific submission instructions.


Secret Agent Unveiled: GINGER CLARK

Many thanks to the sharpshooting, in-demand Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown!

Ginger's bio:

Ginger Clark has been a literary agent with Curtis Brown LTD since the fall of 2005. She represents science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, literary horror, and young adult and middle grade fiction. In addition to representing her own clients, she also represents British rights for the agency’s children’s list. Previously, she worked at Writers House for six years as an assistant literary agent. Her first job in publishing was as an editorial assistant at Tor Books. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a member of the Contracts Committee of the AAR. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

What Ginger's currently looking for:

For both kids and adults: steampunk, dystopias, urban fantasy

For kids: middle grade in general, specifically middle grade SF and fantasy; YA in general

For adults: Military SF, urban fantasy that is fresh and not the same paranormal creatures

Thanks and good cheer to all who participated! Winner announcement coming up shortly.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Think back to when you were writing your Very First Novel. Some of you may be there right now, working through your first completed work, marveling at the fact that you were actually able to DO this thing.

There's a sense of accomplishment attached to it, that Very First Novel. And rightly so. Even if it's never published (and let's face it--most First Novels aren't), it's something of which to be proud. Lots of work, lots of time, lots of coffee.

After I wrote my Very First Novel, I hated reading things like, "If you've just written your first novel, you have a lot of novels to write before you get published." I mean, who wants to hear that? Like so many aspiring authors before and after me, I believed that this novel was IT. I'd publish this one and go on to publish others.

Heh. My novel sucked, and yours probably did, too.

All this to say, as I've been working through my current novel (the YA Dystopian I've been yammering about for months), I've sensed that something in me has Changed. I'm not the same writer I used to be--not during my Very First Novel, nor during the subsequent two (which I still love and hope to publish some day). Somewhere during this latest project, gradually, imperceptibly, I've become a writer who is ready to be published.

Hear me. I didn't say my novel is ready to be published (it isn't...yet). I said that I am ready to be published. I've hit my stride in ways it's hard to explain in a quickly typed blog post.

Those of you who are published surely understand what I mean. Those of you who are agented and moving forward surely understand, also.

And those of you who are pre-agented but experiencing the same thing understand as well.

It's beyond exciting.

It's also hard to put into words. Feel free to take a crack at it in the comment box.

And yes, I am close to finishing this will-it-ever-end second draft, thanks to my Kindred Spirit who wisely set a date for both of us to finish our current, hair-knotting project goals. Funny, how the fear of looking incompetent produces such rabid productivity.

Whatever works, yes?

A big THANK YOU to all our fearless critters this week, as well. Someone asked when my critiques will appear. For the newbies and curious: I almost never critique. Running the contests is time consuming, so I am loath to put even more time into them once they are up and running. I have the privilege of reading everything as it comes through, but the actual preparation and posting is the "part" I play. Once I get these contests automated, I will have time to participate as a critter.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

52 Secret Agent

TITLE: Treandle
GENRE: YA Fantasy

There it was, the distant sound she’d been waiting for, drifting down the lane. Scooting over to avoid the knots of the huge branch she was perched on, Cyrilla watched as golden rays of light fought their way through the fog trapped within the hundreds of oak trees lining the dirt road.

She shouldn’t be here. Her parents would send her to work in the barn if they found out. It was awful working there. The heat increased the noxious smell of manure and sweaty animals. Not like the fields where the breeze kept the sun at bay while the smell of wheat and trees mixed with the nearby river creating an intoxicating aroma.

The sound grew louder. Thundering hooves on the dirt road resonated through the trees, causing birds to flee the oncoming traveler.

Fear sliced through her mind as she realized her predicament. She could easily be spotted. Rushing for cover, she reached for the large branch above.

The horse’s hooves, racing with steady strides, came into view. Letting go of the trunk, she firmly grasped the branch above with both hands.

She could hear the horse’s strong legs moving with fluidity as she quickly climbed onto the branch above. Large, abundant leaves provided the perfect hiding spot, and unless someone was looking at her exact location, she was as good as invisible.

Looking down at the road, she watched as the horse’s rider came into view. Air seemed in short supply as she witnessed the most wonderful man she’d ever laid eyes on.

51 Secret Agent

TITLE: Dream Weavers
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Smiling in her dream, Ella was in a great place right now and never wanted to wake up. She floated through the tulip fields weightless; placing each foot down so gently, not a single petal was harmed. Her hands brushed by the flowers, ever so lightly, but strong enough to present fragrance all around her. In the distance she saw her house, her mommy standing on the porch, arms wide open, waiting for her to be end them.

Ella never felt so alive and warm in her life, enjoying the run through the fields, taking in every sight, but still knowing her prize was ahead with her mommy.

Something was wrong; something made her squirm in her sleep.

The field seemed to get longer. Each direction Ella ran seemed to take a lot more time now. Her mommy was still there, but now screaming frantically at her, trying to coach Ella to her direction. The beautiful sunny and breezy sky turned into clouds and brisk wind. The smell of the flowers turned to a dreadful stench, something Ella couldn’t fathom. The heavens turned to rain, the rain collided down on her with a burning pain, accompanied by ear popping thunder and blinding lightening.

Ella’s feet now dragged through the flowers, stomping and killing each one, burning her skin as they touched her. Ella broke into tears as she looked up toward her house. Her mother, now holding the banister for dear life due to the forceful wind, looked out at Ella and whispered her name.

50 Secret Agent

TITLE: When Life Begins
GENRE: Science Fiction

Jillian Shore’s awareness reeled between the present and the past. She spread her arms wide, but stopped herself from twirling; instead she closed her eyes, and felt herself, much younger, fingers splayed, spinning in the wind, waiting for the rain to pelt her upturned face, before running inside. There was nothing unusual about the house she visited once a year, except that in some way it still belonged to her.

“Jillian,” her mother’s voice called. It was impossible, of course. Her mother had been dead for years now.

She realized that someone was waiting for her. She looked up at the house, and saw the door wide open.

“I didn’t think you were going to make it,” Carol said. “Usually you come first thing in the morning.” Carol’s hair was a golden mess; the man’s button down shirt she wore was covered in paint. Rain boots, all colours and sizes, a discarded grocery bag, and a ratty red leash, littered the small entranceway.

There was no practical reason Jillian had picked this date to visit her childhood home. It marked no momentous occasion, nor was it the anniversary of her mother’s death. It was an arbitrary day Jillian chose one morning, years ago, to drive by when she was admiring the falls colours that made New England so famous. Her sister thought she was morbid, she couldn’t understand her fascination with the past. She didn’t comprehend that this was Jillian’s way of keeping her memories.

49 Secret Agent


Friday afternoon, March 15th



I can’t believe I found U! And I thought the Ides of March were ‘sposed 2 be bad luck or something.

But when Tamiko & me were surfing the net during guided study 2day & saw your photo on your illustration website, I knew U had 2 be my dad’s older brother. And it’s not just because U have the right name, U look exactly like him, so I know U have 2 be my uncle. Please write me. We need 2 talk. It’s really important.

Your 14 year old niece,


P.S. This is 4 real. I’m Jared’s daughter. His only kid.

P.P.S. Why R U using your middle name? I like Nick better.

I reread my email message and muttered, “It sounds stupid.” But what do you say to someone you’ve never met? To someone who’s been invisible your whole life? To someone your father pretends doesn’t even exist.

I stared out my bedroom window a moment. A cedar branch whispered against the glass. When Dad noticed how much it was encroaching on the house, he’d hack it off. Was that what he’d done with his brother Nick? But why?

It isn’t fair that no one will tell me.

I opened up the Internet to

There he is. He even has a smile like Dad. Not that Dad smiles much lately. Especially since the doctors brought up the bone marrow deal.

48 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Accidental Alien
GENRE: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Madison Wells dreamed it was hiding under the car again. When she pressed her face against the driver’s side window, she could see its thick shadow on the ground.

Her heart raced. She struggled to shout, to form words, to get a single sound out. It’s a dream, she realized, and beat her dream-fists against the window glass. It’s a dream. Wake up. The shadow was still there. Wake up, wake up. Suddenly she did, clutching the hotel bedspread, her heart still beating a staccato in her chest. Feeling for the lamp, she found the switch.

Plush red armchairs. Soothing artwork on the walls. An antique writing desk with an ordinary phone, an LA Times, and a room service menu. Her briefcase sat on the floor where she’d left it hours ago. No bogeymen hiding under the bed or anywhere else.

“Enough of this,” she said. She got up, crossed the carpet in her bare feet, and parted the drapes. As she stared down at the hard glitter of the Los Angeles streets, the details of the nightmare faded away. Twice this week, and every week for a month. It was making her crazy.

Maybe I need sleeping pills, she thought the next day on the flight home to D.C. While the plane flew into the twilight, she tucked a strand of short blond hair behind her ear and stared at her reflection in the window. Froggy. Bulging green eyes, a wide mouth, strong cheekbones: a face on track to make partner in a few years.

47 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Paper Gods
GENRE: Middle grade fantasy

More than anything, Poetry wished she had a button. Failing that, she
would have settled for an out-of-the-way corner in which to pin her
shirt closed. She had neither. What she did have was twenty-odd
students and a handful of passers-by, gawking at her and her lime green bra.

She could flee back into school for a bathroom. Of course, the sharks
had already scented her blood. A spectacular, head-over-heels fall
with her shirt ripped wide open and the crucial button soaring through
the air? She was never going to live this down.

Poetry stood up straight.

“Could I have your attention, please?”

She already had everyone’s attention; the gigglers, the whisperers,
the nice kids cringing in sympathy. Even the man across the street was staring.

Calmly, without looking down, she began working on her shirt. “Public
viewing hours for Poetry Wu’s Wondrous Heaving Bosom are now over.”

She fit her remaining buttons carefully into the wrong buttonholes.
The shirt might be crooked, but her important bits would be covered.
She glanced around. Some of the smirks were unfolding into smiles, but
she could tell that the guy in the muscle shirt was about to say
something nasty, and that man was still just staring – at her face, not her really-quite-ordinary bosom.

Muscle-shirt opened his mouth.

"You there,” Poetry called out hastily, “Did you have something to say about the exhibit?”

Not anymore, he didn’t. He turned red and shook his head.

“Comments are to be left in…uh…”

46 Secret Agent

TITLE: Boulton's Quest
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

Not long ago Chris would stand on his night table, press his nose to this window, and watch deer filter through the forest and nibble the grass in his yard. Now he stared into the living room window of a house. The window was set into green spackle, overlooked a single Ash tree in a small back yard, and was flanked by a three car garage emptying onto an asphalt road.

He scanned the tiled roofs lining the valley floor and gazed at the sun. It slid behind the mountain tops, propelling an ominous shadow up the treed slopes.

Towering cumulous clouds pulled yellows, pinks, and greens from the sun’s rays and splashed them across the sky. His shoulders sagged. He swayed. The mosaic patterns crept through his eyes, flooded his arms, chest, and legs, and slowed his heartbeat to a whisper. For once, he felt content.

The sun dropped, plunging the valley into darkness.

“Typical,” he said.

Crickets started their ritual with the precision of a marching band. Thousands of chirps blended into a single noise, inescapable and intense.

He slid into bed, pulled a pillow over his head, and held it to his ears. He heaved, drawing a wisp of stale air through the goose feathers, and grimaced. The racket would keep him awake and staring into blackness for hours. Maybe he’d be up when his parents, Claire and Geoff Boulton, got home from work. Either way, it didn’t matter. They wouldn’t drop in and the house would be empty in the morning.

45 Secret Agent

TITLE: Guardian
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

“Run, or you will die as well.” Caleb hated to say such harsh words, but the girl wouldn’t move. Fear must have paralyzed her body.

He stared at her wide eyes. Was one of them brown?

“But—” She coughed. “I can’t run anymore.” She crumpled to the ground.

“You must. I cannot fight all of them alone.” He scanned the area. Pine trees towered overhead.


“We need to get to the clearing. Help will meet us there.”

Pointing past him, she asked, “What were those things? They killed—” She drew in a hiccupped breath.

Caleb reached for her arm, but she jerked from his grasp and scooted away. Gravel stuck to her ivory legs. She looked at him as if he were one of the animals chasing her.

Distant growls reminded him of the mission. To protect Olivia Cook at all costs.

Her beauty had caught him by surprise.

“Get away from me,” she wailed.

“Please, I mean you no harm. You must get up. They will be on us soon.”

She looked behind her then back to him. Darkness shrouded the forest, but moonlight filtering through the trees revealed her creased forehead. Tears streamed, leaving tracks down her cheeks as they worked through the dust and dirt.

A snarl rippled the air, closer than before. Olivia shuddered. Caleb fought the urge to grab her and run. “Please. Olivia.”

44 Secret Agent

GENRE: Dark contemporary fantasy

In dreams, the green wild stalked Angela as pythons did mice, crushed her and consumed.

"I'll come home before you realize I'm gone." Grief shredded her words as she kissed Sebastian goodbye. Plane engines roared on the runway, prepped to bear away the twenty-third company. Two years she'd trained and now, her affairs in order, she was to do her part fighting the Deluge. Just a reconnaissance mission. Look and report. See what the jungle lord had planned.

"I know." Sebastian hugged her tighter, like they were the only two on the crowded airfield; other couples held each other the same way, and fathers shook sons' hands before panicked embraces, because this might be the last anyone heard from the twenty-third company. "And I'll be waiting here when you get back."

She blinked away a mist of tears. "Right here? Won't you get hungry?"

"It's going to be messy, but I won't move until your plane lands again." With a tight half-smile, he tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "This doesn't want to be trapped in a bun, you know."

"It's that or hack it all off." She leaned against his fingertips, his touch a fresh reminder of what she fought to protect, but mostly what she was leaving behind. She'd remember, too, his expression of mock anguish at the suggestion of a haircut. He was trying so hard to be brave for her.

Commander Barra shouted over the cacophony for everyone to board.

43 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Snow banks surrounded the rectangular island of artificial grass. The pallbearers approached using the snow-blown path, their cheeks red from the cold. The crunching of the snow beneath their boots punctuated the sounds of grief. Kathryn stared at her dad’s lifeless eyes as he adjusted his grip on the casket.

Kathryn’s father always said that hope kept the family together. Wondering if they would now be torn apart, Kathryn looked at her scuffed black boots. Damn Vermont weather. Mom would never approve of black slacks and boots at her funeral. Hope Merlangten died on Christmas Eve at the age of 40 less than a mile from home.

The smell of alcohol made her look up as her father joined her on her right. Her brother Donny, in the crisp uniform of a marine, took his place at her left with a grim smile. Thank God he was here on leave. Her dad wasn’t able to handle the funeral arrangements. He’d locked himself in their room for two days, emerging at last red-eyed and mute.

Kathryn stared at the casket, ignoring the words of the priest’s prayer. Its maple finish reminded her of the immaculate bookshelf in the study. Her mother had dusted it every week along with her prized family pictures. Tears rolled down Kathryn’s cheeks, dripping off her chin onto her clasped hands. She’d never see her mother smile at those pictures again.

42 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

“Come on, Noelle. Hit me harder than that.” My brother curled his fingers in a mocking invitation.

I sighed. “Chase, I’m bored with this now. Can’t we just relax and watch the sunrise?”

“No! You need to practice and it’ll still be dark for a few more minutes anyway.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and peered up at the dark canvas dotted with tiny stars. “What does it matter? Neither of us has fought a demon anyway, we don’t have a clue what we’re doing.”

Chase ruffled his feathers and taunted me with a sneer.

Fine, he wanted it so bad, he could have it. I narrowed my eyes and pulled the energy from every cell in my body. It pulsed and raced through me like currents of electricity until it centered in my chest. I smiled sweetly as I pushed it to my hands and flicked my fingers outward.

The energy struck Chase in the stomach, and with a grunt, he flew backward off the steep side of the cliff. I threw my head back and laughed into the deep purple night. Clutching my stomach and gasping for air, I peered through tears at my brother as he hovered just over the cliffs edge.

He scowled and held up a few gold-veined white feathers. “Look what you did.”

I laughed harder and tears streamed down my cheeks. “You asked for it!”

He narrowed his eyes then grinned, revealing the deep-set dimple housed in his right cheek.

41 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA paranormal romance

The purple crystal on the plastic-covered table only made my palms itch at first, easy enough to ignore. I made fists and tucked them under my sweaty arms, swearing not to touch it.

“Lookin’ for somethin’ particulah, dawlin’?”

I tore my eyes away from the rock’s reflective surface to smile at the white haired black man operating the little booth, ignoring my quickening pulse and tightening chest. Despite the pins and needles flaring up inside my fists, I faked my best dazed-tourist look and glanced around the crowded open-air French Market instead. “Not really. I just moved here.”

The old man looked me up and down, not sweating at all in his polyester pants. “Let me guess. You a Yankee, girl?”

“Is it that obvious?” The sheen that covered my body as soon as I stepped out the door this morning had grown to a dripping sludge. I freed my itching fists. When my tingling fingers slipped toward the stone, I snatched them back empty-handed. “My mom’s from here, though.”

The man gave a low, raspy laugh. “Dat makes you only half-Yankee!”

Only half-Yankee.

That didn’t make this sweltering inferno my home, with its crowds of sticky tourists and tacky stores selling cheap plastic crap. I was melting in my jeans, too stubborn to put shorts on today when Mom told me how hot it would get. I hadn’t uttered more than a monosyllable to her at a time since we got into town last night.

40 Secret Agent

GENRE: Middle Grade Historical Fiction

In 1800, when I turned 13, Daisy and Daniel Doane's adventurous childhood in the Oblong was already the stuff of half-remembered family tales, almost fifty years in the past. I was distantly related to their mother, being a Paddock, and often wondered about the story.

Did it really happen as they say?

Was there anyone left to tell about it, for that matter?

And, was the berry-juice imprint still there?

Out of curiosity, one day I rode to Doanesburg, to ask about the story and write it down. I was fortunate to meet two of the people involved, and I recorded it all in a journal, with more than a few corrections to the way I had always heard it.

Now this tale has reached its centennial mark. Like any verbal history, it's been burdened again with "elaborations" pasted onto it by other storytellers over the years. Perhaps that is why Mr. Blake's recent history of the county avoids the tale, telling only about the Oblong Tea Party and none of the rest. Since my written notes of the happenings best the memory of anyone still living, I am answering the family's call to take up my pen and record it all correctly.

Here is what happened a century ago when Daniel thought he saw a tiger, and a farmboy followed the sea, and an honest man wore the name of a dishonest one, and Daisy starred the sod.

39 Secret Agent

GENRE: Fantasy

It begins with a song.

It was not a particularly cheerful tune, but neither was it melancholy. Instead the keening melody of a sailor’s whistle danced upon the wind like a bee among flowers, sure evidence the player’s mind loitered elsewhere. It merely waited, marking time until something more interesting came along.

Trevelan Keep graced a steep hilltop in the center of an island adorning the center of the bluest, most perfectly round lake in creation. Ringed around the island’s coast lay a harbor town before which ships constantly came and went, pleasure craft skimming along the surface with sails dyed raucous color combinations. The High Chieftain’s keep served as the lodestone of comfort and security for all.

The breeze carried the simple tune over a blooming meadow to the ears of a lone rider on a narrow, winding road leading from the town sheltered in Trevelan’s wake to the keep itself. He had been away much longer than intended, but returning the favor of a close friend was not a duty that could be consciously foregone. A handsome man of middle years—black of hair, green of eye, and usually appearing younger than his age—his exhaustion showed in lines about the face hewn deeper than he would like.

The music had a magical effect upon him. His head lifted, following the sound as a sunflower reaches for the sun, and his eyes, dull with fatigue, gleamed new life.

38 Secret Agent

TITLE: The True Life Adventures of Power Girl
GENRE: Young Adult

A hush came over the crowd when I stepped inside the dark, foreboding entrance to the Shangri-la Club, on assignment as a high school intern for New York Scene Magazine. I tried to overlook the smell of cigarettes and stale beer because it’s not every day a sixteen-year-old girl walks into a den of thieves and thugs, and gets college credit for it.

Up ahead, a four-piece orchestra swayed to Middle Eastern music that had an otherworld twist to it. A tall guy to my left looked like he was strangling a green-skinned creature with purple hair.

Now, this was weird and a little scary, something you don’t generally see in a NY
club. I straightened my red leather skirt and pulled up my matching cami top. Part of me
wanted to turn and run, but the reporter part kept moving me forward, down the gritty aisle, toward what had to a whole lot of intrigue, and at least a little danger. The heels of my red boots rapped across the floor, and my red hair blew out behind me in the breeze from the ceiling fan. A few guys stared at my thigh-high footwear and the gold embossed letters running up the side of them that spelled out my name: M-I-R-A C-U-N-N-I-N-G-H-A-M.

I’m not supposed to stand out when I’m doing interviews, but this is the real me.

Not during the school day, of course. Then I’m a computer geek who wears glasses, baggy tops, and nobody speaks to.

37 Secret Agent

TITLE: Red Lick
GENRE: YA Historical

Thorny Taylor crept through the dark, his body slick with sweat. He had to catch up to the others, and he had to do it quick, without notice. If he scared off the night’s prey, there would be no more chances for him. He could not fail again.

“Watch out, boys! He’s doublin’ back!

Thorny’s heart quickened. The chase was on. They were coming his way. He had a chance.

He crouched behind a large sycamore and melted into the sweltering dark. In the distance, a firefly blinked as though sending a signal. Thorny pulled his clothes from his sticky skin and peered around the tree.

Please, God. Let me catch him. Let it be me.

Brush crackled. Branches snapped. Voices rose from the silent depths, growing louder and louder. They were coming. All of them. Barreling toward him like a freight train, making no effort to be quiet. Thorny stood, ready to pounce.

A blur broke through the trees and Thorny sprang from the brush. Someone slammed into his chest and they both tumbled to the ground. Thorny shoved the body away then scrambled on top of it. He sat on the heaving chest and pressed his knees down on two flailing arms.

“Get off! Let me go!”

Thorny gazed down at the struggling body beneath him.

“Jesus,” he whispered.

It was Willie Brown. Little Willie Brown who wasn’t so little anymore. He stared into the black face, grateful for the hood that covered his own.

36 Secret Agent

TITLE: Mr. In-The-Closet
GENRE: Young adult fiction

I loved math classes. Don’t get me wrong, I hated the actual subject; it was the complete definition of snorezville. But being able to spy on the boys’ PE class outside made sitting through those mind-numbing lessons worthwhile. Whoever put the soccer field in viewing distance of the classroom was a genius -- one whose feet I would gladly kiss.

Mr. Daniels, our epically boring and middle-aged teacher, sat on a brown, cushioned swivel-chair with his feet propped up on his desk. Being too lazy to stand and move toward the board, he often used a stick for his pointing.

Whack. “Rick Thomas, pay attention.”

I slammed back into reality, sitting straight enough to make a wooden board jealous. “Sorry, sir.”

He whacked the whiteboard again. If he did that one more time, I’d take that stick and shove it up his--“This sum,” he said. “Any ideas?” His eyes trained onto me, and his lips curved upward. He knew I had no idea. When did I ever have an idea?

Great. Algebra. “Um. Twenty-five?”

The curve in his lips dropped, and why the hell was everyone laughing?

“It’s a fraction, Rick.”

Okay. Not algebra. “I meant twenty over five.” Oh, yeah. Nice save. I practically saw his chest raise and fall in a sigh.

“No, you can’t have twenty over five because that would make four.”

My neck’s temperature shot up a couple of degrees as the class sniggered. Go ahead, laugh at the dumb-ass -- wouldn’t have been the first time.

35 Secret Agent

TITLE: Books of Bestowal: Destroyer's Hope
GENRE: YA Fantasy

I longed to walk through the looking glass like Alice had and escape from the storage room of Granny's cottage into a wonderland. As I reached toward the glass in the full length mirror, I hoped with all my heart that my hand would go through so I could step after it.

The storage room door creaked open. "If you mark up the glass with your fingerprints, you'll have to clean it, Raychel." Leigh Robert's leathery face folded like an accordian as she smiled. Her blue eyes met my gold-flecked brown ones in the mirror. I couldn't help but think how well the owner of Granny's Cottage fit in with the antiques she sold.

I let my hand drop to my side. "Sorry." I turned away from the mirror.

Leigh's arthritic fingers tucked a stray piece of silver hair back into the tight bun perched on top of her head. "Are you having a good time?"

I shot her a wry smile. "Of course I am. An antique store is where every girl wants to spend her fourteenth birthday."

"You had somewhere else to be?"

Her words cut me, though I don't think she meant them to. It wasn't her fault I didn't have any friends. I shrugged and looked at the floor. "I suppose not, but I'd rather be having fun." Though I wasn't sure it was possible. My birthday only reminded me that seven short days from now was the second anniversary of the day Dad pulled a Houdini and vanished.

34 Secret Agent

GENRE: Contemporary YA

In my dreams, there has always been water. I’ve dreamt of stormy days on the ocean when I couldn’t get my bearings or see the land, and I’ve dreamt of crystal water lapping at the edges of unnamed islands. I read once that water in dreams is a symbol for emotions. I think maybe my mother drowned in both.

One dream I have sneaks in like the rising tide, throwing me off balance and stirring up doubts. In this dream, I watch helplessly. It is night, which is true, but the rest is up for debate.

I watch as the wind whips long blonde hair around her face. Whitecaps glimmer in the lights from the pier. She doesn’t flinch as the cold hits her. She’s numb from feeling too much and she’s shut it all out. Her eyes are focused on an invisible horizon and she walks straight out. The waves slap at her, plastering her gauzy skirt to her legs. She’s in up to her chest, and as the water surges up, she breathes in sharply, involuntarily, because of the cold.

Her mind is clear at this moment. Nothing but the purity of the cold and the possibility of total peace. She bends her knees and lets the water hit her chin, takes some of the bitter saltiness into her mouth, then lets it run out, eyes still focused on the beyond. She doesn’t take a breath before going under, but exhales completely, and dissolves into the blackness without thinking about anything.

Not even me.

33 Secret Agent

TITLE: Superstitious
GENRE: YA urban fantasy

I knew better than to linger by the river after work. That was one of Mom’s rules: stay away from the river. Right up there with it was the rule that when I went out, I walked straight to work and straight home afterward, and heaven forbid I stayed out after dark. Lately I found myself breaking her rules a lot, more than I had in the past anyway. Perhaps it was my recent liberation from high school or the summer heat somehow affecting my brain. Or maybe it was just a phase.

I left the comfort of the Moonwalk and the breeze off the river, strolling inland toward the labyrinth of streets I knew well. Mom would never notice the few minutes here or there I wasted soaking up my surroundings.

From the Moonwalk, I navigated through the tourists congregated around Jackson Square who gazed around in confusion and awe at the mixture of history and constant carnival. I passed fortunetellers and mimes, street musicians and pigeons, until I lost all the noise of people living and the toxic perfume of spices, cigarettes, and beer to the residential forest of the French Quarter.

My entire life had been spent in this city, save for a handful of months Mom and I lived in Memphis after hurricanes, and I planned to keep living in it. All my friends from high school clambered to leave New Orleans after graduation, like to remain here was akin to a death sentence. They never understood why I wanted to stay.

32 Secret Agent

TITLE: Sea of the Vanities
GENRE: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Shaw clicked his pocket watch shut and set off again at a brisker pace. His evening appointment could prove interesting, and if it proved dangerous, so much the better.

He walked through smoke that drifted from oil lamps, curling like sinuous snakes into the pink and blood red bougainvillea that trailed down walls and festooned trellised windows. The flowers tickled Shaw’s nose as he brushed against them, and his walking stick beat a rat-a-tat-tat across the bricks.

An evening stroll through the business district of Rio is discouraged for most Europeans wearing jewelry and fine haberdashery. Shaw had no worries. He carried nothing of value. Marching along, he was accompanied by the now familiar feeling of being stalked. A sheep in a herd of faceless and silent wolves would feel the same.

As he neared the water, the lamps appeared less frequently and the streets shortened and twisted into dead ends. He would have been lost if not for the sounds of activity coming from the harbor and the increasing stench of fish and decay emanating from the docks.

Rounding a corner at full steam, he collided with a smarmy old man who reeked of something worse than the bottom of a ship, or the inside of a barn. Shaw apologized and made to go around, but the man grabbed his arm.

“Yes, err--?” Shaw felt in his pocket for a coin, expecting to contribute to the evening’s wine consumption.

“Mister Shaw?” The old man’s voice dribbled from a toothless and foul mouth.

31 Secret Agent

TITLE: Deep Black
GENRE: Science fiction

The computer alerted them to the engine’s power fluctuations and it was Edna’s turn to baby it. Maybe. Actually he wasn’t sure whose turn it was, but the ship’s temperature had been lowered for the night and the bed was warm. He pretended to be sleeping until Edna got up.

“You’re not fooling anyone,” she said.

A smile cracked across his face, spoiling the charade. He leaned forward, kissed her and fell back on the bed pretending to snore.

“I know those nightmares kept you awake all night, so I’ll let you get away with this.” She slipped on her shoes and just before heading out the door, said “But you owe me.”

He hadn’t realized that he had fallen asleep until he awoke with a jolt. Sirius pulled aside the pink flowered comforter, sat up and scanned the room. Paintings of a lighthouse and sunflowers, and a photo of earth from orbit were fastened to the walls. One of the closets was half open, but the cabin was quiet and still. Not even the air circulators were running, which was normal when the engine was being worked on. The cylindrical spaceship was small enough that the light blue ceramo-metallic wall curved slightly around the bedroom. He studied the surroundings for a few moments more, but the only noise was his breathing and the only movement his own.

Just as he closed his eyes, he jerked again.. That wasn’t me.

“ Sirius, get your butt down here.”

30 Secret Agent

(redacted by request of author)

29 Secret Agent

GENRE: Upper Middle Grade Fantasy

That moron, Matt Bryant was going to be at the bus stop. I hated living here. All of my friends were back home in Phoenix. This place was too cold. I crushed the salt and gravel under my heel. I wanted to do the same to Matt, but I knew I wouldn't do anything except stand there like a wuss. I crested the hill and there he stood, glaring. He was waiting for me. His tiny brain occupied by thoughts of stupid phrases he'd throw at me. His target of choice.

A smile formed on Matt's face that made every muscle in my body tense.

"Hey there, Jon-a-thon!" he shouted.

I ignored him. I watched the little kids playing Mother May I.

My stomach soured the closer I got to the bus stop.

Mother may I?

He wasn't going to leave me alone today.

Mother may I?

My shoulders tightened.

"Whatcha doin' Jon-a-thon? Waiting for your mommy to pick you up and take you to school with the first graders?" Matt's laces were dark from the wet pavement. He never tied his shoes.

I cast a sideways glance. Anne Marie stood silently with her little sister.

If I were living with Mom I'd have friends. If I were living with Mom I wouldn't have to deal with this crap. If I were living with Mom I wouldn't have to try so hard to make small talk with my dad.

28 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Illuminated
GENRE: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

I had never been pulled out of my seat in awe before. I would have guessed that my first time would be from something remarkable, catastrophic—apocalyptic even. A meteor or a tornado.

I was wrong.

The autumn colors sparkled. I rose out of the dining room chair where I had been studying, captivated by the oranges and reds of the forest behind my Maine home. I tripped over my seat trying to get to my shoes next to the kitchen door, leaving my homework strewn across the table.

The narrow trailhead was at the end of our property. The pine and ash were enormous, their branches blocking out most of the afternoon sun. Wind caught in the short locks of my hair and sent shivers down my spine. The pungent scents of fall seemed sweeter than usual. I was charmed, to say the least.

I had been this far back in these woods maybe once before. Mom and Dad were always against my brother and I exploring here when we were little; it wasn’t our property. Okay, so trespassing was illegal, but it wasn’t a deadly sin. No one would know I was ever here.

Within a mile I came to a brook accompanied by a small, handsome bridge. I had never in my life crossed it, but today was different. I carefully stepped onto the moist wood, checking my phone for messages. Mom would call if she was worried.

27 Secret Agent

GENRE: MG magical realism

Ellie often jumped for joy. At Christmas. On her birthday. When the
first green tips of the crocuses came up in March. When there were
sausages for supper. And once when she found two quarters, one dime
and seven pennies on the sidewalk. But she’d never jumped for joy and
caught it.

Of course, she didn’t know that joy was what she had caught, not at
first. That morning she had got up and wondered why it was so bright
in her room. Then she remembered that it was the first day of summer
vacation and (whooping an enormous whoop) she jumped for joy. At the
very top of her leap her sweeping hand, brushing something solid,
simply closed around it, like catching a fly ball she couldn’t quite

Ellie froze, her hand still above her head. She couldn’t move, could
hardly breathe. Whatever she had caught was small, warm and wriggling.
Alive. She brought her hand down slowly, gently. She kept it closed
firmly against whatever was pushing against her fingers while she
tried to think.

It wasn’t an insect. She knew how it felt to hold their fluttering,
almost unnoticeable weight. In fact, there were always seven or eight
jars on her windowsill housing various caterpillars, beetles and
spiders she had caught. She watched them carefully and dropped things
into the jars for them to eat. It wasn’t her fault they sometimes
escaped and ended up nesting in her mother’s sock drawer or crawling
up the kitchen wall.

26 Secret Agent

GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

There was a boy in the lake.

I wasn’t sure whether he was real or not, since I have a tendency to see things that aren’t really there.

At first, I thought he was my brother, but then I realised he was way too big to be a ten-year-old boy, and even in my mind my brother will never get any older.

That’s scary, isn’t it? To realise you’ve lived a whole eight years longer than your older brother ever could.

Besides, the nightmares ended years ago. This was a real, flesh-and-blood boy drowning in the lake. No illusions. No hallucinations.

It wasn’t like he was fighting against it, either. He was just sinking, down, down into the inky water.

As if he’d decided to die tonight.

I kicked off my shoes and I waded into the water, my jeans dragging me down, my legs numbing quickly. I reached the boy and dragged him above the water, cradling his head. He looked so peaceful, like he was sleeping, his dark hair splayed out in the water, eyes gently closed.

I considered letting him go, letting him disappear into the murky depths, but I couldn’t. I carried him back to the shore, and in those seconds I felt as if I were making up for what I didn’t do for my brother. I couldn’t let this boy die as well.

And then I resuscitated a boy who was going to die anyway, but who still changed everything.

25 Secret Agent

GENRE: Young Adult Paranormal Romance

Something dragged me from my dreams, but I didn’t know what at first. Everything looked normal; the room still smelled of disinfectant, greeting cards still jostled for place on the nightstand. Their bright lettering instructed me to get well soon, except for one that Mum had missed which prematurely offered its condolences.

The night nurses whispered in the corridor outside my room, but that wasn't what woke me or what sent gooseflesh creeping over my skin. A charged feeling filled the air; it twisted and surged with all the static of an impending lightning strike. I searched for the cause and saw him then, an unfamiliar figure standing motionless by the window.

His face was almost hidden behind a curtain of glinting silver hair, but what I could see was smooth and pale as bone china. I never saw him move, yet suddenly he was at my bedside, staring at me as the air seethed and crackled around us.

My body trembled. My heart pounded. Every instinct urged me to flee, but I was too weak to move. A cry for help rose in my throat but he lifted a black polished fingertip to his lips and despite myself; I fell silent. Slowly, he leaned in until I could feel his breath on my face. It was painfully hot and smelled of old eggs, pungent and vile.

He pressed his lips onto mine; his breath stifled me as it invaded my lungs and spread an uncomfortable heat throughout my body.

24 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Forgotten Slayer
GENRE: Middle Grade Paranormal

Huddled beneath the large oak, Jack watched a mother drag her two toddlers under an umbrella and march them off the Green.

There was no one else around.

Other side the dirty pond and bird-pooped fountain, Will’s bedroom light still burned, now a yellow blur through the pelting rain. Jack was just considering going over after all to waste some hours, when a solid shadow cut right in front of him. He jumped back, blood pounding between his ears, but there was nothing to be scared of.

It was only an old man, closer to ancient, his stooped form buried beneath a cloak every bit as dark and grey as the gloomy twilight, making him practically invisible until the last moment. His skin was pasty, his cheeks gaunt, his eyes pale and tired. A handful of silver hairs sprouted from the wrinkles on his liver-spotted head. The most dangerous thing about the man was his body odour. He smelled rank, as if he’d been walking in the rain for months.

And what was it about old people and personal space? There was a whole oak for the man to take cover under. Feeling a little foolish and a whole lot irritable, Jack stepped away and hit tree trunk.


His brother Eric had spent his thirteenth birthday at Edinburgh Castle, and Jack got to spend his stuck between an old man and a tree. He should have been in Edinburgh. If you were born into the Bracken family, that’s where you celebrated your thirteenth birthday.

23 Secret Agent

TITLE: Other
GENRE: YA fantasy

Robert Ferrald of Eschenburg had a good heart and very poor business sense. He also had three sons, children of the wife whom he had buried amid many a tear after the birth of the youngest. He had not remarried, a choice that was criticized almost as much as his business dealings, and for better or ill the sons had grown up motherless.

The oldest, after unofficially managing most of the complicated details of his father's trade, was now poised to become a partner in his business. The middle son spent much of his time courting several young ladies at once, and the youngest, hopeless at most everything and prone to waste his days in reading, would be sent off that autumn to the university, where he could at least acquire the title of scholar, whatever good it may do him.

Alain, the youngest, had no strong objections to this plan. He was reluctant to live so far from his family, at least a hundred miles west of Eschenburg, but he looked forward to discovering what sort of knowledge the professors could offer him that he hadn't already taught himself. When less than a month remained before he would depart for Delafontaine, he began counting down the days – so he’d know when he needed to start packing, if nothing else.

On the morning of the seventeenth day before his departure, Alain left his bedroom and came downstairs to discover that he was nearly alone in the house.

22 Secret Agent

TITLE: Down into Darkness
GENRE: Science Fiction

“He’s a smart kid; it’ll be a shame to lose him.”

“He could make it, sir.”

“Not likely.”

“He’s a soldier, sir. Even if he doesn’t know it.”

“Isn’t that true. Amani, I don’t know what we need most, justification for war with the damn colony, or sufficient intelligence about the little devils to know what the devil’s going on.”

“It’s in God’s hands now.”

Jason grinned nervously only because he was still alive. “I’ve just been turned away from the gates of the Kingdom of God. In fact, Peter told me to go to hell, though in a few more words…” he paused at the irony, “…which of course is just what I intend to do.”

Jason sucked at his mug of coffee, which soothed, though he hardly needed the caffeine. Out of habit he set the mug by the console. Immediately it began to wander, drifting slowly upward through the air. Grabbing it again, he snapped it into its holder away from the control panel.
He took a breath, feeling his flippancy fade to thinly-veiled anger.

He’d failed, but the failure wasn’t his. He’d always known it would fail. Maja! Earth could be as bad as Mars sometimes. He’d known it would fail, but he tried anyway. Because of Ruth.

He resumed his downlink to Earth. “Admiral Amani, I hope the Defense Arm is content with the results of GASSEC’s drive-by solicitation of a colony neither spoken with nor witnessed by a single Earthan during the 250 years of its hostile existence.”

21 Secret Agent

TITLE: How to be a Geek
GENRE: Middle Grade fiction

My name is Peggy White, Peg for short.

I guess my name is ok, but it’s so, you know, old. Lucy, my best friend, has an old name too, but at least hers was cute.

She was walking beside me as we made our way into my middle school. Now, let me tell you about Lucy. Well, actually, she’s pretty much an athletic Aryan. A nice one, mind you.

Now here’s me: Peggy, the not fat, but not really skinny either, brunette with green slimy eyes and one stupid B in stupid math who couldn’t kick straight to save her life. Yep, pretty bad. But I’d gotten used to it.

Here was something else I had gotten used to: John, this nerdy dude, was reading his textbook at one of the lunch tables (no joke). Emily was reading something more exciting, leaning up against a wall. Kayla was talking to Rachel over by Mrs. Smith’s room, probably about some other poor soul that they decided they hated, and Jennifer was doing something disgusting to Gabriella’s bag that I cannot even talk about.

And where did I fit into this? Well, I was the girl who nobody really knew, besides Emily. I guess I was a geek by nature. I could probably write a guide to being a geek. I am obviously not the popular type.

I know you’re thinking that I’m completely stupid for caring about stuff like that, but let me tell you this: I only have six friends.

20 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Merrie Meghan
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

I was born in the smoky slums of Derry, Nor' Ireland. My folks were lost to me early, which can tend to harden a lad, I guess. I was told I was unfit to live with my aunty, so they sent me off to an English boarding school where I played whipping boy to the headmaster. If I didn't eat, he beat me. When I barely could read, he beat me. When I fumbled my numbers, he beat me. When I ran away from the beatings they came and got me, and he beat me some more.

At first I accepted the beatings as my failure to conform, but nothing served to appease the man. The more harsh the treatment became the more I dreamt of my parents: My father, the proud Irish patriot who openly preached of freedom; my mother, the softly spoken persuader who matched his ardor with forethought and reason.

I would hear my pa calling out to me through the ringing in my ears, and envisioned his brave and sturdy form through the haze that clouded my eyes. I felt my mother's gentle hands deeply caressing my bruises and sores, her voice like a lullaby, peaceful and warm, encouraging me to be strong. Their message to me was unmistakable: "Run, my child, you must get away!"