Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Turning "Bad" Into GOOD

Thank you for your valuable feedback on the 25-vs-50 words. I think we'll definitely do a 50-word critique next time, though the 25-word has garnered enough popularity to warrant a repeat at some point.


Also, having two separate submission windows was a great suggestion, too. 50 at a time. Yes!

The most encouraging thing I've read, over and over, is how so many of you have taken "meh" or "poo" critiques and used them to your benefit. In short, you LISTENED without offense and made your work stronger. Brilliant! Of course that's what this is all about. This is how we grow as writers. We may go into things like this knowing--well, sort of knowing--that we'll probably get some feedback that isn't all starbeams and sparkles. As in, "Nope. Not hooked." Or a variation thereof.

But oh! So many of you have prevailed. And that's awesome.

Sadly, I had to write the following email to a contestant who was so upset by negative feedback that he wanted me to remove his entry (I have not removed it, so don't waste your time trying to figure out which entry it was. *grin*):

I will certainly remove the content of [your post] after the contest is over if you would like. But please allow me to point out that nobody is "ridiculing" your work. I have read the comments, and nothing has been written in a mean spirit. If it were, I would have deleted it immediately.

When we put our work out there, we have to be willing to hear both positive and negative. If the negative seems to outweigh the positive, it's the perfect opportunity for us to examine our work thoroughly--which is, of course, the point of this entire exercise.

If we pull our work out of view and run away, how will we learn? How will we grow as writers? It takes courage to put our stuff out there for others to read (which you have done). It takes more courage to KEEP it out there, sorting through the critiques, applying those that resonate, ignoring those that don't.

Reader reactions to your opening lines are not a reflection of you as a writer, or as a person. If someone says he is not "hooked" by your opening, he is not "ridiculing" you. He is sharing his response. Isn't that what we want--honest responses? Because then we can dig in and find out what we need to do to make our work better.

Again, I want to stress to you that, while the reactions may have felt harsh, there was nothing inappropriate. It may simply be that you have chosen to start your story at the wrong place, which is actually a common problem. We might have a terrific story, but if we "drop" the reader into it at the wrong place, he won't want to keep going. The fix could be as simple as that.

You're going to have to grow a very tough skin in order to move forward. The critiques on this blog are a safe environment for that. Resist the urge to run away, to hide your work when it's not getting the response you desired. Instead, examine the response as objectively as you can, and see how you can apply whatever you've learned to your work.

I am sorry you've had such a negative experience. I would encourage you to turn that around by taking something away from this experience that will lend strength to your writing and propel you forward.

(And by the way, have you ever read the story on my blog about WHY I named the blog Miss Snark's First Victim? You'll find the link near the top of the left side bar. Basically, she ripped my writing apart on her blog. And it ultimately changed my life as a writer. Because...I didn't run away.)

I truly wish you the best!

Indeed, I don't think this writer's struggle is uncommon. That's why I've posted my response. Something tells me there are others of you sitting quietly, feeling like you've been "slammed" by negative feedback. This letter is for all of you.

Don't. Give. Up.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Craving Your Feedback!!

I'm on a time crunch with my word count today, so I'll throw this out quickly.

Several of you mentioned in Friday's comment box that 50 words might be better than 25. I find myself tantalized, but I want to be sure I take the pulse of the masses.

When we do this again (notice I said "when" and not "if"!), would you prefer we do the first 50?

Mind you, it's not going to be super soon. We've got a Secret Agent contest coming up in a couple of weeks, and I'm hoping my awesome automators will finish their work before I do another marathon like last week's. It's never too early to collect data, though, so please let me know.

Would 50 be better than 25?

Also, I think I'll have to limit the number of entries next time. I really (really really!) wanted everyone who entered to have a chance this time. I can't tell you how much I HATE sending those "I'm sorry, we've reached our limit" emails. (Which is another beauty of the upcoming automated system. I won't have to send them; it'll all happen automatically!)

So, first 50 words, first 100 entrants? How does that sound?

TALK! I'm uber-listening. :)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Wow! The response to our first 25 Words critique round have WAY exceeded my expectations. Talk about ENERGY!

The crits are still coming in, too. Which makes your "refresh finger" a bit tired, yes? *wink*

And here's a cool application of the exercise:

Tami Moore (a MSFV regular and part of my "online support system") tweeted the following this morning:

Going back through the entries on @AuthoressAnon's contest. Did people agree with me? Disagree? Why? *learning, learning*

Neat thought, yes? Not only figuring out what works for your own writing, but seeing whether your well-honed reader's eyes are lining up with what others are saying--or not. It's not about "saying what everyone else is saying," to be sure. But it's a good idea to take your own pulse. Giving valuable feedback isn't possible if you don't read a lot or understand what good writing actually IS.

There is a huge subjective factor, naturally. But there are also "writing basics" that need to hold up under scrutiny. And, as critters, we need to know what those are.


Share your feedback in today's comment box, if you will. Were you stoked by the responses? Discouraged? (And hey. Don't let that initial discouragement get you down. Search for the truth among words that sting.) Are you pressing forward? Had any "eureka" moments? Share!

Oh, and one more thing. Many of you have thanked me in various places, many of which were in your submissions. I was unable to respond personally to most of those, due to sheer volume of emails. So please allow me to respond en masse:

You're welcome! It was truly my pleasure. This is such a delightful community; you all make the time invested well worth it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

176 MG Fantasy

TITLE: Point of Origin
GENRE: MG Fantasy

“Devin, you’re on fire!”

Kate grabbed one of the buckets of water that sat just outside the circle of the bonfire’s light.

175 YA Fantasy

TITLE: Erin Asunder
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Death was only another beginning.

I knew about the agony of mortal wounds--acid, fire, bleeding--and the anguish of soul and flesh torn asunder.

174 Women's Fiction

TITLE: October Reflections
GENRE: Women’s Fiction

Driving through the Smoky Mountains headed back to Atlanta, I can’t resist the urge to wonder if I’m still in love with Jake Bailey.

173 Historical Fantasy

TITLE: The Garden at the Roof of the World
GENRE: Historical Fantasy

Gwenaella was the first to receive the call to serve the unicorns, and she alone received hers from the first woman.

172 Mystery

TITLE: Before Her Time
GENRE: Mystery

The little voice told her to go straight to the subway after leaving the Bexley Hotel.

171 YA


The hard suitcase with the broken buckle rests between my legs on the bottom step of the townhouse. My whole life is held together by

170 MG Contemporary Fantasy

TITLE: Spriggan Treasure
GENRE: MG Contemporary Fantasy

Ry Cooper was a foul-mouthed delinquent, the kind of kid who talked back to teachers and left his garbage for someone else to clean up.

169 UF

TITLE: Seeing Red - Set 'Em Up, Joe
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Just me, a bottle of Oban, and Pamela the bartender. Hard to tell which was smoother. I’d just had Pamela, so I reached for the scotch.

168 SF

TITLE: The Ost Ring
GENRE: Science Fiction

Ezra hadn't meant to stare.

167 Paranormal

TITLE:Santana's Heat
GENRE: Paranormal

The river was like ice, too cold to drink and too cold for a swim. Her lungs burned, not from heat, but from the cold.

166 Comedy Romance

TITLE: What If He Says No?
GENRE: Comedy Romance

Why start a job at Christmas? Just as everyone is winding down for the holidays, there he is. All eager beaver and enthusiasm.

165 Techno-thriller

GENRE: Technothriller

Lazarus' day deteriorated when the F-15C's piercing “Missile Launch” tone joined his wingman’s shouted radio call, “SAM LAUNCH, RIGHT FIVE O’CLOCK!”



The moon was calling him again. Akinobu opened his eyes in the ink black of the little room, and lay for only a moment

163 YA Historical Fiction

TITLE: Kidd's Hoard (working title)
GENRE: Historical fiction for young adults

Tuskemos trembled, beach plums dropped, when one Dutchman shot the other and kicked him into the sandy hole. Did he see her?

162 Suspense

TITLE: Resilience
GENRE: Suspense

Rivals called Jeremy Guerdon inimitable. Denise Tyler preferred best friend and fiancé--until now.
The paper rattled as Denise pulled out the note.

161 YA Fantasy

TITLE: Darkblood Uprising
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Chains and rain. Ice cold bands around my wrists, water dripping off my
face. It was salty rain again, cursed and foul.

160 Mystery/Forensics

TITLE: Cruel Murder
GENRE: Mystery/Forensics

“Wait a minute!” Jewel Connor, PhD, the on-call forensic nursing examiner lost any outward calmness she'd brought into the eight-by-ten cubicle

159 YA UF

GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

When Sadie Jackson set her dead mother's necklace on the clear
pawnshop counter, she tried not to think of her father.

158 UF

GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Mary Kate Stewart secretly hoped that her Calculus teacher would get hit by a taco truck.

157 YA SF

TITLE: The 7 Inch Wonders Of The World

Hi humans.

My last owner, the late Candy Buddah of the Child Extermination Camps, has programmed me to tell you a story.

156 Mystery

TITLE: Deadly Deceptions
GENRE: Mystery

I squeezed the trigger the noise of the gun deafening in the confined space of the elevator.

155 Romantic Suspense

TITLE: Switched in Death
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

It was always just another day and another dead body - until it was someone you knew.
Detective Seth Banning paused at the bedroom doorway of

154 Women's Fiction

GENRE: Women's fiction

On my daughter's first birthday I drank myself senseless. On her second, I called in sick and went back to bed.

153 Romantic Environmental Suspense

TITLE: Night Noise
GENRE: Romantic Environmental Suspense

The stench of blood can ruin a spring morning.
Miller Abel twisted off the ignition of her Lexus. She sagged against the seat

152 Fantasy

TITLE: The Untamed Court
GENRE: Fantasy (Faerie)

I dropped the note when it suddenly started to curl and smoke, an
acrid smell filling the room. A wind rose with the stench...

151 YA UF

TITLE: Kissing Dragons
GENRE: YA/Urban Fantasy

When Trish called and invited me to go dragon hunting, I should have trusted my instincts.

150 Women's Fiction

A Sprinkling of Promises
Women's Fiction

Lizzy Batron’s sandal-clad foot played with the accelerator like a teenager with a new license. Faster.

149 Women's Fiction

GENRE: Women's Fiction

Evie never expected to get divorced, let alone sit Shiva for her ex-husband in a house with a Christmas tree. Yet there she was.

148 YA Paranormal Romance

GENRE: Young Adult Paranormal Romance

Wind carelessly messed his blond hair as he swooped in behind a herd of cattle. Sunlight sparkled all around him and I found myself frozen.

147 Women's Fiction

GENRE: Women's Fiction

My bubbie used to say, “A bed without a quilt on it is like a family without a child.” For years, her words haunted me.

146 YA Paranormal

TITLE: Devil.May.Care
GENRE: YA Paranormal

My knuckles turned white as my fingernails bit into the plush velvet fabric. My arms muscles burned from the effort of holding my body up.

145 Gothic Fiction

TITLE: Angell Park
GENRE: Gothic Fiction

'I’m not dead.'

The words, harmlessly scrawled onto the wooden bench at Angel Park, have been there for years.

144 Mainstream Fiction

TITLE: American Jukebox
GENRE: Mainstream fiction

September 5, 1953

Dancer Stonemason drove down Main Street headed out of town, his left-hand resting gentle on the steering wheel. In his right hand he held a baseball

143 Mainstream Suspense

TITLE: House of Cards
GENRE: Mainstream Suspense

The car was moving sixty-five miles per hour when it flipped. Metal crunched against metal, igniting sparks across the highway.

142 Paranormal Romance

TITLE: Lost and Found
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Josie had never actually been in jail before, but behind bars at the Battle Creek Humane Society had to be pretty darn close.

141 MG Adventure

GENRE: Middle grade adventure

"I'm not taking you to another dog yard," my mom says. She thumps down her briefcase on the kitchen counter and grabs her cheese and

140 Paranormal Fantasy

TITLE: Witch Hunt
GENRE: Paranormal Fantasy

So, I broke his nose.

Well, to be honest, it was a lucky blow, I was aiming for the jaw. No regrets, he deserved it.

139 YA

TITLE: Kissing Virgins
GENRE: Young Adult

I wore pink Converse to prom. I had a feeling that might be the most comfortable thing about the night.

138 MG

TITLE: The Adventures of Puckatoo
GENRE: Middle Grade

I jumped from the back seat to the front, onto Tom’s lap and off again, and stuck my snout out the passenger’s window to feel

137 Picture Book

TITLE: Lavender
GENRE: Picture Book

An elephant flew through my window today,
bouncing me high off the bed where I lay.
His skin wasn’t tinted the usual gray.

136 Folk Tale

TITLE: (untitled)
GENRE: folk tale

Mommy bakes meat pies every day

Fills my bucket and I’m on my way

Off to the market full of joy
With pies to sell.

135 YA SFF

GENRE: YA Science fiction / fantasy

A soft meow sounded as a shield of protection formed around the Standford family home. The guardian remained alert until relieved in the early morning.

134 Women's Fiction

GENRE: Women's Fiction

I am fine, I told myself. I am physically fine. My car, however, was not. I poked the phone’s screen with my finger.

133 MG

TITLE: The Meanest Teacher in the World

“Please, please, please don’t let my teacher be Ms. Kestler.”

The letter from school assigning classrooms had to come soon. I reached for the mailbox.

132 MG

TITLE: The Faster Shoes
GENRE: Middle Grade

“Give them back,” Topher shouted as he slammed into the locker room door. He pushed the heavy door open and slid outside.

131 YA Paranormal

GENRE: YA paranormal

I walked into a headache--my private suffering since I’d hit puberty--walking into someone else’s pain. Always the intruder without intent.

130 MG Historical

GENRE: Middle Grade Historical

August 5, 1941

Dear Mama,

PLEASE COME GET ME AND OTIS! I’m tired of working in the field picking cotton and corn and tobacco

129 Christian Historical Romance

TITLE: Unexpected Miracles
GENRE: Christian Historical Romance

The grey, gloomy sky perfectly mirrored Travis' spirits as he stepped, sore and travel-weary, from the stagecoach.

128 YA Paranormal

GENRE: YA Paranormal

Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, but I was born with a pitchfork in my hand. I considered this problem

127 Dark Fantasy

GENRE: Dark Fantasy

Of all the people present that day, a blind woman would be the one to save his sister’s life.

126 UF

TITLE: Black Eden
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

“I have a clear shot.” I crouched next to the wall and sighted down my arms, aiming my gun at the vampire’s chest.

125 UF

TITLE: Mythos
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

I fingered the stone hanging from the black rope around my neck. "Hey there. So my name is Zydeco, and I’m a recovering mythological creature."

124 YA SFF

TITLE: Tunnels
GENRE: Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy

Prin discovered the hole while playing hide-and-seek one day.

"Dorum!" she cried. "Dorum - come look what I found!"

123 General Fiction

TITLE: Shoalie's Crow
GENRE: Fiction

"My only memory is the wreck. I am wrapped around a dark bay horse as she
gallops toward the crest of a hill; her coat..."

122 Psychological Drama

TITLE: A Fallen World
GENRE: Psychological Drama

The flashing red lights called to him like a lighthouse to a lost sailor. Michael Bryant rushed toward them, his temples dripping with sweat.

121 Romantic Suspense

TITLE: Roulette
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

Everyone wants to change something about their life. Mine would be easier without the constant feeling of being watched--and the paranoia that comes with it.

120 MG Fiction

TITLE: Liza Bird
GENRE: Contemporary Middle Grade Fiction

If I’d known how hard sixth grade was going to be, I might have come down with a life-threatening disease instead. It would’ve been easier.

119 Contemporary

TITLE: 468 Miles to Nashville
GENRE: Contemporary

Sixty seconds more until Kay Nelson would be pronounced dead. Fired, actually, but when Grandma Crosby found out, as she undoubtedly would, it wouldn't matter.

118 Children's

TITLE: Scott and the Naughty Boy factory
GENRE: Children's

It had taken two days of digging, but Scott finally had a small cup full of worms. He only kept the best ones - long and fat and slimy.

117 YA Fantasy

TITLE: Melisma
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy

"In five minutes, I will be on that stage playing a tambourine. Kill me. Kill me now."

116 YA

TITLE: Haunted Cowboy Robots

I’d give my right toe—the little one—to visit my grandpa’s gold mine. I found toes for sale on eBay. I listed mine.

115 Thriller

TITLE: The Last Conviction
GENRE: Thriller

An atrocious beetle flew into my hair. I crushed its body getting it out, leaving a jagged leg or two stuck near my scalp.

114 Suspense/Thriller


Death turned its sights on me Tuesday morning when dying was the last thing on my mind.

It didn't stay that way long.

113 YA Epic Fantasy

TITLE: The Night
GENRE: Epic YA Fantasy

The small black stone on her neck came free of its hiding place and caught her attention with its unearthly glow.

112 Fantasy

TITLE: Beneath the Trees
GENRE: Fantasy

The latch strained; the shutters rattled. Rose longed to throw them wide and let the wind blow away the memory of her mother.

111 Contemporary YA

TITLE: I Am Not a Hero
GENRE: Contemporary Young Adult

Most people’s best and worst parts of their lives aren’t even in the same year, but mine came within five minutes of each other.

110 Historical Fiction

TITLE: Ciara’s Tale
GENRE: Historical fiction

Death waited if her secret escaped.

Ciara thrust the dark thought away. It changed nothing. She still didn’t want to be a druidess.

109 YA Fantasy

GENRE: YA Fantasy

I am beautiful. They all say it and I know it. Mirrors do not lie, and I am good friends with mine.

108 Paranormal

TITLE: A Kiss Before Midnight
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

He took to the shadows beyond the reach of the light bleeding in which prevented total darkness.

107 Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy

TITLE: Unnamed
GENRE: Post-apocalyptic Fantasy

The first time I saw a Cursed, I’d just turned fourteen. The elders kept us inside the caves most the time, but that day, I could feel the beckoning of the sun.

106 Contemporary YA

Shaking the Bones
Contemporary YA

Maryann’s normal life ended on an October weekend, but it wasn’t until December that she couldn’t ignore her pee any longer. It smelled…well, it just smelled weird.

105 Literary Fiction

TITLE: The Secrets of Rare Moon Tickle
GENRE: Literary Fiction

The painted window on the left had a picture of lambs-blood stained doors, a protection for the faithful on the day of the Passover.

104 YA Magical Realism

TITLE: Roman Magic, or the Wild Ghoul Affair
GENRE: YA realistic magic

Luminous blue lightning arched, hissed, and sparked. Its energy grew—feeding off Eve’s parents.

103 Thriller

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: Adult Thriller

I had never stared down the barrel of a gun before. Even with such a close look, I still couldn’t tell what kind it was.

102 MG Fiction

GENRE: Middle Grade Fiction

He’s on me like stink on two-week old garbage. His hot breath prickles the back of my neck. I block with my right, dribble

101 Paranormal Romance/Suspense

TITLE: Demon Porn
GENRE: Paranormal Romance/Suspense

From deep sleep I heard his perfect pitch humming, followed by the scraping of the key seeking my apartment’s entry door lock.

100 Fantasy

TITLE: Loyalty & Duty
GENRE: Fantasy

Face to face with his king, Sym hesitated. Did he still have the Royal Fist’s privilege of not having to bow? He didn’t dare speculate.

99 MG Steampunk Adventure

TITLE: Cannibal Island
GENRE: MG steampunk adventure

The Conquistadors never found the Treasure. Before the Spaniards arrived, the Incas had built a massive pyramid on a fog-shrouded island off the coast.

98 Fantasy

Title: TBell
Genre: Fantasy

I put my time in, pounding the asphalt after the likes of Britney, Lindsay, Miley, and even Bennifer, until JLo spiked me with a heel.

97 YA UF

TITLE: I Was Dead Once

There’s always that one boy. The one who makes the girls swoon with a smirky smile pointed in their direction.

96 Fantasy

TITLE: Maren, Lost and Found
GENRE: Fantasy

Retreating to her mountain home, Maren Sullivaine staggered up the ridge above Tarryton, moving slower and slower as if her legs wore iron weights.

95 Chick Lit

TITLE: Material Possessions"
GENRE: Chic Lit

“I'm sorry, sir. I find no reservation in your name,” the clerk apologized but continued searching in the computer.

“You'll find it under my name

94 MG SF


Patrick Stockwell looked forward to a summer of baseball, video games, and sleeping late, but June 1st was the last normal day of his life.

93 Historical Romance

TITLE: First Impressions
GENRE: Historical Romance

The world was shaking.

I gripped the scratchy fabric of the airplane seat hard with my nails, bit my lip between my teeth, and prayed.

92 UF

TITLE: Father Value
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Ellie'd learned many useful lessons growing up under Father Value's tutelage. The one she used most often was this: never get cornered by a Creep.

91 YA Contemporary

TITLE: Lost in a Heartbeat
GENRE: YA contemporary

It was like leaping off a ten-meter platform when you’re petrified of heights. Easy, really.

90 MG Historical Fiction

TITLE: Sibling War
GENRE: Middle Grade Historical Fiction

Some people call me jumpy because I tense up at loud noises before I even hear them. That's what happened when I got shot.

89 Action/Adventure/Diesel Punk

TITLE: Adventure Society
GENRE: Action/Adventure/Treasure Hunting/Diesel Punk

Moonlight illuminated a lone figure’s path through the halls of the darkened mansion. The young woman stalked a prey that she knew lay beyond.

88 YA Alt History

TITLE: Johnny Steam
GENRE: YA Alt History

Mrs. Reed had become quite good at making tea. She shouldn't have to. She wasn't born for this. But who was born for these days?

87 YA Fantasy

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Someone approaches, the winds tell me. A rider.

86 Contemporary Romance/Women's Fiction

TITLE: The Vegas Affair
GENRE: Contemporary Romance/Women's Fiction

All Dani Parker wanted was to drink in peace, let the liquor numb her to the mistakes that drove her to escape to Vegas.

85 Mystery

TITLE: The Measure of Angels
GENRE: Mystery

On the fertile riverbank where the Tigris meets the Euphrates, in a place known as the Garden of Eden, Seth Ivanov waited to die.

84 Women's Fiction

TITLE: Losing Cinderella
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Gary sat at the window bar of the Alpine Bakery watching the street activity. He felt like just another customer sipping his morning coffee.

83 Paranormal

TITLE: Taming Raven
GENRE: Paranormal

Death was such a nasty thing.

Especially if it was yours.
It was uncomfortably apparent that she was going to die tonight.

82 Historical Fantasy

TITLE: Tangled Webs
GENRE: Historical/Fantasy

The assassination of Matthew Radnir had not gone as planned. Not, of course, that he wasn't dead; he was, and quite so.

81 Fantasy

TITLE: Untold
GENRE: Fantasy

Alphas opened his mouth. The Source's Order should have leapt out, instead of the empty stream of air.

80 YA

TITLE: My Unforgotten Diary

Dear Diary,

Today’s my birthday. THEY forgot again. How can your parents forget your birthday?

There was no cake or presents. I hate my life.

79 Fantasy

TITLE: Storysong
GENRE: Fantasy

Silence echoed among the tall winter peaks. The sun was high in the sky, but did little to warm the snow-blanketed slopes of the pass.

78 Women's Mainstream Fiction

TITLE: Losing Lucy
GENRE: women's mainstream fiction

It wasn’t until the second trip to Cape Cod Hospital, this time in an ambulance, that Sophie grasped the severity of her daughter’s crisis.

77 Thriller

TITLE: An Obscure Homicide
GENRE: Thriller

Once you were in the mood, killing was easy and fun. Not to mention exciting. You squeeze the trigger. The recoil throws you backward.

76 YA UF

TITLE: Shoreline
GENRE: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

Jocelyn stared at the guy sitting across the table from her, wondering how he’d react later – when he was drowning.

75 Picture Book

TITLE: Dreams
DREAMS: Picture Book

What kind of dreams will you dream tonight?

Will they be colorful, bold and bright?

Or will they stay soft as morning’s light

74 YA Historical

TITLE: A Mad, Wicked Folly
GENRE: YA Historical

My lace-covered bottom was on full display to the street below, my skirt caught above me on my bedroom-window latch.

73 MG Historical Fiction

GENRE: Mid-Grade Novel Historical Fiction

"Hurry, hurry!” Mummy shouted. “Get out of bed, girls. Get to the shelter!”
Our shelter was in back of our council house.

72 Commercial Paranormal

TITLE: Remembrance
GENRE: Commercial Paranormal

Arianwen walked through the dense woods as if in a meditative trance. Stay focused, be alert. Isn’t that what Sulien always said.

71 SF

TITLE: King for a Day
GENRE: Sci-fi

The day he died, Thomas Hill opened his eyes to a morning more
beautiful than any he could remember. Today was the day.

70 Mystery

TITLE: Brinkerhoff
GENRE: Mystery

Lustro’s bare buttocks sank into the worn spot of the murderer’s leather davenport.

69 Women's Fiction

GENRE: Women's fiction

Three hundred years ago she would have been tried and hung like her great great granny Elvira, the notorious witch of Salem.

68 Chapter Book

TITLE: Spooner
GENRE: Chapter book

“For once,” Tony said, “I’d like to be better than anyone else at something.”

His sister Emily walked over. “Your wish has been granted, Tony..."

67 UF

TITLE: Spirit Called
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

The flight attendant’s feet were aching. But arranging a fake smile into some semblance of humanity was all a part of the job.

66 SF

TITLE: Across Two Universes
GENRE: Science Fiction

As soon as Paul Harrison left the stage, he ripped the holoprojector bands off his arms. Why were they itching so much?

65 Suspense

TITLE: Bishop
GENRE: Suspense

The soul-less remains of a teenage girl, emptied of vivacity, captured the interest of everyone in Madison within an hour of its discovery.

64 Women's Literary

TITLE: Black Diamonds
GENRE: Women’s Literary

Jamie knew it was all over. She had risen before the sun to pack one suitcase, her camping gear, and a pair of forty-pound dumbbells.

63 Historical Fiction

TITLE: Prince of the West
GENRE: Historical Fiction

Iudila pounded on the door of the ship's hold. "Claudia. Anyone," he shouted, his voice shrill. His cries went unanswered.

62 YA/MG

TITLE: Cape Cod Surprise

The diesel rumbled to life beneath Oliver’s bare feet—oh boy, that’d
bring her running.

61 Upmarket Women's Fiction

TITLE: Waiting for Paint to Dry
GENRE: Upmarket Women's Fiction

The first time I asked God for help was a summery night in southern Italy. No one was home. And I was being raped.

60 Fantasy

TITLE: The Wolves
GENRE: Fantasy.

He observed the “thing” which roared and hissed few kilometers away. It was the biggest hurricane of human history, a Titan in modern times.

59 Suspense

GENRE: Suspense

If there was one thing Nathan knew best, it’s that he could make stupid mistakes. This was one of them.

58 Fantasy

TITLE: Hero Down Under
GENRE: Fantasy

Death stalked the floor. A cold-a** chill and the patterned flicker of overhead fluorescents marked his approach, always did. Roger peered out his cubicle door.

57 Memoir

GENRE: Memoir

My red satin jacket, a gift from my sisters-in-law in China, caught on the coarse upholstery of my office chair.

56 YA Historical Fantasy

TITLE: Sophie and the Medallion of Time
GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy

The medallion felt cold and heavy in my hand, the chain dripping through my fingers like sand.

55 Horror

TITLE: The Thin Line Between
GENRE: Horror

The nightmares come every night, without fail.

In her bedroom, lying on a narrow slice of the king-sized bed, Dana Thomas is dreaming.

54 YA

TITLE: Antiversary

V-Day, 7 a.m.

The card for Marshall was gone. Totally gone.

I’d searched every conceivable place, even pulled my bed out from against the wall.

53 YA Historical

GENRE: YA Historical

The small, crackling fire inside the rusted woodstove couldn't ease the chill that lingered on my skin.

52 Contemporary YA

TITLE: So long
GENRE: Contemporary YA

“Krista? Krista? Where the hell are you? Answer me!” I screamed out as I stormed through the Thompson’s front door.

“In the living room, Carys"

51 Regency Romance

TITLE: A Tale of Two Sisters
GENRE: Regency Historical Romance

William Battencliffe wagers five thousand pounds that Miss Julia St. Clair will become the next Countess of Clivesden.

Benedict's fingers constricted about the quill.

50 YA Fantasy/Adventure

GENRE: YA Fantasy/Adventure

The latch on the factory window was broken, just like Vicki said. Charlie could
open it, but he was short, and the window was high.

49 Suspense

TITLE: Going Home

GENRE: Suspense

On the night my father killed my mother, the frost choked the buds of my grandmother's roses. I remember this, the perfect petals curled in

48 YA

TITLE: Diary Of A Hot Pink Party Girl

I should have known Drew Strunkler Skunkler would morph into a big, giant douche bag the second school started.

47 Contemporary Fantasy

TITLE: Trinity Coven
GENRE: Contemporary Fantasy

Fingers still tingling from her brush with myth, Kaelin pulled up her blog The Strange and the Beautiful.

June 1: Lake Erie Encounter

46 UF

GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Peering over the seat in front of me, I watch Mel pick the tape off her long brown fingers.

I want to snap them in half.

45 SF

TITLE: (untitled)
GENRE: Science Fiction

The feeling that I was missing something important left me the instant I stepped onto the floor of the spraybath. This was a good thing.

44 YA

TITLE: Alternate Reality
GENRE: Young Adult

The day I killed my best friend in an accident, I lost all sense of who I was and began living a second life. Literally.

43 Historical Fantasy

TITLE: The Ivory Pomegranate
GENRE: Historical Fantasy

Our braids, stained in mardouma, hang heavy atop beads of bone that rattle in unison like tiny skeletons as we fight.

42 Women's Fiction/Romantic Elements

TITLE: Polar Attraction
GENRE: Women's Fiction with Romantic Elements

Alaska and Chicago. Ying and Yang. I exited the dark bowels of Union Station to hit the wet sidewalks of Chicago and met my future.

41 Steampunk

TITLE: Steam Palace
GENRE: Steampunk

On most mornings, Prudencia hated the stench of cow. On this morning, the odor pursued her, tailed her upon every excursion.

40 UF

TITLE: Outcast
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

A weird shock of electricity singed my heels and ran up through the center of my forehead, ebbing with the swells rocking the boat.

39 Superhero UF

GENRE: Superhero urban fantasy

“Today’s the big day, Minerva!” I said. I could have burst into song,
but my off-key notes would have sent the cat scrambling for escape.

38 Spec Fic

TITLE: Windshifter
GENRE: Speculative Fiction

It was dark-- the dead of night-- and would have been darker if not
for the gas lamps that brightened irregular patches of earth and

37 YA Contemporary

TITLE: Two Scoops of Gelatto
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Running away in the middle of the night seems romantic and daring, but it’s not. It’s a serious pain in the butt.

36 Contemporary Romance

TITLE: The Redneck’s Ex
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

I hadn’t seen or heard from my bull riding, coon hunting, banjo picking ex-husband in eleven years when he left me standing in the rain.

35 YA

GENRE: Young Adult

I was home alone on that Friday evening. Since you’re reading this, you survived, and you already know exactly which day I’m writing about.

34 Regency Romance

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: Regency romance

Someone knew her identity.

Caro entered the torture chamber, the smell of sex and candle wax knotting her stomach. Angry tears ached behind her lids.

33 Fantasy

TITLE: Penance
GENRE: Fantasy

The blood woke it prematurely.

32 Dystopian

TITLE: (untitled)
GENRE: Dystopian

Rain spatters across a weathered stone obelisk. Lisa Crane gathers her cloak against the chill, reading grandpa’s epitaph.

John Crane
Genocidal Madman
Savior of Humanity

31 SF/Suspense

GENRE: Adult Sci-Fi/Suspense

September 11, 2001 - 9:35 a.m.

Major General Gerald L. "Lucky" Sinclair, US Air Force, was walking along the E-Ring of the Pentagon, on his way out

30 YA


My name is not Mara Dyer, but my lawyer told me I had to choose something.

29 YA Dystopian

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: Young adult dystopian

“Seth Tucker to the principal’s office.”

Seth winced at the sound of the crackly voice; the intercom system had to be as old as Apple.

28 UF

GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Break Time.

Wesley reached for her purse. She just realized why she felt like
Atlas slogging through mud with a big planet on the shoulders.

27 Historical Romance

TITLE: Siege of the Heart
GENRE: Historical Romance

Isobel Dumont would not cry, not in front of the men her father charged with her protection.

26 SF Romance

GENRE: Sci-Fi Romance

Ophelia couldn’t find her underwear.

She scowled, her hands on her hips. Against her better judgment, her gaze slid to the man covering the bed.

25 YA

TITLE: The Thief's Girl

Charlotte slammed her hand flat against the tabletop as if the bang could punctuate the much-repeated sentence and make her father understand it.

24 Fantasy Thriller/Romance

TITLE: Walk Me to Hell
GENRE: Fantasy Thriller/ Romance

I don’t know why I assumed that, even on my birthday, there wouldn’t be someone out to kill me.

23 Contemporary Romance

TITLE: Carey On
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

Jimi Hendrix had a lot of explaining to do. After all, his glowing descriptions of Ladbroke Grove were the reason Katie Scott was in London.

22 Paranormal Romance

TITLE: Worlds Apart
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

I was walking down Marshall Street, on my way to buy milk, when I saw the blood on the pavement.

21 Social SF

TITLE: The children of Paralan
GENRE: Social Science Fiction

The only human settlement on Paralan had the highest suicide-rate in the galaxy. Recently arrived, Galactipol-constable Vera Staven had already learned a dozen different ways.

20 YA Fantasy

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Lady Remora Windgates Price perched uncomfortably on the edge of the
dirty bar stool and wondered if perhaps now was an appropriate time to

19 YA Paranormal Romance

TITLE: Again
GENRE: Young Adult Paranormal Romance

I used to laugh at my friend Becca when she spoke about the Universe. She truly expects that exerting positive energy will get her anything.

18 Women's Fiction

TITLE: Someone I Used to Know
GENRE: Women's Fiction

I wait until I’m standing outside my mother’s apartment in Rogers Park before I call her. That way, she won’t have time to sneak out.

17 Women's Fiction

TITLE: Two Chocolates Short of Crazy
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Two days before college graduation, just back from a senior trip to Yosemite, I still lived in Technicolor.

I pushed open our apartment door. “Claire?"

16 YA Paranormal

TITLE: Chaos Happens
GENRE: YA Paranormal

The girl’s bathroom stunk. Not ‘normal’ stinkage. Something worse. Something—eeewww.
A girl stumbled out of the stall, wiping her face and shaking. Janie Morris.

15 Women's Fiction

TITLE: False Impressions
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Faith Andrews slammed the phone down. Where was he and why wasn't he answering? The last candle sputtered out, officially killing her romantic evening.

14 Literary YA

GENRE: Literary YA

Every year I wait for fall to pass, anxious to paint December but willing to avoid the cold, which today sneaks past my coat to finger my skin.

13 YA

TITLE: Tales from a Tenth Grade Snitch

One thing goes through your mind when your face is two inches from a mouse trap baited with a cube of moldy cheddar. Ew.

12 YA Fantasy

TITLE: Master of All Things Small
GENRE: YA Fantasy

A large part of me wanted to walk right over to Tomas Murphy and beat him senseless with the bill of my feathery duck hat.

11 Women's Fiction

TITLE: Hope's Child
GENRE: Women's Fiction

“So that’s it?” Hope Penderman glared at her husband. “You’re just going to pick up your briefcase and walk out the door.”

10 Literary Fiction

GENRE: Literary fiction

Tonight was meatloaf that Mom cooked. It was quiet and just our forks.

Then Mom said, “I’m going to give her a call tonight.”

9 SF

TITLE: Absorption
GENRE: Science Fiction

The blue eyes looked identical at rest, but the left eye had trouble keeping up with the right eye when the ten year old girl glanced around the room.

8 Paranormal Romance

TITLE: Keeper
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

He was watching me that whole day, the entire time we were moving out of our house. I didn't know. But then, nobody ever does.

7 YA Chick Lit

TITLE: My Own Summer
GENRE: YA Chick-Lit

A piece of paper. It's what started and ended this whole mess. One little piece of paper that would change my whole life.

6 Upper YA UF

TITLE: The Devil You Know
GENRE: Upper YA Urban Fantasy

The doctors were going to kill me if I didn’t get out of here. They wouldn’t mean to, but their intentions wouldn’t change the result

5 Thriller/Suspense

GENRE: Thriller/suspense

If I’d blinked, I would have missed it.
But I didn’t, and I saw something fall from the rear deck of the opposite ferry.

4 YA Paranormal Romance

TITLE: Imaginary Heart
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

I died before I was even born.
It was April 13th, not a Friday, but it might as well have been.

3 YA Fantasy

TITLE: Harbinger
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Cool, crisp night air sneaked in through the partially open window and cast a light veil of mist throughout the small bedroom.

2 Christian SF

TITLE: The Tower
GENRE: Christian Sci-Fi

Tanner went through the checklist one last time. 58 minutes to go. Everything was on track.

1 YA

TITLE: Healing Faith

“Faith, what’s taking you so long?” My mom yells.

I groan and drag myself to the door. “I don’t want to go to church. I have homework.”

25 Words: Here We Go


Okay, here's the deal. Blogger got so tired of my endless posting that it started asking for word verification. On. Every. Post.

So instead of marathonning the night away, I'm doing this in two segments. The first 90 entries will post in 1-minute intervals beginning at 9:00 am EDT.

The rest of the entries, beginning with #91, will start posting at 4:00 pm EDT. That gives me lots of pretty hours in between to finish up the posts.

For the critiquing:

Remember that this is all about hooking the reader. Which means, are you sucked in? Do you want to read a little more? A lot more? We don't need in-depth critting here. Just initial impressions.

ENTRANTS: Due to the large number of submissions, please commit to responding to a minimum of TEN other entries.

Genres are included in the subject lines, so you can jump right to whatever interests you. Or you could get all concrete-sequential and respond to all of them. In chronological order.

As for me, I think I'll just watch, thanks.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Submissions Will Close at Midnight Eastern

Um, lots of submissions. o_O

To give my Aussie and Asian readers a chance, I'm keeping submissions open for the rest of today. In the morning, anything with a time stamp after midnight, Eastern Daylight Time, will be deleted.

Sound fair?

In the meantime, please send cashews, chocolate, and wine, in no particular order.

Have I mentioned lately that I love you guys?


Something New! Gimme Your First 25 Words

We've done "First Sentence" once or twice, and the rest is mostly the first 250 words. Today, let's chop off a zero and look at the first TWENTY-FIVE.

Starting now, send the following to me at facelesswords(at)


25 words


That's it! Please don't go over 25. Stop before you get to 25 in order to finish a sentence.

The focus? Here it is: As readers, we're thumbing through a shelf of tasty morsels, deciding what to read. We're short on time, and we want to read something that grabs us in the first twenty-five words. So, in your comments, simply let us know if the 25 words grabbed you or not. NO HEFTY CRITIQUE NECESSARY--I mean, how much critiquing can you do of 25 words? Just let us know if you were hooked, and why.

Even more fun: I'm going to put the genre in each subject line. So you can "open" the books in which you're interested!

I'll keep submissions open for the rest of the day (because, yanno, I'm a glutton for things-that-end-up-bleeding-all-over-my-day).

Questions, below please! And let the 25-word storm begin.

Monday, March 22, 2010

On Brain Oddity

I've got to share this.

Those of you who have gone through or are currently going through the querying process understand how important it is to put the whole "waiting to hear from the masses" thing out of your mind in order to move on with whatever's next on your plate.

(Yeah, right.)

Seriously, though. You send your queries, you move along. You send the materials as they are requested, you move along.

"Move along," of course, means writing something. Revisions, shopping lists, a brand new WIP. Anything. It also means "live your life as though it were normal."

Of course, there's nothing remotely normal about living in a vacuum of what-ifs. But that's what you have to do. This isn't universe-altering stuff. It's as an aspiring author.

All that to say--my brain has done a strange thing. It has decided that none of this is real. I've never written a novel, never queried anyone.

There must be a psychological term for this. (Anyone?)

To be sure, this makes life a lot easier! But it also makes me question my sanity.

Then again, there is nothing remotely sane about this journey. It's exhilarating, character-building, and occasionally fun. But not sane.

You knew that, of course.

All that to say: If you're having trouble dealing with the ups and down, relax and let your brain take charge. If you're lucky, it'll just convince itself that none of it's real, and you'll go along your merry way, smiling.

Either that, or I need to stop writing science fiction.

At any rate, it makes rejections easier to bear. It's not a reflection of you (or your brain), after all. It's about your work--which is NOT (believe it or not) an extension of you.

There you have it, be it wisdom or weirdness.

Press on!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Awesome responses yesterday. At the risk of redundancy, I'm going to say it again: I love taking this journey with you.

One anonymous commenter brought up an important question that I thought I'd throw out for our Friday Fricassee: HOW do you get rid of the unauthentic in your life?

Most people can't walk away from full-time jobs overnight.

Most people can't sell houses with too-big mortgages overnight.

Most people can't find their entire Authentic Selves overnight.

So where does one begin? Remembering, of course, that the ULTIMATE GOAL is living your DREAM, not your daily-grind-because-I-need-to-survive.

We can agree that it's a process. Can you share some ideas for realistic, baby-step starting points?

And while you're cogitating, please take a moment to welcome the wonderful Mr. A to Twitter! Finally, after immense pressure from his adoring wife, Mr A has opened a Twitter account and has actually TWEETED.


Be sure to tell him I sent you, lest he get a big head and assume he's growing in popularity all by himself.


Hugs to you all! May springtime TRULY spring for you this weekend! (Well, except you poor, poor folks up there in the frozen tundra...)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Knowing Myself

There's an interesting and unexpected aspect of my anonymous life that I've got to point out. I am, as Authoress, my Authentic Self.

It's sad, how many people never find their Authentic Selves. It's sad, how long it took ME to find mine. I started writing when I was six, but lost my way by the time I went to college. Majoring in music was exhilarating and fulfilling, to be sure.

But it wasn't RIGHT. It wasn't my number one "thing."

And in finding my Authentic Self--writer, self-proclaimed whole foods hippie--I find that the way I present myself to others is a clear expression of who I am. Online, that's immeasurably easier. Despite the fact that I have chosen to remain nameless and faceless, I am as transparent and honest as I can possibly be.

I am, without a doubt, ME.

It's freeing, it's "right." It brings me joy.

But it isn't just through the Authoress persona that I find myself freed. More and more, every day, I am living life as ME. And it's awesome.

A few years ago, I bought something at a department store. (I hate department stores, so that was a little out of character.) The guy at the counter was the chatty extrovert type. After a minute or so of chattiness, he studied me briefly.

"Let's see. You must be an artist...or a writer."

"Why, yes! Yes, I'm a writer!" Was there a pencil sticking out of my ear? Or was it the glasses? "How--how could you tell?"

"Oh, you've just got that look, you know? That artsy look."

Get that! I had THAT ARTSY LOOK. The look that says, "I create! I'm right-brained!"

Mind you, I went through a long period of not knowing who I was when it came to wardrobe. We're talking Lands End. As in, I would buy stuff because I was into the high quality cotton, and Mr. A would say, "Um. That clothing is so fuddy-duddy."

And I was offended. Offended! Maybe I should have LISTENED. Maybe I should NOT have worn clothing that was meant for people 30 years older.

But I must give myself grace. I hadn't found my Authentic Self.

Now I've got my heart set on a pair of these:


Can't afford them, but at least I know what I like.

Then there's my pair of awesome fingerless mittens knit by the amazing Jodi Meadows. Last night I posted a picture on Twitter of me, wearing them:


That hat? It's my favorite. I wear it a lot. A few years ago? It wouldn't have crossed my mind to wear a hat like that.

You may hate it, which is fine. It's "me." It's authentic.

Wearing things that express who I am feels GOOD. It may have taken me awhile to get here, but now that I've arrived, I'm not leaving.

Loss of Authentic Self is an epidemic. The high percentage of people who hate their jobs--really HATE them--is a result of these people not having discovered who they Really Are before beginning their careers. You know those stories you read about corporate managers who leave it all behind and move onto goat farms and become blissfully happy? We may shake our heads or sigh or judge harshly. But when we stop and think about it, the truth leaks in. This man has FOUND himself. This man is TRULY LIVING HIS LIFE now. Without the six-figure paycheck and blood-pressure-raising commute and seventy-hour work week.


I'm not completely there. I'm not bringing in a paycheck as a writer--yet. And Mr. A isn't completely there, either. He's got an amazing, well-paying job that's he good at, managing people he actually enjoys being around. But I know his Authentic Self. He is a gifted producer. He has a passion for writing soundtracks. He loves ministering to other men to help them find THEIR Authentic Selves. And he's working on his first picture book.

Yes. We're both "artsy." And my dream is for us to live that artsy-ness to its fullest.

So. You, there, writers at large. Is writing your Authentic Self? DON'T LET GO. Live it. Work hard, learn, grow, BE a writer. Every day. Search your heart regularly for the things that bring you joy and contentment, in writing and in life. Let go, little by little, of the things that rob you of your "selfness."

EXULT in who you were created to be.

I'm thankful for the privilege of writing words that might speak to you today. And I'm thankful to be among so many who share my passion.

Write on!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

And The Winners Are........

Without Further Ado:

The Runner Up:


The Prize:

Ms. Volpe has offered a critique of your first 100 pages. Please email me at facelesswords(at) for submission instructions.

The Winner:


The Prize:

Ms. Volpe has offered a critique of your full manuscript. Please email me at facelesswords(at) for submission instructions.

Awesome stuff here! Again, kudos to everyone who entered and critiqued this round.

And Joanna? Here's a {{BIG FAT PUBLIC HUG}} for your tenacity and ne'er-say-die-ness!

Secret Agent Unveiled: JOANNA STAMPFEL-VOLPE

Huge thanks and a big HURRAH to Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary and Media for being this month's Secret Agent despite a lingering power outage and no Internet connection!

(I have to say this: Is this not the COOLEST literary head shot you've ever seen?!)

Joanna's Bio:

Joanna Stampfel-Volpe has been with Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation for just over two years. Prior to becoming a full-time agent with Nancy Coffey, Joanna was an assistant and Junior Agent with FinePrint Literary Management, a publisher's assistant at Blue Marlin Publications, and a book seller at Barnes & Noble. Her previous sales range from children's literature to adult non-fiction, including THE TOWN THAT FOOD SAVED (Rodale, March 2010) by Ben Hewitt, DECEPTION~A Haunting Emma Novel (Bloomsbury Children's, June 2010) by Lee Nichols, THE DUFF (Poppy, September 2010) by Kody Keplinger, SWAY (Hyperion, Summer 2011) by Amber Turner, and THE ROTTEN ADVENTURES OF ZACHARY RUTHLESS (HarperCollins Children's, Summer 2011) by Allan Woodrow. Joanna has also sold a number of audio books and has just finished negotiations on her first film option. Joanna is looking for clients who are as enthusiastic about writing and reading as she is, and she is currently building her list. When she's not reading (which is almost never), she enjoys cooking, watching movies, playing Guitar Hero and hanging with her husband and her chihuahua, PeeWee.

And this is what I'm looking for:

In children's books: chap books to upper YA, any genre. That includes non-fiction! I particularly like stories laden with humor, boy books, romance, magical realism, and beautiful middle grade, but I will look at any genre in children's books. If it's paranormal or fantasy/sci-fi, it needs to be fresh and different from what's already out there!!

In adult books: romance (historical, paranormal), fantasy (urban fantasy, steampunk), up-market fiction (dark, women's fic, commercial thrillers, historical, magical realism, speculative fic), narrative non-fiction (pop culture, environmental, foodie).

What I'm not interested in right now: picture books, cozies, cookbooks, academic nonfiction, epic fantasy for adults, hi-science fiction for adults, poetry, collections/short stories, screenplays.

Yay! A big thank you, once again, to EVERYONE. Winners forthcoming!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Secret Agent Update

For those of you who are still waiting for your feedback from our Secret Agent:

The Secret Agent has actually read all 50 entries already. Due to the Internet problems, not all the critiques have been posted.

If the Unveiling posts tomorrow before you have received your feedback from the Secret Agent, DON'T PANIC! Your excerpt has already been read and evaluated. The critique will show up as soon as the Secret Agent can manage it.

Thank you for for your patience and understand. Our Secret Agent feels bad about this! It's simply something outside of everyone's control.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Slight Secret Agent SNAFU

Due to circumstances beyond human control (i.e., no Internet connection), our Secret Agent was unable to complete all 50 critiques in time. We will have our Unveiling and the announcing of winners on Wednesday instead of our normal Monday.

Funny, isn't it, how life almost stops when we can't connect? Hard to remember a time in my life when I wasn't hooked up with the rest of the world at the click of a mouse.

At any rate, my apologies! It's just one of those things.

I'll try to be super entertaining in the meantime.

Or not...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Fricassee

And so the weekend begins!

I'll admit, I was a little whiny this round when it came to creating the posts for the Secret Agent entries. It's not difficult or anything; just time-consuming and a bit tedious. And since I'm in the midst of my 1000-words-a-day first draft blitz, I am loath to give up ANY extra time on my beloved Beatrice.

So. Just ever-so-teensy-bit-of-cranky. But I'm over it. ESPECIALLY because I've got two fantastic guys hard at work on creating the Perfectly Automated Secret Agent Submission Process. Oh, yes. It's going to be fabulous. I've got my gaggle of testers lined up, and some time in the next couple of months, things are going to get really streamlined around here!

In other news, I had an interesting experience with my beloved husband this week. You all know by now how deeply involved he has been in the editing process of my recently completed novel. (As in, he ridicules me to the point of painful belly laughter over stilted, dorky dialogue, and then I change it.) Well, he had a sort of melt-down midweek, in which he railed against the submission process, the publishing industry, and the universe in general. You'd think HE was trying to get published. I listened, I bit my tongue, I tried not to take his gloom-and-doom personally. And in the process, I made a huge discovery:

I am sanguine.

Me, the glass-half-empty! Me, the melancholic pianist/poet/wishes-she-were-a-dancer/loves thunderstorms!

Yet it's true. I am. And I feel like it's part of arriving at a "place" in the journey where you're really being propelled forward, as a writer and as a human being. As I listened to dear Mr. A venting his angst, I heard myself in his words, a novel or so ago. I think working through the angst is part of the process. And in listening to my husband processing it, I received the warm satisfaction of knowing that I have walked beyond it to my place of...well, sanguine-ness.

Mind you, I have my moments. Ugly ones, even. But I'm not existing in those moments and they are not defining me. Heck, I'm busy writing a new novel and losing a few pounds before the season of summer wardrobe arrives. Life is full, life is good! And it's hard to describe how it felt to be in a position of counselor, almost, for my husband/crit hero/biggest fan.

"I want to protect you," he said. (I love this man!) But I don't want him to protect me. I don't need him to. I may scream when a wasp dives at me across the front porch, but as a writer I'm tough-as-manatee-hide. Most of the time.

And you need to be, too. Not tough in a "Meh! Nothing can touch me!" sort of way, but tough in an "I understand this, I'm not emotionally wrecked by these ups and downs, this is my career choice, not a reflection of my deepest personhood" sort of way.

That's my wish for you this weekend. You all work hard, you're all passionate about what you produce. Add a good mixture of optimism, confidence, savvy, and calm to the pot, and you'll be well on your way.

Happiness and expensive chocolate to all!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

50 Secret Agent

GENRE: Women's Fiction

“Why have there been no great women composers? Perhaps a mysterious element in the nature of musical creativity runs counter to the nature of the feminine mind.”

—Aaron Copland, 20th-century American composer

If I could have dinner with any deceased person, the great Mr. Aaron Copland would be on the top of my list. After twenty minutes with me, I’d either convince him to retract the above statement or I’d give up music, move to the Amazon, and dye my hair jungle green so I could fit in with the trees and never be heard of again.

That threat alone should show him I can be just as “musically creative” (i.e. crazy) as the boys…I hope, anyway. I would not be happy if I really had to dye my hair green.

I’m no diehard feminist, but Copland’s statement rankles me because I, Katherine Ella Gracie, am a twenty-four-year-old female opera composer.

Sounds like a mouthful of an occupation, but while female and composer don’t go together (as Copland conveniently explained), female and opera composer repel each other like two mismatched magnets. The fact’s been somewhat of a pimple in my existence. Add that to being so young, and I’ve got the type of zit that would keep me from going downstairs to pick up my mail.

49 Secret Agent

TITLE: Kwizera Means Hope

“All cockroaches step forward,” a voice barked the day the genocide arrived at my secondary school.

My heart dropped into my stomach. No one moved.

“Step forward!”

Still no one moved. We all knew what it meant. We had heard the news, on the radio and by word of mouth. We knew these boys in their torn and dirty clothing would kill any girl who stepped forward.

“You, Mzee,” the same boy said, jutting his chin toward our headmaster. “Make the filthy Batutsi show themselves.”

Another boy, in a shirt as red as the Rwandan soil, dragged the headmaster toward the line of us girls.

Would he do it? Would he denounce teenage girls who were guilty of nothing but an accident of birth? Girls he had taught and counseled for at least six months, if not almost six years.

Was my father, also a headmaster, faced with the same choice? Was my brother facing armed, angry men at university? Were my mother and younger siblings safe?

I felt sweat beading on my forehead and the back of my neck and under the waistband of my skirt. Please, God, let us escape this evil. Let me see my family again.

But I knew from the stories passed from village to village that little mercy was shown by the Hutu extremist militias known as the Interahamwe, “those who attack together”.

48 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Thief with Bad Manners
GENRE: chapter book

Teacher says I have this problem. She says, "Melanie Noble, you hang the wrong way on the monkey bars."

But I like hanging the wrong way. So that the world looks all upside down. Only teacher says that’s not good to do. But that's just during special times, I think. Like when a teacher is looking. Or when I’m wearing a skirt. Or when the bell rings. Those are all special times, so I get yelled at.
But this very moment was not a special time. Because no teachers were looking. And the bell hadn’t even rung yet. So there I was, hanging the wrong way on the monkey bars.

And that was when I first saw that strange boy. He just popped right onto the edge of the playground. Right between those two big trees. Like real-life magic.

But that couldn’t be real. The sun was tricking my eyes. Teacher had warned us about that. When people have too much sun, they see loose nations. Which means fake things. So this strange boy had just been standing behind the tree. Or something.

I jumped down from the monkey bars. And then I walked right over to that boy. Mostly to get a better look.

This strange boy didn’t even go to my school, I think. He looked the right age. But I’d never seen him before. Not once in my entire whole life!And his shoes were weird. Like black boxes with white lines on the side.

47 Secret Agent

TITLE: Sisternapped
GENRE: MG adventure

We have your sister.

Give us what we want, and you’ll get her back unharmed.

Tell anyone or go to the police, and Electra dies!

* * *

I have a mind-blowing secret that I have to keep under wraps till Dad’s birthday in four days time. It's not quite ready for the big reveal yet.

Bond, my Old English Sheep Dog lies across my feet while I work.

‘We’re on the home stretch, old boy.’

‘Wumph!’ Bond opens a shaggy eye and winks.

‘We’re a slug’s nose from the finish. What can go wrong now?’

Hunger grabs me. I gently peel Bond’s head off my shoes and wander inside.

Mum’s in the kitchen, microwaving watermelon muffins.

‘Like one, Halogen?’

I stiffen, shake my head. Mum only ever calls me Halogen when she’s got something serious to say. Why would you call a kid Halogen at all? Mum was a science teacher before she turned watermelon farmer. Unluckily for us, her particular interest was electricity. And to make things worse, our last name is Watts? My sister, Electra and I can’t agree on who got the worst deal.

I’m about to Frisbee a crumpet into the toaster, when Aunt Fiona walks in.

The crumpet falls at my feet! I’m sunk! Aunt Fi’s a journalist with a longer nose than Pinocchio. She’d sniff out a story buried 100 feet underground. How will I keep her out of the shed for the next few days? How will I stop her discovering my secret?

46 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Discovery of Socket Greeny
GENRE: YA / Sci-Fi

Blood dripped down my shirt. The tissue up my nose soaked through. I tipped my head back and pulled it out, closed the side of my nostril with one finger. The office door opened.

“Here you go, Socket.” The secretary put a fresh scented tissue on my face. “You’re bleeding a lot more.”

I sat upright. The sudden change of direction made me dizzy. “I’m all right, Ms. Kallenbach.”

She put a box of tissues on the low table and folded her hands on her belly. She stared at my nose. Stared at the pulsing knot on my forehead. Most of all, she stared at my long white hair. Who didn’t?

“Mr. Akers will be in very soon,” she said. “You just call if you need anything else, all right, darling?”

Did I really need to call? She saw me bleed through the tissue on a security lookit: a small silver ball floating over the doorway. Its red eyelight rotated around and watched Ms. Kallenbach leave, then turned its attention back on me.

First day of school and I was in Akers’ office. I’d bet he was visiting the principal to find out what they should do with the Socket Greeny kid that couldn’t wait for school to start before his first fight. I was fifteen. A sophomore. And I was waiting for an emotional counselor. There were two billion other places I wanted to be.

45 Secret Agent

TITLE: Untold

Winter had long since passed the reigns of control on to Spring. Nerves laced with fear drew Alphas’ attention away from the vibrancy and blossoming warmth. Trembling, he attempted to manipulate a way around a repercussion, much bigger than missing a floral reawakening.

This is crazy? he thought, flitting between obeying what the Council had ordered and doing what he felt was right. Unsure, he shifted around the small area bordered with oleander trees, landing right back in front of the waiting audience. His nerves gave out. Sweat surfaced.

The three females and one male bowed waited. Their father’s power was of great importance to them: they had witnessed on countless occasions, how he had achieved things no-one else could; watched and worshipped when things, broken and irreparable were fixed; and felt pride when others in the Community bowed down to his magnificence. Today, his demeanor was unsettling; they looked away.

Meaning to compose himself, Alphas took in a succession of deep breaths. His throat rejected it the air, spraying spittle everywhere.

The offspring shifted, but remained silent.

Sighing, Alphas closed his eyes allowing the freshness of the morning to wash over him. A respectable calm returned within a short time. Still disenchanted about following his heart, and too frightened to disobey an order that would result in extreme punishment, he proceeded.

Widening his eyes, he looked to his assembled offspring; the sight of their deflated bodies triggered something unexpected.

44 Secret Agent

GENRE: Romantic Women's Fiction

The last time Angelita Barros saw her father was six years ago, the day he threw her out of the house. So when she drove up to her boutique and saw him fingering the shoes she’d created, the same shoes that made waves in the industry where names like Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo were synonymous with style and fashion, her stomach dropped to her knees. One look was all it took and she knew everything she’d built since then--her business, her success, her sanity--meant nothing. How dare he--after everything he’d done, after everything he hadn’t done--come trespass on the life she’d built despite him?

There was gray in his hair now, just a dash around the temples, and she saw a paunch around his beltline that hadn’t been there before, but everything else was the same. After all these years she’d recognize Davi Barros anywhere. But what was he doing inside her store? Her shoes were fun, frilly, and fabulous, the tag line Atlanta Wears magazine intended to use in their upcoming spread. From flip-flops to low-heeled sandals to drop dead gorgeous three-inch heels, Angelita Feet was becoming the brand everybody wanted, and the brand she wanted everyone to know about. Everyone but him.

Lita watched him smile at Sophie, her business partner and best friend, the only one who knew the sordid details of her past. To Sophie, Davi was no more than a stranger, a customer who deserved the best.

43 Secret Agent

TITLE: Sad Girl

“We have something to tell you.” Steve said it. Like what they were about to say was something so terrible that he didn’t want the filthy words to cross my mother’s tongue. His stinking pink shirt, and his arm clamped around her shoulder, and that look on his face. Urgh that look. Hopeful and frightened.

Mom had it too. Like I was some kind of monster about to feed and they hoped the small lamb they were about to offer up would be enough to satisfy me. She sat there on that stinking stupid chair—the one that Steve insisted on bringing with him when he moved in two years ago—hands resting on her lap, looking at me. I can’t remember the last time she looked at me. In my eyes anyway. And her brown cow eyes were wet. “Honey,” she was shaking.

Come on. What could you possibly have to tell me that would shock me? You were there when Dad died seven years ago. You eloped with Steve when I was on an overnight camping trip. Seriously, I was ready for anything.

“Just tell me.” I tried to say it gently.

“Oh, let’s just come out with it!” Steve suddenly had a huge grin on his face. Mom squeezed his hand with a timid smile. “Kat, we’re going to have a baby!”

I think I might have passed out for a while. When I could refocus my eyes, all I could see was that Thomas Kinkade painting hanging right behind Mom’s head.

42 Secret Agent

TITLE: White Lilac
GENRE:Young Adult Science Fiction

If I do this I will only have a week left to live. I stand near the edge of the practice aquarium unable to step forward. My heart pounds in my chest at the gray water and I think I might hyperventilate again.

“Caryn, you need to focus,” Seventh Official Anderson says from somewhere behind me. “Are you listening?”

I swallow and nod, but I can’t take my eyes off the water. He steps between me and the aquarium and my focus readjusts to his dark blue suit and buttoned shirt. His tie is missing, like usual, probably stuffed in his pocket and his brown hair has been brushed through with his fingers one too many times so it sticks out beyond the dress code allowance.

“Listen,” he says. “Both May and Janissa want this, so if I look at the scoreboard and your scores are below theirs I will understand. The other officials may not, but I will. This is your life and I am not going to tell you what to do with it. But you are faster, stronger and more agile.”

“And I’m older,” I say.

“You are older, which is why we hold the Tournament, so the others have a chance and you have an honorable excuse to forfeit. Who knows maybe they could beat you, but you need to remember you’re not responsible for what happens to them.”

He has said this a thousand times and yet I still feel it is my duty to protect them, even from themselves.

41 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Magic Diary
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Magic may be good and magic may be bad. But wherever there is magic, witches are not far away. You may think you have never seen one, but I’m sure you have. At least one lives near all of us. She most certainly has a cat and tends the garden every day. She may be old and wise, or she may be young and pretty. She may be the neighbour that bakes you cookies, or the one who calls animal control on your dog. She may be good or evil, but you will never know. Because, even if you ask nicely, she won’t tell you.

Ten-year-old Emily Jones can tell you a thing or two about witches, for she has met one. And a very powerful and wicked one at that.

It all started one autumn day …

“Wake up! It’s time for school!”

Squinting against the bright sunlight seeping in through the thin curtains, Emily turned to her brother. “Leave me alone. I don’t want to go.” She buried her head under the pillow when he pulled at the sheets, almost throwing her out of the bed.

She scowled. Why did he always have to do that? “Stop it! Or I’ll tell Dad.”

“Feel free. He’s not here.” Sammy chuckled and pulled harder.

Emily sat upright and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. “Where is he then? Did he go to see Mum?”

“Don’t be silly. He’s off to work. And he put me in charge. Now get up, squirt, or I’ll make you.”

40 Secret Agent

GENRE: Urban Fantasy

“CONDOMS, condoms . . . where the bloody hell . . . ?” As he rifled through the bedside table, Gavin Cassidy’s hand fell upon a familiar old cigar box. He removed it from the drawer and ran his fingers across its frayed, papery surface.


It hadn’t been there yesterday.

The falcon.

Though he hadn’t thought about his favorite childhood toy in ages, he was grateful for a diversion before heading off to yet another party promising steady supplies of alcohol and eager groupies who fed the illusion that he was living.

Typical night at Mike’s house.

Hell, typical night period.

Tossing a dirty shirt aside, he took the box, sat cross-legged on the bed, flipped open the lid, and removed the tiny bird. A smile creased his lips.

The colors had faded a bit, and the branding on the wooden body was a little worn, but overall, the falcon had held up well for, how long had it been? He remembered playing with it when he was maybe two or three ….must’ve been twenty years he’d had the bird.

He pulled the string on the belly, his smile spreading into a chuckle as the seashell wings flapped. His Aboriginal friend, Yileen, would appreciate a bird like this. In fact, the craftsmanship reminded him of Yileen’s.

He didn’t know where it had come from, but the falcon had always brought him luck. Man, he could use some now.

39 Secret Agent

TITLE: The LordHeirs
GENRE: Contemporary Fantasy

Concealed deep in the shadows of the rain-soaked forest, Daemon watched the female hiker intently, aroused and fixated on every detail. Her piercing blue eyes, the way she huffed at the willful lock of red hair falling in her face, firm breasts swaying with each stride.

She was unlike any of the others. A butterfly set to burst forth from its pupa. But dangerous, so very dangerous.

Thrilled with this long anticipated discovery, a smile stretched across the gaunt face behind the Steiner 1580R military binoculars. Daemon was amused with the young woman’s naiveté regarding her fate, delighted she was oblivious to the inconceivable power a mere fifty feet away. Checking the dagger was secure in its sheath and the syringe within reach, Daemon stood up behind the fallen Sequoia. “I’ve got you, Young One.”


It was early morning and thick, dark clouds choked off the sun’s fiery rays leaving the forest floor dark and devoid of color. Alex had been hiking for over two hours. Her feet slipped on the slick trail and she had to hold on tight to her walking stick to keep from falling to the ground. “Son of a…”

Despite her half curse, the light drizzle didn’t really bother Alex. She loved hiking alone in the wilderness among the giant Sequoias. She breathed in deeply filling her lungs with fresh air when that same strand of hair fell in her eyes for the zillionth time. As Alex brushed the uber-irritating lock out of her eyes, a tingling sensation flickerered up and down the back of her spine – the one that says, something’s not right - be careful.

38 Secret Agent

GENRE: Commercial fiction

Chandra stood waiting for the concert, trying to ignore all the red flags. First, every alt-weekly in Los Angeles wanted to have the band’s children, a sure sign they were over-hyped. Second, the crowd was full of drunken kids from Greek Row shouting and texting each other—the Pabst drinkers of music, she thought. Third, the lead singer shambled on stage like he was doped on cough syrup, or something out of a bong. Still, there was hope. Maybe they were introverts who could only express their genius through music. Maybe their music would transport her to a better place, preferably one that didn’t smell like the crowd (too much melon body spray, and not enough deodorant). After all, this was why she scouted bands, to find the few rough-cut gems. But as the band’s first notes thundered through the club, her hope succumbed to an assault of power chords, a noise so punishing her phone went off like a car alarm in her pants.

She retreated from the amps and realized her phone was ringing, not sending distress signals. The call was from her boss, Preston, which was puzzling since he hardly ever called to ask about a band. Especially in the first thirty seconds.

Chandra ignored his call and concentrated on the band’s opening song. The bassist and guitarist wailed some unintelligible background vocals, and then the lead singer approached the mike. He had no vocal range, and every time he sang a dramatic bit he grunted like he was passing a kidney stone.

37 Secret Agent

TITLE: Booberry Pie
GENRE: Chapter book

“Shhhhhh,” I said to my two best friends, Emma and Tim. “The guests are talking about ghosts.”

We hid behind two big, green plants beside the porch at the Mountain Air Bed and Breakfast. That’s the inn my parents run. Inn rule # 1. Do not interrupt when adults are talking, especially adult guests. There is no rule about hiding and listening, not yet.

“Seen any ghosts around here?” the man asked the woman. They walked across the porch and sat in rockers, side by side.

Ghosts here! I thought. A chill ran through me and froze my words before I could spit them out.

“Ghosts?” I heard the woman ask. “Here?” She didn’t sound too happy about it either.

“Heard any?” the man said, like seeing or hearing a ghost was the most normal thing in the world.

“No, I haven’t,” the woman answered.

I peeked through the bushes for a better look. The man had white hair that sprouted every which way. His skin was so white and thin; he looked pale as a ghost himself. I’ve never actually seen a ghost, but I think it would be as white and thin as fog. The man wasn’t that thin, but close. He looked like he stepped right out of the past, from the top hat to the vest to the buttoned shoes.

“My name is Napoleon T. Geist,” the man said. “I prefer the name Pole.”

The woman said her name was Molly.

36 Secret Agent

TITLE: Shaping Fate
GENRE: Historical Fantasy

The rhythmic squeak of the death cart's wheels interrupted London's silent midnight. The smell of rotting meat accompanied the two men who pushed the rickety cart stacked high with corpses. Several bore the telltale black rings encircling swollen, red lumps on their necks and armpits; others with blood caked at the corners of their mouths.

William sat in his kitchen and gazed through the cracked window pane to the street below. The chill of the early spring night slithered inside and sent a shiver through William. He’d seen the same two men at the same loathsome chore during the day, but the foggy darkness created a more macabre scene.

As the cart rolled by, it hit a loose stone, causing one of the corpses to flop off the cart. The gray-skinned woman hit the ground, her lifeless milky eyes catching William’s in a morbid gaze. He turned away as one of the men hobbled over and hoisted the woman back onto the cart, mumbling something William could not make out.

Pestilence had laid itself upon the land like a death shroud. Young, old, men, women, children, pious, faithless. . .Death had diminished each. Some believed it to be the Wrath of God. Others believed that hell had broken loose on earth. Neither option swayed William. His only concern was to keep his wife and daughter untouched by this awful scourge.

35 Secret Agent

TITLE: Two Chocolates Short of Crazy
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Shock after shock bled the color right out of me. By the end of August, even my dreams turned black and white.

But that June, returning home two days before graduation, I had no idea.

I pushed open our apartment door. “Claire? You home?” I dropped my hiking boots to the floor and sloughed off my grimy backpack.

My voice echoed, and that’s when I noticed Claire’s couch was missing. And her floral area rug. A dust-ball stirred in the corner where her potted palm had been.

I remember thinking, We've been robbed.

“Claire?” I walked into the kitchen and saw a note on the counter.

Shock #1.

Malia—Claire’s sick, and we’re flying home. Her things are in storage. Give us a call when you get back—Sinead McKenna.

What the hell?

I glanced at my watch. 8:30 p.m.—almost midnight in Boston, too late to call. I showered, threw on some shorts and my favorite Proud to be PINOY T-shirt, and headed to Daniel’s. He’d know what was going on.

I laced up my running shoes and jogged through campus, past the Santa Marita church and the dorms. Hills of dry grass and California poppies framed one side of the USM campus; small shops and cafés, the other. I turned onto the oak-lined street and slowed in front of a Craftsman-style house, where Daniel lived.

The last time I'd seen him, we were cramming for our liberation theology exam at my apartment.

34 Secret Agent

TITLE: Again
GENRE: Young Adult Paranormal

I sighed in relief as I pulled into the mountain resort’s parking lot. No more turning up my iPod to drown out my parents’ arguments. No more being forced to take sides. No more having to pretend that everything was going to be okay.

“Emma, you’re here!” Rebecca hugged me as I stepped from the car. “Come on. Job orientation starts soon, but I wanna show you around first.”

I pulled my bags from the trunk and followed Rebecca down the shady path. I paused to look at the pool. Toward the deep end, a group of teenagers laughed as they dangled their feet in the water.

A cute guy sat off to the side. He was watching the group, yet seemed disinterested in their conversation. He wasn’t wearing a swimsuit like the others, but had on a pair of well-worn jeans and a plain white t-shirt. Although his curly hair was long enough to fall into his eyes, it wasn’t moving in the slight summer breeze that made me shiver. He turned my way and looked straight at me. Despite my normal shy behavior, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him. His eyes widened briefly before narrowing in disbelief.

Embarrassed, I turned away. When I looked back again, the guy wasn’t there. I looked around but couldn’t figure out where he could have gone so quickly. Shaking my head in confusion, I followed Rebecca down the path to our cabin.

33 Secret Agent

TITLE: Heaven Sent
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Lemme tell you, heaven isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When I was alive, I really did think heaven was nothing but lounging around on puffy clouds, dressed in sandals and glowing robes, sucking down nectar and ambrosia all day—whatever that stuff is. And everyone would have wings, just like the big fluffy ones the Victoria Secret models strut down the runway wearing. Oh, and golden halos—can’t forget those.

But heaven isn’t that way at all. Don’t get me wrong—it’s nice. I don’t ever feel hungry or thirsty. I don’t have a period anymore, and I don’t worry about whether my butt looks too wide, or whether I should buy some of those chicken-cutlet thingies to make my boobs look bigger. My pits don’t sweat, and my breath doesn’t stink. Those kinds of things just don’t matter anymore.

But heaven is work. Hard work. Angels—if that’s what you wanna call us—don’t just sit around on their duffs all day—we’ve gotta earn our keep. Heaven is a big place, and just like anywhere else, it takes a lot of upkeep. Keeping the trains running on time, as my dad always used to say, is vital to any business. And that’s exactly what heaven is. There aren’t any paychecks on Fridays or sick-leave or health benefits, but it’s still a business.

There are millions of people on earth who need protection. Or sometimes, they just need a little nudge in the right direction. There are angels who inspire artists, and angels who deliver messages. And there are angels who solve the mysteries that the living can’t seem to, which is what my job ended up being.

After I died, I had to solve the mystery of my own murder. Kind of a crappy job, considering—but you gotta roll with the punches. That one’s another tidbit of wisdom from my father, and it’s a good one.

32 Secret Agent

TITLE: Seeing Red: Set 'Em Up, Joe
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Just me, a bottle of Oban, and Pamela the bartender. Hard to tell which was smoother. I’d just had my fill of Pamela, so I reached for the Oban. I poured a double, leaned back in my seat and watched as she started to close down the place.

She shelved all but the bottle in front of me, wiped down the already gleaming bar, and then turned her attention to a few remaining dirty glasses.

She washed each one, and then began to dry them with a glaringly white towel. Her work was quick and focused, and she seemed eager to be done with it. I knew the feeling.

Pamela stopped her task long enough to change out their typical yuppie bar music for a compilation of my personal favorites she’d made for me soon after we met. Amazing how quickly she’d figured out my tastes, seemed to know what made my blood boil and what made it merely simmer.

Even more amazing, her knowing something about me didn’t cause the usual reaction. The more time I spent with Pamela, the less I felt on full alert. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. Hell, I knew it wasn’t a good thing—but for now, I was fine with enjoying the ride, however brief it had to be.

The music started, and as I hummed along to the first few bars of One For My Baby, something inside me stirred. The melody played out, and soon the crooning of Ol’ Blue Eyes lulled me to a place of easy contemplation.

31 Secret Agent

TITLE: Destroyer of Light
GENRE: Mythical romance

Eros walked to where Kore lay in the grass and pressed a hand to the soft flesh of her breast, taking great care to be gentle. His mind pressed past the goose flesh that appeared beneath his fingers and into the heart below. Bomp, bom bomp, bomp, bom bomp. He kneeled for several minutes feeling her rhythm then took his hand away; it pulsated to the same beat though the rest of his body remained under the control of his own heart.

Having all he needed he left her and flew back to the clouds. With the first part of his business taken care of he returned his body to its natural state. The disconcerting feeling of being without a visible form was not something he enjoyed though it was often necessary; his purpose usually required stealth.

He selected an arrow from his quiver and gripped it in his right hand until it came alive with the imprinted rhythm. The effect of fitting it into the bow was immediate and he let it pull him through the humid air without much thought to where it led. The closer the target the stronger the pull became and soon it was all he could do to stay in the sky.

He beat his wings to stay aloft, like dog paddling in the ocean, and surveyed the scene before him. A few mortal women were gathered outside of a house kneading dough, their very human smell of grain and loam wafting up to him.

30 Secret Agent

GENRE: Paranormal Romance

The sky was a sea of clouds ablaze in fiery gold and carnelian, as if
the world were about to end. Serenity Shaw stood at the window of
Dougie’s office, watching the sun fade across the Hudson River, below
the New Jersey horizon. This used to be her office, but now she only
came on Fridays to do her consultations.

“Everything I’ve heard about you is true.”

Serenity turned to her client, an amiable guy in a Mr. Rogers sort of
way, sans the sweater. Late fifties with a receding hairline, he
didn’t seem the type who’d want a tattoo at this stage in his life,
but she didn’t judge a book by its cover. Her energy stream did the
reading for, telling her all she needed to know about someone.

“It was worth waiting two months for an appointment and five hundred
dollars for this,” he said, holding up the drawing that one of the
other artists would soon etch on his shoulder. He rose from the worn
leather chair. “How are you able to see my soul?”

“A gift I was born with.” The first time she touched someone an image
unfurled in her mind. Translated on to paper the clients felt it
captured their soul, and the customers’ feelings meant the difference
between unrivaled success and pinching pennies.

Dougie emerged in the doorway and folded his brawny arms, adorned with
her ink work, across his chest. One corner of his mouth lifted into a
sidelong grin. “Your next appointment booked under a pseudonym.
You’ll never guess who it is. This could get us international
recognition, hun. Don’t fail me now.”

29 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Girl in the Bunker
GENRE: Historical fiction

My diary had to be perfect.

22 April 1945. Uncle Adolf finally sent for me!

My words looked splendid and bold on the rich paper, though I could hardly read them because of the cardboard blocking every pane of glass. I tilted my diary towards the threads of light that crept through at the edges. My neck ached, but I had to sit on the windowseat because if I used the dining room table, the little girls would nag me to look at their drawings or put clothing on their dolls. After the war ended, Mother would help me choose a proper writing desk, with compartments for all of my stationery and photographic postcards. She’d instruct Father’s adjutant to place my desk in the corner of her office, not far from her own, so we could work together.

When I was little, Father took me to visit Uncle Adolf as often as once a week, so it’s hard to believe I haven’t seen him since he came to our house in December. We baked him a special cake, and the five of us girls wore our white dresses and sang a lovely folk tune. Then we listened intently as he told us how he’d invented the most marvelous, destructive weapons in the history of the world, to smash all his enemies with. He swung his fists so hard he knocked a teacup off the table!

That was over four months ago. Why did he take so long to end the war?

28 Secret Agent

TITLE: Black Diamonds
GENRE: Action Romance

Sofie. Sofie’s parents. Jamie knew it was all over, and she had to get out of Los Angeles. Not that she cared to think about it now, because she was in the middle of speeding down Route 66 East somewhere in New Mexico. She was headed toward Massachusetts where her own parents waited for her.

Hours earlier, Jamie had risen before the sun to pack one suitcase, her camping gear, a pair of forty-pound dumbbells, and three boxes filled with books. Now the June sun blanched the canyon walls and mesas hovered on distant horizons; the air was suffused with the scents of sagebrush and baked dust. The changing visage through the windshield made it possible to push away uncertainty. Eyes fixed on the white line dividing the two-lane highway, she sailed past billboards hawking turquoise jewelry, ice cream, cheap motels and horses using their tails to flick flies from their haunches.

She was a traveler with no plan. Her future had no shape. Knots of tension began to form in her neck, her eyes burned with fatigue, and her stomach growled. Now that she was on the road, this decision seemed more complicated. She had to struggle against the temptation to turn around. But she knew she was not suited for teaching. She also knew that she missed the kind of feelings that trigger pleasant prickles of expectancy and newness.

27 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA fantasy

Alessandria slouched in the airplane chair, making herself inconspicuous out of habit. Her old earbuds in, she tapped her foot absently to the fuzzy music. Like most of her possessions, her mp3 player was second-hand, knock-off brand, and in rough shape. She held a worn book open in her lap, a familiar activity for her, but her mind was uncharacteristically elsewhere: Italy. The very name sent a symphony of thoughts and feelings through her. I can’t believe I get to go back. It’s crazy how it feels so different this time.

“Whatcha reading Alex?”

Alessandria turned to look at her friend next to her. “Virgil’s Aeneid, how about you?”

“Isn’t that a little intense for a summer break?” She poked at the open page of Alex’s book and then flashed the front of her own book, “I’m reading ‘Hearts of Horror’. There’s a mysterious zombie lover. You should read it when I’m done.”

Alex chuckled as she wrinkled up her nose. “Um, first thing Kristy: eww. And second: technically this is still school.”

Kristy flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder. “You need to lighten up. It’s a semester of study in Italy. There has to be some sort of vacation involved too, right?”

“I know,” Alex held her hands up in surrender. “I just don’t want the professors to start thinking ‘Well there’s that High School Student, slacking off again’.”

A snort of laughter came from her friend. “Look around at us ‘college students’.” Kristy used her fingers to make quotation marks in the air.

26 Secret Agent

TITLE: Bitter Bar Girl
GENRE: Commercial Fiction

Another Friday night behind the bar. The crowd edges in to order. I take a deep breath to buy myself time, then head for nerdy guy in the tan sports coat.

“What’s on tap?” he asks, unenlightened by the clearly marked spigots grazing his prominent nose.

“Two blonds and a bad-a** redhead,” I say.

“I hate to tell you,” he says with disdain, “but not all foaming beverages qualify as beer.”

“Thanks for the heads up.”

I picture a shot glass bouncing off his forehead.

He takes time to assess the hand-printed menu board listing all the bottled brews. Meanwhile, the murmur of the unserved rises to a near-deafening crescendo.

“Don’t you have cream stout? Irish oatmeal? Imperial?” he asks. The dingy carpet, the sloppy black paint job on the walls, the year round Christmas tree lights—none of these gave him the hint.

“No, no and no,” I say, assessing the crowd of three-deep patrons now forming en masse to stampede.

“Fine,” he whines, “just give me something Belgian.”

I feel a pulse beat rise in my temple as scathing looks ping at me from every direction. I go from zero to Bitter Bar Girl in 2.1 seconds.

“Should I talk more slowly or find someone who speaks dick head?” she inquires.

“Uh…” he sputters.

“There’s no secret beer for special people. You are in my bar. This is my world. So either cowboy up, or get the hell out.”

“Harp,” he bleats. I oblige and leave him to stew in his barley.