Thursday, February 28, 2013

Update: Authoress's Editing Services

So I've hit my stride, and it looks like this:  6 projects per month.  This feels doable.  The last thing I want to do is to burn myself out by taking on too many projects and then not being able to give my best to each client.

I'm doing fairly in-depth line edits, so I don't need to be all ugh-another-one-someone-shoot-me when I sit down to work.  Right?

It's all good.  But it means that I'm now scheduled into early June.  If you would like to hire me to edit your first 3 chapters, please bear in mind that your name will be added to the existing queue as soon as I receive your down payment and your actual project.

(I have a spreadsheet.  I am so proud of myself I can hardly speak.  No, really.)

More thoughts:

  • If you have NEVER SHOWN YOUR WORK TO ANYONE BEFORE, I would encourage you to seek a critique partner BEFORE hiring me.  There's no reason for us to spend money while we are in the early stages of learning our craft.  I feel strongly about this.  (I mean, you can hire me anyway, but I don't believe it would be in your best interest if you are that early in the game.)
  • If you know your project won't be ready for critique for several months, you might want to go ahead and get into the queue now.  You can always send me an updated .doc file before your turn comes up.
  • Please proofread.  I correct everything I find, and if some of these errors are due to lack of careful checking, it's not the best use of my time.

If you have specific questions, please feel free to email me at authoress.edits(at)  Please do NOT email editing questions to my other addresses.  AUTHORESS EDITS is separate from my blogging activities.  (Maybe I'm easily confused, but it works better this way.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Our First 2012 Baker's Dozen SUCCESS STORY!

I've admittedly been TWITCHING to post a success story, especially after the rabid fighting that went on behind the scenes for this particular entry! Enjoy, in the author's own words:

After a year of writing my 1960s-set YA novel The Astronaut's Daughter, I decided to dip my toes in the submission world by promptly signing up for three blog pitch contests in September 2012. By the month's end, I was drowning in feedback, but that's exactly what I wanted: feedback--and possibly some agent attention--before I started querying. I received quite a few requests from agents, a mix of fulls and partials.

The Authoress' Baker's Dozen contest rolled around just as agent responses (er, rejections) started rolling in. I'd been an avid commenter during the monthly Secret Agent contests, and since my MS was ready to go, I entered. A few names on the list were too good to pass up. Getting through to the final round felt like a victory in itself; I'd read about this contest for two years and knew how competitive it would be.

Now, because I had a bit of contest knowledge from my busy September, I assumed (wrongly) that the day the BD contest went live, the agents would leisurely peruse and comment on the entries throughout the day. I was quite proud of myself for having just set an appointment for an HVAC company to clear out the ductwork in my house, when a fellow writer (Baker's Dozen success story Helene Dunbar, who I met through Miss Snark's critique partner match up) emailed me about the bids on my MS. Then I saw the twitter interactions: are you seeing what's happening on Miss Snark's blog?!

Bidding for my entry closed out in just a few minutes, with some bickering between the agents (playfully, I'm told, though with agents you never know). Besides the winning agent, I received 4 more requests from Baker's Dozen. Within days, Authoress was emailing me that the agents wanted to know why I hadn't sent the MS. They were EAGER! In the time between entering the contest and the actual bidding, I'd heard back from several agents from previous submissions who pointed out the same weakness in my story. While my MS was technically complete, I knew that changes were needed. I contacted the agents to let them know I could send now, as-is, or if they were willing to wait a few weeks, I could incorporate my revisions and send then. The winning agent suggested I take my time and send it in the new year, given December is a slow time for publishing. She agreed I should offer up my best work.

I revised, sent to readers, made corrections, and sent the MS out in mid-January. I received one rejection right away (it hurt too, she is a really good agent). I was sure I'd need to overhaul it again, but I wanted to wait for the other rejections before picking it apart. (To pass the time, I played a lot of Halo 4 multi-player and read non-fiction books on American wars--latent aggression to deal with...) The first week of February, the winning agent emailed me with an offer. I was shocked! The east coast was prepping for a blizzard, so she suggested we set up a call for the following Monday. I nudged the other agents, and received a request for a call with a second agent, who had been involved in the fierce and fast bidding. Both of them encouraged me to reach out to their clients, and that almost made the decision more difficult. Their clients LOVE them--like gushing, raving, exploding with joy kind of affection. I spent a few days frantically sending out twitter DMs and trading emails with other writers.

In the end, I signed with Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown, Ltd. She'd won the Baker's Dozen bidding war, she'd hounded Authoress about when I was sending my MS, she'd given me the luxury of editing through to the new year, and her enthusiasm practically reached out through the phone. In our call, she kept bringing the conversation back to specifics about my book, what she liked, how we could strengthen it, and its future in the market. I'm still shocked, but so excited. I'm grateful for this blog for helping me craft a query and an opening page, and of course for the contest. Thank you Authoress for all you do!

Stephanie Scott 
Twitter: @StephScottIL

Monday, February 25, 2013


This month's winners are as follow:

#17 - Facing Fire
#22 - The Awakening of Minna Gray
#28 - The Princess of Panchala
#34 - Love You to Death
#38 - Divide
#43 - The Black Flower
#49  - Teaching the Cowboy


Ms. Albert has offered a first chapter critique to all winners.  (Woooo!)  Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at) for submission instructions.

Congratulations, all!

Secret Agent Revealed: Jordy Albert

Huge thanks to this month's enthusiastic and helpful Secret Agent, Jordy Albert of The Booker Albert Literary Agency.

Jordy's Bio:

Jordy Albert is a Literary Agent and co-founder of The Booker Albert Literary Agency. She holds a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University, and a M.A. from Millersville University of Pennsylvania. She has worked with Marisa Corvisiero during her time at the L. Perkins Agency and the Corvisiero Literary Agency. Jordy also works as a freelance editor/PR Director. She is a fan of the SyFy, History and Discovery Channels, enjoys studying languages (French/Japanese), spends time teaching herself how to knit, is a HUGE fan of Doctor Who, and loves dogs. 

What Jordy's Looking For:

She is looking for stories that capture her attention from beginning to end; stories that have heart, and characters that are hard to forget. She would love to see fresh, well-developed plots featuring travel with unique, exotic settings, competitions, or time travel. She is particularly interested in romance (contemporary or historical) and women's fiction. Jordy is also looking for YA and New Adult contemporary/historical or dystopian, sci-fi/fantasy. She is looking for YA that is heavy on romance. She is also open to YA LGBT within those genres. She enjoys intelligent, quirky characters with a deadpan sense of humor. Jordy is not looking for stories post-marriage/divorce/children, erotica, inspirational or paranormal at this time.

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Warning: THIS POST CONTAINS DOWNTON ABBEY SPOILERS.  If you haven't finished watching Season 3, please don't read beyond this point!

*waits for the Spoiler Avoiders to leave*

So, this is weird--mostly because Mr. A and I stopped watching TV years ago.  We watch movies; we watch British series that we own on DVD; we watch Peter Gabriel's Secret World concert when the spirit moves us.  But we don't watch TV.  It's not part of our lifestyle anymore.

(Well, there's the NFL.  Mr. A will watch his weekly games during the fall.  But I am as far away from the TV room as possible during those horrid hours.)

And then, thanks to the wonder that is Apple TV, Mr. A discovered Downton Abbey several months after the first season had aired.  We'd never heard of it; we'd missed the hype. And we fell in love with the lush cinematography, the glorious soundtrack, the brilliant writing, and the flawless acting.

We were hooked.

And then, a few nights ago, we watched the final episode of Season 3, and it all went down the toilet.

Hear me out -- this is not a schmoopy, oh-my-gawd-how-could-they-kill-Matthew-I-am-in-love-with-him rant.  There was so much foreshadowing in the episodes leading up to this one that it was no great shock.  I knew something was going to happen to destroy Mary and Matthew's happy union.  And this was certainly the worst possible thing that could have happened.

But, seriously?  The melodrama of a violent car crash in the last thirty seconds of what had been a delightful finale is not what I had come to expect from Downton.  Now, I know the writers had their hands proverbially tied, since Dan Stevens had announced he'd be leaving the show.  And, truly, there wouldn't have been a much more believable way to get rid of him, considering Matthew's undying love for Mary.  The writers did what they could.

Which brings us to Dan Stevens himself.  Of course he's free to make his own career choices.  Of course he had the right not to renew his contract with Downton.  But the nagging question is--did he think this through from a fan standpoint?  Did it occur to him what a severe impact his decision would have on those who have invested in the show and its characters?

Because I am not invested in the show anymore.  I don't even want to go back and watch the old episodes (we own 2 of the seasons), because always the knowledge of what looms ahead for poor Matthew will spoil it for me.

And I'm not your typical fangirl.  I'm not swooning on my fainting couch and tearing locks of my hair out.  This is a gut-level, tear-free reaction.  Because I was just that invested in the characters.  They are that well written.  They are that well portrayed.

But I can't afford to invest in a show that would foist a sudden, melodramatic, oozing-very-dark-blood death scene, and then fade to black.  It was easy to talk myself out of it afterward.  Downton Abbey is, in the end, nothing more than a period soap opera.  The is-he-dead-or-isn't-he cliff hanger is a longstanding trope.

But you knew he was dead, and so did I.  It was the death stare.  Nobody loses consciousness with his eyes open; but people do die with their eyes open.  So, yeah.  As soon as I saw him, I blurted, "Oh, he is so dead."  (Which is not quite the same as shrieking, "Oh no! Oh no! Oh nooooo he can't be dead he can't be dead he can't be dead!")

And that was before the ominous, dark blood trailed down his too-white cheek.

Downton has lost my heart.  And I'll bet I'm not alone.

So, what does this have to do with being a writer?  Well, it's the writers of shows like this who are ultimately making it happen (or not).  The best actor in the world isn't going to shine without a stellar script.  And Downton's writers were basically told, "Dan's leaving," and they had to go with it.  Apparently, they didn't kill him off earlier in the season because they wanted as much time as possible with him.  I don't blame them.  But the last-minute tragedy was far beyond the anguish of watching Lady Sybil die of eclampsia.  (I was wrecked for a week after that episode.  But ultimately it worked, and I was able to move on with the series.)

There's no moving on for me after this.  (Yes, I'll be watching Season 4.  But I'm not looking forward to it; I'm dreading it.  I won't let myself stay invested.)  I'm not "wrecked" this time.  I'm disgusted and deflated.

I'm sure you've all read how J.K. toyed with the idea of killing off Ron Weasley in one of the books.  Can you imagine the fan backlash that would have occurred?  I'm not saying writers should defer to a fan base over what is best for a story, but it is certainly a consideration.  (Once you have a fan base, that is.)  You all know that a well-planned character death can be a poignant and necessary thing.  But Ron's death would have destroyed a part of what was magical about Harry Potter -- the ne'er-say-die threesome who made it all the way through to the end.  We loved them.  We loved some of the characters that did die, but we didn't have a Ron Weasley level of investment in those characters.

Imagine if Peeta had died.

Imagine if Sam Gamgee had died.

Life can be hard, and fiction has the power to create in our minds something apart from life.  I'd rather leave behind a story or a show with a good feeling.  Even if terrible things were part of the story (and a story without terrible things would be boring), I still want to feel hopeful at the end.  Relieved that the characters who mattered most are still there.

That's just me, as a reader and as a viewer.  Not everyone will react to Downton as I have.  Not everyone will feel betrayed enough to disengage their hearts from the show.  But for me, the magic is over.

I feel supremely better, having vented. I'm eager to hear your reaction to Matthew's tragic end, and what it means for the future of Downton (and for your emotional state).  Please share!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February Secret Agent #ALT-1

TITLE: After Life
GENRE: Women's Fiction

The day before I died, Charlie and I danced to B.B. King. When the song started, I saw the smiles on the faces of our family and friends, many who had been at our wedding 30 years ago. For me and Charlie, Guess Who? was always our song.

My sons, both taller than me for several years now, were mimicking us, alternating which one was a woman with pouty lips and batting eyelashes. I saw Mom slip behind them, place a hand on each of their shoulders and give them her patented don’t-try-it-again look.

I sighed. “I thought by this point, they would be showing up at these kinds of things with their own dates instead of still pretending to be each others.”

Charlie just shook his head. “They’ll figure it out someday. At least they are friends again.” Through the dance, I saw both our parents, friends of the foundation, hospital, so many people joining us to celebrate. Charlie put his hand on the small of my back and pulled me closer, redirecting all my attention to just him. “I love you Nora,” he whispered. As the song ended, Charlie took my face in both his hands and kissed me amid the applause.

I’m not sure what I expected from life after life. Maybe a big golden gate, a bearded man in a white robe demanding names, verifying quality of character and dates of death on some sort of massive database, ushering in lines of people.

February Secret Agent #50

TITLE: Needing Her
GENRE: Women's Fiction

I wanted to hear “It’s a girl!” for Christmas.

A sweet, baby girl I would sing dreamy lullabies to, wrap in my arms, and snuggle close. She’d be a beautiful springtime baby born just in time for Easter.

I envisioned my little girl wearing a dress with pink stripes over soft white linen. I could see her chubby cheeks, eyes as blue as mine, and my husband’s dimples. She would be the perfect match to our three-year-old son.

“Are you ready to find out?” my husband, Ryan, asked me.

We sat in the doctor’s office, waiting for our twenty-week ultrasound. Our son Wyatt played next to me with two dump trucks we brought along.

“BAM!” Wyatt screeched, crashing one dump truck into the other. The loser rolled down the polished armrest of the chair, careening to the carpet.

“Wyatt, pipe down,” Ryan said.

Our son grinned up at his father, one side of his lips hitched up higher.

“I still think the baby’s going to be a girl,” Ryan said, flipping briskly through a sports magazine.

“I hope it’s my girl,” I said, for what seemed like the twentieth time that week.

Ryan grimaced. “Victoria,” he chided. “The health of the baby is all that matters. You know that.”

“I know, I know,” I let my words trail off. He knew all about my longtime dream to have a daughter, so I could piece together a part of the void that lingered in me.

February Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Teaching the Cowboy
GENRE: Romance

“I’ve been holding my tongue for the past minute afraid you’d bite my head off, but, s***, honey, I think we passed it.”

Veronica Silver kept her eyes locked on the deserted highway ahead and said nothing. She meditated on the hazy horizon ahead. She ground her teeth. With a quick flick of her gaze to the right, she growled.

“Yeesh.” Her co-driver, and best friend of more than two decades, cautiously extended a hand and gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Ronnie, that means we have to turn around,” he said in that pedantic, patronizing tone that always made her wonder why they were friends at all.

She tightened her grip on the steering wheel and eased her foot off the accelerator. “I know what it means, Phil.”

He eased his hand away and reoriented the paper map he held on his lap. They’d picked it up at rest stop somewhere in Nebraska. Phil thought it’d been funny when Ronnie’s phone lost 4G, 3G, and golly-gee, for that matter. He’d laughed and made some quip about how his network had more cellular towers than any other carrier in the country. He’d navigated them from the point of Ronnie’s cellular dead zone in Ogallala to Kimball, and then his majestic cellular bauble took a crap, too. They were navigating in analog, and doing so was testing the mettle of their longtime acquaintance.

“What time are they expecting you?”

Ronnie performed a three-point turn in five points before answering. “Eleven.”

February Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Grim Crush
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

He was taking too long to die.

Sometimes it seemed like these things took longer than usual. I guess I shouldn’t be too eager to collect a person’s soul, but the waiting and anticipation drove me nuts.

I stepped up to the precipice of the cliff until the tips of my boots hung off the edge. Leaning forward, I stared down the fifty or so yards to the ground below. When I shifted my feet, tiny rocks tumbled down the red-orange crags of the cliff face.

Yep, a fall from here will do it all right.

Sighing, I stood up straight and crossed my arms, staring off to my left. I hated that I had to be here early. Death had some pretty stupid rules. I could be doing something else rather than waiting for this guy to kick the bucket.

He was probably in his mid-twenties. A guy of average build, with black hair like mine. He had on a backpack and held a camera in his hands; an expensive one with a large lens like what photographers used. He was taking pictures of the birds in the trees, while standing way too close to the precipice.

A nature buff. Great. I’d picked up another one of these last week. They needed to learn to be more careful.

The nature guy took another step back, his foot inches from the cliff edge. He continued taking pictures without paying attention to the sheer drop behind him.

February Secret Agent #47

TITLE: Keeping Clive
GENRE: Women's Fiction

I used to believe in fate, but that was before.

Before, when I was young and running, and the wind felt like it meant something great and grand coming my way. I haven't run for years, and I couldn't tell you why exactly. I just seem to have lost that piece of me somewhere in the mix of life, work, babies and too many sleepless nights.

My father has reminded me though. He’s wearing pressed, white burial clothes and lying in a shiny mahogany casket. What's curious are the shoes on my father's feet. They are the same white running shoes he wore to my college cross-country try-out so many years ago, but in his white-cushioned casket, they look completely out of place.

Old, cracked, the tread completely worn, the laces rags, the white actually more akin to death's grey skin tone. My heart softens slightly when I look over at my mother. She hates to iron and she hated those shoes, and yet she pressed my father's clothes so nicely, and put those old shoes on his feet.

The official funeral was in the middle of corn country, the Midwest, where I was raised. Crowds of people came to celebrate my father who, by any standard, was a great man. But he did not want to be buried in Omaha. We brought him home, returned to his birthplace in Cache Valley, Idaho, where he had bought two plots soon after marrying my mother. We used to laugh about that.

February Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Where There Were Deserts, I Saw Fountains

Joni Margulis fiddled with her camera, attaching it to a wooden railing. Down the hill below her was the Schuylkil River winding its way past Boathouse Row to center city Philadelphia. Behind her was the art museum, rose-colored in the light of the setting spring sun. At her feet was her dog, Grendel, big and brown, slobbering over a tennis ball she had been chasing for the last ten minutes. And hastily taped to a nearby bench, unnoticed by Joni or Grendel or the tourists wandering about, was an envelope containing a photo of Joni, dead.

Joni stared at the screen of her camera.

Aiming at the river, Joni saw a few dozen people on the patio by the water. She muttered to herself. Crowds had been gathering ever since someone had taken a blurry cell phone picture of something in the water. It might have been a large aquatic monster, it might have been a trick of the shadows, or it might have just been a doctored photograph. Joni was certain the last was true. The local media, however, had decided it was clearly a monster and had even dubbed it “Schuylkill Sally.” It annoyed Joni no end. Each day tourists walked over from the Rocky statute, hoping to catch a glimpse of Sally. Even worse was that Kelly, her best friend and next-door neighbor, was obsessed with the alleged creature. Kelly had been at the river mere moments before the incident occurred and now she would talk of nothing else.

February Secret Agent #45

TITLE: Courtland
GENRE: YA (SFF/Contemporary)

You don't know me. If you knew me, you wouldn't like me, and maybe I'd hate you. Maybe as much as I hate myself.

"Helen," My mother yells, "you're going to be late for school."

I move around my room, tidying the curtains and smoothing the bedspread. I arrange three decorative pillows into side-by-side diamonds. I survey the bed, smooth it one more time. On my desk, a metallic blue pen sits next to my laptop. I return it to the first small slot of the pen holder. I adjust the pad of paper that I use for my lists so that it's no longer crooked. I shut my laptop.

"Helen! We have to leave now."

After double checking that my EpiPen is in the front compartment of my backpack, I grab my lint remover and do a quick roll of the bag, my pants and my jacket. I turn off the lights and click the door shut behind me.

I take a deep breath and run through a mental checklist to make sure I didn't forget anything. When my mom yells again, I force myself to head downstairs.

Mom and I don't speak for most of the drive to school. Invisible waves of fury flow from her, crashing against me as if I'm a lone rock on the edge of the Pacific.

"I'd appreciate it if just once you would answer me when I speak to you," she says.

I close my eyes and hold fast as a fresh wave breaks over me. God.

February Secret Agent #44

TITLE: The Chestnut Maiden
GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy

Lesandro d’Orsino decided the poet Dante should have named the onerous search for a bride as one of the seven levels of the Inferno. If he included the past three days within a cramped carriage, the experience would qualify as the Devil’s own punishment. At first, it hadn’t been too difficult, trotting from manor to castle throughout the spring and summer. The girls themselves were pretty enough, if one ignored the fact that they barely possessed two digits representing their age. The pale things even tried to flirt, coaxed by hard-eyed parents. Yet, they inspired no raptures.

When the Countess de Tromperie, despite being ten years his senior, tried to claim his interest with arched eyebrows and her womanly attributes nearly falling out of her bodice, Lesandro had nearly sighed with relief. However, he quickly realized she was ill-suited for the task. The woman couldn’t converse about much beyond the quality of her silk dresses and the latest castle gossip.

It was common knowledge that most noble couples only tolerated each other, yet…

Yet, he remembered the looks of affection and even desire that echoed between his parents. Even after his mother had been disfigured, his father’s love hadn’t waned. Was it too much to hope for similar fate?

Perhaps he was just a mutton-headed fool.

Taddeo, Marchese d’Ivrea, Lesandro’s cousin, companion, and chaperone jostled his knee from across the confines of the carriage. “Will you stop humming that funeral dirge? I cannot stand another league of that dismal tune.”

February Secret Agent #43

TITLE: The Black Flower
GENRE: YA Fantasy

A little girl and her mother stood beneath the burning desert sun. Sand-filled winds battered their skin and eyes. Breaths had to be taken slowly to tolerate the shimmering air rising from the ground. A grey rock formation nearby was the only landmark in the miles of hot, dry lakebed surrounding them.

The girl’s name was Amiria. At the age of five, she could almost disappear into the mass of tangled blonde hair spiraling down her back. The many strands of gold weaved into it sparkled as the wind blew through them. The emerald eyes she shared with her mother gleamed wildly beneath her pale eyebrows. Her clothing was little more than scraps of cloth sewn together crudely. Her tiny feet had no protection from the scalding ground.

After three days beneath that awful sun, Amiria was beyond thirsty. Her lips were cracked and bleeding. She couldn’t even spit to remove the sand coating the inside of her mouth. But since they’d arrived, she hadn’t complained, cried, or even whimpered. And didn’t intend to start.

Her raven-haired mother was dressed in regal battle attire—a silver breastplate over a lacy red shirt, with boots and pants of dark brown. A band of polished stone encircled her head. She shielded her eyes, looking out across the lakebed. Then, after wiping the sweat from her brow, she took a long drink from the leather flask she’d been holding.

“I will let you die out here,” her mother said.

February Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Somebody That I Used to Know
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary

I need your help.

I stare at the subject line. The email is from, one of those free email services anyone can sign up for with a fake name and a made-up address, but adrenaline floods my veins, flushing out the film of exhaustion that has stuck there for the last three months.

Dad, I think, even though I know it's impossible.

I'm aware of everything around me. The musty smell that has stubbornly clung to The Captain's guest room, despite a thorough cleaning and new paint. The flicker of my laptop monitor. The blood whooshing through my veins.

I have to stop doing this. It has been three and a half months since my dad's funeral. Just because the randomly generated email address the spammers are using today includes the word soldier doesn't mean the email has anything to do with my dad's stint in the military.

Still, I fumble with the mouse. It takes twice as long as it should for me to open the email.

I'm not dead.

My heartbeat is too loud, like it's coming from my ear canal instead of my chest.

I'm sorry for worrying you, but I had no choice. The men after me would like nothing better than to truly end my life, and I can't risk resurfacing until I have the evidence to send them to prison. That's why I need you.

February Secret Agent #41

GENRE: Women's Fiction

She remembered it clearly. That moment two years ago when she knew for certain that she would sleep with him. Back when she eagerly awaited their walks. He had touched her, a gentle pressure on her shoulder as she edged ahead of him down the path to the river. Steeped in thoughts of him – the scent of him, the curve of his smile, the length of his body -- she had waited for a sign, welcomed what was yet to come. Yet she knew even then that she had taken a wrong turn.

Eventually, she said no. Didn’t answer his calls. Lessons in self discipline and anguish. He was married.

But when the doorbell chimed on Monday, Elizabeth found Ned standing on the porch, his sandy hair aglow in the late afternoon light. For a moment neither spoke. Later, she remembered the sharpness of that silence.

“Big fight,” he said. “I’ve been thrown out.”

“Out?” Elizabeth’s hand tightened around the brass doorknob.

“For good, I think.”

“Good God.” She took a step back and pulled the door all the way open.

And Ned Carson entered her house. She took a breath, listened to the sound of air pressing against her ears, and stood motionless, a momentary frieze, startled by Ned’s presence and assailed unexpectedly by an unsolicited recollection of Zachary, the husband who was no longer her husband. Zach, gone years ago. Why think of him, she wondered. Then the rhythm of Bach’s second violin concerto spilled into the hallway.

February Secret Agent #40

GENRE: YA Paranormal Fantasy

I don’t usually think much when making out with my girlfriend, but right now I think I might be dying.

I’m not being melodramatic—a part of me has shifted—broken off and crashed over my lungs and heart, leaving shrapnel in the muscles lining my ribcage. Fire drips down my chest and spreads smoothly across my body like God exhaling into me. My skin prickles with electricity and my mind overflows with neon color and laughter. I’ve never been one for drugs, but when you feel like you might explode from the raw power flooding your veins, high barely covers it.

I’m not high—I’m on the moon. I’m on freaking Jupiter.

And somehow, this kiss is killing me.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

I’m waking from a dream I could spend eternity in, but this world doesn’t feel right—it’s cold, dark, empty. I’m in a car but I can’t remember whose it is. Bright street lights from the parking lot loom over me like a spotlight.

Right. Hailey and I took Evan’s truck since my Honda Civic didn’t survive its run-in with the Highlander. But what the hell is my emergency? I don’t remember calling for help or even thinking something might be wrong.

Then I see her.

Slumped over in my arms, barely breathing, pale and cool to the touch. As I sit her up, her head lolls on her shoulders, limp, delicate.

February Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Hidden Obsession
GENRE: Romantic Suspense

The back alley was empty. Dorothy’s car was gone. Jake blew out a breath of relief. He stepped out into cool air and made sure no other cars were parked out back, except for his covered bike.

April rain washed away the filth of the day. The L. A. night air was clean again. The wet black top reflected the full moon that hung high in the sky. The crazies were out.

The coolness from the breeze covered him like a crisp lined sheet. The hairs on his arm stood on end.

No cars passed by, or pedestrians. The eerie silence made Jake pause. He shrugged off the odd feeling and looked around. He walked to both ends of the alley. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for the empty corner where a drug dealer usually stood. He was gone.

“This is ridiculous.” he spat. Time to lock up and head home.

Jake headed back toward the door. Out the corner of his eye, a pair of black shoes jutted out from behind one of the dumpsters. He recognized those Nike high tops. They belonged to his uncle.

Surging forward, Jake reached his uncle side. He bent over and checked Sam’s pulse. There wasn’t any. “Sam,” he said with sadness.

Two pools of blood seeped out under Sam. There was a wound on the left shoulder, just above his heart. And the other on the right side of his head and out the back of skull. The kill shot.

February Secret Agent #38

GENRE: YA Fantasy/Fairy-tale Redux

The girl looking back at me wasn’t half as broken as I was. She was beautiful, confident, sure of herself.

My complete opposite in many ways.

With a sigh, I slammed my locker door a bit harder than I’d meant to, shutting the magnetic mirror away for at least another hour or so ... until I returned for more books between my next two classes and found myself staring at her pretty face again.

She was any magazine’s idea of perfection.

So unlike what lurked just under the surface.

I felt it. Moving around beneath my skin, waiting, calculating--counting down the days.

“Holl! Wait up!”

My heart lifted at the sound of his voice, and I turned around to see my little brother heading toward me. The broad smile on his faced pushed away my dark thoughts. With only eleven months between us, Cameron was enjoying the hell out of his junior year and I was trudging through my senior. With way less enthusiasm.

Although, this time last year I’d felt differently. So much can change in a few short months.

“You ditching at lunch today?” He asked, pulling on his black and gold lettermen’s jacket.

“No, Cam. That was just one time. Mom and Dad will kill me if I lead you down the path of destruction.” I over-emphasized the words the way our dad had so frequently.

Cam laughed and threw his arm around my shoulder, giving me a light noogie with his free hand.

“If they only knew, huh, Holl?”

February Secret Agent #37

TITLE: Don't Come Back
GENRE: Romance - Contemporary Single Title

"It's A Boy!"

Trey froze in the doorway of Sue's hospital room. The proclamation danced on a balloon floating above a bouquet of blue carnations.

Who in the hell would give her something like that? Hasn't she suffered enough?

The privacy curtain blocked the view of her bed. Maybe he'd find her asleep and could remove the monstrosity before she woke. He quietly headed for the painful reminder, and that's when he saw her.

Saw them.

Sue was sitting up in bed, a bundled baby in her arms. Trey's heart stopped. Why would she have him? Weren't they supposed to take him after the birth?

The baby nursed at her breast. Sue didn’t look tired or sore or sad. In fact, her face glowed as she cooed to the baby. With one hand, she stroked the infant’s dark hair.

Just like mine.

Trey's gut knotted. He didn’t want to see this. Didn’t want to notice details like hair color or the size of the tiny fingers that clung to Sue's breast. The miles that had separated him from Sue had helped him distance himself from the baby, even the idea of the baby. This was too real. He turned to leave, but Sue caught him.

"Trey, you’re here!" She smiled wide, her eyes full of joy. She looked younger than he remembered. So different from the last time he’d seen her, when he’d headed back to college, leaving her alone and scared.

February Secret Agent #36

TITLE: Then I Can Name the Cat
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Holly and Ella Grace snuck away from the party and wandered down the beach. Ella was clutching a bottle of champagne and a blanket with their school logo on it. Holly was holding two plastic champagne flutes by their necks. When they had walked far enough to reduce the sounds of revelry to pleasant background music they spread out the blanket.

With a deft twist Ella opened the screw top bottle of champagne and filled the glasses Holly held. The girls raised their glasses toward the rolling waves.

“To your future as a rock star,” Holly said. “When you get your first Grammy you totally have to thank me.”

“Of course dahhhhling,” Ella said. “I promise not to forget the little people.”

“Hey, I’m taller than you by a foot,” Holly protested, “Although I always wanted to be referred to as little instead of statuesque.”

“I always wanted to be statuesque,” Ella said wistfully. “It sounds so elegant.”

“An elegant way of saying freakishly tall,” Holly replied. This was a running joke between the two girls who had been best friends since junior high.

“Well let me propose a toast to Holly my non-statuesque friend. When I’m receiving Grammys she’ll be accepting Tonys and Emmys,” Ella said.

“What no Oscar?” Holly asked with mock offense.

“Oscars are so overrated,” Ella replied. “I mean seriously, the Emmys are the award of the people.”

“Which of course makes the Tonys the award of the theatre people,” Holly said.

February Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Cut From Strong Cloth: The Ellen Canavan Story
GENRE: Historical Fiction

Rooted to the ship’s weathered deck and holding tight to her big brother’s hand, the child riveted her gaze on the dead body. Her Da’s face, once full of laughter and mischief, now lay silent while wails drifted out on mournful ocean winds, bemoaning a death at sea.

Women she did not even know had washed his body and then dressed him in his best outfit, frayed at the sleeves, but respectably clean. Traditions mattered, even here. His funeral cloth, fashioned from a wide strip of old sail, contained a brick placed at the bottom and edges sewn together. Inside laid his lifeless body. The eyes had sunken into the skull, sallow skin drooped from the face, and arms and legs were stiff with rigor mortis. A solitary facial flap of the grimy shroud had been left untied for the family to cast one last look upon his features.

The ship’s bells began to toll, announcing the burial.

The child, Ellen, fought tears. She knew what would come next, but refused to look out at the sea. Mist dampened her thin homespun dress while the ocean continued its relentless pulse against the ship’s timbers. She did not feel the elements. Silent throughout the incantations of the priest, she stared at the wrapped corpse in front of her. Depleted of all visible emotion, her small frame trembled, but not from the wind slicing through her meager clothes. She shivered with the recognition of abandonment.

At first, a small throng had gathered.

February Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Love You To Death

I covered my mouth with both hands to silence the sound of my breathing. My lungs were burning. I cowered behind a mountain of stacked hay bales.

Where was Gideon?

God, I prayed, please let him be alright.

I shifted to the left, carefully so I wouldn’t make any noise and peeked around the side. The barn door was still closed. My labored breaths had calmed a little, enough for me to notice it wasn’t echoing in my ears. The rusty hinges on the barn door squeaked. I froze. He was here. Instant tears of pure terror ran down my cheeks. The door slapped shut, a muted clap of wood on wood.

“Come out, come out, where ever you are…” He sang.

Chills raced up and down my spine. He sounded as sick as he really was. I curled into myself, trying to become small enough to disappear. His shoes made scraping noises on the concrete floor. I could hear him checking the stalls as he walked. One of the horses snorted their disapproval, probably Lola. I calculated his position, still closer to the door than to me.

“I’m not gonna hurt you.” He called out. His raspy smoker’s voice carried across the barn.

I knew he was lying. I knew he didn’t mean it. As soon as I surrendered I was a goner. Not dead, but I’d wish I was. Where was Gideon?

There was a twelve gauge hidden in the feed barn, if I could get to it.

February Secret Agent #33


The spaceship was going to land right in her backyard. Jayne threw herself against the window in her father’s study, as if her face pushed to the glass would somehow give shape to the blue light blasting through the blackness of the night. Was it?

No. Not a spaceship. Just because her father believed in aliens didn’t mean UFOs were real. Get a freaking grip, already.

She pulled away, ready to sigh, when the windowpane shuddered and sent a shock wave up both hands still splayed against the glass. She stumbled back and yanked closed the heavy drape as if it could somehow stop the intrusion. The blue intensified, casting an eerie halo about the drapery.

Then darkness.

Seconds passed, maybe minutes, maybe years. Jayne’s heart thumped rapidly like a drummer on speed. She tiptoed to the window and pulled back the drape. The desk lamp from behind cast a soft glow upon the glass, outlining the mound of strawberry blonde curls that spilled about her pale, freckled face. She scanned the moonless night. The lights in the sky were gone.

Lights in the sky fly by. She repeated the mantra ten times, letting each familiar word comfort every frazzled nerve. She reminded herself there was no unidentified flying object in her neighborhood, only a low-lying plane headed towards the private airstrip miles away.

At that very moment, Jayne resolved to stop drinking coffee late at night. Her nerves needed caffeine like a diabetic needed processed sugar.

February Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Issue 339

Writer Greg Amadeus saw nothing wrong when he first glanced up from his laptop: breezy open window, shelves of brand-new action figures, angry youth in a ski mask--

Amadeus stopped typing. He looked again. A teen as still as the action figures sat on the rolley-chair on the other side of Amadeus' mahogany desk. A red ink blotch streaked above his left brow.

Amadeus jumped a bit and coughed, more annoyed than frightened. "You know you've been writing comics too long when weirdly-costumed kids don't surprise you anymore." Amadeus closed his laptop. It occurred to him the kid had said something.

"Excuse me?" Amadeus asked.

"Why would you kill off a superhero's parents, and every girl he's ever loved, like that?" the kid repeated, whispering. His fingers clenched.

Amadeus chuckled, raising an eyebrow. "Back up. I don't usually have signing hours right now. But I do respect that you're a hard-core fan--that's Gavalon costume, you've got on--" He paused, a little disturbed. "I never published my Gavalon story."

"Answer my question, Mr. Writer."

Amadeus stiffened. "Your question. Yes. I'm sorry." He wasn't. He felt disrespected, but he'd tolerate the freak. " Skye: 339, right?"


"Sold out in comic stores first week. Got us a movie deal! Here." The cover of the comic Amadeus un-shelved showed a muscular black-haired youth, torso twisting, hand grasping towards the fourth wall as his mouth opened in a silent scream. "Betrayal" with an exclamation mark, in bright red letters, bulged above his head.

"Why that ending?" rasped the boy.

February Secret Agent #31

TITLE: Dragon's Treasure
GENRE: Fantasy Romance

Olivia trembled with fear.

She scurried alone through a forest shrouded in a dark cloak of shadows, carrying nothing but the tattered dress on her already bruised and scraped body. Olivia gave thanks for the cloudless sky as she glanced at the full moon above, whose beams fought through the branches, shining down on her path.

With hands wrapped around her quivering form, she was not only scared, but the chill of the night had her shaking as well. Her sky blue eyes kept darting about, searching for a safe place to hide. Every little sound the night creatures made spooked her. Even the noise of her own steps crunching the twigs and pine needles under her leather boots added to her unease.

I hope my fortune will finally change, Olivia prayed.

She had run away the previous night. At first, Olivia was glad for the rain because it concealed her tracks and scent. It would have been difficult for a search party to follow her, presuming her parents had guessed she fled towards the forest and not the city. The trickle, though, soon turned into a heavy shower, making Olivia’s nighttime escape a miserable endeavor.

The day hadn’t been any better, but she did welcome the warm sunshine. Olivia had set up a small camp where she ate and rested during the morning hours. After freshening up in a nearby stream, she returned to her makeshift camp only to be dismayed by the sight that greeted her.

February Secret Agent #30

TITLE: 12 Steps Forward
GENRE: YA Contemporary

The quickest, most direct route to a guy’s friendship is sports. Navigating the route to more ethereal places like his heart requires a completely different skill set. A skill set I’ve yet to master. According to my sister Nia, this is my greatest failure.

While I rummage the drawers of my station at my father’s barbershop, looking for a clipper guard, Nia gives me a pep talk about exactly how to use my elusive skill set on Ben— the crush of my life— today.

“…Girl, either you need to find out what he wants or move on.” She garbles into the phone as she brushes her teeth. When she spits and turns on the faucet, I take my chance to get a word in.

“What if—” I turn away from my station to go into the break room— even though I have no idea why my clipper guard would be in the break room— and Ben is standing right behind me wearing his usual khakis and a short sleeved, button down shirt. “Um, Nia, I have to go. My customer’s here.”

That’s the easiest way to get her off of the phone. She knows Dad thinks talking on a cell phone in the presence of a customer is unprofessional. Thank God for texting.

“Hey. You need something?” I ask him.

He stands there scratching the inside of his collar with his index finger for a minute before he responds.

“I was going to ask you that. Are you looking for something?”

February Secret Agent #29

TITLE: The Twitter Affair
GENRE: Women's Fiction

If Maisy Parker was anyone, she was the girl in the horror movie. What remained to be seen was whether she was the sacrificial girl-lamb, throat slit; blood, red and fake, staining her short shorts or the girl who survives, torn, bruised, both more and less certain of her strength. When Maisy closed her eyes in the darkness and allowed the movie to play behind the protective screen of her eyelids, she was younger than the calendar-fast spread of days which had deposited her in her thirty-sixth year. She was babysitter young. More than that, she was the actual babysitter, fifteen, possibly sixteen, left alone and unprotected. Charged with guarding other people’s children.

The children are unimportant to the story, a subterfuge used to strand her in a dark house. The movie starts the moment she whispers goodnight to the small forms, eyes heavy and sleep-drunk, bodies almost indistinguishable underneath cotton candy duvets. She pulls their door shut and it snicks tight where metal conjoins with wood. The silence of the empty house hangs heavy in the air as she descends the stairs leading to the textbook Pottery Barn perfection of the living room. The noiselessness, the complete absence of sound is like a substance, the secret ingredient in a magic potion, something to be mixed in a beaker then sipped from a cup.

Maisy moves through the stillness like an invited cat burglar, foot-light, without a sound. She slinks around the coffee table, her hot-pink Hello Kitty claws curled up in tight little fists.

February Secret Agent #28

TITLE: The Princess of Panchala

Demie knew she wasn’t dead, at least she didn’t think so. Not that she was any expert at the age of thirteen, but she figured being dead was like being crazy. If you can ask whether you are, then you probably aren’t.

With death ruled out, that meant she must be dreaming. Except she felt far too awake. Maybe some idiot slipped her something, like what happened to Jenny last summer. If so, it messed her up pretty bad because Demie was having an out-of-body experience, with no sense of time, no idea of how she came to be there. And, gnawing at the back of her mind like a pet gerbil in a cage, was the hunch that her sister Kori was in some kind of trouble.

Floating in stone-cold darkness, Demie was alone and confused.

Then she noticed them, suspended in the dark, staring at her. Glowing, but fuzzy and nebulous. Creepy eyes. Cheshire Cat in Wonderland eyes. They didn’t move toward her, but Demie perceived this thing looking over her, groping within her. It was reading through every secret thought and emotion, as if reading through her diary.

She wanted to run. But when she tried to move her arms she felt nothing. No sensation of any sort. As if she didn’t have limbs at all. That thought set off a wave of panic which almost overwhelmed her. Whatever the hell this thing was, Demie realized it tried to take her and had taken Kori.

February Secret Agent #27

GENRE: YA contemporary

It begins with a choice.

Mama did everything with a deliberate purpose. Once she made a decision, she did not look back. That’s why he left China with Mia’s father to come to the United States.

“How did you know he was the one?” Mia used to ask.

“I knew,” her mother answered simply. “I saw better things here.”

When she was young, Mia believed her mother was clairvoyant. She saw things. She had a quality. She was neng gan. There was no English equivalent for it.

Mama always chose. But that day, she didn’t choose for her heart to stutter while she was at the top of those stone steps.

It’s funny that they say you die when your heart stops beating, because Mama’s heart didn’t stop. It kept going after it paused, but that crucial stutter changed everything. The fall cracked her skull so hard the bone splintered into her brain. She was brain-dead.

Once her brain was dead there wasn’t anything they could do to bring her back. No matter what they said, her heart was beating, but she was dead anyway.

They can restart a heart, but they can’t restart a brain.

For once, Mama wasn’t the one making choices. For all of her neng gan, she couldn’t make the one choice that mattered – the choice to stay.

Seventy-two hours after Mama’s heart pauses, Dad chooses to pull the plug, and he stops her heart forever.

And by all medical definitions, that means Mama is dead.

February Secret Agent #26

TITLE: The Last First Kiss
GENRE: Romance

Madeline Carol was drowning again. Her chubby toddler arms splashed at the air above her head, too scared to pull down on the water to keep herself afloat like I’d been trying to teach her at swim lessons for the past two years. She was three, so her inability to grasp the concept of swimming was acceptable, unlike Harriet Carol’s inability to grasp the concept of babysitting.

I tweeted my whistle, launched a compact jump from the guard stand, and hit the water feet first. Madeline was my first save of the summer, but if this summer was anything like the past six summers I’d lifeguarded at Lakeside pool, she wouldn’t be my last. In the twenty-two years I’d lived with Grandma Margoe, my small hometown of Dansbury, Pennsylvania had taught me four undeniable, unforgettable things: evacuate up the mountain when the creek floods, boys who lived on the mountain were bad news even if their families were rich, my neighbors were nosy, and none of those things would ever change. This was my last summer in Dansbury. Maybe wherever I ended up would have different rules that I would have to learn, and learn the hard way like I’d learned Dansbury’s rules, but I was okay with that as long as I ended up far away from Dansbury.

I pencil-dove under the water, scooped Madeline around the waist, and dragged her kicking and flailing to the surface.

February Secret Agent #25

GENRE: NA Contemporary/Light Sci-fi

Fluffy blue towel? Check. Red bikini from last year’s end-of-season sale? Check. Yummy-smelling sunscreen? Check. Ever so quietly I open the front door.

“Where’re you going?”

Words every eighteen-year-old girl dreads hearing from her mother's lips. I pivot slowly and prop my sunglasses on top of my head. My mom has frozen in the act of washing dishes to stare at me from across the kitchen. The only sound is the hot water that streams from the faucet onto the partially cleaned plate in her hand. It’s a gushing waterfall; the rest of the house is a cathedral of quiet.

As if to answer her own question, she asks, “You’re not going to the beach, are you?”

“Actually, yeah.”

She turns off the faucet and the waterfall evaporates. “But I told you I needed to talk to you before your brothers get home from school.”

“I thought it could wait 'til tonight.”

“This is really important, Trinity. Ogling the lifeguard with your friends can wait.”

Ouch, my mom knows me too well. “Fine,” I say, “I’ll text them that I’ll be late.” Inconvenient chat with my mother? Check.

Her blue eyes crease around the edges. “Once you hear what this is about, you’ll be glad I didn’t wait until tonight to tell you.”

“Whatever.” My mother is cryptic as ever. Being a photographer for National Geographic Magazine has taught her to adopt an air of mystery to everything she says.

February Secret Agent #24 (removed)


February Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Letters to the Dead
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I knew I was awake when the rolling wall of pain hit me in the chest. I clenched my teeth and hung on until my heart stopped its spasms and I could draw breath without gasping. Prying open my eyes, I stretched out a hand and smoothed the frayed edges of Toby’s flannel blanket, my brain still fogged. The new prescription was not enough to cocoon me for long with its caress; it only dulled my senses and numbed my brain.

That first night, my aunt had left me the entire bottle with strict instructions on how and when to take them; after discovering I had swallowed them all, she was careful to lock them away. Sometimes I think she only did it because the doctor yelled at her and Uncle David and threatened to report them to the police after my stomach was pumped. A child of fourteen in this state, he had shouted, is too young to know what could happen. He was wrong.

I really couldn’t blame her for blaming me and wanting me gone. After all, I did, too.

“Auntie,” I said before my head rolled back against the seat. My tongue felt glued to the top of my mouth; I had to work to get enough spit to loosen it.

“Yes, Gracie?” Her head swung around, eyes connecting with mine in the rear-view mirror.

“Where… where are you taking me?”

“I told you.”

“Don’t make me go. I’m sorry. Auntie, I won’t do it again.”

February Secret Agent #22

TITLE: The Awakening of Minna Gray
GENRE: YA Futuristic Fantasy

She’d seen one before - years ago, with Cameron, by the seaside. Its little round body flitted between palm fronds like a tiny jeweled fairy. They were supposed to turn it in. But they hadn’t. They’d watched it all afternoon, until it leapt into the sky and flew away over the Outer Wall. Their secret.

This one seemed even more out of place, amidst the asphalt and early evening glow of the podcar lines. For a second, she thought she was imagining it. But then Ethan saw it too.

“What is it?” he asked, gaze transfixed on the emerald blot making its way across the dull bronze shine of the hood.

“A beetle.”

His brown eyes widened. “A real one?”

Minna nodded. “Don’t touch it.” But she was mesmerized too.

“It doesn’t beep.” He frowned, waving his PestDetector wand over it.

“Maybe it’s not infected.” Yet.

They watched its twiggy, spindle-legged progression from latch to windshield.

“I don’t want anyone to kill it,” Ethan whispered as he backed away.

Technically it was a vector. Technically they were supposed to destroy it. But it was so small and round and innocent. Suddenly, it lifted off. Humming, it vanished into the flurry of the nearby jasmine. Minna exhaled the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

“Probably escaped from a DomeZoo.” Ethan said with a shaky laugh.

“Probably, but you still need to disinfect.” Minna puffed her emergency spray, enveloping themselves in shivering white mist. Silently they counted out the seconds: eight, nine, ten. Safe.

February Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Don't Cry for Me, Genevieve
GENRE: YA contemporary

Whoa. It was beautiful, breathtaking, and every adjective in between. I sat atop the mountain, the sun at my back and the world at my feet. For once, I didn’t feel like the forgotten foster girl. The wind rushed around my face and I laughed in the thrill of it all. I was free!

It took me a few moments to realize that I wasn't alone. A man, one who wore a white robe and a weathered smile, put his hand on my shoulder as if to ensure me that I needn’t be afraid.

“Genevieve,” he breathed, almost as if we’d known each other all our lives.

I only smiled in return. “It wasn’t easy, was it?” he asked, a twinkle in his eye.

I inclined my head toward him. “What do you mean?”

He gestured to the creation that surrounded us. “Making it to the top, of course!”

“You know, I don’t actually remember the climb.” Everything before this moment was strangely blurry.

“That’s because once you’ve made it, and once you’ve seen this,” he paused to open his arms to all that lay below us, “you realize the struggle was worth it.” I nodded my head in silent agreement, and was taken back as he suddenly began to walk away. “Don’t you forget that, Genevieve Joans,” he called over his shoulder.

I stood up to follow him, yelling into the wind, “How do you know my name?”

“Did you have a question, Ms. Joans?” I bolted upright, the man vanishing before my eyes.

February Secret Agent #20

TITLE: Positively Anonymous
GENRE: NA Contemporary

My name is Tanya Rivers and I’m HIV positive. That’s how it will all begin. Say you’re HIV positive, and most people here need a moment to figure out what you mean. Use the word AIDS and there’s instant understanding, not to mention fear.

Then again, HIV has different connotations. Maybe you’re on medication, handling your disease to the best of your ability. No longer a total risk to society. Having AIDS—especially in 1993 in small town Boniface, IL—means you’re dying. Horribly, in most cases, a drain on the health care system and a burden to everyone around you. Nobody wants to think about that.

For the past week, I’ve been doing my best not to. Strange how that length of time spans both an eternity and the blink of an eye. If it weren’t for my nosy best friend Delia, I could go on pretending. Instead, I’m forced into a different charade, where I have to act like I’m done with the first stage of the grieving process.

I’m late for a meeting, stuck in the kind of traffic Boniface only has when I need to be somewhere. Behind the wheel of my old Chevy, I can’t do much more than adjust the volume on our one good radio station and curse the drivers inching through the light on the edge of downtown.

Downtown always reminds me of skyscrapers and crowds and stores, things I’ve only seen in Chicago or St. Louis a handful of times.

February Secret Agent #19

TITLE: The House on Grosvenor Street
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy

Freddy never knew exactly how well or how badly she remembered that encounter in the park. She hadn’t done much with the memory—taking it out whenever she touched the key, but not for more than a few seconds at a time—and she sometimes thought she preferred it vague. But she found it varied much more than her other memories did. Some things that had happened to her she remembered sharply, as if she had stepped away from the time of the memory only just now; some had faded to a fuzzy grey. Mel told her once that this was supposedly normal and had something to do with synapses, but Freddy didn’t pay much attention to Mel when she used words that were bigger than she was. The encounter in the park was sharp and fuzzy at the same time. She could feel the wood of the bench digging into her legs; she could see the key flashing between the woman’s fingers. She thought she remembered every word they had spoken. Maybe she was just pretending she did. A lot of the images were blurred, incomplete.

She thought it had gone like this:

The voices from the house faded behind her as Freddy tore across the front yard and then the street, heading into the park. She had run into the park a lot lately. Her parents didn’t ever really talk any more; it was all screaming, broken by intervals of icy silence.

February Secret Agent #18

GENRE: Women's Fiction

In front of the café Amanda visited often, a plump woman in blue jeans fiddled on a cracked violin. Her dark hair danced and jerked with the movements of her playing. A boy, no older than fifteen, sat behind her beating a drum, and a man whose face had been baked in the sun provided harmony with his accordion. In his yellow and crimson tunic, he was the only one who wore the traditional garb of his people. Amanda had read Gypsy bands had gone out of style, yet this group of musicians gathered an audience on the corner of a walking path in Pécs, Hungary.

A gasp drew Amanda’s attention to a man who somersaulted out of the crowd. He must have been lurking among the spectators, waiting for his cue. He wore a gold vest over his bronze muscles, reminiscent of idol statues often seen in India. His quick steps moved to the music, and he slapped his body in a rhythmic percussion. The audience clapped as the music escalated faster and louder as the dancer kept in time. The fevered pitch consumed every movement and every thought on that corner. Everything in sight had become the song. Then at its crescendo, the song ended.

After brief bows, the musicians started another tune, this one slower and more purposeful. The dancer raised his arms and snapped while he moved with precision through the gathering. He selected a couple of women, a few children, and a man and brought them to the front.

February Secret Agent #17

TITLE: Facing Fire
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I’m positive Mom wanted me to find her body. I’d been taking care of us both for so many years she trusted I’d know how to handle things. She’d say, “Arlie, if something ever happens to me, don’t let the police or ambulance boys find me in a compromising position.” Translation: flush any remaining drugs down the toilet, make sure she had on clean panties and tidy up the motel room. These instructions were rote by the time I carried them out two weeks ago.

Jane, my court-appointed therapist, asked what I thought of my mom’s instructions and if I believed her suicide was selfish. I didn’t think she killed herself but I hadn’t found the words to convey the doubts in my gut.

“Arlie, you’re not paying attention.”

I appreciated that Jane didn’t use a soothing, sing-song therapist tone with me, the type designed to make a person feel cared about or special in some backhanded way. Instead, she took a ‘no bullshit’ approach. No one in my life had done so before and it was why I trusted her.

“I’m listening.”

“Well, are you adjusting?”

“To high school? It’s only been a week.”

I sat cross-legged on the overstuffed loveseat, the one spot in Jane’s office where I could stare out the window. When we first met, I’d avoided looking directly at her. She probably thought I was embarrassed by what had happened to my face and didn’t want her to stare at it.

February Secret Agent #16

GENRE: Dark YA Contemporary

When you take them one at a time, twenty-five pills feel like nothing at all.

Count them up slow. Let them slide their way down. Do it all nice and gentle.

After all, it’s just one more repetitive motion. Fits right in with the ones we practice every day (speaking, smiling, breathing). And soon you’ll find the room’s starting to fade, and you’ll be happier about it than you’ve been about anything in a long time.

Finally, some peace.

I locked myself in. Dad’s at work, and Olivia shouldn’t be back until four. No more failures. This time is for real.

My mind’s starting to drift and float when my body convulses, and then I’m trapped back inside myself and I want out but –

A cry yanks itself from my throat. I jerk off the bed. Pain, red-hot, grinding and unavoidable. Like someone’s stabbing me through the stomach with an iron stake. I smack the floor skull-first, but it’s nothing compared to the agony knotting itself up through my chest. More noises leak from my mouth.

I almost want to laugh. There’s a sort of relief in this kind of hurt and ah, let me die, just let it end – Jesus Christ, is that really too much to ask?

Bile coils up in my throat. I swallow it back. I swallow everything. Just a few more minutes.

The world spins in and collapses.

February Secret Agent #15

TITLE: Dark Ambitions
GENRE: New Adult Historical Fantasy

I’d never seen a dead body before. The old woman lay lifeless on the forest floor, a cluster of wild mushrooms still gripped in her fist, her half-filled basket knocked over.

“Wait.” Damon turned up his collar against the oncoming rain, fat drops staining his oiled cloak. “What do you see?”

I looked at the corpse. Or was it a corpse? For all I knew, it could be some old lady Damon hired to play the part. Would she jump up when I touched her? Was this some kind of initiation prank?

There was only one way to find out. I bent down to roll her onto her back. “Dual puncture marks on her throat, pale skin, no signs of struggle.”

“What else do you see?” he said.

“A second set of track marks. Smaller. Barefoot.”

“What else, Chago?”

I searched the clearing for something I missed, something to satisfy Damon.

My entire future weighed on my answers. I had passed all the written exams, but the field test was the deciding factor. If I failed this, there would be no second chance for me. I’d never even considered doing anything else with my life. Would I have to go home, a failure before I even started?

The pressure shut down my brain.

“Close your eyes,” Damon said.

A rare hint. I squeezed my eyes shut. The pungent odor of decay assaulted my nose. No mistaking that smell – this woman was dead. Another scent lingered behind, rancid like rotting meat.

February Secret Agent #14

TITLE: The Gear'd Heart
GENRE: NA Steampunk

Keira sits in the dancing grass, the tip of her tongue caught tight between her teeth as she watches the sun through her eyelids. It is a confusion of sparkles, trembling lines of gold and red in a sea of orange.

Opening her eyes, she bends over the cluster of gears in her lap, carefully fitting each to the next. There is a piece of quartz on the one side, gears interlocking over the top, then a tiny spring; the whole affair fits into a carved piece of brass about the size of a pocket watch.

The spring, ornery as springs always are, slithers out of her fingers and disappears into the grass. “Pox.”

“That's a strong word, Kee.”

She twitches, snatching up the last few gears and scrambling to her feet as Da settles against the stone wall that separates this stretch of green from the next. “Da.”

“What've you got there?”

Keira tucks her hand, the broken Sun-catcher clenched between her fingers, behind her back. “Nothing.”

“A funny bit of nothing to warrant a pox.” His voice is stern, his eyes glinting blue as the sky.

She hands him the charm, wipes her hands on her dress – nervous and waiting for hard words over wasting her time on gears. But the words don't come.

Da examines the charm in silence, then tips his head back and looks at her, serious. “You built this?”

“Tá. It catches the sun all gold and green and violet.” She chews her lip.

February Secret Agent #13

TITLE: Blind Fate
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

The elderly woman panted as she struggled up the final set of stairs, clinging to the thin railing, hoping against hope that the enemy had not yet reached this far, that the precious lives she hoped to save still burned brightly. Harsh breaths filled her ears, her lungs laboring under the unexpected effort, but the noise did little to block the screams as her family fought for their lives against the invaders. Invaders? That was too kind a word for the demons who’d come out of nowhere, bypassing every security precaution with an ease that permitted only one conclusion. House Alexx had been betrayed. But by whom? And why? What motive could there be for such a slaughter? Who could benefit from such a thing?

She cast such speculation from her thoughts, intent on her desperate mission. The demons had somehow materialized directly into the nursery, slaying at will, cackling with glee as they tore out the very heart out of the House. But they were creatures of the dark spaces beneath the earth. They could not have known that the House’s greatest treasures were birthed on the highest floor, the very place the old woman now strove to reach before it was too late.

She stumbled as she reached for the plain door marking the servants stairs, her tired body faltering as demon lightning flashed, blinding her briefly, destroying everything in its path. A priceless antique vase flew through the air to shatter against the wall, porcelain shards raining like brittle snow.

February Secret Agent #12

TITLE: Anomaly
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Some say distance makes the heart grow fonder, but I think it just makes people forget. I hold a photo of Rachel, me, and Michael sandwiched in a hug on the last day of freshman year.

I cover Rachel’s image with my thumb and convince myself, for a moment, that it’s just Michael and me. I remember how he smelled that day—like charcoal pencils and fabric softener. When I pull my thumb away reality kicks me in the butt because I know his scent will have to be just that, a memory. And in the end, I know I’ll be forgotten.

There’s a knock on my bedroom door.

“Maya, honey,” Mom calls, “We need to talk.”

Anytime someone says, we need to talk, it feels like a drop kick in the stomach. There should be a ban on starting conversations with the words: we need to talk.

“Hold on a sec,” I yell. I set the picture back inside one of the many boxes scattered all over my room. I hate unpacking. No, actually, I hate moving. I hate picking up my life, throwing it into worn cardboard boxes labeled with black sharpie, and having to start over again and again and again.

“Maya?” Mom calls.


“I’m coming in,” Mom announces as she opens the door.

I throw my hands up in the air and refrain from giving Mom a look. What’s the point of knocking, if she’s just going to barge in anyway?

February Secret Agent #11

TITLE: Darkweave
GENRE: YA Steampunk Fantasy

The ivy-twined iron gates stood closed again tonight. Though I’d come to this cemetery for the past year, its Guardian still demanded my respect. I knocked three times on the gate, acknowledging his presence and mentally greeted him. In my mind he finally responded with my name: Idonea.

The gates protested as I pushed them open. Rust flaked away when my hands withdrew. As I passed the threshold, I dropped three silver scales on the ground as payment. I faced forward so the Guardian knew my intentions weren’t sinister, like usual. All I needed was grave dirt. I thought we had enough, but my mother Nellith insisted.

Light from the crescent moon and stars filtered down through the thin layers of steam blanketing the town and the numerous pine trees. The scent of pine mixed in with the heavy air, and I wiped a thin film of mist from my goggles.

By nature’s light I stepped carefully past the headstones. Giving more than a cursory glance at any particular epitaph would invite unwanted attention. I stopped at an old grave with a large winged messenger statue, mildew discolouring the white stone. Down on my knees, I pulled a small glass jar and hand shovel from my canvas bag.

I knocked three times on the exact spot I wanted to shovel and stated my intention. “I’m collecting this dirt for any future magical workings that call upon the virtues of the cemetery.”

With that necessity done I gathered the grave dirt I needed.

February Secret Agent #10

TITLE: Emotionally Compromised
GENRE: Romance


I take a drag of my cigarette, and exhale into the phone, "Derek, are we really talking about this?"

"How long is your break?" he asks ignoring my question.

I laugh mockingly, "Not long enough for this conversation, I'm sure."

"I swear, are you always set to anger mode?"

Another giggle erupts from me. I can feel him smiling on the other end too. "Take off that grin I know you have right now. You are not funny, Derek."

"I know, but as long as I can just make you laugh I'm good."

I lean against the building, sigh evidently into the phone, and he says, "I've made you mad again haven't I?" Suddenly his tone shifts, "Are you smoking? I feel like I can hear you smoking. I thought you were trying to stop?"

I grunt, but I guess I'm smiling. I cannot be doing this, "Agent Matthews, do you have anything new to report?"

He responds the same way, and sighs heavily, "Back to formalities I guess is only fair on company time. Just know that this is me caring, Agent Turner."

I rub at my temples, and I am thankful he can't see the look on my face.

"Agent Matthews..." I whine.

"Alright,, Agent Turner, nothing new to report. Just don't do anything stupid. Take your time with this."

"I'll call you later Derek."

"Please, Alex."


I hang up the phone wondering how I've gotten myself into this mess as I take another long drag of my cigarette.

February Secret Agent #9

TITLE: The Alphabet Corps
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

She just wouldn't stop crying. Ugly, choking gasps for air between exaggerated sobs. Kneeling there on the dining room carpet, nose dripping down her rather plain face, babbling incoherently. Something about not hurting her boy. Çöl Çelik found it repulsive. He examined her with his jet black eyes, expressionless; trying to relate, trying to recall a time he had ever been so weak. But after a thousand years, he could only vaguely remember ever being human at all.

Sitting back in his chair, old wood and well made, Çelik turned away from the woman to brush flakes of dried skin from his black robe. To his left the woman's son, only a small child, was courteous enough to keep his tears to himself and for that he was grateful. The boy sat quietly playing with his miniature cars; some sort of police chase. A lot of collisions. He pulled a pistol from his robe and shot the child dead.

The mother screamed in agony, crawling to her son’s body and drawing his tiny corpse into her arms. Unfazed, Çelik ran a long, boney finger along the polished armrest. From this room. From this chair. Here the one they had mockingly dubbed ‘The Traitor King’ so long ago would finally take what he deserved. But the crying was getting to be too much.

“Oh stop,” he groaned. “I did him a favor. You have no idea what's coming."

February Secret Agent #8

GENRE: YA Contemporary

She can’t stay here.

The words echoed through my head as I sat, eyes closed, pretending the rays of sunshine landing hot on my face were from the big bay window in our living room that overlooked the gnarly oak in the front yard.

She can’t stay here.

Three days later and I could still hear Mom’s exact tone, the pitch of her voice, the emphasis on “can’t” as she whispered the words in above-whisper volume, no idea I was within earshot.

She can’t stay here.

For the hundredth time I felt my heart beat faster as my mind raced to think of who “she” might be besides the “she” that I desperately didn’t want her to be.

The scratchy upholstery of the bus seat against the backs of my knees drew me back to the present. I opened my eyes and blinked quickly at the bright sun as an announcement came over the speaker system:

“We have arrived in Mobile, Alabama. The local time is seven p.m. This is the final stop for this line. Thank you for riding Greyhound.”

I rolled my head from one side to the other, stretching my stiff neck. This is real.

The chatty woman who had plopped herself into the seat next to me now stood in the aisle, her skinny arms pulling a large bag from the overhead bin. It nearly fell on top of her, but she stepped aside as it toppled to the floor. She made eye contact with me as she looked up, giggling.

February Secret Agent #7

TITLE: The Absolutely True Story of an Obsessive-Compulsive Wannabe Lawyer
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Nineteen hundred and ninety-nine. Two thousand.

Going to be late for school again. That's because I had to count every bristle on my toothbrush. I had to know.

After putting the cover back on the toothpaste, I glance at my face in the mirror, wondering if people can tell I was born with OCD and a sticky brain.

That makes me sound weird, like I have glue in my brain. The fact is, I do—too much glue, and that makes my mind lock onto unsettling thoughts and images and want to count a lot.

On my way down the stairs from the bathroom, I count each step on the way to the kitchen like I've done forever.

That's not one hundred percent true. It's not even ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent true. I didn't start counting everything in sight until I turned four. My parents told me I was so cute then. They even said I was some kind of genius.

They don't think counting everything is so cute now, and they don't think I'm a genius anymore. One glance at my father, who looks up from the sports page of the newspaper and stares at me, confirms it.

"I know you're trying hard in school, Jane, but you've got to try harder to get into Columbia. You're our only hope for carrying on the family tradition and having a lawyer in the family who graduated from there."

February Secret Agent #6

TITLE: Butterfly Mask
GENRE: Science Fiction

I couldn't fail again.

Which was why I was stuck in this cheap-a** hotel room, listening in on the development of the galaxy's newest weapon of mass destruction, when the smell of ozone thickened in the hallway outside my room. Followed by the light footsteps of someone trained to move silently. And a knock at my door.

Unlike Hotel New Valentine's other guests, I wasn't expecting any visitors, clients or otherwise. Had I f*ed up that badly without even knowing?

If it was my eliminator, they wouldn't have bothered knocking. They would've barged in, weapon at the ready. But then who the hell else would show up at five in the morning? Didn't matter. Whoever it was was going to pay.

Still, I minimized two of the displays and redirected the feeds from Buki Technologies' and Bogu Enterprises' communications networks to my second handheld. Used a projector to cover the hole I had smashed in the wall to tap into the hardline. And altered the third display so it looked like I was watching the early morning news, /Wake up with Gemini!/ Just in case. Wouldn't want anyone to catch me in the act of being a Scorpio, now would I?

I changed out of my pajamas and into my guise suit, something sleek and form-fitting this time. Repainted the stylized red and black butterfly on my face. My mask. I never met anyone without it. Then hid it behind an illusion. Just because I was Scorpio didn't mean I had to advertise it.

February Secret Agent #5

TITLE: Null City
GENRE: NA Paranormal

Gaby glared at the double doors barring entrance to the Presidential Suite. Over the past hour, she'd knocked, called, tried the house phone, and automatically straightened the paintings lining the elegant hallway. Despite muffled voices inside, the brass-bound doors remained closed.

Her brand new employee handbook was clear: missing a client appointment was an excellent way to get fired. But it never mentioned breaking and entering. She'd checked.

Her foot tapped. She could go back and try to explain to the agency. Tap. Or escape with the twins to Null City. After twenty-four hours there, special gifts disappear. Hellhounds become poodles, demons join the PTA, and harmonia become... what? Tap, tap. She'd promised Dad: no more using her harmonia gifts for B&E. Tap, tap, tap. But that was before he and Mom died in a war nobody outside Null City ever heard of. Her foot slowed. Sorry, Dad. She pulled out her father's torque wrench and favorite hook pick. Moments later the lock's tumblers hit the shearline with a subtle click.

Didn't break a friggin thing, Dad: I'm just entering. S he eased the door ajar a careful half-inch. “Hello?”

“Luic leMuir.” Leaning against the jamb with one arm blocking the doorway, he ignored her outstretched hand.

Don't say it, she admonished her squealing inner-Gaby. He doesn't need to know you have every song he's ever done. Or that you take your showers to the sound of that voice…

Her own voice was an octave higher than normal. “Gabrielle Parker, CPA."

February Secret Agent #4

TITLE: Pursuit of Craze
GENRE: Contemporary Women's Fiction

Allie loved browsing the produce section of this little corner market, with its soft lighting, faux hardwood floors, and piped-in classical music. Unlike the chain store display down the street where the cartoonish reds, greens, and yellows glowed under the harsh lights and looked ready to stand up on tiny legs and break into a song and dance routine at any moment, here the produce calmly maintained its dignity.

She scanned her shopping list. One more item and she would have all of the ingredients for Daemon’s favorite dinner- baked spaghetti.

Allie picked up and scrutinized one green pepper after another. The wooden bin overflowed with the vegetable. She could afford to be selective.

“Aha.” She plucked a flawless specimen from the mound and held it up like a prize. Firm, medium- sized, evenly green. She dropped it in the basket hanging from her arm.

Nowadays, the minutiae of their life together brought her the most pleasure. Buying a green pepper, folding laundry, buying Daemon’s deodorant. Not that she’d ever admit to the deodorant part. She could picture her assistant’s reaction to that tidbit- hot stepping away from her with palms raised in fear of her Stepfordness becoming contagious.

The thought made her grin as she tucked her grocery list into the pocket of her jeans, swung around to head to the registers at the front of the store, and promptly collided with another shopper.

“Oh my goodness, excuse me, I…” Allie looked up, and the apology dissolved on her tongue.

February Secret Agent #3

TITLE: Meet Me in the Tree
GENRE: Contemporary YA

In the absolute butt-crack middle of nowhere, I'm surrounded by chants of “Chi-sic! Chi-sic!” The same two syllables, over and over and over. I’m ready to join in with a single, prolonged scream, and it’s only been ten minutes since I stepped out of my mom’s car and into Camp Chisic. Even the super-cute, surfer-type counselor who’s carrying my suitcase isn’t quite cute enough to make me forget where I am. Or why I’m here.

Greg keeps sneaking glances at me while analyzing the long list of names balanced atop my suitcase. “You’re in Cabin Orange,” he announces, as though I’ve won the lottery. I’m more concerned about whether we’re going to reach whatever cabin I’m in before the beads of sweat on my upper lip accumulate enough to drip. Greg’s not exactly leading me on a leisurely stroll. We’ve walked by an endless field, two large buildings that looked important, and a pool with at least three diving boards—all at a brisk pace. A row of cabins ahead fills me with hope until I notice that they’re numbered.

“The boys,” Greg says. Oh, okay. Like that explains anything.

We take yet another turn down another dirt path. Mine’s the last cabin. Red, purple, yellow, green. Then orange. Because that makes so much sense.

After I follow him up a skinnier dirt path to the door, Greg knocks and yells, “Male entering.”

“All clear,” comes a shout from inside. He holds the door open for me.

February Secret Agent #2

TITLE: The Blinded Gardener
GENRE: YA Edgy Contemporary

One moment I’m Dad’s personal punching bag, and the next, well, I’m a pawn in his maniacal master plan. That was, until Danny entered the picture and discovered my secret ...

I stepped into another maze of lockers and endless corridors. Great. I hated this. Another first day at a new school ... third time in two years. Damn him.

The warning bell rang. Lockers slammed and the halls cleared. Dad’s starched and mind-numbing military code 24/7 should’ve prepared me for days like this, but here I stood without a clue as to where to go. How much more could I take? No honorable discharge was in my future. When I turn eighteen ... that’s if I live that long.

Dad’s usual methods of persuasion always won out. Why else would I have left San Diego and ended up in Beaufort. I glanced down at the school map as an angry throb pulsed through my arm to the tips of my fingers. I shook it off. Should’ve seen that one coming?

As I searched for my classroom, someone approached me from behind. Long bangs fell over his eyes as he loped past me with a kind of natural ease. Doesn’t he see me standing here, screwing around with this frickin’ map?

“Hey, dude. Could you tell me how to get to room 305?”

A slight curl formed on his lips as he faced me. He tossed his head. Platinum fringe shifted to the side and revealed freakish blue eyes that glanced toward me, unfocused.

February Secret Agent #1

TITLE: Rimotest Falling
GENRE: YA Fantasy

A feeling of unexpected foreboding brushed Arika’s consciousness like a moth’s papery wings. Had she lived this moment already? She frowned and continued to scrub the laundry with a stone. It felt as if time was repeating. Perhaps she was recalling a dream.

A thunderous roar rent the stillness. Startled, she looked up the hill. Oh, Lanai, no, she thought. Her parents’ cottage and neat gardens were billowing with flames, thick black smoke pouring from the fire in waves. She dropped the laundry and stood. Tripping on her dress, she pinwheeled and fell backward. When she hit the river, the cold water stole the breath from her lungs. She was completely submerged.

Her skirts soaked up the water. Her thrashing legs tangled in the fabric until she could barely move. She struggled to swim upward through the water, but she did not rise. She touched the silt at the bottom of the river. Bubbles poured from her mouth as she screamed. She took a huge gulp of murky water.

She kicked at the water to no avail. Her clothes were just too heavy. Her eyes stung as she looked to the surface, where the sunshine taunted her, out of reach. She couldn’t believe the goddess Lanai was taking her in death after only twelve short years. Her eyes rolled back into her head, and she breathed water. The cold permeated her from the inside.

Suddenly a hand gripped her shoulder. Her eyes popped open.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Bit of Secret Agent Etiquette

It's funny; I've been all about rules of submission, rules of critiquing, and all that.  But it's recently come  to my attention that there's a bit of behind-the-scenes "Secret Agent Etiquette" that I should probably address publicly.  Since this month's contest will go live tomorrow, now's as good a time as any, yes?


  • Do not enter a Secret Agent Contest if your manuscript is not COMPLETE and QUERY-READY.  This means that you are one hundred percent comfortable with an agent's reading your work.  (Disclaimer: Yes. I've had one success story author who sort-of-sheepishly admitted, after the fact, that she'd entered the SA contest prior to finishing her manuscript.  This is not the norm. This is not the path you should attempt to tread. It's the exception, not the rule. This author was supremely lucky.)
  • If you win a Secret Agent Contest, PLEASE BE PROMPT ABOUT SENDING THE REQUESTED MATERIAL TO THE AGENT.  Assuming you've entered a complete, query-letter manuscript in the contest, then you should be prepared to send a partial or full as requested, within a day or two of having won.  In short, if you enter a SA contest, BE PREPARED TO WIN.  (A good approach to life at any rate!)
  • If you have sent requested materials to a Secret Agent, and then you receive an offer of representation from another agent, NOTIFY THE SECRET AGENT OF YOUR OFFER.  This will give the Secret Agent a chance to finish reading your work, and possibly make an offer as well.  THIS IS COMMON COURTESY in the querying process, inside or outside the context of a contest.  If an agent has invested time in your work, it's only fair to let him/her know if you've received an offer.  
  • If your success on this blog leads to an offer of representation or ultimate publication, please let me know! I would love to add your name to our arsenal of Success Stories.
Please ask questions below! I want to make sure we're all on the same page with this etiquette stuff.

(This blog has a reputation for high quality -- thanks to you! So let's extend that quality to our off-blog behavior, which I probably haven't given enough thought to.)


Monday, February 18, 2013

Winners for February Secret Agent

Winning numbers have been drawn for February Secret Agent and the owners have all been emailed their entry numbers.

If you didn't get an email, I'm sorry; that means your ticket number wasn't selected.

Here is the complete list, so you may double check:
  • 5FXTRAKG as ENTRY #1

  • 0GJ0ROTH as ENTRY #2

  • 64CNAYUK as ENTRY #3

  • GXV2D568 as ENTRY #4

  • 3HUJCYI2 as ENTRY #5

  • EA4TV94L as ENTRY #6

  • 6YBNO9OL as ENTRY #7

  • 6GY0YCV9 as ENTRY #8

  • OI8QLWC4 as ENTRY #9


  • OVE61SU2 as ENTRY #11


  • 15BYFYBL as ENTRY #13

  • SIX4678E as ENTRY #14

  • YOY5ZRAD as ENTRY #15

  • TNB71V08 as ENTRY #16

  • E117T59L as ENTRY #17

  • PE660TYC as ENTRY #18

  • ZBDN8YCF as ENTRY #19

  • 07UMYZV4 as ENTRY #20

  • 59IXGNYP as ENTRY #21

  • 8NAJ4RJC as ENTRY #22

  • SNA0ON3Y as ENTRY #23

  • W5TF3B6V as ENTRY #24

  • DPJO05GL as ENTRY #25

  • DV0DX0DO as ENTRY #26

  • GX6CUZCL as ENTRY #27

  • 8J7WXPSN as ENTRY #28

  • Y6WZ5MEB as ENTRY #29

  • 3I8NLE07 as ENTRY #30

  • W13LZADQ as ENTRY #31

  • V82DC614 as ENTRY #32

  • 4Z8WP08V as ENTRY #33

  • UYHT2B49 as ENTRY #34

  • WEB43PR5 as ENTRY #35

  • EHLO6M3O as ENTRY #36

  • TQA54VHP as ENTRY #37

  • MTJAVXA9 as ENTRY #38

  • MT4R2W35 as ENTRY #39

  • LJ25AGO4 as ENTRY #40


  • MMT9WT4C as ENTRY #42

  • C9M6R61D as ENTRY #43

  • 0SDVPNYT as ENTRY #44

  • OFCEGK2H as ENTRY #45

  • SWEQLK8D as ENTRY #46

  • 3HS8O14K as ENTRY #47

  • G8DXACV6 as ENTRY #48

  • 0U8IL7RG as ENTRY #49

  • R2AESJCV as ENTRY #50
The alternates are:

  • S11L07SP as ENTRY #ALT-1

  • MG7GUYE1 as ENTRY #ALT-2

Friday, February 15, 2013

B&N Gift Card Winner!!

Thanks to all 110 of you who left comments!

The winner, chosen with a random number generator (because I'm all sorts of fair) is:



Adriana, please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail(dot)com and let me know where to send your electronic gift card (I will send it via email).

Hooray for prizes on Fridays!!

Friday Fricassee

All I can say is:  11 short? Really??

Okay.  I'll give you until noon Eastern to reach the 100 mark on comments to yesterday's post.  Because I really do want to give away a B&N gift card.

To those of you who did comment:  Wow!  Such a beautiful glimpse into your hearts and minds.  I realize that what I've asked has required vulnerability and honesty.  I'll bet many of you twitched more than a little when you had to say something about yourself that you loved.

Want to hear an interesting observation?

Some of you were more comfortable sharing things you CAN DO instead of things ABOUT YOU PERSONALLY.  It's a subtle difference--and it's perfectly okay to love the things you can do.  (I mean, we all love that we can write stories, yes?  It's all good.)

But there's a huge difference between, "I love that I can (fill in the blank)", and "I love my (fill in the blank)" or "I love that I am (fill in the blank)".

Examples from yesterday:

"I love my bravery."
"I love my tenacity."
"I love that I'm able to forgive easily."
"I love that I am honest."

Then, too, there were the physical characteristics, which certainly take bravery and a level of self-confidence to which we all should aspire:

"I love my hair."
"I love my big butt."

(Seriously. Love. That.)

I'm not saying that some of your I-love-about-mes were better or worse than others.  I'm pointing out, really, how hard it is for most of us to SIMPLY LOVE OURSELVES.

And yes. I include myself in this.

It's much easier to say, "I love that I can toss pizza dough ten feet in the air and catch it every time!" than it is to say, "I love that I am confident."

Easier to say, "I love the way I feel when I play a Beethoven sonata well!" than it is to say, "I love that I am musically gifted."

Easier to say, "I love that I've been trying to get published for seven years without quitting!" than it is to say, "I love that I am tenacious."

Sometime in the next twenty-four hours, I want you to stand alone in front of your reflection, and say, "I love that I am ______."  And fill in a character trait or innate gifting.

Are you LOYAL?  Are you FUNNY?  Are you COMPASSIONATE?  Are you HARDWORKING?  Are you BRAVE?  Own it!  Love yourself for it!

And here's the kicker:  Can you look at your reflection and say, "I love me because I'm me!"?

I hope you can.  I hope I can.

Because...THERE IS SO MUCH THAT IS BEAUTIFUL IN THE COLLECTIVE YOU.  Which means there is a lot that is beautiful about the individual yous.

(Oh, and seriously?  Those of you who love certain physical characteristics about yourselves are rocking it!  Society and past hurts and poor self images make it so difficult for us to love things about our bodies.)

All right, then!  If you want to leave a comment to bring the total to 100, please leave it on yesterday's post; not here.

Next week: Secret Agent!  If you haven't found the COURAGE to critique on this blog, give yourself permission to step into the water.  We learn first by watching, and then by doing.  If you've done a lot of watching, it's time to test your own wings.

Oh -- one more thing!  You might like to know that I AM FINALLY DRAFTING MY NEW NOVEL.  Your advice was invaluable; your support immeasurable.  I'm wrapping up the end of chapter 2 right now, and forging ahead with my 1000-words-a-day, 6-days-a-week schedule. And...I'm loving it!

Have a brilliant weekend!