Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Our Second 2012 Baker's Dozen Success Story!

I love posting these!  After the thrill of hot bidding and the humor of watching agents spatting behind the scenes (and sometimes on the blog), it's especially fun to announce another Baker's Dozen signing.  Here's the latest story, shared with permission:

In 2011, my MG entry, Riding the Dam, miraculously made it into the 2nd Annual Baker’s Agent Auction. It was a coming of age story based on my dad’s growing up years in Texas in the early 50s. I was so excited! The comments were positive and I anticipated a bid which would lead to an agent and a huge book deal. And…I didn’t get one single bid.

But I did get an introduction to an encouraging and supportive writing community. I learned how to write better loglines, queries, and the first 250 words. And (here’s the really cool part) I met the nicest people! I have incredible critique partners because of MSFV. I continued to write and entered lots of contests. There’s just something about the rush of a contest that’s so exciting.

I was thrilled (and a little more realistic this time) when my second MS, Harold – The Kid Who Ruined My Life and Saved the Day, made it into the 3rd Annual Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction. I was leading a school assembly and my phone kept buzzing. When I had a break, I saw that one of my critique partners had been DMing me each time a bid came in for Harold.

I received a full request from the winning agent. A few days later, Authoress emailed me with three more requests. I was disappointed when I didn’t get any offers of representation from those requests. To be honest, Harold could have been better. So I kept writing. I continued to get great suggestions from CPs who loved Harold and I started a third manuscript.

There was still one agent who I had not heard from yet. It was Tricia Lawrence who was closed to queries. What’s funny is Tricia had actually requested Harold two months earlier from another contest.

In February, I made a substantial revision to Harold and I sent it to her. About two months later I got an email. Tricia thanked me for my patience. She loved the concept of Harold but she hadn’t read it after requesting it from the first contest. I'm so thankful for this because most likely she would have rejected it. It just wasn’t good enough then. She said she wanted to set up a time to talk so we could discuss my writing.

When we spoke by phone she told me how much she loved Harold. She so “got” everything I was trying to say in this story. We clicked so well. Then she asked me what else I was writing. Now, here’s where it would have been a good idea to practice pitching before the phone call. I said something like, “It’s about a twelve-year-old girl who gets stuck in a nursing home and then she solves a bank robbery with the help of an old lady who has Alzheimer’s and then she ends up on Cajun Pawn Stars.”

Tricia graciously asked, “Can you send me that?” We talked for almost an hour, but she didn’t offer representation. Maybe it was the whole Alzheimer’s thing.

I was bummed. I sent the manuscript to her and hoped that the actual manuscript would make up for my horrible pitch job.

A few days later, she emailed me. When I read that she loved the second story and wanted to offer representation, I actually cried. As we talked, I realized how fortunate I was that she’d requested Harold twice, but waited to read the revision. And what a blessing it was that she had read Harold and my crazy other story and now she was offering based on both of them. The timing of it all was really quite perfect.

There’s one thing I kept thinking and saying throughout this entire process – If my writing doesn’t go anywhere, I’ve made wonderful friends. Friends who live all over the world. Friends who I never would have never met had I not entered my first Baker’s Dozen.

Thank you!

Dana Edwards

Quick PSA - Last Day for $70 Partial Critiques

It's been a neat journey so far, to say the least.  The coolest thing is when I get to the end of the partial and wish there were more.  The other coolest thing is when a client gets all excited because my notes have resonated deeply.  So, yes.  AUTHORESS EDITS is swimming nicely along.

This is a quick reminder that my $70 rate will go up to $95 tomorrow.  If you want to get into the queue today, it will be at the $70 rate.


Monday, April 29, 2013

This Month's Winners

Mr. Wolf has chosen the following two "favorites":

#32 -- Surgical Wounds
#38 -- Firebird

The prize:

Mr. Wolf requests that you submit your full manuscript. (Yay!)

Congratulations, winners!  Please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for specific submission instructions.

Secret Agent Unveiled: Kent D. Wolf

Huge thanks to the friendly, coolest-hair-ever Kent D. Wolf of Lippincott, Massie, McQuilkin.

Kent's Bio:

KENT D. WOLF began his publishing career in 1997 at Dalkey Archive Press. He then moved to Harcourt Trade Publishers where he headed the Subsidiary Rights Department, handling rights sales for many acclaimed authors, including Nobel Prize winners Octavio Paz, Günter Grass, and Jose Saramago and novelists Umberto Eco, Yann Martel, and Michel Faber. Kent represents a number of New York Times bestselling authors and is on the lookout for literary fiction, upmarket women's fiction, memoir, pop culture, all types of narrative nonfiction, and select YA/MG. He is a member of the Association of Authors' Representatives and PEN.

What Kent's looking for:

"I'm in the market for voice-driven YA, genre-bending debuts, and dark fiction that pushes buttons."

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Fricassee

You'll have to forgive my lack of usual Friday spunk; my cat's gone missing.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a small sorrow.  It is not an act of terrorism; it is not a missing child; it is not a national catastrophe.  But it is a sorrow nonetheless, and I've had to give myself permission to feel sad for a little while.

Funny, though, how the small sorrows in life have the power to snap our perspective into place.  To reveal the many places of profound blessing in our lives.  If we're tuned in to all this, we end up feeling thankful instead of sad.

So it's okay.  I'm okay.  With each passing day, I'm more certain I'll never see Lucy again (there are woods--and coyotes--behind our house).  But I'm learning to rejoice in the season of her having been here.  I've truly never met such an affectionate, sweet, almost-doglike cat (she comes when you call her).  She's the fifth cat in my life (not including one-night stands), and I have loved her more deeply than any other.

I must have needed her, because she felt like a gift every day.  She still feels like a gift, even though she's not here.

Anyway.  That's the sad-heart-behind-the-blog-posts this week.

And so we move along.  My birthday was a string of delights (that sounds corny, but it really was), and as of yesterday my middle grade novel is officially on submission.  I hit 60,000 words on my WIP this week, and in ballet class I'm back at the barre.

Perspective, yes?

Some blog thoughts I'm tossing around (and would love your input on):

  • The response to Lauren MacLeod's drawing for a picture book critique from Helene Boudreau has made me realize that there are more PB authors among you than I realized.  So I'm planning to do something just for you -- a critique round.  Interested?
  • I'm thinking a summertime logline something-or-other would be a good way to get early practice for this year's Baker's Dozen, instead of waiting for the logline rounds that begin in October.  Thoughts?
  • Readership is always growing, but I'd like to see the blog's reach stretch even farther--especially before the Baker's Dozen (which tends to overwhelm anyone who happens upon the blog for the first time during the brouhaha).  I'd love to hear your ideas on how to share MSFV with all the fledgling writers out there who don't yet know we exist.

Please bomb my comment box with your creative ideas today!  And have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


I included this in the MSFV 5-year retrospective, but I suspect many of you missed it because of the sheer number of clickable choices.

At any rate, I wrote this in February, 2009, before many of you were part of our community.  In fact, the blog wasn't even a year old yet. So today I'm re-sharing, because this is for all of you, and it's my heart.


Ode To My Readers

Oh writers all, who browse this blog
And read its rambling prose,
Who share with me the ups and downs
Of writers' joys and woes;

I raise my feathered hat to you
For all that you have shared --
Your thoughts, your hearts, your manuscripts
(For those of you who've dared).

You've bared your souls and shared your dreams
And asked your questions, too;
I count myself so fortunate
To walk this path with you.

For writing is a solitary,
Lonely sort of thing,
Despite the satisfaction
And the pleasure it may bring.

So reaching out across the miles
Of crowded cyberspace
To touch the lives of other scribes
With neither voice nor face

Is something that we dearly need,
To keep our muses fed,
To offer up encouragement
When hope is nearly dead,

To shout "Hooray!" at each success
And "Boo!" when things go wrong,
To lovingly point out that excess
Adverbs don't belong.

So join me while I celebrate
The gift of knowing you,
And thank you all for coming here
And doing what you do.

You're strong, you're brave, you're talented --
Keep going, never doubt!
For living life with passion
Is what life is all about.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April Secret Agent #50

TITLE: A Boat Against the Current
GENRE: Upmarket Women's Fiction

I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me. It was just like her too, always leaving a bad first impression. It was July, the same week my father moved us to Sioux, Iowa, his childhood home, and the place he had met and fallen in love with my mother, Vienna.

A heat wave moved with us, a debilitating wet blanket that snaked its way around town like God’s curse upon Pharaoh. And though it was hot enough to kill a cat, it couldn't keep my little sister, Bitty, and me, from attempting to run a whole mile down Lanark Lane. It was one flat stretch of farmland, John Deere tractors, big ol' farmhouses, fields of corn, more corn, and something else smaller and green.

While running, a real life cow mooed and scared Bitty and me so badly we about jumped out of our skins. Finally able to resume, we were running down the open, dirt road, ever further away from the comfort of New York City skyscrapers, honking cabbie drivers, and our favorite hog dog vendor on Fifth Avenue. We ran until we saw it: the great red tip of the rocket slide, the marker of Sioux Elementary.

We would have made it too, if it weren’t for the boy.

April Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Persephone
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

These are the things I remember: the weight of my cat curled up on my chest; the honest-to-goodness last fast food hamburger I ever had; the rancid-sweet smell of Houston after a rainstorm; the girl who tried to befriend me the first day of kindergarten, and who I made fun of for her crappy haircut.

These are the things I don’t remember: what chocolate cake tastes like; the particular feel of being outside on a sunny day; my parent’s faces.

And it’s not even quite that I don’t remember them. If I really didn’t remember these things, that would be fine. I wouldn’t remember that I didn’t remember them, so I wouldn’t be bothered by the lack of memory. What I feel, though, is infinitely worse. I can sort of remember these things, but I know that my memory isn’t accurate. My parents’ features change. The sunny day becomes confused with exercising in the sun room. Chocolate cake becomes just another form of flavored tofu.

Maxwell, my wrist computer says, my own voice coming from its speakers, get a grip. There’s no point in obsessing over what you can’t change.

My name, for example. Maxwell Clerk MacLeod. Can’t change that and, despite what you might think, there is no good feminine version of either of those names. Maxie? Tried that for a micro-second in fifth grade and it took years for the echoes of Maxi Pad to die. And Clerk isn’t even a name, it’s the sound a chicken makes with marbles in its mouth.

April Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Rite of Rejection
GENRE: YA Dystopian

Thanks to my mother, today is orchestrated to absolute perfection. Right on schedule, I push the glowing blue button and the door slides open with a staccato puff of air. Overhead, an electric bell tinkles as I step into the store packed with other Candidates. Someday I’ll coordinate perfect plans of my own, but not today. Not on the eve of my Acceptance ceremony.

Cheryl is right behind me, bouncing on her toes with each step. My mother would die of embarrassment if I showed the same lack of decorum as my best friend, but I’m bouncing on the inside. I take a few more measured steps so our mothers can join us and the door slides shut with another whoosh of air.

We visited half the shops in Cardinal City this morning in our search for the perfect dresses and dyed-to-match shoes for tomorrow's ceremony. I got a thrill buying my first pair of silk gloves, Cheryl and I gushing over the tiny pearl buttons, but this is the purchase I'm looking forward to the most.

Shelves bursting with dance cards cover every square inch of wall space. Dozens of girls sigh and squeal over the small books we'll use to record the names of our dance partners for tomorrow's ball. One of these books is the perfect one for me. Hopefully, by the end of tomorrow night it will hold the name of my future husband.

April Secret Agent #47

TITLE: Beautiful Malevolence
GENRE: YA Thriller

I have to bury my best friend today.

Right now, Dad is outside digging a hole next to the oak tree in the backyard. Mom is on her knees at the head of the hole; she doesn’t even look bothered that she’s ruining her new linen pants. She won’t stop adjusting the hastily thrown together wooden cross. She looped Tobin’s collar around it but it won’t sit right. I should go down there and help but I’m not sure if I’m welcome.

Mom can’t even look at me without crying.

She thinks I did it.

I don’t blamer her. They found Tobin in my bed, his golden fur matted with blood, and the butcher knife in my hand even though I was asleep.

I don’t remember a thing, and I don’t think I did it, but it doesn’t matter.

Tobin is dead and Mom hates me.

“Olivia, honey, do you want to come downstairs?” Dad calls from the kitchen.

Dad isn’t mad at me—he knows I’d never hurt Tobin on purpose. He thinks maybe I was sleepwalking or something. They’re taking me to the nut house tomorrow to talk to some shrink.

I climb off my bed, thankful Mom put clean sheets on the rust-colored mattress, and shuffle through my door and down the stairs.

“Will she let me go outside?” I ask.

“Of course she will.” Dad holds out his hand.

I reach for it and we walk into the backyard together. It’s a beautiful, sunny day.

April Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Beyond The River
GENRE: Literary Fiction

The narrow path led up and away from the rushing water to where the forest thwarted the sun and the river’s hiss diminished until it was no longer heard. Twigs snapped beneath Brad Lucas’ boots. He listened intently for the cries of birds, for a foraging squirrel—any sign that everything was okay. As a boy, his father had told him, “When the woods go silent, a predator is on the prowl. Even if you can’t see it.”

Perhaps he was being paranoid. Then again, maybe he wasn’t. Brad parted his lips and whistled sharply.

A few feet ahead, Dean Romans stiffened with surprise and halted in sun dappled shade. “What the hell was that for?”

“Bears. If they’re around, they’ll move on.”

“Please provide advance warning next time.” Frenzied gnats circled Dean’s head and he swatted at them.

Here it comes, Brad thought. He’s finally going to complain about how stupid it is to be out in the middle of nowhere.

Dean snatched a water bottle from his backpack, drank, and then grinned, his gleaming white teeth contrasting with his swollen black eye. Brad was tired of following Dean—he’d been doing it for too many years now. “How much farther?” he demanded.

“I must tell you,” Dean said, sauntering off. “I haven’t been totally up front with you about this trip.”

Of course, Brad thought. You’ve never been up front about anything.

“What do you mean?”

Dean glanced back triumphantly. “Patience. It’s all part of the surprise.”

April Secret Agent #45

TITLE: Meditation
GENRE: YA Thriller

I’m not sure what wakes me up first, the pounding in my head or the concrete floor I’m lying on. A moan escapes my lips and echoes around the room. The echo surprises me into opening my eyes, which makes my head throb even more. As the throbbing slows and my eyes adjust to the dim light, I take in my surroundings.

What the hell is going on? I have no idea where I am. The room is unfamiliar in addition to being bare and completely gross. My eyes track across the floor, and I cringe at the dust and dirt covering it.

Refusing to lay in filth regardless of what’s going on—which I’m not ready to think about yet—I place my hand flat in front of my chest and push myself to a seated position. The familiarity of the motion I use in yoga every day usually calms me, but now my head just pounds harder.

I breathe in through my nose for a cleansing breath, and cough when the smells of the place register. It smells like something died in here. Or lots of somethings. I try to breathe through my mouth instead, but that only dulls the stench, so I cover my nose with my shirt. Which doesn’t really help, either.

Shaking my head, I attempt to stand, but my knees wobble. Whatever knocked me out is still in my system. I get halfway up, and my legs give out, so I fall back to my hands and knees.

April Secret Agent #44

GENRE: YA apocalyptic action/adventure

Dad always knew the world was going to end.

He prepared us for it. He'd buy truckloads of dried black beans instead of getting us new clothes every school year, and bought me a gun instead of a car on my sweet sixteen. He called himself a prepper. Our neighbors called him crazy.

But he was right. All it takes is one little virus and everyone dies.

"I'm going to the hospital," Dad told me, a couple months after the virus hit. He wore his blue scrubs and carried his duffel, looking for all the world like he was just going in for another day's work. Except for the pistol holstered at his hip.

I remembered the steady baritone of his voice, big hands pulling me into a hug, blue eyes so calm behind his glasses. He thought there was a chance the hospital was still up and running, and had to go see if he could help. "Don't worry, Cora Jane," Dad told me. "I'll be back soon."

That was six months ago.

I smothered the twinge that my heart gave at the memory and hauled myself out of bed, peeling the sweat-soaked sheet from my body. The light of the rising sun beat through my bedroom window, the sky behind it a glowing, clear blue. Not a cloud in sight.

It'd been a month since we'd gotten any rain. I'd put off leaving home as long as I could -- hell, a couple weeks ago I even did a rain dance.

April Secret Agent #43

GENRE: Contemporary YA (in verse)

This Is The Part Where My Father Dies


At the funeral,

everyone laughed,
but my mom’s voice—
it sounded more like a cry.

She drank too much wine
and laughed too loud at the stories
my dad’s
family and colleagues and friends and students told,
their voices rushing
to fill the emptiness
with anecdote.

They were all

Her lips and teeth were stained
with red,
and when I looked at her,
all I saw was
an empty shell,
a book
without any pages.
Dead but not dead.

She was a stranger,

Sometimes there was a glance
in my direction
for a few moments
too long.

Like sweat,
I could feel it on me.

Nobody said anything.

I had lost
my words.


I couldn’t understand how
there could be
an afterwards
now that
he was gone.

The car swerved to avoid
a deer but
my dad instead.

it was ten months later.
I was fifteen
and ready for high school:
with my knee socks and their elastic bands
slipping down my legs,
with my tartan kilt in green and blue,
with my ring and
my promise
I made him
only weeks before
he died.

I want you
to keep this

until you get married.

The ring slid on
so easily.
It fit
so perfectly.

But it was so much heavier
than the metal it was made of,
and the way it wrapped itself
around me,

like it could never leave.
Like it would be there

April Secret Agent #42

GENRE: Women's Fiction

I was going to be a millionaire—if I wasn’t crushed to death first.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was nothing compared to the towers in my spare bedroom, or any room for that matter. Mounds of boxes, each rising several feet high, to graze the ceiling, overshadowed and surrounded me. Shoved haphazardly or stacked methodically, Bankers boxes, beer and banana boxes filled my vision and my house. Tiny shoeboxes didn’t even begin to cut it. Letting out a sigh, I wiped a bead of sweat from my forehead and lowered yet another box.

Determined this would be the box containing the treasure I searched for, I tore it open and scrutinized its contents.

Earlier that day, the topic on Abigail in the Afternoon was how to become rich by selling your stuff. I certainly had the stuff: items flowed from my closets, rooms, hallways, filled my cabinets, drawers and covered my furniture. Abigail’s guest, an expert on making cash from trash, talked about rare finds and mentioned a particular treasure. My memory clicked. Somewhere in that mountain of boxes was my very own stash of cash: a rare Little Kimmy doll. This was a good example of why I never threw anything out. It was precisely as my dad said, “Why toss what I already have only to spend more money re-buying the same item later?” My belongings were like investments. Everything had worth and was needed, eventually. All I needed was to cash in one or two rare items to be set for life.

April Secret Agent #41

TITLE: Brightest Midnight
GENRE: YA futuristic thriller

Right after the dismissal bell rings, I hop on my scoot-racer and zip toward the airstrip, because that’s how one should ride a scoot-racer—one should zip. Finnur’s probably miles behind me already, but I can’t stop myself, not when all I crave is speed. Keeping my body low, I fly over paved roads and bald patches of rich volcanic soil, catching air whenever I can. I’m going so fast the breeze steals my breath with a sudden gust. In response, I open my mouth wide and lift my face to the vast expanse of blue.

Armed with a life-affirming mouthful of air, I lean close to my scoot-racer and barrel around a curve and up a grassy knoll. Once at the top, I let my engine idle as I take in the airstrip. Parked planes are lined up like shiny toys, and among them, the familiar single-engine Haukur 100 calls me from its position. A propeller plane from the last century might be old-fashioned compared to scoot-racers and skyships, but now that I have my pilot’s license, I’ll fly anything I can get my hands on—and right now, that means Finnur’s dad’s Haukur.

Of course, flying the Haukur means spending time with Finnur at my side in the cockpit. I grip my handlebars. The prospect of being alone with him reminds me of our kiss Saturday night.

The kiss I’m not ready to think about.

April Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Soul Seeker
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The life that flashed before my eyes was beautiful and haunting. The echoes of despair and happiness had my breath catch in my throat and made me wonder about the countless choices made, about what could have been.

It was also not mine.

“Do you understand why you made the choices that you did?”

The answer was lost in a murmur too low for me to overhear. I’m not supposed to be this close to a soul when they speak with a Talker, especially close enough to see the screen. But a long time ago I discovered that in the dark room, as long as I stood within the folds of the curtain, I was nearly invisible.

This soul gleamed a dark, sickly shade of red. Black spots move churlishly under the surface of his skin, spots of discontent and malady due to the life he had lead. There was blood on the screen, death and murder, and at a particular point in the life screening the soul screamed.

“Number 704, do you regret your actions?”

The Talker’s voice was low, soothing. Practiced. I’ve heard different variations of the placating murmur my entire life, and had no doubt this one would do her duty with perfection. Once a Collector smuggled in a book from the World and we discovered that the souls sometimes chose professions like the Talkers. The concept had always been completely foreign, and none of us had ever been able to come close to understanding it.

April Secret Agent #39

TITLE: The Nano-magic Adept
GENRE: Science Fiction/Fantasy

The idea was to stun them before the ruffians did something stupid. But, the local rojammers were always doing something stupid.

Gella slipped past the people running through the cobblestone square and moved close to the ale house column, peering around the corner. Three rojammers were in view. A smile came to her face as she surveyed the scene. No large gang today.

A small man in herders leathers lay on the ground. Blood dripped from his mouth onto the lamb cradled in his arms. Blood stained his clothes.

The rojammers were always bullying the bumpkins passing through the city. You would think with all that magical talent they would find something useful to do. Rojammers and all adepts were kids too really. But it was the young who could work magic. It was up to the Archons to protect the elders who could no longer work in magic.

Two of the gang stood over the man. They glanced around, knowing time was short before either the watch or an Archon would happen by.

"You must pay the fine for drinking." The bigger rojammer bellowed, and he cast a quick look at the lamb.

"If you're lucky", The other rojammer, probably the youngest, his voice soothing, like the smoothest Capona wine.

"Give the lamb... and we forget it."

That would be Carn, rumor has it he is powerful in magic, thought Gella.

Gella tapped her Archon neck amulet. The amulet hummed and a chime sounded in her head.

April Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Firebird
GENRE: YA Fantasy

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, Echo mused, snagging a still warm pork bun from a nearby stall as she ran, that stolen food tastes exponentially better than food that’s not stolen.

With the shopkeeper’s indignant squawk all but lost in the clamor of the crowd, Echo knew this simple fact to be true. Feet flying across pavement slick with the day’s drizzle, twisting and turning as she dodged rickety carts and gawking pedestrians, she also knew that if she didn’t find her way out of Taipei’s crowded Shilin Night Market within the next ninety seconds, she probably wouldn’t live to steal again.

Taking a healthy bite of the pork bun, she spared a thought for her cozy, cramped bedroom, a long forgotten storage room nestled high above the stacks of the New York Public Library, warded to high holy hell to keep out intruders and nosy staff, and she wondered if she would ever see it again. It would be a shame, Echo thought, if no one were there to eat the rest of burrito she had swiped from the backpack of an unsuspecting college student as he napped with his head pillowed on a battered copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. There had been poetry to that minor act of thievery, which was mainly why she had done it. She no longer needed to steal food to survive, as she had when she was a child, but sometimes an opportunity was too good to pass up.

April Secret Agent #37

TITLE: If I Don't Go Back
GENRE: Literary fiction

Fake it until you make it, they tell you. I am tired of faking it, I decide, as I knock on an empty on-call room door, then ease inside. The air is stale and smells of antiseptic and cigarette smoke. The moment my cheek scratches against the pillowcase, I’m paged for surgery.

When I first lay eyes on the patient, he is already under, his d*** limp and flopping about as we haul his body onto the operating table. There’s no such thing as privacy in an operating suite. Usually no one bothers to keep the gown strategically placed over your more sensitive bits, but I move his gown to cover his crotch. If it were me lying there, I would want someone to do the same for me.

The man’s appendix has burst, and he needs emergency surgery. I glove and gown the surgeon, a middle-aged man with hair growing out of his ears, because these lazy pricks can’t do anything for themselves. That may sound harsh, but you try spending five years with these so-called healers, who care more about malpractice insurance and vacations than they do patient care and tell me they’re not lazy. Why I have been considering medical school for the past year doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given my hatred of most surgeons. Maybe I want to give something back, to show them that you can possess both skill and compassion.

“Midline,” the surgeon says and motions for a scalpel, which I place in his hand.

April Secret Agent #36

GENRE: YA Romance

Chelsea roars her VW convertible into the AHS parking lot and checks her makeup in the rear view mirror. Good thing I put my seat belt on because there's a screech of tires, and I'm thrown back against my headrest.

I tighten every muscle in my body, waiting for a crash.

Chelsea shakes so hard, she can barely hold onto the wheel. "My God, I almost hit that car. Where did it come from?" She peers out the side window. "Oh, damn. It's Logan Spenser. This is going to screw up our bet."

"We just about smashed into somebody, and you're worried about a bet?" I sink down farther in my seat until I'm almost on the floor.

Grinding into reverse, Chelsea floors it and this time she misses banging into him by about three inches. She shifts into first gear and we jolt forward and into another parking place. We both sit in silence and breathe heavy.

My heart's pounding so fast, it feels like I ran twenty miles.

Giggling like a couple of ten-year-olds, we crawl out of the car and stumble toward the entrance to the school. I'm just glad we're alive.

Chelsea grabs my arm as we start up the steps. "It's him. He's waiting for us."

"Who?" Like I don't know. My heart's still pounding, but in a different way. This one isn't fear. It's excitement. I glance up and he's standing in front of me, all gorgeous in his black leather jacket.

April Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Denali in Hiding
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

When my mom is mad at me, I usually understand why.

I understood why she said, “Calling it an ‘academic pursuit’ doesn’t get you off the hook,” when I dug a six-foot hole in the front yard to show Eli how the earth changes like a rainbow the deeper you go.

I got why she frowned and said, “That was mean and really sort of disgusting,” when Ethan and I—with just the right mix of apple juice, lemonade, and water—convinced Eli we were sipping pee on the porch.

I was not surprised when she screeched, “What the hell am I supposed to tell the mechanic?” after I practiced lifting her truck before I was ready and it clunked down hard in our driveway, bits and parts rattling about.

But I don’t understand why the smoky frustration crept into her eyes when I told her Ethan and I burned my last journal. She said coolly, “We will talk about this when I get back.”

While she’s out bartending, I’m stuck wondering what I did wrong. The only thing I can figure is maybe she thinks I let Ethan read it. She knows I write about everything and she gets touchy when she thinks there is even a remote chance someone might find out about me. Even if that someone is Ethan.

Ethan, who leaves various types of miniature plastic leprechauns around our house for us to discover.

April Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Mother Mona
GENRE: Upmarket Women's Fiction

At LA International Airport, exactly 48 minutes before her flight to Alaska was set to depart, Mona put her leather carry-on bag on the ladies’ room sink and found the four-ounce travel-sized bottle of cheap merlot. As the cleaning lady watched mid-wipe, Mona silently raised the bottle to the little black stuffed dog whose head was peeking out of the carry-on – here’s to … whatever - and drank the entire bottle. Then she opened an outside pocket, retrieved a tiny container of peppermint breath spray, and administered two quick, efficient blasts. Picking up her bag, she tossed the plastic bottle in the trash and took a long, cleansing breath. Then she squared her shoulders and headed toward the line for security.

On the airplane from LA to Alaska, as the pilot announced they’d reached a coasting altitude of 35,000 feet, Mona locked herself in the bathroom, leaned her head against the cool plastic wall, and cried.

When the flight attendant knocked the second time, Mona put her head next to the door and said, “I’m fine.” To the woman in the mirror, pale and shaking, she whispered, “I’m fine.” I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. Then she made her way back to her seat, keeping her eyes on the floor between aisles, her head down, her hand tentatively touching every other seatback for support. Sitting, she pulled her carry-on from underneath the chair in front of her and hugged it to her. Unzipping it, she found the little stuffed dog.

April Secret Agent #33

TITLE: Fayettenam
GENRE: Literary Fiction

I’d always thought that if God decided to ever speak to me, it’d be like in The Ten Commandments, just like how God spoke to Charlton Heston. It wasn’t. Lately, I’m starting to think it wasn’t God at all. If anything, it sounds a lot like my dad.

I was fourteen when I first heard that voice. It was back in ’64 at the SMU game. Kenny Hatfield returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown against the Ponies; Dad grabbed my arms and forced me to join into the cult of Hog nation. It was the first time I ever felt embarrassed as the first “Wooo” in the first “Sooie” echoed throughout the stadium. For some reason, I couldn’t join in. Maybe I was trying to be a rebel but my dad saw it as insubordination. He nudged me the same way he would nudge me in church when my eyes would close and my head would lean all the way back on the pew. I had failed at being a fan in his eyes. I was his son, born and raised in Fayetteville, and I had refused to “Call those Hogs.” In his eyes, I committed treason.

Now, a good five years later, I wish I were that fourteen year old. I had it good. I’ll call those hogs if it keeps me from going to Vietnam. Nixon wants to eliminate the “agony of suspense,” when it comes to the draft. Personally, I’ve enjoyed not having my life uprooted like a tree.

April Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Surgical Wounds
GENRE: Memoir

The hour of my dinner is dependent on the timing of someone’s death. This thought, nebulous at first, explodes with abrupt clarity, right there in the foyer of the House of Hunan. It’s like when you stare at one of those pictures, and a bunch of blurred dots suddenly become a shape that you can’t believe you didn’t see right away. And once you see it, it can’t be unseen. When she dies, we can eat. I start to fidget, clutching the warm take-out bag close as the machine spits out my credit card receipt.

I’m certain the other patrons are eyeing me suspiciously. It seems the young cashier, her mouth pinched in a frown, knows my secret: if the woman on the 5th floor at the county hospital dies in the next five minutes, I can eat as soon as I get there. If she hangs on, clinging to her shredded and painful life a little longer, then I will have to wait. I try to pretend I am okay either way, but my stomach growls it’s own urgent opinion. I’m hungry, and I’m a horrible person, because essentially, I want to rush her inevitable demise.

The proper etiquette for this situation eludes me. Maybe we shouldn’t be eating at all? The woman is about to die. That part is certain. Her family will be called, and their lives altered forever. It seems so twisted that the only thing that will change for me is food: hot or cold.

April Secret Agent #31

GENRE: YA Supernatural Romance

Something told me my mental institution-free days were numbered the second I jumped down from the pickup truck and stared out at the towering cable fence arched over the steep banked turns of Daytona’s International Speedway.

My stomach churned.

This place was a death pit of metal, iron, and steel. Granted, it wasn’t all that different from the salvage yard I lived in back home. And while having been sent here against my will sucked big time, it wasn’t why I was freaking out, either. It was having to keep a lid on the magnetic influence I had over all those ferrous metals while smack dab in the middle of a highly media-crazed sport that had me popping chewable antacids all week.

Bye-bye, frying pan. Hello, fire.

I took the roll of Tums out of my pocket, peeled the wrapper and dropped another one on my tongue. How the hell was I going to stay in control of my emotions in this place? I was already more bitter than a key lime and my curse was teetering over the barriers I’d taught myself to keep up.

A sudden gust of wind whipped by, barely stirring air that had turned thick and humid thanks to the series of freak storms that had hit these parts of Florida this past week. I closed my eyes, curled some stray strands of hair around my ears and gave my throbbing right temple a quick rub.

Throbbing temple. Never a good sign.

April Secret Agent #30

GENRE: YA- Contemporary

After I set the timer for the double-chocolate cupcakes, I carry the duct-taped laundry basket through the living room. Just as I pass the couch, where I see my brother Skunk’s video game is on pause, he roughly bumps into me from behind. The basket and I careen toward the tall shelf that holds Mama’s porcelain doll collection. It teeters, and I imagine the dolls crashing to the floor and ghastly shards of half-broken frozen smiles leering at me, but thankfully, it rights itself. Only wet laundry spills on the carpet as I let the basket go and catch myself on the back of the couch. I lower down to hands and knees to pick up the sopping clothes.

“Get out of the way Sugar,” Skunk shouts as his orange soda nearly sloshes out of the plastic big-gulp cup. He plops back into his divot on the sofa. “Damn. You’re always in the way.”

“Sorry,” I say softly.

But it’s true. I am always in the way. I’ve known this for as long as I can remember. The fat Puerto-Rican-Polish girl, who doesn’t feel like she belongs in her skin or anywhere else for that matter, has always been too much and yet not enough.

I struggle to slide the back door along its dirt-encrusted track, trying to force it wide enough to fit the basket and me through. I walk into the sunshine letting it warm my face for a moment.

April Secret Agent #29

TITLE: Glory
GENRE: Edgy YA Contemporary

When they grabbed me, there was no time to scream. A filthy cloth covered my head as fist after fist ground into my body. More than one hand wove through my hair, pain searing my scalp as they threw me onto the cement. My thoughts scrambled in my mind, what had I done? Who were they?

Multiple voices overlapped calling me every name in the book: skank, bitch, chula. All girls, and by the sound of their voices, they were black as well as Hispanic. Then a third language, was it Chinese? Or maybe Vietnamese?

Tears streamed down my face. Wasn’t it enough that I was all alone? I covered my head, praying the feet kicking me everywhere wouldn’t hit me in the head. When I’d awoken from the coma after the accident four months ago, the doctors had warned me: no more head injuries. I gasped as a pointed shoe connected with my stomach.

The pain was too much and not for the first time I wished I’d died in the accident with Mom and Greg. Was this what my life was going to be like for the next nine months? How had I ended up here?

Two Days Earlier

Walking along the dim sidewalk, garbage lining the fence, a cop to my left and a social worker on my right, I wondered how I’d thought my life couldn’t get worse. My chest still felt tight, though I’d swallowed the last of my sobs hours ago on the plane.

April Secret Agent #28

TITLE: The Dark Side of My Shadow
GENRE: YA Psychological Thriller

Celia is happiest when she’s cruel. On the shore she laughs, high and wicked. “You’re never going to find it,” she mocks me, my mirror image, my twisted twin.

Jason stands next to her. Hands balled into fists. “What did you f***ing do?” He’s mad. Maybe the maddest I’ve ever seen him. The chords in his neck stand out, and a muscle ticks along his jaw.

I dive back into the water. It’s cold, so cold that my teeth hurt from banging against one another and I can’t feel my legs anymore. Still, I propel my body down and furiously search the sandy bottom. Cellie’s been getting worse. And lately her rage, her chaos, her madness has been directed at me. I pretend I don’t know why. But I do. I stay under for as long as possible. My eyes sting from the dirty water but I keep them open, scanning the bottom for something that doesn’t belong.

My lungs burn and the oxygen in them begs for release. I am forced to the top. My body breaks the surface and I inhale a huge breath. Jason shakes his head and crouches by the water, his combat boots meeting the waves. He lights a cigarette while he watches me carefully.

“Please help me,” I yell.

April Secret Agent #27

TITLE: An Absence of Light

The dark rind of dried blood wasn’t coming out from under my fingernails no matter how hard I scrubbed. I finally grabbed a paper towel to turn off the faucet and push open the graffiti-coated door.

The gas-station teller read Busty Babes in the Bedroom, his eyes glossy as he turned the page. I dropped the bathroom key attached to the giant wooden dowel in front of him, biting back my “In your dreams” comment—the last thing I wanted was him remembering me.

Turning, I nearly ran into the cop behind me, her coffee mug so large it bordered on a bucket. I stepped out of her way, forcing a smile that probably looked more like a grimace.

Keep calm. She’s not here for you. Take a deep breath and get out of sight. No way the cops had any idea to look for me so far from home. Not yet.

The stolen BMW out back was a different story. Was she waiting for me to return to it so she could pick me up? Had she even seen it?

I tried to walk slowly as I exited the store, though my feet wanted to take off sprinting. I went the opposite direction from the beamer, rounding the other side of the building and ducking behind the gated off area housing a propane tank. The cop’s cruiser sat out front and I could just make out its back bumper.

It was then I noticed the snaking coldness pool around me.

April Secret Agent #26

GENRE: Young Adult Modern Fantasy

It’s the dead of night on Friday. Sneaking-out time.

Yeah, my conscience nagged me, but I ignored it and raised my bedroom window.

Behind me, my friend hissed, “If your parents hear us, we’re toast, son.”

“Hey, Logan, you gotta be optimistic. Being grounded isn’t so bad if you don’t get caught sneaking out. And I’ve never, ever gotten caught. Besides, people are counting on me.”

At CHHS, my high school, I’d become Cash Flaherty: taxi service to underage binge drinkers. I tried explaining this to my dad, but he couldn’t care less. The grounding stood.

Course, I’m going out anyhow. Something in my character is faulty. When I think of the dumb things I’ve done…Sheesh, I have to stay positive.

I glanced at the Irish blessing that’d hung over my bed like a shield since I was a kid.

Wherever you go and whatever you do,
May the luck of the Irish be there with you.

I smiled at the words. Staying positive is really key when doing something morally ambiguous.

Then I swung my long legs out the window onto the ledge outside.

A light rain made the brick slippery. I whisper-yelled to my buddy, “It’s wet, but we'll make it down.” Good thing our Texas two-story is massive. Using the crevices, I inched lower and got to the column. Climbing down the side of a house in the rain was hell on my new shirt, but when duty called, I answered.

April Secret Agent #25

GENRE:           Literary fiction

TITLE: All He Can Become

The call came at dawn when Michael sat in his boxer shorts staring at the computer in the study. He mumbled a greeting into the receiver.

“Michael?” He barely recognized her voice.

“Nan? What’s wrong?”

“Accident.” Her voice squeaked. “No one’s dead, but Ted’s hurt.”

Michael jack-knifed out of his chair.

She wheezed. “Me too, broken leg. But Ted’s worse.”

Ted, Ted, Ted. His brother’s name whorled through Michael’s brain. “How Worse?”

“I don’t know. Concussion, maybe more.” Nan began to cry.

Michael’s body took charge. Bare feet slapped the hardwood floor. In the bedroom his heart shifted into overdrive. A rapid cadence of snare drums surged from his chest to his ears. “What hospital? What’s his doctor’s name?”

“Liberty General. I don’t know what doctor. They’ve had me in x-ray.”

He rifled through a dresser drawer, pulling out socks and a tee shirt.

“What’s the phone number? Ask someone for the number.”

In the closet he gulped air and pushed hangers sideways. Nan’s voice faded as if she had moved to a faraway room. When he blew out a mouthful of air, the throbbing in his chest diffused, became a flock of crows thrashing their wings.

Then Nan rattled off some numbers.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he said.

Alexis drove him to the airport in San Francisco. “I should go with you,” she said.

“Grace could deliver any day,” he said, surprised by his coherent response. Alexis was the rational one. He was the daydreamer.

April Secret Agent #24

TITLE: Thou Shall Not Kill
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Lily Birch threw wide the heavy curtains to sun her father’s deathbed.

Spring had freshly arrived in Savannah, Georgia and it was already beach weather. She hated the outdoors, but Lily longed for escape. If only the mosquitoes would halt their vampire carnival, a short walk would be sublime. But any reprieve from the weeks of close quarters and bed pans and pill bottles seemed like a far off dream.

Lily never thought she’d miss going to work or living in her old apartment, both of which she traded in to nurse her dying father, but she did. He moaned behind her and she turned to gaze sympathetically at him. There was so little time left. Pop was the color of sand.

His eyes were opened, so Lily went to him humming a tune and pretending to be happy. This was Lily’s talent. She was determined he should be as comfortable as possible right until the end. For her part, that meant being positive.

Optimism was Lily’s superpower.

She took a seat in the dining chair, which had been brought upstairs to facilitate the long vigil, and squeezed the old man’s shoulder.

“It’s a lovely day today, Pop,” Lily said, putting on a wide smile.

When he coughed, his entire upper half shook.

“Need some water?” his only daughter asked.

Pop shook his head and motioned Lily closer.

“What is it?” she asked, bending near.

“Lily, I have something to confess, alright?” he said with surprisingly lucid blue eyes.

April Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Caregiver
GENRE: Memoir

Shut… up. Shut up. Shut …up. Dear God, please make him shut up.

Horrified by her thoughts, Ann reversed direction and instead of reaching toward the shelf to put away a glass she’d just removed from the dishwasher, she filled it with water and drank deeply, trying to drown the words before they could escape into the air.

Don’t say it. Don’t even think it, she admonished herself. Her face warmed from the rush of adrenaline coursing through her veins as she struggled to get her emotions under control. The deep undeniable anger she was struggling with was unwarranted and she couldn’t understand why it was surging through her now. They’d been through hell the past several months, but all that was over and things were getting better.

This is so wrong. What’s happening to me?

The words ‘fight or flight’ popped into her head.

What happens when you can do neither? She wondered, sudden tears coursing down her face and sliding off her chin to mingle with drops of icy water she’d spilled on her pajama top.

“Do you hear me?” her father-in-law, repeated, shuffling toward her, the shush, swish, shush of his worn slippers punctuating every word. Suddenly she hated that sound. “I can take my medicine by myself. It’s too much trouble for you.”

“I heard you,” she answered.

The angry thoughts continued … I heard you this time, and the last time and the time before that.

April Secret Agent #22

TITLE: The Casquette Girls
GENRE: YA Paranormal

October 12th

The day had finally come.

The feeling coursed through my head, my chest, my stomach; until the tips of my fingers tingled as if the sensation were trying to escape the confines of my nervous system. My father and I were finally on our way home.

I leaned back in the passenger seat and took deep breaths, inhaling the smells of worn, black leather and bubble gum, trying not to let the anticipation drive me crazy.

The city wasn't exactly encouraging people to come home yet, but my father had always been a bit of a rebel. After the endless nights of me begging and pleading he had finally caved and I fled the French boarding school my Parisian mother had enrolled me in while my father and I were "displaced." I hopped a plane to meet him in Miami, landed late last night, and we were on the road by six this morning.

I didn't want to give him the opportunity to renege.

Ten hours later, we were still purring down the interstate in his 1981 BMW, but I didn't mind. I had never been away from my father for that long. I had never been away from New Orleans for that long. It felt like years since I had last been home, but in reality it had only been two months since the mandatory evacution — two months, two days, and nine hours since the Storm had touched ground.

April Secret Agent #21

GENRE: YA gaslamp fantasy

“As Raymond would have wanted,” Veanne said, clinking her clay mug to her brother’s. She took an inexperienced mouthful of foamy pine cider and burped, immediately pleased by the chance to be improper.

“Bless you,” said Haeden.

“‘Bless you’ is for sneezes,” she replied, pinching his arm. Veanne took another sip, smaller this time, and admired the mirror behind the bar, etched with climbing ivy and forget-me-nots. At the top, a pillar and scroll clock sat, wooden dial stopped at the doctor’s time of death.

Veanne’s heart sunk in her chest. The aromatic scent of brandy and hops was a warm reminder of the man who had raised her and Haeden as his own.

She slid off her bonnet, even though she knew her ears were still red, and toyed with her curls, attempting to arrange them into some sort of acceptable shape. Without her hat, the bustle of the alehouse streamed louder and more chaotic. It was a welcomed distraction.

Peasants made up the majority of space and noise, happier away from the cold scrutiny of the upper class. Few of Haeden and Veanne’s age, and those that were carried steaming cups of coffee and mulled wine to patrons. Extra hands hired by the Vintner.

In the center of the house, a pair of familiar faces invited the siblings over.

“Welcome, young bantlings,” cheered Seamus Hartwell, pulling out a chair. “Here, have a seat.”

“Thank you,” said Veanne, accepting.

Haeden followed her lead.

“Put your stampers up,” added Deri Wren.

April Secret Agent #20

TITLE: Jurata's Daughter
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Nyada pushed aside the empty boxes stacked at the rear of the garden shed and eased open the hidden door. Strips of moonlight from the windows illuminated rough-hewn steps descending to a cellar lined with vats of mead, each barrel topped with pear-shaped costrels for easy transport. At the far end, a second door—bolted and locked—guarded what Nyada supposed was another storeroom, most likely holding the Order's jewels.

She moved quickly, using a dipper hung from the rocky wall to fill a pouch, then plugged the top and slid the cord over her tunic. At the top of the steps, she paused, brows furrowed. Was someone singing behind the barred door? The haunting melody vanished and Nyada blew out a breath. Nerves, that's all it was. Nobody at the Order lived underground.

Outside the garden she hugged the walls that bordered a five-sided courtyard, taking care to step softly, though all the lights had dimmed save for the ever-burning candles in Mother Gintare’s office. Leaving the Order at night without permission meant a thrashing and the honey wine slung over Nyada's shoulder would no doubt add to her penance. Truth be told, she was beyond caring. If she failed tomorrow Mother’s pine switch would be the least of her worries.

Hardly daring to breathe, she crawled below the office window, bare knees scraping against the cobblestones, keeping a low profile until she reached the westward gate that led to the Baltic Sea.

April Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Dot Reaper
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Thick pillows of smoke stung Max's eyes and invaded her lungs as she collapsed against the bedroom door in a coughing fit. When her lungs ceased the convulsion, she tested the temperature of the door knob with a quick tap before pushing the door open. A waft of clean air greeted her. Max darted to the nearest window and threw it open, taking in deep, agonizing lungfuls of the humid night air.

Following her up the stairs, Fabian, Max’s little brother, was by her side in seconds, sputtering and wheezing against the window screen. Max rubbed and patted his back to help him rid the soot from his lungs. When his breathing settled, she turned her attention to the mesh wiring blocking their escape. Max pushed at the middle and sides of the barrier, but only with Fabian’s help was she able to pop the screen’s aligner out of its track. Another push sent it hurtling to the ground.

Placing a steadying hand on her brother’s shoulder as she threw her leg over the windowsill, Max's bare foot met the rough material of the cold roof.

“Okay,”she said, adjusting her weight. “Hold on to—”

Another explosion rocked the house, sending a concussive force through the room. The top of Max’s head slammed against the bottom of the window as she was hurled outside and onto the roof. The coarse shingles scraped and scratched at her arms and legs as she slid down.

Then she spiraled downward into the darkness.

April Secret Agent #18

TITLE: Souls in the House of Tomorrow
GENRE: Literary Fiction

The blood red plains baked under the blistering Ethiopian sun, the air shimmering with heat and screams.

In a small mud hut, goats placidly resting outside, the owner of the screams writhed on a woven reed mat. Not more than fourteen or fifteen years old, her stomach swelled ominously as sweat created glistening rivers down her dust encrusted face. Her hair, once meticulously styled in an intricate, woven mass of braids, frizzed in a wiry halo. She clutched at her stomach with arms of sinew and bone. Large, dark eyes pleaded with those watching her, begging for them to do something.

Two elderly women squatted at the stone hearth in the centre of the hut and tended the fire. Boiling cloths in a large clay pot, darkened from years of use. Their placid faces told the stories of the many women they had watched struggle before; they had seen it all.

One of the women stood, pulling a cloth from the boiling water with a stick. She let it drip, steaming in the murky light, before taking it into her leathery hands. Walking over to the girl, she dripped water into her swollen, cracked lips. When the water stopped dripping she laid the still steaming cloth on the girl's stomach before returning to her position at the fire.

A tall gentleman, dressed in traditional hand-woven cotton pants and shirt, stepped into the hut. He moved slowly but without hesitation as he crossed the dark space of the hut towards the girl.

April Secret Agent #17

TITLE: Desiderium
GENRE: YA Dystopian

A flickering yellow light draws my gaze to the steel band clinging to my wrist. It’s been weeks since I set off my bracelet, but it was bound to happen again sooner or later. Especially since I can’t seem to stop obsessing over how many things I have to do, and how little time there is to do them. Then before I know it, those thoughts become something more—almost, just almost, wanting more time. The next thing I know, the dopamine in my bloodstream is dangerously close to the legal limit. I really need to be more careful.

I distract myself with reining in the loose strands that have escaped my ponytail, and draw in a deep breath. It’s times like this being able to think about nothing at all would really come in handy. For one, I could suppress the temptation to have illegal desires, and on top of that, clearing my head would make it so much easier to survive long days of sitting through classes and hours of work split between two part time jobs. Maybe even enough to survive the next four months until graduation.

“Rhiley!” Someone yells my name across the hall.

My heart leaps out of my chest and it takes all my self-control to not glance at my bracelet. I scan the crowded hallway, and spot a girl in one of my classes waving in my direction. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if someone saw it—if someone suspected me of being the Desiderium.

April Secret Agent #16

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Tavor Castle is beautiful—for a prison. The white stone castle is small but well-kept, and its fields and woods cover almost a square mile. Even the looming, twenty-foot walls enclosing the grounds have an odd charm to them. To protect you, Father says, but I know better. It’s to hide me. The only ugly thing in Tavor Castle is its princess.

I jam my foot into Lulari’s stirrup and glare up at the walls, wishing my hate could melt them. Only a little longer, until the war ends, and I’ll be free. Father promised that much, at least.

I turn away and cluck Lulari to a walk. The warm breeze ruffles my fascinator and fills my nose with the scent of horse. I smile. Outside, there may still be walls, but at least there’s no ceiling. I brush back a lock of hair—and an ashen, black-cloaked woman appears in my path.

Lulari rears.

I clutch at her mane but grasp nothing. The ground races up to slap me, and pain jars through my shoulder and back. Breathing hard, I stir my arms and legs, then probe my ribs for tenderness. Nothing broken, thank Dal. A stablehand races toward me, calling my name. I sit up and groan.

“I’m fine,” I say. “Is she all right?”


The mysterious woman lies crumpled beneath her cloak, her face unnaturally gray. I crawl toward her, my shoulder throbbing, but the stablehand pulls me back sharply.

The black mass I took for a cloak is a vast, dark wing.

April Secret Agent #15

TITLE: Under the Veil of Dawn
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The intense hunger cramps continued to gnaw at my empty stomach. They crept into the hollow insides of my body— silent and sly— during short moments in which I had finally given in to the sleep that I hadn’t had in weeks. I had fooled the yearning for a while by wrapping a cloth tight around my torso. I had almost convinced myself that I wasn’t hungry. Almost. Now, enraged at the deception, the hunger was back with a vengeance. It was useless to try and go back to sleep for the lands where dreamers went, were no longer open to me.

I glanced at the skeletal figure lying beside me. The scratchy blanket had slipped off her bony body and now lay in an untidy heap on the floor. I picked it up and gently pulled it over her cold shoulders. She rolled and formed a cocoon for herself in the blanket, sighing happily. I felt my lips part in a smile, echoing her short-lived contentment.

Creeping out of the room, I spared a final glance at my sleeping sister before stepping outside. I pulled the door behind me but despite my soft touch, it wailed as its rusted hinges creaked. Cringing, I began walking along the dirt road, past rows of corrugated iron and wooden shacks, towards the only well in our slum. From a distance, my home looked like a human bird’s nest but I loved it as it was. The crippling infrastructure was the framework of my life.

April Secret Agent #14

TITLE: Unsurrendered
GENRE: Upmarket Women's Fiction

I fought my soul’s toughest battles within earshot of the strangers who knew me best. Smiling for the cameras, pretending to be some rock ‘n’ roll bad a** – it’s an empty endeavor when you’re frozen on the inside. Some days I wondered how I pulled off being Heather Montgomery when I felt so removed from myself.

It’s not that I didn’t like the job. Hell, there’s a lot to be said about the mind-blowing ecstasy you feel while delivering aural sex to a sold-out arena of screaming fans. But I spent a lot of long nights on the tour bus agonizing over the secrets my nightmares and drunken ramblings might reveal. It wore my patience as thin as the denim on the a** of a farmer’s jeans.

And Dave Vacanti did little to set me at ease. He sat across from me, guitar in hand, eyeing the magazine on the table. His voice sounded hoarse when he asked, “Aren’t you even gonna read it?”

I didn’t need to. The bold, block letters on the cover screamed at me: HEATHER’S MARRIAGE A SHAM! Beneath them, a candid photo showed me rushing through London’s Heathrow Airport with my son, a curly-haired preschooler, in tow. He looked exhausted, on the verge of a meltdown. My husband lagged at least three steps behind. And my scowl and unkempt mop of curls made me look like Joan Crawford’s red-headed stepchild. I could pretty much guess what kinds of lies were printed inside.

Reporters. Sons of bitches. Every one of them.

April Secret Agent #13

TITLE: Shadow Fire
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy/Romance

Every step I take is one step closer to death.

Hiking through the dense underbrush, I try to calm my frayed nerves and control the fear threatening to overwhelm me. Twigs and tendrils of ivy grab at my ankles as I continue to forge ahead, forcing me to wrench away from their skeletal grip. The sunlight is quickly fading, signaling the end of another day, but this is no ordinary day.

Today is the last day of my life, at least my life as I know it.

A loud crack pierces the air. I freeze in my tracks, my breath catching in my throat. Whipping my head around, I try to locate the source of the sound. My heart beats wildly, the erratic rhythm painful. These woods are full of predators, some animal, some monster, but the worst…human.

Lungs burning, I force myself to continue walking, though every fiber of my being just wishes to collapse to the forest floor in defeat.

I’m quickly approaching the edge of the Planthes Forest. The town of Verdane, my home, is only another twenty minutes away. Normally when I’m this close to home after a long day of hunting, I’d smile, breathe a sigh of relief, and perhaps look forward to dinner. Today there will be no raucous family meal, no solace in entering the normally peaceful village, and certainly nothing to smile about.

The villagers will be awaiting my return, skulking in the shadows, desperate to catch another glimpse of the walking dead girl.

April Secret Agent #12

TITLE: Water Speaker
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The pebbles had started growing again. I ran as fast as I could, but by the time I reached them, they'd blown up to the size of refrigerators and blocked the entire length of the playing court. Behind them, my opponent merrily dribbled the ball towards my goal.

Not now. Not this game. Focus on his weakness.

Right. My opponent's boulder-growing magic was nice and all, but it made him a one-trick pony. Once he set up his stupid barriers, he became like a soccer player, moving the ball with his feet and nothing else.

I, on the other hand, had my water.

I cupped my hands and the floating puddle next to me flowed through my fingers, letting me manipulate it like putty. The words, "25 meters to goal," flew across the glowing blue scoreboard.

I sent two jets of water flying into the closest boulders. They broke right through. The fake rocks fell to pieces, sending decent vibrations through the rubber flooring. I leapt over the rubble, and my lungs seized with the dusty air.

"15 meters to goal," flashed the scoreboard. He was halfway there. I split the water again, creating a line of four liquid globes. No problem seeing my opponent now – his uniform was an obnoxious bright red with the words, "Harrisburg Fine Chocolate" emblazoned in yellow on either arm. But the gap between us was huge. It'd take half a minute to catch the guy, at least.

April Secret Agent #11

TITLE: Key of Eden
GENRE: YA Paranormal

As I walked through the burgundy doors of St. Agnes Prep School, the busy halls were full of rich kids. Spoiled brats who took their parents for granted and demanded respect without earning it. To them is was a right, not a privilege. Their selfish mentalities were the reason school sucked and why my last year of high school felt like I was constantly being shoved through a meat grinder.

The good news? I only had a couple months left before I could tell those suckers to kiss it.

Planting my feet in front of my locker, I struggled with the combination lock. It never opened the first go round, and today was no different. I growled and grumbled, giving it a quick tug thinking brute force might pry it open, but my luck was never that good. It stayed locked and the whole process began again. This time, with a resounding click, the metal bar sprang free and my locker swung open.

I snatched out my Literature and Advanced Calculus books and shoved my gym clothes into my locker. I let out a curse as my elbow slammed against the corner of my locker and pain radiated through my arm. If this was any indication of how the rest of the day would go, I was tempted to go back home, crawl in bed and let the world continue in its chaotic blunder without me.

Slamming my locker shut, I jumped when I saw a figure standing next to me.

April Secret Agent #10

TITLE: The New Eden Chronicles
GENRE: YA Speculative Fiction

Theresa’s a kicker. Mama and I struggle to hold her down so the medics can find a vein and fill a vial with her blood. I feel like a monster, wrestling down a seven-year-old while her hot-poker screams skewer the space between my ears. But once the needle’s in, the thrashing subsides and her hazel eyes glaze over. The thin red stream shooting up into the glass is beautiful. As we let her go, I tap the back of the chair where she sits four times so the results will be negative. Theresa scowls then stalks off. In a few minutes, she’ll be bragging to everyone about her ordeal.

Just 12, Sarah would rather die than act like a baby. She practically jumps into the chair, though her arm quivers. She closes her eyes and turns away, her lips mashed together as the needle finds its mark. When the medic caps the full vial, she beams in that self-satisfied way she’s adopted. Four-year-old Rachel doesn’t understand enough to be afraid. We promise sweet treats and a new dress for her ragdoll if she’ll behave—it works like a charm. In his cradle nearby, David sleeps through the commotion, too young to be tested. Because I’m 16, I’m past the danger zone. To my siblings’ disappointment, there’s no big sharp needle for me.

Josh’s blood is the last to be collected. His calm amazes me. Instead of looking away or crying, like most 10-year-olds would, he watches the medics with curiosity.

April Secret Agent #9

TITLE: Cousins - A choose-your-own-adventure novel

An eerie cloud of smoke hovered about three feet off the floor. The room was dark except for the eerie blood-red hue of the computer screen and the small, fiery glow of a cigarette put to lips. A large sinister figure sat at his computer, hacking away. His cough chased the smoke from his lungs. His wings pounded away on the dirty keyboard with all the skills of the hacker he so proudly was.

“Okay, I am in,” Raben announced. “Let’s see what’s in your inbox today, young adventure-writer Nash Roberts. If I am right, you have an email from my cousin. After all, it is your birthday, and old cuz is so predictable. And there it is. Well, now we are going to have some fun. I’ll delete this message from Raven, and replace it with….”

Good morning, Nash, and happy birthday from Hilda and me. Nash, Miss VonRedhairenschnoben and I have a special gift for you this year. We have decided to let you write a few chapters with my worldly cousin, Raben. Your readers might like the change of pace. He prefers to keep things a little creepier than we do. Still a lot of fun, mind you, just creepier. Anyhow, we will catch up with you later. I’m going to step out of the way and let Raben take over the rest of this email. Don’t forget to take good notes.


Good morning, Nash, and happy thirteenth birthday to you, dude.

April Secret Agent #8

TITLE: Deadline
GENRE: Mystery

A cold nose in my neck pushed me above the surface of sleep. A massive paw on my shoulder rocked me awake. The perfect alarm: no annoying buzz, no dangerous snooze button and only an occasional breath issue.

“Poh-leece school dropout,” I croak, too groggy to add to the Grease tune. I roll out and suit up for the two-to-three-mile run before work. I hate it but it’s a hedge against my snack stash of Cheetos and Clark Bars.

Othello needs the exercise, too. Born with a twisted Achilles tendon, it worsened as he grew because of his size. Though not painful, it gave him a swaggery limp and a rejection slip from the academy, even though he’d shown superior talent in drug and bomb detection.

As we stepped off the porch of my duplex, I noticed movement at a window of the small, frame house next door. A young girl in a pale nightgown standing in front of the drape watched us. I’d never seen her outside and waved but she didn’t move. Above her, the curtain in a second floor window twitched but I couldn’t see who was there.

The Cricks had always been strange neighbors, eccentric to say the least. Not that my family fit any standard model of acceptable behavior. I had returned to Ellwood after my job evaporated five months ago to track the identity of my father, something my mother considered a need-to-know subject she decided I didn’t need to know.

April Secret Agent #7

TITLE: The Invaders

January 3rd, 2099

I’m watching the door, shuddering in a paroxysm of fear. She’s coming to take me now. I hear her footsteps. Crunch…Crunch…Crunch…my life is being shredded and torn under her heavy, clunking boots.

Alphan asks if I’m ok. He’s the only person with me.

Misery, sordid and awful, grows big and heavy in the room as she approaches. Goosebumps prickle up on my arms. My breath slows down and I’m oozing onto the floor, suddenly a puddle at Alphan’s feet. He gets frantic; he tugs me up hard and tells me to be strong. We can face this together he says. I nod and I’m standing when the door finally opens.

“Hi,” she says. There’s no sneer in her voice. Steely resolve cloaks her entirely. I glean nothing from looking into her face, and it’s a face that I know very, very well.

“Hi,” I say in return, gulping down tear-salted draughts of fear. Alphan places a hand on my shoulder.

We're ready.

September 27th, 2098

It’s Monday morning biology class and I’m groggy. Dr. Shush’s dull, monotone voice lulls me to sleep. Bang! The heavy classroom door suddenly slams open. I’m jerked awake. A new boy stands in the room.

He’s not cute. His nose is violently crooked. His mouth is flat and light pink like a piece of gum that’s been stepped on. Blue eyes studded with heavy lashes are set unevenly above his cheeks. Straw-colored hair flops languidly about his forehead.

April Secret Agent #6

TITLE: Zorya

My name’s Zorya. Mother says I’m named after Zorya Vechernyaya, goddess of the Evening Star. That’s sort of cool.

There were fifteen of us in my classroom that fall—the entire high school senior class population of the Northern California Enclave. And then there was David. Named after David, I guess.

He wasn’t one of us. He was one of them.

I propped an arm on my desk and casually leaned my head on my hand, turning my face a bit to the right. That way, I could look at him without...looking like I was looking at him. Up at the front of the room Madame Stefonia was writing something on the whiteboard, so she probably wouldn’t notice right away that I wasn’t paying attention.

The moonlamps were turned up high so David could see well enough to read and write. Their eyes are really bad—I don’t think they can even see colors at night. On the other hand, I could see him just fine. Unlike me, he was watching the teacher and busily taking notes.

He was blonde, which in a room full of black hair made him stick out like a snowball on an asphalt road. He was almost a year older than me, almost a foot taller, and even skinnier. His eyes were dark brown, which was as weird around here as the blonde hair. His voice had a twinge of accent, Texas I think, and my God, the tan.

April Secret Agent #5

TITLE: The Templars: Initiation
GENRE: YA Action / Heist / Secret Society

Why had I bothered searching Queen Frumpy’s bathroom? Only toupees and grey hair die. Frickin nuts. I slammed the cabinet and fled.

Mom's voice chased me. "Bus will be here in half hour."

Operation Hottie had already been sucker punched by Aunt Gwen’s sudden trip to Paris. Too bad her convertible hadn’t stayed.

Red hair streamed behind me as I sprinted toward my sanctuary. I slipped among the ancient oaks, the sunlight dimmed to a soft glow. A canopy of trees concealed me.

The duffle bag dangled from a branch near the stream as promised. I dunked my head, then teased the heck out of my hair with styling gel and a battery operated hairdryer. The clothes could’ve been used for torture interrogations. A tank top two sizes too small. Wedgie inducing skinny jeans tucked into heeled boots. I even applied makeup, following Aunt Gwen's careful diagram. The efforts were exhausting, but I needed Tony to see me as a girl. Not another buddy he chest bumped on the basketball court, but a perfume scented girly-girl.

When I entered the kitchen, a mug crashed to the floor. Coffee splashed my mother’s housecoat. "Alex, have you been mugged?"

Dad grimaced. "Muggers don’t carry lip gloss in the forest. This debacle has Gwenie written all over it."

I scooped up my backpack and grabbed a muffin. "So what if it does?"

Dad folded his arms, muscles bulging. "Rosenbergs don’t leave the house dressed like that."

"Dressed like what?" My green eyes pierced into his matching pair.

April Secret Agent #4

TITLE: Tap Dancing on a  Spider Web
GENRE: Women’s Fiction

Rena sat on a large flat rock with her morning coffee. The ocean spray tickled her face as waves slapped at the rocks and shot upward in geysers. She closed her eyes and inhaled the briny, fishy smell of Harbor Cove then opened them and watched seals stir lazily on their small island outcroppings. Several younger ones lounged on top of a lardy, buff-colored seal. What a life. Eat. Sleep. Play in the ocean.

Putting her coffee down on the rock, Rena stretched out her legs. She needed to take more vacations. In fact, she should move out of Juniper, live closer to the ocean. She winced as footsteps neared then stopped just behind her. She hoped whoever it was didn’t want to chat.

“Hi, Rena.”

Blood rushed to her ears. Her heart thrashed against her ribs. Joe. How had he found her? Especially here at the Cove? She couldn’t turn to look at the man with the voice she hadn’t heard for thirteen years, the voice that once comforted her, the one that made her ache with wanting, made her heart bleed with sadness without ever once cutting her soul.

She’d shaken this scene from her head a thousand times, always picturing how he might look as he aged. But to actually know … A tremor, as if she were shivering from the morning chill, worked its way from her shoulders down into her legs.

“Aren’t you going to welcome me to the Cove?”

Without turning, Rena said, “Damn you, Joe Rider.”

April Secret Agent #3

TITLE: Letters to Disappointment
GENRE: Literary Fiction

October 30th, 1939

Dear Jasper,

I write to you from the belly of this phony war-- the deep breath of fear and anticipation before the great plunge into madness. Perhaps it is only I who lack the stomach for it, but I do not feel we can win this fight. I do not tell these things to Daisy. An infuriating optimism inhabits her psyche that cannot be done away. If she is to be made unhappy in the future, I want no part in it. And so, my friend, I am afraid I must write of these false terrors, these phantom fears to you. You are removed and will not suffer at their relation.

I have spent this unseasonably sunny afternoon wandering about the yard, staring aimlessly at the cracks in the brickwork; sitting down and standing up again, unable to keep my mind on any one subject. I had in mind to make preparations today, but I awoke feeling as though I had swallowed my razor blades and put it off. Daisy has gone to her mother’s for lunch, unwilling to endure or cater to my gravities. Though her parents depart for a tour of the South in a few days, I do not go. I am not well and the thought of conversation is too tiresome.

April Secret Agent #2

TITLE: Broken Dreamers
GENRE: Upmarket Women's Fiction

The costume shop clung to the end of the pier. The creaky old structure had once been a morgue, built over the water so the breeze would blow the stench across the bay. That was long ago, of course, before refrigeration.

The building had livelier occupants now, but for costumer Wilhelmina Grant there was still something odd about the place. She was the one who dubbed the shop Brigadoon, since it seemed to appear suddenly from the mist and encouraged a light hold on reality.

Willa leaned her shoulder against the window as she sewed, a spool and scissors next to her on the sill. On a clear day she could see Alcatraz and sometimes part of the Golden Gate Bridge, but this morning a hazy scrim had dropped, blurring the view.

The summer was half gone and still Willa waited for a sign. Not a comet or solar eclipse, just an everyday omen to point her in the right direction. The bright dreams that lured her to San Francisco years ago had dulled. A new nudge was long overdue. Maybe she had missed it. Meanwhile, her days rolled out like a bolt of beige flannel, practical, predictable and drowsy.

"Ow!" The needle jabbed deep, leaving a glistening red bead on the pad of her thumb. She wrapped a scrap of muslin around the wound to keep her blood from staining the leather.The stab was the second unexpected event of the morning. And portents, she recalled, often came in threes.

April Secret Agent #1


Nick had sensed for some weeks now that something important, something seismic, was about to happen. He didn't know what. But he could feel it there, hear the distant, whispering roar as the current drew him ever closer to the waterfall-edge of the future.

He poured himself more wine before going over to the desk and taking out a worn, old rosewood case. Opening it, he sat for a long time in the middle of the room caressing the heavy chunk of smooth, black steel, weighing it, turning it in his hands. So superbly engineered. So comforting to hold. So lethal.

In a sudden surge of anger, Nick snapped the loaded magazine into the hollow grip with the heel of his hand. In one swift-flowing movement, he whirled the swivel chair he was sitting on into a fierce, violent spin, pointing the black Beretta stiff-armed, two-handed in front of him. Treasured mementoes flashed past, in and out of the circling gun sights: laughing photographs, Art Deco dancers, Meissen figures, Japanese prints of lovers and warriors, Dutch oil paintings, each carrying their own story – each up for rapid-fire.

The first bullet hit his face in the mirror, smacking and fracturing it like a frozen pond. Then in rapid succession the photographs, the figures, the lamps exploded and splintered, fragments flying. He ejected the empty magazine and slammed in another, forcing the whirling chair even faster.

The gun leapt after each explosion and suddenly he half felt, half saw something hurtle past his ear.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bonus Babies: Identities and Winners

Wrapping up our blog birthday celebration with the bonus babies reveal.  If you are a winner, please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for instructions on how to secure your prize.

 Bonus Baby #1
Beth Revis
The prize: A signed copy of Shades of Earth (US only)

Bonus Baby #2
Julie Butcher-Fedynich
The Prize: A 3-chapter critique

Bonus Baby #3
Jodi Meadows
The Prize: An adorable knit bag OR a 3-chapter critique
The Winner: GRAYSON

Bonus Baby #4
The Prize: A 30-minute Skype chat (voice only)
The Winner: AUTUMN2MAY

Bonus Baby #5
Holly Bodger
The Prize: A 3-chapter critique
The Winner: HONG

Congratulations all!  

(Winners were chosen at random.  If you are not interested in the prize you've won, please email me so that I can run another drawing for that prize.  Thanks!)

Monday, April 22, 2013


Of course TODAY I would be away from my computer all day.  Ugh!

I made a mistake on the times, and the bot closed after only an hour.  (This was my fault; NOT the bot's!)

So we've ended up with 31 entries.

DON'T DESPAIR!!  I'm opening a second submission round RIGHT NOW and it will be open until 10:00 PM EDT.

It will be a lottery for the remaining 19 entries.

My apologies!


Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Fricassee

I think it's safe to say that the themes in our novels are reflective, somehow, of things deep within us.  That which is important to us; that which stirs us; that which has changed us at some point.

One of my biggies is betrayal.

At seventeen, I loved a boy as though my immortal soul depended on it.  He was the ringleader of the questionable gang I was adopted into after my best friend and I had a falling out.  I yearned silently for months until, finally, right after Thanksgiving of my senior year, the Boy took me on a date, told me his feelings for me had grown past friendship, and kissed me like I'd never been kissed before.

The next day, I could barely remember to breathe.  Every time I thought of him, my stomach plummeted.  I had little appetite and no ability to do anything.  I was lovesick--for real.  When he finally appeared late in the afternoon to say his good-byes (he'd been home from college for the weekend), I melted into his arms, aching that I had to be parted from him so soon.

My parents hated him.  Truth be told, he wasn't a good Boy.  To his credit, he did tell me that he was also seeing a girl at college.  It wasn't like this was some big love affair; at least, not for him.  I was okay with that.  I'd loved him silently for months; I could wait a few months more for him to realize that I was the One.

Sure enough, he broke up with the gal at college.  And professed his love to me.

That's right.  He said, "I love you."  Girls don't imagine things like that.

Long distance relationships are hard, though, and whenever he was home for a weekend, I was too insecure to simply be myself.  At Christmas, I was afraid to buy him the wrong gift.  Around the rest of the gang, I was afraid to show my affection for him.  When we sat on the sofa in my parents' living room, I didn't know how to drum up conversation.

It was all too big, and he was wrong for me.  Of course, I couldn't see that.  Every heartbeat was for him.  Every weekday was another "X" on the calendar until I would see him again.

He grew steadily bored with me.  As I saw the fire in his eyes slowly melt, I felt like a complete failure.   As in, I-don't-even-know-how-to-make-my-boyfriend-stay-in-love-with-me. Still, I clung to him.

Summer came.  I don't know how it happened, but a gal-I-didn't-like-much was sort of grafted into our gang.  A Cheerleader (clearly, my life was a cliche).  Once, she hung with them when I wasn't there.  She later asked me if the Boy and I were still together.

What she meant, of course, was, "I think the Boy is hot, and if you'll just step aside, I think I'd like to take him."

Truth was, the Boy and I weren't doing very well.  But I wasn't going to tell that to this cheerleader with a reputation for coming to school with hickeys on her neck.  So I lied.

It was only a half-lie.  Because I still deeply loved the Boy.

The rumors started.  "Boy and Cheerleader have been together.  We saw them."

I had to know the truth.  Cheerleader lived walking distance from my house.  One afternoon, when I knew the Boy had off from his job as a lifeguard, I drove to Cheerleader's house.

The Boy's car was parked outside.

I wanted to smash his windshield.  Or kill myself.  Or something else epic.  He was with her, and he wasn't even trying to hide it.

The betrayal left an indelible mark.  I was grown and married before I finally worked through it.  Let it go.

But since then, betrayal is the one thing that will wreck me.  And it's the hardest thing for me to forgive.

(I do forgive.  I believe in living a life of forgiveness.  But betrayal is the hardest.)

So it's no surprise that this shows up in my novels.  Whether it's a real or a perceived betrayal, the raw emotions come easily as I write.  I know what betrayal feels like.  I know its power.  And for me, in stories, it really works.

It's not the only raw material I have to work with.  (How boring would that be?)  But it definitely comes more easily.  And when we reach deep inside ourselves to produce the emotions and ideas and circumstances in our novels, we're touching what's real.  And I believe that's what makes stories resonate with readers.

That's me, really.

What about you?